Author: rhetoricaldevices

One Hundred

Okay.  I don’t do this blog thang enough and I do feel a little guilty about that sometimes.  You know, between the guilt of not doing my #homework and eating too much #cheese (no. such. thing.).  I just logged in to do a quickie update and, what is this mess?  I have 100 followers on WordPress.

I don’t have 100 followers on Instagram.

I don’t know all of you, but I sure do appreciate you because, aside from piling on the guilt motivation, you make a girl feel loved.

Expect a little life update in the coming days.  I’ll try to make it worth your while [or your weight in dairy].

100 hugs evenly distributed,

XO

…but you’re so pretty?

True story, y’all.

A few weeks ago I stopped by the drug store to pick up a few things on my way home.  I ran into one of my middle school teachers [for her sake, we’ll call her Mrs. Teacher] in line picking up a prescription.

Two things you need to know here.  First: I was the teenage equivalent of a sea lion in middle school.  People liked me because I was nice, cute, and harmless, but I was pretty thick around the middle and if you only caught a glimpse in your periphery, you might mistake me for a thumb.  [It’s okay, really, I figured out makeup and clothes in my late twenties and I haven’t needed therapy yet.]  Second: Mrs. Teacher was known for being hard and kinda mean, but even though she scared me, I always liked her because she was smart and didn’t put up with crap.  Long after I graduated, I found out she went on to become principal of a high school in town.

Mrs. Teacher and I did a few double-takes before we spoke.  I was giving myself time to decide if I actually wanted to speak, she was probably trying to figure out if she actually knew me.  Luckily for her, I happened to be sporting my name tag from work [which is super awesome fun on a Friday night when you’re at the grocery store buying cat litter and boxed wine] and as soon as she realized who I was, as everyone does, she asked about my brother.  As soon as I finished the standard “he’s a successful engineer, married to a successful professor, living in a big house in Birmingham with their two perfect kids” speech [I love him, I really do], she tilted her head…

omg yes, the head tilt.  [refer to previous blog post for reference]

I thought she was going to say something about my dad [Tuscaloosa is pretty small and I also happened to attend church with Mrs. Teacher when I was younger], but instead she flicked my name tag and said, “…same last name? So you’re not married?”

“Well, no ma’am…”

Her head tilted further!  Like an owl studying something it was about to eat!  With a confused and slightly accusatory tone she exclaimed, “…but you’re so pretty?!

I, of course, got defensive and every fiber of my being was yelling to wave my feminist flag in her face with a nice long rant, but instead, I replied with a trite “…then I guess I’m just too smart to get married.”  So take. that.  Hmph.

Her face twisted up like I had insulted her, the baby Jesus (whom I love, to be clear), the constitution, and her dog in one fell swoop.  The conversation ended quickly and we parted ways.

I can still hear those words, “…but you’re so pretty” reverberating in my head.  This is the woman who, considering she is/was a high school principal, has at least one advanced degree.  She’s spent decades teaching young adults scholarly and life lessons and she still made a comment that implies pretty women should be married women.  Please let that sink in, because I can’t stop thinking about it.  I realize that society, blah blah blah, imparts on us its ideals that women should be married and popping out kids by a certain age and sometimes it’s hard to believe that you aren’t a failure if you haven’t checked those boxes.

I don’t want this blog post to be about how times are a-changing.  You can read plenty of scholarly or pop culture articles about that on your own.  What I do want is for each of you to be mindful and responsible for the messages you send to your friends, your daughters, your blog followers, your sisters.  There is no certain age by which you have to be married to be considered a success.  [Please don’t rush into marriage, you have a lifetime ahead of you.  There are far worse things in life than being single; being in an unnecessary, unhappy marriage is certainly one of them.]  You are no less of a woman if you never have a child.  Your contribution to society is not measured by your outward appearance.  You absolutely can be a whole and happy person in whatever circumstances you find yourself a part of – because you find happiness.  You choose it.  You make it work.

Last but not least, someone important [I don’t know who said it and I don’t trust google so just go with it] said “comparison is the thief of all joy.”  I personally think that the thing that makes life most difficult, is using other people’s lives as a measuring stick for our own.  Sure, it’s impossible not to look at someone else and think “what if” but if you’re only using that comparison to wish away your life rather than to set [attainable] goals for yourself, you’re wasting valuable time.  Don’t think that what someone else has or does will make you happy, find your own happiness!

Do not make me tilt my head at you!

A Decade.

 

Today marks 10 years since my dad passed away.  If that isn’t proof that life just keeps chugging, I don’t know what else possibly could be.  The cliches do apply: it seems like yesterday, it seems like an eternity has passed, #allthefeels.

For those of you who are recent entrants into the mess that is Jess: welcome, and here’s the long and short of it.  My dad was a severe alcoholic for my entire life before he passed, which equates to at least 22 years of his.  I’ve never pretended to be the only person with a jerk or an addict for a parent so we’ll suffice it to say that my childhood was your average less-than-awesome experience and I try not to let it bother me too much, especially since I never knew any different.  I had many blessings to be thankful for, including an awesome older brother who stepped in when he needed to.

I’ve waffled about posting this at all because it seems like a pretty downer topic, but it’s important to me, you’re all important to me, and I’ve learned a lot about this little thing called life as a result of losing a parent.  Here are a few things I didn’t know before he died or I’ve learned along the way that I think are worth sharing:

  1. My dad made a series of really bad choices that, ultimately, lead to his death.  It was a slow, painful, and selfish death that everyone around him had to watch.  He hurt a lot of people, in a lot of ways, along the way.  Now that I’m 32 years old and my friends are married and have children of their own, I have a completely new perspective on my dad’s choices.  I see that life is hard.  Being financially, emotionally, and physically responsible for yourself and other human beings is the penultimate stressor.  Balancing work, money, relationships, and being simply average-at-best at all of those things doesn’t come easy.  I forgive my dad for snapping at us, for losing his temper, for being downright bad at life sometimes.  Parents are people, too.  My hope for all of my friends is that, if you’re struggling with any of the things that make #adulting so damn hard, don’t make it harder on yourself or your family by going down the rabbit hole.  Ask for/accept help.  I certainly wish my dad had accepted the help we offered myriad times because who knows where we’d be today.
  2. My first experience with death was when my uncle committed suicide in 1993.  I was 10 years old and it hit me pretty hard.  My grandfather passed in 2000, which was also quite difficult.  I remember getting in his car the following week and seeing the package of peanuts in the cup holder he never traveled without and wondering, “Oh my God, what will we do with those?  We can’t throw them away.  We can’t eat them.  I guess they’ll just have to stay there forever.  Which means we can’t ever sell this car.  Do peanuts go bad?  Who cares.  They’re staying.  I’m just going to stay in the car.  With the peanuts.” Death is weird and oh so final.  When my dad died, though, it was oh so different.  When I got the news from my brother, I was on a weekend trip in New Orleans.  It hit me so hard, it was literally a physical blow that caused me to collapse on the ground in the middle of the French Quarter.  Never, before or since, have I felt such a rush of frenetic emotion.  Fast forward to the funeral and I wept (such ugly crying) more than I knew I was capable of.  Later that day, I heard some of my friends talking (not realizing I could hear) about their surprise at my tearful reaction to my dad’s death, given how much I disliked him.  At the time, their conversation broke my heart.  Looking back, I get why they didn’t understand my grief.  Death will cross everyone’s path, and just like my uncle’s death felt different than my grandfather’s which felt much different than my dad’s, no one else will understand the impact it has on you except you.  My friends were right, to an extent: I wasn’t sad that I’d no longer have to worry about my dad driving drunk and killing an innocent family.  I wasn’t sad that my dad and I wouldn’t be having the same arguments about his sobriety over and over again.  I wasn’t sad I’d no longer have to hear his slurred/drunk speech.  However, my friends were very, very wrong about my grief.  When my dad died, with him died any hope for his recovery.  Gone was the hope that he’d one day walk me down the aisle.  The hope that he’d get sober and we’d go on vacations out West together died.  The hope that he’d meet his grandchildren died.  It was all gone.  There was now no. chance.  Moral of the story: let your people grieve and never, ever make an assumption about how anyone should feel about death, including yourself.
  3. When you suffer a loss, the most common thing you’ll likely hear is “it will get better with time.”  Sometimes I think people tell you this because they don’t know what else to say.  For the longest time, when people saw me after my dad died, they didn’t even say anything at all, they simply looked at me and tilted their head.  At first, the head-tilt sent me spiraling into an automatic breakdown of tears.  Over time, it made me mad.  Eventually, my brother and I both found it comical.  So yes, perhaps time has a funny way of changing your perspective on things, even death, but I’m not sure if it gets better.  No, it doesn’t physically hurt like it used to.  But I still get mad about how things could be, how they should be.  When my nephews were born something, someone was missing.  I get angry knowing that, one day, my brother will have to explain to his sons why they only have one grandfather.  I get sad wondering if there’s any possibility that my dad could have gotten his act together at this point, or what if he had never been an addict at all.  My mom and I are completely different creatures.  I’m fairly certain that if my dad hadn’t made all those bad decisions, he and I would have been thick as thieves – I could have had a parent to relate to.  It’s such a damn shame that we’ll never know.  He’ll never see that I have a master’s.  I’ll soon have my PhD.  I have a good job.  And a house.  And a car.  I have the most wonderful people in my life who matter to me.  I don’t settle.  I’m doing better than he ever did.  I’ve made the best of all the time that has passed.  Maybe in spite of him.

 

Thanks for sticking around to read this one.  I pinky swear the next one will be puppies and rainbows.

 

 

Schmesolutions

Okay.  So let’s say that my 2015 resolution was to not post a single thing on my blog for the entire year.

Clearly I am awesome at resolutions.  I should be a professional resolutioner.

You’ll be relieved to know that I’ve made zero promises for 2016.  Yeah, I get it, the new year is a pretty great time to get yourself back on track and start some new/good habits, but I tend to end up feeling like crap because I’m back to getting fat and Netflix-binging by February 1.  Or January 3.  [Making of a Murderer is so. good. and you know it.]

I’m not Jewish.  [There’s no good segue into that statement; just bear with me for a second.]  One of my TV binges over the holidays was an Amazon Prime show called Transparent.  If you haven’t watched it, you should.  It’s a pretty emotional show about a Jewish family whose patriarch transitions from male to female and all the things that come with it.  It may not sound like your cup o’ tea, but I promise you’ll come away with some sort of introspection and lesson learned.  Anyway, one of the more poignant scenes this season occurs on the holiday of Rosh Hashana which is the Jewish New Year.  Knowing basically nothing about Judaism, I learned that (and please forgive me, as this is a gross oversimplification taken from pop culture) it’s a time for self-examination and repentance.  So while on a typical [calendar] new year, we’re all over here trying to get skinny and stop cussing, the Jews got it right by wanting to start the spiritual new year with a clean slate: asking for forgiveness and forgiving others.  A little side note: the biblical name for the holiday is actually Yom Teruah which means “day of shouting.”  I’m pretty sure I’m down for a good shouting match, hugging it out, and ending with a big meal with the people I love.

So here’s to a resolution-free new year, a big heaping scoop of forgiveness for all, and maybe a few more blog posts for you in 2016.  Because remember, you asked for it.

Sorrow and Joy

Those of you who know me personally know that I’ve been through a “rough patch” of life lately. I call it a rough patch because we all have them; mine are no worse or better than yours. They come and they go and they never happen at an ideal time.

To make a long and sad story shorter and less difficult for you to read and me to write, I lost two very important people in my life in the same week last week. My dad’s mom, who fought a long and graceful battle with both cancer and Alzheimer’s, is finally at peace in a new and healthy body. [As an aside: I find Alzheimer’s to be an awful and bittersweet disease when it comes so late in life as it did with my grandmother. I have started to sincerely question how aware I want to be of my body and mind’s deterioration as it comes to me in my sunset years.] Her passing was not a surprise, so while it is never easy to lose someone who has been such an important influence in your life, grieving for the loss of my grandmother had been going on for quite some time already. However, my mother’s father is a different story. Since I’ve never had much of a father figure in my own life, Poppy (as we knew him) was the default. He was sarcastic, charming, a leader, and had lived many, happy chapters of life. He was a veteran, an engineer, a father, the best Poppy, a farmer, a raconteur, a church Deacon, and a simple man. He was the best man. The end of his life came swiftly, unexpectedly (to me, anyway – perhaps it was denial), and it still hits me like a knuckle-punch to the temple.

I have lost plenty of people before. Close ones. My dad died when I was 22 years old. Here Maria Popova summarizes Joan Didion’s view on grief: Joan Didion on Grief. Never have I read anything more spot-on in the description of loss, or at least how it feels to me. One minute you’re as collected as a museum, but the next you find yourself thinking “I’ll be sure to tell Poppy about that when…” and suddenly curled up in the fetal position, vomiting tears, mad at yourself for forgetting, again, and wondering if it will ever not hurt anymore, knowing it won’t, and thinking that if you don’t pull yourself together right this second you never will. Waves of this. Then fewer waves. Sorrow is hard. But it’s life.

Then I was watching TV, because I do a lot of that lately, and some scripted wedding something or other came on. The vows made mention of something like “…two shall be one, sorrow shall be halved, and joy shall be doubled.” Rewind. Sorrow shall be halved. Rewind. Joy shall be doubled. Rewind. Sorrow. Shall. Be. Halved.

I read a lot of C.S. Lewis. He’s my jam. He talks a lot about love. The man does not sugar coat it. I couldn’t agree with him more. After all, I’m writing this blog as a misadventured spinster, no? It’s never been that I don’t have faith in love; I do. I simply don’t buy into the “falling” part. The part where you sell someone a bill of goods. The part where you act like someone you’re not, and they do the same, and then suddenly you’re married and you hate each other because you’ve married a stranger. [I’ve never been married but I see it all. the. time.] I want to skip that part and get to the meat. I like the meat. I love the meat. [Now I want steak.] I love the part where you love each other for who you are, not who you pretend you are. All of that digression was simply to say that I avoid dating [like the plague], because of the bill of goods. And C.S. Lewis nailed it when he said this about love in Mere Christianity:

“Being in love is a good thing, but it is not the best thing. There are many things below it, but there are also many things above it. You cannot make it the basis of a whole life. It is a noble feeling, but it is still a feeling. Now no feeling can be relied on to last in its full intensity, or even to last at all. Knowledge can last, principles can last, habits can last; but feelings come and go. And in fact, whatever people say, the state called “being in love” usually does not last. If the old fairy-tale ending “They lived happily ever after” is taken to mean “They felt for the next fifty years exactly as they felt the day before they were married,” then it says what probably was never was or ever could be true, and would be highly undesirable if it were. Who could bear to live in that excitement for even five years? What would become of your work, your appetite, your sleep, your friendships? But, of course, ceasing to be “in love” need not mean ceasing to love. Love in this second sense — love as distinct from “being in love” is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by (in Christian marriages) the grace which both partners ask, and receive, from God. They can have this love for each other even at those moments when they do not like each other; as you love yourself even when you do not like yourself. They can retain this love even when each would easily, if they allowed themselves, be “in love” with someone else. “Being in love” first moved them to promise fidelity: this quieter love enables them to keep the promise. It is on this love that the engine of marriage is run: being in love was the explosion that started it.”

So the point of this is to say that for so long I’ve carried my own burdens, because I’ve been happy to. Happy to be a spinster. Happy to be single. I still am. But, the idea of half the sorrow and double the joy is enough to consider the alternative, the quieter love, even if it means having to be “in love” first.

Addicted to Fashion

So remember a while back I made an attempt at a post about fashion?  I’m doing it again.  I have no idea what’s gotten into me but I really like clothes, usually more how they look on other people than they do on me, but dressing fun is… fun.  I used to work in the real estate appraisal business.  When I wasn’t sitting behind a desk in an office that received *zero* customers, I was climbing over shrubs, in basements, and running away from vicious, rabid weenie dogs.  Needless to say, now that I’m in a professional workplace, I actually care about what I wear and am more willing to invest money into classic pieces.  Invest being the key word.  I’m pretty conscious about where my money goes so as much as I love watching trends, I’m cautious about participating in any that will be quick to fade away or date my wardrobe.  I like buying separates that I can mix and match, give me a little edge, but also allow me to stay appropriate for meetings with a vast array of people.

So let’s get started and talk about what I’ve been wearing/loving lately.  If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve probably seen most of these but I’ve gotten a lot of questions wanting details about each piece.  Happy to oblige!

Again, let’s not talk about the quality of these pictures.  If there is any reason for me to give up my beloved spinster status, it might be just to have a live-in photographer! Selfies don’t do these outfits justice and I do apologize.

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I. Love. This. Outfit. Can’t even handle it.  I’m 5’3″ so pants that aren’t labeled as short or ankle are always going to be long on me.  Because of the width of the ankles on these pants, I don’t mind wearing heels/wedges.  I think they might look awkward any shorter.  The blazer isn’t quite seersucker (one of my favorite Summer patterns, even though I don’t own any… yet) but a very small blue and white pinstripe. It’s lined, but still lightweight, well-made, and will last for seasons to come.  I bought a size 6, but it still seemed to be a little loose.  I would qualify it as true-to-size but if you’re in-between, order down.  The tank I’m wearing under the blazer is old and I have no idea where or when I got it.  Use your imagination!  The jeans are also my usual size 6.  I am curvy, so they’re tighter in the hips than some other jean styles I own.  If you are larger in the hips or have issues with jeans fitting your lady lumps/beautiful booty, consider ordering a size up.  Outfit details:

Blazer (On sale!): Gap

Jeans (On sale!): Gap

Wedges (Low Stock): Nordstrom

Belt (On sale!): Limited

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I should really just move into Target.  Or buy stock in the store.  There is no reason for me to not eat, sleep, and live there.  Aside from the necklace, tank, and my undies (no wait, they might be from Target, too???!! I have a problem.) this entire outfit is Tarjhay.  Yes, I said Tarjhay.  I got a bazillion (I counted) compliments on this outfit when I wore it to work and I really shouldn’t have to explain to anyone how versatile the color mint can be.  I love wearing colored pants!!! I recommend sizing up in these pants. They’re pretty snug – but I’m too lazy to take them back.  The blazer is true-to-size, maybe slightly big. I got the necklace at the J.Crew Factory store (wear it all. the. time.), the tank is from the Limited. Outfit details:

Blazer: Target (website says not sold in stores, but I got mine in-store, worth a shot)

Pants: Target (website says not sold in stores, but I got mine in-store, worth a shot)

Flats: Target (I have these in several colors, true-to-size)

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Oh fit-and-flare dress how I love thee, let me count the ways (in which you can be styled)!!! Ob.Sessed. I really don’t know what else there is to say about this.  The subtle striped pattern punches this up to a little more than your standard white dress, the fit-and-flare style makes it flattering to every. damn. body. I think I could wear a garbage bag with this and still feel like a million bucks.  And it has pockets! Again, I got this dress in my normal 6/regular (it’s available in tall and petite, too).  I have a large chest, so even though this dress is baggy in some places, I think a 4 would have been too small around my bust.  If you have a small/average chest, you may want to size down.  This dress is a work-appropriate length which I love because so many things are way too short for work.  However, if you’re tall, you may want to check the length/measurements.  Outfit details:

Dress (On sale!): Gap

Wedges (Low Stock): Nordstrom

Belt (On sale!): Limited

Denim Jacket: Mine is very old from the Gap, link is for a very similar version from Old Navy

Blazer: Mine is no longer available, link is for the same brand, similar style; Halogen for Nordstrom (LOVE this brand)

Heels: Zappos, Madden Girl (true-to-size. very comfortable, so many colors, including mint!)

And to wrap up this post, let’s talk about some things I’ve recently purchased that I don’t have personal pictures of.  (Shopping addiction/problem? Yes. Rehab? Immediately.)

I mentioned that I have a large chest.  This makes finding swimsuits very difficult.  I recently bought this one (please pretend that it’s me in this picture) by Freya because it comes in bra sizes with adjustable, non-halter straps.  I was skeptical but once I received it, I was completely sold.  It’s very comfortable and modestly covers and supports my lady parts so I don’t have to worry about any very indecent exposures on the beach.  Contrary to what the picture indicates, this top is not a push-up.  The model’s boobs are just magic.  I want magic boobs.  The bottoms are also full-coverage and comfortable.  (This suit can also be found at Nordstrom, HerRoom, BareNecessities, etc.)

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I have a new Kate Spade obsession.  I saw on another blog that they were having a huge sale and I couldn’t resist following the link.  I hate it when I do that.  I don’t regret buying this purse though.  I’m not a fan of open-top totes.  I’m afraid they’ll tump over and spill all of their contents, which will then roll under the seat, my MAC lipstick will melt, and the world will end.  (Yes, tump is a word!)  I’m also paranoid and thing a pick-pocket will grab my MAC lipstick when the bag is hanging on a chair… or, you know, my wallet.  So this beaut of a purse is a great combination of an easy-access tote with the added security of a fold-over flap.  Bonus: the flap is also a giant, zippered storage pocket.  I will marry this bag and have its little leather babies.  Ignore my awkwardness. (Please note, I did NOT pay retail for this bag.  Whoa. Those would be some high-priced babies.)

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Lastly, I just bought this AMAZING jacket from Windsor Store.  I can’t WAIT to get it!!!

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How’d I do for my second attempt at a fashion post?? Want more?  Let me know!!

Thanks for stopping by, y’all!

XO

Jessica

Road Trip!

You know, when I see the words “road trip” my instinct is to immediately revert back to my college days, shotgun a beer, hang my bare butt out the car window, and drive wherever the road leads.  

That never happened to me.  Ever.  But the notion is quaint and I think there are lots of movies about it that all end the same way (self-discovery, best friends for life, terminated pregnancies… I digress).  

So for those of you who know me in real life, you know I crossed the finish line of grad school in December.  My birthday also happened to fall conveniently during Spring Break (which, because I work at an awesome place that never wants me to grow up… ha, I still get to participate in every year).  So I decided I wanted to take an awesome vacation as a graduation/birthday present to myself this year.

But wait.  How does a single, 30-something, cat-loving, post-grad woman whose friends are either: married, have children, broke, or way too annoying to spend more than 24 hours with (don’t worry, the ones who fall into that category don’t know I have a blog.  I hope.) scrounge up a travel buddy for something other than a weekend trip to the beach?  I’m talking a legit, celebratory vacay.  One that could cost some real cheddar.  (I have no idea what the kids call “lots of money” these days.)  Of course!  There is but one answer: the brother.  

[It should be known that my sister from another mister, Sarah, was going to accompany me on this trip – originally planned for Alaska – but she’s currently in nursing school and because the gods of higher education holiday planning apparently hate us, our spring breaks did not line up.]

So after some chats about where to go [and permission from his wife, of course.  They do have a newborn, after all.] we decided that a trip to Moab, Utah was exactly what the doctor (or master of arts, in this case) ordered.  Justin had actually been there before, but only for a couple of days, and knew he wanted to go back for a longer stay.  I love the West and the weather in late March would be perfect for extended hikes through Arches National Park, riverboat excursions, and even renting a Jeep to explore the desert trails.  

Well that would have been amazing had we not waited until the last minute to book our flights.  The tickets were outrageous.  On principle alone, I could not pay that much money to fly to Utah.  So we looked for flights to Oregon.  Then Maryland.  Sonofabiscuiteatinghobo.  So we decided we would do a road trip.  I had recently purchased a new car, I love to drive, and there were a few places that were relatively local that both Justin and I had wanted to see for a while.

The first place we hit was Bankhead National Forest for a hike along the Sipsey River.  We both did some research about the best trail(s) to hike to fit our schedule (we would be driving to Nashville later the same day) and our skill level (aka lack of athleticism).  We chose the Borden Trail.  I won’t lie, given my asthma (and lack of athleticism) the idea of hiking makes me both anxious and extremely excited (I love the outdoors when the weather is right).  This trail was amazing.  It had every bit of “adventure” we could have asked for: waterfalls, crossing creeks, views of the “raging” Sipsey, and even a small [very small.  very narrow.  very damp.  very dark.  spiders.  I kept it together.  on the outside.] cave that you have to pass through.  The round trip hike was six miles and my heart rate monitor told me I burned thousands of calories.  My knees told me I’m an old woman and never to go hiking again.  The scenery is really too beautiful to capture on camera but I tried:  

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After the hike, we drove to Nashville, TN to stay with our cousin JJ for the night.  He and his wife, Rachel (who, sadly, was out of town for our visit) have a lovely home there.  Justin and I were pretty exhausted and JJ had to work the next day, so we made plans to walk to a nearby restaurant, watch a movie, and hit the hay.  As we’re walking to the restaurant, JJ says “I hope y’all like Mexican.  This place serves these little fluffy donut thingies after the meal, too.”  My ears perked up.  He couldn’t possibly mean sopapillas, could he?  We get closer and I see the sign. I don’t read the words.  I just see the Zia symbols on either side.  IT’S A NEW MEXICAN RESTAURANT!  #jesuslovesme (Zia symbols are symbols representative of the sun used by the Zia tribe indigenous to a pueblo in New Mexico.  There is one on the New Mexico state flag and you see them all over the state.  If you see one, you can be almost certain whatever you’re looking at is New Mexican. #historylesson #yourewelcome)  The restaurant was called Sopapilla’s!  Needless to say, I almost kissed the hostess, the waiter, the table, the menu, and I inhaled my stacked enchiladas smothered in green chile and an egg.  I still don’t think JJ grasped just how much that dinner meant to me.  Maybe I should have released the tears I was holding back… really.  (It had been a long day.  My knees hurt.  Green chile.  Shut up.)  So we watched Skyfall (which I hadn’t seen before and would actually watch again) and went to sleep!

The next day was my birthday.  My family isn’t big on celebrating anything.  Seriously.  We do well to remember someone’s birthday; we’re not buying you a present for it.  (Blame my mother for this one; that’s what I do in therapy.  Or I would, if I went to therapy.)  Anyway, my brother got a text from my mom saying “remember to tell Jess happy birthday!” (which he did) but then she forgot to wish me happy birthday. This is how we roll.  (Does anyone have the phone number for a good therapist?)  But I did get a bazillion texts from friends and coworkers – which always amazes me because I’m not on facebook for them to get the obligatory birthday reminder. Thanks guys, I feel loved!  (My birthday is March 24th, put it in your calendars now.)  We left JJ’s bright and early and headed to the gorgeous state of Kentucky!  We had two guided tours scheduled for Mammoth Caves National Park!!  

So, y’all know I’m a nerd. When I was in the 4th grade, Paige Barnes (now Dorsey) and I went on an archaeological dig/camp together.  Caves are my jam.  Stairs, however, are not.  Especially when I’m pretty sure I tore/injured something really important related to my knee on the hike the previous day.  The first tour guide mentioned something about “hundreds of stairs” and I got nauseous.  However, even though I don’t have pictures to prove it (hello, you try taking pictures in a cave) it was amazing and worth the pain!  The next tour was more of the same (with regard to the stairs) but the scenery in the cave was completely different than the first; it’s crazy how different, in fact.  Mammoth Caves is the largest cave system in the world, guys.  Worth a trip.

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(Obligatory sign picture. #yourewelcome)

After the caves, we headed to the National Corvette Museum, right down the road from the caves, in Bowling Green.  My brother and I are both automobile enthusiasts so this was something we knew we wanted to see. As expected, it was filled with classic ‘Vettes that were pretty awesome and, most exciting for us, the brand new model that had just been released.  Now, going back to the caves for a second.  Let’s think about this: if the largest cave system in the world is right next to the museum, you might also be thinking that the ground the in area is conducive to natural caves and (you guessed it) sinkholes.  You’d be correct.  The museum had, very unfortunately, recently been affected by one of said sinkholes.  A huge one as a matter of fact. It had “eaten” eight of their classic cars that were donated to the museum and done millions of dollars of damage.  Luckily, the damage occurred early in the morning before patrons or employees had arrived.  The cool part was, though, that they had actually pulled the vehicles out of the hole and left them on display for us to see.  In addition, they had built a wall of windows where patrons could actually watch the workers as they attempt to repair the hole.  (See below).  I must admit, walking through the museum and seeing all the marks on the floor where surveyors had come through to make sure nothing else was going to collapse, was a little unnerving.  If you like cars, or even if you don’t, this museum is worth a stop!

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So it was the last night of our trip, also my birthday, and Justin had booked our hotel in Bowling Green (literally right next to the Corvette Museum).  He kept saying how it was brand new, maybe a little “unique”, but it had gotten rave reviews online, wasn’t expensive, and was located exactly where we needed it.  He was right!  It’s called The Hotel Sync and it was so awesome!  Our “room” was literally like an apartment.  The bedroom had a TV, the den had a TV, the full kitchen even had dishes and mixing bowls!  We came to the conclusion that the hotel was likely built for employees/families of those who are visiting the GM plant that was also right next door.  It could easily be an “extended stay” type of place.  There’s a pool table in the lobby and the owners will brew up a fresh cup of french press coffee while you wait.  Amazing.

Moving on.  We googled good places to eat in Bowling Green.  We landed on a place called The Bistro.  We put the address in my car’s GPS (which we had named Hilda/Helga.  When she behaved, she was Hilda.  When she took us somewhere incorrectly or locked my doors randomly, etc. she’s Helga.  We think Helga drinks a lot when we’re not in the car.) and headed that way.  I, of course, missed the turnoff into the parking lot of the restaurant, it was a one-way street, so we had to wrap back around.  As we climbed a very steep hill, we saw a huge, stately, government-looking building ahead.  Turns out we had made our way onto the Western Kentucky University campus.  So that’s why they’re called the Hilltoppers.  Anyway, the food at the Bistro was delicious.  Our waitress was really sweet.  Justin finished most of my food because I couldn’t.  Then he paid for my meal because it was my birthday.  When the waitress asked if we wanted to box up the leftovers I offered “no, we’re in a hotel, we don’t have anywhere to keep it.”  Her response was an almost knowing glance.  It was at that point Justin and I realized that with his wedding ring, and my absence of one, the sharing of food, and our rendezvous back at the hotel; the waitress was convinced that we were having an affair.  Justin thought this was hilarious so we never explained otherwise.  We more or less just kept watching to see if she pointed us out to the other wait staff.

The next day, we headed back home.  We were oh so tired.  It had been a jam-packed trip of hiking, caving, eating, laughing, and good times.  I really couldn’t have asked for a better birthday or spring break.  When I got home, I had the second half of the week to accomplish some home improvement.  I’ll tell you all about it in another post! 

I am a horrible person/Three Cheese Chicken Alfredo Bake

I am a horrible person/Three Cheese Chicken Alfredo Bake

Don’t hate me.

No really, don’t. It has been [insert unfathomable number of days here] since my last post. This makes me a horrible person and a really bad blogger. One of those people who never gets sponsors or subscribers or friends. Hello have you met me? I plant flowers [more on that soon, I swearonmymother] and have cats. They’re pretty much the only things that can depend on me… and the flowers are questionable. I promise I’m going to make an effort to do better with this blogging thing because [gasp] people have been asking for it. That’s right, you asked for it.

Now that the self-loathing portion of this post is over, let’s talk about a recipe I just tried out. I follow a lot of lovely blogs on bloglovin’. It’s a problem. My feed is filled with food, fashion, exercise (ha, okay, maybe one of those kinds of blogs), and even some blogs qualified as “lifestyle” which I think means “whatever I feel like telling you about today.” So yeah, I’m a lifestyle blogger, y’all. One food blogger I find myself going back to over and over again is Plain Chicken (aka Stephanie). I was pretty excited when I found out she’s from Alabama! I was kinda pissed when I found out she’s an Auburn fan. Despite her flaws, she makes good food and updates her blog very regularly (shut up). Check her out at http://www.plainchicken.com

This weekend she posted her weekly menu and it included a Three Cheese Chicken Alfredo Bake that she adapted from a Southern Living recipe. My mom always told me I need to eat things with color (as she filled my plate with a baked potato, a piece of chicken, and corn… sorrynotsorry, mom) so I initially felt a little guilty about making this. It’s colorless. It’s also loaded with calories and things that are insanely bad for you. Not one, not two, but THREE cheeses. Alfredo. Sour cream (which, by the way, I loathe – but after a quick Instagram conversation with Stephanie @PlainChicken, she assured me I wouldn’t be able to taste it. She doesn’t lie!). Okay fine. It sounded delicious. I promised myself I would eat it in tiny portions over the next week. Or two. Freeze half of it?

Here are the details (copied and pasted exactly from Plain Chicken’s website):

1 (16-ounce) package penne or elbow macaroni
2 (10-ounce) containers refrigerated Alfredo sauce
1 (8-ounce) container sour cream
1 (15-ounce) container ricotta cheese
2 garlic clove, minced
3 cups cooked chicken, chopped
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 cups mozzarella cheese

Prepare pasta according to package directions; drain and return to pot. Stir together all ingredients except mozzarella cheese. Spread mixture into a lightly greased 13- x 9-inch baking dish. Sprinkle evenly with mozzarella cheese. Bake at 350° for 30 minutes or until bubbly.

My notes: The recipe above will easily feed 12+ people. I split the recipe in half and would say it made 6-8 single servings. I only had the little spiral-y pasta (very scientific: spiral-y) at my house so that’s what I used and it was fantastic. I know there’s a pasta guru out there who will tell me why you should or shouldn’t use certain shapes of pasta in certain dishes but to me, it’s all the same. Use what you have or what you like! I like garlic. I don’t like buying a whole head of garlic just to use a clove or two. My solution? Buy a jar of minced stuff. It keeps *forever*, the measurement guide is right on the jar (ie 1/2 a teaspoon equals one minced clove. I think. Maybe you shouldn’t quote me on that.), and your fingers don’t get all stinky. I use Spice World brand and it’s fab. Get some. I forgot to mix the parm into the mixture so I sprinkled it on top with the mozz; it was fine. I had the carton of eggs on the counter but forgot to add the egg; it was fine. I am obviously awesome at following step-by-step directions. If you want your cheese to get brown and a little toasty on top, you’ll probably have to turn on the broiler for like two minutes and fifteen seconds. I’m not kidding. Watch that sucker. Broilers don’t mess around. Two minutes and sixteen seconds and you’re ordering a pizza.

Verdict: this stuff is good. It’s better than your standard “dump a can of condensed soup and some chicken into dish” kind of casserole. Mine actually came out a little dry. It could be because I didn’t use quite as much sour cream as it called for (it’s gross and I didn’t trust Stephanie. I’m sorry.). It’s also possible that I suck at measuring pasta and I used a little too much. If you have a magical way to measure pasta, namely the spiral-y kind, please share.

PS please excuse the not-so-pretty picture. This is not my favorite depiction of this dish. You’ll live. I’m a *lifestyle blogger* not a photographer, remember?

Pina Colada Smoothie

For those of you who don’t know me personally, I spent two years living in Albuquerque, NM. They were two of the hardest and best years of my life! I learned so much about being independent: finding a job, making new friends (from scratch!), going to a new school, and all of this done in a place where almost no one has eaten a biscuit or cares about football. New Mexican food is truly unique in that it utilizes lots of local peppers, namely the green chile (which can range in heat from mild to ridiculously slap your mother hot), and spices to make it taste like no other Mexican or Tex-Mex you’ve ever had. At first, those of us who are used to fast food joints like Taco Casa or “Mexican” restaurants in Alabama may not appreciate the flavors of New Mexican cuisine. However, it doesn’t take long for it to get in your blood and trust me, it never leaves! It has been eight years (holy crap!) since I have lived in that colorful city and I still crave the food!

Now that I have your mouth-watering for chiles and Mexican food, let’s talk about smoothies!! One habit I picked up in New Mexico was replacing meals with smoothies. I’m not sure if this is more common out West or if they just make better smoothies out there but I have yet to find a good smoothie joint in Alabama. My favorite place in Albuquerque was called Keva Juice and my favorite drink was a Keva Kolada. I remember on those hot desert days, there was really nothing more satisfying!

When I moved back to Alabama, I was set on duplicating the recipe (since I couldn’t find one online). It took a ridiculous amount of trial and error. I even made a friend of mine in Albuquerque go to Keva Juice and stalk one of the workers while he/she made a Keva Kolada!! I think my ingredients are slightly different from the original, but the taste is deliciously similar!

All of this being said, the recipe I’m posting below is purely for taste. I’ve recently started running [more on that later; I’d like to know if I can write a definitive success or fail verdict before I go into great detail about it] and I’m sure there’s a way to make this thing more healthy! Protein powder (or Greek yogurt, but I think the stuff may as well be sour cream – so more power to you Greegurt lovers but I’m not one!) would be the easy way, but I know some people swear that you can “hide” spinach and kale and all sorts of things in smoothies. What do you think?

[Or you could always go the complete opposite direction and add rum… drunk running could be a sport. No judgment.]

Also, I highly recommend the Cuisinart Immersion Blender for this little project. It’s brilliant for smoothies, soups, (say it with me) hhhkkkummmus, and milkshakes. It comes apart for storage and the DISHWASHER (sold!!). And oh my gosh so many pretty colors. The instructions don’t tell you about the obligatory first time user mess, so just be aware, stop pushing the button before you pull it out of whatever you’re mixing. Every time. Trust me. Do it. Every. Time.

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I was going to pour the smoothie into a pretty glass for the picture but come on, I was starving and I know y’all really didn’t want me to dirty up another dish! Plus this way you get to see the cool measuring/mixing cup that comes with the Cuisinart blender. Yes, I drank the smoothie straight out of it and it was delicious.

For a 12 – 16oz drink:

4 – 6oz pineapple juice
One small banana, chopped
3 heaping spoonfuls non-fat vanilla yogurt (not the frozen kind)
4 or 5 heaping spoonfuls pineapple sherbet
One spoon sweetened coconut flakes (a little goes a long way)

I don’t add ice to this drink. If it’s too thin, add more sherbet a spoonful at a time.

Let’s try fashion…

Don’t laugh… I have zero sense of style but I also love, love, LOVE fashion. I follow lots of fashion blogs (The Sweetest Thing, Extra Petite, and The Northeast Girl are a few of my faves) and hope that I will magically be able to pull off their looks (or afford their clothes) but for some reason I feel silly when I try to be fashionable!

So, here’s my first attempt at a post about fashion. Here’s the catch: I haven’t yet taken any #OOTD (outfit of the day) pics specifically for the blog so I’ve collected some relatively recent pictures of outfits to discuss. In future fashion posts I hope to be able to link to all pieces and take better pictures! My apologies for the blurries and lack of info on some of the clothes, but let’s give this a shot! Also, don’t make fun of my funny faces… I didn’t tell myself that I’d be publishing these in a blog one day.

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Picture 1: this is a look I nabbed straight from the Northeast girl’s blog! The boots are Frye Tall Paige Riding Boots that I’ve had for about three years – a staple of my Fall wardrobe! The sweater is Loft, sold out, but similar here. The plaid shirt is a very old Old Navy find, but plaid is my new obsession so I’m thinking about getting this one on sale!. The jeans are also old, but Gap still makes them: Always Skinny. They’re great quality jeans but I don’t consider them truly skinny – the ankle opening is pretty substantial. However, I wear them all the time and think they’re flattering!

Picture 2: Same Frye boots and Gap jeans as above, this time with a top I got at the Banana Republic Factory store and a scarf I honestly can’t remember where I purchased! Navy/nautical stripes are really hot right now so a similar top should be easy to find, but here’s a really cute b&w peplum style from J.Crew. I think my look would be cute with a mustard colored scarf or jacket!

Picture 3: Target special! Neither of these pieces are available at Target any longer, so I hesitated to even post this one. However, because I think Chambray should be a staple in every girl’s wardrobe I decided to go ahead with it! I found this skirt literally hanging all by her lonesome on a clearance rack in Target (when, of course, all I had gone in for was a few groceries and a birthday card – I can’t help it that clothes are between those two things!). I bought it without knowing what I would pair with it or even if I could get away with wearing it to work. When I got home I tried it with a few cardigans but finally settled on my trusty Chambray (also on clearance from Target a few weeks fine, days, earlier).

Stay tuned for outfits 4-6… we have another snow day tomorrow! Be safe out there!