WFH Solutions for Small Spaces

 This post may contain affiliate links. 

Well, it’s September and the kids are back in school, if you can call it that. By now, you’ve probably found a work-from-home solution that applies to your situation. Given, of course, that you do have work to do. It doesn’t escape me, the irony of celebrating Labor Day with many Americans outside of work. Or celebrating our hard work, when parents are shouldering schoolwork without pay for the past few months. Or mothers who have never been paid, ever, for that matter.

Regardless, we find ways and solutions. I remember in our own home, when shut-downs first happened, we thought this would be a temporary thing. “It would only be for two weeks,” we said. We made work stations around the only desk that existed in our small space. Mike had his desk in the corner, Kirse took the dining table and laid out the laptop, two monitors, and keyboard that she took home from work, and I sidled next to a side-table in the living room that could barely seat my Microsoft Surface Pro (pictured above). If I needed privacy for a recording or online meeting, I would escape to our tiny balcony and cross my fingers that the garbage truck would arrive an hour later than normally scheduled.

Small spaces in particular make working from home quite tricky. Where does a person create separation between work and home when there is no office space? How to isolate when the living room is the bedroom next to the kitchen where a significant other needs to make lunch? Where does a parent take a call, when there are no doors in the home and an ever-curious child has an everlasting list of questions? How can you keep a professional face on a Zoom call when you see your two youngest kids fighting in the corner of your eye? Lastly, how does one shut off for the evening, when the office desk is always visible in the home?

Thankfully, those who live in small spaces have had plenty of practice with making do. I am always amazed by tiny home dwellers’ creativity when it comes to maximizing a space. For WFH solutions in particular, I’ve heard pod-casters lock themselves in closets for a bit of sound-proofing. I’ve seen folding screens and shower curtains hiding desks in bedroom corners so that a house can actually feel like a home. I’ve read about people using their kitchen island as a make-shift standing desk, and I feel for people who gave up clothing and a dresser to create space for a computer.

Now, with kids schooling at home, parents have the added complexity of creating spaces for their little ones to thrive in. Not to mention, balancing different schedules and timelines, wearing the hat of parent, teacher, tutor, and money-maker, as well as logging into Zoom calls for the kids and the self.

None of this is easy, let alone sustainable. I, do, however find hope in the fact that we are all trying to make do. I want to believe that tomorrow it will be easier. That our reality is waiting for us just around the corner. Meanwhile, I hope these short stories help others feel a little less alone. And for those who haven’t quite found WFH solutions in their small space, perhaps the addition of one of these would make all the difference.

For those wishing to read more, I suggest these WFH solutions by 600sqftandababy and the idea of taking a Gap Year for the little ones.

The planner is from Smitten on Paper.

Curating Closets: Clothing For Days

This post is written in partnership with For Days, the first ever closed-loop clothing line. This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Clothes, they don’t last forever. As much as we fix, mend, and wear, despite torn holes and splotched stains, I can guarantee you that your clothes will not see you ’til the end of your days. Alternatively, you may choose to abandon it before it abandons you (a much more likely scenario). Whether it’s a shift in physique, personal style, or mental state, a day will come when that favorite tee or trusted jean will no longer be pulled from its hanging place. It’s a certain fact that clothes will not last forever. The only question is, will it give out on you or you on it?

Regardless of that, there is a new company in town promising to actually make clothing last forever. At least, for its full life-cycle ensuring it goes back to the Earth and biodegrade into nature from whence it came once all is said and done. Appropriately, the name of the company is For Days.

For Days considers them self the first-ever 100% closed-loop clothing company. How are they doing that? They accept used and unwanted clothing and upcycle them by integrating the fabric into new products. My shirt (which I was wearing when I was shopping at EcoNow, my favorite bulk store in Orange County, CA) is a combination of two older versions of unsold vintage V-neck tees that were combined to make a new style. For Days is constantly revamping stuff and it is awesome!

Shopping at EcoNow wearing For Days, Levis, and Nisolo Huaraches.

Additionally, 100% of their products are recyclable. Despite this fact, I would like to state that their shirt is so so soft. I usually am wary of recyclable materials because I don’t like stuff that feels cheap. However, when I received my shirt, I was surprised to find a high quality tee. The colors are so bright, and the fabric really feels good on the skin. I can’t believe it’s recyclable!

But For Days doesn’t stop there. They are pushing the envelope by asking consumers, why recycle when you can upgrade? For Days is providing their customers with a forever discount for doing the sustainable thing. That is, trading in an old For Days style with a new one. This is the first time that I’ve seen a company give a decent incentive for swapping consumer goods. I have seen other companies give shop credit for a returned item, but I am talking about $5 here or there for articles of clothing that cost $100+. However, at For Days, I’ve seen as much as a 50% discount with their Best Seller items, such as this Daily Crewneck. I truly believe that in order to change a consumer culture, we need more companies pushing for change with these incentives. And as consumers, we need to be supporting these companies in return.

My mask is hand-sewn by my sister using fabric scraps.

For those de-cluttering closets this weekend, order one of their Take Back Bags to make an environmental difference. For Days will take your unwanted stuff and make sure they never end up in a landfill. The bag costs $10 and comes with a free shipping label. Additionally, anyone who purchases this bag gets a $10 discount on their next For Days purchase. The bag is HUGE! It measures 19″ x 24″, so feel free to curate your closet away.

All I need is an air-stream to live in now.

Lastly, a note on style. Most middle-aged folk (can I already call myself that??) will really appreciate For Days’ Retrograde styles. Even this color block tee of mine reminds me of the ’80’s, which I was barely born in. But there are plenty of 90’s trends like the tye-dye craze that is resurfacing the streets. Belly button shirts, baby camis, half terrys and long shorts all make the cut. It’s a new wave of slow fashion using old wave trends. I’m really digging it and can’t wait to see what else For Days has up their sleeves.

Laundry Hampers for Small Spaces

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.

Leave it to me to worry incessantly about finding the right laundry hamper. In the name of transparency, I will admit to having a small break-down over my own laundry bag conundrum. The most mundane thing has caused me to cry as we walked away from Ikea with a solution that was perfectly functional, but definitely not eco-conscious or beautiful.

I have owned the same hamper since I moved out of my parent’s home at the age of 22 years old. I have never upgraded, even after moving four times since. Even after getting married. Even after getting a job and earning a decent living. Because when you are indebted to a system, you have no time to hone in on hampers.

But with the recent events turning my focus inward on where I spend most of my days (home), I can’t help but notice these little details. How the old rattan basket that I proudly bought at Walmart as a symbol of my grown-up-ness is fraying at one end. How twigs have unraveled and fallen off, leaving a little opening at the right-most edge. How it has sat patiently in the middle of the bathroom floor, in between the toilet and the tub, underneath the old towel rod that’s no longer there, waiting for its turn to be noticed. Silently, it endured the slamming of its rickety lid, the careless tossing of dirty clothes into the deep abyss, the merciless plop of its entire being in front of the washing machine. It has weathered weekly abuse, without so much as a peep.

Finally, it was noticed. And thanked for its services. Its time to retire has come.

Its replacement, however, is no easy find. With its retirement came a long list of expectations for the one that would take its place. A few of my requirements, I share below:

I no longer wished to have something wedged between the toilet and tub.
I no longer wanted the laundry to be in plain sight. Which meant it had to somehow fit in the narrow corner next to the washer hidden by a barn door. This narrow space happened to be only 9″ wide.
I didn’t want a hamper that would attract used (but still reusable) clothing until laundry day.
I didn’t want something pricey.
But it had to be eco-conscious and beautiful to look at.
Let alone functional.

I strike hard bargains. I can attest to the fact that, for me, curation is emotionally draining work. Anything that falls short of perfect is painfully inadequate.

What’s the big deal?, you say. It’s just a hamper.

However, nothing in my life is “just” anything. Belittling decisions such as these reduce their importance, which then reduces the end-product of our dwellings. In order to avoid ending up with “less-than”, I need to do the work now. Assuming these things to be trivial would be a mistake. Perhaps that’s a personality thing, but to me, everything is embedded with meaning and purpose, so no, it’s not just a hamper.

The hamper is a symbol holding all hope that I can have my dream home with nothing more than a few pennies to my name. Every item I own is imbued with relentless reserve, discipline and hard work. A reward for my penny-pinching. A sign that it’ll all be okay.

So, yes, I had a break-down at Ikea. After much research, I arrived at the store to find that the one I didn’t want but had come to terms with was sold out. I watched as a customer took away the floor model, having reached it mere seconds before I did. I felt my heart sink, my hopes of a good home dwindle. I walked around for thirty minutes debating on buying the same laundry hamper in black, instead of white. I bought it, resisting the alternative which was to purchase the hamper of my dreams for five times the price. Silent tears fell as I walked to my car.

I’m not saying we should care so much about first world problems such as these. But I hope this post draws attention to the fact that we are human. There will be moments where we will be sad about laundry hampers. Where small space living limitations make life a little harder to live. When decisions have to be made and you need to make do with the one you don’t want. I go through it, too. Like all things, it ends up being okay.

Silver linings still reside in the daydreams.

Below are some of my favorite laundry hampers for small spaces, including the Ikea one that ended up making the cut and entering our home.

  1. Canvas Laundry Bin on Wheels.
  2. A Hanging Linen Laundry Bag.
  3. A Japanese Foldable Hamper.
  4. A Washable Paper Laundry Bag.
  5. A Narrow Ikea Hamper.
  6. A Laundry Station and Hamper.

Monthly Goals: September

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more. 

This post is written in partnership with Mal Paper, a UK company creating intentional stationary focused on gratitude and productivity. The company is named after the Swedish word “goal” and is pronounced “mo-l”. The inspiration of their products come from the Scandinavian clean and clutter-free lifestyle that’s extremely popular today. Their mission is simple. Focus on creating products that give the user clarity on what they want to achieve with a clear path on how to get there, all while promoting a positive mindset to carry over on to their daily activities. They recently reached out to me to give their Daily Goal Setter a try. I am desperately in LOVE. I think every American suffering from the over-whelming pressure to do”more” needs to reassess their goals with this planner.

In my quest to discover a balance between everyday life and my mental health during the month of August, I re-discovered a few things about myself. I am an extremely goal-driven person with achingly high expectations. I push myself to do too much, which is why I have such a need to focus on slow and intentional living. (Isn’t it funny how human it is to be attracted to the things we are not?) I found that I was falling off the wagon on a few habits, and then realized it’s because I LEGIT listed twenty-five habits to take up. In ONE month. I set extremely high goals for myself such as “increase production at work”, “work on writing a book”, “post five times a week on the blog”, all of which leave little room for life itself. Yet still, I squeeze “bake a new recipe”, “learn French”, “take up guitar”, and “explore two new places” somewhere in the crevices of my already tight schedule.

So when Mal Planner asked me to try their planner, I was all for it. I adopted a few things that I think will help me to continue my mindful actions in September. Below are all the ways that Mal Planner helps me to slow-it-down and to practice living from a place of calm and peace.


A New Morning Routine

Every morning, I will practice a new routine. It goes as follows.

First, I will write down three things that I am grateful for. This can be something like “For my family” or “For a delicious cup of early morning coffee.” But it can also be things that are often over-looked, such as “For clean water to drink” or “A window in my home for sunlight to shine through.” By practicing gratitude journaling, I will be starting the day with a positive mindset, while also allowing myself opportunity to recognize that perhaps, if nothing else, life is already enough.

Second, I will write down an affirmation. An affirmation is a sentence such as “I am brave enough to tackle obstacles that come my way” or “I am confident in my ability to get the job done.” It can also be something as simple as “I have an ability to make choices” or “I am whole”. Whatever empowering thought there is to carry me through the day, I will focus my energy on that. I will take time to recite and memorize my affirmation of the day.

Lastly, I will read that day’s inspiring quote, which Mal Paper has integrated at the bottom of every day’s page and throughout the entire planner..

A New Way of Creating Tasks

Have you ever felt like you’re doing so much but getting nowhere? One of the biggest problems ineffective people face is not prioritizing their tasks well. There is the saying, “Efficiency is doing things right. Effectiveness is doing the right things.”

One of my favorite drawings which I first saw in the book of Essentialism is this:

Essentialism, Greg McKeown | Wise words, Words

It is my favorite drawing by far because I’ve definitely been the person on the left. Multiple times. So this month (and hopefully every month forward), I will try to be mindful of prioritizing tasks in order of importance. The planner suggests listing tasks for the day, then prioritizing them in order. Afterwards, I will try my best to complete tasks based on priority. Focusing on low-priority tasks can make you feel over-whelmed and exhausted, especially when more important tasks are not being completed.

That, honestly, is a waste of energy.

An Old Way of Setting Goals

I have always set goals in a certain way and I am so happy to see that Mal Paper agrees with me on at least one method of planning. I set goals using the SMART Method.

S: Specific. Goals are always specific so that there is clarity on what exactly we are trying to do. Answer the questions Who, What, When, Where, and How.

M: Measurable. Goals need to be measurable, otherwise you will not know if there is progress or not. It is not enough to say, “I want to earn more money.” It would be better to say, “I want to earn 10% more than that I was earning last year.”

A: Achievable. Make sure that all your goals are realistic. Setting goals that are too high (e.g. “I want to be a millionaire by tomorrow) can be very disheartening when they aren’t achieved. Let’s be real. Unless you win the lottery, that would be impossible.

R: Relevant. This is where you answer the question, “Why?” Ask yourself why it is that you want to complete this goal? How will doing so improve your life?

T: Timely. Set yourself a timeline for when you want your goal completed. This will help you stay on track. I divide my goals into Long Term (years), Medium Term (6 months to 1 year), and Short Term (a month to 6 months).

Doing each of these steps for each of your goals will really clear your path to productivity and success.

A New Weekly Routine

Once I make a goal, I will revisit every week each goal and break them down into smaller tasks. Each week, I will prioritize the top five tasks to complete. At the end of the week, I will evaluate how effective I was. I have done this at the beginning of every month, but I see now that I also need to do it weekly.

A New Evening Routine

Lastly, the routine before bed. I know that this is the hardest part because at the end of the day, the last thing you want to do is think. But it’s important to reflect on the positive moments and write down all the good things that happened. Something like “I got a promotion at work” is equally as important as “I got coffee with an old friend.”

Instead of dwelling on all the things that went wrong or that I didn’t complete (which I do dwell by the way), I can focus on the positive moments which will put me in the correct mindset and build my confidence in making things happen.

Then the planner suggests I rate my day from 1-10. I don’t know about everyone else, but I am a numbers gal. I never thought about rating my day, but I think that is very important. The ratings can easily summarize how I feel over a given amount of time. I know that if I start to notice a lot of low numbers in the past few weeks, then a lifestyle change needs to happen. Perhaps I am rating my days lowly because of feeling burnt out at work. That may mean that I need to change something in the workspace or decrease my work load.


Out of all of these routines, I think that the morning and evening rituals are of utmost importance. By coming from a place of gratitude and focusing on the positive things that happen in my life, there will be a greater chance for happiness. Also, reflective evaluation will allow for chances to identify opportunities for growth and improvement.

Of course, my month of September is still goal-driven. But I have seen a shift in my priorities and goals. I hope you see them, too.

PERSONAL:

  • Go offline 1 day per week
  • Read two books
  • Practice French daily
  • Learn 1 new guitar song
  • Keep up with the new morning and evening rituals
  • Be early to work every day

WORK:

  • Work on growing Pinterest
  • Apply to affiliates for October
  • Add Referral page on the blog
  • Reduce the number of patients seen to decrease burn out

HOME:

  • Work on upgrading the bathroom
  • Declutter digital photos

HEALTH:

  • Run or yoga each day
  • Take up gratitude journaling
  • Keep up with evening assessment
  • Light a candle at 9:30pm + relax every evening.

FINANCE:

OTHER:

  • Write the Rough Draft of the book
  • Read about Self-Publishing
  • Make 1 new recipe
  • Explore 2 new places

The planner from this post is from Mal Paper.
The mug is from East Fork Pottery in Morel.
The linen coaster is from Shop Fog Linen in Black Houndstooth.
The nail polish is by Restore ________ in June’s color for mental health awareness.

Getting To Know: Thea Merritt of EcoNow

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Thea Merritt, the founder of EcoNow, a resource for locally hand-made and eco-friendly goods. Thea created her company when she saw that there was a need for eco-conscious products in Orange County, California. She began by hand-sewing alternatives to single use items and offering them at local farmers markets. Eventually, she was able to open a store-front in Costa Mesa’s The Lab Anti-Mall. The store boasts a wide variety of goods, including an extensive refill station and many reusable, biodegradable alternatives to plastic. It has now become my go-to, one-stop shop for all of my daily household needs. To learn more about this amazing hidden gem, read the interview below.

When did you first start getting into living a zero-waste lifestyle? 

Throughout my teenage years I adopted a minimal living mindset. I didn’t like having too many things and liked to be very organized. About 5 years ago, I evolved my minimalism and non-attachment to material things into a sustainable living mindset that came from learning how a very small amount of “recyclables” are actually recycled. I wanted my carbon footprint to be minimal so I fully embraced biking to work and school, stopped relying on recyclable materials, and educated myself on the impacts humans have on the planet. 

What made you decide to start EcoNow? 

A lot of people would compliment my lifestyle and say things like “I wish I could do that,” and I would reply, “you can!” but realized quickly that without a resource to provide for people, it was all talk and no action. I tried searching for sustainable stores, restaurants, and organizations in Orange County, and I couldn’t find much. I felt pretty alone and then an “ah-ha!” moment came and I realized I could help create a sustainable community. I began sewing produce bags, cutlery pouches, and Eco Towels (our paper towel alternative) and I found a few local farmers markets to sell at.  I remember some of the people I met at my first market and I remember the feeling they gave me, I realized I wasn’t alone on this mission to sustainable living and living with awareness, and it motivated me to keep going, keep growing.

How did you go about creating your business? Did you go to business school or was this venture something that organically unfolded?

I did not study business but chose to study philosophy. I couldn’t decide what I wanted to do with my life and I figured I could choose a career later as studying Philosophy leads people down many different paths.  In school I learned a lot about myself, such as how to think critically and to apply my morals.That was when I decided I wanted to provide for my community, do good for the Earth, as well as for people. Before starting Eco Now I worked with people with special needs and I thought I would become a teacher in that field. But as my love for sustainable living grew and I started making eco-friendly goods for other people, I knew it was my passion and I wanted to see if I could make it more than just a hobby. 

What does sustainable living mean to you?

Sustainable living to me is living with an awareness of myself, of others, and of our planet Earth. It is not only about consuming consciously but living consciously. Sustainable living is so much more than waste management. It helps you to be aware of yourself, of your choices and their effects even after they are out of sight. 

For me, sustainably living ties in nicely with slow consideration and intentional choices. Because of this, I find a greater appreciation for the simplest of tasks.

Do you also relate sustainability with a gratitude for the tinier moments?

100% – I did not name my business Eco Now to reflect immediacy, which I’m sure many people think. (I decided that it is okay if people think Eco Now is about immediacy because sustainable living is a very urgent and important topic to address). I named it Eco Now as a reminder to be present and aware. I wanted to share my own personal mantras through my business name. I ask myself often, are you present, are you aware of your choices, are you being eco now? My philosophy on life is that you only ever have this moment and it is important to know whether you are living in the moment completely, if you are present, and if you are acting in line with your morals.

What advice would you give to those just beginning their zero-waste journey?

Be easy on yourself, educate yourself, use what you have first, and buckle up because once you wake up to this lifestyle there is no turning back.

What advice would you give to those just starting a business?

Simple. If you believe in yourself you can do it. You will know when you are making the right choice and you will know when you are on the right path. Many things will be really fluid and easy and I believe that if they are it means it’s right. Whenever I have friction in a moment, I step back and assess and ask myself, “Am I looking at this the right way? Is now the right time to be focusing on this?” Usually, it just takes a moment of awareness to tell what move is the right move. Most importantly, be critical of yourself and be ready to put the work in. Your life will likely be consumed by your business and you need to decide if that is the kind of life you want to live. 

What are your favorite zero-waste local artists? 

I try to work with all my favorite local zero waste artists, you will find some of their stuff in our shop, or you will see us collaborating in some capacity. Here’s a list of some of the amazing local companies, people, and organizations I have discovered in the past two years. 

Backyard Bee’s is an ethical and local beekeeping service. They rescue bees, harvest honey sustainably, and make awesome beeswax based products like deodorant, shampoo bars, and body cream and they use sustainable packaging! You can find them at Orange Home Grown Farmers Market every Saturday and also we have few of their goodies in our store.  

Fleur & Butter, is a local artist that sews and plant dyes reusable bento bags. They also hand make bread and offer local delivery, they even wrap the bread in their sustainable bento bags! You can find some of their stuff in our shop or on IG @fleurandbutter

Community Consciousness, is a local organization that touches on many topics both sustainably and ethically, I believe they began as a resource for composting in Orange County and have now evolved into much more than that, they organize local events, beach clean ups, and fundraisers, they have a few artists on their team (if not all?) and their promotional gear always looks incredibly fresh! They are an incredibly compassionate group of people that have big plans for our Orange County Community and I can’t wait to see how they grow. Find them on IG @communityconsciousness

Thistle and Sage Botanics is a local candle and natural fragrance maker and you can even refill your fragrance bottles and candles with her! Her candles are top-notch, soy-based, and phthalate free. You can find a few of her best selling candles in our store.

Cycl – Cycl is an app created by a friend of mine here in Orange County. The app is a resource and voice for all who are trying to live sustainably but still want to eat out and shop with small businesses. The user can locate and rate restaurants and stores on their sustainable practices. I’ve needed this app in my life and I know that countless others need it in their lives as well, even if they don’t know it yet! Hopefully this app will motivate users and business owners to be more sustainable with their practices. Hopefully businesses will learn that more and more of their customers care about sustainable practices and that it is a factor in deciding where they spend their money. 

Popsikle Shop – A local thrift store on wheels here in OC. Yeah that’s right! Popsikle Shop runs out of this adorable camping rv and you can shop second hand clothing and accessories. Through COVID Popsikle Shop adapted with a power move and now they style second hand outfits virtually as an additional service to people. I love that they offer styling and shipping but I still can’t wait to see their second hand store on wheels in person again! They are more popular on TikTok but they have a page on Instagram and website for shopping as well.

If people wish to learn more, what resources (blogs, podcasts, books, or documentaries) would you recommend? 

I don’t always recommend topics that are solely focused on zero waste, sustainable living, or our planet’s environment state. I like to share materials on what I believe is the root of everything, self-awareness. Here is a mix of both:

Books: 

  • The Human Planet: How We Created the Anthropocene by Simon L. Lewis and Mark A. Masli
  • Be Here Now by Ram Dass
  • A New Earth: Awakening To Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhardt Tolle
  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey

Podcasts: Science Rules! with Bill Nye

Documentaries:

  • Cosmos: A Personal Voyage with Carl Saegan
  • Cosmos: A SpaceTime Odyssey with Neil De Grass Tyson

I want to thank Thea for her generosity and her time. I think that she has brought something that Orange County was sorely lacking and in doing so, has strengthened this community and made it a much better place. If you have been considering visiting EcoNow, I would highly recommend doing so. Feel free to bring your own refillable glass jars and bottles, but if you have none, no worries! They can be purchased in store. All bulk items are purchased by weight at very affordable prices. My favorite products are the Jojoba Oil (which I use as eye make-up remover), the Tea Tree Shampoo and Body wash, and the All Purpose Cleaner.

For those wondering, the shirt I am wearing is from For Days, the first-ever closed loop clothing line. They’ve just released these dual-colored retro shirts upcycled from previous shirts that they had on the site. The tees are vintage V-neck fit with a shorter hem. For Days has a great incentive for closing the loop, which is to trade in used For Days clothing for newer styles at a very steep discount. I would definitely check them out!

Play Pretend: Labor Day in California

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more. 

By now, we have acclimated to celebrating holidays within quarantine guidelines. Limited to the outdoors, I wager that most quaranteams will rush to the mountains, lakesides, or beaches this Labor Day, if traveling at all. Perhaps wineries and zoos will see an influx of visitors. For those staying home, I foresee backyard barbecues and pool parties. I also assume that outdoor dining at restaurants would be popular, especially during brunch hour after everyone’s gotten a full night’s sleep.

The scenario list runs long, despite COVID-19 shut downs. Personally, I dream of early morning swims off of Lake Tahoe’s pier. Of cups of coffee and pancakes in a secluded cabin in Yosemite or Redwoods. Of late morning brunches in Solvang’s best wineries. Of afternoon ice cream along Newport Beach’s boardwalk. Of pink and purple skies surrounding Joshua Tree at sunset.

I am partnering with Nisolo to showcase a few of their best shoes in some of California’s most popular Labor Day scenarios. Play pretend with me.

Cabin in the Redwoods.

Nisolo Women's Amalia All Weather Boot in dark olive
Amalia All Weather Rainboot in Dark Olive

Brunch in Palm Springs.

Women's Nisolo Isla Slide Black
Isla Slide Sandal in Bone

Wineries in Solvang.

Nisolo Women's Serena Sandal Brandy
Serena Sandal in Brandy

Ice Cream at the Santa Monica Pier.

Sedona Derby in Rose

Sunsets in Joshua Tree.

Ecuador Huarache Brandy
Ecuador Huarache Sandal in Brandy

We are staying home this Labor Day for a change, but I’d love to hear what you guys are up to!

This post is written in partnership with Nisolo, my favorite ethical shoe company of all time. Currently, they are hosting an End of Season Sale until the August 31, 2020, which you can access here. The sale includes Factory Seconds which has traditionally been an in-store warehouse sale but due to COVID 19, they have made it available online for the first time. If you fancy a pair that happens to be full price, use the code NEWSEASON15 to get 15% off. I have personally owned more than ten of their styles and am a big fan of their high-quality leather and comfortable fits. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

Italian Pasta Salad

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more. 

Over the summer, we spent a weekend in Colorado and met up with a dear friend (our accountant, actually, who of course I became dear friends with) and his wife who was also a dental school classmate of mine. It was the first time we saw friends since the stay-at-home mandate and it was our first sign of normalcy, an indication that things would eventually be okay.

They were hosting us in their lovely backyard and as I watched them wrangle their two kids, put one down for a nap, entertain a talkative other, turn on a grill, make burgers, grill hot dogs, and continue a constant flow of conversation, I thought to myself, “Man these people are super heroes!” Which, I suppose, all parents are.

But the thing that stood out to me the most was when we sat down for lunch, with the older one seated at the end in his floating high chair and the table set for five, my friend turns and pulls out this pre-made pasta salad and a bowl of already chopped fruit from the fridge to add to our awesome burger and hot dog feast. I remember thinking to myself, “Genius!”

I am all about pre-making meals when hosting gatherings but sometimes, in between wanting to impress guests and wanting to serve fresh food, I do forget that the simpler things are usually best. What amazed me most about our friends was that they weren’t running around trying to pick up toys from the floor. They weren’t trying to prevent their kids from running around in the yard. They weren’t concerned about the details of the table setting. They were concerned about whether we wanted another beer or how much ice cream serving is good enough. They focused on their guests alone and I think that when you have two kids and two dogs, you should get a medal for that type of stuff.

I’m sure this isn’t the exact same Italian pasta salad that she served, but that is another great thing about recipes such as these. You can make them on the fly with whatever ingredients you have in stock and they turn out just as great. This recipe is easily made in big batches and it actually tastes better after a day of being in the fridge, soaking up the dressing’s goodness. Plus it looks good in any container.

My parents recently hosted a BBQ themselves and I made a huge batch of this and saved half for us (which we ate with salmon a couple meals in a row) and brought half to the party. I can’t believe I wasn’t making this sooner. It was such a breeze.

Ingredients:

  • Rotini or Bow Tie Pasta (1 lb)
  • 1 Cucumber
  • 1 cup of small tomatoes
  • 1 cup of pitted olives
  • Other additions/veggies you want to add. Examples include bell peppers, roasted eggplant, roasted squash, pickled carrots, and more.
  • Italian Dressing, to taste
  • Feta cheese to crumble on top
  • Black pepper, to taste.

The Process:

I think the process is rather self-explanatory but here it is in a nutshell.

  1. Boil pasta according to the box instructions. Drain and shock in a bowl of cold water. If you skip shocking the pasta and toss the salad when it’s warm, the noodles will stick together and have a gummy consistency.
  2. Cut cucumber, tomatoes, and olives into similar sized pieces. You want this pasta salad to be easy to eat, which means you want everything to be about the same size.
  3. Mix pasta with fruit and veggies, toss with Italian Dressing, and top with Feta cheese and freshly crushed black pepper.

NOTE: You may notice that we have red onion in this pasta salad. Red onion has a pretty potent flavor and you don’t want to detract from the rest of the salad. If you do add red onion, you can soak it in the dressing prior to adding it in. I myself place cut red onions into a mason jar and soak for at least fifteen minutes so that the dressing pulls out some of the red onion’s harshness. It will also give the onion a sweeter, pickled taste. I toss both onion and dressing with the salad in step 3.

For those interested, the plates are side plates in Morel from East Fork Pottery and the coasters are Herringbone in Black from Fog Linen.

How to Fall In Love with a Kitchen

When we first moved in, I used to hate our kitchen. I never said it out loud because I didn’t want it to be true. I took feeling this way to be a sign of failure. Oh goodness, I chose a home with a kitchen I didn’t love. Woe is me. It was as if the kitchen negated all the other good decisions we made about buying a home. For months, I couldn’t separate myself from the idea of wanting to replace everything in that space. “One day”, I kept telling myself.

If you told me to make a list of all the things I disliked about the kitchen, I’d tell you “Easy.”

  • The kitchen faced the alleyway where the garages went, an alleyway leading up to a community trash bin followed by a weekend club called La Santa, from whence loud music always came.
  • The location of the kitchen was tucked away from direct sunlight during most of the day, with a small glimmer of hope shining through a lone window in the wee hours of the morning. If you happened to miss waking up early enough to catch it, then all you get for the day is indirect sun.
  • The counter-tops were of the v. cheap variety (with a capital V.). You know the kind, made of chipboard material covered by a plastic stickered surface in this dark gray speckled color. I disliked it’s darkness, plus the undeniable evidences where the counters have gotten wet (especially around the sink area). Pieces of soaked chipboard are, well, chipping away.
  • The cheap, peeling (also stickered) cabinet fronts with their secondary handles. The previous handles had different screw hole locations, which are accentuated by the white plaster material that the previous owners tried to hide them with.
  • The leak underneath the sink every time we ran the dishwasher, which caused flooding in our cabinets creating soaked cabinets floors. My constant worry over mold growth and wood rot. Oh the joy when we finally solved the issue, after having three handimen look at it.
  • The appliances which are black and silver in color. They looked bulky, outdated, and old. The stove and oven were of the cheaper variety, and the fridge jutted past the counter’s edge.
  • Lastly, the previous owner left a kitchen island that was obviously from Ikea, along with two Ikea stools.

I could have rattled this list out in seconds. But sometime between then and now, I have come to love this kitchen. I love it so much that when my friend offered to have her dad renovate the counter-tops that I “hated” for us this week, I started to fear losing them. Which got me to thinking, when did that transition happen? And I realized that sometime between then and now, I simply stopped focusing on all the bad things and started letting the kitchen be what it was meant to be.

After all, I operated an entire bakery in that kitchen. It was where I spent my days for an entire year. I woke up early every morning to mix bread and that’s when I learned of that precious morning light. I put away dishes from a dishwasher that finally worked and as the dough soaked up the water, I made myself a cup of coffee every day. If I set up the pour over to the right of the sink, the light hits the coffee just right to make it look ruby red. I slaved away over that oven, even in the summer’s heat, trusting it to always make my bread rise. I stood around the island, where I shaped thousands of loaves of dough. I settled into those Ikea stools waiting for the next bread turn, sipping hot coffee and writing on this blog. The kitchen and I became best friends, and now I could spew a list of all the things I love, such as:

  • The little corner specifically for our espresso machine, coffee pour over options, mugs, and coffee grinder. Essentially, a shrine for my coffee making rituals.
  • The way the light enters through that lone window and hits the fronts of the cabinets, giving them a soft dayglow.
  • The reliability of our oven and the largeness of our fridge, both of which have helped me to host gatherings for twelve or more people throughout the year.
  • The cement floors and their coolness on the feet, plus the ease with which I can clean them.
  • The island, which we all use as a common space to meal prep together. And the fact that it’s mobile and contains plenty of storage space.
  • The stove, with enough burners to allow three of us roomies to cook in the kitchen space at the same time.
  • The corner for toasting our sourdough, and the corner for milling our grain.
  • The sink made of steel, which has saved me from shattering my porcelain wares many times over.
  • The fact that the kitchen now exudes Japanese style elements, as well as vintage vibes. Seems silly to put those two in the same sentence, but from some angles, it looks like it’s made from all bamboo wood. And from other angles, it reminds me of a 1950’s progressive Eichler.
  • The fact that the gloominess in the space actually lends a romantic mood all year long. I just want to make coffee or tea and write all day in a sweater.
  • Lastly, the open layout which makes the kitchen center-stage in our home.

With small spaces, I mean, yeah, there are shortcomings. It’s part of the territory. But if we focus on only the bad parts of our lives and homes, then we tend to miss all the good things that, when considered, could lead to love. Because now, I love the kitchen dearly. It is my favorite part of my home.

Finding joy in small spaces requires embracing what you have to work with. Actively searching for beauty in what you already have is more promising than passively pining for what you don’t have. Where will the latter lead you? Most likely, excess consumption of things that give you brief moments of happiness and eventually leave you back at square one.

Once I realized that the kitchen was “good enough”, I stopped saying to myself, “One day.” I started looking forward to saying “Today”. I started to finally live my life.

Today we decided to buy Mike’s dream espresso machine. Since he got rid of his daily work commute, he sold his motorcycle and de-cluttered a few things in order to make up 85% of the machine’s costs. We hadn’t pulled the trigger prior because we kept saying, “Well, if we are getting an espresso machine then we need nicer counter-tops and if we’re getting new counter-tops we might as well address the cabinets and if we’re sizing cabinets then why don’t we make sure we get appliances that lie flush with the new measurements?” After learning to love the kitchen for all its imperfections (wabi sabi and all that), we were able to move on. We’ll just put the espresso machine in our existing coffee corner. It fits just so with the current counter top actually, even though the white will contrast with the gray. I know we will love it either way.