Dusting Off the Ol’ Dating Profile

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I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season! Our Christmas was a quiet one as we stayed home with just the four of us (my father joined the celebrations too). For New Year’s,  a good friend hosted a wonderful dinner party for a small group of friends. NYE is seen as a single person’s holiday – the one night of the year where the singletons of the world get glammed up and hit the town to find someone worthy to kiss at midnight. The idea of spending a bunch of money to be surrounded by blaring music, tons of strangers, and never getting close to the bar in a timely fashion has never appealed to me. Instead I chose to ring in the new year surrounded by good friends… who were all happily coupled.

But I missed my kiss at midnight.

Thus after taking a “lengthy” hiatus from the online dating world, I have decided it’s time to get back into the swing of things. Which translates into brushing up ye ol’ dating profile for the Tess of 2013 (not to be confused with the Tess of before because they are utterly different people).

“About Me and Who I’m Looking For”: Me – Perfect. Him – Perfection.

Done and done, no? Sigh. Shall we strive for more honesty then?

“About Me and Who I’m Looking For”: I have flaws and insecurities aplenty. Please, please look past them and I think I’m perfect. Him – Doesn’t bore me, freak me out, etc.

Too blunt reeking of an extra-strong dose of desperation do you think? OK, FINE. Something in the middle then!

I tried asking my mother and sister once for input on how best to describe me since it is sometimes hard for me to see my strengths beyond my flaws (darn insecurity). However they too are well-aware of those flaws and end up focusing more on who they want to join the family (or not as the case may be). Their ideal declarations would include:

MUST LOVE TOMATOES. (Viva Italia!) And thanks to the most recent election season, MUST BELONG TO _________ POLITICAL PARTY.

I could list supposed “dealbreakers” (religion, etc) but while I have strong preferences, I would prefer to avoid them in case they end up being “tweaked” for the right guy. (It wouldn’t do to have him then read this blog and freak out about these supposed lines in the sand.) It’s all about being flexible people as who knows what kind of guy will be the perfect match.

For a brief moment, I considered including the current version of the profile here. But that thought was quickly negated because I see my profile as private reading material that shouldn’t be shared for public viewing. Which is ridiculous considering it’s out there for hundreds of men to read, peruse, and ultimately judge. (A reality I do my best to ignore.)

Oh and let’s not forget the pictures! Which pictures should I post?! One that show me in the most flattering light but don’t look too pompous or posed?

Oy. Vey. To the bar I go,

Tess, the Lioness

P.S. We shall worry and stress about the next steps (ie winking, poking, and emailing) for another day.

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Apple Cider Caramels

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When invited to a house party, I almost always bring sweets – cookies, cake, candy – and depending on the crowd, I love the chance to try something new. I lucked out when the week before a friend’s house-warming party, Smitten Kitchen announced the release of her cookbook (really hoping Santa leaves this tree this year!!) and the perfect recipe to try out for the housewarming – apple cider caramels.

Unfortunately I didn’t leave time in my schedule before the party to individually wrap the caramels for the party; instead I created layers of caramels and parchment paper in the tin. So while some guests were a little hesitant to dig in, the hosts devoured the leftovers post-party and raved.

With the holiday party season looming near, I started thinking. Easy recipe, seasonally appropriate, maximum impact, large quantity in one fell swoop. Apple cider caramels for the holidays it is!

For my second batch (and the one that made the most rounds), the only tweak I made was to add 1/2 t ground ginger (with the 1 t of cinnamon). At one party, the hostess jokingly complained that I had stolen her thunder because the only comment any of her guests had about the food was to ask for the recipe to the caramels. For the next party, I walked in with 90 wrapped caramels and planned to walk out with about 30-40. My departure ended up being sudden so I forgot to grab the tin but at last count, it was down to 20 – if that. (And note to self, they were a huge hit with the single men who loaded their pockets with ones for the road. Great way to impress a future beau!)

For the latest batch to distribute at the department holiday cookie exchange, I added mulling spices for the first 30 minutes of the cider’s reduction, one cup of dark spiced rum, some lemon juice and zest (exact amount is unknown), and then a full 1 t ground ginger at the end.

The latest batch near completion

The latest batch near completion

A fresh batch of spiced & "spiked" apple cider caramels

A fresh batch of spiced & “spiked” apple cider caramels

I have one gallon of apple cider left in the garage and I’m ready to experiment with more flavor combinations. Perhaps more lemon? Friends on Facebook have suggested adding pepper and chili powder. Ideas are percolating!

Who wants some caramel?!

Tess, the Lioness

DIY Christmas Wrapping

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Yesterday evening was the annual holiday book Yankee swap/white elephant for the Junior League of Washington’s Community Affairs Council (formerly known as the Literacy Council), which oversees my committee. I look forward to this event every year as so many women get super excited about books and it’s a great chance to find new books to add to my to-read list.

This year I wasn’t quite up for digging through the basement to find the perfect wrapping paper and coordinating ribbon. I decided to borrow a work Secret Santa tradition by using newspaper as wrapping paper and then searched on Pinterest for easy options for adornment. And I think I really knocked it out of the ballpark!

DIY Wrapping

The book on top was wrapped in a gorgeous full-page Hermes newspaper ad of a Christmas tree made of their neckties found on the back page of the WSJ’s front section and the second book was wrapped in the front page article of another section of a different WSJ.

For the bows, I followed this tutorial I found on Pinterest and used two ads found in an abandoned trade magazine in the office.

I showed the picture above to a couple of people in my office today and one thought it was a fantastic idea for her very granola, very green son-in-law who turns his nose up at anything not recycled.

Not bad for last minute wrapping!

Tess, the Lioness

Hair Inspiration

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I will drag my feet to make any decision that involves a good chunk of change. I want to make an educated, well-informed, well thought out, thoroughly slept on decision if I am giving up hard-earned cash.

Which is why my hair looks AWFUL right now as the results will be so fleeting. I don’t know how people can bear to look at me. The holiday season – the season to see and be seen in our sparkly best – is upon us. My hair has to look its best – perfectly coiffed in every way. Because as a single lioness, who knows what handsome, single lion I might cross paths with while merry-making? (Ooh la la!)

My eyes have been glued to the Internet and the TV looking for fellow blonde, brown-eyed ladies for inspiration. And even a few lighter brunettes, too. Don’t forget CHANGE is still whispering in my ear. (And this does not mean I will go natural – natural now includes grays. I’m officially the o-word.)

Forehead fringe, ie bangs, have never suited me. Cocker spaniel hair is out.  Should I go pixie? Decisions, decisions, and less than 48 hours to go before my hair appointment. Eek!

Below are some ladies who caught my eye…

I consider it a high compliment when friends say I look like the adult version of the perfectly poised Kiernan Shipka. While unlikely I can achieve the same bouffant as Miss Kiernan here, the darker color with the golden tips is lovely. (Source: Hellocotton.com/Credit: Getty)

The beautiful & gamine Carey Mulligan – While this short cut is a grown-out pixie, I love the color combination of the honey & platinum blondes and how the cut allows her natural waves to come through. (Source: Shorthairstylesgallery.com)

Maggie Grace showing off more honey blonde tones with platinum streaks closer to her face. (Source: TomandLorenzo.com/Credit: Getty Images)

Kate and I share the same toes. Why not the same hair? (Source: TomandLorenzo.com/Credit: Getty Images)

Drum roll, please!

Tess, the Lioness

A Christian without a Mission

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On my first visit to NYC fifteen years ago, my family stayed at a darling little brownstone on the Upper West Side. In the days before hotels.com or any other travel website, Mumsy had learned of the unique lodging from a woman in her Sunday School class. You might ask, why unique? The hotel’s purpose is to provide lodging to Christians who are either on a mission trip or ministering in the city. For our visit, Mumsy used a loophole that if extra rooms are available, they will open their doors to “regular” Christian lodgers.

Once we got over the shared bathrooms and lack of elevators, we grew to quite like our quirky, yet huge (we had the whole top floor to ourselves!), bed-sit in the city. The location couldn’t be beat and the brownstone and its furnishings were full of character.

Cut to today. On a day trip to NYC a few years ago during the holiday season, we discovered the Bryant Park Holiday Shops and vowed to do our best to revisit each year. Because all of my Saturday nights are booked between now and Christmas, the three of us began discussions today about an overnight trip after Christmas to celebrate the season and visit the market.

Naturally, our previous trip and our lodgings came to mind. The trip would also be a great time for my sister to visit an old friend from college and as soon as the name of the hotel slipped Mumsy’s lips, she practically ran to the computer to begin inquiries.

Note: Since moving to DC, my family and I have yet to find a new church to call home and have thus lost some of our “Bible Belt” cred.

Note 2: I was not present for this conversation but I can assure you this is an accurate representation.

“Hello, this is X.” (Names have been removed to protect the innocent.)

“Hi, I am inquiring about room availability.”

“What’s your ministry?”

“I’m a Christian.”

“OK but what’s your ministry?”

“I’m a Methodist.”

“I need to know your ministry or mission.”

“Umm. . . I’m a Christian.” (As in not Jewish, Muslim, Hindu… In case I wasn’t clear before.)

In a voice full of innocence and naivete plus a subtle trace of desperation, my sister continued this banter for a few more rounds. She even admits to coming thisclose to saying she doesn’t attend church anymore. (Because that TOTALLY would help her cause.)

Needless to say, that is one walk down memory lane we will not be taking this year.

Tess, the Lioness

A Biltmore Thanksgiving

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Last Thanksgiving was 6 days of utter misery. Our 14-year-old (and by far favorite) cat fell suddenly, and terminally, ill on the first day of the long holiday weekend. She went blind on the first night and quietly passed away a week later at the first moment when no one was sitting by her side. This year, none of us wanted to stay home so to Biltmore we went!

A quick background on the Biltmore for those who have heard of this landmark in western North Carolina: In the late 1800s, George Vanderbilt visited Asheville, NC and loved the vista so much that he decided this is where he would lay down his roots. And since he was a Vanderbilt, that involved building the largest single-dwelling private home in the U.S. The statistics on the house are mind-boggling: 80,000 acres of land custom designed by the same landscape architect as NYC’s Central Park; over 4 acres of rooms under one roof, including 43 bathrooms, 101 bedrooms; on and on…

Even visiting when the landscape is a mixture of greens and browns with only tiny pops of autumnal color, the estate was breathtaking. I can only imagine how even more spectacular the vista is when the flowers and trees are in bloom or when a thick layer of fresh snow is on the ground.

No pictures are allowed while inside the house and the brilliant late afternoon sun made the more impressive exterior shots difficult. I adore mountain vistas and tried in vain to capture the beauty of the Blue Ridge mountains in the background. Below is a smattering of the better shots taken with both my phone and my camera.

Biltmore! A poor man’s photo of a beautiful house

A panoramic shot of the Blue Ridge mountains behind the house

A pop of red! The branches themselves no less!

My sister adores the chance to smile and pose in front of a camera – this is one of her more “over-the-top” shots of late. (And I’m an evil sister for posting – haha!)

Sisters, sisters. There were never such devoted sisters. (In other news – EEK! My hair! Get me to the salon STAT!)

This is now the time that I should wax poetic about how my heart is overflowing with thankfulness and how blessed I feel for the year past and what’s ahead. But last Thanksgiving, my heart broke and this year, I realized I am not quite ready to break out a smile and exclaim how my cup runneth over with sunshine and butterflies.

But this, this was a pretty darn good day. And for that, I am thankful.

Tess, the Lioness

P.S. I almost left Biltmore without snagging a picture of this lovely creature! A lioness I’m sure for she wears a festive Christmas necklace.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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For each new morning with its light, For rest and shelter of the night, For health and food, For love and friends, For everything thy goodness sends.

This is a lovely quotation from Ralph Waldo Emerson for this Thanksgiving holiday. It sums up beautifully what I am thankful for this year.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

Tess, the Lioness

Gobble, Gobble

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A small Thanksgiving-related confession: Tess and Turkey have only met twice on Thanksgiving Day. Thirty years of Thanksgiving dinners and a turkey has taken center stage two times. (Don’t fret though! The statistics for Christmas dinner would be the exact opposite – LOTS of turkey action going on there.)

Very simple reason – Thanksgiving is my mother’s show and Mumsy will quickly declare that she does not “deal with carcasses”. Instead, Mumsy serves a juicy, luscious beef tenderloin. Mmmmm. (Christmas was always my grandmother’s time to shine and Grandma loved a good bird.)

This year, my sister was gifted a frozen turkey and after a bit of family debate, it was decided we would keep (and cook!) the bird rather than give it away. Which means I get to add a new life-changing event to my Facebook timeline:

 November 2012 – Tess’s First Attempt to Cook a Turkey

Let the research begin! (All suggestions, guidance, and support are encouraged!)

Tess, the Lioness

Aliens, Google, & Magic – Oh My!

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Many friends and fellow League members asked me how I was doing coming out of the intensity of the National Book Festival in the days and weeks since the event wrapped. The simple answer varied slightly but the honest answer is that the recovery process took longer than expected as it affected me in unanticipated ways. My feet bounced back quickly after two days of non-stop walking and standing. But the build-up of stress in my body unleashed itself by breaking my lifelong record of sleeping through the night, creating a dull & uncomfortable ache in my upper body and shoulders, and dulling my spirits and focus. To combat the symptoms and force my body to relax, I retreated to the comforting arms of a true love: reading.

As a former proud member of the Pershing Middle School Name That Book Club, I would easily describe myself as a voracious reader. Oddly enough, reading was not my escape from the craziness during book festival preparations. Reclaiming this habit has been good for the Lioness soul. Besides finishing Cloud Atlas, I inhaled four other books in  eight weeks. One was candy – pure, simple, and sweet – and thus does not require anything more to be said. But the other three demand sharing with the world.

First up – A Fire Upon the Wind by Vernor Vinge. (What a name – I can’t not say his last name without his first too – Vernor Vinge. Try it. Vinge on its own just doesn’t sound as awesome as Vernor Vinge. Ah the joys of alliteration.) During our hellish Labor Day weekend, we sought comfort at the Politics & Prose bookstore in DC where I holed myself up in the Fantasy & Science Fiction section. I looked for book festival authors first and found Vernor Vinge’s Hugo Award-winning book, A Fire Upon the Deep. Of course it came home with me and of course I had my sister stand in line at the festival for it to be signed on my behalf. (Oh how I wished I had read more by then so she actually had something to say about the book!)

One joy of fantasy and science fiction genre is marveling at the worlds the authors create. My reading resume leans heavily on the fantasy side; my respect and appreciation though for science fiction has grown exponentially over the past year as the authors imagine new world and social orders based around the sciences, not magic or other inexpiable powers. (For the record, I have to state that Twilight is NOT – I repeat NOT – science fiction. I read a blogger make that correlation once and UGH! So many reasons why that rankled me so!)

As with most science fiction books, Vinge begins by laying a lot of groundwork in creating and explaining the new interpretation of outer space. He goes beyond simply envisioning the human race expanding within our own galaxy; but instead created a multi-layered and complex vision of outer space as a whole and its relation to intelligence. Added to that, Vinge created several different non-human based alien species, ranging from a plant-machine hybrid to a multi-member mind-sharing pack of four-legged animals. I’ll admit the first 100 pages were a bit of a struggle as I wrapped my head around what he was describing. Once I had a solid grasp of the basic machinations though, I was sold.

The story itself was not one of my favorites. But I tip my hat off to an author whose intellect and creativity can envision something so intricate and rich and yet maintain a sense of still being believable. I look forward to picking up the second book of the trilogy, The Children of the Sky, and seeing where he takes the reader next.

Second – While another book from the fateful trip to Politics & Prose was ready to go on my bedside table, something lighter was necessary so I picked up my nook and purchased Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan thanks to the recommendation from a blog all about reading. It turned out to be the perfect follow-up book from A Fire Upon the Deep as it too addressed the limits of (or perhaps limitless?) intelligence and its connection to technology. But Sloan also mixes in equal doses of old-world mystique and adventure and blends the two together wonderfully. I highly recommend this book to any and all with in interest in fantasy, programming, or science fiction. It was also the perfect segue into the third book…

Last but not least – Patrick Rothfuss’s Name of the Wind – also from my trip to Politics & Prose. While many books had small write-ups by the employees of the bookstore, the following recommendation (and glowing reviews from Orson Scott Card & Ursula Le Guin, two authors I hold in high regard) moved me enough to purchase immediately and not wait until my next visit:

Name of the Wind is a classic trickster tale, except that the trickster gets to tell the story. We first meet Qvothe, a surprisingly likable rogue, as an unassuming innkeeper; but as he relates the astonishing events of his past we begin to wonder who he really is. The world that unfolds as he tells his story is full of adventure, magic and music. The magic (which is more like alchemy than wand-waving) somehow feels as real as science, while still maintaining its wonder. In the sequel, A Wise Man’s Fear, the stories of past and present begin to merge. Now, I am eagerly awaiting the final volume of the trilogy.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself. The story is fantastic and immediately draws you in. As soon as I finished the last page and knew that the second book of the trilogy was already in print, I pulled up the internet to see when the third book is scheduled for publication. Good news – it’s already written! Bad news – no official release date.

With all that said, you now have the hard decision of what to read first and I have the hard choice of what to read next! What a wonderful problem to have!

Tess, the Lioness