personal

Morel of the Story

foraging morel mushrooms eat local

I don’t quite have the words to capture the magic I feel in this place. Particularly in this rainy spring weather. The birds in chorus. The forest full with fresh greens. Moss covered trees. Fungi on everything. Damp bark, the clean, fresh air. Little tree frogs. Red tailed squirrels. A white tail frolicking away from us. The energy of trees that are hundreds of years old. The view of the river bluffs carved from the same glacier that made the ole Mississippi.

I’m at my dad’s (no longer working) farm, that has been in our family for almost 200 years. The farm land (consisting of corn and soybeans as crops) was sold a few years ago. What’s left? 150 acres of woods, creeks, ponds, and furry friends!

Sup lil brah

Sup lil brah

fungi on bark
I want his shell to be replicated into art for my home! So pretty!

I want his shell to be replicated into art for my home! So pretty!

An atmosphere perfect for foraging morels. Morel mushrooms are incredibly good tasting mushrooms that can’t be cultivated. They (seemingly) just grow at random during the Spring. They are native to the midwest– and they are fabulously yummy. I’ve only come down to the farm maybe twice before during this time of year. I remember coming as a kid, and being very disappointed in the process. My husband has a joke he loves to say, “Alexandra vs nature”– well imagine a young kid version of this. Bugs? Cold? Rain? Looking in dirt? Yeah not so ideal. But adult Alexandra, while still hating insects in my space, handles all of this much better. And in fact, I kinda love it!

fresh morel mushroom spring illinois midwest

Walking in the woods, listening to the birds, the crunch of the branches beneath my feet. It is very much a magical, meditative experience.

Then comes the actual search process. This is the part I am learning I am not so good at. I thought being so distinctive, I would have no trouble with this. Pattern recognition is my jam. Well, finding them is a pretty random game. There needs to be some sunlight, so that the land isn’t too moist. And they tend to be close to elm trees, but not necessarily directly under them. Lots of rain seems to help them to pop up, too.

I’m embarrassed that my initial thoughts made me feel like I was in a real life version of Zelda. Searching for any oddities or things out of place. I felt like I was pretty good at that. I found a tree frog, countless spiders, a deer antler, various other types of fungi, deer fur, and more. But the morels… a bit tougher. I found the first one of the trip, but my beginners luck ended there. The thrill of finding one is addictive. It feels like finding gold–nature’s gold, that is! 

My dad really seems to have a knack for it. Miraculously, on day 2, my dad found the hot spot of all hot spots. We found an area with about 100 morels! It was like hitting the jackpot. So so satisfying, everywhere we turned we could find one! So satisfying. 

This is beyond farm to table. This is natural food, uncultivated, just created because mother nature is incredible, then foraged and immediately put on the table. I’m beginning to understand the appeal of hunting. I’m much happier with being the gatherer in the hunter-gathering scenario though! 😅

I’m so thankful for the experience: for the connection to the land and my food! “Morel” of the story: I came back after 3 days having a much deeper appreciation for all that our mother earth provides for us! -AHS

morel mushrooms pike county illinois
morels on burger with spinach
morels with butter and white wine

How to Prepare morels

In terms of preparation- simpler is better! My step mom lightly breads them and fries them. A delicious option if you are into crunch! After cleaning them thoroughly (and I mean thoroughly!!!) I prepared them in a large pan. I heated them and let them release their water for a few minutes. With some of the mushroom juice still available I added several pads of butter, and white wine! They pair beautifully with pasta, steak, or even a burger!

morel mushrooms midwest fresh

How He Asked

The pictures from our 2013 phones are really not great quality. So this is from our engagement session the following Spring. Photo by Kristin LaVoie Photography

The pictures from our 2013 phones are really not great quality. So this is from our engagement session the following Spring. Photo by Kristin LaVoie Photography

Yesterday was the 5 year anniversary of our engagement! In honor of the occasion, I wanted to share the story of how he asked!


The year was 2013. The town, Chicago. Conor and I had recently moved back to the States after a glorious year living down unda, in Sydney, Australia. While we had lived together when we were there, when we returned home, he got an apartment close to his office, and I moved back in with my parents. So to see each other, we would often have weeknight date nights after work.

That fall I had started volunteer tutoring with an awesome organization, Chicago Lights, located on Michigan Ave. It was a tutoring evening, so when I finished he picked me up and told me we were going to this sushi place in his neighborhood.

We were driving towards dinner, and I notice he missed the turn, and then he turns the opposite direction from sushi. At this point, I’m thinking, “What’s going on? Where are we going? What’s happening?”

We pull up at the Radisson Blu, in the Aqua building (Conor’s favorite building in the city at the time). He says, “Surprise! We are doing a staycation here tonight! There was a flash sale (lol not true) so I thought it would be fun!” This was not that far off from our occasional change up in routine, so it wasn’t completely out of character. But I was definitely deep in my head. “Is it happening? Or is he just being spontaneous? You’re imagining this.”

We get up to our room, and it has a killer view of the Wrigley Building and all of the Christmas lights along river. Even the bathroom had a view! We stepped outside on the balcony and it was freezing, and promptly returned inside. We then looked at the view from the bathroom for a while. Meanwhile, my mind is going crazy in every silent moment staring out the window. We finally got out of the bathroom (thank God!) and found ourselves in a cozy corner looking down at the Christmas lights. Next thing you know he starts saying all of these really nice, loving things, that I couldn’t repeat even if I tried, because a moment later he was down on one knee and I was mess. He asked me to marry him and the rest is history. 💘

I had never been that girl pestering and wondering when it would happen. And it’s interesting, for a really long time I didn’t want it to! We were so happy as things were- I didn’t want marriage to change things. Also, to be fair, I am a child of divorced parents who met in college (just like us!) and I did not want that fate for myself. We had been together for 6 years when I finally felt like we could begin to approach the subject of engagement! I know, I’m crazy. But when the time came, I could not of have been happier or more ready.

What I love about Conor and our relationship is that we know each other sometimes better than we even know ourselves. He told me later, he didn’t even know the night before he proposed, because if he knew, he knew that I would figure it out. So he had to surprise himself in order to surprise me! He had the ring for months before finding the right moment to make it happen. He also knew that I wouldn’t be keen on something large and public, despite the fact that he is super charismatic and thrives in the spotlight. It was a special night that was really just shared by the two of us- which made it all the more meaningful to me.

It’s funny because in someways your engagement is the beginning of your story, even though it can feel like a fairytale ending. There is so much ahead, both beauty and hardship. We have been through so much over the past 5 years (I mean really 11 years now!), and have so much more ahead of us. Being married is the process of falling in love, over and over again. 💖


So that’s our story! I would love to hear yours too! Comment below or send me a note on Insta or FB! Happy engagement season, beauties! -AHS

My Best Friend's (African) Wedding

Photo by Eileen Laubscher,  BrightGirl Photography .

Photo by Eileen Laubscher, BrightGirl Photography.

To give a bit of background, the my bestie, Anna, lived in Cape Town for a few years, a few years ago. That is when she met Awonke back in 2012. (Fun fact: I came to visit her and met him the month before they started dating! I'm very glad I did because I wouldn't have gotten another opportunity to meet him for at least another 3 years after that!) She moved back to the States in 2014 (right before my wedding!) and these two lovebirds have been doing long distance ever since. I won't go into specifics but it has not been an easy road for them. Through long distance, to immigration issues – it would have been so much easier for them to pull the plug on this relationship a long time ago. But they didn't, thankfully, because they love each other a whole lot.  This wedding was sublime, not just because of the setting or culture, but because it was the start of a new beginning for these two beautiful souls who deserve to be together, wherever they want to be, forever. 

The wedding took place in Durban, South Africa in April – and it was glorious. 

My only picture from that night that is worthy of sharing. 

My only picture from that night that is worthy of sharing. 

Day 1: Bachelorette Party (and Bachelor Party)

I flew in and made it by 8pm after delays lasting for more than 8 hours! Woof. Not everyone was in yet, but we had a lovely evening drinking wine and catching up with some of my favorite humans. Just, ya know, in Africa. 

Simultaneously the bachelor party was going on, and I think it was a bit... more wild... than our evening. 

 

Day 2: Welcome... and other monkey business

This was the day mostly everyone arrived, so there were last minute details to finish. We distributed welcome bags to the hotel rooms of the guests. They were stacked with goodies, one of which was "biltong" a South African specialty, which is basically another form of beef jerky. The local monkeys knew that there were goodies inside- and I was "attacked." Dramatic. Basically, the monkey lunged at me so I would drop my goods. Luckily, a groomsman came to my aid and escorted me to my room. Because I kept the welcome bag... the MONKEYS FOLLOWED ME to my room! Here is a sentence I never thought I'd say or write – monkeys are sexist and harassers. It's true!! They leave men alone and harass women. Also side note: when I was in Cape Town in 2012 we were attacked by baboons... ask me about that story another time. :)

I also was able to go to the beach with the sistah's of the bride (and co-MOHs!). And that evening was the welcome party! It was amazing to meet so many wonderful people who love my friends just as much as I do. It's always fun to meet friends from different phases in life, but rarely do you have an opportunity to meet friends from another continent. "Good people beget good people,™" is my wedding mantra and this wedding did not disappoint. The party went on long into the night! I should've gone to bed early, but hey, lost track of time, begetting goodness. 

Day 3: It's happening! Wedding day!

Today was the day we had been waiting for, the actual wedding! It was a perfect day. I woke up to a spectacular sunrise (#jetlag). We drank bubbles alongside our dandelion root tea (#shedtip to cure bloat! and yes these two things probably cancelled each other out), got our hair did, and took photos. The ceremony was in a church on top of a hill, with a window wall behind the altar that overlooked the ocean. I was honored to do a reading and be one of the witnesses to their union. The priest was a character. And here is really where things began to get interesting. The groom's family sang the most beautiful songs every chance they could, (you can hear some post wedding in the video below). It was just the beginning. And just like that, these two were married!

(Please don't judge my video skills - I was just trying to capture some of the music and dancing of the day! I legit have no editing skills, feel free to fast forward!)

The cocktail hour looked out over the ocean with an abundance of incredible food. The reception was full of love, laughter, tears, and 10 speeches. No, not a typo, 10 speeches. But they were interspersed throughout the evening and flowed beautifully. There was spontaneous dancing mid-eating. More singing. Dance offs. It was perfect. 

Day 4: the Zulu Wedding

I don't think I've mentioned yet that the entire wedding experience did not feel like real life. It was incredible. And then, the Zulu festivities began. And then it really felt like a dream!

To be clear, I am no where close to being an expert on South Africa's history or culture, but I will try to illuminate on what I do know. There are many tribes (I believe I've read that there are more than 3000) in South Africa, but there are two main tribes that tend to dominate - the largest is Zulu, the second largest are the Xhosa. IsiZulu is South Africa's most widely spoken official language. The groom's father was Zulu and his mother was Xhosa, but it's a patriarchal culture so he is considered Zulu. Even for a lot of the South African's there, many had never been to a Zulu wedding, so it was a privilege to have been in attendance. 

As a member of Anna's "tribe," we waited patiently at a neighbors house down the road from the groom's parents, waiting for Awonke's tribe to come fetch her! They came singing and dancing down the road singing that Anna was their's! 

Really the best way to describe the day is by watching the compilation below. It includes a lot of singing and dancing. It ends with an impressive performance by the groom!

(Note: The groom's brother, Anelisa, was married a couple years ago, but they did not have a full Zulu celebration, so they celebrated his marriage at the same time. So there are co-grooms and co-brides in some of these photos.)

The co-grooms! Awonke (left) and Anelisa (right).

The co-grooms! Awonke (left) and Anelisa (right).

Aren't they beautiful? The co-brides in their first outfit change for the day! Belinda (left) and Anna (right). 

Aren't they beautiful? The co-brides in their first outfit change for the day! Belinda (left) and Anna (right). 

The father of the bride after receiving his blanket! 

The father of the bride after receiving his blanket! 

Earlier in the week, the family had slaughtered a goat and a cow in honor of the festivities. In Zulu culture it symbolizes to the ancestors that a celebration is beginning. What I think is wonderful is that they use every part of the animal. The hide of the goat will be made into a rug for the newlyweds. The meat was served at the reception. They passed around a feast of bread, sweet potatoes, regular potatoes, goat and beef on platters a plenty. I unfortunately didn't get a picture(?!). Shocking I know, I think I was just too excited to eat it! 

The ceremony was long – about 4 1/2 hours - but as you you could see in the video, it was mesmerizing. A large portion of the time was dedicated to gift giving. From the groom's family to the brides and vice versa. The gift of choice were blankets. Everyone gave everyone blankets. I'm not sure what the symbolism was behind it, except for general hospitality - and if you ever come to visit you know there will be extra blankets! 

In the Zulu tradition, Anna had to put this necklace around Awonke's neck to make their marriage offish. 

In the Zulu tradition, Anna had to put this necklace around Awonke's neck to make their marriage offish. 

The moment! 

The moment! 

Many of the elders in the family gave the newlyweds advice. Ranging from conjugal rights to not looking at your husband's phone, the topics proved entertaining!

The elders had a front row view of the festivities.

The elders had a front row view of the festivities.

New Friends In Durban
Met these fun ladies on the way to the bathroom!

Met these fun ladies on the way to the bathroom!

Love them so much! 

Love them so much! 

We ended the evening celebrating the groom's birthday. Can you imagine a better way to spend your birthday?! 

We are singing "Happy birthday" - can you tell?

We are singing "Happy birthday" - can you tell?

Outfit change with a view! 

Outfit change with a view! 

The only pic I have with both of them! 

The only pic I have with both of them! 

Bride Tribe

There is probably so much I missed, but I tried to do the celebrations justice. The weekend was so joyous and truly was a celebration of love!  I was honored to be involved. And I will end with this: 

"Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope." - Maya Angelou

Cheers to the newlyweds and their happily ever after. - AHS 

Yoga Teacher Training and Upcoming Travel

A very zen koi pond at the Yoga Barn in Ubud, Bali. 

A very zen koi pond at the Yoga Barn in Ubud, Bali. 

Hello my friends! A personal post coming atcha today. :)

A peek at my first homework assignments. 

A peek at my first homework assignments. 

As many of you may know, my preferred form of exercise is yoga (for more of my thoughts on fitness read here). My first experience with yoga was in my second semester of my freshman year at Indiana University (Go Hoos!). I enrolled in yoga as an elective, thinking it would be fun to try. It changed the way I felt about exercise, and opened me to the mind-body connection. I hadn’t been an athlete in high school, so moving my body wasn’t something I had realized could affect my body AND mind for the better. I fell in love with the movement, and how yoga made me feel. 

Sometimes I am more into the physicality of the practice, other times for the mental peace and clarity that comes from the focus on the mat. Through my practice I have cultivated a deeper sense of mindfulness that has led to a career changes and other shifts on my journey. 

The Yoga Barn in Bali (2012)

The Yoga Barn in Bali (2012)

All that being said, I have decided to pursue yoga teacher training this spring. I have been contemplating teacher training for at least 5 years at this point, so it is time! I am hoping to deepen my own practice, and also bring my new knowledge to create some Zen for the Wed in your lives!  

I haven't decided how much yogi stuff to share with you guys, but would love to hear if you are interested in my learnings, asanas (poses), guided flows or meditations or anything else related to teacher training. 

Doing TT locally (not somewhere warm!!), just thought this pic captured my excitement and vibe at this moment. Xx

Doing TT locally (not somewhere warm!!), just thought this pic captured my excitement and vibe at this moment. Xx

On a related note: one of my long term goals is to practice yoga on every continent. So far I have practiced in (North America - duh), Australia/ Oceania, Africa, and Asia! Europe is up this month. I will be traveling to London this month for a week celebrating my birthday! I would love your recos - particularly for some healthy eats and yoga studios. 

Today is my first day of teacher training, so please send some good vibes my way! 

Namaste :) 

AHS