Sunday, June 28, 2015

Simple Pleasure Sunday: Browsing HomeGoods

I just survived a really long week. Not only did I have busy days at work, I was also obligated to dogsit each evening as well as all day on Sunday. On top of a full schedule, things went wrong. And then, when they did, they took entirely too long to fix. It was a long and frustrating week. Unfortunately, as I work Monday, I don't even have a two-day weekend as usual to relax. (The upcoming 4th of July weekend will be a three-day weekend though!) I believe that balance in life is key. I am happy that I strive to cultivate simple pleasures, to try to make each day enjoyable. One that I indulged in this week that I haven't focused on in this Simple Pleasure series is browsing my favorite store HomeGoods which I squeezed in during Wednesday evening.

I make an effort to both decorate and keep my apartment nice. My house is truly my castle, my chateau or villa if you will! So, I love a store like HomeGoods that is packed full of home furnishings often refreshed with multiple shipments each week at discounted prices. I thoroughly enjoyed browsing, going down nearly every aisle. Knowing I wanted a professional pedicure during my weekend (which I had this morning and the color I chose was Haute in the Heat by Essie) and still trying to add a couple items to my summer capsule wardrobe, I did not have any room in my budget to make a purchase. Next time I go, I will. Maybe I'll replace my laundry tote, purchase a pretty bundt pan or pick up a specialty food item or home accessory to aid in entertaining fabulously this summer. And anyway, I wanted many items, but didn't have to have any of them this time. I rarely borrow a vehicle, so an outing like this, to browse not even to shop, that is just for fun, not particularly productive, only occurs every once in awhile. Because it's rather rare, it was out of the ordinary and felt a bit special.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Links I Love: Summer

It is officially summer! I hope you take the time to celebrate the season full of sunshine. You know I will! If you need some inspiration, why don't you check out these links I love?

how to make the most of summer []
an Italian teacher's summer assignments [ via]
* ten Tips for an Intentional Summer []
* a dream realized []
* summertime is made for daydreaming []
* Paris Pastry Crawl []
* Philadelphia is the Coolest City in America [ via]
* Summer Events in Bologna [; also check out The Italy Challenge series!]

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Simple Pleasure Sunday: Berry Blood Orange Margarita

I will start mixing up blood orange margaritas of my own pretty soon and drink them on a regular basis throughout the summer. This is a small way that I celebrate the season.

My parents are out of town and the evening before they left (and while my dad was returning from a business trip), my mom and I dined out at one of her favorite restaurants, Red Robin, which is a chain restaurant specializing in gourmet burgers located in Annapolis, Maryland. In addition to my burger and fries, I indulged in their Berry Blood Orange Margarita which was delicious. The berry flavor is actually both strawberry and blackberry. I discovered sweet blood orange juice in Italy. I think this is the second time I've had this particular drink. It was also a treat to eat out.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Simple Pleasure Sunday: Badminton

I had a busy day today. Having borrowed a vehicle late last night, I got up way early to run a couple errands and practice driving without a lot of surrounding traffic (since I have a fear of driving and don't own my own vehicle, so rarely do). I arrived at my grocery store at 7:30 to pick up food for the week and then at the garden center at Lowe's by opening at 8 to pick up a white geranium for my balcony. Unfortunately, they didn't have the color I wanted, so I bought a red one instead. Later in the morning, I passed an independently-owned garden shop just two blocks up and two blocks over from my parents' place and purchased two small (and cheap) white geraniums that I could combine in a single terra cotta pot. Even though I was only planning on filling one pot, I actually own two pots and saucers, so the fact that I now have two plants is completely fine. Plus, it gets it out of my closet. I plan to post pictures of my balcony decor as part of a more elaborate blog post either late June or early July. Prior to posting, I want to make another purchase and it takes time to work things into my budget.

Back at home, I quickly whipped up four batches of cookies, all from Betty Crocker mixes for a family event later that afternoon. After that and fixing myself up a little, including changing into a dress (that I will introduce to you in my upcoming summer capsule wardrobe post), I drove over to my parents' before 11 to start my laundry. My brother and dad opened their gifts just before going out.

At 1, we departed for a restaurant called Mission BBQ to celebrate my brother's June 10th birthday and an early Father's Day (which is June 21st, since my parents' anniversary is June 27th and they'll be away for about 10 days soon). It was a large party including the five of us (even my sister got someone to cover for her at work), my brother's girlfriend, my brother's longtime friend and my maternal grandparents. I love a good pulled pork sandwich! I had anticipated it and it didn't let me down; that sandwich was delicious!

Returning to my parents' place, we indulged in a dining room table full of dessert. There were five kinds of cookies (four from me: oatmeal chocolate chip, walnut chocolate chip, peanut butter, and sugar as well as dark chocolate-dipped coconut macaroons from a bakery), strawberries, an apple bundt cake and a couple kinds of candy.

Then, we went into the backyard and played some doubles badminton badly, teasing and laughing the whole time. I do not usually enjoy sports, but this was something different ...and just plain fun! It was a delightful summery activity. Even though it was hot and humid, I thoroughly enjoyed time spent outside. Each of us threw at least a round of horseshoes too, badly, again! I finished my laundry and then came back home to do a few other chores and eat a light dinner.

It was a good day today and even though tomorrow I have such intentions of baking breakfast for the week, making a phone call, planting my new geraniums, and catching up on more cleaning (that I didn't do last week since I wore nail polish Monday night through first thing Saturday morning. With a single at-home manicure, I strive to have paint on my nails four days a month. Style Hunter by Essie for June and Mademoiselle also by Essie for May's manicure.), I do hope there's a bit of contrast, that I have a chance to relax. I need a bit of time to do nothing on my (Sunday/Monday) weekends so I am able to accomplish what I need to do at work all week during my busy season.

Dolce far niente means "the sweetness of doing nothing" in Italian.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Book Review: Bonjour 40

I installed the book Bonjour 40: A Paris travel log: (40 years. 40 days. 40 seconds.) by Karen A. Chase on my Summer 2015 Reading List because I wanted to both reread and promote such a good book. This title makes me want to gesticulate wildly like an Italian, Why doesn't everyone know of this book?!

The Kindle edition is only $0.99!

The author moved to Paris for about 40 days to mark her 40th birthday. Evolved from a blog, for each day, the author created a vignette you can read in about 40 seconds. She filled in the gaps with larger "reflection" pieces. Her daily entries often end with one of her personal pictures.

I like her writing. It's great travel writing, particularly heavy on the travel experience's impact on her life. This is my favorite part of this genre, even more than describing the place which she also does well. This author can make you feel like you're there; she creates such vivid imagery. Anyway, she articulates what her trip brings to her life in a way I wish I could. I also find her funny, but don't want to give it away! Read it.

She is a kindred spirit as she likes living in a place for awhile. I can totally see myself doing that! Also, we both like to travel, try new things and be open to adventure. And of course, I accomplished something just a bit similar, having spent a week in Paris to celebrate my 30th birthday.

This is such a short and sweet book. Perfect for the beach this summer. Read half, then cool off with a dip in the ocean (or sea or bay), then finish the book before a final dip in the water. This is not a 'how to' guide as she does not specifically discuss budget and the like. It is entirely entertaining and lovely. I highly recommend this as a light summer read.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Simple Pleasure Sunday: Doritos

The Saturday before last, I had an Open House at the apartment community where I work. In preparation for it, the property manager purchased a bunch of refreshments. Of them, I happened to sample a couple small bags of Doritos last week. I love Doritos tortilla chips, the Nacho Cheese flavor in particular.

If you are a longtime reader of this blog, then you know that I firmly believe in experiencing simple pleasures and am a thoroughly positive individual. But if I ever had a "guilty pleasure," it's definitely eating Doritos because my mother abhors them. Being made fun of as a kid and knowing that the ingredients (such as garlic and onion powders) would make our breath smell bad, she never wanted her three children to be teased. I can't help but think that I'm not supposed to be eating them every single time I do.

Doritos are a rare indulgence for me though. Some years, I'll enjoy an entire large bag once a year. Other years like this one, I will grab a little bag every once in a long while. They sell a bag that is a little larger than what's pictured here near the deli counter of my grocery store. If I'm buying sandwich stuff for the week, I might pair my first one with a side of spicy Doritos.

I don't even like this sort of thing usually! I don't like macaroni and cheese, mainly because of the unnatural color of some of the product from the major brands. And the cheese dust of other snacks will stick to your fingertips. I don't care for Cheetos, Cheez Doodles, cheese balls or anything like that. I suppose I do like Cheez-Its. ...but I love and crave Doritos.

Update: I wrote about my weight loss goal of six pounds in this post last Monday. As of this morning, I am proud to announce that I have lost four pounds! That's what I gained in April and then maintained in May. Now, just for those stubborn last two pounds!

Monday, June 1, 2015

Book Review: How to be Slim and Healthy. Announcing My Weight Loss Goal

I found out about Fiona's latest eBook on Wednesday and read it that same day. I learned of this third book of her's entitled How to be Slim and Healthy: A French-inspired journey to slimness and good health on her blog How to be Chic. After French Women Don't Get Fat: the Secret of Eating for Pleasure by Mireille Guiliano, this is only the second "diet" book I have ever read. I highly recommend it. Plus, I purchased it for only $0.99!

This is actually a timely read for me. For the first three months of the new year, I only needed to drop two pounds to hit my latest goal weight of 145 pounds. (Like Fiona, I am 5'7" but I am probably a tiny bit more muscular than the average person due to heredity rather than exercise.) Then, the feasts celebrating Easter and my birthday occurred during April and, as a result, I gained four more pounds. Unfortunately, I have maintained that higher weight through the entire month of May. As most women do, I fluctuate in my weight at times. For me, it's a fifteen pound range. As an adult, I have weighed as little as 145 pounds which I think of as my 'high school graduation weight' and as much as 160 which was my weight at college graduation. I feel fabulous at 145 and I feel like I don't even look like myself at 160. Thankfully (for my wallet), this range is about one size in clothing! Just last month, for some reason, my weight gain and any fluctuation suddenly became rather unacceptable. From now on, I would like to hit my 145 goal and stay within a pound of it. Going into swimsuit season, I am certainly ready to make this happen, to start eating smaller portions and more healthy as well as incorporating frequent exercise into my life. I realize that I am very honest and real on the blog, but I do not believe I would have published my weight if it had not been for Fiona's courage to do so first. Like the author, I faced my fear and also, by writing about it, I am now a bit more accountable to others in my attempt to lose weight. Fiona, merci beaucoup.

I think Fiona's book will truly help me in multiple ways.

Like her, I understand many things about staying on track. That how you spend your days is actually how you spend your life. Each small step counts. Mostly, people accomplish things successfully and then maintain their end result "little by little." And if you "cheat," then you do not abandon the plan altogether, but do better next time. It is crucial to have reminders of how you want to live.

Similar to Fiona, both my past and nature act against me and my weight loss progress. As for my past, prior to age 15, even though I was perfectly healthy, I happened to be skinny, skinniest-girl-in-my-class skinny in fact, and I remember that you could see all of my ribs. I could eat endlessly, and often did! We're talking tables full of food, including junk food and Halloween candy and not gain an ounce! Then, I went on a medication when I was 15 years old and gained ten to fifteen pounds immediately. Also, about that time my metabolism began to slow. For example, eating a donut would translate to a pound on the scale. I still believe that my current metabolism is better than average though. It was a significant challenge to transition to eating much less. In addition, my past environment didn't help either. My family and I have always enjoyed eating a lot. The four other people in my nuclear family unit are all overweight. My mom and sister have horrendous eating habits. Although due to health conditions, my mother is slowly getting better. I am used to eating until I am full at nearly every sitting and can eat beyond the point of feeling absolutely stuffed with some regularity, like once every other week, if not once a week. Then, in that case, if dining out at a restaurant with my family, Michelle always has room for a chocolate dessert; it would be unthinkable for me not to order it, if only to take it home for later. It is important to be mindful of old ways so you can make changes and develop habits against them.

My nature also acts against me. I mentioned chocolate; I have always had a serious sweet tooth. I also adore carbs, specifically, bread and pasta. Mamma mia! In addition to being drawn to unhealthy foods, it is also in my nature to eat as reward, as in I work so hard that I deserve this candy bar, for example. Taught to eat all my vegetables on my plate growing up (and of course finishing all of the other things first), I became a clear-your-plate kind of gal. Even though I do not like to waste food, maybe I should leave something on my plate and not treat my body as a garbage disposal. I suppose my present situation of having such a limited food budget does not assist my weight loss either. Pasta is a cheap meal and I wish I was exaggerating when I say that I eat this dish quite frequently. Luckily, I also love vegetables! I can choose to change my thinking, thus my natural way.

Years ago, I dated a guy who consumed small portions and he got me into that for the first time successfully as well as the 'using a small plate' trick. I am always working on portion control and eating less. I have written about mastering this as a New Year's Resolution so many times (including this year). In addition to not piling my plate as high and not indulging in seconds, I have tried to cut an occasional baguette and my beloved cheddar cheese into portions and store each piece in a separate Ziploc bag in either the freezer (bread in quart-size freezer bags) or refrigerator (cheese in snack-size bags). I may even place one of these cheese bags into a knotted small grocery bag, which may make me pause and reconsider before I undo the knot. If I try something new that works for me, I will be sure to let you know.

Fiona is right that if you don't eat something, eventually you want it less. This does take a long time however. Since I do not have my own car and don't often drive around, I hardly ever eat fast food anymore and there was a time just a few years ago that I was so thrilled to only have to have it once a week! However, I do thoroughly enjoy some form of takeout (to be delivered) still, be it a sandwich, sub, pizza (and possibly wings), or Chinese (beef and broccoli with pork fried rice) about once every couple of weeks or so. Fortunately, we have a free team lunch at least monthly at work. Additionally, I haven't stocked Coca-Cola regularly in my refrigerator since last September (I think) and for most of my life, soda was a regular, if not daily, part of my life. Having less caffeine works well for me as I am very sensitive to it. I replaced coke with plain cold water mostly, but also with a bit of decaffeinated sweetened iced tea. Instead of consuming handfuls of chocolate, I usually enjoy a single individually-wrapped decadent truffle. I may even eat a break or two of a King Size Kit-Kat Bar at a sitting!

I think the major lesson that I will take from Fiona's book is that I should eat less, exercise more, hit my goal weight and then maintain it in order to be and feel chic. I am very idealistic and I could definitely see this thinking working well for me. Really reading all the lifestyle books and blogs that I do which encourage intentional and mindful living, these resources have already impacted my life.

"A goal without a plan is just a wish." In order to drop a pound a week over the next six weeks, I intend to: purchase healthier foods more often (like introducing fruit and adding more vegetables and nuts), serve myself smaller portions at meals, and no longer eat until I am full or stuffed. I will try to replace a few of those pasta meals each week with something else. For instance, I had a salad (a mix of greens with red bell pepper, shredded cheddar cheese, homemade balsamic vinaigrette and seasoned croutons) for lunch yesterday.

Concerning exercise, I share Fiona's love for walking. I can improve upon this, however, by walking more often. Right now, I walk to stores in order to shop once or twice week and might walk through an adjacent neighborhood once a week, but should try to walk around the area a few times a week, as well as for longer each time. Recently, I signed up for a wellness program at work that focuses on walking. Armed with a free pedometer, I plan to exceed my step goals. When it's too hot and humid outside, I could practice salsa dancing around my apartment. Black T-strap heels are cuter than sneakers!

This book also serves as a reminder for me to schedule two doctor's appointments for a couple of check ups. High blood pressure is quite common in my family, especially among the women on my mother's side, and mine has not measured as completely normal/healthy in years. "To have a physical exam" was a goal I set for myself to accomplish during 2015.

I mentioned that I installed Better Than Before, a book on habits by Gretchen Rubin, on my summer reading list. I think that as I read that, it will help me achieve my weight loss goals too. I know that she believes the right time to start something is now. Committed from this point on, I hope to update that I making progress in losing those six pounds soon!

If you would like to be slimmer and/or healthier, I suggest you read this book.