Another year older

This week I turn 32. It is hard for me to believe I am in my thirties, because I still feel like I am in my early twenties. I have a hard time understanding the fact that I am a Real Adult (or at least I am old enough to be). I am not yet at the phase where I hate getting older, though I think it’s probably going to hit in the next few years. I would love to stay in this age range forever. Old enough to have gained wisdom, but still young enough to make discoveries.

I have a lot to be happy about this birthday. I am a lucky girl and thankful for all 32 years of my life.

Themes for a new year

Resolutions and goals aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, which I can understand. It is daunting to sit and write a list of things you want to accomplish (and will probably forget about before January is over and life after the holidays sets in). One thing I have seen people doing instead is choosing words, phrases, or themes to represent how they want to approach the new year. Even though I love goals, the writer in me loves the idea of using words to set the tone for my life in the year ahead.

Here are the themes I have chosen for 2012:

  • Be passionate. I am a passionate person by nature. When I love something, I throw myself into it headlong. I have noticed that in the past few years, I haven’t been as deeply invested in the things I love as I used to be. I got burned out by life and am probably still recovering a bit, but I want to reclaim the passion I know is still inside me. That will translate into real creative accomplishments for 2012.
  • Be kind. Even though I feel like I am inherently a nice person, I have a quick temper. I judge too quickly and probably too harshly. I notice that I sometimes keep score when I should do things regardless of someone else owing me in return. I need to slow down and make sure that kindness is always my first response. I also need to be kinder to myself. I am overly critical of my own shortcomings, and I have a tendency to ignore my own needs. It isn’t a selfish thing to take good care of yourself, and I need to remember that.
  • Be present. My mind often works overtime and doesn’t let me just be still. I feel like the year passes me by in a whirlwind. I want to enjoy every moment. I need to slow down, experience, and savor instead of looking ahead to see what’s coming. Sometimes it is nice to pull back out of the details and enjoy looking at the big picture. I also want to capture the moments that I experience so I have a record of wonderful memories.

What do you want your year to look like? Do you have any themes for 2012?

12 Things in 2012

I feel like 2012 has the potential to be a great year. I ended 2011 on an uptick, with my amazing new job and a great time with family for the holidays. That positivity at the end of the year makes me really look forward to accomplishing a lot and really enjoying life in 2012.

I don’t like to make resolutions as much as I like to set goals for myself. For 2012, there are 12 things that I want to do:

  • Get organized. One of the reasons I am so excited about moving to a house is that we will have PLENTY of space to organize our life and our possessions. I feel completely unorganized with everything at home these days, and I think that utilizing all our new space and taking the opportunity to get super organized will make my life so much better. It will make our house so much easier to keep clean, too.
  • Create things. I can’t wait to have my own dedicated space in our new house. I have a lot of craft supplies that I really want to use but don’t have the space for now. This year I want to take advantage of that. I want to knit more, start sewing again, and make more jewelry. If all things go to plan I might even make some handmade gifts for Christmas. I also want to start refinishing thrift store finds to furnish my home on the cheap.
  • Make a beautiful home. I have gone a little crazy on Pinterest saving pictures of the things I would like to do in the various rooms of our house. I am looking forward to choosing paint colors, buying new furniture, hanging the artwork I have been collecting, and making the place our own. I want our house to be a place I am proud of and enjoy coming home to every day.
  • Learn. When we went to France this year, I realized how much of my knowledge of the language I have lost over the last 10 years. I want to brush up on my French skills and possibly even start learning Italian. I am a member of the site Livemocha, which offers tons of different languages to learn, and they were running a special on their yearly Gold membership that I could not refuse. I also want to focus on learning at my job, because the constantly changing marketing world always has something new to offer me. Another thing I embraced in 2011 was the podcast, and I subscribe to some really interesting educational podcasts that teach me new things in every episode. My favorite is Stuff You Missed in History Class…check it out!
  • Read. I managed to meet my 2011 Goodreads reading goal of 100 books (I clocked in at 108 total) and I want to up the ante. I read a lot of fun books last year, and there are plenty out there that I am looking forward to tackling in 2012. But I also want to read more nonfiction…specifically history, biographies, and random subjects that interest me.
  • Cook more (and try new things). I love to cook but I haven’t expanded my cooking horizons in quite a while. I want to cook more, so that we spend less money on restaurants, and I want to master new recipes and cooking techniques. I know this will make my food-loving husband very happy!
  • Be more intentional and goal-focused with money. I want to start saving in earnest…for a down payment on our house should we decide to buy it in a few years, for a new laptop, for a vacation, for a new car for Shawn. We have been better with money in the last year, but I want to get us on an even stricter budget so that we can save as much as possible towards the things we need and want. However, I also want to leave us room to do things like have a date night once a week and go out to a really nice dinner once a month.
  • Make music. I miss singing on a regular basis. I want to pick the guitar back up, start recording with my awesome MIDI keyboard setup, and maybe even find a band to be in. I am also thinking about possibly auditioning for a local arts chorale, which means I will have to brush up on sight-reading and vocal work. Music was a huge part of my life for a long time, and I am starting to feel the void where it used to be.
  • Be more healthy. I feel best when I exercise on a regular basis. I am terrible about exercising on a regular basis. I walk more during the day, but that is only going to supplement an exercise routine. I have mapped out the routes to the new gyms (near the house and the office) and I intend to start making working out a habit. I also plan on taking my lunch to work as much as possible and, of course, riding my bike more!
  • Spend more time with my husband. It’s hard to get quality time in when he is in school in the mornings and working until late every night. We need to be intentional about taking time to be together. I want to try to have a date night once a week that is something more than sitting on the couch together.
  • Go somewhere new. I met my goal in 2011 of going to three places I had never been before. I went to France, a place I had dreamed of going for more than half my life. I went to Nashville for a business trip. I went to Round Top, Texas for the bi-annual antiques and junk fair. This year I want to go to at least one more place that I have never been before. Three seems like it is probably too much for this year, so I will leave it at one.
  • Write. Complete. I have already set specific writing goals for the year, but my overall goals are 1) creating a writing habit and 2) completing a project. I have a number of writing projects that I have been working on for quite some time, and I just want to finish them. The goal of building a habit will help me attain the goal of completion. My writing follow-through in 2011 sucked. Time to change that.

Strange Days

It’s been a strange 38 days. I haven’t had that many days to myself, with no work or school obligations, since I was old enough to get a job. That was fifteen years ago. The first couple of weeks held some freelance work, but ever since then I’ve been pretty footloose and fancy free. Even in the summers in high school and college I didn’t sit at home idle, so I have barely known what to do with myself from day to day.

My unemployment thankfully seems to be drawing to a close, but despite my stress over finding a new job and the possibility that it might take a long time, the break has been kind of nice. I almost hate to admit it, but it’s true. I wish I could say I’ve been super productive and cleaned my house from top to bottom, made amazing meals every day, and written an entire novel, but I can’t. I have let myself relax and do as I please. I’ve spent time with friends and family, read books, watched a lot of TV, applied for a lot of jobs, gone on interviews, written, slept, and generally remembered what it is like to not be a ball of stress who dreads going into the office. Like I said before, I think it was a blessing in disguise that I was laid off, because I really wasn’t happy. It opened me up for the amazing opportunity ahead of me that I feel will really utilize my talents and help me to grow.

I’ve been lucky to have amazing family and friends surrounding me and supporting me through it all. They’ve made it so much easier on me. 38 days isn’t so bad, considering that the average unemployment length is about as many WEEKS. It hasn’t been a cakewalk, but I am glad in a way that I had time to clear my palate, so to speak. I feel refreshed and energized. I’m ready to pick back up on all our plans…moving, decorating, enjoying Christmas and New Year’s and my birthday. I’m ready to move on.

Muddling Through

It’s been a crazy month. There are some days where I feel excited about what the future holds, there are others that I feel stricken with despair and worry.

I lost my job at the very end of last month. That’s never happened to me before. I wasn’t fired, and I wasn’t exactly laid off either…the official line is that “my position was eliminated.” It wasn’t because I did a bad job, or because they didn’t like me, but that was cold comfort. I truly enjoyed my job and the people I worked with, and it was hard to say goodbye. They tried to find a place for me elsewhere in the company, but nothing materialized. It wasn’t meant to be.

I’ve been very blessed in the meantime by a nice influx of freelance work that will keep us going through at least the end of the year. That has been a great comfort in my mind, knowing that we will be okay for a little while after my severance runs out. It gives me extra wiggle room to find a new job. I would love to do freelance full-time, but that is the plan for a few years out when we have a nice chunk of savings built up and Mr. Velo is out of school. Right now, freelance is just too uncertain to count on.

I have applied for a number of jobs so far and had one interview. It would be an amazing job at an amazing place that I have long admired. It was a great experience that I hope bears some fruit. I’m applying for new jobs every day. I’m trying to keep my search parameters within what I truly want to do rather than all the things I’m capable of and good at doing. I’ve come to realize over the past five or six years that while I am good at a lot of things, only a few things make me truly happy and fulfilled in the workplace. If it comes down to it, I will take a job that isn’t The Right Job to make sure that I take care of our family, but until that time comes I am determined not to settle.

November is typically a month of extreme creativity for me, because I participate in National Novel Writing Month. I love the project I am working on and have been trying to write it in different incarnations for about six years, but my heart and mind have not been in my writing. I have so much to think about, so much to worry about, and quite a bit of freelance on my plate. I am not going to stop writing it, but I don’t think I’m going to “win” National Novel Writing Month this year, and that makes me sad.

I am also bummed out about Christmas. It is my favorite time of year because I love getting presents and I love giving them even more. All our extra cash is going to have to be saved in the event that I don’t find a new job soon, which means that we may not be able to buy gifts for our families or for each other. Part of the joy of the season for me is buying just the right thing for someone and seeing their face light up when they open the gift. I am hoping that we’ll at least be able to do some handmade things to give people in the event that I’m still unemployed. I was also looking forward to a nice, leisurely vacation around Christmas and the new year. I guess I’m on vacation earlier than planned, though it’s anything but nice and leisurely.

Our move is going to be pushed out by probably a month, which isn’t a big deal. We’ll be there in February instead of January. That will give us time to help make the estate sale happen, clean the house thoroughly, do some painting, and hopefully have the money to pay movers. With my back problems and general clumsiness, I really don’t want to try to move large pieces of furniture down stairs ourselves.

It sounds like I’m pretty upset about all this, and the truth is that I am, but I’m not. Some days are great, some days are awful. In general, I’m looking at everything that is happening as an opportunity for even better things in my life. I genuinely feel that things happen for a reason, and that things will turn out just as they are meant to. But it’s hard sometimes to keep up a positive attitude. I am lucky to have an amazingly supportive husband, family, and friends who are keeping me afloat. I’m muddling through, and I’m going to be okay. I just hope it’s soon.

Very Pinteresting…and lots of projects

When the site Pinterest first started up, I thought it was a really cool idea. I signed up when I could get an invite, and I started using it. Then it got released to a wider audience and I wasn’t the only one hooked–I started getting friends addicted too. Now tons of people I know are on the site, and I use it almost every day.

For a while I was pinning ideas for when we got a house someday, things I wanted to remember or just thought were pretty. I pinned some things I wanted to do now, but the majority was inspiration that I knew I could draw from when my time came to outfit a house just as I want it to look. I didn’t realize that I would be doing that so soon, and my Pinterest pinning has gotten out of control lately as I seek to figure out a color palette and a style for each of the rooms in our new house.

I have to say, the site is immensely helpful. Just pulling up my Home Decor board and scrolling through it has helped inspire me for our living room, the hardest room for me to decorate. I have our kitchen set, our bedroom set, my office set, but the living room is killing me. The bathrooms are also posing a challenge for me, especially the master bath.

The task list ahead, inspired or not, is turning out to be quite daunting. We have to have an estate sale to clear things out before we can really go gung-ho with our plans. There is a lot more in the house than I had realized. But my mother-in-law thinks we will be able to meet a move-in date of end of January, so that is good. We just have a LOT to do before then…estate sale, cleaning, lots of wallpaper scraping, priming, and painting. The light fixture in the master bath has got to go, as does the chandelier in the bedroom–I much prefer a ceiling fan. We have to decide on paint colors and new furniture. We have to budget for our move. We have to pack. I am trying not to stress.

The good news is that my company is closed starting December 23 through the week after Christmas, so I am going to try to take off the remaining four days of the week of Christmas. That will give me 17 consecutive days off of work to enjoy the holidays with our families AND bust my butt on house stuff. I would like to have all the painting done by then so we can give the house a VERY thorough cleaning prior to our move. Looking forward to that time off helps cut the stress a little bit. I know I don’t *have* to have everything done before we move in, but it will be so much easier if things are already scraped/primed/painted and all we have to do is move our stuff in and decorate.

In the meantime, I will just stalk Pinterest for more ideas…

Home Sweet House

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September managed to redeem itself in the last week…it was a crazy one at work, but my husband and made an important decision and started moving forward on our plans for moving from our sweet little urban apartment to a house in the suburbs.

The house development was sudden but welcome. I have yearned for more space, knowing that in our current area of town it comes at a premium we just cannot afford right now. When the opportunity to lease a lovely home at a reasonable price fell in our laps, well, we’d have been fools not to take it. The best part is that our landlady is one of my favorite people in the entire world–my amazing mother-in-law.

Let me tell you, I love that lady like she was my own mom. If I had hand-picked her I couldn’t have done a better job. Knowing that this situation benefits us all, having a beautiful house to decorate and make into a home, and making her happy and just a little richer is really the best situation ever. I really am quite lucky on the in-law front…Mr. Velo’s dad and stepmom are also amazing, and I consider my brother-in-law to be among my closest friends.

We will be living in a home that was built the year my husband was born, one that has already seen a lot of memories and love in the family I was lucky enough to become a part of. If we stay in Dallas after Mr. Velo graduates, there is a very, very good chance we will buy it and be there for a long time to come.

Needless to say, I have been on cloud nine for days. The prospect of decorating an entire home has sent me into a frenzy of brainstorming on Pinterest, my addiction. I got in on the ground floor of the service and I am loving all the activity now that it has opened to the public! I’ve snagged a ton of ideas from it. I’m dreaming of paint colors and vintage cake stands and new couches. I even have a list of must-haves that I tackled in Round Top, TX today with my best friend from college and her mom.

Round Top holds a huge antiques, craft and junk fair twice a year and they have been going forever. I have never managed to make it down with them until this weekend and it was amazing. I spent very little considering what I came home with. My kitchen is now even closer to being outfitted in adorable vintage splendor. I can’t wait to post my great buys!

October holds great things–packing, cleaning, saving up for our move (no way are we NOT hiring movers, and they’re expensive!) and the start of the holiday season in my mind. It is my favorite time of year and I can’t think of a more joyous way than the start of another sweet chapter in our life together. Mr. Velo and I have been married for almost five years, together for almost eight, and I feel like this is a huge, momentous step into our future. I am so excited!

Is It October Yet?

This has been a rough month for the Velo house. We had some surprise expenses, including a very pricey car repair, so money stress has been through the roof. Mr. Velo is still getting used to his grueling new work/school schedule, and I have been trying to de-stress by cleaning out my closet and doing more laundry than a laundromat.

We have also still been having issues with our AT&T Internet, which has been a pain in my side since June. I regret ever switching from their DSL to the U-Verse service just based on the customer service alone. Internet is sadly a necessity for me, over and above things like cable TV, and having unreliable service makes me a little crazy.

There is good stuff on the horizon though. It is almost October, which means it is a fresh month and the start of my very favorite time of year. Temperatures are cooling in Dallas finally and we have had some beautiful weather. I am looking forward to getting down out of the 90s completely and wearing jackets, sweaters and boots again. Mr. Velo is acing his classes so far, which I never doubted but I know relieves him greatly. I have been productive if not less stressed. And we might have some really awesome news after today.

I just have to keep reminding myself to breathe, and to enjoy what I can even when it feels like the whole month is plotting to break me down.

Ch-ch-changes and School Days

Mr. Velo starts his new work schedule tomorrow. It’s going to be a major change, though nothing we haven’t lived through before. He will work 1-9:30, enabling him to go to school in the morning. It hearkens back to our dating days, and the early days of our marriage, when he worked both his full-time job and a part-time job on top of all that. I am really proud of him for making the choice to go back to school and get a degree in something he is really passionate about, but I know I will probably be a little lonely from time to time.

I usually jealously guard my “alone time” because I lived alone for so long, sometimes being around someone else 24:7 can chafe at me, even when it is someone as awesome as my husband. When that hits, I will usually go in the bedroom and read a book, write, or watch some TV and knit. He gets in the same kind of mood where all he wants to do is play a video game, watch TV, or read. Even when he is home, he will be studying or trying to relax, so I will have probably more alone time on my hands than I know what to do with for a while. Regardless of how much I like doing my own thing, I am used to having him around and I like it.

I have decided to take the alone time I have and work on my own projects, plus devoting more time to making our home a nicer place to live. I will never be a doting housewife, but I think it is only fair that I pick up a little more slack so that he can devote time to his schoolwork. I may do something totally cheesy and make us a chore chart that will get us in the habit of doing certain things on certain days, who knows.

We are also about to put a strict budget into effect so that we can save money for his tuition and save towards things like retirement and a new couch while still covering all our bills. We have already changed around our Netflix and cell phone plans to save some money every month, and we are considering canceling our DirecTV plan as well. I know that will bum him out because he likes to watch live sports (as do I) but even live sports aren’t really worth what we are paying per month for our satellite.

I want to really use the time we spend apart to concentrate on my writing, which is something I want to translate to a full-time job someday. I have two in-progress fiction projects that are in need of some serious TLC. I have neglected them the past few months due to work craziness and feeling like my brain was too full. I am weird about writing when others are around, so hopefully Mr. Velo’s absence will translate into more work done on those stories. Besides that, I plan on revitalizing my workout routine (which is currently a giant dud), doing a LOT of knitting and a LOT of Netflix streaming. It really could be worse.

These life changes will also make us more intentional with the time we spend together. Our “us time” will be more precious, and hopefully we can make it more interesting. I love our marriage, and I think that we have a pretty amazing relationship most of the time, but we have fallen into quite the boring rut. We don’t really go do most of the fun, out-of-the-house things that we did when we were dating…even just going for coffee or going to browse the bookstore for a few hours. We have become pretty staid in our routines. I am hoping that with the limited time we will have, we can branch out a little. In the meantime, we will be going to Austin for Labor Day as a bit of a last hurrah until Christmas.

It has been a long time since I marked the passage of time in semesters. I guess I will be doing that for the next few years!

Gluten-Free Goodness: Blueberry Muffins

So, around 2008 I had a bunch of health problems that were very mysterious and really didn’t seem to have a cause or reason. I struggled with feeling terrible all the time for a couple of years before I found a doctor who listened enough to test me for anything and everything that could be causing my symptoms (hypothyroid, anemia, diabetes, and some serious diseases) and we came up short. It was good news that nothing was horrifically wrong with me, but that still didn’t make the symptoms magically go away. She suggested that I look into something like a sleep study or getting checked for celiac disease. I looked into the details of both and became more familiar with the idea of what celiac or a gluten intolerance means. So, I decided to try eating gluten-free for a while to see if it helped. Within a few days I had more energy, I had less headaches, and I felt more like myself than I had in a long time. So, I decided to go gluten-free for good.

I was really militant about it for a while, but now I will admit to cheating a bit here and there. It was worth cheating in France, because honestly I didn’t feel bad when I ate at all. I think it is because they process their food a lot less, and we ate a lot of fresh things (even gluten-filled ones). But it’s a slippery slope and I’ve been lazy about sliding down it. I am trying to make myself stop, because while a little bit of gluten doesn’t seem to bother me, eating a lot of it or eating it consistently seems to be what really makes me feel terrible.

One thing I’ve been missing is baking. Gluten-free baking is an exercise of patience and lots of flours. I have one entire huge shelf of my pantry dedicated to my gluten-free baking supplies…flours from sorghum, tapioca, potato, teff, oat, brown rice, white rice…the list could go on. I have a  cookbook I’ve been dying to bake from (Elizabeth Barbone’s Gluten-Free Baking), but when I was feeling like baking some muffins with the big, gorgeous blueberries I got at the store, I turned to my favorite blogger and cookbook writer, Shauna Ahern.

Shauna’s latest cookbook, Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef, is both a story and a journey through some seriously amazing food. Her site is also chock full of recipes and stories from her life with her chef husband Danny and their adorable little girl Lu. I have never made a bad recipe from either the book or the site. Shauna and Danny work hard to make amazing food without a speck of gluten involved. I knew that she was likely to have a great muffin recipe on hand, and I was right.

My muffins turned out moist–usually a problem with gluten-free baked goods–with a perfect crumb and big, oozy pockets of blueberry goodness. They have a slight tartness from the lemon zest and the plain yogurt in the batter that complements the sweetness of the blueberries and the crunchy raw sugar that decorates the tops. I’ve never made muffins this good before, not even when I was baking with wheat flour. I knew Shauna wouldn’t let me down.

These? There are only six left. It’s hard to stop eating them.

Gluten-Free Blueberry Muffins (copied from Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef)

10 tablespoons unsalted, soft butter
1 cup white sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1 cup sweet white sorghum flour
1 cup white rice flour
1 cup tapioca flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder (or ½ teaspoon cream of tartar, ½ teaspoon baking soda, ½ teaspoon cornstarch)
½ teaspoon baking soda (if combining above, add another ½ teaspoon to mix)
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups plain yogurt
1 cup blueberries (frozen are fine)
2 tablespoons raw sugar

Preheat the oven to 375.

Combine all the dry ingredients together. Set aside. (Jess’ note: Be sure to leave the sugar out of this! I didn’t read far enough ahead and I added the sugar to my dry ingredients. I creamed the butter alone and it was a pain until I finally added the first bit of yogurt, but thankfully my muffins still turned out great. I was worried they wouldn’t rise.)

Cream the butter and sugar together, until just creamed. If you leave the stand mixer running as they are creaming, these muffins will not rise. Simply cream them until combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing after each egg.

Add one half of the dry ingredients, mixing well. Add one-third of the yogurt and combine until well mixed. Add one-half of the remaining dry ingredients to the mixture, and combine. Continue this, alternating the yogurt and dry ingredients, until you have mixed both of them in, completely.

Add as many blueberries as you can.

Oil a muffin tin well, then sprinkle a little cornstarch or white rice flour on the bottom of each cup. Fill each space for muffin two-thirds full. Sprinkle the raw sugar over the top and set them in the oven. (Jess’ note: I used some natural baking cups from Whole Foods and they make for much easier clean-up and serving! I like the natural ones better than the more flimsy dyed ones I get at Target or a grocery store.)

(This recipe will give you enough batter to make two tins of muffins, or close.)

Bake the muffins for about 35 minutes, or until the tops have browned and started to harden, and the entire house smells of warm blueberry muffins. If your sweetie wakes up from the smell, the muffins are done.

Makes 18 muffins.

These muffins are going to be a staple recipe of mine from now on. I can’t wait to try them with different mix-in fruits, or maybe even some mini chocolate chips. I might experiment with some spices and some grated zucchini for spice muffins. Either way, I’m destined to be happy and full when I make these muffins. That’s what really counts.