Auld lang syne.

Happy new year friends! May you make 2013 everything you want it to be!
(graphic by me. Please be sure to link with love!)

Let it snow.

Hello all. I took a bit of an extended and somewhat unanticipated break from blogging. I may be spotty for a week or so here as I'm spending vacation with my family. Christmas was wonderful and snowy and so very New Englandy, which I love. As I write, the scent of real Christmas tree welcomes me back home. I'm so happy to be here and I have lots of thoughts to share, but not before I share them with Adrian. So you will just have to wait.

In grand Christmas tradition, my mum gave us way too many gifts. She has this rather endearing quality where she buys gifts throughout the year, then forgets what she bought and finds them again later. This mostly means that Christmas never ends. Fortunately for my husband and nephews, I've inherited this quality.

Lyd (mum) gave me a gift card to spend as I wanted and so I picked out a couple new fonts for the year. I am so excited to be playing around with them and to be creating again. I'm looking forward to this new year and new opportunities to create. I'll be sharing another graphic I created tonight next week so be looking for that.

In the mean time, I wanted to share a new design I recently did that I am in love with. I am hoping that 2013 will bring new and varied design opportunities. I've found I really love designing. The moments when the concept comes and I can't wait to start working. The learning that comes in making my visions a reality. The back and forth with a blogger until it's just perfect. The final installation and the joy of seeing it live. At the beginning of 2012, I would have never guessed all this was on the horizon and I simply can't wait to see where 2013 will lead me. (For more information on Oh Hello Love Designs, click here.)

This most recent design stretched my abilities a bit. I worked in photoshop and created custom brushes to make the watercolor effect. I am thrilled with how it all turned out and the overall cohesively clean style.  To see this design, simply click on over to jcaro. And of course, be sure to say hi to Caroline. She was absolutely wonderful to work with.

More to come, I promise. Until then, there's this, the laziest, most sleepiest, perfectly cuddly little dog. (Puppy courtesy of my sister, Erin).

Happy end of December, friends. I hope yours is as peacefully perfect as mine has been.

True sympathy.

In light of the recent tragedy here in the States, I don't want to add to the noise of the hows and whys. But I did want to offer a couple of thoughts on the now-whats.

I think we, as an American society, like the easy solutions. We gain a sense of comfort and pride in texting HELP to whatever number to donate whatever amount of money or in raising awareness or in sharing inspirational quotes on Facebook. And I am not discounting these acts because those monetary donations are needed and inspirational quotes raise morale and help us to feel united. But if those responses to tragedy are our only responses, they simply won't be enough. Long after the donations stop coming in and the media has moved on to its next sensational story, our neighbors, friends and family will continue to suffer.

We need long-term solutions. Responses that require setting a goal and working each day, each month, each year to make that goal happen. There is a reason that these tragedies happen again and again in this country and until we begin to work towards solutions that impact beyond a month or two, they will continue to happen. A real solution may involve a shift in cultural attitudes and policies and it will definitely involve a high level of commitment from a large group of people.

So while the immediate outpouring of support is a wonderful and natural response, let's not forget these victims and families in the coming months and years. Let's commit to working together. To having those difficult discussions and debates. To being a very real part of a very long term solution. And let's set a date on the calendar for a couple months or a year from now to check back in with ourselves to see what and how we've done, no?

"Pity may represent little more than the impersonal concern 
which prompts the mailing of a check, 
but true sympathy is the personal concern 
which demands the giving of one's soul."
Martin Luther King, Jr.


Growing weary.

Friends. I have been so distant lately, I know. I haven't been commenting or writing or tweeting or e-mailing. My google reader currently houses 826 posts awaiting my perusal. My inbox has bunches of unreplied messages. And post after post goes unplanned.

My full-time job has been rather consuming and my weekends have been full. I'd be ridiculous to complain about any of that because my full-time job is a job that I love and truly believe in and my weekends have been spent with wonderful friends and family that have been visiting from back east!

Blogging is hard once you've met The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

But part of this little break from blogging has been spent regrouping, rethinking and reimagining. I have grown a teensy bit weary of the blogging culture. Of the giveaways and the sponsors and the pretty and inspiration and the perfection and the must-have trends. And I hope I don't offend anyone in saying that. I'm kind of hoping that some of you are feeling the same way and that you might feel invited into a collective sigh of relief that we're not alone.

Each of us is so much more than the outfits, recipes, perfect parties, etc. The question is not if we're interested in other things, because I'm confident we are. The question is how to begin to feel at ease discussing and sharing all those other passions that have perhaps been under-represented in Blog Land as of late.

Am I alone in this? In this feeling that so many blogs are beginning to seem a bit similar? I want to know what makes you you. What is that collection of likes and dislikes and passions and thoughts and terrible habits that makes you so uniquely you? And I'd love to hear the stories that have shaped you into who you are and who you're becoming.

So while I wait for all your intriguing answers, I'll be working on some of my own. And while you wait for those, might I suggest some absolutely wonderfully authentic writers? If you're looking for stories and thoughts and a bit of real life, these are some of my very favorite genuine bloggers:

(And not just because Erin's my sister! She's probably the most authentic person I know.)
So tell me, is it just me? Or are you growing weary of the blogging same old, same old? And if so, share with me a genuine post, won't you? Add a link in the comments so we can all bask in the genuine glow!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Friends, I finally made it to the Thanksgiving parade downtown. After living here all these years, it finally happened and I am so glad! My nephew and I got up early, took the train downtown and enjoyed every minute of parade goodness. We had a phenomenal spot, right on the curb with the train station behind us so no one could stand behind us. With a salted caramel mocha in hand, we watched as the balloons passed under the train tracks and popped back up in front of us. Easily my favorite Chicago Thanksgiving.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!! Much love to all of you, friends, and of course to my family back home on the East Coast! Wish we could be there!

The Cultivated Life: Personal Style

I am not a fashion blogger and certainly don't intend to move in that direction, but I do love to talk about fashion from time to time. Again, as with my post on home decor, I am no expert but I do want to share what has worked well for me.

Over the years, I have really come into my own style. It has been a process that's taken quite a bit of time and effort, but I am proud of how I present myself day in and day out. I would say my clothing style varies little from my home decor style which varies little from my blog design style: Clean, classic and colorful.

For a couple years in there, I began to think that I could only dress stylishly if I had a lot of money. I'd see something on a show or on pinterest or on a blog and think, "If I had more money, I'd dress like that." Simultaneously, I was gaining weight. I've never been a thin girl, but I am at the heaviest now that I've ever been. This only compounded the issue. I then began thinking, "If I had more money and were thinner, I'd dress more stylishly." At some point, I just had to decide that I don't have more money and I'm not thinner, so I've got to be content with what I do have and how I look.

From there, I've made some changes to how I shop and how I approach my personal style. Here's what I've come up with:

1) I look at Pinterest as a way to gather ideas, not as a style book to copy looks from. I pin whole looks or individual pieces I like and then search for common elements. I look at colors, cuts, styles and see what these pins all have in common. I've come to see that I'm drawn to clean, pulled together looks and to pieces that have unique details and feminine touches. Pin a bunch and then look for  common elements that you're drawn to. Go shopping with those elements in mind.

2) I don't buy it unless I love it. I found I was settling for "I like it" and "It fits". This led me to start dressy like a preppy tomboy, which I'm not. I'm learning that just because I like a style doesn't mean I need to wear it. If I don't absolutely love the piece and it doesn't fit into my style, I don't buy it.

3) Being on a budget, I have to pick and choose what I buy. That said, I invest in key accessories. Accessories are wonderful because they always fit right and they can completely transform an outfit. Many of my tops and bottoms are quite inexpensive. I choose to spend my money on classic bags, shoes and accessories that can be mixed and matched and that will last over time. With the right accessories, your basic jeans and white tee can be a perfectly styled outfit.

4) I found my style icons. I love the styles of Audrey Hepburn and Blair Waldorf and I love the Kate Spade brand. While I'd love to just steal Blair Waldorf's wardrobe and buy all things Kate Spade, every piece doesn't necessarily work for me or fit my budget, so I find ways to make it my own. But having style icons gave me a place to start from and a way to easily verbalize my ideal style to others.

My cousin/twin Maddy and me
5) Lastly, I spent some time experimenting, trying different styles and colors and combinations of styles and colors until I found a style I was comfortable with and that made me feel good about myself. I heard somewhere (wish I remembered where!) that your style is whatever you put together without thinking. I agree, but it takes time to get there. My go-to look is a blazer, bright shirt, skinny jeans, flats and accessories (as pictured above). That's what I can put together without thinking and what makes me feel good about myself. Find your go-to.

With these changes, I've been able to find my own style. I think sometimes we (I?) start to feel that if an outfit (or body?) isn't Pinterest-perfect, it's not worth spending the time on. And that just simply isn't true. Each morning, you have the opportunity to feel good about yourself and how you present yourself. And you don't need more money or less weight to do it.

That said, I leave you with the words of my fashion hero, 
Iris Apfel, the queen of accessories:
"I say, dress to please yourself. Listen to your inner muse and take a chance. Wear something that says 'Here I am!' today."

In case you need more Iris wisdom, I've added some great videos of her on my Facebook page! And if you're interested in what I've been pinning lately, you can find me on Pinterest here.

What's your style? What have you done to feel good about how you look?

The Cultivated Life: Our home.

I'm kicking off this Cultivated Life series with a post on our home. We've been fortunate enough to have a landlord who trusts my sometimes unorthodox decorating style and I wholeheartedly appreciate that. With his trust, we've been able to turn this little rented apartment into a home.

After Adrian and I got married and moved into our first apartment together, I felt this urgency to make our apartment a home. And I decorated in just a matter of weeks. We painted, we shopped, we furnished.

If I could go back and do it again, I would do most everything differently.

Living Room circa 2011

A number of months ago, I realized that our apartment looked as if a single woman lived here. It looked far too feminine and too "I saw this on a blog and now I have try it". Though I had asked Adrian to okay each of my ideas, I hadn't spent much time asking him what he wanted.
Same living room circa 2012

So we started again. We repainted and added a bar in the living room. We bought a new/used couch that I'm in love with and spray painted a Mexican ceramic mask (see below), a lamp and a little tray. We decided on some colors for the bathroom and painted stripes on the walls. Then we replaced the floors in both the kitchen and the living room.

I feel proud of our home and I feel at home in our home. It's a reflection of the unique combination of both of our styles. It's bright and colorful and eclectic. And we love it.

If I could go back and talk to just-married-Emily, I'd tell her to relax. And then I'd tell her the following tips:

1) Take the time to sit and listen because your spouse/roommate/best friend has lots of ideas and opinions. And most of them are awesome.

2) Wait to find the absolute perfect pieces. Because if there is one thing I've learned from that classic show "Hoarders," it's this: There is an actual physical limit to the amount of stuff one can have in their home. And saying yes to an okay item is an automatic no to the perfect item.

3) Don't paint until you're sure. And then wait another couple months.

4) Take pictures of things that excite you. Find what they have in common. Have your spouse/roommate/best friend do the same. See how you can tie them together to create something new and unique. For Adrian and I, we've been able to bring mid century pieces and Mexican pieces and modern pieces together by sticking to a color scheme (white with blue and green accents).

5) New does not necessarily equal better. Older pieces often have so much character, but just need a bit of love and spray paint. Spray paint is a gift from the home decor gods. (Little secret: our "bar" pictured above was a $25 craigslist find. In it's old life, it was a faux-wood laminate in an awful shade of gray. Spray painted white, it's a bar. True story.)

Through this, I've learned that the cultivated home takes time. When we move again and finally settle into a house, I plan to carry these lessons with me. To give myself time to discover our style again (in case it's changed) and to find or create those perfect pieces. And we will slowly make that house a home. Just like we did with this little apartment.

How has your decorating style changed over time? Any tips you would add on how to cultivate your unique home?

Apathy is a privilege.

I have always endeavored on this blog to be about love. And for me, this election was never about politics. It was about love and the people I love and care deeply about.

On the day of the election, I read over and over again that everyone should calm down because no matter who became president, life would go on and the world wouldn't fall apart. I am sure this is true for many people in this country.

But apathy is a privilege.

I invited my nephew over to watch the election results with me. He stayed for a few hours and then had to go home to get to bed. It was a school night after all. On the way home, in the way of an 11-year-old on the brink of becoming his own person, he asked me, "Tia (Aunt), why do we care so much about this election?" And I told him we care because it greatly effects people we care about. People we pass on the street every day. People in our schools and our churches. People who are neighbors, but in the old "Can I borrow a cup of sugar?" sort of way. People who are dear friends. We care because we know how life would change for them and, in turn, would change for us.

As you all know, immigration reform is an issue that is very near and dear to me. Romney's policies, in my very humble opinion, encapsulated a way of thinking that I believe is harmful both to us as American citizens as well as to the undocumented. His policies perpetuate this notion of "every man is an island." The old "I pulled myself up by my bootstraps" and "No one ever helped me". In fact, no man is an island. Each is a product of a parent who read to him at night. A community that offered safety. A school that provided inspiration and opportunity. A last name that ensured legacy. There are so many factors that contribute to the success of any one person and to say that any one of us became successful on our own is, in the strong majority of cases, absolutely ridiculous. In each of our histories, is some person, some circumstance, some something that shaped us into the people we are. Romney's policies failed to recognize this interdependence which is truly at the heart of the immigration issue. If all undocumented immigrants were to self-deport today, this nation would collapse because we depend on their taxes (which they do pay with a tax id number provided by the IRS), we depend on their cheap labor, we depend on the money they spend and we depend on them doing the kinds of jobs we would never do.

Truth be told, Obama's policies aren't much better. He has deported more undocumented immigrants in the last four years than any other administration. While the claim is that the majority are criminals, the statistics reveal something very different. That said, he has made small changes that, while certainly not permanent solutions, have offered a bit of relief to people in my community.

He approved a change in process in which undocumented immigrants eligible for residency because of marriage (this is not amnesty. They were already eligible.) no longer have to leave the country to process their visa until their waiver is approved. The waiver waives the ten year ban they triggered upon exiting the US. They exited the country to apply for the waiver. See the catch-22 there? In the past, waiver processing times have varied from country to country, but often took years. This left mixed-status (one parent is a US citizen while the other is undocumented) families broken and separated between countries for years at a time. For a family eligible for this new change in process, this election meant staying together as the change, though approved, has yet to be implemented. While it is a far cry from comprehensive immigration reform, for the small group of families this does effect, it is a sigh of relief.

I think that bears repeating. This election means two people who love each other, regardless of status, would be permitted to live in the same country during the visa process.

In my home state of Maine, voters came out and voted in favor of same-sex marriage. And I couldn't be more proud of my home state. In our not so distant American past, interracial couples like Adrian and I wouldn't have been allowed to marry. When I think about the idea that in the past, others would have been voting on my marriage, I am overwhelmed with love, sympathy and support for couples who find themselves in a similar position today.

So, for anyone who has had to wait for voting results to find out whether or not they could marry the one they truly loved and whether or not that marriage would be recognized, congratulations. I think we are on the road to equality and acceptance.

For anyone who has stayed awake late into the night in a bed far too big for one person, wondering when their husband or wife would be permitted to return to this country, congratulations. I think we are on the road to family reunification.

For anyone who has left this country to be with the one they loved because a vote or a law or a change in process didn't pass, I hope we will see the day when you're welcomed back with open arms.

And for all who voted regardless of who you voted for, thank you. For your time. Your research. Your passion. Your voice. And your dedication.

In the wise words of Martin Luther King, Jr:
Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable. Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concerns of individuals.

Ashleigh Hill: Uncontainable Words

Before we start, I want to let you know that this post contains language that some (myself included) are quite sensitive to. I would not use this particular language in a blog post in other circumstances, but in order to discuss a problem, one must address the problem.

Over the past few months, I noticed quite a few instances of women (in particular, bloggers) using the word "bitch" to refer to other women. I've seen it in comments on posts and on twitter. Generally, the intention has been to dismiss an argument made by another woman.

I've been surprised to see this and so I asked my friend Ashleigh Hill (of The Continuously Fractured Life fame) if she would write some thoughts on the subject and the use of language as means of dismissal.

She sent me the following:

Uncontainable Words
When Isaac Newton first started explaining gravity, he would talk about cannonballs, how they were shot from mountains. He said no matter how fast a cannonball shot into the air, gravity would eventually pull it down to earth. Later, Geoffrey Canada argued that if the cannonball shot fast and high enough, it could escape gravity and reach orbit, and achieve what’s called escape velocity. He used this to describe his views on inner-city youth and education –if you pack students with enough support and hope of a foreseeable future; it provides the possibility for them to break free of the foggy atmospheres of poverty and interfamilial violence.

I think the same theory is true for language. If a word gets enough support it can break away from the power connected to it. It can also break away from the person using it. The context in which a word is used and the person using the word is always what matters most. Reclaiming language is the act of taking a word that has been misused and choosing to use it in your own way. And it sure is a tricky thing. You can reclaim a word for yourself and still have no control over how it is heard by another person. If the history behind a word is negative, it will always, in some place, be negative. I know it’s easy to suggest someone be less sensitive to language. It’s also easy to not understand violence perpetuated by language, if you’ve never experienced it before. 

This idea comes up when people ask for my opinion on using the word “bitch” on social media. It’s apparently a huge issue. That is, women calling other women "bitch," and the promotion of sexism that goes along with it. There are several valid arguments about this.

- It has been used by men in power to blatantly reduce women to unhinged or angry stereotypes; that history is now attached to it.
- In recent history, bitch has been reclaimed by some women and people in LGBTQ communities as an empowering, or even joyous and laughable, label.
- In part of my circle of friends, bitch is used in a joking, communal manner; in another part, it’s not used at all.

Knowing the relationship a person has with a word is important, especially if that word has been used to harm them. Using certain, gendered language in a joking manner signals that a word like “bitch” has broken away from the power it might have had over you. It may also suggest you’re utilizing it for the power it might have over someone else. The problem isn’t in the word itself. The problem lies in the intent behind its use – to cut women off. When women use “bitch” in this way – to dismiss other women – they participate in, and further promote, sexist power plays. 

This is evident in the language used when debating other people via social media. I know. Social media. It’s my favorite and least favorite thing and it’s here to stay forever. The culture of being right has always been more important than understanding another person's argument and this is especially present in online forums. In fact, the fight to be taken seriously has been at the base of women’s movements all over the world. When someone asks my opinion on this topic, they’re helping to bolster a movement. When someone calls me a “bitch” in order to end a conversation, they’re working against it. I don’t have a brilliant answer for how to deal with words that have sexist undertones. But I do know this – in the same way that hiring more women won’t end sexism in the work place (addressing the reasons women weren’t qualified or hired in the first place might), and Affirmative Action hasn’t ousted racism in professional settings, (but addressing why it needed to be implemented in the first place might), rerouting your language won’t allow all women the chance to share their opinions. But it might help those who can.

Thank you so much to Ashleigh for taking the time to write her thoughts on the subject! I think she was absolutely spot on with the idea that "if the history behind a word is negative, in some place, it will always be negative. I know it's easy to suggest that someone be less sensitive to language. It's also easy to not understand violence perpetuated by language, if you've never experienced it before." So very true. We have got to take responsibility for the power of our words.

(Just as I was set to publish this, I came across this fantastically heartfelt article about the use of the word "retarded". If you have a moment, it is certainly worth the read.)

Thoughts? As always, share your thoughts respectfully!

Halloween Favorites

Friends, friends, friends. I love holidays. Seriously. Love holidays. And today happens to be one of my favorite holidays. Adrian loves Halloween and it's really rubbed off on me in the past couple years. He loves the decorations and the candy and the costumes. I get excited about Halloween just seeing him so excited.

In past years, we've hosted Halloween parties and decorated the apartment and generally reveled in Halloween glory. This year however we were a bit late on the decorations and we completely failed to pull together a Halloween party. Instead, we'll be hosting a little Halloween movie get together, complete with Halloween goodies. I love putting together some of my holiday favorites for childhood nostalgia's sake.
This year's goodies include:
1) Kit Kat bars, for obvious reasons
2) Tootsie pops! Love the raspberry ones. Hate the brown ones. Bt-dub, did anyone ever actually get a free pop for having a wrapper with that Native American guy shooting an arrow? Me neither.
3) Halloween slap bracelets, discovered at Target!
4) I am an absolute sucker for good branding/typography. I loooooove the labels on these Bath and Body Works lotions.
5) Hand santizer, a necessity for trick-or-treaters
6) Halloween tattoos because why not?

What are your Halloween favorites? I'm dying to discover some new favorites.
Happy Halloween, friends!

Coffee and a Clean Agenda

Vacation was fantastic, friends. It was quiet and lowkey and I had time to think. I love time to think. When I was on vacation this summer, I had high hopes for this blog and my then-blossoming creativity. Sigh. I failed to factor in how absolutely taxing a full-time job is. But this little vacation has revived me and I'm ready to get back to where we were: enjoying life.

With all that said, I wanted to introduce a new series I will be starting next week and continuing through the month of November. 

I'll be sharing ideas on cultivating your home, your personal style, and your life. Be sure to check back in on Wednesdays for this series!

I also wanted to take some time this morning to say thank you so much for your feedback on last week's post on collaboration! I've got some great ideas in the works for December and January and I can't wait to work with you all! If you're interested in collaborating, please send me an email at emily{at}ohhellolove{dot}com.

If you wouldn't mind, I've come up with a super quick survey that I would loooooove for you all to complete. It's just eight questions about blog reading and what keeps you browsing when you find a new blog. I'll be using the results to create blog designs that will best serve the blogger. I appreciate you taking the time to help out with this survey! 

Finally, if this following bit of news doesn't make your Monday morning, I'm not sure anything will: Adrian is on Pinterest. And he's been trying bunches of recipes he's found on there. Tell me then, does this guy need his own blog or what? Love him.

Enjoy your Monday, friends!

Post-Comparison: Collaboration.

Hi all! I am currently on vacation and loving having the opportunity to do some long overdue work on the blog as well as catching up with all of you! While I love my job, it is wonderful to have breaks every now and then to remember that I am someone outside of work.

On Monday, I wrote about the blogger comparison plague. I wrote on wanting to move farther from comparison and towards collaboration. For awhile now, I have been thinking about swapping buttons and the whole idea of sponsorship. I started swapping ads a few months back and was pleasantly overwhelmed with the response. It has given me the opportunity to find some new blogs as well as to share some of my favorites with all of you. I accepted ad swaps as they came along and it quickly became overwhelming to keep up with each one since they each had different time frames.

All that being said, I will be letting the current ads run the remainder of their days. Beginning in December, I will have five ad swap spaces available. I am hoping to work closely with those bloggers, inviting whomever of them is interested to guest post as part of a series. That way I will be able to share with all of you some of my favorite bloggers as well as introducing some new perspectives to this blog. The goal will feature other bloggers are part of my normal content rather than just doing blogger introductions.

In addition to ad swaps, I am hoping to work with one blogger each month on a collaboration. This could mean working on a project together, an interview, a series, a topic we both blog about, or something completely different. I'm open to ideas and seeing where this all leads. My ultimate hope is to get to know all of you and to work together to create something new.

If you are interested in either an ad swap space or in a collaboration, please please e-mail me at emily{at}ohhellolove{dot}com.  I'm excited about the possibilities and I hope you all are as well!


{photo courtesy of the wonderfully talented Bethany of Rinse. Repeat. Quotation added by me}

This past week, my coworkers and I participated in a training focused on the gifts and talents we each offer to our workplace. At one point during the workshop, the facilitator discussed comparisons. She talked about how once we begin comparing ourselves to others, we lose. This stuck with me and a week later, I'm still mulling over this idea.

Through social media and blogging, we showcase our talents, our gifts. I hate to cook and am quite possibly the worst cook ever. Adrian says it's because I can't make decisions quickly enough. I say it's because we can't both be cooks. Regardless, unless Adrian guest posts, you will not see recipes for the best dinner ever on this here blog because it is just not where my talent lies. You will, however, find stories and photos and parties and blog designs because that is what I like to do and what I believe I have a gift in.

When I first considered offering blog designs to other bloggers, I passed through a serious bout of self-doubt. I thought "Who am I to offer designs when there are so many other designers more knowledgeable and more talented than me?" It wasn't until I did my sister's design and started receiving requests to do others that I finally began to see that people actually want my designs. And the more I've created, the more I've seen that I offer a truly unique approach. My designs are colorful, clean and classic. While I am able to adapt a bit to accommodate a particular want, people come to me because they see something in my style that they appreciate or connect with.

I think this is also why blogging has become so popular. I follow many, many blogs because each blog is so very unique. Each offers something that I just cannot find elsewhere. Because each person is an incredibly unique combination of talents, interests, passions, upbringing, culture and life circumstance.

When we try to compare ourselves to others or we try to emulate another blogger, we always lose. As an individual and as a community. Because when you offer the community a replica of someone else, we all lose out on the opportunity to know and appreciate you as you were meant to be.

And this is also why we must stop comparing ourselves to each other. There will always be someone who is more fashionable than me and someone who can paint things I've never imagined and someone who can photograph that perfect autumn walk in the woods better than me (I'm looking at you Bethany!). But if I dwell on their talents and fail to cultivate or share my own, we are all lesser for it.

I was so excited when Bethany agreed to allow me to use her photo as the basis for the quotation at the beginning of this post. I had been searching endlessly through my own photos and hadn't been able to come up with the perfect photo. On Friday I came across this photo in Bethany's instagram feed and e-mailed her right away. She said yes, quickly e-mailed me the photo and then boarded a plane and I started working on the quotation. 

I've been thinking about this for a while now and this experience and this post has confirmed that I want to move more towards collaboration. Rather than comparing myself and competing, I want to work together. You bring your talents and passions and I'll bring mine and together we can create something new that neither of us could have done as beautifully without the other.

On Wednesday, I'll share how I'll be moving forward from here. In the meantime, share with me your thoughts?

A Mainer with an Umbrella.

It's been rainy in Chicago lately. And I, for one, am loving it.

In my adult English classes, where the majority of students are from Mexico, we often explain the importance of letting their children go out in the winters and enjoy the snow. Students then stare at me for a moment in utter disbelief, until someone inevitably says, "But they'll get sick." I reassure them that generations and generations of children have played in snow and made it out alive. And I remind them that, with the proper attire, their children too will survive.

Which brings me back to the rain. For most of my life, I firmly believed that umbrellas were for wusses. I attribute this flawed thinking to my normally rational father, Paul. Paul loves him some nasty weather. He has been known to sport shorts year-round, simply pulling up his wool socks a bit higher when the temperatures nose dive. Also, please note, Paul lives in Maine. So shorts year-round is no easy feat. 

Ever the model, Paul shows off his best asset: his shapely calves.

In fact, Paul loves shorts so much that he actually had tuxedo shorts created for my sister's wedding. When it came time for his speech at the reception, he stripped off his pants, revealing his beloved shorts underneath. He then proceeded to switch from his dress shoes to his trusty old hiking boots. The man loves shorts and boots. 

So now, you see why I once equated umbrellas with wusses, right? As they say, a Mainer with an umbrella is hardly a Mainer at all. 

Well, in my time of living in Chicago and taking public transportation, I have come to realize two things:
1) Umbrellas keep you dry. And dry = happy.
2) Umbrellas are adorable. (See exhibit A, below)

Unfortunately for Paul, the "shorts no matter what" legacy ends with him. I now live by the adage, "There is no inappropriate weather, just inappropriate attire."

Though truth be told, if I had my father's calves, we might be having a very different conversation.

Enjoy the rain and have a most lovely weekend.

Blog Design: Life in a Southern Town

Hey all. I can't wait to share with you all this most recent of blog redesigns. I've been taking it easy lately with blog designing because my full-time job has been kind of wild. But when Jamie got in touch with me and tossed an idea and a color palette my way, I knew I just had to do this one. She and I are both so excited about how it turned out! She was absolutely wonderful to work with, giving me a few colors and ideas and then letting me go wherever my creative little heart desired.

This little design was so exciting for me because I am learning new things every day and it is so satisfying when the images on the screen finally match perfectly the images in my head. I am in love with the incorporation of the background (per Jamie's idea!) and the bright, clean design. 

If you've got a spare second today, jump on over to Jamie's blog and say hi. She is absolutely the sweetest!

And of course, for more information about my customly clean and colorful designs, be sure to check out my "Blog Design" page! And if you've been considering it for awhile, no time like the present. I'll be on vacation from my full-time job next week, which means I'm free to work with you! 

Happy Wednesday all!

Loving Lately: Happy Chic.

Friends, it's Monday and I don't even care because I am so excited for this post. All weekend long, I've been sharing this news with friends and Adrian and somehow they just aren't as excited as I am. So I knew I had to bring it to the blogging world so that you all could join me in my overly excited state.
Jonathan Adler is my absolute favoritest designer ever. I love his bold use of color and pattern and this general "Happy Chic" philosophy. I love his Midcentury Modern influences and the notion that "colors can't clash". If I had endless amounts of money, I would furnish my home in only Jonathan Adler creations. If you're not totally sold on Jonathan Adler by the picture above, read his manifesto. I love it.

This is where the exciting news comes in.

Jonathan Adler will be working with JCPenney on an affordable line to be sold in a shop in JCPenney stores, starting in Spring of 2013.

Did you see that? An affordable line.

I die.

So I've gone ahead and circled some of my favorite rugs from the current Jonathan Adler line in hopes that he'll catch this and reissue them for much, much cheaper. Realistic? Mayhaps not. But a girl can dream.

Also, there's a good chance this may turn into a case of "If You Give A Mouse A Cookie" where I acquire a new rug and then have to buy a new couch to match my new rug and then I buy a new lamp to match my new couch to match my new rug. And then I move into a new apartment. Not that I know this from experience...

So then, consider this my official request for JCPenney gift cards for Christmas. And New Year's. And Valentine's Day. And whatever other excuses you need to buy me gifts.

Thoughts, friends? Please tell me you're equally excited.

Driving in New England.

Today while my students were working on an assignment, I caught myself starring out the window at a tree. The leaves had all turned orange in the most perfect way and I imagined all the photos I would take when the day was over. Then, inevitably, I had to rush out of there to get to another program on time soooooo aforementioned dreamy photos never happened.

But the photo above? That one did happen. It happened this past weekend. As I mentioned last week, we went corn mazing with some friends for my pal Jenny's birthday. It was fall and it was crisp and it was wonderful. I even managed to get us to a checkpoint, sans map.

Though I am content with the dropping temperatures and the prevalence of pumpkin everything here in Chicago, I'd like to share my list of Reasons I Wish I Still Lived in Maine, Especially in the Fall:

1) Trees. As I said before, I spent a portion of my class starring out the window at a tree. Blogger truth: I was indeed intrigued by the color of leaves but I was also intrigued by it's very existence. I live in a city. This makes me miss Maine and it's over abundance of trees.

2) Long drives. Sigh. I love drives through Maine. Few drivers + fall foliage = I am determined to become a leaf peeper next time I'm in Maine in the fall. I pledge to become the very people I once despised.

3) Leaf piles raked by my parents for me to jump in! There are two problems with Chicago. One being that there aren't enough leaves for a solid enough pile to break my fall without breaking my legs/arms and two being that my parents aren't here to rake. And more blogger truth: I don't do manual labor. But I am not above paying someone to rake for me.

4) Fresh apple cider. I grew up down the street from two orchards. Two. Orchards. Two! My mom used to take us to watch our local orchardman making cider. Apparently Chicago is short on both orchards and ochardmen and cider is available at Target. #NotTheSame

So friends, what are your favorite parts of fall and where do you wish you were spending the season? And more importantly, who's making a donation to the "Send Emily to Maine at the End of October" fund?? Anyone? Bueller? Sigh.

A good night's sleep.

Friends, last week was a tough one. I think I cried more last week than I have in the past six months. I worked a fifteen hour day and then a twelve hour day. While I held it together at work, home was another story. Financial woes and a small tragedy that struck a friend left me shaken. I let my fears and doubts overrun me and by the end of the week, I was a little shell of myself.

Thankfully, a good night's sleep can cure most anything and Saturday morning greeted me with renewed resolve.

While I would like to distance myself as much as possible from the happenings of last week, I do hold a bit of gratitude. At my work, we often talk to students about the importance of resiliency. Of the ability to face life's battles and to continue moving forward, no matter what. To never give up. As I face some of my own battles, I am constantly reminded of how little resiliency I previously possessed. These tough moments are shaping me into the kind of girl I always hoped I'd be. A girl who, while knowing life's darker side, still believes in the goodness of each person and of the world as a whole. Cynicism is an easy escape and one I'm often tempted into, but I hope that when the end of my life does inevitably come that I will be remembered as one who kept on and believed, despite it all.

And so I'm putting on my brave face. And I'm choosing to believe that if I work hard enough and love more and continue moving forward that eventually, eventually something good will come my way. In the meantime, I am building my patience, my resilience, my perseverance. All traits which I have always admired but rarely possessed.  

And if for some reason that good fortune doesn't ever find me, at least I can rest in the knowledge that I never let darkness overcome me and that I became exactly who I wanted to be.

Thursday is almost as good as Friday.

Hey all! It's Thursday which is almost as good as Friday, so yay! We made it! There were points in this week that I thought it'd never end. But it is. And this weekend? Oh, this weekend is going to be good! We're heading out with friends to go apple picking and corn mazing. Then Sunday, Adrian's got the day off. I cannot wait. And of course, I'll have apple picking pictures for you next week!

I just wanted to take a quick minute to say hello and welcome to anyone hopping over here from the wonderful beauty & the feast. I'm so glad to have you come by.

I found this little gem from back in the day, but it's a fairly accurate representation of me in that it displays me and the love of my life: Dunkin'. I'm a New England girl. Up in the Northeast, Dunkin flows like water.

So while you're here, check out this post and get to know that other love of my life, Adrian. He's my husband and that's the story of how we met.

These posts are from my Summer Entertaining Series. They're filled with lots of tips and recipes for easy entertaining.

And then there's these more recent posts about love and understanding: part one and part two. They sparked some great discussion so be sure to check out the comments section.

Lastly, I do a bit of blog designing. Mostly colorful, clean and classic designs. So check out my little portfolio to see what I've been up to lately!

Have a lovely Thursday, friends! And please, leave your blog address in the comments so I can come check you out? Thanks!


I really want to blog. All the time, really. But life has been a bit wild lately. I worked 15 hours straight on Monday. Then I came home, had nightmares about the project I was working on and then woke up and went back to work. As you can see, this leaves little time for blogging. Or writing. Or snapping photos. Or writing comments and e-mails. Or connecting with you all. 

But it is October. So there's that. The month of picking apples and Halloween and hot cider and crunching leaves and wearing boots. 

Happy October, loves. Know that I will be back soon.

When love isn't popular, continued.

I can't thank you all enough for the thoughts you have shared about my post on Wednesday and for all of you who have shared that post with others so that they, too, might join the conversation. I thank you for sharing your own thoughts and for having the courage to participate and advocate for a discussion rife with differences, difficulty and pain. Today, I wanted to highlight a bit of the conversation that occurred in the comments section and hopefully continue this discussion as well as encourage you to head over to my sister's blog (Empirically Erin) and read her thoughts on poverty and race specifically in the blogging world.

You may not know, but lurking here in the comments section from time to time is my own father. He writes under the moniker "P-Dids". He's witty and loves the power of the shock factor. I've deleted a comment from him in the past, the only comment I've ever deleted, because I knew those of you who don't know him well wouldn't understand the very disguised humor in his message.

This week, however, he posted a very serious and very powerful response to what I had written that, at the surface, seems in direct contrast to what I had written. He challenges the notion of treating people with grace and allowing them to continue to use government aid year after year.

In response to someone else's comment that the original blogger was not referring to the working poor but rather those who are chronically jobless, I posted the following:

Even if we are referring to someone who is perpetually jobless and drinks the entire day away every single day, would that make it okay to judge them without knowing what brought them to that point? Say for instance, that person had been sexually abused day after day throughout their childhood and drinking was the way they coped with the reality and aftermath of that abuse, would we be justified in condemning them? Or would we, upon knowing the truth of the life they had had the misfortune to have lived, be grateful for our own lot in life and be willing to lend an ear to help shoulder some of that pain? 

How we see a person on any particular day, or even across the span of a few years, does not encompass all of who they are or who they will forever be. 

Love always hopes.

I called my dad and told him to read my post because I knew he'd love the use of the word "proverbial". It's a Paul word. I never expected he'd then participate in the discussion. But he did and he wrote:

I applaud all of your idealism and desire to live the words we all say we live by, but that so many of us don't.

To be sure I have seen the hard working poor you're talking about. The Great State of Maine in which I live has many hard working poor. It also has a large number of folks who know nothing of hard work but rather dependence on the State for their existence. There are now generations of people who live this way.

Here's my take on this.

Here in Maine we have always had a manufacturing economy. First it was the woolen mills, then the shoe shops, the paper mills and wood products. The hours were long and very hard and the owners paid wages sufficient to keep the employees alive but not so alive so they could move on up to the East Side. The only exception was the paper mills where the workers organized and they made a decent wage but the need for paper, and cheap imports have killed this industry.

That said, there never was and still isn't, a sense that education is worthwhile. "Working in the mill was good enough for the old man, it's good enough for me."

The woolen mills are gone. The shoe shops are gone. The wood product plants are mostly gone as are the paper mills. Where does that leave us? With folks with little education and no jobs.

But here's the rub. Human nature (for the most part) like electricity, seeks the path of least resistance. Think about your own life. How often do you try taking a short cut when you know full well that you really need to expend the effort to do it right?

Perhaps this sound silly to you but if you have no education, and no propect for work, and the State is giving away money, what would you do? After you get on the dole, what incentive is there to get off?

Here's another thought for you. Well tempered greed can be good. The desire to get ahead, to become more than you are, to aspire, is also human nature.

I want to play with my ham radio toys so I bust my butt working hard to make the money to buy the toys. I provide a good service to my clients who pay me well for my efforts. To do this I have had to become smarter than I was (let that one go Em), and I have had to take risks.

It is also true that I have known economic hardship. These last few years have been hard with little work but because I took a calculated business risk, I ensured our economic future and I'm still standing.

Can everyone do all that's necessary to get ahead? Probably not. We're all different and we're all damaged. What seems easy to me, may be impossible for others. But to give up, to make others support you for your existence is infuriating. 

And what makes folks like me all the more upset are the folks who have come from nothing and made it. They valued an education and had a desire to be more. The best part of all, they let nothing stand in their way.

So here's where I get so confused. We are our brothers' keepers (I'm not known for being PC but I allow for our sisters too). So where do we stop being their keeper and start making them our financially dependent drones?

When does a hand up turn into a hand out? Merely providing financial support does nothing toward improving the quality of their lives. Maybe it's just me, but the feeling of success from doing a job well is invigorating. We all need to feel like we have some worth. Living for the monthly welfare check doesn't help folks have that feeling.

The answer? I don't know. But I think it has to be that parents see to it that their children have the desire to learn. With an education you have multiple paths open to you and whatever path interests you, head in that direction. With no education, where can you go? The parents have to be convinced that their path won't work for their kids. That is tough. So Em, I salute you for being a part of the solution. I know it's tough but you keep plugging. And keep living the Word. Ha, look at that! I turned this religious!

I am so glad my dad decided to write because while it seems contradictory to my own opinion, it actually is the next step.

I spoke of not passing judgment on others and treating them with grace. Of not making assumptions and of not believing yourself to be of such high moral character that you would not make the same choices in the same circumstances.

But I am not advocating for mediocrity.

I teach adult ESL classes in the mornings and work on grants in the afternoons that cover the costs of said ESL classes so that we might continue to offer them to the community for free. Just yesterday, as I was editing a grant my boss had written, I came across this in her words: This program brings evidence-based methodology and strategies to individuals who need and deserve excellent educational services so they can move toward a better life for themselves and their families, and so we can all benefit from the gifts they have to bring to our society.

Compassion, understanding and grace is the first step. Next would be the students recognizing their vast potential, which we all innately have, fostering that potential and offering them a path toward something better: a sense of personal satisfaction, pride and hope.

In the program I work for, we not only work with students to recognize the transformative power of their own education, we push them towards recognizing that same power for their children. We discuss the importance of involvement in their children's education and how to advocate for their children if they need special services and how to help with homework if the parents themselves don't understand it and how to teach their children study skills and the importance of diligence and hard work. We've accompanied parents to parent-teacher conferences and meetings at schools. To doctor's appointments and introduced them to mental health specialists.

If I'm not part of the solution, I'm part of the problem. But it is not difficult to want to be part of that solution because it involves recognizing that everyone was created to be somebody and that society is lesser every single time potential goes unrecognized and unfulfilled. That you and I are lesser without the contributions of others.

Once you've found your own life's work, it's much easier to encourage it in others. Education is my life's work.

Lastly, in my father's own words: My reply above hit the character limit and I had to edit it to get it to go. I am the king of verbosity.

The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

If you are looking to read more on this topic, I again encourage you to read my sister's blog and her thoughts on this in the context of the blogging community. I would also encourage you to head over to Traffic Jelly and read about how her experiences teaching in a school where education is ofter undervalued. She wrote a beautiful post the other day (before all this controversy began) about how her teaching has been a healing experience for herself as well.

Thank you so, so much for taking the time to read this. I would love for you to leave your thoughts below and to share this with others that they, too, might participate in a constructive discussion on poverty, race and education. 

When love isn't popular.

Yesterday I read a blog post that I have not stopped thinking about. I won't link to it here because the part that I have been thinking about has since been deleted by the author. But it was a political post in which the author affirmed her commitment to a presidential candidate and did so in a joking manner. After that, she then made just a few quick comments along the lines of being tired of driving through the South Side of Chicago and seeing people brown bagging and smoking and that she didn't want to have to pay for them anymore. Lots of people responded, some in favor of what she had written, some (myself included) not quite so in favor. The words that were written and the consequent reaction have been in my mind ever since.

My response to this post was of the tone that I live on the South Side of Chicago in one of the poorest, roughest neighborhoods and have known many people that put my work ethic to shame. People working 60 or more hours a week, with only one day off, on their feet in 120 degree temperatures. And I made the offer that, since we both live in the same city, that if she did not know such people that she was welcome to come visit and I would introduce her to a few. I also cautioned against making broad generalizations on the internet.

Others also voiced their opinions about poverty and injustices. And those voices have since been drowned out in the overwhelming support of the author and the tendency of some people to "leave their negativity out there," to generally just go crazy anytime politics is mentioned and to not be able to take a joke.

In blogland, there's this idea that one must always be positive. That everything must be light and funny. When people began responding to this particular blogpost and respectfully disagreed, the blogland community came out in droves, condemning the negativity of those who disagreed.

I have since responded to my original comment with the following:
"The part of the post I was commenting to has been deleted (which I appreciate!). For me, it's not really about the politics. I don't really care much about democrat/republican/whatever. For me, it's about treating people with grace and recognizing that if we have found ourselves among the financially stable, we are lucky. It just as easily could be any one of us out there hoping for government aid, if the circumstances were slightly different. That's all I was trying to say. To treat people with grace because you just don't know what led them to that point in their life and you can never be sure that given the same upbringing and circumstances that you would have done differently."

I believe the ideas I spoke of are the very opposite of negativity. I advocated for grace, understanding, gratitude. That before we make judgments, we take a moment and really get to know people and try to understand.

There is this notion in the U.S. that people who are poor are poor because of their own choices or lack of ambition. Those of us who have money often think that if we ever found ourselves in a similar situation, that we would pull ourselves up by the proverbial bootstraps. We don't consider the traumas that may have occurred, the abuses committed by the very system we attack the poor for abusing,  or the power of someone routinely saying by words or by inequalities in education or by lack of access to proper education, "No. You will never be anything."

We love to think that given the same circumstances, somehow our character would shine where others haven't.

That prejudice, that condemnation. That thinking of "that would never be me. I would do x, y and z if that were me." That is negativity. Negativity does not reside in advocating for the poor, for grace nor for understanding.

This, for me, was never about politics. It's not about who you vote for and who I vote for. It's about treating people with dignity and with grace. It's about understanding that, statistically speaking, given the very same set of circumstances in life, the strong majority of us would make those very same decisions that we judge and condemn.

And it's about being thankful. Grateful that I've never been in a position where I've had to make those choices. Grateful for my exceptional education and for the opportunities afforded me by my life circumstances. And incredibly indebted to my parents for instilling in me that I am no better than anyone else.

When I considered writing this post, I wondered what the inevitable fallout would be for going against the grain and whether it was worth writing. The conclusion I came to is this: My blog is and will always be about love. And sometimes love isn't popular.

Love "rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres." (Corinthians 13:6,7).

Happy Wednesday, friends.

Around Town: Hala Kahiki, y'all.

I've come to realize in recent years that I love most any place that makes me feel like I am in a completely different time or place the moment I walk in. This is why I love retro/vintage places and why I love my parties overly decorated. I am fascinated with transformations, with that feeling of out of the ordinary.

So this past weekend, some friends and I visited a little bar called Hala Kahiki. I warned my friends, this place had the potential to be absolutely amazing or absolutely awful. I was certain there could be no middle ground. And I was completely right.

Within ten minutes, my friend Emily had declared that Hala Kahiki would be the place for her 31st birthday party, come December.

When I researched this place, I found that someone had aptly described it as looking like the place where the Brady Bunch went on vacation in Hawaii. I also saw it listed as number 7 on the Top Ten Tiki Bars in America List so there's that too.

And let me tell you friends, this place did not disappoint. Aside from the slightly musty smell upon entrance (but really could it be a 1960s Tiki Bar without that??), Hala Kahiki is the place for fruity drinks. Among the five of us and our numerous drinks, there was not a bad drink to be had.

Overwhelmed by the pages upon pages of drinks, I decided to start with the waitress-recommended Zombie. Thought tasty, I was looking for something a bit more fruity and sweet.

After the Zombie, I stumbled upon the martini list and made the discovery of a lifetime: Key Lime Martinis. Honestly, a gift from the tiki gods. That's crumbled graham cracker you see up there. That drink in and of itself will bring me back. I can feel it in my bones.

As for the actual place, Hala Kahiki does not lack in the decor department. It's covered from floor to ceiling in tiki goodness. Cheesy, for sure, but isn't that to be expected? And the crowd? Quite eclectic, ranging from just-turned-21s straight through to grandmas.

So if you happen to be in Chicago and you're looking for some laughs and some strong, fruity drinks, well then, Hala Kahiki, my friends.

And if you're not in Chicago, what's your Hala Kahiki?

The tests we pass.

It's been kind of crazy round these parts lately. Hence forgetting that it was Wednesday and that a blog post was in order. Luckily, I've had something I've been wanting to share.

Jen and I went for collective solitude the other day. It's where you go together to a coffee shop or wherever you like to get work done and you get your work done separately, but because you're together, there's someone to bounce ideas off or to encourage you or to make you laugh. But since we hadn't seen each other for a while, there was a bit more collective and a little less solitude. Not that I mind, of course.

We got to talking and I told her about this little incident from a few weeks back. I had an appointment the next day and at about oh midnight I realized I didn't know what time that appointment was. I spent around an hour frantically searching for this little paper that had the time written on it.

I realized later that I had become so fixated on that little paper because it became about so much more than finding out what time my appointment was. It started to be about proving to myself that I am not disorganized.  So I searched and searched, hoping I had put it in some clever "safe place". And only when I found it would I have been saved from my own disorganized label.

Maybe it's only me that thinks this way, but I kind of doubt it. Probably a lot of other women feel like this, too. Like every day and every little tiny task is a test of who we are. Am I organized or disorganized? Do I have it together or am I falling apart? And when we do something that could be characterized as a negative, we start to believe that that is exactly who we are, regardless of all of the positive things we have done. It doesn't matter that I have been incredibly organized this year at my work. In that moment, the only indication of who I truly am is that I have lost that appointment slip, making me completely disorganized.

Because the tests we pass never carry nearly as much weight as the ones we fail.

Jen told me that someone had told her once that we tend to think of ourselves in character traits rather than states, when it really ought to be the other way around. So in my disorganized moment, rather than telling myself, "I am disorganized right now," I was thinking, "I am such a disorganized person."

Learning to see myself as dynamic and always changing and hopefully growing would allow me to let go of those smaller failures. Of the times that I was disorganized or when my apartment was messy or when I forgot that it was Wednesday and should have had a post done. And to recognize that not every moment is a test of who I am and who I will forever be.

I have to start thinking in spectrums. Yes, I may be on the more disorganized end of the spectrum but I am growing and changing. In the past few years, I have made huge leaps and found strategies that really work for me. And losing one piece of paper does not negate those years of positive strides.

And I have to start treating myself in the same way I would treat a friend: with a bit of grace.

(And I never did find that piece of paper. I went to bed completely defeated and feeling like a disorganized failure. The next day, I woke up and called the office to find out when my appointment was. And nobody cared that I called to find out.)

Tell me, friends. Is this something you think about? Are you always trying to prove to yourself that you're not _________?
Blogging tips