Friday, August 29, 2014

Fresh Inspiration

Sorting, discarding, reorganizing…I’m plodding along, continuing my efforts to declutter and simplify.  Last weekend I decided to tackle cookbooks and a bulging folder haphazardly filled with to-be-filed recipe clippings.  I realized I couldn’t keep putting off this task after the folder was bumped and fell from its precarious perch on a shelf, scattering its contents across the floor and into Misty’s water bowl! 

What dawned on me as I was working on this project was how our cooking preferences and habits have changed over the years.  Before our daughter was born, my husband and I devoted a greater portion of our leisure time to culinary exploration, but nowadays, there is far less time (and money) for elaborate experimentation in cooking.  Our free time has also shifted focus to some of our other interests and pursuits outside of the kitchen. 

Because our cookbooks and recipe clippings reflected our old lifestyle, our collection was in definite need of updating.  I edited the number of complicated multi-step recipes and those with obscure ingredients that had not been part of our menu rotation for several years.  Our cookbooks now fit neatly on one set of bookshelves instead of on bookshelves, under the microwave and atop the refrigerator!  Editing and updating our recipe binders also opened up space for the loose recipe clippings.    

Although my husband and I still enjoy cooking, and on occasional weekends or for a holiday or special event, we may even still dabble in a recipe with more complexity, focusing on “what is” instead of “what isn’t” happening in our kitchen (similar to my last post about the garden) helped me rein in our cookbook and recipe clutter. 


In simplifying our meals, we haven’t skimped on fresh ingredients and have actually gained fresh inspiration.  I enjoy creating my own dishes and improvising meals much more than I ever did in the past.  Earlier this week, I harvested a second round Pattypan squash from our garden, and along with some chicken sausage and Swiss chard already on hand, I assembled a simple stew with onion, garlic and cannellini beans. 
This morning, I picked our first ripe pineapple heirloom tomato, and my mouth has been watering as I’ve been contemplating how to enjoy such a flavorful tomato this evening, perhaps in a Caprese salad or simply on its own?  (We gave my dad an assortment of tomato seeds from one of my favorite suppliers, The Gifted Tomato on Etsy, a local farmer and fellow “mompreneur,” and my dad, in turn, gave us some of the seedlings he grew.  The delightful Black Cherry tomatoes I featured in my last post were also grown from The Gifted Tomato’s seeds.)

This “what is” perspective is proving to be helpful in many different situations, including decluttering in the kitchen!

How do you incorporate a "what is" perspective into your daily life?




Saturday, August 23, 2014

Much More Than Simple Provisions

A garden's simple provisions are much more than meets the eye and the taste bud!  I've been contemplating this perspective, trying to focus on what is instead of what isn't flourishing in our garden this season.  Rather than thriving as it has in past summers, our garden has been faltering, yet amazingly and thankfully, we are still harvesting and enjoying plenty of rewards.  

Excitement in the form of baby squash...


Enjoyment of our first Pattypans of the season...

Delight as we bite into fresh off the vine, still warm from the sun, juicy orbs of pure deliciousness...


Fun with our new "friend," Tom Ato...


Nutrients to fuel our minds as well as our bodies.
Tasty flavors and a taste of accomplishment.
The garden can be such a great provider!


Sunday, August 17, 2014

From Seed To Seedling

"A single green sprouting thing would restore me...."

                                                          - Jane Kenyon

Sunflower's seed shell still perched atop its leaf

Along the journey from seed to seedling, literally and figuratively, we experience an uplifting range of emotions from hopefulness and anticipation to excitement and gratitude.

Broccoli "hearts"

I recently planted more of our Bobcat Garden seeds, sunflower, calendula, dill and broccoli, and I felt a burst of excitement upon discovering teeny tiny, yet obviously mighty broccoli sprouts pushing their way through the soil in only three short days.  A couple days later, perky calendula and sunflower sprouts popped through the soil, and lastly, the dill seedlings made their appearance several days later.

Calendula seedlings

I love the simple (and in this case, almost instant!) gratification of planting seeds, watering and watching them emerge as seedlings.  This process reminds me, metaphorically, that when we recognize growth potential and persist in bringing it into fruition, there can be the promise of progress, of reward and fulfillment.  There is always inspiration to be harvested from the garden.

Dill sprouts

What grand gifts can grow from little seeds!

Monday, August 11, 2014

A Dream Party How To

The Antonia room at Casa Munras hotel in Monterey
was the venue for last month's birthday dinner  

How to throw yourself a dream party for a milestone birthday or other major celebration?  Surely, each of us envisions a slightly different dream, but here’s how I visualized mine and created a real life version of this vision last month...

Consider your guest list and venue options.  In my situation, I needed to be cautious about my expenses, so I decided on a “girls only” gathering to limit the number of guests which allowed me to host the party at one of my favorite venues. 

Find a venue with a “feel good” ambience in which you are comfortable, relaxed and happy.  For me, it was the private dining room at a local hotel with a fireplace, plenty of windows and natural light and doors opening out to a patio.  I had enjoyed meetings and another 50th birthday party for a dear friend in this space.

Create a gathering filled with camaraderie.  A longtime dream of mine had been to gather together several women from different chapters of my life, a gathering I was certain would generate the comfortable, uplifting energy of sisterhood.

Choose activities or entertainment for your party that you and your guests will find inspiring and enjoyable.  Consider sharing one of your passions if you think it will be of interest to your guests.  For a yearly “girls weekend” tradition with a circle of local friends, I’m usually the coordinator of what we fondly call a bonding activity, so planning a similar sort of bonding activity for last month's party was my immediate thought.  With this idea in mind, I scheduled an afternoon SoulCollage® (one of my greatest passions!) workshop, and to guide our group, I hired a fellow facilitator and new friend I met during training earlier this year.  Guests were encouraged to “Celebrate Your Inner Party Girl,” celebrating a part of themselves that spontaneously came to mind.  It was an opportunity to share this creative, intuitive, insightful process that has been so powerful and beneficial in my own life.

Setting up for our SoulCollage(R) workshop
Whether it's an overall theme or simply an influence on the décor and mood you wish to create for your party, incorporate some of your favorites.  As shared in my previous posts, the "palette" for last month's celebration was inspired by my love for the sea.  I also wore a sea glass pendant during the afternoon's festivities.  The hotel provided centerpieces of floating roses from their own garden, and I was reminded of my newfound appreciation for these beautiful flowers, their sculptural petals, luminous colors and lovely fragrance. 

Sprinkle lightheartedness throughout your party alongside the deeply meaningful moments.  My “sprinkles” were humorous photos included in my laptop slide show, bringing my childhood stuffed panda, Angela, as a guest of honor, serving sangria during SoulCollage® and indulging in a just-for-fun wardrobe change between collaging and dining (as encouraged by my husband and daughter because I found very inexpensive outfits to wear!)  Tears of joy, gratitude and love flowed as freely as laughter and smiles.

Set the framework for your party and make adjustments as needed during the planning process, then let go, jump into the flow and just enjoy being in the moment on event day.  Because I settled on a "big girls only" celebration, I was concerned about excluding my dad, husband and daughter, so the best solution was to invite them to join us at dinnertime.      

Wrap your entire celebration in love, and fully immerse yourself in this love and the emotions and energies of the day.  Focusing on the immensity of love surrounding and infusing last month’s party was an amazing experience, one which will resonate within me in the days, months and years ahead.     

If you’re concerned that hosting a dream party would be frivolous, consider the possibility that instead of creating frivolity, you'll be creating a long lasting gift of wonderfully heartfelt memories for yourself and your guests.

How do you imagine your dream party?!



Saturday, August 9, 2014

Bliss In A Box

Bliss is…sharing a bit of bliss!  I transformed mint tins into “Bliss In A Box” party favors for guests to take home after last month’s celebration (which was bliss in itself, by the way!)
How to create "bliss"...
Create templates for mint tin lid and bottom, inside and out;
trace around templates on back side of printed cardstock for outer lid and bottom,
cut and adhere with glue stick, trim to fit. 

Trace around template on back side of felt for inner bottom, 
cut, then tuck inside tin (hold with a glue dot);
wrap ribbon or other trim around bottom half of bottom outer sides
(lightly apply tacky glue to underside of ribbon or trim),
position seam at front and center and hide with adhesive-backed jewel.
Trace around template on back side of parchment paper
(printed with your own personal message) for inner lid,
cut and adhere with glue stick.
Fill tin with your choice of trinkets (mine, of course, were beachcombing treasures!)


Embellish the outer lid with your own "bliss in a box" message 
along with any additional embellishments.
Your "bliss in a box" handmade favors or gifts can be uniform or one-of-a-kind...
I created unique boxes with each guest in mind (favorite colors, styles, etc.)

Remember tins come in different sizes...I "lived and learned!" 
I had already prepared cardstock based on one set of templates
before I realized the tins I had saved were in two sizes.

What will be inside your "bliss in a box?!"

Friday, August 8, 2014

Bliss Is...

Love note accompanying poem at last month's birthday party

Bliss By The Sea

To see the sea

Is bliss to me

A place of peace

And reverie


Cloud dappled sky

Sunshine’s golden glow

Warm, pliant sand

Beneath my toes


Powerfully, gracefully

Pelicans soar

Over the waves’

Resonant roar


Frolicking dolphins

And majestic whales

Frothy surf erases

My footprint trails


Languid otters

And curious seals

Beachcombing treasures

The shore reveals


Frosty sea glass

Driftwood and shells

Wandering and collecting

My worries are quelled


To see the sea 

Is bliss to me

Here my soul

Is most content and free

- Lisa Handley
The past week was far from blissful as shared in my last post, but it’s actually during such times when we’re standing on the opposite side of the spectrum that it can be helpful to remember what bliss means to us.  Pausing and stepping into a “bliss is” moment of thought taps into gratitude, one of the most powerful stress reducers of all.
Segueing into to a few more birthday-inspired posts, I recently defined my version of bliss to party guests in the form of the above poem and accompanying “love note” which were placed at each table setting for dinner. 
I also scattered other sea-inspired elements throughout the party with seashells surrounding roses (provided by the hotel’s own garden), place cards embellished with driftwood and tiny clam shells and handmade party favors (which will be the focus of tomorrow’s post!) 
Included on place cards were guests' entrée, dessert and beverage orders
to assist servers.  Mine was chicken Marsala, goat cheese cake with
berry compote and regular coffee. : ) 
What's included in your definition of bliss?  May you enjoy many blissful moments this weekend!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

When Last Week's Zig Went Zag

As I wrote ten days ago about entering a new decade, I was also intent on entering a phase of writing and blogging more consistently, back to my original three to four days a week, but when last week’s “zig went zag,” that intention was placed on a brief hold.

A few days before Misty's ordeal
Monday after receiving the all-clear from her vet,
Misty looking none the worse for wear, thank goodness!

Long story short, our one year old cat Misty accidentally got hold of a tiger lily, toxic to cats, and four vet visits, a few hundred dollars, four sleepless nights and a jumbo amount of sick-to-my-stomach worry later, I’m relieved and thankful to report she’s okay and received an all-clear report from her vet on Monday. 

Meanwhile, I was so anxiety ridden by this unexpected “zag” that I was affected physically.  I realized as much ground as I've gained in reducing stress, it’s still a work in progress and realistically will always be so.   We cannot, of course, remove stress entirely from our lives, but we can figure out what works best to ease our minds and bodies in these circumstances.

My “go to” stress relievers include remembering to breathe deeply, releasing tears if they well up from within, seeking support from loved ones, trying to remain calm and clear in the midst of a stressful situation (which I can do, but need to do so without directing the stress inward and holding it somewhere in my body as is my tendency), connecting with nature, paying attention to and feeling gratitude for the little things (like a gracious driver who motioned me to merge ahead of him on a busy street after one of Misty’s vet appointments) and taking action on something within my control, like cleaning, decluttering and reorganizing.  Another approach to stress relief I’m trying to work on is remembering to have faith that things will work out, perhaps not always in an expected way, but in some way.

So, when last week’s “zig went zag,” I employed all of the above tactics.  My husband had booked our family on a whale watching boat trip, only a couple hours out on the water, last Friday evening.  Since Misty was stable, we felt it was safe to go, and I allowed myself the diversion of observing humpback whales breaching, fluking, lobtailing, slapping their pectoral fins on the surface of the water and feeding amidst hundreds of sea lions.  Some of these majestic creatures glided so close to the boat that we caught the strength of their whale breath!  This connection with nature was amazing and offered me a bit of a reprieve from the week’s stress.  A couple days later we were supposed to leave on two-night family camping trip, but because Misty wasn’t entirely out of the danger zone yet, I stayed home and began tackling a much needed overhaul of our spare room/home office/art and craft storage (which spread to tackling other hot spots throughout our house!)  Not the relaxation and pleasure of camping, but still an effective antidote to stress.

I couldn't capture a decent shot of the whales with my
point & shoot, but here's a so-so photo of the sea lions.

Meanwhile, I have a couple more birthday-related posts in various states of completion, so hopefully, this week will “zig” along more smoothly, and I can finish and share them with you soon.

What are your favorite methods for managing and relieving stress?