Strive to Thrive

As I have expressed time and again through my work as a homespace coach, how you live in your homespace must reflect who you are.  Without your physical space in which you dwell aligning with your most inner space (your soul) you forever are out of sync.  You may not know it but, on a subconscious level things just aren’t cohesive.

When I moved to the Chicago area a little over two years ago I left more than my dear family and friends behind.  I left all my business and professional contacts as well.  I had to start over and get into the groove of finding new doctors, new industry colleagues and yes, a new business coach.

I found Patti Baron Schreiber of The Spirited Path.

Now, some of you might say, “A business coach at this stage of your life and career?”


The Spirited Path

As with anyone I choose to work with, Patti fit the criteria of being what I call a “conscious” professional.  By that I mean that she has integrated into her work the most important aspect of life~ the spirit.

Working with Patti proved to be beneficial for me for several reasons.

First, she helped me to get back on course with my career path in my new digs- Chicago.  I don’t care what anyone else says, the mid-west is far different than the south from which I hail.  Patti has helped me venture out so to speak in this new culture.

Second, Patti has helped me to continue my journey of truth of whom I am, what I want to do and how I want to live.  Without the crucial connection of my spiritual self in the equation, I would have been missing the real continuation of my journey.  In other words, while working with Patti I have not had to leave the spiritual side of me on the sidelines.

Bridge over stream

Photo credit: Susan Muehl

Third, and most importantly, Patti has the unique gift of helping her clients heal wounds they have in their personal lives.  And, I have certainly had my share.  Patti has helped me along this process of healing in ways I am grateful for.

Finally, in both working with Patti and also getting to know her, I have opened a window of opportunity for my blog.  What a wonderful added and surprise benefit of working with her.  Patti has agreed to be a guest author on my blog and give to you readers some of what I have learned myself!

Unconscious to conscious

As a way for readers to get to know Patti, I recently sat down with her in an interview.  Here’s our Q&A.  I hope you enjoy getting to know her and become interested in her future posts.

How did you become a life coach?

“This field actually chose me.  As a result of my own painful journey over ten years ago, I went from unconscious to conscious in a matter of seconds.  It was as if the universe picked me up from one path (the mainstream business world) and plopped me on another (personal and business coaching with an emphasis on aligning yourself with your spirit).”

What have you learned on this new path?

“Once you get past the place of nakedness you can begin the work of embracing who you are.  In other words, once you begin to embrace pain, you can begin to return to your true spirit.“

How do you help your clients?

“There are many ways I help move clients on their own journey of both personal and career growth.  For example, I help my clients understand and confront the multitude of distractions they find to veer away from their true spirit.  Over half of my clients have forgotten “how to play”.  So, I bring “playfulness” back into their lives so that they can get back to the basics of who they are.  Mostly, I help my clients create what I call their “spiritual toolbox” to use on their own as I believe they don’t need to be perpetual students of my coaching (or any other for that matter) but instead, take ownership of their path.  These tools in their toolbox will give them the ability to maintain a life of joy and peace on their own.“

How does your coaching integrate home?

“What I do is help people become aligned with their spirit.  Home starts in the heart and so in healing the heart, they can understand how to connect and be nurtured in their structural home.  The structural home thereby becomes the sanctuary for their soul if you will.”

What best sums up your vantage point of life?

“I read this quote recently in the Chicago Tribune, ‘When your greatest fear comes to pass and you survive, you discover who you really are’ (Mary Schmich,”

What topics will you address on this blog?

“There are several that I plan to write about.  One is about how home is the space in which we can do the personal growth work in order to thrive.  Said another way, a calm place to give you the courage to strive to thrive.  We all deserve to thrive!  Another post will be about how to shift energy in your home in order to create a peaceful sanctuary for your soul.“  

Any final thoughts?

“All of us have the ability to create a life we love.  Go out there and do it!“

Look for Patti’s upcoming posts this fall.  Until then, check out her website ( and also her Webinar Series that you can find information for on her site.  There is a lot you can learn from her!

Happy thriving…

Thriving flower

Photo credit: Susan Muehl

A House Becomes A Home When…

As I have discussed in recent posts, I believe that any space that is used for shelter can be considered a house.  You don’t have to own it, the size doesn’t really matter and it can serve as shelter for anyone.  Just ask my dear friend Kenny that I talk about in my recent article, Houseless Not Homeless.

Let’s assume for the moment though that the space is a house.

I have moved to many new houses, many new cities and many new states both growing up and as an adult.  What  has mattered most to me in each move was creating the homey feeling in the new house as soon as possible.

Nothing like a hobbyhorse to make you feel like you are home

Benjamin in Springfield, VA

Benjamin in Springfield, VA

Take the first move that my oldest son probably remembers.  We moved from Charlotte, NC to Northern VA.  My son, Benjamin’s most treasured thing was his hobbyhorse.  So, I made sure the movers put it last on the moving truck so that it came off first.  I can still remember him rocking on his hobbyhorse in the grass outside the front of the house while the rest of our household goods got moved in.  He rocked and rocked with not a care in the world for what was going on around him.  With the hobbyhorse there, Benjamin (and I) felt like home was right there.   All was right in the world!

Another example – David and I moved to the Chicago area two years ago.  We sold our home quickly and the new owners wanted to move in just as quickly.  So, we rented a house in order to take the time to decide where we wanted to live in the area.  We rented a brand new house from a woman that had built it as a speculative piece of property to sell.  Obviously with the housing market not doing so well she decided to rent it.  We became her tenants.  About two weeks after we moved in she came by to check on things. She said she had a wonderful vacuum and would be willing to regularly clean the house for me (for a fee of course).  I kindly declined her offer and was surprised that she was so offended by my rejection.

Her response to me when I declined her offer was, “Well, you know this is my house.  I know every inch of it and I would clean it thoroughly”.

I just smiled and said nothing.  But, what I was thinking was,

“This may be your house but it’s my home”.  You see what I mean?  A house is a house until you make it your unique homespace.  I had no desire for her (as my landlord) to regularly see how I live.  Not that I have anything to hide, it just didn’t appeal to me.

(By the way, two years later we are still renting.  The market still isn’t so good and we have actually found that this new chapter in our lives of renting is really fun.  We are footloose and fancy-free! Ask anyone that knows us!!)

What makes a house a home

When I knew I was planning to write a post about what makes a house become a home, I thought through many different directions I could take to discuss the topic.  After going on lots of different tangents, I realized the best way to express this belief was to ask others to collaborate.  So, I have asked friends and family members to give me their own version of what makes a house become a home.  I hope you enjoy reading some of their answers.  I also hope your own feelings about your homespace mirror much of what you will read.  Enjoy and feel free to share your version, too!

Susie Sale; Charlotte, NC
“Yes, everything does begin at home…that is where I regroup and find my strength. The flowers are lovely… looking at the petals on a flower make you see the beauty of God and what a wondrous person he really is.  How can anyone doubt him?”

Blair Kernodle Scheepers; Pretoria, South Africa
“All our treasure we’ve found around the globe.  From the African folk art we picked up in Cape Town to the birdhouse we bought in the North Carolina Mountains.  Each piece helps tell the story of us and makes our house a home.”

David Solganik; Westmont, IL
“A house becomes a home when the refrigerator is stocked.”

Beth Borum Ketchum; Portsmouth, VA
“When you first walk into the house you get a warm feeling.  The house just flows from one room to the other and the colors continue from one room to the other.  It is fresh and inviting.”

Lindsay Cannata Solganik; Cleveland, OH
We made our house our home by creating an environment fitting to our needs.  A place where can spend time together as a family, cook meals, create memories, and rejuvenate from the drains of daily living. Our goal was to create warm and inviting comfy spaces that are all extremely usable (including the living room and dining room!) We love to unwind together in the family and living room, cook yummy meals in the kitchen, and eat in the dining room! Our home has become our safe place - the place we retire to at the end of every day and week feeling comfortable, safe, and at peace.

The best of all

I think my daughter summed up her view of home perfectly in a recent phone call.  She called to tell me that she had completed one of her chores she had given herself on her “summer’s to do list”.  She had tackled the kitchen pantry- a chore she was dreading.   And, what a surprise she found!  Tucked way back on a shelf was a lunch box I had given her one year as an Advent gift (more on that tradition later).  It was a lunch box depicting the cast of The Wizard of Oz.  This movie was her all time favorite when she was growing up.  In fact, each morning when she woke up she would walk down the hall; thumb in her mouth, night-night trailing between her legs asking, “Watch ya-ha-ha please.”

Wizard of Oz lunchbox

Photo credit: Sammi Blake

That’s what she called the movie, as she was both scared and fascinated with the wicked witch!  Day after day she wanted to watch this movie.  Day after day she sat mesmerized.

Anyway, she had forgotten about this lunchbox as she had put it in the pantry to hold recipes in and well, like I said, it got forgotten.

When she rediscovered it during her cleaning craze, she was thrilled and decided to put it on one of the shelves in Ansley’s nursery.  Sammi told me that as she carried it up the stairs to the nursery, she turned it around and read,

“There’s no place like home.”

Things had come full circle for Sammi and me that day.  Her love of the movie (and my memories of Sammi all those years ago) was what inspired me to get the lunchbox.  Now she had her own daughter to share it with and as Sammi said to me,

“You know Mom, there really is no place like home”.

Yep, she’s right.

Two Colors Every Homespace Needs

There is a school of thought called ecopsychology that is very intriguing. One renowned expert in the field, Dr. Michael Cohen has written a book titled, “The Web of Life Imperative”.

colors of nature

Photo credit: Susan Muehl

It fascinates me. To paraphrase what Dr. Cohen believes, he says that nature holds the key to our aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive and spiritual satisfaction. In other words, nature-connected people enjoy greater health and more peaceful relationships.

Makes sense to me. How can we remove ourselves from nature when we are part of it ourselves?

But, we have. We have all gotten so busy in our lives with work and obligations that we don’t take the time to immerse ourselves in nature. When we do take the time to relax, it is often by taking part in man-made entertainment. (As discussed in Lindsay Torry’s blog post, “Over-consumption”.) It is time to wake up and get back to the basics. Or at least find ways to bring nature inside.

If you haven’t started to return to nature, start now. Take baby steps at the least. The feel good rewards will soon follow.

My own story of color

Years ago while in college (Go Hokies!!) my summer job was with the Parks and Recreation Department in my hometown – Roanoke, VA.  Throughout the county we had free summer camps set up for neighborhood kids to attend every day.  I was a camp counselor at one of the schools.  If you ask me it was a great set-up for parents.  We opened camp around nine in the morning and closed at five.  It was free babysitting for the parents and built-in fun for the kids.  We took field trips, did arts and crafts and played all sorts of games both inside the school gym as well as on the playing fields.  (It was even with a busload of camp kids that I first saw the movie, Jaws.)

One summer as head counselor, I came up with a great idea for an art project.  I decided we should paint all the picnic tables as they were in terrible shape.  Now mind you, this was in the 70’s.   It wouldn’t happen today- too much red tape I’m sure or worse yet, someone might be allergic to the paint!  So, at a time before rules and regulations were extreme, I took it upon myself to spiff up the picnic tables.  The kids loved the idea.

What color to paint them became the tough decision to make.  The school colors?  The colors of the rainbow?  Psychedelic?  Everyone had an opinion.  So, after a few hours of open debate I made the executive decision to choose the colors myself.

greens of nature

Photo credit: Susan Muehl

The colors of nature

I looked up at the sky.  I saw a beautiful blue.  I looked down at my feet.  I saw lush green grass.  Blue.  Green.  The basic colors of nature.  Perfect!

The next day we started.  Painting the tables outdoors was easy peasy, too.  No mess to worry about as nature would eventually wash it away!

I have to admit at first some of the kids were unhappy.  They were hoping for something far more creative.  But, I had previously explained to them the reasons why these colors would work and once the job was completed, they agreed.

We had brought nature harmoniously together.

Every day that we sat at the tables for lunch, arts & crafts or just to hang out, we connected with the colors of nature.

Bring the colors of nature in to your space

So, my “Helpful Hannah Tip” for you is to bring nature inside by adding splashes of blue and green throughout your homespace.

Regardless of décor, style or taste every homespace should infuse these basic colors of nature.

Kankakee State Park

Photo credit: David Solganik

Have a modern style with a monochromatic theme?  No problem, simply decorate with live green plants in your homespace.  Or add fresh flowers to your homespace like hydrangeas or plants such as  African Violets with shades of blue flowers.

Use only black and white for your colors?  Why not add splashes of green and blue in accent pillows or sofa throws?

Like sticking to a neutral scheme such as varying shades of taupe?  Why not accent with artwork depicting scenes of nature?

Every homespace décor can find some way to infuse these primary colors of nature.  Just look around you, I bet you have more ways in your home than you realize.

Ways to bring nature’s colors inside

If you are looking for suggestions, here are few ways to add  colors of nature into your space:

  • Collectibles such as glassware
  • Framed photographs of family in nature
  • Fresh flowers
  • Coffee table books
  • Baskets to store things in
  • Throw pillows
  • Dishware
  • Candles

As the saying goes, “The sky’s the limit”!  Get busy and bring nature inside!

Happy decorating…

Smoking Hot Summer

This summer has been a scorcher!  If you’re like me, you have probably hunted down your lucky friends who have access to a pool.  This inevitably leads to the tradition of firing up the grill to take part in our country’s favorite summer past time – barbecuing!  For a change of pace (and flavor), I suggest incorporating smoke into your routine.  Just a hint of smoke can enhance meats and other foods greatly.  So take a stab at impressing you friends and family with this classic cooking technique.  If you practice now you’ll be a pro in time for the holidays!

Smoking Then and Now

Smoked scallops, smoked salmon and Bloody Mary!

Smoked scallops, smoked salmon and a Bloody Mary!

Prior to modern refrigeration, smoke was used to preserve meat and seafood.   Today smokers are used by novice cooks and professional chefs, not so much to preserve food, but rather to impart that wonderful smokey flavor.  It should be noted that most “smoked” foods are not smoked in the true sense of the word, but rather they are “cooked with smoke.”  Wood chunks, chips or pellets are added to charcoal and the protein cooks fully in the heat while absorbing the desired smoke flavor.  True (cold) smoking can take hours, days, or even weeks, depending on the size and thickness of the protein.

Smokers have become more mainstream and have worked their way into many backyards, typically taking a backseat to the reliable gas grill.  eHow states that in 2009 57% of grills sold were gas, while 43% were charcoal.  That being said, it’s hard to beat the flavor from a charcoal grill, but the convenience of a gas grill is definitely a benefit.  Regardless of the type of grill you own, you are only a few minutes away from incorporating smoke into your meal without the expense of a separate smoking unit.

Simple Smoking with a Grill

Smoking pork butts on Weber charcoal smoker

Before: Pork butts smoking on Weber charcoal smoker

There are a variety of methods to enhance your meal with smoke.  The cheapest way to do this is to simply wrap some small wood chips (see our wood smoking chart below) in aluminum foil, poke a few holes in the top and add to the gas or charcoal grill.  The chips will begin to smolder after a few minutes and the smoke will adhere to the food.  Please note that using a smoking device in a gas grill will cause a slight buildup of soot, but don’t let this dissuade you!  If you prefer to step up to the next level, you can purchase an inexpensive smoke box from any of your large hardware or outdoor living stores – many are less than $15.  Over the course of the last 15 years, I graduated from smoker box to electric smokers to stand alone charcoal smokers (I currently own two well-used Weber smokers).

How to Smoke with a Gas Grill

Below are simple steps to apply smoke to your meal using a gas grill.

Chopped BBQ with jalapeno cornbread and homemade pickles

After: Chopped BBQ with jalapeño cornbread and homemade pickles

  1. First, wash your meat/poultry/seafood in cold water.
  2. Pat dry and apply salt, pepper and anything else for your desired flavor.  Water acts as a barrier to the smoke, so drying the meat is important!
  3. Allow the meat to come to room temperature (10 to 15 minutes, possibly longer for red meat).
  4. While you are waiting, crank up all of the burners and place the foil smoking pack (with the wood chips inside) on the hot grill, close it and wait for it to start smoking.
  5. Once smoldering, turn one side burner off and use your tongs to move the smoking foil to the now unlit side.
  6. Lightly oil your grill and pat your protein dry again.  Salt will cause moisture to leach out of the protein, so drying the food limits the chance that it will stick to the grill.
  7. Place your food on the grill and close the top.
  8. Cook the food as you normally would on the grill.  The smoke will not speed up the cooking process.

Wood Smoking Chart

Wood Comments
Apple Produces a mild smoke that is great for chicken, duck, dove, cornish game hens and quail.  This wood is commonly used to smoke bacon.
Alder Traditionally used in the Pacific Northwest to smoke salmon.  Imparts a mild smokiness that works well with most seafood.  Try this wood when smoking scallops.
Cherry Another mildly sweet smoke that enhances fish and poultry.  If you are using a cold smoker, this wood is a good choice when smoking fruit (apples/pears) and cheeses.
Hickory One of the most widely available and used woods.  Perfect for ribs, pork butt and turkey breast.  This wood may be used for any cuts of meat that require a long smoking time.
Maple Excellent choice for hams, fish and poultry.
Mesquite Produces a very strong smokiness.  Prolonged use of this wood may ruin food, so it is best used for items that cook quickly, such chicken breasts, ribeye/strip steaks and flank steak.  Try using this wood in a smoker box while grilling.
Pecan A great choice for fish and poultry, especially trout.
Oak Another excellent choice for items that require a long smoking time.  Perfect for large cuts of beef, such as brisket or prime rib.

Important Smoking Rules!

Never use:

  1. Wood that has been chemically treated, painted, stained, etc.
  2. Wood purposed for industrial or commercial use (pallets, siding, flooring, construction site scraps, etc.)
  3. Pine or other conifers (the sap may ruin the food and/or make you sick).

There are many types of fantastic woods available for smoking including peach, pear, apricot, nectarine, hazelnut, grape and even coffee.  Experiment with them all and most importantly, have fun doing it!

Happy smoking,

Chef Ryan

Creating Comfort In An Assisted Living Facility

Many years ago while living in Northern VA, I was at a dinner party with friends.  A discussion started about the future need for more nursing homes as the baby boomers aged.  I remember one friend, Leah telling my friend Sue and me that she and her husband were considering investing in this soon to be big business industry.  I could not fathom the future need of this anywhere near the level they felt it would become.  (But of course, I was the one in college who thought computer courses were a waste of time, too.)

Leah and her husband were right.  The world of caring for the elderly has radically changed.  It is extremely difficult to not only find a good quality facility but, the wait list is often ridiculously long to secure a spot.

I learned this first hand last summer.  My mother has Alzheimer’s.  For several years we were fortunate to keep her at home.  She went from daytime care to full round the clock care (thank you Ercilia) until it just wasn’t enough.  Overnight we were faced with the need for a facility to move her to.  We got lucky- there was an opening in the facility we had previously decided that should the need arise,  was our number one choice.

So, one year ago this month my siblings and I did what I once considered the unimaginable.  We moved our mother into an Alzheimer’s Facility.  I count it as one of the most horrific decisions I have ever had to take part in making.

It turned out to be the best thing for her.

What a blessing for all of us.

She is the happiest, healthiest and safest I have seen her in a long time.  Of course, she lives in the moment.  I meant literally in the moment.  If you visit her, you can walk out the door to her room, walk back in and she will greet you as if for the first time.

My David calls it living life like in the movie “Ground Hog Day”.  Over and over, it is the same thing.  But, she is happy.

I believe she is happy because of what my siblings, spouses (what we fondly call our out-laws) and I did to create comfy cozy space for her.

Replicate what they know

We had a plan.  The day we moved her into her facility, my sister Mary Ann took her shopping.  The rest of us immediately converged on the house (having already established a “D Day plan of attack”) and began collecting the things from her house we knew she loved and would be familiar with in new surroundings.  My brother, Tommy brought a trailer and so the guys started filling it with the large items like her bed.  We even put in my Dad’s dresser- not hers as she loved looking at his ever since his passing.  We carefully and consciously thought through every single item we put on the trailer.  We wanted our mother to walk into her room and feel like she was home.

We had a time limit to getting all this done as we were having a luncheon at the facility with our mother once we got there.  We worked as if we were on a mission, each person pitching in.  Oh, and just so you know- we had not told her she was moving to a facility.  After counsel with her doctor and the staff at Richfield we decided it was best not to give her the head’s up.  She wouldn’t remember anyway.  So, when Mary Ann brought Mom to the center for lunch, it was at the lunch table that we told her this was her new home.

Wow, while writing this my eyes are filling with tears and I suddenly have a sick feeling in my stomach.  Thinking back to it brings on a flood of emotion.  I guess it always will.

You see, after our father passed away many years ago, Mom made us promise never to put her in a nursing home.  We were going back on our promise.  No child should ever have to experience this.

But, on with the story…

While we siblings were breaking the news to Mom, the out-laws were putting the final touches on her room.  What a beautiful job Laura and Becky did!  Pictures were hung, accessories were lovingly placed on her nightstand and desk, her rug was arranged on the floor and lamps were lit to give a welcoming presence.

Comfort was created.

She loved it!

A New Home

Arriving at nursing home

Arriving to her new digs

Nursing Homes are not what they used to be.  My grandmother was in one back in the early 70’s for a brief time and I remember it was like a hospital room.  Not anymore.  The medical world has begun paying attention to the importance of the aesthetics of the environment.  Patient rooms and suites are more personal and user friendly.  Afterall, many patients live in these spaces for years and years.

Richfield, the facility our Mom lives in is very much this way.  When we moved her in, the staff gave us total privacy to make Mom’s room what we wanted it to be.  My brother, Don called it her condo and so that’s what we call it still. She feels good in this new homespace and it shows!  She has a new home!

Laura, M.A. and Tommy enjoying the condo

Laura, M.A. and Tommy enjoying the condo

Favorite chair

Settled in her favorite chair, Papa’s

Don enjoying the condo

Don enjoying the condo

Helpful hints to create comfort

Here are my tips for any of you that find yourselves where my family was a year ago:

  • Think through the space you are moving your loved one to just as carefully as you have thought through your own personal homespace.  It will mean a world of difference to how they live in their space if it is comfy cozy.
  • Make your loved one’s space resemble what they are used to as much as possible.
  • Fill their space with family photos.
  • Fill their space with mementos.
  • Allow for good lighting by decorating with table lamps, etc.
  • Bring in fresh flowers and plants often.
  • Pay attention to smell as this is often a problem with the elderly.  Use natural room deodorizers such as Fresh Wave.
  • Add a wreath or some type of welcoming décor to the door that is the entrance to their homespace.
  • Take the time to decorate their space for the different holidays. (More on this later.)
  • Have a journal available for visitors to write in.  This gives you a record of who she/he has seen and also gives you things to talk about when you visit.
  • Visit often.  You being there is the best “decoration” she/he will enjoy.

Please feel free to add comments to this post if any of you have great tips as well.

Oh, and a very personal shout-out to the dear friends that visit my mother so often.  Chris, Ellen and Bill, Clara, Ercilia  and the rest of you– you make the world brighter for my Mom.  I am forever grateful!  And, Richfield you and your staff rock!

Mom/Mamaw/Ms. B

Mom/Mamaw/Ms. B. Photo credit: David Solganik

Happy living Mom…

These Are A Few of My Favorite Things

I turn 55 in just a few days.  I share the day with my dear twin brother, Craig.  So, I don’t turn 55, We turn 55.  (Although I am 55 minutes older and wiser than Craig!) You see, I never think of it as my birthday.  I think of it as our birthday.  Any of you readers that are a twin, you know what I mean.

Anyway, I thought turning 21, 30, 40 and then 50 would be the most memorable birthdays for me.  Certainly, to this day I remember specifics of each of those milestones.  But, absolutely positively this birthday is gonna be the Mack-Daddy.  I can feel it brewing already.

Why you ask?

It is simple.

Once I flew only while no one was looking.  Now I soar all the time.

In other words, I have learned to be me… Embracing the good, the bad and yeah, the ugly.  How freeing.  How exhilarating.

So, since it’s my party I will celebrate because I want to!  (Remind you of a 1960’s song though different words?!?)

And, what better way than to share with others a few of my favorite things!  Originally, I planned to list 55 things.  You know, one thing for each year.  My David chuckled over this and said no one would last through the whole article, not even him!  So, instead I am listing  5/5 or five faves in five categories I want to share.  I hope you enjoy!

My Top Five Products

  • My Cutco Knives
  • My Kayak
  • My Dyson Vacuum
  • My Apple Ipad
  • My Trek Cruiser Classic
Trek Cruiser Classic

My wheels. Photo credit: David Solganik

My Top Five Kitchen Must Have’s

  • My Pampered Chef Garlic Press
  • My Aprons
  • My Iron Skillet
  • My Bamboo Pot Scrubber from Crate and Barrel
  • My Ceramic Spoonrest
Well seasoned iron skillet

My well seasoned iron skillet. Photo credit: David Solganik

My Top Five Gifts I Have Received

  • My Faith.
  • My family, with the newest addition being “Little Bits”.
  • The chance to be with my Dad as he neared death and to witness him seeing “The other side across the bridge” he described to me as he saw departed family beckon for him to cross over.
  • My David, who has given such unconditional love that I have had the room to spread my wings and fly – and then, soar!
  • My necklace that David gave me to commemorate Benjamin’s upcoming wedding.
David Solganik

My David. Photo credit: Jamie Balzer

My Top Five Tips For Creating Homespace Beauty

  • Less is more.
  • Color means everything.
  • Decorate and design with a sense of studied indifference.
  • Make all your senses come alive in your Home Décor.
  • Your Homespace begins at the street or door to your space.
Beautiful entryway

Beauty begins at the street. Photo credit: David Solganik

My Top Five Quotes For Inspiration

  • “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.”  Ecclesiastes 3:1
  • “Two roads diverged, and I - I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference” Robert Frost
  • “Live the life you love.  Love the life you live.” Bob Marley
  • “When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.” Jimi Hendrix
  • “With every challenging situation we experience, we can choose to be a ‘Victim’ or become a ‘Victor.’  The choice is ours to make.”  Jamie Balzer’s Mantra
Road less traveled

The road less traveled. Photo credit: Susan Muehl

In sharing these favorite things of mine, I hope you take the time to reflect on your favorites as well.  Share them with someone you love.  It reminds me of one other quote I live, “It is in the giving that we receive the most”.   Pay it forward to someone and share yours!

Today might not be your birthday but, you have cause to celebrate regardless.  Every day is worth celebrating.  Seize the opportunity!

Enjoy the moment, enjoy the day and enjoy life!

Oh, and here’s to you Craig!  I love you!

Craig Balzer

My twin, Craig Balzer. Photo credit: David Solganik


Goodbye, Spongebob!

Hiking to Cascade Falls

Hiking to Cascade Falls

When my husband first suggested that we get rid of cable television, I thought that something must be seriously wrong with him. I mean, our lives didn’t revolve around the TV schedule, but we enjoyed the occasional weekend marathon of reruns or old movies. We both work full time, my husband sometimes chalking up over 70 hours in a week, and we are raising three young children. Solid, reliable “TV time” was limited to a handful of shows we watched faithfully and the fall football season. In recent years we had gotten in the habit of turning on the TV as a means of escape, to distract us from the trials and tribulations of real life. So what in the world had provoked this ESPN-loving fan of teen flicks to not just willingly but voluntarily recommend dropping 90% of our channels? The kids! Our children had become over-consumers of television, turning it on first thing in the morning and returning to it any chance they had. It was causing countless arguments, contributing to bad attitudes, distracting them from their daily responsibilities, and essentially ruling their worlds. So we got rid of it! And to be honest, we don’t miss it at all! Well, except for when a Virginia Tech football game isn’t aired on local networks nor streaming online. The bigger, more important results we see are kids with better attitudes, more active time, enhanced creativity, and fewer power struggles. My husband and I find ourselves getting more done, spending more quality time with each other and with our kids, and being more purposeful about our TV time. You see, almost every show on cable is available online, if not immediately then within a few days. Now, rather than turning on the TV and browsing the stations purely out of habit, we have to get online and search purposefully for a specific show to watch. There are surprisingly few shows that are worth this effort! We have learned that when we consume, whether it be TV, food, or anything else, we must do it with purpose!

Defining the problem

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the prefix “over-” is defined as “so as to exceed or surpass; excessive; to an excessive degree” and the definition of “consume” includes “to do away with completely; to spend wastefully; to eat or drink especially in great quantity; to engage fully; to waste or burn away”. Together these sound dreadful! So it’s no surprise that over-consumption leaves us feeling empty, alone, and wasted away. Yet as Americans, we are the champions of over-consumption, both collectively and as individuals.

What are you over-consuming?

Ask yourself, “What am I over-consuming?”, and if you are a parent, “What are my children over-consuming?” Then be honest in answering. Some probable areas:

  • Food – According to the CDC, 33.8% of adults in the US are obese. Even worse, 17% of children ages 2-19 are obese.
  • Alcohol – Most doctors and health experts recommend 2 or fewer alcoholic beverages per day. What many ignore is that these numbers are based on suggested serving sizes of 12 oz. of beer, 5 oz. of wine, and 1.5 oz of liquor.
  • Screen Time – The American Association of Pediatrics recommends 2 hours or less of total screen time a day for children and teens. Yet with the increased popularity of TV, the Internet and video games, our youth are spending astonishing amounts of time in front of a screen. I was dumbfounded when some of the high school students I teach started comparing their screen times on various video games. On one popular game, many had logged 15-30 days within 6-9 months. Keep in mind that a “day” is a complete 24 hours of usage. I quickly began to research, suspecting exaggeration, but found that surveys show that the average gamer on each of the most popular games logs around 20 hours per week. On one game. Not including television or social networking time. WOW!
  • Material Goods – It only takes one episode of a reality show about hoarding to make us think twice about all of the “stuff” we have!
Examining the Creek

Examining the Creek


The finger can be pointed in many directions: capitalism, technology, the breakdown of the family unit, the need for instant gratification, just plain old bad habits…the list goes on. No matter the reason, the root is the same. We are trying to fill our souls with things that cannot fill them. Thus, the need to consume more and more, yet never feel satisfied.

Consuming with Purpose

Swimming at Cascade Falls

Swimming at Cascade Falls

Once you identify areas of over-consumption in your own life, think about alternatives. What could you be consuming, or perhaps doing, that would bring you greater fulfillment and deeper satisfaction? Make a list of ideas that will actually nurture your spirit and strengthen your relationships, and then use the list! In my family, we have opted to fill our former TV time with things such as reading, prayer, playing board games and family outings. Spongebob and Dora just can’t compare to hiking along a creek through a lush forest to swim beneath a 69 ft. waterfall!

What is your soul crying out for? Consume with purpose and you will reap abundant rewards!

Cascade Falls

Cascade Falls

Houseless Not Homeless

I called an old friend today.  I had not spoken to him since early spring and at the time we ended our last call I had promised to be in touch the next week.  I broke my promise.  David (aka “My darling Life Partner”) had some health issues arise and so I lost track of time and well, just got around to calling him today.  Sad but, true.  Anyway, we talked for over an hour.  I called him at the beginning of my exercise walk at the park.  I finally had to end the call when my phone kept beeping that I had no more juice.  Besides which, I needed time to digest the conversation.

All day I have vacillated between pure awe, sadness, humility and quite frankly, the need to cry buckets of tears.  In fact, while listening to him on my cell phone I had to fight the urge to find a quiet space in the park, curl up and sob- not for grief of this dear man’s plight but, sheer humility. The man’s words truly humbled me.  You see he spoke about becoming homeless, only he called it “houseless”.

Swirling through my head all day have been images of the beautiful fabrics I have worked with, the gorgeous furniture and accessories I have placed in homes of clients, the money spent on materialism.  Kenny brought me back to the basics.  How deeply thought provoking.

But, let me take you back to how we became friends to begin with.

An unlikely friendship.

About twelve years ago, give or take a year, I built a new house.  It was my first home after selling the house I lived in during my marriage.  Kenny was on the construction crew for the overall townhome project.

Kenny was always friendly, always smiling and was kind to my kids.  After I moved in he even began to do some custom work for me in my house.  He built the cutest brick doggie door you can ever imagine off my deck and did wonders in my backyardscape.

But, coming from two very different walks of life, we had very little in common or so it seemed on the surface.  There didn’t seem to be much there for a friendship to bloom.

It did though.  Turns out, we are more alike than we are different.  I suspect most of us are once we get past our egos, our need to keep up with “The Jones’ ” and the superficial side of life – but, hold that thought for another day.

9/11 sealed the friendship.

Our friendship grew after a very specific event.  9/11.  Need I say more?  Does bringing up September 11th bring back a flood of memories of where you were and what you were doing at the exact time you learned about the attack?

I was out of town doing some work.  In fact, I was in Richmond, VA with an artist (Karen Peppers) doing some custom work in my brother, Don’s home.  His home sits on over 30 acres out in the country, away from everything.  I still can hear him racing in the door screaming, “Turn on the TV.  New York has just been attacked by terrorists.”

We all stood there stunned and then of course, turned on the television.  The silence was eerie.  But, I soon thought of my kids, Ben, Sammi and Jimmy at home in Charlotte.  Sammi was home from college watching Jimmy- no worries there.

Until now…  I was terrified that I was away, even for Ben although he was living on his own.  What if terrorists attacked Charlotte?

I called home.  Sammi said the construction crew on the site had stopped working and Kenny had come by to check on them.  In fact, as soon as the news spread about the plane crash, he became as glued to the television in my house as did Sammi and Jimmy.  Each day until I got home, he checked on them.  He even ate meals with them.  I will always remember his kindness and after that, he became part of the family.

We lost touch for a while after I moved to Chicago until our phone conversation this past spring.  When we talked this past spring I was stunned to find that he was divorced and living in Texas.  He was just as surprised to hear I was now living in the Chicago area.  Then, today while beginning a long exercise walk at the park I thought of Kenny and so I called him.  More surprises- he told me he had moved back “home” to Pensacola, FL.  Also, he filled in all the gory details of becoming “houseless” after leaving Charlotte.

Kenny said, “Jamie, I am finally home.”

He didn’t mean physically.  He meant emotionally.  Anyone walking past me on the trail surely saw the shock on my face.  I couldn’t get my mouth to close and I felt like my eyes were bulging.  But, I could feel Kenny’s big smile!

“Jamie, you don’t need a house to have a home.  I have never been homeless, just houseless.”

He went on to say that his wife had built stronger walls around him with her anger and abuse than the walls in their actual home.  He said he had to leave it all after one last massive episode and so his red truck became his home as he made his way from Charlotte, NC to Texas and finally to Florida.

Home sweet home.

His truck gave him shelter.  But it also gave him the home he was craving.  He said to me, “You see Jamie, home is a safe haven.  It is a place where you can live without fear.  My truck gave me that.  Even in the cramped quarters often sleeping upright in the seat, I felt more at home than I ever did in the house I had with my wife.”

Months after living in his truck in towns working throughout Texas, Kenny said he made the decision to really go home – to extended family in Pensacola, FL.

I’ll always, always remember his words, “Jamie, when I crossed the state line into Alabama, I took both hands off the steering wheel and say, ‘Thank you God.’  Then, when I crossed the line into Florida, I raised my hands again and shouted, ‘Home Sweet Home’.  I am finally home.”

Thank you Kenny for your words.  You are one of the wisest human beings I have ever been honored to know.  I am deeply indebted to you for what you have reminded me of in such a profound way:

Home is not a place or a space.  It is a feeling that gives us the sanctuary in which to bloom.

Welcome home, Kenny…

Sunset over lake

Photo credit: Susan Muehl

One thought…

Home is where the heart is.

Quick Summer Fruit Cobbler

Summer means lots of things. Outdoor barbeques, beautiful flowers, the smell of fresh cut grass and my favorite, lots of fresh fruit choices.

There is nothing better than a slice of watermelon. Who cares if the juice drips down the side of your mouth- that’s part of summer isn’t it?

My Dad’s favorite summer fruit was cantaloupe. He used to slice one in two, scope out the seeds and then put vanilla ice cream in the hollowed out middle. Not for me, I like mine just like nature made it- pure and simple.

Summer months in my house growing up included canning vegetables and fruits. I used to love to do it with my Mother. I cannot tell you how many times I scalded my hands while coming too close to the boiling water bath or blistered my fingertips lifting the jars out of the bath when they were ready. Still, maybe it was the inner “Laura Ingalls Wilder” in me – but, I loved the canning season. My Mother and I used to giggle over every new “pop” from the jars as they cooled. Pops meant they had sealed properly!

Blackberries from the market

Blackberries from the market. Photo credit: Sammi Blake

I continued this tradition when my children were growing up canning green beans, tomatoes and fruit. Mostly I canned fruits like peaches, apples and homemade applesauce. I plan to get back into canning again- next summer. Home canned peaches and apples make the best pies, breads and cobblers!

Speaking of cobbler- I found the best ever recipe for a quick cobbler while living in Columbia, SC. many years ago. It came from our church cookbook (Spring Valley Presbyterian Church) and I still use it today. I hope you will try it. Let me know what you think!

List of ingredients

2 c. fresh fruit             1 c. plain flour
1/4 c. sugar                 1 c. sugar
1/2 stick butter         1 tsp. baking powder
1 c. milk

Optional:  Dash of cinnamon, nutmeg or allspice
Note:  I use all organic ingredients.
Preheat Oven:  350 Degrees

Making the cobbler

Start by putting the butter into your baking dish and melt it in the oven.  I use a round 11/2 qt. casserole dish for my cobblers.

Combine fruit and 1/4 c. sugar.  Let stand at least 20 minutes.  Mix together flour, 1 c. sugar and baking powder.  Add the milk and stir briskly.  Lumps will remain.  Pour this mixture into the casserole dish of melted butter.  Top with fruit.  Do not stir.

Bake for 45 – 55 minutes until it is slightly brown with crispy edges.

Blackberry cobbler

Piping hot right from the oven. Photo credit: Sammi Blake

Now for the ice cream

All warm cobblers right out of the oven deserve a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  There’s nothing better than a spoonful of yummy cobbler with the ice cream slightly melting.  For leftovers (if there are any) simply reheat individual bowls of cobbler.  Don’t forget the ice cream!


If I can sneak one more recipe in without Chef Ryan looking, I will share my Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe.  All organic ingredients even.  And if I do say so myself, these cookies are the Bomb!  I made some last night.  Hope these pictures wet your appetite!

Organic chocolate chip oatmeal cookies

Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies. Photo credit: David Solganik

Chocolate chip oatmeal cookie

Who took a bite? Photo credit: David Solganik

As for canning,  Chef Ryan has told me it can be my domain.  Look for some of my recipes and how to pointers next summer!

Happy eating!

Best Ever Natural Odor Eliminator

Fresh Wave Odor Eliminating Crystals

Fresh Wave Odor Eliminating Crystals

Product:  Fresh Wave

Purpose:  Fresh Wave is an all-natural product that destroys odors.

Ingredients:  Lime, Pine Needles, Aniseed, Clove and Cedarwood

Where To Buy It:  Whole Foods and Bed, Bath & Beyond.  For other locations go to the company website:

The Back Story

I live in the village of Westmont, IL outside of Chicago.  David and I moved here a little over two years ago from God’s country- you know, the south!  I had dreaded moving to Chicago for every reason I could rant about.  A Southern Gal through and through, I couldn’t imagine moving to the mid-west.  Cold? Are you kidding?  Big City?  Been there , done that before so no thank you!  Miles away from my kids?  Inconceivable!  I wouldn’t be able to keep my “hovering helicopter” on idle so far away prepared to swoop in whenever I felt I was needed.  (Notice I said “I” and not “They” since I figure I always know what my kids need!)

Wonder of wonders, I love it.  Westmont is like a blast from the past.  It feels like “Mayberry R.F.D” mid-western style.  Friendly, caring and down to earth.  Then there are the festivals everywhere, restaurants aplenty and the city of Chicago just 30 minutes away.  Oh, did I mention the snow?  Lake Michigan?  The abundant nature preserves?  Snowshoeing?

I love it all!


No one told me about one of Chicagoland’s cutest little pests!


Photo credit: Don DeBold

Soon after we moved in we began having nightly viewings of a cute skunk.  He would walk along our back fence on the way to his den (next door I am sure) after prowling the neighborhood.  I enjoyed watching him (or her) every night never imaging I would ever have a close encounter.  Yep, sure enough within a few months I did.  Ugh!

I had let Moe (our dog) out for the last time one night and forgot to put the porchlights on. Suddenly, I heard both a hissing noise and Moe barking furiously.  Before I could think, Moe charged into the house.  Good golly Miss Molly, you cannot imagine the smell that followed her in!

Seriously, if you have ever smelled skunk spray you know what I am talking about.  Words cannot describe the odor.  And speaking of odor, it lingers and lingers and lingers – everywhere.  Two months later, my kids were visiting for Thanksgiving and they could smell it – when they opened a cabinet or a closet and even on Moe when she got wet on a walk in a preserve.  Just ask Brent, my daughter Sammi’s husband.  He still talks about the ghastly smell!

Nothing I used got the odor out.  Period.  It took months for the smell to leave on its own.

Pepe’ Le Pew Strikes Again

So, a year goes by.  We were still enjoying watching Pepe’ on his nightly walks back to his den having excused his bad behavior for spraying Moe.  He was “cute little Pepe’” again.  Then, one night we came home late and I let Moe out. Big mistake!

Evidently Pepe’ was having a late night snack in our yard and Moe startled him.

Sprayed again!

The next day I was telling the manager of the dry cleaners about it.  She mentioned a product I should buy as she had heard it was the best odor eliminator for skunk smell.  Well, I left the cleaners and headed straight for Whole Foods.  I bought several containers of crystal gels and the Multi-purpose Additive. I put Moe in the shower and doused the area of her neck that she had been sprayed on with the additive and let it really soak in.  Guess what?  It worked!  The containers of the crystal gels I distributed around the house~ anywhere I knew the odor had permeated.

Now I use Fresh Wave for everything.  I use the small packets of the crystals in the car and in sports bags.  (I wish this had been around when my son, Jimmy played hockey- boy did his bag smell!)  There are candles, sprays and even carpet powders.  You name it Fresh Wave has a product for the odor.  And, the added bonus is that it is all-natural.

Try it and let me know what you think!  And remember, how your home smells is the first impression of your homespace that greets you as you enter the door.   Heed my advice and use Fresh Wave in your home.

Moe thinks you should!!!


Photo credit: David Solganik