Mental Dumbbells – March 2012

I felt like I really needed to step up the reading this month since I’d like to finish at least 50 books by the end of the year. So far I’ve finished 13, so I’m right on track. This month I finished 6, and with exception of one somewhat depressing storyline, I liked all of these.


The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest

My FAVORITE series of all time. I had actually read the first two books last year, but stalled on reading the third because I wanted to buy a specific edition to complete my set. The version I wanted didn’t come out until about a month ago so I quickly picked it up. For anyone who’s read the series, you know there is a major cliffhanger at the end of the second book. Since I couldn’t get my hands on the third right away, I ended up watching all three movies in one sitting (the originals, not the US version) on Netflix. These books are actually what sparked my love for writing again.

In my opinion they are definitely adult books, there is some seriously graphic and violent stuff in this series. I also think that if you plan to see the US movies then you need to read the books first. I’ve seen the first US movie and it was good, but I loved the detail in the book so much. You’ll understand the movie much better if you’ve read the book first.


Pop Tart

After Hornet’s Nest I wanted something light. This was a clearance book I picked up at BN for under $5. It’s the story of a makeup artist to a Hollywood pop star. It’s a book I would have enjoyed on the beach, had it not been March and rainy. There are some times when you’ll want to smack some sense into a few of the characters but otherwise an enjoyable read.


Your Farm In The City

I don’t know that I would have called this a fun read really, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. Lots of great information about urban farming and it does dig into the concept of raising animals. I can’t have my own chicken coop but maybe someday.



I am, without any doubt, a dog person. I had a cat growing up, I don’t think she really cared much for me. But my dogs, they are more like my kids. With this said, I cannot read a book where the dog dies, it breaks my heart and I end up a crying mess. Even if the story is really great, if the dog dies, I won’t read it. It’s the reason why I haven’t read Marley and Me yet. So, I cheated a little when I saw this book and I read that last few pages in the store to make sure the dog lived to the end. It only makes the story better to know that he does.

I still cried at times, especially when they told you Oogy’s story, but you can’t help but love him and his family. Such a sweet story (with a happy ending!).


Apologize, Apologize!

I don’t know what to say about this book. I really didn’t know anything about it when I picked it up. I bought it at a library book store for a few bucks because I liked the cover (not the cover below, I had a different version). There’s a lot of heartache in this book and I ended up being angry and depressed by the characters most of the time. I can’t even recall the ending, but I do seem to think it redeemed the book a bit. The writing was well done which is one reason why I kept reading. This one was a little like watching a train wreck, I didn’t really like what I was reading about at times, but I just couldn’t look away.


The Four Agreements

I just finished this book yesterday and have to say that it ranks as one of the best books I’ve ever read. Not because it was well written, it could have used a bit more editing. However, the message was something I really needed right now in my life. It basically outlines 4 agreements in which to live your life and every one resonated with me. This is one of those books that comes into your life at the perfect time and has made a profound effect on how I’m viewing my life and my future.

It’s a tiny book, just over 100 pages, and a quick read. If you’re trying to figure out how to let some things go in your past and how to change that, sometimes detrimental, internal dialogue then check this book out. If you’re ready to think a little differently, it will make a big difference.

*An interesting tidbit: I’ve actually owned this book for years and years. However, I never felt ready to read it until the other day. I usually scan the shelf, pick it up, read a few pages and put it back. I’m a strong believer in the saying “When the student is ready, the teacher appears”. I was finally ready to absorb the message in this book a few days ago and randomly walked to that bookshelf to find something else. It caught my eye and I read the whole thing in two days.



What have you been reading? I need some suggestions for April.

Garage Progress – Round 2

It’s been almost 2 months since my last Garage update and things are going well. Finally it’s starting to feel like a functional space and the most exciting part is that the cost me far less than I ever expected. In fact, it’s been a busy workshop lately between the workbench install, building the potting bench, and some other crafts.

To scare you refresh your memory, here’s a little look back at the before.

Garage - Before

Messy, Messy, Messy.

There was no organization and I rarely spent any time in the space.

Garage - Before

Garage - Before

Two months ago I showed you the new storage rack I bought from Costco. It was inexpensive, study and larger than the wire storage rack I already in the garage. In fact, I was so impressed with the quality, I purchased another one to use as a Workbench. The original plan was to purchase a big wood topped workbench which would have cost around $300. Instead I assembled the shelving unit as a workbench (it’s designed to be either) for only $64.

For less than a quarter of the budgeted cost, it’s perfect.

Garage - Progress

I now have space for wood scraps, tools, paint, gardening supplies and everything has a home. Meaning it actually looks clean most of the time.

Garage - Progress

I still have plans to install shelving above the workbench for additional storage and perhaps some pegboard on another wall for even more storage.

Garage - Progress

It feels like a legit workshop now, instead of a messy garage. I even find myself down here more often on weekends coming up with new projects.

Garage - Progress

What projects have you been working on?

Eco Challenge – Join A CSA

Bad news…I don’t have a grocery update for you today. With the unexpected work stress over the past 2 weeks, I didn’t get to the store so I’ve been eating what I had in the house or going out. There have been so many days when I just don’t have the energy to cook. It’s definitely out of the norm for me to eat out so often, but for the sake of my sanity it’s been necessary lately.

Good News…I joined a CSA!


I have been wanting to join a CSA for years, but the one I wanted to join had a very limited route in my area so it wasn’t practical for me. However, in my new area they deliver to a nearby Farmers Market, so I signed up this week and begin picking up my Fruits/Veggies this weekend. I signed up to receive the Regular size box every 2 weeks and I’m on a trial membership so I can see how that size works out. They also offer a smaller box just in case the Regular is too much food.

Each week they post the box contents so I already know what I’m getting this week and I’m excited!

Regular Size: Lettuce, Bunching Onions, Sorrel, Spinach, Radishes, Swiss Chard, Cabbage, Tomatoes, Lemons, Apples, Strawberries

There are a few things in there that I’ve never tried before, like Sorrel and Swiss Chard. What is Sorrel?

The CSA I decided to sign up for is JR Organics which  Certified Organic Vegetable Farm and has been in business since 1959 (Organic since 1986). It was also a plus that they are located right near my family, less than an hour from my house. It nice to know that the food won’t travel far. In addition to the Fruits/Veggies, this CSA also has flower shares you can buy so I’ll also receive a bouquet of flowers with each food box.


I’ll give you a peak at the actual box/flowers once I get it, but if you’re in the Southern California area you may want to check them out. I’m not sure they hit LA, but they do set up at farmers markets all over Sand Diego and even into Orange County.

If you want to find a CSA near you, check out the Local Harvest website for resources.


For anyone wondering, I plan to adjust my weekly food budget to account for the weekly cost of the CSA. It cost about $20 a week so I plan to reduce the rest of my budge down to $20 a week. I’m at least going to try and see how it works out. More on that in the coming weeks.

New Potting Bench

This is one of those projects that I’ve been not so patiently waiting to show you. I wanted to wait until I had it in the backyard and I needed some help carrying it out of the garage. Sucker was heavy! Before I show you the finished product, let’s take a look at the before.

Backyard Before

For someone who actually likes gardening, a concrete backyard is an annoying challenge. Everywhere you turn, it’s the same thing. I’ve been slowly changing things over the past 2 years (like planting grass on concrete) and it was time to finally address the messy area between the AC and the French doors. The pup loved that pool 2 years ago, but it’s just too small and I let it fall apart. So it was time to get Bubba’s dilapidated kiddie pool out of the yard and replaced with something useful.

I was seriously inspired by this post by Thrifty Decor Chick and ended up recruiting my own dad to help me build one as well. It ended up being a great learning opportunity since it was my first chance to use some new tools. Using her finished product as inspiration, we headed to Lowes and picked up some cheap boards. I didn’t go with cedar since I had plans to stain it so I picked the cheapest wood they had to save costs.

In one afternoon we had cut and assembled the entire thing. It was great to have some extra hands, but this is a project that someone could do on their own, it would just take more time. However, the finished product is very heavy so either build it in place or recruit some help when you want to move it.

Pretty Awesome, right!

Potting Bench

I used a Waterproofing Solid Color Wood Stain by Behr, sold by Home Depot, to finish and protect it from the elements. Chances are, I’ll have to redo the top every few years, but for the price, it’s awesome.

I didn’t take any picture of the building process because we did it in the garage and the lighting was terrible, but it’s very simple construction. After everything was built, I used wood filler to fill all the holes and sanded lightly. Two coats of solid color stain covered everything and then I let it cure for a few days. I have plans to stack all the pots you see in the before picture on the bottom shelf and add some hooks to the side to hold gardening tools.

Potting Bench

The great thing is that it can double as a dining table with a few barstools during the summer months. I can’t wait to break it in with a BBQ soon.

Potting Bench

I made the whole piece deeper than most (about 36 inches) so I could have a place along the back for smaller plants and decor.In fact I have a few more DIY posts coming up in a few weeks about that lantern and utensil holder. It’s too much fun to take traditional items and use them for something new, I can’t wait to show you the details.

Lantern & Decor

Unfortunately I lost a few of the receipts for I don’t have the exact cost, but I know the finished product was less than $150. Pretty damn good for such a substantial piece and I think it really looks great in the yard.

*The sun lasted a whole 24 hours before the sky opened up and poured all over the new bench on Sunday. I was a little worried about how it would hold up to the first rain but it still looks brand new!

DIY: Chalkboard Mug

When I created the Chalkboard Thermostat Frame I had to purchase a quart of chalkboard paint since I wasn’t able to locate the spray version. Since then, I’ve been imagining everything doused in chalkboard paint. This project didn’t take much so I still have an entire can and I’m tempted to do something big with it. Maybe a chalkboard wall? But where…hmmm…

This time I took a classic white porcelain mug gave it a little facelift. I’m so pleased with how they turned out I might just make a few more.Chalkboard Mug

I found some big, heavy mugs for about $4 each at Homegoods. I wanted something that was heavy since I plan to use these to hold art supplies on my desk, not delicate cups of tea.

Chalkboard Mug

Something to keep in mind: These will not be microwave or dishwasher safe since the paint will not be baked on. They do make a porcelain chalkboard paint which you can bake in the oven and I would recommend that route if you want this to hold up to heavy use. Using traditional chalkboard paint on a porcelain object means it will easily scratch/chip. This was okay for me since I knew that in advance.

After washing the mug I taped off the top with painters tape. Since the mug is curved I couldn’t wrap the tape in a single piece, it would bubble. So I used this technique and used small pieces to get a flat edge. Before placing the tape, I measured out a straight line using a fabric tape measure and a sharpie (see the dots!).

Chalkboard Mug

Next I applied several very thin coats of paint and let them dry completely.

Chalkboard Mug

After it was fully dry I rubbed chalk all over in order to treat the surface. Again, I don’t plan on washing this regularly so I took this extra step. Just rub all over with the side of a piece of chalk then wipe away with a clean rag.

Chalkboard Mug


Chalkboard Mug

Project Cost Breakdown (per mug):

Mug (HomeGoods) = $4

Tape/Sharpie/Fabric Tape Measure/Paint Brush (Already Owned) = $0

Chalkboard Paint/Chalk (Already Owned) = $0

Total Project Cost: $4

Weekly Eats & Grocery Budget

I meant to have this up earlier today, but lost track of time.  I can’t seem to break out of this funk lately and I don’t like it one bit. So I’m going to keep it short and sweet tonight.

My last grocery trip was pretty decent, lots of veggies this week. I even scored some (usually super expensive) POM juice for a decent deal.

Weekly Budget: $39.11 (adjusted down from $40 due to small overage from last week)

Total Spent: $38.64

Total I would have spent without coupons: $68.39 (this weeks savings: $29.75)

Groceries [3/10]


Vons: $10.48

Strawberries (2 lbs)
Bear Creek Soup (2)
Raisin Bran (1)

Albertsons: $10.25

Carrots (5lb)
Eat Smart Broccoli (2 bags)
POM (16 oz) (2)
Bolthouse Mocha (1)

Fresh & Easy: $17.91

Ground Turkey (1 lb)
Sliced White Cheddar (1)
Sliced Sharp Cheddar (1)
Shredded Parmesan Cheese (1)
Chili Beans (1 can)
Tomato Sauce (1 can)
Yellow Onions (6 onions)
Spinach (1 bag)
Imperial Stick butter (1)
Pears (9)
Black Beans (2 cans)


I wasn’t great about taking pictures of my food this week, my camera never seemed to be around when I was eating. However, here are a few that I did happen to capture.

Balsamic Pork Loin & Quinoa Spinach Salad

with Walnuts and Feta

Balsamic Pork & Quinoa Salad

Fresh Strawberries & Homemade Raw Brownie Batter

Strawberries & Brownie Batter

Chicken Wrap with White Cheddar & Balsamic Syrup

Chicken Wrap w/ Balsamic and White Cheddar

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies


Earlier this week I was hinting about some big news but I wanted to wait a bit longer to ensure that it was all official before I said anything. Now that everything is done and paid for I think I can finally share.



I graduated from another UC college in 2004, but I didn’t enjoy the experience and while I have a degree it’s pretty general. I’ve always wanted to go back, but it never seems to be the right time and I struggled with what to study. I’ve always loved writing and design (interior/graphic) but my logic brain always told me not to do it, making a living would be too hard. Thing is, it’s a passion I always dreamed about; and, this journey is about starting over, living the life I’ve always imagined. I started taking classes at a local community college when I was living in Orange County, but couldn’t continue them once I moved because the classes weren’t offered near my new home. However, UCLA offers extensive online classes through their continuing education program which is perfect for me. It’s cheaper than standard tuition, I can do most of my classes online, and then down the line attend a few in person if necessary (it’s not too far). They also offer a design certification that I may pursue in the future.

So next month I’ll be starting classes to obtain my Creative Writing Certificate with an Emphasis in Fiction from UCLA.


I am beyond excited about going back to class again, and not only because it justifies a shopping spree at Office Depot. Although I am pretty excited about that since I have some sort of stationary addiction.

To be completely honest, I’ve been keeping a little secret from the blog that is a bit of a downer. I was desperately hoping to be laid off recently and was more than upset when it didn’t happen. I’m aware that this sounds odd, but it’s the truth. I can’t afford to quit right now, but the severance would have given me the buffer I needed to get out of a job that has made me very unhappy for 5 years. The new project at work is a nightmare and I’m incredibly miserable. I spend everyday in tears, have had several anxiety attacks, severe headaches, and I dread going to bed each night because as soon as I wake up I have to start all over again the next day. While it has a few perks (i.e telecommuting, decent pay), this job has been the catalyst for everything bad in the past 5 years (including the weight gain, eating disorder, solitude, sadness, and guilt over hating my job but constantly watching others be laid off when I wanted out) and it’s getting worse. I don’t talk about any of this with really anyone because everyone is fighting their own battles, many (at work) like to use me in which to vent without reciprocating, and I get tired of well intentioned people telling me how great this ‘new challenge’ is for me. So I end up wallowing in the pain alone and it’s eating away at me. No one should ever be this miserable on a daily basis and I can see the nervous breakdown closing in around me.

I’m not a fan of those that complain about how terrible things are but take no action to fix it. Starting school again is a way for me to get out. It’s a way that I can take action and somehow take back the control which my job has stripped from me. Hopefully I can find some other options to bring in some money over the next few months which will give me the opportunity to quit because I’m not sure I can handle this much longer. I don’t know if this means that ads will begin appearing on the site, though it is an option that I will be considering to help pad the piggy bank. I do plan to keep up with the blog regardless of what’s going on because it’s an outlet for me and I truly enjoy it. It’s a place away from the misery of daily life where I can be me (I promise to keep the downer posts to a minimum).

In fact, I have a few fun projects that will be up in the coming weeks. I’ve built a potting bench for the backyard and made some progress on the garden. I’ve also found a cheap alternative for a workbench in the garage and it’s been installed. If it hadn’t been raining this weekend I would have the posts ready sooner, but the potting bench finish needs to fully cure for several days before handling rain and it’s in the garage blocking the workbench. I also plan on finishing the Eco Challenge, though it may spill into April since I’ve missed a few days here and there.

It’s all a step in the right direction. Aside from the depressing turn to this post, I’m extremely excited about school and can’t wait to start in a few weeks.

Recipe: Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies

It’s no secret I have a sweet tooth and in my recent work misery the cravings have been intense. Lately I haven’t been buying many sweets during my weekly grocery trips so I had no chocolate chips, baking chocolate, M&Ms, or anything else that could reasonably pass as an add in for Chocolate Chip Cookies. After a very VERY long time staring in my pantry I decided to go with Peanut Butter Cookies.

If you know me well this will come as a shock because I don’t like Peanut Butter in my chocolate (or my cookies). Actually I don’t like peanuts in my deserts at all. I am still the kid who will easily turn down a Snickers or a Reese’s. Ick. 

But these are a  classic that my mom made growing up so this is the only PB cookie I will eat. To give it a cocoa hit I used a Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter instead of the regular stuff. It gave them a slight cocoa flavor which was perfect. 

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies


Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies

Adapted from Betty Crocker

Makes: about 2 dozen

1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar

1/2 Cup Packed Brown Sugar

1/2 Cup Dark Chocolate Dreams Peanut Butter

1/2 Cup Butter (1 Stick)

1 large egg

1 1/4 Cup All Purpose Flour

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

Addition Granulated Sugar to roll the cookies in. 


  • Heat oven to 375 degrees.


  • In a large bowl, mix the granulated sugar, brown sugar, peanut butter, butter, and egg until well combined. Stir in the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.


  • Roll the dough into a 1 inch ball then lightly coat the cookie dough ball in the extra granulated sugar and place on a ungreased cookie sheet. To get the crackle top finish, do not flatten the cookie. However, you can use a fork to flatten the cookie which will give you the classic peanut butter cookie design.


  • Bake about 10 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for about 5 minutes. Enjoy!

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies

Eco Challenge – Reuse Newspaper

I recently found a great deal on the Sunday paper ($10 for the year!) so I have it delivered to my home each week. This is my primary way to get a hold of coupons so it’s worth the $.20 per week. Just one coupon makes up for the cost of the paper. I’ve always recycled the paper at the end of the day, but I often wonder what else I could do to use the paper. These are 2 of my favorite ways to use it around the house.


Use newspaper instead of paper towels to clean glass.

It seems completely wrong to clean a window/mirror using newspaper, but it works. It leaves your fingers a mess, but the mirror will be spotless.

 Newspaper for Paper Towels

Turn your paper into seedling pots.

Newspaper Seedlings

First up, cut your newspaper into strips, about 3.5” by 10”.

Newspaper Strips

Using a PotMaker, wrap the paper around the press.

Creating Newspaper Pots

Creating Newspaper Pots

Place the press into the base and spin. It helps if you bend the bottom in before pressing into the base, fold it like the you would wrap the end of a box with gift wrap. The base will do the rest of the work.

Creating Newspaper Pots

Creating Newspaper Pots

Remove from the press and admire your little newspaper pot.

Creating Newspaper Pots

I use a baking pan that I picked up on clearance at HomeGoods to hold all the pots. It makes it easy to keep them all in one place, they are easy to move around, and I don’t have to worry about making a mess when I water them. I use a spray bottle to water the plants as I don’t need a lot of water to keep them alive. 

Creating Newspaper Pots

Creating Newspaper Pots

Fill with dirt and seeds. A few weeks later you’ll have little seedlings and you can then transplant the entire newspaper pot into your garden.

Newspaper Seedlings

Newspaper Seedlings