Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Tunes, vol. 7

Have you ever heard of the Phantom of the Opera sequel? No. I thought not.

The sequel entitled Love Never Dies opened in London in 2010 but received poor reviews and eventually closed. In 2012, it experienced decent success in Australia but never even made it to America. Now, if you really want to see the much-anticipated but bit-of-a-flop Phantom sequel, you have to go to Japan, the only country currently showing it. You also could purchase the DVD recording of the Australian version. Which is what I did.

Why was it a flop you ask? Personally, I love the music. While perhaps not as haunting and memorable as the original Phantom score, I feel that the songs are at least as good as any other Broadway play. I'm certainly no expert but the sets and costumes seemed lovely as well. So why the poor reception? Especially considering that the Phantom of the Opera is the longest running Broadway show and possesses such a staunch fan base.

Here's my answer: predictability and a crappy title. Who wants to see a show with a title that sounds like a cheap romance novel? Mark's first reaction to the name was a cocked eyebrow. You know every other husband who went to see it did the same thing. And it's not like the show doesn't brim with other title options. One of those options being the name of the carnival setting itself: Phantasma. Moreover, the plot line was quite predictable...with the title in fact giving away the ending. The whole show seemed to rely heavily on fans' nostalgia and, in my opinion, just didn't do the original Phantom justice.

But again, as I said, the music is beautiful. Hence why today's tune features the beautiful Sierra Boggess (who played Christine Daae both in the Phantom of the Opera and in London's Love Never Dies) singing the title song.  So, while you may never see Love Never Dies performed, thanks to the Internet you can still enjoy the music.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Thwarting the Winter Blues

Ladies and gentlemen, we have entered the Shlump. That dreadful time between the holidays and spring, when all is cold and icky and damp and slick. Our cars, boots, and foyers seem perpetually coated in salt. On the cold sidewalks, we bust our own groceries carrying the real groceries inside. We drive to and from work in the dark and glare at happy kids who get snow day while we shiver in our offices.

Or is that just me?

Personally, I find winter a difficult month to endure. Every January, my mom or husband remarks that I seem glum. Even though I love playing in the snow as much as anyone, I do find the long grey stretches a bit too long. So, I devised a list of ideas to thwart my winter blues.

Get outside.
Spending even just 20 minutes in the sunlight can help combat the January doldrums. I've noticed that whenever I take Solo on a longer walk, I come back inside feeling invigorated. The cold bites my cheeks and stings my eyes. It's like being shaken awake. If there are snowballs to throw, all the better. You know, because taking a snowball to the face would certainly wake one up.

Hit the gym.
Whenever I get home from work, I just want to collapse on the couch, a blob of coat and scarf. I don't want to lift even one finger. And the thought of going back out into that go to the gym? No way. But... Hitting the gym even in the dead of winter is integral to surviving the winter blues. As we all know, exercising not only benefits your health but boosts your mood due to the release of endorphins. So, rather than lounging on the couch working on my sweater-body, I've learned that taking the time to work on my bikini body does actually improve my winter mood.

Play a game. 
The other night, an idea plopped into my head. Rather than sitting through another evening of Netflix, Mark and I decided to play cards. We grabbed a deck of cards, pulled the ottoman toward the couch, and taught each other game after game, In minutes, we were laughing. Give it a try! Turn off the TV and play a game with your family.

Buy a houseplant or fresh flowers.
Have you noticed that right now every grocery store has a phalanx of houseplants greeting you when you walk through the slidey-doors? There's a reason for that. Bringing a little green into the house reminds us of spring and warmth. While I haven't bought a houseplant yet (having a nosy puppy
means that the houseplant would be strewn across the floor), I have splurged and bought a few bouquets of fresh flowers. Seeing them on the kitchen table adds a splash of color and life to the inside even though the outside is still icky.

Keep your space clean and organized. 
One benefit of being trapped inside: I'm forced to pay attention to problem areas in home organization. Since there's not much opportunity to get outside, I find myself poking around the pantry and those tippy-top cabinets, reorganizing and cleaning. Not only does purging and organizing help now, it benefits later in the year. No one ones to be cooped up in a disorganized, messy space. If I'm going to be stuck inside, it may as well be in a tidy space.

Bake something sweet and share it.
True, this seems in contradiction to the "hit the gym" idea. But, lately I've enjoyed trying out some sweet recipes on the weekends. The way to avoid acquiring some winter fluff is to simply share the goodies. Share them with your neighbors, your mailman, your friends. This way, I have an excuse to bake but also manage to get the baked goods out of the house.

Treat yourself.
Go out to dinner. Get a massage. Take a weekend trip. When all else fails, pamper yourself a little. After all, we all deserve an occasional treat.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Harper Maternity Session

Last Sunday, I ventured out into the January chill to conduct a maternity session for my sweet friend Lindsay and her husband. Lindsay was one of my first Maryland friends. Those of you who have ever moved far from home know the value of making a friend in your new place. So, when I learned that Lindsay and her husband were expecting their first baby, offering a maternity session just made  sense. What a privilege to document such a happy, loving couple at such a special time in their lives.

These images are some of my favorites. I feel like they truly capture this couple-- the fun they have together and the tenderness they share--as well as the unique beauty of a mommy-to-be.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Dill House Diary: Our Starter Story

While I've shared many renovation pictures, I realize I haven't really taken the time to talk about how we actually found our first home. So today, I thought I might share that story.

We found this house--our first real, purchased, this-is-ours house--by walking around downtown Frederick, searching for homes for sale. We happened to walk up Fourth and noticed a for-sale sign hanging in front of this somewhat pitiful-looking rowhouse. While its neighbors flaunted brightly painted brick and little transom windows, this home jutted like a sore thumb. All off-grey vinyl and weeds.

"This place is cute," my sister remarked. I cocked an eyebrow. Are you kidding me? I thought. Seeing my expression, she shrugged. "I don't see anything wrong with it. A little plain, but it could have a ton of potential you never know."

Later that week, Mark and I booked an appointment with a realtor to see the interior. Let's just say it was so small, plain, and cheap that our realtor didn't even want to walk inside. Her nose curled, she stood by the front door under the pretext of "letting us take a look around." In reality, I think the price tag was a little too low for her preferences. But something about the teensy brick house caught my attention.

Sure, the kitchen was tiny. Sure, there was only one bathroom. Sure, the upstairs had been divided into a patchwork of rooms so small they may have well been a series of connecting closets. There were plenty of icky cosmetic issues to correct. Linoleum floors, tangled blinds, an old leaky window unit, a particularly battered water-heater. The white walls and cabinets robbed the home of its homey-ness and rendered everything cold and institutional. Nothing about this home was welcoming. A layer of dust and grime coated the molding, cabinets, and floors, evidence of the owners' neglect and other buyers' indifference.

The couple who had owned the home before had clearly sacrificed much of the 120 year old home's character for convenience. Noting the number of days the home had been for sale in a fairly lively  market, I knew that the home's many cosmetic issues were scaring away other buyers. Yet, despite all the glaring ugly problems, something about the little house just felt inviting.

As cheesy as it sounds... when I walked in the front door, the space seemed to whisper "Come live in me. Come make me pretty again." The thought then formed in my mind: We could do this. We could fix this place. And thus we bought our starter home: a 900 square foot brick row-house, badly in need of some TLC, in Maryland.

Several gallons of paint, buckets of nails, and hours of elbow grease later... We did fix this place. Now, instead of hesitating at the doorway (as did our realtor), visitors step through the doorway with a smile, followed by "This is so cute."

Projects we've completed:
  • removed vinyl siding 
  • painted the exterior brick
  • built a guest nook
  • installed a custom-designed stained glass transom above entry door 
  • laid new tile in the bathroom 
  • installed a new water heater
  • built a flower bed 
  • removed several cabinets in the kitchen and laundry room
  • stained and installed wood shelving in laundry room
  • repainted every room in the house
  • laid new hardwood in the kitchen
  • removed an awkward, over-the-stairs closet
  • tackled the veritable weed-jungle that concealed the patio
  • removed a wall upstairs to create an open office space
  • laid new hardwood throughout the upstairs
  • created built-in bookshelves in the "guest nook"
  • built a stair rail
  • painted the radiators
  • installed new light fixtures in the dining room
Projects to tackle:
  • complete kitchen renovation: new countertops, backsplash, and open shelving above sink
  • install a new vanity and new fixtures in the bathroom
  • build and install bypassing barn doors for the closet
  • create a patio "hang out space"
  • build a bike shed 
While there are still many things left to do, the to-do list gradually shrinks. Sometimes, it's easy to take for granted everything we've done. To overlook all of these changes. But it has been nice in writing this post  to stop and admire our handiwork. We've put in so many difficult, sweaty hours to restore this home's character, enduring the old-house quirks, frustrations, and penny-pinching that come with renovations.

Yet I wouldn't take back one second of owning and renovating our own home Because this place is ours, all-ours. And with each hammer-fall and saw-grind, our little fixer-upper has slowly turned into a home.

As you look for a new home, you can do like we did and literally walk around town, looking for sale signs. However, our method was probably not the best way to tackle this house-hunting business. Especially if you live in a larger city. One of my favorite real estate websites is Compass. When I'm bored, I like to search other cities and imagine living in different neighborhoods. Compass has an "Explore" feature that essentially allows you to visit New York  or Washington, D.C. neighborhoods. Even for those of us who don't live in one of these awesome cities, it's fun to just check out the listings--to imagine what your life could be in another city. Whether you're in the market for a city apartment or just curious like me, you should check out their site! After all, like Mark and me, you never know what will speak to you. 

Monday, January 19, 2015

Peaches, vol. 2

I'd like to share another excerpt from a larger creative nonfiction essay
I've been working on. In this essay, I'm attempting to capture what
"Southerness" means to me. The following post contains a page
from the larger work. I hope you enjoy! 

The trees grew in tangled, regimented rows, at once so precise and so unruly. If I closed one eye and tilted my head to the side, the corridor of brown trunks seemed to stretch indefinitely, one after the other, row after row, trunk by trunk. Mise en abyme. Above these soldierly bases, the trees’ branches spread into a chaotic canopy. In winter, the trees were squat and barren, the secret twinings and twistings of the branches revealed in their nakedness. In spring, pink-white buds festooned and softened their bark hides, sprinkling on the ground like a confectionery snow. But now, in summertime, was when the peach orchard really blossomed. The branches drooped, heavy with fruit that grew in clumps. Sometimes, so many peaches grew on one branch that their haphazard bunching reminded me of someone trying to carry to many things at once. Eventually, the weight of the items would become overbearing and, one by one, thing would begin to fall. So it is with peach trees: the hard, green balls begin to blush, kissed by the sun, and as they soften and fill with juice, the tree loses its strength. Branches begin to sag under their burden, lowering toward the orchard workers’ hands, as if begging to be picked

My grandparents did not own the peach orchard, although I, in my childhood naivete, assumed that they did, just as I assumed all the world was open, mine to play and skip and run through. On three sides, the orchard enveloped his land: left, right, rear. Only the front of the house was open and that bordered by a one-lane country road and, beyond, the railroad track.

When the hottest August days arrived, my grandfather would select one of grandmother’s largest plastic bowls and, taking my hand, lead me into the orchard.

Under the orchard’s canopy, I stepped into another world, one muffled from the outside world by drooping branches and whose humid air thickened with the sticky scent of fructose. So late in the season, several peaches had already fallen to the ground. Bruised and ruptured at the base of their trees, the fruits began to decay, mixing their spilt juice with the red earth. I placed my feet deliberately, taking care to avoid the ruined peaches. I cringed at the yield and squish if I happened to step upon one, the sudden squirting of rotten juice. The sugary substance coated the toes of my shoes and made the Georgia clay cling to their fabric. Maw-maw won’t like that, I thought.

“Here,” my grandfather’s voice said. “Some ripe ones.”

At his direction, I passed between the branches and emerged into an open spot of sunlight. The air here was fresher, not so pungent with the scent of sweet flesh and decay. My grandfather smiled and lifted a low branch, pointing to its burden. Three fist-sized peaches, their flesh unbruised, unblemished, pale yellow and blushing red. With two hands, I held grandmother’s bowl as he picked them.

Grinning and emboldened by our find, I scurried onward. I was smaller and more agile, able to duck between and beneath the squatting trees. Soon, I outpaced my grandfather whose presence faded to a voice behind me. I paused, searching for fruit, and there, dangling alone on a branch, was a great, round find. Baseball-sized and fat with sugar. With one hand, I pulled down the branch, the leaves jostling, and with the other I plucked the peach.

Just as soon as it broke away from the branch and I felt its rounded weigh in my palm, my eyes widened. Behind this seemingly perfect fruit grew another, just as large and fat. Yet this one teemed and moved. Beetles, black and scuttling, roiled across its flesh, so many that the yellow fruit seemed to have grown its own glistening carapace.  Disgusted, I recoiled and lost my grip on the fruit I had just picked. I grabbed for it, but it fell with a thud muffled by grass and leaves. I plucked it from the ground, turned it over. Its smooth body had darkened, already bruised.

My grandfather’s tread neared.“Grandpa,” I called. “Look.” I pointed to the bug-infested peach.

He squinted in the sunlight, then frowned. “Yep. That happens. They’re drawn to the sugar. Just like us, I reckon.” He took the bowl from me. “Let’s head home.”

Her thumb guiding the small knife, my grandmother carved the peaches into perfect wedges. She offered me a slice, balanced on the blade’s edge. I shook my head. Even though I could imagine how fresh and sweet it would taste, I couldn't sink my teeth into the peach’s skin. My mind still crawled with the memory of that rotten peach, still clinging to its branch, its skin roiling and squirming with beetles. 

For a previous installment, click here. 

Friday, January 16, 2015

Tunes, Vol. 6

The winter weather must be making me nostalgic. I thought I might share one of my favorite songs from Audioslave. Chris Cornell's voice melts me into a useless pat of butter. I mean really.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Join our Book Club! {A Collaboration with Wit&Spice}

Today, I'm excited to announce the beginning of a collaborative blog series with my close friend Whitney of Wit & Spice.

Whitney and I have known each other since our preteen years. As girls, we used to write to each other, not via email or instant messenger (wow, remember that?) but through that old standby snail-mail. We created these elaborate, decorated cards which we'd enclose in the most specifically-addressed envelopes you can imagine. Meaning I wouldn't just write her name and address but would go a bit further, specifying country and continent. You know, just in case the mailman accidentally went to the United States in Europe or Asia. Whitney would reply with an even more exaggerated address, making sure to include "Earth" on the envelope. Not to be outdone, I then included the solar system and Milky Way. Unfortunately, our understanding of intergalactic correspondence failed before our wit ran out.

Over the years, we've kept in touch and still meet occasionally in Washington, D.C for double dates around that pretty city. So with this history of friendship and with both of us already possessing our own blogs, the mutual idea to collaborate on a blog series made perfect sense, as did turning to a favorite topic: our love of words and reading.

So we are excited to announce that, beginning in February, we will be conducting a Book Club, one which we hope you too will join. On the last Wednesday of each month, we will discuss a literary work and announce the following month's read. Feel free to follow along and participate in our book discussions. We'd love for you to suggest titles, pose questions, and just chat about the books with us!

Our first read: Where'd You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple

Monday, January 12, 2015


If you head north on Highway 365—people from Atlanta will call it 985, but everyone north of Gainesville knows it by its real name 365, and if you don’t use that name, people won’t know where you’re sending 'em—you will eventually find two towns whose names sound like musical notations or perhaps like a widow-lady and her scruffy dog: Lula and Alto. According to their oldest citizens, both towns once promised to boom and spread. Lula with its train station and our Alto close enough to feel the ripple effects of Lula’s progress. Yet, as so often happened with these hidden Southern towns, the highway diverted all attention from the railroad, and soon, the town began to disappear until all that was left was the shell of the train station, an abandoned peach stand, and a few brick buildings hinting to a main street. There, a traveler would find the requisite small-town stores: a hair salon specializing in quilted purses, a wilting florist, and a bait-and-tackle shop.

The abandoned peach stand. A turquoise green shed, sitting lonely on the Old Cornelia Highway, the two-lane path that the big road bypassed. If a person didn’t know better, he would think the stand was a relic, some lost piece of the town’s history, forgotten and empty like so many other buildings, their only denizens the grass overpowering their foundations. Surrounded by pink-flowering trees, the abandoned stand rests at the front of a peach orchard. Gnarly, stooped trees in regimented rows that file away over the low rolling hills.

What appears to be the front of the farm property, evidenced by the stand, the driveway, the house facing the street, is actually the rear. Time and change demanded the citizens of Lula and Alto face another direction. Located on the opposite side of the orchard is the sprawling farmers market Jaemor Farms, a main stop on the agritourism trail of Northeast Georgia. This supersized market is renowned for its boiled peanuts, pumpkins, and apple harvest. In late summer and early fall, when the grass becomes scorched and the trees start bowing under their fruits, wealthy Atlanta and Gwinnet citizens battle Interstate 85, just to taste the Northeast’s peaches, apples, squash, and tomatoes.

My grandparents bought their produce at Jaemor. In their Georgia dialects, that word—produce—became a dull spondee, each syllable dragged to its full length, a slow-moving word that rolled off their lips like honey dripping off a spoon. At the grocery stores in Gainesville, my grandmother always held my hand tight in hers, but at Jaemor she gave me my own basket and let me run the aisles. 

Kicking aside the dried stalks, leaves, and corn husks forgotten on the floor, my tennis shoes scuffed on the concrete. My nose tickled with a cornucopia of smells: the brushed, dry scent of the paper apple-bags; the sickly sweetness of the melons; the earthy smell of potatoes, radishes and carrots; the sharpness of a yellow squash; the sunshine-y tang of row after row of peaches.

Leaning on his cane, my grandfather held up a melon. Its green, round belly drooped and rolled between his hands. He frowned, surveying its spottled hide, and then lifted his knotted thumb and gave the melon a sharp thwump!

“See that splotch on its belly? Hear that sound?” he said. “It’s how you check for its juice. Take it to your grandmama.”

Like a master revealing trade-secrets, my grandfather led me through the market. He placed the ripe fruits into my small hands, instructing me to discern the weight and heft of the ripe opposed to the unready. He taught me to search for the red gleam of a ripe tomato, to listen for the drumbeat of a ready melon, to smell the sweetness of a juicy peach.

Arranged in baskets, the peaches were piled haphazardly, red and yellow gems waiting to be polished. My index finger brushed their downy flesh, soft like the hair on a baby’s crown. My grandmother always wrinkled her nose at a peach’s skin and peeled away the fuzz and down with her sharp little knife.But I protested. I loved the way the tender fuzz tickled my nose when I bit into the peach’s yellow flesh; I loved its brush against the roof of my mouth, the way the sticky juice spurted and oozed between my fingers. 

Perfection, ain't it. 

image source: here

Friday, January 9, 2015

Coffee Dates

One of my favorite things to do when meeting an old friend is to swing by a coffee shop. Hands cradling a warm mug of something sweet, we'll just sit and chat about anything. About what's going on in our lives. About funny or sad anecdotes. About new things--books, clothes, trends--we're into.

With this in mind, I thought it would be fun to touch base with my readers once a month and share a little "coffee date," if you will. The posts will highlight an interesting fact, share a bit about what's going on in our lives, and also include a few of our favorite links. The overall concept will be similar to our previous Currently series but hopefully be a bit more interactive, as readers are encouraged to suggest topics for upcoming Coffee Dates. After all, real coffee dates are a conversation between friends--and I hope this space will be that for you as well!

This month, I'd like to chat first about scarves. After all, we will all be needing some with this winter weather blowing through.

Tartan Scarves

Lately, I've been obsessing over tartan scarves. Apparently, "tartan" is the correct term for the criss-cross lines pattern that we Americans call plaid. While visiting Scotland during my undergraduate years, I learned that tartan is quite the big deal (nah duh, right?). Individual families have their own tartan patterns. Apparently, you can even purchase "your" tartan. The Royal Mile vendors sold both "Black" and "Hobbs" patterns. However, since I didn't have $400 to shell out, I didn't purchase either pattern. Interestingly enough, I also saw my first pickpocket occur in Edinburgh. But that topic aside... I am very much in love with oversized tartan scarves. Whether its their association with Burberry and all things equestrian or whether its just my own imagination... when I see tartan scarves, I think "classy." Also, I think "hey that looks warm, gimme."

Here are a few that I've been coveting lately: 1, 2, 3.

A Life Update...

Last Thursday marked my last day working at Mount St. Mary's University. My final week was the week before students returned from break; so the normally bustling quad was deserted as I walked away. Nothing but the wide stone buildings, the snow-covered ground, and a harsh wind. Leaving was a good bit harder than I anticipated, and I couldn't suppress a few tears. I guess it's lucky to have had the type of job that makes you sad when you leave. Of course, I am looking forward to my new position which I begin Monday morning! Woohoo!

Check this out

1. Mark has decided that we need to just forgo buying a bigger house next time and instead downsize. I personally would prefer that my next house not fit inside the living room of this house. But hey that's just me. Although... the Linden house makes his argument very tempting, especially when that guy starts talking about lower utility bills. 
2. I believe Averie over at AverieCooks has created a cookie bar that will make me "sit pretty and beg" like Solo. Something this gooey and delicious-looking will make me bust out the apron. 
3. The Bitter Southerner recently determined the best Southern albums of 2014. My listen-to-this list just expanded. What, you don't have a listen-to-this list? Well go and get thyself one, friend! Actually, don't becasue then, like me, you'll feel guilty about never quite knowing all those hip indie rock songs you should know. Oh wait. I'm a old married fart now? I don't have to know them? Oh okay, cool then. Back to Disney Pandora then.

Happy weekend, friends!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Living Small: Room by Room Critique

Living in a small house has many benefits: less cleaning, lower utility bills, lesser tendency to collect "junk." However, small homes have their drawbacks, one being less storage options. As a small-home owner, you may only have so many cabinets and closets. Your pantry--if you're lucky to have one at all--will be teensy and certainly not walk-in. While this lack of space may prevent you from hoarding unnecessary items, it also prevents you from being able to stock up on supplies and essentials. Plus, what you do have must be neatly organized in order to avoid feeling like your cabinet contents are going cascade all over you every time you open the pantry door.

In order to learn some new tips and tricks for organizing a small home, I turned to my favorite small-home resource: Apartment Therapy. This month, Apartment Therapy is running its annual January Cure series, a month-long endeavor to clean, tweak, and organize your living space. I decided to sign up (and you should to!). While I'm sure I won't have time to execute every single Cure assignment, I do plan to actualize at least some of them and maybe save the other suggestions for later use. Perhaps the winter will be long enough--and we'll be cooped up often enough-- that I'll find time to complete all of them before spring.

The first phase of the January Cure is to Plan Your Cure, or as I think of it, complete a Room-by-Room Critique.

Essentially, you will move through your home, room by room, noting any little "issues" you encounter on a notepad. These issues could be anything from "junk piling up at the door" to "loose cabinet handle" to "dim lighting." Any item or situation that bothers you and needs improvement should be jotted down on your pad. After you've completed each room's critique, look over your list and select 3-5 items that you actually can address. The purpose of this assignment is not to overwhelm you with issues but rather to just give you an idea of problems--both small and little-- that can be corrected over the course of the entire year.

A little trick I usually employ is to view my room through the camera lens of my iPad or iPhone. Just snap a picture or two of the room and then view them for anything that really jumps out. It's amazing what our eyes tend to gloss over due to familiarity. But then, when viewed through your camera lens, suddenly that same item or problem juts out. Somehow, I feel like the camera distances me from the room, allowing me to view it as a visitor seeing the space for the first time.

Bearing in mind that our home renovation is still underway, I dutifully marched around the house, pen and paper in hand and no doubt giving Mark heart palpitations. Oh no, what project is she thinking up next?

Here are my results.

Living room:
  • coats tend to be tossed on the couch or dining table
  • room seems dim--need another source of light
  • basket to house throws and blankets
  • replace ceiling fan with something more stylish and actually operational
  • fill blank space over TV console table-- a clock? a mirror?
  • find a better storage solution for Solo's dog toys

Dining room:
  • create storage solution in living room so that coats don't wind up on dining table
  • create storage somehow on back of basement door--to corral odds and ends/ Mark's hiking gear

  • finish kitchen remodel of course
  • add transition floor piece in kitchen doorway
  • create storage on back of sink cabinet doors
  • find some place to better store saved grocery bags
  • re-organize pantry, especially the bottom shelf
  • re-organize and de-clutter the cleaning cabinet
  • de-clutter dresser top
  • create jewelry storage
  • place rug at foot of bed
  • purchase blackout shades for windows to correct "missing" blinds

Office Area:
  • organize clothes in closet
  • finally install closet doors.
  • re-position and possibly replace ceiling fan
  • smooth ceiling where wall was removed
  • install outlet covers
  • solve computer cord nightmare under the desk
  • install new wall sconce and correct its light switch

Guest Bedroom:
  • organize top shelf of guest closet
  • purge any unused items from closet
  • purge unused items from bookshelves-- donate to library?
  • list big printer (stored under bed) on Craigslist
  • purge unused/torn duffel bags in storage under bed
  • provide under-the-bed storage for guest room
  • empty "grad-school" crate at base of bookshelf and replace with two fabric baskets--possibly "guest laundry" area?
  • replace medicine cabinet with new mirror and sconce
  • clean out and reorganize sink cabinet
  • replace vanity with new vanity, counter top, and sink
  • replace blinds with new, sleeker shade
Obviously, I may not be able to tackle every item on this list, but I plan to use this list as a reference for small improvements throughout the year. Sometimes the littlest change makes all the difference.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Around Town: First Snow of 2015

Yesterday morning, the annoyingly happy jingle of my iPhone alarm jarred me awake. Blurry eyed, hair plastered to my cheek, I groped in the dark for my cell. After some failed fumbles, I managed to tap snooze and sag back, face-first, into my pillow. Was it really already time to wake up? I moaned...And then realized that, for a Tuesday morning downtown, the streets were awfully quiet. The rush of cars outside our window was absent. In fact, everything sounded hushed and muffled.  Dragging myself from the warmth of the covers, I pulled back the curtains and squinted outside.


Snow blanketing every surface and still falling gently. For those of us who work in academia, this wonderful occurrence meant either a delay or, if the weather persisted, a snow-day. Even in the muffled fog of half-sleep, I managed to think, How ironic. I just blogged about snow-days yesterday.

By ten o'clock, the snow had only intensified. So, this lucky girl was able to spend her day trying out some of yesterday's snow day suggestions. (Although, I did cheat and do some laundry and cleaning.) By far the best part of the day was strapping on my snow-boots for the first time and wandering out into the fluff to take pictures of our downtown.

This snow was the powdery, fluffy kind. Good for snow-angels but a bit too weak for snowballs. Kicking the snow-plow drifts sent plumed fans into the air, which Solo eagerly chased, open-mouthed and tail-wagging. The powder coated every surface, light like confectioner's sugar. The streetside homes seemed like frosted cakes, precisely arranged in a baker's display case.

Snow days are different. It's early enough in the season yet that we enjoy the snow, rather than moan its arrival. Now, the snow makes everyone happy. It softens our footfalls and quiets the earth. Streets typically nosy with business echo with children's laughter. Everyone seems a little more likely to smile and, maybe, to play.

Have you had your first snow yet?

P.S. Don't you just love the photo of Solo in the snow?

Monday, January 5, 2015

Ideas for Snow Days

As January and the new year begin, so to does the harsher winter weather. Sleet, freezing rain, ice, snow--all the unfriendly forms of precipitation return with the wind and cold. Soon, we find ourselves slipping and sliding on the sidewalks, half-skating half-walking to our cars. Getting to work becomes a pulse-raising test of driving skill, and our cars are forever coated in that crusty veneer of road salt. More and more, we find ourselves bundling up and staying in, dreaming of white beaches, blue skies, and warmer tides. However, with these icky days comes some of my favorite days of the year: snow days.

Here are a few ideas for those stranded winter days when you're confined to your hut by fluffy snow drifts.

  • Cook breakfast together. When my phone rings at five a.m. with the university's alert message, knowing I can curl back into my warm sheets and wake up slow is the best feeling. Crawling out of bed at 8:30 and padding to the kitchen, mug in hand, to make waffles is an iconic snow day occurrence for Mark and me. I start mixing the batter as Mark starts scrambling eggs. 
  • Work on a new knitting or crochet project. Pull out your yarn basket and needles (you know you have them) and start working on one of those projects you've been pinning. Get your little old lady on. If you have a cat to curl up at your side and a fire place to prop your feet by, so much the better. I'm currently working on this pattern for a friend. 

  • Drink copious amounts of coffee or hot cocoa. Whenever it's cold out, I feel that I must have a warm mug of something in my hands at all times. 
  • Cuddle up by the fire with a good book.  A snugly blanket is a prerequisite for this suggestion. Some snow day suggestions can be found here and here
  • Binge on Netflix. If reading isn't your thing, you can always binge-watch Netflix. Lately, Mark and I have been watching Mad Men, Friends, and Gilmore Girls. Okay, okay--I'm the only one watching Gilmore Girls; however, that show does pair nicely with my suggestion to drink copious amounts of coffee, provided your kidneys can keep pace with Lorelei and Rory. 

  • Build a snowman. But please, if you can help it, avoid singing the accompanying song. We can only handle so much Frozen at a time. 
  • Have a snowball fight. Go all out. Construct your indomitable fort, and stock pile a snowball arsenal. Vanquish all your snow foes. 
  • Fix a warm batch of soup. When your snow day is done, don't forget to warm your hands and tummy with a bowl of soup. This recipe is one of our winter favorites. 

What are some of your favorite ways to pass the time on snow days? 
All images via Pinterest. 

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Deciding to Change

Some of you may already know about my decision to leave my M.A.T. program. Those closest to me know how long I agonized over the decision, biting my nails and complaining that quitting felt like failure, a concept to which I've always been a stranger. My husband knows how many sleepless nights I spent, tossing and turning, nearly crying with frustration and disappointment. When my health finally started to deteriorate--first sleeplessness, then ulcers, then arrhythmia, until finally my doctor, my parents, and my husband all said "enough is enough"--I realized that I was standing at a crossroads and the direction I took was entirely dependent upon me.

I either had to shoulder my disappointment and press forward, or I had to acknowledge that teaching secondary English was simply the wrong career path.

But if you quit, you're a failure. If you quit, everyone will think it's because you couldn't handle it. If you quit, you're a loser. You're just another loser who didn't finish her grad program. If you quit, what are you going to do then? Where are you gonna work? You graduated top of your undergraduate class! What are people going to think of you now? What will you have accomplished since college? Nothing. If you quit, you'll disappoint everyone...if you quit...if you quit...if you quit...

The self-deprecating mantra chanted in my head, over and over. Relentlessly making me feel ashamed and disappointed. Until one day, as I stood in a seventh grade classroom, a revelation swept over me. Cold and clear, it silenced my wheeling, battering thoughts and left a solid purpose in its wake.

The classroom consisted of thirteen seventh graders, mainly girls who were all attitude, ponytails, and lip-gloss, trying to hide the fact that they were really still children. With a soft smile, I remembered being a preteen, how boy-crazy and desperate to be a teenager I was at that age.

I sat in the back corner, my objective to watch the teacher, observing every aspect of her classroom management, strategies, methods, materials, curriculum. My primary focus was to ascertain whether the behavioral needs of one student, receiving special education services, were actually being met. All of these notes would eventually be compiled into a large observation paper and behavior-change-plan. Biting the end of my pen, I quickly realized that my project would end up being a tremendous mess, because the classroom itself was a tremendous mess.

Although the class consisted of less than fifteen kids, although an instructional aide and co-teacher were also present, chaos reigned. Students were up and down, in and out, leaving their desks and materials behind to wander who-knows-where in the hallways. (Without hall passes, although these were available on the door.) Those who remained behind chatted with their friends, chewed gum, tossed candy at each other, shouted, and played computer games. The two or three students who actually attempted to do their work were pestered by their peers into frustration, their hard work going unrewarded. Where were the teachers, you ask? At their desks, grading papers and occasionally shouting out "Be quiet!" "To your desks!" "Stop that now!" "This assignment is for a grade, people!"

Later, the teacher sighed and remarked to me that "This was just what teaching was...eventually you would burn out and just accept the job for what it just had to get through each day and hope you taught them something." When I remarked that one student appeared to be particularly struggling with reading, she nodded and shared that, although he was enrolled in seventh grade, he was reading on a first grade level. To put this into perspective for you, this meant that this thirteen year old boy was reading the same material as my five year old nephew. And he was not alone in his struggle. Only one or two students in the room were actually able to read seventh-grade material. The rest struggled, every day, in every class. If you can't read, your work will suffer not just in English but in every class you pass through.

"We're supposed to help them, but what can you do when its this bad?" his teacher asked me. "You just have to get through the day. You have to figure out how to teach what you're told to teach, but on their level." Her smile bitter, she finished with "You better love this job, because if you don't, nothing you do will be worth it. Because you sure as heck aren't getting paid to do it."

As I stood there, listening to this veteran teacher, a hard thought burst onto my mind: I don't want to be like her. Disappointed in my job. Hiding behind my desk as more than twenty children, entrusted to me by their parents and the state, passed through my classroom learning nothing but how to sneak and play Minecraft. Shouting instead of teaching, bitter and unhappy. I didn't want to just stand up there, letting kids down, one by one. Anger bubbling in my thought, I wanted to demand, "If you hate it so much, why don't you just look for another job? Or DO something other than hide behind your desk and maybe they would learn to read, for pity's sake!"

Yet then, I remembered the snakelike whisper if you quit, you're a failure....if you quit, you're a loser...if you quit...if you quit...

My anger melted into pity for her and for her students. I thought of my other mentor teachers, of my professors, of my peer teacher-candidates who each clearly loved their job and, when faced with the same discipline and teaching issues, met and conquered the obstacles. They had the same teaching struggles, received the same pay, worked the same hours as this unhappy teacher...yet they did so with strength and grace and happiness. I realized that she was wrong. No, teaching was not what she described it to be. Sure, if you let it, it could become that overwhelming burden, but only if you let it. Clearly, other teachers were happy with their vocation.

I wondered: how much pain and discomfort do we put ourselves through when we're too scared to make a change? How much pain do we cause others, because we're too scared to make the decision that needs to be made? 

I drove home, walked in the door, tossed by tote on the couch, and walked into Mark's office. "I'm done," I said. I refused to let myself turn into that: someone who was in the wrong career, knew it, and sludged through anyway.

Teaching at any grade level is one of the noblest professions a person could enter. A teacher literally changes students' minds, permanently shaping and expanding their brains with new knowledge and information. Teaching is an art and a science, profoundly difficult and rewarding. Now that I know a measure of what my teachers went through, the hours they put in at home, the struggles they faced when politicians belittled their work and cut their wages, the extra effort they made to ensure that I received tougher curriculum, that my learning needs were met... I wish I could just hug every one of them.

Teaching is a tremendously fulfilling, challenging, and noble profession, but it is not for everyone. Therefore, I finally made the decision to leave my M.A.T. program because I owe it to myself, to my family, and to my teachers to follow the career path that is correct for me. To reach for the goals that I truly want to attain. To be happy and fulfilled in life. To stay true to who I am and never compromise out of fear.

Friday, January 2, 2015


A person I hope to be more like:

Although numerous names came to mind, one name stood out most clearly: my mom's. In this new year, I hope to become more like my mom. It's a change I joke about with friends all the time. Driving along, we'll make certain comments or use certain phrases, sounding just like our mothers, and we'll roll our eyes and say "Oh Lord, we're turning into them!" But really, being like my mom would be such a bad thing.

My mom because she embodies Southern hospitality, knowing how to make everyone, even strangers, feel at home. Because she is hands-down the best cook I know; her French onion rice and cheesy broccoli casserole would drive you to sonnet-composing. Because she has always been selfless in raising her two daughters. Because she knows how to judge a horse and weigh the spirit in its eyes. Because she knows how to dress down Richt and Bobo and gave Gurley the sternest television-screen talking to I've ever heard. Because she can stop misbehavior with one eyebrow raise. Because she's unfailingly kind. Because she always knows when to speak, what to say, and when to leave words unsaid.

A good deed I'm going to do:

Pray harder. I know, I know... this question aims at a specific charitable deed to do, but I truly feel that earnest prayer is one of the best ways to help others. No matter your physical or monetary state, you can always pray. Even though they may be slowly answered, a prayer's words are after all powerful enough to breach heaven. I know that in my own life I've been held up by others' prayers; my name has been uttered in others' hearts and echoed in heaven's halls. Yet I myself fall short in prayer for others. This next year, every day, I aim to work on this resolution.

A place I'd like to visit:

For this resolution, I have two answers: Jamaica and Glacier Park. One hot, one cold. One luxurious, one rustic. Both beautiful in different, exotic ways. Can you guess which destination I picked and which Mark picked?

A book I'd like to read:

This resolution category is such a loaded question to ask of an English major. Here are a few of my wish-list titles....

  • Where'd You Go Bernadette
  • Unbroken
  • Flight Behavior
  • Casual Vacancy
  • Edge of Eternity
  • 1Q84

A new food I'd like to try:

How about a new restaurant? Mark and I have lived in Frederick for over two years, yet we have never tried Isabella's, a tapas restaurant that our friends consistently complement and rave about. So in 2015, I resolve to finally visit this tavern and finally eat some tapas so that we can FINALLY tell people that "yes, we love it too."

I'm going to do better at:

Writing. For this blog and for personal purposes. So often, when life gets busy, I just let writing fall aside. But when I do take the time to write--even just a few lines-- I do feel better. Writing provides catharsis and focus. In 2015, I aim to set realistic writing goals that will fit around my work schedules.

A goal I aim to achieve:

Short-term: As with any fixer-upper owner, it seems my main goals are renovation related. In 2015, we aim to renovate the kitchen, renovate the bathroom, create a fun and cutesy outdoor space, and repaint the living room. Long-term: Continue to workout. For the past four months, I've buckled down and gone with Mark to the gym nearly every weekday. I hope to continue this trend. While they may complain, my thighs, butt, and stomach all thank me for it!

What are your resolutions for 2015?

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Reader Favorites of 2014

image credit: Sarah Nelms

This week, I thought it would be a fun project to quickly scroll through our blog posts and see which stood out as the "Top Ten." These reader favorites were selected based on comments, views, and shares. Going through and seeing which posts y'all seemed to enjoy most was very interesting. Ironically, none of the ones that I expected to be the "most popular" even were among the 2014 Top Ten! Let's see if you were as surprised as I was by the results.

4. Our Cozy Guest Nook

1. The top post of the year was definitely Why I Chose to Change My Name, which was lucky enough to be featured on HelloGiggles' "From Our Readers" column! 

So from this list, I gather that you all like two things: when I provide home renovation updates and when I wax philosophical.... with the occasional cookie recipe thrown in for good measure. I hope to be providing more home renovation news in the new year; so be sure to stay tuned for additions to the "Dill House Diary." 

Thanks to all my readers for your interest, advice, and support! I appreciate every one of you! Happy 2015!!

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