Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Long Holiday Weekend

I took a slight break from job hunting and writing this long holiday weekend to spend some extra time with my family and friends. Summer finally showed up here in the Midwest in full force with the sort of heat and humidity that physically clings to you, the kind that can only be relieved by a cold mid-afternoon shower or biting into a fresh strawberry or bite of watermelon.

The weekend involved long talks in the car with my mom while we spent an entire day having a fun girls day. And cheering on my grandpap as he completed a half marathon, his 17th annual race, which he completed in just over three hours. Not too shabby for a 74 year old who in the past two years had two knee replacement surgeries and received a pacemaker at the end of November.

The long weekend contained visiting with old friends, deck drinking, and one glorious afternoon nap. There was enjoying time with family, barbequing, talking as the sun waned. There were realizations that sometimes having a shared history and stories from childhood aren't enough of a reason to pretend that the friendship can last into adulthood and knowing thats ok. Some realizations that regardless of how far I think I've come, I still have a long way to go. The weekend was about slowing down, reconnecting, and reflecting.

How did you spend your long holiday weekend?

Monday, May 30, 2011

Review: A Game of Character

(From the back of the book.) Growing up in the modest Robinson household on the Southside of Chicago, Craig and his little sister, Michelle, were taught the values of education and hard work, and the importance of reaching far beyond what even seemed possible. These lessons of character were fundamental in shaping Craig Robinson's own remarkable journey: from his days playing street basketball while excelling academically, choosing to attend Princeton University despite the lack of a scholarship program, to giving up a lucrative business career in finance to do what he loves, coaching kids in basketball and life. He has helped transform three struggling teams -- at Northwestern, at Brown, and now at Oregon State University. In A Game of Character, Robinson shares moving stories from his childhood and coaching career that illustrate the importance of living your life with conviction, learning the game and not just the position, harnessing energy and seizing momentum, and more of the winning of rules of conduct that are part of his playbook for success.

I had mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, I really enjoyed reading childhood stories and anecdotes of Mr. Robinson and his sister, First Lady, Michelle Obama. The foundations and values learned in their childhood contributed in an immense way to their success as adults. On the other hand, Robinson uses his love of basketball, which is both is passion and career, to emphasize some of the main points in his book. I'm in no way a basketball oriented person so I feel as if I didn't appreciate those metaphors as much as the author probably intended. 

Its definitely a heartfelt read in which Robinson lays out his philosophy on life and love.

Disclosure: I was provided a copy of this book for review by the author and TLC Tours. The thoughts and opinions in this post are my own.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Ballons in the Sky

Yesterday morning, against the backdrop of a gray overcast sky, a bunch of balloons drifted into my line of vision. Just ordinary, everyday balloons in bright primary colors all tied together with string. The balloons might have slipped unknowingly from the hand of a young one who realized too late or perhaps they were intentionally set free to drift as they pleased.

I whispered a few wishes from my heart, then felt the wind take them from my lips, swirling them with the balloons before carrying both over the hillside.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Island Girl: A Review

Island Girl by Lynda Simmons is an extraordinary novel about a woman's journey into the unknown while trying to put her family back together before time runs out. The story unfolds through the points of view from the main character, Ruby, and her two daughters Liz and Grace. Alternating chapters reveal the uncertain present and the past that they never really made peace with.

Ruby, a vibrant woman in her 50's is struggling with early onset Alzheimer's, or "Big Al" as she calls it. In an attempt to reconcile with her eldest daughter for the sake of her younger one, Ruby goes to great lengths to restore family ties while attempting to disguise her diagnosis from almost everyone. Liz, the brilliant lawyer daughter who gave up practicing law in favor of alcohol, escaped the island where she was raised to create a life separately from her mother and what she considers her crazy ways. Grace, the quiet and shy daughter, once escaped the island only to return several years later after an unspeakable tragedy rendered her almost completely dependent on her mother.

Together these three women weave together a beautiful and haunting tale of learning to forgive, forget, find strength deep within, and the power to move forward into uncertainty and the unknown. Ruby boldly confronts "Big Al" while finding love with an old flame. Liz, with the help of a few friends, overcomes her struggle with the bottle to courageously use her dusty law degree. Grace, aided by an unlikely character, learns to find her voice and strength again.

This novel had a tight hold on me from the first chapter and pulled me into the Island world. Its a wonderfully written story that captures the difficulties of early onset Alzheimer's for both the individual suffering and the loved ones who must watch. The book is about taking control, healing, and moving forward. To learn more about this book and her others visit the authors website.

Disclosure: I was provided a copy of this book for review by the author and TLC Tours. The thoughts and opinions in this post are my own.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Thoughts on Unemployment

I'm currently about six weeks into my unemployment. Its taken  me a while to put my thoughts into words, but the thoughts have been tumbling around my head for a while now, so its time.

In the past, when my friends lost their jobs, I was their cheerleader. The one to tell them they weren't what they did, they were so much more than their jobs. I assured them that something fabulous would come along and that life indeed would go on, culminating into something even better than before.  I truly believed all these things for my friends.

Then, I lost my job. Prior to losing my position, I was uber stressed, not sleeping at night, and most likely developing an ulcer. There were numerous times I was on the verge of panic attacks thinking of how I was going to pay my bills, how I would fill my time, and what it would mean for me to not get up and go to work every day, even though my work place had become less than ideal. I was afraid of what my life would look like unstructured. I was terrified of not having enough money and people judging me because I didn't have a traditional job any longer. I was sort of caught in a fog, not being able to see into the immediate future and it scared me.

My first few weeks of unemployment were filled with figuring it all out. Navigating the waters of the unemployment office, deferring student loans, and intensely searching for a new position. I was really hard on myself, telling myself that I needed a job as soon as possible. It took me longer to believe that thoughts that I had told my friends, that something better would come along, that life would go on, and that things would be ok.

Now? Now I've relaxed and settled into a new normal, a new routine and rhythm for my life in its current season. I am still intensely searching for a new position, but I'm also starting to enjoying this time off. I'm viewing it as a unique opportunity, for someone who has worked in one way or another since I've been 14, its quite the change of pace. I've taken to sitting out in the sun with my dog on sunny afternoons, reading or writing letters to friends or sometimes taking a quick nap. I walk my dog in the mornings, while its still overcast and a bit chilly out. I try new recipes for cooking and baking, ones that I always put aside to try someday. I've toured the Fiesta factory, was able to spend some time with my out of town best friend, and have plans to visit the Strip District in Pittsburgh with my grandpap. I've had to adjust my lifestyle and cancel some plans due to lack of funds, but I'm learning that life does indeed go on and that its really quite good. My bills are getting paid, I'm sleeping again at night, and I'm finding that my life is even more beautiful now that I'm not attached to a job I really disliked.

Releasing the stress and worries of losing my job has been a process, I've needed to be angry and  had to separate myself from my co-workers -- those who lost their jobs along with me and those still employed. I've needed to see how I was going to make it work financially and how I was going to fill my free time. Now that I have, I know that the rest will fall into place when its supposed to. I'm pushing myself to look for positions that would challenge me, I've flirted with the idea that maybe a typical corporate 9-5 isn't what I'm supposed to be doing. I'm enjoying viewing my future as a jigsaw puzzle, where I can see the different pieces but I'm still not quite sure how they all fit together.

There is indeed life after being laid off and I'm currently learning to enjoy it.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Few Things Friday (And a Recipe)

One of aspects I like most about unemployment is having time to do things I wouldn't normally do if i was chained to a desk and computer in an office building. Things like reading and catching a cat nap out on a sunny afternoon, trying new recipes, and visiting with out of town friends. All were events that I found myself doing this week.

My best friend's little sister graduated from nursing school. She's sort of been like a little sister to my brother and I so it was a great occasion to see her reach her dream of becoming an RN. I'm pretty sure that the entire two rows of people there for her were all teary and incredibly proud as we watched her get pinned with her deceased mom's nursing pin. After the ceremony, it was a lot of fun to gather with my friends family members, laughing and talking. Over the years they've become like a second family, happy times and celebrations with them are most certainly times I treasure.

Strawberry Rhubarb Crunch

Because my grandpap is a rockstar, he brought some rhubarb to the house so I could make a new recipe I came across the other day, strawberry rhubarb crunch. I delivered one to my grandparents for them to enjoy and you better believe that this evening after dinner, I had a bit with vanilla ice cream. It was nothing short of amazing, if I do say so myself. If you enjoy rhubarb, head to your nearest farmer's market or call up your grandpap and definitely make this recipe. (I didn't really measure and had a pretty deep pie plate so you may need to make a few adjustments or you could double it and cook it in a 9x13 pan.)

Strawberry Rhubarb Crunch
4 or 5 cups (or more) of fresh rhubarb, chopped

A pint (or more) of strawberries, hulled and sliced
1/4  to a 1/2 cup sugar (I preferred it to be a bit more tart so I used less)
2 tablespoons of corn starch

1 1/2 (or more) cups oats
3/4 (or more) cups packed brown sugar
5 or 6 tablespoons of butter (or what the hell, just add the whole stick, you can never have too much butter)
3 or 4 shakes of cinnamon

 Preheat oven to 350. combine first four ingredients in a bowl, stir until combined and dump into your pie plate or other baking dish (its more fun if its a Fiesta dish).  Combine the last four ingredients and spread on top of the strawberry rhubarb  mixture. Bake for 50ish minutes (or a bit longer), just keep an eye on it while its baking to make sure the top doesn't burn. I stuck a fork down into mine around 50 minutes to make sure the rhubarb was tender, then just pulled it out of the oven.

Now here's the important part, eat this while its warm! You can thank me later. Best served with some vanilla ice cream.

Happy weekend, friends!!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

I Believe In

Recently I had my belief's questioned and challenged. I really disliked that feeling of being cornered, then grilled,  and being asked to explain why I believe what I do. The other day I was digging around the archives and found this post. It was a great reminder of how I really feel and it seemed appropriate to share it again as a reminder to myself. Theses are some things I truly, whole heartedly believe in....

I believe in buying myself fresh flowers for no reason other than I want something beautiful to brighten my space. I believe in brightly colored nail polish in the spring and summer, sometimes with a top coat that has sparkles in it, just for fun. I believe in rolling the windows down, turning the radio up, and letting the wind roll through my car taking away my cares and frustrations, just feeling the sun shining through the windshield. I believe in sipping on chocolate raspberry chai while sitting across the table from my best friend, listening as she regales me with tales from her 8th grade students, laughing as we remember a fun day and make plans for the not so distant future. I believe in saying I'm sorry when I know I'm wrong, letting go instead of holding on, and forgiving even when I think I can't. I believe that people are generally good; that they will choose to help others when they can and go out of their way to make life a little easier for someone else.

I believe in naps on rainy days and occasionally eating ice cream for dinner. I believe in laughing--especially the kind that makes my sides hurt, causes tears to roll down my checks, and leaves me gasping for breath. I believe in loudly singing along with song even if I don't know the correct words. I believe in saying I love you, often, and meaning it with every fiber of my being. I believe in crying when I need to, but then getting up and becoming even stronger than I was before. I believe in keeping secrets, wishing on stars, and writing letters to far away friends.

I believe in spending time in nature, whether that be lying on my back in the lush grass watching clouds pass overheard or talking a long walk with fall leaves crunching under foot. I believe in holding hands and bear hugs. I believe in sitting alone, watching as the sun sinks behind the hills, and thinking about all the glorious unknowns the future holds. I believe in dancing under the stars with friends to the sounds of a battery powered radio around a crackling bonfire. I believe in drinking a cold beer on the deck surrounded by my favorite people, watching the river lazily pass by on a warm summer evening. I believe in reading a book while sitting in the shade of a large tree full of green leaves that flutter in the breeze.

Above all, I believe in myself. That I know what is best for me. That I am stronger and much more capable than I give myself credit for. That I have the power to make my life anything I want it to be.

What do you believe in?

Monday, May 09, 2011

Mothers and A Birthday

I spent the great majority of the weekend with my family, which seemed quite fitting since it was both Mother's Day and my birthday weekend. I honestly wouldn't have had it any other way.

My mom is truly one of my best friends so I didn't mind sharing my day with her one bit, in fact, it probably made the day a bit more special. We had an incredibly low key weekend -- watching movies, enjoying the beautiful (but a bit cool) weather, and spending the majority of Sunday with our whole family. Between my mom's sisters and my grandparents (and a few of my aunt's neighbors) there was enough food to feed a small army and a bevy of delicious desserts.

 My mom and I on Mother's Day

While I have some friends who mark birthday's with big, elaborate gatherings, I much rather the day pass quietly. Several calls, texts, facebook and twitter messages from friends made the day special. I may have skipped the candles a top a cake and my family singing part of the day but I do have a few wishes for the up coming year.

One of my goals for my next year includes being more bold in every aspect of life. I want to further step away from my comfortable confines, pushing my boundaries and becoming more of the person I want to be. Whether it be further exploring a career in freelance or wearing red lipstick, I'm determined to step out and make this year a great one.

I hope you all had a fabulous Mother's Day. Tell me, how did you spend your weekend?

Friday, May 06, 2011

Beauty Bash!!

So, last weekend I drove six hours across the great state of Pennsylvania with some of my favorite people (my momma and a friend), to one of my favorite places (QVC!), for one of my most favorite events (The Beauty Bash!). This is the 5th time I've been able to attend the QVC Beauty Bash and each year has truly gotten better and better. This year was no exception.

My mom, our friend, and I headed out early Saturday morning. We pulled into QVC right in between the Saturday Beauty Bash sessions so we were able to scope out the much coveted Beauty Bash swag boxes, speak with some of the guests leaving the first session, and so some shopping in the Studio Store. While my mom made a beeline for the clothes, I meandered over to the jewelry section to try on some of the newest designs from some of my favorite jewelry designers (Carolyn Pollack jewelry holds a special place in my heart). I resisted the call of turquoise but did fall hard and fast for Kenneth Jay Lane's design of the royal engagement ring in simulated sapphire and diamonds. Sadly, I left without the ring but did snag a new mascara that I've been wanting to try, Tarte's Amazonian Clay mascara which makes my lashes look incredibly long.

After doing some shopping the three of us were able to take a QVC Studio tour, which took us on a behind the scenes look at how much work goes into showcasing products on air. Our wonderful tour guide, Marvetta, led us around for an hour and a half showing us the ins and outs of the studio. We were able to see the actual sets, where props and products are stored, and at one point even able to walk on a catwalk over the actual studio so we could see all the camera's and the host presenting on air. We were told about the hundreds of miles of cable that runs under the floors, the amount of work and quality of standards that vendors must meet to even sell their product  on air, and there were few fun anecdotes from our tour guide thrown in to make the tour incredible enjoyable.

 My mom, our friend, and me waiting for the Beauty Bash to start Sunday morning.

As much fun as Saturday was, Sunday was the day we were waiting for. After getting up early to make ourselves beautiful we were in line for the Bash at just a few minutes after 8 chatting with other Bash guests, discussing what we might get in our boxes, which vendors were our favorite and who we wanted to see. Like last year, QVC employees sold raffle tickets for chances to win donated baskets of product. The money goes to cancer research and a cause I'm always willing to donate to (especially if it means a chance to win extra product!). As we stood in line applying address labels (because we're efficient like that) and writing in our phone numbers, the three of us decided that this was our year to win an extra basket. They were checked, double checked, and creased before they were handed to an employee upon entering the venue.

After the doors opened we made a beeline for the Philosophy booth. The previous day my mom and I chatted with Dara, one of the main Philosophy reps who does on air appearances, for a good twenty minutes. As with most of the vendors, talking with her was like chatting with an old friend. We decided to visit their booth first for pictures and a peel. We were treated to Philopshy's oxygen peel which can I just tell you is like a little slice of heaven. It make my skin feel so hydrated and just so clean that I almost didn't want to get my make up done. Since its the Beauty Bash and against my personal line of thought to walk around such an event sans make up, I headed to the Laura Geller booth where here lovely artist Nina, applied some new products and color. Being a Geller Girl, I of course stopped to talk with Laura and let her know that I was the one who had interviewed her for my blog. She was so kind and gracious as always, I hated to leave but there were lines forming and other vendors to visit.

All of the Beauty Bash goodies displayed so guests could see what as included.

We spyed Ken Paves giving demonstrations of the hair.do extensions he sells on air, Ojon stylists fluffing and blowing out guest's hair, and ranodm women brushing their teeth with special whitening toothpaste. I visited the Mally booth to try their new makeup primer, tried on some red shades at the Lipstick Queen's booth, smelled new scents and tried so many lotions that I ran out of room on my arms. When it came time to pull the winners of the extra prizes, my mom, our friend, and I were still milling about the various vendors. The area gets really congested and its hard to hear. Only half paying attention to the voice on the loudspeaker, I heard my name called. I won! I wasn't entirely sure which basket my name had been pulled for, but after whisking my mom away form the vendor she had been talking to, the three of us made our way to the front so I could collect my prize. I ended up with over $700 worth of Dr. Denese skincare product. I was ecstatic, I adore the product and its something that's not really in the budget. We zipped over to the Dr. Denese booth where she and her assistants took the time to tell me a little about each product.

With Dr. Denese at her booth. 

The three hours went by quickly and soon found us out in the parking lot collecting our thirty pound box of beauty product. In what has become a yearly tradition, I tore into one of the boxes before the car was even out of the parking lot. On the way home I routinely pulled out various products for the three of us to oooohhh and ahhhh over. There are so many fabulous products I cannot wait to dive in and get started using all the different brands. 

Thanks as always QVC for a fantastic event! 

Disclaimer: I bought my own ticket to the Beauty Bash and was in no way compensated for this post. I just love QVC. A lot. More than any one person probably should. As for the other brands mentioned, again, they are some of my own personal favorites and I was in no way compensated by them.  

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Things I Could Tell You

The past few weeks have been crazy, including several out of town guests, learning how to deal with little creatures commonly referred to as kids, and a sanity saving out of town trip to QVC with my momma and a friend.

Ive been keeping a list of things I want to write about. Things like how I have no idea what to do with kids and how the out of town guests basically ripped me apart at the seams. Its really hard to have no less than 4 other people in your home at any given time, especially when some of those guests are less than ideal house guests. There has been cooking, cleaning, constant picking up after them, and a whole of ignoring the kids when they randomly run into the bathroom and then yell "I'm dooooooone."

There was a trip with  my grandma to Pittsburgh where I literally saw my life flash before my eyes when she decided to cut off a Pittsburgh city bus and was basically oblivious to the whole thing. There were times spend with my teenage cousins, a cold rainy Easter, and how I basically suck at waiting to hear back from the few interviews I've had. There are conversations I want to write about, ones that challenged and questioned my religious beliefs and quite honestly pissed me off.

I could write about how someone stole my debit card information, decided to buy themselves some timber from India, and the headache its been to deal with the bank and paperwork. Or I could write tell you about how frustrated I am with the WV Unemployment Office for various reasons.

I'd much rather tell you about the QVC Beauty Bash and the fantastic 30 lbs box of goodies I brought home or the fantastic oxygen peel I received while in attendance (I may have even taken a picture of me mid- peel which I may or may not share). I'd really like to tell you about how this year at the Bash I won one of the amazing raffle baskets donated by one of the vendors filled with skincare products I could never, ever afford and how I decided that May is going to be a good month for me.

Instead, I'm going to take the day to recuperate and clean up after the out of town guests one final time. I'm going to send out some resumes, maybe take a nap and cherish the peace and quiet that's been missing from my house for the past few weeks. I'm going to catch up on blog reading something I've desperately  missed and try to answer some emails.

Tell me, what have you been up to for the past few weeks? Catch me up on your life!