What a Time to be Alive

Whenever I have a vacation coming up I always get Leaving on a Jet Plane stuck in my head on loop for weeks prior to the trip.  I’m not even sure I know all the lyrics, but that same chorus just plays on repeat and repeat and repeat.  It’s not even particularly uplifting, but it is what it is.

It’s Wednesday and we’ll be leaving on our own plane Friday evening.  I’m not even sure how I’m functioning I’m so excited.  My spirit animal is probably a Jack Russell Terrier, I’m that excitable.

Just in time too, considering Donald Trump could potentially be the president of the United States this time next year.  I’m so disgusted by him and the things he has said I could just vomit.  He makes me want to go to the Queen and beg to be absorbed back into the monarchy.  I think the worst part, however, isn’t that he is basically what would happen if the comments section on the internet were made flesh, but that people really, really like him.  The most common thing you hear is that people like him because he says what he means and what people are already thinking but it’s too PC to say outloud.

What?

Who are these people?  If this is really the case then the country is a much darker place than I realized. I know not everyone thinks like me, I know the world isn’t comprised of socialist unicorns and rainbows, but man, when did encouraging PC behavior start meriting scorn?  I don’t think it’s too much to ask that the person running for the highest office in the county show decorum.  I don’t know, call me old fashioned, but manners matter.

I voted for Bernie in our state primary, but I’m not totally convinced he’ll win.  I really had a hard time choosing between Bernie and Hillary, but ended up with Bernie because I think he deserves a shot more when it comes down to track record.

And Hillary, oh Hillary.  It’s hard to really come to a decision with her.  Her track record is pretty awesome when you look at the things she has accomplished and fought for in her career.  I even admire the way she presented herself with Bill’s whole scandal and how they worked through it.  She’s been a lighting rod for scandal, however, and it’s hard to determine what’s legitimate and what isn’t.  With that said, I still think she would make a great president, her biggest obstacle would be her own popularity.

I think I’m just tired of the discord.  Maybe it’s just this month that is specifically exhausting.  May is our big Huntington’s Disease fundraiser (which is going very well, if you’re interested, click here) and also will soon come to pass my first mother’s day without my mother.  In a way this vacation couldn’t have been timed any better.  I’m told it’s hard to cry when you’re surrounded by bottomless Guinness and Jameson. (I made that up.)

48 hours til takeoff.  My bags are packed, I’m ready to go.

Posted in Huntington's Disease, life, politics, vacation | Leave a comment

Steak and Guinness Pie

It’s official, in May we are heading to Ireland!

I’ve been planning this vacation for years.  Something about Ireland has always called to me (besides the Jameson Distillery) and I’m so in love with planning the final real details and finally seeing what’s been waiting for me.

What’s even better is that not only do I get to have this experience with Justin, but another couple favorite humans are coming with us, Bree and Vince!  I love our travels when it’s just the two of us, but I think adding a couple of my oldest friends is going to make it extra special.  Not to mention, this lady just gracefully waltzed into her 30′s with much more decorum than I plan on displaying.

 Anyway, I’ve been doing a lot of food research in addition to my travel research (which is so unlike me, right?) and came across this amazing looking recipe from one of my favorites, Jamie Oliver.  I’ve made versions of shephard’s pie before, but this looked like an interesting twist, and didn’t involve potatoes for once.   It also calls for the use of puff pastry rather than fiddling with pie crust or anything similar, which is a lazy cook’s dream come true.

It’s also a very, very, very simple recipe but very time consuming.  This isn’t really a weeknight meal unless you happen to be home during the day and have all your ingredients chopped up in advance:

I followed the recipe pretty closely, but with the following changes in bold:

  • olive oil
  • 3 medium red onions , peeled and chopped
  • 1 head garlic , minced (what can I say, I love my garlic.)
  • 2 carrots , peeled and chopped
  • 2 sticks celery , trimmed and chopped
  • 3 cups baby bella mushrooms
  • 1 cup (or package) Porcini mushrooms (expensive but SO worth it.)
  • 1 Lb. beef stew meat (or Lamb, or both!)
  • a few sprigs fresh rosemary , leaves picked and chopped
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 can (approx. 14oz Guinness)
  • cornstarch, as needed
  • 1/2 cup Cheddar cheese , freshly grated
  • 1 package ready-made all-butter puff pastry – I used Pepperidge Farms
  • 1 large egg , beaten with a couple tablespoons of water

  1. Preheat oven to 375
  2.  Use an oven safe pan with a lid (I’m really loving my new stainless steel set) and add a healthy dose of olive oil over medium heat and start with the onions, then garlic, then carrots and celery.  Once the veggies are just a little softer add the beef, rosemary, and any salt and pepper you would like to add. Mix it all together until the beef is beginning to brown and pour the Guinness over everything with a couple pinches of corn starch.  If the Guinness does not cover everything then crack open another, just be careful you let the head simmer down a little before you add more.
  3. Take this opportunity to send a picture similar to the one above to all your Guinness loving friends. Meat soaking in stout, what’s not to love?
  4. Bring the pan to a boil and add a few pinches of corn starch.  Stir to combine and then cover and set in the oven for about an hour and a half.  This is where the time consuming portion happens, you can’t really come home from work and then wait another three hours for dinner, right?
  5. After cooking in the oven bring it out and check the consistency.  I wanted my pie to be more gravy than broothey so I added corth starch a very tiny bit at a time until I was happy with it.
  6. spray or grease the pan you’re going to use for your pie and stretch out the first sheet of puff pastry. I stretched it out so that it made a dough bowl inside the dish so I could bring up the bottom piece of pastry to seal with the top.  I used a corningware dish that was my grandmother’s and will probably survive the apocalypse.  After your first layer is down fill the dish with your meat and Guinness concoction and top it off with the second sheet of puff pastry. Don’t worry about making it pretty or anything, puff pastry is magical in that way that it cooks lovely no matter what.
  7. Cut a couple X’s in the top of the dough to let steam escape and throw the dish in the oven for another 45 minutes to an hour, or until the top is nice and brown. for the last fifteen minutes I sprinkled some cheese on top, but I decided against doing that for next time.
  8. Let the dish sit for another 10 minutes or so before cutting.
  9. Serve!  Jamie suggested peas to accompany this dish, I just did a salad. I like that the filling is encased in the pastry, and my husband has affectionately nicknamedthis dish the meat biscuit.
I don’t have any huge modifications. I think next time I make it I’ll use a mix of beef and lamb and add some parsnips, and like I said before I’ll omit the cheese.  Maybe serve it alongside something cheesy like scalloped potatoes?  
Can’t wait to try some Irish favorites in Ireland itself!
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What a Year.

How is it already the middle of March?

I keep trying to write about something but my enthusiasm lately is lacking, to say the least.  2016 came in with Justin losing his grandmother, but she had a long and full life.  I don’t think we can ask for more than that when it’s our time.

My mom’s birthday came and went and it was weird to not send my annual reminder text to my brother and dad, who are both hopeless when it comes to dates.  Then my 29th birthday came and went and two weeks later I was the same age my mom was when she had me, and that’s really bizarre to think about.  How insanely varied our frames of mind were at 29 years, 13 days.  Both incredibly hopeful, for tragically different reasons.  I’m terrified of turning 30.  I feel like my 20s offer me some sort of age protection from Huntington’s and as soon as I turn 30 my hourglass it going to turn. I know it’s not as dramatic as all that, but it’s scary all the same.

I’m still trying to get used to being in a world where she doesn’t live anymore.  I keep waiting for it to fully hit me, or for the dust to settle, but it’s been almost 6 months and I’m starting to think that maybe it never really settles in your mind.  You still forget a loss like that from time to time.  Maybe it’s the mind giving itself a little break.

We’re going to Ireland this year, as of now hopefully in May, but we’re waiting on some vacation time details to get hammered out.  Bree and Vince will hopefully be joining us, and I think the experience is going to that of a lifetime.  I’ve always felt like I’m happiest traveling or planning the traveling.  I think I’d be happy working on the road and living out of a suitcase if it meant I could see the world.  I think it’s immeasurably sad that there is so much to see in the world and not nearly enough life to do it.

That’s 2016 for now.  Now back to planning all the places we will drink Guinness come May :)

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2015 Recap

It’s pretty neat to have these to look through over the years.  Eight years! 2015 will not go down as my favorite year, but there were some wonderful occasions to make the bad times a little better.  Find 20142013201220112010 2009 and 2008 as well.

1. What did you do in 2015 that you’d never done before?
Looking back over the year and I’m surprised at everything I did.  I got my wisdom teeth taken care of (and still don’t have full nerve function on the right side of my tongue) and that feels like it was years ago rather than just ten-ish months ago.  Kendra and I got matching tattoos back in February, while not close to either of our first times under an ink needle, it was the first matching one :) Before I took the plunge and got my wisdom teeth all cut out, I saw Garth Brooks in concert for the first time (along with Trisha Yearwood) in Pittsburgh with Bree and Brit, perfect night out for the girls and Bree drove so we didn’t die under my city driving panic. Our HD fundraiser in May broke last years record for money raised and we were joined by some new participants.  I still need to get off my butt and get ready for the next 5k, I walked it this year.  In July we took some friends and their kids up to camp for the long weekend, which was delightfully different from our normal binge drinking and lighting things on fire approach to the mountains.  Not that things were not lit on fire, mind you.  August we celebrated our sixth wedding anniversary and visited the Bahamas for the first time.  Finally ended the year by purchasing my first SUV.

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
Pretty much, we accomplished a lot this year.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Not that I can recall right now.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
Yes.

5. What countries did you visit?
Bahamas, my passport finally got to leave the country.  Now onto Ireland!

6. What would you like to have in 2016 that you lacked in 2015?
Peace.

7. What dates from 2015 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
The entire month of October, just such a ridiculously horrible and bizarre month.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Survived.

9. What was your biggest failure?
Honestly I think I did the best with what I had, I don’t think I failed at anything.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Nothing physically anyway.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
SUV!

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
My steadfast father. My wonderful husband.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
This is one question I avoid every year.

14. Where did most of your money go?
Back into renovating the house.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Travel and easing my gypsy soul :)

16. What song will always remind you of 2015?
Go in Peace by Sam Baker, but performed by Candice Accola.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
a) happier or sadder? Sadder.  I have my good days and my bad days.
b) thinner or fatter? same
c) richer or poorer? richer

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
I always say travel, I don’t think I’ll ever get enough of it.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Crying, for sure.

20. How did you spend Christmas?
re-adjusting to life after mom, It was bittersweet.

21. Did you fall in love in 2015?
Once or twice.  A day.  I have an incredible husband.

22. What was your favorite TV program?
The Vampire Diaries and the Originals, John Oliver, Real Time with Bill Mahr, Grey’s Anatomy, NCIS, Criminal Minds, Once Upon a Time, Walking Dead, and Game of Thrones.  My list gets longer every year.

23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
Still haven’t found anyone worth hating, haha

24. What was the best book you read?
I read sooooo much this year. I meant to compile a list of my favorites,  none are totoally sticking out to me at the moment.

25. What was your greatest musical discovery?
I don’t know if it’s considered a discovery, but Adele’s new album (25) is amaaaazing.

26. What did you want and get?
New SUV :)

27. What did you want and not get?
Nothing comes to mind.

28. What was your favorite film of this year?
Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part III

29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
Out to Pittsburgh with lots of friends and drinks, and 28 ( :( )

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Getting a little further along with the house, I hope we’ll be able to sell soon.

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2014?
I’ve been wearing a lot more black, not to be gothy, but the style is appealing to me more.

32. What kept you sane?
Justin, forever and always

33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Oh, I have a major celebrity crush on Darren Criss. Nothing changed there. This is pretty much my answer every year.

34. What political issue stirred you the most?
Freaking Donald Trump is a presidential contender? That just kills me and breaks my heart for this country.

35. Who did you miss?
Mom.

36. Who was the best new person you met?
I have high hopes!  Not Jinxing it.

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2015.
Grieving feels like a lesson I keep learning.  Good times make the bad times a little better.

38. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

Go in peace, go in kindness
Go in love, go in faith
Leave the day
The day behind us
Day is done, go in grace
Let us go
Into the dark
Not afraid, not alone
Let us hope
By some good pleasure
Safely to arrive at home
– Sam Baker, Go in Peace

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Yay =)

New (to me) vehicle! Finally, something with four wheel drive for our rough winters.  I’m so in love.  I’ve been driving a wee little Chevy Aveo for years and I’m pretty tall, it was pretty cramped, not to mention basically a sled in the winter.  It’s a step up for sure :)

It’s a 2013 Kia Sorento, and I can’t believe how much I really love this vehicle…like making up excuses to drive love it. I normally hate driving, but this thing is fantastic.  It has a lot more bells and whistles than my 09 Aveo had, the only thing I really wanted and didn’t get were roof racks, but that’s easily remedied.

When Justin and I went out to test drive a few things, I had about five vehicles (all SUV) saved on my phone to go take a look at.  I had researched each one, all different makes and models and was really looking forward to trying a few out.  We told ourselves we wouldn’t jump on the first one that caught our eye and we would really shop around.

Ha.  That didn’t happen.  My Kia was our very first stop.  I wasn’t 100% sold on a white vehicle, I really had my heart set on testing a black Hyundai later that caught my eye above the rest, but was a little smaller than the Kia.  I surprised myself that the pictures online seemed dull in comparison to in-person, the white has sort of a pearly sheen that will look great once we get some sun around here again. I liked everything about it during the test drive and we chatted with the sales associate about the details and she offered to appraise my car for trade in.  We assumed we could get an estimate and then go on to the next dealership.  The saleswoman came back with the trade-in value, which was less than we hopes but really not surprising.  We talked numbers, and the price was very fair but we still wanted to check out the other vehicles I had saved.

Well the saleswoman went back to talk to her manager and came back with a figure I still can’t believe.  They must need to push inventory this time of year or something because they offered us exactly what we wanted.  There was very little chance we would have found a better deal anywhere else, and the Kia was the one vehicle Justin liked as much as I did.  We gave it another test run, this time with him in the driver’s seat to see if he could pick up on any quirks I couldn’t, and finally found ourself signing over my car and in return signing a zillion papers to take my Kia home.

After we got the shocking price we kept laughing to each other teasing that we said we were not going to do what we were doing; buy the first one we test drove, but it is what it is.  We both love it.  We fought over who got to drive it home and ended up making a stop and switching.  Technically it’s mine, but I’m glad to have something Justin will enjoy driving whenever he needs to.

Finally, my favorite part of my new SUV, in all my domestic glory:

LOOK AT ALL THE SPACE!  I do most of my grocery shopping in bulk every two weeks, so this is basically a dream come true.  I love it!

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(Belated) Bahamas 6th Wedding Anniversary Trip

I had this post started before things kind of fell apart the last couple months, but better late than never, right?  This trip happened in August, just a little bit before things got really bad with mom.  I’m keeping with my New Year’s resolution from last year, I’ve blogged about most of the exciting stuff and depressing stuff, so here’s a peek at a very happy getaway.

We’ve been married for over six years now!  I know in the measure of a lifetime that’s really not that long, but considering the world we live in today with most marriages not lasting longer than a Kardashian minute I think it’s worth celebrating the fact that we’re still one another’s best friend and haven’t entertained too many homicidal thoughts.

We decided somewhat last minute to go to the Bahamas for our anniversary thanks to a Groupon Getaways deal I found because I’m always looking for our next getaway ;)  Travel is good for the soul!

We went to Mexico for our honeymoon, so the thought of going to another tropical paradise was enticing, and with less than a month before we were supposed to leave I bought the Groupon and set up our trip.  That was a long month’s wait after that.

Just for fun, here we are waiting to board our plane for our honeymoon in 2009, taken on my lovely Blackberry Storm back in the day:

 And then here we are in August 2015, not quite the baby faces anymore, but camera phone quality sure is better:

Justin still has the same hairstyle, which made me laugh for some reason :) Where does the time go?

This was both of our first times in the Bahamas, and in true touristy delight here’s the stereotypical arrival picture:

We stayed at the Pelican Bay Hotel in Port Lucaya on the Grand Bahamas Island.  I was a little bummed I couldn’t find a good deal for another all-inclusive like we had in Mexico, but on the upside we were able to go out and explore all the local bars and food, so it really wasn’t a hardship.  I was really impressed with the whole place, especially considering the price.  Our room had a bathroom, a separate bedroom with closets and drawers,  a kitchenette with everything we could want (even a fancy Nespresso machine and at least $100 worth of gourmet expresso pods!), a nice living area with flat screen, and most importantly (in my opinion) a nice covered balcony with lounge chairs to enjoy the weather or watch the storms.

I always consult TripAdvisor.com before going just about anywhere where we’re staying the night, I love how they offer tips from other guests.  It didn’t let me down this time, it suggested requesting a fourth floor room to get a view, and I’m glad I spoke up at check-in!

And a slightly less overcast view:

 And finally:

 The last picture is a floating cigar bar attached to the Flying Fish Restaurant.  My only regret of the trip is that we never made it to eat there.  We planned to go our last night, but didn’t check to see when they closed and apparently it was an early close day :(

Next order of business after we checked in and got settled was to obviously find food and beer.  We looooove both and were pleased to find out the Bahamas has their own beer!

How cute is this guy?  Seriously.  Anyway.  Beer!  Sands is basically a Corona, light and refreshing and perfect for the hot weather down there.  We found a little open air bar that I’m blanking on the name now, but the atmosphere was great, food good, and beer cold.  Perfect way to kick off a vacation.

The area of the island we were on was sort of an inlet, so we got to do a little five minute ferry ride to get to the beach.

SO PRETTY.  Sigh.  As I write this there is officially snow on the ground here in my neck of the woods.  I would give a lot to get to go back and live in warmth for the rest of my life.  I hate snow and cold at an alarming level for someone raised in Pennsylvania.

I’d say the only downside of the trip was the spotty weather thanks to Hurricane Erika (I believe that was the name).  The storm was supposed to hit the island directly, but ended up dispersing over Cuba, so no emergency situation for us, just some cool pictures ;)

We did get rained on, but it was a lot of fun.  The storms there seem to go as quickly as they come on, and the sun breaks out again.  The climate there is so warm that rain doesn’t really affect the temperature.  Not even half an hour after this picture was taken we were back out in the water.

Could we look any more awkward?  I’m not sure what the hell’s going on here, but we’re not normally that stiff, sheesh.

On our actual anniversary day we tried tried the restaurant closest to our hotel, Sabor, and the meal I had will probably forever be one of my top five, it was incredible. We ordered the smoked Mahi Mahi spread and I had a seared tuna steak, Justin got a stir fry and he was really pleased as well.

Seriously, that tuna is everything.  They cooked it so perfectly rare with an amazing seared sesame crust that I’m just sitting here daydreaming about it now.  I’ve tried recreating it a couple times at home already, once I am happy with the results I’ll post the recipe.  Fish is a fickle, fickle food to cook, let me tell you.

Speaking of fish and seafood, our quest for the most perfect Calamari is still underway:

I wish I remembered which place this was at, it was tasty!  I hate when places serve marinara with Calamari, it just tastes all wrong to me.  This presentation was nearly perfect, the Calamari was crunchy and spicy and served with a cilantro lime aioli sauce that really complimented the flavor, the only downside was it was a bit overcooked, which makes for rubbery octopus ;)  I added some fish tacos for lunch and was really pleased, I’m trying to recreate some fish tacos at home this weekend and think it should be simple enough… these are blackened Mahi Mahi, I’m not sure what the grocery store will have available to me when I go shopping tomorrow. I might have to improvise.

I’m making myself so hungry right now.  You just don’t get this kind of fresh seafood in western PA.  Is 8AM too early to be daydreaming about fish tacos?

My favorite part about where we were was the ability to walk anywhere.  Before we left home I bought Justin and I some cheap plastic mason jar cups with straws and a lid and we had fun sipping on Bahama rum from the nearest duty-free with coke.  It certainly made exploring more interesting and fun ;)  I will absolutely remember to do that again, I have brilliant ideas sometimes.  They had markets, restaurants, marinas, everything you could ask for, including some fishy friends hanging out beside you while you walked around…

…and some scaly ones.

I became seriously infatuated with all the little lizards scurrying about.  We didn’t find any in our room or anything, but these little guys were everywhere on the grounds and just cute enough for me to want to try to smuggle them back with us.  I didn’t.  But I wanted to.

Nights we spent mostly on our balcony.  With rum.  We had wifi, but it was mostly enjoying each other’s company and marveling about how we manage to still be each other’s favorite person after all this time.  It’s been six years of marriage, but also nine years of dating and cohabiting.  Like I said before, in a lifetime we’re still a blip, but I feel like if I’m still wondering how I got so lucky and we’ve been together close to a decade, well maybe we’re doing something right.

The last full day we were there the weather was off an on raining again, but it was still so warm that a little rain here and there didn’t really bother us.  We took ourselves to the beach one last time and plopped our chairs right in the tide.

And as with the stereotypical arrival picture, here’s a shot of leaving the islands.  I couldn’t quite talk Justin into my favorite sad face, haha


And when all is said and done, there really is no place like home.  I think Penny officially decided we were just going to keep leaving her (we traveled a lot this summer!) and she was our little shadow and on perfect behavior for about a week.  After verifying that we seemed to be staying put it was cat business as usual.

Soon enough (hopefully January!) we’ll be putting together our Ireland vacation for 2016.  I’m not super crazy about the red eye it takes to get there normally, but I am beside myself thinking about all the history I’m going to get to soak up.  This is basically our dream vacation finally becoming a reality, and I cannot wait to write about the plans!

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If I Could Only Stop Leaking

Here’s the thing they don’t tell you about mourning someone (maybe that’ll be another entire blog post, because there are many things they don’t tell you) is that it just keeps punching. You get a reprieve for a bit, but it always comes back to sneak up on you.  It’s been two months and I still feel like I could choke on the pain sometimes.  Only sometimes.  Other times I’m laughing or grumbling about something or other or just simply doing my job or working on a grocery list.  I’m living.  Then all of a sudden I look at a hummingbird feeder she bought me six years ago and completely lose my shit.  I was in our Giant Eagle grocery store yesterday and almost lost it in the cat food aisle because I remember a time my brother and I were grocery shopping with my mom and my brother wanted to go to the Eagle’s Nest (a little play area where they keep an eye on your kid for you while you shop for those of you not in PA) but my mom told him he couldn’t because we were just going to be in there a short while, when I know the reason he couldn’t go was because I was just slightly over their age limit and she was avoiding a tantrum from 8 or 9 year old me.

This is the reality of mourning, getting blindsided by insignificant memories while you’re picking up 24 cans of Friskies for the stray that lives on your porch.

I tell myself I have a lot to be thankful for when it comes to my mom.  Some kids don’t have a mom when they’re young.  Some kids have shitty moms.  Some kids wish they could have had a quarter of the devotion my mom gave my brother and I when we were little.

Basically, I attempted to reduce the fact that I’m missing her to trying to appreciate the fact that I had her in the first place.  Eat your spinach because there are starving kids in Africa.  But my mom’s not spinach.  She’s gone and I miss her and I’ll carry this hurt forever, so I’ll mourn however I damn well please.

I was fortunate enough to have a mother who loved my brother and I so much that it’s physically painful to me to miss her, and I wish every kid was as lucky as we were. What a juxtaposition life can be.

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The Second Amendment

Full disclosure. I started this post 3/27/2013, it just never felt finished or publishable.

It was the Sandy Hook tragedy that originally made me think that maybe I needed to just write out my feelings about guns in general.  I didn’t realize how desensitized I became to mass shootings until a few more years had passed and I find myself skimming over the latest violence in any given part of our country.

I should probably disclaim first of all that I’m a lefty in both the literal and political sense.  I relate better to the Democratic party and a lot of beliefs that either affect me personally or are near and dear to my heart are things that the left-wingers also find important.  I don’t make this any sort of secret.  I’m an Atheist feminist who thinks any consenting adult should be able to get married to any other consenting adult(s) and individual women should have the final say about what goes on with their bodies.

That said, I’m also a pretty big fan of guns.  Exhibit A:

and Exhibit B

Pictures are basically to show you I’m not blowing smoke (ha, see what I did there?).

Sometimes I look around and I don’t recognize the world I’m living in anymore.  Violence isn’t new.  Gun violence isn’t new.  Children getting gunned down in school isn’t even new.  I still remember where I was when I found out about Columbine.  I was still riding a pedal bike and exploring random patches of woods in our small Pennsylvania town with my best friend.  I remember that particular day Kendra and I were working on an epic tree fortress across a viaduct and probably on posted property on a river bank.  We didn’t worry about getting shot at.  I still don’t.

I do worry about our society.  I worry that people care too much about their own right to bear arms that they’re not worried enough about the people whose right to the pursuit of happiness was extinguished tragically early.  I worry that people are too busy pointing fingers at gun owners and labeling them as potentially dangerous criminal rednecks and gangsters that they’re not worried enough about the right that was so important to the people that created our county that they made it number two on their top list of important things for a fledgling nation.  Above all I worry about this two party system tearing our county apart.

The country is not split into good people and Obama supporters.  It’s not split into the Don’t Tread on Me’s and Moms against Gun Violence.  The country is also not split into mentally sound people and Conservatives.

So, what do we do?

Because we have to do something.  Sitting back and stockpiling ammo or circling petitions for more gun control isn’t doing anything about making society safer.  I think there’s a million little arguments to be made for and against guns, and every tiny little argument is going to infuriate someone, so here’s my two cents.

You cannot make owning a gun illegal.  If you do that you might as well say goodbye to what makes us a county.  You cannot tell a law-abiding citizen they cannot own a gun, a person has the right until they screw it up, then that’s that.

If I had a crystal ball and I was able to see into a future where the United States had gun laws like Australia and our crime also mirrored that of Australia, I would say round up the firearms now and lets be done with it.  The problem with that is we’re not Australia.  Our cultures and histories are apples and oranges.  While Australia was already heavily influenced by the strict gun attitudes of Britain, the U.S. has been saturated in gun and gun culture since our conception.  That’s not really a bad thing, it just means that there are way too many firearms for the “round ‘em up” approach everyone is so worried about to actually be feasible.  Stricter gun laws just won’t work because at this point there are probably just as many, if not more guns than people in the U.S.  We need to be smarter.

That said, the statement about a “well regulated militia” is outdated and not very…practical anymore.  You can have all the automatic firepower you want, but it’s not going to do any good against a government that has nuclear weapons at their disposal.  Let’s face it, if our government wanted to crush the people it would not be hard to do.  We put trust into our elected leaders that they are, at the core,  generally good people and not tyrants bent on world domination.  Greedy, sure.  Corrupt?  Probably, but we don’t have a congress of 21st century Hitlers hanging out on capital hill.  Not until hysteria sets in, anyway.

I don’t think your average citizen needs easy access to an automatic or semi automatic weapon.  Short of the zombie apocalypse (and we already know Kitana’s are better for killing zombies with anyway) there’s no war going on on our doorstep.  We’re fortunate enough that we’re not a warzone and we’re landlocked enough that it would make it very hard to invade (although you gotta watch out for those shifty Canadians).  The guns themselves are very fun to shoot, but I wouldn’t reach for one to defend myself against an intruder in my home over a much smaller handgun.

So what then?  No fun guns for anyone?  I think access should be granted, but it needs to be damn hard to obtain one.  And to clarify, I don’t care if it’s a auto, semi auto, rifle, musket, handgun…they should all be treated like a deadly weapon.

Background checks.  Background checks. Background checks.

My career is background checks.  I review background checks for the federal government.  I understand what goes into them and I understand what you can take away from a person’s background.  There’s a million facets to a person’s life you can examine to decide if this person is eligible to be trusted.  You can find out pretty easily the caliber of a person’s character by talking with a couple friends and neighbors.

Many people in a public trust position have their personal background investigated.  After Sandy Hook there was an outcry for teachers to be armed.  This is a terrible idea.

Teachers are already terribly overworked and underpaid.  If you want to encourage your faculty to start carrying a deadly weapon and give them the added responsibility of human shield and defendant, are you ready for the fallout when things don’t go as planned?  Who will take responsibility if a student manages to get the weapon away from the teacher?  Several teachers I know are no match for a burly and/or angst-ridden 15-18 year old who gets the jump on them, armed or not (and I know just as many who could probably take the kid out, then what?)  I started off my college career thinking about a career in education and you don’t decide on that path because you want to lock and load for work every day.  Arming teachers is a terrible idea.

The fact is, one does not go into teaching because they were too over-qualified to moonlight as bodyguards.  There’s a mindset you have to consider, and what sort of quality educators will you hire who are also trained in emergency situations or combat?  Most individuals go into the education field because they want to influence the next generation, they enjoy the challenge, they want to be a role model, or job stability.

Teachers are trusted with children, though.  And in that same train of thought they are trusted to protect them.  Against what, though?  What picture does this paint for you?

What this picture doesn’t tell you, however, is that this person went through a background check that cost at least $300.

The thing is, it’s much easier to get bent out of shape over a perceived wrong doing than it is to carefully break the issue down and decide what the logical approach should be.  It’s easy to post angry pictures on Facebook and declare no one is going to tread on you.  Great.  Now what’s your plan?  Are you going to tread on them first?  Who or what are you stomping around on and how do you justify your stance has any more validation than the other?  You can rant and rave to your heart’s content but it still doesn’t change the fact that the world is changing, the country is changing, and people’s opinions and beliefs are constantly changing.  Stand up for what you believe in, stand alone if you have to, but stand smart.

Social media is a powerful tool.  Just five years ago the way we consumed news was completely different than how it is today.  I can search a term on Twitter and find out about something that happened seconds ago.  Hell, I can find out about things that are currently unfolding wherever that person is tweeting from.  It’s remarkable but it’s also abused.  Anyone can make a decent looking picture and slap on a made-up statistic and before you know it it’s been shared on facebook 20,000 times and retweeted twice that.  Suddenly you have 60,000 misinformed pissed off people and some troll is rubbing his or her hands together gleefully behind a computer screen.

The point I’m trying to make it that the great gun debate is not just about guns.  Maybe it was once upon a time, but it’s not anymore.  We’re smarter now, we’re more informed.  We have the ability to not only catch up on the news but live it as it’s happening.

No one is coming after the guns.  Obama has been the President of the United States for seven years and he hasn’t made a real push for seriously restricted gun control.  You can read his ongoing poor track record on the Brady Campaign.

Our country is horribly divided now.  Social media has made it easy to see and to track.  The problem isn’t the president or Congress.  The problem is that we have let this country become so us vs. them that we can’t even see past our noses as to what the underlying issues are.  We’re letting things like legitimate gun violence be a political platform that tears us apart instead of a funeral pyre made up of fellow human beings that should bring us together.

The reason Sandy Hook first inspired this post was that hours after I read about the tragedy I started seeing Facebook images pop up in regards to tearing guns out of cold dead hands and lovely works of art trivializing the fact that 20 children were dead.  To throw away the fact that 20 children died on top of the 6 adults, it’s completely disgusting.  Dead children were being reduced t0 Facebook images.  That’s also in a nutshell the damage that this political edge to this debate has.

We have dehumanized victims of horrifying violence for the sake of our own agendas.  It doesn’t matter if you think guns have no place in civilized society or if you feel guns are a part of your everyday life.  That is a line we as a united country should have never crossed.

And yet here we are.  How did we get here?  How did we become this country that is so insanely divided?

I bet you’re dying to hear my opinion about what to do about this gun issue, aren’t you?

If I were in charge the first step I would like to see gun ownership regulated the same way car ownership it.  A car is a deadly weapon in itself, and of course cars kill people every day like guns.  The difference with that is that no one drinks and drives with the intent to kill.  No one (that I know of, feel free to link up) uses car as a means to kill (outside of suicide).  An individual needs to go through a safety course and would need a license to purchase or own a gun.  With that safety course you also have a background check in place.  With updated credentials you can buy and sell to your heart’s content. That background check and safety course are good for seven years unless you run into trouble with the law.  Any violent crime immediately voids your firearm license, a lot like a DUI or DWI would do to your driver’s license.  On top of that, any 302 or involuntary mental health evaluation would require a re-evaluation of your license.  We pay for this by having to pay for the course and by the fines collected by violent offenders and minor gun infractions as well as an extra tax on firearms and ammunition (I know, it’s already expensive, so are funerals.)

Every house with a firearm needs to have a licensed person there utilizing safety precautions.  The amount of toddlers getting their tiny little hands on lethal weapons is absurd and needs to be curtailed.  Obviously we’re not going to have police doing checks, but a tip line should be in place if a friend, neighbor, or family member has a concern, and then probable cause is in place.  If a gun is unsecured or is accessible to someone unlicensed or a minor then heavy fines are put in place.  No jail time for these infractions that don’t result in injury or death.  On top of that, if you’re found guilty of allowing access to a firearm to someone under 13 you lose your license for a probationary period of time and the firearms are confiscated until your probation is up, much like DUI situations. I get this can be abused, we just have to work on tweaking it until it either works or we scrap it and try something else.

Maybe none of these things will help, maybe background investigations won’t do a thing, but at least we can come away from the experiment saying we tried.  At least we can say we’re not numb to the killing that is happening every day.

One of the biggest arguments against further regulation of firearms is that current regulation still lets violence slip through, states or cities with strict gun control still sees gun violence often.  That’s true, but we don’t live in a Minority Report world where we can see what crimes are going to be committed before they happen. There’s no way to gauge how effective legislation is when we have no way of knowing who might have committed a crime if it were easier.   Sure, criminals don’t obey the law, but I think we underestimate how incredibly lazy people can be.  If even just one life has been saved by legislation, isn’t that the point of it all?  I don’t expect a perfect civilization free from violence of any caliber, human beings are violent creatures.  We can, however, work to reduce the violence.

The whole point of this post is to show that ideas can be thrown out and dismissed.  Maybe my thoughts or ideas wouldn’t playout well on the grand scale of things, but my point is not to solve the country’s gun violence problem, but show that you can be a liberal gun lover who wants to calmly and rationally discuss and brainstorm options.  That’s what we’re missing today.  I want to see conservative gun lovers doing the same.  Throw out ideas, even if they’re wonky or off the wall, that’s what brainstorming is.  Throw ideas like spaghetti noodles against the wall and keep them coming until a few stick.  Maybe the approach is completely opposite of control, maybe we need to push for fewer gun-free zones and instead campaign for more citizens to become responsible gun owners and start carrying.  We’re all human beings with various levels of intelligence and critical thinking ability, you cannot convince me that we’re to be slaves to domestic terrorism for the rest of our existence.  We’ve literally had more mass shootings in 2015 than we’ve had days in the year, and it’s December.

If you’re a gun owner, are you not furious people keep using something you’re passionate about to commit evil?  Aren’t you pissed they’re in the spotlight, representing you?  I am.  If you’re not, then you’re not paying attention.  Sandy Hook shook me to my core.  I texted my best friend to check in and asked her to hug her (then kindergartener) son for me like a stray bullet could possibly have hit him from Connecticut.  I wanted to vomit, I wanted to gather up all the children in my life and put them in a bullet proof bubble and hide them away from anyone who could possibly want to hurt them…and I don’t even have kids.  I can’t even fathom how parents felt that day.

So let’s start talking about how to, if not create a bullet proof bubble, create a safer world where one isn’t so desperately needed, because one is desperately needed.  Talk to your friends, colleagues, significant other, children, and then talk to the law makers.  Lean on your media outlets to air stories where guns were shown to help people rather than hurt.  Change won’t happen overnight or even in the next ten years, but we can begin it now. Open dialogue and a level head is the only thing that’s going to create a safer country, not keyboard warriors with meme generators.  I’ve found the guy behind this Facebook page a real breath of fresh air.  Let’s make “target practice” and “hunting” the first words that pop into your head when you hear the word gun, rather than “mass shooting” or “massacre”, because it’s past time we made some changes around here.

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Peppermint Oreo Truffles

Originally posted here at Food Lush on November 30th, 2011.

The holiday season just keeps getting better and better as all the awesome seasonal food hits the store.

Exhibit A:

Um, yum. I MIGHT have thought for half a second about skipping the milk and dipping my Oreos in a little cup of this, but I restrained myself and made truffles instead.

You’ve probably seen/heard/made Oreo truffles before. I was first introduced to them by my future sister-in-law when I was getting married, as something I could handle making in all my lack-of-baking-skills glory for the reception cookie table. (I don’t know about your neck of the woods, but in PA there had better be a cookie table or there will be blood.) Anyway. Oreo truffles. There are three ingredients:

A package of cream cheese
A package of Oreos
Melted chocolate bark/melty candy for dipping.

For Peppermint Oreo Truffles I swapped out half a bag of regular double-stuff Oreos for half a bag of the peppermint variety, but you can go crazy and use all peppermint. Leave the package of cream cheese out in room temperature and use a food processor to chop up the cookies. Combine the cream cheese and cookie bits and refrigerate for about half an hour just so it’s easier to handle. Roll small balls of the cookie/cream cheese mixture and dunk it in the melted chocolate. If you want to dress these up and give them away as gifts you can get fancy and swirl some white chocolate over them. Store them in the fridge until you’re ready to gift them or eat them.

I just use a fork dipped in the melted white chocolate to get the swirly effect, I think it’s passable for candy-shop quality, right? Ahem.  I might have to look into a few more recipes, but for now I’m going to go destroy my diet on peppermint+chocolate.

What sweets are you whipping up this holiday season? 

 

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Peppermint Mocha Kahlua

Originally posted here at Food Lush on November 9th, 2011.

I made the BEST holiday drink!

5 oz. coffee
2 oz. milk
1 oz. whipped vodka
2 oz. of the kahlua

Pour it all over ice. It tastes like a fantastic holiday-inspired iced coffee. My next experiment will be a hot chocolate based drink, then it’s off to some holly jolly white Russians. It is (sadly) limited edition for the holidays, so I will be stocking up for the off-season (because iced coffee is great year-round! Also: peppermint. mocha.).

5 oz. coffee
2 oz. milk
1 oz. whipped vodka
2 oz. of the kahlua

Pour it all over ice. It tastes like a fantastic holiday-inspired iced coffee. My next experiment will be a hot chocolate based drink, then it’s off to some holly jolly white Russians. It is (sadly) limited edition for the holidays, so I will be stocking up for the off-season (because iced coffee is great year-round! Also: peppermint. mocha.).

Posted in Drinks, recipes | Leave a comment