Sunday, September 13, 2015

Change of Address

One of the best trips eva..
It's been three lively and long years since I decided to start writing Of A Long Book. My life has changed immeasurably and it's pretty entertaining to go back and read my first few blog posts. I was still a mere child, working for my congressman and blissfully ignorant of all that life could be if only I took a few chances. It's been an emotional ride, a four-wheeler-on-sand-dunes kind of ride, and some of the happiest and saddest moments of my life. I've climbed a mountain, spent a couple summers in Paris, got to know some amazing chicos in Nicaragua, and published stories in a local magazine. But beyond that, I've learned how to be bold, to follow my gut even though it may have been easier to not. I have a lot more to learn, I know, but I feel so much more sure of myself than I did back in 2013 when I quit my job. I now know that "unexpected" does not have to mean "scary."

I've also had a chance to nourish some of the most important relationships in my world. Though I don't live in DC anymore, I feel closer to my DC friends and am so thankful that no matter how much time passes, we never have trouble picking up where we left off. I've grown real and adult relationships with my high school friends, and I've had the chance to FINALLY live in the same town as them. I've found new friendships in Nicaragua, England, Paris, and all over. My brothers and I have found our groove, and I no longer feel like they're there just because they are. And, of course, I've gotten to know my parents not as my parents, but as buddies, and they have gotten to know the grown-up (sort of) me. Words could never express how thankful I am for their generosity and kindness: for letting me live at home when I clearly had no idea what I was doing. I will always be grateful for their love, and I appreciate them on a deeper level than I think I even realize.

While it has been great, I do feel it is time to move on. So I'm off to London today and am excited to see what will come next. But this isn't goodbye! To keep up with people and to let my mom know that I'm still alive, I've started a new blog! Check it out to see what I'm doing over in Londres, the things I eat and drink and read and write. If you come visit I promise I'll write about you.

And of course, thank you for following this blog and allowing me to vent, explore, and share the things that I love. Readers are the Thing, and I couldn't be happier to have gone on this journey with you. So, thanks.

Friday, August 28, 2015

{Five Things}

The most adorable Texas earrings from Beth for my birthday! 
The weather in Abilene is still hot, but now I'm getting a few more cool breezes as I sit outside in the morning drinking coffee and reading. It seems like everyone can agree that fall is the best time of the year, and I'm ready for cooler weather. This weekend I'm attending a bridal shower and catching up on some much needed downtime. Happy Friday!

Spicewood Vineyard on Katie's bachelorette weekend. Great wine and a little Spanish practice, too!
Some very close-up time with Jack, my grandparents' sweet dog (one of them, anyway).
Cheese board Mom and I created for my birthday party.

And finally, a reminder that this exists and that Will Ferrell is amazing. (h/t to Katie for sending it.)

Thursday, August 27, 2015

A Wonderful "Surprise"

I know, you guys. I KNOW. I have been busy and my world is changing and everything is different and blogging has kind of gone by the wayside. Not only have I been all over celebrating two bachelorettes, but I have approx. 123875423 things to do before I move across the pond and zero time to do it. But you don't want to hear about that.

After two lovely weekends in Charleston and then Horseshoe Bay for two friends' bachelorette parties, I found myself in my last week working at the store. It was a bittersweet feeling yesterday, my last day, to realize that I won't walk in there and run to the back to immediately drop the nine bags of food, etc. I brought to work. I won't make a trip down to United to grab lunch or a drink, or have an afternoon of checking things in, which was really just a thing that my coworker and I did while we shared our lives. Even if every moment wasn't all rainbows and unicorns, you tend to forget the bad or weird, and all the good comes into clearer focus. That's how I'll think of Surprises: the place that offered me refuge from the voice that raged in my mind asking me constantly what I was going to do with my life. So as I type I'm grateful and feel somewhat dewy about the place and people I got to know and love.

We had the best visitors.

And the best views (sometimes...)

And the best snacks.

And the best people.*

*I don't have a picture of us, Donna, but thank you.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Keep Austin Awesome

Sunday, I decided to make a quick trip down to the Texas Capital. I haven't really spent much time in Austin, but I've always had a good time anytime I'd been and felt like a jolt of "Texas" before my year abroad. I arrived Sunday and had drinks with my friend Caroline, who ended up being my hostess for the next two days. We had some rose and then headed out to dinner at Z Tejas, a delicious tex-mex place on 6th Street.

On Monday I walked down to Cafe Medici for coffee and some time lost in my current book.

Then I headed out to Mecca, aka BookPeople. The famous book store in Austin has some great events, and though I only browsed their shelves and picked out some titles that I want to read, I could have spent all day in there. I love getting lost in titles and book descriptions, and I only left because it was lunch time and mama was getting hungry. I decided to go to the Whole Foods, which I hadn't been to before and since we know how much I love grocery stores, I was so excited to shop around. Well, I ascended the escalator and didn't even know where to look. There was a very intense cheese section, specialty items from all over the world, a huge nut and trail mix bar, BBQ stand, sushi section and lots of things that I wanted to put in my mouth right away. I thought I would grab some food from their main little pre-made section, but I was extremely overwhelmed. I kept going back and forth trying to decide what I wanted. But it's kind of difficult to listen to your stomach when half of Austin is very assertively walking with purpose to the sandwich station and salad bar while hurrying to get back to the office. I approached the counter with sandwiches, pastas, meat and fish, and told the guy that I was a little overwhelmed. He looked at me very sympathetically and said, "yeah, there's a lot of stuff here." You can say that again.

Though I was kind of enjoying the chaos that is Whole Foods at lunchtime, I wasn't feeling any of it. I bought some delicious-looking hummus, salsa and thai-seasoned cashews and headed to my car. I'm sure when I go again it won't be so ominous and scary, but at the time I felt like Jon Snow about the climb the Wall with no Ygrette there to help me out. I ate a handfull of cashews in the car and felt better. Cashews make everything better.

Moving on. I drove around downtown for a bit and decided to go to lunch at 24 Diner on Lamar. I sidled up to the bar and had an amazing turkey burger and a glass of rose. One thing I've learned throughout all my solo travel is to always eat at the bar. You meet people, get to know the bar tenders, and it's really not as awkward as you'd think. I had time to catch my breath and meet some strangers just passing through.

Later, I met Caroline for dinner at Odd Duck and had a great meal of little bites before we headed to a pub quiz with some of her coworkers/friends. I did lots of pub quizzes in Nicaragua and was happy to be back at it, even though this one was really hard and I only knew a few of the answers. Regardless, it felt like the perfect Austin night: a foodie dinner followed by fun bar activities.

One of our dishes: a twice baked potato with braised goat, cheddar fondue and green tomato.
Caroline decided to take the next day off and we went to the Barton Springs pool. A spring-fed pool within the city limits, Barton Springs is the perfect place to go when temps are in the low 100s. We swam in the cold water, people watched on the grassy knolls, and caught up on life.


So pretty.

As we were driving back into town to change and get BBQ, Caroline suddenly shouted, "Jennabeth! How do you feel about snow cones??" I hadn't had one in ages and didn't exactly know how I felt about them. But she swore that they were a good idea on that hot day, so we pulled into Sno-Beach for some refreshment. Plus, desserts before meals are always a good idea. There's a reason snow cones are a typical American treat. They were so cold and good after our swim and I relished the throwback to childhood. Except for when a bee thought my snow cone was a flower and was really trying his darnest to pollinate it. I screamed "BEE!!" to the amusement of some passersby. I'm turning red just thinking about the embarrassment...

It's all smiles until a bee decides to RUIN YOU.

After a delicious BBQ lunch, we said our goodbyes and Caroline dropped me off at the condo. Driving the long drive home last night, I knew it wouldn't be my last time in weird ol' Austin.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

My First Experience at Painting with a Twist

A few weeks ago, a brand new company came to town that had my little friend group buzzing. We often look for fun things to do in our quaint town, and having another activity to add to the list is always refreshing. Plus it's summer and light until 9 freaking 30pm so what else are we going to do after work? Go home? I think not.

So anyway, there's this company called Painting with a Twist. The whole basis of the company was to host events where people can relax, drink wine and learn to paint. They started in Louisiana but have since expanded to literally every sort-of big city across the country. When they opened in Abilene at the end of June, a friend suggested we try it.

Now look here, I am not an artist. I cannot draw to save the life of anyone I love, and my only claim to fame in the whole art department is being able to color in the lines, a skill I didn't possess until well into the 3rd or 4th grade. Suffice it to say, it'd been a while since I'd held an actual paintbrush.

Look how scared I look of the canvas.
I went with a friend on Monday night, and ohmygoshyouguys it was so much fun! Here's something I especially enjoyed on Monday night that I didn't have as a child in art class: WINE. But apart from that, they give you just the right amount of instruction without being overbearing, and emphasize having Fun while you're there. Holding a paintbrush, though somewhat alien, felt a little bit like opening a beloved children's book long after childhood. I found I was excited to rediscover it. The instructor also gave us plenty of time to just paint, and my friend and I were able to catch up on life. And you know what? My painting didn't even suck that badly.

See? Well, they're supposed to be bluebonnets but whatever.

I kind of love how everyone's looks a little bit different.

I definitely recommend going to a Painting with a Twist class, if just to have something different to do on a Monday (or any!) night. Plus, you walk away with a piece of artwork that no one but you could have created.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Lessons from Whole30

I'll be honest, I haven't been a very good Whole30 graduate. At midnight on the last day I had a glass of wine and I wasn't even sorry. I've had wine since then, and not just a little bit. I was at a wedding after all, followed by Fourth of July weekend...

However, everything I heard from friends and Pinterest is true. Here are a few things I learned during 30 days of what I thought were going to be hell.

First things first: get the cookbook. It's easy to reference and has great tips and motivation to keep you going.
1. Cravings subside -- The Whole30 people say this a lot, but the program really is not that hard! It's 30 days, a tiny little smudge of the year that you will not regret. I don't have much of a sweet tooth, my cravings were more for diet dr. peppers and chicken salad sandwiches with a side of fries from United. They say that cravings subside in 3-5 minutes so for the first few weeks, I downed a glass of water or ate a handful of cashews if I was really feeling it. I just tried to think of how good I'd feel after.

2. I feel better without dairy and bread -- This is different for everyone. You may decide that alcohol doesn't need to come back in to your diet, or legumes or all grains. For me, I didn't really even miss dairy or a ton of bread. I think I will continue to keep these things to a minimum. I do love vanilla creamer in my coffee, but not enough to make me feel bloated and gross all day. I'm not saying I'm going to swear off cheese boards, because #letsbereal that's never going to happen, but I don't think I need it at every single meal.

3. I can survive without alcohol for 30 days -- Especially during summer, when all I want to do is sit on a porch drinking margaritas, I thought this part of the plan was going to be brutal. It's really not fun to drink water at the new Mexican food place, or the great wine bar, when all your friends have drinks and seem to be celebrating the passing of another work day. BUT, psyching myself up for this month made it easier and I was able to tell myself "just a few more weeks; just another week; just a few more days" until it was time to crack open a bottle of wine and really celebrate. Though I do love wine, I was so happy with this aspect of Whole30. I learned the benefits of not drinking every night, and how much more I enjoy those yummy glasses of wine when they are fewer in between.

4. I look at food differently now -- Sometime in the third week something clicked. I was no longer seeing all the things I couldn't eat; I was able to look at a salad and think about the energy that I'd have for the rest of the day, or the hot water with lemon that I drank at night to help digest and detox, and know how good I'd feel the next morning. I'm not saying I will be a saint of healthy eating from this day forth. I'm positive there will be slip-ups occasionally, but this gave me confidence and a new attitude about food and eating. Now I know exactly how to get back on track when I do derail.

5. A 30-day commitment is just good for the soul -- The thing I love about this is that it isn't a diet. It's a fundamental reevaluation of how you look at food and how it makes you feel. There's a section in the cookbook that talks about whether or not 28 days is just as good as 30. They argue that it isn't. They say that 30 days is the commitment you make, and breaking it is the same as saying that you are not worth keeping promises to yourself. It is nice to reaffirm that I have the discipline and will-power to commit to something and follow through. Yes I lost weight, and yes I'm happy to be in clothes that haven't fit quite right for a while, but the emotional and mental benefits of this experiment far outweigh the physical.

I really couldn't recommend this enough, it's a great way to jumpstart healthy eating and focusing on the foods that really make you feel good.

PS. What Lanie learned on Whole30, and a favorite recipe from the girls at Donuts and Denim.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Destin-ation Wedding

I'm no expert, but I think Destin may be Florida's finest beach.

I am a little biased though because I just spent a fantastic weekend on its sugar-white beaches for my cousin's wedding. I always love spending time with family, but this felt different somehow. Maybe because destination weddings are meant to be closer-knit and more personal. So our already tight family seemed even more connected as we wished the best for my cousin and his new bride. The weekend involved lots of sitting around on the beach, a night or two out at some Destin bars, food, wine, and fellowship. I even got to play a round of golf with my mom and two aunts.

A little closest-to-the-pin action.

Rehearsal dinner at Tommy Bahamas.
It rained right before the ceremony and then that rainbow came out. I couldn't even make this up.

These moments with family seem more poignant to me since I know I'll be moving soon. Everything this summer is special: lunch with friends, nights out in Abilene, trips across Texas. Though I'm very excited to go to London, I'm also focused on relishing the next few months and being thankful for what I have. This weekend in Destin was a good place to start practicing that credo.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

It's Day 22 and I really just want some wine.

Within the span of ten minutes, three people asked my mom and me why wine glasses were noticeably absent from our table. As I sat at the country club sports grill, the place my parents and I normally go to drink wine and talk about our feelings days, I wondered why this Whole30 thing is even a thing. It's boring, it's annoying, and people look at you funny when you say you can't drink wine or lattes or eat sandwiches or cheese.

And I won't lie, today I was a bit cranky. Though my clothes fit better, I wake up every day with a clear head and have energy throughout the day (mostly), I really just wanted a glass of wine when I got home from work. But it's only 8 more days of this. Only 8. More. Days.

And after all, isn't this what being an adult is about? Doing things that I know are good for my health, even though it kind of sucks in the interim; exercising self-control when all I want is to dive into a bowl of queso; saying "I'll just have a water" when I know that amazing pinot noir is waiting for me behind the bar.**

Can you tell I'm missing all my favorite things?

But then I went to a new restaurant and had drinks (water) with some great friends, and I think I was just missing some girl time. The support of friends should never be underestimated when you're going through something like this.

Here are some of my favorite things I've been eating. None of the recipes are original, though I often make adjustments when it comes to spices. I can't get enough oregano lately.

Is there anything better than guacamole?

Besides pesto, that is.

Hamburger with a sweet potato "bun." I added grilled mushrooms and onions and some arugula. Yummy!
Some spicy chicken sausage with potatoes on a bed of lettuce. I drizzled olive oil over top. Love

**I apologize if anyone is thinking about doing Whole30 and this post completely put you off. It really is amazing and will very likely change your life and the way you look at food. Plus you get to eat pesto. Check it out if you want some other inspiration besides my ramblings.

Friday, May 29, 2015

{Five Things} in NYC

That time we spent our last few hours in NYC at The Plaza drinking wine.
Last weekend in New York City with my besties from DC was the tops. We laughed, ate too much, drank too much, and reestablished our love for brunch, rose wine, the Kate Spade store and wealthy benefactors. Here are some of my favorite moments from this weekend (as if there were only 5 favorite moments).

That time we had cocktails AND a bag of donuts at lunch.

That time I was still learning how to use the selfie stick at the Carrie Bradshaw steps on Perry Street.

That time we made best friends with the Irish bartender and he decided to give us party favors.

And that time I FINALLY met Alice, emily and phil's little piece of sunshine beauty.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

This month is going to be cray

And by cray I mean completely not cray because I'm doing Whole30. I know, I'm shocked too. I'm on Day 2 of my month of no sugar, no bread, no cheese, no creamer in my coffee, no wine (gasp!), and no french fries. I may die.

On the other hand, I get to eat things like fresh fruit and veggies, lots of spices, sweet potatoes, eggs, and these almonds that I love. I wanted to plan something after New York because I tend to fall into really bad habits when I am home. I will usually pay little attention to what I eat, drink several glasses of wine a night and watch TV (lately Game of Thrones, another post on that later) until the wee hours in the morning. Not very healthy or productive. So I'm really looking forward to the change up. My mom is doing it with me, so I'll have a partner and it'll make it easier, I hope.

I know the hardest thing for me is going to be to not snack while I'm at work. At any given time at the store we have no less than three containers of peanuts of varying sizes and flavors. Well, apparently peanuts promote inflammation. So I've been taking shots of honey roasted peanuts thinking they are a "healthier" option. Turns out, they're not.

Le sigh.

Anyway, here we go. If anyone has any tips or recipes, feel free to leave them here. I'll keep you updated on my progress. If my next post is as angsty as a teenage girl, I apologize, but I'm probably just in the hangry stage.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

You sound like you're from London!

I think I've wanted to move to London since I read Pride and Prejudice sophomore year of high school. In college I bought a book called Living and Working in London that I meant to give to a family I knew that was moving there, but I never had the chance to give it to them. Or maybe I didn't want to part with it. Either way, it's been sitting on my bookshelf ever since.

So this announcement has been a long time coming: I'm moving to London in the fall to pursue a creative writing masters at Westminster University. Serendipitously, in the course of the past few years I've managed to shore up a decent number of friends who live in London, other places in England and across Europe. They're some of the nicest, most fun human adults I've ever met, and I'm excited to be able to see them more frequently. I'm also ecstatic to be working on my writing, with other like-minded people, in one of the most beautiful and exciting cities in the world. Is this real life?!?!

When I think about walking down those London streets, the cool air kissing my cheeks and the gray skies making everything around me glow in pale light, I wish I could go tomorrow. But I know a lot of things must happen before I can board a plane for Heathrow. I have to get a visa; I'm going to two bachelorette parties where I have to reluctantly say goodbye to the best friends a girl can have (even though I hope they will all come visit me). I have to pack, though I don't even want to think about the massive bag that I will lug around... I have to find housing; I have to keep writing; I have to mentally prepare for hearing all those accents all the time. It may be months away, but the planning starts now.

I'm not sure what the fate of Of A Long Book will be once I move across the pond. This move feels like such a large shift in my life, and I don't know if this blog will continue to fit the circumstances in which I find myself. I don't want to stop writing about my experiences, but maybe with an appropriate change to the way I present them to you, my dear readers. While I explore every opportunity I'll keep you informed. And if I do transition to another online location, I truly hope you'll follow along.

In the Ice Bar the last time I was there with some besties!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Recent Reads

Nicaragua is a great place to get some reading done, it turns out. They don't tell you that in brochures. Since temperatures in the afternoon often reach the mid-90s, and there's very little refuge to seek in cool places, most days I would seek whatever shade I could find and read until the sun went down. Here are some of the more notable books I've read so far this year: 

A Time to Kill, John Grisham

We've all seen the movie, or parts of the movie, with Matthew McConaughey and Samuel L. Jackson, about the lawyer who defends an African American man in Mississippi who murders the two white men who raped and beat his daughter. It's a compelling story, but I liked the movie better. The book was good and moved along quickly, but there was a lot of buildup and not very much pay off in the book. At least in the movie, we get that great closing statement from Matthew in the courtroom.

A Painted House, John Grisham

My second Grisham novel of the year, this one is absent any lawyers or courtrooms. The Painted House is set on a farm in rural Arkansas and follows a seven year old kid throughout the summer and into the fall as he picks cotton with his parents and grandparents. They hire a couple other families to help, and there is inevitably some drama. As the little boy narrates, characteristics of small-town life begin to unfold before the reader's eyes, and I was drawn into Luke's life and the terrible and wonderful things he witnesses.

Devil in the White City, Erik Larson

I was taken aback by the sheer amount of research that had to have gone into this book. Larson writes with so much authority, it almost reads like a novel. In the 1890s, Chicago hosted the World Fair, and the architects and builders struggled to top the Parisian World Fair after it revealed the Eiffel Tower a few years earlier. Meanwhile, a charming, slippery, and absolutely crazy murderer lived and worked just a few miles away. This guy, H.H. Holmes, ran a hotel that allowed him to employ young women and then kill them in disturbing ways. It's not a book for the easily-nauseated, but it is pretty fascinating how he managed to do everything he did without getting caught. I also loved getting to picture in my mind the World's Fair, and what the head architect, Daniel Burnham, accomplished. Larson recently wrote another book about the Lusitania that I may have to read.

Orphan Train, Christina Baker Kline

This is a novel about a girl from Ireland who came to America with her family, then suddenly finds herself orphaned and shipped out West by train to find a new family. Set at the beginning of the Depression in the 1930s, the book describes takes us through her harrowing experiences with lots of families before she finally settles. I won't spoil it by saying how. Her story is intertwined with another girl's, but this one is 70 years later in Michigan. It's a really good book and I recommend it for a cross-country flight or a quiet weekend at home.

Born Standing Up, Steve Martin

I love Steve Martin. You love Steve Martin. We all love Father of the Bride. That's why I thought this book would be as great as he is. He is a good writer and kept me engaged, but it wasn't as laugh-out-loud hilarious as I thought it was going to be. Martin writes about his stand up career before going into movies, and it was somewhat difficult for me to connect because I know literally nothing about stand-up. However, it's always fun to see behind the curtain (literally) of a celebrity's life and certainly worth a gander if you're into memoirs of famous people.

Go Ask Alice, Anonymous

I read this well-known book, that's had some controversy over the years, in an afternoon. It was promoted as a real-life diary in the 1970s, but has since come out as complete fiction. It is sad to watch this girl's downfall, but what's most interesting to me is that teenage girls are going through the exact same thing as they were in the 70s. Besides all the drugs, Alice pretty accurately describes a lot of the thoughts and feelings girls have in those good ol' teen years.

The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins

This is a great new novel. As Rachel commutes into London by train every day, she becomes obsessed with a couple living in one of the track houses that she can see from the train. Then one day she sees the wife doing something she shouldn't be doing, and Rachel gets caught up in the whole thing. Come to find out her ex-husband lives just down the street and comes back into the fold in the worst possible way. I had to pry myself away from it, and I think you'll love it.

Utopia, Thomas More

I bought this at my favorite book store on Capitol Hill and am getting through it slowly. It's surprisingly readable considering it was written in the early 1500s and translated from Latin. It does have a lot of comments about social constructs and politics and is surprisingly relevant to today. I'll have more to report once I finish it. 

Happy reading!! 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

There's absolutely no reason to go to Southern California.

Seriously, the Coachella Valley is disgusting. 

Look at this gross view of green, green grass and mountains in the background.

There's nothing to do or see and I can't understand why people live there. 

The Palm Springs Modern Art Museum had absolutely nothing exciting in it. (My dad's face says it all.)

And this Liza Minnelli impersonator at a drag bar was so boring.

And this musician played nothing good or moving in the middle of a street fair.

You'll only be disappointed by the thousands of unique restaurants, El Paseo shopping center, golf courses and tennis courts for miles, hiking paths and downtown centers, museums in Palm Springs and more spas than you could ever visit in a lifetime. So really, don't ever visit.

The golf courses are just okay.

The food is never delicious.

Ugly bunnies live on golf courses, completely ruining your game.

After last week, I never want to go back.**

**Except that I do, like, now.