the "top"
I touched on this topic a little bit last week, and by no means have I "mastered the art of happiness," but I have a little more I'd like to share on the topic :).

In the past few months, I've made a concentrated effort to "weed" through every area of my life- how I spend my time- and with whom I spend it with… activities, friends, obligations, social events, ...even the blogs in which I follow- and how much time I spend on commenting(!), emails that I choose to open- or subscribe to, articles I read, t.v. shows I watch...  At 36 years of age, I feel like I’m [finally] developing an acute sense of what works and does not work.

Wow.  It has made such an incremental difference in all faucets of my life… my writing, creative endeavors, time spent with others, in my health- and overall well-being. 

Little upward steps in the right [for-me] direction… a positive (rather than negative) momentum.  And the days/moments that I start to get down/unmotivated/frustrated (because of course, there are still plenty of those moments), I seem to be able to pull out of them quicker and back in the right direction… rather than just getting sucked into that state of negativity- the “downward spiral.”
With the clutter cleared out of the way, it's so much easier to stay- or get back- on track… to get back to the things, people, places that DO work… and even better- to bring more of the "good stuff" into the picture.  Cause isn't that always the case?  When my home- or a room, or a closet- is filled with junk, not only am I unmotivated to clean it… not only am I frustrated by it's current state… but I am totally uninspired to add anything *new into the equation… to do that project that I've intended to do, to try out that new recipe, to purchase new office supplies…

What I do each day, each week, each moment is a matter of choice.  And while I have responsibilities & obligations to contend with, life does not just happen to me

So, today, on my very first day of my 36th year, I chose to do something that works.  A grueling hike, with a good friend.  I didn't say "what works" is equivalent to "fun" or "easy" ;)… and even though I never thought we'd get to the top, we did.  And it felt good.

Power bars.

With my grandma here the past few days, it's been both extremely productive in some ways, and not so much in others.  Anything involving the computer has been close to zero (yes, I do like/need to be unplugged every now & again, but today- to make up for the extended absence- I'm granting myself lots of extra url time... before & after our tax appointment of course).  Working out has been pretty light this week.  Spring cleaning, laundry, organization- on the other hand... huge, huge progress.  

On Monday, my mom, my grandma, & I were all set to spend a day of shopping.  That morning, I looked around at all of the to-do projects & piles, at the mound of laundry that didn't get done over the weekend, at the huge bag of "organization supplies" purchased a month ago at the Container Store, Ikea, Target... and I decided I did not/could not bring anything else into this house until I resolved the currant state of affairs.  

So, instead of birthday shopping, my present came in the form of HELP... We spent the entire day getting things done.

I'm talkin' the "getting-on-your-hands-&-knees-&-dusting-under-the-bed type cleaning"... and I am incredibly, incredibly grateful for their gift.  Their gift of time, of assistance, of love... because it takes a LOT of love to dig through another's "dirt"... & boy, their love for me is to the moon {& back :)}.

So, maybe a bit off-balanced in all other areas- temporarily, but it's necessary to keep moving forward... to keep the 'wheels from getting stuck'.

But, all that pinning over the weekend was surely not in vein.  It was the determining factor in Sunday's dinner, & was the source of inspiration for these "power bars" that my grandma & I tossed together before her departure yesterday.  The 'food category' is also pretty off-kilter this week... a few [indulgent] meals in store- beginning with this evening- & continuing throughout the weekend.  Not to mention, anytime I take a "road trip", my appetite seems to increase tenfold the second I set foot in the car.  So, aside from the fact that these are excellent 'recovery snacks' (pre & post workout), this week- & this weekend- they are simply necessary.

power bars
*adapted from the little red house

makes a quarter sheet pan's worth of bars

{this is a very, very loose recipe, so adjust/adapt ingredients accordingly!}

1lb pitted dates or figs (*see note below)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
pinch of cinnamon
cup of almonds, roughly chopped
a few handfuls of rolled oats & rolled wheat (didn't have rolled wheat- used wheat germ)
large handful of sunflower seeds
large handful of raw pumpkin seeds (I used salted/roasted seeds, since I had them on hand)
[either of the above 2 should be salted to add a salty/sweet flavor to the bars]
small handful of flax seeds
handful of dark chocolate chips

Puree the dates in a food processor until a paste starts to form (this is your "glue" to hold your bar together).  Add vanilla and cinnamon.  Continue to puree until it forms a "date-paste ball" inside of your machine.

Add the date-paste and all of the other ingredients into a large bowl and mix it together.  Add more seeds if the dates will hold more.

Press the mixture into a quarter sheet pan and place it in the freezer for an hour.  Turn over onto a cutting board and slice into squares.  Store in the freezer, if desired (for a longer shelf life), and thaw for a few minutes...

...when you're ready for a protein packed 'recovery snack'.

  • My handfuls must have been a little too big, because the date-paste was not really holding all of the nuts/seeds together.  I had dried figs on hand, so I created a fig-paste and added it to the entire mixture.  Next time, my "large handfuls" will not be quite as large.
  • Next time, I'll line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper (with extra parchment extended over the sides) so I can easily pull the bars out before cutting.
  • My favorite store-bought 'power bar'... the label speaks for itself!

Happy Wednesday everyone... I'm sure I'll see ya in one social-media venue or another- later today... after the {hopefully FRUITFUL} Tax Appointment. 

The countdown's ON.

aside from re-uniting with pinterest (how could i ever, ever claim to be "too busy" to spend some quality early morning-when-everyone-else-is-fast-asleep pinning time??), making the [5-min.] trek to target to purchase the product that i am hoping will change the course of my [& hailey's] up-dos forever, selling pushing girl scout cookies with the troop... for 4 hours... the true highlight was a night out with my husband.

a friend turned 40, & celebrated new orleans-style... our first ever crawfish boil...

... hurricanes a' plenty... batches & batches of jambalaya, a fancy cake, lots of beads...

a nice way to "get away" without actually stepping foot on an airplane.

...but also a little preview of our upcoming weekend in which we really do get to get away... five days & counting.

{it is my last week of "#35" afterall.  i plan on making it a good one.}

hope your monday treats you well... or you treat it well.  either-or :).

Quality of life.

Image via
i had the pleasure of hanging out with new & old blogger pals this past week.  

emily was in town for just a day, but she happily extended her return flight just so that she could spend an evening with katrina (who em introduced to me on her last LA visit... & so happy she did) & i.  jenn was here on a family vacation & set a night aside to meet me- and one of her other blogging friends, casie... the more the merrier.

it never ceases to amaze me that- after a few minutes of "initiation"- we jump right in, talking about anything & everything- as if we haven't skipped a beat... laughing, story-telling, listening... talking a bit more in depth about that job interview, or dilemma that they'd referenced in a post- but was a bit too personal to share in full online.  2 lovely evenings in which i walked away a brighter, bolder, better person. 

lately, i've found myself in [social] situations that are underlined with negativity, judgement, criticism, & flat-out-rudeness.  life's just too short for that nonsense.  my well-being is far better suited with real friends, true character... 

& an accompanying cocktail- a jalapeno pepino margarita, let's say- or a basil gimlet- never hurts.
{...cause it's been said that trying new things is also good for your well-being :)}

The entitlement factor.

The day I started working out (spinning) again (Friday, January 27th, to be exact), was concluded by a night out with friends, a "hearty" meal (you know you're in for it @ a place called "slaw dogs"), a couple a' glasses of wine, & several bites of ice cream (since we *had to try almost every. single. flavor.).  The following day, my grandma came to stay… & we proceed to eat our way through the weekend.  Monday mornin' came… another grueling spin class.  That night, we all went out for another "hearty" meal.
The next day, I was googling "average spin cost" to justify [to my grandma] my membership cost.

Somehow, I stumbled upon an article entitled:

Bethenny Frankel Says Spinning Classes Make You Fat! Really??

First of all, I am not a 'Real Housewife' fan, so believe it or not- I had no clue who Bethenny is.  But WHAT??  How does working my ass off (literally) make you fat??  So, of course I had to read further.

And although her statement is pretty ridiculous & far-fetched, it actually woke me up- from my mindless-eating-stupor.  The basic premise is this...

High calorie-burning cardio workout = increased appetite = eat whatever you want (post workout) to satisfy said appetite (because you worked out, after all) = more calories inhaled than burned = no weight loss, & potential gain.

If I actually wanted to lose weight, I needed to be conscious of what/how much I was eating... not entitled.  And although it isn't a new concept by any means, it's one that I apparently needed to "re-visit"... & I'm sure glad I did.

Since both of those meals in which I scarfed down post workout involved french fries, I decided to arm myself with a new version- more suitable to ass-burning.  So, without further ado~ this week's tried & true recipe {& a great tip!}...

{this week's recipe isn't actually a new recipe- since we've baked "fries" several times before.  Jillian's version is new [to us] but similar to the ones we usually make... just a little less olive oil, & a higher oven temp.  BUT, the **big tip/secret to getting perfectly crispy fries actually comes from Tyler's oven fries... see below for more...}

roasted russet fries

serves 8

4 large russet potatoes
3 tbsp olive oil
a "bit" of salt (kosher or sea salt) & pepper

Preheat the oven to 475.

**Preheat a large baking sheet in the oven for at least 5 minutes.

Cut 1 potato lengthwise into quarters. Cut each quarter lengthwise into 2 to 3 wedges. Repeat with the remaining potatoes.  Place the potatoes in a large mixing bowl, along with the olive oil, s&p and toss gently until thoroughly coated.

Dump them onto the hot baking sheet, spreading them into a single layer.

Roast for 30 to 40 minutes, flipping once midway through, until the potatoes are cooked through, brown and crispy. 
  • When you check the fries and flip them midway through, get a feel for how fast they are cooking and finish accordingly (depends on your oven & the size of the potato/cut).
  • The ones in the photo above were peeled- & cooked at a lower temp... I had to return Jillian's book to the library and went by memory!
  • In case you're wondering, I did end up ordering the book (borrowing it & using it for a few weeks showed us that it was in fact worth yet another cookbook purchase).
We're all entitled to a little healthy indulgence :).

It pays to plan.

It was a pleasure to kick off estelle's "gardening adventure" series yesterday, with soil preparation tips.  I thought I'd share a few more BIG & little tips that we've found to be especially helpful.

1.)Utilize a garden journal.
... never before realized how much planning, researching, designing, sketching, adjusting, observing, trouble-shooting... that a garden entails.  this journal allows us to record all of it in one spot.

2.) Maximize your gardening space *without over-crowding.
... by far, one of our biggest lessons learned last year... & greatest discoveries this year-  proper spacing, smart grouping... both absolutely essential.  this online planner allows you to draw out your garden, and shows "how much space plants require and how to group them for maximum success."
3.) Combine seedlings with seeds.
... some vegetables take longer to mature from seed.  although most of our plants start out in the form of seeds planted directly into the garden (the kids love helping to pick out the "seed packets" :))- when it comes to long-season plants (such as tomatoes & peppers), we purchase seedlings from the nursery.  last year, we tried to start our own; everything started off really well... then just like that, they all DIED.  this year, we needed to experience more success than failure simply want to get our soil, grouping, and spacing down, so we took the easy route when it comes to seedlings.

4.) Plan the menu... & stock up.
... a seemingly little tip, but made a world of difference.  no question about it... gardening can definitely be relaxing & "therapeutic" even.  but the days of purchasing, hauling, clearing, soil-preparing, & planting is a. lot. of. work. {especially when you squeeze the whole job into a day & a 1/2} ... {and especially when you want to mix in other weekend activities- such as eating}... solution??  plan your weekend menu (and stock up on groceries).  when you're hot & dirty & gross (not that i was or anything), it's no fun to plan meals, go to the store- or even run and get takeout.  *also- start the day right with a big ol' "mug" of coffee and have drinks & snacks ready for your always-hungry children [& self].

5.) Make it a family affair.
... while keeping in mind that a.) perfection has no place in gardening (because let me tell ya- they will not put the seed in the perfect spot- or dig the holes in the perfect proximity to one another... but neither will i!), and b.) they need breaks... to analyze worms, stare at the dirt(??), play in the yard, and of course- EAT.
Whether getting out in the garden or hitting up the pubs, have fun going GREEN this weekend :).


  zucchini, squash, watermelon, pumpkin, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, carrots, peas, green beans, strawberries, basil, oregano, mint, parsley, thyme, sage, rosemary, chives, & marjoram 

Yep.  That's the plan!

Ryan, myself, Jacob, & Hailey got busy last weekend, and by Sunday at sundown, our work was done.

We have finally learned that soil preparation is KEY, and *we are over at Estelle's place today to share a) exactly how we learned this lesson {the hard way}, and b) crucial tips on preparing your garden soil for spring planting.  It's a lotta work upfront, but what the payoff of a bountiful summer garden is delicious... in more ways than one.

Visit us at Estelle's & share your own gardening pursuits n' tips!

*Ryan & I collaborated on the post.  He handled the writing (he's a natural)... I managed the pics.  Teamwork :). 

Green velvet cupcakes... & a list.

Monday night, after Jacob came home from a boy scout meeting, he walked over with a smirk (you know, the kind that older brothers get when they have "dirt" to spill regarding their younger siblings) on his face, and handed me a paper that he'd found laying on the art table.
It was a list created earlier that afternoon by my little list-making daughter.  Here is what it said (written in all cursive btw... as you can see above, she likes to write in cursive)...
List [for] when Jacob's gone
  1. see if Mommy's on the computer
  2. if not, ask for Club Penguin [an online computer game that "ALL the girls" are playing]
  3. if is, ask for Wii
  4. or for T.V.
You see, she didn't actually do anything wrong per se.  But Jacob knows how we feel about being "plugged in" 24/7.  How we don't feel that it's necessary to take 5 minutes to grab the D.S. (and all of its accompaniments) in order to ensure *entertainment* on a 2-minute car ride.  How we don't always welcome the 10 calls a day by 8 year old girls phoning to request that Hailey stop everything she's doing- not so that they can have an actual CONVERSATION mind you- so that she can "log in" to the world of penguins & puffle pets.
And he's heard us openly discuss when we've realized that the pendulum has swung a little too far in the wrong direction... a few too many meals eaten around the television rather than around the table... far too many nights of me frantically catching up on my computer (blogs, twitter, pinterest, facebook, e-mail- although that last one always seems to be deemed the lowest on the priority list)- or spending far too long composing that "perfect" post... and way too many undiscerning "yes's" in response to the "can we watch..." or "can we play [insert gaming system of choice]..."  {cause sometimes if I have a mound of dishes to do, or heaven-forbid- a long list of unchecked tweets- it is just easier to say YES}
Well, looks like it's time for a little pendulum shift.  The one in which we remind our kids {& ourselves} of just how much there is to DO & enjoy that does not involve a plug.
So, yesterday- after Hailey came home from school, I did- as usual- have a mound of dishes to do.  But this time, I asked her to stay and keep me company.  We chatted it up... and by the time we were finished, I couldn't get her to stop talking :).  A welcome change from the lethargic, short-spoken girl- who has gradually stopped asking me to play a board game with her... stopped asking if she can help me cook... stopped asking me what we're going to do together when Jacob leaves for his meeting.
We talked... we laughed... we formed a new list (of the grocery variety), we headed to the store, and after that, we baked.
{gettin' into the st. patrick's day spirit a little early, since jacob will be camping on the big day... (i keep reminding ryan that st. patrick's day is, in fact, a "big" holiday)}
DISCLAIMER:  These are dangerously delicious.  I only had a bite of one, and I'm scrambling to give at least 1/2 of them away before temptation prevails.
green velvet cupcakes
*adapted from organic and chic 
makes 24 cupcakes (or 25, in our case)
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tsp vinegar
2 tsp baking soda
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 1/2 tbsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp professional green food coloring (I used 1 tbsp of Wilton leaf green icing, & 1 of AmeriColor forest green gel paste... left over from here and here.)
vanilla whipped buttercream (recipe below)
Preheat the oven to 350.  Place liners in 2 muffin pans for 24 cupcakes.  Set aside.
In a small bowl, mix the cocoa powder, vinegar, and baking soda together.  Set aside.
Beat the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3-4 minutes.
Add the eggs, one at a time, and continue mixing until well blended.  Mix in the buttermilk, vanilla, and food coloring.  Then add the cocoa powder mixture.
With the mixer on low speed, gradually add the dry ingredients to the buttermilk mixture.
Pour the batter into the prepared pans.
Bake for 14-16 minutes, checking with a toothpick.
Let cool completely in pan for 10 minutes.  Then set on a wire rack and let cool completely.
Frost with the vanilla whipped buttercream...
vanilla whipped buttercream
makes 3 1/2 cups frosting, enough to frost and fill one 8-inch layer cake or to frost 24 cupcakes
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 cup whole milk
1/4 cup sifted all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tbsp vanilla extract
Cream the butter on medium speed, 3 to 5 minutes, in a standing mixer or with a hand mixer until soft, about 30 seconds.  Add the sugar and beat on high speed until light and fluffy, 5-7 minutes.
In a small saucepan, combine 1/4 cup of the milk, the flour, and the vanilla extract, and whisk until there are no lumps.  Over medium heat, slowly add the remaining 3/4 cup milk, whisking constantly, and heat until the mixture comes to a low boil.  Then reduce the heat to low and keep whisking for a few more minutes, until the mixture starts to thicken.
Immediately remove the pan from the heat, but keep stirring.  (After you have removed the pan from the heat, the mixture will continue to cook for a minute or two on its own.  If you overheat it and get small lumps, try to whisk vigorously to get them out, or pass the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve.)  If necessary, place the pan over a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process and allow the mixture to cool.
Once the milk mixture has thickened, set it aside to cool to room temperature.  You can stick it in the freezer to rush the cooling.
With the mixer on low speed, slowly pour the milk mixture into the butter-sugar mixture.  Increase the speed to medium and beat until the frosting is light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes.
...and enjoy each & every luscious bite.

Let there be light.


The main purpose of 'daylight saving time' is to make better use of daylight.

gardening till suppertime*... 5pm ice cream truck visit... i'd say we made pretty good use of our extra time :).

hope you did too.

{*more to come a little later this week [thursday]... ryan & i are kicking off estelle's 'gardening adventure' series by sharing the do's & don'ts of preparing your garden for spring planting... check it out!!}

Serious business.

life got busy.  & then busier.  & i lost my momentum.
after months of total inactivity (despite the fact that i joined- & pay a monthly fee- a gym last june) & eating under the "all is okay in moderation" philosophy , we're finally gettin' all serious around here in the "health" category.  started spinning again in january... weight training in february- a couple of yearly physicals for ryan & i... one thing led to another, and well, we're back at it.  

that's the beauty of momentum, isn't it?  even though it seems incredibly daunting and overwhelming at first... and even though i seemed to have lost all muscle & stamina (not to mention- confidence)... little steps taken in the right direction lead to bigger steps... and before we know it, we're taking vitamins, learning how to "Master [our] Metabolism" (dr-approved/recommended btw), and counting calories.

"diet" is a bad word to some, but those 20 lbs have lingered a bit too long and until my jeans fit comfortably they make their way out, we're on a mission to rid them away.  for good.

... and then, we'll bring a *healthy dose of "moderation" [& wine] back into the equation.  but this time, it will not mean "eat whatever and whenever we want, without doing any form of exercise whatsoever."

but for now, we're actually having fun with it- cracking the code on serving up nutrient-rich dishes without sacrificing flavor... getting back into cooking with a slew of different grains, flours, natural sweeteners...

from muffins to curries to pancakes- we've cooked about a dozen recipes out of the Master Your Metabolism Cookbook in a mere week (yes i have a ton of cookbooks- healthy & otherwise, but i didn't buy this... i checked it- along with this- out at the library!) ... so many great ideas & tips- and simple recipes.

i will definitely share more, but for now- my latest tried & true {so, so good & good for you too. win-win.}

golden apple crisp
*from the master your metabolism cookbook, by jillian michaels 

serves 8

virgin coconut oil*
1/4 cup honey
4 golden delicious apples (about 2 lbs), peeled, cored, and cut into 3/4 in. chunks (about 6 cups)
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp plus 1/2 cup white whole-wheat flour
1 cup rolled oats (not instant)
1 tbsp finely chopped walnuts
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
8 tbsp low-fat (or non-fat) plain greek yogurt (or regular plain yogurt)... mixed a little honey in- for the kid's sake

Preheat oven to 375. (I cook on convect & typically lower mine by 25 degrees when baking... cooked this at 350)

Into a glass measuring cup, put the oil and honey.  Microwave on high power until melted, about 30 seconds, stirring once or twice.

In a large mixing bowl, place the apples and add the lemon juice and 1 tbsp flour.  Toss to coat.  Transfer the fruit to a 1 1/2 qt. baking dish and spread evenly.

In a medium bowl, combine the remaining 1/2 cup flour, the rolled oats, walnuts, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.  Stir with a fork until the ingredients are well combined.  Pour in the oil and honey, and stir until the mixture is well blended and crumbly.  Use your fingers to distribute the crumbs evenly over the fruit.

Bake until the topping is golden brown and the apples are bubbling, about 50 (...or less!  I set mine for 40 & it was not burnt, but a bit too brown) minutes.  Let the crisp cool for about 15 minutes before serving.

Spoon the warm crisp into eight serving dishes.  Top each serving with a spoonful of yogurt and serve.

*Extra-virgin coconut oil is used in many recipes within the book- both savory & sweet.  READ here for more info (make sure you click on the article link)  After a little research, I purchased this one... & in all recipes so far- I've been very happy with the flavor- and it does not make this recipe- or any of the others- taste like coconut.

Serve it to your kids when they arrive home from school... and then again for dessert later that evening.  They'll think they're scoring by getting not one, but *two desserts.  But you'll know otherwise :).

{March}ing in.


a sweet sigh of relief.  

we made it through the treacherous roads of FEBRUARY.

... like my shoes?  they were inspired by this post- "Forget the Frump: Hot Houseshoes for Her"... and before you laugh out loud, I am not asserting that these shoes are "hot" ... but at the same time- not my typical at-home attire (gym shoes, converse, or flip flops).  and they are kinda cute... & super, super comfy.  i really like 'em.

and maybe if paired with the right piece they have the potential to look hot.

or maybe not.

{*only $16.99 @ target ...just a tad less than some of my favorites highlighted in the aforementioned article}
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