Winter wonderland

snow covered road

The view on our walk this morning.

 

Thanks to one of those peculiar weather systems that’s spinning the wrong direction and moving east to west, it’s been snowing all day where I live. In New England, this precipitation was freezing rain and rain but when it moved west to where I live, it transitioned to snow and cold. It isn’t a blizzard or anything near the amount of snow dumped on Buffalo recently, but it’s the most snow we’ve had yet. As it’s still the holiday season, I don’t mind the snow and I’m enjoying the sight of it gently falling as it creates a winter wonderland.

kitten snowball

Daisy playing with the little snowball I brought inside. Jazz ate is shortly after this.

birdwatching kittens

The kittens were exhausted from birdwatching.

A little snow and cold wasn’t going to keep me from my vow to walk Jazzmin every day so we headed out this morning when there were only a few inches on the ground. Jazzmin is always happy to walk but she’d be happier if it wouldn’t snow on her head. Even with the cold and the snow pelting my face as we walked, I was happy because I know how lucky I am. I have a strong dislike for driving in snow and thanks to working at home, I don’t have to worry about driving into an office every day, no matter the weather. I’d much rather be out walking Jazzmin as I’m bundled up to my eyeballs than working for someone else helping them achieve their dreams. Nowadays, I get to chase and achieve my own dreams.

dog pawprints

Our footprints in the snow.

Despite a few unexpected interruptions, I was able to finish my work for the day before dinnertime. One of those unexpected interruptions was actually a welcome one as they cancelled afterschool activities and I had to pick Jordan up from school. She usually rides the late bus with her sister to their father’s house on Wednesday afternoon, but the canceled activities meant she needed somewhere to go. That’s yet another reason I feel blessed to be able to work from home, I’m there for my girls when they need me. Living only three minutes from the school comes in handy on days like today and thankfully, the roads weren’t too bad. Jordan and I enjoyed a quiet afternoon together before her father picked her up and I resumed my tasks for the day.

lights on the walkway

Glow of my walkway lights in the snow.

I’ve already had to shovel five inches of snow off my deck and I’m sure I’ll have to do tomorrow since it’s still coming down, but I’ll manage like I always do. I know that the cold is only temporary and that even when I don’t have my girls, I have my felines and my pup to keep me warm and remind me that I’m loved.

kittens and dog

Snuggling on the couch tonight.

A day of new beginnings

Sunrise on Plum Island, MA

Sunrise on Plum Island, MA

I closed on my house three years ago today. It was a day of new beginnings. This is the first house I’ve owned all on my own and in my own name. I know what a huge accomplishment that is and I love my little house. The next house I own will be in New England and I’m sure I can’ achieve that goal someday.

Today is a day of another new beginning. It’s the first official day of online classes for me as I pursue a degree from SNHU. The curriculum for the classes I’m taking has been open for a few days and I’ve already been looking it over and reading my class books but today it’s finally real. I’m certain it’s the kind of mental stimulation I need at this point and I know it will lead to great things!

My daughters start school next Wednesday and while my oldest is getting all her school supplies in order my youngest keeps saying that she never wants to go to school again. I don’t now that Jordan is exactly thrilled about returning to school but she doesn’t dislike it to the degree Jaycie does. Even so, I know my girls will both excel in their own unique ways and I’m so proud of them for always trying their best!

In truth, every day is a day of new beginnings. Every day we have is a gift and a chance to start anew with fresh thoughts and perspective. Sometimes it’s hard to let go of the troubles from yesterday but it doesn’t hurt to try. If the problems still remain, each dawn gives us a chance to approach them differently and see them as an opportunity for growth. There is good in every day, you just have to know how to look for it. Not all of my yesterday’s were great but today I woke up to sunshine, blue skies and dozens of little butterflies flittering around my yard and for that I am truly grateful!

Remembering in Happiness

Four years ago today, my father passed away. He and I were very close. Father and daughter and great friends. The day he died was the worst day of my life and I experienced a level of pain and sorrow I hadn’t known existed. I don’t wish that kind of hurt upon anyone I care about.

The whole first year was rough, the second year only slightly easier, the third had its ups and downs but this fourth year has been decidedly different in a very positive way. His spirit is always close to me but this year it’s even closer as he supports and encourages me in the pursuit of my dreams. I grabbed onto my dreams with both hands this year and held tight to them as I work to achieve them.

I published my first e-book Massachusetts Adventures: Boston on Father’s Day in honor of my dad and while very few have read it, I’m still proud of myself and I know he’s proud too. I worked my adorable butt off freelance writing so I could quit my office job this past July and I’m making a successful go of it. I finally took my daughters and my mother on a vacation to New England this past August and showed my girls Boston as I promised. Since June, I’ve managed to head up to New England every other month, which has been my goal since my first visit there two years ago. Those are several very big dreams accomplished! They’re just small steps on the bigger journey though.

It’s been a long healing process after losing my father and I’ll never quite be whole without him, but I’m in a much better place now than ever before. I’m able to look back on my many years with him in happiness and the scars of his untimely passing are less painful and slowly disappearing in the light of positive experiences in my life.

To continue to honor his spirit this month and always, I’m going to be writing up my more recent adventures in New England and finally adding more books to my e-book series. I’m going to rename my e-book series from “Massachusetts Adventures” to “New England Adventures” as I continue to explore that amazingly beautiful area of the country. That’s going to require me redoing the cover of my first book but I’m sure I’m up to the task!

I have great expectations for the upcoming year and all the years beyond it. I know I will achieve my dreams and keep dreaming up even bigger ones to chase. I believe in myself and I know my own strength and I’m certain I can accomplish whatever I put my determined mind to! Thanks, Dad, you taught your girl well!

I’m pasting in the post I wrote up last year in honor of his memory. I was given an unexpected and wonderful gift last October. It was a huge step toward healing my heart and finally remembering in happiness all the greatness of my father.

***

my fathers grave

Casting Shadows – 10/22/2012

My father was a great man. He wasn’t perfect by any means but as I say, perfect is boring and quite honestly, unattainable.  What made my father great was his kind heart, caring nature, quirky sense of humor, passion for and knowledge of history, and most importantly, the love he had for his family. That love lives on even though he has departed this world and every day his spirit touches me in some way. I am a mere shadow of the person he was but I strive every day to attain such greatness.

I expected last week to be tough and it certainly had its low moments but they were countered by some amazingly unexpected high moments.  Life has tested me over the past couple months and given me challenges I managed to overcome even though I stumbled a bit. My faith in certain things left me but my hope for those same things remained. 

This past week I was shown that even though I lose faith and succumb to the darker side of shadows, faith never completely gives up on me. Hope is a very powerful force and it is intertwined with faith whether we realize it or not. There was one thing I could not give up on, despite saying I had and trying to convince myself I had. I can’t explain why I didn’t give up, why I couldn’t let go, aside from the fact that I just didn’t want to. There was perhaps a different reason, a deeper meaning behind my inability to release that last little bit of hope. Whatever the reason, a great gift was bestowed upon me last week and it proved to me that I have the most amazing best friend in the world! It also showed me that shadows are not something to be feared because they can not exist without light.

So while I expected my path last week to go one way, it went a completely new way and in a lovely upward direction. I still had sad moments where the tears from missing my father flowed freely, but amid those moments the love of my friends and family shined through, lifted me up and kept me strong.  I learned to smile again and I laughed without restraint and I sang loudly and off key in my car to songs that I hadn’t wanted to hear anymore until that moment.  

My oldest daughter noted that I was going around the house singing my snippets of show tunes again and when I asked if it bothered her she said “No!” For her to say that tells me that I was lower than I realized. The 10 year old girl who had always rolled her eyes and grumbled when her mother sang “I feel pretty” was now smiling at the sound of my voice and that was yet another blessed gift. I am one person but I am made better and held together by the spirits of my family and friends. I shall never take that for granted again and I will pay heed to my father’s voice in my head when he tells me “Be patient.” Slow down, breathe, relax, have faith, hold hope and continue on the path and the rewards will always be surprising.

The Desire to Share

As I’ve said many times, I love to cook and bake. I used to be a great hostess when I was married and my then husband’s friends and coworkers would come over. I put together food for our annual Halloween party that included delectable treats for kids and adults. I love cooking a lot of food for a house full of people and enjoying it with them. That element of my life evaporated when I got divorced and all of those “friends” chose my ex over me. I haven’t hosted a party in four years, I don’t have enough friends to fill a house anymore.

I still love making lots of food and trying new recipes though. I have great hope that eventually I’ll have a social circle again. I’m pretty sure it will happen when I live in Massachusetts or New Hampshire. I get glimpses of what can be when I visit North Shore Massachusetts. Complete strangers are kind to me, people I’ve never met before treat me like a friend and want to see me again. For a semi-introvert, still inwardly shy girl like me, that means a lot. Someday I won’t be a tourist anymore, someday I’ll be a resident.

cider bread ingredients

The hard cider bread ready to come out of the oven.

The hard cider bread ready to come out of the oven.

I’m looking forward to being that house on the street that emits such amazing sweet and savory smells everyone wonders “What’s Julie mixing up now?” and then comes over to find out. The way I bake and cook, there will be plenty to go around! I’ll enjoy soaking up the feedback on new recipes and revel in any compliments I receive. I’ll have infamous cookouts where people come watch me battle grill flames and come out victorious. I’ll deliver trays of cookies, muffins and breads to nearby businesses just to make them smile. Yes, it will be lovely!

My girls favorite little crescent dogs

My girls favorite little crescent dogs

I miss sharing that part of myself, the part of me that I express by making irresistible food. I put a lot of thought and care into what I bake. I’m always tweaking recipes to make it just a smidge better and trying new flavor combinations. I spend my days of solitude now preparing for that life when I have a social circle again. Four years is a long time for a hostess not to have the opportunity to do what she does best.

Envisioning a Dream Kitchen

 

wayside kitchens littleton ma

Kitchen Design by Wayside Kitchens in Littleton, MA

I think I managed to perfect my pancake recipe the other night. I often make pancakes for dinner. It’s a tradition my father started and one I enjoy carrying on. The pancakes came out fluffy, moist and melt in our mouths! The girls had four each that night and they were gone after two morning breakfasts. I was so proud of myself I finally took out a new 3×5 card and rewrote the recipe so I’d know exactly what to do next time. I’m looking forward to next time!

The following night I made my best homemade macaroni and cheese ever! It wasn’t technically macaroni and cheese because I didn’t use elbow macaroni, I used mini shells but it was still good! I don’t think every woman’s place is in the kitchen but I love being in the kitchen cooking and baking and I happen to be a woman. My kitchen sink is right in front of a window and I love being able to watch and listen to the birds on my back feeder. I also just started a small herb garden and every day I set it on the windowsill to soak up the sunshine.

The view out my kitchen window.

The view out my kitchen window.

It should come as no surprise that when I’m looking at pictures of homes and interior design online my favorite room to investigate is the kitchen. I dream of having one of those big kitchens with an eat-in island or peninsula, double ovens, several professional-grade gas burners, a huge fridge/freezer combo, two sinks (one of them apron front), a stand mixer with tons of attachments and beautiful layers of light from windows, pendant lamps, under-cabinet lighting and recessed fixtures. That might sound excessive but this is a dream and I don’t put limits on my dreams.

In between articles today I’d pause to look at gallery photos from kitchen remodeling businesses in New Hampshire and Massachusetts. I decided it would be good to know what my options are when I need my dream kitchen built in my dream New England home. Just because it’s a dream doesn’t mean I can’t be practical about it. I’ve embedded links to the businesses in the photos I used. I will now shamelessly plug that I’m available to write blog postings for them if they’re ever interested.

The picture below is my winner for ultimate dream kitchen layout. I love the colors, the unique backsplash behind the cooktop and all the windows but there are some things I’d want to change. Pros: The overall layout, tons of natural light, combination of darker wood cabinets and lighter wood island (complete with beadboard wainscoting), glass front cabinets with interior lighting, the tile wall, has all the features I like including double ovens, dishwasher, two sinks (one by the window and one in the island), gas cooktop and large island with seating. Cons: stainless steel appliances (I prefer black), no cabinet facade on the refrigerator, knobs as cabinet hardware (I have them now and they come unscrewed all the time) the color and style of the stools doesn’t seem to fit the room and the pendant lights are pretty but a bit too small. Perhaps I’m a bit picky but hey, this is my dream and I’m allowed.

Design by Dream Kitchens of Nashua, NH

Design by Dream Kitchens of Nashua, NH

To see all the pins I added today check out my Favorite Kitchen Designs on Pinterest!

Endless Dreams

This morning I was browsing houses for sale in North Shore Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire. Jordan had just finished her breakfast so she came over and looked at some of the photos. She expressed great interest in the pictures I had up on my screen.

There was a lot to like in the houses I was looking at. They all had lovely floor plans and nice lots and were far newer than my current house. I told Jordan that I look at houses for sale to inspire me to keep working hard at my writing. I told her the only way I could afford to own a house out there is by selling a book (or six) for substantial money.

Jordan’s response was that several people seemed to like my “Unbroken Flames” book and I said that yes, they did. Alas, I’m still so busy writing freelance for income that I can’t write for pleasure. It’s a frustrating conundrum. I’m sure I’ll figure out a win/win solution eventually.

Jordan asked what was involved with my job as a freelance writer and I told her it’s like writing several short research papers every day. My mind is so stimulated by the time I go to bed that I have endless and detailed dreams every night. I can doze off for 20 minutes and have five different dreams. So while I do sleep through the night, it’s not the kind of sleep that leaves me feeling rested.

At the end of the day I lose my ability to spell easy words correctly or even talk in forward sentences. I was reading football stats yesterday afternoon and I read “tackled” as “tickled.” Now wouldn’t that be a totally different game! Amusing yes, but a bit exasperating. Mental exhaustion with a purpose I suppose.

While I sleep I have endless dreams. While I’m awake they transform into endless daydreams that motivate me to keep plugging away with my writing work. If achieving dreams was easy then everyone would have done it by now. I have faith that someday after a full day of rewarding writing I’ll have the pleasure of taking a stroll on a Massachusetts beach to watch the sunset and be soothed by the sounds of the crashing waves.

Sometimes What You Want Most…

jaycie gift2

Jaycie opening one of her birthday gifts

Sometimes what you want most turns out to be something you didn’t even know existed. This was the case for my daughter Jaycie yesterday during her birthday party at my house. She’d been saying for over a month that what she really wanted for her birthday was the Twilight Sparkle pony from the latest My Little Pony incarnation. She has that particular pony at my mother’s house but not mine. I went on my favorite shopping site of Amazon and ordered a little two-pony set with Twilight Sparkle and Princess Cadence.

While shopping on Amazon I found some MLP items I’d never heard of before. They’re called Equestria Girls and they’re apparently the next installment of the My Little Pony story. They looked adorable and like something Jaycie would love so I grabbed a couple. I figured if she didn’t like them, her sister Jordan would.

I picked Jaycie and Jordan up from their father’s house yesterday afternoon and Jaycie showed me her birthday loot. She wasn’t overly thrilled about any of it though because she hadn’t received Twilight Sparkle. It was hard for me to contain my excitement because I knew that the exact thing she wanted was waiting for her at my house! She said “I hope I get my favorite gifts at Mommy’s house.” She was so sure she just wouldn’t be happy unless she got that pony.

Jaycie with the pony-filled castle in the background

Jaycie with the pony-filled castle in the background

I took the girls to my house and made them a snack while we waited for my mother and older brother to arrive. Once they did, I asked Jaycie when she wanted to open her presents and she of course said “Right now!” My mom brought over the gifts from her and my brother and Jaycie ripped through those pretty quick. She seemed to like them all but alas, no pony. I then brought out my gifts. The first was a MLP lunch box and the next was an Equestria Girl version of Apple Jack. Jaycie opened it, seemed puzzled by it and wasn’t overly excited about it. The third gift was Twilight Sparkle and Cadence but there wasn’t the enthusiasm I was expecting. The last gift was Rainbow Dash as an Equestria Girl and I could see that Jaycie was trying to take it all in.

Jordan and I started helping Jaycie get the toys out of their boxes and even out of the boxes, she didn’t seem excited about any of them. Jordan however was extremely eager to play with the Equestria Girls. I put Apple Jack’s cowboy hat on her head and showed it to Jaycie and she just sort of looked at it. Then I said that I was going to play with Apple Jack and Jaycie suddenly had a huge interest in her! Within the next half hour, Jaycie was enthusiastically playing with both Equestria Girls and the Twilight Sparkle set. When Jordan asked if she could play with one of the girls Jaycie wasn’t exactly thrilled to share. By the end of the night, Jaycie took the Equestria Girls to bed and left everything else in the living room, including the much desired Twilight Sparkle.

My girls playing with birthday toys

My girls playing with birthday toys

While all of that involves toys and might not seem very deep and meaningful, it showed me something. Jaycie thought she knew exactly what she wanted, what she would love the most, and yet discovered that she loved something else even more, something she hadn’t even known about. That says to me that life is full of pleasant surprises if you’re just open to them. Sometimes you’re so focused on one thing that you can’t see the other amazing possibilities until they bop you on the nose. When you expand your vision and let go of your narrow focus, you’re better able to enjoy everything going on around you so you don’t miss ANY of the good stuff!