You know that I am the Messy Mapmaker when you realize that for my first wedding anniversary last year, Husband’s interpretation of “paper” as an anniversary gift guide was to get me a beautiful, fairly fancy agenda. He purchased me the “Get to Work Book,” which I’d gotten as a gift for a friend but had been reluctant to purchase for myself. It was the perfect mix of practical and extravagant, and I absolutely died when I got it. His family, who were around when I opened the present, thought I was just bonkers.

If you love a planner and have a lot of different goals and projects going on at any given time, you’ll adore this book. As I flip through this year’s pages, there are notes from interviews I did with local leaders, plans I made for work, monthly household budgeting and grocery lists, a training schedule for my recent half marathon, an elimination diet called the Whole30 that we tried and my own schedule for reintroducing foods, and a list of things we hoped to accomplish in 2017 (we’ve done a lot of them!).

The planner gives simple, clear sections but also has endless flexibility, with tabbed month pages that make it easy to turn right to the spot you want to get to. I love the grids on many of the pages that allow you to write or make graphs or draw something… anything you need. So many of my freelance projects have been planned in the margins and accidentally blank columns of the book.

My last favorite feature is a little column on each weekly page that says “action items this week” – it forces you to choose only 3 things that are the big-picture things you want to get done. While the daily columns allow you to focus on the details, these show which pressure points, dreaded tasks, and big finishes do I have coming up this week.

I don’t know if I will try a different planner or get another of these for next year, but I unequivocally recommend it for anyone who wants to feel inspired and ready to literally “get to work” when they see their planner.

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Toast is not a recipe kind of food; really, toast is just heated bread, which is hard to make but quite easy to purchase at the store. With my last grocery purchase, I got a loaf of “take and bake” rustic bread, which browned up wonderfully in the oven while I was making some pasta for Husband and myself.

The real trick was done earlier this summer; our garden has produced a very large basil bush, and I was trying like crazy to use it without letting it all get bug-bitten and covered in spiders webs. One of my attempts was to make a compound butter: basically, you soften butter, add finely chopped herbs and spices, and roll it up in waxed paper into a tube that you can chill and use over time. The longer you have it (not to the point of being rancid, but within a few weeks or months) the longer the flavors have to seep into the butter, making it even more delicious. Ours ended up looking like this one, even though we included no lemon in ours.

I had let the little brown-wax-paper roll sit quietly in our fridge for weeks, but when I pulled that steamy loaf of bread out of the oven, I knew it needed something special. Having the compound butter actually meant that slicing the bread, slicing the compound butter, and combining them for a little trip under the broiler was a snap. To find, chop, and add basil, as well as butter, as well as garlic, would have been quite the hassle.

What resulted was a very quick-in-the-moment toast that was fancier and more flavorful than just regular buttered bread; the butter itself seeped into the bread, leaving plenty of basil all over the top, and the garlic powder I’d used browned up in small specks throughout the toast. I’d recommend this little work-ahead, semi-homemade trick for making a fancy little appetizer or just for a night when you need a comforting, delicious piece of toast.

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I’ve been crocheting since I was 16 and in an extremely boring entrepreneurship class in high school (I don’t think entrepreneurship is boring at all, but the combination of bored students and a teacher who preferred showing us a lot of videos made for a pretty dry class). Since then, I’ve made countless hats, scarves, blankets, mittens, socks, and other fun treasures, but one thing has eluded me: stripes.

The only way I’ve made stripes in my creations was by cutting the yarn and tying on a new color, and that overall weakens the fabric I was creating, so this time I finally found an online tutorial that worked for me, and adapted it for the granny-square pattern I was currently working on. So far, so good!

I’ve been making a lot of baby blankets lately because of my many friends (and my sister-in-law!) getting pregnant, but I’ve really gotten bored of pastels, blue, and pink. Instead, I’ve been seeking really rich greens lately, for boys and girls: they are delicate even when they aren’t really a pastel hue, and children grow so quickly that you cannot help comparing them to other growing things in the world, like the many-colored plants in our gardens. Most new moms don’t complain about a handmade present, so I don’t know that people love it, but I have to imagine that all pink and all blue get quite boring. It also helps to work in greens when you aren’t sure what the gender of the baby will be!

What is your latest challenge if you do some kind of needlework? I find that I’ll make the same kind of blanket over and over if I don’t set goals for myself to try something new, like a zigzag pattern or some cabling. I don’t like working rigidly from patterns, so that limits my abilities, but new stitches are always exciting to me!


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The weather here has finally taken a chilly turn – not cold, but no longer easy bare-legs weather. So we are throwing our last community event of the summer: a simple picnic in the park. We’ve realized that you need a few things to make a community picnic work.

  1. Free food: While potlucks work with people you know, if you want strangers to come out, lure them with free food. We’re serving burgers and dogs, as well as chips, cookies, and salad greens. Simple, but filling and easy to store if we don’t get the numbers we’re hoping for. Our last picnic had 45 people, but we wanted both that one and this one to reach 100, so we ended up with a lot of leftover food last time!
  2. Music and games: Music is good for masking over any quiet that comes from low attendance or people still getting to know each other, and games mean that there is a specific thing to talk about instead of just immediately getting into serious talks about the state of the neighborhoods’ roads. We’re bringing bean bag toss, a silly frisbee game called Bottle Bash, and a giant Jenga set, since kids and adults alike can play those.
  3. Plan for rain: We are set for clear skies, but we’ve reserved two shelters at the park just in case we get any sprinkles, so people should be able to gather and chat under the covered area if we got bad rain. It’s terrible to do a lot of publicity and then have to change a date. Speaking of which…
  4. Publicize, but definitely invite one person at a time too: People respond to being personally invited, so we tend to get far better results when we speak to people than when we post on social media or put flyers on doors.

With any luck, this will make your next community picnic a good time for all as well – got any picnicking tips for the rest of us?

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There are a lot of tools that help folks with their finances, and this Friday, I want to tell you about the one that has made mine (and a zillion other people’s) better, easier, and more logical. is a resource that, once you get to know its quirks, makes taking a big-picture view of your money choices a snap.

I started with because of Husband – he liked the idea of linking all the accounts in one place so that they would be easily visible and we could make sure we understood where we were, financially. I was a little weirded out about giving all my passwords and usernames to a software, but in the end, the time it saves is worth the risks involved; while there are hacks every few days it seems, Mint has a very strong motivation to keep your information secure, because they would lose their whole premise if they lost your info!

When Mint compiles a dashboard of financial accounts for you, it allows you to see how much debt you have, how many assets you have, even a Zillow estimate of your home’s value, and get a pretty up-to-date net worth. It allows you to plot trends, make goals, and set budgets. My budgets were set automatically based on our typical spending over a few month period, but I still check them periodically because it helps me rein in certain areas of spending when the month starts feeling kind of spendy.

What is most valuable to me about is that it gives me cold numbers that show that we are progressing toward our financial goals. Most of us like to save in theory but get out of hand when we have to give something up in order to save. Seeing the progress we are making is what definitely makes me willing to pass on expensive coffee drinks, new clothes, or a more expensive holiday destination. It’s not without its confusing elements, but Mint is worth the time it takes to explore and take charge of it.

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This weekend has confirmed for me a lot of things: we have casual, good friends here in town, and there is plenty to do with time here, and there are still so many more good projects to be a part of as the town builds itself into a great place to live. I’ve never felt more connected here, more like we’re getting something done by being a part of this community.

And at the same time, all I can think about are other places. I think about Madrid, where I was able to build a community from pretty much no connections to my past life, where I loved and cared for people who were also far from home and where people who grew up in another culture cared for and loved me. I think about my husband’s home town, sitting on my in-laws back porch by the bear-proof bird feeder and the way that spot makes me feel when it is early morning and I’m still in pajamas. I think about how so much family has clustered there, how they bend over backwards to help each other but also just to enjoy each other, to sit around campfires together.

It is so strange to be torn between good options – for so much of my life, I’ve thought that none of the places could be home, except maybe my college town, and now many places remind me how home they have been to me. I don’t know what the future holds or where we might go, but I know that this place has grown on me in the two years we’ve been here – our two year anniversary with the house is this week. I also know that the meaning of nearby family has grown on me, and the meaning of city life and excitement and Spanish and their deep loyalty to those they love… it has all grown on me.

My maps never were very tidy, but these days in particular, I feel like the star for where I am is so entwined with the stars for where I have been. “You are here.” But also “Your heart is here” and “Your mind is here” and “Your friends are there” and “your family is over there.” What a map, and what a life choice it is to be a person in one place.

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One of my friends, E, recently started working at a store that sells make-up and other beauty essentials. Her pictures online after starting to work there have been gorgeous – not only are all the tubes and compacts adorable, but her face looks so sophisticated, exciting; if I saw her for the first time from across a room, I’d want to talk to her! Besides the fact that she’s also my friend and I like talking to my friends.

I have such a strange relationship with make-up – my mother never wore it, but I knew about it through my pre-teen and teenage years. At summer camps and college, I’d borrow a lip color or an eye shadow, but I didn’t own my own; I eventually bought a lipstick, a mascara… until I had my own bare-bones collection.

It makes sense, though, that my collection stayed small for a long time, because I wore it only on special occasions, or perhaps the first day of class. It wasn’t until I moved to Spain, where bold lip colors and a perfect eye were so standard that I felt weirder without them than with them. For those two years, I spent most days wearing at least a little make-up. It was the only time when there were people in my life who had never seen me without make-up but who were close friends.

When I returned to the States, there were more people who went natural-look, and I got lazy – I was in a long-distance relationship, which is uniquely good for making you think you don’t need make-up to impress anyone and you don’t need make-up to look good for a particular person. I found myself pulling it out only occasionally when there was a party or a poetry reading, but usually nothing.

I thought, when I got my first full-time job, that I’d wear make-up; I was younger than most of my colleagues, and I was working with college students, and make-up would have been a good way to make myself look older than them. I even found a bunch of great promo codes and splurged on an order from Benefit (love their products, even if I neglect them!). It didn’t last though – I’m confident that I can do my job with or without eyeliner. I wear it for big days, and when my husband and I go on dates, but not otherwise.

Part of me thinks that my love of make-up is wasteful, since I don’t follow through and wear it, and part of me thinks that being obsessed with making my face into a canvas is a little wasteful anyway; I could spend money a different way, and the environment probably wouldn’t mind if we didn’t make a bunch of face products from our natural resources.

How do you feel about make-up? Does it complicate your life or give your life a little sparkle? I find it can go either way for me, but one thing is for sure: I don’t think women should feel the pressure to wear it, even if they are having a zit day! Being who you are is an important thing, and unless make-up is part of what you want to be wearing, it should be very optional.

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I don’t know what it is about Sundays, but I often wake up unsure and worried on Sunday mornings. If Saturday has been eventful, I’m worried I’ll be less busy and productive, and if it was a lazy Saturday, I’ll feel even more slothful. I’ve learned though, that the first thing that I can do that will take me into a good Sunday is going downstairs, mixing yeast and water, flour and a little butter, and making a loaf of bread.

Something about the smell of bread rising makes me feel like I’m really in the home life: I’m making something hearty to feed the man I love and to nourish myself, and it’s a core ingredient to which will be added vegetables and fruits, meats and cheese. It feels like my most basic building block: if I can make bread in my chemistry lab called a kitchen, I can tackle a Sunday.

Life has been pretty good for a while now – I’ve been out of the hubbub of planning a wedding, and Husband and I have settled into a rhythm of keeping our home at a level of clean that we like. We have all the furniture we need and are actually trying to keep an eye out for things we can get rid of so our house doesn’t become a never-ending pile of the broken things we don’t need any more; we go to the gym for cycling class and we go to work at the local food pantry after work, and we meet friends at local outdoor concerts and we travel to see those we miss and love in other places. I have no reason to be dissatisfied at all.

This isn’t enough, though, to make a melancholy mood leave; I cannot always just will sadness out of my life just because there’s no reason for it to be there. Instead, I’ve found that the physical labor of life works the sadness out of my muscles, like coffee chases away sleepiness. Kneading a yielding blob of dough, punching it down and watching it crust over in the oven: these things get me there. I hope you have something that works for you the same way.

If you would like a great bread recipe that requires no kneading to boot, try out this one and see what you think.

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I have a lot of lists going all the time, but most weeks on either Sunday or Monday I try to make a master list that helps me see the week in my head. There will be all kinds of things listed, but within the list there are a few categories:

  • Specifics that need done today, maybe tomorrow: I always have my best understanding of what I’m trying to get done today, with a few bigger things that might take till the next day. Fill in as many specifics as possible.
  • An outline of big events and needs for all the other days of the week: If I have appointments, or evening engagements, or meetings with friends during the week, those make the list because they will need to be on my mind as I flesh out better lists all week.
  • Concerns: Sometimes, I put things on my to-do list to remind me to do things like “be brave” when boldness is necessary to the tasks I’ve got, or “find rest” when I’m in the middle of a cold and still trying to get things done. Similarly, I flag tasks that I am dreading, because if I get those done quickly, it will really motivate me for the rest of the day.
  • Aspirational goals: I don’t just put one achievable list together; it makes Husband crazy when he sees all the things I hope to get done each day, because he thinks I cannot possibly do it and I’ll be disappointed or overwhelmed. He’s not totally wrong, but I also think life is too short to aim small, and I’m happy to have a few things undone at the end of the week if I still feel like I stretched myself.
  • Rollover goals: Similarly, I bring some hopes and dreams from last week into my new week’s list, where I can get them done and feel even more triumphant because something had been following me around for a while.

How do you organize weekly lists? I am, as you can imagine, pretty messy about it and always interested in learning.

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This summer, Husband and I have been somewhat concerned with how our neighbors feel about each other – most look with suspicion on everyone in the area, and since so many people work away from home, they don’t get a chance to figure out who all the regulars in our area are. We’ve tried to combat this in two ways – taking more walks in the neighborhood, and giving out bags of welcome gifts.

The welcome gifts in each bag cost less than 5 dollars – we made some cute home to-do lists, bought tiny citronella candles (for the buggy nights in our backyards), got a bottle of water and a packet of seeds, and added all the recent flyers of local events we could find. Whenever someone told us or we noticed that we had a new neighbor, we’d go over to their house and leave this simple gift on the doorstep, with a note tied on to explain who we were and that we were just glad they were in our neighborhood.

So far, we’ve gotten close to 15 of them distributed, because the neighborhood is large and dense and has a lot of houses selling or getting rented recently. Still, there is more we could do, and we’re going to do so – it seems like such a simple, inexpensive thing to remind people that the whole neighborhood isn’t out to get them: most likely the neighbors are just like them, busy and a little stressed but mostly good folks who want to be safe themselves and, in some cases, provide a safe home for children.

Do you have ways that you reach out to new neighbors to help them see that the neighborhood is a good and safe place? How do you deal with negative comments between neighbors and avoid letting it get to you?

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