Unsolicited Advice for High School Grads

“The one piece of advice I would give recent high school graduates is….”

That is the question posed last week by the the dee-jays of a radio station on its “Finish Line Friday” program. People called in with all sorts of endings to that statement, ranging from the silly to the serious (and sort of depressing). As I listened to what everyone else thought was good advice for new high school graduates, I couldn’t help but think of what would say. It actually turned out to be harder than I thought, as the longer I thought about the advice that popped into my head right away, I found they weren’t necessarily the best nuggets of advice to give our high school graduates. For example…

Stay in college as long as possible. Working in the real world isn’t great as it looks. Yes, that may be true: for most working adults, the joys of college are a distant memory. No more month-long breaks for the holidays; no more hanging out with your best friends 24/7; no more functioning on less than 4 hours of sleep. But while staying in college certainly has its perks, those student loan balances you will face later in life won’t be so awesome. When I started working, I was sad that I didn’t take the 5- or 6- or 7-year path to getting my degree. But now as I pay out my hard-earned money each month towards my student loans, I’m so thankful I completed my under-grad in four years. Think forward, grads!

Do what you love, no matter what anyone tells you. I strongly believe this. Certainly, following your dreams and passions is probably the quickest way to happiness. But…to an 18-year-old, perhaps this isn’t the best advice. When I was headed to college, I had big dreams of becoming a famous author and living in a fabulous apartment in NYC. That changed after I took an introductory accounting class my first semester and switched my major to accounting before the class was even over. My decision was fueled by two factors:

1. I was very good at all this debit and credit stuff, and

2. I would never have to look too hard for a job in the accounting field, according to my professor (and my career advisor, my parents, my upper-classmen friends and just about everyone else I told I was going to major in accounting)

And they were right. I was BLESSED to have multiple jobs offers when I graduated from Heidelberg with a bachelors in accounting and later when I graduated with a masters in the same field. And it’s not that I was some sort of accounting wizard – it’s just that accountants are very much needed. Do I have the big apartment in NYC where I spend countless hours pouring my heart and soul into the written word? Um, no. But do I have a stable career and steady income? Yes, I do. Job security is what allows me to follow my passion because of I love to write, not because I need to make rent.

So what would I tell a recent high school graduate?

I’ve thought about it a lot, and what I truly wish someone would have told me when I was 18-years-old was just to RELAX. People all around me kept stressing the importance of going to college, getting a job and finding someone to start a family with, all while enjoying myself because “these are the best years” of my life. That’s a lot of pressure to put on a kid – and, as I found out, it was unnecessary pressure. As they always do, things work out – and almost nothing like you have planned.

So, class of 2013, here is my advice:

Take your time deciding what you want to do now that you’ll be entering the “real world”.

Don’t stress about letting others down – you’ll never, ever make everyone happy.

Enjoy your college years, but remember that hard work will pay off, so make sure you find time to beef up your resume in between all the fun.

Treat everyone you encounter with respect; that is a true measure of character, and I guarantee you will never regret it.

And finally, whenever anyone says life doesn’t get any better than this, have peace knowing that they are wrong. Because it does.

DIY Cupcake Toppers

I’m not sure when it happened exactly, but cupcakes have taken over the dessert world. These tiny little cakes have stolen the spotlight at birthday parties, restaurants and even weddings. And I don’t think they are going anywhere anytime soon. One of the {many} reasons I think cupcakes have taken us all by storm is how customizable they are. One quick Google image search shows thousands and thousands and thousands of cupcakes in different colors, styles and flavors. But of course – all those options come at a price: either pony up the money for someone else to make custom cupcakes, or spend a bunch of time making them yourself.

Well, I don’t like to do either of those things.

So, when I hosted a Seagram’s Escapes “girls night in” a few weeks ago, I decided to go a different route with the cupcakes. I purchased plain “mini” cupcakes from the local grocery and had them add some colorful sprinkles at the store. They were vanilla with white frosting, very tasty and were a great price…but…they were a tad boring.

I wanted to get cupcake toppers to match the “luau”/summer theme of the party, but I couldn’t find any that didn’t cost a lot. I mean, these little things are used for about 5 minutes and then quickly tossed when the important business of eating the cupcake begins. Therefore, it doesn’t make much sense to me to send a lot of money on cupcake toppers.

Instead, I got the idea to make my own cupcake toppers using stickers and some items I had around the house.

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The stickers cost $2 per pack of 26 stickers. I was able to make 24 toppers from both packs, so the cost of each topper was just over $0.16. Niiiiiiiice.

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Start by placing a toothpick near the edge of a plain piece of paper. Use whatever scrap paper you have around the house – the paper will not show up except on the back of the topper, and who cares what the back looks like? Not me and certainly not anyone eating the yummy cupcakes.

Then, place the sticker on top of the toothpick and press firmly to make sure the toothpick doesn’t move around. Continue until you make enough toppers. Since the sticker packets I purchased had some small flower stickers too small for one topper, I clustered a few of them together.

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Cut around the stickers and the toppers are complete! This is the most time-consuming part of the process, but it can easily be done while sitting outside or while catching up on your shows. And the results are worth it:

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The possibilities are endless with these! And since they are so easy and inexpensive to make, I look forward to trying many more of the possibilities.

Friday Favorites – June 21

Hooray, it’s Friday! To celebrate the end of another work week, I’ve collected a few world-wide-web gems that made me smile this week.

1. My favorite “screw a diet and enjoy life” shirt.

Truth.
Truth.

2. Prancercising. This woman’s seriousness while prancing makes me smile. And whatever her age, she’s glamorous.

3. Even dogs make decisions they later regret. I was crying while reading this. So funny!

"Oh - I didn't expect you home so soon."
“Oh – I didn’t expect you home so soon.”

4. Taylor Swift’s hilarious (but fake!) tweet about the new Kardashian baby:

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[Here’s a little reminder of when Kanye interrupted Taylor’s acceptance speech at the VMA’s in 2009. Payback!]

Hope everyone has a fabulous weekend!

Happy Father’s Day!

Happy Father’s Day to all dads out there!

I could write a novel of a blog post about my dad and how amazing he is. Instead, I want to write on this Father’s Day about a cause that is near and dear to my family.

In January of 2012, my father was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (“MS”). At the time, my mom, sister and I knew nothing about the disease, except that it was something you really, really didn’t want to have. The more we learned about it, and the more we saw my dad suffer, the more we hated everything about it. It’s a horrible disease, and those who have it – and their family members – need support.

This year, my extended family members and some friends are joining the Bike MS Pedal to the Point bike ride on August 3-4. This fundraising ride starts in Brunswick and offers five riding distances:

– 30 miles (Brunswick to Oberlin),

– 75 miles (Brunswick to Sandusky)

– 100 miles (Brunswick to Sandusky, with the addition of the Kent Clapp Extra Lap)

– 150 miles (Brunswick to Sandusky and back, two full days)

– 175 miles (Brunswick to Sandusky and back, with the addition of the Kent Clapp Extra Lap, two full days)

I’m doing the 30 mile ride with my mom, Ryan and some friends are doing the two-day 150 mile ride, and other members of the team are doing the various other distances.

We would LOVE to have any and all people interested in riding to join our team! And if you can’t ride, please consider donating to the cause. When my dad was diagnosed, almost everyone I told about it had a friend or relative who also has MS. It affects so many people. Too many.

To join our team, make a donation or just learn more about MS, please visit my personal page.

Happy  Father’s Day!

Olive My Heart – Hudson, Ohio

I’ve been remiss in posting about a wonderful gem in Hudson, Ohio called Olive My Heart. I heard about this olive oil and vinegar tasting room while reading akronlife magazine probably about a year ago. The concept intrigued me: the entire store is filled with different gourmet olive oils and vinegar that patrons can sample.

Ryan and I visited the store not too soon after I read that article, and our first visit lasted well over an hour. I had no idea how many different types of olive oil and vinegar there are – or how different they taste. The exotic names and flavors kept getting better and better with each taste. The staff was amazing and very knowledgeable.

The olive oils there included many EVOO’s from both the northern and southern hemispheres, and various flavor infused oils, including basil, garlic and wild mushroom & sage. The vinegar is all balsamic and comes in both dark and white. There are a TON of flavors, including champagne, fig, honey ginger and pineapple. Being the spice lovers that we are, we purchased a chili pepper-infused olive oil called Harissa. We also bought a dark vinegar flavored with maple.

Now, I understand that sounds incredibly weird. I thought so too, but I have become a complete and total believer in flavored vinegar. This stuff has a mild acidity and a sweet, delicious maple taste. I use this on my salads – and nothing else.

That’s right – a no fat, low-calorie salad dressing that tastes divine.

I have added a drizzle of the Harissa olive oil for a little extra kick – and that just takes it to a whole new level. We have also used this as a marinade for grilled chicken. A-mazing.

If you are in the area and want to try out Olive My Heart, stop in and do a taste testing. They have bread to accompany the olive oil and vinegar samples – and plenty of water. It’s a fun – and free! – date or girls-day-trip that isn’t run-of-the mill. And you might even find a product (or two) that you want to take home.

If you’re not in the area and are interested in purchasing some of the store’s products, they do take orders online. The website also has some recipes. I think you will really enjoy their products. I’m certainly hooked: this wonderful store has captured “olive” my taste buds.

Tuesday Ten – Favorite Books

A good book has no ending. – R.D. Cumming

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I thought writing a “Tuesday Ten” on my favorite books would be very easy – but it ended up being kind of difficult. I quickly rattled off ten books that I would call my favorite – but then I remembered about a dozen more that I simply could not leave off that list. Therefore, the list below is certainly not all-encompassing, but it is a great representation of the books that I would call my “favorites”. I knew I loved these books because I was sad when they ended. I miss their characters, their stories, their magic. They may not be on any “classics” list – and literary experts would probably roll their eyes at my choices. But that’s ok – they meant something to me, and that is really all that matters.

1. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

2. The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett.

3. House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III.

4. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini.

5. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini.

6. The Road by Cormac McCarthy.

7. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

8. Water for Elephants by Sarah Gruen.

9. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky.

10. The Gravedigger’s Daughter by Joyce Carol Oates.

DIY Coffee Creamer – and A Yummy Coffee Drink

The skies have been cloudy and dreary in Northeast Ohio the past couple of days. I’ve actually been wearing long sleeves and jeans mixed in with my shorts and T-shirts, which makes me sad after posting my Summer Bucket List just a couple of days ago.

But there is one good thing about the chilly, wet weather: is it has forced me to attend to inside projects. One thing I’ve been wanting to do lately is make more DIY coffee creamer. In this family, we drink coffee anytime, anywhere, any season. We love us some coffee.

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My first attempt at a DIY coffee creamer was a yummy success, but this time I decided to go with a slightly less intense version. In addition, I used almond milk instead of dairy milk.

DIY Coffee Creamer

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– 14 oz can of sweetened condensed milk

– 28 oz of almond milk or dairy milk (I used unsweetened almond)

– 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract (optional)

1. Pour the sweetened condensed milk into a blender. You might need a spatula to get it all out. Do not discard sweetened condensed milk can.

2. Fill the now-empty can with milk of your choice; pour into blender. Repeat. You should have 28 oz. of milk in the blender with 14 oz. of sweetened condensed milk.

3. If desired, add vanilla to blender.

4. Turn blender on low-medium, until mixture is combined. About 30-45 seconds.

5. Pour into storage container and enjoy!

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You can skip the blender entirely if you have a large bottle or container with a lid. Follow the instructions above, but instead add everything to the bottle, not the blender. Shake to combine – and enjoy the arm workout that comes with doing it this way! Also note that this recipe makes waaaay more than that itty bitty mason jar shown. I just did that for looks; I can’t resist anything in a mason jar!

I loved my first attempt that this, but I L-O-V-E this second attempt. I don’t add any sweetener to my coffee, so the less intense version is perfect for me. If you like a sweeter java, just add less milk.

And don’t forget – if you have a favorite coffee syrup (like the ones made by Torani) – you can substitute that for the vanilla extract. But be warned – syrup is more intense, so use less of it. Add a tiny bit at a time – you can always add more later. 

Finally, I wanted to share a little “luxury” I have at home for my coffee. A few years ago, I bought a milk frother from World Market. Simply add milk, and with a few pumps this simple little gadget makes frothy milk for lattes, just like a coffee-house. For around $20, I would call that a very affordable luxury.

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Unfortunately, last Christmas when I wanted to buy one for my mom and sister, I found that World Market no longer sold these frothers. However, they are still around on the internet (like here), and are still a great price. Or – you can go with a hand-held one (like this one) like the ones I ended up getting my mom and sister. At $2.99, it is an even more affordable luxury.

Hope you enjoy it a latte! : )