Author: Bekah McNeel

Golden Birthday Challenge: Days 10-16

Day 10: A new scent 

Two years ago we stayed at Hotel St. Cecilia in Austin, and I have been in love with Le Labo products ever since. Liz Lambert knows how to choose her products. I’ve toyed with the idea of switching to one of their frangrances, because I feel like they are more “me” than the straight up frou-frou I’ve been wearing for a while. Of course, before I could commit to the scent I knew I liked, Santal 33. I had to sample some others. They arrived on Day 10, and I began the trial process.

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Ylang 49 – this one smells like a classy woman over 50. I intend to be one of those some day. But I am not yet.

Fleur d’Oranger 27- yep, smells like orange blossoms. Which reminds me of Greece in the spring. Being that I’m trying to move away from the sweet stuff, I’ll probably wear the sample, but not advance this smell to the finals.

Patchouli- this is the one I decided to trial wear first. Remember when guys used to say, “If a girl wore perfume that smelled like a campfire, I’d marry her,” (and we all knew that wasn’t true, because they kept marrying girls who smelled like candy and pop songs)? Well, this comes pretty darn close. I think it is a degree too woodsy for me, but it is really really inviting. So its in the running.

Day 11: Breakfast and a movie

This actually began as not a new thing. It was dinner and a movie (The Interview on Amazon Instant video), on the night before. But, this being a pretty ordinary  idea, we were not the only ones streaming from Amazon that night, and thus the stream had to reload every 2-3 minutes. It was annoying, so we decided to try an hour when fewer people were likely to be watching movies.

9am on Sunday morning. If you aren’t at church, you’re sleeping or golfing. Perfecto. Great time to watch movies. For the first hour Moira ran around the house in her walker, and then she took a nap. We had breakfast take out and enjoyed us some satire.

So while we did get to watch the movie, Amazon still took note of the compromised viewing and refunded the rental. Which, if Big Brother is going to monitor your movie watching, it’s nice that he has the power to refund for poor quality.

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Day 12:  A new yoga pose (or two)

I tried astavakra. It was a dismal failure. So I mastered “legs up a wall.” For years instructors have been recommending this pose to counter act running. I never did it for some reason. Until Day 12. New pose. Mastered.

That green plane is the wall.
That green plane is the wall.

Day 13: Making my own BBQ sauce

Not much to say about this. It’s pretty easy and pretty fun. My recipe involved ketchup (the large bottle we inherited when a friend moved away), soy sauce, balsamic vinegar (also inherited, though we do usually keep some on hand…just not in such large quantities), Meyer lemon, raw sugar, Tabasco (just a dash), and garlic. It was delicious.

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Day 14: Essential Oils for sleeping

In my never ending attempt to avoid letting Moira cry it out, I tried lavendar oil mixed in with her lotion before bed. Not bad. The next night I would end up rubbing on the soles of her feet. I’m not really sure if its effective, but it delayed the draconian sleep measures by another few days, at least.

Day 15: Not taking on the anxiety of others

I like for everyone to feel valued and heard. I like to end each day with a happy team and network. It’s not always possible, and that is not always my fault. Nor can I do anything about it. Usually, that doesn’t stop me from worrying about the role I could have played in the events that led to hurt feelings or frustration. Today I had three work-related opportunities to allow myself to be sucked into the angst of others. Three interactions in which I was tangentially involved. And three times, I made the conscious choice to say, “They are going to have to work through this using their own emotional reserves. I don’t have enough for all of us.”

Day 16: Learning more about alcohol

I took a Pisco class at the San Antonio Cocktail Conference. It was me and bunch of professional mixologists and bartenders. You know how I know they were pros? I downed all 4 of my pre-lunch pisco based cocktails. It was not until I looked around and realized that they had each had a sip or two of theirs that I was in for a doozie of an afternoon. Fortunately, Pisco clears pretty quick.

I drank all that.
I drank all that.

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Golden Birthday Challenge: Days 5-9

It’s been a week, and we are on a roll with new things!

Day Five: Taking Moira to play at the Pearl Amphitheater 

We tacked this on to the end of a walk with a friend, and it was a great success. The rock seats are the perfect height for cruising, which is our favorite activity these days. And the dead grass was a perfect for eating. I was fishing leaves and debris out of her mouth all night.

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Day Six: Not picking apart my body in our family photos

In early December, we had the special treat of a family photo session with Rachel Chaney. Rachel has photographed me seven times now in the last seven years. Sometimes they were photography jam sessions, where she was learning and experimenting. Other times they were life milestones, like my wedding. All of her work is fantastic and I love it. She’s technically on hiatus, but she graciously agreed to photograph our family in a lifestyle shoot.

We got the proof gallery on Tuesday, day six. The photos are everything I’d hoped they would be, largely thanks to my obliging and adorable daughter, and particularly photogenic husband.

If you read this blog at all, you know that the baby weight adventure has been a thing for me. I am ALWAYS hard on myself in photographs (no matter how good Rachel manages to make me look) and now there is simply more of me to be critical of.

But I tried something new. I decided to give thanks for my body, that carried and birthed a heathy baby and will one day be fitter and firmer, because I am running, cutting down on wheat and sugar, etc. But no matter how well I do, I know I’ll still pick myself apart. So on Day Six, I did not. I gave thanks instead for each beautiful image of our happy, smiling family who loves each other so much.

And you know what…the pictures got even more beautiful, and I enjoyed them more than any before.

Day Seven: Monitoring our energy usage and solar array production

We installed our solar panels just in time for a massive cold front and cloudy skies. So we’re not seeing the really cool potential of these things like we will in the sunny times, and when the heat doesn’t run all night.

But just watching how the wattage in your house spikes when the heater comes on is enough to make you layer up and cut the heater down to 65. Maybe that’s the true secret to how solar energy is going to cut carbon emissions.

I feel like I’m gaining points when I see the green part of the graph (meaning the sun peaked through the clouds and the heater wasn’t on).  Actually though, we’re gaining MONEY. How great is that. It’s a computer game where the earth wins.

This screen shot is from our monitoring of what happens when Lewis turns on the Vitamix. The big spikes, though, are the heater. The panels had been operational since 1pm that afternoon.

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Day Eight: Eating at a Fruteria/Botanero

I’ve never eaten at Johnny Hernandez’s fruit infused snack bar. I liked it a lot. Fruit infusion lends itself to some killer cocktails. Also, guacamole with grapes. Who knew?

It’s a great spot for a date night too. Lewis, who has been several times, tells me it’s more whimsical by day. But by night, it’s pretty atmospheric.

Day Nine: Art-to-go at Landa Library (or, seeing if Moira is ready for crayons)

Our favorite branch of the San Antonio Library was not as crowded as usual, due to the freezing temperatures. So, Moira and I had all the attention, and allowed ourselves to be talked into an art project. Landa Library will sometimes set up a huge craft table with a simple, fun craft for kids to do at their leisure.

Moira is far too young for the painter’s tape/negative space project they had, but I was curious about having her color.

She is not ready for crayons. She just chewed on them while I made this:

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Golden Birthday Challenge: Day 2-4

Day 2: Nail decals

I set the bar (no pun intended) pretty high on day one with the importance of the “new things” I am trying to experience every day until I turn 31. So today, I decided to adjust expectations. Lest anyone think that I have 31 truly significant ambitions in life, today I did my nails.

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Obviously, I have done my nails before, but this time, I used the sticker nail decals that my sister in law introduced me to about a year ago. I’ve been meaning to try them out, and today, for the first time ever in my life, I have fancy decal nails.

The process should have been simpler, but I used my complete ignorance of all things cosmetelogical to make it slightly more fumbling and awkward.

In the end…I have bold Golden Birthday Challenge nails.

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Day Three: Watch “Raiders of the Lost Ark” with Lewis

Over time, I’ve seen pieces and parts of all the Indiana Jones movies. If you’ve ever killed time in a hotel room with basic cable, so have you. But I’d never seen 95% of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and when I confessed this to Lewis, he seemed genuinely wounded.

I’ve never seen a lot of classics. None of the Monty Pythons, the Exorcist, Robin Hood Men in Tights. I spent the 80s as a preschooler and the 90s begging to be allowed to watch Rugrats (occasionally) and Ren and Stimpy (never).  By then, everyone had already seen all the classics, and I was on to “serious” movies. I did manage to piece together the original Star Wars trilogy and Animal House. It was like finding the Rosetta Stone of my family’s pop cultural heritage.

But, I married a movie buff. And Indiana Jones was a big deal to him at a formative time. So, we pulled out my MacBook Air, rented the movie from Amazon, and after only 30 minutes of reloading, updating, and hand-wringing, (“Have we been reduced to this?!?” (me) followed by a monotone, “Yes,” (Lewis)) we watched the great adventure classic in miniature.

Tiny or not, what a fun movie!

The fact that the final battle escalates into claymation is, quite simply, amazing. It made me wish CGI had never been invented.

Day Four: Go to a new grocery store to buy the week’s groceries

I think the success in this challenge is going to be not just finding extraordinary things to do, but doing my normal things in new ways. And few things are as alien and mind-blowing as an unfamiliar grocery store.

Years ago, my friend Rachel was trying to talk me into going to Sprouts, one of the few non-HEB grocery stores in San Antonio. Sprouts calls itself a farmer’s market, and it’s supposed to be a mysterious combination of fresh, organic, local food and low prices.

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It’s a little far from my house, but so are all the decent HEB’s, so I went for it.

It was small, friendly, and had every single thing I needed. And I found a box of cereal that I can usually only find at Whole Foods for $5.99. The Sprouts price: $2.59 (it was on sale…but still).

It was packing up my Sprouts groceries that made me think that this Golden Birthday Challenge might lead to some more permanent life improvements.

Golden Birthday Challenge: Day 1

This year is my golden birthday. I’ll be 31 on January 31. My friend Cacc challenged me to make something of it by doing something new (to me) every day of January. So I will have done 31 new things by the time I turn 31 on the 31st.

Being that I have a 9 month old and every day is totally unpredictable, I’m staying away from weighty things, and I may have to blog a few at a time. If I make it to the 31st blogging every day then I’m buying myself a pony. I swear. That’s how certain I am that it’s not going to happen. But I’ll try, because who doesn’t want a pony on their 31st birthday.

So, here goes.

New thing for Jan 1: Watch a swearing in ceremony for a local judge…who happens to be related to me.

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I am very proud of Tommy Stolhandske. He’s the most fair person I know, which is a pretty great quality in a judge. He’s had a huge year, adding a daughter, who herself is a force of determination, and winning his seat on the bench shortly thereafter.

Voting for a Republican is a big deal in our house…but we could do so with no reservations, knowing that he brings a commitment to the law and its practical, wise dispensation.

The swearing-in was a family affair, with the generations of Stolhandske politicians, attorneys, and campaigners all playing a role. It’s always an adventure to go to the courthouse, and this time, there was cake and gifted gavels.

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Florence’s So-Called Life, Season 2, Ep 3

In which Florence witnesses a high drama rescue.

(in a grave voice)

I’m not sure if I’ll ever recover from the events of today. I’ve never been so…scared? No, terrified.

10 HOURS EARLIER

Bekah has been popping pills like a drug addict lately, and eating only soft foods. So I presume that she’s got worms, and Lewis took her to the vet this morning. When humans get worms they call it an “abscessed tooth.”  Whatever the case, we were alone with the LHP and her caregiver, Celine. Celine’s totally one of my favorite people of all time. Here’s why:

1) She’s French. French people are tres sophisticated, like me.

2) She takes care of us while Bekah and Lewis are gone, and she’s waaaaay nicer than they are.

The LHP and Celine
The LHP and Celine

So, Wiley and I went outside, so Celine and the LHP could play on the floor. Totally fine with me, as I needed to pee.

Wanderlists: Best Hotels- Stayed in

My mother raised us to believe that it was not a vacation unless we were staying in a hotel. Simultaneously, however, she earned her title as Mom-Cheapola-Cheapola. I have staying in some serious dives. Serious. What would you expect to find in a Motel 6 on the outskirts of Vegas? Use your imagination.

Or there was the motel in Grove City, Pennsylvania when the snowy gusts rolled in under the 3 inch gap between the door and the floor while I held the phone cord into the wall so we could call home (these were the days of roaming charges).

We stayed in some great places too, don’t get me wrong. Mostly while snow skiing. Mom had the good sense to book comfortable places when the whole family was worn out and wind-burnt. And once we did stay at the nicest hotel in Marfa, just for fun. If I had known I would one day make regular pilgrimages to Marfa, staying in a refurbished Airstream, I think I would have laughed.

Wanderlists: Bookstores

One of the great joys of watching Moira grow has been her fascination with books. She loves them as objects, and she loves them as stories. She could have gotten that from either parent, really. The chief design challenge in our little house has been how to incorporate bookshelves. Every single room in the house (except the bathrooms, because Seinfeld) has a book shelf.

I’m not an anti-ebook essentialist at all. But for me, the tactile experience is part of the transportation. I don’t just love the content of what I am reading, I love the experience of reading it. So a good bookshop, for me, is like confectionary or a spa. If I liked amusement parks, I may draw that parallel. But I don’t, so I won’t.

A visit to the Twig, our local indie, is part of our weekly routine. And nothing is more exciting in a new city than visiting their proudest indie bookshop. Being surrounded by ink and ideas, fabulous graphic design, and that satisfying heft of pages is so peaceful to me.  And a good indie book store is overflowing with possibilities, and like the books themselves, the experience of being there is just as fulfilling as the items you take home.

Lewis and Moira at El Ateneo in Buenos Aires
Lewis and Moira at El Ateneo in Buenos Aires

While I can’t say that I’ve been to all the best book stores in the world (notably missing is Powell’s of Oregon), I do have a list of favorites. (but all the photos below are from our most recent bookshop experience, as I don’t usually take many photos in bookshops…) …

Florence’s So-Called Life, Season 2, ep 2

In which Florence recounts a stormy night in the McNeel House.

So, last night we had a storm. A big storm. The kind that sounds like the roof is cracking open, you know? I’m not going to lie, I probably would not have known this, or any of the household events, if it weren’t for Wiley’s non-stop panting and pacing and panicking.

Wiley is…um, terrified…like really terrified… of thunder.

So at some point in the night I heard him get up, panting and grunting. He muttered something under his breath about the Little Hairless Pup.

I was pretty groggy, but he either said, “Someone’s got to protect the pup.”

OR

“At least we know that they’ll protect the pup.”

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So what he did next was either, like, the bravest thing anyone has ever done, or Wiley was in survival mode. I don’t know. I’ve known the man most of my life. It could have been either.

Wanderlists: night lights

I have a thing for lights at night. Maybe because I’m afraid of the dark, and I’m so thankful for any light that alleviates that. Maybe it’s because light seems more precious in the dark. More specific and intentional.

Best I can tell, I’m not alone in that. The world seems to have a love affair with all that twinkles, sparkles, and glows. All things that light does in the dark.

These are my top five encounters with light at night. (Note: I don’t have pictures for most of my favorites, and I’ve always been terrible at night time photography…so I have substituted in other pictures of light at night, which are not favorites, and not particularly good, but the post needs pictures…so….)

These famous lights at night are also nice.
These famous lights at night are also nice.

1) Chiang Rai Night Bazaar– coming from my conservative Christian college, on my first travel abroad, I stumbled into the Chiang Rai Night Bazaar in northern Thailand. A fine mist hung in the air and caught the yellow light from the merchant tents lining the walkways and the string lights over picnic tables where people were eating, among other things, fried grub worms.

Wanderlists: detours

Whenever I travel (or sometimes just in life), it’s fun to have a bizarre goal. A life non-sequitur. Something that I’ve found online, through a friend, or in a novel that makes no sense with the rest of the itinerary (or my life).

Nine times out of ten, they are my favorite part of the trip (and life). Like flying to New York City to see the New York Ballet dance to Sufjan Stevens’s The Year of the Rabbit.

And yes, that one time out of ten, they fail spectacularly. I’m looking at you, Tombstone AZ and Antarctica Exhibit at the Natural History Museum of London.

Tombston
Really, Tombstone?

These are my five greatest hits in Itinerary Detours