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06 October 2013

This Yankee has migrated ...

After 7 years of being a Blogger, I've made the move to Wordpress. I hope you'll follow me as I move over there and continue to post all about life. I'll be posting a lot of gluten-free recipes, especially now that the fall baking season is upon us!, and you certainly don't want to miss that!

Please check me out here: A Yankee in Rebel Clothes

So, this will be my last Blogger post. You've been a good friend, Blogger. But, as it is with all good things, it must come to an end.


02 October 2013

The Magic of Social Media

This summer I had the amazing opportunity to go to Memphis, Tennessee and present some of the awesome things we do at my school at the Lausanne Learning Institute. It was also a wonderful opportunity to hang out with my maid-of-honor/amazing best friend, LL. It was only a week before the wedding, so no stress there, right?!

The thing I was most excited about was that the hotel we were staying at was the Peabody Hotel. This hotel is world famous for the ducks that spend their days in the lobby fountain. It's a little known fact that I am mildly obsessed with ducks. I'm not sure why, especially given the fact that my husband hunts them for pleasure and meat. And I don't enjoy eating them,  but I do just adore them. So staying in a hotel where they reside was pretty exciting.

When I arrived, everything was ducks. My soap was shaped like a duck. The pillows on my bed were embroidered with ducks. The little hotel shampoos and lotions were in bottles with ducks on them. The butter at our fancy-schmancy dinner was carved to be a duck (which led to a whole different and highly inappropriate conversation that required the assistance of Urban Dictionary). It was fantastic. I immediately started tweeting and Facebooking about how excited I was and how amazing the hotel was. I even sent out pictures, making sure to hashtag appropriately and to mention the hotel.

Peabody Memphis rubber ducky
The most adorable rubber ducky ever. 
My Peabody Memphis duck collage
Peabody Memphis ducks
Ducks in the lobby fountain.
The hotel noticed my tweets and responded that they were happy I was enjoying my stay. I was pleased that they noticed me. A little validation never hurts, right? I continued to tweet and mention them because I was genuinely happy with my stay and my experience. I wasn't expecting anything in return, but I figured that I had used social media in the past to complain about service so now was an opportunity to rave about a wonderful experience. 

On my last night, I left my room around 4pm to hang out with my MOH out and about in town. When I returned to my room several hours later, I found this sitting on my freshly made bed ...

The Duckmaster Rubber Ducky

At first, I was confused, so I read the note. It was from the "Duckmaster" (The guy in the red jacket that leads the ducks to and from their fountain each day), telling me how happy he was that I had genuinely enjoyed my stay and had shared my wonderful experiences. He wanted me to accept this GIANT rubber ducky (dressed as the Duckmaster, of course!) as a gift, a memory of my trip.

Wait. What?!

I of course tweeted out a pic of the gift with a message that contained many exclamation points. I was so thrilled that the Peabody Hotel had noticed my praise and surprised me with such a sweet (and appropriate!) gift. I've always believed in the power of social media, but this experience solidified that. I now keep that rubber ducky on my classroom desk, and my students regularly ask about it. And, of course, I eagerly tell them my awesome story.

My kids are more adorable as cartoons

Ever since the husband and I blended our family last year, we've been talking about getting a portrait done of the kids. They are each very photogenic. Sunny has an adorable little lab smirk that she loves to flash whether in trouble or not. Bailey is regal and stately, although she does hate the camera. And Pickles? Well, he's just Pickles. Completely one of a kind.

The problem with a group portrait of the kids is, well ... the kids. They wiggle. They squirm. They're disobedient. We can't get them all to sit still for any length of time when they are even remotely close to each other. Pickles starts to chew on Sunny's legs or ears and then Sunny tries to step on Pickles. Bailey, not amused with all of the shenanigans, tries to slink away as stealthily as possible. All in all, it's a huge fail each and every time. In fact, the only picture we have of all three of them together is from the back when they were all begging me for a donut. It's an adorable photo, but certainly not wall art level.

With the husband's birthday approaching, I decided that I was going to make a portrait happen one way or another. And that's when the epiphany hit me! I just so happen to have two amazingly talented artist friends in Greensboro who have been experimenting with these absolutely adorable storybook-style children's portraits. I figured that if they could do such amazing work with human children, my four-legged children should be no problem!

I contacted Suzanne and Edgar of An Open Sketchbook and sent them a few (like 12) different photos of the kids.

Sunny smiling. 

Bailey with ball. 
Pickles being Pickles. 

A few short weeks later, this perfect masterpiece arrived in my mailbox.

Amazing custom art by An Open Sketchbook

Seriously? How adorable is that? And it captured our kids more perfectly than any photo we've ever taken. I put it in a frame and wrapped it up all pretty, and, when the husband opened it, he LOVED it. 100% loved it. Even called it the best birthday gift he's ever received. I'd like to take credit for that, but it was all Suzanne and Edgar. Thank you, guys, for making it possible!!

And now ... where to hang it?

01 October 2013

Welcome back to my life, Banana Bread!

One of the things I miss the most about being gluten-free is baking. I'm no master cook, but I do love to bake treats. It's how I show I love people: with food. Given that I was diagnosed right before the wedding and then the school year started up almost instantly after that, I haven't had the time nor the focus to attempt gluten-free baking. I've made some brownies from a gluten-free mix, but that's been the extent of my attempts. Of course, I've continued making non-gluten-free treats for my husband and our friends. One of my favorite things to bake (because it's so simple!!) is banana bread. Plus, it's my husband's favorite treat, so that's always a bonus. Well, finally, this weekend I attempted to make the banana bread gluten-free. 

My favorite banana bread recipe is one that comes from a dear family friend. I remember it tasting so amazing as a kid -- especially with chocolate chips or walnuts in it -- and I love recreating that taste memory for people I love. It's an easy recipe that doesn't require any special shopping (unless you're modifying it for gluten-free or don't regularly keep bananas in your house) and it only requires one bowl. One bowl!!

Family Recipe Gluten-Free Banana Bread!! Finally!!
4 very ripe bananas
3/4 cup sugar (can be substituted with Splenda or a sugar substitute, but I prefer plain sugar)
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 eggs
2 cups Bisquick Gluten Free baking mix (or regular flour if gluten-free isn't a concern for you)
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder

Peel your bananas and place in a mixing bowl. I use my KitchenAid mixer (because I simply adore that little machine!), but a medium mixing bowl will work perfectly as well. Add the sugar, softened sugar, eggs, baking mix, baking soda, and baking powder. If using a stand mixer, start the mix on low until batter is evenly wet. Turn it up to medium-high until batter if mixed evenly and has few lumps. Pour into a greased bread pan and bake at 350 for approximately 50-60 minutes. Test the center with a toothpick to ensure that the bread is baked throughout. 

A few notes ... the Bisquick mix is a great option for newbies in the gluten-free baking world. It's a premixed flour that functions equally to standard flour. The texture of the banana bread (and pancakes!) that I've made with it is the same as the non-gluten-free counterparts, and the flavor is not altered. However, as with many gluten-free baked goods, there is a slight aftertaste. It's not unpalatable or harsh; it's just an aftertaste. However, when gluten-free baked goods are scarce, it's quite acceptable. At some point I plan to experiment with making my own flours, but I'm not there yet. I will be someday! 

Bisquick GF mix ... my savior
My novice gluten-free baking best friend

18 September 2013

Anatomy of a sick pup

Sunny, our Yellow Dog, despite eating EVERYTHING she finds (rocks, sticks, feces ... you name it) has never gotten sick. An occasional ear infection, but nothing has affected her ironclad stomach. Until last week. I returned home from our grade-level overnight trip to find my normally rambunctious and overly-energetic puppy lethargic and sad. When I walked in the house to release her from her crate, she barely acknowledged my arrival. I knew something was wrong. And then I saw the vomit in her crate and my suspicions increased. When she refused to eat and threw up all the water she had just drunk, I knew something was wrong. I didn't need to see the bloody diarrhea (TMI, right?!) to know that a trip to the vet was next. 

We spent the next three hours at the vet, getting x-rays and blood work and all the typical workups. They couldn't find anything wrong with her which made them worry all the more. Her dramatically subdued behavior coupled with the continued vomiting made them suspect that she had a soft foreign body somewhere inside. I couldn't find anything missing, but she's a sneaky little troublemaker, so I had no doubt that she had found a sock or a pair of underwear or something else. We went home with medicine and strict rest order. 

Shockingly, for a dog who NEVER rests, rest wasn't hard for her to achieve. JD and I always joke that she hasn't learned to cuddle or sit still yet because she is constantly moving. If nothing else, this illness has taught her to lay still and rest. Her poor little spirit was so sad and depressed; it was blatantly obvious that she didn't feel good. She just slept. And rested. And cuddled. I know it's horrible to say, but she was so sweet!
Can't even lift her head at the vet's office.

Look at those sweet, sad brown eyes. 

Actually resting on the couch, not squirming around like a crazy dog. 

More sleepiness. 

Even shared lap space with her big (little) brother.
The doctor ordered that she eat only chicken and rice, but that crazy dog refused to eat anything but her own food. Seriously? I'm cooking you a hot meal, and you'd rather eat kibble? By Sunday, she was feeling much better. Not 100% and not back to normal food intake, but better. Good enough to play a little ball in the backyard. On Tuesday, she was back to her hyper self and was playing rough in the backyard with the other kids. I was relieved. Nothing every passed through, so it may have just been a bad virus. Either way, I'm happy to have her back to her normal self. And the best part? She hasn't forgotten how to cuddle. :)

All better and back to just sitting and smelling the air. 

Opening my eyes

Last night, sitting on my back patio with candles burning, sipping a glass of wine, and watching my dogs tumble and play in the yard, I realized something. Something profound yet amazingly simple and obvious.

I have a really great life. 

I talk all the time about how important it is to be positive and recognize your blessings in life, but I also have a worry-wort personality that can easily get bogged down with the negative. I keep hoping that forced positivity helps me to lose my anxiety and worry, but it never seems to. Part of that problem is the fact that I find it difficult to slow down and relax. Even when I'm getting a massage, intended to relax me, I'm thinking "Only a few more minutes and it'll be over. Darn." I struggle to just appreciate the moment.

But last night, as the sun was setting behind the trees, it hit me like a ton of bricks.

I am blessed

Of course I have things to worry about and I always will. Those things aren't going away any time soon. And there's really nothing I can do about so many of the things I worry about. But what I can do is change my now. My present. My view.

I can focus on the fact that my Bailey, all thirteen years of her, was running around the backyard playing ball with Yellow Dog like she was a puppy again.

Or on the sweet Little Boy curled up in my lap, just wanting to be close to me, as I read some Mark Twain.

Or the glass of white wine, perfectly chilled and shimmering in candlelight, that reminds me of my amazing honeymoon only a few weeks ago.

Or even on the gentle breeze blowing and the temperatures dropping to the point where I need a sweatshirt to keep off the chill.

Or especially the significant progress I made on my dissertation earlier in the evening.

I write this post as a reminder to myself that, on my rough days when I wake up at 2am with anxiety and stress, when all I can focus on is the hardship and struggles, when all that seems to come my way is bad luck, when I'm feeling downtrodden and beaten ...

I have a really great life. 

It's filled with little joys that too often go unnoticed and unappreciated. I simply need to slow down and focus on all the beautiful sunsets I've witnessed and the delicious glasses of wine I've tasted and the wonderful books I've enjoyed and the sweet moments I've shared with my dogs. And all of the other little blessings that fill my life but are often absent from my sight. In fact, I don't need to simply slow down. I need to open my eyes.

09 September 2013

A few more wedding details

The only thing I've shared about the wedding thus far has been  pictures because I've struggled to find the right words to describe our day. It was literally perfect. Perfect for us. I'm sure there are a million couples out there who would have done things differently, but our wedding day was a true reflection of who we are as people and of where we've come. There were many personal touches that made our day unique, and it really was everything we could have wanted.

JD and I didn't want the big fancy affair with ball gowns and a string quartet and waiters in tuxedos. Our goal going into it was first, to get married, and second, to make sure everyone had a good time. Aside from that, we had no lofty plans. Of course, we couldn't control whether our guests had fun, but we did our best to ensure that they did. We hired a musician that we enjoyed and had the event in a small restaurant that had amazing food. The inside of the restaurant was already a pretty space, so we didn't need to spend a lot of money on decorations. In fact, the only decorations that we bought were fresh flowers for our tables. I tied ribbons around mason jars and filled them with roses and hydrangeas and snapdragons and stock, all in pale shades of pink. And we had votives in diamond designed jam jars that cast beautiful shadows on the table clothes. 

When it came to the actual ceremony, we wanted it to reflect us and not be canned and artificial. I wanted to walk down the "aisle" to something that had more meaning than the traditional Pachabel's Canon or something instrumental. After lots of searching and talking with JD and LL, we decided on David Gray's "This Year's Love." The words are so perfect and the melody is hauntingly beautiful. 

Even now, the song makes me choke up a little 

My colleague, Matthew, an ordained minster, presided over our celebration, and we opened with a congregational affirmation. All of our guests remained standing around us during the ceremony, gathered close and supporting us as they had throughout our lives. Each guest read the passage below as we began our life together. 

We have come here today to affirm the joining of James and MaryBeth in marriage.  It is our fondest hope that their separate lives may together explore new dimensions of love.  We desire for them the excitement of new discoveries and new creations, that their lives may be an adventure together wherever they may go. We know that love is not easily achieved.  We know that MaryBeth and James will find the courage and the patience to meet the challenge of a marriage pledged to honest struggle, open communication and shared lives.  Finally, we recognize that love is not limited, nor can it be contained.  Therefore we expect that the love they feel for each other will reach beyond themselves so that their lives will be lived not only for themselves, but for all people.  In all that we hope for them we pledge ourselves to help and support them.

We wrote our own vows, and, after Matthew pronounced us husband and wife, every guest raised their glass of champagne to toast our new union. And our musician began playing The Lumineers "Ho Hey." 

Finally, everyone was able to enjoy their food and drink and have a good time with family and friends. Eventually, when it was time, JD and I danced to the song he picked out, "Dancing Shoes" by Green River Ordinance. 

My dad and I danced to "I Wish You Peace" by the Eagles, a song he picked. We invited all the fathers and daughters to join us about halfway through the song, and then the dance floor was filled with beautiful girls dancing with their loving fathers. 

We laughed and toasted and had a wonderful evening. And, as a nervous, Type A bride, I couldn't have asked for everything to go more smoothly. even the one badly behaved guest wasn't my problem; my family took care of it. It was a beautiful day, and, while I'm happy the stress is over, I look back on that night wishing it had lasted forever. 

07 September 2013

I love a straight shooter

Despite the title, this post has nothing to do with archery. Although, if I think deeply about it, I may be able to make some esoteric connection ...

I always find it interesting how life seems to come full circle, especially when you least expect it to. As we grow, we evolve and change and develop, but the core of who we are never really changes. It may be masked and hidden or ignored and repressed at times, but who we are at our core is always there and never really changes. Sometimes it takes earth-shattering events to remember who you are, and sometimes it just reappears as time passes and life stages end and begin. It's always a shocking realization that, no matter where you are or who you are with, at your most essential being, you are the same person as you used to be.

At my wedding, my MOH and best friend gave a speech that helped bring me back to my center. A center that I had unknowingly been getting farther away from as the years have passed. She told our guests that two things she loved about me was the value I placed on family and my appreciation of honesty. It makes sense that she and I have been such good amigas for so long because we can both be 100% honest with each other and expect the same from those around us. And, at this point, she's more family than some of my actual blood relatives. Family for me often extends beyond blood lines, and I'm sure that has something to do with being an orphaned transplant while I attended grad school in Greensboro.

But back to honesty ... her speech really made me think about who I was and what I was allowing into my life. As a kid, I never had great relationships with girls. I would have one or two female friends that I would hang out with, but the majority of my closest friends were male. I didn't date a whole lot in high school (had one or two relatively steady boyfriends at most), but I remember spending my lunch hours hanging out with a group of guys on the picnic table outside the cafeteria. I never had crushes on those boys or had any interest in them beyond friendship. I wasn't the girl who hung out with boys for the attention and casual flirting. I genuinely liked their company and their often crude humor. Because of these friendships, the girls around me thought I was trying to "get with" these guys and often didn't like me. I was okay with that. They suspected me of ulterior motives and, instead of being upfront about it, they behaved like children and talked about me behind my back. It bothered me at first until I realized that they weren't my friends, so I didn't really care about their opinions of me.

My gravitation towards male companionship over female friends continued through college and grad school. I never really thought much about it; I just figured it was who I was. Some people prefer the company of their own gender and some don't. It's no big deal. I didn't really waste time about the psychology behind my friendships. After grad school, I found that my circle of male friends had morphed into a circle of female friends. It wasn't a conscious move; it was just who I was immediately surrounded with at work and in life. And, as things happen, those friendships eventually dissolved. And, when they did, I had an epiphany about why I had unknowingly avoided female friendships for so very long.

I am who I am with everyone I know. I am honest and (occasionally) crass and I know that I lack a filter. I believe in being nice to people and being a good person, but I have absolutely no poker face and lack the ability to "just pretend" when I'm around people who I genuinely don't get along with or like. In fact, my husband is always telling me that I need to learn to make a poker face because it is always glaringly obvious when I don't like someone. He's probably right, but I wouldn't even know where to start! I remember taking a personality test back in high school (way back when schools required aptitude tests to reveal your true “career calling” and personality tests to discover hidden truths about yourself and all those other random tests) and the results told me that I had an “androgynous” personality, highlighting the benefits of typically male and female personalities. It seemed to make sense because I’ve never been a tomboy (I like dresses and high heels far too much!), but no one who really knows me would ever call me a “girly-girl” either because I’m not afraid of doing hard work and getting my hands dirty.

My problem with many of the women that I have been friends with is the same thing that I struggle with as a teacher of pre-teens. There is often a lack of authenticity and honesty in female relationships. So many women have been groomed and trained to be “nice” and say things that they don’t really mean to avoid hurting peoples’ feelings. They smile to you face and say things like “Bless your heart” when they really mean “You’re an idiot.” And then the catty behavior of talking behind peoples’ backs and isolation kicks in. Men tend to be more honest and straightforward. They often lack the very same filter that I lack, so I always know where I stand with them. I don’t ask my husband “Do I look fat in this?” unless I know for sure that I don’t. Because he’ll be honest with me, regardless of what I want him to say, and I appreciate that. I’ve surrounded myself with men like this for the majority of my life and I think that makes it harder for me to tolerate the sometimes disingenuous and catty nature of some women.

That being said, there are certainly wonderful women in my life who, like me, are straight shooters. They are few and far between, but, when we find each other, it’s generally a match made in heaven. My MOH and my new archery buddy are just two examples. A few lingering friends from college and a few colleagues from work. And, of course, my mom (although her filter is a little more effective than mine).  I always know where I stand with these ladies, and that’s an essential element of friendship for me. We all can be catty and obnoxious – I’m pretty sure it’s in our DNA – but I need to be surrounded by people who I can trust to be genuine and honest and consistent with me. Which, after all these years, I realize is why I’ve always had closer friendships with men.

So much for not getting into the psychology behind friendships!

(Disclaimer: As an educated person, I realize that not all women or men fit into the categories that I've created. I'm speaking from my own personal experience, and, in that experience, there have certainly been individuals who shattered my expectations on both sides of the gender divide. I am boiling down a multi-faceted discussion to simple terms for the purpose of relaying my own experiences.)

05 September 2013

Labor Day in CNY

I haven't been home for Labor Day in almost 10 years. For a normal family, that wouldn't be a huge deal. For my family, it is. Every year my parents throw a PAR-TAY on Labor Day weekend, and everyone comes. Dad makes his world famous (okay, maybe just locally famous, but famous nonetheless) chicken and Mom makes all kinds of salads - spaghetti, macaroni, potato (using Uncle Jack's recipe). Everyone brings a dish to pass and there are games and prizes and a facepainter. This year also starred a magician - with a real bunny! - and an ice cream truck. No joke. My momma is crazy, and she firmly believes in going over the top to make people smile. She was certainly successful this year. When that ice cream truck pulled into the driveway, playing it's tinny music, you would have thought it was Christmas!

My husband made an honorable showing at the ladder ball game, winning alongside my cousin Alan. I, on the other hand, was eliminated in the first round. This is not surprising given my general lack of athleticism, even when it involves throwing two golf balls connected with a string at a PVC ladder 20 feet away. I also failed miserably at the washer toss.

Aside from the over-the-top Labor Day festivities sponsored by my darling parents, there was so good ol' fashioned family bonding over archery. Both of my brothers are bow hunters, and I got the opportunity to shoot with each of them, as well as my oldest brother's daughter and son, on Sunday and Monday. It was pretty fun to hang out and shoot with my big brothers. Even cooler to help my little niece Kiersten get better at shooting her little stick bow. I'm by no means an expert or coach, but it was fun to share my little bit of knowledge with her.

The family that shoots together, stays together. 

Me, my big brother, and our bows. 

Helping Red shoot. 
Of course, no family visit would be complete without the commission of a minor crime. This year I helped Mom steal wildflowers in order to decorate the Labor Day picnic tables. The tables looked beautiful, and I'm positive that part of that beauty came from the knowledge that the flowers were illegally obtained. 

Mom, caught in the act. 
The best part about going home to Mom and Dad's is enjoying the sunsets each night. And, despite some rainy weather, this weekend provided a few beauties. Their view over the valley is always beautiful, but when the clouds make beautiful designs in the sky 'round sunset, it makes for a beautiful sight. 

Old Glory flapping in the breeze. 

My favorite. 
After the long weekend, I returned to NC ready to get back to work. Visiting my CNY home always re-energizes me and gives me the mental strength to get through a few more months without being around my people. Although that I will admit that being far from my homeland is easier now that I have an new awesome set of family down here. Makes the long absences easier. 

Wedding blessings ... and pictures, too!

At long last, I have pictures of the wedding! My dear friend, Melissa Richard, did our photos for us and we hired her for a few different reasons. Neither JD nor I like our picture taken, so we didn't want someone in our faces all day trying to get our picture (as it turned out, Mom took care of that for us). Melissa also does a more journalistic style of photography which is also something that JD and I appreciate. Given the organic nature and community feel of our wedding, we wanted photographs that were more natural and captured the even in an unobtrusive way. And she hit the mark. (They're out of order, but, so is my life, so that works perfectly.)

Our guests sharing in the congregational affirmation. 

I was pretty nervous. He was, too. 

My and my favorite guest (no offense!), Cooper. 

JD with a few members of his fan club.

A couple of beautiful ladies. 

My two beautiful attendants. 

I loved how our tables turned out. It was just what I imagined. 


Is she not the most adorable child?

I love her ability to be skeptical ...

Me and my MOH/Bestie/Love of my life (other than JD, of course!)

I love his smile. It's so warm and genuine. 

There was a lot of laughter that night. It was perfect. 


Uncle and niece. Love. 

A few of JD's good friends. I love the look of love in this picture. 

Looking forward to the future. 

My beautiful cousin Carrie and Uncle Bill. 

Mom and Pops. I love these people.

Our guest book ...

Arguably my favorite part of the decor ...

Sister-in-law and brother-in-law. Lucky to have these two as family. 

These wild girls had a blast. 
JD and I couldn't have asked for a more wonderful wedding day. The flowers and table decor was perfect, and the entertainment was wonderful. The food was never-ending and everyone raved about how tasty it was. And the cupcakes ... oh, the cupcakes... If you haven't enjoyed Sugarland, you need to. Now. Our favors - little recipe books with photos and family recipes - were perfect and reflected our personalities well (at some point, I'll post pictures and my process on those. It was fun!). Everywhere I looked, people were laughing and smiling and enjoying themselves. And that's exactly what we wanted.

Most importantly, we were surrounded by people we loved and who loved us. These are the people that helped make us who we are, and it was only fitting that those people were the ones to help us celebrate the new start to our lives together. We didn't have a fairytale wedding. We had so much more than that.


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