Incomplete. But not for long.

I mentioned last week that I’ve been working on my blog, putting in the time behind-the-scenes to make this space better.  I’ve been re-labeling categories and editing or deleting tags, which requires spending a lot of time in my old posts.  Lord have mercy, the graphics. Nothing humbles the spirit like the blog posts you wrote three years ago.

I have a lot of work to do before this first step is complete, but as I review and organize my old blog posts, I’ve noticed something.  Again and again I’ve told you about these great ideas I have, some new routine I want to adopt to improve some facet of my life or some new skill I want to develop — and then, nothing.  Nada.  Just a bunch of quiet, a mention of what I ate for breakfast or a quick photo of a fish I caught, until I’ve come up with some other new and different goal, skill, adventure to talk about.

I talk about things here as if I have everything under control and really believe in my success.  I write about a new idea or habit with the attitude that once I’ve written about it, it’s basically done.  But that isn’t how things work.  Writing down a goal or telling you I’d like to change my habits or patterns makes no difference in my actual habits or patterns.  Whether I post it on the internet or attempt to make some kind of related graphic does nothing to change that — I still have to do the actual work.

It’s easy to forget the work, isn’t it, when we’re so full of ideas?  It’s exciting at the beginning.  Those first few steps are pretty fun.  But now that I’ve re-categorized 50 blog posts and deleted the 100 tags, I am so over this whole blog-improvement effort.  I want to move on to the next step and start working on cool new content and moving my blog to a new host.  I’m tired of trudging through the muck of old blog posts that probably aren’t all that good anyway.

But if I really want to change anything, if I really want any of my ideas and adventures and attempts and habits to stick, to become part of my real life, I need to go deeper than the surface and really put the time in.  That’s true when I’m working to become a morning person, or plan our meals each week, or add a little sparkle to my daily life, just like it’s true when I want to make my blog work better for you.

This middle part — the part between starting out on a new journey and completing your goals — it’s kind of boring.  I’d like to skip right over this part and get to the good stuff, but I don’t have any good stuff right now.  Instead, I have long, steady, tedious work that continues.  So far, this work has created a new menu for you on my blog — a menu that isn’t quite finished.  Well, the menu itself is finished, and if you look up top you can see it right now(!!!).  It has drop-down menus to find content by category and sub-category.  The content isn’t fully aligned to the menu yet, so there might be a few surprises in there.  But I’m working, and I really want to finish this thing, to complete this task as well as others that will follow.  Only 350 blog posts and 800 categories to go.

Five [Awesome] Things I Read This Week, 2.14.2014

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One.    And Then I Stopped Talking to my Husband, by Laura Tremaine at The Hollywood Housewife.

My husband’s world is very big and very full. Even a strong woman could feel diminished next to his circus. When we are alone in our home as a family, I’ve never been more complete. When we are alone in our bedroom cheek-to-cheek, I’ve never been more happy. But in the large picture, standing next to a man of great stature can be very lonely.

So, by the time his car was speeding towards LAX, he knew very, very little about anything going on with me. Because I hadn’t told him. He hadn’t asked, necessarily, but I definitely hadn’t offered. It wasn’t a standoff, because it hadn’t been purposeful, but we had drifted apart while standing next to one another.

 

Two.   Rebecca Makkai for Ploughshares with So, Sue Me…

The response (I’m tightly paraphrasing so I don’t get sued for copying the email) read: “Sorry. The rate is $3,000 for 300,000 copies. And, to be frank, the writer should be grateful we’re not taking action against her for using the lyrics previously when the story appeared in the journal.”

And so we speedily shut our mouths, and I changed the story (my character now “bellow[s] out the chorus of the song” after singing the title), thanked my lucky stars, and made damn sure to learn how to check what was in the public domain.

 

Three.  Ten Design Tips Using PicMonkey You Might Not Know About!, by Julie DeNeen at Fabulous Blogging.  [These are not really quotable, but great tips and tricks for making your blog and other online profiles look beautiful!)]

 

Four.  My friend Cara’s post Even If:  Thoughts from the If:Gathering, over at Little Did She Know.

On that first day, there were words that resonated with me, things that I wrote down to ponder, turning them over in my mind. Still, at the end of the night, in a candlelit room, after communion, I found a familiar feeling rising inside me.

I needed to find a corner.

I ended up in the lobby, leaning against a pillar, tears threatening to fall. The sounds of the worship music of past summer camps, youth groups, and Sunday mornings wrapped around me still and I found myself whispering to God. What am I doing here?

Related:  Kelly J. Youngblood’s When Thousands of Women Loved Something, and I Didn’t.

 

Five.   Ummm, hi Deb.  This chocolate peanut butter cheesecake is so delicious-looking.  I can hardly handle it.

So, what’s in the cake? Well, all the peanut butter and all the chocolate, of course. You’ll start with a chocolate crust formed from chocolate cookie crumbs, ground bittersweet chocolate, brown sugar and hot melted butter. You’ll continue with a thick puddle of chocolate-peanut butter ganache nested inside this crust. Over it, you’ll pour a large bowl of peanut butter cheesecake batter with sour cream, eggs, vanilla, don’t fight it, please. . . .

 

Okay, that’s all I have for you today!  What awesome things did you find on the internet this week?  

Blogging in 2014 — A Little Housekeeping

I follow a lot of blogs (a quick count today revealed 119 blogs, but I know a few of those have been dormant for quite a while).  To make it easy to keep up-to-date on all of the blogs and people I love, especially those that do not update on a regular schedule, I use a blog-reading and content organization app called Feedly.

Feedly is the greatest thing since Google Reader.  It may be even better than Google Reader.  The app can be slow to update when I don’t have a strong internet signal, but overall, using Feedly to connect with other bloggers was one of the best social media decisions I made in 2013. Feedly’s text is beautiful: crisp black lettering on a bright white screen.  It takes out the formatting that can make content slow to load when you’re mobile, and I never encounter that awful music that automatically starts playing on some pages.  Using the app, I can browse blogs while commuting, walking on the treadmill, or waiting to meet a friend.  With one click I can save posts for later, which is really helpful when I’m putting together internet highlights for you each Friday.

One downside to using Feedly, though, is that I have no idea when my favorite bloggers have changed their formatting or updated the overall look and feel of their blogs. For those of you who visit this space on a regular basis, you may have already noticed that I’ve been working to make Pink-Briefcase more user-friendly and visually appealing.  For those of you reading through an app, this is your invitation to click through and check everything out!

Here’s what’s new on the blog this year:

  • A new theme and color scheme.  We went through a few themes over the last six weeks, so you may have experienced a bit of design whiplash.  I wish the transition had been smoother, but I’m really not sorry because I love how things turned out.

  • I deleted the “library” and updated my blogroll.  What seemed like a brilliant idea last year turned into a list of books I wanted to read but didn’t, and that I never updated.  It wasn’t great for you or for me.  I’ve also revised my list of recommended blogs.  My top two favorite reads today?  Corporette.com [for career-focused women] and AskAManager.org [for anyone who has ever worked in an office].

  • I’ve added a few rules and expectations for the blog — for you and for me.  I’m always afraid that a potential job opportunity will be ruined because my intended employer stumbled across this blog and thought “this is so silly and weird, I don’t want to hire her!”  So, I wrote about why I blog, to remind myself that this isn’t silly and weird [at least most of the time!] and to give you an idea of what my personal boundaries are for this space.  It’s pretty personal and I’m kind of proud of it, so click over to “Why I Blog [the Disclaimer]” and let me know what you think.

  • I’ve added some new ways for us to connect.  I’ve linked my twitter, instagram, goodreads account, and pinterest boards to the blog on the page “Let’s Connect.”  I’d love to keep up with your reading, fitness, beauty, style, or recipe recommendations, so please do add me on one or all of these channels.  I’ve also added an email just for this blog, so if you have a question, want to guest post, or have suggestions or comments for the blog you don’t want to share publicly, you can email them to me instead.

  • Even bigger, I’ve started a Facebook Page for this space.  I hope to transition all blog advertising from my own profile to this Page, so that my personal life and my blog can be comfortably separate.  If you normally come here through a Facebook link, you’ll want to like the Facebook page because soon I will stop linking to Pink-Briefcase from my personal profile.  There’s a chance this is a terrible idea, and my blog stats will drop very low, but I’m hoping we’re ready for this.  It’s something I really want to do.

I’ve made a commitment to myself and my team that I’ll be writing more this year.  That writing won’t always be published in this space, but much of it will.  Take some time to look around the new site, and let me know how it looks.  I’m excited to see where this is going, and hope you’ll stay with me for this journey.

2013: A Year in Photos

It’s funny how you forget your own life, how the good things slip into the dusty corners of our memories the way a favorite sweater can be lost in the back of an over-full closet, missing an entire season of usefulness.  When I think over the year, I note how hard it was to wait for information about where we would be moving, and how frustrating our whole moving experience was because of the HR delays.  But when I look at the photos from this year, I remember how wonderful it was, how blessed we have been with the best of friends, and how happy we are even though we are quite far from those we love.  And so today, I’m taking a few minutes to look back over 2013 and appreciate the many gifts, experiences, travels, and opportunities for growth that came my way this year.

My first meeting at the EEOB!  If I'd known about this meeting in advance I would have dressed better.

My first meeting at the EEOB! If I’d known about this meeting in advance I would have dressed better.

Strawberry Picking with friends and family!

Strawberry Picking with friends and family!

Leadership tips from Fake George Washington at Mount Vernon.

Leadership tips from Fake George Washington at Mount Vernon.

A visit to DC's Police Memorial - an often forgotten but lovely area near Judiciary Square.

A visit to DC’s Police Memorial – an often forgotten but lovely area near Judiciary Square.

We drove up to Philly to see some history.

We drove up to Philly to see some history.

And stopped over in Atlantic City, NJ on the way home.

And stopped over in Atlantic City, NJ on the way home.

hiking with friends

A hike along the Potomac with friends.

A view from the President's Box of the Hubby's graduate school graduation.

A view from the President’s Box of the Hubby’s graduation.

Three photos from our trips to Gettysburg.  Here's number 1.

Three photos from our trips to Gettysburg. Here’s number 1.

Three photos from our trips to Gettysburg.  Here's number 2.

Number 2.

Three photos from our trips to Gettysburg.  Here's number 3.

And number 3.

Cherry Blossoms at Jefferson Memorial

A view of the Jefferson Memorial during Cherry Blossom season, taken with a friend during my lunch break at work.

A tour of the Law Library of Congress, including the [no longer active] card catalog.

A tour of the Law Library of Congress, including the [no longer active] enormous card catalog.

July began with a small-town parade in Clarkston, MI.

July began with a small-town parade in Clarkston, MI.

Also?  Fishing.

Also:  Fishing.

We visited San Francisco's best nature spots (and Alcatraz).

We visited San Francisco’s best nature spots (and Alcatraz).

We tasted wine grown among lavender fields...

We tasted wine grown among lavender fields…

We saw dozens of harbor seals resting in the sun.

We saw dozens of harbor seals resting in the sun.

We searched Muir Woods high and low for banana slugs -- until I finally found this one.

We searched Muir Woods high and low for banana slugs — until I finally found this one.

And then, it was time to go.  We left behind our first apartment as a married couple...

And then, it was time to go. We left behind our first apartment as a married couple…

And we drove across the country to set up our homestead in the Midwest.

And we drove across the country to set up our new homestead in the Midwest.

The journey was made easier by my best friend, and tastier by the cookies her aunt gave us on our pit stop in Pittsburgh.

The journey was made easier by my best friend, and tastier by the cookies her aunt gave us on our pit stop in Pittsburgh.

We spent some time getting to know our new city...

We spent some time getting to know our new city…

And took advantage of our geographical proximity to Touchdown Jesus, cheering my Fighting Irish to a devastating loss.

And took advantage of our geographical proximity to Touchdown Jesus, cheering my Fighting Irish to a devastating loss.

And escaped for a weekend away celebrating a good friend's happy marriage.

We escaped for a weekend away celebrating a good friend’s happy marriage.

We had a few lovely visits from family and friends before it got too cold for pleasant outings.

We had a few lovely visits from family and friends before it got too cold for pleasant outings.

But even with the cold weather, Leo feels right at home.

But even with the cold weather, Leo feels right at home.

We had a lovely Thanksgiving with both sides of our family...

We had a lovely Thanksgiving with both sides of our family…

And have enjoyed the festivities leading up to our first Christmas as Chicago residents.

And have enjoyed the festivities leading up to our first Christmas as Chicago residents.

Five [Awesome] Things I Read This Week, 12.20.2013

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On Homelessness

The New York Times’ Invisible Child series that will blow your mind and have you running to volunteer at your local homeless shelter, and a response and personal story from one of the bloggers I have recently begun following which responds to the series by showcasing her own story of homelessness.

1.  Invisible Child, Girl in the Shadows: Dasani’s Homeless Life, written by Andrea Elliot with photography by Ruth Fremson.  

It is Dasani’s belief that she and her siblings are the cause of her mother’s ruin. It never occurs to her that, for Chanel, the children represent her only accomplishment.

[Can we just put a pin here, to talk about the layers in these two sentences?  How children are a burden and a blessing, living in seemingly hopeless situations but also our only hope?  Oh my goodness.]

2.  Becca Rose at The Bookworm Beauty, with The Tent.  

Years later, my dad would tell me,

“I’m so glad we went through that time, because it really taught you kids about faith and trusting God.”

What I wanted to say but didn’t was that no, it didn’t teach me about faith. It taught me what it feels like when God abandons you.

 * * *

I constantly hear diatribes against food assistance, free health care, and other benefits that kept me alive as a child when I was homeless. I don’t think there’s a human face on the other end when people say things like this, because if they knew what it was like – if they knew how a child’s life would be affected when they vote to decrease funding for those things – I can’t believe they’d really do it. I can’t believe anyone is that heartless.

On Journaling as a Personal Practice

3.  Claire de Boer at The Gift of Writing with Five Questions to Take to Your Journal (and life).  

To stop, ask the question and either write the answer or ponder it throughout the day, has been the hearth to my cold wintry bones.

I’ve been trying many different journal writing techniques over the last few months—everything from writing letters, free-writing, dialoging and list-making, but to simply ask one of these five questions has been the most nourishing of all.

On Being Careful with our Words (and using our privilege and power wisely)

4.  Brad Littlejohn at The Sword and the Ploughshare with The “All I Really Meant…” Syndrome.  

None of this is to say that we always have to speak in carefully-measured, lifeless academese, with a footnote to define our every term so as to remove all cause for dispute.  There is a place for provocation.  But provocation must always be according to truth.  “I’m playing the prophet!” is never an excuse for non sequiturs, or false generalizations that have no basis in reality, or for sloppy language that would confuse even a well-educated, well-intentioned reader.  Moreover, even where it avoids these pitfalls, it must always be subjected to a cost-benefit analysis.  Just because you might succeed in getting the attention of some that you otherwise might not get doesn’t mean it’s worth it.  Not if you alienate many more whom you otherwise might have won, or sow division where you could have sown peace.

On Productive Meetings and Good Management

5.  Amy Gallo for the Harvard Business Review’s Blog with The Seven Imperatives to Keeping Meetings on Track.  

Valuable information regarding how to plan for meetings that are focused, productive, and positive experiences for your team.  Emphasis on “planning,” because if you aren’t planning your meetings, chances are they will not be focused, productive, or positive experiences for anyone.

Currently…

It’s 22 degrees Fahrenheit (but feels like 7) and I’m heading home right before it starts snowing (hopefully).  We’re expecting two inches.

I’ve had to start leaving for my bus stop five minutes earlier than usual because that’s how long it takes me to layer on my winter gear.  I missed my bus by barely a minute three days last week because I wasn’t factoring in the time it takes to zip, button, and tie a jacket, a coat, and snow boots; tug on my gloves; and pull my hat down over my forehead.

I’m in a slow-zone at work and it’s hard for me to maintain my typical level of focus.  I can feel each minute slowly passing by.   I’m working steadily, but I don’t have my beautiful rush of adrenaline, which I probably depend on a bit too heavily at times.  [Emergencies are my specialty.]

Here in the slow zone, my introversion creeps out from its normally air-tight prison cell.  Today, while walking back from the microwave with a slightly burnt miniature bag of Kettle Corn, I was caught mid-thought by an introduction that went well enough, except that I did not say my own name back to the introduction-initiator.  I did, however, say “nice to meet you” and smile, which is just going to have to be good enough.  I’m not running for office (at the moment, at least).

Writing about work makes me nervous because the internet is public.

Writing in general makes me nervous too.

When I write here it’s like writing a quick email to a friend, and as long as it isn’t a topic that might get dicey (relationships, politics, etc.) I can write uninhibited.  When I think about writing elsewhere, such as a guest post or an article or something with my real name attached to it, I get a little panicky.  I don’t want my writing to be flippant or without substance, yet I’m afraid of being too serious because my expertise on everything is limited.

My greatest fear is writing something that ruins my credibility.  I am learning well from writers who can say “last week I thought X, but after learning Y I’ve changed my position to this-that-and-the-other.”  That’s the approach I would like to use when writing, but instead I go through stages of publishing remorse that usually starts with  “wow I’m the worst I’ve ruined everything forever oh my gosh why oh why oh why did I do that.”  Then about three hours later (or maybe twelve) I’m back to “it probably doesn’t matter because no one really reads what I write anyway.”  And then maybe three days later, if I still even remember the subject matter at all, I might be able to say “last week I thought X, but then I realized how stupid I was and so now I think I might think Y, but I can’t really be certain in Y because we all know what happened last week.”

NOTE:  I thought about adding in some italics or brackets or mixing up the font in this so that it would seem “artistic” instead of “ridiculous,” but let’s be real for a second.  I already bolded my font three times.

Photo-blog // Thanksgiving in Nashville

So many moments we forgot to photograph–here are a few we captured:

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Five [Awesome] Things I Read This Week, 11.29.2013

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Well, it’s a holiday weekend and so I really only have three gift guides and two posts for you, but I would love to read your recommendations so if you read something awesome this week please link to it in the comments (even if it’s something you wrote yourself!).

#1, #2, and #3:  Jessica over at How Sweet It Is has great gift guides for foodies, friends, and practical gifting needs.

#4:  D.L. Mayfield posted her year in books, and I loved them all!  I also spotted several books from my own reading this year on her list.

#5:  Tasha Golden for Ploughshares Literary Magazine with Four Reasons to Write the Hell out of (What’s Left of) 2013.

Happy Thanksgiving!

It’s been a beautiful (yet freezing) Thanksgiving day in Tennessee. I got enough quiet time to read two more chapters of Sarah Bessey’s Jesus Feminist while my husband and in laws ran five miles. We had breakfast with the in-laws, thanksgiving lunch with my parents, an afternoon with my grandmother, aunt and cousin, and are now back at the in-laws for dinner. And drinking.

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This afternoon we made coffee the old-fashioned way, because the coffee maker at my parents’ house was broken and we just couldn’t have cheesecake without it. We boiled water, poured it over the coffee grounds, steeped for three minutes and then filtered through a Martha Stewart tea towel. (Thanks, Martha.) It was maybe the most fun thing ever, and it tasted great.

I have a few things on my shopping list (mainly cold weather items because holy moly it is freezing in Chicago) but I’m not shopping until Friday or maybe even Saturday. For today, I’ll be at home in solidarity with the hourly workers and retail employees forced into work on this American holiday.

Saturday with the Boys

I have a blog post planned, but it will just have to stay in the cooler because there has been no time for writing today! I mentioned that H’s two brothers would be here for the weekend, and entertaining our guests and preparing for tomorrow’s Fake Thanksgiving Dinner has me exhausted. (I took a mini-nap on the L just a while ago!)

We woke up and had poached eggs and cheesy grits for breakfast this morning. I went ahead and made up two pans of cornbread to use for the dressing tomorrow before jumping in the shower. While that was baking, I threw together the cranberry sauce so it would be chilled and ready to go.

We drove northwest of Chicago so the boys could spend the afternoon hitting golf balls at Top Golf. I went along because of an exciting detour involving wildlife that I will share once the photos are edited! I sipped a hot toddy and read a magazine for a few hours while I watched them play from the warmth of the lodge.

It’s freezing out, and I’m wearing my down coat, two sweaters, tights under my jeans, wool socks, and fleece-lined boots. I found the bright green hooded scarf (with pockets) that my mom gave me five years ago for Christmas for my first winter in DC, and today it is the only thing keeping me from giving up and staying inside forever.

We are now at the Bad Dog Tavern, Chicago’s University of Tennessee bar, watching the UT-Vanderbilt game. When UT scores they play rocky top and the food is honestly pretty great. They have nachos with short ribs. AND the whole place is totally decked out for Christmas!

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So, how was your Saturday? Have you started holiday shopping yet? I can’t wait to dig into the sales next weekend!

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