He’s making a list and checking it twice.  Children, naughty or nice, steadied their hands and licked their chops, fisted a Crayola to share their deepest wishes and wants in their finest penmanship.  Dear Santa.  Parents added, "Mail Dear Santa letter" to their holiday task list.  Come December everyone has a list. We still do, even the day after The Big Day.

The magazines had give good gift lists from the fantasy to the frugal. Mere mortals drafted to-do lists filled with busy. And now the lists have changed to returns, picking up dry cleaning, and something to wear for amateur night (aka New Year’s Eve). "New thighs" someone might add, already thinking of her resolution list for the new year. The "lose weight" and "get in shape" commercials begin to air now, urging us to change for the better.  Add it to your list. It’s no wonder people get depressed over the holidays. I wish the commercials sold you something else: something about contentment. Emphasizing how we should be thankful for all we already have, and most importantly, all we already are. Not, "lose the love-handles" but "learn to fucking love your love-handles. He clearly does, or he wouldn’t have married you." Or at least, "learn to care less about the things you really shouldn’t care so much about."

Your health is important. If your doctor says you’re at a healthy weight, that should be enough. It just should. It shouldn’t be about joining Weight Watchers. It should be about getting more life out of your life. If my days feel more free, or somehow give me a greater sense of clarity and accomplishment when I begin early, when I get to Town Lake for a walk with the double-jogger, then do it for that. For living freer, for feeling better, for feeling like you’re making choices that matter. And on days you choose not to, on days you’re too tired, or it’s too cold, or you’re just not motivated: here’s a novel concept: say "good for you!" Because life’s too short to regret things like that. It’s too short to feel sorry about being too tired or lazy to move. Which seems strange, embracing not embracing everything life has to offer. But there’s something to be said for the smaller moments, when we don’t do much of anything. I think in a way it’s what we all most have in common. Sweatpants living.

My list of wants is still silly, but it’s mine. I want more time to play with photographs, to scrapbook and make baby food. I want more time to read, to decorate, to learn new automator techniques to make my love of Mac all the more. Sure, I’d like to fit into smaller jeans, but really, at the end of the day, I’d rather use my free time learning, reading, pasting things and playing with buttons–not the ones on my clothes. Sewing them onto things. Sewing, in general. Learning to make a proper quilt (two actually) from their special baby clothes, something they’ll always have, maybe even incorporating photos, like in the movie Stepmom. Learning more about the Nikon D300 I’m about to purchase because my Nikon D100 shutter has officially crapped out (fixing it costs upward of $300, so I’m upgrading). I cannot wait to study the manual and learn even more fun ways to digitally process my life. See, I’d rather be creating keepsakes and new memories to keep than keeping up with the past. Life’s too short for long lists.



  1. oooh – lists. I love em. Can't live without em.

    1) love every moment of this year – one of the very few years before the babies go off to college

    2) maintain my 47 lb. weight loss of the last year

    3) be thankful every day for my wonderful parents/darlings/family

    4) make more homemade meals – I'm up to about 2-3 a week in the crockpot/bread machine, but man – I love that smell of freshly cooked food when we come straggling in from work and school

    5) read more

    6) plant more flowers

    7) find a service to shovel the walks

    8) go skiing for the first time in 20 years

    9) paint my bathroom ceiling (or pay to have it painted)

    10) write down all these memories of these golden years I'm living in.

    Happy day. Happy new year!

  2. I wish commercials sold something about contentment, too. What a wonderful post of reminder, especially on what NOT to focus (that which the media sells this time of year) … thank you.

  3. It's all in the way you phrase things to yourself. Add the scrapbooking, the sewing, etc and with the momentum add more exercize, more activity in general. Don't focus on the weight itself. And don't look to the commercials, the entire point of them is to create a sense of deficiency, about anything, so you'll buy something new.

  4. i'm just starting out as a photographer, and i really have my eye on either the d80 or the d40. i noticed you use a canon and a nikon, i think i like the nikons better because the LCD screen is bigger, but what do you recommend for a beginner?

    i know literally nothing about aperture, proper lighting, flashes, etc, and all the research i see recommends the d40/d40x, but i'm afraid i'll outgrow it. do you have any suggestions?

    FROM STEPHANIE: Oh, I wish I knew. I don't know enough, or keep up with all the different model options. I do know that I hated the white balance on the D70/D100 models. Made everything yellow. I suggest you go check out the D80 in person, then buy it online and pay no tax (and find a coupon for free shipping). I'd ask if it has auto-bracketing (both exposure and white balance bracketing)… you might not use this right away, but it's HUGE when you're ready to really learn more about photography. You don't need a camera with night settings, or fireworks or an icon of a mountain. If you want that, buy a point and shoot. I could write all day about this (but it's time for bed)… I will say, get ready to learn more. You have to. Otherwise, why buy an SLR? You are ready, and you can do it, even if you ease into it slowly. It's a wonderful hobby you'll always have. On that Hallmarkety note, maybe I should do some posts on my 101 notes from back when I was first learning about photography. It would make me happy to share what I learned in the past.

    Here is what you need to know at first: learn what aperture is and what it does. Then learn about shutter speed and what it does. Then learn about exposure. Then metering. Search for these things online. You don't have to memorize it, but at least spend a half hour understanding an overview of these things. It's why you'd want an SLR, to play and customize and learn. To have the camera record exactly what you see, just as you see it that moment. Or to keep your subject crisp, but to blur everything around them using a panning technique.

    I use Nikons and just prefer them to Canon. But that's probably just because Nikon is what I know and what I learned on. I began with an N80 (film) and learned all I did shooting color negatives (aka slide transparencies… those things you put in a slide projector) because when processed, they were less forgiving if you made a mistake, and when processes, they weren't spit through a machine, so they were not color-corrected. So I was able to see the result of the smallest changes I made. So I could shoot the same image, modifying the aperture, let's say, in each shot. Then I could look at each one and say, "Oh, I get it. That's what it does." Now you can do it digitally, and auto-bracket (which means you can set the camera to take 3 different photos, even though you press the button just once… and although the photo is the same, the settings are different, so you can compare them and see which exposure you like best) which is much, much cheaper than developing all that film. Though I do still love the silkiness of film. The photos seem more poetic, more buttery, when shot in film. How I love black and white, where you tell them to "push" the film a stop. Okay, getting too complicated on ya. So long story longer, I'd check out the D80 and get a good lens (buy just the body, then purchase a decent lens, not the crap it comes with). When I say "good lens" I mean a "fast lens." So it would read something like 1:2.8

    Sorry, this is getting complicated. I just know for me, what made a huge difference in all my photos was buying a good "fast" used lens. I bought two excellent (used) lenses with fixed focal lengths (you can read all about what the different lengths do to your actual photo). Here's what I've got (and use):

    Nikon af nikkor 35mm 1:2 (That means it's a fixed 35 focal length (no zoom). So you see a lot of stuff in the picture, good for groups, for street photography, for capturing a scene, a photo journalistic feel, AND the lowest number aperture is an f 2 (I typically set portraits to f5.6 or lower… what this does? Keeps subject nice and crisp but blurs the stuff around them). A fast lens also allows you to shoot in low-light conditions without having to use a flash, allowing you a lot of great ambient light, to really capture the moment. Also, you can pop your flash and set to a slow shutter speed (30 or less)… this allows for more ambient light. See, photography can get complicated, but it's so much fun. I just love it. Love learning from others, too.

    85mm 1:1.8 af nikkor (This is a fixed 85mm lens, again, great for portraits. And the 1.8 aperture is awesome. No photo taken with this lens is ever bad).

    Sigma ex fixed 105 1:2.8D macro (I like a 105mm lens because it's a flattering focal lens, good for shooting fashion). Also, MACRO means you can photograph something small and make it seem larger than life… like the sprinkles on a cupcake can look like Mike and Ikes. Something like that.

    Af nikkor ED 70-300 1:4-5.6 (zoom lens. Zoom just means several focal lengths… you can zoom in and out. Telephoto means it magnifies something in the distance. I use it a lot. It's not the fastest of my lenses, but I rarely shoot with this lens inside. Though it's fine inside! It's great for shooting anything outdoors).

    Sigma DC 18-50mm 1:2.8 EX D (If you get a Sigma lens, just make sure it's made for a Nikon. This is considered a wide angle lens. Anything below 60 (from what I recall is considered wide angle, though a fish eye is an extreme wide angel giving a novelty effect). With WA lenses, you have to be careful what's in the foreground of your composition, because it tends to make it seem larger than other things. Not flattering for a portrait, as the nose and forehead might make you look like Rocky (from that Cher movie about the mask kid). Now, everyone chime in and say how insensitive and horrible I am. Dear Lord.

  5. Your photography advice is great. I would love to see more of it. Are there any books you'd recommend on photography? Thanks.

  6. Nice photo tutorial, I'm attached to my Canon but as you say, it's often what you learned on. V. useful info on aperture and focal length though, thanks!

    I resolve to donate at least $3000 to the Red Cross or Unicef or similar this year, to give $$ until it hurts. Maybe in a year from today I will write you and tell you what exactly happened. Maybe it will be up to $5000, I don't know yet. Bangladesh under 23 feet of water, that really affected me for some reason. And the daily 911 of African Aids deaths. If that ever sinks in.

    For fun: yoga, oil painting- maybe a portrait class this year? A novel a month, and learning more Bowie on the guitar- yeah!

  7. I was just reading these comments, and it struck me when A LIFE UNCOMMON commented that she wished commercials sold something about contentment.

    I don't think contentment can be bought, or can it? Maybe it can be bought? Maybe it doesn't just happen, occur from within? I mean, there are commercials kind of selling contentment, though, right?

    Like, if I see a commercial selling a vacation package to an island destination, that to me looks like contentment, and they're trying to sell that… is that contentment?

    Or if a Betty Crocker commercial is selling a double chocolate cake mix, then that might make me content?

    So maybe there are commercials out there selling contentment already?

    Posts like this are great because they get me thinking!

  8. I am home (Austin) for the holidays and I love running and walking on Town Lake. My goal is to do 15-20 miles before I head back to LA. Of course not at the same time! So far I have done 7. I used to run the trails in college to train for my college tennis season. I remember when the Pfluger bridge wasn't there and you had to run on Lamar. Keep on walking, it is so much fun because every one is out too. Have you done Mt. Bonnell yet?

    From Stephanie: I've shot up that big hill with all the steps, for the view. But that's it. I didn't know there was more to it.

  9. Hi, Stephanie —

    Have you seen HOW TO LOOK GOOD NAKED on Lifetime? I'm not sure if it's aired yet (I think maybe January 4th is the premiere), but there are two episodes already on my ONDemand.

    It's awesome — like a makeover show without the weight loss part. They take normal sized women and make them see that they're sexy just the way they are. Then, at the end, they take a semi-nude photo and blow it up on a building (somewhere in L.A. I think?) and ask passerbys what they think.

    It's a great show..

  10. My list began without realizing it. I hit a life crisis, after several years of coasting through life, hating myself. And somehow I turned it around and discovered I didn't have a reason to hate myself and the years I spent thinking my husband was disgusted by me, were all in my head. But I decided not to focus on the years wasted, but on the years coming. I started running and losing weight during the crisis, thinking it was for my husband, and it really turned out to be for me. I felt better, looked better, and after discovering most of my problems were all in my head, I actually began to feel sexy, even though I'm still a ways from being even close to thin. My aim now isn't to get thin, just healthier. And now I'm training for a 5k goal in the spring, and want to go mountain hiking in late summer. So I had a list and didn't even know it, and now my new list is to lose 15-20 more pounds and then take stock, and decide if I want to try for more or if I'm happy at that point. And to buy sexier lingerie, and enjoy wearing it. And to wear clothes that fit, not bags in which to hide! For once, I'm sure I can do my new resolutions!

  11. I loved your discription of yourself with the double jogger on the trail in the morning sun. I'm so glad your little ones are getting their eyes full of nature and the world. You seem like someone who will offer her children wonders in everyday life. Lovely.

    BTW, please call it "Lady Bird Lake" — it's new name. We Texans loved Lady Bird very much and I, for one, am glad Austin honored her by renaming plain old Town Lake with her lyrical name.

  12. This may expose me as having a slightly different focus than a lot of your readers (I picture 20-something single women living the high life, like you of a couple years ago–guess I could be totally off), but I had to comment because this is one of my favorite posts you've ever written.

    I cringed when I started seeing the "it's almost New Year's so pay for a diet plan now!" ads on TV when I turned it on for 30 seconds on Dec 26–turned it off immediately because after the glow of spending weeks focusing on giving meaningful gifts to everyone I love, baking for my neighbors, planning meals for days with everyone at home. . .it was just too jarring to have the ads trying to redirect my brain that drastically.

    I hadn't put enough thought into it to form actual conversation about it, but it was very off-putting. And now you've put it into words for me: make a resolution to be content with your life! Be happy with what you have! Most of us have such a ridiculous excess that it's sickening to always be wanting more, unless it's more love, more family, more creativity, more peace. . .

    I just love this post. What a good moment you seem to be in!

  13. Your site is so inspiring. I am a newlywed and was 5 weeks pregnant and just miscarried on Christmas Eve. It has been very hard but, went back and read a post recalling your issues with getting pregnant and now you have two beautiful babies. There is hope !!

  14. This post is perfect for me to be reading right now, NY eve. I have family coming in to visit tonight and we will spend time with our little family and stay home and I get to start the year off with my favorite people. It's a far cry from the bacchanalia of the years before! I love the 'sweatpants living', my god- you could do a book on that. The Martha Stewart/Rachel Ray backlash. The answer to all the people who think you have time to do origami place holders and design custom gift bags for a simple dinner party. Brilliant!

    Glad you are all healthy and doing well. Happy New Years to you and all the commenters here.

  15. If I were closer I'd help teach you to sew. Quilting isn't hard at all. Look for a pattern called "Rail Fence" it's a very easy beginner quilt made completely from rectangles.

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