Sunday, February 27, 2011

Do Not Worry About Tomorrow

Today's Gospel communicates a message that my family and I have talked about over email this week.  The words remind us how worrying is not necessary when God is a part of your life, when you trust that he will provide.  My sister first wrote about this message on Thursday, reflecting in her thoughtful way.  Then my mom mentioned it too after hearing today's Gospel, noting how worrying "really does rob you of the present."

The reading is a relevant one for me, especially on a Sunday when I am anxious about all the things I didn't accomplish over the weekend and all the things coming up this week, both the times and tasks that I have planned out and those that will come up unexpectedly.  Here is today's Gospel (Matthew 6: 24-34)... I especially love the two sentences I have highlighted:

"No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.

"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they? Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span? Why are you anxious about clothes? Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin. But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them. If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith? So do not worry and say, 'What are we to eat?' or 'What are we to drink?' or 'What are we to wear?' All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil."

In her email this week, my sister A wrote:

"[Our family] tend[s] to worry... a lot.  I would say it's in our nature, but God should be our nature and worrying is not in God's nature.  God takes our worries away! I journaled yesterday about [Luke 12:22-25, 27-28... which is similar to today's Gospel from Matthew].

"It's true... what do we get from worrying? Nothing. It makes the present unpleasant and doesn't help the future.  It's so much easier said than done and I know I spend a lot of my life yo-yoing back and forth with God.  God here you go... take my life. But when it seems to be moving in a different direction than I want, I start taking back control.  What good does that do?  Confident assurance in His plan.  That's my theme of the week and boy have I been struggling with it.  You know what's crazy though? I got an FCA daily reflection about Jeremiah 29:11 - For I know the plans I have for you...... And then my friend wrote a God-inspired blog last night that totally spoke to me when I read it this morning.  God just wants to be with me in all that I do.  He WANTS to take our worries and anxieties away whatever they may be, however small or big they are.

"I could go on forever, and it's a life-long process obviously.  We are put on this earth for a reason.  God predestined us to live for Him. We are saved because He decided to save us....  I think this is a rough time of the year for a lot of people, but the sun will always be shining and God will always be with us.  I think the past couple weeks I've been all over the place and haven't been spending time talking to God as much.  This week has been a very nice time to take a step back and talk to my Friend that I've been neglecting.  I've journaled a couple times.  I think that's my favorite way of praying.  It's just like talking. When I start I ask Him to be with me and it's pretty crazy what comes out as I start typing. The end is always much better than the beginning.... The weather has been amazing this week which I love [she lives in Texas]...and it's one little thing to praise God for.  It's all about the little things sometimes. When the big storm is upon you, God steps in and dominates it in little things. Don't tell God how big your storm is; tell the storm how big your God is."

I found her words so insightful and her feelings so familiar.  Worrying is something I struggle with... but worrying is not a productive action.  When I can't control a situation, when I feel helpless, I can only give my anxiety over to God and trust that he will take care of me.  When I can't do anything else, I can pray.  For that reason, I take comfort in the serenity prayer.

And as a writer, it's good for me to remember...
Life is God's novel.  Let him write it.  ~Isaac Bashevis Singer

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Your Authentic Self

Happy weekend... sorry it's been awhile since I posted.  I had food poisoning earlier in the week, so not only was I recovering all week, but it was a busy one at that.  I'm back now though and feeling much better.

I wanted to share an article I read in the March issue of SELF magazine about authenticity - the cover line reads, Make Today Happier: 4 Steps to More Joy, Deeper Calm.  It seems like in today's fast-paced world, we are all looking for joy and calm.  And sometimes in the rush of life, we skip over those moments.  But if we make sure our actions and tasks are in line with our authentic selves, our truest selves, we can find joy and calm more often in each day.

So what does it mean to live authentically?  In the article, Marjorie Ingall writes of "knowing yourself" - which sometimes I feel like I do and other times I'm not sure who I am and what I want.  The trouble comes in when who we are does not align with society's expectations or when we have conflicting desires internally.  SELF gives these four keys to living authentically:

1) An awareness of what makes you tick
2) The ability to gauge your weaknesses
3) A willingness to act in accordance to your values
4) Honest and sincere relationships

Then the article guides you through a few exercises to hone in on these points.

Pinpoint what matters to you:
What makes you happiest?
Next, consider what upsets you most.
What are your deepest fears?
What gifts do you want to share?

Know your weaknesses:
Think of a time you ignored your gut.
A time you tried to whitewash one of your flaws.
A time you blamed someone else for your mistake.

Align your values and actions:
Think of a time you didn't act in concert with your values.
Reflect on the possible consequences of your new vision.

Dare to reveal your true self:
Consider whether you express your true emotions.

photo from SELF

The examples and explanations used in the article really bring each of these steps to life.  (You can read the full article on SELF's website here.)  Ingall cites a time she didn't speak up against an elderly relative making racist comments, a time she took a job others viewed as fabulous but just didn't fit with her true self, and a time she decided to move across the country to live with her then-boyfriend, now-husband - all examples of when she struggled to live according to her values, needs, and beliefs.

Opportunities to live authentically come up in daily conversations as well as in life-altering decisions.  We each have such different motivations and needs, so we can also come to accept that authenticity is a personal thing.  I had some trouble thinking of being authentic as living according to your true self.  I mean, it seemed so me-focused, so... selfish.  (The article points out that women especially have a hard time with this concept because we are so wired to fit in, follow an accepted path, and nurture others rather than ourselves - it's evolutionary.)  But I also realized that I value the relationships in my life.  The things that make me happiest are spending time with the people I love, developing my faith, thinking creatively... things that involve other people.  I can share my gifts with others and in turn, live authentically.

How about you - what does it mean for you to live authentically?  How do you do so in your daily life?  How does it affect your "big" decisions in life?

Okay, enough with the deep questions... I'm going to go enjoy Saturday with my husband, some reading, yoga class, and a fun evening with good friends (we'll see how good/bad I am at trivia!).  Hmm, sounds like a pretty "authentic" day for me after all.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Dessert + Booze = Rum Cake

I had a request for a recipe post and the suggestion was for "king cake" since Mardi Gras is approaching.  I wasn't sure I could take on that challenge, but I thought of a fantastic cake recipe that my family has enjoyed over and over again.  It's not a king cake, but hey, it's got plenty of rum...

Bacardi Rum Cake

1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
1 package yellow cake mix
1 (3 3/4 oz) package vanilla instant pudding and pie filling
4 eggs
1/2 cup cold water
1/2 cup oil
1/2 cup Bacardi rum (most recipes call for dark rum, but I used the clear type)

1 stick butter
1/4 cup water
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup Bacardi rum

1) Preheat over to 325 degrees.  Grease Bundt pan.

2) Sprinkle nuts over bottom of pan.

3) Mix all cake ingredients together.  Pour batter over nuts.  Bake for 1 hour.

4) Cool; invert onto serving plate.  Prick top with fork.  Spoon and brush glaze evenly over top and sides.


1) Melt butter in saucepan.  Stir in water and sugar.

2) Boil for 5 minutes, stirring constantly, and remove from heat.  Stir in rum.

As my mom does, I garnished the cake with sugared fruit.  Simply coat/brush fruit with egg whites and then roll in/sprinkle with granulated sugar.  Allow to dry and place in the middle of the rum cake.  I didn't coat the fruit as evenly and carefully as I would have if this was for a party, but I like how the fruit brightens up the cake and gives it a special touch.

Before we cut into the cake and Scott headed out for guys' night tonight, we made dinner.  Scott grilled steaks, and I made salad and potatoes.  We opened a bottle of red.  I'll admit the potatoes were care of Steamfresh and only took a few minutes in the microwave. 

The salad is another family favorite and super easy.  Mix a can of artichoke hearts and cut asparagus together with Ken's lite caesar dressing.  Let the mixture marinate for awhile, anywhere from 30 minutes to a full day; spoon over lettuce and enjoy.

I am very glad to have a three-day weekend of relaxation and fun - time with Scott, visits with friends from in the city and out of town, yoga and walking in the sunshine, errands and chores (it feels good to be productive), reading and writing for school and for pleasure. If you want to indulge in some cake and booze this weekend, why not give the rum cake a whirl?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Knowledge of All Ages

Do you ever feel like you should be moving forward but you don't know how or when or where?  During times when I don't understand why something is happening or not happening, I find it comforting (in a strange, still slightly frustrating way) to know that someday this will all make sense.  I try to rely on faith, trust that there is something larger at work, and let go (a little bit) of my need for control.  My eyes look forward down my path through life, but I can't always see very far ahead.  However, I can look back and see how far I have come, all the things I have learned along the way.  I can understand these lessons once I have some time and distance.

The idea of present and past, of what you know now and what you knew then, is so fluid because we are constantly changing and growing.  Most of you know that I read a lot of magazines for inspiration... I recently came across two articles that pinpoint different ages through the lens of the knowledge we have in the present, the experiences and thoughts we had in the past, and - though not always spelled out in black and white - how all these pieces make us who we are and bring us to this point in time.

Shape's February issue highlights women from age 9 to 99, showcasing all of their strong, beautiful bodies and offering a quote from each about self-esteem and beauty.  (You can see the photos and quotes on the Shape website too!)  The article reminds us all to "Amaze yourself" as 9-year-old Cece Poli does and "Treasure your health every day" as 99-year-old Esther Tuttle lives out.  Other women talk about how they reinforce their own self-esteem.  They suggest to practice positive thinking, defy other people's expectations, refuse to be invisible, don't compare yourself to others, see your strengths, never stop moving, focus on what your body can do, and be confident.  These pieces of advice are based on what the women know now that they have reached a certain age, a level of experience, a point from where they can look at the sum of the present and past.

Then in Real Simple's March issue, in an article "Age to Remember," six writers reflect on a year of their life, one they would consider a "very good year."  (You can read it on the Real Simple website too.)  We get glimpses into different moments in time... age 4, 12, 18, 38, 50, and 64.  I thought it was interesting how a 70-year-old writer wrote about the year he was four years old, while a 64-year-old wrote about when she was... well, 64.  Francine Prose (great last name for a writer), the 64-year-old contributor, wrapped up her story beautifully, and with hers being the last of the six featured pieces, it also stood as the end of the whole article.  It was what the reader is left with...  She writes, "When I say that I wish I had known at 24 what I know at 64, I couldn't mean it more.  And yet I realize that such a thing could never have been possible.  If that knowledge is what people mean by wisdom, I'll take it."

It makes me consider what I know now that I didn't know when I was younger.  I remember the times of worry and confusion, the times I didn't understand what things meant, the times I wanted to know how everything would work out.  It makes me wonder about what I will know in the future that I don't know now at 26 years old.  I have a tough time with the unknown that lies ahead. Sometimes it seems more dark and distant and scary than other times, but I trust that when I get there, I'll realize how and when and where... and most importantly, why.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A Gift for Your "Girls"

I once received a gift inscribed with the quote: "Friends are like bras - close to your heart and there for support."  It's funny but true.  As Valentine's Day draws near, whether you are single or in a relationship, lingerie is one small thing that can put a spring in your step.  It can be that sexy secret hidden under your clothes, only evident in the extra confidence you exude all day long.  It can combine form and function in one little pretty piece of material.  It's time for a little girl talk...

A couple years ago, I discovered Intimacy, an intimate-apparel store, where I was fitted for a bra.  As noted in the March issue of Women's Health, a professional bra fitter is one "expert" that you may not realize you need.  Eighty percent of women over the age of 18 are wearing the wrong bra size.  When I went to Intimacy, the girly store was full of all styles and sizes (A to K cup), and the ladies working there are pros.  If you are a little shy, liken your visit to going to the doctor's office.  They have seen it all.  The bras at the store are mostly European and fairly expensive, but the right fit is priceless - and the actual fitting is truly free.
I learned that most women typically wear a band size that is too large.  By moving down in band size, a woman typically has to move up in cup size to compensate.  The true test is that the band should be the most supportive part (while it is on the last, widest clasp so you can tighten the bra as the elastic naturally stretches over time); the straps only supply a small amount of support and keep everything aligned.  So if you are depending on your straps to hold things up and the band does not fit evenly against and around your body, the right fit could change all of that.  The pro bra fitters at Intimacy also explained the best way to put on a bra (it involves bending at the waist and manually adjusting where necessary - who knew, right?) and the best way to wash your lingerie so it will last (use a special powder that is easier on the elastic and always air dry).  All kinds of tricks and tips!

After I was properly fit, I felt better.  I even got a strapless bra that does not move.  And as the ladies at Intimacy told me - and showed me - a properly-fitting bra can make you look up to 10 pounds thinner.  How else can you lose weight in seconds?  By bringing everything into the right place, a correctly sized bra streamlines and supports your body.  Taking care of your "girls" will help keep them happy and perky for years to come too.  Even if you don't live near an Intimacy shop, I highly recommend visiting a boutique that specializes in bra fitting.  It can truly change how you feel and look.  (I am not being compensated or given anything for highlighting Intimacy, just wanted to share my own story.)

Okay... enough girl talk for tonight... even if this does bring back good memories of Sunday night talks in college - right, ladies? ;)

Have a happy Valentine's Day and let the ones you love know how much they mean to you.  As Scott and I remind one another from time to time, even when life gets a little crazy, just love...

Monday, February 7, 2011

$10,000 Richer - The Benefits of a Budget

My March issue of Glamour magazine arrived just as the blizzard hit Chicago last week.  Class was cancelled and I knew the office was closed on Wednesday and I would be working from home, so Tuesday night consisted of curling up with my magazine and reading it cover to cover.

"How to Be $10,000 Richer" sounded interesting, but what really got my attention was that the article profiled two Chicago friends' weekly spending habits.  These women were both in their twenties with identical salaries.  I could really relate... to the bus fare, the groceries, the dinner for a friend's birthday, the coffee purchases, the Target shopping spree, the yoga classes... all purchases I would find in my own hypothetical spending summary.

The intriguing part - one woman stuck to a budget and the other one just winged it.  The difference between the two women's weekly totals added up to over $200 dollars.  At first, I started picking apart the purchases of the woman who went without a budget (she wouldn't go to a concert every week, she wouldn't go to Target every week...), and I realized I was justifying her purchases like I do my own.  And when I took a closer look at the woman who did have a budget, her spending still allowed for an expensive dinner for her friend's birthday and a comedy show, but she chose to turn down a concert, pass on a pricey suede jacket, and bring leftovers for lunch some days.  Really, it's all about making smart choices.

I feel like it's easy to make excuses for my spending... the wedding, the honeymoon, special occasions, furniture for the condo.  These are items that are important to us and things we want to spend money on.  But at some point, the spending has to be cut back.  Since this year began, I have been making a concerted effort to not spend on frivolous things.  (Okay, sometimes a girl has to take a cab in this weather...)  Let's just say, if I want to browse in Gap, I cannot bring any form of cash or debit/credit card with me.  It's like window shopping but allows for entering the store and surveying the apparel without caving to temptation.

It's not a perfect plan, and I'm okay with that.  I don't want to be a "scrooge" by any means.  Sometimes it is necessary to treat yourself or someone else (case in point, Scott surprised me with some lovely flowers the evening of the blizzard - definitely brightened my day!).  Bottom line - I am still working on knowing exactly where every dollar goes.  Life is worth living, but cutting back on a splurge here and there can really add up.  This article in Glamour proves it out...

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Food Network Favorites - Dining & Drinking in Chicago

My colleagues at Food Network Magazine passed along this amazing guide... it highlights the ad sales and marketing team's favorite Chicago restaurants, bars, and other foodie-related stuff. 

Maybe you live in Chicago, maybe you are planning a trip to visit soon, or maybe you just like to know what's hot and happening in the Windy City...  Whatever the case may be, I think you will really enjoy this guide - an exhaustive list of categories, super helpful recommendations, fun commentary, and a cute design!  Thank you, Food Network!

(Click to enlarge any of the photos... a couple of the pics are a little funky because I converted from pdf.  If you would like to request the pdf version, shoot me an email at inspirationandroughdrafts [at] gmail [dot] com.)


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