Keeping up with… everyone

This is the first time that I have felt like writing in quite a long time. There are several reasons for that, but this morning I finally felt I could put into words all of the things that have been weighing on my mind. This is not some anti social media rant, it is more about the effects it can have on us. Social media is much more powerful than we often realize. It is not always a negative thing but we need to be cognizant of its power, especially on our subconscious mind.

Over the past year I have learned so much about myself and the world around me. I have traveled to new places and met so many amazing people. In fact if you look through my social media accounts, it looks like this year has been pretty spectacular. For the most part it has been, but what you don’t see is all the tears I have shed when I got rejected from my dream job, again. Or all the times I have been so stressed from all the pressure I put on myself that I just wanted to quit my job, drop out of school and move to the beach. But then I worry, what would people think about that? Obviously I did not do those things because it is not what I truly want. However, if it was, it really does not matter what other people might think.

We live in a world where we have instant access to what everyone else is doing. That can make it easy to forget that these are real people and they are not without struggles either. I am not suggesting that we should start sharing all of our troubles but that we should remember we are not alone in them. Seeing celebrities on TV can sometimes create a sense of jealousy but it is usually rather easy to separate those people from reality. Unfortunately it can be much more difficult to separate fact from Facebook. When I see people I know getting married, having children, buying houses, or taking lavish vacations, the feelings of jealous can be a little deeper. I sometimes lose sight of all that I myself have accomplished and of what my own aspirations are. What others are doing with their lives does not affect the quality of mine, it can only affect the way I feel about my life. And at the end of the day we only know what people choose to share.

I have had numerous conversations with friends of mine about these thoughts, this morning I listened to a little bit of NPR, and on my way to work I listened to an audio book I have been meaning to finish. What I heard as one of the last chapters began made me begin to believe that things really do happen for a reason. Those words were exactly what I needed to hear after the past week. It was also the final inspiration for writing this post today. The book reminded me that I can’t control everything and trying to do so will only create unnecessary stress and anxiety. I don’t know that I will ever be a total “go with the flow” type of person but I am starting to realize that sometimes there is beauty in the unknown. If everything always went according to plan, life would likely be pretty boring in all honestly. While I hope we all have goals to work toward and dreams to achieve, I also hope we can all remember to slow down and enjoy right now, because right now is all we have.

“I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.” – Mark Twain

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Traveling Alone

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Life has been busy these past few weeks and I will admit I have not been very motivated. Last week my mamaw fell and broke her hip. Thankfully I was able to go to Kentucky and be with her for a couple of days. She is doing remarkably well, especially for her age. And even though the circumstances were not ideal, I am glad I got to spend time with my family. Finally I have had some time and the motivation to write again. To celebrate the new year I wanted to take a trip somewhere I hadn’t been before. I pulled up a map and looked for places that were close enough for me to drive. I decided on Savannah, Georgia for New Years Eve and drove up to Charleston, South Carolina on my way home. While I did not find the sunshine I was hoping for, it was still a great experience. Also I would have loved it if my friends could have joined me, but traveling alone does have its perks. My family tried to talk me out of it when they realized no one would be going with me. However, the rooms I booked were non-refundable so it was a done deal. In the end I am glad I took the trip. I got to see some wonderful places and eat amazing food. And because I was by myself I could do all of the things that I wanted to do and I didn’t have to wait on anyone else.

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I am a huge fan of TripAdvisor and use it frequently. It has helped me find some of the best restaurants, hotels, and local attractions. Trying new restaurants is one of my favorite things to do. TripAdvisor helps me find these hidden gems and I can get an idea of what the place is like before I go. In Savannah I decided to try Cafe M, a little French-American cafe. At the time it was listed as the #1 place to eat in Savannah. I expected it to be busy, but was pleasantly surprised when there was only one person ahead of me in line and there was an open table. It was a dreary day so maybe that kept people from being out an about. Or they could have been a little hung over from the night before and probably not awake at 10 am. It was New Years Day so I am going to guess that it was probably the latter. Everyone was very friendly and the service was prompt. I had a white chocolate flavored iced coffee and a croissant with mozzarella, basil pesto, and sun dried tomatoes. I will never forget it, partly because I don’t usually eat things like that and partly because cheese, so much cheese. After I had my breakfast I strolled along the river, checking out each little shop. What an awesome place with a lot of history, too. Also I found an awesome little store, Savannah Bee Company. I definitely recommend checking out their site. When I finished the river walk I decided to get on the road toward Charleston. I stopped at a cute little country store and they had every type of cider I could imagine. I tried a few and ended up going with a simple bottle of apple cider.

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While I checked into my hotel in Charleston I asked the lady who had the best seafood. She recommended Hyman’s Seafood, so I decided I would give it a try. It wasn’t one of the top rated places on TripAdvisor, but it had good reviews. When I got there they said it would only be about a 20 minute wait. For a Friday night I decided that wasn’t too bad. Of course I should have known that was too good to be true. But I had already waited for so long it seemed silly to leave. Most likely every restaurant would have a wait. They did bring hush puppies to everyone waiting which made it a little more bearable. I forgot to mention that I was waiting outside and it was not exactly a warm and cozy evening. Although, I have to say the food was good and I received excellent service. The service can really make or break an experience for me. Saturday morning I had breakfast at my hotel and then I headed back to downtown Charleston to see a few things. I went to the Fort Sumter visitor center, but I didn’t actually get to take the ferry over to it. If I get a chance to go back it is definitely on my list of things to see. For lunch I decided that because I was in South Carolina I needed to have barbecue. Of course I used TripAdvisor which hasn’t led me astray yet. There were a few places that sounded great, I decided to try Swig and Swine. It was conveniently located on my way out of town and I was seated as soon as I walked in. The menu was a little different from other barbecue places I have been with unique sauces as well. Again the service was great, it must be a southern thing. I didn’t take pictures of my food at either of these places, I’m sorry.

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My drive back to Richmond took a lot longer than I had hoped. I should have expected that on a holiday weekend, but I have never seen so much traffic before. Thank goodness for Spotify. I wasn’t in any hurry and I made it home safely so I can’t really complain. Overall I have to say it was successful trip. So here are few tips I have for anyone who is thinking about traveling on their own.

  1. Do it and enjoy it!!
  2. Let your family know where you’re staying. Hotel name & phone number.
  3. Make sure to book a hotel in a safe part of town. (TripAdvisor helps)
  4. Don’t announce that you are traveling alone to the people you meet.
  5. Carry some sort of protection. I have pepper spray that I keep in my purse.
  6. Always be aware of your surroundings and try not to get distracted.
  7. At night try to stay in well lit areas with people around.
  8. On the road, avoid rest areas if you can. Especially at night.
  9. If you ever feel unsafe, tell someone!
  10. And if your mother worries like mine, check in with her.

I know there are bad people out there and the world can be a dangerous place. However, the world is also a beautiful place and I feel that I am doing a disservice to myself if I don’t get out and see it. Honestly my biggest worry about this trip was being in a car accident. I think I will fly somewhere for my next adventure.

Finding Balance

It is finally Friday and I could not be happier. Life has been crazy these past five months. Now that this semester is over I feel like I can breathe again. For some reason I thought taking five classes seemed like a good idea. While I will never do it again, I do not regret it. I learned a lot about myself and as I tried to balance my life I realized the things that are most important to me. Really, the best thing you can do is take care of yourself which in turn helps you to be a better friend. During the semester I did not give up time with my friends, but there was always some assignment due by Sunday that I would be thinking about. I tried not to stress when things came down to the last minute because one of the lessons I learned was that things always work out in the end. None of us really intend on waiting until the night before to do things. However, sometimes life gets in the way and that is okay. If everything always went how we planned, life would get pretty boring. Before this semester started I was also eating very healthy and walking a few miles a day. I have kept up my eating habits, but the walking has taken a back seat. I could sit here and write at least ten different excuses, but honestly it just moved down on my priority list. Now that I have more free time I am really going to focus on that again. I also enjoy being crafty and working with my hands. When I needed a break from writing papers I had a few different projects going.

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(baby blanket)

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(old wine bottle)

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(grown up hot chocolate)

A couple of weeks ago I got tired of having to dig through my pile of shoes every morning and decided I needed to organize them.

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In the spirit of being crafty, I wanted to make my own shoe shelf. Most of the shoe shelves in the store are designed for heels and that is not what I wanted. So I went to Home Depot and got some wood which they will cut for free. Although, if you do this make sure the cuts are even before you leave. Mine were not, so my dad had to take them home and fix them for me. I also bought a small can of stain, nails, and a sanding block. I did all of the sanding and staining myself. My dad helped put it all together.

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Here is everything that I used to make the shelf. With the exception of the saws my dad used to even things out. I only had to buy two boards. They were both cut in half and one half was cut again. The next step was to sand the rough edges (my least favorite part) and then I got to stain them.

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If anyone would like more detailed instructions on making a shelf like this, let me know! I did the whole thing for under $30. Finally last night I had the time to put the shelf in my closet and actually organize my shoes. Lately I have been getting rid of a lot of my clothes, but I can’t let go of my shoes. I just really like having a variety of shoes and if I want to treat myself sometimes I can, right? Here is the shelf and what my closet looks like now.

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Another lesson that I learned over these past few months is that life is precious. We all have bad days, but I try my very best to remember that things will get better. I have heard that gratitude is the key to happiness so I’ve started to write one thing I am grateful for everyday. It is amazing how much there is to be grateful for when you really stop to think about it. What do you do to keep things balanced in your life? I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas. I hope everyone is enjoying time with their family and friends this holiday season!

 

 

 

 

 

Spaghetti Squash Alfredo

 

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Growing up I was probably one of the pickiest eaters in the world. My parents could have taken me to a 5 star restaurant and I would still have ordered chicken tenders with fries. Who would have ever guessed that I would end up liking things such as kale, mushrooms, and spaghetti squash. Since I started cutting processed foods out of my life, I have become more adventurous with my cooking. I actually could not tell you the last time I had chicken tenders with fries, at home or at a restaurant. I have always loved Chicken Alfredo so I decided to look for a homemade recipe. Almost every one that I found had heavy cream or cream cheese, both of which I prefer to avoid. Finally I stumbled upon a lovely Skinny Fettuccine Alfredo recipe. Instead of using pasta noodles, I used spaghetti squash and added kale, mushrooms, and shredded chicken. I thought it turned out pretty darn good and I will certainly be making it again.

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Alright so this first step is the hardest part of the whole thing. Slice the spaghetti squash in half. If you can do this in under 5 minutes and not use all of your upper arm strength, kudos to you.

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Success. Note the large knife in the corner. Now to scoop out all of those seeds.

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I seasoned it with some salt and pepper. The oven is preheating to 375 degrees F. I poured 3/4 cup of water into a baking pan and then placed the squash in the pan with the rind facing up.

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Next I put the squash in the over for 45 minutes. While the squash was roasting I brought a pot of water to a boil and cooked the chicken thoroughly.

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I also used a small pan with a tea spoon of olive oil to saute the mushrooms.

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Finally it was time to start on the sauce, yay! In a large skillet I heated a tablespoon of olive oil over med-high heat and added the garlic. I used chopped garlic from a jar, but I recommend chopping your own if you aren’t in a hurry. After about a minute I added in the flour and stirred. It gets a little clumpy so don’t worry. Next I poured the chicken broth and slowly whisked it in. Once I whisked out some of the clumps I added in the milk. After it began to thicken I added the cheese, kale, and mushrooms. Sorry there aren’t pictures of this part. While the cheese melted, I shredded the chicken. It was also around this time that I took the squash out of the oven. Give it a few minutes to cool to avoid burning yourself. As I was waiting, I tossed in the chicken and added the salt and pepper. Finally I shredded the squash and mixed it into the sauce. That is it. Now get to eating and enjoy. You’ve earned it.

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Total time: 60 Minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 spaghetti squash
  • 1 large chicken breast
  • 1 cup of kale
  • 1 cup of mushrooms
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 1 T and 1 Tsp olive oil
  • 3 T flour
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1 cup milk
  • 3/4 cup parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Cut spaghetti squash in half and scoop out seeds. Add 3/4 cup water to a baking dish. Season squash with salt & pepper, then place in dish with the rind facing up. Roast for 45 minutes.
  2. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add chicken breast and cook thoroughly. Time will depend on size of chicken breast.
  3. Heat 1 tsp of olive oil in a small skillet. Add mushrooms and saute.
  4. In a large skillet heat 1 T of olive oil. Add garlic and saute for 1 minute. Sprinkle flour and stir lightly. Slowly pour in chicken broth and whisk for about 1 minute. Whisk in milk and let thicken. Add 3/4 cup parmesan cheese, mushrooms, and kale. Season with salt and people to taste.
  5. Remove squash from the oven and let cool. At least 5 minutes.
  6. Shred chicken and squash. Add to the sauce and stir until mixed in well.

Did you make any additions or substitutions? Please share your thoughts!

 

Friendships

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A few weeks ago I got to visit some of my friends from college. I hadn’t seen them since I moved away last year. It is a weird thing to go over a year without seeing people that you used to spend every day with. It is not that I didn’t want to go see them, but we are all busy and it’s hard to find time that works for everyone. We all have changed and had lots of different experiences over the past year. Once we were together though, that year of absence didn’t really seem to matter. That’s one of the great things about real friendships and I feel very fortunate to have them. When I moved six hours away for college it was hard, much harder than I had ever imagined. But I knew it was what I had to do and so I made the best of it. Once I opened myself up to the experience I met the friends I just mentioned and many more. While I don’t talk to all of them anymore, they each made some sort of impact on my life.

FB_IMG_1449075866848blackhawksI am also fortunate to still have my best friends from high school and even one from elementary school. I see them pretty often, but there is still an effort that goes into maintaining these friendships. People would always say “Oh you will never talk to these people from school again, blah blah blah.” Obviously you aren’t going to talk to the people you didn’t like, but if you really value a friendship you will work to make it last. That does not mean that your friendship will not change over time and it also doesn’t mean you won’t ever have your differences. People get married, they have kids, they work a lot and that can make things difficult. Sometimes we may go days or even weeks without talking, but that is okay because I know they will be there when I need them. Money can’t buy you that kind of comfort. If there is one thing I have learned in my short 21 years of life it is that you need your family and friends. Sure you can get by on your own but it isn’t nearly as fun. In high school you’re probably friends with most people because you see them everyday. Once you graduate you begin to realize the friends that you truly value. Those are the friendships you nurture and hold onto. I am coming up on 4 years since I walked across that stage and I like to believe my friends and I still have great relationships. Even if some of us are 8+ hours apart, we still make an effort to see each other when we can. 

Making new friends can be tough once you are out of school. Maybe that is part of what makes our old friends so precious. Also I try to be friendly to everyone and strike up conversations with strangers. Who knows, you may make someones day with nothing more than a smile. Life is a crazy ride and you never know what tomorrow has in store. Try not to waste those tomorrows doing things that make you unhappy.  And if you have friends you can count on, hold on to them. If you ask me they are an invaluable part of life.

“I get by with a little help from my friends.” – The Beatles

Thanksgiving Thoughts

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Thanksgiving is going to be a little different for my family this year. It will just be my mother, father, brother and I at the table tomorrow. Normally we would be celebrating in Kentucky with my dads side of the family. Work has always made holidays complicated for our family, but now that we live in Virginia it is even more difficult for us to all get together. Since it will only be the four of us this year, I am going to experiment with some new recipes. I have really changed my eating habits over the past year and am excited to have some healthier alternatives. I am going to make mashed sweet potatoes, a lighter green bean casserole, stuffing (it’s not really Thanksgiving without it), and a butternut squash pie. Everything else will be up to my mother. I haven’t been brave enough to try making the turkey myself. While it will be strange not being in Kentucky tomorrow, there will be food on my plate and I will be with people that I love. That is what it is truly all about. Maybe this year will create some new traditions. What are some Thanksgiving traditions in your family?

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I know plenty of people will be heading out the door to do some shopping after dinner. I get it, Black Friday has some great deals. But as a former retail employee here is my two cents on the whole thing. A lot of these sales are no better than any other sale of the year. Also many of the big ticket items require you to show up very early and wait in long lines. Is saving $100 worth the headache and time lost with your family? If you weren’t planning on buying the items in the first place you aren’t truly saving yourself any money. I am not writing this to make people feel bad for participating in Black Friday. Heck I have done it before, but I inevitably come home annoyed and exhausted. It’s amazing how quickly our joy on Thursday can turn to discontent on Friday. Maybe that’s the real reason it is called “Black Friday”.

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Just remember if you do go shopping this holiday weekend, try being polite to one another and especially to the employees. May the odds be ever in your favor my friends. I will be sitting at home drinking some Almond Nog and putting up Christmas decorations with my family.

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The rest of my long weekend will be spent working on some homemade Christmas gifts. I think the best gifts are the ones that come from the heart. What is one of the best gifts that you have received over the years? Volunteering is another great way you can spend your holiday weekend. Not only will you have quality time with your family but you will be helping others as well. I recently participated in a project through HandsOn creating toiletry kits for the homeless. They will be distributing the kits to Homeward which is an organization for homeless services. If you are interested in making your own this is what they included.

Supplies*: 
• Five 1-gallon Ziploc bags
• Travel sized soap
• Travel sized lotion
• Travel sized shampoo
• Travel sized toothpaste
• Toothbrush
• Deodorant
• Travel sized hand sanitizer
• Small package of tissues
• Five note-cards (made or purchased)

I hope your Thanksgiving is filled with love, laughter, and gratitude. I am thankful for each and everyone of you who has taken the time to read this.

Making the Most of Your Daily Commute

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Having a long commute to work or school is totally not ideal, but many of us have to do it. I drive a little over an hour to and from work and I was starting to feel like those hours were pretty much a waste. I mean there is not much you can do besides the driving itself, right? Well after a few months I decided I had to start making the best of that time somehow. Living close to work is really not an option for me. I no longer dread driving back and forth to work anymore. Sure it would be nice not having to spend so much time in the car but here are a few of my ideas on how to make the most of your daily commute.

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(Currently brewing at home. It’s locally roasted in Floyd, VA)

  • Bring along a delicious cup of coffee. Saves time and $$ when you bring it from home.
  • Think of all the things you want to accomplish for the day and how you plan to do it all.
  • Call someone who has been on your mind (only if you have a hands-free option, of course).
  • Find a Podcast you enjoy. I like Planet Money and TED Radio Hour on NPR.
  • Make a playlist with your favorite songs, but switch it up every few days.
  • Enjoy the view, as it turns out my drive is actually quite scenic.
  • On your way home, reflect on the day and ways to make tomorrow better.

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These are just some of the things that have helped me make the most of my 2+ hours a day in the car. Also keeping myself entertained has reduced my road rage. But, seriously I don’t know how it is legal for some of these people to be on the road. I could write an entire post about the things I see people do while they are driving. Stay tuned. What are some of the things that keep you entertained on your commute? Let me know!

Here is link my most recent playlist. Enjoy!

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