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Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Two Thousand Fifteen

{ Photos by Jeff Clark }
This will be my last post of the year which seems crazy. As we get older everything moves faster. Normally, I post my Christmas Card and say have a great holiday everyone! The first post of a new year is then my introspective recap of the prior and a hopeful direction for the new. This year I don't want to do that. This year I want to be done with this year as soon as possible. I don't want any strings to touch 2016 lest they poison it with their bad mojo.

It hasn't been the worst year of my life by any means. Trust me, I've had much worse. But it has been one of those years where nothing seemed to go right. That starts to weigh you down and drain your battery because you never get the chance to replenish it. For the blog that has meant my creativity has suffered a bit I think. My pictures have suffered a bit. My writing, as always, has helped me through it, but I feel a bit like a broken record at this point. Did I mention that I woke up January 1, 2015 with a massive cold? 

For all of my moaning there have been some great times this year. The band has been great, I had a work project early in the year that was the best time of my professional career and I got to go to Seattle. Miss A has woken me up at 5am every day for her breakfast and in a totally unplanned development, I'm in the best shape of my life. 

For all of my declaring that no portion of this year shall touch the next, my first post of next year will be a holiday wrap up photo extravaganza! It's actually just an excuse to share pics of my ridiculously adorable niece and nephew. Surely that's alright to make the cross-over?

I do want to say a huge thank you to my readers. It just means the world to me that you've hung in there for years and enjoyed Austen Hill. I hope everyone has a restful and happy holiday. Cheers to a new year and fresh starts!


Monday, December 21, 2015

The Perfect Bite

I've been wanting to try this recipe for a while, but finding a weekend morning to do it has been challenging. I finally made it a couple weeks ago, but then couldn't find the time or the motivation to edit the photos. In fact, last week I didn't even get one post up. Boo. It really has just been one thing after another this December and I'm hoping more than anything for a resolution this week, a decision. Trying to balance on a point is not fun.

Back to my little dish.....I really love any meal that I can eat in one pot. The ingredients on their own are fine, yummy even, but together, they create something so delicious that it can only be called the perfect bite. Here's how I made this most perfect of weekend breakfasts.

I started by cooking the sausage in a small saute pan. I used a pork belly sausage from local RVA sausage maker Sausage Craft. Go big or go home I say, and OMG it was fabulous! Then I added some mushrooms just as the sausage was finishing up. Misery loves company, right? I removed the sausage and then added about a 2/3 cup baked beans and 1/2 cup diced tomatoes, some chili powder, garlic powder, red pepper flakes and pepper. Then I let everything reduce in the leftover fat from the sausage.

Once everything cooked down I placed the sausage in a small baking dish and poured the filling in as well. I made a couple of little wells and cracked two eggs in for good measure. Baked on 350 for about 10ish minutes until the eggs set. I finished it off with a sprinkle of fresh thyme and toasted up some bread to go with it.

Hoping for more mornings like this one in my future where I can relax, drink coffee and make a yummy breakfast in my kitchen......

Friday, December 11, 2015

It's Friday, Love

{ A fun keepsake from our show Tuesday night at Dover Hall for Capitol One's Holiday Party }

Crazy couple weeks as outlined in detail in yesterday's post. Oh well, there's only three weeks left in December and I for one can't wait for a new year! See ya Monday!

{ My breakfast of choice at the moment }

{ Been wearing my cowboy boots a lot lately }

{ There's three different color "white" lights on my tree and I couldn't care less }

{ A Christmas Tree-scented light in the darkness is warming up my living room }

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Oh S!&% Cookies

It must be one of God's little ironic jokes that my friend Lara's fabulous post about de-stressing during the holidays went up Monday and now I'm posting this. I swear I didn't plan it!

So anyway, I'm stressed. Like, really stressed. Thanksgiving weekend was great and I felt like for the first time in a couple years I actually enjoyed a holiday. Panic set in that Sunday night however when I sat down to look at the December calendar. In order for work (which is absolutely nuts as we get ready for upcoming session), the band (we have three shows), the blog (I don't feel like cooking, but then I don't have any content) and me to run smoothly, every single domino must fall at exactly the right moment. There is no room for error people.....

Literally the next day a domino did not fall as I had planned and it's been ridiculous ever since. Just feel like I can't catch up, can't catch my breath, can't stop thinking about something that's diverting much needed brain power. In fact, if you tell me you've finished all of your Christmas shopping I'll probably punch you. In a nice way, but punch you I will.

It should come as no surprise then that a couple days ago I remembered an hour before I was supposed to be somewhere that I said I'd bring desert. OH S!&%! In these circumstances I usually just pick something up on the way, but I'm trying to save a bit of money right now, so I quickly scanned my pantry (a bit lean at the moment) and then googled the couple ingredients I had on hand.


I'm calling these my Oh S!&% Cookies! They actually turned out great. I mean how can anything with Nutella in it be bad? They're fudgy on the inside, crispy on the edges and only took 30 minutes to make start to finish. Just mix everything in a bowl and then freeze the dough for 10 minutes. Roll out 1 inch balls and and flatten them with a spatula on the baking sheet. Bake for about 15 minutes on 350 degree and enjoy! Oh, and don't forget to sprinkle the sea salt on top at the end, that's the best part. Next time I might try drizzling some caramel on top or adding some chili pepper for a bit of spice. Can't wait!

Kelly's Oh S!%$ Cookies

1 cup Nutella
1/2 cup flour + 1 teaspoon
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 egg
Coarse Sea Salt for sprinkling

I'm going to try and take Lara's advice to de-stress this weekend. Hoping to get back in the holiday spirit and stop worrying so much.......about everything. I know it will all work out in the end and things will get back to normal. It's hard though when you're in the moment and upset to remember that. Maybe the three cookies I ate the other night will help?:)

Monday, December 7, 2015

Your Own Terroir

I'm extremely excited to be able to introduce you to Lara Heacock, a fabulous fellow blogger that I met this summer through a mutual friend. We bonded quickly over cocktails and I've become a huge fan of her blog. As a Life Coach, she helps clients sort through the chaotic noise of life and find their own path. I knew immediately I wanted her to share her wisdom and life philosophy on Austen Hill. Take it away Lara!

3 ways to get unstressed fast

Because although stressed grapes makes the best wine….the same is not true for people

In 2008, my husband and I ended up in Sedona, AZ for vacation. I say ended up because I wanted to go to Sonoma, but we own a timeshare and there were no properties available in that area when we wanted to travel.  So, knowing very little, we took a chance on Sedona.  I’d heard it was magical and kind of woo-woo, so I was in!  We’ve now been there 5 times and have come to regard it as a second home.  

When we were planning that 2008 vacation, I really wanted wine country, but we landed in the desert.  It’s a beautiful, fun, red-rock-filled, magical desert, but the desert nonetheless.  Surely there would be no wine tasting, vineyard walks or winery tours.  Oh how wrong I was…

Hubs knew I wanted wine tours, and he’s not one to turn down a fermented grape, so he did what he does best – he Googled!  Lo and behold, there is a blossoming wine community in the Sedona, AZ area.  Soon, hubs had created a self-guided Sedona wine tour for us.

The wine tour is a staple of our trips to Sedona.  Typically we go ourselves, take some snacks and make a day of it, but this past September, we decided to get fancy and take an official tour.  Bonus: hubs didn’t have to drive, so he could really enjoy all the wine!  The tour included several wineries, a tour of each and of course, tastings.  

At each winery, we learned something different and at one winery, we learned something that really stuck with me: stressed grapes make the best wine.  Apparently, the more difficult their terroir (the soil and climate that affect the taste of wine), the better they are.  Wine makers will often restrict water, crowd vines together and over prune to ensure that all of the vines’ energy is focused on growing the grape.  Scientifically, what the vine is doing, is putting all of its energy into reproducing so that it can escape the stress of its existing environment.  

Interesting.  Considering that study after study shows that stress negatively impacts our mood, outlook and health and that stress in humans has been linked to heart disease, blood pressure and even obesity, I think we can safely say that the exact opposite is true for people.

Like grape vines, humans also have terroir.  Unlike grapes, when our soil is devoid of nutrients and our climate is aggressive, we do not thrive.  While grapes become sweeter under stress, humans become bitter.  Humans also have choice.  We are not grapes and we do not have to stay where we are planted.  You can change your terroir.  You have choices, you can move freely about the world, and you can create a healthy terroir in which you will flourish.  

We often forget this in times of stress.  The times when the to-do list is a mile long, deadlines are looming and the laundry is out of control.  You feel stuck.  After all, you can’t just up and quit your job, so you have to muddle through, right?  

Not quite.  Remember, you are not a grape.  Even when stress comes from places you can’t control, you can still take steps to improve your terroir.   

Here are 3 of my favorite ways to get out of grape mentality and reduce stress fast:

Get curious.  This is my favorite place to start.  When we’re stuck, we can’t see outside our circumstances.  When we engage our curiosity, things start to shift.  Maybe a deadline can be moved.  Maybe you can delegate some things on the list.  Maybe you have a girls’ night in, so you can get the laundry done and still see the ladies.  When we get curious, suddenly options appear.  

Give yourself a time out.  We live in a go-go-go world.  We multitask; our phones are almost always in our hand and busy has become a status symbol.  Take a break.  Take a walk…outside…without your phone.  Listen to a feel good song.  Take a power nap.  Go out for lunch with a friend.  Taking a time out and changing your environment will shift your mindset.  

Be grateful.  Practicing gratitude is about the last thing we want to do when we’re feeling stressed, yet it’s one of the most powerful ways to change how you’re feeling.  When you feel like you’re about to explode, take a deep breath and come up with 3 things for which you are grateful.  Are you grateful for the comfortable shoes you’re wearing?  Are you having a good hair day?  Did you have a delicious cappuccino this morning?  The smaller and easier to connect to, the better.  

The next time you find yourself feeling stuck or overwhelmed, remember the stressed grapes…and that you are not one of them.  Get yourself out of grape mentality and try some gratitude; engage your curiosity and a give yourself a time out.  Even one little shift can dramatically impact your terroir and get you unstressed fast!  

Lara Heacock is a Life Coach specializing in confidence and balance.  She helps her clients live a life that feels good on the inside, not just one that looks good on the outside. You can find her online at life gets better when you're kind to yourself. 

Friday, December 4, 2015

It's Friday, Love

{ Hoping that last of the leaves have fallen }

It's been a fast, crazy week for me. I had a really wonderful Thanksgiving break, but Monday got off to a rocky start, I hardly slept at all and then I never could quite catch up. The next two weeks are packed as well so I'm trying to hold on and be as prepared as I can. I have a sneaking suspicion though that Christmas Eve will be here before I know it. Hope everyone has a great weekend! Monday I'm very excited to have a guest on the blog so stay tuned!!!!

{ Holiday pics with these cuties }

{ Dreaming of somewhere fun and warm for summer vacation }

{ The cutest bottle ever }

{ A magical evening at Keswick Hall in Charlottesville }

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

A Cuppa

{ My fancy dancy espresso cups }

I remember going over to my best friend Miranda's house in high school and always seeing her mother with a cup of tea. I'll be honest, I didn't get it. You should be drinking coffee, hello?! It's way cooler. Thinking about how much coffee I drank back then is actually concerning to me, so let's forget I brought that up. Not sure when it happened, but now in my old age, I love me a cuppa. That's what the British call it and you know I love any excuse to pretend that I'm worldly. 

Don't worry friends, I haven't abandoned my dear cup of joe, far from it. I love a strong brew in the am, it lets me know my day is starting. And around 3:30pm I will never turn down an espresso. But I have come to enjoy and understand the loveliness a steaming mug of tea. If I've had a hard day, if I need to take a minute to center myself, if I need something warm to help me always does the trick.

I have a new table in the living room that I'm using as a bar, but it doesn't have room for my glasses, so I needed to rearrange a few things in the kitchen so I could store them. Outdated coffee mugs didn't make the cut and so a few of them found their way to Goodwill. There were a few I could never part with though. They are each special in their own way and make me smile each time I use them.

Gotta go.....kettle is ready.....

I got my coffee talk mug for my sixteenth birthday. I was really into Saturday Night Live at the time and I still do a mean Linda Richmond impression. It has a chip in it from an unfortunate fall some years back, and one year I left it at the beach condo we rent only to find it still there a year later and eager to come back home with me.

I bought this mug at the Dean and Deluca in Rockefeller Center on a trip to NYC in my early twenties. I thought it was very chic at the time. 

I bought this mug the first weekend I moved into Church Hill. Special for obvious reasons....

These are my nice ones I break out when company comes over. Company to me means people I clean the bathroom for. 

Last, but not least, my favorite mug. I love coffee in it. I love tea in it. I love soup in it. It's the prefect weight and shape and it keeps things warm forever. LOVE.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Bye, Atlanta

I remember the first time my father told me he was moving to Atlanta. We were in a car on Woodman Road getting ready to turn left onto Glenside. I don't remember exactly how he said it, something like "we're going to be moving to Atlanta". It was sunny that day, a bit chilly.


What does that mean?

Will I come visit you then?

Did you even consider how this will affect me?

I barely see you now.

What does that mean?

I was a sophomore in High School I think. My parents had split up a few years earlier so I had already settled into the groove of having divorced parents, but I was still so angry at my father. I was also subconsciously terrified that he would leave again, want to see me even less if I gave him a reason, so I tried to always be as accommodating as possible. I tried to be funny enough and polite enough and pretty enough and smart enough. I wanted to make sure he was always happy with me and that I made things easy for him. For him.

So on this day I said nothing about how I was really feeling. I said nothing about how I felt discarded and unimportant. I said nothing about how shitty it was that he said it so nonchalantly like he was saying we were going to Olive Garden for dinner. I said nothing about how he should have had words of reassurance for me letting me know that we would see each other, that he was still my dad and would be there for me.

I don't know if he thought about any of that. Maybe he didn't. Maybe he did. Maybe it's too much to expect that he would have. Maybe he was worried I would be upset so he tried to keep it as brief as possible, because he couldn't handle me getting mad any more than I could handle him getting mad. Who knows. Either way, on this day, I said nothing. I think I mumbled "oh ok, so when is this happening?" and then tried to seem excited about the move. Why am I writing about this? Well, because next year I'll be saying goodbye to Atlanta.

Along with my father, his then-wife Cathy and my little brother and sister naturally accompanied him on the move, and so began many years of visiting what came to be a second home of sorts. After nursing school, my sister Genie moved down as well. I toyed with making the leap myself during college, living in the big city, but that was mostly because I was unhappy about where I was in that time in my life, not because I liked Atlanta. In truth, I hate it.

I hate the traffic. I hate the newness. I hate that everyone is from somewhere else. I hate the suburban sprawl. I hate the disparity of wealth. Did I mention I hate the traffic? That being said, I have come to know it very well. I've spent holidays, graduations, weeks and days within it's neighborhoods. I've eaten at it's restaurants and shopped at it's malls. I've been to two hospital rooms where I kissed my niece and nephew for the first time. I buried my father there. It's comfortable to me.

My sister and her family will be moving from said comfortable zone sometime next year. I hope a good decision for them and one that will bring them closer to me which I'm very happy about. With dad gone, that will just leave my little brother and sister, whose current early-twenties schedules leave little time for their big sister. I will always visit them. I will always be their big sister. I will always go visit my dad. But something feels different. After more than 20 years, Atlanta won't be a part of me anymore.

I will miss the traffic, I will miss the restaurants, I will miss the big city feel, I will miss my favorite Waffle House on 85 that makes the best cherry coke's ever! I'm also afraid that life will do what it always does, it will keep going. Days will turn into weeks, weeks into months and months into years. I'll rationalize why it really hasn't been that long since I visited, and my schedule is so crazy, I can't possibly afford the plane ticket or have time to drive the eight hours down until next year. See how I'm already doing it?

To make sure that doesn't happen, I will need to be vigilant and present. I will need to be aware of how my actions, or lack thereof, will affect my brother and sister, unlike my father at that stage in his life. In the end I was lucky, my father realized the mistakes he'd made. Divorce was not the problem, it was what he did afterwards. It was the almost ten years afterwards that he wasn't there for us and that we couldn't count on him that were the problem. We finally had that discussion we hadn't had in the car that day, and countless others where we both talked about how we really felt and what we wished had happened. I no longer have any regrets about what I should have said.

I will always love the good memories I have from Atlanta. The good times with my father that made up the last 15 years of his life. The visits with my sister, watching her become a mom. The visits with my little brother and sister, watching them grow. I will always love Atlanta because of what it represents. Remind me of that when I go on a tirade about the traffic.

I wanted to write about this because I found myself really sad when I heard that my sister was actually moving. I was surprised at how much. I think it's because it's one of the last physical ties I have to my father, to that time in my life. It means another layer of things are moving on. Another time has come and passed. Another moment that I'll never get back.

Bye, Atlanta......

{ With my dad on the river near Stone Mountain }

{ Having fun with my brother at the original Coke Factory }

{ The Fitzgerald siblings on a an aquarium outing }

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thanks For Bourbon

Special occasions call for special cocktails. Here's one you might try for Thanksgiving. Assemble (in my case) a little apple cider, a lot of bourbon and a pretty good dollop of prosecco in a cocktail shaker, mess it about and then pour over ice. Your measurements will be entirely up to you, depending on how sweet you'd like it to be and how much bourbon you need to take the edge off your family questioning your life choices. Finish it off with a sprig of fresh rosemary and enjoy. Hope everyone has a nice Thanksgiving tomorrow....

Monday, November 23, 2015

What Does A Lobbyist Do?

My name is Kelly and I'm a Lobbyist. I started making a point of using that term a few years ago, as opposed to saying I do Government Relations, or I do Health Policy work, or....well, I work in politics on the legislation/how a bill becomes a law side. Nope, I'm a lobbyist. I had had so many discussions with colleagues over the years about how it was safer to tell people what we did, but make it sound a lot less like Jack Abramoff, and under absolutely no circumstances use the term Lobbyist. After a while I decided, excuse my french, that that was bu$$sh#!. Are there some people like Mr. Abramoff, absolutely. But are there also some good people who work very hard every day to make an impact on people's lives through the legislative process, yes!

Once I tell people I'm a lobbyist they generally say two things. 1) Wow, I've never met anyone who actually does that! 2) What do you actually do? Well, I do a lot of different things. Some days are spent in Washington, DC working on federal issues and some days are spent in State Houses across the country on state issues. I work for a non-profit organization so we try and cover the most ground we can with a department of three. This means that I never have the same day twice (which is awesome), but also that I have to shift gears very quickly (which can be challenging).

Last fall I went through a day in my work life which you can read here. Since then, more and more days are becoming like this. Last week I found myself on the Hill in DC working on a piece of federal legislation that we just introduced. I thought I would take you through what I did that day in the hopes of giving you a glimpse into just that..... "what I do"......also note that I did the pics in black and white so they would look more like the opening credits of the West Wing and therefore make me look cooler. Enjoy!

Step 1: Get a bill introduced.

Well, that's actually like step 27. First you have to determine what the problem is that you're trying to fix. That's never hard for me because the people I represent are chronically ill and therefore very expensive. No one wants them, so they encounter a lot of barriers to care. If legislation is needed to overcome these barriers, that's where I come in.

First, I have to assess what we might actually be able to accomplish and in what time frame, what the bill language might look like and gather data and patient stories to make a case that it's necessary. Then I hunt for a sponsor, a Member of Congress or a State Legislature (depending on the scope of the problem) who might be interested in introducing the bill. It is also extremely helpful if you have a sponsor who is on the committee that your bill will be referred to. This means they'll be more aware of similar issues and also have more influence as the bill makes its way through committee.

That brings us to last week. Our bill was introduced by Congressman Kevin Cramer (At large district-ND) and now it's up to us and his staff to move things forward.......

Step 2: Hold a briefing.

A briefing is basically like a press conference. The sponsors speak as well as other Members that might be supportive, organizations who are leading the effort and everyday people who are affected by the issue. The goal is to generate awareness and try and gain support for the issue.

These are some of the people who came to our briefing. We had a packed house so I was happy. They're on their phones the whole time, but trust me, they're still listening.

This is a staffer taking notes at the briefing. She will then most likely go back to her office and write a memo for her boss (Congressional Member) about the issue and recommend whether or not they should support it. Let's hope hers was a favorable recommendation.

Step 3: Get co-sponsors.

You need as many co-sponsors, or other Members to "sign on" to the bill, as possible. Think of it as a formal show of support. In most cases, you need bi-partisan co-sponsorship as well, so an equal number of Republicans and Democrats. One way to help get co-sponsors is to bring constituents, or people who live in a Members District, to DC to tell their story and explain how they would directly benefit if the bill was passed. Here's a pic from one such meeting that day in Congressman Price's (D- NC) office. 

I like NC offices they always have peanuts.........

Step 4: Continued Publicity

I take a lot of pictures. These go on our social media sites, newsletters and publications. It helps us show that people are taking an interest in the issue.

Step 5: Don't kill the tourists!

These are the people's houses so they're public. Anyone can enter. This poses certain advantages and challenges. I'm mostly challenged when I have a meeting in 3 minutes in a adjacent building and I have to not run over a kid in a stroller.

Step 6: Work with staff.

The staff in most offices are great! This young lady maybe didn't want her pic taken. Sorry. They have literally dozens of meetings a day with different groups who all have legitimate issues and need help. They have to keep all of these issues straight, help their boss, do constituent services and liaise with other offices and committee staff. It's certainly not an easy job and I appreciate all of their help.

Step 7: Eat.

Well, sometimes we get to. After the mid-morning briefing we had several meetings and I got about 20 minutes to shove some food in my mouth. I don't look very attractive in these moments just FYI. Also, I think that's chicken on the salad but it could have been goat. Who knows...

Step 8: Take in the beauty around you.

At the pace we go, it's easy to overlook the beauty that surrounds us in these historic buildings. It really can be breathtaking. I hope if you have the chance to be in DC, or at your local capitol, that you'll take the time to visit and enjoy all they have to offer. Just call your elected official's office prior to your visit and they can let you know about free tours, etc.

Step 9: Rest.

It's really important. Our days are long and, especially for me, being around people all day and talking drains my battery. The couple hours home from DC on the train cocooned in my seat really help. I answer all the emails I haven't from the day, get ready for tomorrow and have a glass of wine.Yup, the train has wine!!!!!!

I hope you've enjoyed this tiny glimpse into what I do on a daily basis. It's hard work, but I really love it. Please remember that the next time someone denigrates my profession on TV or social media. The phrase "they should all be" is an extremely dangerous one. We are not a "they". If your car breaks down you call a mechanic. If your toilet breaks you call a plumber. If you need a piece of legislation passed you call a lobbyist. It really is that simple. There are bad mechanics, bad plumbers and bad lobbyists, but our professions are all still needed. I'll get off my soap box now:).