Posts Tagged food

The contradictions of the Christmas list

It’s right around this time of year when an assignment comes due. This isn’t an assignment at work or at the career center where I volunteer — it’s one I owe my family.

Thanksgiving hasn’t even hit, and it’s Christmas List time in my think-ahead family. When I complete the assignment of emailing my mom some things I’d like as gifts, I’m sure to feel the same way I’ve felt each year after sending that email: materialistic.

There’s no avoiding it. I will have just sent a message about, you guessed it, material goods. And I will have thrown out the window the idea of need and listed a bunch of wants, unnecessary yet fun things like new Ugg boots, expensive running tights and back massage certificates.

Listing what I want for Christmas makes me feel selfish and spoiled — things I’ve worked hard throughout my twenties not to be. I’m blessed to have a supportive and stable family, but I try not to take advantage of that.

Throughout the year, I pay all my own expenses and try to do little things, like send real thank-you letters, keep in good touch with close friends, share candy and goodies at the office and call my grandparents occasionally, that show my appreciation for all the fantastic advantages and privileges in my life. In my heart, I’m thankful.

On Thursday when we go around the table and list things we’re grateful for, I’ll have plenty to say — my mostly enjoyable, challenging and important job, my reasonable and understanding boss, my simple ability to move all of my body parts and function fully, without disability, my enjoyment of physical activity and healthy eating, the friends I know will always be in my life, my faith, my fiancee and plenty more. I have so many things to be thankful for, but I know I don’t show it enough.

And then Christmas rolls around. And there are so many celebrations. Believe me, I’m not complaining. Just listing all the occasions for which people want to buy me gifts, even if I don’t need them, makes me see the blessing and the curse of it all.

There’s the real Christmas day, on which my family still has managed to celebrate with gifts in the morning despite three twenty-somethings working new-kid schedules that often include holidays. Then there’s Christmas afternoon, when my fiancee’s family gathers for a gift extravaganza that hasn’t scaled itself back to a Secret Santa or a cards-only occasion. Before the big day, my mom’s side of the family gathers over the weekend for a variation on the Secret Santa theme, and it’s a grand fiesta of family and festive foods. Before even that, it’s my fiancee’s family at it again, gathering for the German tradition of St. Nicholas Day.

It’s a first-world problem, for sure, but the spectacular celebrations of Christmas always make me feel materialistic along with blessed and loved. I’ll make some donations, but somewhere inside I’ll still feel selfish. I’ll give plenty of gifts to others, and I’ll put as much time and thought into them as I can. But I’ll still feel some guilt about the nice things I’ll gladly receive regardless of need.

Christmas isn’t supposed to be a time for materialism. So it’s time to change the focus. When my Christmas list comes due, I’ll find a way to complete the assignment — I am a rule follower, after all. But maybe, gradually, I’ll also find a way to work less material goods into the picture, leaving more room for what the season truly is all about: love, family, support, charity and a fresh start. Wishing you all that and more this holiday season.

Speak soon. Stay lucky.



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How to do laundry: A twenty-something approach

I still approach laundry like a college student.

Oh, the hamper is overflowing? No biggie. It can wait a couple more days. This doesn’t all want to fit into the washer? Too bad. Stuff it down harder. It’s not quite dry yet? Oh well, I’m out of quarters – time to air dry! No more socks? Well these ones don’t stink too bad – throw ‘em on again! And why bother sorting anything by color or fabric type? Wash it all in cold and you’re good to go.

“Don’t worry if you forget to add the laundry soap,” my mom told me during one laundry lesson before my freshman year of college. “As long as everything gets sloshed around in there, it’s better than nothing.”

That “better than nothing” philosophy still permeates my laundry habits today. That’s why I’m not picky about load size, type or colors. And I usually skimp on the powdered laundry detergent, too, buying the cheapest or second-cheapest variety at Wal-Mart and never filling the scooper completely to the top before dumping it to the bottom of the washer and calling it good enough.

I don’t advocate for a “good enough” or “better than nothing” philosophy in other areas of life. I’m all about keeping my word and exceeding expectations in my career. I’m all about being thoughtful, caring and loyal toward others in my personal life, definitely not about doing the bare minimum in anything that matters. I keep my life organized (except that my to-do lists often become messy) and my apartment clean (except when I’m attempting to bake chocolate chip banana bread), and I take care of my possessions so they’ll last a long time.

But when it comes to laundry, I’m not a stickler. I’m not a germaphobe. I know people aren’t very observant, so that speck of blue ballpoint pen ink on my light khaki pants surely will go unnoticed. I know people are lazy, so if I show up to work in an un-ironed shirt that’s slightly wrinkly, either no one will notice, or they’ll smile and understand. I guess I just have better things to worry about than what temperature my clothes reach inside the shared washer at my apartment and whether my sheets are washed with my dishcloths or the T-shirt rags I use to clean the bathroom sink.

The college philosophy is great – give it the old college try. Stay up until 2 a.m. and sleep until 9, then still make it to a 9:30 a.m. class on time. Think ahead, but only to next weekend or next summer. Try new foods, classes, drinks, experiences. Meet new people and make them your favorites. But spend as little time as possible on dishes, cleaning, paperwork and laundry.

We’ve got all of our lives to manage our households and keep our things fresh and clean. So why spend any more time during the adult version of the “prime of our lives” than we absolutely have to worrying about doing the wash? Even college-style – crammed, procrastinated, mismatched and lacking adequate supplies – the laundry will get done. And that’s something to be thankful for.

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24 reasons twenty-somethings love fall

The weather is beautiful and so are the trees.
Hot chocolate.
It’s no longer back-to-school season.
We’ve grown out of thinking whichever season contains our birthday is automatically the best.
Football is a good reason to drink beer with friends.
Tailgating on asphalt parking lots is no longer a terrible idea.
Caramel apples.
Everything pumpkin.
Pretending to be a kid again in corn mazes.
Weekends don’t get booked as quickly as they did in the summer.
It’s the perfect time to go biking.
Crunchy leaves.
Turkey trots.
Black Friday.
Or, forget that: Online shopping.
Sweaters, blankets and boots are all acceptable again.
It’s a good excuse to cuddle.
Being lazy is quite OK on gray fall days.
The holidays are coming.
Days off are coming.
It’s almost basketball season.
There’s no more need for a beach body.
It’s not winter.

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Now open: Intro to caring for twenty-somethings

There could be a post-college class for twenty-somethings called Intro to Caring. Those of us who occasionally become self-absorbed, or who lack the confidence that we can adequately care for others as well as ourselves, our work responsibilities and our home lives – all at once certainly would benefit. Heck, I’d say we all could benefit from it. And luckily, it’s available if we’re listening. In a sillier world, it’d be a real class, and it’d be something like this:

Intro to Caring (CAR 101): Introduction to Caring for People and Property

Required for anyone who wants to have a car or a bike, house or apartment, bank account, furniture, decorations, clothing, dishes, a plant, a pet and/or a child.

Learn from a variety of sources sharing the best techniques in care for homes, vehicles, fabric, décor, wood, tile and other household materials, finances, personal health (physical and mental), houseplants, grass, trees, bushes, flowers and common garden plants, dogs, cats, turtles and fish, infants, toddlers, children, tweens, teens and budding college students. This course will cover basic maintenance all the way to advanced and precise care for all of the above living and non-living things.

Gain insight from experts about the best routines to provide proper care for all of the people and things under your purview in the most efficient, empathetic, cost-effective and appropriate ways possible. Offers plenty of opportunities for learning by doing and real-world experimentation. Take this course before living on your own, if possible, or at least before buying property (unless you’re playing Monopoly). Be sure to take this course before having a child, especially if maintaining plant life or a pet has proven challenging. Refresher courses are available in various specialties including household maintenance, indoor and outdoor plants, pet care and child care.

Pre-requisites: Birth, pre-school, kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, high school, college (graduation from college preferred but not required)

Instructors: Your parents, grandparents, bosses and slightly older friends, with guest lectures by your favorite aunt, two of your funny uncles, that professor you never wanted to listen to but who was always right, your significant others (of the past and present, but unfortunately not the future) and your middle-school home economics teacher.

Cost: Full commitment to learning to best care for yourself as well as the people, places and things around you. Because that’s what it’s all about. And this is a course called life.

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Twenty-something questions on yoga, wine and dogs

Why does wine after yoga always lead to overly drunken evenings? If downdog is so easy for dogs, then why don’t dogs just teach yoga? Or brew beer? Why don’t all coffee shops already sell beer and wine – or at least Irish coffees?

Why is the laundry machine always taken? Why do some of the best desserts have cereal in them? Will we ever get too old for Reese’s Puffs or Cocoa Crispies? How sad will we be if we do? Where does the word “housework” come from? As a kid, we all do “homework” but when we’re adults we have to do “housework” – what’s the difference, anyway? Will the floors ever stay clean for more than a day? Do you still believe in the 10-second rule?

Why does everyone who’s writing a college paper double space to start a sentence? Were we all just trying to make our papers seem longer? And is that what Taylor Swift’s song “Blank Spaces” is really about? Why is Taylor Swift a guilty pleasure for so many of us? When will we decide our favorite decade of music?

Why can we all get away with blaming the weatherman? Who else was traumatized by the movie, “Twister?” Or “Titanic?” Why don’t we appreciate our parents enough until people our age start becoming parents? Whose parents don’t love wine?

If you can be engaged to your significant other and you can be engaged at work, what does the word engage really mean? When will we truly take the freedom to define things for ourselves?

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T is for Time: Why family reunions fly by

Shucking corn in the shade beside a lake. Shooting hoops on a patch of concrete at a campground. Pelting my cousins with plenty of water balloons. Body surfing in a wave pool or tubing behind a waverunner.

I have fond summer memories of family reunions that seemed to last forever. We’d drive to somewhere in Indiana or Wisconsin or Ohio and my Illinois-based family would all convene in a big gathering of at least 25 people. There’d be group photos that inevitably turn embarrassing a few years later, games with unusual prizes only a grandmother can give, big meals with all the good ingredients (like pepper-jack cheese) that you don’t always buy at home, and spare moments of sneaky camaraderie with the cousins.

Reunions seemed never-ending and that was a good thing, even to a child’s impatient, instant-gratification-seeking sense of time.

Reunions now seem like they’re over in a flash, and that doesn’t strike me as a good thing, even to a twenty-something’s supposedly more thoughtful, rational mind. But it does make sense. It plays into one of the main warnings I hear about growing up: the older you get, the faster the time flies by. I never knew that theory would strike in the context of a semi-annual family gathering.

And then it did. It seemed as though I had only just arrived in DeKalb for our get-together at a picnic shelter in the city’s largest park, when it was time to pack up the extra jars of pickles and tupperwares of chopped tomatoes and head back home. The speed of it all made me a slight bit sad as I drove away from Illinios’ unofficial corn capital after saying a series of surprisingly speedy family goodbyes.

The days of walking around the reunion site with my cousins, prank-calling each other’s friends or making s’mores for dessert around a campfire seem to be over. They’ve been replaced with days of scrambling at the last minute to chop too many tomatoes and find that old red reunion polo with my name embroidered on it. They’ve been replaced with days of enjoying a break by hearing the stories of my aunts and uncles, but realizing all too soon that it’s back to my story, for better or for worse.

I never thought family reunions would be something to change with age, but boy do they ever. I never thought family time would pass any faster, but boy does it fly. And that doesn’t teach me anything, except that I need to listen.

Those warnings about the accelerating passage of time are all too real, and not even the love of family can change it. So stick around when family time comes close to ending. Tell one last story. Listen to two more. You might forget them in an instant. You might still feel like the time blazed by way too fast. You might still reminisce and sorta want to be a kid again. But you’ll be be better off for it.

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The good, bad, beautiful: Unlimited reasons to run

It’s been said that people become more health-conscious in their late twenties or early thirties. So it seems appropriate at this point to say R is for Running. And there are lots of reasons why.

Sometimes I have such pleasant thoughts while running: “The world is beautiful.” “This is real life and this is great.”

Other times I’m not so lucky: “Ugh, my hamstring hurts.” “I … can’t … breathe …” “Am I not even at Mile 1 yet?”

Sometimes I make minor discoveries while jogging away: “That coffee shop looks relaxing.” “This street smells like bread – aha! there’s the Gonnella factory!” “I didn’t know there was a Kuma’s here. Time for a burger date this weekend.” “And here’s where I went out with my roommate last Halloween!”

Other times I’m bored by familiar landmarks: “That junker SUV hasn’t moved in months.” “I never get this stoplight green.” “Hello mini splash park, goodbye Mile 3.”

During some runs, I’m a philosopher: “It’s not about having time. It’s about making time.” “Why do I seem to worry the most about things that are completely out of my control? I need to work on that.”

Other times, my mind is pleasantly empty: “                     .”

Sometimes the world seems to smile at me: “Sprinkler! Score!” “Aww, that cute kid just waved at me.” “Free donuts beginning at 8 a.m.? Just enough time to finish this run, shower and grab one before work!” “What’s this on the ground? It looks like … it is … it’s $80 bucks!”

And other times, I’m the fly hitting the windshield: “Eek! OMG! OK, you’re OK, that was just a barking dog. Breathe.” “That was kinda squishy … that’s because it was goose poo. Lovely.” “How many oblivious couples with strollers can there be on one street at one time?!? Seriously.”

Running brings the good times and the bad, but all of these times are why there will be a next time. All of these are reasons why I run. Not just to stay in shape, to burn calories so I can eat more food, to enjoy the camaraderie of races or to be outside. (Although those are all great side effects.)

I run to experience the variety of life through one continuous lens – that of a runner – an actively moving, striving, progressing, growing human being. And I run because that perspective makes me a better person.

So give it a try. Go for a run. Even if your knee hurts or you can’t breathe after two blocks or you’re bored out of your mind, maybe, somewhere in that adversity, you’ll find your own reason to run.

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