Tuesday, December 20, 2016

On Writing

My first ever blog post I wrote on this space was on July 11, 2015. It was just one day before our one year anniversary. I thought it'd be fun to document newlywed life and figured I better get going before we finished our first year of marriage (with one day to spare!). I titled the blog, "A Sunday Kinda Love" because that was the song we danced to at our wedding and because a "Sunday Kinda Love" to me represents a comfortable, real life, unique kind of love. Let's forget dating and new love: I am all about that Sunday love---pancakes, pjs, endless coffee cups, and my authentic self. Throw in the spirituality that comes with Sunday worship and reflection and you have some of my most favorite things in life. Before that, I kept a blog of my time teaching in Chicago. I'm pretty sure I deleted it and I wish I still had it and would love to look back on my very first years teaching. The fact that I had a blog way back in 2009, have one now, and have been an active journaler in between it all says something about who I am: I am a writer. I used to shy away from that term because my words can't be found on a shelf at Barnes and Noble and I don't get paid for stringing sentences together. But you know what? I am a writer, it's part of who I am and I love it. I really don't feel like me when I'm not actively working on a writing project.

 Some people have inquired about how I work and my writing habits. Here's some fun facts:

1. I have usually 3 blog posts going on at a time. I need them to "marinate" and save them as drafts in Blogger. It's rare if I don't also have a list of other topics I want to write about going on as well.
2. I work best in the mornings. I would love the ability to write at a coffee shop from 7-10 am every day. My ideas just flow and when I post in the evening, it's very rarely written at that time, it was probably written earlier. 
3. My writing gets infinitely better when I'm reading a lot and often.
4. There are about 5-10 blogs I read every day. I started reading blogs in college. I still read some of those original ones!
5. Dream Big: I would love to write as a full time career. Honestly, it's become so much more than a hobby for me. I love love love writing and I love sharing with you!
6. There are definitely posts I've begun and worked hard on and ended up throwing out.
7. I taught creative writing to middle schoolers in Chicago and a summer session at the school where I currently teach. I love it!! There are no rubrics, rules, or grades...just amazing young people with pen to paper who have something innovative to share.

When everything happened this summer with Hadley, I took to the blog and poured my heart out on these pages. I firmly believe that process was so healing for me and really helped me to process the trauma and make meaning from it. In my opinion, writing can be like free therapy! Sometimes I don't even know how I feel until I write it out. My own thoughts can sometimes surprise me: connections are made, emotions are felt, and it feels like through writing, I can sort of attempt to sort it all out. 

I am so grateful that I documented the feelings and emotions of her birth story. I will treasure that always. Certain images and feelings have slipped from my mind and one of the things I like best about writing is that it allows me to look back and remember. I tried and failed with paper journaling attempts through the years (I still keep a paper journal in my nightstand and sometimes I'll write with a pen instead of typing), but I have found blogging has been something I have been able to stick with. 

Everyone has something to say. I write for the "me too"----the acknowledgement that we are not as different as we may seem. I get it, you get it, let's write and read for each other. 

Savor Your Sparkle,

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Winter Watch List

It's been a minute since I've done a TV post and I know you all appreciate my intellectual and sophisticated taste in television (she says setting up a series recording for the "Little Women of ____series" and "90 Day Fiancee"). Before I dive into DVR goodness.....here is a fun little graphic for you of stuff to check out on Netflix this month. If you are having trouble streaming check out Luma's  customizable surround wifi system

There's quite the eclectic mix here.
1. I binge watched Gilmore Girls over Thanksgiving break. It was cute and worth watching if you watched the show (but no, I did not like "the last 4 words").
2. I am loving Fuller House. It is so cheesy and so predictable but it's such a fun little show. I just finished the second season. DJ and Steve forever!
3. One of my all time fave shows. If you haven't dived into this one yet, do it! You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll relate.
4. I love watching stand up and this Netflix special had me cracking up. He does a perfect Trump impression and even Church Lady makes an appearance.
5. This was one of my fave movies last year. It's fast paced, interesting, and based on a true story.
6. This is one of the quirkiest movies I've seen. Watch if you want a cute story and something unlike anything else out there. Visually very awesome.

Moving on from Netflix.....my DVR is currently rocking:

1) The Voice: I was new to the Voice thing this year and I really liked it! Brenden Fletcher was my most fave (John Mayer vibes), but I liked the winner, Sundance, and the whole series. I think next time I'll wait until the final 12 or so to tune in.

2) Leah Remini's Scientology Show: I am a huge fan of Leah's from her King of Queens days and her reality show on TLC. This show on A&E is fascinating and will make you look at Tom Cruise differently, for real. I cannot believe some of the stuff this "church" does to people. Watch with the fam this holiday season (errr, maybe not).

3) Westwood: I LOVED this show. Rumor has it that it's not returning until 2018 and I am so bummed I have to wait so long. The premise is a Wild West theme park (like Disneyland) but the characters in it are actually robots....who are starting to develop human qualities. The ending had twist after twist and I loved every second. This has quite a bit of nudity (HBO), but if you can get past that, it's a brilliant show.

4) Sister Wives: This show is a train wreck, yet I love it! This season is pretty good with the planning of Maddie's wedding and the fall-out of Mary's "cat fishing" affair. This is a reality show fave and I love rolling my eyes at the Brown clan.

5) American Housewife: I think this is the best new show on TV. It's funny, relatable, and a cute family comedy. Check it out if you haven't yet (side note: the actress in it is from Mike and Molly and Eastbound and Down....2 of my faves)

6. Outdaughtered: This show is a fun look at a family with SIX little girls. Some parts were difficult to watch of scenes of the girls in the NICU (too close to home), but overall I love this cute family. Does anyone else wonder how the mom on this show manages her rockin bod? I'm guessing running after 5 toddlers. 

And I'm looking forward to the 2017 return of: This is Us, Teen Mom 2, Shades of Blue, Girls, Shark Tank, Pretty Little Liars, and of course THE BACHELOR!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Life Lately

Hey everyone,
   It's time for a life lately post. We are in the midst of the holiday hustle! In typical planner fashion, I've focused this past week on shopping and wrapping up for January birthdays (so many!). Our evenings have been spent by the tree, hot buttered rum or hot cocoa in hand and under lots of blankets. I am all about the cozy nights at home! I mentioned last week that I am loving Advent  this year. I like real, I like honest. Let's be that for each other. 

Last week we attended a dinner at my high school. It was really nice and there were talks from students about service. One of my (many) goals for 2017 is to focus more on having a heart of service. Is it possible to make your job an act of service (even with a paycheck)? How does service find its place in marriage? What kind of legacy can I help Hadley leave? How can I find areas of need and serve in ways that help locally and globally? Just some thoughts on my heart lately. 

My sister Libby arrived home from school for winter break last week. The fam came over last Friday and I watched some Fuller House and baked up these delicious muffins. Saturday morning I hit up Boot Camp (I'll hit 40 workouts  this week! Woohoo!), and paid a visit to Hadley and then we relaxed most of the day, cleaned and read. (guys, I've been reading the same book, "Grit," for a month. The irony of this is not lost on me. I'm hoping to get "gritty" and finish it today). I can't wait for Christmas break to bust out some serious pages. That evening we went to an early dinner, ran some errands and came home to make the Starbucks gingerbread cafe. Oh boy. Verdict: It features Starbucks and my love of that company and its culture runs deep. The house features little red candy cups (I cannot with the adorableness!!), and little green awnings so yes, I'd totally buy it again. But I have never made a gingerbread house before (shameful, huh?) and it was a MESS and sorta fell over. BUT we laughed and laughed and created to the soundtrack of Bing and Mariah's holiday hits, so overall, it was a good time. 

I had to buy this 

This week at school we got all festive with a Polar Express writing activity (with special guests Libby and my mom!). I wrapped up the book and my goodness, I got a whole day of excellent behavior out of that little gimmick. What else can I wrap?! Wednesday we did "Gingerbread Day," Thursday I taught activities having to do with the Grinch, and next week is the Christmas program and a hot cocoa party (after doing math with mini marshmallows, of course). This time of year is crazy, but it's fun and we could all use some cheer, am I right?

Here's wishing you a shorter line at the post office than I experienced, some soulful Christmas time reflecting, and a frosted sugar cookie or two.

Savor Your Sparkle,

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Favorite Christmas Movies

Hi There,
    Today I am linking up with Mix and Match Mama and Little Bit of Everything  for their fun "Stranded" series! Today's topic is a FUN one! Christmas movies! If we were stranded what would be want to watch?? Here's my holiday round up! What are your favorite Christmas movies?

1. The Holiday: I adore this movie. I remember seeing it in theaters and I've loved it ever since. It's one of those movies I have seen so many times and I never get sick of it. I love all 4 of the cast mates and the coziness of Kate Winslet's English cottage mixed with Cameron Diaz's LA vibe makes the perfect match up. This movie has such a sweet message and both gals end up with their guys, new friends, and a better sense of self. It's delightful and.....I think I'll watch it right now.
the best scene! 

2. Love Actually: This movie is a CLASSIC! There have been many others through the years that tried to replicate that "there's a huge cast of famous people and there are a billion story lines going on but they are all connected somehow" thing, but this one takes the cake. I love Hugh Grant in this one (I love Hugh Grant in anything) and I love that this movie can be sappy, sweet, adorable, but also real and take on some challenging topics too. "If you look for it, love really is all around." Gah! Just love love love it!

3. The Grinch (The Original): I appreciate the new Grinch (Baby Grinch is the cutest thing ever) and Faith Hill's "Where Are You Christmas?" from that movie is one of my favorite holiday tunes, but in my opinion, you cannot beat the original cartoon version. Maybe because I distinctly remember watching this in my holiday PJ's on the couch as a kid, or maybe because it's the "last day of school before Christmas break" classroom film of choice, but it doesn't quite seem like Christmas until I've had my Grinch fix. I know it's cheesy, but I always tear up when the Grinch's heart grows....Christmas is magic!

So pop some popcorn, make some cocoa, light a Christmas-y candle, and snuggle up with a Christmas movie. Tis the season!

Savor Your Sparkle,

Monday, December 12, 2016

Vacay Fitness

So with the holidays approaching many people are hitting the road and the skies to visit family and friends. Along with holiday travel comes eating out, a departure from a normal gym routine. and a serious sense of splurging. All that is just fine, necessary even. I mean, who wants to vacation and spend half the time in the gym with a only a Lara bar and hummus and veggies as sustenance? That would suck. Vacations shouldn't suck. I've come up with a few ways to keep diet and fitness on track while on vacation.

1. Try Brunch or "Lunner": As a kid I fought these meal mashups fiercely. I need three meals a day, people. BUT....on vacation when the portions can be enormous (Las Vegas breakfast buffet, for example), you can easily get by with 2 meals. And think of it this way, you're probably not eating breakfast at 6:30 like on a normal day so a large meal at 10 am can totally count as lunch too. Same goes for "lunner." A big meal at 3-ish is perfect. AJ and I may have been the first ones at a dinner buffet when we went to Mesquite a few years ago. You may be the youngest one there (by 50 years), but hey, eating early is smart.

I walked A LOT when I lived in Chicago! 

2. Walk everywhere: The best way to explore a new place is to lace up those kicks and walk it! If you fly somewhere, try planning out your trip so you won't need a rental car. Find hotels that are close to places you want to visit. Explore by foot....get in those steps and become a better tourist.

3. Do something physical on Vacay: Now, my idea of a perfection vacation is unlimited books on my Nook, fruity beverages, and sitting in the sun to get maximum level of bronze without moving. Bonus if there's a cabana staff to bring refills and snacks. BUT.....skip the hotel gym and make your workout your activity. If there aren't any hikes right where you're staying, explore surrounding areas.

4. Pool Laps: See how my ideal vacay in #3 involves pool-side time? Well, get in that water and bust out some laps. I'm sure a few (hundred) will burn off those fruity drinks. Or grab onto the side and kick up a storm. You're on vacation, you don't know these people anyway.

5. Find a "healthy" meal: Try finding a local smoothie shop, the area's best acai bowl, vegan wrap restaurant, whatevs. Challenge yourself to find a nutritious, delicious meal on your trip. It'll get you chatting with locals, maybe off the beaten path, and you can indulge guilt-free.

6. Plan in Advance: It's no secret I'm a planner. Those who fail to plan, plan to fail! Research physical activity options, restaurants (even look up menus), decide what days will be 2 meal days, what your splurges will be. Wanting to try a dessert you've heard a lot about? Dive in, but maybe don't have dessert every night. Sensible splurges are what vacation is all about (emphasis on sensible)!

AJ and I have been brainstorming of places we'd like to do for a small getaway in 2017. Las Vegas is definitely on our radar. Check out this awesome deals site to see what Vegas has to offer. I got totally sucked into looking at the deal offers. One I liked was a helicopter tour (SO Bachelor(ette)). I also was impressed by the show ticket deals. Britney, anyone? Grab your sunglasses, your plan for staying fit and healthy, and a sense of adventure. Bon Voyage!

Savor Your Sparkle,

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Wondering, Wandering, Waiting

Advent. Advent has rocked my world this year. I know, I know, 4 candles, 4 weeks, preparing for Jesus: we do the same thing every year so, uhhhh, what's different? This year, more than any other, I feel the longing, the deep desire, the desperation, the gripping wanting for the light. Advent ushers it in. I am all about Advent.

Advent is waiting. Advent is moving toward a target but not quite reaching it yet. Advent is reality. Advent is messy. Advent is... where I am. I read a quote this past week that I've been turning it over in my head, writing in my journal about it, and pondering it lately. Shauna Niequist writes:
"Thank God for a season that understands longing and loneliness and long nights. Let yourself fall open to Advent, to anticipation, to the belief that what is empty will be filled, what is broken will be repaired, and what is lost can always be found, no matter how many times its been lost." 

I like to imagine Mary, on the donkey, hugely pregnant, thinking, "This, God? This is your plan? What a mess!" If it's as much about the journey as the destination, I think I'll pass. What kind of God makes the journey arduous? What kind of God makes the journey hurt? What kind of God makes the journey harsh and unwelcoming? I've wrestled with these questions hundreds of times this past year. I wish I had an answer to these ponderings....I do not. No ones does. And when I wonder, at my lowest, and when I say out loud: "God, you really messed this one up...."
 "Advent," my heart whispers this season. Advent, Advent, Advent. You question, you wonder, you cry and fuss and hurt, but the destination will make it all make sense. So we walk, these four weeks; We walk with Mary and Joseph and the donkey, too...and we smile because this is the point. No use getting to the answer without a period of wondering, wandering, and waiting. What's waiting for us is worth the journey. It's always worth it. And it makes the final destination that much more sweet.

So maybe you're like me this season: craving the light, the THRILL of hope we sing about. Waiting with bated breath for the birth of Christ that really does change everything. To you I say, I walk that path too. And we're not where we're going yet, but we sure are closer than yesterday.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Christmas Cheer

I'm home sick today (according to my TimeHop app, this happens every year around this time). I'd much rather be teaching but it's snowflake PJ pansts, hot tea, Leah Remini's Scientology show (anyone else watching this craziness?!), and soup for me. I know I'll be back to myself in no time.

I'll be honest, I was/am nervous about this holiday season. It's the first Christmas we've had with someone very noticeably absent. I realize while typing that how incredibly blessed we are that I'm nearly 30 and this is the first Christmas experienced in grief. I know we're fortunate in that manner. My first instinct was to skip Christmas....just screw it all and go to Vegas or something. But then, no....we need to celebrate. It will be healing for us. Last Christmas AJ and I didn't put up a tree or exchange any gifts. We had just moved, spent a lot of money on new furniture, we just found out we were expecting, and I was throwing a surprise birthday party for AJ in January. So...low-key holiday for us. This year, though, we are exchanging gifts (and stockings...my fave part!) and we decorated the house and got a tree. I am sort of obsessed with sitting by the tree with a hot beverage. It's so cozy and delicious smelling and festive and I love it! I shared some of our holiday decos in this post. Here's some more:

I discovered peppermint mocha creamer. Annnnd now my cup of joe is festive AF 

Oregon and Utah ornaments....and yes, a hot dog: in honor of Halloween costume 2015, ha! 

a decent amount of our ornaments is from the Christmas shop in Lincoln City, including this one we bought on our Honeymoon 

to remember our jetski adventure in Tahoe! 

Sand from our engagement beach 

I am so excited to give our family and friends their Christmas gifts this year. I am adding "Grinch Day" to my usual December lesson plans (Gingerbread day is my fave!), and have holiday music on constantly. I'm feeling festive and loving it! I'm succumbing to the crazy that is elementary teaching in December and just rolling with it. I'm working on just being calm and letting the energy (and negativity) bounce right off me. #goals

We also went to the Festival of Trees with our friends Matt and Tracy. Their sweet baby Claire had a tree on display there and it was gorgeous. It was fun experiencing that with them.

We are officially DONE with holiday shopping. I know I've been saying that for weeks, but I kept adding to my list, picking up things for gatherings, package toppers, and white elephant gifts. We ventured into the mall last week because of "candle day" at Bath and Body Works....I waited in line just to get in the store and once in, it was insanity, but you just have to laugh: the things we do to save some bucks. Ha!

Some other holiday fun we have planned: driving to look at lights, convincing AJ we need to buy the Starbucks gingerbread cafe (we need it, guys), cranberry bliss bars, donating to an Angel Tree or holiday drive, make mulled wine, hosting a family dinner (I am doing a "Southern Fare Feast"....deets to come later!), mail holiday cards, make our traditional French Toast bake for Christmas morning breakfast, and take all the decos down before we head to Oregon on winter break! What goes up must come down. Ha! 

I'm working on some posts this month that I'm excited about. So Ho Ho Ho and Jingle Bells to you...enjoy this season, friends. 

PS) I just had to post this Hadley pic because I recently found it (there are the standard 50 or so I look at every.single.day. and then there are a few others sort of stuck in my phone). This is her eating her hands about 12 hours after she was born. Girl be chowing down! And can we discuss her cute hair? For a 31 week preemie, she was big and had a nice head of hair! I am in love with my Princess Baby. 

Savor your Sparkle,

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Leslie's Favorite Things

Ok, ok, so I'm not Oprah. I wish I was, though! I love reading about Oprah's favorite things every single year. While the list has items that are ri.dic.u.lous. (a $60 pear almond tart, anyone?), there are lots of great items on the list to inspire and enjoy learning about. So, in the spirit of my beloved Oprah, I present to you....

Leslie's Favorite Things!
Used this pic because a warm bevi in a red cup is ALWAYS a favorite thing 

 (While listening to "Grown Up Christmas List" in the car this morning, I figured I should make note that these are all material things on this list. Health, hope, happiness, love, and joy are a given. OBVI we all want those things, but this is just a fun little list of some things I've loved this year. Enjoy!)

1. "Wake up to the Word" Devotional: I picked up this devotional at the library and I adore it. I love the idea of focusing on one main word for the day and carrying that theme through. It's easy to get overwhelmed in the midst of the world of prayers and devotions and this one is simple, easy to read, and really insightful.

2. Bath and Body Works Hand cream: Any other dry skin sufferers out there? I love this cream because it's just that: creamy. This good stuff smells amazing and is super duper moisturizing. I always keep some on my nightstand.

3. Morning Buns from Tulie Bakery: These are morsels from heaven, baked in Salt Lake, and YOU are meant to have one (or two, I won't tell!). I have always loved Tulie's coffee and yummy cakes and desserts. Not sure why I had never tried one until this year. It's a mix between a croissant, a cinnamon roll, a donut and an orange roll and I guarantee it will change your life.

4. Microwave Egg Poacher: This has changed my mornings. I usually make 2 and put them on avocado toast. So easy and in one minute, I have a hot, delicious breakfast. I recently wandered into the "As Seen on TV" aisle at Walmart and threw a microwave omelet cooker into my cart. Verdict to come on that.

5. Dr. Teal's Epsom Soaking Salts. I love this stuff!! I recently used the Lavender kind and it is so relaxing. A steamy hot bath and epsom salts is the perfect end to the day and helps soothe my sore muscles after a really hard boot camp session.

6. The Lumineers Station on Pandora: This station has replaced the Mumford and Sons station as my most favorite. I have music on pretty much all the time. I love playing a great mix with a latte in my classroom early as I plan and prepare. I got a lamp for my classroom this year and the cozy lighting, chill tunes, and unlimited post-its is sort of my idea of perfection.

7. My Library Card: I love the public library. When we moved last fall and filled all our luggage and duffel bags with our books, we declared: No. More. Buying. Books. We haven't exactly kept that promise, but we do try and reduce the number of books we buy. The library app is also amazing (Salt Lake County) and it has a virtual version of your library card, records of books you've checked out, and you can even request books to be sent right to your branch right from the app. I love browsing at Barnes and Noble and then immediately requesting the books sent to my local library. Score!

8. Old Navy workout capris: I sing the praises of these super cute, comfy gym pants. I need a good basic black yoga pant in my life and these get the job done. They come in lots of cute designs, are affordable (I'm looking at you, Lululemon), and are perfect for a morning at the gym....or a morning catching up on shows with a massive mug of coffee. Either way, they rock.

9. Mix and Match Mama Recipes: I love reading Shay' blog daily and this year I've been trying to be better about incorporating more new recipes into our meal rotations. She has new recipes pretty much daily and these are some of the ones I've tried in 2016: Bacon Ranch PinwheelsChicken Corn ChowderEnchilada Elbow BakeLemon PastaCreamy Peanut Butter PieLemon BrowniesShepherd's Pie.

10. Snoogle Pillow: This was a winner from my pregnancy days. I am a stomach sleeper and was deeply saddened to learn that I couldn't sleep on my belly. I never slept a single night of my pregnancy without it and even brought it to the hospital with me It's in Hadley's closet now, but when I'm pregnant again, that thing is a welcome addition to the bedroom! It makes side sleeping super comfy.

11. The Scentsy: I know, I know, this was the "hot item" like 8 (?) years ago. I got AJ an Oregon State scentsy warmer for his apartment when we were dating. We recently came across it in the back of a cabinet. I bought some holiday scented wax melts and we are loving it. Ir's circa 2008 in the Steele household and we love our yummy scented home!

Image result for scentsy

12. Shutterfly: I have always loved using Shutterfly printing photos. This year I used them a ton to make Hadley books, our cute canvas we made for our bedroom, and I recently designed our Christmas cards. They always have tons of coupon codes and great sales. Get those pics off your phone and create something!

13. Hymns coloring book: My mom brought me this when I was in the hospital and I have loved it. I love all the great hymns I recognize and it's so true: coloring is relaxing!! Isn't it funny that these days adults want coloring books and kids want technology? #ironic

14. Wasa Crisps: I discovered these versatile little guys this summer and I cannot get enough. These have much more simple ingredients than crackers and so are much better for you. I love mine dipped in red pepper hummus or with a smear of peanut butter. There are lots of yummy varieties and they make the perfect hearty snack (new fave: cottage cheese and pistachios as a topping).

15. Watch Think Color: I recently discovered this great activity on Teachers Pay Teachers. You can choose from number recognition, addition, subtraction, even multiplication. The powerpoint plays like a video and the kids color in the answer on a 120 chart. The end result is a fun picture, excellent math practice, 20 minutes of teacher vocal rest (needed), and an engaged excited class. Winning.

That's all folks! I wish I could give everyone all the items on the list, but remember? I'm not Oprah. But I sure can steal her tag lines: Live your best life this week!

Savor your Sparkle,