A Christmas Manifesto

There are 65 days ’til Christmas. When I was younger, my mom and I would legit start this countdown while we were still in the triple digits. And we would update each other on the number constantly.

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This year, I am proposing a little manifesto of sorts. It’s my holiday season “to-do” list, if to-do lists were all about the good stuff, having fun and slowing down, and none of the have-tos.

I realize it’s still October. But if you think about this like my younger self, it’s already at least 40+ days into the holiday countdown. So humor me.

♥ I will bake cookies with my mama, like I’ve done every year.

♥ I will decorate the apartment with P. — our own space, full of Christmas cheer — like I’ve never done before.

♥ I will keep reminding myself to slow down and savor it all, with photos or just with memories.

♥ We will get a Christmas tree! (Not sure if it will be real or fake, but it doesn’t matter.)

♥ I will spend festive time with family and friends.

♥ I will document the season and the good vibes with paper and ink, and stories and photos.

♥ I will start listening to Christmas music on the radio as soon as it starts. Which is probably in a couple of weeks.

♥ We will watch a ton of Christmas movies.

♥ We will start some new Christmas traditions of our own. I don’t have any idea what these might be, but I think they will be small and important.

♥ Regardless of any new traditions, I will still wake up at the crack of dawn on Christmas morning, take coffees and a hot chocolate over to my parents, and hang out with them before the rest of the world wakes up.

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But in the meantime, I’m waiting for these temperatures to get back into the 60s, at least. It’s still only October! And I’m totally not wishing the days away. I’m just proactively dipping into my Christmas spirit.

Why I’m doing Week in the Life.

In one week, I’m participating in Ali Edwards’ Week in the Life project. It’s my first time joining in, and I’m pretty excited about this random documentation project.

Back in July, I took photos for a day in the life. It’s not for any reason other than I love taking photos and I adore lifestyle photos. You know, the ones that aren’t taken on vacation or at a birthday party or, really, of any specific subject matter.

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It’s all those in between moments.

Those are my favorite photos. So that’s reason I am playing along for Week in the Life. It is a challenge to just be in the moment and snapping photos along week long.

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I was coming up with design plans and ideas for creating a mini book or a scrapbook out of all the photos. I ended up driving myself a little crazy with all my ideas and all the options I tried to fit in.

And when I took a step back and thought about what I really want to get out of this, I decided to simplify. That should be the name of the game for me for a while… I almost never think about simplifying, and then it hits me: it’s exactly what I need. Not more stuff, not more ideas. Just working in a small space or with one set decision. Just getting it done.

That’s how I came up with my plan for documenting.

I’m going to take photos all day long, every day for seven days. This might not mean a lot of photos every day, but it should mean lots of the random everyday moments I was just talking about. Lots of different angles and moments and meals and small pieces of life.

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I’ll use my awesome Sony RX100 III and my brand new iPhone 6. I don’t know if I’ll use my DSLR. It makes me even more excited about the new phone (if that’s even possible) since I like to be stealthy with photos at work and it could be awkward to take out even the little point and shoot.

I want to share my photos and some short thoughts on the blog each day. That’s definitely saying something, since I obviously do not post here every day. But I’m interesting in sharing these upcoming seven days. I want to see how the project plays out.

Then, I want to add these photos into my Project Life album. I’ll use some smaller insert pages, and I’d like to have one page for each day. It’s the best plan I came up with, after hours (I’m sure literally) spent in Photoshop Elements working out those design plans. This restricts me to just focusing on the photos and maybe some other small embellishments. It gets me back into the idea of documenting instead of dwelling on the other details. But I think the end result will also be awesome. And with it in my album for the year, it will be right there with all the other hundreds of “lifestyle photographs” I’ve taken through 2014.

So that’s the plan! If you’ve never heard of Week in the Life, you should think about playing along… in whatever capacity that means. Week in the Life would even be fun on Instagram. And if you haven’t heard of Ali, check her out. Her blog is straight inspiration for me.

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Right now, I didn’t get a chance to do one of these posts on Friday, so I’m kicking off the week with one. It was one of my favorite (and simplest) posts to write recently.

Right now, I’m printing photos and having fun with Project Life. As always. I hesitate to say “catching up,” even though when I work on it, I work on a few weeks. Working in batches is my favorite way of doing it. I love going through my photos and printing out my favorites. Such a fun hobby. Though, I would like to find another hobby that involves less sitting in front of the computer.

Right now, I just jumped in to Gilmore Girls on Netflix. I pretended I didn’t see it the first time, since that means all seven seasons I own on DVD will never again be watched. But it’s still so dang convenient to stream it wherever I am.

Right now, I just got back from a Hobby Lobby trip with my parents. I had a blast painting up some storage boxes that I found for $5 a piece. I also found the perfect wooden word art during my third trip around the store. I had my fingers crossed I would find something I had missed that was just right.

Right now, P. and I had a Sunday Funday yesterday that included a long walk around our neighborhood, brick oven pizza for lunch outside, and a birthday party for a new friend.

Happy Monday!

No Sugar October // Week 1

I wrote down some thoughts in real time during the first week of “less sugar October.”

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Day 1 //

This was a travel day, a pretty long one. I chose plain coffee at the airport, with some Splenda, instead of my normal airport caramel latte. I had a delicious salad for lunch and sushi for dinner. I fell asleep on the couch at 6:30 PM, so it didn’t leave much time to pine away for dessert.

Day 2 //

Back to a somewhat normal routine today. I switched out my sugar for Stevia in my coffee. It did not taste nearly as fantastic, but I remembered that it takes time for my taste buds to make a switch like this, so I figured it would just take a few days.

I noticed something today (that’s probably a coincidence, but still interesting). My mind felt clearer. I’ve been having a lot of trouble focusing and processing things, off and on for at least a few months. Specifically work-related topics, things I didn’t automatically understand. At lunch today with a coworker, I felt really focused and sharp. It was interesting, even if it could be from anything.

My mama invited us over for homemade beef stew. I hadn’t had it in something like six years, and it was great. I decided to have some ketchup, because that’s how I used to eat it. Not a choice I plan to stick with, and it’s probably not great to start the challenge by making exceptions. But I decided it was worth it on Day 2, and at least I didn’t have any sweets.

Day 3 //

The Stevia coffee tasted pretty good today. Though, like I mentioned, the weekday coffee maker broke, so I made french press. That might have helped, too.

Something interesting about the mental aspects of this. Having a “challenge” that I’m working on gives me a reason to say no when junk food is offered. I obviously want the chocolate cake in the office. And I have forgotten how to say no when something sounds delicious. Except today, I was on Day 3 of my official “less sugar October” challenge. I haven’t told anyone at work. But still, when the cake was offered, I simply said no thank you. I didn’t hesitate, I didn’t second guess myself. I have a “reason,” so I feel completely in control of saying no.

Day 4 //

Sugar is everywhere. And saying no to it is really hard.

I had lunch at a baby shower today, where the food was ok. And while I was eating my “just ok” salmon, I automatically started thinking about the delicious sweets I would have once the meal was over. Except it’s October and I can’t believe I’m doing this to myself. I have no idea how to get through subpar food without a sugary reward.

Seriously? I wasn’t even sure what to do with that when I realized. So I went to the bar and got a dry red wine, handed my piece of cake to my mom, and got rid of my fork. It’s also interesting to me how the people that love me aren’t necessarily contributing to this challenge. I heard from two different people that I could have “just a bite.” I love them for loving me and wanting me to enjoy myself, but that is not the challenge I just launched myself into.

Later that night, I had a dream I accidentally had vanilla ice cream, realized and was horrified, and then gave in and had another spoonful. I woke up relieved I hadn’t caved so quickly.This is what my life is turning into.

Day 5 //

We went down the shore and walked around on the boardwalk today. We got pizza. It was tough reminding myself (over and over) that I wasn’t going to get Laura’s Fudge or Johnson’s Caramel Popcorn. But I did it!

I made sugar-free pudding. I don’t want to get too hooked on fake sugar sweets, but I needed something. I miss dessert! I definitely don’t think it’s healthier than regular sugar sweets, but it was an amazing option to give myself when my resolve was wavering. I’d like to look into some fruit-sweetened desserts sometime.

Day 6 //

I didn’t have any epiphanies on day 6. I miss sugar. I want dessert. I have not seen the scale move yet this week, I guess because I’ve still been having non-sugar indulgences.

I wanted to cave, but I didn’t. I guess that’s something. In recent history, I’ve always caved.

Day 7 //

At this point, I’m finding myself wanting to reconsider. I haven’t seen any positive differences, and it’s hard. I miss delicious sugary things. I want cake. And donuts. Ice cream. Pies. Even sugary cereals and sweetened greek yogurt.

But I’m not going to cave. For now. I know I feel strongly that sugar isn’t great for our bodies, and especially the amount that I was consuming. But even without big differences yet, this has been really important for me so far. I am not embellishing when I said that I sort of forgot how to say no to indulgences. It’s a big problem that’s contributed to me getting unhealthy again in a big way. Seeing something through like this, even when it’s really just one big decision, and I’m not being 100% strict with it, is showing me that it’s (obviously) still possible.

Maybe it will have some positive lasting benefits.

So hello, week two!

talking about my french press.

Let’s talk coffee.

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I love coffee. Adore it. The ritual, the morning moments that I savor with it. But really, the flavor of it. It’s not just that I’m used to it, I really do love waking up with a good mug of it.

But I’m not a snob. I’m a Folger’s girl, through and through. I love Dunkin’ Donuts coffee. I’ve loved flavored coffees in the past, and I’m sure I will again at some point.

I spent $40+ on three small bags of the fancy stuff online. I’ve had my fair share of gas station cups. And sophomore year, my college roommate and I (when we were overall at our unhealthiest) went through an industrial-sized vat of powdered Coffee-mate creamer in two months flat.

All this to say: I’m not picky. I like it fancy, and I like it down-and-dirty.

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My favorite coffee of the moment is made in the french press. I found a press pot in the basement of Ikea for about $12, and bought it on a whim. It calls for coarser grounds than regular drip coffee makers. (We’ve used this coarser ground in our drip maker with fine results, but I wouldn’t go the other way and use any finer in the french press because it could get messy.)

Here’s the method:

Measure out the french press / medium-coarse coffee grinds into your pot. It takes more coffee than drip: one scoop coffee grinds to eight oz water. For two big mugs, I use three scoops and three cups of water.

Boil your water.

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Start a timer (the iPhone is my go-to) and pour a little bit of water onto the grinds — maybe about 1/3. This is supposed to help the grinds “bloom,” and the coffee usually settles into a crust on the top of the water. Let it steep for around 30 seconds, and give it a stir. Keep the timer going.

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Most standard instructions say to give it about four minutes total. This is usually too strong for me (I know; I never thought I would hear myself say that). I wait until the timer is at around 3:15 or 3:30, then I start the plunge. Go slowly. It will get harder to push down at the bottom. It usually takes another 15 or 20 seconds.

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Pour it out! The coffee will obviously keep steeping if you leave any behind, since it’s still mixed with the grinds. So if it’s just me, I’ll pour any extra coffee into another mug.

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And that’s it. It takes a little longer than drip coffee because you need to wait for the water to boil. But it really comes out tasting awesome. P. and I both think it’s less bitter tasting and so smooth (and like I said, we aren’t really coffee aficionados). Just don’t drink the last mouthful in your mug; it will be full of little grinds.

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We used to save french press for a weekend treat, when we had more time to kill in the morning and we could sit around and shoot the breeze while I was working on it. But… the drip coffee maker broke, and we haven’t gotten around to trying to fix it. The horror, I know.

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So… I guess I’m waking up early tomorrow to press some coffee.

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Are you a coffee lover? Have you experimented with different methods?