Tuesday, December 23, 2014

going unplugged

Maybe this is my attempt at setting myself up or giving myself a little space, but I really want to be fully present over the next couple weeks while I spend some quality time with my folks.  Oh sure I'll be thinking (do I ever really stop?)  I'm might even do a little crafting.  Maybe some dreaming.  I'm sure lots of talking and setting myself up for 2015.  But, I feel so much pressure when I'm not working at work to be working on my blog, my personal work.  And, this year as I've learned so much about grace, extending and receiving, I've learned that I need to show myself a little more than I have become accustom to. 

Step 1 is saying its ok to not post.  Its ok to just be.  Be where ever I am.  If I write, great.  If I instead get ahead, even better.  Or, if I do nothing but sit on the couch with my dad and leave my phone in the other room and actually watch commercials...its ok!

So, here's to enjoying all the moments the next few weeks bring.  Here's to finding simplicity in making memories, reading a book, going for a walk, dreaming about the year ahead and spending some quality time with KP.

I do love a little Instagram, so I'm sure I'll be posting there and snarky never goes away...that's what Twitter is for!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Favorite Things 2014

The last couple years (2013, 2012) I've done a little "Favorite Things" blog.  You know new things I've discovered in the year or my must-haves and go tos!

So, Favorite things 2014

Apps- with a social media job, I've come to a place where I cannot live without a few apps.  And, as a savvy shopper there are a couple others I use almost daily alot!
  • Rhonna Designs - makes me feel like a graphic designer!
  • A Beautiful Mess
  • Word Swag
  • Savings Catcher -  yes, the one where you scan your walmart receipt and get money back...what's not to love?!?!
  • Shoparoo - with this app, you can scan every receipt and get points for a school or non-profit.  My dad and I might be in a little war!  (tip: some people struggle with taking all these pictures and keeping up.  I make a pile when I unload groceries and put it on the counter by my coffee pot.  If I dont have time when I'm done, I do them in the morning while my coffee drips.  Seriously, my sister pays for all her extra gym equipment at school through the money that comes from this company.)
NWA Hot Spots (notice restaurants are my longest list of favorite things!)
  • Bentonville Square- Table Mesa, Fun Festivals, Farmer's Market, First Fridays - you make living in NWA free and making memories fun!
  • Crystal Bridges trails - seriously my favorite place to be on a Saturday morning or Sunday afternoon stroll
  • Iron Horse Coffee Co - Latte Royale with Cupcake please! (I'll take roasted pepper and gouda soup too if its on the menu)
  • Heirloom - eating her always makes me feel like a grown up
  • Wood Stone Craft Pizza - seriously I'm in love.  And, if you want to know a really quick way to get me to Fayetteville, ask me to meet you at Wood Stone!  The food is fresh, local, creative and exactly my kind of eating...probably bc its connected to my other love Greenhouse Grille!
  • Danskin yoga pants - I've tried 3 other kinds and took them back (hence the post about the Walmart return line!)
  • puffy vest - I still struggle to wear it enough, but on a chilly afternoon when you hit the trail, its the perfect thing.  My struggle comes in with how many colors I want one in!  My practical side says black, but my fun side says go with the lime green and my "bigpittstop" side wants one in red like my mama!
  • Arbonne blush (and eyeliner) - seriously I went a month and a half without either of these and I was colorless....Blossom is back!
  • Clarisonic Mia 2 - Mix and Match Mama introduced me to this and I have to say its the best Valentine's present I got this year...only one, but best one too!  I mean it thinks for you, beeps and tells you when to move to a different zone!  I got my sis one for her birthday and could have a personalized message put on it.
  • Almay eyeshadow - bold nudes for green eyes...love it!
Blog loves (no offense to all my Arkansas Women Bloggers, it goes without saying that I love you!)
May you find moments in your year where you find what pleases you most!  If you have a Favorite Things post, put the link the comments below...

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Time to give Santa a gift

a gift of grace that is.

Sometimes I like to think that I would enjoy working customer service. But this time of year I completely change my mind. So this morning I was thinking. You know the kind when you are drying your hair upside down (anybody)?

But, it hit me that there were a few gifts not on my list this year. 
-some extra patience for the longer line at Wal-mart customer service
-the opportunity to walk from the back of the Target parking lot, might need a pedometer to log them too
-a large tip for the waitress who is missing any personal celebration in the month of December so she can serve mine
-another set of Grace Goggles

Seriously we make a list of things to do, check it twice. It includes the guy at work we don't ever talk to, our grumpy cat lady neighbor, the receptionist at our salon, another mailbox ornament for the mailman and the vet who takes care of our dog (of course we use a stamp pad so they can sign their name, why would you even ask!). 

But, we keep our selfie camera on when it comes to our own personal service list. 
-we think the line should be short when we go back to Wal-mart to return something. 
-we think the front spot should always be open when we pull in to our favorite retail store. 
-we forget that Santa might need a break to eat some protein while he spends the day at our local mall with our kids who cry the moment they see him. Yet he still puts a smile on a try's to make our Christmas card perfect. 
-speaking of cards, we get grumpy with the guy on the other end of the phone when the online program we used crashes like he was sitting there with an of switch when he saw us sign in.
-we can't even begin to think it might take an extra day or 2 for our packages to come to our front door step since we didn't actually go out and get them. Never mind the fact that a man gets up at 2:30 to drive to a distribution center and load our box on the truck giving up Thanksgiving and extra moments with his family to put our box on that truck. 
-we gripe at our spouse when we get ready to make our perfect Christmas fudge and there is no sweetened condensed milk in our cabinet and someone has to go to the store in the middle of cooking 

You see where I'm going? That selfie camera has made us spend so much time with the camera turned inwards that we forget that the way the camera was designed was to be turned outward. Yea like from the beginning, cameras were intended to capture moments as they happen with us behind the lens. 

So what happens if "thank yous" and smiles are part of the gift list (you know they are free, right?). What if you double the tip for one extremely helpful wait staff? What if you gave Santa a candy cane (or a $5 spot)? What if you stood patiently in the return line, you should have tried those pants on first? What if you waved to the Fed Ex/Ups/postman for once instead of "getting behind that slow truck".

I challenge you to look at your to do list. Is it full of things that spread cheer, extend smiles, and give away? If not, might be time to get a new notepad. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

managing from the strength point

About a year and half ago, I was introduced to the concept of strengths management.  Having grown up as someone who always looked at overcoming weaknesses, this was a really hard topic for me.  Frankly, it’s something I still struggle to fully grasp.  

I’m glad it was in my 30s that I’ve discovered this.  Yes, it would have been easier to give myself the grace beyond had I learned it earlier, but I think I’ve come to a place where I’m comfortable with who I am.  For the most part, who I’m going to be is who I already am.  Yes, some life circumstances that I’ve yet to experience may shape and form my mindsets, but I am who I am.

The strengths management model challenges you to look at what you bring to the table, who you are in work style, personality, etc and be all of what you bring.  And, find and build a team around you that fills in the gaps from your weaknesses.

For a boss, discovering their team can be transformational.  When you know who sits at your table and what their strengths are and what makes their hearts soar, you can build a team of people who are working from their happy place most of the time.  

What I had been doing was figuring out my strengths and maintaining them while trying to improve my weaknesses.  And, what happened in those moments was mediocrity in my strengths and some small, if any improvement in my weaknesses, but tons of frustration filling my space.  But, when I shifted to looking at my strengths and making them greater, I’ve found more personal satisfaction in my work and really finding that when I work in that place and the best of who I am and what I bring to the table, my whole world fills fuller.  My heart is satisfied and my life fills full.  

So, for me, realizing my purposes and passions and working and building life from that place has MAXIMIZED fulfillment.  

While its comfortable and ok to try to make those areas of weakness better and be aware of them.  Its detrimental to progress to focus on them and become engulfed with making them better.

We all have weaknesses.

Let me repeat that because I needed someone to say that to me directly.


We need weaknesses to have strengths.  If we didn’t have weaknesses then the things that make us AMAZING would be just be who we are; nothing positive or negative, good or bad, strong or weak.  We would just be.  But, because we have weaknesses, we have strengths.  

And, its ok.

Exhaustion comes when we start trying to be what we are not.  Trying to pull or give from a place that doesn’t fulfill us or where we are weak.

Some blogger gals have been keeping it real through a #30daysofReal challenge.  For me, today, keeping it real means realizing I’m just not some things.  There are things I’m not good at, and that’s ok.  There are things I cannot do.  There are clothes I will never wear.  There is a lifestyle I will never live or feel comfortable in.  There are things on my to-do list that I will not ever get done.  

But, there are things I am amazing at.  I can bring the fun – the party if you will.  I can bake a mean dessert.  I can encourage and discern a situation.  I can sum up a bunch of conversations and feelings into a few words.  I am and can be a lot of things.

#30daysofReal – give myself the grace to be amazing at being me! (and wearing yoga pants to bible study because I want to discuss life in stretchy pants.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Do we have a bad connection?

I’m walking through an AMAZING book with the girls in my bible study/discipleship group.  We’ve covered tons of topics and had to peel back some personal labels as we’ve turned each page.  But, one thing that hit me this morning as I was reading was a statement.

The chapter is titled “How do I connect” and I thought we were going in a completely different direction.  But Holley Gerth, the author of this AMAZING book, opened the chapter with this –

“Imagine we’re on a playground. One feisty little girl leads her peers in a spontaneous game.  Another talks quietly with a friend in the sandbox.  Both seem utterly content in the way they connect with others.  Then we grow up and learn words like outgoing and shy, and the labels make us squirm.”

And, I just stopped right there.  The labels make us squirm.”  I know I wrote about labels a few weeks ago.  And, my discomfort with them, but my usual nature to place them on myself.  

I spent a lot of time this summer reading about introverts.  I’ve never been around introverts until a couple squeezed in my life in the last 2 years.  Both of the ones that I’m trying to “learn” are AMAZING people.  They are AMAZING bosses.  They are AMAZING employees.  They work hard, they are conscientious, they give every ounce of their energy in all that they do.  But, they are different than me.  And, that has perplexed me.  Its exceptionally hard when I’ve had a hard day and want to hang out with them and they’ve had a hard day and want to retreat and sit alone.  The “E” (big E) in me just doesn’t get it. 

But, as I’ve read and keep absorbing (I could be a sponge commercial right now!) I’m learning, that’s just who they are.  They connect and draw new energy in a different way than me.

Different isn’t bad, its just different.  And, different is ok!

So, when I realized I was an extrovert and they were an introvert, actually calling it what it was made us uncomfortable.  Suddenly I felt like I had to “know” them by reading “about” them.  For me, it was a big step of self-discovery.  As a grown up and trying to connect to new people, I want to be cognizant of the people in my life.  Understanding them is part of extending the grace needed to make our friendship successful.  As a single grown-up, I’m discovering that’s part of what makes a successful relationship; knowing the other person, understanding where they come from and knowing that “retreat” and “energy” are two words we may have to mutually define.  The standard girl mind thinks retreating=mad, but retreating can sometimes equal fullness or joy.  

As Holley ended the first section, she threw out these thoughts.

“What if God made us that way? What if He wired our social tendencies just like He did our strengths and skills? Perhaps the way you connect with those around you is just as needed as the other gifts in your life.  Maybe its even at the heart of what makes you amazing.” 

You know, I may not get someone who doesn’t want to cram every moment of every day with social interaction.  I mean seriously why would you choose to sit at home alone instead of eating out with as many friends as possible?  But, the older I get the more personally aware I become and I’m realizing that having these grounded people in my life is a stabilizing force.  They center me, ground me, and are the most amazing sounding boards for all the crazy!  I realize there is something to alone time.  

The other thing I’ve thought about in this process is the grace I need to give myself to be ok with how I’m wired.  I think when I know something else exists that could be better, I want to become that. I’ve got to be ok with being the crazy Extrovert.  I mean the last time I did a Myers-Briggs test, I test 98% - E.  That’s who I am.  I can’t change that.  I have to realize to an introvert, being that extreme and “e” is overwhelming, but it’s also something they wish they had more of.  Every part of my make-up, personality, chemistry  cannot be balanced and frankly, I don’t want to just sit on the fence of anything (yes, that comes from how I’m wired too!).  But, the grace I’ve got to give is that there is nothing wrong with me…its just how I am.
We used to have a joke growing up that its “just how God made me”.  Yes, we overused it, but I think this is the perfect place.  I can make myself better all day with articles, self-help books and life coaching from great mentors.  I can try to overcome or way find my short comings and I can improve them, but they will never go away.  They too, are part of how I’m wired.

So, the chapter, or section if you will, ended with a challenge about “sight”.  Holley shared this point – 

“When it comes to life, we all have vision that’s stronger in particular areas.  Just as our eyes can be nearsighted or farsighted, we see more clearly in certain social situations.  In this case, it doesn’t need to be correct – it simply needs to be recognized and maximized.  When you do so, your way of seeing the world can become a strength.”

How about we let the labels be something that connects us instead of the thing that makes us different.

Friday, December 5, 2014

#cookiequest: Reflections

So, I did the quest.  No what?

Even typing those words make this kind a flippant.  It was a fast discovery, but it was not without thought and plans and precision.  You know all the important things that go into making a quest.

But, what did I learn?  Well, I made a few notes along the way:
·         Coffee flavor/powder enhances the flavor of chocolate, makes it sweeter.  But it also tastes like toffee when mixed with brown sugar.  And, people who do not like coffee flavor often do not like toffee flavor either.

·         Bread flour makes chocolate chip cookies chewier.  But, it needs something like an extra egg yolk to off set the moisture. 

·         Sweet vs. savory eaters - in every tasting experiment, those who usually prefer sweet over savory or savory over sweet liked the same kind of cookie.  I actually knew from the taste of the dough which cookie they wanted...and it was the same thing every time.  (so, for the record...the cookie I ended up with is loved most by sweet eaters...the rest of you will only want one!)

·         Toll House cookie lovers are loyal.  They are also eaters of the generic flavor.  They are rule followers, and do not veer off the paved road. 

·         I’m way nerdier than I thought.

·         I cant do anything simply.

·         I like a semi-sweet chocolate chip in a cookie over other things.  I thought I was a milk chocolate girl, but if it’s a good cookie, it doenst need an overpowering chocolate chip.

·         I’m not loyal to a chocolate chip brand.  I’m still a cheap girl.  Don’t need a name brand. 

·         Spreadsheets are still my love language and I can see and order most of life in that regard. #gridlinesmakemehappy – bullet points don’t hurt either.

·         I am my mother’s child.
Yep, all that from a few days in a kitchen slaving over a hot oven!

And, yesterday, even as I posted the link to the final recipe, there was the question....what is next?  Of course, because my mind cannot shut down, I have a few things in mind.  But, I'll tell you.  They will not happen for a while.  I'm tired.  Making cookies is hard work!

I still want to see if there are other "perfect cookies" out there.  I personally like a chocolate chip cookie with oatmeal in it.  I like the rustic feel to that kind of cookie and the chewy texture.  I may embark on that.  Or, I might try my hand at other creative endeavors.  I mean, I have parts of 4 different quilts going right now.  I might just observe for a while and I might even take January off!  Thanks for journeying with me.  Thanks for embracing my race.  Thanks for being willing to taste test.  I'm sure I'll be the girl with a plate of cookies for a while!


Thursday, December 4, 2014

#cookiequest: The recipe

Since today is National Cookie Day, it only seems fitting to be the day the official #cookiequest recipe is shared.  You know the fan fare and the process that has gone in to finding this! (If not, start here)
Remember, perfection is defined by the "eater", "user", "subscriber".  For me, this is perfection.  Its chewy, its soft, as Goldilocks would say....it's just right.
And, I guess if you don't believe me, you'll just have to invite me to a party and ask me to bring cookies!
So, without further adieu, I introduce you to ...
The Quest Chocolate Chip Cookie (as in the best one you'll ever eat!)
Ingredients: ½ cup (one stick) butter, softened to room temperature
1 cup light brown sugar
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 large egg + 1 egg yolk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 ¾ cups bread flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
 1-12 oz. bag semi-sweet chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Place the butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar in the work bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Beat until sugar and butter are mixed.  Raise speed to medium and beat until the mixture is fluffy and lighter in color. Beat in the eggs 1 at a time until incorporated and stir in vanilla. Mix until all ingredients are well combined.  In a mixing bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add to the mixer on slow speed in sections, fully mixing ingredients between each addition. Stir in the chocolate chips.  Chill dough for 24 hours before baking for best results. Use a cookie scoop or small ice cream scoop to place cookies on cookie sheet or baking stone.  Cookies should be 1-2 inches apart.  Gently press down on the dough with the back of a spoon to spread cookie before baking. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes.  Let cool on the baking sheet before moving to a cooling rack.

Store in an airtight container if you don't eat them all first!


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

#cookiequest: Round 2

Round 2 took just as much time to make, but felt way more informed.  I had my basic recipes behind me and the real fun began...true experimenting.  Again, I did my research.  Enough that my head was literally hurting and I had to verbally tell myself out loud to get away from the computer (I kinda like to second guess myself and read everything I can!)

This time, I jumped into 4 more recipes

A - Paige Greenway's take on Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookie - substitute Bread flour
B - NY Times Chocolate Chip Cookie - substitute bread flour - this one has cake and bread flour in it already and no salt
C - Neiman Marcus $250 Chocolate Chip Cookie - substitute in Bread Flour for All-Purpose, add 1 egg yolk to off set and leave out espresso powder - note significant difference already that this recipe has 3 times as much brown sugar as white.
D - Martha Stewart Soft and Chewy (very similar to Toll House basic recipe) - sub in Bread Flour for All-Purpose and use Milk Chocolate chips instead - this one already has more brown sugar than white and twice as much vanilla

After tasting the dough on the first ones and researching the ingredients in the original and substitutes, I was convinced that I could very well have it. 

Mixing looked the same here except figured out something.  Mixing sugar and butter is a lot different than truly creaming them.  One recipe called for you to mix them, then turn the beaters up higher and "beat until white and fluffy".  Hello.  The two get beat together and married in the mixing bowl and I learned that white is something you wear on your wedding day, even if you are a 2 sticks of butter and brown sugar.  That made a huge difference in the texture of the cookie. 

I didn't even bother making the cookies right after I mixed them.  I scooped them while they were fresh and put them in containers in the fridge where I could have my very own break and bake ready for the next day.

I really wish I had taken a picture of my labels and containers.  This experiment was definitely brought you by a new package of index cards.  They held up well, given the fact I accidentally cooked a couple of them with the cookies!
We had a simple "blind" tasting in the office.  I let them pick more than one "favorite" since a couple were really close.  There were strong opinions that 1 was not good - well, it just didn't bake up right.  Some had a hard time deciding between 2 and there was no opinion at all about C2.  But, B2 made its way in everyone's vote.  I knew there had to be something there.  

I baked up a set for my family.  After all I was going to be with the woman who taught me to cook and the man who fed me my first cookie.  It only seemed fitting to let them weigh in on the decision.
And, because they can appreciate my nerdy in only a special way...I made a spreadsheet score card.  Something about it felt very official and it was cheap entertainment.  So, following our family tradition on vegetable stew the night before Thanksgiving, we devoured chocolate chip cookies. 
The rules were that everyone was to keep their opinion to themselves before sharing with the group.  The 3 that I share a last name with picked the same cookie.  Yes, the same cookie that the group in my office had agreed was in their top.  That sweet boy across the table grew up on store bought cookies...so, he like the one that was a copy cat recipe of a store bought cookie that was all know and love.  (we are still teaching him what homemade tastes like!)

Seemed to me that if mom, dad and sister picked the same cookie I did, the I needed to pay attention.  Seemed to me that if mom, dad and sister picked the same cookie that the people in my office picked, then I needed to pay attention. 

So, I'm thinking we may have a winner! (come back tomorrow...you might, well you know....)

  • People will like being your friend if they always get to taste test cookies. 
  • Your boss will let you take a morning team break if it involves taste testing cookies.
  • Spreadsheets make the world a happier place.
  • Creaming (whipping) the butter and sugars is a must.
  • Definitely stick to the 24 hours chilling (probably true about most things in life...not just making cookies!)
  • Something happens with the Butter Crisco and the Bread Flour.  Not a good combination.  Or I might have messed up...but they baked up like little rocks.
  • If 4 out of 4 in your family pick the same cookie...there might be something there.
  • If 5 out of 5 of your co-workers put a cookie in the top 2 choices, then you should pay attention.
  • If both sets pick the same cookie you picked as your favorite...well, its time to stop obsessing and start #questing for something else.


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

#cookiequest: Round 1

#cookiequest: Round 1 was as straight forward as I've ever been with any cooking I've ever done.  I picked 4 basic recipes and I followed the instructions exactly as they were listed.

Research told me these were the most "gone to" basic chocolate chip cookie recipes so I choose to start here.

Pre-spreadsheet, pre tasting, no pre-conceived ideas about what I thought would be the best.

Just a simple day of baking!


So, what exactly does baking day look like?  I'm so glad you asked...
It all started with a pile.  A pile I built on a day it was snowing.  I mean, what better way/reason/need/ to start your quest than on a day when you know its going to be snowing outside!  (for the record it was not enough brown sugar and I did not need oil.  Fun fact, cookies, at least these kind, don't need oil!)
Butter and Sugar - yes, sugar is a wet ingredient
Brown sugar and vanilla - cream and mix thoroughly
dry ingredients need their own bowl and eggs need to be stirred in one at a time
I'm ok with breaking the rules and mixing in chocolate chips with the hand mixer.  I'm not a fan of stirring anything. #lazychef
Before and after
 Everybody needs a close up!
1 - Baked Immediately after mixing
2 - Baked after chilling for 24 hours in refrigerator
I'm so thankful to my team at work who sacrificially gave up their calorie count for the day to be part of this ever important experiment.
  • 24 hours makes a huge difference.  DONE.
  • Ultimate was too buttery for some, most.
  • Toll House looked like the classic chocolate chip cookie. And, as predicted, the Toll House lover picked it out of a blind test.
  • Neiman was good, but the coffee was too much.  Everyone loved the texture, but was hard to judge. 
  • Wanted to eat the Neiman's cookie with a cup of coffee, but only wanted one.
  • Didn't really have an opinion about the Chewy Chunk. 
My next plan will involved my hypothesis of Bread Flour.  We know 24 hours is going to happen and maybe a different take on these same recipes. 


Monday, December 1, 2014

Advent 2014

So, it begins...Advent 2014.  Each year, I seem to get to this point and wonder how did it happen so fast.  How did 365 days pass and yet again I find myself peering into the manger staring at the baby Jesus.  The Mother Mary. The father, Joseph.  The lone donkey. The haggard shepherds alongside the majestic wise men.

I wonder what I've learned and experienced since I saw them last.  I wonder what emotions feel more relevant this time and what I've been able to shake off.  Do I bring back the same me to this place? Do I gleam with the same anticipation?  Do I covet the same curiosities?  Do I still sit in wonderment and awe?

That baby.  That tiny little baby.  The hands that would show direction and bring healing.  Those toes that would walk, direct, and show the way.  Those lips.  Those tiny little lips that would speak Truth, Forgiveness, Redemptive words and Love. 

Those, those are the things I pondered this morning.

This weekend, I helped my mother decorate her tree.  Its the place that feels like home and its the
place where I decorate.  As for me and my tiny life, I'll set them out.  The people mentioned above.  I want to call them characters, but they had life.  The message they came to proclaim lives on. 

A message of hope, peace, love, joy, Christ.  A message of coming.  Emmanuel, God with Us.

This year I've had the opportunity to be part of the team at church that prepared the Advent Readings and Family Activities.  If you do not have Advent readings ready, please let me encourage you to enjoy these.

Fellowship Advent Readings
Mosaic Advent Devotional

I'm also looking forward to jumping in to Ann V's The Greatest Gift (I love a good Christmas love story!!!).  Its' been sitting my nightstand for a year...tis the season!