Happy New Year's Eve!

This is my last post of the year. I haven't actually posted a photo a day this year, as I had intended. I don't know if I've really learned a lot about photography or improved my skills all that much, but I have enjoyed posting to this blog. I am going to continue it into next year.

These prints were part of our hanukkah presents for the girls. I found them on Etsy - a woman in Minnesota makes them and they are just adorable. The zebra is for 'H', since she is so taken with zebras (ever since our safari in Florida last month) and the giraffe is for 'A', since she "helped" Jeff feed them.

It's snowing here today. We are laying low for New Year's Eve this year. We have traditionally done something different each year, so laying low is a continuation of that theme. We're planning a late dinner, to enjoy after the girls go to bed. It will NOT be a repeat of one of our most memorable New Year's Eve celebrations yet - the one where we made a late dinner with Jennifer and Bill and consumed at least 2 bottles of wine each, and then I decided to deal with my drunkeness by throwing it all up. Classy.

Tomorrow we get to move the bulk of our things out of the attic so that the exterminators can come and lay traps for all of our "friends" who live in the walls. Within a week, the house will be sealed, the "friends" will be gone, and everything will be sterilized!

I am so happy that Jeff and I made the priority list last week. It's really helped me make some decisions that I otherwise wouldn't have considered. For instance, we realized that we both want to contribute more to our retirement. Jeff goes through his plan at work. I have an account with TIAA-CREF that I've had forever. I could just put more into that, but there is another item on the priority list that deserves attention, and that is "respecting the environment." So I am going to open an IRA that invests in socially responsible funds, primarily environmentally-friendly companies. I probably never would have thought to do that unless I had made the list and had some space to think about it.

While I've been focusing on our priority list and running all the numbers this week, I've done only minimal work on my "active" stuff - usually this all fits into a file folder, but somehow it grew into a basket this week! Oh my!

Have a wonderful start to your New Year! If you are thinking of starting a regular exercise program, that is fantastic! If you are already a regular at your gym, then know that my sympathies are with you this coming month as the number of members swells and you can't find an open piece of equipment. Luckily, it all goes back to normal by February. We'll deal.

tasting memories

ahhh... Autocrat coffee! Their logo is a swallow and their slogan is - or used to be, anyway - "A Swallow Will Tell You!" We served it at Bee Bee's - Bee Bee Dairy, the restaurant where I worked after I turned 16. My sister, Jennifer, worked at Bee Bee's too and when I was younger she would come home smelling like fried food (Bee Bee's was a coffee shop, the best coffee shop ever), and she would sit and count the change and $1 bills she got for tips. I guess once in a great while she would get a $5 bill, but that was a rare occurrence.

When I turned 16 my mother made me a cake and after I blew out my candles and opened my present, she said, "Let me know what your new job is by the end of the week." So I went down to Bee Bee's and talked to Mike, the manager, and I was hired. I was probably the worst waitress ever. I waitressed for several years, not always at Bee Bee's, and I never got any better. My main problem was that I just didn't care. I think a waitress is supposed to care about taking care of her customer's needs, but I never did.

I met Ron at Bee Bee's, one of a series of semi-serious boyfriends. I suppose that since we lived together for a few years, you might call him a serious boyfriend. But I'm not with him now, am I? No. So we'll keep him in the "semi-serious" category. I was only 19, what did I know?

Back to Autocrat. Bee Bee's had both booths and a long, winding counter with 27 seats at it (I think). Customers used to come in just for the coffee. We couldn't make enough of it. It was all Autocrat coffee, which is a local, Rhode Island brand. I loved it too, it's what got me drinking coffee in the first place. My dad lives in Rhode Island now and he and Marilyn prepared gift baskets for me and my sisters (and the men in our lives) for Christmas. All of the items were Rhode Island products. And a can of Autocrat was in there. I haven't thought about it - or tasted it - in years. I wondered if I would still like it. Jeff drinks the BJ's version of Starbucks, and claims that all other coffee is unworthy. I drink his coffee occasionally but it's always too strong and bitter for me, so I load it up with sugar and milk. Today I made a pot of Autocrat and it was like drinking a cup of heaven! Perfectly sweet and weak! I love it. It takes me back to my Bee Bee's days. What a treat. I never think about those days anymore.

On the feng shui front, I rearranged a few things in our wealth area of our home. I put a chair in the empty corner so that our wealth and abundance would sit and rest instead of collect dust or scatter and fly away. It seems to be working, because I just rolled $42 in change and I'm going to the bank tomorrow to deposit it. Cheers to our chi!

a walk in the park....

Today we woke up too late for church, so we went for a walk in the park instead. Jeff and I both had vivid dreams last night. He dreamed that he was enrolled in college classes but because he was so busy with work and travel, he missed all of his classes and had no idea what the exam was about or what the assignments were. Yeah, I've had those dreams and they are horrible! He needs to spend some time getting organized. My dream had no sense of urgency to it - it was all about good things. I was sitting on a panel to interview Hillary Clinton's senate replacement. I got to meet Hillary, Bill and Barack Obama in my dream! Pretty cool! It was such a cool dream that I didn't even mind that Jeff hogged the blanket all to himself and I didn't notice when 'A' woke up and wanted breakfast.

I'm taking down the Christmas tree today! I love this process - a month of decorations is enough for me. I want to see my bare corners again.

setting priorities

Happy holidays! I hope you are all doing well out there in the web-land.

I have been spending time thinking about priorities and resources - specifically, how Jeff and I make decisions about how to allocate our resources. I have never been so acutely aware of how precious the resource of time is until this past fall. Jeff traveled quite a bit and our time together was very limited. When we were together, we were busy with activities involving our children or the upkeep of our house. Fearing another season where the weeks slip away and we ask, "why didn't we do more of the activities we truly enjoy? Where did our time go?", I made an effort to put the four of us first during the time Jeff was home.

Now that he's been home for a few weeks, I'm thinking about it in a little more depth. How do we spend our time? How do we make decisions about it? And I'm asking the same questions about another important resource - money. How do we make decisions about what to do with it, and how do we feel about it?

We sat down the other day and articulated some answers to the question "what makes me feel wealthy?" Our answers included:

  • Having leisure time together

  • Spending time with and appreciating our children and each other

  • Being in good health and feeling physically fit

  • Contributing to causes we care about

  • Respecting the environment

  • Spending time in nature

  • Living in an uncluttered environment

  • Saving for our retirement and for more home improvements

I like to feel grateful and I like to feel like I have "enough" - to feel wealthy - and I have found that if I have some goals or a general outline of what makes me feel that way, it's easier to recognize when I feel grateful and appreciative and when I feel selfish, stingy and "poor."

"Living in an uncluttered environment" was Jeff's contribution. It's definitely something I agree with - there's nothing I like better than cleaning out my closets and getting rid of everything in there. Very few items make it into my sentimental box, which is no larger than a shoe box and is currently half full. Jeff is not the greatest about cleaning things out and it surprised me to hear him say that he feels wealthier if he is living in an uncluttered space. The trick for him is going to be finding a system to keep his things organized and uncluttered. That's the hang-up. He can't use my system for his stuff, because my system works for me, not for him.

Interestingly enough, clearing out our home will not only get our chi moving around a little bit, it might also bring us some more money (and make us feel more wealthy!) because we have a number of things to sell.

Making this list is helpful for us because now we can use it as a roadmap and check the things we do and the money we spend against it. For instance, how do we want to spend our time this next month? I would love to paint some more rooms in the house, but when I look at the list, painting isn't going to make us feel as wealthy as selling the items in our attic will. So, we are spending some January weekends selling our stuff instead. We also really miss getting outdoors more often. Jeff has been skiing a few times each season, but I haven't been on a snowboard in 4 years and I would really like to go again soon. We are making time to do that this season.

One of the other things we are going to do is carve out a home workspace for Jeff. His company is very supportive of him working from home part of the time, and he likes the idea of saving the commuting time and the gasoline expenses. Our open floor plan doesn't lend itself to having a quiet home office, but we're going to see what we can do. Taking the time to carve out the space for Jeff is something that our new general wealth guidelines would support.

I've been reading about feng shui and chi and how it relates to wealth and resources. There are parts of our time management and our checkbook where we are happy with the way our chi is flowing, and there are other places were the chi isn't flowing in the direction we want. Taking time to notice it and taking steps to help the flow feels like a step in the right direction. One of the things we are doing is adding a coin each day to a coin jar that I placed in the wealth area of our home. When we add the coin, and when we give any money to anyone for that matter, we should wish the money well and have warm feelings about it. Jeff went to toss in his pocket change today and he humored me when I said, "have warm thoughts!"

This holiday season has been unkind to our waistlines. Now it's back to the gym, back to eating well, back to feeling good! THAT will help my chi!

We are finishing up our Hanukkah celebration and are all done with our Christmas celebration. I used to wonder if kids would get confused having both holidays, but when you think about it, they don't have anything to do with each other, so there's really no conflict. Well, unless you are a devout Christian and you have a problem with people who don't believe that Jesus was the son of God. I guess then you would have an issue with it. Luckily, that's not me!

Happy End of Year! This is the one time of year I am particularly happy to not be working in the non-profit world. Busy, busy, busy at this time of year, as everyone gets in their year-end charitable gifts. Speaking of that, there are still a few days to sneak in a few bucks to support your favorite cause. Food pantries are facing record shortages - they could use all the help they can get.

Snow Day, part 2

Another snow day! And the forecast for tomorrow calls for even more snow. I still don't mind the snow - as long as Jeff is here to clear the driveway! Seriously though, where I grew up in Connecticut (Norwich) it didn't snow nearly as much as it does here, and when it did snow, it melted within a few days. We didn't get to enjoy it like we do in upstate New York. I know that a lot of people don't like to deal with the snow, but for me, it's still a novelty.

My mother and stepfather arrived today to spend a few days celebrating Christmas together. They live on Cape Cod and since it's a 5 hour drive, we don't see them very often. I have to make more time to visit. Apparently I'm not the only one who thinks it's nice for them to visit - my cats are really enjoying their company too. Both Erma and Grace have been out all evening, asking for rub-downs from my mom and cuddling up wherever the opportunity arises.

We played in the snow for a little bit today while Jeff worked his snowblower magic on the driveway. It was cold, cold, cold outside! 'H's little cheeks got all red and I tried to take her inside but she insisted on staying outside. Not like she wanted to roll around in the snow, though. She wanted me to carry her around the whole time. I thought, "let me get this straight: you don't want to go inside even though it's freezing cold, and you don't want to get down on the ground either? You just want me to hold you outside the whole time?" You've got to love her, she is so opinionated!

I just finished reading Eat Pray Love and Jeff is almost done with the most recent Harry Potter book. It's a fat book. Each book in the series gets fatter. Eat Pray Love was great. It really spoke to me. I highly recommend it if you feel like you're fully embracing your second Saturn cycle.

I'm breaking all of the no-egg rules tomorrow: baked blueberry french toast for brunch, followed by a holiday dinner of crab stuffed flounder (egg is in the stuffing) and latkes (with eggs!). MMMMMMM.... I am so looking forward to it! I know I'll be in a daze on Monday because of it.

Not only am I enjoying the eggs, I bought a pound of butter in honor of my mother's visit and I am thoroughly enjoying this guilt-free window of opportunity to eat it. I love butter!

Jeff got an iPhone. I want to steal it and play with it all day.

snow day!

Snow today. We got several inches - I haven't been outside to see what it's like yet. Jeff worked from home today and it was really nice to have him here safe and sound. I made sugar cookies and when the girls woke up from their naps, they sat down to frost them...

'A' was a serious Cookie Froster. She took her job very seriously. She frosted as many as she could before stopping to eat one.

'H' preferred to eat straight out of the frosting bowl. Hardly any frosting made it onto her cookie!

Erma relaxed today, as usual.

So did Grace.
I didn't. I spent today getting ready for a visit from my mother and stepfather. They're coming here to celebrate Christmas tomorrow and we're looking forward to seeing them!

Today 'A' wrote a letter to Santa asking for a booster seat for the car. Last week, Santa came to her classroom, and Jeff had mentioned that she should ask him for a booster seat, since she has wanted one for a few months now (she asks EVERY TIME she gets in the car) and her chances of getting one are very good. She forgot to ask him. Actually, she didn't speak to him, so of course the topic never came up between them. Afterward, she was upset and wondered if she should write him a letter. Today was the perfect day to do that. The letter is really cute - I told her what letters to write, and I will have to take a peek and add my own translation to it because you would never know what it says unless you were sitting right there, watching her write it.

Here is a photo I just found of the cold cash my mom keeps in the freezer. Doesn't everyone?

ice on the trees

We had an ice storm on Thursday night and have had ice on the trees ever since. It's really pretty when I look outside now and see the sun shining through the icy branches. It looks like diamonds and crystals are hanging from every branch.

On the night of the storm, I didn't think it was so pretty. Jeff was in Chicago, and I was thankful he was in a safer place than I. 'A' came into bed with me in the middle of the night and we slept happily until I started hearing branches snapping outside the house. I got up to check it out (along with half of the neighborhood, judging from all the lights that were on). I did my quick mental check of the trees in our yard and remembered how they all like to lean, and decided that 'A' and I would be safest if we slept on the couches in the family room. There is only one tree, a white pine, that I fear may fall on our house in an ice storm, and it is right on the other side of my bedroom wall. It didn't fall, but it's sister, who stands right next to it and is the same size, lost the top half of her main trunk on Friday. It fell to the ground and was heavy as all heck to move. I'll know when the ice clears if we are going to have to have it taken down completely.

Today our minister read something about how the Christmas season can be special and meaningful even if you don't completely believe in the holiness of the story. I'll share it with you.

"Into the bright circle of life and light, which is the Christmas season, we have come.

Out of the routine ways of living, and the drab ruts of habit, we have come to warm our hearts and minds at the cradle of the child.

May something of the beauty, mystery, and promise of this lovely old story fall like silver rain upon the broken dreams, the hates and fears of all.

Once again may we pause, look up, and in the far-off distances hear that old, old music, the music of hope, brotherhood, sisterhood, and blessed peace."

Jeff suggested we print this out and do something with it during our celebration with my mother this weekend. Every year my mother, a Methodist (who by the way wonders if God is a woman, so she is open to alternative ideas about her religion) asks how Unitarians can celebrate Christmas if we don't buy the whole story. This is a nice answer to her question and some of my questions, too.

The sermon was about giving and sharing and remembering that the illusion of the "American Dream" - that we all have the ability to have what we want if we will only work hard enough - puts us all at risk, particularly during this time of economic uncertainty. If we believe that myth, then we can't help but blame those who are unable to find work and shame them for asking for help from either the government or their local charities. When we stop reaching out to those who need help and those who need it stop asking for it, all of us suffer.

We have even more flying squirrels living in our walls this year. Last night we identified a family living behind the mirror in one of our bathrooms. I'm calling the exterminator on Monday and agreeing to their extensive animal-control program. I don't mind sharing the walls of my home if the animals find that it's too cold outside, but I don't want them hanging out in the bathroom with me.

discovering snow

Both of my girls were born in the early part of the year, so by the time they "discovered" snow, they were well past the year and a half mark. They were too young their first winter to really understand what it was or notice if it was there or not. By discovering snow, I mean they realized that it was coming down, or that it had come down and the ground looked different, and they would point and squeal about it. When they walked in it for the first time, ('A' was outside at the Clifton Park mall in December 2006 and 'H' was leaving church last Sunday when the discovery happened) they both did the same thing: bent down and poked it, then really dug in. And they kept coming back for more, despite the fact that their little hands were red and wet and cold!

Here are some shots of 'H' on her discovery day last Sunday.

This time of year is a good time to try to articulate my spiritual path and my religious beliefs. Jeff and I were raised in different religious traditions - me, Protestant and he, Jewish, and every December we are thrown into a whirlwind of socially accepted rituals, some of which we embrace and some we don't. 'A' is old enough to ask questions and to start to understand the meanings of the holidays, and I've found myself thinking about how to explain some of it to her.

Although Jeff and I come from different backgrounds, we both have a lot of questions and aren't interested in living strictly according to our own religions. One of the more interesting things about our relationship is where we stand on our own spiritual paths. I would say that at the moment, our paths are headed in a similar direction and they run fairly parallel, with similar questions and similar priorities. Speaking for myself, in a nutshell, I am not certain that Jesus was the son of God and I am not convinced that he rose from the dead. I would actually say that I am fairly certain about this but I don't want to close myself off to the possibility that perhaps the stories about God and Jesus are all true. I don't know where my path is taking me and I want to remain open to changing my perspective about spirituality and my beliefs. But for now, I don't believe, and since those are the two fundamental beliefs of Christianity, it's hard for me to celebrate Christmas in the traditional Christian way. I do believe that Jesus was a great person though and I am happy to celebrate a day in honor of him (I tell 'A' that we celebrate his birthday on Christmas Day even though I feel like a liar because we all know he wasn't born in December). I tell her what I believe, that he was a good person and we can be happy to honor him. I tell her about the Christian manger story and say that some people prefer that version. I tell her about nature and short days and the traditions of bringing a bit of the natural world and the bright lights into our homes. I tell her about the importance of giving to people who are not as fortunate as we are. I tell her that Santa Claus is only a small part of the Christmas story.

It's easy to list what I tell her, but so hard for me to get it all across when we talk. She's three. That's one part of it. But also, since my beliefs don't fit into the traditional ones, it's hard for me to follow the mainstream Christmas story and expect my kids to absorb it and love it too. I am still getting my story straight with myself. And now I have to tell it to two little people who think everything I say is The Truth.

I said that Jeff and I have similar goals relating to spirituality. Some of these are purely spiritual, meshing well with the mission statements of the Unitarian Universalist church, which I'll tell you about in a minute. Some of them, though, are things we want for our family that we both received through our religious upbringing. We would say that our parents were fairly active with their church and temple. My parents rarely skipped a Sunday morning at church. They held positions on committees, in the choir, as deacons, Sunday School teachers... you name it, they did it. Jeff's parents were active in their temple. Two things that came from that environment that we feel are important for our children are: #1, it is very comforting for children to know that every Friday night or Sunday morning, no matter what, they are going to be going to the same structured place where they are welcomed and loved by other children and adults. #2, it is highly beneficial for teenagers to have a group of peers outside of their jr. or sr. high school, outside of any other social group they belong to, to turn to for support and companionship. I firmly believe that my church Youth Group friends got me through some of the toughest years of my teenage life in one piece.

We attend weekly services at the Unitarian church. We haven't become members yet. Yet. We like to go, but something hasn't clicked yet where we want to commit to being members. OK, maybe it's a general fear of commitment, which isn't out of the question for us. It's also partly that the congregation seems older than us. Not by a lot, but enough to be older. As Jeff points out, the people who attend are asking serious questions about life and themselves and a lot of people probably don't do that until they are in their mid to late 30's (that's us), so it makes sense that we're some of the younger - and newer - attendees.

This is what the Unitarians believe, copied directly from the UU website.

There are seven principles which Unitarian Universalist congregations affirm and promote:

  • The inherent worth and dignity of every person;

  • Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;

  • Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;

  • A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;

  • The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;

  • The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;

  • Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

Unitarian Universalism UU) draws from many sources:

Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life;

Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love;

Wisdom from the world's religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life;

Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God's love by loving our neighbors as ourselves;

Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit.

Spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.

back from Florida

We're back from a fabulously relaxing week in Florida! A lot of really wonderful things came out of this week. #1 involves Erma, our 15 year old cat. Erma didn't get the chance to vacation with us. She stayed here and was tended to by Tina, a vet assistant from our local vet's office. I had asked Tina to keep an eye on the water dish because Erma sometimes drinks an average amount and sometimes drinks a lot more. I know all too well what it means when an animal drinks more than usual. When it's her time to go, I will let her go with dignity and grace, but until that time arrives I would rather not think about it or deal with it. Happily, Tina reported that the water level was normal during the eight days she was here. Woohoo! Erms is staying around a while longer. Good. She's a good girl.

One of the highlights of the trip - according to me and Jeff - was the quick getaway we made to Bonita Springs. The girls stayed with Jeff's parents for four days while Jeff and I relaxed in luxury. Thank you, thank you Shelly and Neal for making the entire experience possible! Good thing #2 came out of that short trip: I actually relaxed, which is something I usually do not like to do. I learned a valuable lesson about letting go and got a lot of insight into my inner workings.

Once I figured out how to relax and let go, it was easy. If you can believe it, I didn't miss my kids at all during those four days. I am normally with them all day, every day, so this was pretty amazing. In the car on the way to the resort I reviewed some of Thich Nhat Hanh's teachings. Some of them, those regarding letting go, were similar to other Buddhist teachings I had encountered in the past and oddly similar to some things Dr. Phil had said on one of his shows a while back. I know, I know, a lot of people make fun of Dr. Phil, but his in-your-face style appeals to me. You would never use the word "subtle" to describe either me or Dr. Phil. Anyway, the gist of all of the lessons is that it's important for us to recognize when our ego is getting in the way of a situation.

When I first started learning about putting aside my ego, I didn't understand what it meant at all. So during this trip, I decided to stop analyzing the teachings and do what I was told to do instead. Everyone who listens to a lesson is told to practice mindfulness, live in the moment, and meditate, and eventually you will begin to learn.

So I did that. When we arrived at the resort and I started to wonder how the girls and Jeff's parents were doing, I decided to sit and notice my breathing. It was tight in my chest and my back. After focusing on breathing for a few minutes, I took note of the fact that I wasn't pining away for my children at all. In fact, I was very happy to just sit and observe my breathing, thinking of nothing else at all.

How does this relate to my ego? After a few days of noticing my breathing and focusing on the little details around me, I finally started to get it. I had stopped spending my energy on thinking about my girls and things that were beyond my control (you know the thoughts: "are they OK?" "are they safe in the car without me?" "are they behaving?" "are they sleeping well?" etc, etc....). I understood that they were in a safe place and so was I. They would never know if I thought about them or not. It didn't make any difference in their situation. But it did make a difference in my situation. This is where my ego comes into play. If I had thought about them, I would have found myself trying to get some control over the situation, as if thinking about them allowed me to be there, instead of where I was. My ego would have been doing the talking. My ego and its need to control the situation would be in charge. By removing my thoughts about the girls, my ego had nothing to control. And at that point, peace and relaxation began to come.

I started choosing to be present in the moment.

My ego doesn't pop up only when it comes to thinking about my girls. It pops up anytime I think about something that isn't related to this very moment. When I wonder how the family holiday celebration will go, or what the dentist will say about my teeth next week, I'm telling myself that I don't trust my ability to react responsibly and fairly in the situation and I am "preparing myself" by thinking about it in advance. But really, all I am doing is wasting my energy on trying to get control of something I have absolutely no business controlling, and no hope of ever controlling.

Okay, now that I've gone philosophical on you, I'll give you some space to be mindful and appreciate your moment. If you're wondering what Dr. Phil has to say about egos, I believe it was something to this effect: the people who think most about what other people are doing, feeling or thinking, the ones who seem to have the smallest egos because they are always thinking of others are actually the ones with the largest ego issues of all. That really struck me. It gave me a lot to think about.

About Me

My name is Jillian. I started this blog as a way to experiment with my camera and it's a become a nice little spot where I enjoy spending time. I'm a mother to 6 and 4 year old daughters, wife to a cool computer guy, and mama to a cuddly cat. We enjoy eating local, organic food; managing several food allergies; homeschooling with love; spending time in nature; and we love to take time each day to be creative. You can also find me over at From Scratch Club from time to time. Welcome!