Wednesday, July 06, 2016

st. louis eats

The last week of June, I was in St. Louis for a conference. Not only did I enjoy experiencing some of the local eats, but also I was pleasantly surprised by the food at the conference itself.

In the shuttle from the airport to the hotel, my driver had highly recommended a relatively new barbeque place that was just a short walk around the corner. That first evening in town, my roommate and I gave it a try, and it did not disappoint!

In a cafeteria-style line, you order your meat - which is sliced and weighed on the spot! - then pick out your sides. I opted for the turkey, with creamy mac-and-cheese and nicely seasoned cole slaw. Everything is homemade, and the freshness of each bite was (forgive me) so refreshing. Also, that smoked chocolate chip cookie hanging out in the corner? Yum. Chewy, deeply flavored, with just a slight hint of salty - perfection.

At the opening lunch of the conference, lunch was good; but dessert was better - a tangy lemon tart with a blueberry topping and little tufts of toasted marshmallow creme.

Thursday afternoon, I stopped by the hotel's Club Lounge for a snack. As much as I'd been enjoying the food to that point, a small plate of fresh veggies was a nice treat.

Thursday evening, on the recommendation of another colleague's brother, my colleagues and I went to dinner at an Italian restaurant. A must-try was the toasted ravioli, which many of us had heard was a St. Louis staple and decided to share as an appetizer.  The outside had a nice crispy firmness, and the meat filling inside was so flavorful. If this is what all St. Louis toasted ravioli tastes like, I'm a fan!

For my main course, I chose the Rigatoni - pasta with roasted cauliflower, shrimp, and pine nuts in a garlic cream sauce. Mmm, mmm. My mouth waters just thinking about it. I would have liked a bit more cauliflower and shrimp mixed in, but maybe it's better that I didn't. My stomach was happily stuffed by the end of dinner. 

I've been to so many conferences where the food is just okay, with a focus on quantity over quality. For the record, that was not the case at this hotel. I was quite pleased by the variety on the breakfast buffet each morning, and particularly enjoyed the offerings on Saturday morning, including the local honey available to sweeten the steel-cut oatmeal.

Finally, I have to mention the ooey gooey butter cake. I truly thought this was a Southern thing, and in my mind, St. Louis is more Midwestern than Southern. So I was surprised to find out that this concoction has its roots in St. Louis. The story goes that a bakery made a mistake, but people liked the mistake enough that it became a recipe. How fitting, then, that my first taste of this sweet treat was in its hometown. The plain was almost tooth-achingly sweet; however, the chocolate was rich and satisfying.

All in all, I had plenty of good eats in St. Louis. My stomach looks forward to returning!

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

lessons learned in thriving: june

Feeling progress (in my muscular strength) does not always mean seeing progress (in my muscular definition). That's a little bit disappointing, and yet I am so proud of myself for working hard on my fitness each morning. Ultimately, I trust that the results will be worth the effort.

As I work on improving my physical health, it is also becoming easier to feel and notice the impact our household products have on my body. Slowly - very slowly - I am finding replacements for our cleaners, my cosmetics, even my salon of choice for pedicures to take better care of my skin and overall health.

However, I am still working on the "healthy eating" portion of being healthy. On the plus side, I am becoming more discerning in where I splurge and indulge...yet I still splurge and indulge a bit more than I should.

We have our differences...we have our difficult moments...but my husband is a wonderful man. He is patient, supportive, funny. I am grateful to have him as my partner.

Eventually, you have to say goodbye to the vehicle you received as a gift in college. (I hope to share that obituary at some point.) When that goodbye is unexpected, you end up with two significant new notches in the belt of adulthood - securing a wi$e car loan, and purchasing a first car. It was a nerve-wracking experience, but one that I am pleased with. It feels odd not to look for my little red truck in the parking lot anymore, and I keep calling my "newsed" car a truck. Yet I feel fortunate that the whole vehicle situation turned out the way it did, as easily as it did.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

lessons learned in thriving: may

(inspired by Emily P. Freeman's monthly reflection)

As awesome as I am in my current role, I appreciate having a boss who challenges me to think about what I want to work toward. I have no idea what that looks like yet, but I am grateful for the strong encouragement to consider it.

I am capable - so capable! - of being the type of person who gets up early (which, for me, is 5 am) every morning to exercise. It's just a matter of determination. (Seeing "200" on the scale for the first - and hopefully last! - time in my life certainly helps in the motivation department.)

This delightful sentiment from my evening devotional was just what I needed after a couple hectic weeks preparing for Commencement:

"My impulse is always toward work...But what restores almost always the opposite. And I'm finding that when I practice things like rest, grace, peace, prayer, self-care and slowness, the work gets done just the same."

I can handle one frustration at a time. But the real fun happens when they start stacking up, accumulating, not giving me room to breathe from one to the next. When disappointment decides to join the party, life gets entirely too emotionally interesting for my tastes. Sometimes the best thing I was able to do this past month was make it to bed time.

That said, the month of May was also a valuable reminder to not let disappointment and unmet expectations get in the way of a good life. Just because things aren't working out how I'd hoped doesn't mean there aren't still beautiful moments happening. (Thanks, Daily Garnish, for the exclamation point on that!)

Disappointment also wormed its way into my heart courtesy of a small bout of loneliness - of feeling a sad disconnect in my various communities and circles. To combat that, I took advantage of whatever opportunity I came across to nurture relationships - from hosting dinner for a former student, to making the time for lunch with a dear friend who was in town unexpectedly. Those small drops of delight were truly balm to my soul.

More than anything, the month of May reminded me that I am strong and able...that I have (and always have had) the ability to bloom where I am planted...if only I will soak up and revel in the goodness all around me. I am living a good life, if only I will let myself see that.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

surprise date - patio edition

Saturday evening, we'd planned to stay in. Then, a little while after showing Wildcat Guy a scrapbook page I'd made that afternoon of my 2012 birthday dinner (eaten on the patio of one of my then-favorite restaurants back in Lexington), I was somewhat surprised to hear him say we should go out for dinner. When I asked him where he wanted to go - Crispelli's, a local pizzeria, he said - it all made sense, though. The one and only time we've been there, we ate on the patio.

I like it when I can understand my husband's logic!

Thus, it was off to Crispelli's we went! As yummy as I knew the meal I'd planned to cook would be, I am never going to turn down the treat of going out to dinner on a Saturday night with my love.

Something I appreciate deeply about our dinners out is being in a situation now where, after some very tightly budgeted months when we first moved to Michigan, we can be a little less frugal these days. I may not always order a cocktail with dinner, but it's nice to feel okay splurging when I see something tempting on the drinks list!

So while Wildcat Guy enjoyed his Italian margarita (complete with a floater of amaretto), I sipped on a Moscow Mule. Ever since I tried a Dark & Stormy on our anniversary vacation in 2014, I've found myself drawn to cocktails with ginger beer; and this did not disappoint. (On a side note, I also appreciated that the drinks seemed to be poured with a moderately generous hand - even if it meant my cheeks were strongly flushed only a few sips in.)

The last time we were here, we'd really enjoyed the pizza. So Wildcat Guy decided to build his own deep dish, topped with sausage, bacon, tomatoes, and caramelized onions. Those onions - mmm.

I had a harder time deciding, because the menu is just full of delicious-sounding options. In the end, I went with the flank steak sandwich; and nothing makes you feel quite as confident in your selection as having your server respond by saying, "Excellent!" 

And excellent, it certainly was. The sourdough bread was perfect, the meat was flavorful - I savored every bite of it.

Then, as if the good food and tasty drinks weren't enough, we went for dessert. Something I adore about Crispelli's is the way their dessert menu is a perfect reflection of the entire restaurant - a fun blend of elegant and casual. My love chose the chocolate mousse (which was thick and rich and perfectly chocolate-y)...

...while I went for the pure simple delight of a warm chocolate chip cookie. 

Just look at all that chocolate! Sigh. My mouth waters thinking about how yummy that cookie was.

And to bring the story full circle, I can't resist sharing a photo of our table. There's an indoor patio that joins two sections of the restaurant, and our table was on a little balcony-esque landing all on its own. That was fun, to have a somewhat private table. But if you look through the door in the background (labeled "Not an Exit"), you can see the table where we sat (on the outside patio) the first time we visited Crispelli's.

That made me smile one last time at the end of a dinner full of them.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

lessons learned in thriving: march

(inspired by Emily P. Freeman's monthly reflection)

Sometimes making the most of a difficult circumstance means just having fun with it.

I'm also becoming more comfortable just trusting. (Thank you, singer Lauren Daigle, for your most recent song that calls me to trust more easily!)

Having a regular yoga practice - especially a regular Ashtanga practice - feels so good to my soul.

Doing ab exercises in the morning is absolutely essential. Because no matter how convinced I might be that "yes, I'll do it when I get home," let's be real. I don't.

Making the creative part of myself a priority has been so invigorating. Crafting...scrapbooking...home decor...I have been enjoying it so much that, the other day, when I couldn't focus at work, all I could think about was coming home and scrapbooking.

On the flip side, honoring that lack of interest in blogging that has been lingering in the past few months was the right thing to do. Because now, as I start to feel that blogging itch again, I feel refreshed and ready to see what might happen.

When the barista at the local coffee shop describes the mocha chai latte as "a chocolate muffin with cinnamon," you order that. Then you delight in how accurate that description was, and sip away.

I feel like I'm settling into my skin a way that I haven't felt in a long time. I am grateful for that growing sense of comfort and confidence.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

day in the life 2016

 I was so happy to participate in Ali Edwards' Day in the Life project yesterday! Here's what my Tuesday, 29 March, looked like in pictures...

6:07 am - Starting my day with a cup of lemon water (and yes, the bathroom clock is seven minutes fast - oddly enough, it helps me stay on track in the mornings.)

 6:15 am - Working my way through my toiletry basket - one of the few areas in my life where I feel like I've truly mastered the minimalism and utility of storage.

6:41 am - Appreciating kitty's company.
 6:58 am - Taking one last look in the mirror and liking what I see.

 7:03 am - Feeling grateful - as I do every morning - that I take the time to put my bags in order the night before.

7:08 am - Listening to Christian radio on my way to work (and feeling grateful that I could borrow Wildcat Guy's truck when mine has a leak).
7:40 am - Heading into the office, happy to have sunshine after a couple days of rain.

 7:47 am - Making do for breakfast. These protein bars have been an easy approach in recent weeks, even though I recognize they are not as healthy as they claim to be.

7:48 am - Logging onto my laptop to get my workday started.

As a side note - I did take pictures of my actual work during the day, but to respect the privacy of my students and my office, I'm keeping those to myself.
 9:14 am - Treating myself to a hot chocolate to take the edge off the chill in the office.

12:11 pm - Eating a reasonably healthy lunch (and getting caught taking a picture by a colleague).
5:53 pm - Giving myself no excuse to skip the treadmill after a full day of work. I may not have walked far, but I walked.
5:54 pm - Discovering the appeal of podcasts as a way to pass the time on the treadmill.
6:46 pm - Throwing the window open to the mild air and brilliant sunshine as soon as I got home.
6:58 pm - Being amused by this full-size carrot that I found in the bag of baby carrots while I made dinner.
7:12 pm - Watching Gru gobble down the handful of treats I scattered out for him.
7:16 pm - Settling in for my own dinner, a chef salad that I always find delightful.
8:01 pm - Curling up on the couch with dessert and a new book (that I have to read by Sunday when I see her speak!). 

9:33 pm - Trying really, really hard to beat this level! (I am not a fan of the bubble gum.)
9:59 pm - Feeling good about the flow of my day.
10:06 pm - Hurrying to finish my preparations for the next day, so I can join kitty in his slumber.
10:19 pm - Easing into bedtime with a nightly ritual of Instagram and devotion.