Monday, December 15, 2014

Wreaths Across America

Arlington National Cemetary during the 2014 laying of the wreaths
with the Air Force Memorial in the background. 
My father served in the Air Force for 26 years, so I thought it was fitting.
I know I've mentioned before that my father is buried in Arlington National Cemetary.  I miss him tremendously, but especially at the holidays.  This was he and my mother's favorite time of year.  She would decorate and he would cook.  No matter where we were in the world, we had a Christmas.  No matter how little money we had, we had a Christmas.  It was always about Jesus and family.

In keeping with that, we've been decorating the house and DH is coming home to meet family this year.  I find myself visiting my father's grave and being thankful for the upkeep and annual wreaths and flags faithfully placed on his gravesite.  It's comforting to me that he's still getting a little Christmas down here while I parties with the birthday boy up there.

My mother has not gotten to decorate in the past few years, something I'd like to change, the way she used to - partially because she was grieving and partially due to the amount of work it takes.  This year, my sister and I participated in Wreaths Across America and helped lay wreaths not just for our father but many others who faithfully served.  It's reminded me that I need to do more for not only those who have passed on, but the ones left behind with us as well.  Here are some other pics I took at the cemetary.  I'm sure there will be snazzy professional ones that come out later, but here you go.

First Christmas in our new house!

We have been busy!  Getting ready for the holidays has taken us by surprise but we have been working really hard to get it together.  Here are the results.  The new house is MUCH bigger than our previous homes so even though we're not fully unpacked, I had to be creative.  Forgive the poor cell phone photography, but I wanted to share.  The outside pics will come soon, we have a little more to finish there. 

Are you decorating?

We have also been taking care of Christmas presents.  Those stockings by the fireplace are now mostly full!  I am super excited and hope the kids are as well.  We'll be celebrating on Saturday since they will spend the holidays with their mother and DH and I will be in New Orleans!

I will try to take close ups of some of the vignettes later and show the details.  I have raided the dollar section and discount bins over the years and have finally been able to show off some of the pieces all together.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Recipes for Holiday Success!

It's so tempting this time of year to disregard everything and just enjoy all the season's offerings.  There are so many yummy temptations available to us all.  We tell ourselves: Just one of everything is ok, right?  Uh.. no... because there is SO much that one of everything becomes 20 different tastings of food you would probably only have once every other month at any other time of the year.  You could choose to indulge but the problem is if you do that - you'll spend the next year trying to undo a few weeks of indulgence.  It's just not worth the laziness or lack of self-discipline.

So, here are some recipes that can be really great for the season when you're entertaining or just making family meals more fun!  I will say up front, some of these involve processed protein powder.  I'm not a fan of using this regularly unless your diet requires it and in that case, I am an advocate of the plant based varieties.  Do your research and you can find some protein powders that aren't mixed with all the manipulated additives.  Non-GMO is your friend but that label alone isn't enough.  OK, off that soapbox and on to the yummy!

Sweet Potato Protein Pancakes  (single serving size)

1 medium sweet potato
1 level scoop of protein powder (chocolate or vanilla)
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon OR pumpkin pie spice mix
1/2 cup egg whites
(Optional) 1/4 cup fresh orange juice

Bake the sweet potato in the microwave (wrapped in saran) for about 6-8 minutes until the center is soft.  You can either peel the skin or put the whole thing in the food processor and eat the skin mixed in... which is very good for you!  If you use the food processor, you can mix in the other ingredients there so you don't dirty another dish.  Allow the potato to cool for a couple minutes, add a splash (about half) of the orange juice.  Pulse then add the egg, spices and protein.   Pulse until smooth.  Some people also like to add nuts but beware that will add fat to the dish as well.  Only use the remaining orange juice if the batter thickens up too much.  The citrus really livens the potato.

You should get about 4 pancakes from this batter - which is one serving.  In total, it's about 180 calories for the entire serving, .5 grams of fat (unless you add nuts), 24g of carbs but only 7 of those is sugar, and 20 grams of protein!  That's enough fiber, energy and flavor to start your morning right. 

I've doubled the recipe but never tried doing it for much more than that at a time.  I find that if you boil a bunch of potatoes you can mix the batter in batches and make enough for the whole family. We usually put ours with eggs and some form of breakfast meat, so everyone will eat only a couple pancakes.  This does not include the teenagers who will happily eat as many as we let them...

Speaking of eggs, you can add greek yogurt and / or a scoop of plain (unflavored) or vanilla protein powder to eggs.  With enough cheese (beware the fat!) and spices, you won't taste the protein but you'll get a huge boost to your daily intake.  It also stretches the eggs (or egg whites) to feed more people which can be a big plus for feeding a large family.  I find that if you want to add this in (or pureed vegetables so the kids won't notice), it's best to make the eggs an omelette or a hash.  Layering the flavors helps hide some of the healthy stuff.

For snacks (or even dessert) you can make your own mousse (tell the kids it's pudding). 
Peanut Butter Chocolate Mousse

1 single serving of fat-free vanilla greek yogurt
4 tablespoons PB2 Powdered Peanut Butter with Chocolate

Stir them together.  The more powder you add, the thicker the mousse.  You can even freeze it to make a soft ice cream.

125 Calories, 1.5 g fat, 9 g sugar, 19 g protein

If you are not familiar with PB2, I recommend learning about it.  I love peanut butter and giving it up because of the fat and sugar content was making me sad.  While PB2 is more expensive than regular peanut butter, it has allowed me to have more peanut butter in stuff which is a happy thing.   You can find it at most regular grocers, Target, etc.  I just wish it came in crunchy...

On the dessert note, if you're going to make pumpkin pie or sweet potato pie, you can add about 3 scoops of your favorite vanilla protein and really add something valuable to the dish.  It will change the texture a bit (make it stiffer) but not the flavor.  It will also give you about 10 grams of protein per serving (usually 8-10 per pie) that you would not have had before. Dessert can be good for you too!

As for lunch and dinner, I'll have more recipes for other days on those but the general advice is lay off the breads and starches.  Only have one and it should be the smallest portion on the plate.  Try to include something leafy and green whenever possible. 

If you make it through the same size or smaller, then you win!  The only competition is your self-control.  Also, if you really have something you love at this time of year - don't reserve it for just December.  You are allowed to enjoy gingerbread, pumpkin, and other traditionally "fall" flavors at any time of the year.  Then when the holidays roll around, you'll be far less tempted to indulge or binge.

And let's be honest, when your plate has mashed potatoes, rice, stuffing, meat with gravy, corn pudding, smothered green beans, sweet potatoes, and more on it followed by a taste of all the desserts and washed down with a glass (or four) of alcohol, soda and eggnog - that's a binge.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Preparing for the Holidays!

Happy Thursday all!  It's been a week since Thanksgiving and hopefully you're still riding the high of all the joyous things in your life.  It's been pretty non-stop for us and I imagine the same goes for all of you.  Now, it's December and hopefully most of you have already purchased your gifts over the last year.  If you took the tips from January I gave you and stuck to your budget, you should be in good shape. 

That didn't happen?  It's ok, we're all human.  Life can complicate things and starting new purchasing habits can be a challenge.  So, here's my two cents for this month:

1.  Make a budget - RIGHT NOW - of what you can realistically spend for Christmas (or Hannukah or Kwanzaa or whatever you are going to celebrate).  Don't think about all the people you'd like to get gifts or what the kids have asked for, just look at the real numbers and the bottom line.  If the budget is literally 0, that's ok.  If it's 100 bucks, that's still ok.

2. Once you have your budget, make your list of people you MUST give gifts to this year.  Not the ones you feel obligated to gift because they get you something or your mother insisted or it's become an annual "thing".  Truly look at the people in your life that you want to give a gift.

3. Look at your calendar and between now and December 24 (that's just under 3 weeks folks) figure out how many hours you have to dedicate to preparing for the holidays.  One hour a night?  Only on the weekends?  Put it on paper (or the digital calendar).  Take into account time you need to spend cleaning and cooking for the holidays as well!

4.  Decide, based on your budget and gift list, what gifts you will make and which you will buy.  Go back to your calendar and schedule time to make the gifts (assign the gift and recipient name to that time slot).  Allot time to shop if necessary for wrapping paper, supplies, or specific gifts you plan to purchase. 

This will take you all day - I'm not kidding.  The planning takes time and if you don't apply yourself to doing it right, you'll forget something or be rushing at the last minute.  That's how people bankrupt themselves at the holidays trying to "make up" gifts at the last minute.  You still have time to take advantage of sales, time to bake or sew or knit or craft, and time to decide to gift some people after the holidays end.

WHAT?!  What was that last part?  Yeah, let's be honest.  Unless everyone is going to be with you Christmas Day, some people won't get their gifts right away.  (Some may get theirs BEFORE the holiday!)  You should take all of this into account as you plan your calendar and gifting plans. 

Now, within the next 48 hours, get to work.  Procrastination leads to wasteful time and spending.  It's easy to get overwhelmed.  It's just another day in the big scheme of things, but it's a memory making day.  Whether the memory will be relaxed and joyful or stressed and painful is completely up to you.

The holidays are NOT about how much you spend on others, how many gifts you receive (or give), and who is impressed with your decorations.  They are about acknowledging the people you love, appreciating the good things in your life, and remembering the reason we celebrate.

You'll learn that choosing to physically spend time with the people you care about will be the best gift you can give many people on your list.  A Skype session or handwritten letter will thrill those people you can't see very often.  Pictures and handmade keepsakes can be more precious to friends and family than anything you could purchase in a store.  Most people are trying to have less stuff in their lives and more life in their hearts.

So there's my advice for today.  I hope it helps.

PS:  Already been shopping and spent too much or charged your card to the max?  Find the receipts and don't be afraid to RETURN items that are unnecessary.  Even if it was on sale.  Sales happen every year, throughout the year, so it's not like you won't find another great deal if you need to one day in the future.

PPS:  Also, stop worrying about what people may say if your tree doesn't have a million gaily wrapped presents beneath it.  Your child will likely only focus on one or two key items, so why bother with the stocking stuffers and small stuff (they add up quickly!)?  If you keep the focus of the holiday on what's important, I find that everyone around you will do the same.



Thursday, November 27, 2014

10 Days of Thanksgiving: Day 10

10 Days of Thanksgiving: Day 10

Day 1: Me!
Day 2: My Hubby!
Day 3: My Immediate Family!
Day 4: My Extended Family!
Day 5: My Friends!
Day 6: My Dogs!
Day 7: My Job!
Day 8:  My Country!
Day 9: Art!

So this is the last of the challenge, but I have to tell you it's hard to pick just one thing to post about.  I am thankful for all of the abundance in my life.  For the things we take for granted like drinking water, running water, electricity, central air and heat, my Prius, the amazing array of accessible food, choices of medical care and the ability to access almost anything quickly from my house.

There are nations of people who don't have ANY of these luxuries.  Children who never know the convenience of food they don't have to harvest themselves on a daily basis, if they are lucky enough to have something to harvest.  Parents who struggle to keep their children alive with food and water, for whom the question of "which school has the best social programs" never even comes up, because education is a luxury they can't imagine.  If you think I'm exaggerating, I recommend broadening your horizons.  For all that we rolled our eyes at the Sally Struthers commercials encouraging you to feed one child for pennies a day - those stories are real.  Those people are real.

Even in more technologically advanced nations, like China, India, and parts of our own country, there are people who have little to nothing.  They are born into nothing and have little prospects to change that.  I look at the number of homeless and forgotten in our own country and I could fall to me knees.

I am truly thankful for my life.  For every small blessing I overlook and forget on a daily basis, all those things I take for granted, and the ones I can't even think of right now.  There aren't enough days in the year to articulate all the millions of small things we have to be thankful for so taking this small time to talk about it has been a blessing.

Taking the time to share this with you has been another blessing for me.  It has really helped me remove the negative outlook that was pervading my life and embrace the amazing amount of positivity.  Sure, there are still tough days and my cynical humor isn't going anywhere, but it is much healthier to spend most of my time acknowledging and rejoicing in the blessings of my life.

Thank you for taking the journey with me,  I pray your Thanksgiving is amazing.  No matter the weather or people you spend it with, find some silver linings and dance in them.

Happy Thanksgiving!


10 Days of Thanksgiving: Day 9

10 Days of Thanksgiving: Day 9

Day 1: Me!
Day 2: My Hubby!
Day 3: My Immediate Family!
Day 4: My Extended Family!
Day 5: My Friends!
Day 6: My Dogs!
Day 7: My Job!
Day 8:  My Country!

Day 9: Art!

I am an artist in many arenas.  I design for a living, act on the side (for a second living), sing, dance, paint on occasion, and am learning interior decorating.  I love all things art, even the stuff I don't like. Oh!  Did I mention I'm a writer.  While I have published illustrations, I have not yet published my written work.  I'm hoping to change that soon.  I consider my baking and cake decorating an art along with the wedding design work I have done.

However, I digress.  I adore art because it speaks to everyone in their own language.  As a tool it's a release and a joy.  As an experience, it is never the same twice.  Art can help you understand everything from history and religion to pain and love.

Without art in my life, I cannot imagine where I would be.  I have too many OCD and rigid tendencies without the creative side of myself.  The theatre and singing give me voice when sometimes I don't have the words to speak.

The grand expressions of performance are challenging and rewarding. From studying Shakespeare to modern comedy, every attempt stretches me as a person.

I could go on forever, but this post is late and it's almost 4am, so we'll consider this my brief note of thankfulness!

Good night!

- N

PS:  What were you thankful for today?

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

My Non-traditional Belle Muffuletta Recipe

New Orleans is known for many things, but one of them is a sandwich called a Muffuletta.  I have never enjoyed it because, for me, it has ham on it and that just does it in for me.  So when I made my husband his first one, I had to keep the spirit of the sandwich but change up some of the ingredients.  Since he loved it and I truly enjoyed making it - I'll be adding it to the family repertoire.

It's complicated, I won't lie - but it's SO good...

The Non-traditional Belle Muffuletta begins with preparing your pork loin for slicing so lets start with THAT recipe...

Pork Loin in Crockpot:
Line the bottom of the crockpot with finely chopped onion, garlic, celery, bell pepper, and 1 cup of chicken or vegetable stock.  Add in salt and pepper and a dash of red wine (sorry never measure this, so maybe 1/8th of a cup?)  Set crock pot to high for 30 minutes and let it go while you prep the rest.
In a dish, set your trimmed pork loin (removing the extra fat is worth the effort UNLESS you’re going to stuff the pork loin – which we aren’t this time – so get to trimming) in the center and baste with mustard mix.

Mustard mix:  1 cup mustard of choice, ½ cup of jam of choice, ¼ cup of barbecue OR worstershire sauce
I know it sounds weird but it’s the right amount of sweet and sour without adding any oils and infuses a ton of flavor into the meat.  I like gourmet mustards and jams so I can change the flavor of the meat every time, just by playing around with these….
Now that it’s basted, I like to crust it with freshly ground pepper, herbs de provence OR Italian seasoning herbs.  By now, the base should be at a nice simmer.  The onions should be close to transparent – that’s how you know it’s cooking well but not too far along.

Put the pork loin on the bed of seasoning cooking in the crock pot.  Put the lid back on and cook on low for 2 hours.  At that point, baste with the mixed juices at the base of the crock pot (there will be less than you think), put the lid back on and cook on high for roughly one hour.  (The size of the pork loin makes this number hit or miss.)
You’re looking for the point where not only is the outer layer browning, but the meat is so tender it’s able to be cut with a fork.
Once that’s done, it’s ready to rest (still in the crock put but outside of the base on a trivet) for 20 minutes.

After resting, place the meat on a platter and slice.  It may slice in hunks (or like mine did above, shred) instead of neat deli slices, but that’s perfect for the muffuletta!  This is the long drawn out part of the sandwich because I have yet to find the pork I prefer to use already cooked – and I don’t like ham… at all… sorry y’all.
Now, on to the sandwich…
The Non-traditional Belle Muffuletta

Sliced pork loin
Sliced Rotisserie chicken breast
(Optional) Sliced thin cooked Andouille sausage
(Optional) Crispy Turkey bacon
Fresh spinach leaves
(Optional) Fresh romaine leaves
sliced pepper jack cheese
sliced mozzarella
sliced provolone
sliced Pepperoncini , Olives, Pickles and cherry tomatoes OR
a jar of Giardiniera Italian marinated vegetables, chopped
Butter (to spread)
French Loaf (Italian Loaf will do in a pinch, but the bread won’t have the crunch that’s best)

Preparation in reverse of ingredient list:
Warm or lightly toast the bread.  Thinly spread the butter on the bread, quickly followed by the mustard and vegetables.  You want those flavors to soak into the bread.  Layer on pork, then sausage, then both cheeses, then chicken.  Top with a thin layer of spinach leaves and two leaves of romaine (basically one for each half of the sandwich).  If you’re adding bacon, this is where the bacon comes in (so it doesn’t get muddled in with the other meat flavors.  Close the sandwich (this may take effort) and bind, if you can. 

I like the idea of preparing it on plastic or foil and closing up the sandwich tightly in that for about 15 minutes.  You could try holding it closed with string or toothpicks, but this other method is easier.  This is a sandwich that excels as all the flavors blend on the bread.  The tang of the olives and mustard will be tempered by the thick bread, meats and cheeses. 

 If you really like it spicy, you could add a dash or two of sriracha to your pork but I find hot sauce on the sandwich can mar the blend of spices.  You could do a dash or two of cayenne more safely, I think.  It's a big sandwich.  You're supposed to cut it in half then cut those pieces in halves and serve it in small chunks.

Good luck with that... I recommend you make 2 or more at a time. You should have enough and it only gets better with resting time.


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

10 Days of Thanksgiving: Day 8

Today has gotten away from me.   All of my draft posts sit untouched, my book with pages unwritten, and I still have so much to do!  All that being said, I can't forgo this one thing right now.  It's making a huge difference in my every day life.  Here we go!

10 Days of Thanksgiving: Day 8

Day 1: Me!
Day 2: My Hubby!
Day 3: My Immediate Family!
Day 4: My Extended Family!
Day 5: My Friends!
Day 6: My Dogs!
Day 7: My Job!

Day 8:  My Country!

Ok, I know this is a bit hokey but this country is pretty awesome, right?  I love travelling and have considered living abroad, but even so this country is great.  When I think of the growth and opportunity allowed in the United States (and don't dig too deep, because sure there are issues...), I'm kind of overwhelmed.

It has taken other countries THOUSANDS of years to get as far as this one has in a few hundred.  Imagine where it could be if things continue on a positive and prosperous path?  You and I?  We're a part of it all.  Sure, maybe we're a teeny tiny microorganism in comparison but every molecule plays a part.

I can wear what I want, go where I want, say what I want, think how I want - those are heady concepts not to be dismissed lightly.  To quote Spiderman (or someone who writes for him at least), "With great power comes great responsibility".  All this opportunity and freedom requires self-discipline, awareness, and empathy for others.  It means not confusing having the right to do something with being right in doing it.  Boundaries are important.  Ask every state, country, and parent - ever.

Right or wrong, there is process and law in this country.  Some places don't even have the basics of that... they are forever ruled by whomever has the biggest rock. The chance for education, growth, changing your future every single day you wake up no matter who you are, what color you are, or where you were born - those are the gifts of a country like ours. 

So, short and sweet - that's my thankfulness for today.

What are you thankful for today?

Monday, November 24, 2014

10 Days of Thanksgiving: Day 7

Y'all it's a quarter to midnight and I almost forgot to post this!  Not that forgetting isn't allowed, I'm human, but I'm excited to share with you how much this has changed stuff for me.  Today was one of those harrowing days at work where stuff just kept coming.  Normally, I would have been one angry elf all day - but not today.  Instead I had this pit of calm and peace and general happy to pull from, enough so that others commented on it.  The only real difference I can point to is this daily acknowledgement of the happy in my life.  I love it!  OK, onward...

10 Days of Thanksgiving: Day 7

Day 1: Me!
Day 2: My Hubby!
Day 3: My Immediate Family!
Day 4: My Extended Family!
Day 5: My Friends!
Day 6: My Dogs!

Day 7: My Job!

So, if you had asked me on day 1 if my job would make the list, I can almost promise you the answer was not only no but involved some swear words.  Today, however, I am truly blessed to realize I have a job that pays well, is something I can do very well, and serves a purpose in a sea of fast paced decisions.   I've not been without work the entire time the markets have risen or fallen, taking hordes of people in and out of the unemployment office.  I haven't even suffered a pay cut.

That's blessed!  Even when things have been tight or events happened that have been unexpected, it's all worked out.  The higher medical rates seem to be absorbed and everything is fine - at least I have insurance, a 401K, and a contract for at least another year.  (Federal government contracts don't promise you lengthy employment anymore, it's all performance based.  Apparently, my performance has been pretty good for the last 15 years or so...)

I may not be rolling in the dough or making 6 figures, but I'm certainly not scraping by or going without.  I cannot thank God above more for helping me stay employed, even when it meant moving into positions that weren't the best or having to deal with difficult people.

I've learned humility and patience, but mostly I have been reaffirmed in my work ethic.  Another gift has been, something pointed out to me today, that even though this current position isn't my dream position, it's allowed me a personal life and balance.

Another silver lining!

I am also surrounded by some of the smartest people ever.  It's astounding to me that so many "regular" people can be so brilliant.  They are not only educated, but creative and excited about their work.  It's inspiring!

What are you thankful for today?

The Not Girly Gift Guide Edition

If you checked out the master DIY Gift Guide, you may be among those that thought "those are girly gifts".  This was not my intent, so I've created a list of Not-so-girly gifts.  Check it out!

Not-So-Girly Gift Guide:

This, like the other gift list, is for any time of the year.  The release may help with upcoming holiday shopping, but the intent is to keep it on hand for annual usage.  The ideas in bold can be searched for on Amazon (or the local hardware store in some cases), the rest have links…  A few are DIY ideas…  All of them are great!

Stuff  YOU really want HIM to have:

Guys do it all the time.  They buy you a vacuum or blender or some other “gift” that translates into more work for you down the line.  Either for cleaning, cooking, mending, etc.  Here are some gifts for him that flip the script.  (You may find you want one for yourself!)

Mother’s Power Ball – Seriously, if you want your guy to clean… this is the tool you need!  (Hey, it attaches to a drill and reduces cleaning time tremendously.  Who WOULDN’T want that?)

Gourmet Rosemary Mint Shaving Cream – Men rarely treat themselves to the same level of products we ladies get ourselves.  It’s too much bother to figure out what leaves them with the softest skin or smoothest shave.  They figure out what in the aisle at Target (or wherever) has worked in the past with a smell they don’t hate – and that’s what they will use FOREVER.  However if you give them a taste of the gourmet, I find they love it (My father, brother and now husband have all proven this true time and again!)

Custom Cuff Links – When we got married, finding Chelsea FC cuff links for him was an awesome gift.  He doesn’t get to use them often, but when he does he is so proud of them.  I wish I had found this tutorial then.  I could have made my own or a whole set including his favorite hockey team and (American) football teams.  These even have the great geeky awesomeness of Lego, guitar pick, and other miniature cufflinks.

Skittles Vodka – OK, I admit it.  It’s a throwback to our younger days.  It was great when we were broke and experimental and it’s even better now.  We can (hopefully) afford better vodka now!  A rainbow of flavor… that can liven a party, too.

Torin Floor Jack – Ever watched him work under the car…while it’s propped up on plastic… or not propped up at all… have you ever had that scare where you just knew he was going to get hurt under there.  This jack is for the automotive guy who has a vehicle or hobby with some weight that needs lifting.  Add a Powerbuilt Floor Creeper to this and watch him light up!

Autoscanner Plus – So, if your hubby is like mine – he can do some of the stuff on the car himself.  But the newer the car, the more computer centric it tends to be.  My husband gripes about having to see the mechanic for something he could have done just to get the light turned off the dashboard.  This little tool can avoid a lot of that.

The Man Hanger –  It’s made of rebar.  I dare him to break it…

Great Neck / Irwin Professional Bench Vise – “Hey honey, can you hold this for a second?”  Recognize that request…then find yourself holding something heavy or dangerous while he plays with saws, fire, or the drill?  This bench vise may save you some energy (and sanity) while protecting him from trying to do it all alone.  “Really, I can balance it on the bike and saw that end off, it’ll be fine.”

Zircon Multiscanner i520 Studfinder – How many pictures have to be hung before finding the studs becomes easy?  Apparently just one more… by using this studfinder.  I will admit I’m skeptical (I’ve bought a lot of studfinders, but the reviews are glowing so… it may be worth the try.

Monogrammed Steak Brand – He gets to grill AND show off his personal brand… you get to not cook.  I recommend having one made with your initials as well, because you know… girls grill too. (We just don’t advertise it as much.)

Channellock #89 Rescue Tool – A nice addition to the family vehicle, IMO, is having your own mini escape tool.  It can break auto glass, can be a pry bar, shut of gas mains, etc.  In case of a zombie apocalypse, it’s a must have!

Snowmaster Snow Scoop – Where has this been all my life?!  My father sent me out so many times to shovel snow (because it built character and buying a snow blower wasn’t in my future), but this shovel is a fraction of the cost of a snow blower and moves the snow MUCH faster.  He will probably appreciate it.

Jawbone UP / FitBit Tracker / Etc – These are great and motivational.  If you want to encourage activity over TV, I recommend it.

Stuff  HE needs but doesn’t probably realize yet  (Some are DIY):

Lanyard key holder – They like to clip their keys to their pants / belt / etc. but the clips are rarely long enough to let the item rest in their pocket… where it makes less noise and doesn’t look like a janitor… so now you can give them one that’s long enough to clip to them AND still go in the pocket.  No lost keys, no annoying jingle.  Win. Win.

Bicycle Handlebar Bag – My huband is not a bike rider, but it is very popular in DC so I think this idea is pretty cool.  It’s a DIY bag for their phone, GPS, keys, etc. to make riding easier and the important stuff easy to access.

22 Altoid Tin Tools – Ok, I’m a bit of a geek so I love most of these.  They are seriously cool ideas for things you could maybe buy but would be pretty awesome for you to make as well.

Powerflares LED Flares – Seriously cool and I want some too.  They can even flash in morse code!

Michelin Smart Jumper Cables – (This maybe should be on an anyone list, but I’ll stick to stereotype for the purposes of this post.) These jumper cables automatically figure out the current, you don’t have to match the positive to the right end etc.  No more being afraid in the dark that you’re about to do something super dangerous!

Little Giant Ladder – We have one of these and it’s AWESOME.  I feel it’s much safer than the traditional tall ladders and much more versatile. It folds up nicely and eliminates the need for multiple ladders in the garage.  Light enough that I can even carry it!

Dyson DC25 Upright Ball Vacuum – OK, ok.. I know, so cliché, right?  But we have one of these and my husband loves it.  So much that I have yet to vacuum in the new house.  Even the kids don’t complain because it’s light, fast, and has great suction.  So… you know… maybe the cliché is worth it?

Bon-Aire Original Ultimate Hose Nozzle – Spray, water, powerwash… it does all three.  Cool, right?

Solio Bolt Solar Charger – So no more “My phone died and I had no plug.”  There’s the sun!  Also, a good idea for teenagers.

Toasta Bags – Make sandwich for lunch, put in bag, microwave at work, toasted sandwich = YUM!  Also…keeps the microwave clean (cause we all know who’s cleaning that…)

Stuff HE would probably love, but doesn’t need (and you may regret giving him):

WWII Field Phone as a Bluetooth Handset:  If you have a reenactor or WWII buff in your midst, this would probably make him giddy like a woman receiving Manolos or Choos.  It’s hard to do however, so you may need help.  However, it will be worth it.  It’s a gift you cannot easily buy or replace.  You would be a hero.  Get him a Grenade Screwdriver Detonator Set and it can only get better!  Send it over the top with Dynamite Fire starters (for the camping trip or the home fireplace).

Jack Soap Dispenser:  My husband is a huge fan of Jack Daniels with Coca-Cola.  I think he would be giddy to receive something so whimsical to use on a daily basis (on his sink on his side of the bathroom).  Maybe your guy would too?

Bacon Goodies:  Recipes for Bacon Salt, Bacon Candy and Bacon Jam may not appeal to everyone.  But, from what I can see, every man (save the vegetarians) have a love for bacon.

Scotch Tough Duct Tape – TRANSPARENT :  If he believes Duct Tape can fix anything, this may be his new dream tool.  Transparent duct tape?  Be still my heart…err…his heart… oh who am I kidding, I want some too!

Zombie Survival Tool – Do I really believe there will be a zombie attack?  No.  I’m not insane.  Do I think my guy would still like to be prepared for one …just in case?  Yes.

Magnetic Thinking Putty – Look it up.  I can’t describe it, but yes – most guys would probably play with it.  That sounded dirty…

Lifestraw – Carry it everywhere, allows easy and safe access to clean drinking water by removing 99.9% of all waterborne bacteria and other microscopic critters.  Again..zombie apocalypse. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

10 Days of Thanksgiving: Day 6

10 Days of thankfulness isn't actually all that hard.  This weekend I've spent some quality time with people I care about and gotten to be really thankful for my life.  So let's continue!

10 Days of Thanksgiving: Day 6

Day 1: Me!
Day 2: My Hubby!
Day 3: My Immediate Family!
Day 4: My Extended Family!
Day 5: My Friends!

Day 6: My Dogs!

Today I am going to be very thankful for Lola and Teddy.  At first I thought, "That's lame.  You should move on to your thankfulness for more important meaningful things."  But honestly, my dogs, Lola especially, are part of my family in a different way.

Before the hubby and some of my friends, there was just me and an eight week old puppy I adopted (and my best friend and her cat - whom I was sharing an apartment with at the time, but I digress...).
Lola was a level of responsibility and love I had not experienced at that point in my life.  I had both my parents still, had lost some grandparents (which I considered normal progression of life events) and was well employed, etc.

Then came this little bundle of love and need.  I was her whole world.  I trained her in everything and gave her all the attention and guidance I could.  She is, to this day, the best dog in the world.  (You can say whatever you want, I can't hear you.) As she grew older, I considered her like my own child and my decisions always put her first.

Then... I fell in love, got married, gained step-children, moved a few times, and lastly brought in a sibling (8 years later) for her.  A neurotic loving fluffball of stupid named Teddy.  Seriously, where Lola is almost too smart, he's just... not.  But he is the best playmate for her.  Where I started slacking off in attention and love, Teddy has bounded in with full energy.

Lola has been my comfort when the grief of losing my father unexpectedly too soon brought me to my knees, literally.  She has been there for the highest of highs and lowest of lows.  She's fallen in love with the same man I did.  (Totally understandable.)  She adores the kids and has begrudgingly accepted every move or schedule change I have thrown her way.  It's entirely understandable that I don't think she will forgive me for Teddy, but it will all be fine.

Teddy has only been with us about 9 months.  He soothed a broken part of me after my last miscarriage and restores balance by just being happy to be with you.  I spend a lot of time, when possible, loving up on Lola - but Teddy has his daddy that he is quite attached to so now the hubby has a puppy too.

They are our constant joy.  They have short memories of the bad (in Teddy's case, of everything) and love wholeheartedly.  I cannot imagine not having them greet me, love me and allow me to love them.  I wonder what the Creator was thinking when he (or she) designed the canine and feline species.  To put in them the empathy, trainability, and affection required to not only be pets but true companions?  I have no idea, but I'm grateful for it.

What are you thankful for today?

10 Days of Thanksgiving: Day 5

Y'all... one thing about having kids that I just never really wrapped my head around is that they seem to alter time.  Before you know it a whole day is gone, you're exhausted, and you haven't done half the crap you planned to do.  This is not a complaint - kids are just require all of your attention.  It's good to be that focused and to apply all of oneself. I just hadn't realized it was required.

So, on to my ACTUAL post of thankfulness for yesterday - the planned one, not the one I kept muttering as I shopped with a 13 year old girl which went "I am so glad I'm not 13 anymore.  I am so glad I'm out of this phase.  Mostly, I'm so glad my mother didn't abandon me or murder me in the streets some days because I recognize this behavior completely..."

10 Days of Thankfulness:
Day 1: Me!
Day 2: My Hubby!
Day 3: My Immediate Family!
Day 4: My Extended Family!

Day 5:  My Friends!

I don't include my friends in general with my extended family.  I know that's bucking the current trend of considering everyone you've known longer than 5 seconds a friend, but it's not how I was raised to think.  I clearly remember my mother telling me that my real friends were the people, should I be homeless tomorrow, who would take me in no questions asked.

Since then, I've expanded that criteria to include people who will be honest with me, even when I may not really want to hear it.  Also, people who share my work ethics and morals.  We can differ wildly in many areas, but I find that we can't truly be friends if we don't share honesty, ethics and morals.

That being said, I have some AMAZING friends.  Not just nice friends or good friends, but AMAZING.  We're talking people they should make movies about.  People that are pure charitable souls down to their toes.  I have been blessed to attract and maintain relationships with people who have a heart to improve the world around them.

I have to say that as a Christian, I try and see the work of the Lord in everything and I see it in my friendships.  From those who are Christian to the Jewish to the Pagan to the Atheist, there are some amazing people in my life.  We may not agree on our faith, but beyond my praying for them and letting God work through me in their lives - that's not my concern.  We don't make choices for others, nor do we judge them for the choices they make.  For those people that believe I should not have friendships with people of different faiths, sorry - but that's just not the attitude I was led to believe.

I am POSITIVE there are choices I make they don't agree with, and who knows some of them might be praying really hard for me in the background for something to change in my life.  It doesn't change how we treat, support or love one another.

That's the true basis of love,in my opinion, you love the way you want to be loved.  You give the way you'd want to receive.  You find friends that are the kind of friend you are.  The people I call friends are not only the people I laugh with, work alongside, dream amongst, and debate life - they are the people that help me work through stuff my own brain can't process sometimes.  They lift me up when I'm too weak or broken to do it for myself.  I learn from each and every one of them.  I see beauty and learn the world through different eyes on a daily basis because of these people.  I am humbled and taught charity as well.  For ALL of these things, I am thankful.  I don't care to imagine the kind of person I would be without these daily lessons.

I am BLESSED beyond measure in the people I truly call friends.  I have some great acquaintances, buddies, and professional relationships as well (some of them I expect will be true friendships with time) but I can tell you that should I be homeless tomorrow, I have a lot of people I can call on.

What's amazing to me that for all I've learned from my family and all the reasons I love my husband, stepchildren, and family members - my friends have helped shape me into the person they all love and respect in return.  In a thousand tiny little ways, they have kept me from the danger that is my own mind (we creative people are a little zany at times).

Now, tell me that's not divine!

What are you thankful for today? Err...yesterday :)

Friday, November 21, 2014

Weekend Teaser

So next week I am going to have a few additional posts that I think people will find useful. 

One is for the men in your life and some potential gift ideas.  This isn't aimed at the uncoming holidays but keeping a secret squirrel list of potential gifts year round.  Men are hard to shop for sometimes.

Another is a recap of tricks to staying on budget and organizing your shopping for the holidays.  Did anyone use the chart from earlier this year?

There will be some recipes thrown in and some design files I'm giving to you for free.

Again, they aren't "holiday" related, but things you can use year round.  There's enough "seasonal" being shoved down your throat, right?  I plan to acknowledge the useful tips that can be applied to life in general and leave the "Holly Jolly" pieces to others.

Have a fabulous weekend!

PS:  NaNoWriMo Quick Update - I broke 25,000 words but I'm struggling a bit.  I hope to actually make the 50,000 word goal this year, but even if I don't.  The challenge has been good for my brain.  Are you trying it?

10 Days of Thanksgiving: Day 4

Today I'm just going to jump right into it!
10 Days of Thankfulness...

Day 1: Me!
Day 2: My Hubby!
Day 3: My Immediate Family!

Day 4:  My Extended Family...

I come from a big family.  My father was the second eldest of five kids, my mother was the youngest of seven.  Each one of their siblings had at least one child, most had 2 or 3.  I have 21 first cousins, and a plethora of second cousins etc. on down the line.  Family gatherings are never small and we usually included great granparents, aunts, and uncles from all branches of the family.  Even if people divorced, they were still family.  As were their parents, siblings, etc.  You get the picture.

I come from a community of family.  A legacy of people who are always in one another's business (which can be terribly annoying or wonderfully supportive) but always have your back.  They let you know when you're wrong, but stick around to help you pick up the pieces. I have never once worried about being homeless, hungry, or alone.  If I have a way of reaching out, I know there will be a hand to hold.

As a military family, having that net(work) of people in my life has always been something I've taken for granted.  It never occurred to me that there are people that don't have such connections.  Families that abandon one another, can't stand one another, etc. and end up estranged permanently.  I've never known that.  Even as a child, coming home every summer and playing with my cousins; learning my heritage through my elders and traditions; and most importantly finding out how to take the curves life throws you with the support of people who love you instead of wading it out alone.

In getting married, I gained step-children and in-laws.  It's been a grand expansion to my life.  I guess technically they are all part of my immediate family now, so I should reconsider how I group them in my mind, but I love them all.  The picture of my life is more colorful, active and loving for all the people that are in it. Both our girls and teenage son are a life lesson for me in every interaction.  I love seeing them grow and learning new things to laugh about, watching the world through their eyes, and being a part of shaping the adults they will be come.  What a blessing for me!

Did I mention that I am a godmother as well - that's another part of my family.  It's pretty amazing to think that my little tree has so many branches.  Some are better tended than others, some are stronger than others, but they are all mine and I adore them.  Every flower and every root - I can't wait to gain more.

I am thankful for every single loved one I call family.  They have taught me what community is supposed to be - at all levels.  Reaching beyond your immediate self to those others that create your surroundings, not only acknowledging but embracing and supporting (even if that means being honest in the tough times) them is all part and parcel.   Now I'm even more excited to go home to New Orleans for Christmas - I get to see my family!

What are you thankful for today?

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Any Occasion DIY Gifts Everyone Will Want to Use

I have been working on this idea for a while and I am so excited to share with you the first edition of my list.  When we were planning our wedding, wedding favors were something I couldn't nail down.  I wanted to do a whole DIY thing, but time and stress prevented it.  I had a secret list of links and ideas, however, that I kept.  As the holidays approach and we go to social events that necessitate hostess gifts, I find myself returning to my list.  So here is the current list but beware - it will change and update as I find something worth adding.  I'm hoping to make this a quarterly thing, but we'll see.  For now, I happily (and giddily) present:

Any Occasion DIY Gifts Everyone Will Want to Use for the Cook, Seamstress, Artist, Clever and the Lazy to give friends, family, strangers, hostesses, wedding guests, etc.

If you cook:
…and they are on the go a lot – Soup in a jar (Courtesy of $5 dinners) OR  Brownies in a Jar (By SkiptoMyLou) OR Homemade Granola in a bag (box or jar allowed) OR Cake in a Jar (prebaked and layered with frosting) or Cheesecake in a jar (premade and layered over the crust)… you get the picture here, right?
…and they live at Starbucks or the local coffee shop – Homemade hot chocolate ( / mocha mix ( in a jar OR Hot chocolate (Listen and Breathe), coffee or mocha (Celebrations at Home)stirrers
…and they are also a foodie – Homemade flavored cooking oils (; flavored salts (Steamy Kitchen) / red wine sea salt ( / Sriracha salt (ala RamShackleGlam) ; flavored butters ( / more herb butter ideas (via OR a herb garden terrarium (Which requires you to be a bit of a gardener too, thanks Brit and Co!)
…and they have a pet – Homemade dog treats (Cesar’s Way) or cat treats (Joy the Baker)
…and appreciate the goodness of gum drops – make them some homemade gumdrops in unique flavors ala Bakerella!
…and they drink – Homemade limoncello is never wrong (So says – also easy would be flavored vodkas!
…and they bake or like to add syrups to their coffee – Real fresh homemade vanilla ( is worth having

If you sew or knit:

…and they know what a Polar Vortex feels like – Reusable hand warmers (Thank you Rae Ann Kelly…also, if you add in some essential oil drops, these little warmers can be used as on the spot spa treatments to relax and soothe)  OR Gloves OR Scarves are always welcome. It’s cold!
…and they are tied to their electronics – Custom homemade laptop / tablet /smart phone case – Cloth with Zipper , Cloth Sleeve (That’s my Letter) or Leather (begrudgingly courtesy of Martha Stewart) … Don’t sew?  Here’s one just for you (thanks Design Sponge!)  My only additional recommendation, for laptops – add a strap!
…and they have children or like eclectic furnishing – Custom Floor Cushions (I would LOVE this) (Courtesy of BHG) or this more modern one from Apartment Therapy!
…and they like cloth bags for everything from snacks to makeup cases – Make them some snappy bags (Thank the Crafting Chicks!) or simple clutches (from Girl. Inspired)
…and they like bags period – knit them this awesome braided cable tote (Knitting in my Backyarn)
…and they have pets – It’s called a Bark-a-Lounger ( but I think a cat would enjoy it just as much J
…and they like to knit, sew or draw – A custom portable organizer for their tools would be a lovely addition (BBQCraft Sisters)
If you can draw or build:

…and they like to cook (or decorate as if they cook) – Custom personalized Tea Towels (Courtesy of Lana Red Studio)
…and they like to decorate – Custom Candle Luminaries / Vases (Via
…and they are always on the go – Create a wipe off Menu or Weekly To Do Board for them (Courtesy of Make and Takes) OR a corkboard map (Halligan Norris) that can inspire and remind!
…and they like to play games – Create them a custom oversized scrabble game (Courtesy of Infarrantly Creative)
…and they appreciate a good creative mug – Give them a chalkboard mug (Wit and Whistle) or a fabulously drawn Sharpie Mug (Tips from… Shhhhh!)  I recommend giving a pair as a gift.  Single mismatched mugs are more likely to be tossed but part of a pair makes it a set!
…and they like unique jewelry – Make them Stamped Washer Necklaces (Directions from 36th OR  try out the Spoon Ring idea by Kirsten and Danielle (I’ll take one in Silver please!)
…and they are into written correspondence or have an event requiring stationary coming upmonogrammed stationary (Brenna at BB Paper and Ink) is an amazing thing to receive.

If you’re clever:
…and they like bath products – Peppermint Bath Scrub (Courtesy of the Idea Room) OR Lemon Sugar Scrub (By Love, Pomegranate House) OR an All Natural Chocolate Body Scrub (Instructables for the win!)
…and they are recently married or have a new housePhoto Coasters (Oopsey Daisy) that are personal to them can’t miss.
…and they like books AND technology – This incredible tech organizer (Kate Pruitt) will be right up their Diagon alley.
…and they appreciate unique personal care items – Make some PooPouri  (MadefromPinterest) for them in special spray bottles!

If you’re lazy:

…and they like beer or cider – Give them a (really nice or imported) 6-pack in a festive manner (Life of a Modern Mom)!
… and they enjoy obscure references – take all the old CDs you never use (or some you got at the “Please someone buy this for a buck” bin) and put little stick rubber feet (sold in the stationary section) on the back for impromptu coasters.  You look hip; they have a place for that beer you gave them.
…and they appreciate the ironic t-shirt – Go in your closet (if you are over the age of 25) and get all the clever shirts you love.  Measure the sayings / images.  Go to the dollar store and get frames that will fit those sizes.  Cut out the section you want of each t-shirt, leaving about 2 inches all around, and wrap it around the cardboard that came in the frame.  Now you have a custom piece of artwork.  Keep some, give the rest away.  You are now a superhero.
…and they are a mediaphile – get them a subscription to a favorite magazine.  Buy a current copy and put a bow on it with a tag that says, “Enjoy your year of Name of Publication”.  Consider splurging and getting some of the full sets of vintage publications being released in packages to be really impressive.

So there you go, hopefully this list will inspire you.  If you know of some things I should check out, send me a note or comment below!  Enjoy!
Update:  Here's a link to the "Not-So-Girly Gift Guide" for those that think this list is too wimpy.