21 March 2013

Oh, Love....

No Turning Back

What have been the event horizons of your life - the moments from which there is no turning back?

Colorado. And the triumph of knowing I conquered the mountain. In more ways than one. 

D.C. And learning who I was and what I offered the world.

Albania. Learning what the world, and love, had to offer me. 

Dubrovnik. For teaching me about my preferences for off-the-beaten path at times. And my preferences for the well-traveled tourist track at times. 

Mt. Fuji. For teaching me that the path always becomes clear, even through the densest fog. 

Tokyo. Where I learned that the right friends and the right adventures make life simply magical. 

Albania again. When I realized the right love warms even the coldest nights. 

Scotland. For finding a bit of home and learning that it is possible to be homesick for a place you've never lived.

Dubai. For teaching me all about all different kinds of mirages. 

Chicago. For finding a home. A place where I belong. 

20 March 2013

She and He

Write about a chance meeting that has stayed with you ever since. 

She and He. 

Four months before I graduated from undergrad, a flyer for a conference in DC showed up in my inbox. It sounded so cool and was so very appropriate for the major/minor I had fashioned for myself (the reality of the conference was, let's just say, a bit lacking), and so I hustled to get funds and approval to spend two weeks in DC at this conference. 

At the time, it felt so out of character for me. I went all by myself, without knowing a soul, because it was something I was passionate about. Now, with the wisdom of a few more years, I know that's a common character trait for me - if I'm passionate about it, I'll do it myself, even if I prefer a few friends be there with me. 

On the very first morning, I stood there, in the middle of the overcrowded room by my chair piled with books I thought appropriate to the conference topic. I was overwhelmed. I had just gotten off the phone with my mom during the break and learned of some news that would change my post graduation plans (for the better, I know now). With my thoughts swirling, I didn't really think too much of it when a cute guy came up to me and started talking about one of the books I had on my pile. 

We quickly became friends during that conference. And because of him, I also met her during the same conference. The three of us explored DC, ignored the conference, schemed great schemes, and shared a few dreams. 

Today, eight amazing years later, she's my sister from another mister (and my travel partner in crime). And he, well, he's my Joe. 

19 March 2013

Kitchen Sink Cooking

What talent do you have that your usual blog readers don't know about? Talk about a time when you showed it to its best advantage. 

I have to admit, I'm struggling with answering this one.

I feel like I generally live an open book here on my blog. You've seen my photography. You've seen my love of color and words. You've heard stories about some of my stellar cooking. I've written about my love of brightly colored home manicures and of all the reading I do. I've shared a few of my sewing and embroidery successes.

There's not a lot I haven't shared.

I may have only hinted at some of the sadder things, but even those have generally had a day or two on the blog as I write my way through understanding my feelings.

And the things I don't write about? Well, for some reason or another, I choose to keep those private. I've debated sharing one or two of those things today, because, well, they fit perfectly into this category. But I won't. I'm not trying to be mysterious, but just respectful of how those things impact others.

So, that leaves me with admitting that I'm really good at kitchen sink cooking.

What's kitchen sink cooking, you ask?

It's where I take everything but the kitchen sink and somehow whip it into a meal.

Carrots + peppers + mushrooms + bacon + jar of pasta sauce = excellent pasta.
Almost too old spinach + stale bread + eggs = spinach balls
Asparagus + sunny-side up egg + olive oil + Parmesan cheese = amazing spring salad
Pound of frozen shrimp + can of tomatoes + can of coconut milk + spices = phenomenal soup

Joe has, fortunately, been a willingly adventurous eater. And the more kitchen sink cooking I do, the better I get at whipping up filling and delicious meals out of nothing. Tasty. Delicious. And quite frugal if I'm honest. 

18 March 2013

Head Out on the Highway

Being trapped in a confined environment can turn an ordinary experience into a powder keg. Write about a thing that happened to you while you were using transportation: anything from your first school bus ride, to a train or plane, to being in the backseat of the car on a family road trip. 

Our relationship has featured countless planes and trains and cars and buses. That's part of life when you spend the first three years of your relationship long-distance. 

Our first real vacation together (as in not staying with each other) was when we decided to explore the Adriatic Coast during my first trip to Albania. 

We were young. He was in the Peace Corps. We had no money. So we cobbled together a rough plan to take various buses all the way from Durres in Albania up to Dubrovnik in Croatia. On a map, that looks like a do-able day trip. 

In reality, there's a lot of hidden curves in the roads. Slow speeds. Random traffic stops - for border crossings and for sheep crossings alike. Uncertain time tables and buses without bathrooms on board. No clue where exactly we were. Just somewhere on the Adriatic Coastline with no idea when or if we'd see a bathroom or dinner again. 

And on top of that, when we woke up at 4 am to catch our first bus of the day, I also woke up sick. So very sick. Running a fever and wanting nothing more than to curl up in a ball and spend the day in bed sick. But, this was our vacation. We'd dreamt of it for months now. So I took some Motrin and some wisely previously requested antibiotics (I'd asked my doctor for some just in case of overseas emergencies like this) and tried to curl up best as possible in an ancient Soviet bus. 

I knew my reaction to how I felt would set the tone for this trip. I chose to be cheerful. I distracted myself by taking countless pictures of the coastline and listening to my favorite songs on repeat. I napped on Joe's shoulder or the best I could against the rattling windows. I finally whispered to Joe in late afternoon that I was sick after I spent too long in a bathroom and we nearly missed the next bus. 

But, at the end of the very, very long day, we made it to Dubrovnik. We found (and negotiated) a room for two nights and treated ourselves to a late night dinner in one of the alleyways criss-crossing the old town. And that recipe for a tempest in a teacup?

It fizzled out into long, lovely, romantic walks up and down the hills of Dubrovnik. It made for a dreamy vacation (one I still have to pinch myself from time to time to remember it really did happen) and for a (hopefully) life-long travel partnership. We've learned, even over miles spent in buses, trains, planes, and cars. Even in snowstorms and downpours and stuffy hot days and freeze-your-toes-off evenings, we travel well together.

Soaring Across the Chesapeake Sky

Sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind. Write about a time you taught someone a lesson you didn't want to teach. 

We were friends once. 

We had some amazing adventures together. Dining with foreign diplomats. Drinking in pubs with old friends. Soaring across the Chesapeake sky. 

Even now, when I think of you, I say a little prayer and send a good wish your way. 

But I'm not sure who needed this lesson more - me or you. 

Somewhere along the way, I realized our friendship was incredibly one-sided. Sure, I'd get adventures, but only if I listened to your plans for my life. To your concerns (but never voice my own). To your love life (or lack of one) and never mention my own. I could talk about my own thoughts, but only on very specific topics. 

Putting it shortly, our friendship was exhausting and hurtful and it needed to end. 

So while I was trying to search for a diplomatic way to explain why I needed a break, you took it in your typical explosive temper style and cut me out of your life. 

Okay. Not quite how I wanted it to end, but fine. It's done. 

And a few days later, you sent the nastiest email I still have ever received. It ended with "may you die and burn in hell. You are forever dead to me."

I didn't respond. I can't forget the nasty words, but I didn't accept the invitation to the fight. 

A few weeks later, you calmed down and tried to apologize. 

I didn't respond. 

You tried again. Practically begging me for forgiveness. 

I didn't respond. 

I forgave you, but I didn't tell you that. You needed to know you can't treat the ones you love like that. I needed to learn I don't need to keep people like that in my life. 

And now, if you cross my thoughts, I send a little prayer and good wishes your way, but I also say "thank you" to the much younger self who recognized a toxic relationship and got out of it. 

14 March 2013

Fake It 'Til You Make It

Tell a story set at your first job.

My first job was nothing particularly extraordinary or glamorous. I was a hostess in a family chain restaurant  and if you've ever worked in the service industry, you know all the ins and outs that entails. 

I spent all day racking my brain, trying to remember various stories that were worthy of being told (or more importantly, a-okay to actually publish), and while some memories made me smile and laugh, and others made me shake my head ruefully - was anyone ever that young? - I kept coming back to two things. 

The first was, the day I got hired. It started an oddly successful trend of me saying "I want to work there" and it happening (often faster than I expected). And, it started the confidence in myself that if I don't know how to do something or what something is about, I have enough gumption and intelligence to jump in, figure it out, smiling all the while and making the customers happy. 

I randomly decided one day after school that I'd pop in and see if they were hiring. No forethought. No practicing interview questions. Barely knew my Social Security Number to complete the application. I walked in, asked if they were hiring and was given a table and a soda to drink while I filled out my application. I figured it'd take a few days to get a request from management for an interview, if I got one at all, so when I finished, I handed it off to someone and got ready to leave. The manager came flying out and asked me to stay for an interview after she got my application. 

I stayed. 

I interviewed. I asked for a job in the kitchen. I figured with my hearing loss, I'd be better working away from the customers in a crowded, noisy restaurant. I said I'd be a fast study in learning how to cook. 

The manager laughed and told me, "I'm hiring you as a hostess. You'll be perfect at greeting the customers and running the restaurant."

I walked out, hired, with a start date, and incredulous. 

I worked at the restaurant for almost five years, including summers, holidays, and random weekends home from college. I started as a hostess/busboy, and quickly became a hostess trainer. Within months, I was helping run the kitchen on busy nights (oftentimes, someone is needed to make sure orders are going out completed and in a timely manner) and subbing as a cook as needed. As soon as I was legal to serve, I was serving and training others. I left before I was old enough to bartend there, but my experiences in that restaurant led to other, better bartending experiences and great customer service stories that helped me landed every single one of my professional career jobs. 

All because I brazenly said, "I want to work there."

And the other thing I took away from that position ties in perfectly with that confidence to brazen my way through until I actually know and confidently can do whatever is asked of me. One of the managers there lived, and I mean annoyingly so, lived by the mantra, "fake it 'til you make it." He wanted every single employee to always be exuberantly cheerful. It could be downright annoying at times, but it was absolutely necessary in a customer service position to always have a smile on your face. 

But the thing about putting a smile on your face, even when you don't want to, is that eventually it becomes a genuine smile. And a genuine smile eventually leads to genuine happiness. Until that happens, fake it. But "fake it 'til you make it" has applied in so many other aspects of my career since those early days, that I'm grateful for the lesson, and the reminder on my not-so days. 

I'm Fine

What's the biggest lie you've ever told? Why? Would you tell the truth now, if you could?

"I'm fine." Two short, simple words. A standard, almost expected, answer to "how are you?" And the biggest lie I (and you) have told. Day in and day out. 

Have you ever spent time around kids? The ones who are still young enough to be serious and wide-eyed all at once. The ones who tell it straight with refreshing (and oftentimes humorous) candor. The ones, who, when asked "how are you?" give an honest answer. They're silly. They're happy. They're excited. They're grumpy. They're sad. They're angry. They're hurt. They're jumping. They're giggly. Whatever their mood is in that exact moment is their answer. Never just "okay" or "fine."

But somewhere along the way, we grow up a little and sharing those emotions, especially those present, right-here-right-now emotions, feels wrong somehow. Feels like we're saying too much or giving too much insight into our hearts. And so we start answering "I'm fine." or "I'm okay." instead of telling the truth. 

And I hate it. 

The more we say "I'm fine," the more we hold back our feelings and we deny our true selves the chance to legitimize our feelings. And in the end, we hurt ourselves. We don't allow our true feelings to shine through. We add an average grey answer to an already average, grey world. 

What we need is more people who tell the truth, even if they choose not to expand on the answer, when they're asked, "how are you?" We need answers that say, "I'm silly today," "I'm slaphappy from too little sleep," "I'm fantastic," "I'm cold," I'm on top of the world," "I'm grumpy." The only wrong answer to the question is, "I'm fine."

Once I was aware of how often I answered "I'm fine," I started trying to consciously answer something different, something honest whenever I am asked "how are you?" I don't always resist. Sometimes fine is all there is, but I've noticed that with more honest answers, I feel better and my relationships are stronger. Joe isn't guessing if "fine" means "happy KtMac" or "angry KtMac" or "tired KtMac." I might just say, "I'm having a grumpy day," and leave it at that, but then at least Joe or my friends or my loved ones know how to approach me instead of trying to guess and having our relationship dinged or damaged if it's a wrong guess. 

And with each honest answer, I feel closer to the real me, instead of some automaton. I feel more in control of who I am and how my day is. And that's an incredibly empowering feeling. 

Try it, my friends, see if giving an answer besides "I'm fine," or "I'm okay" makes a difference in your day!

The Scintilla Project

Last year, I participated in the inaugural launch of the Scintilla Project and it came along at just the right time. After you've been blogging for a while, you start to feel like you've said it all before, and these gals gave me some great creative prompts to get me really revved up and blogging again. 

This year, I'm participating again, so enjoy some new KtMac stories and thoughts prompted by the daily questions over the next two weeks. 

12 March 2013

Time for a Few Randoms

Is there anything better than delicious tea in sweetly sentimental mugs that used to belong to beloved Papas? I think not. 

What happens when a corgi pup sees himself in the mirror for the first time. 

Stunning, and thought-provoking, pictures from last week's International Women's Day

If I ever have kids, these would be words of wisdom I'd encourage them to embrace. And if not, well, they're good words of wisdom for adults too. 

Joe raved about this soup. We're both excited to eat the leftovers this week. Joe said he'd put this soup up against a friend's famous gumbo any day, and he's confident it would win out over his gumbo. (Which is saying a lot, since we both want to marry the guy just so he'll make us gumbo forever.) All that to say, just make it. 

Love in the time of heartbreak. I love a good love story. 

A little cheeky homemade bathroom art. Made with contact paper. Perfect for our rental apartment!

Thunder the Dawg finally has her own blog! This is my favorite dog that I don't personally own. She's my step-dog, if you will, owned by my travel partner in crime. (The Bagel, from my trips to the UAE and Scotland.)

A Chicago-Style Birthday Weekend

This handsome guy had a birthday over the weekend. (Sorry for the grainy iphone shot, but it's the most recent and decent shot I have of him.) And we made it a true happy birthday weekend celebration. 

There was an awesome surprise date night out Friday night. I didn't give Joe any hints beyond "it's downtown" and that there were multiple stops involved. We started with dinner at Chicago Q (phenomenal...definitely recommend!), then had drinks at a little bar I knew (totally worth it for the nighttime views of glittering city lights), and finished the evening with just a few chocolates (OMG....heaven must be like this).

There was a lazy day Saturday, complete with a homemade birthday cake shared with neighbors turned friends. Dinner and drinks and games with now good friends. And then a Sunday afternoon spent at the Art Institute, enjoying lunch with Joe's family and checking out the Picasso and Chicago exhibit. 

It was a whirlwind weekend of celebrations, but I know the birthday boy felt loved and happy to see all his friends and loved ones. And it was just another reminder to both of us that we really do love this city life of ours in the magical Windy City. 

07 March 2013

Que Sera, Sera

Whatever will be, will be. 
The future's not ours to see. 

I have been absolutely obsessed with this version of the song lately. There hasn't been a day that's gone by in the last few weeks where I haven't listened to the song at least once. 

Seems like there's so much wisdom packed into one little song. And it's been speaking to me on a heartfelt level. 

I haven't fully picked apart why this song speaks so strongly to me right now, but I'm working my way through it. Something to do with dreams and schemes and goals and changes and fears and peace with the future. 

I have so much I want to say on the topic, but every time I sit down to write, I'm frozen. Frozen with fear of not saying it the right way. Frozen with fear of not making sense....to myself, much less to anyone else. 

But the truth of it is, writing is how I make these intangibles make sense. 

I don't know what the future holds for me. But I do know the dreams I have for the future. And I know all the ways I'm scheming and achieving, step-by-slow-step, to make those dreams part of my future realities. It's in the little things like the realization a year ago "why not now?" when I started to muse again that someday I'd like to grow my hair out to donate it. It took longer than I anticipated, but I made it happen. And my friends, while I'm still not used to my crazy short hair now, it gives me so much pleasure to know I made that dream happen and that it was a dream that makes the world just a little better of a place to live. 

Changes are coming. I look around in amazement at the life I've created for myself. Love, light, laughter, friends, community. These were all things I wanted, and they're all things that are now part of my life. And that knowledge makes me so excited to see what will be.