28 October 2016

Preparing Early For The Christmas Season

It's hard to image that Halloween will be over next week and we'll fully have entered the Holiday Season. I have decided to get out my Thanksgiving decorations this week, just because I think it will take a bit to find them in the new house. When you're unpacking an entire life it's hard to remember where you put everything. Once I know where they are it won't take much to get things decorated a bit. I didn't do anything for Halloween except put up a really cute new garland I picked up at Homegoods and hang a few cute paper bats (also from Homegoods) in the big window of our dining room that overlooks out backyard.

Now is the time to start gathering ideas to do some fun creative things without a lot of stress this holiday season. I always enjoy the holidays more when I get things done well in advance and can just drink in all the holiday fun instead of working long hours.

My first stop for inspiration in my Christmas Pinterest board. This week I've been especially interested in front door holiday decor. As I've mentioned before, you can't see our house from the road so we have no one driving by looking at our house. But we do have people coming by occasionally and I've been wanting to spruce up our front entryway even though it's rather hidden on the side of the house.

I realized though, as I was driving out of the driveway the other day that the double doors that lead into our living room are much more visible when guests come. There is also a nice broad entryway from the outside, including a patio, so this would be a fantastic place to decorate. I'm thinking about having a few small get togethers during the holidays and have realized that using this door allows guests to enter our living room for gatherings, rather than coming to our true front door that opens up right into our dining room and kitchen which isn't always a view I want as a first impression. Open concept DOES have it's downfalls despite it's mass appeal in the home decor world right now.

With two pretty wood framed glass doors along with windows on each side, this entryway into our living room seems like a great place to create a visible, welcoming entryway to our home for guests and events. I have a few bits and pieces in mind to spruce that area up and will look through what we already have and what we can use from the yard since we have a lot of nature all around us.

The Bug is talking daily about how excited she is to sit by the fire with all the holiday decorations up. It does sound cozy and I'll look forward to those first few big snowstorms here on the mountain. We do get the best, most gigantic snowflakes.

The second place I am looking for inspiration is going back through blog posts for ideas I've shared that I'd like to repeat or just try for the first time. Here are a few links you might enjoy that include some fun holiday inspiration.

Here is a fantastic hot cocoa recipe I am going planning to incorporate into our holiday hosting this year.

We love making our holidays more special by enjoying our 25 Days of Christ advent created by our dear friends.

A few suggestions for family gift ideas that will keep the family active, outside and enjoying fresh air together.

From my time living in Denmark, I am pretty deeply in love with Scandinavian holiday traditions. Here are a few favorite inspirations.

And lastly here are some fun ideas for Christmas Tree stands beyond the red and green plastic stand.

During the next few weeks I'll keep posting some holiday inspiration including fun DIY gifts under $10, gift wrap inspiration and more. If there's anything specific you're looking for inspiration on this holiday season, let me know. Hope you have a fun and safe Halloween weekend. We're having a short date night on Saturday while Kiddo goes to a party with a bunch of lively girls. Should be fun for us all.

26 October 2016

Hugs And Pets For Better Health And Well-being

Have you heard about Oxytocin? No it's not the latest illegal street drug fad, it's actually an amazing chemical in our bodies that lights up our souls when we receive physical affection. I first read about Oxytocin maybe ten years ago or more now. I remember learning that the human body needs something like 11 physical touches a day to maintain well-being.

After I read that I started hugging, squeezing, patting and grabbing friends hands more often. That sounds a little crazy but I mean this in the most gentle, loving way and only with people I knew well and knew were comfortable with it. I have  not ever freaked anyone out by doing this, I promise. I have often told close friends, "Make sure you're giving and getting your 11 touches today!"

I've also try to remember this when I am feeling out of sorts. It's amazing how much a few minutes of hugs and cuddling can change your entire worldview! I am lucky to have a cozy little bug of a kiddo in our home so the hugs are plentiful and always available even when grownups seem busy.

I heard on the radio this past week that hugging for 20 seconds is about the magic number to get the Oxytocin flowing in the body. So The Bug and I have been practicing 20 second hugs and it's amazing how the good, warm cozies start flowing right about at the 20 second mark. We've been sneaking in 20 second hugs on Daddy too....men can be a little impatient with the hugs sometimes, but they DEFINITELY need them too. Especially when they live in a world where there is much less friendly and familial physical affection expressed.

We are loving our Oxytocin hugs and I think it's definitely a great way to start and end the day along with any time during the day. I've changed up our morning routine by mentioning how eager I am to give and get a hug first thing in the morning. Now instead of sending marching orders to "hurry things up" down our staircase I am saying, "Boy, I can't wait to have our first hug of the day!" It sounds amazingly sweeter than, "You need to HURRY! Are you still in bed?" and other such related sentences. Now she quickly comes from her room up the stairs and we get that wonderful first hug in. I think that definitely starts our day off and guides our morning with sweetness!

As I was thinking about writing this post I remembered too that our family is also getting the fabulous additional health and wellness benefits of having a fantastic and loving dog in our home.  He's just the best thing ever. The biggest, heaviest, most gentle dog you'll ever meet. He's a lover and the best as giving great hugs and kisses. He's concerned for everyone's welfare, checks on each family member when we return home and always wants to be nearby. He's a fantastic traveler and companion in every way -- and how lucky we are that he provides those great benefits of having a pet too. Here's a link to six benefits you gain from a pet, including lower blood pressure, stress relief and less feelings of loneliness! Awesome benefits!

This is just one of the reasons that every time I pray I ask Heavenly Father to give our dog a long and healthy life. I must make a note here on pet ownership. Our dog is highly trained service dog and this training overall makes our life a lot easier. He doesn't tear things up, he pees with his leg down in a very gentlemanly manner, and follows commands very well. Life with a well-trained dog allows you to enjoy your pet, rather than it being a giant irritation.

I have become a very big advocate for a highly trained family dog because I think this gives the pet a better chance of staying with the family. It is actually less work and cost to do a ton of training in the beginning than deal with all the headaches and destruction that come from poorly behaved dogs. I see too many people get dogs because they are cute and then get rid of them after little training and a lot of frustration or when the kids get bored with the dog. A poorly trained pet, along with poor petcare maintenance and management make for a miserable life for both family and pet.

We know a dog that was begged and begged for by the family's children and now that they are teenagers and have no interest in the dog, she  has been forced to live alone outside, with very little affection and is just pushed aside, overweight and sad. These types of stories break my heart for the pet. Spend a lot of time training your dog and you will have a much better experience.

Along with that, keep your pet living a disciplined life. Feed it high quality, healthy food, don't use snacks to train it and try to avoid snacks in general - most of them have ingredients that are poor quality and not good for pets. Groom and care for it (brush it daily), have a kennel and/or bed space for it, don't feed it from the table or help it develop other really bad habits that will annoy you in the future and make life less manageable around the house. Set a precedent for good behavior in the beginning and with some maintenance life will be sweet. .In short don't just get a dog and let it run wild.

Buy them chew toys (good quality without chemicals) so that they have something to gnaw on. Give them lots of outdoor time, runs at the park, game playing and things that will excite their spirits and keep them healthy and happy.

If you want more information, talk to your vet, groomer or local dog trainer....or contact me and I'll put you in touch with my husband who learned to do the training for our dog and is very experienced with pets. It's thanks to him that our life with a giant dog is so simple and sweet - and the fact that we got the best angel dog ever! We had looked at a few dogs from photos and we just didn't feel "it" until we saw a photo of this baby German Shepherd with long, gangly legs and gigantic bat-like ears jutting out the top of his little puppy kennel. We all felt it and my husband went and picked him up and he's been the most beloved dog and friend every day since then.

Love and affection from both humans and our dear pets make life sweet and help us feel more balanced and healthy. Sure we can take vitamins, get a regular physical, and all that stuff is important, but aren't hugging, cuddling, getting a massage and having a super awesome pet so much more fun? Do you have family hugging traditions? Do you have a super awesome pet and if so, how has your pet improved your well-being?

19 October 2016

Stay Healthy This Winter

As fall takes firm hold, I'm starting to see the "whole family is sick" posts on social media this week. These posts often come along with tales of being trapped indoors with children for an entire week, trying to cope with being sick while tending said children and other tales of woe. So I thought I'd share what has generally kept our family incredibly healthy the past few years. Here are a few posts that share our "secrets" if I dare call them that.

1. Use Saline Nasal Spray and Mouthwash Daily

2. Don't Over-sanitize Your Home

3. 10 Tips For Staying Healthy This Winter

4. Sleep With A Humidifier - one in every bedroom is good!

If you do get sick....

5. Relieve Your Symptoms With Reflexology (Quick note here, I perform reflexology almost daily on my husband now and it does wonders to relieve pain and other symptoms as well as relax the body and massage in general does such a great job increasing blood flow and reducing inflammation.)

6. Keep It Simple

We try to eat a very wide range of fruits and vegetables which I think is helping - we eat spinach salads almost daily - and I can't say enough about getting fresh air, ample exercise, downtime, enough sleep, drinking plenty of water and taking a few vitamins too. I think lots of hugs help too. More on that soon.

Sending you best wishes for staying healthy this fall and winter!

17 October 2016

The Annual Neighborhood Potluck

I've always heard about neighborhood potlucks and parties but have never lived in a neighborhood where such things happened. Before we even moved into our house we were invited to our first neighborhood potluck last fall, but because we were exhausted and had been working feverishly on our house all day we were sweaty and dirty and not much up meeting the entire neighborhood. The party was taking place in the circle right in front of our house, so we made a quick exit some time before the party started.

We joined in for the holiday party in December of last year, held in a lovely home just two houses up the street from us. Why is it that parties always sounds so fun until it's time to get ready and go and suddenly no one wants to go? This happens to us every time. We were 10-20 years younger than anyone else there and our Kiddo was the only child there, but we had a nice time and appreciated getting to know so many of our lovely neighbors.

Since they are all retired, they have much more adventurous and luxurious lives than we who have a kid who had to be here for school and are tied down by work schedules and home renovation. It's funny to joke with them about their vastly more exciting lives. Some travel via RV all over the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Others have second homes in Alaska, or other fun places. They are a fun bunch to know and have great life stories it's fun to hear about. It's also nice to know there is a good group of people watching out for each other and helping keep our neighborhood safe.

I also wanted to make sure we knew neighbors in case of an emergency, especially Kiddo, in case anything happened and she needed to go to a neighbor for help. Because we live in a desert/forest environment the concern of a wildfire evacuation crosses my mind too and how we would all find each other if some are home and others are evacuated. Yet another reason to have good relations with the neighbors and have their help.

I've heard we have a couple of families with kids in our neighborhood but have never seen any sign of them. Because the houses are fairly far apart and yards are wooded, you may hear neighbors but rarely see them unless they are out walking for exercise on the streets. We don't have sidewalks to watching for walkers on the side of the road is always critical.

We had our neighborhood summer potluck last week and again at the last minute we were tired and not really feeling like going. But we gathered ourselves, got food made and went. We were a few minutes late and all the retired folks were already there and eating and there were no seats left. Have to remember that for some of those folks 6p dinner is probably really late, let alone us arriving at 6:20. Ha.

Instead of having the party in the street a few weeks ago, the party was held at one of the neighbor homes. It's usually held outside on a weekend evening in late September, but with the party a little later, they decided to have it on a weeknight indoors. The home was simple and beautiful and had an amazing deck that overlooks the entire valley in three directions. We're talking visibility 80-100 miles south, west and north. It was so beautiful at nightfall and with the lovely, calm mountain breeze and some good company it was heavenly.

We were glad we pulled it together and went, renewing and solidifying relationships with neighbors we don't see much of otherwise. It was fun to learn more about the interesting stories of our neighbors and this time the party was on the east end of the street which is an area we don't really go into much so it was nice to learn who lives where in that area.

We also figured out which of our neighbors have the fantastic rain barrels with rain chains that we often pass by when out walking. They told us that even with a small rain they fill up all five of their 55 gallon barrels. You can imagine how much of their yard they can water with a hose that attaches to a spout on each barrel. With fairly regularly rains all summer it's amazing to think how much water they can enjoy for free in this desert! We have eight water spouts coming off our roof, imagine how much water we can collect once we get rain barrels under each one.Wow! That's exciting.

You may wonder what I made for the party. I did a quick pan of caramel brownies and I made this Bacon Ranch Chicken Pasta recipe that has worked it's way into our dinner rotation this fall. I made it the other night and doubled the sauce and I think I like it that way better. I use all natural bacon and I use Trader Joe's Parmesan Ranch dressing. All the food at the party was wonderful. There was Couscous Salad, classic New Mexican food with all the requisite spicy heat and even meatballs with Prickly Pear Barbecue Sauce. Super yummy. It was fun to sample a little of a lot of things and there were plenty of good desserts too.

When we left the party we were all cheerful and glad we'd attended. The crazy thing is that even though this was the "summer" party, the Christmas Party is just about 8 weeks away. So we'll have a chance to see everyone again soon.

Does your neighborhood have street parties? Do you attend? I've heard there are a few in our street who never attend. How do you feel about getting to a party?

14 October 2016

Apple Picking Time

When we first bought our home there was a lone fruit tree in the backyard, an apple tree and near it the stump of a dead fruit tree of some sort. We closed in the fall and on the tree were maybe five pitiful, tiny apples. We weren't sure if it was just a bad apple tree or if the tree suffered from a lack of water since the house had been unoccupied for a long time.

So our expectations weren't too high for future of the tree but we were curious to see what it would produce this year. I still don't think it got the consistent water it needed to really produce and that leads me to wonder if the apples would be significantly larger if it was heavily and consistently watered. Can't say. But we did get a pretty good little harvest of apples this year even though we lost quite a few to the critters and our dog who enjoys picking the low hanging fruit, playing with it and eating it we still harvested three or four grocery bags of apples on the small tree over a couple weeks time.

Based on the taste and shape I have figured out that these are cooking apples, but haven't figured out the variety. Again it would be easier if the fruit was a little larger and more distinct looking. So far I've made pie filling twice, enough for two pies and I think that's what I'll do with these apples. Maybe I'll just freeze the pie filling and save it for Thanksgiving. That sounds good to me right now. We'll give thanks for our own apples and own beautiful, home baked apple pie.

Earlier this week we cleared the tree of all the remaining apples and threw any that had worms or bites taken out of them from critters over the wall (about 10 feet away) to the deer path where the deer come down the mountain each night about sundown foraging for food. We were happy to share with them. We also have a family of about 10 quail who live under the trees right there and we often see them out eating in the mornings and afternoons. At one point there were about 15 baby quail in the group. Now there is a pack of full-grown birds.

Our neighbors have told us all year that the apple tree is dangerous because it will attract bears. It seemed too sad to cut it down just in case a bear came around but I can tell you that I've been watching closely for any sign of bears and carrying a metal pole and very high powered flashlight outside with me when I have to go out after dark. (Humor me and pretend that is going to protect me, I know it's a stretch. The flashlight is probably a better weapon than the pole since it's completely blinding.)

Part of the tree hangs over the wall of our landscaped backyard, so I have remained surprised all fall that there did not seem to be any apples picked or nibbled on from that side of the tree. This would be the prime access point for bears and deer who could easily reach these branches. All the nibbling has been taking place near the trunk in the walled yard. Still not sure what's been eating those apples but it definitely looks more like bites than bird pecks. We don't have a lot of squirrels here, but have tons of bunnies, who I can't imagine climbing trees through I could be wrong. Maybe it's bobcats? Who knows.

I took the photo above in our kitchen sink. When I walked in after Kiddo had washed and cleaned all the apples I found them in my favorite colander sitting in the stainless steel sink and the lighting was just amazing and the water droplets made it even more beautiful. I'm always surprised at those moments when it takes absolutely no effort to grab an amazing photo. The ceramic colander, by the way, I bought at the riverside flea market in Portland, in 2000 I think it was. It was fun to go back there last summer and I'm itching to go again. Would love to take the family. I keep thinking I need to sneak in a surprise trip there this fall since we have airline vouchers we need to use.

I am watching the weather a little more carefully than normal since I have a potted tomato plant outside. If I play my cards right I think I can get it inside near one of our many windows and maybe even keep it producing over the winter. We'll see. But I know it's going to be a goner if it catches the first winter frost, which could be coming any day. One thing I have greatly enjoyed is NOT battles all the little California coastal gnats and white flies this summer. In fact I did not have to do any pesticide control at all on my herbs and tomatoes. Such a delight! It was a constant and nasty battle in Los Angeles and one that I don't miss.

Have you been gardening? Dealing with critters or enjoying a lovely harvest this fall? Do you still have cutting flowers? I didn't plant any of those this year but would definitely like to next year. Sending you best and warmest wishes. Thanks for coming by!

Here's a link to my favorite apple pie filling recipe. It's easy and delicious which is the best combination of all, right? Betty Crocker's Scrumptious Apple Pie.

10 October 2016

Balloon Fiesta and Our AirBnB Experience

Yesterday was the final morning of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. Last year I spent all but two days at the event working. This year I worked a lot of hours so that others could enjoy the event. We attended on Thursday morning, the first day of Fall Break when all the kids are out of school. It was painful to get up at 4 a.m. but definitely worth it to be able to park right at the event.

image by kalanicut

We had planned to go to the evening glow on Saturday night but it was raining and we were tired and in the end the glow was cancelled due to weather, so we were glad we chose to stay home and watch a movie, even though we were bummed we didn't get to an evening event this year. This was a good lesson for me to remember when advising travelers about coming to Fiesta. It does sometimes rain and sometimes activities are cancelled. Last year we had very good luck. This year several events were cancelled. So if visitors come for two days and they hit a bad weather patch they might not get to experience much. I'm recommending from now on at least three days, just to make sure travelers don't make a trip of a lifetime and then not see much in the way of balloons in flight.

We opened up our AirBnB townhouse (see the link in the left column here) for potential lodgers the week before Balloon Fiesta and within 72 hours we were booked for the event. We ended up having four groups stay which meant we had to clean and prep the townhouse five times from start to finish. I have a totally new respect for hotel housekeeping staffs now and I will always think twice about staining the hotels white towels with makeup or other gunk.

I have to say this unexpectedly has been a fantastic opportunity to teach our kiddo about hard work, a family business and what it takes to make money. She has been very involved on the days when we were cleaning and she was not in school. While it was at times challenging to keep her involved and work through a lack of enthusiasm at times, I think her eyes were definitely opened to how hard parents work to support their families. I think it was fun for her to learn about AirBnB and feel a part of a business venture. It truly is a family run business!

We came up with a system that seemed to work for us. First task was to grab all the towels, work on stain removal and then get them in the wash as fast as possible. That was always the thing that took the longest, the washing and drying of the towels. Then we would strip the beds and put on the spare, clean sheets and remake the beds. Nest we'd clean the bathrooms, then the kitchen, then do a dusting and sweeping of the entire unit. The last thing we did was grab the dry towels out of the dryer and restock the bathrooms. In the future we'll invest in more towels so that we aren't dependent on the four nice white sets for the two bathrooms. But for this first AirBnB effort, we really wanted to keep our investment costs down and buying four extra sets of sheets so that we could easily trade off was a big investment. I really believe that time is money and the longer it takes us to prep the house the more money the less profit we make so we are working on efficiencies that will help us get things done faster and smarter.

Before Balloon Fiesta began I put together a nice gift bag of snacks wrapped in cellophane with a handmade Welcome To ABQ sign tied to each one for the four groups who were coming. It was great to get this done in advance and now we will just keep a few made up bags on hand all the time. We included salty snacks like chips, a little chocolate, some simple shortbread type cookies, small fruit candies, and granola bars they could take on the run. We put that on a pretty tray in the kitchen so they would find it when they came in, along with coffee cups, water bottles and napkins. We also stocked the fridge with a few cold water bottles. For three dollars a flat, we felt having a nice supply of a few bottles of water was a great and inexpensive benefit for our guests.

It usually took us about two hours to get all the work done, but each day we would try to do a couple of extra jobs that needed to be done on a less daily basis like fixing up the boards on the deck, updating lightbulbs to LED, repainting door trim, etc. It was hard, tiring, dirty, sweaty work but it sure was fun to go over as each family checked out and read the messages they left for us in our guestbook, and see their positive reviews on the AirBnB website. 

Each group said they wanted to come back, had a wonderful time staying at the townhouse and would recommend us to friends and family. We've had more inquiries and are considering long term rental options as well. But it's been a very positive experience so far and we are officially AirBnB hosts which is pretty fun.

After a couple of weeks of Balloon Fiesta work taking up my time, I trying a new work plan starting tomorrow. I have created a schedule that all the family has access to of my work hours. This way I can block out time that won't get interrupted by things like tax preparations we've worked on recently and other projects that can take me away from my business building during the week. Today I have a full day of work hours which I am excited about. I am going to work on product creation, some office organizing and online store preparations. I am excited to focus on those efforts and I hope that having a blocked out schedule will make it easier on my family to be able to plan for projects and activities around that. I'll report back on how it's working. Hope you have a great week!
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