December 15, 2014

Champagne Wedding Toasting Glasses

New Item! 

Proposal season is in full swing, and what better gift to give a bride to be than an amazing etched champagne toasting glass! These are gorgeous and can be completely customized. The rhinestones can be upgraded to Swarovski AB crystals (or left out completely), the wording can be changed, a date can be added, or the font can be changed. Thinking about bridesmaids gifts? The wording can be changed from 'Bride' to 'Bridesmaid', 'Maid of Honor' or even personalized names! I would love to work with you helping to make your big day extra special! 

December 14, 2014

The Cricut Explore

How adorable are these cards? These were all pre-made projects from the Cricut image library that comes with the subscription. 

First off, let me begin by saying that I am in no way affiliated with, compensated for endorsing, or asked to promote any of the products mentioned. I'm just obsessed... don't judge!
(Edit: As of 2/25/2015 I am affiliated with Cricut and receive compensation for purchases made through links on this site. All opinions are my own)

The Cricut Explore
The Cricut Explore is an amazing machine that may up front cost a bit, but over time (if you use it regularly) saves you lots of money. Plus, you look super crafty. Who doesn't love that? 

It's design makes it very easy to use. You use the software on the computer, and it sends your designs straight to the machine through the provided USB. The machine cuts cleanly on paper, cardstock, thin woods and leathers, and even fabric! 

The mats have a bit of a learning curve to them. When you have a dog who's hair sheds everywhere, your mat starts to look like a wooly mammoth. It's also good to remember to bend the mat and keep the paper straight when removing items from the mat... otherwise you get a curled piece of paper. 

Projects do take time! There are often multiple mats involved, weeding off from the mat, scraping off the mat clean before reusing it (those tiny pieces can be a handful), and gluing. Yes, the machine isn't the fastest, but it is very intricate and precise. As long as you have patience, you can accomplish even the most difficult projects!

There are endless possibilities to create. So far, the projects I have made include:
-card making (including the cutting blade and the writing pen)
-cutting a mirrored stencil with vinyl to apply to glass as a for etching (which is super easy... definitely keep an eye out for a tutorial on that in the future)
-letters for canvases 
Projects that will come soon:
-iron-on vinyl for pillowcases
-wall vinyls
-other stencils
-using Crayola markers in the pen slot to design coloring pages (there is a list on the Cricut website that informs of the compatible pens and markers)

Above is a canvas that took me under twenty minutes, and under five dollars. I bought a large sheet of glitter paper (it was sticky on one side, although it was cheap so it still needed glue upon applications) and an on-sale canvas, chose my font and a heart design, cut it out, glued it on, and now it's ready for the wall! To add more color, the canvas could be painted first. 

Honestly, I don't have much negative to say about the Cricut Explore (just at JoAnn's for saying online that there were 4 Scoring Stylus' available, driving there, and none to be found in the front or in the back... but that's a whole different story). I do wish that the image library was free instead of having to pay for (ahem, cheapskate!) and that the server based software ran a little faster... other than that, I would highly recommend the Cricut Explore to any and every crafting enthusiast!

Happy Crafting,

What are your favorite projects to make with the Cricut Explore? Comment below and share your thoughts!

December 12, 2014

Rainy Day in LA

It's raining outside and I can't find my umbrella. I used to have rain boots when I lived in New York but they didn't make it to LA because, well, it doesn't rain here. Honestly, Angelinos are utterly unprepared for precipitation of any kind just the same as our fire-burned foothills are. Listen to this- the Los Angeles River is actually a river today! We had a real storm (kinda) and we like to shout about it. Ok, so it's raining, we are all freaking out... now what?

Here are some ways to keep occupied on a rainy day:

1. Crawl Back into Bed, Cry, and Go to Sleep
Just kidding. It's just rain and you aren't going to melt! (But seriously, your bed is always there for you)

2. Go Jump in Some Puddles
Yes, really! Have you tried this lately? If you are able to come back inside and take a warm shower, what's a little reckless abandon to shake up the day? It's not like it rains very much here. Just make sure not to jump in the LA River... Check out what happens if you do.

3. Make Hot Chocolate, Grab a Blanket, and Watch a Good Movie
Harry Potter, anyone?

4. Give Everyone Live Updates of the Rain Progress on Your Facebook Feed
Obviously. Everyone loves that.

5. Enjoy
We're in a drought. We need it!

Have a wonderful day and try to keep dry!

How's the weather where you're at? Comment below and let me know!

November 23, 2014

Mud Pies and Giggles- Loving the Mess

A Little Mess is Always worth It

Many people will see these picture and absolutely cringe. Just think of the cleanup! I must admit, this thought often crosses my mind; today, however, we played outside with reckless abandon. The kids I nanny are awesome! They climb trees, they inspect bugs, they watch clouds float by, and today I taught them the fine art of mud pie making.

Our day consisted of the usual dusty dirt digging, trying to get to the lair of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, of course. A digging hole turned into a moat when the hose was turned on, which led to mud, and then to splashing. So much splashing! Under the shade of a blooming loquat tree, twenty little toes slithered through the squishiest of mud. Giggles and squeals could be heard from far and wide.

The moments I spend with the kids I nanny can be divided into many compartments. Sometimes it is the "You Are Not My Kids and I Cannot Stand Your Complaining so Please Let Me Go Home" section. Other times it is the "I Cannot Believe I get Paid to Color and Paint all Day" department. Days like today fall into the "You Sweet Little Humans Are Amazing Souls and I Will Remember This Moment Forever Because You Have Impacted My Life" compartment. I honestly believe so much can be learned from children, so long as we truly listen to what they say and do.

The Fine Art of Making a Perfect Mud Pie
So you might be wondering, what does mud have to do with happiness? Well, simply nothing and absolutely everything. Maybe today it is mud, tomorrow it is pretending to be something silly, and yesterday it was coloring with a four year old. The point is time spent with undivided attention means everything to a child. It doesn't have to be the whole day, or even a whole hour, but kids know if you are really present or if your attention is spent elsewhere. If you take a few minutes here and there to fully observe and listen to a child, you learn a lot. Children are intelligent and intuitive beings that don't always get much credit. They deserve to have their ideas heard and their opinions expressed just like any other person. 

If I would have stopped them because of the mess, we would have missed out on so much fun! Afterwards it took a hose, a few extra minutes, and a quick wardrobe change to clean up- which was not too much effort. Next time you are about to say no, think of what the costs and reward are. Often times we limit kids because we don't think it is worth the time or mess, but to that child a yes could mean everything in that moment. 

New Freckles?...
Remember that mud can always be cleaned up and clothes can always be washed, but the moments of messy memories can pass by too quickly. Have fun, let their imaginations grow, and let the mess slide for now.

November 16, 2014

General Baking Tips

I like to think of baking as a science, which is probably why I love it so much. Combine reactants A and B, add heat, a chemical reaction occurs, and product C is formed. Any slight change and you get a different product. This can be either good or bad, but it is an experiment- one that can be done multiple times with different variants to determine what product is the best! Alright, so all nerd talk aside, baking is fun! Don't give up because it's not working for you. With practice and knowing what to look for, you can have the baking skills of Martha Stewart in no time!

All Ovens Are Not Created Equal
I used to nanny for a family in New York that had a Miele Convection Oven. This appliance was baking perfection- no hot spots, complete temperature precision, and didn't heat up the kitchen to temperatures relative of Mordor. Unfortunately, that oven is not mine and most of us are not lucky enough to have an oven that costs $3000. Every oven is different, and because of this you must watch what you are baking! Know a few things when baking:
1. Baking times are a guideline, not an exact science. So many variables can result in needing more or less time. Learn to know what your baked good should look and feel like when done. Does the middle of your cake look like batter? Keep it in the oven! Are your cookies turning golden brown on the edges? They are getting close to being done, or might even be ready! Pay attention and you will know when it is time to take it out.
2. Oven temperatures vary from what they say. Gas ovens fire up to bring the temperature back to what it should be, cycling from cooler to hotter. Some ovens are not correctly calibrated and read off a wrong temperature. It is wise to invest in an oven thermometer to get a better gauge on the actual temperature inside your oven.
3. Most ovens have hot spots. The back of your oven might burn food while the front is undercooking food. Rotate to ensure even baking. Additionally, make sure there is enough room for air circulation, and keep the pan near the center.
4. Even fancy convection ovens will differ in baking time from what the recipe says. Convection ovens are awesome, but they bake faster! Keep watch on what you are baking and you will start to figure out how much to reduce baking times.

Those Eggs Are Probably Still Good
Eggs last so much longer than the printed label wants you to think. To check, lower the egg in question into a bowl of cold water. Does it float? Time to say goodbye... but if it sinks or stands on it's tip it is still good to use! Keep in mind that if it sank but is standing on it's tip that it should be used promptly.

You Can Change and Substitute Ingredients, but Your Consistency Might Change
Remember what I said about baking being a science? If you change the chemical makeup, you will form a new product. Simple changes like omitting nutmeg, adding more cinnamon, or slightly reducing the amount of sugar are all small changes you can easily get away with. Removing baking soda or baking powder will cause your dessert to fall flat. They are both leavening agents which help aid in rising. Eggs also help with leavening, add moisture, and act like a "glue" to your baked goods. Too much flour can result in a gummy and dry texture, and your dessert might not be able to hold together if there isn't enough. Flour is most accurate when measured in grams on a scale rather than by cups. Keep in mind ratios when baking- if you reduce the amount of oil or butter, you might also want to reduce the amount of flour. Don't let this scare you! Some substitutions really do work. I've had amazing vegan cookies (no animal products- butter and eggs), so experiment and find what works for you!

Don't Overwork Your Flour
Overworked flour can easily turn a flaky pie crust into a piece of rubber. Once flour is just mixed in, it's time to stop.

Be Aware of Temperatures
Recipe say to mix in cold butter? To chill dough before baking? To reduce oven temperature after 25 minutes? Use room temperature eggs and butter? These instructions are crucial. Don't try to cut corners for something that might seem insignificant because your baking will ultimately suffer.

Follow Instructions
Remember how I said baking times are just a guideline? Well, other instructions when baking don't have as much wiggle room. Under-mixing or over-mixing can change consistency. Adding ingredients in a different order can change how you product will rise. Make sure that you sift ingredients if the instructions say to! Flour and powdered sugar can very easily clump and leave dry pockets in your batter if not properly sifted. Don't act like your boyfriend when putting together IKEA furniture; read and follow the instructions and you will be just fine.

Have Fun!
The more fun you have, the more you will want to bake. The more you bake, the better you will be! Learning what not to do is just as important as learning the right way. So go get your apron and get to it! As Ms. Frizzle from the Magic School Bus used to say, "Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!"

Products I Love

What have you learned from your time baking? Comment below and let me know!

November 13, 2014

A Slice of Healthier Holiday Pie

It's fall and the weather is a blustery 68 degrees here today in Los Angeles. Alright... it doesn't feel much like fall in the land of eternal sunshine, but I see girls in Uggs and sweaters so it must be getting closer to Thanksgiving. To bring me into the holiday spirit doesn't actually take much. Once my oven is fired up and something delicious is baking inside, I'm ready to sing some carols! 
When in comes to baking, one dessert trumps them all for me- Apple Pie! It is sweet, yet tart, and fills up the house with an amazing aroma. It reminds me of little grandmas everywhere and makes me want to take up knitting. Apple Pie is my FAVORITE. I would eat it all day if I could... but apparently that's not healthy. I knew I had to make a healthier recipe. 
This recipe is also very easily modified to be vegan! In the entire pie there is only a tablespoon of sugar (1/2 T cane sugar and 1/2 T brown sugar) and one tablespoon of honey! The crust has less butter (yay for coconut oil!) and therefore less cholesterol. It was even approved by my boyfriend who said, "I don't like apple pie but this is amazing!" 
Full recipe is at the bottom of post.

Melanie's Apple Pie

Sift together two cups flour and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Usually flour should be measured by grams on a scale, not by cups; however, pie crust can be easily modified by adding more coconut oil, flour, or water based on what it needs to get to the right consistency. Don't be scared by this! It takes practice, but it is easy to tell if it is too dry and crumbly or too sticky. 

Make sure that your ingredients and bowl when making the crust are cold. This is essential for the crust to turn out right! Mix in 1/4 cup coconut oil and 1/4 teaspoon vanilla. Cut in butter into pea-sized pieces. Sprinkle water over and knead until the right consistency. This recipe can also be vegan if you omit the butter and raise the coconut oil to 3/4 cup. I love using coconut oil in my crusts! It brings in a sweetness without adding sugar, and reduces the amount of butter. This crust is flaky and bursting with flavor! 

Make sure to use tart apples! They also should just barely be ripe. Using overripe apples or ones that are not tart will result in mushy pie filling. 

I used a peeler to peel off the skin, a corer to take out the core and slice the apples into wedges, and then cut each slice into thirds. The apples can also be thinly sliced instead of cut into pieces. I prefer the chunks but it is up to you! This was about six cups of apples, but you can use seven if you prefer a taller pie.

To the apples I added 1/2 tablespoon organic cane sugar, 1/2 tablespoon brown sugar, 1/2 tablespoon flour, 1 teaspoon of vanilla, and 1 tablespoon of raw honey. Apples provide a lot of flavor, so if you want to cut out the sugar altogether and only add honey, it will still be delicious! When everything is mixed together, make sure that it is not too runny. This can make the bottom crust mushy. You can reduce this liquid by heating it in a saucepan, or just remove it altogether. 

The honey that I love is orange blossom honey from Bill's Bees here in California. It is sold at various farmers markets in the area. I got mine at the Burbank Farmers Market, and it's just about time to go back and get some more! 

After your dough is chilled, it's time to roll it out! I use two sheets of floured wax paper with the dough in between. It is so easy, hardly sticks, and makes clean up a breeze!

Occasionally you will have to take off one of the sheets of wax paper to reduce the creasing that happens and to add some more flour. Then flip it over and keep rolling until it is the right size!

Viola! Now make sure your crust is still cold before going in the oven. If you are using a glass dish, switching from extreme cold to extreme heat can be bad, so wait until the last second to put the cold crust in the dish and then straight into the oven once filled and topped! 

The bottom crust is filled and dotted with butter, but remember that is optional!

How pretty is this! I love to use a fork to make steam vent designs in my pies. They ooze character and can add a festive touch for the holidays. To crinkle the pie edges I use two knuckles on one hand and one on the other and push the edges between them all the way around the pie. Another option is to push a fork or spoon down around the edge to make a crimped crust. Make sure to cut off the excess crust that hangs over the dish with a knife.

Now cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes at 400 degrees F, then reduce heat to 375 and remove foil and bake for an additional 20-25 minutes. When removing foil, this is a good time to rotate the pie to ensure even baking. You will know the pie is done when the crust is golden brown and the filling is bubbling. 
Next comes the hard part! Let the pie cool for at least 2 hours. The filling needs time to set so that it doesn't run. 

Once cooled, Enjoy!

Melanie's Apple Pie
-2 cups All-Purpose Flour
-1/2 tsp Salt
-1/4 cup Organic Virgin Coconut Oil*
-1/2 cup Unsalted Butter*
-1/4 tsp Vanilla
-4-6 Tbsp Cold Water
*If using vegan recipe, omit butter and use 3/4 cup coconut oil)

-6 cups Granny Smith Apples, peeled and chopped or thinly sliced
-1 tsp Vanilla
-1/2 Tbsp Flour
-1 Tbsp Honey
-1/2 Tbsp Sugar
-1/2 Tbsp Brown Sugar
-1/2 Tbsp Butter (approximately) to dot filling

1. Sift together flour and salt into a large (cold) bowl.
2. Stir in coconut oil and vanilla.
3. Cut in butter until in small pieces.
4. Slowly add in water and knead until completely mixed. Add just enough water to combine all of the flour. Do not over-mix!
5. Separate the dough into two and chill in the refrigerator for at least a half hour.
6. Flour two pieces of wax paper and place one piece of the dough in between and roll out until large enough to fit into pie dish. Occasionally pull off wax paper to add more flour and flip over the dough. 
7. Repeat step 6 for the top layer and then chill until ready to put into pie dish. Pie crust should be COLD right before putting into the oven. 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F
1. Peel apples and then chop into small pieces, or slice thinly (up to personal preference). To keep from browning, place in a bowl of cold water with a splash of lemon juice. Make sure to pat dry apples before moving to the next step.
2. Add apples, vanilla, flour, honey, sugar, and brown sugar into a large bowl. Mix together. 
There should not be too much liquid. If too watery, do not add all the liquid in the next step.
3. Place pie crust into dish, lightly dust with flour, and then add in filling. Dot with butter (*do not add butter for vegan recipe). 
4. Add top pie crust. Pinch together ends or press down with a fork. Remove excess with a knife. 
5. Poke holes in top crust with a fork. 
6. Cover with foil and bake at 400 degrees F for 30 minutes.
7. Reduce heat to 375 and remove foil. Bake for additional 20-25 minutes until crust is golden brown and filling is bubbling. 
8. Cool for at least 2 hours. If it is still warm, the filling will be runny! 


Let me know what you think of this recipe! Comment below! 

November 12, 2014

How to Create a Productive Workspace

Martha Stewart Home and Office
Sitting at a desk may not be for everyone; however, it doesn't have to be torture. With a few simple tweaks it can a happy, inspirational, and productive space!

1. Reduce Mess and Clutter
I cannot stand being in a messy area. It's torture and all I can focus on is what needs to be cleaned. The mess can become a major creative block that slows down (if not completely halts) what needs to be accomplished. Additionally, if you can't find what you need, your efficiency is going to suffer.

2. Remove Distractions
This one goes hand in hand with reducing clutter (well, if you hate messes like myself). What distracts you? Is it the mess, loud noises, or even a boring white wall that you keep staring at? Remove it! Ok, maybe don't be too drastic with the wall one and just paint it... Anyways, distractions are the killer of all productivity, and I'm sure everyone can agree (ahem, thanks a lot Facebook!). Some distractions are unavoidable: crying kids (technically just kids in general), traffic noises, and if you're like me, a giant snoring dog sleeping in the corner of the room. If you can't remove distractions, do your best to work with or around them! Shout out to those supermoms that make anything look possible!

3. Add Inspiration Pieces
This one is my favorite! What sparks your creativity? What gets you motivated? It could be a candle, a painting, a picture of a loved one, a colorful display of your pencils and markers... Whatever it may be, make your workspace an inviting place. Chances are if you like how it looks, you will want to spend more time there.

4. Keep Necessary Items Nearby
Notebook, pens, paperclips, snacks; whatever it may be, if you have to search for it, it's going to waste your time. Not that I did this five minutes ago or anything, but if you don't put that expensive drawing pen you just bought yesterday back where it belongs, it may go join your lost socks in the land of missing items.

5. Spend a Few Minutes Before Working to Make Your Area a Calm and Productive Space
Turn on a light, declutter, listen to some music, dust, draw a picture, read a story, write ANYTHING... whatever gets you in the zone, do that and start off on a good note to continue your day in a positive way.

6. Don't Put too Much Pressure on Yourself. RELAX!
Calm down and feel inspired! Know that you are amazing and you've got this! Go watch that cat video on YouTube... you know you want to. I agree that most jobs are stressful, but if you are focusing too much on what you haven't done, you will have less time actually getting real work done. Take it one step at a time and tackle that to-do list.

7. Do What Works for You
You are not me and this list might not apply to you at all. Figure out what motivates and inspires you and go with that! If you love staring at that blank wall or dust and clutter help you think, to each their own. Maybe you thrive under pressure... you have fun with that! And finally, if you are going to binge watch those cat videos, maybe shut YouTube down...

Or not!

Agree? Disagree? Hate cats? Comment below and let me know!

November 11, 2014

New items are up in the Etsy shop!

Remember to use code "Launch11" and save 15% off your purchase until Saturday 11/15.
New items are continually being added so keep checking back!

Happy Shopping!

Leave a comment below and let me know what you think about the shop!
Also, don't forget to follow on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook.

November 10, 2014

The Bright Side

Happy Monday!
I'm trying out this new concept today... It's often something foreign to many of us. It can easily disappear, yet is just as easily contagious. When life is going our way it is easy to have, yet not so much when life knocks you down. Ready for the lame inspirational punchline? The answer is... positivity! Yeah, I know... nothing magical, miraculous, or even new here. The point you ask? Focusing on the negative is never helpful. In fact, it can be destructive. Bad experiences can drive us to work harder and learn what to do different next time; however, being negative only leads to a pattern of continuing negativity.

Yesterday was a rough day. Like having plans for weeks but instead being stranded in South Central LA because of a broken fuel pump in the car rough. On an empty stomach rough. And then finding out how much it costs to replace a fuel pump kind of rough, awful, bad kind of day. Despite Murphy showing us his law of how much can and will go wrong (thanks a lot, Murph), lessons were learned.
First off, we were able to get off of the freeway and push the car to a gas station. We had to pay a few people on the street corner to help us, but I had a few dollars on me (which is not common). After that, people were so kind to check on us and make sure we were ok. The tow truck took about a half hour, but thanks to AAA, we were able to get that tow. The driver was really kind and took us to where we needed, and amazingly we found a repair shop within a mile of our house that was open on Sunday. My main takeaway is that situations are often out of our control. Having a sour mood is not going to change what happened. Yes, disappointment is bound to affect us, but we do not have to let that control us.

Think of a few things when life isn't going your way:

Will it Matter Ten Years From Now?
Or even tomorrow? If the answer is no, let it slide. You'll get 'em next time.

Take A Real Look at Your Life
I'm sure that you could make an enormous list of all the good in your life. Focus on that and be thankful for what you have.
"You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” -"The Help"

Something Good May Come
Maybe you missed that light but avoided an accident. Perhaps you learned all the wrong ways to do something and can gain a better perspective to finally get it right if you keep trying. Maybe what you wanted wasn't what was best for you.
Just the other day I went to a concert and could not find parking anywhere. When I did I was nearly an hour late for the line up time and got to the line about twenty minutes before they closed the gates. It was one of those general admission situations where the earlier you arrive, the closer you are to the stage. However, stressing about being late and barely getting in was not worth it. They pulled around 50 people out of the exact portion of the line that I was in to move up next to the stage. Two minutes earlier and I would have been in the back. Everything works out for a reason!
When something bad happens, know that something even better may be waiting for you.

Take it in Stride
We have no right to ask when sorrow comes, "Why did this happen to me?" unless we ask the same question for every moment of happiness that comes our way. -Author Unknown

Brighten Up Some Else's Day
You never know who may benefit from your sunny mood. Laugh! It's contagious.

There is a time and a place for sadness and anger, but always try to look for the bright side.

What keeps you positive? What good has come out of rough situations? What advice can you give? Comment and share below!

November 6, 2014

First Post!

Hey interwebs! I am beyond excited to be starting this blog... it's been a long time coming and will take a lot of work, patience, and constant revamping until it's just right, so bear with me. I hope you enjoy this journey with me as I post about DIY projects, organization, health, products I love, crafts, baking, my favorite places, and all the miscellaneous in between that is life!

Love, Miscellaneous Melanie