Saturday, March 26, 2011

True Failure is Never Risking Anything at All

By nature, I am not a risk taker.  I like to know the outcome of the steps I take.  I like to be sure I will succeed in whatever I do.

I read this inspiring post from Kate at Centsational Girl earlier in the week and just had to share it.  She writes about "the dangers of risk taking" - and makes the point that the consequences of taking a risk are often more positive than negative or "dangerous."  At so many points in life, you know what you want, but it's scary to take a chance and have faith that you are doing the right thing.

I wanted to let Kate know how her post struck me, so I left a comment saying: "Thank you!  This post is just what I needed to hear... I have some exciting plans in the works and can't wait to see how following my heart turns out!  Your post is true inspiration :)"  [I'll share more about my "plans" in the coming weeks...]

Maybe it's dorky, but I was excited when she responded: "Great Melissa, go for it ! be brave!!!"  It's wonderful to receive encouragement, even from someone I have never met.

Read her full post (and check out the fabulous vintage table she recently updated)... I promise you will be inspired.  Here's a little taste of what she has to say: 

Taking risks is courageous and dangerous.  And it should be celebrated. 
Beware the dangers of risk taking!
Strange things might happen to you. 
You might stand out from the crowd. 
You might discover hidden talents.
You might venture into the unknown by trying something new. 
Then you will learn something new.  
You might fail, but true failure is never risking anything at all.
Then surely you’ll discover something about yourself you never knew.
Then you’ll be proud of yourself.
You’ll be more interesting.
You’ll have a story to tell.
And that alone is amazing.

Taking a risk usually means your heart is talking to you, saying “Do it.”  But then your head quickly answers back “Don’t.”  Consider that a good risk is when your heart says “Go for it!” and your head says “Are you sure?”  That’s OK. That’s where you want to be.  The best kind of risk involves both an equal amount of sense and passion.  Those are the kinds of risks worth taking time and again.

Today, I encourage you to go forth and live dangerously!  Do something that completely scares you.  Be courageous.  Go against the trend.  Bet on yourself.  It will guarantee one thing for sure, you’ll have less regrets when you look back on your life.  Paint your walls that bold color.  Sell your house.  Write that novel.  Change jobs.  Teach yourself something new.  Stretch out of your comfort zone, take a leap of faith, believe in yourself.

A view of Chicago 10.9.10

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

My Introduction to Open Books

Reading and writing are important to me.  I can't imagine my life without words and stories and information.  I think that is why I was so touched by the mission of Open Books.  The organization is based in Chicago, and though I had read about it online before and seen the location from riding by on the Brown Line, I actually went to visit last night for a volunteer orientation session.

Open Books works to "enrich lives through reading, writing, and the power of used books." Donated used books fill the large, colorful bookstore, and profits from the book sales are funneled into literacy programs for kids, teens and adults. Open Books has collected over 300,000 books so far (about 10,000 per month), and since its beginning, it has served over 4,000 students through a number of literacy programs.  After being there one time for about an hour or so, I can see Open Books is a real community and there are tons of ways to get involved... volunteer, attend fun events, or just stop by and purchase a book.

To be honest, I haven't volunteered in awhile.  I would love to say I had a good excuse... I am busy but isn't everyone?  After learning about how I can get involved with this amazing non-profit, I knew this was the right place for me to spend some of my time.  The enthusiasm from the staff and other volunteers was contagious.  Plus, I love to read and write... and it would be fantastic to help bring that joy to someone else.

Besides listening to various staff members talk about the programs, the bookstore, and other ways to get involved, the group of us attending the orientation participated in an interesting activity.  We were each given a piece of paper with a couple paragraphs on it and asked to volunteer to read out loud.  Each person who agreed to read would translate one line aloud.  I say "translate" because the passage looked like this excerpt below:

gnitirw gnidaer, hguorht sevil hcirne to :NOISSIM a sah skooB nepO
laicos tiforpnon a :SI skooB nepO .skoob desu fo reqop eht dna
,smargorp ytinummoc sedivorp ,erotskoob yranidroartxe na setarepo taht erutnev
.dnoyeb dna ogacihC ni ycaretil etomorp ot sreetnulov etanoissap sezilibom dna

It's enough to get your heart pounding.  Reading this is tough (hint: read it from right to left), but doing so out loud also conjures up that feeling of anxiety you probably experienced in your grade school days when called upon to read aloud.  And even if you can read it, the work required to simply form each word makes it nearly impossible to actually comprehend the meaning. 

We also did a similar activity with writing; each of us wrote a sentence about why we wanted to volunteer at Open Books... in our non-dominant hand.  I had to concentrate to draw out each letter and the slow, messy process was slightly frustrating.  It made it difficult to fully express my thoughts and ideas.

All bookstore photos via Open Books website
These exercises really brought the issue of literacy to life and made me fully aware of what it's like to not be able to read and write.  It's been a long time since I learned these skills and I realized I take it for granted.

- 53% of adults in Chicago have low or limited literacy skills.
- 61% of low income families have no children's books at home.
- 21 million adults cannot read this sentence.
- 37% of adults in Chicago cannot read a story to a child.
- 44% of American 4th grade students cannot read aloud fluently.

Not only are literacy skills important for enjoying a long novel or creating a fun blog post (ha!)... but they are also necessary in everyday life, for finding one's way around the city or reading the labels at a grocery store, for communicating at work or excelling in school.

If you are interested in getting involved with Open Books (in a small or large way), visit the website or send me an email at inspirationandroughdrafts [at] gmail [dot] com.  Teachers - if you are looking for a cool field trip experience, consider taking your students to Open Books for an "Adventures in Creative Writing" field trip. 

Happy reading...

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Impress Guests with this Fancy (Easy!) Dessert

...Or feel free to keep it all to yourself :)  You know when you go to a restaurant and "molten lava cake" is on the dessert menu?  In less than 30 minutes, it can be yours, fresh and warm from your own oven. 

I always wondered how the cakes could be made so they ooze with chocolate as you cut into them with a fork... it seemed like you would have to make something to fill the cake, definitely a multi-step process. But good news, there is nothing complicated about this recipe.  It's out of a box (shhh!) and just requires the addition of butter and eggs (and ice cream if you want to eat it a la mode... my favorite!).

While visiting my family in Kansas last weekend, my mom made these molten lava cakes and even gave me a box of mix to bring back to Chicago with me.  Seeing that box in the pantry all week made me crave this chocolate deliciousness... so I had to make them last night.  I baked some salmon, whipped up some rice (Uncle Ben's 90 second rice in the microwave!), and opened a bottle of wine for me and Scott.

But the highlight of the meal was dessert...

Chocolate Molten Lava

Betty Crocker Decadent Supreme Chocolate Molten Lava Cake Mix
1/3 cup butter
2 eggs

1) Heat oven to 425 degrees for shiny metal pan or 400 degrees for dark and nonstick pan. Generously grease and flour 8 regular-size muffin cups.

2) Microwave chocolate [comes in a packet with the cake mix] and butter in medium microwaveable bowl uncovered on high 45 seconds; stir until smooth. (If chunks are not completely melted, microwave on high 10 seconds longer.) Caution: bottom of the bowl will be hot.

3) Stir cake mix and eggs into melted chocolate until well blended (batter may be lumpy). Spoon about 1/4 cup batter into each muffin cup. [Batter will be sticky but look similar to brownie batter.]

4) Bake for 12-14 minutes for shiny metal pan or 10-12 minutes for dark or non-stick pan, or until edges are firm (centers will be soft).

5) Cool 15 minutes [the hard part]. Remove carefully from cups after loosening from edges. Place upside down on serving plate. Serve immediately [with ice cream if desired... or berries and whipped cream... or a little drizzle of chocolate or caramel sauce...]

Look at those gooey "lava" centers!
To reheat if needed, microwave uncovered on high 15-20 seconds.

It's a simple recipe that looks complicated... and a fun way to impress dinner guests (thanks again for the tip, Mom).  For any of my friends who might come over for dinner and indulge in some molten lava cake for dessert, I guess the secret is out!  But this cake is yummy enough, I don't think anyone will mind that it's from a box.

Anyone else have a super-easy recipe that looks fancy and complicated?

P.S. Happy sunny Saturday for those in Chicago today!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Finals Week and St. Patrick's Day

While my high school and college-aged sisters are relishing spring break (in Mexico and Florida respectively), I am experiencing finals week.  (I'm not a bit jealous, can't you tell?) So please accept my apology for this slight interruption in blog posts... and don't forget to enjoy some green beer tomorrow.  On the evening of March 17 this year, I will be at my computer, wrapping up my 20-page research paper.  I don't mean to whine... trust me, I am very happy I made the choice to go back to school.  I just wanted to say hello and let you all know I would rather be blogging about something fun at this moment... or reading our book club selection and my growing stack of magazines!

Books, notebook, laptop, cell phone, lemonade, candy...
all the essential study materials
Candy has been my "fuel" of choice in the evenings lately.  Coffee late at night prevents me from passing out as soon as my head meets the pillow... something I need to happen in order to get through the next day at work.  Perhaps tomorrow a festive glass of something will be in order though... both to celebrate St. Patrick's Day (after all, I'm half-Irish and an ND grad) and to toast the completion of this massive paper (due at midnight tomorrow... less than 26 hours away). Cheers!
St. Patrick's Day 2007... my roommates and I hosted the day's festivities,
complete with a keg of green beer and lots of pizza

St. Patrick's Day 2008... E's apartment,
where a makeshift beer pong table provided lots of entertainment
(and yes, those tights are dark green!)

Friday, March 11, 2011

A Guide to Passion & Purpose

Over Christmas, my family went to Mass, and in the church vestibule, there was a table stacked with books.  People were encouraged to take a free copy, so I did.  I recently got a chance to read it - an inspiring, fascinating book called Rediscover Catholicism: A Spiritual Guide to Living with Passion & Purpose by Matthew Kelly.  When I picked up this book, I wasn't sure if I would like it or even read it all the way through.  By the time I finished, I wanted to share it with as many people as possible.  If you are looking for a great book to read this Lent, I highly recommend it.

The overall theme of the book surrounds our common desire for true happiness.  (Isn't being truly happy what we are all seeking?)  Throughout the book, Kelly provides ideas, examples, and tools to discover the true essence of what it means to be Catholic. 

In today's world, there is a lot of doubt about religion.  (Even in writing this, I'm not sure how many people will even choose to read this post since it has to do with religion and faith...)  Catholics themselves are questioning their faith and the role of the church.  Yet so many of us are still looking for authenticity and purpose.  Kelly points towards Catholicism as the answer... and backs up his points with insightful support (and impactful examples!).

First, he takes a hard look at today's society and its philosophies - individualism, hedonism, and minimalism.  In contrast, the role of discipline can allow us to thrive in each aspect of our lives - physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual.  (Just think how great it feels to act in ways that meet all our needs, to be productive and grow.)

Rather than regarding Catholicism as a religion, Kelly poses it as a lifestyle, a quest for transformation of each individual into "the-best-version-of-himself or herself."  He describes holiness as the goal of the Christian life, something so many have lost sight of.  We are called to live a holy life and become the best versions of ourselves.

With the saints as examples, we can learn how to lead such a life.  By identifying a singleness of purpose - the one goal that can penetrate everything we do - we can succeed.  He notes that our lives will change when our habits change, when everything we do works towards the goal of holiness.

Kelly does not leave out the reasons people have moved away from the church or view it in a poor light.  But as one part of the solution, he calls each of us to find passion and purpose, which in turn will positively affect the church and its community.

As tools for us to use, Kelly maps out the "seven pillars of Catholic spirituality," breaking each one down into simple steps and pieces of information.  I have not turned to some of these in a long while because I have been wrapped up in the day to day, forgetting that these experiences and objects are there to help me along the way.

- Confession
- Daily prayer
- The Mass
- The Bible
- Fasting
- Spiritual reading
- The Rosary

Over the years, I have found excuses why these seven pillars don't make sense, don't fit into my life, aren't necessary.  With every reason I thought of not to utilize these tools, Kelly supplies the reason to use them.  I came away from reading this section feeling inspired - and confident that I had a support system, tangible things to reference for education and inspiration.

I also loved that a quote from Letters to a Young Poet was included in a section about how questions are an important part of the spiritual journey.

"Be patient toward all that is unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a foreign tongue.  Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given to you because you would not be able to live them.  And the point is, to live everything.  Live the questions now.  Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer."

Now is the time for change - on a personal level as well as a larger one.  The way we live not only affects ourselves but the others that we come in contact with.  How do your thoughts and actions make you a better person?  How do you serve as an example for others, encouraging them to become the best versions of themselves?

* You can order a free copy of Rediscover Catholicism here:
* For more information, visit the Dynamic Catholic site.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Book Club: Cutting For Stone

When a friend of mine recently mentioned her idea to start a book club, I was super excited.  I've been wanting to read more books outside of schoolwork and magazines, and a book club would provide the perfect opportunity.  Besides, who doesn't love an excuse to get together with girlfriends and drink wine?

For any of you who want to follow along virtually, this month we are reading Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese.  It's a long book (I better get reading as soon as it arrives, which hopefully is after I finish my final 20-page research paper... eek!), but it has received some fabulous reviews and was personally recommended to me through work colleagues. 

Our book club plans to meet on April 3 to discuss, so check back here for updates on our discussion after that date.  Happy reading!

via Amazon
From Publishers Weekly (via Amazon):
Lauded for his sensitive memoir (My Own Country) about his time as a doctor in eastern Tennessee at the onset of the AIDS epidemic in the 80s, Verghese turns his formidable talents to fiction, mining his own life and experiences in a magnificent, sweeping novel that moves from India to Ethiopia to an inner-city hospital in New York City over decades and generations.

Sister Mary Joseph Praise, a devout young nun, leaves the south Indian state of Kerala in 1947 for a missionary post in Yemen. During the arduous sea voyage, she saves the life of an English doctor bound for Ethiopia, Thomas Stone, who becomes a key player in her destiny when they meet up again at Missing Hospital in Addis Ababa. Seven years later, Sister Praise dies birthing twin boys: Shiva and Marion, the latter narrating his own and his brothers long, dramatic, biblical story set against the backdrop of political turmoil in Ethiopia, the life of the hospital compound in which they grow up and the love story of their adopted parents, both doctors at Missing. The boys become doctors as well and Vergheses weaving of the practice of medicine into the narrative is fascinating even as the story bobs and weaves with the power and coincidences of the best 19th-century novel.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Blog Award!

A couple weeks ago, I was delighted to receive a blog award from Cathy of Fiscally Chic :)  As a recipient of the award, I'm sharing 7 fun facts about myself.  Enjoy!

1) I've learned that layering clothes makes it appear that you put a little thought into your outfit. My go-to piece - a cardigan!  I like them all - every color, length, weight.  It must be genetic because my mom is a big fan too... As a little girl, I didn't understand why all of her clothes were solid colors.  Now I see that mix-and-match items make it easy to expand your wardrobe.

JCrew cardigans in every color - LOVE!
The newest addition to my growing collection -
thanks to my sister-in-law J :)
2) I need at least 8 hours of sleep a night.  The ideal would probably be closer to 9 hours... which is next to impossible with everything going on in life.  But boy, do I love feeling completely rested when it happens!

3) Updated with a related but slightly more interesting fact: I am terrified of needles.  Despite this, I decided to get my bellybutton pierced when I was younger... (ouch).

4) I have four younger sisters and I am super girlie. My friends swear I am going to end up having all sons.

5) Not many people know that I skipped first grade.  It was most apparent that I was young for my year in school when I didn't turn 21 until November of senior year in college... a little brutal.  Yes, we celebrated with a luau-themed party in November.  (I love the beach, though I don't get there often!)

6) I have only been out of the country one time - to Ireland with a couple high school girlfriends - and only been west of Kansas three times - to go to the Fiesta Bowl in Tempe, AZ during senior year of college and to Vegas with work friends last fall, plus Hawaii for our honeymoon.

7) A few of my favorite things... I have a weakness for shoes and could get lost in a book for hours at a time.  I love all kinds of sweets, champagne, coffee, and cheese.  Purple is my favorite color.  Yoga, dancing and walking are my favorite forms of exercise - and great ways to relax.  I adore my husband and our home, my family and friends.
Most of my books...
A fraction of my shoes... eek
And now to pass along the award to some of the fabulous blogs I read regularly - besides Fiscally Chic of course.  They are all sources of inspiration... their content runs the gamut from fashion, new products, and jewelry, to design, home decor, and starting/owning a business.  I am amazed by what these talented bloggers serve up!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Red Carpet is a Purple Paradise

During the Oscars on Sunday night, a friend of mine texted me, "The red carpet is a purple paradise!!!"  She was correct - the celebrities (and their stylists) were loving my favorite color that night as much as I do every day... a lovely trend for the evening.  If only I could have a chance to wear one of those gowns... or have an occasion for which to wear one!
photo from
My favorite look of the evening was Mila Kunis in Elie Saab.  I adore the purple and lace, the vintage vibe and feminine layers.
photo from
Perhaps that's why I chose the wedding gown I did... for that one special occasion when non-celebrities like me can wear a fabulous, fancy dress with a train... and have people assist you in getting dressed too.
Not the best picture from the day,
but it showcases the details of the dress
Casablanca 1900 (with modified trim around waist)

For more fashion, head on over to a spot of whimsy and ashley nicole catherine.  I couldn't help but agree with a spot of whimsy's review of this year's Oscar looks.  And ashley nicole catherine recently compiled a fun "preview" of her top picks for the red carpet season, pulling from various 2011 collections. 

Gorgeous and glittering gowns... just like the stars themselves.


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