Friday, December 12, 2014

How to fold a napkin into an elf boot

How to fold a napkin into an elf boot

It's not the devil that's in the details. It's the beauty. Details transform a ho-hum decorating scheme to a gorgeous one. They give a party its attitude. They make a meal romantic. They give an outfit its swank. They make a shower a spa and a commute an adventure.

Details wrap up an image or idea, like the perfect red cherry on top of a sundae. I notice them everywhere, because they are what make life interesting, appealing, fun.

This past weekend I took my children to see Santa, and I loved the atmosphere: the lights, the ornaments, the trees, the garland, the costumes, even the breakfast place settings. We'd entered a foreign and exciting land, where elves play and Santa listens to Christmas wishes. It was a perfect way to escape reality for an hour or two.

The tables in this wonderland were topped with colorful napkins folded into elf boots. Immediately I knew I had to figure out how to make my own elf boots, so I could take a piece of this festive atmosphere home, to my own dining table. Figuring you might want the same, I thought I'd share my findings here:

Fold a square napkin in half. Then fold again.

Take the corners of the napkin and pull them up to create the above shape.

Fold each side up again.

Fold the napkin in half.

Turn the napkin around and fold one half up to make the top of the boot.

Fold the napkin to the left of your boot top in half. Wrap it around the boot top and tuck it into the front of the boot.

You're done!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

2014 resolutions: how did you do?

Did you keep your resolutions this year?
Source: Not on the High Street

How did you do with your New Year's resolutions this year?

I have to admit it: the resolutions I make while in a foggy haze Dec 31st are usually a distant memory come February.

But this year was different.

This year there was heart and soul behind my resolutions. My list wasn't made in a nod to tradition. It was made because I truly wanted to achieve. I decided I didn't want to dabble anymore. I wanted to grow my business and contribute to my family in a meaningful way. I no longer wanted to make grocery money. I wanted to make mortgage, retirement, and college tuition money. I wanted to jump in as deep as I could.

So I held my resolutions close to my heart. There was hardly a moment when my goals weren't on my mind, as they fueled many of my daily decisions. And guess what? Despite their scary and aggressive nature, I came very close to achieving them: I very nearly doubled my income.

The path was different than the one I set out to follow. It was, at times, aggravating, bumpy, confusing. Thankfully, I had the good sense to let myself follow success, even though it wasn't laid out as I'd anticipated.

And now I'm wondering what's in store for next year. I still have real business goals to achieve, as I remain far from where I'd like to be. I need to reevaluate the paths to achieve them, and therein I hope to find a resolution or two.

What about you?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

This is 45

Source: The Cake That Ate Paris

I'll admit it. I entered my 40's begrudgingly. I ushered in the decade sipping some bad wine while the NYC commuter trains roared by, shaking my newly acquired rental house as if it were made of paper. The stock market crash had stolen my life, and on top of that my face was showing its age. It seemed like my best years were behind me, and I wasn't happy.

That day seems eons ago, but just 5 years have passed. I've settled into my 40's, and things aren't quite so bleak. In fact, I've learned quite a bit. Here's what 45 looks like:

  1. I've learned that life paths are fragile and unpredictable. Today's normal may be shattered by job loss, death, or illness tomorrow. Today I strive to embrace each moment I have.
  2. The older I get, the more I realize I don't know. My life isn't figured out, nor do I know better than my neighbors or friends. This realization has made my life fuller, as I am open to more ideas and I don't judge.
  3. I've relaxed in my parenting. My children have taught me not to judge their progress with charts and compare notes with other parents. I love and support and push when necessary. That's what they need.
  4. I've moved beyond panic and dismay when I confront my wrinkles in the mirror. No, I haven't decided I like them, but I do realize they are part of the aging process. I will do my best to fight aging, but I will not break the bank or waste my precious time fretting about the inevitable.
  5. Marriage has stretched me. It is bumpy, exciting and not at all as I envisioned it when I said my vows. Marriage is compromising and arguing, but it is also laughing and partnering. Having a person who has my back when life is throwing seemingly insurmountable hurdles my way has been worth every struggle. Marriage is the soft pillow I lie my head on every night, no matter what.
  6. Life provides opportunities to reinvent ourselves time and again. These opportunities most often arise at life's milestones: when we go to college, get married, have children. They also come about when crisis enters our lives. These are key moments to assess wants, needs, and talents and forge a whole new path for ourselves.
  7. Crisis will come. I've learned to allow myself to grieve and be angry. I won't let anyone deny my struggle by pointing out a silver lining they think I ought to desperately hold onto, but after I've taken my time to grieve, I know I have to use that crisis as an opportunity to become a better version of myself.
  8. I spent many years pretending I was okay when I was not. Today I go out in the world acutely aware many others do the same. I am by no means perfect, but I try to offer a smile and a nice word to those who cross my path.
  9. I don't waste my time being angry. When I confront road rage and rude people (who are everywhere) I take a breath and shake it off. I thank my lucky stars I'm not as angry as they are, and I move on.
  10. I learn whenever I can. I read books, watch instructional YouTube videos, attend classes and seminars. Learning keeps me young, interesting, relevant, and informed. It makes me excited to get up and see what the day has to offer. 
  11. I ask questions, all the time. In the past I spent a lot of time telling. Asking allows me to better understand my friends, family, and clients. It opens the door to another person's heart. It puts my focus on others, not just myself.
How does life look at your age?

Monday, November 3, 2014

It's the little things

It's often the smallest gestures that have the greatest impact

It really is the little things that count.

How do I know?

I've spent a fair number of years in the dark. Perhaps you've occupied that space yourself, where life is a heavy burden that presses down on you a little bit harder each day. It's a lonely and fragile place, making it a time when the impact of small gestures is magnified.

The gestures I'm referring to are so small that it's easy to overlook them. They are seen in the cashier who raises her eyebrows and shares a joke about the outrageous price of organic milk. They are seen in the man circling the crowded parking lot who gives up his space to a stranger, for no apparent reason. They are seen in the woman at the checkout who winks and smiles at the mom, even though her child is fussing.

Though these actions may seem inconsequential, they rarely are, because a small act of kindness can envelop the jagged and lonely heart. It can reach in and pull those in despair into the light.

As we go about living our lives, we often focus on ourselves and our endless "to do" lists. Our interactions with people at the bus stop, in the library, and at the sub shop down the street are rarely top of mind, because they don't seem important.

But they are. There is meaning in every encounter we have with others, and that meaning is often much greater than we realize. There's no need for grand gestures. Just kindness.

Friday, October 31, 2014

The cocky painter

Using chalk paint to transform furniture

There's nothing more exciting than unleashing an idea I've been carrying within. I love to transform raw ideas into physical things that can be touched, savored, read, worn, admired. It might be a favorite restaurant dish I recreate for my family. It might be an article that shares the emotion locked deep inside, that I was able to coax to life with just the right words and rhythms. It might be a newly painted room, with the perfect eggshell finish, the quintessential modern, slate color.

When my friend suggested I refinish a tired, moldy piano I'd inherited from my mother, then, I became excited about transforming the grotesque into the beautiful. As I tiptoed into the world of salvaging and refinishing, I reached out to my friends, who held my hand, giving me advice on paint colors, technique, and waxes. When completed the piano was stunning.

That's when it happened. I fancied myself an Annie Sloan protege. I began giving others advice. I became a bit cocky.

I was on a roll. What else could I paint, I began to wonder. How could I make the world around me, in my little new house, more beautiful?

I have the dream of refashioning a tiny room, perhaps originally a sewing room, into a dressing room. I have a fabulous gold mirror, and a decadent sheep skin rug in it. A chandelier, an antique desk, some beautiful shelves to complement my armoire, and my vision would be a reality. So I decided to try a two color distressing technique with my bland old desk chair. I'd paint it gold, then white, then wax, distress, and wax some more. It would be the first step toward creating a room I could call a masterpiece.

I painted, sanded, waxed, distressed, and waxed again. And, as my son aptly described it, when I was done my chair looked like I'd smothered it in dog doo doo. It wasn't pretty. No. It was a complete disaster.

I was crushed. Had my piano project been a fluke? Had I experienced beginner's luck? What would I do now?

Naturally, I decided to cover up all evidence of my art project gone awry. I sanded the chair to the bone and started over. This time I skipped the dark wax and made sure the gold color showed through at the marks of distressing.

The result?

It's better, but I'm no distressing aficionado. I think I'll focus on writing down words for the next few weeks. They are easier to make beautiful.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Who are you?

Who are you?
Who looks back at you from the mirror?

Who are you? Could you write a tag line or elevator speech about yourself as they suggest you do in professional development seminars?

I've always had a difficult time bundling my skills and interests into a concise yet still coherent sentence, and I've decided that's a good thing.


Being in your 40's doesn't mean you've made all your major life decisions and the road is clearly paved. In fact, this time is exciting for many of us, who've worked in corporate America, paused to raise children, and now have the opportunity to reinvent ourselves. It's an exciting fork in the road that I must admit I sometimes travel with exhilaration and other times with great fear.

I have no idea who I am, and I'm happy about that, because I'm just now discovering new interests and skills. 20 years ago I ate cereal for dinner because I could barely put in the effort to heat up soup. Today, I chop, sauté, and braise. I come home from restaurants and try to recreate dishes. 15 years ago I did nothing but eat, sleep and breathe technology. I worked 16-hour grueling, yet mind-bending days at a consultancy in Boston. If I had interests, I had no idea what they were. Today, I'm painting pianos, researching fascial tissue, teaching Pilates, writing books, blogging, and selling skincare products. Each activity opens doors, exciting new places to experiment and learn.

Not everything leads to success, and I've had my share of duds (calls for takeout when my meals flop, rejected books and blog posts, DIY projects gone horribly wrong, lackluster starts to new businesses).

These bumps can put a wrinkle in my confidence, and they require reflection about my own skills and interests. But all of this is crucial if I'm to truly understand who I am and what I can offer while living in this world.

Funny. When I was in my 30's I thought I had it all figured out. I knew what I wanted. I was climbing the corporate ladder and enjoying success. I did not have open questions. Today, I've learned that I'm far from figuring anything out. And when I think I have, something (a recession, an illness, or some other calamity) is likely to blow that understanding to pieces. Today I know I'll be working on developing an answer to that above question for some time. In fact, I'll worry if I ever arrive at a concise answer. How about you?

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Urbanites and the pull to earth

A retreat to nature restores the spirit and the mind

My husband is such a smart aleck. After I painted a picture of familial bliss this past Saturday, complete with blue skies, fiery red foliage, happy children picking apples, and satisfied husbands eating savory applesauce and home baked pie, I thought I'd convinced him he'd enjoy a retreat from city dwelling.

But right before getting into the car he sent this tweet to his gazillion followers:

Wife tells me that apples grow on trees and you can go miles away and pick them. 
Seems easier to go to the grocery, but whatever… 

Clearly, he doesn't get it.

A result of today's plentiful concrete and skyscrapers, today's urbanites have acquired a thirst for the land, for rustic living, and fresh air. This is evidenced by the chicken coops, beehives, and ambitious organic vegetable gardens that now occupy my neighbors' backyards. And, ever popular farmer's markets cater to our new found desire to see dirt on our vegetables and embrace the unwaxed and not so perfect looking, yet still delicious, tomato.

Because somehow we know, intrinsically, that a communion with nature and the earth will revive our spirits and senses. 

My yearly apple picking adventure has nothing to do with convenience. Instead, it's a retreat for the soul, an opportunity to marvel at the clean air and feel the powerful sun warm my body. It's an opportunity to walk the fields and smell the fruity scent that travels down each row of trees. It's an opportunity to savor  that first, crisp bite of fruit and laugh as the sticky juice runs down my chin. It's an opportunity to teach my children that food grows from the earth, not from color coded bins in the supermarket.

That's why the grocery store just won't do.

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