Shelf Life: Spring 2014

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Can you believe it’s that time again? Time to delve into My Shelf Life!

How can three months have passed so quickly? It’s serendipitous that these posts fall one for each season,  because I like starting them off with a weather/season recap, not that I don’t already talk about it enough.

If I had written this post last weekend I’d be giddy about the warmth and beautiful flowers starting to pop up here and there. But, alas, it’s in the 30s and the mountains are again coated in a blanket of snow. When will it end?!

I did manage to capture some of the prettiness before Tuesday’s storm struck.

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Let’s get right to it, shall we? I knew nothing could measure up to the number of books I read during the harsh winter, when I was hiding away inside, books with me under the covers. This pseudo-spring has been so different: job, trips, Etsy shop, dog time. But books are never far and I’ve read so many great ones since January. And here they are:

1. Mrs. Lincoln’s Rival, Jennifer Chiaverini

Things didn’t fare well with my last foray into Jennifer Chiaverini’s historical novels, but this one was lovely. It loosely follows the life of Kate Chase Sprague during her reign as the Belle of Washington. It was a rare exception to my new rule of not reading books set in the Civil War.

2. Allegiant, Veronica Roth

Trilogy complete! I’ve already waxed poetic on YA literature, but Roth’s Divergent series was really spectacular. I’d rank it above Twilight, but below Hunger Games. But I did like the last book better than how Hunger Games ended. No spoilers here. I’m begging Joe to read this so we can see the movies. No luck yet, though. Maybe this summer.

3. Happier at Home, Gretchen Rubin

A few years ago Gretchen Rubin wrote The Happiness Project, her own year-long mission to find happiness. I really liked its endorsement of self-awareness and that happiness really comes from within. This follow-up focuses on life at home, specifically Possessions, Marriage, Parenthood, Interior Design (Self), Time, Body, Family, Neighborhood, and Now. The reviews weren’t stellar, citing a rehash of her first book, but I did like the reminders and ideas on how to find happiness in the small things.

4. In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan

Call me crazy, but some of my favorite non-fiction is about food, including those written about the food industry. This one came highly recommended by several people and, I admit, it was interesting, but I just grew tired of it. I know what to eat (whether I eat it or not), but thanks to Mr. Pollan for stuffing the facts down my throat. It just didn’t taste that great.

5. August: Osage County, Tracy Letts

When I was packing for my brother’s wedding, I needed a book to take (I’m never without) and this had been sitting on my bedside table for a few weeks. It was small, so I threw it in my purse and, surprisingly, it was finished long before we landed in Dallas. I couldn’t put it down. Maybe not the best read before you spend a weekend with your family thanks to some heavy subject matter, but hilarious and perfectly written. Tracy captured so much of Oklahoma in his play. It was home, even within the dysfunctional. I can’t wait to see the movie.

6. Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, Theresa Anne Fowler

I have a not-so-healthy obsession with Hemingway, specifically the young, dashing, Paris-thriving Hemingway. The Party Years. Have you seen Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris? Awesome movie. More-awesome soundtrack. Hemingway and Scott Fitzgerald were best of friends and this book explores Zelda’s side of the story, much like The Paris Wife showed Hadley Hemingway’s side. This book was SO good and I’m not just saying that because I love the Jazz Age and the collective of creative genius that found itself in Paris: Pablo Picasso, Gertrude Stein, Cole Porter, Dorothy Parker. Other reading recommendations for this time: A Moveable Feast, The Sun Also Rises, The Torrents of Spring, The Paris Wife…It’s one non-stop party after another.

7. The Monuments Men, Robert M. Edsel

This choice was completely out of my comfort zone. Once they announced the movie, the storyline piqued my interest, but the movie itself got ho-hum reviews. I decided to go to the source and I’m so glad I did. I don’t typically like to read about war, but when it involved the valiant efforts to save a world’s worth of culture, it’s the best. I really found every man’s story fascinating. There are works of art I’ve seen in Europe that spent months underground, some buried in salt mines during the war. We lost so much in that war, but to think every artifact, every painting, every sculpture that was also at risk is even more staggering.  I plan on watching the movie at some point when it comes to the library. Here’s a passage that struck me:

More than sixty years after the death of Adolf Hitler, we still live in a world altered by his legacy. But the lasting impact of his bitter reign is best measured in more ephemeral ways: fifty million loved ones who never returned home from the war to rejoin their families or start one of their own; brilliant, creative contributions never made to our world because scientists, artists, and inventors lost their lives too early or were never born; cultures built over generations reduced to ashes and rubble because one human being judged groups of other human beings less worthy than his own.

Staggering, indeed.

8. Where’d You Go, Bernadette, Maria Semple

When I get a new issue of Entertainment Weekly, one of the first sections I turn to is the book reviews. Sometimes they feature interviews with famous or up-and-coming authors and one of the questions they always ask is “What’s the last book that made you laugh?” Turns out, many of them name this book. I think it was a summer fav from last year (tells you how with the times I am), but it had me laughing so hard from the very start. The ending gets a little weird, but it’s the beginning that steals the show.

9. Tender at the Bone, Ruth Reichl

I’ve already established that my Aunt and I love to eat, but we also both love to READ about eating. She even mailed me a box a few weeks ago filled with books written by food lovers. This was one of them and it was pure delight. Reichl used to be the editor of Gourmet magazine and is now the food critic for The New York Times. Best. Job. Ever. It was amazing to recount her childhood and how her many seized opportunities led her to where she is today. Remember Outliers? She’s a perfect example of Gladwell’s findings. She has two more books that I’m ready to now devour.

But, first! Here are the books next in line. I have a few very large, very daunting, very time-consuming books I need to conquer and it’s my summer goal to get through them. I’ve now put it in print, so it must be so. Help hold me accountable for these tomes:

Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
A Feast for Crows – George R. R. Martin
The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt

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# this and that

Joe and I are enjoying a rare night off tonight. I don’t remember it being like this when I was in school, but it seems every concert, every performance, every recital, every event is crammed into the last two weeks of school here. It’s been absolutely non-stop for us!

And, you won’t believe it…or maybe you will, but we’re supposed to get snow tomorrow and Wednesday. I can’t even go there right now, especially after having such a gorgeous weekend.

So, before we haul out the boots again, here’s what we’ve been up to:

1. Of all the performances we caught last week, Joe’s concert was the biggest and the best. It’s so awesome to watch him in action. I did catch this not-so-great photo from my seat, ushers be damned.

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One of the pieces they performed didn’t even use a conductor. It’s a piece called “Cave” and used special lighting and choreography that Joe coordinated. You can watch a video of the performance that’s posted on the Marching Band’s Facebook page.

2. Night at the Museum — Our friend Chris opened an exhibit at the USU art museum with several of his colleagues from the UK. They are part of a grant that’s exploring Theosophy. The exhibit was very well done (no photos allowed) and was followed by a string quartet recital, which was really great. Here are a few photos I caught of the beginning of the exhibit before the docent yelled at me.

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3. Blood Moon — Did you guys stay up to catch last week’s Blood Moon? I didn’t. Even on Utah time, I couldn’t stay up that late on a school work night. But, Joe did and got these great shots with my “purse camera.” It was a nice surprise to find them the next day.
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4. In some sad news, one of my all-time favorite authors died last week. Gabriel Garcia Marquez was known for his magical realism, but it was his beautiful descriptions that made me fall in love with him first. I don’t re-read many books, but his 100 Years of Solitude has been in my hands at least five times and will forever be in my top five books. I’ve read many of  GGM’s other works, but nothing holds a candle to 100, in my not-so-humble opinion. Here’s his NYTimes obit…The Conjurer of Literary Magic. I love it. I know this sounds strange, but I feel honored in a way to have lived at the same time as him. True Greatness. Please go read his works.

5. In more sad news, Friday was the 19th anniversary of the Oklahoma City Bombing. I guess as an Okie you never get that date out of your head. What a horrific day for my lovely home state. I think next time we’re in Oklahoma I’ll take Joe to see the memorial. It’s been probably 12-13 years since I’ve been there myself.

6. And to leave you on a happy note, we took Bella back to the dog park this weekend. Here are the highlights. This collie was the biggest “mother hen” of a dog. Always trying to keep the peace and everyone in line. Bella was intrigued by her bossiness.
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Look who was there! Her old friend from the week before.
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Here she is ignoring new friend requests:
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The biggest and the smallest:
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Here’s to another busy week, this time with snow…April snow showers bring what?

# easter brunch

On the heels of my last post, I’m here to write more about food! Surprise, surprise.

I will take any and every opportunity to make a special meal. Holidays are just a given. They not only allow for traditions to show their annual flare, but also give eager permission to try new recipes. Tradition Try-Outs.

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One of my New Year’s Resolutions was to learn to bake scones. I love to eat ’em and, based on Starbucks’ costs, I really needed to learn to make them myself! I absolutely adore the Starbucks mini-vanilla bean scones, so it was a no-brainer to first experiment with Pioneer Woman’s knock-off recipe. I didn’t document the entire process like she does, but here’s the end result.

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I’ve definitely made prettier things, and mini-scones they are not!, but I was really thrilled with how they tasted. It’s like eating sugar cookies for breakfast!

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The other two parts of our Easter brunch fall into the traditions category. First up, a lovely perfect-for-Spring vegetable salad from my go-to, Barefoot Contessa. Here’s a nicer picture of it that I had from a few years ago.

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And, then there were the ebelskivers.

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Do you know about ebelskivers? They are the perfect breakfast for special occasions and holidays. Little (Danish) pancake balls, usually filled with a savory or sweet surprise.  You need a special pan, but it’s worth it.

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Fill the wells with batter, gently roll them over using chopsticks and bam! You have the cutest pancake bites. We’ve filled them with everything from cheese to nutella. Peppermint Hershey’s Kisses are a new favorite for Christmas. Here’s what they look like when they’re filled:

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The typical base is light and airy thanks to some whipped egg whites, but Joe and I decided to branch out a bit and try a new recipe. This one was cornmeal based, so the pancakes were like light little poofs of cornbread. Delicious. And instead of cooking anything in the center, it suggested drizzling them with a blueberry compote which I did.

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Joe took the smarter approach and split his apart like biscuits. Much easier to eat this way. More surface area for the blueberry goodness.

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Here’s the final spread before we dug in.

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Joe was on mimosa duty. mmmmm

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And of course we had our favorite candy on hand.

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And then it was over and I was forced to get up and look at my kitchen. And what a sad moment that was.

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I’ve heard from various sources that the Easter Bunny really delivered this year. Little Linc got this adorable teething toy that looks like a smart phone. And, whatdoyaknow, it says that his Aunt NoNo is calling! How’d he know I’m on speed dial?!  I love it.

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Happy Easter, everyone!

In case you missed it, here’s the recipe round-up:

Pioneer Woman’s Petite Vanilla Bean Scones

Barefoot Contessa’s Roasted Vegetable and Orzo Salad

Cinnamon-Bun Ebelskivers
(a favorite recipe of ours, though not the one we made today)

 

Friday Five: Food & Life, by Pam

Every Friday I’ll indulge my order-crazed brain in a list of randomness. Welcome to my Friday Fives.

This week started the annual birthday marathon in my family. The next two-and-a-half weeks will see the birthdays of six of my favorite people and one anniversary. Spring is a happenin’ time.

There is one very special birthday coming up this weekend, a milestone year for my Aunt Pammie. And before she welcomes a new decade, I wanted to share some of the life lessons I’ve learned thanks to her wise council.

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My mom jokes that when I was born she handed me right over to Pam. We’ve always been very close. We’re the wild ones. We share a love of laughter, the color purple, being creative, a sick sense of humor. We share our middle-child status. Maybe that’s the most important. We’ve just always clicked.

Pam started teaching us things the moment our attention spans reached five seconds. She taught Booh and me how to put on make-up. And, maybe more importantly, how to take it off.

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I feel like Pam would want me to assure you she doesn’t have that wallpaper anymore.

It doesn’t surprise me to hear that Pam is offering pie-making classes, because she’s just a natural teacher. We’ve had so many conversations about life, love, family, death, pain, forgiveness. She just wants to share, to learn, to connect. And I love that about her. One of the many things. Here’s another–she’s absolutely hilarious.

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Of all the lessons, the ones I love most concern food. Food is a very big deal in our family. ‘You got a new job!? Let’s celebrate with a big dinner.’ ‘You got fired from your job?! Let’s console ourselves with ice cream.’ ‘You’ve never had homemade (fill in the blank)?! It’s only midnight, let’s make some right now!”

Whether we’re burning coconut, popping homemade popcorn in a still-standing green bowl or making a mess while cooking fudge…

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It’s joy. It’s comfort. It’s us.

Here are five of my favorite foodie lessons from Aunt Pam chronicling some of our very best shared meals, in no particular order:

5. Try New Things

When I was a senior in high school, Pam took me to Chicago to audition for Northwestern University. And after the audition, we—what else?—celebrated by going to a nice dinner at Vivere. It was there I had my first bite of wild mushrooms and immediately fell in love. It was also where I sat staring at the dessert menu filled to the brim with indecisiveness when she said, “Marci. Stop. Do you see where it says Passion Fruit Sorbet? When you see REAL passion fruit on a menu, you get it. It doesn’t matter what it’s paired with. Just get it.” And I did. And I do. And she was right.

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4. Always Push Your Boundaries

Pam and I have traveled a lot together and where we eat is always just as important, if not more, than the attractions we see. Once, in Philadelphia, Pam took me to what Philly hails as its best Italian restaurant,  La Famiglia Ristorante. We had done our research. (And by ‘we’, I mean ‘she.’) This was where the locals went. So we tried everything and drank copious amounts of fine wine. And just when you thought you couldn’t put one more bite in your mouth, out came an entire three-level dessert cart. This is where most southern belles would wave their white napkins in surrender, but no. Not us. I think I tried one of everything on that damn cart. It was heavenly. If you’re going to go to the best Italian restaurant in Philly, you better try the cannoli.

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3. Have a Signature Drink

Just like the ladies of New York in the early 2000s with their cosmos, Pam has a signature drink: The Cham-Cham. She introduced me to it long before my legal years, first in sips sitting on the lawn at an OK Mozart concert and now by the glassful in hotel rooms. Will travel with the hard stuff: Half champagne, half Chambord (black-raspberry liqueur). It’s. So. Freakin’. Good. It makes me feel so classy…especially when it comes in a bottle like this.

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2. Start Your Day Off Right

When you spend a night at Pam’s you won’t be waking up to dry cereal or oatmeal. You will experience the most delicious waffles with all the toppings (including peanut butter for me, much to her chagrin) and a wonderful palette-cleansing fruit salad. I joke that her waffles are the only thing that could bring our family together before 10am. (Unless we never went to bed, which is also a possibility.) Here’s Pam’s secret weapon when it comes to breakfast: maple syrup. She taught me to buy the real stuff, sorry Aunt Jemima, and always…ALWAYS…serve it warm. Makes all the difference in the world.

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1. Go Big Or Go Home

A few years ago, Pam won an achievement trip for being a total champ at work. She generously took me as her guest, so together we soaked up the sun, massage oil, Cham-Chams and…you guessed it…good food. In our resort was a five-star restaurant, The Georgian Room—my very first foray into the finest of fine dining. I can’t tell you how incredible our meal was, how beautiful each plate looked, how our wine perfectly complimented our food. It was event eating. And while everything about that trip was fun and amazing, the thing I will always remember and think of first is that meal, and the wonderful, deep conversation we had while enjoying it. The meal wasn’t priceless, but the memories are.

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Pam calls me her #2 Niece, as in birth order, but I tell her I’m her #1 Fan. She’s one of the best people I’ll ever know and I really can’t describe how much I love and admire her. Her shoes are too large to fill, but I hope I can be a fraction of the Aunt she has been to me to all of the littles in my life. Here’s to Aunt Pammie and her big birthday on Sunday. Where shall we eat?

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# dog park

Thanks for the comments, emails and texts about how you like your eggs. I’m happy to report that I tried an Egg-In-A-Hole last night and didn’t gag over the runny yolk. It was definitely different, but I was right in thinking the buttery toasted bread would help. It totally made it okay for me.

We’ve been having to shift around our Sunday Fundays a bit due to weather. The last two Sundays have been cold, rainy and…I hate to even type it…snowy. Yesterday, thankfully, was beautiful with even a tinge of warmth. So we piled in the car and headed south to take Bella to the dog park. Bella’s only been to one other dog park when she was very young in Cincinnati. Since then we’ve lived in humid, flea- and tick-laden areas and she also had a long-running platelet problem that prevented her from being around other dogs.

Her blood numbers have been okay for the last three years and we live in such a dry, high-altitude area that there are no fleas, so we figured all was well to let her try it again.

Since most of our car rides end in the vet, the groomer or all-day car marathons, she wasn’t too pleased to go for a ride.

And she was a little overwhelmed when we got there due to these huge dogs being all over when we went through the gate, but she quickly got the hang of it and had a blast. Here are some pics from our fun afternoon.

I’M RUNNING WITHOUT A LEASH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Obligatory sniffs:
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She fancied the big dogs, of course:
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The stare-down, the taunting of “chase me!”:
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My precious, happy baby. I love that face.
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This dog would charge me every time I bent down to take a picture of Bella. Friendly and so eager for attention, I couldn’t say no. DSC_7158a
A sure sign of a good time, and that it’s time to go…the wagging tongue.
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Here’s her in the car on the way home.  A little different than when we left, huh? Just check out that tongue hanging out!
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So ridiculously in love with this pup.

Friday Five: Amy!

Every Friday I’ll indulge my order-crazed brain in a list of randomness. Welcome to my Friday Fives.

Another Friday Five post just under the gun! Tonight we went to a special presentation by the USU Winter Guard, so we’re just now getting home and we are SO ready for the weekend.  And what a weekend it will be. My dear friend, Amy, is getting married tomorrow in Ohio and although we won’t be there, we’ll be thinking of her and sending our love. Amy started out as my boss when I worked for the CSO in grad school, but quickly became a very close friend. Hard to believe it’s been nearly 10 years since we met!

Even though our contact has been somewhat sporadic through the years, we always seem to be very connected during the big events in our lives. I remember texting her all the time when she was saying goodbye to her Dad. She was there when I lost my grandfather with comfort and words of support. I remember sitting in the Box Office when she announced she was pregnant with her daughter and we’ve written 67…SIXTY SEVEN…emails back and forth in the last 3 months, raising each other up with motivation to hit the gym and wedding talk.

Amy’s an incredible person, so I thought I’d share with you five of my favorite things about her:

5. Arts Admin Amy

Amy really influenced me to pursue Arts Administration. She is not only dedicated to the arts in Cincinnati, but leads discussions on a national/international scale inspiring others with her determination, craft and creativeness. I really miss being a part of her team.

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4. Musical Amy

Yep, Amy’s a horn player. (We really are the best stereotype out there.) When I worked for her there were quite a few horn players in our office (Amy, me, Bobbie, Issac, Pam…who am I missing?). You can always trust a horn player.

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3. Boss Amy

I gotta go back to this. To this day Amy remains one of the very best bosses I’ve ever had. She cultivated an amazing team that really thrived under her watch, always having fun, but also always working hard and, no matter how close we were to Amy as a friend, always giving her the utmost respect she deserved. Now that I’ve been with a few other orchestras/operas, I can tell you that situation is a rare occurrence.  Many of the people I worked with were my closest friends in Cincinnati and we’re still all in touch even though the miles are many between us. Here are a few pics from our CSO days together (game nights, baby showers, office)…

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Amy's all smiles at her first trip to Hofbrauhaus!!

2. Mom Amy

Amy is mom to Drew and Grace, who were SO YOUNG when I lived in Cincinnati–seriously, like thisbig. Grace had just been BORN! I have a stack of photo Christmas cards that chronicle their too-fast growth. I remember babysitting and Grace peeing on me before her bath, requiring me to call Amy while she was out to ask if I could borrow some pants. She also was so kind and patient to let me try out my budding photography skills…my very first photoshoot. I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I still managed to take a picture of Grace that is still one of my favorites to this day. These three have had their share of dark times, but you’d never know it from their smiles, hugs and love for each other. Bobby is a lucky man to get this package.

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Post-pee-on-Marci bath:

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1. Friend Amy

I’ll be the first to admit I’ve struggled with girl friends in the past. I always would get fed up quickly with the pettiness, the passive aggressiveness, the competitiveness that seems to always come with the territory. But Amy’s different. She’s a real girl’s girl, not threatened in the least to raise up her friends higher than herself, higher than they thought possible. Because she knows if they rise, she rises with them. I’m lucky to call her friend, to know her support and understanding, to watch her grow.

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And here’s to the new Amy, Mrs. Catanzaro! Congratulations to Bobby and Amy (and Drew and Grace!)! What a wonderful new family, a wonderful new beginning. I wish you all the best.

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# apples to apples

When you’re 32 you think you have everything figured out. Well, letsbehonest, I’ve probably felt like that since I was 13, but I was never foolin’ anyone but myself. This realization was painfully obvious when I started my new job. And not for reasons one would think, like learning new computer systems, absorbing tons of program info…nope! It was when I started packing my lunch.

I’m a total creature of habit (proven here and here) especially when it comes to my lunch, but I knew that around 3:30 every day I’d feel a blood-sugar lull. And since Diet Coke has been out of my system since November (CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?!), I decided to go with an apple.

But here’s the deal, I didn’t know which kind of apple I really liked. For years, I’ve stared down the produce aisle, reading descriptions, but usually just end up picking what’s on sale or what sounds good. I’ve had good apples–never bothering to remember what I was trying from one week to the next–but, most of the time I suffered from major apple disappointment. To me, there’s nothing worse than a soft, mushy apple. #theworst

It was imperative to me, as a 30+-year-old, to know what apple I like best. I treated it like a life mission.

Have you seen Runaway Bride, the very distant second-best movie starring Richard and Julia?

In it, Richard proves that Julia doesn’t know who she is because she doesn’t know which kind of eggs she likes.

And when she’s ready to show her commitment to (Spoiler Alert!) him, she tells him flat out: I like Eggs Benedict. It sounds silly, but it’s really a very sweet moment.

This is a really horrible montage with Chinese subtitles, but it covers the most important parts:

Well, here’s our grand reveal: I like Gala apples. And Joe likes Fuji.

It took us a few weeks, but consider our testing complete. We’ve both found the perfect combination of tartness, sweetness and crunch for our tastes. It’s liberating. I don’t feel like my not-knowing for so long was due to any man-hopping like in the movie, but just a general unawareness of me. A total result of going through the motions and not really caring.

But, here’s the kicker. Ever since I came out with my Gala-apple-love-affair, I’ve been one happy lady every afternoon. I never have to worry if I’m going to like it and, I know this sounds crazy, but I feel really satisfied knowing what I like…in essence, who I am.

It’s a bit liberating and I want that assurance and confidence to flow into other parts of my life.

“Red Delicious apples are red, yet not a bit delicious. I’ll never buy one again.”

“I hate books set during the Civil War. I won’t read another one.”

“I like mayonnaise, not Miracle Whip like Joe. It’s okay to have both in the fridge at all times.”

Let’s take a stand on who we are and what we enjoy! And stop wasting time and apologizing in any form over something we don’t like. (I’m giving myself a pep talk here.)

Next stop on my testing train is…eggs. Just like in the movie. Except I grew up thinking I didn’t like eggs and have only had them scrambled…ever. And usually piled high with veggies, cheese and salsa. (I really hate anything that tastes eggy–french toast, bread pudding, souffles..so this could be a short test.) Am I missing out on life’s greatest treasures? Doubtful you can sell me on the hard-boiled variety–I blame my sulfa allergy, but what ways do you prefer you eggs? I don’t think I can even name them all!

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Over Easy
Over Medium (?)
Poached
Fried
Deviled
Benedict (I already love Hollandaise sauce.)
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What am I missing? Will I like runny yolks? It’s an anxiety I didn’t know I had, but what better time to figure this out than before Easter. I think my first stop will be Pioneer Woman’s Egg-in-a-Hole. There’s something about the safe embrace of a piece of bread that makes me think my first foray away from scrambled will be okay. I’ll be taste-testing in the privacy of my own home, but will keep you posted. You’re all on pins and needles, I’m sure.