December Challenge: The Twelve Days of Instagram

Good morning, friends. Happy Friday! On this, the first day of my winter vacation, I woke up super early (as usual), but I’m enjoying a lazy start to my day, staying in bed and drinking coffee. #twelvedaysofinstagram (1)

But here’s the thing: I don’t want my entire vacation to be lazy. Aside from a super-exciting BFF reunion trip (more about that early next week) and a handful of fun Christmas-y things I’ve got planned once I return home to Pittsburgh, I don’t have anything I must do. So, I’ve given myself an assignment…a challenge, if you will. Curious? Intrigued?

Starting today, December 14th, I’m going to Instagram at least one photo a day. And since the 12th day of this project is Christmas, we’re calling it the Twelve Days of Instagram. Feel free to check out my progress—my user name is, predictably, IsabellaPen—and for those who aren’t on Instagram, you can follow along here.

OOOOOOOH, or you can do it along with me!! I’ll be using #twelvedaysofinstagram and would love some company. The goal is simple. Post (at least) one picture a day from December 14th through 25th (Edit: or 12 consecutive days before the end of the month) with the hashtag #twelvedaysofinstagram. It doesn’t have to be holiday-related or anything special (see above). Just show us what you’re up to. You game?

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‘Tis the Season

tis the seasonPhoto: John Minchillo/AP Images for Macy’s

Perhaps this is an unnecessary admission, but I love the holiday season. LOVE IT. Some might say I love it too much. And to that I would reply that how one celebrates the holiday season (including the questions of how much/from what point/when) is a personal decision. I’m a firm believer in “Live and Let Live” and I’ll go far as to extend that to the question of holiday celebrating: “Celebrate and Let Celebrate.”

The rule when I was growing up was that we weren’t allowed to start celebrating Christmas (our holiday of choice/happenstance) until December 9th, the day after MamaPen’s birthday. (Happy almost-birthday, Mom!)  As I got older (read: as I hit middle school and became a rebellious adolescent), I, um, bristled at this idea.

Eventually, MamaPen and I settled on a compromise: I could start celebrating the holidays whenever I wanted, but that celebration wasn’t allowed to leave my room until December 9th. The result? From early November that year (I think it was 1996), my room was positively festooned with garlands of silver tinsel and a voluminous red-and-green paper chain and there was a constant stream of Christmas music playing on my stereo.

I admit, that was a bit excessive.

But, that compromise really set the tone for how I think about holiday celebrating these days. The last thing I ever want to do is force my celebrating on someone else. I’m more than happy to have a Christmas movie marathon and/or bake a gingerbread house with a willing co-conspirator, but I’m not a celebration autocrat.

When I hit the phase I will refer to as “agressively demonstrative adulthood” (aka my mid-20’s, when I became gainfully employed for the first time and was very serious about “being an adult”), I tried to be more stoic about the whole thing. “Real adults” don’t start with the Christmas too early, and so I put it off and put it off, and you know what happened? Next thing I knew, it was the week before Christmas, and I was so busy with work, traveling, and family celebrations that I never got a chance to just relax and enjoy it. That made me really sad, like I’d missed something. (And it definitely led to an arguably pitiful scenario wherein I was listening to Christmas music on my iPod well into January.)

Then, as in my childhood, I realized a compromise was in order. So I set myself a starting date. But the starting date kept slipping earlier every year as the urge reared its bacchanalian head with no regard to the level of appropriateness. I’d feel guilty/ashamed, but give into it (because, hey, I’m only human). And then I realized, I was being silly. Not for starting my holiday season earlier than many people can stomach it, but for making myself feel bad about something that I enjoy precisely because it makes me feel happy.

Here’s the thing. Apart from being what I like to think of as a realistic optimist about a lot of things, I don’t think I have an unreasonable view of the world. But during the holiday season, that changes for me. There’s something in the air, the holiday spirit or what have you, that adds a bit of magic. It’s as though I shed the outer layer of whatever mental or emotional calluses have built up, and I see the world through different eyes. It’s a subtle alchemy that, for a handful of weeks each year, makes me believe in only the best side of humanity. I unabashedly revel in a sense of youthful enthusiasm.

The quote at the top, from the original version of Miracle on 34th Street, says it all for me. When I finally saw that movie for the first time last year (I know, I know), that line resonated deeply with me. And the photo, of the crowd outside the unveiling of the holiday windows at the Macy’s flagship store in New York this year, captures the spirit of it. That guy up front on the left? Yeah.

So, happy holidays, folks! Whatever your customary holiday(s), may you have a season full of childish wonder and good times with loved ones.

Midweek Musings

This week 12.3.12

Christmas lightssweetclipart.com; Brussels sprouts photo: Food Network

In this, the third week of Midweek Musings, we are firmly into the time of year when you can’t escape the holiday season…even if you desperately want to. And if you’ve come here looking for a respite, you’ll be sorely disappointed. (I’m sorry, I’m only human. And I can only resist for so long…)

What have I been up to this week? Read on…

Continue reading

Closing a door but opening a window

Some of you who have been with me for a while may remember that I boldly decreed 2012 to be my Year of the Russian Novel. YotRN had some successes and some less-than-successes (five months to read AnnaK, coming up on six for Bros. K with no end in sight). If I’ve learned one thing (and perhaps it’s something I should have known ahead of time), it’s that those Russians are de-press-ing. Seriously. There were beautiful bits, and I felt a certain amount of cocky pride for delving into serious literature of my own accord, reading those books was a near-constant downer. YotRN

I know there’s still a full month left in the year, but I’m calling it anyway. YotRN is over. I have put The Brothers Karamozov back on my shelf, where it will hibernate, partially finished, until such time as I feel in my stomach the tender unfurling of an urge to pick it back up. I don’t think our breakup is acrimonious. It’s just not the right time for us.

This was not an easy decision, because I generally don’t like to leave things unfinished, and I liked the idea of neatly closing this out. But when I considered the prospect of slogging through a long, depressing book during one of my favorite times of year, I knew in my gut that this was over.

Fear not, for a new scheme is afoot. But first, some context.

Madeleine L’Engle is one of my favorite writers, starting from when I was very young. When I was in elementary school, my mother gave me her old copy of A Wrinkle in Time, and with the very first line (“It was a dark and stormy night…”), I was irrevocably hooked. She was a way with words, and on an emotional level, it feels like being wrapped in the hug of someone who loves you very much.

Over the years, I’ve amassed a fair collection of her works, and have even given some out as presents. But the thing is, Madeleine was incredibly prolific. Even more so than I realized. (I’ll take the liberty of calling her by her first name, because as you will soon see, she and I will are going to become very intimately acquainted)

On Monday night I pulled from my bookshelf a book that has long resided there, unread: The Small Rain, by Madeleine L’Engle. Small Rain

As I read the forward, I learned that it was, in fact, the first novel she ever wrote. And that’s when I had my idea.

Starting this week, I’m going to read everything Madeleine ever wrote (with the caveat that anything out of print will necessarily be excluded). Learning from my past experience with YotRN, I’m not going to put a timeframe on it. It will take however long it takes.

So, with that, I’m excited to announce The Madeleine L’Engle Project!

What about you guys? Are any of you fans of Madeleine’s work? What’s your favorite of her books?

p.s. This past Thursday, November 29th, was Madeleine’s 94th birthday, so this is even more auspicious timing. Happy Birthday, Madeleine! We miss you!!

On gratitude and footwear

Howdy there, friends! I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving, surrounded by loved ones and filled with delicious food. 

In keeping with the spirit of last week’s holiday, I’ve been ruminating on the subject of gratitude. I’m a lucky girl and have always had so much to be grateful for, but I’m sorry to admit that I haven’t always been able to see that. More and more, though, I’ve been awash in gratitude, which is the way I should be.

So this year, before Thanksgiving and on Thanksgiving and after, I am most grateful for being able to enjoy the simple yet powerful act of feeling gratitude.

Sometimes it’s the little things (like enjoying a morning run that makes you feel less like an enormous molecule of starchy carbohydrate) or big things (like my family and friends). But on this Monday morning (Cyber Monday, if you go in for that sort of thing), I want to write about something near and dear to my heart…hiking socks.

Aside from being one of the best means of taking care of one’s feet that I’ve ever found, they are spectacularly spectacular in nearly every way. I first came to understand the wonder that are hiking socks several years ago when my aunt and her husband gave me a pair for Christmas. I’m ashamed to admit that my first reaction was closer to Socks? Seriously? than anything approximating an appropriate response: Thanks for thinking of me. These look very warm.

But, oh!, what a gift it was. Not only that first pair (which is still my favorite), but for introducing me to a whole new genre of footwear. Hiking socks are the manifestation of my personal style: comfort and performance married in one place. Durable, cushy, built-in arch support, warm but breathable, and so, so cozy. Splendidly practical, but elevated by a certain amount of luxury. These are no ordinary socks.

As you might have figured our, I get irrationally excited about hiking socks. I wear them when I go for a run, when I’m  out and about, when I’m working or relaxing at home (they make spectacular slippers), when I’m taking a dance break, when I sleep. In short, I heart hiking socks, and I wanted you to know it.

But enough about me. Do you have any article of clothing you can’t live without?