More or Less

Writing a blog about being happy when you’re going through a rough patch in life can be challenging, thus why I’ve decided to write this.

For the past few months I’ve been happy less rather than more. Not to say I’ve been unhappy for months or anything, but for me, it’s been less than usual. I don’t intend to use this blog as a therapy session where I unload all of my problems into the world of internet energy and onto others, but more so as a “you can do it, if I can do it” sort of situation.

I often look in the mirror and wonder if I have become the person I was supposed to become, would my grandparents be proud? I’ve always felt like I had potential, not sure why or in what, but none the less I wake up everyday feeling like there’s a purpose out there for me. For weeks at a time I’ll think: AH! this is it, I’ve found it finally got my purpose. Then I’ll get smacked in the face by another let down, a big road block, a dead end, another big bill just when I thought I had an extra twenty bucks to spend and now I’ve got negative four hundred. And then I’m forced to reevaluate all over again: do I really have a purpose, does anybody, am I spending my days searching for something I’ll never find, or am I right around the corner?

I wonder as I’m sure many wanders do, am I even close to being on the right track? Is life about the bigger picture, or is it about all of the little things? I’ve always been able to extract joy out of the small things, like enjoying a cold diet coke on a hot day, or the simple beauty of a field of cows on my drive home, but lately even my little go-to’s haven’t been enough.

However, despite circumstance, I am realizing happiness is a choice, and like most other things worth having, takes work. So for now, I’m working on being happy more, and leaving the less in the dust…making little choices and taking baby steps just like Bob Wiley towards contentment and happiness (more or less).

Snowpacking & The Lessons Learned

bp2.0

Our second official backpacking trip to the Grouse Ridge Trail in the Sierra Nevada Mountains this past weekend ended up being a much snowier experience than we had anticipated. With waist high snow in some spots, slick ice covered rocks, and freezing temperatures, we had our work cut out. While this trip wasn’t all we had hoped for, it certainly taught us a lesson or two, especially me. Albeit only my second official backpacking experience, I think I finally “get it” now. I understand why you can’t take jars of ancho chili jam, four breakfast options, and two diet cokes per day. My habits die hard, but on our next trip, I vow to leave my love for food, diet coke, and comfort at home. Then I ponder, why go in the first place? And remember, it’s the view, the nature, and the wildlife. We saw a coyote on our drive out,  and there’s a certain excitement that goes along with being amongst animals that could eat you if they wanted to.

Backpacking puts life in perspective for me, looking out at the massive mountains, valleys dotted with crystal clear lakes, and miles and miles of hundred-year-old trees, remind me of how lucky we are to be a part of this big old place. No cell phones for a day or two, no TV, and none of the usual stresses of work and home. It’s an awesome feeling working as a team to reach a destination, watching our Golden Retriever lead us out and find the trail, and knowing just you and your two legs can climb a mountain. Don’t get me wrong, backpacking is a bitch when your pack is too heavy, you’re a little south of your health goals, and you’re up to your ass in snow, but with the right friends, dogs, and a sense of humor, unforgettable memories are inevitable.

Living with Multiple Personalities

I dedicate this blog to my friend Simon in the Czech Republic.

It’s that time of year again, you know where this is headed, time to lose all of that wonderful holiday weight I’ve spent the later half of September, October, November, and December gaining, oh yeah and seven days in January.

I pull the scale out, look down, and brace myself. It’s going to be bad. I figure, I’m not alone though, and better to start now than in four months when summers too close and there’s no hope at all.

I’m conflicted; my bad angel, a fat flannel wearing truck-driver named Don, and my good angel, her name’s Carrie Underwood, sitting on my shoulders, wrestling on the top of my head. Carrie’s telling me, do you really need that diet coke, why don’t you try a lemon water? While Don’s saying, have a Coors Light you pussy! Carrie urges me to be a better person: make the bed in the morning, go to the gym (shower after), do my hair, look nice, care about strangers. But then Don steps in (Don’s a girl by the way, she just prefers to drop the a-w, and go for the o), and reminds me, one day at the gym is really not going to help. Don swears A LOT, hates children, fears no one, and apologizes for nothing.

I will say, one nice thing about the Don-Carrie combo, between the two of them, I’ve never missed a meal! It’s either really healthy food, like the steel oats I’ve just had for breakfast (which are nasty), or something like crepes with fresh blueberries and homemade salted whipped cream; but it’s never nothing. Us three, we like about five meals a day, there had better be a few diet cokes, a mid-day snack, about sixteen glasses of water, and at least one dessert. If Carrie’s in charge, it’s two pieces of dark chocolate and a cup of tea, if it’s Don, we’re having a bag of sour-patch kids, a brownie, and a few beers.

On the 2nd, we ate so much candy, that by bedtime, if felt like needles were going through the top parts of my toes as I tried to fall asleep. I’m attributing that to nerve-pain caused by excessive amounts of white sugar, and I’ll try to remember this feeling next time I scour my snack basket in the pantry.

It’s not always easy having multiple personalities, but we’re making the best of it, and sometimes I just have to let Don have her way for a few months at a time. But, this time of year is Carrie’s time to shine. She’s already signed me and my sister up for a triathlon. Well, my sister’s doing the triathlon, Don would only allow us to do the sprint version of a triathlon. And Don will be requiring a big Coors Light after that one, but for the most part, she’s getting her big, fat mouth taped shut for a while. So, here’s to running, weight-training, biking, and broccoli, it’s going to be just great I swear.

Happy twenty fifteen everyone!

meet Don…

photo-5

Christmas Happy

Rustic Drop-Cloth Stockings

How to make a stocking:

This year I wanted some rustic, yet elegant stockings, so I searched Amazon, craft stores, and drugstores, but couldn’t find anything that really fit the bill. I decided I’d make them myself upon realizing what I wanted wasn’t out there. I’ve read several tutorials on using painters drop-cloth to slipcover furniture, so I figured it would work just fine for stocking material as well. I’ve made eight large stockings out of one 6×9 ft canvas drop-cloth sheet. They turned out better than I imagined, and for eleven dollars a sheet you can’t beat the price!

Follow these simple steps to make your own Elegant and Rustic Drop-Cloth Stockings.

First iron, cut, & trace the stockings…

  • Clear a large flat workspace and layout the cloth.
  • Iron with a hot iron (make sure the surface below can handle the heat).
  • Cut a template from cardboard. I like my stockings large, so I drew a chubby stocking for my template).
  • Trace around the template onto the cloth with a regular ballpoint pen.
  • Trace side two so it will mirror side one. Trace toe to toe, this will keep finished edges together (see the fifth photo, bottom right corner).
  • Cut out.

stocking1

Pin, sew, and attach the hanger…

  • Pin cloth together inside out (there will be a finished white stitch indicating the finished side running around all edges of the cloth). By using the finished seam already on the drop cloth you save yourself a big step.
  • Ready the sewing machine. Use neutral colored threads, I used cream colored and a tan thread for the bobbin.
  • Carefully sew the two pieces together (inside out).
  • Move slowly with your machine around the toe and heel areas.
  • Reverse the stitch at the end to secure it. Don’t sew across the top!
  • Cut 8 inch burlap strips and sew into the inside seam of the heel-side of the stocking to use as the hanger.

stocking2

Finally, turn the stocking inside out, and add the decorative ribbon…

  • As you turn the stocking to it’s right side press along the inside seams to straighten them out.
  • For the guys I’m using the plain stockings with the burlap hangers, but for the gals I’m adding a decorative ribbon across one side of the stocking.
  • I simply pinned the ribbon and sewed a straight stitch down both sides of the ribbon. I used a tiny piece of double sided tape in the middle or you could add a few hand stitches in the center.

stocking4

stocking3

I highly recommend this project for anyone that wants a personal, homemade gift. Merry Christmas Everyone!

Happy, Healthy Italian Wedding Soup

After a weekend that started on Thursday morning, I realize it’s high time to tighten the reins on all of the celebrating. A cold, rainy day following the holiday weekend calls for something hot and healthy; it’s time for Italian Wedding Soup.

Italian Wedding Soup

Serves 4-6
¾ lb ground turkey
½ cup Italian breadcrumbs
2 eggs
72 ounces Chicken broth (1 & ½ large cartons)
1 bag kale
1 can white beans
2 Tbsp. Olive Oil
1 onion
4 cloves garlic
½ cup fresh Parmesan or Romano cheese
½ bunch of fresh oregano
tsp. salt
pepper
red pepper flakes

I thaw some ground turkey for this simple, healthy, and incredibly tasty dinner. I chop an onion, fresh oregano, and garlic. With the turkey thawed, the breadcrumbs, one egg, and half of the oregano mixed in, I form small meatballs (about a third of the size of a normal meatball). For Meatballs: mix ¾ lb ground turkey, ½ cup Italian breadcrumbs, and 1 egg, form balls, and sauté in 1 Tbsp. olive oil.

I sauté the chopped onion in olive oil in one pan, and brown the little meatballs in the other. On the back burner the broth and drained white beans come to a boil in a stockpot. Once the onions are cooked (about fifteen minutes), add the garlic for two minutes. Drain the lightly browned meatballs; they should be tender. Add onion, garlic, remaining fresh oregano, and drained meatballs to the broth. Stir in the kale and cook for ten to fifteen more minutes. Add salt and pepper. Whisk remaining egg with Romano cheese, and then quickly stir into hot soup. This final step gives the soup a cloudier broth, and adds a velvety texture. Top with fresh Romano cheese and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Serve with hot French bread.

A soup as simple, flavorful, and healthy as Italian Wedding has to make it onto your weeknight menu.You just have to try this satisfying crowd-pleaser!

IMG_7765

Happy Elvis

No matter what kind of day I’m having I can pull into the Sam’s Club gas station to get gas, and if Gary’s there, I will, guaranteed, leave happy. Gary is a retired gentleman that works as a gas station attendant in his spare time. He doesn’t work for the money, he works because he loves people. Gary jovially cruises around the parking lot chatting with the customers, helping people pump gas, and singing Elvis songs at the top of his lungs. He blares Elvis music from the gas shack in the middle of the station. Hearing him sing makes me smile instantly, he’s just so happy and sweet. It’s like a new born puppy, so cute you could cry. He’s the most adorable person, and he’s as nice as pie too.

About two weeks before Halloween I was fueling up and had forgotten my club card, I called over to Gary for help. He swiped a card with no issue and began telling me his Halloween plans. He would be dressing up as Elvis and coming to the gas station to pass out candy (even though it was his day off). I was not surprised he’d be doing this, and I told him I’d make sure to come by and see him.

On Halloween morning I drove by the station before work, but he wasn’t there yet. I had to see him. My Halloween would not be complete if I missed this. I convinced my boss to let me run over after lunch to see if he was there. I drove around the station with no luck. About to give up with my tail between my legs, I inquired with the current attendant to see if he had already left. He told me Gary was inside getting some lunch. I eagerly parked the car, ran in, and continued the hunt. I found him proudly dressed as the best Elvis I’ve ever seen. He was getting a soda when I asked him to pose for a picture. I got the picture, gave him a hug, and wished him a happy Halloween.

It’s impossible not to smile every time I see Gary and hear him singing along to his beloved Elvis. He may not be the real Elvis, but he’s a Sam’s Club celebrity no doubt. All of his customers and fellow employees love him, and if I had the money, I’d buy him a Cadillac just to make him as happy as he makes others.

IMG_2040

Happy Fall!

When I think of fall I think of all of the wonderful smells, like apple-cinnamon candles, pumpkin spiced lattes, and simmering pots of soup. I crave earthy root vegetables, sage, rosemary, and rich braised meats. I hear football on TV. The temptations of the season are too hard to resist, so why bother. I indulge in a weeknight dinner delight, Braised Short Ribs with Root Vegetables. This meal is sure to perk up any workweek.

I sear some stout English short ribs in sweet cream butter. After two minutes on each side I deglaze the Dutch-oven pan with half a bottle of California Red Blend and beef stock. I add several carrots, an onion, and an entire head of garlic to the pot. Braising the beef for three hours will make the meat so tender it will fall off the bone. Fresh rosemary picked from the yard, salt, and pepper season the dish.

While the beef is braising in the oven, I open the windows to enjoy the first fall chill, (which by any other than California standards is completely pathetic). A strong gust of wind blows through the house, and I notice the trees come to life outside. A fragile yellowish-green leaf drifts to the ground, and it dawns on me, the autumn officially is upon us.

The remaining wine calls to me and I can’t waste it, it’s time to celebrate the season anyway. A glass of red, braised beef with root vegetables over mashed potatoes, and the slight chill in the air make me happy; so happy to welcome the beautiful fall season back again, and grateful to close the chapter on another long, hot, and dry summer. Happy Fall my friends!

IMG_7682