May 31, 2013

Promises to Keep by Jane Green

Promises to Keep by Jane Green is another book I picked up from the bargain bin at Barnes and Noble. The story centers around two sisters who love each other yet could not be more different. One, Callie, is a grounded wife and mother of two who is a successful photographer while the other, Steffi, can't seem to remain in one place, at one job, with one man for any span of time. Since Steffi feels like she has finally found her calling as a chef, Jane Green interspersed delicious recipes after many of the chapters in the book. It is difficult to write a decent synopsis without giving too much away which would be an injustice for this novel. All you need to know is that Promises to Keep is a wonderfully written tale of two sisters and their love and devotion to each other. As a disclaimer though, if you're an emotional reader like me, I would read the last few chapters with a few Kleenex on hand. It's a worthy summer fiction read.

May 29, 2013

Your Journey

I don't know about you, but these words ring so true in my life. I think I need to begin reminding myself of this... often.

May 27, 2013

Memorial Day

Please thank a soldier today for their service. My brother is a captain in the Army, and I never fully appreciated our military personnel until someone I loved began putting his life on the line for me, you and everyone else in our nation. Regardless of whether you agree with our country's military strategy, thank a soldier. They fight for us, and they never seem to get the recognition they deserve. So on Memorial Day, a day of remembrance for all those who have served and given their lives for us, thank a soldier who continues to put you and our nation above themselves.

May 24, 2013

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

I received State of Wonder by Ann Patchett in my Christmas stocking this past year. The story revolves around a Dr. Marina Singh, a pharmaceutical researcher, who is sent into the Amazon to try to find her colleague who has gone missing and is presumed dead. To find him though, she must face a woman from her past that she has tried to forget and deal with the emotions that go along with remembrance and forgiveness. Singh encounters all sorts of obstacles just trying to get to the Amazon and even more once she arrives. State of Wonder kept me turning the pages and wondering what would happen next. It is definitely a worthwhile read if you enjoy (not-so-distant) science fiction.

May 17, 2013

The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande

In The Checklist Manifesto, Atul Gawande presents what a checklist is, what it is not, and how checklists have improved the quality of performance in many different industries. From surgeons to pilots to world health outreach, Gawande outlines how checklists can be implemented and even includes a checklist for making checklists. Don't let the seemingly boring subject matter fool you - this is an entertaining book that will no doubt open your eyes to how you run your every day life as well as how various industries choose to operate. If you're looking for an easy yet intellectual non-fiction read, this is most definitely a book that should be on your (check)list.

May 16, 2013

Sewing Spaces

Not many people I know have enough room in their house for a dedicated sewing space, but a girl can dream, and I'd take any of the rooms below.

                                                               Modern Home Office by New York Architect Incorporated

                                              Eclectic Home Office by Santa Ynez Media And Blogs Going Home To Roost

                                                      Eclectic Home Office by Vancouver Media And Blogs The Locker

                                                                       Spaces by Other Metro

May 13, 2013

Spicy Chick-Fil-A Cows

I couldn't believe what I saw driving down the highway the other day. Firefighting Chick-Fil-A cows that go up on a billboard! They were huge! So I did what any rational person would do and took pictures as I drove past.  :)

May 10, 2013

Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah

I picked up Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah from the bargain bin at Barnes and Noble, and it is hands down the best bargain book I've ever read. It's actually one of the best fiction books I've ever read. Winter Garden is the story of two sisters and their very different lives. As their ailing father passes away, they are left to deal with their eccentric and distant mother who has promised to tell them a story that will forever change their lives. It is a gripping tale of love, healing and the possibility of redemption even after years of hurt. I have lent this book to countless people for them to read, and I highly recommend adding it to your reading list and library.

May 9, 2013

Up by Jawbone - A Review

This is not a sponsored post. I simply have this product and want to share my opinions of it.

I purchased my UP by Jawbone three months ago. I'd been wanting a pedometer for a while, but I had yet to find one that fit my qualifications. First and foremost: it couldn't be a clip on model. I know it sounds ridiculous, but I cannot stand things clipped on my pants. It bothers me and makes me feel unprofessional. Plus where do I put it when I wear a dress? Some models you can clip onto your bra, but I have never been one to stash things in my bra nor it is cavernous enough in there for me to forget it's there. Actually, that was really my only qualification - I wouldn't be forced to clip it onto my pants or where it somewhere it doesn't belong.

When I read about the UP I was intrigued. It's a bracelet? That tracks my steps, and my sleep, and is a place where I can log other activities and my food? Of course, you have to use the app for most of that, but the app is free and has a great user interface. After reading more about it I knew that I wanted it, but due to it's decently high cost ($130) we decided I would think about it for a few weeks. If I still wanted it after that time I could get it. (Sometimes I have a tendency to really want things, but a week later I couldn't care less. We put this policy in place to counteract that. Lars has the same rule for himself so it works out nicely.)

Now that I've been living daily with my UP for two months, here are some observations:
  • I am often amazed by how few (and sometimes how many) steps I walk in a day. It's not as easy as you'd think to get in the recommended 10,000 steps. If I'm working all day at my desk even if I work out 45 minutes I sometimes don't get in all of my steps. On the other hand, I volunteer at a hospital in town, and there are days I'll walk all 10,000 steps in one three hour shift. It just really depends. 
  • I usually walk and strength train for my exercise. The app has about 15 various exercise activities that will satisfy most people's tracking needs. If you do some obscure form of exercise just know that you might have to choose "other" for tracking your daily exercise.
  • I love the food tracking aspect of the app. Yes it takes a bit to add your foods to the food library, but if you're anything like me you often eat the same things (at least for breakfast and lunch) so it's not that difficult. It's been interesting to see how the nutritional value of the foods I make at home once I put the recipe ingredients into UP.
  • On the food aspect, my main issue is that the app sets your nutritional daily values for you without really taking anything into account but your height, weight and gender. It has my daily carb intake set to what is in the middle range of a low carb diet. I am not on a low carb diet so when I look at my overall day, it always tells me that I'm over my carb limit. 
    • To be fair, on days I eat a decent amount more carbs than others I have noticed that I don't feel on top of my game. Although I still eat more than 100g of carbs a day, I feel better on the days I don't eat 250g of carbs. I might not have noticed that without my UP tracking it.
  • You have to press the button to put it in sleep mode so I've forgotten a few times, but it is amazing to have data validating a good (or bad) night's sleep.
All in all, I am very satisfied with my UP, and I would definitely purchase it again.

May 8, 2013

Envelope Clutches

I'm currently obsessed with envelope clutches. Surely I'm not the only one who thinks that a normal-sized clutch is just too small. I mean, how am I supposed to fit all my essentials in a bag that barely fits my phone and some chapstick? An envelope clutch easily solves that problem and fits everything I could possible need.

Envelope Clutches

May 7, 2013

Pushing Motherhood

I know that each one of us are at different stages in our lives, and I'm in the stage where it seems like everyone around me is getting pregnant with their first, second, and even third child. We're in a day an age where sometimes motherhood chooses us when we least expect it, but we're also have so much more control over when we choose to have children than women did even just fifty years ago. The question that plagues me (and maybe some of you) is when is the "right" time? I know, I know. There's never a right time, but we still try to get as close to that ideal time to begin motherhood as possible. What has resulted is a nation of women who are delaying motherhood (for better or worse), and that's the idea behind the aptly titled documentary "Pushing Motherhood".

FILM SUMMARY: Pushing Motherhood is a documentary about Sybil and Linda, best friends on the road to becoming mothers later in their reproductive lives. We follow the two women as they unpack the reasons why they waited so long, and discover both the costs and benefits of deferring motherhood into what medical professionals call “advanced maternal age.”  (from Kickstarter

I personally can't wait to see the film, and I hope they're able to receive full funding to complete production. What do you think? Are you waiting or did you choose not to delay motherhood?

May 6, 2013

Window Design

I've been seeing a number of interesting and beautiful window designs lately. I'm a total sucker for great windows - whether it's leaded glass, stained glass, or just a different design. I love natural light!

                                    Traditional Living Room by San Francisco General Contractor Upscale Construction

                                                Contemporary Entry by Chicago Architect SPACE Architects + Planners

                                           Spaces by South San Francisco General Contractor Dijeau Poage Construction

                                                  Traditional Kitchen by Saratoga Springs Design-build Witt Construction

April 24, 2013

Worn on TV

Do you ever wonder where Jess from New Girl got that awesome dress she wore last episode? How about the jacket Mindy Kaling wore on The Mindy Project back in January? I do. ALL THE TIME. I finally ran across a great site called Worn On TV. They find either the exact match for an outfit or find pieces that are close to a match. They do this for 20+ TV shows. I only wish they had one for the character of Angela on Bones. Seriously though, go check it out. It's what I've always wanted but never had the time or the patience to compile myself.

April 22, 2013

White Kitchens

I have yet to be able to have a white kitchen - you can't exactly paint the cabinets in a rental. I just love the crisp simplicity of an all white kitchen. Along with some great windows, it adds a freshness to a home, don't you think?

                                            Contemporary Kitchen by San Francisco Architect Feldman Architecture, Inc.

                                           Contemporary Kitchen by Portland Architect Alan Mascord Design Associates Inc

                                                          Traditional Kitchen by Flemington Architect Pickell Architecture

                                                       Modern Kitchen by Toronto Interior Designer Croma Design Inc

April 19, 2013

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

I stole this book off of my brother's Christmas list this past year, and after my parents purchased it for me, my mom even bought herself a copy. Charles Duhigg, in The Power of Habit, writes a compelling case for how habits work, how we form habits (both with and without conscious thought), and how we can change our habits even when it seems impossible. Duhigg includes a number of anecdotal stories such as why Americans began using toothpaste after centuries of deeming it unnecessary. And no, it's not because we wised up and realized it was better for our health to brush our teeth - you'll be amazed at what the reason really is. There's plenty of hard science in the book to satisfy those who want to know where in the brain habits form and how they do so. However, the book is not bogged down with so many statistics and scientific jargon that it would keep anyone from enjoying and learning from it. If you have any interest in why we do what we do, day in and day out, and how we can alter our own habits, The Power of Habit is a fantastic read.

April 17, 2013

A Day at the Beach

It's hit 90º in Austin the past couple of days, and I'm longing for a beach getaway. These sandals and this floppy hat would be perfect for a stroll down the beach.

A Day at the Beach

April 15, 2013

Rainbow Macaroni and Cheese

We love macaroni and cheese at our house, but I occasionally feel a little guilty just eating it by itself. That's why this rainbow mac and cheese is perfect - it's nice and cheesy, plus it has a full serving of veggies! It's super easy to make (only requires one pot), and it makes enough for dinner and lunch the next day.

Rainbow Macaroni and Cheese
Serves 3-4
Adapted from here

2 cups milk
2 cups pasta shells*
1/2 tsp garlic salt
dash of parsley
dash of black pepper
2 cups vegetables of your choice, cooked*
1/2 cup gouda, grated*
1/2 cup cheddar, grated
1/4 cup parmesan, grated
dash red pepper flakes

1. Combine milk, pasta, garlic salt, parsley, and black pepper in a sauce pan.
2. Heat mixture on medium, stirring often until pasta has soaked up most of the milk.*
3. Reduce heat to low.
4. Add in cheeses and stir until melted. Add a splash of milk if the sauce seems too thick.
5. Add in veggies and stir.
6. Spoon into individual bowls and top with red pepper flakes if desired.
7. Enjoy!

*Tips and Tricks
  • You can use whatever pasta variety you have on hand - it doesn't have to be shells.
  • I bought a 2-serving pack of frozen veggies and chopped them into smaller pieces once they had finished steaming in the microwave. If you have fresh cooked veggies by all means use them. I was just going for convenience.
  • Try to use freshly grated cheese rather than pre-grated packaged cheese. The freshly grated cheese will be less dry, more flavorful and will yield a creamier sauce.
  • You don't want the pasta to soak up all of the milk because the milk helps make the base for the cheesy sauce. When it looks like there's just a bit of milk left and it's nice and thick, that's when you'll add in the cheeses. This step took about 15+ minutes before I added in the cheese.
  • You have to make sure to stir the milk and pasta! It tends to stick to the bottom of the pan, and you don't want burnt milk and pasta pieces in your mac and cheese.

April 12, 2013

Oxygen by Carol Cassella

I found this book in the bargain bin at Barnes and Noble, and it was one of the best $6 books I've read. Carol Cassella is a practicing anesthesiologist who also happens to be a writer, and a captivating one at that. Oxygen is the story of Dr. Marie Heaton, an anesthesiologist, who loses a child patient on the operating table. Heaton works to find out what went wrong, struggles with immense guilt, and is nearly crippled with a lawsuit. All the while she is attempting to make amends with her ailing father who lives half the country away. Though not a first hand account of something Cassella has experienced, it is a story of dealing with loss - physically, emotionally, and professionally - as well as healing.

April 11, 2013

Orange Chicken with Asian Slaw

Our first year of marriage I decided to try my hand at replicating the orange chicken from Panda Express. It was a total disaster, and I still consider it one of my top five kitchen failures. It may have held the top slot for a few years, but my zucchini lasagna of January now takes the cake in terms of my kitchen flops. Needless to say, I've been reluctant to attempt to make orange chicken again. Today changed all that, and I think I've found my new favorite recipe.

I found this Asian slaw recipe on Pinterest, and I thought orange chicken would be a great pairing for it. I bought a package of Asian slaw/salad at HEB, and when I pulled it out again tonight I realized that it had everything included that the recipe above calls for and even came with its own dressing. So I didn't make the slaw recipe I found, but it's still in my repertoire to try. 

I knew I had to try this orange chicken recipe I found today, and she really nailed the Panda taste. In fact, I think it might even be better than Panda's high sodium, high sugar version. I'll definitely be making the chicken again, and I think I'll sub in some Splenda to cut the sugar calories and try to sneak in some low sodium soy sauce while Lars isn't looking. (That man sure does love his salt.) We decided to eat the chicken over the slaw, and it was delicious all mixed together. It made more than enough for us to have dinner and for me to have lunch for tomorrow. I used two chicken breasts rather than a whole pound of chicken, but I didn't change the sauce proportions of the recipe. It was a fabulous 500 calorie dinner. Fear of making orange chicken = conquered. 

April 9, 2013

Living with and Learning from Failures

If we were to follow this advice we wouldn't be so hard on ourselves when we don't get things perfect the first time, and we all might be a bit more wise. I struggle with wanting not to fail, but I've been striving to live by the sentiments of this quote. It can be difficult, yet I appreciate having the opportunity to learn from my small (and sometimes large!) failures every day. It's looking like I'm going to be extremely wise one day.  :)

April 8, 2013

Bedroom Quilts

I've built up some confidence by sewing my first quilt so I've set my sights on quilting Lars and I a new bedspread. Now if I can only get us to agree on a color scheme and a design... I've been pooling my quilt inspiration, and here are a few of the ones I love so far.

I'm not quite ready to go crazy with triangles and hexagons, so I'll be keeping it fairly simple by using a majority of squares and rectangles to design the quilt. I'm hoping to come up with a final design soon, and I'll keep you posted on how it goes!

April 5, 2013

The Heavy by Dara-Lynn Weiss

When I first read Dara Lynn Weiss' article in Vogue about putting her young daughter on a diet I was intrigued to say the least. I ordered The Heavy, her memoir chronicling their family journey thus far, the day it came out and was not disappointed. It was refreshing to read someone's own tale of their parenting struggles in a world that too often pits parents against one another and fails to realize that everyone's journey is different. In Dara-Lynn's memoir you will read about how she is at first in denial of her daughter's health issues and then her daily battles as she wades through the often murky waters of parenting a child who needs to watch what she eats.

I do not know the Weiss family, but I know families in their same situation. I also know that childhood obesity is a huge problem facing our nation. Yes there are kids who are chubby and will grow out of it come puberty, but you are far more likely to run across clinically obese children with high blood pressure and who are at immediate risk for diabetes. I think it is admirable that their family did what was right for them. I do think it would be interesting to see how her daughter, and their family, is doing 10 years from now. The book only chronicles a year of their weight loss process, and it leaves you wondering how things will be for them down the road.

For me this book was not only about parenting, but also about simply making difficult decisions that are right for you but that may not be understood by those around you. It offers honest insights to the struggles of both recognizing when there is a problem in life and choosing to fix the issue. Neither of those processes is easy. The Heavy is a fast-paced, enlightening read that I believe most people (parents or not) can relate to whatever the issues they face in their life.

April 1, 2013

A Month of Meals - March Overview

So after planning out meals for the entire month of March here, I figured I should do a follow up and show y'all how it went. This is the before meal calendar:

And here's the after:

As you can see I made a number of substitutions, especially as the month went on. I tried to stick to using the ingredients that I had purchased each week, simply swapping one recipe for another that used the same. There were also a few times in there that I wasn't feeling like cooking so we grabbed a pizza one night and Lars made me his famous Kraft mac and cheese another night.

All in all I really enjoyed the experiment. It was nice knowing that not only already had dinner planned each night, but I also had the proper ingredients for said dinner. I didn't end up saving any money as I had hoped. We don't spend a whole lot on groceries though, so I can't really say that I was surprised. I've already made my April meal plan, and I tried to plan this month with what I have on hand in mind. We'll see if I can manage to save a little money in April and if I stick to the plan any better than I did in March.

March 29, 2013

Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicks

I've decided to start a Friday book review. I love to read so I feel it makes sense to share books with you that I have loved, or at least liked. I'm not going to share books that I didn't care for because I'm not an actual book critic, and it would be a waste of my time. Plus there are very few books that I flat out don't like. I had a really hard time getting through Shania Twain's biography. I wanted to like it, but don't waste your time. 

Anyways, the first book I want to share is Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicks. When I started the book I had forgotten what the blurb on the inside of the book jacket had said the book was about. I thought it was a man's memoir about the imaginary friend he used to have. (I know, I know. The book jacket says "a novel", but in my defense I take off the jackets when I'm reading a book so I didn't see that.) The book is actually from the point of view of Budo, the imaginary friend of a boy named Max. Budo and Max have such a sweet relationship, and when Max goes missing it is up to Budo to find him and help him return home. I had a hard time putting this book down - the story flows so easily, and Matthew Dicks does a wonderful job of keeping you feeling like you need to know what is going to happen next. If you're needing an easy beach read, or simply want a book you can finish in a weekend, Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend is the book for you.

March 28, 2013

Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Pancakes

These chocolate chip oatmeal pancakes have become my go-to breakfast to make on the weekends, and they're even great warmed up for a quick weekday breakfast. You use bananas rather than sugar, and the oats kick up both the fiber and the protein content over a traditional pancake. I tend to use dark chocolate chips rather than milk chocolate to keep the sugar down as well. Plus don't they say now that dark chocolate should be part of every well-balanced diet?  :) Ok, maybe that goes too far, but once you try these pancakes you may never want a regular pancake again.

Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Pancakes
Makes 5 pancakes - Serves 2-3
Adapted from here *

1 ripe banana
1 tsp baking powder
1 egg
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla
1 Tbsp canola oil
3 Tbsp milk
1 Tbsp peanut butter
1/4 cup flour
1/2 cup oats
1 handful chocolate chips

1. Mash banana and baking powder together with a fork.
2. Add egg, cinnamon, vanilla, oil, milk, and peanut butter. Mix well.
3. Add flour and oats. Stir together.
4. Add chocolate chips.
5. Spoon into nonstick pan and cook as you would regular pancakes.
6. Serve with syrup (or not) and enjoy!*

Tips and Tricks:
  • The recipe I adapted this from is a vegan recipe. I am not a vegan so I changed it to use items I have on hand and added a few things like the cinnamon.
  • Feel free to make ingredient substitutions. For example, if you don't drink cow's milk, use almond milk or something else. You can use any sort of nut butter you'd like, I just happen to have peanut butter.
  • I like these pancakes with no syrup. I just don't think they need it. Lars, however, puts both butter and syrup on his. I will put a bit of butter on them if they are reheated the next day though. Try them both ways and see which way you prefer.
  • This recipe doubles (and triples!) easily so if you want to make a bunch of pancakes to last you through the week go ahead. Just wrap each serving in plastic wrap and refrigerate until you're ready to eat them.

March 27, 2013

Neutral Couches

I've been looking into getting our couches reupholstered, and I'm loving the look of a neutral fabric. Right now we're pretty much stuck with the pillows and accessories we already have because the pattern of our couch fabric doesn't allow for much else. I would love to be able to go to a store and pick out new throw pillows or some coffee table accessories without having to think about coordinating with the couch.


March 25, 2013

Spinach Lasagna Rolls

My first month of planned meals has gone fairly well so far, and I thought this recipe was one that definitely needed to be shared. These lasagna rolls were surprisingly quick to put together, and they could easily be made non-vegetarian as well. (Add some sort of meat to the ricotta mixture or use a meat-based marinara sauce.) I know it's a good meal when Lars doesn't tell me it would have been better with meat in it, so I consider this one a huge success. He also told me that the rolls looked so good they looked like something that I'd taken straight out of a box and baked - a great compliment in my book. :)

Spinach Lasagna Rolls 
Adapted from here
Serves 3-4*

6 Lasagna noodles, cooked*
8 oz Ricotta cheese
1/4 Cup Parmesan cheese
1 Egg
2 Cups spinach, chopped*
1/4 Cup fresh basil, chopped
1 Cup marinara sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
Mozzarella, shredded

1. Preheat oven to 350º. Mix ricotta, Parmesan, egg, spinach, basil, and salt and pepper.
2. Spray baking dish with cooking spray and spread 1/2 cup of marinara sauce on the bottom of the dish.
3. Spread ricotta mixture on cooked lasagna noodles.*
4. Roll up each noodle and place seam side down in baking dish.
5. Spread remaining marinara sauce over each lasagna roll.
6. Sprinkle shredded mozzarella on top of each roll.
7. Cover dish tightly with foil and bake 40 minutes or until mozzarella is melted.
8. Remove from oven, let cool a few minutes, and enjoy!

Tips and Tricks:
  • I ate one roll with a side salad while Lars ate two. This allowed both of us to have dinner one night and lunch the next - four servings. If you eat more or less it will change the servings available. Just know that 6 noodles = 6 lasagna rolls.  :)
  • Simply cook the noodles according to the package directions. Once they are cooked, I took mine out of the pot with tongs and laid them on paper towels. It is easiest if you then place the "dried" noodles on wax paper to spread the ricotta mixture on each. The wax paper will let you easily, and without tearing the noodle, roll each up before placing it in the baking dish.
  • I used fresh spinach because the smallest frozen spinach I could find was 10 oz which is way to much for 6 lasagna rolls. If you're going to double the recipe feel free to buy a box of frozen spinach instead of chopping fresh.