Sunday, December 15, 2013


Do you have annual traditions with your family? We have one. And it's called Cookie Weekend. 

Well, that's what I call it at least. Other folks may use a different name. But each year, the women on my mom's side of the family have gotten together to carry on a family tradition, making the time intensive Klejner, a Danish Christmas cookie, that's sort of like a crunchier donut with a unique diamond shape. 

We have a number of traditions that are tied into our weekend, including exchanging small gifts and a delicious dinner together on Friday night. 

But the real work begins early Saturday morning, when the team aprons up and each person takes their position.

One person mixes the dough...

Another rolls it out and cuts the diamonds...

Another adds a twist to the diamonds...

And then those tasty treats get deep fried to golden perfection....

And someone else sorts, counts, and stacks them. And the process continues for four batches of roughly 5 and half dozen cookies. Our own mass production assembly line.  

Some folks are generalists, and can pinch hit at any of the positions when someone gets tired. Others are specialists, and do the one thing they do best. And some folks enjoy not touching the cookies at all, preferring to keep the Christmas tunes going or to document the weekend festivities. Me, I'm a folder. I love adding the twist to the cookies.

While the cookie making is fun, most of the fun comes from eating until we are stuffed and then eating again, singing off key to Christmas songs, and spending time with each other. 

And most importantly, snuggle with cute cats.

See ya next year, Cookie Weekend!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Christmas Crafting: Christmas Cards

As the holidays approach, I am working on a plan to keep them manageable. Last year's Christmas was pretty reserved. We decorated the house right after Thanksgiving (as I like to take things one holiday at a time), I made a few new projects and sent out cards, and that was it. No major projects. I made this wreath and that was kind of it. I had vowed to not spend a ton of money on crafts, and have the same plan for this year. I figure that if I add just a few things each year, that will keep it manageable.

One thing that I am not making this year is our cards. Thanks to some pretty awesome engagement photos from Lisa Mathewson, our amazing wedding photographer, we decided to go with the printed cards versus the homemade ones. Who knew we were somewhat photogenic? I like this one...although it's not the one we used for the photos.

Honestly, I'm excited because, not only do I love our pictures, I am also glad to have one less project. That leaves more room for cookies and other things.

Vistaprint sends lots of coupons and seems to always have an offer on Living Social or Groupon, so we went with this design:

I love it so much! Even the back is cute. Can you guess which one of the engagement photos that we used?

I realized though, I never shared last year's cards, which looked like this:

I found a picture for these string art cards online last year, and thought it was worth giving it a shot. Although they look like a more simple design, they proved to be harder than I thought to actually make. In terms of supplies, I just used blank cards thread (lots of it), a hole punch, two stamps and some red ink. 

I set up an assembly line on the kitchen table. I started by stamping the inside of the cards and the envelopes. They never dry as quickly as I expect, so I spread them out and tried to keep track of the order that I stamped them. 

Then I began the punching with my tiny whole puncher. I did a double punch on the top to make sure that there would be enough room for the overlapping string. Then I punched six holes across the bottom, as evenly spaced as I could without measuring it all out. 

Then I stuck a glue dot directly under the top hole on the inside and began stringing. I started by sticking the string into the glue dot, working from the far sides in, with the string crossing over the front and down, then back up on the inside. The string then ended in the middle, stuck on top of the glue dot.

Each thread portion got me through a few cards. Unfortunately, there were times when I would be almost at the end of the card and realize that the amount of string left wouldn't finish at the top. This is where it wasn't quite as easy as expected. I also would imagine that some folks may have gotten a card with a string that had come undone. Creative but temperamental.

If you don't have a Christmas card plan, consider giving it a shot.

In the meantime, it's back to my planning and prioritizing. I'm thinking just two-three crafts for this year. Stay tuned.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Reading is fun.

I am happy to share that I have found even more time to read, especially with less time devoted to social media. I squeezed in a few extra books before the August/September craziness, and then have picked right back up with more reading. Here are my thoughts on the latest batch of books - seven more for you to ponder.

Revenge Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger
I was so excited when my book club selected this book for one of our monthly reads because I loved The Devil Wears Prada, and I was in the mood for some light easy reading. Unfortunately, I did not love this book. I don't know if it is just because there was so much time between the first book and the sequel, or because the author was trying to match the movie more than the original story, but this honestly felt like reading a book about two totally different characters. The Andie who took on the cold and calculating Miranda was totally unlikeable and sort of a pushover here. And I don't get the title, because there was no revenge. Just a lot of pointless story lines that went unresolved, with nothing exciting to keep the book going. I finished it and was honestly disappointed. It did make for a lively book club discussion though - I feel like the books that people don't like generate a better talk. But meh. Don't bother otherwise.

Mrs. Kennedy and Me by Clint Hill
This was another book club read - our first non-fiction selection. As a whole, I liked learning more about the Kennedys through the unique perspective of Jackie Kennedy's bodyguard. It was an easy read that I didn't want to put down. It did leave me with a ton of questions, wanting to know more about some of the different stories that were shared. The author doesn't delve too much into the gossip, which honestly I wanted a little bit more of. Definitely intriguing. Happy to lend you my copy.

Inferno by Dan Brown
So I love me some Robert Langdon. But, at this point, wonder if Dan Brown will write another story about him that is as good as Angels and Demons and The DaVinci Code. I couldn't even remember the name of the third one, The Lost Symbol, because it was just okay. Cool that it was set in the US and involved some of our monuments, but not my favorite story. And then Inferno came around, and I was really hopeful. But I had a very hard time sticking with it. There were many nights where I just didn't feel like picking it up. I love the focus on symbology and enjoyed learning about the different historical places in Venice, Florence and Istanbul. It definitely made me want to visit Italy for sure, and possibly Turkey. But the storyline just wasn't carrying me along until that "you don't find out what is really going on until the very last second" writing device that Dan Brown always utilizes. It feels too much like more of the same, with the random hot, smart, young woman as his sidekick and a race against time as Robert Langdon runs around the city. Maybe I'm getting worn out on the style. I was surprised to learn that they are working on a 2015 film of Inferno with Tom Hanks, actually skipping The Lost Symbol. Maybe the movie will make me love the book more. Your call on this one.

The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Gilbraith (aka JK Rowling)

As soon as it was revealed that JK Rowling wrote this book, I grabbed it from Amazon ASAP. The buzz had been pretty positive even before folks knew it was her book, and I wanted to see how she'd do at the private detective novel. Especially since I've been all about Sherlock Holmes lately. I was not disappointed. I thought Cormoran Strike was a unique and interesting character, who I wanted to root for, even though he's kind of the "anti-hero" in some ways - the total opposite of a Sherlock Holmes. Although the book doesn't have any magic, I think that Rowling's writing style works well with this type of book, because PI novels are all about the details and the interesting characters. And that's her thing. Is it the best book I've ever read - no. But it's one of the better crime novels I've read in a long time, and I hope she writes more with this character. I don't expect her to ever write something better than Harry Potter - that's too much to ask. I just want her to keep writing. Worth picking up. 

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler

This was our latest book club read, and will be our discussion for tomorrow. I can't wait to talk about it with others and hear what they thought. Having read and watched The Great Gatsby so recently, it was interesting to read this fictional account, told through the voice of Zelda Fitzgerald. I didn't know much about Zelda prior to reading, and had no idea that F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote The Great Gatsby (which sort of bombed at the time) with such a huge foundation from their real lives, or at least how he portrayed how they lived - the crazy parties with their social circles of fellow writers and famous people, Zelda as his southern debutante that he had to win over with his financial success. I was also unaware that she was a writer herself, or that she struggled with mental illness. The book focuses on their lives as the "golden couple" living in excess of their means and their turbulent relationship with each other throughout the years until their deaths. The author did an amazing job of painting a picture of just what there lives might have been like, with a bit more empathy for Zelda. Sounds like she needed a win because her husband seemed like sort of a horrible husband and person in general. I would be interested to read some non-fiction biographies of Zelda to see how they compare. It also makes me want to read The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, which I believe takes a similar approach, but with Ernest Hemingway's first wife, Hadley Hemingway, who was featured in this story too. That one will be bumped to the top of my list. 

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

So this is actually my suggestion for our next book club read. My mom had shared her copy, and I was planning to wait to read it, but then picked it up and finished it in two days. I would list it as a must read. It is a beautifully written story about an 18 year old girl who ages out of the foster care system, and is emancipated, with no plan and nowhere to go. Having bounced through a number of different homes and schools throughout her childhood, without a high school degree or any major skills, her options aren't looking great. Her challenging personality doesn't help. The only thing she has is her skill and knowledge of flowers. I don't want to give any of the rest of the book away, but add this to your reading list. It was great. The author is a foster mother herself, and brings a really unique perspective that I haven't seen in other books before. 

Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth

Have you watched this show? It is one of my favorites. And the book was really great too. Jennifer Worth was a midwife in the East End of London during the 50s and the book tells the stories from that time in her life. This book is actually a bit older and the first in a series of three - I believe it came out in 2002, and Worth died a few years ago. She was trained as a nurse in a London hospital before moving to the East End to live in a convent and serve as a midwife to some of London's poorest families. She experiences quite a bit of culture shock from her more "cushy" upbringing, as the majority of her patients live and raise huge families in housing projects that were already condemned or would be within the decade. She does an amazing job portraying the spirit and personalities of the residents of her neighborhood, Poplar. The book has this really cool mix of stories about medicine and childbirth from which I learned a lot, to stories of poverty, domestic violence, and prostitution, that broke my heart, to these really fun and lively stories of the midwives and the nuns with whom they live and work that made me laugh out loud. I definitely want to read the other two books in the series. And I can't wait for season three of the show to make its way to PBS. The show told many of the stories directly from the book in its first two seasons. I am interested to see where they take the characters for the third one.      

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Why Social Media and I are on a Break

I couldn't write that title and not think of the all-time best tv show ever, Friends. So good.

Twitter and Facebook are out right now. I've turned them off. Well, technically I have only turned off Facebook. Twitter is still out though.


I just need a little bit of time with less social media, and more just being social. Interacting with people in ways other than "liking" their photos and posts. Feeling okay about putting down my computer or phone without worrying about missing out on something. Because the reality is that I am always going to miss out on things. And that's okay.

Facebook and Twitter are easy. They are there. All. The. Time. Always available for a fast distraction that ends up being a total black hole. Because I was also assisting with some of our social media management for work, it also means that I'm not only using them at home, but at work too. Too much.

I am sure the picture of your baby is cute. You know if I was on there, I'd like any picture of your cat. But is that the point? I feel like too much of my life can get wrapped up in my online presence, and I am not putting enough time in other areas. (I understand the contradiction as I post this on my personal    

So I decided my mind needed a little bit of time for a reset. I'm taking a break between now and the end of November. I'll be back, I'm sure. But for now, you won't find me there, personally or for work. Someone else is taking the lead on that.

I'm excited for the opportunity to communicate with folks in other ways. More texts. More calls. More hanging out. Heck, maybe even some snail mail. Perhaps my change will stimulate some much needed business for our post office system. Okay, probably not.

The blog isn't getting turned off. I may post less. But I haven't been posting that frequently lately anyway. And who knows if folks will find it if I'm not posting via social media.

Okay, back to real life.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

One Year Later.

A year ago at this time I wasn't running. At all. I had run all summer, and then quit mid-August. I missed the beautiful, cool fall days that were perfect for a run. I also set aside my goal of finishing a half-marathon (or at that time, a full marathon), at least for a bit.

But yesterday was the day. I was able to check that one off of the bucket list. 13.1 miles, conquered.

I had my doubts. Going into yesterday's race, I had not run since the previous Sunday, when I had a horrible run. It was so bad that I had to call Chris to pick me up around mile 7, four miles shorter than what I was hoping to do. I spent the week limping. Tight calves and shin splints. I declared it a week of rest, and spent my nights stretching, icing, and taking a painkiller or two. I got a massage on Tuesday, which helped some, but didn't take away all of the pain. It certainly didn't give me confidence that I'd finish the race. That was my only goal - just to finish.

How I spent the night before the race.
When the alarm went off at 5:00 am, I was already awake. I was in and out of sleep all night, and thanks to a playful but incredibly annoying cat, I woke up at 3:00 am, and couldn't fall back asleep. I put on my gear, ate a little breakfast, and packed up my stuff, and walked out the front door at 5:15. I wanted to get in some slow jogging up and down the block, just to get a sense of whether my legs were on board for the road ahead.

Chris was a trooper and drove me to Miller Park at 5:40 am. A time that neither of us regularly see. We parked, I stretched, went to the bathroom three separate times, and then lined up. My bib said "Corral K," which wasn't even a true corral. Just the back. Like "Hey slow people, find somewhere to stand behind Corral J. And don't get in the way of the people in front of you." Sounds good.

And then it started. And I ran. I ran down Canal Street and past the casino, where it was super smelly, btw. And then over to the Iron Horse Hotel, and back for a loop around the Harley Davidson Museum. And then around the rest of the city, past Miller Brewery, and through some neighborhoods, and then back to Miller Park.

It was a pretty scenic run - although I only half paid attention. I was mainly focused on keeping going. One mile at a time, most faster than my average training run. As I would cross a mile marker, I'd recite my mantra. "Alright Mile 9. All in on Mile 9." No idea where that came from, but it helped. Other times I counted backwards from 100. Over and over. Boring, but it kept me from stopping and giving up. And it also helped me to ignore the various pains in my legs and feet, and an icky stomach feeling that came and went throughout the race. I knew that I'd be looking at some huge blisters when my shoes came off.

Beauts, aren't they?
Popping blisters has become my sad post-race ritual.
At mile 11, I walked. I powered through all of the other hills and up the start of the on ramp, but I eventually met a hill that I couldn't take.  So I let myself walk to the top of the hill, and then picked it back up. It helped that there were folks with signs, cheering along the way. "Pain now, beer later." Best one by far. Am I right?!

Mile 13 brought me into the stadium. It was totally surreal to run through and see all of the families and friends that were in the stands cheering. And then to look up and see that we were on the huge screen, woah. I wanted to speed up through the stadium and finish strong, but I also had the urge to slow down and take it in.

As I ran the final portion of the race and through the finish line, it hit me. Not the pain, but the overwhelming feeling that comes with accomplishing a major goal. One for me that was really hard, and not without set backs. And somehow, I managed to sort of rock it. And blew my own expectations for what I could do.

I just wanted to finish, and yet, I did way better than I thought I ever could!
I know for some people, 13.1 is nothing. And I am in total awe of everyone I know who has completed a full marathon. Because as soon as I finished, the first thing that came to mind was "Oh hell no. No way that I could do what I just did, but twice." In fact, as I found my sister and Chris at the end, and started to cry, all I could say was "I can't believe I finished! I don't want to do a full one."


I promise that giant wet spot is from dumping water over myself.
Not all sweat. I think...
Maybe that goal will come back around later in life. Maybe. But for now, I am pretty proud of checking this off of my list. And I think I'll focus on recovering for a little bit. Because right now I'm walking like  an 80 year old. And just want to sleep on my couch.

Give me a week or two.

Didn't get it done before 30, but getting it done within 30 was pretty great too.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

An Update or Two

Thank you.

I have had a hard time getting it together to write anything after that last post. I'll be honest - it took a lot out of me. It was very freeing to share how I was feeling and finally open up. But it did something more.

It opened the door to some really wonderful, but very emotional conversations with great friends via text, e-mail, Facebook message, and phone call. Friends who have experienced their own loss. Who are navigating their way through their own life transitions and figuring out how to do so without the loved ones that they miss. There is something about having a shared experience that connects people. And while I wish that we didn't share this particular one, I have found that being able to have an open, honest conversation about missing a dead parent, spouse, or family member helps in the healing. So thank you. My tears were flowing that night. But they were good tears.

These last few weeks have been pretty crazy. When you work in education, the start of the school year is sort of a whirlwind, but in this awesome, high energy, "This is a pretty cool job" kinda way. I have been going in high gear for so long that I am looking forward to a little bit of a break. To read books. To sit around in sweatpants. And to get back to a bit of wedding planning. Because guess what the next step is? Cake!

We are also getting our engagement photos taken in about a month, and I am pretty excited. Because I have a new accessory for my pics.

My engagement ring is here! Isn't it pretty? I love it.

We had actually ordered the ring a few months ago from Rare Earth, a fine jewelry shop on Etsy. It arrived in August, and I immediately fell in love. It's beautiful, personal, and ethically sourced/conflict-free - something that was important to me. Melanie actually uses 90% recycled metals, which I think is pretty awesome. Unfortunately, we did not do a very good job on the sizing, and the thing practically fell off my finger. The designer was great to work with though, and let us reorder the correct size. When I got home today, my little furball greeted me at the door with a bow tied around his neck. He's a great gift giver (as is Chris)! But Bucky was just as excited as I was to get the thing off of him and onto my finger instead. : )

There is one other reason that I am excited for our pictures. No, it's not the fact that we have to be all lovey dovey in public. That part is going to be hard. You might also recall, it means I can shop! Anything wedding related. Right?!

With my schedule, I honestly have no desire to go to the mall and struggle through trying on a bunch of stuff in a fitting room. Per the recommendation of a friend, I signed up for an account on Stitch Fix. It is sort of like Birchbox, but better. Because it's clothes and accessories! You pay a $20 styling fee and get a box with 5 different items. Tops, skirts, jewelry - all kinds of stuff. When you sign up, you create a custom profile, where you give lots of details on your preferred sizes, styles, price range, etc. You can also share a Pinterest board with them, so that they can get a better sense of your style wish list.  Plus, you can specify any special things you are looking for - like clothes for a trip...or engagement photos!

When your box arrives, you have three days to try on the items and decide what you want to keep and what you are going to send back. The $20 styling fee is applied towards whatever items you want to purchase, and you pay the difference. They give you a prepaid envelope to send back whatever you don't want to keep. And they are totally okay if you send a bunch of stuff back because they want you to give feedback on what worked and what didn't, to help make future boxes better.

I got my first box last night and had a ton of fun trying on the clothes. One of the nice things that they do is provide a guide for some different ways to style each of the different pieces. I got a few things that I wouldn't likely wear, but a few that I love. And one thing that will be totally perfect for our engagement pictures. And I loved that it arrived at my front door, picked out just for me.

Who knew that I'd get so excited about some wedding things?

Monday, August 26, 2013

Something Blue

Image originally from here

I've been holding something in that I'm ready to put out into the universe. Consider this post my "Why Chris is the most amazing person in the world" post.

If you have talked to me at all since the day we got engaged, you may have noticed that I have experienced quite a bit of anxiety around wedding planning. More than one person has responded to me by saying, "you need to be more excited." Which I haven't responded to well. Because let's be real here - I get to choose my own emotions and my response. And being told what to feel doesn't feel very good. It just makes me more upset. You may have thought you were being helpful. But you probably made me cry. And here's why...

(deep breath)

On Memorial Day, just a few days past the "one year until our wedding" mark, I finally told Chris what has been on my mind since the day that we got engaged. We were headed home from a BBQ at my mom's house when I burst into tears. I was the one driving, which made it a slightly scary moment. We had been working through guest lists and discussing the format of our ceremony and reception that weekend, and kept getting into stupid arguments about it. Mainly because I was holding back what I really wanted to say for some time. It all came out in one giant slurry sob..."I don't care who is at our wedding. Because the one person I want to be there isn't going to be there. And it's not fair."

I miss my dad. A lot. For the most part, I have gotten past most of those "it's not fair" moments. I try not to make the phrase part of my regular vocabulary. But there are definitely the times that I feel it. Birthdays are kinda shitty. Holidays too. Days of celebration that are supposed to be extra happy - they're just a little more sad. When I attend the weddings of friends, as much as I fight it, I often cry when I watch them dance with their dads. This is usually why I am in the bathroom when this part of the day happens so that others don't see me doing the ugly cry. Trust me, it doesn't look like the "Aww, how beautiful" cry that everyone else is doing. It's certainly not something to be captured in photos. It's not that I am angry at them. Maybe slightly jealous. But just sad. Definitely sad.

I know that there are parts of our day that are going to be different from all of those other weddings. I have known for the past seven years that I wouldn't have a father-daughter dance. That I would likely choose to walk myself down the aisle versus trying to decide who the suitable replacement would be. Because, in my mind, there isn't anyone else. I thought I would be over this by now. That if I spent enough time mentally preparing, that all of the emotion would go away. But it turns out, this feels worse than a birthday or Christmas.

When we started the actual planning, I had this onset of dread. I wasn't looking forward to planning this big party at all. And I think I tried to push it away by rationalizing that if we didn't make a big deal of our wedding, if we planned something small and simple and intimate, the gaping hole would somehow be less obvious. People wouldn't notice that someone was missing.

But he will be missing. And I'm doing my best to deal with that. Every day.

I hope this doesn't come across as though I don't care about other family and friends. Or that I am not excited to share in our special day with them. Because I know that on our wedding day, we will feel truly showered in love by all around us. And we are planning a pretty fun party. At least, I think so.

But if you have wondered why I am anxious about what our ceremony might look like, or I don't care to talk at all about the little details, it is because there is this tiny cloud that I am trying to push out of the way so that I can have a little more sunshine about May 25th.

As much as he can understand this, Chris gets it. And naming the problem has helped a lot. I have actually enjoyed some of our wedding planning tasks this summer.

Still don't give a sh*t about favors. Ain't nobody got time for that.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Happy Birthday Rachie!

Today is the anniversary of the glorious day that I upgraded titles from only child to big sister. I know I probably didn't think it was glorious at the time, especially after three years of parental attention. But decades later, one of my absolute favorite roles in life being a sister. Today's tribute goes out to Rachel!

If you have met my sister before, you know that we definitely share a resemblance. We're related. It's clear. We also share a lot of similar interests: working in education, running, music, having fun all the time, snuggling with kitties and puppies, etc. There are also some ways in which we are very different - and I think some of these things are what I admire most about Rachel.

She is much more bold and outgoing than I am - she has this personality that just draws people to her, and she is constantly meeting new folks. When we go anywhere in public, she is bound to know someone. I may strike you as an extrovert, but I am nothing compared to Rachel.

She also has a very strong determination for whatever she is doing. When we ran together this past weekend, she was committed to running the whole length. I'll stop for stop signs or red lights or walk through a corner, but she just keeps on going, adjusting her route as needed so that she doesn't have to stop. She pushes herself to achieve more, both in work and in life.

I love visiting Rachel wherever she lives, because she has this talent for creating a home that is warm and inviting and representative of her personality. No matter the size of the space, she also manages to live without the clutter or mess that tends to follow me wherever I go. I just want to move right in, except I know that it's a space especially designed for her - whether it be the tiny room under the stairs where she lived in college, or her graduate school efficiency that was truly efficient and super cute. This girl has taste.

I think there is something that you can't truly appreciate about having a sister until you are an adult. Like getting to hang out together for a whole weekend of sitting around on the couch, or being silly at the state fair, or having some "real talk" time. Sisters can challenge you in ways that a friend can't. And that's part of their job.

Although my three-year-old self  might disagree, I would never want to be an only child. Having a sister is just too much fun.

Happy Birthday Rachie!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A Love Iowa

Ahh, cornfields.
It has been two weeks since we visited Iowa. I already want to go back.

We left after work on a Thursday, and traveled across to Madison, down through Dubuque/Cedar Rapids, and then across I-80. As we started getting closer to Des Moines, I became giddy with excitement. Every other word out of my mouth was, "Ooh, Casey's gas stations!" followed by "Ooh, Hy-Vee - the best grocery store ever!" and "Ooh, Adventureland!" Never mind that it was approaching midnight and Chris was trying to sleep in the car. With each new thing, I could barely contain myself. And then the following conversation happened.

"I love Iowa. It's my favorite place." I said.

"I thought Milwaukee was your favorite place," Chris said, looking a little hurt/concerned.

"I mean, I love Milwaukee, but Iowa is my place. It's where I grew up. It's where all of those important years happened."

"I am not moving to Iowa." A firm response from Chris.

"Iowa can be my favorite place without me living here. I'm not asking you to move here." Silently I was thinking but did not say, "But I do hope that you love it as much as I do because I'm at least going to need to come back for some visits."

Iowa. It is my place. We moved to Urbandale, Iowa when I was 8 years old and stayed through the end of my sophomore year of high school before my dad's job took us back to Milwaukee again. I returned for a summer in college to work at Living History Farms day camp, went back the following summer for a week as a counselor at Catholic Youth Camp and then again for two years of graduate school at Iowa State. Sure, Milwaukee is where my family is, but I consider myself equally from Wisconsin/Iowa, and I don't know if that will change as I accumulate more years here in Milwaukee.

It's hard to put into words just why I love Iowa so much. But I suppose I will give it a shot....

It is my home where I remember playing hide and seek, building Barbie villages in the basement, and swinging on our swing set in the backyard. It's the home where we planted a tree that I grew from a seed in a margarine container. It is where I learned to drive, had my first kiss, had braces put on and taken off, and babysat almost ever kid in the neighborhood.

It is the people. Seriously the nicest you will ever meet. I am not saying folks in other places aren't nice too, or that it's a competition. But I don't know if people are born nicer than the ones that live in Iowa.

It is Hy-vee grocery store. Hands down the best there is. Chris seems to think I'm crazy for liking a grocery store so much, but I think others who have experienced it too and now live somewhere else would probably agree.

It's the corn fields. Not right where I live, but never far away.

Earlier last week, a friend shared this TED Talk from Pico Iyer about "Where is Home?" It made me think. It made me feel things. It was very moving for me, because I consider many different places home. When you ask me where my hometown is, how do I answer? Is it the place where I was born? I only lived in Wauwatosa, WI until I was 8, so the years I remember there are fairly limited. Is it where my mom lives now? Waukesha is great, but I really only lived there for two years of high school, one summer during college, and the seven months before Chris and I found our current place. It feels strange to leave out Madison, WI, the best college town ever. And of course, Iowa.

Iowa is deeply imbedded in me. It's a part that will never go away. And I like that. 

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Great Closet Challenge

Have you ever taken an inventory of all of the clothes in your closet?

I decided to clean mine out this past weekend, and it was a bit frightening. I found two bags of sweaters and tops that have been waiting to go to the dry cleaners. Some of them have been in there for over a year. Fifteen pieces of clothing that need a little tender lovin' care so they can make their way back into the rotation.

This made me want to go through all of my clothes and assess what I am/am not wearing. Long story short, I have a whole lot of clothes. And I certainly don't need any more for some time. I am not a frequent shopper, but when I do buy stuff, I tend to splurge on a bunch of things at once. That may have caused the current situation.

Enter: The Great Closet Challenge!

I am setting a personal challenge to avoid buying any new clothes for an entire calendar year. That's right - a whole year. I am quite confident that I can make 365 combinations with what's hanging in the closet and stuffed in my dresser, even if I am not wearing my favorite thing everyday. At the end of the year, anything that went unworn will have to go. It will make a lovely donation to the Junior League of Milwaukee Grand Garage Sale, a fundraiser that I am happy to support each year.

So starting today, July 22nd, there will be no new jeans, running shorts, cardigans, or tops. And certainly no t-shirts. How does one person accumulate this many t-shirts?!

This challenge also includes accessories - specifically scarves and jewelry. I have more of both than I know what to do with. Nineteen scarves, people. That's just excessive.

There are a few exceptions to this:

Any items specific to Wedding/Honeymoon festivities. I already have my dress, but there may be other items that I am going to need to purchase to go with it - not optional. And I already know that I am going to need to get a rain parka for our honeymoon. So that's a go. I am going to try to pull from my current wardrobe for engagement photos as well, which could get interesting. I may have to make an exception there. Don't worry, I won't go overboard.

Shoes. For a girl who has so many clothes, I actually have very few pairs of shoes. And some of them are looking quite sad. As in, they should probably already be in the trash. So I will allow myself to buy work/casual shoes, within reason.

Gifts. If someone is so kind as to give me a clothing or jewelry gift, I reserve the right to keep it. As any good recipient would do. : )

To keep myself sane, throughout the year I am going to keep a clothing wish list. I think it will be fun to note the things I wish I had throughout the year, and see if I still really want them at the end.

I am also going to take a daily picture to assist me in remembering my outfits and to track what gets worn (and what doesn't). I don't plan to post them here, but will let you know how things are going. I am excited to see how much money that I save and if I can get creative with what I have.

Anyone interested in joining me for this one?

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Summer TV

What do you watch during the summer months? Do you get into the reality competition shows? Do you watch the reruns of your favorite?

We definitely get out a bit more during the summer, but it's nice to have something to watch during those super hot days when we don't want to go outside. We haven't had many of those yet, but I bet they are coming.

Since we don't have cable, we rely on Netflix for summer tv options. I think it's a lot of fun to pick a new show and watch all the way through. We are currently in the middle of season three of Sons of Anarchy. Who knew that I'd be hooked on a show about a motorcycle gang. Excuse me, a motorcycle club.

Here are a few others that I'd recommend for summer tv:

Downton Abbey. Obviously. But you've probably already watched it, so in that case, watch...

Call the Midwife. Season One is on Netflix. You'll have to hunt around for Season Two because PBS just pulled it. You may think a show about nuns and midwives sounds stuffy, but trust me, it's not. It does a wonderful job at looking at the complexities of healthcare, gender roles and poverty. And the characters are totally charming.

Sherlock. Because let's be honest, British tv is amazing. And I think Benedict Cumerbach is spectacular.

Elementary. Same character, totally different take. I actually don't know if it is on Netflix yet, so maybe check CBS. I watched the first half and am going to try to finish the first season this summer.

How I Met Your Mother. This is probably our favorite show. If you haven't seen it, the next season is going to be the last where we will finally see how Ted and the mother meet. Catch up on the show now and make note of all of the clues!

House of Cards. I watched the first season in just a few days. It's that good. Kevin Spacey could probably be a politician in real life. I'd vote for him.

Friday Night Lights. Why not go back and rewatch the whole show? It was that good - who could ever get sick of it?

The Walking Dead. I don't like scary stuff, but I have been hooked through every episode.

The West Wing. We watched the whole series over the winter. I had actually never seen it until now. But now I'm on the Aaron Sorkin bandwagon.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Painting is my favorite

So this is a pretty belated post, but too fun not to share!

Have you heard of Splash Studio? Okay, if you don't live in Milwaukee, probably not.

It's this awesome painting bar. You heard me. Painting bar.

They do classes during the evenings and on weekends where you can paint along with an instructor, or you can just go to the bar, pick out a canvas and freestyle it. I have now been there four times, which I guess makes me a regular. If I wasn't minding my fun budget, I might be there once a week. Except then I would have to start paying people to take my paintings because we'd run out of wall space for em all.

Anyway...rather than give my mom a traditional gift for Mother's Day this year, I wanted to give her an experience. Something that we could do together. We are both fairly busy, and so it's nice to set aside time to hang out. And what would be more fun to do than painting and drinking?

I let her pick out a painting that she wanted to do and she picked the poppy fields painting. Very pretty. And surprisingly not too hard.

Mom is ready to paint!

The model painting - Poppy Fields

My happy clouds. The best part. Thank you Bob Ross.

How amazing is this? She added in the Wizard of Oz characters, and the Emerald City!
Sorry for the super blurry photo, but too cool not to share.
Mom, with her finished painting. I love it!

My masterpiece. Went for a little whimsy.
My trees look like ice cream cone tops. 
We had so much fun! Painting is definitely more fun with a glass of wine. You just have to be careful not to mix up the wine glass with the dirty paint water. Almost did that. Twice. 

If you live in the area, you should definitely Get Splashed!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Adventures in Gardening

I have a new hobby. And I'm obsessed.

Check out these babies!

Our baby seedlings before planting.

Freshly planted.

Boy have they grown!

Cilantro for days!

Lots of basil.


Two kinds of kale.

One of our free spirited tomato plants.
Our jalapeno plant finally is starting to show signs of future peppers.

Tomatoes are coming soon!

The Food and Garden Club on the campus where I work has a number of garden plots that they let students, faculty, and staff rent out each year. For a small fee, you get to grow whatever you would like in a 4x4 plot.

I have always wanted to start a garden, but wasn't really excited about trying to build something at our apartment. We also have a heavily shaded yard thanks to some big trees, which would make it pretty challenging to grow anything that requires full sun.

So I was so excited to give gardening a shot, especially with a group of folks who know quite a bit more about gardening than I do. Lots of experts to share tips and tricks.

And, even better, I have a gardening partner! My friend Claudia also wanted to give beginner gardening a shot. We like to head out over our lunch hour and check on the veggies and herbs and do a little weeding and watering. Maybe grab a few extra salad toppings too!

We have already learned a few key things:

Tomatoes need to go in cages, almost right away. We thought we could wait on this one for a few weeks, but then our tomato plants had a major growth spurt and got all long and gangly. We had quite the adventure trying to weave them into the cages, and lost some branches along the way. We are hoping that they will straighten out a bit, because they are pretty heavy on one side.

Watering. It's a daily thing. We haven't lost any plants yet, and thankfully, we've had a LOT of rain so watering hasn't been as needed as you would expect for the summer. But we know moving forward that we are going to have to schedule time to get out there every day.

Cat hair and coffee grounds can help keep the critters away. We don't use pesticides at the garden, so we are trying everything we can to keep the bugs and the bunnies out of our goodies. Some bunny loves our kale!

Through the club, I am also trying out composting for the first time. We have a compost area near the gardens, and so I've been saving my veggie scraps, egg shells and coffee groups to take in each day. Way better than having a stinky compost area at home! Plus all of the compost that we make can go back into the gardens.

So that's where you can find me this summer. Digging in the dirt!

Do you garden? What tips can you share with us? We'd love advice!
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