December 6, 2016

Confessional

You've noticed I've taken a break from blogging. 

The reason may be obvious to some. 

I'm trying to take this experience as a positive one, instead of heartbreak, because despite forced positivity here, things were not always so positive behind closed doors, and this shall be a blessing in disguise. I have a difficult time writing here now because I have to see past posts, and I don't have the heart to delete the memories pertaining to the last four years of my life. 

But I'll be back, don't you worry. Until then, the Ozarks call. 

October 11, 2016

Wrap-Up for the Week

So I literally have 10+ post drafts right now ready to finish & publish (some may make the cut, some may not), but I just wanted to assure everyone I'm still here and fine. It's been a week or so since my last post, but things have been hectic...

I had literally never gone to a college football game.


1. My brother visited and it was a (mildly awkward) success! The Razorbacks lost the big Alabama game (as predicted) but I called the Hogs for the first time and stayed out at Willie D's Piano Bar until two(ish?) in the morning... I can't remember the last time I partied on Dickson, much less stayed up that late or went into that bar. My brother may have 10 years on me but you wouldn't know it. 

2. Because of #1, I had to spend Sunday laying around on the couch eating Cuban pork nachos and watching Doctor Who (I know, "had to," right?). After I felt like eating, that is. 

September 22, 2016

Autumnal Equinox

If you're not familiar with Couchsurfing, it's kind of like the free version of Airbnb... but its mission is a little different - with the focus being less on finding a place to sleep and more on community! When you stay with a CS host you receive a local's insight (unless your host simply wants to help you out but doesn't have the time to chat or show you around) - you can stay up late discussing cultural differences, learn about their life, or have them show you to the best Belgium Waffles shop. I used Couchsurfing when I backpacked France, and in Chicago prior to that. I unfortunately haven't been able to truly host on my own, but I was always as involved as possible when an ex and his roommates hosted guests at the infamous Wet House in college.

Even if you don't surf or host, you can still be a part of your local Couchsurfing community if it's active... and while it's died down in Northwest Arkansas, when I first moved to Fayetteville, there were monthly potlucks, often with a theme, that each member took turns hosting. I loved having that sense of community and I feel like I'm missing out on that these days...

Point being, one of our get togethers I recall was for the Summer Solstice, when we had a Swede-style Midsommar potluck. We celebrated the longest day of the year by eating Scandinavian dishes at an outdoor art installation, "Under the Stars" - wearing bright clothes and talking about life.

You might recall from a science class back in the day that there are Summer and Winter Solstices (longest and shortest days of the year, respectively) and Spring and Autumn Equinoxes - where the length of day and night are about the same. They mark the beginning of each season and are reversed in the southern hemisphere.

September 19, 2016

Toil - Boil - Bubble: Fermented Drinks

It may not quite be October, but as I mentioned before, I can feel Fall crisping its way in and I'm super excited about some bubbling fermentations in my future.

I've only had one or two Cokes over the last couple of weeks and if you know me at all, you know I can't hardly stand to go even one day without at least one for a little pick-me-up at some point. They're my weakness and I'd blame my mother but I'm an adult now. I've been drinking a lot more hot tea throughout my work day as a replacement, and some fizzy store-bought probiotic drinks (or an occasional alcoholic beverage) or lemonade at home. I have this problem with not really drinking much water, even if it's sitting in front of me - if something has flavor I'm more likely to pick it up and take a sip without thinking about it. My point being I can't just replace Coke with water, but I can replace it with my own flavored, fuzzy drinks - ones that are actually good for your gut.

What's Kombucha? 

If you're not familiar with Kombucha, it's a fermented black or green tea that, legend has it, originated in the far east centuries ago. To brew it, one must obtain a SCOBY (I've never tried making my own SCOBY but it's supposed to be possible - but not exactly fool-proof and the consensus is that it's far easier to slice a piece off of someone else's).

SCOBY stands for Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeasts - it is also called a "Mother" or even a "mushroom" - but while similar, it is not technically a mushroom. I will warn you: if you've never seen one, they're kind of gross to newbies. They're slimy little pancakes that don't particularly smell the best. And when your tea begins to ferment, your virgin eyes may have difficulties deciphering between what looks healthy and what could be a sign your SCOBY's gone wrong. They're not particularly pretty unless you're one of those free love folks. And SCOBY's, when given love, grow more SCOBY's - to share with friends, to put in a SCOBY hotel, or if you're feeling really adventurous, to make some nutritious jerky.
Kombucha with painted plastic spigot on the far left. In the middle I'm hydrating some water kefir grains and getting my sourdough starter ready on the right - stay tuned for posts on both of those items! I love the cloth cover that came with my sourdough starter from Yemoos so much that I plan on it being my first project with the sewing machine I bought myself... I bought those ridiculous huge hipster head-sized hair bands a while back and never wore them. Reduce, reuse, recycle!

September 18, 2016

Things We Cooked This Weekend

I don't have a lot to say with this post, I'm just really glad I spent time in the kitchen this weekend (and less on the takeout... save Friday night Pizza Hut and a growler of fresh Fossil Cove beer). I'm dedicating a whole post to a few pictures of meals to simply celebrate the art of slow living and not relying on restaurants, huzzah! That's really an accomplishment for me on the weekends. I'm getting better about eating out during the work week... but I love to treat myself on the weekend. With $1000 deductibles in my future, I know I'll have to lay off on that habit...

Because someone was kind enough to share his last pre-made freezer burritos (a combo of eggs, black beans, veggies, cheese, plus fresh salsa), he said I was responsible for breakfast the following morning. Apparently he was joking, but while I was working on my ferments (see next post) Friday afternoon, I prepped an easy, mostly make-ahead breakfast to take over to his house: Dutch Baby. Dutch baby's are considered a type of one-pan pancake, but I would argue that they're more of a bread pudding. While you can make them plain, it's also common to add fruit, and since I still had several apples left over from making a birthday apple pie, I snatched one to skin & slice in the morning. I mostly followed along with this recipe.

These are delicious, and when cooked with fruit, there's really no need to add any kind of syrup, powdered sugar, or additional fruit topping - though I would probably do so with a plain one.

It was delicious. It definitely fueled us for the bike ride to the Farmer's Market... though I had to walk the hill where Frisco Trail leads to Maple. I'm getting there!

It's a little charred on the edges but it didn't taste burnt. I'm not very familiar with Peter's oven, and it's a little finicky.

September 15, 2016

National Thank You Day

So, I'm not sure when all of these national days came about - I mean we apparently have national pancake day, among others - and I'm not sure who came up with them (though I have a pessimistic theory that it's often to promote consumerism) - and I'm not even sure who all celebrates them (I mean, good luck hearing about each and every one in advance)... but today is National Thank You Day. A day for gratitude and for being thankful for those in your life. While I'm not going to use this as an excuse to purchase a bunch of thank you notes from Walmart (after all, National Thank You Note Day is the December 26th, go figure), I have no qualms with celebrating those close to me... and even those who aren't, celebrating service men and women who do work I could never do, celebrating farmers who put food on our tables, celebrating social activists who help our society progress - I raise my glass to all of you!

How I'd like to spend this blog post is by discussing ideas for a little something I call Random Acts of Kindness. If you've been under a rock, RAK are about leading a self-less life with a philosophy in kindness. I like to believe my friend Trent followed that philosophy, and as I've discussed when talking about losing him, I'd like to live life a little bit more like him, touching as many people as possible.
image via
So as I was saying, fulfilling a random act of kindness means taking an action to help out and/or do something kind for another person, perhaps someone you know nothing about, and not expecting anything in return, instead hoping this person will pay it forward and take part in a world where we care about our neighbors. Now that's a life worth living, isn't it? I think the most basic, well-known example is paying for the coffee of the person in line behind you. You can, of course, go much deeper and complete far more meaningful tasks - mow the lawn of an elderly neighbor (or the one of someone whose mower was stolen, hint hint???). You might leave kind notes for people to find in public reminding them how special they are, or send a letter to a veteran. You might sign up for some volunteer work (something I've always wanted to do consistently but have difficulty doing so with my ever-changing schedule).

I'm actually really proud of my town because, if you've heard of Free Little Libraries (which are a fantastic concept), one of our very own came up with the concept of Free Little Pantries, making food donations as easy as walking a few non-perishables out of your pantry and down the street. I'm honestly proud of my town on many different levels because it's a leader in kindness and acceptance, especially for our beloved state of Arkansas, where kindness is abundant but not always shared with those who think a little bit differently.

September 13, 2016

CRUNCH

Something happened Sunday that upset me so I've impulsed bought a few items since... something I didn't used to do (in my defense I've also completed more chores around the house to blow off steam, too). A new bathroom plant to replace the one I killed, some fancy health food, a pho dinner, a $15 ball that supposedly Kafka won't chew up, a new SCOBY, etc.

The lesson here, friends, is that YOU SHOULD NOT DO THAT BECAUSE YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT'S COMING TOMORROW.

Exhibit A: 

Oops.

September 12, 2016

Life Lately & My (Crohn's) Gut

Let's see, aside from my relaxing (?) week of conferencing and off-roading (which I'm still feeling a little refreshed from during work hours), what else has been going on in life lately?
My best friend from college and I have met up a couple of times to try new places - The Social Taco and Leaf Tea House (both delicious). I baked my first apple pie and took a new friend for (my first) bibimbap for her birthday. I cooked a surf & turf dinner, not to mention I rode all the way to Fossil Cove Brewery on my bike without incident! (Ironically, this morning's On This Day tells me I posted to Facebook that I rode for 10 seconds at the Honors Retreat in 2009 this past weekend.) It's the best I've ever ridden (and I was even more terrified without the frequent stopping as per usual). We graduated two of our families last week and have a couple more graduations approaching.
 

Oh! And I have a new roommate! Ha! I'd said at the time when I decided "no more roommates" that I wouldn't specifically look for a new roommate and bank my lifestyle on it (get it?), but if I came across someone I just wanted to live with I still would to help out with the bills. A certain circumstance fell into my lap that fit that criteria so I took it as a sign!

I also went to Whole Foods Market for the first time. Now, I'm not crazy about Whole Foods, especially since I have access to places like our local farmer's market and Ozark Natural Foods, but it's still better than Walmart - but mainly, I'd never been in one and wanted to check out what all they had that I maybe couldn't find elsewhere. I still ended up leaving with a "few" items and am looking forward to trying these Epic bars that keep popping up. I'm leaning towards the Autoimmune Paleo (AIP) diet - but my own modified version (which is the end goal of the diet) - before I dive head first, however, I'm going to re-introduce more anti-inflammatory foods to my diet so I can adjust to their flavors once again (fermented foods, etc.). I've done this before but I lost steam and am looking to refocus my energies so I can start feeling good again. I'm really missing the feeling that prednisone gave me at the beginning of this year (though I do not miss the self-conscious moon face)...

With that said, I may just end at eating more anti-inflammatory foods. I don't know that I can actually stick to the AIP diet, and the best kind of diet is the one you can stick to - not to mention that there are certain conflicts between the two (with certain "no-no" foods being great anti-inflammatories). Nightshades make up a lot of my favorite meals and I'm not confident I could ever give them all up (especially tomatoes & peppers). I try to look at dieting as a focus on adding more good foods than elimination desirable "bad" foods - that way, you're less likely to eat the latter if your focus is on the former. But before I really start all this, I have some prep work to do: adjusting my taste buds (I've homebrewed kombucha a few times and it's certainly an acquired taste), using up groceries that do not fit the criteria, and obtaining a few unique items (like restarting a new SCOBY's continuous brew). I want to make it as easy to commit as possible when the time comes to switch over and make any lapses easily avoidable. This doesn't mean I'm going to turn down meals others have cooked for me or not order what I want at restaurants or take holiday breaks - the entire purpose is to live a generally more healthy lifestyle, not be perfect.

- - -

I guess I've mentioned a few times that I would write a future post (or posts) regarding my Crohn's disease, and going on about this diet stuff is as good 'a time as any. At the beginning of freshman year of high school I began to have severe abdominal pain, almost suddenly. A few years prior I'd had similar on & off pain without thinking too much of it (I assumed it was the early signs of starting my cycle, being told how bad menstrual cramps can be) - but this new pain at age 14 was more consistent and intense. For whatever reason, my pediatrician at the time swore up and down there's no way my older brother (who'd already been diagnosed with Crohn's) and I could both possibly have Crohn's. (Luckily we all know now how common it is to run in families - my cousin has it, too.) He decided I simply had irritable bowel syndrome (IBS/IBD) and prescribed some medicine that may or may not have set off an even worse attack shortly after I started taking it.

September 11, 2016

9/11

I have a big confession to make: when people always start asking, "where were you when 9/11 happened?" I have to say that I was being a brat. I was ten, in fifth grade. It happened right before the bell, and as I transferred to my next class, a classmate who sometimes annoyed me said something about the twin towers falling and I responded: I don't care. I didn't know what that meant. I learned a little in my next class but still didn't comprehend - I was even a bit of a brat that night when my mom stood on the porch with a lit candle for a moment of silence because I really wanted to go inside and I didn't understand.

But over the following weeks, I understood. The gravity of the situation took a toll on my little body as I saw news reports and discussed the incident in class. I even wrote this poem that I laugh about to this day because it was actually pretty good, and I pressed my teacher to let me read it to the class for months (which was out of character for me) - and when she finally said there was time to read it on a given day... I had lost it and wrote a new one... which was accidentally highly influenced (plagiarized, before I knew the meaning of the word) from a popular country song and I think everyone knew it because everyone at my school wore camouflage and gave weird looks when I read my original work.
Credit

September 9, 2016

Black Canyons, 14ers, and All the Rest

Welcome to the last leg! If you're just now tuning in to our Colorado trip, don't miss part one and part two


A few iPhone photos from Sunday morning at our campgrounds...


September 7, 2016

Onward Thru Cinnamon Pass

Welcome to part two of three post installments on our recent trip to Colorado over Labor Day weekend! If you happened upon this one now, don't forget to go back to post one

So we left off somewhere around here, yeah?
Get ready for a lot of pictures. But not like get out and smell the roses pictures. As seen from the car snapshots.

The drive from the falls towards Lake City offers some truly beautiful views of the San Juan Mountains. There was also something very spiritual about spending the anniversary of my brother's death in the mountains.

September 6, 2016

Clear Creek Falls & Night One

Sweat was sliding down the nape of my neck when Pete brought a fan to me in the kitchen as I washed our cookware before we put it back into our car camping tub. "Welcome back to Arkansas," he said with a smirk.

It was truly a polar opposite - I recently read a blog where someone mentioned the humidity of a NYC summer and literally laughed out loud. You don't know humid 'less you've lived in the south at the end of July in the midst of all this global warming business. I had been utterly unprepared for Colorado - I'd optimistically packed a rain jacket along with my shorts and t-shirt and sandal-type attire. I had no idea how badly I'd want for flannel and long johns in the mornings and evenings.

But we made it! Peter was a true gentleman, throwing blankets at me and putting me on leash duty while he did the hard work the first (every) night. I had been more than prepared to pull my fair share of the load until I stepped outside the Jeep and felt the goose bumps prick up all over my skin. "What is this madness? It's the still end of summer!" In my defense, he very much likes things done his way, because even when I did help he often told me not to or assigned me a job he was less picky about, so that takes away a small pocket of guilt.

In addition to their summers being freakishly chilly lest the sun be high in the sky (can't imagine their winters), we also learned that even the smallest tasks (like walking down to a fine bathroom bush) made us feel really out of shape (not that we aren't). While Northwest Arkansas might be a little higher, the mean elevation in Arkansas is only 650 feet to Colorado's 6,800 - making the latter #1 for highest (average) elevation in the U.S. - no surprise there, with all those Rockies. That altitude significantly impacts oxygen levels for people who aren't acclimated to it - Pete originally wanted us to do a 7 or 8 mile hike around a lake on Sunday... but after seeing how laborious every other minute task was, decided against it.

But I guess I should start from the beginning.
Early Friday morning (but never as early as we'd like) we left our little town of Fayetteville, Arkansas while it was still dark, but before we stopped for ice & gas in Tontitown, the red glow began to grow on the east horizon. Within minutes, dawn broke. How quickly that can happen.

August 31, 2016

ACCAN, Epigenetics, & Missing Children

Conference week is going great! Not only was I able to see three old friends from college on Sunday and Monday nights (at delicious restaurants: Taj Mahal and Pantry Crest), catching up with one another's lives and each other's opinions on the state of America, etc., the conference itself has been extremely worthwhile too. I was even proud of myself this evening after spending over two hours at a table with a current employee of a previous organization I've worked for (whom I'd never met) and a presenter from the conference - social anxiety out the roof that they were interested in my opinions aside, we had some really great conversations I can't imagine being brought about in any other environment.

Monday was technically a professional development day for my specific program, which was revitalizing as it's the only time each year we all get together - it was the first time I'd met most of my fellow educators. We shared what we've learned so far and brainstormed how to make our program even more effective than it already is. We watched an incredible documentary, initiating a discussion over epigenetics and reminding us that nurturing mitigates metabolic syndrome - that it does not change your genes, but it changes the way they're expressed. That nurturing is the most powerful thing, regardless of money or environment, in rearing a child but that a mother has little time for nurturing if she's frantically trying to provide basic necessities like shelter. That everything we do is backed by science.

Onto the conference itself. The first day alone I've heard speakers like Dr. John Murphy of my alma mater discuss solution-focused helping and Chief Jim Holler inform an audience how suffocation is the most difficult child murder to prove as homicide and how they do it. But perhaps the most moving was the keynote speaker: Colleen Nick.
Age Progression to Present Day
Now, if you're not from Arkansas, or maybe even if you are, you may not be familiar with the Morgan Nick Foundation or the case that began it all. In June 1995, a 6 year old girl was kidnapped from a baseball game in Alma while catching fireflies with two friends, after her mother had told her no several times before finally caving to her daughter's pleas. She has been missing ever since (despite many leads and false confessions), and Colleen has never stopped searching for her. When people ask her why she doesn't just move on, doesn't she wonder that she must be dead, etc. -- she chooses to look at it as: what if she's still out there? Not only has she never given up hope on finding her daughter, she has truly taken a tragedy and turned it into something powerful by developing the Morgan Nick Foundation, which has aided in other children being returned safely home.

This really hit home for me, so I introduced myself and thanked her for her work after her presentation.

144 days prior to Morgan's kidnapping,

August 29, 2016

Beaver Lake, Arkansas

Happy Monday! This morning I'm waking up a little sore from the sunburn I earned over the weekend...despite wearing sunscreen, I guess my pale skin is just too fragile for this August sun!

Friday and Sunday were mostly lazy days (though Pete did make an excellent beef tenderloin for me Friday night - he doesn't cook specifically "for me" very often, but when he does, I always say he should do so more frequently, mm-mm!). But Saturday morning we wrapped some breakfast burritos in aluminum foil after having our morning coffee and drove out to a new section of Beaver Lake for some bass fishing. We try not to go to the same spot twice (I guess we'd do differently if we found a really lucky spot).

Beaver Lake is a huge (to me) 31,700 acre reservoir lake, and serves as the drinking water for most of Northwest Arkansas. It's created by a dam on the White River, which starts up here in the Boston Mountains and flows up to Missouri before coming back down for a total of over 700 miles. It's actually rumored to be a great trout spot but we've yet to verify this.

Anyways, this was actually the best luck we've had so far - and I like to think it's because I told Pete we should use live bait as opposed to his fancy lures (because that's how I fished as a kid). Having said that, I didn't catch anything - but I did get lots of bites & lost wormies, which hadn't happened until now. Peter caught several fish, one of them being decent enough to keep - and we only spent a few hours total because we wanted to get back in time to get the fish on some ice because he wasn't prepared to catch anything.

August 23, 2016

My Days are Long

Though we're still in August, I think Mother Nature is ready and headstrong for Autumn. Each morning I pass ochre fallen leaves on the stone pathway to my gate, and I look at the crispy ones brought inside by friends Saturday night I've yet to sweep up. Confusing with the juxtaposition of lush greens and fresh blooms. The last few nights no air has been needed as temperatures drop to the 50s; good for the environment, good for my wallet, everyone's a winner - sleep on top of the burdened comforter, trading in a light blanket.


School bells are buzzing again and we're slowing down in the designated zones now that children are present. And due to the children being back in their desks, my days are long, for while many of my clients do not work or work often, we now wait for them to arrive off their mango buses to start our family sessions.

My mornings are quiet, though, and there's a silver lining when you're arriving home at 8:30 nearly every weeknight, past the sunset and apologizing to your dog as you let him out the front door and pour his supper, too exhausted to play the round of fetch he is aching for. I love quiet mornings. It's been a long time since I awoke chipper to my dad playing the piano... I now prefer coffee and space. (It's not even that I need the caffeine, but rather the ritual. I often drink half a cup, and it's cold by the time I reach that point.) Shh... I wish to tell my co-workers... Come find me again in an hour. I need time to adjust to the new day, to update myself on the world while I slept.

August 22, 2016

Chocolate Cream Cheese Raspberry Cake

For Peter's birthday, I gave him a few different presents - he gets to fly a plane tomorrow! That was the big one. But since I gave it to him early (in failed hopes he could schedule the flight for his actual birthday while everyone else was at work), I felt the need to supplement on his actual birthday. I altered my schedule so I could cook him breakfast without making him wake up at the crack of dawn - chocolate chip waffles with homemade syrup, eggs, hash browns, mm-mm! During this time I gave him a tick key! That might sound gross to serve with breakfast but he had made several comments about wanting one, so I thought it would be a nice little surprise to add on without breaking the bank, so I could still feel like I gave him a present on his birthday. Perfect timing for our upcoming off-roading adventure in Colorado.

Later that night, I also presented a previously purchased cigar after dinner with his mother at Deluxe Burger and we went to Open Door Cigars' Sweet Seven Lounge. Afterwards, we finally got to taste this delicious chocolate cake I made! The point is that this was part of his present, and I'm not just saying the ingredients were pricey - he gifted me an empty recipe book a while back and has been hounding me to use it. 

I didn't feel right about writing in recipes I didn't have any influence on... and I haven't been cooking for very long, and am not entirely confident in my ability to play with ingredients, other than adding a little extra spice to a mildly bland recipe (for instance, added a lot more salt, pepper, nutmeg, garlic powder, shallots, and caramelized onions to this recipe and it was deceptively scrumptious - but I was not at all paying attention to how much of anything I added). Whenever I do alter a recipe I don't pay attention to what I've done. 

But for his birthday I baked him a cake that I could add to the book! I didn't change much, because baking is a science that I'm no graduate scholar of, but I can at least say I adapted this recipe by telling you exactly what I did! My changes to the batter were very mild but very important - the introduction of Turkish Coffee and Cinnamon. And certainly by calling the raspberry liquor non-optional

INGREDIENTS

CAKE
  • 1.5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1.5 teaspoons cinnamon (you can add more if you actually want a prominent cinnamon flavor)
  • 1.5 teaspoons Turkish coffee (or espresso or other finely ground coffee)
  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature (temp. is very important!)
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar (I used raw/turbinado because it's what I keep at hand)
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature (temp. is very important!)
  • 1 tablespoon raspberry liqueur (I used di Amore because it's what I had on hand)
  • 1 scant cup milk, room temperature (temp. is very important!)
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (61 percent cacao), melted and cooled

August 16, 2016

On Storytelling

It seems like a lifetime ago since I wrote something that was a pleasure to read. During my last semester of college, I wrote a dystopian novel for my thesis (not that it was a pleasure to read; it was, after all, written in under a semester) and I dare say I haven't written anything since. I was a creative writing minor. I was never truly taught, I just was; and something about my writer's voice (heavily influenced by a certain transgressional author) was enjoyed by a select few. Yet something that once came so natural to me escaped down the drain in college - by the end, by the acceptance of that diploma, it was as if any literary talent I'd once held in my fingertips was the water that rushed out of the colander. Long gone, with only starchy, non-nurturing carbs left behind.

I'm sure it has nothing to do with my decline in hours previously devoted to reading.

It is now a tedious chore akin to pulling teeth, a years-long dry-spell I've been ignoring for some time. Not at all like riding a bike, as they say, or maybe precisely this... based on the fact that cycling is not natural for me either. To put it simply, it's rather depressing - one of the few things that once provided a sense of confidence is MIA. While not inviting a pity party, I'm not particularly skilled at many things, but writing used to be one of them.

Where did the words go?

Certainly not a law of the land but a value I personally hold dearly: storytelling is a valuable art-form. Whether oral, written, visual, or some post-modern technique I haven't yet heard of, telling stories is how we share information, feelings, experiences. It's how we connect.

August 15, 2016

Weekend Recap + Supportive Services Rant

So I have no pictures from my weekend... and while I want this to be a space I share photos to document my life (which is quite frankly more fun to read [picture books, anyone?] and it encourages me to take photos, which I'm always challenging myself to do more of because I enjoy it and would like to build the skill). With all of that grammatically-incorrect sentence said, I don't want this blog to be dependent on whether or not I've had a chance to take any photographs - and especially when I'm having camera problems (ugh, just won a camera bag for it too, and I never win anything!). It may not be fun for anyone else to read, but at the end of the day... this is just for me. An online journal, for my thoughts, for my experiences. Something I can share with people I care about so they can see what's going on in my life as I gravitate somewhat away from Facebook - or at least doing so on Facebook. I definitely still spend too much time in that virtual world... but in my defense, I see more news stories than I do friend updates.

While I don't normally work Fridays, I had a great opportunity to support one of my clients by being a part of a wraparound team, which was a first for any of our program's educators in the state. If you've never heard the term "wraparound," it's a support group for a client compiled of the many different services in their life. For instance, a client may be involved with the Division of Child and Family Services (often known as CPS in many other states, or simply [read: incorrectly] referred to as DHS in Arkansas), a program like mine or some other type of parenting class, various family members may have their own therapist at a community mental health clinic, a child's teacher could join in, etc., and they're all brought together by the client and the wraparound service's program director (which often provide other "fun" services like maybe funding a child's extracurricular activity). By routinely meeting together, all of these professionals get a better understanding of the family's current life situation and are able to help that client feel supported - and make them accountable with plans they'll all assist with, etc. It's a cooperative and compassionate effort to help get that family's needs met.

You already know that the main reason I love my job so much is that it's a preventative service; the goal is to eliminate abuse and reduce the number of children entering foster care (to which mid/northwest Arkansas is in a home shortage crisis) by supporting and educating families who have open protective service cases. If we give these families the skills and tools they're lacking, hopefully they'll never have a PS case again - and certainly their case shouldn't worsen to the point of children being removed from the home.

There are so many - what I like to call - post-trauma services. We try to help people heal by getting them mental health services, etc., after the damage has been done. And I'm not just talking about child welfare - I mean in general. Take the medical field - we're decent enough at catching a disease once it's made itself known, and we're decent at curing or maintaining those diseases afterwards through medication, diet, physical therapy, and more. We aren't great at preventing those diseases.

We're decent problem solvers but not forward-thinking enough to prevent many of our problems. We know we can throw criminals (and "criminals") in jail should they break the law, but there's not a lot of preventative measures being taken to prevent citizens for choosing that lifestyle in the first place. We don't set people up for success - especially the residents of impoverished zip codes.

August 8, 2016

Last Summer Visit with Family

So, while I sucked at taking pictures this weekend (didn't want to lug camera Friday night and then got rained out, camera battery that was thought to be full had a baby charge on it Saturday, etc.), I had a lot of fun with my mom and nephew who came to visit me Thursday night - even though she was in just a few weeks ago, he begged to come see me before school started because he hadn't visited since last year's spring break (wow!). I was happy to oblige.

But even though I didn't take many pictures, I wanted to share my thoughts about our adventures because we went several places I had never been!

Thursday night I managed to get my nephew, who we'll continue to call S if you recall from my California post, to taste some different things at Thep Thai - he is not an adventurous eater so I was pretty proud of him for at least giving things a try. Plus they have my favorite Thai tea and fried rice in the area - big enough for my mom and I to share. I learned to stick with PQ Noodle House for the shrimp spring rolls, though.

I also remembered that the drive in was open Thursday nights! Even though they'd already seen both Secret Life of Pets and Ghostbusters, S had never been to a drive in before and was more than happy to see them again (how do kids watch the same movies over and over?). Being a bit of a homebody, I think S really liked being in the comfort of our own car during the movie - he thought it was extra fun that we brought some of our own favorite snacks in addition to the popcorn on site. I'm pretty sure his favorite part of the movie was the one-fanged viper being crushed several times in a row because he laughed like a hyena. It was pretty cute for adults to, speaking for one who's often imagined what Kafka is doing at home all day... I was mostly impressed with myself for being the only one who didn't fall asleep during the second movie - even with Peter, I've never been able to make it through both. I partied harder with my mother than I do with my friends, when I'm still usually in bed by 9-something!

After a delicious lunch at Mama Z's in Tontitown Friday afternoon, we decided to surprise my nephew by taking him to Silver Dollar City - I had heard they were in the middle of something called Moonlight Madness where they stay open a little later and more or less charge half price if you come after 5 pm - we figured 5 hours of playtime would be more than enough (he's not a big thrill rider), and the cool evening weather would be more bearable, so it was perfect. We didn't tell him where we were going though! We just told him we were going to a state he'd never set foot in before (Missouri).

He figured it out by the time we hit Branson, though, because he started seeing the billboards and that smarty-pants is old enough to read things now. This place really would rival something like Six Flags for families - it was more affordable and even had free parking, and while it still had a few big coasters to entertain the braver folks (ahem, me), it had plenty of in-between and kiddie rides, too. The park is just family-friendly, too - the design and atmosphere of the 1880s, with lots of shows to keep you entertained and characters to meet. One of my favorite parts was watching the craftsmen! In live action you can watch leather craftsmen, chip carvers, glass blowers/cutters, potters, candy-makers, bakers, and blacksmiths!

August 5, 2016

Happy Birthday, Dad!

My step-daddy Jimbo's 62nd birthday is today - I wasn't kidding about most of my family's birthdays falling into the same span of a month! I already talked a lot about Jim back in June for Father's day and I'll try not to repeat myself too verbatim.

He's the absolute best at calling and singing happy birthday to everyone on their birthday - he gets real soulful and oldies with it. I wish I could do the same for him (especially mimicking when he gets background singers in the form of his shop buddies, mom & Spencer, or whoever he's with at the time), but unfortunately I'm just not that gifted. I suppose it's his thing after all.

He's satisfied with very little; he mostly just wants other people to be happy. So long as he gets his second-helping, listens to the news, and bets on a few horses, he's content. A healthy, strong garden is a nice surprise, so he can lay off the envy of the neighbor's garden here and there. A strong cup of coffee and ever flowing glass of tea is a necessity. A little "sadooky" (sudoku) time is always enjoyed. I'm glad he's slowly backing off of work - he's earned this break (though not ready to call it completely quits yet).

We're so lucky to have had him in our lives, and he's had a pretty good long life so far with only a handful of near-death experiences. If he's a great dad then he's an even better paw-paw and I can't wait til he's one of mine's paw-paw one day too.

I hope you have a great day and I wish I could be there with you! I love you!




August 1, 2016

No One

No one coming in behind you and crunching up your laundry out of the dryer before you’ve had a chance to come fold it neatly, always being rushed no matter what day you try to do it on, it’s almost like – hey! She’s doing laundry! What a great idea, I should do some laundry too!

No one eating your food or using your laundry detergent or toothpaste.

No one using any of the things they don't contribute to.

No one creating an ant problem that you never have when living alone. 

No one changing the temperatures to extreme degrees and running up utility bills. 

No one’s fault but your own if the house is dirty since you don’t have to wait around and see if they’ll take their turn contributing to chores.

No one to catch you pooping with the door open and walking around in your underwear.

No one limiting your SPACE.

No one making you late for work because they hopped in the bathroom as soon as they heard you drag yourself out of bed so you don’t make them late for work.

No one to worry about annoying with show/music noise levels or judging what you watch or how long your binge is!

No one to stop you from having parties and guests and game-nights whenever you want!

No one using the spare bedroom so you can make that airbnb money or host a couchsurfer!

No one to be “bothered” by your AMAZING dog.

No one to make passive aggressive or manipulative comments.

No one to pay your rent late that you were depending on, or backdating the check to pretend they gave it to you on time.

No one to run A/C or heat with the windows open.

No one undoing what you did right behind you.

No one loading the dishwasher backwards after you've already started the pattern.

No one leaving cap-able bottles uncapped.

No one breaking things, especially and not telling you afterwards. 

No one doing things you specifically asked them not to do.

No one by the wall next door when you want alone time with your significant other. 

No one to put toilet bowl cleaner outside of the bowl.

No one leaving shaving hairs or makeup/goo in the sink.

No one leaving the shower curtain scrunched up where it can get moldy if it dries that way.

No one stinking up the house, especially when you're out of town.

No one's weird little habits to adjust to.

No one waiting til/past the last minute to do things.

No one taking advantage of you being a young homeowning roommate instead of a legitimate landlord that actually means every word in the lease/Craigslist agreement. 

July 29, 2016

Luxury: Treasures of the Roman Empire

With his internship, Pete received a free membership to Nelson-Atkins...and members get to bring themselves and a guest to travelling exhibits for free. It was great that we had an excuse to use his membership (which was received after our initial visit) before the end of the summer.

Sadly enough for him, he had mistakenly heard it was Egyptian-related only to find out it was focusing on luxurious items from the Roman Empire. We were still excited, though!

I'm going to share the Museum's description of the exhibit as it was put far more eloquently than I ever could say it: In Ancient Rome, members of the privileged elite communicated their wealth and status by adorning themselves and their homes with a variety of luxury goods.
Ranging from elaborate gold jewelry to bronze statuettes and finely-wrought silver drinking vessels, Luxury: Treasures of the Roman Empire showcases some of the extraordinary artistic achievements of Roman craftsmen and offers valuable insight into the complex social relations of the Empire.
Checkin' out that fine detail.

July 28, 2016

Chipotle Cultivate Festival & Pizzeria Locale

On our original Saturday trip to the WWI museum we were very annoyed at the lack of parking - the town had taken over this normally-free parking lot to charge $10 during the Cultivate festival - a free party (except the concessions you buy) thrown by Chipotle about ideas, music, and food. I'd never heard of it but I wanted to check it out seeing as it was, you know, free.


July 27, 2016

Kansas City Bier Company Brewery Tour

After watching Star Trek Beyond Friday night (!), we went for a (large) drink (or in his case, 2) at KC Bier Co. as we have in the past. We happened to read about their weekly tour and planned to be there the next day. 
I'm so glad I read about this place the first weekend I visited, when I helped him get settled into his apartment. I'm sure he would've heard about it without my help but it's a spot we both love - if we ever lived here I wouldn't be surprised if the staff would know us by name. I should also throw in that I didn't get a picture of it but Pete ordered a delicious brat on a bun this time while we waited (which I had a bit of and can confirm its deliciousness).

July 26, 2016

Happy Birthday, Jeremy!


My brother turns 37 today! Hard to believe this little stinker got so old...
             

I don't know if he knows it or not, but our family has always agreed Jeremy seems to have the biggest heart of us all. Despite the many, many struggles he's gone through (out of us siblings, I'd say he's fared the worse with luck & life), he's still the warmest. It's been such a joy for me to see my big brother become a father and to watch his face beam with pride when he interacts with his sons.

July 25, 2016

National World War I Museum & Memorial

While Third Time's the Charm or KC in KC: Final Round sound like fine enough titles, I decided to break the following few posts down separately so there wouldn't be such an obnoxiously long post (as per my usual). Not to say this isn't about to be an obnoxiously long post, because it is - it's a bunch of pictures of a museum, after all... but you don't need that plus the brewery plus the art exhibit plus Chipotle Cultivate fest all at once...

After 11 Saturday morning we started to join a tour after buying our National World War I Museum tickets, but then learned the tour was an hour and forty-five minutes. Pete really wanted to check out the Kansas City Bier Co. tour at 1 pm (the only time offered) and I wanted to buy a memory card before our next site because, guys, for the first time ever I made the mistake of not bringing a memory card. Good news is: you can never have enough memory cards. So we checked out the Memorial tower and booked out around noon.


July 21, 2016

On Gratitude

I'm really grateful that I had already written a few (positive) scheduled blog posts in advance before the recent events, or it would have been far more difficult to create such posts in the present time. I have a habit of often feeling like "nothing else" could possibly go wrong in the world without stopping to smell the roses. With that said, I have a lot to be grateful for lately, so I'd like to share those things with you now.

  • I'd never heard of an overage escrow check before, but I received one today, and with a little extra sitting in my checking account than usual, I can say - for a moment - I am in $0 credit card debt. 
  • Yesterday my co-workers took me out to a planned-belated birthday lunch, stating their tradition is that at least once a year, you shouldn't have to buy your own lunch. There was homemade ice cream cake, too. 
  • I'm so glad Kafka and Lucky have each other's company to preoccupy them in this time - I even had a little time to kill on the clock the other day after a cancelled appointment and bought them matching beef knuckles so they wouldn't have to fight over one. I'm also really thankful that there has yet to be a barking war between Lucky and the sweet pit-bull next door - which is usually what happens when he visits. 
  • I'm really grateful that while taking on caring for Lucky for the time being, I still have access to Peter's parents to allow me to go visit him out of town - like this approaching weekend, when he desperately needs the cheering up. I'm also happy with how the dogs are handling my 13 hour days and not tearing up the house or having accidents. 
  • I had to cancel brunch plans Sunday that had been in place for some time, and those little sneaksters went and tucked a card on my kitchen table with a post-it instructing me to check my fridge which was stuffed with homemade blueberry muffins and a Fossil Cove six-pack. 
  • Not only did a dear friend offer to drive the carpool down to Trent's funeral, she provided the sweetest birthday dinner for me Monday night (even though I hadn't done much of anything at all for hers a week before!). She created a garden produce mandala as a centerpiece for the Shinerbock, endangered species chocolate (my favorite!), and the sweetest birthday/grievance card I may have ever received - while still sharing her first homecooked meal with me in her new home. I'm fortunate to be surrounded by powerful, independent women who foot their own mortgages like me! 
  • Did I mention that same friend left me flowers? And my boyfriend sent me flowers to cheer me up on my birthday - I had never received flowers at work before!

July 19, 2016

Eureka & the Four Seasons

Well, I don't know about you, but I surely need a distraction. I don't want my blog to bring others down but I fully believe in not pretending everything is okay when it isn't. This week's been one of the most difficult weeks of my life, and it came after weeks of horrible news of terrorist attacks and episodes of police brutality (and corresponding hateful Facebook conversations) and I was already worn down. At this point I'm just more tired than I've ever been. 

I'm very thankful for my support system in this time. I was fortunate enough for my mom to have been in the area and was able to drop back by before she went home to Texarkana after I found out about Trent. I was fortunate enough my boyfriend was able to come in and attend the funeral with me. I was fortunate enough for there to be a carpool down and to have received flowers, homemade muffins, messages, calls, beer, and so, so many hugs. I was fortunate enough to have a collection of pictures and videos to smile at, and of having a friend so loved that I could spend hours reading all the sweet things written about him. 

So without further ado, I'd like to break the cycle here a little and let you know I am still looking at the positive things in life. I didn't do a great job taking pictures during my mom's birthday weekend, but I wanted to share the few I did take. 

We had a full day of garage sailing (as I like to call it) - all over Northwest Arkansas, because they exist but they're always so spread out. We ate food, watched a movie (the kind you squirm in your seat and wish there had been a better movie choice available because it's not prime watch-with-your-mother viewing material), walked around the Crystal Bridges trails, and spent a few hours in Eureka Springs. 

I've been to Eureka several times now. It's a little shy of an hour from Fayetteville near the northern state border. It's one of the area's best kept secrets and is full of beautiful old architecture, funky little shops, and this weird Hippie vs. Conservative Christian vibe going on, with the Passion Play on one side of town and all kinds of weird liberal artsy stuff sprinkled throughout - I love it.
Inspiration Point, right outside Eureka Springs
We also spent a fair amount of time antiquing and visiting flea markets. Which is what my mom likes to do when there aren't any more garage sales available. There were a couple of neat ones at Inspiration Point on the way to Eureka.

July 14, 2016

25 for 25: Life's Lessons So Far

25 doesn't sound very old to most people, but chances are, making it to that quarter of a century mark guarantees I've spent over a fourth of my life. While there were birthdays I was more excited for (16, 18, 21, the ones with cool sleepovers and water balloon fights, etc.), there's something a little surreal about the 25-mark. I thought it would be a good time to think about a few things I've learned/realized over the years...
  1. You cannot predict life - no matter how stable it is at any given moment, it doesn't mean it will remain that way tomorrow. Whether it's: be careful about buying a house because you may not actually stay in it for a minimum of five years because you may not end up staying in grad school and want to move away, or some sudden financial burden or relationship or job change... you cannot know where you will be in five years. You do not know where you'll be a year from now. Don't depend on those plans. 
  2. Tell people you love them as often as you can. I never thought anything of my step-dad asking, "did I tell you I loved you today? Well, I love you today!" when I was younger... in fact, I sometimes grew annoyed at his predictability. But I understand the lesson now. It is so important to give and show love and gratitude and reach out to people you care about and remind them. I haven't done the best job of sticking with my New Years Resolution of being less out of sight, out of mind, but I understand its significance. 
  3. Gratitude is one of the best mindfulness practices for literally anyone. I'm one of those self-proclaimed realists that are maybe a little bit pessimistic, and I envy the pure joy, the sweetest, most sincere, non-annoying kind of happiness exuberating from people like my old Mormon boss... and just by focusing on the positive things that happen each day and all which you do have to be grateful for really does help me feel more optimistic. It's really hard to be grateful when it feels like everything is falling apart and your mental health is hitting a low point - but man, does it do the trick.
  4. Open your eyes and never stop questioning. I wasn't really taught to question things, as a daughter of the South, until I accidentally indoctrinated myself into an Honors College specializing in just that. Make sure you morally agree with things that affect you and your neighbors in the world. Fight against things you don't agree with. Be a force of change for the better. Plant trees whose shade you'll never sit in. Don't turn a blind eye to terrorism on the opposite side of the world. Be an active citizen of society. 
  5. Step out of your comfort zone. This is coming from the queen of comfort, here. If it weren't for stepping out of my comfort zone, I'd still be a picky eater missing out on all kinds of delicious food - maybe I wouldn't have this same love for food or cooking at all! If I hadn't taken the leap to go the "French Camp" or France or even the aforementioned Honors College, I would have never had those multi-week or years-long experiences that seriously impacted who I am today. I wouldn't have gone to the party I met Pete at. I wouldn't have gone on one of the most fun vacations I've ever had. I wouldn't have had my experience with Teach for America. One of my biggest regrets from my high school era is skipping out on Arkansas Governor's School and staying home to work my first summer job instead - which was easy to do because it wasn't in my comfort zone and I didn't know what to expect. I would rather regret doing something that not trying it any day. I owe who I am to the space outside my comfort zone. 
  6. A great example of me stepping out of my comfort zone & posing for a local
    photographer who needed a "model," which made me feel pretty silly... but
    here I am, and Kayla did a great job - check her out!

July 11, 2016

On Loss

Just after my fourth birthday, my oldest brother Chris died during a climbing accident at age 19. It was my first introduction to death and I didn't really understand it and I don't recall much of this time period at all. I don't have many memories before age 5 but he's in almost all of them.
                                                                         

I've been to lots of funerals, of relatives and family friends. My mother's mother is the only grandparent I have left. I've been to funerals where young people such as my fellow high school students have died. I've been to more funerals than I can remember to count. 

It's actually been a bit since I've been to a funeral. There was a more recent death that was rather hard to stomach... but they didn't really have a service for her; it was one of my favorite clients, who had died in a car crash almost a year after I'd left my job as a behavior intervention specialist. It was incredibly difficult losing someone younger than me, someone I had mentored, someone who had been through so much, someone who'd been so easy to love.  

- - -

Credit

July 9, 2016

Happy Birthday to My Mom!

All I can remember is this perm when I was little.

July 6, 2016

On Success

During my last week in sixth grade we had a “retirement party” for our math teacher. I’m making an assumption that my school wasn’t the only one following the trend of peers signing white t-shirts with permanent marker, much like a yearbook. When Mrs. Cleveland signed mine, she gave me a little pep talk on how she planned to see my “name in lights one day: doctor, or lawyer” (I’m sure she meant a la business sign with a backlight and not Hollywood bulbs) – it’s rather empowering looking back, sure. I had a teacher at a backwoods school that was encouraging a girl to be a doctor instead of a nurse or secretary and hitting high standards, so I’m thankful for that. It even sounded really good at the time.

After I passed the age of wanting to perform by way of singing or acting (though don’t let my car or closet mirrors know), doctor and lawyer were exactly the kind of jobs I dreamed about. That’s what success looked like, I had been taught. From a very early age, I knew much was expected out of me, whether from my parents or the high school teachers who led the 4th grade GT group. In most ways, this was very helpful to me – it was great for my self-esteem (until my teenage years came along), it made me ambitious (and to not surround myself by others who weren’t), it made me work hard at getting a full-ride scholarship (without ever mentioning their growing scarcity), etc. I’m entirely grateful to my wise elders for telling me how smart I was during my younger days instead of focusing on being cute (though it sure was a slap in the face come college when you realize just how average you really are).

My point of this ramble is it taught me one version of success. To get excellent grades, to impress your professors, to get a job with a certain minimum starting salary, and to buy a nice fat house in the suburbs.

July 4, 2016

Happy 4th of July!

I hope you're all having a blast at cookouts, bbqs, picnics, firework shows, etc. this holiday weekend. I know mine has been jam-packed as Pete came down and we spent the bulk of the last few days with his mom, step-dad, sister, and nephew - who got to visit the Wild Wilderness Drive-Through Safari and Petting Zoo in Gentry, play at Fun City in Springdale, and shoot (read: watch) fireworks galore Sunday evening after the great "hangburger" grilling feat.

While I took a few iPhone photos, out of respect for the privacy of other people's families, I won't be posting all of them, just one sweet one of an uncle helping his nephew hold his first sparkler in the shadows:
I love watching Peter with little ones, it makes my heart swell more than playing with them myself (which is saying something since I've chosen a career working with children & families and I would maybe say I'm closer to my nephews than my brothers). He loves to teach and explain how things work, and little ones are always so curious and full of questions. He finally gets an outlet for the overload of silliness inside of him that he constantly tries to pester into fellow adults (i.e. he's still very much a "little brother" at heart to all those around him).

If you're ever looking for things to do with kids in Northwest Arkansas,