Heart of Dixie

Two weeks ago, I’d never been to Alabama.

Actually, the furthest south I’ve been in the US prior to Alabama (Florida doesn’t count) was… DC.

Which isn’t really all that far south. And I now know that “true” Southerners will fight you on whether or not DC is part of “the South.” (Hint: most don’t think it is.)

I was sent to Anniston in northeast Alabama for two weeks by my work. I flew to Atlanta and then hopped on a two hour bus ride to cross the state border and arrived in Alabama equal parts weary and excited by my first trip to the South.

The first thing I learned was that there isn’t very much to do in Anniston.

There’s a strip mall. A Wal-Mart, a Target. A movie theater. Another mall, an indoor one, which apparently has been in its dying stages ever since the aforementioned strip mall opened.

Historic Noble Street was what I was most intrigued by because the term “historic” in front of a street name implies there is something worth seeing, But even that didn’t have much to offer by way of things to do. It didn’t help that everything closed at 5 p.m., or when I was done with work each day.

I saw a giant office chair that apparently held the Guinness Book of World Records title for largest chair in 1982.

I fought the urge to yell “Roll Tide!” everywhere I went, as if I knew anything about college football or Crimson Tide. (Shoutout to my friend Laura for advising me to shout that phrase if I ever were to encounter trouble in Alabama.)

I ate at Waffle House for the first time and ordered the hash browns, just like Clem advised. They were delicious but I was still grateful for the fact that there aren’t any Waffle Houses within my vicinity back home because I can’t handle food that greasy on a regular basis.

I enjoyed a fantastic fried chicken sandwich at Zaxby’s and wondered why this franchise couldn’t be found in DC.

I went to Sonic for the first time and had one of the best shakes of my life.

And when I had just about exhausted all of my options in Anniston, I retreated to my temporary digs and made peace with the solitude I was given in Alabama.

I read a lot.

I watched the Harry Potter marathon that ABC Family hosted all weekend.

I fought with the temperamental Internet too many times to count.

I started writing a few things, some of which may have the potential to turn into something good.

I planned future travel adventures.

I saved (some) money by virtue of the fact that there were no happy hours or brunches for me to go to.

(I missed my friends in DC.)

And I left Anniston with the sense that I saw all this town had to offer and a newfound desire to see more of the South if given the chance.

Check out my Instagram for the photos I’ve shared during my time in Alabama. I wanted to include them in this post but unfortunately the internet wasn’t cooperating!

Dinner with Jamie: Roasted Chicken Legs with Tomatoes

chicken drumsticks

“What did you make for dinner last night?” my mom asked me one day over Skype.

“Roasted chicken legs with tomatoes.”

She looked at me suspiciously. “Chicken legs? But you don’t like dark meat.”

“I know, but it was a Jamie Oliver recipe,” I explained. “I had to try it. And you know what? It was amazing! And SO easy to make?”

“All those years you spent refusing to eat chicken legs in your childhood, and a Jamie Oliver recipe undoes it all,” she said with a laugh.

I felt a twinge of guilt, as I often do whenever my mom reminds me of my picky childhood eating habits and what a total pain in the ass I was to feed as a kid. I attempted to backtrack. “I’ll tell you how to make it and you can make it, too. Just get some chicken legs, tomatoes, garlic, oil, fresh basil, salt and pepper. Season the chicken, slice up the tomatoes, mince the garlic, tear up the basil, and toss it all in the baking tray. Drizzle with a healthy dose of olive oil and pop it in the oven for an hour and a half.”

This may or may not have all come out in a rush, as tends to happen with me since I talk really fast. My mom just looked at me.

“But,” she said almost forlornly, “you know I don’t have an oven.”

A beat, a pause. Somehow, I had completely forgotten the fact that kitchens in Hong Kong aren’t equipped with an oven. In my glee to share this recipe with my mom and have her enjoy the same food I was despite being oceans apart, I had inadvertently rubbed in the fact that I was able to eat something she wasn’t able to.

I probably should have said something that would have masqueraded as an apology, a mea culpa of sorts or even an offer to make this for her when she visited. Instead… I burst out laughing.

Luckily, so did she. We ended up laughing so hard that we both almost cried. And that is a better memory than I could have ever asked for when deciding to make this dish.

Roasted Chicken Legs with Tomatoes

Adapted from Jamie’s Dinners

Ingredients

  • 4 chicken legs, jointed
  • 1 bunch fresh basil, leaves picked and stalks chopped
  • 2 handfuls red and yellow cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 whole bulb garlic, broken into cloves
  • Chili flakes
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Season the chicken with salt, pepper and chili flakes and place in a baking tray so that the pieces fit snugly together. Add the basil and tomatoes and scatter the garlic cloves all over the dish. Drizzle olive oil over everything and pop in the oven for an hour and a half. Serve with a side of rice or pasta and some greens.

Love Your Body Resolution: Remember the Mountain

This post is written as part of the “Love Your Body Resolution” linkup co-hosted by Alicia and Rachel.

It’s far too easy nowadays to look at myself in the mirror and see flaws.

Softness around my torso. A waist that fills out more than it should. Jeans that fit a little too snugly around my thighs.

The longer I look in the mirror, the more flaws I see.

To be honest, I look at myself in the mirror a lot. It’s not really the happiest of times.

Some days, it makes me want to retool my budget and join a yoga studio once again.

Some days, it makes me wish I had the guts to take up running, a sport that I have been positively terrified of since those traumatizing laps around the track in elementary school.

Some days, it makes me wonder if I should have foregone pasta and made a salad for dinner instead.

But other days, I’ll tilt my head to the side as I look at myself and feel bad for my body, as it deserves better than the thoughts going on in my head.

I might sit at a desk for eight hours a day and binge watch Netflix regularly, but that’s a choice my mind made. Not my body.

If I put my mind to it, my body has been pretty great at stepping up to the plate.

After all, I studied ballet intensively for 11 years.

I hiked the base of Mount Taishan.

I descended, and then ascended, Tiger Leaping Gorge, one of the deepest gorges in the world.

I hiked a jungle in rural Laos.

I climbed Mount Huangshan and made it to the peak in time to watch the sunset. Then, as if that wasn’t enough, I hiked down a valley and went back up the valley to the summit once more before making the final descent down the mountain.

The last one is the one I am the proudest of. It was no small feat for a girl who had previously never even been to a mountain before, let alone climbed one.

I try to remember that every time I look at myself in the mirror.

This is the body you climbed up, down and all over Huangshan in. This is the body that can do anything you want it to as long as you put your mind to it.

When I think of that, I love my body a little more no matter what I see in the mirror.

I just have to remember the mountain.

Link Love, Vol. 53

This week’s Link Love is brought to you by:

  • Being amazed by the fact that the Internet was working well enough last night for me to put this post together (I’ve been in Alabama, remember)
  • Watching ABC Family’s weekend Harry Potter marathon
  • Finishing Veronica Roth’s Divergent series and mulling over what I think about the trilogy as a whole
  • Opening up Microsoft Word and finally getting words on the page for the start of something
  • Counting down the days till FRIDAY which is when I go to Boston to visit Ashley!!!!!!!!!!!!!

In addition to posting here, I’ve been around the web a little bit this week: my monthly post on Hooray Collective was published today, titled “Me After You.” I also posted a vlog last Wednesday for LXL.

Life
Shannon writes about laying down roots.

Erika talks about defining home.

Kara encourages us to not give up in the middle.

The Asian Pear writes about how a small act she did years ago has been paid forward.

Travel
NZ Muse shares five things you might not know about New Zealand. Filing this away for future reference as I want to visit NZ someday!

I’m also filing away Anna’s post on visiting Santiago, Chile for future reference.

Sarah shares free and/or cheap, fun ways to travel. PERFECT as I have a lot of travels lined up soon but I’m a girl on a budget!

Pause. Rewind. Reset.

If bloggers in the blogging community earned points for being a good blogger, I am pretty sure that as of late, my point balance would be in the negatives.

Blogging is so much more than just writing blog posts. When I think of “blogging” I think of the whole shebang: commenting, networking, writing, promoting, etc. Being a blogger is hard work and is not something that can be half-assed. And lately… I’ve been half-assing it. I’ve been half-assing it really badly.

Time has gotten away from me in a way I never expected since 2014 began. I’ve never had the best time management skills to begin with but the last few weeks (months?) have taught me that I need to take a step back and reevaluate how I approach all aspects of running this blog.

Of course, spending two weeks in small town Alabama with not very much to do in the evenings and a temperamental and not very cooperative internet connection definitely helps with perspective, as did all the thought-provoking comments I received on my blog post, “Unfiltered.”

My favorite blogs to read are the ones that create posts out of stories. The stories are what keep me coming back, what help me create a connection with the blogger and sometimes even spark the beginning of a friendship. These blogs rarely, if ever, publish a dud post. They might not publish on a daily basis but when they do share a new post, they make it count.

A consistent theme in the feedback I’ve received from friends and fellow bloggers is that the posts people enjoy reading the most are the more personal ones. Luckily, this is my favorite type of post to write. They take longer to craft and I debate endlessly with myself on which personal story to share, but the end product is something I’m always, always proud of. They are the posts that I will go back and reread, the ones that I’ll use as examples from my blog when asked for my own favorite posts.

It’s time for me to start focusing on that more as that’s what I want for my blog. I want to be proud of every post that comes out of this joint, for every post to have some sort of meaning. And let’s be real: I’m a writer, not a reviewer. As much as I love talking about and reviewing, say, beauty products (I seriously could, don’t test me), I don’t like writing them as much as I do talking about them.

So, I’m going to do a bit of pausing, some rewinding, and a fair amount of resetting around here. I’m not going anywhere (after five years of blogging here, I don’t think I could leave this blog even if I tried) but it’s time to shift a few things around and see how it all falls into place. Quality over quantity is what I’m striving for; it’s amazing what going without checking stats for an extended period of time can change the outlook on blogging! Hopefully, this mindset will also help me become a better member of the blogging community and “network” better with other bloggers, too. (I read ALL the blog posts, seriously. I’m just the lousiest with leaving a comment.)

It’s not only my approach to blogging I’m shaking up; I’m going to work on vlogging, too. I’m still not totally sure what my overall vision for vlogging is but I do know that all of my beauty-related musings will be housed on my YouTube channel, along with some travel vlogs I’m hoping to film when I’m, well, traveling. Maybe I’ll expand to other topics, maybe I won’t. Who knows?

Here’s to knowing when to step back and refocus. Here’s to figuring out what makes things tick. And most importantly, here’s to the stories, because without them this space wouldn’t exist.