So: I love mail

How do you feel when you open your mailbox? A little sick, thinking of bills or letters riddled with guilt or people asking for money? Or are you hopeful and excited thinking about all the fun stuff that could be there?

I love getting the mail. I always have. If I get home from work first, I look forward to walking down the sidewalk in front of our house to our little red mailbox. If I don’t get home first, I bug Bruce saying “Did we get anything good?” Good to me means a lot of stuff other than bills and political flyers (thank goodness that’s over). Good could mean a card or letter from a far away friend. A magazine. A pile of flyers from the grocery stores. A surprise package. Some photos in an envelope. Stickers. Free samples. Some online shopping.

This week, I have been loving mail even more than ever. For my grandmother’s 100th birthday, I nominated her to receive greetings from MoreLoveLetters.com. I’ve been writing love letters for them for a while now and I thought how fun it would be for her to receive a big pile of love notes in the middle of winter. Here are a few examples of what we’ve gotten:

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They want the nominators to gather up all the letters into “bundle” and present them. So it’s my job to open each letter and read them. And I have. I read them out loud to Bruce. Grandma has gotten letters from all over the place. Kids have drawn her pictures and made her cards. Other seniors have written her heartfelt letters in beautifully loopy script. Caligraphers have lettered cards for her. Surly teenagers have written letters filled with sweet and meaningful words. Men, women, children, they’ve all poured their hearts out and written words that will certainly uplift a centenarian.

It’s been a lovely experience picking up the mail every day. And despite the images on the television that tell me otherwise, those letters and cards tell me that there are tons of wonderful people out there. They know that even with one single letter they can make a difference in someone else’s life. These aren’t random acts of kindness. They are purposeful. They are determined. They are filled with love. I can feel it.

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George! photo by Bruce

Speaking of filled with love, or maybe that’s just sleep in this photo, here’s your gratuitous dog photo of the day:

So: thanksgiving #2

I’m lucky to have two days a year that are recognized as days to be thankful. To be grateful. One month after the other. But I don’t need two turkey dinners with all the trimmings to remind myself that I need to think about how lucky I am. Bruce and I are crazy enough to be traveling on the busiest travel day of the year in the U.S. although we are not going to a particularly popular destination for most Americans. But we have 4 days off in a row and that’s the perfect time to head to the Great White North. A few days go there was three feet of snow, but we understand that there’s been a lot of melting and things have warmed up a bit, well, at least by Canada’s standards.

If you’re reading this post tonight, I want you to know that I am thankful that you read my words. I appreciate your comments that always seem to come at just the right time. Thank you. I appreciate that you are sharing with me, whether you know me in “real life” or you don’t. Thank you. You are my neighbor-friend and I am thankful that you’re sharing this big blue marble with me and that you care enough to learn about the adventures an amateur urban farmer, Bruce and the 4Gs. Hopefully we are entertaining you. Thank you for reading.

What else I am thankful for:

-Bruce. For an almost 1/2 century old who got his AARP membership tonight, he’s surprisingly youthful and fun. Happy almost birthday and thanks for 20-ish years.
-My family members who are spread all over the place. I wish I saw you all more, but I am so happy that we have the internet and social media. And cheap plane tickets! Visit me please!
-My friends who are also spread out all over the place. Your notes come at exactly the right time whether you’re here in Texas or further away. I am so glad we can connect with each other pretty much whenever we want. Know that when you visit DFW, you have a tour guide and a place to stay, as long as you’re not allergic to dogs. Thank you to those who have made the extra effort to reconnect in person when you’re in town.
-The kids in my life. Thank you for all the drawings and sweet notes and letting your parents take photos of you.
-My sweet grandma who will be 100 very soon. I really hope you love all the mail as much as I do.
-The 4G Network. So many dogs. So much personality. So much warmth. So much love. So much arm strength.
-The folks that watch after the Gs when we are traveling. You love them almost as much as we do and they know it. Thank you for letting us do what we need to do and giving us peace of mind.
-Not having to worry where the next meal is coming from or that there is money to pay the bills. We work hard but we also try to be smart and do what we can to help those who aren’t as fortunate as us.
-A roof over my head, clothes on my back, transportation, and recreation.

Happy Thanksgiving if you celebrate it in the USA and be thankful where ever you are.

For today’s gratuitous dog photo, I’d like to suggest that George is very thankful for some toy to put in his mouth:

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so: milestone time

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2014 is a big year for milestone birthdays in my life. Tonight we went to a friend’s surprise 40th birthday party. He thought he was having dinner with his wife, kids, parents and sister, but instead he had all sorts of friends yelling “Happy Birthday!” when he walked into the room at the pub. It was a good surprise.

Closer to home, Bruce is having a very big birthday in just a little over a week. His big birthday wish was to attend the 80s music weekend Rewind Festival in Macclesfield in the northern part of England back in August. Don’t worry, I’ll share more about our UK adventure on the birthday boy’s big day.

But the biggest of all the milestones about to happen is my dear grandmother’s birthday. Lillian’s going to be 100 on Christmas Eve. Everyone in her family is doing little things to make her birthday more special (as if you could make the anniversary of being on this big blue marble for a century more special). People are flying in from all over. There are several parties planned. Grandma’s got her outfits all picked out. She’s ready for this big day to happen.

I’ve been bugging politicians, movie stars, authors, singers, friends, all sorts of people to send her a birthday wish. Since I started in October, Grandma’s been getting wishes galore already. A good thing since she loves mail almost as much as I do.

Today’s gratuitious dog photo of the day shows how inseparable the newest Gs are:

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So: holidayitis

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The first thing I did today other than suck down coffee was wrap presents. Yesterday before work, I got packages ready to mail. I’m not bragging, I just like to have presents bought and ready before American Thanksgiving rolls around. I get that I’m missing Black Friday and Cyber Monday and the new shopping on Thanksgiving thing. Instead of facing big crowds or camping out over night or getting up at the crack of dawn to shop, when I see things that someone would just love, I buy them. That’s how I roll.

I’m a huge fan of online shopping, much to Daniel in our mailroom’s chagrin. This time of year, instead of saying hello to me in the hall, Daniel says, “No packages today, Miss Julie.” We’ve already had our “big box” talk. I reminded him that he doesn’t need to bring me anything big, just call me when it comes and I’ll drag it out to my car. He doesn’t think that’s right and still brings me the big boxes to my office. I just drag them back to the elevator and down to my car. Daniel asked me the other day if I ever go to stores (I prefer not to) and he thinks that it’s really funny that people might steal my packages off my porch so that’s why I ship them to the office.

Today, my Easy Bake Oven supplies showed up on my porch thanks to the USPS. I screwed up and put my home address as the delivery address for Amazon. Oops! At work we adopt kids for the holidays and the little girl I adopted really wanted an Easy Bake Oven. Her mom said she needed a warm coat. So she’s getting both plus some other stuff thanks to excellent sales at Target and Amazon. Did you have one of those ovens when you were a kid? I didn’t. But I wanted one. The ones now are not nearly as awesome. First, they only come with one mix. How is that fun? You’re probably going to mess up the first batch.

Second, this is what they look like now:

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No window!

This is what I remember about Easy Bake Ovens:

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But I digress. In case you think I’m all done for the holiday festivities, I also give a lot of food presents. I enjoy making them and most people (or at least their family and friends) enjoy eating them. Those I make in the fall if they’re canned (hello Cowboy Candy) or right before I give them if they’re a sweet treat (peppermint bark, cookies, or the thing I’m considering for  2014, fudge).

I’ve watched the neighborhood over the last week or so and seen a lot of Christmas lights go up already. Even a few Christmas trees. I’ve been watching the photos coming out of Ontario with envy since they are all pretty winter wonderland. It’s really making me want to decorate!

Yep, I’ve got holidayitis. We’re not sending Christmas cards this year, at least that is what we’ve decided at this point. Maybe New Year’s cards. We have a method to our madness.

I am counting down the days to my Christmas vacation. I am anxious to start the American Thanksgiving holiday that I will spend in Canada (more about that later). There is so much going on during this 2014 holiday season including my grandma’s 100th birthday. It’s going to be a very crazy next 5 weeks. But I don’t care.

Holidayitis has hit me hard. We’re not decking the halls of the Dallas house this year, but I get to decorate at work. And I get to throw a party at work. We have two festive dinners next week — Friday and Saturday. We have parties galore in December. We have a big roadtrip. We’re going to see lots of friends and family. And I’ll be going to Pennsylvania for Grandma’s big birthday party.

It’s not stopping when the ball drops on December 31. Nope, my twin nieces turn 5 this year so it’s off to San Diego one weekend in January. We’ll get to meet their new little sister too. Now if we can only keep the party feeling going until my birthday in March…

Today the Gs have been in rare form. Check out the attitude on the gratuitous dog photo of the day:

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So: adolescence part deux

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I’ve had Invisalign for about two months now. If you are not familiar with this technology, it is a removable plastic alternative to traditional metal braces. Basically a technician scans your mouth and a program builds a computer model to figure out how to move your teeth slowly. Then your dentist gives you trays that you change every two weeks.

If you have whitened your teeth with a dentist-prescribed treatment with the little trays, have a night guard, or wear a tooth guard for a sport, you might be familiar with the feeling of plastic in your mouth. With Invisalign in your mouth, it’s a 22 hour a day feeling. Gotta say, I’m not a big fan, although I’m getting used to it.

I’m sure I’ll be happy with the results when the year is up. So far they make my lips dry out, they massively reduce my eating, especially snacking because I don’t feel like brushing my teeth every single time food touches my lips. They have diminished the joy of eating since I think they’ve affected my sense of smell and taste. Boo! I have been making Bruce taste salad dressings and sauces when I cook because I can’t tell if they are seasoned right. It’s making cooking hard.

Beverage drinking means cool and clear. That means the only warm beverages I drink are at breakfast. And it’s really white coffee. No more nursing a big old green tea in an insulated mug all morning long. You can’t drink warm drinks with the trays in. As for adult beverages, they need to be clear (vodka soda, gin and tonic) or clear-ish (lager beer, white wine, champagne), which is mostly fine, unless you want a snack with your drink or if you really feel like a nice Pinot.

The thing that kills me right now is I keep forgetting that they’re in despite my mockable lisp and tender teeth. Take today’s company Thanksgiving lunch. I got in the buffet line and realized, “Damn, I forgot to take my braces out.” So I had to put my plate down once we got to the tables, rush off to the restroom, take out the braces, shove them in my pocket, then go back and eat my rapidly chilling lunch.

I had a business lunch on Tuesday and remembered that I had the braces to contend with when the waiter brought the starters. Off I went to the restroom.

It’s a pain.

I had braces as what they now call a “tween”. Back in my day, the age had no such name. The braces were the traditional “train-track” kind that got tightened up when you went to the orthodontist. They worked great. While I couldn’t chew gum or eat certain foods, I don’t remember them being limiting or effecting my sense of smell and taste. When I was done with the treatment my teeth were straight. That is until I started grinding in my early 20s.

That’s why I’m in the Invisalign now. My dentist is hoping to minimize the damage that I have been causing myself. I’ve already shortened one of my bottom front teeth. Headaches. Sore jaws. Since I got the Invisalign, none of that. Until tonight. Today my front bottom teeth have been hurting. I’ve had these trays for a week so I’m kind of surprised that it’s hurting now.

I’m back to the dentist on Wednesday. Hopefully the teeth hurting means something good is happening and the process is speeding up. In the meantime, I’m a like 45 year old absent-minded adolescent about to enter the hardcore Eating Season. I think I’ll stick to clear liquids.

Enough complaining. The gratuitous dog photo of the day belongs to the OGs (original Gs), Guinness and Godiva. Here they are in our first Texas house:

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So: happy birthday marge

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Today is Marge Morrice’s 83rd birthday. At first glance, my mother-in-law and I seemed to be very, very different. I like to cook; she advised me to burn meals so Bruce would just take over. I love to travel; she preferred to stay close to home. I’ll eat pretty much anything; she enjoyed a simpler diet.

But at the end of the day, Marge and I were cut from the same cloth. Deeply sentimental. A fierce love for our families that doesn’t always get spoken out loud. A passion for furry family members. Slightly sensitive. Somewhat misunderstood. We like what we like. And we liked to tell the same stories to each other over and over again.

I’m not sure Marge always “got” me, but I know for sure that she loved me. And I loved her.

Marge left us earlier this year. She had always hoped to visit Texas and meet the last two Gs. I’d like to think that she’s watching over all of us these days. I hope she likes what she sees.

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Marge and granddaughter Becca

Since it’s Throwback Thursday, it’s only right that the gratuitous dog of the day is Daisy, who lived with Marge and Ed for a little while before moving to Texas:10398529_143150155219_2643526_n:

 

 

So: my mornings

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Let me make one thing clear: I am NOT a morning person.  Over the years, my waking time has been altered to be earlier and earlier until now it is 5 am on weekdays. It is hard for me to wake up. I am grumpy. I need a lot of coffee. I don’t really want to say too much for about an hour. But over the years, I have come to love the morning.

I like the quiet. I like the time with the dogs outside at 5:30 am when it’s just us and the owls, the newspaper dudes, and the very occasional jogger. I like experiencing the weather for the first time of the day. I like feeling like I have a jump on the day. That’s why on the weekends when I wake up a bit later, I feel like I might have missed something. But I do like my sleep after a long week.

Here in North Texas, morning is the only good time to work in the garden through most of the year. Even now, by the time my work day is over, it’s too dark for doing much more than watering (and if you remember earlier posts this week, lots of stuff is no longer viable). In the morning, the sun is coming up, I can see the little bitty weeds and catch bugs before they eat up the crops. It’s cool, it’s peaceful, well, except for my neighbors’ chickens who usually get fed about the time I am puttering in the garden.

The only problem is there’s not much garden to putter in right now. So lately I’m doing chores. Prepping food for dinner. Emptying the dishwasher. Productive, but hardly a lovely way to start the day.

I’ve got to fix that. Any suggestions for a better way to start my day while I wait for the thaw to happen?

Today’s gratuitous dog photo:

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the day we met Godiva. that’s Bruce’s arm.

 

So: lollipop moments

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Sometimes the things that we might think of as throw away moments can be a big deal. You know what I mean. A smile at a stranger in line next to you. A casual chat with a distant coworker in the elevator of your office tower. Opening the door for a mom with her hands full of toddler and shopping bags. Helping a contractor lift a huge compressor into his truck. Letting a neighbor know that they’ve got a damaged sprinkler that’s flooding their yard. Sharing a chuckle. Letting someone else go first. You’ve got the idea.
We all have the power to make life better for those around us. All it takes is a tiny bit of effort, hardly more than you’d be spending otherwise.

And in case you don’t believe me, watch Drew Dudley’s little video from a few years ago:
One of my coworkers shared the TED talk with me back in August and I finally watched it yesterday. It got hidden in the recesses of my inbox, I’m ashamed to say. But it was a lovely thing to watch. It was an excellent reminder that when it all comes down to it, it’s not always the big things that make a big difference.
I have a far-away friend who lights up a room when she walks into it. She is one of those people who is always trying to do those little things that make life so much better for everyone else. You just feel better knowing that she’s around. Maybe that’s because she doesn’t shine, she sparkles. And she shares those sparkles liberally, almost like she’s covering a cake with sprinkles. She doesn’t just have your back, she’s got you covered.
It’s rare that you ever see that sparkle dim. But this has been a very tough year for her. She’s done her best to keep on keepin’ on because that’s just who she is. I’m sure it’s been tough. But one thing I’ve noticed is she’s always refueled by other people’s kindnesses towards her. Even the smallest thing can bring back her sparkle and allow her to keep making the world a better place for others.
What if the person you smiled at while you were picking up your coffee was like my friend? What if the tiny effort required for you to push the corners of your lips up could make the difference for more than just you and that person? Or what if it was like Drew Dudley’s lollipop moment story? Would you pass on some caring? Or would you pass on caring?
Today’s gratuitous dog photo wants you to know she thinks I’ve been typing way too slow tonight. Gidget’s ready to go to bed:
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So: good scents

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photo by Brian Jimenez | Unsplash

As much as I love apples of all kinds*, when citrus fruits from California and Texas appear in the grocery store, it always makes me very happy. Maybe even a little giddy. As much as I enjoy a gigantic Rio Star ruby red grapefruit as a decadent sweet-tart mess, those tiny clementines that usually come in a little wooden crate or a mesh bag are my ultimate favorites. Juicy. Plump. Vibrant. Portable. Self-contained. The unmistakeable fragrance lingers in the air (and on your hands) long after the fruit is eaten. It’s a dessert and an air freshener all-in-one, perfect for dining al desko.

The sharp scent of citrus also means that the year is winding down and the promise of a new beginning is on the horizon. But for now, frost is in the air. I think of—and want!—soups, stews, roasting, potatoes, pasta, big pots of this and that. Warming food. Comfort food. Hark! The Eating Season is beginning. Get the stretchy pants ready!

One Boxing Day party not so many years ago, I put a big bowl of clementines out on the buffet table, more as an in lieu of flowers decoration than as food. When I was cleaning up at the end of the night, I was very surprised that there were only a few left. I guess my friends like their delicious cuteness as much as I do. Or maybe by that point in the Eating Season, everyone was feeling stuffed from Thanksgiving dinners, company parties, friends’ parties, and Christmas dinner. They welcomed a little sweet treat that’s not cookies, pie, candy or cake.

A virtuous snack. Almost medicinal, right? After all, doesn’t Vitamin C cure colds? If that’s the case, I’m going to keep working on not getting one any time soon.

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Continuing the orange theme, today’s gratuitous dog photo of the day:

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George!

*although not nearly as much this year. The Invisalign teeth-movers I’ll have in my mouth for the next year make apple eating less than desirable.

Sow: dead peppers

The big freeze in North Texas is diminishing our chances for growing our own produce this fall and winter. The peppers are toast, but I salvaged what I could.

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The tomatoes I picked last weekend are turning red and we had a lovely roasted tomato pasta dinner tonight.

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We have the potential for snow tonight so I’m not sure exactly how everything left will do. The agaves are covered. We have the ice melter handy and our trusty snow shovel ready. It’s been raining on and off all day and things are wet so there is the potential of a frozen driveway gate, frozen alley, frozen roads.

The weather is much colder than normal. It’s a little sad for the urban farm, but it feels very eating holiday-ish. And its lending itself to cooking lots of slow cooked foods.

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The roasted tomato pasta dinner tonight was simple: a bunch of the Sweet 100s that have been ripening inside, some peppers from Pure Life Organic, some peppers from our garden, two little zucchinis, an onion, three garlic cloves, three anchovy filets, garlic olive oil, and some fresh ground pepper on a tray. Roasted it up at 400°F for 30 minutes in our Breville toaster oven, then when it was done, I tossed with a little frozen basil puree. I added some chopped up chicken sweet Italian sausage too so I threw it into the frying pan with the sausage chunks and mixed it all up, but the sausage isn’t necessary. It would still be delicious without the sausages. I added the penne directly to the sauce in the pan, tossed, added a little bit of grated parmesan and it was delicious. Most of the meal came from the urban farm or Pure Life Organic farm which makes me really happy. And there’s enough for lunch tomorrow.

The Gs are all very snuggly because it is cold. Today’s gratuitous dog photo shows you the bond between the newest Gs:

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photo by Bruce

 

The toy near George’s head is one of his mice. They are kids’ toys from IKEA and he loves them. Perfect size for his big mouth.