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I’ve been drowning in wrapping paper and ribbon for the past few days. Since I’m giving a lot of homemade gifts this year, and I insisted on decorating all the jars, my wrapping responsibilities have tripled: in addition to wrapping gifts, I have to decorate a few jars to go in the gifts first. Which means I’ve been watching every Christmas movie and musical I own or Netflix will show me so I have some entertainment as I make a mess every night in my living room floor.

It also means I can’t wait until Saturday, when I get in the car to start the first leg of my holiday journey and stop wrapping. I don’t know about you guys, but I’m going to be in the car a LOT this Christmas break. D and I will drive 6 hours, then 4 hours, then 12 hours, then 12 hours again. That’s a lot of hours in the car, and a lot of opportunity to catch up on some pleasure reading and let the paper cuts heal. So here’s what I’m reading!

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A Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula K. LeGuin, reminds me of a more contemplative, richer version of the Harry Potter series (and it predates it by about 30 years). This novel, the first in a series, follows young Ged as he trains and then begins working as a wizard. One of the most powerful young wizards in the world, his adolescent competitiveness leads him to unleash a dark shadow on the world, which follows him as he is forced to confront the darkness within him and his own mortality. I’m about halfway done with it, and really enjoying the fullness of the universe, and the richness of the story.

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Justin Cronin’s The Twelve is the follow-up to The Passage, which I read when it was first released. The trilogy is not your average vampire novel; the first novel had more in comment with World War Z than with Twilight, which was part of the reason I liked it so much. The Twelve picks up where the first novel left off and follows a group of survivors of the “virus” as they lead an offensive against the virals (vampires). I have to say, I’m apprehensive about this one; the first novel was really gripping, but this follow-up has received tepid reviews. Then again, what do critics know? And Justin Cronin sure does know how to spin a plot.

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The Outlander series has been around awhile, and I’ve had the first book downloaded on my Nook for awhile, but I’ve yet to open it. A Facebook conversation last night persuaded me to give this one a try soon, though. A friend with very similar taste in fantasy-esque fiction (think the Sookie Stackhouse novels and the Discovery of Witches series) asked for recommendations on similar fare, and Diana Gabaldon’s series was overwhelmingly recommended. A time-traveling love story? Count me in.

What are you reading in the car over the holidays?

For Thanksgiving, D and I spent the weekend with his family in Virginia. We ate (too much), we drank (more too much), and spent a lot of time with his very large extended family (never enough). His family is a group of funny, generous, warm people. The best part? No kids! The youngest person there was still a teenager, so the kids table was the place to be this year. Not that babies aren’t awesome, but it was such a strange experience to spend a holiday in a house with no one running, crying, or otherwise demanding attention. Other than the adults. (wink, wink.)

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{ maple fudge }

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{ cranberry sauce with apples }

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{ self-portrait }

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{ pumpkin cheesecake cake. the middle layer was a whole cheesecake. }

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{ turkey }

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{ sweet potato casserole }

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{ really, really hot and spicy pickles }

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{ green bean casserole }

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{ d’s rolleiflex, his grandfather’s camera }

The best part of the weekend was this camera, D’s Rolleiflex. It was his grandfather’s, who is famous for having used it to take incessant family photos. D reprised that tradition over Thanksgiving; his camera was always in his hands, ready to capture candid family moments. He also used it to take some posed photos. Seeing his family’s reaction to the camera that was so much a part of their childhoods was really special.

I’m a little late to this party. A quick Google search revealed that this video made the rounds last Valentine’s Day, but I didn’t see it.

Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and Christmas follows shortly after. Although the fall season is a time for pumpkin lattes, holiday sales, and too much good food, it can also be a stressful time. A time when you’re trying to balance work, family commitments, budgets, travel plans, and relatives who don’t always get along.

D sent me a link to this video one evening when I wasn’t feeling so great. As soon as the video finished, I thought, “That man loves me so much.” And then I spent five minutes thinking about how much I loved him, basking in the fact that we’d spent five minutes each, back to back, just thinking of how special we are to one another.

I’ll stop being sappy now, but watch “The Love Competition,” and then spend five minutes thinking about all the love in your life. Come back to it this holiday season when your life starts to look like the awkward, fighty part of holiday family movies, and then imagine yourself in the ending, surrounded by all the people you love as the credits roll.

This was a few weekends ago, but it was during the one cool, autumnally-appropriate temperature weekend Austin has seen so far this season. As the last several weekends and the next few weekends show summertime-level temperatures, I’m reminiscing about the one October weekend when an outdoor fire was appropriate, and I stood next to the grill as much to keep warm as to get the first piece of chicken tikka masala. Enjoy.

Log fire
{ backyard fire }

Waterloo gin
{ gin }

Baby, playing in a wheelbarrow
{ baby, playing in a wheelbarrow}

Chicken tikka masala, on the grill
{ chicken tikka masala, on the grill }

Topo Chico sparkling water
{ topo chico }

A few months ago, I decided to stop eating food from animals that had been abused. I started paying $7 for a dozen eggs, searching labels for supposedly-indicative buzzwords to indicate a certain level of humanity, and agonizing over whether the pigs that gave their lives for my prosciutto had been treated well or shouted at. But I started compromising, feeling guilty, becoming stricter, feeling deprived, and compromising again. Then I read “The Terrible Tragedy of the Healthy Eater,” and it resonated so much with me that I read the whole thing, out loud, to D while he was driving us home. We both laughed, but I realized something.

I’m not a perfect consumer, and that’s ok.

I’m the kind of person who watched Forks Over Knives, Fast Food Nation, and Food Inc., and read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and Eating Animals, and did not become a vegetarian, vegan, pescatarian, or even a flextatarian. I made some new, loose rules about what I put in my body, but I generally felt outraged for about five minutes and then continued on my merry way.

baskets of strawberries

I try not to buy milk from big brands, and I know that “organic” doesn’t mean “this cow lived it’s life on Farmer Bill’s pastures, eating daisies and soaking up the sun, until it died a soft, natural death,” but I don’t think too much about where my cheese comes from. I eat a lot of cheese.

I generally don’t eat meat from fast-food restaurants, but there are days when I give in to the temptation for a McDonald’s cheeseburger or a taco. I let my cravings be more important than my willpower.

I cook most of my dinners at home, but I eat out most days for lunch, wasting money I could be donating to one of many hundreds of organizations dedicated to feeding the hungry, and ingesting calories I really don’t need. I don’t eat breakfast either, completely skipping the most important meal of the day, when maybe eating breakfast would lead to healthier lunches.

I try not to buy bottled water, but everyone in my household has a real penchant for sparkling water, so we compromise by recycling the plastic bottles. We’ve started buying bottled sparkling water by the case, and seeing your pantry stores dwindle from a dozen bottles to a lonely, single green bottle in a matter of weeks is a stark reminder of how much of the water I drink comes from a bottle. But at work, it’s Sparklett’s all the way, baby.

coffee

I don’t generally order coffee from Starbucks, because most mornings I save money by brewing my own organic, fair-trade, locally-roasted beans, but sometimes I want a latte. I try not to drink soda, because it’s bad for you and the bottles are plastic and are killing dolphins, but sometimes I need a soda. That’s a lie; sometimes I want a soda and choose to have one, even though it’s a waste of money, a drain on my health, and bad for the environment. Mostly, though, I drink coffee I brewed at home, local microbrews, and sparkling water from terrible plastic bottles.

I grow a lot of my own vegetables, but I buy broccoli when it’s out of season. Sometimes I really need/ want/ desire some broccoli pasta, or some roasted broccoli, in the middle of June. I don’t grow my own grapes, or buy wine locally, so all the wine I drink has been shipped to me from far, far away. But I’m not classy enough to really like wine all that much, so the beer is mostly local! Except when it’s not.

pouring wine

I know that oil is a scarce and non-renewable resource, and I live in a city with lots of bike lanes, but I don’t ride the bus or bike to work. I feel better because I drive to a park-and-ride and take the bus from there, but there is a bus that would take me from my front door to my office without making me switch buses, but it comes too early and takes too long. It’s inconvenient, so I use gas and drive part of the way myself, to buy an extra twenty minutes in the morning. But I take the bus part of the way. Except when D and I carpool.

The products in my shower weren’t tested on animals, and they proclaim that loudly and proudly on their bottles, but bunnies probably suffered in the making of my mascara. I am never not wearing mascara.

I know that pets aren’t environmentally friendly, strictly speaking, but I have two, and you can’t have them.

Baxter the black cat

I have two tiny mammals, both adopted from a shelter (well, one from a shelter, one from a friend who got her from a friend who I think got her from a shelter), but I have friends who have spayed, neutered, fed, medicated, fostered, rehabilitated, and loved dozens of animals. Having these tiny mammals in my home brings me more joy than you can imagine, but one of them is extremely picky about her litter box. Her prior owner tried to switch her to the environmentally-friendly corn-based litter, and she wasn’t having it. When I got her, I tried again (after all, we’d had Baxter on the magic corn litter for a year, and he didn’t mind). Hermione flat refused to use the box with the corn litter, so it was back to the clay litter, and there are a hundred reasons why that’s bad.

Hermione the cat

The point is this: even though I am not perfect and I could do more, what I am doing is still good. Recycling, cooking my own meals, growing my own food, volunteering, donating small amounts of money to organizations I support, and raising cats who might otherwise not have homes and who bring me joy are good things. Trying not to purchase things that have traveled from far away, that are contained in plastic, or that harm the environment is a good thing, even if my implementation of “try” isn’t perfect. Even if I don’t try some of the time.

No one can do everything, but everyone can do something. I’m not perfect, but I’m doing my little part, and that matters.

Last weekend was easy and slow.

Hermione, the brown tabby cat

I took lots of photos of Hermione.

coffee

I drank several pots of French press coffee with the $5 French press we bought from a woman having a move-out sale in our apartment complex.

Flowering end of baby butternut squash

Baby butternut squash

I checked on our garden, where we are growing butternut squash like the zombies are coming to take it from us (though the acorn and pumpkin squashes aren’t doing so hot).

rosemary flowers

I watched the rosemary flowers blow in the wind under the sky that didn’t start raining until I was back on the motorcycle.

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