Tell Me Something Good!

Life can be hard.  It’s gotten especially real lately – illness, disease, devastating accidents, and more have hit my friends and family.  Then there’s the news, full of death and war and increasing negativity.  Don’t even get me started with the election.  I can’t.   In the past few weeks, this has all been weighing so heavily on me, and I think about them as I drive home every day.  Today, as I groaned about the 18 wheeler meandering along in the left lane of the freeway as I passed by going only 55, I had to stop myself.  Think of something positive!

I’ve been focusing on Matthew 12:34 lately – “for the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” – and trying to fill my heart with positive so that I speak good and not evil.

So, I want to hear it.  Come at me with your good news.  Big, small, seemingly insignificant, I want all of it.

Allow me to kick things off:

  • I desperately needed a pick me up at lunch today and there was enough coffee left in the work room for me to fill up a mug.
  • I may have finally found something that will help my poor puppy stop itching constantly.
  • The temperatures are dropping.  Fall, ya’ll.
  • I have a massive to do list, but I have exactly zero on my schedule for Saturday, so I can knock some of it out.
  • iMessage is letting me keep up with friends who are across the world.
  • My students are as stoked about Harry Potter as I am.

Your turn!

How to Move without Losing Your Sanity

I’m sorry I’ve been missing in action lately.  The past few weeks I have been consumed with getting our house ready to sell and then moving out.  I’ll have more details soon for you about our new location, but for now let’s talk about moving.  It’s a drag.  From beginning to end, moving just plain stinks.  How do I know?  Because I’ve lived in 7 homes in the past 10 years.  If you count going back and forth between college and home, I’ve probably moved the majority of my stuff at least 15 times since I graduated high school.  Ugh.  Over the past two moves, though, I’ve developed and honed a moving process that is top notch.  It won’t do away with the inconvenience of it all, but it will keep you organized, keep you aware of where all of your stuff is at all times, and make the moving in process a dream.

For starters, you have too much stuff.  Start purging it now.  Oh, you aren’t moving for another six months?  Doesn’t matter.  Start getting rid of stuff yesterday.  When you’re in a time crunch, it’s fairly impossible to try and sell any of your things.  If you start early enough, you might be able to make enough money to pay for movers. (More on that later.)  I listed things on 5 miles, Offer Up, Varage Sale, Craigslist, and Next Door.  I also sold some books and CDs on Decluttr.  To be clear, this is only worth doing if you have some extra time.  I did a lot of this as we got our house ready to list for sale.  I would take anything we wanted to get rid of and toss it in a box, then I could list it while watching tv or taking a packing break.  After a week or so, anything that wasn’t sold would be taken to Salvation Army to donate.

Once you are ready to start boxing everything up, you need the right labeling supplies: sharpies, duct tape in different colors, and a spreadsheet.  Designate a different color tape for each area or category you will be boxing up: kitchen, garage, living room, kids stuff, etc.  If you’re extra nerdy, like me, you’ll assign colors by alliteration.  Office = orange.  Gold = garage.  Blue = bedroom.  Or assign to bedrooms by that person’s favorite color.  Whatever helps you remember them easily (although you will definitely know the color code by heart after you’ve finished).

Next, set up your spreadsheet.  Here is what mine looks like:moving spreadsheet

The “box size” column was a new addition for this move, but I think it’ll be helpful when I’m trying to find things on the other end.

Make sure to include a tab with your color code.  You’ll thank me later.

color code

 

As you pack, keep your spreadsheet handy.  I did mine on a google sheet so I can access it from my phone, laptop, computer at work, etc.  It’s then one less piece of paper to keep up with, and moving my laptop from room to room as I packed made it easier to bring some sweet packing tunes or whatever Netflix show you choose to binge watch to get you through the moving process.  I chose The Good Wife.  (Note: this show rivals Dexter for worst finale ever, but it was an enjoyable watch until then.)

The beauty of this system is that you can pack in any order you want.  Some people (like my mom and husband) are extremely orderly and want to pack one room completely before moving on to another room.  I tend to pack things in order of use, from least to most frequently used.  All the decorative stuff comes down first, then dishes and serving ware that are for special occasions, and then I’ll get down to the things we actually use toward the end.  Whatever order you choose, here is the process:

  1.  Assemble a box.
  2. Pack the box, listing the contents in the spreadsheet.*
  3. Close and seal the box.
  4. Put a small square of the duct tape that corresponds to that room in one of the top corners on every** side of the box (excluding top and bottom).
  5. Label the duct tape squares with the corresponding number of the box.

 

That’s it!  Notes:

* Your description of the contents is for you – it can be as detailed or vague as you choose.  Based on experience, you will become more and more general as you go.  There is one box in our spreadsheet for this move that missed the inventory process from the last move as well.  It is listed as “mystery box.”  The others are more helpful though.

** It may seem excessive, but labeling every side means it’s really easy to tell where it goes, no matter how it’s packed or shoved into a room.  It’s worth the extra duct tape and 35 seconds of labeling.

Here are what some of my box piles looked like as we went:

moving boxes

moving boxes(If you move a table or a piece of furniture that was underneath a low-hanging light fixture, it’s helpful to stack boxes underneath it so you don’t run into it over.and.over.again.)

moving boxes

The best part of this system comes into play when it’s time to move in.  If you’re moving directly from Point A to Point B, then it might not be as helpful.  If, like me, you had to spend a few weeks or months in moving purgatory with your stuff somewhere else, you will give yourself a tremendous pat on the back for all the work you did on the front end.  I guarantee you, you will not remember what stuff is where after hauling things hither and yon.

If at all possible, hire movers.  Your friends and family may be willing to help you in exchange for pizza and beer, but honestly, they will be even more delighted to help you celebrate (and may even pay for a celebratory housewarming meal!) if they don’t have to contribute manual labor.  Seriously.  Budget for it.  Use the cash you made selling your stuff pre-move.

When you reach your final destination, place a master copy of the color code at the entrance where movers (professional, or relationally-obligated) will see it.  If you still have any of the duct tape remaining, put a strip of each color on the entry to its corresponding room.  Then, as movers bring in each box, they know exactly where it goes, without having to be told.  When I moved into my last house, the majority of my stuff had been in a POD for four months.  I was teaching, and my mom generously offered to meet movers at my house for me so I didn’t have to take another day off of work.  She just wrote out the color code, and let them go from there.  I WASN’T EVEN PRESENT.  and each box was in exactly the right place when I came home.  Unless you have people who will unpack your stuff and put it away for you, it doesn’t get any easier.

You may be wondering why I listed every item that went in a box.  No matter how efficient you are in the beginning move-in stages, there will always be a few stragglers that get shoved into the garage or a packed closet for you to get to “eventually.”  When you inevitably need envelopes, or gift bags, or something else random that wasn’t an unpacking priority, you can look through all of the unopened boxes until you find what you need OR you can consult the spreadsheet to figure out exactly which box it’s in.  Since your boxes are still neatly numbered, it’ll be a breeze to locate. and since your spreadsheet is online, you don’t have to find a piece of paper first.  You can just pull it up wherever you are.

One last note on movers – if you are able to hire some, ask around.  Get as many references as possible, and be willing to hire a company that charges more per hour.  When I left the Austin area, I hired a company to load my POD for me.  Two very well-meaning, but not very experienced in the game of packing Tetris, teenaged boys showed up and took over four hours to fit everything in.  Moving out of my last house, I hired a highly-recommended company, and two guys were able to pack the same amount of stuff into the same sized POD in under two hours.  Even though they charged more per hour, it ended up being cheaper in the long run because they worked so efficiently.

That’s it!  Stay tuned to see how everything unfolds at the new house in a few weeks!

Why I’ve Gone “No Poo” and You Should Too

I first starting seeing things on Pinterest a few years ago titled “No Poo” and just had to click on them out of curiosity.  It turns out that the “poo” in question is shampoo, and women were voluntarily choosing to stop using shampoo in their hair.  It sounds like nonsense, right?  Based solely on my mother’s reaction when I told her about this, you might be imagining a potato-sack wearing, grungy, dreadlocked individual who reeks of patchouli (to cover up the smell of her unwashed hair, of course).  It turns out, that’s not the case.  Here’s my basic breakdown of why I’ve gone no poo, and how it’s working out so far. Keep Reading

Dog Shaming

Disclaimer: this post contains affiliate links.  If you choose to purchase anything through a link, it will be at no extra cost to you, but will help support the costs of this blog.  A few years ago, my parents were visiting me and we had pizza for lunch.  My dad set his plate down on a low coffee table with two slices in front of him, and my precious, handsome puppy Murphy devoured them before my dad could even notice.  I laughed hysterically.  It was a dirty move on Murphy’s part, but you see, it was the second time that weekend.  Earlier we had gotten breakfast tacos, and Murphy stole one of my dad’s right from the bag.  Ate it foil and all.

We’ve made some progress with his manners in the past 48 months.  Now that he’s a seasoned three years old, Murphy is more aware.  He understands that my husband will not react well to having his food stolen.  He knows that, if he acts disinterested, my mom will reward him with food better than the already-delicious food that she serves to her humans.  I thought we’d moved on from the childish behavior of younger dogs.

I thought wrong.

 

IMG_6590

Today we went for a long walk to take in the sunshine before a week of impending storms.  I brought along treats, his water bottle (yes.  his water bottle.  it transforms into a serving dish as well, and is brilliant for toasty Texas days when he needs frequent hydration breaks), and planned a route that included a lot of trees for some shade.  I’d recently discovered some great trails around the rec center near our house, but we hadn’t walked them on a weekend before today.  People were everywhere.  There was some huge picnic event, so people were grilling out, blowing bubbles, fishing, etc.  When Murphy was younger, this would’ve been disastrous, but he’s older and wiser now, right?  He now knows that people aren’t out to get him.  Instead, this was a sea of people with the potential to rub his belly!

Sure enough, the first kid to walk up and ask to pet him wanted to shake his paw.  “Shake” is Murphy’s one really good trick.  He’s not fancy, but he will look you in the eye and shake your hand.  Not today.  Today, he rolled right over onto his back, placing his belly front and center for this little girl to rub.  She was all about it.  Then, we circled around the playground and another kid came up and asked if he could pet Murph.  Of course!, I told him.  Murphy is very friendly!  Then I saw it.

This dog has no shame.
This dog has no shame.

While the boy used his right hand to pet Murphy on the head, Murphy’s eyes were glued on his left hand.  Before I could react, Murphy had stolen and eaten the hot dog right out of this poor kid’s hand.  Ugh, so rude.

 

Plantain Nachos

You guys.  I’m done with school.  and almost done with work-school.  I turned in my last paper and took my last final for this session of grad school last night, and I now have 9.5 days left of this school year as a teacher.  Summer. cannot. come. quickly. enough.  As I drove home last night after my exam, I kept thinking about how I should do something to celebrate – pour a glass of wine, eat a cupcake, etc.  Oh, but Whole 30.  Plus, I was so exhausted last night after waking up 3am that all I wanted to do was go to sleep.  So, the celebration was delayed a day.  Tacos used to be a weekly tradition in our house, and it got put on the back burner for a few weeks, so my husband made a special request.  While I’m not eating tortillas right now, it was a good opportunity to try out a meal I’ve been hearing about for awhile now: plantain nachos.  Plantains are one of my favorite foods lately.  When they’re still green, you can make tostones with them, and once they’ve ripened and become yellow you can fry them into a nice dessert treat.  Or, you can get plantain chips and use those as the base for nachos!

Step 1: Spread a layer of plantain chips on a plate.

plantain chips

Step 2: Top with crumbled taco meat.  For this, I browned a pound of beef with a tablespoon of homemade taco seasoning and some onions.

plantain nachos

Step 3: Top with a dollop of guac.  If you don’t want to dig through for a perfectly ripe avocado, use Wholly Guacamole like I did.

guac

That’s it!  Dig in!

Oh, wait.  Step 4: Crack open a cranberry La Croix and drink it on ice with a squeeze of lime.  In a wine glass.  Because you’re celebrating!

la croix

Then take a second to admire your handsome brown dog in the background and go back for seconds.  Bon Appétit!

 

Why I Love Whole 30 & Why You Should Try It

Since I’ve had a few people ask me about it lately, I thought I would share exactly why I’m so passionate about Whole 30.  Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links.  If you choose to purchase something via these links, I will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.  I am sharing them of my own volition because I think your life will be better with them.

Several years ago, I was breaking out in hives all over my body.  I’d had one or two sporadic episodes similar to this one before, but they could be tied directly to an allergic reaction or stress.  Four years ago, it was a different story.  They began toward the end of the school year.  I was preparing to buy my first house and spend three months living alone doing whatever I wanted to do with almost no responsibility.  I should’ve been living the high life, but I was miserable.  Hideous itchy hives + Texas heat did not result in a happy camper.  They were on my arms, my legs, my stomach, my neck, and no doctor could figure out what was causing them.  I even sucked it up and went in for allergy testing.  (Those who know of my severe needle phobia will believe me when I say that allergy testing required a strong sedative and a driver.)  Then blood testing.  Still no answer.  As bad as the hives were, not knowing what caused them was worse.  At one point, I was sobbing on the phone with my mom who had to finally just yell at me to stop looking online for answers.  The internet is not your friend when you have a medical mystery on your hands.  Then one day, I noticed a friend on Facebook tagging pictures of her food as #Whole30.

This is what I did to my neck in my sleep because the hives were itching so badly.
This is what I did to my neck in my sleep because the hives were itching so badly.

I was curious, so I did what I do best and typed “whole 30” into my search bar.  I expected to find some sort of diet.  While it is a detailed eating plan, it does not have the same tired “lose weight in x # of days” intent as others do.  In fact, one of the main guidelines is to stay off your scale entirely for the duration.  In a nutshell, Whole 30 is a thirty day reset for your digestive system to heal and to reveal food sensitivities.

The general rules: no dairy, no sugar (or sugar substitutes), no grains, no legumes, no alcohol.  The creators also warn against “paleo” treats like pancakes, waffles, brownies, cookies, etc. made with alternative flours and sugar substitutes.  This leads to the natural question of what can you eat?  The answer is simpler than you would think.  All meat, eggs, vegetables, and fruit.  In other words, real food.

As I mentioned above, Whole 30 isn’t a diet, and the intent is not weight loss.  (That being said, most people do lose weight since they eat healthier, more nutrient-dense food.  Without changing my activity level or eating less food, I lost about 7 pounds.)  By removing the foods that are bad for your digestive system, your gut has time to heal and eliminate inflammation.  How bad is inflammation?  It turns out, very.  Gut inflammation is linked to just about every physical complaint under the sun: allergies, autoimmune diseases, chronic pain, arthritis, and many, many more.  Within several days of beginning my Whole 30, the hives were gone.  Once I made it through the carb flu, I had more energy, and my brain was less foggy.  I felt phenomenal!

The two most difficult aspects are the first week and the planning.  I mentioned the carb flu above.  It’s real, ya’ll.  We are addicted to sugar.  All of us.  Sugar is in everything.  Even table salt!  As your body adjusts to new food instead of the terrible food it’s grown to depend on, it freaks out and will seem like it’s attacking you.  Press through.  It’s worth it.  This timeline provides some insight and much reassurance amid the hardest days.  As for the planning, it’s essential.  Going out to eat during a Whole 30 is challenging.  What has worked best for me is to look at the menu online ahead of time and decide what I want.  That way, it’s possible to look up any ingredients you are unsure of, and you can make a decision without any peer pressure to choose something else.  My go-to restaurant meal is fajitas – I swap out the cheese and sour cream for extra guac and veggies, and decline the tortillas.

veggies

While you can definitely find something to eat if you go out, it’s much easier to make the majority of your meals at home.  Meal planning is essential here.  At the very least, you want to make sure your fridge is stocked with  healthy meal ingredients, but it never hurts to keep a few emergency staples on hand.  Meatballs, hard boiled eggs, and some raw almonds or cashews are great when you get hangry.  My experience with Whole 30 and the discovery of a few food-bloggers has totally expanded my food world.  There are so many foods I’d never tried, but it was a fun challenge to go try them.  What did I have to lose, right?  This is where the internet is definitely your friend (as opposed to when self-diagnosing medical mysteries).  I spent many minutes looking up food online ahead of time (What is a parsnip?  What does it look like?) and googling “where to find ________ in the grocery store” while trying not to look like a complete dummy in the aisles of Whole Foods.  I even discovered that, after 26 years of my parents depriving me of their greatness, Brussels sprouts are my absolute favorite food.  Yes.  I’m serious.

As I mentioned, planning is key.  The Whole 30 site has a ton of resources, and it led me to the discovery of my cooking spirit animal.  Seriously, Mel Joulwan is a genius, and I cook almost exclusively out of her two cookbooks, Well Fed
and Well Fed 2.  They contain the Brussels sprout recipe that turned my mom into a fan as well, a to-die-for chili recipe (that’s bean-free, too!), and paleo versions of some really awesome dishes from all over the globe.  The original book behind Whole 30, It Starts With Food, provides a very in-depth yet easy to read explanation of the science behind the program.  I didn’t actually read this until about a year after my first Whole 30, and it made me even more of a believer.  My inner nerd geeked out big time with the science, and it shed light on how much the food we eat impacts everything.  Lastly, The Whole30 is the newest book of the bunch, and it combines a lot of the science with a ton of recipes in the second half of the book.  There’s also an instagram account @whole30recipes that provides a wealth of additional ideas.

So?  What do you think?  Are you ready to try one?  Let me know if you’re interested, if you have any questions, or if you want to know more!

My New Favorite Breakfast

I’ve mentioned before the importance of me not trying to think too early in the morning. It can get dangerous if I do. But sometimes it results in accidental culinary brilliance, like this breakfast miracle.  (Disclaimer: this post contains affiliate links.  If you choose to purchase something through one of the links, it will help me earn a small amount to maintain this blog at no extra cost to you.)

Last week, I was bumbling around the kitchen half-awake putting together my breakfast scramble. I had just tossed the last ingredient in the pan (herbs, of course) and put the lid on for it to heat up when I turned to grab an avocado to slice up. The pan is always filled with eggs (protein) and tons of veggies, but I like to add a little bit of fat to keep me full until lunch. But I was out of avocado!! I know this is not at all a tragedy, but it presented me with the need to actively think. Pre-second cup of coffee. Which I’ve mentioned is dangerous.

coffee

I opened the fridge and just kind of stared mindlessly, waiting for an epiphany. Then it came! There was a jar of tahini on the door of the fridge. If you’re not familiar, tahini is basically a paste made of ground sesame seeds, and it has a peanut buttery texture. I decided to drizzle a spoonful on top of my scramble, and oh. my. It was so scrumptious. Plus, I don’t have to spend precious seconds at Kroger now having to prophesy which avocados will reach perfect ripeness without going bad by the end of the week. It’s a win-win!

So, without further ado, here’s the extremely inexact recipe for my perfect savory breakfast scramble – so delicious you will want to eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Ingredients:

  • eggs (I use three, but this is up to you)
  • oil for cooking
  • veggies – the world is your oyster here and you can make it as simple or complex as you like depending on what you have in stock and what’s in season
  • fresh herbs
  • tahini – any brand will do. I really like the consistency of this one.
  • salt and pepper, to taste

You’ll notice I don’t have measurements.  The beauty of this “recipe” is that it works with just about any amount of the above ingredients that your heart and taste buds desire.  I’m usually rushing in the morning, so I like to use as few dishes as possible to minimize cleanup.  I also spend a good chunk of time on Sundays washing, peeling, chopping, and roasting lots of food to keep on hand in the fridge for use during the week.  This cuts down on daily meal prep time significantly.  Here’s how I assemble the scramble:

  1.  Set your pan on the stove and turn on medium heat to start warming it up.  Yes, before you get out a single ingredient.  This preheating is important.  I’ve been LOVING my cast iron skillet lately, and I plan to write about it soon, but for eggs and quick cleanup, this pan that my Chef Aunt Cheryl got me last year is top notch.  Grab your cooking oil and spoon in enough to coat the bottom of your pan.  I use about a forkful (because a spoonful would mean getting another utensil dirty and having to clean it).
  2. While your oil melts, start pulling all your veggies out.  After the oil has heated 30-60 seconds, toss in some diced onion, 1/4 – 1/3 of a cup or more.  This is the part that takes the longest.  You want to let the onion soften for a few minutes, so empty the dishwasher, pack your lunch, or look up a corny joke to write on a napkin to sneak into your husband’s lunch.
  3. After a few minutes, the onion should be softening and more translucent.  Add in a handful of mushrooms, and a 1/3 of a cup or so of diced sweet potato.  The sweet potato is a new addition for me.  My sister-in-law just suggested it to me, and it’s delicious.  Let this start to heat for another few minutes.
  4. Crack your eggs into the pan.  Use the spatula to mix them up – you can crack and beat them in a small bowl first if you want, but I’m too lazy for that.  The pan should be pretty hot by now, and the eggs will cook quickly.  Let them sit for about a minute, and get your leafy greens ready!  You can use a lot of volume here.  I aim for about a cup.  If I have some spinach to use up, I’ll use that.  Otherwise, I like kale.  While the other veggies heat up in the pan, I’ll tear the kale up into smaller pieces.
  5. Add the greens and a small handful of herbs to the pan, turn the heat to low, and cover it to steam.  Leave it for a minute or two while you put all your Pyrex veggie containers back in the fridge.
  6. Once the greens have wilted, scoop the whole delicious mess onto a plate.  This is where the magic happens.  Spoon (or fork) about a tablespoon of tahini and drizzle it on top.  Add some salt and pepper, and dig in.

food-eggs

The tahini with any scramble is fantastic, but the combination of tahini and sweet potato is the stuff of legends.  I may be exaggerating, but you’ll have to try it to find out.  Seriously.  Let me know what you think!