2013 in Pictures

Monday, December 30, 2013

January—My sister came for a visit. 

February—Finished making two baby quilts
March—Visited Minnesota with GH. 
April—Planted a garden
May— Celebrated our one year anniversary in Chicago
June—Biked a portion of the Katy Trail
July— Visited friends and family in Utah
August—Visited Yoko Ono's Wish Tree while Amy was in town. 
September—Started my 30 day photo challenge, jammed out at Lou Fest, and traveled to Europe
October— Took three road trips: 1. Breakfast with Katie, 2. Nauvoo, and
3. Colorado Springs to help move my in-laws.   
November— Hiked Pere Marquette State Park. 
December—Went shushing through woods on a snowy morning. 
Choosing one image to represent each month of the year is nearly impossible. Thanks for looking back on some of my favorite memories from 2013.   

Currently | 12.18.2013

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Things have been fairly quiet around these parts. Both in this online space and in my day-to-day life. It could be the lull of winter or it could be that big things are on the horizon. Either way, I find myself slipping into this comfort. Being delighted by simple things. A meal of homemade pizza with friends. Braving freezing temperatures to take part in a Las Posadas reenactment. Writing off postcards to friends far and near. In truth, this calm is the antithesis of the crazy commonly associated with this season. And that feels right. Wholly right.

READING: I finally finished You are a Badass by Jen Sincero. It taunted me, accruing overdue fines, sitting on my nightstand for weeks. I was literally intimidated by a book that was going to tell me how awesome I am. Ironic, no? Once I finally dug in it immediately became one of those books I wanted to simultaneously hurl against the wall and devour all at once. Infuriating, but incredible at the same time. Everything Jen writes about, and I mean EVERYTHING, is the real deal. With activities and examples scattered throughout the book it is the rare self-help book that might find a permanent spot on my bookshelf.

MAKING: Festive goodie plates. Lest you think this is some annual culinary tradition, let me assure you it is not. Yesterday, with the help of a friend, we made platters of peanut butter balls, thumbprint cookies, toffee, and fudge. It was a day drenched in butter and sugar. What did I learn? Hot water and corn syrup can fix just about anything.

WATCHING: Over the weekend we saw The Book Thief in the theater. Tolerable, but you know, not the book. But watching Frances Ha on Netflix for the second time this year, now THAT was time well spent. Seriously. It's even better the second time. And yes, the entire film is shot in black and white. Deal with it.

LOOKING FORWARD TO: Fat-cheeked nieces and nephews, eggnog and tamales, and a high tea tradition at the Grand America.

A Few Things I'm Loving Lately

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Ready or not, the last month of the year is here. And we have snow in the forecast! But before we get to all those best-of year-end lists here are a few things I've been loving lately.

According to the numbers I have sent and received over 140 postcards this year without even knowing it. Somehow the world seems just a bit smaller when you can connect with strangers all over the planet. Although I've tapered off sending anything in the last month, I just put together a custom pack of postcards using my Eastern Europe pictures. Artifact Uprising makes it so easy to create these little booklets. I can't wait to see what they look like!

Who doesn't love getting gifts? Even if it isn't your top love language (like it is for me). This year I decided to make mostly homemade gifts. However that hasn't stopped me from enjoying curated online lists like this one and this one.

Whether you believe in listening to Christmas music all year round or if you are a December only kind of listener, get ready for some new holiday tunes. Downloadable holiday music is available at Paste (my favorite song is Christmas Thyme) and Metcom Studios. Listen in your cubicle or while making Christmas cookies.

One Good Thing

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Growing up we ate dinner together as a family nearly every night. Often my mom would ask us "What's one good thing that happened to you today?" Occasionally she would vary the question and ask "What's one good thing that you did for someone else today?" We'd rack our brains and come up with a suitable answer that helped foster mealtime conversation. As an adult I've noticed how easy it is to become wrapped up in our own lives, problems, interests, etc. that sometimes we forget to look outside of ourselves. We mean well, but as humans we forget. In an effort to combat this forgetting, lately I've taken to asking GH one of these questions at the end of the day. When I do forget, he asks me. I've loved how shifting the focus of my day to finding or doing one good thing makes me mindful of others and boosts my own happiness. Last week I created these gratitude vignettes to thank some of the people in my life for one (of many) good things they've done for me. May your Thanksgiving be filled with good people and good things!

Pie Day 2013 in Pictures

Monday, November 25, 2013

Well friends, another Pie Day has come and gone. What is Pie Day you ask? Katie explains it here. And this year I learned a few valuable lessons. First: a good knife is essential. As pretty as those pies look sitting atop cake pedestals, no one is going to eat them until they are cut.

Second: as hostess you will be tempted to make a million pies. Don't do it. One, maaaybe two is sufficient.

Third: let it go. For a perfectionist like me, that's the hard part. All the prep work, conversing with friends, picking out music, and even the clean up is easy. However when it comes to orchestrating what happens during the party (i.e., when someone brings cookies to a PIE party or when a kid pees all over your dining room chair), well, some things are just out of my control.

In the end, what matters most is that people enjoy themselves. That they leave our home feeling happy and full. If that happens then I think our party has been a success. Until next year!

Music Monday: Streets of Laredo

Monday, November 18, 2013

You guys! I feel like it's been awhile since we've had a proper music shout-out. Quick, before holiday music consumes your every waking moment, you NEED to check out Streets of Laredo. A Brooklyn, NY based indie-folk band from New Zealand. Talk about the international language. They'll even let you download their debut EP for free right here. My personal favorite is track four, Need a Little Help. If you like what you hear, consider supporting the group with a monetary thank you and look for the release of Volume II this Friday, November 22.

Sunday Supper / 2

One of my goals for 2013 was to host people for dinner on a regular basis. Our space is small which means large group gatherings only happen two or three times a year. But that hasn't stopped us from creating a cozy space for breaking bread with new friends. (Interestingly, I've noticed how having other people over tends to expand our living space—as if their conversation and energy holds the capacity to extend walls.) To maximize my hosting experience I try to have meal preparations done the day beforehand. When that's not possible, I focus on creating a simple main course that doesn't require a lot of preparation.

Several years ago, just before I left a job I loved and head off to graduate school, a woman I worked with had me over to her home for a farewell dinner. I was so impressed with the rich experience of that evening and the delicious meal she served that afterwards I left encouraged and inspired to tackle my new adventure. At my request she wrote her recipe down from memory. For years I carried that yellow paper around in my binder. Never taking the time to recreate that special meal. What a shame I waited so long to make this dish. This truly is the perfect autumn meal. While it isn't a visual masterpiece, it tastes good. Simple food that's easy to prepare.*

Harvest Pork with Fruit
(serves 4-6)

1 5-6 lb. boneless shoulder pork road
2 T. olive oil
1 large yellow onion sliced
3 bay leaves
2 T. fresh chopped rosemary
1 c. good balsamic vinegar
1 c. dry red wine (I use Cabernet)
1 1/2 c. dried apricots
4 medium granny smith or jonagold apples / peeled and sliced

Preheat oven to 325 °F. Rinse pork under cold water. Pat dry. Season generously with kosher salt and black pepper on all sides. Heat olive oil in the pan on medium-high heat and brown roast on all sides for 4-5 minutes per side. Remove pork from pan. Add onions to pan with a little water, reduce heat to medium and cook about 5 minutes. Add bay leaves, chopped rosemary, vinegar, wine and apricots. Bring to a boil. Return pork roast to pan. Cover pan with lid and place in oven for 2 3/4 to 3 1/2 hours. Add sliced apples to the pot the last 15 minutes of cooking. Pork should fall apart with a fork when it is done. Pairs well with a large green salad and crusty bread.

Note: if your guests are vegetarian I would suggest skipping this meal and making something more, well, vegetarian friendly.

Home Tour

Thursday, November 7, 2013

We have lived in our 900 sq ft apartment for a little over a year. Our plan, for the foreseeable future, is to stay put while we save up to be homeowners. When we were apartment hunting last year we looked at a lot of places. Many in the same neighborhood. Ultimately we found the open floor plan, huge bathroom, and natural light to be major selling points in choosing our current location. We spend most of our time in the living room and kitchen, where we can be together while doing separate things. Despite an abundance of natural light I've found our north facing windows and tree lined exterior make getting good interior photos a little tricky. Even so I'm glad to finally share a portion of our little abode with you.

About half of our furniture is new, while the other half consists of pieces I've picked up at antique stores over the last year. Who knew thrifting with a purpose could be so fun?! Since our storage options are limited we have to be creative when it comes to space. For example, the oddly placed wardrobe with the globe on top functions as our food storage/pantry unit. And on the other side of the fridge we have an open industrial shelving unit for dishes. My favorite thing to do at home is cook and entertain guests. While there are still a few things I'd like to get (namely a rug and new coffee table), I love feeling truly at home in our space; where building it with someone I love is one of the best parts. 

Currently | 11.06.2013

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

READING: A book about friendship and marriage and life. Wallace Stegner's Crossing to Safety is a literary classic that somehow slipped by me. The rich language and carefully crafted characters will make for a solid book club discussion next week.

WATCHING: Not so much watching as getting my butt kicked. Jillian Michaels makes 20 minutes feel like an eternity. But she promises I'll thank her for it.

EATING: The weather in my neighborhood has been drizzly for the past several days and all I want to eat is soup. Last week I made this spicy chickpea orzo soup, which is kind of my new favorite. Yesterday I let a batch of chicken stock simmer on the stove all morning. Hopefully it will last until the new year. Plus my church is having its annual craft and soup fest this weekend ("Souper Saturday"), so more soup for you.

MAKING: New friends. The other night I met up with a new friend in her home. She invited me over for tea and conversation. It was one of those occasions that made me feel special just because she had set aside a couple hours for me. Kids in bed and phones tucked away, we had a chance to become better acquainted. (Of course it didn't hurt to find out that she uses cloth napkins too.)

LISTENING TO: My new record player! And by new I mean a 1964 Zenith X930 console. Hands down my favorite purchase of the year. Now I understand why listening to vinyl is like hearing music for the first time.

EXCITED FOR: Flying home for Christmas.

Words: Wisdom on Writing

Friday, November 1, 2013

But he won't talk about his poems. He turns the conversation to that banal subject, fascinating to non-writers, of why writers write. Ego enchantment, sure. What else? Psychological imbalance? Neurosis? Trauma? And if trauma, how far can trauma go before it stops being stimulating and becomes destructive? Academic pressures to publish, do those mean anything? Not much, we agree. How about the reforming impulse, a passion for social justice?

Are writers reporters, prophets, crazies, entertainers, preachers, judges, what? Who appoints them as mouthpieces? If they appoint themselves, as they clearly do, how valid is the commission? If Time alone makes masterpieces, as Anatole France thought, then great writing is just trial and error tested by time, and if it's that, then above all it has to be free, it has to flow from the gift, not from outside pressures. The gift is its own justification, and there is no way of telling for sure, short of the appeal to posterity, whether it's really worth something or whether it's only the ephemeral expression of a fad or tendency, the articulation of a stereotype.

— Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner

New Songs to Fill Your Ears With

Monday, October 21, 2013

This 1945 song. Made famous by that modern television series. Kinda catchy, no?

In case you haven't heard, The Head and the Heart recently released their second album. Translation: I have been listening to it nonstop. Especially the four minutes that are These Days Are Numbered.

For anyone that says they can't handle operatic music hear me out. Lawrence Brownlee, a soulful tenor, is going to make you a believer. Click on over to the Tiny Desk Concert (since the code isn't cooperating). Oh, and while you're there, do yourself a favor and listen to 10 minutes of this delicious "homey fireside music." 

Two DIY Projects for Under $40

Friday, October 18, 2013

First it was a vintage cart, then it was the dining room chairs. You're probably thinking I've gone into full-blown crazy mode. What can I say? Whenever I come across a renter friendly DIY project I like I get really excited. Like Hooray! I want to make this RIGHT NOW. Both of these projects are super easy and inexpensive. You could easily make them in a weekend. The first project I made is a color block mood board. For this I used a cork board that I had on hand and then purchase paint and a smooth roller brush. The board dried in a couple hours and now lives in our living room, where I can display pictures, poems, or anything that inspires me. I even posted four of my life goals on the board. Think of this project as an extension of your kitchen fridge. Only prettier.

For the second project I needed a way to display the postcrossing postcards I have received in the last year. Enter this DIY wood & wire art display. PERFECT. I followed Liz Marie's tutorial and ended up with a stylish and functional display. (The only difficulty I ran into was finding enough bulldog clips for all 21 postcards.) Once it was finished GH hung the three boards on our kitchen wall with command strips. And I love it! The best part is I can easily swap out postcards for celebratory phrases or other pieces of art. What's not to love?

Pull Up a Chair

Monday, October 14, 2013

Ever since we got married I've wanted to ditch our Ikea dining room chairs for something a little more comfortable. A few months ago I purchased a thrifted red oak farm table, so I really wanted to swap out our black chairs for something lighter. Sadly most of the chairs I looked at purchasing were between $250-$400 each. Yikes! Every now and then I'd check local antique stores for a less expensive alternative, but quickly learned it's rare to find chairs without the table. Since I didn't want to buy a dining room set, only to sell the table, I kept looking.

Then last week I found them! Four wood chairs with spacious cushion seats. Perfect for our dining room table. With a little negotiation I talked the seller down and had him load the chairs into the car. Luckily I managed to snap a couple photos on my phone before diving into the project.

Once the cushions were removed I washed the wood with Murphy Oil soap and let them dry. After they were dry I applied a layer of Old English for light wood and set them aside to dry for another couple hours. Finally, I applied a layer of lemon oil with an old cloth and let that soak into the wood overnight. After examining the old padding we decided to invest in some new foam. Although the crushed green velvet seats felt nice to the touch, they were worn and needed an update. Choosing the fabric was probably the hardest part. We selected five free swatches at our local fabric outlet and eventually decided on the gold vinyl. (Which has a beautiful shimmer that you can't see in the photos.) Covering the chairs took a couple of days, but I was so impressed that GH found a way to cover the corners so they looked like they were professionally done. All told the entire project including the chairs, foam, fabric, screws, and wood cleaner cost $325. Not bad for a custom set of furniture. We can't wait for our next dinner party, where we'll happily put them to the test!

Becoming a DIY Diva

Sunday, October 13, 2013

"It ain't what you got, it's what you make." —Shovels & Rope

In my former life (as in a month ago), I had an unusual fear of hardware stores. Meaning they intimidate me. Big time. Make something with food? No problem. Create a handcrafted greeting card? Easy. Sew a quilt. Done. But a trip to the hardware store? Noooo!

With several deep breaths I told myself I CAN DO THIS.

After scoring a $5 vintage cart at a yard sale I trucked off to the hardware store and explained my project to the sales associate. They offered a few tips (e.g., steel wool for removing rust) and pointed me towards the needed items. Supplies cost an additional $25 and with a little work I ended up with not only a new cart (Yay!), I discovered a new-found confidence that has turned into a domino effect.

Cesky Krumlov, Czeck Republic, Day 11—13

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Originally, Cesky Krumlov had not been on our itinerary. What a mistake that would have been. However we almost didn't make it there. Here's what happened. After a three hour train ride from Budapest to Vienna we were instructed to wait for our shuttle bus at the appointed hour and location. Dutifully we waited at the train station. And waited. But as minutes ticked on, with no sign of our shuttle, I started to panic. Our one daily chance to catch the shuttle bus to take us the additional three hours to Cesky Krumlov was slipping away. And while staying in Vienna wouldn't have been the worst thing in the world, it wasn't on our agenda. Which is when I ran across the street to enlist the help of a stranger. Who kindly let us use his phone even though my call was to a German number. After several wrong phone numbers I eventually made contact and found our equally frazzled driver. Poor guy. He was so stressed about leaving us that we couldn't really be mad about the situation.

Getting to the second most popular city in the Czeck Republic is an adventure even without nearly missing your bus. Traversing the Austrian countryside made my heart swell. Until my stomach lurched. Small winding roads, however gorgeous, meant motion sickness for me. Needless to say I was glad to arrive at our final destination. As a reward we were greeted with the most perfect light. Light so delicious it drenched the entire city in a golden haze.

Nestled along the Vltava River, landing in Cesky Krumlov is a bit like waking up in a fairy tale. Our first morning I woke before the sun and climbed the hill behind our hostel to view the medieval city from afar. As I stretched my arms to take in every dewy blade and wildflower, I wanted to hold that holy moment for as long as possible. For me, removing myself from throngs of tourists, setting aside my camera, and being in nature are some of the most wonderful parts of travel.

On the coldest day of our trip we decided to paddle down the river. You know, because that's the wisest choice. The man selling us our rental assured us that we'd only get a "couple drops" of water on us when passing through the five locks. Hah. It was basically like Splash Mountain, where the person sitting in front (me) ends up drenched. To complicate matters early in our two hour journey we ended up getting stuck in shallow water. (Thankfully my brother got out and pushed us off the rocks.) Although we were both soaked from the knees down and despite our little mishap, we chalked it up to good memories and still loved soaking in the autumn colors strewn on both sides of the river.

While it's easy to account for sights we saw and meals we ate, for me, the most important moments of this trip were the conversations I had with my brother. Getting to know him better and feeling closer to him because of our time together. In the end, that's what I cherish most about this trip. Although I don't live near my family it was a reminded of how grateful I am for them. These choice individuals that share their stories with me and allow me to create new stories with them.

For other glimpses of Eastern Europe see Prague, Bratislava, and Budapest.
All images by me.

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