Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Book Club: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)

Christmas is over, but I'm still enjoying my time at home (unfortunately Scott is holding down the fort in Chicago and working this week).  It's been a whirlwind of food, sleep, wine, gifts, movies, and snuggling (or as some may say, "lovefesting").  We just like hanging out together around here.

I've also been reading, which usually involves a short nap too (maybe the sleepiness is because of all the homemade goodies I've eaten?).  Currently in rotation: Ready, Aim, Specializea book on freelance writing; a book for my Jane Austen literature class that starts next week (eek!); and the Jan/Feb issue of Women's Health (I'm telling everyone that I plan to look like cover girl Marisa Miller in 2012).  I do need to track down a copy of next month's book club selection as well...

Which brings me to the subject of this post... book club.  About a week ago, three of us met up at a cute little coffeehouse near DePaul's Lincoln Park campus called the Bourgeois Pig Cafe.  We usually meet at someone's home, but this month was E's turn to host, and since she just arrived back in the US after her time in Africa and will soon head to Mexico for a few months, we met at the cafe.  Good news... it was cozy and the food was delicious.  There was a major car accident right outside (complete with a car driven into a building, yellow police tape, lots of car pieces on the road, and people filling out police reports), but we scooted inside and ordered a bite to eat.

Sitting upstairs around a wooden table, surrounded by vintage couches and bookshelves, it kind of felt like someone's house.  We caught up on E's time in Africa, classes and finals, holiday plans, and of course, The History of Love.  The novel moves between various characters and centers around the origin of a (fictional) book called The History of Love (hence, the novel's title).  E had just read it for a second time, so we talked through a few points of confusion and the ending (I'm not going into detail and ruining it!).

I loved the parts that were written as "excerpts" from the book, all philosophical and poetic, as well as the unique characters and interwoven storylines.  At times, I was a little confused, but a quick peek back to a previous chapter or two would usually straighten things out.  The three of us talked until the cafe was closing down and we all headed home in the dark, messy mist.

Next month, we are lightening the mood with Mindy Kaling's new book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns).  You may recognize Mindy from the TV show "The Office," so it should be fun (and funny!) to get to know her a little better.  Yes, there are lots of comparisons to Tina Fey's Bossypants, but during this time of year with all the pressure of New Year's resolutions and the harsh re-entry into "real life" after sleeping and eating constantly for a couple weeks straight, I plan to sit back and enjoy this book.

via EW Book Description (review by Jennifer Weiner also available):
Mindy Kaling has lived many lives: the obedient child of immigrant professionals, a timid chubster afraid of her own bike, a Ben Affleck–impersonating Off-Broadway performer and playwright, and, finally, a comedy writer and actress prone to starting fights with her friends and coworkers with the sentence “Can I just say one last thing about this, and then I swear I’ll shut up about it?” 
Perhaps you want to know what Mindy thinks makes a great best friend (someone who will fill your prescription in the middle of the night), or what makes a great guy (one who is aware of all elderly people in any room at any time and acts accordingly), or what is the perfect amount of fame (so famous you can never get convicted of murder in a court of law), or how to maintain a trim figure (you will not find that information in these pages). If so, you’ve come to the right book, mostly!
In Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, Mindy invites readers on a tour of her life and her unscientific observations on romance, friendship, and Hollywood, with several conveniently placed stopping points for you to run errands and make phone calls. Mindy Kaling really is just a Girl Next Door—not so much literally anywhere in the continental United States, but definitely if you live in India or Sri Lanka.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas 2011!

We are spending Christmas with Scott's family (my first Christmas away from my family in Kansas!).  The good thing is... I feel at home at his parents' house and with his family.  But I couldn't not go home... so I will be heading to Kansas for a few days after Christmas (yay!).

What a fantastic year we have had!  It's the year I established Melrose Street Custom Content.  I started a book club with my girlfriends.  I attended my five-year college reunion.  I continued working on my master's in Writing & Publishing (2/3rd done now!).  I set an exercise goal and achieved it.  The blog turned one year old.  I took on the challenge of cooking dinner regularly.  I quit my job.  Scott ran the marathon for a second time.  He completed a leadership and development program at work.  We both participated in a 15k.  We went on a beach vacation with my family.  We hosted a bunch of parties.  And so, so much more!

Now, it's time to relax, celebrate with family, and thank God for all our blessings.  Merry Christmas and happy holidays!

Christmas photo cards, as of 12.22.11

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Holiday Cookie Exchange

This past weekend really got me into the Christmas spirit.  We finished decorating our place... the cozy glow of twinkling lights and shiny ornaments were a reminder of the festivities to come.

On Saturday, I got together with four of my college friends (I'm so lucky that they live in Chicago!).  We all dressed up and snuggled into a booth at the Ritz downtown for tea, champagne, and treats.  While sipping tea and nibbling on little sandwiches, scones and sweets, we caught up on life and celebrated 2011.  Between graduations, job changes, an engagement, and a baby on the way, the five of us had a lot to celebrate!  Then we headed over to S. and R.'s place for drinks.  Our guys met us there, and we all circled around the crackling fire that R. had built--red wine, beer and "Nutty Professors" in hand.

The holiday celebrations continued... My sister-in-law J. and I hosted a cookie exchange on Sunday.  We invited a bunch of girls--a combination of friends and family--and everyone brought about 3 dozen cookies to swap.  During the party, we sampled some of the treats and each girl went home with a platter full of cookies, a few of each kind.

I made "Reeses" as my cookie to exchange, as well as a few appetizers to munch on (and keep our blood sugar stable!).  J. supplied the fun platters and yummy drinks--sparkling apple cider with fresh raspberries and a grapefruit punch with lime and mint.

Holiday Tree-Shaped Cheese Ball
Holiday Appetizer Wreath
Won Ton Appetizer (recipe included in 1/1/2011 post about our New Year's Eve party)
Artichoke-Jalapeno Dip

Reeses (recipe from my mom, originally from a family friend)

1 cup peanut butter
1 cup margarine, melted
2 1/3 cups powdered sugar
1 3/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/2 package (about 6 oz. of 12 oz. package) butterscotch chips
1/2 package (about 6 oz. of 12 oz. package) semi-sweet chocolate chips

Combine first 4 ingredients in large bowl.  Spread along bottom of 13x9 inch pan. Melt chips in saucepan (don't put heat too high as chips will burn).  Spread on top of peanut butter mix.  Refrigerate.  Let sit out of refrigerator before cutting so chocolate layer won't crack.  [Final product is pictured above, behind the drinks!]

Holiday Tree-Shaped Cheese Ball (from Betty Crocker)

3 packages (8 oz. each) cream cheese, softened
4 cups shredded Cheddar cheese (16 oz)
2 tablespoons basil pesto
1 tablespoon grated onion
1/4 teaspoon yellow mustard
Red pepper sauce (I left this out)
1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro or parsley
14 cup pine nuts or sliced almonds
2 tablespoons chopped red pepper
Piece of lemon peel, if desired
Assorted crackers

1) Stir together cream cheese and Cheddar cheese; divide in half.  Stir pesto in 1 half; stir onion, mustard, and 2-3 drops pepper sauce into other half.  Cover each half; refrigerate for 4 hours or until firm enough to shape (I only put in the fridge for about an hour).

2) Place cheese mixtures on cookie sheet.  Shape each half into cone shape to look like a pine tree.

3) If desired, wrap each tree, label and freeze up to 1 month.  Twelve hours before serving, remove trees from freezer.  Thaw in wrapper in refrigerator.  (I skipped this step.)

4) Just before serving, roll trees in parsley, press it evenly onto trees (would be best if it's more finely chopped than mine!).  Press nuts onto tree in string form for garland.  Press bell pepper pieces onto trees for ornaments.  Top each tree with star shape cut from lemon peel (I skipped the lemon peel star).  Serve with crackers.

Holiday Appetizer Wreath (from Betty Crocker - my mom also made this for a holiday party and gave me the idea!)

6 slices bacon (I left this out)
1/2 cup chive-and-onion cream cheese spread (from 8 oz container)
2 cans (8 oz each) Pillsbury refrigerated crescent dinner rolls
2 cups frozen broccoli florets (from 14 oz bag), thawed, finely chopped, patted dry with paper towel
1/3 cup diced red bell pepper
1 egg, beaten (I skipped the egg wash and sesame seeds)
1 teaspoon sesame seed
Fresh rosemary, if desired

1) Heat oven to 375 degrees. Cook bacon as desired until crisp.  Drain on paper towel; crumble bacon and set aside.

2) Unroll both cans of dough; separate into 16 triangles.  On ungreased large cookie sheet, arrange triangles with shortest sides toward center, overlapping in wreath shape and leaving a round opening in the center.  Crescent dough points may overlap edge of cookie sheet.  Press overlapping dough to flatten.

3) Spread cream cheese spread on dough to within 1 inch of points.  In small bowl, mix crumbled bacon, broccoli and bell pepper; spoon onto widest part of dough.  Pull end points of triangles over broccoli mixture and tuck under dough to form ring (filling will be visible).  Carefully brush dough with beaten egg; sprinkle with sesame seed.

4) Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until deep golden brown (may need to tent foil over the wreath about 20 minutes into baking).  Cool 5 minutes.  With broad spatula, carefully loosen wreath from cookie sheet; slide onto serving platter.  Garnish with fresh rosemary.  Serve warm.  Store in refrigerator.

Artichoke Jalapeno Dip (a recipe I got from my mom)

Ingredients (this makes a lot, so I halved the recipe but still used the 1/2 jar of jalapenos):
2 14-oz. cans artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
2 cups shredded Parmesan cheese
1 cup sour cream
1 cup mayonnaise
16 oz. cream cheese
1/2 jar Old El Paso jalapenos, drained and chopped
4 cloves garlic

Mix well.  Bake in 13x9 pan at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until bubbly.


The sign of a fun party... lots of dirty dishes, glasses and platters to clean up :)

And I was super excited that my amaryllis continued to blossom with a few more flowers opening.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Why I Quit My Job

To start, I suppose I should say... I quit my full-time job.  The reason for doing so...well, there are many.  It wasn't as much about leaving my old job as it was about pursuing a new one.

Last Friday was my last day at the media agency where I have worked for five and a half years.  I started there in 2006, three weeks after graduating from college.  Like any job, there were times I felt frustrated by the quick turnaround for deliverables, the hours, the salary, and the occasional lack of support.

But I learned SO much, and at the heart of it, I enjoyed what I was doing.  I got to work with magazines every day, and I got to work with some really great people.  The knowledge I gained from buying magazine advertising space will help me now and in the future--experience in relationship building, communicating, negotiating, understanding the content and audience of various publications, managing my time, etc.

Me being me, I am always looking ahead.  At some point, I started to really think about what I wanted to do long-term.  And I knew I wanted to do something that I was truly passionate about.  You know how they say that you should look back at baby pictures in order to figure out what haircolor suits you best?  Well, I thought back to kindergarten in order to figure out what I should be when I "grow up" (I guess I am a grown-up now?).  When I was little, I had a handful of careers in mind: teacher, writer, actress, fashion or interior designer.

There are still parts of me that relate to each of these careers (I love mentoring and training people, I am a bit of a drama queen, and I enjoy putting together outfits and decorating), but the one that has always been my dream is being a writer.   I have been doing it since I was four years old--whether I was writing a story during centers in kindergarten, an article for my high school newspaper, a press release during my internships, a paper for an English class at Notre Dame, a presentation for work, a blog post right here, or a portfolio for one of my master's classes.

Words fascinate me.  Content is what I crave.  Communication is at the heart of my relationships.  I knew I wanted to write.  But how could I make a living doing it?

I've been a member of Chicago Women in Publishing since October 2010.  Last February, I attended their monthly meeting; that month's topic was freelance writing.  I had heard about freelance writing before and even taken a class at StoryStudio Chicago a couple years ago, but I didn't know enough about the nuts and bolts or how to really get started. 

After the CWIP event, I was truly inspired.  I learned there were opportunities out there--and also plenty of challenges.  I heard tips and advice from people in the industry, and I received a checklist of steps to take to start your own business.  So I did everything I could to learn more. I started to set things up (you may remember my announcement about my business back in April).  And then I decided to take the leap.

I knew I needed to dedicate time to being creative and building my business, Melrose Street Custom Content.  After much thought and prayer, many conversations with Scott and my family, several calculations to assess our finances, and lots of planning, I put in my notice at work. 

Today is my first day of self-employment, my first day without a corporate job.  I'm a business owner.  I'm a freelance writer.  I'm nervous and excited... but I feel like I'm doing the right thing.  I'm pursuing my dream.

Maybe it seems a little crazy to some.  But I don't want to wonder or regret not doing this.  I have to give my dream a chance.

A big thank you to everyone who has supported me along the way.  (I especially want to thank my husband since I truly could not do this without him!)  And of course, I'll keep you all posted on this new adventure.

A poster my sister C. gave to my youngest sister J.  (J. has it hanging in her dorm room at SLU.)
I think this depicts what I'm feeling right now :)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Savor the Season

As Scott and I headed to the gym tonight, I told him what I had going on the rest of the week.  And then I started to list what was going on next week, ticking off the key events all the way up to December 23 when the Christmas celebrations begin.

I can barely believe it's December 12, and soon enough Christmas will be here and gone.  During this time of year, a time for family and friends, relaxation and reflection, I don't want the time to fly by too quickly.  Sure, the to-do list is always there, an inevitable part of life... but when I realized that I was starting to think of the fun and joy of the season (celebrating with friends, baking cookies, decorating) as "to do" items, I also realized that I was missing the best part of the holidays.

My plan for savoring the season:

Build moments of quiet and calm into each day.
Be as present as possible.
Notice the small joys.
Let go of the idea of perfection and the pressure to do it all.
Laugh more, hug more, snuggle more.
Take care of myself--exercise, eat, sleep.
Cut back on the to-do list where I can.
Put family and friends first.
Remember what is important--and what's not.
Thank God for my blessings.

At the gym, I breathed and stretched through an hour-long yoga class.  And in one of those lovely moments in life when your internal thoughts are expressed out loud by another person, my yoga instructor talked about awareness.  Yes, that is what I crave--awareness of the beauty in each crazy day and each hectic week.

With my busy schedule still cycling through my mind, I also recalled some beautiful words my teacher had read a few weeks ago during a Tuesday morning yoga class on one of my days off work.  The reflection, entitled "The Silliness of Busyness," gives perspective on how ridiculous it is to be constantly busy and reminds us that taking a break and taking a breath is a necessity.  (I encourage you to read it and see if you are lost in the silliness of busyness--the "symptoms" sounded very familiar to me!).  I loved the reflection so much that I looked it up online after class... and I was so happy to see it was written by Courtney Carver, the author of Be More with Less, an inspirational blog I have been reading lately about how to grow through letting go and living simply and fully.

So that's my intention for the coming weeks... to be aware of the joy, appreciate the fun, look past the frustrations, savor the season.

With my brown thumb, I am so excited that my amaryllis grew and bloomed. 
What a nice birthday gift from Scott's grandmother!

P.S. Take a look at my new Lululemon hoodie--the Run: For It Pullover.  I had a gift card and wanted to buy a great layering piece.  Gotta love the cute features... an asymmetric zipper, a hood with a hole for your ponytail, thumbholes in the sleeves, "cuffins" that fold over your fists to keep them warm (with an adorable message written each hand).  It's fashionable and comfy--and gives me a boost of motivation and inspiration to work out more.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

How to Fight Anxiety: Take Action!

Anxiety can take on many forms.  Right now, I feel like it is manifesting itself physically in my body.  I woke up in the middle of the night with a pounding heart and rapid breathing.  It was like I was under intense stress in my sleep.  But on the surface, I'm keeping calm and taking it a day at a time and just living life... I'm not actively thinking about what is making me anxious... but it is all there, held inside.

Over the past week, not even an hour-long massage and two yoga sessions--with plenty of attention to the back and shoulders--could help me relax.  The left side of my neck was so tight on Saturday night, it was making my jaw hurt (I asked Scott if he thought I was going to die... I think I've been reading too many magazine articles: "It seemed like a normal pain in the neck.  Little did she know...").  Now, I'm sitting here with a heat wrap over my left shoulder.

I sound like I'm complaining (and being a bit of a drama queen), but I promise that I have a point.  My point is: if I can't ignore anxiety, I have to address it. 

These days, I have a long to-do list and many uncertainties, questions and fears.  I'm pressing them down under the surface, trying not to think too hard about them, as if I am mentally paralyzed...  But the mental anxiety is becoming a physical pain.  Keeping it all inside is making my muscles tighten, a physical paralysis.  Even if I push the stress away and act like I can ignore it, it's there in my subconscious.  It's there in my body.

So what do I do?  I face the music... or in this case, I check things off the to-do list, map out next steps, hunt down solutions, get organized, ask for help, pray.  I have to take action in order to feel better.  And that's hard.  I have plenty of excuses: I'm tired; it's cold and gray outside; I don't know where to start; I don't have time during the day; I need some time to relax.  But you know, the mac & cheese and M&Ms don't hold the answers.  The hours of reality TV and facebook won't help.  I have to get off the couch and do something to feel better.  I need to move and search and grow.

One little reflection that helped me this week came from an email my sister A sent to our family a few weeks ago.  She wrote about letting God take "the driver's seat" in life.  I love the idea of "let go and let God" (which is different than "let go and sit around in your sweatpants").  By listening, trusting and allowing God to guide me, allowing Him to be my support, I can do anything...  I can move forward.  I can find peace and happiness.

Here is what A wrote (thanks, sis!):

This is a very stressful time for many of us right now and us being "us", we tend to want to control every little detail, worrying that we aren't going to live up to expectations, aren't going to get everything done, fall short of where we want to be, etc. But those are all earthly things. I've been struggling lately because I really want to help everyone with their problems. I want to have that perfect answer, that perfect solution, that perfect job, that perfect stash of money, that perfect study tactic. But I don't have anything perfect for them. The only perfect answer comes from above and the only time everything will be perfect is when we're with Him. That doesn't really help much now, but it should. I get so caught up in the here and now and what's going to happen tomorrow and cleaning up what happened yesterday that I forget about the bigger picture. I get caught up in the details instead of breathing free knowing God has "engraved me on the palms of His hands" (Is. 49:19a) And He will continue on His way today, tomorrow, and the following day..." (Luke 13:31-25). He will never leave me or you or anyone. He is always there with the perfect answer. It's up to us to listen and ask Him for those answers. We're human, yes, so we will fall short. But knowing there's a God that knows everything should help in the process.

I struggle with the "how." How do I let Him take over the driver's seat? How do I not worry about having time to fit everything in? How do I help my family not get overwhelmed? How??? But I guess I should really be looking at the "why" and "what". Why is God putting me in this situation? Why does He want me to struggle and grow? What can I learn? What is He teaching me? Life is a journey. Getting caught up in the details a lot of times takes all the fun out of it. Many of my favorite times are those impromptu moments of laughter, playing board games with family, breathing in that fresh air, seeing a gorgeous sunset. It's when I'm seeing the important things in life.

I get frustrated with God sometimes wondering why we have to work to make money to support ourselves so we can enjoy those moments. How come we can't all live a life of "important moments" and not have to deal with the hustle and bustle of every day life? How come we have all the details we have to sift through to get to the bigger picture? Maybe it's because without the details, we can't see the bigger picture. Without the struggle, we can't appreciate those important things. It stinks being worried and anxious, but in those times of complete peace, I realize what this life is all about and what I can look forward to for all of eternity when I get to greet God with a big bear hug!

Wasn't really planning on typing that long, but it's just been on my mind and heart for a while. I guess I needed to get it out. :)

On that note, I will close and say that I am praying for each of you. God has a great plan for your lives and in all the struggles I know you will grow. You are all very strong whether you realize it or not. Thank you for being inspirations to me.
Flowers from Scott... happy 18-month anniversary!
(Can't believe it's been a year and a half since our wedding!)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Guest Post on Henning Love: From My Hometown to Yours

I am so excited for my very first guest post!  Today, I'm taking the readers of Henning Love on a tour of my hometownKansas City.

When Meg started her hometown series and solicited guest posts, I immediately sent her a note.  Her blog offers plenty of inspiration and touches on many of the same topics I do here at Inspiration and Rough Draftsrecipes, family, entertaining, DIY projects, and more.

Please click on the cute button below to head over to Henning Love and enjoy my little tour of KC!

And if you found me through Henning Love, thanks for stopping by and welcome!  Feel free to take a look around (the Index tab highlights what my blog is all about) and make yourself at home...

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Book Club: The History of Love: A Novel

I'm gearing up for the Thanksgiving holiday.  Though I'm not a huge fan of turkey, I know I won't go hungry this weekend (my sisters and I were joking that we needed to train our stomachs for all the good food!).

This Thanksgiving will be especially fun since I will get to spend it with my family and Scott's parents too.  We'll also have a couple of the girls' boyfriends around--enough people to get a good flag football game going (yes, I will play even though I am more confident in my cheerleading abilities!).

But before we all head into family time and food comas, I wanted to write about our latest book club meeting.  We were at C's this month, where we held our very first meeting back in May.  She had a whole bunch of snacks for us--chips and dips, cookies, veggies and of course, wine!  We were excited to have I. in town from L.A and to Skype E. in from Africa (it was around midnight there).  (I love reading about E's African adventures on her blog!)

In discussing A Stolen Life, we were all amazed by Jaycee's strength and courage in the face of such a horrifying experience.  Though she had to grow up quickly in many ways, she also remained like a child, as she was sheltered from the world for so many years.  Her writing reflects that--a mix of child-like and adult language, a mix of descriptive and reflective sections.  There were parts of the book that were emotionally very hard to get through, but re-living the story of her kidnapping, rescue and recovery through Jaycee's own words was fascinating.

For next month, we'll be reading The History of Love: A Novel by Nicole Krauss.  I first heard about this book on Bethany's blog after she wrote about checking it out from the library and later posted about this great quote from the novel.  When I suggested it as a book club pick, E also highly recommended it.  So I'll be toting this book (and a couple of magazines) with me for the weekend.  Very excited to delve into the story--full of love, loss and loneliness... and some beautiful writing. Review:
Nicole Krauss's The History of Love is a hauntingly beautiful novel about two characters whose lives are woven together in such complex ways that even after the last page is turned, the reader is left to wonder what really happened. In the hands of a less gifted writer, unraveling this tangled web could easily give way to complete chaos. However, under Krauss's watchful eye, these twists and turns only strengthen the impact of this enchanting book.

The History of Love spans of period of over 60 years and takes readers from Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe to present day Brighton Beach. At the center of each main character's psyche is the issue of loneliness, and the need to fill a void left empty by lost love. Leo Gursky is a retired locksmith who immigrates to New York after escaping SS officers in his native Poland, only to spend the last stage of his life terrified that no one will notice when he dies. ("I try to make a point of being seen. Sometimes when I'm out, I'll buy a juice even though I'm not thirsty.") Fourteen-year-old Alma Singer vacillates between wanting to memorialize her dead father and finding a way to lift her mother's veil of depression. At the same time, she's trying to save her brother Bird, who is convinced he may be the Messiah, from becoming a 10-year-old social pariah. As the connection between Leo and Alma is slowly unmasked, the desperation, along with the potential for salvation, of this unique pair is also revealed.

The poetry of her prose, along with an uncanny ability to embody two completely original characters, is what makes Krauss an expert at her craft. But in the end, it's the absolute belief in the uninteruption of love that makes this novel a pleasure, and a wonder to behold. --Gisele Toueg

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Bake a Surprise!

Last year for my birthday, Scott's parents gave me a giant cupcake mold (you may remember the New Year's and baby shower cakes).  This year, they picked out another fun piece of bakeware--a cupcake surprise pan!  (I feel like surprises require exclamation points!)

The pan looks like a basic muffin pan, but each space has a small post inside.  All you have to do is put a bit of batter in each cup, slide the "surprise" ingredient onto the post, and top it off with the remaining mix.  Bake, share, surprise, and enjoy.

So far, I've tried brownies with Reese's peanut butter cups baked inside on two occasions--once for my poetry class and another time to share with friends.

The instructions also suggested savory cornbread muffins with a surprise filling of cheese or peppers baked in the center, and I've seen ideas online for cupcakes with fruit, marshmallows, candy bars or junior mints inside. 

All of the possibilities sound delicious to me... And what's really great--these treats are very easy to make but still have that fun, little "wow" factor.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Sharing Talents and Facing Fears

On Sunday, the Gospel gave me some encouragement.  The reading recounted the parable of the master who entrusted each of his three servants with his possessions (called "talents") before he goes on a journey. 

When he returns, the servant with five talents and the servant with two talents have each invested or traded them to double their amounts.  But the third servant buried his talent in the ground, scared to lose the one talent he had.

Jesus told his disciples this parable:
"A man going on a journey
called in his servants and entrusted his possessions to them.
To one he gave five talents; to another, two; to a third, one--
to each according to his ability.
Then he went away.
Immediately the one who received five talents went and traded with them,
and made another five.
Likewise, the one who received two made another two.
But the man who received one went off and dug a hole in the ground
and buried his master's money.

After a long time
the master of those servants came back
and settled accounts with them.
The one who had received five talents came forward
bringing the additional five.
He said, 'Master, you gave me five talents.
See, I have made five more.'
His master said to him, 'Well done, my good and faithful servant.
Since you were faithful in small matters,
I will give you great responsibilities.
Come, share your master's joy.'
Then the one who had received two talents also came forward and said,
'Master, you gave me two talents.
See, I have made two more.'
His master said to him, 'Well done, my good and faithful servant.
Since you were faithful in small matters,
I will give you great responsibilities.
Come, share your master's joy.'
Then the one who had received the one talent came forward and said,
'Master, I knew you were a demanding person,
harvesting where you did not plant
and gathering where you did not scatter;
so out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground.
Here it is back.'
His master said to him in reply, 'You wicked, lazy servant!
So you knew that I harvest where I did not plant
and gather where I did not scatter?
Should you not then have put my money in the bank
so that I could have got it back with interest on my return?
Now then! Take the talent from him and give it to the one with ten.
For to everyone who has,
more will be given and he will grow rich;
but from the one who has not,
even what he has will be taken away.
And throw this useless servant into the darkness outside,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.'"
- Matthew 25:14-30

What struck me was the use of the word "talent" to describe the treasures or special items.  Our talents are God-given abilities--ones that we can choose to hide, waste and ignore... or develop, explore, and share with others.

The other part that made me think was the ending.  The master gets so angry at the third servant, but what if he had tried to invest the talent and lost it?  Is it worse to bury it and end up with the one talent than to try to do something with it and end up with nothing?  In his homily, the priest addressed this by saying the message is not about failure; it's about fear.  It's about inaction.

I like to think that this Gospel is encouraging each of us to take chances, share our talents, and not be so afraid that we end up doing nothing at all.  He wants us to move forward, even it's one small step. 

Maybe sometimes we fail, but in doing so, we prove that we understand the value of our talents because we aren't wasting them--we aren't so fearful that we become paralyzed.  Instead, we are using the gifts we have been entrusted with, sharing them with others and perhaps inspiring others to do the same, growing the "amount" of our talents even further.

And whether we fail or succeed, it's comforting to know that we aren't alone.  One of my favorite Bible verses is Psalm 37:23-24, which I stumbled upon in high school.  Searching for the verse on Google brought up slightly different versions, so I pulled out my Bible from those days, and the ribbon bookmark marked the page with that psalm.  It reads:

Those whose steps are guided by the Lord;
whose way God approves,
May stumble, but they will never fall,
for the Lord holds their hands.
- Psalm 37:23-24

And even better, I found a prayer card wedged between a couple other pages.  It seems perfect for this point in my life.  It's funny how that happens... how you can run across just what you need to hear, right when you need to hear it.

My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself, and the fact
that I think that I am
following your will does not mean that
I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have this desire in all that
I am doing.
I hope that I never do anything apart
from this desire.
And I know that if I do this
you will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore, will I trust you always
though I may seem to be
lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for
you are ever with me,
And you will never leave
me to face my perils
- Thomas Merton

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Breakfast with Martha Stewart

I spent some time this morning with a cup of coffee and Martha Stewart's new book, Martha's Entertaining: A Year of Celebrations.  It is a beautiful 432-page collection of a year's worth of entertaining occasions, all parties Martha has personally hosted.

The photography brings each gathering to life, but what I really love is reading Martha's commentary--the background, the guests, the origin of the food (much of which came from her own farm), and the history of the decor.  It's like a peek inside her life!  She covers a range of holiday meals and impromptu celebrations, providing inspiration for breakfast, lunch, dinner and everything in between.

The real highlight of this post though... I actually had the opportunity to have breakfast with Martha Stewart yesterday--yes, the Martha Stewart.  I don't like to talk in too much detail about my full-time gig, but this breakfast was a spectacular moment made possible through my job as a magazine advertising buyer.  And given the subject matter I cover here in my blog, I had to share this experience with you all!

I was among 40 or so people at the breakfast, which took place at Chicago's Peninsula Hotel.  We gathered around a very long table, set with brown tablecloths and small arrangements of fall flowers and gourds.  It was surreal to see and hear Martha in real life, to witness someone I have seen on TV and online and in magazines truly come to life.  It amazes me how much she does (she was off to Kansas City later in the day, her next stop on the book tour) and how great she looks too!  (I hope I'm still wearing 4-inch platform stilettos at 70 years old...)

After Martha spoke a few gracious words, we all settled into breakfast...  I chose the popover entree, which is also featured in her new book.  What a wonderful way to begin a very long Friday!

Doesn't this page look good enough to eat?  My breakfast looked just like this and tasted delicious!


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