Sold. Or, Everything’s Changing.

*Disclaimer: Most of this post was written over 7 months ago, when I wrongly believed that my house was sold. (Oh, how young and naive I was.) I started to write a congratulatory (and somewhat panicked) summary of how I was feeling in the midst of this transformational moment in my life… and then I abandoned ship when the sale didn’t quite pan out. Since then, I have lived through the highs and lows of additional offers that have fallen through, each time becoming more anxious and eager to sell. And now, over a year after listing the property, my house has actually sold.

Or, should I say, the house? It isn’t mine anymore. It is betrothed to another. It is no longer mine. It is surreal and strange to feel that using the word “my” isn’t even appropriate anymore. This is just a place for me to sleep and house my clothes. It is currently a hot mess of boxes and empty cupboards and I will be out of here in about 3 weeks. It is all very odd but satisfyingly clear that this is exactly how it was supposed to happen.

When I reread the extremely premature post that I started before the sale was really a final sale, and considered the title of the post (which is left exactly as it was when I started to write in April), what strikes me the most is that I really got it right with that concept: Sold. Or, Everything’s Changing. EVERYTHING IS CHANGING. And everything is ALWAYS changing… because the things I expressed in April have evolved and shifted and grown in such a way that reading my April segment feels like I’m reading from a different story altogether. The story-teller is the same, but she’s changed a lot in half a year.

April 2016: Written prior to the first heartbreak of an almost-sale.

My house is officially sold. It is so unreal that I sort of need to say it again: My house is officially sold. This is huge. This is really and truly and finally the beginning of the end of my 7-year relationship (and 6-month divorce). It didn’t occur to me until very recently that this break-up isn’t really over until the house is sold, the closing papers signed, and all of our things divided and moved out. While this house is still owned in both our names, while his last few things sit collecting dust in the basement, while the cats he will eventually take live here, we are still in a twisted post-divorce relationship. By default I am and continue to be intrinsically connected to my ex no matter how much I think and feel that I am ready to be separated from him. Until the day we walk away from this beautiful home forever, we are still part of each other’s lives and it was a total shock when I finally had this realization. (How was this not glaringly obvious from the start?) Here I was thinking I was moving forward, when really I have just been teetering on the verge of that final major change without quite falling off the ledge. Well. Now I’m in a free fall. Everything’s changing.

With this change comes an influx of varying thoughts and emotions that change more often than I can keep track: Relieved that the house has finally sold. Sad that I have to leave the (now broken) home that I have cherished for over 5 years. Happy that I can finally move on from this break-up. Heartbroken that I soon have to say goodbye to my cats. Satisfied that we were able to sell for the price we wanted. Scared (with a side of panic) that I am moving into the next phase of my life which is completely unknown and unplanned. Excited for the immediate possibilities just ahead of me now that I won’t have the burden of a mortgage and house to care for. Stressed about packing my entire house in less than a month. And just exhausted by the range of emotions.

When I first shared that I was going through this separation, I wrote about my need to take things one day at a time. Those digestible days started to roll into one another and soon weeks turned into months and I started to see this break-up in phases and steps. But all along, I felt this wonderful comfort living in a limbo where I was somewhat stuck between moving forward and staying completely still in the tightly bound restriction of my unsold house. So here I am, now freed of that constraint, and the certainty of change has me paralyzed.

Most people dislike change. Or at least this is a general assumption I have made to make myself feel better about my utter repulsion at uncontrolled change. It is uncomfortable and scary and I won’t deny it – I hate it! But… I am trying to embrace it, first, because I have no choice and second, because I know that the benefits of this particular change will be positive and exciting. When I shared my Thirty Thoughts at the beginning of the year I wrote about pushing to get out of my comfort zone and this is the biggest push I can think of. The fact that I can’t control it makes it an even better adventure, because I will have to force myself to let go and live my mantra of nonetofigo by going with the flow and making choices when they are immediately in front of me. Scary! Trying to frame it as exciting!

As I have inched toward that sold sign being displayed on my front lawn (FYI, selling a house is a crazy process), I have tried to mentally prepare myself for the discomfort of change that is just ahead of me. Going to yoga really helps, mainly by keeping me grounded and helping me release stress – that hour on my mat is an exercise in breathing slowly while focusing on my body and spirit, and after each session I feel calm and happy and at peace with whichever emotion might be at the top of my heart on that given day. Lately I have taken this further by setting an intention at the start of each session. This is something a few of the instructors encourage for your hour of practice and it’s a simple statement you repeat to yourself – may I be happy, may I be calm, may I find strength, etc. I always make a point to choose an intention that reflects how I’m feeling off the mat – to love myself and enjoy my time alone, to release my stress and anxiety, to say yes and try to live with yes energy, and so on.

When it became clear in recent weeks that the sale of my house was imminent, I found myself regularly repeating “may I embrace change” at the start of each session. Hopefully it’s preparing me for what’s ahead and incredibly, the very first time I set this intention I was offered the opportunity to embrace change almost immediately. It was a Monday night session of yoga with a new instructor I had never seen before and mid-way through the hour she announced that we would be doing wall yoga for the rest of the session. Wall Yoga! Talk about a major change in my usual yoga routine. I laughed to myself internally, repeated “may I embrace change” and (delicately) jumped into the harness.

It was terrifying for about 3 minutes… and then so much fun. You literally hang off the wall in your usual poses and completely let go, allowing the harness and gravity to hold you in place while pulling you downward in perfect harmony. It is one of the most liberating things I have ever done in my life: The act of relinquishing all control, releasing the fear of falling, and finding that magical spot between hanging and holding myself firmly in the pose, all while taking those deep and calming breaths… it was amazing. Yoga already makes me feel so powerful in body and mind, so pushing sideways off a wall with just the tips of my toes brought me to superhero level.

The universe was clearly trying to send me a message when I set that intention for the first time. Embracing change doesn’t have to be terrible. It can actually be the greatest feeling in the world. I don’t think I could make this statement without having gone through the process of evolving from being totally scared of letting go in that harness to being completely enthralled with the powerful energy I felt once I got past the initial discomfort. And I know this experience was meant to happen exactly when it did, just as I find myself on the very edge of this immense change in my life.

So although it is difficult, I am trying my best to put a positive spin on the coming changes. The safety of my limbo between the break-up and my new life has put me into a lull that I’ve been happy to settle into – you can’t make major choices or changes when you still have the responsibility of a shared mortgage with your former boyfriend, and that’s suited me just fine. It’s like I hit pause on my life while the house has been listed so I could go through the process of grieving for and moving on from the relationship.

Now I’m approaching the end of that cosy little pause; it’s time to hit the play button and I’m going to have to start making decisions about what happens next. There are some big questions looming… Where will I go? What will I do? Who will I share my life with? Have I really learned from the failings of my last relationship and will I be better in my next? It’s a lot to think about and with every question comes the implication of another change in my life. It’s scary. But sort of exciting. As my sister told me on one of my bad days when the prospect of all this change had me in a panic, the possibilities are endless and that’s not a bad thing! I have all the freedom in the world to do whatever I want – the only limitation is what I choose to impose upon myself.

My intention to embrace change in that yoga class and the ensuing adventures in wall yoga feel like a microcosm of my entire life and current situation. Saying yes to change instead of no, feeling that very real fear when confronted with making a change, going through the uncomfortable process of changing, and then realizing that the change is better than anything I could have imagined was exhilarating. I’m starting to believe that this could apply in all areas of my life and I think I’m actually getting on board with my sister’s excitement about the endless possibilities (instead of letting the crippling fear take me over). It’s a choice to say “yes, this is scary, but yes, this will be thrilling too.” It’s a decision to let go and accept that it’s impossible to control everything. It’s the difference between jumping and falling off that ledge. I like to think of it as somewhere in between – I want to jump fearlessly into the unknown and fall with an open heart toward whatever will come, knowing that wherever I land will be a place filled with people I love, fuelled by the positive energy that I bring with me.

November 2016: Written after a year of divorce and growth.

So much changed in the 7 months since I first thought my house was sold. My 6-month divorce extended into a year-long debacle that dragged on for so long that I would sometimes forget that I still had a house for sale and an ex-boyfriend still in my life. People would ask me if it was hard and stressful to still have this going on, and it became such a standard part of my existence that I would just shrug and say, “meh, not really”.

And yet, when I got the call from my agent – the call confirming that all the conditions were lifted, meaning that this was really done – I cried. I laughed and I shrieked and I cried, and I felt as though a physical weight had been lifted off of me. It was a weight that I had carried for so long that I didn’t even realize it was there, dragging me down and telling me that this was normal, this was real life. The shift was unbelievable. Suddenly I felt so light and so free – able to breath, able to stretch, able to lift my head and consider everything available to me in this enormous and amazing world. No more limbo.

Reading the incredibly long thought process about my impending (and then aborted) exit from limbo shows me how much things really do change. (And also how they sort of don’t?)

Changes:

  • I don’t have cats anymore. I said goodbye to them in July and it was heartbreaking… but I survived.
  • Moving in less than a month? HA! What was I so worried about? I have 3 weeks this time and I’m thrilled to be ripping off this bandage as quickly as possible.
  • I haven’t been to yoga in months… and this trip down memory lane has reminded me how much I was getting from that practice. Why did I ever give it up?
  • At some point between April and November, I started to embrace the things that scare me. There’s something exhilarating about being afraid and pushing through that fear – there’s nothing quite like breaking through to the other side. To me, it brings out these amazing feelings of being powerful and alive.
  • I feel dubious about how optimistic I was by the end of my April post. Was I fooling myself into thinking that I was ready for these big changes? Was it a beautiful lie I told to find comfort when so much was uncertain? I’m not sure that I really felt ready to move forward… compared to now when I’m practically counting the days until this is all behind me.
  • The big questions still plague me (Where will I go? What will I do next? How will I do in my next relationship?) and so do the people asking them (CAN I JUST MOVE OUT OF MY HOUSE AND END MY 8 YEAR RELATIONSHIP PLEASE?) but they don’t bother me as much. Nonetofigo, one day at a time, I’ll get there.
  • I feel no panic whatsoever. Complete uncertainty, yes. Extreme excitement, absolutely. But there’s an absence of panic for sure.

I’m ready. Bring on all the changes, let’s see where my next adventure takes me.

Repeat Offenders and New Inventors

The other day I was listening to my (perfectly) curated “Fall Fall Fall” seasonal playlist made by yours truly on Spotify and as one of my favourite tunes came on I had this unexpected epiphany about the song that sent me into a spiral of random and interconnected thoughts about repetition. Herein is my attempt to summarize those thoughts in a (hopefully) coherent and eloquent manner for no reason other than getting it out of my brain and onto (virtual) paper. Let me repeat: This is random, but it is interconnected. Or if anything, it feels interconnected. Let’s start by playing this song on repeat:

This lovely track by The Morning Benders has been a favourite of mine for a few months – it inevitably makes it onto most of the playlists that I put together and whenever I hear it I always get all sorts of feels. It’s got all the good things you want to hear in a great song: A slow build up at the beginning, a rolling drum that prevails through the course of the 5 minutes of song, a bridge that sucks you in by dropping most of the instruments and focusing mainly on layered vocals before building back up with all the sounds… It’s a goodie. I’ve listened to it countless times (often on repeat) and love love love it. But something clicked for me the other day when it came on that I had never noticed before. Right around the 40 second mark, after that awesome introductory build up at the beginning of the song, the music swells with strings and a very familiar melody comes into play… Do you hear it?

Did I imagine it, or is there something resonating in those strings that sounds just a little like the strings in this endlessly classic love song? It isn’t exactly the same but there’s this slight familiarity that suddenly became very apparent to me in that moment and I haven’t been able to shake it since. This isn’t to say that I think “Excuses” is copying “At Last” – it’s been years since I’ve read sheet music but I’m sure if you put these two songs side by side they would differ – and it’s quite possible that nobody else will hear this the same way that I do. But to me, the connection is there and it only made me love the song even more.

This newly born enhanced admiration is fascinating. Why is it that I love something even more now that it reminds me of something else that I’ve loved for ages? Is it the familiarity? Is it like the comfort of an old and trusted friend? Is it the fact that repetition is something that I love and embrace whenever possible? I’m certainly guilty of incorporating repetition into my life on a regular basis – songs are repeated multiple times across the playlists that I create on Spotify, I’ve re-read books that I adore countless times (can I get an amen from other HP fans out there?), I will happily watch my favourite TV shows or movies multiple times to the point that I can throw out obscure quotes without any prompting, and I even feel the act of writing this blog to be one of the most feel-good repetitive activities in my life. And now, as I write these words, it is starting to occur to me that it’s not really surprising at all that I love repetition, because it allows me to fill my life with things that I know I adore with complete certainty.

If we apply this idea universally, I think it explains why we see (and more importantly, accept) repetition in so many areas of our lives. We all love the chorus of a song because it’s same words repeated over and over, allowing us to recognize, appreciate, and sing along. It seems like every other song on the radio these days includes a sample from an older song that we all know and love… And because these new artists are drawing from classics that are timeless, they are sure to pull in a wider audience – even the kids who don’t know the original may feel a nostalgic familiarity when they hear the music, perhaps from that one time on the radio when they were quite young or at a distance from an older sibling’s bedroom. Reboots of old movies and sequels seem to achieve the same thing – it’s like all of Hollywood collectively had a realization that remakes and extensions of stories = box office gold. What’s not to love? A classic story is timeless, so retelling it with a slightly new spin is just another way to relive it again and again.

In my English Literature days at university, one of my graduating seminar courses was all about those epic stories that we retell over and over thematically with only minor changes in the plot. The fight of good against evil. The flawed hero. The journey to a distant land and triumphant (or sometimes bittersweet) return home. The evolution of a character from naive youth to wise (or disillusioned) adulthood. Do we tell the same stories and love them unconditionally because their formulaic beginning, middle, and end are predictable but still surprising in their minor variances? What’s that saying? “We are creatures of habit.” We embrace the repetition because we know what to expect and are delighted when what we thought would happen transpires exactly as we predicted.

It’s such a funny concept, because we love that predictable and comfortable feeling of repetition but we are equally thrilled when we are presented with something completely new. Every album by Radiohead is drastically different than the last and nothing ever sounds like anything they’ve done before… And while that consistency of newness is an act of repetition in itself, that novelty produces a feeling unlike anything I can get out of listening to a favourite old song on repeat. The same goes for a film or any type of story that shocks us with a surprise ending or twist along the way that goes against the conventional story-telling that we’ve come to expect in our repeat-saturated society. I love a movie that ends with the main characters not reuniting after a ridiculously romantic grand gesture. I adore stories that end abruptly with no clear indication as to the resolution or aftermath of the climax. I like it when we abandon the repetition every now and then.

This tension between the conventional and unconventional has been on my mind for a few days. I know without question that I love repeat offenders. But I know that I have an equal passion for that which is brand new and unfamiliar – I’ve even written about embracing that type of discomfort on this very blog in the last year. And while the focus of this post has been purely around stories and music, my line of thinking extends to how we live our lives and interact with each other. So much has changed in my life in the last year and while I’ve settled into new routines (thereby grounding myself in repeating familiar daily and weekly activities), I’ve also found myself venturing into unknown territory that’s far from the standard mould of life that I (or society) believed was the only way of living. I followed one template for life (and lived it well) for many years and then it fell apart… Leading me to question if that template is the right one for me, or if there is a different template that exists that I ought to follow, or if I just need to live life without any template at all… Which would be a life of zero repetition in the act of doing things differently and embracing the new or unknown. (Scary! Maybe Exciting!)

As I run through the list of things that repeat in my life that I love passionately, #1 on the list has to be the changing of the seasons. The consistency of observing one season melt into the next is probably one of the most beautiful markers of the passage of time in my life. Spring will always follow Winter. The leaves will always change colour as Summer transitions to Fall. The sun will set in a different spot in the sky throughout the course of a year. In this corner of the world, I know with certainty that the seasons at their very core will always be a constant in my life and that’s incredibly comforting. But, at the same time, I know that every season will be a little bit different than the last… We can know without question that it will eventually snow here, but when and how much is unknown.

So maybe that’s the trick to finding a balance between repeat offenders and new inventors. We can embrace repetition by acknowledging and nodding to things that occurred in the past while simultaneously valuing and striving for something just a little bit different and somewhat new within the act of repeating. For all I know, “Excuses” is an intentional riff on “At Last” (I think that they are both hopelessly romantic in their own way within their respective eras). This blog is often an unintentional source of repetition – whenever I write a post, I question if I’ve used the same words too many times or if I’ve repeated certain phrases or ideas in older posts, but even in that doubt I know that there’s a unique story in every post, even when it refers back to something I’ve already spoken about. And anyway, I think I’ve decided that repetition isn’t necessarily a bad thing… In fact, I actively embraced it today. (Did you notice the repeated use of brackets? Didn’t I already have a blog post title that refers to repeat offenders? Did I use the word repetition a lot? Did I ask several open-ended questions?) Let me repeat: This is random, but it is interconnected.

Filter/No Filter

Here is my latest confession: I’ve turned into an Instagram junkie. No shame – it’s slowly become my creative outlet in 2016 in the absence of writing. There doesn’t seem to be enough time to keep this blog alive (at least not right now, in this new phase of my life that’s focused on staying active and getting myself out of the house as much as possible) but I still feel an unyielding desire for artistic expression and creativity that needs to be addressed… And Instagram somehow satisfies that need in a simple and beautiful way. Is that lame? I don’t really care.

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There’s something strange and fascinating about my addiction to this tool that I see as a medium for art, because it is simultaneously a vehicle for human interaction and individualized narcissism. (Not to mention that it’s owned by Facebook, an entity that I begrudgingly embrace only because you basically can’t exist in modern times without being on the book.) Art, social, and ego. In my world on Instagram these three very different concepts exist and play together in an interesting way, highlighting and sometimes undercutting each other.

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At the most basic level Instagram is a social tool, giving us yet another way to interact with our friends by letting them know what we are up to in a single frame. We will often take this a step further, bringing them in on the action by tagging them when they are in the photos. The act of tagging someone in a picture on Instagram is a modern expression of love to a certain degree – to tag or mention someone in a comment is a deliberate connection with that person in our online world. And in this tech-pervasive society, our online connections are fundamental if not an extension of our offline human relationships – hasn’t it become the status quo to maintain a relationship both online and offline? What’s even more interesting to me is Instagram’s capacity for human interaction beyond our existing connections – by applying a hashtag that is used by thousands (or millions), we can gather likes or new followers and this human interaction with strangers is fulfilling in a very different way.

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At a deeper level, Instagram is a tool that feeds our narcissistic egos by allowing us to show ourselves off in a very calculated way. I still believe that everyone filters themselves online by choosing to show a specific narrative about their lives that they want others to see, and this is perfectly epitomized in the act of sharing a photo of oneself with the public. I would never willingly post a picture of myself that I do not absolutely love and while I certainly do not post that many pictures of myself on Instagram, I completely understand why people do. The one time I indulged my narcissistic side and posted a photo of my solitary self grinning at the camera, the overwhelming positive feedback in likes and comments was incredibly rewarding. It gave me a little boost that was totally unexpected, so I agree with and encourage the narcissism (in moderation) because it is healthy to feel good about ourselves and engage in self-love. And sometimes it can be difficult to do this alone, so using this tool to receive positive encouragement and reinforcement can be a good start.

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The simple act of tapping that little heart can potentially brighten someone’s day and have a huge impact. This is a beautiful illustration of social and ego playing together on Instagram and it’s one of the reasons that I have come to adore this little application. It is truly a vehicle for beauty, human interaction, and self-love… And as a student of Communications who exited school just as social media was ramping up, it is endlessly thought-provoking and entertaining to look at Instagram from these different angles and through different filters (pun absolutely intended).

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The role of the hashtag feels fairly significant in all of this. This is something I learned quickly in my adventures on WordPress – adding tags to a blog post has a direct correlation to the number of people who actually read the post – and the same logic applies on Instagram. Where that element of human interaction is concerned, the hashtag is inarguably a means to an end if your goal is to connect with strangers in this online world. Of course, there are opposing views on the matter, or at least I get the sense that people tend to have varied (and very strong) opinions about the hashtag. Personally, I have mixed emotions.

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On one hand, the hashtag is a great way to expose yourself and get your photos in front of a wider audience because a “real” hashtag will invariably get you more likes (which I suppose is sort of the point in view of that element of human interaction and connecting with others). On the other hand, it feels like a contrived attempt at getting the most likes and comments possible to feed the ego, and on top of that it seems completely silly and strange that our entire society now communicates with these little clips of text. I’m even guilty of taking the hashtag offline into verbal communication or text messages… Why? What is it about a hashtag that says something more than the simple words themselves? Is there something more concise or definitive about putting that symbol in front of a word (or many words)? #whydoesthisfeelmoremeaningful than just writing the words themselves?

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Ah, the hashtag… An enigma and polarizing entity that I still haven’t wrapped my head around. As a result, I often find myself presenting a mix of both “real” hashtags along with silly and over-the-top “unreal” hashtags that are so unbearably long that nobody could actually make them into something reusable that people would follow. Which is sort of the point, to laugh at the medium of the hashtag and ironically participate while also accepting that this is the norm and way to get that exposure and feeling of community that comes with sharing a photo with strangers. Social and ego, playing together again. My profile is public for a reason – like others, at least I suspect, I am trying to build an online persona that is a mix of a filtered and somewhat unreal version myself while being an equally genuine representation of who I am, what is important to me, and what I find to be beautiful in the world.

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This online persona is a projection of who I really want to be. She is happy-go-lucky, open, friendly, artistic, and maybe she does something other than a corporate day job. She is mysterious and creative and has a good eye for framing shots, and just like everyone else online, she knows how to apply a good filter. Her profile is public because she is unafraid of sharing who she is and she wants to embrace the world with open arms. She uses hashtags like #sunset and #montreal unabashedly, not to get more followers but in the hope that she will connect with people.

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But of course in this online persona and in real life, I do want to be honest… So let’s get real, I obviously apply a filter on nearly all of the pictures that I post on Instagram… But doesn’t everyone? I don’t think there’s anything wrong with trying to make the world more beautiful and that’s really what the filter allows me to do, at least until Apple finally invents a camera on their phone that can 100% capture the true beauty of the incredible scenes that I frame with my iPhone.

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Beyond the feeling that it’s impossible to capture the real thing, it’s equally appealing to me that you can apply a filter onto a photo and all of a sudden something looks that much more beautiful – it can be more glossy, or have a softer edge, or feel classically retro, or be more vibrant and colourful. Suddenly there is something a little unreal about it, and even though you know it is unreal, it still feels somewhat truthful. It is a challenging concept though because this means that I am publicly presenting and giving myself a filtered memory of that moment. When I look back on these pictures, I will have to acknowledge that they are not entirely representative of that precise moment in real life. But memory is already a bit of a haze as it is, so what’s wrong with giving it a nice glow?

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With that being said, here in the photos I have shared you should know the unfiltered truth behind them. Some of the nights that I went to watch those sunsets I felt very sad and lonely. Some nights I felt really, really good about myself and thought that I was on top of the world. Some nights I felt very witty and clever and pleased to be taking such beautiful pictures. Some nights I was just content to be watching the sunset while listening to good music. Some nights I felt frustrated and angry with myself for being too focused on posting a picture. Some nights I felt like I was perfectly aligned with the universe and exactly where I was supposed to be. On all of those nights, I am fairly certain that none of these emotions were conveyed in the captions included with those pictures. That’s Instagram. #Filter. #NoFilter.

Music Is My Boyfriend.

Does anyone else remember this Apple commercial?

It popped into my head yesterday on my drive home from work as I was dancing in my car in traffic (you’re welcome by the way, fellow commuters, for those entertaining moves) and I had this pretty huge revelation that music is in fact my boyfriend. To be clear, this isn’t because I am now single – even when I was with my ex I was essentially cheating on him every day with music, my true and unwavering lover. Thank you, CSS, for creating Music Is My Hot Hot Sex, because this song literally describes a reality that I think many of us feel, which is that music can be someone’s life, their escape, their release, their passion, their religion, their everything.

Is this a universal truth? Maybe not. I know some people who aren’t bothered by silence and feel no need to fill their lives with music. But for me, my life isn’t really complete without a soundtrack and I can’t imagine a world without the incredible compositions and words that fill my ears on a daily basis.

Before I go any further though… can we talk about that Apple commercial? It is almost unbearably dated, so much so that I had to watch it three times and found myself laughing harder and harder with each viewing. iPods! The size and shape of the device! That keyboard! Those app icons! The blue bar at the bottom of Safari! iTunes!!! They all look archaic! And I’m pretty sure this only dates back to the late 2000’s… yikes. I feel old.

But about my boyfriend. He’s the greatest. He always knows exactly how to change my mood when I need it, or complement it when I just want to embrace the emotion I happen to be feeling in a given moment. He takes me dancing, he helps me fall asleep, he keeps me company when I’m cooking dinner, he makes cleaning the house waaaaaay more fun, he helps me stay sane when I’m stuck in traffic, he keeps me calm and happy when I’m at work, and he fills my life with love.

It’s sort of challenging to write about something auditory – how can I really explain my love of music when all I have is words? The only option is to embrace the medium and share some lyrics from a very small sampling of some of the songs that I love. Disclaimer: This is probably the most random collection of quotes you will come across in your lifetime… Some are happy. Some are sad. Some are deep. Some are silly. Some are weird. Some are really special to me. I present these with no commentary – just the words are enough, at least for me. I hope you enjoy them.

“One good thing about music, when it hits you feel no pain.” Bob Marley, Trenchtown Rock.

“If there was a better way to go then it would find me, I can’t help it, the road just rolls out behind me, Be kind to me, or treat me mean, I’ll make the most of it, I’m an extraordinary machine.” Fiona Apple, Extraordinary Machine.

“It’s the terror of knowing, What this world is about…” Queen + David Bowie, Under Pressure.

“Love is the answer, At least for most of the questions in my heart, Like: Why are we here, and Where do we go, and How come it’s so hard?” Jack Johnson, Better Together.

“Cause it’s a bittersweet symphony, this life, Try to make ends meet, You’re a slave to money then you die.” The Verve, Bittersweet Symphony.

“When food is gone you are my daily meal.” Florence and the Machine, You’ve Got The Love.

“No one will be watching us, Why don’t we do it in the road?” The Beatles, Why Don’t We Do It In The Road.

“I’ll write you a song and it won’t be hard to sing, It will be a natural anthem, familiar it will seem.” The Postal Service, Natural Anthem.

“Now how can he have her heart, When it got stole, So he tries to pacify her, Cause what’s inside her never dies.” Amy Winehouse, He Can Only Hold Her.

“When I was young, I dreamt of a passionate obligation to a roommate.” Father John Misty, Bored In The USA.

“You were sorta punk rock, I grew up on hip hop, But you fit me better than my favourite sweater, and I know, That love is mean, and love hurts…” Lana Del Rey, Blue Jeans.

“I can’t tell you how I feel, My heart is like a wheel, Let me roll it.” Paul McCartney, Let Me Roll It.

“All my life I’ve stepped to the rhythm of the drums inside my head.” MØ, Walk This Way.

“Don’t get any big ideas, They’re not gonna happen.” Radiohead, Nude.

“Home is wherever I’m with you.” Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, Home.

“I wish that I knew what I know now, When I was younger.” Faces, Ooh La La.

“It’s better to feel pain, than nothing at all, The opposite of love’s indifference.” The Lumineers, Stubborn Love.

“It’s not him who’d come across, The sea to surprise you, Not him who would know, Where in London to find you.” Feist, The Park.

“Stand beside it, we can’t hide the way it makes us glow, It’s no good unless it grows, feel this burning, love of mine.” Beach House, Take Care.

“We could slow dance to rock music, Kiss while we do it, Talk til we both turn blue…” Lana Del Rey, Freak.

Honestly, I could go on for hours and I feel like I haven’t even scratched the surface. So many of the artists and genres I adore aren’t represented here – what can I say, it’s just impossible to really capture all of my boyfriend’s nuances and special traits! And this doesn’t even come close to covering songs without words (or songs with words that I can’t quite make out). Those wordless songs hit me just as hard as the poets I’ve quoted above. Is is possible for me to describe this feeling? When I hear certain chords or a sequence of notes that are so beautiful, or even the simple ooh-ing and ahh-ing of an amazing artist, it’s like this swelling emotion that starts in my heart and expands through my entire body. It fills me up and makes that intangible concept of one’s spirit feel real… because that energy and magic I feel when I listen to really good music can’t really be attributed to anything else but my spirit. Music. Are you my spirit animal?

I know, I’m gushing. I sound like someone who’s newly in love but the funny thing is, this boyfriend has been around forever and my love for him only grows. I love him. I will always love him. He is mine and I am his.

Thirty Thoughts

2015 was a big year. I turned 30. I travelled to my favourite places and saw my favourite people. I celebrated the (very) bittersweet 5-year anniversary of purchasing my first house (also known as the end of my first mortgage term) only a few months after agreeing to end the 7-year relationship with the man who shared that home with me. I learned how to live alone. I felt like I was really growing up in a way I’ve never felt before.

It was a doozy, and who knows what 2016 will bring… But it seems fitting to kick off my first post of the year with some random thoughts that came to me over the course of 2015. Call it 30 years of “wisdom” (used with overly enthusiastic air quotes since I feel neither wise nor old enough to give advice). Or more accurately, call it a cumulative list of musings gathered from countless discussions with family, friends, myself, and readings from this brilliant female duo you may be familiar with – Amy Poehler and Tiny Fey.

Here, in no particular order, are an aging 30-year-old lady’s thoughts:

1. Meal planning is quite possibly the best thing I did for myself in 2015. I’m so glad that I committed to sharing my menu adventuring on this blog because it made me accountable to myself and my invisible online friends to keep it up and I benefited by building a repertoire of meals and techniques to maintain a (relatively) healthy diet and stable routine. I’m still at it in 2016 in a different kind of way – but I feel like I laid the groundwork for keeping this going for the rest of my adult life. On a related note…

2. Being an adult is hard. Why does nobody tell you this when you’re a kid?! Seriously. This is no walk in the park. Meal planning, making and keeping a budget, working hard and trying to find work-life balance, maintaining adult friendships, being in a long-term relationship with a partner, trying to be responsible while simultaneously trying to enjoy life… None of it comes easy. I still haven’t figured out this whole grown up thing, and I’m not sure I ever will.

3. Nobody ever grows up and nobody ever really feels their age. The week I turned 30, I told my mom that I still felt like a teenager and she responded that she still feels like she’s 30, so I am now convinced that age is a weird abstract concept and that nobody anywhere in the world actually feels like a real-life grown up. (Anyone care to argue this point? Are there any responsible adults reading this blog?) I think the reality is, we just go along year after year and figure it out as we go. At certain points in time we stop and realize that years have passed and in those fleeting moments we see that we are constantly growing and changing without realizing or understanding how. Really, we’re all just big kids.

4. Impatience is an ugly trait and I need to remember to slow down. You’d think I would learn from the past – the whole time I was a kid and teenager I just wanted to grow up so I could be an adult and live my fabulous life. But, uhhh, see above, point #2. Being an adult isn’t that much fun and I wish I could go back in time to tell myself to stop rushing. And here I am now, just as impatient as I was all those years ago, wanting to move forward and race through this totally weird and uncertain time in my life even though my future is just as ambiguous. I’m impatient ALL THE TIME – whatever I want, I want it NOW. It’s something I really dislike in myself and need to work on.

5. I don’t care as much about making my hair do things it doesn’t want to do. I used to blow dry my hair every other day (I’ve got a bad case of straight hair envy) but since the day I turned 30, I sort of stopped caring about wasting my time trying to tame my crazy curly-thin-but-sometimes-thick-wavy-can’t-decide-what-it-wants-to-do hair. As soon as I let it go I got all kinds of compliments, and, even better, I started to feel more like my real self – as though I was saying to the world, “Yeah, this is my frizzy hair. It’s part of who I am. Deal with it.” Now I can’t imagine myself wearing my hair any other way. (Although I won’t lie – when I get my hair cut and professionally blow dried, I still looooove the look of that silky straight hair.)

6. I am starting to love my body by appreciating and caring for it as though it is a temple. This is happening in a few distinct ways. I started to moisturize my whole body on a daily basis. I floss my teeth almost regularly. I now jog / run / walk a few times a week on a treadmill at the office gym. (It is soooo boring but feels so good to be exercising!) And the most special treatment my body gets is the wonderful practice of yoga, at least twice if not several times a week. Yoga. Wow. It feels amazing and it’s one of those things where I really can’t find words to describe how it makes me feel, except to say that I come out of every session feeling powerful and in control of my body and life.

7. There really is not enough time in the day. With my new routine of treadmill or yoga after work, I’m getting home later than ever so by the time I make dinner and clean up, it’s almost time for bed. Now that my house is for sale, I find my weekends are occupied with keeping the house tidy and clean (while fitting in yoga in the morning). I still have the weekend cooking parties that I adopted in my year of meal planning but the process is even more rigorous so I can pre-cook as much as possible ahead the weeknights knowing that I will be home so late. No matter how hard I try to get up early to tidy on workdays when I have a visit at the house, I somehow get into work later and later. How does one fit in everything they need to do on a daily basis? Getting back to writing the blog has felt nearly impossible, not to mention trying to get myself out more so I don’t become a crazy cat lady who lives alone forever without friends or acquaintances or lovers.

8. Let go of what doesn’t serve you. This is one of the many wisdom nuggets I have picked up from my yoga practice and it’s a beautiful thought that the instructor repeats at each of her sessions. When I feel a negative thought or emotion bubbling up inside of me, I acknowledge it and I feel it in its entirety because I know there’s a reason I feel that way in that moment. But once I’ve felt what I need to feel, I try really hard to let it go. Holding onto anger or sadness or bitterness (or any of that bad stuff) will do nothing to make your life better – it will only bring you down and it gives you no power to move forward. It doesn’t serve you, so move on.

9. Living alone isn’t so bad. The last few months I have adjusted to living alone and I actually quite enjoy it – you can sing as loud as you want, choose what to watch on Netflix, set the menu, and do whatever you want, whenever you want. You make your own schedule and get into your own groove, and keep your home exactly how you want it without negotiating or checking with someone to see if what you’re doing works for them. It’s actually very liberating. (But it can get a little lonely sometimes.)

10. Being alone and being lonely are different things. I learned this fairly quickly as I got used to being single and home alone in a house without another human. Alone time is great. (See above!) You can use the quiet time to reflect on your life, yourself, where you are and where you want to go… all things that sort of get lost in the background when you are surrounded by others. Being alone is a good practice. But being lonely – that’s a different story. Longing for company and feeling like you are missing something by not being with another human isn’t healthy in the way that being alone with yourself is. I think we are made to have companionship, so loneliness is natural when we are left alone for long enough.

11. Dancing is always a good idea. There hasn’t been enough dancing in my life and I intend to make up for lost time in the coming years. When I get those lonely feelings during my alone time, I blast music in my living room and have a solo dance party and immediately feel better. Last weekend I was terribly sick with a cold but I danced out some of the sickness with friends. Dancing is always a good idea.

12. Apparently I have a little feminist rage inside of me. I am acutely aware of what it means to be a woman in the workplace and how it is a different experience for men. It is so subtle and institutional (and certainly not always intentional) but it is always there, underpinning the way we interact with each other. Witnessing it is almost unreal – to sit in a meeting and state a valid opinion and see it get dismissed, only to be acknowledged minutes later when a man says the exact same thing is unbelievable (and insanely frustrating). GIRL POWER!

13. Friends that are gems of the world are precious and we must hold tight to them. This is the sweetest thought that my sister shared with me from a friend of hers and it is the simplest but strongest sentiment to summarize how important it is to hold on to those really special friends in our lives that bring us light and positivity and joy. On a related note, making friends is hard! So hard. It makes me appreciate my gems even more. Now move home, would you? (You know who you are!)

14. Turning 30 felt like no big deal, but turning 31 in a few months feels REALLY OLD. Why? Aging is so weird.

15. Keeping a clean house is a pain but sooooooo nice. Ah, the joys of trying to sell your house. It means that you have to be continually ready to have strangers walk through your home at any given moment… Which is a pain and quite frankly, starting to get really old. I know… it’s a necessary evil… but on the positive side, I have learned that I actually really like to have a tidy and immaculately clean living space. In the past I wouldn’t bother with it but now that I’m in the habit of cleaning up after myself on a daily basis, I just can’t stop. It’s so refreshing and serene to come home to a de-cluttered house.

16. Remember empathy and love for others, always. Empathy hits me like a punch to the gut sometimes and I feel so much for others when I hear about a personal tragedy, but then I tend to forget about maintaining this in day to day life. Having gone through my divorce and spending many, many days in a total daze at work or out and about on the weekend has taught me that we must always try to remember that we never know what someone might be going through and we should always be kind to each other.

17. I’ve stopped being afraid of saying what I want to say. This has been a really big leap for me. I used to worry about rubbing people the wrong way, or scaring them off, or revealing how “crazy” I am, or putting myself into the vulnerable position of being let down after being totally honest and open. But I’ve tried really hard to let go of the fear and just say what I want, when I want. (Of course, always thinking before I speak! I don’t want to hurt anyone, I just want to be honest and truthful to myself.)

18. Everyone’s path is different and it’s important to stay focused on your own. Facebook really challenges this idea because it is a daily reminder of all the things people are doing and achieving – or at least, what they are choosing to publicize. I went so far as to delete the app off my phone for a couple years because I started subconsciously berating myself for not being in the same place as people I went to school with. But then I remembered that we all glamourize our lives online and it really doesn’t matter where others are compared to me, because their lives ultimately have no impact on my own. We’re all on different roads going at a different pace, and that’s OK.

19. It’s easier to care less about what people think the older you get. Or at least I hope it is – there are some days that I question if I have really gotten to the point where I can safely say that I don’t care at all, but sometimes it really feels this way. In the last year, I’ve gotten tattoos on my wrists, starting saying whatever I want at work (and outside of work), I’ve stopped worrying as much about what people think of my appearance by focusing instead on what makes me happy and comfortable, and and and… it’s liberating.

20. It’s also easier to be more sure of what you want as you get older. Maybe it’s the divorce talking but things have never been clearer to me in terms of what I want in a partner, how I want to treat that partner, what I want in life, what I want RIGHT NOW and what I want tomorrow. It doesn’t mean I can have those things immediately, but the clarity is wonderful. (Even if that clarity sometimes gets blurred and confused – which it tends to do!)

21. I’m still a hopeless dreamer and romantic who believes that something great is ahead. I mean… I know my life isn’t like a movie (no life is) but I still believe that I will eventually have a great love, a great career, a great home, a great life… Is that foolish? Optimistic? Basic? I don’t really care. All I know is that I believe that loving hard and wanting to love and be loved is a beautiful thing, and sort of the whole point of our crazy existence. I believe it is out there for me, not only romantically but in the way I want to live the rest of my life.

22. A well stocked wine rack is a blessing, but also dangerous. So very dangerous.

23. Logic and emotion are at opposite ends of a spectrum that I cannot master. These guys do NOT see eye to eye but in my brain they are equals, fighting each other constantly with the same weight and pulling me from one end to the other. The emotional side makes me feel ALL the emotions in the most extreme way while the logical side makes me reason with and explain the emotions, either telling me why I shouldn’t feel a certain way or helping me to understand the emotion even if I can’t pull myself out of it. These guys really need to buddy up. It would help me feel a little less crazy. Speaking of opposite ends of a spectrum…

24. Life is paradoxical and confusing. Is it just me? Is it because I’m a Gemini? It seems to me that we are surrounded by paradox and that we must constantly negotiate between these battling juxtapositions whether internally or externally. For example: My current mood includes frustration at myself for being indecisive about a good number of open questions in my life at this exact moment while also trying to hold onto my laid back mantra of “nonetofigo” that tells me to sit back and NOT decide, trusting that things will work out. I feel a strong desire to be alone now that I’m single, but an equally strong desire to have someone special in my life. I feel the need to propel myself forward into a new phase of my life but also feel terrified at the thought of moving forward, instead opting for the safety and comfort of standing still.

25. There could be something to astrology. When I was younger, I remember reading my horoscope in the newspaper nearly every morning, but none of it ever made sense or really seemed to apply. I’ve always sort of appreciated astrology at a distance – not really paying too much attention but knowing the details at a high level. But more recently I find myself really seeing myself and others as those cosmic signs attributed to the time of year we are born. Really though. I am SUCH Gemini. My twins are constantly fighting each other in my head or tagging in and out in my dealings with the world.

26. It is good to challenge yourself to say yes, but just as good to challenge yourself to say no too. I believe so strongly in trying to live with yes energy. It’s this special attitude focused on positivity, an openness to saying yes, and a constant endeavour to push that yes out into the universe so you can give and get it back. For a Gemini like me, it’s hard to keep at it all the time (that evil twin comes out, and she can be a real downer). But I’m working hard to try to say yes more, keeping in mind that it’s OK to say no. A friend reminds me regularly to practice saying yes, but not to forget to practice saying no when something doesn’t feel right or just isn’t what I want.

27. Being uncomfortable can be a good thing. It means that you might be pushing yourself to try something new. It means that you might be opening yourself up to an incredible experience because you’ve said yes instead of no. It means that you might be on the verge of some significant personal change and growth. It means you might be accepting that change sucks but is something we gotta do. Or it might mean that your jeans are too tight. That’s a bad kind of uncomfortable.

28. You have to keep pushing yourself, ALWAYS. Nobody else is going to do it for you. You can be encouraged by others (directly or indirectly) but at the end of the day, they won’t be there to nudge you forward. Push out of your comfort zone, push to keep doing the thing you want to do (or don’t want to do but know you need to do). Push past the fear of saying what you really want to say. Push yourself and great things will happen. But, pushing ourselves isn’t always easy… I know this from experience…

29. Pushing to keep this blog alive is a challenge. Just like pushing myself to run or go to yoga, just like getting myself out of my comfort zone to enhance my life, just like everything that requires giving myself a nudge, I love writing this blog so much and it feels so great to do it… but somehow it just doesn’t come easy. It’s like knowing how good I will feel after yoga but really having to force myself to go sometimes – I’m still working at it.

30. Just Ride. Lana Del Rey knows what’s up: “I hear the birds on the summer breeze, I drive fast, I am alone at midnight, Been trying hard not to get into trouble, but I, I’ve got a war in my mind, So I just ride, Just ride… I’m tired of feeling like I’m fucking crazy, I’m tired of driving ’til I see stars in my eyes, It’s all I’ve got to keep myself sane, baby, So I just ride, I just ride.”

The Gift of Holiday Cheese

Happy Holidays to you and yours! There’s no meal plan this week because I’m officially on vacation, going with the flow, spending time with the family, and generally just living life instead of planning it. As a nod to my usual shenanigans on here I thought I would share something special as a gift to the online universe (tis the season): The Gift of Holiday Cheese, my recipe for homemade mac n’ cheese, which I have included on the menu quite possibly a dozen times over the last year.

But first, I dedicate this post to my late Grandma Phyllis, who was the originator of this homemade delight. Grandma Phil guarded this recipe closely and wouldn’t share it with anyone for years – at least that’s how I remember it. She used to cook the most delectable goods when we visited… including mini cupcakes that were straight up magical and imprinted in my memory for all eternity. Somehow her mac n’ cheese became the stuff of legend in my childhood and I can remember her *finally* breaking down one day to tell me that “it’s really just a cheese sauce with chips on top”. I guess it wasn’t really that groundbreaking but at the same time, it made me feel so special when she whispered the secret in my little ear. My mother started making her own version of my Grandma Phil’s mac n’ cheese in our household soon after with an outrageously easy cheese sauce that’s made in the microwave and here I am, a couple decades later, carrying on the tradition.

(Grandma, I hope you aren’t pissed that I’m giving this recipe to the entire online world, but in my defence, my final product really doesn’t compare to yours so I’m sure there was some other secret you weren’t sharing!)

INGREDIENTS

1/4 cup butter (or margarine)

4 tablespoons of flour

2 tablespoons of powdered chicken stock*

*Note: If you don’t have powdered chicken stock then you can just use an additional 2 tablespoons of flour instead, but you’ll want to add salt to the cheese sauce since it is seasoned by the chicken stock.

2 cups of milk (or cream, or a mix of milk and cream… whatever floats your boat)

2 cups of grated sharp cheddar cheese (other cheeses are acceptable!)

3/4 package of macaroni

1 generous cup of BBQ chips (Ruffles brand is the very best in my opinion)

Grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

DIRECTIONS

**Note: The recipe for this cheese sauce is made in the microwave. It’s so basic I feel like I should preface these directions by pointing out that you could easily make the sauce on the stovetop by just heating the milk slowly and whisking until it thickens… I’ve never done this myself because the microwave method is so tried and true, but I’ve made enough roux in my day to know that doing this on the stovetop would most probably yield the same results.

  • Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  • Boil the macaroni according to the time indicated on the package while you prepare the cheese sauce.
  • In a large bowl, melt the butter in the microwave for about 30 seconds to 1 minute.
  • Add the flour and powdered chicken stock to the melted butter and mix well with a whisk.

butter-flour

  • When the dry ingredients are well incorporated, add the milk and stir to combine.

flour-milk

  • Microwave for 6 minutes (or until thickened), removing from the microwave every minute to stir the mixture with the whisk.

microwave

  • Once thickened, stir the cheese into the mixture until it is completely melted.

cheese

  • Add the cheese sauce to the cooked macaroni and stir well to coat all the pasta.

mac

  • Prep the chips for the top of the casserole by putting them into a plastic bag and smashing them with something heavy, like a glass measuring cup or your fists.

chips

  • Grease a baking dish, add the cheesy macaroni, and top with the crushed chips and Parmesan cheese.

bake

  • Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, until the top of the casserole is golden brown.

mac-n-cheese

Yum. Yum, yum, yum. Lately I have taken to doubling the recipe so I can make 2 casseroles and freeze 1. To reheat the casserole from frozen, you just throw it into the oven at 375°F for 1 hour, covered in aluminium foil. Remove the foil and continue to cook for another 15 minutes, or longer if it isn’t fully heated through. (My thanks to Martha Stewart for the guidance on cooking / reheating frozen pasta casseroles.)

My hope is that you will enjoy this cheesy dish as much as I do, whether on a cold winter night or any other time of the year. Because, really. Cheese.

On the Menu: Pre-Vacay Goodies

The countdown is on. Well… it’s been on for a few weeks now, but I’m FINALLY in the last stretch – I have 5 working days until I take 3 full weeks off work, and I’m starting to feel extreme levels of excitement. This is pretty standard; my job is hectic on the best of days so it’s as though I am just in a whirlwind tornado of insanity the last few days before I take time off, so much so that I can’t really appreciate how much I am looking forward to the break until I exit the building on my last day and feel that palpable weight off my shoulders along with the sweet taste of freedom.

This time around is no exception. My week is already shaping up to be pure madness at work, so come Friday I will be doing the happiest of happy dances at 6PM when I walk out the door of the office. (Please, pretty please, let it be 6PM that I finish and not later!)

The menu this week has been designed knowing that the next 5 days will be high on the intensity barometer – so the plan is all about fast, easy, minimal effort, and lots of leftovers.

menu-12-13

Weekend Food Party: On Saturday night I made Stuffed Peppers with a salad on the side. There’s something about the mix of ground beef and rice and onions and garlic that feels so right – it’s definitely what I’d call comfort food. Although I’m only cooking for one, I still stuffed two peppers so I can have leftovers for lunch on Monday.

For dinner tonight, this Italian Sausage Bake, which is currently roasting in the oven / smelling incredible. Granted, one shouldn’t really need a recipe for such a basic dish (roast veggies and meat, eat) but I’ve actually pinned this twice on my “Gotta Try This Recipe” board on Pinterest, so clearly I was feeling drawn to Katie’s Cucina and had to give this specific recipe a try. I’ve cut down on the ingredients ever so slightly since I am not feeding a crowd, but there will still be plenty left for dinner and lunch later this week.

Monday: Ginger Sesame Chicken Salad. I tried this recipe from Curtis Stone once and fell in love, so I’m looking forward to making it for the second time ever. As always, I am certain that I will have leftovers of this salad, so I will probably plan to spread it out over a couple days for lunch at work.

Tuesday: Freezer Food! There’s quite the build-up of goodies in my freezer from the last couple of weeks and months (Turkey Chili, Chicken Enchilada Casserole, Mac n’ Cheese) so I’m going to plan to defrost something – most likely the chili – to enjoy this week on a night that I’m going to be late getting home from the office.

Wednesday-Thursday-Friday: Leftovers galore. Seriously, even with the few meals planned and noted above, I think I will have too much food in the fridge. Plus my older sister comes into town on Friday (YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY!!!!!!!!!) so I’m pretty sure something will happening with the family that evening. Three cheers for vacation time!!!