welcome ... enjoy yourself

Monday, March 31, 2014

today i'm thankful for

seeing birds emerging around the city

having time to enjoy beautiful weather

taking three trips to the Milwaukee Art Museum in one week

spotting the first flowers of Spring

feeling my body grow stronger from all my roller derby practices


watching my first baby seeds popping through the soil

time to clean and make our apartment feel even homier

Ben and Jerry's core ice cream flavors

finally getting to downsize to my Spring jacket

a tasty smoothie on a Monday morning

seeing some of my favorite new parents at mass (thanks for reading Jess!)

my husband who whistles the Robin Hood theme song, makes the best fried rice, and loves sharing a life with me

Friday, March 28, 2014

pretty seed catalog

Seed catalogs combine my loves of gardening and photography into bound pages of beauty.  Usually I just flip through whatever old catalogs I have laying around my house, the ones that are several years old that I inherited from fellow gardeners.  But I recently found a new favorite catalog produced by Baker Creek Heirloom Seedscalls the Whole Seed Catalog.  I first saw the catalog on Pinterest, then heard about it again from a friend, then realized it was made by the same company that was responsible for an awesome gardening book I had checked out from library.  Basically all signs in the universe were pointing me towards this seed catalog. 

I was so excited about this catalog I was willing to pay for it - and it was well worth the $7.95 cost.  The catalog includes 350 pages of seeds and also features information about interesting farmers, seed saving tips, recipes, and quotes from people like my heroine Vandana Shiva.  Ordering the catalog gave me the extra excitement of waiting for it to arrive in the mail, and I'll be able to have it on hand for seasons to come.  (For those not on top of ordering your garden seeds yet: you can currently get the 2014 catalog for only $4!  Quite the steal :)

Seed catalogs are so exciting.  They hold so much possibility and garden dreams.  The Whole Seed Catalog has especially nice pictures, and like I said, the extra features add something special too. 

There were so many varities of vegetables, fruits, and flowers in the catalog that I had never even heard of.  My favorite was the Michael Pollan green tomato.  I decided I needed a lot of seeds this year and might have gone a little crazy with my Baker Creek seed purchases (unfortunately the Michael Pollan was sold out).  But I know I'm supporting a good cause, and it'll help me have a beautiful vegetable garden this season.  So thanks in advance Baker Creek for a tasty, beautiful, heirloom garden.   

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

four simple goals: march (check in)

It's that time again!  Time for a monthly goals check in...already...how does this happen so quickly ever month?These are the four simple goals I set for myself this month: 

1. Edit and print five photos: I've got my photos picked, just need to order them!
2. Monthlong Apartment Therapy Cure: Nowhere close to finishing this.  But I did make a list of things I want to work on in our apartment, so it was worth putting on my goal list just for getting that list made.  Having that list makes our apartment tasks seem more doable and less intimidating - already we've bought shelves to help organize our kitchen cabinets, bought new lights, and worked on a few small things outside.  So if I would have called this goal "start the Apartment Therapy Cure" I could have checked it off. 
3. Purchase and start seeds: Done and done.  I went completely crazy with this one.  After you see my post on starting seeds later this week, my crazy plant lady nature is going to be out of the bag.    
4. Read a book: I tried starting three different books and won't finish any of them by month's end.  Just haven't been able to really get into a book for a few months.  I blame it on being distracted by painting (and derby and cooking and dogs and garden planning...).  I find I go in waves of either reading a lot or creating a lot.  I can't seem to do both at the same time. 

When I started setting monthly four simple goals, I set my goals the same way I did when I was making my four simple goals before 2013/2014.  For those goal lists I had four months to finish whatever I wanted to do.  With these monthly lists, I only have 30 days and I'm realizing now that I don't have time to finish everything that I set out to do.  I usually get started and make progress, but looking back, I don't think my goals are always realistic with everything else I have going on.  (Apartment Therapy cure in one month?  Yeah right!)  So for April my goals will be very, very simple and will hopefully be easier to achieve.  

How are you doing with your goals?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

my winter photo album

I've been posting a lot this winter about thriving, not just surviving.  My inspiration came from Elise at Enjoy It who made an album to commemorate how she tried to thrive while her husband was deployed.  Now I know winter does not equal spouse disployment, but it takes a lot for me to enjoy the long winter months, and I thought documenting my efforts to thrive in a photo album sounded like a fun idea.  I decided to make an album with the Instagram photos I had taken from December to March.  Yes, I am a dorky blogger who decided her winter Instagram photos deserved their own photo album (and no, I still have not made a photo album of our Europe vacation photos). 

I only added text on the first page, and I'm planning to go back through with a Shapie to add handwritten notes on some of the pages.  I thought it would give a cooler finished look.  Sometimes the text in computer made photo albums just looks awkward. 

I've just included my favorite pages here; the actual book is 8 x 8 and includes between thirty and forty pages.  My favorite pictures got their own pages, others got grouped in three to four per page.  I kept all the photos in their original square shape, and I love how cohesive it made the book feel. 

Even though this album is totally dorky (and arguably completely unnecessary), I absolutely love it.  I felt a big sense of accomplishment going through all my photos and receiving my finished book in the mail.  The best part of this book is that it showed that I really lived this winter - I didn't just survive.  I painted, I baked, I knitted, I made ice cream, I went on dates with Paul, I started roller derby, I drank lots of tea, I cuddled with the pups, I bought beautiful flowers, and I travelled to St. Louis, Portland, and Richmond.  This book will be a great reminder that winter isn't just a season to get through, it's a season to live and enjoy. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

today i'm thankful for

the first flowers of Spring

warmer weather for taking walks with Paul and the pups

a Friday night spent at the Art Museum

getting back into the swing of things at roller derby

a kitchen full of seeds

a live camera feed of three day old puppies

spending time at one of my favorite churches

feeling inspired for a new garden season

getting our tax return (!!)

planning our summer travel

making progress on my March goals

my husband who goes on dates with me to Costco, shares my love of March Madness, 
and is one of the most thoughtful peole I know

Friday, March 21, 2014

my favorite vanilla cupcake recipe

I like my cupcakes simple and delicious.  And I've found (and perfected) a recipe that gives me just that.  I don't share recipes often on here, but this was just so good I needed to shout this cupcake recipe from the rooftops (blogtops?)!  Hope you enjoy and please be patient with my venture into recipe sharing.

Vanilla cupcakes: adapted from Martha Stewart.  Makes 24 cupcakes. 

3 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons butter (I used salted, but recipe called for unsalted)
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/4 cups milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line cupcake pans with liners. 

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add eggs one at a time and add vanilla.   Mix together flour, backing powder, and salt in seperate bowl.  Add flour mixture and milk alternatively, beginning and ending with flour.  

Divide batter evenly amoung liners, filling each about 3/4 full.  Bake about twenty minutes or until toothpick comes out clean (my cupcake liners were taller, so my cupcakes took closer to twenty-five minutes to bake).  Transfer to wire rack and let cool completely. 

Buttercream Icing with a Twist: adapated from the Food Network.  Enough icing for 24 cupcakes.
(spoiler alert: the twist is cream cheese)

3 cups powdered sugar
1 cup butter (softened)
2 teaspoons vanilla
1-2 tablespoons milk or whipping cream
4 ounces cream cheese (softened)

Beat together butter, cream cheese, and sugar.  Add vanilla and milk.  Beat on high for 1-2 minutes until icing is light and fluffy.  Taste and add various ingredients until you like your consistency and taste.  The beauty of any icing recipe is that you don't have to worry about the amounts of each ingredient being exactly right like you do for something you'd bake.  Icing is all about what tastes good.  Play around with it until it tastes delectable (although you shouldn't have to do too much since I've done a lot of the tinkering for you - the addition of cream cheese does wonders for this recipe).   
To get the purple color above I added 16 drops red food coloring and 12 drops blue food coloring.  To get the piped icing look without an actual piping bag, I added the whole batch of icing to a large ziplock bag, pushed as much air out as I could, then cut off the very tip of one of the corners (I always start small and gradually work bigger if I want more icing to come out).  Then youtube a video of pastry chef adding icing to something and do your best impression of them (here and here).  I start my icing swirl on the outside, then twirl my wrist around to get the slight pyramid shape on top of each cupcake.  Add some sprinkles to the top and you're set! 

*If your icing seems to be sliding or not sitting well on your cupcake, first check to make sure your cupcake is completely cooled.  Don't want your icing melting!  Second, check the temperature of your icing.  If it's too warm, let it cool off in the fridge for a bit then try again. 

Happy baking and happy spring!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

5 tips for a spring jump start

Everybody, we did it.  We made it through the epic winter 2014.  Tomorrow is the first day of spring, and I don't care what the weather is, what it looks like outside, or how much snow is on the ground, it. will. be. spring.  And I will be fully embracing that.  

Since winter-esque weather doesn't always get the memo that its time is done for now, you might have to do a little extra to get in the spring frame of mind.  Here's five tips for getting a jump start on spring when it still feels like winter.  

1. Embrace bright colors: You don't have to wait for warm weather to add color to your wardrobe and your living space.  In fact, if you wait for warm weather you might completely miss the chance to wear all your pretty pastel colored clothes (that happened to me last year).  This time of year I still wear heavy pants and sweaters, but I usually only wear pastels or bright colors because I just can't take dark colors anymore.  Switching out clothes, bed spreads, and painting my nails always helps me feel like I've got a new lease on life.    

2. Plant something: Spring is all about new growth and new life.  But sometimes that growth can be hard to see, especially when several inches of snow still cover the ground.  Luckily you don't need warm weather to grow plants or seeds indoors.  When I start getting antsy to start my garden in February and March, I order seeds and then immediately realize I'm already a few weeks late on starting my seeds indoors.  It's the only time in spring when I want the warm weather to hold off a bit longer.  And until everything starts sprouting, don't forget the beauty of grocery story tulips and flowers.  They work wonders.  

3. Spring cleaning: Have you had that moment on the first warm day of the season when you suddenly realize how dirty your apartment/house has gotten over the winter?  Maybe it's the increase in sunlight that helps me see all the dirt and salt that has accumulated all over my floors  - and maybe that's why spring is associated with cleaning up and clearing out.  This spring, I'm working on an Apartment Therapy home cure (that's been coming along verrrrry slowly), and I'm appreciating how having a nice living space can help distract me from whatever is happening outside. 

4. Turn up the jams: Put away all your sad, slow winter albums (sorry Bon Iver), and put on some music that gets your toes tapping.  I've got a Carla Bruni french singers Pandora station going right now that has the perfect touch of spring to it.  I also love some good pop/dance music and anything that has the word spring or summer in the song or title.  Good music does wonders for a dull mood.  

5. Put together a spring/summer menu plan: Friends of mine created a binder that just included their go to meals, and I've been wanting to follow suit.  In the height of summer, I'll sometimes waste the produce I was waiting all winter for simply because I can't think of what to do with it.  It's lazy I know, but on a weekday night after derby or a long day at work I don't have any extra energy to menu plan....ugh.  So why not use this time of year to dream about all the salads and stir fries and casseroles I can make when my favorite produce comes into season?  It'll help me make the most of the crazy amounts of vegetables and herbs I want to grow this season. 

What helps you prepare for spring? 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

trip to the domes

This weekend I decided to have a "treat yo self" day.  Paul was working all weekend, I had just finished a crummy week, and I needed a nice day all to myself.  But even though I knew I needed some time to just indulge myself, I still felt like I needed permission to blow off housework and whatever else I "should" be doing.  Do you ever have a hard time doing the things you know you need to do to be happy?  I'm getting better about it, especially if the things I'm indulging in are experiences and don't cost much money.  So I got over the shoulds and just had a happy day. 

I think I've mentioned a few (dozen) times how happy flowers make me.  So naturally my treat yo self day included a trip to the Mitchell Domes, the large enclosed gardens in Milwaukee.  A genius planner decided to have a farmer's market there every Saturday in winter, so I was able to walk around the Domes and take pictures to my heart's content - all for free!  I arrived right at the end of the market so all the crowds were gone, but the admission price was still waved.  Sha-wing!!!

The tropical dome had flowers in bloom, running water, and real live birds.  You have no idea how happy it made me to walk around without my coat on and feel almost-real-sunshine on my face. 

I felt more drawn to the desert dome than I usually do.  I think it's because our extreme cold weather has me looking for some extreme heat.  Plus those cactus and succulants...lovely. 

My treat yo self day also included a vanilla rooibos latte from Starbucks, retail therapy at Target, seed shopping, Jimmy John's and checking a few errands off my list.  I know errands don't really seem like a treat, but checking big things off my to do list always makes me feel better and lighter.  I ended my day relaxing in our living room watching TV and movies with Paul while painting my little heart out.  What a fantastic, necessary day. 

What do your treat yo self days include?

Monday, March 17, 2014

today i'm thankful for

for little statues that remind me of leprechauns

50 shades of green

St. Patrick's Day cookies and cupcakes

mid day encouragement

help in completing our taxes

seed catalogs

having time for a "treat yo self" day

retail therapy at Target

the return of 40 degree days

my husband who makes special trips to the grocery store for me, buys us the best sourdough bread,
and who makes me smile 

Friday, March 14, 2014

happy pi(e) day!

Good morning everyone!  Wow do I feel better!  Looks like the books did the trick yesterday and cheered me right up.  Reading the books, watching a Miyazaki movie, making a pie, getting an amazing seed catalog in the mail, buying new flowers for our kitchen, and a twenty degree warm up.  The little things really add up.    

One of my favorite holidays to celebrate in the winter is Pi(e) Day.  March 14th - 3/14 - 3.14159....get it?  Yes, it is awesomely nerdy.  I made Tofu Peanut Butter Pie again this year.  It's become my go to pie since it takes less than ten minutes to make.  To make: add your block of tofu, cup of smooth peanut butter, 3/4 cup sugar, 2 tablespoons milk, and 2 teaspoons of vanilla to your food processor.  Mix until smooth and creamy.  Melt some chocolate and spread it on the bottom of your pie shell (graham cracker preferably, but mine cracked too much to use for the pie I was bringing to work).  Spread your peanut butter filling into the now chocolate cover pie crust.  Smooth out.  Sprinkle chocolate chips on top.  Devour.  It's that simple!  (And no, it tastes nothing like tofu.)

Oh, and what's that you say?  You want to see pictures of tulips?  Ok!  Who I am to deny the people what they want?

Happy Friday!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

comfort in books

Most days I can find joy in my life very easily.  There's so much I have to be thankful for, and I have so much in my life that I enjoy.  But some days...well some days just suck.  And today is one of those days.  The return of cold weather is affecting me and some recent health problems and harmone swings are not helping.  

Now don't get me wrong.  My life is still great.  But even great lives can have a few annoying days mixed in. 

And on days like this, few things give me greater comfort than curling up with a good book.  There's times when a familiar title will console me like nothing else can.  Last night I came home after a looooong day and fell asleep reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  The night before my wedding (not a bad night by any means, but definitely an emotional, excited one) I read Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.  Sometimes a book like that, one I've read over and over and practically have memorized, is the only thing that will calm me down.  

Jo says something along these lines in the Little Women movie, that reading her favorite books is like coming home again.  I quite agree.  

Hope you're all holding up well in the end of winter season.  What brings you comfort on hard days?

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

end of winter survival

Have the end of winter blues?  I find that the last few weeks of winter can be the hardest to thrive in.  One of my Milwaukee friends seems to handle this season better than most people I know.  Laurel is always going on some type of outdoor adventure and has a great attitude about winter.  I asked her to do a post, and she put together this list of four tips for surviving winter -- hope this brings you a bit of joy on this cold day.  And I hope you enjoy her amazing Wisconsin winter photos.  Those ice caves are breathtaking!!

For me, finding joy in all things means living in a state of openness to the world, it means welcoming in the many small beauties and absurdities of life. This state of permeability is seriously compromised by the long winter months, when everything seems to shut down. I've spent years trying to work out the perfect way to survive a midwestern winter with a sound mind, and here is what I've come up with.

  1. Move your body, every day.
    I'm not an athletic person, but I am an outdoors person. I'm lucky enough to have a job where I am constantly outside, and I have a 1 mile walk to work through a park. This makes it easy to notice the tiny changes of wind, sky, clouds, snow, and the other things that seem relatively unchanging all winter, and to find some peace and inspiration there. More than anything, however, the motion of walking helps keep me balanced. Too often we decide that its just too darn cold outside to do anything more than dash to the car – but really, it's not! You just have to make a habit of spending 10 or 15 minutes walking to understand that the discomfort of winter weather is both temporary and relatively dependent on one's clothes. I get a deep satisfaction from the sensation of my body heating itself up, feeling it pump warm blood into my freezing toes. It makes me feel vital and alive even in subzero temperatures.
  2. Challenge yourself!
    This gets back to my general philosophy of embracing the absurdities of life along with the pleasantries. Sometimes, instead of holing up inside when it is freezing cold, it is best to do something completely counter-intuitive. On one of the coldest days of the winter I went down to the shoreline of Lake Michigan, and it was beautiful! The waves were moving slowly and the water was actually steaming. On New Years Eve I ran out onto a frozen lake in the middle of Minneapolis, enjoying the spectacle of fireworks exploding in every direction. This winter I've gone sledding, snow-shoeing, and skiing, which has definitely challenged my athletic abilities and comfort level. It helps me to feel like I can explore, adventure, and see my home in a new place just by pushing past the cold.
  3. Treat yourself with a little tenderness!
    I've talked about the physical components of winter survival, but you can't forget that winter is a mind game, too. I tend to get stuck in repetitive thoughts, endlessly spinning the same mental wheels. To break that cycle I try to come up with a few creative projects, such as writing letters or reading really stimulating books. Anything to keep me from zoning out in front of TV shows. But I don't always stick to those projects, and my guilt about that becomes one of the winter thought-loops. This year I decided to be a little more forgiving. I decided that it is ok to not want to move. It's ok to not want to go outside. It's ok to curl up on the couch with a book/movie/cat/mug of tea/hot toddy. It's ok to give yourself a break!
  4. Hot Toddies!
    I just remembered this important winter survival tool. Combinations of hot water, tea, whiskey (or the liquor of your choice), lemon juice, ginger, and any other spices you want can bring a little comfort and relief to awful winter days. Most of the ingredients are really good for you, and they sure do warm you up quickly!  

Spring is right around the corner but until it officially arrives, follow Laurel's advice and treat yourself to a hot toddy and get yourself moving!  Thanks for sharing your tips Laurel!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

beagles ready for spring

Yesterday was nice enough to walk outside without a coat on.  I literally danced around our house (singing "ra-ra-rasputan" because I'm that special).  The beagles celebrated by eating ice off our front porch.  I think this means that they're impatient for my urban garden oasis too. 

Here's Diego in action.  I swear this dog does not know how to express his feelings in anything but an extremely loud howl.  In this picture he is either a) happy about the weather b) confused by the remaining ice c) wants the porch all to himself d) saw a squirrel or e) all the above.  I think we can all agree that our beagles are about as special as I am.  

Happy melt down! 

Monday, March 10, 2014

today i'm thankful for

homemade ice cream that makes everything better

fish fry season

double date movie nights at beautiful movie theaters

seeing Frozen with a good friend - and sneaking in with way too much candy

support, hope, and remembering that everything will work out

cuddling with my pups

nap time

my black and white striped dress - and how sassily awesome I feel when I wear it

Daylight Savings Time and sunshine

60 degree days and the end of the Polar Vortex

my husband who makes me fresh squeezed orange juice, holds my hand in the car, and shares a life with me

Friday, March 7, 2014

cherry painting

A few weeks ago I went to an art bar for the first time - the kind of place where you paint and drink at the same time.  It seems like a hazardous combination, but it was actually wonderful.  Being in such a fun environment helped my perfectionist inclinations chill out, and I was able to enjoy doing a simple painting. 

I still decided what I wanted to paint before I arrived.  Since going to Bailey's Range in St. Louis over Christmas (see above), I've been wanting to do a similar style painting for our kitchen.  I decided on a cherry, because every kitchen needs something cherry themed.  My mom engrained this in me at a very early age.  Though thinking back to out cherry kitchen growing up, I'm remembering that the tiny cherry wallpaper was actually hung upside down (the wallpaper man hadn't realized what he was doing until after he had finished the entire kitchen).  So I guess that means that every kitchen needs something cherry - and a cook with a sense of humor.

I liked how this turned out so much that I'm thinking of doing another painting for our kitchen.  This one will be bigger and may include a series of drinks, fruits, vegetables, or a combination of all three.  We still have lots of empty wall space in our kitchen.  And it obviously needs to be covered with art and paintings of food.  

What kind of images of food would you include on your walls?

P.S.  Daylight savings time starts this weekend!  You better believe I'll be celebrating it!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

road tripping

I love a good road trip.  Especially in winter, when the weeks and months are long, road trips help to break things up and add a bit of spice to life.  I schedule road trips every couple of months and will even travel on my own since my hubby's work keeps him busy on some weekends.

Last weekend I travelled to St. Louis to see the Missouri Botanical Garden orchid show with my mom, sister, aunt, and cousins.  It's become a winter tradition for us; we soak up the beautiful colors and light, and then stop by the giftshop for seeds and orchid plants.  And wouldn't you know it: this year I travelled all the way to St. Louis for the show and forgot my camera on my parents' kitchen table.  So instead of pictures of orchids, I'm sharing some pictures of my drive from Milwaukee to St. Louis. 

Before leaving my apartment, I positioned my camera on the passenger seat so it would be handy if I saw a good potential shot.  These photos were all taken by me by holding the camera towards the passenger side window and hoping for the best.  I love how they turned out.  They all have that accidentally-on-purpose rustic look. 

The Midwest scenery feels so homey and brings me a lot of peace.  I can't get enough of those big open sky sunsets.  The drive to St. Louis has become one of my go to spirit boosters - along with a couple of good books on tape and my pups in the back seat.  I love the time to think and relax and just be.