Wednesday, December 30, 2009

San Francisco, Here I Come!

One year ago today, I was walking across Golden Gate Bridge.

Exploring San Francisco on my own was one of the most amazing experiences. I fell in love with the funky city on the Bay, what with it's collection of fiercely individualistic neighborhoods, decadent food and drink, and of course - views a plenty.

Up until a couple weeks ago, San Fran wasn't even on my radar as a coming travel destination, but lady luck (okay, Bluegrass Brit) showed favor on me and is sharing some nearly expired buddy passes.

I jumped at the chance to jet off somewhere far from home.

After surveying Southwest's flight routes and exploring what several cities will have to offer in mid-January, I settled on San Francisco. It was a close fight - Restaurant Week in SF versus Restaurant Week in NYC versus a never-before-visited Seattle.

Ahh, San Francisco. One has to look no further than Hitchcock's Vertigo to understand why someone would fall in love with such a magical place.

Wingman is joining me for this trip. He is quick to tell you he's. been. everywhere. and happily, he signed up to fly the friendly skies with me in two weeks.

We're either going to be great friends or arch enemies after a jaunt out west.

My brain is in overdrive, considering what I want to accomplish in San Francisco.

I've walked Golden Gate (but would likely enjoy driving it), I've been to the Ferry Building/Embarcadero, Fisherman's Wharf and Pier 39. Don't mind revisiting the former, but would be just fine with skipping the rest.

I didn't get to go to Alcatraz or on a Bay cruise last year, so that may be in order this time around.

On my list of hopefuls: the Legion of Honor, Harvey Milk's photography shop and City Lights. I am still kicking myself for walking by -but not stopping in- that historic bookstore.

Of course, I have to have an Irish Coffee or two at The Buena Vista. Watching those tenders is like taking in high drama or a symphony of alcoholic precision. And the fashionista in me is toying with a trip to Lemon Twist for a custom made coat.

Hey, a girl can dream, right?

That we are visiting San Francisco during Restaurant Week is no coincidence. For all my exposure and interest in good food, Wingman's palate can run circles around mine, so I'm looking forward to getting schooled on dining while we're in CA.

We've thrown out the idea of daytripping to Napa, but who knows where whimsy will take us.

I'm kind of hoping to explore Berkley, too, as I've never explored the other places around the Bay. My parents and Rusty/The Divine Ms. M say Tiburon and Sausalito are spectacular, too.

I don't know what it is about travel.

The thought of adventure makes my heart dance. The opportunity for new experiences and a break from reality sounds delicious, and a chance to see a less familiar part of the world makes me feel one step closer to understanding humanity.

Schmaltzy, yes. But it's how I feel, folks.

Anybody out there with some good suggestions for traveling San Francisco?

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Kate's Random Musings by Kate the Great is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Soup's On

I've always been a "souper."

It's a trait or preference first nurtured by my grandfather, who was always good for downing a huge bowl of Italian wedding soup.

"I even have a little machine that helps me make the meatballs," he'd say.

Minestrone, Miso and Mulligatawny. Chowder, Cheesy Potato or Chilled Cherry.

I've never met a soup I didn't like.

Christmas Eve was the perfect occasion for a hot, steamy bowl of soup. My mom thought since we would gorge ourselves on turkey and dressing the following day, lighter fare would be more appropriate that evening. We couldn't agree more. There's something about warming up with friendly conversation and a heaping bowl of soup on a winter's night.

Imagine our delight when our spoons dove into Barefoot Contessa's Roasted Vegetable Soup.

The recipe actually starts with Ina Garten's Roasted Winter Vegetables:

1 lb. carrots, peeled
1 lb. parsnips, peeled
1 large sweet potato, peeled
1 small butternut squash (about 2 lbs.) peeled and seeded
3 T good olive oil
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 freshly ground black pepper
2 T chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Cut carrots, parsnips, sweet potato and butternut squash into 1 to 1 1/4 inch cubes. All vegetables will shrink while baking, so don't cut too small.

Place all vegetables in a single layer on two sheet pans. Drizzle them with olive oil, salt and pepper. Toss well. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes until the vegetables are tender, turning once with a metal spatula.

Sprinkle with parsley and season to taste.

For the soup:

6 to 8 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
1 recipe Roasted Winter Vegetables
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Good olive oil

In a large saucepan, heat 6 cups chicken stock (though my mom says bouillon cubes and water is just fine, too). In two batches, coarsely puree the roasted vegetables and the chicken stock in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pour the soup back into the pot and season to taste. Thin with more chicken stock and reheat. The soup should be thick but not like a vegetable puree, so add more chicken stock and/or water until it's the consistency you like.

Drizzle with olive oil and serve with croutons.

(Ed note: my mom fried up some bacon and garnished the soup with fresh, crumbled bits. The smoky, salty flavor of the bacon was a perfect compliment to the soup).

Monday, December 28, 2009

My Life In Pictures

I know I've been AWOL.

Please don't hate me.

Life (the Holidays, family, friends, other obligations) got in the way of my posting. I imagine it got in the way of your routine, too.

Here's a glimpse at some of the chaos I weathered this past Saturday.

My days are never ordinary, that's for sure.


9:30 AM - Chilling dark chocolate dessert cups ahead of the evening's dinner plans.

2 PM - Taking a break from the dinner preparations to pick up some new shoes. Michael Kors platform, snakeskin stilettos. $40, down from $130. Score.

6:30ish PM - Hanging out at Urgent Care in Oakley to pick up three stitches and a Tetanus shot after I had a run-in with a mandolin. For my non-cooking friends - I did not go to battle against a musical instrument. A mandolin is a flat plain device with a blade in the middle; it's used to slice vegetables very thinly.

It's also used to slice thumb flesh very thinly.

8:30 PM - Back to work in the kitchen after my First Aid hiccup. This is a pic of the most fabulous acorn squash dish. The squash is roasted and then dressed with a citrus/chili/cilantro dressing. Dynamite.

8:45 PM - Resting London Broil, prepared with a treasured family recipe marinade. I was not permitted to slice the meat or do anything that involved cutting for the rest of the evening.

8:45 PM - Potatoes Anna. The dish that was my downfall of the evening. Thankfully, my dinner company was quite comfortable working a mandolin and otherwise preparing this dish. The evening was redeemed.

8:55 PM - The plated meal in all its glory.

10 PM - What was the point of those balloons dipped in chocolate, anyway?? Here's a look at my "Hot Chocolate Mousse." You can find the recipe in the Junior League of Cincinnati's latest cookbook, Cincinnati Seasoned.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Social Calendar

Who says there's nothing going on in Cincinnati?

I've found a bunch of fun stuff going on in the Queen City. Check your calendar and see what you can squeeze in during the next few weeks.


Thursday December 24 - The Feast of Seven Fishes:
The owners of Bella Luna are welcoming you to a special family tradition. La Vigilia is an Italian Christmas Eve tradition that showcases seven varieties of fish. Bella Luna is serving up a seafood buffet with seafood cannelloni, shrimp Parmigiana, zuppa di pesce, sole fiorentina, smoked salmon rigatoni, cod piccata style, and salted baccala. There will also be pasta and meat choices. Salad, bread and dessert are included in the meal price of $26.95. 4632 Eastern Ave., Linwood. Call 513-871-5862 for reservations.


Dec 29- "Loveland"
Ann Randolph's newest one-woman show about her hometown has been selling out in San Francisco. The play is about an irreverent, lovable woman as she travels back from LA to her childhood home in Ohio as she confronts the loss of the biggest love of her life. Mel Brooks has compared Randolph to Gilda Radner for her extreme brand of humor and ability to take us from tears to laughter in the same minute.

The author of "Squeeze-Box" brings the show to Cincinnati for one performance only (for her mom at the holidays). 7:30 p.m., Jarson-Kaplan Theater, Aronoff Center for the Arts, 650 Walnut St., Downtown. 513-621-2787. $22.


New Year's Eve

Mynt Martini
This ultraluxe club on Fountain Square is launching with a grand opening on New Year’s Eve. Tickets are $40 a person. Owners spent $1.4 million decking out the space - the venue will regularly feature a five hour happy hour with five dollar appetizers and five dollar cocktails.

Tonic on 4th
Cincinnati native Boom Bip (aka Bryan Hollon) will DJ at Tonic on 4th on New Year's Eve. Tonic is only selling 150 tickets for the special event ($45 per person), which includes a champagne toast at midnight, two drink tickets with entry before 9 pm, and one drink ticket after 9 pm.

CSL New Year’s Eve Party
The ever-popular CSL New Year's bash is taking over Oakley's 20th Century once again. Tickets are $70 per person and include a ticketed bar with guests receiving six tickets for Bud Light bottles and four tickets for Smirnoff Pineapple, Smirnoff Pear or Crown Royal cocktails. Guests will also enjoy a champagne toast at midnight and a buffet with a variety of hors d'oeuvres, desserts and coffee. The Paul Otten Band will entertain the crowd.

FB's on 6th Street is partnering with Moet, Chandon, & Belvedere for a limited-ticket event on New Year's Eve. For $50 a person, guests will enjoy their own champagne split and specials on a variety of champagne cocktails. Table service is available for $500, which includes a magnum bottle of Chandon and a magnum bottle of Belvedere.

Cincinnati Art Museum
Through January 3 - Roaring Tigers, Leaping Carp
This collection of over 100 pieces of painting and sculpture delves into the symbolism of animals in Chinese art.

Through January 17 - Imperishable Beauty
Late 19th and early 20th Century jewelry from France, Germany, Austria and the U.S.


Friday January 8 - Junior League of Cincinnati Lounge Party at Hugo
The Junior League of Cincinnati lounge party is the perfect opportunity to catch up with friends after the holidays. Guests can enjoy drink specials from 8 - 10 pm and a variety of sophisticated Southern dishes.


January 12 Spring Awakening at the Aronoff
This Tony Award-winning rock musical is very racy and a little bit controversial. Set in Late 19th Century Germany, this show explores the discovery of sex, and how younger and older generations view eroticism differently. Music by Duncan Sheik.

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

RIP Chris Henry

He coulda been a contender.

Sure, he had the talent and the opportunity, but Chris Henry never really made it big for what he was intended. His body, his innate design was meant for gridiron greatness, but Henry's ability to achieve was clouded with his many hangups with the law.

An extensive rap sheet full of arrests for DUI, assault, marijuana possession and criminal damaging, Henry's illegal entanglements did more to tarnish his reputation and threaten his future as a wide receiver in the NFL.

But something happened, and Chris Henry finally learned a tough lesson - we all have to play by the rules. He started cleaning up his checkered act after a four-game suspension in the 2008 season, and finished with 19 receptions for 220 yards and two touchdowns.

I had an interesting brush with the Cincinnati Bengal just about a month ago. It could have turned into a bit of drama, but he made it quite apparent he didn't want any trouble - he just wanted some pizza.

Some of my friends and I stopped by Lucy Blue in Over-the-Rhine for some late night 'za after an event at Music Hall. We waited in our heels and hose, teeth chattering in the November cold, when a strapping gentleman strode to the head of the line.

A dear friend of mine, a scrappy attorney who is busy making change in Greater Cincinnati, was none too pleased to be bypassed by this guy. She puffed up her chest and offered a brief exchange, essentially threatening to kick his ass with her stilettos.

That's when a gentleman friend of ours whispered to me, "Hey. Does she know she's trying to pick a fight with Chris Henry?"

My friend tossed a few barbs at him, but Henry stood there silently, leaning against the pick-up window in a hoodie and a pair of jeans. I smiled and tossed out a comment along the lines of Hey shouldn't you be getting ready for tomorrow's game?

The man grew quiet and said, "I'm not who you think I am. Besides, the Bengals are in Oakland. And I'm here."

"Yeah, but you're on the D-L," I replied.

Chris Henry smiled, grabbed his pizza and hopped in the back of a big, shiny black SUV.

He just wanted some pizza. No trouble. No fanfare. No confrontation.


He coulda been a contender.

*** *** *** ***

In closing, here's what Chris Henry says, in his own words, about the transformation his life has experienced.


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Kate's Random Musings by Kate the Great is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Saint Clare of Assisi

Dear Patron Saint of Television Workers,

Please watch over George Stephanopolous-or-however-you-spell-it as he takes on his first week of replacing Diane Sawyer on Good Morning America.

Help George to aspire to having a personality more congenial than a cardboard cereal box. Allow George to make superfluous, editorial comments that do more than show him to be impersonal and lacking depth.

Give George some shoe lifts or an overnight growth spurt or something comparable that helps change the current appearance that he is Robin Roberts' ventriloquist dummy and they're about to perform a trick with a glass of water.

Teach George levity (has his marriage to Ali Wentworth done nothing to break this man's steely exterior?) and give him the gift of approachability.

And if all else fails, unleash Sawyer's fembot clone.

I am fighting off making the switch to Today (or, God forbid, the Early Show).

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Friday, December 11, 2009

Serves You Right

This is a blog post I wrote for my office blog. It's an important theme to me, so I thought I'd share it here, too. Enjoy.


I think I was 13 the first time I walked into United Way's building on Reading Road.I wasn't the organization's youngest intern, and I wasn't beginning my career as an 8th grader.

No, I was seeking out a volunteer opportunity as part of a confirmation obligation.

My mom took me to the "Community Chest" building, as it was called back in the day, to meet with someone who could place me with an assignment that fit our family's schedule and availability. After all, someone had to drive me to this mythical volunteer opportunity, right?This was a commitment for my parents just as much as it was for me.

My recollection is hazy, but I remember sitting in a staff member's cube (it's killing me that I can't remember who it was, but then again, I was 13) for about 15 minutes or so, then leaving with an assignment at a senior center/nursing home facility in Montgomery.

My first day was scary - I had never really interacted with adults without my parents, and I wasn't quite as confident on my own. I also was a bit uneasy about seeing some of the seniors who needed more care. I didn't know how to communicate with them, and I wasn't sure if they wanted to communicate with me.

Over time, I really enjoyed the experience - making crafts and singing songs with the residents. I also loved it when they told me jokes or let me wheel their chairs to their rooms for them.

Truth be told, I was also a big fan of spending a couple bucks on soda and candy at the nursing home's vending machines.

The experience was my first foray in volunteering, and it helped me realize how important it is to give back what you can.For me, it's time.

Twenty years later, a good chunk of my personal life is dedicated to voluntarism. Just last night, I spent a couple hours singing Christmas carols, stringing lights on a tree and enjoying cupcakes with children staying at a local battered women's shelter. While the moms joined us for the festivities, they all insisted the occasion was a way for the children to have a fun holiday moment in light of personal difficulty.

"Thanks for coming here and letting the kids have a nice evening," said one mom to me as another woman's baby sat in her lap, complete with rosy cheeks.

That's all the thanks I really need when volunteering. In fact, I don't really need any thanks. I'd much prefer a quality, one-on-one moment with an individual with whom I can pay my blessings forward.

And maybe a trip to the vending machine.

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Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Strangest Dream Ever

The wedding was at a country club.

At least, that's what I could surmise.

Bluegrass Brit and I showed up dressed in our finest - I think there may have been some ruching, taffeta and even sequins. We walked by a kelly green lawn when we discovered a sparkling pool with little, tan girls running around, squealing and horse playing along the edge of the turquoise waters.

Brit said it looked like fun. So we hightailed it to the Ladies' Lounge at the clubhouse and stripped out of our dresses, pantyhose and heels and put on something more appropriate for swimming beneath an azure sky.

I don't really remember any elements of us swimming, but what I do remember next in the sequence is us, standing over a balcony (in our bathing suits), watching the bridal party and guests arriving for the ceremony (or was this after the ceremony that we missed because of our swimming?). Not really germane to the dream, the groom was an unnamed Cincinnati council member. The women were all wearing elaborate gowns and dresses made of candy.

Yes. Made of candy.

The groom's mother was in a sugar spun confection that made her look like the Queen of Hearts. Sparkly, wispy and white, it had a sort of cape that fanned behind her head (have you ever seen any of Cate Blanchett's Elizabeth flicks?), accentuated by candied hearts.

The outfit was certainly sweet, but her chilly smirk was anything but. I think she was pissed because Brit and I were giggling and in our bathing suits - I think maybe we had reverted and become part of the little, tan girls I mentioned earlier, instead of the 30-something women we really are.

Another woman had a crazy dress right out of the Bill Cosby Sweaters collection - squiggles made of Twizzlers, gum drops and I think even some shreds of Big League Chew.

At this point, Brit and I decided we were missing out on a helluva party, so we ran back to the Ladies' Lounge at the club house, anxious to get our dresses back on.

I distinctly remember yelling, "But I can't find my Spanx! I can't find my Spanx!"

That's when Brit called up her husband, 007, who brought her makeup and other primping supplies.

007 couldn't find my Spanx, but I managed to put pantyhose on my still-wet legs and head to the party.

And then I woke up.

How bizarre.

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Kate's Random Musings by Kate the Great is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Random News Nuggets

First, the bad news:

The more attractive you're perceived, the more wealth and respect you'll earn in the workplace. Forbes says a study at Cornell University shows women who advance at work are more attractive, thinner, taller and have a more youthful appearance than colleagues who are promoted less often. You can read more in Susan's post on Working Moms Against Guilt.

My wishes for a Christmas elliptical trainer can't come to fruition soon enough.

*** *** ***

Now the good news (at least for my single friends):

Singletons - there's no reason to sulk and feel like a societal castoff. As it turns out, those folks who are over 40 and never-married are better adjusted psychologically than their married counterparts. A study in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships looked at:

"...three measures of psychological resources, including personal mastery (the degree people think they have control over things in life, which is important to avoid depression), agency (the tendency to focus on oneself, which is good for mental health) and self-sufficiency (a sense of autonomy, which is also linked with better mental health).

The never-married participants do tend to have fewer social resources, she
(Jamila Bookwala) said. "In general they tend to report less [perceived] support from families than marrieds."

But the higher the never-married individuals scored on those psychological resources, the better their emotional well-being, she found. Better, even, than the married folks, if they scored high on those measures..."

I guess this means I'll be a pretty emotionally grounded person if I hit 40 sans husband.

Hat tip to @ChenneyC for posting this nugget on Twitter.

*** *** ***

Cincinnati Bengal and renaissance man extraordinaire Dhani Jones is showing another series of photos at Country Club on Madison Rd. in Oakley. Launching with an opening this Friday night from 7 to 10 PM, I am hoping these pics from Senegal are as genuine and reflective as the showing he unveiled in October.

To get you in the mood for Jones' photos from West Africa, check out this piece in the NYT about Senegal's music scene.

Who's ready to go to Dakar?

*** *** ***
Celebrity chefs - I can take 'em or leave 'em. Paula Deen is okay, but I would pretty much rather gouge out my eyes over the prospect of watching Rachael Ray or Sandra Lee.

But, Nigella. That woman is a wonder to behold.

I first fell in love with Nigella four years ago while watching her short lived Nigella Bites (originally made for the BBC but rebroadcast on E! during the earlier part of this decade). In one episode, she and a BFF dove in to a bowl of homemade guacamole - first eating it, then smearing it all over their faces, while Nigella's voice over extolled the virtues of avocado on skin.

Nigella has a new Christmas cookbook out, and it includes a few gift ideas - including homemade chutney and preserves, as well as a variety of make ahead dishes.

*** *** ***
When you head to this season's holiday parties, some of you may choose to sip on one of the most traditional cocktails around - the Martini. The San Francisco Chronicle has a great piece all about the traditional libation, breaking down the drink's history, proportion of ingredients, variations and preparation techniques.

I like mine up, dirty with gin, garnished with blue cheese olives.

Who's buying?

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Sunday, December 06, 2009

Sip a Tipple

Everything happens for a reason.

It sounds trite, but it's a personal philosophy I hold near and dear - which leads me to wonder if the universe was working in harmony and leading me to delay posting this piece by a month and a half.

I met cocktail expert Molly Wellmann by chance when some of my friends and I stopped by Lavomatic after a Cincinnatus Association meeting. It was a heady, discuss-the-issues evening, and we were happy to unwind and lighten things up with a cocktail.

We had no idea what awaited us.

An effervescent gal was behind the bar, radiating fun and excitement about her craft. We were happy to oblige.

I returned to Lavomatic with the intent to pick Molly's brain about seasonal crafted cocktails, and was impressed by a brief list of thoughtfully designed drinks.

Molly Wellmann's Fall In A Glass - with Zwack, dry vermouth and cinnamon tincher

Bluegrass Brit and I combed over the list and tried smaller versions of these cocktails, starting with a Butternut Squash-tini, complete with Molly's homemade falarenum, a mixer made with rum, ginger, limes, clove and nutmeg. Molly treated us to a variety of other seasonal sips, some smoky with cachaca (a liqueur made of sugar cane that is grown at high altitudes in Brazil) and others warm and hinting of caramel tones. Gotta love bourbon.

You don't need to have a conversation with Molly to discover her talents - a good set of taste buds will lead you to make your own decision about this woman's skill, which makes the best of fresh ingredients and patiently manipulates them into perfection.

Indian Summer - named after a Broadway show - with sunshine bitters, Lillet and champagne

What I really enjoy about Molly is her passion for the drink.

A well-read cocktail historian, the tattooed beauty can tell you the roots about the beloved Martini (the original was first called a Martinez) and can also recommend a solid brunch cocktail if you're wanting something other than a Bloody Mary or a Mimosa (Molly suggests a Corpse Reviver - there are several versions, she'll make whichever one suits your palate).

Molly is a Cincinnati native who spent a stint in San Francisco before returning to our dear Queen City. A self taught mixologist, she relies on her beloved copy of the Savoy Cocktail Book, which was originally published in 1930 and has more than 750 libations to love.

Few bartenders in Cincinnati make their own bitters - Molly has a variety of them to alter the dimensions of your drink du jour. Also capable of making her own flavored liqueurs, Ms. Wellmann says she's also a skilled jeweler and nutritionist.

A woman who can make my drink sparkle *and* healthy - who could ask for anything more?

Molly recently parted ways with Lavomatic, which makes me wonder if the delay of my writing this blog post was kismet.

For weeks I was coping with technology problems involving both my computer and video camera - now that it's all worked out, I'm thrilled I get to write about Molly Wellmann's talents and the huge opportunity that awaits a local cocktail establishment.

Molly is seeking a chance to serve up sparkling cocktails at another lounge or bar - and her adoring fans (and there are many) are anxious to see where she lands.

Interested parties can reach Molly Wellmann at

Who's thirsty?

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Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Lots Still To Learn

32 was a pile of crap.

Actually, it was three piles of crap.

A year and a day ago, I started my birthday celebration by cleaning up three, very soupy piles of dog shit. I was house sitting, and one of my charges (Bluegrass Brit's beloved Branston Pickle) apparently came down with a digestive ailment.

I took my clean up duty as a sign of what was to come over the next year.

The rest of 32 ebbed and flowed the way life tends to do. I marked the closure of tumultuous relationships and started new, thought provoking and stimulating ones. I learned family forgives when you make a mistake, but has a hard time forgetting.

I learned (the hard way - not once, but twice) your car really will get towed by the cash-strapped cops if you have too many tickets or expired plates.

But 32 wasn't all dog crap and run-ins with the 5-0.

This year also showed me how great it feels to get involved in the community. It was my first time volunteering for and digging in to local politics.

I discovered I have what it takes to design and develop a pretty nice looking cookbook. I nurtured existing relationships and forged new ones - many based on a mutual commitment to support a movement of change in Greater Cincinnati. I embraced new work responsibilities and challenges, grateful for the opportunity of a daily job.

I saw the West Coast - twice - for the first time, and firmly decided I prefer the city to the desert.

This year brought with it a new niece to love while I coped with the ongoing grief of losing her big sister.

32 was a mixed bag of blessings and challenges, and in many ways I am grateful for both.

Yesterday morning when I woke up, there was no dog crap to clean up. No, instead, I remembered the Rabbit Rabbit trick shared by Udandi.

I'm always looking for an opportunity to fortify my chances of good luck. I renewed my license plates the day before my birthday - so at least I have that going for me.

Here's to hoping 33 is far less shitty than 32.

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