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Trip Report: Scotland Driving (Part 1)

I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to share this next batch of photos. I also can’t believe how much we loved driving across Scotland.

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Seriously, give me some snacks, a full tank of gas, and my husband beside me (preferably doing most of the driving) and I am a happy girl.

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Oh hey, bonnie bonnie banks of Loch Lomond.

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It was pretty, that’s for sure.  The sky was all full of drama and mood.

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Clearly it needed more coffee.  It was at this point along the trip that I discovered the plain lattes at McDonalds.  So tasty.  And.  They sell them in the U.S.  This information has saved my life during our rural/small town travels where Starbucks are few and far between.

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We drove up the west side of all the lochs into the highlands and stopped in Fort William for the night.  Seriously, the highlands?  SO pretty, even when filled with evening fog.

20140122-105811.jpgI tell you what, those Scots are serious about their sauce branding.  So many options, so much color.

Day 2 of the drive coming shortly.

Twitterature / February 2014

A Twitter-inspired look at books I’ve been reading recently.  (And here’s what I read last month.)  What’s on your bookshelf these days?

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The Rosie Project / Graeme Simsion
A fascinating and heartwarming read with an unlikely hero. Brilliant characters and an innovative plot made for a can’t-put-down story.  (P.S. This one is still $1.99 on Amazon for Kindle.  Get it get it!)

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The Friday Night Knitting Club / Kate Jacobs
This one didn’t grab me as much as I expected & hoped it would, but I often find audiobooks slow.  I also don’t know how to knit. Yet.

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Sisterland / Curtis Sittenfeld
I loved Prep & American Wife, but I did not love Sisterland. Paranormal aside, the characters felt downright boring. I still look forward to Sittenfeld’s next.

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The Coal Tattoo / Silas House
A darkly beautiful Appalachian tale of sisters, death, love and loss.  His storytelling was rich, but the end fell flat for me.

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Bel Canto / Ann Patchett
It took me ages to get there, but I loved this book.  It was my first foray into Ann Patchett, and I’m hooked.

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I’m linking up with Anne Bogel for her Twitterature series. Hop on over to Modern Mrs. Darcy for more.

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Our (one meal) vegan adventure

I made a list of 33 things I want to do before I turn 33 in June 2014.  See the full list here.

2.  Have coffee with a vegan.  I’ve never really sat down and had a conversation with a well-informed non-animal-product-person before.  It’s not my position, but I’d like to better understand it.

19. Try a Vegetarian/Vegan experiment.  We eat a lot of animal protein in this house.  Bacon. Cheese.  Beef.  Pork.  Cheese.  Chicken.  Milk.  Cheese.

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In Chicago this past weekend, we stayed with good friends who are vegan.  They’ve been eating vegan for a couple of years now, and they approach it from more of a nutrition standpoint than from animal rights, but we’ve had a lot of good conversations with them.  While we don’t agree on all the details of their decision (No cheese? So sad.), we do love them and respect their decision as consumers.  Choice is important for all of us.  And, trying new things and having adventures is important for all of us, I say.  So, after church on Sunday, I asked if they’d take us to their favorite restaurant for brunch.

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We geared up for our first vegan experience at Karyn’s on Green – making vegan sexy is their mantra.  I’m a pretty adventurous foodie and like a wide variety of food, but my tofu experience has been limited to miso soup, which I love, but I always leave the little chunks of tofu at the bottom of the bowl.

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I explained my vegan inexperience to our very nice waiter, and asked him if the chef would prepare me a tofu sample so I could taste it.  Since it was brunch time, the chef sent out some pressed & scrambled tofu seasoned with turmeric, salt and pepper, alongside some sautéed mushrooms and onions.  The texture was a little bit different than scrambled eggs but not offensive to me.  Egg-lovin’ aside, I’m not too proud to say that it was REALLY good.  I will probably still leave the tofu behind when I eat miso soup, but I’m proud of myself for being brave and trying (and enjoying) something new.  Pass the bacon, baby!  Oh…

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For my meal, I ordered corn cakes (which were also gluten free) with apple margarine and maple syrup.  The syrup was quite thin and lacked something, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.  The corn cakes were delicious, and the apple margarine, while missing the creaminess of real butter, was a nice addition.

Chad ordered a fake-chicken buffalo wrap, and well, he did his best.  The fake chicken was made from soy; the waiter described the process as similar to making cotton candy.  The flavor was fine, but the product’s texture was problematic for Chad.  Our friends enjoyed butternut squash soup, biscuits and mushroom gravy (which would have greatly benefited from some actual dairy, in my opinion), and a black bean & sweet potato burger.

Then, Chad and I went to a Super Bowl party and ate all the things stuffed with cheese and wrapped in bacon, and he had a whole half-rotisserie-chicken. Delish.

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After the game, we stopped by a local vegan cafe for a pregnancy-craving dessert fix (not mine!) and a night cap.

I’m thankful for consumer choice that lets us all eat what we want, and all in all, I’m calling our (one meal) vegan adventure a success – I’m crossing two things off my 33 before 33 list!  Plus, we broke out of our comfort zones and tried something new, and our friends were able to introduce us to an important part of their life.

Now, about that bacon.

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A version of this post first appeared on Adventures in Piggery, my work blog.

What I’m into / January 2014

We rang in the new year at home with a happy handful of our best and dearest, then we headed north to Canada in the middle of the Polar Vortex (said in the most ominous voice possible).

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We spent a few days with our sweet friends at Crystal Spring Colony in Manitoba. I learned to make pierogi and my friend let me try on her traditional Hutterite dress and head scarf.

Chad and I joke occasionally about joining the colony once/if we have kids. There’s something so appealing about life lived in community, working together and caring for one another with such intentionality. I’d just keep all my opinions hidden under my skirts, I guess.

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We hosted several Airbnb guests and I tried to get them all to read the Enneagram books.  I love opening our home to travelers in town, and I love even more my awesome cleaning girl that comes over once in a while to help get bedrooms ready for our guests.  She’s the best.  And she dusts.

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These girls made the most of sunshiney days in their far away North Carolina home.  Despite our near daily phone chats, I miss my sister and I love watching her littles grow up together.

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I started going to therapy and when I talk about it with my friends, I’m overwhelmed by their support and the choruses of “You too? Me, too!?”

What I’m reading
I linked up with Modern Mrs. Darcy this month to share books I’ve been reading in Twitter-inspired fashion.  My early January titles included Objects of My Affection by Jill Smolinski, He’s Gone by Deb Caletti, and Calling of Emily Evans by Jeanette Oke.  I also joined the Red Couch Book Club and finally started reading (and cheering along with) Jesus Feminist with the rest of the SheLovelies.

What I’m watching
Award shows all around!  I love red carpet coverage – especially when followed on Twitter.  Winter hiatus make it easy to stay caught up on shows (since there are none. Boo.), and I have a bone to pick with Hulu for changing the schedule of their free access to shows.  Not cool, Hulu.

Around the web
Consistent devotions have never been my strong suit, but I’ve loved reading along with She Reads Truth. The Fresh Start readings were, indeed, refreshing.  His mercies are new every morning.  His mercies never come to an end. 

Little things I’m loving
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Treasure hunting at Anthro

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Bringing home pretty blooms from Trader Joe’s.  Fresh and beautiful for only $4.  Love it.

Adventures in Piggery

Minneapolis

January is show season so after our Canada trip we went to the frozen tundras of Minneapolis and Des Moines.  I covered the Minnesota show for SwineWeb.com.  It’s always fun to write for other sites, and gives me a different, more focused perspective on work.  I never thought I’d say this, but I kinda missed visiting hog barns this month.

February, it’s your turn now.

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I’m linking up with Leigh Kramer for her What I’m Into series. Hop on over to her blog for more.

I don’t know what it’s like to be you

K has invited you to join a Facebook Group.

Only one or two names were familiar to me in the group of nearly 1,000 women, but I was intrigued by the invitation, so I joined.  It’s a group of women from Omaha, Lincoln, Chicago, Seattle, Iceland, Tokyo, and I suspect many more know each other than know me.  The women live all over and their lives have been all over.  Some of the posts make me wonder if they sometimes feel like life is over.

I don’t know what it’s like to be a 22 year old single mom, worrying about how I’m going to pay the heating bill or put diapers on the little one.

I don’t know what it’s like to plan an intervention for an alcoholic father.

I don’t know what it’s like to be a lesbian in a conservative city.

I don’t know what it’s like to experience assault at a local bar, only to be ridiculed online and shamed for reporting the situation.

My life looks very different from that of many women in the group.  My parents modeled frugal living, faith clinging and practical decision making, and for the most part, I’ve walked a similarly stereotypical straight and narrow. Some might call me boring.

Some might call me lucky.  Some might call me privileged.  I can only call it grace.

I read posts and pleas for help about learning to love your body, about celebrating college graduation while working full time, about babies and bras, about favorite lipsticks and homemade skin care, about abortion and abuse and atheism, about feminism and faith and what’s for dinner, about fighting through misconceptions and bias, about pets and parents and postpartum depression.  They’re all posts about being a woman, about life.

Many women offer advice and helpful suggestions and encouragement.  In a world where women are often our own worst enemies, this group is a bright spot.  And I enjoy participating, I do.  Need ideas about what to give your mom for her birthday?  You want options for what to do with your new food processor?  Book recommendations for Christmas break? I’m your girl.

But the rest of it, I come up empty.   I’ve got nothing to offer in terms of advice for most of these girls.

So I’m learning to listen.  I’m learning to pray.  I’m learning to offer sympathy.  I’m learning to cheer on.

I’m so sorry you’re going through this.  That must be really hard. 

You matter.  Regardless of how this situation turns out, know that you matter and you are deeply loved.

I’m proud of you.  

These are the lines I’m practicing over and over.  I’m learning to simply offer grace.  And if I’m honest with myself, I’m learning to see individual faces and strong, beautiful women where I’ve sometimes struggled to see past a stereotype or circumstance or bad decision.  I’m learning to see these women.

I don’t know what it’s like to be you.  But I know you’re teaching me to love more freely.

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In 2014, I’m reclaiming (and writing about) the word GRACE with OneWord 365.  Read more here.

Trip Report: Arriving in Scotland + Stirling Castle

We flew into Edinburgh on a chilly gray, rainy day. I was thankful for the sunshine we’d had in Ireland.
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We walked the few blocks to our hotel and hauled our luggage up to the 6th floor.  This was the only time wished I would have packed fewer clothes.

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The view from our hotel room was great, though.  Even through the rain, the world looked a bit magical.

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The Gothic architecture in Edinburgh is stunning, and the rain darkened the stone beautifully.  It’s like that in life sometimes too, I think. 

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I love double-decker buses.  We only had a half day in Edinburgh this time around, but we knew we’d be back for more, so other than venturing out for lunch, we stayed snuggled in at the hotel while the grey world outside dripped.

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When in Edinburgh, eat pies.  Flaky, warm, delicious and ridiculously cheap.  Yelp did not let us down.

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Neither did the scenery around town.  Google tells me this is a monument to something…right there in the middle of town.

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We had some problems getting our data connected right away so we had to use old school maps on our way out of town the next morning.  Complete with highlighted routes, no less.

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I still managed to get us a bit lost and we wandered through neighborhoods on our way to the right road.

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The clouds were playing peek-a-boo with the sun again on the drive to Stirling Castle.

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Stirling, all hail to thee!

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Robert the Bruce stands proudly at the entrance and overlooks the William Wallace monument below.

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The castle is all cobblestones and limestone rock and history.

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Gardens and battlegrounds and rolling hills.  So pretty.

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There she is, in all her glory. And it’s off to the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomand we go.

Twitterature / January 2014

A Twitter-inspired look at books I’ve been reading recently.  What’s on your bookshelf these days?

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Objects of My Affection / Jill Smolinski
Professional organizer meets eccentric artsy hoarder.  A quick, easy read with lots of heart.  I typically love novels set in Chicago; this didn’t disappoint.

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He’s Gone / Deb Caletti
A dark & twisty tale about a husband who goes missing & the woman he leaves behind. Mysterious, mesmerizing, & beautifully woven together.

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Jesus Feminist / Sarah Bessey
Bessey’s words resonate deeply with a strong “Amen!”  An encouraging little yellow book; I boss all my friends around to get them to read it.

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Calling of Emily Evans / Jeanette Oke
Familiar, friendly & part of the Jesus Feminist family. Emily Evans’ fictional life honors women of valor who paved the way for my generation.

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I’m linking up with Anne Bogel for her Twitterature series. Hop on over to Modern Mrs. Darcy for more.

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Helping with dinner

When Chad and I visit Crystal Spring colony, most of my time is spent working with the guys in the shop, so I relish invitations and opportunities to hang out with the ladies.  The whiteboard in the dining room said that the kitchen crew needed help making pierogis for dinner, and when Anita invited me to join her, I accepted with excitement.

I knew that pierogis are little dough pockets with filling, and I knew that many eastern European countries and cultures have versions of the dish.  Verenyky, Pelmeni, Koldunai, Maultaschen – different names, but essentially the same concept.  However, I had never actually made pierogis, so I didn’t quite know what I was signing up for.  Luckily, the women were more than happy to show me how the assembly-line process works.

First step is the filling.

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Potatoes (that have been boiled), cheese, sour cream, onions, secret seasoning.  The filling ingredients get all mixed together and formed into little balls.  I suppose you could form them however you like, but the football shape seemed to work pretty well.  Pierogis can also be stuffed with meat or mushrooms or other ingredients of your liking.

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The dough comes next.  This isn’t any ordinary dough, they explained.  It’s similar to a pasta dough, but it’s closer what they use to make spatzle.   The dough is rough-cut into equal size pieces, then passed on down the line.

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Then the dough gets flattened out into circles using strangely colored scary wrinkle hands.  No?  Just me?  Anyway, this was the part that I struggled with the most; I kept poking holes in it.  I suppose it’s a skill you learn with practice.

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Then the filling gets wrapped in the dough and it all gets pinched shut into a little half-moon pocket.

We ended up going into Winnipeg for dinner so I didn’t get to enjoy the fruits of my labor, but pierogi are traditionally served with a a light gravy or sour cream sauce, topped with onions and bacon.  Some recipes show just boiling the little pockets, while some boil, then fry, or boil then sautee.   Delicious!

If you want to make pierogis at home, try one of these recipes.  They’re each a bit different, so you can put your own twist on dinner tonight.  Enjoy!

Smitten Kitchen
Mennonite Girls Can Cook
All our Fingers in the Pie

Three Special Steps

Three special steps, that’s all you need!  Three special steps and you will succeed.  Step one: Fill an ice cube tray with juice!  Step two:  add toothpicks!  Step three:  freeze your juice pops!

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My niece’s little song played over and over in my mind as I sat in the waiting room.  It’s virtually impossible to get unstuck from your head.  Sorry about that.  If only it was all as easy as making juice pops, right?

I took a big, brave step this week.  A different step than I’ve taken before.  I started counseling.  It’s not unique, it’s not earth-shattering, but for me, it’s big.

It’s a step towards shaking off this unwelcome weight of anxiety that’s been hanging around lately.  A step towards replacing the tapes, to not listening to the lies I believe about myself.  A step towards pushing back against all-too familiar feelings of self blame.

I’ve noticed for a while some reactions and trends in my thinking that don’t feel healthy. I’ve noticed some places feel a little more broken and bruised than usual. A little more tender and raw. And honestly, some days I feel stuck there. So it’s time to take a step. A step towards caring for myself a little differently.

A step towards learning a different way to claim grace and growth and truth for my life.

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In 2014, I’m reclaiming (and writing about) the word GRACE with OneWord 365.  Read more here.