Sunday, December 30, 2012

Goals for 2013

I've never been a fan of New Year's Resolutions. I know, I know: what with my raging Type A tendencies, you'd think I'd be all over resolutions like white on rice. (Wait, this is a healthy living blog! That should be "like brown on rice"! We love our whole grains here, folks. But I digress.)

But I find that in many cases, people's resolutions for self-improvement are based on restriction, deprivation, and punishment. You know the drill: I'll stop drinking diet Coke, I'll stop eating sugar, I'll make myself lose weight, yadda yadda yadda.

With that in mind, instead of creating resolutions, I decided to create goals for the next year -- because, in my mind at least, goals are positive achievements. In all areas of life, I prefer to add good things in as a way of crowding out the bad stuff, and this works in a similar way: instead of focusing on all the things about myself that I want to change, I'm focusing on all the positive things I want to add into my life.


So, without further goals for 2013!

1) My best friend bought me a copy of The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron, and I'm already in love with it. Because it involves really committing to the work recommended in the book, I'm making this my #1 goal for 2013: once we've moved in to our new place, I'm going to make the time and space in my life to fully commit to the 12 weeks of work involved in the program.

2) This one scares the crap out of me, but I want to attend at least one conversational Hebrew group meet-up. Languages are a "use it or lose it" skill, and I've definitely been losing my Hebrew. I know it's just lying dormant in some dark corner of my brain, so I want to wake it up -- despite my epic fear of looking like a linguistic buffoon since it's been almost 7 years since I left Jerusalem.
3) Start writing installments of the Women Who Inspire interview series, and start reaching out to people beyond my immediate group of friends who I'd like to interview.
4) Launch the Mimosas for Charity fundraiser series that I thought up this fall -- this one has yet to be unveiled, so stay tuned for more info!

5) Practice as many random acts of kindness whenever possible -- and it's almost always possible.

6) Run another 5K.
7) Write as much as I possibly can!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Vacation, All I Ever Wanted...

Vacation, all I ever wanted
Vacation, have to get away
Vacation, oh, to be swept along...

You know you're excited for your impending vacation when you start singing old Go-Go's songs.

Brandon and I leave tonight for 10 days in Texas visiting our families (my parents and brother are driving down from Colorado), and I might be crawling out of my skin in excitement.

I've got all my clothes and random gifts for the fam all packed. I wish I could say that I'm able to pack light -- but in my nearly 32 years on this beautiful planet, I've learned that a) I not even remotely capable of packing light, and b) I'm actually only capable of packing back-breakingly heavy. To the baggage handling crews: my apologies.

I'm stocked up on reading material for the plane (this includes my beloved Kindle, which didn't make the photo shoot due to a prior commitment with the charger and an electric outlet):

And, of course, I have a carry-on full of workout gear. I've got my yoga and running pants, sports bras galore, enough socks to sink a ship, and the crowning glory: the Garmin that Brandon bought me for Christmas. I plan to take full advantage of the mild Texas weather and run as much as possible -- or, at the very least, hit the hotel gym with my brother.

Next time I see you lovely people, I'll be writing from beautiful San Antonio -- hooray!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Epiphanies and Decisions

This week's Thankful Thursday post is a long one -- please bear with me as I pour it all out, and thanks to Jessie for hosting this link-up party!


In keeping with my December Sanity Challenge decision to focus on doing one thing at a time, I recently had a realization that fell into the same theme.

See, I've been having this little (read: behemoth) existential crisis for the last year and a half. Over the course of those 18 months, I've done a ton of soul-searching and deep thinking about what I want to do, why I want to do it, and how I can achieve it.

As part of that process, I spent the last year studying holistic nutrition at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, and I've been planning to open a Health Coach practice. 

Throughout that experience, though, I've been worried about having the time necessary to get a business up and running. I work full-time -- and between my 40 hour workweek, my daily dates with the gym, and cooking dinner since Brandon usually works late, there's very little time left at the end of the day.

What little time I have left, though, I want to spend with Brandon. My husband is awesome, and I really enjoy his company -- and although it's ridiculously simple, I love the time I spend with him when we're just hanging out on the couch, watching TV, chatting, and making each other laugh.

All that doesn't leave much of any time to be working with clients, let alone doing the marketing and PR legwork to even get those clients in the first place. This has been a constant source of stress for me, because I knew that I wanted to put what I was learning at IIN to use, and I knew that I wanted to help people.

At the same time, over the course of the last year my desire to write has grown into an irrepressable urge. On a whim in October, I started this blog as a way to have a creative outlet as I try to navigate my quarter-life crisis and get my ducks in a row.

As I've continued writing, I've found that it's one of my greatest joys. Writing, running/hitting the gym, and chilling with Brandon are the parts of my day that I look forward to the most. I want to be able to devote my free time to those activities, because they're the things I find most edifying -- and not only that, but they make me profoundly happy.

I'd been considering putting the health coaching practice on the back burner to focus on blogging when two serendipitous things happened: first, I read this post on the Girls Gone Sporty blog. This quote reeeaaaallly resonated with me: 

"Balance" the way so many people think of it, is a myth. None of us are the superwomen we'd like to be. There are 24 hours in a day. There are basic life demands like grocery shopping, sleeping, cleaning and running errands that are non-negotiable. There are leisure choices, like lunch with friends, dates with your spouse and playtime with kids that shouldn't be dismissed. And then there are our goals. The demands we place on ourselves and the time they require simply because we want to achieve them. When you only have an additioinal three or four hours to give, you have to be focused and prepared to tackle those goals. Coming to the table with too many goals in too many areas of life will just leave you feeling stressed, overwhelmed and ultimately, unsuccessful. So stop. Reevaluate. Decide what you really want to achieve first, then go get 'em! 

It's as if she read my mind. I'd been fretting about the whole "there are only 24 hours in a day" and "I have so many goals, I don't know how I'm possibly going to achieve them" motifs for a long time, and it was starting to wear on me. I was juuuuuuuust starting to come around to the idea that I might want to focus on turning this into a legit healthy living blog (as opposed to an afterthought as I launched the business) when I read this post, and the timing was perfect.

Then, a day later, Brandon and I were chatting and this very topic came up. As he astutely noted (in a shocking turn of events, my husband knows me really, really well), I love blogging and writing -- and starting my business now would not only take away from that, there wouldn't be enough hours in the day for me to write, do marketing, meet with clients, work 40 hours a week in my day job, and spend time with him. 

We were both concerned about the demands that launching the business would place on my time and schedule and the time we spend together, and just as I was about to say "I'm considering putting the business on the back burner for now so I can focus on blogging," he basically took the words right out of my mouth. 

And when I had the same conversation with my mom, before I could even finish saying what I was thinking, she said she thought I should focus on blogging and helping people get healthy not through a health coaching practice, but rather through writing. And then she said this is what she'd been thinking all along.

Moms and husbands: how do they know this stuff?! Was I absent the day ESP abilities were handed out? (Answer: evidently, yes.)

As soon as I decided to focus on blogging, I felt like a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders. More to the point, though, I felt like it was absolutely the right decision. There are some decisions that feel right on every level -- in your mind and in your heart -- and this was one of them. At the very seat of my soul, I knew I was making the right choice.

And for that, I'm tremendously thankful.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

WAIW: The Post-Christmas Edition

Happy day after Christmas, and happy Boxing Day to those in Canada!

We had an awesome day yesterday: I woke up early and baked up a storm in anticipation of our Christmas feast -- a feast that featured (no joke) kosher options, vegan options, highly carnivorous options, and gluten-free options.

It was the most egalitarian Christmas ever, y'all.

I contributed to the effort with a glut of gluten-free baked goods: vegan almond-poppyseed muffins, vegan brownies, and chocolate-peppermint brownies. (I'll post the recipes later - happily, the wonderful Valerie from City, Life, Eats sampled all the vegan offerings and asked for the recipes.) I was sure I'd gained 10 pounds in one afternoon, until...

4:00 this morning, when I woke up with a stomach virus.

So, so uncool.

After the worst was over, I slept until almost 1 p.m. (I only sleep like that when I'm on the brink of death) and have been communing with the couch since then. I finally feel up to doing something other than staring at the TV and being thankful that I got sick before going on vacation, and naturally, the first thing I wanted to do in my gradually-improving state is write a blog post. :)

Wednesdays are usually reserved for a What I Ate Wednesday -- thanks to Jenn from Peas & Crayons for hosting, of course -- but given the circumstances, today's offerings are incredibly lackluster.

All I've eaten today have been gourmet delicacies such as chicken broth, toast, and tea, which I know people obviously want to hear a lot about. (What's that, you say? People don't want to read about chicken broth in painstaking detail? Color me shocked!)

Instead, I'll add some photos of my Christmas Day food offerings, although it's by no means comprehensive! Christmas morning began with a cup of coffee (obviously) -- is there any other way I could start the day?

For breakfast I had a banana and a slice of low-fat, Weight Watchers-friendly, gluten-free (and crustless), turkey, cheddar, and spinach quiche. I've recently gotten into the habit of making a quiche like this on the weekends and taking a piece to work with me during the week for a dose of much-needed lean protein.


Our Christmas feast was scheduled for the afternoon, so lunch basically started at 2 p.m. and lasted for a few hours. In addition to the roast beast, I had spinach salad with chickpeas, strawberries, and pecans, topped with home-made balsamic and herb dressing. Valerie brought a lemony quinoa pilaf which was absolutely delicious, and she said it came from Gluten-Free Recipes for the Conscious Cook (a cookbook that looks amazing, BTW). We also had asparagus with olive oil and almonds, carrots with hummus, and roasted potatoes.

Dessert featured all my baking creations, including two kinds of brownies and almond-poppyseed muffins. Success!

I hope everyone had a fabulous holiday and that you're all able to get some R&R before the new year!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Adventures in Inner Monologues: My Apartment is a Mess, and an Ode to Trader Joe's

Ok, so I apologize in advance for the randomness of this post: the impending holidays, impending vacation, and impending move have me a bit (by which I mean monstrously) hare-brained and scattered.

Which you'll soon see.

The first issue at hand is the fact that the apartment is a complete mess. Before I left work on Friday, I found a bunch of empty boxes in the hallway -- so after asking around and making sure they were left out for the trash folks to pick up, I happily took five decently large boxes home to help with the packing efforts. 

Between this and the recently hauled out (albeit deconstructed) boxes from when we moved here, I now have the resources needed to...go into a packing frenzy. 

Now, here's the thing about me: I'm absurdly organized, but that tendency becomes a raging obsession whenever I move. We moved a lot when I was growing up, and important stuff would always get lost for months at a time -- or I'd wonder what box a particular thing was in, and then wind up tearing through four boxes before I found it.

So now I set up a command center, and I have a notebook in which I inventory everything that goes into each box. 

Because I'm insane.
Proof of my insanity

The problem? This means the apartment is now inhabited not only by me and Brandon, but by a series of piles: piles of boxes (both filled and empty), piles of books and clothes that are going to Goodwill, piles of old kitchen supplies that we replaced with items from our wedding registry and are now waiting to be given to our friends.

It's starting to look like an obstacle course, which tends to make me kind of twitchy. I'm an "outer order creates inner calm" sort of dame, and all this outer disorder gets me all wigged out.

I'm coping with this by 1) running, and 2) making sure I get my early morning down time during this lovely long weekend. I light a candle, grab a cup of java, and read my book in an effort to get some woo-sah in my life.

Serenity now!
Oh, and I grocery shop. Because grocery stores are my happy place. More specifically, Trader Joe's is my happy place.

I live within a 10-minute walk of a TJ's, and it's the only thing I'm really going to miss when we move to our new place. I mean, the fact that I'll have to drive to one isn't exactly a hardship (oh, the humanity!), but it won't be like taking a quick stroll down the road to bask in its vastly-superior-to-all-other-supermarkets fluorescent lighting.

I love TJ's for a variety of reasons: first, they're incredibly on the ball when it comes to allergen labeling. All the GF-friendly offerings are clearly labeled, which makes this glutard's life a lot easier.

Secondly, they have so much good food...and it's so very cheap! Holy crap, you guys. This is the bulk of what I got, but there was more that I forgot to add in to this picture (regular, non-GF cereal and regular milk for Brandon, 96% extra lean ground beef, and almond butter) -- and it was under $100.

I shall call this work "Still Life With Loot From TJ's."
(Grapes, organic apples, bananas, cantaloupe, pineapple, organic baby kale, organic spinach, organic spring mix, organic kiwis, frozen organic spinach, chicken breasts, chicken breasts flavored with curry sauce, ground turkey breast, herb-infused deli sliced turkey breast, feta, chickpeas, egg whites, unsweetened apple sauce, organic nonfat Greek yogurt, almond milk, and GF brownie mix.) So! Effing! Awesome!

So, while the apartment might be sporting the war zone motif for the next month, if I can just have my exercise, morning routine, and access to Trader Joe's, I ought to survive intact.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Fun Facts Friday: The Inaugural/Christmas Edition!

In recent weeks, I've seen a number of lovely bloggers write Fun Facts Friday posts, and this week I'm joining in the festivities. In keeping with the season, I'm making these Christmas-themed -- enjoy!

1) When I was a little kid, I was totally not on board with Santa. 

Apparently I was more than a little afraid of him, actually. Yes, I know: Santa is supposed to be the jolly bearer of gifts for all the delighted children. But as far as I was concerned, the whole concept entailed having a strange man in our house who was basically guilty of breaking and entering. And this, friends, was NOT OKAY. Unlike, um, all my peers, I was really stoked when my parents broke the news that Santa isn't real.
Scared of Santa: Scenes of Terror in Toyland
This book exists, y'all.
Check out Amazon to see my freaked-out compatriots!

2) One of the best Christmases ever was when I was in first grade. 

I remember that I got a veritable glut of toys, all of which I really wanted and was incredibly excited about. (Yes, I know, Christmas isn't supposed to be about the presents...but seriously, people, it's totally about the presents. #sorryimnotsorry) The really awesome thing, though, was a Trapper Keeper that I got from my grandparents (bear in mind that this was in 1987). OMFG, you guys, the Trapper Keeper. It was so pretty. And I'd been coveting one for the better part of a year. I'm almost certain some of the stuffed animals on my bed were temporarily displaced by the beloved Trapper Keeper for the first few nights after Christmas.

Squee, this is the exact one! (Source)

3) My brother and I absolutely luuuuuurrrrve peppermint ice cream. 

One Christmas while I was in grad school, we decided on Christmas Eve that we wanted to indulge our habit. We schlepped to the grocery, only to find that they were out. So we went to another store, only to be met with the same situation. We went on a wild goose chase to four different grocery stores -- all the while racing against the clock, knowing they were about to close early for Christmas Eve -- before finding a place that had two gallons left. We bought them both and, as soon as we got home, parked our butts on the couch and proceeded to chow down.

Yeah, that serving size looks about right. (Source)

4) One of my favorite family traditions has been the annual day-after-Christmas party for my extended family in Colorado. 

That branch of the family tree has been meeting on the 26th for generations, and each year the party draws 40-50 people. Some of my favorite people are there each year, and it's wonderful to see them. Because the town where our extended family lives is about 2 hours from where I grew up, we always spend the night of the 26th with our relatives -- and some of my favorite memories are of chatting with my beloved aunts, uncles, and cousins well into the evening.

That's me in the middle of the front row, surrounded by some phenomenal people.

5) Christmas ain't Christmas without a good roast beef. 

Apparently I'm one of the only people who thinks this -- I hear turkeys are the more common fare for most people? -- but gawd, I love my roast beef au jus. I also refer to it as the roast beast, simply because it's impossible not to after a childhood spent repeatedly watching the Grinch Who Stole Christmas.

6) I'm not particularly religious, but Christmas Eve church services always send chills down my spine. Always.

Hope everyone is having a fabulous Friday - here's to the holiday weekend! Wahoo!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Thankful Thursday

Happy Thursday evening, everyone!

Given that the end of the world is tomorrow and all (I kid, I kid), I figure it's good to go out on a thankful note. ;)

As always, many thanks to the darling Jessie from Jessie Loves to Run for hosting this little link-up party.

I'm thankful for a random smattering of things this week (per the usual - when have my moments of gratitude ever not been totally random?):


1) The Peaceful Holidays station on Pandora. It's soooo relaxing, and I love it.

2) Whenever Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy plays on the aforementioned Peaceful Holidays station. I love, love, love that song, and I find myself bopping in time with it at my desk whenever it plays. I get weird looks from my co-workers for this, but I don't care.

3) Buzzfeed's LOL lists. Seriously, this stuff makes me laugh so hard I cry, and I think I almost gave myself a hernia this morning from laughing at the Best Autocorrects of 2012 and Best Mugshots of 2012 lists. 

For realz, people - go check it out. You will laugh.
4) Yesterday's realization that I didn't have to get everything done all at once: this was a huge help for me, and lo and behold, this morning I quickly completed all the remaining tasks from yesterday. Not only did disaster totally not ensue when I didn't do everything yesterday, but it actually worked out beautifully for me to finish everything up today.

I hope everyone has a fabulous evening - I think getting to prove all the Mayan apocalypse nutjobs wrong tomorrow night will call for a glass (or three) of wine, right? :)

December Sanity Challenge Update: There's Always Tomorrow

Yesterday was definitely one of those days.

The sort of day in which I went to badge in at work and, in my mental fog, tried to use my Metro card instead. And then I wondered why it didn't work.

The sort of day in which I said, out loud and in the office, "I'd be happy to do that as soon as possible, but it's imperative that I have more caffeine if I'm going to do anything worthwhile today."

The sort of day in which there were simply not enough hours in the day for me to do all the stuff I need to do.

I needed to stay late at work, go running, cook dinner, wrap gifts, go to the UPS store, vacuum my increasingly filthy kitchen, drop off my favorite shoes to get re-heeled...the list goes on. And on and on and on.

Whenever life gets like this -- when I have more items on my to do list than there are minutes in the day -- I go into hyper-strategizing mode in an attempt to get everything done as quickly and efficiently as humanly possible. I try to carefully plan what will be done and when in order to maximize every available moment, and I become a one-person war room/operations center.
The thing is, half the time this process just stresses me out more. If there's a clear-cut answer (i.e., take out the recycling on the way to the grocery store, use the crock pot and run while dinner cooks, etc.), then it's all good. But if there are too many variables involved, I just start spinning my wheels.

And then the freak-out begins. 

I come up with a bajillion different plans, none of which seem to be very good. I'll then jump between those different plans with such ridiculous frequency that I start imagining myself as a frog.

A case in point: during finals the first semester I was in Israel, I had so many things to do - and so little time in which to do them - that I spent the better part of 20 minutes thinking of ways to maximize my time, but not really committing to any of them. 
I'd decide to drill Hebrew verbs now, and do errands later - but while en route to my favorite isolated corner of the library, I'd realize that the stores I needed to visit had variable hours and might be closed once I was done with my verb drills. So then I'd decide to do the errands first, maybe have a snack, and then spend quality time with the verbs. But then I realized that if I ran errands first, I might not have time to meet with the Arabic study group...
A friend found me wandering in the student center while lugging my back-breakingly heavy load of books, mumbling to myself, and starting to panic. 

So she told me to get a cup of chai and just focus on one thing at a time. As it turns out, that was excellent advice. 

One Thing At A Time
So yesterday, as I started to descend into that dark place once again, I amended that advice just a bit: I'll do one thing at a time and get as much done as I can in the time that I have.
I decided to trust that I'd get it all done as quickly as possible, and that if it turned out that there wasn't enough time in the day to accomplish everything, that'd be okay.

If my cookies aren't in the mail in time to arrive in NC and Seattle before Christmas, well, so be it. My best friend won't cancel our friendship, and my Granddad won't disown me. (I choose to look at it not as failing to get gifts there on time, but rather as helping to extend the Christmas celebration.) If I don't drop off my shoes in the next 12 hours, the world will continue spinning and I'll continue wearing other pairs. 

I had to stay at work even later than anticipated -- but as it turns out, once I got home there was enough time to cook dinner, prep my lunch for today, clean the kitchen, and prep the NC- and Seattle-bound packages that I need to ship. There wasn't enough time to run or drop off my shoes, but that's okay. There will be other days for that (like today).
Try today to do as much as you can, but don't stress, stay calm there is always tomorrow to complete the rest. #theorganisedhousewife

Not surprisingly, this really helped me chill out - once I realized that I can't expect myself to carry out super-human feats like forcing 28 hours of productivity into a 24 hour day (or defying the laws of time altogether and creating a 28 hour day...bwwwhahahahahah), I relaxed. 
I focused on what I knew I could get done -- which, as it turns out, was a good portion of what I needed to do -- without giving myself a hard time for the 25% that will be taken care of today. And, lo and behold, not giving myself flack = a happier Lillian. Who knew?!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

WIAW: 6 Days Until Christmas!

The countdown to Christmas is on, people! (*Does happy dance*)

I'm getting absurdly excited, even though I have a bajillion things to do between now and then. I'm also prepping for all the things that will come after Christmas: our annual vacation out West, and then, two and a half weeks after we get back from vacay, our move to a new apartment.

Something tells me all this is going to go by just a wee bit faster than I can handle.

And by a wee bit, I mean a lot. If it were a quantifiable amount, it'd probably be a metric ton.

So, amidst the gift ordering, last-second sprints to the UPS store, etc., I'm also packing for our 10 days in Texas and packing up our belongings in preparation for the big move. This means that half our place looks like a war zone. I keep expecting to find traumatized refugees, packs of wild dogs, or the occasional displaced insurgent among the gazillion piles of stuff, suitcases, and boxes.

But I digress.

Happily, it's time for one of my favorite mid-week traditions: What I Ate Wednesday, courtesy of the fabulous Jenn from Peas & Crayons!

I've noticed recently that I need more than just some caffeine before hitting the gym, so this morning I had some GF toast with my coffee. To the folks at Canyon Gluten-Free Bakery: you complete me.

I wound up having breakfast after I got to work, so I don't have a complete picture - but it consisted of Greek yogurt, a banana, and a smudge of granola. Snacks du jour were an apple with almond butter (good gawd, I love Trader Joe's almond butter!) and cantaloupe. And yo, I totally scarfed down the entire half cantaloupe in one sitting. This gal loves her fruit.

Lunch: more chicken, rice, and veggie soup - in keeping with my December Sanity Challenge decision to embrace pre-made soups, I'm doing precisely that. Bring on the Progresso/Pacific/Imagine, y'all.

Yesterday we had our annual office holiday party, which meant there was very little in the way of productivity -- the one thing I did accomplish, though, was to pick up a raging addiction to Hershey's candy cane kisses. These things must be laced with crack, or magical unicorn tears, or something that makes them irresistible.
Hershey's Candy Cane Kisses: driving me to the brink of insanity since 2012. [source]
Dinner was roasted chicken with salad and low-fat French dressing -- all in all, a ridiculously low-maintenance meal, which is exactly what I need during this week of craziness. The less effort a meal requires, the more I'm totally on board with it.

After dinner, I had my beloved cup of Bengal Spice tea - I freaking love this stuff. It's like spice cake (my fave) in a mug, and it's incredibly relaxing.

I hope everyone has a fabulous Wednesday!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

December Sanity Challenge: The One, The Only Batch of Cookies (Oatmeal, Peanut Butter, and Chocolate Chip Cookies)

Good morning, and happy Tuesday!

I can't believe Christmas is in one week - time has seriously flown by this month. On the other hand, I say that about every month now; I feel like time keeps moving faster and faster, which I hear only gets more pronounced as you get older. 

If that's the case, then time will be moving at ludicrous speed by the time I'm eligible to join the AARP. To round out the Spaceballs reference, by that point time will have gone plaid.

We have our office holiday party this afternoon, which should be fun -- I have to say, this is the one (and only) time of year when I actually feel lucky to have Celiac Disease. I have no desire whatsoever to gorge myself on brownies and baked goods, not because I don't love them (which I do - if it were possible to go into a brownie coma, I'm pretty sure I would've done that in my pre-Celiac days), but simply because I have no desire to be monumentally sick. 

No desire to get horrifically ill? It's shocking, I know. 

I do, however, have to exercise some self control when it comes to my biggest weakness: gluten-free cookies.
Hello, Lillian. I'm here to annihilate your willpower.
These, friends, are my biggest diet nemesis. I'm powerless in their presence. They're like kryptonite, if kryptonite was as addictive as the most heinously addictive street drugs available.

In sticking with my December Sanity Challenge decision to only make one batch of cookies, I'm doing myself a huge favor by taking a third of the batch to work for the holiday party, and shipping the other two thirds to my best friend in Seattle and my Granddad in North Carolina as part of their respective Christmas presents. 

I am leaving exactly 4 cookies for Brandon and me to eat.

And if he doesn't eat his soon, there's a very real chance that I'll wake up in the middle of the night, run to the kitchen, furtively stuff them into my mouth while looking around frantically like a caged animal, and then scurry back to bed and deny all knowledge of the missing cookies in the morning.

You can think what you want based on the crumbs all over my face,
but I'll deny everything.
They're usually made with butter and eggs, but since my best friend is as sensitive to lactose as I am to gluten (which is to say: extremely), I substituted Earth Balance in place of butter and vegan chocolate chips in place of milk chocolate semi-sweet chips.

I also substituted flax eggs in place of the real thing -- not for any virtuous health-related reason, but rather because I have no self-control whatsoever and I want to be able to eat the batter.

Because I'm five.

And when it comes to baked goods, I want my instant gratification and I want it now.

Mmmmmm. Batter. Come to mama.
(*Washes batter off of face*)

However, if you're on board with either dairy or eggs, feel free to substitute them back in! 

Oatmeal, Peanut Butter, and Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from my mother-in-law's recipe for Monster Cookies
(Gluten-free, vegan)

1 cup Earth Balance
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup sugar
3 flax eggs (3 tablespoons ground flax seeds mixed with 3 tablespoons water)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups peanut butter
4 1/2 cups rolled gluten-free oats
1 1/2 packages vegan chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350. While it's heating, cream the butter and sugars.

Next, add the flax egg -- it's super easy to make. In place of each real egg, mix one tablespoon of ground flax with one tablespoon warm water. Let it sit for a few minutes so it can gel together. This recipe called for three.

Add the vanilla and peanut butter, and mix well. Then add the oats and chocolate chips.

Drop dough onto cookie sheet and bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes.

Once they're baked, let them cool before transferring them to a cookie rack - they're really crumbly when they're still hot. I flattened mine out halfway through the baking process, so they look like regular cookies - but if you leave them alone, they'll hold their shape and emerge from the oven as little balls of peanut buttery, chocolatey glory.

Of course, you're going to have to sample a few just to make sure they turned out well. (And by a few, I mean at least five.)

Monday, December 17, 2012

Houston, We Have a Tree!

It finally happened: we got ourselves a legit, 100% live, way-bigger-than-a-toddler Christmas tree.

And I'm basically overjoyed by this.

As it turns out, Home Depot is the greatest possible place to buy a tree (or, as I like to call it, a tree acquisition venue) -- Mom's tree reconnaissance was absolutely awesome, especially when combined with my dear friend Christie's dedication in calling local Home Depots to confirm my mom's reports. Mom and Christie FTW!

Target acquired (plus a wreath!), and mission accomplished
Christie went with Brandon and me so she could get a tree too, and it can only be described as ludicrously successful. We all found our respective trees within 15 minutes, and the good folks from Home Depot loaded them into the truck. We were in and out of there in well under 30 minutes, which I think is its own Christmas miracle.
Our tree and Christie's tree, being BFFs in the truck
Brandon and I came home and decorated (while I put on the holiday station on Pandora, obviously), and I've been jumping around and clapping my hands like a little kid ever since then.

Our apartment smells so piney!

It's so pretty and sparkly!


*Collapses into a heap of child-like glee*
As we were putting it up, I suddenly realized why I love Christmas trees and Christmastime so much: some of my happiest childhood memories happened around Christmas, and the tree has always been at the center of it.

I then had what I can only describe as the opposite of a PTSD flashback, so I'll call it a warm and fuzzy flashback: I remembered being six years old, listening to a tape (hey, it was the 80's) of Christmas carols while my parents sat on the couch and read, and lying down next to the tree as I gazed up into its branches. 

I was transfixed by the lights and the way they refracted off the sparkling ornaments. I loved the smell of the pine tree as it mixed with the smell of the fire in the fireplace. I remembered that I'd felt like I was wrapped in a cocoon of absolute peace, safety, comfort, and contentment. I remembered how I'd wished I could stay there forever.

Last night, that same feeling returned whenever I looked at the tree. And that's when I realized: this is why I've been so adamant about getting a tree. I love their celebratory value, sure - but for me they represent a whole lot more than Christmas cheer. They're a symbol of my most beloved childhood memories, and the profound sense of peace, comfort, and joy that Christmas always entailed.

So, with that, here are some light and ornament pictures from this year's tree - because as far as this girl is concerned, pretty and sparkly is the only way to go.