Friday, December 31, 2010

Onward She Flies

I became the proud owner of a lovebird back in my sophomore year of high school, someone I was very close to at the time had one as a pet and I developed a strong affinity for birds almost instantly upon meeting her ornery little feather-ball. It wasn't uncommon for me to discover new obsessions frequently and with much fervor then (nor is it now, come to think of it), but this affinity stuck. I've collected bird related trinkets ever since; but Cami was more than just a component of my obsession, she was my companion, my friend.

Many people aren't aware that while lovebirds do naturally pair themselves in the wild, they are better kept as pets without a partner... well without a bird partner anyways. If they are introduced to their human companion prior to pairing up with another of their same species that person will be their partner moving forward and they are very compassionate little creatures. I am aware that birds are not the first animals to come to mind when conjuring up images of cuddly, lovable pets. They can't curl up on your lap like a cat or dog, and they aren't exactly hugable. I have even been informed by numerous people that they are actually quite scared of birds, and for this I blame Hitchcock (although I admit there are some rather menacing birds out there). My experience with Cami, however has proven birds to be a very loving pet.

I put in my request to be notified by a privately owned pet store when their lovebirds hatched and upon receiving the call I made my very best attempt at convincing my parents to drive me out there that very moment. The babies weren't ready to take home yet, not until they could eat on their own (6 to 10 weeks), but I was instructed to choose one of the newly hatched and come back to visit as regularly as possible.

Originally I had wanted a blue or green lovebird, and despite them being nearly featherless it was fairly easy to tell which color each would turn out to be... Cami had other plans; as I reached into the cage of newborns, towards a soon-to-be green birdie, she plopped herself right down in the center of my palm. She was strange looking... red eyes and a few scattered tufts of white feathers sticking out here and there, but she felt just right. To identify which bird belonged to which patron they made a colored mark on each one's forehead... Cami's was orange and it just so happened that the feathers that later grew in on that spot were of the same hue, however what was white turned yellow and her red eyes became a slightly darker more muted version of their original shade (though still red).

She came into my life at a time when I really needed a silent confidant, an unconditional admirer. There were many tears in those first few years and she many times sat with me on the rim of my glasses cleaning my eyelashes from the dampness with her beak. She gave kisses, nuzzled my chin and fluffed up her feathers until she looked more like a fur ball than a bird and cuddled up to take naps with me quite often. I have never had a more compassionate pet in my life, or a more knowing friend. Sure she bit on occasion and chewed up more than one of my favorite books... but when I really needed her she sensed it. It didn't matter that she couldn't speak to me or embrace me in consolation, it was better that way. I believe that her wings worked double duty. She was not just a bird, she was an angel, sent to bear some of my deepest emotions for me when I was unable. She came into my life to remind me that I wasn't then, nor am I ever truly alone.

I have rebuilt many of the relationships that were broken when she came into my world, and have made many new ones since then. I can confide in people now the way I was once only able to open up to a "voiceless" bird. My secrets are safe with my husband, and I share my idiosyncrasies that I used to hide with my family and friends again. But, Cami will always be the one who taught me how to find my way back to me. There were plenty of other contributors to that journey of course and I wouldn't be here at all today if it weren't for my family... they were the foundation upon which I was built and walls that kept me safe (from myself). I do believe, though, that Cami was sent to me on purpose, and for a purpose. She was a message from my Creator. She couldn't speak to me in my own language, but her intimation could not be ignored. Her communications were not lost on me.

I know now that it was the right time and that, that chapter of my life had ended, but her death still came as a shock to me. It wasn't that her physical deterioration was not obvious, or that I was unaware that her lifespan was drawing near it's end. I was more taken aback by just how natural it felt in spite of the pain her passing inflicted on my soul. It felt right, as much as it hurts to admit that. She waited for me to wake up that morning, the 23rd of December. It wasn't until I came over to her cage to refill her food dish that she began to act strange. From that moment it happened extremely fast. It was within mere moments that she was lifeless in my hands. I did not expect to witness her death. I really thought I would come home one day after being out to find her gone. Maybe I assumed it would be easier that way and was naively expecting at the very least a physical detachment from her death. But instead it was the other way around. Emotionally, though I cried many times and did indeed feel much grief, I also felt relief. Relief for her and for myself.

Rest in Peace my dearest Cami. You will never be forgotten.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

DIY Christmas Part 2 - A Little Late

Better late than never, right? Well I intended to have this up before the holiday but due to some normal (and some not-so-normal) Christmas craziness I decided to hold off. So if you are already thinking of what to do for next years gifts, or like myself you still have some dates inked on your calendar in the near future to celebrate after the fact, then here you go:

Step 1) Purchase itty bitty picture frames and holiday themed scrapbook paper from your local craft supply store

Step 2) Use cheesy generic model photo as a template to outline and cut out the proper sized background for your frames:

Step 3) Replace all aforementioned insets with your scrapbook paper cutouts:

Step 4) Dump a heap of awesome vintage buttons on your workspace so that you can easily view them all and properly determine which ones will work together in terms of size, style and color. (My buttons came c/o my Mother-in-law)

(the ridiculously cute mug directly below was from Modcloth,
alas they no longer sell this item)

Step 5) Cut off protruding button loops where applicable to create as flat of a surface as possible to glue onto your frame:

Step 6) Try not to burn yourself while using hot glue gun to affix three buttons to framed background (from largest to smallest working from the bottom of the frame up). Then, as haphazardly as you can, draw on little snowmen arms with a sharpie (Note: I learned that a brown marker has a more aesthetically pleasing result when using a combination of light colored frames, backgrounds and buttons)

Step 6.5) Enjoy some much deserved Buffalo Wild Wings:

Step 7) Gift wrap however you see fit and distribute to the intended recipients.

Step 8) Graciously accept all the "Thank you"s and "This is so clever/creative/cute/etc..." comments all while thinking to yourself "that tutorial was rather unnecessary, an image of the final product would have been rather self explanatory"

Step 9) Stay tuned for more "I could have figured that out myself" tutorials!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

From Grinchy Girl to Holiday Honey

As someone who spent all of High School shunning the concepts of school spirit, or any kind of spirit for that matter (red, white and blue on the 4th of July? pshhh) it took me several years to fess up to the truth behind my rebel-girl persona; I love getting all festive. Give me a good theme and I can come up with appropriately enthusiastic outfits til the proverbial cows come home! It started with muted versions of each holiday's "school colors" paired with lots of black in an attempt to avoid being called out on my love of all things merry. I eventually gave up on disguising my excitement and donned outfits brimming with holiday cheer!

Ok, so there was still quite a bit of black involved, but what can I say I'm a little goth girl at heart!

Christmas Eve 2008 I wore, almost exclusively, pieces picked up at Target in a last minute dash (dress, over-the-knee socks, bracelet and necklace). The earrings were from a little boutique I cannot remember the name of, two towns over from me. The boots were a gift which I believe came from Kohls. The swallow ring was from Modcloth and the feather headband (which unfortunately is not extremely visible in these photos, trust me it's gorgeous) from thefourthstar.

Last Year was even more fun, but it seems only one photo was taken that documents my attire. Had this photo been a full length of me standing you would have gotten the full effect of the skirt as well as a visual of a pair of the most amazing black ankle boots.

From top to bottom
Hat - thrifted (stolen from Mom)
Scarf - Kohls
Faux Fur Shrug - thrifted
Black turtleneck - H&M
Silver Skirt - T.J.Maxx
Red Petticoat - Spirit Halloween
(nylons & ring unknown)

At the risk of family seeing this year's outfit prior to the Christmas Eve party I am going to include what I will be wearing this Friday night.

Note to family members: it may be silly but I would prefer you wait til then to see what I am about to post so kindly scroll no further

From top to bottom
Hat - thrifted (stolen from Mom)
Dress - Modcloth
Belt - Hot Topic
Footless Tights - no clue
Over-the-knee-socks - Target
Boots - DSW

For the record I am not intentionally ignoring green as a holiday color in my ensembles (as I am with gold, which looks terrible on me) I am just so drawn to the black, white and red combo that I have yet to get bored enough with it to force myself to be creative with a new pallet. If I had the money to drop at the moment however, I would be wearing this dress in a heartbeat!

What will you be wearing to your upcoming holiday festivities? I'd love to see!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Cranberry Drop Christmas Cookies - DIY Christmas Part 1

Every Christmas Eve for as long as I can remember has been spent celebrating with my Mom's side of the family c/o food, presents and lots of spontaneous singing. The food and singing are a constant, although throughout the years a new song or two is thrown into the mix along with a new favorite recipe; the gift giving tradition changed a few years back. With such a large family, and so many youngsters, we used to draw names from a hat. Each kid pulled from the list of their cousins and each adult pulled from a list of their siblings and those sibling's spouses. As the children grew up and the rules regarding this gifting method became increasingly blurred it was decided that we would now give one gift to each family unit rather than to individuals. This change came about the year my husband an I were married and so I spent countless hours covered in hot glue and flour attempting to solidify our standing a new singular family unit via mason jars filled with beautifully layered ingredients to the most amazing cookies I had ever tasted, hand written baking instruction tags and personally decorated gift bags.

As is often the case I made the process much more difficult than it needed to be, but was proud of the results and therefore do not regret the effort expelled. So if you are looking for DIY Christmas gifts to give out in bulk (co-workers, party favors, or just extremely large extended families such as mine) read on.

You will need an airtight jar that holds around 1 quart. I used (and highly recommend for their awesomeness factor) Mason jars.

Layer the following ingredients in your jar (note there are multiple layers of flour which for easy reference add up to be 1 and 1/8 cup):

5/8 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup white sugar
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup white chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Note: I use slivered Almonds when making these cookies for myself

Tag Instructions:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease a cookie sheet or line
with parchment paper.
2. In a medium bowl, beat together 1/2 cup softened butter, 1
egg and 1 teaspoon of vanilla until fluffy. Add the entire jar of ingredients, and
mix together by hand until well blended. Drop by heaping spoonfuls onto the
prepared baking sheets.
3. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until edges start to brown.
Cool on baking sheets, or remove to cool on wire racks. Makes 18 cookies

It is rather unfortunate in my opinion (and my arms, if they had an opinion, I'm sure would agree) that my favorite cookies cannot be prepared using my most favorite of appliances, my red Kitchenaid stand mixer. Trust me though, it is worth it!

The gift bags are a matter of personal preference, you can buy ready-to-go ones from your local shop or you can do what I did and cover your floor, yourself and maybe a pet or two in hot glue adding buttons, fake poinsettias, and other holiday paraphernalia to green paper bags (from Walgreens). I used a hole punch and some raffia to thread the top edge of the bags with a festive-type bow and filled the empty space inside with that pretty, but really annoying colored paper-shredding stuff! (my crafting tutorials are bound to be very technical and specific as you can see)

The final step is the most important of them all... use your leftover ingredients to bake as many cookies for yourself as possible and pig out in the name of Christmas Cheer!

Happy Gifting!
Stay tuned for the next installment of DIY Christmas.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Destruction, Construction and Paula Cole.

For my birthday this year my mom took me to see Paula Cole. I saw the concert details in a flier sitting on their computer desk a month or so before the event and was immediately taken back to teenage days driving around top down in the purple Jeep I owned at the time (and miss dearly) singing my lungs out along to "This Fire". In the midst of my moment of nostalgia I mentioned that it would be a cool show to see and from there plans were made (it was my first time leaving the little one for over an hour).

The date came quickly and soon my mother and I were sitting side by side in a small intimate theater both in awe of the amazing talent and passion being displayed on the stage before us. As the concert went on and I sensed it was nearing it's end I remember thinking to myself "I won't be disappointed at all if she doesn't play "I Don't Want to Wait" or "Where Have All the Cowboy's Gone", she probably feels tied down by the obligation to sing the major hits. I'll be happy as long as she sings the song, the one that made it's home in my heart all of those years ago... Please, oh, please." And then as if she read my mind Paula began telling us that she had been informed on many occasions by therapists that this next song had helped a sizable number of their teenage patients. I knew then that a lifelong memory was about to be made... I felt the tears well up in my eyes before a single word left her lips. I grabbed my moms hand and we shared a knowing look as Paula filled the air with the words I had repeated to myself so many times "I am not the person who is singing, I am the silent one inside, I am not the one who laughs at people's jokes, I just pacify their egos".

I have been self-destructive for most of my life in one form or another, at times in more dangerous ways than others, and I hurt many people outside of myself in the process, especially during my teenage years. My mom took the brunt of the abuse during that time and I committed many acts that tore at the foundation of that relationship. I am happy to report that we now have a stronger relationship than ever before and we can both look back on those times with a healthy dose of humor and humility. I admit however that my guilt remains and has actually reached a new depth since becoming a mother myself, but she reminds me often that all is forgiven. I am not going to attempt to express my gratitude at this moment as it would require a novel.

I have explored many of the extremes of my personal self-destructive nature as well as many of the more seemingly insignificant behaviors. Despite the urgency and obvious danger of the actions and habits I engaged in on the more "extreme" end of the spectrum I have to say that in really studying human-nature, history and leadership it has been revealed to me that it's the seemingly insignificant daily thoughts and actions over time that tear ourselves down. It's similar to the train of thought that a drug overdose and a lifetime of smoking cigarettes are both forms of suicide (whether intentional or not), one simply takes a much longer time to accomplish the end result. 

Although I do not deny there being outside factors in everyone's lives (challenging or unfortunate circumstances and a slew of negative temptations on a constant basis) Paula's word's ring true:

"It's me who is my enemy
Me who beats me up
Me who makes the monsters
Me who strips my confidence"

There are many blogs, books and numerous other resources warning of the dangers that negative self talk has in our lives. It's no secret that we are privy to our own mistakes, imperfections and personal weaknesses unlike those of the people around us. It is all too easy to assume that because their faults aren't as glaringly obvious to us as our own, that they simply don't exist. We know everything we have ever done wrong and we punish ourselves by believing we don't deserve success. Yet another self-fulfilling prophecy.

I am in complete agreeance with the prevailing wisdom out there encouraging individuals to refrain from this negative self talk and suggesting they replace detrimental thought patterns with positive reaffirming mantras. I don't however think that it is safe to stop there. Based on my personal observations I don't feel that simply replacing adverse thoughts about ourselves with affirmative ones has the desired affect. More often than not if we succeed at that, all we have really succeeded in (if we don't add action to the mix) is implanting more firmly in our own minds the rather unpleasant entitlement mindset that has become somewhat of an epidemic in our modern society

Humans were not created to be idle, no amount of positive self talk will cure the inadequacies felt as a result of not chasing after our dreams and passions without the full breath of life. When we are not actively pursuing our purpose, having positive or negative self talk only determines whether we are insecure masochists or insecure entitlement theorists. It is an uphill battle. We are either spending our time actively becoming the person we want to be, a person we can be proud of and whom we believe deserves success, or we are falling backwards into self pity or bitterness, both of which over time will destroy our quality of life. I may be wrong, but I am of the opinion that we cannot simply avoid being destructive; the only way to not be destructive is to be constructive.

Paula may have simply written "Me" as an announcement of sorts, a discovery that one is only truly held back by themselves. I do not know the story behind her song but I know that for me it is a reminder to be constructive rather than destructive. I attempted to thank her for that in person after the show but stumbled over my words like a star-struck child. I did manage to get out "I was one of those teenagers that was helped by that song" ...very smooth-like. Her response said it all "I guess I was too". I can't speak for her, but that was all I needed to hear to know that she is a constructive being. 

There were many other enjoyable moments throughout that evening that I will remember for a long time to come, she did perform both of the aforementioned hits with the same level of passion as her newer creations, and did a cover of Jolene that blew the original out of the water... and who knew that Paula Cole could beat-box? Because I sure didn't! Definitely a pleasant surprise.  But most of all I will cherish the lesson learned, the journey that has sprung from that lesson, and the deepening of my relationship with one of my biggest heroes, my mom.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Part-time Fashionista

Despite having spent a short stint as a certified personal shopper I'll admit I don't fully believe that I am qualified to write on the subject of style or fashion. In all honesty I spend more time in my pajamas than not as of late and the frequency with which I make the effort to apply make-up leaves something to be desired. I do however own a semi-impressive collection of shoes... but then again what girl doesn't?

The reality of the matter is I am beginning this project as a challenge to myself as well as an attempt at re-establishing a measure of accountability now that I am a stay-at-home mom and don't have much of an audience. You see, I do truly believe in the old adage of dressing for success. As a woman I am particularly  aware of the effect my appearance has on my mood and overall state of mind. There is something magical that happens when we feel comfortable in our own skin and the garments that adorn it... we can begin to focus on other things and get on with the business of living our lives. Doing the things we really want to do.

My blessing/curse is that what I am comfortable in one day is completely different from what will make me feel great the next. I have yet to find one definitive style that makes me feel like "me". The above looks don't have much in common except that I would wear all of them. I could also never stick to one of these looks for any length of time. For this very reason I am constantly attempting to balance my need to feel put-together and my need to be changing my look (drastically) from day to day. My closet is much like the land of misfit toys in the holiday classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer!

Truth be told I love it that way. Simple it is not, but that is life, and what are our wardrobes really if not a reflection of our lives? Most days I revert to jeans, a t-shirt and my trusty old Chuck Taylors out of pure confusion (generally coupled with the fact that I am always running late). But the older I get the more I've realized that the days I've chosen to take chances with my ensembles and live it up seem to also turn out to be the days I choose to really live my life not just get by. This correlation is the true motivation behind the "Schizophrenic Style" portion of my blog.

So comfort zones and comfort clothes be damned! Today was meant to be lived not survived, experienced not just checked off the calendar. Lets do something truly groundbreaking in today's world and come alive. Get dressed in what feels great, then forget all about it and go do whatever it is that you are really meant to be doing!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Taking the Leap....

This blog has been a long time coming. I have been emailing myself snippets, quotes, inspirations and topic reminders for well over a year now in preparation for that much awaited "someday" when I would finally "go live" as a real life blogger. I have had this idealized vision in my head of what I wanted it to be, a final product, a vibe, a cohesive representation, a beautifully executed glass house well equipped with the necessary blind spots to hide my more unpleasant idiosyncrasies from the readers I assumed it would attract. The thing is that, that blog wasn't meant to exist... had I been willing to dedicate the amount of time a project of that magnitude would require, several years from now I would have wound up with a very time consuming and even more boring, uninspiring blog. I explained to my husband on many occasion that as much as I wanted to engage my love of writing in this new venture I couldn't begin yet; not until my blog had the right name. I was truly convinced that I was ready to go in every other aspect and was simply lacking a title worthy of long term commitment... you know, because, in the event that my blog went on to be a high traffic web destination I wouldn't want to end up regretting an unfortunate name chosen in haste or on a momentary whim.

As it so often turns out I have assigned a disproportionate level of importance to a detail that has little to do with my end goal.

I have spent a good deal of my life trying to solidify in my own my mind, as well as the minds of others, the belief that I am a truly unique and valuable individual. At the same time I have been painfully aware that in and of itself this desire puts me among the vast majority of people who are striving for the same thing making me the opposite of unique. So based on that admission you can now easily pinpoint the origin of my "name" dilemma.

So here it is. 'Taxidermy Worms' is a random band name that popped into my head a while back (and currently holds the esteemed position of my avatar's moniker in the embarrassingly addictive Rock Band video game). The name has been rolling around my brain ever since. I never seriously considered this title as an option for my oh-so-important blog as it lacked depth of meaning and try as I may I was unable to invent one where there hadn't been before. Maybe someday a deeper reason behind my affinity for this combo of words will reveal itself to me but for now I present myself to you (the internet) as yet another blogger with a not-so-much-clever-as-catchy name writing in hope of adding something of value to the world wide web.... or maybe just the world. I will come up with something equally as odd if I ever get around to learning to play an actual instrument and starting a band, since this is now taken.

In addition to the title conundrum I have been going back and forth on several other blog related decisions internally for some time. I told myself these were issues I could figure out as I went along but in an insomnia-induced moment of clarity I realized that the name itself made no difference to me, the real issues at hand were whether I would attempt to anonymize myself and more importantly if I was going to join the ranks of the "mommy bloggers" by discussing my son (and future children) on my blog... and if so what do I feel is okay to write about in terms of children who do not yet have the ability to discern for themselves what they do and do not want posted about them on the internet? One thing I have internalized from having a computer genius as a husband is that everything.... every little tiny thing that you post on the internet can be traced back to you with enough effort and expertize. With that in mind I have decided I am not going to go the anonymous route, or create some awesome alter-ego 'stage' name, although I have to admit it does sound mighty exciting in that "I am a woman of mystery and intrigue" sort of way. In contemplating that option I found myself skating dangerously close to that original impulse go all out and invent an entirely false version of myself, since you know, I'd be playing at the anonymity game anyways. That route, I believe would only take me away from the true point of this blog, which is real honest vulnerability to the purpose of uncovering truth and beauty. A place to reflect, purge, and most importantly grow.

Where, then, does that put me on the issue of logging the on-goings of my offspring in such a permanent and unforgiving venue? Well, to be honest, I have a feeling that there will be much evolving over time in my stance on this issue since it's far to early for any of us to know the ramifications of this form of "record keeping" on this upcoming generation and on our children as individuals. For now I will simply run everything I post through the "how would I like the world to know I did _________ as a baby (kid)" filter in my brain before posting. Of course you can also rest assured knowing I will not be posting details such as locations, dates, and times of upcoming events for the safety of everyone involved.

I feel the need to give advanced warning... yes; this blog will likely delve into everything from religion, to politics, fashion, culture/media, parenting, art, history, leadership, marriage, housekeeping (or my foiled attempts at housekeeping, I should say) and likely a lot of nonsense. I do not claim to know everything about even one of these topics much less all of them, and there will more than likely be times when I am proven wrong upon posting an opinion or personal belief. I welcome different perspectives and understand that many will disagree with me; I would however like to state here and now that while I am open to discussion, I am not the debating kind... I find that debates only entrench those engaged further into their original viewpoints.

Bearing all this in mind I welcome you to join me on this journey! I hope you enjoy the ride as much as I intend to!

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