Thursday, December 31, 2015

Christmas in D.C.

The White House, Washington, D.C.
That outdoor vestibule behind us was added last year after a man jumped
the white house fence and made it all the way inside the front door!

Ted and I are lucky to have a long break between the fall and spring semesters, so we decided to take a road trip for the holidays. Our first stop was 8.5 hours from Oxford: Washington, D.C.

Whenever we're going to be away from home for an extended period, we take the cats along for the ride. The process of corralling and catching them has become pretty routine, and they have become excellent travelers.

The first hour usually goes something like this (turn your volume up):

But once they realize that this is going to be a long haul, they settle down and the rest of the trip goes more like this:

We are also lucky to have friends and family members who will let us bring three cats into their home while we visit them (thanks, family!). It's helpful that our cats always use the litter box and don't (usually) scratch the furniture.

I won't summarize the whole vacation, but I will share photos from a fun event - the White House holiday tour! Our sister-in-law was able to get 4 tickets, so we joined them to see all the decorations. To get in, we had be pre-approved a couple weeks in advance and then go through 3 separate security check points, one of which involved being sniffed by a secret service dog. 

Before going in, Ted and I toured the Christmas tree display behind the white house. There was one tree for each state, all decorated with ornaments made in-state (some from artists and some from schools or other programs). I snapped photos of the Ohio and Oregon trees:

The Oregon ornaments were made from items found along the Oregon coast.

There was also a large central tree with an electric train and village set up around the base. The ground was littered with coins from people who were trying to toss them into the train's boxcars as it passed.

You can see the small state trees just beyond the people in the background.

There was some added excitement when a large military helicopter took off from the White House lawn! We're pretty sure the President was not on board, though, as there had been photos published earlier that week that showed him playing golf in Hawaii.

The White House tour itself is self-guided. You are free to move along at your own pace through designated hallways and rooms. In the past, photography was not allowed, but since everyone kept sneaking photos with their camera phones anyway, the WH now allows the taking of photos. This is both exciting and annoying, as much of the tour now involves side-stepping other people's selfies.

Each state had a personalized snowflake in this hallway display.

The Obamas' dogs had their own display of tennis ball Xmas trees.

A gingerbread White House covered in chocolate

Check out the legs on that piano!

At the end of the tour there was a White House employee ready to take our photo under the presidential seal. Unfortunately, we were photo-bombed from the adjoining room... Too bad it wasn't President Obama!

Ted's twin brother and our sister-in-law who got us the tickets

This is the second time we've had the privilege of touring the White House, and both times were well-orgnized and easy. The wait to get in is not too long since you are given an entry time, and the tour itself is just the right length. If you are interested in doing this the next time you're in Washington, D.C., you can find information here on the White House webpage. Plan ahead!! You have to request tickets at least 3 weeks in advance.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

All You Need is Love... and Friends

It's hard to stay happy and positive these days. The news from around the world is atrocious. People are attacking each other in the real world and even in the cyber world. Facebook is no longer a source of entertainment or camaraderie - it has become a platform for taking sides and sharing ignorant and insulting memes. There seems to be less and less gray between the black and white.

Yesterday started with Ted and I returning to bed after breakfast, which should be an enjoyable way to spend a Saturday, but instead it was because we had both lost the will to face the world.  On top of news of terrorists, police brutality, and climate change, we are facing our own personal disappointments such as a dearth of academic jobs during the very time that Ted is trying to establish his career as a college professor.

We might have stayed in bed all day, had it not been for the persistent "dinging" texts of one friend who wanted us to come to the Cincinnati Zoo for the Festival of Lights and another friend informing us of the Oxford Community Arts Center Christmas craft fair.

We rather grudgingly dragged ourselves out of bed and out into the cold, foggy world. And don't you know, the longer we spent outside, the better we felt. Isn't it funny that the hardest thing to do is usually the thing that best heals you? It also didn't hurt that the sun finally came out around 1:00pm (see photo above of the sun working hard to burn off that fog).

It was those texting friends that saved us from the depths of despair. The Christmas craft fair reminded me that we live in a strong community and that most people are friendly and not psychotic killers. I got some Christmas shopping done and supported the local artisans of my community. I was uplifted by the singing of the Christmas carolers and the efforts of some young violin players. I drank a peppermint latte. And I wouldn't have gone had it not been for my friend's urging.

After the craft fair, Ted and I drove about 50 minutes to the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens. There we met up with my other texting friend to meander through the light displays and animal exhibits in the dwindling daylight. The weather was cold, but the company was excellent, and though Ted and I had had to mentally force ourselves to get there, we ended up staying even after our friends left. There was the smell of cookies and candied nuts (and elephants) in the air, thousands of tiny twinkling lights, Christmas trees and bows and gingerbread houses, and even Santa's reindeer.

A good friend

My friends reminded me that there are still things left to enjoy in this world. For now, I choose to focus on that.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! (a little late, I know, but photo collection and editing took a little longer than I expected...)

Ted and I drove to Virginia for the holiday - about 8.5 hours of driving time. The kitties didn't come with us this time, but they'll travel with us for Christmas.

Thanksgiving Day was much easier than usual this year, thanks to some division of labor in the kitchen. The menu included:
  • Organic, pre-cooked turkey (yum! and easy)
  • Sweet potato and marshmallow casserole
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Green bean casserole
  • Stuffing, stuffing, stuffing
  • Kale salad with butternut squash
  • Brussels sprouts
  • And all the fixins (cranberry sauce, rolls, gravy, etc)

Try your hand at the twin game: Ted or Paul? ;)

In addition to delicious food, we got lots of time with Ted's family - playing at the park, several family dinners, and sorting through the storage shed!

If you think it is easy to get a clear photo of a 3-year old, then you must not know any 3-year olds.

And of course, what would a family gathering be without a little photo shoot?

the beautiful Paige

We were a little sad when the time finally came to leave, but our own pets were very, very happy when we came back home:

And since we needed just a little more Thanksgiving turkey, I roasted a half turkey from a local farm today! These are the kinds of things you do to fill your time when you only work two days a week...

Now all we need is a little cranberry sauce, some mashed potatoes, stuffing... 

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Christmas Crafting

It's the most wonderful time of the year! This year I am feelin' the Christmas spirit. I've already done most of my Christmas shopping, I listened to Christmas music BEFORE Thanksgiving (blasphemy), and I am really looking forward to some Starbucks' peppermint mochas in the upcoming weeks (despite the sinister red cup drama).

To kick off the Christmas season I got the decorations out of the basement today, including some cheap plastic ornaments I bought at the Dollar Store two years ago. I had this wreath project in mind then, but I never actually got around to doing it.

To set the mood for crafting, I put on some Christmas music and lit my new favorite Bath & Body Works candle, which is the "invigorating fragrance of snow-dusted balsam, fir trees and eucalyptus leaves." I highly recommend it, however it is STRONG, so you can only have it lit for short periods.

To begin, I bent a wire coat hanger into a circular shape and started threading my cheap plastic ornaments onto the wire. 

Once I had them all on there, I fiddled with them til they looked pretty good and glued them to each other using a hot glue gun.

To finish it off I taped the two loose ends together and glued one final ornament over the gap (reserved for this purpose).

To cover up the few areas that were less than perfect, I glued on some gold poinsettia flowers and finished with a glittery gold star in the center of my wreath.

Voila! My Christmas wreath is finished and hung. Even though the ornaments are cheap, they look pretty from afar (they're not even that bad close up).

Come winter, my front door will look like this:

Actually, I probably can't leave this up in rain or snow since the ornaments are covered in glitter - I don't want it to wash away. It's a nice pop of color on our white door, though, and I hope it spreads some Christmas spirit to our neighbors!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Put a Bird On It

This past weekend I had a little friend date at IKEA. When the weather turns cold, it's nice to have an "indoor hike", and IKEA is the perfect size for about 1.5 - 2.5 hours of walking (depending on how much stuff you stop to look at). One of my favorite purchases this time around was a package of wall decals.  

I have been wanting to put some art on the large wall above my bed, but I am afraid to hang anything framed for fear that it will fall on my head in the middle of the night (with cats who get into everything, this is a very real fear). When I saw these wall decals at IKEA, I realized I had finally found the solution.

While fairly easy to apply, I must say that Saturday Night Live could probably do a pretty good skit about the experience. Once you peel the decals off the paper, they have SO MUCH static cling in them; they're like living tentacles that grab at anything within their reach - the wall, the bed frame, your arm, your hair, a cat... Trying to put the long, skinny branch stickers exactly where I wanted them on the wall was a little hilarious, but I got them up eventually.

Of course I couldn't have done it without the "help" of my supervisor:

Once the branches were up, it was just a matter of laying out the bird choices and then sticking them on here and there. The small bird decals were much easier to manage than the branches, and they are easy to peel off if you need to adjust them. 

I didn't love all the bird designs, so I only put up the ones I liked, and there are also 3-4 branch stickers left over. You can see in some of the photos that the decals are a bit reflective when the light hits them a certain way, but for $13 I'd say I got my money's worth. I'm just hoping they still peel off easily when we're ready to move out of this rental...