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31 January 2013

Finding a new home

I've lived in North Carolina for 8 years now. It seems like only yesterday I packed up all my things and all of my life, drove 650 miles south,and set up camp in a strange southern city that I had only been to once before for about a day and a half. It took a lot of courage to leave home. To leave my family, my friends, my job ... everything that was comfortable and familiar and safe. I was completely conflicted as I drove south with my mom and dad. On one hand, I was setting forth on a wonderful adventure that would test me in ways I could never imagine. On the other hand, I knew I was leaving everything I ever really knew and would face many lonely and difficult days in my future. But I consoled myself in knowing that I had Bailey with me, my constant companion.

After arriving to my new home and setting up house (with the great help of my wonderful parents), I spent the summer alone in my apartment. I didn't know anyone and obviously had no friends. I buried myself in my work until grad school began in August. Once school began, I made friends and started to feel more comfortable in my surroundings. But, no matter how many friends I made or how little I needed a map to find my way around, I still felt like a foreigner in a strange land. Maybe it was just that I was a northerner in a southern city, but, whatever it was, it wasn't home.

A few years later, I relocated to Raleigh for job. More accurately, I moved to a small suburb of Raleigh, often "affectionately" referred to as the "Containment Area for Relocated Yankees." I thought for sure that I would feel more comfortable and at ease surrounded by my northern brethren. What I didn't know was that Cary was a small suburban enclave that was lily white with high wrought iron fences protecting McMansions and carefully designed zoning laws to prevent anyone or anything from being too noticeable or different.

It definitely wasn't home. Home was still NY. Home was the long view of the valley from my parents' front porch. Home was hiking through sun-mottled gorges in the summer heat. Home was locking yourself indoors with a warm hot cocoa and Mom's Christmas cookies while the winter wind and snow buried every blade of grass and maybe even a car or two. Home was tasting wine at a vineyard while looking out over the sparkling waters of the Finger Lakes. Home was enjoying an Ithaca beer with my family as the sun sank below the hillside. No matter what I did or where I went, I couldn't replicate those feelings and those experiences.

Then I met JD and things started to change. We moved to Durham to have more space and to be closer to his family. The neighborhood we moved to was more comfortable for me. More character and diversity. A longer commute but a more comfortable existence. We see JD's family regularly, at least once a week for Family Dinner Night. I've adopted little EG as my own niece and look forward to playing with her and spoiling her. We've settled in to life with our three kids, and it's been good. Not without its bumps and challenges, but that's life. And then tonight I had an epiphany.

I'm home. I have real family here now, and I've settled in. I feel more comfortable and at ease right now than I have since I moved to the great North State 8 years ago. Everything seems to be in place and feels right. I write this with one kid stretched out across my lap and arms, another curled up on the floor beside me and another just a few feet further. I just finished cleaning up after another Family Dinner Night (it was our turn to cook), and it just hit me. I'm home.

And I can't remember a time I've been happier.

24 January 2013

I love the way kids think

Last night we had Family Dinner Night with JD's brother, sister-in-law, and niece. These have become a weekly ritual for us, and it's a great time for us to connect and talk and laugh. We get together each week, trading off turns cooking. Every other Wednesday is their night to cook and on the opposite Thursdays we cook. One of my favorite parts of Family Dinner Night is playing board games after dinner. We always have to play something six-year-old friendly which usually means Trouble or something of the the likes. Last night was Scrabble Jr.

Confession: I'm pretty horrible at Scrabble (despite being an English major). I don't know why, but I'm just not great at coming up with words. To be honest, I blame it on the fact that I always get bad letters. I'm just not a lucky person. Like the 4 "c's" that I had last night with no vowels. What's a girl to do with that?! Anyway, last night's game was a great opportunity to EG (the niece) to practice her spelling skills. And she was pretty good at creating words until she started keeping score. Then it took a little more prodding to keep her engaged. But she's six, so what more can we expect?

The best moment of the night came just before EG started losing interest. I was helping her figure out what words she could make based on the letters that she had and the letters that were already on the board. I saw that she could make the word "jets," but I didn't want to tell her what word to make. So, instead of telling her, I prompted her by asking about planes. Or so I thought.

Me: EG, what flies in the sky really fast?
EG: A hummingbird.
Me: This is true. But what flies in the sky really fast that you can ride on?
EG: Pegasus.

She had me there. I was at a loss because I absolutely loved her response and the fact that she thinks about life so completely differently than I do. I've lost that magical component to my life, but it is certainly alive and well within her. It kills me to think that she'll lose it someday. Is there any way to keep that spark alive?

EG and Foxy on the way to the zoo on Monday. 

19 January 2013

Pinteresting successes!

As mentioned before, Pinterest projects are my way of escaping real responsibility. In preparations for a snow day on Friday (which only evolved into a snow delay, but I'll take what I can get), I purchased some nails, some strong, and two boards to work on a Pinterest project that I've been wanting to do for a very long time. In fact, it was one of the first pins I ever pinned.

If you know anything about me, you know I'm a proud New Yorker. I find different and unique ways to demonstrate my pride about being from Upstate New York. This project was all about my home pride. And, to be fair, I incorporated JD's home pride as well.

Before leaving work on Thursday, I printed out copies of the NY and SC maps. I then attached the maps to my boards and outlined the states' shapes with silver wire nails. I created a heart shape over where our home towns are (which is much clearer in real life than in the photos below). Once all the nails were in place, the tedious stringing part began. It wasn't as hard as I thought it was going to be, but the finishing took a little creativity. I ended up using a dab of super glue to finish the strings. I also ended up not liking how the hearts turned out, so I decided to run string along their outline to make them more defined. After that, I was happy with the result.

Lancaster, SC

A slightly askew Ithaca, NY

Now, where to put them?

I'm the mother of a teenager

I love my kids. All three of them. Even in their chaotic, furballs everywhere, barking and chasing glory. I love them. Each has a unique personality that regularly makes me laugh and makes me frustrated. I love coming home to three eager faces that love me and can't get enough of me. They cuddle me when I'm cold or lonely or sad or just in need of a hug. They really do make my life better in every way.  Except one.

When they get their period.

Sunny, our puppy, is a sweet but goofy puppy. She's pretty much adorable in every way. She's awkward and gangly and completely silly. Which is normally quite endearing.

Looking skyward for birds. 
Until she became a "woman" 12 days ago.  And now she is forced to wear a diaper (yes, they make these for dogs for this precise reason). The internet says that this is only supposed to last 4 days. But could last as long as 20. Twenty days!!! This is just miserable. For all parties involved.
How pathetic is this?
When she's not wearing her diaper, she's confined to her kennel. Until her period is over, this is our only option. Her crate confinement has revealed that she has some rather interesting sleeping styles. Like the one below ...

Yeah, she's lucky she's so adorable. Otherwise, I'd be tempted to give her away to the lowest bidder. 

Bottles into hurricanes

I've finally settled into the house and have moved back into my project hobby. Pinterest is really the worst thing for a person like me because it inspires me to take on all sorts of crafty, time-consuming projects that distract me from other things that are far less fun (like a dissertation and grading and whatnot).

I've been working on cutting glass bottles for about a year or so now, and I've made all sorts of planters and dishes and containers. I finally created some hurricane glasses for the candles on the patio. I was a little skeptical at first (thinking they wouldn't get enough air flow), but they really work!

Testing my green thumb

After seeing JD's step-mom grow an avocado plant from the avocado stone, I decided that I would attempt the feat the next time we had avocados in the house. Not to brag, but I have a pretty green thumb. I can grow all kinds of plants, indoor and outdoor, garden and pots ... you name it. I certainly don't get my green-thumbedness from my momma ... at least when it comes to indoor plants. Mom can grow outdoor plants, but she's not the greatest at making plants thrive indoors. (In her defense, she does live in Central New York where it is snowy and cloudy 80% of the time. Not exactly plant-friendly weather.)

So, after some googling and research on how to turn the hard little stones into vibrant green plants, I grabbed my toothpicks and started stabbing away. Apparently, the trick is to insert 3-4 toothpicks about 1/2" into the widest part of the stone. This creates a way to prop the stone up and not submerge it too deeply into the water.

Once the toothpicks are in place, you place the stone in a glass with water just barely covering the bottom. After placing it in a sunny spot, you wait. After a few weeks, the stone will split and root will shoot forth. Just to be safe, I am trying to grow two stones. I've left them in my bathroom window because that is often the warmest and sunniest spot in the house.

Attempt #1
Attempt #2
I'll be posting more photos as this (hopefully) successful process. 

11 January 2013

Summing up 2012

I happened upon this yearly recap over on Jennifer's blog, and it looked like something that I should do. Reflection is something I struggle with, so a little bit of forced reflection should be good for me, right?

1. What did you do in 2012 that you’d never done before?

Straddled the states. I visited Bristol Tennessee/Virginia to see Mumford and Sons and straddled the state line that ran down (obviously) State Street. It was pretty awesome. I took a picture. :)

2. Did you keep your New Year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I was pretty bad about my resolutions, only succeeding with a few. (I always make a lot so I can feel some success no matter what!)

I was definitely successful in the Year of MaryBeth. I set up some more firm boundaries about what I will and won't accept in my life, and I took a lot of risks, saying "yes" more often. I'm pretty happy with that change, and I hope to continue it into 2013.

I failed miserably at my photography resolution. I'm not sure what happened, but I've gone months at a time without picking up my camera. This still makes me sad, but I just don't feel inspired. Maybe it's stress related?

I started off the year strong with my fitness -- getting to my high school weight! -- but then fell off horribly. I blame my boyfriend for making me happy and comfortable. :)

New Year's Eve was spent in this time zone and was in fact at home. I was even in bed by 10. I blame that on the chaos of moving two houses between Christmas and New Years. Yuck.

And I didn't finish my dissertation. Fail.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

While we aren't as close any more, my former AT friend, Katie, delivered a bouncing baby boy. After a long struggle to get pregnant, her and her husband's prayer were finally answered. I'm so happy for them!. In the last few weeks of 2012, a large handful of friends announced pregnancies. I'm pretty excited about that!

4. Did anyone close to you die?

No, thankfully. My gram had a stroke, and we were pretty worried about her for a while. But she's back to her feisty self, and I couldn't be more happy.

5. What countries did you visit?

Does America count? After a few years of some significant globetrotting, this year was spent without using my passport once.

6. What would you like to have in 2013 that you lacked in 2012?

More money. Money has seemed to be really tight in the last year, and a little more wiggle room would be appreciated.

7. What dates from 2012 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

Meeting my love in July (the 2nd). That was a pretty great day.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Keeping my niece for five weeks this summer and 1.) not killing her and 2.) not going crazy. :) We actually had a lot of fun while she was here, and it was a really great experience for both of us.

9. What was your biggest failure?

Not finished that cursed dissertation. That thing is haunting me, and I'm beginning to feel like it'll never be done.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

Other than a killer ear infection this summer, I've been really healthy.

11. What was the best thing you bought?

A silver necklace in the shape of NY with a heart over my hometown. I found it on Etsy and they custom cut it for me. I love it. A lot.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

Governments and politicians who ignore the needs of women. For example, the Indian government that dragged their feet when woman was savagely beaten and repeatedly raped on a public bus (after which, she died from her injuries). And in Ireland, my favorite place, a woman was left to die in her pregnancy because the hospital refused to perform a life-saving abortion. And Mitt Romney ... don't even get me started on his plans for women had he been elected.

14. Where did most of your money go?

My apartment and my car. Without those two necessary expenses, I'd be rich!

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

Going to see Mumford and Sons in Bristol with a good friend. Best. Concert. Ever. I still get goosebumps when I think about that night. The most amazing spontaneous rendition of Wagon Wheel I've ever heard. and everyone was just happy. And the weather was gorgeous. And I was 100% completely relaxed. It was borderline magical.

16. What song will always remind you of 2012?

"Ho Hey" by the Lumineers. Or "I will wait" by Mumford and Sons.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:  a) happier or sadder?  b) thinner or fatter?  c) richer or poorer?

I'm significantly happier, 10 pounds heavier, and (once my tax return comes) a little richer. But, if we're talking rich in spirit, I'm a gajillionaire.

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

Travel. Even just local travel. I felt that I sat still for much of the year. That makes me a little sad. There is still so much of the world I want to see.

I also wish I had written more on my dissertation ...

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

Worry. I know that nothing good comes from worry, but I often can't seem to self-talk myself out of it.

20. How did you spend Christmas?

Unpacking boxes and setting up a new house/apartment. It was pretty exciting to move to a better place, but the timing -- between Christmas and New Years -- was a challenge.

21. Did you fall in love with 2012?

Yep. Truly, madly, and deeply.

22. What was your favorite TV program?

The Walking Dead. It borders on an unhealthy obsession.

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

I don't have the energy to hate people, but there are definitely people that I have chosen to distance myself from. I've always held the policy that I surround myself with people who make me feel good about myself and who contribute in a positive way to my life, and a few people in my life have shifted across the line into toxic relationships. It's sad when friendships end, but I've gotta look out for me. After all, last year was the Year of MaryBeth, right?

24. What was the best book you read?

That's so hard! I've fallen in love with John Green this year, and I truly enjoyed The Fault in Our Stars. It wasn't the best book I've read, but it ranks pretty high.

25. What was your greatest musical discovery?

The Lumineers! I love them! They compliment my Mumford obsession nicely.

26. What did you want and get?

A partner to share my life with. That's been pretty awesome.

27. What did you want and not get?

More contentment in my job. That's a long story better shared in person, so that's all I'll say there.

28. What was your favorite film of 2012?

Brave. Love that Disney finally has created a princess that didn't need a man to be happy.

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

I turned 32 this year and celebrated it with my love. We went to a beer tasting, watched Dark Knight Rises, and had a great dinner. JD bought me a ton of different beers and wines and even a little ducky toothbrush holder (because of my minor obsession with baby animals ... namely ducks.). It was a pretty great birthday.

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

Honestly, I can't think of a single thing. 2012 was pretty great in the overall scheme of things. For once in my life, I can't really complain.

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept of 2012?

Does this mean what I wore or what other people wore? If it's about me, the same as every other year. I'm not trendy in any way. I'm more classic. I like things that don't go out of style. If it's for other people, I can just say that I'm happy the Ugg trend is waning.

32. What kept you sane?

My Bushmills Irish Whiskey from Ireland. I know that sounds bad, but sometimes the prospect of a relaxing 12-year-old whiskey when I got home was what got me through the day.

33. What political issue stirred you the most?

The recent gun debate. It was late in the year, and I'm already over it. I'm in no way anti-gun, but the whole debate is people just yelling at each other and not really listening. It's not a debate. It's a shouting match. But, then again, most of politics is that way, isn't it?

34. Who did you miss?

LL. She lives so far away, and we don't see each other nearly enough.

35. Who was the best new person you met?

JD. Obviously.

36. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2012.

Trust my instincts and trust my heart. When I have a bad feeling about someone, it almost always turns out to be right (even if it takes a while to reveal itself). I need to trust myself more. In both the positive and negative.

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

"It's a little bit of everything, / It's the matador and the bull, / It's the suggested daily dosage, / It is the red moon when it's full. / All these psychics and these doctors, / They're all right and they're all wrong, / It's like trying to make out every word, / When they should simply hum along, / It's not some message written in the dark, / Or some truth that no one's seen, / It's a little bit of everything." Dawes

09 January 2013

Dish pan hands?

I've had the great opportunity to try out new products for a pretty cool website called Influenster.com. After signing up, they sent me my first VoxBox (much more quickly than I had ever expected!). Inside were three pretty little bottles of Palmolive dish soap. Of course, the very first thing I did was take a deep smell. I don't know why, but I like my dish soap to smell good. Maybe it's like aromatherapy for me, but I want to be immersed in soothing scents while I slave over the kitchen sink.

I initially tried the green bottle - Lime and Basil - and was really excited. I LOVE those two scents together. It's always so fresh and clean. Sadly, my first sniff left me disappointed. The scent was far too sugary and artificial. It smelled like something a little kid would eat as a piece of candy. Next I tried out the pink bottle - Ginger and White Tea - and was much more pleased. The scent was very mild and subtle. It was more of a neutral scent than anything truly discernible. Far more pleasant than the Lime and Basil. Finally I tried out the Lemon Thyme (the yellow bottle). This one was the winner. It was fresh and clean and smelled like a happy kitchen. Because I can be super critical of new products, I had JD sell each of the bottles without me saying a word. And, despite his less specialized sense of smell (Don't yell at me! Science has proven it!), he came to the same conclusions without any prompting from me. We decided together to give the Ginger and White Tea to My Favorite Married Lady (which I forgot to do last night!) and are donating the Lime and Basil to the school kitchen. 

We haven't had much time to test the soap out beyond smell, but JD did use the Lemon Thyme to soak his grill plate (which are pretty gross!). We'll see how powerful this soap is when I get home tonight. and, of course, a blog post will follow. 

If you are interested in joining Influenster, just shoot me an email and I'll send you an invite. :)

I received these products complimentary for testing purposes from Influenster.

07 January 2013

The weekend when I did nothing

This weekend was a glorious respite. After two weeks of moving and holidays and visitors and more moving, I returned to school on Thursday having had no time off to relax and regroup. Thankfully, last week was only a two-day work week, so the weekend came quickly. Once Friday afternoon arrived, I turned on relaxation mode and didn't click it off until this morning when my alarm rang.

After getting home on Friday, JD and I went to dinner (Mexican! My favorite comfort food) and a movie (The Hobbit). Despite the annoying people in the theater who made phone calls and took flash photos during the movie and me being slightly exhausted, the movie was great. It definitely met my expectations, and I'm eager for the next one to be released. When does that happen, by the way?

Saturday involved a new haircut (thankfully! I was getting ratty and fluffy!) and the baking of a King Cake. Sunday was Epiphany, and I wanted to get ready for it by making a King Cake -- my first ever! After an afternoon of cooking and tidying the house, my favorite married couple came over with their boisterous dog, Pindar, for dinner and drinks. I made a tasty Caribbean rice and JD made his beer can chicken. We had tasty wine and dessert -- King Cake! -- and we had a pretty great time. (Saturday recipe blog post coming soon.) All of the dogs -- all four of them -- had fun running and playing and barking and chasing. It's amazing how similar Pindar and Sunny are. If we didn't know better, we'd swear they were related. Pickles fulfilled his usual role of little dog barking at big dogs, and Bailey escaped to the quiet crate to get away from the craziness.

Unbelievably, I slept in on Sunday. JD, who does weekend puppy duty, walked the dogs early and we all -- three dogs and two adults -- cuddled in bed until around noon. What a happy family! :) After waking up, I simply rolled over and grabbed my book and read for an hour or so. When we finally rolled out of bed, we decided that we wanted to see another movie and headed back to the theater. We thoroughly enjoyed watching Lincoln and then went home to do nothing but chill.

Despite doing nothing -- or because of it -- this past weekend was amazing. My mind and body desperately needed some chill time after the insane busyness of the past few weeks. I finally feel settled in the new house (there are still some pictures to hang and things to do, but I'm happy with the set-up right now) and all of the kids have adjusted well to the new environment. I was able to just unwind. I didn't even go into my office once this weekend. It was pretty awesome. As a result, I came to work today feeling refreshed and ready to take on the world.

Part of my New Year's promises was to relax and to learn effective relaxation strategies. I think I was pretty successful this weekend. Of course, I have a ton of work to do this week, but I feel much more ready to take it on having had some down time this weekend.

It's all about balance, folks.

01 January 2013

Obligatory New Year's post ...

... complete with resolutions!

2012, while filled with stresses of unique varieties, was a pretty damn good year. I started off 2012 after making some significant life changes in the fall of 2011, and, in spite of the new road I was on -- or maybe because of it -- I had some pretty great experiences. I've felt better about my family and my daily living in 2012, and, most significantly, I met and fell in love with JD. And, here we are, six months later, living in a new house with our blended family of three four-legged kids. I spent about five weeks with my 9-year-old niece and that was an amazingly challenging and rewarding experience. Despite some significant set-backs, I've made good progress on my dissertation. And now 2013 has arrived and, hopefully, it will be an even better year!

Of course each new year warrants new resolutions to -- hopefully -- help me improve myself. So, as tradition dictates, here goes ...

First, and most importantly, I will finish my dissertation. No ifs, ands, or buts. It's gotta get done. By this time next year, I should be prepping myself for my oral defense. Because that won't be stressful or anything.

Second, I need to lose the "happy" weight I've gained in the last six months or so. I fully blame JD for this 14-ish-pound weight gain, but it could also have something to do with the stress in my life and that I often eat for comfort. I need to get back on the exercise and eating well bandwagon. It's worked before for me, and it needs to happen again.

Third, I'm going to focus on letting go of control in the coming year. I'm not sure how to accomplish this, but that's all part of the process, right? Due to my strong Type A personality, I like to control everything around me. I like things done my way because my way is best, right? Obviously, this creates problems, especially when asking -- or allowing -- for others to help me. I think I'll be happier overall if I learn to let go of my compulsive need for control. Which brings me to my fourth resolution ...

Fourth, I need to learn to relax. I let stress and anxiety control my mind far too much which doesn't allow me peaceful sleep or quality relaxation time. I've already started working on this resolution, but it definitely needs more attention. Hopefully, by the end of 2013, I'll be able to truly relax in my down time. Right now when I have down time, I just think about everything I need to do as soon as my down time is over.

So here's to 2013! Hopefully it will bring me as much good as 2012!

The Christmas gift I could have done without

Getting a Christmas tree this year was exactly what I needed. With the move and dissertation stresses and work chaos, the sparkling lights of the tree and the scent of evergreen throughout the new house was just what the doctor ordered. What did the doctor NOT order?

Aphids. And lots of them.

As it turns out, evergreens are occasionally infested with a wonderful little species called Cinara Aphids. Especially evergreens in North Carolina. How do you know if your tree is infested? You find these nasty little creatures all over the floor beneath your Christmas tree. As your tree warms up inside from the cold, the little creatures come alive and start moving. As I was cleaning up the house yesterday morning, I looked at the floor beneath my tree -- don't ask me why -- and it looked like there was a carpet of black bugs moving all over the hardwoods.

I did my best to not freak the hell out, but, of course, I failed miserably. I thought for sure they were ticks, and, with three dogs in the house, I kinda lost it. I swept them all up into a glass container (to show JD because I knew he wouldn't believe me when I told him) and googled the phrase "I found black tick-like bugs under my Christmas tree." Seriously. And I got about one million returns. (No joke. You can google the phrase yourself.)

Breathing a huge sigh of relief after discovering that they were aphids and not ticks, I then discovered that they die and fall from the tree after giving birth to LIVE YOUNG. That sealed the deal. The tree had to go. I usually wait until Epiphany to take down the Christmas stuff, but everything changes when your Christmas tree has literally thousand of bugs crawling all over it.

Thankfully, the bugs were just skeevy and not really dangerous. They only eat conifer trees and don't bother furniture or fabrics or animals. But still ... they were gross. And the best part? They make a nasty purple stain when they are smooshed so you have to be really careful when getting rid of them.



EG turns 6 tomorrow. I made her a giant cupcake with accompanying cupcakes to celebrate. We didn't want the big cupcake to be lonely!


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