“Words That Changed Me”
_a record of the process_
Dear Velveeta, If all cats were like you, I’m sure everyone would be a cat lover. When I first met you, you were sitting tall in a corner because you were afraid of another cat who lived with you at your foster home in Northern Virginia....
Have you seen the Feminist Taylor Swift twitter account? A Taylor Swift fan (and Brown University student) edits her famous lyrics to have feminist messages like: I don’t know about you / but I’m feeling twenty-two / cents...
Why did I want to move to Tallahassee? Two reasons. 1. Bretski 2. Manatees I love manatees more than your average vegetarian hippie animal lover. I LOVE them. And I never miss a chance to see them in captivity, but my dreamiest dream has been...
Last month, Bret and I celebrated our 2 year wedding anniversary. We’ve been married for TWO YEARS!
Sometimes I hear people say that marriage is work and I feel so fortunate because I think… [so far] our marriage hasn’t felt like work. We talk about everything, and we care about the same things. Plus, Bret is hilarious. If I’m in a bad mood or if we start arguing, half the time, Bret can make a face or say something that cracks me up and reevaluate if I’m really angry at all. I mean… how couldn’t I smile at this face?!
In all seriousness, though, as I was thinking back and trying to consider what moments had the biggest impact on me this year, I kept coming back to the smallest, simplest and seemingly effortless gestures. Examples of kindness, really. When I tried to sum up what I’ve learned about marriage this year, I went back to this article, Masters of Love that I read several months ago. As I read it for the first time (most of it aloud to Bret), these facts really hit home:
“Gottman can predict with up to 94 percent certainty whether couples—straight or gay, rich or poor, childless or not—will be broken up, together and unhappy, or together and happy several years later. Much of it comes down to the spirit couples bring to the relationship. Do they bring kindness and generosity; or contempt, criticism, and hostility?”
This year has been challenging one. With Bret writing his dissertation, being on the job market, and holding down a full teaching workload, it’s pretty much a miracle that we’ve had time to be together at all. While I work 8:30-4:30, Bret works 8AM-6PM, takes a walk and dinner break with me, and then keeps on working 9PM-2AM. He takes breaks, of course, but when I close my office door, I usually don’t have to think about work until the next day. Ph.D. students don’t have that luxury – the work never stops (well, until that dissertation is finished). Sometimes, if he can’t sleep, Bret grades or catches up on his work as an online editor. It’s a lot.
I can see how this stressful workload can put a lot of strain on a marriage. And I would forgive Bret if he didn’t always have time for us. Yet, he does. In this busy year, we’ve found time for daily walks. We find time to have dinner together even if that means I make dinner more often than he does these days (I’m learning how to cook, yall!). We make time for us. Reading this article made me realize that all of those little things that we’re doing, all the extra effort we’re putting in to make time for each other… that IS work. And that’s a really, really good thing.
Because of that effort, it’s been a good year.
As our two year wedding anniversary approached, I knew wanted to mark the occasion with some photos. We kept our tradition of recreating one of our favorite wedding photos [above]. I hope we recreate this one every year! We decided we wanted some more pictures this time around, too, though, since this is our last anniversary living in Tallahassee. We invited one of my best friends and favorite photographer, Tiffany Heidenthal, to come visit us and photograph our Tallahassee life. She did an incredible job as always. I love every one of these photos.
This photoshoot was bittersweet because we’re saying hello to year 3 of marriage, but we’re also saying goodbye to our Florida life. In a way, this year of our marriage has been a waiting game throughout Bret’s job search. We spent the year knowing it was our last in Tallahassee, but not knowing where we were going to be living next. Every interview was an exercise in patience and trust and faith. I remember telling myself, if we’re meant to end up in New Jersey, we’ll end up in New Jersey. If we’re meant to stay in Florida, we’ll stay in Florida. While it would have been incredibly convenient for my job and professional life if we could move back to DC, as jobs in that region were slowly eliminated, I knew it wasn’t a guarantee. The only thing that’s been for sure is that we’re saying goodbye to this place we call home.
I’m so sad to be leaving, but I’m so glad I have these images to remember our Tallahassee time by.
I like how we’re leaning on each other here. With all of the uncertainties with the job market and where we would end up, this year was all about supporting each other and staying on the same page. We’ve helped each other out a lot and that’s what I think of when I look at this photo.
Tiffany did a good job of encouraging us to be “natural” even though I think we naturally “pose” for the camera. She also was great in choosing good back drops. I wanted to capture “downtown” and I never would have thought about stopping in this alley, but it turned out to be the perfect spot!
I wanted a picture with the dolphin fountain (behind us), and I was going to skip over those stairs, but Tiffany suggested we sat down for a minute. And then we got this great photo. That’s a true sign of a photographer’s eye, I think.
We got some of our favorite “campus” shots. I love this one in front of the Sweet Shop. I want to frame it considering Bret essentially lived here some afternoons. It’s also a place where we’d go and write on Saturday mornings (I worked on my novel and Bret worked on his dissertation). That’s another big thing about this year of marriage – we’ve really encouraged each other to write more and pursue our creative interest. That’s been really good for both of us.
As soon as we walked on campus, Tiffany suggested we stand up on this brick barrier by this tree that never struck me as a “must have” campus spot… but it turned out to be one of my favorite pictures!
I’m going to miss that FSU campus. I wonder if we’ll ever live near another college campus covered in palm trees? Speaking of Tallahassee trees, though, how am I ever going to live without my daily walks around these beauties???
Oh, Southwood. Honestly, what am I going to do without you? This is the place we walk together nearly every evening after work. Like, literally almost every day. It’s where we decompress and share about our days and talk through our ideas. I love this place. It just has this incredibly soothing affect. We have probably walked 300 miles around this place during Year 2 of marriage. That’s not even a little bit of an exaggeration. It’s where we talk, and where we think. It’s my favorite place.
I’m planning to get one of these printed on a big canvas to hang in our new North Carolina house. That way, when I’m freezing in the mountains, I can remember how much I loved living the sunshine state
Going back to that article…
Bret and I have always been kind and thoughtful and loving without really having to work at it. I don’t think those qualities come naturally to everyone, but I do think it’s something you can build on over time. For us, the walks help a lot. Making an effort to be kind and thoughtful and talking about your fears and your thoughts and your plans – prioritizing your relationship even when things are busy and stressful – that IS work. And it’s worth it. This year I learned that, yes, marriage takes effort. But that’s not a bad thing.
When it comes down to it, this article is saying that if we would all just just choose to be kind, our relationships would be a lot happier. It’s simple advice, really, but something that I’ve found to be true. Making the decision to be kind is work. And it’s worth it.
This has been a good year. These have been a good two years. And these are great photos. Mom, which one do you want me to get printed for you? Grandmama? Just let me know
Happy two years, Bret!Read More
Exactly 5 years ago today, as a first-year grad student in the midst of some serious soul-searching, I started this blog. I was twenty-three and I was craving a new life in a new city.
My very first post was simple, but pretty mystical at the same time. A wonderful human being who had way more life perspective than me bought me a coffee in a gas station, and that gesture motivated me to be a kinder person… at least for a week or so.
Since then, I’ve written about a myriad of things.
Five years later, here we are. Still blogging. Even though my posts are inconsistent in length, topic, and pace, I made a commitment to keep this blog alive, and it is a happy place for me and a real source of comfort.
I’ve always looked to writing as my outlet. Usually, what I write is private. I’ll write about my writing process (hello NanoWrimo posts), but I won’t often share what I’m working on. And I journal – that’s how I make sense of messy thoughts – but I don’t share that, either. When I journal, I can write anything. When I blog, I have an audience in mind, an that’s pretty neat as they say.
I’ve continued to write occasional posts about strangers. I have this odd fascination with the concept of strangerhood and friendships. Mostly, though, I write little periodic updates on my day-to-day life. The coolest thing about the blog, I think, is how it spans time. I’m not the most active blogger. I went through a point last year where I wrote daily for lent. I’ve since hidden most of those posts – I’ve hidden a LOT of posts, actually, for various reasons – but the bones are still here.
I don’t have anything epic to say – I just wanted to chronicle this date – 5 years of blogging! For some perspective of what a big chunk of time that is, here’s a picture of me when I was five:
Mallory is the cute one. I’m the one with the cool glasses griping her hand because I was afraid of kindergarten. Actually… maybe this was first grade. So maybe I’m 6. This is what my blog will look like in another year.
Traditionally, on 5-year-anniversary gifts include wood and silverware. Maybe I’ll get a wooden spoon with the name of my blog engraved on it. Or I’ll just keep writing.
Happy Blog-iversary to me!Read More
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