Coffee: A Love Affair

This part of the country experienced record-breaking wind last Friday that resulted in massive power outages across the national capital region over the weekend. Clay was home for the weekend (woohoo) so we were able to ride out the storm together and introduce the children to Monopoly and flashlight tag. Our stove and hot water heater are gas so we were fine – just a little cold because this house doesn’t have a fire place (womp womp). I instagrammed a picture of Clay grinding coffee using a power converter in our 4Runner for our French press on Saturday morning because the absence of electricity wasn’t going to come between us and our coffee.


{enjoying an Americano on the Ayrshire coast of Scotland}

I admit that I am intrigued by people who don’t drink coffee. It is such an integral part of my morning and afternoon (and occasional evening) routine that I honestly have trouble imaging my life without it. Not only is it my number one source of antioxidants, research shows that multiple cups of coffee a day does far more good than harm. Ensuring that I reap the benefits, I am a simple girl when it comes to my coffee – either black or with a splash of cream and the occasional sprinkle of stevia. No flavored coffee. No artificial creamers or sweeteners (blech…) and I limit my lattes to special treat status. Those who know me know my love affair with coffee and my penchant to lean into my coffee snob reputation. I can’t help it – I love coffee. I love the taste. I love the way it makes me feel. I love the stories behind each region and roast of bean. I love the cultural impact coffee has around the world. And I love how it doesn’t matter what language is spoken or skin color is represented – we can always sit down and enjoy a cup of coffee together. Coffee is a universal language.

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Our Trip to Scotland, Part Two

The national capital region has pretty much shut down due to the extremely high winds we’re experiencing from the nor’easter that’s hammering the East Coast. School and other plans have been cancelled so we’re staying put and declaring today Family Game Day – which sounds like the perfect way to kick-off a three-day weekend. This post is the second recap of our amazing trip to Scotland from June 2016. See Part One here…

Within the blindingly green and blue landscape the comprises Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park is Ben Lomond, a 3,196 foot mountain on the eastern shore of Loch Lomond. One of the most popular hikes in the Highlands, the main path for ascent is scattered with tourists, all eager to see the famed Highland views for themselves.


We chose to hike Ben Lomond on the lone Saturday of our week-long vacation because the skies were blue and the temperature a perfect 70 degrees. We ate a traditional Scottish breakfast at the restaurant attached to our inn and made the 90 minute drive to Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park. The trail entrance is near the Rowardennan Hotel on the shores of Loch Lomond and we were able to park our car in the car park for a minimal fee.


This hike was my first and only time wearing shorts on our trip to Scotland. Because it was a Saturday, the trail was busy but not overwhelmingly so. Our first hour was spent hiking through wooded areas and gradually making our way up the base of the mountain.


The trail became a bit more rigorous but totally manageable as we began the steep portion of the hike.


Water breaks were the perfect excuse to just sit and soak in the view along the way.


Seriously, the views were so stereotypical Scotland that we couldn’t stop exclaiming, “Wow!” Not surprisingly, as we climbed the temperature dropped and the air became thick with fog.


And midges began to attack my legs and face. About halfway up the mountain, I realized my mistake in wearing shorts. Not only was it freezing at the summit, these little buggers hurt and left welts. It was worth it, though.




We’d together for almost 15 years on that trip. Over the years, we have experienced a lot of wonderful places together. I love our everyday life and I love our adventures. Hiking Ben Lommond together and sitting side-by-side in silence at the top – gazing at the seemingly never-ending Highlands is definitely deserving of our highlight reel.


We chose to go down the mountain on the much less-traveled back-end trail.


We treated ourselves to well-deserved pints and food at the beer garden located at the base of the trail. My face may have been covered in welts and my feet a bloody mess but I couldn’t have been happier. This hike was our favorite of the trip and I will recommend it to anyone traveling to Scotland until my dying day. It had all the elements for a perfect Clay & Karen Vacation Day – rigorous hiking, spectacular views, beer, and food. And what’s not to love about that?


The following day we went into Edinburgh and spend the day eating and drinking our way around the medieval city in the drizzling rain. So it was pretty much a quintessential Scottish day.


The Royal Mile was touristy and awesome all wrapped up in a tchotsky package. I wouldn’t have wanted to spend anymore time there than we did but it is worth a visit, if anything to go to one of the many kilt and tartan suppliers located along the famed mile. And since I am from McIntyre blood, I was sure to purchase my family’s tartan in a variety of mediums.






We had a blast wandering around the city and seeing where all the courts, tunnels, and walkways took us. My favorite experience of the day was attending an evening service at St. Giles Cathedral, which dates back to the 14th century. I grew up in the Episcopal Church and we’ve been attending Episcopal services for awhile now so being able to experience an Anglican service in Scotland was quite special.


For our last full day in Scotland we did something a little different because we were absolutely worn-out from all our days of hiking (and drinking!) so we booked a last minute tour through the Highlands out of Glascow. We don’t consider ourselves tour-bus people and after experiencing our first one in Scotland, I doubt we will ever go on one again. But it was a welcome treat to just be able to sit and have someone else drive the mountain roads.


There were a lot of stops along the way to Loch Ness. I’m pretty sure every person who has taken a Highland tour has a picture of this guy.


I didn’t accidentally eat reindeer in Scotland like I did during our Alaska vacation.


The infamous Skyfall mountain. Sadly, no Daniel Craig.


When planning this trip, we originally decided not to incorporate Loch Ness into our travel. But since it was part of the tour package we booked for the day, we didn’t really have a choice. Yes, it is very hokey. But the lake itself is quite spooky with deep and dark water – Loch Ness is the largest lake of the British Isles by volume.


We took a cruise around Loch Ness, which included fantastic views of Urquhart Castle. We chose not to tour the castle and instead extended our time on the water.


After a quick top in Pitlochry for a pint and ice cream we were on our way back to Glasgow.


Our trip to Scotland was amazing and we can’t wait to go back with the kids someday.  We flew out of Edinburgh, where I had the best breakfast of the trip. Yes, at the airport. So if you find yourself at the Edinburgh airport, get the Asparagus Benedict at Sir Walter Scott and a pint of Tennent’s Lager to either begin or end your trip to Scotland (or both!)…you won’t be disappointed.


Flight delays at JFK ensured that we didn’t get back to Atlanta until well-after midnight but when our kids came running into our room at 6am, it didn’t matter that we had gotten only three hours of sleep. A wonderful trip ended with the best reunion possible – snuggles and giggles and all.


Today is my birthday. I share this day with Zack Morris, Ron Howard, and the anniversary of Sarah Goode, Sarah Osborne, & Tituba being arrested for witchcraft in Salem, Massachussets. I’m currently listening to The Eagles’ Witchy Woman, watching Apollo 13, and reading about how Zack Morris is trash in celebration.


I am now 35 years old. I reminded myself this morning that no matter how old I feel now that I am checking a new demographic box (35-44 representin’), my parents must feel that much older knowing they have a 35-year-old child! Along with the start of the calendar year, birthdays seem to be the time we look back and take stock of our lives thus far. It’s easy to get lost in the minutiae and feel like we’re not measuring up to the expectations of our younger selves at these milestone birthdays. I may not be a powerful political player but I’ve done some pretty amazing things. Therefore, I decided to pass along 35 pearls of wisdom to younger Karen in hopes that she isn’t so hard on herself in her teens and twenties.

35 Things for Younger Karen

  1. Don’t eat unpasteurized cheese. Your body can’t handle it. No matter how good it tastes – it is not worth it.
  2. When walking down a random hall in your freshman dorm, say yes when a really cute boy asks if you want a double shot of Peach Schnapps. You’ll marry him a little over three years later.
  3. It’s okay to cry.
  4. Get that eyebrow ring you want in college. If you don’t, you will always wish you did.
  5. Eat at your wedding. If not, you’ll end up searching for an open McDonalds at 1am – only to be told that they’re out of hamburgers.
  6. Whenever you land in a new city – find a bar and have a local beer.
  7. It will take some time, but you will eventually see the worth of putting yourself in uncomfortable situations. Embrace these moments. You will learn the most from them.
  8. Continue to smile while listening to Desperately Wanting on repeat because when you’re 32, you’ll catch a guitar pick at a Better Than Ezra concert in downtown Kansas City.
  9. Celebrate every reunion with Clay – no matter how small.
  10. Find a group of friends who get you. They will become your tribe and they’re necessary for survival.
  11. If someone doesn’t get you, it’s not your problem. It’s theirs.
  12. You’ll eventually learn that you can eat and drink everything in moderation and still have a bangin’ curvy body. Those extra 10-15 pounds aren’t worth the experience of truly enjoying food and the love used to create it. Don’t diet!
  13. Never turn down the opportunity to hike outside. It’s your happy place – no matter the weather.
  14. Write more. You’re good at it – no matter what your inner-critic says.
  15. Remember that your body is amazing. You will use it to hike mountains, kayak in multiple bodies of water, run races, and birth two children.
  16. You’ll feel so incredibly lost during the first few weeks of motherhood. Ask for help.
  17. Embrace your desire to be spontaneous. It’ll be the source of some of your greatest stories.
  18. You’ll never find better french toast than at Tin Pan Galley in Sackets Harbor. Eat as much of it as you can (see #10).
  19. You look best as a blonde. Every time you dye your hair darker, you eventually wish you didn’t. Don’t.
  20. Misery loves company. Don’t bother yourself with miserable people – they’ll just drag you down.
  21. Respond to that email.
  22. As soon as you can afford to stop buying $5 bottles of wine – do so!
  23. You’ll quickly learn that you aren’t motivated by money. If you don’t feel like you’re changing the world, you won’t want that job – no matter how much it pays.
  24. You’ll be happier when your children begin to walk. It’s okay to just survive and not thrive during the infant stage.
  25. Spend money on that trip. It’s worth it.
  26. Don’t ever match someone shot-for-shot of tequila. It won’t end well for you.
  27. The Army will be the source of some of your most saddest and most joyful moments.
  28. There is great beauty in failure. Don’t fear it.
  29. Don’t bother hanging out with moms who only talk about their children – they’re incredibly boring and life is too short to hear someone go on and on about potty-training struggles.
  30. Invest it good jeans that make your butt look amazing.
  31. Don’t wait so long to try raw oysters. They’re delicious.
  32. Be sure to carve out alone time away from your children. You need it to be the best you.
  33. You won’t be one of those people who look back at high school and college and view those years as the best your life. Thank goodness.
  34. Celebrate other peoples’ successes.
  35. Always remember that you’re awesome and there is no one alive that is more you than you.

So here’s to an amazing, wonderful, fearful, intimidating, and magnificent 35th year of living. I’m quite excited and not at all ashamed. When someone asks me my age, I won’t make a self-deprecating joke about celebrating the anniversary of my 29th birthday. I will proudly say that I am 35 years old and I am happy to be alive.


Our Trip to Scotland – Part One

This post is a recap of our trip to Scotland from June 2016. 

Leaving Fort Leavenworth has the reputation of being a bit of a cluster due to the fact that every June 1000+ majors graduate and PCS at the same time. But Clay and I didn’t let that deter us from squeezing in a week-long trip to Scotland while my parents watched the kids. We knew that Clay’s schedule would be crazy once he signed into his new unit so it made sense to vacation en route to Texas. So we made the trek to Georgia after graduation, chilled for a couple of days, kissed and hugged the kids, profusely thanked my parents, and then found ourselves at Atlanta airport drinking beers and waiting for a flight to Edinburgh.


An overnight flight ensured that we arrived in Scotland mid-morning with plenty of time to secure a rental car, drive to our hotel, and then explore before crashing due to lack of sleep. The first thing we noticed (aside from the gorgeous green countryside) was the cool air – the average temperature in June is in the low-sixties, which is one of the many reasons we chose to vacation in Scotland before moving to San Antonio (where it has been 100+ degrees for the past five days). Scotland is home to almost 5.3 million people. And as any guidebook is quick to point out, Scotland has more sheep than people.


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The Wharf – A Mix of New and Old

There are times when Clay and I stroll through Washington DC, weaving in and out of the monuments before hopping on the metro to Eastern Market to grab a bit to eat,  wondering what it would have been like if we were stationed here right out of college. The night he had to rank his top stationing choices during his senior year, I remember sitting next to him on my bed with my laptop, plugging in the possibilities into Map Quest (t’was before Google Maps entered the scene) to see how far they were from Clemson University. Because he’s a whopping 11 months older than me, we planned to do the long-distance dance while I finished my senior year. We’d have a summer wedding, honeymoon in Costa Rica, and then I’d join him at Fort Meade, Maryland – the installation at the top of our list, where I would then put my Political Science and Economics degree to good use in our nation’s capital.

In reality – we ended up scrambling to have a December wedding during the winter break of my senior year, we honeymooned in New York City for three-days because that is the only amount time for which his unit would release him, and I joined him at Fort Drum, New York six months later, after I graduated. It would then take me another six months to find a full-time job quasi-related to my career-field. It was our first experience with, as my friend Sheena so lovingly put in my previous post, the Army showing us that ultimately she’s the boss.


I realize now that this is quite the long introduction for a post about the District Wharf. Basically – it’s nice to experience the things that we long ago dreamed of doing as newlyweds stationed in this area. Granted, I have yet to work in the district using my undergraduate degree and having two kids means that we don’t attend nearly as many cocktail parties as we did our original scenario, but we get to do things we enjoy and spend our free time exploring a world class city. We’ve been wanting to check out the District Wharf since the grand re-opening in October 2017. The gray and drizzling sky on a Sunday afternoon provided the perfect backdrop to walk around where DC meets the water.

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My Glass Half Full Attitude – A Story

A few months ago, a fellow blogger suggested I write about my glass half-full attitude and how it impacts my outlook toward this crazy, unpredictable, and at times frustrating military life (thanks for the suggestion, Erica!). I’ve never been ashamed about my belief in the power of positive thinking and my desire to see the glass half full. And if I am being honest, there is not much that bums me out more than being subjected to someone else’s negative outlook. If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I’m currently reading You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life and there is one passage in particular that has really resonated with me…

When you hang out with whiners, pessimists, tweeters, bleachers, freaks-outers and life-is-so-unfaireres, it’s an uphill climb to keep yourself in a positive headspace. Stay away from people with tiny minds and tiny thoughts and start hanging out with people who see limitless possibility as the reality. Surround yourself with people who act on their big ideas, who take action on making positive change in the world and who see nothing as out of their reach (p. 99).

Yes. Insert the ‘person raising both hands in celebration/hallelujah emoji’ here. My glass half full attitude has served me well over the years and while I do give myself time to be upset or cranky, I work very hard to ensure that it doesn’t consume me nor define my existence. And I really try not to whine. And I avoid people who do. Because time is precious and in the words of Kimberly ‘Sweet Brown’ Wilkins – ain’t nobody got time for that.

While there are countless moments in my life where my glass half full attitude has served me well, there is one military life moment in particular that will likely be forever etched into my soul as a testament to my desire to look on the bright side of life.

One brutally cold day in 2007, I was typing away on my computer at my office in the Key Bank building in downtown Watertown when the Hawaii-5-O theme song blared from the Razr laying on top of some intake papers scattered across my desk. Was it Clay? It had been a few days since I had last heard from him via email. But it wasn’t an unknown number, therefore it wasn’t my husband. It was Fran. My stomach sank. She wouldn’t be calling during the work day unless it was bad news.

It had been 12 months since our husbands left for the remote mountains of Afghanistan. The morning Clay deployed, we sat in his Jeep trying to processes the unknown experience that spilled out in front of us like wet asphalt. Hot, sticky, and unpleasant. There were tears. I love yous. And the reminder that “This soon will only be a blade of grass.” But a year later – we were hardened. There had been deaths, injuries, blackouts, memorial services, and months without communication. During that time, I had found my tribe – my Fort Drum girls – a group of fellow spouses with husbands in the same unit. We were sisters. We relied on each other with each devastating phone call received informing us of another injury. Another death. As of that day in my office, our husbands had been okay. They were alive. And they were finally coming home in two weeks.

I remember staring at my ringing phone, trying to convince myself that Fran was just calling to firm up dinner plans for our group that evening. But I answered knowing that it wasn’t something so benign as a bunch of 20-somethings verifying a social outing. That wasn’t our life. We weren’t that carefree.

Fran quietly asked, “Have you heard?

My mind immediately went the member of our group whose husband arguably had the most dangerous job of all our husbands – Jackie. It seemed like he was always on a mission. He’s dead, I thought. He’s gone.

Tears fell as I began to run the first words I would say to Jackie through my mind. In that second or two, I couldn’t do any better than “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I’m sorry” over and over again.

I answered, “Heard what?” – my voice cracking – bracing myself for the inevitable news of another unit casualty.

They’ve been extended four months,

I exhaled the breath I didn’t know I was holding. Jackie’s husband wasn’t killed in action. Fran wasn’t calling to tell me that uniformed officers were currently at her house. She wasn’t on the phone trying to figure out what our next steps needed to be in order to get to Jackie’s side. She was simply calling to inform me that our husbands weren’t coming home in two weeks as originally planned. Our husbands were okay. They were alive. It was good news.

Once the news that the brigade had been extended for another four months sunk in, I cried at my desk. Hard. Ugly. Messy. My coworkers surrounded me and allowed me to work through my emotions of frustration, anger, sadness, and exhaustion. Later that afternoon, Clay had managed to secure a satellite phone on a mountaintop and we talked for the first time in weeks. Obviously morale was down among the guys. I told him that while I wanted nothing more than to finally have him home in two weeks as originally scheduled – receiving that phone call from Fran and thinking that Jackie’s husband had been killed, really put the news of the extension in perspective. The families of the soldiers who had been killed during that deployment would have given anything to be able to receive a phone call informing them of the extension if it meant their soldier were alive.

Yes, the extension wasn’t ideal. It fact, it pretty much sucked. But whenever I found myself wallowing in self-pity, I’d think back to that phone call and the wave of relief that ran like current through me as I was informed about the extension rather than given news of another casualty. It could have been worse. Much worse. And eventually, 16 months after we sat in his Jeep, unsure of what the next year would bring, we were together again.


It may not seem like a big moment to anyone but me, but that phone call exemplifies my outlook on life. There will be times that life simply sucks. There is no avoiding those sucky moments. But they can be a lot less sucky when you focus on the positive, no matter how small the positive molecules may be at that moment in time. Whether it be that feeling of relief when the news isn’t the absolute worst you could hear or simply the smell of fresh cut grass or the sound of the waves crashing into shore, those little specks of positivity can be a life line. They certaintly are for me.

Amelia Island, Florida

When we learned that Clay would actually be home over President’s Day weekend, we made plans to fly down to Florida so we could checked out my parent’s new beach condo on Amelia Island. My dad retired this past summer so my parents decided to really lean into their new phase of life and get a second place on the ocean. However, due to Lucy having some health issues, we scrapped our initial plans and decided to drive down to the sunshine state to avoid having to board her. And that is the story of how ended up spending 24 hours in the 4Runner in order to spend 60 hours at the beach. Yes – we’re slightly bonkers, as evident by the wide-eyed looks we received when people found out about our plans.


She’s worth it though.

We left Thursday night after Clay battled holiday weekend traffic on the commuter bus. We drove for about four hours and spent the night in rural North Carolina where pet-friendly hotels are not readily available but we managed to find one with good reviews on Trip Advisor (no murders!). After breakfast at McDonalds (it was slim pickins’), we fought our way through I-95 traffic and were driving onto Amelia Island by early afternoon in 70-degree weather.


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