Atlanta “Love-List”

About a week ago, I found myself aggressively defending what I now claim as “my city,” or when Nicholas and I are talking, “our city.”  I was on a “work with” for my new job with Gordon Food Service, and was ecstatic to be riding with a 10+ year employee, a Florida transplant as of this past summer.  I didn’t realize how fascinated I am by Atlanta and how proud I am to live here, until I found myself defending nearly everything about my “town.”

Yes, you have to lock your doors, even when you’re in the car…I even buckle in my purse, just in case.

I know that the traffic is obscene…but I’ve learned to plan my day around traffic and actually don’t mind my “windshield time,” as I can catch up with distance friends, enjoy NPR or sing along (badly) to classic country on my commute.  Plus, doesn’t the excess of people and congestion just prove that this is the place to be? 🙂

We have seasons, (unlike my colleague’s preference for summer year round) and while the seasonal temps are a bit bi-polar at times, the cooler air allows for a wardrobe change and an extra skip in my step as the crispness feels fresh and new.  And, cold weather is cuddle-weather, fireplaces, and hot chocolate.  Even better.  Our seasons are perfect, because it never gets too cold for too long, like it does where my family is in the Midwest—it’s never so cold that your nose hairs freeze or your skin cracks.  Now that’s a win.

Yes, we have rain. Glorious rain.  And the rainy days are my favorite.  I don’t mind limp hair and puddles in my drainage-challenged driveway.  It hydrates my soul and the pitter-patter is soothing.  There is no better sleep than windows open with chilly air and the sound of a downpour.

I admit we have many “transitional” areas—there’s a rich history here, and neighborhoods that haven’t quite won the battles of the past. The graffiti/art covers the walls of many buildings and tunnels, and some call it “garbage,” but I think it’s fantastic.

The niches of my city are full of eclectic characters—it’s not the all white suburbia of some folks’ choice, but a multi-cultural collection of interesting people, perfect to sit and google-eye from a park bench.  There’s nothing like a trek to East Atlanta, just a mile up the street, to make me feel comfortable in my own skin. No one gawks or judges (except maybe me still gawking from the park bench), because there’s no single appropriate style, mode of transportation, or acceptable hair color.  You’ll see a businessman on a bike, a 50-something on her Vespa, and the punk hair stylist on his skateboard. It’s anything goes, and that is a beautiful thing.

I love that it’s hard to find a chain restaurant (besides fast food, if you call that a restaurant) within driving distance, and that the boutiques are making a comeback in our need to “shop local” and continue to give Wal-mart and Target a run for their money. (Pun intended.)

While I know that my Floridian colleague is just merely adjusting to a new locale, I’m pretty sure I made his ears bleed with the laundry list of reasons to love Atlanta.  I don’t plan on convincing him, but as my Atlanta “love-list” mentally expanded on the way home, I found myself so grateful to feel this way about a place that not only holds a good piece of our past already, but a fully vested present and an inevitable future.

 

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A Love Story to Celebrate–11 Years Later

Eleven years ago today, Nicholas and I were recklessly in love and pretty young to be getting married. I don’t think we thought so at the time, of course, but hindsight is always 20/20. We’re not crazy young any more, but we’re still crazy in love, and that more than enough for me. In celebration of us, here’s a few anecdotes of our wedding, from an 11-year memory and perspective.

I planned our wedding during my second year of teaching, and while I’m sure it was more challenging planning an out of state wedding than I remember, I mostly remember how excited I was to say “I do,” venture to Negril, Jamaica for our honeymoon, and start our married life together.

We didn’t have an expensive wedding, and even as I write this, I can still hear Pastor Andy telling us to focus on building our life together, instead of just fixating on the wedding. We didn’t have time or money in abundance, and this advice was perfect for us.

My sister and I made the bridesmaid’s flowers from discounted floral from Hobby Lobby, my cousin made my bouquet, a family friend from church made our cake, and we cut Red Vines in half, using Mason jars for containers. My best friend’s sister took most of our photos, and we served a simple dinner, fruit punch for the beverage, and didn’t even toast using champagne.

I wasn’t nervous about the ceremony, but I was terrified about walking down the aisle in corkboard-type platform flip flops—the only shoes I could find that would at least bring me to Nicholas’ shoulders. I didn’t want to make the “You may kiss the bride” moment any more awkward than necessary.

We wrote our own vows, and I inadvertently printed mine on the back of “ABC, 123” recycled paper in my parents’ printer. (My mom taught 1st grade). It was a small wedding, and I’m pretty sure that even the back row could see my error as I unfolded my vows and blushed crimson.

The point is, it was a beautiful day because I was marrying the love of my life, and it didn’t matter that everything wasn’t perfect. We only needed three weeks to figure out we loved each other and should get married, and were engaged for eight months before we officially “got hitched.” It was the beauty of finding someone perfect for me, and in spite of our family and childhood differences, I knew that we’d be creating a future together that was entirely up to us.

I remember the concerns and doubts about us, as I was taking an unconventional route—I didn’t join and marry in my parents’ church, and actually announced I was engaged before they knew I was dating someone. I remember one of my brothers’ responses to my “I’m engaged” announcement—“too who??” he had demanded. I admit I could have handled the time line a bit better, but at the time, I was young, in love, and knew what I wanted. Only now can I look back and appreciate the genuine concern and fear my family felt, as now they knew I’d not be moving back to Illinois, but staying in Atlanta with Nicholas, and beginning a life that would feel foreign to them.

This “foreign” life has come easy for me, for us, and I’m so thankful, and feel entirely blessed to reflect with a grin about our beginning. What began as a chance meeting in a coffee shop has turned into the best thing that has ever happened to me, and every year promises more adventure, memories, and above all, a great, consuming love that I could have never imagined.

Happy Anniversary, Shug.

 

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An Ode To My Mason Jars

(Well, It’s not really an ode…just a blog.)

This past spring I made a few road trips from Atlanta to central Illinois, where my parents were cleaning out and preparing to sell the family farm. Regardless of whether it was just nostalgia, or a general need for certain items, I hauled full loads in my CX7 back to our townhouse, in hopes of preserving pieces of the farm in the city.

One of the many items I rescued was a serious stash of Mason/Kerr jars that were in my parents’ cellar or in the chicken house. Much to my dismay, my mom actually admitted that she had thrown a load away already, and terrified at the thought, I took as many as I could box up.

My sheer delight regarding my farm things hasn’t exactly been shared by my husband, who is under the delusion that I have inherited too many jars. Too many?? That’s impossible! The options are endless, but he doesn’t quite appreciate that, as he only sees the precarious stack of them on a garage shelf. I say I’m hoarding them because I use them for my homemade detergent, but the reality is, I have a hard time parting with them, even for a sale.

In perusing Pinterest the other day, I determined it was time to begin my fall decorating, and as I began changing the seasonal goods around our house, the ideas for my sacred jars began: candle holders, toothbrush holders, make-up organizers, vases, weight loss marble visual aids, and the list goes on.

I love to find a purpose for them, but I don’t mind just having a serious stash of them for the intended use—next summer when I have a neighborhood garden plot, I’ll can up any kind of fruit or veggie I can harvest from our red-clay soil. Until then, I love having them sprinkled throughout the house, and don’t mind that there’s still an un-used stash in the garage. I feel a bit of the simple, country life every time I dust one off and use it, and the older I get, the more inclined I am to cling to a few things from the past.

Disclaimer: I know this is a lot of pictures–that’s the point. 🙂

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My First Food Show–“Italian Heritage”

I worked my first food show last weekend, and while I was pretty anxious about flying to Toledo, working on a weekend with people I’d never met, and finally meeting my boss and co-workers, it was a fantastic weekend. It was overwhelming, for sure, as most people I met have worked in the food industry forever, and I have so little experience to offer. I kept thinking about my former life as a teacher and how different this all feels, and quickly realized that as long as I can talk to new people and have a sense of personality (and humor) I’d fit in just fine.

It was quite an undertaking—I rep 22 brands of product, and this particular show had a booth for every single brand, offering a variety of their products in whole form and of course, bites to taste. The set was already built when I arrived, under the theme of “Italian Heritage” so each booth was like a little café with a window and fabric-covered awning. We arranged bottles of wine and photos of the Sofo Family in the front, and attempted a fall-themed décor elsewhere, as fall clearly visited Ohio long before the Georgia heat gives up on us for the season.

We set up all day Saturday, Sunday morning, and by 2pm, we were ready to open our doors and push some product. I felt like I had a “I’M NEW!” badge on my shirt, as I tried to talk to customers about the products at my particular booth (Wayne Farms Chicken), and quickly felt confident when the third customer logged in to our portable booth computers and bought 18 cases of chicken fajita. That was followed by case counts more like 80 and even one of 150. I decided to pretend like this was my specialty, and soon found that it worked out quite nicely for everyone involved. After about 4 hours, I started to feel a bit redundant in what I was telling customers about the fried wing versus the ovenable, and then realized it’s no different than teaching the same lesson 7 times in one day.

My favorite moment was when a SOFO salesman from Lima, OH came to my booth with a serious crew of customers to taste the chicken fajita that was on special. They tasted the product, commented to each other that it was too salty and appeared ready to move on. I had flashbacks of making chicken-bacon-cheddar wraps the night before and sent them to a few booths down to try the product in a wrap application.

They walked down, found that the chicken wraps were gone (duh, they were delicious) and continued on down the aisle, dismissing our chicken and looking for the next item to sample. I knew if I could just get them to taste an application with our product, they’d buy it.

I abandoned my station, and went on a hunt for the ingredients I needed to re-create a wrap. I snatched a wrap from the original station, and then just went booth-to-booth, “borrowing” ingredients until I had something similar to what I had made the night before. I hunted down the pack of men, got them to try my creation—and long story short, they not only bought the chicken fajita, (times five stores) but we got all their chicken wing business, too. I know it sounds silly—it’s just chicken– but that was a win for me; as a girl who has only ever taught English, little old me got a chain account to switch two major products to ours.

The weekend was exhausting, and my feet looked like anemic sausages by late Sunday night, but it was an incredible experience, and I found myself feeling so invigorated by the people I met, the food we cooked, and the potential of what may come next with this industry.

In a nut shell, the weekend was one of those moments in life when I felt stretched, out of my comfort zone, and terrified that I was going to screw up, say the wrong thing, or make food that tasted terrible. The reality is, the moments that terrify me most are the ones that provide the most growth, and the hindsight is terribly satisfying.

I only wish Poppi were here to listen, laugh, and give me perspective, but telling Nicholas, Mom, and my sister, Amber, felt pretty good, too.

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I wish I had more photos, but it was such a blur of excitement and tasks, I didn’t even think about taking more pics until it was torn down!

Fish Filet Lessons, Rocke Style

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When I was kid, I was pretty “squeamish,” as my mom would say.  I hated the sight of blood, despised butchering day, and wouldn’t even consider touching a worm long enough to get it on my fishing hook.  I suppose this is probably par for the course for most girls, but as a “farm girl” with three brothers, I think the expectation was that I should be a little tougher.

This summer, my youngest brother, who is the closest person I’ll ever know to a real cowboy and professional fisherman, was catching and filleting fish in mass quantities at my sister’s lake house in central Illinois.  The family was all in town for the 4th of July, and what I assumed would be a leisure day in the hammock, turned in to a blood bath of catfish and walleye.

I kept watching Jeff skillfully turn a flopping lake catch into two fine filets of dinner, and decided I really  needed to know how to do this, too.  I think he thought I was kidding when I asked him to teach me–my white ruffled skirt was trimmed in delicate lace, and I had a pretty fresh manicure, but I was ready to take over the knife.

I’ll spare the bloody details, but after a few rounds of coaching, I did a pretty decent job of prepping a good size catfish for the fryer.  It sounds terrible, but after I did a few, I wanted to filet every fish that was unfortunate enough to be hooked that day.  We dredged filets in this yummy cornmeal called “Fish Fry” and golden-fried fish all day.

I know I didn’t master something crazy hard, but I was oddly proud of myself, and felt like I added a “skill” to my arsenal that I just may need some day.  You know, just in case I ever get stuck in the wilderness with a stream and a knife.

I still have a pretty weak stomach and am certainly not signing up to help with butchering day ever again, but the next time we’re all gathered and fishing at my sister’s, maybe I’ll give the knife lessons. 🙂

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Getting Away: Coming Home

After months of anticipation, last week was finally cruise time, NCL Getaway style.  When it comes to vacations, my husband and I are like small children–“Is it time yet? Are we there yet? It’s not over yet, is it?”  We plan and scheme and anticipate with reckless abandon.

Actually, Nicholas does all the planning: he makes dinner and show reservations for each night, chooses and books the excursions in port, coordinates the travel documents…you get the idea. 

My planning contribution shakes out a little differently. I plan outfits.  Three costume changes a day is quite a packing commitment, especially when there are shoes, handbags, jewelry, hair-flowers, hats, and sparkly eye shadows to consider.  I take this task seriously, and spend excessive amounts of time making lists, and then piles, of all my vacation necessities.

We flew out of Atlanta on a Friday morning, were saddled up next to the Westin pool in Miami by 1pm, and shamelessly blared Bob Marley on our new “Beats” system. Instead of the 2-day mental disconnect process that usually ensues, we were distressed and disconnected from anything unpleasant by the time we ordered our burratta and wood-fired pizza for dinner.  The following morning we embarked on the Norwegian Getaway, headed straight to the pool for the “Sail Away” party and settled in for our 7 days of cruising bliss through the Eastern Caribbean.

To say that we aren’t “go-getters” on vacation is the understatement of the century.  We don’t hike, we certainly don’t jog unless we’re being chased, and while activities like scuba always seem like a good idea, we’ve come to decide that it’s actually much too strenuous for our good time.  We opt for pool/beach leisure, good food, cocktails, and sunscreen.  Rinse and repeat for 7 days with a show here and there, and a bit of night time Craps in the casino. That, my friends, is how we roll.

The down side to all of this vacation chatter is the inevitable dread that settles in about day 4 or 5, when we realize that we’re past the half way point, and have more dirty clothes on the floor than we have clean in the closet.  At this point, I’m done trying to keep our little cabin space picked up, and instead start making piles of dismembered outfits that must be repacked soon.  This is about the time that we start to discuss our next vacation—where, when, and with whom, just to distract us from the ticking clock.  We’re infamous for actually booking our next vacation on the flight/drive home in order to curb the certain depression the strikes upon our return.

Our vacation last week was fantastic, but the difference in the norm was that we didn’t dread the end; we instead said multiple times how long the trip felt (in a good way) and were actually excited to get back home.  It makes a difference when we talk about “going home” and genuinely refer to the house we live in as “home” and Atlanta as “our city.”  I’ve always prescribed to the idea that “home is wherever I’m with you” (insert Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Heroes) but home has never felt so good as it does now in Atlanta.

This is all to say, my ship has come in.  As thankful as I am for an amazing cruise, I’m even more grateful for the contentment of “welcome home.”

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September Resolutions

I know it’s a little early for New Years resolutions, but my cousin, Jolynn Hodel, posted a new blog tonight; it was her final post about their journey to a new home this past year, and I got to thinking about all the changes you never imagine will happen, and the hindsight that allows you to realize it’s all in a perfect plan.

I lost two great men in my life this year, my grandfather in March and my dad “Poppi” in July. My husband left a 14 year career without a new job secured, and my parents sold the only childhood home I ever lived in. I ended the only “career” I’ve ever known and have two degrees in a file folder that are, at the moment, irrelevant. And if that wasn’t enough change, an age old friendship ended abruptly this summer without explanation.

I’ve written before about change and transition, and at the risk of sounding redundant, I wanted to wrap up the changes like a Christmas present, and take this time to be thankful, press forward, and make some resolutions.

I resolve to have faith, in spite of the the need I have for control.
I resolve to spend time with the people closest to me because tomorrow is never promised.
I resolve to not be complacent in a job just because it’s easy.
I resolve to only maintain the relationships in my life that are positive and good for me.
I resolve to always remember where I came from, and keep calling my grandmothers every week.
I resolve to continue “Sunday gravy,” Italian style, even though very batch of red sauce stings a little.
I resolve to worry less about money, but keep shopping at Aldis.

And I resolve to eat a few more greens and drink less wine. 🙂

I know it’s just September, but a cooler night reminds me again that the seasons start over, and so should we. So here’s to a new season, a few resolutions, and a reminder that the only constant in life is change.