Thursday, December 31, 2009

Ready for 2010

I’m not big on New Year’s Resolutions, per se. But we do like to talk about our plans for the coming year, and set some broad goals. Otherwise, the years just zip by, while we are left saying, “I meant to…” and “Maybe next year we’ll…”. The older we get, the more diligent we need to be at making the most of time and opportunity.

For me, 2009 was a year for reconnecting with friends. I joined Facebook, which turned out to be an unexpected delight. Technology has truly enabled a social revolution. With friends spread all over, our contact is no longer limited to the occasional email or the annual Christmas card. LinkedIn has also provided some surprises, by helping me expand my professional network and resulting in stimulating new contacts and a little bit of consulting work. Of course, reconnecting wasn’t all done online. We made a point of having family here to visit, and traveled to visit friends and family too. It’s been a treat to have the time to do it.

Our other 2009 goal was to focus on continuing to improve our health. We have stuck to our low-carb lifestyle (with only occasional lapses), allowing us to maintain last year’s weight loss. The Man Cave has been outfitted as a retreat and workout room; and the elliptical has been an important part of our workout routines (especially in the cold weather). We visited the doctor and dentist to take care of things, and found health care plans for our post-COBRA life. Lots of progress made.

Tonight – New Year’s Eve – Ron and I will spend part of the evening talking about plans for 2010. My thoughts, going into that conversation, are revolving around a few ideas. I want to pursue another level of fitness; losing another 15 stubborn pounds. There are a few final home decorating projects I would like to complete, including a tile backsplash in the kitchen, and a paint job in the master bath. Finally, although we’ve already been in Chicago for a year and a half, we have a long list of things to do and places to see to fully explore the city.

I’m looking forward to tonight, when we’ll review 2009 and (loosely) plan 2010. New Year’s Eve is a time for nostalgia and excitement about the future. Embrace the opportunity full on.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

God Bless Us Everyone!

It’s Christmas Eve, and most of our preparations for tomorrow are complete. The weather forecast is a bit frightful for today, so I’m happy we can stay home by the toasty hearth. Time to bake a pie, blend up some Bailey’s Irish Cream for our neighbor, and prepare the duck to roast for tonight.

This is my favorite part of the holiday. We still have the anticipation of Christmas Day, and we can enjoy today at a leisurely pace. The house is sparkling clean and twinkling with decorations. The refrigerator is bulging with special items from eggnog to caviar (not to be consumed at the same sitting – yuck). We are looking forward to my brother’s arrival in the morning, and the flurry of activities we have planned for his visit.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and as Tiny Tim says, “God Bless Us Everyone!" I hope you are enjoying your own unique traditions and are ready to embrace a Happy New Year and Decade.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Chasing the Magic of the Season

Here we are, a week from Christmas Eve. Just seven more days to get shopping done, wrap gifts, mail greeting cards, bake up holiday treats, deck the halls, plan special meals, and strive to recreate the magic of Christmas as defined by our childhood experiences. It’s fun and a little stressful, isn’t it?

The absence of end-of-year panic at work makes it much easier for us to enjoy the holiday season. Now we have time to search out opportunities for festive activities far away from shopping malls and unnecessary commercialism. Sure, it’s fun to window shop while store displays are so creative and glamorous. But the frenzy in the stores (yikes, you should see the crowds on Michigan Avenue) can suck the holiday spirit right out of you. Where have we been successful in finding Christmas cheer?

After Thanksgiving, we shopped for wrapping paper, ribbon, and bows, while the selection was still abundant. I enjoy color-coordinating everything, and planning how to wrap beautiful presents for our extended family. We loaded our iPods with hours and hours (actually, DAYS worth) of seasonal music. The fireplace mantel is decorated, and our stockings are hung. Yes, Santa still does Christmas stockings for us (and for my mother). Last Sunday, we went to the theater to see a stage performance of “A Christmas Carol. We both cried when Bob Cratchit suffered the death of Tiny Tim, and exulted in the rebirth of Scrooge’s faith. The timeless tale works for us every time. During walks in our neighborhood, we point out Christmas lights to each other, and ooh and ahh over twinkling trees seen in apartment windows. Snowfall generates wonder and excitement (and a few groans when there’s enough to shovel). Ron and I never tire of telling each other stories of Christmases past, when our parents made everything so memorable and special.

We’ll never exactly recapture the magic of those Christmases as children, but we have nurtured our own traditions that echo and enhance our treasured memories. Our hope for you this year is that you enjoy the season, remember the best of Christmases past, and keep looking for new ways to keep your inner child entranced with the all the glories celebrating the birth of the Christ child.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

There's No Place Like Home

I’ve written a few blogs with some of the details from our trip to the Mediterranean, but in the midst of the holiday season I feel compelled to write about the joys of just being home. Regardless of where we travel, there is always a deep satisfaction in returning home. We were away for over two weeks at the end of October/beginning of November, leaving for another week away to celebrate Thanksgiving with a friend. As much as I enjoyed both of these trips, I breathed a deep sigh of relief as we crossed the threshold of our little condo on Bittersweet Place. We’ll spend Christmas and New Years here, luxuriating in our personal traditions, in full nesting mode.

For me, the pleasure of being home is found in simple routine. I like taking a hot bubble bath on a really cold day, raiding our own refrigerator for healthy snacks, monitoring my connection to friends on Facebook, choosing to dress in sweats or fleece because I know I’m not going out today, or venturing out into the neighborhood to run errands. I revel in enjoying what Chicago has to offer. Every time I take public transportation (the el or the bus), I am impressed by how well it works, and how ingrained it is into the fabric of the city. It’s an important part of the “City That Works”.

Granted; a big part of how we are able to enjoy life at home can be credited to being retired. One of our favorite things to do is to pour an after-5 glass of wine and sit in the front room to watch the neighborhood come home from work. In other words, we’re still wallowing in the pleasure of being strategically unemployed. When people express surprise that we would tolerate the harsh winters of the frozen north by choice, our answer is that if it’s bad outside we just stay home. If the streets are icy, we don’t take the car out; we take the el.

So for now, we have no travel plans. My brother, Jason, will be joining us to celebrate Christmas in Chicago. The tree is trimmed and the fireplace is keeping us warm and cheerful. Sometimes, there’s just no place like home.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Athens At Last

I’m still processing all the experiences from our Mediterranean vacation. But I can tell you this – a five hour taste of Athens was not enough, and we will return. It would be great to spend a few days in Athens, like we did in Rome, with an extended side trip to one or more of the islands. Athens was our first stop in Greece, and I could hardly contain my excitement. Half of my heritage is Greek, and yet it took me 54 years to visit the land that originated the culture that is so much a part of who I am.

Traveling from the port at Piraeus into Athens by bus, we had an excellent local tour representative who introduced us to the city during the twenty minute ride. We were dropped off at the plaza across from the Presidential Palace, completed in 1897 as a residence for the Crown Prince and heir to the throne, and used since the abolishment of the monarchy in 1974 as the Presidential Mansion. It is here we saw the Evzones, the elite ceremonial military unit that guards the Greek Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and were fortunate to happen upon the changing of the guard. I have an antique Evzone doll, and have always been fascinated with their traditional dress and their history. It was amazing to finally see them in person.

From the Presidential Palace, we set out to walk to the Acropolis. Or I should say, UP to the Acropolis. A winding pathway leads past ancient ruins all the way up the hillside (about 490 feet in elevation). Although it’s amazing that so much remains of the buildings of the Acropolis, what has been lost through centuries of European wars and repeated sackings of Athens is sickening. There is a massive restoration project underway, and the scope of the work is in evidence at the site. We joined large crowds of tourists, even this far into the fall. This sort of site requires contemplation of history, which to me is nearly impossible when surrounded by masses of people. We spent almost 2 hours at the site, marveling at the architecture and art, and at the impressive view of the vibrant, modern city below.

We couldn’t let our first day in Greece slip by without including a dining experience, so we found a restaurant for lunch. “God’s Restaurant” (who but the Greeks would have the gall?) was just the ticket! After being taken into the kitchen to see what had been prepared for the day’s menu, our appetite was stoked, and our eyes were bigger than our tummies. We enjoyed taramosalata, feta, Greek bread, saganaki with mussels (to DIE for), and roasted pork in lemon sauce. And just a little wine…

Appetites sated, we strolled through the Plaka, the picturesque historical neighborhood of Athens. I wish we had been able to spend more time exploring this oldest section of Athens – but we had to hurry back to the bus to return to the ship. It was a wonderful introduction to Athens that definitely left us wanting more!