Expressing Gratitude; Even When It’s Hard

Sitting down to write a gratitude post the day before Thanksgiving while 7 months into a pandemic felt like an exercise in patience. Chicagoland has been covered in a curtain of drizzle and the lights on the tree-lined streets have provided the most perfect cozy glow to reflect on a year filled with so much for so many. Compared to a lot of families out there, the things we’ve endured haven’t been that hard so it seems futile to wallow in not-so-great aspects of our 2020. We’re healthy. We have jobs. We’re in an okay headspace. And we’re together. This year, I’m thankful for…

…a smooth transition. Northern Virginia has definitely felt the most like home for our family. Clay’s last assignment had us there for three years so we were comfortable and about as settled as a military family can expect. We were all looking forward to our PCS to Fort Sheridan despite the apprehension we felt about uprooting our lives during a pandemic. Our kids were able to start their school year in a hybrid classroom so even though they’re remote for the time being, they were able to make in-person connections with their teachers and classmates. And while the winter sports seasons have been postponed, both were able to participate in sports this fall. They’re tough kids and their resiliency shined bright this year. One of our family mottos is ‘do the best with what you have‘ and I feel like we’ve done just that.

We also really like our on-post neighborhood and you can’t beat living a few hundred yards from Lake Michigan. It’s impossible to look around our warm and safe house in a beautiful setting and feel anything but gratitude. And you know what? It’s downright impossible to be in a bad mood when you can spend hours paddle boarding on Lake Michigan during the warm months.

…long hikes in the woods. We have spent hours upon hours in the woods as a family this year and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Granted – our wooded hike options are limited in Northern Illinois, at least compared to Northern Virginia, but we are logging miles as a family on the trails along the water and wherever else we can.

...long(er) bike rides. Now that our kids are getting older, we’re taking full advantage of their increased endurance and longer legs. This year, we were able to bike as a family in Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, and Illinois. While they weren’t the rides we experienced in Salzburg and Garmisch-Partenkirchen in 2019, I’m incredibly thankful that we were able to spend so much time on our bikes this year. I am also expressing gratitude that bikes are beginning to be in stock again because our poor son has been riding a much-too-small bike for the majority of the year. Here’s hoping we can find him one by spring.

…levity. Memes and GIFs have saved my sanity this year. This year has really shown me the importance of surrounding myself with people who are not only kind and empathetic, but also possess a killer sense of humor. “[Humanity] has unquestionably one really effective weapon—laughter. Power, money, persuasion, supplication, persecution—these can lift at a colossal humbug—push it a little—weaken it a little, century by century, but only laughter can blow it to rags and atoms at a blast. Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand.” — Mark Twain

…new family members. We adopted our kitten, Alice, in August and she has fully enveloped herself as a member of our pack. We’re picking up our newest teammate – a puppy – next week and we couldn’t be more thrilled to have animals in the house again.

…and finally, kisses goodnight. In all of 2020 Clay was only TDY for about 30 days total, which may be a record in our {almost} 16 years of marriage. I admit that I felt some twinges of jealously when friends would post about having their spouse working from home but I quickly dismissed those green feelings because despite my husband still going into work, he wasn’t calling me from a foreign country. In 2020, I am thankful that my husband was able to kiss me goodnight more times than in recent memory.

How can I not love that?

Why I Don’t Diet

People who love to eat are always the best people.” – Julia Child

I love food. I love good food. I love the act of sitting down to share a meal. I love to cook. I love to go out to eat. I love to experience food around the country and the world. Simply put, I love food. I also lead an active life and I rarely let a day pass without doing some sort of a workout. I don’t sweat to lose weight or to negate ‘bad’ food – I push myself physically because I enjoy the challenge and I love, love, love feeling strong. I don’t view what I put into my body as just fuel (one of my least favorite schools of thought) – food represents so much more to me than convertible energy. Food is life. Food is love. And food is what feeds not only our bodies but our souls; which is exactly why I don’t diet. And also because diets are ridiculous at best and downright dangerous at their worst.

That’s not to say that I don’t eat healthy (although to be fair, what exactly does ‘healthy’ mean?). I do – fresh vegetables, fruit, and lean meats are among my favorite food groups. But I also eat Chicago hot dogs, chips and fresh salsa, and Belgian waffles on a regular basis because a life without doing so is meaningless. My approach to food is pretty simple – whenever possible, I eat well-prepared food with quality ingredients and try to avoid foods with high-fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oil (I haven’t purchased or consumed margarine in over 15 years) because I hate the way they make me feel.

oven fired pizza with arugula

I don’t avoid entire food groups but I try to limit my pasta and bread consumption to homemade/handmade because gluten bothers me and if I am going to consume it, I want it to be the most authentic and delicious version possible. I love spice, loathe under-seasoned food, and dislike most casseroles. I think boiling vegetables is an abomination and I have trouble trusting adults who don’t eat at ethnic restaurants. And nothing beats a hot pink filet mignon seared in a cast iron skillet with butter. Except maybe pho – with extra cilantro (give me all the cilantro).

pho with sirloin
French onion soup in Paris

I worked as a prep-chef one summer in high school at a high-end bistro and learned the art of preparing food from scratch. I am forever thankful for the Executive Chef who took the time to teach me how to properly reduce a sauce, roast vegetables, and how seasonal ingredients can be prepared in ways that maximize their flavor. I don’t own a bread maker; kneading bread is zen for me. When time permits, I avoid shortcuts. And our go-to meal when we don’t feel like cooking is a charcuterie board. Thankfully, our kids eat a variety of foods and they’re at the age where they get excited about trying a new restaurant and ordering something they’ve never had before so we’ve been able to eat at some pretty cool places around the world as a family. And most importantly, they don’t see their mom ‘dieting’.

Austrian potatoes
provisions seafood steamed shrimp

It took me getting through my twenties and most of my thirties but I can say with confidence now that I absolutely love my body for no other reason than it is my body. I’m sure there are some people out there who think I’m too whatever but that’s their problem, not mine. I will turn 38 in a few months and I think I’ve never looked better. Earlier this year I participated in a nutrition program that changed my relationship with food for the better. I learned what my body needs for protein, carbs, and fats in order for me to feel my best. Because when I feel my best, I do my best. I don’t track calories, I eat what looks (and tastes) good.

fish tacos shrimp tacos

And I don’t diet. Thank goodness.

Five for Friday {November Edition}

My last post featured skeletons and now we are less than a week away from Thanksgiving. November has flown by for our family – I can’t believe it is already the 20th! Isn’t 2020 supposed to be the slowest year that ever existed? We’ve been enjoying the fluctuating weather in Chicagoland and there have been a few nights where the wind from Lake Michigan has woken us up at night – it is reminiscent of our time on Lake Ontario in Sackets Harbor when we were stationed up at Fort Drum way back when. We’ve had a few snow flurries but we’re still waiting for the first storm of the season. After the bust of a winter we had in Washington DC last year, we’re keeping our fingers-crossed for snow (and lots of it!).

In celebration of Friday and keeping things simple, I’ve decided to write about five things that popped into my head this morning. I really hope to use these slower winter months to write more and streamline my social media consumption. Blogging has always been my favorite form of social media and I hate that it has fallen to the wayside to Facebook and Instagram. So without further ado, here are five topics that popped into my head this morning…

Christmas decorations. I love Thanksgiving but I’ve never decorated for the holiday because why put up turkeys and rustic ‘gather’ signs when Christmas decorations are sitting in Rubbermaid bins just begging to be displayed? Due to our frequent moves, our Christmas stash is limited to 4 {large} bins but 2020 has me throwing my minimalist holiday decor tendencies out the window. I’ve officially purchased more Christmas decorations this November than I have in the past five years…we’re going to need another bin. I plan to do a Christmas decoration tour of our house in the next couple of weeks because our new base housing has been a lot of fun to decorate – we finally have a fireplace again!

Family Game Nights. Our kids were able to participate in fall sports this fall – soccer, baseball, and gymnastics – while adhering to social distancing practices and wearing their masks. We signed both kids up for winter sports – gymnastics and arena football – knowing that the season would likely be cut short due to the Chicago area spiking in cases. Unfortunately, we received word this week that their programs are paused because our area is experiencing an outbreak. It stinks but it is what it is. The kids are disappointed but they’re making the best of the hand they’ve been dealt – they rock! One silver lining of the cancelled sports seasons is that we now have time for family game nights on weeknights. We’ve been playing a lot of Ticket to Ride, Clue, and Bananagrams – now that our daughter can read on her own, we’ve been able to open up our game repertoire. If you have any recommendations for family-friendly games for kids ages 7+, I’d love to hear them.

Steroids. Over the years, I’ve struggled auto-immune responses that baffle medical professionals but thankfully end up resolving themselves with time and do not result in a life-altering diagnosis. I’m currently in knee-deep in one that is little more than a nuisance but it does have me examining my health and wellness routine with a bigger magnifying glass than usual. Thankfully I was able to meet with a medical professional in a virtual appointment and I’m hopeful that a simple round of steroids will alleviate this particular flare up. A million things are theorized to cause an autoimmune response, including stress (and lord knows this has been A YEAR) so while it my response likely isn’t caused by food, caffeine, or alcohol – I admit that I could make some healthier choices because when I feel better, I do better. My workout regime is on point but I should probably pay more attention to my sleep (or lack there of) and my caffeine and alcohol intake.

Kindle Paperwhite. A few months ago, when Clay asked me what I wanted for Christmas I immediately answered, “a Concept 2 rower” because we 100% jumped on board with the home gym trend in 2020. We’re on the waitlist and our estimated order date might ensure it arrives before Christmas – not that it really matters…I’m just excited to add another piece of equipment to the garage. Because it is difficult to wrap a rower that may or may not arrive by Christmas, I suggested that I’d also like a new Kindle. One of my goals is to read more books instead of spending my free time reading articles and scrolling through social media on my phone. I have a Kindle that is 10 years old and showing its age – it’s practically a fossil. I think the new Kindle Paperwhite will meet all of my e-reader needs without breaking the bank.

Professional Goals. And finally, I’ve been really enjoying my job as late and I’ve had a lot of opportunities for growth and personal professional development. I’m incredibly thankful I’ve been able to continue to work remotely despite PCSing and while my hours have increased (hence the lack of writing here), the work is exciting, interesting, and most importantly – impactful. I’ve been examining my professional goals over the past few months and fine tuning my 5-year plan. I’m excited to discover what is next for me on the horizon and to continue to challenge myself professionally.

The Skeletons of Highwood, IL

Happy Halloween! While we may not be trick-or-treating in the traditional sense this year, we’re still celebrating All Hallow’s Eve with costumes, a walk around the neighborhood, and candy. 2020 has been a year filled with canceled plans and creative solutions so its not a surprise that October 31st is any different. To be honest, it’s not difficult to get into the Halloween spirit this year – there is a chill in the air, the leaves are vibrant shades of orange, yellow, and red, and there are hundreds of skeletons around town.

Yes, skeletons.

Even though the Fort Sheridan military housing area has a Highland Park address, it’s the community of Highwood that borders the northern gate. When the now-closed active-duty installation of Fort Sheridan (read more about the history of Fort Sheridan here) opened in 1888, the citizens of Highwood and surrounding communities weren’t crazy about the saloons, gambling dens, and speakeasies that popped up to cater to the off-duty soldiers. The Prohibition-era further catered to the environment due to bootleggers creating a large-scale smuggling operation into Highwood. During World War II, the Highwood community prospered due to Fort Sheridan being a key training center for deploying troops. Today Highwood has a strong immigrant population – past and present – which gives the town a vibrant energy. Murals and sculptures pepper the landscape, a variety of cuisines are found within a few block radius, and this October hundreds of skeletons invaded Highwood.

When the handful of our Army friends who have been stationed here in the past found out we were moving to Fort Sheridan, they excitedly told us about the annual Pumpkinfest in Highwood – a popular three-day event that kicks off with the annual attempt to garner the world record for most lit jack-o-laterns (Keene, New Hampshire is the long-standing current record holder). Due to the pandemic, Pumpkinfest was cancelled this year but instead of getting down, Highwood got creative. And that’s why there are now hundreds of skeletons posed throughout the town.

We spent yesterday afternoon walking around Highwood with friends, participating a scavenger hunt sponsored by the Highwood Chamber of Commerce that took us by almost every skeleton display in town.

The best coffee in town, Tala Coffee Roasters.

The sense of community in Highwood is evident in their commitment to creative solutions during the pandemic. Indoor dining ends again today due to spiking cases and restaurants are ramping up their take-out and delivery endeavors more than ever. I hope that the many local restaurants are able to survive the winter months – if any small town has demonstrated the grit and determination necessary to survive, it’s been Highwood, IL. Skeletons and all.