Flippin’ the Kitchen

Last Wednesday, I found myself very lost. Wandering aimlessly through row after row after row in the brightly lit space, I was unable to communicate or comprehend the overwhelming confusion that clouded my brain. Searching up and down the towering stacks, I would reach out to touch something only to recoil in the unfamiliarity of it. At one point, a kind soul approached me to ask if I needed help, which I must have – quite obviously – looked as if I did. I jumped and swung around, stuttering and feeling inept in my apology. “I’m sorry, I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing.” I could see the startled strangeness in his eyes as he wracked his brain for what must be going on with this unsettled girl. Upon my blank-expressioned explanation and gesturing at the paper in my hand, however, his eyes softened and he said, “Let me help you.” But after the brief interaction, he abandoned me, leaving me again alone and adrift in the vast emptiness of the… whole foods market.

I had just learned I am dairy and wheat intolerant. And apparently, I had lost my ability to navigate every day activities and common social situations along with a lifetime of cheese and carbs. And milk. And ice cream. And spontaneity. And indulgence. And BEER.

Ever since I can remember, I’ve had issues with my stomach. Growing up, I would find myself laid out on the couch every night at 7 p.m. like clockwork. Since then, not a day has gone by without some incidence of a stomachache in varying magnitudes. Toward the end of college, all through grad school, and the year I took off between, I started feeling progressively worse, adding symptom after symptom to the long list of problems I was seeing in my health and wellness. At least once a week, I would have such an ache in my stomach that I could barely stand up straight, and just as in my elementary years, I would find myself laid out on the couch, the bed, the stairs, any flat surface in close proximity on which I could curl up in a ball and pout. Beyond that, I was always tired. And freezing cold. I had sinus infections and facial tension and a clenched jaw more than frequently. I would unexpectedly get waves of nausea. (No, I’m NOT pregnant!) Calf, shin, ankle and foot cramps would wake me up most nights or cause me to bolt off the couch to “walk it off” during movies. And beyond a variety of persistent skin concerns, my once beautiful, complement-inspiring hair has become dry and brittle with the ends constantly split and breaking off easily between my fingers.

Recently, a few of my loved ones informed me that not everyone lives this way.

Oh.

So begins the journey to figuring out what the heck is going on with my renegade body. With fantastic benefits from my new job, this epiphany could not have come at a more opportune and grateful time. At first, thinking it was purely stress, I practiced yoga, relaxation, and meditation regularly and found a great therapist close to home. She happened to rent her space from a sort-of natural healing and integrative medicine community consisting of a birthing center, a registered dietician, a chiropractor, and more. Also among their ranks was an acupuncturist/integrative health specialist, who I decided to give a try. She was also insanely fantastic, with great suggestions on adding and subtracting food from my daily diet along with sticking needles all over the place.  (More on this later!) And while my anxiety started to subside and my jaw unclenched noticeably, I was still feeling many of my other symptoms. That’s when my mom informed me that both she and my maternal grandmother have hypothyroidism, which can be inherited genetically and the symptoms of which matched up perfectly with many of those of which I was complaining. Hours and hours of calling offices around the county finally turned fruitful with an appointment with a physician’s assistant, who drew up the paperwork for a blood test. In his office again a week later for the test interpretation, nothing abnormal turned up except for a slightly lower that ideal white blood cell count. He assured me there was nothing to worry about. Thankful for the news but frustrated in a continued lack of a solution, I decided to call the husband and wife team of Longevity Healthcare with offices in San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Newport Beach to see what they could offer. Their operation sounded like just what I needed, with his M.D. degree and her PhD in Holistic Nutrition. I waited a month to see them, but it was well-worth the wait. Upon arrival, the first 15 minutes were spent with Dr. Peter Muran, who took one look at my concerns and my blood test results and informed me I may indeed have a thyroid problem and more tests needed to be completed. The next hour and a half were spent in an appointment with Sandy, which soon became a whirlwind of information that left me light-headed and dizzy. Finally, two hours later, I emerged from their office – stacks of reading materials, extensive supplement lists, and protein powder samples in hand. 

There it was, ladies and gentlemen. Wheat and dairy were the culprits all along. But let’s not stop there. I need more protein and magnesium, am currently incapable of making my own B-vitamins, and have a candida overgrowth in my stomach. I had been looking for a zebra when the herd of horses was the problem. No wonder I felt like shit.

Fast forward one 20-minute in driver’s seat conversation – during which I fell even more in love with Bill with his outpouring of husbandly support – and you will again find me where our story began roaming the aisles of New Frontiers, our massive local whole foods marketplace. I have been there a hundred times in the past for their salad bar and smoothies, but this time was different. With a wealth of products I’ve never seen before, labels I don’t yet understand, and astronomical prices, I became easily overwhelmed at the life overhaul which I am about to implement.

Needless to say, the last week has had its ups and downs. After the $94 New Frontiers escapade, I floated over to Target to find great gluten-and dairy-free options for MUCH cheaper. One disheartened metaphoric “d’oh” later, I was happy to find that something I love – but had not purchased at a much higher price point – was not only cheaper but also on sale at Target, and I loaded up on enough Amy’s frozen entrees and EVOL burritos to get me through more than a week of work. Now I know that this is not necessarily the best way to go, what with sodium counts being under intense scrutiny lately, but I knew that what’s up ahead is more than just a “Can Eat/Can’t Eat” challenge. It is a lifestyle change. Not only do I need to relearn what is available to me and read nearly every nutrition label and ingredient list along the way, but I also need to find more time to plan for meals, prep food, and actually cook. We all know how difficult that can be with full-time jobs, gym memberships, households to upkeep, and most importantly, relationships to maintain. Beyond that, my milk guzzling, PB&J scarfing husband and I are going to have to keep many of our foods separate. I don’t want him to have to change his eating habits just for me, but now I also need to learn how to make things we both can enjoy. All of this adds together up to an overwhelming mess of intimidation, of which I am simultaneously feeling excited for the challenge and terrified of the effort involved.

The following days have been interesting, and I’m learning new coping strategies as I go.  Thursday was awesome. I ate lunch with my vegetarian friend Courtney at a local vegan restaurant, Bliss Cafe, which made for easy choices on my new diet. With the kitchen at home not adequately stocked with supplies, I gave myself a break and ordered two meals, which served as dinner that night and two more meals over the weekend. Friday, however, was a challenge. Still not feeling awesome from the two-week flu incident preceding the ordeal, I decided to follow my sleep-in pre-work schedule upon waking. Too bad I ended up late for work because I couldn’t figure out what the hell to eat for breakfast. Next up, mid-morning a plate of my favorite favorite gluten-free cookies from campus catering showed up in the front office at work, and it took me two bites to realize that the chocolate chips in their peanut-buttery goodness most likely had some form of milk product in them. My stomach soon agreed, and I threw a perfectly beautiful cookie straight into the trash. Then, as part of an initiative to bring our staff together socially, we had our first monthly lunch planned. At a Mexican restaurant. Full of cheese and flour and who knows what else. Thank goodness I brought my vegan leftovers, because I just sat there and sipped water while all my coworkers splurged on gorgeous enchiladas. By the time I got back to my leftovers, the lunch hour was over and my attention was pulled every which way, leaving no continuous period for much needed sustenance. The tipping point was that afternoon when I realized that I can’t have my dad’s waffles, my stepmom’s french toast, my mom’s quiche, or my family’s Christmas cookies anymore. (People seem to jump at the chance to point out that there are many ways to make these with all the options out on the market today, but they completely miss the point that it’s the recipes from my childhood that make these things so special to me and changing the ingredients completely nullifies that concept.) My anxiety was riding high by the time I got in the car to go home at the end of my tumultuous Friday, and then I realized that Bill and I had planned a rare Friday date night at Que Pasa… with more Mexican food. I collapsed in a sobbing pile in his arms upon arriving home. Once I quit crying, I realized I had given myself a stomachache, but this time from anxiety.

The weekend went more smoothly once I had time to really sit and think through everything. My beautiful friend Danae sent me home from our yard sale with her husband’s homemade quinoa salad (which by the way, is AMAZING… They’re the owners of Old San Luis BBQ Co. in Downtown SLO, and you MUST GO). I found Trader Joe’s Gluten Free and Vegan Lists online, which after the complicating cross-checking that someone with both allergies needs to do, made my shopping trip much more enjoyable. And lastly, this girl made me feel much less alone. Even though my big plans this weekend were a Wine-and-Cheese Party turned Just-A-Wine Party for me, followed by a dinner at the fanciest restaurant in town where I starved through the 90-minute long bread and butter and caeser salad extravaganza my friends enjoyed before something I could eat finally landed in front of my face, I’m slowly getting more and more confident in this new chapter.

The refrigerator has been divided.

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I’ve begun domination of New Frontiers, Vons, Trader Joe’s and the Target food section.

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I’m getting the hang of this “bring your smoothie in a mason jar” thing.

GFDF

New cookbooks have been added to the Amazon Wishlist. Pinterest has been raided. All is slowly becoming right in the world, and I’m already seeing a few results.

What it all comes down to is that this will be one hell of a journey, but I know I’ll come out healthier, happier, and stomach-ache free on the other side. I have found I have a lot of support, and it’s not hard to remember that there are worse problems to have. Bill and I have even set a date in the future to celebrate new behaviors becoming habits, and I’m planning to “graduate” to my new lifestyle at that time. Until then, I ask that my family and friends please ask questions and be patient with me, because I’m still learning too (and currently have very little idea of what I’m doing). So here’s to a new crop of treats and luxuries! Because as Rae Smith said…

Never Be Afraid To Fall Apart

{Beautiful artwork by Shannon of the blog The Shannonicle found via Pinterest}

Scavenchiladas!

Have you seen that new Taco Bell commercial featuring Kevin Love for the XXL Steak Nachos? The gist of the commercial is that the nachos are normal-sized for 7’6″ Minnesota Timberwolves player Kevin Love, making them outrageously huge and beyond enormous for the rest of us.

If you haven’t seen it, here it is.

Yeah, that’s kind of what trying to feed Bill is akin to. The other day I watched him eat two turkey burgers for lunch in less than ten minutes. I bought him a large box of Raisin Bran Crunch on Saturday night, and it was gone by Monday night at around the same time. There were ten servings in that box.

With that said, planning a wedding was incredibly fun, but we often hear about the need to plan for a marriage. Now, this means a lot of things, including some very serious ones. But in the name of all that is holy matrimony, one of the things I was entirely unprepared for when tying the knot was the amount of time, effort, and money it takes to feed someone who is a) male and b) 6’7″. Bill is both of these things, bless his abnormally large heart.

All of these things add up to a lot of income-generating, grocery-shopping, and food-preparing work to fill his stomach. So when the universe drops a miracle in your lap in the form of pounds and pounds of leftovers from a taco bar at a work event, you grab it. When this happened the other day, I felt embarrassed about my urgency to pack up as much as I could for about 7.2 seconds, and then I didn’t anymore. I soon learned that the catering company would just trash it when they got back to their operating headquarters. The first thing that struck me was how sad that all that food would go to waste, as the event could easily have served another 15-20 people. The second thing was that this could potentially feed Bill for multiple meals. MULTIPLE MEALS! Scrounging around the office for any type of food-transporting materials turned up absolutely nothing. Since there was no way I was going to let this opportunity slip out of my hands, I actually mustered up the audacity to ask the catering staff to wait for me while I literally sprinted across campus to the university market and returned with a box of gallon-sized Glad bags and a few extra to-go containers meant for soup but perfect for salsa, guac, and black beans. Fast forward to the end of the workday, and if you had seen me lugging the tote bag I used to pack my hoarded treasure to the car, you would have absolutely zero doubt that I had taken not an ounce less than the max I could possibly carry. No shame, and SO not sorry.

That night, a Wednesday, Bill ate three burritos when I got home. On Thursday, he and one of his basketball buddies put away another huge portion after a couple (plus or minus a few more) beers. Friday, lunch was again provided. By Saturday, however, I knew that the Big Man would soon tire of the same meal, no matter how much he loves Mexican food. I needed to get creative. Determined to use what we had in the house, I threw together what ultimately became a hit according to Halter standards, and my Scavenchiladas were born.

What I found tearing through every food-storage area in my kitchen was a mix of things I always have on-hand (canola oil, olive oil, a clove of garlic), leftovers from my small Super Bowl get-together the weekend prior (half an onion, some shredded Mexican cheese, a handful of sliced olives, cilantro, light sour cream), some freebies from a food company who came to a career fair last year and gave our office the leftovers they didn’t want to ship back (a can each of tomato paste and crushed tomatoes with pesto), and of course, the gift from taco bar heaven I had scored earlier in the week (corn and flour tortillas, leftover salsa, shredded chicken, black beans, and salvagable-but-slightly-browning guacamole).

Now, I used to be so Type A that baking was more my thing – you know, the precision, the neatness, the following of strict rules. Things easily go wrong when baking when you don’t go by the book, and I am good at going by the book. However, I have always been secretly jealous of anyone who could just go through the kitchen and make something out of nothing, or so I thought. In fact, this jealousy flourished as numerous roommates with such a gift rotated through my house during college. (Amanda, Katie, Kaitlin, and Emily, I’m talking to you.) As we tend to do when we feel entirely inadequate at something, I had relied  on self-deprecating tendencies the last few years when it came to cooking, but I’ve had just about enough of that, let me tell you. I was determined to make a Mexican food masterpiece out of my misfit ingredients. Now with that in mind, I’m going to tell you what I did, and then I want you to throw out anything that does not apply to you and add anything you damn well please.

Scavenchiladas

Serves… however many can get their hands in before Bill destroys it.

(Adapted from this recipe)

Ingredients:

  • Canola oil
  • As many corn + flour tortillas as you can find (about 12 in my case)
  • 1/2 an onion, chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 1 cup of salsa
  • 3 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup canned crushed tomatoes
  • Olive oil
  • Fully cooked shredded chicken
  • 1 cup black beans
  • 1 package light shredded Mexican cheese
  • A few cilantro leaves
  • Light sour cream
  • Guacamole
  • Whatever you have in your kitchen that sounds like it has any potential whatsoever to go in enchiladas

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What To Do:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Coat a large pan over medium-high heat with canola oil. Add a single layer of tortillas to the pan. Cook for a few seconds or until very slightly browned to reduce the chance of crumbling the corn tortillas upon rolling. (Flour tortillas will be more flexible.). Using a spatula, lift up the first tortilla, stack on it the second, then lift both to add another layer of new tortillas underneath. Cook for a few seconds, stack and lift again, and add another layer underneath. Repeat the process until all tortillas are heated, adding a bit more oil if needed. You can place the tortillas one by one on a paper towel to remove any excess oil (read: calories and fat), or don’t and have even yummier enchiladas.

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3. In a large saucepan, sauté the chopped onion and garlic in olive oil until tender and the kitchen smells amazing, then turn off the heat. Add 1 cup of salsa.

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4. Using a spoon, drop 3 tbsp of tomato paste into 1 cup of water until dissolved, or if you get impatient like I did, stir until the everything mixes together. Add the tomato paste water to pan. Finally, add 1 cup of crushed canned tomatoes, and stir to combine.

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5. Coat the bottom of a large glass casserole pan with some olive oil. (If you don’t have enough ingredients to fill a large pan, use a smaller one!) Lay a tortilla flat on a separate plate, sprinkle it lightly (or not so lightly) with cheese, followed by shredded chicken and a small scoop of black beans.

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6. Roll up the tortilla and place it in the casserole pan. Continue until all tortillas are rolled, and your pan is filled.

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7. Pour sauce to the top of the rolled tortillas, making sure all are covered.

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8. Now the fun part: cover the whole thing with the rest of the grated cheese, plus more cheese and then maybe even a little extra cheese for good measure. I mean, who doesn’t love cheese? I love cheese.

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9. Put the casserole in the oven for 10 minutes or until the cheese melts.

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10. Garnish with cilantro, sour cream, guacamole, or whatever your perfect little heart desires, you pretty young thing.

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11. Hand to happy big man of the house. And maybe have one or two yourself.

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Big guy smiles.

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Clean plate club! Happy scavenging, everyone.

On Life and Loneliness: A Ramshackle Glam Take

A big (and potentially embarrassing?) dream came true for me this morning.

A week or two ago, I contacted one of my blogging idols, Jordan Reid of Ramshackle Glam, with a question. After receiving such an amazing response to my Wife of Solitude post, I wanted to reach out to one of the most inspiring women I’ve come to admire and who I know has experienced very similar things with her husband Kendrick heading back to grad school. She responded with the most poignant of emails, and it was so helpful. So incredibly helpful, in fact, that I found myself holding back tears at my desk. I expected her to relate and understand, of course. But what I didn’t expect the extent to which she actually did – just as I hadn’t expected so many of my strong, loving and vibrant friends to confess similar feelings to me. It was a strange experience laying my feelings out on the table like that, especially since Bill was so supportive and receptive to my public exposure of a personal struggle of our shared married life that he even retweeted the post to his local followers:

Bill's Tweet

But back to Jordan.  She reposted my question with a link to my blog (!!!) on her own beautiful Ramshackle Glam, adding her response to the bottom in the form of her own generous wisdom and experience. The post can be found here:

When You And Your Partner Have Different Schedules (A Little On Loneliness)

I highly recommend you hop on over and read her post, today and everyday! I guarantee you’ll fall in love with her take on life (and with her adorable son Indy).

Conversations on Babies

Every single one of us has that question. You know, the one that everyone and their mom keeps asking you over and over and over again until your head wants to explode. It always has something to do with major life milestones and the fact that they have not yet happened in your life. Examples include:

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Where are you going to college?

What are you doing after graduation?

Why don’t you have a significant other?

You have a significant other! When are you two tying the knot?

Yeah, that question.

As most of you know, Bill and I got married in July of last year. Here’s a wonderful picture to show you that we did, in fact, do this.

Wedding Picture

It has been just over 6 months since that amazing day, and I’ve been enjoying the heck out of being married. I love Bill a lot, true story. But not long after we made it permanent, a new question started popping up. You guessed it: BABIES. Now, I do not blame the asker. I mean seriously, I WANT TO KNOW TOO! When ARE we having babies? If anyone hears anything, let me know.

Joking aside, it’s an endearing question, and I give them the best answer I can. Do we want to have kids? Yes, we do. Very much. How many do we want? Two to three. Two and a half. (Kidding.) Do we know when? No, not yet. We have some things we want to get together/figure out before we do, and we are just enjoying married life right now. And then there is my personal favorite: are Bill and I talking about kids yet?

Why is this my personal favorite? Because despite the patient reply of “Not yet!” I often give, I would love to tell them the honest truth. Bill and I ARE talking about kids, but not in the way you would think.

Disclaimer: One of the major milestones we HAVE hit is the one where we can say anything to each other, no holds barred, and not be judged for it. So in the name of the infamous turkey sandwich, the mind explosion of which was thoroughly explored in yesterday’s post, I’m going  into the depths of our relationship to share with you a type of moment not often shared.

Our latest conversation about kids!

Thursday, January 16th at 2:34 p.m.

(Via text message – I’m in blue.)

Sando Text 1Sando Text 2

So there you have it. The honest truth!

We are so looking forward to having children one day, but until then, we are going to keep it simple. When we are ready, we are ready. For now it will just be the two of us, loving each other, and looking forward to the day when we decide to begin the process of trying to grow our family.

Just for the record, I don’t mind if you ask. But I just might be tempted to tell you the real story.

A Wife of Solitude

I’m about to get real. There’s a new feeling that has entered my life in the past few months, and it’s not one that is often talked about. In fact, if it is, it usually incites two typical responses. The first is a look of pity followed by some mopey drawn-out utterance reserved for a weak kitten and the closest acceptable level of baby-talk that the targeted 26-year-old (me) will tolerate. The second option for a response is implying a sign of weakness and self-infliction by launching into “Well, why don’t you get out and do something about it?”, thereby blaming it on being a recluse. You’ve probably guessed what I’m referring to already, and it’s loneliness.

I’ve mentioned before how work schedules do not line up in our house. A refresher: I work a normal weekday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., while Bill’s work week spans Friday through Tuesday from 2:30 p.m. to midnight. What I haven’t mentioned is my end of the deal on a daily basis, and I’m slowly realizing that I’m not the only newly married young wife experiencing this. In fact, even my unmarried yet coupled-up friends are feeling similar from time to time.

So here’s how it is. I’ve never had a problem with alone time. In fact, I would consider myself one of those people who needs it to maintain sanity. I love quiet things, like reading and lounging and watching HGTV. I love to go for runs to clear my head. There are definitely times that I go to our room and shut the door and just sit. I also look forward to nights in on more-than-rare occasions. I don’t like missing gym sessions, which oftentimes are derailed by plans with other people. I’ve gone to the movies by myself, I’ve eaten at restaurants by myself, and I’ve taken off on an impromptu day trip by myself.  I’ve even traveled Europe for a week, completely on my own, seeing the sites and staying in hostels/houses/tents in Scotland, Ireland, Germany, and more. In a sense, I enjoy going it solo.

But this is different. When I come home from my full-time job on a weekday, the house is usually very quiet. It’s great for unwinding from the day, changing out of my stuffy work clothes, and just taking a break. On weekends, I enjoy hanging out with Bill for a few quick hours, and generally by the time he leaves, I’m content to sit and eat my carb + condiment combo (think pretzels and hummus, wheat thins with goat cheese and blueberries, water crackers and brie, pita chips and spinach dip… all the keys to my crunchy, salty happiness) to my little heart’s desire without fear of judgement from anyone but the dog. But one to three hours later, whether weeknight or weekend, something creeps in. The house feels bigger. The rooms feel emptier. The strange noises get louder. And I get more… alone.

It’s a strange thing, this creeping void. It’s almost as if our home is hollowing into something more akin to a house. Less welcoming. Less warm. Less comfortable, safe, familiar. There is more to be done and less to be enjoyed. Boredom and tediousness and echoes replace contentment and progress and laughter. And I start to feel restless, wandering through our commonwall, parking myself on some project or in front of some distraction, only to get up and try to satisfy the disquiet someplace else.

I remember the loneliness of singledom, when all you want is just to have someone to love and to love you, and you go about your business always on the lookout for the next big thing to happen in your fast-paced life. I am in no way saying that this is better or worse than what I am describing, as everyone’s experience is relative. However, there is another type of solitude that manifests when you are married. It seems to me that this heartache is born of the idea that when you find the person you want to share the rest of your life with, you picture yourself, well, actually sharing your life with them. Your daily life. The good mornings and the goodnights and the how-was-your-days. However, life sometimes interferes.

In fact, it seems to interfere far more that I expected. Maybe it’s the fear of being lame or getting the standard responses I mentioned at the start of this post, but I’ve found it harder and harder to reach out to others with the way I feel five days a week. To my surprise, though, a funny thing is happening now that I’ve made the leap to stop the downward spiral of “hiding my loneliness, getting lonelier” just for a second by taking a step outside and just observing. I’ve started to drop little bits of information, small watered-down summaries, and slightly self-deprecating jokes in conversations to see what happens. As it would turn out, other attached women feel the same way, and they are just as reluctant to divulge.

There’s the friend whose husband is currently trying out a new job across the country, leaving her and their baby at home for a few weeks at a time. Or the friend whose partner is spread pretty thin, working creative projects during the day and bartending at night. Or the friend whose husband is a charter pilot, on call for stretches of time, not really allowing for concrete plans and leaving her for days at a time at a moment’s notice. Or the friend whose husband is a director, spending three months of the year conducting three- to four-hour rehearsals after work most nights of the week. I can’t even begin to imagine how military wives feel.

Until recently, we all just smiled and assured each other we were doing okay. But the conversations are shifting. Apparently we all feel bouts of aimlessness from time to time, wondering where our partners are. We all wonder when our houses got so big and quiet, no matter how small and cozy they actually are. We all debate in our heads whether it’s worth it to actually cook or open a bottle of wine, when the former won’t be enjoyed and the latter will go bad. So we eat crackers and cheese or cereal or whatever leftovers are in the fridge and drink hot tea instead. We would all love to go out with our single friends if it wasn’t for the nagging feeling of not wanting to drink too much or worry about a ride knowing we have a home waiting for us. When spouses are working, there are no built-in rides home. When they’re not working, favors like picking your drunk ass up from the bars are not limitless. Not to mention that we’re now when we’re out, we’re the “married one”, meaning no more free drinks and no more fun conversations, which isn’t so bad… but now we’re also the ones who get ditched when something hot and shiny comes along. And crashing on a couch is no longer an option because your marriage bed is waiting. On top of that, money is now a shared commodity, and $10 drinks are not in the budget of saving up for kids and houses and rent and groceries and paying off debt from that heck-of-a-party disguised as our wedding day that you attended. All of this adds up to “it would just be easier to stay home”, since excuses for half-assed partying are still not accepted. So we bake cakes and move furniture and watch dramas/sitcoms/reality tv. We style our home decor, and then we style it again. We browse the internet and go to Target and walk the dog and vacuum the floor. We move things slightly to the left, stare, then move them slightly to the right. But these things feel half-hearted, and although are houses may be nice and clean, we are unfulfilled. Nesting isn’t as fun when the nest is empty.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t trade my marriage for anything. It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. In addition, I think I made it very clear a few paragraphs ago that pity parties are not welcome here. This is merely a conversation, an observation, maybe even a therapeutic word vomit. Settling down can be beautiful, and after a year like last year, all I want to do is revel in it. But as I muse and contemplate and ponder the empty feeling that comes out of the cracks and corners and the spaces of my house a few hours into each of my husband’s shifts, I am beginning to realize the Disney Princess mindset with which my generation has been conditioned to prescribe to isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It seems that marriage isn’t as much of a happily-ever-after guarantee as we’ve come to think of it. It’s more of a literal “for better or for worse” story that comes with actual ups and downs instead of singing birds and fireworks and riding off in carriages after sunset. It’s promising to stand by your spouse even when times are hard and you don’t have much money and nothings going right and you’re always alone. And it’s your spouse knowing that even though you are at home – alone – that you’re not going anywhere, figuratively and (more often than not, it seems) literally.

So I have a few take-aways I’d love to impart onto you.

The first is this: If you are the friend of a married person, check in with them to see how they really are. Society puts a lot of pressure on us to keep a happy face, even when all we want to wear is our sad/frustrated/tired/lonely one. The easiest way to do this is, every once in a while, suggest a night in. She probably has some wine left over from the wedding. A huge collection of chick flicks. A spread of gourmet cheese and crackers. And my bet is that she will be more than happy to share all of it, with a side of major love and appreciation.

Secondly, if you are the spouse who is always working, we know that this is just how it is. We know you have to make a living. We know you are doing the best you can. And we know that you are doing this for “us”. What we don’t know is that you appreciate us for the compromise we are making in letting you do what you want to do. And we don’t always know that you miss us and you would rather be home or out or anywhere, really, as long as it’s with us. So please, tell us. And not just once, because that monster that eats the warmth of our homes comes out everyday. Not just once, because this is our lifestyle, not just a passing moment.

Third, if you are the one at home, know you are not the only one feeling like this. We are all out here, doing our thing too. Hopefully our paths will cross and we can grab a glass of wine on a Saturday night and talk about all of this, because it’s amazing how much better it feels knowing that even though you might be by yourself, you are not alone.

And lastly… Billy, you are an incredible husband. I know that we argue about this. I know that you feel bad. And I know that no matter what you say, it probably never feels like enough. This is just a major adjustment period, both in the grand scheme of things and in the small details, and I’m working on it.  If this is what it means for you to follow your dreams, I’ll do it. In fact, the alternative is not even an option in my mind. So just be patient with me, and I’ll try to be patient with you. And even though by the time I see you tonight it will have been about 52 hours (ahem, more than two days) since we last saw each other in a state of consciousness, I want you to know that I’m here, and I’ll be waiting for you. And if you’re wondering what I’m doing at home by myself all the time, it probably looks a little something like this:

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Anyone want to come over? I don’t know how I’ll finish all this by myself, so I’d sure love some company.

A Toast to Extraordinary Simplicity

New Year’s Eve is always an interesting holiday for me. There’s the excitement for a brand new year. Then there’s the nostalgia of looking back on everything in the past one. There’s usually a little sadness involved, what with Christmas being over and the anticipation dying down. And don’t forget the electricity in the air when everyone begins to feel like reinventing themselves.

I’m usually a pretty big supporter of ringing in the New Year in overly fabulous ways. But not this year.

My New Years’ plans started out in the vein of throwing a huge cocktail party with a close friend, Danae. But when Christmas travel plans prevented us from planning early and then Danae and her husband both got sick, we decided to nix the endeavor two days before. So now I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. Bill had to work until 11:30 p.m., which meant he would just make it for a midnight kiss on our first married turn-of-the-year. I had been invited downtown, but that makes it especially difficult for him to drive from work, park, and get passed the line, in the bar, through the crowds, and next to me in the 30 precious minutes after he clocked out. We tried that two years ago, and it wasn’t the best experience for either of us.

So I had a few options. I could go downtown with a large group of some of the most fun people I know, but risk missing Bill at midnight. Plus, no matter how hard I tried, I would probably end up hungover on New Years’ Day. (No thanks.) The other option at this point would be to stay home with the dog, in my cozies, watching movies, and drinking champagne. Alone. I found myself excruciatingly torn, and I couldn’t figure out why. I didn’t want to be alone,  but I also didn’t want to fight a sea of drunk people all night long. I didn’t want a dead house, but I could not wrap my head around deafening bass thumping and party screaming either. I felt like my former party girl self was at war with my new wife persona, and I didn’t like it. I don’t want to be lame. I really don’t. So I didn’t say anything, and I wrestled with my decision and spent the last few days of 2013 stressing about it.

But then I realized that one of the things that I wished I could change about 2013 was how anxious I felt, the composed show I put on, and the feelings I hid. I spent a lot of time struggling internally with how others would view me and what they would think, and the shoulds and the coulds and the have-tos took over. It made for some unnecessary unhappiness, and I didn’t want to do that again. 2014 is going to be different.

So I put on my big girls pants, and I owned up to my true feelings in a text to Danae.

“So I’m feeling really weird about tonight… I’m almost feeling like this year was so crazy that I want something more mellow and less crowded with college students than downtown.”

I held my breath. I had officially entered the zone of marriage decreptitude I had been violently denying and fighting tooth and nail since July. I’m only 26. That’s too young to die on the inside, right? But to my surprise, Danae’s response echoed mine.

“Oh I totally feel the same way! I’ve been going non-stop and then this cold kinda killed it for me. Honestly, I’m happy watching a movie and drinking champagne. I know I’m a party pooper, but I really don’t want to go out.”

If she’s a party pooper then I’m a party pooper, because that sounds like exactly what I had been hoping for over the last few days. I just wasn’t brave enough to say it out loud… until now. And guess what? I said it, and I felt SO MUCH BETTER. We explicitly decided to spend this New Years’ Eve in a way that would set the tone for the year to come, and the result was beyond spectacular. A simple night celebrating good friends manifested in Danae and I in sequined dresses and drinking peach champagne… while watching comedies and putting together a good old-fashioned puzzle in the company of her husband, her siblings, and – at the end of the night – Bill.

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Not only were the activities of the night a perfect mix of simple and glam, but the company was just as fantastic. Danae was such a wonderful addition to my life last year as our wedding stylist/coordinator with her company Danae Grace Events, but more importantly as a friend once the nuptial craziness died down. As you can see, she has an uncanny ability to make simple things beautiful, without second thought. I am constantly inspired around her.

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Simple does not have to mean ordinary!

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A snapshot of the season. (I often say my favorite food is champagne, but even more so when it’s enjoyed from gold-rimmed flutes in front of a Christmas tree.)

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The husband and I just after midnight, looking forward to what’s to come!

So in the end, we wore our sequins, drank our champagne, and shared a glamorous night in. Our night was quiet. It was cozy. It was comforting. Oh, and it was marvelous, of course.

Just like I hope the next year is – in every way, shape, and form.

There’s Something About Inner Peace

Bill said something about a week ago that really stuck with me.

We were in the car about 6 hours into a 7-hour drive, heading home to my family’s house for the holidays. He was driving, and we were tired. We were both in our go-to traveling clothes – his idea of comfort being unshaven and wearing warm-ups and a sweatshirt and no shoes, mine a faded plaid flannel shirt and stretchy skinny jeans and boots. My initially straight-up posture had evolved into the slouched posture of a slob with my butt almost off the seat and one knee up on the door. The dog had been climbing all over us in the cramped space, and we were covered with her obnoxious and persistent black fur. The sun was just about to go down to the left, and for some reason Bill kept looking over at me from the driver’s seat.

“What?”

“I don’t know.”

“Why do you keep looking at me like that?”

“You… you just look like a wife.”

Huh? “What does that mean?”

He thought about it a second. “It means you look happy, and like yourself, and like you’re not out trying to chase boys or impress anyone. You look beautiful.”

I looked down through my aviators at the made-for-comfort-not-for-impressing-boys outfit I was sporting, surprised. First that he thought I looked even remotely attractive, but then because he was right. I haven’t consciously felt fully like myself in a long time, maybe ever. There was always some motivation to be on my toes, someone to impress, or a reason to worry or feel insecure. But here I was, with the person I would most want to impress on the entire planet, and he was appreciating me as I am right now, this second. And it wasn’t the outfit, or the makeup, or the clever quip, or the funny story, or the playing hard-to-get, or even the smart anecdote that shows off an ability to converse intelligently about anything you might throw at a person. It was the rare moment of peace I didn’t know I was feeling on the inside, and Bill saw it from all the way over on the other side of the car.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that exchange in the last 8 days. How strange it was that even though I was the one experiencing the moment, it took Bill bringing it to my attention for me to truly see it. It’s sad that a feeling of calm and contentedness with ourselves is such a foreign feeling. What is it that makes us worry and stress and keep up with the Jones’, when what we really want is already there within us everywhere we go? All that other stuff that we continuously inject into our lives is actually just getting more in the way as it builds and builds, not helping us reach our happiness. So just for this second, no matter how fleeting it is – and it is fleeting – I’m going to vow revel in that feeling. And the next time it happens. And the next and the next. Maybe then it will become a more frequent realization, and ultimately, a habit.

For now, I’ll just have to use that memory from last week and let it soak in as much as I can. That memory of when my husband glanced over at me and told me I looked like a wife, and for the rest of the drive, I couldn’t help but look over at him, with our little monster of a dog on his lap, and think of how grateful I am for what I had.

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That memory of when he looked like a husband, and the dog looked like a dog, and I felt like me.

2014 Inspirations: I Might Implode

With the end of the year fast approaching, I’m finding a familiar feeling creeping back in. Now, I’ve been known to frequent bouts of inspiration over the tiniest and most mundane of daily occurrences. (Just ask Bill how I feel about Thursdays.) However, the prospects of a brand new year always seem to elevate that to an unbearable excitement that must either be released immediately in a frenzy of creativity and fevered passion… or the alternative – namely, imminent implosion.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t like imploding.

That leaves me with a problem. How do I completely reorganize the house/workout like a maniac/dominate my finances/cook gourmet meals daily/redecorate/overhaul my life/Pinterest the shit out of everything RIGHT NOW IMMEDIATELY?!?!

You might tell me I can’t, but I won’t hear it. Save your breath, you downer.

So what is inspiring me this second? (I better not take too long to write this or the list will fall off the bottom of your screen and into your lap.)

1. Queen Bey, Mrs. Carter, Beyoncé Knowles Herself

Can we just talk about this woman for a second? She is just beyond. JUST. BEYOND. Dropping a completely new art form with her visual album with absolutely zero promotion ahead of time, only for it to be one of the most stunning works to ever have existed. It’s such a beautiful portrait of feminism, love, art, and life. And then this shows up on my newsfeed.

I am floored by this woman. And Taylon.

2. The December Issue of Glamour Magazine

This issue is my favorite every year, as it includes the Glamour Women of the Year Awards. This year, they had the honorees and the presenters write down their life mottos, so here’s a little sneak peek of the compilation, which can be found at http://www.glamour.com/inspired/blogs/the-conversation/2013/11/women-of-the-year-life-mottos.html.

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I especially like Seth Meyers’ little gem in there. How’s that for inspiration?

3. The Likes of Women Bloggers

There is a new club on the internet, consisting of family women who have taken their previously unrecognized talents of beautifying their domestic worlds and just living, and creating their own careers by writing, photographing, and inspiring us about it all. And when I say all, I mean ALL. There is some backlash that these women are furthering the anxiety and need for perfection in our already susceptible female population, and that is true in some cases, speaking from experience. But following the lives of these women has given me, a newlywed domestic disaster, a sense of camaraderie and that ever-elusive permission to be myself. For instance, my personal home-life idol, Jordan Reid of Ramshackle Glam, who readily owns up to “the occasional mini-disasters that come along with… the idea that true personal style is all about constant experimentation”. Then there is Jen of IHeart Organizing, a mother of three boys who constantly dominates the chaos that is life at home with affordable and innovative solutions that put Martha Stewart to shame. And, of course, Sherry and John (okay, okay, I threw a husband in there because husbands are great too) of Young House Love, who turned their love of both home renovation and the documentation of it into a full-fledged online following. All of these women are extraordinary for the very reason that they are ordinary. Yes, they are beautiful and talented, but they are also smart and hilarious and educated and RELATABLE. They have children and families – do not miss the inspiring story of how John and Sherry’s daughter Clara came into the world here: http://www.younghouselove.com/2011/04/claras-birth-story/ – and they have made their own careers out of celebrating much scrutinized path of mother and homemaker. But the best part is that they see your ideals and raise you REALITY, thereby making it okay to mess up, to take risks, and hell, to be a hot mess if you so please, damnit.

4. The Lorna Jane Philosophy

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That’s me, loving life and LJ.

I used to describe this activewear company as the Australian Lululemon, but now that they are here in California(!), I don’t have to! The philosophy behind this company, started by Lorna Jane Clarkson, is all about active living. Their logo is three symbols next to each other, and they stand for Move. Nourish. Believe. I let Lorna explain in her own words:

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Not only is the message behind LJ incredible, but their marketing and their blog MoveNourishBelieve are amazingly motivating. I am so inspired by this company and their founder Lorna Jane Clarkson, and my life, my happiness, and my health are benefitting. This New Year, go ahead and start with their Self-Love Contract, and just be better for it already, okay?

Self-Love Contract

5. And lastly, THIS.

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And maybe tomorrow too.

(Image found via Pinterest via iheartinpiration.com)

Happy New Year! You can find me loving like Beyoncé; dominating like the Glamour Women of the Year; celebrating like Jordan, Jen and Sherry; and living my most active life. Wanna join? ❤

Bright Spirits, Light Hearts

You know that scene in How the Grinch Stole Christmas when Cindy Lou Who sings “Where Are You Christmas?” Well, yeah. That’s happening.

Christmas has been elusive this year, and I’m not sure what happened. I was so beyond enthusiastic about Thanksgiving, compensating for missing my family by making the Newlywed Halter’s first meal an experience to remember. But now, who knows what’s going on? I’ve gotten most of my shopping done – early, in fact. Giving presents is probably one of my very most favorite things to do, yet everything is still unwrapped and hidden around the house. Normally, I would be baking up a storm, singing Christmas carols along with Pandora while flinging flour everywhere. But Bill doesn’t eat sweets, and when no one will enjoy them but me… Well, that sounds more like a recipe for holiday chub and a whole lot of lonely sugar binging. So I’ve made healthy Caramel Apple Oatmeal Cookies, but it’s just not the same. And then, of course, there is the fact that it was sunny and 75 degrees out today. I would never complain about that, unless it was both December AND my world was lacking some holiday spirit.

So what’s a girl to do when her heart isn’t as light and her spirit isn’t as bright as it should be?

Listen to her mom.

My mom called today, exploding with excitement that OMG Michael’s had decided to mark all of their Christmas decorations down to 70% off, and OMG my stepdad was going to be something just short of livid when he comes home to see that Wonderland that I’m sure is my mother’s house. Funny thing though, is that it just so happened that I was at Michael’s this very morning, albeit 429 miles away, and I not so much as noticed the Christmas extravaganza. And I’m observant. And usually squee myself over things like garland, glitter, and little reindeer statuettes. She told me to go. I told her I’m broke. She told me to decorate. I told her we only had a week before we leave for vacation. She told me to put out our fake tree. I told her it was small and pathetic. She told me to knock it off, as much as my sweet little mother would tell me to knock it off. I tried. It didn’t work.

Talk about a Scrooge. Sheesh.

But it turns out that trimming my pathetic fake tree all alone, by myself, on a dark Sunday night with only a week left before we abandon it was exactly what the doctor ordered. Every year it seems like it takes a grand gesture, a Pinterest-sized effort, holiday rat race to get in the spirit, and for some reason, I just haven’t had it in me this year. And it’s so easy to forget that even the smallest gesture can bring big changes. Proof?

Little tree, big cheer.

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The lights were already on it. I stuck 8, maybe 10, obnoxious glittery snowflakes on it, which clash tremendously with the bright red tree skirt. This is the only decoration I currently have in my house, and you know what? That’s okay. It’s been a big year, and I’m giving myself permission to bow out of the pressure to be the domestic queen of the holidays. Honestly, I’m just so content to sit back with Billy and drink some hot chocolate from our cute His and Hers mugs without worrying about comparing myself to everyone around me.

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Doesn’t that just look so (devastatingly-ordinary-and-oh-so-vanilla-deep-sigh) NICE? It’s strange how being at peace with an underwhelming Christmas performance can ironically stoke that internal holiday cheer fire. All of a sudden that heart we were talking about earlier is a little lighter. And those spirits we mentioned? Well, they’re – you guessed it – a little brighter.

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So there it is. Let’s all just sit back and enjoy everything we are, instead of worrying our little Grinch hearts out over everything we’re not. Happy (half-assed) holidays everyone!

It may just be the best one yet.

Thanksgiving Domination

Soooooo Thanksgiving happened.

As you already know, I was pretty nervous about cooking my first big meal. So when I pulled something incredibly intelligent like slice my left ring finger open while trying to cut a bagel with a brand new extremely sharp steak knife the night before Thanksgiving, I not only worried about the outcome of the meal, but now about the safety of everyone in a 1-mile radius as well. I thought I needed stitches, but decided to let Bill quell my anxiety for once in my life. I cried for a while, put pressure on it with a paper towel until it finally stopped bleeding, let Billy doctored me up, and then moped for a decidedly finite period of time, absolutely sure my efforts the next day would be futile. I was done for. The turkey had already won, and it was strictly my doing. Not a great start.

In the morning, however, it was ON. I was determined to throw down. And despite the misstep the night before, here is how THAT turned out.

BOOM.

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You GUYS. I did that.

I don’t have the faintest idea how it happened, but it was awesome. Getting started was tough since I get easily overwhelmed by too many things going on at once and couldn’t quite figure out where to begin. So I started by making breakfast, sitting down with a magazine, and taking a deep metaphorical breath. I highly recommend this first step to everyone. Take notes.

After that, things went smoothly for the most part. Well, besides not having any idea how to stick my hand in a turkey to pull out the neck and giblets. Or loosen the skin from the flesh. Or tuck the wings under. You know.

There was only one moment that I started to panic, thinking I bit off more than I could chew, and that, of course, was during the hour before dinner is served – that magic chaos period my mom has always talked about as if it were a swarm of locusts descending over both the kitchen and whoever pulled the short straw when deciding who was cooking dinner. But my friends, thank goodness for Bill. He has proven me wrong yet again, this time by being the best sous chef a lady could ask for. And for the second time in less than 24 hours, he managed to calm the wife-beast just as things started to spiral out of anxiety-ridden control – all while trimming the green beans, pureeing the gravy, and carving that god-forsaken bird.

As there is no way that I could give you what Bill would call the “play-by-play” of the day, because 1) I don’t think you need a tedious detailed run-down on this fine Tuesday, and 2) I most likely blacked out multiple times throughout the day just to get through it, here are the highlights:

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Those are fresh cranberries. I mean, really fresh. Like, so fresh I they needed to be rinsed and drained and smashed and blended.

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It took me a few minutes to figure out the pan… Yeah, just the pan.

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That was grosser than I anticipated, but…

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DOMINATION! I’ve been getting the “What’s in the bottom of the pan?” question a lot, and the answer would be halved pears and onions to flavor the drippings to make the gravy. (Find the recipe from Cooking Light here: Oil-Basted Parmesan Turkey with Walnut Gravy)

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Now that’s a man. You carve that turkey, Billy. (We all grew up a little that day.)

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Butternut-Bacon Stuffing from Cooking Light: Delish, especially as leftovers reheated in the toaster oven!

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Green Beans with Sherried Mushroom Sauce from Cooking Light… We cheated and put the fried onions on top anyway. Don’t tell my arteries.

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Maple-Pecan Sweet Potatoes from, you guessed it, Cooking Light! Made with real maple syrup and vanilla, these puppies are GOOD. Bill’s self-declared favorite.

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A relatively clean production area, obviously post-chaos hour.

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And homemade – 100% from scratch – Cranberry-Orange Relish. This was surprisingly easy, but for some reason telling everyone you made your cranberries from scratch is really impressive. Probably because they are so easy to buy at the market would be my guess! Anyway, this is an awesome recipe. It includes a whole orange and the zest of an orange rind, so the tangy citrus kick gives it a little something extra. It’s so great to eat straight out of the fridge as well, and it feels like a grown-up version of applesauce. Which is, obviously, rad.

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And here it is… the finished product! (In true do(hot mess)tication, notice the one little drip of sweet potatoes chilling on the edge of the plate. Polished presentations are for cowards.

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Happy husband with turkey hands!

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Okay, so I’m PROUD. I’ve never felt like a chef before, and until Thanksgiving, I never felt like cooking would be something I would ever be good at. There’s hope, everyone! There is HOPE.

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One more presentation pic for good measure.

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So this is how I celebrated. A much, MUCH deserved glass of wine.

All in all, I feel like the day was successful, and the biggest success was probably that despite the difficult decision to be away from my family of origin for the first time on such an important day, there were many more “best parts” than I expected. Bill and I had our first major holiday together. We got to take on the challenge in the kitchen and conquer that turkey. We proved that we are a great team, even when we have no idea what we are doing. We sat down in our sweats, fully intending to change into nice clothes and do our hair but deciding we were just too exhausted, and we ate a huge meal, just the two of us, and it was AMAZING. And lastly, I thoroughly passed out on the couch, fat and very happy, at around 7:30 p.m. in the middle of one of my favorite shows like an old grandma. It was SO worth it.

I do, however, have one main piece of advice for you when embarking on your first Thanksgiving meal. Do not – I repeat, DO NOT – slice your hand open the night before. Raw turkey juice is not pleasant to begin with, and it is even less so when it seeps into unnecessary wounds.

Just a thought.