30 May 2017

Saying Goodbye To May: Patio Outdoor Space Ready

May is pretty much my favorite month of the year and I am always sad to see it end. With Mother's Day, my birthday and Memorial Day weekend it's pretty much a month long party. Not complaining!
I have so many beautiful cards on my mantle along with fresh flowers and potted plants that have come my way the past couple of weeks. It just makes everything feel so festive.

I have been working hard on outdoor living spaces as I have talked about repeatedly here. I am happy to report that for the past several night we have been out on our front patio, with the solar lanterns lit playing games and having fun. Every day it seems I add something new. First it was a couple of tea lights in jars, then I broke open a big box of wicker lanterns like these on the table above.

Story about those wicker lanterns. In December 2011 (!!!!), we had just gotten engaged and I was in full-blown, excited wedding planning dream land. I found these wicker lanterns at TJMaxx and ended up driving all over the Los Angeles metro area buying them out of every store so that I had enough to use them on the long tables for our wedding. You can see my original blog post full of enthusiasm about having found them here. Well fast forward 6 1/2 years (oh my gosh....) and we never had our big wedding thanks to a little detour called Afghanistan.....and these lanterns, along with anything else I purchased for our wedding have been languishing in storage ever since.

I didn't have the heart to get rid of them, thought perhaps someday we might actually have a vow ceremony/reception of some kind that we could share with family and friends. So in boxes they have sat. Finally I brought one box out and opened it. Along with six lanterns I found a couple hundred really cute paper napkins I had purchased for a pre-wedding picnic or rehearsal dinner or something. Wow. Anyway I put three of these lanterns out on the coffee table on the front porch and they look so fun and festive and create such a lovely light in the evenings...and I feel a little sad that they are going to get used and get ruined without every having served their true purpose but whatever. I have to get over that...

I started making a small buffet table for the back deck with two towers of four cinder blocks and a pretty wood top that I built. I spent part of Friday night at Home Depot with my building plans, trying to figure out the best materials to use and pushing one of those gigantic pull carts that was so heavy I had to totally lean my entire body into it to get it to move. Then I packed everything into my little VW Golf (crazy amount of cargo space, even fit 6' wood plants and 10 cinderblocks with room to spare!).

I have been working on this table since Friday night and hoped to have it done Saturday but it's definitely a work in progress and I should have it done by Wednesday. I have the top done, just need to even out the edges on each side and then stain it and polyurethane it for outdoor use. It's a bar height and will fit our new little portable barbecue grill and leave room for serving food too. You can see the example of the table I'm building here. I'm not doing the sides, just one long 6' length. I figured we can add the sides later if we feel we need them but I think the three-sided table is more than we need and doesn't fit out space all that well. We have a fairly narrow patio but it's very long so a long table along one wall makes great sense for us. I'll share more details when I have a finished product to show you. Excited about it! Really makes my soul so happy to have a creative project.

We also got our temporary, but large and fabulous, bi-fold door/sawhorse dining table out of the shed last night. Hooray! throw a giant tablecloth over that and we have a table to eat at outside. I made a makeshift grilling table out of a 3x3 stack of cinderblocks to hold the little portable grill I picked up at Ace Hardware on Friday. I was looking for a different grill which they have on line but apparently don't carry in the stores.

While they didn't have the one I wanted, they had this little grill on sale for $12.99 and how could I beat that?! Some day we plan on having a nice big grill in the back - and are so lucky to already have a gas line from the house out to the patio -- but until we decide what we want and how we'll configure it all, this little grill will work just fine. I probably should've bought two or three and we could've had an awesome little grilling station for $36. I might still do that. That would get us through some fun entertaining and they are so small and easy to deal with. I like the idea of having three of these on a long table and cooking up all kinds of fun things that way.

I couldn't let Memorial Day Weekend pass without a barbecue so that was my big goal for the weekend. I kept the menu easy and light. Burgers with cheese, lettuce, tomato and onion. Here's a link to my hamburger recipe I've been refining for a few years now. I think I've found my groove with the spices in these and they always taste good. I picked up some already cut up pineapple, a big watermelon and chips today and we were in business!

We ate dinner just as the sun was setting with our cafe string lights on, wicker lanterns on the table and a delicious, simple summer feast. We had a great time and after the meal we played with Kiddo's plethora of glow-in-the-dark bracelets, necklaces and other trinkets she's been stashing in a drawer. Nights here in Albuquerque are so perfect for outdoor time. Little to no wind, no bugs, perfect temps so you don't need a sweater. It's just lovely being outside on summer nights here! I hope we'll start eating outside every night we can throughout the summer.

Now that we have everything set up, it should be a cinch to enjoy our outdoor areas as much as we can throughout the summer. Looking forward to having friends over and swimming the summer away. Speaking of which, the pool is up and running as of today --- with just one little challenge. Our heaterless pool is still a little cold. Water temps at 63 degrees. We need some hot sunny days!....or I need to finally order that solar pool heating blanket I kept looking at last year that is supposed to heat pool water up by a good 17 degrees. That would work.

I am so happy we're set for summer finally. Being able to go outside to read, have a cup of tea, relax, take a nap or eat a meal is the best and it just makes our home feel tons bigger when you add these outside rooms where one can go. Hooray for summer. Here are a few more things I am thinking about building for the backyard this summer.

Sectional seating
Dining Table
Outdoor Rugs
Two by Four Bench
Simple Concrete Planters

25 May 2017

Seeing Our Positive Accomplishments: Home Decor

I have been feeling discouraged with the progress (or lack of progress) on making our home look lovely. I am highly motivated to have a home that is comfortable and welcoming and we have been struggling. That means I really struggle because having this feels so vital to my soul. While ruminating about this over the past couple of days, it came to me that things are getting prettier around here, I just haven't let myself see that.

Last week I finally FINALLY got a plant and pot that I bought last summer out on the front porch of our house. You may remember I had planned to make a wood plant stand to put the pot it. Well just didn't have time for that. So here we are 10 months later and I found this wonderful stick table I bought 18 months ago and put the pot and plant on top of that and suddenly I have a front porch look that I like. It goes well with the basket I bought last winter for the door that I can update for holidays and seasons with a cute little sign on the front and rotating flowers or plants inside.

I happened to pick up these patriotic fan decorations at Target last week and they were sitting on my desk and I thought, hey I know what I can put in that basket for the summer. Since the front door is well protected and shaded they should be fine there for the entire summer. If not I have another set I can replace them with. The doormat I bought last fall some time and I love it and it all works and speaks my style. Needed that! Okay, progress is happening!

Even if the house hasn't been painted a color I actually like and I'm a little unthrilled with the turquoise front door (some days I like it, but I would love to get rid of that middle section with all the scrolly stuff!) I can still be happy with things done the best they can for now. Wanting everything done right this second isn't really very realistic and why make myself miserable. It may not be magazine worthy but it's the best it's ever been and I can be happy with that for now.

Before I updated the front door basket I took a small whisk broom and swept down the entire door. Then I used a really great squirt bottle that has a good strong sprayer on it and squirted down the front door really well with just plain water, getting into all those nooks and crannies. It was like a mini-power wash for the door. I dried it off and wow did it look a million times better without all the silt and dirt deposits on every edge!

That entire front door update was not that hard and in fact took just a little over 30 minutes. The Man had stacked some small boxes of wood near that door which was making it look a little messy and they had been there for a while. Making those go away was just three simple trips to move those boxes where they needed to be.  None of this was as overwhelming as it feels sometimes.

Next I realized that I'd made some valuable improvements on our "curb appeal" by hanging the silk lanterns together in a tree, adding the new chairs and a little "As-is" IKEA table I picked up just before we left California that has been waiting for a home. Now when people come up to our home they don't see dry ground, scraggly juniper trees and sagebrush. Hopefully they see a welcoming patio! Plans are to add an outdoor table here shortly with some chairs for outside meals, newspaper or magazine reading, journal writing and early morning tea. Can't wait.

On the back patio we still have work to do, but just adding my pretty white and terra cotta pots of vegetable and herbs has cheered up that space quite a bit! Progress!

It sure helped to turn my attitude and perspective around when I started really seeing the good things that are happening around here instead of feeling discouraged and overwhelmed by the mass entirety of the project. Life really is constantly about baby steps and when we get overwhelmed and discouraged it's usually because we're looking beyond the mark a bit and forgetting those baby steps that are what really get us to our goals, hopes and dreams. So today I am going to again take baby steps towards my home and life goals. Recognizing my small successes has been a major source of encouragement to keep taking small steps forward!

22 May 2017

Creating Cozy Outdoor Spaces For Our Home

I have mentioned a few times here that I have been working on creating some welcoming and relaxing spaces for our yard. When you start doing the math on decorating four outdoor spaces the costs can balloon pretty quickly, especially if you hope to add a comfortable, quality sectional seating area. Even if you DIY things it can still get very expensive. I can buy a nice table for what I could make one for by the time I buy lumber and treat it so that can safely be outside in the sun and rain.

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So I made my dream list, whittled it down and then whittled it down some more. I came to a realization that making the areas serviceable for our goals could be done well with a little creativity and some cost savings. Rather than having a long table with chairs for the dining area, I am considering two picnic tables set end to end. That way I get a table and seating for a huge savings over buying a table or building a table and then needing to buy 10-12 chairs. It can still be plenty cozy with a nice table arrangement and our beautiful string lights overhead. Lovely.

I also got very practical about chaise lounges for the pool area. The hotel style plastic ones will work just fine and I can get seating and side tables for a nice price with a discount. Done deal.

I also started watching sales and looking at Craigslist. Craigslist, comically was extremely overpriced for the used furniture people were selling. I could buy new for a better price. I'd been watching a few patio chairs at Target anticipating there would be a sale toward the end of May and found them on sale this past weekend. I was looking at a different chair but when I went into the store to give them one last try I ended up picking up the Southwest Wicker Club Chair which I liked a lot better and was just five dollars more.

So I grabbed the gray with gray cushions and found a way to pack them into the back of my Volkswagen Golf. IT has a pretty amazing cargo area when you put the back seats down. I also had three huge bags of soil that I had to move to the floor of the front seat because I needed the height to get the chairs in. But it all worked and I actually still had quite a bit of space in the back.

I also picked up two of these pillows which are great. I like the funky pineapple image and on the back it's a fun, bold black and white pattern so you can choose a side, use one of each or whatever you like.

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For right now these chairs are going on the front patio, until we get a table out front. I'm almost thinking about picking up three picnic tables and putting two in the back and one on that front patio. Because it's an East facing patio, it's a great place to sit in the mornings or to get away from the sun in the afternoons and early evenings. It's also next to the driveway so there's room for other activities like bike riding, giant bubble wanding or throwing ball with the dog as well.

Once I got the chairs in place and all the wrapping off them and tags cut off the pillows, I pulled out the super cute solar silk outdoor lanterns I picked up at IKEA in February. You can see them at the link, scroll down a bit. I had planned to put them in the backyard, but I going to use them in the front for a while. I also have three strands of white and black small round lanterns that I can use in the front or back. I might put those in the front yard and then bring the larger silk lanterns to the back yard where I think they will hang better from the larger trees.

So far my initial planning budget has plummeted by a thousand or more dollars, which is good. We can always upgrade later and we we may find that picnic tables fit our mountain home just perfectly. We can get all three tables for less than the price of one dining set with chairs. I like that idea right now. There are still so many things we could invest in for this house and that need attention, so it makes sense to be budget conscious but also get the house in a place where we can enjoy it more and entertain, etc.

Working outside the house has been fun and it's encouraging us to spend more time outside which I think is hugely healthy for the mind and soul. It seems like if you start the habit of spending time outside at the beginning of the summer you spend more time outside over the course of the summer.  I'd like to do that this year. I always think those summers where you realize mournfully in mid-August that you didn't make the most of it are rather sad.

So it's headlong into summer now, fingers crossed. Now we just need some summer weather two days in a row. The weather certainly has been fickle this Spring! I may regret my complaints come early August after it's been 100+ for a month straight. Ha.

Wax Museum Project: Meet Rachel Fuller Brown

Wax Museum projects seem pretty ubiquitous here in the U.S. these days but just in case you don't know what that is, grade schoolers pick an influential person, create a report or tri-fold poster about that person, then dress up as them and do a brief oral presentation for students in the school. Our kiddo came home with the name of a person I had never heard of before. After all I learned about her, I thought I would share some of that with you.

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Dr. Rachel Fuller Brown (on the right) and her research partner Elizabeth Lee Hazen discovered Nystatin, the first anti-fungal medicine and it was introduced to the world in 1950. This was the second great medical discovery of the 20th century following two decades after the discovery of penicillin. Nystatin is used to treat fungal infections like athlete's foot, thrush and candida as well as used to treat fungal disease in trees and artwork that has been damaged by fungus.

Rather than take the 13.4 million dollars she earned from the royalties of Nystatin, she donated it to further scientific study opportunities for women and other good causes. She received many awards for her scientific contributions and spent her entire career contributing not only to scientific research but also to helping the next generation of scientists get established.

Wax museum day at our school was a great opportunity for me to learn some new things about Susan B. Anthony, Clara Barton, Sally Ride, Helen Keller and other notable women. There were some terrific costumes including Stephen Hawking, Teddy Roosevelt, Neil Armstrong, Amelia Earhart. and my very favorite character of the day, Bob Ross, the PBS painting teacher.

I thought this was a fantastic project for the kids because they had to practice doing research, creating an artistic display, costume design and most importantly I think, the art of public speaking. There are so many elements to public speaking including eye contact, voice intonation and volume, organization of thoughts, appropriate use of time allowed and more. The Man and I invested time in visiting all the booths and found them very interesting. It was fun to interact with each of the kids and ask them questions. I know for sure that our family will never forget Rachel Fuller Brown or her contributions to medical science.

19 May 2017

Grand Designs: A Refreshing "New" Home Design Show

I first heard about Grand Designs from the Young House Love Has A Podcast hosted by John and Sherry Petersik a couple of weeks ago. It's new to us here in the U.S. but in the U.K. many seasons have aired. I checked it out and have to say I binged all the episodes within two weeks...I realize that's not really binging in the "didn't leave my house for three days until I'd watched every episode" context, but for someone who is quite busy, I got through them pretty quickly.
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Here are the reasons I really like this show:

1) The host and writer, Kevin McCloud is completely likable. There is nothing annoying to him. He is curious, kind, generous, and asks the right and often obvious questions viewers want to know. He makes the show better in every way.

2) The homebuilders are dreamers and risk takers. No one is whining about granite countertops and stainless steels appliances here. (Little HGTV joke.) The homebuilders on this show are doing remarkable things and sometimes it works out and sometimes there are some major disasters and yet they all make it work the best they can. Some of the biggest doubters are often family members.

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3) Every story doesn't wrap up perfectly every time. Sometimes the homeowners run out of money and the homes don't get all glamorously and magically finished. There are disagreements between spouses and mother nature certainly has taken her toll in a few episodes. But there is still a warm, hopeful, upbeat feeling to the show.

4) There is always an element of attempting the impossible in each episode. These builders are really trying to do new things and envision new ways of doing things.

5) There are some amazing homes features. Some are very expensive and some are not. But they are all very unique.

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6) You get some great lessons on architecture. This show is more about building the house than furnishing the house. You can learn a lot about different building techniques and materials. You do get to see the decorated or at least partially decorated house at the end but there isn't a lot of time spent on the furnishing aspect.

7) The build locations are often unbelievably beautiful spots all over Great Britain. If you like lush, green meadows and ocean cliffs, you'll definitely get that here.

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I thought initially that there were two seasons available on Netflix, but later noticed that it's episodes that bounce around between the many seasons that have been made of the show.  Hopefully at some point Netflix will add more episodes of Grand Designs and perhaps put them into chronological order. Most of the episodes featured right now are from 2009-2012. So there is a lot of talk about "the bad economy" and situations that now seem to have been a long time ago now. But those elements don't take anything away from the enjoyment of the show.

I'm recommending this show! If you check it out I'd love to hear what you think. Leave a comment below or comment on other social media. Happy viewing.

18 May 2017

Checking Off The Small Things

Today I did something that I've been needing to do for months. It was a small thing but aren't those the things that end up driving up nuts day after day -- those little things we need or need to check off our To Do lists. Today was a good example. I have needed a new eyelash curler for a long time. I am usually pretty good about replacing those frequently because they do get weak and quit working well and the eyelashes show it. But I have struck out finding the one I like at several stores and then at other stores it seems too high prices for what I've paid in the past.

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It's been one of those small seasons in my life where I feel like there are a lot of little things like this that have been put off as we've been super busy, tired, etc. in the last few weeks of school. As we face the beginning of summer break next week and things are winding down a little it's nice to try to get caught up with some of those small things. One season of sports has ended for a while, all the big school projects are done as of today, lots of doctors, dentist and optical appointments were taken care of the first couple of weeks of May too. Whew! No wonder we felt so busy.

So it feels like the perfect time, due to need and to a slightly quieter schedule, to take care of little things. I have been running more errands, doing a better job keeping lists of things and taking time a couple of days this week to take care of a few of them. It seems like lots of these things are self-care items like the eyelash curler.

Today I also bought a nail buffing block. I like to get a good pedicure, but Mani-pedis are significantly more expensive here in ABQ than they were in L.A. so I'm good to do my own nails since I only buff shine them and keep them pretty short. Then I can indulge in a pedicure once a month. My nail polish always seems to stay in pretty good shape and I give myself a good foot buffing after every shower so they stay in pretty good condition along with lots of coconut oil, lotion, etc.

I found myself a better hydrating shampoo, conditioner and leave in conditioner to try this past week and boy did it make a huge difference in my hair when I washed it last night. Soft and silky - and much easier to comb through and blow dry. Little things like this make life feel a lot more pleasant.

I also got some new lip gloss and wonderful hand lotion from Aveda this week. My last lip gloss was running low and I had a $25 product gift card at my salon. Monday morning I went in and had a fun little shop which only cost me about $5 over the value of my gift card. Last Friday I got the highlights refresh that will take me into the summer months happily. I'm having to get hair upkeep done more often now, which is costly -- and a big bummer. Another task I need to take care of is getting new bras. That has been put off for too long now and it's a must. I also need some new workout clothes. I'm at a point where most of mine are getting a little ragged.

I also need body lotion. I've gotten very selective about lotions I use...no mineral oil, no petroleum. So it's pretty much impossible to buy lotion at a major drug or department store. You might find some shea butters or Burt's Bees options that will work but they usually come in pretty small containers  which don't last long when you live in a desert! But I can't just go to the regular lotion aisle and grab something that is clean of ingredients I don't want to be putting on my body. 

I've been using Bliss Spa lemon and sage lotion for years. Get it for a great price at Marshalls or TJMaxx and I stock up because they don't always have it in the larger more economical bottles. I need more of that stuff which I've been adding some magnesium oil to in the evenings before bed. 

After a shower I often add some coconut oil or Un-petroleum Jelly to my lotion to combat the dry, dry climate here in NM. This is also an inexpensive way to make the lotion last longer. I buy my coconut oil at Trader Joe's and one jar lasts quite a good long time. I'll take care of getting that lotion before the end of the week. I'll also share more about magnesium oil in the next week or so. Have been trying it on the family and am learning as much about it as possible. I have a store credit/gift card in my wallet for my lotion needs. Yay.

I also need a new bronzer. I've been experimenting and not really liking anything I've found. I think it's time to get serious and go back to Bare Minerals that I used for years and loved.

It's so nice to have the things you need on hand so that you can be diligent about self care. It's never fun to be feeling frustrated when trying to take care of yourself especially because the times we need self care the most are when we're already tired. I'm happily checking a few things off my list and trying to make life a little more enjoyable.

In the summer there seem to be a lot more social engagements and gatherings and it sure feels good to look and feel good on those occasions and it's so nice to feel good every day. Having what you need on hand at home to look good and to feel good makes such a difference. Taking care of little things only takes a few minutes but sure makes a big difference in how I feel about myself and my life.

17 May 2017

A Little This & That

It's been a busy few days with lots of unexpected interruptions to the regular routine....if there is such a thing? I feel like we've been on the go nonstop lately and this week seems to be no different. I haven't gotten any of my big To Dos done yet, but I certainly haven't been sitting around.

Kiddo had a big school project due on Thursday so that is keeping me busy making sure she is staying busy and on track to get done on time. She needs a tri-fold board, costume, oral presentation, etc. When she was younger I had such a better handle on getting homework done. We lived in a smaller place and it just feels like sitting at the kitchen counter was so conducive to me being able to help her get her homework done quickly.

These days she's is often at the table in the living room working on homework and I am in the kitchen. It's much harder for me to keep track of what's happening and how fast she's working, etc. This makes for a little bit more frustrating homework process. Our kitchen bar/counter area isn't really great for doing homework but I'd like to find a happy medium somewhere in all of it.

Another really goofy thing that has been happening recently is that I feel like our grocery shopping habits have swung out of control. I like to go once a week, with a list and just get it all done. Of course, as with many other families that may mean going to a regular grocery chain, then making another trip to a place like Target or WalMart and then another stop at Trader Joe's. Also a little tiring.

But the past few weeks The Man has been calling me almost daily saying, "I'm at the grocery store, do you need anything?" For some reason he loves to go to the grocery store. In LA when we had a store a few hundred yards away he would go just to wander around. Unfortunately this lead to some fairly frequent impulse grocery shopping. So he's been stopping almost daily getting some little item he needs, then calls me to see if I need anything.

Trying to give instructions over the phone about what brand and type of item to buy, trying to explain where to find it or even texting a list doesn't seem to work too well either, despite both our best hopes. He frequently can't find what I'm asking for or forgets to get an item, etc. and I find myself not giving him a full list because it's too tiring, so I'll give him three or four items and then go without some other things I need.

I hate to make another trip but then find myself without key ingredients I need or any items you would consider "meal" foods. It's all a little silly. But again, not super cost efficient and I feel like we need to reign that in or I just need to never have The Man get anything on my list, make a real list and go once a week myself again. It's so strange how things can just slip out of habit around the house and them you really have to regroup and stop the madness.

Maybe it the big school project Kiddo has do this week. Perhaps we've been running a little too fast the past few weeks. Spring is always so busy for us with a birthday or holiday or other event seeming to come almost weekly from January to June.

Maybe it's the coming of Spring and so many more things to do now that we need to keep the yard and pool up and get it all in shape for the summer. Maybe it's the end of the school year that is exacerbating all this mild chaos. I notice Kiddo is more tired than normal after school and perhaps the parents are tired as well. Haha.

Whatever it is, I am feeling a little pushed to get us back into a good rhythm here at the end of the school year before we jump headlong into summer. In my spare time (hahaha) I am kicking off two businesses and trying to work on decorating our outside living spaces.

I set a goal and budget for decorating four small spaces in the yard. As I started pricing things out, I felt a push to try to do it for a smaller and smaller budget and took that on as a big challenge. I have been searching for best deals and finding less expensive options that will work well for us for a few years.

It's been a very fun challenge and I've been excited to try to find things sourced from businesses that offer discounts and to watch for sale prices on the items I want to buy. I am really excited to watch for some Memorial Day sales on a few items. It's a lot to keep track of. I'll share more of what I'm looking at soon and put together a post on each of the four spaces and how I budgeted.

I thought it would be a bit humorous to post a happy Mother's Day photo with this post because in all honesty this Mama isn't feeling super on the ball right now. It was nice to have that day, last Sunday to celebrate the beauty of motherhood but Monday morning it was right back into the thick of it and feeling a little undone. Life is what it is, isn't it. There is no predicting or directing it much beyond what you try to do.

11 May 2017

Shaking Up The Routine

Yesterday I ran away from home for a while. I've been at home working too much lately and it was starting to make me a little loopy. I also needed to have one of those regroups where you just feel like you need to start sprucing yourself up a little better -- you know getting in a rut of wearing the same thing over and over or wearing your hair up in a bun every day.

So I took myself out to breakfast and enjoyed a peaceful half hour or so eating a yummy bagel with cream cheese and sipping on a hot chocolate while writing in my journal. I went a little later in the morning and the bagel shop was pretty quiet. It was so lovely. It felt so good to eat something I didn't have to make for myself or for anyone else. It was a cold, gray, rainy day so sipping on something warm and nibbling on warm toasted bread was so nice. Even though it was only for a few minutes it was perfect and it fed my soul to sit there alone and be able to think without disruption, which doesn't happen that often at home.

Then I ran a couple of errands. I bought myself some high quality shampoo, conditioner and leave-in conditioner. I currently have three bottles of shampoo in my shower and none of them are really doing anything good for my hair. When I get out of the shower my hair just feels like it's in knots and is so hard to get a comb through, even after I've conditioned it in the shower and put on leave-in conditioner as well. I realized again today that we live in a VERY dry climate and my hair is feeling the effects. So this weekend I am going to deep condition my hair and then I decided to upgrade to a new moisturizing shampoo and see if that will help my hair a bit. This is one of those things I've been putting off. One area where I need to and deserve to take better care of myself. I do have to say, however, that I've been doing a lot better on the self-care in other areas though, especially sleep, vitamins, essential oils, lotions, etc.

I also made a quick dash to one of the big craft stores and even though I was just popping in to grab two quick items I made a round around the store for inspiration. Those trips always get my mind percolating and help me see new creative projects I'd like to explore whether they be interior decor, gardening, painting, knitting...so many things. I always leave inspired.

When I got home I felt happy to be home and be with my family again, refreshed and ready to continue accomplishing things. I spent some time outside admiring the new growth on the trees The Man planted last year, playing with the dog, looking at the moody, cloud-covered mountains and enjoying a few rain sprinkles on my face before we came inside.

I was able to get quite a few things done after my mornings adventures out including blazing through 40 pages of the textbook I am studying, which I told you about last week. Thank goodness! I was beginning to feel like I would never make any progress on that book. The first 80 pages took forever, but then I got into a section that I more easily breeze through which got me to the section I was really most interested in studying. So I made some good progress and that felt so good! I can almost see the light at the end of the tunnel. What a relief to be halfway through the book now. I think I've found my groove with this book so I can move more quickly now. Yay!

Some days shaking up the routine is just what is required so we can return to the routine and blaze some ground. Other times we just need to leave the old routine and come up with a new one. I think both are somewhat in order in my life right now. Last night the thought came to me "My life is a grand adventure." For all the ups and downs we have, it really is a great adventure and when I think of it as an adventure rather than a "challenge" or something hard to be suffered it sure makes it all look brighter and happier.

I want to live shining and happy so thinking of life as an adventure and continually looking at new ways to experience it, to shake up the routine, seems like the perfect recipe. I am going to shake up my routine more often. You never know what might come of it. Serendipity seems to happen when we step out of the expected and try things in new and different ways. You never know who you might meet or what might happen when you shake up the way you normally do things or try something in a new and unusual way.

09 May 2017

Pin Test #29: Beefy Tomato Soup

Welcome to Pin Test #29: Beefy Tomato Soup. This was a fun and easy soup recipe by Mantitlement. and I made quite a few small alterations that I don't think changed the content/context of the recipe very much but just added a little of my own cooking ideas to it.

via Mantitlement

I made the recipe as listed except for a few things. Here's what I did differently and why.

1) I used sour cream instead of cream cheese because I had sour cream I needed to finish off and didn't have cream cheese. Another tester at Pinterest said she just used whatever cheese she had in her fridge. I don't think the cheese matters much, other than to give it a bit creamier texture. A half cup of any kind of cheese isn't going to alter a large pot of soup all that much one way or another.

2) I added extra liquids along the way. Since testers said the pasta will soak up the liquid mostly and turn this more into a goulash if you're eating leftovers, I added a little extra chicken stock and water.

3) I tossed in a can of kidney beans. Needed to use them up, they seemed ideal for a hearty soup like this. I also included all the liquid in the can.

4) I added a can of Italian herbed diced tomatoes. More liquid.

5) Added a few extra spices along the way since I was adding so much extra liquid. Extra basil and oregano and a little thyme, I also added about a 1/4 teaspoon of Garlic Pepper Seasoning. This is a seasoning mix I made a few weeks ago with the recipe at the link.

6) I used rigatoni, again because I had it on hand and needed to use it up. I added at least two cups because it seemed like I could with all the extra liquid I added, but in the end after it had cooled off it did look more like golash than soup but tasty all the same. You can rehydrate it with a little stock, tomato juice or even a touch of water when you eat the leftovers - or just eat it as more of a pasta dish than soup.

Next time I am going to add a cut up carrot and probably a zucchini if I have one on hand. With all my alterations it's becoming more of a Minestrone but simple or with additions it's tasty just the same.

This soup turned out exactly as I expected it would and was quite tasty. I made it on Saturday April 29th and the family ate it right up and it went well with the hot homemade rolls while we watched it snow outside and joked about singing some Christmas carols and what a fine December we were having. Would gladly recommend this recipe! Let me know if you try it.

08 May 2017

Sunday Blues: Dealing With Feelings Of Fear And Inadequacy

Sundays always precede a Monday but often that also means a bit of fear, worry or stress about the upcoming week. I had one of those days yesterday. After church we came home and had lunch and tried to rest a bit in the afternoon together as a family. Sometime in the late afternoon a stress came over me, questions in my mind of how I would be excellent in the coming week and focus on what was really most important.

I thought of the big goals and needs that should be addressed this week and it began to overwhelm me. I started feeling anxious and worried. I began to feel a sense of failure and before the week had even begun. I did not like that feeling at all. So I sat with it for a few minutes and then decided to take action by doing a few things that would help me prepare for the coming week and would give me a sense of accomplishment.

I remember reading quite a few years ago that if you feel inadequate, unmotivated, depressed or a sense of failure one of the best things you can do it just get up and accomplish a few small tasks. The completion of even a small tasks gives us a sense of accomplishment and creates in us new energy to keep going. Making a list of two or three small tasks you can accomplish can  get you moving and going forward.

Here are a few ideas of small tasks that can get the ball rolling. Replace the hand towel in a bathroom, replace a box of empty tissues, empty a trash can, make the call to schedule an appointment, make your bed, unload the dishwasher, sweep the front porch - and there a probably a million more options. Sometimes I pick a very small space to tidy up like the top of my dresser and just limit my thinking and my work to completing that one small task.

This effort also reminds me of Design Mom Gabrielle Blair's piece on how much we can get done in three minute increments. She advocated for using tiny increments of time to accomplish things on our To Do list like calling for a doctor's appointment, signing a permission slip, etc. I have had great success with this. I remember particularly one day a few months ago while waiting to pick up The Man at the car dealership. I accomplished a ton of stuff in about 20 minutes, using my phone in the car. It was amazing.

I still try to live by this principal. This morning while I had a couple of minutes waiting for The Bug to come up for breakfast I sent some emails, then later made a few quick calls, got some appointments set up, ran around the house and closed all the blinds to help keep the house cool for the day and checked around for the best price on a magazine subscription I am looking for. Little things do give one a sense of industry and accomplishment.

So back to yesterday. I got up from the spot where I was futilely trying to relax and made a mental list of things I could do to help me feel better and that would give me a headstart on the coming week. I started a To Do list for today, sent a couple of texts to friends, wrote a Thank You note to a friend and started doing some easy preps for dinner - like scrubbing some baking potatoes and throwing them in the slow cooker. Taking some action on things that were not overwhelming or particularly taxing helped to make those feelings go away.

Sometimes I just need to focus on tasks that I can mentally see the beginning and end of. I find lately that if I feel a little overwhelmed I like to choose a task that I know how to do and how to finish. When I focus on the projects that need to be done that I know I have the brainpower and energy to accomplish at that moment that is very helpful, rather than starting a project I can't see my way through, don't feel ready for or that feels difficult or especially tiring to me. This way I am getting things done more effectively and when the time and energy feels right.

A while later I watched a little TV. That helped me just get my mind focused on other things and off of the things that were stressing me. Sometimes just vegging out to a little TV really can be a good distraction. I find these days I can't sit still long enough to watch TV much. I often put something on Netflix while I'm cleaning the kitchen or I listen to a podcast or an audiobook on something I am studying and then I feel like I'm getting two benefits while I work.

A lot of times the best thing I can do is just not listen to the crazy voices in my head. Just find a way to shut them down. That can be as easy as reading a book, finding someone to talk to, watching TV or anything that just puts them in the off position. It helps me to remember that those voices of criticism, fear and failure don't do anything good for us, don't come from a good place and don't help us want to or be better. They are destructive. When I recognize this it is much easier for me to get up and do something that will shut them down and help me restore balance and goodwill to my thinking.

Staying busy is another way I find that helps shut down those destructive voices. Not busy in the sense of running away from them, but busy in the sense of just continuing to chug along at a reasonable pace, doing things that help me feel good. One foot in front of the other, slow and steady. If there is anything that negativity or negative thoughts don't like it's continual, small increments of progress. Learning to take small, progressive steps is so healthy and seems to be a challenge throughout life. But it also seems like that way that the greatest things in life get accomplished....by continuing to walk forward.

By the time dinner prep time came around my night was pretty well structured until bedtime. Having a routine, that does help. I slowly made dinner (steak, asparagus and baked potatoes). We set the table, ate dinner together, had a little family religious study and a nice talk together, said prayers and it was bedtime for Kiddo. I put on The Crown while I quickly cleaned the kitchen up and put the leftover food away.

I knew some journaling time would also help to clear my head and get my mindset ready for this week. I can't advocate journaling enough as some of the best therapy that I've had in my life. It really doesn't help unwind your thoughts, clarify your wants and needs and prepare your mind for what is to come. It is sooooo good for the soul! If you feel like you are too much in your head or too caught up in stress, journaling can help you get that our of your head, look at it and make a more effective and rational plan on how to manage life.

So I journaled for a while before I went to bed and it really did help me get straight in my head. As I was writing, I remembered a conversation with a friend last year. She is very wise said that when it feels like there are a million things weighing you down, that need to get done, stop and pray. Ask God what you need to do that day and He will tell you. Then just do what He tells you and He will take care of you.

The rest will take care of itself somehow. Some things will just fall away or resolve themselves, or they can wait or just aren't that important after all. That is the thought I went to bed with last night. That I would pray to know what was important each day this week and do those things.

That's how I'm tackling this week and so far it's working and I think it will continue to work. These are strategies that I've used over and over again, over many years and they have never let me down. Sometimes they take more effort that others. Some days I can bounce out of that stress/fear place pretty quickly. If we let it go too long, or things in life get awfully heavy, it can take a significantly greater amount of work to climb out of that pit -- but it can be done. When it feels insurmountable, sometimes just telling someone else how you are feeling is a good way to get a helping hand to climb out. Friends, mentors and counselors are an important part of our lives and there for a reason!

Thankfully this week is happening and I can see my way through a little more clearly now. It is just one foot in front of the other and keep on walking. It's working and I'm grateful!

05 May 2017

Big Likes #6: A Nice Tote Bag

I frequently go to doctor's appointments with The Man or extracurricular activities with Kiddo and need to bring along something to entertain myself while I am there. I always love carrying along some water, a snack and a book or magazines or something to study. Lately I've been studying a lot and that is something that helps me feel like I am staying really effective with my time even if I'm sitting in the car or in a doctor's waiting room.

It's great to have something nice looking to carry my extra things in, along with my purse. I take pride in the handbag I carry and like for that to carry over into any secondary bag I may be carrying. Some days I just carry a bigger tote and put my purse essentials in there as well.
This is a bag I designed for Live Live ABQ but I have several others too. One of my favorites is a Heath Ceramics canvas bag that I think was designed by Skinny LaMinx. I picked it up in 2012 at the Heath Ceramics shop in the Ferry Building in San Francisco. It's natural canvas with a green silk screen logo. I try to keep it very clean and like for it to look pulled together and tidy, rather than running around carrying junk in an old plastic grocery bag.

The right tote bag can carry over a pulled together look and make carrying a few extra things easy and stylish rather than frumpy and scattered. I often think about lessons I've learned about taking just a few extra minutes to look a little more pulled together before one heads out the door. It's a real thing, and it makes a big difference in how we feel about ourselves and how we present ourselves to others. Most importantly is how I feel when I go out into the world. I have control over that and sometimes it's just a simple thing like carrying my extra load in an attractive tote rather than looking harried and messy with things falling out of my purse or in a junky old bag. That's why this week's Big Like is a nice tote bag!

04 May 2017

Setting Aside Time For Study

Recently I've been putting a significant and regular effort on making time to study. I've been studying internet business, real estate and parenting. I am pushing myself to be more of a student and it's been a little more of a concerted effort than just reading articles occasionally. I find that it has really been valuable use of my time. As I think about lifelong learning I think regular study is something that can greatly benefit us.

This is me studying in bed last weekend
Some days the articles are things that interest me and other days the topics are just things I really have to know to continue down a path ahead of me. Some days I can devote a couple of hours to study and other days it may be 15 -30 minutes. One day last week I needed to read an article about creating SKU numbers. Super fun, right?! But I knuckled under and got it done in less than 30 minutes while I was waiting for The Man who was in a doctor's appointment.

I was able to wrap my head around the topic and figure out a system that would work best for my online store in a short amount of time. I have a small pile of business articles I've printed out that I can carry in my bag to study when I'm waiting somewhere. Some days I'm studying in the car, some or on the patio at the golf course. Other days I'm grabbing a few spare minutes while I eat lunch or in bed before I go to sleep.

I keep a stack of magazine articles tabbed and a few books available that I can power through when I have time. I have a pretty challenging business book that I am studying right now,  every day when possible. I can only get through about five pages or so in a study session based on the new concepts I am trying to digest and usually getting a little tired or overloaded. The font size is tiny and two pages of material is a lot of information. But I try to keep at it frequently so that I can get through it. As soon as I can finish this book I can move forward into some new learning and tasks that I am anxious to get to, so there is a sense of urgency on my part. This has been a good and difficult challenge for me to work on.

I was reading some of my family history about my paternal ancestors who were ranchers in the Intermountain West. Although most did not have a formal education, they were lifelong learners and avid readers. While I have had the benefit of a lot of education that is not the same as being a lifelong learner and engaged student. It's never too late to learn a new skill or open up a new world to ourselves through study. While I'm doing this, I thought it would be a great time to throw some encouragement for study out into the world. 

Do you have something you've always wanted to study or some new challenges that you might steer through more easily with the help of some study on your part? It really only takes a few minutes a day or even a week to make lifelong learning a part of our lives. Study is a good challenge to keep our minds sharp and to continue learning and keeping up with latest trends, science, technology and life skills. I'm hoping I'll make some significant progress on my business book this coming week and then I'll be lining up some new topics of study to follow up on after that. Learning is a good thing.

03 May 2017

Stylish And Sturdy Bag Lines by Heath Design and Heath + Stein

I have been watching the progress of Heath + Stein bags over the past few months and being a former bag designer/maker I am very impressed. You probably know Heath Ceramics by now, same company. These days they have quite a few sister product lines. You can check out all the amazing design lines by Heath, including jewelry, cookware, home furnishings and tile here.

Their bags are both beautiful and made with a lot of attention to durability and quality. Could make a great gift for upcoming holidays or birthdays or just because days. The first two bags below are from the Heath Designs line. The second two are specifically under the Heath + Stein label.

image via Heath Designs
I love the mix of fabrics, textures and materials. You can never go wrong with leather accents! These bags are high end and prices start at about $160 and go up to $375. They are a "special treat" purchase in my mind. Something you might save for or just make as an investment piece. If I'm going to spend a little extra in my wardrobe/fashion budget it is most likely going to be for a high quality bag. They are versatile and last a lot longer than a seasonal shirt, pants or jacket.

image via Heath Designs
The neutral colors help these bags adapt to anything in your wardrobe too, plus they can really upscale a simple or casual outfit. It's amazing how much a statement making bag can add to an everyday  look.

One of the things I really appreciate about these bags are the quality stitching, rivets, clasps and hooks. There are definitely companies who cheap out on those added fixtures but you can see from the photos that the materials used are hardy and will hold up to wear over time. And I think that also means that these bags are going to be comfortable to carry too.

image via Heath + Stein
This bag is a perfect example of the mix of high quality materials. So handsome! I can see a commuter dad looking super cool and getting a lot of use out of this. It would make a fantastic Father's Day gift. It could be a nice Mother's Day gift too. Work appropriate, this would probably fit someone in a more creative, casual work environment.

image via Heath + Stein

Of course there are plenty of other Mother's Day gift options too. If you want a little pop of high energy color there are options for that too. These aren't just a great fashion accessory but they were also designed to be highly functional. Thought was put into practical pockets and all the modern necessities one needs to carry each day.

I would definitely like to add one of these to my bag arsenal. It's just hard to decide which one!

02 May 2017

The Beauty Of Simple Changes

Our walk-in closet is pretty narrow and frequently I've wanted a chair or some sort of flat surface to set things on when I just have a quick second to drop something off in there. I know I should just immediately put them away, I've certainly talked about that enough lately. But sometimes I feel like it's okay to set down a fresh stack of laundry that I'll put away later. I have also struggled to figure out a space for clothes that eventually need to get to the laundry room and a place to put my sleeping clothes.

I often end up stacking this stuff on top of the shoe rack, which is the perfect height, but then I have stuff sitting on top of (aka crushing) my favorite pairs of shoes on the top shelf. This has been bothering me for a while and recently I came up with the easiest, most ridiculous solution. On the top of the shoe rack are three pairs of shoes. There are two that I really like having on that shelf and the third pair could go anywhere on the rack.

I was dropping off some laundry and I thought, "This is a little ridiculous. Why don't I just move one pair of shoes off this shelf level and then move my two favorite pairs closer to the wall and leave a nice space here for me to put things?!" I was a little stunned at how such a simple change could totally rock my existence. I kind of wanted to smack myself for not thinking of this sooner. As I walked back upstairs from our room I was on fire to find more things I could do to make life easier.

When I have these moments where a simple solution makes everything so much better I wonder how many other frustrations I could solve and simplify so easily. Sometimes we get so stuck in how things are set up in our homes that we forget we can change them. I am all about making needed changes in this house because there is no reason to be frustrated at something that isn't working well when it can be changed.

I have done this with drawers and cupboards in the kitchen. Why have things you don't use often in the best drawers and why be annoyed at the unnecessary efforts we often expend to get things that are stored in the most practical places. I've evolved storage in a lot of ways as we go along. I also want to keep evolving our linen closet, pantry and tool storage spaces to make them work best for us. It's a never ending process I think because things continue to evolve with the family.

I feel like this needs to be something that I keep at the forefront of the mind all the time, at least a lot more often. So many of these changes can be made in minutes...seriously how long did it take me to move my shoes over. That took me less than 30 seconds! How many more challenges can I solve in our home with such simple efforts. I think there are a lot. I just need to be paying better attention. 

01 May 2017

Pin Test #28: Yummy Healthy Easy's 30 Minute Homemade Dinner Rolls

This Pin Test is one of the comedy of errors versions of Pin Tests. I tested Yummy Healthy Easy's 30 Minute Homemade Dinner Rolls. I had a few mishaps along the way. But in the end, hot homemade rolls are hot homemade rolls, right? I tried this recipe along with a nice Beefy Tomato Soup (Pin Test #29) that I will share with you soon. It was the perfect meal for a cold, snowy, late April Saturday.

I tried my best. I'll do better next time.
I think I've mentioned a few times that my breadmaking life has been tarnished by reports when I was growing up about how hard it is to work with yeast. I don't really even know where I was hearing this but it wasn't from my own family, I know that. For some reason I've just had a complex about baking with yeast.

I shouldn't have listened because it's really not that hard. But because of all the negative comments I have been avoiding using yeast pretty much my entire life. Which is a little crazy considering my mother is an avid homemade bread maker. This all started after I'd left home mostly, so I really missed out on the tutoring I could've gotten from her had I still been living at home.

But it's never to late to start baking with yeast and I've done it a few times over the past couple of months and things have gone well. I think my bigger challenges come in shaping and managing the dough once it's all mixed together. (see appearance of my rolls above)

Saturday when I made these rolls, it was a cold rainy/snowy day and it was chilly in the house so I felt like I needed a decent amount of additional warmth for raising the dough. I kept it on the stovetop near my pot of soup, thinking it might get a little warmth from there - it wasn't much but it helped.

My first misstep was that while the yeast was dissolving with the warm water and sugar I accidentally banged the bowl and sent it sliding across the counter a bit. I think that broke up my yeast a bit because it lost that smooth, expanding texture it gets when it's left alone. I let it sit for a while longer and finally just decided to go forward with the dough. It did rise a bit more but never looked as big, round and fluffy as it has usually.

Once I got the dough combined - and I used the dough hook on my KitchenAid mixer for the first time - it didn't really get the consistency I hoped for. Maybe I should have kneaded it more but I was afraid to damage the yeast anymore at this point.

Then I neglected to follow the recipe. It says to immediately divide the dough into rolls, put them in the pan and let them rise again for 15-20 minutes. But I missed that and left it in the bowl with a warm towel on top just hoping it would rise. It did, but still didn't look all that great. Realizing now that I had not divided the dough immediately as I should have, I did that and put the rolls in the greased  pan and let them rise for another 20 minutes. There was life to the dough, so even though they didn't look as good at I had hoped I could tell at this point that they would cook up pretty well. Might not be light and flaky but would definitely be edible for dinner.

I need to work on my roll forming skills. The sizes weren't uniform and I struggled to get a pretty texture across the top. I have watched my mom, aunts and other relatives work simple looking magic to make beautiful rolls. Clearly I need more practice. I should also ask my mom for her roll recipe some time.

So I baked them for about 18 minutes until they were golden brown on top. Then I brushed them with butter while they were still hot. We served them warm and enjoyed them with butter, jams and honey at the table. I take it totally as my own responsibility as to how they turned out texture-wise. They were a little heavy in texture a little bit biscuit-like, but flaky and tasty anyway. They could have been lighter and prettier but we ate them all the same and quite enjoyed them. Next time I'll do things a little better but this was a great first try and a very quick and easy recipe.
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