Friday, January 31, 2014

Sharing the Love

For your listening pleasure, some mood music to serenade you while you read: 

Growing up, I thought my mom was so weird about holidays. (Actually, I'm sure I thought she was weird about a lot of things, but that's neither here nor there.) She was always talking about materialism and commercialism and the "true meaning" of different celebrations and customs. It seemed to me that everyone else in the world was doing the normal thing, buying stuff, and I kinda (okay, really really really) wished we could be normal, too.

Turns out my mom was really kind of a hipster, huh?

By now, we've all heard the criticism that Valentine's Day is a commercial ploy to guilt consumers into purchases, and after growing up with my mom, I get that. Greeting cards, chocolates, jewelry, fancy dinners, cutesy bears, ad nauseam. Totally not the point, true.

But I can't help but feel like any holiday, financially beneficial to Hallmark or not, that asks us to be more intentional about expressing our emotions toward those closest to us is one that deserves our full support.

I think the world would be a happier place if we all at least pretended that every day is Valentine's Day. It's like that Groundhog's Day movie, but more colorful and with more kisses. 

It's been Valentine's Day on repeat around here lately, which has made my heart super happy. Here are just a few ways we've been sharing the love. 

Loving Arabella: 

I finally convinced her to make crafts with me! She actually loves craft time, especially coloring and painting, and says she wants to be an artist (or a cheerleader, depending on the day) when she grows up. So when we were out of school again Tuesday, we turned on some James Taylor tunes, stayed in our pajamas a little later, and gave the mantle a festive makeover. 

We ended up using that polka dot finger painting as the centerpiece for our kitchen table, 
with a candle on top of it. The rest of our projects helped complete this transformation.

We didn't have a mantle in our old house, so I haven't quite gotten the hang of mantle decor just yet. I'm never 100% happy with it, making this a welcome change.

Bella drew a purple picture of "Mama walking on the earth with coffee in her hand" and I helped her write "I love you" in there somewhere. The red and black frame is an attempt at making hearts with our thumbprints. 

I had a little leftover tulle from making tutus for her birthday party last year, skewers just because, and the jar and stones from last Valentine's Day. When we added hearts to the skewers, Bella thought they looked like lollipops and flowers. I was hoping more for Cupid's arrows. It is what it is. 

I realize that's not a "real" wreath, but this was probably Bella's favorite part. She makes lots of paper plate crafts at preschool, so we followed suit and added a bow from our giftwrap stash instead of cutting out the center. She loved using the glue all by herself to layer the hearts around the plate. So fun!

Loving Adam: 

I think I've mentioned it elsewhere before, but I love date nights. I also love group date nights, and have had a bad habit of letting those overtake our calendar in the past. So I try to make sure that Adam and I have enough together time, just the two of us, even if we aren't going out every weekend. At the same time, it can get pretty boring eating pizza and watching Netflix when we do decide to stay home. 

Not anymore! Introducing the Dating Divas!

I can't even begin to express my admiration and appreciation for the women who put this site together. I literally spent hours this past week browsing the gazillions of ideas for dates, from the massively pre-planned and expertly executed to the simple, yet inspiring.  Seriously. You have to check it out. You can search for theme dates, double dates, dates at home, anniversary/birthday ideas, craft tutorials, TONS of free's like a love overload. (Is that already a line from a bad '80s song, or did I just make it up?)

So I decided to make a Date Night Binder. Not sure if the obsession with binders is teacher-related or just generally neurotic. I found about ten dates to start us off. Then, I labeled them, placed them in page protectors, and added two index cards to each one, so we can write each other a love note at the end of each date. I tried to choose a variety of types of dates. Some, like The Hobbit date and The Bucket List date, are movie themed. Some require us to go to a store or other public place and play a game, like the "This Reminds Me" date. Others are simple games to play at home, like Mad Libs. 

We've already cracked open the Date Night Binder, and we BOTH (seriously, he thought it was fun and creative, too) had so much fun! I loved reading his love note at the end of the evening. I think he really appreciated that I took so much time to put this little book together for us. It was even fun to just flip through it together and pick what we wanted to do. 

I can't wait to print the February Love Calendar tomorrow!

Loving Me In Return: 

I'm a firm believer in the little things. Tonight, I was having a particularly hard time getting going after dinner. I had a long, late night last night and spent quite a bit of time driving today. Even though I napped this afternoon, I'm still feeling kind of drained. So I did something I rarely every do. Rather than getting mad that Adam can't read my mind and see that I'm struggling, I asked for help. I wasn't very optimistic about the whole thing, to be honest. I asked Adam to help motivate me, like I try to help motivate him every day. 

I went out the garage to start cleaning out my car and found him on the couch reading when I came back in, so I was a little bummed. But when I came back in from my second trip (yes, my car almost always looks like I live in it), he was upstairs with Bella. I could hear the dryer running while he sang "My Girl" to Bella as they folded laundry. 

We've come a long way. 

How are you sharing the love leading up to Valentine's Day? And, more importantly, how can you intentionally create an atmosphere of love in your life?

Live on.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Obese Girl's Journey to the Chocolate 5K: Week 2

It's March 23 and the Chocolate 5K is finally here!  I'm looking all cute in my workout outfit (because that's Important) and I'm stretching and getting hyped like a boss. And I'm chuckling at how my students would laugh if they heard me say "like a boss." The surge of the crowd is overwhelming, the sun on the river is invigorating, and my team of loved ones is inspiring. We're all grinning and high-fiving and pumping each other up. The start is signaled and we're finally off. Two months of training and this is it! I'm happy...and excited...and then I'm slowing down...and falling behind...and waving my team to go on ahead of me...and my legs are hurting so bad I just quit. 

Yeah, that's pretty much how I envision it all going down at this point. Sounds about my luck. 

But it hasn't been all gloom and doom in Week 2. In fact, most of the week was filled with fun, fitness, and friends. (See, there I go talking about "fun" and "fitness" at the same time again. I'm tellin' ya, things are changing around here!) Here's where the learning curve took me this week.

1. Girls Just Wanna Have Fun. If you're like me and the besties, you can have fun anytime anywhere, as long as you're together. Turns out the same goes for getting together to exercise! (Sounds too good to be true, but I promise this ins't an infomercial.) We have all been so stir-crazy from the snow days, any excuse to hang out and get out of the house has sounded excellent. So when Rach suggested that we meet up to get our sweat on, we planned a healthy potluck and made it happen. Maddie and Bella played in the basement while the grown-up girls huffed and puffed our way (okay, maybe that was just me) through treadmill mileage and arms and abs videos. We laughed and talked, as always, but while burning calories! I'm hoping this becomes a regular thing, because it really was great. 

2. Stretch + Breathe = Ah-mazing! Stretch and Breathe class. It's harder than it sounds. Especially when it starts at 8:30 in the morning at the YMCA and you have to brave the cold and ice to get there. And it includes yoga, Pilates, weights, and barre elements. But I loved it. This was my favorite exercise class I have ever taken. If it were offered any other time besides Thursday mornings, I'd probably keep my Y membership and go every week. I'm hoping there are equivalent programs online so I can recreate the experience at home. Especially on days when I need a lower intensity routine. 

3. Rewards Work. Estefania and I hit up Dunham's together and enjoyed browsing the bright colors and soft fabrics. I rewarded myself with two new workout outfits, including my favorite: purple leggings and a coordinating t-shirt. Later that evening, when I wasn't feeling like hitting the treadmill, those purple clothes were calling my name. And a shirt that says "RUN RUN RUN" is not for lounging in! So guess what? I ran. (And later discovered, because I'm not very observant and because Adam isn't very good at putting things back the way he found them, that I'd been running on an incline the whole time, which made me feel even better about my progress!)

4. Icy Hot Doesn't. So here's the pickle, the conundrum, the catalyst for my dismal daydreams about my poor performance on race day: my legs. My shins have been just annoyingly sore for about a week now. I read about shin splints, diligently stretched before and after treadmilling, made sure I tied my new running shoes the right way. But after Thursday's C25K day, my shins went from sore to straight up on fire. Like, I wasn't sure I was going to make it up the stairs. After a struggle and another Google search, I set myself up on the couch with some ice packs and slathered my shins with Icy Hot before bed. Except when it's nighttime in the dead of winter, apparently that's a good way to freeze to death before your legs feel better. I actually got up after midnight, put on sweats and fuzzy socks, wrapped up in a throw blanket, then got back under the blanket and comforter, and was still cold and in pain. Lesson learned: Don't waste your money or your optimism on Icy Hot. 

So that's where I am now. I was planning to attempt another run today, but went sledding at my grandparents' instead, and trudging back up the hill with Bella (for two hours) has brought the pain back to my legs. It's embarrassing how I'm limping around here, seriously. So I'm counting it as today's workout. I mean, look how simultaneously strenuous and adorable: 

I sure am glad Nana got that pic of me falling on my back.

The question is how to move forward. If I allow my legs to rest, I'm afraid I'll risk losing the momentum and progress I've already made. If it's an issue of poor form (which, considering I'm the anti-runner, it almost definitely is), I've got to keep practicing to get better. But is there a point at which I'll risk hurting my legs so badly that I'll swear off running for good? I'm not sure. 

How do you keep going when the going gets tough? And, more importantly, what does that say about your character?

(When I put it that way, I guess I'll run tomorrow after all.)

Live on. 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Library Love

There I was with time on my hands and my promise to not buy books totally not on my mind: I almost bought a book. I wanted to find a book worth buying. I practically begged Kroger to sell me one. I circled the displays and shelves, flipped to back covers and front flaps, dug behind the face outs for hidden surprises. Nothing.

Okay, not really nothing. I'd just already read all the good ones. The gods of goals were watching out for me that fateful day. 

As I approached the checkout aisle, the need for a Plan B, a different approach to Operation: End the Reading Slump, became clearer than ever. None of the magazines, even the recipe booklets, even looked good. This. Was. Getting. Serious. 

I pulled in the garage and refused to get out of the car until Plan B was developed. Okay, maybe that's a little melodramatic and maybe I was avoiding carrying in all those groceries. But still. Plan B turned out to be a very sound tactical mission: I killed three birds (aka goals for 2014) with one stone (aka trip to the library). 

The Execution of Plan B: 

I stealthily opened the car door, slipping my feet carefully and silently onto the icy parking lot outside. Closing the door quietly behind me, I barrel-rolled to the left, jumped up to a crouch, and slid my hand up the car toward the handle on Bella's door. Reaching in, I unbuckled her carseat with one smooth, deft motion and threw her over my shoulder as we made a break for the library entrance, shielding her body and checking for the presence of enemies as we ran. 

Just kidding. Plan B went like this: 

When we got to the library, Bella came with me to the grown-up section where I hurriedly grabbed two titles, one from the New Fiction display and another from the Young Adult shelves. I tried not to scrutinize or over-think it, purely judging the books by their covers. Plus, I had limited supplies of Bella whispers, so time was of the essence. 

We stomped our snow boots across the building to the children's section where coats were discarded in an excited flurry and I was abandoned in favor of the train table. Picking out a comfy rocker, I opened The Map in the Attic, the book that had caught my eye quickly on the New Fiction table. 

A quick Goodreads search yielded a rating of 3.67 out of 5 stars, which seems low but is about the norm for anything I actually like. I wasn't familiar with the author, but Goodreads also informed me that it was the sixth book in a series. It was also not "New Fiction," having been published in 2010.  Not to be deterred, I opened it anyway. I got through about 25 pages before Bella came over with a book she found and asked me to read to her. 

I'd forgotten how much she loves the library. It reminds me of my own joys in the library of Ward Elementary, where I first truly discovered my passion for reading. And I love that I see that same excitement in her. Watch how she runs when she finds one she likes, how new ones catch her eye...

That is awesome.

After about an hour, Bella checked out six books, proudly carrying them to the circulation desk and handing over our library card. I'm pretty happy that one of those books has already taught her to sight read the word "banana." She also scored a Valentine's Day lift-the-flap book, which is going to be lots of fun and will hopefully put her in the mood to do some of the crafts I've been practically begging her to do with me. 

In the end, The Map in the Attic made the cut and came home with us, as did The Juliet Club, a Young Adult novel riddled with Shakespeare allusions. 

And as it turns out, I rather like fluffy mystery novels with obvious culprits and oddly formal dialogue. I finished The Map in the Attic today, just 24 hours after discovering it. I'm really surprised that it was my first completed book of the year, but I'm glad I silenced my inner book snob for this one.  Perhaps I will be turning over a new leaf as a reader in 2014. 

Three birds down: we had a mommy-daughter library trip, I read a borrowed-rather-than-purchased book, and I actually have a start toward my 50-book goal for the year. 

Much love, Library. Much love. We'll be back. 

How could you surprise yourself as a reader this year? And, more importantly, how can you intentionally cultivate a love of reading in those close to you?

Live on. 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

How to Not Be a Junk Food Zombie

Trapped inside the house, no end in sight. The only thing to do? Eat everything ever. Am I right or am I right?

I mean, I'm home all day without the watchful eye of another adult and I'm not on a diet, so what's keeping me from stuffing myself with chocolate chip cookies and chocolate milk like a junk food zombie?

Oh, just this little thing called intentional living, which means I'm also trying to be more aware of what I eat. Not full-blown mindful eating (which is a thing, Google's serious), but conscious eating. And it's working.

Therefore, what could have turned into an outright junk food zombie binge, well, hasn't. I'm pretty proud of that. Plus, I hear it's cold basically everywhere right now, which makes everyone want to eat, so it feels like a good day to share some recipes and snacks with you. Here's how we've been staving off the junk food zombies apocalypse around here: 

Banana Cake:

I made this banana cake earlier in the week as a treat for lunch with the hubs. I substituted whole wheat flour and considered using Splenda for the brown and white sugars, but I haven't had much success baking with it, so I opted for the real thing. I only had three bananas (because an adorable three-year-old ate one while we were baking), and it still tasted just fine; I was also a little unsure because they weren't super ripe, which didn't seem to matter other than making them more difficult to mash. Oh yeah, and I didn't have walnuts (therefore omitted) or buttermilk (added lemon juice to regular milk as a substitute). 

I didn't eat the whole thing with that fork straight outta the pan, I promise. I just tested a corner to make sure it was yummy before dishing it out to the fam. We also topped it with a basic vanilla glaze like this one. 

Blueberry Milkshakes:

I needed a little light snack before a workout, and I have never (ever, ever, ever) found a protein powder I liked (ever) despite spending way too much money trying different ones out. I'm more of a fruit smoothie gal. This totally made-up recipe turned out more like a milkshake, which I was totally fine with. 

Frozen blueberries, blueberry frozen yogurt, and a splash of milk! Simple, fast, and delish! In fact, I didn't get to finish mine before it was stolen by the banana bandit. 

We do have this little single-serve blender which makes shakes and smoothies way faster. You just take off the blender blades and replace with a sports bottle top. It's sort of similar to the Magic Bullet that was popular a few years ago, except it works a lot better than my MB ever did. 

Cherries, Berries, and Nuts:

Now, obviously I didn't make this. And I've actually never heard of the brand or product before. I picked it up thinking it would be a great topping for steel cut oats this weekend, but it is awesome all by itself! Plus, it rates an A- on Fooducate, so I'll take it!

Whole Grains and Bean Soup:

I love Bob's Red Mill. I've never had a product by this company that I didn't like. So, I picked up two of these soup mixes, thinking they sounded beyond perfect for sub-zero days. This one is absolutely packed with beans and grains (hence the name, I know) like red beans, pinto beans, lentils, sesame seeds, rye berries, some grains I've never heard name it. It's also a Fooducate A-.

There were a few recipe suggestions on the package along with the basic version, which is what I opted for. It definitely requires some pre-planning, seeing as how the directions say to simmer on low for 90 minutes. Here's where it got tricky.

I cooked this stuff for 3 hours! We haven't actually eaten it yet. The original instructions call for 4 cups of vegetable or chicken broth, and that's it for liquid. It doesn't specify to cover or not, so I didn't. For the first 90 minutes. I also added a total of 8 cups of water during the ordeal process. It just kept drying out and sticking to the bottom of the pan. I finally filled it back up with water and added a lid for the last hour. 

Maybe I just like soup with more broth and less crunch than some people? Not sure. But I am happy that tomorrow night's dinner is ready!

Crackers, Cheese, and Almonds Plate:

If you're looking for a snack or an appetizer (say, while your family is starving and you're swearing you really did put dinner on in plenty of time), do what I did: rummage around and throw together a sampler platter. Something with crunch (pita crisps, tortilla chips, multi-grain crackers), a cheese or dip (any variety of cheese, hummus, salsa), and whatever kind of nuts you like, and you're done. 

The three of us chatted and played around the table while our quicker/alternative dinner (turkey burgers on wheat with sweet potato fries) cooked alongside tomorrow night's bean soup. Bella hoarded all the crackers because they're so good! 

Junk Food Zombie Maggie would have ordered pizza when the soup wasn't done. Junk Food Zombie Maggie would have made chocolate cake instead of banana, inhaled ice cream instead of sipping a blueberry milkshake, scarfed Hershey kisses instead of a handful of trail mix. Junk Food Zombie Maggie would have spent the last five (six tomorrow) snow days sitting on the couch watching Judge Judy in her pajamas. 

I like Plain Ol' Maggie better. What a difference intentional living makes.

Fittingly, Bella and I listened to "You Are What You Eat" by Fatcat and Fishface on the radio this morning.

She also built a tower out of "white raisins" and helped with the kitchen chores after dinner. The best part about all this self-improvement is that I love the healthy, motivated example I'm setting for my daughter. 

Are you a junk food zombie at times? What triggers your transformation? And, more importantly, how can intentional living help you make better, more conscious decisions? 

Live on. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Money Matters

Have y'all seen this one on Pinterest?

Basically, for every week of the year, you add the corresponding dollar amount to a jar or other savings receptacle. So, for the first week, you put in $1. The next week, $2. And so on and so forth, until week 52 when you put in $52 and find yourself with the grand total of $1378. That's pretty good...almost $1400 in cash saved effortlessly (maybe?) throughout the year. 

I thought about accepting the challenge, almost Pinned it around Christmastime. And then I thought about Christmastime itself. In the month of December, which is one of the most expensive times of year for us, that's an extra $202 going into the jar. Riiiiiiiight. Not around here. That $202 (and then some) would be gleefully handed over for cookie ingredients, craft items, ornaments, wrapping paper, cute gloves, and other holiday necessities. 

In fact, starting in about February, I feel like I'd have a new use for that cash just about every week. It wouldn't be long before I'd give up and even spend what little bit I had managed to stash away. I just know myself like that. 

But in all seriousness, it seems like almost everyone I know is kind of strapped for cash right now, for one reason or another. It may be unexpected medical costs associated with our new insurance that just went into effect, or the leftover impacts of Christmas, or being a college student who is suddenly and tragically responsible for higher rent, whatever. My friends and family and I shake our heads as we talk about the costs of groceries and gas and ways that we are trying to live more economically. Just don't tell my mom you're being frugal (or trendy, fashionable, or environmentally-conscious, for that matter) via consignment shopping unless you're prepared for a bedbug lecture. And trust me, you aren't prepared. There is no preparation for a lecture from Nana. 

So, since today was pay day for me and my financial goal for this month was to get back on track with our budget, I thought I'd share a little of what works for my family. 

Disclaimer: I'm no financial guru. I do not live a debt-free life, and I envy those who make such drastic changes and are able to pay cash for everything and have no credit card payments or mortgages or car notes. I just don't think that approach is for everyone and I know it would never work for me.  I have a very bad habit of being unintentional with my spending, and we all know that is not going to fly around here this year!

The major thing about our budget system is that we don't cut out many "extravagant" or "extra" things. We just try to plan for them instead. I will never stick with a budget that won't let me buy scarves or go to the movies just to eat popcorn or continue to hide my natural blondness beneath this beautiful red dye.  But, rather than swiping my debit card a gazillion times a month and then being shocked as the money drizzles away, I start the month with a list of our bills, other expenses, and fun things we have planned. Then, I figure out how much each of those things will cost and plan accordingly. 

The first step, obviously, is the bills. Today, I made a list of all the bills we will have to pay in February and how much each costs. I have also added a "bill" that is just a transfer from checking to savings. You know, the whole "pay yourself first" thing that is so stinking hard to do. That's pretty much all this step entails, but it is important because it informs step two. And it keeps us out of jail, bankruptcy, foreclosure...all those nasty things that happen if you skip step 1.

In step two, I make a list of other expenses, those we will pay for with cash. The goal is that the bank account is only used for bills throughout the month. If we don't have cash for it, we don't buy it. These expenses are gas, groceries, and dining out. Once I have those figures, I also add entertainment and extras to the list, adjusting up or down if needed. When the cash for each of these is gone, it's gone, so I budget a little high for gas and groceries. 

Each of these "other expenses" gets an envelope. The cash goes in and the transactions are recorded right there on the envelope, so we can see where our money went. Intentionally. 

(This month we have extras and rewards instead of entertainment because
we are still bribing ourselves into working out and most of our extras are entertaining.)

Whatever is leftover cannot be transferred to another category. Some people put the leftover aside for vacation or a splurge, but for us it will go into the home improvement fund. 

For February, this system isn't making a staggering difference for us, mostly because we have quite a few extras coming up (family photos, a weekend in Cincinnati, a fundraiser dinner) and we had car insurance due this month. And we bought a treadmill. But in a normal month, it easily saves us a thousand dollars or more! 

I didn't come up with this idea all on my own, but I made it fit our situation and can tell you from experience that it works, especially if you're like me and you like to shop. If you'd like to hear what the guru himself has to say about the Cash Envelope System, you can read it here

Next up: I tackle signing us up for online bill pay! (So long overdue, I know.)

What do you think? Could budgeting like this work for you? How could you improve your financial situation? And, more importantly, how could that improvement help you live more intentionally? 

Live on. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Dream Home Tweaks

Manhattan Emily
Thanks again to Manhattan Emily for the weekly linkup!

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I just love our new house. Really. Like, I said it to the hubs just yesterday evening. And on Sunday evening. And on Saturday. We have been here for almost five months and the new hasn't worn off yet. I am still immensely thankful that our old house sold quickly (one showing, not quite four weeks on the market), that our fantastic real estate agent was tireless in showing us properties and relentless in negotiating on our behalf, and that we are in a beautiful home that truly is a dream come true.

But all these days off lately mean one thing: HGTV. I watch very little television in comparison to other people I know. When I do watch something, it’s either junky reality television or home improvement. And when we first moved in here last September, I couldn't imagine wanting to change a thing. Now that I've had some time to really look around and see how our furniture fits in the space, I'm ready to make it our own.

Don't get me wrong. It’'s a super nice house. But it was built in the 90's and could use a little...sprucing up. So after being home for five, going on six, straight days, I've made a list of all the projects we keep talking about. It's time to get started.

Top Ten Dream Home Tweaks:

Starting with those that could be accomplished in 2014...

1. Change all the light fixtures. I literally want to change almost every single light fixture in the house. With the exception of recessed lighting and the chandelier over the kitchen table. All the rest....gotta go.

The main reason? Gold. On gold. On more gold. They didn't seem like such a big deal when we viewed the house, probably because they fit in with the style of the previous owners. Not so much with us. I think we could sell them on Craigslist or something.  Some people probably think they're really nice. They're just not “us.” I'm also toying with the idea of spray painting the chandeliers. Sorta like these from Apartment Therapy.

Bright color? A different metallic finish? Not sure. Suggestions appreciated!

2. New cabinet hardware in kitchen and bathrooms. Main issue here? Gold again. We also have gold door knobs, etc. throughout the place, so I know I can't eliminate the whole gold theme. But they just look cheap. Basic round gold knobs. We are going to start with the master bath, because with a new light fixture and new hardware in there, I think we will get a pretty big change for a minimal monetary investment. But there's more than twenty gold knobs in the kitchen, and they can run as high as $10-$15 for one

We may experiment with spray paint there, as well.

3. Move the wireless router! Do you know where my wireless router is? If you've ever been in my kitchen you do. It's there, right smack on my granite countertop, in front of my glass tile backsplash. Ugh. I've asked the hubs to move it a few times. I've even threatened to unplug it to motivate him to move it. It's still there. I'd do it myself, but apparently it involves running cables, not just sitting it somewhere else and plugging it up.

4. Spruce up the goldfish pond. I made the new neighbor who introduced herself while we were busy hacking away at waterlilies promise not to tell the old owners what we were doing. They'd probably reconsider. The landscaping here is beautiful and extensive. But the goldfish pond was almost completely taken over by waterlilies last fall, and it was surrounded by a huge patch of 3-4 feet tall zinnias. Those suckers were huge. So we cleared all that out and left an ugly mess just in time for winter. This spring, we want to re-run the pump the old owners left for the pond and add a bench and a painted stone mosaic around it, like these.

Having that pop of color year-round, and the fact that it's a lot less maintenance than the zinnias,
is something that I'm really looking forward well as the project itself!

5. Salsa garden! I was really surprised when we moved in and discovered a garden plot in the backyard. How could we have missed it, you ask? Because the yard has a lot of little garden plots. They're just all filled with flowers, shrubs, ornamental grasses, and trees. So when we found tomatoes, I was happy! I wanted a square foot garden at our old house and never got it. This year it's totally happening.

I want a square-foot garden, like this one.

6. Fix the spotlights. Almost all the houses on our street have landscape lighting and/or spotlights in the front yard. Ours does too. They're on a timer and they add a lot of drama to the appearance of our home, as well as being totally functional in that they make it easier to get around the yard at night. However. We drove up one evening shortly after moving in to realize that only two of them were working! The one on the front door and one highlighting a totally random shrub on the corner of the house. First thought was to replace the bulbs, but that didn't work. We figure it will be about $20 per light to repair, so it will add up, but should be a relatively simple fix that will make the outside of our home fit in and look much more contemporary.

7. Update the decor with cool thrifty finds. I really like flea markets and secondhand stores for home decorating. The hubs and I have a lot of fun rummaging around old and odd stuff, so it's kind of like a practical date. We have the essentials pretty well covered, but the truth is that this house is so much bigger than our old one, it looks kind of bare. I can't wait to find some cool pieces for the mantle, an area rug for the living room, some neat fabric to reupholster our dining room chairs, and lots of odds and ends to jazz up the whole place.

Now, on to the long-term projects…

8. New tile on the main floor. This is something else that didn’t bother us at first, but the more we’ve looked at it, the less we like it.

It’s boring. It’s textured. It gets filthy. And it’s everywhere. Kitchen, foyer, door to the deck, fireplace…it must have been a good deal in it’s day. But we’d rather have something with a little more personality. And I want something low maintenance.

9. New tile in master bathroom. The goal is to rip out all this tile and the plastic shower insert, then re-do the shower, tub, and floor in matching tile. 

I hope we can do it someday.

10. Convert a section of the basement storage into a dedicated fitness area. The basement has a finished family room, a bedroom, and a bathroom, and two unfinished storage areas. There is room for us to finish a section and move the treadmill and other workout equipment in there. I’m not sure I even care about finishing it right now...I could just workout over there anyway. But the hubs wants it as a project, so why not?

I can't wait to get started on making this home more "ours!" Not only will I love the finished product, but I am excited to spend time with my family, painting and planting and getting our hands dirty!

What home improvement projects are on your to-do list this year? And, more importantly, what memories can you make while you make peace with your surroundings? 

Live on. 

Monday, January 20, 2014

Silver Linings

It's been a pretty happy day around the Prater household. And with a potential snow day looming on the horizon, I anticipate another pretty happy day around the Prater household tomorrow.

For example:

Bella was proud of her Play-Doh creation. 
Myles thought it looked tasty, but resisted temptation.
We enjoyed the last of Aunt Deb's homemade salsa, 
and pledged to grow a salsa garden this year. 
We built an "airplane trophy," which looked a lot like an airplane
perched atop a block tower. 
And after a healthy dinner of slow cooker barbecue chicken and veggies,
we hit up our favorite fro-yo shop for dessert. 

Add to that the massive to-do list I tackled, and it was an overall good day.

And then. 

Bella picked the most depressing bedtime stories ever. At least for a mama who was already ignoring the little pinpricks of sadness at the back of her brain this evening. Love You Forever and If I Could Keep You Little. I mean, seriously. Two of the most emotional children's books ever. I was starting to get a little teary as I read. I don't think she noticed. 

But now, as I sit here listening to the peaceful lullabies of instrumental Beatles tunes played on marimba, I'm thinking of endings. Of life-altering events. Of family bonds and growing pains and life lessons.  It doesn't help that "You'll Be in My Heart" just started playing. Deep stuff. Thanks, Massively Depressing Children's Literature and Supposedly Uplifting Online Lullaby Playlist. 

Basically, I'm going to avoid the urge to turn this into a philosophical personal essay. In fact, I may just go write a philosophical personal essay once I post this. 

I have just a few points to make before I go, and I'll be quick so I can turn off the saddest rendition of "It's Raining, It's Pouring" ever known to man. 

1. Endings Suck with an intentional capital S.
2. In the endings we find strength, growth, and the peace of knowing that the memories we have created make our lives worthwhile. Silver linings. 
3. I hope my daughter never has to learn that endings Suck, but I know that one day she will and that the silver linings will make her stronger. 

Live on. 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Obese Girl's Journey to the Chocolate 5K: Week 1

I. Did. It.

It was not a beautiful thing, but it felt great. You'd a thought I ran a whole 5K as happy as I was, dancing on that treadmill and sending sweaty selfies to the besties.

That's right, I completed Day 1 of the C25K. 

I discovered some fun fitness secrets (Did I just say "fun" and "fitness" in the same sentence? Who am I?) this week that I can't wait to share with you. Let's just get to it!

1. The Secret to Day 1: Find Your Stride. When I took my celebratory treadmill-display-photo at the end of my workout, I noticed a negligible difference in the distance and calories burned as compared to my previous attempt and usual walking routines. This is because I played around with my pace, looking for something that allowed me to sustain the workout without dying, and ended up slowing down the walking portions.

I kept the warm-up and cool-down pace at 3 mph and the jogging pace at 5 mph. But, the difference that helped me find my stride and keep going was slowing the walking intervals to 2 mph for the first 15 seconds or so, while I took a drink of water and recovered my breath. Then, I bumped it to 2.5 for the remainder of the time. By the time I had to kick it back to 5, I felt pretty good. It was a nice change. After talking to the besties at dinner last night, I think I will even slow my jogging down to 4 or 4.5 for the next few workouts while I work on stamina.

2. The Secret to Breathing and Focus: Yoga. An hour of yoga prior to running improved my focus and breathing like no other. Because I was really aware of my body, I was able to breathe the right way (in nose, out mouth) and power through the tough spots. I probably won't be able to fit in an hour each time, but doing a little yoga before hitting the treadmill is now a top priority of my training routine.

3. The Secret to Stamina: Hide the Display. Those seconds just don't tick by fast enough, do they? And when I'm focusing on how slowly the clock is going in comparison to how quickly my heart is pounding out of my chest, I feel like I'm going nowhere fast. I'm counting down the seconds, wondering if I'll make it. I'm calculating how many more sets are left. How long til cool-down? It muddles up my brain. So I've started covering the display with my towel. That way, I can focus on the important things. Yes, like breathing and not falling.

4. The Secret to Motivation: Music. Thursday evening, I was being unmotivated on the couch, not even really wanting to make dinner. As I sat there mindlessly deleting junk emails from my phone, I saw that I hadn't opened the latest newsletter from Tone It Up. I'm super glad I didn't delete it! Along with the link to their arms and abs routine was a post about the playlist they had created on Spotify. Now, I have a Spotify account, but I'd never actually used it until now. It is awesome! Especially for working out! There's a whole workout section with playlists for running, both low and high tempo, yoga, basically anything you could want. And it's free! Seriously, even if you're a Pandora lover or Songza fan, like me, you have to check it out.

Honestly, I was more than happy to get up and get moving after that. And the arms and abs routine was pretty cool, too.

5. The Secret to Saving Money: YouTube. My mom used to get these exercise video catalogs that sold tons of VHS and DVD workouts and could easily set you back hundreds of dollars in building an at-home exercise library, but I can't even imagine buying a single workout DVD right now. Thanks to my $35 investment in the Google Chromecast and the Tone It Up girls, who post awesome free workouts on YouTube, I have the video library more than covered. If you haven't seen the commercials for Chromecast or talked to someone who has one, it's basically an Apple TV but cheaper. After a super easy setup, you can play YouTube videos (and media from a few other apps, like Netflix and Pandora) from your phone, tablet, or computer, right on your television. It's both iOS and Android compatible, so don't let the Google brand fool ya like it did the hubs (who was super uninterested in it until he realized he could use it, too). 

We don't have a wifi-enabled DVD player in the basement, so the Chromecast is perfect for me! I just used my phone to find the workout I wanted, tapped the Cast icon, and started sweating right along with Katrina and Karena. You can find information about Chromecast here and the Tone It Up videos here. And then you can thank me later. ;)

6. The Secret to Keeping it Up: Rewards. I'm a big fan of bribery. I'm bribing myself right now. I suggest you do it, too. If I get in three workouts before Friday, I'm going back to the sporting goods store to snag some more awesome gear. It's pay day week, and I know I have to plan our monthly budget, but I'm actually going to budget that in. The hubs wants a little shopping spree, too, and since he can run 6 miles and I can't, I'm gonna have to budget him in as well. But that's okay. Rewarding yourself is a great way to keep going.

7. The Secret to Giving Back: Charity Miles. In keeping with intentional living and generosity, I'm excited to tell you about Charity Miles. Estefania shared it with me and Rachel a couple of days ago. I haven't hit the treadmill since downloading the app this afternoon, but I really like it. Once you create a free account, you select the charity you want to contribute to and start walking or running. When you're finished, Charity Miles will donate .25 for every mile you completed! How cool! The way I understand it, you choose your charity each time, so you share the love or dedicate all your efforts toward the group nearest and dearest to you! I noticed that there were similar apps in the app store, so feel free to share your opinions of the others. And for more information, click here.

Chocolate 5K, here we come! 

How can you take small steps to improving your lifestyle? And, more importantly, how can you improve the lives of others at the same time?

Live on. 

Friday, January 17, 2014

A Far Cry From Eating Superman's Cape

I had plans for this Friday evening that did not involve Beautiful Bella. Grown up plans. Plans that involved the Hubs, that new movie Elysium, the fireplace, a snuggly blanket, and (after much deliberation via group text with the besties this afternoon) Chinese takeout.

Beautiful Bella had plans for this Friday evening that did not involve Mama and Daddy. Granddaughter plans. Plans that involved spending her snow day packing toys and crayons and Exciting Things in her overnight bag in anticipation of her sleepover with Nana and Poppy.

And then.

Poppy had a fever. I swear, my whole family has been sick all winter. Ugh. Suffice it to say all involved parties were disappointed.

Hello, Family Date Friday. New plans:

The relatively new Cadillac Cafe in town was a pretty good substitute for a romantic dinner via chopsticks, the cute diner decor and the fact that it was something different probably being its most important characteristics. Our waitress was one of my students whom I love dearly and I enjoyed seeing her and listening to her recommendations (fried pickles and the grilled chicken sandwich, by the way). We finished a pretty normal family dinner and topped it off with hand-dipped ice cream for dessert.

A few minutes into her Superman ice cream cone, Bella announced, dead serious: 
"Mama, I think I just took a bite of his cape." 
She also promised me his powers if I tasted it. 
This might be my favorite thing she has ever said. 

My plans for this evening were a far cry from eating Superman's cape, but I can't complain. 

Well, I mean, I'm not flying around and don't have x-ray vision, so that's kind of a bummer.

How can you get creative when things don't work out the way you'd planned? And, more importantly, what memories can you make from those unpredictable moments?

Live on. 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

A Whim and a Wonderdog

Sometimes we do things without much planning around here. It's kind of weird. I'm either micromanaging every minute of our days, or I'm making decisions on a total and complete whim. One extreme or the other. It's just what I do.

While driving home from a similarly whimsical weekend vacation in Gaitlinburg last Fall, Adam and I decided to get a dog. It started like this: "Want to stop and get a dog on our way home? Okay." (But seriously, who does that?) It ended after several hours at PetSmart, where Bella fell in love with this adorable little guy.

Meet Myles, named for his discovery on I-75 and the fact that had traveled several miles from his original reported location by the time a rescuer retrieved him.

There were many, many dogs in the adoption center. We ogled puppies and played with very large, very hyper, very timid, and very beautiful animals. But this little guy, a three-year-old Lhasa Apso mix with an under-bite and a heart murmur, was the one for us. 

He came to us leash-trained and house-broken, with a quiet, hesitant bark and unexplained, yet-to-be-conquered fear of stairs. He dislikes dog food, leading me to believe that he was fed from the table by his previous owners. We often wonder if he was mistakenly lost. It's difficult to imagine anyone purposely abandoning him. 

I have never been a successful pet owner, despite a few attempts. But this time, we found our match. Myles the Wonderdog is a loving and gentle pet. We are thankful to the Humane Society for introducing him to our family.

He's supposed to be Bella's puppy, and while they do play great together...

 (Yes, that's a purple shirt on a boy dog. And a ponytail. He likes it.)

he often follows me around the house, and his favorite place in the world seems to be right about here.

If you can't tell, that's my leg.

He likes to chew on socks and roll in the snow. He loves to be brushed and wear shirts. He runs to the door as soon as he hears a car in the garage and he waits in the kitchen for a treat when he knows it's time for one. His favorite snack is peanut butter, especially these no-bake doggy treats I found on Pinterest. He's cuddly and playful and generally adorable.  And he seems as grateful to have found us as we are for the same.

Myles the Wonderdog: a wonderful dog, wonderful companion, wonderful addition to our family, the wonderful result of a wonderful whim. 

Because, you see, what begins as a whim, very often ends as a cherished memory. Or at least that's how it tends to work out around here. I hope it stays that way.

Whim on.