Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Ten on Tuesday: Daily Reads

Quote by Jessica Hische; Illustration by Chris Piascik 
As a college student, procrastination (and distraction) is a problem that I face from time to time. (Though I must say, having a full work, school and social schedule has taught me to be better than most.. Time management is likely one of my greatest strengths). For most of my friends, Facebook is the procrastination outlet of choice. While I don't seem to mind Twitter, Facebook makes me cringe. I've managed to deactivate and reactivate my personal Facebook at least six times in the past twelve months at the dismay of friends and family. (Sorry guys!) With multiple group projects this semester though, it seems as though unfortuantely Facebook is going nowhere for now.

My first line of work when procrastinating usually includes photography. I am constantly editing photos, organizing marketing efforts, posting prints to Etsy, redesigning my website, and updating photo galleries. Perhaps what college has taught me more than anything else is that photography is the only thing I can see myself doing for the rest of my life. But, for the sake of my mother's sanity, I suppose I will finish getting a college degree. You know, just in case. 

I'm also known for resorting to culinary distractions when I have real work that needs done - or more often, exams that I need to study for. Unfortunately, I seem to choose sweets like brownies, cupcakes and cookies over making flashcards and that leads to more hours spent at the gym and consequently, even less time studying. As you can see, the cycle is viscous and I simply thank God for my high metabolism and an apartment only six minutes from the gym.

Perhaps my favorite form of procrastination is blogging, though. As you all know by now, I am constantly changing the look of "Live Beautifully". The widgets on the sidebar tend to cycle themselves in and out every few days.  I spend class time scratching "blog post ideas" onto a post-it note list. But even more than I enjoy working on my own blog, I love reading other blogs. I'm constantly finding inspiration for my photography, outfit choices, my own blog, my culinary adventures and for DIY projects, too. I hope to soon add a page of daily reads (read as "my favorite blogs") to my blog permanently but in the mean time, I thought I'd share with you ten of my favorite blogs across various categories. Perhaps you'll find a new daily read to add to your own list!

Just Love.ly Things is a blog that I've been reading longer than most others on this list. I can tell you that the defining moment of love for me was when I read this post - a post about friends and how being a good friend or making new friends isn't always the easiest thing. Just Lovely Things is a blog written by Heather, a girl who's held many jobs like owning her own hair salon, her own photography company and now, her own accessories company. The part of Heather's blog that inspires me most is her honesty. Heather's made it a point to be very true and open with her blog and if you ask me, that's a rare trait to have (plus, the girl makes the cutest headbands I've ever seen. seriously.) With Valentines Day quickly approaching, be sure to check out her series with Dana of Wonder Forest - 14 days of love!

Desire of My Heart: the Blog of Jamie Delaine is my biggest source of drive when it comes to photography. I would tell you that "when I grow up, I want to be Jamie Delaine" but... she's my age! And manages an incredibly successful photography business. Her blog is full of thoughtful writing, wedding photography, fabulous destination photography and a lot of talk about reading and coffee shops. Plus, she doesn't eat gluten, either. Yesterday, Jamie posted a blog on her beginnings as a photographer. Her thoughtfulness constantly inspires me to go take photographs, to go read books, to practice photoshop, to keep trying. And we all know how important that push can be. To be honest with you, I don't think I could explain to you in this little paragraph how much I admire Jamie, her blog and her photography.

Enjoying the Small Things is the blog of blogs. Let's be honest here, who hasn't heard of Kelle Hampton and her beautiful children? If you haven't, you need to click. Now. This blog holds a soft spot in my heart because of my passion for children with Down Syndrome. If you're new to Kelle's blog, you might want to start here, with the birth story of her second daughter, Nella. I think that if I ever am a mom, I'd want to be a Kelle Hampton kind of mom. And let me tell you, her photography? It's worth a blog visit in itself.

A Beautiful Mess is the blog of Elsie Larson - a designer and boutique owner who lives in Springfield, Missouri. I'm obviously a big fan of anything from Missouri and I tried to talk my family into making an adventure of Springfield to visit Elsie's shop, Red Velvet, when we visited the Show Me state over the summer. Elsie's blog is full of fashion posts, DIY projects and today she began a series on photography! It's easily the blog I visit most often because it is constantly updated by Elsie, her adorable sister Emma and other contributors.

Sincerely, Kinsey is a new blog started by Kinsey Mihre, a contributor for A Beautiful Mess and another fabulous Missouri girl. I am enamored with her photography, she captures light in a way that makes me swoon. No, really. Her blog covers a million topics - it reminds me of my own in that aspect. If you like J Crew, thrifting, beautiful photography, and a good love story, you'll easily love "Sincerely, Kinsey" as much as I do. Besides, how great of a name is Kinsey, anyway?

MaieDae is a new blog on my list but it's quickly becoming one of my favorites. To better explain, MaieDae has three parts - a graphic design company, a shop of handmade items and my favorite part, the lifestyle blog of a 23 year old, Georgia resident, named Savannah. It'd be an understatement to say that I'm obsessed with the design of Savannah's blog. But the content of her posts? Equally fabulous. Some of my favorite features include her weekly wrap up and the various interviews she does with other bloggers and small-business owners.

Oh, Sweet Joy! is the light-hearted and fun lifestyle blog of Kim - a personal shopper for Anthropologie (so so so jealous!), seamstress, and blogger. I knew I'd love Kim's blog because she loves robins egg blue, Dr.Pepper and crafts of all sorts. If she lived in York rather than Colorado, we'd be friends, I just know it. As for her blog, it's full of sewing advice, recipes, DIY projects and fun interviews with other shop owners.

City Lights is a blog thats slowly fueling in me a love for the city of Chicago, and let's be honest, I've never even been to the Windy City. But I think if I were to visit, I'd already know the best places for cupcakes and coffee in the city. Ashley is an incredible writer, a lover of good books and she's quickly becoming an impressive photographer, too!

How About Orange? is the newest blog on my list but it was obviously meant to be. Rarely do I meet anyone who loves the color orange like I do. Jessica is a designer so obviously her blog is gorgeous but it also means great resources for those of you working on a small business, your own website or blog, or any other creative venture. I could waste hours reading through posts on How About Orange? - they're inspirational, well-written and fun. What else do you need?

Wonder Forest is a blog that I found through Just Lovely Things and the 14 days of love series! Lucky for you, Dana just wrote an "about me" post today! But before you check it out, you should be prepared for another blog full of inspiration and DIY. Can you tell I have a thing for crafty people?! I also love Dana for her honesty about her struggles with overcoming anxiety.

Hopefully you'll find a few new inspirational reads for your blog list. Each blog on this list has helped me to write, to photograph, to be creative. (And, it gives me something to read while not paying attention in class, waiting at the doctors office and when I can't sleep at night.) What are some of your favorite blogs I should know about?  

Monday, January 30, 2012

Purpose and Direction

It's one o'clock in the morning and I'm not really sure where I'm going with this blog post but all I know is that I've got to stay awake for at least fifty-three more minutes. At seven-thirty, I have a date on the sixth floor of the York hospital with some electrodes, strobe lights and uncomfortable breathing exercises. Apparently, to best prepare myself, I shouldn't sleep more than five hours, can't have any chocolate and perhaps I shouldn't be driving myself, either.

As you may have noticed, there's a new look around here. Though it wasn't long ago that I had switched colors, headers and "widgets", I found myself feeling antsy with how this little corner of the web was displaying itself. Perhaps I've simply caught my boyfriend's constant itch for redecorating, reorganizing and simplifying.. but lately, I've been really considering what I want from this blog. I've looked at where it's been (and how it's looked). I've considered where it is now. And more importantly, where I want it to be - in the near future and perhaps in the farther future, too.

Unfortunately, the constant connection to the internet, social networking and a never ending blogroll seems to set me up for constant disappointment with my own efforts, especially when it comes to blogging. I struggle to find things to write. My camera has been tucked away in a quiet corner of my room for days. I spend hours upon hours investigating other blogs, thinking of tutorials, looking through template designs and ultimately, I'm never satisfied. I find myself comparing this blog to those that I like to read daily - blogs about photography, fashion, graphic design, gluten-free cuisine, owning a small business. This blog? It's none of those things in it's entirety. Instead, it's a little bit of each. And I'm trying to learn that perhaps, that's okay. Perhaps, it's not. What I have realized though is that he constant act of comparing myself to others, well, that's not okay.. and it's most certainly not healthy.

Over the past year, this blog has included sneak peaks of photography sessions, funny anecdotes about life with a six year old, various allergy-friendly recipes, and information about my favorite charities. Essentially, what I'm really trying to say is that this blog has been all over the place. I suppose in my searching of other blogs, what I've been yearning for is a definition for my own - the ability to say "Oh yes, "Live Beautifully" is a blog about ___." But there doesn't seem to be just one answer for me. And I've realized that is simply what this blog must be about - not defining yourself to one thing. Yet, something still doesn't feel solid here.

"Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction."  - John F. Kennedy

Perhaps I haven't put every bit of effort I should into my writing for this blog but at the same time, I don't think that it is effort or courage that I've been lacking. Instead, I seem to be struggling to find purpose and direction - and not just when it comes to blog posts.

I was determined to begin 2012 without resolutions. I was content with 2011. I was content with who I was when midnight struck. But now, a month later, I'm questioning that contentment. Perhaps I didn't need to resolve to change myself but rather to focus my efforts in one direction. And yet, over the past thirty days, I've managed to scratch out a list of goals in my bedside journal - goals that range from "eating more dark leafy greens" to "learn how to sew (seriously this time)."

Without a purpose, I find myself reaching for straws so to speak. The past two years, I had THON, and it was easy. I could define myself through my dedication to that organization. I was a dancer. I was a chair. And that was how everyone knew me. I didn't struggle for blog material, my life was constantly busy with blood drives, hospital visits and CCSG weekends. Every email I sent was signed with a cute "FTK". As February approached, I thought of little other than THON weekend. Now as February approaches, I honestly can say that I feel a bit lost. As I start my second semester at a new school, I realize that no one there knows what THON is, no one cares that I even went to Penn State, and so perhaps I have to find a new definition for myself, too - not just my blog.

If you ask anyone close to me, they'll tell you that I don't handle change well. I never have. I'd say that I never will but perhaps, one day, I'll have figured it out. Though that statement may be true, a part of me is constantly looking for "blank slate" opportunities. I love the idea of starting over new. It's interesting to believe that in one short life time, each person can be so many different things. Perhaps our music tastes change, we dress differently, our hobbies evolve. Maybe a new slate means something as simple as the chance to cut off eleven inches of hair or to start wearing glasses you don't need.

I like to think that this new slate has a more important meaning for me though. This year isn't about silly things like staying organized at school, writing a more cohesive blog or even learning to sew. The only resolution I really need for 2012 is to find purpose and direction. And more importantly, to put both effort and courage into pursuing that new direction, whatever it may be.  (Perhaps I'll even figure out this blog and where it's going along the way.)

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Letters To Sean: Half Way

I had to stop to write you a note between dinner, homework and getting ready for bed to tell you that the dreams I've been having, they've only gotten stranger. Last night, I dreamt that I joined the army. The army, Sean. I went to boot camp. I wore a uniform. Then they found out that I had asthma when I tried to climb an obstacle course wall. Of course they kicked me out and then I was in trouble for lying to the U.S. Army. I swear, I'd be less tired if I simply stayed awake rather than running boot camp drills in my sleep. It's all because Trevor made me watch some Vietnam Marine Corps movie last night - the only part I liked was the recruits running in cadence. Those rhymes are too funny. Trevor thinks I should sing them while I run at the gym, perhaps I'd breath better. He says thats the whole point - is it? Sometimes I don't know believe a thing he says, but don't tell him that. The one part reminded me of you though. A recruit was in trouble for sneaking a jelly doughnut in to his barracks. You better be more careful about drinking chocolate milk at the wrong times - Mom told me that you've already been on fire watch for two weeks.

I didn't get a letter from you today but went home to visit. I had to do laundry, of course, and couldn't manage to fold my fitted sheet. Mom suggested you can teach me when you come home after three months of laundry duty and making your bed. It's too funny to think of you making your bed. You're going to be so happy when you get to sleep on the recliner for seventeen days. Speaking of which, mom and I were talking about how we're going to have to shop for clothes to bring to graduation. What else will you wear for the weekend at the beach? I can't begin to imagine you twenty pounds heavier, with a bald head.

But it's not far, now. (I've even started looking for a dress to wear) We're past half way - only forty-four days until graduation. I'm not sure what I'm looking forward to more.. a weekend at the beach or seeing you. (Kidding, calm down... What I'm not looking forward to, though? An eight hour car ride with Dad. And Aiden. And Mom's radio choices.) Then again, I dreamt the other night that I wrestled you at graduation for not writing me more letters. You should probably consider it. Then again, I don't write you every day but, life is boring here. Your tales of tear gas and sand fleas definitely overpower mine of boring college classes and doctors appointments. Well, speaking of class, I suppose I should go teach myself statistics or at least manage to punch holes in my papers from my classes.

Love & miss you, always.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Ten on Tuesday: Songs I'm Loving!

With today being my first day of classes for the Spring semester, there are a lot of things I'm not loving. They include last minute laundry, my Psychology of Racism class (which I'm dropping), the fact that I'm taking three statistics courses at the same time, that the sole means of grading in my advanced business law course is true & false exams, and then there was the anxiety attack while waiting for Jesse Jackson to speak in the gym.

But hey, right now I'm snuggling Buddy, sitting in a recently repaired rocking chair in "the third floor man cave", eating gluten free rice crispies... AND, my boyfriend just went downstairs to make me hot chocolate. (He's great.) I could do without the movie playing in the background though. I haven't a clue what it is but it involves marines, Parris Island, lots of screaming, and rude comments... Have I mentioned lately that I miss my brother..? Which, honestly, is so bizarre to me. (Don't tell him, or my mom, but I really wish I could text him sometimes. I honestly tried to send him an invitation to the movies the other day.) The highlight of my days is checking the mail because some of those days, I get letters. Often short. Often full of misspelled words. But today? Today it had a Buzz Lightyear stamp so I consider that a win. One of the only things getting me through the past couple of stressful weeks has been some new music I'm loving so I thought I'd make that my ten on tuesday, this week. 

Ten Songs I'm Loving Right Now: 

Samson - Regina Spektor
White Blank Page - Mumford & Sons
Animal - Mike Snow
Girlfriend - Phoenix
True Affection - The Blow
Help, I'm Alive! - Metric
You've Got the Love - Florence + the Machine
Go Outside - the Cults
Little Secrets - Passion Pit
Electric Eel - MGMT

Monday, January 23, 2012

Baking Bread

It seems at though winter has finally made its way to the Northeast. I don't know about anyone else but I was craving snow in trees, icy sidewalks and a reason to bundle up in hats, mittens & scarves. I keep promising to be more present here but I've found myself lacking things to photograph in the midst of the nasty, rainy weeks we've been having. That being said - I have to make a disclaimer, there has been plenty going on in my life. Just not the sort of things that make good photographs.

Today is the only day I have between winter courses and the start of my Spring semester. After five weeks of slaving over my laptop with pages and pages of printed powerpoint slides, I'm finished (and with a 100% in my advertising course, too!). The weekend snow has kept me from getting much done in the way of errands but I did get to listen to a lot of Florence + the Machine radio on Pandora, read some of this book, and clean my entire apartment.

Luckily, my boyfriend loves to brave the snow in his big red, four-wheel drive, Tahoe. On Friday, we planned to see a movie but abandoned our plan for a comfy bed and watching the snow finally fall. Cliche? yes... but true. On Saturday, he rescued me after a slow night of work and we managed to make it to the movies. The first time we've ever gone to the movies together.. in six months. Unfortunately, I don't think we will ever go again after I slept through the entire 11:50 showing of Haywire. (Oops.)

Somehow though, I managed to leave my phone at home when we left for the movies. And even more incredible, I made it over 36 hours without it - and the world didn't end. (And my mom only texted Trevor once.)

Sundays are always my favorite part of the weekend though and this week was no different. After sleeping in, Trevor & I ventured to our favorite little lunch spot, a tiny cafe in Jacobus called Geezer's. Since the cook overslept, lunch was running late, so we finally took the time to explore the 30+ rooms of antiques found in Grey Beards Antiques and Collectibles. My boyfriend, the self-proclaimed "furniture whore" was enthralled by victorian couches, marble accent pieces and rustic wooden farm tables. I found myself gawking over cases of vintage jewelry and flipping through Beatles albums. It took serious effort for us to turn around and venture back down three floors of stairs for lunch. The best part? They serve the best chai & double lattes with your meal.

The rest of the day was fairly uneventful - a trip to the gym, a ninety question Human Resources Management exam, a marathon of Clint Eastwood movies, and chinese delivered for dinner.

Have I mentioned that I love Sundays?

But the real reason I stopped to write today wasn't to just share stories of my weekend but to share a gluten free recipe that I fell in love with today. After being told that my medical problems are coming from anxiety, I set out on a mission to do more things I enjoy. Lately, cooking has become my favorite past time. And last week? I fell in love with baking bread. Since the last loaf lasted only three days, I ventured the freezing rain today for ingredients to make not only another loaf of bread but flat bread for packed lunches this week.

I found multiple recipes but settled on using a recipe from this blog as my basis. If you know me though, you know that I never follow recipes very well and with only a trip to Walmart, I knew I'd be struggling to find brown rice flour or tapioca starch.

I know that most of you reading this don't eat gluten-free but I think this is a great flat bread, either way. Plus, baking bread is one of the best ways to spend a rainy, icy, cold, winter Monday.

You will need: 

1 Cup of Stone Ground White Rice Flour
(I use Bob's Red Mill, which I bought at Walmart)
1/2 Cup of Corn Starch
2 Tablespoons of Sugar in the Raw
(you can substitute regular sugar, if you prefer but I am trying to make a conscious effort to eliminate processed sugar)
2 Teaspoons of Xantham Gum
(you can find this in the gluten free section at Giant or Walmart, I prefer Bob's Red Mill for this as well - it's slightly expensive but the bonus is that you'll have plenty left for other recipes!)
1 Packet of Fleischmann's ActiveDry Yeast (located near the flour)
1/2 Teaspoon of Salt
1 Teaspoon of Apple Cider Vinegar
2 Tablespoons of Olive Oil (I used Bertolli Classico)
2 Eggs
Parchment Paper
A Standard Cookie Sheet

To make:

  • Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  • Cut a piece of parchment paper to cover the cookie sheet. If you don't have parchment paper, you can oil and dust the pan instead. (That being said, I really recommend the parchment paper!)
  • Mix together all of the dry ingredients including the rice flour, corn starch, xantham gum, yeast and salt.
  • In a large mixing bowl, combine all of your wet ingredients (water, vinegar, oil & eggs). If you have a standing mixer, use that bowl. If not, use a hand mixer to quickly combine the ingredients.
  • Slowly add the dry ingredients to the bowl of wet ingredients while beating at a low speed.
  • After combined, beat on a medium speed for about four minutes if you are using a standing mixer. If you are using a hand mixer, mix until the dough becomes too thick for the mixing blades.
  • Scoop the dough out and place on the parchment paper lined cookie sheet.
  • Wet a metal spoon and use the back to spread the dough evenly on the sheet. Try to get it to be a uniform thickness across - this is easier said than done. Just make sure to reach all of the edges of the pan and not to leave any areas too thin.
  • Here's where you will need some patience (a lesson I'm learning from baking breads) - place the dough in a warm spot to rest and rise for about thirty-five or forty minutes. I kept my cookie sheet on my stovetop. It's difficult to get bread to rise properly in this weather!
  • Once your dough has set, bake it for approximately 12 minutes. The top will be slightly browned when it is ready. It may also have a bit of a crust to it but that will go away as your bread is cooling.
  • Allow the bread to cool for at least ten minutes before using.
  • To cut the bread, a pizza cutter works wonders. I was able to make four large flat bread wraps from this batch.

For lunch, I made this sandwich from the bread that had finally cooled. It's filled with slice of Muenster cheese, three pieces of ham, three pieces of turkey, two pieces of bacon, fresh spinach and a mayonnaise spread with garlic power, onion powder & italian seasoning. Just fold it over & stick a toothpick in the center to make it easy! The bread is the perfect texture and has a very light taste. Many gluten-free breads fail on both of these levels so I was pleasantly surprised by just how delicious it was! And I have to say, I'm not dreading packed lunches quite as much, now. Plus, it allowed me to eat some nice dark leafy vegetables, one of my newest goals. (More about that, later).

The rest of my Monday will be spent in a less relaxed fashion. As soon as this next loaf of whole-grain bread comes out of the oven, I'm off to a neurology visit. After that? Laundry and worrying myself to death over the first day of classes.

Hope you are finding a pleasant way to spend this rainy cold day.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Milkshakes & Apple Dumplings

While the real purpose of the Pennsylvania Farm Show may be to teach about what is going on in the world of agriculture in our state, everyone I know goes for the milkshakes, the apple dumplings and occasionally I hear it has something to do with petting an alpaca, watching baby ducks on a slide, or seeing a real rodeo. With a rodeo in my backyard at home, I find myself more enamored with the milkshakes and apple dumplings, if I'm being honest. 

This was Aiden's first visit to the farm show and if you asked him for his favorite parts, the list would likely include riding the shuttle bus, drinking apple cider, watching square dancing and petting the alpacas. (The kid has a thing for alpacas.) 

Despite being too intelligent for the kids map we pressured him to follow and surprisingly brewing a case of walking pneumonia, he was a trooper. He tried not to be rude to the crazy bee lady. He guessed correctly when a man at the apple stand asked him what type of apple was pictured (not that Hana or I would know... but the answer was York.) He placed bets on which color square dancers would win the round. And he only asked "can we leave yet" approximately 642 times that night.

More than anything, the farm show just made me miss Sean. With a Marines tent hosting a pull-up competition, numerous girls wearing pink camouflage sweatshirts (he'd love that, I just know it), guys decked out in hunting boots and wearing real tree hats - it was Sean turned into a huge agricultural celebration.

In case you were wondering, he's gained 15 pounds, got in trouble for drinking chocolate milk at an inappropriate time, is being investigated for a position working for the president, has avoided the plague of pneumonia which is taking over Parris Island and has only managed to write me three letters.

We coped by looking at baby ducks.

Despite the absurd traffic, overcrowded food courts and dusty rodeo arena - we had a good time. It was a much needed visit with my baby brother and best friend, a much desired break from homework, a good way to forget the heart monitor taped to my chest, and a great day to celebrate Aiden's lack of his two front teeth.

He suggested making them into a necklace if anyone's interested.
After all, why else would mom's buy teeth from underneath pillows?

Monday, January 2, 2012

Looking Back: 2011

I wish I could sit here and say "2011, what a great year!" - but while it has been full of great adventures, new beginnings, and fun memories, 2011 also brought a lot of hard changes and unfortunate events. Between a new school, a new boyfriend & moving out onto my own, it's definitely been a year of change.

At this time last year, I was spending the first few days of the new year in Paris. While spending my new years snuggled in bed with Trevor & Buddy may not have been as spectacular of a story, I don't think I would have chosen it any other way. On this second day of January, I'm feeling thankful, blessed and ready for the start of a new year. If it's true that how you spend your first day of the year reflects on the other three-hundred and sixty-four then I'm in luck.

I thought I would take the time to talk about my whole year in review (like I did for 2010).
So here you have it, a look back at 2011:

January  was filled with coming home, plenty of snow, the arrival of puppies, the beginning of a new semester and preparation for THON 2011. I was savoring time spent with my brothers and quickly anticipating my favorite forty-six hours of the year. This January? I'm already missing both of those things.

What should have easily been my favorite month of the year, quickly turned to the worst when I got the phone call that my house was on fire. Despite the bad news, I made the most of the first few days and will always be thankful to Ryan for giving me a place to stay. From that point on, the next few weeks (that too quickly turned into months) were spent living in a hotel. Even though it was the hardest month of 2011, February was full of its own happy moments - like playing basket bingo, Valentines Day, birthday parties and of course, THON weekend.

Despite it's constantly rainy weather, March had it's brighter moments. Though we were still living as a family of five in a hotel suite, I got to enjoy visits with Kasey, my first trip to IKEA, York's own Saint Patrick's Day Parade, rebuilding after the fire, participating in For Japan with Love, and spending as much of my free time as possible with friends (and eating burritos).


April was an important month in 2011 - not only did my baby brother turn six but we were finally able to go home. I also got to spend lots of time with two of my favorite little girls with fun spring adventures in baking muffins and visits to the park. Of course, I also got to celebrate Easter with my family, and Maddie Hill's birthday, too! April also marked my first real visit to Millersville's campus, a foreshadowing for decisions to be made in the fall.

In May, I finished my final semester at Penn State York & found it harder than I thought to say goodbye. But with school out of the way, I had time for more interesting adventures like visiting Lancaster's Hands On Museum, hosting bonfires, visiting York's annual Mother's Day Street Fair, hiking through Nixon Park, eating cowtails at Perry Dell, and spending the day at Aiden's first-ever Field Day. May also marked a photography first for me - senior portraits.

With a little brother still in elementary school, the summer months have become some of my favorites because it means more time spent with Aiden. Together, we spent June at his Kindergarden Graduation, Arts Fest, and playing miniature golf. June also leaves room for getaways to places like Philadelphia and even just Lancaster to visit one of my favorite families. That month, we also celebrated Sean's graduation from High School.

July was a big month for me - perhaps big is an understatement, a huge month for me. The first week of the month was spent in Missouri for the Lake Family's first ever reunion. While there, we got to spend the fourth of July together, gather everyone for family photos, and spent time with my great grandmother. But the rest of the month was just as exciting. In July, I photographed my first couples session at Sam Lewis Park. And by the end of the month, I had moved into my own apartment.

If July was huge then perhaps August must be described as the same. The summer months are great for allowing lots of time and beautiful weather for photography sessions like these. & Perhaps that was my favorite part of the summer of 2011. But August also played witness to a trip to Pittsburgh, the first dinner get-together at my apartment, and plenty of random thoughts. That month I also began classes at a new school - a scary decision but in my opinion, one of the best I had made throughout the year.

While I will always love September, this year's September proved itself even more than usual. Though it saw few blog posts, it saw a lot of fun - like a last minute trip to the beach, a trip to the country's oldest fair, and most importantly, my twentieth birthday.

After the fabulous month that I had in September, October made its best effort. With autumn for a favorite season, I'm never disappointed when October makes its way onto the calendar. At home, I celebrated the season by visiting the Apple Harvest Festival, painting pumpkins, baking pumpkin muffins and of course watching Wellsville's Annual Halloween Parade. But perhaps the best part of October had nothing to do with falling leaves or cooler weather. My favorite trip of the year was a visit with my cousin Caitlin to see my Aunt Sarah and Uncle Rob in Scottsdale, Arizona - where we visited the Red Rocks of Sedona, shopped in Flagstaff, shot machine guns, and enjoyed the eighty degree weather.

November was one of the hardest months of my year. Somehow, I managed to develop a heart condition, forcing me to attend too many doctors appointments and causing me to withdraw from my first college class. Despite the downsides though, November still brought Thanksgiving dinner at my apartment, the first ever D.C. Dance Marathon, a visit with Mark, my first major assisting job, and a dramatic new haircut.

December, while better than November, was a bit disappointing this year. Normally December is full of holiday celebrations, my brother's birthday and perhaps a bit of snow. This year? More like too much work and Sean leaving for bootcamp, instead. Even still, we managed to maintain a few holiday traditions like breakfast with santa and Aiden's mostly-naked Christmas morning.