travel

Introducing…Keep Roaming On

Faithful friends, today is the day! I am so excited to announce the launch of my new website Keep Roaming On. This site will be dedicated to travel adventures and advice, to feeding your wanderlust (and my own), and to telling the stories of our daily life in Hong Kong and of all the people we meet along the way.

I will still be keeping Such Small Hands active and will continue to post here about topics like reading, faith, mental health that don’t necessarily fit under the general travel/living abroad umbrella.

In the meantime, I would love for you to head over to the new site which already has a few posts up, and follow or subscribe by email if you are interested in what’s going on there. You can also follow Keep Roaming On on Instagram and Twitter for more of a daily dose of life here in Hong Kong and tips from other travels over the past few years. If you have any specific requests for topics you’d like me to cover, please let me know!

https://www.keeproamingon.com

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2017 Year In Review (Or What I Was Doing While I Wasn’t Blogging)

It may be cliche, but I honestly love the New Year. Not the trappings of the holiday (I rarely leave my house and almost never make it til midnight on New Year’s Eve), but the sense of a fresh start, a clean slate, and new adventures around the corner. I know, I know, there is nothing actually magical about January 1st, and there is no guarantee that starting a new habit on the first day of the new year will make you more successful, but I still love it.

Moving into 2018, I am anticipating some potentially big changes (though I don’t know exactly what those will be). I often find it difficult to be fully present where I am because my brain is always racing ahead to future possibilities. It’s important for me to pause and reflect on the past year and to recognize the moments that stand out in my memory, especially the moments I may not have realized were important while I was living them.

We started 2017 in Costa Rica where we traveled for my brother-in-law’s wedding to a Costa Rican beauty. This was a new country for us and a new adventure, though we were a little limited in what we could do by the fact that my husband had just had major knee surgery and was in a straight-leg immobilizer the entire time. It was a very special time to spend together with my in-laws who are very dear to me.

At the end of January, I experienced several significant disappointments with my job that left me feeling undervalued and discouraged. This came at the end of a fall where I’d been working 60 hours a week at my various jobs, taking care of my husband through his surgery, and, like many people, dealing with layers of emotions about the very divisive 2016 election and its outcome. I spent the majority of the winter in a deep depression that spurred my visit to the psychiatrist at the end of February.

In mid-February, we drove to Washington D.C.  where my husband attended a conference and I got to hang out with a friend of mine from elementary – high school who lives in D.C. While Jonathan conferenced, I ate and drank my way around D.C. with Rachel. We even went to a Valentine’s ball at the Italian Embassy. I even got to re-wear my dress from the wedding. Randomly, my parents happened to be in DC at the same time so I also got to spend an afternoon with them.

It was such great fun that it marked a turning period in my mood. By the time we got back home, things were looking up. Unfortunately, they were a little too far up and I had a brief episode of hypomania where I believed I could do ALL THE THINGS!

It was at the very end of February that I had my first meeting with my psychiatrist and was formally diagnosed with several anxiety disorders and bipolar depression. Which I have written about here. And here. And also here.

In March my mom flew up to visit me during my spring break and we spent a lovely long weekend in Charleston together. One of the highlights was our dinner at 5 Church which is one of the aesthetically coolest restaurants I’ve ever been to. Having one-on-one time with my mom is a rare treat and we had such a great time we decided to make an effort to do this a few times a year.

In April, surprise! We got bedbugs. If you have had bedbugs before, you have my undying sympathy. After several weeks of being covered in massive, painful and itchy welts, but never being able to find a bug, I spotted one on the box spring and captured it. The exterminators confirmed that it was a bedbug, confirmed that they are exceptionally resilient and difficult to get rid of, and then we gave them $1000 for the privilege of moving everything fabric in our house (clothes, curtains, cushions, etc) into a trailer in our yard which was then heated to a temperature high enough to kill any bugs. In the meantime we had to take everything off of our walls and all the books off of our shelves and have the house chemically treated ceiling to floor. And then moved back in again. I do not wish this on my enemies.

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May is always a busy month for people living by a school calendar. Jonathan finished his second year of grad school and some of my students graduated from high school and moved away.

In the last few days of May I flew to Colorado and then drove several hours into the mountains to be at my brother’s wedding at the beginning of June. It was truly the most scenically beautiful wedding I’ve ever seen, and the bride looked stunning. And the next morning we all went whitewater rafting together!

At the end of June I threw Jonathan a surprise 30th birthday party that was a huge success as far as surprises go. All of the gold is because it was his golden birthday.

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Part of the reason I was able to pull of the surprise so well is because we were leaving the very next day to go to Germany to visit my brother and sister-in-law who had moved to Germany after their wedding. We had never been to Germany, so while we were there we tried to get around as much as possible. We stayed with our family in Tubingen for a while, but also traveled to Berlin (rainy and dismal) and Munich (beautiful) and spent a long weekend in Prague (like a magical fairytale kingdom). We also spent two days in Lucerne, Switzerland where I got to meet up with one of my students and her parents who are from a village nearby. It was such a cool and rewarding experience to get to know her family and see her hometown. Also, they took us up into the Alps, and we saw this guy playing his Alpine horn. Like you do. Life made.

We got back from Germany in early July and things started kicking into high gear for me at work as I worked on orientation materials and on finding placements for a brand new group of students. Unfortunately, after our return, I started a slow slide back into a depression that ate up most of the fall. The last weekend of July I squeezed in a long weekend with my college roommates up at my friend Anna’s family lake house in Wisconsin. This is a place with years of memories for us since we all started going there together during college. We’ve made it back almost every year since graduating even as we’ve moved and married and started having kids. It’s really pretty amazing.

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In August, school started back up just in time for the total solar eclipse. Our city was precisely in the path of the totality so it was an enormous event. It was one of the most moving and awe-inspiring things I’ve ever experienced and probably will ever experience. I ugly cried. I still cry every time I watch our video footage (I tried to upload the video, but my site won’t let me!)

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Over Labor Day weekend my mom came for another visit. This time we went to Asheville for a few days where we went apple picking and to a vineyard and stayed in a cozy cabin. At the end of the weekend we drove to Charlotte where we joined my sister-in-law to see Ed Sheeran in concert. I ugly cried. Perhaps you are seeing a theme here? I obviously adore Ed Sheeran, but also, he gives a fantastic concert. It is just him and his loop pedal and his adorable personality and it was so much fun.

At the end of September some of our best friends who live in Charlotte welcomed their first baby into the world. We spent several weekends in October kissing his sweet cheeks. (The baby’s, obviously). On one of those weekends, Nest Fest happened to be going on just outside of Charlotte. My friend Asharae (one of the dearest and most talented souls I know) was already there, so I felt destined to go. And I got to meet Anne Bogel (Modern Mrs. Darcy) and Tsh Oxenreider. And they signed their books for me. And took pictures with me. And I geeked out.

This fall I made a new friend at work who is one of those people I just clicked with immediately and it was like we’d known each other forever. She has been an unexpected blessing that has made many of my days brighter.

In November I came out of the depression I had been in since July. In celebration, I got a new tattoo. Daffodils are symbols of new life and Jonathan said I couldn’t get any more words. We also traveled to Ohio for Thanksgiving with my in-laws. My mother-in-law, sister-in-law, and I did our traditional Black Friday shopping with gusto. Sure it was shameless consumerism, but we did it TOGETHER so that should count for something! When I returned from Thanksgiving break, my students surprised me with a little Christmas tree they got for my office complete with hand-decorated ornaments that each of them had made for me. I died of cuteness.

At the beginning of December I turned 30. This boggles my mind as I still routinely do things like fall to the floor in a limp pile and cry because I am “too hungry to eat,” but the official documents say it is true. One of my students even made me a cake! In celebration of this milestone, we had planned a trip to Disneyworld and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter which we took as soon as school finished for the semester. It was, well, magical. We spent one day at Harry Potter, one day in the Magic Kingdom, and a final day at Epcot. The icing on the cake was that our final Disney experience was seeing the Christmas candlelight procession where they read the Christmas story from the Bible and sing all the great songs. The day that we were there, the celebrity host who was doing all of the narration was Neil Patrick Harris. It was Leg -en – wait for it – dary! (That’s a HIMYM reference.) (And THAT stands for How I Met Your Mother).

When we returned from Disney, we celebrated Christmas with my entire family who (amazingly) all came up to Columbia to spend the holiday with us. We were house sitting for some friends over Christmas so my family were all able to stay together at their house which was magical. I somehow neglected to get a group picture and just have this one with my sister Anni. Just imagine 3 more faces that look just like this plus my dad.

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This year was full of so many wonderful experiences and memories, but it was also a hard year in many ways, especially in regards to my mental health. When I look back on it though, I am filled with hope when I remember how much good there was in spite of everything, and I am encouraged that the things I remember most are not the days when I lay on my office floor doing deep breathing exercises. What I remember most were these beautiful moments with family and friends, the new experiences I had, the new students I came to love, and the new lives I welcomed into this world and into my life.

There are a lot of unknowns about 2018 and as much as I love adventure, I also love being in control. Reflecting on this past year has reminded me that even though there may be difficult days ahead, there will also be beautiful ones. There will be brokenness, and there will also be divine blessings. On to the next adventure.

Europe Dunn Right Episode 2: Athens

We arrived at the Athens airport around 11:30 PM on June 8th after spending the day flying to Istanbul and then sitting in the airport there for several hours. Our first step was to file another lost bag claim for Jonathan’s bag, which we already knew had never left Atlanta. We hoped we’d get it before we moved on to Italy on the 10th, but it wasn’t looking promising.

We took a 30 minute bus from the airport to the city center where our Air BNB host told us we could take a 5 minute taxi ride to our apartment. It was well after midnight by this time and we were exhausted. We got into a cab and gave the driver the address along with a map and directions the host had provided in Greek. The driver was friendly and chatty, but soon began putting on what we later realized was an elaborate show of not being able to find the place. He drove us around for about 20 minutes, getting out of the car at several points to poke his head down alleys.

Finally, we passed the street we were supposed to turn on, and our host, Lydia, saw us and ran towards the taxi waving her hands and yelling. He quickly turned the corner and let us out, asking for 15 euros. As we grabbed our bags from the trunk, Lydia, a bad-ass, no-nonsense true Athenian woman, marched up and started screaming at him in Greek. He yelled back, and we stood awkwardly holding our bags as they argued in the middle of the street. Then she turned to us and said pleasantly. “Only pay him 5 Euros. He knows the cost is 5 Euros. He pretended to be lost on purpose. It’s only two turns from the town center.” The taxi driver protested that this wasn’t fair, that he’d been driving around with us for 45 minutes (false) and that her directions were bad. They argued some more. Lydia called the police and reported him. I think we ended up paying him 10 euros and he left. It was 1 AM.

Corrupt taxi drivers aside, Lydia was a wonderful host and made sure we had everything we needed including directions to the major sights, which were within walking distance of us. Since we would only have 1 1/2 days to explore Athens, we wanted to pack in as much as possible.

The next morning we set off to see the Temple of Zeus, Hadrian’s Gate, the Acropolis, the Parthenon, and the Agora. I really enjoyed the way these ancient ruins were tucked into the modern city, and how the Acropolis still rises above everything else as it did in ancient times. We were both in awe of the size and the age of these ruins. It’s genuinely hard to comprehend just how long they have stood and how many generations of people have visited these places. Although the Agora is mostly rubble at this point, it was still amazing to walk to through it and think about Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle, spending their time on the very same ground.

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Temple of Zeus

 

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Temple of Hephaestus in the Agora

We had lunch in a restaurant in the touristy area near the base of the Acropolis and later stopped for a drink and a slice of lemon pie at a charming café built into the side of a staircase. There were restaurants and cafes on both sides of the stairs  with little bench-like tables for people to sit on the steps with their food and drinks. The neighborhood around these famous sights were adorable and everything you picture when conjuring up images of Greece.

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Storybook Athens

We were surprised to find that the Greek people we met in Athens were the warmest and friendliest people we met on our trip. My only regret about Athens is that we did not have time to eat more Greek food. My father is of Greek heritage and I grew up eating Greek food, which I love, but we were only in Greece for one dinner time.

After our full day in Athens, I developed an impressive migraine (likely triggered by air travel, dehydration,stress, and general tiredness) and had to put myself to bed early to sleep it off. In the morning, we had coffee in a cute café and then took a walk through the National Gardens. When we returned from our walk, Jonathan’s bag had miraculously arrived from the airport, just in time for us to get on the Metro and head back to the airport for our afternoon flight to Rome.

Other than the big sights in Athens (which were amazing), I wasn’t particularly enchanted with the city itself, but  I now have my heart set on a trip back to Greece to visit the islands. (This is the problem with me, every time I check a place off my list, three more pop up). Although we had an incredibly short visit, we enjoyed our time in Athens, scheming taxi drivers aside. It was a great first stop after a rocky start to our trip.

Europe Dunn Right Episode 1: When the Worst Thing Becomes the Best Thing

We started our great European adventure in the Atlanta airport. We’d bought tickets with Air Canada that flew from Atlanta to Toronto and then on into Istanbul. Our plan was to spent 12 hours in Istanbul, doing a mad dash through the Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque before continuing on to Athens. Over the past few years Istanbul has become a source of fascination for me, so when I found out that the cheapest way into Europe was to fly through Istanbul, I was all about it.

We spent the night in Atlanta so we’d be able to arrive at the airport bright and early before our 11 AM flight. We were among the first people to check in. When we checked in we were told that we had no seat assignments, but not to worry because they would be assigned at the gate. We got coffee, went to our gate and read for a while, waiting for an agent to appear.

When the agent showed up, we politely asked for seat assignments. She said to sit down and wait and she would give them to us as soon as she had them. We politely and patiently sat down. 30 minutes later, we checked back in with her and were given the same answer. I tried to be calm, but I was starting to get nervous.

A few minutes later the gate agent announced that the boarding process was beginning. We stood at the desk and said, “We still don’t have seat assignments.” She asked us to wait just a minute until she was done boarding these people. At this point it became clear to me that we were not getting on this flight. As the final passengers boarded the plane, the gate agent finally told us, “You purchased tickets, but not seats, so we’ll have to put you on the next flight.”

I collapsed into a chair where I tried to do deep breathing exercises while popping anxiety pills. In spite of being fairly well-traveled and very flexible in many ways, I am not good with travel delays or changes in travel plans. Any type of travel where there is the potential to miss a connection–a flight, a train, etc.–makes me physically anxious. And when things go wrong, even though they are usually fixable, I freak out.

Once everyone had boarded our flight and the door was closed, we waited for the gate agent to give us a new itinerary. The best they could do was a flight that got us into Istanbul late in the afternoon–not leaving enough time for us to leave the airport and see anything before our evening flight to Athens. We asked if we could just fly directly to Athens since we wouldn’t have time to see anything in Istanbul anyway, but the gate agent said she could only book us tickets to our original destination. I angry-tweeted at Air Canada for a while while being very polite to the gate agent. We were both disappointed to realize we’d miss this whole day of our trip and end up spending two full days sitting in airports.

And then, the agent had us sign the paperwork for the airline to send us compensation for being involuntarily removed from our flight. Because we’d been bumped from that international flight, the airline sent us large checks (not travel vouchers). When we added everything up later we realized these checks covered almost exactly half of the cost of our entire 18 day trip to Europe. Which means we got a 1/2 priced trip to Europe.

I know. We’re still in shock.

The thing that seemed like the WORST THING EVER to the anxious traveler in me turned out to be an enormous blessing.

We flew to Toronto and then to Istanbul where we sat in the airport for about five hours before flying on to Athens. Since Jonathan’s luggage didn’t make it to Istanbul, we got to spend part of that time getting him Turkish boxers and t-shirts to tide him over until his bag arrived.

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Here’s Jonathan, killing time in the International Departures lounge in the Istanbul airport, waiting until we can check in for our flight to Athens.

I can’t finish this post without talking about how close to home it hit to hear about the Istanbul airport bombing, just 3 weeks after we’d been there. I think about the 36 people who died and the 147 more who were injured and know that it could so easily have been us. I am grateful for our safety, but I do not believe we are entitled to it any more than anyone else.  Today Turkey erupted into chaos as the military attempted a coup. I can’t help but thing of all the lives that have been and will be lost as the government and military struggle. I pray for peace and it feels inadequate. As-Salaam-Alaikum.

 

 

 

 

What I’m Into: June 2016 Edition

This June was probably one of the best months of my life. I started a new job, took my dream vacation to Athens, Italy, and Paris, read eight books, celebrated Jonathan’s birthday, and ate gelato almost every day. This may have been a record high. I am linking up with Leigh Kramer to share some of what I’ve been into this month.

What I’m Reading:

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. The first sentence of this book reads, “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.” The book goes on to tell the story of a interracial family (Chinese father, American mother) in 1970’s Ohio, and the way the parents’ dreams play out in the lives of their children. It’s not a mystery, and in many ways it’s not even about Lydia’s death, but it was a fascinating look at family dynamics, the things that motivate us, and how our actions can have unintended consequences.

The Rules of Civility by Amor Towles. A Gatsby-esque novel about one year in the life of Wall Street secretary and social-climber Katey Kontent in late 1930’s – early 1940’s New York. On the last night of 1937 Katey and her roommate Eve happen to meet the dazzling Tinker Grey, an encounter that changes both of their lives in ways they could never have predicted.

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom. I read this one with my book-club this month. When 7-year old Lavinia is orphaned during her Irish family’s journey to America, she is taken on as an indentured servant by the captain of the ship and taken to live on his tobacco plantation where she works with the slaves in the kitchen house. Although she is white, the slaves adopt her as their own and raise her, but as she grows older, she is drawn into the world of the big house where she walks a precarious line between her race, the slaves who have become her family, and her position in society. This book had an intriguing premise – a little different from your run-of-the-mill antebellum fiction, but it was undeniably heartbreaking.

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan. Shout out to my friend Kim for recommending this one – this book is a pure fun summer read. When Nick Young, heir to one of the largest fortunes in Asia, brings his ABC (American-Born Chinese) girlfriend home to Singapore for a wedding, all hell breaks loose. Poor Rachel, who knew nothing about Nick’s family or financial situation, must navigate the gossip and games of the Chinese elite in Singapore society.

The Good Girl by Mary Kubica. This was a very fast read with a major twist at the ending that I still can’t decide my feelings on. When 25-year-old Mia Dennett goes missing, her mother assumes the worst, but a few months later she returns with no memory of where she’s been and insisting that her name is Chloe. The story is told from three alternating perspectives – Mrs. Dennett, the detective investigating the case, and the captor himself –and jumps back and forth in time to the time Mia is missing and the time after she’s returned home.

Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris. Listened to this on audio. If you think David Sedaris is funny, you will like this. It’s very true to his other slightly strange humorous essays, mostly about his family.

Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor. No words. This is the final book in Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy and there is nothing I can say to express how amazing this whole trilogy is. It is considered YA fantasy, though I don’t find anything particularly YA about it except that the characters are young. Sort of. It is creative and intense and haunting and beautifully written and I can’t recommend the series highly enough.

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari. Even though I’m happily married and have been out of the dating game for 10 years, I found this book very interesting. Although Ansari is a comedian, this book is a well-researched sociology project about how modern technology has changed the way people navigate the world of dating, romance, and marriage.

Currently reading: Who Do You Love? by Jennifer Weiner, All of Us and Everything by Bridget Asher, and Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson.

For more of what I’m reading or what’s on my To Read least, follow me on Goodreads.

What I’m Watching:

I caught up on Pretty Little Liars, my guilty pleasure show, and FINALLY got to find out who “A” is. I also watched a few episodes of season 10 of Bones, a show I go back and forth on watching. Jonathan and I watched the new season of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt together and enjoyed it.

We didn’t watch that many movies because we were traveling, but I did watch Room on the airplane (upsetting, but interesting) and we went to see the new Now You See Me movie this week (didn’t like it as much as the first one). I’m hoping to see Finding Dory soon.

What I’ve Been Up To:

I started my new job on June 1st, but don’t have much to say about it at this point since I only worked for about a week before we left for Europe.

The bulk of June was spent on our amazing trip. We spent two days in Athens, 3.5 days in Rome, 5 days in Florence, 1 day in Venice, 1 day in Cinque Terre, and 3 days in Paris. It was spectacular. We celebrated our 6th wedding anniversary in Rome – we actually spent that day at the Vatican and were able to see the Sistine Chapel. As far as ways to spend your anniversary, this may be the best one we’ll ever have. 🙂

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We were beyond grateful to have this experience. It is something I’ve dreamed of since I was a young girl and it was surreal to see with my own eyes some of these places. We were able to go for 18 days including all the travel and we loved every minute. I want to do some individual posts to share my travel tips for those who are interested, but here are some photos of the highlights.

We also celebrated Jonathan’s birthday at home on the 30th. We had dinner with friends from his grad school program and I made banofie pie (banana toffee), something he discovered he loves years ago while doing study abroad in England.

Now that we are back and getting into our routine again, I am hoping that July moves a little more slowly. I’ve got a lot to figure out and get organized before school starts again and it feels like every time I blink another week has passed.

Hope your summer is off to a great start!

What I’m Into: May 2016 Edition

Linking up with Leigh Kramer for the May edition of What I’m Into.

What I’m Reading:

I read so many good books this month!

How to Be an American Housewife by Margaret Dilloway. This was a our book club pick for May, part of my own effort to read more books by or about people of color. Shoko is a Japanese woman who married an American GI and moved to the US, a decision which left her estranged from her beloved brother. Fifty years later, Shoko wants to return to Japan to reconcile with her brother, but when her health prevents her from making the trip, she asks her daughter Sue to go in her place. This was a book that I found slightly better in theory than in execution, but I loved Shoko because she reminded me so much of the older Korean women I knew and the descriptions of the Japan made me miss Asia like crazy.

The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander. This is a deeply moving though difficult book written by the poet, Elizabeth Alexander, after the sudden loss of her husband. While achingly sad in places, it is also a reflection on the blessings of love and what it means to live a full and meaningful life.

Landline by Rainbow Rowell. This was a fun chick lit read if you are willing to go along with things like a telephone that makes calls into the past. Georgie McCool is a television writer who has just been given the opportunity of a lifetime—to pitch her own TV show. The only problem is that getting the show ready means bailing on plans to spend Christmas in Omaha with her husband and daughters. Georgie and Neal love each other deeply, but it seems like they want different things. Georgie, desperate to fight for her marriage, places a late night phone call to Neal’s parents’ house to try to reconcile, only to find that she’s somehow managed to call back in time to before she and Neal were married. Maybe she can fix their problems before they even start?

Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan. I highly recommend listening to this on audiobook (which is what I did) because then it’s basically like listening to Jim Gaffigan do standup. If you don’t know who Gaffigan is, he’s a great comedian whose main schticks are his love of food and how he and his wife are Catholic and very fertile and therefore live in a two bedroom apartment in Manhattan with five children. This book is mostly about parenthood and it’s hilarious.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson. This is a new genre to me, a memoir-in-verse, about the author growing up as an African American in South Carolina and New York in the 1960s and 1970s. Written from her perspective as a child, an adult understanding of the larger social context gives weight to the innocent reflections, observations, and memories of a young girl trying to find her place in the world. I also highly recommend this on audio since it is written in free verse and you won’t get the same sense of rhythm reading it to yourself.

Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye. If you are a fan of Jane Eyre, or gothic novels in general, this book is for you. While this is not a retelling of Jane Eyre, it draws heavy inspiration from it with the main character admitting that her favorite book is Jane Eyre because she sees so many parallels to her own life. Jane Steele is also a sensitive orphan who loses her parents and her home and is sent to a terrible boarding school. As an adult she sees an opportunity to return to her childhood home when the new owner advertises for a governess for his ward. Cue the epic romance. Jane’s life mirrors Jane Eyre’s in many ways, but with one notable exception. Jane Steele is sort of a serial killer. I loved it!

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. This book. All the feels. I read the entire thing in one day. It is devastating and beautiful and everyone should read it. At 36, Paul Kalanithi has spent most of his life training to be a neurosurgeon/neuroscientist. Just as he is finishing up his last year of clinicals, he is diagnosed with lung cancer. Kalanithi writes about his own journey, his decision to pursue medicine and what made life meaningful to him and the ways that those feelings shifted or grew stronger in the light of his impending death. Kalanithi died in March 2015 with this book “unfinished” in his opinion, but I think it’s perfect just the way it is. It’s difficult, but beautiful. I think everyone should read this and Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal, which I wrote about a few months ago.

For more of what I’m reading or what’s on my To Read least, follow me on Goodreads.

What I’m Watching:

We’re still trying to get caught up on The Grinder and New Girl. I finished the last season of Call the Midwife (loved it) and have actually been watching a few episodes of the latest season of Bones which I used to watch, but haven’t in a while.

We went to see the new Captain America movie, which I liked much better than several of the recent Marvel movies. And today we unexpectedly had some time in the afternoon and decided to go see the new X-Men movie. Because I love X-Men. (OK, I actually just love James McAvoy. I can’t possibly be alone in this).

Jonathan is, for some unknown reason, unwilling to go see Me Before You with me when it comes this weekend. Possibly my description of it as, “Maybe the most I’ve ever cried while reading a book,” didn’t sell it to him. I might just take myself even though it will be embarrassing to sit in a theater alone and sob.

What I’m Eating:

I’ve suddenly become obsessed with guacamole. Like obsessed. One of my favorite dinners is guacamole on top of a turkey burger. So yum. Here’s my recipe in case you are wondering about it. It’s completely imprecise and easy and it works every time.

1 ripe avocado
1 roma tomato
1 Tbsp onion
Garlic powder
Cumin
Salt
Lime juice

Cut the avocado in cubes, mash it up a bit but leave some chunks. Finely dice the onion and mix in. Add some garlic powder (maybe ¼ tsp? ½ tsp? I just eyeball it). Add cumin (maybe 1 tsp? More than the garlic powder. The cumin is very important). Dice tomato and mix in. Add salt to taste. Add a squeeze of lime juice.

I don’t measure anything, I just say add a little at a time and taste it as you go til you figure out what you like! Then put it on everything.

What I’m Writing:

I managed to do one post in the middle of the chaos of this month about my new tattoo. I also had a few pieces published to Modernize including this one about how to achieve eco-friendly style, Industrial Style 101, and this most recent post about how to boost your curb appeal with a container garden.

What I’ve Been Up To:

Life has hit hard this month. I’ve barely had time to breathe.

First off, I was offered and did accept a position as the International Student Coordinator/ESL teacher at Hammond. This is a part-time, year-round position that begins tomorrow. Hurray!

Then, a few weeks ago, I was given the opportunity to take over the job of the Middle School Administrative Assistant. There was an unexpected vacancy and they needed someone to fill in for the last few weeks of school. I jumped in and spent a few frantic weeks scrambling around trying to help out in any way I could without any real training or knowledge of what was going on. It was one of the most stressful experiences of my life. This was adding a full-time job on top of all of my other tutoring and writing obligations and a few Fireflies baseball games I had already committed to work at, which basically meant that I didn’t see my husband for approximately three weeks.

There was a pretty traumatic event during my second week working at the school where someone was shot outside of my house in the middle of the night. This naturally cued all the panic attacks and led to some stress-filled days and sleepless nights. I’m mostly OK now, though I’ve made an appointment to see my doctor about some medication for getting through highly stressful times. It wreaks havoc on me emotionally and physically.

Other than working and panicking, we have had some fun things going on as well. We got to house/puppy sit for friends who have an adorable white Havanese puppy called Dobby. We drove to Spartanburg to have dinner with my second family, the Millers who were in town visiting my lifelong friend Leigh who lives there now. We had Mama Ginger’s homemade red beans and rice. It was like being home.

The next weekend I hosted a makeup party for some of my friends. This was basically just a party to talk about my new airbrush makeup kit project, recommend products, and talk through general do’s and don’ts. And I got to do a few of my friends’ makeup which is always fun. The whole event was fun for me since makeup is one of my favorite hobbies.

The following weekend my mom came into town for an epic 3-day visit. It was so great to see her and hang out. She treated me to a spa day complete with facials, massages, and a pedicure, and then completely shocked me by agreeing to the tattoo shop with me to get my new tattoo. (Read more about that here).

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Jonathan made me try out lots of cheesy showing-off-my-tat poses. Believe it or not, this is the best one.

I’m still loving my new tattoo, which is healing nicely. It was designed especially for me but my creative and amazing friend, Asharae Kroll, who recently had a book on handlettering published and is also offering an e-class handlettering very soon, so check it out! (Shamelss plugs one and all!)

Last Friday my friend Laura invited me to go to a paint bar with her and her sister. I really got in touch with my inner artist and painted this little masterpiece. I couldn’t understand why the people at the art bar didn’t ask if they could keep it to display for other customers. When I came home and showed Jonathan, he said, “Which way does it go?” but that’s OK, because we all know the best artists are the ones who aren’t appreciated in their time. 😉

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I’m obviously a visionary.

I spent most of this past weekend preparing for a business writing workshop I was supposed to teach this week, but we did sneak away on Sunday afternoon to meet up with Jonathan’s dad and sister in Charlotte. Kacy is doing in internship in Charlotte for the summer and Jonathan’s dad drove down to help her settle in. We were only able to see them for dinner, but we try to take advantage of any opportunity to see family now that we are in the same country. For now, anyway. 😉

We leave for our great European adventure on TUESDAY!!!! Not that I’m excited or anything. To be honest, things have been so busy that I haven’t really done any planning or packing or anything. Hopefully we’ll be able to make time this week to get everything set. We’ll celebrate our 6th wedding anniversary in Rome this year. How unbelievable is that?! (On several levels). I will do my best to take ALL THE PICTURES and post them here and on my Instagram account.

Header Image Credit: Weheartit.com

 

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?