1. This incredible Amy Schumer skit with Julia Louis Dreyfus, Tina Fey, and Patricia Arquette. I honestly cannot do it justice. Just watch.
2. My Spring-ified front porch makes me very, very happy. Especially now that we have added a vintage glider that my hubby stripped and repainted last fall along with some wicker furniture from my parents. I love sitting out here with a book and a glass of wine in the evening, watching the world go by.
3. This book.
It actually just want the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and it is so richly deserved. It's a WWII novel that follows a blind French girl and a young German boy as their paths wind through war ravaged Europe, but it's so much more than that simple synopsis. It's the kind of book that makes you ache as you read it, because you know with every word you read you're closer to it being over. The language is beautiful but effortless. There's no work apparent. It is fluid and gorgeous with sentences that you read again and again and want to etch inside your memory permanently. But the story is equally as beautiful as the language, with characters who break you open and make you want desperately to be okay, because they don't feel like characters in a book. They feel like flesh and bone and soul. There's a plot point in the book that centers on a character who makes these intricate, lovely models of entire villages, with every detail painstakingly created, to the point that they feel just as real if not more so than the place they are based on. This book feels like that, like an entire world willed into life by the author. It's just so, so good, and I cannot recommend it enough.
4. This band I just discovered. They are folksy and twangy and soulful and Mumford-ish mixed with a little Lumineers. Now that I have fancy bluetooth in my car (yes, it is 2015 and I just now have a bluetooth capable car) I listen to them constantly.
5. This preview. Yeah, yeah I know I'm behind by a few days when the internet exploded when this first came out. But I'm still super pumped about a new Star Wars (I do not count the 3 "new" Star Wars movies that came out the last ten years, because well, Jar Jar Binks, and no Han or Chewie, and so many other reasons). I grew up watching the original Star Wars films. My mom loves sci-fi and so there was always something sci-fy on, whether it was Phantom Leap or Seaquest or Star Wars. I was also a huge nerd and was obsessed with the X-Files and Jurassic Park. I don't read a lot of sci fi to be truthful but I have and will always love those rich landscapes created by science fiction writers for TV and film. I know the first 3 Star Wars films inside and out and am just really, dorkily excited about this.
Last week R and I both had a day off in the middle of the week and the weather was relatively warm and non-rainy. Obviously the only thing to do was to go to Merroir.
A little background. Merroir is kind of our happy place as a couple. For our one year dating anniversary I surprised R with a trip to the Tides Inn with a chartered boat to Merroir for dinner. It was kind of a legendary night. First of all our boat captain was this perfect character. He was weathered and pot bellied and appeared to be the kind of man who had spent his life on boats, along with a marbles in his mouth, bourbon and cigarette hewn drawl. But he had a teeny, tiny poodle dog that appeared to be the great love of his life and came with us on the trip. R and I were expecting to have a romantic, intimate night, but when we got to Merroir our Captain had put us down for a table for five (us, him, the other couple on the boat, and of course, the dog). We waited for two HOURS (if we had been put down for a table for 2, as we assumed, we probably would have been sat in half the time). But because the only thing to do while waiting was drink we had a rip roaring time. We ended up spending a boisterous evening with our Captain and the older couple and by the time we got seated we were so drunk and hungry that we literally ordered the entire menu.
We've made multiple day trips since then. We stayed at the Tides Inn again and of course had dinner there. We've gone in the winter when we're the only ones there. We've gone in warm weather when the whole place is packed with vacationers. It's sort of our go to when the weather is nice and we have nothing else to do. Because almost all of the seating is outside we can bring the dogs. We served their oysters at our wedding. Like I said, happy place.
So we spent a lovely day last week at our happy place. On the way we stopped in Gloucester to let the dogs walk on the beach and swim. They enjoyed the car ride together in the back. (we took my new Highlander and by goodness does this car work perfectly with two big (and one getting bigger by the day) dogs.
It was actually the first time for both walks to see a costal body of water. They were curious followed by intrigued followed by flipped out excited (kind of their reaction to every new thing). And George swam! I think his ancestry and heritage kicked in and he was in his element.
We loaded back up the sandy and wet dogs and headed to Topping, VA to Merroir. It's hard to put into words what it is about this place. I just feel myself relax as soon as I get there. There's a magic created by water, cold draft beer, and fresh seafood when each of those elements are just right. You sit down at one of their picnic tables on a shell strewn patio, take a deep breath of briny air, look out over the coastal river, and feel everything from the "real" world melt away. I love it so.
I had a tangerine wheat beer which was absolutely perfect. R had his typical IPA (he really, really wants me to like IPAs, and I have tried so many, and well, I just will always prefer a mild, wheaty, citrusy beer to hoppy).
We got the shrimp which is my favorite thing in the entire world. I could eat 10 pounds of these single handedly. There is something about peel and eat shrimp that just to me is everything I love about the south and the coast melded together. It reminds me of so many summers throughout my life, of lazy evening at the beach, of hot nights in Charleston, of newspapers laid out on porch tables, of lemon wedges and roll after roll of paper towels, of hands that smell like Old Bay for days.
And of course oysters. Now I love Rappahanock oysters. Again we served them at our wedding. They are briny and delicious and I love that they have brought so much attention to oysters from this region of Virginia. But because I learned to love oysters in Charleston, I will always be partial to the big, ugly, barnacle oysters of the Lowcountry, oysters that are cheap and small but still salty and delicious and made for putting on saltines with cocktail sauce. However, these are still pretty darn fantastic (even if they are pricier than I think an oyster should be, again in Charleston you don't buy local oysters for $1.50 each, you buy them for $10 a bucket that comes with a few dozen).
We also got barbecue bourbon grilled oysters (I know, I am salivating just typing this) and R got something called a Stuffin Muffin which I can't really describe but took a bite and it was also amazing.
Full and happy and smelling like salt and seafood we piled into the car, our little mixed human and fur family of four, and headed back to Richmond. I wish I could go to Merroir on a daily basis (my wallet does not wish this), but even though I can't, it gives me comfort to know it's there, a short drive away, a little pocket of peace and calm and good food and salty air.
1. When my doggies snuggle. Sometimes they pretend to be each other's nemesis, but truthfully they are the two best friends that ever did live.
2. R and I went to Can Can happy hour last Thursday. Two words: cheese and wine. Oh and bread. So much crusty bread to go with the delicious cheese and crisp, refreshing wine. I could live at Can Can's zinc bar. Every time I go there I feel like I'm back in Paris, whiling away a lazy afternoon at brasserie. Also half carafes for $10. Which means obviously I had to order an entire half carafe instead of a glass. Because SALE!
3. Akida sushi. We followed up our happy hour with a little sushi in Akida's new Museum District location. And maybe it was the wine and romance of Can Can talking, but it may have been my favorite sushi I've ever had in Richmond. It's a tiny little hole in the wall with no decor or ambience to speak of. But darn do they do good sushi. I went with a spicy tuna (my go to, even though it is a little on the boring side) and then a crazy roll with tuna and salmon. Oh and there was roe. Lots of roe/caviar/fishy goodness.
4. The tulips in our front yard. I take absolutely no credit for these. Someone who owned our little house in the past planted the most amazing flower bed in our front yard. It literally starts blooming in March and continues to bloom through late fall. It is so gorgeously choreographed that as soon as one flower starts to wilt a new one comes up from the ground, like a long, slow, elegant dance. I applaud whoever planted this bed, because it is really and truly a masterpiece of gardening. My favorite blooms are the tulips, because I love tulips. They are pretty sure. But they also remind me of everything that you feel at the beginning of spring, like life is new and shiny and full of possibility.
5. Last Friday I had a movie date with my mom and 5 year old niece. We went to see Cinderella, and it was just what you want from a live action Cinderella, totally by the book, utterly charming, sweet and sincere, with a bit of magic. Two very enthusiastic thumbs up from the enchanted 5 year old (and her equally enchanted 29 year old aunt). Sweet Frog post movie was mandatory for obvious reasons.
6. I co-hosted a bridal shower for one of my very best and oldest friends, Chrissy. It was lovely and relaxed and filled with food (I baked biscuits for a party, I feel very proud of that because two weeks ago biscuits terrified me to even make for myself), laughter, and advice for the soon to be bride.
Me with the gorgeous bride to be and my mom
7. I finally started to tend our garden in the last couple of days. The weather has been GORGEOUS and I've spent the last two days outside planting and weeding and trying to prevent George from eating everything I plant (have been about 50% successful with that). There really is something so satisfying about putting your hands in the dirt and watching things you plant grow and thrive. Last year I started off enthusiastically and then kind of let most of my plants die due to lack of watering/animals. I really am going to try and not let that happen this year. I've scaled back a little and am focusing on quality rather than quantity.
8. I further took advantage of this wonderful weather by having the family over for a cookout last night. I actually grilled because R was sadly stuck at work (I am kind of a grill amateur, but I really want to try and get more experience with it this year, because it's a healthy and flavorful way to cook). I made chicken and beef kebobs with some grilled zucchini and asparagus and my mom brought over yummy ribs. We hung out outside on our patio (my house is way too small to have my family over when we can't use our outdoor space so it's nice in the summer to be able to invite people over) and enjoyed the pleasant weather while the babies and puppies played in the yard (George is really happy when my niece and nephew come over because they are the only creatures who can match and even exceed his level of energy)
9. This jasmine candle from Target. Because my house smells like stinky dogs and anything helps. But most of all because the smell of jasmine this time of year so deeply and firmly takes my heart and soul to Charleston even if I'm not physically there. I can close my eyes and be there, walking down a moonlit street with the Confederate jasmine twined around wrought iron gates, their thick, earthy perfume heavy in the spring air.
10. This video. Because GoT started last night (SO good!). And because even though it feels like spring, as Jon Snow would remind us, winter is still coming :)
Happy Monday everyone. Here is to a good week!
Happy Easter everyone! I had an absolutely lovely Easter weekend, because I did absolutely zero that was momentous or exciting. I was off work and had no plans for travel. R worked this weekend so I didn't have any exciting things to do for a date night. And as much as I love exciting and fun filled weekends, I was really grateful to have a non-exciting, non "fun" couple of days at home to get things together, clean, do laundry, etc.
I organized my closet and switched out my warm weather and cold weather clothes (I know at this point you're probably thinking, but she said her weekend wasn't exciting!) I organized the storage under our guest bed (it really does just keep getting more exciting doesn't it?). I cannot describe how happy it makes me to look at a clean, organized closet filled with spring and summer clothing instead of sweaters and corduroy.
In addition to that craziness I did a good bit of cooking/baking.
For dinner Saturday I made a really yummy pasta salad for us. I was in the mood for something cold, easy to make ahead and veggie filled and came up with this:
Pasta (I used tricolor veggie infused-veggie infused pasta is not really a substitute for real veggies but when combined with veggies it's just a little bit of extra nutrition)
Canned salmon for protein and yummy fatty acids
Parsley, mint (spring puts me in such an herbacious mood :) ), broccoli, cherry tomatoes, red onions, and green beans. Oh and this insanely good authentic Greek feta that the Carytown Kroger carries (the Willow Lawn Kroger sadly does not have the same fancy cheese selection)
I combined it all and threw together a lemon, red wine vinegar, olive oil dressing. Plus some salt and pepper and mmmmmmmmm.
I also did some biscuit baking. Now I am ashamed to admit this as a Southerner and biscuit fanatic, but I have only attempted to bake biscuits a couple of times before and they never turned out all that great. I never could get them really flaky and soft. As I was perusing the latest Southern Living I stumbled upon their recipe for the best buttermilk biscuit recipe EVER. Of course I had to take that challenge. I also am due to make several dozen biscuits for one of my best friend's bridal showers coming up so I needed to do a test run. I thought the perfect occasion would be my family's Easter celebration.
The recipe and video is here. Basicaly Southern Living did all the grunt work and tested hundreds of recipes and techniques to look for the best of the best. I followed this recipe almost exactly (minus the White Lily flour, which Kroger didn't have, will have to try Southern Seasons next time). I think what really might make the biggest differences with this recipe comes down to the technique things (really the ingredients are as simple as can be, butter, buttermilk, and self rising flour). I froze and grated the butter as they directed. I also stirred the number of times they recommended, used a rolling pin, and did the folding thing. My biscuit dough started out a little more crumbly than in the video and I had to work to get it to smooth out. I also baked the first batch a little too thin. But my second batch came out really flaky and nice. The hardest was getting an even roll on the dough and I think that will get easier the more I do it and get used to what the right thickness is.
God I love a biscuit. They may be my favorite food on this planet
They were a big hit with the family. I spent the afternoon out at my aunt's "party house", Huguenot Springs, which was actually where I got married. It's the coolest house with awesome history, former Victorian hotel, former Civil War hospital, where rowdy Baptists came to socialized before getting kicked out of their church. We spend a lot of our holidays and just general family gatherings there. Any event with my family means lots of aunts (I have 5), cousins (I have 11 on my dad's side), babies (a lot of the cousins have procreated recently), wine & beer, and lots of incredible food. We are Southerners after all and know that no holiday is a holiday without the right sized (i.e. massive) spread. I missed having my hubby around for the holiday, but at least I got to spend time with my lovely family.
And that was the excitement of my weekend. Other than what I listed I spent a lot of time watching Scandal (I'm in the 3rd season now and just can. not., I only wish I had watched the show in live time so I could have joined in on all of the timely chatter about it, I feel a little dated freaking out about something that happened a year ago, but pretty soon I'll be caught up). And I also spent a lot of time enjoying the beautiful weather outside with these two hooligans.
Hope everyone else's weekend was as relaxing and restoring as mine (or at least full of family and food). Happy Easter!
I bought a new car last week with money I have been saving since last January. A brand new, shiny, beautiful, super smart Toyota Highlander that is just spiffier than belief. But this post is not about the Highlander, as wonderful as it is. This post is about the car that I left at the Toyota dealership, probably to be dissembled into parts. This is about my loyal, valiant, humble Ford Focus, a car that I drove from 2006-2015, a car has been by my side through the incredible decade that has been my 20s.
In my family we drive cars for as long as they will last typically. I know some people like to get cars every few years, my husband included, but that was never the mindset I had growing up. The first car I ever drove was my mom's Nissan Altima (also a fine, loyal car that lasted to the ripe old car age of 200,000 miles and miraculously survived being driven/abused by me and my older brother). I drove that the last year of high school and then to Charleston my sophomore year. My wonderful parents in their kindness told me that I could get a car of my own my junior year of college. And so after a semester in Paris I came home to Richmond and I (my parents) decided on a car. My mom settled on the Focus because of reviews and ratings. And so there was never any real "shopping." We headed to Carmax and were taken to this car in the lot. I wanted a Prius (because I was in college and wanted to save the world obviously) but they were too expensive. But I liked this little Ford. I liked that it was green and sparkly. I liked it when we test drove it. It had a CD PLAYER (the Altima only had a cassette player, and this was long before USB ports were anything like common place in cars). It had a SUNROOF. It was going to be mine and mine alone.
In general I am a sentimental kind of person. I am prone, as many writers are, to embarrassing fits of nostalgia. And yes, this may all be a little sentimental, to dedicate any words to an automobile, to a composition of metal and plastic and electrical wires. But from the day in that Car Max lot to its last day in the Toyota dealership lot, this car has followed me, has literally carried me through such a vastly momentous part of my life.
The Focus was with me for two and a half years in Charleston. When I was cleaning it out, I found sand in various nooks and crannies. This Focus took me and my friends to the beach countless times, and endured us and our sandy selves and our sandy chairs and gear being thrown in and out. It was parked at Sullivan's Island and at Folly beach on all those many beautiful warm days, warmed by the sun. It was driven over the new Cooper river bridge when the bridge was still only months old, over that gorgeous structure. We could look up through the sun roof and see those big white beams criss crossing over against the pale blue sky. The Focus also took me to the beach alone, for all of my many soul reviving beach walks. My last few months in Charleston, I was a little directionless. I had graduated, had misguidedly quit my job as a barista and was "nannying" a couple days a week. Mostly I was idle, trying to figure out what to do with my life. And so again and again, I would get into my Focus and drive from our townhouse on James Island to Folly. I would park it with my head full of doubt and uncertainty and then walk on the beach for an hour until my head was clear. I would get back in my car with my sandy feet and feel this persistent gleam of hope for the future as I drove back home, burnished and shined by an hour on the beach.
The Focus followed me through all of those Charleston days and nights, through getting flooded in one of the city's torrential downpours to a (seemingly minor) fender bender on Broad St that left my poor little Ford un-driveable. The Focus was with me through so many trips back and forth from Charleston to Richmond, for all of those many miles on 95, through all of the back country rest stops, through sheets of rain that slowed traffic to a crawl to backups that went on for miles. I still remember how it felt going both ways, the warmth and security I felt as soon as we crossed into Virginia on my way home, the excitement and brightness I felt the other direction, when I got onto 26, when I saw those faint triangles of the bridge going into Charleston, my other home.
The Focus came with me home to Richmond, waited patiently for me when I ran away to Thailand. The Ford was with me for that hard post Thailand year, when I was stuck in so many ways. I can admit now that my Focus saw a lot of tears in this time. I used to get in the car and drive circles around Richmond some days just so I could cry. For whatever reason I have always felt like I could cry easiest in a car, behind the windshield and a pair of sunglasses, with the music turned up and nothing in front of me but road. My poor Focus witnessed so many of those drives that year without judgement or complaint, simply the reassuring steadiness of its presence, the hum of the engine and the whir of its AC.
My Focus saw me through nursing school, through all of the stress and challenges of that time. When I cleaned it out its trunk was still full of old Power Point slides and binders.
My Focus was right next to me when I had my first kiss with my now husband, in a parking lot in Charlottesville after a Ray LaMontagne concert.
My Focus was with me the first year I worked as an RN. When you work as a nurse (or any job in healthcare I imagine) your commute to and from work takes on a new importance. When you deal with things that we deal with, these huge, literally life or death things, you have to have time and space at the end of a day to breathe, to cry, to shed nurse mode and become a human being again. I have had days where I barely make it to my car, where I can feel the tears and sorrow and anger coming on the walk to the parking deck, and then only when safely inside my Focus I let it out of me. Inside the safe and warm cocoon of my Focus, I have left myself feel the things that I can't feel when I'm in the walls of the hospital, cry the tears I cannot cry, be weak for the first time in 13 hours. Inside my Focus I was able to do what I have had to do for so many of these shifts to stay sane, to cry until I could get it out of my system, to let myself feel all that pain just long enough until I pulled into my driveway and I could put myself together and leave that all behind back at the hospital. And its carried me through the reverse, going back to the hospital, when I have sat in the garage before work with my coffee and my Luna bar, listening to silly talk radio, savoring those last few moments before I put the nurse armor on.
My Focus has also seen so much joy, road trips with friends to concerts, with 2 people crammed into the tiny backseat, singing along to the radio, eating fast food we picked up on the way. It's been there to bars in my early 20s, trying to find parking near Three Monkey's or Buddy's or Starlight. It's sat patiently waiting for me on nights where I've had to leave it and take a cab. It's been on day trips to vineyards and outlets, on longer trips to far away beaches. It's taken kids I've babysat for to and from gymnastics and ballet and piano classes. It took me to DC every Sunday night for three months when I nannied for my niece and then back home every Friday, through cherry blossom covered streets and past the White House and national monuments and museums.
It knows Richmond by heart, even without a fancy GPS system, because it has taken almost every road you can take in Richmond, has felt the cobble stones of Monument, the tiny little streets of the Fan, the smooth highways. And it knows Charleston too, has followed behind horses on countless occasions, had its paint weathered by salt air.
It's been full of boxes and stuff more times than I can count, has moved me in and out of apartments in Charleston and Richmond. It moved me into my current house, the first place outside of my parents' house that has ever felt like home, because I share it with my husband and best friend.
There are many more words I could write about this car. And of course, I haven't really written anything about the car itself, about its engine or features or seats. Because really, that's not why I loved my Focus. It was a good car, a solid car, and it lasted well past the point I think anyone predicted. I probably could have driven it for years more. It has passed its inspections dutifully with minimal work to be done. It's only major issues stemmed from an accident that I caused. It never complained even when I went too long without changing the oil or went even longer without cleaning it. It fought its way through snow and ice to get me to and from work safely. It was a good car when it comes to all of those nuts and bolts things.
But the reason I felt a pang of sadness, of grief even, when I left it behind at the Toyota dealership had nothing to do with any of that and everything to do with the time in my life I have driven the Focus, with what giving it up seems to represent. I am 29 now. I will be 30 soon. I am so completely okay with that fact. And yet even though I'm fine with getting older, I feel incredibly sad at the thought of saying goodbye to my 20s. Driving away from my Focus felt like the first step in that process, because my Focus and my 20s have been inextricably linked.
I am so eager and excited to see what my 30s bring. I know they will probably surpass my 20s in many ways. I know my Highlander will see me through many momentous things, through (God willing) children and all of the wonderful things that come with being a parent . I know I will love this Highlander too.
But leaving my Focus behind felt like leaving a part of myself, the part that would drive 4 hours home from a Ben Folds concert in Greenville, SC even though I had class the next morning, the part that would drive to bars past 10pm on a Saturday, or head to the beach on a daily basis because I was young and on summer break and had zero responsibilities. Leaving my Focus felt like leaving the part of myself that was blissfully immature and gorgeously naive. I was so young when I got the Focus. I felt like I was old and cool because I finally had my own car. At 20 I probably felt like I knew so much.
But of course ate 20 I knew hardly anything. 9 years later and I know more, nowhere close to everything but more. The journey of your 20s is getting to a point where you realize how comically little you do know and not simply being okay with that but being excited by it, thrilled because it means you have so many more ways to grow. The journey of your 20s is coming to understand how little what you plan turns out to actually come true, but how miraculously, the best things that will probably happen to you are precisely when life goes off the rails and goes nowhere near your plan. The journey of my 20s has been chaotic and strange and funny and sometimes sad and sometimes weird and always, always beautiful. I have been so young and so dumb. I have been brave and strong too. My Focus was there for that journey, through all of those many miles, through so many different roads. I will always be grateful to it. I will always smile when I see one on the roads.
I will hold onto a secret, kind of silly little hope. That maybe my Focus was not dissembled into parts. That maybe it found its way back to a used car dealership, maybe even to Carmax, despite its 100,000 miles. That some 20 year old getting her first car will pick it out with the help of her kind and generous parents. That it will be the car for her that it was for me, a constant presence in a decade of life defined by its insistence on change.
100,000 miles later and 9 years later. It's gone so quickly. Here's to the Focus who was there so steadfastly beside me for those years and miles. Here's to the next 100,000 miles and 9 years, and all the new roads yet to be taken.