Sunday, April 12, 2015

Third Time's The Charm

Is there anyone out there?

So it's been more than a year since I've been able to sit down long enough to write a musing. It's also been more than a year since I was last inspired to write. I promised that I would not write anything phony for the sake of filling this blog. I've always wanted this to be genuine. And that's why we are here we are today.

First- let me give you a little history about a topic I find fascinating: hair.

I say fascinating because it is so interesting how much it affects us. We spend BILLIONS of dollars on hair products. We have doctors working to solve baldness. It can even define how beautiful or attractive we are. That's especially the case for women. Every day we dye it, straighten it, curl it, cut it, pour products into it. Let's face it, the strands of protein growing on top of your head impacts your self-esteem.

It can also be an ongoing battle for anyone- no matter the race or gender. I have had plenty of experience from that. My parents constantly had to work to keep my hair out of my face.
They eventually took drastic measures: a mullet. Mom keeps telling me this was "the trend." I'm not an expert but if this was the fad in the late 1980s & 90s- I'm glad we have evolved.
Not sure which is worse: the hair or the vest
As I became older I went from not caring about my hair to never being happy with it. Like most, I have highlighted and dyed it...
Going old school: my first media job at the local radio station
To cutting it at all sorts of crazy lengths....
What happens when you get a hair cut in Thailand
Also as I got older, I began to meet people who weren't able to do that. I began to learn about children who have no hair only because of an illness or gene they can't control. I began to learn about cancer patients who fought to survive only to loose their hair. And when you lose the hair, you also tend to lose that self-esteem.

That's why after growing my hair out for my wedding in 2009- I decided to donate my hair to Locks of Love.
That's why in 2012 I donated again to Children With Hair Loss.
That's why in 2015 I decided third time is the charm.

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Not only have I been able to help three people feel strong, beautiful, and confident- I have also learned several things about myself and being simple.

 I've learned doing simple things still call for dedication. I had to avoid several temptations brought on by our culture: cutting my hair into a punky style, dying it every month, putting constant heat and product into my hair. If it's worth doing, it's worth doing right.

I've also learned the beauty of simplicity. I made a lot of braids: French, Dutch, Fishtail, you name it. I also also un-braided, re-braided, un-braided, re-braided... who needs a complex updo when you can have a simple, sexy ponytail?

Then there's the lesson can doing something simple can do a world of good. Not only as I able to help others, it also brought lessons that helped my being.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Pre-Spring Prep

Hello my lovlies- it's been awhile, hasn't it? Thankfully, it's because I've been a very busy lil' bee. I can't wait to tell you all about it!

I have to admit, I lose inspiration to write from January - March. The holidays are over, winter recipes become a rut, and you can only do so much outside with freezing temperatures, snow, and ice. Then mid-March comes along and BAM! Garden ideas, house projects, and fresh produce get my "muse" back on track!

Speaking of mid-March- it's that time of year again. Where I get a week (or two if I'm lucky) to prepare this year's garden before allergy season is in full bloom. I know many of you are itching to rush to your nearest nursery and pick out your favorite herbs, flowers, and plants. There at lot of work to get done before you start digging away in your pots & garden beds though.

The last remaining days of winter/beginning of Spring is the ideal time to prepare your garden. now that all the snow is gone, you have to get your yard in order for this year's planting. First off, if you haven't already, you need to prune. We normally hold off until this time of year because I find it easier to cut everything back after it's dried out through out the winter. Some plants do prefer to be pruned before winter though. You just need to research your perennials.
I greatly cut back our butterfly bush. It looks sad, but just give it a few weeks.

For several perennials, you simply need to cut back what's dead. That's especially the case for several bulbs like echinacea and lilies.

While you are pruning, also clear out your flower bed. Remove leaves, branches, and the beginning of weeds. Not only does this tidy up your garden, but it also prevents attracting any kind of pest that is attracted to debris.

While it's still too early for several plants, you can start a few by seeds about now. It maybe too early to sow in the ground though. About the earliest you can start (depending on your temperate zone) is April. I couldn't help myself though. I started a few of my own seed pods.
Sadly, last year's attempt at growing seeds from the newspaper pods didn't go so well. I'm trying two new approaches this year though. Above is using biodegradable egg cartons filled with soil & seeds. Below are toilet paper rolls cut in half. If both work correctly, I should eventually be able to plant each pod into the ground when ready. We shall see! Here are some more tips on growing seeds from the Old Farmer's Almanac.

Side note: I did not lay the pans with paper towels or newspaper this year. I think it may have attracted mold last year. I'm also cutting back on the water- aka- not drowning the pods.

I know it's hard to start feeling 60- 70 degree temperatures and not want to immediately start planting. I get it. It's hard to be patient after several cold months of winter. I'm finding it better to plant later rather than early though. Planting early risks another freeze and attracting pests when the plants are still too young to defend themselves.

If you really need to see some growth though- just keep a eye out for early signs of spring. Several daffodils are already in full bloom...
Found this lovely surprise Friday!
And if you look close enough while pruning, you may be astonished to see your plants already at work...
Those little red buds are the start of this year's echinacea!
You may even find a friend or two!
Well hello there, lil' lady!
Don't worry friends, full-out spring will be here soon enough.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Ciao 2013! I hope you like photos!

My, my. I feel like I blinked and it was already December 31st! The past two months have flown by so quickly. Then again, this whole year has gone by so fast.

I swear this blog is NOT shutting down. I won't even mention the word hiatus. I owe you so many more thoughts, recipes, and ideas! Thank you all for sticking with me all this time.

With that being said, I decided to look back on the past twelve months. My initial thought was "2013?! Gone?! Good riddence!" I mean within one year, I almost risked losing my Father, was diagnoses with an in-curable disease, took a deep dive into depression, and lost three family pets. All this while struggling to keep my strength and energy. Needless to say, I first had nothing but bad thoughts about this past year.

I thought a few more seconds though and realized that's not how I want this year to end. I don't want any year to end with such negative energy. And surely none of you deserve reading a blog tainted with darkness. So, I began looking into what GOOD happened in 2013. Here's what I came up with:

Within the first few months of this year, I realized how important my Dad is to me. While I would never wish bad on his health, I am thankful that it forced me into accepting myself and my relationship with him. Watching his quick recovery as we began bonding again was icing on the cake! For the first time in a very long time, I spent a weekend full of giving thanks with my Father.
We even visited my Grandma Swanson. Don't they look great?!
Oh, I should also mention I shot a gun for the first time!... Still scared of them.
I have no idea who was foolish enough to think I should have a rifle.
I cannot begin to express my gratitude that I'm given more time on this earth with my Dad. I'm also awe struck of my family's strength and my friends' love. I even learned there are a lot of people out there who know me more than I know myself. It's been a very humbling experience.

If there's any needed proof that I am related to my family, it's that I now have ulcerated colitis. My first initial reaction to the diagnosis was to fiercely scream at some higher power for awful timing. "Incurable" is such a disgusting word. The thought of taking pills for the rest of my life and praying for remission is so daunting. I have to be honest with myself though. I have four immediate family members that have some form of IBD, including two with ulcerated colitis. So we all knew there was a risk. In fact I'm lucky that I've lived as long as I have without it. Other family members were diagnoses with it in their teens... and had to have surgery. Thankfully that was decades ago and I can take full advantage of modern medical advancements!

... If you couldn't tell, I've had to work really hard on convincing myself there is some good in that.

I can't quite explain how or why it happened, but something snapped halfway through the year. I greatly doubted my capabilities and became unhappy with my life. I quickly turned to beat myself up because really, what do I have to be depressed about? That creates an awful cycle though. I'm thankful for this challenge because it forced me into figuring out why I was unhappy. Today I cannot quite say exactly what made me so upset, but I am pleased with what happened when I searched to find it.

Frankly, due to certain actions (including my own) I didn't think I did a very good job producing. And that turned into dreading work. Thanks to a summer class and good friends, I identified my strengths and weaknesses. Then through a lot of work (and heartbreak) I strove to change those weaknesses. While I still have a way to go, (you learn something new every day) I've improved through out the past few months. Also due to my producer class, I learned I wasn't alone and developed a great network of colleagues.
Thanks Poynter Producer Project! You all rock!
When you hit rock bottom, the only way to go is up. I got to a point that I had to address certain relationship at work. Which for me, is a difficult struggle. I hate conflict. I'm also awful at responding to negative statements, even if it is constructional criticism. So, I made the mistake of turning my head downward and not saying anything at all. But, as I said, I got to a point where there was no where else to go. I also realized that if I say nothing, I never allow anyone to better understand "my side." So I took awhile to "predict" the conversation and began tackling those relationships. Mind you I said bad relationships. I have great coworkers. I couldn't ask for better coworkers. Our relationships just needed to be adjusted. I personally just let it get to such a tragic point. Months later, I can say I'm pleased by the outcome! Not only do I have a better connection with those colleagues, but I've gained invaluable lessons. I learned that as long as you handle an issue with grace and professionalism, there's no excuse to not confront it. I also learned a lot about certain coworkers and believe they know me better as well.
Quick shout out: I couldn't of done any of this without my great friend Heather (Right). AND who better to learn about the management of a newsroom than THE Patti Dennis From KUSA?!
That leaves one last chip on the shoulder. Both my husband and I lost the last of our childhood pets: the immortal felines. Lawson's family cat, Sasha, and my two cats Whoopi & Chopin needed help to reach their eternal slumber this year. All three were old and very sick. In our families, pets are family, so it was very difficult to say goodbye. All three had great lives though. We also saved them from a lot of pain. We also have the faith that they now get to be with the other animals they grew up with.  Never the less I already miss their smooth fur, soft purrs, and sweet companionship. They all have a place in my heart. I miss them dearly.

So there it is. The worst parts of my 2013. It brought a lot of challenges. And yet I couldn't be more thankful for the end results. I haven't even gotten into the best parts of my 2013. Needless to say it involved a lot of train rides...
I took more train rides this year than in my entire life.
And a lot of car rides...

And even some flights!

I saw so many amazing people that I love dearly!
There's too many photos to share- so here's cute one of Lawson & me!
I got to see some unbelievable sites.
Not sure which is more breath-taking: So. IL Garden of the Gods or that Dad recovered so well that he came to see it with me.
I even traveled in time with a best friend!
Oh yeah, we're that cool.
And that's just skimming the surface! There were so many good things that happened in 2013. This has truly been an inspiring year.  I can honestly say I have no regrets.

Yet another blessing I can hang my hat on? All of you! I'm ever so grateful that you all have hung in for this sporadic roller coaster that I call my life. I don't know how we did it but Limelight Musings has more than 7,500 views from all over the world! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

So... how do you plan to remember 2013?

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Manda-touille: A Harvest Vegetable Stew

Is it already November?! Well, many of you are probably bringing in the last harvest if you haven't already. Often a miscellaneous harvest can leave one wondering, "what can I make with this?" I had that dilemma earlier this year and decided to throw it all into a stew.

Let me introduce you to what my husband calls "Manda-toullie," since it has most of the same ingredients as my attempt with Ratatouille.
I often get into a gray area when it comes to harvesting squash, zucchini, bell peppers, and tomatoes. It's often too many for a week of recipes but not enough to can. That's especially the case with our tomatoes. So what better way to tackle this tasty problem than with a vegetable stew.
10 c tomato puree (just blanched tomatoes & pureed)
5 c quartered squash
1 c quartered zucchini
4 c diced bell pepper
3 garlic cloves minced
2 c chicken stock

Add the following spices to taste, the amounts are only an estimate:
1/4 teaspoon bay leaves
1 Tablespoon basil
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
1/2 teaspoon chives
2 Tablespoons sugar
1 Tablespoon pepper

First get the pureed tomato in a pot and cook on medium heat. You'll want to cook down a lot of the water for a rich texture. You'll want to cook it down even more if you want to get rid of that raw tomato taste.

While that is cooking down, chop up you other veggies and saute with garlic in a separate pot.

Add chicken broth to the tomato puree and add the vegetables. Reduce some of the water then add spices to taste. Continue to stir and reduce until you hit that sweet spot in flavor.

There it is: a very simple, but flavorful stew that celebrates this year's harvest. Enjoy!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Great Pumpkin: Pumpkin Puree

It's finally here! It's that time of year where you can smell apples in the air. Where you can wear a light jacket outside. Where you can reap the harvest of your garden. This, my friends, is autumn!
Even got out the fall decorations
I cannot express how much I adore this season. It's just so pleasant to every sense of the body: feeling warm sun with a brisk wind, seeing vibrant mums and gourds, hearing crunching leaves, smelling rich spices, and let's not forget taste. Oh, the delectable recipes that come out this time of year!

A large staple in all of these recipes is my favorite gourd in the world: the great pumpkin. This is the third time around now where I plan to convince everyone to add some pumpkin to their lives. I love pumpkin so much that we actually attempted our first pumpkin patch this year! I'm happy to report it was a great success! Who knew three little seeds would go so far.

In case you are a new reader, you can catch up on how your body can benefit from some pumpkin. You can also stop by my pinterest recipe page to check out some nifty pumpkin recipes. The base of most of these recipes is pumpkin puree; which you can easily find your grocery store. One interesting fact is that central Illinois is home of a large Libby's pumpkin cannery. Visiting the Pumpkin Festival in Morton, Illinois, was one of of fall traditions before we moved to Kentucky.

You can easily make your own pumpkin puree though at home. All you need is to pick up some adorable pie pumpkins!
Pie pumpkins from Wurth Farms
Now pie pumpkins are not your average jack o' lantern gourd. They are a bit smaller, but have less seeds and a thicker flesh. They also have a nice sweetness to them. All of these factors make it perfect in the kitchen. It just takes a little bit of work. First you need to preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Then you should line a baking sheet with tin foil and dab on a little bit of olive oil.

While the oven is heating up, slice the pumpkins in half before digging out the seeds.
Feel free to save & roast the seeds with this recipe
Then place them cut side down on a baking sheet & cook for 45 to 50 minutes. Take out & allow to cool.
Roasted pumpkin: yum!
After it is cool enough to hold, use a spoon to scoop out the roasted flesh. Place in a blender.
Cooking the pumpkin makes this step a lot easier
Simply puree the pumpkin and place in a jar. You cannot can pureed pumpkin but you can freeze it!
Can I just say I LOVE Ball's freeze jars?!
There you have it: pumpkin puree! You can use this for any of your pumpkin recipes whether it's pumpkin french toast paired with a pumpkin latte, pumpkin chowder, pumpkin pecan pie, or even something special for your pets or a pumpkin scrub to spoil your skin. There are tons of ways to use and enjoy this special gourd.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Apparently I Don't Like to be Home

I mentioned it a few weeks ago, but I really am sorry that there's been a lack of post here. Now there's a different reason... a few really. Frankly, I have't spent much time at home much less to write a blog that's worth your time. What have I been doing you ask? Well, here's what I've been up to...

Let's begin in mid-June. We began this summer of chaos by going to my husband's hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. There we celebrated with family and friends the union of my beautiful sister-in-law and her husband. Congratulations again to the happy couple!

Big brother & little sister!
That weekend flew by way too fast! We had such a splendid time with loved ones and enjoyed a beautiful scenery along the Ohio River.
Oh look, a duck on a dock.
Before we knew it, it was July. Well, you already know we spent the Fourth of July with my Mom...
Fourth of July with the Appels!
Then the week after that I spent some time with doctors to figure out what sort of mystery illness I contracted. It actually wasn't until August that they told me they believe I have ulcerative colitis. During that time I also lost a toenail and broke out in a kind of rash my doctor has never seen before. I'm falling apart. Needless to say, there's no need to share photos of any of that business.

By mid-July we had another a wedding to celebrate; but this time it was much farther away: South Carolina! We really pushed ourselves on this trip. We left Friday afternoon and got back Sunday night. Within 57 hours we traveled nearly 1,500 miles!
A very long, but beautiful drive.
The trip was exhausting, but well worth it! I haven't seen my Godparents in years! It meant even more to see my Mom smiling and laughing with old friends.
Wedding Stop #2
 Thankfully, we were able to squeeze in one stunning pit stop...
Down by the Sea....
We took off a weekend before heading out east again. It was an easier journey though. We had more time to go a shorter distance: near Atlanta, Georgia! It's been more than two years since I've seen my cousins. It meant the world to me to see them and new additions to the Moses family!
Sadly this is the best photo taken. We were too busy splashing around!
It wouldn't be a normal trip if we didn't stop at least one site. This time we visited the Chickamauga & Chattanooga Military Park. I'm sure it's not surprising to know that my husband & I try to make seeing Civil War sites "our thing." We are nerds to the core.
I pity anything that attempts to get in our way!
Jokes aside, I love touring these kind of sites. We always learn something new about our nation's history. It also very eerie to stand on land where thousands of men died 150 years ago. I can't help but lose myself in wondering about their lives, their families, their beliefs, etc. I can't even fathom how much has changed along with what has not.

After taking one more (and very necessary) weekend off, I prepared for my next adventure. During most of this time, I've also participated in a class that's geared to improve my skills at work. Most of it has been online, but it included a weekend trip to St. Petersburg, Florida. It was intense and inspiring all at the same time. Two lovely ladies joined me on this ride.

The three of us with our instructor, Al Tompkins

I didn't get very close to the ocean this time though...
I was able to stretch my toe into the marina
As soon as we got back I celebrated one of my best friend's birthday!
Happy Birthday, Ashley!
And finally we're here. Mid August. It's been a few crazy weeks that involve great times with loved ones and more driving than any one person should ever do. NO one should ever drive by Nashville six times within one month.

We're starting to get a little tired of seeing this view

Surprisingly, I was able to sneak in a few crafts...
Tried out a new "faux plaid" pattern
Along with some great recipes that I can wait to share with you in the next few weeks!
Easy & Delicious Shepherds pie!
I have a few more journeys coming up, but they are more spaced out in comparison. So blogs may or may not be scarce. Thank you guys for being so patient. There is one thing you can count on though: I will always make it worth your time.

Monday, July 8, 2013

A True Disney Kid

I'll admit it. I'm a Disney kid. I adore 99% of Disney's original movies. That includes most Pixar movies, especially "Ratatouille."
NOT THE PARSLEY! Courtesy of Born For Geekdom
I could possibly blame Remy and his love of cooking for my recent obsession with recipes and French culture. This lil' rodent is an inspiration for anyone to get into the kitchen and try making dinner from scratch. The movie also introduces a younger American generation to a society that prefers flavor and freshness over convenience.

I could give a full critique on this movie. Pixar does an amazing job at adding social commentary to their family films. But that's for another day. The point is "Ratatouille" is a great movie that I now want to watch instead of sharing my attempt at the title recipe. I will manage though. For your sake. You're welcome.

This weekend I decided that we are far enough into summer to make my first attempt at ratatouille. Our farmers' market has gotten busier, and I now have an awesome mandolin...

and my Mother came down to visit us for the Fourth of July!

How many more reasons does a woman need?
I had to show off at least one awesome firework photo
The best thing about our ratatouille is that the dish itself was made entirely of local produce- even some from my garden! And while the process was grueling, it was totally worth it! Unlike the movie, ratatouille is typically a stew dish. That movie version is so tempting to try though and several chefs posted their recipes including this one form Smitten Kitchen. Here's how my attempt went:
Well, this is before I baked the dish. You get the point though.
I did want to share a few tweaks to the recipe. First off, I made my own tomato puree. That included the my least favorite thing in the world... blanching, skinning, and gutting tomatoes. Oh how I despise this process. So, I made a collage!
Check this out if you want to read further about blanching, skinning, and gutting tomatoes.
With all that being said, it was worth it. I was stuck with a good amount of ripe tomatoes but there was not enough to can. Not only did I make enough for this recipe, but I also have 3 more cups to throw in pasta sauce or even another ratatouille dish!

A few other (but smaller) tweeks I made include using a skinny, but long bell pepper and mincing the garlic. And as you can see I used a 10" rectangular pan instead of an oval. None of these are big changes, but those are my suggestions if you try this recipe. I also recommend tossing a dollop of sour cream!

This dish took me about two hours to make. Most of that though was probably the tomato puree and the time in the oven. It was also well worth in! I paired it with cream-cheese-stuffed sweet mini bell peppers and couscous. This dish turned out so well that all of us went for seconds! It's also vegetarian based and chocked full of nutrients. You can bet this will recipe will be made more often!