Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Goodbye 2013

Happy New Year's Eve, my darlings. I'm sure you're all out sending off 2013 in your favorite way but I couldn't let the year close without one more post. 

I know I've lots to catch you up on but as has been my habit lately, I'm currently traveling. I haven't had proper access to a computer in awhile, in fact I'm pecking out this very post on my phone in the backseat of a truck. (It's quite tedious and I won't be making a habit of it, in case you're wondering.)
After two days on the road, I've had loads of time to think about my year. It has not been an easy one and I confess, I was all set to write it off. In an effort to be more positive, I thought I'd put together a little photo collage of my favorite moments. As I was scrolling through my pictures, it wasn't long before my attitude was adjusted. It wasn't the snapshots of flowers, cupcakes, or pretty scenery that I liked (though there were plenty of each), but the faces. Faces of friends, family, coworkers; all the people I've interacted with this year that have improved my life in some way. 

And so my photo collages got a little out of hand. 
I could write an individual post for every person pictured here but in an effort to be concise, thank you. (If it's your child that is pictured, they represent you. But squeeze your kids for me because I love them too.) Each one of you helped me through difficult days, in ways large and small. You may not even have known it at the time, but you did.  Be it a kind message, wise counsel, a funny joke, a listening ear, or even a particularly charming smile, you made my day. More than once, probably.  Thank you for that. 
There are barrels of other people to whom I owe my thanks so if you're reading this and don't see your picture, don't despair. The main reason for that is because we either haven't been together in person this year (i.e. my dear friends in other countries & those who I only know via this blog) or I do not have a picture of you on my phone. (I'm not joking, I've been in the car since yesterday morning and this post in its entirety was created on my iPhone, including the pictures.). In fact if you're reading this at all, you get my thanks, because you care enough to read about my life. 

(Or you just got lost on your way to the internet store that sells incense and Tibetan prayer flags. It wouldn't be the first time, friend. That particular site is hitherandyon.com.  Carry on!)

So if you see your face (or in your case, a cartoon dachshund, Courtney), if you're reading this, or if at the very least you've never called me "treacherous swine" (I'm looking at you, Spencer), then THANK YOU. From the bottom of my stomach. Because that is much deeper than my heart, let's be real.

2013 was not a year of great accomplishments or any groundbreaking personal discovery. But I will not remember it in measurements of tears or disappointments. I will remember it as the year I came to more deeply appreciate the value of a friend. 

Now if you've got the time, what did 2013 hold for you? I'd love to chat. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Anxiety Ferris Wheel

Friends, I've been a very bad blogger. It's been nearly five months since my last post.  It feels rather self-indulgent and dramatic to keep referring to my situation as my "quarter-life crisis", so I will simply say I have been adrift, personally and professionally, for a rather large portion of this year.  Because of this I have felt blocked when it came to writing.

After quite a few months of feeling like I had a handle on my anxiety disorder, it slipped out of my grasp and came at me in full force like a mythical hydra.  Going to battle against this beast, I'd successfully cut off its head only to have two more appear in its place.

It is a terrible thing to fear one's own mind. It is so hard to explain the way it works to someone who has never experienced it.  I described what it's like to have a full-blown panic attack in a post from back when it all started.  What I wish so very dearly is that I could tell you I'm finally on the other side of the mountain, but I'm not. I've realized over the past two and a half years that this is not something that I can go through, get over, and then put away neatly in a box.  There are some people who can, and have conquered their anxiety and live with complete confidence.

But I've come to accept that being anxious is a part of my nature.  At its core, generalized anxiety disorder is a manifestation of the fear of losing control.  It is such an amorphous fear, because no one has control. Not over the weather, not over the actions/attitudes of others, and most especially not over the future. So I become obsessed with the things that I can control: my mood, every thought, action, and reaction to every situation. Consequently, I try to orchestrate the perfect environment in which I am least likely be anxious, so (in my mind) where I go, what I do, and who I'm with are extremely important.

For example, I hate being surrounded by lots of people so I try to avoid any place with a large crowd. This rules out festivals, amusement parks, concerts, airports, and stores during the holidays, among others.  Secondly, I try to avoid spending too long with someone who doesn't know, understand, or I feel would not react well should I have a panic attack.  The unreasonable train of thought attached to this is that if I can't keep control of myself, at least I'll be with someone who can either help or won't judge me for it.  Thirdly, I try to avoid any place or situation where I do not have a clear or viable exit strategy. This is because feeling trapped is a major trigger for me.  The major consequence of all this is that I end up missing out on a lot of good opportunities if my tightly wound brain perceives a "threat" to my peace of mind.

It is utterly fatiguing to be so consumed with oneself.  There are two tracks playing constantly in my head, one being the normal chatter of every day living (i.e."Where shall I go, what shall I do, what will I eat?") and the other being a nervous and bitter critic (i.e. "Don't eat that, you'll make yourself feel ill. You can't go there, there will be too many people. How useless you are today!"). I end most every day with a physical weariness that originates from the marrow of my bones, as though my blood is produced as two parts hemoglobin, one part enervation.

A well-meaning psychiatrist labeled this particular state as major depressive disorder, as though it were a giant steak dinner and the anxiety only a complementary side salad.  Perhaps it is;  the two are so intertwined, it is hard to separate them out. I know that when I am deeply unhappy, I am far more prone to be anxious and vice versa.  But I strongly resist labeling myself as "chronically depressed".  Yes, I have days and even weeks when even the act of getting out of bed takes Herculean effort, but I've never gone to a place too dark to come back from.

At my core, there is a quiet joy in the privilege of simply being alive, of having all my wits and limbs about me.  The mental and physical ability to experience, to feel, life in all its forms and ways is a vastly underappreciated state of being.  It is a beautiful gift that was just handed to me at birth, I did absolutely nothing to deserve it.  This is to say that even in the bleakest hours or moments of incredible inner turmoil, there is always something within that leads me to level ground again.

I could have been born a bird.
Or a hedgehog.
But what a basic and mindless existence that would be.
Instead, I am human. Made of earth, water, and soul. And the ability, nay the vital responsibility, to discover and follow after a higher purpose is what makes makes it all worthwhile.

There is a masochistic intellectual in me that on the very best days is glad that I struggle with anxiety. "There is a reason for this madness. You may never fully understand it, but at the very least, it drives you to keep bettering yourself," the voice whispers.  As much as I hate to admit it, there is wisdom in that thought.  Anxiety will never allow me to grow complacent about my life.  It's like an unwelcome visitor that pops in at always wildly inconvenient times to ask uncomfortable but well-meaning questions: "Are you happy in this job? Are you headed in the right direction?"

Obviously I usually want to scream "GO AWAY YOU INSUFFERABLE COW. I JUST WANT TO EAT ICE CREAM AND NOT WORRY EVER AGAIN." But the visit gets me thinking and gradually prompts a change. Usually for the better. And then the anxiety recedes for a time.

So that's where I am now.  On the weirdest, most frustrating ferris wheel of life.  I quit my job in September and have been taking some time off to think and travel and reconnect with people in my life that I've neglected.  Where am I going next? I still don't know but I'm trying to swallow my fear of the unknown and explore the possibilities.  The grandest part of all this has been the incredible support of my family, particularly my mother who has quite literally held my hand through the worst bits.  I owe them so much.  I love you guys.

Anyway, this is a wordy and serious post but I felt like I couldn't jump back into regular blogging without putting all my cards on the table.  If only to make myself feel better.  If you've made it this far and still want to read my ramblings, I say thank you, friend. Thank you for your patience and for your listening ears.

I feel amazing after letting this all out.
*assumes lotus position and immediately ascends to higher plane of understanding*

Now take some time to fully appreciate yourself and everything you've been through in your life.
I'll be back soon with pictures and stories.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Happy Weekend

Hi my dears. How have you been? I’ve been busy. The recent heat wave kicked things into high gear at work, which is good because a mild summer doesn’t bode well for the air conditioning business.  On a personal level, I’m glad it’s been so breezy and beautiful.  High temps and extreme humidity are not my friends.

Do you have any fun plans this weekend? I’m heading south for a weekend with a friend and I’m looking forward to catching up with her.

 I know my blogging has been extra spotty lately and for that I apologize, but today I’m back with another links post. It’s been awhile since I’ve done one so there are extra links for your viewing pleasure.


+ Mmm...ice cream. Speaking of, here's an interesting profile on the owner of the Van Leeuwen ice cream trucks in NYC. (via Garance Doré)

+ Homemade poptarts. Can't go wrong here.

+ A super fun gold sequin heart tutorial. You know, for all your giant wall bling needs.

+ A recent study on the full moon's effect on sleep. Call me crazy, but I fully believe the full moon plays a role. I am always more anxious around a full moon. (via NPR)

+ Another cool DIY: turn a giant t-shirt into a cute tshirt dress.

+ Loved this article in National Geographic on the tradition of painting elephants in India.

+ I'm not a belt person but if I was, I would totally wear this one.

+ I can't get enough of these Pantone stairs. I would love love to do this in my future house.

+ Did you know that Anthropologie has a blog? Check out their post on a short history of the monogram.

+ "Miracles" by Jeremy Messersmith
Miracles by Jeremy Messersmith on Grooveshark

Have a good one, friends!
Ice cream photos: (1) / (2)

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Best Ever Basic Chocolate Chip Cookies

Nothing is better than a chocolate chip cookie fresh out of the oven. 
Ok some things are equally as good, but nothing is better.

No two chocolate cookie recipes are the same, though.  There are a thousand different ways to satisfy your cookie craving. Do you like flat and slightly crispy cookies? There's a recipe for that. Do you prefer artisanal takes on the standard chocolate chipper, with sea salt and caramel chips? You can bet there's a way to make them.  Are you a vegan or gluten-free? Recipes galore!

Previously I had two go-to recipes. One is the thick and buttery version my grandmother created.  The second is my mother's modern adaptation of the first recipe, with whole wheat flour and oats.
Both recipes produce equally delicious and satisfying cookies.

But now I have a third recipe, found here. It's one that makes incredibly soft and chewy cookies and provides a perfect base for experimentation. The beauty of this particular recipe is that these cookies still taste as soft and fresh three days after baking as when they first came out of the oven. Plus, you don't need a mixer to make them, which is a huge bonus.

I followed the recipe exactly, with the exception of reducing the cookie size. I don't know what it is, but I prefer smaller cookies. These were about the size of the palm of my hand. Plus, I was able to make three dozen out of what was supposed to be 16 cookies.

Mmm...just look at that dough...

There are a few secrets to making the perfect cookie:
1. For the best flavor, refrigerate the dough. I know it's an exercise in patience but refrigeration is what gives the ingredients the time to mix and mingle like they should.
2. The softness and chewiness are a result of two things: the addition of cornstarch and underbaking it. Seriously. Whisk those puppies right out of the oven the minute they look golden. Not golden brown, but golden.
3. Chocolate chip quality matters. Call me a snob but chalky, dry chips really take away from the overall quality.  If you're going to be ingesting the unnecessary calories, why not make them the most delicious calories? Personally I prefer Guittard brand (found at H-E-B stores), but sadly they are not sold in Indiana.  Fortunately, I have a sister in Texas who brings me a stash when she comes to visit.

The only thing left to do? Why, enjoy them with a glass of milk of course!

If you try them let me know. I would highly recommend it.
Do you have a favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe? Any additions I should try?

Monday, July 15, 2013

Dream Summer Vacations

Each week I get a list of blog prompts in my inbox from the fabulous Mama Kat. The following post is inspired by one of her prompts.

Since joining the working world, I have discovered the saddest part of the Monday through Friday, 8-5 grind.

There is no summer break.

For the second year in a row (I know, poor you, says every working stiff who's been in the game for 15+ years), I am watching this beautiful season literally roll right on by me on a candy-striped bike eating an ice cream cone. It is incredibly depressing.

Part of my gloom stems from the fact that despite putting my time in, I'm still too low on the totem pole to rate more than a few days of vacation.  These precious gems are incredibly rare and must be meted out over the course of an entire year. Even more unfortunate in the case of my particular job, it is entirely possible that they can be eaten up as sick days.

Seriously, someone make me the CEO of something already because I'm SICK. OF. IT.

Anyway, as I wither away under the pale glow of florescent lighting, I'm planning fabulous imaginary vacations that I would take if I had the summer to myself. Since they are imaginary, all of the below vacations can be paid for in smiles and baked goods. Obviously.


+ Thailand

I've never been to an Asian country and I think I'd like to dip my toe in the water with a trip to Thailand. I already love the food so I'm fairly certain I'd love the country. A two-week tour of Bangkok and the surrounding countryside? I'm totally down.

+ Iceland

This country has been on my list for over a year now after seeing photos on The House That Lars Built.  I would love to rent a car and just drive around, taking pictures of all the gorgeous countryside, exploring waterfalls and lagoons as well as spending some time in Reykjavik. It looks like such a lush and vibrant country.

+ Musha Cay in the Bahamas

I have never been on a cruise or to any tropical location. I've relaxed by rivers, mountains, lakes, and the seaside but never anywhere below northern Florida. This particular group of islands is privately owned by the famous magician David Copperfield. You essentially have to rent all of Musha Cay to vacation there; it's incredibly exclusive. But man how awesome would it be to chill on the beach by these crystal clear waters with your family or friends and not have to worry about anyone else ruining your vacation? As someone who loves the ocean and not strangers, this is pretty much ideal.

Obviously there are about twenty other places around the world that I'd love to visit on a summer trip but before I cry myself to sleep with travel envy, I think that's enough for now.

What about you, if you had unlimited money and time where would you go this summer?
Mama’s Losin’ It

Image Sources: (airplane) / (wanderlust) / (Thailand) / (Iceland) / (Musha Cay)

Friday, July 12, 2013

Always, Sometimes, Never

I always
+ put my right shoe on first
+ take pictures of interesting doors or windows

+ need to know what time it is

I sometimes
+ yawn when I’m nervous
+ want to cut bangs, regardless of how silly and not like Zooey Deschanel I'll look
+ drive too fast

I never
+ dance in public
+ know which light switch is which (say that 5 times fast!)

+ can put down a good book

I always
+ sleep with too many pillows
+ say yes to chocolate
+ choose waffles over pancakes

I sometimes
+ spend too much money on artisan cheese
+ dream in French (not as much anymore, sadly)
+ take all my blessings for granted

I never
+ feel completely at ease in a large crowd
+ forget a face
+ get up early by choice

Image Sources: (window) / (door) / (Zooey D) / (yawning kitty) / (bookshelves) / (pillows) / (French woman) / (cheese plate) / (busy market)

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Lessons from Text Messages

In the digital age, communication is easier than ever. Well, sometimes.


Lesson 1: Speech to text isn't perfect.
Lesson 2: Don't leave Jillian in an office full of chatty attorneys. Especially if the air conditioning is broken.

Lesson 1: Someone needs to talk to the Kardashians about Jesus in real life. And no, Kanye is not an appropriate substitute, even though he thinks he is.
Lesson 2: Julie has the best dreams.

Lesson 1: It's really hard to politely explain a not very polite expression in a text message. Haha.
Lesson 2: Well obviously, never assume.

You're welcome for sharing all this wisdom.
Well readers, what have you learned from technology lately?

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

How to Have a Good 4th of July

Independence Day, one of my favorite holidays. Everything about it is so quintessentially a celebration of summer. Well, except for the Revolutionary War part.

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of a perfect flag cake. I’m sure that’s what old T. Jeffs was talking about in the Declaration of Independence, right?

I think I found it, you guys. I found it on the Smitten Kitchen blog: a vanilla pound cake, cream cheese frosting, and a patriotic array of blueberries and raspberries. I really don’t know what else you need. 
4/5 family members agree. (The 5th not being in favor of fruit on his cake, the little rapscallion.) 
I attempted to level the cake to make a more even surface for decorating. It was hard to do with the cake still in the dish. I wouldn't recommend it.

Not that smooth & full of crumbs, but who cares? It's about to be covered in fruit!

Use powdered sugar to make the "white stripes". Pro tip: when the directions say to dry the berries, seriously DRY THE BERRIES. Because if you don’t, the white stripes will look really sad. Check out the picture from Smitten Kitchen’s blog for what it’s supposed to look like.
But fear not, it will taste just as delicious. Which is what really matters. Even if it means I won’t be opening a cake shop unless I find someone way better at decorating than me.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Dip Dye DIY

File this one under: Pinterest Fail. sort of.

You guys, it would be so easy to just never share this project but this is just a reminder that sometimes, despite our best efforts, things just don't go the way they are supposed to. Plus, I don't want to be THAT blog, you know the one that only shares beautiful pictures of cakes and custom built shelves and never lets you see when things go sideways. 

If we can get real for a second, life feels sideways sometimes. 
But you just have to make do with what happens, you know?

With that said, here is the tale of the time I tried to dip dye some tshirts.

I found the tutorial over on Wit & Whistle and nothing against that blog (which is beautiful and a great source for DIYs and inspiration!) but this particular guide just did not work for me.

I mean, I thought I followed the instructions to the letter.

I carefully mixed hot water, salt, and a packet of deep blue RIT dye. 
Then I patiently dipped the shirt by degrees to achieve the ombré effect.

I tried exceptionally hard to not get any dye on the top of the shirt because I wanted that crisp white to deepen into blue without any wayward spots.

After letting it dry in the laundry room (which is where the top photo came from), I rinsed out the dye using warm water in the sink. Again, I was super careful not to let any dye run into the top of the shirt.

Then I washed it with a small amount of detergent, just like the instructions said.

The beautiful deep blue dissolved into a boring periwinkle that bled into the rest of the shirt.
Color me sad, y'all.

Here my sister is modeling it for you: 

The ombré effect is still there but it's pretty subtle. And have you met me? I don't do subtle.
Ok sometimes I do subtle.
Just not with ombré.

Originally I was planning on using these shirts as another Creative Pay it Forward giveaway but because I wasn't super happy with the result, I let my mom and sister have them as sleep shirts.

I still have a box of bright fuchsia dye and if I find a different tutorial, I'll try again.
Maybe with like an old tablecloth or something.
Because that's what you're supposed to do in life when things don't go as planned: try again. 
With an old tablecloth.

Have you ever tried dip dye? Any tried and true techniques I should be aware of?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Pennsylvania and One Hundred Pictures of the Sky

Recently my brother and I took a quick trip to eastern Pennsylvania to spend a much needed weekend hanging out with friends. It's been an age since I hopped in the car for a good old road trip and it was only a couple of hours in when I remembered why. 

I have the world's tiniest bladder.

Seriously. I'm like an old man with a prostate problem. 
I'm sorry for sharing, it's just, if you ever want to take a trip with me, you should probably know that.
Bathroom stops aside, it was a lovely drive. Sam doesn't let too many people between him and the driver's seat of his beloved car, so I did zero percent of the driving. But I didn't mind. We listened to Stuff You Should Know podcasts and I took pictures of the sky.

And the tunnels that cut through the mountains. 

We got there on Friday evening and it was a relief to pile out of the car and sit around a crackling fire and catch up under the stars. We told stories and jokes and riddles and laughed until my eyes were crossing from fatigue. 

Friday, June 7, 2013

Happy Weekend

Future Ballerinas, American School of Ballet, 1937, by Alfred Eisenstaedt

Happy weekend again!  It's my favorite flavor of early summer outside today. My sister is bringing me lunch at work, the sweetheart. It's a rare treat indeed!  My brother-in-law flies in tonight so we are having a small gathering tomorrow to celebrate summer and being together. I hope the weather holds out for a day of swimming, sunshine, and barbecue.  There have been a few troubling things in the atmosphere lately but it has only served to make me appreciate the good days even more.  It's a reminder to be grateful for what you have (and what you don't) and to never let an opportunity to be loving and kind pass you by.

Anyway, here are some things from around the web that I've appreciated this week:

+ "The truth is, most of us discover where we are headed when we arrive." - Some very wise words on creativity and life purpose from the creator of Calvin & Hobbes (only the best comic strip of all time, mind you)

+ Welcome/survival kit for a house guest. Would be ideal if you live in a big city or for out of state visitors.

+ At the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco, the Blue Bottle Coffee Cafe serves desserts made to look like famous pieces of modern art, like Mondrian Cake. This awesome video shows how it's made.

+ Spicy Roasted Vegetable Macaroni & Cheese. Love a good one dish meal. Even though I'm supposed to be avoiding dairy, I can't resist this yummy looking recipe.

+ I could stare at this gif all day. I find it oddly soothing. (via tumblr)

+ "Carried Away" by Passion Pit (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DiEwJTOderQ)

I love and appreciate you, my friends and readers. Have a beautiful weekend. :)

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Food for Thought

Everyone who terrifies you is sixty-five percent water.
And everyone you love is made of stardust, and I know sometimes you cannot even breathe deeply, and the night sky is no home,
and you have cried yourself to sleep enough times that you are down to your last two percent, but
nothing is infinite,
not even loss.
You are made of the sea and the stars, and one day
you are going to find yourself again.

- Finn Butler

Friday, May 31, 2013

A Summary of May

Hello my dears, are you having a good day? I hope so. I am beyond excited because as I write this my brother is on his way home from Texas with our sister in tow! I can’t wait to all hang out. This is one of the last times we will all be together for what I’m assuming will be a while, as my brother is moving to Ohio for grad school at the end of June.

I haven’t had time to sit down and finish one of the 16 posts I have started in the last month (spastic much?) so until then, I thought I’d share a whole bunch of Instagram photos to show you some cheerful moments from the month of May:
Above, left to right: Cheeky marketing material from Madewell, my parents on an 18 mile bike ride organized by the city, and a homemade loaf of the best bread of all time.  The bottom two photos are from a Sunday evening stop in Berne, Indiana, which contains elements from the original Berne in my dear Switzerland, including the insignia of Vaud, my former canton. ...sigh...oh les souvenirs...
Top: Me with the sweet and smiley Alaina and a massive ice cream that I wasn't able to finish by myself but was oh so delicious.
Bottom: Banana Cinnamon Cupcakes made for a coworker's birthday (they were delicious!) and my brother and I on his graduation day.

 Top row: coral flats to brighten up a gloomy day, my favorite kind of Beetle, and the beginnings of my container garden
Middle row: a bug's eye view of the grainery behind my office, enjoying some cherries on my lunch break, and some quirky new duds from a recent shopping trip
Bottom row: a random abandoned house that I wouldn't mind buying and fixing up, yes there's a lion head guarding my bookshelf (I got him here), and in an unusual burst of fashion-consciousness, the outfit I wore to my brother's graduation ceremony.

So it's not much, but it's been a good month. Hope you all have a lovely weekend!

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