Friday, December 19, 2014

Vienna and Salzburg

I had a heated discussion with Andy about the meaning of continental Europe before I left. I’ve been to Europe before (I studied abroad in Ireland and went on a family vacation in London), but I said something about it being my first time in continental Europe and Andy nearly choked on his coffee. It’s all continental Europe, he said, laughing at me. I’m right, though! Hear that, babe? I’M RIGHT.

Back in August my parents told us we wouldn’t be doing a big family trip in 2015 like we had all hoped. Miss “I’ve got the travel bug” over here was really disappointed. Then, one day in October, my sister called and told me knew how bummed I was that we weren’t doing a trip. She mentioned the Christmas markets in Austria and how mom thought it would be fun to do that for her 60th birthday and take us girls, so... did I want to go? I burst into tears. Wait, what? THIS Christmas? A few days later, our tickets were purchased. It was crazy, I tell ya! I was so overwhelmed by it all that I kept the news mostly to myself for a while. 

Anyway, on to the trip! There is so much to share, but I’ll stick to things that stand out in my memory and share more little details in personal conversation.

Our first stop was Vienna. We arrived the morning of Dec. 2nd and stayed until midday Dec. 4th. We then stayed in Salzburg for three nights before heading to Innsbruck on Sunday, the 7th.

A few highlights from Vienna:

If you stand on any street and spin around slowly, you’ll take in at least one incredibly ornate building or beautiful park or crazy statue. OR all three. Vienna was simply glorious. Walking down each street felt like a new adventure! There were lots of skinny alleyways with shops tucked inside and cafes everywhere. 

We had great goulash and wiener schnitzel in Vienna, but my favorite meal was at a tiny Italian restaurant called Cantinetta La Norma. A friend of ours had been there and recommended it, and we weren’t let down. I also loved the hot dog we had outside of St. Stephens. The vendor took a baguette, skewered it with a rod, squirted mustard and ketchup inside the middle and then shoved a long skinny hot dog down into hot, sauce-y bread. (Is it just me or does that sound like a violent way to make a hot dog?) Well, it was fabulous. My sister ate at that same hot dog stand five years ago and had been dreaming of it ever since. I can see why!

Part of the fun of being in Europe in the winter was seeing everyone all bundled up and sporting cute boots. People were out and about at all times of day and night and every glühwein stand was PACKED.  ’Twas all very cozy. :)

A quick rundown of what we did (not in chronological order): walked in, around and on top of St. Stephens, explored multiple Christmas markets, listened to a opera soloist accompanied by a harpist at the beautiful Vienna State Opera, viewed training of the famous Lipizzaner stallions and walked through the grounds at Belvedere palace.

A few highlights from Salzburg:

The coolest thing about Salzburg is seeing the fortress/castle everywhere you go. Unless of course, you’re inside the fortress, and then you have an incredible view of the city and surrounding countryside. We were in Salzburg for three nights and we went up to the fortress three times. On our first night we took the funicular up and we practically had the whole place to ourselves. The next day we walked through the city and up to the castle. It was a steep walk. We spent a good chunk of time walking through the various rooms, checking out the little Christmas market inside the castle and doing an audio tour (which was actually really good). On our last day we walked to the castle by crossing the river and taking a path over the Mönchsberg mountain. I would definitely recommend making that hike if you’re in Salzburg!

As if being in picturesque Salzburg wasn’t dreamy enough, we were upgraded from our perfectly lovely and large junior-King suite to THE PRESIDENTIAL SUITE. It had a doorbell. And a huge flatscreen in the master bathroom. And a dining room table. We also had access to the hotel’s VIP lounge, where we could eat and drink whenever we so pleased. Free beer on tap. Champagne at the ready. THE best hot chocolate I’ve ever had. Plus, we were served by a really sweet girl who snuck us snacks out of the kitchen just to make our stay even more delightful. My mom asked her where the hotel bought their stollen and she brought out a box for us to take home, on the house. She also introduced us to Nic-Nacs, crispy-coated peanuts that quickly became my new snack obsession. It’s embarrassing how many bags of peanuts I stuffed into my suitcase...

One night we ran into a group of TERRIFYING costumed creatures that we later found out were Krampus. (The server I mentioned told us she was afraid to walk home after work because the Krampus scare her so much. Kind of like this.) Thankfully, none of us were whipped!

Other than exploring the castle, we also walked up and down the streets of the Old City and did a bit of shopping, lots of Christmas-marketing, walking inside churches with our heads back and mouths open, checking out Mirabell Gardens and devouring the best apple strudel at Café Tomaselli (the oldest operating coffee house in Austria). We also took a bus to the Christmas Market in Hellbrunn, just outside of Salzburg. (Notice the Advent markings on the windows.)

Oh, and WE WENT ICE SKATING! In SALZBURG! Somebody pinch me.

a few more pics...

Tuesday, December 16, 2014


I miss that view! I miss rows of brightly-colored houses, ducking into alleys and constantly thinking is this real life? I miss holding hands with my mom in the markets and wigging out over food and drinks with my sister. (Three words: goulash, glühwein and weihnachtspunsch!)

Oh, but I missed my little family, too. I can’t seem to stop hugging the dog and saying “hiiiiii! I’m home!” to Andy. I unpacked my bags THE DAY AFTER I got back, so apparently the trip turned me into a responsible adult. Maybe it was the Alpine air? WHO AM I?

My birthday was a bit of a flop. I threw up from feeling nauseous on the plane, cried a bit from seeing lots of mommies with their babies aaaand my van was rear-ended on the drive home to Frederick. Womp womp. I called Andy sobbing and sputtering, I just want to be home.

For all that drama, though, the day ended rather nicely with me reading in bed next to my pup and my guy. Saturday night we went out to eat downtown to celebrate and we took a stroll through Shab Row, which was all decorated for Christmas. It was fantastically romantic.

I was doing rather well this weekend, thinking I had the whole jet-lag thing under control and feeling quite on top of my emotions. Then yesterday morning happened. I woke up and was immediately hit with the longest anxiety attack I’ve ever had. Showering will help, no? No. It didn’t help. A protein-packed breakfast will do the trick. Nope. So I cancelled my afternoon sub job and cried, feeling sorry for myself and wondering why on earth I was shaking and crying. Except, I shouldn’t have been surprised. Jet lag + heavy heart + PMS + coming down from the high of a trip can’t possibly equate to things being easy peasey.

I don’t want to be a broken record, constantly saying how hard it is or how anxious I feel or how I’m ready to get out of this limbo. I feel I am ridiculously high maintenance, and who wants to feel that way? But I also don’t want to be that girl who plasters a smile on her face and doesn’t let anyone see the pain she feels inside. (I am that girl sometimes, and it’s exhausting. Spilling my frustrations is tiring too, but I usually feel a bit of relief afterwards.)

Thank God for my sweet friend Kristen in Florida who, immediately after receiving my “having crazy anxiety right now” text took charge and ordered us dinner so I could rest. Man, I’m crying again just thinking about it. Isn’t it wonderful when your people show up for you?

I hope I am stronger today. I hope I can fill out the medical history form at the spa without crying or internally screaming at God. (I can’t tell you how many people have seen the “c-section” note and asked me how my kids are.) I hope I can make it through the line of the grocery store without being tempted to approach the pregnant teenager in line behind me. Can I have your baby? I hope I can make dinner and have a smile on my face when Andy walks in from work, and I hope I can honestly say, “I had a good day.”

If I just can’t take it, if I fall apart and rush home and surrender to the tears, there are always vacation pictures to thumb through. HGTV to watch. Puppy fur to bury my face in. Large manly feet to place my feet on top of and a yummy-smelling chest to lean against as we shuffle-dance in the kitchen. And really, that wouldn’t be so bad.

Monday, November 17, 2014

2014 gift guide

I always have fun putting these gift guides together. I’m heavily influenced by my own tastes and what I’d buy for Andy, so it’s entirely possible you won’t find a single helpful thing. But, maybe you will! At the very least, I hope these guides get the gears in your head moving and make gift-buying less stressful.

clockwise from left:
  • A classic red plaid scarf (regularly $29.99, but use the code CHEER thru 11/18 for 40% off)
  • A festive pitcher ($25) that would also make a cheery vase
  • This top-rated bronzer set ($22) includes four bronzers and a brush 
  • A jaunty fedora ($28, multiple colors), because the recipient wants to be a hat-wearer but is too nervous to buy one for herself
  • This goofy mug ($10) would give your selfie-loving friend a prop to pose with :)
  • This fitbit ($47.73) syncs to your devices and can be used with other apps, such as MyFitnessPal or SparkPeople
  • I featured these totes ($45) in my 2012 guide because I own one and I LOVE it! (The striped metallic tote is rather fabulous, too)
  • How happy is this desk accessory set? ($24, multiple colors)
  • I recently checked this bestselling novel ($16.20) out from the library and can’t wait to read it!
  • A geometric frame ($14.95) adds interest to a special photograph

clockwise from left:

  • A sleek backpack ($49.99, multiple colors) carries his laptop and gym clothes (Andy’s Kellogg’s backpack travels everywhere with us)
  • A growler ($38.68), so he can bring his favorite local beers home or take his home-brew to friends
  • Andy used a plastic bag for his toiletries before I bought him a travel bag ($12.70)
  • No kid at heart can resist a toilet mug ($10) (I bought one for my brother-in-law one year and Andy was bummed that I didn’t buy him one)
  • All he really wants to do is hang out in sweatpants (regularly $29.94, but use the code CHEER thru 11/18 for 35% off)
  • This bestselling biography ($9.60) will be a book he’ll never forget (it really is that good)
  • A bestselling piece of brain science ($9.78) to make him go “huh!” (if he’s read and enjoyed any of Gladwell’s books, he’ll like this one — it’s fascinating)
  • Hat clip and ball markers (various prices, the Bear’s set is $8.99)
  • Because he’s always getting holes in his socks ($17.49 for set of six) (I got this exact set from Costco last week for $9.99)
  • My guy runs on Dunkin’, does yours? Dunkin' Donuts gift card

check out previous gift guides, here

Thursday, November 13, 2014

giving thanks

I hung a banner from the mantle today. It was the second time I’ve hung this banner after losing a baby. The banner reads “Be thankful.”


I hung it, and then I sat on the stair landing for a while and stared at it. Be thankful.
My flesh wanted to tear that banner down and rip it into shreds while screaming I AM NOT THANKFUL at the top of my lungs.

But I have sat in bitterness for quite some time now, and I’m getting a little tired of it. I have allowed myself to feel anger, to scream into pillows and to say cynical things to people who I trust (who know that my heart is tethered to Christ, even though I spout words of doubt). I sit in sorrow, too. Sorrow as my arms feel emptier than ever. Sorrow as I unfollow friend after friend on social media because the statuses and pictures fill me with longing and remind me of what I do not have. Sorrow as I wrestle alongside Andy with the knowledge that our God, who we love and who we KNOW loves us, has allowed us to suffer in this way.

In the midst of this bitterness and sorrow, my soul cries out for relief. In my suffering, I find myself closer to God than ever before. I feel my bitterness slowly (sloowwwly) leaving. It’s being replaced by a voice that whispers, Just be. 

Rest in me.

A friend of mine and fellow hurting mama wrote the following in her most recent blog post:

Deserts can be harsh and lonely, but there in the quiet, character is being built, and an ear is trained to the soft whispers of God carried on a high wind. But in the desert, there are choices. Choices to resist, or choices to be molded by it. Choices to run, or choices to see it as an opportunity for growth and stay until God says “Move.”

Amen, girl.
(How beautiful was that?)

So here I am, just being. Here I am, fighting the urge to run. Here I am, staying until God says move.

And in this place of just being, I can think of quite a lot of things to be thankful for.

I adore this rendition of the following hymn:

O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

O light that foll’west all my way,
I yield my flick’ring torch to thee;
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter, fairer be.

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.

O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

loving and losing

Friday morning I woke up, and I knew. It’s coming.
I felt the anger, anxiety and crippling sadness well up within me, but I wasn’t ready to lose myself to it.
Instead, I was ready to be soothed by the cabin, our cherished getaway. I spent nearly all my time around the crackling fire. Crossword puzzling, reading, drinking coffee. At night I set up a bed in the family room, snuggled under a pile of quilts and watched the embers burn, willing them to melt away the ice I’ve packed around my heart.

Saturday I woke up and I thought it had passed.
We hiked to a view that feels like ours, after twenty-some years of reaching the same familiar outcropping of rocks and looking down at the same familiar lake where I used to swim and paddle and skate. I gulped in the sweet mountain air and for a little while I forgot that I am sad.

Sunday the dam burst open. I went from being energized from my morning walk to suddenly feeling suffocated by all the remembering. I picked a fight with Andy (over a biscuit, of all things) and I spiraled out of control until I realized where it was all coming from (hint: not the biscuit). Just when I’d think I couldn’t cry any more, more tears would come. I kept telling myself you knew this was going to happen, just let it happen. But knowing doesn’t make the happening any easier, and I spent the rest of the afternoon in a heap of pillows and tissues.

I am tired of loving and losing. I am tired of falling apart. I am tired of forcing myself awake at night because all I see when I close my eyes is a hospital bed and all I hear are screams.

Sometimes a hurt is so deep deep deep
You think that you're gonna drown
Sometimes all I can do is weep weep weep
With all this rain falling down

I’ll hold it together for a little while, an hour or a day or even a few days. Then it hits me: I was pregnant, and now I am not. I am reliving the pain of losing John while also experiencing a new pain — the pain of losing two. The pain of opening my heart up to hope again only to hold that hope dead in my arms.

Today is (was?) my due date for Jane, the little girl of my dreams. I woke up to an extra long hug from my husband, who later called me and sweetly asked if I’d like to meet him for lunch at the new burger place in town. (He knows the way to my heart.) Now I will read and later we will finish our jigsaw puzzle and watch a movie and if I stand in the shower and cry for a little while it will be okay, because I know that at some point I will get out, at some point my tears won’t be so frequent and some day this awful, piercing ache will dull.

some photos from the weekend… I am thankful for moments like these — when I feel a break from my suffering, when I feel a little bit like the old me.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Laura’s chipotle chicken chili

I get a weird thrill out of composing meals using only items we already have in the house. Part of it is feeling victorious that I’m avoiding a trip to the store and part of it is figuring out what things pair well together. I like to look through Pinterest and magazines for ideas on what to cook and then I try to come up with a recipe myself.

(Or I order pizza for dinner.)

A few weeks ago I bought a ton of chicken breasts and spicy Italian sausages that were on sale, and I froze them into smaller portions (2-3 pieces per bag). I also recently organized my pantry and realized we had a LOT of pasta and canned goods. I made sausage and veggie soup and shrimp tacos last week, so I had plenty of bits of various produce left over to use for meals this week. On Sunday I made a pasta dish using spicy Italian sausage over a mix of of penne and rigatoni. (I had small amounts of both pastas in the pantry.) I used this recipe for inspiration and it was delicious! My version of alfredo was good but not great, so I’m going to tweak it a bit more before I share it with y’all.

ABOUT THE CHILI: you guys, I made it up! And it is one killer chili, if I may say so. It’s great on its own, but the toppings knock it out of the park. (I recently discovered Trader Joe’s “no guilt” guacamole and now I want to stir it into everything I make.) This chili is an easy meal to tweak to your own preferences or to change up depending on what you have on hand. I’ve used salsa before to replace the onions, cilantro and diced tomatoes, and I’ve also done a mix of white and black beans.

If you find yourself with leftover chipotles in adobo sauce, freeze them in a ziploc and pull them out for shrimp tacos or another batch of chili!

yay for leftovers! whoops, crumbs on the table. photography fail.
Laura’s chipotle chicken chili 
serves 4-6 (makes roughly six cups)
active time: 10-15 minutes
total time, start to finish: depends on crock-pot setting (see instructions for cooking without a crock-pot)

for the chili:
  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (4 thighs would probably work just as well)
  • 1/2 small white or yellow onion, diced
  • 1/2 small red onion, diced
  • 1 can chicken broth
  • 1 can corn, drained
  • 1 can petite diced tomatoes (**plain, NOT seasoned**)
  • 1 can great northern beans
  • 2 Tbsp of diced chipotle peppers (pull them out of the adobo sauce and dice on a cutting board)
  • 4 Tbsp of the adobo sauce that the peppers come in
  • 1/2 Tbsp cumin
  • 1/2 Tbsp chili powder
  • 1/2 jalapeño pepper, finely diced
  • 2 Tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped
  • salt to taste
  • 1 Tbsp cornstarch (see directions below for use)
  • we used: crushed tortilla chips, sour cream, shredded cheddar cheese, guacamole
  • also try: more cilantro, lime wedges, pico de gallo, jalapeño slices, banana pepper slices
1. Combine all chili ingredients in a crock-pot and cook on high for 3-5 hours or low for 6-8. (It’s totally fine if your chicken is frozen when you put it in the crock-pot, but it needs to cook for at least 4 hours on high or 7-8 on low. You’ll know to cook it longer if it feels rubbery.)
2. 20-30 minutes before serving, move the chicken breasts to a cutting board and remove one tablespoon of the chili liquid and place in a small bowl in the fridge.
3. Shred chicken with a fork or dice into small chunks. (I did a mix of both.) Return the chicken to the crock-pot and check the flavor to see if you need to add any more seasoning.
4. Whisk the cornstarch into the cooled chili liquid and then add it back into the pot. Stir around and let thicken while you get toppings together/set the table/whatever.
5. Try not to eat the entire pot of chili in one night.

If you don’t own a crock-pot, sauté the onion in a large pot over medium heat. Add in the chicken (dice it first) and let it cook, then stir in all of the other chili ingredients. Bring to a boil, then turn to a simmer and cover for 30-60 minutes. Use the same cornstarch method as mentioned above.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

I remember

holding my Janie Lou

Today is Infant Loss Remembrance Day, and it’s been the pits.

I wasn’t planning on writing anything. Then, I woke up to a new blog comment on this post left by a woman who has never met me. (Hi, Katie!) Every sentiment she expressed touched my heart, especially her words, You have helped me feel like I am not alone.

Those of us who have lost babies are part of a really crummy club. We didn’t choose to be members. In fact, we all became members kicking and screaming. We all feel alone. We all feel left behind. But we are in this together. We need to tell our stories and have our stories be heard. We need to be there for one another.

Today I remember my first brush with infant loss. I remember the family beach trip when my sister and brother-in-law told us they were expecting their first baby. I remember the excitement we all felt, and how right everything seemed. Several months later I was in the middle of a study group meeting in college when my phone rang. It was my brother-in-law. I don’t remember exactly what he said, just that the baby inside of my sister no longer had a heartbeat. Clayton would be nine years old this year. Todd and Katie have since lost four more babies.

I remember asking God why He allowed them to experience such great pain. (I still do.) I remember begging Him to spare me and Andy from that pain. We were not spared.

Today I remember Clayton Robert and his four siblings. I remember the babies lost by my friends. I remember my own little ones, who are always on my heart.

So many dead babies. So many hurting families.

I remember that I am not alone, even though there are times I feel so lonely I can’t breathe.
I remember all the stories I haven’t told that need telling.
I will try to get the words out.
Even though the remembering hurts.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Boston: round 3

I fell in love with Boston when I first visited my friend Becca there in September of 2011. It’s been quite a year for big-city traveling: New York, San Francisco, Boston, and next month, Atlanta! 

Boston - 2011 (we look like babies!)

Boston - 2014

Saturday: We had our traditional breakfast in Somerville, but this time I suggested we try Ball Square Cafe, the restaurant next door to the one we’ve eaten at in the past. Our breakfast came with a grilled blueberry muffin. YUM. A blueberry muffin is pretty much perfection as is, but grilled? Even better! After breakfast we drove to Concord to read on the “beach” at Walden Pond and explore the downtown area. We popped by Louisa May Alcott’s childhood home and I made all of my Little Women-loving friends jealous by posting this picture of Orchard House on Instagram. Walden Pond was gorgeous, and I envy Becca’s ability to see it in the fall! There were a fair amount of people hanging out on the beach and taking a swim in the pond. We had good intentions to read our books, but we ended up chatting and people watching the whole time. :)

We sipped on delicious coffee at Haute Coffee (sitting on this adorable settee, of course) and popped in a few shops before heading back to Becca’s apartment to make dinner and unwind. She made panko-crusted salmon, cous cous and roasted brussel sprouts. I ate like there was no tomorrow! After dinner we ate brownies in bed (so girly!) and read.

Sunday: I woke up before Becca and snuck into her kitchen to make coffee and cookie butter on toast. Her apartment was deliciously chilly from having the windows open, and I found a spot of sunshine on the couch that was just begging for my attention. It was the most perfect start to the day! We eventually got ourselves ready for the day and headed into Boston for brunch with Bilal (a mutual friend from high school), Becca’s boyfriend Mario and Mario’s brother. If you ever find yourself at Zocalo for brunch, I highly recommend the huevos divorciados.

I met Becca and Bilal in biology class our freshman year of high school, and we’ve been friends ever since. (Anyone reading this from that bio class? Such a great group of people!) Laughing with them was good for my soul. After brunch, the three of us strolled through the Public Garden, got our butts wet on Boston Common and chatted over fries at Trident Booksellers & Cafe. Then us gals got pedicures and headed to the North End to Becca’s favorite restaurant—Pomodoro. It’s a tiny, romantic little restaurant right across the street from Mike’s Pastry shop. Becca had the seafood fra diavolo and I had the baked cod. The owner gave us complimentary calamari and tiramisu. AH, TAKE ME BACK! And, of course, I picked up a lobster tail pastry at Modern Pastry.

There were only two of these printed-name necklaces on display at a shop on Charles Street.
How crazy/cool is it that the two names happened to be Rebecca and Laura?!
Monday: Becca took me to Charles Street, where we explored some stores before resting and admiring our toes in the park. Then we lunched on some fabulous pizza at OTTO in Coolidge Corner before meeting Bilal in Harvard Square. We hung out on Harvard Yard and I reminded them about “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood, a book we all read in 12th grade that is set in Cambridge. We chatted the afternoon away until it was time for me to pack up and head to the airport.

Honestly, I was really worried about going to Boston. My current struggles with social anxiety and feeling overwhelmed easily makes having plans a bit risky, emotionally. Also, I’ve been very clingy with Andy since losing Jane. I was the same way after John died. I wasn’t sure how I’d do spending four nights away from home (two in Northern Virginia before and after my flights, and two in Boston.) BUT, at the same time, I was desperate to get away from this house of tears! I e-mailed Becca ahead of time and requested a low-key weekend, and thankfully it all went well and I was able to have fun. Unfortunately, all of the sad emotions I pushed aside over the weekend came tumbling out the minute I got home, and the rest of the week was a crying blur. I wasn’t surprised, though—the same thing happened after San Francisco. I’m glad I went, and I’m especially glad for the friends I have in Becca and Bilal! Also, I’m glad for cookie butter.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Curried Shrimp and Corn Chowder

I love recipes that let me walk away from the dish for a little while! It gives me time to get drinks and silverware ready, and to put away whatever dishes were air-drying next to the sink. We have a house rule that whoever cooks doesn’t have to do the dishes, which means that Andy does the dishes most nights. It’s so nice!

I first made this soup earlier in the year, and Andy’s mentioned it several times since then. A couple weeks ago I was racking my brain trying to think of what to make for dinner, and then it hit me (Boston accent and all): chow-daah. It’s really easy, but it tastes like it was a lot of work. I tweaked the original recipe to make it less thick, but it’s still definitely a chowder and not a soup. If you like a broth-y soup, either use less shrimp, corn and potatoes or double the liquids. You’ll need to tweak the seasonings if you make those changes (but it wouldn’t be difficult). You could also use one small yukon gold potato and one small sweet potato, instead of two yukon gold. I’ve never served it with any toppings, though I bet it’s delicious that way! If you like the taste of curry powder and you like shrimp, I bet you’ll go crazy over this dish.

Photo: Beth Dreiling Hontzas; Styling: Buffy Hargett

Curried Shrimp and Corn Chowder
adapted from
serves 4
total time to prep and cook: 45 minutes

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium-sized onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 large Yukon gold potatoes (14 oz.), peeled and diced
1 cup corn, fresh or frozen (if using frozen, don’t thaw)
1 14 oz. can chicken broth
1 13.5 oz.can unsweetened lite coconut milk
2 teaspoons curry powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 pound peeled and deveined large raw shrimp
Suggested toppings: toasted coconut, thinly sliced green onions, coarsely chopped roasted peanuts

1. Heat olive oil in a Dutch oven (or any large pot) over medium. Add diced onion and cook for about five minutes or until tender.
2. Stir in chopped garlic and cook for an additional minute.
3. Add potatoes and next 6 ingredients (corn, liquids and seasoning). Bring to a boil while stirring often.
4. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, 25 minutes or until potatoes are tender.
5. Stir in shrimp; cook 4 to 5 minutes or just until shrimp turn pink.
6. Add more seasoning if needed, spoon into bowls and serve on its own or with toppings.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

a PSA on my grief

Why is this what there is for me to write about? Why does this have to touch EVERY little aspect of my life? I often feel I’m stuck in a Groundhog Day-like replay of tragic realities. Each morning when I wake up I’m reminded that I’m not pregnant, that I’ve lost not one but two babies, that my junk room is still a junk room and has never been a nursery.

You cannot possibly know how I’m feeling or what I’m needing at any given minute. I can’t expect you to say the right things or do the right things at all the right times. We’re both in tough positions. Navigating what to say and where to go from here is uncomfortable and painful for me, too. I wrote about how to help a grieving a friend after I lost John, but some of my own suggestions don’t apply to where I’m at in my current grief.

Yeah. It’s complicated.

Here’s what you need to know:

I don’t really know how to tell you how I’m doing. (This is how I’m doing.) I don’t know how to tell you how Andy’s doing. All I know is that we’re sad and angry on the inside but that we are trying to make life as tolerable as possible for one another. One minute we might be doubled-over laughing and the next minute I might be ugly crying. I believe there were three days in August that were free of tears. August was a miserable month.

I can’t be in charge of keeping our friendship afloat. I am often the person who pursues, who keeps conversations going. I can’t do that right now. If you could see inside my head you would be all, giiiiirl, let me get you some chocolate and a pillow. Cut me a LOT of slack, and step up! I need you more than ever.

Most social situations give me anxiety right now. Getting me to come to any event might be like pulling teeth. Don’t take offense—even being around my own family is difficult for me sometimes. I think I look normal and functional on the outside, but on the inside my brain is screaming my babies are dead! I hate my life! It’s exhausting being me right now.

Yes, I know therapy is an option. Yes, I’ve thought about it. Right now that’s all I want to discuss on that topic. (It’s not that I’m resistant to therapy. I’m just resistant to talking about it. Again, cut me some slack.)

And since I’m already on a roll here… I really don’t like being asked what “my plan” is. I don’t feel capable of forming a plan right now. My basic plan is to get through each day.

I know. This is a lot to take in. Blog readers be like wut.

(Notice I’ve used the phrase “right now” five times. I don’t know how long it will take for these feelings and frustrations to fade, but I know some day it won’t be quite as hard as it is right now.)

Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it. We anticipate (we know) that someone close to us could die, but we do not look beyond the few days or weeks that immediately follow such an imagined death. We misconstrue the nature of even those few days or weeks. We might expect if the death is sudden to feel shock. We do not expect the shock to be obliterative, dislocating to both body and mind. We might expect that we will be prostrate, inconsolable, crazy with loss. We do not expect to be literally crazy, cool customers who believe that their husband is about to return and need his shoes. In the version of grief we imagine, the model will be "healing." A certain forward movement will prevail. The worst days will be the earliest days. We imagine that the moment to most severely test us will be the funeral, after which this hypothetical healing will take place. When we anticipate the funeral we wonder about failing to "get through it," rise to the occasion, exhibit the "strength" that invariably gets mentioned as the correct response to death. We anticipate needing to steel ourselves the for the moment: will I be able to greet people, will I be able to leave the scene, will I be able even to get dressed that day? We have no way of knowing that this will not be the issue. We have no way of knowing that the funeral itself will be anodyne, a kind of narcotic regression in which we are wrapped in the care of others and the gravity and meaning of the occasion. Nor can we know ahead of the fact (and here lies the heart of the difference between grief was we imagine it and grief as it is) the unending absence that follows, the void, the very opposite of meaning, the relentless succession of moments during which we will confront the experience of meaninglessness itself.” 
― Joan Didion, "The Year of Magical Thinking"

Monday, August 18, 2014

notes on traveling

Number one: talk to strangers. Maybe you’ll wind up sitting next to a middle-aged woman who is on her way to Berkeley to film a cooking show. She looks and talks just like Catherine Keener, but she’s not Catherine Keener. She’ll tell you about her fiancé, who she knew in college and eventually reunited with after both of their first marriages ended. “He proposed on our second date,” she’ll say, laughing. You’ll talk about food and cooking shows and the Virgin Islands (because of course, her fiancé lives on a private island in the VI) and eventually you’ll stammer out that you just lost a baby and are on your would-be babymoon.

Maybe she’ll say, “We had one of those, too…a babymoon after losing a baby. We went to London.”
Maybe she’ll say, “It never stops hurting.”

And maybe, just maybe, when you turn back to your book or movie or whatever you were doing before, you’ll feel a bit goosebump-y, and you’ll think, we were meant to meet. 

bus stop snuggles
On a lighter note, two: treat yo self. I smiled over my new bag dozens of times during our flight to/from San Francisco, and right now anything that makes me smile is a winner. Extra points if your splurge can hold two books (this and this), a wallet, a makeup bag, a sweater, a BOX of tissues, a bottle of water, multiple receipts and random pieces of paper, several tea bags, a bag of nuts, a bag of chocolates and a full-size bag of white cheddar popcorn.

Three: do something relaxing and preferably non-tourist-y. I can’t recommend this one enough! Even doing something that you would normally do at home can be a refreshing change of pace, especially if you’re in a place that is often crowded with visitors. We've played mini-golf in Chicago, shopped at a farmers market in Waimea, Hawaii and taken in a movie at an independent theater in San Francisco. Some friends of ours say their favorite thing to do when they travel is to simply sit in a coffee shop and relish having alone time. (Can you tell they have kids?)

Four: set aside small amounts of time to be on your phone/laptop. Andy and I only took our phones out a few times each day during our trip in San Francisco, and we’d do so at the same time. We would spend anywhere from five to twenty minutes editing pics, scrolling through Twitter, checking emails, etc. I used my phone a lot for taking pictures and checking GPS, but I’d put it right back in my purse when I was done. We never made an agreement beforehand to do this…it just happened! It was brilliant, though. We both appreciated that the majority of our trip was spent giving one another our full attention.

Five: if you’re into lots of coffee and snacks, maybe stick to only two big meals a day. This has worked well for us both in Chicago and San Francisco. Otherwise, you won’t be hungry enough to enjoy multiple scoops of ice cream that you waited half an hour in line for, or a ginormous hot dog smothered in relish and hot peppers that called your name from a stand outside of a museum! And if you’re lucky, all the walking you do on your trip will make up for the constant eating. :)

For five MORE traveling tips, check out the guest post I wrote for my friend Amber’s blog back in April ’12. Apparently I cared just as much about relaxing back then as I do now!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Saturday and Sunday in San Francisco/Marin County

**Some of these links will take you to pictures on my Instagram account. :)

Picking up where I left off yesterday

We had a late breakfast on Saturday morning at Gussie’s Chicken and Waffles, which was a short walk from our hotel and the perfect halfway point between our hotel and Alamo Square Park. We both got chicken and waffles, because, duh. Also, eggs scrambled with cheese and green onions, and an appetizer of cheesy grit cakes with jalapeño and artichoke sauce. Are your arteries clogging up as you read? The grit cakes were good but not great. The eggs, chicken and waffles, though…I mean, come on. This meal is going to haunt my dreams.

On to Alamo Square Park, home to the fabulous “Painted Ladies." Even if you could care less about the houses, the park is absolutely worth going to if you’re nearby. (Unless you’re scared of dogs.) Plus, The Mill coffee shop is only a couple blocks away. If you’re into gorgeous spaces and hipster coffee, GO. Andy had to practically drag me out of the place! (BTW, Andy whistled the song from “Full House” all morning. I adore him.)

not Postcard Row, but equally (in my opinion) stunning houses on Alamo Square
We took our coffees on the bus and headed to Golden Gate Park to check out the California Academy of Sciences, which I have to say was a bit disappointing. Now, I say this as someone who has been to the Smithsonian museums multiple times, as well as the aquarium in Baltimore and Chicago. I did think that the building itself was spectacular, and a few of the exhibits were really cool. One thing we accidentally missed was the planetarium. I bet we would have enjoyed that.

We could have gone to the DeYoung museum with our pass, but the day was passing quickly and I wanted to see the Japanese Tea Garden before we left the park. We didn’t realize you have to pay to go into the gardens! Tickets aren’t expensive, but I knew we would have to walk through quickly and I didn’t want to pay and not be able to fully enjoy the area. Plus, the line for admission was long. Oh well!

It took us a while to get to our next destination (the Mission neighborhood), but the bus ride gave us amazing views of the city. We drove through several colorful neighborhoods, including Upper Haight, which is where you see a lot of tie-dye and record shops. I loved getting a driving tour of the various areas of the city that I knew we didn’t have time to explore. 

Getting ice cream at Bi-Rite Creamery was a must for me. The line is long, but so worth it! I have major FOMO when it comes to food, and it was torture trying to only pick three flavors. I eventually settled on salted caramel, roasted banana and ricanelas (cinnamon with snickerdoodle pieces). Andy had salted caramel, brown sugar with ginger caramel swirl, and malted vanilla with peanut brittle and chocolate. OH MY WORD. Can we go back, please? 

We endured a steep walk to the top of Dolores Park to take in yet another stunning view of the city. The people watching in this park is like no other people watching experience! We saw a group of guys playing beer pong on a table they had somehow lugged over. Lots of kites. Lots of picnics. Lots of people making out. Lots of marijuana being smoked. At least one speedo. I was having a great time, but after we left Andy pointed out that all that drinking and drug use was going on at a park, not far from a playground.
:-/ His face says it all here:

We walked around the neighborhood (bought some pretty earrings) and had dinner at La Taqueria. My pork taco was out of control and hands down the best taco I’ve ever had. My one mistake was ordering a watermelon agua fresca. It was delicious, but my stomach doesn’t handle super-sugary drinks very well. (This is um, foreshadowing to what happened later.)

We headed back to our hotel for a few minutes to freshen up before walking to Sundance Kabuki, an indie movie theater. We saw “Boyhood” and let me tell you, that is one spectacular film. We both couldn’t stop talking about it afterwards. You know it’s a good movie if you have to vomit the entire time you’re watching but you stay in your seat because you don’t want to miss a thing.

We rented a car and drove over the Golden Gate Bridge to Marin County (while sipping coffee and eating croissants, in case you weren’t jealous enough already) where we hopped on a shuttle to Muir Woods. We hadn’t planned on using a shuttle to get to the park, but the $5 ticket was worth paying considering some visitors have to park over a mile away from the entrance! The drive to the park was beautiful (and a bit scary/thrilling). The park itself was fantastic. Those redwoods! We had a blast.

We spent about an hour and a half in the park before taking the shuttle back to our car and heading to HERE IT IS PEOPLE a chain restaurant! Andy’s one requirement of our weekend was that we hit up In-N-Out, and I’ll admit—I was excited to try it, too. We got our burgers and fries animal style. (I love that Andy’s hand managed to sneak into two of my food pics). I don’t think I would have been impressed if we had gotten plain burgers and fries. The animal sauce was what made both items, in my humble opinion. Hey babe, let’s host an In-N-Out party!

We still had a couple hours before needing to return our rental car, so we drove to both Tiburon and Sausalito. Both towns were incredibly picturesque! I’d recommend Tiburon if you want to relax and Sausalito if you want to shop and take pictures of San Francisco from across the bay. Sausalito was PACKED with people. We had minds blown by mint mojito iced coffees at Philz, so make sure to go there if you’re in the area. It turns out Philz is a chain! I would have never guessed. The one in Sausalito has a very casual, comfortable “local coffee house” vibe.

Both of us were worn out by the time we got back to our hotel around 4. We didn’t have to leave the city until 7:30, but neither one of us was up to doing much. We explored the area around our hotel some, though sadly many places were closed because of the day and time. Andy got to pick dinner (from my list of choices, hehe) and he picked Shanghai Dumpling King. He picked right again! Even though it was WAY out of our way, we figured we might as well go since we had nothing else planned before leaving the city. Unfortunately, In-N-Out and our iced coffees had filled us up so we only got three items. Everything on the menu sounded amazing and it was really hard to pick! FOMO! Andy had his first xiao long bao experience and he talked about those soup dumplings long after left the restaurant. I was sooo relieved that he liked them considering we had gone out of our way. We also had fantastic mongolian beef and THE BEST green beans I’ve ever had in my life. This picture is only showing half of the beef and green beans because I had already put some on both of our plates. Well, we crushed everything. I’ve never eaten so many green beans in one sitting!

We got to the airport with just enough time for me to browse a bookstore, grab some chocolate-coated salted caramel almonds and have a glass of sangria before boarding began. If only every airport experience was that wonderful!

If you ever decide to head to San Francisco, hit me up! I used recommendations from friends and a few bloggers I follow, as well as this SUPER helpful neighborhood map. We definitely didn’t see/do/eat everything, but I’m pleased with what we managed to pack in. Thanks for reading! You all deserve an award for bearing with these longs posts!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Friday in San Francisco

The last time I vacationed alone with my handsome devil of a husband was on our honeymoon six years ago! We’ve made great memories traveling with friends and family since then, but it was wonderful to have Andy all to myself. The weekend felt like one long date!

(One long date in which my nose began to run non-stop and my throat closed up before we even got to the city, I threw up for a solid half hour the next night, slept maybe four hours total over the course of two nights in the hotel and had to go to a pharmacy twice for tissues, medicine, cough drops and vaseline.)

Thinking about how insane that all was makes me giggle now.

Despite the sickies and the exhaustion, I truly had a fantastic weekend. My body managed to function on sheer adrenaline, and it didn’t hurt that Andy kept me laughing the whole time. He also held my hand all weekend and made me feel like the most beautiful girl in the world instead of a girl with a drippy nose and tired eyes.

There was a time on Friday when I was far from happy, though. We had just arrived downtown and Andy was ready to find a spot to have lunch. We were having a hard time finding our way to the bus that we needed to get on in order to get to our hotel in Japantown. There were people everywhere, it smelled like urine, my nose was running and I only had one tissue in my purse. The horror! Also, my plan was for us to bus to our hotel, drop off our stuff and THEN head to lunch…which was going to be about a half hour bus ride from our hotel. :-/ Yeah, I didn’t plan that out very well. (Oh, and we never ate breakfast. Fools!)

Andy put his foot down and said he needed to eat before his hangry-ness got out of control. He spotted a Super Duper Burgers and made a bee line for it, and I tried not to burst into tears. I mean, I love burgers…but it was a chain! We were in a city with a million jillion restaurants! Not only that, but I had plans for us to have burgers at *cough* a chain restaurant on Sunday! THIS WAS NOT IN MY PLAN!

(“This” including being confused by the map and feeling sick—it wasn’t just the burger thing that made me almost cry. Haha.)

It took a reassuring text from my mom, a lot of deep breaths and a surprisingly fantastic burger for me to realize that holding on to my plans was pointless if it was causing stress. I decided to swap my plans for the afternoon with the ones I had made for Saturday, which ended up being a clutch decision. We headed to the Ferry Building along the Embarcadero after checking into our hotel and loaded up on tissues. We explored one half of the building before picking up iced coffees from Blue Bottle Coffee to sip in between smooching (!!!) on a bench facing the bay. Then we poked around the remaining shops and ended our visit with a basket of beignets from Boulettes Larder. I was still finding cinnamon sugar on my face hours later.

After the Ferry Building we headed to The Exploratorium, which was a lot of fun. (We bought City Passes, since I knew I wanted to do the cable car thang, California Academy of Sciences, Exploratorium and a Bay cruise.) My favorite activities were making our own stop motion video, freaking out over a scary head made out of doll parts and tinkering with an interactive clock. I liked making the people drink coffee. :)

Next—bay cruise! We got a great view of the sea lions on Pier 39 without having to deal with the insane crowds. I loved seeing the city, bridges and Alcatraz from the water. Didn’t love embarrassing myself in front of everyone...I was clicking away and got caught off guard when the wind suddenly blew my dress up MULTIPLE times! I was dyyyying. I couldn’t hold my dress and hold my camera and hold onto the railing! I finally had Andy stand behind me and hold me steady while I knotted my dress against my calves. The knotting ended up being kind of genius, actually. Andy complimented how much he liked the knot multiple times that evening!

Once the boat docked we left the Embarcadero to take a cable car ride up Hyde Street. I wanted to see the famous section of Lombard Street that zig-zags downhill. It took a lot of time to get there between walking, bussing and waiting in line to get on a cable car, but we were both glad we went. The view was phenomenal! Plus, hanging on the sides of the cable car was an experience in its own right.

It occurred to me after we left Lombard that we could have seen the Bay Lights from there if we had waited a little longer, but truthfully we were both starving at that point. I gave Andy a few restaurants to choose from and he picked Pizzeria Delfina in Pacific Heights. I was hoping he would! I had read about the restaurant on my friend Amber’s blog and thought the house-made fennel sausage pizza she ate on her honeymoon sounded amazing. She wrote, "I was eating the pizza and saying I craved it at the same time.” Girl, now I know exactly what you’re talking about!

Dinner ended up being my favorite part of our day—not because I didn’t love everything else, but because something about being there felt so right. Maybe it was the wine? ;) The music, the conversation, the food…it was all perfect. We ordered two pizzas, several drinks and a sundae with vanilla gelato, amarena cherries, pistachios and dark chocolate sauce. Our dishes were practically licked clean! After dinner we walked hand-in-hand from the restaurant to our hotel. It was a lovely way to end the day.

Up next, Saturday and Sunday!
Some more pics, if you’d like to see...

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

beach trip ‘14

Allow me to introduce you to our humble beachfront abode, where we played corn hole in the evenings...

walked to the beach whenever we so pleased… 

saw a doe and her tiny fawn IN OUR BACKYARD!!!

and a fox, since seeing deer wasn’t enough...

took pics of each other... 

drank beers and discussed golf scores in the pool...

and warmed up in the hot tub.

It was a great week. The best part was having my brother and sis-in-law with us, since it had been over a year since their last visit to America. (They live in Seoul.)

I can’t be steps from the ocean and NOT spend all day running between the sand and the water, so I camped under an umbrella every day and read and swam my little heart out.

At the house, we played corn hole (Andy and I won our family tournament), huddled around jigsaw puzzles, talked trash to each other while playing Pinochle, Settlers and Ticket to Ride, watched the World Cup and NBA finals and, most importantly, we ate. We all gained several pounds from the waffles, french toast bagels, donuts, crab cakes, bulgogi, sausage and cheese biscuits, strawberry shortcakes...and that’s only half of it!

Last year Andy and I tried to play mini golf, but a crazy storm hit while we were on the road. We made it happen this trip though, and John-Michael and Sky joined us. I hit a hole in one!

I asked Sky if she would snap some pics of me showing off my bump. (She took all of these beach pictures that I’m sharing.) I’m so glad that I have these pictures of me with my baby girl. I know, I know, my belly looks huge here. I had probably just eaten a bagel, okay?!