Monday, February 29, 2016

February chic list

Well, hello there guys! How have you been lately?

Please, excuse the radio silence around here lately, but my latest home renovation project, and the workweek that followed, have taken their toll on my morale, and I just needed to get away from it all. And by getting away, I mean literally packing my suitcase, clocking off early on Thursday and escaping to my home away from home, aka my favorite spa. I booked my weekend there on a whim (however, I've been talking about doing just that for weeks on end, so the time has come to quit talking, and start doing). It was also the first time I went on a wellness weekend all by myself, and it was the single best thing I could have done for myself. I'll be talking more about my quick séjour, and the lessons I learned there later this week, but today, I'm here with one of my favorite series  (if not the most favorite): the list of things that made me happy this past month. Beware, this month it has been all about quality, rather than quantity. I was:

Eating one of the best lunches of my entire life. Seriously, guys, it was epic. While in spa, I ventured into one of the new restaurants there, and quickly found myself in a culinary heaven. The homemade profiteroles with a selection of patés were followed by the single best marinated and grilled magret de canard I've ever tasted. It was accompanied by the red cabbage and cinnamon purée, which may sound quite unusual, but it was a really harmonious experience for my tastebuds. I topped it off with the coffee & Baileys panna cotta, that can be only described only as pure heaven. I mean, my mouth is literally salivating while I'm typing this, so you get the picture. It should also be noted that I was too busy enjoying this unique experience to even think about pulling out my phone and instagramming the whole thing. That really says a lot!

Listening to Robin Schulz's Show me love. I can't even explain this to myself: this is kind of unusual since electronic music and various DJ's du jour aren't usually my jam. But without overanalyzing it, this song has something that really speaks to me right now, and it's been on repeat pretty much non-stop (and it's the song currently waking me up in the morning!)

Reading The monk who sold his Ferrari by Robin Sharma. When I go on vacations, I usually take a whole slew of books and magazines with me (I like to have my options). But craving the simplicity and wanting to avoid the fuss that comes with picking out too many reads, this was the only book that I took with me to the spa. And boy, was it the perfect read for my current state of mind! I practically didn't emerge from this book for three days, as I was furiously highlighting passages that spoke to my heart and soul (the books is practically pink now :), and taking notes in my bullet journal - I want to have that wisdom with me at all times, so I can reread the most important lessons learned whenever I'm in a slump (which has been happening to me way too often lately). Would you be interested in me doing a more in-depth book review?

Enjoying a well-deserved "me" time. Do you ever feel like you're constantly giving your time, your efforts and your attention to everyone around you? I know I do - whether it's clients at work, my parents or friends...everyone deserves their fair share of my time and presence, but in the midst of it all, I can sometimes forget that even I deserve the same thing: I deserve the gift of my time and my full attention. It may sound selfish, but I've recently learned the hard way, that spending all my waking hours taking care and worrying about my loved ones takes a huge toll on my own mental well-being. Because if I give all my energy away, I have nothing left but exhaustion that ultimately leads to me being restless and snappy (I've lost my temper more often in the past three weeks than I have in the previous six months. I don't like that. At all). I'm writing it all here to remind myself (and maybe you, too, if you need it), that taking time to shut down the phone, not to answer the constant messages and emails, and just be and think quietly is the best gift I can give myself.

What were the highlight of your February? Any valuable lessons you have learned? And how do you keep yourself sane in the midst of the everyday "busy"? Please, do share!

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Weekend notes #37

Real talk moment: this is why I've been MIA for the past few days, guys.

Please excuse the poor quality: I don't think there's a filter that could make this photo look good. And yes, that's how my living room looked for the past few days. 

You know how they say that renovating an apartment is a never ending thing? Well, that's absolutely true, and then some. Installing the floor moldings was the last huge project on my list, and after failing at finding the contractors to do it for me, my dad and I decided to do it all by ourselves - despite the complete lack of experience in the domain. 

My apartment went from presentable to the state of "post-atomic explosion" again (I don't think I can take much more of that anymore), and we've spent the past two days measuring, cutting, glueing and hammering the wretched things to my walls & floors. My lower back is pretty angry with me right now, and I'm not even talking about my neighbors - I'm not sure they're going to say hello to me next time I bump into them :) But it's finally done, and all I have to do now is clean up that monstrous mess. No big deal, right? 

My point here, guys, is that no matter how messy and complicated things seem, there's always a solution around the corner. And we're all capable of much much more than we think! And if there's one lesson I've learned from my dad, it's that we should always strive to do the best work possible, no matter what. I'm so grateful that I have a dad I can rely on, and learn from on a daily basis. And I'm so grateful that this huge project is finally crossed off my list. I'm not glad, however, that I'll probably spend the next few days dusting off any available surface. Bleh.

Now I'm going to pour myself another cup of coffee, and bust my vacuum cleaner out. And I'm hoping I'll be able to get back to regular programming real soon. Happy Sunday! xo

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Apartment renovation: Before

This was the moment I felt the proudest: when I was finally holding keys to my first own apartment.

Note: All these pictures were taken with my old iPhone 5S. Excuse the poor quality. Although I don't think fault is entirely on that poor phone. The apartment before renovation looked so terrible, that not even a fancy DSLR could have made it look better!

As I promised on Monday, I'm here today with the before pictures of my apartment. Remember when I told you in that same post that when buying an old apartment (or house), you should forget the outside aspects, and focus on the bones? Well, I'm about to show you why. If I was judging the book by its cover, I would never have bought this apartment in the first place. It was as far removed from being move-in ready as possible. Creaky wooden floors, stained and worn out carpets, outdated and dusty light fixtures, sickly yellow walls, kitchen cabinets falling to pieces and the scariest bathroom I had ever laid my eyes on: this place had it all. Oh, and let's not forget the wasp nest in the kitchen pantry. That was a "lovely" added bonus. 

There was SO much to do before this place could become livable. But that didn't scare me off. I had my contractors lined up before I even received the title deed, and I knew that with their help I could turn this drab den into something fabulous and completely "me". But I also knew that before it could get better, it had to get a lot worse. And that's what I'm going to show you in my next post.

But for now, let me take you on a virtual tour of my apartment, from before the hammers and drills got involved. Ready?

Living room. Apart from the original hardwood floors, there was hardly anything to write home about. That fancy chandelier, maybe? Or the fact, that this room alone had three doors leading to and from it? That was completely beyond my understanding.

I knew from the get-go what I wanted to do with this space: brick in doors leading to the kitchen and bedroom, in order to get more wall space for the furniture, remove the old heating system and paint the walls bright white to optically enlarge the whole space.

Kitchen. Ehm. It looked pretty terrible in its original state: worn-down lino, cabinets in various states of decline, and a pantry that was installed somewhere around 1950s. But based on my three non-negotiables, the room itself was one of the things that sold me on this place: With its 14 square meters, it was by far the largest kitchen I'd seen in the apartments I had visited during my search, and I knew that it could house my kitchen unit, as well as the dining table for 6-8 people. And that was really big to me. I knew that once this ugliness was gone, I could get creative designing my dream kitchen. 

Entryway. Not much to look at in here, except that I realized that I'd never taken a picture of the second ginormous pantry that was sitting right behind that corner. I've never seen that much dust before. When I was peeking into it, I kept waiting for a bat, or a bunch of tipsy mouses to come out to play.

I was planning to use this huge space to strip down the lino, paint the walls white, and have a new, big pantry / closet installed there. 

Bedroom. This was probably the least terrible looking room of them all. But only because it was completely empty: no prehistoric heaters in here, no fancy paint jobs, no wooden monsters of a closet. Still, those sickly yellow walls... *shudder* I originally wanted to keep the wooden floors, but they were too creaky, and they were also hiding one very dark and disgusting secret (I'll show you next, promise), so they had to go.

What I wanted to do here was brick in the door that lead from the bedroom to the living room, and make a new one, leading from the entryway to the bedroom - so that each piece in my apartment would have its own, separate entrance. I also wanted to have one wall covered with floor-to-ceiling closet. I also wanted a big, comfortable and pretty bed, and a commode for added storage space.

Aaaand...drumroll please, now onto the worst of the worst. Please say hello, to my former bathroom. I'm not even sure I can call it that way.

Yup. I bought this. In my own free will. No one coerced me. It's hard to believe, I know. Looking at these pictures, I can hardly believe it myself.

But I had some big plans for this relatively tiny space. I wanted to fit the heating system, a washing machine, and a tiny beauty cabinet in there, while also having a bathtub - I didn't want to switch to shower only, since I love my bubble baths so much. And I can't wait to show you the results in one of my upcoming posts.

Well, what do you think, guys? Would you buy this thing, given a chance? Do you think you've seen the worst? Just you wait :) I'll be back with more, I promise :) Have a lovely Wednesday!

Monday, February 15, 2016

Lessons learned in my apartment hunting

Guys, the day has finally come. After much thinking and debating (and worrying, obviously), I've finally decided to pull the trigger and share my apartment hunting and renovating story with you. It's not because I feel ready to do it - I probably never will. Anyone who ever renovated and decorated an apartment would tell you this: it's never really done. It never feels finished and it most certainly never feels "perfect". It takes a long time - unless you're a top-earning blogger who gets most of her furniture and appliances for free - which I'm not. It's been more than a year since I crossed the threshold of what would become chez moi for the first time, and I can still see at least 50 things that need to be taken care of or completed. And that's fine with me. Like everything truly meaningful in life, it's work in progress.

That doesn't mean that I'm not nervous about sharing the whole process with you: after all, putting your work out there for the world to see can be pretty nerve-wracking (#keepingitreal). But as I was reflecting upon the past year, I realized that I'd learned so many valuable lessons in the process, and it would be a shame not to pass them on. If this post could help only one person in her/his search for the right place to live, it would be well worth it.

Before I dive smack into the list of lessons learned, I would love to clarify my situation, since I don't want to mislead you in any way. First of all, I didn't get a mortgage - I paid for my apartment cash. I did it with a major help from my parents for which I'll never be really able to thank them enough. This doesn't mean that I'm debt-free. It means that I'm repaying my parents instead of a bank. It also means that I don't have the crazy interest rate that goes with a mortgage to deal with: here in Slovakia, having a mortgage usually means that you repay your home over the course of 25-30 years, and incidentally, you pay twice the real value of your abode. Not having to do this is a huge privilege I'm well aware of, and I'll be forever grateful to my parents for their help and support.

The second specific thing is that when it came to buying my first apartment, I absolutely wanted to buy it all by myself - no boyfriend / fiancé involved. I wanted my name to be the only one on the buying end of the contract. This pertains closely to the lessons I learned from my failed engagement a few years ago. At the time, blinded by love and trust, I let myself become financially dependent on my fiancé, and when things came to an end, they ended badly mostly for me. I was the one who had to move out of the apartment we shared, and I was the one who had to rebuild her life and career completely from scratch. I wasn't going to make the same mistake twice. When it comes to my current apartment, there's only one name - mine - on the title deed, and it will forever remain so. No matter what happens next in my life (good or bad), I'll always have this security blanket to fall back onto. And that, to me, is truly priceless.

With these two specifics explained, let's dive right into the thick of my apartment hunting. These are the most important lessons I learned along the way:

one: Do your homework and be prepared. Apartment hunting is not something that can be improvised. You can't really "wing it". It's a huge commitment, both when it comes to time and money, and it deserves to be taken seriously. Once I set my mind on buying my own place (back in 2014), I moved it right on top of my list of priorities. I spent hours scouring the listings available, learning to understand the real estate lingo, calling the real estate agents and scheduling visits, looking at more listings, comparing locations and so on and so forth. I wasn't blogging at the time, so I dedicated my entire afternoons and evenings to researching my local market and to learning what buying and owning a place entailed. This helped me tremendously, because thanks to all the information gathered and stored in my brain, when visiting a potential listing, I was able to look at a place and gauge its price, its potential and whether it could be the right fit for me in mere minutes. I could never stress the importance of preliminary research enough. It may take time and effort, but it will save you so much disappointment and wasted time in the long run! Believe me, you absolutely want to know what you're getting into.

two: Make a list. Coming from the compulsive list maker that I am, this one is not going to surprise you. But in order to find the right place for you, you have to have your priorities straight before you start looking for it. Of course, you also have to be ready to be flexible, but knowing your non-negotiables should be your number one priority. While apartment hunting, I had three non-negotiables:

   1. The neighborhood: My future apartment had to be close both to my parents' apartment and the city center with all the shops and amenities. I didn't have a car at the time, so having everything necessary at walking distance was the most important thing to me. And while I do have a car now, the fact that whatever errand I need to run (post office, butcher's or the grocery store where I know all the salespeople by name) is within five-minute walking radius is one of the hugest perks of living where I do.
   2. Three separate pieces: bedroom, living room AND kitchen. Having a separate kitchen was also huge on my list. I've never been a fan of open plans: merging kitchen and the living space simply doesn't work for me. I wanted to have a big kitchen for all my cooking and baking experiments and that could also house the dining table.
   3. Balcony. This may seem completely random, but having a balcony really was a non-negotiable for me, for a whole slew of reasons.

These were my top three priorities. Of course, there was a whole list of other things I wanted to have in my "dream" apartment, but that weren't the deal-breakers. Some of them I knew I could make happen during the renovation; and some of them I knew I could forgo completely (mostly because I wanted, but didn't really need them). Having my priorities straight prevented me from wasting my time visiting places that didn't match my three cardinal requirements from the get-go. To be completely honest with you, at the beginning of my search, I did actually visit a couple apartments that were in different neighborhoods than my dream one, or that didn't have a balcony, or that had an open plan kitchen. But these visits only reinforced my conviction that my non-negotiables were exactly that: things I would not compromise on. And it absolutely paid off in the long run.

My balcony is nowhere near this pretty right now (we're still in the dead of winter after all), but just wait for summer! 

three: Get help and advice from someone you can trust. This can be your parents, a trusted friend or a family member, or a real estate agent you can rely on. Personally, I didn't work with a realtor - I honestly didn't see the point. I did all the legwork myself: I scoured the listings, called the proprietors and agencies, asked my own questions and formed my own opinions. I spent a lot of time talking with my family and friends about their experiences with apartment hunting and living. And since in the past 10 years I was living in 9 different places, I also had a slew of my own experiences I could refer to.

I wouldn't necessarily advise you to do the same thing: if you feel like the realtor could help you and be useful to you, by all means, go for it. I'm well aware that not everyone can dedicate as much time and effort to searching for the right place as I did: people have demanding jobs and families to take care of, and what I did is not realistic for everyone (and not everyone is the crazy compulsive researcher and note-taker that I am :) If you manage to find a dedicated real estate agent willing to listen to you and to take your needs and wants in consideration, than you hit the jackpot. Do what feels right and doable for you, and if you do want to work with a realtor, don't settle on the first one that crosses your path. Always get a second opinion.

four: Visit as many apartments as you can, but don't judge the book by its cover. Seeing as many apartments as humanly possible played a tremendous part in finding my own perfect place. With a huge help from my dad, I was able to pinpoint a list of things to pay attention to and the questions to ask. In the end, I was able to forget the facade completely, and focus on the bones - that's what I like to call the things that truly matter in an apartment. I'm going to talk about this topic more in depth in my next post, so stay tuned.

five: Good things take time... You have to be patient. If you need to deal with your living situation in a hurry, I would advise you to rent a temporary place for a few months, and focus all your attention on looking for the right place to buy. Purchasing a home is an enormous commitment. It's not something you can change your mind about in 6 months. You have to figure out what you want and need first, before signing the contract or taking that scary huge loan - and that's where the lessons no. 1 and 2 listed above come in handy.

People are usually surprised to learn that it took me almost a year to find and buy my apartment. But that's because I knew exactly what I was looking for, and I was willing to wait for it. Of course, I had experienced many moments of doubt, thinking that I was being too difficult and too picky. There were times when I thought I would never ever find a place that fulfilled all my requirements. And as it goes, I was actually going to chicken out, and put an offer on a different apartment (one that met two of my non-negotiables, but didn't have a balcony). But right when I was about to call the proprietor to set up that last meeting, I stumbled upon the listing for my current place, and the rest is history. And that's where my last important lesson in apartment hunting comes in...  

six: ...but you have to be able to act fast. Listen to you gut. You know how they say that you'll know the right place for you the moment you see it? Well, I never really believed that, but in the end, it worked 1000% for me. I knew this was the right place the moment I entered the door. But it wasn't thanks to some mysterious illumination that came out of nowhere. It was the result of all the things listed above: doing my research, seeing as many options as possible, having my priorities straight and knowing what I wanted from my place and from my neighborhood. Once I had all this figured out, it was just a matter of acting fast.

See, when it comes to real estate, my neighborhood is probably the most competitive one in the entire city. Apartments like mine sell in two or three days. None of them is listed for more than a week. You see it one day and the next - POOF, it is gone. You don't get to take a few days to think it through. If you do, the apartment will most likely be sold before you make your mind. This is where all that thorough research and all the learning comes in handy. It did for me: by the end of the first visit, I was closing the deal. Three days later we were signing the contract. I was wiring the money to the proprietor the next day, and mere three week after the first visit, I was holding the keys to my first own place. It may have been fast, but it was also one of the best decisions of my life.

Whew, this was one word-heavy post. I could probably go on and on about this topic, but I'm going to let you breathe a little bit before revealing the BEFORE pictures on Wednesday. Beware: it's going to be really ugly! Can't wait :)

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Weekend notes & link love #36

How often do you say "I'm fine" without really meaning it? This piece made me think hard, and I realized that I do this way too often. And I think it's something I should reconsider, because as Daryl puts it: "You should feel comfortable talking about the things that matter to you." (via The Everygirl)

When we are constantly hustling and rushing from one task to another, it can be difficult to step back and evaluate what's working and what's not. Erin's tips on making your life healthier and more vibrant made me stop and think for a while about the things I could do to improve my wellbeing. What about you? (via The Glitter Guide)

Are we all addicted to busy? And what can we do about it? This is such an important and thought provoking piece! (via The Everygirl)

For the past two weeks, I've been having so much fun experimenting with my brand new Bullet journal! (read the backstory here) I'm still figuring some things out, but already, having one notebook instead 10+ is proving to be invaluable to my mental health. And since Kara has been the main source of inspiration when it comes to BuJo, I loved reading about the lessons she learned in 6 months of using this system. (via Boho Berry)

As I'm slowly nearing my way to my 30th birthday this year, I'm thinking a lot about all the lessons I've learned in my twenties, the great things that I experienced but also the mistakes that I made. That's why I really loved Meg's list of things she wishes she would have done in her 20s. I fully subscribe to them all! (via Meg Biram)

And a few things you may have missed on The Charming Avenue:

12 healthy habits I want to develop in 2016.

12 books to inspire your best 2016.

My favorite beet recipes to experiment with.

Things I'm currently inspired by.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Currently inspired by #15

Images via: Leelalicious // The Glitter Guide // Waiting on Martha // Cook republic

It's Thursday morning, and after a few nights of insomnia, I'm in a perfect zombie-like state. All I can think of right now is how much I'd love to return to the comfort of my bed and just doze the morning away. Instead, work is begging for my full attention, so I'm using my short coffee break to get lost in the dark hole that is Pinterest, and daydream about all the fabulous and inspiring things I would do, if I didn't have the energy levels of a rheumatic mosquito. Once I get my zzz's in check, I'll definitely be giving that spelt flour bread a whirl! What is currently inspiring you?

Irish soda bread with spelt flour. (via Leelalicious)

DIY floral bath salts. (via The Glitter Guide)

DIY succulent arrangemetns. (via Waiting on Martha)

Spicy cauliflower falafel with beetroot dip. (via Cook republic)

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Books to inspire your best 2016

Before internet and Google rolled around, I used to look up all the answers to my questions in the books. Nowadays, I spend majority of my time online, but that doesn't prevent me from being the biggest bookworm around. Quite the contrary. To me, nothing beats that moment when I settle down on my couch with a good book in my hands. It's one of those rare moments when I'm able to slow down my racing mind, focus on one thing entirely and feel entertained and inspired in the process.

When I was putting together this list of books to inspire my 2016, I kept in mind a few of my priorities for this year: growing this blog, growing and expanding my business and managing my time better. It took me quite some time to do my research and pick the books that seemed right for me, but now that the list is complete, I'm beyond excited to dive in, take copious notes and implement all the lessons learned along the way.

And per usual, I would love to know: do you have any books that influenced positively your life and that you would recommend?

Sophia Amoruso: #Girlboss. This book has been all the rage among bloggers for the past two years, but somehow I never got around to reading it, until now. From a school dropout committing petty theft and taking random jobs for health insurance, Sophia moved on to build the Nasty Gal empire, a company worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Sharing her story and her own nuggets of wisdom gleaned along the way, she demonstrates how you can find your own unique path to success. Even if it's one that's windy and lined with naysayers.

Hal Elrod: Miracle morning. You may have already heard that plenty of successful people wake up well before sunrise, and use those quiet hours to work on their passion projects or to truly focus without interruptions on work issues in need of solving. I myself have always been a morning person, but I've never really thought of ways my morning routine could influence and change my life and my success. This book is supposed to do just that: show us how to wake up each day with more energy, motivation and focus to make things happen.

Jen Sincero: You are a badass. Besides having the most kick-ass title of them all, this book is also marketed as the self-help book for people who desperately want to improve their lives but don't want to get busted doing it. Its purpose is to help you identify and change the self-sabotaging thoughts and belief, and create a life you will love. Filled with blunt and sassy no-nonsense advice, it's both inspiring and fun.

Greg McKeown: Essentialism, The disciplined pursuit of less. There are three questions to ask yourself first:
   1. Gave you ever stretched yourself too thin?
   2. Do you simultaneously feel overworked and underutilized?
   3. Are you often busy, but not productive?

Way too often, my answer to these questions is a resounding yes. That's why I guess (and hope) that this book could be useful for me. It's not a book about getting more done in less time. It's about getting only the right things done, through discerning what is essential, and discarding the clutter (especially the mental one).

Lewis Howes: The school of greatness. I'm not a regular reader of Lewis' blog, but when I stumble upon it every now and then, it's always chock-full of no-nonsense and inspiring advice. In his book, Lewis shares the essential tips and habits for successful life he gathered in interviewing his "heroes" and mentors on his podcast. His basic premise is that greatness is cultivated from within, and that success has nothing to do with luck or good fortune. Motivating, right?

Steven Pressfield: Do the work. There is one question present throughout all Pressfield's books on creativity: Could you be getting in your way of producing great work? Or, in different words, is your resistance preventing you from finishing the work you have started? And how do you even recognize the work that truly matters? I think these are the questions any creative person asks at one point or another. And Pressfield may have the answer: instead of waiting for great ideas to just happen, you have to start actually doing the work. Beat the resistance. Take action. This books is your roadmap for taking your project from Page one to The End.

Camille Styles: Entertaining. If I should pick just one coffee table book to save from a burning house, it would be this one. Camille is my favorite blogger ever, and my most trusted source of inspiration. I know that whenever I'm in need of a little bit of inspiration in food, entertaining, healthy living or life in general, I can always turn to her. And because life shouldn't be all about work and hustle, I have Camille to remind me to celebrate the everyday moments and live my life as stylishly as possible.

Brené Brown: Daring greatly. Being vulnerable isn't something we're encouraged to do these days. In the present culture of "bigger, better, stronger and more, always more", admitting our fears and doubts may seem really intimidating. Putting ourselves out there is risky. But avoiding fear and vulnerability altogether can prevent us from achieving our goals and really hurt us in the long run. This book is about finding your courage within your vulnerability, and that is definitely something I should learn how to do.

Chris Guillebeau: The $100 startup. Chris is here to prove that in order to build a successful business, you don't have to quit your day job, take a huge loan and plunge into the unknown, hoping for the best. You can start small, commit a little bit of money and some more time, and wait to be sure it would be successful before making the leap. This book is full of advice from people who were able to turn their passions into profitable businesses, and the most important would be "in the battle between planning and action, action wins."

Danielle Laporte: The Fire starter sessions. This is supposed to be THE book to give you the right kick in the pants when you feel overwhelmed (me), unsure of your next step (me) and stuck (me, me, me). It will walk you through defining your vision, managing your fear of failure to finally making things that truly matter happen.

Jocelyn K. Glei: Manage your day to day. I'm all about productivity these days. Time (alongside my health) is my most precious resource, and I would love to be able to use it more wisely, and to my best advantage. There are days when I feel like a dog chasing its tail - working my butt off, only to realize at the end of the day that I haven't accomplished the most important tasks on my list. This book is a compilation of advice from some of the most creative minds (like Leo Babauta or Seth Godin), and I'm hoping to glean as many nuggets of wisdom on using my time better as possible.

Brian Tracy: Eat that frog. This is the ultimate book for my procrastinating self. I'm forever striving to do more with my time, fit more things in my schedule, but I'm not really sure this is the best approach to take. Probably not. What's good about this book is that it doesn't dwell on explaining the psychology of procrastination - it gets right to the action and explains all the steps you can take every day to become more productive.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

12 healthy habits to develop in 2016

As you may remember, taking better care of myself and becoming more fit and healthy is probably my biggest goal for 2016. It's the stepping stone for all my other activities, dreams and plans - without being healthy, I simply cannot focus on achieving my goals. And I think I've been making quite an effort, working out daily, cutting back on my chocolate & candy intake, trying to get at least 7 hours of sleep and bringing my homemade lunches to work so I could avoid the copious and not-always-healthy restaurant meals.

But true to my perpetually unsatisfied-with-myself self, I recently caught myself thinking about how I was not doing enough. And once I realized what I was doing to myself, I had to take a deep breath, calm down the chatter in my head and turn the whole thing upside down. Of course I could always do more. Try harder. But the most important thing I should do for myself in terms of healthy living is shedding this "all or nothing" mentality.

Years of bad habits aren't going to vanish in a blink of an eye. And if I'm going to try and change everything at once, that's a surefire way to set myself up for failure. That's why I've decided to focus on one healthy habit each month. From what I've read from various sources, it takes something between 21 and 28 days to build a new habit, so I'm hoping that each month I'll have enough time to do something good both for my body and for my soul. I want to try different things to see what works for me and what doesn't. Let's see how it works out! Baby steps, right?

January: Work out daily. I'm extremely happy to report that this one has been a huge success so far. From the queen of "I can't work out today, because..." excuses, I've become an endorphin junkie, climbing on my bike each and every day, lifting weights and doing sun salutations first thing in the morning. I honestly don't even recognize myself, and it feels so so good!

February: Drink lemon water first thing in the morning. 

March: Practice yoga each morning.

April: Establish morning and evening routines. 

May: Practice being kind to myself and giving myself grace. 

June: Learn to manage my stress levels.

July: Learn to meditate.

August: Master the weekly meal planning and prepping.

September:  Work on strengthening my willpower.

October: Always start my day with breakfast.

November: Cut back on alcohol.

December: Make time daily to sit down for a while in silence, and just think and reflect upon what's going on around you.  

Now it's your turn to tell me: what healthy habits do you want to adopt this year? Any particular areas you want to focus on?

Monday, February 8, 2016

Recipe roundup: Beet the inspiration

Please excuse the pun in the title of this post - I couldn't resist :) Upping my beet game has been on my to do list for quite some time and I've finally got around to rounding up some of the most inspiring recipes to try. Beet is one of those vegetables that I really hated as a kid, but one I've came to really appreciate as an adult. I know that its rich, earthy taste is rather specific, and it doesn't have to suit everyone, but I personally enjoy it, and now that the beets are in season, I'm planning to take full advantage of their vibrant color and health benefits.

I usually cook a bunch of them in water, peel and store them in the fridge, and then throw them in whatever salad or power bowl I'm currently putting together. I even tried a beet smoothie, and it was an interesting experience - definitely something to do again! But I'd love to become a little bit more adventurous: I'm really tempted by a beet soup with coconut milk (it sounds like a pretty exotic combo to me), the beet & feta tart looks absolutely heavenly, and the veggie burger with beets sounds like the perfect lunch to bring to the office with me. But what draws me in the most are the beet ravioli: mastering the homemade pasta is currently on top of my wish list and these deep red dumplings are as beautiful as ever.

Now it's your turn to tell me: do you have a favorite way to prepare beets? Do you even like them? I would love to know!

Happy Monday, guys!

via Sugat et al.
Beet & feta tart (via Sugar et al.)

via The Pretty Blog
Beet soup (via The Pretty Blog)

via The Awesome Green
The ultimate veggie burger (via The Awesome Green)

via Pure Vegetarian
Beet dumplings (via Pure Vegetarian)

via Emilie Murmure
Beet, apple & coconut milk soup (via Emilie Murmure)

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Weekend notes & link love #35

Image via Waiting on Martha

Although I'm skipping Valentine's day festivities altogether this year, I'm still not opposed to the idea of treating myself to a tiny (or not so tiny) little something that would make me smile. Meg's list is full of stylish and beautiful options, and I love that each item comes with an experience inspiration. Be sure to check it out - especially the travel section! (via Meg Biram)

I may be single right now, but I found myself nodding my head in approval all throughout reading Camille's post on keeping the romance alive. Grand gestures are rather useless, if the everyday kindness is nowhere to be found! After all, it's what you do every day, not once in a while, that truly matters! (via Camille Styles)

Becoming more organized is one of my biggest goals for 2016, and Abby's blog is definitely a huge source of inspiration. Her tips on how to get organized while living in a small space are all worth a try! (via Abby Lawson - Just a girl and her blog)

I've always thought of myself as having the ultimate black thumb: I was even able to kill cacti, which tends to be almost impossible! But ever since I got my own place, and started experimenting with different plants, I'm getting slightly better (I have killed a kalanchoe, but my orchids are still alive!). So this list of 8 houseplants that you can't kill comes in really handy! I'm really curious to see how many can survive on my watch :) (via Waiting on Martha)

And a few things you might have missed on The Charming Avenue:

A list of things that made my January more beautiful.

My first editorial letter.

My first monothematic monthly reading list. Hint: it's all about Provence! 

A few reads to inspire your best February.

Real talk: On closing the gap, honing your skills and becoming better at what you do every day. 

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Real talk: Closing the gap

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take a while. It’s normal to take a while. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

                                                                                                     - Ira Glass

I read this quote over the weekend and I couldn't stop thinking about it ever since. I'm sure that this is something every creative person can relate to, and I find these words immensely inspiring and encouraging. It is true that often I am my own worst critic. I wouldn't go as far as calling myself a perfectionist, but I'm sure about my taste and I have a pretty specific set of standards that I measure my work against. And I'll go ahead and admit that I'm not always completely satisfied with the results of my efforts, especially when it comes to this blog. Raise your hands if you ever went a few days without publishing a single post because no idea that you'd come up with, written down or photographed seemed good enough to go online. (*raising my hand sheepishly*) I'm struggling with this more often than I care to admit.

But you know what? That's completely fine. I'm still learning my craft. And I never want to stop learning. To me, learning, making mistakes, scratching my work completely, deleting my words and starting all over again is the ultimate sign that I'm moving forward. That I'm evolving into a person that I'd love to become. That I'd rather step outside my comfort zone, challenge myself over and over again, stumble and fall, and then get up and try again, than stay safe and comfortable in my own little corner.

And I have Ira Glass to thank for reminding me that great successes and achievements aren't due to magic. We owe them to our own hard work, to the countless hours dedicated to honing our skills and to the refusal to give up. It may seem pretty obvious, but I'm the first to admit that it can be so easily forgotten in our world filled with picture-perfect Instagram photos, envy-inducing Facebook statuses and flawless blog posts.

This is one quote that I'll make sure to keep in mind whenever I doubt myself or my work. I hope we all can do the same.

I wish you all a successful, productive and happy February!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

A few reads to inspire your February

Images via: The Everygirl // Tennis identity // Camile Styles // A beautiful mess

Tell me guys, how often do you experience those blah days, when you feel like your mojo is nowhere to be found, when you feel overwhelmed with all you have on your plate, and when you have no idea how to move forward? I'm going to come clean, and admit, that this occurs to me more often than I would like to. And if you don't experience days when you feel like the inspiration is gone for good, when all you want to do is curl up on the couch and watch Food Network, or read distopian YA novels (enter whatever seemingly unproductive activity strikes your fancy here) all day long, then you're a superhuman, and I tip my hat off to you and go pour myself another glass of Cabernet Sauvignon. Seriously, I think we all have our moments of weakness and doubt, and when they occur to me, I often turn to a secret Pinterest board, where I stash all the inspiring, uplifting and motivating reads I come across. And I'm sharing a few of the best ones with you today, hoping that they can do the same for you: inspire, motivate and give you a little kick in the pants whenever you need it.

Embracing rest in the culture of busy. This one really struck home with me. "Busy" and "hustle" are the master words of our times, and since we all "have as many hours in a day as Beyoncé" (I really, really don't like this quote, as evidenced here), we should be productive 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, right? Wrong. Life and work are always ebbing and flowing, and I think we all could benefit from learning to use the down periods to refocus, recenter and take care of ourselves. To make our well being a priority instead of trying to uncover the "next best idea" in an instant.

"I'm not a robot." On Saturday morning, I was watching Serena Williams lose the Australian Open final to Angelique Kerber, and I was like "whoa! what's going on here?" I've been a long time Serena's fan, admiring her strength, her tenacity, and her ability to always work harder, push herself more, do better. And then I watched the post-match press conference, and she said something that really struck me: "I mean, every time I walk in this room, everyone expects me to win every single match, every single day of my life. As much as I would like to be a robot, I'm not. And I try to. I do the best that I can." It was so wonderfully honest and vulnerable, and I love her even more for it. Because we all have those days, when no matter how hard we try, it's not enough. We fail, we lose, we screw things up. And you know what? That's okay. Because it means that we still have things to learn. And when we learn, we move forward. And I want to remember Serena's words forever, because they're a powerful lesson in giving ourselves grace.

How to create an authentic personal brand. I know this term gets thrown around rather liberally these days, but defining, building and cultivating a personal brand is something that we all should consider, whether we are looking for a new job, building an online business or striving for a promotion. It is something I have been thinking about a lot lately, especially since went through a recent rebranding of my blog. Building an authentic brand can seem daunting, especially since we spend so much time comparing our lives to the perfect Instagram representations of other people's lives. I love that Camille breaks the process into 8 easy-to-follow steps and at the same time urges us to remember that all we have to do is take one step at a time. Because  "The hard work and good decision-making that we make day in day out is what lays the foundation for how others ultimately see us." - Camille Styles

Secrets to success. This, to me, is a real classic. I must have read it more than a dozen times already, I have printed it out and taped into my career journal, and I find myself going back to it each time I need a little friendly nudge in the right direction. Emma is so honest and inspiring here, sharing her failed dream of acting, and what she accomplished instead - which, by the way, is nothing short of amazing. I love that she stresses the importance of finding your own definition of success, and not subscribing blindly to any other person's definition. The words I love the most, though? "If you don't have a goal in your life right now that absolutely terrifies you, like you don't even want to tell anyone about it because it's so crazy, get one in your life. Now." - Emma Chapman

I would like to know: where do you turn for inspiration when you find yourself stuck in a rut, or when you feel like you've lost your mojo?

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

On my nightstand, February 2016

You may have noticed that my monthly reading lists tend to be all over the place...from fiction to business books, from nonfiction to cookbooks. My reader's taste is pretty eclectic. But I've been toying with the idea of a mono-thematic list for a while. I have always been that studious type - the consummate researcher who likes to read all there is to understand a subject she's currently interested in. And when I was brainstorming the possible February themes, one subject kept coming back over and over again: Provence. It has been the number one on my list of places I want to travel to, and before I do that, I want to gather as many information and tips on what to see/eat/do as humanly possible. Starting with this list:

Elizabeth Bard: Picnic in Provence. A few years back I read and adored Lunch in Paris, so this was my obvious first choice when it came to picking books on Provence. Elizabeth's writing is as fluid as silk: it pulls you in and seduces you with little tidbits of life in France. And to make it even more perfect, the book is peppered with a whole slew of mouthwatering recipes. From a charming apartment it Paris Elizabeth and her family relocate to a tiny Provencal village of Céreste. There they launch an artisanal ice cream shop and discover the charms and hardships of living à la provençale. This is bound to be a delicious read!

Janelle McCulloch: Provence and Côte d'Azur. From the enchanting villages of Provence to the glamorous and stunning coastline of Côte d'Azur, this book covers it all. Keeping away from loud and tourist-packed spots, Janelle focuses on hidden gems that embody the charm of this region: markets overflowing with perfectly ripe produce, quaint cafés, sweeping vistas and cobblestone streets. Plus, the photographs in this book are nothing short of stunning.

Ethel Brennan, Sara Remington: Paris to Provence, Chidhood memories of food and France. Who says Provence, says Provencal cuisine, and that is something I can easily fall in love with. This is a cross between a memoir and a cookbook: Ethel and Sara capture their memories of a childhood spent traveling to France through their beautiful recipes. In short, this books is the taste of France, translated into recipes and pictures.

Jean-Pierre Cassely: Secret Provence. This book is perfect for those who love to wander off the beaten paths. Away from the picturesque villages and vibrant lavender fields, countless hidden gems can be found in this beautiful French region: a statue of pregnant Virgin Mary, a hotel room in a tree, a church in theater, a false volcano. Intriguing, right?

Peter Mayle: Provence trilogy (A year in Provence, Toujours Provence, Encore Provence). This is an oldie, but somehow I've never read it before. Mayle recounts his experience of moving into a 200-year-old stone farmhouse lost in the middle of Lubéron, where the life is governed by seasons, not by days. You will learn about the truffle trade, about the delights of regional cuisine, about finding gold coins while digging in the garden or about a small town murder mystery. An ideal read to help you escape the ordinary.

The Lonely Planet's Provence and the Côte d'Azur. This one has been revamped and updates just in time for my travel plans. It is supposed to be the most comprehensive travel companion, with essential tips, colorful maps and reviews of what to see and what to skip. This one is a must have!

Tell me, what have you been reading lately? Have you read any book on Provence that I've missed?

Monday, February 1, 2016

February editorial letter

Happy first day of February! We have somehow misplaced January (seriously, the time has been flying by so fast in 2016!), but as I explained yesterday, I'm not really sad to see it go. And I'm so excited for this leap month! I have a whole slew of amazing things I'm looking forward to in February - and no, none of them is related to the Valentine's day (this year, I'm skipping the V-day stuff altogether).

Most of all, I'm looking forward to celebrating my Dad's birthday - the gift we got him with mom is seriously amazing, if I do say so myself - and I'm kind of wishing I could keep it for myself :) I'm excited to be adding new healthy habits to my daily routine, to working out daily, to reading more amazing books (hint: this month, my reading list will be centered all around Provence), eating healthy, but delicious food, seeing Best of Broadway show with my mom, and tying up a bunch of loose ends in my apartment.

A propos, my apartment. After much thinking and planning, it finally feels like I have my stuff together, and I'm ready to share the whole renovation process with you. Stay tuned for the second half of this month, when I'll be sharing all the good, the bad and the ugly, the before & after pictures and all the lessons I learned along the way.

In February, I'll also be sharing a whole slew of things that make me excited and hopeful for 2016: things I want to learn and focus on, healthy habits I want to develop, home resolutions I want to keep up with, or books that will hopefully inspire me to become a better version of myself. I'll be sharing my fail-proof tips to beat the winter blues and what to do when you feel completely overwhelmed with your life. Believe me, I'm myself no stranger to this feeling, and I would also love to hear your perspective.

When I was thinking about the words that should define my February, this quote kept running through my mind: "stop wishing, start doing". There are so many things I've been talking about doing for ages (like sharing my apartment story, or blogging daily, or starting my own business, or writing more...and the list goes on). But wishing and talking about those things without actually doing them is absolutely pointless. So this month, I'm committing to showing up, and doing the work every single day. And if that means waking up earlier to take advantage of my most productive hours, then be it. Who else is with me?

xo Ivana

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