My Contraband Plant

Twenty years ago I made a long-anticipated move to Los Angeles with the intention that I would be the next host on Talk Soup. I would watch that show all the time and said to myself, “You could do that! So off to LA you must go.” Around the same time, one of my best friends who hosted me in Los Angeles for the prior 15 was moving on to Japan for his career. Though I was thrilled to create my next chapter in life, I was also bummed by the irony that he was about to start his somewhere else.

What he left me with was plenty of advice on Los Angeles…that, and a green twig (like the one pictured) in a 10-gallon bucket of dirt. That’s right, one twig and 5000 times its weight in dirt. Not potting soil….just road-side Malibu dirt.

John told me that his friend brought it back for him from Mexico. Or did he say it was contraband smuggled back as a souvenir? He also said, “Just wait, that thing is gonna be huge.” He had no instructions on care and feeding except: “Just wait.”

Not a week went by when I didn’t consider just tossing that twig and the bucket it rode in on.

John would never know. But he is the friend who would check on it occasionally over the phone from across the ocean. And I wasn’t gonna lie to him. So the little green twig became my only pet.

Of course I watered it. It was taking up space in my home and I had to make sense around that.

Also, HOW COOL to have a plant that shouldn’t be here. And how awesome that I was potentially aiding and abetting an illegal alien plant.

So “wait” and “keep this plant on the down low” I did, for what seemed like a lifetime.
Then, one day, out of nowhere, slight leaves appeared on the tips of that twig. Little did I know that these little bits of growth would be the next biggest branches that would make their own little upwardly mobile offspring.

Flash forward seven years and this little green contraband was seven-foot-tall contraband. Like a giant version of the Ker Plunk game I had as a kid with sticks going in all directions to keep the game marbles from falling, this unknown specimen was my LA Christmas tree of sorts.

This stellar, no-maintenance horticulture achievement also became a bit of good luck upon which I hung images of things I wanted to have happen in my life. I remember like it was last week reading an article on the hippest places (I was much younger then) in America. And the article focused on Northeast Minneapolis hung in the branches until it was time to say goodbye to LA and move to Minneapolis for my new chapter at ShopNBC (an earlier name for Evine).

Turns out the plant is not illegal after all. (Not the first time I fell for a good contraband story). Instead, it is available at nurseries around the United States and is called Euphorbia tirucalli, also known as aveloz, firestick plants, Indian tree spurge, naked lady, pencil tree, pencil cactus, sticks on fire or milk bush. It’s a tree that grows in semi-arid tropical climates, primarily in Africa.

If you are interested in having one of these plants, be fully aware that it produces a poisonous latex which can be very harmful to people and pets if eaten or touched on skin. So, as intriguing as this plant might be, it’s not for everyone.

When it came time for me to pack it all in, this plant was a prize I had to leave behind. So off to the home of one of my best friends it went.

Fortunately, I recently replaced it with one, much smaller, but on its way, from a neighborhood greenhouse here in Minnetonka. Surprisingly, it was only $20. And wait I will again, until this plant grows from one foot to seven feet.

Lastly, Talk Soup never signed me to be their next host. But many other, better blessings, came into my life in the form of amazing people that truly enriched my life, and plants that brought me good luck and taught me how to keep a little secret.

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My Summer Tradition

Pretty much every summer for the majority of my life, I have traveled to Lake of the Woods.  Have you heard of it?  It occupies parts of the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Manitoba, and northern Minnesota.  It is over 70 miles long and wide and has 14,552 islands.

When I was young, we would attach one of those Winnebago foldout campers to the back of our car, and drive three hours up and three hours back.  Somehow, we packed: my parents, my brother, a couple of my stepbrothers and sisters and our huge black standard poodle, Mitzi into the car.  We did this EVERY weekend of the summer!  This is where I sat on a bee and got my first sting, and had my first wee little crush on a boy a few campers down.

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From the Winnebago, we graduated to a little white house on Rainy River. Rainy River runs into the big lake and is just outside of Baudette, Minnesota, population about 1,100. Now that we had the benefit of heat, plumbing, etc., we started traveling here during the winter months, too . . . again, EVERY weekend.  This is about the time where I just wanted to be home on the weekend.  I had friends and a social life where, if I missed out on something happening, my life would be over and I would die (I’m a teenager now). I had a hard time convincing my parents I should stay home so, instead, I would bring my friends along.

lynne-blog-3-2There is a tiny little island that my best friend, Jillie, and I would love to sneak off to. She had a tiny fishing boat, kind of like a dinghy. She would pull up to my dock, pick me up and off we went.  We were always alone on this island; it was like our little secret.  The island was very remote, had nothing on it to speak of except a bunch of sand ,so no one ever ventured there but us. One time, we thought we would be super grown up and sophisticated and sunbathe topless.  That was the very rare time that another fishing boat came floating by.  Now, the island has somehow been discovered and is full of big boats and lots of families picnicking.  My family and I still love to go there.

My parents decided to build their dream home at the Lake about the time I was starting my own family.  I had moved to Minneapolis and, so now, the three-hour drive is a seven-hour drive.  The drive takes us through many quiet, small towns and truly is a slice of Americana.  Homes with wrap-around front porches, lawn art and flags waving proudly.  Nobody is in a hurry to get anywhere, and everything is slowed way down.  So lovely.

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There really isn’t that much to do at the lake . . . except for fishing, and so heading out onto the huge lake means spending the entire day on the boat . . . fishing.  I’m not that great of a fisherwoman as it takes great patience, and I get extremely bored waiting for something to happen.  We usually catch walleye and trout.  Nowadays, we bring a couple of boats onto the lake and have fishing competitions between them, which can get really loud and boisterous.  To this day, my boat has never won.

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Fourth of July celebrations at the lake are my favorite part. Thousands of people come into Baudette for the street fair and fireworks.  At the street fair you can listen to bagpipes, enjoy fried walleye, get a tattoo or our favorite thing, watch someone else get a tattoo. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the tattoo truck is located right next to the Beer Garden. At dusk, it is so cool to see all the families sitting on blankets with their coolers, fluorescent light-up necklaces and twirly thingies in anticipation for the fireworks.  Our neighbors in Canada across the river have lit up American flags in their backyards as a sign of friendship.  The fireworks are choreographed to music, and always end with Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to be an American.” When it’s all over and we’re walking back to the car, it’s always the feeling of “best night ever.”

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What’s a Hoosier Anyway?

Last week my family and I set out on our longest road trip to date. Minneapolis, MN to Bloomington, IN.   I can’t believe I didn’t discuss road trips in my earlier blogs . . . isn’t this the season dedicated to hours in the car eating junk food, listening to the radio and counting cows?! I feel like it’s a rite of passage for every American child, and mine were totally up for the challenge.

Backing out of the driveway, my hubby had ‘Holiday Road’ blaring from the speakers (all great road trips must pay homage to Nat’l Lampoons Vacation, whether Aunt Edna is with you or not) and both boys were armed with their favorite movies, headphones and snacks for days. I planned to use these hours to catch up on email, sort through photos on my phone and make sure our family calendar was on point when we returned. But, as always, motion sickness set in half way through my first email and in lieu of being productive, I counted cows.

I feel like when we travel, we throw all rules out the windows. Bed times, nutrition, screen time, all take a back seat to accommodate the road trippin’ timeline. So, when we made our first stop in Chicago, already past the boy’s bedtime, it was fitting that we entered the lobby of the hotel to some serious bass, dark lights and a bar full of 20-somethings in their finest “I’m looking for a date” fashions. The lobby bar was a total club scene and there I stood with my family, covered in chip crumbs, ice cream spills and backpacks full of stuffed animals and dinosaurs. (Parenthood Erin blog 3 fireworkssure does change a Saturday night.) We definitely cramped the cool-kids weekend vibes and found immediate refuge up a few levels in our room. My kids were thrilled to be up way past their bed time, ordering pizza in bed and watching the Olympics. And if that wasn’t good enough, just like in a movie, outside our huge picture window, over-looking Lake Michigan, a fireworks show erupted right in front of us and for the first time in 8 hours, we were all silent, staring out the window. What a treat!! I could get used to this. But all good things must come to an end and all good kids must hit the hay (as my dad would say), lights were soon out and we were all happily in bed.

Erin blog 3 Chi2The next day, we had breakfast in bed, went swimming in the rooftop pool and took the boys on the Navy Pier ferris wheel before packing back up. Next stop: Bloomington, IN. The home of Indiana University, my husband’s Alma Mater. He’s a third generation Hoosier and couldn’t be more proud. By the time we Erin blog 3 ferrisarrived on campus, he was already plotting out what fraternity our boys would pledge, where they will live on campus and how to get the best seats at Assembly Hall for a little IU Bball. (Side note: I really love his love of his school, but grooming our boys this early in life is just not fair to me and my hometown University of MN Golden Gopher pride. Not to mention, I’ll never stop crying if my boys move that far away from me. A counter plan to keep my boys in MN begins now . . . I’ll keep you posted on the progress.) We quickly jumped out of the car and did a walking tour Erin blog 3 IU familythrough campus. Even though IU is a rival Big Ten school to my U o MN, I have to admit, that campus is beautiful!!! After a dinner at one of his favorite restaurants, my husband took the boys to the book store to load up on all things Hoosier red and white. Outfits, posters, stuffed animals (are you kidding me?? This is too much), my boys emerged from the store looking like the newest freshman recruits. We checked IU off our road trip list and got to bed, the next day we were taking off for destination number three.

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Lake Wawasee, in Syracuse, IN is where my husband spent every summer of his childhood. Leaving IU and driving north to Lake Wawasee, my boys were already in their swim trunks, sunscreen on, ready to dive into the Erin blog 3 slidewater as soon as we arrived. Pulling into the cottage my husband spent weeks at as a kid, we made this insanely long road trip, worth every minute. The lake is clear and clean, there are boats and jet skis and toys for everyone. And the cottage is a perfect setting to enjoy the final few days of summer.

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My oldest, William, has a brand new Go Pro that he proudly wore as he jumped in the lake and sped around on the jet ski. James, our baby (fine. He’s almost 5, but will always be my baby) worked up the courage to make the giant lily pad his stomping grounds. We swam, boated, ate and repeated for 36 Erin blog 3 jetskihours! It was mostly marvelous, with just a few minor meltdowns. I mean no family of four can go 36 hours without a few meltdowns over whose turn it is anyway and who was really responsible for dropping the brand new Go Pro and letting it sink to the bottom of the lake . . . right? Right. Other than a few minor mishaps, we returned each night to the cottage a brand new shade of tan (even though we wear a lot of sunscreen) and a whole new level of exhausted.

It was bittersweet packing up for our final voyage, not only because I simply adore time with my three boys, but also because Syracuse, IN to Minneapolis, MN is no joke. About 10 hours, with stops and a nasty rain storm, to get back to home sweet home. But on our way home, there was definitely a sense of pride from all four of us. The kids were thrilled with the new adventures and are already plotting ways to permanently eat breakfast in bed. My husband was beaming with pride that his family had a blast in his favorite state. And I, to be real honest, am thrilled that I was able to keep this family unit in one piece, without massive meltdown for a total of 1000+ miles across the Midwest. Phew.

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Thanks for taking this road trip with me! Next stop: Vancouver with my college roomies . . .

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Blood, Sweat & Years

Rightfully or wrongfully, I’m just gonna start this entry by saying that the signs of the Zodiac are seldom wrong. In fact, the sign Brian blog 2 1crabunder which I was born, Cancer, could not be more spot on. Cancerians value family, love and not the least of which, their home and surroundings. In our homes, we find expression, peace and, when necessary, escape from all those other Zodiac signs that can drive us nuts.

I have to admit I never really got how much I appreciate creating a home until I was in a place long enough to invest in one. Up until 12 years ago I was always on the move, from college to grad school, to jobs in marketing, entertainment news and then to home shopping. It seemed that I was in a different city every couple of years.   It didn’t make sense to paint walls, much less buy a home.

Finally, upon moving to Minneapolis 12 year ago, I knew it was time to settle in. Designing and decorating my first home was fun, easy and in no time it was complete. I thought it was nice, but when local publications were asking for interviews and photo ops, I felt a sense of possibility in the air.

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It was around the time when friends like Wendi Russo and others were telling me to sell and create a new home, that I went to Lowes Hardware to buy the necessary items to add some much needed extra storage in my garage. No sooner had I put all the materials in my car and I said to myself “Forget it. I’m going to move.” It wasn’t so much that I needed extra storage, but that my heart was saying there is more of you to express and more ideas you have to create.

Which leads me to the Blood, Sweat and Years.

After days of looking at over 700 homes online in my price range, I found my Grey Gardens Home in Minnetonka and didn’t look beyond it. It was love at first sight.

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I kept it a secret from almost everyone, including my family. Only my agent, broker and financial advisor were in the know. The house needed so much work that I didn’t want friends and family calling me crazy.

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Then it was love at first fright. The day of the home inspection it was raining and dripping inside several areas of the house.   (Luckily, that brought the sale price down considerably!) Nothing a new roof wouldn’t fix. Then, the day after I closed, my dog Molly discovered a family of raccoons under the back porch. Nothing a frantic call to a local pest control wouldn’t fix. Cha-Ching! And so many other ‘Discoveries’ both large and small on top of the inspector’s finds that I accepted with large exhales. Like needing a jack hammer to remove kitchen tile set in over an inch of cement (Cha-Ching, Cha-Ching) and chewed wires in the floor (Cha-Ching, Cha-Ching, Chaaaaa-Chinggggg!).

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Brian blog 2 6NicoleDid I have help with the construction? I certainly did. Did I do any of the work? You bet. All the redesign and any stripping, sanding, painting and landscaping where I could save myself some cash. Did I eat a lot of dust ? Absolutely, for breakfast, lunch & dinner! Was it uncomfortable at times? YES! At one point I had the refrigerator in the dining room, the coffee pot and microwave in the powder room, and only the working sink in the laundry room. And that was just one room of 4 that were out of commission at the same time. But I would do it all over again. Yes, let me repeat: I would do it all over again. Just in a different house that needs a whole lot of love.

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Seeing potential in homes and creating beautiful, inviting spaces for living and entertaining are some of the gifts God has given me. And being able to see what’s possible in homes other people would reject is so incredibly satisfying to me. (My house was on the market for two years before I came along.) Shopping for materials, finding amazing fixtures and decorating the spaces all bring me incredible joy. And knowing where and how to find all of the materials and furnishings at such huge discounts is a resourcefulness I value in myself as I am not one to ever pay full price. More like 40-80% off retail. And I’m talking for both the materials and the home.

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To say which room brings me the most joy would be hard. I took on every space in this home over the last six years with a lot of passion.

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Of course there are a couple more designs I am currently working to incorporate. But then what? Like the sand crab, is it time for me to find a new shell?

So many of you have been so supportive of my projects.   And some of you have even let me help you with yours. Know that any tips I’ve learned over the years are yours for the asking. Write me for any ideas you may want to add to your list of considerations. If you find it really helpful, then I will invoice you for a nickel.   Let’s learn from each other to make our nests (and shells) the best they can be.

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Get out of your comfort zone!

As many of you know I’m the newest host here at Evine.  Taking the job a year ago followed many months of uncertainty and a visa process so lengthy it probably deserves a blog of its own!  I finally moved here from London in January this year.  Arriving in Minnesota in the middle of winter might sound like the worst time of year, but I had done my research, got some good boots and a big coat. With the beautiful houses and the snow it was like landing in Christmas-land!

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When most people talk about stepping out of their comfort zone, they think about doing something extreme like bungee jumping or leaping out of a plane.  But those are short, sharp shocks that are over quickly.  Moving to a new country, everything you do is new. New, job, new home, new people.  Even the car I drive (and the side of the road!) and where I buy groceries have all changed, so it takes a while to come down back to earth because there’s nothing familiar to come home to.  Plus, as there are so many decisions on a daily basis there’s no time to procrastinate!  You have to seize every moment, a way we often talk about in terms of living our lives but rarely get the chance to.

I’ve always had a love affair with America.  When I was little I used to watch Moonlighting from my bed and imagine that New York was outside my curtains.  I first went to New York when I was twenty years old and, in 2005, worked on the BBC documentary series ‘Soul Deep: The Story of Black Popular Music’ where we traveled the country interviewing some of the most influential names in soul music.  On my travels I’ve visited San Francisco, Las Vegas, LA, New York, New Orleans and Connecticut.  I’ve always found people in the US to be open, friendly and even an exchange with a stranger in a elevator can brighten my day.

Right place, right time..

Moving your whole life is a huge, but I had so many signs that this was the right place to be.  I’d lived in London for 10 years and always thought I would move after a decade but just hadn’t decided where yet.  Then my apartment building was sold and I’d be talking to my coach about moving to the States.  I was working in Dublin and walking down a street that could have been straight from Minnesota, thinking to myself that I always thought I would live in America one day and just weeks later I was approached by Evine!

In Minnesota, people are always curious when they hear me speak. “I love your accent”  is a daily thing, or “I could hear you talk all day” to which I say that can only be a good thing as I talk for a living and tell them they can watch me on Evine!  The question I get asked the most is, “What the biggest difference?” or “What do you miss the most?”  My advice to anyone going to live in a new country is to say your goodbyes to what and whoever you’re going to miss before you set foot on the plane, and look for connection rather than what’s different.

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When I first arrived I did miss being able to walk everywhere, as well as the architecture of London.  Unlike most Brits, I don’t crave PG or Tetley tea (British tea brands); I’m more of a Pukka girl when it comes to having a ‘cuppa’.  There aren’t any TV shows I can’t get online or live without.  In terms of fashion, I was sad to leave was my beloved Topshop.  I actually cried when I saw they’d come to Nordstrom’s – to see the familiar logo I’ve loved and worn for years in an unexpected place brought up unexpected emotions!

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There’s a French expression, ‘Vive la difference’ and ‘long live the difference’ is how I feel about living in America.  I love the four seasons that we have in Minnesota, I’m a water-baby (which you can read about in my last blog) so very well suited to lake-life.  I’ve also enjoyed the challenge of making new friends with the interests and person I am now.  I adore the weather here because, although Minnesotans refer to it as a short summer, three months is a cause for celebration and very different from our wet summers in the UK!

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Here’s my advice if you’re thinking about taking plunge and moving somewhere new:

Embrace the new

One of my mottos has always been ‘I’ll try anything twice’.  I hated sushi the first time, now I love it!  If you’re somewhere new you’re not the same ‘you’ so, be adventurous – you might surprise yourself!  When I came over last year, I went to the State Fair to sample the many foods on a stick and then drove to St Paul to hit up the yard sales.  A few months ago, I volunteered at the Minneapolis film festival; both to meet new people and so that I had to drive across Downtown in rush hour!  I often set myself ‘missions’ just to get myself up and out and about.

Laugh at yourself

Taking yourself too seriously can leave you feeling overwhelmed.  Another motto of mine is ‘Lighten up and let go’.  I like to try and laugh at situations and notice my negative self-talk.  Telling yourself, “I’m such an idiot” doesn’t serve you.  Try laughing at the situation rather than making it your fault.  We can’t all be comedians 24-7, but sometimes cracking up at a situation lightens the mood and gives you a new perspective.

Let yourself mess up

Things will go ‘wrong’ but, as a life coach, I’m a great believer that the only mistakes we make are the ones we don’t learn from.  Allowing yourself to fail allows you to grow.

*Pssst! I failed my written Minnesota driving test the first time and then spent two days revising the whole Minnesota drivers handbook!*

Make it your own

I’ve practiced yoga for 16 years and love to swim, dance and work out in the gym.

I bought my yoga mats with me and joined a studio the first week.  If your life is feeling all over the place, try and create your own routines to feel grounded and move your body to get those feel good endorphins.  I love the quote, ‘If Oprah has time to meditate you have time to meditate.’ (Even if I don’t always find time to meditate! 😉

Get out there!

Don’t stay in and wait for life to happen. Meetup.com is a great way to meet people with the same interests as you.  If you’re feeling you can’t go alone, post a message to say that you’re feeling nervous!  A lot of meetups wear wrist bands or something to make it easy for you to find the group. Go for it!

 

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Five years of wedded bliss!

Woo hoo!  We made it!  Five years of wedded bliss.  I’m happy to announce that Tim and I celebrated our five-year wedding anniversary since my last blog post. Last post, I promised to follow up with our dinner in white experience this year around and, as luck would have it, we were able to celebrate our anniversary on the night of the dinner in white.  It was dreamy.Fatima blog 2 1C

In case you missed it, ‘dinner in white’ is a tradition that started in Paris years ago where it resembles a flash mob but as a fancy picnic.  You’re given a date and time in advance, and the location is announced half an hour before the dinner starts.  You pack up everything you need, from tables and chairs, to food, and any decorations, and head to the location where everyone gathers for a beautiful summer picnic.

Fatima blog 2 loading upThis is the not so glamorous part, hauling all of your supplies to the location. We decided to at least have fun with it by taking a goofy selfie!

This year, it was even more impromptu because there were reports of thunder storms the night of the dinner, so the organizers announced on Facebook at noon the same day that it would be moved to the following day.

Fatima blog 2 sparklersAs luck would have it, we had absolutely no plans the next night, which happened to be our five year anniversary.  How perfect!  On the downside, however, two of the members of our group could not make it because they had a previous engagement.  The remaining four of us were game, and we decided to go through with the dinner.  This year, the location was announced to be at a pedestrian bridge spanning the Mississippi River, overlooking the Minneapolis skyline.

Fatima blog 2 grilled salmonOne of the key factors is preparing a delicious dinner menu.  Tim and I decided to go out on a limb and do something fancy.  We grilled salmon on cedar planks at home, packed it up, and carefully brought it to the picnic location. We also had a delicious potato salad, cherries, and beautiful desserts that our friends picked up at a local gourmet bakery.  A refreshing, sparkling ice tea beverage was also served in . . . what else, an antique silver teapot.  Go big, or go home!

The weather was lovely, the company was fantastic, and the food was delicious . . . what else do you need?  Oh, wait!  Wardrobe!!

So, last post, I mentioned our group wanted to try to go for a theme.  We were thinking a little punk, circus theme. I’m not even really sure what that means . . . ha ha . . . but I did my best to be a little edgy with some exaggerated ruffles, a deeper shade of lipstick, and a feather and lace headpiece.  I found the top on eBay, the feather at Michael’s craft store, and I cut up an old lace blouse for the headpiece.Fatima blog 2 wardrobe

Overall, the event was a perfect way to celebrate our anniversary and spend time with close friends.  Several hundred people showed up and we all lit sparklers and dined into the night.  A live band even showed up to serenade the diners . . . it was truly a memorable night.Fatima blog 2 sparklers 2

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