23 March 2017

It's Purple Martin Time!

I can never think of this slogan without thinking about my sister, Tammi.  When she was in third grade, she wore a button in her school picture that said, "It's Purple Martin Time" that she must have received from a guest speaker at school.  She certainly didn't leave our house with it on!  It makes me chuckle every time this time of year comes around.

In our area, the scout birds of the purple martins are out looking for suitable housing for their families.  Purple martins only use the housing while they are raising families.  It is important to get the houses cleaned and ready to go for when the scouts are out and about.  Migration Map

There is a lot of thought that goes into purple martin housing.  We have always been lucky enough to have the housing already on location for us.  We don't have a housing unit now, but there is one across the street from us.  I like to make sure that the housing is clean and in good order by this time of the year.

Why my interest in purple martins?  Other than my sister's apparent love of the bird, Bob's uncle Amos (Steffes) loved purple martins.  He believed they kept the mosquito population down (which is why I love them) and they are a very social bird.  Amos was so funny about his purple martins and was always so interested in them that we became interested as well.

So, clean your purple martin houses!  Pull down the house unit.  Scrape off any bird dodo.  Mix up a 10% bleach and 90% water in a bucket.  Scrub the inside of the house with the bleach and then rinse it out with the house.  Let the house dry in the sun.  Amos used to plug up the holes until he saw the martins come around, then he'd lower the housing and undo the plugs.  Other birds will try to move it if you don't.  Then enjoy those feisty birds as they eat up all the mosquitoes in your yard!

Links in this post may be affiliate links If you make a purchase, it helps me to pay for the costs of this blog.  

22 March 2017

Make Ahead Egg Muffins

I love having eggs for my breakfast, but sometimes I just don't have the time to cook them fresh. This is when my Make Ahead Egg Muffins are so perfect.  Plus, using leftover roasted veggies makes this a thrifty choice and a healthy one for breakfast.

Notes:  I like to use the oversized muffin pans for these egg muffins.  I like to make sure that the cups are loaded with veggies but still enough room to hold the egg mixture.  I always coat my muffin tins with butter or coconut oil, so that the eggs come out easily.  I don't like to use cooking spray, as it tends to make clean up hard on my pan.

Make Ahead Egg Muffins

6 eggs
1/2 c almond milk (any milk will do, even water!)
salt and pepper to taste
leftover vegetables, about 2 cups
1/2 c shredded cheese, if desired

Preheat oven to 350.  Grease muffin tins with butter, Crisco, or coconut oil.  Set aside.  Crack eggs in a medium sized bowl, add milk (or water) and salt and pepper.  Whisk briskly for a minute.  Set aside. Fill muffin tins with the veggies, dividing evenly.  Add cheese if desired.  Pour the egg mixture over the veggies, dividing evenly.  Bake for 22-24 minutes, checking for doneness.  The egg mixture should not be liquid at all.  Remove from oven when done.  Serve warm from the oven or cool and store in refrigerator until ready to eat.  Microwave for 45 seconds and then serve.

These are perfect for your Easter breakfast, as they can be made ahead and heated up when you are ready!

21 March 2017

Sandpiper Cove #ourgoodlifebooklist

A charming Oregon seaside village, an ex-con gone good, a beautiful police chief with a sad history, all come together in this lovely romantic story about Lexie and Adam, neither who were looking for romance, but somehow it found them.  The story of restored hope and second chances entices you to keep reading and will have you wanting the next book to come quickly!

The third in a series of Hope Harbor series, this book brings back the wonderful characters in the first two books, especially Charlie, the town's local sage and taco man, who always knows what to say and when to say it.  Every time Charlie comes into the story, I get hungry for fish tacos.

Irene Hannon is a master at character development.  Each of her novels' characters are unique individuals.  I always know that I have read a masterful piece when I miss the characters at the end of the book.  I definitely will miss Lexie and Adam, and hope to read more about them in the future.

This is your perfect summer romance novel.  The book is set for publication on April 4, go and order it and save (and savor) it for your vacation!

18 March 2017

Sopa de calabaza mexicana #soupswappers

Our Saturday Soup Swappers are headed south of the border with Mexican soups, perfect for your Cinco de Mayo party in May!  You will have time to try these out and choose the perfect one for your gathering.  We are hosted by Karen at Karen's Kitchen Stories this month.  Karen has a wonderful food blog with all kinds of goodies, but if you like bread, well, you are going to be so inspired over there!

This pumpkin soup has a nice heat and sweetness to it.  It is made to accommodate my lifestyle, but I have put the equivalent in "normal" ingredients beside the ones that I use!  This soup is thick and perfect with a sandwich of your choosing.

Don't you love the sweet pot holder? It was made by my mother in law, Irene, who suffers from Alzheimer's.
Sopa de Calabaza Mexicana

½ cup pistachios (pumpkin seeds)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion – chopped
2 cloves garlic – minced
1 small can mild green chilies – rinsed and chopped
2 teaspoons powdered stevia (2 T brown sugar)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
¼ teaspoon red chili flakes 
1 (15 ounce) can pureed pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mixture)
2 cups vegetable stock
1 (14 ounce) can coconut milk (or 1 1/2 c half and half or heavy cream)
(In a skillet over medium high heat toast pumpkin seeds for about 3 minutes until browned and you can smell the oils being released. Set aside.) If you use pistachios, skip this step.
In a large sauce pan heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until translucent – about 5 minutes. Add garlic and chopped chilies. Sauté for 2 minutes. Add brown sugar, cumin, salt, pepper and red chili flakes. Sauté for another minute and then add the pumpkin, chicken or vegetable stock and coconut milk. Stir well. Reduce heat and cook until heated through (about 5 – 10 minutes).

Process soup in blender in batches until smooth. Make sure you remove the center piece from the blender lid so that the soup does not explode in the blender.

Garnish soup with reserved pistachios (pumpkin seeds.)

17 March 2017

Time to Plant the Salad Bowl!

One of my favorite spring activities is to plant the Salad Bowl.  The Salad Bowl is a huge planter that I sow several kinds of lettuce, spinach, kale and swiss chard.  It is time to plant it and I am looking forward to eating fresh greens in a few weeks!

Tip #1  To speed up the process, I plant a few plants as well as seeds.  That way my crop is spread out and I get a longer run of greens.  Last year's crop was wonderful, as you can see in the picture below.

Tip # 2  Use good seeds!  This year we are planting using heirloom seeds that we purchased from the Missouri Botanical Gardens.  They have a wonderful seed selection and I am eager to see if we can tell the difference between the seeds we get at the Dollar Store and the seeds were purchased from MoBot.

Our selection includes:

Viroflay (spinach variety)
Mesclun (a mix of Buttercrunch, Black Seeded Simpson, Green Salad Bowl, Lolla Rossa, Red Oak Leaf and Rouge d'Hiver)
Salad Bowl Blend (says we can continue sowing and get a fall crop!)

Tip #3 We will plant 2 or so weeks before the last frost.  The soil does best when it is above 60 degrees. Sometimes we've guessed wrong about the last frost and still have had a good crop of greens. When someone tells me that they want to start gardening, this is what I tell them to start with! The seeds germinate quickly (usually within 5-10 days) and you can eat the ones that you thin out in a salad!

Here's what I use:

1 large garden pot (ours is about 18 inches in diameter)
filler for the bottom third, we used crushed plastic bottles and rock
good soil for the rest of the pot
seeds of your choice or you can use plants from the nursery

Tip #4  Move your pot where you want it.  Most salad greens like full morning sun and some shade in the afternoon. Place your filler in the pot.  If you want, lay a layer of newspaper on top.  Cover the newspaper with your soil.  Tamper the soil with a lid from a kettle.  Not too hard, but enough to get a firm layer of soil in the pot.  Plant your seeds to the depth recommended on the seed package. Lightly water with a spray bottle. Water with the spray bottle often, if you see the soil getting too dry, spray it down.  When the seedlings pop up, then you can spray it a little less often but still when the soil feels dry.  As the roots are established, you can start using the hose, on a spray setting.

Tip #5 When the little plants are about 4" high, you can start harvesting them, but I generally let mine grow to 6" and then I only take a few leaves at a time.  Once the garden is firmly established, you can take more and more!  I make salads, or when the greens are coming on heavily, I use them in my smoothies.  So good!

Let me know if you make a Salad Bowl Garden!  Can't wait to hear back from you.

15 March 2017

Degas and the Paris Millinery Trade

The St. Louis Art Museum has an exhibit on the works of Edgar Degas and his fascination with hats, the women who made them and the women who wore them.  The paintings and hats in the displays were from 1875 to 1914.   Sixty paintings are featured including works by Degas that have never been seen in the United States.  There was an amazing display of vintage hats.

I KNOW I would have begged for this hat!
Other impressionists work is displayed:  Edward Manet, Pierre Renoir, Mary Cassatt, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.  These works also show the women in the millinery making hats, with shops full of fabrics and ribbons.  The paintings were of all medium, including pastels.

During this time in Paris, over 1000 millinery shops were in business.  Today there are only 40 such shops in business.   Degas loved the millinery.  It was said that he liked to create hats as well as paint the women wearing them.

My daughter, a professor of fashion, came down to see this special event.  Her dad and I tagged along.  How often do you get an expert to walk you through an exhibit?  We had a wonderful time and saw some wonderful works of art in both paintings and millinery.

After exploring the exhibit, we spent a little time in a delightful gift shop that is set up right by the exhibit.  Full of jewelry, hats (of course) and books of all kinds, including a special book about the Degas exhibit.  If you are in the St. Louis area, it is a delightful exhibit to see.  It is open through May 7, 2017.

14 March 2017

Treasured Grace by Tracie Peterson

Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres, a genre I head toward when I want a good meaty story, with enough information to make me feel the story is real.  I love history and learning so this is a match made in heaven for me.

Treasured Grace by Tracie Peterson is a story based off the Whitman Mission massacre, which I was unfamiliar with.  After reading this book, I did a little research on this event and found that the author did a nice job of using the facts of the event and creating a story that wove in the details as they could have happened to this family.  To me, that shows a historical fiction author's ability to write.  She also created a fictional character and wove a story around the real event in such a way that made you believe the whole story was true.  THAT's what good historical fiction does.

The main character, Grace Martindale and her two sisters set off with her husband to go and be missionaries to the far West.  Grace's husband, from their loveless marriage, dies on the trail.  Grace manages to sell off enough supplies to fun their trip to the Whitman Mission, who allows the women to stay during the winter, until Grace can contact her uncle, who lives in Washington.

Grace is a skilled healer, being taught the skills from her mother and grandmother.  Dr. Whitman will not allow Gracie to practice her craft, until the neighboring Indian villages and their own mission is struck with the measles and many people began to die.  The Indians were told by Mr. Lewis, a fur trader, that Dr. Whitman was poisoning their families and wanted them to die.  When the chief's child dies, he comes to confront Dr. Whitman and in the end, starts a fight.

Grace happens to be away from the mission when the fight breaks out.  Her two sisters, however, are there and witness the horrific acts that take place during the massacre.  Grace hears about the massacre and in her fear, tries to get back to the mission.  With the help of another trapper, who Grace is in love with, and a half breed Indian, Sam, the two girls are reunited with their sister, but not before awful things happen to the oldest sister.  They leave the fort and go to where Grace's uncle lives, but not before they are able to make contact with him.

The rest of the story tells about the struggle to heal from the Indian raid, Grace's reluctance to marry again, even though she's met the love of her life, and reconnection with family.  The story was wonderfully told, the characters either delightfully lovable or easily despised.  The descriptions were a bit lacking, I would have liked more details about the food, the wagons, the scenery, the mission, and the fort.  The descriptions of the uncle's house were adequate.

This is a series, and Book 2 about Grace's sister Hope, is coming out in July 2017.  I plan to buy it, I am very interested on how Hope deals with the rest of her life.

13 March 2017

National Napping Day!

Lately I have been thinking about stress and how to reduce it in my life.  I wrote about journaling here and how writing helps me relieve stress.  I also know that there are many ways, including exercise and sleep, that help reduce the stress in daily living.  I'm not a huge fan of exercise but I do love my sleep.  You have all heard of the power nap, right?  Dr. James Maas, a professor at Cornell who coined the term, has lots to say about napping.

I tried the power nap and found that I was more cranky and listless than before I napped.  That is not a good way to convince me to use a nap as a way to deal with stress.  However, what I learned was that I was doing it wrong.  Yes, there is a right way to nap, and this is how.

The ideal power nap should be 30 minutes or less.  Too long and you wake up like I did and too short doesn't get the job done.  For a nap to produce memory and creativity benefit, it should be 90 minutes long.  (That's no longer a power nap, though.  That's a full cycle nap!)  The second point is that the nap needs to be in the middle of the day.  Too late and you won't be ready to go bed at your regular time. Other points: sleep in a cooler room, with comfortable clothing and dim lighting. If temperature consistently keeps you up, you should consider getting breathable sheets or even a cooling mattress. Remember to always set your alarm so you don't sleep too long.

I have tried power napping since learning these tips and I can say that I am feeling the benefit of stress relief.  Now, I just need to figure out a way to love exercise and I will be calm, cool and collected!

There is a great article to let you discover what kind of napper you are.  Go and see and let me know in the comments what kind of napper you are!!  Five Different Napping Personalities

Information for my post came from The A-Zzz's Guide to Power Napping.

08 March 2017

Copycat Campbell's Tomato Soup #UltimateRecipeChallenge

I love tomatoes.  They are probably my favorite fruit/vegetables.  I just learned that I have an acidic stomach and tomatoes are on the no-no list.  It breaks my heart.

This month's Ultimate Recipe Challenge hosted by Kim Six Fix, was a bit bittersweet, knowing that I couldn't try any of the recipes, but I still wanted to be a part.  You will see my Crockpot Spaghetti Sauce recipe on the links below, along with lots of other mouthwatering recipes.

Just when I was becoming really depressed about the whole thing, I discovered tomato powder. Tomato powder is dehydrated tomatoes that are pulverized into powder and then used in making wonderful things like this Copycat Campbell's Tomato Soup.

You can reconstitute the tomatoes to make tomato paste and tomato sauce.  There are instructions on nearly every package of tomato powder on the market.  I found this tomato soup recipe and modified it to make it gluten, dairy and sugar free.  I hope you give it a try.

              Tomato Soup (a bit like Campbell's, but more healthy!)
  • 2/3 c almond milk
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 1/4 cup tomato powder
  • 1 packets stevia (or more to taste) (for those of you who can, use brown sugar)
  • 1 teaspoons salt
  •  Add water to a large pot and eat over high heat until almost boiling.  Add tomato powder and whisk thoroughly.  Turn heat down,  Add stevia and salt, mix well.  Add milk and heat to desired temperature.  Add more stevia to taste, if needed.  Garnish with coconut milk yogurt.

For someone who gets to eat Campbell's tomato soup a lot, this might seem a far cry from that beloved soup, but for those of us who cannot have tomatoes, this is a godsend!  Tomato powder has a long shelf life and can be used to make sauces, Bloody Marys and other tomato based goodies.

Join my friends as they share all of their wonderful tomato recipes!

07 March 2017

How to Journal to Ease Stress

We all experience everyday stressors from busy schedules to managing a household. We may work outside the house and can’t seem to juggle our demands or perhaps we stay at home and take care of our family. If you are having a hard time handling your day to day routine, it may be time to think about an outlet for stress relief. Journaling has long been regarded as a good way to track your mental well-being including stress. Here are a few tips to get started to use a journal to help with your stress.

Create a Gratitude Journal. A simple way to dive into journaling is to make a gratitude journal. It is not a diary or a journal where you write down everything that you do everyday. Instead, it is a place for you to focus on all the good in your life right now. Whether you buy a dedicated gratitude journal or use a spiral notebook to write down a few things you are grateful for everyday, you should write in it daily. Even on your absolute worst day, there is always something to be grateful for.
Some of you have expressed an interest in writing A Sentence A Day journal, like I have the past eight months.  You can see examples of those here: MayJuneJuly,  AugustSeptember,  October NovemberDecemberJanuary 2017 and February 2017.

Write about your day. Another way to use a journal for stress relief is to make a daily diary. This can be done digitally or with pen and paper. Many people feel as if they bottle up their emotions, so taking those thoughts and putting them out into the world (even privately) can be a big help. Write in this journal as often as necessary. An app, like Day One, can help you as well. Day One is $4.99 but is still a lot less than a paper journal, plus you can carry it with you and write anytime. You can set calendar alerts to remind yourself to journal as well.

Another strategy for this is to “brain dump.” This basically means to dump everything out of your brain on paper. You can do this on your phone (try your Notes app!) or on paper. I do this every night before going to bed. This strategy alone helps relieve my stress.

Take your journal with you everywhere. Having a rough day? Write it out! When you have a small pocket sized journal, you can take it with you wherever you go. Perhaps you are at work and need to jot down something positive to pull you out of a funk. Or, you’re waiting at an appointment and need to get your thoughts on paper. It can be therapeutic to have something with you to track your feelings.

Moleskin has a variety of pocket sized journals that are PERFECT for on the go! Moleskins are my favorite journals. You can bullet journal with them, draw or write. They come in a multitude of sizes, as well.

When you take the time to ease your mind through journaling, you can find relief from stress each and every day. Do you journal? Share your ideas, suggestions, and hacks with us!

06 March 2017

Fried Cabbage #TasteCreations

Top of the morning to all you lads and lassies!

This is the month of all things Irish, and now I can include myself in that group!  I did the Ancestry.com DNA test and found out that I am 1/3 Irish.  I am going to embrace my heritage in full force and celebrate St. Patrick's day the best way I can, with food!

Our Taste Creation bloggers, Rosemary from An Italian in My Kitchen and Lauren from Mom Home Guide have cooked up some wonderful recipes for you as well.  If you like cabbage, you are in for a treat!

This cabbage dish is so easy that it is a perfect weekday meal.  If you buy the packaged shredded cabbage, the cook time is reduced by half and the prep is nearly nonexistent!

Fried Cabbage and Bacon

6 slices of your favorite bacon, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 small head of cabbage, chopped
1 T salt
1/2 t pepper
1 t onion powder
1 t garlic powder

Cook bacon, add onion and garlic and saute vegetables until translucent.  Stir in sliced cabbage, stirring and cooking ten minutes.  Season with all the seasonings.  Reduce heat to low. Cover and cook 15 more minutes, stirring occasionally.

Serve with a healthy slice of soda bread and a sunnyside up egg.  Yum yum.

I hope you enjoy this dish!  Since St. Patrick's Day is on a Friday, you can enjoy this recipe in leisure. Let me know if you give it a try!

Mom's Home Guide  Asian Slaw

An Italian in My Kitchen  Italian Bean Pancetta Cabbage Soup

Enjoy these delightful dishes for St. Patrick's Day, or whenever you feel like a delicious comforting meal.  These will be sure to satisfy!!

01 March 2017

A Sentence A Day~ February

It is hard for me to fathom that February is gone and that we are close to finishing up the first quarter of 2017.  The time isn't just flying, it is jetting faster and faster.  I barely have a handle on my days. Still, I like to spend a bit of time each day reflecting over what happened and my response to it. That's when A Sentence A Day comes in, a journal where you only write one sentence for each day!

For past editions of the A Sentence A Day journaling, check out these links: MayJuneJuly,  AugustSeptember,  October NovemberDecember and January 2017. 

February 1.  It was a wonderful time with friends, eating lunch in a new spot across the river, delighting in one another's company and companionship.

February 2.  Sometimes I do better when it is just me and my sacred space, filling the time with thoughts of the past.

February 3.  Driving to Chicago and spending time with my husband on heavy things like, do we want to become expats and move to Panama.

February 4.  In Chicago with my daughter, enjoying the coldly brisk day by sightseeing everything Ferris Bueller.

February 5.  Leaving Chicago is bittersweet, finding out all over again that my child is fully capable of living her own life without my influence.

February 6.  My head is going to explode and when it does, the world will be covered with the slime from Ghostbusters.

February 7.  Missing work when you work from home is just weird.

February 8.  My college class went well, even though I could barely talk above a whisper.  

February 9.  Spoke to a doctor about the inflammation in my body, and while it is not good, it is not unrepairable.

February 10.  This crazy busy day ended up with me getting what amounts for half a haircut.

February 11.  A day to do whatever we wanted, and it ended up being going to four different grocery stores!

February 12.  A beautiful time at the St. Louis Orchid Show at the Missouri Botanical Gardens.

February 13.  Our PEO meeting was so much fun and I enjoyed giving each member a little heart shaped nail file from the company 31.

February 14.  Our Valentine's celebration was an exchange of gifts, Bob telling me he's not doing cards anymore, and a wonderful meal of steak, steamed broccoli and sweet potato steak fries. 

February 15.  An earnest discussion about our sacred places in our book study today is making me wonder where mine are.

February 16.  It's my sister's birthday and I always like to figure out some fun thing to do...this year I sent cards and posted baby pictures of her on Facebook, which never gets old!

February 17.  We've cut the cord and now replaced it: our TV service expired and now we have Directv, which I never thought I'd have.

February 18.  At my DAR meeting we had the CAR kids come and give a presentation on their year, which is an annual event, tooooo cute!

February 19.  It was 70 degrees today and we got to do a golf cart ride in February!!

February 20.  I spent the day with my colleagues in Columbia, talking about the merits of teaching and what good teaching looks like. 

February 21.  I spent the morning with a school talking about their data and their rock star teaching (!) and the evening with my PEO sisters having dinner.

February 22.  I had my second appointment with my doctor and I have lost 6 pounds, not as fast as I would like but down is nothing but GOOD.

February 23.  Bob and I saw a delightful student production of The Heathers: A Musical at Lindenwood University.

February 24.  We joined our neighbors for a night of Trivia and it was so much fun, even if I had to ignore the brownies, shrimp, roll ups and seven layer dip to eat my cauliflower hummus.

February 25.  I enjoyed a lunch meeting with my Delta Kappa Gamma ladies, whom I do not get to see enough of.

February 26.  I loved learning how to decorate a cake like a pro today at my neighbor's house, who is a pastry chef for a wonderful bakery!

February 27.  My meeting with my PEO sisters left me feeling sad about my leadership, which is an unusual feeling for me and something I must take time to analyze.

February 28.  The last day of February was spent on the road to Columbia, where I was able to talk to my mom for 40 minutes on the way to Columbia and 50 minutes on the way home!

February was a good month, but I am looking forward to March, as Spring draws closer and the fun of gardening begins!  If you decide you would like to do A Sentence A Day journaling, please let me know, I would love to come and read!