the heat-free challenge.

What's the first thing you do in the morning? Check your cell? Log into your e-mail? A bowl of Cap'n Crunch? Snooze the alarm, and sleep some more? Whatever your answer is...that, I believe, is your number one addiction. So, while some women stumble to the coffee maker to feed their addiction...I beeline for the straightener, fumbling for the "on" button, and double checking the "Turbo Heat" setting. Then I shower, mix my oatmeal, click through blog updates...a morning tradition set solely to ensure that my styling tools are fiery enough to brand a cow before attempting to tame my mane. Next, I cook my hair until it's well-done. Some might say charbroiled. Infact, I'm so determined to straighten out every natural curl, that I often burn my tresses due to prolonged heat exposure.

Healthy, eh?

A few weeks after mending my rifted relationship with hair salons, I decided it was time to kick my addiction to heated tools. My previously-disastrous hair already felt remarkably better thanks to a talented stylist, but I wanted to see how long I could go without blow dryers, straighteners or curling irons. It's been ten years since they became a part of my daily life...I couldn't remember the last day I'd gone heat-free. Years have passed, every morning marked with that half hour spent cursing, coaxing my curls into submission. Could I go for a few days without? Could I live my life as a curly girl?

Day one dawned, and I'm not gonna sugar coat it: It was tough. I felt undone...my curly locks seemed unmanageable in comparison to my usually straight-styled 'do. I opted to shampoo and condition every other day, allowing my dry hair time to breathe in between. So, by my wash on day three, my curls were unbelievable, in a really beautiful way...shiny, well-defined, voluminous. Infact, so voluminous that I couldn't wear them down due to their new ability to defy gravity, so I pulled them up into a high pony, with pinned back bangs. (See above.) Not only did I feel rather cute, I also realized I'd created an extra half-hour in my morning schedule. Days four through seven consisted of day three's hairstyle, with increasingly shiny, healthy looking locks. And...here's the best part: my skin looked better, too. What? YES. I've credited the extra 30 minutes of sleep I was snagging every night with improving my dark circles and frequently dry skin. Amazing what a few extra z's can do for a girl.

By day eight, my hair was looking luminous (yes, I jacked that word that off a shampoo commercial), my skin more radiant than ever, and I was one well-rested girl. But, I'd become incredibly bored with my one-note look. Gabe laughed when I whined that just a week into my challenge...I was fit to be tied. I think he predicted it. The man has, only a few months into our relationship, figured out that I tire of new things quite easily. But, bless his heart, he somehow finds it endearing. In all truth, I didn't have many more curly-girl options. With my curls back to their years-ago spring and bounce, they looked gorgeous, but could only be worn up.

So, my straightener itch won out on the evening of day eight. But, eight days...cold turkey? Not bad for an addict. Strangely enough, I received so many compliments on my undone hair. From people I work with, to random girls on campus, a lovely stranger in the store...I was astonished that my complete lack of effort was awarded so many well-dones from my fellow females.

And for once, I could really say, "Oh, this old thing? Just tossed it up today." :)


backyard party.

Pie has long been my mother's dessert of choice. The woman is ga-ga for it, and everyone knows it. Frankly, I don't understand pie-lovers...in my book, pie ain't got nothin' on a sweet piece of frosted cake. But, what mama wants, mama gets. So, we decided to throw her a surprise 50th Birthday Pie Social.

Two of my mom's dear friends invited her out for a birthday lunch...leaving my sis, dad and I just over an hour and a half to transform the mangy fallen-leaf covered backyard into a fabulous party-scape. We all fell into our usual roles: Dad, resident muscles and yard trimmer. My sis, food coordinator. Me, fusser of little details no one else cares about...like decor. We usually make a good team that way, except somewhere along the way, my sister and I always get into some type of verbal brawl about where ice cream should be placed, or how the napkins should be arranged. She's the school-marm of practicality, and I the ridiculous goddess of frivolity. The battle of wits is quite epic.

We bought three different types of pies (apple, pumpkin cheesecake and heath) and just kept the pie flowing. Maybe buying them is cheaping out, but I'm playing my "college student" card as I had neither time nor money to buy all the ingredients needed and spend a day cranking them out. My grandmother, who owns some of the sweetest vintage servingware, just happened to have 50 milk glass snack sets--mini-plates with a beverage holder. They were complete perfection, leaving us able to skip the table rentals, since our guests were able to balance both drink and dessert flawlessly.

My best investments of the last few years: 20 yards of polka-dot lace/aqua cotton and a glass beverage server. I cannot count how many backdrops, craft projects and tablecloths I've gotten out of the fabric, and how much I love the way a glass beverage server dresses up a casual backyard party. My decor budget on this party was $20...$7 went to balloons, $4 to pumpkins and $2 to paper to create pie signs and a cheery pennant garland...meaning I finished $7 under budget, and then bought a chai latte to celebrate my rockin' budgeting. The flowers were brought by a friend, and the hay bails were already sitting at my parent's house. Hooray for repurposing!

About 30 of our family and close friends piled into my parent's backyard, lingering around until the last few minutes of the party. The day could not have been more perfect...nearly 80 degrees in October, which is incredible in the Midwest. We lounged about in Adirondack chairs, soaking in the sun and chatting about recent trips and vintage plates. My sweet aunt and her family weren't able to make it to our Wisconsin backyard from Florida, but called to say they were sitting around the table, eating pie to help celebrate, even from miles away. How sweet.

"You forget how many people really care about you, until you see so many of them in one place," my mom said, once all the guests had left. And isn't that true? I've always kept my circle of friends small, because I'm not great at being a social butterfly. There are days in life during which I feel small, overwhelmed and alone. But, I so often forget how many people have been there over the years. People I might not see on a daily basis, but who never forget to cheer me on from the sidelines, wrap me with a giant embrace when we cross paths and have happily been a part of my life's biggest moments.

People who might show up to my 50th b-day party...in 26 years. But note to future party-throwers...I want cake. Lots of it. :)


here's the skinny.

One of the best things about attending an art program is that you'll never be the worst-dressed person there. For example, a girl in my History of Furnishings class has, four times in a row, worn an up-to-"there" jean skirt with Uggs. There will always be a handful of girls who took "personal style" a step too far, so what feels like a fashion risk to me is hardly a "blip" on the college fashion scene. But, one of the worst things about art school is that it's easy to feel like you lack all style completely, like you're just....grey in a world of brilliant hues.

Spending 20 hours a week with blossoming designers and artists who routinely don fierce combos, has left me feeling less than loving about my wardrobe. So, mission numero uno was to conquer skinny jeans. Over the years, I've thrown some jagged comments at skinny jeans, and clung desperately to my various Gap bootcuts. Were it up to me, bootcut would be all I'd ever wear. But it seems the way of tops is going towards flowing, floating and amorphous shapes. I could complain about this for weeks, but it is what it is. I'm the last girl in school to make the switch, and it's now or never. Slouchy tops don't play nicely with roomy bottoms, and it's time for me to move on.

Off to the mall I went. After the first two pairs, it was abundantly clear that if this bod were a fruit, it would be a pear. I have one weighty bottom half. I'm sure in five years, I'll be splayed out in some delivery room thanking heaven for these child-bearin' hips, but my utterances in the fitting room were anything but thankful. Two major problems:

Problem #1: What was going on in the crotch area was INSANE. More puckers than a room full of grandmothers.  

Problem #2: Tragic silhouette. If the pyramids of Giza were flipped on their tops, they just might compare to the silhouette I found in the Old Navy fitting room.

Determined to press on, I sampled at least ten additional cuts and washes at different stores, to no avail. It was finally at my last stop where I found a pair that seemed acceptable. I needed to size down to avoid awkward "bagging". Typically, I find myself most comfortable in a size 10, but I wound up with an 8. Also, I found it best to avoid supertight fitting fabric (like an all-stretch jean), as it only emphasized my ample behind and out-of-proportion hips. When I got home, to the comfort of my own mirror, I discovered that my body does not lend well to pairing skinny jeans with flats. It's shlumptastic. Whenever possible, I should rock them with a heel. Also, my few lengthy, flowy shirts covered a multitude of sins. (And by 'sins' I mean the few love pounds I've put on since Ireland.) I'm still not 100% sold on the idea, and my ankles are experiencing some claustrophobia. For now the semi-offending pants are back in the bag with tags still on, until I can convince myself it was all a good idea.

Have you attempted the switch to skinny jeans? Was it flawless, or a complete failure? Hit me with your skinny jeans tips, girls!


journalism: easy as apple pie. (or not.)

(Pie from my mom's surprise birthday party. More about that to follow.)

"These were terrible," said my greying professor, thumbing through our latest journalism articles.

His reference to the articles alone was enough to make my stomach drop. The assignment had been based on political journalism: Write a quote-heavy 18-paragraph article using a 10-page transcript from a recent political rally. I couldn't have loathed the homework more. Given the choice between writing a political article or a close encounter with a rusty nail...where can I sign up for tetanus? I'd written mine after a series of 15 hour days, on my living room floor, exhausted, submitting it to my professor just shy of the midnight deadline. Certain it was complete rubbish, I wished only that my professor wouldn't place it on the overhead projector where names, assignment grades and journalistic shortcomings were bullet-pointed before the entire class.

Pulling a few "decent" examples from the pile and placing them under the overhead, he made visible the red-inked grades: 72 percent. 78 percent. 73 percent. My stomach flopped with each new article he pulled, each so marked up I could have wrung red ink from the page.

"Don't be discouraged by the low grades, I guess," he commented, passing back our papers. "Things will even out later in the semester."

I sighed, discouraged, and reached for my two page paper, which was noticeably nearly clear of his angry red pen. Cautiously, I flipped to the last page: "A bit short, but excellent transitions and quote selections. 92%."

I squinted at the grade. Was the nine a four? Or perhaps an extra-loopy seven? Upon prolonged inspection, it was indeed a nine.  And although a 92 percent was not a grade about which I'd normally brag...it somehow feels like an A+ to me. Perhaps because I loathed the assignment, and was determined I'd not do well. Maybe because I continually box myself in, immediately assuming that because I lack interest or experience in something, I'll never excel.

Perhaps it taught me that words are words...and regardless of subject, I continue to love them.

One thing is for sure: This beauty has a place on my fridge.


pear nostalgia.

Last semester I spent two weeks drawing, then painting a pear. By the time I was through, my poor organic model was practically fruit pulp. But, I'd developed a newfound appreciation for the fruit. Its assymetrical shape, the ebb of green and flow of yellow across the skin, the way my fingers felt sketching its form in charcoal...all things imprinted in my memory.

This morning, as I padded through my kitchen, the morning light glinted off a past-ripe pear, bathing it in a remarkable glow that only one who'd spent weeks drawing pears could wholly appreciate. My fingers itched to draw it, to replicate its lumpy, bumpy imperfection with charcoal. To bathe a sheet of Strathmore in smudgy, shallow marks, as I'd nervously learned to do barely a year ago.

Months have passed since I've drawn with charcoal, as I've progressed further into coursework which emphasises design through black pens and sterile, meaningless forms rather than through a heartfelt experience with color and emotion. I've not yet clicked with coursework in which exact replication of reality is rewarded with an A, but a deeper meaning and heart is left unconsidered. Truthfully, I dread it terribly and miss the year I spent standing at an easel, interpreting my reality. Sterile and meaningless aren't my forte, as nearly everything I create looks far from perfection but is filled with heart and meaning.

My schedule disagreed with a drawn-out sketch session. And so, I ate the pear instead, which was nearly as enjoyable as my nostalgic longings for my easel in studio 301.


like mother like daughter.

My physical features immediately pinpoint that I am hers: light skin, short stature and something around the nose when we smile. But were we on paper, it would be harder to distinguish a connection between my mother and me. I'm not shy, nor do I have the compassionate spirit she possesses. I'm more rebellious than she, and certainly more brash. She is practical, and I follow my whims. She has the patience to teach, I must do.

While many of my mother's characteristics didn't trickle through, she did pass down this: a love for the little things. When it's all said and done, it's the little things which make the memories that matter. Things like hanging the same golden birthday banner up every year...even when it's falling pieces. Gestures like slipping notes into each other's lunches, or suitcases before a long trip. Traditions that are humorously, ceremoniously upheld, like cheese-spreads and herring on Christmas Eve or bonfires in the summer. Annual fall trips to a small park in the middle of nowhere only to pump water at an old well, then drive home. It's spontaneity in the smallest of ways that makes memories; waking me up in the middle of the night to drive north and watch the northern lights. Flailing furiously in the winter's first snowfall, making angels at midnight on a school night.

Happy fiftieth birthday, mama. I pray for fifty more years of little things...time for me to learn, to discover how to love like you do.

(I swear this banner is as old as me.)


left-brained love.


Life has been...engaging. Demanding. Exhausting. Last week alone I punched nearly 25 hours on my homework card. Add to that work hours, class attendance and commuting...and, well, you get the perfect storm for a messy home, no groceries and cancelling long-distance dates. For the first time since Gabe and I began our movie dates, I had to take a rain check due to a work conference. So, between lectures on the history of the wooden chest and furious application of six principles of design, I gave my mind ten minute breaks to create this peace offering.

It was like a mini-mental vacation, and a silly, flirty way to show I cared...even if my schedule was impossible.

(Note: I am not a graphic design wiz, but if you'd like this to be sent to you via e-mail so you can personalize it for your love, just let me know. It's a simple Word document, and should be easy to manipulate!)


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