Super Easy Veggie Pasta Pot

>> Monday, August 31, 2015

I’ve pulled the slow cooker out of its summer hiding spot deep in our pantry. Yes. Even though this week wouldn’t have you believe it with crazy high temps -- it’s almost fall. Back-to-school. Busy season. And I can always use help in the kitchen.

Thing is, I’m tired of all my go-to crock pot recipes. Time to try something new. Will you join me? I’m on a quest to breathe life back into our dinners all while putting forth little effort. Like I wrote on Thursday’s post, I made this recipe after seeing the Summer Slow Cooker Lasagna recipe on Oh My Veggies with only a few modifications.

Behold:


VEGGIE PASTA POT


What you’ll need . . . 

  • 1 medium onion 
  • 1 large zucchini or summer squash
  • 1 medium eggplant
  • 1 medium head of broccoli
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes
  • Large bell pepper
  • Couple cloves garlic
  • Linguine or other pasta noodles, uncooked*
  • Jar (24 ounces) of pasta sauce (homemade is easy + delish)
  • Shredded mozzarella (I used fresh)
  • Parmesan 

Try to get as many of these ingredients from your garden or friends’ gardens as possible. Don’t necessarily stick to this list exactly -- keep it flexible. Use whatever is fresh and in your kitchen already. Just be sure to substitute ingredients in similar amounts so it’ll all fit in the pot.

* I used spinach linguine. I don’t know this for sure, but I don’t think cappellini would work best in this recipe. it might get too mushy. Prove me wrong!

Method . . . 

  1. Chop all ingredients into chunks. Halve cherry tomatoes. Mince garlic. Then on your stovetop, heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil and cook the garlic and onions over medium heat until the onions have softened.
  2. Add the rest of the veggies -- saving the tomatoes until last -- and cook until everything is slightly softened but still somewhat crunchy. Season with some salt + pepper to taste.
  3. In your crock pot, pour around a half cup of sauce at the bottom. Then layer on some pasta.
  4. OK. So, I didn’t measure my pasta layers exactly. Take a small handful of pasta, crack it in half, and make a thin layer. Too much? Take some out. Too little? Add. It’s not about being exact. Check out my photo for reference.
  5. Cover the pasta with about a third of the veggies you cooked. Then top that with another 1/2 cup pasta sauce and then a 1/3 cup (or so) of mozzarella.
  6. Repeat this layering until you run out of space or ingredients. Just make sure you top everything off with tomato sauce, cheese, and then the Parmesan. 
  7. Cook on LOW for three to four hours. We had to go out on an errand partway through cooking, and I don’t feel comfortable leaving the pot on since it’s kind of old. Anyway, I stopped cooking mine for an hour at the two hour mark and resumed later. Turned out great!
  8. Then let sit for half an hour to cool slightly and scoop out heaping servings. I didn’t get a photo of the end result. Just picture a bowl of steaming veggies, noodles, cheese, and sauce.


This is such a great way to get tons of veggies into your tummy. If you’re vegan, feel free to leave out the cheese, use your favorite substitute, or sprinkle some nutritional yeast in the pot. The leftovers are even better. We saved some in our freezer for a rainy day. Ada even asked for a second helping!

So, one recipe down. What should I try next?

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Thursday Things

>> Thursday, August 27, 2015

Happy Thursday, friends! I cannot believe Stephen will be back at work in less than two weeks. Where did the summer go? (Side note: I feel like NY starts school wayyyyy late this year. Am I right?) Anyway, lots going on here as we round out the season and prepare for the new year.

So, I thought I’d share my Weekend Things a little early this week.


// 1. I cannot wait to share this awesome slow cooker recipe with you! It’s based on this Slow Cooker Lasagna from Oh My Veggies. Delish!

// 2. Pun-Fueld Food Map of Each US State via Distractify

// 3. 7 Rules Every Tomato Grower Should Follow via Rodale

// 4. We got a piano! We weren’t actively looking for one, but it’s also been in the back of our minds. So, Stephen and I had a date the other day and checked out a new-to-us antique shop. This 1976 beauty was sitting in the front . . . and at just $160, I had to have it.

We’re going to need to get it tuned and repaired a bit, but it seems pretty solid.


I’ve already been busting out a few Elton John hits.


// 5. Some deals:


// 6. OK. So, this isn’t a deal, but I pooled my birthday money and bought a pair of Birkenstock Paris clogs. And I am absolutely in love. They are by far the most comfortable and cool looking shoes I’ve ever owned. I’m a soft footbed convert, and I always order narrow for the best fit.

I’ll try to snap a better photo sometime soon.

(Check out these peppers from our garden!)


// 7. Have any of you heard of the Circle + Bloom relaxation audio tracks?

I found them while doing some searches on fertility stuff. I’ve only downloaded the free trial track . . . but wow did it relax me. I don’t necessarily think I’d try these thinking they’d result in a BFP, but I could sure use some relaxation.

Just wondered if any of you have tried anything similar for visualization and stress relief.

My Writing Elsewhere . . . 


6 Apps Every Dad Needs
7 Best Pieces of Homemaking Advice from Martha Stewart
10 Creative Uses for Beeswax
5 Ways to Exercise When It’s Hot Outside
7 Edible Adventures Anyone Can Afford
10 Wonderful Ways to Use Wallpaper
13 Household Uses for Essential Oils


HAPPY THURSDAY!

Psssst: Check out previous editions of Weekend Things!

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Peanut Butter + Carob Crispy Treats

>> Tuesday, August 25, 2015

I love crispy rice treats. They were one of my favorites when I was a kid. But I don’t particularly enjoy the gooey marshmallow kind. My mom used to make amazing peanut butter rice crispy ice cream bars. I loved those bars! So, I decided to recreate them for a quick, gluten-free dessert.

I used carob on top because I picked up a bag at the store a few days ago. I used to be addicted to the stuff. Anyway, if you’d rather top them with chocolate, that’s good, too. Or you can keep them naked. Whatever you like best. You can also use honey or brown rice syrup in place of the maple syrup. Or almond butter, sunflower butter, etc.

So many delicious options.

Yum.


PEANUT BUTTER CRISPY RICE TREATS


What you’ll need . . .
  • 6 cups brown rice cereal
  • 3/4 to 1 cup smooth peanut butter
  • 3/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1 bag unsweetened carob chips*
  • 1/2 cup almond milk
  • Sea salt
* Vegans can choose Sunspire's vegan carob chips. And here’s more about carob versus chocolate.

Method . . . 
  1. Pour cereal into a large bowl.
  2. Heat maple syrup over medium heat until hot, but not boiling.
  3. Turn off heat and stir in peanut butter and a pinch or two of salt. Mix until well incorporated and smooth with a spatula.
  4. Pour peanut butter mixture into cereal and mix around with a spatula until everything is well coated.
  5. Press into a 9 x 13 baking dish lined with parchment. Press down well so it’s nice and compact.
  6. Then place in your freezer while you melt the carob.
  7. Back in your pot, pour in the half cup of almond milk and heat until hot. 
  8. Pour in chocolate chips and stir with a whisk. You might need to add more/less milk to achieve a good texture. You want to be able to pour it -- not a thick paste, but also not too runny.
  9. Once it’s all smooth, take your bars out of the freezer and pour the carob on top. Spread around until uniform and return to the freezer.
  10. Let cool until set and then slice with a sharp knife into bars.
  11. Top with additional salt (optional). 



I store mine in zip bags right in the freezer. That way, they last longer.

(At least in theory.)

What’s your favorite childhood dessert? 

I like these guys and I’m also a sucker for worms + dirt!

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How I’m Moving These Days

>> Monday, August 24, 2015

A couple notes on fitness today. I’ve started a loose 10K training plan. I don’t have a race in mind, but after months of not running on any sort of plan, I was craving some structure. I’m still trying to balance TTC with running and exercise. Though I ran a 12-miler the day before getting my positive pregnancy test with Ada, the trouble we’ve having this time around has me set on a more conservative approach.

// RUNNING


Yes. I’m frustrated with it. And many of you have told me I don’t need to worry about mileage while TTC. I’m doing what I feel is right for me and my body. Unfortunately, there’s no one-size approach. What works for one person (or one pregnancy) isn’t necessarily the best choice for another.

Here’s the plan I’m currently following. I’m hoping to find some type of 10K to do in the fall just for fun. Though I am trying to do some speed one day a week, that’s not really my goal with this adventure. It’s more about getting myself on a plan and gaining motivation.

Onto week two!


I ran my first speed workout in what felt like years last week. I did a one mile warmup, then two timed miles -- the first at 7:32, the next at 7:25 -- and then a cool down. I’m not in peak shape, but I was incredibly surprised that I’ve retained any speed at all! Definitely encouraging. Just goes to show that consistent training over the years pays off, even if you have a lapse in serious training.

For the cross-training, I’ve been doing Barre3 workouts online.

// YOGA


I’ve also committed myself to yoga. I used to practice quite regularly. I’d take two classes a week and spend time on my mat at home. I fell (way!) out of this habit years ago. I was writing an article on yoga the other day, and I came across Yoga with Adriene on YouTube. I’ve been hooked on her classes ever since.

I even started the 30-Day Yoga Challenge.


I also took my first studio yoga class in years yesterday. It was an easy flow, and I think I’ll be returning to take at least one class per week once Ada starts preschool. I used to treat yoga like a major athletic event. I always wanted to feel the burn. These days? I’m enjoying the stress-relieving aspect and the stretching.

Feels gooooooooooooooooood!

How are you moving these days?

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I’m Trying // Seed Cycling

>> Thursday, August 20, 2015

In my deep fertility-related internet searches, I came across the practice of seed cycling. Have you guys heard of this? I actually had before. A long while ago, as one of my friend’s moms swore by the practice. The idea is that the female body is ruled by different hormones at different phases in their cycles. Certain seeds can support these hormones, and -- as a result -- “seed cycling” is a practice often promoted by naturopaths.

Before I write more, just note if you suspect you have a major hormone imbalance, it’s best to work with your doctor first. I’ve had mine tested and they’re all in “normal” limits, so I see seed cycling simply as a support of good function. There’s not a lot of scientific proof it even works, but I’ll get to that later.


Hormones at work:


For those of you unfamiliar with your menstrual cycles (I’m way too familiar at this stage), there’s the Follicular Phase (before ovulation, average days 1 throughout 14) and the Luteal Phase (after ovulation, average days 15 through 28). My own cycle isn’t quite this predictable, but you get the gist.

// The Follicular Phase is more estrogen dominant.

In the first half of your cycle, your body fosters and prepares to release the egg. Disruption to the balance of estrogen can result in anovulation (skipped ovulation), late ovulation, or even painful ovulation.

// The Luteal Phase features progesterone on center stage.

This half of your cycle is all about preparing the uterine lining for implantation and supporting possible pregnancy. Too much progesterone can lead to intense PMS symptoms. Too little can inhibit pregnancy or lead to mid-cycle spotting (indication of many things, but often a premature breakdown of the lining).

What do seeds have to do with it? 


Supposedly, you can balance estrogen and progesterone by eating certain foods. I write supposedly with some weight here; I have only just begun my own adventure trying this stuff out. But you’ll find plenty of happy women who are convinced the seeds worked major magic to lessen PMS symptoms and even boost their fertility.

// Flax and pumpkin seeds contain a hefty dose of omega-3 fatty acids. Flax contains something called lignans, which can actually block excess estrogen. There’s actually a lot of zinc in the pumpkin seeds that helps with progesterone production, but the flax counteracts and balances.

// Sunflower and sesame seeds give your body a mix of selenium and zinc. The work together to promote hormone balance between estrogen and progesterone in the second half of your cycle.

The most research on this topic has been done on flax. For example, a study published by the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism (in the early 1990s) focused on the consumption of flax and the menstrual cycle. Though researchers did not discover a link between eating flax and a longer luteal phase, the "LP progesterone/estradiol ratios were significantly higher during the flax cycles.”

Interesting.


What you consume:


Follicular Phase (approximately days 1 through 14, or before O)

  • 1 tablespoon ground flax seeds + 1 tablespoon ground pumpkin seeds per day.

Luteal Phase (approximately days 15 through 28, or after O)

  • 1 tablespoon ground sunflower kernels + 1 tablespoon ground sesame seeds per day.

Now, if your cycles are terribly irregular or even absent, you are supposed to start with the Follicular Phase seeds in conjunction with the new moon. I’ve read a few places that if this works for you (or at all), you can expect to see changes around the 3-month mark.

Toss your seeds into smoothies, make tasty energy chunks with them, sprinkle them on toast with honey, or stir them into morning oatmeal. Whatever you do, consume them raw and ground for the best absorption. You should ideally avoid the seeds that don’t correspond with your hormone needs during the opposite part of each cycle.

Seriously?!


I don’t know, you guys. It sounds a bit nutty (seedy?) to me, too. 

At the same time, I do think food and what we consume can have an impact on our bodies -- menstrual cycles included. There’s such a link between the inside and out, the inner workings and our external environment. What we put into our bodies has power. To me, this whole seed cycling thing falls in the category of couldn’t really hurt, why not try?

And -- really -- so far the major impact seed cycling has had on me is helping to keep my diet healthy. It’s making me think more about the foods I’m consuming. So, I guess that’s helpful regardless.

Resources:


If you’re interested in reading more about this seed cycling practice, check out some of these sites. I’ve only given you the short and sweet version.

What do you think?


I’d love to know if any of you have tried seed cycling before. Did you like it? Is it all hype? Leave a note in the comments. I’ll be sure to let you know what results -- if any -- I experience in my little experiment.

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The Thing About Secondary Infertility

>> Tuesday, August 18, 2015

No news here. I’m sure you figured that from the title. Anyway, I had a good last couple months mentally about this trying thing. I’ve actually felt confident and centered around TTC. I’ve been charting, using OPKs (finally, FINALLY found some that work for me), noting other important signs, having impeccable timing, and relaxing about the whole thing (which sounds impossible with all that tracking, but somehow it happened, at least somewhat).

My temperature plummeted yesterday morning, so I know where we stand for this month.

Ugh.


I’ve been having all these thoughts lately. The longer I travel on the road of secondary infertility, the more I feel unsure about the future. Ada’s quick conception and (relatively) uncomplicated pregnancy was indeed a blessing. It was also a curse, because I surely believed I knew my body and what to expect from this process. You track your cycle, do you what you need to do around ovulation, and get pregnant right away (or at least within a few months). 9 months later, you have a baby.

At least that’s how it worked the first time.

Now? I have no idea what is going on. I feel like I’ll never be pregnant or carry to term again. I’m losing confidence in myself and my body. I feel a lot of doubt and skepticism.

The thing about secondary infertility is that you’re in a sort of no man’s land. Even doctors and nurses have said to me “well, you know you can conceive and carry a pregnancy . . . so it will happen.” I get it. And the statistics are stacked in our favor on this. But as the months and years drag on, I’m becoming less sure of this “fact.” It makes everything feel so much more isolating.

Also: Having a kid already somehow makes my feelings about this process less valid to others. “Well, you’re blessed to have Ada,” is something I hear regularly. That’s the most obnoxious of all. Of course I’m smitten with my daughter. But that doesn’t necessarily make this easier.

I dreaded going into the school year without my BFP. I’ll admit I don’t have the purest thoughts sometimes when I’m around lots of moms with babies and hoards of kids. I still feel sadness, anger, and a big green jealousy. Now I’ll be taking Ada to a baby-laced gauntlet each and every morning. Of course, that’s incredibly, overly dramatic, but it feels like they’re coming at me from every direction.

You know when you get a new car and you all of a sudden notice that everyone else is driving that car? It’s sort of like that with pregnancy. Lately I’ve been running into so many pregnant October mamas. As that month draws closer, I feel pretty darned empty. I am coping in my own way, and I’m probably making it all sound way more intense than it actually feels. I am just starting to wonder how long this will take . . . if it ever happens again. Or if it happens, if I’ll just miscarry again.

The thing about secondary infertility is that it sucks as much as regular infertility, but I don’t feel like I can fully express my frustration or sadness without seeming ungrateful. Or greedy. Or mentally unstable. I feel like I shouldn’t want this second baby so badly because we’re already blessed. And then there’s the part where I can’t exactly get away from my countless bins of baby clothes. The long-forgotten baby swing and bouncer in my garage. There are so many constant reminders of the state of my vacant uterus.

I’m going to have to toughen up for what’s ahead, and I’ve accepted that.

As far as what we’re doing moving forward. Stephen is finally going to get tested. My doctor doesn’t seem to think it’s necessary, but I’d have greater peace of mind being able to check him off the list. If I don’t get pregnant next month, I’d like to meet with my doctor again. He said to wait another 6 months, but I don’t feel right having zero interaction.

If I simply wasn’t getting pregnant, that would be one thing -- but I still can’t figure out why it was so hard the last time only to end in miscarriage. There might not be a reason. Still, I’m hoping there might be most tests (HSG, more comprehensive thyroid, etc.) to take. Or something. Anything.

So, that’s the update. Wish it was a happier one. Hope those of you who are TTCing are having better luck than we are. If you’re not, you’re certainly not alone.

xoxo


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Back Into the Swing // Fall

>> Monday, August 17, 2015

I have a bit of a rant about secondary infertility coming your way soon (I guess you’ve been warned!). But I’m not really in the mood to polish it off today, if you know what I mean. I thought I’d give you some up-to-the-minute updates instead. More fun, right? Stephen is coaching cross country this year. He’s in charge of the high school boys, and his schedule is going to be insane.

So, Ada and I are getting a head start on our return to the fall routine. Here’s a bit from our morning. I’ll probably elaborate on some of these things in other posts. Especially the command center. I cannot wait to see if this helps us stay organized this year.


#1: We filled the fridge with food. 

From Wal*Mart. I haven’t shopped there for groceries in ages, but since I was on that side of town, I thought I’d try. Wow. Not impressed with prices. Even Wegmans has them beat on a lot of stuff. The yogurt might be better priced, though.

I got all the watermelon Chobani I could carry.


#2: I made a green smoothie big enough for our whole family. 

I’m sipping the tall one right now!


#3: We’re created a command center.

I’ll try to snap more detailed shots once we actually put stuff on there. I’ve seen these on Pinterest for years. I want to organize our activities, meals, bills, obligations, and everything else on here. I went to Target and picked up a whiteboard weekly planner, a large cork board, and some magnets/pins/pens/etc.

My favorite part? The magnetic container. It’s the Biggy Perch by Urbio! When I looked it up online, I discovered that people use Urbio containers to make indoor gardens. Really cool.


#4: I’m making a fresh batch of laundry detergent.

I haven’t used Kirk’s Castile before, but I couldn’t find any Dr. Bronner’s on my search this morning. If you haven’t made your own DIY Laundry Detergent yet, you really should try. It’s changed how we wash our clothes.

Less crap in the water and WAY, way, way cheaper.


#5: My kitchen.

Yeah. I think it’s time for me to hop off and go clean this monster. I have a lot of cooking I want to do. I need to make a new bulk batch of Veggie Burgers to freeze. I’m getting ready to simmer the season’s first pot of Homemade Applesauce. And I’ll probably make a good number of Freezer Waffles for our busy mornings.

Yeah. We’re slowly getting back into the swing, and it feels good.

What’s on your back-to-school to-do list? 

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Indian Curry in a Hurry

>> Friday, August 14, 2015

My friend Meg gave me this amazing vegetarian Indian cookbook for my birthday. (For those of you who are interested, it’s Indian Vegetarian Cooking At Your House.) I haven’t cracked the book much yet because we were away last week, but it sparked some major curry cooking in me. We’ve been eating vegetable curry for dinner most every night, and it’s all a variation on this Chickpea Mash recipe from years ago with some tips from the book.

So, I thought I’d give you some tips for how to make this dish work in your house . . . tonight! Well, at least once you gather a few key spices. We make this meal so often, we use whatever we have on hand to make it work. If you only have chickpeas, onions, and potatoes, use ‘em.

And don’t forget the naan (we have many recipes), but I’ll give you an update on that part, too.


VEGETABLE CURRY in a hurry


What you’ll need . . .

  • Mince a couple cloves of garlic
  • Chop one onion
  • Chop one large bell pepper
  • Consider adding a cup of broccoli cauliflower, or other veggies 
  • Use a can (or 1-1/2 cups) chickpeas*
  • Peel and halve 2 medium potatoes or sweet potatoes
  • Consider adding frozen peas
  • Heck, toss in a medium tomato from your garden
  • Add spices!
    • 1/2 teaspoon mustard or coriander seeds
    • 1 teaspoon curry powder
    • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric 
    • 1/2 teaspoon garam masala
    • salt + pepper

* I’ve been using frozen chickpeas. If you’d like to start cooking your own beans, follow these instructions. Works great. Freeze big batches for easy cooking.

PS: I know this seems like a lot, but once you get your spices -- a lot of this is stuff we all have on hand for making other healthy meals. Once you get the hang of cooking it, it’s a breeze. Here’s the process. Read through it once, then make it . . . and you’ll want to do it over and over again.


Method . . .


  1. Start a pot of water boiling on the stove. You’ll add your potatoes to the water and cook until they are softened. Then remove from water and chop into pieces the size of your onions and peppers.
  2. While those are cooking, you’ll heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan (sometimes I use my tagine) and add your mustard or coriander seeds. Honestly, either type tastes good in this dish -- so just use what you have/can find. 
  3. Once they start popping, toss in the garlic and cook until lightly browned.
  4. Then toss in the rest of your veggies. You’ll want to cook until the onions are translucent. You can add your spices (all of them) at any point. 
  5. Then toss in the chickpeas and potatoes. Add a few splashes of water and keep cooking over medium heat until everything starts to cook together. The flavors will mingle, the potatoes will soften even more to make everything come together in an almost-mushy texture.
  6. After 10 to 15 minutes of simmering, serve with naan.


5-MINUTE NAAN RECIPE

What you’ll need . . .

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour 
  • 1/2 cup bread flour
  • 1 tablespoons baking powder
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons vegan mayo (!!!)
  • Pinch salt

Method . . .

  1. Whisk together the flours, baking powder, and salt.
  2. Add in the water and vegan mayo slowly. You want the mixture to be a nice, soft round, but not sticky. Add more water if it’s too dry or more flour if it’s too wet. 
  3. Divide into four pieces, then follow these video instructions to get cooking.

ENJOY!

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ABCs of Me

>> Tuesday, August 11, 2015

I’ve seen this quiz around on blogs lately (most recently on Brittany’s), so I figured it’d be fun to fill it out. And instead of putting in any relevant photos, I’m going to just give you some random embarrassing ones from my past. My mom had a huge box of them waiting for me to gawk at when I was home this past weekend.

Here we go!



A – Age: 32

B – Biggest Fear: That Ada will die. Yes, that’s incredibly somber. But with the stuff we’ve seen, I get these irrational thoughts about her being sick or getting hurt. I think it’s just because we’ve seen her hooked up to tubes with lots of stitches after her surgery . . . and then unconscious so many times for testing, etc.

If I’m being entirely honest, I feel like I’ve had to face a lot of my biggest fears head-on. And the run of stuff we’ve dealt with in recent years has made me a bit nervous in general. I feel like the worst-case scenario family. Oh, something bad? It will probably happen to us! Brain surgery? Uh huh. Infertility? Over here! Missed miscarriage? Indeed! Lyme disease? Yup. I’ll stop now.

C – Current Time: 3:07 PM

D – Drink You Had Last: Water (it’s afternoon on a Tuesday, w00t!). But otherwise I had a local IPA at my hometown’s brewery last night. Tonight? Wine!


E – Easiest Person To Talk To: This is a tough one, but I think my friend Jesslynn is the person I filter myself least around.

F – Favorite Song: That’s so hard! I like a lot of stuff, pretty wide-ranging. John Lennon was my first love. Queen is always up for a good time. Radiohead is my go-to when I don’t know what I feel like listening to. Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, Annie Clark, yeah. Lately I’ve had this song stuck in my head all day, everyday.



G – Grossest Memory: This is embarrassing as sad. When I was in fourth grade, a friend gave me a bird egg she found outside her house. We were worried because it was so cold outdoors that they needed to stay warm. So, we placed them inside my parents’ microwave for a few seconds. Yeah. POP. We opened up the microwave and I can’t even describe the scene. I was sobbing uncontrollably because I had killed a to-be baby bird . . . and the mess. Oh, it was gross. I still feel so bad about it.

H – Hometown: Wellsboro, PA. You guys know how obsessed I am.

I – In Love With: Cooking and baking. I just got back into more adventurous cooking feats, and it has rekindled my love of it. There’s something really fun about making stuff -- everything -- from scratch. I’m getting much more into stuff like cheese, breads, and other basics.

J – Jealous Of: I’m not proud of it, but I’m insanely jealous of pregnant women right now. I’m sure that’s not shocking in the least. If they’re due in late October? Extra jealousy points. Again, not proud . . . I’m working on acceptance, but it doesn’t come easy as the months and years tick on.

K – Kindest Person You Know: Stephen’s friend Ron is pretty darned nice. He’s always lending a helping hand with no strings attached. But I really think we are surrounded by a bunch of immensely nice friends.

L – Life Isn’t Complete Without: The outdoors. (And obviously my family.) But being outside is so important to me, even in the cold winter months. I think that’s one reason I love running (and walking, hiking, etc.) so much.

M – Middle Name: Danielle. My parents know this, but I’m not terribly keen on my name. “Ashley” is from a soap opera in the 1980s. I don’t know where Danielle came from. If I could name myself, I’ve always enjoyed Audrey.

N – Number of Siblings: One. My brother Ryan. He lives in D.C. (Move closer, bro!)

O – One Wish: That I could move back to my hometown, buy a farmhouse, and enjoy the simple life. When I was younger, all I wanted to do was move to a huge city. Now? I want nothing to do with that. I like the isolation and slow pace of my home area. At the same time, it’s still got a good amount of culture and good friends for its size. I think the quiet is something we don’t get enough of in this mega-connected, instant-gratification world.


P – Person You Spoke To On The Phone Last: My parents. Last person I texted was my MIL. Seriously, I never talk on the phone unless it’s with family.

Q – Question You’re Always Asked: “What do you do?” This is such a tough one since I started working from home. I start with “I’m a freelance writer.” And then inevitably it’s “who do you write for?” And then I give my list of gigs and sometimes mention that I also have a blog. Then I end up feeling quite silly. The truth is, I need to get more confident. I actually do work from home between 20-30 hours a week (outside of any blogging I do), so it’s a legitimate career. After all, I majored in writing -- so I’m using my degree to its fullest.

R – Reason To Smile: Fall will soon be here. Apples, sweaters, socks + sandals, crunchy leaves, baking, crock pot meals, warm woolen blankets, and awesome running weather. Bring it ON! If I could, I’d skip over summer and get mega-fall.

S – Song You Last Sang: Ugh. “Want You to Want Me” by Jason Derulo. Not my jam. We were listening to the radio on the drive back from PA, and the station kept playing all the sounds that sounded just like that . . . I mean. They all seriously sounded exactly the same.

T – Time You Woke Up: 6:00AM. My body just naturally wakes up around this time these days.

U – Underwear Color: Black. Didn’t have to check because I usually wear black.

V – Vacation Destination: As far as a regular destination, we do Cape May a lot. I love it there. But I’d love to go National Park hopping someday with a combined drive across the US. The Pacific Northwest is high on my GO list.

I’d love to travel by train, too. I hate flying, which is a silly reason I don’t seek more traveling opportunities. I’ve never been outside the country (except Canada), so I have a long overseas list. The top of it is Copenhagen.

W – Worst Habit: It was biting my nails, but I’m happy to report that I haven’t done that in almost TWO MONTHS. Totally spontaneously, too! Now I guess it’s leaving glasses of water all over the house with a few sips left.

 X – X-Rays You’ve Had: I’ve never broken any bones. I’ve had an X-ray for my IT-band (to rule out other nasty knee stuff), my finger (because I crushed it at work moving a large display case at a library), and my lungs once (bronchitis?).


 Y – Your Favorite Food: Sandwiches. Massive sandwiches. My favorite is the classic mozzarella, tomato, pesto, etc. on ciabatta bread. I just had a really good version of this guy from a food truck back home with local tomatoes and grilled bread that I want to replicate for dinner tonight. Also anything chocolate + peanut butter.

 Z – Zodiac Sign: Leo. I don’t really consider myself a classic Leo. My moon sign is Pisces, which I don’t think does a much better job. I’m an ENFP for Myers-Briggs, btw. That describes me pretty well.

I’d love to hear some of your ABCs!

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Back-to-School Style with JCPenney

>> Monday, August 10, 2015



I’ve mentioned it several times before, but Ada is starting universal pre-kindergarten this year. She’ll be in class for 2.5 hours each morning of the week. I honestly cannot believe we’re already enrolled in the public school system. It feels like a huge milestone.

BlogHer recently offered me the opportunity to check out JCPenney for back-to-school clothing. You guys, I had to share this with you. I have a special past with the store specifically in the fall season. I grew up in a small, remote mountain town. The nearest mall is around an hour away on winding back roads. But we had a few local shops for clothing as well as a JCPenney catalog store.

Each year before the start of school, my grandparents would generously offer to buy me new clothes to fit my ever-lengthening limbs. So, I’d leaf through the thick catalog and dream up outfits. I’d get all psyched up for school in the process. (And I’d get to do the same thing at Christmas with clothing and toys -- oh, how I’d look forward to that huge catalog.)

I’m sure you can imagine that as I shopped for Ada’s clothing I had a major flashback. This time, though, I was able to conveniently grab everything online. Heading to the store with an almost 4-year-old isn’t exactly my cup of tea. I easily clicked through all the options, Ada by my side, and we selected her school wardrobe together. I’m hoping it might be a tradition of sorts. It was fun seeing her express herself through style. Even at her young age, she definitely has likes and dislikes.

Here are a few outfits:


I was really impressed with the selection of quality clothing I was able to find on the site. (Her backpack is also so adorable when she’s not chewing the straps!) Ada is now in a 4T and even fitting some 5s! She’s a tall girl, that’s for sure. My favorite brands include Carters, Okie Dokie, Oshkosh B’gosh, and Levi’s. I tried to stick with clothing in a similar color palette so we can mix and match on busy mornings.

In my search, I noticed that JCPenney features a lot of cool trends including athleisure (casual + sporty clothing). This is particularly great for kids who play sports and engage in other active extracurriculars (or just hang around the playground). For example, I got Ada her first pair of "running tights” that also look adorable with a lot of her regular shirts.

I also see that the store carries a variety of dance and gymnastics clothing. That should come in handy since Ada is going to start either ballet or tap/jazz combo in September. Does your child wear a uniform to school? There’s a huge selection of those as well!

Of everything, I was most impressed with the prices. The majority of the clothing I picked out was already on sale. Then there was an additional 25 to 30 percent off store-wide the day I hit “submit” on my order. JCPenney is known for having good sales, so keep your eyes peeled for them!

Speaking of deals, if you head to the store, you’ll see that JCPenney offers more than just clothing. Check out some of these back-to-school promotions:
  • $10 kids haircuts (grades K-6) through 8/31
  • $29.99 eyeglasses (16 and under) through 9/15
  • Extra 25 percent off with JCP Card or 15 percent with other payment
  • SUPER SATURDAY SALE ($10 off $25) on 8/13 through 8/15

I guess you could say we’re ready for school to start. I’m sure I’ll still need a box of tissues on the first day. Thank you, JCPenney, for this trip down memory lane! Visit the store on FacebookTwitterPinterestInstagramYouTube, and Google+ for the latest on sales and other promotions.

What trends are on your Back-to-School shopping list this fall? Tell me in the comments for a chance to win a $100 JCPenney gift card.

PS: Don’t miss National #ShoutOutDay on 8/12! JCPenney is starting a shout-out movement in hopes of bending the trend of judgement prevalent in schools towards one of positive reinforcement. 
JCPenney encourages anyone and everyone to join in on the conversation and hand out shout-outs to their friends, family and followers. Simply use #ShoutOutDay to jump in on the conversation. 

Entry Instructions:

No duplicate comments.

You may receive (2) total entries by selecting from the following entry methods:

1. Leave a comment in response to the sweepstakes prompt on this post

2. Tweet (public message) about this promotion; including exactly the following unique term in your tweet message: “#SweepstakesEntry”; and leave the URL to that tweet in a comment on this post

3. Blog about this promotion, including a disclosure that you are receiving a sweepstakes entry in exchange for writing the blog post, and leave the URL to that post in a comment on this post

4. For those with no Twitter or blog, read the official rules to learn about an alternate form of entry.
This giveaway is open to US Residents age 18 or older (or nineteen (19) years of age or older in Alabama and Nebraska). Winners will be selected via random draw, and will be notified by e-mail. The notification email will come directly from BlogHer via the sweeps@blogher email address. You will have 2 business days to respond; otherwise a new winner will be selected.

The Official Rules are available here.

This sweepstakes runs from 8/10/2015 – 9/10/2015

Be sure to visit JCPenney’s brand page on BlogHer.com where you can read other bloggers’ posts!

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DIY Stair Runner // $60

>> Thursday, August 6, 2015

We’ve been wanting to do a runner in our front entryway for almost a year. When we moved in, the stairs and entry floor were covered by dingy white carpeting. We ripped it up almost immediately. We covered the entry floor with inexpensive vinyl tile + grout and left the steps naked . . . until today.

I got this crazy idea to do a DIY stair runner using cheap rag rugs from Ollie’s (a discount store chain). They’re only a couple dollars each, and this project only cost us $60 and about 90 minutes of our time. A lot less than the $400 we paid in our last house to get a boring carpet runner professionally installed.

Here’s how we did it:


SUPPLIES


  • 7 x rag rugs at $5.99/each = $42*
  • Non-slip runner pad = $12
  • Double sided carpet tape = $6 (like these)
  • Staple gun = Already owned (DeWalt for $26)
  • 3/8” to 1/2” staples = Already owned (like these)
  • Scissors 
  • Measuring tape
  • Hammer
* If you can’t find these locally, you can browse some on here. The size we used was approx. 2x3.

Total: $60

INSTRUCTIONS 


Like I said, I followed the tips on this tutorial. We also sort of just freehanded it once we got going. The first step was measuring the steps to see how many rugs we needed. You guys know I’m addicted to rag rugs, so I just used one I had in the width I wanted on the stairs to see how many I’d need.

When I got to the store, I didn’t have too many choices for patterns and colors because I needed 7 in all. Luckily, I really liked the one I was able to find. I bought 7 and then hopped over to the hardware store to get my other supplies.

When I got home, I measured the width of the stairs and marked the center on each with pen (I’d be covering it over anyway!). Then I cut the anti-slip pad so it would be a couple inches shy of the step from front to back and a couple inches short of the rug from side to side. I folded each in half and made another mark that I could align while taping.


Then I cut strips of the tape to adhere each pad to each step. I lined up the marks and did one per step.

Staple time! We started at the top of the steps and just lined up the top of the rug with the first step. We stapled in a line every couple inches. Then on the edges every couple inches. Then a couple other places. I followed the YHL tutorial for this part.


We didn’t do anything fancy for the seams. Thankfully they met on the under part of each step, so we didn’t have to deal with anything tricky where we’d be walking. Instead of overlapping, we just pulled the edges close together and stapled. It ended up working great.

We made our way down the rest of the stairs -- measuring periodically to center the rugs -- and when we reached the bottom, we cut the excess with several inches to spare. We tucked the excess under and stapled to finish.


I also found it really helpful to go back over some of the staples and hammer them deeper into the rug. There are a few that are still somewhat noticeable, so we’re planning to color them blue with a Sharpie when we get the chance.


End result:


We’re both really pleased with how it looks. It adds a lot of style to the space. Better yet, it added some nice traction to the stairs (they’re quite slippery without a runner). There’s some definite sound absorption going on, too. We still need to touch up some wood that was damaged when we pulled the old carpet off the steps, but this is a huge improvement.

I’ll be sure to let you know how this holds up. For $60, I think it’s a win. I would have liked to get a couple spare rugs as replacements in case something happens. They didn’t have any more in the same pattern, so I might check back in a few weeks.

One last before + after.


PS: I’ll share more about our new closet door in another house post soon.

For now, don’t forget to enter the Gallery Direct #giveaway.

I’ll be announcing the winner tomorrow morning!

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Reusable Food Wrap

>> Tuesday, August 4, 2015

I’m researching an article on beeswax, and I found something really awesome to do with the stuff. This tip to make beeswax fabric comes from Mother Earth News -- you may never need plastic wrap again! Oh, and this project is incredibly easy and adorable to boot.

Take a look. It’s yet another way to eliminate the use of plastics in your home!


BEESWAX FABRIC FOOD WRAP 


What you need . . .
  • A couple ounces of grated beeswax
  • 100% cotton fabric (I washed + dried + ironed mine first)
  • Tin foil
  • Baking sheet
  • Clothespins (optional, to hang and set)
  • Pinking shears (optional, to keep from fraying)

Method . . .
  1. Preheat your oven to 170 degrees Fahrenheit. 
  2. Sprinkle grated wax over fabric. 
  3. Bake for around 10 minutes -- until everything has melted and absorbed into the fabric.
  4. Then remove immediately (I used my fingers, but a clothespin works well too) so it doesn’t stick to the pan.
  5. I did find that this project is forgiving. I didn’t add enough beeswax to my first one, so I added a bit more and just left in the oven until everything melted.
  6. Let cool before using.


This food wrap is easy to fold and secure. It forms with the warmth from your hands and even sticks a bit like cling wrap. Honestly, I’m super impressed and can’t wait to make more to lee in my stash. Beeswax is amazing stuff, isn’t it?

I’ll be sure to report back on how this ends up working in the long run. The author of the original tutorial said her batch was going strong several weeks after she made them. Just rinse with cool water -- not hot -- to clean. Use them for sandwiches, cheeses, leftover bowls, and all other stuff you need to cover.

And don’t miss . . .



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* Here’s the image source for the 1800s garden above.

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Monday Stuff

>> Monday, August 3, 2015

Hey, guys. There’s a lot of catching up I need to do, so rather than write separate posts, I thought I’d do one of my famous mind-dumps. I hope you enjoy. Summer is speeding by, and we’re definitely making the most of our time together. Here’s what we’ve been up to . . .


// 1. This cabinet!



I had no intention on buying a huge antique corner cabinet for the dining room. But I’ve been eyeing one at a local antique shop for over a year. We stopped by the store the other day to look around while we got Scully groomed . . . and I saw that the price was slashed nearly in half. After measuring it 50+ times, we realized it’s almost exactly the height of our ceilings. So, we jumped on it.

I’m seriously in love.



// 2. I’ve started sewing again.


I got into sewing when I was pregnant with Ada, but since I was working full-time, I didn’t fully immerse myself enough in the hobby. In fact, I couldn’t remember how to thread my machine, which is why I haven’t stitched much -- if anything -- together in the last four years. My mom helped me get everything set up, I bought a couple patterns and some new fabric, and I’ve been practicing.

My first “big project” was this Pillowcase Dress for Ada:


// 3. U-pick season treats.


It’s our favorite time of year to head out and pick blueberries and soon apples. I enjoy the warmer weather, but I cannot wait until fall begins. I’ve always said if we could just skip over summer and straight to fall for half the year, I’d be incredibly happy. One of our favorite farms have this darling cafe with the most delicious breads and doughnuts.

There are also farm animals and other things to see. Check out this post for photos from previous visits.



// 4. Summer sandwiches.


We’re on a sandwich kick. Well, I guess we’re always on a sandwich kick. Right now we’re loving toasted Ezekiel bread slathered with vegan mayo and either tempeh bacon or field roast, avocado, tomato, and a slice of swiss. Mustard, of course. Sometimes we’ll spread on some roasted red pepper hummus, too. Oh, and a heaping pile of greens for good measure.

Messy, but good!


PS: I am also excited for fall because that means I’ll be baking bread again. I take a break from that in the summer because of the heat. I make a mean ciabatta . . . so I’m trying to figure out what loaf I want to do next. I’m thinking rye.

Any recipes to share?

// 5. Blonde again.


I dyed my hair again last week. Blonder than the last blonde, and I’m loving it. I don’t think I’ll stay blonde forever, but right now it suits me. I needed a change. I’ve promised myself on my birthday that this year would be different no matter what happens. I have so little control over this baby-making situation despite what TTC forums make me think. It’s time to enjoy (endure?) the ride and get medical help when necessary. Which might be soon if this stuff keeps up.

For now, I’ll play with my hair, exercise moderately and eat good foods, indulge in my favorite activities and treats, and just try to chill out. I’m not going to lie, typing that out is a gazillion times easier than it will be to switch my frame of mind. I completely folded into myself over this stuff last year, and I can’t live life that way anymore.


// 6. Great dad.


Ada doesn’t have any cousins. Instead, she has lots of kids her age that are our cousins’ children. It’s actually turning out to be quite nice. Anyway, some of my cousins were up visiting over the weekend . . . so we got together at the park. There’s this carousel, and Ada always loves riding the big puppy around. Some kid ran right in front of her to get on it, and the biggest, craziest fit ensued.

Stephen swooped right in and talked her down for a good 15 to 20 minutes. We’ve been having some sharing regression lately. Like, she won’t share anything at all. I blame myself or the fact that she doesn’t have a sibling. In actuality, I think it’s a mix of that stuff but also just regular 3 to 4-year-old behavior. Stephen’s a great dad, and it’s be really nice having him home this summer.



// 7. My writing elsewhere:



13 Wonderful Household Uses for Essential Oils
14 Free or Cheap Toys That Will Make Your Kid Smarter
11 Cool Uses for Popsicle Sticks
6 Best Natural Sunscreens
11 Creative Ways to Reuse Egg Crates
8 Cheap Ways to Deter Garden Pests 


HAPPY MONDAY!

Don’t forget to enter the $200 #giveaway with Gallery Direct! I’ll be announcing the winner on Friday morning, so there’s plenty of time to check it out.

Like what you just read? You can subscribe to the feed of these posts or follow us on Twitter or Facebook to be the first to know what the (never home)makers are up to. And we’ll love you forever!

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