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One of These Things is Not Like the Others…

Throughout my life, I’ve always felt… a little out-of-place.

A lot out-of-place.

From the time a boy named Jason puked on me after the mile run in 6th grade (I still don’t feel clean), to my bespectacled, brace-faced, promless high school career, to my time spent trying to understand and accept life as a Yankee living in various parts of the South (um, boiled peanuts? really?), feeling out-of-place has actually become my way in the world.  The only way I feel in place.

Make sense?

In fact, I’m not really sure what would happen if one day I woke up and found myself where I’m supposed to be.  Where I feel comfortable.

Probably the last of the loose screws would detach itself from my mind and fall out of my ear and, as I watch it roll-bounce down the pavement toward the vanishing point of existence, the nice young men in their clean white coats would come and take me away to a place where I would never feel comfortable again.

Probably.

But that’s just speculation.

This whole out-of-placeness was only further confirmed in a recent memo from my editor at Re-Nest.  It read (and I paraphrase):

I’m so pleased to welcome five new members [to the team]: Laurie (New York), Alexa (San Francisco), Liana (New York), Julia (Chicago), and Katie (Sanford, North Carolina).

Okay.  Aside from the fact that they all have movie star names while mine is so girl-next-door, notice anything… odd?  I don’t know… something that makes it all too painfully clear that I’m ridiculously out of my element?

I’ll give you a hint.

Maybe — maybe – it’s the fact that I’m the only person whose city needed to be followed by the state name for clarification.

Maybe.

Maybe because Sanford is not really a city, but more like a town with a Waffle House and a Cracker Barrel.

Maybe.

But you know what?

Since feeling out of place makes me feel in place, I’m going to take this as a positive sign.  If I can’t go to the Big City to get a job, I’ll make the Big City job come to me.

I think this could work.

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Home is the Last Place You Dropped Your Luggage.

I think I’ve figured out what my problem is.

At least part of it.

And it’s so painfully obvious, I can’t believe I’m only just now coming to this realization over my morning coffee as the pups gnaw away on their bones.

Because this is something that’s been gnawing on my bones for over a year.  Probably longer.  And it’s really not until we get down to the marrow of things that my issues become clear.

My epiphany?

It’s not this place I have a problem with.

Well I do, but that’s not the issue.  The issue is that I’ve been in this place too long.  See, until this place, I hadn’t lived in any one place for more than 2 years for the past 10 years.  Even if I stayed in the same town, I at least changed residences.  Sometimes the moves have been circumstantial.  Sometimes just because I wanted change.  Sometimes because the military made me, once I got married.  Sometimes because adventure awaited.

Then, when we moved to North Carolina, we knew we were going to be here for at least 4 years — a certainty that’s rare in military life.  So we thought we’d take advantage by buying a small home.  A chance to feel a sense of permanence.  Of belonging to a community and calling it “home,” rather than simply a place to rest.

It never occurred to me that I might be bad at it –

That 4 years could pass, I’d open my eyes and realize I’d never even tried.  That I don’t know this place like I should.  I don’t know the people.

Instead, I was counting down.  Wasting 4 years because I wanted to be somewhere else.

Anywhere else.

Source

I wanted to move, people!  To me, the world becomes alive when we’re forced to change scenes and meet new characters.  Explore different radio stations.  Get lost on unknown streets.  Discover hidden coffee houses and cafes and consignment shops.  Become a stranger in a bar.

Source

It’s no secret that I love to travel.  And moving is just travel with everything you own.  Which isn’t much, when you move frequently.

But now I have all this stuff.  This stuff I’ve been accumulating for 4 years and I think that every thing that we buy also takes up residence inside my head — a bit of retail space otherwise reserved for calmness and peace gets replaced with “There’s a sale at Bath and Bodyworks?” and “Will I ever be able to find a window treatment to fully cover that bedroom window?”

And now, I’m told, we will be here a while longer.  Two years, maybe a lifetime.

And I know now that I can’t do what I did before.  Before I was just telling myself — consoling myself — saying, Don’t worry.  You’re still young.  You still have plenty of time to figure things out.

And then I blinked.

And I realized…

Source

And now I really don’t have plenty of time.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you should probably try blinking.

Or not, because then you might realize how much time has passed.  How many birthdays you’ve experienced here with really no one to celebrate.  How many people you spent time not getting to know.  How many southern vinegar barbecue places you haven’t discovered and how many times you haven’t experienced the foreign taste of the word y’all on your tongue.

There were things to do and see, but in your head, you had already moved on.  To someplace better, you thought.  A quaint seaside village in California.  A Mountain town in Colorado.  A northeastern city with ethnic restaurants and fall leaves and lobster rolls.

But that’s no guarantee.

And it hits you, all backhanded and rough, maybe with rings on the knuckles with pointy prongs and solid gemstones, that it’s no guarantee.  That the next place might not be “home,” either.

And then what?

You’ll let another 2 years pass unnoticed?

Unexperienced?

Unloved?

Enough.  I’ve finally figured out that if home is only where the heart is, we might not ever get there.  And that, to me, is unacceptable.

Home is where I make it.

This place has things to offer.  I just need to find them.

How about you?  Whether you’ve lived somewhere 10 months or 10 years, how do you go about keeping the place interesting?

Apparently Neurosis Is Cute if Your Hair is Red. If It’s Brown, You’re Just Crazy.

I’m not going to sugar coat it –

Justin and I have had more than our fair share of you got some ‘splainin’ to do moments.

On Justin’s part, they usually involve my discovery of some new piece of schmancy electronic equipment residing in our living room or the amount of money he spent on movie rentals for the month.

On my part, however, the ‘splainin’ has to happen whenever Justin discovers a new disaster area denoting the latest project I started in a frenzy and then gave up on a tenth of the way through.

And I think it’s safe to say that through the course of our marriage…

I’ve had to do way more ‘splainin’ than Justin.

“Excuse me, does that skin come in a size 6? I’m starting to put on my winter weight.”

The French have an expression, mal dans sa peau.

To feel bad in one’s skin.

It happens when something — whether it be your career, your home life, or even your behavior, doesn’t seem to reflect the person you want to be.  Or worse, the person you know you really are.

Like someone who never ends sentences with prepositions.  Or overuses fragments.

Just for example.

Remember my letter to myself?  Oh, yes.  I have skeletons in my underwear drawer.

And I would venture to guess that *94% of people who feel this way just learn to live with it.

Discontent and disappointment is a part of life, they say.  Get over it.

Pessimism:

Then there’s about 5%, poor souls, who haphazardly try to make changes here and there, or who wait for signs or divine inspiration to point them in the right direction.

They think a dream is going to wake them in the middle an epiphanal moment and suddenly, out of nowhere, their skin just fits.  Like Jame Gumb sewed a new one just for them.

Custom tailored.

Except not as gross.

The problem here is that we’re people — not snakes.  We can’t just shed our skin when it gets a little itchy or starts to feel confining.  (And those of you yelling, What about microderm abrasion or skin peels, huh?! can just be quiet because you know I’m talking about figurative skin.  Smartasses.)

Source

So in most cases, waiting for Santa to bring us a new skin suit is futile.  It ain’t gonna happen.  Even if we unzip the one we have, drop it on the beach, and run clear across state — or country — lines, our own skin has a creepy way of stalking us.

And I think this is what that last 1% of people — those mal dans sa peau people — figure out.  The only way skin can be changed, really changed, is slowly and deliberately over time.

Think about it.

I wanted a new career, and it took me over a year to figure out that no one is going to walk up and hand it to me all wrapped up in a pretty blue box with a white ribbon.  And if something like that were to happen, it would most likely be wrapped in a brown paper bag covered in grease stains and secured with duct tape and should, as indicated by the chickenscratched and misspelled address, be approached with extreme caution.

I think I’ll pass.

Which unfortunately means I have to work for it.

Damn.

And if I don’t like the fact that I’ve somehow managed to turn into a tightly-wound stressball at home who can’t stop thinking about how much money I used to make, I can change that, too.

It took me time to get here, but I used to be someone I liked.

I can be her again.  It just takes more time.

So.  The good news is we’re not stuck with the people we’ve become.  If you’re bad in your skin, maybe it is time for a spa treatment.  Sandpaper that shizzle right off and start fresh.  The healing process might be painful.  And it might make you look ugly sometimes.  But if you keep in mind that person you want to be, it’s worth the funny looks you get in the meantime.

“I got a chemical peel.  Is it bad?”

My name is Katie, and, in a nutshell, I’ve gone from waitress, to Geographic Information Specialist and Sustainability Coordinator, to unemployed, back to waitress, and now an underpaid Real Estate and property management assistant who kicks people out of their homes for a living.

I know, right?

W.T.F.

But don’t worry.  It’s all part of the process.

I think.

*All percentages referenced above are 100% concocted from my own imagination.  Do not use them for reports, statistical analyses, or a master’s thesis on anything other than a psychological analysis of people who pull random statistics out of their asses.  In which case I want to be cited.  And let in on the results.

My Granite Drinks More Than Me.

It’s sleek.  Smooth.  Luminescent and lightly reflective.  Seductive.  Natural.  It moves.

And, while I try not to take the beauty of my granite for granted, I’m just going to say it — that thing that will most likely put me on the combined hit list of decorators, kitchen designers, Realtors, and people who make their living carving away the earth one layer at a time — if I had it to do over, granite is not the material I would choose for my countertops.

"Okay, now show me how something white looks next to it."
"Okay, now show me how something white looks next to it."

From my post, The Biggest Rock I Ever Bought

Actually, if I’m going to be really honest, I wouldn’t be picking counter tops at all.  Because I’d be living in a grass hut in Fiji. Where our counters would be made of shells and sand.  Or something.  Which totally isn’t practical, but it would be Fiji, so practicality would be like… the last thing I care about.  Because I wouldn’t cook.  I’d subsist off a diet of tropical fruit, Nutella, and cocktails made from coconuts and rum.

Image source

Do they have Nutella in Fiji?

I hope so.  Otherwise I might have to re-think this whole thing.

Anyway.

For the last 5 or 6 years, anyone who’s even thought about remodeling a kitchen — even if they don’t own kitchens but just like to watch HGTV — knows that granite has been like THE counter material of choice.  In fact, if you recently remodeled your kitchen and used a material other than granite (or marble, but the idea is natural stone), you’ve likely been told that you better love it because you will never be able to resell your home ever again.

Ever.

It’s gotten so bad that I’ve seen people stick slabs of this gorgeous rock across the tops of old, rickety base cabinets from the ’70′s — original hardware still intact — and call it complete.

Now please don’t get me wrong.  I love the look of our granite (though I still wish we’d gone with something a bit more neutral).  I mean, I minored in Geology and had a very impressive rock collection as a kid (seriously — I had a geology reference book when I was 12), so if anyone can appreciate the beauty of this stone, it’s me.

So if there was a way to say… hang a huge slab of it on my wall, or better yet, make a whole wall out of this stuff cheaply and without tearing massive scars into the earth’s crust, I’d be all for it.  It’s like art — truly.

Millennium Cream
Millennium Cream

But for a countertop?  Just.  Not.  Practical.  Why?  Here goes.

1)  As proven by the fact that I’m not sure I want kids because it will cut into my “me” time, I am inherently lazy.  Well, that’s not exactly true.  I’m always up and doing something — it’s just that I like that something to be something I like doing.  And that something has never — ever — included granite upkeep.

See, I’m not sure if you know this, but granite is a natural stone.  Nothing in nature is constant over time, meaning its state can always change.  Our particular slab of granite happens to be grainy.  In fact, the fabricators had to come back several times to scrub it down with steel wool before it felt smooth — not grainy — to the touch.  And still, every now and then, I need to go over it with the wool to get it back to that glassy, mirrored surface we all know and love.

Also, it’s porous.  This means that unless it’s sealed really well — a process you should repeat over the course of your granite ownership — it will absorb anything that sits on its surface for too long.  Especially oils.  Oils are its drink of choice.  I’ve learned that you can “suck” them out using a combination of flour and dish soap spread over the stain and covered by a piece of plastic wrap (yes, I’ve had to do this — several times), but it’s probably best to get used to the fact that your granite may not stay pristine forever.

2)  One thing people love about granite is how hard and durable it is.  Well, just remember that means it’s hard and durable.  If you use it as a cutting board, it will turn your knives dull faster than Ben Stein can cause a roomful of students’ eyes to glaze over.

If, say… it decides to do battle with something you love, like a wine glass for example, the granite will win.

Every.  Damn.  Time.

And not necessarily just when a glass tips over onto the granite, but even if you set its fragile stem down just a little too zealously.  Wine enthusiasm is not a wise move in granite covered kitchens, my friends.

The same applies to glass bottles, fragile dishware, and your face.  Really.  If you ever dance while you cook, trip over your own feet, and find yourself plummeting all-too-quickly towards that expensive slab of rock you so painstakingly picked out, you will know what it’s like to come close to death.

3)  Sure, granite is heat-resistant.  But because you’re so afraid of doing anything else that might damage it (like leaving an unnoticed puddle of olive oil sit overnight), it takes you a full 2 years to muster the courage to set down a hot pan.  And, when you finally do, it’s not nearly as satisfying as you’d hoped.

I guess all I’m really sayin’ is, installing granite is like having a baby.  You shouldn’t do it unless you’re willing to commit the time and energy it takes to make it the best granite it can possibly be.  You have to accept the flaws you can not change, smooth over the flaws you can, and have the wisdom to know that in the end, you’ll end up spending a significant chunk of your savings on an ungrateful slab that absorbs all of your resources without ever giving back.

And it breaks wine glasses.

Broken Wine Glass

Still set on granite?  Check out how my friend Alaina went about buying her slab, and here’s my own granite pickin’ fiasco from back in the day.

If This Were A Status Update on Facebook, You Would Have Blocked Me By Now.

Well, folks, it’s official.  At least by weather standards.  Fall is here.  And I can’t say I’m one of the people who’s totally thrilled about it.

As a self-professed naked-sympathizer, the season of fall and its subsequent winter complicates things for me.  It makes things… cold.  And while I certainly like the idea of crackling fires and mulled cider and staying warm and toasty while blistering winds blow past my house, the frightening reality is that I can’t hibernate just because it’s winter.  Cozy fireplace cuddlefests can only last so long, and then real things — annoying things — things like bills, and jobs, and people, and bills start calling and wondering why I haven’t paid them any attention for days, and I can’t hardly tell them that I’m afraid of the cold and hadn’t really planned on leaving my house until May of 2012.

People would look at me funny.

Well, funnier than they already do.

Fuzzy phone photo of said fireplace I might never want to leave, come winter.  The picture is from this post.  My, how far I’ve come since then.  I think.  I hope.  And I’m not just talking about my attitude — I’m talking about that green wall that has since turned… not green.  I still need to show you that, don’t I?

Assuming I still have this real estate assistant job throughout the winter (a job whose potential expiration date I’m forced to face on an almost-daily basis, thanks to the oh-so-kind reminders from Alpha and the Underdog), I’m going to have to face the cold more often than your average cubicle-goer.  After all, there are still photos to be taken.  Signs to be put in yards.  Lock boxes to be attached to door knobs.

Fun stuff, like that.

What?  You thought I had that awesome Green Tours job from Apartment Therapy?  Don’t worry — I still do.  But I neglected to mention that it’s just a freelance, very part-time position, meaning it’s fantastic for making connections and building a portfolio, but it won’t exactly stand on its own against all of those bills that keep calling to pull me away from the fireplace.

Not that I’m complaining!  Does it sound like I’m complaining?  Because I’m not.  I am beyond psyched.

But, wow.  This is turning into a really long and boring Facebook status update, no?  And that’s not the kind of quality content I want to bring you on this site.  I don’t want to talk about the weather — I want to bring you stuff you can actually apply to life, like explaining how you can ensure that your sh*t don’t stink and how to open a beer bottle with a paint key.

Useful stuff.

But since I have to head out into the chill to pay the bills, the quality stuff, unfortunately, will have to wait.

Thanks for all of that positive feedback on my job post!  You have no idea how much the fact that you actually take time out of your days to read my ramblings actually helps me get my act together.

And you know, it really is crazy how you can actually feel that rudder catch when your ship starts to turn.

Remember that ship?

If you feel like you’re heading for a crash and you don’t remember what I said about the ship, I think you should go back and read this post.

We all turn eventually.  We just have to give it time.

Color Me Embarrassed

Well.

Remember, not too long ago, when I ran my mouth about never hearing back from a certain website to which I’d applied for a writing/photography gig, so I just assumed I didn’t get said job?

Well.

You know what they say about assumptions.

And if you don’t, I’m not going to tell you.  Because that would only make me look worse.

It’s probably not necessary to say at this point, but I got the gig!

I’m going to be providing virtual tours of “green” homes and I’m going to get paid for it.

Yep.  They’re going to pay me to do 3 things I love:  Look inside people’s houses, take photos, and write.

This is like, unbelievably cool.  So Jaime, thankyouthankyouTHANKYOU for sending me the job posting and then forcing me to apply.

As those of you who’ve been reading this blog for a little while know, I’ve been having a not-so-mentally-stable time of things over the past year or so.  And while I’m a true believer that life will always be full of fluid highs and lows and nothing ever just stays the same way forever, it’s amazing how people — sometimes even complete strangers — come into your life exactly when you need them.

Don’t believe me?  Just wait.  You’ll see.

The trick is recognizing help when it arrives, trying as many new things as possible, and, most important, paying it forward.

So, who needs help?  Because I’m pretty sure I owe you.

On a completely unrelated note, we ate something amazing last night.

I gave a little preview on the Facebook page last night, but decided I needed to share it here as well.

Because it’s unbelievably delicious.

Fig, Prosciutto, and Goat Cheese Pizza (adapted from blue cheese pizza on Centsationalgirl.com)

1)  Buy one (10 oz.) thin crust Boboli pizza crust.  Sure, you could make your own, but that leaves less time for eating.  Drizzle it with olive oil and bake for 9 minutes at 400-degrees F.  (I’m not sure I would do this step next time — I might just bake the whole thing at once without the olive oil to get it a bit crispier.)

2)  Grate 4-5 oz. of mozzarella cheese, and sprinkle most of it over the partially baked pizza crust.  Then layer with 2 oz. of crumbled goat cheese (or blue cheese or whatever kind of cheese you dream about at night), 4-5 sliced figs, 1 oz. of sliced prosciutto, and a few diced green onions (green part only).  Then sprinkle the rest of your mozzarella cheese over the top.

3)  Bake the whole thing for another 9-10 minutes at 400-degrees F.

4)  Pour yourself a glass of red, take a bite of this warm, gourmet pizza that took you all of 20 minutes to make, and allow yourself a moment to just enjoy it.  Don’t think about the calories.  Don’t think about the cheese.  Just let the medley of flavors — salty prosciutto, rich cheeses, sweet figs — do amazing things — naughty things — on your tongue.

Then breathe.

Everything will be okay.

UPDATE 4/24/2013: I have since made this with fresh figs. It is PHENOMENAL.

DSC_4183_small

Really, I Blog To Make My Friends Feel Like G-List Celebrities.

Oh, and also because it’s like this journal where I can expose all of my innards to the outside world.

Sometimes I have to think really long and hard about the serious things I want to post — things like my quarter-life crisis and joblessness and depression and wanderlust — but I can also track certain life milestones, recipes I like, little things I’ve accomplished around the house, and random thoughts I have.

For example, it’s my day off today, and this morning I’ve already been very productive.  I took each of my mutts for a dip in the lake (without getting attacked by dogs that resemble mop heads or pushed ass-backwards into the water); I caught up on some light blog reading; I tried cyber stalking my little sister’s new boyfriend, but apparently the man is like a steel vault; I ate a piece of toast with some of this fantastic Vintage Bee creamed honey (3rd down on the page) that I acquired from a wine-tasting festival this summer (I know — I couldn’t believe I bought something besides wine either); and I also ate 4 bites of cold, leftover crispy burrito from last night — straight from the fridge.

Hey, if I want to eat cold leftovers for breakfast, that’s my prerogative.

Plus, all this baby talk has made me crave burritos.

Plus, they go really well with coffee.

And you don’t discover these things until you experiment a little.

So, are you interested in making your own burritos so you can eat them cold with a warm cup of coffee?  I’m going to assume you answered yes, since I really wouldn’t understand the alternative.

I got the recipe from a site called Mel’s Kitchen Cafe.  She actually calls them “Crispy Southwest Chicken Wraps,” but I tend to think “burrito” is a better word, since “wrap” makes me think of whole-wheat or sundried tomato tortillas with turkey, avocado, sprouts, and other things you might eat when you want to feel healthy.  But burritos?  Burritos make me think of beans, rice, southwest seasonings, roasted chicken and sour cream — warm things that fill my belly and make me smile.

And that’s exactly what these puppies do.

To make them, you will need:

  • 1 cup cooked rice (I used brown basmati, but really you could use whatever you have lying around)
  • 1 cup cooked, shredded chicken (I bought one of those roasted chickens from the grocery store, since Justin likes to use the leftovers to make chicken salad for lunches. Plus, I’m lazy.)
  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 green onion, diced
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
  • Juice from 1 lime
  • 1/2 Tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
  • 2 cups shredded cheese (like Mel, I used cheddar and monterey jack)
  • Sour cream (Mel says this is optional, I say it’s not. Though I’m not sure I’d win if we had a street fight over it because while I might be scrappy, she has 4 sons.)
  • Tortillas! This recipe will fill about 6 “burrito size” tortillas. (Totally forgot these on the list when I first wrote the post — thanks, Katie!)

The awesome thing about this recipe is that as long as you have the rice and seasonings, you can really play with the other ingredients as much as you want.

As per usual, especially with any type of taco/wrap recipe for some reason, my photos of the end product are terrible.  One problem is that I don’t have time to cook when it’s light outside.  So, I’d highly recommend visiting Mel’s Kitchen Cafe if you want to see the deliciousness that really comes out of this in the end.

1) Start cooking your rice.  While that’s happening, chop up the green onion, 1/2 of a bell pepper, and 1/4 cup of cilantro.

Go ahead and grate the cheese at this point, too.

Cooking is all about time management.

And wine drinking.

But mostly time management.

2)  Once the rice is finished cooking, stick it in a bowl and add all of the remaining ingredients except the cheese, sour cream, and torillas.

1/2 Tablespoon of chili powder…

1 teaspoon of cumin…

1/2 teaspoon of garlic salt…

Lime juice… this is ESSENTIAL.  Don’t leave this out!

Mix…

Chicken…

Normally, this is where you would add the black beans.  Unless, of course, you set them in the sink to drain after rinsing and completely forgot about them until after your first batch of burritos was already cooked.  Then you would need to add them to whatever filling you have left.  Oops.

3)  Layer the cheese on a tortilla, then give it a couple dollops of sour cream (do NOT skip the sour cream!), then add the filling mixture.

4)  Roll ‘em on up, then coat the burritos with cooking spray and cook for a few minutes per side in a skillet that you preheated over medium heat.

They should get nice, goldeny, and crisp.  And messy.

Give ‘em a little poorly placed cilantro hat if you want to get fancy.

Sure, they’re not as adorable as baby burritos, but you can eat them, which makes them even better than a baby burrito in my humble opinion.

Meh… okay.  It’s a toss-up.

A Domestiphobe’s Tips for Throwing a Budget Shindig. Because You Can’t Fake Success.

Yesterday, we opened the windows.

Sure, it was still probably 90-degrees out in the afternoon, but the nights have been decidedly brisker, it’s taking quite a bit longer for the heat to get uncomfortable during the day, and we just couldn’t help it.  We wanted fresh air.  The house has been taking on the stale, ice-box smell that happens when it’s been breathing processed air for too long, and I’m sure our lungs were doing the same.

We made it until about 5:00, which is when we decided that a sweat-soaking-into-the-sofa smell would be far worse than stale icebox.  Oh, the problems of the lower-middle class…

Speaking of lower-middle class problems, I feel exhausted from the sheer number of parties I’ve thrown this summer.  Okay, so it was only 2 parties and a couple of get-together celebrations, but for someone as decidedly un-Martha as myself, it felt like a lot.

On the plus side, I’ve managed to maintain a modicum of sanity by avoiding — at all costs — actually hosting the largest of these parties at my own house.  The baby hot tub bash was held at the guest of honor’s house (I know — it’s a good thing Martha doesn’t read this blog — she would roll over in her grave.  If, you know, she were dead.  Which she’s not.  And that’s a very good thing.).

See, Alaina lives about an hour away from me, and it just made more sense to have it where all of her friends live.  Not to mention the fact that her lakeside setting was pretty picturesque.

No real babies were harmed during the party.

My husband’s intimate graduation party lunch was at a restaurant downtown, followed by an unforgettable steak dinner on our back deck.

And, if we’re going to be honest, that’s really my favorite kind of party.  Just a few close friends, amazing food, and wine to suit the occasion.  Which is pretty much any wine.  Any wine you like.

But sometimes, you can’t get away with just an intimate gathering.  Sometimes the occasion — or in this case, tradition — calls for something a little bigger.  See, this has been a pretty big year for Justin.  Not only did he graduate from college, but he made his next rank in the Air Force.  And, as is custom for Air Force promotions, the addition of a stripe called for — nay, required – a celebratory shindig.

Fortunately for his domestiphobic wife, my husband wanted the party at our neighborhood’s lake, which saved me the huge hassle of trying to make our house guest-worthy.  And not just regular guests, but higher ranking “superior” type guests who, even though they try their damnedest to put on an air of casualness in off-duty, lighthearted social settings, still make me nervous that I’m going to say or do or think the wrong thing in my liberal/hippie fashion that would land Justin on some type of unmentionable blacklist for people of uniform.

And we wouldn’t want that.

So I donned my party planning hat for the third time this summer and went in search of an affordable way to host the festivities without breaking the bank.

Fortunately, I didn’t really need to do as much work as I expected due to a few key people:  My friend Danielle and the ladies behind the deli counter where I shopped.  I’m sworn to secrecy about the place, since technically they cost their store money by talking me out of the over-priced sandwich and cookie platters in lieu of a DIY quick assembly that ended up looking great and saved me mucho dinero.

Anyway.  I’ll spare you the wordy details since, as per usual for a semi-stressful event, I neglected to take pictures.  Seriously bad blogger.

But I do want to share a couple of quick tips if you ever find yourself needing to throw a casual, budget-friendly party for 20-30 people and you don’t want to cook.  Because while I might not be able to fake a thriving, lucrative and successful writing career, I learned I can certainly pull together a successful gathering on a dime.

I get by with a little help from my friends.

1)  Have a good friend to help you the day of the party.  I don’t know what I would’ve done without Danielle, who picked up last-minute items from the store and assembled 45 mini-sandwiches and overall kept me laughing and at ease throughout the morning (as opposed to becoming a discombobulated wreck of a stressball).

2)  Don’t splurge on the “fancy” party trays when you can make your own for a fraction of the cost.  The awesome deli ladies let me in on their secrets — buy as many little Hawaiian rolls as you need, plus one slice of meat per sandwich.  I wanted to make 45 sandwiches, so I bought 25 slices of turkey and 20 slices of ham.  I also bought 20 slices of cheese which, when split in half, covered 40 sandwiches.  (Who knew sandwich assembly was so math intensive?)  One slice of meat and cheese was plenty for each tiny roll.

The morning of the party, Danielle assembled the meat, cheese and buns on tray, then filled another tray with lettuce, sliced tomatoes, sliced cucumbers, and sliced onions.  Provide condiments on the side, and viola!  People can create their own little sandwiches to their taste.  The deli ladies were even kind enough to give me one of their plastic lidded trays for free.  I also bought a bunch of cookies and put them on another tray.  Add chips and a couple of sides from generous friends (thanks Christie for the pasta salad and baked beans!), and people will have plenty to munch on throughout the day.

3)  Kegs are overrated.  What?  You heard me.  They’re expensive and you usually need to order them a week or two in advance, and who’s coordinated enough to do that?  Actually, the lady at the military liquor store was kind enough to talk me out of buying one pricey keg and instead buy a variety of beer bottles to put in coolers.  Not only would people have a choice of beverage, but any leftovers (there weren’t any) wouldn’t go to waste.

Seriously, have you ever heard of more helpful store people?  I wanted to leap over their respective meat-and-liquor-laden counters and give them the most heartfelt, squishiest hugs of their lives.

And I’m not really a hugger.

4)  Make a special drink just for yourself (and your helpers).  Whether it’s alcoholic or not, you deserve something apart from what you’re serving the masses.  Don’t ask me why, but it just feels good.  In this case, it was basil-infused peach sangria.

Don’t worry.

The recipe is a-comin’.  And it couldn’t be easier.

Because It’s Fun Looking Inside Other People’s Houses. Admit It.

Awhile back I mentioned that I had applied for a blogging gig on a popular environmentally conscious style and design blog known as Re-Nest, which is a part of an even more popular style and design blog known as Apartment Therapy.  Though I made it to the “finals” and they used one of my two submissions — sans compensation — on the site, I never heard anything back about the job.  All  I can figure is a) I didn’t get it, or b) There never really was a gig and they just wanted free posts.

But I’m not bitter or anything.

Ahem.

Anyway, the job posting was brought to my attention by a friend with whom I used to work on the Army installation.  Jaime is pretty much awesome.  First, because she gave me a lead on a job.  Second, because she has chickens.  And third, because she invited me up to her amazing home for a day to take photos for my Re-Nest submission and introduced me to her friend Matt who also invited me to his stunning duplex to take photos.

This is not Matt.  This is one of Jaime’s chickens.

I will eventually share the photos of Matt’s place on here in case you didn’t get a chance to check them out on Re-Nest, but I thought I’d take this opportunity to show you Jaime’s house since frankly, it’s cool and it deserves to be online.  Even if it’s just on my lil ol’ blog as opposed to Apartment Therapy.

I’m just going to say it — Jaime’s style is, for the most part, the polar opposite of mine.  Meaning she has some.

Her house is a contemporary ranch, and her decor style is the perfect complement — minimal and uncomplicated with surprisingly quirky industrial inspiration and retro throwbacks.  (Her wall-to-wall curtain rods are actually just re-purposed metal conduit.  Clever, no?)

Yep.  It’s a far cry from the cozy and cluttered old-world, craftsmany style I consistently seem to be drawn to (scroll down to the bottom of this post for examples, and go check out this post to find out your style — apparently I’m a Swank Aesthete with a drinking problem).

If I could only choose one word to describe her place, it would be “airy.”

The wall of glass sliding doors overlooking her wooded lot, the breezy curtains, the wood floors — it’s like a day spa in there.  No wonder she calls it her sanctuary.

My house is not a sanctuary.

Although, Jaime and I do have some things in common.  We both think long and hard before making a purchase.  If we buy something, often times thrifted, we know we’re in it for the long haul — we’re not just buying things to fill up space.  Also, we’d both rather hang art than kitsch.

Plus, did I mention she has chickens?

Okay, I don’t have chickens, but I’d like to have chickens.

I think.

But I can’t afford the swanky diggs.

(I hate to admit it, but her chickens’ home might be nicer than mine.)

The chicken coop.

Nice, huh?  It’s not quite as fancy as this one I stumbled across the other day, but it’s definitely better than a Motel 6.

I realize this is a little different from my usual banter, but I couldn’t let these photos go wasted on my hard drive.  Thanks Jaime, for letting me into your home!  And if you notice one of your chickens is missing, it’s not because I stuffed one into my purse before I left.

Fresh eggs for breakfast, anyone?