The Sunny Lifestyle of a Home Journalist

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

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Firsts & Lasts

"To look at everything, always, as though you were seeing it either for the very first or for the very last time. Then is your time on earth filled with glory." -Marie Romely, A Tree Grows In Brooklyn

I've had a lot of firsts and lasts in my life lately. Too many, actually. 

But I was reminded of that when I was reading that book a few weeks ago. I do have to say that all of my firsts and lasts have been really fun. The fact that I'm leaving soon gives us a good excuse to celebrate.

The other night, until pretty late,  my musical sisters and I had a last jam session around the piano. But the best part is we recorded every song to put on a CD. That CD won't be sold on the racks of any stores, but it'll be a little piece of home to look back on, years down the road, for all of us.

This is my last beach day. Well, last beach day living in Florida. I'll be back next week on my honeymoon. But that won't be my last beach day single. It'll be my first, married. Or our first, married (which will be special cause that's where we got engaged, too!). This was one of the most beautiful beach days I've ever seen.

Last Panera date with just the four of us.

Last shopping trip with mum.

Last ice cream run with my girls.

Last blank wall left in my room.

First time packing up everything I own.

First time driving 1,060 miles to haul it all. 

First time decorating my own kitchen.

And many more firsts and lasts.

According to the quote, I must have a pretty glorious life right now. Eh, I'm only getting married and starting my brave, new adventure in 4 days... I guess my life is alright.

(To see a few more of my lasts, check out my hashtag #lastdayslivinginflorida on Instagram.)

Thursday, June 2, 2016

13 Things I'll Miss About Living in Florida

In 37 days, I'll leave the home I grew up in for a totally new one more than 1,000 miles away. 

I am getting more excited and more terrified as the seconds tick by.

Well not terrified, but it's still sad and a little overwhelming. Especially because I've recently tackled the beginnings of packing. And everything I own, which was so nicely organized or displayed somewhere in our big house, is being gradually stuffed into boxes in random order so that I can pack the most into the least amount of space. Later, it'll just be unpacked and somehow squeezed into a one bedroom apartment. It's a lot to deal with.

The fact that I won't ever live in my room again, or my house again, has been producing some pretty nostalgic feelings lately.

It's odd to imagine myself unpacking everything in a completely new place, and it's even harder to imagine how I'm going to fit everything into my new space (I should probably read more Marie Kondo, in between brainstorming wedding favors and writing a million bridal shower thank you cards).

That said, here are 13 things (among a thousand) that I'll miss about my SoFlo home.

Local Fruit

I know I can still get strawberries and blueberries and lemons and oranges in Pennsylvania, but they won't be grown by local farmers like the ones in Plant City, which they say is the Strawberry Capital of the World.

Green, all year round

But on the plus side, I'll see seasons. And before I turned 15, I probably didn't even know there was such thing as a tree that wasn't green.

Ice cream, all year round

Although I know I'll eat ice cream all year round up north too, down here I have more of an excuse to because of the heat. 

Flip flops, all year round

I'll not only look funny, but freeze to death if I keep wearing flip flops all year round. So better not try that.

Palm Trees

The beach, duh

The beaches on Lake Eerie hardly compare to our breathtaking gulf ones, but they'll have to do.

My Tan

Not looking forward to becoming a ghost.

The Local Newspapers

Writing for Focus and the Osprey has been such a good experience for me, and I'll miss having my name in their bylines.

Some of my favorite spots, including...

... Jeremiah's Italian Ice (but I've got Jeff hooked, so I know we'll stop by at least once every time we visit)
... Alderman Ford Park
... Bloomingdale Pizza (the mom & pop pizzeria I worked at for three years still holds charm to me)
... the Church & Parsonage
... Our Panera & Brandon Boardgamers (our Panera Bread is special because it's where the Brandon Board Gamers meet every Thursday night. Chuckling at them while we sip our soup and nibble our sandwiches always makes dinner so much more amusing.)

   (At Jeremiah's #restyourchin)

My room

The Great Black Piano

The one my mom learned on, and the one we refinished and repainted and tuned a million times. I'll have my own real piano, and that one's beautiful too, but it's not an upright and I won't be able to play it at ungodly hours of the night and morning without the others in the apartment complex getting annoyed. 

Our Jeep

This thing has taken us on several family road trips, and is a constant reminder that life is good, and girly too, at least at our house.

 Sunshine & My Sisters

But enough mourning my losses, I also still can't stop thinking about how amazing my new married life will be. My incredibly new adventure is about to begin so soon, and as it becomes sooner and sooner daily, I think I want to explode.

Friday, May 13, 2016

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When Creativity Meets Practicality

I have a huge problem. I am one of the most creative, and also one of the most practical people in the world.

Sometimes I will actually be in the middle of some project or creative endeavor, then stop right there, and wonder why I am even doing it. How is this going to be used? Why am I spending (wasting) all this time for something that's mostly purely just cute?

Does this really make things easier or more convenient, or is it just a bunch of fluff that will just turn out more annoying than enjoyable?

I know people like handmade gifts and all, and I like making them, but there is a major struggle in my mind sometimes when I actually give my well-thought-out, long-labored over gift to its recipient. Will they wonder what this is? Will they know what to do with it?

Maybe that's why I like making food so much, because it usually always gets put to good use?

But when I think about stuff like that, I also remember how much people love that kind of gift even more than an expensive one. (Good thing, cause I'm not exactly moneybags.) My dad always tells me how he loves the mini scrapbooks I make him sometimes, and personalized gifts just mean so much more than store-bought ones.

But I also like this quote:

"Stop minimizing what you are good at & throw yourself into it with no apologies."

Because more than once, I have actually wanted to apologize for not thinking more practically, at least to myself. Or, I've wanted to apologize for not doing better at what I'm good at.

Here are some of the projects I've done lately that make me wonder these things:

1- A Mother of the Bride Emergency Kit, inspired by this photo. I took a shoe box and filled it with a bunch of items that might be necessary on a wedding day, then gave it to my mom for Mother's Day. (Oh, and the least practical item I threw inside was also the one I was most proud of. Because what is more adorable than this?)

2- A mini journal (much like this one) for my fiance who's turning 25 on Monday. It was "31 Things We Should Remember When We're Married," and it just had a marriage related quote on each page (most from my Pinterest marriage board) with a little commentary from me afterwards.

3- A handwritten recipe book filled with "Recipes from Home," with things like mom's standby recipes in it, along with a bunch of dishes I've grown up eating that I want to remember forever.

4- A hand-drawn (but not quite exact) map of our hometown to go in my wedding invitations, so faraway guests can get an idea of where the wedding location will be in relation to my house, church, the tux rental shop and some of the major sights and attractions.

5- An extremely beautiful package I sent to my friend that had her wedding present inside, complete with stickers (that probably fell off in the mail) and lace paper doilys (which probably got ripped).

But when I look back at some of these projects, I'm actually pretty proud of them, even if they're not completely practical. And some of them are.

  So can we stop minimizing and apologizing and just throw ourselves in?

I think so.

Photo cred: @brepurposed

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Yesterday, I was going through my mom's book of standby recipes, and I came across the Original Tollhouse Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe. And then I remembered making that about a zillion times growing up, first with her help and then on my own.

In fact, chocolate chip cookies were probably the only thing I ever cooked or baked until probably my junior year of high school. And the recipe book they came from really started to fall apart. But that recipe is what made me fall in love with being in the kitchen.

I haven't made those cookies in at least a year, but seeing the recipe made me think about what makes me have a blast preparing food to this day. Here's what that is, and how to love cooking like I do.

1- Make a Mess. This is probably the number one best thing about being in the kitchen. It's not that I'm normally a messy person (my room is usually pristine), but I'm just an extremely clumsy person, and a rather haphazard cook. If I drop a strawberry on the ground (which I did Saturday while making Strawberry Biscuits), I leave it there to step on and squish later. When I open a drawer or cupboard to get something out, I don't bother closing it back again. If I accidentally sprinkle flour on the counter, I'll clean it up later. But that's what I love. I would get so bored of cleaning up every step of the way. It's much better and freer if you do what you need to do without worrying about whether you'll spill, or remembering to close a cupboard. Ain't nobody got time for that.

2- Clean Up Fast. But thankfully, I also make sure everything is thoroughly cleaned up before I leave the kitchen. And I can accomplish that pretty quickly. My mom has this (sometimes annoying) rule that no dishes can be left in the sink overnight, and I think that helps. It doesn't work to leave everything a mess (especially my kind of mess) for hours. The faster you get everything back to normal, the faster you can forget the mess was even there and just enjoy the fruits of it (the awesome food you just made).

3- Make Food Pretty. Presentation is big for me. The food I serve should look close to magazine worthy, even though it'll just be devoured soon after. When you make an effort to make food pretty by garnishing or whatever, even though it doesn't make much of a taste difference, you just feel so much better about yourself as a cook. You've made something not only delicious, but beautiful.

4- Make Food Creative. I was one of the first to jump on the cake pop bandwagon, and instead of buying myself a normal sized donut pan, I had to get a pan that makes mini donuts. I don't cook the same thing very often (except maybe pizza, duh), or I make little switches that transform dishes into something completely different. Preparing food is so much more fun when it's not always the same thing over and over again. And with the abundance of recipes online and in books, there's not really ever an excuse to be a boring cook.

5- Resources. And speaking of available recipes, another thing that makes cooking fun is where we get our inspiration to cook, whether from a cookbook or magazine or just plain Pinterest. Don't you just want to try baking every cupcake in the adorable 500 Cupcakes book? And suddenly, I have a new interest in baking pie and cobbler after perusing Sweeter off the Vine. Food and recipe bloggers are also so good at making food look amazing and easy to cook up. And even though your end result rarely looks like theirs, at least the anticipation that it will is inspiring.

Here are some of my favorite resources for recipes (but there's really too many in the world to count):

Mel's Kitchen Cafe
Baking A Moment
Laura in the Kitchen
Our Best Bites
Girl Versus Dough
Plain Chicken

Also, my mom is an amazing cook, and person all around. She can do anything. Shout out to her this Mother's Day week.

Also, to my dad, who ate almost every chocolate chip cookie I ever made (and still begs me to make more).

P.S. Check out Mom's Mashed Potatoes for a great recipe and yet another example of my disastrous chef style.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

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If You Fell Off a Treadmil

I read this book called What Alice Forgot a little while ago, and thought it was so good. It was recommended by Janssen on this podcast, and it sounded interesting, so I got it on audible.

Anyways, it's about this 40 year old mom who falls off a treadmill at the gym and immediately forgets everything that happened within the last ten years of her life, including her three children.

But it ends up being a blessing in disguise because, within the last ten years, she's completely changed as a person. Her relationship with her husband, sister and even sweet elderly neighbor has basically been destroyed and her life has become a swirling, complicated mess of divorce and a whole lot of other things she never would have dreamed she would get involved in.

It was super thought provoking, so I thought I'd share a few things about it.

Alice at age 30 is this young, carefree, pregnant newlywed who doesn't have much but drowns her sorrows in chocolate and never, ever exercises. She also hates all social events. (Sounds like my kind of person, actually.) She isn't the skinniest wife around and her hair is sometimes a little crazy, but she doesn't care because she's madly in love with her husband (Nick) and genuinely enjoys life. They just purchased this fixer upper house which they never dream they'll have enough money to actually fix up.  

At age 40, she's bogged down with caring for her three kids, volunteering for every school activity out there and trying to please others. She's stick thin because she works out constantly, and totally avoids anything with sugar in it. Over time, she somehow developed this terrible disdain for her husband who she's about to divorce. But weirdly enough, she has plenty of money, and a perfectly beautiful borderline mansion that's finally been finished because of her husbands promotion and long hours at work.

The book goes through how she's naturally shocked at all of these new changes in her life right after her accident. Who knew so much could go wrong in 10 years? She gradually gets her memory back, and readjusts her life according to what her 30 year old self did and didn't like about it. 

One of the biggest shocks was that she was actually divorcing Nick, the love of her life and the one she can (and must) tell everything to.

A few takeaways:

1- Never stop eating chocolate, or giving your kids chocolate.
2- Never get too busy, or work too much, and make time for the things that are important in life like marriage and true friends and family.
3- Sometimes, we change and grow over time, but our love and our kindness deep down should always stay.
4- Never exercise too much (especially on treadmills).
5- Be fun and spontaneous sometimes. Once in the book, Alice wore her 6 year old's dressup sequin scarf because she thought it was pretty. Her 40 year old self would never have touched it, but her younger, more bubbly self thought it was cute.
6- Never become a sour, boring old person. Life can be hard  and there are definitely obstacles in marriage and parenting and other things, but we can still stay sweet (and fun), no matter what comes our way.
7- Money doesn't make you happy. And you can have the biggest, most perfect house on the block, but that won't save your marriage or your relationships, or give you what you really want in life. (Good thing, cause we'll probably be living in a tiny apartment and scrimping for at least the next year.)
8- "Never forget how in love you are today. It will get you through all your tomorrows." That's what one of the ladies at my bridal shower wrote in my advice journal, and it's so true! I also liked how, at the end of the book, Nick was so thankful that Alice lost her memory, because he knew that's what brought them back together. But it shouldn't take a serious head injury for us to remember what things were like in the beginning. 
9- "It was so good to find that their relationship could keep on changing; finding new edges. Early love is exciting and exhilarating; it's light and bubbly. Anyone can love like that. But love after three children, after you've hurt each other and forgiven each other, bored each other and surprised each other, after you've seen the worst and the best, that sort of love is ineffable. It deserves it's own word."

I wouldn't really recommend this book because it does have some language and a few less than kid-friendly references, but I really liked the ideas in it and the way it made you think. I learned a lot that can be applied to my place in life right now.

Anyways, I said all that to say that if you fell off a treadmill and lost all your memory for the last ten years, what would your old self think of your new self, and the progress you've made? Who knows where I'll be in ten years, but I do know that I identified with the old Alice to an almost scary degree, so I hope I don't end up where the new Alice did. 

But with God's help, I know I won't. Even though my love is young and I'm young, we're beginning something huge and amazing that will just have to last a lifetime.

Monday, April 11, 2016

As you probably already know (because of this post and this post), I've totally jumped on the adult coloring book bandwagon recently.

I don't do it a whole lot, but on slower evenings, it's one of the best forms of entertainment ever (and probably more stimulating and relaxing than mindlessly scrolling through my phone when I have extra time).

In fact, I've been so into coloring that I listened to two podcasts on it recently (including The Crayola Crayon Story), both of which talked for almost an hour about the history of coloring and crayons, the psychology of why coloring has mental benefits, techniques and more.

I've definitely joined the hype. (So much for authenticity.)

But it's so much fun, so why not?

My mom always jokes that she doesn't think it's a stress reliever, because when she's stressed, all she wants to do is scribble furiously and destroy every picture. So maybe it's my calmer personality that works better with it. In other words, if you're feeling angry and like destroying things, maybe you should get a punching bag instead of a coloring book.

But the best coloring books are the ones with (how did you know I would say this) words to go along with them!

So here's a list of some of my favorite.

1. Mary Engelbreit's Color ME: This one is huge, and every page is thick and sturdy, not to mention adorable. Her illustrations always have the most clever sayings to go with them. She has calendars, cards and other items, too.

2. Simple Blessings Scriptures and Inspirations (by Karla Dornacher Designs): The picture above is one of my favorites from this book, but there's all kinds of cute, mostly scriptural, designs.

3. Beauty in the Bible, Volumes I and II (by Paige Tate): I don't have these, but I follow the author on Instagram where she posts a lot of her pages. They're so sweet!

4. Creative Haven's Owl Coloring Book: Not all of these have quotes or words, but they're really cute. This brand has a lot of other uniquely-themed coloring books, too, like Seascapes and Desserts. But this owl one is just so us.

5. "Today is Going to be a Great Day" Adult Inspirational Coloring Book (by Christian Art Publishers): I like that this one also has gift tags, notecards and bookmarks to color in the back.

6. Whatever is Lovely Adult Coloring Book for Reflection and Worship (by WaterBrook Press): Words from hymns, scriptures and inspirational writers are on every page of this one, which is a collaboration of different illustrators.

There's so many others out there, too. This fad is ridiculously popular, but even when the rest of the world stops loving it, I for one will not.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Lately, I've found out that I love signs with quotes on them. It's not surprising, but more than any other decor item, I'm totally drawn to these.

I found a cute one in Tuesday Morning that said "Happily Ever Afters can only be understood backwards, but they must be lived forwards."

It's true, though.

I also saw this sign at a wedding on Style Me Pretty, and I thought it was quite appropriate, so I went right into Word and made one for my own wedding. (Plus got a really cute vintage frame to display it in.) 

I'm probably not going to win any graphic design awards for it, but I also thought it would be a great sign to have around the house permanently. We now have it on our counter corner, bold and upturned as if glaring at anyone who dares to be salty. But I'm definitely keeping it to put in my own house later on.

I can picture myself pep-talking my kids with pointed finger when they're in grumpy moods and taking them over to this sign to read it.

But hey, we all need this reminder sometimes. The frowning part is a little more excusable, because there are definitely sad and stressful times in life. So I'm not saying we're never allowed to frown (oh wait, I guess I am), but the whining and complaining? No room for that around here. Life is good, and we have so much! Good things are happening and, no matter what stage in life, we're all so blessed!

So maybe you should download this free and put it in your own home, too. It might get you a few more happy faces.


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