Monday, January 31, 2011

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Lunch Liaisons: Galileo III

(Lunch liaisons is a regular segment wherein C and I meet for weekday lunch dates. The associated posts are not nearly as cloak-and-dagger as they may sound, but instead are reviews consistent with the quick and painless lunch hour theme).    

First, quickly, as this is a lunch liaison, I have to get something off my chest - I did not want to like Roberto Donna's third incarnation of his Italian temple. Several paltry trips to Bebo, tax scandals (not okay according to my particular brand of bureaucracy), and the snobbery of some upscale downtown spots all gave me pause. But, I do love great Italian food, and Galileo is indeed, great Italian food. I started with the calamari, this version sautéed with Swiss chard, tomatoes, garlic, and red wine vinegar. The chard was so very tender and the tangy flavors of vinegar and capers made for a delicious start. Also, probably the most perfectly cooked squid I've ever enjoyed. C, on the other hand, dug into the Cinghiale, a wild boar sausage served with potatoes. Unique, sweet flavors, perfect for the carnivore. We moved on to entrées of Risotto for me and Spaghetti with clams for C. My cheese and pear risotto was divine, but I could only finish two or three bites and got to enjoy the rest for lunch the next day. If I chose to be picky, I would point out that the pear flavor was lost a bit and the rice was just a tad stiff, but the dish was like the most decadent mac and cheese ever, so I don't see the point in complaining. C's al dente spaghetti (fresh homemade pasta is always better), and succulent clams were hearty and flavorful. 

As we exited, we were reminded of the talent that went into our delicious meal by the James Beard nominations and awards hanging on the wall. Just in case we missed his looming presence, the hostess also pointed out that Donna hasn't missed a service since the restaurant opened in October. I must say, this makes a difference, a positive one.


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Buffalo Guinness Stew


 




I love soups and stews in the winter. Here's an easy and delicious recipe for a succulent, hearty stew made with flavorful and healthy ingredients. You won't need that fried chicken/Taco Bell winter layer if cook and enjoy a meal that warms the soul (I just went all Nigella with that sentence).




 
1 pound lean buffalo stew meat (sold by Cibola Farms at local farmers markets)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 can Guinness or other dark ale
1/4 cup flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
10 baby Bella mushrooms, sliced
2 cups beef or vegetable stock
1 bunch celery stalks, quartered and sliced
1 pound carrots, cut into medium chunks
1 yellow onion, diced
1 small shallot, diced
4 sprigs thyme, leaves removed from sprigs
1/4 teaspoon smoked salt
1 tablespoon soy sauce
Salt and pepper
 
Brown stew meat and onions in oil in Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed ban, at medium-high heat. Stir in thyme, carrots, celery, mushrooms, and shallot, stirring continuously, until the vegetables begin to soften. Season with salt, pepper, and soy sauce. Add flour to coat vegetables evenly. If the flour browns slightly, this will increase the flavor. Add stock, Guinness, smoked salt, and brown sugar. Make sure to stir to ensure nothing sticks to the bottom of the pan and all ingredients are incorporated. Cover and set on low-medium heat for 1.5 hours, or until meat and vegetables are fork tender. 

Serve with a freshly-tossed salad and warm whole grain baguette.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Harry Potter Land: Worth It!

In my notes, I wrote two words – worth it. It’s sort of a reverse Visa commercial analysis. Let me lay out our day for you to help you understand just how worth it The Wizarding World of Harry Potter truly is….

9:30 AM: After vomiting for most of night, and contemplating whether to spend another day in our hotel room, we decided (with special thanks to the MIL for saying that she would take care of the remaining sick children for the day - just think about it for a minute) that Wednesday would be the day for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (which, for our purposes, will at times be Harry Potter Land, and at times, HP Land, dependent on how lazy my fingers are at that particular moment). 

10:15 AM: Unfortunately, everyone else at Orlando had the same idea. We arrive at the main parking gates to Universal Resort to discover that Islands of Adventure, the portion of the park where Harry Potter Land lives, is already at capacity for the day (what the wha?...). We pay our $15 parking fee on faith. We had already purchased our tickets (for Islands of Adventure only) and we will not be able to make a return trip. It's do or die.

10:35 AM: We leave the parking structure. It seriously was a twenty minute walk to get out.

10:45 AM-11:30 AM: Following the crowds, we attempt to find the gates to Islands of Adventure to see if there's a chance we may be able to get in (or in line). We first find our way to Universal Studios, which is not where we want to be, and after asking several theme park employees, who each gave an entirely different set of directions, we get to where the (currently empty) line for Islands of Adventure is forming. We are here to have fun, right?!

11:30 AM: As it turns out, even though we were right next to the entrance, the line actually forms just on the other side of that there rope (according to the surly security guard). Said rope will soon become the bane of our existence. We walk the half mile back to the "correct" place to join the roped-in area and find ourselves in the first forty or so people in line (mind you, this is just to get into the park itself - all we've accomplished so far is parking).

1:00: Yes, it's 1 PM. We are still standing here in a crowd of pushy, shoulder-to-shoulder adults acting like adolescents (and if we weren't sick enough already, this is the first warm day in our Florida visit, and wow, that sun is hot.). During our time in line, we've learned that not only is there another line altogether for the Harry Potter park, but it involves getting a return ticket for much later in the day. C and I debate the merits of sticking it out, and I learn that I should give myself some credit for the patience and optimism that I do possess. Sometimes I consider myself a cynic, but not in this crowd. I'm the freaking Jolly Green Giant compared to these people (well, I was smaller than most and just a little green that day, but you get my point). In the end, we give ourselves another half hour, and then we may have to throw in the towel (at this point, we really have no idea what kind of time frame we may be facing).

1:15: OM Goodness - we're going to get in....We move, without running, as directed, as fast as possible to Harry Potter Land. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200. We get in line for our return ticket ASAP. It's 7:20 PM. Yes, you read that right.

1:15 - 6:30: So, what do two very ill people do for five hours in park full of food and dizzying rides? This is their story. There's a movie theater on the grounds, so we see Little Fockers. I know that it wasn't particularly well-reviewed, but I liked it. It was no more or no less than I expected. We also take care of most of our HP Land shopping in other stores around the park given that we have more than ample time to do so. 













But mostly, we sit and stare at the castle in awe.

6:30: Our return time approaches…we creep ever closer to the entrance, and learn that you do not have to wait at the pre-entrance line (suckers!) and can find a seat much closer to the actual entrance line.

7:00: We find a seat near where the line, or cluster, has formed for return ticket holders (that would be us) and see a woman of no less than forty-five years of age tiptoe around a gate to Harry Potter Land and make a run for it (it was like Elizabeth Shue running for the US Embassy in The Saint; I kid you not!). From what we could tell, she successfully made it in, but security sure got tighter in the minutes that followed.

7:05: Awakened from a daze. “They’re calling our number!! C, he said 7:20! That’s our time! Come on….let’s go! It’s our time!”

And we lived happily ever after….

NO, I wouldn't leave you in the lurch like that. ;)

You walk in to HP Land to find yourself in Hogsmeade, next to the train platform. More importantly, there is the aforementioned Butterbeer stand ready and waiting to make everything about the wait better. We make a beeline for it. No sooner do we get in line than a waitress approaches us and tells us she can take our order and get us our beverages much faster. THINGS ARE LOOKING UP ALREADY!!

This is me. 












This is me on Butterbeer. 







It makes me so very happy (and no, there is no alcohol - I always wondered about that)! The flavor is a blend of marshmallow and butterscotch, and the beverage is available in frozen and draft varieties (left and right, respectively, above). Both have their attributes; the draft has a buttery bite and marshmallow-ness; the frozen is a bit like a butterscotch version of the Serendipity frozen hot chocolate.
 
Oh, and this is C with his Butterbeer mustache. He is so proud of himself for getting it just right. 












Not everything is perfectly accurate in Hogsmeade, as I seem to remember Ollivanders being on Diagon Alley. But, some things are, like Zonko's is here, rather than Fred and George's Joke Shop, (the cashier hinted of things to come, however). It is really nice that we are here in winter, however, because the crispness in the air makes it all the more real (the village rooftops are snow-covered and there's a general wintery feel to the place).

The big highlight of the park (which, yes, involves yet another crowded line, but also a very nifty locker system) is the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride. Our favorite part of the ride, however, is the line itself. 

There are close-up views of the Hogwarts castle to increase the anticipation factor...









Dumbledore's office...









And other exciting things to see (I've only posted one as to not ruin things for you)...











           In addition to the aforementioned Butterbeers, we also delight in some Hogsmeade Village shopping and in a bottle of Pumpkin Juice. (I read the ingredients - apple juice and apricot puree are the two main components. Well, along with sugar. The pumpkin puree is just added to highlight the flavors. It's delicious.). We pick up some candy at Honeydukes (C was adamant that we need a Honeydukes candy jar in our house). Um, yeah, they are nasty. Don't buy them. After our purchases, it becomes clear that we are exhausted and it's time to head back to our hotel.

So, I've given you a tour and taken you through our experience. But, why is Harry Potter Land really worth all the aggravation? Because, for a few minutes, or an hour or so, we adults are transported to a place where we can be kids again. Where we can scream in delight, marvel with joy, and believe in fantasies. I'm fairly certain that is why C and I adored the books so much, and that is why I adored the park (I cannot wait to share these experiences with our son). I left in a state of childlike bliss (fueled solely on Butterbeer and Pumpkin Juice, mind you).

The Happiest Place on Earth

(Much like our week, I’ll get through negative before we can embrace the positive. I promise; I’m not a total whiner.)

Rules
For the happiest place on Earth, there sure are a lot of rules for keeping that happiness. I seem to remember a more abundant and less inhibited celebration of all things Disney when I toured the parks as an 11-year-old. Certainly, there was no standing in line to meet characters.

Hold on to Your Hats, and Babies
For all the rules, it is shocking how many rides my one year old (at the time, 13 months) was allowed to enjoy. That said, Disney must have some inventive way of deflecting liability for injuries, because parents are entirely responsible for securing young ones on these rides. The entire idea is a little daunting. As the parent of a very active little man, I am all but certain that one or two kids have escaped a parent’s grip to find themselves soaking wet in the Small World river. Yikes!

Choose Your Hotel Wisely
Like, say, if all but one of your family members comes down with a severe bug causing all sorts of vomiting. I’m not saying you need the Ritz, but make sure that the maids come when requested, that they don’t leave your sink overflowing, that the room phone works, that room service will actually take your order ("I understand that you don't begin service until 7 PM, sir, but I there is nowhere in this resort that I can purchase some apple juice for my sick child."), that there exists a shuttle that can return you to the hotel from the parks (~2 miles) in less than an hour and a half, or a security staff on site to ensure that drunks and parentless teens are not screaming at all hours. You know, these kinds of things. You see what I’m getting at with my rant. In short, despite its “luxury” status and hefty price tag, I would not recommend “The Palace”.

Here’s my five cent wisdom on making the Disney hotel choice: (1) Stay in the park, at an official Disney resort; (2) Rent a car (free parking at all parks with those official resorts); (3) Be within walking distance of something; (4) Find a multi-room layout to accommodate everyone (this we actually did, but the only hotel offering this at the time we booked was our loser); and (5) Accept that you will pay a steep premium for all of the aforementioned conveniences. 

Traveling with the Extended Family
Understand, respect and love your in-laws for what they are – at times an extra set of very useful hands, and at times, an extra set of (insert your descriptive term of choice so that I don’t get myself in trouble) kids.

Despite all my complaining, I should make this clear; we actually had a couple of very nice days after getting through a few hellish ones. On to the good stuff…

Make Meal Reservations
C, perfect husband that he is, volunteered to take up this task, and he was on it. We actually had a perfect seafood feast before the illness set in (and no, it was not the cause). Because we weren’t particularly hungry for the rest of the week, our other reservations were not necessary, but come NYE at Disney, you are going to want a reservation. C and I found ourselves at Epcot during the day on Dec. 31 and there was not a seat to be had at any of the sit-down eateries. This actually resulted in a rather delicious brat and apple strudel from lunch counter at the Germany pavilion (seriously, it was remarkably delicious), but that’s not my point exactly. Reservations make everything easier.

I should note that we also had one other reservation-free meal, a character buffet. But, this one wasn’t about the food; it was about the experience. We paid $42 a piece (yes, I’m still reeling) for, essentially, chicken fingers. That said, the smiles on H’s face, and the pictures with Pooh and Tigger (his faves) will last a lifetime. We’ll just have to remind him how much these memories cost when he turns 15 or so.

Make Unorthodox Plans for New Year’s
Or other holidays that might result in an overcrowded park (basically, you can’t get near the Magic Kingdom after 9 AM on Dec. 31). We saw a 6:30 showing of Fantasmic (or something like that – it had all of the characters and lots of Mickey for the little man) at the Hollywood Studios Park, which included fireworks. It was packed with families who had also chosen this route. A little hot chocolate, a half hour show, and early to bed. It forced me to relax, and I enjoyed the ringing in of this particular new year (I had been snoozing for a good two hours) more than most.

Acknowledge Your Fans
My Spartans were in the Capitol One Bowl on New Year’s Day, in Orlando. That meant that the parks were full of MSU fans all week. We fans represented well through the week, though the team itself broke our collective hearts come Saturday (as did those who felt the need to point out that we were in fact walloped in our bowl game – yeah, I’m aware, thanks – some wolves in sheep’s clothing can be rather cruel and callous, you know?!). The fans, however, did not disappoint. Clad in the proper colors all week, it become common place to acknowledge one another with a simple nod and “Go Green” with the expectation of “Go White” in return. No need to catch up on one another’s family histories. Rather, we just found our own way of saying hello.



Accept, but Choose Not to Comprehend the Craziness
I found myself repeatedly gawking at the descent into childhood attire by adults. That, and the abundance of sequins and leather floating around the parks (even if it is NYE, folks, please keep in mind that you chose to celebrate at Disney World). Then, I would check myself and remember that happiness means different things to different people.

Remember Your Parking Lot
This was my job for the week (I remember many useless, and sometimes very valuable, things). We parked in Unicorn, Imagine, Future, Happy/Sleepy (somewhere in between), and Television.

Purchase Euphoria
This is where the real happiness at Disney descends…in the stores. I call this phenomenon “purchase euphoria”. Basically, it goes like this...You, park visitor/shopper/otherwise rational consumer, walk into one of the countless stores around the parks (or Downtown Disney, where the real action is)….madness ensues and you walk out having spent more money that you can fathom. I can blame this curse on the fact that I’m a relatively new parent with an opportunity to spoil (and Amma and Agong were also around for the spoilage effect), or that I was in the Christmas spirit, or that photo frames are a must for vacations, or that my parents had gifted us a Disney card for Christmas that we obviously had to spend. But, the fact is, utter insanity ensues, and I really cannot explain what precisely occurs to make mush of one’s brain. All I can provide is anecdotal evidence (evidently, this curse is not gender specific): While in the Pooh store, C and I went to find one another, both of our arm’s full of stuff (most of which, granted, was for Baby H), and both of us unwilling to relent on the items we had chosen individually, resulting in a rather large haul for the little man.

Speaking of the haul, here’s a few highlights: 

There were mementos for Baby H....

When the euphoria descended, tt became my mission that Baby H would have a set of ears. We built him a custom pair, along with a patch to commemorate his inaugural trip.
I told you before about the race to purchase all things Pooh...H's favorite character, Tigger, was on many of the items.

As well as a few things for mommy....

I found this scarf to be one of the more demure (yes, it's colorful; no, it's not completely obnoxious) ways of incorporating the Mickey silhouette into adult attire.
 
I chose not to pack my gloves for Florida...Mistake...The first night was under 30 degrees. People are always asking, "What's the point of fingerless gloves?". Well, (1) the iPhone, and (2) this particular pair allows for finger freedom along with mitten coverage, which I recently learned is the more sensible warming route.

My one foodie purchase (it's an oven mitt). I thought it was the perfect fun incorporation of Mickey in our kitchen.

For those of you looking to enjoy pics of our smiling mugs across the parks, full photographic evidence will be posted to facebook soon. Oh, and Harry Potter is on his way too. These are long posts!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Please, Please - Don't Leave Me

(after this morning's poor performance - the old girl appears to be weeping in shame)




Meet Connie. She turned 4 this Christmas, and was a gift from mom and dad (mom, you know why she has her name!). She's an integral part of my life, at least on weekends and when I work from home. This morning, for the first time, Connie failed me. I'm devastated.

For years, Connie's been grinding and brewing the perfect coffee, whether I want it a cup at a time, or a pot. She's a little noisy, but otherwise keeps to herself. She is rather cleanly, with only minimal maintenance. This morning, Connie sputtered a little while she let out her familiar grinding sounds. I noticed, but thought to myself, "Nah, Connie's fine. She's only been around for four years. She's not going anywhere yet." But, unfortunately, as I poured the pot's contents into my already warmed milk and Splenda, I noticed that there was no color. Uh-oh.

Sure enough, there were no beans in the filter. Again, with a positive outlook I mind, I thought, "No problem. I can fix this." I could not. I tried to clean the beans stuck in between the hopper and grinder, but they will not budge. I really don't know what to do - I'm not the type to give up on a kitchen electric while she's still so very young. Any advice on what to do? (Connie's a Cuisinart Grind and Brew, if anyone has had similar problems.)

I really could use Connie over the weekend and next week. I've got multiple projects to wrap up at work. We're excited to both be taking Monday off to spend with Baby H. But, that takes energy, and that means caffeine! Green tea has never done it for me, and pregnancy was a rough forty weeks. Please help. I also have great blog posts to come on Disney, Harry Potter, and Buffalo Guiness Stew. I know you want to read them. Readers, what can a girl do to get her caffeine mojo back? HELP!!!

UPDATE, 8:10 AM Sunday: Hubby sweeped in and saved the day. He got out a sharp knife to dislodge the stuck beans and I am currently enjoying the perfect cup. I love you babe, and thank you! Thanks for everyone else for your support during this trying time. ;) With such heavy issues weighing on us, sometimes it's nice to take an escape to the more trivial things.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Vermilion: Simply Perfect

Woot for anniversary date night and the parents in town, volunteering to give us a night off. Though we had properly celebrated early, and considered more involved pursuits, Old Town's Vermilion turned out to be the loveliest low-key meal. It allowed us to have an evening focused on each other (and, well, the food too). Though I was first skeptical of the tasting menu (as I noted, the night was not about excess), I’m glad we chose this route. Priced for value (seriously!! – all these courses for $50, $70 with wine), the courses were a pleasing display of cuisine and drink. Here’s my take on the deliciousness:

amuse bouche
lobster saffron veloute
crabmeat, crostini

Thoughts - The lobster flavor dominated the more delicate saffron in this dish, but it was great pick-me-up for the taste buds to welcome the meal to come.

seafood
crispy dragon creek oysters
shaved local fennel, torn spearmint
tangy slaw dressing

Thoughts - Loved this!! I just can’t do the texture of raw oysters (I know, I just lost all foodie cred, right?), so I was really excited that the oysters were fried. They were complimented so well by the crispy fennel slaw.

pairing
2008 elk cove pinot gris
willamette valley, oregon

Thoughts – Yet another perfect Willamette pinot - red or white, I love them all. Who’s up for a train ride to NYC in February? (Also of note, Elk Cove is all over the place right now. I’m not complaining, but wow, go Oregon with getting the word out on your wines.)

fish
maryland rockfish
celery 3 ways, surry ham
chowder froth

Thoughts – Serving the fish skin-on added another layer of texture and flavor – nice. I also loved the deconstructed chowder with the different presentations of celery. In my humble opinion, celery = underused; celery root = way overused.

pairing
2009 patrice cacheux chardonnay
burgundy, france

Thoughts - This was the quintessential classic chardonnay – I’m surprised that it comes from Burgundy.

meat
pineland farms beef striploin
house-cured pastrami, potato gallete
wilted path valley spinach

Thoughts - Of all the components on the plate, the garlic-accented spinach was my favorite part (sometimes, veggies can shine so much brighter than their carnivorous counterparts). And sometimes, keeping things simple is much more satisfying than refining them. This was the one course where the chef tried to do a little too much. Not that anything was bad; I was just a bit overwhelmed. I would take a whole plate of that spinach though.

pairing
2008 celler cecilio negre grenache blend
priorat, spain

Thoughts – This wine was unfiltered, which made for a nice beverage on its own, but did not pair well, particularly given the already busy course.

dessert
cider roasted bosc pear
caramelized maple ice cream,
granola; cranberries 



Thoughts – I really liked the maple ice cream. I like all things maple in the winter. No complaints about the simple pear presentation either. (Sorry, this is the only pic - we were too busy enjoying ourselves.)

pairing
2008 elio perrone moscato d’asti
piedmont, italy

Thoughts – Our server called this moscato "peaches and cream" – she was incredibly accurate.  This wine was so very, VERY sweet. It would not be thought of twice at more serious establishments, but Vermilion has a more playful element, and this wine was a perfect compliment to that eccentricity. I'm quite glad that the sommelier included it on the pairing menu.

 bonus dessert 
pumpkin fritters
chantilly cream, berry compote

Thoughts – YES, I did say BONUS dessert – score! I actually liked this better than the pears. While donuts sounded heavy, they were instead light and fluffy. Just perfect with the berries and cream.

The décor is indicative of the food. Rich in color (red, obviously) and texture, but with an understated presence that evokes comfort rather than fashion. Sometimes that's what you want. 



When you find a way to do something right, continue to do it that way. I feel strongly about this. No need to try to be fancy if that would lead to awkwardness. This is very true at Vermilion - it's a lovely place to dine without being over the top expensive, refined, or contemporary. In other words, it's just right.


Sunday, January 9, 2011

Happy Birthday Penny

Happy Birthday Penny!


 
How do I love thee, my three-year-old puppy? Let me count the ways….
  • I love that because of your impending arrival, we'll always have Paris (C and I took a puppymoon).
  • I love that your hips sway with attitude when you walk. When you're a female in a "giant breed" category - Penny's a Bernese Mountain Dog - I don't think you can help but have the kind of hips that don't lie.
  • I love that when you were a fifteen pound pup, you didn't want to cuddle, and instead, hung out under the kitchen table. But now that you are eighty-five pounds, you are a lap dog.
  • I love that you do not grant your chosen recipient the choice of whether to accept affection, but instead bring it on, full force.
  • I love, if not your ability, your efforts to make everything better when someone is upset.
  • I love that, because of you, neither C nor I will ever to be able to read or watch Marley & Me again. (The saying with Berners is "Three years a young dog, three years a good dog, three years an old dog. Anything else is gravy." We would rather ignore this reality.).
  • I love that although you do tend to be a bit annoyed with your baby brother (yes, I have noticed how fast you take off when he has one of his fits), you are his ultimate protectorate. 
  • I love that you are submissive to a fault. I love that even though dogs are incapable of feeling shame, you hang your head when you've done something wrong and follow us around until you are granted forgiveness.
Most importantly, I love you, Penny, for what you make me. You make me a softie, when I expected to be the disciplinarian in this whole parenting notion. You make me one of those pet people, the obnoxious kind that I always promised not to be (though I do still take exception with dressing animals). You make me take the time to sit still and enjoy life. What I'm saying, Penny, is that you help make me whole. I love you, my puppy!

(Yes, this is a bit of love letter to a dog, and I may have tears in my eyes as I sit here and type. So what?! My Penny, all eighty-five pounds of her, will beat you up if you have anything to say about it!).

Friday, January 7, 2011

Resolutions 2011

It's January 7…a little late for resolutions. So, first and foremost, a promise that I will not be making future promises on timeliness. Let's just acknowledge now that this is no longer a strong suit. And while we're at it, no promises on increased social networking either. Twitter and facebook serve their respective purposes, but I don't need extra of either in my life about now - I'll continue to try to utilize them both, hopefully effectively, but without going overboard. 

This post is entitled resolutions, but truly, these will be my best efforts. I don't enjoy making promises I can't keep (I hate false expectations), nor do I particularly enjoy the stress associated with struggling to keep those promises I shouldn't have made in the first place. So, I am best efforts girl, not a resolutionary. I can live with that.

New Blog Format and Design
Okay, I could totally make this one a promise, because I've already taken steps to make it happen. I'm so excited!! For a very long time, I've continued to attempt to write a food blog without my heart being into it - it's time to acknowledge that my life is different than it used to be and for me to move on to the next stage. I'm still a girl that loves to eat, but that's just a small part of me. The idea of simultaneously capturing more of my identity and letting my creative juices flow has me rather stoked. Don't worry, I still expect there will be plenty of the food I do so love.

Letting Go of my Need to Control and Accomplish
I plan to make a plan for scaling down maintenance. I do not have enough time in my day to be vain about appearance, so my hair and skin care routines need to be minimized. I'm working on both of these processes, but a post looking for suggestions will probably follow (although, admittedly, such a post is a little vain in and of itself). The gym and Pilates, that maintenance is a must, so those will not be hours cut from my life. Plus, I feel immensely better when I run and stretch regularly.

I'm also cutting back on financial management. I love me some pie charts and experience a release of tension when I balance the checkbook, but Charles Schwab has yet to make a mistake with our accounts. There's no reason to expect that things will go awry when I stop writing down every little transaction. It's okay to cut back in this area and handle the finances on an as-needed basis. Plus, Schwab employs a lot of people to do these things for me. I should take advantage and let them tell me how to set up systems that don't need me to be so actively involved. I'll be honest - the process began this month, and I'm already having trouble letting go, but this is something I can cut back on, and I'm trying. 

Beginning in February, I will be taking a photography class. At this point, I don't know if this one will be more or less time-consuming. Is it silly to stress over crappy photographs and not feel like I'm documenting my beautiful son's life properly? Well, yes, I know that it is, but it's something I do. So, this is my attempt to remedy my little hyperventilation. We'll see how it goes. By the way, if anyone is looking to sell a used SLR, I'm looking for a lower-end model to use in my class to figure whether my abilities will be worth an upgrade to a nicer camera.

I will accept my commute home for what it is. I will not obsess with attempts to proactively find my way through traffic that will continue to exist, whether I want to will it away or not. The first step is acknowledging that I am a passive-aggressive driver. Actually, I'm just aggressive, and it's the worst kind of aggressiveness, with little to no introspection involved. I scream at people for doing to me what I do to others. I take it as a personal insult, even when I expect other drivers to deal with me. (Let me just note here, in my defense, that my son is never in the car during my commute. He actually has a spectacularly mellowing affect on me and my driving. His presence has a way of instantly putting things into perspective. For that, I'm grateful.). The other step will be letting go of the ideal that it's an accomplishment to pick up baby H earlier from one day to the next. I have this strange sense of pride in saving five minutes of commuting time, and it results in some of the aforementioned aggressive driving techniques. C has suggested listening to a book-on-tape as a way of feeling like the commute time is not wasted. I think he might be on to something, so I'm looking for a good literary listening choice to start.

What all of this really means is that I need to take some more time for me to relax, to read books, nap, to do nothing even when there's food to be cooked, cases to be reviewed, and errands to be run. Even when there are incomplete projects at work, I'm going to try my best to leave on time, not bring those projects home, or worse yet, think about them when I'm supposed to be off the clock. So many friends and family members have encouraged me to just chill, and I say it to myself, but I never really follow through on this advice. Instead, I try and try to get little tasks done, and then those tasks build, and little by little, I become more and more stressed and not a fun person to be around. That has to stop, and I'm going to truly devote my best efforts to this particular one.

Reducing Travel Expectations
Our trip to Disney taught me a few lessons in traveling with toddler. Like, for instance, there will be no trip to Germany/Switzerland this summer as I may have liked. It's too much to ask from the little guy. Or, that sometimes, we will just have to fork over the extra cash to make things comfortable for him (a larger hotel room, checking a bag, the extra seat, and shipping the baby gear, for example). I think that big trips will be few and far between in the next few years. Family outings at rented houses, with rooms and relatives on hand, will probably be more regular. As will long weekends, of which the prospect of planning gives me a pick-up for the gray winter upon us now. I think a mommy day-trip (probably still need to get daddy's vote on this one), family ski getaway, and possibly a childless anniversary trip may all be in order for 2011, plus the multiple wedding weekends we have to look forward to this year. Perhaps Europe can wait a few more years for the growing family to cross the pond again.

Figuring Out What to do With My Professional Life
I am a bureaucrat. It is what it is. I lawyer for a living, and to provide our family's healthcare. I can accept that role and feel decent for helping to meet my family's needs. That said, it's always worthwhile to consider if there may be something more fulfilling, more meaningful, more intrinsically satisfying in my future path. It's been a long while since I felt a good deal of passion for practicing law. I felt a little better about it when I returned to only part-time work, but I'm back to full time now. I don't know if my lack of passion relates to my job specifically, or the legal profession at large. I plan to devote a good deal of thought and prayer to this subject. 

Another facet of this issue that I can no longer ignore is this little voice in the back of my head telling me I'm meant to teach. Part of of me says shut up - you spent far too much money on schooling and are far too invested in your current path to change it now - you made your choice; any other dreams are over. But another part of me wonders if it's in my genes (my parents both taught public school for 30 years, and so far, have only been able accomplish an "attempted retirement" from teaching). If I am truly being called by this little voice, I don't want to ignore it.

If I'm being honest, my two favorite jobs ever were (1) waiting tables throughout college, and (2) interning at the St. Louis prosecutor's office. Does this tell me anything about what I should do? No. Neither is exactly a career choice for a new mother. Plus, I have financial considerations to address. These are the things I know I want out of my career (and that I want a career; I'm not made to be a full-time stay-at-home mom - I have a need to be doing - and that's okay for me to accept that) - passion, feeling part of a community, feeling like I'm doing good, balance with my personal life (i.e., maybe less than full time work), and less stress. How I accomplish those things, or even go about figuring out how to accomplish those things - I'm clueless.

Okay, now you all have truly dealt with nothing less than a lengthy journal entry. For those who are still hanging on, thanks for your patience and thanks for caring. Less babbling next time - I promise! ;)

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Law and Order

For our terribly posh New Year celebration, we got room service with the inlaws. I ate in my pajamas and hotel robe. You see, we were winding up our Disney vacation (more on this to follow soon) and we had a 4 AM shuttle to the airport. Needless to say, I was in bed by 10; C had trouble sleeping, but was able to see the Magic Kingdom fireworks from our room.

We did not have quite the drunkenly debaucherous time as the following Arlington revelers (and I'm just gonna not credit these folks with residency given that the below-referenced incidents occurred while the shameful parties were leaving our fair county).

First we have a video of these schmucks, for whom Mister Days was too classy a New Years Eve affair:



May I just take a few lines here to point out the conduct of the Arlington police officers involved in this incident. Sometimes it seems that every time a YouTube video of cops is posted, the behavior of the officers is well, less than commendable. But, those the are videos we see. The incident is this video, I believe, is the overwhelmingly more typical behavior of police officers. Not once did they lose their tempers, threaten the suspects, go beyond any form of necessary force, or do anything that might even slightly disrespect their department. Instead, the officers, obviously far too experienced in dealing with drunk twenty-somethings in Clarendon, were patient and suggested a very reasonable path of going home to sober up. I'm not here to say that every police officer's conduct is as appropriate, and that certain cops don't abuse their power. I just feel it's important to sometimes highlight the good along with the bad. Thank you to Arlington's finest for serving our community.

Said community unfortunately also includes this piece of work (from the Arlington County crime report):

GRAND LARCENY AUTO-ARREST, 1/3/2011, 4200 block of Wilson Boulevard On December 30 at 5 am, an officer pulled over a subject driving a golf cart on [I-66 Westbound, having been passed by several tractor trailers]. The driver was intoxicated and the golf cart had been stolen from [the Ballston Commons Mall]. Everths Moran-Reyes, 22, of Fredericksburg, was charged with Driving Under the Influence, Grand Larceny of an Automobile and Driving While Suspended. He was held on a $15,000 bond.

I don't know if it was the novelty of being back to regular RSS feed reading after a few days away from the office, but my Google Reader collection was seriously entertaining today. Both of these doozies were shared by ArlNow.com and I just felt that they should be shared with you all as well. Back to our regularly scheduled programming tomorrow. Happy New Year!