Monday, December 30, 2013

Better Than Cheerios

For the past four months, I've restricted myself to no-carb, no-sugar eating. That means:

no rice
no bread
no pasta
no potatoes
and no popcorn.


no candy
no cakes
no cookies
no sweet drinks
and no ice cream.


However, it also means that I get to eat breakfasts of oven-roasted salmon with sea salt and olive oil, accompanied by a big bunch of crisp, cool and crunchy red grapes.

See how I suffer?

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For more stories about my carb- and sugar-free eating adventures, read:

To All The Single Ladies

Matchmaking is a lost art in western culture. Not sure when the world decided that inexperienced, hormonally crazed youngsters were best suited to picking out their own life partners without any guidance from those who have been around the block a few times, but our society definitely prefers a laissez-faire approach.

Still, when I see an eligible person of marrying age who would undoubtedly make a fine catch, my radar beeps like all get out and I can't help but want to share the word.

Enter my twenty-something friend, Chris, and his birthday gift to me.

^  The moment he handed over this package, I was intrigued. Check out that gift wrap - it's like a French bicycle advertisement printed on fabulously textured paper. Certainly this is not plain old pedestrian gift wrap from a cardboard tube; this looks more like a poster or interesting bag from some chic little shop that was repurposed as wrapping paper.


^ Feast your eyes on the precision of this wrap job. Honestly, those corners are perfectly folded, symmetrically identical, and creased to high heaven. The end of the paper is not only neat, even and taped with satisfying thoroughness, but it is also folded under. 

Whoa. This is remarkable.

^  The other end of the package is just as neat. Maybe even more so.

I am talking about origami master perfection.

^ And look at this. Here's the main edge of the paper, along the length of the back side of the gift. Not only is the seam tastefully positioned on the far edge, to keep the print images flowing smoothly over the back side, but that line is straight as a whistle.

Also folded under.

Am I dreaming? 

^ Free of any frilly ribbons, gift tags or other unnecessary accoutrements, the final pièce de résistance is my name. Printed in tiny, precise, blue-inked letters, and positioned subtly near the main image on the front of the package, this minimalist identifier perfectly suits the artistic vibe of the package.

I am so smitten with this wrapped gift that I don't want to open it yet. I'm just savoring the thoughtfulness and intentionality of Chris's handiwork for a few more days before I rip it open to see what might be waiting inside.

{Do you want to know what was inside this beautiful gift? Go here for the full story.} 

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And I have to say, single ladies of the world, take note. Sculpted jaw lines, pumped deltoids, heart-stopping grins and perfectly tousled hair are all well and good.

But a man who can perfectly wrap a stylish gift? Now that is someone worth noticing.

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I've written other stories about my friend, Chris. Check 'em out:

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Anatomy Of My Annual Party

For the past few years, I've thrown a party for myself.

It started out as a birthday celebration, but honestly, all that self-directed attention made me a little uncomfortable so I'm attempting to rebrand the event as simply an annual party. Call it whatever you will, I just like the idea of inviting everyone I know who lives within a sixty-mile radius to drop in and spend the evening with me.

Hosting a party can be intimidating. Growing up, my family entertained only my grandparents so the whole process of having people over was shrouded in mystery for me. Every stereotype of gourmet hors d'oeurves, fancy cocktails, and orchestrated games of charades filled my head and the thought of trying to meet those expectations terrified me. 

Over the years of my adult life, I've learned to push past those silly self-imposed boundaries. With this annual exercise of my hostessing muscles, I've put together a party plan that works well for me and my guests.

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^ Let's be honest. Every gathering I've attended since 1993 has featured a plate full of crisp vegetables and a sauce for dipping. Veggie trays are not exactly the cutting edge of party food. But darn it, the colors and textures of the fresh produce are just so bold and interesting that I can't resist. And given that this is always one of the first dishes to be demolished, I'd say my guests can't resist the classic veggie tray either.

^ Along with the crunchy crudités, I usually serve a variety of toasty bite-size morsels: egg rolls, pizza bagels, meatballs and such. But for my family and my guests, pigs in a blanket draw top raves. My daughters help me wrap up a big bunch of them ahead of time, and I keep the hot piggies flowing from the oven to my guests' awaiting fingers all night long.

^ "What can I get you to drink?" is my favorite way to greet a new guest at the door. And besides offering a variety of beverage options, I really enjoy setting out a hodgepodge of mismatched glasses so each guest can choose one to suit his or her fancy.

^ From what I can tell, my guests mostly like to stand around and chat. And I'm down with that. But I've also noticed that if I leave little amusements here and there - a tower of Jenga blocks, a few decks of cards - someone will often put them to good use. 

 ^ Since I hold my party during the last week of December, the style of decor is straightforward. Christmas trimmings still deck my halls and lend just the right sparkle and flair for my celebration. This not only saves me the trouble of a Pinterest-induced guilt headache for not making a dozen giant party pom-poms, but also gives my guests the added fun of peeping around all the corners of my house to see what little holiday surprises they might find.

^ Candles, candles, candles. I'm always a fan of their happy glow, and they lend such a festive warmth to a party. Taking care to keep them beyond the reach of my littlest guests, I stash them aggressively around the house and appoint a daughter or two to replace and relight them them as they wear down over the course of the night.

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With food, drink, amusements, and decor all in place and ready to go, I've also learned to sit down and enjoy the last few minutes of quiet before the doorbell starts to ring. Because as soon as my guests arrive, I will ride the wild wave of excitement and conversation and attention to their needs that will carry me through the evening. And that crazy, exhilarating rush is what hosting a party is all about.

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Here are more stories about my annual shindig:

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More Anatomy Of posts for your dissection pleasure:

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Gee, But It's Great To Be Back Home

Oh, Stevens Pass, it's been a long time.

Though I have been a season's pass holder and weekly visitor to your snowy playground for more years than I can easily recall, last year's season was weird.

First, my youngest daughter and most reliable ski buddy went away to college. Far away. And while I cheerfully welcome the chance to ski alone, it's really not the safest strategy. Nor is making the dangerous drive home after dark a really good choice for a solo flight. 

Plus I was dealing with some eye drama. In preparation for surgery, I couldn't wear my trusty contact lenses and was forced to make do with glasses. And let's be honest - glasses and ski goggles are incompatible, to say the least. So there was that whole not-seeing problem.

While I'm not silly enough to complain about the consistently fantastic Pacific Northwest snow pack, last year's weather and snow conditions left a bit to be desired. On the days when I made it to the mountain, the runs were icy and rough. Ew.

And to top it off, I cut my season short with an extended trip to Malaysia. Leaving the snow behind for the steamy tropics, I lost the last two months of the season.

So yeah. Although I have no complaints about how my year turned out, my 2012-2013 ski season was a bust.

That's why it was with much excitement and anticipation that I made my first trip of the new season to Stevens Pass today. Surprisingly, I discovered quite a few changes on the mountain.

^ The upper and lower lift houses are all pimped out with fresh coats of paint in a wacky new color scheme. I'm sure I'll get used to it. Eventually.

^ There's a new high-speed quad lift on the backside. I didn't get a chance to ride the Jupiter today, but I admired the new upper lift house, shown here on the right.

^ Even my youngest, home for Christmas break, was sporting a new look. With a sweet new striped jacket and some flashy green bindings, I had to retrain my eyes to pick her out of the crowd.

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But despite the changes, the best part of Stevens Pass remains. Oh, your snow-covered slopes, adorable pointy trees, and breath-taking mountain vistas never, ever get old.

Admittedly, today's weather was a challenge, what with the drenching downpour of rain that soaked me to the skin before turning to snow. I was wet and miserably cold but the snow was riding fine and I had a blast.

Gee, it was great to be back home.

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Wanna read about all the twists and turns of my ill-fated 2012-2013 ski season? Check these out:

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Stories from my 2013-2014 adventures at Stevens Pass? Comin' right up:

Friday, December 27, 2013

Home Tour: Something Old, Something New

"Something old,
something new,
something borrowed,
something blue,
and a silver sixpence in her shoe."

- English folk rhyme

Welcome to my humble dining room, set for our traditional Christmas dinner. While many of the furnishings in this room have been with me through dozens of Yuletide meals, there are also some fresh touches that make the whole effect look brand new to me. Let me show you what I mean.

^ My dishes, silver and tablecloth are tried-and-true Streicher traditions. Decades come and go, but by golly, that Royal Stewart tablecloth is gonna be on my table every December twenty-fifth.  Ditto the Waechtersbach Christmas plates and wedding silver. Rather than purchase fresh flowers for my holiday table, I saved a few dollars by using these succulent bowls which my second-born and I made last summer. I rounded out the woodsy theme with my handmade ornaments, new napkins fashioned from IKEA tea towels, and a few plastic animals painted gold. 

^ On one side of the table stands this big old farm cupboard. Purchased at an antique sale way back in the day when we were childless and carefree apartment dwellers in Chicago, my husband and I carried this 200-pound beast up three flights of stairs one late Sunday evening. That little escapade in patience and teamwork earned this wicked heavy cupboard a nickname: The Marriage Tester.

I use the bottom half to store dishes behind the rustic wooden doors, but the top half is a cherished display space. A framed copy of the classic Durer bunny, a holdout from my teenage years, has recently inspired a rabbit collection to grown here, and in a mad fit of late-night creativity, a mash-up of Thanksgiving leftovers and Christmas baubles was born. It'll do for now and I'm sure I'll rearrange it again soon, undoubtedly after midnight.

^ Oh, my new triangle-y walls. I'm so in love with them. This long wall used to host a large canvas painting but since I slaved over these golden lines, I can't bear to cover them back up. In a minimalist effort to hide the picture hangers, I swagged this 3D paper garland across the hardware and I'm calling it a look. The sweet silver mini tree in the corner beams its approval.

^ This shiny mirrored table, with its glorious geometric etchings, has been in the stores and driving me mad all fall. Fantastically, amazingly, miraculously, three days before Christmas I found that it had been marked down to half price. My mother had sent me some holiday money and asked me to pick out my own gift, so guess who came home with me. I love the way it pairs with my old wooden furniture with a sparkling yet worn feel of its own.

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So there you have it. Old and new mix together in a kaleidoscope of shifting arrangements and subtly different combinations that make my dining room feel comfortable and familiar yet fresh and new, all at the same time. 

That's my idea of the perfect tradition.

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Thursday, December 26, 2013

Scenes From A Christmas Morning

At my house, Christmas morning bursts forth with little traditions and rituals that have gathered up over the years until now it seems that every moment leads to the next in a perfect and familiar rhythm, just like a well-written poem or oft-sung song. And that is a very nice way to begin such a special day.