Reading Lessons and A Note About Gratitude

The last couple of months have been a whirlwind of activity–beginning with a serious career adjustment. I “hit the streets” in Midtown as a sales rep for a food distribution company, and the learning curve has been massive.  Serious highs, and serious lows.  I joined our local pool board just in time for the chaos of summer and started a boxing class at the gym around the corner.  I signed up to teach “Julie’s Can and Jam” classes at a local co-op, where I’ll teach 21 and up classes on making homemade jam and the canning process.  At the same co-op, I’m re-launching some new branding for my detergent line and attempting to improve my image and marketing.  Last, but certainly not the least, I began teaching reading classes for the elderly, two nights a week.

I get overwhelmed sometimes, and then anxious about daily to-do lists left undone and the tasks of the week that I’m not sure I’m completing with the attention they deserve.  I dream about sending an order of groceries to the wrong food truck, and I’ll wake up in the middle of the night thinking about whether or not I sent the correct allergen-free pan spray to a particular account.  I stress about not knowing enough, not working hard enough or long enough, and not knowing how to ask the questions that make sense in my head.  And then I met a few people with amazing attitudes and a seriously challenging situation in life.

My “students” for evening reading classes are incredible, resilient people, who at the ages of 70-85 are looking to better themselves, and learn to read.  Their reading levels vary from Kindergarten to 2nd grade, and are quick to set goals about their future.  “Ella” told me that she throws away all her mail because she can’t read it anyway, so what’s the point? Tomorrow we’ll begin reading her mail together and making sense of it. “Wallace” told me that he’s never been read to before, and can only drive within a mile radius because he’s memorized all the street signs…beyond that mile, he wouldn’t be able to read the signs and get back home.  “Nellie” cried tonight when I read her a Bible story, because the only time she’s been read to is over the pulpit at church, and when I told her that she’d be able to write a thank you note by the end of summer, she wept openly and told me she never imagined she’d be able to master such a task.  Talk about a reality check–and a serious dose of gratitude.  I’m a month in, and they do their homework, get excited about evening class, and thank me profusely at the end, in spite of the fact that they have harder lives than I’ve ever even read about.

I know that I’m a blend of blessed and fortunate, and as stretched as I feel these days, I’m super thankful for my new batch of students who have already taught me much more about life than I’ll ever teach them about reading.  I also love that my role of teacher will never really be over.

Love Actually and DIY Sugar Scrubs

Tonight, I had a date with two vital elements of life, Love Actually and a DIY Christmas craft, as I haven’t given up on my “homemade Christmas.” Unfortunately, I can never seem to work our seven different TV remotes when Nicholas is out of town, and so I settled for the Love Actually soundtrack on my iPad instead.

I wanted to make sugar scrubs, but didn’t want to have to run back out to the store, so I used a hodge-podge of household goods: sugar, salt, rosemary from the sidewalk, essential oils, limes, mandarins, olive oil and baby oil. The recipe is simple, and in the absence of one scent or ingredient, I just substituted what I had. (This way, I can convince myself that I made these for “free”).

Recipe: these are all approximations…you really can’t mess it up. 🙂
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
10-ish drops of Essential oil
Rosemary, lime zest, or something for color/texture.

Mix the ingredients together, and it’s enough for two jelly jars.

Substitutions:
-I used olive oil until we got dangerously low and wanted to save some for Sunday gravy; then I subbed in baby oil. When I ran out of baby oil, I used mineral oil (we usually use it for hydrating our cutting boards, but ironically, it was the best sub. It keeps your mixture pure white, and doesn’t have the strong smell of olive oil or baby oil, and thus requires less essential oil. In the future, I’ll just buy and use regular mineral oil.)
-I wanted a citrus scent, but didn’t have lemons, so I used limes for zest and juiced it into the mixture. When I ran out of limes, I used clementines. (Good thing I stopped there…I think pineapple, the only other fruit in the house, would have been really funky.)

In spite of my jumbled ingredients, I ended up with an awesome product that was super easy, cheap, and as an added bonus, my hands are soft and smell all rosemary and citrusy, just from cleaning the excess off the jars.

I’m sure the folks on my Christmas list are hoping for fancy gift cards, but I’m giving a little “scrub-scrub” instead. 🙂

Happy holidays, y’all.

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Atlanta “Love-List”

About a week ago, I found myself aggressively defending what I now claim as “my city,” or when Nicholas and I are talking, “our city.”  I was on a “work with” for my new job with Gordon Food Service, and was ecstatic to be riding with a 10+ year employee, a Florida transplant as of this past summer.  I didn’t realize how fascinated I am by Atlanta and how proud I am to live here, until I found myself defending nearly everything about my “town.”

Yes, you have to lock your doors, even when you’re in the car…I even buckle in my purse, just in case.

I know that the traffic is obscene…but I’ve learned to plan my day around traffic and actually don’t mind my “windshield time,” as I can catch up with distance friends, enjoy NPR or sing along (badly) to classic country on my commute.  Plus, doesn’t the excess of people and congestion just prove that this is the place to be? 🙂

We have seasons, (unlike my colleague’s preference for summer year round) and while the seasonal temps are a bit bi-polar at times, the cooler air allows for a wardrobe change and an extra skip in my step as the crispness feels fresh and new.  And, cold weather is cuddle-weather, fireplaces, and hot chocolate.  Even better.  Our seasons are perfect, because it never gets too cold for too long, like it does where my family is in the Midwest—it’s never so cold that your nose hairs freeze or your skin cracks.  Now that’s a win.

Yes, we have rain. Glorious rain.  And the rainy days are my favorite.  I don’t mind limp hair and puddles in my drainage-challenged driveway.  It hydrates my soul and the pitter-patter is soothing.  There is no better sleep than windows open with chilly air and the sound of a downpour.

I admit we have many “transitional” areas—there’s a rich history here, and neighborhoods that haven’t quite won the battles of the past. The graffiti/art covers the walls of many buildings and tunnels, and some call it “garbage,” but I think it’s fantastic.

The niches of my city are full of eclectic characters—it’s not the all white suburbia of some folks’ choice, but a multi-cultural collection of interesting people, perfect to sit and google-eye from a park bench.  There’s nothing like a trek to East Atlanta, just a mile up the street, to make me feel comfortable in my own skin. No one gawks or judges (except maybe me still gawking from the park bench), because there’s no single appropriate style, mode of transportation, or acceptable hair color.  You’ll see a businessman on a bike, a 50-something on her Vespa, and the punk hair stylist on his skateboard. It’s anything goes, and that is a beautiful thing.

I love that it’s hard to find a chain restaurant (besides fast food, if you call that a restaurant) within driving distance, and that the boutiques are making a comeback in our need to “shop local” and continue to give Wal-mart and Target a run for their money. (Pun intended.)

While I know that my Floridian colleague is just merely adjusting to a new locale, I’m pretty sure I made his ears bleed with the laundry list of reasons to love Atlanta.  I don’t plan on convincing him, but as my Atlanta “love-list” mentally expanded on the way home, I found myself so grateful to feel this way about a place that not only holds a good piece of our past already, but a fully vested present and an inevitable future.

 

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An Ode To My Mason Jars

(Well, It’s not really an ode…just a blog.)

This past spring I made a few road trips from Atlanta to central Illinois, where my parents were cleaning out and preparing to sell the family farm. Regardless of whether it was just nostalgia, or a general need for certain items, I hauled full loads in my CX7 back to our townhouse, in hopes of preserving pieces of the farm in the city.

One of the many items I rescued was a serious stash of Mason/Kerr jars that were in my parents’ cellar or in the chicken house. Much to my dismay, my mom actually admitted that she had thrown a load away already, and terrified at the thought, I took as many as I could box up.

My sheer delight regarding my farm things hasn’t exactly been shared by my husband, who is under the delusion that I have inherited too many jars. Too many?? That’s impossible! The options are endless, but he doesn’t quite appreciate that, as he only sees the precarious stack of them on a garage shelf. I say I’m hoarding them because I use them for my homemade detergent, but the reality is, I have a hard time parting with them, even for a sale.

In perusing Pinterest the other day, I determined it was time to begin my fall decorating, and as I began changing the seasonal goods around our house, the ideas for my sacred jars began: candle holders, toothbrush holders, make-up organizers, vases, weight loss marble visual aids, and the list goes on.

I love to find a purpose for them, but I don’t mind just having a serious stash of them for the intended use—next summer when I have a neighborhood garden plot, I’ll can up any kind of fruit or veggie I can harvest from our red-clay soil. Until then, I love having them sprinkled throughout the house, and don’t mind that there’s still an un-used stash in the garage. I feel a bit of the simple, country life every time I dust one off and use it, and the older I get, the more inclined I am to cling to a few things from the past.

Disclaimer: I know this is a lot of pictures–that’s the point. 🙂

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Getting Away: Coming Home

After months of anticipation, last week was finally cruise time, NCL Getaway style.  When it comes to vacations, my husband and I are like small children–“Is it time yet? Are we there yet? It’s not over yet, is it?”  We plan and scheme and anticipate with reckless abandon.

Actually, Nicholas does all the planning: he makes dinner and show reservations for each night, chooses and books the excursions in port, coordinates the travel documents…you get the idea. 

My planning contribution shakes out a little differently. I plan outfits.  Three costume changes a day is quite a packing commitment, especially when there are shoes, handbags, jewelry, hair-flowers, hats, and sparkly eye shadows to consider.  I take this task seriously, and spend excessive amounts of time making lists, and then piles, of all my vacation necessities.

We flew out of Atlanta on a Friday morning, were saddled up next to the Westin pool in Miami by 1pm, and shamelessly blared Bob Marley on our new “Beats” system. Instead of the 2-day mental disconnect process that usually ensues, we were distressed and disconnected from anything unpleasant by the time we ordered our burratta and wood-fired pizza for dinner.  The following morning we embarked on the Norwegian Getaway, headed straight to the pool for the “Sail Away” party and settled in for our 7 days of cruising bliss through the Eastern Caribbean.

To say that we aren’t “go-getters” on vacation is the understatement of the century.  We don’t hike, we certainly don’t jog unless we’re being chased, and while activities like scuba always seem like a good idea, we’ve come to decide that it’s actually much too strenuous for our good time.  We opt for pool/beach leisure, good food, cocktails, and sunscreen.  Rinse and repeat for 7 days with a show here and there, and a bit of night time Craps in the casino. That, my friends, is how we roll.

The down side to all of this vacation chatter is the inevitable dread that settles in about day 4 or 5, when we realize that we’re past the half way point, and have more dirty clothes on the floor than we have clean in the closet.  At this point, I’m done trying to keep our little cabin space picked up, and instead start making piles of dismembered outfits that must be repacked soon.  This is about the time that we start to discuss our next vacation—where, when, and with whom, just to distract us from the ticking clock.  We’re infamous for actually booking our next vacation on the flight/drive home in order to curb the certain depression the strikes upon our return.

Our vacation last week was fantastic, but the difference in the norm was that we didn’t dread the end; we instead said multiple times how long the trip felt (in a good way) and were actually excited to get back home.  It makes a difference when we talk about “going home” and genuinely refer to the house we live in as “home” and Atlanta as “our city.”  I’ve always prescribed to the idea that “home is wherever I’m with you” (insert Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Heroes) but home has never felt so good as it does now in Atlanta.

This is all to say, my ship has come in.  As thankful as I am for an amazing cruise, I’m even more grateful for the contentment of “welcome home.”

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September Resolutions

I know it’s a little early for New Years resolutions, but my cousin, Jolynn Hodel, posted a new blog tonight; it was her final post about their journey to a new home this past year, and I got to thinking about all the changes you never imagine will happen, and the hindsight that allows you to realize it’s all in a perfect plan.

I lost two great men in my life this year, my grandfather in March and my dad “Poppi” in July. My husband left a 14 year career without a new job secured, and my parents sold the only childhood home I ever lived in. I ended the only “career” I’ve ever known and have two degrees in a file folder that are, at the moment, irrelevant. And if that wasn’t enough change, an age old friendship ended abruptly this summer without explanation.

I’ve written before about change and transition, and at the risk of sounding redundant, I wanted to wrap up the changes like a Christmas present, and take this time to be thankful, press forward, and make some resolutions.

I resolve to have faith, in spite of the the need I have for control.
I resolve to spend time with the people closest to me because tomorrow is never promised.
I resolve to not be complacent in a job just because it’s easy.
I resolve to only maintain the relationships in my life that are positive and good for me.
I resolve to always remember where I came from, and keep calling my grandmothers every week.
I resolve to continue “Sunday gravy,” Italian style, even though very batch of red sauce stings a little.
I resolve to worry less about money, but keep shopping at Aldis.

And I resolve to eat a few more greens and drink less wine. 🙂

I know it’s just September, but a cooler night reminds me again that the seasons start over, and so should we. So here’s to a new season, a few resolutions, and a reminder that the only constant in life is change.

Random Tips and Tricks: A Partial List

Today I was planning the menu for my sales meeting on Friday, and as I pondered ideas of possible soups, Paninis, flatbreads, and crostinis, I thought about my former colleagues who are probably already knee deep in essays to grade; it’s funny how quickly we can adjust to new things in life.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking a lot about little tips and tricks, (mostly for the kitchen, but a few others) that have become “normal” to me, although I didn’t learn most of them until I was an adult. While they may be fairly common, I wanted to share a few—just for giggles—in case anyone discovers a new tidbit here. (And I apologize in advance if these are too obvious, but I went at least 20+ years not knowing most of this list.)

The inspiration here began when a friend/salesperson for the company I work with met me at my house to grab food samples. I opened my freezer to snag appetizer bags, and she’s like, “Why do you have bags of Ziploc-ed Doritos in your freezer?” I always freeze my chips. They taste better, and never go stale. Plus, if they’re out of sight I don’t eat them in one sitting. But seriously, try some frozen Cheetos. They’ll blow your mind.

So here’s a few random tips and tricks that are common place in our home:

  1. Keep your chips in the freezer. Any and all of them—they don’t actually freeze. They just get super cold and are delicious.
  2. Dry your sheets (or any blankets) with a few tennis balls. It’ll make a bit of racket, but your goods won’t get as tangled up, and thus are less wrinkly.
  3. Add any type of fruit that you have in excess (or is about to go bad) to ice cube trays, fill with water and freeze. I pop them out, keep them in a Ziploc bag in the freezer and love to dress up water or cocktails with colorful cubes.
  4. Don’t crack eggs on the edges of bowls—that’s how I always ended up with shells in my cookies. Instead, gently crack them on the counter, or any flat surface—you’ll never have an egg shell escape in your food again.
  5. If you burn votive size candles in the glass holders, pop them in the freezer for an hour or two after they’ve burned out. The wax shrinks and pops right out so you don’t have to pry it out.
  6. Use an ice cream scoop to make perfectly round cookie-dough balls, put each scoop in a muffin tin, and freeze. Then Ziploc the dough balls and you can bake a few cookies at a time instead of the whole batch. (I make big batches of the kind we like, and I prefer a 10-minute bake for a fresh cookie versus keeping some pre-baked in the freezer.)
  7. When making any boxed-mix of muffins or bread, use apple or orange juice instead of water—your finished product is moist and flavorful, but people never say it tastes fruity–It’s more of an enhancer than a flavor profile change.
  8. Rub your skin with baby oil after your shower, then dry off. Your skin will stay super soft all day without the need for any lotion. (This is especially nice in the winter when the air is dryer.)
  9. Invest in a $3.99 bunch of wildflowers at Aldis. They last about 2-3 weeks and one bunch is enough to make 3-4 ball jars worth of flowers for the bathroom, table, etc. It’s a small price for the splash of happy it brings.
  10. I know by now I sound like a freezer nut, but keep your grapes frozen. Wash them, Ziploc them, and freeze them for a quick treat. They freeze part way, but are still soft enough to bite through, and there’s something about the sugar that intensifies when they’re frozen. It’s our favorite pool snack.

I know it’s silly, but picking up quirky tips from family and friends—mostly family—is one way I always feel connected. Nona (Nicholas’ mom) taught me about the eggs, my Aunt Jane always kept her chips frozen, and my mom loved her baby oil. I like to think we’re just a pretty montage of the most important people in our lives, and the tidbits and quirks that make them, and us, unique.