December 22, 2009

Holiday Cheer

A few of you have emailed me regarding the Cranberry Margaritas that I mentioned in the comments of Jennie's Christmas Menu post. I am planning to make these for Christmas to go along with our Mexican Themed Dinner (Pork Tamales, Beans, Rice, etc) but frankly I wish I was drinking now! Anyway, here is the recipe:

Merry Cranberry Margaritas
adapted from Sunset Magazine

1 1/4 cups cranberry juice cocktail
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups (6 oz.) fresh or frozen cranberries, rinsed
3/4 cup lime juice
3/4 cup tequila
1/2 cup orange-flavor liqueur
3 cups coarsely crushed ice

Pour 1/4 cup of the cranberry juice into a shallow bowl. Pour 3 tablespoons sugar onto a flat plate. Dip the rims of 4 to 6 widemouthed glasses (6- to 8-oz. size, suitable for margaritas) into juice, then into sugar. Set the glasses aside.

Reserve 12 cranberries. In a blender, whirl until smooth and slushy the remaining cranberries, cranberry juice, sugar, lime juice, tequila, orange liqueur, and ice. If necessary, blend in 2 batches, then mix. Fill glasses; garnish with reserved berries. Serves 4 to 6.

Photo courtesy of

December 16, 2009

Check Your Head, Crazypants Website

I had to order new checks today (and honestly I don't even know why I ordered them because what on earth do I even use checks for these days) so I went online to some dumb website and picked out the least offensive, cheapest checks possible and proceeded to try and checkout. And no they didn't have Disney Characters on them, or Anne Geddes Babies, or Girls Washing Their Hair, or whatever other shit they were trying to charge me $30 for. They were just checks. To write on. If I pay things. I do not consider checks part of my "Personal Brand" as it were.

So after declining the "prevent check fraud" option like 4 separate times in which I had to keep manually clicking on a radio button that said something totally inflammatory like "Yes, that's right I don't care about check fraud, crazies please come get me and my money" --it was finally time to choose a shipping option. Quick sidebar: I am not sure that your stupid watermark for $3 per box is really going to prevent fraud anyway, and even if it does, I would rather spend that money on my stupid credit check every month to make sure no one is stealing my freakin identity, OK? Jesus Crimony, Batman! Fighting crime these days is so exhausting! So anyway, shipping options...The options included a $6.95 standard shipping charge for a 7-9 business day arrival (for my $9 checks that probably weigh half a pound, but whatevs) or an "overnight" option that I could select for $22.95 which meant my checks would arrive in, oh...FOUR TO SEVEN DAYS.

I'm sorry, what? I thought this shit was overnight. If I'm going to pay twice the price of the actual product I am purchasing, JUST TO SHIP IT "OVERNIGHT", I want that shit on my counter top tomorrow morning, preferably pouring me a cup of piping hot cup of coffee and making me an friggin omelet.

So yeah, I chose the regular shipping option, and I'll probably get my checks a year from now -- but I guess the upside is that's probably the next time I will need to use one, so I've got that going for me.

December 15, 2009

Random Things That Are Rocking My World Lately

Silk Pumpkin Spiced Soy Milk-- Specifically in brewed coffee. Granted, I love soy in just about any coffee drink but seriously? PUMPKIN SPICED SOY? Is pretty much just a slice of seasonal heaven in my morning coffee -- which, since our heater is broken and it has been cold as all get out in Sacramento lately -- is definitely a plus. If you are not really a fan of soy milk then this wonky sort of flavor certainly won't convince you, but if you do already like soy -- do yourself a favor and get some STAT.

This American Life on DVD -- Okay who are we kidding, I love the podcast as well, but it has been fun to see the visual representation and see some of the faces of people I have heard stories about too. I am totally fascinated with stories of everyday people and this show ALWAYS delivers interesting content.

Bubble Baths -- When your heater is broken and it's rainy and cold outside, do you know what rocks? A Piping Hot Bubble Bath -- especially if you have purchased oodles of bubble bath from Bath & Body Works the last time they had a huge sale. I purchased so much bubble bath, in fact, that I came home with one that was called "Twilight Woods" solely because I was having an inappropriate Team Jacob moment. And also because it was described as "evoking the mystery and beauty of enchanted woods" and really who doesn't want to evoke that while bathing, am I right? Oh, I'm not? Oh, okay, my bad. Anyway it kind of smells um, musky? I don't know. It's alright in a bubble bath, but I certainly wouldn't spray it all over myself or anything. Boy, how the heck did I get here? Oh yes, I was talking about bubble baths and how much they rock. THEY ROCK.

P-Touch Label Makers -- Because I'm an organization nerd and in my spare time I like to reorganize the bulk food section of our pantry and label things. And I want you to know that when I say "pantry" I really mean the one teeny tiny cupboard that we have to fit every single food item in the kitchen that isn't dishes or booze. And that my friends, is a challenge of epic spatial proportions. And this label maker? Just makes me want to pull all my hair out a little bit less.

Evening Walks -- It has been super cold lately in Sacramento, as I alluded to earlier, but it's the kind of California cold that feels revitalizing to be in when you slap on a coat and scarf. Garrett and I have been taking some nightly walks around our neighborhood to admire the lights and decorations and blow off steam at the end of the day and I am just so in love with dusk! I feel grateful to live in a place so temperate this time of year because even though it is cold out, we still get to explore outside and not come home totally frozen.

Veggie Patch Falafels -- I was incredibly leery of these because I love falafel and did not think that you could replicate the goodness at home in a microwave. In the end, it is not the seem deep fried deliciousness that you will find in a restaurant, but you know what? That is kind of the best part? These are quick and easy to heat up and serve in a pita with a little Greek salad topping and some homemade tzatziki. Such a tasty (non-deep-fried) convenience dinner under 10 minutes!

What's been rocking your world lately, peeps?

December 14, 2009

5 Best of 09 Takes

(This post is a part of Gwen Bell's The Best of 2009 Blog Challenge.)

Boy I sure fell off the wagon there for a minute, didn't I? In any case, here are a few more Bests of 2009, quick take style:

1. Album of the Year: So I've been brewing an entire blog post in my head this year called "In Defense of Lady Gaga" (as if she is such an object of persecution, woe is Gaga), but what can I say? I'm lazy and I haven't written it. Other things I haven't done include: finish Christmas cards, call to get our heater fixed (brr!) and clean the bathrooms, but like I always say -- there's always tomorrow! And seriously, I have had lots of important things that needed to be done immediately, like watch Jersey Shore and reorganize every cabinet in my kitchen, so there. Anyway, I know many people think she is a cheesy ass, attention starved, pop-star and you know what, I can't really argue with that. But seriously in the big scheme of things, who is more sadly in need of attention -- the celebrity that just "happens" to show up at all the hip clubs and super-photographed restaurants "by chance" wearing all the most fashionable clothes OR the chick who shows up somewhere with freakin deer antlers on her head? I mean, yeah, she wants attention (obvs!) but come on -- she has to have a sense of humor too, right? Also, even if her songs contain such poetically ridiculous lyrics such as: "I'm not loose I like to party Let's get lost in your Ferrari" -- the girl can sing -- and it's sort of refreshing that her sound isn't synthesized on every track. Speaking of every track, Garrett and I listened to the entire "The Fame" album almost exclusively while we were in Maui, just because the lyrics made us laugh, it was silly, and we thought we were very hysterical -- I guess you had to be there. But because we were feeling generous we left the cd in our rental car for the next person to enjoy for the sole reason that in 2009 I really think that everyone needed a little more Gaga in their life. So yeah, that's my album of the year pic for what it's worth. (Sidebar: I realize her album actually technically came out in 2008, but I take a minute to warm up to things, okay?)

See...Gaga even makes waiting in traffic on the Road to Hana enjoyable!

2. The Best Place in 2009: Hands down, my Kitchen -- which is actually kind of funny because about a year and a half ago Garrett remodeled his whole house (now my house) and pretty much every room got upgraded except the kitchen. But even though our kitchen is outdated in comparison to the rest of our house, it has been my favorite place to unwind this year. I love nothing more after a long stressful day than to come and spend time slicing and dicing and creating something with all my pent up energy. I've gotten more creative in the kitchen this year and that has been awesome!

3. New Food: Speaking of creativity in the kitchen, I learned to cook Indian food like a champ this year! I've always thought the flavors were delicious, but since it's kind of rare that we go out to dinner -- and when we do, we usually hit up the same usual suspects -- I rarely get to eat it. This year, since I tried to start cooking more vegetarian dishes, I figured I would give some Indian recipes a try and some of them have become staples!

4. Best Change you made to the place you live: Um...I decorated? Actually now that I think about it, I decorated twice. Well let me explain: first I took my little bachelorette studio and turned into a homey little pad just for me. And then, as you know, a few months later Garrett and I decided to shack up, so I turned a recently remodeled bachelor pad into a cozy home for two -- and I had a pretty fun time doing it! You may remember my tale of extreme makeover and really, it continues to be an on-going project. But I love the idea of making a house feel like a home, and it's so fun to continue finding things that make it feel ours!

5. Best Rush of the Year: Jeez, I have no idea what my best rush was...I didn't do anything XXXTREME (with 3 Xs) I don't think -- Vin Diesel and I are kind of on the outs. Does it count that I got a rush when I knew the $2000 question in Urban Dictionary on Jeopardy the other night when I was in a room full of non-bloggers and shouted out "DOOCED!"? #bloggernerdalert No? Okay then, well um...I surfed on an anchor on the Central Coast -- how about that?

Well, if nothing else, I make an ass out of myself so you don't have to.

You are all welcome.

December 10, 2009

2009 -- Was That A Challenge I Heard???

(This post is a part of Gwen Bell's The Best of 2009 Blog Challenge. Thanks for the great inspiration idea, Amy!)

Challenge 09

My biggest challenge of 2009, huh? God that's like asking Jon Gosselin to pick his douchey-est moment of the year or his favorite Ed Hardy Shirt, there are just so many to choose from! Many things this year were a challenge for a me, but luckily I'm a competitive sumbitch! I don't really mind a challenge, I'm not really a Poor-Me-Let-Me-Make-A-List-Of-My-Struggles kind of person (though I'm not judging, because you know I do love a good list!) but when I reflect back on 2009, I sort of get the feeling that I have been slogging through a few feet of snow. I mean, a few feet of snow in like Whistler, BC or some place equally as beautiful, but snow nonetheless. Mostly because this year was full change you see, and change is a challenge, yo.

(Btw, that may be the title of my new rap song, friends. Album to be released in 2010 -- oh you just wait for it!)

Anyway, I think I can sum up my challenges in 4 main categories:


Well if you have been around these parts for long, you know that my roommate of 6 years moved back down south last October, prompting me to move into my first place all by myself (woo, I'm a big kid now!) but come January (yes 3 months later) it was pretty clear that I was going to need to find another place to call home. (Not due to any drama or anything, but something that probably isn't worth getting into the details of on this here blog.) So after re-organizing my whole life, scaling back, and moving into and decorating a new place, it was time to do it all over again at the beginning of 2009. And people, lest you have forgotten, I AM NOT IN COLLEGE ANYMORE! Moving annually just ain't for me. So quarterly? Well now you are just talking crazy, because I'm really too old for that! Luckily this move landed me smack dab into a fabulous 3 bedroom house in Carmichael with my very cute boyfriend (score!) which, in the end, was probably the best thing I did this year all at the same time. So yeah, we took the official co-habitation plunge. And while I won't say that it has been challenging (actually the living together part has been incredibly seamless) the logistics part was a friggin hassle, and I don't think we really got our house/budget/routines (because we are routine-nerds) in order until well into summer. So that -- yes -- was a challenge! The good news though, as we cozy up to December, I have never felt more at home.


One of the things Garrett and I decided to do this year was put a little bit more effort into living more simply. I know that's such a generic thing to say, but it has manifested itself in the way we view spending time and spending money. We purged a lot of un-needed crap in the move, we nailed down our budgets as we combined resources, but our real focus was to try and consciously create a life that really looked how we wanted: less stress, less junk, more time, more security, and more fun. And as easy as those things sound, it has really been quite an on-going challenge and I don't really anticipate any relief from that. The biggest mental adjustment on my end has been ensuring that I am constantly having that conversation with myself of: Is this aligning with my values? You value security,Holly, so why are you spending money on something frivolous? You value time, so why are you planning a trip where you have scheduled out every free minute? You value less stress, so why are you squeezing in an extra project or placing an extra responsibility on yourself with no action plan yet conceived? Can this wait?

I mean that is A LOT of self chatter compounded with the hamster wheel that already runs in my brain at every waking moment. Every once in a while I wanted to say "Listen, self...mellow out. It's just one little purchase/trip/project. Let it go." But all in all, living more consciously has been a rude awakening and a great relief all at once -- and although it's tough at times, I'm looking forward to fine tuning that in 2010.


I don't talk about work too much here for obvious reasons (you'd be bored if I did anyway, I promise), but I can tell you that my challenges in this arena came in the form of long term planning. This year I looked at the things I am doing now, and wondered if those are things I want to be doing forever. The career-existential crisis, right? I have had a really interesting career path over the last 10 years that certainly hasn't been one-note, and in my current job I have had a bazillion opportunities to learn and grow. But I also have a lot of potential inside me that I'm not even exercising right now. I want to have a career where all of my talents are transferable -- even if that means Hey! because you watch so much reality tv you should always be the person picked to attend corporate-y blowhard meetings because you obviously have a higher tolerance for listening to bullshit and finding it comedic rather than depressing. Well okay, maybe not exactly like that but what I'm saying is I'm realizing that I'm open to something a little more bit offbeat. Figuring out how to balance all those possibilities with reality though has been my challenge this year. Planning exactly what my next steps are going to be proves to be the challenge of 2010. This amounts to a huge portion of my life, so I want to be inspired by my career always. Maybe that sounds a little optimistic, but I'm pretty sure I can make it happen as long as I am true myself, plan accordingly, and don't worry too much about what other people think is "right for me."


This year I really set out to take a holistic approach to my health. I've long left behind the idea of hating myself, or beating myself up comparatively about my body or putting unrealistic expectations on my appearance for vanity's sake (Reason # 357 why your 30s are awesome!) and instead I have really spent the last few years approaching my health with the following principles in mind: I am the only one responsible for treating myself kindly, I have cultivated a great life full of wonderful people, so what can I do for myself to ensure that I get to enjoy it for as long as possible? And in my mind this involves a number of different things -- diet, exercise, quality of food, stress-management, education, time spent in nature, scheduled re-boots, and of course continually finding and doing what brings me joy. And I have made great progress in many of these areas this year. But sometimes when you take a holistic approach to health it is harder to measure progress. I mean it is certainly more validating to see a number on a scale decrease, you know? So keeping perspective about that has been a challenge for sure. Although I know that the scale is not the only way to define progress, I certainly hope to fine tune this aspect of my life as well in 2010...and maybe do something fitness-y that I am afraid of this year.

So there it is! I think that just about sums up the challenges of this year. I know they are not front page news for everyone, but they have kept my brain, my feet, and my will to improve quite busy this year! 3 steps forward and 2 steps back keeps things interesting, right? I look forward to the new challenges that 2010 brings because even though 2009 has been a slog at times, it has brought me right up to this very point. And frankly, every once in a while I remind myself that I'm just grateful to still be here!

December 08, 2009

I'm Sorry, What Were You Saying...

(This post is a part of Gwen Bell's The Best of 2009 Blog Challenge. Thanks for the great inspiration idea, Amy!)

Best Moment of Peace

I'm not trying to leave you with the impression that I have sea turtle and pikake flower bumperstickers on my minivan or anything, or talk about the same repetitive topic over and over, but obviously this little trip to Maui I took this year, what is the right word? Momentus? No. Significant? No. How about we just say that alot of shit happened there that made me feel grateful, so I'm sorry if a lot of my "Best Of" moments have to do with that, okay? Okay.

Whew! Glad we got that out of the way.

So as for moments of peace this year, I'll be quick to say that in Maui I had quite a few of them, and they mostly looked like that picture above -- which was pretty much the scene every morning at breakfast in our condo, flip flop toes included. Each morning we would get up ridiculously early, which you know I love (a benefit of flying out from California, we were 3 hours behind, so waking up at 6am felt like sleeping in!) and wander out to the lanai with two of my absolute favorite things in hand -- a piping hot cup of coffee, and a book. And literally for a few hours we would just read and watch people walk on the beach and listen to the waves crash and plan out what we wanted to see and do that day. And when we got tired of that, we just walked over about 10 feet to the pool and did some more thinking and reading and lounging, and you know generally just seeing the world from another angle like Jewel and stuff. God what ever happened to Jewel anyway? And while we are on the topic, Lauryn Hill? Did she just disappear into the ether?

So yeah, if that isn't peaceful personified, I really don't know what is.

December 07, 2009

Supermarket Weep

You know what household task I really despise?

Grocery Shopping.

And mostly because I do it at awful, awful times such as, you know, Monday thru Friday right about 5pm or on Sundays. And freaking EVERYBODY AND THEIR MOTHER goes grocery shopping on Sundays. And don't even get me started about going to Costco on Sunday and keeping my sanity. Not Gonna Happen. Especially not when you roll up to Costco and there is a big yellow bus outside which you later find out is carrying the entire population of a local Home for the Blind. But that, my friends, is another story.

So yesterday, I'm trying all day to gear myself up to go fight the masses at the grocery store. I know the produce section will be raked, the aisles will be packed, and the bread will not be hot. Oooh, hot bread? That is one of the only benefits of hitting up the store on the way home from work on a weeknight. The entire place smells like a San Francisco Sourdough bread bowl, which is like my own personal kryptonite. Can't. Leave. Store. Without. Bread. Anyway, so I'm gearing up for a Sunday grocery Bonanza Of FAIL and I get this brilliant idea: I will go to Whole Foods! It's right around the corner and it will make the task at hand so much more fun.

You see, I love Whole Foods. I love their entire produce department, the bulk section gets me all giddy, and pretty much everyone in my life knows I want to make out with the cheese section. Don't even get me started on the Health & Beauty Section. Last night I almost bought a Bucky on impulse (our heater is broken you all and it is COLD in our house -- wah wah). But yes, you read that right, I almost made a $39 IMPULSE BUY. I have no control in that store. NO CONTROL. Going there is like my own personal culinary Disneyland and the problem is that I usually leave there with about $100 of groceries that fit into two bags. And that is mostly because the courtesy clerk is trying to be polite by bagging up my enormous jug of 100% Organic Sonoma County Apple Cider in a separate bag all alone, so as to not crush the delicate rosemary crackers to go with my $15 sliver of Emmentaler in the other bag. God Whole Foods turns me into such a yuppie douchebag, but I just love it! And it just makes the whole process of grocery shopping that much more enjoyable. And frankly, I rationalize it in my head because I usually shop at Raley's and shopping at Raley's instead of Whole Foods to save money is like slumming it in a Lamborghini because that Bentley is just so overpriced that it's gross, God.

So the point of this story (THE POINT!) is that I went to Whole Foods last night to pick up some groceries, I did the entire store A to Z and loved every minute of it -- picking up some sundry items like pumpkin spice soy milk for my coffee (YUM!), greek yogurt, cayenne pepper hummus for our lunches this week, and an enormous bunch of kale that they were practically giving away for 69 cents among other things -- and I was all excited about all my various purchases until I got up this morning. When I opened up the hummus to throw in our lunches I got a pretty nasty whiff, but ya know, it was "Probiotic Hummus" (I know) so I thought to myself, maybe it's a bit more tart than your regular hummus -- I dig. Until I looked at the date on the side of the container -- Use by November 9, 2009.


So then I checked our yogurts. And one of those had a funky date. Oh, and then my head exploded. And man was that a bitch to clean up at 7am before I had even had a cup of coffee (the pumpkin spice soy was fine, btw).


And this is not the first time this has happened. The last time I was there I picked up this basil cheese spread because we were having some last minute guests over and even though the date was just fine, the entire container was crawling with mold. I didn't return the cheese because it was kind of a pain, and then I sort of forgot about it in the back of the frigde (science project!), and after my years spent in retail where people came in complaining and returning items for the most RIDICULOUS reasons, I'm sort of hardwired against the whole situation unless it's extreme -- but honestly? November 9th? I think it's about time these transgressions finally get noted.

I'm so annoyed to get home with a weeks worth of groceries just to have to head back in to the belly of the beast at about 5pm tonight!

My So-Called Blogging Life

(This post is a part of Gwen Bell's The Best of 2009 Blog Challenge. Thanks for the great inspiration idea, Amy!)

Blogfind of 09

A single find? Well that is a tall order.

I'll start by saying this. I've always been kind of a joiner. Growing up I was super involved in dance and when I say involved I mean, IN-VOLVED. Man, I did so much tap, jazz, and ballet from the age of 3 on, that you would never have doubted my commitment to Sparkle Motion. It felt like breathing, it was just what I was meant to do pretty much every day and I loved it. I always knew what was expected of me and I pushed myself until I succeeded. If nothing else it certainly taught me a lot about discipline and spandex -- and frankly both have come in handy in my adult life. I danced right up until high school when I had to make the OMG-HUGE-HUGE-LIFE-CHANGING-DECISION (ha!) of whether to quit dance to join the cheerleading squad at my high school. And whew! Were those some sleepless adolescent nights.

In the end I did quit dancing, but I basically just replaced it with the sort of high school shenanigans that inspired pretty much all 97 incarnations of the Bring It On franchise (and for the record, I want you all to know I never dropped The Spirit Stick.) -- but as cheesy as it sounds, those are some of the best memories of my life. There really is a little bit of magic that happens when a group of like minded gals get together to do something that brings them joy. It's why in college I ended up going the sorority route (though that ended up totally NOT being for me), and it's why as an adult I pretty much love everything about being a card carrying member of Junior's nothing like the pearl wearing housewives club that you would imagine, and I have met some of the coolest gals on the planet.

Now of course when you are talking about groups of women, there is always the possibility of that magic turning into that of the "Mean Girls" variety, but as I get older I find myself encountering that a lot less frequently. I think as my age has increased, my tolerance for catty bullshit and exclusiveness has decreased -- especially since I've gotten much less afraid to express myself -- and as a consequence I find it seems to happen so infrequently. Well, I take that back, I definitely still see it, but I guess more accurately it just doesn't have the same effect. I sort of roll my eyes and move on.

I guess all of this is to say that this year -- 2009 -- my "blog-find" is not just a single link. Sadly, part of the reason for that is that my favorite blogger EVER decided to quit blogging (so sad!). But more importantly, my "blogfind" this year was really so much than I can portray in just a few links (Plus, I'd hate to leave someone out, because there goes that exclusive thing again). For me, it was more of a shift in perspective. This year I realized that blogging is more of a community for me than I ever thought it would be. That I'm not just some random gal sitting in my office, or on my couch typing away alone. I'm in a HUGE room (that spans the globe!) full of a bunch of other like minded gals (and guys, of course too!) who are just putting their thoughts and ideas into words trying to make sense of it all. I kind of feel like that iPhone commercial...."Need to know how many calories are in your dinner? There's an app for that."

Want some advice about how to decorate your house? "There's a blog for that"
Need some inspiration for continuing to write your novel? "There's a blog for that"
Garrett's job is moving to Denver, who the hell do I even know in Denver? "There's a blog for that"

And behind every blog is someone fabulous and helpful. Someone who understands the power of a friendly email or comment. Who realizes that sometimes words from strangers are more meaningful than advice you get from people in real life. Who will tweet things that make you laugh so hard you snort when you are having a bad day. Who will provide you with inspiration when you aren't finding much. These are people who understand how awesome it is to have broad network. We've got a community here, us bloggers -- and the whole is so much great than the sum of its parts! And really feeling this in a tactile way this year -- that is my best blog find.

And in my humble opinion, that realization is much more powerful than a little link love.

December 06, 2009

Favorite Books of 09

(This post is a part of Gwen Bell's The Best of 2009 Blog Challenge. Thanks for the great inspiration idea, Amy!)

My reading habits have really been unpredictable since graduating from college. I guess that's what happens when you are forced to read 1000 pages a week, which by the way is the best and worst part of being an English major. I am not a very fast reader, especially if I am reading non-fiction for comprehension, but being forced to read lots of different authors/genres/styles has definitely kept me "open" when it comes to picking out books -- I don't stick to one thing.

I read plenty of good books this year (and also stalled amidst some pretty terrible ones that eventually put down) but here are are few favorites:

1. A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes From My Kitchen Table by Molly Wizenberg

I mentioned this one over and over this year because the stories were so inspiring and the recipes were so delicious. And what a double whammy that Molly's blog continues to be a source of inspiration now that the book is over. Love that!

2. The Man of My Dreams by Curtis Sittenfeld

I loved this because Sittenfeld really has a knack for capturing the awkwardness of the teenage experience. With all of her books I've found that she can really describe a situation to make the reader feel like they are there -- and she does it concisely. Not an extra word. Just the right words.

3. Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri

This book just absolutely thrilled me because I didn't really anticipate enjoying it. It was such a moving book of short stories (especially the last three -- oh my god -- so good!) that I found myself totally bummed when it ended. That book will stay with me for a long time.

4. The United States of Arugula by David Kamp

David Kamp is a writer for Vanity Fair and that is exactly how this book reads -- like an extended juicy magazine article. Obviously I love cooking, but what is interesting in this book is sociological reasons behind the shift in perspective that Americans have gone through over the last 75 years. It also details a number of key players in the culinary industry, which for a Top Chef geek like me is kind of interesting. I loved the human interest pieces on those people and events that I have heard of but never really known the history of. All around good read.

What have you been reading this year. Are you on Goodreads? If so, um...hello...why are we not friends??? I love to see what others are reading. You can find me here.

December 04, 2009

Of course there's a return on investment. We just can't print it here

(This post is a part of Gwen Bell's The Best of 2009 Blog Challenge. Thanks for the great inspiration idea, Amy!)

Best Article of 09

I wish there was a job titled Inspirationalist. The description would be to find inspiration anywhere, think on it, then act on it. It would be very high paying (with good benefits!) and I'd apply for it STAT. One of the things I love about blogging is that there is so much Inspiration out there from fellow bloggers and if it is not inspiration, then it is food for thought. There's nothing I love more than reading a coherent blog post over coffee that really gets me thinking when I am too incoherent for words! Sometimes the process of imbibing all the information and inspiration sort of blows my mind.

I'll be honest, often things in my reader go in one ear (um...eye?) and out the other, or they get put on some sort of mental shelf waiting for attention, even though I know it will probably only be to gather dust (Craft Ideas: I'm looking at you, unfortunately.) Once in a while, however, I find something that not only sticks with me, it keeps falling off that mental shelf right at my feet where I find myself tripping over it so repetitively that I am forced to deal with it and find a permanent place to store it in my life (or you know, bookmark it at least!). Anil Dash's oldie but goodie diatribe about diamond marketing really did that for me this year when I came across it playing link hopscotch, and it was something I ended up sending to a number of people because it was not only funny and accurate, but at this point in my life it's totally relevant.

Now we all know how eeeeeevil the diamond industry is -- THANKYOUVERYMUCH Leonardo DiCaprio -- and truth be told, I'm not really a diamond gal. I mean I love jewelry, but I'm more into chunky (read: cheap) costume jewelry -- what can I say, I lose things. And I've never really been one for the manufactured meaning of Tiffany's or longed for a growing sparkly gemstone collection; however, as an un-married gal in a committed relationship there is a part of me that wants to partake in a little blingy rite of passage and I've always been a bit conflicted about that (no pun intended). I know that the diamond industry is not something that is aligned with my values -- both because of the human rights violations as well as the dishonesty that goes along with the price fixing and competition controlling that DeBeers is known for -- but I am not made of wood, people! And I've gotten really good at rationalizing, too -- I mean, what's one more diamond ring? Especially if it's "conflict- free". And of course I'm not even talking about some rare behemoth J. Lo rock either, so there's that. Tasteful twinkle -- it's different, right?

But it took Anil's article to really ice the already highly stacked cake against diamonds in my mind. Not only are they inherently worthless and morally evil (I know, inflammatory adjective alert!) but seriously when it comes to the way the diamond industry markets their products, he hits the nail on the head by identifying that the diamond industry is calling us and our partners nagging, helpless, chauvinist, idiots -- and not only are we eating it up, but we are begging for more. And really, that just rubbed me the wrong way.


Does that mean I am here to tell you that I have made the decision to eschew all diamonds, and that I will smugly roll my eyes at any and all marketing campaigns that tell me that I need a man to give me a rock to feel safe and calm during the thunderstorms of life -- or make claims like the title of this post.

Weeeeeeell...not exactly.

What I can tell you though, is that Garrett and I will not be purchasing a diamond when we decide to get hitched. But this year my mom offered to give me a family diamond that was actually in a ring that my grandma gave my dad -- and boy did that complicate my moral stance and tug on the heart strings. Because, really? A family diamond? Not to mention it is BEE-YOU-TEE-FULL! (The tasteful sparkle of course...haha). And once again might I remind you, I am not made of wood people. But I am pretty sure, thanks to coming across that gem of a post by Anil Dash this year, that I've decided that this next diamond, will be my last diamond.

December 02, 2009

The Trip of A Lifetime

(This post is a part of Gwen Bell's The Best of 2009 Blog Challenge. Thanks for the great inspiration idea, Amy!)

I consider myself a bit of a traveler. I mean I don't really go to super exotic locales or cliched destinations or anything (hell, I have embarrassingly only used my passport once and it was in 1986 when my hair was in full on bowl cut mode, god I should find and scan that picture) but if I have a few extra bucks in my pocket my first choice is always to spend them by getting out of town. Usually I like exploring a new place, and usually it is someplace quaint rather than extravagant, somewhere off the beaten path or somewhere seemingly ordinary. But this year I took the trip of lifetime and of all places, it was to Maui! I'm know. You are all thinking: Holly, could there be a more cliched travel destination than Maui? And the answer is, probably not. But for a few really personal reasons, it was by far the best trip I have ever taken.

Hawaii was always this mythical place in my mind growing up. My parents had lived there while my dad was in college, and even after he graduated and started playing football professionally in Detroit they spent the off seasons on the Big Island. Growing up all of their friends and members of my family had these great stories about the times they visited my parents on the islands. There were funny stories and amazing adventures, and they all painted a gorgeous picture of a what a crazy life my parents had before I was born. First of all they were in their early 20s. Imagine what you were doing when you were 22? I know I was goofing off in college and then "Finding Myself" in Los Angeles (ha!) definitely not living it up in some exotic locale. It was fascinating to me that my parents had this offbeat life before I came around -- I know that's a little self centered, but as a kid it just seemed so weird to think of your parents life before you, but it was hard to ignore when it was a life of stories re-told in such vivid technicolor. When I was young and my parents would tuck me in to bed at night I always asked for a story, and often times my father would describe tales of surfing and swimming and hiking in the lush Hawaiian landscape with its strange sounding names -- and I would drift off to sleep awaiting the day I would finally get to make sense of it all in person.

As I got older, it became less of a myth and more of a promise. You see my Grandma Marian (who passed away in 2004 and was the absolute light of our whole family) knew how much I wanted to go and was always assuring me that I would get there. Each summer all of us grandkids had the opportunity to take our own "solo trips" up to her house in Sonoma. When it was my turn to visit, she always let my fingers go walking through her perfumes and lotions -- my childhood favorites always being the L'Air du Temps bottle because it was pretty (hello 80s flashback) and a metallic tube of Crabtree & Evelyn Rosewater Hand Therapy. We spent our days visiting, doing water aerobics at her class, watching Jeopardy, having sandwiches at the Sonoma Cheese Factory, and of course always making time to catch up with her neighborhood buddies as they knew all us grandkids.

Inevitably during these trips we would stop by and say hi to her best friends (and my dad's Godparents) Mert and Don, who lived down the street. Many times they would tell stories of their recent trips to Maui altogether and how the 3 of them spent their days lounging and having cocktails and enjoying the weather at at the beach. They would always laugh when I would get upset about not having been to Hawaii yet, and say that someday I would have great friends to go with when I understood the power of The 5 o' Clock Cocktail. I would roll my eyes, of course, but they just made Maui seem so accessible. But I couldn't, in my 9 year old mind, figure out how to make it happen. So instead I'd come home from my week at Grandma Marian's and just nag my parents about it. They finally promised that they would take me when I turned 10, but frankly I'm not sure they ever really meant this. I think it was more of a finite answer to the infinite questions I would always ask "When will visit Hawaii? How long until I can see Hawaii? Can I learn how to surf? Where we will snorkel?"


And so that was that. Except of course age ten came and went and we never made it to Hawaii. It's not like my parents never took me anywhere, my childhood was full of fabulous family camping adventures, the aforementioned trips to Sonoma, and one incredibly exotic trip to Bermuda (which I totally didn't appreciate a the time -- God, the regret!) but we just never really made it to Hawaii like we were supposed to when I turned 10. And so as you can imagine I pretty much brought that up annually over candles and cake. It became a bit of a family joke, actually.

I think as I got older I finally came to terms with the fact that nobody was going to Take Me To Hawaii, so I went about researching the cost of getting there myself and Holy Hell are those plane tickets pricey when you are making $12 an hour slinging mochas, so I kind of gave up the dream for awhile. I was fine doing my frolicking around the mainland and exploring California's bounty until about two years into my relationship with Garrett when he nonchalantly mentioned that his family owned a portion of a condo in Maui and would I be interested in heading out there for a couple of weeks at some point? To which my answer was, HELL-TO-THE-YES! And also immediately afterward, WHY THE HELL HAVE YOU WAITED TWO YEARS TO BRING THAT UP, BUDDY? His reply was that he had pretty much gone every summer of his entire life up until he was about 16 and so he wasn't sure that Hawaii was anything I was that excited about.


(No really, BLINK BLINK.)

So once we had a very brief repeat conversation about my likes and dislikes (LIKES: Free Condos in Maui. DISLIKES: My boyfriend thinking I would not be interested in Free Condos in Maui. See? Easy) he explained that his parents and grandparents and some teacher friends from the bay area each owned 1/12th of a condo. We could have the condo for a month if we wanted, so pretty much immediately I began to plan. Of course as travel planning goes it took us a couple years to get our time/budget/act together, but surprisingly at the end of May this year I (FINALLY) found myself on a 5 hour flight that was Maui-bound. Only twenty years after my 10th Birthday.

It was kind of a moving experience, that flight, which I realize sounds totally cheesy, but really the whole time I just kept looking out the window and thinking I can't believe I am finally going to Hawaii. I had not only packed my entire closet (which actually turned out to be a totally unnecessary rookie mistake) but also a lifetime of anticipation! And let me tell you when that plane finally landed I just let all those emotion loose! I actually cried when the plane landed because I WAS FINALLY HERE! I was finally able to see the places I had dreamed about as a child, to feel the ultimate relaxation with my best friend that I had heard about as a teen, and to see the beauty that I had envied as an adult. I had a moment of sadness because neither my father nor my grandmother were alive to finally hear about all of the experiences I was about to have, but in that moment it was like they were right there. The rite of passage was right there under my feet and it was so much for my little heart to take and so I just cried and cried the happy tears of joy that were 30 years in the making. Of course Garrett finally looked over at me and said "Dude, all these people are going to think I'm being mean to you if you are crying" and so we had a huge tear filled laugh, I wiped my cheeks and the adventure began.

We stayed in that condo for 12 days, and it was probably the most blissful time in my life. Garrett recounted memories of his trips as a child and I finally got to reconcile the pictures in my imagination with reality and it was truly so much better in person. I felt incredibly close to my father and my grandmother during that time, and as Garrett and I spent our days walking hand in hand on the beaches or cruising the island highways off to our next undertaking, I would think of my parents, and the similar moments they must have shared in their early 20s with the gorgeous Hawaiian sunset as their backdrop. What were they hoping their future held? I felt connected to the past, connected to nature, connected to a family history that surrounds me with wonderful memories even though we are no longer able to all sit together around the table and tell stories. Around every corner there was a reminder of the connections that I have always had with this beautiful place, and it truly felt like coming home.

The weirdest coincidence of the whole trip happened a few days before we left when I went rummaging around in the condo bathroom for some Advil. Underneath the sink amidst years worth of sunscreens, community shampoo bottles, and expired medicine, I found a halfway used tube of Crabtree & Evelyn's Rosewater Hand Therapy. Immediately forgetting about my headache, I doused myself in it and took myself back to those Sonoma summers with my grandma and hearing about her trips with Mert and Don and enjoying the Maui Life. It was a special moment, and the coincidence was sort of overwhelming, so when I got back home I of course shared the story with some of my relatives. Through a series of conversations I ended up having with my aunt describing where we stayed and through photographs of our trip, we ended up connecting the dots to figure out that the condo Garrett and I stayed was the same condo that my Grandma and Mert and Don had stayed in every summer all those years ago. Completely unable to believe that possibility Garrett called his parents who had the original Condo-share agreement, and sure enough, Mert and Don's names were on the contract for all those years with Garrett's parents and grandparents.

And seriously? A moment like that not only makes a trip, it kind of makes your life.


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