Holiday Hodgepodge

Last week, there were a few days where I caught myself thinking, "Argh, the holiday season is SO stressful." The combination of shopping, baking, and wrapping on top of the normal studying, grading, planning, etc. is just pure madness. I feel like I'm traveling 1,000 miles an hour, flustered and panicked, while all the great holiday season days slip right on by. So, though I have (you guessed it) many papers to grade and a homework assignment to complete tonight, I'm going to take a moment to stop and smell the roses- er, pine needles- of the holidays. Here's what is making me happy these days:

CHRISTMAS IN A WINDOW It's my favorite thing - big, colorful lights shining out onto a snowy night. I love driving by and seeing my windows lit up, welcoming me home. Plus, they're super easy to hang up, in contrast to the ordeal that is decorating a tree.

BROCCOLI SOUP I can't get enough of this soup. Last month, it was microwave-baked potatoes (I know, sad), but this month, it's broccoli soup! Here's the recipe:
It freezes well, is mostly healthy, and is packed with flavor (don't leave out the croutons).

WARM SOCKS, cozy sweaters, and cute (but comfortable) shoes.

BOOKS Even though I'm ridiculously busy, I still try to set aside 15-20 minutes for reading, right before I go to sleep. It's deliciously comforting, the prospect of a good book and flannel sheets waiting for me each night. My latest is Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger, and I've also started Patrick Swayze's autobiography. I just finished The Lovely Bones (awesome) and, a while back, The Sharper the Knife, the Less You Cry. With a holiday break approaching, I'm looking forward to revisiting old favorites, too - Gooberz by Linda Goodman, and A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains by Isabella Bird. Ah, I love reading!

"GLEE" Seriously, I love this show. It's upbeat, witty and smart. I love how in a single episode, like last week's, will leave me laughing and crying in the span of 45 minutes. I love how old songs are given new life in each episode; I love the endearingly wacky characters.

BRONCOS games on my television each Sunday.

SILLY STUDENTS ...who make me laugh on a daily basis. Lately, the 8th graders have started a new trend of saying "Skiiiiiiiiiiii" (skee) in class, to which I'll respond, "NO SKI!" and we all crack up. It's so ridiculous, but reminds me of the fun, nonsensical part of being young. Each day with these kids is a delight, truly - I really love my job.

HANSON We are all defined by memories and experiences in life, and because of them, we cling to the tangible things that remind us of who we are. For me, it's music. Each memory has a song; each experience a playlist. Hanson is unique in this because they've filled the soundtrack of my life for 13 years, unfailingly. They have figured out how to make new, fresh music that still remains "Hanson-y." And above the music, they are people who strive to improve the world and inspire others to join them. It's a great thing when you realize that your favorite celebrities are actually good people, too.

"SCOO" a.k.a. EDITH She purrs and paws the blankets on my bed before snuggling into my side, and sneaks up behind me to attack my foot ferociously. She likes to hang out in the tub after I've showered, and follows me around like a shadow. She's furry and funny and the warmest part of home. It doesn't feel as lonely with Edith here, that's for sure.

AMAZING PARENTS, friends, and coworkers !

SCUM + Ph.D ...means that I get to talk to my sister a lot. For the first time in a really long time, she's actually available on a daily basis for advice, witty banter, vent sessions, and general hilarity. Her sarcastic text messages alone have put her in high demand with my friends, who all insist on meeting her immediately. I'm lucky to have such an incredible sibling.

LOVE that radiates from 1000 miles away. I'm used to living alone at this point, yes, but I really miss Morgan. It's strange to remember that he used to live here; it seems like a long time ago. As much as I want him to come home, I know that he's forging a path for his future - one that I'm a part of - so it will all be worth it one day. In the meantime, I'm glad for the small handfuls of time that I do get to spend with him. He is the kindest person I've ever met.

Happy holidays to all :)


Bleeding green + gold

Today I accompanied my 8th grade students on a field trip to Colorado State University - my alma mater. I can't explain how strange it is to type those words - I mean, if someone had asked me ten years ago what I thought I might be doing in 2009, it most certainly would not have involved students, CSU, or the inevitable feelings of nostalgia that swarmed my mind today.

I've been back to CSU several times in the last decade, even just this past summer with a sorority sister - a typical trip down memory lane. Things have changed - buildings have new colors and faces, creative sculptures exist where they never did before. There's a transit system right off of the Lory Student Center, which would have been awesome when I was a student. The west side of campus is torn to pieces with construction, and there is a new residence life community that features a bathroom in every room. The building where I took ballet is now a welcome center; and while the LSC food court still houses "That's a Wrap," the wraps really don't quite taste like they used to.

But more is the same than different. The Clark building is as ugly (even painted red) and as overcrowded as usual. The Oval is as stunning as it ever was - even with trees in muted browns and yellows after this year's early frost. Man, to see the Oval in the height of golden fall can take your breath away. The LSC is still a hub of activity - with chalked sidewalks and students hurrying through. The view from the LSC food court - through a curved wall of windows - is still as amazing as it always was. I used to gaze out at the mountains through those windows, eating my wrap, just being a college kid.

I also used to gather on the steps of the Clark building and socialize with Greek friends, and it was inside of Clark, just past the northeast doors, that I once told a boy who broke my heart that he "had my world dangling from a string." I wonder where he is now? I used to study in a grove of trees just across from the plant science building...those trees are still there. I passed through the Oval quite a bit my junior year, when I spent most of my time at a certain fraternity house on the east side of campus. Speaking of the Oval, on graduation night, I streaked across it with three sorority sisters - too bad not a soul was there to see us. And I walked across that enormous expanse of grass to my Durward hall dorm room or G-Phi house, wind in my face, sun in my eyes...just like all of the kids I saw crossing campus in the very same way today.

Oh, to go back. I want to go back...to be 20 and long-haired and full of endless potential. I'd do it all again - even the homesickness of freshman year, the heartache, the poor choices, the wasted tears. To drink beer and listen to DMB on the jukebox at Sully's after the game, to ditch class on a sunny day for Estes, to drive to Horsetooth with Tina and "diet Coke, smokes, and bakery stix," to jog down Shields singing dumb sorority rush songs, to work a Saturday afternoon at GoJo sports, to rake leaves in the yard of the Plum street house, to turn the mind's tapes back and see everyone in the same place, same time...
Oh, if only.
photo circa 1997 >>


Fun & fashionable food for friends

I work with really amazing people - they are funny, kind, and unique. And not only do these friends brighten the workplace experience, they enhance the off-hours time as well. I'm quite normally somewhat of a loner, and these people are entirely responsible for my heightened social activity. We gab before and after school, hysterically laugh our way through staff meetings, take on team building activities like badminton tournaments and mall scavenger hunts with wholehearted, competitive enthusiasm, and gather monthly for the atypically
typical Friday Afternoon Club.

But above all, my favorite social events with these friends are the Project Runway/Top Chef nights. During new PR or TC seasons, we meet on a weeknight to nosh, slurp, and critique our way through the new episode. It's the greatest mid-week stress reliever - a chance to share opinions and recipes and wine. I love it because I get to entertain at home, test new dishes on my friends' palates, and above all, just laugh. Often.

I've realized in my experiences as a host that the best kind of food to make for nights like these is simple, elegant, and genuine. There have been nights when I've tried to go over the top and make a new gourmet recipe - and I just end up feeling stressed and worried (the very opposite of the night's purpose). So I've started to stick to the recipes I know work - the tried-and-true numbers, or the ones I throw together at the last minute just using my instincts as a guide.

This past week's menu included Nigella's brownies, guacamole with yam and multigrain chips, salami
bruschetta, chicken salad on Wasa crackers, and stuffed dates wrapped in pancetta. Most of these recipes were either created off the top of my head, or borrowed from an existing recipe and then tweaked here and there until they became my own.

The only one I haven't touched is the brownie recipe - it's perfect as it is. From my hero, Nigella Lawson, these brownies are mostly fudgy, super-chocolatey with a perfect, cracked top layer that melts when it touches the top of your lip. They are even better cold (try them straight out of the freezer!) and you can find the recipe here: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/nigella-lawson/triple-chocolate-brownies-recipe/index.html.

*FYI: I make mine with walnuts instead of white chocolate chips. Make immediately and arm yourself with a tall glass of milk!

Oh, and happy entertaining :)



What is a home?

Is it where you hang your hat, or a place at which to make yourself? Is it a building, or just a space? Is it filled with familiarities and memories and cherished objects? Can it be temporary, relocated or replaced?

Home has been all of these things to me over the years. I've moved a lot in my life, and some homes have meant more than others. Be it my childhood home of cedar and trees in Castle Rock, a tiny dorm room on the 5th floor of Durward Hall, or a tall condo in the middle of the desert, home has always been a place. It's been filled with things of comfort - a grandmother's quilt, a favorite green bookcase, a curious black cat named Edith, and books...tons and tons of books. Sometimes my homes have been filled with other people - family, roommates, lovers - but their presence has always only been transitory.

In all of my life and all of my homes, one factor has remained constant: a love for Colorado. Among its jagged blue mountains and sprawling brown plains, I've always felt that permanent sense of home. In Colorado, I can be happy, safe, and successful. In Colorado, life's trials don't seem so devastating. In Colorado, I'll find a way to make my dreams come true.

Today, my home seems far away. And in less than 11 hours, I'll return to Colorado without an enormous chunk of my heart, and for the first time in my life, I'm not sure that Colorado - home - will be able to offer enough comfort. My gut sinking, I have begun to realize that home may not actually be a place...but, rather, with a person. Because no matter what familiarity awaits me at home, it will not hide the glaring absence of my one true love, my best friend.

I'm seeing now that home is, most definitely, where the heart is.


So long, MJ

Michael Jackson is dead.

I’ll admit I was pretty surprised when I heard it on Thursday. In fact, after seeing someone’s Facebook post about it, I frantically searched the Internet for confirmation. At first, it was only TMZ’s gossip site offering any information. With sinking dread, I kept checking the big sites, all the while knowing that those damn gossip sites usually have the right track.

By the time NPR had posted, it was everywhere. The shock was there - for me, for everyone - and it was genuine. I was shocked to be shocked, too, because I’ve never been an enormous MJ fan, and he’d really become something of a circus show freak in recent years. So what was the big deal? How could some distant, bizarre celebrity’s death bring on such emotion?

While scoping the net for further details, I saw report on celebrity Twitters on the subject. John Mayer’s post caught my eye: "I think we'll mourn his loss as well as the loss of ourselves as children listening to Thriller on the record player." (Oh, John, always speaking the thoughts in my mind somehow - but that’s another blog.)

And that’s it - that’s the explanation. Sure, we’ve lost an American icon and incredible musician. But many of us have lost a familiar face...regardless of how unfamiliar it became over the years. Michael Jackson and his music have been a part of my life since birth - or even before it. And I have so many memories...

...dancing in the basement to “ABC” with my little sister and laughing hysterically at the part where Michael yells, “Sit down, girl! I think I love ya!”

...playing the original Thriller record (my favorite song was “The Girl is Mine” because Paul McCartney was in it) and poring over the picture of Michael on the cover. He was cute, yes, but also foreign to an 8-year-old me.

...Being allowed to watch the “Thriller” video (videos/MTV were banned in our house) because my dad, who genuinely appreciated MJ, thought it was amazing.

...Resorting to MJ’s ballads during my earlier experiences with heartache. “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” usually did the trick, and helped to form the heal-a-heart-with-music trend that I still maintain today.

...Sneaking a peek at the “Black or White” video when my parents weren’t home. (Again with the no MTV thing.) It was such a wild, creative sight - animals, explosions, and the funny Macaulay Culkin rap, too. Even though MJ had transformed considerably at this point, this time period was when I first found him to be attractive. With the long, curly black hair and tight white v-neck, yes, he was sexy in an inexplicable way.

...Finding new meaning in “Man in the Mirror” as an adult and learning to appreciate MJ on a whole different level. I listened to the Thriller album just yesterday and realized what I couldn’t have known as a child: the immense level of his talent. Each song on that album was fresh, funky, irresistible. It’s still all of those things and more 25+ years later.

Michael’s last 15 years or so were really weird, and I think we all just chalked it up to fame and went along with our MJ-dangling-baby and MJ-freaky-face jokes. Now that he’s dead, I feel this strange pang of pity/sadness for the guy. He must have been so lonely. His entire life had been played out in public...he was famous at 5! No wonder he never knew how to be an adult; he’d been a child without a childhood. I really hope he’s in a better place now.

The Jacksons: An American Dream was on just the other day, and like always, I watched some of it even though I know nearly every line. Kept waiting for my favorite: “They’re gonna break up the band!” - a panicked squeal from a young Michael. My sister and I toss that line back and forth at random times just to get a laugh out of each other. Ah, Michael - thanks for memories tied to your great music, and for being the one freaky Jackson that we could still find endearing. Rest well, dude - miss ya already.


Lazy gnocchi days

One of my favorite things about the summer season is all of the free time to experiment with new recipes and practice various cookery techniques. For example, today's hours were filled almost exclusively with making gnocchi. I've made gnocchi several times before, so this time was merely an attempt for improvement.

I'm a hands-on kind of cook; a messy, squishy, dig-in-and-get-it-under-your-fingernails kind. Naturally, I particularly enjoy working with dough - pasta, bread, danish, pie - whatever. Today's gnocchi fit that bill and I happily spent hours among the potato-y, floury dough. Its silken softness and starchy, eggy scent was a delightful component of my afternoon.

Anyway, I did finally get the hang of forming the gnocchi today as well. I attribute this feat to trading the tines of a fork for the side of a whisk when shaping the gnocchi. Simply flatten the dough against the whisk and roll one end to the other to create a shell-like blob with defined ridges. Beautiful little blobs...I served them with spinach-stuffed chicken and a roasted tomato and pepper sauce. (Great way to use up those aged tomatoes that are too soft/mushy for salad, by-the-by.)

Gnocchi recipe (courtesy of Michael Chiarello) can be found here: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/michael-chiarello/potato-gnocchi-recipe/index.html


Cat cure-all

It's been one of THOSE days.

For a creature of habit and careful planning, today did not go well. I awoke feeling crummy - in a mental/emotional sense - and therefore in no mood to follow my regimented summer schedule. (Consider "regimented" lightly - it's not exactly been boot camp over here or anything!)

Anyway, my morning of "I-can't-deal-so-I'll-just-watch-a-movie" turned into an afternoon of obsessing over my blog background, which swiftly took over my evening as well. Workout? Nope. (Not that it was really an option, anyway - yesterday's yoga/Jillian combo left me crippled.) Cleaning? Organizing? General productivity? Nope. Nope. Nope.

So here I've managed to squander 14 hours of my day (mostly) on the computer. The horror of this realization put me in a mood even more terrible than the one I awoke with. Did I seriously just spend an entire day on the Internet? Even a phone call from Mom, even popcorn for dinner, even a delightful evening thunderstorm didn't cheer me up - so it had to be bad. True, there are deeper reasons to my moodiness above just a worthless day, but still.

Just as I began to slip into that unrecoverable hole of despair, Edith hopped up onto the couch and snuggled up against the side of my thigh. She fidgeted, then purred. Twisted sideways and now snoring slightly, she was like a furry little bear.

And in two minutes flat, that cat just made my (wasted) day.


Redeeming qualities of summertime (perhaps a lesser season, but not without virtues)

1. The sweet, honeyed scent of Russian Olive trees blooming in June

2. Watching an afternoon movie in my quiet living room, darkened by a reliable thunderstorm

3. Cool evening breeze wafting through an open window

4. Fresh mixed berries over vanilla bean ice cream

5. Chirpy mornings on my sunny patio - the perfect time/place for reading a great book

6. Spying on my kitchen herbs as they sprout and grow

7. Staying up late to catch up on an HBO series

8. Browsing fragrant, colorful fruit & vegetable stands at the local farmer's market

9. - Cold cucumber soup topped with fresh dill, tomato, and a luxurious drizzle of olive oil
- Salty corn chips paired with creamy, citrusy guacamole
- Tangy-sweet cherry tomatoes, fragrant basil, and pungent goat cheese

10. Pale purply-pink sunsets over the mountains, viewed best from a rooftop patio

11. The whir of lawnmowers and sharp smokiness of a charcoal grill, the jangling tune from an ice cream truck, laughter from children as they play in the street at twilight


Blogger - what?

I'm a born blogger.

A blog is essentially a journal, right? Or thoughts and feelings pinned down onto paper? Is the only prerequisite for owning a blog simply to think, write and share? If so, then this blogging business isn't news at all to me.

I've kept a journal since the 8th grade - though that first one consisted of one-liner details, like, "Mike caught my eye in the lunchroom today" and "School dance - ugh!" By high school, I had two journals going at once - one of my own, filled with all sorts of secrets kept from my parents, and one shared with my best friend, Traci. This journal was a fabulous idea - we kept it in a plain notebook and passed it back and forth between classes. It allowed us to write notes to each other without getting caught by a teacher. Our journal was creative, filled with poetry and art (not just doodling, mind you - Traci was/is an amazing artist). I still remember writing poems in that journal during 9th grade English, scribbling away while Mr. McCloskey babbled about the importance of "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." in A Tale of Two Cities.  We'd comment on Senora Cable's boring Destinos tapes, and wrote page after page (after page) about boys and heartache. 

Ahh...boys and heartache. Clearly correlated, and seemingly, a never-ending issue. While adulthood has shown me that there indeed are much larger life struggles - career choices, financial woes, death - to this day, boys and heartache continue to be topics most violently felt, most continuously processed. Rooted in my soul, boys and heartache are easiest for me to write about, too...no matter the form they've taken on life's road.

But this blog won't be just about broken hearts or musings on men; it won't have that one specific goal. I've begun it simply for myself, truly, in an attempt to maintain a sanity that may be threatened by inevitable changes in my future. And don't we all wish for that - a lifeline when life itself becomes unbearable?