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Method Mixed Bag: October

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Welcome to the October Mixed Bag, a brain-dump of random topics that are on my mind mind of late. Fall is here and my nest is empty which means I have newly-free time for entertaining, weekend trips and Netflix. Read on for packing tips, getting organized for a dinner party, Drop Zone basics and more!

It’s pumpkin season and I miss going out to the farm with the kids. Now that the nest is empty our pumpkin shopping happens at the grocery store!

dinner party

Invitations went out this week for Empty Nest Dinner Party #1

It has been ages since we had a dinner party. If memory serves the last one was ten years ago. We host at holidays and do a fair amount of entertaining in the summer months but a proper dinner party seemed out of reach for a decade as I juggled raising three kids with a demanding career. Now the kids are grown, I’ve switched careers and as the pandemic fades into the background the embers of my dinner party dreams have begun to glow again.

I think one of the reasons dinner parties appeal to me is because of the organization required to throw one. You have to plan ahead on multiple fronts to have everything come together seamlessly on the night of the party. I’m aware that many people have written extensively on this topic but here’s my spin, born of much trial-and-error. I want to minimize my stress level on the day of the party and be able to enjoy our guests from the moment they arrive at the house. To achieve this I follow the following guiding principles:

  • Plan only 2 ambitious menu items and keep the rest simple. Some portion of the menu should be able to be prepared ahead of time. Balance oven and stovetop. Let the dietary differences of your guests be the constraint that gets your innovative juices flowing.

  • Plan a seasonal tablescape. I got a fabulous black table-runner printed with owls that is the inspiration and anchor for my October dinner party. Pick something that you already have or you can easily obtain to ground your design and let your creativity flow from there. I also love to use place cards and seat my guests near someone they don’t know well!

  • Plan a signature, seasonal cocktail to set the mood. Of course I like to have multiple beverage choices available for guests but a specific cocktail that speaks to the season is nice to have on hand and offer as soon as each person arrives. It sets a mood of easy elegance and conversation right from the start of the party.

One last tip is to make sure you have space in your coat closet for your guests’ outerwear. I fit’s jammed with your family’s stuff get it purged, organized and potentially move some things out temporarily so there is room to easily stash that evening’s coats!

pack for the weekend

My empty nest has come with many opportunities for weekends away

I am currently in the middle of an every-other-weekend travel stint. It started with a road trip to Whistler where Jay did the Gran Fondo bike race, next to the Jersey Shore with my college girlfriends, we have 2 Parents’ Weekends in October (Tucson and SF) and I’ll wrap the stint with a long weekend in New York. Phew! Mix in a couple of work trips and I’ve really had to flex my packing skills – especially given the diversity of occasions I’m packing for. Here are my top 4 tips for packing for a long weekend in a carry-on.

  • Start with Shoes. They take up the most space in your bag so you have to be surgical with your choices, no more than 2 choices since we are out of sandal season! I bring a pair of athletic shoes that are cute, good for walking and will serve for my go-to travel workout (10 minute abs, 20 minute shadow-boxing.) My 2nd pair is driven by whatever evening activities I have going on, usually something appropriate for dinner out. You will have different needs depending on the location and purpose of your trip but the point here is to start with shoes and build your clothing choices around them

  • Versatility wins. What you need will be driven by the purpose of your trip but whatever you bring should be versatile, meaning you can dress it up or down, layer it or transform it by changing out another element of your outfit. My favorite versatile wardrobe picks are denim (cute with sneakers or flats or boots), a slip dress (under a sweater, button down shirt or blazer) and a cardigan. Once these anchors are chosen you can fill in around them with other items that don’t take up much space like knit tees and woven tops to give you some additional choices when getting dressed.

  • Streamline your toilette. I take minimal makeup, extra small sizes of moisturizer/eye cream and a travel-size flat-iron that all fit securely in one toiletry bag. I used to take up a tone of space with multiple bags plus hair tools and have realized that a few additional clothing items serve me better in taking up that space in my bag. Pare down and see how much time and effort you save!

  • Be cute and comfy on the plane. Remember you also get to bring the clothes you are wearing on travel-day so plan that outfit too, if you do it well (see Versatile Wins, above)) you can give yourself a few more options for what to wear once you arrive at your destination!

cautionary tale

I recently lived through a precarious intersection of eating and fitness

If you’ve been reading the blog for awhile you might know about my commitment to my fitness and diet and my journey to build lasting habits that lead to a long, healthy life. After a lovely summer of falling way off the wagon and eating whatever we wanted Jay and I decided to do a Whole30 as soon as he wrapped up with the Gran Fondo. We have done Whole30 many times before as a reset and know the drill well. I know that for me Week 2 of 4 is when my energy wanes and feel the most tired before I rebound in Week 3. No problem!

Over in fitness-land my cousins and I like to participate in Peloton Power Zone Challenges a couple of times a year. In a 6 Week Challenge, the first 2 weeks are easy, gaining in difficulty the third week and peaking in difficulty Weeks 4 and 5. On my road trip to drop Abby off at college my cousin roped me into a challenge that started on August 29th. ‘Great!’ – I thought, this is just what I needed to ramp up my Fall fitness routine.

Soooo, since I was making these decisions in individual silos I did not realize that Week 4 of the Power Zone Challenge was going to intersect with Week 2 of Whole 30. ACK! Needless to say it was a bit of a disaster, I bonked on one of the rides and fell asleep at 7:30pm every night that week. The fatigue seemed to have soaked every cell in my body. I can’t remember the last time I felt that exhausted. I did survive and am now happily past the peaks of both but I share my story in hopes that you are spared a debacle like that with a little bit of upfront awareness and (yes) planning. Says the planner. Who prides herself on planning ahead. Sigh.

Though I am not currently eating anything like these beauties I can appreciate the process of making them on The Great British Baking Show

Luckily the week of my crash was also the week that Season 10 of the Great British Baking Show began on Netflix! If you have not ever watched this show I urge you to get on board, it will serve as a lovely tonic to ease stress, inspire future baking endeavors and make you giggle. I discovered this show during the pandemic and though I generally am not a fan of reality TV at all I am addicted. The contestants are real, the judges are fair, everyone is lovely to each other and the baking is amazing. The show opts for British refinement over crass competition and I am here for it. It’s true I am an Anglophile but even if I wasn’t I would love this show. It’s perfect to consume in the Fall when you are snuggled up on your sofa, kicking yourself for crossing a Whole30 with a Power Zone Challenge. New Episodes release on Fridays!

drop zone notes

Almost every client I work with needs help with a Drop Zone, someplace to keep the many things that come in and out of the house with high frequency. The Drop Zone is often treated as a Dump Zone, a place where things that need to be put away are unceremoniously dumped and pile up in an unsightly way. The way to keep a Drop Zone from turning into a Dump Zone is to pay close attention to the traffic patterns in your home. Do you enter and exit through your garage? Front door? Mudroom? Do certain activities (school) pull towards a different entrance than others (work)? Align your Drop Zone to the traffic pattern and you’ll a more successful implementation; in the case of multiple traffic patterns you may need more than one Drop Zone. The key to prevent your Drop Zone from becoming a Dump Zone is to be specific about what gets dropped (keys, mail, backpacks) and stick to it. Anything other than the designated items should be put away (I know, says easy-does hard!) A good Drop Zone can work really hard for a busy family and enhance the time you spend in your home so give it the thoughtful design it deserves!

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