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

Girl Power: Emma Watson, Sheryl Sandberg, and my father?

I’m going to make an honest confession. I really, really enjoy it when a man opens the door open for me. At times, I’ve had friends tell me this gesture is “old-fashioned” and “pointless”. The action still signifies so much respect to me. And, while I’m at it, I also like it when men pay if I’ve been asked out on a date. I don’t mind taking the time to help out with my portion of the check, but some (possibly out-dated) part of me appreciates this courtesy, as well.

So, in the last month, if you were to ask me if I considered myself a feminist, I would scoff at the question. Me? A bra-burning, man-hating, never-shaving feminist? Not in a million years. Or, at least, not until I was able to fully grasp what the term feminism truly meant. In the past few months, I have been jolted into fast-forward with my life. I started a career, learned to travel independently, and have attempted acclimate to pressure associated with the world of a 20-somethings. Throughout my entire life, I have never understood what feminism stood for because I lived in a sheltered sphere of small-town, rural America. A feminist, in my hometown and even at my university, had become a radical symbol and I hated any association with it. Recently, I have come to believe that it wasn’t just my little bubble that had misjudged the word—it was the entire world.

Feminist [fem-uh-nist]— (adj.) a person advocating social, political, and economical rights for women equal to those of men.

This definition, along with three other people, has led me to question my own stance on the word feminism and also the movement of gender equality. Because I believe that women should be granted the same privileges and respect that men are afforded, I now have realized that I am, indeed, a feminist. I would like to take the time to share the three people in the last few months that have pushed me towards this deduction—Emma Watson, Sheryl Sandberg, and (yes, just like the title says) my father.

Emma Watson: Hermione takes a stand

Recently, a video has been going around of Emma Watson, famous British actress who delivered a scathing call to action to the United Nations. Watson was recently appointed a goodwill ambassador for UN Women, meaning that her job title is now to be a voice for women in the world. She’s been active in numerous other campaigns, especially the “Bring Back Our Girls” movement after 276 Nigerian schoolgirls were kidnapped by an Islamic militant group.

On September 20th, Watson addressed the world at the United Nations headquarters in New York. Her request for change begins with challenging all genders to consider ending  gender inequality. Watson was speaking for the UN’s latest campaign, HeforShe, a mobilization encouraging both men and women to feel free from gender expectations and prejudice.

I’m abundantly amazed and proud of the audience she has reached. This has been shared countless times on my Facebook wall and the Twittersphere is all aflutter with the hashtag “HeforShe”. The actress who I once identified as my nerdy spirit animal in the Harry Potter films had me identifying with her once again. This time, my heart opened as she spoke of her growth as woman and the realization that she has been treated differently by society her entire life. And I cried when she confessed that being called bossy as a child hurt because, oh, did I empathize with that. I want to expect that my children, sons or daughters, will grow up in a world where they are treated equally, in America or any other country, despite their gender. My hope is that people will continue sharing this video and will take the time to research more into the campaign. And of course, my deepest dream is that the UN will reach their goal of having a billion men committing to this advocacy.

Sheryl Sandberg: More than surface level

On one of my recent longer car rides, I made the decision to buy the audiobook Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg, the current COO of Facebook. This was really my first encounter with the idea of feminism, and I loved the fact that Sandberg took the time to correlate statistics with personal stories about her own journey in the professional world. Sandberg is one of the few women in the world to occupy an elite group of executives at the top. She frequently mentions how apparent it is to her that half of all the competition in this group isn’t even there. Where have all the women gone?

Why? Why aren’t more women leaders in this world? This can’t simply be attributed to sexism in the workforce any longer. Mad Men isn’t a reality, and man, am I thankful for that. While I do believe that in some places women do face subtle or extreme prejudice every day, I do not experience this at all and believe that such action is not tolerated in most environments. Sandberg hits the nail right on the head when she cites in her book that for women, our own sex and ourselves, even, are our worst enemies. I was called bossy as a child repeatedly and not just for being the oldest of four girls. As someone who deeply values personal relationships, these words have continued to sting all of my life.

Yet, how many times do I find myself bashing other women for coming across as too direct or rude? I’m ashamed to admit that the answer is a higher number than I wish. Human nature is competitive, but as women, we should learn to embrace and support each other throughout the journey. Now, I am motivated to encourage others before I react negatively. These words especially are hand-in-hand with the idea that women are more prone to self-doubt and continue to doubt their own abilities. Sandberg shared a story in her book about two women who physically refused to join the table with men at an executive meeting despite their right to sit there. In my deepest internal thoughts, I am constantly questioning my actions and words because, sometimes, I feel that I am not enough. It’s so easy to realize why these women felt they didn’t belong at the table. If we, as women, continue to question and discourage each other, women will be impacted by a vicious cycle of apprehension for their entire life and career. We deserve to sit at the table and enjoy each other’s company.

I would like to encourage you to research Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. You can watch her TED talk titled “Why we have too few women leaders” here: http://www.ted.com/talks/sheryl_sandberg_why_we_have_too_few_women_leaders?language=en#t-173888

My Father: A Home with Five Females and One Bathroom

While so many women refuse to join the table at an executive meeting, a number of women are hesitant to even enter the building. Sandberg also addressed the idea that this self-doubt impact women’s choices for career. We second-guess our every move we make from a very early age, and I think this starts with our own families. A few days ago, I listened as a nineteen year old girl told me she changed her major from Pre-Health because she “wanted to be able to have a family and settle down”. She didn’t even have this family yet, but she was already trying to make accommodations and sacrificing her dream.

But I have been lucky enough to grow up in a family where I was encouraged to understand there were so many possibilities for my future. My sisters and I considered infinite amounts of careers, from ballerina to microbiologist, because we were encouraged to be our own person, not our gender. I’ve always referred to my parents as a team as they raised us. My mother had a major change of career when I was about ten years old, and my father embraced this idea and worked with my mother to reach this goal. She went from being a stay-at-home mom to owning her own business, and I am always inspired by her motivation, tenacity, and effort to balance time at home.

I’m thankful, additionally, that my father has embraced having four daughters every day of his life. And that is really difficult on a Sunday morning when we are all home, jockeying for a little mirror time in the bathroom that we all share, scrambling to make it to church on time. We were pushed just as hard as a boy would be to have a successful education and career. I was encouraged to pursue my passion in English Literature and never persuaded to consider a different path. Because my father is a man who supports women and remains a constant guide in my own life, I know that my horizon is limitless. He talks about the things we are interested in (that includes football and rock music), and really invests in who we are as individuals. My hope is that other men will support this attitude like my own father, especially in countries where few basic rights are provided to women and a father is the only voice she has.

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I’m inspired by Emma Watson to embrace the word feminism. I’m grateful to Sheryl Sandberg for providing better insight into my own role as a female professional. Mostly, I’m thankful to my father for being a HeforShe before it was even a campaign and for encouraging me every baby step of the way.

So, here goes nothing. I am a feminist.

Taylor

Scotland Decides: The Voices

One of my favorite college experiences occurred just last summer when I studied abroad in Scotland. If you’ve read some of my previous posts, you know that I adored the opportunity to travel and explore different cultures. I chose to study abroad in Scotland for a variety of reasons, but mainly it is because my family migrated from there generations ago and I have always felt strongly interested in Scottish nationality. There still stands a MacLellan Castle in the small town of Kirkcudbright in the southwestern region of Dumfries and Galloway, which I got to tour with a few friends. When one of my friends jokingly told the tour guide that it was “my” castle, he laughed and told me I should try paying the taxes on it for the past hundred years. While he was very kind like every person I met on my trip, Scottish pride clearly ran thick through this man’s veins.

When we were in Scotland, a movement was just beginning. I was studying at the University of Stirling, located nearby Edinburgh and Glasgow, and booths were beginning to pop up in the streets advertising “Vote Yes”. One night, I remember my room-mates coming home late and bringing a friend from the local area. I decided to ask her about the vote and what her opinion was on it. She was very young, just started studying at the university last year, but I was so impressed by her own understanding of the vote and what it would actually mean for her country to separate from the United Kingdom. Like many others who took a stand, as shown by the results a few days ago (55.3 to 44.7), she wanted to vote no to independence. Her main reasoning dealt with Scotland’s economy and, according to her, the inability to provide some services which would be necessary for an independent country. She believed they needed to remain in the UK, and I grew to support and agree with this decision over the course of this past year.

I also remember my surprise when I found out that people younger than this college aged girl were allowed to vote on the issue. A special on NPR captured my attention last week as I was visiting a few high schools in Southeast, KS. They were interviewing 16 and 17 years old high school students in Scotland who had recently gained this right to voice their opinion. A major question on the minds of many revolved around the maturity of this generation who now held power in their hands. I laughed out loud as a girl stated, “It’s not just about pop culture here anymore. We don’t just talk about One Direction. People think just because we’re young that we’re stupid, but we have real opinions. We talk about the economy and politics now.” She was so right. I think many people doubt and underestimate the youth in this world, and I experience this every day. Earlier this summer, I remember being pleasantly surprised when I met a number of high school students who seemed very driven and motivated about the future. But now I’ve realized, when young students find something they are passionate about, they are maybe even more inspired than some of the adults that I know because they realize that they can be part of change and that matters to them.

My takeaway from the Scottish vote for independence revolves around so much more than just the outcome of their decision to remain in the United Kingdom. Last year, I had the opportunity to be part of the beginning of a movement, the exploration of change. I’m still amazed every day that I have the opportunity to interact with young people who are beginning to do the same thing. It’s is overwhelming that 16 and 17 year olds have the opportunity to make life-changing decisions in other countries. But I see this happening every day as students are trying to decide their own fate and beginning a journey for themselves. It is wonderful to be part of change—big or small, in Scotland or my own state, political or personal. And I’m very thankful to witness these voices. One of my favorite quotes is from the Disney animated movie called Brave which takes place in Scotland, and I think that so many 16 and 17 year olds around the world emulate these words. “There are those who say fate is something beyond our command. That destiny is not our own, but I know better. Our fate lives within us, you only have to be brave enough to see it.”

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My favorite things: Wildcats and Scotland

Slange (or cheers in Gaelic, the Celtic language of Scotland),

Taylor

5 Tips to Avoid Stress (and ignoring your blog for a month)

I’ve been on a major blogging hiatus. For someone who typically uses writing as a stress management tool, my soul has been hurting the past few weeks. From my early years, creativity has always played a major role in my life. I remember carrying a sketch book with me on long car rides just to capture different visions, design new outfits, or color and shade simple objects. In high school, creativity took new forms like making mixed CDs, experimenting with photography, and letting my thoughts flow into poetry or fiction.

The past few weeks have been a little hectic. I’ve been focusing every ounce of energy outside of myself, using my creativity in a different form by making the golden object for any working woman: the “To Do” List. And oh, how the list grows overnight even without water to nourish it. When things become busy, my imagination is one of the first things to go. Sleeping, eating, and more boring etc. takes precedence. But, as my newest idol Mindy Kaling (more on her later) says, “No one ever wants to hear how stressed out anyone else is because most of the time everyone is stressed out.”

I have formed a brand-new (and hopefully resilient) strategy and hope to make more time for writing as I begin this new school year.  I think a routine will provide some more structure and less anxiety. In the meantime, as a newly christened 20-something, officially on the road, fresh employee, here are my most recent tips for stress management:

1. Make something

Butter, surprisingly, can be a great stress relief. And I’m not just talking about stress eating (which I am guilty of doing plenty of times). I recently broke out my room-mate’s vintage Kitchenaid mixer which belonged to her grandmother in the 60s. After some mild issues involving assembly, it was quite relaxing to whip up some rocking cookies (butter included) and get my hands a little sticky in cookie dough. I think taking the time to do anything with your hands, from pottery to gardening, can provide an excellent stress relief and I can’t wait to explore more of these options.

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2. Laugh a little

If you have been around me in-person at all the past few weeks, you know that my latest obsession has to do with one hilarious Indian woman named Mindy Kaling. The producer/writer/star of “The Mindy Project” which is taking the television world by storm, Mindy makes me laugh even when I want to cry. Her insight into the world of professional women, dating, and just being all-around awkward is spot-on. I recently downloaded her book, “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)”, and I empathize with every word she writes. From being comfortable in her own skin to being comfortable in her own brain, Mindy just gets me. If you need a little chuckle to distract you, check out Mindy or other comedic avenues. Laughter is the best medicine, after all.

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3. Hit the Road

Luckily for me, my new job requires some mileage. There is something about just driving and taking in some alone time. My best thinking is done when I’m in the car with only my own thoughts for company. I’ve talked to some of my friends about this, and we all seem to agree that when the going gets tough, get in your car and get going. The best car playlist for some stress relief though? “Build Me Up Buttercup” on Pandora will keep you grooving for hours. Oldies have a special place in my heart, and these are always guaranteed to lift my mood, ridiculous dance moves included.

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A recent travel destination: Moran, KS.

4. Quality Time

I’m thankful for wonderful friends and family who support me during the beginning of my transition into the professional world. Recently, I was lucky enough to spend some quality time with a few of my close friends who I hadn’t seen for the majority of the summer. It was such a blessing to catch up and debrief on our own lives. My sisters and I also spent time together the past few weeks, and they always fill me with such joy. From laughter to enjoying queso—there’s never a dull moment! Taking time from my own life to focus on others, even just to take a moment to catch up, can be a major stress relief and an important one.

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5. Find your place

I think there’s something about returning to spot that holds a special place in your heart. This spot has changed in Manhattan, Kansas for me so often because every place in this wonderful town is “a spot that I love full well”. The Konza Prairie is the perfect place to escape and find peace of mind, especially if you’re looking for a long walk and beautiful sites. Another favorite of mine is Bluestem Bistro, which not only has the best cup of coffee in town but also a soothing atmosphere that helps me relax. Last year I would visit all the time on rainy afternoons to work on homework or my latest writing project. This past month, my place has been the First United Methodist Church on Pointz. The pastor is fabulous at public speaking, but often times, it’s the message that really keeps my attention. A couple weeks ago, I needed to hear a message about clean starts and peace. He delivered a message on allowing yourself to “Be Fresh Water”, providing a sanctuary for yourself and for others, and allowing forgiveness to wash over you. The choir performed a song that has always stayed with me called “River in Judea”, which I once performed in high school at a KMEA Honor Choir concert. I had previously been listening to the song all week to help myself relax, and I felt chills the moment the choir unexpectedly performed it. It might be a moment, like mine a few Sundays ago; it might be place you love. Any of these can provide you with the opportunity to refresh and rid yourself of stress which is getting in the way of your life.

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A morning on the Konza Prairie this summer.

I’m hoping to take some of my own advice this semester and put these tips to good use. Eventually, I’m also hoping to have some profound blog posts. For the time being, however, in the words of Elsa from Frozen, I hope you all have the chance to “Let it Go” over the next few weeks and take some time for yourself. Make something, laugh a little, hit the road, enjoy some quality time, and find your place. You deserve it!

Cheers,

Taylor