Sunday, December 28, 2014

the rest of the 24 days

Christmas is over. And I am relieved that it is. Not that I didn't enjoy the holiday season because I did, especially since the 24 Days of Giving put me more in the holiday spirit than I have been in a few years. It's just that now I can get back to…well, my life. It feels like the holidays are so consuming, and sometimes that distraction is necessary, but I'm ready to be rejuvenated not by distraction but by doing a lot of work- by creating my happy.

Here's how the 24 Days of Giving wrapped up -

Day 17 - I had a bag of food in my car that I've been meaning to drop off to a food shelter. Then I saw a makeshift bed set up underneath the train tracks by my work so I decided to leave the food for whoever was staying there. I wrote a note on the paper bag wishing them well. It wasn't much but I hope it gives them some nourishment for a few days.

Day 18 to 23 - To be honest, I don't really remember what I gave, if anything, these days. The intention was always there to give but some days it just didn't happen.

Day 24 - I baked this cake for my co-workers.

Even though I missed quite a few days to give this was, overall, an amazing experience. In some ways I feel like this ended up being more of a gift to me than anything because these moments of giving were so joyful and filled with love. It's kind of how I want every day to be.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Day 16 of 24

Day 16 - This by far has been my favorite giving day. Not only was I able to give something to one of my favorite people, my sister, but the way everything worked out was like magic.

I called my sister when I got home because, due to some emails I had received from her earlier in the day, I knew she had a rough day at work. She was on her way to meet a teacher friend for dinner after staying late at school to tutor some students. I asked her where they were going and she said "We're teachers, all we can afford is Pei Wei." Immediately I thought how fun would it be to buy them dinner. I casually asked her which Pei Wei they were going to, then came up with an excuse to get off the phone with her. She was already in the parking lot so I had to act fast. I called Pei Wei and the manager I spoke to was so helpful- she didn't hesitate at all. It was almost like this sort of thing happened to her all the time and she knew exactly what to do. She said that if I trusted her I could give her my credit card info and she would enter it in manually. That sounded like a good plan to me. The only thing was that we had to make sure that I would be buying dinner for the right people. I had no idea what my sister was wearing so I could only describe what she looks like. I've never met my sister's friend so we didn't have a lot to go on. I kept saying something about them being teachers. Then all of a sudden the manager tells me to hold on. About a minute later she comes back on the line and said that she recognized them and had to make sure that the cashier didn't charge them. At this point I had no idea if it was my sister and her friend but I just had to trust and go with it. I gave the manager my credit card and contact info and thanked her for helping me make this happen. Then I texted my sister to tell her to enjoy her dinner, but also to find out if it was indeed her that I had just bought dinner for. And it was! The best part is that my sister and her friend didn't know it was me until that text. They just thought it was some random person on the phone who was doing a kind deed. It caught them completely off guard. My sister's friend was ordering first and when the cashier told her that someone had bought her dinner she started crying. My sister then ordered not expecting someone to also pay for her dinner and was just as surprised when the cashier said that her meal had also been paid for. And it was only when they sat down to eat and saw my text that all the pieces came together. My sister knows that I'm doing this 24 Days of Giving but she never put it together that it was me on the phone, and since the cashier only said "the person on the phone" and not "your sister" they had no way of knowing anyway. It also helped that my sister's friend was wearing a shirt with the name of the school on it.

This spontaneous and random act was a perfect example of how an awesome opportunity to give can just present itself at any moment. There's no way I could have planned this. We just have to be opening to see these moments and to give.

Here's a little snippet of the text. Just thinking back on this moment makes me smile. So much happiness being created right now.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

year six ornament

This year's ornament is from Fred Arndt Artworks- another great etsy find. He has about 200 mid-century wood ornaments in his shop. I'm sure you can imagine how long it took me to narrow it down to this ornament. Good thing I let Ebert help me make the final decision, otherwise I probably would still be deciding on which one I liked best. You can see all six ornaments here.

The wall art work is also stunning. I'm currently loving this design.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Day 14 and 15 of 24

Day 14 - On this day I was actually given gifts of kindness from strangers - someone held the door open for me, when I dropped something while standing in line someone came over to help me pick it up, and someone let me turn in left in front of them so I wouldn't be blocking traffic. Those small acts of kindness kept happening to me throughout the day and meant so much to me, especially since when I wasn't feeling so happy or jolly. It really is the little gifts that can make such a big difference.

Day 15 - I'm part of an actors meet-up group here in Chicago and on this day we had our annual holiday hurrah fundraiser party. I gave my time to volunteer at the event and also bought raffle tickets to support the group. It was fun giving back to an organization that gives so much to actors in the community throughout the year.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Day 10, 11, 12 and 13 of 24

Day 10 - My sister asked me to adopt a couple of her students for Christmas. The package was filled with all sorts of goodies - chocolates and gum, bike lights, chapstick, toys. I had so much fun shopping for these kids! I can't wait to see pictures of them opening their presents.

Day 11 - I gave a co-worker my banana. Ha! Just writing that is funny but she was hungry and I had something to give. No picture necessary.

Day 12 - I made these DIY boozy hot chocolate gift bags and gave them to my cast mates. It was fun working with this group again, even if it was only for a one-night event.

Day 13 - I contributed to this.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Day 8 and 9 of 24

Monday and Tuesday were a bust for me with this whole giving thing. I blamed it on being stuck inside an office all day. If I had planned better I know I could have done something. I was either just being lazy or not thinking outside the box. Also, my day job has been super frustrating this week. I've been dealing with people that aren't acting very kind so it's been really hard for me to be kind back. I know that this is a perfect opportunity to give kindness unconditionally and, believe me, in the moment I think about it but unfortunately I haven't done it.

But today when I needed a little inspiration I saw this 12 Days of Kindness post from Lovely Indeed. There are some fun ideas here that have helped put me back in the giving spirit.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Day 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 of 24

Day 3 - Kind thoughts to all the people who cut in front of me on the highway during rush hour. This was a big lesson for me. I hate rude drivers- you know the ones who drive in bike lines or on the shoulder to bypass traffic and cut in front of everyone. I know I'm not always a courteous driver but I never do that. This time I just didn't let it bother me. It was probably more of a gift to myself because it was really nice to not get upset about something I couldn't do anything about it. It made my long drive home much more enjoyable. And who knows maybe it helped them get wherever they needed to get that much sooner. At least I hope it did.

Day 4 - Giving a helping hand to a woman loading boxes into her car at Ikea. The boxes weren't super heavy and it looked like she was managing just fine on her own but I thought why not just give that little extra help.

Day 5 - $2 to the man on the corner. I don't always like to give money. I feel like food is sometimes more helpful because you just don't know what they are going to use the money for. I guess it's not really my place to judge- if I'm willing to give money then I shouldn't put stipulations on what someone uses the money for. But since I didn't have food I gave the money and the guy wished me a "merry christmas" with a smile on his face.

Day 6 - Letting someone stand ahead of me in a really long line. My first instinct was to walk really fast to get in line first. I certainly didn't want to wait in a long line but then I realized that this was a simple opportunity to give.

Day 7 - $5 to St. Jude's Research Hospital.

Looking back on what I gave last week it doesn't seem like much. I feel slightly disappointed, like I should have given more or something. Then I remind myself of how giving, even something small, felt so big in the moment because I did it with an open heart.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Day 2 of 24

On the first day of giving I gave my sister an early birthday present. She had a hand me down iPhone 4 that was super slow so my mom and I went in together on getting her a new iPhone 5s. She gives so much every day as a teacher that being able to do something extra special for her was a great way to start this giving project. And because we purchased the phone on December 1st a portion of the purchase went to the Global fund to fight AIDS.

The second day of giving is kind of a funny story. It happened today at the airport in Phoenix on our way back to Chicago after visiting family for Thanksgiving. Ebert and I were bringing back a bottle of locally brewed Arizona beer and a bottle of wine. We normally don't check bags but since we were carrying liquids we knew we had to, but the one thing we forgot about was the fee for checking bags. When we got to the airport we were shocked with how expensive it is. The line was ridiculously long and the fee was way more than what the beer cost (the wine was a gift) so we decided to leave both bottles behind. There weren't a lot of people not flying but we finally found a guy who was dropping someone off and gave him the bottles. He was thrilled about the unexpected gift and wished us a "Merry Christmas" several times. It wasn't the type of gift I was expecting to give and, at first, I had to get over my disappointment of not bringing those bottles back with us, but if that guy is enjoying that beer and wine tonight, and has a great story to tell, then that makes me happy.

This second day taught me an important lesson about getting over myself and to just give. If I had spent too much time focusing on the money lost or the fact that I won't be able to give that beer to the person I was planning to give it to then I would have missed out on a wonderful moment to give. It's exactly what I was talking about yesterday.

I'll also let you in on a little secret…another reason why I want to give more, especially during this time of year, is that as I get older I don't always feel the magic of the season. Maybe that's the curse of growing up- the magic gets lost along the way. I'm hoping to find that magical feeling again.

{image via create.your.happy}

Monday, December 1, 2014

24 Days of Giving!

I'm late posting this but I want to share with you a little project I'm starting this holiday season called 24 Days of Giving. From December 1st - December 24th I'll be giving something every day. I have no idea what I'm going to give these next 24 days, that part I'll figure out as I go, but that's the fun of this project- finding opportunities throughout the day to just give.

I've been thinking a lot about that recently, how there are probably so many opportunities to give throughout the day, more than we probably realize. I know I can get caught up in whatever is going on in my life that I probably miss out on lots of moments to give.

If you want to join me then all you have to do is give something with love every day. It could be a big something or a little something, a store bought something or a handmade something, but most importantly there does not have to be any obligation to spend money. Of course, some days you might be inspired to buy a stranger their coffee or to surprise your co-worker with a little gift but it could also just be a gift from the heart. It might be a smile or a hug, holding the door open for someone, having extra patience with the server at the restaurant or the retail worker at the check-out counter, or your gift could even just be choosing to think a kind thought towards someone you may not be feeling very kind towards. It's all about finding the love this holiday season!

I'll be sharing what I give everyday and you can do the same by leaving a comment. I'm excited for this project and all the sharing and giving that will ensue these next few weeks!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

so this happened last night

Yes, that's me rockin' onstage with Better Than Ezra.

I still can't believe it happened, especially since just hours earlier I posted about how "I wish I could say that I might possibly be rockin' it onstage tonight with the band...but I can't."... and then it happened!

It didn't happen how I thought it would, but maybe it happened because I'd taken some action. I signed up for lessons, I practiced and put in the work to try to learn the song. Yes, I failed at learning the song in time for this concert and I was sad about that, but then what I wanted, to be rockin' it onstage with the band still happened. I love moments like this- they're reminders that by just taking action it will lead you somewhere. It's not always where you expected but it's always where you're supposed to be. That's why this experience was beyond amazing for me. Of course, it's also because I got to dance with the band!

It reminded me a lot of this moment and how one should always trust magic. The unexpected is always more magical than the expected!

Also, a big thanks to Ebert, my awesome husband, for taking this video and being just as I excited as I was!

Friday, November 21, 2014

breaking the silence

I hope I remember how to do this blogging thing- it's been a long time. Too long. This is my longest silence since I started blogging almost 5 years ago. Yikes! That's a crazy realization. Clearly, I haven't been too inspired to blog these days but at the same time I'm not ready to stop. I think I need to change things up, although I don't know what that means yet. Hopefully, just showing up here will give me some insight into the direction I should take.

Well…tonight is the Better Than Ezra concert and you might be wondering about that guitar pick and this song. I wish I could say that I might possibly be rockin' it onstage tonight with the band, that all those months of practicing were worth it, that the uncomfortableness is no longer, that I did it- I learned the song! But I can't. Because the truth is, I didn't. And I'm a little sad about that. I'd be a lot sadder, however, if I had never tried at all. That's a bit of a consolation but not much.

I did learn how to play the chords G, C, D and Em though. And those 4 chords make up the song so all I need to do is practice A LOT and be ok with it taking awhile. I think that's the hard part really. It's not learning the chords or how to strum, the hard part is in the keeping at it…for however long it takes.

{image via create.your.happy}

Sunday, September 7, 2014


un·com·fort·a·ble (adjective): causing or feeling unease or awkwardness

This is where I am right now…in the middle of uncomfortableness.

And it's all because I took on the challenge of learning one song on the guitar. I didn't expect it to be this daunting, that I would doubt myself this much, or that there would actually be a physical discomfort in the pit of my stomach. This uncomfortableness is so present at times that I just want to forget the whole thing. Who really cares about having a silly goal and trying to accomplish it?

I do, of course, otherwise I would have given up the second my fingertips started getting sore. Don't get me wrong, I'm having fun learning how to play the guitar (finally) and when I imagine being able to play the song perfectly I get super excited, it's just these moments, that come and go, that can be overwhelming.

I'm choosing to write about this now because sometimes I feel like we only hear about people overcoming their doubts, fears, and struggles after they've succeeded in overcoming them. That's great and it's still encouraging, but I feel that it's important to share the struggling part because we all have goals, big and little, and we are all struggling to achieve them. It's during these uncomfortable moments when we're most likely to give up and quit, but that's when we need to continue on the most. Something great is just past the uncomfortableness. But the uncomfortableness gets to be too much and we quit before seeing our greatness. Don't quit before seeing your greatness. I hope the struggle I'm experiencing right now as I try to achieve this silly little goal helps anyone move past their own uncomfortableness to creating their happy.

I'll be honest, I don't know if I will succeed. I really don't. And, that's fine, I guess. It's not always about succeeding, it's about trying. So tomorrow I will try again. I'll pick up my guitar, sore fingers and all, and slowly (very slowly) strum one chord after another. It will not feel good, I will make lots of mistakes, and I most definitely will want to quit but I've just got to fight my way through the uncomfortableness.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

this view

via create.your.happy

It always seems to happen this time of year, right before the weather's about to change, I start to think about all the things I haven't done but still want to do before the year is over. It kind of makes me feel like a creative mess and takes the happy out of creating when I focus too much on what I haven't done. So, instead of doing that, I'm going to remember what I did do and the fun I had this summer. And one fun thing we did was go sailing on the lake. Isn't that view amazing? There's no place like Chicago in the summer time.

Monday, September 1, 2014

summer pies

I've been enjoying the last flavors of summer by baking pies. It has been a delicious experience.

peach basil pie

The peach basil pie was inspired by this recipe. I was attempting a crostata but my kitchen got really warm so the dough started to get too sticky and I wasn't able to roll it out big enough for a crostata so I just decided to throw it in a pie pan. I think it came out quite nice for a traditional pie especially since I usually just bake crostatas. The crust was so buttery and flakey. The recipe called for lavender but I left that out because I just wanted to taste the peach and basil.

raspberry peach pie with a pecan oat crumble topping

The raspberry peach pie was a combination of three different recipes. I don't feel like I've found my go-to pie dough recipe yet so I've been experimenting with different ones each time I bake. For this particular pie I tried this dough recipe. I liked that the crust came out flakey but wasn't too buttery. I also found out that I really like mixing the dough by hand rather than using a food processor or even a pastry cutter. It's just really simple and easy to mix by hand and I agree that it gives you so much more control over your dough. This may be my go-to pie dough recipe. I'll have to try it one more time and then I'll let you know what I think. It'll be a good excuse to bake another pie.

I used this recipe for the filling. The only thing I changed was that I used yellow peaches instead of white. Also, I just measured out 6 cups of the peaches and raspberries and mixed them together. I don't know how many of each I ended up using.

And this was the recipe I used for the crumb topping. I followed this recipe exactly.

Summer…please don't leave. I'm not ready to say good-bye. Good thing I have a few pieces of pie still so I don't have to say good-bye quite yet. I hope you had a fun and relaxing Labor Day!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

poland highlights - part five

On our last full day in Krakow, while Ebert was at his conference, I decided to see the city on a bike. I booked a 4-hour bike tour with the Cool Tour Company. A bike tour is a great way to see the sights of a city and learn some of its history. Ebert and I went on a bike tour in Munich and now that I've done it twice in different cities I think it's an absolute must when traveling. Not only do you get to see more sights than just walking around, but you're also getting some exercise which means you can indulge in more of the local food and drink without feeling guilty. I don't know about you but when I'm on vacation the last thing I want to think about is how many calories I'm eating.

And when we stopped for a snack, halfway through the bike tour, I was not thinking about calories at all. The local fare we sampled was Zapiekanki, which is traditional Polish street food that is half a baguette oven-baked with a variety of different toppings. I got my zapiekanka with mushrooms and spinach topped with a sour cream type sauce. It was so delicious and after all that biking I had no problem eating the whole thing.

There was a wonderful outdoor market at the square in Kazimierz where they were selling the zapiekanki.

The fruits and vegetables were so colorful. I wanted to sample everything.

Then the tour guide showed us this little alley where the stairwell scene from Schindler's List was filmed.

We rode over to the Krakow Ghetto to see the Ghetto Heroes Square Memorial.

It's a moving memorial that consists of 70 empty bronze chairs representing the thousands of Jews who lost their lives during the Nazi occupation of Krakow.

Then we rode to Schindler's Factory. We didn't go inside, we only saw the outside of the factory. The Ghetto is located in a part of the city that is not easy to get to on foot so I'm really glad I was able to see this section of the city on the bike tour.

On the way back we saw more street art. There are so many other amazing things I saw on the tour but riding a bike and taking pictures don't go well together. That's probably the only downside of a bike tour.

And then we stopped for more history about something but I don't remember what because I was too busy taking a picture of that white building off in the distance. What's so interesting about that building you ask? Well…that's where Ebert's conference was located. We rode by that building twice on the bike tour and each time we did there were people outside on the patio. It turns out that Ebert was on a break at the exact same time that we were riding by…both times. Ebert took a picture within minutes from when I took this picture. How crazy is that? We're too far away to spot each other but we just can't believe that happened.

After the bike tour I met Ebert at his conference and saw this amazing view of Wawel Castle.

But the best part of that last day was having Matt and Natalia come into the city to have dinner with us. We met them at that main market square, then walked to the Old Jewish district and had one last fabulous evening together. It was so great spending time with them again. Also, I loved showing Mike the city. He got a quick tour of everything I had already seen like St. Mary's Basicila during the day…

And St. Mary's Basicila at night.

We put off saying goodbye to these dear friends as long as possible and decided to walk them to the train station. As we chatted and walked through the park we came across a band playing swing music and people dancing under the gazebo. Matt took Natalia in his arms and it was a lovely moment to see these two smiling and dancing.

Then we said goodbye to our friends, not knowing when we'll see them next. It was such a bittersweet ending to a fabulous trip. Ebert and I took our time walking back, we wanted to take in all the beauty and wonder of Krakow at night.

Friends…if you ever have the chance to visit Krakow then you must go. It's such a friendly, affordable, and beautiful city with some much history and amazing sites to see. And lets not forget about the great food and drink. I cannot wait to go back.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

i love lucy!

Happy Birthday, Lucy!

In honor of the comedic genius, Lucille Ball, watch some of her funniest moments here. Although my favorite Lucy moment is pictured above. Do you know which episode it's from?

poland highlights - part four

As I already mentioned in part three of my Poland highlights post, I spent my first full day in Krakow just walking around. So this a disclaimer that you are about to see a lot of street photos from that day. But I hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoy sharing them with you.

A view of the gothic Wawel Castle.

Wawel up close.

Krakow's Main Market Square. I should have just stood in the middle and taken a picture of every view of the square, but I didn't. The only side you won't see is the one with the Hard Rock Cafe restaurant. It just doesn't really fit in with this otherwise picturesque view.

St. Mary's Basicila in the square. Those clouds were ominous and were looming overhead all day. I'm really surprised I did not get rained on.

A view of Grodza Street and some of the buildings you'll see along the way to the Main Market Square.

Kolonko No. 6 was a restaurant I had read about in the guidebook. It gets great reviews and is in the Kazimierz neighborhood so I knew I wanted to eat here. And it did not disappoint.

I had a yummy green salad with grilled polenta and paired with a Dry Apple Cider. Ebert and I came here for breakfast on our last morning in Krakow. We sat in the garden patio listening to music from this musician and it was just perfect.

I like this photo because it shows how they still put up posters with glue. These types of advertisements are all over the city.

A cobblestone street.

A street that will take you to the Old Jewish District. Actually the cobblestone street in the picture above will also take you to the Old Jewish District. I discovered that these streets run into each while I was just walking around. Look at the reddish brick building in both pictures to see what I'm talking about. That's the magic of just wondering that I love.

The Old Jewish District of Kazimierz.

The Old Synagogue.

A restaurant in the Old Jewish District with a really cool bike parked outside.

The light at this restaurant.

Another street in Kazimierz.

Street art.