life happens.

Our next door neighbors have a giant holly tree in their yard. It’s at the front corner of their back yard, if that makes any sense, and the reason that’s important is that the location of it makes it hang over into our driveway. Big time. I, for one, am thrilled about this. Christmas decorations cost money, and holly hanging over my car is free.

The point is – the last time I posted on the back burner, I hadn’t even noticed any berries on the holly tree. I started to see them a few weeks ago, and their unripe greenness reminded me of how bright and Christmasy they had been when we first saw the house. One morning this week, I got into my car, heading to work, and noticed that the berries had started to get yellow. How could it be that time of year already?

Today, as I sit on our couch in our living room, looking out into the crisp autumn afternoon, the berries are bathed in cool sunshine. They are a deep orange-y almost-red, and I can hardly believe it. Life happens. Life is busy. Holly turns red practically before your eyes these days.

And so, in the spirit of taking the time to notice what’s going on around us, here is a recap – with some pictures, don’t worry, I know I’ve been long-winded already) – of the past month. It’s been a good one, a crazy one, a memorable one. Enjoy!

Let’s see. Where should I start? Well, I’m still doing yoga. It has been so incredible for me. I’d heard about Bikram yoga for a long time, and had always been too chicken to try it. I started in July, and haven’t really looked back. I try to go to class at least three times a week, which usually means I go to class three times a week. With a full-time, “traditional” job, it’s often tough to fit in the 90-minute class, but it’s worth it. The studio is about ten minutes from our house, and the benefits I’ve reaped since starting are well worth the scheduling challenges I face. I feel better in so many way, including that much of my chronic back pain is now nonexistent. Cheers to Bikram. I’m an official convert.

Okay, I know. It’s time for some pictures. You know I love to take pictures of food, so that’s what I have. I’ve made lots of great dishes recently – this was a Cooking Light fish and tomato and basil saute:

I also made butternut squash soup for the first time. How amazing does this roasted butternut look?

Next came the big batch of basil pesto, some of which is still in the freezer. Check out this picture: Charlie is a BIG dog, and the basil plant is as tall as he is!

I also made the very unique and ridiculously delicious acorn squash quesadillas with tomatillo salsa from Smitten Kitchen. They’re like nothing else I’ve ever eaten, and we loved them. Here is a picture of the squash before roasting and a picture of the quesadilla filling cooking on the stove.

I also made from-scratch pumpkin pie this month. Strange, but true. I roasted and pureed the pumpkin myself and everything.

The crust was kind of a disaster – it was perfect underneath the pie but burnt on the top edge – but the rest of the pie was delish. This picture doesn’t really do it justice. It was much lovelier in real life!

I guess I’m getting out of order here, but the cooking topic brings me to yesterday morning. Carrie, Kus and I decided to make brunch here – and it ROCKED. The menu included mimosas, cinnamon hazelnut french-pressed coffee, cinnamon raisin french toast with fresh fruit, and spinach and ricotta quiche. I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right. It was to die for. I am kicking myself for not taking any pictures.

I had the pleasure of visiting R. in Charlottesville a few weeks ago, which is always well-worth the drive West on 64. I miss living in the same city as her. Maybe one day. :)

All three members of my immediate family have celebrated birthdays in the past month, too. My mom’s was a big year, if you know what I mean, so Dad threw her a huge surprise party. It was awesome. She had no idea. I sent my brother art supplies in the mail for his birthday, and we were all together again to celebrate Pops with a lovely dinner made by mom on Friday night. Again, I’ve got to remember to start taking pictures of things other than food. Sheesh.

I also did a little Fall decorating at our house – for some reason it seems that I’ve only taken pictures of one room, but here they are. What do you think?

My MFA program is…well, it’s going. I still get frustrated a lot, but I’m really working on it. I’m trying to remind myself that it’s okay for things not to be perfect and it’s okay for me to not feel like writing every second of every day. It’s just a crazy time, and it’s hard to me to balance everything.

Work has been crazy, but I like it that way. I’d so much rather feel like a chicken with my head cut off than be sitting around bored all day, doing nothing. I feel really fortunate to have found this job when we moved to Richmond, and it continues to be good to me.

Finally, last weekend we got a small group together and headed up toward Wintergreen to hike Three Ridges. It’s an almost 15-mile loop, so we did it over two days. We got on the trail at about 3pm on Saturday, camped Saturday night, and came off the trail at about 12:30pm on Sunday. It was awesome. We really needed to get away, and it was the perfect place to be. You just can’t beat Fall in the Blue Ridge. You really can’t.

And in case you need a laugh to end on, tomorrow is my last class at a local yarn store – I am allegedly learning how to knit socks. Tomorrow makes class #4 – and I seriously don’t know if I will be able to get through the second one after the class is over. Those things are complicated. And yes. You read that correctly. It has taken me four weeks to knit PART OF one sock. Gah.

Anyway, thanks for being here, and thanks for reading. Cheers to you and your loved ones, and enjoy life happening. :)



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a different kind of writer’s wednesday.

these days, i’m laughing at myself when i remember that i’m enrolled in an mfa program. i applied because i love to write. i applied because i want to make writing a part of my life. i applied, in part, because i didn’t think i’d ever get in.

but i’m in. and i’m doing it. and some days it makes me hate writing. some days i feel accomplished – made to believe by the high i feel from the words i’ve put on the page that the thousands of dollars i’m spending are worth it. other days i feel discouraged – certain that my work is lesser than that of my peers, that my ideas are too intentional and not intentional enough.

some days i feel nothing – nothing about writing, that is. i feel that i can take or leave it, that i should have stayed at home if all i wanted was to write a little something every now and then. other days i feel like there are stories to be told and that i must be the only person on earth that can tell them. those days, i sit and write so fast i can’t think straight – liberating those whose stories are told through my fingers.

i am not used to this. i am not a trained writer of this sort. i am trained to write critical papers, to frown over pages of a literary thesis until i can recite it from memory. i am trained to read like an academic.

and now i am expected to let go. to let the story write itself. to let the characters reveal themselves to me. i am no longer supposed to plan the ending, necessarily, or know for certain that the thesis statement, if you will, will not change. i am supposed to enjoy this loss of control.

i am trying to learn to do this. before i can trust myself to do it well, i must first trust myself to do it. to expect nothing and hope for everything at once. it’s hard.

this week, when my head aches at the thought of the genius intricacies in the work of my classmates and i am overwhelmed by the amount of reading to be done on top of my writing assignments in the coming months, there is one consolation.

driving to church last weekend, alex and i turned next to a large cemetery that we pass often. out the passenger side window, i saw a man standing at a grave. i could not see a standing headstone, only a tiny cup of flowers. through the fog, i could tell that he stared down at a flat gravestone. it must have been someone he loved. or someone he hated. why else would he stand there, in the damp, cool air, alone on a sunday morning?

in the car that morning, i did not point out this man to my husband. i did not need to. i needed to remember him. to see him and hear him and know him through the heavy morning so that he can tell me his story. this week, it is this man that inspires me. his story needs to be told and i have tried all week to convince him to tell it to me.

instead, though, i am afraid. afraid i will not do this man justice. afraid it will not be good enough. afraid i will get it wrong. to tell the story of one man, standing in a cemetery on a misty morning in september, i have to be brave. i have to be brave enough to start. i can’t get anywhere until i start.

starting is the hard part.


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(song)writer’s wednesday [kearney]

“Making up your bed that day on a foreign floor between foreign walls
Thinking ’bout the words you’d say to a phone that never calls
Feel the weight of your father’s ring and all those dreams
and all those dreams
Hey brother, we’re all learning to love again.”

Learning to Love Again,” Mat Kearney

(buy Young Love. the entire album rocks. youtube doesn’t do it justice.
and after you buy it, make sure to turn “She Got the Honey” all the way up. cheers!)

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writer’s wednesday [cunningham]

“Virginia awakens again. She is here, in her bedroom at Hogarth House. Gray light fills the room; muted, steel-toned; it lies with a gray-white, liquid life on her coverlet. It silvers the green walls. She has dreamed of a park and she has dreamed of a line for her new book – what was it? Flowers; something to do with flowers. Or something to do with a park? Was someone singing? No, the line is gone, and it doesn’t matter, really, because she still has the feeling it left behind. She knows she can get up and write.”

– Michael Cunningham, The Hours


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writer’s wednesday [minot]

[two days late because we still don’t have power because of irene. i’m updating at work on my lunch break. enjoy!]

“Kay got the same disconcerting feeling one has listening to the ravings of some lunatic on a street corner when, int he midst of the screaming, one hears a profound truth.”

– Susan Minot, Rapture

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writer’s wednesday [benedict]

“Timmy Lee threw the carton of milk at her and it caught her square in the chest, exploded like a bomb. Milk gushed down her front, splashed the kitchen table. A few drops spattered the stovetop, sprinkled Timmy Lee. Torrey staggered back, fetched up against the refrigerator. She blinked, wiped the half-rancid milk out of her face.”

– “Hackberry” from Town Smokes, Pinckney Benedict

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nothing much better.

So I mentioned a couple of months back that Alex and I were starting to get deliveries of fresh produce, eggs and cheese every other week through Dominion Harvest. Remember me going on and on about that? Anyway, it’s been awesome It’s so awesome to come home from work to FOOD. A whole big box of it. Anyway, when Alex was gone during the week for four weeks straight for his clinical (yeah, bummer!), I always tried to make it a point to feed him really well when he was home. :)

I’m a few weeks late posting this, but here’s how we used almost our entire box in one delicious meal. But don’t worry – it was still cheaper than eating out AND we had tons of leftovers!

Gazpacho. Yes. I am totally in love with my food processor. It took this:

And turned it into this:

Which I then proceeded to stir up all together to make this:

Fresh and yummy goodness. Seriously. There’s not a bad thing in this stuff. (Oh, and on a tip from Al’s parents – add some red wine vinegar to the recipe!)

Next on the menu for that evening were Greek Mini Meat Loaves. These babies are chock full of deliciousness. I mean, OATS in meatloaf? Who would have thought? Amazing. Check out the bowl pre-mix – you can barely even see the meat! And not in a too-much-breading-in-a-crabcake way. More like in a how-did-i-ever-eat-ground-beef-without-all-this-stuff-mixed-with-it way.

And here they are, in the muffin tins post-baking – my apologies for the half-empty pan. We sort of forgot to take a pic at first because we were too busy stuffing our faces.

And of course there was tzatziki to go on top – I used Miss Smart’s recipe from here. I followed it pretty loosely, using Greek yogurt and way more cucumber than necessary. I like it like that. Doesn’t everything look so pretty and fresh?

Mmmmmm. I took a picture of Alex enjoying this delicious feast, but I won’t post it because I was too busy getting full to take a halfway decent one. So you can imagine instead.

Anyway, cook something awesome this weekend. You won’t regret it. :)


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writer’s wednesday [stockett]

“Even though she has zero kids and nothing to do all day, she is the laziest woman I’ve ever seen. Including my sister Doreena who never lifted a royal finger growing up because she had the heart defect that we later found out was a fly on the X-ray machine.”

– Kathryn Stockett, The Help

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writer’s wednesday [fey]

“Let’s talk about the hair. Why do I call it ‘yellow’ hair and not ‘blond’ hair? Because I’m pretty sure everybody calls my hair ‘brown.’ When I read fairy tales to my daughter I always change the word ‘blond’ to ‘yellow,’ because I don’t want her to think that blond hair is somehow better.

– Tina Fey, Bossypants

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one brownie at a time.

I love chocolate. It’s no secret. Give me the choice between a bag of Skittles and a Reese cup (or Snickers bar, or Hershey’s kiss, or Twix, or M&Ms) and I’ll pick [any of] the latter every time. One could say I have a problem. And so, when I found out that one of my sorority sisters from UVa started this awesome blog a couple of years ago and in turn found a link to this equally adorable online space – I was in heaven. I love healthy, fun food blogs – and all of the ones that Sarah links to fit the bill.

Anyway, I was perusing last week, and came across Brittany’s recipe for “Special Brownies.” No, it’s not what you think – but a friend of ours immediately thought the same thing. So don’t feel bad. Okay, okay – back to the point here. BLACK BEAN BROWNIES. Does that sound disgusting or what? I suppose I should admit that as much as I love chocolate – I despise beans. Except for refried ones. Smothered in so much cheese they’re practically unidentifiable. Anywho, I digress.

I had seen recipes for black bean brownies in lots of hip and trendy places over the past couple of years, and I just couldn’t bring myself to try them. I don’t know – when you hate beans as much as I do (which is a lot) it’s really hard to imagine tarnishing one of your favorite things on earth (read: chocolate) with them. So I ignored all the recipes. But when Carrie and I decided to cook dinner together last Thursday, I figured I’d go for it.

Honestly, I think it was the hot yoga that did it to me. I have officially been to class 11 times – that’s 2 – 3 times a week for the last 4 weeks! Aren’t you proud? Anyway, I figured if I’m working my butt off for multiple hours every week to try and be healthier and feel better, I could stomach the idea of possibly making brownies (YUM) just a tad better for me.

So, after our delicious dinner (of which I forgot to take pictures – sorry!) which included parmesan asparagus, pasta with basil and red peppers, and parmesan & panko crusted tilapia, we began our quest to make special brownies.

Here’s the thing – when you’re making them, they sort of look as nasty as they sound. The recipe is here (and above), so I won’t go through every little thing, but I will show you what I mean:

Yep. It’s true. You actually just dump everything into your food processor and, well, process. Scary, but it works. So anyway, I made a couple of MINOR changes to the recipe – I was afraid of any smidge of beany taste, so I added some mini semi-sweet chocolate chips in the batter pre-processing (so they got all crunched up) and on top. I made a second batch (yes, we finished the first one in three days) yesterday when Alex’s family came, and was forced to modify again – I only had 2 eggs, and it calls for three. So, thanks to Google, I figured out that I could use 1/4 cup flax seed meal and 1/4 cup cold water to substitute for an egg. HOW SWEET IT IS THAT? So I did, making it even more healthy, not a bit less tasty, and therefore exponentially more exciting. :) I mean, get real – can YOU tell the difference?

Their texture is a tiny bit different, but not in a bad way. Just different. As in – not Betty Crocker out of a box texture. Which is fine. :) I enjoyed them the way I always enjoy brownies – with a (probably too big) scoop of vanilla ice cream. I was a satisfied customer:

In case you can’t tell, there’s no brownie left in there. Knowing me, not even a crumb. It was awesome. Who knew?

Happy Monday! Go make some brownies.




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