Sep 28, 2016

Autumn Bucket List / ABCs of Autumn

interactive fall foliage prediction map from

Now that I'm back from Chicago, Jon and I are planning to dive straight into autumn - and autumnal activities! September was really crazy, so we're looking forward to October being slightly less harried (though, realistically, probably just as full). Our biggest adventure will be driving down to North Carolina to visit my sister, who's in her last year of law school at Wake Forest, but we've got a few day trips in the works, too, as well as smaller home-based activities. Here's what we'll be up to over the next two months:

Apple picking - one of Mom's favorite early-fall activities. She's already been twice this season! I'm hoping to go with her before all the apples are gone.

Bluegrass - my sister suggested driving out to Asheville while we're in North Carolina, and I'm so excited to experience some mountain music in its natural habitat.

Cider - I read about Millstone Cellars, north of Baltimore near the Maryland/Pennsylvania border, in Martha Stewart Living last year, and we're finally going to set aside a day to go! A friend from college recently moved to Philadelphia with her boyfriend and I'm hoping we can meet in the middle there for a long-overdue catch up.

Decorating for the season - I haven't made a new wreath in ages and ages, and I'm starting to feel the itch again. (Sorry, Jon.)

Evenings without technology - I still have three needlework projects to finish and they need to be done by the end of October, so I'm going to make an effort to pick up a canvas instead of my laptop or phone more often after dinner.

Football - this is Jon's submission to the post, as he warns me that he'll start disappearing into crappy bars on Sunday afternoons and will reappear smelling like stale Miller Lite and buffalo wings.

Great Pumpkin - I've never seen this Charlie Brown classic, so one night in the next few weeks we'll pull it up on Netflix and both Jon and I will experience this American staple of the season. (Don't worry, Hocus Pocus and The Nightmare Before Christmas are an annual event for my family.)

Harper's Ferry - we're going to take Charlie for a day trip up to Harper's Ferry some weekend soon. We'll spend most of the day hiking, I think, but I'm also excited to do a little antiquing! (Jon will have to stay outside with Charlie when I go into shops, which works out well for all three of us.)

Initiate Christmas shopping - if Jon had his way, we wouldn't start thinking about Christmas presents until the winter solstice. I prefer everything to be sorted earlier. Raise your hand if you're surprised by this. No one? Yeah.

Jump into a pile of leaves - my parents' backyard is the perfect place for this. I just need to promise to rake before and after!

Kayaking on the Potomac - I've always wanted to rent a kayak from the Key Bridge Boathouse in Georgetown and paddle up the river to the monuments.

Leaf peeping - I'm sure we'll check this off our list over Columbus Day Weekend!

Mac and cheese - coming out of the Whole30, I know I'll need to continue limiting dairy and that I should cut back on grains... but homemade mac and cheese with peas and mushrooms and bacon is definitely worth the splurge.

National Arboretum - Jon's never been, and I'm sure this "living museum" will be especially gorgeous all decked out in its fall colors!

Oo - as in "Boo at the Zoo," of course! We'll head to the Smithsonian's National Zoo, which is literally a five minute walk from our apartment, on October 23rd to enjoy treat stations, animal demonstrations, keeper chats, and decorated trails at this fun Halloween event.

Pumpkin carving!

Quiet mornings - I'm not singing at St. John's Church through the fall just because my work schedule is too erratic to allow me to commit to showing up at rehearsals and services regularly. I still want to reserve Sunday mornings for calm and contemplation, though, as that time is really precious.

Renaissance Festival - the Maryland Renaissance Festival is legendary around here, but I've never been. This was actually Jon's suggestion! So much for my MA in Medieval Studies, huh?

Stews - I'm so looking forward to getting my braise on again, and cooler weather is the perfect opportunity to set my big orange pot to simmer for a few hours on the stove. This New York Times Cooking collection of recipes will get me started!

Tashlich - Taschlich comes from the Hebrew word "to cast," and is a ritual performed on Rosh Hashanah in which one's sins, represented by bread crumbs, are cast into a body of water. I can't join my synagogue's taschlich ceremony, but Jon and I are going to hold our own and will make a personal service out of the ancient custom.

Upcycle - my nesting instincts always get super strong when the weather cools down, but we're saving up for a big new piece of furniture and so I need put all of our discretionary "home" money towards that purchase. I'm sure there's plenty in my home (and - let's be honest - my parents' home) that can be repurposed or upcycled, though, so I'm not just twiddling my thumbs!

Vinyard - I feel like an alcoholic because we already have "cidery" on this list, but Jon and I do love our local wineries! If we don't get to this until after all the leaves have fallen, we'll pick one that has a super cosy inside space where we can hole up with a tasting flight for an afternoon. I think we might try Stone Tower Winery in Loudon County, where dogs are allowed inside the Harvest Barn.

Winston-Salem - I'm embarrassed that I haven't made it down there yet, but I'll finally see where my sister's been living for the past few years!

eXplore the new National Museum of African American History and Culture - technically, tickets through the end of the year have already all been reserved. I'm hoping that one of my Smithsonian friends can sneak me in, though, because it's supposed to be absolutely incredible.

Yarn projects - Just kidding! I can sew and quilt, needlepoint, and cross-stitch... but I have no desire to learn to knit. But my mom is knitting me a beautiful shawl and I shall wear it with pride.

Zucchini bread - I discovered food blogger Kate of Cookie and Kate on Instagram a few weeks ago and spent some time last weekend browsing her site in preparation for the end of my Whole30. I went through my annual zucchini phase a little earlier and harder than usual this summer and, as a result, haven't had much at all since Labor Day Weekend. But I'm getting the yen again, and her zucchini bread recipe will fill the void perfectly!

Sep 21, 2016

Whole30 Thoughts: Halfway Through

I'm halfway through my first (and probably only) Whole30. As you might expect, I'm feeling pretty ambivalent about the program. Before I tell you why - and in case you don't make it all the way through this post - you should know one thing:

It's working in at least one of the ways it's supposed to work.

Now let's unpack that.

I decided to try Whole30 after reading the full intro to The Whole30 on my sister's suggestion. I'd always said that I didn't want to know if I could feel better by changing my diet; I felt well enough and didn't want to sacrifice anything in the quest for feeling my best. But, in the last few months, I'd been having trouble maintaining my weight (which was already 60 pounds higher than it should be) despite my eating/exercise habits not worsening, and I was feeling generally pretty yucky. I actually had a meltdown about it to my mom in the lingerie section of Nordstrom a few weeks before my birthday. She shook her head really sadly and said, "Oh, Betsy. This is what happens when you turn 30. I am so sorry."

So when I read the below in the Whole30 manifesto, I decided it was worth a try:
Certain food groups (like sugar, grains, dairy and legumes) could be having a negative impact on your health and fitness without you even realizing it.
Strip them from your diet completely... Let your body heal and recover from whatever effects those foods may be causing. Push the “reset” button with your metabolism, systemic inflammation, and the downstream effects of the food choices you’ve been making. Learn once and for all how the foods you’ve been eating are actually affecting your day to day life, and your long term health.
That makes a lot of sense to me. (I imagine it makes a lot of sense to a lot of people, which is why so many have jumped on the bandwagon!) I know what a nutritionist would tell me about what's healthy and productive to eat, but everyone's body is different and, as I was discovering, what had worked for my body clearly wasn't anymore. I thought Whole30 could help me figure out how it felt to cut out sugar, grains, dairy, and legumes, and then how I'd feel once I added each back in again.

Long story short - well, no, it's already pretty long; sorry about that - I feel great. After the first few days, during which I felt almost hungover, I started sleeping better, feeling less bloated, and staying clearer through the day. I've also noticed I'm not as hungry as often as I had been outside of mealtimes.

When I've heard people talk about having a hard time with their Whole30, it seems like it's often because they didn't really mealplan or do a lot of homecooking before starting the program. Jon and I do both regularly, so there wasn't really a lifestyle adjustment there. Also, I drink my coffee black anyway, so I didn't have to suffer through mornings the way people who add milk do, and I've never liked soda.

I did feel at the beginning like I was eating a lot of fat, but I think some of that worry was an emotional hold-over from when I did Weight Watchers. (A quarter of an avocado is 4 Smartpoints; I've been eating half an avocado a day almost every day.) I also felt like I was eating way too much protein and meat - but, again, it was my mind having that feeling, not my body.

The biggest change for me has been that I'm snacking much less. The ideal for Whole30 is that you eat three meals a day at normal times and that's it, which just isn't always possible with my schedule, but I haven't grazed at all since I started the program. There's really nothing you can graze on - roasted almonds or fruit salad, I guess, but it's hard to eat them mindlessly in the way that I would eat chips or sweets. Plus, because I have to pack almost everything I'm going to eat during the day before I leave my apartment in the morning, I can't be tempted to just run out and grab something from somewhere near my office.

On the website, Melissa Hartwig talks about the "hungry or craving" test:
Ask yourself, “Am I hungry enough to eat steamed fish and broccoli?” (Or hard-boiled eggs, or a grilled chicken breast…) If the answer is yes, go eat! If it’s, “No, but I’d eat an apple with Sunbutter or an RxBar” then you’re just having a craving—time for distraction.
Being on Whole30 enforces that test in a way that I wasn't able to by myself beforehand, not even when I was on Weight Watchers. (Laurel commented, "I think the benefits are both physical and mental. I learned a lot about myself and my willpower.") But it also gets us to the part of the program that I didn't sign on for - the part that hopes to "change the way you think about food... [and] change the emotional relationship you have with food and with your body."

My Instagram friend Tania pointed out that Whole30 can "amplify disordered eating patterns," and I totally agree. It would be really easy for someone who has struggled with managing food restrictions, compulsions, and/or obsessions to slip back into severely unhealthy habits through this program. And while Melissa does counsel "Follow the rules, but don’t self-impose perfection," the Whole30 manifesto instructs us to:
Cut out all the psychologically unhealthy, hormone-unbalancing, gut-disrupting, inflammatory food groups for a full 30 days.
There are very few foods that can absolutely be called "psychologically unhealthy," and the fact that this phrase is being applied without qualification to sugar, grains, dairy, and legumes makes me really uncomfortable. Milk is not psychologically unhealthy. A bagel is not psychologically unhealthy. Lentils are not psychologically unhealthy. Hell, even wine and chocolate aren't unequivocally psychologically unhealthy. If they are for you, you need more help (and, in my untrained opinion, possibly actual medical help) than Whole30 can provide.

This mindset really turns me off the program. It's partially why I haven't gotten into Whole30-friendly blogs or social media accounts - the ones I've seen are a little too dogmatic on the psychological side for me. It's also why I shake my head when people say they're eating a "mostly" Whole30 diet. As far as I understand it, if you choose a food that isn't Whole30 compliant over one that is, you're not doing Whole30. So if you usually-but-not-always make Whole30 compliant choices, it just means you're just eating conscientiously. And that should be good enough.

Basically, halfway through, I look at Whole30 like I look at therapy: if it works, you won't need to do it regularly after the program is over; you just might need to go back in for tune-ups if you start to forget what you'd learned or you need another reset.

But ask me again how I feel in two more weeks, once I've made it to 30!

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Sep 19, 2016

September Saturday at the Vineyard

There was an absurd moment yesterday, sitting with my husband and mother-in-law and her sister at a table overlooking the orderly lines of riotous vines at Layton's Chance Winery, a baguette and two different cheeses before me, that I realized I was either doing Whole30 really well or completely wrong.

In the last six weeks, Jon and I have visited three different vineyards, each only a short drive away from DC: Naked Mountain WineryBarrel Oak Winery, and, as of this past weekend, Layton's Chance. I love how friendly all the wineries in the region are; every one we've been to is super dog/child-friendly, situated in the most gorgeous countryside, and totally unpretentious. If you stop by on a nice day, there's nothing lovelier than settling yourself at a picnic table in the sunshine with a flight or a bottle in front of you and a stunning vista beyond that. So, despite my temporary teetotalism, when Jon said he wanted to take his mum and aunt out of the city for the day, I thought it would be nice to include a picturesque and relaxing lunch at a vineyard on our excursion. After we decided to make St. Michael's on the Eastern Shore (where Jon and I spent a day with our friend Alex last summer) our ultimate destination, I messaged my Instagram friend Morgan to see if she had any recommendations for nearby vineyard that might fit the bill - and she didn't steer us wrong!

Layton's Chance is just under two hours outside of DC, and Jon's mum and aunt loved driving over the Bay Bridge and seeing all the boats out on the water. Route 50, the main north/south road on the Maryland bit of the Eastern Shore, meanders through small towns and cornfields - we felt like we'd jumped back to summer when the sun came out as we drove along.

One of the owners greeted us from an Adirondack chair by the front door as we pulled up to the winery and, in the most wonderful drawl, told us a little bit about the vineyard and the season they were having. At the bar, Jon, Ged, and Annette all chose the five-glass flight, which ended up being a lot more wine than they'd expected - not that they complained! We took our drinks and picnic out onto the porch and settled in for a lovely hour.

When we'd finished our lunches, which we'd picked up at Whole Foods earlier in the morning, we set off on a mile-long trail around the vineyard and through the fields that one of the winery staff had suggested. It was pretty hot for mid-September, but a breeze was blowing and the butterflies were out in full flutter, and it felt good to stretch our legs before getting back in the car to head up to St. Michael's.

It was a perfect way to spend a few hours on a beautiful weekend afternoon. We'd definitely recommend visiting Layton's Chance if you're in the area, and we're excited to continue adding to our list of local vineyards as we head into fall! Hopefully I'll be able to drink the next time we visit one...

Sep 10, 2016


Can there be patriotism without either willful ignorance or boundless optimism?

I was thinking about that last month – before Colin Kaepernick made his stand or, rather, took his seat, and provoked a much-needed debate on this topic - when our friends came to visit us from London and we showed them glimpses of the "real" America. Shockingly for this cynical, liberal, urban girl, I felt my heart swell with patriotism every time we introduced a new aspect of our country to our English friends. Gazing across the Shenandoah Valley from Skyline Drive and cheering for the Nats at a baseball game provoked in me particular exuberant pride for the United States.

In the midst of a national park, you can almost be forgiven for imagining yourself a 17th century colonist with the majesty of miles and miles of untouched wilderness at your feet. What the early settlers must have thought when they beheld the virgin land before them! What promise it must have held, what possibilities, what potential for those Europeans. Except, obviously, North America wasn’t waiting to be discovered at all; thousands of Native Americans lived here, and the opportunities that white settlers took for themselves were claimed on the graves of men with darker skin. Standing atop one of the highest peaks of one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world, though, with only the sounds of birds in your ears, and the incredible wonder of what America could be in the future – it’s easy not to think about that.

Similarly, the bubble of a baseball stadium shelters us from the realities of what's happening on our streets. Sports games, fireworks displays, holiday parades - they're bread and circuses for most, designed to distract us from what it really means to be American for so many of us. No one worries about how having a child might derail her career while cheering on a home run. No one stresses about whether or not he's going to be able to make rent while oohing and aahing over a spectacular explosion in the sky above as Sousa blares from nearby speakers. No one wonders how many Blacks were detained, how many Muslims harassed, how many women assaulted while we stood in the stands and watched balloons drift off the floats driving past. Part of the magic of these events is that when we buy our tickets we are also handed license to ignore everything beyond the game. As Brandon Marshall, a Broncos linebacker, noted after receiving criticism for joining his teammate’s protest, “A lot of time people want us to just shut up and entertain them.”

That’s willful ignorance. We know what’s out there – we just don’t want to face it. We want to run from it to the middle of nowhere. We want to hide from it in a crowd of screaming fans. We want to pretend, even if just for a little while, that there’s nothing wrong with the United States of America.

Some people’s patriotism lives solely in that willful ignorance. That is, I believe, a large part of why Trump’s chorus of “Make America Great Again” has risen to such a crescendo. But I think just as many – and hopefully more – people’s patriotism lives in boundless optimism. It lives in the understanding that America isn’t as great as it can be and, also, that it’s never been as great as it can be. I’m not one for American exceptionalism in the past, present, or future, but the hope that we can be better than we ever have been is an incredible motivator towards patriotism.

We need boundless optimism for this. It doesn’t dismiss reality, but it does declare that things can’t and won’t stay the same or, God forbid, regress. The patriotism of boundless optimism is the patriotism of Ben Watson, Baltimore Ravens tight end, who said, “I stand because this mixed bag of evil and good is my home. And because it’s my home, my standing is a pledge to continue the fight against all injustice and preserve the greatest attributes of the country, including Colin Kaepernick’s right to kneel.”

It’s the patriotism of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address:
It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us--that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion--that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.
And it’s the patriotism of everyone who comes back home from the wilderness or from the ballgame and gets stuck into politics, using our voices and our platforms in whatever way we can to affect progress in and for this country.

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