18 April 2017

Revisit & Update: Making Networking Less Stressful

I've come a long way in my courage to network in the past two years. Working in the tourism industry and interacting with local business and civic leaders as well as attending events with other tourism organizations from across the country I had lots of chances to get to know people and make new connections. It's much less intimidating to me now, but it easier when you do it often. It's been a little while since I've attended a lot of business events and I'm starting to do that more again, so I need to sharpen my blade to get out there and network.

I've been signing up for business networking events around town and my goal is to attend at least two a month. Last week I attended a Facebook Boost Your Business event at the convention center here. I think everyone was stunned at how many people showed up. It was a packed house. I learned some great things and met some people. Just what one needs to do when trying to network.

My next event is a business class at the end of this week. I'm going to go learn about making sure product pricing is profitable. It's always a challenge to sign up in advance and then keep the commitment to get there. The closer you get to the event the more one might chicken out. So it's good for me to have a goal and push myself to get there.

Networking whether it's at a child's school, in a new church congregation, at the gym or in business is always a little unnerving. Here's a post I wrote a while back about ways to make networking easier with some tips and how networking can help you get closer to your goals and dreams.

How do you make networking easier? I'd love to hear your tricks and tips in the comments below.

17 April 2017

Impromptu Party Planning

A couple of weeks ago I was thinking it would be great to recreate our California Easter Egg Hunt tradition here in our new town. I talked about it with a friend, we both thought it would be fun and then I kind of forgot about it. Then she reminded me and I quickly pulled together an email and sent it out to a few dozen families.

Having it at a local park made cleaning the house and other advance preparations unnecessary other than just getting our basket of eggs prepped for hiding, making a treat to share and grabbing some Subway sandwiches on our way to the park.

We all arrived, the dads hid the eggs and we sent the kids off to hunt them down. I'm pretty sure there are still a few eggs out in that park but with a couple of dozen kids there, I think they cleaned up pretty good. One tradition we have its to always take a photo at the beginning of the hunt. All the parents get a photo and once we all get chatting we often forget to take more. So it's great to have that one good photo!

The kids combed the park then immediately starting trading eggs and climbing trees and playing on the playground. The grown ups were all hungry so we started eating and kids came and got food as they wanted to.

We decided the party was a huge success because there were never more than a handful of kids anywhere near the grownups and for long periods of time there were no kids in the picnic table area at all. We grownups sat and chatted and munched on fruits, veggies, sandwiches and snacks quite peacefully. The big kids ran around in the big field and climbed trees and the little kids could play on the playground right next to the picnic tables. It was great! Egg Hunt is definitely going to be an annual tradition after this year.

We've decided to try to do this one night a month for the summer and I am really happy about that. It's easy to just bring a treat and some sandwiches and hang out while the kids play. The park we went to is also a great park for kids to ride bikes so we'll encourage bringing bikes and trikes over too. Sounds like a really fun way to spend time with friends over the summer. I find while the kids do need time together we adults need it more! We are going too fast and are too tired and just don't get enough downtime or time with our peers. More grownup playdates please!

This all reminds me that a great event doesn't take a lot of planning or work or decorations or fuss. Just send out a text or email, grab some snacks, bottled water and some chairs or blankets and hit a park with friends. So easy and so much fun and so relaxing. It was fun to hear that everyone had a good time and we need more of that so that's my goal this summer.

13 April 2017

Busy Pursuits

Hi friends! I hope this finds you well. It's been a busy week. I have been working so hard the past few weeks to get two business projects off the ground. Both have required a learning curve that at first didn't seem too daunting and in reality have been pretty challenging. I've been book studying, doing research on the internet, taking a lot of notes and doing quite a bit of work on web sites and creative projects. Whew.

Here's a little glimpse of what I've been working on. I'll go live with a little online store to promote loving the Albuquerque life in the next few days. It's been a lot of work between product development, business set up and marketing. Happily I am getting good interest from the community and I hope that the enthusiasm will continue when the shop opens. Fingers crossed.

There are several other irons on the fire right now which I consider a real blessing, but I am scrambling to keep up. It's been a heads down, working day and night kind of week. The best part is that all of it is fun and interesting to me. If only there weren't daily chores and tasks to keep up with. Today I also organized an Easter Egg Hunt for Saturday night. Happily we're having it at a local park so there's no getting the house ready for a crowd. I just need to get a basket of plastic eggs filled and make a treat to share. The plan is that each family will bring 24 filled plastic eggs for each child they bring. Then we'll just hide all the eggs around the park and turn the kids loose. Should be a lot of fun.

We invited a lot of families so it will be interesting to see what kind of crowd turnout we have. Might be huge, might be small, might be somewhere in the middle. No matter what it will be fun to have an egg hunt with the kids and then have time to sit and hang out with friends while the kids run around together and play.

I am trying to be careful about sleeping and resting enough. Workouts have slipped this week, which isn't great. It's been a yoga pants, barely brushed hair couple of days that are starting to run one into each other. Dinners have been a quick and hurried afterthought but thankfully we are eating well still. Tuesday I was feeling sick after going to a meeting and appointments earlier in the day. I slept for a while in the late afternoon and slept in again the next morning. But I'm getting things done and hopefully a little crazy time right now will pay off in the coming weeks and months. Some days, weeks and months are like this and I'm feeling grateful for the work and opportunities. It's been a interesting road to get here. I am excited to get the shop open and start seeing the fruits of goals and efforts I started two years ago.

How are things going in your world? It seems like we often have cyclical periods in the month where even though we're having different experiences we sometimes flow in the same levels of ups and downs. Hope things are well for you!

10 April 2017

DIY: Five Dollar Bandana Scarf

In Denmark during the chillier months scarves are a must and during the times I have lived there I had a few that I really loved. I remember one that was purple that was extra long and I could wrap it around and around my neck. Comfy and cozy.

Fast forward a few years, my awesome friend Sally, who is super creative, gave me a great scarf that was made out of cotton bandanas sewn together. They weren't just any cotton bandanas but super cute floral and polkadot ones in blue, lavender and white. I have worn this scarf a lot and have often looked for bandanas I really loved that I could make a scarf or two out of. I have looked and looked and never found quite the right thing. Some days I would look online and then never finish the order.

Finally last Friday I made a quick run to Hobby Lobby to pick  up a couple of needed items and I happened to be in the same aisle where all the bandanas were and found some that I loved. Perfect colors. So I grabbed five and happily they were on sale for 77 cents each - so I got five for $3.85 plus tax. Great deal for a scarf!

I brought them home and cut off all the tags and then just sewed them together along each edge. I could've made it an infinity scarf if i'd sewn the last two ends together but I like the flexibility of a rectangle scarf -- even makes a good picnic blanket if you need it to. Now I have a super cute, extra-long teal, gray and white scarf for spring. It will be a great pick me up for winter wear too paired with all the dark colors one often wears in the colder months.

Great scarf for a great price. I'm excited to make more of these for myself and they do make fantastic gifts. Would be great for holiday gift giving or birthdays throughout the year. A real savings too when you compare the cost to buying a scarf. A nice 100% cotton scarf usually costs between fifteen and fifty dollars.

06 April 2017

Banana Bread Baking Success

The Man loves a good slice of banana bread. The Man also buys a lot of bananas and invariably there are one or two that get too brown before they get eaten. We finally got smart about peeling them and throwing them in a bag in the freezer. So now we always have a pretty good stash of very ripe bananas to use to make banana bread.

The Man likes his banana bread with banana flavored frosting which I find somewhat reprehensible, lol. But I oblige any time we can keep banana flavoring in the house. Banana flavoring grosses me out because it's artificial and it's just gross. Ha. It can be a little hard to find....darn - not darn. I don't frost the loaf, I just make a little container and he can frost by the slice.

So I thought I would share our Go To recipe for Flour's Famous Banana Bread. Since it's not a recipe I created I don't want to reprint it here but I'm linking you above to the original post on the Food Network website. As you can see when you go over to the recipe it had a good strong 5-star rating from a few hundred people. I definitely give it a thumbs up.

Here are a few of things that I think have helped me make this our favorite recipe.

1) Per the recipe, cutting parchment paper to line the bottom of the bread pan is a life changer. It makes it so easy to get out of the pan. This is a very moist loaf so getting it out of the pan without it coming apart is a challenge without the parchment paper. Once I let it cool for a while, I just slide a knife around the edges of the loaf and then turn it upside down to remove the loaf. This keeps the loaf looking so beautiful and if you want to give a loaf away, a pretty loaf is a must for one's self esteem, right? This seriously makes a difference and makes washing up the pans afterwards a breeze.

2) Historically, in my experience, Banana Bread gets dark brown on top quickly but the center takes forever to cook through so there is always a battle between the top being too brown (or burned) and the inside still being runny. So the past couple of times I've made this recipe I've put a piece of tin foil over the tops of the loaves for the last 15 minutes or so of baking. I just cut it to size and lightly bend it so it covers the top. I don't really even press it down over the pan, just lay it on top and curve the sides down a little bit to fit the curve of the loaf top. This has been a game changer too. Perfectly baked loaves with solid centers and the tops are perfectly browned without any edges getting too crispy, dark or shriveled from overcooking. Loved figuring out this simple trick.

3) I usually double this recipe and end up with three loaves. I make it in my KitchenAid Professional mixer and the bowl is as full as you'd want it to get once I get all the ingredients in there. Hopefully that gives you some idea about how much this recipe makes and how to handle making more loaves at one time. The bread freezes well in an airtight freezer bag...but I have to say we don't ever had it last more than two weeks or so. So it's not like I ever have loaves in the freezer for any extended amount of time. If The Man knows there's Banana Bread in the house, he pretty much can't ignore that fact until it's gone.

4) Oh, one last thing. I don't use oil. I just melt a stick of butter in the microwave for this recipe. I don't use vegetable oil much anymore. I just use butter in all my baking. Long story short.

If you try out this recipe I'd love to hear how it goes. Do you have any hot tips on Banana Bread baking you want to share? I'd love to hear how you like your Banana Bread!

04 April 2017

Pin Test #26: Pioneer Woman's Chocolate Sheet Cake

Well this is almost a silly Pin Test because when, ever, has The Pioneer Woman shared a recipe that people didn't love. How can you go wrong with a chocolate sheet cake, especially when she calls it "Best Ever". Let's just say I made it and it got devoured.

The one thing that is a little nuts about this recipe, har-har, is that there are 3 3/4 cubes of butter between the cake recipe and the frosting, so it's definitely not fat-free. Ha. Zoinks! I think if you make this cake you want to have a crowd on hand because it's a big cake to have sitting in your kitchen calling you to have one more little sliver of a slice....all...day...long.

The recipe was easy to follow and you can whip up the frosting while the cake bakes. Because it's a sheet cake it bakes up in less than 20 minutes. It is moist and delicious and stays moist even after a day or two on the kitchen counter. The frosting is easy to make and you just pour it over the top and maybe guide it a little bit with a spatula to get the entire cake covered. But if you pour it around the top of the cake it will flow across the top of the warm cake and spread pretty well on it's own.

Once the cake was done and we'd tasted it a few hours later, I immediately put together a plate to take to the neighbors because it was just too dangerous to have that entire cake sitting in our house. I will say this is a good cake if you want to have something on hand for desserts for a few days. As I mentioned it stays moist. You probably want to only lightly cover it with some foil because otherwise the frosting will get stuck to whatever you cover it with. I wouldn't use plastic wrap. But a piece of foil big enough to wrap over the edges of the pan while leaving some space between it and the top of the cake worked well for us.

This cake reminded me of a sheet cake recipe my mom has that incorporates marshmallows across the top of the cake before you pour the warm, cooked frosting on. I asked her for her recipe not long after I made this cake so we could do a taste comparison.

I will definitely make this recipe again and I think it would be perfect for a dinner party or potluck. It will serve a lot of people. A scoop of ice cream is a great addition too, either while the cake is still warm...or any time...it's going to be delicious. The Pioneer Woman's Best Ever Chocolate Sheet Cake Recipe is a winner for sure. Here's the link to this "Thumbs Up" recipe.

*A quick update to this recipe. The first time I made it I baked it for 18 minutes because our oven seems to bake a little hot. The cake turned out super moist almost to the point that I thought it may have been a tad undercooked. Now having made it again I think 18 minutes was the right way to go and it did make for a delicious, moist cake. It was perfect I just didn't know it.

I made this recipe again last weekend and baked it for 20 minutes. It did not turn out as well as it did the first time. I recognize now that when I cooked it longer it was drier, the texture was not as smooth, and the cake slices stuck to the pan and seemed to split in half horizontally. It didn't taste as good either. I don't think I did anything else to make the cake differently, so I think I would definitely only cook it for the 18 minutes in my oven in the future. You may want to experiment and see what works best for you but from experience now I would say that overbaking even by a couple of little minutes is not a good way to go.

Here are a some other Pin Test recipes you might like. Have a great day!
Olive Garden Style Minestrone
Rosemary Lemon Crockpot Chicken
No-bake Peanut Butter Bars

03 April 2017

Two Things That May Make Kids Feel Unloved

I've been thinking about this for a bit and more importantly looking at ways I can NOT be doing these two things that I believe make kids feel uncared for. The first is Busyness and the second is Tiredness. A big facet of both of these is stress.

These two words seem to be somewhat synonymous with parenting, but I think we have to be very careful that those words do not become more a part of our household than feelings of warmth, welcomeness, love, peace, caring and togetherness. We grown ups seem to get very carried away with talking about our tiredness and our busyness and I think that rubs off on kids which makes them more distant and gives them a sense that they should not bother us which the believe will only cause us to be more tired and more busy - and possibly more grumpy and more unpleasant to be around.

When kids feel their parents are too busy and too tired they are less likely to choose to talk to them about things they are struggling with, that make them sad or that even make them happy and excited. They are more likely to retreat to far spaces in the house to be away from the busyness and tiredness (aka STRESS) and get involved in activities that are not that beneficial to them like long hours of gaming, texting, etc. They are likely not cleaning their rooms, reading, eating healthy food, and being otherwise productive as they might with more parental involvement.

This is a bad cycle to get into! I wonder how often we are actually pushing our kids away and not realizing it. Another big parent distraction that likely all parents will admit to shamefully is time on what my husband calls "fidget devices" - phones and computers. There is likely no parent alive who hasn't let a child walk away feeling a little uncared for when preoccupied on the phone or computer. I know when I am working at the computer, even on worthwhile activities, I can lose track of time and kid and that is not a good thing.

I think for me the goal I have to keep this from being a problem in our home is to avoid busyness and the very appearance of it. I have to keep paring down and cutting back and getting rid of activities that are not my top priorities, even if I love to do them. I have to prioritize what is best for the family and for me -- a mix of those things, but I have to have a very few items that make that list.

Next is self care. I've written about that here many, many times. If I'm not well I can't do my best with other people or myself. That means taking time to unwind, taking care of eating well, getting exercise and doing things that feed our souls. This  year I have been sleeping much more than I have historically and it has been a big difference. I have gone from 4-6 hours of sleep a night to 8-10 hours many nights. The difference in my abilities and functionality is a little big frightening. My physical health has improved a great deal too and gosh darn it, it feels good to actually feel good!

Lastly I think I want to be very cautious about how we talk around our kiddo. I want to take "I'm so busy" and "I'm tired" out of our vocabulary and incorporate the feelings and words that say "I have time for you.", "How can I help  you today?" and "Can we spend some time together?" into our every day. I want to open up the opportunities and dialogues that build stronger relationships, especially as we head into the teen years.

So even if I do feel a little "stressed", "busy" or "tired", I'm not going to put that on my Kiddo. She needs to know I'm "available", "looking for hugs" and am full of love, time and energy for her.


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