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.

Amazon.com 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!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Celebrating 27 Years

The common theme of my birthday weekend... food, friends and family.  A couple of my college girlfriends came in town, so we had a total of seven ND girls in Chicago this weekend.  Seriously, I couldn't have asked for a better birthday...

On Friday night, we all got together at our condo for a pre-Hot Chocolate 15K pasta dinner.  Some of the girls brought appetizers, salad, garlic bread, and wine... Scott and I served up the pasta and pulled out the extra leaf in our table so we all gathered close and dug in.  It was amazing to look around the table and see so many of my close friends and their significant others, just enjoying good food and catching up.  My mom sent her signature chocolate birthday cake too... literally icing on the cake of a wonderful evening.

Early Saturday morning, a bunch of us participated in the Hot Chocolate 15K, either walking or running it.  K and I walked the 9.3 miles... and had a great time chatting while I worked my butt off to keep up with her :)  After the race, we met up with the runners and chowed on chocolate fondue and hot cocoa... amazing!
After some much-needed naps, we grabbed Thai food at Joy's and headed to Matilda's for the big birthday bash x 3.  Three of us birthday girls cut into a huge chocolate cake from Bittersweet and celebrated with our friends and family.  My favorite part about birthdays is having a chance to spend time and catch up with friends far and near.
On Sunday morning, we enjoyed a quick brunch at Ann Sather... they have to-die-for cinnamon rolls.  And the birthday celebration continued with dinner at Mia Francesca with Scott.  What a cozy meal... delicious wine, bruschetta, and pasta!

Oh, there was a common theme among my birthday gifts too... shoes, shoes and more shoes... in addition to some great fall clothes, pillows for our bed (Scott says, more pillows?!), and pretty accessories.  I also have some serious shopping to do... gifts cards galore to J.Crew, LOFT and Starbucks!
Toms in Gilded Herringbone... from Scott's parents
Loafer wedges, perfect for fall... from my parents
Tory Burch flats... from Scott (!!!)
A big thank you to everyone for the birthday wishes.  I'm so blessed!


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