2010: The Goals

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I posted a lot about my goals in 2009, and I felt, at year's end, that doing so helped me to stay on track, keep motivated, and constantly re-evaluate my progress. So, I'm going to do the same thing in 2010. I won't even attempt the weekly goal check-ins I did at the beginning of last year, because that's overkill, but I will try to check in on my goals monthly.

Several of my goals are going to be repeats or slight variations from last year, so I'm going to start with those:

1. Take at least one overseas trip.
This didn't happen this year, but I feel quite sure it will in 2010. However, I'm keeping it on the list to remind myself to make it a priority.

2. Read 30 books.
I read only 29 books in 2009, and completed only 24 of them. Reading one per week, as was last year's goal, is probably not going to happen, so we're going for a slight improvement instead.

3. Get to a healthy size.
Last year, two of my goals were to improve my eating habits and exercise regularly. I sorta half-completed both of them, making progress, but not enough progress. I need to continue with that in 2010. I'm not 100% sure what a "healthy size" for me right now is, in terms of pounds or clothing size, but I know it's smaller than I am right now. So, this goal is non-specific. Making non-specific goals is, generally, not a good idea, but I'm allowing an exception for this one.

4. Save $500/month.
My savings goal last year was $100/month. This year, with no more credit card debt, I am increasing it substantially. I want to have an additional $6,000, if not more, saved by the end of 2010. I've already set up the automatic withdrawal, so this one is already in progress.

OK, now on to new goals...

5. Give 5%.
As I've mentioned before, I want to start giving to charity in a more substantial and well-planned way this year. I've decided to commit myself to giving 5% of my income, as a start. I know I could and should do more, but I also know I have been doing less, and given my other financial goals and obligations, 5% seems like the best number for right now. My hope is to increase it next year, or maybe even partway through 2010, depending on how it goes.

6. Start retirement savings.
I'm 30 years old. I should have retirement savings. I know this to be true, and yet I haven't done anything about it. In 2010, I need to fix this.

7. Join something.
This is sort of an odd one, I guess, but necessary. I need to get involved in something this year. A book club. Some sort of volunteer effort. Something. It would be too easy for me to never leave my house this year, and that's not good for me.

8. Write a novel.
Participating in National Novel Writing Month was one of the best things I did in 2009, and I fully plan to do it again in 2010. Next time, though, I am going to make an effort to plan ahead and write a novel that doesn't suck quite so much.

9. Create something.
I haven't been doing much, if any, art within the last year. I need to step away from the computer and get my hands dirty once in a while. This year, I want to create something.

10. Remember birthdays and send cards.
This has been on my list before, but fell off last year, and I was the worse for it. It is important to me to remember birthdays and send cards. I'm going to set up a reminder system right away to make sure this remains a priority this year.

10 seems a nice round number, so I think I'll stop there. I vow now, in the last hours of 2009, to work towards these 10 goals in the upcoming year. Near the beginning of each month, I plan to update my progress towards these goals and my plans to continue with them in the upcoming month. Anybody who'd like to participate with me, either here or on your own blog, is more than welcome.

Happy 2010!

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Year End Meme

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I always do the Year End Meme. I did it last year, in 2007, in 2006, in 2005, and in 2004. It's maybe a little bit silly, but it makes for decent reflection, especially when I compare all my previous answers to my current ones. So, on this last day of 2009, here we go again. Year End Meme #6.

1. What did you do in 2009 that you'd never done before?


Sold a house. Worked from home.

2008: Buckled down and actually made progress towards financial stability.
2007: Had to wait until the tail end of the year, but I left the U.S.!
2006: Left a well-paying dead-end job for a less well-paying job with more potential. Agreed to spend Christmas away from my family. Bought a new car.
2005: Bought a house.
2004: Got a well-paying job.

2. Did you keep your new year's resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

I achieved 8/13 of the goals I set for 2009, with partial progress towards several more. I'm very happy with that, and I plan to set 10-12 new goals for 2010.


2008: I used All Consuming to make a list of resolution/goals last year. Mostly, they are underway or more long-term. I've done well, all in all. I also had a goal of watching one movie and reading one book each week. I made the movie goal (I'm at 69 movies for the year right now), but am falling short on the book goal (currently at 49, many of which I didn't finish). And yeah, I'll make more.
2007: Last year's resolutions, or goals, really, are here. I basically failed on all counts. Bah.
I will probably answer this question more completely once I get back to Texas and my real life and all that, but basically, in 2008, I have to get my shit together financially. Really.
2006: I kept some of them, worked on other's. I'll probably make more. I always make them.
2005: I already went over this, but I kept 3/4 of them from last year, and made 12 new ones for this year.
2004: I honestly can't remember.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?


Over and over again. Our awesome neighbors in Texas had a little girl in August; my cousin had a beautiful baby boy on March 1, my HS friend R. had a baby girl on May 2...and there are likely some I'm forgetting.

2008: Yep, some online friends had a baby, and my cousin is expecting in February.
2007: All over the damn place! There are four new little boys in my life this year.
2006: A couple of very good online friends had babies.
2005: Nope, though some e-friends are closing in on their due date.
2004: Not that I can think of, but someone close to me did adopt.

4. Did anyone close to you die?


Sadly, yes. My grandmother died early in the year, and we lost Leo in October.

2008: Nope. I'm starting to feel like I'm pushing my luck here...
2007: No, thank God.
2006: No.
2005: Yes.
2004: Not that I can think of.

5. What countries did you visit?

None again! But this one is going to change in 2010.

2008: None. :(
2007: Norway! And the airport in England.
2006: None.
2005: None.
2004: None.

6. What would you like to have in 2010 that you lacked in 2009?


Once again, it's hard for me to think of something I really lacked in 2009. Time with my family is the first thing that comes to mind. I'd like to have more of that.

2008: I can't think of much I was lacking in 2008, honestly. I guess I'd like to be finished paying off the debt the most.
2007: Ability to stick to my goals. Days when my allergies are not killing me.
2006: A feeling of control.
2005: Fufilling work.
2004: An idea what I want to do with my life.

7. What dates from 2009 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?


I turned 30 on August 28, so I'll likely remember that. Leo died in early October, but I already can't remember the day without looking it up. I thought I'd remember the day I made my last credit card payment, but I don't. It was mid-spring, I think.

2008: Once again, I got nothin' when it comes to dates.
2007: Dates almost never stick in my head.
2006: I don't tend to remember things by date.
2005: Early July--Chance died.
2004: Hrm...can't think of any particular dates. It honestly hasn't been that momentous a year.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?


Moving across the country with a truck full of dogs and cats, probably. Finishing paying off my CC debt. Finishing my NaNoWriMo novel.

2008: Finally paying down so much debt!
2007: Finally finishing my god-forsaken masters degree.
2006: Getting through calculus, expanding our family to include Ata and Esme.
2005: Buying the house.
2004: Rescuing the puppies.

9. What was your biggest failure?


Probably not losing more weight, though I honestly don't feel all that bad about it. In general, I've felt pretty successful this year.

2008: Not sticking with my exercising. Gotta get back to that.
2007: Losing even more control of my finances. And continuing to gain weight.
2006: Not getting out of debt.
2005: Failing to lose any substantial weight.
2004: Taking a year off from school.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?


No, I've been really healthy. Even my allergies are pretty well controlled.

2008: Nope.
2007: Food poisoning that was pretty much the worst thing ever. Plantar faciitis that makes me angry at God. Allergies that do the same.
2006: Nothing major.
2005: No more than usual.
2004: I smashed my toe, but nothing big.

11. What was the best thing you bought?


A lot of Christmas presents for folks who could really use them. And far fewer for my family, who really don't need them.

2008: Can't think of anything major.
2007: I have no idea. Most of what I bought wasn't worth it, probably.
2006: Our Element.
2005: Again, the house.
2004: Hmm...not sure.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?


Never thought I'd say this, but my dad's did. He's doing something selfless right now, even if there are benefits in it for him. Something I don't know if I could do. I admire it.

2008: Honestly, mine did. I have worked hard and accomplished a lot this year.
2007: My mother continues to amaze me with how she handles her constant pain with good grace. My brother seems to have grown up a lot, which is great. And I am continually inspired by the parenting of my friends N. and Z., S. and C., and S. and T.
2006: Susan's.
2005: My fellow Texans post-Katrina.
2004: Mark

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?


A long time friend. It's really sad.

2008: Much of the nation's, surrounding the election.
2007: Michael Vick comes to mind right off.
2006: Most of our national and local politicians'.
2005: Where should I begin?
2004: Mine, but only on occasion. Everyone who voted for Bush.

14. Where did most of your money go?


Moving isn't cheap. Life in NoVA in general. But a lot of it is going to savings, too. And we paid off our car.

2008: Citibank.
2007: Gah, I don't know. Stupid stuff I could have done without, mainly. Lots of thrifting. Clothes for my multiple sizes.
2006: Tuition, junk.
2005: Target and The Goodwill.
2004: To the black hole where it always goes...

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?


Mark finishing his Ph.D. Moving. Working from home.

2008: Making progress. Our trip to Boston last spring.
2007: My trip to Norway. Finishing school. Discovering Buffy. BlogHer.
2006: Howell and Melinda's visit, going home in July
2005: Going to Boston, going to Ann Arbor, cutting my hair.
2004: My Midwestern adventure

16. What song will always remind you of 2009?


The version of "John the Revelator" from Sons of Anarchy.

2008: That silly one from Juno by the Moldy Peaches comes to mind.
2007: The one Lindsey sings in Angel.
2006: The Leonard Cohen tribute soundtrack, especially the Teddy Thompson track.
2005: Nothing comes to mind.
2004: Pretty much anything by Mary Prankster

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
 a) happier or sadder?

Happier. Or, at the very least, more content.

2008: happier
2007: About the same?
2006: sadder
2005: About the same, I think.
2004: happier

b) thinner or fatter?

A little bit thinner.

2008: thinner
2007: Fatter fatter fatter.
2006: fatter
2005: A bit fatter.
2004: fatter

c) richer or poorer?


Substantially richer.

2008: richer
2007: Poorer. Though I actually make more money. Go me.
2006: poorer
2005: Definitely poorer.
2004: richer

18. What do you wish you'd done more of?


Traveled, as always. I'm a broken record.

2008: I'd like to have traveled more. And gone to BlogHer. But those goals were pretty much antithetical to the debt pay down goal, so I guess I'm happy with what I did.
2007: Traveled. I always wish I had done more of that.
2006: Making the most of my time.
2005: Saving.
2004: Excercising

19. What do you wish you'd done less of?


Watched TV.

2008: Worried about money.
2007: Making empty promises to myself.
2006: Shopping
2005: Spending.
2004: Sleeping

20. How did you/will you spend Christmas?


In Oregon. It was lovely.

2008: In Minnesota with Mark's family. Very much looking forward to it.
2007: In Oregon with the fam. It was great.
2006: With Mark's family and the dogs.
2005: I spent it with various and sundry family members.
2004: Hanging out with the extended fam

21. Did you fall in love in 2009?


Every day.

2008: With a couple of beagles, yes.
2007: No new love, but the same old love is going swimmingly, which is just as good.
2006: Yes. A couple of times. And stayed in love, too.
2005: Yes, with Leo.
2004: Didn't fall in love. Remained in love.

22. What was your favorite TV program?


Sons of Anarchy.

2008: I really loved Deadwood.
2007: Buffy Buffy Buffy!
2006: House
2005: Hrm...probably Entourage or The Wire.
2004: What Not To Wear or Plastic Surgery: Before and After

23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?


Yeah. A friend's husband. Hate hate hate.

2008: Sarah Palin
2007: Michael Vick.
2006: No. But I am intensly irritated by some people I wasn't at this time last year.
2005: Yeah.
2004: Yes. I know more people now that I did at this time last year.

24. What was the best book you read?


I didn't read anything I really loved this year. The best book was probably The Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times by Jennifer Worth.

2008: Fun Home
2007: Hmm...several come to mind. The Midwife's Tale. Packinghouse Daughter. But the discovery of Marion Winik is probably the best literary thing that happened to me this year.
2006: Counting Coup
2005: Pack of Two by Caroline Knapp.
2004: The Time Traveller's Wife

25. What was your greatest musical discovery?


I'm not sure I made any musical discoveries this year. How sad is that?

2008: Over the Rhine
2007: Grace Potter and Christine Kane.
2006: Rufus Wainwright (yep, slow on the uptake)
2005: Lyle Lovett.
2004: Mary Prankster

26. What did you want and get?


A work-from-home job. A sold house.

2008: A lower credit card balance and a lower number on the scale.
2007: A trip to Europe. My masters.
2006: A new car, an iPod, time with my mom
2005: Leo and Atticus
2004: Time off from school, a decent job, a KitchenAid mixer

27. What did you want and not get?


More time in Oregon. More time with Leo.

2008: A $0 credit card balance and an even lower number on the scale.
2007: A paid off credit card.
2006: A savings account, a cure for my allergies
2005: Chance to live; a new job.
2004: A clue as to what I want out of this world, God

28. What was your favorite film of this year?


Watchmen. Whip It!

2008: This is England, Juno
2007: I can't think of what I saw this year that were new, but The Farmer's Wife was wonderful.
2006: Kinky Boots, The Science of Sleep
2005: Good Night, and Good Luck, Capote, Walk the Line
2004: Hmm...Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, maybe?

29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?


30, and you guessed it! Out to dinner with friends!

2008: I was 29. We went out to dinner with our friends.
2007: I went out to dinner with friends. I was 28.
2006: I was 27. Went out to a great Indian dinner with all of my local friends.
2005: We had a small dinner party at our house. I turned 26.
2004: I was 25. We went to a hilarious stage presentation/showing of Dirty Dancing and to brunch the next day

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?


I can't think of a single thing. I guess I'm really satisfied.

2008: That $0 balance.
2007: Again with the debt repayment.
2006: Getting out of debt
2005: A different job.
2004: Finding God

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2009?


Tentative steps towards dressing like a grown-up.

2008: Trouser jeans are definitely work appropriate.
2007: Can you believe I spent money on these clothes?
2006: My stomach finally catches up to my ass
2005: "The same clothes as last year, only tighter."
2004: I. love. yoga. pants.

32. What kept you sane?


My amazing circle of online friends. Writing.

2008: The animals. My online pals.
2007: The animals. Mark, much of the time. Blogging.
2006: My dogs. My iPod.
2005: Mark, my pets.
2004: Chancey.

33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?


Michelle Obama, maybe. I'd love to have that kind of grace.

2008: Obama.
2007: Spike.
2006: Zidane
2005: Viscerally, Angelina Jolie and Adrian Grenier. Emotionally, Johnny Cash.
2004: If "fancy" is code for "want to bang," I'd have to go with Angelina Jolie. Again. Still.

34. What political issue stirred you the most?


Health care "reform," natch.

2008: The presidential election.
2007: Would you hate me if I said I stopped caring?
2006: Local arts funding
2005: capital punishment
2004: Capital punishment

35. Who did you miss?


Leo.

2008: The same people I always do. The Nichols', my mom.
2007: My mom. I always miss her.
2006: Tony. Sandy.
2005: Chance.
2004: My mom

36. Who was the best new person you met?


Beck. :)

2008: I'm not sure I met anyone new this year...
2007: Hmm....I have made some excellent new online friends. And I am awfully fond of my new small friends.
2006: Minnesota group
2005: Hrm...lots of people, but my two sistercousin's fabulous boyfriends, Jeff and Eric, come to mind right now, since I just saw them.
2004: Em/Brooke/Terri/Flea/Eisbar. It was a great trip.

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2009.

My life isn't what I'm planning, it's what I'm doing, right here, right now. There is never going to be enough time.

2008: The struggle doesn't ever get easier.
2007: It is not enough to say you are going to do something. You have to actually do it. And international travel is so not that hard.
2006: It is better, sometimes, to be kind than to be right.
2005: Never underestimate the power of dog.
2004: That I actually can make a difference in someone's/something's life with a little effort.

38. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

Who knows what the future holds
Or where the cards may fall
But if you don't come out west and see
You'll never know at all

2008: We sure are cute for two ugly people.
2007: Four legs good, two legs bad.
2006: "If I've got to remember that's a fine memory."
2005: "This is home/it's where I want to be/this is home/let's make a family."
2004: I'll come back to that one. Have to think on it.

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I've been neglecting Genie's Living Out Loud projects, and I really don't want to--I love her prompts. So, this month, I'm doing it early. Genie's question:

Tell me something nice about one or more of your exes. Maybe they wooed you with their love of music (and later turned you off with their inattention to hygiene or paying bills on time). Maybe they were good at organizing events (even if that meant they would flip out if something went outside that plan). This is your opportunity to focus on the good without getting into all the reasons he or she is an ex versus a current. They couldn't have been all bad, and if they were you might need to create a search committee to approve any future relationships you enter.

This isn't all that difficult for me. I don't have that many exes (at least not "official" ones, and I'm only going to go into those here), and I don't really hate any of them. It's a good exercise, though, I think, to remember, and to remember fondly.

My first real "boyfriend" was in the 8th grade. He lived in another town and long distance phone calls were still expensive, then, so we wrote each other letters. Nearly every day. For several months. I loved those letters. It was so important, at that age, to have something tangible, a way to show that this exciting thing that was happening to me was real. While it's hard to look back on a relationship like that one, which was completely immature, and see anything of real value, or anything much at all, save nostalgia and amazement at ever having been so young, I have to admit that those letters were a fantastic, fabulous thing. He took so much time, so much effort, for me, which is odd, when you consider we're talking about a 13-year-old boy. In retrospect, I'm impressed.

My next boyfriend was in the fall of my freshman year of high school. He was a senior, had a truck, a nice smile, and a plan for college. I felt so special to have been chosen. That one ended up really bad, but while it was happening, it had its moments. I remember him telling me once that the song "The Sunmaid" by Soul Asylum (very popular that year) reminded him of me. (Tell me how you get that shine/you must polish all the time.) He was, I think, the first person who really made me feel pretty. He had that gift. I haven't seen him or heard anything about him in years, but I imagine him still being that same kind of guy, who makes you feel special, feel pretty, when he's talking to you. It's a quality that I don't think most of us realize how much we appreciate until we find ourselves with nobody like that in our lives.

My next boyfriend was in the winter/spring of my sophomore year of high school. More than any other "ex," he's someone I feel like I'd be friends with to this day if we lived anywhere near each other. He's a bright, funny, gentle, wonderful soul, and was even then. Dating him was the first experience I had with dating someone I actually had things in common with. Plus, he was my first (and last) prom date. I was all melodrama and hand-wringing at the time, but looking back, I appreciate the honesty with which he ended our relationship, and he insistence on treating me like a person, rather than forcing me into the narrow mold of a high school girlfriend, which made little sense for either one of us.

Boyfriend #4 followed immediately after #3. Like, a week or so after. It's a complicated and boring story, and one that makes even less sense now than it did then. It was a brief, strange, contentious, physical relationship. I have a very distinct memory of being upset about something--very upset--and having him hold me against him and let me pound on his chest. It's something I've thought about often over the years. Though the relationship was really a back-to-front disaster, that moment, of him realizing what I needed and coming through with it, was, and still is, worth something to me.

I didn't have any more relationships in high school. My junior and senior years were spent single. At the time, it was problematic, and I was often upset about it. Looking back, I'm grateful. Not having a romantic connection to my hometown only made it easier to leave, and I can't think of anybody that I could have successfully dated anyway. I wasn't in a hurry to get into a relationship in college, either. And neither was the guy who, fairly early on in my first year at Reed, became my boyfriend for the rest of my time there. In fact, we had a long talk, when we were first circling each other, beginning to show our interest, about how neither of us wanted anything too serious. We probably would have been better off if we'd stuck with that plan, honestly. But life intervened, and we ended up together for nearly four years.

This question gets a bit more difficult at this point, just because it starts to leave the realm of childhood and get into a real, grown up relationship. It's certainly more complicated. But you don't date someone for four years if they don't have redeeming characteristics. First, I guess I should mention that this boyfriend was (and is) extremely attractive. He's the only person I've dated that I can honestly say is better looking than me (which has its own set of issues for a vain girl, let me assure you). But really, that's not what it was about. He's an extremely fun, entertaining person. I had a lot of good times with him, and he exposed me to things I never would have seen otherwise, from a rave (good God, never again) to Cabaret on Broadway (a formative experience). He was also willing to try, for me, to be something that he really has no natural inclination to be (monogamous, a partner, a grown up...). For a long time, his failures to be those things pissed me off, but time heals all wounds, or some such, because now, all I really feel is grateful to him for trying.

My last relationship was for just a few ill-conceived weeks the summer after I graduated from college (right before Mark and I got together). The whole situation was so stupid, and so completely unlike me, that remembering feels like hearing about someone else's life. But I know I was there. And I learned a few important lessons, most of which I am better off not going into here. Once thing I will say it that he taught me that I can be in control, that I don't have to wait for things to come to me, but can reach out for them myself and make my own decisions. Which was a good thing to learn at 21.

Looking back, I'm amazed by how it all seems to make sense. Though none of these were the right relationship, and most of them were actually the VERY WRONG relationship, they were all kind of the right lesson I needed to learn at that time. I guess retrospect has a way of making things look that way. Then again, there isn't anything I'd take back if I had to do it over again.

Thanks, guys.

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Best tea of 2009

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I've been reading answers to the prompts from Gwen Bell's Best of 2009 Blog Challenge, but up until today, I haven't taken the time to answer one myself. For some reason, though, her question from yesterday, and particularly her response to that question, sparked my interest.

What's your favorite tea?

I've gotten into tea, surprisingly, over these past few months. For me, like for Gwen, it's both the beverage and the ritual. And there are two teas that jump out at me as best of the year:

Adagio Irish Breakfast: with a little whole milk and a little honey, the perfect morning tea. I even place my very beloved coffee with this some days. Other days, I have it in the afternoon, with cookies.

Numi Lavender Delight Flowering Tea: I picked this up at Marshall's or somewhere, because I love flowering tea, if only for the magical way it unfurls and fills the little glass pot. It's a white tea with hibiscus and lavender, and it's perfect before bed. The taste is very mild, and the experience is very tranquil.

Anybody else want to have a go at this one? What tea should I not miss in 2010? I have "fancy tea" on my Christmas list, so if anything cool shows up in my stocking, I'll let you know.

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Countdown to vacation

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I am having one of those weeks where anything that can go wrong does. I spill things, I break things, I stub my toes, and my VPN connection to work (the only method of working I have) is not working properly. My jaw aches from grinding my teeth, my temple aches from pounding my head against the wall.

But you know what? In a few days, it's all going to go away. In a few days, I'm going home. For Christmas.

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Love Thursday: Christmas

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Grace with the treeThis is, perhaps, retro of me to admit, but I'll come out with it anyway: I love Christmas. I love Christmas decorations, I love Christmas food, I love Christmas shopping, I'm even rather fond of Christmas music. This time of year has become cause for complaint for a lot of people, but I love it more all the time.

I am not a Christian. Christmas has no deeper religious significance for me. I've gone to church on Christmas enough times to know the whole Christmas story, but, to me, it's just a story. Christmas is about something else. It's about spending time with my family, even though for the last several years I've had to travel a considerable distance to do that. It's about baking, and taking long leisurely meals together. It's about it being cold outside, and even snowing (well, when we're in Minnesota for Christmas, anyway, not so much in Oregon). It's about ending the old year on a festive note.

And it's about presents. It's very fashionable to decry the consumerism of Christmas, and I understand why--it has gotten ridiculous. But I think it's important not to throw the baby out with the bath water. Giving and receiving gifts happens for a reason, in nearly any culture. Gift giving is a fantastic tradition to have, when it can be practiced in a good way. If giving Christmas gifts can be about something more than obligation, which, for me, it largely is, then it becomes a beautiful thing. It becomes an excuse to focus on each individual member of your gift-receiving community (family, friends, charitable gifts, whatever) and think about what s/he would really like. What would make his/her face light up to unwrap? How can focusing on that be a bad thing?

So this Love Thursday I am admitting it. I love Christmas. I hope you do, too.

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The me I don't like

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As I mentioned before, I'm starting to think about my goals for 2010. Part of that is thinking about the person I want to be, the traits I want to cultivate in myself. I have a pretty good handle on the parts of myself I like and want to see more of--my generosity, my curiosity, my love of animals. I recognize the person I am when I like myself, and I'm proud of that person.

The harder question, for me, is what don't I like about myself? What characteristics do I want to erase, or at least minimize?

The first thing that comes to mind is that I lack self-control. I have a hard time denying myself things, or forcing myself to do things that I don't want to do. I don't have a ton of respect for self-control for its own sake, but I do recognize that there are times in ones life where self-control is a very valuable characteristic, and it's one I'd be smart to cultivate.

The next thing that occurs to me is that I'm not patient. Again, I'm not 100% sure patience is quite the virtue it's cracked up to be, but I do know that people who are honestly patient seem to be happier. I also know that my life in the next few years is going to require patience beyond what I have--I don't like it here, I'm anxious to move on, and it's going to be several years before that happens. Hence, cultivate patience.

The third thing is one I have been working on for years, but it continues to plague me. I have a short temper, and am occasionally thrown into a rage that, while not violent, is curse-filled and nasty. It's an immature and ridiculous thing for a 30 year old woman to throw tantrums, and while I don't do it as much as I used to, I still do it. I'm a work in progress there.

Finally, I hate how often I don't stick with things. It is one thing to try something, realize it doesn't work for you, and move on. I'm fine with that. But I try something, realize it does work but it's difficult or inconvenient, and make an excuse to let it drop. I really dislike that about myself. I have a drawer full of journals with three entries each in them, bins of craft supplies for hobbies I learned and then discarded, and so on. I don't want to be a person who quits on things just because they aren't convenient.

So, as I continue brainstorming my goals for 2010, I'm going to keep in mind not just the good things about myself, which I want to strengthen, but also these things, the sad-but-true things, that I want to downplay. If you've got any ideas on how to do that, please do comment.

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Indie Christmas shopping fail post

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For the last several years, I've put a lot of thought and time and effort into making sure I could feel ethically good about all of the Christmas presents I give. I've made sure they were used, handmade, or, if it was at all possible, purchased from independent retailers. And I've gotten very good at it. Last year, I don't think I gave a single "commercial" gift.

This year, though, I've completely failed in this task. Living in the suburbs, where I couldn't find an indie retailer if you paid me to, is a big part of it. Love or hate Austin, it was easy to shop indie there. There's also the fact that shopping in a brick and mortar store at all here, is horrible--everything is so crowded--so I've done nearly all of my shopping online this year.

So how bad have I been? Well, take books. I always gift books. I have a book loving family. This year, rather than spending hours browsing for them in a local bookstore, I ordered them from Barnes & Noble and Borders. My parents are getting clothes from Land's End. I've even ordered a few things, God help me, from Amazon.

I have made a few Etsy purchases, though, which makes me feel marginally better. I ordered some magnetic lockets from Polarity for my nieces (I've had my eye on those forever--I'm so happy to finally be giving them to someone). For my cousin's baby, I found an awesome wooden train made by a work-at-home woodworking mama at Woman Woodworker's Natural Wood Toys.

I still have about a third of my list left, and I'm hoping to buy a few more sustainable, moral gifts. I'm thinking Mark's mom might like some colorful printed kitchen towels from Pata Pri.

I shouldn't lay 100% of the blame on my new home. Had I not chosen to be lazy, I could have made the same commitment to indie and handmade gifts this year that I have in years past. This year, though, it just wasn't a priority. That' something I am going to need to try to make up for in 2010.

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Writing Well Challenge #1: Character

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(Note: This is a piece of fiction, based on this week's challenge over at Write-of-Passage. The challenge is: "Find a person in public today and study their character. Make a story surrounding them. Build them in to your shorty essay.")

I am so sick of these damn dogs. I never wanted dogs. I don't like them. They smell, they bark, they can't use toilets. I especially don't like big, hairy, black ones. But they, like most of the things I don't like in my life, came with Kevin. Now Kevin's gone, and I'm still walking these dogs, every day, around and around the block. I wait as long as they'll let me and then I put them on their stupid leashes and walk them in circles.

Kevin's insistence that I'd grow to love his dogs should have tipped me off before anything else did that things with him would go bad. When I say I don't like something, I am not just doing it to hear my own voice. He could have insisted on keeping the dogs without demanding that I "warm up to them." I'd probably have resented them less if he had. But instead, he was so sure that I'd grow to "think of them as my children." No. I wanted children, once. My children would have, eventually, learned to wipe their own chins and asses. Unlike Kevin, though, I don't insist that I know better than someone else what he or she likes. When he said he didn't like children, I believed him.

The dogs were just puppies when I met Kevin. Brother and sister, he said, though I don't think they're smart enough to know what family is. He got them from someone with a box in a grocery store parking lot. He called them "mostly Lab," but they're really just big, hairy mutts. They were a year old when we started living together. I wanted him to move in to my apartment in the city. It was a beautiful, old apartment on a great street. It was close to everything--work, shopping, restaurants. But it wasn't a good place for the dogs, or for his bikes, or his tools. So I moved in with him, in this suburb, where all the streets looks the same and I still get lost after all these years.

Kevin knew every inch of this development. He knew which roads went through, which were dead ends, which led to parks and trials. He even knew which houses put up the best Halloween decorations and Christmas lights. He used to walk the dogs by a different route every day. He said it kept life interesting for them, that they could smell new things and mark new territory with each day's walk. He drove to work by the same route every day, every day had the same breakfast, every summer took the same vacation, even got me the same birthday present three years in a row, but he was very concerned with breaking up the monotony for his dogs. Now, I walk the dogs around the block, always north-to-south, for exactly thirty minutes (which is seven times around). They still sniff and pee, still pull on their leashes when they see a squirrel. I don't think they know the difference.

Kevin's been gone a year now. When his sister came for his memorial service, she said the dogs he loved so much must be a great comfort to me. I almost laughed in her face. Which part, I wondered, was supposed to be comforting? The gross, wet noses pushing against the backs of my legs? The constant muddy floor from their paws? The vet bills that were now mine to handle alone? Maybe it was the walking that was supposed to comfort me, the leashing up Kevin's dogs and walking them around Kevin's neighborhood, without Kevin. Or maybe it was watching them age, their black muzzles growing steadily grayer, the fatter of the two developing a bit of a limp. Maybe I was supposed to be comforted by watching them die, just like I'd watched Kevin die.

I know I don't have to stay here. I could sell this house, give the dogs to the pound, get rid of the bikes and tools. I could move back to an apartment in the city--maybe not one as nice as before, but one similar. I could shrug off all the things that Kevin left me with that I never would have chosen on my own. I could lose the suburban weight I've put on, get some stylish clothes, try again. I could call this whole creating a family experiment a loss and start over. But I won't. I'll keep having the lawn cut every second weekend, and stringing up white icicle lights the first weekend in December. I'll keep buying the same soap, the same coffee, stopping for gas at the same station. I'll keep walking these dogs, who I can't stand, in circles around this block. I'll keep waiting for him to come back.

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Hey, check me out over here!

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It occurs to me that most of you aren't reading my review blog. That may be just because you aren't interested, but in case it's because you don't know it is there, or aren't sure if you'd be interested, please check it out?

Today, I put up a review of the Little Black Box and Sweet Delights Divalicious Sampler Boxes for November.

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Snow day

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We woke up to snow this morning, and it hasn't let up for at least two hours. I don't think we're going to have it long--it's over 35 degrees--but it's sure nice while it lasts.

Ata thinks so, too.

Ata in the snow

Ata in the snow

Ata in the snow

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Love Thursday: Where everybody knows your username

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I wasn't going to do a Love Thursday post today. I woke up grimy and grouchy and just plain angry, and it seemed like a real trial to think of anything I loved enough to want to rhapsodize about in a blog post. So I got up, made myself a cup of tea, sulked around a bit, and got online.

And then it hit me. I really love, and truly appreciate, the people I hang out with every day virtually. I've been in several of these "online communities," and they wax and wane and sometimes explode and then you have to go find a new one, but right now, I can't overstate how much I love the one I'm in.

I know this sounds weird to folks who don't do it. But you're just going to have to trust me. Imagine a place you can go, virtually, from anywhere, at any time of day or night, and almost always there is someone there who is awake and willing to chat you up. A place where a group of people, most of whom would probably not flock together in real life, due to differences in politics or age or region, who share each others joys and pains on a real-time basis. People who support you when life sucks and praise you when you do something good and tell you you're hot when you post your picture. What could be better than that? The only experience I've ever had in real life that came anywhere close to providing this much support and contact and community was living in a dorm in college. However, that came with a lot of really large drawbacks, like constant noise and communal bathrooms. This doesn't.

A lot of people are wary of "online friends." They may not really be who they say they are! Well, yeah, they may not. But people I know in flesh and blood have secrets and tell lies too, don't they? Human friendship, but its very nature, is risky. And it's also worth it. Way worth it.

So today, I want to give a Love Thursday shout-out to my online community, without whom I would feel very alone here. They're my rock, my shoulder to cry on, and the first people I talk to most days. I don't want to imagine life without them.

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Routine

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I have to get back into the habit of blogging. I want to be writing here on a daily or near-daily basis, both for myself and to try to regain the rather large chunk of readership I seem to have lost while on NaNo hiatus (and before that when I was just flaking for no real reason). The trouble is that I only think of it once I am already in bed. Both last night and tonight I had to get up from my warm and comfortable bed to blog. Which is not the habit I want to get into.

Habit is a weird thing. Mark is a great creature of habit--he likes routine, knowing what is going to happen when. I am, most of the time, the opposite. I tend not to do things the same way every time, or do them just because I've always done them. There is definitely good in this--it's easier not to get stuck in a rut when you're not dependent on habits. However, there's also a lot of bad in it--it's hard to keep to things when you have trouble developing them as habits.

Supposedly, it takes six weeks to make or break a habit. I don't buy that, or at least don't buy it as universal. For example, I'm a nail-biter. I've been a nail-biter my entire life. Several times, I have successfully stopped biting my nails, often for more than six weeks at a go. And, several times, I have started again.

Writing here is the same way. I've written daily or near-daily for months at a stretch, then fallen off to writing sporadically at best. Sometimes, it has to do with whatever else is going on in my life, but often, it's more a matter of what I feel like doing. Even when I'm writing daily, it never really becomes habitual--it's something I have to remind myself to do and make time for.

So, if you are someone like me, who doesn't establish routine easily, how do you go about getting yourself into a good groove? How do you reinforce things in your day-to-day life that you want to stick as habits? Is it even worth trying to do?

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Philanthropic methodology

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I've already started jotting down a list of goals for next year, and one thing I know I want to focus on is more responsible, planned philanthropic giving. I've heard and been told that gifts that can be counted on (i.e. monthly gifts, or seasonal gifts that happen every year, like memberships, or whatever) are both more useful for organizations and increase giving for individuals. I can see why that would be the case--if your giving is just one of your bills, you do it automatically, not just when you feel like you have extra. (It would also help greatly with keeping track of your charitable giving for tax purposes.)

So, I think I want to try to standardize my giving next year. I want to figure out an amount, based on a percentage of take-home, to give, then plan how the majority of it will be given and when, and set up direct payments. This is going to take several steps, though, and I'm going to have to think about each of them.

First, I need to figure out what the right amount to give is, given my income, my other financial priorities, etc. So I looked around at tithe amounts. Tithe literally means ten percent, and some churches are strict about that. However, lots of churches ask for half-tithes (5%) or quarter tithes (2.5%). I'm not a person of faith, and even if I were, I'd be uncomfortable, I think, with a church that demanded any percentage. Still, this gives me a place to start thinking about it. Remember that kerfluffle a year or so ago about how much given rich people give to charity (or, more likely, how little)? Thinking about that, I did some Googling and found that the national average for charitable giving in 2005 was $1,800/year per family, about 3.5%. I haven't decided what my magic number is going to be, but it will be in this range somewhere.

Next, I need to decide how to split it up. There are a lot of worthy charities out there. Which ones do I want to sponsor? At what levels? That's a much harder question than how much to give. I'm working on compiling a list, and then I'm going to see about ranking it. I'm also going to leave myself some money that isn't ear-marked, as things always come up. This is the part I'm really stuck on. How do I decide who needs my money the most? I'm finding the idea a little bit overwhelming, honestly.

Once I get my priorities lined up, though, I am going to set up automatic payments. I'll divide my annual amount into a monthly amount and set up payments to equal it, either on annual or quarterly or monthly basis, just like any other bill. And that money will just be gone, and I won't spend it on things I don't need, and it will get to places that can use it.

Or at least that's the plan. What do you think? Does that make sense? Any thoughts on amounts, percentages, or organizations to which to give? I have given to charities for several years, but I've never been all that disciplined about it, so this is all kind of new. I think it's important, though. I want to be a person who lives my beliefs--the older I get, the more that's a priority--and one of the things I believe is that it is absolutely the responsibility of those who have more to assist those who have less. And it should also be the pleasure of those who have more to do it, as we are very lucky to be in the position we are in. In 2010, I want to do a better job expressing my gratitude.

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