Reflections on Virginia, and Life in General

Today my husband and I leave for Missouri (thank goodness for the option to schedule future posts!). As of writing this, I have two full days left in Virginia. Other than the first five or six years of my life, Virginia has always been home. I went to school here. I made lasting friendships with some beautiful, garbage people. I fell in love and found my forever person here. Despite being born in Maryland, Virginia will always be the best part of the D.C. metro area, and Maryland will always suck simply because it isn’t Virginia.

My excitement for the adventure my husband and I are about to embark on has far outweighed any nerves or sadness up until now. Maybe I was tucking all the fear and grief and anxiety into a box as easily as I packed our apartment. Cocooned in bubblewrap and triple-taped so it can’t burst free until I’m ready to unpack it all. Maybe it didn’t feel real, until I found myself surrounded by boxes and drinking water from a solo cup. Regardless, I’ve been able to avoid the harder feelings, but now that the move is here, so are they.

Don’t get me wrong; I am excited. A move like this, to a place that feels random, seems so right. It’s healthy. Adulting. From here, we could go anywhere. And now is the best time, before we are entrenched in careers and surrounded by babies.

But I keep thinking about my college graduation. In a way, this is similar. A huge life change, full of unknowns and fears that friendships will look different when we no longer all live within 5 minutes of each other. At a party just before graduation, one friend — who I met early on freshman year — took my hand and said “we’ve been friends for FOUR YEARS! That’s so long! I’ve known you longer than most of the people here!” It seemed so epic, and at that time in my life, it was. When I said goodbye to that same friend earlier this week, I felt that same teary nostalgia. I’ve known you longer than most of our friends.

It’s hard saying goodbye to that — in some ways, harder even than leaving my family. I know my mom will drop everything to talk to me whenever I call her, because she’s my mom and that’s what moms do. The dynamics of my family relationships won’t change so drastically. Friends have lives that take precedence. They’ll have babies and buy houses and get married, and my part in their immediate lives will diminish. It won’t be as simple as sending out a group text asking who’s around to hang out this weekend. We’ll have to plan time and take off work and buy plane tickets. Still, I know they’ll be there when I need them, just like I’ll be there for them.

I’ll also miss Virginia. I know on the trips I’ve taken to Missouri, I’ve thought it looks fairly similar, but I’ll miss walking along the Potomac River in Old Town Alexandria, or watching the planes take off and land from Gravelly Point, or easy “hikes” along Skyline Drive or Great Falls Park. It’s been nice to go back to JMU for Rocktown Beer and Music Festivals or for Homecoming or just to reminisce. Even though we rarely took advantage, having D.C. so close has always been a tantalizing option for food or sports or fun.

So even though I’m truly looking forward to the adventure of discovering a new place — even though I have dozens of things to do already listed — it’s hard leaving this beautiful state that’s been my home in every sense of the word for nearly my entire life.

Memories of July 4th

When I was a kid, my family would go to the local park on July 4th for chicken shish-kabobs, funnel cakes, sno-cones and games. We’d end up at the church nearby to watch the fireworks. My brother and I would roll down the hill, staining our clothes green and arguing over who was faster.  To this day, July 4th feels weird if I don’t get a chicken kabob.

More recently, my husband and I gather with friends or family to grill, maybe play some cornhole or other yard games, and try to catch some fireworks. Last year, we were on the roof of our building in Arlington, struggling to see the national fireworks across the river through the oppressive cloud cover.

One of my favorite Independence Days in recent years came a few years ago. We met up with a friend in Arlington, where we porch-sat and day-drank American beers before heading across the street to a little park for some wiffle-ball. There was only three of us, so it was mostly one person hitting, one pitching, and one fielding. It still felt very patriotic and youthful. As the day moved toward evening, more people showed up. I’m sure we grilled, and I know we took a walk to get ice cream. The grand finale was watching the fireworks at the Iwo Jima Memorial. It felt beautifully “American”, snuggled on our blanket or crowding along the curb, shoulder to shoulder with strangers of all colors and backgrounds, sitting near one of the most iconic memorials, watching the firework reminders of “bombs bursting in air” that brought us our great nation.

We were sunburnt and sweaty and together, a thousand different stories sharing a single experience for a snapshot in time, celebrating freedom and independence and joy.

Rambling Review: Garden of Thorns

Recently, I’ve been reading more “adult” books (Slaughterhouse-Five, The Handmaid’s Tale — reviews to come), modern classics that make me sound more cultured and grown up than the usual YA fiction I prefer. I do feel more well-rounded, but I’ve missed the adventure and angst and inevitable romance that all winds together into nearly every young adult novel.

Garden of Thorns by Amber Mitchell popped up on my Amazon recommendations, and I couldn’t resist. In all honesty, I was fully prepared to re-read any one of my favorites I already own, but currently they would need to be fished out of boxes, and Garden of Thorns was only $3.99 on Kindle, so I figured I’d take a chance on it.

The story is about a girl, Rose, who is part of a traveling entertainment troupe called the Garden — in which the Flowers dance and the Wilteds are punished for any infraction the Flowers make. The Gardener is cruel and abusive, and very early on we get to see just how devastating life in the Garden can be. Rose manages to escape, only to find herself in a rebellion against an emperor every bit as cruel and emotionless as the Gardener. All she wants is to free her sisters from the Garden, but first she has to prove herself worthy of the rebellion’s help.

Her growth throughout the novel is a beautiful thing. She struggles with trust issues and hope, vacillating between the two nearly constantly. Frustrating and relatable, it sometimes seems like one step forward is met with two steps back. I soared with her triumphs and screamed (internally) when she seemed to have run out of chances for success. As a reader, her fears seemed objectively ridiculous but also extremely valid at the same time. The frequent reminders of her past felt repetitive at first, but were necessary to continuously explain her hesitations.

I’m not sure if this is a stand alone novel or part of a series. Unlike most series, the ending was satisfying and didn’t hint at another story waiting to be told. I’d be perfectly happy with this as its own novel, but I can’t deny I’d love to see Rose and the others back for another adventure.

Rambling Review: The Virgin Suicides

Virgin Suicides

References to The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides kept popping up around me recently, so I decided to check out this modern classic for myself. I can’t deny I’m into darker/heavier stories like the synopsis suggests (5 sisters kill themselves within a single year) and was intrigued right off the bat by a collective narrator (the story is told by the neighborhood boys as a whole).

Because it’s a relatively slim paperback, I brought it along on vacation, intending to read it on the beach or during down-time between activities. This encouraged a lot of horrified feedback from my friends, who always ask what I’m reading. They then spent the week checking in by asking “how many girls have died now?” then following my answer up with a head shake and a “why do you read stuff like that?”  That’s how I discovered pretty much my entire group of friends consists of happy, shiny people like my husband who prefer little depth and pain in their entertainment.

Leaving aside my friends’ responses, this is not a good beach read. In the way of most classics, the story needs your attention for good chunks of time. I found myself re-reading sentences and chapters and getting frustrated because I couldn’t devote more focus to it.

The story is beautifully written. There are some of the lovely descriptions and word-pictures that I love, and the fact that it’s like the neighborhood boys have sat me down to tell me their observations adds a touch of near-innocence to a tragic experience. Rather than being a novel about suicide, it’s more of a love letter to the sisters from the boys who grew up watching them.

It is sad. The parents are misguided and in my opinion arrogant in their negligence. The novel does discuss suicide, the ways the sisters end their lives, in just enough detail to make the reader uncomfortable without turning it into a caricature. Suicide should make a person uncomfortable to read about.

But it’s also a subject that is treated with respect. Eugenides captures the bewilderment and guilt and shock and grief that lingers over those left behind. The narrator shows how suicide affects a neighborhood, the process one goes through to try to understand something no one will explain outright.

It is a heavy book. It’s tragic and inevitable and beautiful. A modern classic, indeed.

Wildcards Vacation 2017: Colds and Charleston

This year my friends decided to switch up our normal Nagshead beach trip and travel an extra few hours south to Charleston, SC. It was a week-long adventure of discovering new places, seeing beautiful architecture, eating amazing food, and spreading germs between fourteen people and two apartments.

Our car — affectionately and not at all competitively referred to (by us) as the “best” car — carried four people and one massive cold virus. The trip began with an immediate stop for cough drops and ended with none of the other three passengers feeling sick, so we didn’t think too much of it beyond hoping our friend felt better.

Until another wildcard fell ill. Then another. Then another. Every day it seemed a new person woke up feeling crappy. Still, those of us from the best car didn’t feel it. We were invincible. We were immune to what became known — affectionately — as the Tyler Plague.

We went to the beach — both Folly and Sullivan’s Island. We went out to bars every night (even if a lot of those nights we still made it home before midnight and in bed shortly thereafter — when did we become grownups?). We wandered through neighborhoods of houses from the 16- and 1700s. My husband convinced almost everyone to try our favorite burrito spot (Minero) at least twice. (Side note: I’d previously had the best burrito of my life here. This trip, the catfish taco blew me away.) He also had avocado toast at a restaurant near our airbnb (Park Cafe) for the first time…and every day of our trip. By the last day, they knew him there.

Some wildcards went golfing. Some did stand-up paddle-boarding. Some did an escape room. Some went on a ghost tour that turned out to just be a walking history tour about brothels, murder, and conspiracy theories (which is way better in my — slightly terrified of ghosts — opinion). We played our usual drinking games without our usual, youthful enthusiasm, and spent a lot more time just hanging out and chatting.

It was a wonderful trip, even if I personally missed having a pool to lounge around beside. We reflected on how far we’ve come, how grown up we’ve all gotten, and looked forward to future trips and more changes as life spurs us onward.

The magic faded on the drive home. Two passengers were coughing instead of just the original one. We all insisted it was tickles in throats or residual from A/C and late nights and drinking and whatever else we could think of.

Then the Tyler Plague hit my home. My husband got it first, but I was (am) only about a day behind him. Now, we’re shuffling around the apartment, thankful that — due to our upcoming move I still have yet to blog about in detail — we no longer have work to suffer through or obligations that can’t be pushed back a day. Our coffee table is a mess of Dayquil and cough drop bags and tissue boxes. We’re drinking tea all day (echinacea and ginger and lemon and “cold 911” from David’s Teas on repeat). Our pantry is stocked with chicken soup. We’re going to crush this thing.

Our lack of complete immunity is a somewhat humbling blow. Still, it’s a worthwhile price to pay for a week with the Wildcards.

Uh-Oh, Spaghettios

I forgot that used to be a thing, until someone showed me a joke:

her: “I’m breaking up with you.”

him: “Is it because I keep saying ‘uh oh, spaghettios’?”

her: “Actually, yes.”

him: “Uh oh, spaghettios…”

Now it keeps popping into my head. Which leads me to think about — what else? — spaghettios. I love spaghettios almost as much as Kraft mac n cheese or hot dogs. It’s so easy to pop open a can and have that cheesy-tomato goodness in my belly in a matter of minutes. But I am an adult now, and therefore I must limit my lazy junk food splurges to desperate times (like when I’m really needing quick comfort food, or at the beach with my garbage friends). The good news is there are plenty of “adult” (read: homemade) versions of the comfort food I so enjoy. I’m still searching for the *perfect* macaroni and cheese recipe, but I’ve found enough good ones that I can whip up a decent pot when the craving strikes. I save the hot dogs for the ballpark (or a particularly fantastic grilling day). That leaves spaghettios as my only semi-justifiable lazy-splurge.


Until recently.

I stumbled across the original recipe on Pinterest (I am obsessed with Pinterest recipes), but you can find it here. I can never thank Nikki Gladd enough for the post that gave me permission to eat spaghettios like an adult. I’ve made my own tweaks and adjustments, which to me give the dish even more of an authentic taste, still while maintaining an air of healthiness.

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The recipe says use a saucepan, but as you can see, any pan will do in a pinch!

The most important item: spaghetti rings. I found them at Wegmans (which is hands down the best grocery store.)

I skip the garlic. I’m a big fan of garlic, but I’ve found eliminating it from this particular dish actually makes it better (which is rarely the case). The other major trick I found is cooking the noodles directly in the sauce, rather than separately and combining with the sauce at the end. The starch from the pasta thickens the sauce and the tomatoey-taste fattens the pasta.

Check out the full recipe if you’re feeling like reconnecting with the kid inside you (or if, like me, you feel a little guilty for all the canned junk you eat).

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Homemade Spaghettios:

  • Olive Oil for pan (~1 tbs)
  • 1/4 tsp Red Pepper Flakes
  • 1 can Tomato Sauce
  • 1 scoop Tomato Paste (~1 tbs. The time I made this the best, I used a regular spoon and eyeballed it)
  • 3 cups water
  • 8 oz spaghetti rings (or other round pasta)
  • Generous pinch of granulated sugar
  • Salt and Pepper, to taste
  • 2-4 tbs butter (you can cut down to make it even ‘healthier’)
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • ~1 cup shredded cheese (I used pre-shredded Mexican cheese. I also just dropped two handfuls in rather than measuring an actual cup)
  1. In medium saucepan, saute the red pepper flakes in olive oil over Medium heat for about 30 seconds.
  2. Add the tomato sauce, paste, water, pasta, sugar, salt and pepper.
  3. Bring to low boil, stirring frequently to keep pasta from sticking to bottom of pan.
  4. Add butter. Stir until melted.
  5. Stir in milk.
  6. Simmer over Medium-Low for about 10 minutes or until pasta is cooked.
  7. (If sauce seems too runny, add a second scoop of tomato paste to thicken. Stir until fully distributed, then turn off heat) Add cheese one handful at a time, stirring between to melt fully.
  8. Enjoy!

This recipe makes about 4 servings.

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Rambling Review: 13 Reasons Why

*UPDATED WITH FINAL THOUGHTS*

Ok full disclosure again: this is not a book review. I did *almost* purchase the book from Barnes and Noble two months ago, but then saw it was soon to be a Netflix show and decided to save my dollars because Netflix has really impressed me with their original shows and adaptations (see: A Series of Unfortunate Events).

I just started watching the show and I’ve made it through four episodes. It’s wonderful. It has drama and mystery and heart-wrenching situations all around. I find myself feeling angry along with the narrator, then so sad for those who she claims has ruined her lives. It makes me think of my own interactions, even now, long after high school, and how one little look or joke or terse word could so adversely affect someone. It looks at how interconnected we are all, whether we acknowledge it or not.

I’m pretty glad I decided to wait for the show, because I have a terrible habit of harshly judging the movie/tv version of a good book. Now, I can enjoy the twists and turns without sighing or complaining “that’s not like the book!”. I do still want to read the book, and this way, I know I won’t stay up reading it all night to find out the next reason. I’m frustrated by the pace of the main character moving through the tapes, because I’m a binge-watcher/reader/listener. It doesn’t detract from the show (though I do appreciate the characters who point out how long he’s taking) — and I think it would have detracted from my enjoyment if I were reading, because I would devour the book too quickly. With episodic shows (and a husband who interrupts my binge sessions with things like “walks” and “dinner” and “the March Madness Championship”), I’m able to slow down (a little bit) and digest a chunk of episodes before plunging ahead.

As it handles a teenager’s suicide, I think the show does a good job of showing how different people are affected. The parents and their relationship, the careful, “be sympathetic but cover our ass” approach by the school, all the different students processing (their selfishness, their guilt, their callousness, their pain) all feels authentic to me. The mom is so well-played; I’ve loved Kate Walsh since her days as Addison Montgomery-Shepherd in Grey’s Anatomy, but her performance is raw and achingly beautiful as a mom coming apart at the seams, just trying to understand, to find some sort of justice.

As I’m not even halfway through, I’ll reserve full judgment until I’ve reached the end, but so far, I would highly recommend this show.

Updated–

I blew through the last few episodes. The last four made me cry for different reasons (PS — I tend to cry a lot over good books/movies/shows/songs/art). They were very emotional and intense, and I would definitely say they should come with a “trigger warning” for anyone struggling with issues like self-harm/suicidal ideation/depression/etc. Or if your life has been touched by these, it can be hard to watch.

Immediately after watching, I still felt this was a well-done show. There was some discussion online about the possibility of a Season 2, but I like to think that — much like real life — some things are left unanswered or at the very least not tied up perfectly in a nice little bow. I felt hollow and sad for how many lives had been changed, not all for the better, and I think the show does a great job of showing the ripple effect of one person’s actions, and how everyone’s lives intertwine.

However, I was shocked that there were only two “graphic scene” warnings, neither of which pertained to the episode in which the suicide actually occurred. There were no hotline phone numbers offered, or blurbs at the end of the episode advising viewers to seek help for themselves or loved ones struggling with thoughts of suicide or self-harm. In fact, in one scene, self-harm is explained away almost as a “healthy” alternative to suicide. The more I think over the show, the more I uncomfortable I get with recommending it. The most important subject matter is dealt with carelessly. There isn’t any discussion of mental health or how a person’s mental state affects how they process and respond to external issues. As one friend of mine pointed out, two people could experience the same bullying and respond in vastly different ways; if someone is already predisposed to negative self-talk and hopelessness, she will internalize her problems much differently than a healthy person. Yet the show never delves into any sort of examination of her mental state and blames her suicide fully on the actions of others, and makes it seem like the only option to avoid her problems.

I would strongly recommend viewers keep this in mind while watching. There are many aspects that I think are well-done and well-acted, but the mishandling of such an important issue as mental health awareness makes me hesitate to continue to recommend the show.