Monday, December 29, 2014

40 Questions

Ten years in a row! Happy 10 Year "40 Questions" Anniversary to me.

1. What did you do in 2014 that you’d never done before?
I guess among firsts, I got a tax professional to do my taxes for the first time.  And I bought a car from a dealership for the first time. I'm all grown up and stuff.

2. Did you keep your New Years’ resolutions and will you make more for next year?
Last year's New Year's resolution was to "rigorously save money, to get a little more exercise, eat a little healthier and lose about 15 pounds."  Well, let's see how that went...

I didn't exactly save a lot of money, as in, put a lot in savings, but I managed to budget even better than I was already doing and have continued to keep us from needing a credit card or living in any debt (aside from cars).  I got a lot more exercise than I ever expected and have maintained a gym membership for almost an entire year - February will be my one year gymniversary.  On a good week, I go three times, on a great week I go all five weekdays and on a really bad week I miss completely, but that usually only happens when someone in the house is sick, preventing me from going. (Like it's been for the past three weeks or so...) A typical "bad week" would be one or two visits.  So, I say I've done a far, far better job than I expected, considering I wrote last year that I would probably fail.  I also lost a good amount of weight - 25 lbs! (Though I've put about 5 back on since Thanksgiving.) I think I've done pretty well this year! I'm now only a few pounds over what I was when I got married. :) Bragging over. Moving on.

I also chose Satisfaction as my "theme" for this past year - being satisfied with what I have and where I'm at. Changing what I can but being satisfied with what I can't. I guess I achieved that to an extent, but to be honest, I will just never be satisfied completely with living in Nowheresville, Arkansas.  I just can't, no matter how hard I try.

So. All of that said, what are my resolutions for this year?

First thing I wanted to do, and I've already done this, was to streamline my Facebook Friends list for a fresh new year's start.  I never unfriend people because it seems so mean, and I don't want to hurt any feelings. But there were so many people on my list I either did not even know or just don't have any contact with.  So last night I did a clear out.  I did not delete anyone for any unkind reasons; I have no animosity towards anyone I unfriended. I just decided to start fresh with people I actually keep at least a modicum of communication with.

My other resolution is to get back on keto and lose that last 15 lbs.  My goal this year is lower than my goal was last year, because now I believe I can do it.  I'd also like to do another clear out this year of "stuff", as I've accumulated quite a lot of things I don't really need. Going to have a garage sale in the spring, I think. I like simple, I like clear and clean.

And does getting Jaguar potty-trained count as a resolution?

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
I got a new niece and a new nephew this year! My brother and his wifey gave birth to their daughter Makaela, and Scott's brother and his wife had their first son, Sam.  Also my step-brother and his wife had a little girl, so that gave me a step-niece as well! Aside from family, my coworker and friend Carrie had a sweet little girl, Greer, only a month ago, a "little" ten pound chunk of cuteness.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
No one close necessarily, but a theater friend in Scotland passed away just a few days ago on Christmas day. He was one helluva pantomime dame. Never could remember his lines, which only added to the absurdity of panto. He will be missed. His family has been on my mind this week.

5. What countries did you visit?
No other countries this year, and probably none for the foreseeable future. Hence I now change this question to:

5b. What PLACES did you visit?
We went to Nashville, Tennessee to see my old BFF Amanda get married to the love of her life Eric. Beyond that, the furthest we ventured this year was Northwest Arkansas. Sad. Gotta remedy that in 2015.

6. What would you like to have in 2015 that you lacked in 2014?
Last year I said, "by the end of 2014 I'd like to have a plan.  A life plan. A rough guide, more like, since my plans never go according to plan.  I'd like to know where we are going to finally settle."  I think we are getting a little closer to that now, though as for "life plan", that might still be asking too much.

This year, I'd like a little more adventure and excitement. 2014 was more or less a blank canvas of a year.  Not much happened. No big ups, no big downs, certainly no adventures.  I'd like to make sure 2015 isn't as blank as this past year was. Girls just wanna have fun, right?

7. What date from 2014 will remain etched upon your memory?
No actual dates stand out, but somewhere around August I breastfed Baby Jaguar for the last time.  I guess I'll never breastfeed again. Kind of sad.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Surviving a full year in Nowheresville?

Ha.  But seriously, probably the exercise thing. Starting a fitness routine and sticking with it longer than a few months. Seeing my body tone up, feeling my strength increasing.  At the start of the year - February - I could barely get through the warm-up of a Kickboxing class, let alone the entire class, without wanting to pass out (or throw up).  Now I can finish a class with plenty of energy to go.  It's an amazing feeling.

9. What was your biggest failure?
Never getting my curtains hung in my living room.  It's been a year and a half, come on.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
No one suffered anything major this year, touch wood.  We've had a few hospital scares - Jaguar, Fifi - but nothing that amounted to anything.  We have all been off-and-on sick for several weeks though, which in effect RUINED CHRISTMAS (exaggeration, slightly).

11. What was the best thing you bought?
My new car!! I had been driving my Papaw's beat up 1999 Oldsmobile van for a year, and all I wanted was my own car with air conditioning.  Finally in October, we were able to get me a car, and I love it!  She is my precious.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
I hope I can say this in the right way, but I want to give a shout out to my mom.  Me coming out as atheist this year has been incredibly hard on her. I know it breaks her heart every day.  But after the initial shock and after having a few good talks about it with me, she has continued to treat me just the same as she always has - with unconditional love.  I hated hurting my family by leaving our family's faith, and I hate that it hurts them daily. But my mom has made me feel like no matter what, she will always still see me as the same person I've always been. She still talks to me the same way as she used to, and there isn't any weirdness between us (at least I don't feel any).  She prays for me constantly, I'm sure of it, but she hasn't made me feel like a disappointment to her.

That goes for quite a few people, really, but my mom gets the award for it this year.

13. What regrets do you have about the past year?
I guess I regret not trying harder to make friends.  Not wanting to settle here permanently has resulted in me sort of unintentionally keeping up a wall around me. I've made friends that I really care about, but I think I've also kept everyone at a slight distance. I regret that, even while I understand it.

14. Where did most of your money go?
I'd say most of it went into rebuilding our home.  We got the basics last year - furniture and the like - but this year I spent a lot of money just getting the little things that make a house feel like a home, like curtains (that I never put up) and wall art and extra sheets for beds.  Plus the usual - food, clothes, toys.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
My new car. My new sewing machine.  Seeing my old high school friends on holidays.

16. What song/album will always remind you of 2014?
Quiet Company's We Are All Where We Belong.  A former Christian's "coming out atheist" album.  I understood every single word he wrote.

(You can listen to it here for free!)

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
happier or sadder? Though I've had some short periods of sadness encroaching upon depression, in general, I've had a much happier year this year.  Exercise has been a large part of that.  And while leaving Christianity came with a lot of pain, the freedom from it has given me so much more happiness.
thinner or fatter? Thinner! Yay!! I have gone down two sizes!
richer or poorer? Richer, thanks to my rockstar of a husband who works super hard and is super smart and has done super well in his new job here. And my little part time job helps too.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Socialize. I've made a few friends this year, but I've been so inside my own head that I haven't made a big enough effort to see them more regularly. Plus, between mornings at the gyms and afternoons cleaning in the house while Jaguar sleeps, there hasn't been a lot of time for socialization.

Also, I wish I'd read more books.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Watch Netflix. But I'll probably watch just as much next year. (Just being honest!)

20. How did you spend Christmas?
Well, I picked up a stomach bug a couple of days before Christmas, so our family brunch was postponed until New Year's Day.  A week before Christmas, we celebrated with my dad and step-mom, and on Christmas morning, the kids opened their presents here at home.  That night, I was feeling better, but Scott and two of the kids were then feeling rotten, so I went over to my aunt's for the extended family Christmas dinner.  A lot of the plans I had for Christmas and Christmas Eve never happened, which I was upset about, but in general, we still had a good holiday.  I'm happy now to have all the Christmas stuff put away for another year and to have my house back.

21. Who did you spend the most time on the phone with?
We've reverted to Skype for talking to my in-laws in Scotland, so probably this year, I've spent the most time on the phone with my friend Devon, who even in this Information Age of texting and email, still enjoys shooting the breeze over the phone! Which is kind of retro and nice.

22. What's your best memory from 2014?
When Andy and Marion (my in-laws) came to visit at the beginning of the year. I hadn't seen Andy in six months, so it was really, really great to see them again.  They are the best in-laws I could ever have asked for.  It was wonderful spending time with them. The best memory from those weeks was sitting up late one night, drinking good whisky and laughing hysterically about everything and anything, everyone's cheeks getting pinker and pinker with good old Scotch merriment!  It's hard to believe now almost a full year has passed without seeing them. I used to see them two or three times a week. I miss them.

23. How have you seen yourself grow as a person this year?
I think I've just learned to be a better person this year.  I've learned that in order for anything to ever get better, we are going to have to actually do something about it. I can't sit back and hope someone else does something, but I myself must take action.  I don't necessarily mean in big things, though I think we all have our part to play in the big stuff, but even in the small things - keeping a friend's kids so they can get out, donating money or time to tornado relief, bringing someone groceries when they are sick, writing a little note to encourage someone.  All the little things that take so little of me but give so much to someone else.

I used to rely on prayer. Now I rely on me.

24. What was your favorite TV program(s)?
Hmm... I'd probably need to scan through my old Netflix views! I can't remember what I watched earlier in the year, but in the past month I've been watching the cheesiest show ever, Monarch of the Glen.  Makes me miss Scotland, even though the show is nothing like the Scotland I lived in!

Black Mirror, by the way, is gut-punchingly incredible.

26. What was the best book(s) you read? What books would you like to read in the next year?
I read several books by Bart Ehrman which were interesting.  I read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, which I highly recommend! I joined a book club and read some interesting books there, like Gone Girl and The Rosie Project.  I'm currently re-reading (for the sixth or seventh time) The Chrysalids by John Wyndham.

Next year, I need to read 41 by George W Bush since I got it for Christmas from my dad... as long as he reads Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama, which I got him! I'd also like to re-read Silence by Shusako Endo, Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner and Daniel Martin by John Fowles. Any other book recommendations will gladly be taken!

27. What was your greatest musical discovery?
I am ashamed to have gotten into very little new music this year.  In fact, pretty much all the new music I've "discovered" has been pop/R&B from my fitness classes.  And that's nothing to brag about.

My old friend Massey and I have been chatting on Facebook about music though, and he's introduced me to a few new songs and bands that I need to spend a little more time getting into, if I can just find the time!

28. What did you want and get?
Last year's answer: A cat.
This year's answer: Another cat.

Also a car!

29. What did you want and not get?
To move away. (Insert a wink, even though, I'm for reals.)

30. What were your favorite films of this year?
Do parents actually get to see films?  I think we saw a couple. That one with Johnny Depp and the artificial intelligence was good.  Transcendence, that's the one.

31. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I don't think I actually did anything on my birthday this year (32), but at some point after it my family and I went out for Indian food to celebrate.  Scott got me a sewing machine!

32. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
If the Republicans hadn't won everything in the last election.
If Hobby Lobby had lost their court case.
If Fayetteville hadn't repealed their ban on discrimination. (I don't even live there anymore.)
If the AR Supreme Court had made a ruling regarding the ban on same-sex marriage (and that ruling had been to declare it unconstitutional.)

33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2014?
Up until the October Dress Project, I was still dressing pretty ordinary, in jeans or trousers and t-shirts, or gym wear.  But ODP made me really want to enjoy looking nice again, so even though my wardrobe is still pretty sparse and mostly made up of handmedowns and clearance rack items, I've tried recently to up my appearance by dressing a little more interestingly, accessorizing with belts and scarves and hats and footwear.

She says, as she types this in her pink bunny pajamas at 2pm.

34. What kept you sane?
Working out. Kickboxing, Cardio Dance, Zumba, with the occasional Power Pump, Pilates and Step classes.

35. Which holiday or special occasion meant the most to you?
In February, our Seattle friends Jonathan and Sarah, along with their two little munchkins, came to Arkansas to visit us.  Considering Jonathan always said he'd never step foot in Arkansas, it was pretty special that they came out to visit us!

Then on Jaguar's birthday, my brother- and sister-in-law surprised us with a visit from their Texan family. It was great to meet our little nephew and to have the girls all together again.  It was great to see them all. It was really special.

36. What political issue stirred you the most?
Last year's answer will still continue to be this year's answer: Health care and same-sex marriage.  Add in separation of church and state.

37. Who did you miss?
I still miss so many of my Scottish friends and family. I always will. I've really missed my Craft Night Girls, Heather, Paula and Elaine, who were always the ones I went to when I needed to talk shit through.  It's been lonely without that.

38. Who was the best new person (people) you met?
Despite the way I make it sound, I have actually met a lot of really awesome people.  The girls from the book club are all awesome.  The girls I've met at work are all awesome.  My across-the-street neighbor Amy was awesome... but they moved to Texas (boo!).  The girls I've met at the gym are awesome.  But my top, number one people - who I really didn't meet this year, but have gotten to know better this year - are Elizabeth and Mandy. There's some kindred-spirit crap in there somewhere with those two.

39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2014.
"Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not." -Dr Seuss

40. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year?
I could probably just quote the entire Quiet Company's We Are All Where We Belong, but I'll settle on just a couple quotes from here and there throughout the album.

"The river's wide, that I could not swim across it, so I convinced myself I'd walked upon the waves, but I don't want to waste my life.  I wanted to feel as saved as they do, but the more I live, the harder to believe that their god above knows the first thing about love or goes along with every rule they make up. I don't want to waste my life, thinking about the afterlife." -from "The Confessor"

"I was screaming out your name. I guess you never heard me, but I was screaming it for years, and I think I deserve a reason for why you've been so elusive. Now I've been thinking about my life and I can't believe that I have wasted so much time trying to be what everyone loves, the prodigal son returning. Oh what a sight, the prodigal son returning." -from "The Easy Confidence"

"Hey kids, tell them what you really think. Think it over. This is your life, don't ignore it. This could be your only chance to repent so get off your knees and adore it, the responsibility of empathy." -from "Preaching to the Choir Invisible, Part II"

And it's not a song lyric, but this little quote has been blowing my mind all year long:

"The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. 
We are made of starstuff." -Carl Sagan

Elf Returns to the (Back Cupboard) Shelf

Our last days of Banoffee Pie. Incidentally, Jaguar's newest word: Pie.

Day 23
Banoffee got out his dry erase marker and gave everyone red Rudolph noses all along the hall.

Day 24
Christmas Eve. The plan was to have pancakes premade in the shape of snowflakes (my mom got me a snowflake iron skillet), but I had come down with a stomach virus, so Scott - I mean Banoffee - set out the ingredients for pancakes to be made in the morning, which Scott did because he is the Pancake King.

Day 25
Christmas! Banoffee got a present from Santa.

Day 26
Banoffee, sporting his new shirt from Santa, packs to leave. (However, he is actually still on the shelf because I keep forgetting to pack him away. The kids think this is hilarious that he won't leave.)

He'll go eventually, when I get around to it. The rest of the christmas decorations are down and put away, except the Christmas wreaths and Banoffee. Maybe today. Luckily, neither of my daughters actually believe Banoffee is real, so there is no magic being lost. And the elf is proving to be a helpful potty-training device; Baby Jaguar is much more likely to sit on the potty if I let him hold "Pie" in his lap while he goes.

Poor elf.

Monday, December 22, 2014

All Over a Cup of Gingerbread Coffee

Christmas Break

The kids are off school for two weeks, and today has been a nice start to their vacation. The girlies are outside right now (in the rain) playing with the new neighbor kid, while the boy naps, and I'm sitting in a dark, quiet room drinking a cup of coffee with gingerbread creamer...

I got as far as the word "creamer" when Jaguar woke up from his nap.

Okay, start over. I'm sitting in a well-lit room, drinking a cup of coffee with Harry and His Bucket of Dinosaurs on the TV. I'm still feeling good.

We started this morning with everyone sleeping in until 7.30. Well, everyone except Fi, who played quietly her computer all morning while everyone else slept. My kids never sleep in so late, so this was pretty amazing. The girls received $5 each from Banoffee Pie this morning, so once we'd all eaten breakfast and lazily gotten dressed, I took the kids to the Dollar Tree to buy their gifts for each other. I tried to convince the girls to keep their presents for each other a surprise, but they ended up collaborating together on all the gifts, including the ones for each other. It was really cute seeing them work together, with their two little shopping baskets, picking things up, considering them, and putting them back on the shelf. After about thirty minutes (maybe longer), they had each chosen their four gifts (making sure I did not look to see what they got me) and they went through the checkout line together with their fivers. They had a dollar left over, so of course that had to be spent; they got a bag of Skittles to share amongst themselves in the backseat on the way home. (That whole "no food in my new car" thing kind of went down the drain with that one, I guess.)

They came home and wrapped up their gifts together - again, banishing me from the room. (I still sneaked a photo.) Since then, the three have been playing wonderfully together. It's been such a lovely, rainy day. They were all so behaved, I even finished my Christmas craft project that I'd been putting off finishing. I can't show a picture of that yet (can't ruin the surprise!), but hopefully I'll remember after Christmas, because I love how everything turned out!

Christmas No. 1

Yesterday was Christmas with my dad, stepmom Denise, brother, sisters-in-law and nieces. ("Sisters-in-law" makes my brother sound like a polygamist. The ladies are married to different brothers. The other brother is just currently on deployment.) We ate a delicious meal around a sweetly decorated table and opened presents. Fifi got a telescope and could not have been more exuberant. Lolly got an "American Girl" doll (aka an Our Generation Target knockoff) and has been taking her everywhere she goes. Jaguar got a Spiderman action figure that he has been HI-YA!ing with ever since and a metal POW! sign for his soon-to-be-redecorated-with-Spiderman bedroom.

All three were seriously over the moon with their new gifts. All of the other kids and the adults seemed pretty pleased with their gifts too. Scott got a shirt and two travel mugs that plug into the car's cigarette lighter to keep warm. Pretty ideal for his tea on the way to work! I got a yellow table runner that I'd had my eye on for ages (thanks, Denise!) and this....

My dad bought me George W. Bush's book about his father, 41. I, on the other hand, had bought my dad Barack Obama's book about his childhood, Dreams From My Father. My dad is a staunch Republican and I'm very left wing. (I call myself Democrat, but I'm much further left than that!) So much hilarity ensued.

Elf Update

Day 17
Banoffee Pie went through Ken's closet and borrowed a pair of shorts for some sunbathing.

Cool dude.

Day 18
The morning of Lolly's birthday, BP sort of jumped the gun and started opening one of her gifts...

Day 19
Banoffee takes a wee potty break.

Of course he poops chocolate chips. Which the kids fought over to eat. Gross.

Day 20
The kids spent the night with their grandparents, and I was at work by the time they came home. Scott tells me they weren't impressed with Banoffee's lack of creativity on this one.

Day 21
After working all afternoon and then a dinner and karaoke night out with a friend, arriving home past midnight, this is all "Banoffee" could think of.

Day 22
Idea stolen from a friend here. Banoffee gives the two older kids money for buying Christmas gifts for family.

Only three more Elf nights left... and I still have ideas left!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Lolly's 6th Birthday Frozen Party

Yesterday my little Lolly Bolly turned six. SIX. My little cheeky monkey turned SIX.

This kid.

This kid.

This kid.

Happy birthday, crazy girl.

She had her birthday party last weekend. She wanted a Frozen party, of course. We wanted to have it in the gym hall where I work so they could have a bouncy house, but there were basketball games scheduled for that day. I booked it for the fitness room instead where we do classes. When I told Lolly we'd have it in the room where I do Zumba, she asked "Are we doing Zumba at my party?!" Hmmm, I thought. I suppose we could! So we planned a Frozen Zumba party.

I spent weeks beforehand on Pinterest getting ideas. I designed some invitations on Photoshop.

I wanted the theme colors to be all teal/blue and white. Food and everything. After seeing a million cool ideas, I stuck with a general snowflake theme for decor, and for food, I went with white powdered donuts (Lolly's request), popcorn, white covered pretzels, blue jello, Hershey's Hugs, white cheese dip with blue tortilla chips, blue punch (which turned out green, oops) and a bucket full of water bottles ("melted snow" right?). And of course a cake. Chocolate on the inside but with teal "ombre" icing.

I planned some crafts and games too, to entertain them before Zumba. We never got around to the games, but the crafts went well. They made toilet paper roll snowmen and cut snowflakes out of coffee filters.

We were going to play a Do You Want To Build a Snowman? game where the kids teamed up in twos or threes and wrapped one kid up in toilet paper, then finished by putting a scarf and hat on the wrapped up kid. It never happened though, because they were just happy doing their crafts and running around the room like crazy!

The kids had a snack, and then Kristy arrived to do the Zumba class. She was fantastic! She did songs like "What Did the Fox Say?" and the Gummy Bear song. We tried to get the parents to join in with the dancing, but until she got to the last song, the only parents dancing were those of us who go to/teach Zumba anyway!

(For the record, Zumba Kidz isn't the same as Zumba for kids. No twerking for tots. No popping for pre-schoolers.)

The kids loved it!

I've never seen so many Elsas in one room before.

The last song was "Let It Go". For that song, it began to snow. Thank you, Sarah, for letting us borrow your snow machine!!

With the last thirty minutes, we cut the cake and opened presents. Disney make a KILLING off of all the Frozen paraphernalia Lolly received for her birthday!

I toyed with all kinds of ideas for party favors to send home with the kids. I originally considered little bags of Hershey's Hugs with an Olaf tag saying "I like warm hugs!" But then I saw an idea (on Pinterest of course) for making little jars of homemade gak, and I just had to try it. I had a box full of jars in the garage that I've been trying to find a use for for over a year. I figured if I haven't used them yet, I probably never will! So I made fifteen or so jars of teal and purple gak. Scott told me I was an awful woman for sending gak home with other people's kids, and maybe I am! But I can bet the kids loved it. I know my kids did!

The party was so much fun. And as a mother, it was actually pretty stress free! It certainly helps to have a husband who will run back home for you to pick up the things you forgot and a friend to take all the pictures for you. Thank you, Elizabeth, for all these great pictures you took!

One more very happy birthday under my baby girl's belt.

Previous Parties:
1st - Rocking Horse/ Carousel
2nd - Clicky Shoes
3rd - Dora the Explorer
4th - Wizard of Oz
5th - Powerpuff Girls/ Superhero
6th - Frozen