“Words That Changed Me”
_a record of the process_
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Four years ago, I made a list that answered this question: If everything was perfect in your life right now, what would it look like?
I think this is an important question to ask yourself every now and then. There are a lot of things in life that you can’t control, but there are plenty of things you can free yourself of, and sometimes it just takes a quick assessment to figure out what needs to change. In 2011 I knew
my life wasn’t perfect, so I made a list of what would make it better. My 2011 “perfect life” list included things like: a membership to a hole-in-the-wall yoga studio and plenty of space and tools to paint, write and bake. I was definitely committed on finding a fun, fulling job. The thing that stands out to me the most now, though, is this: I wanted to love where I lived.
The funny thing is, this philosophy was inspired by a beer bottle. My “favorite” beer is Magic Hat. I put that in quotes because as Bret will tell you, it’s not my favorite tasting beer, but it’s my favorite beer because it comes with a fortune under the cap, or, in my case, life-changing advice. My favorite Magic Hat bottle top to date says, “love where you live and live where you love”. I stuck a magnet on it and slapped it on my fridge the day I moved to Florida and it smiles at me every day.
Bret and I … we love Florida.
I mean we LOVE our Disney trips and we LOVE that we can drive to the Gulf of Mexico in an hour, and we really, really, really love this place we live called Tallahassee.
I always get attached to places, but I’m not sure I’ve loved anywhere I’ve lived before as much as I love Tallahassee. After living in a cute, small town (Harrisonburg, VA) and then living in one of the largest cities in the countries on my own (Washington, DC), Tallahassee feels like the perfect fit. It has my favorite aspects about city life: I can walk to the mall, Panera, the grocery store, and a frozen yogurt shop right from my apartment. And it has the small-town charm I can’t live without: familiar people in in familiar places, local festivals, farmers markets, seasonal parades. It’s just perfect.
We both love it here, but, pretty soon, we’re going to be moving somewhere new.
Despite our best intentions, I know we’ll be swept up in the logistics of the move and then we’ll be busy getting acclimated to our new city and before we know it, our Tallahassee life is just going to be a memory. Before all of that happens, I’m making a point to focus on and enjoy this particular stage. I want to absorb all of this goodness that our Florida home offers. For the most part, that just means living out our regular routine but being extra intentional about the way we spend our time knowing that this may be our last weekend out to eat at this particular restaurant or that we should walk an extra lap around the lake because we only have so many walks left in this particular place.
I also wanted to make sure we can preserve all of these memories in a tangible way. That’s why I’m so glad we invited an incredible photographer (who happens to be one of my very best friends), Tiffany, down to Florida last weekend to photograph us living life in our favorite place before we move. I sent her a whole brochure about what I wanted to do while she and Erik (her husband/also my friend) were here.
I can’t wait to get these pictures. I want to put them in frames and on canvases and hang them on my wall. I know it will be so nice to be able to “hold on” to these memories when I’m living in a colder climate and missing my Florida life. Eventually, I want to get them in an album, too, so if we ever have kids, I’ll be able to show them how awesome our Florida life was before they were born. I’m kidding (kind of).
Before Tiffany and Erik arrived, I made a list of places I want to be sure to visit. It was so hard to narrow it down: all of my favorite spots in downtown Tallahassee, FSU’s campus that brought us here in the first place, the coffee shop where Bret practically lives, and my new favorite cupcake shop. We went to the Farmer’s Market, to FSU’s campus, and all around our favorite Tallahassee places. We also ate at nearly EVERY one of our favorite restaurants. It was excessive, but wonderful. It meant so much to me to have these wonderful friends in town.
Making this list made me all sappy about this place we’ve lived for the past few years. Here are just a few of my favorite Tallahassee things I’m going to miss so dearly…
All the palm trees
My hole in the wall yoga studio
The North Florida State Fair. If you don’t love it, hush. I love it.
My Annual Disney Pass
The Tallahassee Museum
All of the FREE water sport rentals because Bret is a grad student
Skies over Tallahassee in the planetarium. And the iMAX.
The Downtown area
The Greenway – where we’ve attempted to train for a 5K multiple times.
Downtown Get Down. It’s like a pep rally for 100,000 people.
The Jingle Bell Run & all of the festivals
Southwood & my Giraffe Tree & the armadillos we’ve seen there
The French Pastry shop.
When I think about saying goodbye to all of these things, it hurts a little. I recently texted my sister – desperately – about how much I’m going to miss the Winter Wonderland Festival and Candy Cane Lane next December. She texted me back,
“You’ll find another Candy Cane Lane. You always do.”
To me, that was so comforting. When I feel doubtful, I remind myself that the core things that I was craving in 2011 are now life constants: a brilliantly secure relationship, my perfect orange cat. I didn’t KNOW I needed a free kayaking option, a sushi restaurant that feels like home, or access to a French pastry shop. So even though I don’t exactly know what I’m getting myself into with this new move, and even though it isn’t exactly what I had in mind, it may just be THE thing I need in my life right now.
And let’s be honest. The best part of Tallahassee, for me, has been Bret. Living here together away from our core group of friends and our families has taught us how to rely and depend on each other in a way I’m not sure we would have had to otherwise. We started our married life here. We’ve grown closer together here. And we know that as long as we have each other, any place we live will be just as sweet.
Even though, if you asked me, I’d tell you I’d be happy to stay in this cozy Tallahassee place for a few more years, I would have stayed in Harrisonburg forever if a job hadn’t pulled me somewhere new. I think after I plop that magic hat beer bottle top up on our fridge, it will be easy to fall in love with the next place we call home. Sometimes you have to move to find out what else is out there. It’s a big world. I’m ready for the next big adventure.Read More
In honor of Pi Day and because I’m going to be out of town for a few days and didn’t want 8 organic Gala apples to go to waste, I decided to make some apple pie.
Then, when Bret informed me that he really only likes apple pie “with ice cream” I decided to make another apple dessert instead. I searched online and kept coming back to “Apple Cake”. I didn’t have all of the ingredients (eggs, oil), so I decided to make my own recipe, and it turned out uh-mazing. Here it is:
*I’m not really sure how much apple sauce I used
**I just layered walnuts, cinnamon and sugar. I’m not really sure how much
***I don’t even know how long they were in the oven. Wait until they smell good and the tops round up to look like cupcakes
Clearly, I did not document this process well – I didn’t know how well they would turn out. But they are DELICIOUS:
The topping is crunch and the outside layer of the cake is a little crisp, and then the inside is gooey and apple-y and cake-y. Just perfect, and too good not to share.
My dad has taught me a lot of great things over the years just leading by example. One thing that I really admire about him is how if he gets something nice – like a new car – he never makes a big deal about it. Don’t get me wrong, I get excited about new purchases, but I always aim to be conscious of other people’s feelings before I blurt it out at an unthoughtful time or brag too much.
That’s probably why you may not have heard about our new car… yet.
I’ve been wanting a new car for a few years, but I could never really justify the purchase. First I lived in DC and barely needed a car at all, then I wasn’t making enough money to add a car payment to our monthly bills if I still wanted to be able to put something in savings. It just wasn’t time.
I’m proud of myself for hanging onto my 2000 Ford Focus for so long, and Bret drove his faithful 2003 Subaru Forrester for just as many years. Both of our cars were still running – thankfully – but whenever we’ve needed to drive to Virginia or DC or Pennsylvania, I’ve worried a bit. I wished we had something a little more modern and a little safer. Since we may be moving north, we wanted something with 4 wheel drive for snow and ice and maybe some warm heated seats, too.
When Bret’s 30th birthday was coming up, I jokingly told him that I was going to go to a dealership and buy him a new car.
That’s exactly what we did.
We said were just browsing, but after a couple trips to Subaru, Bret had fallen in love with a 2015 Subaru Legacy, and after some number crunching and late night talking, we decided to put in an offer.
I impressed Bret with my haggling skills. I didn’t back down when the finance guy practically shouted at me (don’t worry – it was all part of the game). When we finally got the price in a range that we were comfortable with, we agreed to make the purchase. Within just a couple hours, we were signing papers.
We decided to trade in Red, Bret’s Subaru Forrester that he’s been driving for, well, as long as I’ve known him and several years before that. While we were waiting for our appointment with the finance guy (first time car buyers, let me say this, prepare to spend an entire day in the dealership), I decided we needed to take some pictures with Red because, well, this was the last time that we’d see the car. I try not to be overly emotional or attached to inanimate things, but it was a little sad saying goodbye to this car that drove me to some of our first Harrisonburg dates, to countless conferences, and to Disney World about 30 times over the past few years.
Yes, the time came to say goodbye to Red,
…and hello to Sparky:
The day we bought Sparky, we went for a drive through some beautiful Tallahassee canopy roads.
It was a good day.
We love all the new features like these subtle blue interior lights that show up at night…
…but mostly we love that Sparky gets great gas mileage, is reliable, and is full of extra safety features like knee airbags. Sparky, thanks for coming into our life when you did. It’s “our” first car that we own together. We are grateful to drive you every day, and hope to have you for many years to come.Read More
January has been jam-packed full of crazy. Work has been more than a little overwhelming for me, and Bret has been traveling for interviews, plus teaching, dissertating, you know. It’s a temporary season, thankfully, but so far these 2015 days have been non-stop exhausting. I’ve been on an endless reel of work late, help Bret prep for his next interview/presentation/class, crash and wake up early in an attempt to work on my novel (…but I usually just started working on work). It’s not our preferred pace of life. That’s probably why I ended up with the flu.
I didn’t want this busy season to pass us by with nothing pleasant to remember it by. So. A few weeks ago, I realized Bret and I would both have MLK, Jr. day off of work, so I suggested spending this 3-day weekend in Disney World. (This is our last few months as Disney Annual Passholders, and I don’t want them to go to waste!) Originally, I thought this was going to be a good time for a trip. I thought that things would slow down a bit, but they didn’t. When the actual weekend arrived, I wasn’t sure how Bret was going to react to having this mini vacay sandwiched between so much travel and craziness.
Well, I should have known… he would be thrilled.
After Bret flew in at midnight on a Friday, we slept in until about 7:30 on Saturday, and then hit the road. Being able to hop on the road and drive to the happiest place on earth is one of our favorite Florida things. I just can’t describe it.
We arrived before check-in, so we left our things in the car at the hotel, and walked over to Epcot.
Yes, walked. I got a found discount staying for two nights at the Swan which is within walking distance of Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. A dream come true, I tell you.
I had everything planned out. We say we’re spontaneous with our Disney days, but truthfully, once we get there, we so often end up doing our same favorite things over and over. That’s fine – I think – but it kind of makes all of our day trips run together. This time, I wanted us to try new things and make new memories, so I’d made a list of a few attractions and dining options we hadn’t tried before, narrowed them down, organized them by park, and made a Fedule. (This is what my sister and I call a “fun” “schedule” — a fedule.”)
We had lunch somewhere we’ve been wanting to try for a while: the Spice Road Table! Most of the restaurant is open-air (or, at least the part we had seen before was), but we got to sit inside which was really pretty and really nice.
We considered each getting a “small plate.” They range in price from $7-$12 and include thing like mussels, omelets, greek salad, brie fondue, hummus and pita… Nicole food, basically. I was hoping to sample a few things, so I was really happy that Bret was interested in sharing a the Mediterranean Vegetable Platter which included:
It may not look like a lot, but it was surprisingly filling and not too expensive since we shared it. We were happy to spend the rest of the afternoon walking around the countries at Epcot. We realized we had never watched the Circle Vision movie in China, so we did. We wandered around the Japan store because Bret loves it. It was relaxing, fun, perfect. Then we went back to the hotel to check in, relax, and get ready for dinner.
For the most part, we kept our meals light (and cheap): sharing a Mickey pretzel and lemonade or eating a burrito out of a food truck at downtown Disney, but I picked one special dinner that we were really looking forward to: BOMA!
Boma – Flavors of Africa is a huge buffet at the Animal Kingdom Lodge.
I wanted to go to Animal Kingdom, we didn’t really have time, but I did REALLY want to check out the Animal Kingdom Lodge and this was the perfect way to do it. We took a bus from our hotel to the Animal Kingdom park, and then from the Animal Kingdom park to the Animal Kingdom Lodge. The whole exterior is lush greenery and it just makes me feel happy and peaceful. Check out the Animal Kingdom Lodge lobby:
I’d read that there were tons of vegetarian options, which is always a big selling point for me, but I was especially eager to get to try and sample a bunch of new flavors without having to pay for an entire plate that I may not like. I love buffets. I was excited to graze on brand new flavors and… also… I wanted to go to the gift shop.
I love giraffe hugs.
Here’s a quick sampling of the menu:
And of course there were tons of delicious entrees. They had familiar stuff like: Pork Shoulder, Ribs, Roasted Chicken, Beef Striploin, and one of my favorites: almond-crusted roasted Salmon. I was intrigued to see a variety of stuff I’d never heard of: Mater Paneer, Fufu, and Pap and Chakalaka – a south African vegetable relish that I dipped everything in. It was so good!
I know that just looks like a heaping pile of food. That’s the thing with buffets, I just pile everything on. It was just so good! Except for the soup.
Here’s the thing, because there were so many choices, I encouraged Bret to only get one pour of a soup, to try it, and then go back and get more if he likes it. Did I take my own advice? No. Why? Some guy warned me about the soup as I was filling my bowl. He said it was terrible. I thought – I’m sure I’ll like this. Too bad you don’t have an appetite for things that are good for you like carrots and ginger.
It was horrible. I don’t even know why. It was just too ginger-y for me, and I love ginger. It was awful. I ate most of it, anyway, because I felt wasteful leaving it there. That was the ONLY non-delicious thing I tasted, though, and I washed it down with my delicious jamberry wine.
Of course, the unlimited desserts were also so yummy. We decided to share this whole plate…
And that was our whole night.
Bret realized the Magic Kingdom was open until 1AM, so I became SO EXCITED. I was SURE I was finally going to get to ride this 7 Dwarfs Mine Train ride I’d been trying to get a Fast Pass for for 3 months. Unfortunately, there was still a 110 minute wait. Two hours. At 11PM. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! It was not a joke.
I was a little bummed, but you could still find us frolicking around enjoying everything from the Flying Dumbo ride to a spontaneous dance party:
…Actually that dance party was at Epcot from the next night. I just thought the pictures went together so I put them next to each other and rewrote history.
The point of it all, we were happy:
And that was just the first day!
Next came my other favorite day, Magic Kingdom day. You see, Bret’s idea to go to the Magic Kingdom was not on the Fedule, so, we got to go TWICE! We ate some snacks in the room for breakfast, and then we caught a bus over to the Magic Kingdom.
We rode the People Mover and watched a happy little castle musical. And we rode The Little Mermaid.
For lunch, I’d read about this “hidden gem” – a sit down restaurant with counter service prices called The Plaza. What a dream! The thing is, you HAVE to have a reservation… so I made one make one the day before. It was completely, completely, completely worth it.
The 100th customer of the day got a free dessert. We were not the 100th customer, so we bought our own dessert. Banana Split!
It was so good. We spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying the park.
Then we walked over to Disney’s Hollywood Studios (we walked about 20,000 steps this day), used our Fast Passes to ride Toy Story, went back to the hotel and then…
…spent the night at Downtown Disney!
We basically never go to Downtown Disney and I’m so glad we did. I don’t have any pictures, but we enjoyed walking around and popping into all the shops. I got a free sample of chocolate …or two We found this little food truck area and ate some burritos while we listened to this awesome guitar player sing and take requests from the crowd. This little 3-year-old sitting next to me ran up and requested, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and I just about crid.
My favorite part of the night? Well, other than that kid’s song request? We went in the Christmas shop and bought our souvenir: a 2015 Disney Ornament to hang on our tree!!! I already packed it up for next year, but I love it. I can’t wait to see it hanging on our tree in our new home in our new city.
It’s been a week. We’re back home and things are still busy and uncertain and kind of crazy most of the time, but I’m so glad we got away for this special trip. I hope, next year this time, when I’m thinking back to January 2015, I’ll disregard the flu and the work stress and Bret’s job search uncertainty and, instead I’ll think of this epic Disney weekend.Read More
At the beginning of 2014, I remember feeling trapped. I lived in a wonderful city with the best partner, but I absolutely loathed my job.
I know a lot of people don’t love their jobs, but my job stressed me so much that I couldn’t “leave it at the door” when I got home. I felt worried and overworked and grumpy most of the time. I dreaded every morning. I dreaded a convention that was literally 10 months away. It wasn’t good.
Last January, during the first full moon of the new year, my yoga instructor encouraged my class to light a candle and welcome the unexpected changes this year with an open heart.
I didn’t do that.
At this point, I had given up on pep talks. Instead, I looked down at my 10 fingers and assigned each one a month. My 1st finger was “January” and my 10th finger represented October – my LAST convention before Bret would graduate and we’d get to move to a new city. I resolved to have a better attitude. I can do this, I thought. I just need to get to November 2014.
Even though it was a pretty effective coping mechanism – breaking the year into manageable chunks so I could track my progress – I’m here to tell you that approaching a new year as something that I had merely had to “get through” was a horrible strategy. I had a whole year of possibilities in front of me, but I’d already made up my mind that 2014 was just a big long countdown to get rid of. I wish I could have told myself that I’d be getting some exciting news in March, a new job in June, and that I’d never even have to go to another dreaded convention. I didn’t know.
I couldn’t have known, but I could have tried harder to change my attitude. Looking back, the whole year flew by. When I started to write my recap, I drew a blank. I had to turn to my Instagram account which faithfully tracks my year through pictures.
Now that I’m looking back, 2014, the year I wanted to be over, was actually a pretty neat year.
I’m not listing off all of these things to brag about my year. I hope it doesn’t seem that way. On a personal level, the year was a good one. I got to go on a cruise and a visit a bunch of cities on work trips that I’d never seen before and I’m so grateful for that. There were some unexpected challenges, too. And there was loss and heartbreak and frustration and so many moments of longing for peace and understanding.
This year was really just a good reminder that I have no idea what’s going to happen half the time. I didn’t think I’d find a way to leave my Florida job before 2015, but I did. I didn’t think I’d get to see my family so much, but I did. When I was grumping around and wishing the year would go by quickly, I could have been focusing on the things I had control over and feeling grateful for all the good things. So, thanks, 2014. Thanks for being good to me even though I had a terrible attitude about you.
Last January, I decided that 2014 was going to be a “get through” year, and I wish I hadn’t done that. I wish I had done something my yoga instructor had encouraged me to do on January 16:
light a candle and welcome the unexpected changes this year with an open heart
Good thing I have a whole new year to apply this philosophy. This year promises to have a lot of big changes including new city to call home and a new job for Bret. There are sure to be some challenges, but I’m ready for them.
I don’t have a concrete resolution this year, really, but I’m resolving to spend more time away from my phone and social media. I want to be present and intentional and available to live in the moments I’m given. I want to listen to more music and read more books. I want to finish my novel and submit it for publication, too.
Cheers to 2015! I’m ready to welcome the unexpected changes with an open heart.Read More
At the beginning of November, I wrote about my NanoWrimo project where I planned to write an entire novel (50,000 words) in one month. I knew it was ambitious, but I knew I wanted to try. I started from scratch and aimed to write 2,000 words a day.
After a whole month, I made it halfway there:
You can see that I was right on par for the first few days, my work trip to Chicago threw off my progress, but I picked it up again for a week or two, and then gave up and flat-lined for a week before giving it a decent (pretty pathetic, actually) effort at the end of my Thanksgiving holiday.
What I’m saying is I really didn’t try THAT hard, and, still, I wrote half a novel!
Part of me wishes that I had pushed through, write 5,000 words/day on weekends, gone to write in coffee shop “write-ins” with other NanoWrimo-ers in Tallahassee, and made it to 50,000 words. That certainly would have felt victorious, but I am proud of the progress I made.
In one month, I composed nearly 50 single spaced typed pages – that’s huge! I’m really impressed with what I was able to accomplish and I haven’t stopped writing just because November is over. The biggest takeaway from this project is that little changes over time can make a BIG difference. I didn’t write for the first 8 days of December because I was feeling like the “big push” was over, but if I had written only 1,000 words a day, I would be up to 35,000 by now. I’ve made myself get up at 5:30 to squeeze in some writing time the past two mornings, and now I’m already up to 27,717 words.
I could easily hit 50,000 by the end of December if I average just over 1,000 words/day. I probably will not do this because I’ll be spending some holiday time with family, but I’ve set a personal goal to hit 50,000 by the end of January. This feels like an awesome way to kick off a new year! I really like the storyline that I’m working on, and if I have a complete draft by the beginning of January, I should absolutely have time to edit extensively and finally submit my first manuscript for publication in 2015.
I’ve learned that putting goals in writing is really helpful (and, in fact, the only way that works for me) so I’m writing it down:
And that gives me a whole month of wiggle room until I start my next novel. I know it’s ambitious, but I also think it’s very doable. I’m pretty excited about it.
Here’s to making 2015 the year of the novel.Read More