Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Another One in the Books

It happens once a year, and today is the day. The day when snow comes to Abilene. As I sit by the fire in our living room, watching the flakes blanket the frozen grass outside, I think about the year that has passed, and the new one to come.

2014 was a banner year for me. I climbed a mountain, traveled throughout France for the second summer in a row, watched as two good friends moved back to my hometown, another friend get married, and another get ready to be a mama. I lost a grandparent and fell in the streets of Paris after a big night. I lost a dog, gained a cat, then lost him, too. I huddled around a beach fire in Northern California, and shot my lowest golf score ever (89). There were some stumbles along the way (some literal), but moving forward into the new year, I want to cherish the good and accept the bad. That's part of being in my mid-20s, isn't it? Taking each experience and learning, growing, and believing that I can be a better person, a truer person, in the future.

We've all heard the expression, "life is no dress rehearsal." If I make one resolution, it will be to internalize this sentiment: to be present in every moment. To not worry about making plans or what will come in the future, but rather to be hopefully expectant and enjoy the views along the way.

I have a feeling 2015 is going to be amazing, with a first stop in Central America, and then perhaps a jaunt through Europe in the summer with my cousin. Who knows what will come after or in between? This girl is bolstered for anything. So bring it, 2015, I'm ready for ya.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Mount Eisenhower Hike, aka How to Be Sore for a Week

About to start! So innocent, so young.
Last Sunday, between wiping sweat from my eyes and deciding which rock to place my foot on next, I silently cursed the mountain I had foolishly agreed to climb that morning. My dad was some feet below me, my brother already at the top, and my thighs burned. Mount Eisenhower sits on the western side of the Coachella Valley, and looks beautiful from the lunch terrace at El Dorado Country Club. But climbing it is a different story.

My dad, brother and I set off that morning around 8am, and the mountain slowly sloped until we were scrambling up rocky terrain. It reminded me exactly of day 4 on Kilimanjaro, and I told my dad as much. John had already climbed ahead--the marine wanting to be at the top in under an hour--as we lagged behind.

"This first third is the steepest part," my dad said from below, remembering when he climbed it many years before. I was going a little faster now, my legs remembering how to climb, my hands wanting to clasp the next rock ahead of me. I can do this, I thought, it's not so bad.

Unfortunately, Dad and I were both wrong. We reached the peak of the first section, only to find nothing more than very steep and very rocky terrain to the top. There was no trail. Only red flags to mark where the trail should have been. We thought we lost the main trail somewhere along the way, but couldn't be sure.

The views were pretty great though.
Dad and I stopped to rest a few times, sip some water, and yell for John. He never responded, out of hearing range we supposed, and we kept climbing. About thirty feet from the top (this is only my estimation), I almost fell. A huge boulder was perched on the side of the slope, and I hoped to God it didn't fall on me. I had visions of James Franco in that movie where the a giant rock pins his arm and he has to cut it off with a pocket knife. I didn't have a knife, and this boulder would instead probably pin my head and kill me. That's when I decided to turn around. I sat as best I could on the loose rock and little footing, and shouted to Dad that I was ready to call it. He agreed.

John met us a few minutes later, descending with all the gracefulness of a mountain lion on the rocky slope. We hobbled down, and two hours later were back in the car, exhausted, legs aching, bleeding a little bit, and vowing never to climb that mountain again. My hiking days may not be over, but I'd say they are in Palm Desert. That mountain got the best of me, and for now I'm completely fine with it. I'd rather enjoy it from the terrace, anyway.

Probably getting irritable.

Finally down...I only smiled to prevent the tears from coming.

Friday, December 26, 2014

{Five Things}

A California sunset, complete with palm trees.
I've been so MIA this week it isn't even funny. Though I have been getting amazing news from THREE of my friends who got engaged. I'm very excited for everyone and can't wait for all the weddings next year! Here are some things that made me happy this week in SoCal.

Hope you had a Merry Christmas!

Brother got to ride in a biplane

Presents under the "tree."

Yummy perfume and a pretty scarf on Christmas morning.

What's left of an orange grove on the golf course.

Friday, December 19, 2014

{Five Things}

Clocks in an antique store.
Today, I'm off to sunny California to spend Christmas with my family. It's so unlike us to not have Christmas in Texas, but I'm looking forward to the change up. My brothers come out in a few days and we're going to play golf and tennis, hike the nearest big hill, and probably eat way more than is good for us. One of these trips will be the last one with just the five of us, and I mean to enjoy every one. Luckily, it's not too difficult in Palm Desert.

Have a great weekend! And happy last-minute shopping!

I Love Lucy Christmas Special on a cozy evening.
Christmas confections

My favorite piece from an art show this week.

Gold leaf decorations. (Can you spy a blogger in the mirror?)

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Ornament Swap

There are a lot of themed parties this time of year that involve gift giving and merriment. Activities like Secret Santa, white elephant and scarf exchanges all bring friends together to celebrate the holidays. My friends and I did an ornament exchange on Tuesday for the first time. The reason it was the first time is because it's the first time we've all lived in the same town since freshman year of high school. I hosted lunch on Tuesday, and to make it easy, everyone brought their own food. Though I didn't cook, I did buy some christmas cookies from United (my favorite) and made our dining room table table as fun and festive as I could in about 10 minutes.

Since two of us had to go back to work, we began the ornament exchange pretty quickly after eating. My friend Katie had done this before, so she was the one who drew names for everyone a few weeks ago. It was actually perfect. Everyone's gifts were so personalized, and we all had incredible luck finding unique ornaments that fit the personalities of our respective person. Mine is so wonderful and cute and I wish I had a tree this year to hang it on. After we all opened our presents, we spent a few more minutes chatting about Christmas plans and when we were going to get together after the holidays. In a very "life comes full circle" sort of way, it's weird to think that the four of us have been friends since elementary school. And here we are, almost two decades later, living in Abilene and exchanging ornaments as good friends. I'm so grateful to have them here, and for the Christmas season that seems to bring out the magic in every little thing.

Am I right? So cute!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Monday Meals: Parmesan Risotto with Turkey and Mushrooms

I'd never cooked risotto before this weekend. The most I understood about it was that it's a little bit like rice, but seemed much more complicated. This weekend, I planned to make something mouthwatering and savory, and risotto popped into my head. Saturday night, after a long day of work, I strapped on my chef's hat and decided to try out some risotto. The package I bought had all the spices and everything already in it, so all I had to do was boil water and stir a couple times. It's amazing how easy cooking can be. Next time I'd like to try one of these special risottos. But for a relaxing Saturday night, a simple recipe with turkey and mushrooms turned into the satisfying and simple dinner I was hoping for.

Kinda messy, but good.
All you do is saute mushrooms and onions on the stove with garlic, butter and a little dry white wine, cook the turkey in a separate skillet, and add to mushrooms once it is done. Pile on top of the risotto, et voila!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Recent Reads

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

I can't talk about this book with people. It's too emotional and moving, and I cannot accurately convey how the story will affect every person that has a heart. In one of the most compelling books I've read this year, Hillenbrand documents Louie Zamperini's 1936 Olympic journey, then his time in Japanese POW camps after being shot down in the Pacific in 1942. There isn't a word to describe the horrendous episodes he and the other men went through. Angelina Jolie directed the movie, coming out Christmas Day, and I'm curious to see her interpretation. Everyone is going to be talking about this, so you should read it. Now. Right now.

Still Life by Louise Penny

I was feeling weird after I finished Unbroken. It's like dating after a bad breakup; I wasn't emotionally stable to jump right into another relationship. So after a few weeks when I was ready, I picked up this. A murder in a small town in Canada brings Chief Inspector Gamache up from Quebec to investigate. I don't know if it was translated from French, or what, but I was underwhelmed, and found myself wanting to finish this whodunit as quickly as I could.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

I finished this book the other week, and I loved it. It's about a blind French girl in World War 2 who has to flee Paris with her father when the Nazis occupy the city. Her story is intertwined with a German youth who is brilliant at fixing radios, and works for the German army finding illegal radio frequencies. Their stories collide and it is war-riddled and poignant. Doerr is a beautiful writer, with gems like this: "If only life were like a Jules Verne novel, thinks Marie-Laure, and you could page ahead when you most needed to, and learn what would happen." This is a great read for Christmas break.

Yes Please by Amy Poehler

Such a delightful read by my favorite, Leslie Knope. Though she claims to be a mediocre writer, I think she's being humble because her voice is clear, funny and lovable. Her chapter about Parks and Rec made me laugh out loud at a coffee shop in DC and people were staring because I couldn't stop. So maybe save that chapter for the privacy of your own home. Unless you're reading it aloud to friends, then I think it's okay. Anyway, she gives some great advice about finding your currency and being a strong woman. I'd say she's a pretty down-to-earth, cool mom who loves what she does. It's refreshing to read someone who is like that in the throws of Hollywood. The parts about SNL are pretty great too.

Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle

I finally downloaded the entire Sherlock Holmes collection, and am slowly working my way through A Study in Scarlet. As you may remember, I am obsessed with the BBC version, so it's fun to read the real thing. I wondered if it would be difficult to read, but Doyle's writing is as crisp as a fall day. I recommend picking up even just the first story or two for a fun read. Sherlock has permeated so much of current culture that you may be surprised to find out how much you already known about him. Especially if you've seen the Robert Downey Jr. movie.


Thursday, December 11, 2014

{Five Things}

The Dallas Skyline from Love Field. 
This week felt like a crazy one. Though it was short since I got back from DC Monday night, I felt like every moment I was either Christmas shopping, working, or running errands. Don't get me wrong, I love a good afternoon of errands and checking things off lists. But I'm ready to have a few relaxing days to hang out with friends and watch some of my favorite holiday movies. I may even bake a batch of Christmas cookies or two.

The Rachel sandwich from Mr. Henry's. Like the Rachel hairstyle, but better. 

A bookstore owner with a sense of humor...and maybe some OCD.

I got to meet this little guy named Walter. His humans are Olivia and Josh.

My first crack at mussels. 

PS. Here are some of my favorite Christmas movies.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

A Weekend in Washington

Still pretty, even with all his scaffolding. My photog skills though...
I got off the plane feeling like I was coming home. It's not a usual feeling in a place you haven't lived in over two years, but DC is like that for me. I did a lot of growing up there. It's where I met lifelong friends, had my first fight with a coworker, learned when to keep my mouth shut (something my brother has been trying to teach me for years...), and also when to speak up. 

This weekend was the baby shower for my friend Emily, who is graceful and lovely at all times, and is so even at 7 months pregnant. The baby shower was on Sunday afternoon, and as "Junior Hostess," I got to show up early, help set up, and drink mimosas before anyone else got there. It's pretty awesome. We spent the afternoon in complete love for new baby D, and I can't wait to meet her in the spring!

But before Sunday, I visited all my favorite restaurants and shops, including Capitol Hill Books, which is kind of, like, the best place in DC. Books are ripping the seems off the place, shoved into crevices that may only be there by accident. It's like a disorganized version of Shakespeare & Co. in Paris, and I love every inch of it.

I also had my first mussels experience on Friday night at Granville Moore's, and they were delicious. The sandwich at Mr. Henry's was as satisfying as I remember, and Cap Lounge is...the same, and amazing.

The best part, though, was seeing everyone. It feels good to walk over to H Street in a pack of four again, chatting about the day or work or family, or drive down Penn and see the places I once saw every day. A friend once described DC to me as an Island of Misfit Toys, a compilation of people from all over the country who somehow band together as lifelong friends, coworkers and companions. I don't think she's wrong. Every time I go back, I'm reminded how much I'll always love my Island, and the Toys that live there.


Hostesses (and jr. hostess in the middle)

It was quite a spread.

Good friends.

PS. Thanks, Olivia, for the pics!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

{Five Things}

The swift tilt toward Christmas. Decorations are up at the store!
This weekend, I am in DC to celebrate the birthday and baby shower of two good friends. I always love to visit my Washington friends, and this time is no different. Especially since I'm making up for having to miss one of my favorite weekends of the year because I'll be in Nicaragua. :(
But I'm not thinking about that right now. Instead, I'm enjoying time with friends and being grateful for all the joys this city has brought me over the past few years. Have a good weekend!

Getting back to my journal after a hiatus of a few weeks. It's amazing how a few words on a piece of paper can clear my head.

A buttermilk pie, which will always remind me of my two amazing grandmothers.

The Thanksgiving centerpiece still brightening up our dining room.

Adding new and old tunes to my phone.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

A Too-Short, Long Weekend

This Thanksgiving was wonderful. Not only did I get to see family that I rarely see, but I spent time with friends that may as well be family.

I've alluded to Friendsgiving in the past few posts, and this one did not disappoint. It was my second year to be invited, and the food and company is always top notch.We gorged, played a fun candle game, and talked until the cows came home.

Love these girls!

On Wednesday, my grandparents arrived in Abilene, followed quickly by my older brother and then my mom's brother and his family. The house was full, and not just because my cousins all stand above 6'2''. Then my mom's sister and her husband came bearing delicious BBQ from Smitty's Market in Lockhart, TX, which is conveniently on the way from their house in Victoria. We ate heartily, and I knew it was going to be a weekend of full tummies. (Spoiler: I wasn't wrong.)

Thanksgiving Thursday, we woke to a beautiful, warm day... and a sick grandfather :(. While he recovered in bed (and recover he did), we went off to the country club for our Thanksgiving dinner, sorry he wasn't with us. My mom decided that she wasn't going to cook this year because, let's be real, there were 16 of us and the women always end up in the kitchen all day. That dog won't hunt anymore. The country club did an okay job, though their desserts were a bit disappointing.

We spent the rest of the day in front of football or outside enjoying the nice weather. Friday, I had to work at the store, but got to spend the morning with everyone before my uncle and cousins left for their lease to hunt. Then we were joined by my mom's other brother, his wife and daughter.

On Saturday, my uncle wanted to go buy a gun, obvs, so we went out to Dyess because the PX (is that the correct term? I get so confused.) was having a special on them. #thisistexas. I'm always amazed when I go out to that base. It's a world so unfamiliar and fascinating to me: a community of its own dedicated to the people that serve our country. Old jets and planes line the main entry road, and my dad could literally name all of them, about 20 or so, and tell you what they were used for. It was impressive. His and my brother's knowledge of airplanes surpasses everything I could probably ever know about anything else in the world, and I have no idea where all the information came from. So I just kind of sit back in awe.

After the gun-buying, and another afternoon of football, we went downtown to Fat Boss's to watch, yup, more football. A few glasses of wine and some fried goods always goes down smooth when family is around, and I loved spending time with them.

My Sunday was spent recovering from the long weekend of food and wine. I felt like a fat cat after a big meal, perfectly content to just lie on the couch and doze, and happy to think about the previous few days where nothing but family and fellowship was forefront on my mind. When is the next get-together?

Nothing better.
I'm serious, you guys. And you always gotta check out the binocs while you're there.

Can you imagine cooking for this many people? Naw.
Also, my babiest little cousin Jake--who is currently a foot taller than I am--got cut off :(

Monday, December 1, 2014

Monday Meals: Oh, Fudge!

I hope everyone's Thanksgiving was happy and filling, I know mine was! I made this delicious fudge last week and took it to Friendsgiving. It was a wonderful treat to pass out at the end of the night, and I hope everyone enjoyed it as much as I did.

photo and recipe.
Peanut Butter Pumpkin Fudge: 

4 cups white chocolate chips
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
2/3 cup pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie mix)
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Line an 8x8” pan with foil and spray with cooking spray. Gather all your ingredients.

Place white chocolate chips and peanut butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat on stovetop. Stir continuously until smooth. About 8-10 minutes.

Once chocolate and peanut butter are melted together, remove from stovetop and immediately stir in the pumpkin puree, spice, and vanilla. Pour into prepared pan and let cool to room temperature on the counter. Chill until set, then cut into squares.

I also sprinkled some cinnamon on top.

The finished product, separated into cute little baggies for convenience! Plus the buttermilk pie I made because there can never be enough desserts.