Category Archives: Life

June: The Month of Travel

June was the month-o-travel for me. Not counting the roadtrip drive-through bits (I’m looking at YOU, Virginia I-81 corridor that Never.Seems.To.End), I hit up five states plus the District of Columbia. It’s been great. It’s been a whirlwind. It’s been exhausting. It’s been invigorating. All rolled up into one.

It seems like my suitcase is in a perpetual state of being half-packed, but I don’t mind. That being said, I’m home now, and that’s where I really want to be. Especially since Daniel wasn’t able to go with me on this last trip when I visited family and I missed him like crazy.

Highlights of this past month: riding the D.C. Metro, Seeing Abe Lincoln up close, visiting Einstein, wandering through modern art, taking a sunset water taxi cruise across the Potomac, gazing at zoo animals, playing tag with my niece and nephew, wading out into the Atlantic ocean with cousins I hadn’t seen in ages, and having long conversations with my brother, sister-in-law, father, and husband.

Here’s some Instagram shots from my travels. So, what have you been up to this summer?

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Life is Beautiful

Every moment is a gift.

I was looking at a couple of different professional photography blogs today and saw people captured in light and time in a way that was flattering, but also in a way that allowed their specific physical quirks and graces to shine. I recall from my own wedding that some of my favorite photos were the least staged or the most wrinkle-filled. My grandmother with Alzheimer’s, her face glowing from excitement, even though she had a hard time remembering who was getting married. My husband’s grandfather, sitting quietly on a bench in the church, observing the festivities in his own stoic way. My brothers and my husband’s best friends, giving him a hard time while they got ready for the ceremony–I can see the mischief in their faces, even today. My closest friends, surrounding me as I got ready, and praying over me. My dad’s expression when he saw me for the first time … and the tears of joy and regret we shared when acknowledging, together, we wished my mother could have lived to see that day.

And then I look back at old family photos. Some are from my family. There’s snapshots of my brothers and I growing up. There’s the snapshots from my parents’ wedding, blurry and overexposed, but still treasured. Some are from other families I don’t know. I bought those photos at an antique store, in bulk, and have sold many of them over the months through my shop. While looking at them, I’ve marveled at the life of this family. Their snowball fights in the late 30s or 40s. Their new cars. Their summer trips across the United States. Their boating outings on the lake. Their photos of men and women in uniform around the era of World War II. It’s amazing. This whole existence, in a box of photos. I’m enchanted and so curious about the people I’ve never met.

The photos don’t tell the hard stories, usually, but sometimes they do. I have a digital photo of my mother that makes me tear up every time I pass by it on my way to find another photo. I have a hard time looking at that photo, one of the last ones I have of her, taken a couple of weeks before she died, but not before her skin saw the yellowing of jaundice brought on by a failing liver. It hurts to see that photo, yet it doesn’t only hurt. It is still a memory of a woman I loved dearly.

Every photo I’ve held on to through the years tells a story. A beautiful story of the lives of my world … my family … my life.

What stories do your photos tell?

I bet they’re beautiful, too.

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Build Habits

{Photo Credit: Colin Dunn, via Creative Commons}

I am notoriously bad at remembering to take my vitamins, plus the iron makes me queasy if I take it in the morning, so instead of stashing them in the cupboard, I put a cup and my bottle of vitamins on the bedroom dresser, next to my lamp. Now, before I turn off the light, I swallow the vitamin for the day and go to sleep. I rarely forget. I never get queasy. I don’t know if my vitamin consumption habits have definitively helped improve my sleep quality, but I can say this: I’m sleeping through the night for the first time in a long time. I used to wake up every couple of hours, and now I sleep straight through more often than not! I can’t tell you how exciting that is, but I digress.

My point wasn’t to take your vitamin at night to sleep better. My point is any daily task–like taking a vitamin–can be habitualized. I suspect tying the habit to a daily ritual (getting ready for bed) is what worked for me. Every night, I brush my teeth, I get fresh water in my cup, I take my vitamin, and I turn off the light. Then I go to sleep.

This made me wonder: what other simple, but often forgotten, tasks could I or others make habitual? And would tying them to a specific time, location, daily ritual, or other event help me (or them) continue the habit until it becomes second-nature? My guess is YES.

I’m going to keep a look out for those opportunities to hack my lazy brain into a mean, lean,  house-cleaning machine!

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Filed under Home, Life, Organizing, Ponderings, Uncategorized

In Praise of Imperfection

{Image: Robb North}

Oh, goodness. Has it really been a month already?

So much is going on, and yet, at the same time, not a lot is going on in my life. I’ve had bursts of energy, spurts of hyper-extroversion in which I enjoyed lots of time with friends, extended periods of hyper-introversion in which I spent lots of time perched on my couch with a laptop while thinking or writing. I’ve had ups. I’ve had downs.

I’ve tried to eat healthier lately. I found out I have a mild case of hypothyroidism, on which I’d love to blame my steady weight gain since graduation from high school. Alas, I know the truth. I’ve had one too many McDonald’s value meals and never met a brownie I didn’t like. But that, among other things, has made me realize even more that what we eat truly does affect us. I’ve also tried to work out more. But don’t ask me how many times I’ve been to the gym or out for a run this week, because I couldn’t answer you. Although I do plan on going today. But even if that doesn’t happen, I feel stronger just knowing I’m taking my health seriously and I’m focusing on nutrition and activity to overcome migraines, hormone imbalances, and excess weight. I’m not trying to have a perfect diet or activity level all the time, but MOST of the time would be wonderful! I’m sure I’d feel so much better if I did.

I also think I’m in a down-cycle right now creatively. I need lots and lots of down time. Outside of working on a novel and experimenting with “clean” or “Paleo” recipes for dinner, I’ve not been super crafty or even productive. I’ve been focusing on improving things that aren’t really blog-worthy. Like, for instance, finally getting the hang of staying on top of doing my dishes. I know. It is shameful. I’m a grown woman who hates doing the dishes. I think it is latent rebellion against my grandfather who would insist I help my grandmother with the dishes immediately following a meal when I’d rather be out running around in the backyard. Grandpa would be glad to know I have finally understood why he was so insistent about that. When my counter looks like a mess and my sink is full, it seems the rest of the house follows suit not long after. It’s a pride thing. I guess that’s why Fly Lady says to start by polishing your sink.

It’s true part of the down-cycle is simply burn out from being productive for so long. (Can I get an Amen?!) However, it’s also true that I’ve avoided Pinterest for long periods of time, cut back on my Facebook time, ignored Twitter, and let my Google Reader feed get backlogged. It’s really easy to be busy without really doing anything. It’s also tempting to want all the pretty things I can’t buy or make. Suddenly my blank walls seem depressing when I see decorated ones. My lack of a headboard for my bed is lame and lazy. My bathroom’s cabinet chaos is embarrassing. Yet when I tune out the social media influences, I find myself content with my bare walls. I don’t envy the amazing DIYer’s tufted headboard. I don’t worry that I have yet to create a cute and functional first aid kit and have instead used a hand-me-down from the 80s that holds the gauze and Band-Aids just as well. I rejoice in the fact that I am living within my means. I am using what I have. I am focusing on being grateful for the present reality instead of eternally looking forward to deceptively better future.

How about you? Have you embraced simplicity for stretches of time? Have you been inspired or exhausted by the social media noise? Do you feel embarrassed if you haven’t produced something tangible to show off in a few weeks? Do you long for just living in your imperfect home with your imperfect family and laughing away the imperfect moments?

You’re not alone. I’m right there with you. And you know what? I think it is healthy! Take a sabbatical from perfection and thrive in all your imperfect glory.

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Filed under Balance, Budget, DIY, Home, Home Improvement, Life, Ponderings

Taking a Breather

Sorry, guys. I know I didn’t get the Home Tour Tuesday up yesterday, and I’m going to be a slacker about it today, as well. I’m so grateful to all my guest bloggers from last week for holding down the fort while I was away on vacation, but now that I’m back home I’m finding myself feeling a bit wiped out and I just need a bit of time to recuperate.

So, in the meantime, here’s some pretty pictures from the first couple of days from our trip! I’ll write again soon. Please bear with me while I get my landlubber legs and blogging brain back. :)

Mexico:

Belize:

I’ll be back soon!

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Accessories Storage Tray + An Inspirational Weight Loss Story

Happy Monday! I hope you had a fabulous weekend. I know I did.

Today, I’m going to talk more in depth about a quick decorating/organizing fix that I used in my master bedroom. (I hinted at it here and here.)

But first I wanted to share one more story with you that ties in with last week’s You Can Do It theme.

I don’t typically post about weight loss (other than to compare it to the self-control required to become neater), but I received an email from Kim from Snug Harbor Bay and wanted to share her son’s story with you. Kim’s son, Tony, struggled with obesity as a teenager and went through a remarkable transformation between his junior and senior years, losing 80 pounds and gaining a significant amount of muscle mass in the process. His outlook on life improved, he was happier, and he began living life to the fullest.

Here’s Tony, before and after:

Can you believe it? You can see from Kim’s huge grin that she’s incredibly proud of her son. His secret was working out an hour and a half each day after school, incorporating weight training and focusing on good nutrition.

According to Kim, “[a]t first his diet consisted of cutting out ALL junk food like candy, cookies, chips, coke and fast food. He mainly ate fruit for breakfast, small lunch of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and dinner was pasta, steak, chicken or pork chops.” He conquered junk food cravings by eating an apple instead any time he wanted to snack. Apparently, he ate A LOT of apples.

His dedication paid off; by his senior prom he was a changed young man.

If you’d like to read more about Tony’s transformation, check out Kim’s blog post, “A Life Changing Experience.” Tony is now going to college and is focusing on a career in nutrition and fitness, with a specific emphasis on overweight children, although he wants to help adults as well. He is also blogging to inspire others to lose weight and enjoy a healthier lifestyle. To follow Tony’s ongoing tips as he maintains his physical fitness level and weight, go to his blog, Tony’s Nutrition and Fitness Tips.

Congratulations, Tony! What a wonderful story of perseverance and accomplishment.

And now … the quick fix I promised.

While I was taking photographs of our master bedroom for the Home Tour Tuesday I posted a couple of weeks ago, I realized that I had quite a few bracelets, rings, and various accessories that were just sitting on my dresser, making it look messier. I didn’t know what to do with them. I wanted to find a way to make them easy to access and, at the same time, incorporate them into my decorating theme. I have a lot of white accents in our bedroom (they pop so well against the dark gray-blue walls), so I really wanted something white to jazz up that dresser. What could I do, without spending more money?

Then a light bulb went off. Aha! I could repurpose something I already owned!

I left my bedroom, went straight to the kitchen, and came back with a white ceramic serving tray from Bed, Bath, and Beyond. We had gotten it as a wedding present two years ago and it has been used at several parties since then. I love its simple lines and it is great for serving cheese and crackers.

And also, apparently, for displaying jewelry and accessories! Who knew? I love how my sunglasses look so special sitting on that white tray, even though I bought them at Marshalls for only about $9 each. To add even more repurposed storage, I also grabbed a white ceramic ramekin to hold my loose rings. I then added a sweet little crocheted heart from Megan E Sass, just for a bit of charm and whimsy. (Why, yes, that adorable headband is from her, as well. It fits so neatly in that third divided compartment on the tray.)

Let me tell you, now that I have a special place for them, I like to keep them there when I’m not using them. I used to toss my glasses on any available horizontal surface, but now I put them back in “their spot.”

It is so good when objects have a home.

How about you? Do you have a repurposed item in your home that does double duty? What turned on the lightbulb in your mind? Do tell!

p.s. Guess what! While my friends were so kind to share their guest blog posts last week, I sneaked off to soak up some rays in the Caribbean! Now that I’m back home, I’ll be sharing some organized travel and packing tips (and vacation photos) soon. :)

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Filed under Balance, Budget Decor, Containers, Life, Organizing, Storage

You Can Do It: Host a Dinner Party, Part 2

Today is the second post in a two-part mini-series within a series about hosting a dinner party, written by my friend Joy of Living Life in the Shades of Grey. You can catch the first post, which covers how to plan for a dinner party. Today’s post goes into the nitty-gritty.

{Image: Joy}

You came back!! I hope you’re still excited to host an AWESOME dinner party! Here are some thoughts on the nitty-gritty of Dinner Party week. *hint* you’re going to need to make a list.

For the ease of writing this blog, let’s say you’re having the party on Saturday at 4:30, eating at 5:30 (note: I like to host parties on Saturday since I generally don’t have to work). Here’s what your week should look like:

Sunday thru Tuesday – work on making your list (whos coming/to do/to make/to buy) and getting together all of your RSVP’s. If you’ve facebooked or e-mailed people to invite them, you may want to send a friendly reminder even to people that have said they are coming. This will remind people that they have made plans with you while reminding others to let you know that they need to tell you whether or not they will be there.

Also, do whatever cleaning you’re wanting done. Obviously there will be last minute things like dishes from the week (and to be frank, I like to clean my bathroom the day of the party), but you don’t want to have to think about cleaning while you’re cooking.

Wednesday – completely finalize your menu. Make a list of what you will need at the grocery store. Even if you’re not usually a grocery store list person, make a list this time! If you don’t there will inevitably be something forgotten, and you don’t want to have to think about going back to the store for it!

Thursday – Go to the store! Buy what needs buying (flowers will last more than 3 days!) Check off your list. Go home. Put the groceries away. Chill out, you deserve it. Set your table (except for flatware). Put the flowers out. Leave the glasses/stemware upside down, and the plates too! All you’ll have to do the day of the party is turn them over and set out your forks/knives/spoons.

Friday – Prep time. If you’re making lasagna like me, you can put the entire thing together on Friday night. Marinate meat of you’re making steak or chicken. Make a dessert that can be made altogether in advance, or put it together so all it has to do is be baked (if that’s possible).

Some of this you can do on Thursday after grocery shopping. Really the trick is, the more you can get done ahead of time; do it! If all of your prep work is done, you’ll really get to enjoy the day of your party. You’ll get to relax while you’re finishing cooking. Do as much ahead of time as you can!

Saturday a.k.a. Party Day! – Wake up. It’s a very important step! I would even allow yourself a little bit of time to sleep in. People aren’t coming over until 4:30. You have plenty of time! Once you’re up? Eat breakfast! Then you can finish cleaning. Dishes from the night before (you’ll have to bear with me, I don’t have a dishwasher and I know this isn’t really a step for most people anymore!). Bathroom (if you’re like me). Tidy what needs tidying.

Eat some lunch… I’d go for a small one because you’re going to be cooking an amazing dinner and you’ll really want to enjoy it! But you don’t want to be too hungry; you’ll need the energy for cooking and socializing, after all! Shower, get yourself ready, veg out…

Turn over the plates and glasses/stemware. Put out the flatware. Maybe add some water to the flower vase.

About two hours before everyone starts coming over, that’s when you’ll hit Dinner Party Mode. Checking to make sure things look good. Double check your recipes so you know how much time you have and what you’ll need to put in the oven when. Then all you need to do is coast until it’s time to cook.

Here’s how things work with my menu:

My lasagna takes about 45 minutes to cook, so I’ll turn the oven on to start heating up at 4:15. I cheat and use the microwave steamer bags, so my green beans are in the bag waiting to be microwaved until 5:15. My rolls will go in the oven for 10-15 minutes after the lasagna comes out to rest before cutting it. I like family style meals, so everything will make it to the table and we’ll eat.

Dessert? My apple cranberry crisp will go into the oven right around when people are done eating (I’ll sneak off to the kitchen quickly to get it in the oven). That way we get a break between dinner and dessert to let everything “settle” and my friends ready for some dessert. Once the crisp is done, I’ll bring it out with some ice cream! Yum!

I know I’ve done this before and I know it sounds crazy… but if you use my method, you should easily stay relaxed and sane! Friends will offer to help, let them or don’t. They’ll be thankful for all you’ve done for them and if they’re not, don’t invite them next time. ;)

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Filed under Food, Life