a little romance.

A sneaky someone sent flowers to my office yesterday...I can't receive flowers without blushing endlessly.

Of these three truths, I am aware:

1. Finding love through a reality TV show is as likely as...well, it just doesn't happen.

2. Every second of reality TV is over-produced, over-styled and completely removed from reality, killing a minimum of 70 brain cells and 2 precious hours per episode.

3. The bed-hopping, multiple-partners situation is all a tad sleazy for this 24 year old, abstinence-believin', virgin. (Call me old fashioned.)

...but I cannot help it. I'm waiting with baited breath, hopelessly wondering: Who will receive the final rose?!? Choosing between dark, hunky Roberto and sweet, lovable Chris is bound to create a nail-biting, watch-worthy episode of The Bachelorette this Monday night. If were me, it's Chris all the way. Tall, goofy, family-oriented and intelligent...has there ever been a bachelor more weddable? So sweetly genuine and sensitive...I'd be lying if I said I didn't have a little celeb crush on that boy.

Put a ring on that, Ali!

Do you watch? If so, who's your man?


vino in the valley.

As a silly romantic girl, I sit places and think, "I would like to get engaged here." Vino in the Valley is one of those places. (Of course, not now. Now that I've said it aloud, it is ruined. Keep shopping, future-fiance.) About a one hour drive from Eau Claire, the same from Minneapolis, it's a spot that is definitely worth the drive if you're looking for an evening out. And I do literally mean "out": Vino is an entirely outdoor experience. Dinner is served in a pavilion with billowy white tie-back curtains, looking out on the small vineyard from which local crooners serenade relaxed diners. Early this summer, a random smattering of girlfriends got together at this picturesque eatery-indulging in wine, pasta, bread and fudgey desserts.

It's been weeks since I took these photos, and I swear I think about this fudge pop at least once a day. The inside is a moist, heavy chocolate cake, the outside a crusty fudge topped with fresh whipped cream, a strawberry and a refreshing mint leaf. Drool.

After dinner, the five of us took a stroll past the vineyard and through a field to the bubbling creek, where we refilled our wine glasses and toasted to our wonderful evening together.

There was a gorgeous amount of fog hanging in the air that night, floating just inches above the field of scattered weeds and wildflowers. Unfortunately, the vines had not yet taken off in the vineyard, but it the scene was still very photo-worthy.

All of my trips to Vino are running together in my mind (there have been four in the past year...), but I believe we took advantage of the outdoor games at Vino, playing a round of ladder ball and relaxing while listening to the smooth vocal stylings of the live musician.

My favorite part of the entire experience is this: Several times during the night, the owner of Vino cues up the classic tune "That's Amore", beckoning diners to sing along with their tablemates, clinking and drinking each time they belt "that's amore!" At this point in the night, I typically have at least one glass of wine in me...which is enough to make me giggle endlessly while attempting to keep up with the "amore".

The girls and I discussed how we'd really love to be taken here by a boy, on an uber romantic date...without having to tell him by dropping obnoxiously obvious hints. So, boys, I'm doing you a solid, here. (And I know there are a few of you reading this. Past comments and conversations have proven this.) Woo your love interest with a little trip to Vino in the Valley. Sure, it's a longer drive than your local Olive Garden, but it will be beyond magical...and she will love it. I guarantee it. :)



When summer arrived in my childhood, some of my friends took plane trips to Europe or Disneyland. But my parents, sister and I loaded up in the van and set out for road trips to visit our geographically diverse relatives. My summer memories are speckled with trips to Michigan, Washington, South Dakota, stopping to visit places like...Wall Drug. The Corn Palace. Dutch Village. It was on one of these trips, a sweltering afternoon likely somewhere devastatingly dull between Wisconsin and South Dakota, that we found ourselves on an interstate in slowing traffic. At first traffic inched forward, giving travelers the hope of only a few minutes delay. But then, traffic stopped. A dead halt. The heat got hotter. Sticky minutes passed. Glances into surrounding car windows revealed travelers equally as irritated as I, every one of us anxious to get to our final destination.

Suddenly, one lane over a car door flung open and out clamored a handful of twenty-somethings, at first appearing to stretch and dig for something in the trunk. But then...all three of them twisted open colorful containers and began blowing bubbles in the stand-still traffic. Dancing, waving, sending clouds of bubbles towards fellow traffic-sitters, who in turn leaned out of car windows to catch or pop the slippery orbs. One bubble-blower tossed a container of bubbles to a woman a few cars back so she could join in the fun. We were struck by the unexpected sight...giggling as we watched an agonizingly packed interstate turn from frustrated to charmed, and then finding ourselves disappointed when traffic began to creep ahead, and the bubble-blowers were forced to hop back in their car.

Never, since that moment, have I seen such an open embrace of the present.

I'm terrible at embracing the present-infact, not often does my mind live in the present. Many days pass in which I've lived only in wispy, nostalgic moments of the past or sparkly, dreamy hopes for the future. Ample chunks of my time are spent nervously drumming my fingers on the proverbial steering wheel because life has temporarily locked me into the present. My destination-focused mentality causes me to forget that I am, currently, unbelievably unattached and blessed with freedom and time. Time that I should use to experience life in unique ways that I couldn't, had I already arrived at my college-degree-holding, handsome-stud-marrying, gorgeous-house owning, adorable-baby-carrying destination.

Life isn't a direct flight to a chosen destination. Not a rush to check bags, wait agonizingly at the gate and then zone out watching an in-flight movie. It's a road trip-perfect for unexpected stops at quirky destinations, long, meaningful conversations with those sharing your wheels. It's funky diners and questionable motels you'll talk about for years. We need to play more travel bingo, eyes peeled for something special and unexpected. Blow bubbles in traffic jams, make connections with strangers that surround us. Embrace the present. Within seconds embracing the present can create a memory which will become part of your nostalgic past and could change your future destination for the better.



Being of the curvier variety, strapless tops are usually on my "don't" list--label me loony but nothing frightens me more than the possibility of spilling out of my top. Oh, lord! But this little Anthro cutie is fitted to perfection-allowing even the semi-endowed among us to finally experience the sweetness of the sweetheart neckline. I threw on a cropped black cardi to keep things office appropriate, but whipped that baby off as soon as it was quitting time. Today's strapless pull-up count? Zero.

Where I once gawked at Anthro's pricetags, I'm slowly becoming a believer in picking up nostalgic investment items from the cramped markdown rack. Items that make me feel a smidge flirtier, flouncier and oodles classier. There is simply something to be said for the quality and sweet ingenuity of the designs.

And the fitting rooms? Hellllooo, flattering lighting...Am I the only one who feels like a trillion bucks post-Antho-fitting-room?

P.S. Thanks so much for all your sweet wishes on my upcoming Irish adventure! I'll be certain to load this place up with photos upon my return. :)


a trip overseas.

A peek inside my apartment would reveal that I long to visit Ireland. A dogeared, marked up copy of "Ireland for Dummies" sits on my dusty bookshelf. The hues of green rolling countrysides, grey-blue seascapes and colorful cottages are reflected in pillows, couches and cozy throws. As a dreamer, I've spent a considerable time imagining how a gal like me might make her way to Ireland or with whom she might do so--certainly not a rigid group tour that allowed for no personal exploration. The times I've written that story in my mind, it was me in a rural cottage, spending hours reading and relaxing. Maybe even writing a book that only my mother would buy.

But the storyline got complicated after a few chapters: What if I got scared at night? Could I learn to drive on the left side-even if only for a week or two? Would the entire experience leave me feeling like a lonely spinster? There were other options: Perhaps a trip with a girlfriend. If not that, then a someday-honeymoon. But, both options seemed flawed. My girlfriends' hubbies weren't likely to warm to the idea of their wives vacationing without them. And at twenty-four, being the furthest from marriage I've been in my life, I am not sure a Prince Charming even exists. Why should a girl wait around for an extinct, or at best--seriously endangered, species to wed her and sweep her off to the place of her dreams? What year is this...1920?

But how I actually would get to Ireland, and with whom...that I could not have forseen. Only the unpredictable insanity provided by reality could write that story.

This winter, my best friend attempted to set me up with a good friend of hers, who I'd not yet met. He is currently, and somewhat indefinitely, overseas in Iraq. During this time I was seeing someone, school owned my existence, Iraq owned his, but we laughed, exchanged contact information and became friendly, long-distance pen pals. He wrote me during the daytime, stuck at long shifts during stifling, dusty Iraqi days...and I wrote to him late at night, in between my homework of paintings and papers. In time, he moved to a new base, spring arrived, my school year came to a close...and then he asked me a funny question:

"What would you say if I said we should go to Ireland together?"

At first, I responded with a quick and flippant yes--the kind of silly answer you give when someone asks you if you would like a million dollars. But then, realizing we both had an ample amount of vacation time with no exciting plans...the wheels began to turn. It would make an incredible story. We're young. We're risk-takers. We seem to get along well enough to spend a few days together in the name of adventure...

And so we did it. I applied for a passport, we both requested two weeks off. He began scheduling a mind-boggling number of flights to get one Wisconsin girl and one Iraqi boy to Boston, both to Ireland and back again. Hotel rooms were booked, a rental car reserved. My passport arrived...navy and gold embossed, smelling like crisp paper and a crazy sense of adventure.

My imagination could not have written this one: I am vacationing in a foreign country with a man I've never met. We leave in thirty-four days. :)

I love being single.


my battle.

(Last week, I ate a two-week old cupcake with no hesitation. This one I saved to photograph.)

I have never had a normal relationship with food. Or my body.

When I was six, a spindly evil boy in my class called me chubby. I'd never thought I was chubby...and I certainly wasn’t chubby, weighing maybe 50 pounds with a roll of nickels in each pocket. However, that afternoon I quietly walked home from the bus stop, sadly swearing to myself that I would only eat saltine crackers—10 a day so that I would no longer be chubby. That lasted approximately half an evening. That is, until my mother made tator tots for dinner. I think that was my first experience with emotional eating...with a side of ketchup. It was warm, it was welcoming. It didn’t judge me. And it was salty. Oh, it was deliciously salty.

Six year old me should have known not to take seriously those words from the boy who was known as the class boobie-pincher…but hindsight is 20/20. And from there I remember being strangely aware of my size for a young squirt-squeezing my tummy, keeping my towel pulled tight around my pale body before swimming lessons...waiting until the last second, until the instructor gave me irritated eyes, before shyly dropping my towel and plunging into the cool water which made me feel weightless and unseen. Being weightless felt great, being unseen felt better. Mornings, before school began at my churchy elementary school, the classes would gather for devotion...sitting on freezing metal folding chairs, with our song books placed in our laps. I'd scrutinize my lap, measuring how far beyond the song book my hips and thighs extended...then glance down the row to note if my friends were thinner.

Age didn't heal the situation, and if possible made my quiet battle more difficult. High school welcomed me with very thin, athletic girls, not at all like the hippy body I'd inherited...and two cruel, naturally thin girls who I remember once laughingly mocked a curvy, but healthy, pal of mine while her back was turned. As close friends of mine struggled with anorexia, I found comfort in food. It held a magic over me, the way it could temporarily distract me from dissatisfaction with my own body, fill me...and leave me with a feeling of nothingness.

Now a fully grown adult, I often sit and tiredly wondered how long I will have to continue to fight this battle with food and weight: the incessant self-criticizing, the overwhelming compulsion to eat two-week old cupcakes or four bowls of oatmeal. And worst of all, the bleary-eyed, mascara-streaked regrets which follow my splurges-even the smallest of them.

Maybe we all fight it, some more effectively than others, I thought to myself last night. And yet, in my emotionally exhausted state, a feeling of peace overcame me. An understanding that there is so much more for me than counting calories, emotional eating, and a girl who sees her worth only inhow low she can get the number on the scale. More than an unhealthy obsession with whittling herself down, with making herself less. So often I focus on the rhythm of my own thoughts...hence my own dissatisfaction with self. Life loses it's beat when I'm not focused on keeping time with the One who somehow, in someway, sees me as beautiful...sees me as His chosen everything (1 Peter 2:9). When I get a few beats behind, instead of stopping to listen for His rhythm...validation from Him, I find myself reaching for things that I think will fill me, validate me, will bring me happiness.

This I've learned: Cupcakes taste fantastic for a minute, but they will never tell you that you are loved. Self-criticism can sometimes lead to self-betterment, but it does not improve your worth. And tator tots after age 10? To be frank, they don't really taste that great. Food can fill me, but cannot fulfill me.

But the fulfillment found when He graciously slows His beat and allows me to catch up reminds me that someone greater than me loves and finds me worthy. It pushes me forward, into the hope of knowing that there is more than this silly, self-obsessed girl could have hoped for on her own.


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