Saying Goodbye to 2015

The past year flew by so fast, I really can’t believe it’s already over and we’re about to ring in a new year. 2015 has been incredibly good to me. So many wonderful things have happened this year:

I got a new job. After nearly twelve years with the phone company, I accepted a position with the local power company. It’s turned out to be amazing, both because it’s the best job I’ve ever had, but also because I’ve gained great coworkers who have also become great friends. I love where I’m at and am so proud of how much I’ve learned and accomplished since I started my job there. I can’t wait to get even better in 2016!

Bill and I moved in together. We found a really great apartment in Edmonds, less than two miles from downtown and the waterfront. Thanks to Bill’s eye for decorating, our home is now cozy, beautiful, and inviting. I absolutely love living here, and it’s the first place that has really felt like home to me in the last couple of years. The kitties love it here too, especially when the weather is nice and they can spend their days lounging in the sun on our back patio!

I attended my second Lollapalooza in Chicago. I love everything about summers in Chicago. Bill and I ate way too much good food, saw a Cubs game at Wrigley Field, and of course enjoyed the music at Lollapalooza – including seeing Metallica, one of my all-time favorite bands.

Bill and I got engaged. On October 4th, on Ruby Beach, Bill asked me to marry him. He’s the love of my life and my best friend, and of course I said yes. When we got home, he got down on one knee and gave me a beautiful ring that he had bought for me and saved until he could find just the right moment to ask me to wear it forever. I never knew it was possible to be so in love with someone, to feel so right with another person. I cannot wait to marry him!

I got to spend the holidays with my family for the first time since moving to Washington. Normally I don’t make travel plans over the holidays, because crowds make me anxious and it’s expensive to fly during that time of year, but it was really important to me to be able to get back to California this Thanksgiving. It was great getting to have dinner with my family like old times. And while I was there, I went shopping with my mom, my sister, and a few of my closest friends, and I picked out my wedding dress! My parents are keeping it safe for me until it’s time for alterations. I went back to California a few weeks later to celebrate my mom’s birthday with her and participate in family Christmas festivities. My sister recently moved to San Diego, and my brother is planning his own move to Washington in 2016, so it was great to have everyone together under one roof before we all scatter to different places.

2015 had so many happy moments for me. It was also the year I experienced one of the hardest things I’ve ever dealt with, the passing of my wonderful friend Big Mike. We lost him very suddenly last May and it’s still very difficult to accept that I’ll never see his big smile, hear his loud booming laugh, or get wrapped up in one of his amazing hugs ever again. I still catch myself waiting for him to walk in the door at American Brewing, the brewery we all like to hang out at. But even though missing him makes me so incredibly sad, remembering him always brings a smile to my face. Mike was so kind, so generous and giving, and he loved people and animals and good food. He meant so much to so many people. 2016 just won’t be the same, because it won’t have Mike in it. But those of us who love him will continue to keep his memory alive, by talking about him and sharing our stories of great times with him, by grilling hot dogs at ABC to raise money for the food bank, by giving kindness and friendship to others the way that he gave it to us. I love you, Mike. You will be in my heart forever. Cheers, my wonderful friend.

And so, in just a few short hours we will close the door on 2015 and move forward with hopes that 2016 will be our best year yet.  For me, it’s going to be the year I plan my wedding (tentatively taking place in March 2017, stay tuned!). It is going to be the year that I enjoy my job, my community, my family, and my friends. And, as always, it is the year that I resolve to win the lottery….it’s bound to happen eventually, right?

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope 2016 brings you health, happiness, and success. Cheers to all my family and friends!

 

 

December Birchbox Review

This month’s Birchbox theme was ‘All Wrapped Up’, and it was filled with festive winter samples. Who can resist the temptation of having something to open before Christmas morning?

My box came just before my weekend trip to California, which worked out perfectly because it gave me a chance to take my products with me in my carry-on and sample them while I was out of town.

Aloxxi Working Hairspray
Since I have very short hair, I use a lot of different products on it. This hairspray tamed my flyaways and kept my hair in place without making it feel stiff or sticky. The scent was light and pleasant. I was a little hesitant about it since it’s an alcohol-based spray, which can be stickier and denser, but the hold was firm without making my hair look like a helmet. The price is right in line with what I would pay for a hairspray at $18, so this is definitely a would-purchase.

Fekkai Technician Color Care Shampoo/Conditioner
I am so in love with these products! Both the shampoo and conditioner smell amazing and are gentle on my freshly-colored hair. I let my hair air-dry quite a bit before finishing it with the hair dryer, and even without my usual root boost product (the bottle was too large to bring on a plane!), my hair had plenty of volume. These are absolutely a must-use.

Sunday Riley Good Genes Treatment
When I first saw the $105 price tag for this bottle of skin treatment, I admit I didn’t expect it to be worth the purchase price. However, I was pleasantly proven wrong after using it for a few nights in a row and seeing a MAJOR difference in my face. My skin looks smoother, my complexion is clearer, and a small scar on my right cheek is less noticeable.

Fekkai Technician Color Care Luxe Color Masque
After falling in love with the Fekkai line after using the shampoo and conditioner samples, I used this hair mask on my freshly-washed hair and liked the results. It left my hair shiny and silky, which I would have loved when I had long hair but made styling my pixie cut a little difficult (I don’t love really clean hair for styling and texturing). Although I like this product, it wasn’t a must-buy for me.

Coastal Scents styleEYES Palette 
I received the pretty pink/berry color sample of this eyeshadow, which corresponded nicely to my recent switch over to more pink shadow colors after dyeing my hair. Overall I liked the shadow, but it wasn’t much different than a regular drugstore shadow so I won’t be too likely to purchase this one.

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Rocking my eyeshadow sample

 

COOLA Face SPF30 Unscented Matte Tint
I was happy to get this product right before my California trip, since the moisturizer I’m using right now doesn’t have SPF in it and I wanted to protect my face from the SoCal sun. After reading other reviews I was a little nervous that this product wouldn’t go well over my moisturizer, but I waited a little while in between applying the two products and it looked fine. The COOLA product protected my skin without making it look oily or greasy and smoothed my skin tone. I liked it, but for $36 I will probably just switch back to a moisturizer that contains SPF.

A Nostalgic Kind of Post

For some reason, this Christmas season has found me more nostalgic than I think I have ever been in my adult life. Since I normally have a hard time getting back to California for the holidays at all, I feel extremely lucky that this year I was able to make a trip down for Thanksgiving and another one last weekend to celebrate my mom’s birthday with her as well as join in on the family Christmas traditions of decorating my parents’ tree and making a ton of cookies (known in my family as Bakefest).

I have such great memories of holidays as a kid. I truly felt that from Thanksgiving through New Year’s, it truly was the very most wonderful time of the year. There was so much to celebrate.My parents loved my siblings and I so much and did so many wonderful things for us, all the time of course but especially at Christmas. Now I’m in my thirties and I have more beautiful memories than I could ever collect into a blog post, but I thought I would share a few that I was thinking about during my visit last weekend.

My mom’s birthday is exactly a week before Christmas, and it was very important to us that her day be special and were horrified at the mere thought of anyone lumping her birthday in with Christmas. We always picked out birthday gifts that were wrapped in birthday, NOT Christmas, wrapping paper. I remember when we were little, my mom would unwrap her presents, and then my little sister would be so excited that she would go to the Christmas tree to start giving Mom more gifts. “No, no, Melissa, the rest are for Christmas,” Dad would remind her gently, and then we would go into the dining room for birthday cake. One year, I picked out a tiny glass horse with a pink mane, convinced it was the most wonderful thing Mom would have ever received. Of course, Melissa may have beat me out with the Pooch Patrol poodle she gifted Mom that birthday (the link is for the 1990 commercial, which I am very grateful to the Internet for making available).

When I was growing up, we would typically decorate the Christmas tree after dinner on Thanksgiving. This year though, my parents held out so that I could be there to help. As we put the ornaments on the tree, I remembered doing it as a little girl. My parents would sit on the couch, each with a box of ornaments on their laps. One by one, they would  lift out the ornaments and hand them to my siblings and I, warning us to be very careful. Then we would carry them to the tree and search for just the right spot to hang them. When they got down to the last few boxes, they would hang some near the top of the tree, because we were small and couldn’t really reach all that high (I think our tree was probably beautifully decorated from the kneecap down and naked at the top!). Most of the ornaments my parents have are older than I am, and as I selected each one I admired it just as I did as a child.

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The fully decorated tree

If I wasn’t already feeling sufficiently nostalgic after birthday celebrations and tree decorating, Bakefest did me in. Mom dearly loves to bake and has passed down that love to my brother, sister, and I. Our kitchen when I was little had a great full-length counter that divided it from the dining room. My siblings and I would pull up chairs from the dining table and kneel on them (or, when we were really small, stand on them) and “help” Mom make cookies. In other words, we watched and then enthusiastically licked cookie dough off the spatula and the beaters off the mixer. Once the cookies were baked, she would spread them out in front of us and let us decorate them with frosting and sprinkles. Somewhere in an album there is a photo of a toddler-aged me, butter knife in hand, a look of intense concentration on my face as I spread icing onto a cookie. This year, Melissa and I rolled out and cut out the cookies, using the same cookie cutters Mom helped us place in the dough when we were little: Santas, snowmen, holly, a reindeer we all loved but whose antlers were practically impossible to cut out intact. And the gingerbread….Mom would always make gingerbread cookies for our classes, and made sure that all the boys got boy cookies and all the girls got girl cookies. As an adult I have no idea how she had the patience, as I most certainly do not (some of my gingerbread people didn’t make it onto the cooling racks without suffering the loss of an arm, a leg, or at times a head, leaving me no choice but to put a swift end to their suffering by stuffing them into my mouth). The only thing missing from this year’s Bakefest was Dad’s fudge, which he used to make every year in his special candy pot and smooth into glass Pyrex dishes. This year I think we were all frightfully close to lapsing into sugar comas, so he decided to wait.

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A sampling of the cookies we made. One reindeer made it.

My parents always made the holidays so special and fun for us. Of course there are traditions we just couldn’t get around to in the three days I was there, but I have such great memories of things we would do together. My dad and I loved sneaking off together for a day of Christmas shopping, and our venue of choice when I was a teenager was the Block in Orange (it’s called the Outlets at Orange now). We would grab lunch and then make our way through the mall, enjoying the crisp-but-not-cold Orange County weather while we shopped. One of the things we liked best was that there was a Hilo Hattie store and we could buy Hawaiian-scented lotions and Hawaiian coffee. And one year, he took me to the Dewey Weber surf store (I think it’s in San Clemente?). I loved it. It was a small shop, jam-packed with surfboards and surf wear, and he got me a black Dewey Weber hoodie that I still have and wear, despite it’s being rather beat up now.

I very fondly remember Christmas mornings. When I was little, we were up before the sun, waking Mom and Dad and urging them to come to the living room because “Santa came!”. Santa gifts in our house weren’t wrapped, they were put out next to the tree on Christmas Eve. Presents from family were wrapped in coded paper. Before we kids were old enough to read, Mom would choose a wrapping paper for each kid and all of our gifts would be in that particular paper. To dissuade us from poking and pinching the gifts to figure out what we were getting, she didn’t reveal which wrapping paper was ours until Christmas morning, when we found a swatch of it in the beautiful stockings she made for us when we were very small. Once we got older and could read, she changed the system slightly and assigned us each a code name (for example, one kid’s presents would be labeled ‘Elf’, another would be ‘Gingerbread’, etc). On Christmas morning, our code name would be on a little swatch of paper in our stockings. Even after we were teenagers and the urge to feel up the gifts had subsided, we were adamant that she continue with the tradition.

The year I was ten and catching on to the nonexistence of Santa Claus, I begged Santa for a bike, sure that my parents would never get me one (we didn’t really live in a place where kids could ride bikes, as we had no sidewalks or parks nearby). We lived in the desert, so my parents got us dirt bikes and stashed them at a neighbor’s house. On Christmas Eve, as was tradition, my mom made a ton of tacos and enchiladas for dinner, and then we piled into the car to drive through the neighborhood and look at Christmas lights. I’ve always loved that. I remember being bundled into my cozy winter coat, snuggled into the backseat staring out the window while Christmas music played on the stereo. We would “ooh” and “aah” at the cool light displays. I don’t know if Dad scoped out houses beforehand or how he pulled it off, but he always knew where to go to see the best lights. On the particular Christmas Eve when I was ten, the neighbors waited until we left, then sneaked our bikes into our house and set them up in the living room. When we got home, Santa had been there, and we were totally floored!

The Christmas I was twelve, we were living briefly in San Diego. I was very impressed with my own self-perceived maturity, and so even though I was just as excited as ever for Christmas morning, I pretended that I was far too grown up to lose sleep on Christmas Eve. That year, my brother and sister must have been overcompensating for my aloofness, because they got everyone up around, oh, about 2:30am. I feigned irritation at them, but secretly I was absolutely fine with getting up and beginning the Christmas morning festivities. That was also the Christmas that Real Talking Bubba came to live with us on Christmas Eve. I don’t remember who he was a gift for, but I do remember sitting in the living room of our rental house, all five of us laughing so hysterically that we were crying as we played with that bear.

While we lived in San Diego, we got our boxer puppy, Shotsie. Once we had Shotsie, we always got her a new doggie toy on Christmas. Her present would be wrapped and placed under the tree, just like all the rest, and once we finished opening presents she knew it was her turn. She would wag her little stump of a tail with excitement as we helped her pull the paper off her gift to reveal her new toy, which she would then spend the day chewing.

I’m not a religious person at all, and my fondness for the holiday season has nothing whatsoever to do with faith or Christianity. I love this time of year because it was so special in my household when I was growing up and because I want to keep my family’s traditions alive. At home in Washington, I bake cookies, and I decorate a Christmas tree every year. I don’t have a fireplace but my childhood stocking is hung in my living room all the same. The special ornament my parents bought me for my first Christmas is hanging on my tree. And when I get the chance, I fly home to California and my family and I pick up right where we left off.

Feeling Dark

So in short, last Thursday was such a bad day that I was ready to abandon my life and move to Aruba.

As I am generally a pretty happy person, and my days on the whole are good, I think I surprise those around me a little when I am in a genuinely bad mood. The day wasn’t bad in that anything catastrophic happened, but rather a lot of minor irritations had been building up and I finally hit a wall where it was all just too much.

I got through the day. Bill took me to Pizza Bank and fed me lasagna and garlic bread and let me vent out all of my frustrations in between bites. And by Friday I was in a much better mood. I had a good day at work, had lunch with a good friend I don’t get to see much, and felt a lot better. But the day before had drained me and I felt like I needed to do something to rejuvenate, to give myself a fresh perspective. This was on my mind as I ran into the drugstore after work for a couple of things, and as I hurried past the hair care section my eyes fell on the boxes of dye. Before I knew it, I had checked out, rushed back to my car, sped home, and locked myself in the bathroom with a box of Auburn Delight.

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My change from blonde to dark red hair was impulsive, and I am absolutely in love with the results. I’ve had red hair before, so I had a rough idea of what I would be getting myself into, but I wasn’t expecting it to feel quite so drastically better. Although I’ve had a couple of people tell me that they liked my hair better when it was lighter, the majority of the feedback I’ve gotten has been good, and of course my own opinion (that my hair looks awesome) is the only one that really matters at the end of the day.

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An old photo from 2012, one of my previous redhead stages

Anyone who has read my blog for any length of time knows that I change my hair a LOT, and I’m sure at some point I’ll get bored with it and do something new yet again. But for now, I feel great about my new hair color and look, and a darker hair color was a great way to shake off my winter blahs!

North Creek Trail

One of my favorite things about the business park that I work at is that it’s cut by a small tree-lined creek. A walking trail follows the creek, and each day my friend Tracy and I head outside to walk a mile loop around the creek, enjoying some fresh air and the various wildlife that lives in and around the creek. Most days, we see ducks and birds, and every now and then we’ll get lucky and see a crane or a beaver.

For the most part, I just take in the scenery, but every now and then I do stop and take some photos along my walks.

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Bridge over the creek

I love being able to get away from my desk, even for fifteen minutes, and the weather is rarely bad enough to deter me from heading out to the trail. Even on rainy days, Tracy and I can be found making our way long the path, warm coats on and hoods up to protect our heads. On nice days, we venture out no matter how warm or cold the sunny sky happens to be.

Yesterday was one of those rainy days, but it wasn’t really windy and so we decided to take our usual walk. My favorite days are ones when we see some form of wildlife, so I was beyond excited to see this little guy waddling across the trail:

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At first, we thought he might be a beaver, but upon closer inspection he had a different tail than a beaver would have. I didn’t even know what he was, but I showed my photo to a coworker who informed me that he was a nutria. When he caught sight of us, he huddled down under some low trees, watching us and sniffing at the air. He must have decided that we posed no real threat, because after a few minutes he made his way back to the other side of the trail, walked down a slight slope, and settled himself in the grass to nibble on it. I was delighted and could have watched him all day, but eventually we continued along our way around the trail and back to work.

I love living in the Northwest and having nature literally right outside my door, both at work and at home. I feel so lucky to have this amazing trail so close to my office, and am grateful that I found Tracy and can share daily walks with her!