Like a Crazy Quilt, So is Life

Oh hey y’all. It’s late on a weeknight and the inspiration to put some words on paper (er, blog) has suddenly struck me. WordPress reminded me a second ago it’s been 7 months (how is this possible) since my last post…so yikes. So sorry about that. #life

Small side note: I’m not a crafty kind of girl whatsoever, so your guess is as good as mine as to why on earth I’m writing about something like a crazy quilt at almost midnight on a Thursday…

It All Started With Coffee and Laughter

I had coffee with my friend Lisa last night. We laughed hard, boisterously, and freely. We talked about work, life and men. She drank tea and I had an Americano (decaf…caffeine makes me swing from the rafters). Like usual, before we knew it, we’d been talking and laughing for 3 hours and Starbucks was closing. We parted ways with a hug and promise to meet up again next month – same time, same place. Also as usual, I left feeling refreshed, renewed and revived.

As I drove home, I contemplated these feelings of renewal and revival. What made my time with Lisa so great that I felt such renewal? What makes my time with any particular loved one great or memorable? But really, what makes life – in general – memorable, enjoyable or special?

I replayed our conversation in my head. As I laughed again at the funny moments, I remembered the moments that briefly stopped me in my tracks. And then a simple truth that clearly I’d temporarily misplaced (not forgotten) struck me as I drove: Life is not all about the big moments or the grand moments that come around only once in a great while. No.

Life, is like a crazy quilt.

The Crazy Quilt That Is Life

A crazy quilt. You’ve heard of these, right? It’s the kind of quilt where no two colors are the same, the patterns don’t coordinate and it’s a mish-mash of all the extra fabric your grandma had lying around the house. While at first glance the quilt looks…well…odd, each fabric square has a story and a history all it’s own. Each one represents a memory or a moment. And when they’re all stitched together, they make a cozy blanket to warm us when we’re chilly and hug us when we need to relax. Most of all though, they make a beautiful masterpiece that is cherished, treasured, and loved.

Like a crazy quilt, life is a mish-mash of all the tiny, excellent, painful, magnificent, sad, wondrous, and joyous moments of our lives. All of those moments don’t seem to match or coordinate at first glance, but when they’re combined and stitched together, they create a masterpiece of a life that is cherished, treasured and meaningful.

Small Details = Bigger Picture

Have you ever noticed how people look at a crazy quilt? They first glance at it casually. Then, a certain square catches their eye and they’ll lean in to look more closely. If the person who sewed it is nearby, they’ll ask what that particular square represents. Before long, they’re asking about a few others as they continue to take in the small details of a quilt that at first glance, seemed weird. And then, as they begin to understand the small details of the quilt better – actually seeing the details – they stand back and finally view the quilt with broader vision and a wider perspective.

Indeed, they think. It is beautiful. 

Like the person who observes the crazy quilt, if we stop and look at the moments of courage, victory, and perseverance combined with the small positives, little blessings and tiny glimpses of hope in our lives, suddenly, the clouds in our vision start to clear and we’re reminded – even in the darkest moments – that God is good, we are loved and we matter.

We see our lives with broader vision and a wider perspective.

We see the masterpiece that is our lives.

Indeed, we think. Our lives are good. Our lives matter. Our lives are beautiful.

What Are The Crazy Quilt Moments In Your Life?

Life, y’all. It’s crazy. It’s busy. It’s fun. It’s exhausting. It’s exhilarating. It’s good to be here, to be alive and to be living.

The coffee session I had with Lisa helped bring me down a bit from the rushing, hurrying and doing all the things. It helped me stop, examine the details, the moments, and the little things that make my life a masterpiece. In no particular order, here are just a few that I’ve counted today so far.

  • Laughter: It’s always present with my friends and family and in my relationship with my boyfriend (oh hey, babe).
  • Late summer evenings outdoors: The air is still, warm, and cozy and all of nature seems to settle in to enjoy the calm of the night air.
  • Inside jokes: They’re present in my family and friend relationships and in my relationship with my boyfriend. I cherish them and the people I share them with.
  • Dad jokes: Gosh. I love to hear them and I love to tell them.
  • Love: It’s a broad term, but yo. Love is fantastic, transformative, and inspirational.

In the midst of living life lately, what would you point to and say are the details, the moments, and the little things that help you recognize that your life is a masterpiece?

The Coulda-Woulda-Shouldas

Y’all seriously. The coulda-woulda-shouldas almost ate me alive a few weeks ago.

You see, recently one of my friends and I were talking about how we’d found ourselves lamenting over the “coulda-woulda-shouldas” of our lives. Which, as anyone can attest, is always a slippery slope straight to Discontented-ville on the Ornery Train. This starts, of course, with that little nagging thought that maybe, just maybe, life would be better if only you had done that one thing differently. What if?

The What-If List

My coulda-woulda-shouldas look something like this:

  1. What if I had pursued my passion for ballet way back when instead of quitting when I was 16?
  2. What if I had transferred to that out of state college I loved so dearly?
  3. What if I had accepted the archival job one of my college professors offered to me upon my (early) graduation from college?
  4. What if I hadn’t (so arrogantly) brushed off that sweet guy from my international relations class senior year of college who was so intent on getting my attention?

Before long, merciful heavens, I was convinced that my life as it stands right now is just not suitable. Not only has it not gone the way I thought it would (AT ALL), it falls far short of where I “should” be.

While I eventually recovered (mostly) from this turrible line of thinking, its residual effects still resonated in my soul. I mean, really . . . what if?

The Truth

Tonight, however, I received a proverbial kick in the fanny as the Ornery Train quickly departed and the Truth Train came roaring into my station. My life, it seems, is pretty dad-gum fantastic right now.

I ran into an acquaintance tonight who remarked that we met “a long time ago” when I was quite a bit younger. Later as I was driving home, her words rang in my head as I heartily agreed with her. While she and I met only 5 years ago, it seems like an eternity.

So much life – for her and I – has been lived in that relatively short time frame. I’ve learned, been burned, loved, lost, and been found again. While I’m certainly not “old” by any standard (ahem), my 30-year-old self could certainly provide a bit of life advice to the 25-year-old Katie.

Suddenly, instead of lamenting over the fact that I’m no longer in my twenties or wishing I lived a life in which my what-ifs were true, I found myself – for once – okay with the fact that my what-if list of coulda-woulda-shouldas isn’t my reality. Because my reality . . . is quite fantastic.

Reality Is Better Than The Coulda-Woulda-Shouldas

While my reality is VERY FAR from perfect and has caused me quite a bit of anguish, anger, frustration, and exasperation lately, at its core it feels fantastic. Because at the core, for the very first time in my life, I’m listening to my what my “gut” (read: the Holy Spirit) is telling me and I’m doing it. I’m not just trying to do it. I’m doing it.

As uncomfortable as it is, following the Holy Spirit’s prompting in my life is slowly -but very, very surely – ironing out the deepest wrinkles in my life and revealing liberating and exciting truths about who I am.

Despite all the anguish, anger, frustration, and exasperation lately, I’m going through an insanely incredible refiner’s fire. Through the anguish and exasperation, I’m discovering freedom, love and grace. I’m deeply and passionately loved, forgiven, and more precious than a million sparkling diamonds.

Without sounding cliche, I feel like a new woman.

There Will Always Be Coulda-Woulda-Shouldas

My what-ifs and coulda-woulda-shouldas would likely have been wonderful and great. But like my reality, they would have also been filled with periods of anguish, anger, or exasperation. And let’s face it: regardless of what lives any one of us live, there will always be coulda-woulda-shouldas.

What we do with those coulda-woulda-shouldas is what matters. It’s important to acknowledge and appreciate them for what they are but then put them on the memory shelf of life and move forward boldly into the future.

The Future Is Always Brighter Than The Past

While my life certainly isn’t perfect (#lolz) and I’m continuing to strive toward my personal and professional goals, reality and the promise of what’s ahead is far brighter than what’s gone before. Anguish, frustration, and exasperation will always pop-up to add a little *spice* to life, but I trust myself enough to make the right decisions at the right time and to offer grace (and perhaps a glass of wine) to myself when I don’t.

So, to the coulda-woulda-shouldas on the memory shelf of my life: I see you . . . but pardon me while I shake you off, splash on a dash of sparkle, and boldly stride into my future.

What’s on your list of “coulda-woulda-shouldas?”

The Names Behind The Headlines

News headlines can be so cold sometimes, wouldn’t you agree? While I understand the purpose of them is to inform, we often become desensitized to the actual events the headlines and stories are recording. Too often, we forget there are names – names of actual people with lives, behind the headlines.

Disclaimer

Before going much further, I must warn you: this post lacks the normal, buoyant nature of previous posts. What follows may offend some and some people may not agree. While my intention is certainly not to offend, this is my blog and it contains my opinion. If someone doesn’t like what I have to say, they can click out of the browser and find another blog to read. What I have to say tonight needs sayin.’

Reality Check

Over the last few weeks, I’ve come across numerous stories reporting car accidents, domestic disputes and other conflicts that required police action. Today, one of these stories struck close to home and served as a reality check for me.

So often when news stories like these come across my radar, I’m quick to offer what I believe is the “truth” when in reality it’s nothing more than a misinformed opinion. Myself and whoever else I’m with usually discuss the story, offer our two cents and move on without another thought.

While this is certainly normal human behavior to an extent, it’s often nothing more than armchair commentary that doesn’t contribute anything real. In the process of offering our opinions, we forget there are names behind the headlines – names of actual people directly (and sometimes tragically) affected by the events.

Real People, Real Lives

The family who was directly affected by today’s events need prayer. They need it more than anyone has ever needed it before. Their loss is heavy, deep and painful. It is tragic and unfair.

The police and emergency personnel who responded to this tragedy also need our thoughts and prayers. You see, they are the unsung heroes who will go unnoticed by the majority of people not directly affected by what happened today. What they are feeling is also heavy, deep and painful.

LOST iN tHE dETAILS

The officers affected by today’s (and other) events – and countless others across the country – are real people with very real lives. Though it’s not intentional, they are so often lost in the details as our focus hones in on different aspects of whatever news story we’re reading.

We lose the reality that these humble warriors in uniform are people just like you and me. They have families and hobbies and lives outside the uniform. They are funny, witty and loyal. They are loved, adored and cherished by their friends and families.

Modern-Day Superheroes

While I understand that not every officer is worthy of the uniform and some abuse their authority, most are modern-day superheroes who deserve all the awards and money in the world for their courageous work.

When everyone else is sleeping and working and living life, they’re watching, patrolling, and protecting. More frequently than you or I realize, they’re putting themselves directly in danger’s way to bravely stand between civilians and the bad guys. They are the difference. They are our shield against danger. They stand in the gap so we don’t have to.

They’re the proverbial sheepdogs watching over their flocks of sheep.

Always Present

Even when not in uniform, they are always present. They could be the guy sitting next to you at the movie theater, standing in line behind you at the grocery store or the woman sitting at the end of your pew at church.

The silent and unnoticeable difference? Even off duty, they’re always watching, patrolling and protecting. Because while being a police officer appears to be “just his or her day job,” it actually encompasses that person’s entire life. It’s not simply what he or she does to make a living, it’s who he or she is.

Civilians Have No Idea

I get it: you’ve been stopped for speeding or a burned out taillight and the officer seems a little…grouchy. While I don’t condone rudeness or being short-tempered, stop for two seconds to put yourself in the officer’s shoes.

What you may not know is that earlier that day he was shot at a by crazed lunatic who had a small cache of weapons hidden in his back shed. You also may not know that he was the first officer to respond to a deadly car accident at the start of his shift and is still reeling from the emotions of that. Last week he escorted a few small children – the same ages as his own – from a sexually abusive home.

We all have bad days. But often, civilians have no clue what officers deal with on a daily basis. So if you come across a grouchy one, give ’em some grace. And if you encounter one who is gracious despite his or her bad day, be equally gracious because that could make the difference for them.

Reading Between The Lines

So tonight, in addition to intense praying for the family, I will be intensely praying for the officers impacted by today’s tragic events. Their pain is real and deep and unfair.

And next time another news story rolls around like the one today, I’ll try reading between the lines to remember there are people behind the headlines – instead of engaging in needless armchair commentary.

4 Things I Learned On My First Solo Vacation

My life has taken a few random detours lately and instead of worrying about what’s next, I went on vacation. A solo vacation. Just me, myself and I.

With a little thought, a lot of planning (because it’s what I do), and following my inner travel nerd, I took off on my first solo vacation with a *little* trepidation and loads of excitement.

I visited the lovely, elusive and captivating Bois Blanc Island in the Straits of Mackinac for the first time and seriously…it was divine.boblo-road-tall-angle

While all the details on this untouched and stunning island oasis are forthcoming in future posts, here are 4 things I learned on my adventure north. Alone.

#1. It’s okay (and necessary) to let my guard down

Even though I was only traveling a few hours north, I was nervous about going to a new place alone. After a few uncomfortable (and scary) situations recently, I fought some incredible nerves before I left. I tend  to keep a large, cynical, and cautious guard up when I’m in unfamiliar places. While it’s a defense mechanism and necessary at times, it can also be a people and experience deterrent.

However, not long after arriving at the ferry dock for the island, I quickly learned that this place is safe. It’s a good place, a great place. A place where kind, gracious and genuine people live. I soon realized that in order to fully experience this place and its people, my guard had to go. And soon enough, it began to fall as I experienced the full brunt of Bois Blanc hospitality.

From the Plaunt family who runs the ferry, to Shelby and Christa, my B&B hosts, to Austin and Sue who run the island restaurant/real estate office/grocery store/gas station, I discovered that these were the kind of people I could trust.

Their warmth, kindness, and openness was surprising at first. However, when met with equal kindness and openness, it fostered an instant connection centered around an immediate love of this island in the middle of Lake Huron. A friendship of sorts quickly developed and a relaxed familiarity settled in that gripped my soul and beckoned me to rest in the knowledge that I could trust these people, relax, and let my guard down.

#2. I was viewed with wide-eyed fascination and wonder

When various individuals discovered that I was vacationing solo, their responses at first were that of pity and sadness for me. They’d tilt their heads, say “awww” and ask if it was because I didn’t have anyone to go with me (cue eye-rolling). Further pity would follow when I happily declared it was intentional and I wanted  to go alone.

While it was slightly aggravating to receive these reactions, let’s be honest: traveling solo carries with it a certain stigma. It’s like wild and untamed territory that’s not for the faint of heart because merciful heavens…what will people think of you? Surely they’ll assume you’re either a loner in life or a hater of all human beings, right?

Wrong. As quickly as people looked at me with pity, their expressions changed to that of intrigue and awe. Their eyes lit up and they looked at me with wide-eyed fascination and wonder like I was the most brilliant woman to ever grace their presence.

Vacation? Alone? Yes, please!

When I arrived on the island, I was told by several people that no one comes to Bois Blanc alone. Everyone arrives with someone.

boblo-dock-wide-angle

So myself, traveling alone and relishing the experience with glee, was apparently refreshing. When Christa discovered I was alone, her face lit up and in her thick German accent said:

“Well you wild girl, come inside and let me get you an island map to start exploring!”

Boring, lonely and pitiful my solo vacation was not. In fact, it was quite the party.

#3. When I stopped to listen, people shared their hearts and lives

While I have no explanation as to why, people seemed to trust me more as a solo traveler than had I been with someone. Maybe it’s because they sensed I was trusting them that they felt they could do the same with me. Whatever the case, when I stopped to listen, people shared their hearts and lives with me.  We connected. And it was a gift greater than gold.

The first night I was on the island, I stopped at the restaurant/real estate office/grocery store/gas station to pick up take-out for an evening picnic on the beach to watch the sunset. Upon arrival, I was warmly greeted by the owner Austin and one of his staff, Sue. After talking with Austin, I struck up a conversation with Sue.

boblo-sunset-tall-angle

Instantly, it was like I was part of the island community. After a few conversations and interactions with different islanders over the next couple days, I learned the incredible stories of several of them.

Christa and Shelby have an insanely romantic love story that unfolded around the film-making industry after experiencing World War II first-hand from the U.S. and German perspectives. Sue, a retired small business owner, lives on the island with her husband of 30+ years and has endured incredible hardships with a continuously positive outlook. Another couple met over their shared love of the island and visit frequently over the course of the year.

Solo travel forces you to slow down, interact, and connect with the strangers you encounter. Good, bad or otherwise, you must do it in order to survive and navigate around wherever you’re visiting. More likely than not, conversation inevitably follows about your life and the lives of the strangers you meet. Participate. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

#4. I (still) like me

If there’s one thing solo travel forces you to do, it’s spend time with yourself. Even if you’re almost constantly around people, you are your sole entertainment and companion for the duration of your trip. If you don’t like yourself, you’ll hate the vacation.

After many hours alone on this trip, I discovered that I still like me. In fact, I think I like me even more now than ever before. While this may sound arrogant to some, the sad fact is that not many people can say they like themselves. While I may or may not talk to myself sometimes (ahem), I am at rest in my soul with the person I am. I am at rest with being Katie and all that entails.

And that is quite possibly the greatest thing I learned on my first solo vacation.

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Have you ever traveled solo? I’d love to hear your stories! Share them with me below!

Leftovers: The Mother of All Invention

Right now, I’m dog (and house) sitting for my parents while they’re out of town. Although I expect zero compensation, I get paid in plenty of puppy snuggles, food, amazing coffee and cozy evenings in front of the woodstove.

This, my friends, is not a bad gig.

ChettyFireCoffee

I get to hang out with my family’s dog Chet – a real-life, in-the-flesh giant fur ball who will smother anyone with enthusiastic excitement upon seeing them. He shows genuine love and affection to almost anyone. If you’re holding beef jerky or summer sausage, he’ll gaze longingly at you until you cave and toss him a bite. He’s my baby. 🙂

Also, the food at my parents’ house never disappoints. My mom is simply the best cook I know and the leftovers are guaranteed to be just as good the next day. In addition to this, the refrigerator and pantry are always full.  I’ve always thought that it’s impossible to go hungry here.

Until last night.

*Disclaimer*

Before I launch into what sounds like a sad tale of a hungry and desperate twenty-something while she is dog and house sitting for her parents, I must issue this disclaimer: I am not deprived and am treated exceptionally well by my parents. They love me when I’m most unlovable and have fed, clothed and educated me better than many other parents I know. My parents are da bomb.

Y’All, I Was Famished

I got to my parents house last night and was planning to saute some leftover steak, fresh mushrooms and onions in butter for dinner to have with a salad. My mom had texted me earlier in the day listing what leftovers were available and I decided on the steak option (because who wouldn’t?). Unfortunately, I was unable to locate the mushrooms and the idea of steak with just onions didn’t sound appetizing.

My dinner plans were disintegrating before my eyes and I thought I was either going to starve or have to eat canned tuna. Yikes.

Until I spotted the fresh cabbage and soy sauce in the refrigerator.

Have Leftovers, Will Improvise: Steak and Cabbage Stir Fry

I knew I had seen a recipe for stir fry somewhere that included or used only cabbage, so I just started throwing ingredients into the pan and the following recipe was born. The leftover steak picked up on the soy sauce and garlic flavors wonderfully and provided a nice foil for the crunch of the cabbage.

Variations: This is a fairly low-carb recipe, but if you’re not interested in a low-carb option, feel free to toss in any cooked rice you’d like. Also, I only used cabbage this time, but other veggies like carrots, celery, onions, water chestnuts or snap peas would be excellent additions to this dish. This recipe serves about two people, but can easily be doubled or tripled for more.

The Recipe:stiry fry

2 tbsp butter

3 tsp soy sauce

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 lb cabbage, sliced

2 cups leftover (or freshly cooked) steak, chopped into bite size pieces

Directions:

In a skillet over medium heat, heat the butter until melted and bubbling around the edges. Add the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds. Stir in the cabbage. Cover and cook for about 2 minutes or until it starts to wilt slightly. Add the soy sauce, stirring to coat the cabbage. Finally, add the steak, cover and let cook until steak is warmed. Remove from heat and enjoy!

Leftovers: It’s what’s for dinner

Next time you’re scratching your head and staring blankly into the refrigerator for dinner, don’t be afraid to pull out a few leftovers and let them be the inspiration for your own invention. You never know, it could become your new favorite recipe. 😉

Happy Eating!

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A Midwest and (Historical) East Coast Collision

The Midwest and East Coast collided in my kitchen this weekend. A loaf of (gluten free) baguette from West Michigan met a delightful sandwich spread from Virginia…and the rest is history.

Saturday

Saturday was an odd day for me. I got a late start in writing for a client and forgot about a dinner I was supposed to go to that night (but was reminded in time about it, thank goodness). After a few other things went awry, I was ready for a little downtime.

Enter:  Wealthy Street Bakery.

Wealthy Street Bakery, Eastown, Grand Rapids

Although I love love love Grand Rapids (GR) as a whole, Eastown – a neighborhood within the greater Grand Rapids area – is a favorite of mine as it’s like the chilled out and relaxed little sister of GR. While it boasts many fine qualities (too many to mention here), the food scene is especially incredible with favorites like Electric Cheetah, Yesterdog, Donkey Taqueria, Brick Road Pizza, Wolfgang’s, Rowster and of course, Wealthy Street Bakery.

Bread and Pastry Heaven

From the street, the bakery looks exactly like it should: brick, with a beautiful awning out front and large gorgeous windows overlooking the street.

Upon swinging open one of the huge wooden doors, heavenly smells of bread, pastries and coffee flood over you. As your eyes adjust to the light inside, you’re greeted immediately by friendly employees beckoning you deeper inside to browse, ask questions, and order when you’re ready. The sounds of people quietly placing their orders, coffee or teas being made and the conversation of those gathered nearby fosters a relaxed atmosphere that’s rare in many places.

The wood paneling, track lighting, and tables lining the walls and large windows out front offer a warm and inviting place to meet friends or hole-up for a little while by yourself to read a book and relax.

The counter up front however, steals the show. The vast selection of danish, muffins, biscotti, cinnamon rolls and scones glisten under the lights and adorn the counter. Stunning and perfectly baked loaves of Challah, focaccia, sourdough, and cinnamon raisin (to name a few) line a large vertical wooden case behind the counter.

For those who have a gluten sensitivity like myself or who are celiac, in addition to their wheat-based products, the bakery’s gluten-free offerings are incredibly delicious and varied. M&M chocolate chip cookies, muffins and breads are just some of the choices.

Step Right Up

Though my mind was a bit preoccupied with how my day had gone earlier, when I pushed open that door, all thoughts of my strange Saturday flew from my mind as the intoxicating blend of coffee and pastries washed over me. I smiled imperceptibly and immediately stepped into the line.

It was difficult to choose, but my lunch suddenly became an Americano coffee and a poppy seed muffin. Because really, what else does a person need? The gentleman behind the counter gingerly placed my poppy seed muffin, a baguette and cinnamon rolls in a paper bag and I walked (okay, nearly skipped) out and down the sidewalk to my car.

Mercy, it was a heavenly Saturday afternoon.

Have Baguette, Will Make Sandwich – Virginia STyle

As soon as I saw the beautiful baguette in the case at the bakery, I immediately snagged it and decided to make a sandwich inspired by one (okay, several) I’d had while I was attending the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia for an American history class.

The roast beef sandwich with House Dressing and bean sprouts on a baguette from The Cheese Shop in Williamsburg is an experience everyone should have. Ever since my first one on a hot and humid Virginia afternoon seated on a picnic table adjacent to a Civil War battlefield, I’ve been hooked.

The secret to what makes this sandwich so good is The Cheese Shop’s House Dressing that is the perfect replacement for plain old mayonnaise. The flavors of mustard, Worcester sauce and other spices in this mayo-based dressing marry all the flavors of the sandwich together into one delightful culinary side trip.

Sandwich

The Cheese Shop, Duke of Gloucester Street, Williamsburg

As a deli, The Cheese Shop offers delicious specialty foods in addition to their vast array of sandwiches just steps from campus and the heart of Colonial Williamsburg. Immediately upon walking in, your eyes and nose are drawn to the cheeses, olive oils, coffees, cookies, and jams lining the walls and cases. The sandwich counter near the back is manned by incredibly friendly and helpful employees who can offer guidance if you’re ever at a loss as to what you should order.

The Recipe: House Dressing

house dressing

Instead of waiting for a jar of the dressing to be shipped to my front door, I discovered a recipe on Sunday that is incredibly similar and was concocted by a House Dressing-lover like myself.

Ingredients:

1 cup mayonnaise

1 tbsp Dijon mustard

1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce

1 large clove of garlic

1 tsp light brown sugar

dash of salt and pepper

In a blender or food processor, combine all ingredients until well blended and smooth. Refrigerator for an hour or overnight to let the flavors mingle.

On a baguette, generously slather the dressing and top with roast beef, bean sprouts and greens. Serve next to a salad or chips. Enjoy!

A Delightful Substitute

Even though I’m not able to swing by The Cheese Shop for a sandwich to take on a picnic alongside a Civil War battlefield, the baguette from Wealthy Street Bakery, a knock-off House Dressing recipe and a local park will serve as delightful substitutes.

Now please pardon me, I have a roast beef sandwich calling my name. 😉

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When You Feel Cheated and Short-Changed

We’ve all been there. That moment where a little self-doubt, jealousy or comparison (I’m looking at you, Facebook and Instagram) creep into your head and before you know it, you’re counting all the ways that you feel short-changed and cheated by life and God.

It’s a tough moment when your mind travels there because you start feeling as if God was just a little stingy in handing out the blessings to you. Everyone else seems to be floating along just fine, but you…you feel more like a boulder clumsily rolling down a slight and very short hill.

My “cheated and short-changed” moment (or rather a few hours) happened this past weekend for me. I don’t know exactly when it struck, but it made itself especially known while I was at the grocery store late Saturday afternoon.

No room for complaint

My weekend was actually going great. I had spent the better part of Saturday writing for a couple of clients, getting my upcoming week and budget organized and was prepping for a family dinner on Sunday. Last week was equally great as it was a nice combination of work and play. Overall, the last couple of months had been very good for me personally and professionally.

I had ZERO reason to complain.

But there I was, standing in a LONG check out line at the grocery store, idly contemplating all the ways I felt cheated and short-changed. I may have been quietly reading the newspaper, but in the back of my mind, a list of all the reasons how and why God owed me was building to a fevered pitch.

Reality Check

Then it  happened. I should have seen it coming, but I was too busy in my own little world, barreling down the railroad track of life in a steam engine headed to the town of “Discontented Ornery-ville” to notice the reality check ahead.

It was my turn to check out and as the cashier started scanning my groceries, we made small talk. I snapped out of my discontented diatribe against life and the Lord long enough to find out that this particular cashier was new to the job. To keep the conversation going, I asked what she’d done before.

She proceeded to tell me that she had worked part-time at Burger King for 15 years. Why she left that job, she didn’t say. However, it was her reason for getting the job that brought me up short:  16 years ago, her husband had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

After a year of caring for him full-time, she said she had to get out and do something else for a few hours a week. The first year of his illness was hard, she said. But they made it through. And there she was this weekend, scanning my groceries with a smile and sunny disposition.

Train to Discontented Ornery-ville: Derailed

Needless to say, the breath literally went out of my lungs as I stood there. In a small voice, I uttered some pitiful response like “Oh dear, I’m sorry” as she continued to scan my groceries. I suddenly felt so ashamed of the ways that I was  scolding God for not blessing me like I thought I should be, when in reality God has been very good to me. My current hardships pale in light of hers.

I felt honored to be talking to this woman who had endured a particular kind of heartbreak  I’ve never experienced (and hopefully never have to), but clearly had chosen to push through. If anyone had a right to feel short-changed, it was her. In that moment, she was my hero.

The Remedy: Count Your Blessings

After the reality check in the grocery line, my mind, almost without realizing or trying, turned to all the ways I’ve been blessed lately. With a few tears in my eyes, I walked out of the grocery flooded with thankfulness and joy at how the Lord has continually provided for me, even when I feel cheated and short-changed. In no particular order, here are just a few of the blessings I found when I counted them.

Laughter

This last week was one filled with immense amounts of laughter. Seriously, I don’t think I’ve laughed that much in a long time. This is all due in part to my friends and family who never cease to be incredible sources of humor and joy.

My dad can make me gut-laugh like no one else with his unique observational humor and my friend Meg laughs in such a way that makes me laugh even more boisterously. Spending time with “my people” this week showed me that laughter truly is the best medicine when the stresses of life have you pinned to the ground.

Food

Over the last year and a half, I’ve managed to lose and keep off nearly all the weight I gained in college. While I’ve changed my eating habits a bit, my appreciation for delicious food hasn’t diminished. In fact, it’s only grown stronger.

On Saturday night, I was making a pan of lasagna for my mom’s birthday dinner on Sunday. I was stirring the marinara sauce while it simmered on the stove and was suddenly flooded with intense feelings of happiness for a couple reasons: a) Italian food is the bomb. That sauce smelled and tasted divine, b) I was going to share it with people I loved deeply, and c) God is an incredible artist for creating the complexities of the ingredients I had carefully put in the pan.

I am Loved, I Belong, and I am Wanted

I don’t know about you, but inside of my independent exterior is a deep desire to belong to someone. While I’ve become more of an introvert over the last few years, I still need my relationships with my loved ones like it’s my life-blood. Although I already I know it, the events of this past week reminded me again and again that I am deeply loved, I belong, and I am wanted. These are beautiful and transformative gifts.

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Onward

Although there are a few areas of my life where I feel like God is holding out on me sometimes, I am confident in this: the Lord is good and has promised, delivered and will deliver good and great things to me throughout my life. This is a blessing worth a million blessings.

Though I sometimes need a reality check to encourage me to do it, I’ve found that counting my blessings is often the perfect remedy for chasing away feelings of being cheated and short-changed. Try it out and let me know what blessings you find along the way. Happy blessing-counting!

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*Photo credit: Emily Frazer

Nerd Alert: A Bucket List Confession

Everyone has a bucket list. Some people’s lists are long while others are short and sweet.They’re also personal and unique to each one of us. What might seem like an awesome and incredible thing to accomplish to one person might be a complete snooze-fest for someone else.

Nerd Alert

Cue the nerd alert sirens now, because the following bucket list confession screams of a lot of reading and watching more PBS documentaries than I can shake a stick at. As a self-professed (or admitted?) history and travel nerd, my bucket list item #8 looks like this for me:

8. Visit as many American national parks and their lodges as possible, including (but not limited to):

Grand Canyon Lodge (situated on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon)

The Ahwahnee Hotel (nestled in Yosemite National Park)

Old Faithful Inn (next to Old Faithful Geyser in Yellowstone)

Many Glacier Hotel (on Swiftcurrent Lake in Glacier National Park)

El Tovar (located on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon)

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Wait, our national parks have lodges?

Yes, they do. And they are magnificent. Our national park lodges are gorgeous reflections of the stunning landscapes in which they rest. Their unique architecture and the materials of which they were built respect their surroundings while blending in to offer incredible stepping off (and resting) points for park visitors.

Although each has it’s own unique history, many of them were constructed around the turn of the 19th century. They were built to accommodate increased numbers of visitors in response to the construction of railroad lines throughout the American west and more national park designations (thank you, Teddy Roosevelt).

Why the national parks and their lodges?

My reasons are not complicated or rooted in some deep philosophical need to find my identity by visiting them. It’s simple: the lodges are beautiful, the parks are some of the most stunning landscapes God created and of course – they’re both steeped in history, y’all.

 Blog Post Inspiration

Another confession: this post was precipitated by some disappointing news I heard earlier this month about one of the lodges.

The Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park will soon be re-named because the former concessionaire, Delaware North (who ran the hotel for the National Park Service since 1993) trademarked the hotel’s name. Since Delaware North lost the bid to renew it’s contract last year, they are asking for $50 million dollars for the usage rights of the name (and a few other hotel names). Needless to say, neither the National Park Service nor the new concessionaire, Aaramark, has the money for this. Hence, the re-naming so Aaramark can continue operations (read all about it here).

Though this may seem like a petty concern to some people, I find Delaware North’s actions to be unjust, greedy and abusive to the historical and cultural significance of the hotel. It is not only an American icon, but a local institution for the people in the area.

Delaware North’s demands are an affront to the history of the American west and generations of Americans past and present. Although it is just a name, it is just a name. If they want to remain in the American people’s good graces and respect the history of the hotel, they should let it go. At this point, they’re merely grasping at straws to maintain whatever dignity they have left.

But…I digress.

The Grand Canyon and El Tovar: Check

The news about the Ahwahnee reminded me of how I accomplished one part of bucket list item #8 a few years ago when I visited the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and El Tovar Hotel. I was traveling for work and could barely contain my excitement about visiting the place that I had read (and dreamt) so much about.

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I was there in March and though there were quite a few visitors, the weather was perfect. The temps were comfortably nestled in the 60s with bright sunshine and a slight breeze. There was still snow on the ground, however, as a massive snow storm a couple of days before had closed down all roads into the park.

The Grand Canyon

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: there are absolutely no words to adequately describe the Grand Canyon. It’s simply impossible for the human mind to conceive of the scale, breadth, width and depth of this massive crack in the earth.

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While standing (literally) on the edge of the canyon, it became impossible for me to speak as my mind attempted to drink in what I was seeing, feeling and hearing. The colors of the landscape are stunning as they change from red, brown, black and taupe with each striation in the rock.

The subtle breeze blowing up, around and over the edge softly caresses the Ponderosa pines and other vegetation creating an intoxicating earthy smell not found anywhere else. The feel of this breeze as it brushed against my face and ruffled my hair was the closest thing to heaven on earth I’ll ever experience.

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The absence of noise allows your hearing to sharpen as your senses converge to focus on this massive space. My concept of time disappeared as I marveled from the edge – before I knew it, I’d stood (and sat) silently in the same position for 30 minutes.

It was simple: my soul found rest on the rim of the Grand Canyon.

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El Tovar

As I said before, all the national park lodges were constructed to reflect the landscapes in which they rest. El Tovar is no exception.

Looking back, the few photos I took are poor examples of how stunning this place is. A perfect combination of America hunting lodge architecture and refined European flair, the hotel is a delightful find situated just feet from the rim of the canyon.

El Tovar

Constructed of local limestone and Oregon pine, the hotel’s exterior beckons guests into it’s cozy yet impressive lobby where the pine logs flank the ceilings, walls, and floor throughout. Hunting trophies and animal busts adorn the walls. The impressive dining room offers white tablecloth service and fine dining while the guest rooms provide comfortable accommodations with great views of the area. The expansive porch offers large rocking chairs for visitors to sit and take in the view.

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Visiting the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and El Tovar was an immense pleasure I hope to repeat someday. Though it was on my bucket list, it was more than just an item to check off: it was a soul-reviving experience that will never fade from my memory.

The world is out there for us to explore and our bucket lists are just the vehicles for us to get there! Happy bucket-list-making and exploring!

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Summertime Dreaming in the Middle of Winter

I love winter. Truly, I do. The snow is incredibly beautiful when it falls in those huge snowflakes we’re all so familiar with in West Michigan. I love how it glistens when the sun hits it just right. The crisp air is refreshing and invigorating.

Winter is a fabulous time to be in Michigan.

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But Seriously…it’s cold out there, Y’all.

Stinking cold. I’m not one to get cold often, but yesterday I just COULD NOT get warm. As the word “warm” popped into my head, so did thoughts of summertime.

Now, I’m not wishing away winter or spring. I’ve just merely started planning ahead as I envision how my summer will (hopefully) unfold: a little vacation or two, road trips, going to the beach, and bonfires with the people I love.

Once I started thinking about summer, however, my thoughts drifted and before I knew it, my mind had traveled on a long and winding bunny trail to my trip to Grenada in 2013.

The Back Story

One of my very best friends, Cat Alford, lived in Grenada for a couple of years with her husband Jon while he was in medical school there. A few months before graduation and their subsequent move back to the U.S., I buzzed down there for a few days to visit. Not long after I arrived, I was hooked.

For those who aren’t familiar with it, Grenada is a tiny island in the West Indies just north of South America. Just like Canada, Grenada is a Commonwealth realm of Britain and is called the “Island of Spice” (for very good reason). It leads the world in the production of several spices – ginger, cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg to name a few. Their coffee and chocolate are simply divine. Their beaches are stunningly gorgeous and crowd free. With the exception of a few, the people are incredibly kind and welcoming.

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It took me almost 20 hours to get there from Michigan and was by far the furthest I’d ever traveled. Traveling that far by myself certainly was stressful, but after a good cry and a phone call with my mom in the Miami airport during my 3-hour layover, I was ready to take off for the last leg of my trip and reunite with my bestie in her island home. I’d do it again in a heartbeat and frankly, I fully intend to do so soon.

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The colors.  I thought I’d seen the broad spectrum of colors that blue, turquoise and green can travel before I visited Grenada, but I could not have been more wrong. I was rendered speechless (a rare feat for me) the first time Cat took me to a beach not far from her’s and Jon’s apartment. All I could do was stare. The ocean was a perfect example of ombre: dark blue at it’s deepest, aquamarine in the middle and bright turquoise at the beach.

These colors combined with the bright coral roofs of the homes that dot the mountainsides and crowd the small cities are stunning in their contrast. The waterfall we hiked to one day was buried in a lush green rainforest that calmly beckoned anyone who came by for a visit.

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The scents and smells. Like I mentioned before, it’s called the Island of Spice for good reason: the air smells of spices. I thought I was imagining it, but it’s an intoxicating combination of the ocean, the sand, the surrounding trees, the frequent rain and the spices. Combined with the humidity in the air, it’s an intriguing and invigorating combination.

The locals. I was extremely blessed in this trip in that I was able to visit friends who lived in the place where I was vacationing. Staying with “locals” like that allowed me to see a side of Grenada that people who stay at the resorts don’t see.

For example, Cat and I, along with some friends of her’s, hiked to a phenomenal waterfall in the mountains above St. George’s. On the way back to our cars, we stopped off at a smaller waterfall where we proceeded to spend a good part of the afternoon sliding down it and swimming in the surrounding freshwater pool.

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Two of my favorite Grenadians, however, were Jon and Cat’s landlords. Mr. Ray and his wife were some of the kindest and most thoughtful people I’ve encountered and could not have been more welcoming. I had the pleasure of sampling Mr. Ray’s fresh fruit juice made from the fruit trees growing in his backyard. Throughout their time there, he’d bring a pitcher of juice over for Cat and Jon to enjoy a couple of days every week.

The kids. My other favorite Grenadians were the kids we encountered at the waterfall where we swam for the afternoon. Although I cannot remember their names, I’ll always remember these sweet little boys who joined our swimming party. We hadn’t been there long when about 7 boys between the ages of 6 and 10 showed up. When it was my turn to take my first ride down the waterfall, one of the boys noticed I was nervous. He gently took my hand and walked with me up the path to the top, reassuring me with encouraging words in his lilting Grenadian accent.

Honestly, that little kid stole my heart right there.

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The food…and poolside cocktails. During my time there, Cat and I spent a lot of time at the University Club pool. The saltwater pool is located on a small bay surrounded by palm trees whose leaves rustle in a soothing manner whenever a slight breeze wanders through.

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The pool house has a small bar/grill inside with the best burgers and Pina Coladas on the planet. For a couple of days, our agenda looked like this: get up, have breakfast, go the pool, sit at the pool, swim, let the hot sun’s warmth soak into our bones, have a couple cocktails, eat phenomenal burgers, and go home only when the sun began to set.

It was glorious.

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Fast forward to today: Naturally, I haven’t forgotten those fabulous Grenadian Pina Coladas. As soon as my thoughts drifted to warm weather and Grenada, I was suddenly inspired to try my hand at making one.

The following recipe is one I just adapted from Google where I tossed in some pineapple for extra texture and flavor. Although it doesn’t come close to the Grenadian version, this one hits the spot and reminds me of warm Grenadian afternoons – poolside.

The ingredients:

4 parts (oz) pineapple juice

1 part (oz) coconut milk or cream

1 part (oz) White rum

1/8 cup pineapple

A handful of ice

Directions: In a blender, combine all ingredients until frothy, frosty and smooth. Serve in a chilled glass and garnish with slices of pineapple. Enjoy!

Two pina coladas

Although I’m enjoying winter for all it’s worth, dreaming of warm, sunny West Indian beaches while sipping a Pina Colada offers a nice interlude on those winter days that send a chill straight to my bones. Hopefully you’re able to find your own warm interlude this winter.

Happy winter and warm summer dreaming!

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Saucy Inspiration

If one thing is true about me, it’s that great food and travel speak to my soul. Whether it’s finding a fantastic local spot to visit again and again as a “tourist in my own town” or seeking out a new place somewhere in Tombstone, Arizona (more on that  some other time), I’m completely game for the adventure.

One place lately that speaks my inner food lover and local travel nerd is Main Street BBQ in Lowell, Michigan. This fairly new restaurant is not far from where I grew up and (thankfully) not too far from where I live now!

the delicious details:

The place: It’s situated in the middle of Main Street with ample parking in the rear, on the street, and in a side lot. It occupies a sizable space in one of the old buildings downtown and offers great seating in front of massive picture windows overlooking the street. The interior has a rustic industrial feel with distressed bricks covering the walls and soft lighting strung on cables and metal bars above.

For lunch, it has a fantastic convivial atmosphere as plenty of locals stop by for lunch. At night, it’s a warm and inviting spot to meet friends for great food, drinks and conversation.

The food: Their broad range of meats – chicken, pork, beef, fish – guarantees that anyone who goes will find something to enjoy. Personally, my favorite is the beef brisket – it’s simply divine. It has that melt-in-your-mouth tenderness and so much flavor, it’ll render you speechless for the first few bites.

The sides and sauces are phenomenal compliments to the meats. The hush pups, coleslaw, cheddar corn bread and potato salad are just a few of the incredibly delicious choices to sit alongside whatever meat you choose. Their smooth white sauce and tangy vinegar sauce are only two of the six offered at each table.

The beverages: Bell’s, Founders, Perrin and Chateau Grand Traverse get honorable mentions on their extensive drink list that brings the West Michigan food and beverage scene together in one incredible culinary trip.

The inspiration: Sitting on the side of all this delicious food, almost as an afterthought (though certainly not treated that way), is a refreshingly tangy cucumber and onion salad. Initially, I was pleasantly surprised to see it as it’s something I’ve only ever eaten at my grandma’s house. This vinegar-based salad is a great foil for the all the strong flavors associated with the BBQ.

My most recent visit there last week inspired me to make this salad and though it isn’t exactly like what they serve at Main Street or what my grandma makes, it’s a pretty good substitute.

Be warned: the following recipe is a cobbled together version done during a hunger-driven rampage through my kitchen one night.

Okay, not exactly, but I got home from work one night and was craving this salad terribly! Instead of patiently searching out a recipe or calling my grandma for her’s, I just started throwing ingredients in the bowl and voila!: This cucumber salad was born. I’m certainly no Betty Crocker, but I think this recipe will become a staple for my refrigerator.

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Ingredients:

2-3 medium to large cucumbers of any kind

1/2 white onion

1/2 cup of white vinegar

2-3 tbsp of sugar (to taste)

1/2 cup of water

1/2 – 1 tsp of salt

Black pepper to taste

Directions:

Cut the cucumbers in half lengthwise and then chop them into thin slices, like half moons. Cut the onion in half and cut into thin slices like the cucumber.

Combine the onion and cucumber into a glass bowl. Set aside.

Stir the vinegar, water, sugar, salt and pepper in another bowl until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Pour this mixture over the cucumbers and onions.

Cover and let sit in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours or up to a couple of days to let the flavors mingle and the cucumbers and onions become tender. Enjoy!

If you’re looking for a new spot to grab lunch or dinner with friends in West Michigan, head over to Lowell and check out Main Street BBQ. I promise, you won’t walk away hungry, thirsty or disappointed.

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