Friday, November 16, 2012

Wind in My Hair -- FUN and Fashion!

November 16, 2012

by Heather

One of the most fun things I do is ride my motorcycle.  And when I can combine that with shopping, fashion, and/or partying with friends, I'm completely content.  That's a picture of friends Paul and Audrey with us at the annual HOG (Harley Owners Group) rally last June in Williams, AZ.  They and their friends really know how to pack -- wine, of course, but also a blender to make margaritas!  They inspire me.

Motorcycles have been a part of my life since I got married.  Tom and I used our wedding money to buy two road-and-dirt bikes (much to the dismay of our parents). Bikes remained a part of our lives until we moved to AZ in the mid-80s.  The dry spell of "no bikes" lasted until the summer I turned 50. I was only going to be happy about that significant event if I was riding my own Harley. A mid-life crisis? For sure!  Tom tried to circumvent that by bringing home a little Honda 250 which I rode around the neighborhood for a couple of weeks to get my skills back.  Then off I went to Team AZ which offers a 3-day course in both classroom and riding know-how.  At the end of the course, everyone takes a written test and a riding test, which, if passed, gives you the go-ahead to get a motorcycle endorsement on your driver's license.  I figured I'd do well on the written test (I'm in education -- we know how to study), but I was leery about the riding portion.  I was with a group of men who were obviously more experienced and I was feeling inadequate.  Sometimes a little trepidation helps -- we were all surprised when I had the best score!  I'd recommend this type of course to anyone starting out, and now they offer all-women classes, too.

So I was ready to start shopping for my first Harley (much to Tom's dismay).  I found a shiny, new, black Harley Dyna Low-Rider -- one on which I could reach the ground (I'm short).  It looked BAD!  Tom rode it for a month while I practiced in the local elementary school parking lot.  On my 50th birthday, I took it out on the road for the first time, while Tom chased me on the little Honda.  He got  his own Harley shortly thereafter, and thus started a decade+ of having fun being asphalt cowboys/weekend warriors!  We've met the best people while riding, and people who have become close friends and part of our family.  If you ever watch riders, you'll see them signal to other riders on the road with a wave -- we're all part of the same family of people who love wind in their hair and bugs in their teeth!

This past Sunday offered a chance to combine riding with shopping and, of course, I was ready to go.  Fountain Hills was having one of their semiannual art and craft fairs and the winding ride from our home through Rio Verde to the fair is one of my favorites.

You may notice this isn't a Dyna Low-Rider.  This is a Harley Softail Deluxe and it was a birthday surprise several years ago from my dear hubby. Major husband points on this one!  He rides a Harley Electra Glide, but wants to add a side car.  Something like this, honey?

Sunday was sunny but cold (cold by our desert standards -- highs only in the  60s) so I needed to add several layers for riding comfort.

Leather chaps add a much-needed layer of protection against the elements and also protection against road-rash when you go down.  Notice I said "when" and not "if" you go down -- it will happen at some point if you ride and you need to be wearing as much leather as possible, the appropriate riding boots, and a DOT-approved helmet.  We're in a state that doesn't mandate helmets, but most of our "gang" routinely wear them.  We've had two accidents in the last couple of years within our group that were single vehicle accidents at low speeds, and both gentlemen might have died had they been without their helmets. Enough said.

Fountain Hills is famous for their water fountain in the man-made lake which provided a nice backdrop to the fair.  Shopping and eating was on our agenda so after the first stop to re-fuel (gourmet baked potato with assorted sea salts - chipotle, balsamic vinegar, and rosemary garlic - for me), we made our way through the vendors.

Thomas Tucker ( designed the beautiful orange spiny oyster and sterling silver bracelet I'm trying on -- he really does a fabulous job of handcrafting silver jewelry using shells, beach pebbles, sea glass, and other found objects.

And look who I ran into at the fair -- only the most famous (or infamous?) sheriff in America, Maricopa's own Sheriff Joe Arpaio.  He said that I looked more like a sheriff than he did -- maybe that's my next job.

Okay, now to the really important part of riding;  the fashion possibilities.  Most Harley riders favor black leather and blue denim, but there is room for experimentation.  I prefer to wear all-things Harley and, if possible, items that coordinate with my bike.  I'm such a girl!  The guys did have to get used to my white leather jacket (I think my brother still hates it), but it really looks good with the bike.  This Sunday I went with all black Harley leathers with just a touch of bling on the jacket and matching chaps, and a black, grey and white T with letterman-style matching hoodie.  The necklace, earrings, and bracelet are all HD.  I'm HD even down to the white and black warm socks under my HD boots and the grey and black zebra-striped scarf.  I always have a cowboy hat (from Diva Amy who's become a friend -- check out her website "") along for the ride, stowed in my saddlebags, which is handy to cover up the helmet hair.  The black and white sunglasses are Chanel and the white watch is a ceramic Michael Kors -- but aren't they a good match to the bike??

Perhaps the best thing about riding is that is gives me the chance to connect with my siblings (we all ride) and especially with my older brother, who also lives in the Valley of the Sun.  We meet for coffee in Cave Creek most Saturdays, and sometimes we're lucky enough to have the kids and grandkids join us.

Wave if you pass by, and keep the rubber side down!


Thursday, November 15, 2012

A New Gate… or One Thing Leads to Another

November 15, 2012

By Sheila

We live in what is called a “Walled Villa” in the warm desert of the southwestern United States.   The best way I can think of to describe it is a single family home within a large courtyard.  We have virtually no front yard whatsoever.  This is unusual even where we live.  We like the privacy and security it provides, as well as the ability to really use all of our outdoor space, as it is completely enclosed within our walls. 

My most recent project outside has been a pretty dramatic change to our entry. This all started, as these things often do, with a completely unrelated issue; my husband got a new car.  The problem is that we park in our enclosed carport, and the “old” entry was in the carport.  The new car is wider and we were not getting narrower, and so the shuffle to get past the cars was annoying.  So I decided to move the entry.  And if I am going to do that I will need a new walkway, and so the outdoor fountain will need to find a new home, and so on, and so on.  These things are never as simple as they first appear, are they?

The challenge in this project is creating some kind of curb appeal on a 20 foot span of seven foot tall block wall.  Sounds a little like being incarcerated, doesn’t it?  I started searching for the look I wanted for our new gate entry everywhere. I took photos of gates while on vacation, flipped through lots of magazines and design books, and searched photos on the internet.  My first step was to find or create a gate for the new entry.  After some scavenging, I found what I was looking for at my local salvage yard - an eight foot tall solid wood door with an arched top.  I love this place (Stardust Building Supply) and it is on my regular circuit.  I stop in several times a month, just in case they have something really cool I could use.  They know me and usually give me extra discounts, which I really like!  I then rebuilt the 2 foot stacked block walls for the raised beds inside the wall and transplanted the plants that I could salvage from the beds.  I rearrange plants like some people rearrange furniture.

Although I am a pretty avid DIY’er, 7 foot block walls with arched gate openings are not at all something I would consider doing, so after several bids from folks I found on Craig’s List, I explained my design and selected my crew to do the changes.  They had to wall up my old entry, cut a hole in the block for the new entry and stabilize it, and add an arched top to follow the lines of my new gate.  In addition, they laid a new paver walkway and get ready for this … new artificial turf.  I know, I am a gardener, blah, blah, blah.  Well, the thing is, we live in an environment where water is limited and expensive.  I wanted the look and feel of green without the maintenance and high water usage, so there you have it. These products are pretty impressive and I am pleased with it.  You judge for yourself.

The last phase was to finish up the exterior wall with a little curb appeal.  We moved cement planters into place on either side of the door, and in went ficus trees.  I then painted an old bench and a large birdbath planter and moved them into place.  White geraniums will be pretty planted in the red birdbath for the winter.  A small bale of hay and a few pumpkins will make it feel like fall until the temperature starts to reflect that.  Am I ever glad it was time for a new car!



Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Clear Your Closet

November 14, 2012

by Sheila

It’s that time of year when the weather turns cooler, a sure sign that it’s time to swap out your summer and winter clothes.  Since we live in the low desert, we really only have 2 wardrobe seasons; summer (April to October) and winter (November through March).  I always look forward to clearing out my closet.  I am so ready for a change!  Recently I had lunch with friends and we were lamenting about how sick we are of our summer clothes, but how it’s still too hot to wear sweaters. We love the desert, and winter here is really great, but even die-hards like us need a break from 90+ degrees.  You’ve heard it’s a dry heat?

I digress.  I also like to clear out just to get rid of things. This feels very freeing to me.  I don’t have a large closet to start with, and my rule is that all current season clothes have to fit “comfortably” in that space.  By that I mean, not stuffed in so close that I can’t slide the hangars, nor jammed so tight on shelves that I can’t pull things out without causing an avalanche. You get the picture.  When I am getting rid of things I make several piles;”trash” (the completely worn out sneakers), “donate” (has life left in it, but not amazing), and “swap” (good stuff I am just tired of, never looked right, doesn’t fit…) Heather hosted our first ever swap party where we all brought clothes, accessories, and household cool stuff and had a free for all shopping through all the goodies.  Very fun, but more about this later.  One of the things I do when I hang out the new season, is turn all of the hangars backwards on the rod.  Then, once I wear an item, the hangars get turned the other way, and I know for sure I really wore that item this season.  In looking through my closet this morning, I had a number of things I hadn’t worn, and I am ruthless about getting rid of them. 

This is also a good time to think about what I want to add to my wardrobe this year.  I am making a list (a real, written down in my I-pad list) of things I want. This does help keep me focused when I am shopping. On that list right now are a black cashmere v-neck sweater, a pair of skinny jeans, and a longer tunic type sweater to go with said jeans. That is not to say that I am not open to the occasional splurge on something completely off the charts (my black sweater cape that I got in Vegas last year with my Mom), but it helps keep me from buying really random things that just hang in my closet.  I will then shop all levels of stores for what I am looking for; thrift, consignment, department, and boutiques. 

This all relates to my goals of getting good value for my money, being attractively and appropriately dressed, and doing it with ease. I travel a lot and like separates that mix well, layer for changes in weather and style, and pack easily.  My style could be described as casual classic, but with a twist.  I like to know what the trends are (my skinny jeans), but am pretty selective about including them in my closet. I will admit to wearing a self-described “uniform” of jeans and a black tank or sweater. Is this where I should confess how many black tops I have? While this is definitely my standard comfort zone, I do make an effort to branch out with accessories, a few different colors (is grey really just light black?), and sweaters, but don’t try to part me from my jeans!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Fall Pumpkin Dip - Delicious and Easy!

November 13, 2012

by Ann

Pumpkins in all forms are a sure sign that it’s fall. Whether they are the fresh versions showing up at grocery stores and produce stands, festivals in the squash’s honor at nearby farms, or jack-o-lanterns in department and craft stores. Come to think of it, maybe that last example doesn’t count since it seems like the Halloween decorating gets started mid-summer any more. Regardless – the emergence of pumpkins is a good sign – the hot weather is or soon will be over and the holidays are right around the corner.
The recipe that I am sharing with you today is VERY simple, but VERY tasty. It’s a dip that can be served with apples, or better yet, thin ginger snaps. When I was introduced to it, the folks at Cost Plus World Market were demonstrating it with the Nyakers, the most amazing ginger snaps that I have never found anywhere else (although certainly there are close seconds to be found that would work as easily as your “dippers”).

Fall Pumpkin Marshmallow Dip
½ c pure canned pumpkin
½ c marshmallow cream
4 oz cream cheese, softened
½ t cinnamon
¼ t nutmeg
1/8 t ground cloves
Using an electric mixer, beat all ingredients together until smooth.
Cover and store in refrigerator until ready to serve.
Serve with gingersnaps (Nyaker’s are perfect!) and apple slices
I hope that you enjoy this as much as I do – it’s a guaranteed hit for any pumpkin lover!

This is the top of the can of the spring version of Nyaker ginger snaps available at Cost Plus. The winter version is a bigger container (yeah! more cookies!). One additional thing I love about these cookies is that a serving is considered 6 cookies, and one serving only has 120 calories!!!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Fashion Inspiration

November 12, 2012
by Heather

Where do you get your fashion inspiration?

I have a friend who wakes up every morning, grabs a clean pair of jeans and whatever top is closest at hand, and she's done.  I envy that...but I also enjoy spending the time to put together an outfit complete with accessories.  Sometimes I can find inspiration by just playing within my closet and trying out new ideas.  Sometimes the inspiration comes from fashion magazines, sometimes from what I see on the street or in the stores, and sometimes it comes from adding a new "must have" item to my clothing inventory.

My outfit inspiration today came from a new pair of shoes.  The interesting tidbit is that I did not buy these shoes myself.  I have a husband who never buys me clothes or fashion accessories unless it's from Victoria's Secret online (can't decide if that's because the passion is still alive in our 40+ year marriage or he just likes looking at the pretty models in their underwear ... whatever, I end up with lovely lingerie) and from Sperry (the people who make the Topsider deck shoe).  He was the one who spotted these shoes (the grey wool and cordovan leather heels below) online and showed them to me.  The other shoes pictured are also from Sperry courtesy of my loving husband.

Anyway,  I liked those heels as much as he did, but the price was beyond what I would normally spend for an everyday shoe (a whole blog post could be devoted to those maximum price points in our heads) so I decided against buying them.  Surprise, surprise when the shoes showed up on our doorstep several days later.  Gotta love that guy.

So now that I had new shoes, I needed to put together an outfit for them.  At some point, I will hit the shops in search of just the right pieces, but in the meantime, I surveyed my wardrobe for some items that might work with these interesting shoes.  Here is what I came up with:

Shoes: Sperry, grey cape-sweater: Nordstrom, grey pants: Loft, tan and grey plaid blouse: Ralph Lauren, purse: Ralph Lauren, watch: Michael Kors, hat: Nordstrom, wood and gold bangles: Ralph Lauren, set of 3 brown and gold rings: Michael Kors

I also have to tell you that the hubby was extremely disappointed that the photo shoot would not include the Victoria's Secret purchases.  Gotta love that he lives in that fantasy land.

With what would you pair those shoes?  And from where does your fashion inspiration come?