Category Archives: love

Throwback Thursday: Best friend time

Buldog side viewI write about my friends a lot. I can’t help it. They are the most amazing people in the world. They are my family and I cannot imagine my world without them. Unfortunately, the years have scattered us across the country. Of our core group of 5, only one of them still lives near me. One spends a great deal of his time hiking in Colorado, one is trying to uncover the seedy underbelly of cyber security in DC and one is teaching Victorian sci-fi and horror in Georgia.

This summer my best friend and I got to spend four days bumming around DC with our reporter friend. It was amazing since it was the first time I’ve gotten to visit him in his new hometown (and it’s been his hometown for over a decade…yeah, I know, bad friend).

Last month, we all got together for another for another glorious four days in Isle of Palms, South Carolina. We rented a beach house, stayed up late, went on ghost tours and generally had a blast.

Then, just last week I got to spend part of my fall break visiting with my best friend in Georgia. Sure, she still had classes to teach, but in between those classes, we got to hang out at the coffee shop, go shopping, take my kids on adventures, eat a lot of super tasty food AND, most importantly, watch our favorite girly movies and talk, talk, talk.

One of our very first stops was Jittery Joe’s, a local coffee chain that has 16 locations: Nine are in Athens, four are in other towns in Georgia, one is in Tennessee and very unpredictably, one is in Japan. Athens actually has a surprising number of local, sort of chain restaurants, which I think is cool.

Jittery Joe'sWhen my best friend used to live around the corner from me, we spent countless hours at our favorite local coffee shop. Although neither of us are huge coffee fans, if we tried to count up all the spiced chais we drank over long talks about every aspect of our life, we could probably fill a swimming pool..and I’m not talking about a dinky backyard pool either. Because my best friend lived right around the corner and our local coffee shop was just right around another corner, my kids practically grew up there. In fact, they are friends with the owners’ kids, so they always loved going to the coffee shop with us. They’d bring books or electronic devices, share a cookie and let us talk for hours.

At Jittery Joe’s, we all fell right back into our old habits. Well, almost. The barista accidentally made a pumpkin spice latte and offered it to me for free, which replaced my usual chai. I also had to change out my usual cookie for a chocolate croissant. JJ’s has cookies, but they are flat and sort of hard. On my very first trip to Athens, my BFF warned me not to be fooled by the cookies because I would be horribly disappointed. As we share nearly identical sweet teeth, I trusted her. Thankfully JJ’s does have some good brownies, muffins and some passable croissants. The kids were happy playing their devices and I was thrilled to get some major best friend time in.

When my BFF was not teaching and we were not hanging out with my kids, we got more quality time in watching (and partially talking through) some of our favorite shows and movies. After my kids go to bed, we have a habit of putting a show we both love and have seen 100 times like Friends on in the background. We usually start off watching the show, but then start talking. Before we know it, three or four episodes have gone by with us only catching about half of what is going on, but not even remotely caring. We also like to hang out, browse the internet and read fun bits of information to each other. On our last visit together (when she came to see me before DC), we spent several hours reading hilarious book summaries and reviews to each other on Amazon. Yeah, I know, we are total geeks, but we both teach literature for a living, so this is big fun for us.

We also continued our tradition of watching movies our husbands don’t really enjoy. We re-watched Bride and Prejudice for the umpteenth time. We broke out into songs in several places and debated the hotness of William Darcy (played by Martin Henderson) and Balraj (played by Naveen Andrews). It was a hard call, but in most scenes we went for Andrews. Of course, that could be because of our undying love for his character Sayid from Lost. While the movie was playing I found myself looking up the actors to see what else they’d been in. When we found out Henderson had played Brittany Spears boyfriend in her “Toxic” video, we had to watch that as well.

My Cousin Rachel was also on our to view list. Neither of us had seen it before, but she’d read the Daphne du Maurier novel it is based on and really liked it. We both really liked the movie and it lead to a great debate about our thoughts on Rachel’s guilt. One thing I desperately miss about my BFF living 10 hours away is our discussions about movies, books and TV shows.

On my last night in Athens, we also kept up a long standing tradition of watching a Mystery Science Theater production. Every Friday her husband makes popcorn and they watch either a Rifftrax or an MST3K. This time it was The Final Sacrifice. Like all movies featured on MST3K, it was horrific, but the jokes of Mike Nelson and his robot pals made it a wonderful, laugh out loud night. I love watching one of these movies the night before I leave because it makes the leaving just a tiny bit easier. Or at least it distracts me from it.

Junkman'sThis trip we did not get to do nearly as much shopping as I’d like. We weren’t able to get a babysitter and since dragging my kids clothing shopping is worse than a root canal (or so I’m told, I’ve never had one, but my BFF assures me, having done both, that this is true), we only got to pop into one store. Usually we get a few hours to shop all our favorite places in downtown Athens and I go home with an outfit (or two) more than I arrived with. My BFF is the best person in the world to go shopping with. She gives me an honest opinion every time and encourages me to indulge, which is something I rarely do. I, on the other hand, keep her desire to spend too recklessly in check. We perfectly balance each other out. Plus, we have a lot of similar taste in clothes. Since there was no way we’d be able to enjoy clothing shopping together, the only store we got to go in is the Junkman’s Daughter’s Brother, a really strange and eclectic Athens institution. My kids love going in there because they have lots of unique items (and TOYS!). I love it for the same reason. The owner seemed really keen on showing us all the anti-Trump merchandise that had come in. I cackled a bit when he said the only good thing about Trump being elected was all the anti-Trump merch he was able to sell. I told him I was glad Trump was making someone happy.

As usual, the visit was over way too soon. It seemed like before I could blink it was time to load my car back up and head back home. My kids and I left at 7:30 in the morning and there were tears all around. My kids were crying because they were going to miss my BFF (and her amazing dog) so much. My BFF and I were sobbing because it will be five more months until we see each other again.

We’d gotten a bit spoiled seeing each other three times in the as many months and this stretch is going to be hard. Even though I know I will see her again on spring break and we will have an amazing time, it was just as hard to leave her on Saturday as it was the first time I pulled away from her house four years ago. She is my family and without her, home just doesn’t seem quite like home.

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Throwback Thursday: Friendcations

IoPI recently returned from a glorious and much needed friendcation at the Isle of Palms, South Carolina. For those of you who don’t understand my completely made up word, a friendcation is a vacation taken by a group of amazingly close best friends who, thanks to the cruel hands of time and career, have been flung all over the country and rarely get to see each other.

My particular group of best friends found each other in college. We all met in various ways during our freshmen year of college and quickly became inseparable. The core group of us are all from more than slightly dysfunctional families (and all but one of us have divorced parents). We went to college seeking knowledge, but it turns out we were looking for a bit more. We were looking for family.

And that’s exactly what we found. I have lived every significant event in my life with these people. I’ve also lived most of the very insignificant ones with them. At several times in my life, I think they are the only reason I kept going. I know with absolute certainty that I would not be who I am today without them. I also know that I cannot begin to thank them for all they’ve done for me or to express to them just how much I love them. But luckily, I know I’ll never have to. They already know. It’s part of what makes us, us.

Not only are we close emotionally, but for most of our adult lives, we’ve lived close to each other as well. Up until 4 years ago when she finally landed her dream job as a professor of literature at a wonderful university, my best friend in the entire universe lived right around the corner from me. Not long before then, another one of my besties and his girlfriend moved out to Arizona (and then Colorado) so that she could pursue her dream of getting her PhD in psychology. The third in our group actually moved away much earlier to pursue a career in political journalism in Washington, DC, but since he still has family in the state, we saw him a few times a year.

As of now, there are only two of us still in Indiana and it breaks my heart on a regular basis.

Thankfully, two years ago my Colorado bestie and his girlfriend decided to get hitched. Rather than have some crazy elaborate wedding with hundreds of guests, they invited only their closest friends and family members for four days of merry making and celebrating. We all jumped on planes and piled into the biggest, nicest vacation home I’ve ever stepped foot in for one of the best long weekends of my life. Not only did I have the honor of seeing two people I love very much vow to love each other forever (in a gorgeous lake side ceremony in the mountains), but I got to spend 4 solid days with the people I love most in this world (well, at least outside of my immediate family).

Over the course of those four days we tried to escape from a Phantom of the Opera-themed escape room, went on the best scavenger hunt ever, saw a fantastic burlesque show, played drunken Street Fighter at a video game bar, ate a ton of amazing food, helped prepare a few million pounds of food with very dull knives, had drinks at a super swanky bar I do not think we belonged in, played trivia, partied until hours of the morning I’d forgotten existed outside of shoving a bottle into a baby’s mouth, had some funky eggs benedict (my favorite breakfast food) at a super groovy brunch place, and ya know, went to a wedding.

It was so fantastic that we all decided we had to do it again.

DestinSo last year, right smack in the middle of September, my best friends and my Colorado besty’s wife’s best friends found ourselves barreling toward Destin, Florida. Once again we rented a HUGE house. This time it had not only a hot tub, but also a pool. The weather was gorgeous and we spent four days playing on the beach, swimming, hot tubbing, racing go-karts, chasing each other on water bumper boats, eating amazing food, playing D&D (did I mention we are all geeks to the core?), singing karaoke, and biking around town. It was amazing.

When it was time to get back in the car and drive home, I didn’t want to. I knew that the second the car pulled away I would start missing them all so much. And I did.

I went back to work the next day and thankfully it was a silent reading day in two of my classes (the entire period isn’t silent reading, just 25 minutes). I’d just started a new book called Why We Came to the City by Kristopher Jansma. I didn’t really know anything about the book, but I loved the cover. It turns out that in many cases you can judge a book by its cover. In the first few pages of the book I knew I’d found the perfect book for me. The book centers on four best friends who met in college. Four friends who became family and still lived near each other, supporting each other through everything. I swear Jansma wrote this book about my friends.

As soon as silent reading time was over and my students started journaling, I logged onto my personal email (something I rarely do at school) and sent my friends a message containing a quote from page 5 that perfectly described us: “Sometimes we missed those who hadn’t come to the city with us–or those who had gone to other, different cities. Sometimes we journeyed to see them, and sometimes they ventured to see us. Those were the best of times, for we were all at home and not at once. Those were the worst of times, for we inevitably longed to all move here or there, yet no one ever came–somehow only left. Soon we were practically alone.”

It was like Jansma knew us. It was beautiful and heartbreaking all at once.

This year, we once again got to take our friendcation. This time, we landed in Isle of Palms, SC. We all stayed in the beach house my sister-in-law owns. Although it lacks a private pool, it is right next to the ocean, so we still managed to have lots of fun. We explored downtown Charleston, went on a ghost tour, tried out a gastro pub, played D&D again, sipped super fancy beers in a roof top bar that one of my friends joked we were not young or pretty enough to be in before leaving to go to a complete dive bar where we were definitely the best looking people, and sang karaoke. Most importantly, we stayed up until the wee hours of the morning talking and laughing and having the most fun in the world together. One of the best parts is that I actually flew into Atlanta so that I could ride to SC with my best friend, her husband and our wonderful reporter friend, which meant a full day of very exhausting traveling, but one spent with the best people.

On the way to the airport, we started making plans for next year. We all want to see the Big Easy, so I hope we can make it happen. I know that no matter what is going on in my life, I will make this next trip a priority. I miss my people too much not to.

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Throwback Thursdays: Doll Houses

dollhouse boxWhen I was a kid, one of my good friends had the most amazing dollhouse I’d ever seen. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was something straight out of a museum really. It actually reminds quite a bit of the dollhouse at the Indianapolis Children’s Museum, although it might have been a tad bit smaller. I know the house had 8 rooms in it and was almost as long as we were if we laid down beside it. Not only was her dollhouse huge, but it was fully furnished with the tiniest and most detailed furniture and accessories I could imagine. The kitchen had tiny little fruits on the table. The baby’s room had a tiny cradle, and even tinier blankets and rattles. The laundry room actually had infinitesimally small boxes of laundry soap that we could actually read the names of.

While it was not behind glass, she was never really allowed to play with it. Or at least not when she had friends over. I’m not really sure if she got to play with it when she was alone. Not that it mattered to me. I was perfectly happy to spend hours just staring at all of the tiny fixtures in that amazing house. I am not sure I have ever envied anything the way I envied Tiffany’s doll house.

Well, maybe the Colleen Moore Fairy Castle dollhouse at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, but that was in an actual museum and had a weeping willow try that “wept” real water. Even though I got to see the Moore castle at least once a year when I visited my dad, to me that doll house was a true fairy tale, whereas Tiffany’s doll house, which I saw every couple of weeks, was a reality.

I had a few dollhouse-like toys. I had a Little People A frame dollhouse when I was really young. One year I got the Barbie Dream House for my birthday. That was amazing and I loved it greatly, but it didn’t quite fit the niche of the dollhouse I always wanted. Everything in it was plastic and for giant Barbies. There was nothing small and delicate and artistic about it.

I knew my parents couldn’t afford a dollhouse like the one Tiffany had, but it didn’t stop me from wanting one.

old dollhouseWhen I was in my late teens, my great-aunt, who knew how much I’d always loved dollhouses, gave me this one. It only has one room and after some recent research, I’ve learned it was sold in catalogs between 1910-1920 for about $1.25. When I was a kid, I remember it had some metal furniture that looked very old-fashioned (there was an ice box). While I don’t have any of the furniture, it looked just like the furniture found on this dollhouse history website that was manufactured between 1920-1930. This makes sense as my great-aunt was born around 1915 (there is some debate about what year she was actually born).

It was very sweet of my great aunt to give me this treasure of hers, but I was not only afraid of breaking it, but also a bit disappointed that there was only one room to decorate.

Even as an adult, I still wanted a dollhouse. There was a store, about two hours from my house in a crafty little town that sold doll house kits and all that perfect little, tiny furniture and whenever I visited, I used to spend forever in it. There was a hardware/crafty store I used to go into when I’d visit with my parents and they always had these amazing dollhouse kits. I knew I could never build one, but I would just stare wistfully. I remember telling my dad that when I had a daughter of my own, she was getting an amazing dollhouse.

Seven years ago, I finally had a daughter of my own and one of my first thoughts was: this little girl is getting a dollhouse. For her first birthday, my aunt got her her very first dollhouse: another Little People one. She definitely loved it. So did my son. It was perfect for her because at 1 most of her toys went straight into her mouth. It also got me dreaming about her “one day” dollhouse.

daddy doll houseFor Christmas that year, my dad surprised both my daughter and me by refurbishing a dollhouse that had belonged to the daughter of a friend of his. He didn’t tell me about his project because he wanted to surprise both of us. Even though he put all that time and effort into painting it and finding new carpet for the my daughter, as soon as I saw the house, I knew that he’d really done it for me. He knew how much the dollhouse meant to me and that while my daughter would eventually love it, she wasn’t even two yet, so she couldn’t appreciate it the way I did.

Little did I know that it would be my dad’s last Christmas with us. His beautiful gift, to both of us, is still something we both cherish, although my daughter is still a bit too young to realize the full importance of it.

Since he fixed up the dollhouse over 5 years ago, my daughter has added a couple of additional “dollhouses” to her room. Two Christmas’s ago, my aunt got my daughter Elsa’s Frozen palace. Although it’s a dollhouse the same way Barbie’s Dream House was (at least in my eyes), my daughter still calls it her dollhouse and loves it.

doll house backAnd earlier this week my daughter spent her very own money on a 3-D dollhouse puzzle by Melissa and Doug. Of course while my daughter spent her money on the dollhouse puzzle, it was really my son and I who put it together. My daughter has never been a huge fan of puzzles, however my son is obsessed. The newest dollhouse is pretty cute and actually has movable furniture, two dolls, a cat and a dog to play with. Unlike her Elsa castle it did not come pre-assembled, but the hour and a half we spent putting it together was considerably less than my dad spent on her first one. She loves it and it appears her room is now turning into a small village.

Unlike my friend Tiffany’s house, my daughter plays with all of her dollhouses. Right now two of them are full of large plastic doll furniture and dolls, but my daughter is only 7 and not quite ready to turn any of them into art pieces. She may never be. And that’s ok. As much as that perfect, beautiful dollhouse with the tiny oranges and paintings and delicate bedding was my dream, I love watching my daughter actually play with her dollhouse. I won’t lie and say that when all the furniture gets turned upside down, I don’t sneak in there and fix it. And it does pain me greatly when I see the mess she makes in the rooms. But, I take a deep breath and try to remember that my dreams are not her dreams. Just because I liked to play one way doesn’t mean she has to.

I may not have gotten to have the dollhouse I always dreamed of, but she gets to.

all three dollhouses

 

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Chocolate Monday: DeBrand’s Tart Raspberry Tasting Bar

full debrandsIt gets really hard to deny that you have a chocolate addiction when you find yourself asking for chocolate for your birthday.

Who am I kidding? I’m not really trying to hide the fact. I have, in fact, asked for chocolate on several birthdays…and Christmases…and anniversaries…and Flag days…and, well, you get the picture. What can I say, I’m a simple girl. I don’t need expensive jewelry. I don’t want a closet full of shoes. I delight in school supplies and truly tasty cocoa treats.

That’s why this year for my birthday, I took out the recently arrived DeBrand’s chocolate catalog, circled several different items I’d love to have and handed it to my husband. I know to some people this might seem rude, but my husband is generally bad about picking up hints and really prefers me to just flat out tell him what I want. He enjoys getting me what I really want and I enjoy getting what I really want. He does the exact same thing for me. Anytime he sees something he really wants he sends me a link, so that when a birthday, anniversary or Christmas approaches, I go through my Facebook Messages and start ordering.

DeBrand Fine Chocolate is a fairly new find of mine. Last year, after writing a series of college and scholarship recommendation letters for one of my seniors, she got me a 14 piece box of their Classic Collection to thank me. It is a well-known fact in my classroom that I am a chocoholic. Students often bring in exotic chocolates they find for me to try. There is also an ongoing joke about how many different types of chocolate I have stashed in my classroom cabinet (the record, if you are curious, was 10 different types).

I fell in love with pretty much every piece in this collection. Even their mocha cream, which is usually my nemesis in any box of chocolate, was pretty tasty. I was equally amazed at how much I liked the gourmet PB&J piece. I have had exactly one PB&J sandwich in my life (my freshmen year of college) and did not care for it in the least. As a result, despite my love of peanut butter, I usually stay far away from anything PB&J flavored. DeBrand’s version, however, was tasty. It’s really hard for me to name a favorite in this collection as I really liked so many of them. The salted peanut butter, strawberry rhubarb caramel, raspberry and cream, caramelly coconut and vanilla buttercream are all top contenders. If you get the chance, I highly suggest you try this collection. It gets a A++++++ rating from me.

debrand's packagingFor my birthday, however, what I really wanted was to try some of their Tasting Bars. Despite circling several items in the catalog I would have been thrilled with, after all these years, my husband either really knows me or got really lucky, because he got me a nice selection of them. Knowing that I am more of a milk chocolate gal, he got me the Hazelnut Sea Salt Crisp bar, The Very Cherry bar, the Sweet Potato Pie bar, the Pina Colada bar and the Tart Red Raspberry bar.

 

Even though the Tart Red Raspberry bar is dark chocolate, I have a passion for any kind of chocolate combined with raspberries. My absolute favorite chocolate on the planet (to date) is Godiva’s raspberry cordials. I am still bitter they no longer are sold individually in the display case, especially since they are nearly impossible to find. So even though this bar did not offer the ooey-gooey promise of a cordial, I was hoping it would live up to the TART portion of its name.

Oh my goodness does it!

Debrand's up closeI LOVE this bar! I cannot stress enough how great I think it is. Even though it has the slight bitterness of dark chocolate, it is so flooded with tiny pieces of amazingly tart raspberries that I don’t even care. Just like the Godiva cordial, I can completely ignore the dark chocolate and simply love, love, love on this bar. Ok, so that’s not quite true. There is no denying the dark chocolate. And for those of you who actually prefer dark chocolate, don’t worry, the taste of the dark chocolate is not lost. Not even for a minute. However, it is so perfectly balanced by the raspberry that I, an avouched dark chocolate hater, LOVE it! Just glancing at the picture you can see how this bar is packed full of tart raspberry goodness.

As much as I loved this bar, believe it or not, it is actually not my favorite of the bars I tried. That honor goes to the Very Cherry. Since it is mixed with both dark and milk chocolate, any hint of bitterness evaporates. It is actually the perfect blend for me. However that bar was gone long before I started writing my blog again, so I decided to focus on this one instead.

If you are a chocolate fan and have not yet tried DeBrand, I highly recommend them. I was not quite as impressed with their truffles, but they are HUGE truffles. And they are definitely tasty, just not as tasty as their Tasting Bars, Classic Collection or Connoisseur Collection.

Overall:
Taste: 10/10
Appearance: 9/10
Value: 9/10 (each bar is $7.25, which is pricey, but they are delicious. And although the label says they are 3 servings a piece, they more easily break into 4 servings. When you compare that to the cost of 4 truffles, these bars are a value).

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Throwback Thursday: Small town blues

My mom is in town. For some people that is probably not really a big deal. I have lots of friends who see their mothers at least weekly and a few who see or talk to their moms every day. My mom and I, however, haven’t lived in the same state for 28 years and have only seen each other about 8 or ten times since I was 14. We don’t exactly have the mother-daughter relationship that Hallmark dreams of.

What we do have is my 97-year-old grandmother who is seriously declining health. As hard as it is to see my grandmother, who has always been a major force to be reckoned with becoming meeker every day, it has brought my mom and I much closer. She’s actually been back to visit three times in the last 18 months. Each time she comes to stay with my grandmother for a week or two, I take my kids up to visit with them.

The trip up is always a bit odd for me. Not because my mom and I have a strained and complicated past that we both sort of pretend doesn’t exist, but because my grandmother still lives in the same tiny (and I do mean tiny) town both my mom and dad grew up in. While I only lived in the town for the first year or two of my life, it is still a place flooded with memories for me as two sets of grandparents, my great grandmother and various aunts and uncles lived there throughout my childhood. It’s a place where I used to go to the Labor Day carnival which I thought was spectacular, but also terrifying. One of my earliest memories is of my youngest aunt, who is only 10 years older than me, in a cast after her seat on the swing ride (you know the one that tilts and turns as riders fly up in the air) broke and sent her uncontrollably airborne.

The town also has the community center my family meets at every year to celebrate Christmas together. Sure, we usually celebrate a week or two after the actual holiday, but I come from a family of paramedics and firefighters who often had to work on holidays, so we’ve never been huge sticklers to the date itself.

On the main road through town, which houses every business in the actual town is the park where we took pictures when I was the maid of honor at my aunt’s wedding. There is “The Little Store,” a convenience store so small it’s hard for more than three people to be in it at the same time, where my dad used to stop and buy me treats.

Driving down the main road, I can still see the charred remains where my great-aunt’s apartment used to be. I’m not actually sure apartment is the right word for it, but she always called it her apartment building. And it was hers. She owned the property. Only a small portion of it faced the main road. The rest of it was on the street behind the main thoroughfare. There was a lovely garden with a tiny bridge over a tiny creek. There were raspberry bushes she’d let me stuff myself on. There was a giant balcony that ran the entire length of the second floor of the building that I could run around and play on. I know she had a few small apartments that she rented to people, but she and my uncle owned a rather massive two story apartment that had a secret passage way behind a giant picture of the Virgin Mary. The passage way actually led into the shop that she owned (but rented out) which was on the main drag. I think it was a Christian bookstore, which might explain the picture. I can’t recall her ever actually being religious.

The town also houses the cemetery where my dad, my step-mother and my little brother are buried. I cannot make a trip to see my grandmother without passing it and every time I do, the wound opens back up for a bit. Since my parents’ deaths, I don’t go to my home town anymore. There’s no reason to. No one else in my family lives there. My parents’ house, which was not the one I grew up in was sold off a few years ago and I have no desire to see someone else living there. I have a few high school friends who still live in the area, but we keep in touch over social media and haven’t met up in a decade or so. Which means I can avoid the pain I know would come from being back there.

But I can’t avoid my grandmother (not that I want to). So every time I see her, I am thrown back to my childhood. And when I get to that cemetery, all I can feel is the ache of a little girl missing her daddy.

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Just Because

flowers 2As I was sitting in the pediatrician’s office last Friday trying to figure out the mysterious fever and sore throat my son had, I got a call from an unknown number on my cell. This doesn’t happen very often and when it does, I generally ignore the call. I’m not often a fan of talking to people I do know on the phone, so there is no way I want to talk to someone I don’t.

A few moments later, I heard my voicemail tone. Since the doctor wasn’t with us and my kids weren’t being monsters, I went ahead and listened to the message. I figured it was probably the library calling to tell me that yet another item I had requested had come in (this sounds like a good thing, except that I’ve had a fairly dry spell at the library all summer and suddenly in the last week, four different books I’ve been waiting for are now ready for me to check out). To my complete and utter surprise, it was a florist, at my house, wanting to deliver, well, flowers.

Now, I have a pretty darn good husband, but he’s not exactly a roses kind of guy. He used to buy me flowers, back when we were dating, but even then, he thought flowers were kind of a waste of money since they died so quickly. He’d rather buy me something that lasts. I knew they couldn’t be from him, so I was thoroughly perplexed.

When I got home, my confusion continued. There, on my porch was a lovely arrangement of carnations and lilies, all wrapped up in cellophane. I hurried to get them open so I could grab the card. There was a card, but all it said was “Just because.” No name, no city, nothing else. It wasn’t even handwritten (not that handwriting would help as I could only identify like four people’s handwriting ever and one of them is dead).

I’d been having a bit of a rough time of it, so I thought, maybe, just maybe, my husband had turned over some freakish spontaneous new leaf, but when I texted him about my flowers and their lack of card, his response was “weird.” Yeah, that pretty much took him off the table.

My son thought maybe my best friend had sent them (in all fairness, he knows like six adults). Now, she does love flowers and has always been the kind of gal to just stop off at a flower shop to buy some daisies or lilies. However, I figured if she was going to get me flowers, they’d come in a vase from her house and they’d most likely be a grouping of tulips or daffodils she got while at Trader Joe’s, not a professionally arranged bouquet. Sure enough, when I texted her, she thought I might have a secret admirer (which was actually my son’s first thought…not sure where he got that from).

I tried to call the florist to see if the card had been left at the shop, but sadly the flowers had been ordered online and sent with no card. She apologized, but was glad I liked the flowers.

The list of people who might send me flowers, especially “just because” was shrinking quickly. I’d had dinner with three school friends the night before and just told one of them my step-mother had passed. Now, when my father died less than a year ago, this same friend sent me a beautiful arrangement which arrived just hours after she found out. In addition, she jumped in her car and drove an hour just to check on me. I thought it could have been her. Still, she’d just seen me the night before and we’d already commiserated together.

I was almost ready to give up my quest when I remember the modern day Sherlock Holmes at my fingertips: Facebook. I made a comment about the lovely anonymous delivery and within minutes I got a text from my aunt asking me what they looked like. When she told me the name of the arrangement “Light of my Life,” I let a few tearsflowers 1 fall. The mystery had been solved.

It was my aunt, who at different points in my life has been mother, sister, and best friend all rolled into one. It was my aunt, who knew just how much I was reeling from the loss of two parents in less than a year. It was my aunt, who’d been right there with me as we made a final visit to my parents’ house and watched years of memories slip away from us as we locked the door a final time and pulled out of the driveway. It was my aunt, who had no doubt spent far more sleepless nights this summer because she’d been left with the daunting task of trying to sort out my step-mom’s affairs since my step-mom had no blood family of her own left. It was my aunt who, lost not only her brother and her sister-in-law, but also her best friend. It was my aunt, who knew just how much I was hurting and needed that lift, because she was hurting right along with me. And, it was my aunt, who wanted to remind me even though this has been the worst year of my life and that I’d lost so much, I still had her, no matter what, because I was “the light of her life.”

This is why I love my aunt…just because.

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Chocolate Monday: Godiva Heart Duet Collection

Since Valentine’s Day is quickly approaching, I thought it might be best to feast on Godiva’s newest collection: Heart Duets. There are only four pieces in this collection, and I’ll be honest, only two really appealed to me, so they are the only two I bought. The collection has a dark chocolate/strawberry piece, a milk chocolate/black raspberry piece, a white chocolate/apple piece and a milk chocolate/banana piece.

Now, I can’t bring myself to try anything banana flavored. I don’t know why. I love real bananas, but am not a fan of anything else banana flavored (except bread, but that is made with 100% real bananas).  I’m also kind of burned out on apple flavored chocolates. It’s not that I don’t like the flavor combo, I usually do, but I just wasn’t feeling it this trip, so I skipped that one too.

I decided to focus on the two which looked most like potential Valentine’s treats: the dark chocolate strawberry and the milk chocolate black raspberry. Since I’m a best for last kind of gal, I decided to polish off the dark chocolate piece first, even though it was definitely the most eye-catching of the collection. I really like the bright red color of this chocolate. The flavor, on the other hand, is another story. Don’t misunderstand, it didn’t taste bad. It just didn’t taste very much like strawberry either. If I hadn’t seen the dark chocolate back, I wouldn’t have realized it was a dark piece. There was none of the usual bitterness to it. It had a creamy chocolate inside, but that was about all I tasted. There was a tiny wisp of fruit flavor which reminded me of a toned down version of their black raspberry truffle (the one that actually has the cute red heart on it).

I think the strawberry flavor gets lost in all of the chocolate. Godiva’s hearts are always kind of heavy on the chocolate. Now, I realize that sounds like a dumb thing to say since they are a chocolatier. However, what I mean is that there is so much area taken up by pure chocolate, that any flavoring often loses its punch. It gets hidden in the chocolate and to quote Iron Chef judges, the secret ingredient just isn’t “the star of the dish.” I think I described it accurately when I called it the dark chocolate/strawberry heart. Although, to be even more accurate, I might have to call it the DARK CHOCOLATE/strawberry heart. It had a good chocolate flavor, but the fruity hints were so subtle, they basically got lost.

As for the milk/black raspberry piece, I feel it was a bit more successful in showcasing the fruit. But only a bit more. The tiny seeds mixed in with the chocolate ganache fooled my brain into thinking there was more raspberry than there actually was. It’s a texture trick I feel too many chocolate companies rely on. Now, in fairness to Godiva, anytime I eat something that claims to be black raspberry, I always forget that it will not have the same tart punch the good ol’ red version would have. Black raspberries themselves have a far more subdued flavor and often, my brain just thinks raspberry and when I don’t get that tart, I get let down. I tried to remind myself that this wasn’t going to be the raspberry I adore, but my stupid monkey brain forgot for a brief second.

This piece actually left me with a bit of a fruity after taste, which was an improvement on its strawberry counterparts. I think since milk chocolate is also a tad blander of a flavor, it is a better vehicle for letting the raspberry come through. Too often, the only fruit combos which really shine with dark chocolate are very tart fruits, and good strawberries should be more sweet than tart. Had the strawberry been with a milk chocolate, I think the flavor would have come to life more. It would not, however, have looked as appealing. And while the dark chocolate may have given the pale lavender of the milk/black raspberry piece a bit more pizzazz, I don’t think dark chocolate and the often mealy black raspberry work well together.

If I was giving a Valentine’s gift and just wanting to score points for sticking to the theme and being cute, this collection would be swell. But, if I was hoping to impress with the flavor, this would not be my pick. I’d go for one of their assorted boxes of chocolate in a pretty heart-shaped box, or even a box full of raspberry cordials, which have very pretty shiny pink wrapping paper AND a glorious mix of dark chocolate with the most amazingly tart raspberry center I’ve ever had. A cute attempt to brighten the holiday, but not a score in my book.

Overall:

Taste: 5/10

Price: 4/10

Appearance: 7/10

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