Recipe for a Balanced Day

While I try to focus this blog more on lifestyle—food, travel, décor, DIY stuff, interesting people—this summer has not really been a lifestyle summer.  Which is okay; as it commences, I am totally at peace with what it was: a figuring-out-operational-processes summer.  Not super glamorous or exciting or earth shattering, but useful nonetheless as the family heads into the next season.

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Tomorrow, the kids go back to school and we all fall back into a nine-month regiment of hot-cereal breakfasts; early, chilly mornings at the bus stop; after-school sports; a forest’s worth of school papers haphazardly stuck to the fridge; a predictable schedule (for Mom) and hopefully a lot more writing and work accomplished. I like this sort of schedule, even as I appreciate the occasional randomness that ensures we haven’t all morphed into robots.  As I think about this, I think about how much is crammed into my life and the lives of most my female friends and counterparts.

Modern women are BUSY. Some are born with the ability to balance it all without missing a beat (we’ve all met at least one of those mutant-types), but most of us have to learn, through trial and error, how to manage the crazy madness of it all. Mother, wife, employee, executive, entrepreneur, nurse, caretaker, friend, daughter, sister, volunteer, artist, financial planner….the list goes on, compounding for single mothers.  All things we have the ability to be good at and probably enjoy to some extent—but doing it all sometimes feels (to me) like climbing Mount Everest in heels.

And so, at the risk of sounding annoying and trite because most people have already figured this stuff out, here’s what I came up with for myself and anyone who happens to call me up on a day I’m feeling wise, oh so wise:

1) Get up early (!!!)

My body prefers to stay up all night reading, writing or editing pictures in Photoshop—and to catch its beauty sleep as long into the next morning as possible. While motherhood and employment have not been sympathetic to this natural rhythm, I still end up staying up too late and struggling to get out of bed at a time that allows me to “seize the day!”

Getting up early really does give people an advantage on their day—how could it not? You have more time, which is such a scarce commodity, and isn’t that alone worth the sand-filled eyes—the flip-floppy tummy when jerked into consciousness by some horrible honking sound emanating from the cell phone alarm clock?

This advantage is even for people who aren’t naturally morning people—like me—but I am assuming only if you are a coffee drinker. If two cups of dark roast weren’t waiting after disentangling from my beloved down comforter and pillow, I personally wouldn’t care how much advantage was amassed for the taking.

But early rising does appear to be a strong factor in my ability to rise to, rather than react to, the day.

2) Begin the day with quiet meditation

This doesn’t have to be a religious thing.

It is simply an exercise in creating opportunity for spiritual and mental regeneration.

I thought, at first, that I should read a self-help book or Scripture or journal my thoughts during this time. Something that would give me a directive, an action item, for becoming.

But what is really lacking in my life is a time of the day during which I do nothing; the whole “be still and know” idea.

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All day long, there is constant momentum, constant stimulation, constant striving, constant thinking and strategizing and problem solving.

And so, I resist the temptation to fill that quiet time with more “doing” and, instead, with my coffee, sit and listen to the birds sing, listen to the silence, whisper prayers of thankfulness for my family, the jobs that provide for us, the friendships that nourish us, our health, etc. Release the fears and worries. Allow the quiet conversations of heart and mind to connect, without adding anything from the outside.

I can read and journal at other times. The day, with its demands, hassles and ultimatums—it holds back, deferring to the wise presence of Early Morning. In this court, solitude is strength. Silence, the voice of a God (or maybe something different, depending on the individual). Stillness, a cleansing bath for the soul.

The temptation to make mental lists and prioritize action items will creep in—resist! The time for that sort of thing is later.

This time of reflection must be unto its own.

3) Make proper nutrition and exercise a daily priority

Those who know me well have heard me bemoan my all or nothing tendencies, especially when it comes to diet and exercise. My skinny jeans were once a great motivator for choosing salad over a burger; much to my dismay, my vanity has taken a back seat to work, children, business, life. Which SOUNDS noble, but really it just means my health has taken a back seat, as well.

I do know a healthy diet is essential for living the best quality of life possible and remind myself of that when I am tempted to go through the drive-thru or skip my workout. Nutritional food gives me endurance and clarity of mind which helps me get through that dreaded meeting at work, to run a million errands with the kids, to feel calm when dealing with a rebellious child, to embrace every opportunity for creativity and development.

And exercise. Stretching, cardio, lifting weights, walking, because it all helps me sleep at night, it gives me energy, it balances the stress hormones, it gives me confidence when facing new situations. And because we all know that exercise remains an essential part of aging well and healthy living.

So, do it because it’s part of the overall plan for a successful, empowered life. Don’t do it for two weeks because you are going on vacation and will be debuting the dreaded two-piece in front of a critical universe.

That kind of motivation probably isn’t sustainable for a 30, 40, 50 something year old woman—especially if she, like me, has made peace with the fact that a nightly glass (or two) of wine really does feel sexier than sporting a perfectly flat tum-tum.

For me, working out has to happen right after quiet time, or it doesn’t happen. I find working out so early to be an unpleasant, jarring experience for the ole’ system–and I do not understand people who LOVE exercise.  Even at my most slender and fit hiccup of my life,  have I viewed exercise as a necessary evil.  Quite possibly, this indicates laziness.  Nonetheless, getting that dosage of heart-pumping torture out of the way really is the only way.

And—voila! Three habits I need in order to “seize the day” checked off before 7 a.m, setting the foundation for healthy lifestyle choices and the grind of the day’s responsibilities.

And Then The Day Starts

I may or may not accomplish everything else on my list. But if I’ve taken care of myself spiritually and physically, then I know I won’t burn out in the long haul as I have done in the past.

Remembering, of course, that these habits don’t resolve all life’s problems.

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Chemical imbalances, relationships issues, lack of direction and clarity, insecurities, sicknesses, mental illness. There are so many huge, real struggles people face every day. But I think for many women in the stages of career development, raising a family, marriage and figuring other huge things out, we forget to take care of ourselves. We forget what that even looks like.

I know I do.

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Some days are “do as I say, not as I do.” We can’t control all things at all times. We oversleep, we were up all night with sick kids and skipped our meditative time or maybe we simply don’t feel like showing up for a day or two.

But perfection was never the goal in the first place—and we always have tomorrow morning to start again.

Black Sofa Table

This was one short and sweet project:

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Scuffed and missing a top when we brought it home, we spray painted it black and had our friends at Ace Hardware cut mirrored glass for the top.  The whole project cost $25.

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Above it, you see the beginnings of my next project–a gallery wall featuring treasured family and ancestral photos. I’ve been collecting gold frames and hope to have a posting for the reveal very soon.

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Repurposed Headboard Banquette

For weeks, we tried to sell this headboard. I still liked it, but we simply had no room for it; and thus it sat in the basement collect-all room, gathering layers of dust and cobwebs.  Although we asked practically nothing for it, this enormous slab of wood would not leave our house.

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We first resigned ourselves to giving it away–but then a DIY fairy tapped on our shoulder and said, “Ahem–!”  In other words, what creativity could be done with this thing to make it of value to us again?

The answer—banquette seating!

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Banquette seating is many things:  stylish, practical for multiple children and easy to build are the top attributes that come to mind.  And with a carpenter husband, there was no earthly reason why NOT to repurpose our old headboard into a banquette. And so we–well, my husband–did.

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I pondered over how to finish it, then concluded that is must be painted rather than stained.  The bench was a completely different wood than the existing headboard (we stuck to a pretty strict materials budget for this project.)  And my kitchen is a wee bit boring (tans, whites, black–blah) and so I wanted a statement of color.  Blue, to be exact. A traditionalist in that respect, I will never stop adoring pops of blue in kitchens!

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I finished the piece with dark wax to make it appear more aged/weathered because–well, for a few months, I was REALLY into finishing pieces with dark wax.  My nails can attest to that.

It’s not perfect (nothing in my home/life is–who would want that?  Too much pressure!!!!)  But I love that it works for our lifestyle.  Four kids can cram onto it if need be–and they have!  It mops up easily…

And I can almost guarantee it is not something everyone else is going to have sitting in their eat-in kitchens.

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Midcentury Modern White Dresser

Another midcentury modern dresser we upcycled!

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This is definitely becoming our favorite style of furniture–and I especially love to dip the legs in gold.

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This time, we painted it white and finished it with a high gloss polyacrylic which won’t yellow over time as polyurethane tends to do.

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Maybe one reason I love these pieces, with their simple gold accents and sleek lines, is that they remind me of vintage Chanel.  Like this:

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Nothing competes–only compliments.

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The subtle, yet seductive curve of the top drawer:

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I feel like these pieces can stand either alone–perhaps paired with one or two special art pieces.  I am currently on the look out for art and accessories that do not distract from the silhouette of midcentury modern.  I am struggling a little with this, but—well.  It’s a journey.

DSC_1212 (2) Simple. Sophisticated.  Understated elegance.

 

 

Mellow

Such a mellow week; nothing too pressing or stressful. Haven’t experienced loads of motivation, either. Or excitement, but this is okay.  I used to feel that life had to be very dramatic, all the time.  And that if it wasn’t, something needed to be altered to make it so.  Now, I am learning to appreciate that these mellow spells are useful, too.  They let one crawl back inside oneself for a brief interlude to recharge and renew. Explore the value found in freedom from effort.

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One doesn’t stay here, of course–nothing would ever get done!  But neither should one despise the occasional dalliance. And, mellow as I was, a few things managed to occur:

For starters, we finished the Midcentury Modern White Dresser.

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Well.

B finished it.

When we first started refinishing furniture, we both plugged in with paint brushes, foam rollers and sand paper. Some things turned out, other things did not—but it was like cliff diving into Lake Superior. We clasped hands, gave a little victory holler and plunged into whatever awaited us below the surface.

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Recently, we discovered a new technique: spraying the furniture with a paint sprayer. This is definitely a one man job—but the results have been promising thus far. Smooth, hard, shiny finish. No drips, brush marks, weird flashy spots. B has been heading all of the furniture renovations lately so I can focus on my writing projects, and I’ve actually missed it, somewhat.  But he’s doing so amazing, my skills are becoming obsolete–fast.

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I do still take the pictures.  After recently learning my current camera is broken, (it only works part of the time–something I always believed was operator error), plans have been made for a new camera.  But until it arrives, I am wringing all I can out of this one-winged bird.

This week, I interviewed the owner of the Henry Ford Bungalow which sits just north of Pequaming, Michigan. He and his wife conferencing in from Madison, me in Minneapolis—it was lovely and we talked for well over an hour.  The conversation ended at this point only because I suddenly remembered reading about not trapping people in an endless interview.

Someday, I will tell my own story of Pequaming. Why a ghost town matters to me. Why I write so much about it.

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For now, the story is the Henry Ford Bungalow, that white plantation-styled historical landmark, overlooking the Keweenaw Bay and a century of compelling sunsets. Available to the public, and yet practically unknown, which is why I am writing the article. Why, in a few weeks, my husband and I will drive up to that isolated world of water, forest and sky to visit and photograph the summer house Ford had escaped to nearly one hundred years ago.

I am dreaming all sorts of dreams about that upcoming trip. There will be a post, of course, a new camera and a fresh load of pictures (one hopes, anyway!).

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We ended the week by meeting some friends for bowling at Pinstripes and then dinner at Fogo de Chao. It was a first for B and I—that mecca of succulent meat. Full to nearly bursting when we left, I had to forbid myself, in the name of good manners, from curling up in the back of our friends’ SUV and drifting off into some sort of meat-induced coma. My husband sang the praises of the whole experience, and while I did enjoy it, I had a haunting hankering the day after for some sort of spinach or kale smoothie. Something not meat.

Gray Buffet with Antique Brass Hardware

“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”

This is especially true when it comes to recycling old, cast off furniture. This buffet wasn’t the prettiest thing in the world when we found it, sans some hardware and properly closing drawers:

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Somebody had deposited it on the curb in Minneapolis and walked away; that’s okay because as soon as we saw it, visions of an epic upcycle danced through our heads.

It had some scratches and dings which we filled with wood putty and then sanded until smooth. B put his carpentry skills to work, fixing the drawers and doors so they operated smoothly. We sanded the entire buffet, actually—not crazily, but enough to scuff up the surface. Then came the bonding primer followed by two coats of Benjamin Moore gray paint and two coats of polyurethane. We also painted the inside for a nice, clean finish:

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The hardware was unique—so unique, it was unlikely we could find replacements for the missing handles. We weren’t crazy about the original matching white knobs, and so those were ditched altogether. We decided to use the handles only on the middle drawers and to look for something complimentary for the doors and the top drawers:

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We looked no further than the website for Lee Valley. This company is amazing—it is literally a mecca for seekers of beautiful and yet affordable hardware. A jewelry store for furniture, as it were.

The original hardware on the buffet was antique brass, and the finish on the newbies needed to match this. These antique ring pulls came in a variety of sizes—we ordered the smaller size for the top drawers and the larger size for the doors. One must keep scale in mind when accessorizing!

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My own dining room is too small for much more than hungry children and a beautiful banquette bench B made to compliment the farmhouse table we made together. I DO indulge in daydreams of a future dining room that will be an enormous hall with plenty of room for a piece like this AND the hungry kids.

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Rustic Blue

This antique chest of drawers was one of our Valentine’s Day thrift-store treasures. We love prowling around Minneapolis during our dates—and finding this reminded us why!

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She was just so cute, with those glass knobs and petite profile—and we got her for $10 at the Salvation Army.

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I knew I wanted to refinish her into something rustic and French Country; but by then, I was bored to death of chalk paint and dark wax. Also, I wanted a layered look, and I wanted a pop of color. Blue, to be exact—and I was quite stubborn in this decision. Our other pieces have been done in gray, black and white–so safe! I had it in my head that I wanted Mediterranean blue, period!

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I started this project by lightly sanding the surface, and then wiping it clean. I then dry brushed a very thin layer of white paint over the entire surface. After this dried, I then dry brushed the blue all over the piece in very thin strokes. (This layer also had to dry—doing a layered look DOES require a certain amount of patience and time!). After this dried, I distressed the corners and highpoints with sandpaper, knocking the paint down to the original wood just in these areas. I wanted it to look even more old, weathered and dimensional, and so I tried a technique I’ve been dying to try—staining over paint.

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I used Minwax Jacobean stain, applying it in sections, and then wiping it off with a rag. The slight patina it added to the piece was exactly what I was looking for.

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I let this piece dry for a few days before applying a Minwax clear wax for a nice, protective seal.

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She has a different look than the other pieces we have done, but I really do love how it turned out.