Goodbye 2013

29 December 2013

Well, 2013 is going out with a bang of sorts, which makes me anticipate the new year all the more (appreciating the now be damned).

Before Christmas, I had planned on doing a Christmas Eve recap, regaling you with details of fondue, absinthe, and fun. Alas, Christmas Eve kind of exploded on me. In fact, all of last week was pretty stressful and disappointing. It seemed that almost everything that could have gone wrong at work did (why hello technical difficulties when there is an excess of paperwork to enter), and things outside of work were just as trying. I will be back on Thursday with a post that goes into more detail on one of the crappy parts of last week.

Oh, and mark your calendars! On January 1, I will be here with something very special. Big changes are coming and I cannot wait to share my plans for the new year with you!

Without further ado, here is a playlist for closing out 2013 and welcoming 2014. It may seem like a random mix, and it's definitely not hip, but these are the songs that have me revved up. And the Whitney song is my serious jam for life. How can anyone not dance to that song?

What are you happy to leave behind in 2013? What are you looking forward to in 2014? Do you have any songs that represent the transition for you? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!

Our Family Christmas Tradition

23 December 2013
Do you have a holiday tradition that really gets you excited for Christmas? Perhaps it's the meal on Christmas day, or a certain game your family plays, or perhaps someone always reads a special story on Christmas Eve. In my family, we have a new tradition, one that replaces the old tradition that I grew up with, but which our family has recently outgrown.

You see, growing up, my family did not live close to our extended family, so we created a special tradition for our family unit. We would dress up every Christmas Eve and go out to eat for a nice dinner. I remember one year in New York going to Bear Mountain, which I loved. On the way home, we would drive around looking at Christmas lights, and then once we got home, us kids would change into our pajamas and all sleep in the same bedroom, anxiously awaiting Santa's arrival. I could never get much sleep on Christmas Eve as a kid.

This tradition of dressing up and dining out lasted us until two years ago, when both my sister and my sister-in-law were pregnant. My sister-in-law was due just a few days after Christmas, so dining out was not in our best interests, should we have to cancel a reservation, or leave in the middle of dinner. That year we kept things simple at my sister's house, but I knew that I needed a tradition that would keep me looking forward to Christmas Eve.

Enter: New Tradition. My family has a varied ancestry, with many interesting nationalities. I thought, what better way to get to know where our family came from than by celebrating one nationality of our ancestry every Christmas Eve? We could learn about each country's traditions, and try different foods that our ancestors may have grown up with. Thankfully, my family loved this idea.

Last year, for our inaugural Christmas Eve, we celebrated Ukraine. My great-great grandmother came to America from Ukraine when she was just a teenager. My grandmother knew how to make pierogies and stuffed cabbage rolls, so we made those for our Christmas Eve dinner. We also had borscht with mushroom dumplings, challah, and a farro fruit dish. And since no dinner is complete without drinks, my dad served us all shots of vodka for a toast before dinner. My oldest nephew demanded more toasts, and the vodka flowed. It was the best Christmas Eve on memory.

This year, we are celebrating our family namesake, Switzerland. My last name has changed a few times through the centuries, but long ago, it was Zuricher, meaning "from Zurich." My dad and I have actually been to Zurich, and enjoyed a wonderful fondue meal while there, and our Swiss dining neighbors enlightened us as to some fondue traditions. I don't think we will enact some of those (such as: if you drop your bread in the fondue, you have to run naked in the snow), but we will most certainly be eating fondue this Christmas Eve. Dad is already on drink patrol with plans for kirsch, goldschlagger, and absinthe. I can't wait.

I would like to hear from you, because I love hearing other people's traditions. What are some of your favorite Christmas traditions? Tell me in the comments below! I'm also linking up with Emily for What Christmas Means to Me, which you can see for me is all about family.

Hot Cocoa and a Christmas Favorites Playlist

20 December 2013
Hallelujah, it's the last Friday before Christmas! I'm taking another 3-day weekend, and hpefully this one will be less jam-packed than last weekend.

As promised, today I am bringing you two (yes two) recipes for hot cocoa, and a playlist that features all of my favorite Christmas songs!

For my first cocoa recipe, I'm sharing my classic, from-scratch recipe. I learned how to make this when I studied abroad in France. There, we made hot cocoa in a bowl, and let me tell you, it's a great way to enjoy cocoa.

Classic Hot Cocoa

1 heaping tablespoon of cocoa powder
1 mugful of milk
1 teaspoon of sugar (to taste)
1 splash of vanilla extract
1 dash of cinnamon

First, fill your mug with milk to 1-inch below the rim. Pour this milk into a saucepan and heat over medium-high heat. While the milk is heating, Combine the cocoa, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and a small amount of milk in the mug. Whisk this together to create a cocoa sludge- you just need to add enough milk to pull it all together. Keep an eye on your milk, and stir frequently to keep milk from scalding. I like to froth my milk as it gets close to hot enough- you just need to heat it to your liking. Once the milk is hot enough, stir it into the cocoa mixture in your mug. Enjoy!

Spiked Peppermint Hot Chocolate

1 shot Peppermint Bark Liqueur (from Eastside Distilling)
1 mug hot milk

This spiked hot chocolate is easy peasy. Simply heat up your milk in a saucepan, pour a shot of Peppermint Bark Liqueur into your mug, and pour the hot milk over the alcohol. Add more liqueur if needed, to taste. Enjoy (but please, seriously, consume responsibly and DO NOT drink and drive)!

And now, for my Best Christmas Ever playlist! I've got 2 songs from Otis Redding- note, my sister says it sounds like he's saying "mayonnaise" on White Christmas. Tell me you don't hear it. I also have Wham's Last Christmas, which I enjoy year-round. And I can't forget Christmas in Hollis. True story: I once got a standing ovation at karaoke when I performed this with my brother. Now you know I can rap.

And since Spotify doesn't have Boney M, here is my favorite Christmas song, the one that gets me in the Christmas spirit:

I hope you have a great weekend. Tell me, what are your plans? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!

A December Weekend

16 December 2013
Eggnog Creams. Recipe can be found on my old blog, here

Hey friends! Can you believe we're already in the last full week before Christmas? Craziness, I tell ya!

What's worse is that I had a 3-day weekend, but it was so jam-packed that I really didn't get a chance to relax. Granted, I enjoyed most of what I did this weekend, but I would have loved a solid three hours on Sunday night to unwind with some hot cocoa and a movie (or at least finish knitting my scarf- just a couple inches to go!).

Besides making the delicious Eggnog Creams pictured above, I also attended Ladies Day Out on Saturday. I was given a pair of complimentary passes in hopes that I would write about the event, so here you go. The event was held at the Doubletree by the Loyd Center and began at 9am. I decided to take my sister in law, since I figured she could really use a ladies' day out. This lady is not only the mother of two young boys, but she also goes to nursing school full time.

We got to the event early because we were promised swag bags (which were handed out to the first 200 attendees). There was music, vendors, waffles, and my favorite (I'm not a lush, I swear) booze. Hear me out though: I am really into local wineries and local distilleries. I am so fortunate to live in an area that has plenty of both, and it is so much fun to get out and meet the people behind the products. Plus, local distilleries tend to get more creative with their booze, which I will explain further.

I was pretty psyched to see that my favorite, Eastside Distilling, had a booth at the event. So excited, in fact, that I didn't take any pictures. This year, they have a holiday 3-pack of Peppermint Bark Liqueur (recipe using this stuff coming up later this week), Eggnog Liqueur, and Holiday Spiced Liqueur. All 3 of these liqueurs are amazingly delicious, and my little brother is one lucky guy because my sister in law bought him the 3-pack for Christmas (don't worry, I'm not spoiling a surprise- she gave it to him early; besides, I'm pretty sure my brother doesn't realize I have a blog). 

Now, our actual first stop of the event was at the Dry Fly booth. I'd never heard of them, but they are a distillery based in Spokane, Washington. I noticed they had a gold-colored gin and I had to know all about it. It turns out that they age the gin in oak barrels, giving it an oaky flavor like a whiskey, but with the herbal flavor of gin. Let me tell you, I could sip this stuff straight and be a happy camper. Not only that, but their vodka is probably the best vodka I've tasted. I normally hate vodka, but this one is a keeper. The only downside- they weren't licensed to sell in Oregon, so we couldn't buy any bottles to take home.

My other favorite booth at the event was Phelps Creek Vineyards. I've visited their tasting room in Hood River, but I love the wines out there so much, I will never turn down a tasting. In this case, tastings were $3 for 5 wines (whereas the distilleries were giving free tastings). The Sauvignon Blanc was light and crisp- and a first for Phelps Creek! They've paired up with a Kiwi (New Zealand is known for great Sauvignon Blanc) to produce this refreshing wine. The Chardonnay was also very nice- it has only been oaked for a short time, so it's a bit cleaner than a regular oaked Chardonnay. My favorite of the bunch, however, was the dessert wine, Vin de Glace (Ice Wine for you non-French seakers). It was not sickeningly sweet at all. Instead, it was light and fruit forward- and actually tasted like pineapple!

As for the rest of the event, I found a Christmas present for my mom among the vendors (not saying who or what since this one is still a surprise), and my sister in law found a present for herself with the beautiful hand-tossed pottery booth. I was tempted to buy myself a small aqua pitcher, but talked myself out of it- I'm trying to cut spending, and I still have other Christmas presents to buy. My only complaint about the event would be the number of dieting-related booths. When I think of a "Ladies Day Out" the last thing I want to think about is losing weight. But, we all know how I feel about dieting.

As for the rest of my weekend, there was an inspirational goal-planning session with fellow Portland bloggers Kayla and Macey, which I will talk about in the New Year (because there will be a part 2!). What I will say is that I left feeling super inspired by these awesome women and the great things we shared. I also shared with them Unravelling, which I am currently working through as I prepare for the new year. 

And then there was all kinds of holiday preparation going on at my mom's house. I spent a good chunk of time making Christmas presents (my siblings and I are exchanging hand-made gifts this year in an effort to be more frugal and thoughtful). Let's just say, if the boys don't like what they get from me, I will gladly keep their presents to myself.

Now I'll leave you with some images from mom's house, which is all decked out (though she didn't put out all of the decorations, and you really can't tell):

This is mom's Toy Chihuahua, Frodo, in a Christmas sweater. You're Welcome.
How was your weekend? Are you ready for the holidays? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!

Christmas Classics for the Weekend

13 December 2013
Happy Friday, folks! I'm treating myself to a three-day weekend, mainly because I have vacation time to burn off before the New Year, and I have lots to do before Christmas. So, while I'm busy preparing Christmas presents, and baking lots of cookies, I will be listening to some Christmas tunes. Below, I'm sharing my playlist of Christmas classics- the ones that are so timeless, they make you feel nostalgic for Christmases past. Stay tuned next week for my playlist of Christmas favorites!

What are your plans for the weekend? I'll be attending Ladies Day Out with my sister in law. I was given free passes in return for blogging about the event, and I will be back next week with my recap!

The Holiday Humbugs: Dealing with Holiday Loneliness

09 December 2013

Is there something about the holiday season that gives you the humbugs? I'm talking about the thing that every time you hear or see it, you cringe and you just want to snarl, "bah humbug."

For me, it's romance.

Let me clear something up, I am a romantic at heart and love the holidays. But when you don't have someone to share all of the holiday magic with, and you see a bajillion other people who do, you start to feel a bit like a Scrooge.

I know I've been feeling it. If I have to hear of another engagement in the next three weeks, I might lose my appetite for Christmas cookies.

Why do I feel this way? I think there are several parts to this.

One, Christmas romance has been dangled in front of me ever since I was a little girl. There are Christmas songs for lovers (thank you, Mariah Carey), and plenty of movies that celebrate that coming together at Christmas (the new Miracle on 34th Street and even When Harry Met Sally). It's like there has been this promise, that I will get to have magical romance at Christmas.

Which gets me to reason number two: I've never had romance at Christmas. It's always been me, just me. Single. I don't say alone, because I'm not- I'm lucky enough to have a growing family, and Christmas is a pretty big deal to us (at least, Christmas Eve is, and I will get to that in a coming post).

But romance has never been in the picture for me. 

So, when I see everyone's cutesy couples pictures in front of the tree, my stomach churns a little. Every engagement is just another carrot dangled in front of my nose (see what you don't have!). Yes, it hurts to see other people enjoying something that you want but don't have. And the trouble, in these super-connected times, is that I see these things all around- Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, and other blogs.

Don't get me wrong, I don't want everyone else to be as lonely as me at Christmas. I just simply want what everyone else has. And sometimes, if I can't have it, I just don't want to see it around me.

I don't want to leave this post on a downer note, though, because I'm not sad, and for once, I'm not lonely (for the most part). I would like to offer a few little tips on coping with holiday loneliness.

Tips for Dealing with Holiday Loneliness

  • Make plans. Why wait until you are part of a couple to enjoy things like Zoolights or a holiday show? Grab a friend and get out. Preferably, grab a friend that makes you laugh.
  • Send Christmas cards. This weekend I filled out my Christmas cards, and I felt so full doing so. It's hard to feel lonely when you have someone to write to.
  • Take yourself on a date. Not kidding. Self dates are the best. My favorite ones involve cheese and wine.
  • Laugh at things like this and this
  • Put away the laptop and the iPhone. Avoid the source of comparison.
  • Avoid the Hallmark and Lifetime Channels. Those romantic movies might just have you guzzling entire bottles of Merlot. Unless you have a great sense of humor and just laugh at how cheesy those movies are, then by all means, knock yourself out.
  • Bring an alternative date to your holiday party. One year, my work party was for couples, and I asked if I could bring my sister. Unfortunately, my sister ended up being busy, but I'm glad that I spoke up for myself. Some people don't see the tyranny of the plus one.
  • Cuddle a dog. Thankfully, I have my own, so I cuddle her lots. It really helps. Also, dressing her in an ugly Christmas sweater is good for a laugh.
  • Reach out. Talk to people. Know that you are worth other people's time and ask for it when you need it.
  • Allow people to reach back. Don't shut yourself off when you're feeling lonely, it will only make things worse. One thing always leads to another.
Have you ever experienced holiday loneliness? How do you deal? I'd love to hear form you in the comments below!

Baby, It's F'ing Cold Outside

05 December 2013
Brr, a record-breaking chill has settled into the Portland area, and my poor old lady body just can't handle it. Okay, I don't have an old lady body, but this weather sure makes me feel like it. Not only do I have Raynaud's, but my legs ache horribly when the temperature drops significantly, and my knees creak. And this has happened since I was a teenager. Also, as a side-effect of the Raynaud's, once my fingers do get warmed up again, they remain pretty useless. Simple things, like opening jars, are painful.

This isn't a post about whining about the cold. No, I'm here to provide you for a cold weather, Christmas time-y playlist. This playlist is full of less traditional songs, and new takes on traditional songs. Call me old-fashioned, but I've really been loving the old Christmas hymns these past few years, like Come Thou Fount of Ev'ry Blessing, and Come O Come Emmanuel. I hope that you will enjoy this selection of songs while cozied up under some warm blankets, sitting by a fire, and sipping some nice hot cocoa. I just realized now would have been a good time to introduce you to my personal cocoa that something you guys would be interested in?

Finally, before I cut to the songs, I actually invested in some Christmas cards this year, but would love more people to send some Christmas cheer to! If you'd like to get a card from me, either send me an email at rach(dot)sed(at)gmail(dot)com, or leave a comment below and I'll be in touch.

And now, for the MUSIC!

Do you have a favorite Christmas song? I'll be back later this month with a playlist of my favorite classics (hint: Otis Redding is involved- more than once). I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!

Weekly Wishes: Back in the Game

02 December 2013

Hello my friends, and welcome to December! I can hardly believe that we are in the last month of 2013. I simply do not know where the time goes. Christmas is already upon us, and right after that the new year, and it seems there is so much to do in that short amount of time. And that is why I am joining up with Weekly Wishes once again.

I'm not promising to stick with this on a weekly basis- December is not a good month for promises. What I would like to do this week, is to share what are some of my wishes for this month. I've been feeling overwhelmed with all that I want to do, but have yet to make a list, and I end up just wasting time on Twitter and Facebook, which is about the worst thing for my mental well-being this time of year.

So, my December wishes are:

1. Listen to all of the podcasts in my queue. I've gone podcast crazy and just might have to do a sequel to my I Heart Podcasts post. There are so many good podcasts and so little time.

2. Learn to meditate. I have yet to find a good intro to meditation, so if you know of something, I am open to recommendations!

3. Finish reading Austenland. Mainly so I can start Rebecca, which seems like a good Winter read.

4. Decide on and make Christmas gifts for my siblings.

5. Finish this photography tutorial and start practicing regularly.

6. Go see Zoolights for the first time.

7. Decide on and bake a bunch of different Christmas cookies.

8. Watch Love Actually.

9. Find inspiration and come up with a loose editorial calender for the blog for December.

I think this is a good start, and I'm confident that I can make good headway on these goals this week.

What are some of your goals this month? Do you have a particular cookie you like making for Christmas? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!

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