Friday, September 26, 2014

DIY Back Rests for Lounging Outdoors

Pictured are some very fun back rests that we made for a Movie Under the Stars party. Summer and fall are optimal times to enjoy long evenings outdoors. Festivals, Concerts in the Park, backyard movie nights, beach bonfires, swim meets and picnics are all perfect opportunities to prop these up, lean back and enjoy the fresh air. Although I rent these versatile little "chairs", I thought I'd share DIY tips for those of you that are not local and enjoy an easy fun project.
Confession. I actually used the butterscotch colored cushions from my kitchen chairs.
I know they are comfy with the added bonus of being washable!
Ingredients and Recipe:

My TrueLove reminded me that we had to cut plywood to size at his brother's workshop with the skill saw and goggles. It is simple if you are experienced. If not, have a pro do it for you. The rest of the steps are easy and fun!

                                                         1)  (2)  18"x24" pieces of plywood per chair about 1/2" to 1" thick

Step 1: Put the hinges on. Then you can stand it up to paint to paint.
They go on the inside. We did it wrong the first time. See!
Also see the 1"x2" nailed at the bottom and inside.
2)  (2) sturdy hinges per chair- they attach on the inside peak

3)  Primer

4) Paint- I recommend deck paint. I used home      made chalk paint.

5) Drill

6) 3" nails

7) (2)  1"x2" wood pieces. You will drill holes in the wood piece for nails. The nails just slide into the holes and softly pierce the grass. They keep the chair from moving when supporting your back.

These back rests or chairs are versatile, sturdy and portable. I love them! I can't wait to take them to a concert in the park with a couple of supportive cushions and a bottle of wine. Smart and stylish.

This project actually cost about $50. I posted an update on social media asking friends if they had any plywood that they wanted to get rid of. Luckily, I had enough offers to come pick up their throw-away plywood to make (4)!

We had primer, nails and tools. The major cost was for the hinges, about $3.50 each. I also bought gray paint, but I saved a bunch because I shopped the "blooper" area. I knew that any value of gray would coordinate nicely with the color pallet we chose.

The picture on the right shows them all sitting pretty, ready for the guests to arrive and relax. Imagine the exciting possibilities for personalizing these chairs: painted gold or with chalkboard paint, stenciled with a family name or with a team logo, or even covered with glamorous wallpaper! Anything you can imagine!

This little cutie (left) and it's match were Antique Faire finds. I paid $20 for both of them. They are called "sand chairs" or "beach chairs". I wasn't sure how they would work on the grass but they work fantastic! I used them for the party as well with pillows. I also use them regularly to sit out on the lawn with my old pug dog and a book. They are adorable and the very reason I love antiquing and thrifting!

I hope this little DIY inspires you to have some fun creating and exploring possibilities. If I could do it, you can do it! (Except TrueLove really did most of it. shhh!)


Thursday, September 25, 2014

Styling an 18th Birthday Party

Kai's 18th Birthday
Dinner and Movie Under the Stars

I had the privilege to work with a very talented musician and actress, Kai Bains,
to style her fabulous 18th birthday party!
I'd love to style a small gathering for you and your friends.

Here are some of my favorite pictures and even some tips for styling your own parties. 

This celebration was pure magic and the photos really do not do it justice. I was beyond delighted to stage this party for such an amazing young lady. It could not have been more fun for me!
Kai was lovely to work with. We met a few weeks before the party to discuss her ideas and how I could serve her. Together I believed we accomplished what she wanted and even elevated it.

She loved my idea of mixing vintage tableware together. I combined gold vintage snack services ( I painted the bottom of the glass gold). Also pairing them with small salad plates provided interest and took much less space than standard size place settings. The extra tables space gained allowed all ten girls to share the same dining table. It was lovely and perfect for their Tapas menu that was catered. Kai added the special touch of a simple menu on a lunch bag with a surprise goodie inside: hot pita bread.

Movie Under the Stars viewing area. 
This lounging area accommodated ten girls. It was comfortable with ample room to lie down on cozy picnic blankets and lots of pillows to throw around while watching their films.

Back Rests

Jon and I made four gray backrests for the girls to lean against on the grass. I was inspired by some that I saw and researched on Pinterest. We fashioned these specifically for Kai's party. They are simple, A-frames with hinges that anchor softly into the grass. We recycled plywood that was doomed for the trash, painted them French Gray to coordinate with the color scheme and propped seat cushions and back cushions against them for extra comfort. These are great for parties like this, picnics, concerts in the park or just relaxing on a patch of grass. I am glad to rent them out or custom make some for your next event!

Calli modeling how comfy the backrests are.

Photo backdrop and movie screen.
Dinner table with movie area in the background.
I delegated some of the styling to Kai to utilize her creativity as well as keep costs low. She made this adorable picture booth/backdrop that quickly converted to the movie screen. It made a fantastic focal point for the whole party. Calli was my right hand as we set this up in record breaking scorching August heat.

The high summer sun giving my camera a challenge.
I wanted the lounge area to have no shortage of pillows. Also, I used baskets and luggage as side tables and a low profile coffee table. I wanted the girls to have plenty of places to set their popcorn and drinks.

I deconstructed a store bought floral bouquet to make several small arrangements that would allow the ladies to see each other without moving them. This is a fun way to stretch out the beauty and the budget!

Fresh lemon and herbs are just as pretty as flowers, fragrant and edible garnish.

A gift from Grandma. A beautiful french cake. 

Kai's parents strung memories over the patio mimicking streamers but much more fun. They are not only festive, personal and stunning, but also interactive. The girls really enjoyed finding their photos with Kai and then sharing their memories. Everyone loved it! 
This is a fun idea to implement for family birthdays, anniversaries and even weddings. They can be strung up high, on tables, over entryways, there are so many possibilities. In this digital age, everyone appreciates real photos more than ever!

I can style a small event like this, rent the pieces pictured or find a unique piece of furniture for your living spaces.  I'll be keeping everyone posted as my new website is closer to launching under the new name: Nicole Monee.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Speaking on Creativity

Here's the sweet Instagram Lizzie posted of me speaking!
Wow! What a privilege to speak at my dear friend, Liz Heywood's "Lemonade Salon", which is a once a month discussion group. Knowing that I'm in transition of establishing myself in a creative line of work, Liz gave me a platform to speak on the topic of Bringing Creativity into Your Life and Home. She also asked me to specifically address people who "are not creative".

Wow! What an exciting topic! Here is a recap of what I shared from my heart.

We are all creative! 
I believe it! If you share my world view then you believe that we are created by a Creator who is Creativity. Creativity lives in us.
I have wonderful friends that have declared to me that they are not creative AT ALL!
I politely pointed out to one, "Yes you are! You teach Math to dozens of kids and you have used creativity to make Math fun and understandable. You use creativity when you teach."
To the other I responded, "Yes you are! You run a busy family and a ridiculously busy office. The way you juggle a calendar and an agenda takes all kinds of creativity."
Both ladies were deeply encouraged as I called out their creativity, and they agreed. You see, we are all creative, it just looks different for many of us.
Creativity grows! It can be fostered with the right mindset.

Addressing the stressfulness of bringing creativity alive I came up with the acronym
LAUGHS, as a reminder that it can be fun.

L: Limitations! It is counterintuitive to free up a bunch of people by starting with limitations, however, I have found that limitations have forced me to be the most creative. Creativity is used to solve problems, thus "Necessity is the mother of invention." It's like that. It needs healthy boundaries.

Ex 1: Have you ever been in a class and the teacher tells you that you can write about anything you want? And you sat and sat and sat and wasted most of the time thinking, starting and starting over?
If the same teacher told you to write about your fluffy bunny, you could begin straight away with great creative ideas.

Ex 2: DIY and How-To's are popular because most of the world is limited by budget and creativity forces us to be resourceful and figure out how to replicate the things we love within our monetary boundaries.

A: Ask! Ask for help. Ask for ideas. Designers and stylists collaborate all the time!

U: you! I know the translation is weak but you need to know what you like. You must collect things that inspire you. Start a Style File or an Idea File. Grab a binder, page protectors and start tearing ideas out of magazines. I've even been waiting in the dentist office lobby and asked if I could tear a recipe or photo page out. If you are tech savvy then start Pinterest boards and refer to them often. You'll see your tastes change and refine. Mostly, you will be constantly inspired. Inspiration fosters creativity.

G: Go! Go and make mistakes! Many who don't feel creative are stressed out by the fear that they might make a mistake. Designers make mistakes all the time. Stylists bring more than they will ever need for a photo shoot because they have to try and see what works. Concepts don't always translate in real life, so just try things. Designers and stylists are successful because they have tried so many things that they begin to instinctively know what will work. Go and try! If it's a mistake return it, change it, start over. - If you are investing a lot of money then ask for help! Collaborating does not mean that you are not creative.

H: Hang out with creative people! Like I mentioned before, creativity is a force and it feeds itself within relationship. Have you ever planned a meal, party, or an outing with a friend. The more you share ideas, the more exciting the conversation becomes and sometimes there are so many ideas at the end that you both are exhausted.

S: Space (and Time): Give yourself ample space and time to be creative. Make a date for an afternoon. Creativity can't be rushed or you end up feeling frustrated. Many artists and hobbyists plan time and space: Sketch Crawls, Srapbooking Retreats, Open Air Painting Events are all examples of creatives making a time and space for themselves to experiment.

LAUGHS! The acronym is to remind you to have fun. You will get there. Another tip that didn't make it into the acronym is to START SMALL! Don't start with your whole home. Start with a coffee cup and a Sharpie, a mason jar and metallic gold pen. Write an inspiring word on it and see if the one small idea inspires another one. Here is an example of a time I felt a block and started very small:

Here I took a gold metallic pen from the craft store and wrote an inspiring word onto a wooden valet plate. It led me to do an organic design on the back. This project took five minutes and the creativity it generated inspired a host of project ideas that I am still working on. It started with a boring plate and a metallic pen.

I hope you are reminded, as I am myself, that WE ARE ALL creative!
Creativity is a force, it helps solve problems, it grows, it likes time, it likes space, it likes company and 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Food Prep 101/ Just Figuring it Out!

Prepared Granola/Snacking Bowl while writing this blog post

I'm just figuring out the magic of Food Prep and it's changing my life. 
I don't typically gravitate to things like saving time and food prepping. I'm artistic and emotional and operate largely on feelings. These days, however, meals eat away my time. Pun intended. Chomp! Chomp! I eat so stinking healthy and I feel fabulous because of it, but the washing, drying, chopping, stirring, and then cleaning all the gadgets, etc, etc, seriously swallows up the first half of the day sometimes. Most times. I'm learning from the pros how to prep. I'm guessing most of you already figured out these time saving tips and will just indulge me in my new and wonderful discovery. 
Buckle up for some pictures of the inside of my hideous fridge. Sorry.

Pancake Mix from Meals Made Simple
Meals Made Simple is the latest and greatest cookbook from my friend, Danielle Walker at Against All Grain, and is jammed full of time saving tips. Here is one of them: Pancake Mix. It's grain free and since my daughter loves to make pancakes and waffles, I'd rather her use this nutritious version! I will add the recipe for the wet ingredients and tuck it into the jar.

Meals Made Simple offers fantastic tips such as how to freeze pancakes and waffles. Calli made her own Blueberry Pancakes and had some leftovers, so I followed Danielle's steps to freezing them properly. Now the kids can take one out and pop it in the toaster when need be.

Nut Free Granola

So the cookbook also features a Nut Free Granola and I am absolutely NUTZO over it! I LOVE this recipe! Danielle, I hope you read this and are happy to know that I intend to never be without this granola in my pantry! I've even gone so far as to measure out the seeds and bag them as well as the mix-ins for the very end. We can just make another batch even quicker! I plan to pulverize some of it into dust and sprinkle on top of  healthy frozen treats.

Smoothie Prep

Building a quick morning smoothie often makes the most ridiculous mess- huge Costco bags of frozen organic fruit, sculpting out frozen bananas, big bags of protein powder, milk options, the greens (slicing kale off the spine should not be done when you are in morning zombie mode), chia seeds, coconut oil, avacado, etc, etc. It's easy, but too many components for a hurried morning. Instead, we will pop our smoothie bag in the refrigerator the night before and the hard part is ready! Just empty the contents into the Vitamix and add milk & powders!

Chia Gel Cubes
Sneaky trickery!!!! I'm so happy. I read that chia seeds are better absorbed when transformed to gel by soaking for 15 - 45 minutes. I can't get Jake to put boosters in his smoothies. I can fool him into putting a frozen chia gel cube in since when frozen it looks exactly like an icy chunk of banana!!! Jake will have Chia Gel and never know it. (Insert evil laugh.)

I warned you to buckle up for some gnarly photos. What I'd like to direct attention to is the Salad in a Jar from Community Eats, Prepared Lettuce, Curried Nuts, and Fresh Juice. If you have ever wondered if the Salad in a Jar-thing works, IT ABSOLUTELY WORKS!!! And it's AWESOME!!! 
Jake loves this recipe for Curried Cashews by GI 365 so much that he claimed them a suitable replacement to his love language: CHIPS! You can bet I am stocking up on these bad boys! If you follow the recipe I altered it a touch by adding raw macadamia nuts and about 3/4tsp of Garam Masala. I'm not kidding about "stocking up" on the nuts. I also put some handfuls in small bags so Jake can throw a perfect portion in his backpack for post workout protein or quick snack between classes.

Stocking up on Curried Nuts

I went crazy and roasted five heads of broccoli. We all love it, it's incredibly versatile AND it didn't have time to go yellow, brown or fire starter texture before I ventured around to cooking it! My produce drawer has been known to hide the fairest and freshest of goodness and render it weeks later unrecognizable. We are on to you Veggie Drawer and you're going down. You will not steal our food and/or money again.

 You will notice the brown rice pasta which I have two gallon bags prepared. It might not be as noticeable but when I was preparing Salad Jars I had extra grated zucchini, purple onion, apple and carrots so that I could just have those goodies to toss in to a soup, pasta or whatever. 
Did I do this all at once? 
A few things at a time are doable. 
If I'm making a mess,I mean a salad, - the Cuisinart is out slicing everything turbo speed, I have the jars and tuppies clean and ready, then it's "go time". It works. I can easily measure out some flours or seeds while somethings roasting in the oven.

Does it mean I'll never cook again. 
 I will ALWAYS need to cook/prepare food for my family and myself. 
I just get to choose WHEN I prepare. 
I choose NOT to prepare when I'm half asleep, cold, cranky and late. I choose NOT to prepare at the mid-day meal when I'm starving and decide I'd rather just eat bread and butter than start digging around the produce drawer and destroying the kitchen. 
I'd much rather shake out my prepped salad 
and spend time on the important things like making coffee, I mean, 
helping the kids with studies or building my business. I know that home makers everywhere are already whipping up preparations like brilliant orchestra conductors but as I previously mentioned before all the noise of this post, I'm 
just figuring it out!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Against All Grain: Meals Made Simple, my compliments!

I chose to call this "my compliments" because I have nothing but compliments to give. I didn't think it was possible for Danielle Walker of Against All Grain to outdo herself again, however with her new book Meals Made Simple she did it! I was gifted a copy (it is available on pre order due to launch September 2nd) and upon receiving, drove straight to Whole Foods and literally flipped through the pages in the parking lot because I wanted to make something wonderful immediately. I chose the Garlic & Herb Roasted Chicken because I had most of the ingredients on hand. 

I made this!
What has me super excited about this new book is the 8 week meal plans and shopping list tear out sheets! This is GENIUS! With these meal plans, there are entrees for each night of the week that I'd actually enjoy cooking up. I can't wait to put that element to the test!

Danielle astounds me with her expertise. 
She worked fiercely on these recipes to make a healthy diet easily adaptable, for example the Mint Chocolate Milkshake looks like a simplified version of her stellar Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream, which I am thrilled about! Making ice-cream is ambitious but I can whip up this shake over and over again!

Danielle is dedicated to fool proofing every recipe she offers as well as tweaking them successfully to accommodate almost every dietary restriction. Her Real Deal Chocolate Chip Cookies 2.0, for example are a makeover allowing those with egg and nut allergies the opportunity to enjoy these famously delicious cookies.  I just find the thoughtful lay out, tidbits, and cheat sheets a wonderful extension of her hospitality. 

This cookbook is dedicated to a very special young lady,
please read her story.
Committed to helping people navigate a healing dietary lifestyle, Danielle persevered through the darkest storm of her life and shared her secrets to simplifying life and the dinner table.
Danielle promises simple meals and has delivered. 
There are several recipes I am dying to try: White Pork Chile, Balsamic Steak Pizza and Freezer Waffles, to name a few.
 The photos are gorgeous and not just the food--
the Walkers are stunning, inside and out! Their stories grace the introduction.
Thanks Danielle for another awesome cookbook!

It's as if the meal is coming right off the page!
Cheers to a job well done! 
There are some of us who can't wait for Against All Grain to be a cooking show!
...or a restaurant!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Soup & Salad

It's just my lunch salad with a bunch of left-over 
Velvety Carrot Soup 
from last night's dinner and post.
I can't get enough of it!
Soup & Salad in one bowl!

Friday, August 1, 2014

Velvety Carrot Soup

I just had to share this recipe. After a week of vacation indulgences and scorching summer heat, I wanted something light, fresh and cleansing, without turning on any heat elements in the kitchen. I had pinned a Quick and Easy Carrot Soup recipe earlier this week and thought it fit the bill.
It is vegan, raw and HEAVENLY!!!!!!
I took liberties and renamed it because Quick and Easy Carrot Soup is not a sensuous enough title for this show-stopper and crazy-good soup. 

Most of my sweet friends know that I never follow recipes exactly. If you'd like the original, unadulterated recipe, which I recommend, clink this link.

I did this!

4 Carrots and 1 Cup of water.
Blend and then strain. Once strained pour juice back into Vitamix container.
1 clove of garlic
1 avacado
1 giant knob of fresh ginger (to your liking, original did not call for it)
2 cans of Coconut Milk
juice of one lemon
splash of Bragg's Amino Acid
1 1/2 TBSP salt free Curry Powder
1 TBSP Celtic Sea Salt
2 tsp pepper

All of these ingredients are just whirled together in the blender.
After I poured it into my bowl I added a dollop of the carrot pulp because it's so vibrant, Thai Basil leaves from my garden, Olive Oil drizzled liberally, and sprinkle storm of sea salt.

This Thai Basil flower deserved a close up.

This soup is summer perfection for health-minded food lovers. I believe you could have lots of fun playing with garnishes: sliced avacado, marinated mushrooms, cilantro, sriracha sauce, etc. The kids caught on that I was making something super healthy and decided to make pasta instead.(So much for my attempts to keep the stove off and my family well nourished.) Surprisingly, when they tasted the soup they ended up pouring it over their noodles as sauce. Yes!
It's that good!
I had to share.