Obsession. There’s really no other way to say it. I have an obsession with sassy cross stitch. It started innocently enough. A small cross stitch that said “Cubicle Sweet Cubicle” would make a fun addition to my desk. On a mission to find a bit of inspiration and just the right pattern, I browsed Etsy and Pinterest and my eyes were opened to the fascinating world of non-traditional cross stitch.
For many years knitting has been my craft of choice, but cross stitch holds a special place in my heart. Together with chewing gum and a lot of crying, cross stitch helped me weather the storm of smoking cessation. (The sordid tale of my life as a smoker is another story for another time.) The orderly uniformity of cross stitch is so satisfying. The methodical process, the slow coming together of images as colors are layered in and the way the backstitching and “garnish” ties it all together are so pleasing to me. I love the texture of a finished piece and the way the stitches stand off the taut cloth in a simple wooden hoop. There’s an old fashioned beauty to something handmade that is so obvious a time investment. I suspect that this perspective on the medium is why sassy cross stitch tickles my funny bone. I appreciate the tongue-in-cheek humor of hip-hop lyrics, pop culture icons or even naughty words captured in such a traditional format. There’s a classic humor thriving in the juxtaposition of old fashioned and new-fangled.
Recently I’ve created a few fun and sassy stitches to share. Some of my stitches are freebie patterns I pulled from the internet. The Grumpy Cat and Carpe Diem stitches are based on patterns I purchased from Etsy and modified. Some of my favorites are culled together from bits I doodled in my sketchbook and particularly well-done things I’ve admired from other stitchers. I’m amassing quite the collection of potential projects on my Sassy Stitches Pinterest board. Here are some of my favorite projects:
So what do you think of the sassy cross stitch? Hilarious modern day folk art or a little too silly for your taste? Do you have a favorite? Maybe something you’ve created yourself? We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
I Am Princess X, is another of my treasures from Phoenix Comicon 2015. The author, Cherie Priest was a guest of the convention and appeared on several panels. Regrettably my schedule did not allow me the opportunity to meet her, but that’s where I first learned about her work.
Fate brings together Libby and May when they’re sidelined from 5th grade gym class. In order to pass the time the two girls collaborate on a comic book character they name Princess X and in their shared creation they become best friends. A few years later Libby disappears in an apparent auto accident and is presumed dead. All of the Princess X drawings are lost and May never expects to see Libby or their Princess ever again. But then one day May does see Princess X – in printed stickers and street graffiti. Nobody else knows about Princess X, so May wonders who might be behind her reappearance. Could there be more to Libby’s disappearance than she knows? Can May piece together clues to find out what really happened on the night Libby was lost?
The art and format of this graphic novel/prose hybrid roused my interest first and the dust jacket synopsis ensured my purchase. The snippets of comic art imbedded in chapters throughout the novel are brilliantly executed. These panels heighten visual interest and support the story by building suspense and intrigue for the reader. The transitions from text to drawings and back encourage organic pauses to study clues and weave together threads of the mystery. Sometimes I stopped to ponder the art and the subtext and other times I greedily attacked the words following a comic panel to find the answer to a clue spelled out right away.
There is so much to adore about I Am Princess X, beginning with the nature of the girls’ friendship. Libby and May forged a friendship build on creativity, collaboration, and respect without competition or frenemy drama. They never gossiped behind each other’s back or fought over a boy, and even as kids they seemed to realize the preciousness of their friendship. While I would love to peek in on their early birthday celebrations, sleepovers, and summer fun, I agree with the author’s decision to maintain a pace that builds momentum and keeps the story engaging for her target audience of young adults.
The characters in I Am Princess X are not as complex as you might find in a longer, more developed book. Once the players are established and the action begins, the story unfolds over a matter of days. Characters are developed enough to invoke our compassion, but there’s no time for more given how quickly the plot moves. I love that important ethnically diverse and LGBT characters exist in this book and the author doesn’t make a big deal about it. Libby is bi-racial and even though that fact is important to the story it is not lingered upon. Jackdaw is gay but this isn’t the story of his romantic life so it doesn’t come to the forefront. Characters have unique traits that inform their personalities but don’t define them. The author’s respect for diversity extends to gender roles as well. I love that girls and women in this book unflinchingly do what has been labeled masculine in the past. The Director of IT for Trick’s school district is a woman. May and Libby love comics and they create Princess X for its own sake – nobody is “into comics” because they’re trying to impress a boy with how cool they are. Priest lets the characters be who they are and celebrates their differences with finesse.
This is a quick, fun read. I started this book on a Friday afternoon and reluctantly put it down because I had plans for Friday night. Saturday morning I picked it up again and polished it off before Noon. There are parts where the story is linear and I figured out the mystery before it was revealed, but I’m alright with that. This is a novel to enjoy for what it is: the celebration of love between best friends and a page-turner mystery. Go out and buy this book because it is good fun and because we need more like this in our reading lives.
Before I finish this review, I have a confession. I nearly missed out on this fun, unique graphic/novel hybrid because I bear an anti-steampunk prejudice. Cherie Priest is known for her Clockwork Century series of steampunk adventure stories and for that reason I might easily have bypassed her work. After all, I have a pretty epic to be read (TBR) list and, frankly, steampunk is not my jam. I don’t understand it and that’s probably why I don’t appreciate it. (I suppose that is true of most of our prejudicial feelings.) Sometimes I think maybe I should be into steampunk. Browsing online photos posted by former Goth kids with whom I rubbed fishnet-clad elbows in the mid-1990’s, I see corsets and clockworks in abundance. The genre doesn’t resonate with me at all though. It feels forced and I’m put off by the drab-colored Victorian fashions, obligatory brass monocles, and cog-and-gear embellishments on absolutely everything. Probably my least favorite steampunk components are the innumerable leather helmet/stylized aviator goggle combos; some say iconic, I say cliché. I do not take this position to offend aficionados or to blow the steam from their contraptions, but rather to illustrate that when we allow preconceptions about genre to influence what we are willing to read, we risk missing exceptionally good books. Books like I Am Princess X, for example.
Have you read I Am Princess X? Maybe you love some of Cherie Priest’s other work? Maybe you have a sweet piece of steampunk fiction that might turn it all around for me. If so, sound off of the comments below or connect with me on goodreads. I’d love the chance to talk books with you
I have a Pinterest board called “Gardening…Dare I Dream?” because even though I have always been abysmal gardener, I can’t shake these vivid, bucolic fantasies that I may one day grow beautiful, healthful produce in my very own back yard. After all, my dad is a great gardener and can bend plants of all types to his will. Pepper plants tremble before him and lettuces quiver at the might of his harvesting shears. On the other side of my family, my Papaw was a tobacco farmer in his youth and a prolific backyard gardener in his later years. Memories of tinkering around in the garden with him fuel these fantasies to the point that a few times I’ve been overcome with hope and actually planted things in the soil. I literally have farmer’s blood – this should be no problem. But there is a problem. There is always is a problem.
The first time I committed “attempted gardening” was when Jacob and I lived in Columbus, Ohio. We weren’t even married yet so it must have been the summer of 2000. I went outside and dug up a 2’x2’ square next to the back porch of our duplex house with a hand trowel. There I planted some random seeds in soil better suited for throwing pottery than growing crops. Precious little grew and I had no desire to crouch among filth and bugs to pluck weeds in the summer heat. At harvest time we gathered a few knobby carrots that were comparable to a shooter marble in size, shape, and density. Oh well, better luck next time, I thought.
Three years later, I discovered container gardening. I deduced that hard soil (and not lack of water, fertilizer or proper sunlight) was the reason my carrots turned out badly. Containers of optimally blended potting soil were going to solve all my gardening woes. I got a transplanted piece of garlic chive from a green-thumbed friend and I bought a tomato plant from the garden center at Walmart. The tomato was wilted dead from thirst before the first blossom could open. Surprisingly, the garlic chives took off like gangbusters in spite of my neglect. It was only then that I realized I didn’t know what to do with a garlic chive apart from sprinkling it on baked potatoes, which my husband hates. On a side note, that townhome had slugs on the porch; they were super gross and creeped me out so I really did prefer to stay indoors.
For the next several summers I tamped down my urges, but when we moved to Phoenix, purchased a home, and I learned that there were two growing seasons per year here, all restraint was lost. Obviously this was the solution to my problem. It wasn’t that I was a bad gardener, I reasoned, it was just that I needed more practice. This was an opportunity. Plus, now we were official first-time homeowners with a fenced yard. Sure, it was a horrid, barren little yard, but it was ours and maybe a lush veggie patch was just the thing to inspire us to really get into landscaping and outdoor living.
I hit the library for a stack of gardening books and the home improvement store for many dollars’ worth of hoes and shovels and such. This time, I decided I was going to do a recessed bed so I could turn the hose on it and soak the space to irrigate the plants. I nearly broke my back trying to turn the soil, which was baked hard as brick by the desert sun. I might have seen this as foreshadowing the garden’s fate, but I was intent on my verdant goal. I considered renting a tiller because this time I was mostly sure it was probably going to totally work. In the end I decided not to because but just in case – on the off chance it didn’t go well – I didn’t want to invest too much cash. A month later when my plants were choked out by weeds and outdoor temps soared well above 110 degrees, I lost all interest. My husband started watering the plants in an effort to save them from my (repeat-offender style) abandonment but when he saw how little I cared he gave up too. The total of our harvest was a fistful of Thai red chiles and two medicinal-tasting cucumbers. Thus ended the gardening ordeal of 2008.
Henry helps reap the bounty of our doomed garden
You would think that by now I would be done with gardening fantasies. It is pretty clear that I like the idea of gardening much more than the actual doing, that I don’t want to make a significant investment of dollars or hours, and that once it gets hot out I’m likely to cut and run, leaving the little plants to fend for themselves. On top of all of this, my husband vehemently discourages all gardening talk. I don’t blame him and I don’t consider him unsupportive because he speaks truth. Time and again I’ve proven myself untrustworthy with seedlings. That’s why I was a little bit nervous for him to see the heirloom tomato starter I brought home from the farmer’s market last spring.
This time is it, I thought to myself. I think it could be different – I could be different. Yeah, I know I’ve said it all before, but I felt good about this attempt. I built up two 2’x2’x1’ raised beds right near the hose bib and in a place where they get some afternoon shade from the shadow of the house. Next, I filled the beds with good potting soil and nestled in the little starter. I set up a tomato cage and gently tied the limbs up with twine so my plant could grow strong and true. In the next bed I planted basil, rosemary and oregano which are herbs I actually use and know what to do with.
Things went well for a while, but once again it got hot out and once again I had a derelict weed patch where my garden once stood. The heirloom tomato is dead. The herbs are dead. I officially quit. I am never, ever gardening again. In fact, if you ever find yourself in the garden center at The Home Depot and catch me in one of my gardening-fantasy stupors, please stop me. Maybe even warn an employee about my tendencies so they can deny me service.
You can save the Earth one plant at a time…by keeping them safe from me, The Plantslayer.
I’ve been doing quite a bit of reading lately and wanted to share some of my favorites with you. I would love for this to be a semi-regular feature where we can discuss what’s good in the world of books and reading. If you like what you see here, I’m active on goodreads and would love to be “friends” there too. Maybe you have a favorite book you would like to recommend? Let me know in the comments and you may see it in a future Rachael Reads.
Fortitude Scott isn’t Count Dracula, Edward Cullen or Eric Northman. In fact, he’s more like me and you because he is still mostly human. In Generation V, ML Brennan creates a unique take on vampire mythology and the reader has to throw away old notions of coffins, capes, and wooden stakes to see the Scott family as they are, but this story is so well-told that it is easy to set aside those old tales.
Fort is fighting to maintain independence and humanity in spite of his vampire heritage. He’s struggling with the troubles of a recent college grad with bills to pay and no serious job prospects. His day job sucks, his bank account is empty, his roommate is a slouch, his girlfriend is cheating on him and he’s more than a little bit Emo about his situation. When a strange vampire visits his mother’s territory and starts to prey on little girls, Fort becomes the unlikely hero to defend the lost girls. Unfortunately Fort has more moral strength than physical strength and he needs the help of Suzume, a shape-shifting body guard hired by his mother to protect him from unfriendly vamps. The relationship between them is tense from the start. Is Suzume is in it for the cash alone? Will she split when the stakes get too high? Fort is driven to do what’s right even if he has to do it alone and even if it kills him.
Anyone who’s ever had a bad job or suffered parental disapproval will like Fort from page one. The relationship between Fort and Suzume has all the right pieces – tenuous trust, a shared goal, and romantic tension. While the main character is male, it is refreshing to see well-rounded and well written female characters in vampire fiction. There are no one-note caricatures of women or buxom bimbos waiting to be swept away by dark, brooding vampire lovers in this book. The women in Brennan’s novel are capable and confident. They are self-aware and self-confident instead of self-conscious and unsure. Brennan’s female characters know their value and they hold the majority of the power in their world. Generation V is a fun, quick read with both lovable and detestable characters, a unique take on vampire mythology, and a page-turning plot. I’m looking forward to the next in the series, Iron Night.
Two weeks ago, Christina and I went to breakfast and then to get our nails done. On the way to meet her, I remembered something I needed to pick up at the store, but since I was driving I didn’t write it on my shopping list, and sure enough I completely forgot by the time I parked.
During breakfast, Christina and I had a discussion on our frustration with our memories lately. We weren’t sure if our perceived memory loss was due to age or the constant inundation with information that we have in the smartphone age.
Christina commented that sometimes she kind of misses the old days when you would have to think of something all day and then you would have that eureka moment at 3 a.m., instead of being able instantly find answers on any number of questions that pop up in a typical day (“Where have I seen that actor/actress before?” is my most common query.)
I immediately countered her comment with “I don’t miss that at all! I would love to be able to look up what I am trying to remember right now.” We continued our breakfast and then went to our mani appointments, while I wracked my brain trying to figure out what it was that I needed. All I knew is that it was important to something I was doing that day, and it wasn’t something I could not afford to forget.
An hour later, as I was buckling up to head home, it hit me – cupcake cups! That’s what I needed! Every year for St. Patty’s Day I make my Guinness, Whiskey and Irish Cream cupcakes, and I was out of the paper liners. You know what else I learned? Christina was right. It was so satisfying to finally remember what it was that I needed, and to do it on my own, without the help of my phone.
If I had not remembered, and only realized it when I got home, I might not have the same conclusion, but for now, I will admit that I was wrong. Just this once. For the first time ever. (Ha!)
“I think exercise tests us in so many ways, our skills, our hearts, our ability to bounce back after setbacks. This is the inner beauty of sports and completion, and it can serve us all well as adult athletes.”
Early last year Jenny set a lofty goal for herself – she wanted to do twelve 5k races in 2014 (one per month). She kicked off the year colorfully by completing her second Color Run. In February she invited Christina to join her for the 36th Annual Runner’s Den Pancake Run. Always one for a challenge, Christina signed up for a handful of races too. By mid-year they were right on track, having finished half a dozen. Life got in the way for a few months but they dug in and crossed the finish line many times throughout November and December to end the year strong with a big stack of race bibs to prove it!
Below they share their thoughts on racing and chat about what they learned:
First, why? What made you want to race twelve 5ks in 2014?
Jenny: Exercise is always something I have not been good at keeping up with, so I wanted to do something that would keep me consistently working out. I have done a few races over the years, including two half marathons, and I find that my biggest motivator to stay moving is knowing that I have paid money to participate in an event. I am the one that suffers on race day if I don’t keep up with my walks, so the thought of losing money by not doing the race usually trumps my laziness on those days where I debate working out.
Christina: Honestly, at first it was just a way to spend more time with Jenny. But, I quickly discovered that I loved the feeling of crossing that finish line! Signing up for monthly races is also a great motivation for me to work out in between races.
What was your favorite race and why?
Jenny: My two favorite races were The Color Run and The Hot Chocolate 5K, but they both will be better this year because I didn’t get to participate in them with Christina last year, and I always have more fun when she’s there. Both races are extremely organized, which appeals to the control freak in me, and both have really fun elements (color and dancing or a big mug of chocolate at the finish line).
Christina: That’s a really hard question! I loved them all! If I had to choose I would pick the 4 mile race that Jenny and I did on the 4th of July. It’s my favorite race because it was the hardest race I ran all year. It was terribly humid that day and well over 100 degrees. I woke up grumpy and exhausted. I was having such a terrible morning that I pouted when Jenny wanted me to wear my Sparkle Skirt! You can imagine how well the race went. I was a hot sticky mess the entire time and there were moments during the race where I had tears in my eyes because I was so frustrated and didn’t want to finish. I did finish though (in my Sparkle Skirt) because I refused to quit.
What have you learned from this challenge?
Jenny: Racing has taught me to be more independent. Now, I don’t mean doing the races, as I love racing with Christina, but we often don’t actually race together. We will both go our own pace, push ourselves to do the best we can, and enjoy our time together before and after the race. We even have an unspoken agreement that whoever finishes first will be waiting at the finish line with a bottle of water for the other girl. Other than race day, I am on my own when it comes to keeping up with my routine, and have become comfortable with it, and making myself accountable for my workouts.
Christina: I’ve learned a ton. The biggest lesson so far? Squash the negative thoughts you have about yourself. In my opinion it’s the most self-destructive thing you can do. One of the things I love the most about running is all of the time you have to think. When I first started the challenge, there was definitely more walking and muscle cramps then running. I would hobble along beating myself up every step of the way – despite the fact that I pushed through the discomfort to finish each and every race! One day “Titanium” by David Guetta came on while I was running and with every verse I felt more and more powerful. I sang the chorus out loud and it was as if I was singing to myself – you shoot me down but I won’t fall I am titanium cut me down but it’s you who’ll have further to fall…raise your voice, sticks and stones may break my bones I’m talking loud not saying much…I’m bulletproof, nothing to lose fire away, fire away. I listen to that song on every run and it makes run faster. I am titanium. We can’t control what other people think or say about us. But, we are in FULL control of what we choose to say and think about ourselves. That’s real power.
What are your racing plans for the future? Are you going to try for twelve 5ks in 2015?
Jenny: I will definitely be knocking out at least a dozen races in 2015! I am going to copy Christina in adding some longer races to my repertoire though (I have signed up for a 8K and 9K this Spring and a 15K in December). Christina and I are also planning on taking part in the Star Wars Half Marathon next January in Disneyland. That long-term goal will help me to stay motivated all year. Due to medical reasons, I was not allowed to run in 2014, but with those restrictions now lifted, I am looking forward to training to actually run my first 5K. It will be challenging, but I am excited to be “lightning on my feet,” like Taylor Swift.
Christina: I plan to keep running! I don’t have any major plans I just know I want to run a bit faster and a bit further. I absolutely want to run twelve 5ks in 2015! I also want to do a few 10k races too. I ran the P.F. Chang’s Rock ‘n’ Roll 10k in January and it confirmed that 10ks are a good next step in my running journey. Once I have a few 10ks under my belt the next big step will be to register for my first half-marathon. Eek!
Do you have any tips for new walkers/runners?
Jenny: I would say to be patient with yourself (and I will have to do that this year myself in working towards my running goals), and only compete with yourself. I have a friend, Matt, who has been running for years and if I compared my pace and progress to where he is, I would give up and never race again. Everyone who is a runner had to start somewhere, and those successful successful people you know who are successful all do the same thing – they run on a regular basis and they push themselves to always do a little better than they did before. So, on day one1, you may pace at a less than desirable (to you) rate, but each time you go out, push yourself to run a little further or up your pace a little. Your time reduction will be slow to start, but before you know it, you will be able to drive that time down and you will be amazed at what you did. Also, everyone has occasional bad days. Don’t let them get you down, and just get out there again and push it!
I also want to note that if you aren’t a runner, or you don’t like running, walk! I have never run a race, including either of my half marathons. I know it’s intimidating when you go to the racing sites because of course, all the pictures are going to be people running. Don’t let that stop you from participating. In almost every race I have ever done, most of the people in it are walking at some point. Don’t be embarrassed if you are a walker. Be proud that you went out there and raced!
Christina: Yes – but I will warn you all of my tips are very basic! 1. First, invest in the right gear. Don’t go out and spend a ton of money! It will take you some time to figure out what you like. Start with running socks and a good pair of shoes, a supportive sports bra, a top made from wicking fabric and something to hold your phone/iPod. Second,2. Y you have to run a lot. It sounds so simple but most people (including me) think you can head out on day #1 and run comfortably. The truth is – at first it’s going to suck a little, you’ll be slow, you’ll be sore and you might not be able to go very far. Just know that each day will be a little easier then the last. The more you run, the more you’ll be able to run. Don’t be hard on yourself…just keep running. Finally,3. R remember to enjoy the journey! Don’t get me wrong, most days I have to push myself…really hard. But, I’m a big fan of fun too. I run in tutus, silly hats and covered in color. I pump my arms and sing out loud when an awesome song comes on during a run. Why not? Life isn’t always be about how quickly you reach the finish line, sometimes it’s about how much fun you had (and how good you looked) getting there.
Ready to sign-up for a race? Check out these blog posts:
I don’t like New Year’s Resolutions, as a rule. I feel like it’s a way to set up way too many goals for myself that I won’t end up achieving, and I tend to like to set goals throughout the year, and not at the beginning (because “everyone else is doing it”).
Christina inspired me with her recent post on her resolutions for this year, and it made me realize that if I kept it to a handful of goals, I could probably be successful.
Here are my goals that I hope to achieve this year:
5Ks, Redux: Last year I walked in 14 5K races. This year I want to walk in at least 12, and do at least one longer race (and considering I just signed up for the Hot Chocolate 15K in December, I would say that one should be achievable). 5Ks keep me motivated to work out other days of the week, so the more active I can be, the better.
Skincare Maintenance: In March, I will be 37, and in my 37 years I have done pretty much little to nothing to take care of my skin for any extensive length of time. I usually get some revelation during the year that “This is it! I am going to focus on skincare from here on out” only to totally falter a few days later. This time I decided to start small, upgrade my facial products and commit to wash and moisturize my face every morning and night. I also want to increase the number of facials I get a year from one to more than one.
Get Off the Grid…Sorta: How do I say that I want to take a break from social media without sounding like the people who post “Facebook is evil! That’s it! I am deleting my account” and then are back days later? I don’t think Facebook is evil. I love social media. Too much. And that’s why this year I need to take a little break. I have two issues that are me issues with social media. First, I am constantly checking it, and thus never really “in the moment” whether it’s at home or with friends and family. Second, I compare my life to what I am seeing online, not remembering that others are also just posting the good stuff. So, it gets me down sometimes. I am human and it happens. I took a one week break already, and it’s much easier than I thought. I don’t want to be off it altogether, but just develop a better relationship with it so that I don’t become obsessed again.
Stop Being So Defensive: That says it all, really. I have found over the last few years I have become increasingly defensive with a temper that’s set off by a very short fuse. I don’t know how it happened, but I am hoping to readjust my attitude this year. I am finding that just pausing and thinking before reacting is helping so far. Wish me luck on this one – it’s going to be the most challenging!
Christina and I have been hiking every week, and share a desire to stay active, so I know that she will be checking-in with me to make sure I stay focused.
If I’m honest, 2014 kicked my butt. Looking back, there was no single event that made the year rough, but rather a collection of painful circumstances. 2014 was a blister on the back of my ankle that just wouldn’t heal. It was annoying, it slowed me down, made it hard to move forward and it just plain hurt. I know I’m not the only one because I watched some of the people I love most wade through their own Bog of Eternal Stench. Is there anything worse than watching your favorite people struggle? Scrolling through my news feed on NYE, it was clear that lots of people were thrilled to put 2014 behind them.
But you know what? I’m ready to rock 2015.
I’ve been thinking a lot about resolutions. I think I had it right in 2014 when I kicked all of my stale resolutions to the curb and resolved to enjoy life more. What do I want to do in 2015? More of the same! So, I’m sticking with a couple of my resolutions from last year and adding a few new ones too. Here’s what I came with:
Capture More Memories. While I did take more photos in 2014, I didn’t get very many of Rob & I. This year I want to have a photographer snap some photos of us with our dogs. I got a Fuji Instax for my birthday last year and have had a lot of fun documenting our little family’s daily life. I printed lots of photos too! This year I want to explore creative ways to print photos, DIY a display space for my Insta prints and hang a gallery wall of family photographs in our home.
Be Stylish. I love fashion – but all too often I haven’t allowed myself to wear the clothes I’m crazy about for fear of what others might think. It’s time to clean out the closet, both literally and figuratively. I want to explore fashion, define my style and learn how to dress my shape.
Make Money Being Creative. For most of 2014 I was in a creative role at work and I loved every minute of it. While it was the hardest work I’ve ever done I’ve never been happier or more fulfilled. Unfortunately, my position was eliminated in late September. While I am super grateful to have been hired back in a different role, I am now desperate to find a way to make money being creative and working with my hands. Total side note: I also intend to spend more time here! Creating content for our little site makes me so happy and I didn’t do nearly enough of that last year.
Make Good Choices. This is the big one for 2015! I need to get my act together. While 2014 was the year of the 5k (I ran 12!) it was also the year of my scale going up and down a number of times. In 2015, I need to pay more attention to what I eat. I also want to be more active and spend more time outdoors. And, over the last few years I’ve made a conscious decision to use ditch toxic cleaners and personal care products for natural alternatives. This year I need to explore alternatives for the products I’ve been too stubborn to get rid of (Scrubbing Bubbles I’m lookin’ at you). This one is really all about living with intention and treating my body right.
No year will ever be without its struggles. BUT, this year I am determined to stockpile love, laughter and all the goodness I can get my hands on so that I have something to cling to when life gets rough.
After all, in the immortal words of David Wooderson, “you just gotta keep livin man, L-I-V-I-N.”
Things have been tough at the old “day job” this year. I work for a large company that I really love, but there have been a lot of changes these past few months and not all of them were positive. For several weeks, I worried that I might be laid off and…well, to be honest, that was genuinely awful. I had six years’ worth of files and desk clutter plus some nervous energy to burn so one day I started to tidy up my desk. That led to purging emails, and that lead to cleaning out cabinets, which led to purging paper files and when I was done, I had an extremely empty desk. I slashed my stash of work documents down to the bare minimum and shuttled my personal items home to sit in a sad heap on my desk.
A few more weeks passed and I was not laid off (although some really amazing people I love were and that was unbearable). In the aftermath, I had to try to find some semblance of normal, but my desk was clinically sterile, morale was at an all time low and all of my creativity was sapped. That’s when I came across a bit of inspiration online entitled 54 Ways To Make Your Cubicle Suck Less. I felt like it was meant for me and I greedily devoured the ideas. Next I hit up Pinterest and compiled a page of inspired office spaces in black, gold and neutrals.
I chose the color scheme because I liked it and because many of my desk accessories were already black from a prior attempt at improving the space. In addition, I’ve seen a lot of gold in decorating lately and I really like it. I figured with a little gold spray paint I could create some fun pieces to complete the look I was going for.
First, I built the twine and clothespins photo holder featured in the article that inspired my desk revamp. For this project I simply picked up decorated clothespins and strung them on twine. This allows me to display photos and change them out easily. I have more pins if I want to add more photos and it lets me keep things fresh. One thing I noticed while shopping is that there are a finite number of choices in pre-decorated clothespins. If you find there aren’t any you like you can use washi tape over undecorated clothespins to customize your look.
The moment I saw the gold Nate Berkus stapler was love at first sight. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. My old stapler was a red Swingline and I loved it as well, but this new one was just so shiny. I couldn’t resist. While I was at Target I scored some gold and white washi tape. I used the tape on a great free printable by Nicole Joelle that I framed and then accessorized my pencil cup and tape dispenser with the same tape to tie the elements together.
I may have shared before that I’m a plant slayer. I can’t keep a green thing alive to save my own life…until I met the succulent on my desk. This little guy’s tenacity has earned him a permanent space and I promise to water him once in a while and try really hard to keep him alive. In order to make my hardy little plant fit in with the theme of my desk, I added a few gold touches. For this project, I used a small terra cotta pot (available for less than $1 at Home Depot) and taped off the rim. Terra cotta isn’t easy to paint because it tends to flake so I used three coats of Krylon gold spray paint and Krylon crystal clear as a clear coat sealant. So far, the paint is staying put and it looks fantastic.
I am fortunate to work in an office that allows pets. Often people will come to visit my desk with their furry little business partners in tow and I like to have something to welcome them properly. To make this cute little treat jar I simply super-glued a miniature dog to a metal jar lid and spray painted over it. In fact, when I first made this a few months ago I used turquoise paint. To update and make the piece sync with my desk refresh, the turquoise paint served as a primer coat for the gold I sprayed over it. It turns out my favorite part of this desk makeover was actually another makeover. If you decide to make yourself a treat jar – think dinosaurs, race cars or other small toys for people treats – be sure to get a spray paint that works well with plastic and metal so that the paint on your figurine doesn’t stay sticky to the touch.
All in all, I spent less than 2 hours and $50 on the projects shown here. The result is a desk that I’m proud to call home for 40 hours a week. It’s clean, functional, and comfortable. Most of all, it has a few special touches that make it all mine. Do you have some favorite items that make your workspace feel a little more like home? We love to hear from you, so please weigh in below in the comments.
Earlier this year I hosted my first wine tasting party, and it was a learning experience, for sure. I don’t look at wine the same way, and after one get-together, I had a new sense of confidence when it came to talking about wine. But one wine tasting does not as sommelier make. As the saying goes “practice makes perfect,” so I took one for the team (aka you) and attended another wine tasting party with our newly formed group.
This time, our host was “Renaissance Woman” Laura Marlowe. Laura is a print production manager by day, and remodels house rentals, makes jewelry and cooks amazing food (including homemade bread) in her spare time. She is a superwoman and amazing friend.
In our second tasting party, Laura decided to focus on white wines, taking us through everything from Chardonnay to Marsanne. As with our previous tasting, none of us could agree on what we liked or didn’t like, and I am finding that is the point. It’s almost like looking at art – everyone will come away from the wine with a different view.
I don’t like Chardonnay’s, and view them as buttery and blech, but they are a popular wine, and there were those at the tasting who disagreed with me. These tastings are teaching me that “taste is in the taste buds of the beholder” and it’s ok to not like what everyone else does, or dislike what everyone else spits out. It’s all about trying a variety of wines and finding what you like.
Here is what we learned from our second experiment:
Keep the tasting notes simple We found a real winner in our second set of tasting notes, put together by Laura (you can download a PDF of our notes here), and designed by fellow taster, Pamela. We went from a very complex form to a four step process. We debated adding “suggested” words to it, but decided that it was best to let people come up with their own descriptor words, rather than be guided by someone else’s words. We have already reused the same note sheet again at a subsequent testing with one change – we have the host add the wine information in the “Wine Facts” section before the tasting. Writing all the information down was a struggle and made the pace a little sluggish, so we decided in the future that we wanted that information pre-printed (I am working on creating an interactive version of this PDF for a future post, so stay tuned!).
Eat up! In our first tasting, we ate before we started tasting, because that’s what all the sites I read said to do. The idea was that you would eat to have something on your stomach, and then drink water to cleanse your palate so that you could truly taste the wine. I call poppycock on this one. For our white wine tasting, we drank while we ate, and we discovered something amazing – food pairings! It became a fun game to figure out what foods made each wine taste better or worse (sometimes a cookie paired best, and sometimes a spicy salami). Christina has become a true master of this game. Make sure that you have a good variety – salty, sweet, spicy, savory – so that you have lots of options in what you are pairing with each selection.
There’s an App for That Before the tasting, a couple of our participants had discovered a fantastic wine app called Vivino. This free app allows you to catalog and rate wines you have tasted, scan or search wines to see how others have rated them, and discover what wines your friends are drinking by connecting you with your Facebook network of friends who also have the app. All of this can be done by simply taking a picture of the label, which the app then uses to find the wine within its database. You simply rate, make any notes, and save. I have used it several times when I am buying wine as a way to ensure I am buying something that is rated well. As a side note, we aren’t being sponsored to promote this app, we just really love it.
Wine Guide This was truly Laura’s contribution, and something that has proven to be a great addition to our wine tastings – a wine guide. You can customize the guide to include a variety of wines, or if you are focusing on one wine, you can expand on fun facts for that particular variety. It gives your guests a take-away guide to keep on hand so that they can continue their learning at home, and have something to reference the next time they want to try something new. You can see an example of the guide she created for her party here.
After just two tasting sessions, we have really started to hone in on what works for us as a group, from the format to the food to the tasting notes. The key has been assembling a group of people who are like-minded in our desire to learn more about wine, and agreement to allow an environment where people can be open and honest with their opinions.
Before the end of the year, I will bring you a summary (including a list of what we tasted) for our most recent tasting on champagne/sparkling wines.