Thursday, March 29, 2012

My "Wear with Everything" Necklace

My sister-in-law gave me this pretty necklace as a hostess gift at her baby shower.  It's from Alexis K. Jewels... cute, dainty jewelry that lives up to the slogan: modern simple luxuries for everyday wear.

 I've been wearing my necklace with pretty much everything lately.

Gotta love Reese, right?!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Sips and Samples: Our In-Home Wine Tasting

I finally redeemed my Groupon for an in-home wine tasting... and wow, it was fun.  The wine consultant from PRP Wine came to our house and brought several bottles of wine.

Due to an address mix-up (apparently there is a different place with our exact address in another zip code), he was late, but to make up for it, he gave us a couple extra bottles of wine to try.  And we had plenty of booze and appetizers to tide us over, so no one really seemed to mind.

All the wine we sampled...
I wondered if the tasting would end up being a pushy sales pitch, but it wasn't.  Our consultant was pretty low-key and told us a little bit about the wine, where it was from, and suggested food pairings... and he threw out a few jokes while he poured us samples of each bottle.

PRP Wine sells wine from small boutique vineyards, mostly European and South American, that aren't available anywhere else.  We tried a few whites, a few reds, and a dessert liquor called Golden Tango Cream that's described as "Bailey's with a kick."

Scott and I will soon be receiving the orders that our group placed.  He and I bought one bottle of white (nicknamed the "patio pounder," just right for a warm summer night on the porch), two bottles of Spanish red, and one bottle of the dessert liquor (hey, "Bailey's with a kick" sold me!).

Of course, I also have to give you a peek at the appetizers and desserts I made.  I promised Scott I wouldn't be cooking all day, so these are really simple ones.  Thanks to those who brought dips, apps, beer, and wine too!

Grape and Goat Cheese Appetizers

Found some inspiration on Pinterest and tweaked the recipe a bit.  I made small balls of goat cheese, rolled them in chopped pecans, and popped them in the fridge to chill.  Then I assembled the grapes and goat cheese balls with toothpicks.  Easy!

Blueberry Cheeseball

My mom passed this cheeseball mix along.  All it required was a package of cream cheese.  Mixed the blueberry flavoring into the cream cheese, wrapped it in saran wrap and chilled it for a couple hours before rolling it in the sugary topping.  Served with cinnamon-flavored Teddy Grahams.

Bacon-Wrapped Dates

I first made these for Scott's birthday, and this time, I dusted the dates + bacon with a little brown sugar before baking them.  These babies were gone before I could grab one!

Pigs in a Blanket

This recipe is simple and a crowd-pleaser.  I used Pillsbury crescent dough (rolled out and sliced into strips) and little hot dogs.  Just a bit of assembly, about 11-13 minutes in the oven (followed the dough baking instructions), and some condiments on the side... yum!

No-Bake Cake Batter Truffles

Can you tell that I love these?  And I'm not the only one!

The Winning Hearts and Minds Cake
from A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table by Molly Wizenberg

If you love good food and good writing, you will LOVE this book.  Molly Wizenberg, a freelance food writer and author of the blog Orangette, offers up her favorite recipes from friends, family, or her own experiences and experiments in the kitchen.  It's fascinating to hear the story behind each recipe, especially when the writing is as beautiful and decadent as Molly's.

This cake was actually Molly's wedding cake (you will adore the story of how she met her husband!).  She baked twenty of the cakes for her own wedding... so I couldn't wait to make one myself.  It's simple, rich and pretty darn amazing.  Like a cake, fudge, torte... all in one.

7 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (I used Ghirardelli 60% chips)
1 3/4 sticks (7 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
5 large eggs
1 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour
Lightly sweetened whipped cream, for serving (I dusted it with powdered sugar and garnished with a sliced strawberry)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F, and butter an 8-inch round pan.  Line the bottom of the pan with a round of parchment paper, and butter the paper, too.

Put the chocolate and butter in a microwaveable bowl.  Microwave on high for 30 seconds at a time, stirring often, until just smooth.  When the mixture is smooth, add the sugar, stirring well to incorporate.  Set the batter aside to cool for 5 minutes.  Then add the eggs one by one, stirring well after each addition.  Add the flour and stir to mix well.  The batter should be dark and silky.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and bake for about 25 minutes, or until the top is lightly cracked, the edges are puffed, and the center of the cake looks set.  Molly notes that she usually sets the time for 20 minutes to start with, and then she checks the cake every 2 minutes after that, until it's ready.

Remove the cake from the oven to a cooling rack, and let it cool in the pan for 15 minutes.  Carefully turn it out of the pan and then flip it onto a serving plate, so the crackly side faces up.

Cool completely before serving, preferably with lightly sweetened whipped cream.  Keeps up to 3 days at room temperature, 5 days in the refrigerator, or a month in the freezer (wrap in saran wrap and then foil).

... And on the topic of wine: last Friday, to celebrate the three-year anniversary of our engagement (March 27, 2009) and Scott's promotion (whoo hoo!), I picked up a bottle of the wine we drank the night Scott proposed.  Cheers!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Letters to a Young Poet: Quotes, Part II

Let's continue with my favorite parts of "Letters to a Young Poet":

On seeing your art through another's eyes:
"You see: I have copied out your sonnet, because I found that it is lovely and simple and born in the shape that it moves in with some quiet decorum.  It is the best poem of yours that you have let me read.  And now I am giving you this copy because I know that it is important and full of new experience to rediscover a work of one's own in someone else's handwriting.  Read the poem as if you had never seen it before, and you will feel in your innermost being how very much it is your own."

On learning to love:
"It is also good to love: because love is difficult.  For one human being to love another human being: that is perhaps the most difficult task that has been entrusted to us, the ultimate task, the final test and proof, the work for which all other work is merely preparation. That is why young people, who are beginners in everything, are not yet capable of love: it is something they must learn.  With their whole being, with all their forces, gathered around their solitary, anxious, upward-beating heart, they must learn to love."

On bearing sadness:
"The only sadnesses that are dangerous and unhealthy are the ones that we carry around in public in order to drown them out with noise; like diseases that are treated superficially and foolishly, they just withdraw and after a short interval break out again all the more terribly; and gather inside us and are life, are life that is unlived, rejected, lost, life that we can die of.  If only it were possible for us to see farther than our knowledge reaches, and even a little beyond the outworks of our presentiment, perhaps we would bear out our sadnesses with greater trust than we have in our joys.  For they are the moments when something new has entered us, something unknown; our feelings grow mute in shy embarrassment, everything in us withdraws, a silence arises, and the new experience, which no one knows, stands in the midst of it all and says nothing."


On transition:
"We could easily be made to believe nothing happened, and yet we have changed, as a house that a guest has entered changes.  We can't say who has come, perhaps we will never know, but many signs indicate that the future enters us in this way in order to be transformed in us, long before it happens."

On the transformative power of beauty, courage, and love:
"Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage.  Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love."

On change:
"You must realize that something is happening to you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand and will not let you fall.  Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any misery, any depression, since after all you don't know what work these conditions are doing inside you?  Why do you want to persecute yourself with the question of where all this is coming from and where it is going?  Since you know, after all, that you are in the midst of transitions and you wished for nothing so much as to change... you must be patient like someone who is sick, and confident like someone who is recovering; for perhaps you are both."

On understanding others:
"And if there is one more thing that I must say to you, it is this: Don't think that the person who is trying to comfort you now lives untroubled among the simple and quiet words that sometimes give you pleasure.  His life has much trouble and sadness, and remains far behind yours.  If it were otherwise, he would never have been able to find those words."

On letting life happen:
"There is probably no point in my going into your questions now; for what I could say about your tendency to doubt or about your inability to bring your outer and inner lives into harmony or about all the other things that oppress you: is just what I have already said: just the wish that you may find in yourself enough patience to endure and enough simplicity to have faith; that you may gain more and more confidence in what is difficult and in your solitude among other people.  And as for the rest, let life happen to you.  Believe me: life is in the right, always."

On doubt:
"And your doubt can become a good quality if you train it.  It must become knowing, it must become criticism.  Ask it, whenever it wants to spoil something for you, why something is ugly, demand proofs from it, test it, and you will find it perhaps bewildered and embarrassed, perhaps also protesting.  But don't give in, insist on arguments, and act in this way, attentive and persistent, every single time, and the day will come when, instead of being a destroyer, it will be come one of your best workersperhaps the most intelligent of all the ones that are building your life."

Thursday, March 22, 2012

My Personal Essay in Off Switch Magazine

Hi, friends!  I'm so excited to be a contributing writer for Volume Two of Off Switch Magazine

Katie Michels first launched the magazine in December 2011.  She was wonderful to work withwe kept in touch via email throughout the process and she gave me great feedback and encouragement.  I'm definitely inspired by the leap of faith Katie took to start this magazine.

Pretty please... check out the new issue and my essay "Seasons of Change" (on page 28, which is page 31 in the online version).
Here's a little bit more about the magazine:

Off Switch Magazine was born out of a desire to encourage people of all ages and backgrounds to get up and act upon their dreams. Whether that dream is taking a pottery class, learning to sew, starting a band, or becoming a self-employed artist, Off Switch is here to inpsire and remind readers that all things are possible. Full of beautiful images and words with the intention of sparking ideas and motivating mindfullness of self and surroundings, Off Switch is first and formost a reminder to live life fully...without an off switch.

Off Switch is a quarterly publication available for free online and in print for a fee.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Letters to a Young Poet: Quotes, Part I

My mother-in-law sent me an email about yesterday's post and added some great perspective:
One Christmas I received a family picture card from a former grad school classmate.  She wrote "I graduated from law school in June, took my boards in August and had my third childa girlin October."  I felt like the biggest slug in the world.  I think your feelings are universal in that every generation feels them.  I found myself wishing my life away so I could see around the next corner.  Finally, with age, these feelings subside.  The really important things in life come through then.  But you can't know that at 27.  The journey will take you there and that's the fun part.
As promised, I wanted to share some excerpts from "Letters to a Young Poet" (Part I includes eight quotes to start!)  Since I love so many of them, I would recommend taking a little quiet time to read through them slowly and with intention.  Often, I just skim through blog posts, online articles, Facebook posts, etc, because life is busy and I need to move quickly.  So this time, I encourage you to shut out distractions, curl up with a cup of coffee, allow yourself some time, and open your mind and heart...  (And let me know what you think!)
On looking outside for approval and comparing yourself to others:
"You ask whether your verses are any good.  You ask me.  You have asked others before this.  You send them to magazines.  You compare them with other poems, and you are upset when certain editors reject your work.  Now (since you have said you want my advice) I beg you to stop doing that sort of thing.  You are looking outside, and that is what you should most avoid right now."

On finding your true passion:
"Go into yourself.  Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write.  This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write?  Dig into yourself for a deep answer.  And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple "I must," then build your life in accordance with this necessity."

On the richness of everyday life:
"Then, as if no one had ever tried before, try to say what you see and feel and love and lose.... So rescue yourself from these general themes and write about what your everyday life offers you; describe your sorrows and desires, the thoughts that pass through your mind and your belief in some kind of beautydescribe all these with heartfelt, silent, humble sincerity and, when you express yourself, use the Things around you, the images from your dreams, and the objects you remember.  If your everyday life seems poor, don't blame it; blame yourself; admit to yourself that you are not enough of a poet to call forth its riches..."

On the power of books:
"A whole world will envelop you, the happiness, the abundance, the inconceivable vastness of the world.  Live for awhile in these books, learn from them what you feel is worth learning, but most of all love them.  This love will be returned to you thousands upon thousands of times, whatever your life may becomeit will, I am sure, go through the whole fabric of your becoming, as one of the most important threads among all the threads of your experiences, disappointments, and joys."
On following your heart:
"Always trust yourself and your own feeling, as opposed to argumentations, discussions, or introductions of that sort; if it turns out you are wrong, then the natural growth of your inner life will eventually guide you to other insights."

On patience:
"In this there is no measuring time, a year doesn't matter, and ten years are nothing.  Being an artist means: not numbering and counting, but ripening like a tree, which doesn't force its sap, and stands confidently in the storms of spring, not afraid that afterward summer may not come.  It does come.  But it comes only to those who are patient, who are there as if eternity lay before them, so unconcernedly silent and vast.  I learn it every day of my life, learn it with pain I am grateful for: patience is everything!"

On loving and living the questions:
"You are so young, so much before all beginning, and I would like to beg you, dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language.  Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them.  And the point is, to live everything.  Live the questions now.  Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer."

On solitude:
"What is necessary, after all, is only this: solitude, vast inner solitude.  To walk inside yourself and meet no one for hoursthat is what you must be able to attain.  To be solitary as you were when you were a child, when the grownups walked around involved with matters that seemed large and important because they looked so busy and because you didn't understand a thing about what they were doing."

Monday, March 19, 2012

Letters to a Young Poet: An Introduction

It's hard to be patient.  I'm 27 years old, and for some reason, I think I have to have everything figured out already.  With blogs and social media and the Internet, it sometimes seems like everyone else has the secret to success.  And in our "instant gratification" culture, we all want success right NOW.

Jess's recent post on Makeunder My Life and a news article that I came across on Facebook put some of my feelings into words... and made me realize I'm not alone.

An excerpt from the article:
Like most twentysomethings, Rebecca Thorman lives in the spotlight of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and Flickr, and as the accomplishments of her peers become more public than ever, there’s a heightened sense of competition.

In Washington, she’s surrounded by overachievers—some of whom, such as her boyfriend, Ryan Healy, have gotten funding for their companies practically straight out of college—and she doesn’t want to be left behind just working at some “normal” job.

Call it the Mark Zuckerberg Effect. At 26, the Facebook cofounder was Time’s Person of the Year. And all over the country there are knockoffs of Zuckerberg—young people upping the ante for their peers. AOL ran a story called meet the new young millionaires, about people under age 33. Yahoo ran a feature called how to be a millionaire by 35, filled with real-world examples.

A commenter on a Gen Y blog described the landscape: “I feel like, at 23, I should be starting my own design studio, have tons of clients and work experience, and be at my peak.”

No doubt this mentality is the midwife of Thorman’s anxiety and self-criticism. Looking around at other people her age—both in real life and on social media—she says, “I feel like everyone has figured it out except for me.”
Now, stick with me here...

Recently, I felt the need to reflect and look back in order to counteract all my forward-thinking ideas, anticipation, and this pressure I put on myself to not only achieve my goals but also do it right this second.

When you think about it, so much happens in a lifetime... things we could never expect.  Ten years ago, I was a senior in high school, struggling a bit to find my place in life and discover what made me truly happy.  Five years ago, I was almost a year out of college, loving life in Chicago with my roommates but unsure if my job was the right match and ready to find a guy I could spend my life with.

I think over time, I've come closer to the person I want to become.  But I needed time to figure out who that person was... and then more time to grow and change.  It can't happen overnight, just like relationships, careers, and almost anything else in life aren't immediate.
Ten years ago, when I was that senior in high school, someone recommended a book to possibly help me sort out all the uncertain feelings I was experiencing.  Rainer Maria Rilke's "Letters to a Young Poet" spoke to me then... and it still does. 

Every time I pick up the slim little volume, I rediscover the quotes I love and find new ones that are just what I need to hear at that moment.  It's amazing, considering the letters were written between 1903 and 1908 (which also means Rilke was 27 years oldmy current ageat the time he wrote them).

This book has popped up a number of times throughout my life, acting almost as a guidepost to let me know that I'm on the right path.  A couple of years ago, when I was trying to figure out a way to make writing a bigger part of my life, I talked to the director of my alma mater's writing centerwhere I worked during collegefor some ideas.  He recommended "Letters to a Young Poet," and it felt like a reassuring sign. 

I've come across quotes from the book here and there... at the exact moments when I needed encouragement.  This past week, I read through it again. 

You don't have to be a "young poet" to appreciate Rilke's words.  Since I found so many passages to be inspiring and true, even in this modern age, I wanted to share them with you.  This post is just a little introductionI'll be back with some quotes this week... stay tuned!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

A Quick Trick for Transporting Cupcakes

I don't make cupcakes too often, but when I do, I like to share them with others.  Scott and I enjoy sweets, but there is no reason we need to keep all 24 cupcakes for ourselves!

So when I made some funfetti cupcakes with green swirly icing on Friday, I also discovered an easy way to transport them.  I don't have one of those fancy carriers, but I only needed to wrap up a couple to give to Scott's cousin's family and a few for Scott's immediate family.  I dug through the cabinets and thought about using saran wrap and toothpicks to keep the wrap away from the icing... but then I came across some clear plastic cups.

By placing one cupcake in each cup, I was able to separate them from one another and protect the icing from the plastic bag.  Of course, to remove them, you have to be okay with possibly messing up the icing a bit... or you can just eat the cupcake straight out of the cup with a fork (especially since I didn't use paper liners). 

It's not perfect, but in a pinch, this little solution worked for me!  Anyone else have a cool baking tip to share?

Hope everyone had a wonderful weekend!  It was absolutely gorgeous here... and now that I'm officially on spring break, it was so great to relax, celebrate St. Patrick's Day, sit on our porch, sleep in, catch up with family and friends, and not have homework hanging over my head.  Sunshine and warm temps make me happy!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Book Club: Persuasion

Wow, where did the past two weeks go?  I'm sorry I kind of dropped off the face of the earth... blame finals!  But now I'm officially on spring break from school (one more quarter until I'm done!).  And it actually feels like spring around here... Chicago has been in the 70's lately and we still have a few more nice days ahead.  Love it, love it.

I have to get you all caught up on book club!  Four of us met a couple weeks back at Wilde.  It was my turn to host but with everything going on, I suggested we meet at this awesome Irish pub/restaurant for a late afternoon snack... and some wine, of course. 

The dark wood and layout of the restaurant makes for cozy conversation.  And what an appropriate place to meet for book club, considering the place is named after Oscar Wilde... For a meal, I usually go with the small portion of mac and cheese (so cheesy with bits of bacon, caramelized onion, tomato, and garlic bread crumbs in it) plus a side salad.  But since it was only 4 pm, I just went with a little grease... onion rings!  The other girls tried some artichoke-cheddar dip and sweet potato fries.  Yum!

As for the book, The Devil in the White City... at the time of the meeting, I was only about halfway done.  But since then, I finished itso maybe it worked out that this post is delayed.

Overall, we all really enjoyed the setting of Chicago and the history of the 1893 World's Fair.  (One of the girls told us that her company used to have their offices in the Rookery, where the architect of the fair had worked!)  Though the book felt a bit slow at times, the story itself was just plain fascinating... especially since it was based on true events.  As the author states at the end, "The juxtaposition of pride and unfathomed evil struck me as offering powerful insights into the nature of men and their ambitions.  The more I read about the fair, the more entranced I became."

I thought the details and descriptions really made the story come alive, and there was plenty of suspense (will they complete the fair in time? who will be the serial killer's next victim?).  The scale of the fair was incredible with the creation of massive buildings and the first Ferris wheel, hundreds of thousands of workers and attendees, and worldwide attentionespecially impressive considering the time period.  I didn't realize all the new technology, inventions, architectural advances, and historical figures involved in the creation of the fair either.

If you're looking for an interesting historical read, all of us would recommend it!

And for next month, we decided that it would be good to choose a classic book.  Since I was in a Jane Austen literature class this past quarter (an elective that I was SO excited about... I love Austen!), we selected Persuasion

Though Pride and Prejudice is Austen's most popular novel, Persuasion is also one of my favorites of hers.  It was the last of her six novels and has a different tonemore mature and full of emotion.  Many consider Anne Elliot their favorite of Austen's heroines... plus the premise of the story reads like the basis of a modern day rom-com.  I can't wait to hear what the other girls think of it... and to share a little of the background and discussion from my class.

via Review:
Anne Elliot, heroine of Austen's last novel, did something we can all relate to: Long ago, she let the love of her life get away. In this case, she had allowed herself to be persuaded by a trusted family friend that the young man she loved wasn't an adequate match, social stationwise, and that Anne could do better. The novel opens some seven years after Anne sent her beau packing, and she's still alone. But then the guy she never stopped loving comes back from the sea. As always, Austen's storytelling is so confident, you can't help but allow yourself to be taken on the enjoyable journey.

Friday, March 2, 2012


I've been thinking about the idea of restoration lately.  It started a few weeks back when my yoga teacher led us through a 75-minute restorative class.  She prefaced the session by saying that a restorative class might not be what we expected... we'd be doing gentle, calming stretches rather than quicker "flow" movements.  But she reassured us that this type of practice is often just what we need... especially if we don't think we need it. 

I haven't made it to yoga class very often lately, so that day, part of me was hoping to move and sweat and build some strength, but after running around and cramming everything I could into the week, a little restoration was much needed.

The word "restore" sounds scary sometimes because the very definition requires taking a step back, returning to a previous state.  When we are hurt or broken or shaky though, we need to heal before moving forward.

These days, we all want to be productive, make use of time, get results.  But sometimes we need that down time more than anything.  We need to be still and quiet, to sleep, pray, read, think.  We need time with friends and loved ones, laughing and sharing.  There is no way to keep up the fast pace of life without time to relax and recharge.  For me, to allow my creativity to flow, I need time to think and dream and laugh... even if it is just a few moments captured here and there.

Last night, I stayed home while Scott went out for a couple of beers with friends.  I was fighting a cold and class was cancelled, so I curled up on the couch and watched the newest Twilight movie.  Scott had no interest in seeing it, and as silly as it seems, I needed those two hours to sit and veg out, calm my mind and escape into another world.

I realized the most important part of indulging in restorative time (it sure seems like it is an indulgence even though it's necessary!) is not feeling guilty about it.  If I think about what else I could be doing, or should be doing, the time isn't truly restorative.  I've found that I feel better about taking a time-out if I have mapped out other times to complete everything else I need to do.  I know I'll get it all done... later.

This Lent, rather than give something up, I've been trying to take time to pray, especially during my commute.  When I'm on the bus at 6 am, I don't want to do anything except space out, so it's the perfect time to reflect and take a moment to talk to God.  Sometimes I forget, sometimes I just run through an "Our Father" or "Hail Mary," but it's a nice reminder that He is there with me, all the time, no matter what.

Consider the hush of an empty church with wooden pews and stained glass windows, a library with stacks and shelves of books, a little patch of sand next to waves of soothing water.  It's in the quiet, restorative moments that I calm my nerves, heal my soul, let my creativity come alive... just breathe and get ready for whatever comes next.


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