My 6 Summer Essentials

Summer—a time of sunshine, longer days, pools, and popsicles—brings on a bit of a love/hate relationship for me. On my love list is grilling with friends, fresher fruits and veggies, patios, the return of our farmer’s market, reading on the lawn, and evening walks. With a list like that, it’s hard to think of the “hate”. But sunshine causes sunburns, longer days cause less sleep, and warm weather causes the endless search for comfy shoes.

This year, after lots of summer loving and hating, I finally have a list of 6 essentials that make the transition to warmer weather that much easier.

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  1. Starting with the sun hat, let’s take a moment to guard those pretty little locks from one of the best bleaches known to mankind. While I love natural highlights as much as the next girl, nothing hurts worse than a red scalp, and nothing looks worse than the red starting to flake away later. Floppy, straw hats immediately bring to mind sweet memories of my grandma hard at work in her garden. They also provide great coverage at the pool for me! This number is from last season at Gap, but I am loving the variety of sun hats Nordstrom has up on their website! (You can browse here: http://shop.nordstrom.com/c/womens-sun-hats?origin=leftnav)
  2. Warm weather brings lots of cute shoe options, but more struggles in that department for me. I love a great sandal, but straps and flat options don’t always love my feet. After some discomfort in my arches, I’ve discovered shoes with a little wedge and soft leather are my best bet! I love a great wedge that is flexible, like these pictured from Marshall’s. A very similar pair can be found from Land’s End (http://www.landsend.com/pp/StylePage-440724_AL.html?CM_MERCH=REC-_-FPPP-_-GGT-_-3-_-440724-_-437947) now on sale now for $33!
  3. Please allow me to step on my soap-box for this next product. I cannot stress the importance of skin care enough, especially during the summer. For me, sunscreen has become an essential part of my daily routine. With a family history of skin cancer, I am so cautious about protecting myself from the sun. However, finding the right product for your face is always challenging. Neutrogena has made things extremely convenient for consumers by providing a huge variety (including my favorite, Clear Face at SPF 55). No more sunburns and oily skin for this girl! A few pro-tips about sunscreen—most dermatologists recommend at least an SPF 30 for patients, and always be sure to reapply if you expose yourself to sunlight throughout the day.
  4. During the summer, I love keeping my face fresh but hate the fuss of a ton of makeup. This C.O. Bigelow Rose Salve sold at Bath & Body Works (http://www.bathandbodyworks.com/product/index.jsp?productId=2726822) is great for relaxing, low maintenance days. The pink tint looks great, while the product keeps my lips super soft! Throw this on with some water-proof mascara and you’re set for a Saturday of running errands.
  5. With summer comes our exciting training program at work, and my “To-Do” list becomes a mile long. I never thought I’d become someone who relishes checking something off a list, but there’s a huge feeling of accomplishment that comes from it! Being an individual who loves “organized chaos”, I tend to lose small sticky notes very easily. This yellow notebook was a gift from a friend, and it sure does come in handy as I keep running notes on work and other agenda items! You can find adorable stationary, like this one, from one of my favorite companies, Rifle Paper Co. (https://riflepaperco.com/).
  6. The long days of summer bring long nights for me, too. I’m enjoying time with friends and finding more time to take walks in the evening. It also means I still need an extra kick to keep going in the morning. As most of you know, I am a huge coffee addict. Black, latte, or frapped—I drink it all. My most recent grocery store discovery has me addicted to Starbuck’s Iced Coffee. Why is this so great? I love iced coffee at home, but hate the watered-down taste ice leaves behind. I simply chill this, and it tastes so much smoother! My favorite thing to do is add some skim milk and caramel drizzle for a sweeter flavor.

With these items, I’m hoping to stay grateful for this season and move more items to my “love” list. As Ben Rector says, “Thank God for the Summertime”.

Cheers!

Taylor

Wanderlust: Tulsa, Twin Cities, and Tour de Compadres (via KC)

I mentioned in an earlier post the whirlwind that was April for me. It appears that May is becoming very similar. During early April, I remember thinking “I can’t wait until this month is over”. This is probably very unfortunate because I know I should be savoring precious time, but April was a crazy roller-coaster of planning, preparation, and executing. I spent a week and a half of traveling away from home, seeing some really cool places, but missing my own home with a strong longing.

The first stop on my travel train was Tulsa, Oklahoma.  The four and half hour drive was broken up in both directions with stops to visit my grandparents. I attended a college fair down there and visited a few high schools, meeting some incredibly engaged students! While I was only there for two days, I had a little down time between a couple of my high school visits to search for a coffee shop and accomplish some office work. Miraculously, I think I ended up at one of the most eclectic work spaces I have ever seen! Nestled in the urban, downtown district of Tulsa called The Pearl District, The Phoenix is home to whimsical furniture including mismatched, oversized armchairs and columns made entirely from books. I knew I was at home when I noticed that many of the menu items were named after great literary works, from some of my favorite novels to a Shakespearean comedy. After whipping out my computer and plugging away for a solid hour, I bit into “The Giving Tree” – turkery, bacon, swiss cheese, granny smith apples, and a spicy chipotle ranch on a rosemary and olive oil bagel (AKA heaven in my mouth). I’ve also heard rave reviews about their cold-press coffee, but unfortunately they were out of this already by the time I stopped by. After enjoying a little lunch, I hopped into Made, a little store across the street with only local items for sale, each made by 80 different artists in the Tulsa area. It seemed like a great place to do some exploring! If you’re looking for a stop off the beaten tracks and a place to relax, I think The Pearl District definitely should be on your list of places to stop in Tulsa!

The Deli Counter inside The Phoenix

The Deli Counter inside The Phoenix

The Pearl District

The Pearl District

After a quick weekend back in “Manhappiness”, I prepared to take on the Twin Cities for the second time this year! I’d been gearing up for this trip for months. Upon my arrival, I knew I was in for an adventure when I was greeted by slow drifting snowflakes instead of April sunshine. While the snow continued to fall, the trip was full of events and even driving with my boss in city traffic (which is very stressful for a girl who grew up with absolutely no stoplights in her hometown). I was infinitely grateful when the sun decided to shine near the end of my trip, and took advantage a park I found downtown to accomplish some work outside. I’ve decided that if you need some rest in the hustle and bustle of a city, a park is the perfect place. And in Minneapolis, Cedar Lake Park was the perfect spot for me. The Twin Cities treated me well—with time spent catching up with family, work well spent, and finding the time to breathe in a city—and I was so thankful for a successful week there!

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I wrapped up my travel adventures in April with a quick visit to KC for a weekend. Ben Rector is one of my all-time favorite artists. His piano ballads speak to my soul, and his latest album The Walking in Between was an absolute knockout. Naturally, when I heard he was rambling around on tour and the closest he would get to me was in Kansas City, I knew I absolutely had to attend (even if it was the day after I returned from my marathon week in Minnesota). Thankfully, a friend tagged along. I thought Ben would be headlining the event, but he was part of a group of friends (hence the name Tour de Compadres) performing together! The concert took place at the Crossroads KC venue, located behind the bar Grinders. After a day of rain and chilly air, I was worried about the outdoor site and the mist certainly didn’t stop in the evening. The ground was soggy, and I was very thankful I decided on a whim to wear my cowboy boots. Although we were all pretty damp by the end of the concert, I think that the audience’s spirits were definitely lifted. Needtobreathe headlined the event, and I enjoyed hearing many of their songs for the first time. My favorite discovery, though, was Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors. Folk with a little indie flair, these are the perfect songs for a rainy day, a road trip, or a pick-me-up! My favorites are Here We Go and Shine Like Lightening! The concert was an absolute blast and definitely worth the trip. I hope to make it back to that area of KC again because I spotted a few food and coffee shops I wanted to check out!

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Ben Rector performing!

Ben Rector performing!

This week, I’m off to Estes Park, Colorado for a little vacation time! Hope your travels are treating you well!

Cheers!

Taylor

Let them Eat Cake: Triple Layer Blueberry Lemon

Oh, how has April already flown by me? This past month has become an absolute whirlwind, and I have a few blog posts that are much overdue. Spring has finally started to peak its bright and beautiful face around Kansas! Green, lush grass is everywhere. Buds are starting to shoot off of the trees, making our gorgeous campus in Manhattan glow. It’s a struggle not to keep a smile on your face when there’s so much Spring around!

If there ever was a cake to equal the delight of Spring, this Triple Layer Blueberry Lemon Cake would be it. The luscious, bright taste of fresh blueberries that are finally in season are the “icing on the cake” for this recipe, while the lemon shines through nicely. I found the recipe for this cake while perusing Pinterest in hopes of finding the perfect cake to celebrate a few friends’ birthdays. This recipe is from Sally’s Baking Addiction which also gave a few quick tips on picking the right fruit, how to properly frost the cake, etc. It was so helpful! I decided to make a few adjustments to the recipe, and after hearing rave reviews at the joint birthday party, I decided to share it with all of you!

Cake Ingredients:

  • ½ cup of unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • ¼ cup of plain Greek Yogurt
  • 1 and ¼ cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (240ml) buttermilk
  • zest + juice of 3 medium lemons
  • 1 and ½ cups of fresh blueberries
  • 1 Tablespoon all-purpose flour

Cake Directions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 350F. Use shortening or a stick of butter to line 3 round 9×2 inch pans. Set aside.
  2. Using a mixer, beat the ½ cup of butter on high until creamy (approximately 1 minute). Beat in the Greek Yogurt. (Here I used the Greek yogurt as a healthier substitute to cut back on butter).
  3. Add granulated and brown sugars and beat on medium-high speed until creamed (approximately 2-3 minutes). Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed. Add eggs and vanilla, and beat on medium speed until everything is combined (approximately 2 minutes). Set aside.
  4. In a separate, large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Slowly fold in half the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Beat together on low speed for about 5 seconds to mix all the ingredients.
  5. Add milk, lemon zest, and lemon juice. (It is very important to use fresh lemon juice here for a better taste instead of store-bought. On another side note, to make your own buttermilk, use 1 tablespoon of white vinegar and fill the measuring cup up to 1 cup with 1% or 2 % higher milk. Stir and let sit for 10 minutes before adding to cake).
  6. Add in the other half of your dry mixture. (This keeps the batter from being way too thick). Remove from the mixer and stir lightly until everything is just combined. Toss the blueberries in 1 Tablespoon of flour and fold into the batter. Batter is extremely thick, which will keep the blueberries from sinking to the bottom of the cake. Do not overmix.
  7. Spoon batter evenly into 3 prepared cake pans. Bake the three layers for about 22 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely before frosting.

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Frosting Ingredients:

  • 8 ounces of cream cheese, softened to room temperature
  • ½ cup of unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 3 and ½ cups of sugar
  • 1 to 2 Tablespoons of heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt

Frosting Directions:

  1. Using a handheld or stand mixer, beat cream cheese and butter together on medium speed until smooth and no lumps remain (approximately 3 full minutes.)
  2. Add sugar, 1 Tablespoon cream, vanilla extract, and salt while the mixer is running on low. Increase to high speed and beat for 3 minutes. Add more cream for a thinner consistency.
  3. To Frost cakes: Flip cake from first pan onto an even surface. If cake is too tall, use a large knife to cut off extra cake for a more flat, thin cake. Cover the top with cream cheese frosting. Top with 2nd layer, more frosting, then the third layer. Top with frosting and spread around the sides. The recipe doesn’t make a ton of frosting, just enough for a light frost. Top with blueberries or lemon garnish if desired. Refrigerate until use!

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Cheers!

Taylor

Vulnerability and the Necessity of Failure

Through suffering and hardship, a resilient and beautiful soul can be born. This idea is extremely hard for me to comprehend at times. We are taught to seek out the very best in life from an early age. Winning is what makes us different, unique, and successful. And to make us feel better when we fail, children are given participation ribbons at events with the encouraging words, “Try, try, try again.” The phrase is beaten into our brains repeatedly throughout life, so we might as well get used to it. Rainbow ribbons are so often stuffed into tiny denim pockets with memories that will take a while to fade away. Failure is intimidating and painful.

Somewhere between being rewarded for simply putting out an effort, I started to shy away from any form of misstep on the tightrope that has become my life. I’m not sure where it started, but I’ve finally noticed in the past few months that it has made me into a rigid and stiff individual. Perhaps it stemmed from failure in past relationships, or from the mere idea of getting my hopes up only to have them crushed. All I know is that in the past few years, I have been afraid of making a wrong move, toppling off into the abyss.

A very dear person in my life reminded me last week of the importance of “vulnerability”. By very definition, the act requires one to be capable and open to being hurt. That is so frightening to me. Nothing is more wounding than putting yourself out there and facing rejection. So, as woman, I have conditioned myself to avoid these “missteps” in life, work, and especially in relationships. It is easy to take the final chapter of Proverbs, The Wife of Noble Character, and misinterpret the words to fit my need to remain strong. I say it to myself often. “She is clothed with strength and dignity.” But I think this is a mistake because that verse is incomplete without the counterpart– “And laughs without fear of the future”.  The full verse of Proverbs 31:25 sends a very clear message. It takes a certain openness and courage to find strength. At moments when I have seen women who are my role models, like my mother, be their strongest, is when I see them vulnerable and willing to embrace a weakness. It’s beautiful, to watch someone turn from a moment of pain to strength. The importance of experiencing pain cannot be overlooked, and I think I have been trying to divert weakness for quite some time in my life.

In the past few months, I’ve experienced more failure in my life than I ever have before. You have to know that in your first job, there are going to be plenty of mistakes. But I think the key is learning from them.  The verse from Isaiah 49:11—“And I will turn all my mountains into a road.” – really speaks to my feelings on vulnerability at this time in my life. I must be willing to take failure as it comes and embrace the idea of defeat in order to continue on my journey. Even though it can be so frightening, I’m ready to be open and take a step, even if it the wrong one.

If you’re looking to have a little bit more information on vulnerability, I highly recommend checking out the TED talk by Brene Brown titled “The power of vulnerability”. It is truly eye opening to consider the amount of compassion and connection that can stem from opening yourself, letting go of any armor, and simply allowing vulnerability to radiate in every aspect of your life. You can find more information here: https://www.ted.com/speakers/brene_brown.

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Cheers!

Taylor

The House that Built Me

“I come from a lonely place, adjacent to a lesser traveled highway, where most folks would call the middle of nowhere. A weary, exhausted sign sits at the entrance announcing an important presence to the world—that of the town itself. The wood of the sign is so beaten and raw that the once bright coat of yellow paint has faded to an embarrassing shade of nonexistence. The wind has faded bold letters into the slats of the sign, and population numbers which have since dropped are no longer visible. There seems to be no pride in the sign any longer for none have bothered to replace it during my lifetime. Yet, it is the slogan “A school to crow about. A town to crow about” that has made the sign increasingly popular as target practice for rebellious teens, making late night rendezvous with egg cartons.”

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I wrote this passage nearly a year ago, allowing the words about a special place in my heart to flow through me. In them, I found a way to return to the place that built me into the person I have become. Further more, through these words, I was able to harness my passion for writing in a way that was more real for me than it had ever been. I could talk about it—this place—my home.

My family would tell you that I have a very hard time with change. I enjoy certain characteristics about never doing anything the same way, but let’s be real. I hate change, especially when it occurs in a personal part of my life. When I was a child, I can remember bursting into tears when my parents were announcing they were selling our beloved, ancient mini-van. At the age of 12, my father and grandfather made the decision to stop working with cattle on our farm. And for some bizarre reason, these decisions (which realistically had very little negative impact on my life) crushed me. So, last summer when my parents announced they were building a new home in a different town, a huge (very stubborn) part of me had a hard time accepting their decision.

Inside my quiet town where people choose to live and die within the same zip code, there is the house that built me. This house stands at the edge of town, and has been through a few changes in the past ten years—new paint, larger porches, and flowerbeds that have been fully redone. If you were driving though this town with no stoplights, you could often catch us outside on the porch swing curled up with a thick book or enjoying dinner together when the weather was nice. Behind the house is an acre large backyard where we would play softball during the summer. (My sisters will tell you that I “attempted” to play softball.) My dad hung a swing from a tree branch close to the house that will sway lazily in the breeze. Our yellow lab, Molly, would bark needily from the pen when she could spot us. I had my first real kiss on the picnic bench that sits in front of the house. And before I could even fully read, I wrote my alphabet on the side of the house in ink and the letters stayed there for fifteen years, the backwards “E” engraved on the foundations that couldn’t be weathered by time.

If you walk up the front steps, you’ll see the door that I slammed so many mornings before walking across the street to school. I can still hear my mom shouting after me, “Don’t slam the door!” The force shakes the whole front of the house when you swing it that hard. The main floor is characterized by a beloved dining room table where I have held hands for grace, a piano where I have sang with my grandmother, and my parent’s bedroom where I had hard conversations about growing up. On the level above, my sisters and I shared a bedroom for the first half of my life. Maddy and I slept under the same quilt and in the same bed for a few years. Stars that glowed in the dark winked back at us from their spots on the ceiling as we smuggled books upstairs and squinted at them in the dark, trying to read just one more chapter without getting caught. Eventually, I moved into the little bedroom at the front of the upstairs. A place where I would read and write, laugh and cry. My shelter when high school became a tornado of uncertainty.

And then I left. As most children do. But I wasn’t going to come back, not for good, like some do in my hometown. A vision had grown in my mind that it was time to leave, and I was ready for my feet to take me to new places, new sights, and new people. But I missed the place where the stars shined at night brighter than any place I’ve ever seen. I missed the beautiful, comforting sight of a nearby town’s lights shining from forty miles away. And I certainly missed the people that would raise their hands up in greeting when you drive by, even if they didn’t recognize your car.

There is a place in my house where you can see the etching of time, marked out clearly and sharply by my parent’s hands. Starting from the bottom of a baseboard in our laundry room, you will see tiny, intricate marks of pencil. They tick up slowly with initials and dates marked up. At a point, the initials MM pass TM. KM surpasses all, but will never hit above 6 foot. CM wants to go beyond TM, but I don’t think she ever will. A few extra initials line the board that might have left lives, but are able to remain part of the house, too. The house built the girls. The house built me. You can see it there in my laundry room. And even though I’m grown up and the marks might have stopped, it created the foundation for who I am today.

I am beyond thankful for the house and the town that built me into the woman I am today. Without the experiences I had, my entire life would be incredibly different. I learned patience when working with others in my hometown. I learned to be compassionate to those who may not have enough. I learned to listen to those around me and fight for what I thought was right. Although it’s hard to think about returning home to a different place, I know that those marks will be part of my home forever and engraved in my soul.

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Cheers,

Taylor

Wanderlust: California Dreaming

On chilly January days, it’s easy for me to recall the warm days of California that I experienced this summer. I’m lucky enough to have a grandmother who lives in “the golden state”, and even luckier to have visited her this past year. Before I started my job, my mom decided to whisk me away on a mini-vacation filled with sunshine, Sonoma, and reading Steinbeck.

We decided the big highlight of the trip would be traveling to Sonoma for a few days. I was so excited to spend time with my mother and grandmother on this trip. It’s very unique to go wine tasting and exploring with three generations! My mother arranged the day with a guide that would take us to four various wineries, each known for something different. I really want to share my experiences at two with you.

The first was called Petroni Vineyards, nestled into mountains right outside Sonoma. We sat outside and sampled different wines, all while taking in the gorgeous scenery of vineyards within their valleys. They also mentioned they are currently developing storing their wines within caves, relying on the landscape even further. Petroni was unique because the views, but I loved the experience of relaxing outdoors and trying new things. I would highly recommend checking this Vineyard out, despite the two mile drive to the top on very narrow roads!

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A view from our tasting spot.

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When I started this trip I was purely a fan of white wines, but then our host poured a Petroni’s Cabernet Sauvignon. Thus began my love affair with red wine.

The other winery I really want to talk about is called Benziger Family Winery, a vineyard known for their techniques in organic farming. For some of you, I can guess exactly what you’re thinking. (Isn’t this the girl who boycotted Chipotle for six months because of their anti-agriculture campaigns? Why are you talking about organic wine making?) Here’s the thing; Benziger was a great experience because I learned more about organic agriculture from the standpoint of a guide who understands that green farming is not applicable for everyone. I repeat—this guide knew that going organic doesn’t work in all places for all people! My mother’s ears perked up as soon as she heard the mention of “biodynamic”, and fired off tons of agriculture related questions. Our guide here was fantastic. He informed us that Benziger was located on a site unique even to the Sonoma region. Their farm sat in a round valley formed by a volcanic explosion that occurred millions of years ago, and as result, had high deposits of nutrients in the soil. In short, the guide told us that the soil, formation of the land, and even the drainage specific to this vineyard made it possible to have a business rooted in organic farming.

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A photo from our tour at Benziger.

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His small farm was only two miles away, yet he couldn’t grow grapes without relying on some of the same practices that my family, too, must use in the middle of Western Kansas. There has been such a negative view of production agriculture lately due to the media and a lack of education in the general public. It was such a pleasure to hear about wine-making from the standpoint of someone who is pro-organic and, for lack of a better term, pro-GMO. I think both practices can work hand-in-hand, and I hope that more of society learns to adopt this ideology.

Other highlights of our trip to Sonoma included lots of tasting adventures such as checking out the gorgeous Sunflower Café, enjoying crepes in the town square one evening, and a delicious dinner featuring lamb!

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After a few days of wine-tasting and relaxing by the pool, one of my most memorable experiences was checking out The Fremont Diner. We had heard raving reviews in Sonoma about this place, and as we pulled up to the small, white-washed building with a tin-roof, my mother remembered seeing it featured on the Food Network. Bordering notoriously high-end Napa, it was a breath of fresh air to walk into a small diner with a tin roof and a rusted pick-up out front. I ordered the Chicken & Waffles, and adored the classic mason jars! If you have the chance to check out this little place, it is well worth the wait!

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So, here you have my trip to Sonoma (and a lesson in my beliefs on agriculture practices to accompany it). Hope you all are finding a way to stay warm, even if you’re not California Dreaming like me.

Cheers!

Taylor

The Thirteenth Year: A Letter to my Sister

You knew this was coming, so there’s no need for a salutation to begin. The past week I’ve watched you flit around the house, your lanky arms swinging, ponytail pulling hair tight to your forehead, and laugh peeling through the air when your corgi nips at you on the floor. Your laugh makes me smile. I remember the very first day I saw you, filled with nervous excitement and my bare feet hot on the wood of the front porch in June. A baby’s scream filled the air as they took you from the car because you hated the road. Even then, being cooped up inside tormented you. We celebrated your first year of life that day, nearly a week late. Chocolate cake stained your face, and you crawled so quickly away from the girls and me. But you weren’t shy. You belonged to us.

We used to call you Scout, from Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. I wish it would have caught on. Maybe it was your freckles, love for the outdoors, and insatiable curiosity. But I think it was your fearlessness, the way you approached anything without hesitation. You would pry living animals, mice or baby bunnies, from the jaws of our dogs and cats, like a young heroine, to rescue them. You ran faster than most boys, and would be so angry when they beat you in races. You, in the summer, set your young eyes on the diving board and went to it like it was calling your name. Confidence still radiates from you, and for that, I am thankful.

If there is one thing that Scout can leave in your soul, I hope it is compassion. Atticus once told the young girl, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” In the years to come, I hope you develop a love for all living things and I hope you have the fearlessness to save those who need it the most. At this point in your life, it is so easy to want to be with those who make you look good and fit into the crowd. But I have been that girl on the edge of the room and I’ve seen plenty of friends suffer after not being included. I know it’s hard, but I hope that you can see through their eyes and extend friendship during these years.

There are those who say the number thirteen is lucky. Thirteen, in my opinion, is one of the toughest years. It builds you up in a wave only to throw you back under the water. Sometimes you feel like you’re isolated, alone and drowning, nothing is clear. Yet, always you will float to the top to see peaceful, calm waters before you. I’ve watched you grow, and all the while I experienced some things in my life that I hope you will not have to. And maybe that’s why I’m worried about you, nervous for what lies ahead.  In the thirteenth year, your emotions provide the violent storms. But boys, they provide the hurricanes. A heat and energy can overwhelm you, causing infinite chaos. Yet you do it all for the short-lived eye of the storm, the calm and serenity of a short burst of happiness.  And then it’s over, and a back wall hits, disaster lasting for weeks, months, even years.

It’s unavoidable. And I will honestly tell you that I don’t regret moments in my life. Even in the wake of destruction, every single hurricane has taught me a lesson. For that, I am immensely grateful to take the things I have learned and create a life-vest to use in the future. These are the things that help you survive. My hope is that when you are hurt, you will take those moments and use them yourself. I hope if you do chose to surrender to a storm, that you pick a boy who respects you. I chose the ones who made me laugh, the ones who were mysterious, or the ones who I thought I could change and understand better than anyone else. And they were wonderful when it was good. But the eye of a storm never lasts—people change, you grow apart, and you want a new direction. I might have suffered in those hurricanes, but they all taught me something for the future. Happiness doesn’t just come from others. The most euphoric moments of my life have been alone. I have felt personal success. I have laughed until I cried. I have traveled the world. Life is sometimes easier without the hurricanes, yes. But I couldn’t survive without them, and I hope you will learn from them, too.

You are stubborn, and it’s a natural trait that is contagious in our family. Willfulness is a blessing and a curse, at times. I hope you will learn soon that our family is so special and unique in the way that we care for each other. Mom and Dad know more than you think they do, and I hope it doesn’t take twenty years of your life to realize this, like it took me. The best lesson I ever learned from them was to never quit something you start. The follow-through has always been something hard for me, but that lesson pushed me to think critically about the work I produced inside and outside the classroom. Go to them when you have questions or need advice. Nobody knows you better than our parents, and nobody finds things out like our parents.

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Christmas 2005. Here I am at 13, and you were 4.

People have asked me before if I consider you to be a sister, and I immediately ask, “Compared to what?” You belong to us the way we belong to you. We are tied together. For that reason, I hope you take these words to heart. I hope you find compassion for others during these years, learn to stand on your own, and have the courage to listen. I’m so excited to see where the journey of life takes you, Katie Cat, and I wish you all of the best.

Love,

Tay/Tator Tot

To Be Content

“Wherever you are, be all there! Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.” – Jim Elliot.

Yesterday, I found myself wrapping up my first semester of travel with my job in a very ironic way. As I stepped foot into one of my schools, I had the realization that it was the very first school I had entered earlier in the fall. Walking inside, it all came back to me—the nerves, the fast talking, the sweating through my blazer (not just because of August heat in Kansas), and the general awkwardness. I had to laugh a little bit because I’ve definitely learned so much this fall that makes me much more at ease within my job. I’ve learned to embrace my quirkiness and just own it, even in front of high school students. I’ve learned to relax and take time to build the relationships because that’s what makes life so sweet. It isn’t that I’m doing things perfectly because I know I constantly need to improve. I have a desire to be self-aware. Without it, I think there can be no growth. It just hit me in that moment how content I am with my life and how happy I am that I have felt a great deal of growth in the last six months.

So, I wanted to take a moment to address a topic that I think many of my friends and peers continue to struggle with today. I see a large amount of individuals my age struggle with the fact that they don’t know what to do after graduation, after the four (or five, or six) years of working towards the finish line. We each have had that amazing, pivotal collegiate experience that makes us think “there can be nothing better than this”. I can honestly say that I attended the best university in the nation (and how lucky am I to share that experience with others on a daily basis!).  But to my generation, the “millennials”, it is incredibly hard to lose this part of our identity that is so associated with the classroom and learning. In the past 20 years, it is who we were made to be. If you got a liberal arts degree, an engineering degree, or a business degree, you were made to learn by the end of college. And then the dreaded question all of the sudden becomes “So what’s next?” from teachers, family members, even friends who just want to wish you well.

I’m thankful for where I am in my life because I have the opportunity to experience growth, to always keep learning. But I know myself, and I know that I won’t always know the answer to the “what’s next” question. Similarly, I continue to see a lot of soul searching from my peers. I see a lot of individuals who struggle to find an identity. I see friends who return back home. I see friends who travel far away and start a new job. It’s so hard to make a transition, answer that next-step question at the age of 22 when the possibilities are endless. We are a generation of passion, of chasing dreams, and decisions are frustrating. Thus, I have made the goal to be content, like Jim Elliot said to “be all there”. Do I know what may be five years away? Not exactly, but I know where I want to be right now and I am so happy to continue in this endeavor.

Recently, I attended church and caught the tail-end of a message that I found to be very inspiring. It provoked me to think about the idea of contentment. The message was about how each individual possesses their own SHAPE. Much like a fingerprint, SHAPE is unique to each person and can sustain you through the rest of your life if you use it well. I’d like to share the acronym below.

S—Spiritual Gifts. These are much more than a talent and are closer to your calling. Sometimes, it takes a while before these can be revealed, and I’m sure that as my own life goes on more might be revealed to me.

H—Heart. This is where your passion lies. I love when I’m talking to someone and I can see them just light up or are “geeking out”.

A—Abilities. These are natural gifts that can be applied at different times during your life. For example, I have a couple of friends who have a strong ability for organizing and they are great at administrative work. My abilities tend to lie more in the relationship building categories.

P—Personality. This can be what makes you tick or go about your day-to-day life. Think about how extraverts vs. introverts operate in the world, for instance.

E—Experience. Everyone has different events that occur in their life that affect where you are and who you become. There will be bad and good experiences in every life, but it is where you find yourself with them later that matters.

I view being content as finding fulfillment and not necessarily having to look towards the future for that happiness. It is not settling. Instead, it is finding a silver-lining, remaining optimistic about your life today. SHAPE is what makes you unique and can help as you are soul-searching, no matter where you are in your life. So, whether you are looking for that next-step or settling into the first six months of professional life like myself, I hope that you find the drive to be content.

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Cheers,

Taylor

Recipes: Harry Potter and the Pumpkin Pasties

I have two great loves of my life—Harry Potter and anything with a little pumpkin. Anyone who is relatively acquainted with me knows that I am absolutely obsessed with all things Harry Potter. I adore Harry Potter movie marathons and have voraciously consumed the books multiple times. As a child, I have a distinct memory of riding my bike down to the Palco Post Office in the rain to pick up the 5th book when it was released just to get my hands on it. While in college, I took the Harry Potter literature class that the Department of English offers. I was on the e-mail list for the Harry Potter Alliance (until the founder wore a shirt titled “Wizards for Obama” and I reconsidered, but that is another story). So, it goes without saying that I’m a huge fan of all things Harry Potter, and I love the opportunity to bring anything from that magical world to life.

Tonight, I decided to combine my love for Harry Potter and my love for pumpkin into one great recipe. Pumpkin Pasties are a tasty treat often mentioned in the Harry Potter books, including an early appearance in Sorcerer’s Stone which bonds Harry and Ron forever after Harry offers some delicious treats to his new friend. In the movie, Harry’s line “We’ll take the lot” is often quoted from this scene. Of the whole lot of sweets (Cauldron Cakes, Chocolate Frogs, Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans- oh my!), I think that delicious and warm Pumpkin Pasties are a great symbol for friendship and empathy early in the series. And what a joy it is to whip some of these up as I’m preparing to head home for Thanksgiving tomorrow!

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Pumpkin Pasties

Pasty Dough

Ingredients:

1 ½ cups of All-Purpose Flour

1 tsp of sugar

1 pinch of salt

1 stick of cold, salted butter, diced

1 package of cold cream cheese, cut into chunks

Instructions:

  1. Place dry ingredients in medium bowl and mix together.
  2. Add the cold, diced butter and mix in with dry ingredients until you have what looks like coarse bread crumbs.
  3. Add in the pieces of cream cheese and mix until the dough is very clumpy.
  4. Turn dough onto surface lightly dusted with flour and knead until the dough is smooth.
  5. Wrap dough in plastic and chill for at least 30 minutes.

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Pumpkin Filling

Ingredients:

¾ cup of pumpkin puree

1 large egg

1 small pinch of ground cloves

¼ tsp of ground ginger

½ tsp of cinnamon

¼ tsp of salt

⅓ cup of sugar

Instructions:

  1. In saucepan, heat pumpkin with cloves, ginger, and cinnamon on medium-low heat until warmed. Remove from heat.
  2. Mix in egg, salt, and sugar. Set aside while you prepare the dough.
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One of my favorite Harry Potter quotes.

Pumpkin Pasty Assembly

  1. Preheat oven to 350F
  2. On a floured surface, roll out the dough to about ⅛-inch thick and cut with cookie cutter (I used a heart-shaped one this time). Place shapes onto a greased cookie sheet.
  3. Spoon approximately a tablespoon amount of pumpkin filling within the shapes.
  4. Create a matching shape to place over the top. Seal the edges by either folding over and pinching with your fingers, or crimping with a fork.
  5. Using a pastry brush, lightly glaze each pasty with beaten egg mixed with a little milk or water. Sprinkle on some brown sugar, if desired.
  6. Bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the oven, and enjoy!

photo 4 A little background on pasty treats—I actually enjoyed some of these while I was in Scotland studying abroad. They are typically served with meat inside of them as a lunch snack, but here they also make an excellent, sweet treat.

I served mine with a little whipped cream on top, and enjoyed settling in with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Now it’s time for the dishes and packing for home. Hope you all have a lovely Thanksgiving!

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Cheers!

Taylor

Recipes: Beer Dip

Happy Autumn! Wow- is it already November? Last month floated by like falling leaves in the wind. First of all, thanks to everyone who received my last post about “Girl Power” with such enthusiasm! Women empowerment is such an important topic to me, and I deeply appreciate the kind thoughts and words sent my way after I wrote that last month. I hope in the future to continue sharing my opinion about women in current events, as well.

For this post, I decided to talk about one of my favorite fall activities which is nearing an end- tailgating! This fall, I’ve had the opportunity to cheer on the K-State Wildcats at almost every home game (just missing the Auburn game due to big kid duties). I also really enjoy catching our football boys when the game is on television, as well. A few weekends ago, I sat down with a few of my friends and we whipped up some yummy food together. Today I’ll be sharing one of my favorite, easy recipes—Beer Dip! This is perfect for any tailgate, get together, or if you’re just looking for a salty afternoon snack.

Ingredients:

  • 2 (8 oz.) packages of cream cheese
  • 1/3 cup of beer of your choice
  • 1 envelope of dry ranch dressing salad mix
  • 2 cups of shredded Velveeta cheese

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Instructions:

  1. Soften cream cheese.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the cream cheese, beer, and ranch dressing mix. Beat with a mixer until they are well blended.
  3. Stir cheese into the dip.
  4. Serve with pretzels or pretzel crisps (pictured below).

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Tip:

You can use any kind of beer with this dip, but I really preferred using the Shiner Bock this time. It is a darker beer with a more robust flavor than your standard Bud Light or Coors Light.

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The ‘Cats may only have one more home game this fall (Beat KU!), but I can guarantee that I will be making this dip over and over. Hope you all enjoy the rest of fall and are working on some of your favorite recipes!

Cheers,

Taylor