Somehow the past few days have been some of the quietest of the year for me, despite the fact that Christmas is right around the corner. This makes me very happy. This year we did all of our Christmas shopping in one quick, two-hour burst. Also, we ordered lots online, which I highly recommend. I get really cranky about the mad Christmas rush, and every year deliver the same angry rant to Mark, which includes TONS of expletives and dramatic statements like, “If I want something for myself, I am old enough to buy it. WHY do we do this? Next year I’m skipping Christmas!”, huff, puff, angry stalking out of the room. He of course sits there calmly and then usually wraps the presents, since he is ten times better at that than me. I know I go through this song-and-dance every year, and maybe it’s because my heart is made of stone, but I care so little about the giving and exchanging of gifts. What I like about Christmas, what I really look forward to is all the lounging, my mother-in-law’s delicious Christmas breakfast, not needing to leave the house. To me, those are the best things.

Also quite desirable: Knitting on the couch, with a far-too-big-for-my-lap doggie curled up on my knees. Sometimes he sleeps on his back, at least until his muscles relax and his limbs fall over. I like this quite a lot.

How embarassing is it to admit that this Oprah show collection is one of my favourite possessions? I have no idea how many times I’ve watched it in its entirety, but it is definitely more than five. I like watching her “A-Ha Moments” and crying a lot. I used to like to watch this while I was on the elliptical trainer (in the privacy of our own home, not in public or anything — I’m not a monster) and sob as I worked out. I somehow felt like I was emotionally sweating as well as physically, and that this was somehow deeply beneficial to my well-being. I might need some friends.

Also this week: No-knead bread and quilting!

And a walk in a newly-discovered park near our house. When we stumbled upon this mossy-treed clearing, I got so excited! Then of course, I couldn’t take any pictures that really did it justice, but imagine something very pretty and Tim Burton-esque.

My dog wins for the cutest face. Let’s just all admit it.

I really loathe the word “staycation” but that’s what Mark and I are planning for after Christmas. We’re picking up all the groceries we need, leaving the hot tub turned up all day and night, giving The Wire another shot, and cooking, cooking, cooking.

Merry Christmas/Happy Hanukkah/general holiday greetings to everyone! I’m feeling indescribably lucky to be ending this busy and travel-heavy year in my warm home, near my friends and family and in a country I love. The biggest gift from our travels has been the knowledge that this is really and truly where we want to spend our lives. My wish for you is that same feeling.

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A quiet Monday night, curled up on the couch with my puppers and the wood stove blazing away. I spent five out of the last seven nights out of the house, which is sort of amazing for a hermit like myself. Four of those nights I had choir rehearsals, and I have to admit that by the end of the week my voice was faltering, but our concert went really well (I think? I find it hard to be objective). The last piece we sang was a super-bouncy Bollywood-style number, and we were encouraged to let loose and move around to the music. I am incredibly scared of being the center of attention and had already asked my mother-in-law not to look at my butt (long story), so this was very daunting to me. Nevertheless, I sucked it up and shimmied and bopped around. In my mind, I was basically screaming, “LOOK AT MY SWEET-ASS MOVES!!!!” After the concert ended, I met Mark and my friends Heidi and Alex in the lobby and excitedly asked them how energetic I looked on stage…only to be met with blank stares. Alex said sweetly, “Well…you sort of mildly swayed when you noticed other people dancing.”

Last week was hard for me, maybe because of the severe lack of sun, or maybe just because I was so busy in the evenings. I felt supremely irritable and couldn’t seem to shake it off. It all culminated when I slipped and fell down a few stairs, hitting my chin on the bannister and landing really hard on the tile floor, bruising my tailbone. It hurt, yes, but my reaction to it was so over-the-top hysterical that it’s pretty obvious to me now that I was crying about many other things. I was doing the little kid sob — you know the kind? With the big deep intake of breath and the chest-heaving? Mark immediately ran downstairs to see if I was okay, and Luka jumped off the couch and also started freaking out — howling and whining and trying to climb into my lap. Poor Mark had one arm around the dog, trying to keep him off of me, and one arm around my shoulders, attempting to calm me down and eventually he just sort exclaimed, “I don’t know which of you to comfort first!”

After that, I could laugh, and in fact, I was sort of laughing as I was sobbing because I knew how absolutely ridiculous I was being. I was really quite embarassed afterwards, but in some ways it felt so cathartic to just let it all out, even if I am 28 years old and should probably have a better handle on my emotions by now.

Despite my fall (and my grumpiness) there were so many lovely things that happened last week, and I really did notice them.

That guy above is one of our only Christmas decorations and I like him so much I might keep him out all year round.

When Mark is out, Luka just waits and waits, never leaving his window post.

Alex turned 30 a few weeks ago (in my motherland!), so I made him a birthday cake. Despite the absolutely frightful-looking cursive, the cake was pretty damn good — chocolate zucchini cake with sour cream-chocolate frosting. Yum.

I know I sound like a crazy dog lady, but I love this guy. Love love love him. Oh, what did we ever do before him?

Like many others, I spent a lot of the weekend thinking a lot about Connecticut and guns and how people hurt each other. And how short life is, even if you get more time than most. I am so happy and grateful for the life I’ve built for myself. I never, ever forget that, even during a fall-down-the-stairs kind of week.

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My favourite kind of weekend, one where we barely left the house. Other than a visit to the dog park with Luka, and a quick jaunt to the grocery store, we just hunkered down. I woke up on Saturday morning with the desire to cook all day long. This rarely happens, but I feel so hyperefficient when it does. I made cheddar shortbread, using this recipe, though I cut the cheese cut down on the cheese. Also, rather than rolling it out and cutting out rounds, I refrigerated it for a while and then scooped it into balls, which I flattened a bit. We had them for lunch with black bean and butternut squash soup. I ended up pureeing the soup with an immersion blender, as I don’t really like chunky soups, and it looked so ugly that I didn’t even bother trying to take a picture of it. It tasted delicious, though. There’s cocoa powder and cumin in there, and I threw in some smoked paprika. I love sweet and savory together. When we were on our road trip last year, I used to occasionally buy cantaloupes and tins of anchovies and alternate bites of each. After typing that out, I can see that it is the grossest thing imaginable, but somehow it brought me a bit of comfort when I was often very homesick.

Saturday night we poured beers and started making perogies. I use this filling, and I often contemplate just making it to eat straight. Mark rolled out the dough and I got to sit and watch him work, peppering him with “Would you rather” questions which he absolutely despises and I take total delight in. I have this theory that men hate theoretical questions, and though that is a broad-sweeping, completely unconfirmed statement, I have found it to be true amongst my friends.

ANYWAY. If there is a way to take beautiful pictures of perogies under yellow lighting after dark, I am not aware of it.

Lots of embroidery this weekend, both working on older projects (*cough* this sampler I’ve been working on literally ALL YEAR *cough*), and also designing and photographing some stuff for my forthcoming Etsy store. This whole process is really scary to me, and one of these days I will go into detail about the very constant back-and-forth that’s happening in my head all the time, but I’m surging forward. What I’m really learning is that it’s all about trial and error. That’s about the gist of it. I am constantly fretting over colour choices and borders and what stitches to use and fabric puckering and piece finishing. I love doing it but I have this frequent refrain in my head of “Are you making the right choice”? And how do I know, really? I can ask for input, and thank goodness I’m married to a graphic designer who can give me solid feedback, but I second guess myself every other minute or so. I don’t really know how to get past that besides just trying a myriad of things and seeing what works best every step of the way. Anyway. More on this to come, but at least I get to do fun stuff like cross-stitch men’s underpants.

Ahem. Here’s hoping for some better light in the next few days (maybe even an hour of sunshine! What an exciting thought!). I have 12 hours of choir rehearsal this week and hopefully a voice for our Sunday show. All that singing, I can’t wait.

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Does anyone know how to gracefully start a blog? I surely do not. I’ve spent about ten minutes sitting here, staring at the screen, typing stupid things and then deleting them. I do not think I’m great at beginnings. So, for lack of profound/witty things to say, here are some pictures from my morning walk with our dog Luka.

We recently moved a bit farther out of town than we used to live, and though there are some minor annoyances with having to drive pretty much everywhere, one of the best things about our new house is the proximity of decent walking trails close by. We adopted Luka two months ago, and since then, at least every other day we’re in these woods.

Luka pretty much loses his mind when we let him off leash. He runs! He jumps through puddles! There are so! Many! Exciting! Things! To! Sniff! He finds sticks that are roughly three feet long and insists on dragging them through the woods. He only stopped to let me take his picture because I was dangling a peanut butter-flavoured treat above him.

It’s kind of funny how much my emotions have fluctuated since adopting Luka. It all happened super quickly, and I have to admit that the first night we brought him home, all three of us sitting on the couch staring at each other, that I was freaking out on the inside. The commitment, the way this would change so much about our lives — we had been pretty extensive travellers since we first started dating, all the poop I would have to pick up. On top of that, we had no real idea of what his background had been like (he’s three years old) or what kind of temperament he truly had. That first night, none of us slept more than a few hours. Every time one of us rolled over, he would get up, walk around to both sides of the bed, and then return to his dog bed. Every time he did this, we both woke up.

Gradually, of course, all of that anxiety (on all of our parts) started to wear away, and now it feels like we’ve had him forever. I would say that the very best thing about having him in our lives is the reaction we get when we walk through the door after having been away. There’s just something so comforting about being needed — though, of course, this can be profoundly irritating at times as well. But there has never not been an occasion where we opened the front door and he didn’t completely lose his shit. How can a person not be charmed by that?

One of the other fantastic things has been losing excuses for not going outside for a walk every day. Anyone who knows me can attest to my hermit-like sensibilities. I can burrow like an owl; I am a homebody through and through. Unfortunately, this can mean that I sometimes have to be dragged, kicking and screaming, from my cozy house. Having Luka means that I have to go outside every day, because the guilt of not walking him when I know he needs to expel some of his big-dog energy is far more powerful than the pull of a wood-burning stove. Though we rarely get snow here, it rains almost daily in the winter, and the grey sky can feel unrelenting at times. There are many days when I don’t want take the dog for a walk, but there has never been a day when I’ve regretted it afterwards.

Our yard has a long, winding path that lets out onto the street directly behind our house, and when we’re walking back from the woods, I usually stop and let Luka off leash about 50 metres away from the path. He stands still for a moment, and then he leads us home.

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