On Losing Things.

I woke out of a sound sleep this morning to the ring of my cell phone. Disoriented, I answered to hear my brother’s frantic voice. After spending 5 days in Boston for the Harvard Model Congress, he was boarding his early morning flight home when it hit him: he’d left his bag of newly-purchased vinyls somewhere in Chicago O’Hare International Airport.
“I don’t know what to do! I retraced my steps, I ran all the way back to the concierge desk in the Hilton and asked around to see if they’d found anything, I talked with airport security. They can’t help me find them and I can’t remember where I left them,” he said, his voice frustrated and strained.
I listened and tried to comfort him, but we both knew that his souvenirs were lost forever. Sadly, a $75 stack of vinyls won’t wait around for the one who leaves them behind. If he’s anything like me, he’ll probably lose more than that.
I remember the feeling well. When I traveled abroad in the fall of 2008, it seemed like I left pieces of myself all over Europe. In the midst of doing something as simple as fumbling for my passport, I’d forget the item I set down next to me.
It started with a bag of fresh-market grapes I left in a train station in Slovenia, and then it was a stack of postcards (written and stamped), a pair of jeans, my cell phone, my camera, my laptop charger, and sometimes, I think, my heart. Minutes, hours and many miles later I would realize that I was empty-handed and there was nothing I could do about it.
Mementos, possessions, they’re replaceable, maybe even forgettable. Nevertheless, the moment you realize you’ve left them behind, a deep ache, an inconsolable sense of failure sets in.
Sometimes, life feels that way. Memories, bittersweet and vivid as they are, won’t replace the tangible feeling of a weathered album between your fingers or the weight of a friend in your arms.
You’re on a train, a plane, in the car, and every second is taking you further and further away from reaching back in time to that moment when you held everything in your hands.

The Hard Conversations.

I’ve written before about good conversations with close friends, but today I got to thinking about the hard conversations, the ones we seem to spend a lot of time and energy trying not to have.
As I scrounged late last night in frustration for one good thing to cling to on what turned out to be a rather horrid Monday, I remembered a conversation I had with one of my best friends earlier.
rachie and me
She had a wake to go to yesterday for a friend’s mother who passed away suddenly this week.
“Ugh. Funerals make me sad,” she said. “When I die, promise me you’ll celebrate my life and wear lots of bright colors, okay?”
“Will do! Please do the same for me… Is it weird that I sometimes hear songs and think ‘I want that played at my funeral?’” I asked, glad to finally confess this to someone.
“I totally do that all the time! And don’t worry, I’ve got you covered,” she replied.
“When I die, there should be karaoke, guitar hero, super bright colors and cake. Celebrate lives lived, not just the lives lost. Life is way too short, so go out and live it!” She soon posted on her Facebook status. Within minutes, several people responded with a ‘Like’ or comment in agreement.
“When I die, I want people to have a feast of scrumptious food and I want them to dance all night,” I told her.
We made a pact to write each other into our wills, to make sure that the other would be the “party planner” in the event of our death. Our initial brainstorms included a bachelorette party redux, but we thought the erotic cake might be a little over the top for our grieving relatives. We settled for posting pictures of good times we’ve had over the years.
As much as I hate to think of the death of someone who means so much to me, our conversation was the brightest part of my day. We always think that these are the things not to bring up, the things that don’t need to be discussed. [After all, we’re only in our twenties – who needs to think about dying yet…] But when you’ve had a crappy day at work, and you’re worried about money and bills and what your future holds, and you’re feeling the squelching pains of writer’s block, and you’re missing family so bad it hurts, do you really want to chat about the weather?
Sometimes, it’s the biggest sigh of relief, the deepest breath of fresh air to tell your best friend,
Yes. I will be there for you. Even then.
Suddenly, the thing you’ve been trying not to say or acknowledge, the really hard, awkward conversation you don’t want to discuss, turns out to be the only thing worth saying.
Don’t be afraid to say that one thing that might open the floodgate to admitting that life is hard and scary and short, and beautiful and joyous and worth celebrating, even as we say goodbye to it.
(Picture courtesy of the lovely Erin Lee, taken about a bizzilion years ago… or maybe only 5. I can’t believe it’s been that long! I love you, Rachie. <3)

A Wager and the Weather.

What are the odds that things will turn out as planned?
What are the odds that things will go our way, just this once?
How much do you want to bet that the person who said they would call or lend a hand or fulfill their promise will flake out?
Is it possible that the weatherman’s blizzard predictions will be right this time?
Why are we not surprised to wake up the morning after a blizzard and realize that the plowman, in the midst of white-out conditions, did in fact, hit your car last night?
And so I often wonder if I would make more money by betting against my own life than I would investing in it.
Despite that, I’m still probably the only person left in the Midwest that can honestly say that I love snow. Right now it’s snowing my favorite kind of snow – giant, fluffy flakes that hang heavy on tree branches and window sills and cover the world in a blanket of quiet.
There’s the snow that leaves you with the peaceful, quiet, contented feeling.
And there’s the snow that reminds you : the world, nature, the environment is a force to be reckoned with.
Either way, it’s not in my control. There’s a time and a season for both. With that in mind, I’m dropping all of my predictions, expectations and disappointments. I’m just trying to heed the warnings and avoid getting caught in the midst of it.

Leave the Light On.

I’ve sat down several times in the last several days. My fingers poise ready at the keys, my thoughts and feelings wait breathlessly on the edge of spilling over. In my head, I’m telling you things that I’m thinking and feeling in a way that will benefit you, help you articulate and examine your own life and share that with others, make you feel better about the ample amount of things you deal with everyday.
And then this is what comes out:
This sucks. Life is hard. The End.
Don’t like that one? Me either.
Turns out it’s not easy to write when you’re sitting in the dark.
I’ve had some hard days lately, friends. They’re good, in a see-the-big-picture kind of way, in a you-know-Who-loves-you kind of way, but they’re still hard. Details spared, I’ve been thinking a lot about the things that make our fragile, sensitive human spirits rise up out of the hard, frustrating, frightening mire of everyday life. What inspires us when we’re in the dark, desolate places of our lives? And why?
I don’t have those answers yet, but I’ll leave you with a few of these, which have a brighter, clearer perspective than I do at the moment. Sometimes, when you can’t say it, feel it, see it, you just have to surround yourself with people who can in hopes that some of their light seeps into the dark spaces in your soul.
A few lights for you:
A life-affirming quote from Anais Nin.
good thought from Jon Acuff: We don’t have to finish what we don’t start.
Remember, friends: time is of the essence, so don’t waste it.
daily dose of encouragement for those who write, freelance, or can appreciate a blog that is both well written AND well designed.
The sweet, soothing lullaby of a new album from one of my all time favorites.
Song lyrics you can cling to and sing to yourself in the dark:
“I was walking far from home
But I carried your letters all the while
I saw lovers in a window
Whisper, ‘Want me like time, want me like time’
I saw sickness, bloom in fruit trees
I saw blood and a bit of it was mine…
I was walking far from home
Where the names were not burned along the wall
Saw a wet road form a circle
And it came like a call, came like a call
From the Lord.”
And a special love link to all the people in my life that make it worth it – the everyday. Dark or light, I know I’m not sitting alone. [Galatians 6:2]

Rest Well, Old Friend.

duncan

On Friday, our family (my husband, his sister, his parents and I) said goodbye to the family patriarch, our dear old dog, Duncan. A real downer, I know, but he lived a long, good life.

A long, good life, I should mention, in spite of nine long years of neglect and abuse. When his rescuers found him, his fur was so matted he couldn’t walk. His fear of humans was so fierce, they had to sedate him. His body was so malnourished, he nearly starved to death.

You would think that a dog who has dealt with that measure of brutality would be irreversibly messed up, rightfully unwilling to trust another human being ever again. Not Duncan.

His is a story of hope. As Good as Gold [a rescue organization dedicated to golden retrievers] rescued him, rehabilitated him and found him a loving home with my in-laws. Aside from his desperate begging habit and distrust of children, his past was far removed from his present peace and happiness. Duncan turned out to be a friendly, quiet, cuddly companion that our family absolutely adored.

And then, after what seemed like 6 very short years, he became very ill and we had to put his tough old body to rest.

It happened so fast. Thursday, my husband spent the morning cuddling with him and playing tug-of-war. Friday, Duncan couldn’t eat, couldn’t walk, could barely lift his head to look Mom in the eye. A tumor had developed and grown to the size of a grapefruit in the 5 short months since his last visit to the vet until his body couldn’t handle it anymore. The arthritis in his back and hips would have made healing from an extensive surgery impossible. We decided to let him rest in peace instead.

It sucks.

The brevity and finality of it, the ache of the unexpected goodbye, the shock of suddenly being alone really really sucks.

And he was a dog. He was a member of our family, a dear old friend, but he was a dog. Having never lost a pet before, only people, this has been a strange grief for me to comprehend.

It hurts. In a separate, but all too familiar kind of pain, it hurts. We miss him. The soft tendrils of his fur between our fingers; the enthusiastic dash to the door with his big droopy eyes and swishing tail there to greet us, to tell us he’s happy we’re here; his cool, wet nose brushing our elbows as we sat at the dinner table; the warmth of his body next to ours on the couch; even the simple sense that we have someone outside of ourselves to care for, leaves an acute sense of loss.

Yet in the wake of his death, I’m not just struck by the void of his presence, but by the palpable reminder he gave us with his life: that hope, trust and redemption are real.

Maybe innocent animals are not as emotionally, mentally and spiritually complex as us humans… But then again, humans have a spectacular capability to complicate the most simple and fundamental truths in our lives.

Now, whenever I begin to lose my faith in change, in restoration, in redemption, I’ll remember the feather-soft fur beneath my fingers as a tangible truth:

It’s possible.

Even after we’ve experienced the most degrading, abusive, dark moments of our lives, it is possible to uncover truth, restore trust, feel joy. It is possible to find love.

Rest well, old friend.

30 for 30 Challenge, or How Not to Go Naked to Work.

It should come as no surprise to any of you that I am a shopaholic.
If you haven’t met me, here are the obvious clues:
1. I’m 23 and I’m female.
2. I’m 23, I’m female and I was born in the 80′s. We are living in a material world and I am a material girl…
3. I’m 23, I’m female, I was born in the 80′s and I live in Chicagoland.
THE POSSIBILITIES ARE ENDLESS AND THEY ARE EVERYWHERE.
But alas, this material girl has had a lot less material to work with in the last few years. I graduated college, got married and our fledgling money tree has a lot of growing to do. My credit card is maxed, my income is minimal, and my hubby and I are learning to live within our means.
So when I stumbled upon a few fashion bloggers in my ongoing quest for creative inspiration, my clothing obsession hit a whole new level. These girls looked so freakin’ cute, but I was sure I didn’t have the resources to pull that off.
I was wrong. I’ve recently become addicted to KendiEveryday, a blog that feeds my fashion addiction but also delivers an important message:
AFFORDABLE FASHION IS ATTAINABLE.
Don’t believe me? Check out Kendi’s 30 for 30 Challenge, which I am now participating in. The game goes like this: take 30 pieces from your closet, skirts, pants, dresses, jackets, shirts and shoes. Remixonly those pieces for 30 days into 30 different outfits. At the end, you’ll have a better idea of the staple pieces that your wardrobe might be lacking, and you’ll be less likely to impulse-purchase yet another flowy jersey-cotton top from Target’s clearance rack.
I know, it sounds a little nuts. Maybe it is. But here’s the reason why we think this concept is nuts, or at least, here’s the reason why I thought so:
If you’re like me, you’re the kind of girl that… approximately every 15 days or so goes to get dressed in the morning and stares into the closet thinking, “I might just go naked to work today.”
Because nothing fits. Nothing is bright and shiny and new in there. Nothing matches my mood. Nothing says cutting edge. Everything is old and dowdy and overworn.
Here comes trouble in the form of this one thought, “If only I could make a quick trip to Target or H&M…”
Enter Hubby [or sister, roommate, mom, or boyfriend]: “No way can you afford another shopping trip.”
And then one of two things happens, and neither are good.
1. I ignore hubby and buy something anyway, wear it repeatedly for two weeks, and then slide back into my fashion funk.
2. I abide by hubby’s wishes, wallow in my fashion funk and look like a slob for several days until I finally do all my laundry, find an item I forgot about because it was buried in a pile for 2 weeks, and begin putting effort into my appearance again.
How is this sustainable living? How is this learning to live within my means and be thankful for what I have? How is this using my creativity in all parts of my life? It’s not, it’s not, it’s not. We’re only in our 20s, friends. We’re going to be forever broke and miserable if we keep doing this to ourselves. [Sounds a little familiar… like I’ve heard it in the news recently or something, no?]
Fashion, personal style, is more than just the clothes you wear or the latest item you’ve purchased. It’s creativity, and it’s confidence in yourself. And it should be created through sustainable means.
I’m beginning to realize that this is how habits change – by challenging ourselves with our own creativity. Whether it’s words or clothes or food or design or dollars and cents, we can only realize our potential when we challenge it’s limits. It’s how we grow.
SO I’m joining the 30 for 30 challenge. I definitely won’t be able to post about it every day, or post cute pics of myself in my ensembles, but I’m doing it anyway. Want to join me? Head on over to Kendi’s and sign yourself up!

The sorts of things that never happen to me, ever.

I never wake up late four days in a row.
I never wake up late, get ready for work with the vision of the most perfect outfit ever and then proceed to rip a gigantic hole in my brand new, never worn tights and then yell expletives for the next 3 minutes as I figure out what to wear instead, making myself even later for work.
I never cook myself roasted eggplant and crostinis for dinner and add way too much garlic to the recipe and regret it for the following 24 hours.
I never drink an extra glass of wine with my dinner because I’m home alone and no one is watching.
I never tweet when I’m annoyed with something or someone.
I never miss project deadlines at work.
I never find myself supremely annoyed when people respond to my email requesting the attachment they forgot with, “yes, I will send that attachment along!” without the attachment…
I never procrastinate on calling people because I hate talking on the phone with a passion.
I never get self-conscious when old professors ask me if I’ve applied to grad school or looked for other jobs yet and answer, “No, but…“
I never respond to someone’s comment on a political topic with, “Yeah, I totally agree” and then run to my computer and look it up on Wikipedia.
I never procrastinate on writing on a blog post because I’m just not sure what to say.
I never procrastinate on writing a a blog post because no one commented on my last post.
I never watch a mini-series on the Spanish channel instead of writing or reading a book.
I never get discouraged when friends and acquaintances tell me, “Loved your last blog post!” because they read it but didn’t comment on it or share it with a friend.
I never find myself wondering if I’ve written a blog post that makes people question my sanity, or at the very least, my ability to write.
I never get offended or annoyed with friends when they ask why blogging or social media matter.
I never get self-conscious when I hear people say that they never ever intended to be a writer/artist/photographer/designer but somehow got published anyway.
Those things never happen in my world, ever. Just in case you were wondering.
The sort of thing that does happen to me:
I drive to work grumbling about all of the things that never happen to me and suddenly find myself riveted to the radio interview of a gifted poet who just came out with a book I absolutely must read.
So in case you also find yourself analyzing all the things that do or don’t happen to you on a given day, please read this poem and find yourself inspired. That is, if you ever do find yourself inspired by poetry, which I know might never happen to you. In which case, don’t.

2011. Day 8, Post 1: Be Fearless.

Eight days into the new year, and I have a serious confession to make.

I am addicted to fear.

Not the kind that compels me to watch slasher-movies and visit haunted-houses and ride the biggest roller-coasters at a theme park. Those experiences are more nauseating than exhilarating by far.

I’m the kind of fear-aholic that feeds on my own insecurity. The big “what if” has been my constant companion for most of my life, always there to tell me the cold, hard truth about myself when my dreams start to get a little too lofty. I know I’m not alone in this, but let’s face it, there are people out there that are way better at handling it than me. That’s part honesty, part symptom of my addiction. Yes, there are better, braver writers out there. However, I’ve manipulated myself with those thoughts, to points where I don’t allow myself to believe that I’m capable of that level of success. Writer’s envy sets in. I want that life. The free-lancing, kick-ass blogging, work-from-an-amazing-loft-downtown kind of writing life.

But I fear being mediocre.
I fear that I will half-ass everything and that people will notice.
I fear that I will do my absolute best and people will still believe that I half-assed everything.
I fear that I am incapable of following through with anything.
I fear that there is a better way to spend my time than trying to “be a writer” and I just can’t see it.
I fear that I am committing to myself to too many things to be successful at even one.
I fear that if I deny one opportunity to focus on another, I will make the wrong choice.
I fear that time will go too fast for me to accomplish my goals for my career.
I fear that I will always long for parts of my past instead of being happy in the present and working towards new opportunities.
I fear that I’ll be too busy chasing the wrong opportunities to notice when the right ones have passed me by.

When I’m being honest with myself, I know that my writer’s envy and my fear are only there to consume me and steal my talent away from the capability that God gave me. I don’t want anyone else’s life, just my own. The restlessness and the fear and the self-judgment are what I’m going to purge in 2011. And in it’s place, I’m letting my dreams and passion have free reign.

I don’t know when exactly I finally came to this decision, but sometime in 2010 I finally began to articulate what it is I want to do. I want to be a storyteller. I want to tell amazing, true stories of people’s lives. Stories about people that have conquered illness, tragedy and their own fear. Stories of tremendously talented people that are casting out their insecurities and confronting their creativity.

2011 is the Year of the Blog for this writer. With the help of some talented friends of mine, you’ll begin to see some changes around here. And with the help of some of my other resolutions [being more organized and vigilant about my schedule] you’ll have a lot more to read.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a list of the most inspiring posts I read in 2010. These are the posts that helped me realize: I have nothing to fear but fear itself. The anecdote: Honesty. Sharing your story in order to encourage others.

Kendi Everyday:

Fearless
Create a Working Closet: Part 3 – Organize

And my complete list of blog love, the ones I read OBSESSIVELY:

Making it Lovely
Kendi Everyday 
Better Off Wed
Stuff Christians Like
What I Wore 
Makeunder My Life
baum-kuchen
A Cup of Jo
To My Wife

Thank you to all of you bloggers and writers out there who continue to share your story and assure people like me, that yes, it’s possible.

“Do not worry if you have built your castles in the air.
They are where they should be.
Now put the foundations under them.”
– Henry David Thoreau

The Best Recipes Are Our Own [Eventually]

I don’t follow recipes well when cooking.

My method usually goes as such:


1.
 Look up several different recipes, compare and contrast.
2. List common ingredients and steps.
3. Ask: what can I do to make it my own?
4. Give it a go.
5. Take note of the missing flavors and textures; tweak it for next time.

This is the closest thing to a scientific experiment you’ll ever find me doing. Except that it’s definitely not scientific, nor is it proven fact. It’s just me and my independent streak. Today I made beef stew from scratch, plus no-yeast biscuits from scratch. (Note: the no-yeast part is important. I try to avoid finicky ingredients at all costs.)

To make the stew I looked at nearly a dozen different recipes. Most of them were very similar, so I wrote down the basics and then gave it a shot. With the biscuits I only found one recipe that had only the ingredients I already knew I had in possession. (Flour, milk, shortening, salt, baking powder.) When I began to knead the dough I realized it was too dry and added one egg white – the perfect glue!

As I worked on my dinner, which I planned to serve not just to myself and my husband, but to our friends who were coming over (eek!), I began to get nervous. What if it doesn’t turn out? What if the stew tastes bland and brothy? Did I put too many onions in it? What if the biscuits come out hard as rocks? Did I make enough food for everyone?… Why is it that I always decide to get gutsy and experimental when company is coming for dinner? You’d think I would stick with the easy and familiar instead of risking my culinary reputation over a desire to master the art of a beef stew on my first try.

Why didn’t I just make something I already know how to make? Good question. There are plenty of soup and stew recipes from my mom, aunts, grandmas, cousins and in-laws that I could have used instead of hodge-podging my own recipe. Why am I so damn independent?!

And yet. It’s not that I don’t love or trust their recipes. They’re like old friends, and a little like the people that handed them down to me : comforting, familiar, faithful, reliable, full of family quirks and personality. But the recipes aren’t my own. If you know me, then you’re probably nodding your head (Mom, Grammy, Aunt Bev?) “Recipes, schmecipes” – that’s me. As it turns out, my instincts were not off base.

My biscuits turned out soft and crumbly, very nearly like the correct texture and the flavor was light and buttery. For next time: use buttermilk instead of 2% and a few tablespoons less flour.

The stew turned out to be a soup, but the flavor was good. For next time: make sure the base of the soup is thicker. After browning the meat, add a tablespoon of butter and two tablespoons of flour to the meat drippings in the skillet. Heat and stir until thick and golden brown. Add a cup of beef broth to the mixture and stir thoroughly until it thickens. THEN add to the rest of the broth, plus the meat, veggies and herbs in the slow cooker.

And my life?

Instincts : good.

Foundation : solid.

Flavor : delicious.

Recipe : it’s a work in progress, but it’s my own.

The best part : I’m learning.

Christmas Vacation. Inspiration. Time. ACCOUNTABILITY!

Holy smokes, folks! With two whole weeks of vacation beginning next week through January 2nd, my mind cannot stop producing creative ideas to keep me busy. I have one big long list of topics I want to post about. Every few minutes I think of something else I’ve been wanting to write about.

I may have just unlocked my creative block I’ve been experiencing over the last few months. Time: I need more of it. The anticipation of whole days in my pajamas with nothing but a hot cup of coffee and my ideas has me itching to write. Be prepared! A whirlwind of words to come.

By the way, if the whirlwind never comes, will one of you please hunt me down and hurt me? Not really. But really, I’m going to be embarrassed if I have nothing to show for myself in two weeks, which is why I’m posting this now.