December 31, 2015

Looking Back Over the Year

Ah, once again it is the end of the year.  Time to look back and reflect upon the things that were, then turn around and wait in anticipation for the things that are to come.

As I did in 2014, I went through each month and selected a photograph.  Some months it was harder to find a photo... some months it was hard to choose just one!  I enjoyed taking the time to go revisit the past year and remember all the things that happened.

Lets get started  then, shall we?

I began 2015 by flying out to surprise my Knight with a visit on New Years Day.  We had planned on him coming out to visit me, but he wasn't able to get the time off of work and... well, I had the time off already, so without telling him I flew out him and gave him a shock at 1 am after he returned from work!

In February I made a trip downtown with my sister T to audition for the singing competition show, the Voice! It was a lot of fun waiting in line, getting to talk to the people around us as we all eagerly awaited our chance to sing.  Neither of us got a call back - but it was a great experience, and we followed it up with a grand time at the Field Museum.  Maybe next year?

In March I got old and turned twenty three, and got my very first ever smartphone!  I do love my Samsung Galaxy S5 and Instagram and Snapchat and apps and stuff. It can be a little bit of a struggle to not get too attached, at times, but I am enjoying the convenience of having everything right there. Not giving up the laptop though, ever. I like the phone for simple browsing and photos but I hate extended swiping/typing on it. Give me a keyboard any day.

Happy Easter!  I was a less prolific writer this year, so I honestly can't recall if anything terribly spectacular happened this month.  Moving on...

May brought another visit from my Knight, the wedding of the older sister of one of my longest childhood friends, and my very first business trip!  I interned for two years with a medical association, and last year their annual meeting was in Montreal and I, alas, was unable to travel there.  This year however, it was right here in Chicago and I was able to go and work for the first two days.  It was exciting, and tiring and a really great experience. 

I hit the ground running in June by starting a brand new job on the very first day.  I said goodbye to Marriott and my limited service TownePlace Suites and said hello to Hilton and my first experience at a full service convention property.  The change was a little overwhelming at first - so many rooms! and all kinds of hallways and confusing routes because the thing is a maze! - but it's been fun, and exciting and really frustrating at times. But I love it, and even though it is far from the perfect work environment and has a lot of s*%& that it needs to get together, I love the people I work with and it's provided a lot of great opportunities for me to advance further along my career path.

In July, my Knight and I celebrated four years of dating. (Where does the time go??) We were unable to visit then, because a large group from Palestine had taken over the hotel and no one could take time off, but we did celebrate with adoration and a lovely coffee date afterwards. At the end of July, my family and I took a week to camp and travel around Wisconsin with stops in La Crosse - where we went swimming in the Mississippi and visited the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe; the Wisconsin Dells - where we spent the day at Noah's Ark, rode in the Duck boats and ate at Paul Bunyan's; and made a day stop in Champion - where Our Lady appeared to Adele Brise in the only approved North American apparition. I think we were all a little done with the close quarters by the time we got back home, but it was a great vacation.

A few years back, my Knight gave me Kenny, the brown guitar on the left, for an anniversary gift after I had expressed interest in taking guitar lessons.  It took me a little while to get around to it, but I did learn how to play, and he was good guitar to learn on.  My teacher recommended that I look into getting a little bit of a higher quality instrument, now that I could actually play and I ended up purchasing Kelly, the blue guitar on the right. She is fantastic (I still love you too, Kenny!). Oh, and I bought my first car. Gosh I love that Jetta. She's great.

September was full of school and work and celebrating my mom's 50th birthday basically all month long, and visiting with dear friends. I met Katie and Amber back in my North Central College days, and we've stayed close ever since.  Katie is a teacher now and working down state, so for a weekend Amber and I packed up and took a little road trip to have a fantastic time. As I've grown older, I have realized more and more how rare and precious good friends really are.  I am truly blessed to have these two!

We started October with "Hmm, we are looking for a house" and ended it with "Okay, it's moving day!" The perks of renting - not having to sell your house when you are ready to move!  It was a little bit of an adjustment, but it already feels like we have been here for so much longer than only two months. I'm fifteen minutes closer to work and we're only seven minutes away from most of the things we do in our daily lives, and it's been awesome on the gas mileage. We have neighbors that we obsessively stalk because they have a son in the seminary and so we know waaayyy more about them than they do about us thanks to the bio from the Diocese, and we live right across the street from the library, which has been fantastic. Moving has been great y'all. 

No sooner had we settled into our new house then we headed out to Iowa for a weekend when the second of my cousins got hitched. Hurray for dancing, and weddings and family!  Later in the month, I went on my second business trip when I was selected to go downtown for a few days and take part in a workshop with other hotel employees in my hotel's management company group.  It was a really good experience - dampened somewhat by a nasty cold, but fun nonetheless - and I have a feeling it played a part in my being offered a somewhat promotion at another one of the management company's properties.  I couldn't accept, unfortunately, for various reasons, which were all graciously accepted with the assurance that it would not effect any future consideration.  Still, it was exciting to be noticed for both experiences!

And now, December.  I finished my associates degree in Meeting and Event Planning and am now wondering how on earth I'll keep myself occupied in the slow months of the hotel business with no school.  I have begun to think about continuing on and getting my bachelors degree, but not just yet.  My Knight visited the weekend before Christmas, got to experience the full drama and high emotions that comes with decorating our house, and we set aside our hockey differences for an evening to enjoy a minor league Chicago hockey game together. 

That brings us to now.  There were quite a few big changes over the year.  Some were expected, some were not, there were some changes that I had hoped for that didn't happen.  But overall, it was a really good year, and certainly a memorable one. 

Here's a toast to 2015, and another toast to 2016.  I can't wait to see what it will bring.

December 7, 2015

Time for Hot Chocolate!

Hot chocolate is seriously the best. If you are like my family, you drink it all the time as soon as it gets cold. However, if you are like my family and there's a lot of you, you also go through it really fast.  Buying all kinds of containers can get pricey, plus they manage to stick all kinds of ingredients in hot chocolate, so for a cheaper and healthier option (or, as healthy as hot chocolate can be) - we make our own!

It it's a pretty simple recipe, and doesn't take up too much time either. We make a giant batch of hot chocolate so it lasts a little longer, but I'll give you the measurements for a normal size batch as well.

All this recipe calls for is baking cocoa (we've tried it with dark chocolate baking cocoa as well, and that's pretty amazing), arrowroot powder, sea salt, sugar and instant nonfat dry milk.

First, you'll mix all your ingredients together in a large bowl.

Look, I made my first gif for this post!
Then you'll want to run it through a blender, to smooth everything out and get it ground nice and fine.  You can put in a few cups at a time. I typically go in three cup batches.

And then you are done!  Go ahead and store it in a Tupperware container or a couple big mason jars - whatever kind of container you have laying about. For measuring it out, we've found 2-3 tablespoons of mix typically works the best for your standard size mug.

Measurements for Standard Recipe:

2 1/2 cups non-fat powdered milk
2 cups sugar
1 cup cocoa
2 teaspoons arrowroot powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Measurements for Giant Recipe:

5 cups non-fat powdered milk
4 cups sugar
2 cups cocoa
4 teaspoons arrowroot powder
1 teaspoon salt

Makes 5 1/2 cups or 11 cups, respectively.

Using a food processor, combine all ingredients thoroughly until no lumps or visible bits of brown or white can be seen.

November 30, 2015

Thank You Ms Montgomery!

I can't deny - Anne Shirley was a big part of the reason that I longed for red hair when I was a brown-locked girl.  Fortunately, my hair dying ventures have been far more successful than her own and I've been enjoying the borrowed life of a redhead for nearly three years now. 

I went on Google last night, and was informed by this absolutely charming graphic that today marks the 141st birthday of Lucy Maud Montgomery, the creator of the most fabulous redhead I know.

Anne was a favorite of mine, growing up. She still is. You can't find anyone who can match her fiery temper, her hopeless romanticism, her strength and her determination. I loved growing up with Anne, watching as she fell in love and out of love and embarked on her adventures as a teacher and then a wife and mother. She had flaws and made so many mistakes. She was real, and profound and funny, and I always felt like she was a friend.

And of course there were the others.  The story of Anne would not be complete without Matthew or Marilla to take her in and be her family.  What would Anne be without her dear friend Dianna to fight with and get into messes, and accidentally cause her to become drunk?  And of course, what is Anne's story without Gilbert? Gilbert was one man I definitely had a literary crush on and nothing made my heart happier than when Anne finally gave in and fell in love.

So Happy Birthday, Lucy Maud Montgomery. Thank you for giving us a wonderful set of friends to laugh and grow and dream with. Thank you for Anne.

November 16, 2015

That Was, Like, Soooo Twelve Years Ago

It's been so busy around here the past month or two. Like, it's been crazies for realzies.  A lot of big changes have been a happenin', like...  we done gone packed oursselfs up and moved from the country and back into the city.

Which makes it sound like we moved to Chicago (at least if you are from around here). But we didn't. Move into Chicago, that is. But we're fifteen minutes closer.

A little bit of history:

Twelve years ago we lived in a neighborhood in a small town, and we'd lived in towns of varying shapes and sizes all our respective lives. We packed up and move 35 minutes away to the middle of a cornfield where you had to drive at least thirty minutes if you wanted to get to any kind of town, but the trips were usually longer than that. And it was glorious. We had five acres of land, tons of room to run around and play in and freaky possums that crawled into your barn and you would think that they were dead because there was a gaping bleeding hole in the side but then you came back later and it was GONE. You could hear the coyotes running through the corn at night and the wind blew constantly from mid-March until early June and wreaked havoc on your ears if you rode your bike down a north south road.  

We lived there for six years before circumstances dictated that we rent a house that was now only 15 minutes from the closest town, with three and a half acres and lots of cornfields. That would be this house.

No photo of the first country house because I don't have them on my computer and lazy.
There were great fruit trees all over, a big master bedroom for all five of us girls to share and manage to survive quite well and mold that grew on every available surface. The basement would take in water without fail every spring when the rains came and the snow melted and the farmers just let all the water run off their fields instead of scooping it into buckets or sucking it up with a hose or something like that. Rude. After six merry years of countless photoshoots, guests and family members driving past the house because it hid behind two large berms and the whole lot of us developing severe mold allergies... we up and bought this place. (End history)

So yeah, like now we have neighbors (whaaaaattttttt) and, like, we got people on HALLOWEEN and they were TRICK OR TREATING (Dudeeee seriously???) and stuff is all, like, only ten minutes away which is totes adorbs (Did we used to say totes adorbes twelve years ago? Or is that more recent.) And now I only share a room with TWO of my sisters instead of ALL FOUR and it's sweet man, super sweet. All this stuff that was a normal part of life twelve years ago is back and style I guess! We'll see how it goes...

November 13, 2015

What Words Could I Say

Unlike many bloggers, I don't often have much to say on current topics - whether it be breaking news, or hot button controversial this is blowing up Twitter kinds of things. It's not that I don't think about these things, it's just that I rarely end up writing about them.

I didn't have anything to write when the Planned Parenthood videos were coming out, I don't have much to write about the current state of American politics and the upcoming elections and future of our country. I haven't weighed in on the "Starbucks cup" fiasco, or the nonsense when a dentist shot a lion over the summer. And now over a hundred people have died in Paris, and I am still not sure that I have anything to write.

And yet, I want to say something.  Many times I start to formulate the words in my mind, but they don't make it out through my fingertips and onto the screen. I write blogposts in my head as I drive to work that no one but me ever hears.

I suppose part of it is the feeling that there are so many other writers who say what I want to say, and who say it better. In regards to the controversial issues - whether they be serious or not - I often feel like anything I say would be preaching to the choir. I am fairly certain that 90% of my readers agree or share at least 80 % of similar views as I do... so any impassioned arguments or attempts at persuasion would be pointless. I could simply express my thoughts, but again - a lot of other writers, a lot of better and more eloquent thoughts.

And in times of tragedy, what is there that I could say that would be necessary? How can you find the right words when the horrible murder of so many people has happened? When it continues to happen every day in countries all throughout the Middle East, as ISIS kills hundreds of people every day?

I've never been a good one for words of wisdom anyhow.  When friends come to me to talk about things going on in their lives, and their problems, I have a hard time finding advice or strong, comforting words.  I am a listener, and a shoulder that I gladly let others cry on, because I want to be there for them.

Still, I want to say something. I wish I knew someone in Paris, or in France, so I could reach out to them and let them know that over here in America I am thinking and praying. And even if I don't have anything to say, I care.

October 17, 2015

Not What You Thought

I used to write stories all the time when I was younger, and it's something I've been meaning to start doing more often. We shall see if that resolution holds, for the time being... enjoy a little something I wrote one night as I was driving home from work. (In my head. Don't write and drive y'all.) 

Le complot des Ombres by Mon-artifice

 I have a recurring nightmare. In it, it’s one month after the wedding.  You knock on the apartment door, and I let you in.  Your face is lit up in a huge grin that somehow doesn’t sit quite right. “Clarie!” You shout, grabbing me in a hug.  “Just wait until you see what I have to show you.”
    You take my hand and lead me back into the bedroom.  There is blood – so much blood.  Blood on the carpeting and up on the walls, covering the bed.  I can see that there are two bodies, but my gaze narrows until I can only see my own head and shoulders sprawling from behind the other side of the bed.  I back away, feeling sick and I bump into you. I turn, and your eyes are boring intently into mine.  You look so concerned, so desperate for my approval.  “See, Claire? See what I’ve done for you?”  Earnestly you beg me to understand.  “Now everything is alright.  No one can hurt you again.  You’ll be safer this way.”  
    That’s when I wake up.  I can still see your eyes, imploring me to listen. Hoping I’ll understand why killing me was the best thing you could do to keep me safe.
    I told you this dream, the first few times it happened.  You laughed, pointing out that you were right in one instance – you can’t get hurt when you are dead.  After the fifth time, I stopped telling you about it. Because by then, you had found out, and your laughter was more for show. I know why you want to keep me safe.  Why you’ve done what you’ve done.  And now you’re going to find out why you are the one who is bleeding on the floor, and not me.  Because the thing is, I’ve always been safe, even when it seemed like I was going to die.
    I knew the kind of man I was marrying.  I knew that he was going to beat me; that he would come home in a drunken rage and fire shots around the house, narrowly missing me more than once.  You yelled at me to leave and couldn’t understand why I stayed.  You tried to tell me what I already knew, about the murders, and the robbery and the crime.  Oh I knew all that before I even met him, before he even knew I existed.
    A lot happened in the eight years since I ran away from home.  You could have come with me, but you didn’t. I asked you to. At the time, you didn’t believe what I was going through.  I tried to tell you about the nights I lay hiding beneath my covers, scared to hear the sound of footsteps.  The words wouldn’t ever come out right and I couldn’t say what I wanted to, so I hinted the best as I could and you just couldn’t get it.  So I left, and then you found out the truth.  You feel guilty, I have seen it in your face every day since I came back, and I know that you were trying to protect me to make up for the time when you didn’t.
    When I came back into your life, spinning my story of how I’d found Jesus and set out to save the lost souls of the planet, you jumped at the chance to play the part you botched up.  I could hardly make a move without you checking on me, wanting so desperately to fill the holes in my life that I let you think I had. I can see the confusion on your face now, and I’m sorry to hurt you like this.  I do care for you still, in a way, but your little sister has grown up a lot since she was fifteen and there is so little that you know about me.  
    It’s only by chance that I let you back in my life at all, actually.  If you hadn’t happened to live in the same town as my going-to-be-husband, I wouldn’t have contacted you at all.  But it’s a small enough town that I couldn’t avoid you, and so I figured you would work out alright as an addition to my storyline. As it turns out, you worked with my husband and so it gave me an even better excuse to meet him, so I could fall in love and find a burning desire to save his soul from damnation. You didn’t know what he was like then, and it was only after I couldn’t hide the bruises that I could see a change happening behind your eyes. You saw the chance to redeem yourself for brushing me off when we were children, and you weren’t going to let me down again.
    And that’s how we got to here.  After one too many times of finding me unconscious on my floor, you decided that the only way to keep me safe was to kill me.  All through tonight, I’ve been wondering – where my dreams a warning of your plans? Or did you get the idea from my dreams?  Honestly, what sane person decides to keep the sister they love safe by slitting her throat?
    Don’t worry, you aren’t going to die.  But I would advise laying still until an ambulance comes for you.  Moving around might aggravate the bleeding and I can’t promise that you’ll make it if you lose more blood.  The cops will come and pick you up once they’ve got my husband in custody.  You nearly upset the plan you know. You’re lucky we thought this out well enough that they could operate without me being there, if it came down to it. Otherwise I might have been ticked enough that the gunshot wound in your chest ended up a few inches higher.
    Are you really that confused about what’s going on? I could cut you some slack, I suppose. You did just get beat up and shot by the woman you thought was your Bible toting little sister. Didn’t I say not to try and get up? I knew exactly what I was doing the whole time, although I do admit, you coming here tonight to try and kill me was something I didn’t see coming. I didn’t have a death wish, by refusing to leave a man we both knew is a murderer and a wife beater.  Look, here. I’ll show you.  See this badge? It says Claire Prayne, FBI.

October 13, 2015

Sometimes a Wrong Turn is Right

Taking a wrong turn isn't always a bad thing, or an inconvenience. Sometimes a wrong turn is exactly the right turn that we needed to make, and we can look back and see that God meant for us to go out of our way to be in the spot where we ended up.

A little over two years ago, I was driving down the interstate, approaching a rather confusing interchange with another highway on my way home. I wasn't very familiar with this route at the time, and I realized too late to move over that I had gotten in the wrong lane and was on the ramp going towards east towards Chicago instead of west towards my home. I got off at the first exit to turn around, the same exit that my grandparents live off of, and as I did I thought I would stop in and say hi. It had been a little while, and I was in no rush to be home.

They were happy to see me of course. I caught my grandma napping when I came in, but we sat and talked and eventually my grandpa came up from the basement and greeted me with a "Well, what have we got here?" It was short, and sweet, and one of my most treasured memories... because I didn't know it at the time, but that was the last time I got to visit with my grandpa.

A few weeks later, two years ago today, he passed away. It was so sudden, and completely out of the blue that the two days in the hospital couldn't come close to preparing any of us.  The medical staff there was incredible, and let all about twenty of us take over the hall outside the ICU for the whole day. But by the time I went to the hospital, he'd already been in a medically induced coma, and he didn't wake up.

It was hard to remember the good things at first. Everything hurt too much, and I spent weeks of crying, feeling guilty for not going to visit more, hurting every time I drove past their house just off the highway. I still can't listen to conversations about anything remotely medical without feeling sick, and the two times I've been in a hospital since then I passed out in the first, and then got dizzy again in the second.  Hundreds of people came to his funeral, and while it was incredible to see just how many lives he touched, it at the same time seemed to only reinforce what a wonderful part of our family we were losing.

My grandpa loved to laugh and joke around, and it wasn't long before the good memories became stronger than the difficult ones surrounding his death. It still hurts, and I miss him, but its easier.  I'm lucky I know, to have had such a wonderful grandpa, and to have had him as a part of my life for so many years.

I've become much more familiar with that highway interchange now that I drive that way every day for work.  I don't think about it every time I drive that way, but it is very often that when I see the sign for the exit going to Chicago I remember, and I am glad that I took that wrong turn that day and got to visit with my grandpa one last time.

I love you Grandpa.

October 1, 2015

Who Said No White?

Hello my bloggy people... it's been so long, and I've been so busy and simply not in a writing mood.  And yet here we are with a style post!

I must admit, this was an outfit taken several weeks ago, but it is so cute that I might pull it out again before the autumnal season ends.

 Who said you can't wear white after Labor Day?

White Dress // J.C. Penny
Denim Jacket // Khols
Yellow Scarf // Thrifted
Yellow Jewelry // Borrowed from my mom and sister (Charming Charlies?)
Brown Boots // Payless Shoe Source

And not to be outdone, Sister # 4 jumped in for a few shots with her cute new bob haircut. 

Black top // Khols
Pink top // Wal-Mart
Black skirt // thrifted
Hat // gift
Shoes // Payless Shoe Source

August 24, 2015

How I Got Rear-Ended and It Was a Good Thing

Hello blogging world!  Yes, I am back. For this post at least.  And then we shall see... Summer tends to be more reading and less writing for me, and fall and winter are more writing and less reading.  It is almost fall, so I'm sure once my last semester (!!!) of school starts and fall starts to make it's appearance, you will see me back around again.

In the meantime...

It's not often you would find that having someone run into the back of your car at 9am on a July morning when you least expect it would be a very good thing to happen to you. That just goes to further show how God doth worketh in mythertiouth wayth.  (My olde English somehow slipped into a lisp...)

You see, if I'd not had a gentleman two cars behind me fail to apply his brakes properly and hit the car behind me, which then hit my car and pushed in the trunk just enough that it became a struggle to shut and open, and give me a case of the whiplash, I would not have had a whole month of chiropractic care covered by the insurance.  I've been having a lot of stiffness and being able to go twice a week for several weeks worked out a lot of the problems I'd been encountering.

If I hadn't been rear ended, the insurance company wouldn't have given me an additional payment besides covering my medical expenses. Then, when I discovered that I would not be receiving any financial aide from my Pell Grant because I only have 7 credit hours this semester, paying $1100 would have been a much more daunting task.  As it was, adding the insurance money to what I had saved up left me only $100 short - a much easier amount to find the extra funds for.

And if that gentleman had not rear ended my rusty, dented, fifteen year old beater of a car, the insurance agent wouldn't have come to my house, taken one look at the car and said "Don't bother fixing it" while handing me a check that turned out to be exactly what I needed for a good down payment on a new car. Without that check, saving up for the new car I was desperately needing would have taken me much longer.

As it was, because I got rear ended, last week I was able to pay for my last semester of college and upgrade from the top car, to the beautiful shiny new Volkswagen Jetta on the bottom.

That being said, I have no interest in being rear ended ever again.

July 7, 2015

A Crash Course in Palestine

Working in a large hotel with meeting and event space is proving to have an educational aspect that I did not expect. We of course have our weddings, business meetings, and educational conventions. Those have proven to be interesting, but nothing quite like the group we had over the weekend of the 4th of July.

Our entire hotel - every guest room, and every inch of meeting space - was booked by a single convention, something you don't see everyday.  We're used to being sold out, of course, but being sold out with random guests who are not connected and being sold out with a single group of close to 1,000 people who all have the same schedule are two very different things. 

This group was essentially a giant family reunion.  Each member of this federation is directly from, or has a parent or a grandparent from, a single town in Palestine.  In the years since they relocated to America, they have all kept in touch and gotten together for a weekend during the summer for 57 years.  To me, that is pretty amazing that there are that many people, from the same town, all related in someway that have consistently kept in touch for over half a century.

Prior to this weekend, I honestly didn't know anything about Palestine.  I thought it might be a country, officially, but I was not completely sure.  I assumed they were primarily Muslim, but again I wasn't sure.  We had been preparing for this group for a long time, so I took the opportunity to do some research and learn more about this culture.

I still don't know very much, but I did learn that Palestine is loosely considered to be an independent country by some, and a region of Israel by others.  Currently the majority are Muslim with a minor Christian population, but historically the population was much larger.  Since the 1940s, however, large amounts of Palestinians - many of them Christian - have fled to other countries as a result of persecutions and attacks by Israel; the group staying at the hotel was made up of those Christians who left Palestine during and since that time.  During their stay, I had the opportunity to see parts of a performance by an ethnic dance troupe which was fascinating to watch in the traditional Palestinian garb with large agricultural influences. They set up large trees in the lobby that were meant to represent the olive and almond trees, both important in Palestinian agriculture and symbolism as I was told. As far as I could tell, every guest could speak Arabic, even the younger generations.  You could tell they loved and were very proud of their heritage.

From a hotel standpoint, it was definitely a different kind of weekend.  The day they all checked in was nuts, and then the next two days were quiet in a busy way as we didn't have any guests to check in or out, and fell into the role of a concierge desk instead.  The day they all left was especially crazy... of course there were hiccups along the way, but overall the group coordinator told us that everyone loved their stay here and were very happy.  And that, after all, is our main goal.

So that was my unexpected educational weekend.  It just goes to show you never know who will walk through your front door.

July 2, 2015

Lavender Love

I have lately become a little obsessed with lavender.  Lavender in food, specifically.

My interest was sparked when I stumbled across a recipe for lavender lemonade on Pinterest, and fully ignited when I discovered that this fabulous new grocery store, Fresh Thyme Farmer's Market, had dried lavender flowers available for purchase.  I had looked briefly online, but anything was in too great of quantity for my experimental interest, and none of my other local grocery stores had it among their seasonings or spices.

Finding myself with some free time the other day, I decided to try out Lavender Lemonade.  I used this recipe to make the lavender syrup, and was delighted with the results.  It is naturally a golden color, due to the half cup of honey, but I added in a (wee bit too much) purple dye for fun.

Having prepared a nice pint sized jar of lavender syrup, I decided to try out the Lavender-Honey Iced Latte  (the same recipe where I found the lavender syrup).  I quickly brewed up a concentrated coffee in my French Press, and while that was cooling off to an Iced Latte temperature, there was this recipe for Lavender Shortbread Cookies that I knew I had to try.

The cookies took just a little bit of time, with the thirty minutes of refrigeration, but were very simple and easy to make. Lavender can be somewhat overpowering in large quantities, but in small amounts for baking the scent is full of summer and cheerfulness.  I did get a few raised eyebrows from my family at the "putting flowers in cookies", but I think we've all agreed that the end result has a subtle enough flavor to be unique and quite tasty.

June 24, 2015

Settling In

At the same time that I finished week three of my very first full-time job, I also finished living on my own for three weeks while I house sat for family friends of my parents. It's been a busy couple of weeks, and gone a long way in disrupting my normal blogging flow.  But the waves seem to be calming a bit, and there are hopes of more frequent posting in the near future.

The new job has been going very well.  It has been absolutely fascinating to go from a small, 112 room hotel that served only breakfast, to a resort with nearly 400 rooms, thousands of square feet of meeting and event space, four different restaurants, room service, more departments than I know what do with and a golf course.

Coming from a small hotel where I was the front desk, housekeeping, maintenance and everything else after 6pm when everyone left, it has been a strange experience being... just the front desk. When a guest wants a toothbrush or new linens, I just page housekeeping and they take care of it, there is overnight houskeeping as well.  If someone gets locked out, I can call security because we actually have security.  No more unclogging toilets because that's what engineering is there 24/7 for!  All I have to do now is check guests in and out and help resolve issues at the front desk, and then answer phone calls when I'm back working in the PBX room because that's right - we have a PBX room where all the phone calls go and the Front Desk gets only the calls that are directly for them.

Working in a large hotel is proving to be very interesting, and I am enjoying it very much so far.  Of course, not everything is perfect, and there are definitely management issues that need to be worked out, but I love all of my co-workers, and I am excited to be a part of this new team.  It does make me feel very grown up... working at least 40 hours a week, getting paid well, having the opportunity for insurance and vacation time down the road, dressing up every day in a blazer and dress pants as part of my uniform.

I do miss my old job at times, and the people I worked with there.  But over all, I am excited to be venturing into this new stage in my life and getting one step closer to the goals and dreams that I have for my career.

May 27, 2015

A New Page

Over the weekend, I only had to convince one of the people who reads this blog that yes, I was serious, when I said my exciting news has nothing to do with rings and wedding bells.  That's not bad.

So... what is it then? Alright, I'll tell you.

This coming Monday, I will be moving up in the career world by starting my very first full time job!

I'm excited, I think.  I am very sad to be leaving my current hotel, but I'll be moving to a full service hotel with event space, still as front desk, but with the idea that once I get my foot in the door I'll be able to move into the convention and events planning department.  They know that events is where I want to be, and they are willing to give me coaching and opportunities to build my skills while waiting for a position to open up.

It was a bit of an interesting process, finding this job.  I wasn't even looking for a new job initially.  I was in class one day, and my teacher said that she had information about a job that she thought I should apply for. It was a catering and conference coordinator position at a very nice hotel up more in the Chicagoland area.  I thought, "well, why not?"  and scheduled the interview.

Apparently, the woman I interviewed with absolutely loved me and for a good two weeks was going back and forth between myself and another candidate who had five years of event experience that I didn't have. I eventually gave up on getting the job, and then got a letter saying that they had chosen someone else so I figured that was that, and marked it up to a good experience.

Then, one of the hospitality classes went to that same hotel to assist in a sales blitz, and my teacher ended up talking with the woman who I'd interviewed with.  She expressed how she had really, really wanted to hire me and had come this close to choosing me over the other candidate.  My teacher jumped in and said she was sure I'd take any job I could to get my foot in the door, because planning events in a hotel was exactly what I wanted to do.

And that was how the woman I first interviewed with ended up going to HR, telling them that they needed to hire me because I needed to work for this hotel, and I ended up interviewing for a position as a guest service agent.  I pretty much had the job before I even interviewed for it, which was a bit of an odd experience... but there it is.

It'll be an adjustment, for sure, with a 45-60 minute commute depending on traffic, and working 32 to 40 hours a week.  I am going to miss the hotel that I work at now, very much.  They are wonderful, wonderful people there, and have become like family to me.  But I know this is the step I am supposed to take, and I am looking forward to making it.

So here's to starting a new chapter in my hospitality career!

May 23, 2015

Taking My Place

This is a reflection essay that I wrote for a final in one of my classes.  I've written on this topic before, but lately life has take an turn to where I was able to look back and reflect with a bit more clarity.  It also ties in to the news I have to share, so I thought it would be a good segue...

Four  years ago, I thought I knew what I was doing with my life.  I had a plan, I had goals, I thought I knew how the next few years were all going to play out.  I thought I knew what I was doing, and then all of a sudden, I didn’t.  Everything I had planned on was gone and I was left staring at the pieces.  I let the remnants of the picture of my life sit there for a long time.  I didn’t know how to pick them up, I didn’t really want to pick them up.  Even if I did try to do something with them, well, what was there to do anyways?  I let the fallen pieces lie for a long time, almost two years, until one day I woke up and I found the strength to try and reshape them into a new picture.  The new picture of my life has taken a while to come together, but I am starting to see past the vague shapes and shadows.  As the picture becomes clearer, I can see that the day I thought my life had fallen apart was one of the best things that has ever happened to me.

In 2010, I applied to North Central College in Naperville Illinois. I hadn’t done much searching around, there was only one other, very small, Catholic college in New Hampshire, that I had applied to.  Friends of mine attended there, and told me about the new Interactive Media Studies major - a blend of journalism, graphic design and media - and that captured my attention.  I was interested in psychology, but my parents said that if I was going to pay for a four year college, I was going to major in something that could realistically become a career for me. I enjoyed graphic design, and I love to write, and so Interactive Media seemed right up my alley.  I landed the highest scholarship the college had, the Presidential Scholarship, as well as a nice size grant, and was invited to join the Honors Society as well, easing the financial burden of tuition.  I fell in love with the college, the campus and the city and was overjoyed when my parents and I decided that living on campus would work better than a nearly hour long commute every day.

I came into college as a very naive homeschooled girl, who didn’t quite fit in with anyone, but I bonded well enough with the girls in my dorm, made one close friend and was head over heels for my classes and professors.  I relished the chance to live “on my own” and learn how to live independently from my sisters and family. My freshman year was very good, and by the end I had emerged a little more from my quiet shell.  When September of sophomore year came around, I couldn’t wait to go back.  Over the summer I had fallen in love and was dating a boy from the East Coast, and life couldn’t be better.

The fall term of that year was very different from my freshman year.  I ended up up without a roommate, which I didn’t mind for the most part, but it was lonely.  I felt more out of place than ever, I wasn’t eating well, I was overwhelmed with my busy schedule of working, studying and participating in campus activities. I remember how every Tuesday night - my busiest day of the week - I would have anxiety attacks while I was alone in my dorm room. At the time, I thought I was still loving life there and in a way I think I was, but looking back now I can see only how lonely, depressed and stressed I was.  In retrospect, I think it was for the best that during the three week mini-term between the end of fall term and Christmas break, my financial plans fell out from under me and there was no way I could come back after Christmas without having to take out more loans and sink myself in debt.

I was devastated at the turn of events.  Everything had felt so right when I started, I had known that North Central College was where I was supposed to be.  Then literally overnight, I wasn’t supposed to be there anymore and I had no idea where my place was.

There were a lot of tears, and nearly all of the memories that I had of my time there were blocked out.  I half heartedly looked around for a job for a few months before starting a position as a receptionist at my chiropractic doctor’s office. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, and I frankly didn’t care.  In my mind, there was nothing I was good at, nothing I was passionate about.  Everything was vague and out of reach.  My parents would occasionally prod me to take a class, or be involved in something and I did take part in my mom’s online business, The Goat Milk Soap Shop.  For the most part, however, I decided I was comfortable with doing nothing.

My path on the road to nowhere fast changed at the end of the summer of 2013.  I had been out of school for almost two years, and I was very slowly starting to move in a new direction.  Earlier in the summer I’d attended a weekend retreat that let me open myself up in spiritual ways that I hadn’t allowed myself to for a long time, and helped me to break through a lot of the hurt I was holding onto and directing at God.  It prompted me to apply for a few new jobs that would be full time and pay more, but none of the opportunities panned out.  After continuous gentle pushing by my mom to at least look into some classes at JJC, I pulled up the website and reluctantly decided to scroll through the majors.  Once upon a time, I took piano lessons, and I entertained thoughts of going back and brushing up on my skills so that I could teach. Then, under Associate's of Applied Sciences, I saw the Meetings and Special Events major.

Since that day, my life has changed and gone in ways I had never imagined it would.  I enrolled in classes a week before the semester started and went in having no idea what to expect. While naturally a little quiet in social situations, I was quickly pulled in and found myself falling in love with the hospitality industry. At the end of my first spring semester I had the chance to apply for a Front Desk position at the TownePlace Suites by Marriott, and I jumped at it.  I loved the hotel and, fortunately, they loved me.  I was hired and became a proud member of the hospitality industry.

Working as a Guest Service Agent and continuing my education as a Hospitality student has caused me to grow in so many ways.  I have become more confident of myself, and who I am as a person.  In such a diverse industry, I don’t feel that I have to apologize or shy about being a former homeschooler, or for my faith and beliefs the way that I did when I was at North Central College. Every single one of us is so different, and it is wonderful to be accepted with words of “Oh neat, that’s cool.”  

I have learned how to adjust better to conflict - I still hate and avoid it as much as I can, but dealing with angry and upset guests has helped me to be more courageous, more sympathetic and more confident in unsettled situations.  I am more comfortable with approaching others, engaging in conversation and looking for ways to brighten someone’s day.  The other week, I was sitting in a coffee shop in downtown Chicago. The older gentleman at the table next to mine struck up a conversation, and by and by he asked what my job was.  I told him I worked in hotels, and was a hospitality student and he remarked “Ah, so that is why you are still sitting here having a conversation with me.  I know I’m chatty and most people don’t respond as much.”  It struck me than that I had been enjoying the conversation, and had it happened even six months before, I would have likely tried to find some excuse to be distracted.

A year and a half ago, I started to pick up the broken pieces of my plans and dreams and looked for ways to rearrange them into something new.  As I built, I wasn’t sure of the picture that was going to emerge.  Now I am starting to see it more clearly, and the old picture I used to cling to pales in comparison.  I know that I am happier here than I would have ever been there. I am ready to hang up my picture alongside everyone else, even as I continue to work on it.  There are plenty of pieces missing, but I know that they will come. I am confident, I am smart, I am excited, and I am ready.

May 20, 2015

An Unexpected Sabbatical

I didn't intend to take a blogging sabbatical, after my last post but at first any ideas I came up with seemed to... frivolous?  And then after that I just got so busy with work and work and school and finals and I simply didn't have time to sit down and blog.

But I am done now with school for the semester, and done with one of my two jobs and I've had a little over a week to simply unwind and relax from the stress.  

So I am back, for the time being, and I have a few post ideas lined up alone with some exciting news that I can't share with you quite yet.  (Spoilers! ;-) ) Don't worry, I'll not keep you in suspense for long and no, you hopeful hearts, it is not relationship related.  (Yes, I know how "exciting news" automatically means "Ahhh! Engaged!!!!" to many of us girls.)

It is a little odd to find myself with only one job, after nearly two years of working two jobs, and no classes for at least a few weeks.  I've actually had time to... sit and read, or run errands, or get my hair cut, and clean my room.  I've only had one schedule to keep track of.  I finally have a chance to breathe again.

Now, if the weather would only stop jumping back and forth from 50 degrees to 80 degrees every other day and pick a nice 70 degree range in the middle, that would be perfect.

April 20, 2015

Nothing Much

image via

I must admit.... I've had a bit of Blogger/Pinterest/Instagram envy going on lately.  It's not that I am dissatisfied with my own life, exactly, but it seems to be paling in comparison with the lives of everyone else.

I know, I know.  Us social media creatures tend only to post the rosy, glamorous parts of our lives and even when we have the best intentions of sharing a balanced view of both the good and exciting and the bad or mundane, the bad or mundane tends to get left out.  I know there is a lot more to everyone's life going on behind the scenes.  I know that I have a tendency to only share the sunshine and flowers in my life as well.  It's not that we don't want people to know about those times, I think it's more that when we are going through a blah patch, we don't feel like sharing anything on the internet anyhow.

So it's easy to look at how stylish other bloggers are, the beautiful photography they are doing, the fun places they are traveling to, the adventures they are having and then look at my own life and feel like I am falling short.  It's hard to look past the filtered Instagram photos and the cute Facebook posts and see the difficult part of peoples lives that are hovering behind them.

I try to remind myself that, as a culture, we don't like people to know about the struggles we are going through.  It's considered impolite to tell people how we are really doing, unless we are very specifically asked.  We want to put on our best face, we don't want anyone to see what is going on behind the scenes.

It is hard to remember that though, and to keep myself from looking away from the blogs and social media and look at everything that I'm not.  I'm not stylish, I'm not losing any weight.  I'm not crafty or artsy, it's been a long time since I've done any sort of creative writing.  I haven't traveled outside of the United States. I haven't done anything great or exciting with my life.  I haven't worked all these neat jobs, or met all kinds of fascinating people.  I'm not exceptionally talented at anything.

I doubt anyone would ever look at my life and go "Oh wow... I wish my life was more like Amanda's!"  My life isn't terrible by any stretch of the imagination, and that's not what I'm trying to say.  Its not that I don't value the life I live or appreciate what I have. It's that my life is just - well, ordinary.

I think when you are focusing on all the things that you aren't, you are supposed to take a step back and look at the things that you are, and that is supposed to make you smile cheerfully and say "Well golly, I guess I'm pretty awesome after all!"  That's what I've been told, anyhow, but that doesn't mean it's easy to do or that if I do try to look on the positive side, that I'll even find anything the first twenty times I look.

It's much easier to scroll through Instagram and Pinterest and my blog feed and feel a little twinge of jealousy because I want to be like that.  And it's hard not to turn life into a competition, to not take photos and heavily Instagram everything so that I can make it seem like I have a Pinterest-worthy life too.  It makes it hard to just enjoy your life as it comes, without thinking "Oh, what meaningful and inspiring blog post can I turn _________ into?  And I'd better be ready in case something comes along that I can Instagram!"

I suppose if anyone out there has ever read my blog or scrolled through my Instagram and had that kind of envy, I am trying not to laugh at the thought of you.  This post isn't going to wrap up with some attempt at a profound recollection of what I've learned from my emotions and envy, because I haven't learned anything yet.  This is, I guess, my shot at showing the side of my life that doesn't have an Internet filter applied to it.

April 13, 2015

Feeling Fab

It's that odd, frustrating in between season where I'm never sure if I should keep my winter clothes out a bit longer or pull out the spring clothing and just layer up. Yesterday was finally a beautiful, sunny spring Sunday and so I ventured into the spring clothing to pull out a favorite outfit of mine.

I've always been a fan of blue and white and nautical style clothing/floral prints.  When I found this top and skirt at a thrift store last summer I initially tried them on together for time and efficiency, and then realized that... they actually could be worn together. 

 Combining the pearls with the gold anchor earrings and the white bow gave the outfit just the right balance of nautical and femininity to really pull the ensemble together.

blouse // thrifted
skirt // thrifted
pumps // JC Penny
bracelets // Khols
necklace // gifted
earrings // gifted (pearls), Charming Charlies (anchors)
bow // borrowed from my sister

It's a very comfortable outfit, and I love that the top can be dressed up with a skirt, or dressed down with a pair of jeans for more of an everyday wear.  I'm so glad that springtime is finally here!