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What I’m Into: July 2016 Edition

In July, I jumped full-swing into my new job, planned and cooked what felt like 1,000 meals that are Whole30 compliant (today is day 28!!!!), and drove all over the Carolinas trying to visit friends before summer ends. I’m linking up with Leigh Kramer to share this post.

What I’m Reading:

When my stress level is high (and when I have long solo drives and access to audiobooks) I escape into reading, and this month I read 12 books. I’ll mention all of the titles, but won’t go into much detail or this will get crazy-long.

All of Us and Everything by Bridget Asher. Quirky family drama about the eccentric Rockwell women. Funny and heartwarming. 3.75 Stars

Who Do You Love? By Jennifer Weiner. I like some of Jennifer Weiner’s books, but this one was a bit of a slog to me. Rachel Blum and Andy Landis meet when they are eight years old. Then they spend the next 30 years falling in and out of each other’s lives. 2 Stars.

No One Knows by J.T. Ellison. This thriller starts on the day that Aubrey Hamilton’s husband is declared dead, five years after he disappeared. But things may not be what they seem. Fast-paced summer read. 3 Stars

Furiously Happy: a Funny Book about Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson. Jenny Lawson writes comic essays about serious things. In this book, she tackles elements of life with mental illness. Her sense of humor is irreverent and isn’t for everyone, but some of the serious moments were really poignant. 3 Stars.

All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda. Another summer thriller about two girls who disappear from the same small town 10 years apart. The story is told backwards over a 15 day period. At first I thought this was gimmicky, but in the end I liked it. 3.5 Stars.

Love, Loss, and What We Ate by Padma Lakshmi. Lakshmi writes (very well) about her life in India, as an immigrant in America, as a model in Europe, as the wife of Salman Rushdie, and as a judge on Top Chef. In each part of her life, food plays an important role. I actually loved this, especially for Lakshmi’s honesty, even when it portrayed her unflatteringly. The food writing was great and her experiences were fascinating. 4 Stars.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford. Sweet story about a Chinese boy and a Japanese girl living in Seattle, Washington just as America enters WWII. Henry’s father hates the Japanese and forbids Henry to have anything to do with them, but Henry forms a strong bond with Keiko, the only other non-white person at his school. When she and her family are rounded up and moved to an internment camp, Henry vows to bring her home. 4.5 Stars.

Year of Yes: How to Dance it Out, Stand in the Sun and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes. Rhimes, the creator of Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and How to Get Away With Murder, writes about the year she challenged herself to say yes to all the things that scared her and embrace the opportunities that came her way. She writes just like Olivia Pope and Annaleise Keating speak, so that’s fun, especially on audio. 3.5 Stars.

The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood. This was great. 104-year-old Ona Vitkus is alone in the world until an 11-year-old boy scout is sent to help her out. Ona tells him about her life and he shares his encyclopedic knowledge of world records. One day, the boy stops showing up. In his place is his father, Quinn, there to fulfill his son’s obligation. Together, Ona and Quinn teach each other above love and regret. 5 Stars.

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler. Twenty-two year old Tess moves to New York City and becomes a waiter at a prestigious restaurant. She is exposed to the intoxicating world of the restaurant business as well as some of its darker character. So much cocaine. So many dysfunctional relationships. I wasn’t connected to the character but there was great atmosphere in the restaurant and food writing parts. 3 Stars.

Rising Strong by Brene’ Brown. The follow-up to Daring Greatly, this book explores the process of how we get up again once we’ve fallen on our faces and why vulnerability is still the way forward. Not necessarily a fun book, but an important one. 4 Stars.

Before We Visit the Goddess by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. I loved this multi-generational story of three Indian women (and the other people whose lives intersect with theirs) whose stories of running from the mothers who can’t understand them, reveals how little we often know about what’s really going on in the lives of others. 4 Stars.

Currently Reading: Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal and A Fatal Grace (Chief Inspector Gamache #2) by Louise Penny. Follow me on Goodreads for more of what I’m reading.

What I’m Watching:

I binge-watched Season 2 of Jane the Virgin when it hit Netflix. I love this show so much. But I have no idea if I’m team Michael or team Rafael. It changes constantly.

What I’m Eating:

Jonathan and I are on day 28 of Whole30 which is no grains, no dairy, no sugars, no soy, no artificial flavors, additives, or preservatives. The good part of this is detoxing from 3 weeks of pasta and pizza and gelato (and many previous months of not eating as well as we could). The hard part is that it takes a lot of work and planning to eat three Whole30 compliant meals every day and it has more or less killed our social life because it is very hard to eat out or eat at a friend’s house. You have to read the label on everything you eat and it matters what oils things are cooked in, etc. We are beyond ready to be done. At this point I would say I will continue to eat this way more or less when cooking at home, but I don’t think I’ll ever do Whole30 again. It’s like living life in black and white.

I did find some really delicious new recipes though. My favorite has been this pan-seared mahi-mahi over coconut cauliflower rice with fresh mango salsa. Recipe here. Follow me on Pinterest for more of what I’m eating.

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What I’ve Been Up To:

Right after returning from our trip, I took the 4th of July weekend to fly down to Louisiana and visit my family, specifically my sister Anni who was about to leave to study abroad in Australia for the semester.

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We spent a significant amount of our time reading in her bed. Seesters.

The next weekend, Jonathan and I drove to Raleigh to visit my best friend from college, Christina, and her husband Andy who recently bought their first house. We also got to see our friends Nathaniel and Jerusha while we were there. We stayed with Andy and Christina overnight on Friday and while we were there, our mutual friend Asharae (who lived with Christina and me during college) went into labor in Charlotte. Asharae and her husband Tim had chosen not to find out their baby’s gender before the birth, so Christina and I were eagerly awaiting the news. The minute we heard they’d had a healthy baby boy, we raced out to buy tiny baby boy clothes for him.

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The next day, Jonathan and I were able to go to Charlotte to visit Asharae and Tim in the hospital and to meet tiny Beckett Elijah. My heart is so full for these sweet friends.

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Sweet Little Family

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Ecstatic Auntie and Uncle!

The following weekend I got to help throw a baby shower for Kelly, another dear friend of mine here in Columbia expecting a son in September. I Pinterest-ed a recipe for cake pops which turned out mostly well except that the candy melts I used for the coating kept turning out too thick, so the coating wouldn’t go on smoothly.

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How cute is Kelly?! And also that alligator towel.

I also got to spend an afternoon at the zoo with my friend Kristen and her boy, Callum. My favorite part was the gorillas who, like me, were totally over it.

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I took a solo overnight trip to Wilmington, NC where I got to see one of my best friends from home in Louisiana who lives in a charming house there with her handsome firefighter husband, their massive dog Grizz, and their new Dalmatian puppy, Koda. She is one of those friends that I can reconnect with immediately, even if it’s been months since we’ve talked. We tried to go to the beach, but it was too crowded, so instead we bopped around town and looked for secondhand bargains.

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Last week, Jonathan’s parents came to visit for a few days. It’s been near 100 degrees here every day all summer, so we are limited on how much activity we can do, but we enjoyed playing board games and talking.

This past weekend while Jonathan was working at the baseball park I took another short solo trip up to Stanfield, NC, the town outside of Charlotte where Asharae, Tim, and baby Beckett live.

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Beckett has epic hair.

My new job involves me finding host families for our international students, arranging their transportation and move-in, organizing a week-long orientation, and teaching ESL class once school begins on August 18th. Since my students start arriving this weekend, I know the month of August will be a crazy one, which is why I’ve made it a priority to see my friends over the past few weeks, even if it means traveling every weekend.

I’m still working on telling all of our travel adventures. Parts 1 and 2 are up already, but look for Part 3 about our time in Rome in the next few days!

What have you been into?

 

 

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What I’m Into: January 2016 Edition

For some reason January always feels like a long month to me. Maybe it’s because the time leading up to Christmas seems to go so quickly that when we get back to regular life it feels slower and more drawn out. I’m linking up with Leigh Kramer to share what I’ve been into these past 31 days.

What I’m Reading:

The Thousand Dollar Tan Line (Veronica Mars #1) by Rob Thomas. I actually read this entirely in December and finished it New Year’s Eve, but I’d already finished last month’s post at that point so I’m including it here. This was written by the creator of the Veronica Mars TV show and picks up right where the VM movie leaves off. If you are a fan of the show and the movie you will like this book. It’s very fun. 

A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg. This is a unique blend of memoir and food writing by the author of acclaimed food blog, Orangette. The book moves through significant moments in the author’s life as they connect with specific recipes, and each chapter ends with a recipe. It’s a fun, easy read that will make you want to cook.

Glitter and Glue, by Kelly Corrigan. I really enjoyed this one. I read Corrigan’s first memoir The Middle Place, last year and found it moving and funny and poignant. In this memoir Corrigan writes about her experience working as a nanny in Australia as a young 20-something. As she cares for two children who have lost their mother she finds herself emulating her own mother, someone she never got along with or appreciated much. I could especially relate because of my own years spent working as a nanny.

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson. I have no idea how to write about this book. The first thing I’ll say is that it’s marketed as a YA book and it is about teenagers and coming of age, but I would never give this book to my teenager. It is….intense. The best part of this book is probably the language which is vibrant and heavily imagistic. I love what this book had to say about art, why we create it and what makes it necessary. Noah and Jude are twins (Jude’s a girl, btw) who have always shared a special connection until some time in their 14th year, something breaks them apart. The story is told in alternating sections from Noah’s and Jude’s perspectives. Noah’s part of the story is told in the past, while Jude’s portions are told three years later. You get bits and flashes of what happened between them from each side until it all comes together in the end. Noah is strange and isolated, drawing constantly, misunderstood by his peers and desperately in love with the boy next door. Jude is rebellious and fiery, ready to crash and burn if that’s what it takes. Something tears them apart in a way that changes them completely, but they each only have half the story.

Delicious! by Ruth Reichl. I really wanted to love this novel. It had so many things going for it – it’s by a famous food writer and it’s about a girl who works for a food magazine and hides a tragic secret in her past. There’s tons of cooking involved which I loved. And there’s a historical mystery involving long lost letters written during WWII. Like I said, it had fantastic elements, but I just never felt connected with the main character. She felt emotionally distant and I never really attached to her, even when she told her whole sad back story. I also sort of felt like the book was trying to do too many things – there was the historical aspect and the cooking element and a romance and the personal family drama and what felt like an excessive number of minor characters. It’s not a bad book, it just didn’t quite pull everything together for me.

Scarlet by Marissa Meyer. This is the second book in the Lunar Chronicles, a YA series that takes classic fairy tales and incorporates them into a futuristic story about a world where Earth is being ravaged by an incurable plague and the emperor is locked in a power struggle with Luna, the colony on the moon now populated by a race with special mind control powers. The first book had a Cinderella-type plot, except the Cinderella character was a cyborg. This book picks up where the first one left off, but incorporates a Red Riding Hood character complete with a wolf. I love re-imagined fairy tales, but I’m not usually into super futuristic settings. These books have charmed me anyway.

I’m also about halfway finished with Sarah Bessey’s Out of Sorts so that will be on next month’s review. Follow me on Goodreads for up-to-the-moment updates.

What I’m Watching:

This month I watched all of the Netflix original series Marvel’s Jessica Jones. I really liked it, but it is pretty dark for a superhero show. And more graphic than I expected it to be. So fair warning. I’m also nearing the end of the third season of Revenge on Netflix. I need to figure out a way to watch Downton Abbey before someone spoils it for me. Jonathan I have been watching Brooklyn Nine Nine and New Girl as they air, but we’ve also just discovered a love for The Grinder starring Rob Lowe and Fred Savage.

Jonathan went to see a few movies in theaters this month, but I opted out, both because these particular movies didn’t appeal to me all that much and also because I needed to take a little break from movie theaters which were triggering panic attacks. We did watch two movies at home, The Walk, which is about the man who tight-rope walked between the twin towers of the World Trade Center with no safety harness (he was loco) and The Scorch Trials, the second Maze Runner movie. The Walk was interesting if somewhat horrifying and Joseph Gordon Levitt is brilliant and does an impressive French accent, but Scorch Trials was underwhelming. For whatever reason I just can’t get into the Maze Runner trilogy the way I did with The Hunger Games or Divergent.

What I’m Eating:

In an effort to eat healthier, but not be completely bored by baked chicken and vegetables at every meal, I’ve been trying out some new recipes. (Follow me on Pinterest for more of what I’m eating). Here are a few of my favorites so far:

Moroccan Beef Stew (hint: only use 1 lemon!)

Spicy Italian Sausage and Sweet Potato Soup

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What I’m Writing:

My biggest writing news was a piece I had published by Marie Claire at the beginning of this month. I didn’t mention it here because unfortunately, they took the liberty of adding a title and deck to my article that completely misrepresent what I said and what it’s about. They did leave the body of the article intact though, so if you read it, just keep in mind that I didn’t write the title and deck.

On the blog this month I wrote about my One Word for 2016 and about my wicked case of FOBO (Fear of Being Ordinary). I wrote about mindfulness twice with my attempts to watch TV mindfully and to practice mindful eating. I wrote a guest post for my friend Kelsey’s blog about how I see makeup as a form of self-care. I started a new series I plan to continue sporadically showing you what’s on my bookshelf. And I shared what’s on my “To Don’t” list.

I’ve written a few more interior design pieces for Modernize too if you want to check them out:

A Beginner’s Guide to Accent Walls

4 Upsides to Downsizing

All Decked Out: 10 Ways to Take Your Deck from Plain to Polished

The Non-Artist’s Guide to Mixed Media Gallery Walls

2016 Kids’ Bedroom Trends

On the Internets:

I found so many great things on the internet over the past few months. Starting with this video of Adele doing Carpool Karaoke with James Corden. The whole video is great if you have time to watch it (I think Adele’s accent is so great because she looks like she’s so posh, but her accent betrays her. I love it.) At least watch for James Corden’s impressive harmonizing skills.

This article (with photos) about “What if Guys did Boudoir Photo Shoots?” cracked me up. And grossed me out a little.

This more serious article my sister sent me about Donald Trump and the Christian Obsession with Masculinity is fascinating. And disturbing.

And this really challenging piece from Ann Voskamp on How to Make Time & Space for the Life You Really Want.

And just to leave you on a light note, this music video Kristen Bell and Dax Shephard made of themselves is pretty great. Because they are the cutest couple living.

 

What I’ve Been Up To:

We did precisely nothing for New Year’s Eve (I was in bed at 10 I believe), but on New Year’s Day we went to our friends Lorien and Will’s house where we participated in the annual New Year’s Day 10-course Asian feast. We even had kimchi. It was like being home.

We spent our last weekend of vacation exploring downtown Greenville, a cute town about 1 1/2 hours drive from where we live.

The next week I started back at work tutoring and subbing while Jonathan enjoyed his last week of winter vacation. That weekend we had a blast hosting two sets of our closest friends who both live in the Charlotte area. We ate tons of food and took walks and played a million board games and rubbed Asharae’s baby bump in utter amazement at how she is growing a person while we all sit around doing nothing. It was excellent. They are our people and we love them! (But we didn’t take any pictures together. Fail).

I hit a bit of a slump mid-month and went through about a week where I just felt so down and so incredibly tired all the time that I did almost nothing except show up for my tutoring appointments and sleep. It feels like a lost week because the whole thing was kind of a fog. It sucked. But I’m feeling better now.

We finished our month with a quick trip to Raleigh to see friends and reminisce about when we used to live there. On Friday we stayed with our friends Jerusha and Nathaniel and their 5-month old daughter Edith who is a complete doll. On Saturday we met up with our friends Justin and Mary and their 3-month-old daughter Evelyn who has an awesome head of hair and is working hard on keeping her head up. And on Saturday night we stayed with my best friend and college roommate, Christina, and her new husband Andy who have been married for 4 whole months already!

We also had the chance to visit some of our old haunts like the lake where I did so much of my running when I was training for marathons and half marathons. Raleigh holds a special place in our hearts and it was great to visit again. Who knows, maybe we’ll end up living there again someday!

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I’ve run many a mile around this lake.

Ooh, also, I’ve gotten super into my planner. Like I take out scrapbooking materials and decorate it every week. Like a dork. It’s excellent. Right up there with adult coloring books.

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What have you been into and up to this month?

Fifty-two Weeks of Adventure #50: Christmas Feast

In spite of the 70 degree weather we’ve experienced here in Columbia this week, Christmas is only two weeks away. Since this is the first Christmas we’ve spent in the US in 3 years, we’ve been trying to make the most of Christmas festivities.

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The Dunn House is ready for Christmas.

We've got our stockings up and everything!

We’ve got our stockings up and everything!

On Saturday night we drove to our friends Asharae and Tim’s home outside of Charlotte. Asharae was one of my college roommates and she and her husband are fantastically talented wedding photographers and videographers and all around terrifically creative and incredibly sweet people. We take it as a clear act of grace that we now live a mere 2 hr drive from them.

Asharae and Tim hosted a Christmas party for their friends which included Brandon and Christy, who live in Charlotte and have visited a few times this fall , and also a whole slew of new acquaintances.

This party was so festive. There were Christmas decorations and holiday beverages and party foods and Christmas movies and cookies to decorate. Brandon wore a pair of excellent green velour shorts with jingle bells on them that I think we sadly failed to get proper photo documentation of.

Check out that gorgeous centerpiece!

Check out that gorgeous centerpiece!

Concentrating on the decorations.

Concentrating on the decorations.

Queen Frostine. Get it?

Queen Frostine. Get it?

Moments like these are the ones that make me so glad to be back in the US sharing these moments with people who are dear to us. I miss the excitement and glamor of life abroad, but there is something sacred and special about sharing these moments with the people we love. 12360250_10100345764262652_9103981593181293596_n

Tomorrow Jonathan’s family is coming to stay with us for a few days and next week we will head down to Louisiana to spend Christmas with my family. It’s hard to believe that there are only two adventures left in this year that has been so very full.

If you have an adventure to share, add your link to the link-up by clicking the button below. You can also click this button to read other bloggers’ adventures. You can participate in all of the adventures or you can just do a few. If you missed last week’s adventure about my grown up birthday celebration at the zoo, you can find it here. And if you are new to my Fifty-Two Weeks of Adventure project you can find out more about it here.

Fifty-Two Weeks of Adventure # 36: Hiking in Charlotte

This past weekend was our first real weekend in Columbia. So naturally, we left town. 🙂

Some of our best friends live in Charlotte which is only 1.5 hours form Columbia. Since it was Labor Day Weekend and there was no work or school on Monday we headed to Charlotte on Sunday afternoon after attending our first church service in Columbia. (It was an Anglican church, so that was new, but more on that later).

After arriving in Charlotte we joined our friends and the four of us piled into the car and headed to Crowders Mountain, the closest hiking spot in the area. It was a 45 min – 1 hr drive to the trail head.

The trail was gentler than most of the Korean hikes we’re used to, which was fortunate since the Dunn clan isn’t in peak physical condition these days. After about an hour we made it to the top and enjoyed the view. While it was a much smaller mountain with a lower elevation than the ones around Daegu (a measly 1,624 ft), the air was much clearer which made for a better view.

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We loved being able to hop in the car and see our friends who we’ve missed so much over the past two years. We also loved getting to do some hiking which was one of our favorite activities in Korea.

After hiking we went back to Brandon and Christy’s house where we had dinner together with Bill and Jordan, a couple they’ve become close to while we’ve been gone but who we’d never met before. (Spoiler: They were totally great). After dinner we played a pretty intense game of Funglish (I’m still convinced the boys were totally cheating) that went on into the wee hours of the night, mainly because we girls were so infuriated that the boys kept getting the easiest cards and we refused to admit defeat.

We didn’t get home til 2 AM which felt wild and crazy for someone like me who is normally in bed by 10 if not before, but it was well worth it. We deeply missed sharing life with our friends while we were gone and we want to take full advantage of being so close to them now.

If you have an adventure to share, add your link to the link-up by clicking the button below. You can also click this button to read other bloggers’ adventures. You can participate in all of the adventures or you can just do a few. If you missed last week’s adventure about my epic roommate reunion you can find it here. And if you are new to my Fifty-Two Weeks of Adventure project you can find out more about it here.

Fifty-Two Weeks of Adventure # 35: Epic College Roommate Reunion

After a whirlwind first week in America I left my hubby and new home and headed up to Chicago and then Wisconsin for a reunion with my college roommates at our friend Anna’s family lake house – a place that holds a lot of sweet memories for all of us of our time in college and beyond.

To be honest I was nervous to see these girls after two years living abroad. While we’ve all been friends for a long time now, through five post-college years and different life stages I was anxious about whether it would feel the same to come back together after being gone for two years during which I grew and changed at what felt like an accelerated pace. It also felt strange that the other girls had all seen one another without me on multiple occasions during my time in Korea and frankly, I was worried about whether or not I still fit.

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Together again! We all made it! 2 from South Carolina, 2 from North Carolina and one from the Chicago area (where we all met).

I was relieved to find that even though some things were different and I had moments where I felt disconnected from the lives and experiences of my friends, for the most part I still felt like we clicked and meshed well together. And more importantly than our different life experiences over the past few years, we still care about each other and are genuinely interested in each others’ lives.

One of the most exciting things about the weekend was celebrating Christina, who is getting married this month, with some special bachelorette activities. (And by bachelorette activities I mean Christina wore this headdress and we gave her lingerie and lots of dubious marital advice and drank tequila).

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Asharae describes this headpiece as her crowning achievement in crafting and I am inclined to agree! My favorite part of this picture though is Taylor in the background eating chips and guac and saying something with her eyes closed.

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Unfortunately, it was fairly cool (for August) and rainy during our weekend at the lake, so we didn’t do a lot of our usual lake activities like sunbathing and water skiing. We did make it out on the lake for some casual boat rides around the rain, but mostly we stayed cozy inside eating tons and tons of foods, talking each others’ ears off, playing games, and watching movies. Basically, it was perfection.

I brought my friends some gifts from Korea – superhero minion socks, scary face masks, and hilarious lip masks, all of which we tried out on the spot.

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Since I’ve gotten really into makeup and makeup artistry over the past year or so, my friends graciously allowed me to do makeup experiments on them  – some more successfully than others – to try out new things and practice looks for Christina’s wedding.

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The best part of the whole weekend was that this time when we all said goodbye we knew it would only be 4 weeks til we will be reunited again at Christina’s wedding which three of us will stand in as bridesmaids while Asharae and her husband do the photography.

I am so incredibly thankful for these women and for their friendship over years and miles. It’s kind of a big deal. ; )

Thank you also to all of you who have sent such kind and encouraging messages during a very busy and stressful time. Now that moving and my travels are done I am ready to get back to more regular posting here and to figure out what normal life will look like in this new season. I admit that the transition has been both easier and harder than I anticipated, but more on that later. For now, thanks to the many of you who have shown such kindness and support over the past few months and especially the past few weeks. It is genuinely appreciated.

If you have an adventure to share, add your link to the link-up by clicking the button below. You can also click this button to read other bloggers’ adventures. You can participate in all of the adventures or you can just do a few. If you missed last week’s adventure about our not-so-extreme home makeover you can find it here. And if you are new to my Fifty-Two Weeks of Adventure project you can find out more about it here.

Thankful Thursdays Guest Post: Old Friends are the Best Friends

I’m excited to share today’s guest post from fellow writer Cara Meredith. Cara and I “met” (online) because we run in some of the same circles, blog-wise. I’ve been enjoying her blog, Be, Mama. Be. for quite a while now and was honored to  do a guest post for her last month. Whenever I read Cara’s writing I just want to sit down with her, some big cups of coffee and a cozy couch and talk about all the things. I think you’ll see what I mean.

Old Friends are the Best Friends

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Old Friends are the Best Friends.

Now I’m not knocking those who’ve only been in my life for a year or two, but to me, there’s something powerful about being around people who stake double-digit claim to how long they’ve known you. Suddenly, that which unites current, everyday friends – children who are similar in age or religious beliefs and practices or the city we dwell in – doesn’t seem to hold so much weight.

The irony is that when Old Friends step into the picture again, we can seem to hold little in common: staunch Republican, left-wing Democrat; traditional evangelical Christian, meditative Buddhist yogi; married with four children, single and still ready to mingle.  If you’d asked me ten years ago if I thought I could stay in relationship with those who hadn’t moved and grown along with me (and like me, I might add), I’d have likely mumbled a pithy reply.  I’d have shaken my head in solemn understanding of the sadness of my own plight.  I’d have said my good-byes, at least in my mind, no sooner than burning old letters and dreaming of Friendship’s Funeral.

We share great memories, I would have said to you, but memories can’t sustain a friendship in the present. 

Or can it?

I’m beginning to realize I was wrong.

Maybe wisdom is starting to grab hold of me.  Maybe I’m learning that life isn’t as narrow and compartmentalized as I make it out to be, at least when I’m hurting and sad and missing the people who make me whole.  And maybe I’m also realizing that life is merely and solely and wholly made up of relationships.  Life is made up of people, of lovely, messy humans who are mine – and who, the grand scheme of This One Beautiful and Precious Life matter to me.

To say that I’m thankful for Old Friends is an understatement. Because gratitude burgeons deep in my insides when their faces come to mind, while affection for the stories we share mercilessly stirs the waters of my soul.

Because the books I own, they don’t matter.  The writing I do, it too doesn’t matter.  The house we love, the television we watch, the baseball games we attend – don’t matter, don’t matter, don’t matter.

But the people – oh, the people, they do matter.

For me, I’m beginning to sprinkle a bit more grace into my relationships.  My standard for friendship used to be high, even though I wouldn’t have classified it as such – but for me, you were a good friend, we were good friends if you pursued me and sought after me, if you showed me you wanted to be my friend.  And maybe that’s why if and when someone – an Old Friend of sorts – didn’t live up to my standards, like the cardboard I stockpile in our recycle bin, I discarded them easily, carelessly, breezily.

But now I want my cardboard back.

I want and I yearn and I salivate for those Old Friends, for the ones I don’t have to explain myself to, for she who loves me despite my flaky nature.  I want to be around those people – who are, by all accounts My People – even if we don’t dress the same way or eat the same way or worship the same way anymore.  Because there is tenderheartedness toward each other in the stories we’ve shared, as we remember and retell and revisit our histories.

After all, we share us. We share the memories that made us and shaped us and defined us, the adventures we took together when we didn’t have more than $74 to our name, when we thought backpacking was the greatest invention since sliced bread.  We share stories of Europe and Costa Rica, of Santa Cruz and Portland and Seattle, of campfires and barbeques, sleepovers and road trips. We share the growing up we did together, as teenagers and as young adults, and we share the common experience of learning how to be our most raw and real selves, the Real Me hidden inside all along.

Because here’s the truth: joy and gratitude can mingle anywhere. Maybe it’s the optimist in me, but I believe they’re there, waiting for our cue to start the dance party, ready for our eyes to open to what’s already there.  For me, this mingling happened with old friends on Friday night, over wild boar and cheddar sausages and chunky summer salad and coffee mugs filled with chilled Chardonnay. We gathered to visit with our old roommate and friend who’d flown across the Pacific to say hello, but it ended up being so much more than a backyard barbeque.

It ended up being a reunion of Old Friends.

And Old Friends, as you well know by now, are the best friends.

Carabio1About Cara: 
Cara Meredith is a writer, speaker and musician from the greater San Francisco bay area. She is passionate about theology and books, her family, meals around the table, and finding Beauty in the most unlikely of places. A seven on the Enneagram, she also can’t help but try to laugh and smile at the ordinary everyday. You can find her on her blog, Facebook and Twitter
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Queen of Surprise (Rated “M” for Mature)

 I’m not a huge Hallmark holidays person. This past New Year’s Eve I went to bed at 11:30, on the Fourth of July I think I stayed home and maybe watched a movie?, and this past Halloween I ate chips and dip and watched a football game. But when it comes to holidays that involve celebrating with gifts or other gestures of affection (Valentine’s Day, our anniversary, Jonathan’s birthday, Christmas) I lose control. I will pretty much take advantage of any opportunity to plan surprises. I LOVE surprises. And I am generally more excited about doing the surprising than the person on the receiving end is to get the surprise. Not always. But often. Frankly, it’s just hard to match the level of enthusiasm I reach when planning a surprise. Sometimes I don’t sleep at night.

This is how I always imagine people will react to my surprises.

Just to give you an idea of how much I love surprises…

 I once flew home to Louisiana for Fall Break without my mom knowing I was coming and woke her up in the middle of the night where she promptly burst into tears because she was so disoriented. (It was actually really sweet.)

I also once flew home for my Lanise’s birthday and I was waiting in her room when she got home from work and I had twenty-one presents for her because it was her 21st birthday. (And that one was super fun because my Lanise is the best present/surprise-receiver in the whole wide world. She actually gets as excited about it as I do.)

I once made Jonathan a giant poster with a bunch of different candies that stood for different words of the message. I don’t remember the whole thing, but it ended with “You may not have 100Grand, but you will always be my Sugar Daddy” and I had his roommate sneak this giant poster into his room so he would get it on Valentine’s Day.

Mine was like this, except it said different things. Better things.

And once I got up at like 4:30 in the morning and hid presents for him all over his house/in his bag/in his classes, etc. I even contacted his professors (some of whom I didn’t even know) and had them give him some of them.

When we were apart one summer I made him cookies and overnight FedEx-ed them to him.

And the summer I went to England I wrote him a card for every week I would be gone and left them for him to open one a week.

This is how I think Jonathan really feels about all the surprises I give him. 🙂

I e-stalked and contacted a writer who lives across the country to get her to autograph a book for my sister’s birthday.

I made Jonathan spend two vacation days with me painting and finishing Christina’s dining room set so she would be surprised when she got back from her Christmas break. (Well, Jonathan volunteered, but I “made” him by having the urgent need to surprise her in the first place.)

Like I said, surprises are kind of my thing.

This Valentine’s Day is a little different, though. This year I decided to relax a little. Decided that I didn’t have to have the number one best surprise ever up my sleeve. That maybe one or two little things were enough. So for once I haven’t spent hours thinking of a perfect gift or experience or way to show my love. And yet, today I managed to give a surprise that surprised even me.

This morning I got dressed in what I thought was an appropriately festive Valentine’s Day outfit. Black and white patterned skirt, red top, black scarf, gorgeous, cherry red stilettos. I tried to do some black tights this morning, but couldn’t find them anywhere and so went without. No big deal because I have a desk job.

At lunch time I had the brilliant idea to use the Bruegger’s gift card my company gave me for my birthday to get a cup of soup to bring back and eat at my desk.  (There is a Bruegger’s right outside of my building.) So I go on my merry way in my cherry red heels and my bouncy little skirt. When I get outside I realize it is an exceptionally windy day that makes me feel like I’m back in Illinois. Luckily the Bruegger’s is just across the street.

I go in, order my delicious chicken spaetzle soup to go and on impulse decide to get a drink too since my giftcard has enough for both. My soup goes into a container and then into a paper bag which I am holding with my right hand, trying to keep the bottom steady so that they soup does not tip over. In my left hand I am holding my tasty diet coke. My purse keeps sliding off my shoulder into the crook of my right arm, messing with the precarious balance of the soup inside the bag. I take a couple of steps and my drink (although it has a lid) manages to slosh out and a few drops fall onto my gorgeous cherry red suede shoes. Now I have to concentrate on keeping my soup stable and not spilling any more drink on my shoes. I push open the door and take a few steps when a huge gust of wind comes up and starts lifting my perky little skirt into the air. I bend forward expertly keeping a grip on both my soup and my drink and pressing my forearms against my thighs to keep my skirt down. As I lean forward, this gust of wind swoops around and blows up the back of my skirt exposing my black-lace-covered bottom to anyone who happens to be in the parking lot or looking out the window. Surprise, everybody! Big surprise!

I am pretty sure this is EXACTLY what I looked like. But please excuse my slightly inappropriate picture.

Here’s hoping you have a wonderful Valentine’s Day. That you are not subjected to any kind of indecent exposure. And that any surprises you give or receive are the good kind!