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On Sustainable Lunches

Another weekend has come and (almost) gone.  Parent reports, snail mail composition, cleaning the apartment, and grocery shopping were on a self-sustaining to-do list.  To step away from the hustle and bustle of a busy weekend, however, I decided to take a walk.  I have been decidedly more active recently, now that the weather is beginning to warm up (my spirit animal would be a bear, I definitely hibernate in the wintertime).  It is sunny and brisk and all I needed was a spring jacket.  All the usual paths seemed a little too stale, however, so I thought I’d pack up a small lunch for Sawyer, who is spending the day in studio with architecture work up to his eyeballs.  There is something quaint about a paper bag lunch.  With a collapsible bowl of goldfish and a slice of pizza left over from last night folded into a sustainable cloth wrap, I made my way to campus.

Four days out of five, I bring my lunch to work.  Not only do I save money by not eating out on my lunches, I also have time to go for walks on nice days instead of spending time in my car driving to a suitable lunch place and then sitting in a Panera/Subway/etc. to finish eating.  I never go anywhere without my trusty eco-friendly orange spork, which I’ve had since my undergraduate career.  I also have collapsible food containers that – while are made of silicone – I still use out of guilt (I can’t bring myself to throw them out and have them sit in the landfill for…well, forever.  However, I not-so-recently discovered Bee’s Wrap, which is handmade by a dedicated group of women in Bristol, Vermont (shout out to my home state!).  It is a sustainable, compostable, eco-friendly beeswax and cloth food wrap that I can use with just about anything.  Bee’s Wrap is a Green America certified business with a vested interest in the environment, healthful kitchen habits, and social change.  I couldn’t be more smitten with the product they create, and the wonderful honey-wax smell that the wraps have is just icing on the cake.

Real talk: Duke University’s Center for Sustainability and Commerce says the Average American generates 4.3 pounds of waste per day, all adding up to a whopping 220 million tons of waste per year.  55% of that waste is channeled into landfills, even when two-thirds of our household waste can be composted.  I have written before about the benefits of composting, especially in a small apartment setting, and continue to stand behind those sentiments.  I am also focusing on my foods’ carbon footprint.  In-season fruits (or going without), filtered tap water rather than bottled, and certified organic foods versus synthetic pesticides and fertilizers are all things I am focusing on when I travel to the grocery store.  There are so many different ways to reduce our carbon footprints that it’s easy to take the first step toward creating a more sustainable future, while also moving ourselves toward a healthier and more thoughtful lifestyle in the process (I highly recommend checking out Racing Extinction’s “Eat Better to Save Animals” interactive page [equipped with educational links galore, I might add] if you’d like to receive further information on how you can reduce your foods’ carbon footprint).  I’m not perfect, however: I buy myself the occasional fuji apple, I forget to bring my reusable bags into the store with me until I’m halfway down the checkout line, and even wander into Trader Joe’s from time-to-time.  I’m guilty of this, mostly because I sometimes feel overwhelmed by the price tags.  But I forgive myself knowing that my intent is to live a more thoughtful and simple lifestyle, and for the most part, I do that (click here if you’d like some advice on how to go organic on a budget!).IMG_6790.jpg

Finally, my lunch bag.  If one isn’t careful, one can end up with several different lunch bags, but only use one or two of them.  I knew that I only ever wanted one lunch bag, so I needed something that I knew I wouldn’t “grow out of” in a year or two.  So I picked a coated polyester Doggie Bag made by Scout.  It’s refreshing color scheme and simple pattern will, in my opinion, remain “in style” for a lifetime (and I’m hoping that’s how long this bag lasts me!).  With the bag’s dimensions, I am able to fit a lunch, little bottle or thermos, and a snack easily inside.  This past summer I used it to tote a six-pack of hard cider to a BBQ in Conshohocken.

When I decided to simplify my life, I -understandably – already had stuff.  I had to be selective about the things I threw away – knowing that many of them would end up in landfills, unable to break down and decompose.  Items like my collapsible containers were given new life, as I couldn’t get rid of them, and they also inspired me to shop more selectively in the future (glass pyrex is my go-to choice now).  I kept the plastic spork I had gotten during my undergrad rather than swapping it out for a more preferable bamboo or SpudWare version.  Moving forward, I am striving to be as simplistic and thoughtful as I can to reduce my footprint on our world that needs us to speak on its behalf.

Happy munching and lunching, friends!

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On Perseverance

Oh, man. After a night of hard cider mixed with champagne, a tacos-for-dinner date night with Sawyer, a good nights’ sleep, a few Saturday morning mimosas, and a slow in-service work day today, I am finally ready to face the beast that was my last week at school.

The week started off wonderfully, we decorated our Valentine’s Day bags and discuss who we love (i.e. mommy, daddy, brother, sister, etc.) on Monday. Valentine’s Day, Tuesday, was a success because we had music class and sang songs about love and friendship, and then we had our Valentine’s Day party! The cupcakes, CapriSun juice packs, and the scavenger hunt for love bugs were all big hits and the kids were excited to participate in the activities. But then, Wednesday happened. It must’ve been a combination of the Valentine’s Day sugar rush wearing off and the cold weather keeping us cooped up indoors, but the children were little devils. For the rest of the week, “no running in the classroom!”, “we don’t hit”, and “please say your sorry to your friend” were staples in the audio reverberating around my classroom. My assistant teacher Alyssa and I joked about making tape recordings of our voices for these specific occasions so we could have a break.img_6883-2

Don’t get me wrong, there were moments between all the chaos that were sweet. I appreciated every hug my students gave me when I came in in the morning, the kiss on the cheek I received from one of my students on Friday afternoon, and the happy smiles I could see after finishing a good book during Circle Time. Those moments shine through the darkness of a tough week, but it was a tough week nonetheless.

I’ve heard that October and November, especially on new teachers, are especially difficult. I started teaching in early December, and as such, I haven’t yet experienced the DEVOLSON (“Dark, Evil Vortex of Late September, October, and November”, coined by the anonymous teacher-blogger who authors Love, Teach). But if there was a DEVOLSON-type phase for mid-February, I am stuck in the thick of it. According to the New Teacher Center, I may be entering what is called the Disillusionment Phase of my first year as a teacher. While I don’t have many of the things that elementary and high school teachers have coming up – such as back-to-school-night, parent-teacher conferences, and my first formal evaluation (yet) – there is certainly a certain pressure one feels while taking care of some odd 20+ 2/3 year-olds.

It’s an exciting time, teaching this age group, because everything is new and developmentally stimulating. Going potty by oneself and living to tell the tale is a major accomplishment and deserves a high-five each and every time thereafter. Making paper plate art, tracing the letters of the alphabet (and sometimes our names), and beginning to pencil circles and figures on our own is a prodigious achievement. I enjoy every overly-excited explanation of exactly what happened when they left the room with Alyssa to go potty, as well as every hug, high five, and hard-earned sticker that I give out to my kids.

I have recently begun work on returning to school for a masters in Education, catering toward elementary levels. Finally – I tell my loved ones – I’ve found my passion. While I’m excited to take these next steps, I’ll certainly miss the classroom I have found myself in charge of now once I’ve completed my certification.

Persevering through difficult days/weeks has been made easier (and more simple) knowing that I have found such a passion in the education field. Even on the toughest days, I know that my presence has impacted someone, that I have made a child happy by sitting with them to do a craft or giving them a high-five after a successful potty mission. After a long day, I look forward to coming home, relaxing with my cats on the couch, and setting up a craft for the next day, despite how tired out I am from a day of chasing children around. Instead of feeling like the “Fun Police” when I ask a child to stop running around the classroom four or five times, I look forward to the next activity I get to do with them.

Perseverance after a long day/week at work is similar to perseverance when striving for a more simple and thoughtful lifestyle. Instead of dwelling on what could be and how much there still is to do, I have chosen to focus on the accomplishments that have already come out of my work and look forward to the next venture that will bring me closer to my goals. There are so many unpleasant things already, I choose not to focus on the negatives from a draining day and instead try to refocus my energies on the positives – whether they be the small instances of success as a teacher (i.e. a child remembering their “please” and “thank you” during lunch, the hug I received from a student as soon as I walked in the door that morning) or the fresh start each new morning provides. These are the simple things that allow my days at work to become thoughtful and more simplistic in themselves.  Not to mention it’s always a great feeling to tack up last week’s Activity Boards with student work, photographs, and a nice write-up of our activities and reflect on how much we accomplished together.

I would love to hear your stories on perseverance, especially when it comes to the work environment! Any job, any profession – teachers aren’t the only ones who have bad days! Let me know how you handled the stress and what kept you going when you felt drained at the end of the day.

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On Becoming a Teacher & A lesson in Minimalism

I am finding that – with Sawyer’s hectic school schedule this semester – I spend a lot of mornings alone, even on the weekends.  Today was such a day.  Sitting at the table alone with toast in one hand and a pen and pad of paper at the other, I brainstormed lesson plans for my classroom.  While I have been absent from cornsilk doll, I swapped out employment.  In the wake of current politics, I decided that it was finally time to stop working a day-to-day job and find a career that speaks to me and influences the world in a positive way.

That career, for me, has been teaching.  I am currently at a Pennsylvania private school teaching a classroom full of eager three-year-olds about friendship, animals, and (in the interest of the upcoming holiday) what it means when we celebrate Valentine’s Day.  I have been teaching for almost three months and I could not imagine doing anything else now that I’ve discovered this passion.  However, I am finding (and my best friend, a first grade teacher, can also attest to this) that the profession easily allows for the accumulation of stuff.

Stickers, art supplies and examples of completed projects have all found their way into my previously tidy little apartment.  Not only did I not have enough space for the three binders I bought to keep student records, teaching records, and substitute plans and guides, now my space found itself home to labeled banker boxes of children’s books, projects pages that have yet to be used, and boxes upon boxes of craft supplies waiting to be squabbled over by acutely excitable toddlers.

What I have found is this: having previously been practicing a more thoughtful and minimalistic space, I have been picky about what I have invited into my space now that I’m a teacher.  I have kept a fastidious watch over my Year-At-A-Glance sheet that I’ve made as well as the lesson plans I’ve drawn up and planned my classroom activities up to a month in advance.  This allows me to both be prepared but also retain my own sanity as well as the sanctity of my accommodations.  (At least the kittens don’t seem to mind the new stuff that does make it’s way into our apartment.  Their favorite thus far has been the easter egg submarines craft, that are now roly-poly toys filled with catnip or treats, depending on how generous mom and dad are feeling that day…) img_6780

I have been pleasantly surprised at how contained and simplified I have been able to keep my teaching when it comes to bringing work home with me (and lets face it, we all bring work home with us at one point or another, some of us more than others).  I often find myself completing crafts for the week ahead so that my class will have examples to look at while they complete their own craft.  This means I have to have a small stockpile of paint, construction paper, and other crafting supplies at my fingertips while at home.  I have a small box of paint, paper, cotton balls, pipe cleaners, etc. that I keep under the bed for just such occasions.  It is nice to keep the box out of sight when it’s not being used, and it doesn’t take up the vital space I need in closet space (thank goodness!).  The binders have found a home at the bottom of my linen closet.  They fit easily between the portable folding ironing board and the wall, so they aren’t too much of an eyesore and they act as a cat deterrent as well (they used to hide back there and I’d close them in the closet without knowing it!).

My kids take their projects home with them at the end of the month.  Therefore, I don’t have to purge the classroom quite as selectively as I do the finished “examples” I have made of our projects that somehow weasel their way back into my space when I come home at night.  In my last recycling bin, I disposed of a construction paper 2D cheetah face, a painted egg carton steam engine, and a trace-your-own constellation of the Big Dipper that I made with star stickers and chalk.  Example work (because who doesn’t need examples when you head out to your “next big thing”?) that I’ve kept have been a cupcake liner panda bear and a thumbprint painted tongue depressor caterpillar; they both live in a pouch in my teacher binder with lesson plans, Year-At-A-Glance, and reference sheets.

Keeping papers, materials, and clutter in general at a minimum as I continue to work in this profession will be a constant goal of mine.  Keeping the chaos of stuff down to a dull roar is all I can ask for as I continue to learn what I will need in terms of supply and demand for the classroom.  I realize that the collection of children’s books will only grow larger as I progress as a teacher, but hopefully they will be put to personal use as well when children of my own come along (don’t worry mom, it won’t be any time soon!).  A small bookshelf will be installed in the next couple of months to help organize the classroom from the personal books, and a secretary desk is also a dream of mine to keep clutter at bay on the dining table (right now I’m using the table as a base of operations for all things school-related and it gets to be a little overwhelming sometimes).  img_6781

But, in the here and now, keeping the stuff at bay seems to have become easier today than it was a month ago, and I can only hope that it will continue to grow easier as the time passes.  I remember my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Baldwin, who only needed to make minor adjustments to her lesson plans for each year, because everyone knew exactly what we would learn (for example, we would make model globes, and drop an egg in a box rigged to survive a two story drop from our teachers’ roof) and everyone looked forward to that.

I would love to, one day, be that kind of teacher.  Until then, we’ll keep it down to a dull roar.

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On the Enneagram

After a month’s long hiatus, I am finally ready to renew my commitment to this blog.  I apologize to all those who have supported me along this journey and have thus been disappointed in my commitment to writing here.  I want to thank you for not giving up on me, and assure you that you mean a great deal to me.  I hope that my blog will continue to instills inspiration and provides knowledge.  But enough – we know how much time can be wasted by steeping ourselves in our regrets; I will move forward with a strengthened pledge to write, here, several times a week.

Two weeks ago, my mother and I were talking over the phone during my commute home from work.  It was a conversation like most of our conversations, “how are you”s and “what have you been up to”s were exchanged before we reached the meat of our chatter.  We talked about work, food, and – chiefly – family friends.  One of her friends, Alison, had introduced her to a book that  Alison’s son, Alex, uses quite a bit in his profession as a mental health therapist.  My mom told me that she had been skeptical at first, and disappointed in the results that the free online test had delivered, but as she read more about her results she began to see the correlations within her life that backed the tests’ findings.

I couldn’t tell you when I became interested in personality tests (perhaps its all the Criminal Minds that I’ve watched over the years): but using my Facebook as a testament, I do enjoy taking them (whether it be a psychologically-backed test like Myers Briggs, or “What Disney Princess Are You?”).  So when my mother introduced me to the enneagram, I was unabashedly interested in her results.  I had her read long explanatory paragraphs out of the book she had gotten from Alison about the enneagram and its results.  When I arrived home from my commute, we hung up and I took the online enneagram quiz that my mom had inboxed me while we were talking.

When the Enneotype “Type One: the Perfectionist” flashed across the screen at the end of the test, I wish I could say I was surprised.  There were a couple of Types that I wished I could’ve tailored my answers toward – but lying to myself wouldn’t get me anywhere.  Thus, thirty minutes after having hung up the phone with my mother, I called her back to tell her my results.  She dutifully read me excerpts from the book about Type One’s, and I felt a combination of elation and revulsion at the words of a stranger describing my personal life, code of ethics, and deep set beliefs with astounding accuracy.  Twenty minutes later, I hung up the phone with my mom for a second time, with her promise that she’d send me the book ASAP.Screen Shot 2017-01-26 at 7.55.02 PM.png

As with most things, the enneagram has a margin of error involved.  This margin was described to me as such: “red isn’t just one shade, there are thousands of different shades that fall into the category of red.”  True (and sadly, I can’t put the whole blame of this on Crayola’s shoulders alone).  When I received the book my mother sent me, The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery by counselor Ian Morgan Cron and Enneagram master teacher Suzanne Stabile, I immediately flipped to the “Type One” chapter.  The first section written down breaks up the Type One personality into three subcategories – the healthy, the average, and the unhealthy.  Obviously, I have traits that fall into each of these subcategories.  I kept reading.  I nodded at positive judgements and sighed over negative revelations.  I learned about “Ones” as children, “Ones” in relationships, “Ones” at work.

You may ask, why are you writing about your self-help enneagram book on a blog about living as thoughtful and as simple a life as one can manage?  That’s a straightforward question that deserves a straightforward answer.  I am writing about the enneagram because it has explained things to me about the way I think and act that had not been made clear before my introduction to this book.  It has interpreted my need for a clean bathroom sink, an organized kitchen cabinet, and an artfully arranged coffee table bedecked with perfectly asymmetrically stacked coffee table books and a cheerful candle not as Obsessive Compulsive, but as having high expectations of myself and others – the way in which I look at the world.  Thus, it has become clearer to be – through this study – why I want a simple, thoughtful lifestyle.

I haven’t truly focused on myself in my blog, as of yet.  Rather, I have focused on the things, my surroundings, that have been made simpler by my sorting, dismissing, and cultivating hand.  I have focused on the how but not the who.  Before reading this book, I would have explained leaving the discussion of myself out of my blog as a way to allow you – my readers – to imagine yourselves in my stead (sort of like the way a realtor impresses upon those who are selling their home that they must remove their photos from the walls and personal affects so that potential buyers can imagine themselves in the space).  Now I realize that I have been leaving myself out of my writing because I am flawed – imperfect in my search for the wholly simplistic, thoughtful lifestyle.  IMG_6771.jpg

This study in enneagrams, starting out as a fun quiz and a book to quench my curiosity, has grown into something that has allowed me to take a step back and observe my actions in a way that aids my understanding and expands my knowledge as to why I want the lifestyle that I practice.  I have suggested taking the quiz to my friends, Sawyer has taken the quiz (he is a Type Seven: the Enthusiast), and, obviously, my mom has taken the quiz (we’re still encouraging my sister to take it, as we are very curious as to what her results will be).  If you are interested in taking the quiz I took, it’s free and takes about 5-10 minutes to complete.  Please, please feel free to contact me about any comments or questions you may have!  I enjoy hearing from you and welcome any and all feedback!

Have a wonderful Super Bowl Sunday, all!

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A Simpler, More Purposeful Look at New Year’s Resolutions

Happy New Year’s Eve, everyone!  Tonight is the night that we lift our heads and hearts to the heavens and both hope and resolve to do “better” in the coming year.  Whatever the “better” might be for each one of us, however, brainstorming new year’s resolutions is the shared tradition of many.  For 2017, though, I urge us all to forgo the “sparkly new self in six easy steps” approach to our resolutions and aim for substance rather than hasty keywords.

What I mean by substance rather than keywords is this: swap out that gym membership you would rarely use to donate that money to a substantial cause, such as a foundation you appreciate or a cause you support.  Instead of making a frivolous purchase on new clothing that you’ll wear a couple times before donating to GoodWill or giving away, invest in decor items for your home that you know you’ll keep for a long time and that you’ve been eyeing for a while but haven’t had the money or reason to make the purchase.  Swap out that old futon for the couch you’ve always wanted.  Buy that piece of art from the local artisan you love.

Resolve to delete without opening those pesky “a better you in 3 weeks or less” emails you’ll receive starting tomorrow morning.  There is enough negativity spread around without putting yourself down as well.

Make firm arrangements to improve and enhance your community.  My mother gives 4 hours a week to Meals on Wheels to give back to her community, I volunteer at my local ASPCA on the weekends to socialize with cats and walk and groom the dogs who are still waiting for their forever homes.  In other words, find something that you are passionate about within your community and act to support and strengthen it.  Be uncompromising when it comes to your betterment of your home, neighbors, and surroundings.

Give back.  Support our earth the way the earth supports us.  For those fortunate enough to have beautiful lawns and gardens, plant trees and create compost hubs.  For those of us in urban areas, freeze your compost and donate it to your local compost sites (a quick Google search of local compost drop-offs will bring up agencies where you can drop your compost on a weekly/bi-weekly basis).  Unplug electronics you aren’t using.  Give up eating meat and dairy products for one day a week to cut down on gas emissions and carve away at our dependence on the meat and dairy industries.  Shop local, visit a co-op rather than chain grocery store.  Turn your heat down when you aren’t in the house.  Donate to organizations working on the benefit of all things.

In short, everyone, we can all feel successful in our resolutions if we intend to achieve something of consequence rather than those ambiguous self-improvement goals that are mass marketed to the populace and rarely taken seriously.  When you truly dedicate yourself to a resolution that betters more than just yourself, whatever it may be, the sense of achievement becomes greater and your community become impenetrable against adversity.

In 2017, I would like to lower the carbon cost of what I eat by buying my food products from local co-ops and minimizing my meat and dairy consumption.  I would love to hear from you about your resolutions for 2017!

Still need some ideas?  Here are a couple amazing sites that might help you get started!

 

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On Building a Simple and Thoughtful Lifestyle, Beginning with Gratitude and Mindfulness

My mother and I had a telephone conversation this morning that I can only describe as warm.  It left me feeling good.  It made me miss home and her advice and the ability to meet for lunch in town during a busy workday or stop by after dinner for a movie.  My relationship with my mother is not perfect – it never has been or will be – but it is one of love and respect for one another.  After I hung up with her, the warmth I felt was wonderful, and I wouldn’t be doing her justice if I didn’t mention my gratitude for her presence in my life.

I’m not too proud to admit that being grateful for the special things in my life – be it little or big – is difficult to do every day.  However, with the holidays coming up I’m trying to be extra mindful of all the wonderful gifts in my life.  Despite the everyday stresses, I am working toward a better awareness of the gifts I’m given every single day.  Enjoying the now, the present moment, is so much easier when you aren’t focused on hindsight or foresight.

The topic of gratitude and mindfulness is near-and-dear to my heart.  I truly believe that if we choose to live in a more mindful atmosphere and allow ourselves the reflection on our gifts, a simple and more thoughtful lifestyle can be borne from that choice.  It is something that must be worked at – I am always working toward that lifestyle – but the rewards reaped from that effort far outweigh that which might be forfeit.

I’ve gathered together some simple tips and tidbits that have helped me focus on the here-and-now rather than the could’ve-been’s and can-be’s.

  1. Unplug it.  Feeling inundated with too much noise?  Whether it be real noise such as the television or radio in the car or digital noise on social media and the Internet, we are always actively searching for that next bit of entertainment.  With so many options of things to fill your mind up, there is hardly any room for peace.  I like to practice at least 30 minutes of quiet in the morning and at night to focus on the positive aspects of the day and remind myself of all that there is to be grateful for.
  2. Slow down.  Similar to unplugging ourselves from all the constant dings, pangs, and beeps of the world around us, slowing yourself down leads to gratitude and higher productivity levels.  When we’re no longer multitasking during every item on our busy daily agendas, we are given a chance to notice what may have been lost in the more active moments of the day.   Taking a few moments to focus on breathing or one thought you had that you promised yourself you’d come back to allows us to focus our energy into the special things, both big and small, that we might overlook each day when rushing from one thing to the next.
  3. Let go.  Life is hectic, especially during the holiday season.  Instead of asking yourself one hundred questions about the presentation you gave at work or the list of groceries you gave your significant other that might be missing one or two items, allow yourself to stop.  When the action is over, let it be over.  Fretting over what cannot be changed only creates unneeded stress and shortens the mental view of the “big picture”.
  4. Enjoy life.  Hand-in-hand with letting it go, a lot of us – myself included – allow our fretting to get in the way of our enjoyment of activities and things that usually bring us happiness.  Instead of enjoying a movie with your significant other, you’re anxiously going over the notes on your company’s latest acquisition that may have had an error in them.  Instead of going out to dinner, you stay home because you don’t want to see the dip in your finances.  This one is difficult, folks, and I am still struggling with it, but it allows for so much clarity once it’s achieved even just once that you’ll want to continue achieving it over and over.

These four guidelines have allowed me to feel more gratitude and enable more mindfulness throughout my day than I had before.  They enable me to focus on the already-great aspects of my life rather than the could-be-better’s.

The holidays are a time to reflect on the gifts you have been given as well as the gifts you continue to receive.  Permitting yourself to see how fortunate you are enables you not only to decompress before, during, and after your day but also reveals those things that should be celebrated.  For me, I feel the most gratitude for my parents at home in Vermont, my sister away at school in New York, my little family here in Philadelphia, my brilliant friends both near and far, the roof above my head and the space beneath.

During the season of giving, I’d love to hear some of what you are most thankful for receiving.  Large or small, no story is insignificant, and I can’t wait to hear them!

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Deliberate Dishes : Holiday Cranberry Mimosas

Sawyer and I celebrated our Thanksgiving 2016 without family this year.  Both of us had a slew of emotions about this, but we made the day incredibly special from dawn ’til dusk (and beyond, as dusk is around 4PM nowadays).  As I proclaimed in my last post, I am not a professional chef – or anywhere close.  But I did want to do something special in the morning as my family usually had a nice breakfast together before the cooking starts.

Forgoing any sort of extreme breakfast foods (anything that needed more than a toaster), Sawyer and I had jam on toast with decorative holiday mimosas.  Entering adulthood in Vermont, I’ve been spoiled with a craft brew house around every corner and the ability to buy alcohol in a gas station convenience store, grocery store, etc. instead of the designated spirits shops that I have to visit when I’d like a drink in Philadelphia.  None of the brews and ciders I enjoy are trucked down to Philadelphia, so I have been branching out into new breweries.  However, I can always fall back on old faithfuls like a good prosecco – which is just what happened for Thanksgiving.

Here’s what you’ll need (and, trust me, it’s simple):

  • 1 lime (organic)
  • 1 teaspoon organic cane sugar (Wholesome brand or similar)
  • 1 bottle pure cranberry juice (Lakewood brand or similar)
  • 1 bottle of your favorite bubbly
  • 1 12 oz. bag of organic cranberries (Fresh Meadows Farm or similar)
  • Bamboo toothpicks (however many drinks you’ll be serving is how many toothpicks you’ll need)

I knew with making a cranberry mimosa that I needed to break the bitterness a bit (mainly for Sawyer’s tastebuds, as I have a hankering for sour/bitter), so I experimented with sugar rims.  I used fresh squeezed lime juice to dip the rims of my glasses in before coating the top with sugar.  I dedicated a clean plate for both the lime juice and the sugar coating in order to keep the rest of my glass spotless.

Second step is add the bubbly – however much you would enjoy.  I tend to lean toward 1:1 when making mixed drinks, so I poured my bubbly to about halfway up the glass.  Add to that the cranberry juice and you’ll have a completed drink.

One final touch I added to make the drink more festive was to create a cranberry garnish.  I picked out 3 cranberries per drink to skewer on a bamboo toothpick and lay across the rim of each glass before serving, just for that special oomph to bring the simple drink to the next level.  IMG_6737.jpg

As quick and easy as they are delicious, I felt confident in sharing this simple yet adorable holiday drink with you all!  Cheers!

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On Ringing in the Holidays

Tomorrow will mark the first holiday that Sawyer and I will not be at home with our families for.  While we are both a little sad to be away from our families, we’re excited to be spending this time together.  Our first holiday meal together seems (at least to me) to mark a special milestone.  That being said, I wanted to make this occasion memorable.

I’ll be honest here, I am not much of a cook.  Attempting to serve a full meal for Thanksgiving, then, will be a momentous enough occasion to make the day noteworthy (or haunting, depending on how the cooking goes…).  However, my father and I are looking forward to spending time on speakerphone with each other as he talks me through some of the family recipes.  I have already boiled the cranberries and set them on the counter to cool and it’s feeling more like the holidays already with the apartment smelling like the sugary cranberry sauce that I so enjoy.

Sawyer’s family doesn’t adhere to any holiday traditions (as far as he’s concerned), so my family’s traditions will be carried on in our little apartment.  My father’s side of my family has always prepared the Thanksgiving feast with homemade recipes passed down from my grandparents.  My father is, as I have mentioned, dedicated to the idea of my carrying on the family tradition when it comes to the food.

A quick trip to Joann’s Fabrics allowed me to create a lovely dual-layer table runner for the occasion.  I laid a quick and easy light green burlap beneath a pretty red velvet to add texture and interest to the table.  I avoided any expensive accoutrements to spare my nerves when it comes to mixing kittens with hopes of preservation.  A quick arrangement of red berry stems and green roses in three eye-catching vases intermingled with a couple of candles and voilà; a simple yet beautiful centerpiece.  Not to mention a hand-poured spiced cider candle creates a homey holiday aroma!  IMG_6733.jpg

In keeping with tradition, my mother has always broken out the Christmas tree on Thanksgiving day.  She loves decorating the tree with the whole family together.  Sawyer and I have gotten live trees in Christmases past, but with an apartment with a beautiful, rich blue rug, we opted for a 4’ artificial tree this year (which we got for a steal at Michael’s this past week).  Tomorrow, Sawyer and I will also be decorating our tree, to honor the family tradition.  We have many different holiday decorations to spread throughout the apartment, but we have a special place in our hearts for the Vermont-crafted painted gourd ornaments.

While it’s going to be a full day of food, fun, and memorable moments, and I couldn’t be more excited to celebrate another holiday season with our little family, I cannot forget what is important this holiday.  There are hundreds of people fighting for their basic human rights in North Dakota today, tomorrow, and – I expect – through the holidays next month as well.  Remember to keep those water protectors in your thoughts, as many of those peaceful protestors have roots tied to an essential role in the birth of this Thanksgiving tradition by sharing the gift of food – and life – to the pilgrims.  Give thanks for your gifts: clean water, a roof over our heads, a feast on our tables.  And if you can, give back to those who need our support, and who supported us when we needed it most.

 

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On Admiring Craftsmanship

There are many things I miss dearly about Vermont.  One of those things would be working in the local-artisans-only art gallery and craft center, Frog Hollow.  Recently, I’ve been receiving text messages from my old coworkers at the gallery with photos of themselves with some artwork and well-wishes.  I miss the camaraderie and atmosphere of the gallery significantly more than the beautiful work we safeguard there and cannot wait to visit when I’m back in the area.  So when I woke up this morning, on my first day off in five days, I made myself a cup of tea.  At the stove, I couldn’t help gazing at my only seasonal decoration that I’ve set out thus far – an Amy Felske doll named Pennywort that I bought from the gallery before I moved to Philly.

Pennywort has been a focal point in a couple of my more recent posts, especially as October 31st draws closer.  Today, though, Pennywort’s craftsmanship spoke to me.  In fact, I took her from her usual spot on the corner of my walnut cutting board (a beautiful gift from a friend) next to the stove to the kitchen table with me so that I could inspect her over my tea.

First of all, I have to say that I’ve never been a “doll person”.  As a little girl, my parents gave me American Girl Dolls to play with, but they didn’t see much use and primarily sat at the back of my closet, buried under a mound of clothes.  My younger sister was much more interested in dolls than I ever was.  After a trip to Shelburne Museum, where I mistakenly wandered into one of the old houses that had hundreds of century-old dolls encased in glass, dolls haven’t captured my interest.  In fact, I find that most dolls create in me a frightening reaction such as one generated by Chucky or Annabelle lore.  Thus, it took me by surprise that I so enjoyed Amy Felske’s work that I brought one of her dolls home with me.  Little did I know that this doll would become my autumn display centerpiece.

Felske is meticulous to a fault.  The strawberry blonde yarns that she utilized for Pennywort’s hair is not only twisted and twirled for texture, but thinned in places, and thickened in others.  Her hands have individual fingers, and her right hand is clutching an iconic broomstick.  Her eyes have pupils and emote a certain manic witchy glee that brings her to life, in a sense.img_6723

As I sat sipping my tea and looking at Pennywort, I began to notice small intricacies that I hadn’t seen before.  For example, Felske lined the rim of the felted witches hat with beads set at understated intervals to add texture and interest.  Each tiny bristle of her broomstick is cut at an individual length and attached to the stem of the broom, made from a twig that Felske most likely picked up on a walk through the woods.  She sanded the twig, removing the bark and roughness so that it looked more like the polished wooden brooms that folklore is so fond of pairing with witches.

The outfit that Pennywort has donned is another gorgeous addition to an already spectacular work of art.  She has a base layer skirt which is part of the foundation that allows Pennywort to stand upright, covered by two lovely layers of skirts in different earthy browns.  Felske then tops her work off with a whimsically witchy brown shawl, held in place by a purple beaded broach.  img_6725

But the feature that I find loveliest, out of all the spectacular detail, is Pennywort’s nose.  More specifically, the wart on the nose, characterized further with a single thread poking out to symbolize a hair growing from it.  Witches have forever been stereotyped with large noses and warts, and the attention to detail that Felske demonstrates in this piece is remarkable.   img_6728

With all of this wonderful detail created by a talented local Vermont artist, I haven’t felt the need to acquire any other autumnal decorations.  As I wrote about in my last post, I used to bedeck my space with cheap plastic decor, only to throw it away at the end of the season.  But with the addition of Pennywort to my little apartment, I have no need for those easily acquired and more easily discarded items.  It has been a wonderful reminder of Vermont, craftsmanship, artistry, and a little touch of fantasy each day that Pennywort has been standing on my countertop.

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On October & Halloween Celebrations

October is one of my favorite months for many different reasons.  The weather is starting to really cool down and the leaves are beginning to change to those vibrant oranges, yellows and reds that everyone loves to admire while both on the trees and on the sidewalks.  Fire pits seem to give off an extra special something when people are burning them and the smokey wafts on the air is a trademark of October.  All of my spooky favorites are back on Netflix for binge-watching after work curled up in a snuggly sweater that had been locked away for the last handful of months.  October is also – for me – the beginning of the holiday season, because Halloween is a chance to shine when it comes to creativity (and we all know I love a good dress-to-impress get-together as well as a chance to get my hands on some fun arts and crafts projects).

As a child during the month of October, my parents put me on a Halloween float with the neighborhood kids that trooped around the town center as we threw candy to passer’s-by and those who lined up to see the parade.  I can remember the costumes I showcased on that hay bail float – from Dorothy (with a stuffed animal likeness of Toto in my basket) to a cheerleader to a penguin (which many people mistook for a skunk even though my mother put in the hours to create adorable webbed orange feet).  I would go trick-or-treating with my younger sister under the watchful eye of my father around our neighborhood circle when I was younger, and with my sister and a few friends once we were old enough.  My mother always went the extra mile during Halloween time, stretching spider webbing across the entire face of my childhood home, putting scary figures in the windows and playing spooky music to really set the mood.  My neighborhood often put on a Haunted Forest the week or so before Halloween where all the neighborhood kids set up a station throughout the wooded path through the middle of our community.  I was always the first station (The Witches’ Brew) with my childhood best friend.  We handed out spooky treats like Cauldron Cakes and Monster Eyes for people to nibble on as they explored the woods.  I have extremely fond memories of October.

I have carried my love of Halloween and October with me each year, and each year I find ways to make the month special.  I’ve posted a couple of photos of my witch doll, Pennywort – created by Vermont artist Amy Felske – before, and I even got into the holiday spirit with my choice of cabernet.  Now that I’ve left my teens and young twenties behind, I’ve also tried to leave behind the cheap plastics that can be found in all types of spooky forms around this time of year.  No plastic cauldrons, instead, glass beverage dispensers or pitchers filled with sangria.  No more glittery plastic pumpkin decorations, instead, gourds and mini pumpkins from the local co-op.  When it comes to Halloween (and the following holidays), I don’t play in the minor leagues anymore.  I want to be as opulent, grandiose, and fabulous as my parents made Halloween for my sister and I as children.  img_6717

So when Sawyer told me he didn’t have any ideas as to what he wanted to dress up as for Halloween this year, I immediately went to the drawing board.  Last year, we teamed up to become a steampunk version of the Mad Hatter and Alice, so this year I thought a duo, or “couples” costume, was also a good idea.  As a child, I adored Disney movies.  My favorite of all these Disney movies – and I know this as fact, you can confirm with my mother – was Beauty & the Beast (so I can’t tell you how excited I am about the live-action version that’s coming out next year!), but a close second to that must have been 101 Dalmatians, because my fascination with Cruella De Vil has been, seemingly, life-long.  You could not believe how excited I was to find out that faux fur is back in fashion for the fall!

“I’m going to be Cruella de Vil and you’ll be a dalmatian!” I told him animatedly.  While he wasn’t thrilled about the idea to begin with, I think it’s been growing on him.  He has been interested in all the thoughtfulness I’ve been putting into the items I’ll be utilizing in my costume.

How is your Halloween simple, then? you may ask.  Well, not only have I cut down on the trash output I create by reusing beautiful decorations year after year rather than buying new plastic ones each season, but I also try to create costumes from clothing and accessories I already own the majority of.  When buying Halloween costume goodies, I tend toward locally owned thrift stores and independent markets, as well as supporting artists who hand-crafted their items like so many wonderful people with Etsy shops (I am an Etsy fanatic when it comes to hand-crafted, one-of-a-kind decor and accessories).

To keep my costume simple, I try to stick to items that will live up to more than one wear.  If I’m only going to wear a spandex catsuit for Halloween, there is no need to purchase it.  To emulate Cruella’s trademark black and white hairstyle, I am thinking of wearing a black feather hairpiece and pulling the rest of my hair to one side.  A fashion-forward LBD (little black dress)?  No problem, I’ll look in my closet.  It is part of the fun to use what I already have to create something eccentric, unique, and electrifying for the occasion.  img_6718

I know I’ve been hitting you all over the head with this Reduce Reuse Recycle mantra, but it truly does create and maintain a simpler, more thoughtful lifestyle.  I have not felt hampered at all when it comes to more extravagant occasions.  The thought you put into styling your space for a get together is more important than them money you could spent to create a quick set up.

I would love to hear stories of Halloween get-togethers past or costume ideas and successes!  Please do comment here, it would definitely get the creative juices flowing for all of us as this wonderful holiday approaches.