Friday, August 29, 2014

Solo, 12 months

Things Solo likes:
  • Staring at passerby from the bedroom window
  • Peeing on the lawn that belongs to the neighbor's lab puppy, who barks with extreme indignation
  • Going for long hikes with dad
  • Pulling dad off the trail and into the brush on said long hikes
  • Dragging his blanket downstairs and then leaving it at the bottom
  • Being chased around and around and around the bed
  • Eating mom's jalapeno plants. 
I can't believe our little waggy-butt mutt is already a year old. It seems like just a few weeks ago that Mark walked in the front door with a trembling bundle of blanket and fluff roll in his arms. Despite the many torn up garden plants, chewed up blankets, and half-eaten headbands, I wouldn't trade his whole-butt-wiggle, two-paw bounce, happy kiss greeting, every day, for any other pup!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Etsy Update

This week, I've been working overtime to get some new fall items finished and uploaded to Etsy. So, I'm excited to announce that three pairs of these adorable wrist warmers are now available at Patina & Purl. Each pair is knitted by yours truly from hand-dyed yarn. The colors and patterns of each glove are unique, with unexpected twists of color: from spring green to heather grey to light purple. Snatch up a pair before they're gone! Or, if you don't like the colors, you can always request a custom order.

Knitting these up made me so ready and excited for the upcoming fall. September is nearly here, ya'll, can you believe? Crunchy leaves and cool weather are a matter of weeks away! While I'm loathe to see summer go, fall is my favorite season, and fall in Frederick is bewitching. I pretty much float on a pumpkin-spice high from mid-September to the first snow fall.

What's your favorite thing about fall?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Tunes, vol. 5

So, I realize that this video presents a complete deviation from the typical genre of the Tunes series. However, sometimes its good to branch from the norm. To be honest, I have probably the most eclectic musical taste of anyone on this earth--you'll find me listening to anything from Mumford & Sons to Mozart to Ella Fitzgerald to George Strait to Five Finger Death Punch. You just never know what the day will bring.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Your Side, My Side

My grandfather, a chiropractor in rural Georgia, kept a small plaque on his desk. It quipped "A messy desk is the sign of genius." This quotation is often attributed to Albert Einstein, who more than anyone else can surely claim to understand genius.

As I lay in bed last night, reading to calm my mind, I caught myself wondering what a messy nightstand may signify. What would Mr. Einstein have to say about that? "A messy beside table is a sign of...?" I wondered what my night stand says about me, as opposed to what Mark's night stand says about him.

Despite my constant attempts to simplify and edit our lifestyle, it is amazing what manages to accumulate on our nightstands, the things we feel we "need" in order to get a good night's sleep. Here is a list of the essentials each of us keep on hand, every night.

  • glasses
  • homemade lotion
  • books
  • journal
  • water
  • faux sheep rug

  • glasses
  • Tiger balm (for post workout soreness, apparently) 
  • Outside magazine
  • workout guide
  • phone charger
  • fan controller
Clearly, Mark and I have already reached that little-old-couple stage of reading before bed. What can I say? We're both book worms. Reading and spending quiet time together has always been one of our favorite ways to pass time together. As you can probably tell about our book genres, mine tend toward the literary while his tend toward the practical... which is actually a pretty clear insight into our personalities. 

What's on your bedside? Any good reads?

Monday, August 25, 2014

On My Bookshelf

image via Pinterest

I have a confession: I'm a bookaholic. In order to function as a normal adult (but then what is normal?), I must carry around a book at all times in the event withdrawals begin to occur. That's right. I have a book in my purse at all times...even when I know good and well that I won't have time to read. Parents, friends, colleagues...all have tried to help me, but I just keep on going with this unending cycle. As soon as I put one down, I pick one up.

When I do need The Book--whether I be waiting at the car shop, in a hair salon's lobby, or killing time between class--pulling it from my purse gives me this burst of accomplishment. I think: "Ha ha! I win. I have a book. Okay, good bye for a bit, World."

Wait. Is that just me? Oh. Okay. Well anyway....Here's a look at what's lined up on my bookshelf for the remainder of the summer and beginning of fall.


 The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

Planning To Read:

What is on your reading list? Any favorites you can recommend? 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Easy Meals for Newly-Weds

Recently, a friend asked me what some of my "go-to" meals were. I don't know if I'm allowed to have "go-to" meals after only one-and-a-half years of marriage, but maybe I am.

With this question in mind this week, I tried to think of a blog post idea which would actually be helpful. While I typically share our renovations and adventures around town, unless you're planning a hike, coming to Frederick, or remodeling your posts may be more entertaining than they are informative. That's when my friend's recipe question dredged from my memory.

What exactly are my go-to meals? While I still like to experiment with different tastes and yummies (more often than not taken from these two Pinterest boards: here and here), the press of work, school, and life occasionally take over. When that inevitably happens, it's nice to have some reliable recipes to fall back on. Thankfully, I have a husband who isn't afraid to lend a helping hand in the kitchen. He's always quick to grill out or help clean up--which certainly is a tremendous help.

I thought I  might start a mini-series sharing some of my favorite easy meals. These will vary on the healthiness scale from healthy to ehhh-not-so-bad. In all cases, I find them pretty easy to whip up. What's more: they often involve the holy grail of newly-wed cooking: leftovers.

Newly-Wed Meal Number One: Spicy Honey-Lime Fajitas

This recipe was adapted from the fajita recipe over at this blog. I first found this recipe in 2012... weird to think that I've been fixing this for almost two years! Time truly flies.

Here's what you'll need:
2-3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
red bell pepper
yellow bell pepper
green bell pepper
1/4 red onion

For the marinade: 
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup lime juice and lemon juice, mixed together
1/2 tsp smokey chipotle spice
1/2 tsp minced garlic
pinch of salt and pepper
drizzle of honey

Here's what you do: 
  • Butterfly the chicken breasts and trim off any fat.
  • Chop the chicken into long pieces and place pieces in a quart-sized Ziplock bag
  • Mix marinade ingredients and pour into bag. Let sit for 30 minutes.
  • Chop up veggies and saute in a little olive oil. Set aside in a bowl and cover.
  • In the same pan, cook chicken until done. 
  • When chicken is cooked, toss veggies in too, so that they are coated with marinade.
  • Pour continents into your serving bowl! 

These fajitas taste yummy with black beans and corn tortillas. The only real prep work is chopping everything and mixing the marinade--which really doesn't take long. Plus, this recipe usually cooks enough for our lunch the next day as well. Just dump the leftovers into a plastic container and reheat for lunch!

What are some of your favorite recipes?

Monday, August 18, 2014

Summer's Ending, vol. 2

Summer's ending brings its own unique color palette. It's no longer the dainty pinks and tender greens of spring, nor yet the crimsons and violets of fall. Instead, summer's ending adopts duskier hues, as if life's pigments too are growing weary and scorched by an over-zealous sun.

Like the powdery blues and washed-out yellows of a summer sunset.

The juicy reds and verdant greens of a summer's harvest. 

The chipped white and peeling red of an old farmhouse.

Or the yellow ochre and faded black of a flower hedge and its bumblebee denizens.

This post is the second installment of the series Summer's Ending.
For volume one, check out this post. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

Reno & Garland: How We Met Two Dead Generals

On our Saturday hike, Mark and I abruptly walked into a mowed field. The tree-shrouded path of the Appalachian Trail deposited us into this open expanse without warning. One moment we were in the embrace of woods, the next we were on a road side, facing a field. We stepped quietly, wondering if we were trespassing or walking through park territory.

Then, we noticed the sign. A green board, trimmed with gold: a historical marker. We had walked right onto a little-known historical battlefield. The field, its broad green interrupted by one sprawling oak, had been the stage for a bloody conflict involving some 90,000 Michigan men. As the birds tweeted in the shrubs and a farmer's tractor rattled in the distance, I had difficulty imagining the field, so serene now, full with men. Men arrayed in precise lines, their nervous banter punctuated by hoof beats and then the sudden blast of artillery. Considering the numbers--90,000 on the Union side alone--the large field suddenly seemed small. So much life collided and clashed in one spot, on a little-known backroad in Maryland.

"You know, you don't learn about these battles in school. The little battles that happened way out in the country," Mark said.

Perhaps my Civil War history is simply not up-to-snuff, but try as I might, I couldn't remember the Battle of Fox Gap, one of three battles pitched in the attempt to possess South Mountain (ironically, also the sight of the Washington Monument we visited in this post). One of the Confederate generals involved in the South Mountain battles, General James Longstreet, lived in Gainesville, Georgia--my own stomping grounds. You may recognize Longstreet's nickname "Old War Horse," bequeathed by Lee himself.

Beyond the field lay a rectangular stone fence with what appeared to be a grave marker jutting from the middle. Mark and I trudged over to investigate. Closer inspection revealed the monument to honor Union General Jesse L. Reno. Off to the side, less than twenty feet from the memorial site, was another marker, smaller and worn. This one honored a fallen Confederate general, Samuel Garland, Jr., born in raised in Lynchburg, Virginia. This fallen Confederate was from the same town as my husband.

Nearly two hundred years ago, Garland fought and fell in this forgotten spot, hidden on a backroad, his memorial stone small, cast aside from the victorious Reno's, nearly hidden in the trees. He drew his last breath on a trail Mark, myself, and countless other hikers now stomp past, booted and weary just as he and his troops were booted and weary.

"He was from Lynchburg, baby," I shouted over to Mark. He looked up, eyebrows raised.

"Really? That's crazy."

History converges with us, with our present state, in so many ways. It lies, untouched, on our roadsides, in museums, in the very earth beneath our feet. The very landscape is changed and scarred by its passing. A field which should have been reclaimed by the forest remains mowed and kept, one faded wreath and green sign marking its significance. Hundreds of men fought and died at Fox's Gap--yet I did not even know of their existence until I practically tripped over their death site. there their memory lies--even if we don't remember or acknowledge it, even if we would rather praise some, and hide others in the tree-line. Sometimes, history reasserts itself, demands that its people be remembered and it's monuments be seen. I And I truly believe that doing so reminds us where we've been, what we've fought for, and what we're living for. 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Tunes, vol. 4

Although winter is months away--a fact for which I'm still thankful--this song has been stuck on my head all week. Who doesn't enjoy a little Mumford & Sons every now and then? What's your favorite Mumford song?

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Good Reads // 8.12

This week, some of my favorite online reads involve the power of womanhood, the march of William Techumseh Sherman, and the ability to set aside social media.

Number 1: 

"Show Your Strength" via AThousandThreads blog

"What it means to be a woman today is to be stronger than ever before. To lead a household, an office, or just your own damn self through a life that doesn’t ask for permission.Maybe you stand up for your beliefs by leading and nurturing your family. Maybe you feel that a family is best led by setting an example in your career. Maybe you don’t want a family at all. What it means to be a woman today is to refuse to be shamed for seeking happiness, whether that happiness comes through the eyes of your children or your next big promotion at work. It means setting an example not only for our daughters, but for each other, and helping other women to grow more confident in their choices every day. This is what this strong community of women bloggers has just begun to create, a support system and a strong example, with voices on every side of the aisle. A community that empowers women to seek out their own version of happiness in life. And, for that matter, to work with their significant others in a way that allows them to do the same. To shame that voice is to do more to walk back equality than they ever could.

To me, what it means to be a woman today is to chart your own path, and fight to be proud of every step. No matter what path that might be."

Number Two: 

"The Many Battles of Atlanta" via The Bitter Southerner

"Moving west you pass through an invisible race barrier, from white to black, and slowly through an economic barrier as well, from comfortable to struggling. By the time I reached Hank Aaron Way, I had begun to feel distinctly alien and extremely self-conscious. Like many liberal white Atlantans, I like to think I don't carry any racist baggage, and indeed, among wealthy and middle-class blacks, I find myself much more well-adjusted than I ever did living in places with higher percentages of whites. Like, say, rural Michigan.But the discomfort that rises like magma when entering a poor black neighborhood is hard to tamp down. I viewed with deep suspicion a group of half a dozen young black men conversing in front of a dingy convenience store — it’s a lizard-brain reaction, and doubtless a deeply unfair one. It was me, after all, that had come into their neighborhood. It’s not as though they were lurking there in hopes that a lone white guy with a pricey camera would come loping past.

It’s a joy to live in the heart of the Civil Rights Movement. I cast my votes for John Lewis with great enthusiasm and I view the MLK Center with great reverence. But that irrational tic is still there nearly eight generations after the Civil War. It’s enough to inspire a deep pessimism, given that there are so many in these parts that seem happily willing to be governed by their passions rather than their reason."

Number Three: 

"Exploring the Imperfect Shots" via Darling Magazine

"The trip began and almost instantaneously when I shut the phone off, my soul took a huge sigh of relief. What transpired was a space of presence. I wasn’t worried about “catching that frame” for social media, or obsessing with my camera settings to “nail” the shot. I was present and the craziest thing happened. I became at such peace. I didn’t realize just how much my life was wrapped around getting the shot until I gave myself permission to not get the shot — to just, be.

Instead of doing, I was being.
Instead of looking to create a manufactured moment, I was living real life in the moment. My senses were alive to the smell of street crepes, the taste of salted caramel ice cream, the touch of the slightly itchy grass beneath us as we picnicked at sunset at the Eiffel Tower, the sight of rows and rows of Gardens at Versailles. My heart enraptured in beautiful conversations with my sisters, and with it life unfolded all around me. The tightness in my chest and the stress from my day to day life disappeared the moment my phone was shut off."

I have no rights to any of these quotations. 
Check out their sources at the indicated links! 
Happy reading!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Weekend Photo Reel

Lately, Mark and I have been spending our weekends in the woods. Saturday mornings found us eating a yummy breakfast, stuffing a daypack with a few necessities (camera, water, granola), and unfolding a map of Maryland. Last weekend we found the first Washington Monument. The weekend before that, we hiked to Cunningham Falls.

Mark loves to hike. Seriously, that boy. He would rather be in the woods, walking a quiet path, than anything else. And of all the quiet paths to be found, he particularly loves the Appalachian Trail. Friday night, he called me to his desk, where images of trail shelters were displayed on his computer screen.  "Let's hike to this one," he suggested.

Once again, I found myself lacing my hiking boots and checking my camera's battery. Mark loves to hike; I love to take photographs--it's a happy union.


Compared to other trails, the A.T. is a quiet, unassuming. It's fluctuates and shifts, changing form and shape as you walk. In some spots, it's as broad as a back-country road; in other places, it shrinks to a boot's width. Because our summer has been uncharacteristically mild and wet, the undergrowth was tangled, wild, and green. Wildflowers clustered on the trailsides. Fungi sprawled across the fallen treetrunks, slowing transforming their dry bark into some new being, alive and moist.

On the A.T., passing another hiker is a encapsulated moment of kind human interaction. More often than not stooped under a heavy pack, the passerby meets your eyes, nods, and smiles. "Great day for a hike." "Do you have the time?" "Nice to see you." There's no nameless shuffling or eye avoidance; there is no grocery-store aloofness. Whether he's been on the trail for a month or a day, the hiker is happy to see you, to cheer you on, to share a beautiful day.

Leave no trace--the A.T. missive and the mantra of any respectful hiker. At Rocky Run shelter, we met three middle-aged men: the Canadian, Old Guy from Florida, and Tin Can Dan. Each man was section-hiking the trail, alone. Somehow, they three arrived at Rock Run on the same day Mark and I decided to go for an extended walk in the woods. Five paths converged at one shelter, in one moment. They had plenty of ear-pulls and head-pats for Solo.

Tin Can Dan, so named because of his homemade camping gear, shared news of the graffiti and vandalism he had spotted at shelters further north. "All it is, is a rock. Or an old log lean-to. But people feel the need to mark it up, tear it down." Emboldened by his indignation, Tin Can pointed to his baseball cap. "Look for a man with a U.S.S. Ronald Reagan cap on TV, marching on Washington. I'm gonna try to raise some money, see who all I can get behind me. I got six grandkids who I want to hike this trail someday,  but there's gotta be a trail left to hike. All this, of course, if this chicken-egg growing in my chest don't get me first."

As Mark and I packed to leave, having eaten our lunch with three strangers, Tin Can's eyebrows raised. "Leaving already? Did I talk too much? I usually do. The woods do that to you, after awhile."

He waved us on, and we wished him luck and safety for his long walk to Georgia. As we walked north, he shouted for us to remember his warning: leave no trace. The Vietnam vet, with his scrappy arms, battered hat, and round glasses, will never cross our paths again (unless of course he succeeds in his Washington dreams). But his last shouted missive followed us on our walk back to the car. Because of him, I stepped a little more carefully, noted the smaller flowers and unfurling greenery, realized the extraordinary resilience and fragility of the trail's beauty.

About a mile from the parking lot, a flicker of blue, underfoot, caught my eye. Stooping, I picked up a single butterfly wing. Why was it lying on the path? Had a wind scooped it up, deposited it here? How it had survived all those men and their booted feet--our booted feet as we strode past? I considered pocketing it and taking it home, to press into the pages of some unused book. I shifted it to my other palm...and noticed a blue stain on my thumb. Glitter and dust--one touch had already damaged the wing's delicate powder.

"More will wear off, the further you carry it," Mark noted.

I tilted my hand and let the wing flutter and fall back to the ground, where it settled on a patch of bare earth. Leave no trace. We walked on.

Friday, August 8, 2014

4 Favorite Instagram Accounts

Too often, when I can't sleep at night, I find myself scrolling endlessly through Instagram, jumping down rabbit hole after rabbit hole of hashtags, likes, and "oooh that's pretty where is that" moments. Sitting there in the dark, bundled in a wool blanket, with my glasses perched on my nose and my hair in who-knows-what-state-of-mess, I end up muttering things like "we need to go to Glacier Park" or "we need to visit Iceland. I've always wanted to go to Iceland...right?"

While my late-night Instagram wanderings may deprive me of some sleep, they do afford a good bit of inspiration for photography, home renovations, and outfit ideas. The thing I love the most about this Iphone app is that it gives you a glimpse into other people's worlds, into their perspective on life. While some photos are clearly styled and staged, the effort and editing still reveal that ordinary, everyday life can be beautiful if just viewed in the correct light and from the correct angle.

Here are four Instagram accounts that I have been loving recently.

@3pitsinachair As a pit bull owner and lover, I had to include one pittie photo-feed. However, this account isn't just a slobbery mess of doggy photos and fetch videos. This photographer manages to very artistically capture her three pibbles (and one kitty!) posing, rather uniquely, with an old ratty chair and a mountain backdrop.

@mattlowden This account is probably my favorite of these four. He definitely captures and entices my wanderlust-bug with his sweeping mountain views and alluring woodsy realms."Deep roots" was the title of this shot.

@benjaminhole If you want a dose of Great Britain farming, bouncy lamb videos and sleepy sheepdog images, this is the account for you. Seriously. Sometimes the cuteness is just too much. 

@absinthemindedswede The dusky and warm "Iphoneography" of P.J. Bowman makes me want to bake pastries and drink espresso all day. A no doubt unhealthy desire which would lead to dangerous sugar and caffeine highs. 

Check them out for yourself. If you have any of your own favorite Instagram accounts or hashtags, please share! Or follow me on Instagram, and let me know there!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Summer's Ending, vol. 1

As we enter the last months of summer, the earth begins to transform again. Grasses become a bit dryer, the sky a bit duskier, and night returns a bit earlier. Streets quieten as children return to school, and the local pool rests empty during the daytime.

Our gardens begin to ripen and swell with life, ready for the picking. And as the orchard trees begin to sag, their limbs heavy with fruit, we dare to start thinking of fall, a season still too far away to feel but close enough to consider. This reminder of autumn comes at night, wrapped in the sudden crispness of the breeze, a cinnamon-y earthiness in the air, a new desperation in the trill of the cicadas.

Over the next few weeks, I'll be sharing a photo series on summer's ending in order to document the season as it peaks and wanes before us. Today's photos document our evening walk with Solo. After dinner, we usually take the pup for a walk around our block and, sometimes, to Baker Park. Yesterday, an evening storm had just passed by, its trail of trickling raindrops all that was left of its bluster. I love the way grey clouds and rain render plant-life more vivid, somehow. The leaves are greener and the flowers brighter, as if life has developed a sudden luster and become livelier in those moments.

What are your favorite aspects of summer's ending?

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Tunes, vol. 3

With country music royalty in her lineage, Holly Williams had to have a beautiful voice. The more I listen to her, the more I love her music. Of course, with long blonde tresses, a guitar, and some Southern stories to tell--how much can go wrong? Another of my favorite  Holly William's songs can be found here. Warning: the song "Waiting on June" is a tear-jerker.

This is the third installment in our sort-of series Tunes.
Check out our previous post

Monday, August 4, 2014

Weekend Photo Reel

This past weekend, Mark looked up a map of Western Maryland and began searching. He looked for a place we had never been and eventually settled on a spot on the Appalachian Trail, near the Washington Monument. We filled our camelbacks with water, grabbed Solo's harness, packed a few granola bars, and headed out.

As Mark pointed out once we were on the road, Google had described the Washington Monument as being "off of 40." While I felt this to be a somewhat vague set of directions, Mark had full confidence in his ability to get us there in one piece. After all, it was a beautiful Saturday morning, one with a gentle breeze, a mild sun, and plenty of green country to walk through--what was the rush? 

We found out later that we certainly took the long drive to the park: a winding, lazy way through back country, pastures, and corn fields. But, I'm glad we lost our directions, even for just a little while. How else would we have found the hidden spots where tiger lilies, black-eyed Susans, and Queen Anne's lace grow wild? How else would we have seen the two fawns, already bereft of their baby spots, dash into the roadside thickets? How else would we have seen the quiet, farmland ponds and their drooping, covered bridges? 

Sometimes it's worth it to toss the map and get good and lost. Well, lost with a general sense of where you're going. 

Without much incident, we found ourselves at Washington Monument State Park, the site of a beautiful dry-stacked stone tower, the first monument erected to our first President. Built long before the sleek white one standing sentinel in Washington, D.C. 

Although the hike from the parking lot to the tower itself is essentially a short stroll, the Appalachian Trail skirts the tower's base. So, after poking around the tower (which reminded me of a super-sized clay chiminea), Mark and I headed north on the trail. We passed several weekend hikers, groggy and dirty in their packs and boots but ready with a nod and smile. Solo had a tail-wag and finger-lick for each of them. 

At an open stretch of trail, I found several wild blackberries growing on the trail edge. The fattest juiciest berries were hidden deep within the bushes' thorns and folds, further than I was willing to dig. But the handful I was able to forage tasted better than any store-bought berries I've had all season. Their bursts of juicy sweetness and later my purple-stained fingers reminded me of Georgia summers and home. 

We've been so lucky with our summer weather lately. The mild breezes and warm sunshine belies the fact that it's early August and tempts us with thoughts of October, crunchy leaves, and fall. I know this perfect, mild weather is only here for a little while and that summer will soon roar back in full force, but we enjoyed being out in the coolness while it lasted. Summer, you're spoiling me; why don't you stick around a little longer? 

Sunday, August 3, 2014

un, deux, trois

"Simple" is an important part of a newlywed girl's vocabulary. Especially when it comes to kitchen antics. And this cookie recipe certainly falls under the description "easy." It requires only three ingredients, ones which I always have on hand.

Here's what you need:
1 cup creamy peanut butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg

Here's what you do:

  • Mix your ingredients together in a medium-sized mixing bowl. 
  • Scoop out small amounts of the cookie mix and roll into little dough balls. 
  • Arrange on an un-greased cookie sheet. 
  • Using a fork, mash slightly and create the little cross-hatch design.
  • Bake at 350 for 8-10 minutes.
  • Remove from oven and allow to cool on a wire rack for about 10 minutes before eating. 

As simple as these cookies are to make, they taste amazing straight out of the oven paired with a glass of milk. We're not big sweet eaters around here, but I love to tinker in the kitchen and bake. So, most of these little yummies went to our neighbors. Which illustrates a good point. As quick and easy as these cookies are to bake, they would make great last-minute hostess or holiday gifts! 

So there you have it. As easy as one, two, three!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Unsung Strengths

These days, a trend seems to have cropped up on the world wide web. A trend of self-bolstering, self-praise, and shoulder-straightening. It demands that people stop criticizing themselves, accept their flaws as beauty, and stop apologizing. With a hair-flick and a cocked eyebrow, it says things like #sorrynotsorry, #shinestrong, and #youareenough. These bicep-flexing blurbs seek to empower and embolden women in particular and fly in the face of our bizarre, perfection-driven society. After all, haven't we all had enough of a world that praises thigh gaps, labels curves as fat, and ridicules the soft mother figure?

Yet, at the same time,there's something about these advertisements and trends that gives me pause. For a while, I couldn't put my finger on what bothered me, but I gave it some thought today and realized what it is that makes my brow furrow every time I read or watch one of these seemingly-inspirational posts. My older sister, a working mother of two smiley, blonde-headed boys, helped me come to this realization.

In response to the "love your stretch marks" and "love your body" challenges circulating social media, my sister did the online equivalent of sighing and throwing up her hands in exasperation. While acknowledging that these challenges and calls-to-arms perform a good deed by empowering and praising motherhood, my sister dared to say something different. She put her hands on her hips and said "You know what, I don't like my stretch marks." When I first read her social media declaration, I thought "oh no! love yourself! you're beautiful and perfect!" Like I was some do-good fairy swooping from the sky to sprinkle her with magical strength-and-beauty dust. But then, I read on.

While acknowledging that she didn't like her post-baby figure, she made a very important and valid point: a woman is allowed to make judgments about her own body and, if she wants, take steps to change what she sees. Yes, disliking or unhealthily criticizing yourself is never a good thing. Looking down on yourself, on your story and identity, is never healthy. But self-criticism has its benefits. If you don't like what you see, change it! Your body is exactly that: yours. Dare I say it-- you don't have to love every aspect of it. Seeing room for improvement and taking strides to better yourself doesn't make you less of a woman. In fact, having the strength to say "I want to and will make a change" is perhaps even more empowering than the "embrace yourself for what you are right now" philosophies.

So, now I circle back to my original dilemma. To what was bothering me about these trending  posts, campaigns, and challenges.

It's not always healthy to praise your faults. Self-improvement is not an unworthy goal. Seeking to better yourself does not mean that you loathe yourself or are ashamed of your past. It's okay to look at yourself and think "this is not enough. I can do better." It's okay to strive for something beyond yourself, to reach out and upward.

Sometimes it's okay to say "I'm sorry." Sometimes, it's okay to be gentle and quiet. There's something to be said for humility and discretion: for the person who stoops to help, who puts others first, who is unassuming and unobserved. In our quest to better ourselves, we wouldn't want to forsake the unsung strengths--quietness, meekness, humility--for the sake of shouting our presence and worth from the rooftops.

While confidence and purpose are admirable and necessary, I hope I never become blind to my own need. It's through our lack that we learn and grow. Our need is what drives us to our knees, and there, in that exposed perspective, we receive a clearer vision. It's from our knees that we can be lifted up, whether it be through a God, a friend, a relative, or a stranger. But if we're always strong in ourselves, loving ourselves as we are, right now in this moment, we'll never be in that humbled, exposed place. We won't experience growth. More importantly, we won't experience one of the most intimate gestures of life: a hand held out.

Friday, August 1, 2014


A few weeks ago, I discovered--much to my joy and to Mark's dismay--that Under the Tuscan Sun was available on Netflix. Oh happy day! Let's face it. A movie about Tuscany, writing, renovating, Italian food, coffee, ice cream, wine, and romance. It's like a giant ball of things-Abi-squeals-about. Plus, Diane Lane's hair makes me doubt all my major life choices. Seriously, those curls. Only to be rivaled by mid-90s Julia Roberts. Yes, I have hair-crushes. What's it to ya?

Wow. We are now way off topic. Anyway.

In keeping with the spirit of the movie, I decided to try my hand at making limoncello. Lemons, grain alcohol, sugar, and water. It sounded easy enough. Surprisingly, it was!

Here's what you'll need: 

8-10 lemons
a bottle of grain alcohol
3 1/2 cups water
2 1/2 cups sugar
a vegetable peeler
a glass pitcher
a fine mesh strainer
a funnel
a stoppered glass bottle

Here's what you do:

1. Peel the lemons, being careful to get only the yellow peel and not the white pithy part. This takes a little while, with the lemons becoming surprisingly wiggly and slippy as you go. Of course, that last bit could just be me being clumsy.

2. Toss the lemon peels into your glass pitcher. Pour the grain alcohol over it.

3. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to sit for about four days.

4. After the four days have passed, make the simple syrup using the water and sugar. Stir the water and sugar together in a small saucepan over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes. Once sugar has dissolved in the water, set aside and allow to cool completely.

5. Add simple syrup to lemon-alcohol mixture. Cover with plastic wrap, and let sit overnight at room temperature.

6. The next day, strain the limoncello using the mesh strainer. Transfer to the glass bottle. Seal the bottles and refrigerate until chilled!

The glass bottles were so pretty!

What does it taste like? To me, it tastes exactly like my mom's lemon pie, in liquid form and bottled. Mark says it tastes like a lemon drop. One thing is for sure: it's sweet, rich, and worth sharing!

Typically, limoncello is consumed after a meal to aid with digestion. While this drink is made throughout Italy, the best of this lemony liqueur is apparently made in Capri, where it is allowed to sit for sometimes as long as 40 days. However, I am neither in Capri nor the least bit Italian. I simply watched a movie, thought it sounded yummy, and googled recipes until I felt I had the hang of it. So this recipe is the Southern-girl version of the Italian liqueur! If I have any Italian readers, maybe you can further enlighten me on the subject! You may even have a better method or tradition for making it. I certainly would love to hear your ideas if so!

Some yummy ways to serve limoncello can be found here and here. Personally, I'm anxious to try the blueberry-limoncello cooler--it sounds like summer in a bottle and would give me a good use for my rather-prolifically-growing mint! (Side note: apparently mint is a native Maryland plant; it is currently dominating my garden.) Now I just need to host a girl's night or dinner so I have an excuse to share this lemony goodness. Any takers?

Unexpected plus: I now have an excuse to buy those beautiful glass bottles at Home Goods and TJ Maxx. The two pictured here were each 1.99! Can't beat that! Spoiler alert for my friends: this concoction may be used as gift in your near futures.

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