Thursday, August 30, 2012

What I Wore: Work Presentation

A great outfit is an instant confidence boosterespecially when it includes high heels.  Although working from home means I typically wear comfy clothes while working, sometimes I need to step it up a notch.

Last night, I gave a short presentation on essay writing at an area high school and wanted to wear something comfortable, polished, and professional.

It's all about the right fit and quality pieces.  But that doesn't mean you have to spend a lot of money. 

In fact, none of this outfit cost full-price.  The top and skirt are from Marshall's (the skirt is from my recent shopping trip with my mom... original price $178; our price $39.99).  As you may remember, the Kate Spade purse was a graduation gift from my parents (original price $428; our price $149).  I got the necklace from J.Crew on sale AND with a gift card.  And the shoes are from DSW's clearance rack (another find while shopping with Mom).

Want more workwear inspiration?  Check out Fiscally Chic's post today on what she wore for a big meeting... and Ashley Nicole Catherine's recent post on work essentials (it inspired me to pick up those new pencil skirts and pumps with my mom!).

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Chicago Bachelorette Bash

On Saturday, a group of us girls celebrated C's last few weeks of being a bachelorette.  Not only was it a gorgeous summer day, but we ate and drank our way through the afternoon at places that were (mostly) new to me.

I love exploring Chicago's bars and restaurants, especially when the sun is shining, the food is yummy, and the company is fabulous.  Here's a peek into where we went...

First stop: Brunch/lunch at Revolution Brewing

We shared some bacon fat popcorn.

Passion fruit bellini... and coffee, of course.

Awesome lighting and tin ceiling.

I had the quiche, which features rotating seasonal ingredients (this one was a take on a chicken pot pie!).

Time for gifts!

Second stop: Drinks (outside and then inside) at Boiler Room

Pretty outdoor space.

Fun "lottery" game (with prizes!).

The whole group!

The bride-to-be with a treat... Jameson-flavored ice cream.

The CTA-train-inspired bathroom (this view is from the inside, looking out).

Lovely ladies.

The name of this drink, when translated, included the word "butt"... but it tasted just fine.

Third stop: Appetizers (and more drinks) at Tavern

A quick hop on the L.

Waiting for the train.

More eating and drinking.

A drink for the bachelorette.

Last stop: Dinner and dessert at Mindy's Hot Chocolate

Another chance to win!

Pretty pink drink called "Paris to Milan."

Unfortunately, I didn't get a snapshot of the food we ordered (lots of the most delicious mac-and-cheese + veggie sides) or the dessert (a skillet souffle and a red velvet cake). 

But needless to say, we had a great time celebrating with Miss C. before she becomes Mrs. H!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Share Your Story: Katie of Off Switch

This is a guest post for the "Share Your Story" series (learn more about it here!).

I'm excited to introduce you all to Katie, editor of Off Switch Magazine and blog.  As a contributor to Off Switch Magazine (Volume 2 and the forthcoming Volume 4), I've worked with Katie over the past few months, and it's been so inspiring to see her publication grow during its first year.  Definitely encourage you to check it out.


In Retrospect (I Laugh)
I barely remember riding a bicycle prior to that late summer night shortly before my sophomore year of high school. If I had ridden a bike, I am sure it was a short-lived and feeble attempt. That night was different though. That night I pulled out my pink garage sale bike with the banana seat and practiced around the block with a new sense of courage for what lay ahead.
Not only did I go around our block, I went around all the many blocks that made up our neighborhood’s grid-like streets. I remember waving to neighbors who were outside chatting with friends, feeling so genuinely happy and proud of myself.
I’m doing it! I’m doing it!
Unfortunately my joy was short-lived. After an hour of carefree riding through the unpopulated streets, I was just a half block from home when I collided head-on with a moving car. 
The college-age girl driving the offending vehicle got out of her car as I was picking myself and my bike up off the ground. While trying to hold it together, I ended up falling apart into a fit of tears. The driver sat me down in her passenger seat and handed me Dairy Queen napkins for my bloody and badly scraped knees. My tears brought her to tears and we both cried and laughed, saying “this is only supposed to happen in movies.”
I declined the girl’s offer to drive me and my bike home. I suppose I felt I had already caused too much trouble by way of riding in the middle of the street. My lack of experience had gotten the better of my already slow reflexes… and I was embarrassed for it all. What I hadn’t realized until after the driver left was that my bike’s front wheel was now bent inward toward the back wheel.
Ten minutes later, I had finally dragged the newly disfigured bicycle home with me. I dropped it on the front lawn and started up the steps to the door, yelling through the screen for my mom. In true parental fashion, she was both horrified by my appearance and that of the bike, while keeping her cool bandaging me up. Sitting on the bathroom toilet I heaved in and out, doing my best to catch my breath and relay the incident back to my concerned mother.
Not a few minutes after we had begun "operation hydrogen peroxide and band-aides,” my older brother burst into the house and down the hall to the bathroom door. He was laughing hysterically. My brother had just arrived home and found my bicycle out front. He could not believe how horribly I had totaled my bike after just one night of riding. And beyond that, he thought it was hilarious I had dragged the mess home with me instead of leaving it in the street to pick up later.
My first reaction was to pummel him to the ground. How dare he laugh when I am so shaken and upset? I was embarrassed for what had happened, and the last thing I needed was my brother finding the humor in it…well, at least not so soon.
In the time since that night, I realize how grateful I am for him and his sense of humor. My brother may have chosen an inappropriate time to make a joke, but I believe the point is that he was able to make one. The experience was unfortunate, but in the end no one was hurt and that’s all anyone can ask for. Beyond that, now I had a story to tell with wounds from my battle in the form of a nubby scar on my right knee and the memory of a truly dismantled bike.
With the help of my older brother, I was able to realize that in almost every circumstance there is the chance to find humor, and in retrospect I choose to laugh.
Katie Michels is the gal behind Off Switch: magazine, blog, and shop. As the founder and editor of Off Switch Magazine—a quarterly print publication aimed at encouraging people to pursue their passions—Katie is amazed each day that her "job" allows her to meet and form relationships with like-minded and talented folks from across the country. Katie resides in a western suburb of Chicago, IL and aspires to live each day fully, without an off switch.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Every Other Monday

In case you missed the announcement on Facebook and Twitter last week, I was recently selected to be a regular contributor on The Write Practice.  I'll be posting there every other Monday, starting today

As I've said before, I'm all about the idea that everyone has a story to tell, so I'm excited to be a part of The Write Practice and have the opportunity to encourage other people in their writing.

I'd love if you would pop over and say hello (and maybe even try one of the 15-minute practice prompts!).  The site is a great source of inspiration and community.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Book Club: You Know When the Men Are Gone

On Tuesday evening, we met at N's place to discuss The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin.  N. served up a whole spread of cheese and crackers, dips and chips, little puff pastries and mini quiches.  The five of us sipped peach sparkling wine and sat on the deck, enjoying the late summer evening.

It seemed like many of us got a few nuggets of wisdom, ideas, advice from the book.  But at the same time, there were plenty of things that the author tried in her pursuit of greater happiness that didn't resonate with us personally.  As Rubin says, a happiness project is inherently personal.  Each person's idea of what happiness is and the sources from which they find happiness will be different.

I found it a little overwhelming how many daily/weekly activities or routines Rubin included.  Sure, she weeded some out along the way when she found they weren't working for her, but a ten-minute clean-up time, a daily entry in her gratitude journal, etc. sounded like a lot of work to keep up.  I think the trick is finding what brings happiness and meaning without adding a bunch of stuff to your to-do list.  And while it's admirable that Rubin fesses up to her weaknesses and bad habits in order to improve upon them, the focus on her negative aspects also made me wonder if we were seeing a full and accurate picture of who she really is.

Throughout the book, there were plenty of ideas that reminded me what's important.  By focusing on what really matters and remembering how life flies by, we can find greater joy in the everyday.  The smallest things can make the biggest impact, even if it's something as simple as laughing more, maintaining a clean and organized home, or actually using those "nice" things we store away for the "right" occasion (china, fancy clothes, etc).

C. asked me if I could relate more to the book because I'm a writer like Rubin is, especially the line "(Well, I don't actually love writing, but then practically no writer actually loves the writing part.)"  That statement certainly contains some truthwriting is hard, and while I love the end product, those bursts of creativity, those moments when the words come out just as I had hoped, it's a bit like exercise.  You feel great afterwards, sometimes you feel great during it, but it's tough to get started.  So perhaps in some ways, I can understand Rubin's work better as a fellow writer, but I think we are quite different people as far as personality.

Onto the next selection... we're going to read You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon, a collection of short stories about the lives of military families while they wait for their men to come home.

via Book Description:
Reminiscent of Raymond Carver and Tim O'Brien, an unforgettable collection of intercollected short stories.

In Fort Hood housing, like all army housing, you get used to hearing through the walls... You learn too much. And you learn to move quietly through your own small domain. You also know when the men are gone. No more boots stomping above, no more football games turned up too high, and, best of all, no more front doors slamming before dawn as they trudge out for their early formation, sneakers on metal stairs, cars starting, shouts to the windows above to throw them down their gloves on cold desert mornings. Babies still cry, telephones ring, Saturday morning cartoons screech, but without the men, there is a sense of muted silence, a sense of muted life.

There is an army of women waiting for their men to return in Fort Hood, Texas. Through a series of loosely interconnected stories, Siobhan Fallon takes readers onto the base, inside the homes, into the marriages and families-intimate places not seen in newspaper articles or politicians' speeches.

When you leave Fort Hood, the sign above the gate warns, You've Survived the War, Now Survive the Homecoming. It is eerily prescient.

From Publisher's Weekly (via Amazon):
The crucial role of military wives becomes clear in Fallon's powerful, resonant debut collection, where the women are linked by absence and a pervading fear that they'll become war widows. In the title story, a war bride from Serbia finds she can't cope with the loneliness and her outsider status, and chooses her own way out. The wife in "Inside the Break" realizes that she can't confront her husband's probable infidelity with a female soldier in Iraq; as in other stories, there's a gap between what she can imagine and what she can bear to know. In "Remission," a cancer patient waiting on the results of a crucial test is devastated by the behavior of her teenage daughter, and while the trials of adolescence are universal, this story is particularized by the unique tensions between military parents and children. One of the strongest stories, "You Survived the War, Now Survive the Homecoming," attests to the chasm separating men who can't speak about the atrocities they've experienced and their wives, who've lived with their own terrible burdens. Fallon writes with both grit and grace: her depiction of military life is enlivened by telling details, from the early morning sound of boots stomping down the stairs to the large sign that tallies automobile fatalities of troops returned from Iraq. Significant both as war stories and love stories, this collection certifies Fallon as an indisputable talent

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Share Your Story: Jude McCanse

This is a guest post for the "Share Your Story" series (learn more about it here!).

I'm excited to introduce you all to Jude. Her daughter J., who I know through my best friend N., encouraged her to write a post for this series. I'm so glad she reached out to me!


I am a cradle Catholic and embrace the faith, but I have always felt a little uncomfortable when I hear people say, “God cured me” or “God saved me” in one situation or another.  While I believe in the healing power of God, that He is omnipotent and can do all things, I’ve struggled with the notion that He would choose to heal or save one person over another, one child over another. I find it difficult to put “God” and “arbitrary” in the same thought.  Did one person not pray hard enough for him or herself, or for their ailing child?  Does God have some kind of “prayer meter” that measures the quantity, intensity and sincerity of prayer? If a person dies in spite of prayer, was he or she deemed unworthy of healing? I think not.
Two years ago, a middle-school student in the district I work in passed away from a cancer that he bravely fought against since kindergarten.  I never had Ben as a student, but his grandmother is a colleague, and staff would get regular mass e-mails about Ben’s condition and treatment. Talk about a faith-filled family…his mom thanked God for new treatments, prayed constantly that they would work and that Ben would tolerate the side-effects without too much pain and nausea.  She ended every e-mail with, “KEEP PRAYING!!!”  We all did.
The year Ben died, our 24-year-old daughter, Hilary, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.  Any parent can relate to our feelings, the realization of a parent’s worst nightmare.  We jumped in with both feet getting the medical treatment started; CT scan, two difficult and dangerous biopsies (the tumor was near her heart), six months of chemotherapy and five weeks of radiation.  And like Ben’s mother, I prayed and asked everyone I know to pray for Hilary’s healing.  In the back of my mind, however, I couldn’t help but think, “Why Hilary and not Ben?”
One of the friends I asked to pray for Hilary is a woman I’ve known since our kids were little.  We’ve shared many ups and downs of life over the years.  Chris isn’t sophisticated, and she’s had a hard life, but I’ve always admired her faith and how easily she can put things in God’s hands.  The next time I saw her after I asked her to pray for Hilary, she told me that God spoke to her and told her what words we should use when we prayed.  She looked a little puzzled and asked, “What does, era…era…eradicate mean?”  When I told her, she said that’s what she thought it must mean.  God told her that we should pray that “Hilary’s cancer is eradicated.”  I had no doubt that God had spoken to my friend…she wasn’t sure how to pronounce “eradicate” or what exactly the word meant.
It has been over a year since Hilary completed her treatments, and she is actively working and living her life in New York City.  She just had a negative CT scan and was told that she can stretch the scans to 8 months instead of 6.  We are incredibly grateful.  I wish I could say that now I get it, the whole prayer/healing thing, but I don’t, and I know that it is a mystery that I will never understand.  All I can say is that I take nothing for granted. Every day, I thank God for Hilary’s health and continue to pray for strength and wisdom…and of course, that the cancer will be eradicated forever.

Jude is a speech pathologist in the Winnebago, IL school district and writing is her avocation. She has published a children's book, The Disappearance of Dawn (, for ages pre-school through fifth grade, and she has had several poems published in the literary magazine, The Rockford Review. An essay that she wrote about her father appears in Tim Russert's Wisdom of Our Fathers and she has been a guest blogger on Makobi Scribe. Jude is married to her wonderful husband, Don, and they are the parents of five terrific grown children!

Monday, August 20, 2012

A Wonderful Weekend with My Mom

My mom visited this weekend.  She helped my sister move into her senior year apartment at ND last week and arrived at our place on Thursday evening.  I made a turkey taco meatloaf and we opened a bottle of wine, then spent the evening catching up.

On Friday, Scott had to go to work (well, they got to watch the Air & Water Show practice from a downtown rooftop!), so my mom and I had a "girls" day.  It was gorgeous weather all weekend.  We started the day with coffee and fruit & yogurt, then headed to the lake for a long walk.  Lots of people were out and about, especially with the Air Show practice going on.

We found that my bubble necklace had arrived in the mail (only $28 through Accessory Auctions!).

Apologies for the blurry picture!
After a nice lunch at Joy's Noodles, we headed out to DSW and Marshall's for shopping.  I found two great pairs of pumps, Mom picked out a couple cute pairs of flats, and we each had some great finds at Marshall's (a dress and two nice skirts for me!).  What we love about these stores: good quality at affordable prices.

We grabbed iced coffee and a scoop of ice cream at Dunkin Donuts/Baskin Robbins before heading back to the condo.  Scott came home and a couple of my girlfriends stopped by after work for happy hour: champagne and snacks.  Scott, Mom and I went to Wilde for a late dinner and then stopped at Paciugo for gelato!

Happy hour!

On Saturday, we had a relaxing morning and stopped over at the small farmers market by our place.... picked up some peaches for that evening's dessert and flowers.  Another girlfriend came by to say hello and catch up before Scott, Mom and I went out to the suburbs for dinner at Scott's parents' house.  It was so great to see his family... and they made an amazing meal.

My mom with my nephew, Liam... after five children of her own, this lady is a pro with the babies.
Photo by Scott's dad :)
Mom and I were in charge of the dessert... so we decided on a fruit cobbler/dump cake served warm with ice cream.  (It's basically this recipe minus the sugar and using peaches rather than blueberries... very easy and adaptable.) Yum, yum!

On Sunday, we went to Mass and to Melrose Restaurant for brunch before my mom had to head to the airport.  Sad to see her go, but we really had a wonderful weekend together.  Beautiful weather, lots of great food, and fun conversation.  We could have taken more pictures (my mom has a few on her camera) but it was refreshing to just be in the moment.  Can't wait to see my family (all of them!) in a few weeks...

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Happy 2nd Birthday to My Blog!

Here we are, two years of blogging!  I wanted to mark the occasion with something special, something big and celebratory.  But instead, I decided to offer a little bit of honest reflection.

As far as my intention for blogging, I think it should be fun and creative... it should bring people and ideas together.  And it is... it does.  But somewhere along the way, I (like many bloggers recently) started viewing my blog as another "to-do."  I haven't been feeling as creative or reflective or inspired lately.

I write because I love to write... and I want to write about these topics.  I pour my heart into each post, and as much as this blog is for me, it's also to inspire others.  But sometimes I wonder if I should be doing something more or something different.  Sometimes I feel like I'm one tiny voice in a very large crowd.

This isn't supposed to be a pity party.  To be honest, I've read SO many posts just like this one, and I've wondered if maybe we're all being a little too hard on ourselves.  We want to blog x times a week and receive a ton of comments and build up a bunch of followers.  But is that the point? 

Blogging takes time and effort, and it has so many benefits, but living life is more important.  Some days, I feel like I'm tied to my computer between emails, social media, blogs, and writing.  Do I need to take pictures of everything I do?  Do I need to read every Twitter update?  Do I need to go through my whole blogroll?  I used to think all that computer time would lead to more inspiration, but now I think I need to step away more often, quit comparing, and focus on the present.

I'm not going to quit blogging.  I've learned so much, tried new things, expanded my creativity.  I love the community I've found, and it amazes me how I've developed friendships through this little space.  I want to grow that even more.  So please, if you enjoy Inspiration and Rough Drafts, let me know what you like, what brings you back, what you want to see in the future.  And please stick around to see all of the inspiration to come!

Now about that birthday thing :)  For a peek into some of the many posts I've written, check out my Table of Contents.  It is by no means comprehensive, but it gives a sense of what this blog is all about and how it's grown.  Let's celebrate!  Two amazing years of writing, ideas, inspiration, and community!

I'll leave you with a celebratory picture... a "sampler" of all the cookies and bars my mom made for our family visit in July.  Yes, they were amazing.  And yes, I ate at least one of each over the course of five days.  P.S. My mom is visiting this weekend, and I'm so so so excited!  Have a lovely weekend, my friends.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

DePaul's M.A. in Writing & Publishing Program

It finally arrived... my diploma!  Scott and I hung our bachelor's degrees above my desk awhile back and left a space for my master's one.  I already had the frame ready to go, so when the diploma came in the mail on Friday, we put it up on the wall that evening.

Scott's on the left (Iowa), mine on the right (Notre Dame + DePaul)
I realized I have never talked much about the actual Master's in Writing and Publishing program at DePaul, aside from a few comments about my finals and my papers and how busy things were.  So here we go...

Back in the spring of 2010, I started exploring grad school programs, partially because I love school and learning, partially because I wanted to explore something outside of my 9-5 job.  I missed writing and was fascinated with the publishing industry, so when I came across DePaul's program, I was excitedit incorporated workshops on the craft of writing, as well as more career-oriented classes on publishing, teaching, etc.  I attended an information session at DePaul in April 2010 and knew it was the program for me.  I had also looked into Northwestern's MFA program and went to an info session there too, but I felt that program was more geared towards creative writing exclusively, rather than also offering the broader topics in publishing that I was interested in.

I put together my application for the DePaul MAWP program soon after the information session, as they have rolling admission.  It's great because you can start any quarter, but they did suggest submitting your application ahead of the suggested quarterly deadlines so you have more options open when enrolling and registering for classes.

There's no need to take a GRE for this program, unless you want to apply for a graduate assistantship.  I don't think there is a specific GPA cut-off, but they like to see that you have a strong academic background and some experience with creative writing. You do have to submit a personal statement and a portfolio of about 25 pages of writing (I included a mix of academic papers from college and a couple short fiction pieces, but it looks like they now require 25 pages of creative writing specifically). They also request a resume and encourage you to send letters of recommendation.

When Scott and I returned from our honeymoon in June 2010, I received my acceptance.  I started classes that fall and took two classes a quarter.  At that pace, I completed the program in two years (Fall, Winter, and Spring quarters).

To get a sense of the classes offered, here are the ones I took.  (FYI, the literature classes were electives... because I enjoy 18th & 19th-century literature and love Jane Austen.)

Magazine Editing: Packaging the Story
American Publishing Industry
Language and Style for Writers
Structure of Modern English

Narrative Strategies
19th Century Literature: Jane Austen

18th Century Literature: Invention of the Novel

First-Person Narratives

Novella Writing
Poetry Writing
Fiction Writing

Alternative Fiction Identities

Typically, homework consisted of reading (for some classes, up to a novel a week), response papers (maybe two-three pages), exercises (writing a page or two of fiction or grammar practice), as well as ongoing larger projects (like a short story for workshopping, longer research papers, etc).  I would estimate about eight hours a week, though certain weeks required more or less time.  And of course, it all depends on how quickly you read and write!  As I said, I took two classes per quarter, but you could choose to take one class at a time if it worked better.

The professors I had were fantastic. Most are published writers or very involved in publishing, so it was amazing to learn from them. For example, my class in magazine packaging/editing was taught by an editor at Chicago Magazine, and the professor for two of my fiction workshops was coming out with her debut novel at the same time while our class was going on. Very cool. The classes typically have about 15 students for workshops and about 20 for other classes. It's great because you get to know other people in the program and have an opportunity to read their work too.

Financially, I had enough saved up to pay out-of-pocket as I went through the program.  I received some tuition reimbursement through my job, which covered about one quarter's tuition.  DePaul does offer partial tuition scholarships and graduate assistantships as well (I applied for and received partial tuition scholarships each quarter of my second year).

Overall, I loved the classes, the professors, the programand the commitment to reading and writing. I knew that if I wanted to get serious with my writing, I needed to make a commitment of time and money. And since I'm one of those people who loves school, it was fun to be back in the classroom.

The toughest part was balancing everything.  When work would get busy or I had a lot of events and trips, things got a little crazy. Plus I wanted to make time to hang out with my friends and my husband too.  But it's definitely doable.  Since it is a part-time program, the professors understand that most people have full-time jobsplus writing doesn't really require group projects or meetings, so you can work on your own time.

I would highly recommend the MAWP program for someone who is interested in developing his/her writing and looking for a program that can help further a career in writing, publishing, or teaching.

Check out DePaul's website for all the most up-to-date information, and if you're interested, I'd be happy to answer any questions.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Share Your Story: Diane of A Spot of Whimsy

This is a guest post for the "Share Your Story" series (learn more about it here!).

I'm excited to introduce you all to Diane of a spot of whimsy. We met during college through the Dance Company of Notre Dame and have stayed in touch post-graduation via our blogs... and when our paths occasionally cross here in Chicago :)


Hello Readers of Inspiration and Rough Drafts!  I am particularly honored that Melissa asked me to be a part of this series because I am not a writeror at least not in the traditional sense (so go easy on me ;)).  I am a lawyer by day, which means I am writing all the time (emails, letters, briefs, memos), but rarely in a way that allows for much creativity.  That was really the impetus for the creation of my blog, a spot of whimsy, a lifestyle blog with a dash of whimsy.

Rather than share with you all today one particular anecdote, I’d like to discuss an ongoing one, inspired by this mantra:

I interpret this in two ways: (1) that we allow for imperfection in ourselves, and accept and forgive ourselves for our flaws with grace and understanding; and (2) that we allow for imperfection in others, and accept and forgive them for their flaws with grace and understanding.  

Before I get any further (and before you really start wondering what the heck these images have to do with anything), I like to pair my more thoughtful posts with dreamy images that compliment my words.  A bit of mood-setting, if you will.  Now, back to it.

Let me take you way back, in fact, to 5th Grade, where the boy I had a massive crush on told my friend that he didn’t like me because I was “too perfect.”  This was not, in fact, a back-handed compliment—that I knew for sure—but what I didn’t understand was why he was dismissing me for what I thought were positive attributes: good student, did what I was told, on student council, lots of after-school activities, the normal good little girl traits.  Turns out this particular boy turned into not so great of a man, so I made my peace with him more than a decade ago, but the “too perfect” label came back to haunt me many years later, in my early 20s.  In the midst of an argument with my then-boyfriend, he told me that my expectations for others (namely, himself) were too high, that I couldn’t expect him to live up to the same lofty goals I set for myself, that I was…too perfect.  In that moment, of course I didn’t take this very well.  I was sensitive to that word.  I still couldn’t wholly rectify the negative and positive of it, and I certainly couldn’t get behind the “you just have to lower your expectations of what I can give you” argument (if you hadn’t guessed, that relationship was not long for this world by the time of this exchange, but that's not relevant here!).  

After cooling down, I started to see what he was kinda-sorta-maybe-getting-at (even if I was still hurt by the impetus for the argument, which is best left in the past), which is essentially the quote above: hold yourself (and others) to a standard of grace, not perfection.

If only I’d been able to put it in such eloquent words.    

You will disappoint yourself; it is inevitable.  People will disappoint you; this is also inevitable.

I know I’m far from perfect; the trap comes when I subconsciously make that the expectation.  When I set “perfection” as the goal for myself and my relationships with others, I am setting us all up for failure.  Instead, if I learn to accept those disappointments with grace, if I am quick to forgive instead of to anger, life will not only be more realistic, but more satisfying.  Believe me, I am far from perfect (oh, the irony!) in embracing this mantra, but the point is to try, and try hard.

This, of course, does not mean that we allow others to walk all over us, wandering around just forgiving and accepting everything with grace to the point of absurdity.  There are still standards and expectations, but the point is to account for the fact that perfection is unattainable, and to stop being so quick to blame and frustration, instead of to grace.  

Diane wishes she lived in a Nora Ephron movie (and sometimes pretends she does), hates talking on the phone (to the dismay of her mother), is happiest on a boat in the middle of a lake, watches too much tv (in her defense, it’s usually good tv, she’s not a reality girl), sneaks in pleasure reading on the bus to and from work, and is in love with a boy she calls C.  Diane lives in Chicago and hails from Pure Michigan.  Come say hello over on her blog a spot of whimsy, say hi (less characters) on twitter @aspotofwhimsy, view photographic evidence of her day-to-day life on instagram user: @aspotofwhimsy, and what’s inspiring her lately on pinterest @aspotofwhimsy.  Thanks for reading her thoughts here today, and Diane thanks Melissa for having her.

*image 1,2,3,4,5,6,7

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Book Club: The Happiness Project

It's a cloudy, rainy day... the kind that makes me want to curl up on the couch with a good read.  For now though, let's chat about book club.

First, a recap of our last meeting... Four of us met at J's place last week to discuss Fifty Shades of Grey.  J. made a spread of veggie pizza, spinach dip, cheese & crackers, and fruit salad.  And of course, we had to indulge in some wine!

For the first time, we had all finished reading the book.  One person was onto the second book, and another was re-reading the series.  We ended up having an engaging discussion with plenty of opinions.  There was lots of talk about how it wasn't well-written or very realistic: repetition of words and phrases, the "inner goddess" and "subconscious" references, how innocent/inexperienced Anastasia was for a 21-year-old, how quickly the relationship moved, etc.

We talked about Anastasia and Christian's relationship (or lack thereof?).  Some felt Anastasia needed to get out of the situation, that she was a young and naive girl caught up in a major crush and some serious infatuation, that Grey was being a bit creepy and stalker-ish, that we weren't sure why he was so into her.  One of us in particular felt that Anastasia was annoying in that she didn't understand that Grey, as a victim of abuse, couldn't automatically and easily give her "more" of an emotional relationship.

Personally, I don't think I'm going to read the second and third books.  It's not even because of the erotic scenes; it's the poor writing and the creepiness factor of their "relationship" (which I hear becomes more of a true relationship in the second and third book).  I've seen enough girls who will do anything for a guy, even if it means going against what they want, need, or value.  Perhaps Anastasia enjoys this type of relationship, but if she keeps wanting more of an emotional connection or isn't comfortable with what Grey demands, it makes me want to scream at her to get out, to see who else and what other kinds of relationships are out there, to discover what she needs and wants. 

I also felt like the book could have been condensed, as there was so much of the same thing, over and over again.  Those who had read beyond the first book agreed that the full trilogy could probably be edited down into one book (though that wouldn't be a great option from a profit perspective for the publishers and author... ha!).

We discussed a lot of other details, but I think it's time to move on to our next selection: The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin.  If you want to know what it's about, look no further than the full title: The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun.

Who isn't looking for the secret to happiness?  Happiness is a highly personal thing, but Gretchen shares her own journey in hopes of helping others find their own sources of happiness.

From Publishers Weekly (via Amazon):
Rubin is not an unhappy woman: she has a loving husband, two great kids and a writing career in New York City. Still, she couldand, arguably, shouldbe happier. Thus, her methodical (and bizarre) happiness project: spend one year achieving careful, measurable goals in different areas of life (marriage, work, parenting, self-fulfillment) and build on them cumulatively, using concrete steps (such as, in January, going to bed earlier, exercising better, getting organized, and "acting more energetic"). By December, she's striving bemusedly to keep increasing happiness in every aspect of her life.

The outcome is good, not perfect (in accordance with one of her "Secrets of Adulthood": "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good"), but Rubin's funny, perceptive account is both inspirational and forgiving, and sprinkled with just enough wise tips, concrete advice and timely research (including all those other recent books on happiness) to qualify as self-help. Defying self-help expectations, however, Rubin writes with keen senses of self and narrative, balancing the personal and the universal with a light touch. Rubin's project makes curiously compulsive reading, which is enough to make any reader happy.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Guest Post on The Write Practice

I'm thrilled to be guest-posting on The Write Practice today. 

If you're looking to stretch your imagination and delve into your creativity, this post is for you!  Head on over the The Write Practice and let me know what you think.

And while you're there, I definitely encourage you to check out all the other inspiring ideas and writing prompts.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Share Your Story: Mandy Voisin

This is a guest post for the "Share Your Story" series (learn more about it here!).

I'm excited to introduce you all to Mandy. We have both contributed to Off Switch Magazine, and after I read her piece "Untold Stories" in Volume One, I knew she would be a fantastic addition to this series.

Her name was Lesa. She was in my dorm, but we weren’t really friends. It was probably because she had been at the university longer than me. I was just a visiting student anyway, and only planned to be in Hawaii one semester. Still, I knew her and she knew me.

We were also in the same English classalthough English was my first and only language, while it was her second, or third or fourthI’m not really sure. Looking back, it was brave of her to even take the course. It was the most difficult class I took that semesterAmerican Literature from 1940-present. Slaughterhouse Five, Catch 22, Ceremony, Belovedall difficult, complex books taught by an eccentric professor who was as smart as he was old which is saying a lot because he was old. Really old.

Lesa came the first few classes, and after only a few weeks she stopped coming. I rolled my eyes when I saw her on campus, riding her long board, eating a popsicle, walking to the beach with friends. I was struggling to stay afloat in the class as it was, and I never missed.

A few months into the class, our professor told me that her mom died a few weeks into the semester. “Cancer,” he told me. “I’ve been working with her, but I don’t know what else to do. She told me you live in her dorm. Could you help?”

I tried after that, I really did. I asked her when I saw her around if she needed help with the readings. But she didn’t want my help and I didn’t blame her. I stopped asking.

There was a month left in the semester and someone knocked on my dorm room door. “Did you hear about the earthquake in the islands?“

“Yeah,” I said.

“Lesa’s dad died in it, and we are trying to help her raise money to go home for the burial. She already missed her mom’s earlier this year because they couldn’t afford to fly her home.” Tears welled up in my eyes as I fished around in my wallet for some cash, and that night I prayed so hard that there would be somethinganythingthat I could do.

Two days later I walked over to her dorm room and knocked hard. No answer. I tried again. She finally opened it, her hair a mess, her face streaked with tears. “Yeah?” she said.

“Lesacan I help? Can I… do your laundry? Help you pack? Do you need more money?”

She shook her head at my suggestions, and slammed the door. I started walking away, and as I was about to turn the corner, I heard her call out to me, “You can help me pass that class.”

We stayed up all night. Finals were the next day and she left the day after that. I recapped all eight novels in detail, every short story, every essay that I read faithfully that semester. I edited her research paper, found her sources, and gave her the flashcards I created for her to study. When I walked into the room for our final, she was already there, her essay sitting on her desk. Our professor looked at her, then at me curiously before handing out our exams.

Two days later, I was at the airport with a suitcase full of sand and wet bathing suits, ready to fly home to a blizzard in Utah. I sat at the terminal and thought about that semester and the people I’d met and the things I’d done but my thoughts kept drifting back to Lesa and her long flight home and the funeral that was waiting for her.

After we boarded the plane, I got a text message. It was one word. “Passed.” I smiled and settled into my seat and watched my tiny island shrink into the endless ocean that seemed to swallow this space where I internalized this thought that started with Lesa and never really stopped.

There is always something we can do.

Mandy Voisin lives in Arizona with her husband Kevin who is a medical student. She works as the PR director for a nutrition company and as a freelance writer. To see more of Mandy's work, visit her blog:


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