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short and sweet

Don't get me wrong, I loved January. How could I not? It was an adventure-filled, three-countries-visited-in-two-continents birthday month. I had wonderful birthday dinners celebrated in the company of great friends. Lots of highlights that month.

Yesterday, I found myself really looking forward to February. It's only twenty-eight days of cold (and, if the Nashville forecast is correct, some--thankfully--not so cold days), a perfect four weeks meant to be spent indoors. After all the shenanigans, I'm ready to spruce up the home base. We've been in this house for a year and a half now; it's time to put on the responsible homeowner hat.

I never got around to making New Year's resolutions and decided that I would take it month by month. February is going to be about regrouping, evaluating, and taking care of the relationships and possessions I am lucky enough to have. It won't be all fun and adventure but, I'm thinking, it might just be very satisfying.

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birthday in berlin

As much as I've fantasized about traveling and enjoy celebrating my birthday, it never crossed my mind to mark the occasion by being in another country. When M found out he would be going to Germany for a work trip, I put two and two together right away--if we left a couple of days early I could be in Berlin. For my birthday.

(It's cheating to add something to your life list and then cross it off straightaway...right?)

Because we just got back from a trip to Manila for the holidays, I was burned out. I'm the type who needs a loooot of recuperating time after travel. But I did my due diligence, testing out thermals underneath my jeans to make sure I could still zip everything up (I could, but I felt remarkably sausage-like). I decided that we should each only bring a carry-on to make train travel easier. Even with my planning, the day we left felt surreal. It was the middle of the week, less than two weeks earlier I'd been in Asia, and now we would be in Germany.

Needless to say, it was a wonderful trip. It was different--sobering in a way. While Berlin has a major landmark (Brandenburg Gate) and a German palace (Charlottenburg, and of course Potsdam is an hour away) and Museum Island, it's WWII I was reminded of everywhere I turned. Berlin is a city that doesn't shy away from this part of their history, from the small brass squares embedded in the sidewalks to commemorate individual Jews all over the city to the block-wide Holocaust Memorial. It's a city that made me think in a way that other places have not. Our dinner discussions were very serious at times.

Some take-aways from Berlin? The international food scene is great. Yes, we had curry wurst (M liked it more than I did), and I am totally sold on the German breakfast buffet, but we also enjoyed some really tasty tapas, Saigon street food (not legit but sooo amazing), and Italian. I've never been to Italy, but if the pasta there is better than what the Italians were serving us in Berlin, I expect to leave twice my size. I also wanted to toss out a hypothesis that Berliners love their organic and vegan everything (we even had vegan bath products in our hotel), but M shot this down, insisting that we were just staying at very trendy, hipster places. I'll reluctantly concede on that one. But we both agree: the city is a must-go.

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I woke up at 4:30 in the morning today. It's to be expected really. I've never been one to handle jetlag very well. The house emitted that kind of peaceful quiet that only happens in the very early hours. It felt nice to pad down the stairs, make myself a bowl of cereal in the dark, and then head back up to curl under crisp white sheets and finish my nth re-read of "My Beautiful Enemy." (Sherry Thomas, you're a genius.)

Every inch of this house feels like its mine. It's a wonderful feeling. Sure, it's messy right now with unfolded clothes and a pile of dirty ones heaped over luggage. And yes, it may stay that way for a few days, but the living/dining area is just as I like it. All the lights in the house are off, and the only source of illumination is an old Tocca candle--and the sun, rising, peeking through our blinds. The Head and the Heart is playing on my iPad, there's a steaming cup of tea next to me, and a generously jammy piece of toast.

Adventure is fun, eye-opening, and necessary--an inevitable means to growth--but oh how there is something to be said about home as well. I have a to-do list a mile long, all of these changes and DIY projects in my head, but it is already everything I need. A great thing to wake up to in the morning, regardless of the hour.

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wrapping up

It's early in the morning, and I'm typing in my office in the dark. Still I can see the chaos everywhere--piles of presents, rolls of shiny paper, unfinished lists, etc. It's the last three days before work officially goes on winter closure, and not long after that, Michael and I will be reunited with my family. But first, all of the emails need to be sent, the house cleaned, the to-dos squared away.

The other day, I emptied out a bottle of conditioner, body wash, and hand soap in the span of a morning. Don't you love that feeling when you finish something all the way through? Choosing just the right shampoo is a major source of glee--just ask my husband who has to wait (v. impatiently, of course) while I sniff every single option in the Target aisle. But I digress. My point is that crossing anything off the list feels like a major accomplishment these days.

The year is nearing its end, people. The magic of Santa and the tooth fairy have long faded away, but there is still something powerful about December 31st and the first day of the new year. Around this time, people talk about how new year resolutions don't work. Some take pride in not making any at all because what's the point? But I like to focus more on thinking than doing (although I do make resolutions!).

How was 2014? What did I love about it? What am I grateful for? What do I want to carry over into the new year? What do I want to be better at? What will make me happy? How do I want to treat others?

The quiet mornings are all the more special because they give me a chance to reflect. It's amazing how much--albeit sometimes how little--can occur in twenty-four hours, in five. Some of my favorite moments of the year only took two. As the clock winds down on 2014, it is awesome (in the old-fashioned sense of the word)  to think of all the possibilities, big and small, short and long, that lay ahead.

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celebrating with friends

The holiday season definitely feels different from how it did when we were kids, but that's a good thing, right? Yes, the wide-eyed wonder of Santa and the North Pole (I hope I'm not ruining it for you when I say he doesn't exist) and abundant glee from a mountain of gifts (now I wince when I look at my budget) are gone, but in its place is an opportunity to create a different kind of meaning. Not only do I appreciate family so much more, but there's a certain kind of magic in the celebrations we have with friends. Here are people with such different personalities who aren't tied by blood, creating meaningful bonds of their own, deriving joy from sharing time and traditions.

This weekend was a great reminder of that. I decided to bake a family favorite—the Malacañang Roll—as my contribution to a Thanskmas dinner. I'd never baked it before and have only made maybe two other cakes in the past five years or so, but decided to do it. What ensued was a comedy of errors. Oh I had fun singing at the top of my lungs to Taylor Swift (I went through both the 1989 and Red albums) and waving a wooden spoon around the kitchen, but when my filling wasn't thickening after a full forty minutes of stirring I got worried. So worried that I called my grandmother at 6:30 her time to ask what I had done wrong. After a lot of laughter, she said she had no idea. It eventually worked, so that should have been that, except that the icing decided not to cooperate either! The result? A truly fugly cake.

The perfectionist in me was wincing, but being surrounded by friends and holiday décor and all-around good cheer made me forget it. Trying out what everyone else made, talking about our plans with our families… While I sometimes miss feeling the way I did as a kid, there's so much more gratitude these days, so much kindness (in large acts and small) that completely flew over my head. And that's pretty wonderful too.

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blink and it's friday

Work was so busy, busy, busy this week that I am extra glad I got to relax and regroup last Sunday. As I type, I look around and wince at the piles of papers in the office and heaps of dirty dishes (yikes!) in the kitchen. One of the side effects of working from home is having a full dishwasher every couple of days even when the husband is out of town. Well, he's home now, but dish duty is my domain (he who cooks, does not clean—and I do not cook), so our sink is not a pretty sight.

It's a good, tired feeling—akin to how you feel after a great workout—hitting Friday with most of my to-dos crossed off. And it’s so easy to look at the bright side during the holiday season. After all, part of the reason I'm so tired is that I had a late night (which means in bed at 11:30 for an oldie like me—I know, so exciting) decorating a Christmas tree with good friends and another night having a book club session where we, of course, did not talk about the book at all, and consumed three bottles of wine among six women instead. And while this weekend's schedule is jam packed, I can't complain about a double date brunch and holiday shopping. I'm also really, really excited about a good holiday sit-down dinner with friends, so much so that instead of stealing the two free hours I have to read and relax, I will be baking away, likely to some Christmas tunes. A store-bought cake would be simpler and, let's be honest, likely yummier, but it just isn't the same.

I wonder—if it weren't Christmas, would I feel as optimistic, would my need-three-cups-of-tea-before-ten tiredness roll off my back as easily? It's an unexpected gift, this reminder that a simple perspective shift can make me so much happier. How nice it would be if I could carry this kind of joyfulness all year round.

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thankful for family

Happy Monday! Even though it was a challenge to wake up early this morning, I'm feeling pretty great--refreshed, relaxed, ready to tackle on the week, thanks to an amazing Thanksgiving-holiday-weekend. This year, we spent it in Atlanta with Michael's relatives: his uncle and aunt and their three kids and the grandparents. Princess (the grandparents' cat) was locked away because she doesn't get along with Muffin (another cat), and Annie (the dog) was vacationing in the mountains away from the rest of the family (long story), but Watson livened things up a bit.

Even before the move to Nashville, I was getting horribly out of practice on family time (my wonderfully boisterous and large family is now split pretty evenly between Manila and Vancouver), so I've come to see it as a real treat to be with relatives. I genuinely enjoy Michael's family. There are so many things to look forward to: brushing up my (non-existent) card shark skills, eating the yummiest home-cooked meals, and being entertained by the funniest kid I've ever met, among others. My favorite thing to do is just lean back and watch things unfold--Michael loves his family, and he's so happy around them. And it's so much fun to see the kids goof off. They're such good kids, Michael's cousins, so welcoming with their big hearts and happy smiles.

We headed home on Saturday night--much as I love family time, the introvert in me needs alone time to recharge--and puttered around on Sunday to get everything in order for the week. (Don't you just love having a day to regroup after a holiday? I feel so discombobulated otherwise!)

I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend with your families as well. I can't believe that this is only the beginning of the holiday season! It's going to be a great Christmas.

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