Curate the Perfect Workspace | My Favorite Office Must Haves

What do you need around you to be productive?  What elements come to mind when you think of a space that’s inviting?  Several months ago when my co-worker popped into my office for a meeting, she told me she loves to gather in my office because the space is so welcoming, calm, and inspiring. Now that we working from home during the COVID-19 crisis to stay well, it’s important to curate a space that inspires and welcomes you each day. Here’s are my six must-haves for the perfect workspace.

First, a good candle. I have a few officemates with sensitive noses, so be sure when you are selecting a fragrance to remember the fragrance will travel out of your door. Steer clear of anything too floral. I like citrus and vanilla. Trader Joe’s has terrific smelling, affordable candles. I am not sure if they still have them in stock, but their lemon cookie scented candle was a hit in the office.  Lavender and mint is also a pleasant and calming fragrance that works well in an open environment.

A pretty lamp. I like the lighting of a lamp and it’s the first thing I turn on as I settled into my office for the day ahead. Even during the bright light of day, I always have a lamp on. It just says “welcome” to me.  Since I work at a University, my lamp is a pretty shade of lavender to nod toward our school colors. This can be your chance to showcase your personality.

Flowers. At the start of most weeks, I try to bring a bunch of fresh flowers from Trader Joe’s so I can enjoy them throughout the week. If you’d rather save the money, faux orchids can be just as pretty and inviting.  Normally, this is the time of year Trader Joe’s starts seeing their peonies come into the store. Peonies are such a pretty and romantic.

A mirrored tray. This is the tray I have on the corner of my desk. I house my vase of flowers, a lit candle, and two more things I am going to share next. I got my tray from Home Goods, but you can find them anyone – like Target here or World Market here. A mirrored tray casts a pretty reflection in an office with ultraviolet light.

A candy jar. Every office must have a dish or jar of candy. In my case, sometimes I have a mini cake plate with a dome (like above). My co-worker Tracy gifted me with a giant box of homemade snowball cookies and I had to share them. Don’t they look pretty stacked under the dome? Always offer someone a treat after you meet with them. They will never forget you! If I am not offering cookies, I usually have cherry sours or Swedish fish – my two favorite “desk” candies.

And last, every desk needs pretty pencils and pens. I have several pen sets from Taylor Elliott Designs. They are fun when you have to attend a meeting (that could have been an email), and I love gifting them – especially when someone is starting a new job.  Taylor always throws in a treat inside every shipment, too.

“When you leave a beautiful place, you carry it with you wherever you go.” Alexandra Stoddard

Have a beautiful week.

 

 

Me, Mother and our Secret Garden

The weather is beautiful today. So many people are out walking their dogs, couples taking walks, children riding their bikes and scooters. Springtime is one of my favorite seasons (just behind autumn) because I delight in seeing my flowers grow in the garden. This week I have been bringing in handfuls of roses from my garden, enjoying a new bouquet on my desk each day.

I thought you might like to read an essay I wrote earlier this year in a creative writing class. The professor challenged us to write about a place that is important to us. I immediately thought of the Fort Worth Botanical Garden, and all the times my mother took me there.  Mother taught me many things, and her love of nature is one of them. I hope you enjoy reading this story as much as I did writing it.

1968.

Trying to recapture memories of days spent with my mother in our secret garden is like attempting to catch hundreds of puffy white seedlings blown away from a dandelion. It’s impossible. Images of Mother and me click through my mind like sepia tone slides in a Kodak carousel. The Fort Worth Botanical Garden has not only historical significance for the city, but my childhood as well. I freely explored nature, played make-believe, and made cherished memories with my mother in the gardens.

Before I started kindergarten, around 1968, Mother enrolled me in a preschool program at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, also referred to as “museum school.” A few days a week, we engaged in art, music, and literature to learn about natural and physical science. I loved going to museum school and bringing home my class projects for show-and-tell with my parents in the evening after dinner. Mother proudly displayed my work on the refrigerator with a giant magnetic clip. I distinctly remember the teacher dedicating an entire class time showing us how to draw rocks. As a result, my works of art usually involved landscapes with rocks, turquoise water, pale blue skies, an orange smiley face sun, and bright colored flowers.

When the weather was pleasant outside – not too hot from the Texas heat, Mother packed a lunch for us in an old wicker picnic basket, and after museum school, she’d drive us to the Botanical Gardens. These excursions didn’t happen every time after school. I think my mother wanted them to be a treat to look forward to, rather than a mundane activity. I recall how excited I would get the minute we approached the car in the school parking space, and I’d spy the picnic basket in the back seat. I don’t remember the first time she took me, but I do recall how magical it was every time we went.

She’d park the car, carrying the picnic basket in one hand while holding my tiny hand with the other, and we’d walk to the rose garden entrance. Massive stones formed the entrance’s foundation and half walls, and stone columns supported a white lattice arbor. Climbing red roses covered the top of the arbor. I remember the thick, twisting branches weaving through the opening of the arbor clinging tightly to the structure. We walked through this entrance to the top of the stairs leading down into the rose garden. From our vantage point, high atop the rose garden sidewalk, the landscape looked to me like a kingdom. Mother and I seemed so small compared to the massive limestone walls, white gazeboes covered with thick masses of yellow, red and pink roses, bubbling fountains visible from the path, birds flying by and sitting atop branches singing their beautiful, welcoming songs. Along the way, she pointed out different rose bushes, encouraging me to smell the colorful buds and tell her what I thought about their fragrance. Did it smell sweet, did it have a scent at all? It’s odd when you think about it – children don’t have enough memory imprints to recall fragrances. But, I believe my response would have been the flowers smelled like Koolaid or animal crackers – two things I enjoyed very much during preschool snack time.

Water trickled down the center of each of the terraces as we made our way down to the bottom. I remember leaning over the water and running my hand through the blueness of it, seeing my reflection, splashing water on my romper. Mother taught me to welcome the accompanying insects and not to be fearful of them, but also to respect their boundaries. Bees and butterflies were my friends, and I often gave them names. Mother loved how I called them “Fly Butters.” At the bottom of the steps, just to the right of the rose garden, Mother led me through a giant iron gate attached to very tall limestone walls. As we stepped inside, she knelt down to my eye level, saying, “This is our secret garden. It belongs to just us two.”

Where the rose garden exploded in warm colors of reds, pinks, and yellows, our secret garden was cool, green, lush, mossy, and damp. Directly in front of me sat a large pond fed by a fountain cascading down a limestone path leading up to a resting area. Through tufts of green grass around the water, I could see heads of turtles bobbing up and down, and bubbles in the water from fish surfacing for air. The water in the pond was murky green, not crystal clear, like the rose garden fountains. Orange, white, black, and silver Koi fish swam around my shadow as I peered into the water.

Familiar and secure in my surroundings, I often let go of my mother’s hand and wandered. I ran up the limestone path, my legs too small to take the steps in one stride, so my feet shuffled two or three paces on each stone until I reached the top. I’d arrived at my destination – The Keebler Tree. That was the tree’s nickname because it looked like a Keebler Elf tree – the iconic elves from the commercials on television who make the Keebler cookies. In reality, it was a Pecan tree with a hollowed-out trunk, the opening large enough for a child-sized person to go inside. It felt dark, damp, and cozy inside the tree. I imagined animals gathering there at night after the gardens closed. I touched the inside of the tree, rubbing my fingers along the rough, nubby wooden trunk. It smelled like mud pies.

By this time, Mother made it to the top of the stairs and had spread out our picnic on the walls of the limestone rest area. I called this “Our castle.” It was square and formed with large limestone sections cut into cubes, perfectly stacked on top of each other. Concealed from the rest of the garden’s view, our castle formed the heart of our secret space. Its walls were just tall enough for me to work with effort using my arms to pull the weight of my short, stubby legs up to sit on the sides. In the middle of the square was a concrete drinking fountain. I was too short of reaching it, and Mother lifted me to take a drink of the cold water. I remember the feel of limestone on my legs  – warm from the sun, rough against my skin, rubbing rust-colored powder on my romper bottom. Mother prepared my favorite lunch – honey butter sandwiches with the crusts cut off. I nibbled on the bread, and we talked about the beauty around us. What kinds of animals lived in the gardens, what did they eat, and so on. I don’t remember hearing anything but the sound of my mother’s voice and how the sun felt on my face filtered through the giant trees hanging over our kingdom. After a while, I wanted the nearness of her, and I hopped down from the ledge and sat on Mother’s lap, feeling her long legs and arms wrap around me as she’d tell me a story, kissing the top of my head.

After lunch, we’d go on nature walks to seek discoveries and review what we’d seen before. If we came to a toadstool, Mother bent down, and I’d squat beside her, balancing my weight to look at what she was showing me. Toadstools were seats of the fairies in the garden, she’d say. The fairies gathered in the evening to review the day and discuss the visitors to the garden. I remember being so intrigued, wondering if the fairies wore flowers as hats, how their voices sounded, and whether I was the topic of their conversation. When I see a toadstool in the yard on a dewy spring morning now, as an adult, I smile and wonder how their meeting went from the night before.

Mother made sure to include valuable lessons during each of our visits: clean up after your picnic and never leave trash behind; enjoy wildlife from a distance because the garden is their home, and we are their guests; never pick a flower because we want other people to enjoy its beauty. As Mother said, “If everyone took a flower with them, the garden would be empty.” I recall feeling rested and satisfied when I left at the end of our visit as if being surrounded by nature was a way for me to wind down from the day of school. I had Mother’s undivided attention. I felt content that I had received all of her during our time together with no distractions. The gardens felt like my home, yet reverent. I always felt like the gardens welcomed me back time after time. I wish I had asked my mother what made the garden special to her. I do know Mother was in her element in the garden. It was as if she presided over our kingdom – she was the radiant Queen, poised and regal, and I, her golden-haired princess. I don’t remember anyone else ever being present in the garden when we were there. I felt like God created the gardens just for the two of us to enjoy.

2020.

The magic is gone. Where is my tree – what have they done with it? I haven’t been to our secret garden in many years, not since Mother died. I have a map in my hand as if I would forget how to get there. I walk through the gates just off the rose garden, but I don’t recognize the space. Am I wrong? I look at the map; my hands tremble. Surely this isn’t the place I played with my mother when I was a preschooler?  And then I see it. My heart deflates. Instead of feeling light in my feet like the little four-year-old me, my steps feel like concrete blocks as I walk toward the Keebler Tree. Instead of a tree, there’s a sign dedicated to its memory: “Here once stood a 200-year-old pecan tree who witnessed the arrival of traders when they camped near the springs of the area in the early 1840s. The tree survived decades with a hollow trunk, and generations of children stepped inside it or played beneath its majestic boughs. The tree died and became structurally unsound and removed. In tribute to the beloved tree and the memories surrounding it, here grows another native pecan tree planted in 2015.” The heartfelt inscription on the bronze plaque acknowledges my pain but does little to soothe it. I cry. I am crying in the garden, trying to conceal my tears from people walking by. Our secret garden is gone.

I find a wooden bench, something new to the garden, and sit down. I frantically look around. I feel so out of place here. I want to be transported back to 1968. I am begging my brain to help me remember what the garden looked like, and the moment Mother showed it to me for the first time. I want the smell of moss, damp dirt, and bugs to name. I want a hazardous tree to climb into and will myself back to those summer days. This space is no longer where I am supposed to be. The garden is now neat, tidy, bare, brown, and devoid of emotion. It offers no hiding spaces to play hide-and-seek nor stepping stones to jump. There’s newness. It looks like any other garden you’d see at a roadside rest stop. No one here knows what I know. No one will ever see the gardens the way I see them. It’s as if I have lost one more piece of my mother since she died. I am mad at myself for not being better at paying attention to her lessons about nature.

After a while, I get up and walk around almost reluctantly, like a bored child ready to leave. The overlapping trees are gone. It’s as if a giant pair of tweezers plucked and thinned all the lushness out. I see the bright sky overhead, where once were shadows. The castle is gone and replaced with groundcover. The pond is long empty and filled with flower beds. This part of the garden consists mostly of new things – sidewalks, benches, and a teak bridge covering stepping stones now. The same rocks I stepped on. I don’t like any of this garden or the people who designed it. Undoubtedly, the master gardeners came here as children and felt some sense of responsibility to restore the space rather than sterilize it. Hadn’t they looked at old photographs? I feel betrayed. I walk over to the single Koi pond, spared in the renovation of the garden. I look down and see a small, dirty turtle in the water. The turtle gazes up at me, frowning. We connect our gaze for several minutes as if he knows what I am thinking. He wishes the secret garden would come back, too.

It takes me a few days to process what I saw on my recent visit. I have spent this past week closing my eyes, in quiet reflection, writing notes on what I did remember in 1968, rather than focus on what was presently missing in the garden. I realized as a result of the busyness of life I hadn’t afforded my mind quiet moments to recall the days when Mother took me to our secret garden. Instead, I was relying on what I thought it would look like now to trigger my cherished memories. I still feel the need for something tangible to trigger long-forgotten details.

I call the Fort Worth Botanical Garden office and a day later connect with their senior Horticulturist and the historian from the garden society. They email me copies of old photographs to help me put the puzzle pieces together of my childhood memories. While the historian doesn’t have pictures from the 1960s, she does have some from the 1940s. The familiar landmarks are there – the castle, and the limestone stairway leading to the Keebler Tree. She tells me everything was removed in 2015 when the tree died. It’s as if the tree was the glue that held the garden together.

This experience has me feeling melancholy. I don’t have the tangible gifts of the gardens as a reminder of the moments I had with my mother; I do have my cherished memories.  Unlike limestone castles and hollowed out pecan trees, memories last a lifetime. Now I will return, think of Mother and me walking through the entrance of our secret garden, and up the path to the old hollow tree. I know something no one else knows, and that’s just fine with me.

Written by Melissa Austin-Weeks in loving memory of her mother Earnestine M. Reeves February 16, 2020.

Make Your House Smell Like Christmas with this Homemade Stovetop Potpourri

Here is a last minute gift idea I made for friends that would be a perfect way to engage your children and teens when they are home for Christmas — homemade stovetop potpourri!

When I was little, Sister and I would make crafts together as my gift to family members.  One year we made spice ropes, another year we filled hairspray caps with plaster and stuck a fork inside to make a recipe holder.  Our creative skills were on fire!  I have fun memories working with her on these crafts instilling in me the spirit of giving.

For this project, I got the idea here on Pinterest from The Crafting Chicks.  All the ingredients and a free printable are available on the link.  But, I’ll give you the CliffsNotes version.

Gather all your ingredients and Ball jars.  I always purchase my Ball jars at Jabo’s Ace Hardware because they have the best selection and I can use the $5 off coupons they send me in the mail for being a reward customer (and if you use Rakutun they reward 2.5% back to you).  I purchased the cinnamon sticks at Fiesta International Market and sourced the cloves and cinnamon in bulk from Whole Foods.  The cranberries and oranges came from my local grocery store.

Then I got to work bagging up the spices into small snack size ziploc bags.  I placed the oranges and cranberries inside first and tucked the spice bags to the side.  Your little children could help with counting each orange and cranberries that go into the jars.  Note: I didn’t slice the oranges, per the recipe, because I wasn’t sure when people would make their potpourri.

Once the jars are filled, I wrote messages on black scrapbook paper and cut the paper into oversized circles to place over the top of the jar seal, and then finished with the Ball jar rim.  I tied the printable around the mouth of the jar with baker’s twine.  Your older kids could write the message in gold paint pen.

Now, pile the jars into a basket and take your little ones with you for deliveries.    Your friends and family will delight in seeing their faces bring a gift to fill their home with the smells of Christmas that was made with love!

My Best Yes: The Power of Asking for Help

In all the personality assessments – like Strengthsfinder, EmotionaIntellegence, and Strengths Deployment Inventory, my top strengths are relationship building.  I love to help people make connections. When I am having a conversation with someone I am immediately assessing who I can introduce them to – whether for personal or professional connections.  It’s in my DNA to make people feel important, valued and respected.  As a result, because I care so much about being respectful of people’s time,  I am often cautious about asking busy people to help me, this is particularly so in my career.  Our team works so hard producing events, many times well beyond the 40-hour work week.  I am reluctant to seek help, because I know they are just as tired as I am. What’s ironic is I sometimes put more effort into other’s feelings than I do my own.

For the last five months I have been planning a very important women’s retreat.  I knew this ambitious endeavor was going to require alot of my attention and in order for it to be successful, I was going to have to ask for help. Here’s why.  For many years, the older group I also program for have told me “we don’t care what the napkin folds look like, we just want you sit down with us and visit.”  Translation – stop making things perfect around you and focus on what matters – the guests.  If I can empower other people to take from me the to-do list that pulls me in a million directions, I will feel and look less frazzled.  The end result is I get to engage with the people I like to spend my time with. It’s very much the Mary & Martha story. Click here for the 5-lessons we can learn from this parable.

So, I reached out to 10 women and asked for their help and they all said yes!  I came up with a list of areas of responsibility, had them choose what they felt was their gift, wrote up job descriptions for each person, and I assigned one member to be the volunteer coordinator.  We met twice before the event to review everything that needed to be done, gave them jobs to do before hand so we were prepared – all of which gave me the extra time to focus on details and cross off checklists.  By the day of the event, I was confident and rested.  It felt amazing.

As I gathered the women beside me for our pep talk before we started, I shared with them my story of letting go and having others help me and how important they were to me.  In return they replied how thankful they were that I asked them to help!  So, everyone felt honored and valued.  That’s the power of asking for help.  It creates an alliance, a tribe, a community of people wanting to see each other succeed.  See me in the middle of all these amazing women – see my face!  That’s happiness.  That’s a rested face. See all the women’s faces?  Those are faces of joy!  If I hadn’t been open to accept their help, I would have robbed them of the joy from our experience.

That day was my best yes.  In the over 20 years I have been in the event production business, it was the best event I have ever been apart of.  Our volunteers worked every single minute, thinking outside the box to problem solve. Everyone had smiles on their faces.  It left me so fulfilled and thankful that I let go and listened to my instincts. I floated on a cloud that day, and the next several days afterward because I allowed someone to help me.  It cost me nothing and I gained so much more in return.

Tricia Brouk says, “Saying yes means allowing room for opportunity. It means giving myself permission to try and to fail, while knowing you’ll be changed afterwards having learned something new. Saying yes, can be terrifying, but if you say yes, you might be surprised at what is possible. You can start saying yes right now. Wake up and say, yes, I’m going to hit the gym. Say yes, to how amazing you are each day. Say yes to a project that is out of your comfort zone and blow it out of the water. Say yes to trying something new and surprise yourself at the joy you feel. Say yes to staying at home with a good book because you are that important. Say yes to having the biggest life possible, because your happiness will create happiness in others. And when you say yes in business, people will be attracted to you by your willingness to say yes and your ability to back it up with expertise.”

I leaned in and I feel amazing.  Ready to tackle another yes.  What can you say yes to?

Conversation Piece: Vintage Hotel Keys

I follow The Wish List Atlanta on Instagram.  When Laurie posted a photo of a pile of vintage hotel keys, I messaged her right away and told her I had to have them.  I could imagine a big bowl of keys on the coffee table and the conversations that would ensue of sharing memories of vacations!

When the package arrived I couldn’t wait to look at each one, imagining their story.  Like the kitschy look of this key — meet me for cocktails at the Madhatter Lounge.

 

From Toledo, Ohio to Kailua, Kona, Hawaii to The Royal Caribbean Montego Bay, Jamaica.  The size of some of these keys made me chuckle. To think how now we are mostly issued plastic, disposable key cards.  No story to tell there.

Holiday Inn Town in Lansing, Michigan to the 89er Inn in Oklahoma City to the Hospitality Motor inn in Lansing, Michigan.

There were also a few airport locker keys.  Mystery.

And this one from Kenya.

Fun stories in this pile, and I am sure a few bittersweet ones like perhaps from the Medical Center Motel.  I have something new to search for at antique stores and estate sales.  I love things that tell a story.  These might just be the key…

2019 Mantra – Seek My Sunshine!

If you have been following my blog for a while now, thank you!  If you are new to my journey to #seekjoy everyday – then welcome!   I suggest you start here to find out how I started my blog and the life experiences that inspire me.  Since I launched Home with a Twist, I’ve published almost 700 posts and last October I started a Podcast you can find here.

In January rather than establishing a “resolution” which to me is a one and done way to approach life,  I choose to have an open-ended theme.   Like in 2018 – my theme was “Joie de Vivre — Seek Joy everyday.” I really tried to be intentional to find something good in every day.  Whether it’s happiness over a hot cup of Starbucks or an up-close parking space, I was laser focused on intentionally celebrating life.  You know what?  I had a great year.  That’s not to say there weren’t days of frustration or disappointment, but since my mind was in the habit of seeking joy, I found myself trying to find ways to flip the sad to glad!

Sunflowers in my garden

This year, my mantra is “Seek the Sunshine.”  You know the friendly little sunflower?  This Helianthus or commonly referred to as the “sunflower”  tilts its head during the day to face the Sun as it rises in the east and follows the Sun across the sky until it sets in the west.  Continuously facing towards the east also helps the flowers to heat up quickly. This gives them an advantage in pollination as warm flowers attract insects. Therefore, it’s in the plant’s best interest that the flower always faces the Sun, so it is always highly visible to these important pollinators.  The fascinating phenomenon of flowers following the sun across the sky is called heliotropism.

Daddy’s pocket of sunshine

What’s the take away on this?  Well, to me, the metaphor in life is that if I always face the sunshine – which could be alot of things like God’s warmth, having a sunny disposition, or choosing the happiness of it’s bright orange radiance – I can focus on the positives in my life.  I can face the sunshine all day from the time the sun comes up until the day comes to an end.   Because the “sun” warms me, like the sunflower, I will be attracting goodness, kindness, joy – just like the flower attracts bees (which happen to be my favorite insect…Melissa means honeybee, you know).  The sunflower also has a special meaning in our family because they were my daddy’s favorite flower.  You can read a sweet story about them here.  We called them his “Pockets of Sunshine.”

So, this year ask yourself this question “Does this support the life I am trying to create?”  Sometimes we have to move to bloom.

Here’s to a fantastic 2019 my friends.  I look forward to our journey together.

That time I went to PetSmart for Fish Food and Came Out with a Puppy

Here is a “best of” for you to enjoy while I take a little break to enjoy time with Mr. Bee.  I’ll have something fun to share when I return.  This story will take you back to 2014 when I went into PetSmart to buy fish food and came home with a puppy.

Where have you been?  I’ve had several followers email or call me asking me if I’ve died.  Why has the story about the disinfectant wipes been on your blog for over a month?  What in the world is going on?  This is what’s been going on…I went into PetSmart to buy Beta food for Consuela VonFinn.  She’s really a he, but I liked the name Consuela.  I don’t even like her, but she/he’s pretty on my counter top.  All blue and swirly.  I actually got he/her to use for a centerpiece for a fish themed baby shower back in July.  It’s still alive and I have to feed it.  While I was perusing the Halloween dog costume area for Ruthie the Wienerful, I spotted the adoption section of the store.  That was when I saw her.  “Can I play with her for a bit?” I asked the kennel lady.  She brought her into the puppy viewing room (also known as room for suckers with husbands that will leave you if you bring anymore animals home).  We played, we bonded.  I brought her home along with all the gear you buy for a new puppy.  The $10 deal of a puppy was the story I was sticking to.

Mr. Bee texted me “what are you doing?”  I responded that I was potty training our new puppy.  Silence.  Then I texted him the pic of her in our kitchen.  He replied, “what is that?”  That was one month ago.  He’s just now speaking to me.

Seriously, I have to give him credit.  We’d I’d been talking about getting a second dog casually, but this should have been a group decision.  I was afraid he’d say no.  And, he would have.  So, for the last month I’ve been potty training, taking her to the vet for de-worming, de-puppying the house, running a puppy day-care, and racking up the FitBit steps going on walks to wear her out.  Then, Sunday, I hit an emotional wall.

I sat and cried.  Big tears.  Sobbing.  What have I done?  As Mr. Bee was consoling me, telling me he didn’t hate me or the puppy, that he actually thought she was cute and good for Ruthie to have a playmate, I blurted out “I just wanted something else to take care of!”  That was it.  To the very core.  I think I miss being a caregiver.  I miss Mother.  Miss Bee is a teen.  On some crazy level having a puppy keeps me busy, productive and makes me feel loved and needed.  Hey, it could be worse, I could be having a real baby…right?

I named her Hazel, by the way (animal control named her Aruba).  Ruth was my grandmother’s name and she had a sister named Hazel.  Ruthie and Hazel.  I now have two dogs…four cats…and a beta.  Ruthie and etc…

Like all rescue dogs, they are so happy to be loved.  Hazel is spunky, sweet and has lots of energy.  She loves to go on walks with me (Ruthie has no legs, not really but she hates to go for walks) and fetch.  I think she will be my show dog.  I’m pretty sure I can teach her to jump through hula hoops and catch Frisbees.  On the flip side, she rarely sits still.  Heck, with a dogsister and four cats to chase, there is always something going on.  When Hazel is still long enough she looks up at me with those big, brown eyes and I know she’s saying, “thank you for shopping at PetSmart that day and taking a chance on me.  I won’t let you down.”

Update to October 2018:  Hazel is still perfect for our family.  She’s learned to be calm and is the best lap dog.  We’ve since lost our beloved Ruthie and while I long for another doxie, Hazel is just fine being my girl.

January 2018 To-Do List Inspiration

I found the cutest artwork recently from an artist named Evelyn Henson.  She has all sorts of designs, but I immediately zoned in on her monthly to-lists with inspired ways to celebrate the month!  I mean we all have our “to-do” list which usually involves the daily tasks of life like pick up the dry cleaning, clean the litter box, etc… but wouldn’t it be fun to add “Bring Funfetti Popcorn to Work” on your list!And with January 23 being National Handwriting Day — when I was reading my February issue of Real Simple one of their featured “Things we Love” stories was Nicely Noted, a monthly subscription service where three curated, letterpress blank cards of all themes and envelopes are packaged with gorgeous postage stamps and sent right to your door the first of every month – all in an effort to help promote the art of pen and ink mail.  I love the idea!  When you go to their site and enter your email address they will email you a promo code for 20% off your first month’s subscription.  This idea is perfect with the gratitude letters I talked about here in the Creating Your Own Personal Inventory Days.

Here’s another idea for a fun to-do list from Paper and Glam.  We are supposed to get winter weather overnight so I might just get to check off making a snowman and snowman pancakes!  I used to think January was a tad depressing with the holidays being over and decorations put away, but this inspiration actually makes me excited about all the adventures 2018 will bring!

Sarah Maddox Watercolor Art

Scrolling through Instagram one day, I came across artist Sarah Maddox and was immediately taken with her watercolor art featuring people and their pets.

She has an Etsy shop (SMaddoxArtShop) and I immediately contacted her to see if she was available to paint a piece for my friend Holley – What Would Holley Wear – as a thank you for all her work on her weekly fashion articles. Sarah was so easy to work with and from start to finish I received my art within two weeks.  Sarah studies Instagram photos and ones you send her.  She shows you the sketch first for approval and then goes from there with adding in the watercolor.  Even if you don’t have a pet, reach out to Sarah to have her do something for you.  Here’s a sample of her work from her Etsy site…

And here is the one she did for me of Holley and her bulldog, Junior…

If you look at Holley’s post from her trip to Aspen here, the outfit Holley was wearing is what Sarah used for inspiration.  Junior, on the other hand, was a little bit more of a challenge to draw because he’s a senior fellow and doesn’t sit up much…and since he’s vision and hearing impaired, a full frontal view was tricky.  I think Sarah did a great job capturing him for Holley as a keepsake.  I had Sarah add the Central Park sign since I know NY is one of Holley’s favorite places to visit.

Sarah’s art is very affordable, starting at $33 and would make the perfect gift.  You can follow her on Instagram @smaddoxart or check out her Etsy store.  I can’t wait to have her do one of me with these two yahoos…

Have a fabulous Friday!

Honey, it’s Hot: Fun Things to Try

Sharing some “hot” ideas — things I’d like to try this spring, because why not round up the days to March 21 — the first day of spring.  Food, flowers, gardening, and travel — something for everyone!

I love spring.  To me, it’s a time of new beginnings.  Tender bulbs we planted in the fall are starting to pop their heads up in our garden. The phlox are blooming bright purple right now.  I missed my window of time to plant pansies like I usually do in the fall, and since it looks like we are going to skip winter all together here, I may just wait and plant my usual burst of color from zinnias.

If you’ve never tried to plant zinnias, give it a try this spring.  They are hearty, heat and drought tolerant and make the perfect cutting flowers.

I have been saving up photos to my gardening Pinterest board to show Mr. Bee for a spring project…a container vegetable/herb garden in a galvanized water trough.

Two things I like about this, is it’s higher up from the ground so it will be easier to access for watering, weeding and harvesting.  And, it will be up off the ground so our pets cannot get into it.  This DIY article from Apartment Therapy walks you through how to create your own.  I want to plant cooking herbs like rosemary, basil, thyme, parsley and cilantro.  And a few vegetables we enjoy like cucumbers, zucchini and peppers.  I wish I could grow tomatoes, but I leave that up to my farmer’s market because tomatoes are so persnickety.

Next, before it gets too hot outside I want to perfect a recipe for fried chicken.

Buttermilk Fried Chicken
Baked garlic cilantro fries

I eat fried chicken once about every 5 years, but it’s just so nostalgic like Sunday suppers after church.

And I want to host a party just so I can put hot french fries in a mason jar lined with parchment paper. Recipe here.

My grandmother used to make the best french fries when I would go and spend the weekend at her house.  She’d cut big steak fry slices from Idaho potatoes and toss them into a cast iron skillet of hot Crisco oil.  Once they were golden brown, she’d remove them to a paper towel lined pan and take her big, metal silver salt shaker and drench the fries in salt.  Add a side of ketchup and I was a happy camper.  She’d also pan-fry hamburger patties in Worcestershire sauce.  This is why I liked spending weekends at her house.

And, while we are on the subject of food, I can’t leave out something related to cake.  That was the other thing we always made at my grandmother’s house – a cake.  Grandmother wasn’t a baker.  She was more of an entree kinda cook.  So, my mother would always supply me with a box of cake mix and the add-ins.  When this story appeared on my Facebook timeline today, again courtesy of Country Living, it shared the simple trick to make boxed cake mix taste 1,000 times better. Butter. Replace the oil in the mix with almost the same amount of butter. I feel it is my duty to research this and report back this week.  Miss Bee is totally on board.

Next, if you want to plan a long weekend trip this spring, two fun places to try are Waco, Texas and Pawhuska, Oklahoma.

72 hours in Waco

This fun article from Country Living shares a 72-hour itinerary in Waco and includes “the nitty-gritty on the city, a mix of both editor picks and the requisite “Chip & Jo Were Here” attractions for true devotees.” It’s a great how-to including wine, coffee, antiquing, eating and site-seeing.  I have been to Waco many times, and have spent an evening with the Gaines (which you can read about here), but the itinerary is something I would really like to try.

Then, there’s Pawhuska, Oklahoma — the land of the Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond.  Again, Country Living shares the details on her fab new venture here.

The Mercantile is a 25,000 square foot space that includes a restaurant, retail store, deli, coffee bar and bakery.  The town only has 3,500 residents, yet sees 6,000 people A DAY to the town to get a taste of her great frontier.  Here are two snaps I found on Instagram…

My own cast iron skillet of sticky buns. Heaven.
You can never have too many bowls.

So, this is my “Honey, it’s Hot” list.  I hope you enjoyed it.  Let me know if there is something new you’d like to try and I will check it out. I’d love to hear your suggestions, too.