Thursday, January 2, 2014

Resolving

Last year I sat out on making any New Year's resolutions. I'm not entirely sure why - perhaps because I've had pretty limited success meeting the goals of my previous resolution posts (note that while I am linking to them here, I am not doing a report out of how well I did. However, astute readers will notice that some of what I will write below will look familiar, so surmise what you will). But, I don't know - there's something about new starts and writing down goals and the positive outlook that just SHOWS UP on January 1st, and I think I should take advantage of that. Even if I'm doomed to failure or ennui or self-sabotage in a month or a week or tonight. So here we go:

1. Do something new every week with the kids. This one is actually M.'s idea, stolen from someone he works with. This person is, for the second time in her life, taking up the challenging of having one new experience a week for the whole year. Her list includes things like staying in a hotel made out of ice. I don't think we will be going quite that drastic, but we are aiming above things like "going to the latest Disney movie we haven't ever seen." Adventures like visiting a cave, going camping, hiking (a small) part of the Appalachian trail. And smaller scale stuff, too, of course - maybe having a movie night of Kung Fu movies or a documentary instead of Despicable Me, or making our own sushi (and getting the kids to eat it). I'm excited, M.'s excited, the kids are excited. We've started a family list using the Wunderlist app, and there's only a dozen or so ideas on it so far, so please comment and give us more!

2. Do something active every day. This is a bit different than a "lose weight/hit a goal weight" resolution - partly because the scale is stressing me out lately, but mostly because my body feels weak and aging and full of betrayal. When I stand up and start walking, I limp. When I crouch down, my knees hurt. When I sit on my legs next to the tub in order to bathe the kids, my ankles ache. When I walk up the stairs to our bedroom, my heart races and my lungs protest. This needs to change, I need to be able to be more active. I WANT to be more active. So I will do something active every day. Maybe some days it will be 45 minutes on the treadmill, and other days it will just be 10 minutes of stomach crunches or a quick walk around the block at work. Whatever I can fit in, I just need to DO IT already. I'm already a bit down for the count on this one since, as you may have noticed, it is January 2nd, and not January 1st. And I did absolutely NOTHING active yesterday, the actual first day of the year. I could blame it on allowing the kids to stay up until midnight (which they did, with flying colors and more energy than I had, though Finn did end the evening in a sobbing fit because ABC didn't actually show the ball dropping and apparently he has "always wanted to see the ball drop," despite not knowing that such a ball existed until 11:45 that evening), but instead I will blame no one and just move on. Today is a fresh start. In an effort to encourage myself, I'll try to blog here once a week or so to update how I'm doing and set some (reasonable, small) goals to further the cause. Because that's what Academomia is doing, and she has lots of good ideas. She's calling her effort "Project MAN, I'd Like to be Fit" aka Project MILF. See how clever that is? I told you, lots of good ideas :-).

3. Broaden my career horizons. My job options are pretty limited. I work for a federal agency, and what I do doesn't translate well to other organizations. I'm pretty tied to the metro DC area, for better or worse. I don't necessarily want to leave my job right now, but I want to be better positioned for the possibility of a new job or even a new career. I don't know what this will mean, really - how this goal should look. I think first I need to figure out what I WANT, and then I need to figure out how to get there (and I imagine the getting there will take more than a year). If I really want to stay in "program management," maybe I need to get a Project Management Professional (PMP) credential. That would mean more opportunities in industry/business. Or maybe I want to move into science communication - if that's the case, there are some long distance science writing/communication courses I might consider taking. Maybe it's science policy, and I need to reopen the idea of a job inside the beltway. Maybe I want a job eventually that has nothing to do with science at all. I don't know, but I want to figure it out, this year.

4. Take at least one picture a day. I'm hoping I will do this mostly with my big camera, but the iPhone will do in a pinch. I'm not going to make a point of posting the pictures anywhere, as I think that adds an element of work and stress to this goal that I don't need. But I want to make sure I am capturing what life looks like more than I have been lately.

5. Make a photo book. And I'm not talking a little photo book of the past year that I put together to send to the grandparents for Christmas or Mother's Day. A big photo book that takes all my favorite pictures from the last few years and gets them into one PRINTED place that I can look at forever and ever.

6. Make a will, and meet with a financial planner. FTLOG.

7. Get passports for the kids. This year we already have too many family vacations planned out and too little vacation time in the bank to plan an out-of-country trip, but it's game on in 2015. M. and I want to take one adventurous/exotic/out of our comfort zone foreign trip with the kids every year, starting next year. This will probably be at the expense of seeing family (sorry, family). It may even be at the expense of going to Disney World (sorry, Mickey). But I want to see more of the world, and we want the kids to see more of the world. So step 1 is passports. Step 2 will be planning our first trip. Step 3 is ??? (and of course, step 4 is PROFIT).

There we go. New Year's Resolutions, 2014 style. How about you? Are you making any resolutions this year? Also, is it allowable to make resolutions for OTHER people? Because if so, I would resolve that M. will use more vacation time this year. He is rolling over 6 weeks of banked vacation and has even more days that are expiring because there are rules about having too much vacation time banked. RULES about NOT USING ENOUGH VACATION TIME. For someone who has exactly 10 vacation days to use each year, I am flabbergasted and jealous and a little angry at all this time off that he COULD USE but DOESN'T. So I resolve that he will resolve to take at least 5 different vacation days during the year to go play golf. Or do nothing. But probably to play golf.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Snowflake Soiree

Lucy's dance school hosts an informal recital every December at the end of the Fall/Winter semester. It's held onstage at a local theater, but there's no fancy costumes or all-out stage make up. It was held yesterday afternoon and, like last year, Lucy's class gave a ridiculously cute performance. They may not have  known all (any) of the steps, but they looked so happy to be there, faces full of smiles. Even the girl who kept yawning.

Check it out:



Not to get all braggy or anything (said to denote that bragging will now follow), but I'm just blown away by what a performer Lucy is. She clearly had no idea what she was doing. She absolutely did not know the steps of the dance. Yet she stood there, smiling and serene and graceful, completely capturing the mood of the song and the ability to look good doing absolutely nothing. Between that and her flair for dramatics (every stubbed toe is a cause for transfemoral amputation), I think we may have a born actress on our hands.

Some stills from before and after her performance:

Backstage beforehand




The rest of our weekend was filled with tantrums (from both kids) and lots and lots of cookie baking. I think I went through 12 sticks of butter. I'm waiting for a few gifts to arrive at our house so I can package up a couple of boxes to mail out to family members, and I have a few more gifts to wrap and put under out tree. But I think I'm done actually BUYING gifts, as of today. That, my friends, is a nice feeling. Bring it, Christmas.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Fall and Photos

Remember when I used to post here? That was nice. Gah, I hate that I haven't made time for this. I need to be posting here, need to be putting images and snapshots of our life here. It's so stupid - I don't even know why I feel like I'm too busy to do this lately. There's something about the kids being a little older, having a little more homework, going to bed a little later... I don't know, it all just seems insurmountable to add in extra stuff lately. Working out, blogging - they've both gone completely by the wayside, sacrificed to the comfort of the couch and the TV remote and a glass of wine. My Hulu account thanks me for being so up to date on my queue, but my waistline and digital memories do not.
 
Also, remember when it was fall? That was nice, too:
 
That's a Finn hidden under the leaves there.


He kills me with how cute he is.

 



Then it was Thanksgiving. I set a pretty table, and my mom and dad joined us:


This little one woke up at five am Thanksgiving morning, throwing up. She rallied by late afternoon, and joined us at the dinner table (where she ate nothing, with style, and in pajamas)

I even made fresh rosemary napkin rings. I channeled my inner Pinterest goddess.

He drank soda out of a grown up glass and thought he was in heaven.

The next day we busted out our Christmas decorations to get a move on a holiday that was less than 4 weeks away:




And I tried my hand at some shaped Bokeh  photography this week (see how the lights in the background are star shaped?):





Even attempted some Christmas card photos (out-takes below):



I'm still working on this whole bokeh technique (you should have seen me trying to fashion a makeshift lens cover out of black construction paper that was 3 years old and seriously faded - it took a really, really long time), but I've at least had some beginner success (here is one of the many tutorials you can find online). Then I broke my 50 mm/1.8f lens in a tripod accident (OK, I was a numbskull and let go of the camera when only 2 of the 3 tripod legs were at the same length) and was really upset with myself. Such a good lens! And a gift from my dad (it was an old Nikon lens of his that fit my camera). The glass/lens is completely cracked.  A bit too late to remedy this for Christmas, but rhis is definitely going on my next birthday/mother's day wish list.

That was Tuesday of this week, day 2 of our two days of snow days. Now it's Thursday evening.  M. is away on a quick work trip, and I am doing what I normally do when he's gone - staying up too late and gorging on TV shows he never wants to watch (3 more episodes of Scandal Season 1 are now in the bag). And while I'm not working out, at least I'm blogging. So that's something :-). And now, since it's practically midnight, and the small creatures of the family will be up in under 7 hours (not to mention the full work day I need to put in tomorrow), I'm going to bed. Goodnight!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Gift Ideas for the Panicky Shopper: 2013

Yes, this is a gift guide of sorts, for those that need a little more inspiration. I'm surfacing from the blogging dead to help out people who, like me, are starting to feel a little overwhelmed with the holiday shopping season. With only 19 shopping days left before Christmas, perhaps you, as I am, are struggling with rounding out your gift lists.

The suggestions below are all things you can buy, wrap, and give. I'm fully in support of handmade or labor intensive gifts like making candles, photo books, and mason jars of goodies, but let's be honest - that's all a lot of work that I don't have time to do. The two hours I have between kid bedtime and my bedtime every night is already taken up by internet surfing, wine drinking, and TV watching, and handmade gifts just doesn't make the list.

Disclaimer #1: This is not comprehensive, cutting edge, or even slightly organized. It's just a collection of things that I've seen during my holiday shopping ventures this year that caught MY eye, and maybe they'll catch yours, too.

Disclaimer #2: This is not a sponsored post, and I have no affiliation with any of the products or stores mentioned here.

You may find inspiration in past gift posts I've done, too, though I can't verify whether the items themselves are still available: Spotlight on Paper Source, Gift Ideas for Guys


Kids

I read somewhere that there is no "big new toy" this year, which means parents are reverting to the classics that have lasted generations. Probably a bunch of bunk, but I will say that I've seen a LOT of Barbies at Target lately, for what that's worth. In the same vein, another classic standby is good ol' LEGOs. It can be confusing figuring out which sets your little LEGO fanatic already has, what with the many, many ones there are to choose from (Star Wars, Harry Potter, LEGO City, Ninjago, LEGO Friends, just to name a few). Instead, how about a set of basic, classic LEGOs to foster a little creativity?:

LEGO Ultimate Building Set - 405 Pieces ($29.99 on Amazon)
 

You could pair it with a book for inspiration, like the LEGO Play Book or the LEGO Idea Book (each is $12.83 on Amazon right now).

 




 
A unique building set geared toward encouraging girls to love engineering is Goldie Blox, sets of books and accompanying construction sets that feature Goldie, a kid inventor. I've put in a request for this one for Lucy with the in-laws, I think it looks great!

Goldie Blox and the Spinning Machine ($29.99 on Amazon)


If you're buying for a child in elementary school, odds are they would love a Rainbow loom. And if they have one already, a bag of loom bands would make a great stocking stuffer.

Rainbow Loom ($17.59)


To keep those different colored little bands at their fingertips, consider getting them an organizer like this one:

Rainbow Loom Storage Case with adjustable compartments ($16.99)



Or a How-To book on some of the different designs, like The Loomatic's Interactive Guide to the Rainbow Loom ($18.99)


This year I found a lot of great inspiration from the Hearthsong website (sorry for some of the teeny photos, I had trouble pulling larger ones off the website):

The Woodland Fairy Houses are ridiculously adorable ($26.98 for a house and two fairies). The website claims these are for ages 3 and up, but I think 2 year olds would love this, too.


The On-the-Go Animals and Portable Home are similar to the fairy houses, and also ridiculously cute ($26.98)


The Super Finger Flashlights are a hit with any kid ($14.98 for a set of 8)


There are some great gifts for older kids, like a Unicycle ($89.98)


or a Dressmaking Workshop ($44.97)


Lucy has her eye on these wonderful-looking Monarch butterfly wings ($15.98 each)


Moving on from Hearthsong, here is a great Hair Chalk set ($22)that your dress-up afficionado will love (bonus, it can also be used for those random school "Crazy Hair" days)


Do your kids love rocks as much as mine? We have an army of them out on our stoop, since I won't let the kids bring them in the house. For fellow rock lovers, consider this Crystal Mining Kit (currently $9.80):


Take it a step further with this Model T Kit Rock Tumbler ($102.99) and turn those random rocks into treasures:



For the crafty child, this American Girl Crafts Bears Sew and Stuff kit ($12.16, ages 8 and up) looks great (there are owl and raccoon versions, too):


For the wee littles, consider this neat scooter that doubles as a ride-on toy until your little one is big enough to figure out how to scoot - perfect for kids as young as 12 months (don't forget a helmet, too!).

Micro Mini 3-in1 ($114)


Gadgets
Major electronic and gaming system items are some obvious choices for holiday gifts, and I'm in no position to recommend which ones are best. However, there are a few neat, small gadgets I want to list here that might make nice gifts for the tech-lover in your life.

The Holga iPhone Lens ($30 at Photojojo) attaches to iPhones and provides 9 different filters (including a macro lens) for those of us who find ourselves relying on our smart phones for most of the photos we take (guilty of this myself, lately!). Fits the iPhone 5/5S and 4/4S, but doesn't specifically state whether it will work for the 5C (frowny face for me!).


Une Bobine ($25 at Photojojo) is a unique phone charger that can also act as a tripod:


Firebox's Grippy Pad ($11.49) will magically keep your phone or iPad or whatever you want propped up on your dashboard (I want this!)



Women
I am loving everything on the Fossil website. Why have I never shopped there before?

Everyone needs a pair of aviator sunglasses ($48).


This fox change purse ($48) is adorable, and feeds into my love of the "What does the Fox Say?" YouTube video sensation (don't judge).



A chic tortoise bangle ($68) would complement any outfit.


A wonderful scarf ($48) and hat ($38)

With matching color block tech gloves ($38) so you can use your smart phone to your heart's delight in the blustery winter air.


And let's not forget what Fossil is best known for - it's wonderful watches and wallets and bags. It was difficult to pick just one or two to post here, so I encourage you to go and browse - guaranteed that you will find something perfect for someone on your gift list. But here are a couple that caught my eye:

Decker Chronograph Stainless Rose Watch ($125)



Sidney small zip pouch ($75)


Moving beyond Fossil, I'm a firm believer in anything from Kate Spade, like this Opening Night Wrap Necklace (a splurge at $128)


Or the "As Good As Gold" Bangle Bracelet ($42, and comes in several other colors/finishes)



This Essie Nail Color 2013 Holiday Gift Set ($14.99) is currently unavailable online, but the colors are perfect, and you may have luck finding one at a Target near you.



Men

Kick it old school style with these Tetris shaped fridge magnets ($5.99, unfortunately out of stock right now, but hopefully back soon; can also be found here and here for a little higher price)


The LL Bean Fleece Lined Flannel shirt ($59.99), with which we gifted most of the adult men we know last year, is still hands-down the best gift suggestion I have for the men in your life. It's awesome, trust me.


They even make a hoodie version now ($44.95), which might be great for your much-loved, too-cool-for-school teenage hooligan:


A FitBit would be a great gift for men or women - it's a pedometer and so much more (I have one and really like it!). I think men are more apt to go for the wrist-worn versions. Of the two available, I'd recommend the FitBit Force ($129.95) because you can view your stats on the wristband itself.


My dad is raving about the Automatic Smart Driving Assistant ($99.99), which has gotten great reviews. It plugs into your car and sends your smart phone information, like your gas mileage, what the malfunction code means when one pops up on your dash, and where you parked at the mall. I can't find an image file that I can pull down for this post, but it looks like a little gadget. Apple stores are apparently selling them, too.

The Drop and Catch Bottle Opener ($60, but the website is offering $10 off with the coupon code holiday right now) is a great idea


I've raved about the Thermos Stainless King Leak-Proof Travel Tumbler (currently on sale for $18.99) before - hands down the best travel coffee mug I've found. Get it - the coffee drinkers in your life need this.


To pamper your guy, try the Art of Shaving's 4 Elements of the Perfect Shave kit ($60 for the mid size version; they also have a smaller one for $25 and a full size version for $100 or so). You can buy it from many other sites, too, including Macy's, Sephora, and Amazon.

Host/Hostess
I generally don't like to recommend Anthropologie gifts, because I think their products are ridiculously overpriced. However, I've had my eye on their Poppy Ring Brownie Dish ($36) for over a year now, and the price is actually pretty good.


The Threshold Gold Cocktail Shaker ($14.99) is gorgeous and would be perfect paired with a nice bottle of liquor and/or matching tumblers (or was it stemless wine glasses?) that I can't find on the Target website, but did see in my local Target store.


Christmas with the Rat Pack ($7.00) would be a great addition to any host's music collection.


Alright, I'm stopping there, because I need to get back to my own shopping. Speaking of which, what are you buying? Any good ideas for me to use? I'll be getting some of the stuff on this list for my unsuspecting family and friends, but am on the look out for more. Share in the comments!