Katherine’s Everyday Salad

At one time (just about a year ago), I told you about my experience doing Whole30.  It was hard and freeing all at the same time.  I learned so much about my eating habits, some I knew (too well, I’m afraid) and some surprised me.

If you would like to revisit those posts here they are:
Whole30: Why I Chose to Tackle Whole30 and Why You Should Too
Whole30: Where Do I Start?
Whole30: My Favorite Foods and Tools
Whole30: Final Thoughts and Lessons Learned

While I was able to go through lots of details of our first Whole30, I’m not sure I will document all of that a second time.  I’m certain you might all run for the hills and never return.  Really, I like your company too much to do that!

But, I thought I would share a few recipes here and there that are considered compliant and great for everyday.  Today, I have Katherine’s Everyday Salad.

Who names a salad after themselves???  Someone crazy I’m certain.  One of the things I recommend to people wanting to try Whole30 is to eat the same meal at least a couple days in a row so you just don’t have to think about it.  This is what I ate alllmost every single day for lunch on Whole30, so it felt like it deserve a legitimate name.  It isn’t complicated or fussy.  I don’t even have a ton of photos because let’s be real.  Throwing some things on top of lettuce isn’t really complicated.

First, get baby spinach and arugula.  I don’t love raw spinach but I find it much more enjoyable with peppery arugula.  Next, get some tuna.  I have yet to try to make my own mayo for Whole30 (since most mayos are off limits) so I eat it plain.  You absolutely could mash in some avocado to create a bit of that creaminess and it would be delicious.

Next, chop a crisp apple (I think this one was Fuji).  Finally, toast some whole pecans in a dry skillet for a couple minutes.  Trust me, this extra step makes all the difference.  It toasts them and makes them so hearty.  Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

Katherine’s Everyday Salad
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  • 2 handfuls baby spinach and arugula
  • 2 oz. canned tuna*
  • 1/2 avocado
  • 1 crisp and tart apple, chopped
  • 1/4 c. whole pecans, toasted
  • balsamic vinegar and olive oil


  1. Fill a plate with spinach and arugula. Top with canned tuna. If you prefer, mash avocado with tuna to make tuna salad. If not, serve diced avocado on the side.
  2. Core and chop apple and add to the top of the salad.
  3. Place pecans in dry fry pan and toast on medium heat. You will know they are done when you start to smell the nuts (about 3-4 minutes). Add nuts to the salad.
  4. Drizzle balsamic vinegar and olive oil on top for dressing.
Cuisine: Salad | Recipe Type: Whole30


*If you aren't a tuna fan, this would be just as good with grilled chicken. Feel free to substitute almonds for the pecans if you prefer.


This meal is super healthy, uses an inexpensive protein and is filling!  I love the contrast in flavors and textures.  Admittedly, making salads isn’t one of my strongest suits. (Frankly, if I wasn’t so good at making brownies and pancakes we wouldn’t be here in the first place…)  But!  I do think this salad is hearty, simple to adapt to your own tastes and delicious!  Please let me know if you give Katherine’s Everyday Salad a try.  You can be my first critics!

Do you have a healthy go-to meal or salad?  What is something you wish you were better at cooking in your own kitchen?  Do you eat the same food everyday for one of your meals?

Goals: Photo organization (digital)

Hey, everybody!  How is everyone doing on your goals for 2018??  Anyone?Well, I know I’m definitely already slacking in a few of my own, so this is your encouragement to get back in the game!  (If you recall, the big difference between success and utter failure in my personal goals has to do with one small detail.  You can read about it here.)

Well, if you read my goals for 2018, one of them was to get back to organizing my photos.  A former scrapbooker, I dealt quite a bit with print photos and all the stuff that scrapbooking entails.  But now, I just don’t have the time to sit and work at it like I used to.  Now, I try to keep up with a family digital scrapbook, one per year.  Don’t worry, I’m very behind, but I’m hoping that some of these new tools and sites can help you get your photos organized too.

Image result for photo roll on iphone

Photo/Video Storage

Personally, I have used Shutterfly for years.  From Christmas photos, to birthday invitations, photo AND video storage and all sorts of photo gifts, Shutterfly has been a great resource for me.  I love that all of these things are done within the same company.

First, I have the app.  THIS IS AMAZING.  Because, my husband and I can link our phones (and therefore all photos from our phones) to our Shutterfly account.  They upload very easily, including your videos!  Since no one really uses video cameras anymore, it is so hard to know how and where to store this short little snippets of your day.  Plus, they take so much of your phone’s storage!  Once photos and videos are uploaded, I delete them off my phone.

Second, once these photos and videos are uploaded, they are ready and accessible for making products or compiling into books.  We have done photo albums, baby books, calendars and even magnets.  Unlimited photo storage is free at Shutterfly, and video storage has a small annual fee.

Did you know that Amazon offers free photo storage?  If you are a Prime member, you have unlimited photo storage and up to 5GB of video.  Local Chicago photographer, Heidi Kalish uses this service to store all her photos, personal and work related.  (She also notes that she backs up in a second location as well on an external hard drive.)

One other suggestion is using DropBox to store photos.  It can be a quick and easy way to upload them and organize them and also accessible from multiple devices.  If you use this for work or personal files, you know the ease of organizing and sharing files with other people.

Additional resources

Related image
Chatbooks: Oh my goodness, look at those covers!

Chatbooks–This idea is truly brilliant.  For $10 per book ($15 for hard cover), this company takes your photos from your Instagram, Facebook account, or even your photo roll including dates, captions and locations.  There is no monthly fee, just pay per book.  You can even print photos in a book organized by hashtag!  It will load all of them for you and just before shipping, they will notify you it is ready.  Then you can go in, edit anything you don’t want in the book and then place your order.  This gives you the chance to not only have your photos but to have them in your hand!

Image result for groovebooks
Groovebook: What fun spines and organization by date!

Groovebook–This is another similar concept, though this you pay a monthly fee of $3.99.  You also select the photos to be included in each book.  The bindings on these books are fun and colorful and even have perforated photos so you could tear them out and give to friends and family.  If the company name sounds familiar, the owners were on Shark Tank and won a great partnership deal!

Blurb and Mixbook–these are two sites I have heard great things about, but have no experience.  I would love to hear from some of you if you have any experience with either of these.

These are just a few suggestions (among many) to help you manage your digital photos.  I highlighted these specific companies and products because of personal experience with them or the recommendation of someone who uses these frequently.  I hope even just one of these could be valuable for you to get those precious photos back into your hands!

A big thank you to Heidi Kalish for her tips and suggestions for this post!  If you are local to the Chicago suburbs, be sure to check her out for your next family photos.  Her work has been blown up to hang on our wall or turned into Christmas cards.  Her patience with my family and our squirrely toddlers has been fantastic (it might help that she has a few kids of her own!).

Have you tried any of these programs or products?  How do you store and save your photos?  Do you have a system that gets photos off your phone and computer and onto your walls or in your hands?

Creature Comforts: February 2018

Happy Friday everyone!  Hope you all have had a great week!  This series, Creature Comforts, is an opportunity to share a few interesting things I discovered over the last month.

Image result for reading smarter

Surprise!  Reading Makes you Smarter!–Don’t we all know this?  That reading makes you smarter?  But did you know reading can make you think better and more strategically?  You all know I’m a huge advocate for books and reading.  So, I wanted to share this article from the Big Think about how reading does improve the quality of your brain work in every aspect of your life.

Image result for good rx

Good Rx–I was reminded about this FREE app and website to find your needed prescriptions at the best price in your area.  Type in your medication, print the free coupon and save up to 80% on medication!  Someone I know relies heavily on medication that costs $750 a month!!!  When typing in her medication, there was a pharmacy that offered it for $39 a month!  I was unaware that prices can vary so much between pharmacies but this website can even show you a rundown of a slew of popular medications and the steep discounts offered.

Dark chocolate bread pudding tastes like a plate of gooey fudgy brownies! Topped with salted caramel! Recipe on sallysbakingaddiction.com

Dark Chocolate Bread Pudding–I know Valentine’s Day is over, but I could always use a good excuse to make a fabulous dessert.  THIS WILL BE MY NEXT ONE.

Image result for birds eye superfood blends

Birds Eye Superfood Blends— I recently found these in the freezer section of the supermarket.  Since it has been so cold, the LAST thing I want to eat is a salad.  These are ready to eat in about 5 minutes, and are very comforting because they are warm.  They run about $3.50 and are grain and vegetable meal in a pouch.  I could identify all of the ingredients on the list and were not super high in calories (Quinoa and spinach–calories: 310, fat: 5, sodium: 580, fiber: 6).  I tried the quinoa and spinach as well as the black rice and edamame (with mango!) and both were great.  Every one has a very light dressing/sauce but the flavor is so light I almost forgot it was in there.  Check it out if you need another option for a light meal.

Image result for birthday cake

For Goodness Cakes–I recently heard about this nonprofit organization that bakes birthday cakes for kids ages 12-21 in the foster care system.  Their goal is to give kids the celebration they deserve so that they know they are valuable and loved.  Their website has a great video offering more information about the program so be sure to check that out as well!

If you would like to see previous installments of Creature Comforts, please click here!

The Snow Child

The Snow Child

Genre: Fiction, Fantasy

Summary: After Jack and Mabel suffer the loss of their unborn child, they escape to the Alaskan wilderness to grieve and avoid the comments and pity from those around them.  The Alaskan wilderness at the turn of the century, however, is a much harsher landscape than they dreamed for their farm.  One particularly cold evening as a fresh snow blankets their home, Mabel and Jack decide to build a girl out of the snow.  The next morning, Jack notices the snow-girl gone, including the hat and mittens they used to build her.  He is startled later to see a young child mysteriously appear and disappear over the next few weeks wearing that same scarf and mittens.  Jack and Mabel both realize their loneliness could play into this “vision” but are also bothered at how real this girl seems.

For our February selection, our group chose a perfect winter mood book.  Ivey’s description of the Alaskan landscape, particularly in the winter was beautiful and hard at the same time.  The opening line sets the stage very well: “Mabel had known there would be silence.  That was the point, after all.  No infants cooing or wailing.  No neighbor children playfully hollering down the lane,  no pad of small feet on wooden stairs worn smooth by generations, or clackety-clack of toys along the kitchen floor.  All those sounds of her failure and regret would be left behind, and in their place there would be silence.”

I’ve heard of Alaskan winter days that only have  a few short hours of sunlight.  Just the thought makes my heart ache a bit.  But when trying to escape the deep grief Mabel suffered, I could imagine why this move would make sense.  At times this book battled hard topics.  Grief strangles people so differently and it was interesting to explore this through the eyes of Mabel and Jack.

And yet.

Even in suffering you can see a subtle glimmer.  Honestly, if you weren’t suffering, you might not even see the glimmer because you aren’t looking so intently for the bit of hope your heart so desperately needs.  This book isn’t all despair.  Our group loved the dynamics with neighbors Esther and George and the transformation in the relationship between Mabel and Jack as the story progresses.  How one soul can change the course of another is astonishing.

Though I tend to read pretty widely, I was initially put off by the “fantasy” description.  I don’t really love creatures that don’t exist and worlds that are bizarre.  This, however, did not feel unbelievable.  In fact, my favorite part of our great book club discussion centered around this fact.

Personally, The Snow Child hit a homerun.  Ivey’s description of the Alaskan wilderness and relationships among the characters was so beautifully done.  Surprisingly, this was Ivey’s first novel and I look forward to reading more from her.  For others in our group, mostly everyone enjoyed it with all the symbolism and literary “clues” woven throughout (we love having English teachers in our group!).  Everyone agreed it was a bit slow to start and then picked up steam toward the end.  Though I enjoyed the setting for a Chicago winter, I think some people dreaded picking the book up to be reminded what was out their front door.

The Snow Child is a perfect for a winter read, offers opportunities for lively discussion and a little mystery.  Be sure to check out this fantastic title for your next pick!

For other book reviews, click here.

What is your feeling about fantasy books?  Do you like to read a book that matches your setting/season/time period?

Simplest Creamy Macaroni and Cheese

Happy Tuesday everyone!  I hope you had a great weekend.  We spent most of it digging ourselves out of snow-mageddon over in Chicagoland, but we survived.  To help us stay warm, I decided to whip up an old family classic: Simplest Creamy Macaroni and Cheese.

When I am planning any kind of event, I always think food first.  (Isn’t this the reason people get together?  Isn’t the food the most important part?)  Decorations are always the last on my mind and therefore often go undone or leave a lot to be desired.  In fact, my husband put up decorations for my son’s party a few weeks ago and I’m embarrassed to say they are still up.  I keep telling myself it is because my son deserves to feel the love, but really I just haven’t taken them down yet.

Once I tried a decadent and fabulous macaroni and cheese for a kids party.  Certainly they would appreciate a more glamorous approach to their standard fare, right?  They would adoringly look at me and beg me to share the recipe.

Not a chance.

You should know that I grew up on the ever-familiar florescent orange powdered cheese from the box and I loved every minute of it.  But, with this Simplest Creamy Macaroni and Cheese, you can have nearly triple the quantity for about the same price.  And, with just 4 ingredients, it’s hard not to love how quickly this simple meal comes together!

Ooh, that cheesy creamy goodness!

First, cook your pasta of choice per the directions on the box, though I cook mine just under since it will also bake in the oven as well.  I love to use penne or cavatappi because my kids like these shapes, but of course, elbow macaroni works great too.  (It is not lost on me that I am calling this macaroni and cheese and not using macaroni in the dish.  But let’s just say that it’s ok, ok?)

While your pasta cooks, butter a 9 x 13 glass pan and set aside.  Once you have drained the pasta, pour half the pasta into the pan.  Dot the pasta with butter (about 3 tablespoons) and then season pasta with salt and pepper.  Top pasta with shredded colby jack cheese.

Then repeat the steps again: pasta, butter, season with salt and pepper and shredded cheese.

Finally, pour milk over top of whole pan.  Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes.  If you want the top a bit crispy, you can uncover and then bake for 10-15 more minutes, but we like it creamy and so I just stir and serve.

This has a simple, classic flavor, but creamy and delicious without the fuss.  The simplicity is great for a quick weeknight meal and would also be fantastic for a side at a barbeque or potluck meal.  This would also be fun to experiment with additional cheeses like sharp cheddar, pepper jack or even smoked gouda!  I hope that you give Simplest Creamy Macaroni and Cheese a try, you will absolutely love it!!!

Simplest Creamy Macaroni and Cheese

10 minPrep Time

45 minCook Time

55 minTotal Time

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  • 1 lb. pasta, any shape
  • 6 T. butter
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 c. shredded cheese
  • 2 c. whole or 2% milk


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. When it is at a rolling boil, add a good amount of salt to the water. Add pasta.
  3. Cook pasta to package directions, just shy of cooking time by about one minute so pasta is al dente. Drain.
  4. Butter a glass 9 x 13 pan. Pour half of the pasta into the dish. Season with salt and pepper and dot with about 3 T. of butter. Spread 2 c. shredded cheese on top.
  5. Repeat previous step: noodles, salt and pepper, butter and finish with cheese.
  6. Pour 2 c. whole or 2% milk over the top.
  7. Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes. If you like a crispy top, cook for an additional 10-15 minutes uncovered. I also recommend stirring pasta well right out of the oven to fully incorporate all the cheese.


In this recipe I used cavatappi pasta, 2% milk and shredded colby jack cheese. It would also be delicious using sharp cheddar, pepper jack or a combination.


If you would like to check out other recipes, click here!

What is the most important part of a party for you, the food or the decorations?  When you do you like to serve macaroni and cheese?  What food reminds you of your childhood?

You’re the Average of the 5 People Closest to You

Who are the people closest to you?  Did this question make you stop and quickly tally your best friends and neighbors?  Maybe glance through those on your favorites and speed dial lists?  I recall the first time I heard this statement.  It made me wonder what my friendships said about me.

Image result for five people, rohn quote

Jim Rohn, a motivational speaker that focuses on time management, goal setting and leadership skills made this statement.  Consider this though: it doesn’t say “those you call your best friends” or “those who have known you the longest” or even “those who love you the most.”  The quote says that you are the average of those people you spend the most time with.

So what exactly does that say about you?

College was a great learning experience for this idea.  I had the privilege of studying with some pretty incredible musicians and was often extremely humbled by their talent in comparison to mine.  One fellow student was so impressive he came to college as a freshman at the ripe age of 16 (and had his PhD before he turned 25!).

Because music was a hobby and not my specific focus in high school, I fought for my grades.  But I quickly began to realize that spending time with the people who had music as their dedicated focus all along could help direct my focus.  When you love what you do, you study it, practice it, talk about it and analyze it.  Over and over and over.  And you get such enjoyment out of doing these things with people who feel the same way.

The benefit, of course, is the details are sharper, the knowledge is broader and the confidence is better.  Your skill is honed by all the time and dedication to the craft.  My firm belief is that these people elevated my abilities simply by being around them.

Now this whole idea might be easier to understand when speaking of a musical talent or athletic ability.  So what if you are now working in a job or a parent or living alone in an apartment?

I still think this concept applies.  Do the coworkers you sit with at lunch challenge you do work harder and be a better employee?  Do your neighbors encourage you to be a better citizen?   Are the people you spend your weekends with spur you on to be better homeowner/spouse/parent/friend?  Currently my coworkers are toddlers (and my husband of course) and yet the moms we spend our time with at the park or at library story time are what will affect how I am as a mother to my own children.

These relationships affect our self-esteem, our decisions and even our thinking.  Not only do those close to us offer encouragement and motivation to be better, but they also can offer constructive criticism and feedback to prune out the things that aren’t improving your life.  If this is true, these people can have a great affect on our ability to succeed or fail.

Maybe we need to take stock and analyze the people with whom we spend the most time.  I don’t think this means eliminating people who aren’t pushing us, but maybe limiting our time with them.  What areas of our life need improvement and what person could inspire significant growth?

I would love your thoughts on this idea.  How have you pushed your skills?  What people have encouraged you to be a better version of yourself?  Can you credit anyone for helping you cut out areas of your life that were holding you back?

Little Women


Genre: Fiction, Classic

Summary:  Set in Civil War New England, Little Women is the story of the March family, particularly daughters Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy.  While their father is away, they must endure the hardships of wartime and create their own adventures.  This beloved classic has been beloved by many for years.

Overhearing a conversation between bookworms, I became intrigued when one said she was reading a book that fit the season.  She said it made the reading experience a bit richer because you feel the chill of the wind and the snow.  So, for the season after New Years, I decided to do some investigating.  We had the month off from our book club and I wanted to try out a “seasonal” book.  One list suggested: Little Women.

This really was a perfect choice for me.  I had never read it, I owned a vintage copy that was my mother’s (or maybe my grandmother’s?) and it seemed the perfect book to cozy up with over the holiday, especially since the opening scene is Christmas Day.

I’ll admit, I don’t often choose classics or too many books older than 15 years.  Since I have started reading so widely (which I love!) I feel like there are just too many choices to “go backwards”.  But I do feel that winter is such a great time to consider moving out of our comfort zone in this way because the season seems to give us a bit more time to tackle books that may take more time or attention span.

One of the moods that struck me was the pure atmosphere of homeyness that is created in the story.  Though you feel the needs around them and the sacrifices made during war time, the March family becomes immediately endearing because of their devotion and love for each other.  I am certain this is one of the major reasons for its popularity.

There were also moments where I chuckled out loud for their blunt honesty (Meg: “I’m so fond of luxury.”) and very true analysis of the human condition (Jo: She had cherished her anger till it grew strong, and took possession of her, as evil thoughts and feelings always do, unless cast out at once.).  The deep commitment to honor and family and kindness were a beautiful theme woven throughout.

Finally, this lovely book had moments that reminded me how far we’ve come!  (Marriage without parent approval?!?)  Lack of game-playing in courtship.  Purely sensible living: “It’s not half so sensible to leave legacies when one dies as it is to use the money wisely while alive, and enjoy making one’s fellow creatures happy with it.”

Heartwarming, lovely and classic, you will not be disappointed when you pick this up.


Thick Buttermilk Pancakes

It does not matter the season, but once every six weeks or so I have a major craving for pancakes.  I think that it feels luxurious to mix the batter, pour little puddles onto the griddle and eat them warm with my coffee.  Pancakes simply epitomize Saturday mornings.

Thick Buttermilk Pancakes are the classic pancake you hope for: thick, light and pillow-y.  For my son’s PJs and Pancakes party, I used these as the base and let the kids choose their toppings.  Of course the kids chose sprinkles and mini-chocolate chips but they would be even more delicious with berries or sliced bananas.

Start with the wet ingredients (egg, buttermilk and oil) and mix well.  Add in the dry ingredients (flour, baking soda and baking powder, sugar and salt) and mix until just combined.  BUT!  I do have discovered a trick that is a MUST…

You MUST let the batter rest for at least 10 minutes.  Get the coffee going, warm up the griddle and unload the dishwasher.  That extra time will ensure thick and light pancakes.  It gives the baking soda and baking powder a chance to activate with the liquid and offer that light texture.  Thick Buttermilk Pancakes hit the spot on any lazy weekend.

Thick Buttermilk Pancakes
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  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 1/4 c. buttermilk or soured milk
  • 2 T. vegetable oil
  • 1 1/4 c. flour
  • 1 T. sugar
  • 1 t. baking powder
  • 1 t. baking soda
  • 1/2 t. salt


  1. Whisk egg, milk and oil together. Then add remaining dry ingredients and whisk until just combined.
  2. Let rest for at least 10 minutes, up to an hour.
  3. Use a measuring cup to pour batter onto heated griddle. Flip the pancakes when they are puffed and full of bubbles.
  4. Serve immediately with butter and syrup.


To sour milk, add 1 t. fresh lemon juice to regular milk. This recipe easily doubles.


Any leftovers, if you have any, can be easily frozen.  Just wait until they have completely cooled, and layer between layers of parchment or wax  paper in a large plastic bag.  Just pop in the microwave or the toaster to warm.

Do you have a special breakfast/brunch item that you love?  How do you like to spend your Saturdays?  What food item feels luxurious to you?

Birthday Ramblings

There is a rumor going around that I had a birthday this weekend.  I’m not going to say they are telling lies, but if anyone asks I celebrated 30 happy years.

I’ve had that birthday a few times.

Since birthdays matter a little bit less every year you get older, it is easy to let the day just slip by.  Though this wasn’t a milestone birthday, I still feel as if I should have some thoughts about another passing year.

So, here goes…

  1. Given a few hours to myself, I chose to do something I never get to do without a deadline, tagalong or agenda: I headed to the library to wander the aisles and plan.  (I know, I’m such a party animal.)  Since I do a lot of reading throughout the year, I need to have a running list of titles to read (don’t even LOOK at my to-be-read pile!)  Honestly, it was delightful.
  2. If I had my choice I would get to see a very dear friend and grab coffee or better, brunch.  Since that didn’t work out this year, it was great to get to still see friends while we celebrated my son for his fourth birthday.  I had my birthday the day after my son was born and though a hospital stay isn’t how I prefer celebrations, this was one event worth the stay.  Now it has turned into a week long bonanza–which never disappoints.
  3. Simple fun.  That was the theme for my son’s party this year.  Pjs and Pancakes worked like a charm.  Everyone comes first thing in the morning in their best pjs and stays to enjoy delicious pancakes (everyone got to make their own pancakes!).  Kids are super pumped about mini chocolate chips, sprinkles and whipped cream and parents were happy with lots of bacon and hot coffee.  Simple basement games and a pinata later, and everyone was sugared up, tired and ready for naps.
  4. A bit of warning: Having a bit of extra time before dinner I decided to wander a store in which I had a gift card to see if there was anything that looked enticing.  As I walked in, I noticed some really nice bathing suits, good quality, cute, and very reasonable in price.  (Do you see where this going??)
    People, it is January.  My skin hasn’t seen the light of day in months.  It is post-Christmas cookie and New Years toasting season.  I was recovering from a carb-loaded, sugar topped pancake breakfast.  Let me be very clear: under no circumstances should you think this is a good idea.  No matter how cute, how reasonable or how planning-ahead you are, DO NOT try on bathing suits.  In January.  After pancakes.  ON YOUR BIRTHDAY.
    Please learn from my lesson, friends.
  5. With a special babysitter in town, my husband and I had an opportunity to go out for dinner.  Since much of our dating life was spent on the busy streets of downtown Chicago, we always love to reminisce over great sushi.  And since this wasn’t my first 30th birthday, we made it home by 10:30 and were asleep before midnight.

Not a bad way to spend a day, right?  30

How do you like to celebrate your birthday?  What makes your birthday feel like a true celebration?  If you shared your birthday with someone, how do you make the day special for both of you?

Crockpot Thai Peanut Chicken

Is there anyone out there that tries to resist doing what the entire world seems to be doing?

I’m talking about the InstantPot of course.  I feel like everyone got one for Christmas.  Seriously, if I see one more Instagram feed promising my life will be changed by this new kitchen gadget I might hit someone.

But can we sing the praises of the old classic Crockpot?  This is similar to the one I have and I really like it.  Especially for its programmability (is that a word??) and less than half the price of the InstantPot!  Also, after the cook time is complete, it automatically shifts over to warm instead of continuing to cook.

Now I will say my husband isn’t a huge fan of Crockpot meals.  The meat just comes out too dry.  But this Crockpot Thai Peanut Chicken is fantastic and healthy too!  Oh, and I promise the chicken comes out juicy and tender.  My tip?  Make sure you start with raw chicken, not frozen.  I think going from frozen to cooked makes it tougher.

First, chop up some carrots, onion and red pepper and lay in bottom of Crockpot.  This will be the bed for your chicken.  Next, lay four chicken breasts across the veggies.

Next, in a separate bowl, mix together chicken broth, creamy peanut butter, lime zest and lime juice, soy sauce, quick cooking tapioca, ginger, red pepper flakes and minced garlic.  Don’t be overwhelmed by the number of ingredients, it really makes a great sauce!

Now pour this over all the chicken and veggies.  Cover with the lid and cook on LOW for 4 hours or HIGH for 2 hours.  When cooking time is up, add peas and a bit of coconut milk for creaminess.  Cover again for about 10 minutes until peas are warmed through.

And all that the beauty of the Crockpot holds is here, in this dish…

Crockpot Thai Peanut Chicken is healthy, great peanut flavor with just a little kick and perfect for a weeknight meal.  Give this meal a try and I hope it finds a way into your weekly rotation!

Yields 4-5 servings

Crockpot Thai Peanut Chicken

5 minPrep Time

2 hrCook Time

2 hr, 5 Total Time

Save RecipeSave Recipe


  • 1 medium onion (I used 4 shallots)
  • 4-5 carrots, peeled and rough chopped
  • 1 red pepper, rough chopped
  • 4-5 chicken breasts
  • Thai Peanut Sauce
  • 3/4 c. chicken broth
  • 3 T. creamy peanut butter
  • 1 lime, zested and juiced
  • 2 T. soy sauce (I used low-sodium)
  • 2 T. quick cooking tapioca*
  • 1 T. ginger, fresh grated or paste
  • 2-3 t. red curry paste or red pepper flakes
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • Add at the end:
  • 1/2 c. unsweetened coconut milk
  • 1 c. frozen peas
  • Garnish
  • Chopped peanuts
  • Chopped cilantro


  1. First, chop onion, carrot and pepper and lay in the bottom of your Crockpot.
  2. Next, lay chicken breasts over the top of the vegetables.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together all ingredients for the Thai Peanut Sauce and pour over chicken and vegetables.
  4. Cook on low for 4 hours or high for 2 hours.
  5. Then, uncover and add frozen peas and coconut milk.
  6. Serve over brown rice and top with chopped peanuts and fresh cilantro.


*Tapioca is used as a thickening agent for the Thai Sauce. Feel free to omit if you prefer. Also, if you are avoiding rice, I have also served this over a bed of baby spinach and it was delicious!


If you liked this recipe, be sure to check out other recipes here!

Do you struggle with weeknight meals?  What are some of your favorite weeknight meals?  If you have the coveted InstantPot, please tell me why you love it!

Goals: Photo organization (print)

Photo storage, organization and maintenance can be such a tiresome task.  Being that a family photo album was on my list of goals for 2018, I decided I should probably also share how I plan to tackle this task.  Maybe it’s just me, but I’m guessing I might not be the only one who struggles with photo organization.

First, you should know that I am the family photographer.  I take all the pictures and if someone should have a photo in their house (including my parents and siblings), other than a professional, it was more than likely taken by myself.  Also being the historian and a big fan of all things memory-making, I have photo albums and scrapbooks that fill whole shelves in my bookcase.


I still haven’t figured out the best way for me to stay on top of photos.  These photos are very important to me but I still get frustrated that it isn’t easier.  Going digital was supposed to help us!  Go paperless!  Stop having laundry baskets FULL of photos and not knowing what to do with them!  Going digital was supposed to eliminate the clutter, but it also made these photos just sit, invisible.

Image result for piles of photographs
Does this photo just make you anxious?  Notice the negatives too…

Do you remember that commercial of your old photos coming to life begging you to take them out of the folders of your computer and print them?  That is what happens.  They sit either on your computer, or worse on your phone, until your computer dies or your phone falls in the puddle and then suddenly those photos are really important to you.

So!  Instead of letting another year go by, I’m hoping you’ll join me and try to tackle one task.  Personally, I feel like your stage of life will have me give you different starting points, but the end goal is all the same.  Start somewhere.

Note: You know photo organization is going to take some time and some space.  Choose a room or counter where you can leave this project out and not have to pack up each time you work on it.  I would recommend the dining room table, guest room or secondary office space.  Secondly, instead of watching another episode of Modern Family, turn on some great music and get to work.  And lastly, remember, getting started is always the hardest part and once you get going, you’ll begin building momentum and the process will go much faster.

Stages for photo organization

Group 1  Single/Newly married (no kids)–This probably means you have most of your photos digitized.  Most photos are family, travel and friends.  You might have uploaded them to the cloud but you might not have any albums put together.

Group 2 Parent with kids (ages K-8)–Maybe you were very tech savvy and had all your photos uploaded from day one.  Maybe you have half print photos and half digital.  Most photos (let’s be real…all your photos) are of your kids.

Group 3 Parent with kids (high school-adult children)–You have a lot of print photos, some digital (mostly on your phone) and may have not the SLIGHTEST CLUE how to do anything with them other than scroll through your phone.

END GOAL:  Start and finish ONE album by a deadline of your choice.

Image result for piles of photographs

Organization of print photos

Printed photographs, particularly those heirloom prints of grandparents and great grandparents, are shoved in boxes, drawers and cabinets.  Some used to be in frames, but you didn’t care for the frame so you removed the photo and donated the frame.  But you don’t want to get rid of the photos.  They include your grandparents wedding photos, your aunt and uncle on a dock in the summer as kids and your Mom and Dad waving goodbye as they left for their honeymoon.  These photos are important.

So these photos are special to you but they won’t mean anything to your children if they have absolutely no idea who is in the photo or you haven’t told them the significance of the picture.  If you aren’t around to tell them, (please don’t hate me for saying this) but they will throw them all away.  Your photos need context and if you don’t have any, these “heirlooms” will be in the trash.

So, I wanted to give you some simple steps to help you get your photos safe, organized and create the heritage you want your family to have.

STEP 1: Collect ALL print photos and take them to your open space.  This means your dining room table, a fold-out table or counter space that won’t need to be used anytime soon.  You could even buy a large, flat piece of plywood to use and then slide under a bed to be out of sight.  This collection process may take some time, but if you have them all in one place it could take just a few minutes.

STEP 2: Begin sorting.  If any photos are damaged, torn, blurry or have no context (particularly lots of scenery photos), throw them away.  Yes, you heard me.  Also, if there are duplicates, throw extras away (unless you have someone who would like them.  If that is the case, get one manila envelope, write receiver’s name on outside and add to their pile.)  More than likely there is one historian per family so if you are compiling these photos, your siblings aren’t going to want the extras.  Also, pitch all the negatives.  Are you really going to look through each and every negative and go print new copies?  Probably not.  Release yourself from the guilt and pitch them.

STEP 3: Consider grouping photos other than chronologically.  Maybe group one album with photos of one person (“this album includes all photos of Uncle Tom”) or maybe even holidays (“this album includes all Christmas/special holiday/family vacation photos”).  This method might be easier with older photos.

Brown Photo Album

STEP 4: Once you have decided how to organize your photos, just start slipping your photos into an album like this.  I would buy about 5-10 of these at a time so all your albums match and have continuity.  Each album holds about 180 photos which is more than you think!  I was able to fill my whole album in just a few hours.  Do NOT let chronology hold you up, particularly for photos more than a decade old.  Get ’em in, and get ‘er done!

STEP 5: Now comes the most important part.  Label, label, label!!!  The most important are names and dates.  If you don’t have dates, write why this photo is important to your story.  If you can’t figure out the importance of the photo, then your family certainly won’t either.

STEP 6: Create an excuse to have a family gathering.   Maybe celebrate the birthday or favorite holiday of a loved one that has passed.  Get everyone together just because.  When you do, pass the albums around or leave them on the coffee tables where people gather.  The conversations and memories to be had will be so much more rich and memorable.  This is why you took the time to do this.  These are the moments your family will remember.

Photographs can be such a beautiful gift of heritage for your family.  They provide a source of pride by learning a country of origin, what experiences make up the family culture and dynamic and can also honor family members who were lost too soon.  Any legacy takes time to create, so don’t let your legacy be lost simply because you didn’t take the time to save it.


Do you have piles and piles of printed photographs?  Have you found a system that works for you to categorize and protect them?  What would you do with a huge pile of photos that you had no idea who was pictured?  How do you plan to share your family legacy to future generations?

In my next post, I plan to tackle your digital photos, so be sure to check back for those!





Creature Comforts: January 2018

Happy Friday, everyone!

Once a month I like to compile a list of my favorite articles, products or simple ideas that I think you might like.  Some Creature Comforts are completely random, but that’s why I think they are fun!  I’d love to hear your thoughts on any of these.

1// Fascinating TED talk about the strongest predictors of how long you’ll live your life.  For those of you wondering, weight, exercise are on the bottom of the spectrum, not the top.  Link here.

2// If any of you recall, I HIGHLY recommended this nonfiction/memoir book to you about a neurosurgeon who discovered he had stage 4 terminal lung cancer.  This article tells the story of how a widow and widower found each other in the midst of their grief.  Link here.

Shrimp Fried Cauliflower Rice

3// Ever since I did my own Whole30, I have followed the Whole30 Instagram account.  They highlight Whole30 certified bloggers and people who share their tips and tricks.  This is how I found Healthy Little Peach, a Missouri-based blogger who offers tricks for easy, reasonably priced Whole30 meals that even her toddler will eat.  You will love her southern flair and simple solutions for knocking out your own Whole30 process.  Link here.

 Paloma Matte Blonde Tortoise Polarized

4// If you have been living under a rock and don’t know about Toms, they are a company that donates one pair of shoes for each pair of shoes you purchase.  Their “One for One” motto has spread from just donating shoes into basic needs like water and medical attention for safe deliveries of babies.  One thing I just learned is that now they sell sunglasses on top of their well-known shoe line.  So, if you are preparing to go on vacation or need a new pair for summer, check here first!  Check out their full line of products here.

Blue Pine Valley Hammock

5// This next company also gives back in a very significant way.  Pine Valley Outfitters creates quality products for camping and outdoor leisure and giving half of their proceeds to help the homeless community.  From hammocks, to backpacks and shirts and hats, they have a wide variety of products that would be great gifts.  (As a side note, I hear tons of people laughing at ME recommending this because I am NOT a camper, but I think this company and their mission is so cool I don’t think that matters.)  Check them out here!

Have you tried any of these products?  What have you read lately that impressed you?  What is motivating you lately?

New Year, New Goals

Happy New Year, Friends!

It has been a WHILE.  If you follow me on Instagram, you might have known that my computer decided to have a major tantrum and stop working for a couple weeks.  Then, it took a healthy amount of time to get back to me.  So here we are, well into 2018.  How are those resolutions going??


Well, maybe you are 10 days into your Whole30 (that’s great!) or you’ve been to the gym quite a bit this week (way to go!).  Personally, I never make resolutions because I don’t ever follow through.  But it wasn’t until recently that I realized why.  Resolutions are waaaaay to open ended for me.

Image result for new year resolutions meme

I have a distinct memory from college that helped me understand this better.  Being your typical first born, I was a diligent and focused student.  Never wanting to disappoint a professor or teacher,  my work was handed it in and on time.  But, I was a great procrastinator as well.

One Saturday in college I was moaning about starting work on some paper due Monday and my friend looked at me and said, “Katherine, have you ever NOT turned in a paper?  Have you ever turned in a paper late?”  to which I replied a quiet no.  “Well, then you know it will get done.  You can do it now or later, but you know eventually it will get done.”

As the truth of that settled in, I realized that it wasn’t the paper that was going to motivate me, but the deadline.  I need a deadline!  (I also know this isn’t a revolutionary concept, but it made so much more sense why resolutions weren’t successful for me.)

The deadline is what makes crash diets successful.  “I just need to lose 20 pounds in the next 6 hours.”   The deadline is what makes credit card companies so successful.  We don’t like to plan ahead, delay gratification or put in little bits of effort over a long period of time.  We want results NOW!

When I realized this about myself, I began to look at goals and resolutions a bit differently.  New year, new goals.  So, I do have a few goals for 2018.  Some are simple, some ridiculous and some ambitious.  There are personal ones, some for my kids and some for our home.  Here are a few ideas for you to consider and maybe you can join me as I will set deadlines for myself.  Follow along on Instagram as I set a new goal including a deadline.  You will be my accountability 🙂


ONE//  If you have a spouse and/or kids, do you have a will, living trust or power of attorney?  Honestly, this one sat on our to do list for a really long time.  We still have one last component to tie up, but I feel so much better knowing that it is done.  I know these are hard conversations and not fun to talk about.  The excuses for not doing it are plentiful.  BUT.
Both of our families have seen the significant damage that can happen when you don’t have things in writing.  Our lawyer reminded us that this is always adjustable and changeable.  If we want to change the guardians in five years, we can.  If we want to change the trustee, we can at any time.  Now, changes can cost money, but they can always be made.  Trust me, you will be glad you crossed this one off your list in 2018.

TWO// Do you have any boxes in your basement/storage room/shed/parent’s basement holding personal belongings you are struggling to part with?  Personally, this one is old teaching supplies for me.  Teaching for eight years (in three different schools) created a lot of memories and materials.  I took great pride in my work and the curriculum I created.  However, at this time I don’t see myself back in the classroom and should I decide to go back, these supplies will likely be outdated.  It might be time to designate, donate and toss.

THREE// Anyone drowning in digital photos?  Anyone get notices that your phone has run out of storage because your photos and videos take up too much space?  Thankfully I feel pretty good about my photos being automatically uploaded to Shutterfly, but there they sit.  I love photos and having albums to look at with my kids so my goal is to at least get my youngest her baby book (one photo per month for the first year of life) and at least 2017 done.
Quick tip: Start with your most recent photos.  Your memory is better and you won’t get so bogged down feeling sad about how much time has passed.  Once you are on a roll, move backward because you’ll be more motivated to get the book done rather than dwell on how much has changed.

FOUR// Does anyone have a room or system in their home that has just never quite worked?  Maybe you have a room that looks eerily similar to the week you moved in…and you’ve been here almost seven years.  (Oh, I’m looking at you living/dining room!)
Maybe your entry from the garage has a closet, but it is tiny and nearly useless for lack of storage.  Maybe your bathroom needs some rearranging to accommodate better space for things you use on a daily basis.  Take note of what part of your day makes you the most frustrated and see if you can solve the problem by rearranging/purging/repurposing/redecorating.

FIVE//  Lastly, consider planning something FUN for yourself!  I saved this one for last because sometimes these goals or (stupid) resolutions can be so very *adult*.  A lot of these things feel mundane, but we also get to choose the fun we can have too!
Have you always dreamed of going to Hawaii (hands raised very high)?  Maybe that isn’t in your budget, but maybe you could swing a long weekend somewhere new?  For me, at least, I love planning new places to visit.  For us, I would like to start dreaming about our 10th wedding anniversary in about 18 months.  That would be a good amount of time to save, budget, plan and execute.  I have a few ideas, but where would you suggest we go??

Do you have any goals for 2018?  Are you good at executing them without deadlines?  What motivates you to accomplish your goals?


My Favorite Books of 2017

Who can believe that 2017 is coming to a close already?!?  Each year since about 2014 I have set a goal for myself in regards to books.   I loved to read, but didn’t really have any direction.  Choosing books was done by wandering the aisles of the library or book store at the airport and searching for a cover that looked intriguing.  (Yes, I totally judge and buy books because of their cover!)

Since then, I have become much more strategic.  Reading widely is important to me, but also enjoyable.  This year I read fiction, historical fiction, thrillers, memoir, nonfiction, Christian nonfiction, parenting, self-help, young adult, and even business.  This list is not meant to brag at all, but just a reminder that you may have read more than you thought because you might not have included a book you read for work. And not to mention, were you even aware of all the different categories?

I can, and do, read multiple books at a time as much for the “palate cleanser” aspect as also for my differences in mood.  Disappointingly I won’t meet my goal this year, but I do think it has been a great year for reading!  Book choices were struggling in the beginning but ended on a very strong note.  Even though I already had a gift guide, these would all make excellent gifts for the holidays this year!  Without further ado, here are My Favorite Books for 2017!


The Outside Boy by Jeanine Cummins

The Outside Boy by Jeanine Cummins–This fictional account of a traveling gypsy boy in Ireland captured me.  Cummins has an amazing ability to portray the mind of an 11 year old boy, his deep connection and love of his grandfather and deep desire to be like everyone else his age.  Part coming of age, part historical fiction, this beautiful novel transported me to a time and place I may never see but left me feeling as if I traveled the road with them.  Full review here.


The Tears of Dark Water by Corban Addison

The Tears of Dark Water  by Corban Addison–Though I didn’t do a full review on the blog, I did add this to my gift guide because I liked it so much.  Smart, thought-provoking and page-turning, the thriller aspect wasn’t wasted on lack of depth.  Told from three perspectives, this book has stayed with me much longer than I anticipated.  Short review here.


When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi–Kalanithi’s moving memoir of fighting to live his life after being told of his terminal cancer diagnosis.  The irony, though, was that at the time he was in his final days of completing residency for neurosurgery.  He was an expert in his field, helping people live and yet he quickly became the dying patient.  Deeply moving and hopeful.  Full review here.


The Lifegiving Home by Sally Clarkson      TIE!         The Turquoise Table by Kristin Schell

The Lifegiving Home: Creating a Place of Belonging and Becoming by Sally and Sarah Clarkson–Part practical tips for creating a welcoming and warm home, part philosophy of why family is important, I loved the way the Clarkson women offered tips but encouraged the reader to find their own rituals, rhythms and routines that make up their family culture.  Beautifully written (and that cover!) and great content.  Full review here.

The Turquoise Table: Finding Community and Connection in Your Own Front Yard by Kristin Schell–Beautiful call to action by someone who was tired of not knowing her neighbors…so she did something about it.  A few recipes (good ones!), practical tips and motivational inspiration for you to create a stronger community where you live.  Another beautiful cover!!  Full review here.

If you would like to follow the books I read throughout the year, be sure to follow me here on Goodreads.  If you would also like to set up your own account and track your books, it is a great motivator!  Be on the lookout for more book club info coming in 2018!

What were your favorite reads of 2017?  Do you track your books and reading?  What is your preferred system?

Roasted Cranberry Balsamic Chicken

There are times when you need to come up with a beautiful dinner and fast.  You don’t want to spend hours scouring Pinterest or magazines or old cookbooks.  (You should come here first!)  Then, I will have just what you need for the perfect meal.  Roasted Cranberry Balsamic Chicken is holiday worthy but certainly easy enough for a weeknight.

As I have mentioned, one of my favorite things about December is our annual Book Club Christmas Dinner.  We all bring something, enjoy dinner together and chat about our year of books.  This is our third year and I anticipate it every year.

Since I love to entertain, I always feel this is an opportunity to make something elegant, try something new or challenge my baking skills for something over the top!  Because I host, I always make the main dish.  Wanting something festive but not overly fussy presents a challenge sometimes, but this year I think I found the PERFECT dinner.  Roasted Cranberry Balsamic Chicken proved to be easy to prep (especially ahead of time!) and delectable to eat!  I can’t wait for you to try this at home!

First, add fresh cranberries, olive oil, soy sauce, real maple syrup, balsamic vinegar, garlic cloves, sea salt and black pepper to a food processor or blender.  Puree until liquified.  Pour over chicken in pan.

Marinate chicken for 4 hours or overnight.  For juicier chicken, choose bone-in, skin on chicken.  (If you prefer boneless skinless chicken, you certainly can, you will just need to reduce cook time.)

One hour before roasting, pull chicken out of the refrigerator.  Flip chicken over in the pan, roasting skin side down.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Pour remaining fresh cranberries over the chicken and tuck stems of fresh thyme around chicken.  Roast for about 25 minutes, then flip chicken.

Once chicken is flipped, glaze chicken with maple syrup and balsamic vinegar and put under broiler to crisp up skin for about 6-8 minutes.  (If using boneless, skinless chicken, broil 3-4 minutes).  Chicken is done when juices run clear and interior temperature reads 165 degrees.  Serve chicken with extra juice, roasted cranberries on top and fresh cracked black pepper.

Roasted Cranberry Balsamic Chicken is elegant enough for company, easy enough for a weeknight and tasty enough for everyone!  Consider this beautiful meal if you are looking for a festive dinner!

Roasted Cranberry Balsamic Chicken

10 minPrep Time

35 minCook Time

45 minTotal Time

Save RecipeSave Recipe


  • 2.5 lbs. bone-in skin on chicken thighs or breasts
  • 1/3 c. fresh cranberries (or frozen)
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 2 T. soy sauce*
  • 2 T. real maple syrup
  • 1/4 c. balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 t. kosher salt
  • 1/4 t. fresh cracked black pepper
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • fresh thyme
  • sprinkle of dried Italian herbs
  • remainder of fresh cranberry bag (about 8 oz)
  • 1 T. EACH of real maple syrup and balsamic vinegar to make glaze


  1. Rinse chicken and pat dry. Add to glass baking dish.
  2. Add all marinade ingredients to food processor or blender. Puree until smooth. Pour over chicken, cover and marinate for four hours or up to overnight.
  3. One hour before roasting, remove from refrigerator, flip chicken to skin side down. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  4. Add remaining cranberries to the pan and tuck fresh thyme sprigs around the chicken. Roast chicken (skin side down) for 25-28 minutes.
  5. Pull chicken from oven, flip chicken to skin side up and glaze with maple syrup/balsamic mixture.
  6. Broil chicken skin side up for 6-8 minutes until skin is deep brown and crispy. (If using boneless skinless broil only 3-4 minutes).
  7. Chicken is fully cooked when juices run clear and interior temperature is 165 degrees.
  8. Serve chicken with extra juices, roasted cranberries and a sprinkle of fresh thyme for garnish.


*If you would like to make this recipe paleo or Whole30 compliant, exchange soy sauce for coconut aminos. You will use one whole 12 oz. bag of fresh cranberries for this recipe.


Apple Cherry Baked Steel Cut Oatmeal

Happy Tuesday everyone!  Our weekend was full of pjs, Christmas crafting (just imagine giving two toddlers pattern scissors in every style imaginable.  Paper scraps e v e r y w h e r e……..) and decorating gingerbread men.  A perfect way to enjoy a quiet Christmas weekend!

Notice not many candies made it on the gingerbread…

About once a month or every six weeks I get a major craving for something warm for breakfast.  Sometimes that means pancakes, but most of the time I want baked oatmeal.  One person I dearly love didn’t want to try my baked oatmeal “because I don’t like oatmeal” when they were visiting my home.   Oh, my friend.  This is NOT gloppy, sticky oatmeal.  Apple Cherry Baked Steel Cut Oatmeal really is probably the best I’ve made.  It is a warm hug from the heavens that just sent you a foot of snow to admire.  While you eat this.  In your pjs.  and drink coffee all day.

Apple Cherry Steel Cut Oatmeal is meant to comfort, savor and enjoy slowly.  I describe this as more of a warm oatmeal cookie fresh out of the oven rather than soupy texture we made out of those packets as kids.  (Have I convinced you yet??  Am I getting obnoxious about oatmeal yet???)  Well, anyway, it is cozy, warming and perfect for a hearty delicious breakfast.

First, in a large bowl combine brown sugar, unsweetened applesauce, eggs, old fashioned and steel cut oats.  Mix gently to combine.  Add baking powder, cinnamon, salt and milk.

Add chopped apple and dried cherries and mix until just combined.

Pour into buttered baking dish and bake for 35-45 minutes.  Press down until there is an even layer on top and oats begin to soak up the milk.

Top with brown sugar, milk and toasted pecans.

Apple Cherry Baked Steel Cut Oats has great texture from the two types of oats.  If you aren’t crazy about oatmeal, I dare you to try this.  Not only will you feel healthy with all those oats and fruit, you will feel sophisticated.  Smarter even.  Ok, maybe not, but your standards for oatmeal may have risen.  Give it a try and let me know what you think.  You just might love it!

Apple Cherry Baked Steel Cut Oatmeal

5 minPrep Time

40 minCook Time

45 minTotal Time

Save RecipeSave Recipe


  • 1/2 c. brown sugar
  • 1/2 c. unsweetened applesauce
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 c. old fashioned oats
  • 1 1/2 c. steel cut oats
  • 2 t. baking powder
  • 1 t. cinnamon
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1 c. milk (any kind is fine)
  • 1 small apple, peeled, cored and chopped (I used Pink Lady)
  • 1/3 c. dried cherries
  • 1/2 c. whole pecans, roasted with sprinkle of salt
  • brown sugar, milk for serving


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Add first five ingredients to a large bowl and mix gently. Add next six ingredients (through cherries) and mix until thoroughly combined.
  3. Pour into buttered 8 x 8 baking dish. Bake for 35-45 minutes until golden brown.
  4. While oatmeal cools slightly, toast pecans in DRY small fry pan over medium heat. (Do not use oil, heat nuts in dry pan). When you start to smell the nuts, remove from heat and sprinkle lightly with salt. Serve over warm oatmeal with extra brown sugar and milk.


This recipe easily doubles for a 9 x 13 pan. I love the texture of the mixed oats but can also use just old fashioned oats. Feel free to use coconut oil to grease pan and almond milk to make dairy free. Finally, don't omit the pecans, they take this over the top!


For other recipes, click here.

What is your favorite breakfast on a cold morning?  Do you have an “elevated classic” that you love?

Book Club Selections 2017

Happy Friday everyone!

Things had been lovely and unseasonably warm this last week and then poof!  Fall was gone and Winter arrived with a bang.  I hope you all are enjoying some of your favorite holiday traditions as I have been this week.  For us, that means cocoa for the kids, fires in the fireplace for my husband, and for me, my annual Book Club Holiday Dinner.

Image result for book club

Using all caps above makes it sound formal and fancy, but really it is just a chance for me to celebrate some of my favorite people who join me once a month to celebrate one of my favorite hobbies: reading.

I’m putting the cart before the horse here a bit because I plan to tell you all about my book club, how it started, how it keeps going and how you can start one too!  All this will be coming in 2018, but I decided I wanted to give you a taste of what we read.  You might consider joining us in our selections or start a book club of your own!

This list includes all the titles we read this year.  (If you didn’t find anything on my Gift Guide, consider some of these titles!)  I will also include genre and my rating for those who are curious.  You might also consider following me on Goodreads since this isn’t the full list of books I read this year.  You can be sure, I’m always reading something!  Without further ado, here is our list!

  1.  In the Land of Blue Burqas by Kate McCord  (Nonfiction)
    Author McCord (name was changed for protection) left her job in the US to minister to women in Afganistan.  Through her work with an unnamed relief organization, she was able to invest her time and energy getting to know and sharing her faith with the women of Afganistan through rich relationships.  Not only did she learn the culture and rhythms of the Afgani women, she had to learn and abide by the strict rules for her safety.
    Rating: 2 stars
  2. The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House  by Kate Anderson Brower (Nonfiction)
    Spanning the presidencies of LBJ through the Obama administration, Brower interviews the staff of the six (!!) floor White House of the last few decades.  Staffers that served the president and First Family dealt with everything from the LBJ’s oddball requests and hot temper to Jackie Kennedy’s emotional moment after her husband’s assassination.  A poignant moment for Hillary and her daughter was noted as well as staff’s reactions to September 11th.  Fascinating, well-researched and thorough from multiple perspectives, the peek into one of the most fascinating jobs in America kept me turning the pages.
    Rating: 4 stars
  3. The Hundred Year Old Man Who Jumped Out a Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson (Fiction)
    Allan Karlsson is sitting in his room at the retirement community preparing for celebrations of his 100th birthday.  The longer he contemplates the festivities, the more he wants to leave.  So he does.  His “escape” sends the town scrambling and Allan on an adventure almost too ridiculous to imagine.  Quirky, light-hearted and polarizing reviews with readers, this book will leave you laughing or just plain confused.
    Rating: 2 stars
  4. Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson  (Fiction)
    Retired and widowed Major Pettigrew runs into his neighbor, Pakistani shopkeeper Mrs. Ali on the day of Pettigrew’s brother dies.  Pettigrew is so stunned, Mrs. Ali kindly offers to drive him to the services and he finally agrees.  Later when he contemplates her kindness to him, he sets out to thank and repay her.  Though their differences abound, Pettigrew grows to appreciate Mrs. Ali and her kindness.  Their relationship continues to blossom, in spite of Pettigrew’s obnoxious son who disapproves.
    Rating: 4 stars
    Full review here.
  5. Surprised by Joy by C. S. Lewis  (Nonfiction)
    Lewis’s autobiography of sorts, chronicling his early years, particularly those surrounding the death of his mother and his challenging relationship with his father.  He describes his pursuit of Joy and how his schooling and reading helped further his journey.
    Rating: 3 stars
    Full review here.
  6. Circling the Sun: A Novel by Paula McClain (Historical Fictional, based on a true story)
    Based on the story Out of Africa, the real Beryl Markham is moved to Kenya from England so her father could start a new career as a horse trainer.  Her mother can’t take the change, so she leaves her with her father and returns to England with her little brother.  That left Beryl in the hands of the native tribe sharing the land to raise her.  Beryl deeply felt that abandonment for the rest of her life, chasing after everything to numb the pain.
    Rating: 3 stars
    Full review here.
  7. All Over But the Shoutin’ by Rick Bragg (Memoir)
    Bragg is a former journalist for the NYT and author, even a Pulitzer award winner.  In this memoir, he tells of his humble upbringing and how he owes all that he is to his mother.  Very southern and I loved this one particularly for sparse prose and fantastic descriptions.
    Rating: 5 stars
    Full review here.
  8. Jellicoe Road by Melinda Marchetta  (Fiction, YA)
    Taylor Markham reluctantly becomes the team leader in the annual battle between the Cadets and the Townies at her boarding school.  She still struggles with her mother abandoning her as a child and now her friend and mentor has gone missing.  Not only that, she learns that her opposing Cadets leader is Jonah Griggs, who brings out the absolute worst in her.  When she starts demanding questions of those around her, she finds even more questions to answer.
    Rating: 4 stars
    Read full review here.
  9. Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King (Fiction)
    King twists the classic Sherlock Holmes and adds a young but strong-headed and quick-witted Mary.  Not only does she pass all Holmes mind games, she has started beating her of late.  Amused by her and her mind, he begins to include her on his cases when suddenly they must work together to solve a case to keep each other safe.
    Rating: 5 stars
  10. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
    Kalanithi is in his last days before completing schooling for neurosurgery when he discovers he has stage four, terminal lung cancer.  From treating the very sick to becoming one of the sick, he fights to live while his body is dying.  Beautiful, hopeful.
    Rating: 5 stars
    Read full review here.

Well, that’s a wrap!  I would love to know your thoughts on any of these titles.  If you would like to more about starting a book club or joining one, let me know in the comments!

Are you in a book club?  What has been your favorite read from your group?  If you aren’t in a book club, what type of books would you like to read most?

Creature Comforts: December 2017

It’s the most, wonderful tiiiiiime of the year!

Man, I love Christmas!  When my husband saw the sheer amount of Christmas decorations I owned as a single person he might have paused to consider if he was willing to live with that kind of crazy.  Oh, and when he saw the amount of ornaments?!?  He might have run for the hills if I hadn’t tripped him and asked if he wanted me to cook him dinner.

Christmas decorating at my house consists usually of him bringing up the tubs from the basement or storage and then camping out on the couch with a glass of wine while I hem and haw over each decoration and layout.  He provides the music and company while he enjoys watching me totally in my decor-frenzied element.

Well, now that our decorations are done and my husband is fed (with this delightful meal), I wanted to share a few things that have caught my eye this month!

ONE//  Jen Hatmaker’s “For the Love of Food” series on her podcast

Is it just me or does it feel like eeeeverybody has podcast now???  Well, I am riding the bandwagon and now I am a new subscriber to Jen’s podcast “For the Love”.  I recently heard her series For the Love of Food and it was if the stars aligned and I joined at just the right moment, you know, for my love of food.  Not only did she interview some pretty interesting people (Aarti Sequera and Melissa D’Arabian of Food Network, Danielle Walker of Against All Grain and more), but she also had really thought provoking discussions with all of them.  I particularly loved the one with Melissa D’Arabian and her thoughts on how we have taken food to an unhealthy and unfair level as home cooks.  If you need some good listening content on road trips, check this one out.

TWO//  Advent Calendar

Do you celebrate Christmas with an advent calendar?  When we were growing up my grandmother made a beautiful needlepoint calendar with individual needlepointed ornaments to add to the tree.  I looked forward to putting together that advent calendar every year!  Now, we have a simple calendar that I bought at Target years ago and my kids are LOVING it!  Though I can’t find our Target one online anymore, here is another one that looks just as great!  If you feel like diving into the rabbit hole of advent calendars, check out this cute snowman, this pricey but gorgeous one and how fun is this beauty gift advent!  What a great gift idea!

THREE//  Christmas cookies

Soft, a little salty, and sweet pistachio linzer cookies filled with delicious raspberry jam! Christmas cookie recipe on sallysbakingaddiction.com
Photo credit

Our tradition is to wake up Christmas Eve morning and start baking cookies.  For some reason, I had it in my head that sugar cookies were what you were supposed to make, but I didn’t really think they were all that fun and my kids didn’t have the patience for cooling and detailed decorations (read: decorations that made the cookies look edible).  So, I decided I would wait until a recipe grabbed my attention and after toddler attention span was taken into account, bake those instead!  Basically I just had to scroll through anything Sally makes and run with it.  Don’t these look amazing?!?!

FOUR// “It’s Christmas, David” by David Shannon

Are you familiar with this author?  He is known for other titles like “No, David”, “David Gets in Trouble”, and “Too Many Toys.”  His illustrations are fantastically fresh and stories so funny.  My son is newly obsessed with this one and all of David’s shenanigans.  If you need something different for Christmas, try this one.

FIVE// Goodreads 2017 Reading Challenge

Reading challenge banner

The last couple of years I have set a goal for reading a certain number of books through my Goodreads account.  Sometimes I follow a challenge, other times, I just make it up as I go.  My first year I set a goal for one book a month.  I’m currently a bit behind (and probably won’t make my goal this year) but am pretty happy with my titles this year.  Check back to see my favorite titles of the year.

Do you listen to any podcasts you love?  Are there Christmas cookies you MUST have at Christmas time?  Please share them in the comments!  Finally, do you set a reading goal for yourself?  What are some ways you accomplish your goals?

The Lifegiving Home

The Lifegiving Home:
Creating a Place of Belonging and Becoming
by Sally and Sarah Clarkson


Genre: Nonfiction, Christian living

Summary: Home is where people become who they will be.  Every child learns about the world through experiences, rhythms and rituals taught (or caught) in the home.  Whether it be through food, celebrations, routines or activities, children learn who their parents want them to become by what they do with them at home.

After raising four of her own children, Sally Clarkson has come to the other side of raising her children: enjoying their company as adult friends.  But she would say (as her daughter Sarah would agree) that it was the rituals, routines and rhythms of home that created the environment of comfort, belonging and discipleship that everyone craves.  Sally and Sarah together wrote this book about these rituals, not only to offer ideas as a how-to, but also to explain the why.

This book is separated into two sections Thinking About Home and Seasons of Home.  Thinking About Home sets the stage and reminds us of the importance of the home.  It is not the music lessons, athletic events or foreign languages that will give our kids what they truly need (though none of those things are bad!).  Home is a place that creates an environment of belonging, comfort and rest.  You learn to be loved and to love.  It is supposed to be a haven.  We can so easily be distracted by “all the things” that we forget the most basic need we have.

“Each of us longs for a place to belong, a connection that gives roots to our wandering lives.  Our hearts hunger for a community where we are intimate members, a sense of belonging to people who love us.  Our souls crave a purpose bigger than our jobs,  a connection to a sense of meaning.  We yearn to  know that our stories have significance in the grander scheme of God’s megastory.  All of these may be found in home–a place to belong, a people to be a part of, and a purpose where God’s righteousness and design are celebrated and cherished in community every day.”  (Sally Clarkson)

The second section, Seasons of Home, offers ideas for routines and rituals that practically show how Sally and her husband created a special home for her four children.  Because they were missionaries, they knew they wouldn’t ever have home as a place but the things they did together would mean home to them.

As much as I love Pinterest and all that it entails, Sally’s suggestions are far from that or what parenting magazines tell you to do with your children.  I found myself quieted when I read this book and I believe it is Sally’s personality.  She describes a slower, quieter life when she describes the rituals her family does together.  Maybe that is not her everyday, but you can tell she is very intentional about slowing down to notice, ponder, observe, debate and think and just be with her family.

What I also noticed was Sarah’s contribution.  Not only is she a beautiful writer, but she feels such a deep connection to home, though her family lived in multiple states and she now resides in England where she studied at Oxford.  You notice how each child delights in being at home because their parents created such a welcoming space, they always wanted to return.

Finally, the simple and attainable ideas presented for each month are offered as just starting points.  It is made clear, this is how they do things and certainly not the only way.  You are encouraged to find your own rituals and routines that signify who you are as a family.  Though the purpose was very clear: whatever you decide, do all for the glory of God alone.

My rating: 5 stars

Have you read any books about creating your own family culture?  What are some of your favorite resources for creating a welcoming home?

For other book reviews, click here.




When Breath Becomes Air

When Breath Becomes Air
by Paul Kalanithi


Genre: Nonfiction, Memoir

Summary: Paul Kalanithi was a determined, fiercely smart man that had a fascination with life, philosophy, literature and medicine.  These interests led him to study at Stanford and into neurosurgery.  Medicine gave him the what and the how and literature offered the why.  However, in his final months before completing a decade’s worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Kalanithi discovers he has terminal cancer at the age of thirty-six.  This memoir gives Kalanithi the platform to share with the reader his reason for pursuing neuroscience as his profession and how it aided him in learning to fully live at the end of his life.

There is one concrete, undeniable truth that unites every human being on the earth: no one is immortal and one day, we all will face our own mortality.  Though this is a universal truth, most people do not like to talk about it.

But Dr. Paul Kalanithi was intrigued, even entranced by the human brain as well as finding the meaning of life.  He felt like there seemed to be a connection between the human brain and finding meaning in the world we live in.  “I had come to see language as an almost supernatural force, existing between people, bringing our brains, shielded in centimeter-thick skulls, into communion.”

“Like my own patients, I had to face my mortality and try to understand what made my life worth living…Torn between being a doctor and a patient, delving into medical science and and turning back to literature for answers, I struggled, while facing my own death, to rebuild my old life–or perhaps find a new one.”

While discussing this with my book club, someone brought up the truth that Paul changed from being the medical expert in the field of neuroscience to an expert in being a patient heading towards death.  He could explain in medical terms all that was happening, but then he began to experience them.  “It occurred to me that my relationship with statistics suddenly changed when I became one.”

Paul’s pursuit of truth and meaning within the realms of science and literature were fascinating to observe.  His brilliance comes through in his writing, but it is his genuine and authentic humanity that is captivating in the pages.  His honesty and humility about his own mortality are set like a plate in front of you and you cannot escape acknowledging the question he set out to answer: knowing death is imminent, how do you truly live?

My rating: 5 stars

For other book reviews, click here.

What are some ways you focus on truly living in your own life?  Is there anyone in your life that has challenged you to live your life more fully?

Roasted Butternut Squash and Brussell Sprouts

Happy Thanksgiving Week everyone!  Wishing you lots of mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing and pie.  Lots of pie.

I feel a bit like I have been shoved into the holiday season, but I’m excited nonetheless.  There is nothing that gets me more into the holiday spirit than seeing twinkle lights and a holiday movie.  This weekend was raining, and grey and the kids we all were stir crazy.  So, we took the kids to see the animated movie “The Star”.  It was really cute and had a great soundtrack.  It had a heavy dose of star power too: Oprah Winfrey, Tyler Perry, Kelly Clarkson, Tracy Morgan, and Kristin Chenoweth and many more.  Highly recommended, particularly those with little ones to entertain.

Our family always had the same foods for Thanksgiving.  (If you’re wondering, turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, fresh green beans, cranberry sauce and stuffing).  It feels strange when we don’t have those foods but when I got married, it was fun to see how other families celebrate.  When we bought our first home, we wanted another excuse to celebrate with both of our families so we hosted a pre-Thanksgiving party at our house.  We loved getting our two families together, and I loved having an opportunity to try new dishes we otherwise wouldn’t have tried.

This recipe came from trying to brainstorm fun new ways to incorporate vegetables into this celebration of family.  It is a great addition to your Thanksgiving table because you roast it in the oven early and then you can serve just warm or at room temperature.

Cut Butternut Squash

First, do yourself a favor and buy peeled and chopped butternut squash.  It isn’t terrible to do yourself but during Thanksgiving week, you’ll want to.  Costco is where I bought mine, but you can also find it at Trader Joe’s and maybe even your local grocery store.  One note, be sure to use shortly after you buy, though, as this spoils fairly quickly if it is already peeled and cubed.  Lay on a cookie sheet (if you want even simpler, line your cookie sheet with foil).

Then trim the bottoms off your brussell sprouts and cut in half.  Don’t worry if some of the leaves come off, those are my favorite crispy bites in the whole pan!  Brussell sprouts get such a bad wrap!  They are delicious when roasted and crispy and I love the different textures in this dish.

Next, pour olive oil all over the veggies and toss to coat.  Generously season with kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper.  These distinctions are important because there aren’t many ingredients and it is in those simpler dishes that every ingredient counts.

Roast the vegetables at 425 degrees for 25-30 minutes, tossing once so they roast evenly.  With 10 minutes left on the timer, add pecans to the pan to toast along with the vegetables.  Finally, pour into serving dish, add dried cherries and top with feta cheese.  Toss lightly so feta cheese softens a bit.  Serve immediately or at room temperature.

This dish is a nice change up from your typical side dish for Thanksgiving.  I hope you and your families are blessed with wonderful family, longtime friends and fantastic food.  Roasted Butternut Squash and Brussell Sprouts is a wonderful addition to anyone’s holiday table.  Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Roasted Butternut Squash and Brussell Sprouts
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  • 2 lb. Brussell sprouts, trimmed and cut in half
  • 2 lb. butternut squash, peeled and cubed
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
  • 3/4 c. pecans
  • 3/4 c. dried cherries
  • 5 oz. crumbled feta cheese


  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line cookie sheet with foil for easy clean-up.
  2. Trim Brussell sprouts and cut in half. Combine with the butternut squash on an even layer on a cookie sheet. If they are too crowded, consider using two cookie sheets.
  3. Pour olive oil over the vegetables and toss lightly so they are coated evenly. Season liberally with kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper. Roast in the oven for 25-30 minutes, tossing once to cook evenly.
  4. About 10 minutes before vegetables are done, add the pecans to roast with the vegetables in the oven.
  5. Pour all veggies into a serving dish and add the cherries and feta cheese. Toss lightly to soften the cheese. Taste for seasoning. Serve immediately or at room temperature.


If you would like a brighter color, consider adding dried cranberries instead of dried cherries. This is also delicious with a drizzle of white balsamic vinegar at the end.


What is your favorite meal on your Thanksgiving table?  What do you look forward to most on the special day?

Wine-Braised Chuck Roast

Your life will never be the same.

(I told you I have a flair for the dramatic, right?)

Our family has a tradition every fall to celebrate the change of the seasons by having a special Family Night.  Once we are well into the school year and people are gearing up for pumpkin season, my kids see our local farm set out hundreds of pumpkins for sale.  We drive by often so their anticipation starts when they see the farm setting out displays.

After a comforting meal, we head to the pumpkin patch to select pumpkins for the holiday and finally return home to watch Charlie Brown’s The Great Pumpkin.  Once the candles are lit and pumpkins set out, we are ready to celebrate that Fall is here!

To set the stage, I like to make something warming and quintessentially Fall.  Starting this meal early in the day allows it to simmer on the stove for hours while at the same time making your home smell glorious and cozy.  Thankfully it is pretty simple to make.

First, heat a large cast iron pan or pot to medium-high heat and add oil.  (This pan is my favorite for this meal because it handles high heat well.)  While the oil heats, cut a large chuck roast into big chunks.  Liberally salt and pepper the meat and when pan is very hot, add meat carefully.  Sear the meat on both sides getting a good golden crust, then remove meat from the pan.

Add carrot, celery and shallot to the oil, season with salt and pepper again and saute until tender (6-8 minutes).

Sprinkle on flour and cook one minute more.  Pour in wine, beef broth and water and bring to a boil.

Return meat to pot with vegetables and broth and reduce temperature to a low simmer.  Cover pot and and simmer for 2-2 1/2 hours.  Then remove meat and shred.  If liquid has not thickened enough, turn up the heat and simmer until reduced.  Return beef and add peas.  Simmer another 5-7 minutes until peas are warm and beef has soaked up some of the gravy.

About 30 minutes before beef is finished, start boiling peeled and chopped Idaho potatoes for mashed potatoes.  Serve over the best mashed potatoes and sprinkle with fresh parsley for a fresh finish.


Wine-Braised Chuck Roast
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  • 2-3 lb. chuck roast, cut into big chunks
  • 2 T. vegetable oil
  • 2 lg. carrots, chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 2 T. flour
  • 2 c. red wine
  • 15 oz. low sodium beef broth
  • 3/4 c. water
  • 1 1/2 c. frozen peas
  • fresh parsley (optional)


  1. Heat high heat pan on the stove to medium-high heat with oil. Season beef liberally with salt and pepper.
  2. When oil is hot, add beef carefully, searing both sides until golden crusts form. Remove from pan and set aside.
  3. Add vegetables to the oil, season with salt and pepper and saute until they are tender, about 6-8 minutes.
  4. Sprinkle in flour and coat the vegetables, cooking one more minute. Pour in wine, beef broth and water and bring to a boil.
  5. Add beef back to the pot, turn heat down to medium-low to simmer and then cover. Simmer for 2-2 1/2 hours.
  6. (About 30 minutes before roast is done, start boiling peeled and chopped potatoes for mashed potatoes if you desire.)
  7. Remove beef from pot carefully to shred. If liquid in pot isn't thickened, turn up heat and simmer until reduced. Return shredded beef and add frozen peas. Simmer until peas are warm and beef has soaked up some of the juices.
  8. Serve over mashed potatoes and sprinkle with fresh parsley.

Check out other recipes here!

What is your ultimate comfort food?  What food signifies Fall to you?

Every Last Lie

Every Last Lie
by Mary Kubica


Genre: Fiction, Thriller

Summary: Clara Solberg is waiting at home with her newborn son for her daughter and husband to return from errands when she hears a knock at her front door.  “There has been an accident,” the police officer says.  Clara’s life falls apart when she hears of her husband’s death but is puzzled when learning her daughter has survived without a scratch.
In the weeks that follow the accident, her daughter Maisie begins having night terrors and talking about “the bad man” that makes Clara believe something else might have happened to her husband.  When Clara starts to ask questions, she finds answers she wasn’t sure she wanted to hear.  But she must keep pressing to find the truth about what…or who…killed her husband.

I was headed on a vacation with my husband for five days.  Alone.  Without packing snacks and toys and a plethora of amusements for toddlers.  It was just going to be the two of us, my book and the beach.

But, therein lies the problem.  What book do I choose?  The decision nearly paralyzes me because I have so many books I want to read.  (To see what I mean, check out my Goodreads profile.  It is so overwhelming, but at the same time, what a delightful problem to have, right?)  In the end, I often choose a thriller in this situation.  The purpose of it being to drive the storyline forward at a pretty quick clip so I knew (hoped) I wouldn’t be bored.

Kubica is definitely a rising star (already risen?) in the thriller genre.  I love that she is local for me (her suburb is right next door to my suburb in Chicago) so she often uses local highways or familiar settings which is fun and adds to the creepy factor.  Also, her format is interesting.  The story follows two characters, Clara the wife in present time and Nick, the husband in the weeks leading up to the accident.  She used this same format in another novel of hers called The Good Girl.  Kubica does a nice job of weaving the two stories together while spinning the web into a cohesive story.

Without giving away too much, Kubica does do a nice job of throwing you off the truth by keeping you guessing.  Her characters are believable and though you might not make some decisions that the character’s do, she writes them in a way that you can sympathize with them.  Though I prefer to have all loose ends tied up at the end of a novel, some might enjoy the ambiguity of this ending.  If you are looking for a fast-paced thriller that will keep the pages turning, be sure to check out Every Last Lie by Mary Kubica!

My rating: 3 stars

To read more book reviews, click here.

What are some of your favorite thrillers?  What makes a good thriller for you?

Creature Comforts: November (Gift Guide!)

Hello, everyone and Happy November!  I hope you all survived trick-or-treating and are gearing up for Thanksgiving.  I know I have been a bit quiet lately, but I have a whopper of a post today!

Since the holidays are coming whether we are ready or not, I thought I would share my first GIFT GUIDE with you all.  If you click the link below each picture, it will take you directly to the item.  Don’t forget Black Friday (or Cyber Monday!) might change a lot of these prices but it never hurts to know ahead of time what to look for.  I hope you find this list helpful and maybe find something to add to your own wish list!  Happy Shopping!


Battat B. - BUILD-A-JIGS ROADSTER Toy- Moving Wheels, Perfect for Building Hand & Eye Coordination, Power Drill & 3 Bits add to the Fun
 These are so fun!  Not only does your child have the tools (power drill–batteries included!) to assemble it, but they can take it apart and start over!  Options are airplane, roadster, dump truck, parts are interchangeable with other sets and has moving parts when structure is complete.  I also like that the parts aren’t too small. (Ages 3 and up).

Melissa and Doug Build-a-sandwich (felt)
These are great for so many ages.  The felt material is great for younger ages but the possibilities are great with bigger kids too.  I’ve been amazed at the HOURS my kids have played with this set.  Also really like the wooden set as well!  (Ages 3 and up)
Melissa & Doug Alphabet Express Jumbo Jigsaw Floor Puzzle (27 pcs, 10 feet long)
Melissa and Doug Alphabet Train Floor Puzzle
This puzzle is great because it is so big but also for the amount of animals included!  My kids loved learning their letters and animals this way.  Melissa & Doug products are always great for an educational component, but also durability.  The extra thick pieces were great for little hands.  (Ages 3 and up)

Personalized Wooden Name Stools
We received this for our first born as a baby gift from my husband’s company.  Not only is it solid wood, sturdy and durable, it is hand crafted and you could even carve a special message in the bottom for the recipient.  I know someone who gives this to every baby so they can reach to wash hands and brush their teeth.  Such a great and thoughtful gift!  Comes in pastels or primary colors, natural wood or painted white.  (Any age)

Product Details
Micro Mini Deluxe Scooter
These scooters are amazing.  When your kids want to move and they just aren’t big enough yet for a “big kid bike”, get this.  We got this for my kids when they turned two.  It doesn’t take long for them to learn and when they do they suddenly feel like the coolest kid on the block.  My son got his at Christmas and rode his in the unfinished basement and garage all winter.  By Summer, he was so fast I had to tell him to slow down!  The adjustable bar grows with them and comes in a TON of colors.  (Ages 2 and up)

Product Details
Nutcase-Little Nutty Kids Helmet
If your kids will be tearing through the neighborhood on bikes or scooters, be sure to get them a good helmet.  We LOVE these.  I love the fact that they come with a dial fit system and three different sized interior pads to grow with them.  We expect our kids to wear these for years.  You order based on a couple simple measurements and come in a variety of colors and patterns.  The best part?  The clasp is a magnet!  No more clipping your chin or hair and it is easy to release the clasp.

Kindle Fire Kids Tablet

Full feature 7″ tablet (case included!) with 8 hours battery life.  Two year guarantee, if it is broken for any reason, they will replace it for FREE!  No questions asked!  Access to 15,000 apps, games, videos, books and educational content from PBS Kids, Disney and others.  You can also set the timer so it shuts off when you want their screen time to end.  (Ages 3+)


Product Details

The Power of When
You know I have to recommend some books!  Great for those interested in productivity and getting the most out of their day.  Check out full review here.

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This is Where You Belong

You know I had to put this one in!  This book was the inspiration behind my entire Create Community series on the blog.  An excellent, fast read that is very thought provoking.

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Tears of Dark Water

This was a fantastic fictional novel written by an attorney, activist and world traveler.  This book follows wealthy father and son on a sailing trip around the world in hopes of repairing their relationship.  What they didn’t anticipate was being captured by Somali pirates while at sea.  The story follows Daniel and Quentin Parker, the leader of the Somali pirates and the lead hostage negotiator.  Tense, riveting and deeply thought provoking, this would be a great read when you want to get lost in a book.

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Treehut Wood Watch
These are so beautiful.  They are completely made of 100% real wood (this one is walnut and ebony) with no chemicals or paints.  Offers a very unique, yet stylish look.

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North Face Denali men’s coat

People often ask me how we survive with winters here in Chicago.  Usually I answer, “A really good coat.”  Not only do you see them all over Chicagoland, they are everywhere because they are good.  Live in a place that sees colder temps?  This is totally worth every penny.

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Carhart Insulated Waterproof Gloves

There is a reason this brand has been around forever.  I bought these for my husband for shoveling the driveway and building snowmen in the front yard with the kids.  He said they were so warm for his hands, at times, they even got hot!  The quality is great and you can never go wrong having one pair of great gloves.


Product Details
The Turquoise Table

Those of you who have read here for any length of time know how much I adored this book.  Beautiful cover and beautiful message, this would cover so many bases for women in your life.  Part book, part inspirational project, part recipes, this book will appeal to many different personalities.  Read my full review here.

Product Details
When Breath Becomes Air

This incredibly poignant and powerful book follows the life of neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi.  It was in his last months of residency that he discovered he in fact had cancer.  This book is his memoir, grappling with the question of how to die with honor and yet fighting to answer what makes life worth living.  Beautiful and hopeful.

tarte Energy Noir Clay Palette

The colors in this palette are beautiful and I love the simplicity of all you need in one compact.  tarte is known for their great color pigmentation (some compare it to MAC quality) though it is also lauded among people who value natural skincare.

Product Details
Luxury Plush Robe

When it gets cold outside, I just want to snuggle up in something luxurious and warm.  This is what I want to wear on Christmas morning drinking coffee while my kids tear through gifts.  I love that it has pockets too!

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Kate Spade Jingle All the Way Appetizer plates

I am completely a sucker for all things Christmas, particularly snowflakes.  These sweet little appetizer plates are great for your next dinner party and are even dishwasher safe!  They even have glasses to go with them!  However, if Christmas isn’t your thing, these lemon appetizer plates are equally as delightful.

Cuisinart FP-12N Elite Collection Food Processor, White
Cuisinart 12-cup Food Processor

When your personal food processor gets a crack from lots of wear and tear, you start to dream about the ultimate in all food processors: Cuisinart.  Between making my own baby food for three kids and gallons of homemade salsa, mine is getting tired.  If anyone in my family has read this far, this is what I want.  Pretty please!

Hopefully this Gift Guide is helpful in your shopping.  What are some of your suggestions for gifts?  What is on YOUR wish list?

Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal Bars

Everyone on the planet (except a few people) seem to go bananas over PSL’s.  If you have been living under a rock and don’t know what that is, it is the Pumpkin Spiced Latte from Starbucks.  I can do pumpkin!  I can!  (As seen here.)  But in my coffee??  Um, sorry, no thanks.

Sometimes I like to bring people back to the beauty and perfection of apples in the fall.  When I walk through the grocery store, their scent wafts toward me and you might see me grabbing bags and bags of them.  They are the perfect portable snack, sweet, crisp.  Buuuut, they might be even better in Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal Bars.

Fresh apple gives a very fun texture to these bars, as does the oatmeal.  Cinnamon chips add a fun twist and butter, well, just makes everything better.

First, preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line a 9 x 13 pan with sprayed aluminum foil.  Add flour, oats, brown sugar, salt, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg to a large bowl.  Cut in softened butter until mixed, crumbly and butter is about the size of peas.  (I like this pastry cutter!)

Pour half of the mixture into the pan and press down lightly to form the crust.  Next, lay the apple slices over top of the crust.

Finally, add cinnamon chips to remaining crumble mixture and pour over the top of the apples.  You do not need to press down.  Pour melted butter over top and bake for 30 minutes.  Cool completely before serving.  Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal Bars are wonderful for a treat, breakfast (because…oatmeal, fruit,  right??) and they aren’t half bad with a scoop of ice cream (they get even better if possible).  See how versatile?!? Try adding this to your holiday baking this year, you won’t regret it!

Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal Bars
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  • 2 c. flour
  • 1 1/2 c. old fashioned oats
  • 1 c. brown sugar
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1 t. baking soda
  • 1/2 t. cinnamon
  • 1/2 t. nutmeg
  • 1 c. butter, softened and 1/4 c. butter, melted
  • 1/4 c. cinnamon chips
  • 2 large apples, sliced thin (Granny Smith preferred)


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 9 x 13 baking dish with foil that has been sprayed.
  2. In a large bowl, add flour, oats, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Mix well before cutting in softened butter until butter resembles the size of peas.
  3. Core, peel and slice two apples very thin.
  4. Pour half the oat mixture into the bottom of the pan and lightly press down. Layer the apples on top.
  5. Finally, add cinnamon chips to the remaining oat mixture and pour over the apples. You do not need to press down. Drizzle melted butter over the top and bake for 30 minutes until top is golden.
  6. Cool completely before serving plain or with a scoop of ice cream.

If you would like to check out more recipes, please click here.

The Power of When

The Power of When
by Michael Breus, PhD


Genre: Nonfiction, Personal Development

Summary: After studying circadian rhythms and the world of sleep, Breus discovered that if we do certain things at certain times we can be more effective.  He takes you through four types of people: dolphins, bears, lions and wolves.  Each has character traits that make them who they are and at the same time stating their very different needs for certain activities to take place at certain times.  Certainly each type has overlap and over-generalizations, but the author can pinpoint pretty closely where you land.
Are you a Dolphin?  Dolphins are about 10 percent of the population and are intelligent insomniacs.  Not only are they light sleepers, but they also are wired with nervous energy.
A Lion?  Real lions are morning-oriented optimists that have a medium sleep drive and account for 15-20 percent of the population.
Are you a Bear?  Bears sleep with the rise and fall of the sun, sleep well and make up 50 percent of the population.  They are social and struggle significantly during afternoon hours at work.
Finally, are you a Wolf?  Wolves are nocturnal, creative extroverts with medium sleep drive and take up 15-20 percent of the population.
But why does all this matter?  Breus discovered that a wolf won’t be as successful in the morning at accomplishing goals or asking for a raise as a lion.  Dolphins were noted to avoid risky behaviors and striving for perfection, yet they are happiest when left alone to do their work.  When you know when your body functions at its best, you can make smarter choices in every aspect of your life.  I’m sure you also noticed how much Breus talked about sleep.  Each type needs sleep, but each one needs a different kind.  The Power of When can encourage you to discover the perfect time for every responsibility and pleasure in your life, to make the very most of your time.

Breus’s book gives you a quiz to determine your type, and then once you have identified it, you can simply use the book as a tool to learn your strengths and weaknesses (which you may not have even known you had!).  He helps you determine the best timing for a wide variety of scenarios in your life, such as “the perfect day”, goals for your schedule and the best times for working on relationships, fitness and health, sleep, eating and drinking, work, creativity, money and fun.

Truthfully, it was intriguing to see how my “type” (a Bear) played into my daily life.  His suggestions of delaying my morning coffee (…deep breath…) and keeping my hardest or most difficult tasks in the morning instead of the afternoon made a lot of sense.  It has certainly made me consider shifting a few of my daily tasks around.  If you like learning about how to work more productively, consider checking out The Power of When.  You might learn something new about yourself, your family and the best time to ask for that raise for which you have been pining.

For other book reviews, click here.

Apple, Broccoli and Dijon Chicken Skillet

We tend to eat a lot of chicken.  It feels lighter to me than many other options but I haven’t always had a great track record with it.  When I was a kid, I found chicken to be bland and boring.

If I’m going to eat chicken, I want it juicy, tender, boneless and skinless and tons of flavor.  Apple, Broccoli and Dijon Chicken Skillet always hits the spot.  It is a one pot meal and covers a whole lot of ground: veggie, (flavorful) protein and starch.  Usually I serve this on its own, without any sides or distractions from the main event.

First, fire up the heat on your pan to about medium-high heat and pour in about 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil.  Chop up your boneless skinless chicken breasts into chunks, slightly bigger than bite-sized.  I find if you chop them too small, they can dry out a bit, so maybe about the size of a half dollar.  Sprinkle chicken with kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper.  Then drizzle Dijon mustard over the top of the chicken.  I’m generous with the mustard because I love the flavor so much.  Slightly brown each piece on both sides then remove to a plate.

Next, to the same pan add another tablespoon of olive oil and  chopped onion.  While you stir the onion, scrape up some of the bits left behind by the seasoned chicken.  Saute for a couple of minutes then add minced garlic and white rice.  (You can use brown rice, which I have done, it just needs to simmer a bit longer for the rice to cook through.)  Saute until onion is translucent and garlic is fragrant.

Add to the onion, garlic and rice the apple juice, chicken broth, apple cider vinegar, more Dijon mustard and spices like oregano and thyme.  Bring all this to a boil and then lower heat so that the liquid simmers and reduces.  Once it has cooked for about 12 minutes, add the fresh broccoli florets and return cooked chicken to the pan.

Try to push broccoli down a bit into the liquid and then cover and simmer for about 10-15 additional minutes until rice is fluffy and broccoli is tender.  Apple, Broccoli and Dijon Chicken Skillet is so flavorful and delicious.  It is a fantastic new twist on a basic chicken and broccoli dinner.  This is so tasty, you might even convert the biggest broccoli skeptic in your house!  I hope you enjoy it as much as we do!

Apple, Broccoli and Dijon Chicken Skillet
Save RecipeSave Recipe


  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut in large chunks
  • 1-2 T. olive oil
  • 1 1/2-2 T. Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 t. kosher salt
  • 1/4 t. fresh ground black pepper
  • 1/2 yellow onion, chopped or 1 large shallot minced
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 c. long grain white rice (or brown rice)
  • 2 c. low sodium chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 c. apple juice
  • 2 T. Dijon mustard
  • 1 T. apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 t. oregano
  • 1/4 t. pepper
  • 1/4 t. thyme
  • 3 c. raw broccoli florets


  1. Heat large skillet on medium high heat and add olive oil to the pan.
  2. Chop up the chicken breasts into large chunks. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle with Dijon mustard.
  3. Saute chicken on both sides (about 3-5 minutes) and then remove to a separate plate. Chicken does not need to be cooked through, as it will finish cooking later.
  4. Next, add an additional tablespoon of olive oil and add onion (about 3 minutes) making sure to scrape the bits as you stir. Then add garlic and rice to the pan (for another minute or so).
  5. When onion is translucent and garlic is fragrant, add broth, apple juice, apple cider vinegar, Dijon mustard and oregano, thyme and pepper. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat, cover and simmer for 12 minutes.
  6. Finally, add chicken back to the pan then top with raw broccoli. Try to push broccoli into the liquid to help it simmer in the sauce. Simmer for another 10-15 minutes until rice is fluffy and broccoli is tender.
  7. Serve immediately, though leftovers are fantastic as well.


Brown rice can also be used, just cook 15-20 minutes each time (total cooking time around 35-40 minutes).



This recipe was adapted from Carlsbad Cravings.


Create Community: Invest

Well, we have reached our final installment of our Create Community series.  This particular topic has meant so much to me simply because community is what makes life so enjoyable.  When I think about the community of people in our lives, they bring such a richness and value to the life we live.  Each person brings something different: their heritage, their culture, their faith, their experiences.  These things deepen our overall life experience.

Related image

As each chapter of your life begins and ends, you have hopefully found a community within each chapter.  Memories of sitting in an open air restaurant my first night in the middle of Honduras still remain fresh.  I had accepted my first job teaching at The American School of Tegucigalpa, Honduras as the secondary music teacher.  Meeting the other American teachers was reassuring (we were certainly all in the same boat moving out of the country to Central America), but I quickly realized how much their backgrounds and experiences were going to enrich my life.

Not only did I immediately see the addiction that could come in traveling the world for work, but I realized that some people are Movers and some people are Stayers.  If you are a Mover, does that mean you aren’t good at investing where you live while you live there?  Are Stayers the ones who always volunteer and commit to their town?

Consider our most recent natural disasters: Hurricane Harvey and Irma and now the wildfires in California.  So many of us don’t actually live in these places, but what if you did?  Would you permanently leave if a hurricane destroyed your home?  It might be easy to say you would leave if you have never had to make that choice.  But for those who do, would you give up your neighborhood, your friends, your coworkers, your home?

Image result for hurricane harvey pictures

Melody Warnick actually found neither Movers or Stayers to be consistently higher on place attachment.  It really was a personal commitment.  As she said, “Tornado?  Wildfire?  Crime?  Blight?  Sooner or later, every city struggles.  What we locals do next, after the disaster, is a key measure of how place attached we really are.  How loyal will we be when things go wrong?”

While interviewing people who had experienced and survived a disaster, she was delighted to see her theory of attachment continue.  A professor of political science and urban affairs from Northeastern University studied the tsunami that killed almost 16,000 people in Japan in 2011.  About forty minutes separated the first tremors of the earthquake from the 30 foot waves resulting from the earthquake.  Most interestingly was that the death rate along the coast varied widely, some villages zero and some nearly 10 percent.

Not only were the stronger communities the ones with the higher survival rate, but because of their social cohesion, they were the quickest to rebuild.  The infirm or elderly more than likely had friends, family, or caretakers who were concerned about them enough to seek them out and rescue them.  Second, they had established relationships so that people knew to go find them.  You usually don’t build relationships in a crisis, but before one happens so that when it does, you are looking out for each other.

Particularly for major cities, excitement and energy are often the draw, but they also can be incredibly transient.  If you continue to live like you are waiting for the next thing, you certainly won’t be able to experience the true benefits of place attachment right now.  Even if your current situation is for a short time, you must engage and invest to get the most out of your experience.

That being said, Americans are more mobile now than ever before.  Caring for ailing family can bring you back to your hometown.  A new job can take you across the country.  Pursuit of a relationship may draw you to new cities.  Your overall experience will completely depend on you.  If you want to make the most and enjoy the full pleasure of a place, engage, invest and create wonderful memories where you are.  And if you want to have good neighbors, then be a good neighbor.

Image result for the basis of world peace, roosevelt

Action Steps

  1.  Long time Stayers: Continue to get to know your town and the people in it.  Don’t neglect the newcomers.  Engage with those around you.  Find new ways to give back to your community.
  2. Transient Movers: Don’t forget your richest experience will come if you invest and give freely with the time you are given.  Make the most by exploring, creating new opportunities and sharing your experience with others.  The richness of your experiences will possibly inspire others to do the same.
  3. Those considering a move: Make a list of all the things you have loved (and hated) from each place you’ve lived.  Consider place attachment behaviors (walk ability, volunteer opportunities, independent stores/shopping, beautiful nature, good restaurants, healthy political scene, creative activities and events). Choose your new home in a place that covers most of your loves if possible.  Let your realtor will worry about the other things that they deem important like schools, safe neighborhoods and ability for resale.

I would love to hear your thoughts on why you have chosen to be a Stayer or a Mover.  How have you engaged with your community making your attachment stronger?  How has this Create Community series changed your thinking about where you live?

For the rest of the Create Community series, click here.

All quotes and facts have been directly stated from Melody Warnick’s book “This is Where You Belong.

Best Ever Mashed Potatoes

If there is one food that speaks of pure comfort and represents so many memories and holidays for me, it would be Best Ever Mashed Potatoes.  Some people claim their mom has the best mashed potato recipe and that is just plain lies.  My mom does.  She got the recipe from her mom and I will tell you, they are so good I have to make them in limited quantities.  My self-control goes completely out the window.

This recipe reminds me of running around the house with family we barely ever got to see while my mom and grandmother tended carefully to a turkey in the roaster.  For some reason, my mom only made mashed potatoes for special occasions.  But in some ways that made them even more special.  Who knows, maybe she was attempting portion control as well.

Even though these were a rare treat, they are anything but difficult.  Even these pictures don’t do them justice.  They look too simple.  The recipe seems to have too few ingredients.  But, you must try the pillowy clouds of divine creaminess so that you too may become a convert.  (I do have a flair for the dramatic in case you can’t tell.)

First, peel and chop 4 Russet potatoes.  I love a good red wax potato, but for this you need good ‘ole fashioned Idaho potatoes.  Put chopped potatoes into a pot and completely cover with water.  Bring to a boil and lower to a medium boil for about 8-10 minutes.  When potatoes are fork tender, drain them.

Next, (this is important!) use a masher (I like this one) to mash the potatoes.  Do NOT use a hand mixer as you lose all the texture of the potatoes.  When you puree them, they become like paste, similar to what you ate in the cafeteria as a kid.  Those are not potatoes.  That is something you slather on wallpaper and make it stick to your wall.  You want some creaminess with some small chunks of potato.

Finally, you are going to add butter, sour cream, salt and pepper.  I just use the masher to mix it all together.  Be sure to taste to see if it needs more salt or pepper.  Best Ever Mashed Potatoes are delicious for Thanksgiving, a rich steak or my dad even likes to make little cakes with them the next day with eggs and bacon.  I hope this recipe will become part of your next family holiday too!

Best Ever Mashed Potatoes

5 minPrep Time

10 minCook Time

15 minTotal Time

Save RecipeSave Recipe


  • 4 Russet potatoes
  • 3-4 T. unsalted butter
  • 8 oz. sour cream
  • 1 t. kosher salt
  • 1/2 t. fresh cracked black pepper


  1. Peel and chop potatoes and add to a pot. Fill pot with water to cover potatoes.
  2. Bring to a boil and then lower to a medium boil to cook for 8-10 minutes until potatoes are fork tender. Drain potatoes.
  3. Mash a bit first, then add butter, sour cream, salt and pepper. Gently mash and mix until just combined. Don't overmix! Be sure to leave some lumps of soft potato!
  4. Finally, taste to check for seasonings. I like mine with extra fresh cracked pepper.


If you must, you could try light sour cream but honestly I never have. I have these as a treat a couple times a year so we always use full fat sour cream.


Do you have a favorite food that reminds you of your childhood?  What is your favorite comfort food?

If you would like to see other recipes, please click here.

Create Community: Get Creative

Our Create Community series is coming to a close.  Next week will be our final post in the series and I hope that you have found it interesting as well as helpful.  Getting creative (though you might not consider yourself this way) is such an important part of place attachment in your community.

Let’s imagine for a moment you’ve lived in your town for just over six months.  You see a sign passing the outdoor mall that they are hosting a Farmer’s Market tonight.  You don’t have plans, it’s a Friday night and you’d love an excuse to get outside and see what the rest of your community does on the weekend.  Later that evening, you grab your crew and head toward the mall.

What you discover is very exciting.  Not only is there a wide variety of farmers with quite the spread of fresh local produce, but there are also stands selling local meats, cheese, baked goods and fresh cut flowers.  Even the local coffee shop is jumping in selling their specialty brew.  Local college students playing music adds to the ambiance and tons of people are milling around.  Then your spouse hands you a flier someone just handed him showcasing the live music that will kick off in less than an hour in the outdoor amphitheater.  Your kids tug at your shirt pointing to the food trucks just beyond the stands and you quickly realize dinner has already been served.  You look at your spouse and think…jackpot.

Image result for outdoor concert

This “dream” scenario happens in all types of towns and cities all over America.  But do you think that your farmer’s market was started simply because people needed something to do on a Friday night?  Do parks exist simply so kids can burn off energy?  Well, that, but also so neighborhoods can be cohesive.  If you have been here any length of time, you hopefully have realized that community doesn’t just happen.  It is built with thought and strategic planning.  And all that thought and planning was done by someone who wanted to create community.  Your town was put together, planned by people who cared enough to raise their hand and say, “I’ll do it.”

I have certainly had my frustrations with my neighborhood.  One neighbor introduced herself to me when we first moved in.  One.  Growing up, our neighborhood had a welcoming committee who introduced themselves to new neighbors and then introduced them to others, making them feel welcome.  Thinking that was normal, my mom kindly reminded me that the committee also planned the Easter egg hunt and the Memorial Day parade and the cookie exchange.  But that “committee” was really made up of two people who did most of the heavy lifting.

Author Melody Warnick said, “The world, I realized, is full of people who say, ‘That would be fun.’  What it needs is more people who say ‘Let’s give it a whirl.’  Like everyone in my city’s history who had built each thing I love here, I wanted to create something cool in this town.  I wanted to become a doer.”

Now I realize not everyone is an event coordinator.  But if you have an idea, get creative!  Do your due diligence and mention your idea to someone who could make it happen.  If they can’t, they might know the person who could and (most importantly) you can help them accomplish it.  When you agree to help with the school book fair, you begin to care a little bit more about the kids who are coming through the stacks.  You might even discover another volunteer lives just down the road from you (strengthening your ties to your community in the meantime).

Image result for sidewalk chalk art
Did you know this was even a thing?  Our local library does this every summer with the kids.  So fun!

If you are missing an experience from your childhood or heard about an event you were interested in but were unable to participate, consider attempting it in a small scale where you live.  Maybe have a chalk drawing contest on the sidewalk on your street.  Have a block party and invite people to bring a dish to pass to get to know more neighbors.  Host a bridge/bunco/poker group once a month and invite someone new each month.  Maybe offer a father/son running club or a mother/daughter tea once a month.  If the whole idea scares you, start small and think 1..2..3.

One: create an event.
Two: plan two activities that coincide with the idea.
Three: invite at least three people.

Whether you choose your street, neighborhood, school, church, workplace, or even your town as a whole, your town needs you to be creative and help make it what it is.  Be a part of where you live, and you will love it all the more.

Action Steps

1.  Investigate your town’s art events such as concerts, dance shows, festivals, and even park district functions.

2.  When standing in line waiting to check out somewhere, ask the person next to you what they love about your town.  Or even easier, ask their favorite restaurants/movie theater/parks/activities in town.  Locals always have the best suggestions and you just might learn something new.

3.  Take the plunge and plan the event.  Start small or go big.  If you are the point person, people are much more likely to join in and help if they know they won’t have to do it alone.  Your excitement will be contagious.  If you don’t want to take the lead, ask around and see if anyone else would want to do it with you.  You just might find some takers.

4.  The next time you attend an event in your town, take the time to thank someone who is working to make it happen.  Expressing your appreciation not only rewards those who are working to make your community better, it reminds you that many people build the community where you live.

If you would like to catch up on the rest of our Create Community, click here.

Is there an event that you remember from childhood that you loved?  What activity or event in your town have you really enjoyed?  What do you wish your town offer that it currently does not?


Creature Comforts: October 2017

Welcome to October everyone!

I have no idea what happened to September but it is gone and October is well on its way!  Today, I’ll share some articles and products that have caught my attention this month.

Creature Comforts: October

Image result for fall

  1.  Living a balanced life is something everyone hears on a regular basis.  Exercise daily, focus on your spiritual life, work hard, family time, being intentional about “me time”.  All of these things are important, but I appreciated that this article points out that when you are at your greatest, you are probably living a life that is very unbalanced.  And you are probably having the time of your life, too.
    NY Times article: Maybe we should be less balanced, not more

    Travel Photo Type, Etsy
  2. Traveling is contagious.  Once you go somewhere new, you start dreaming of all the places you haven’t been and new adventures you have yet to experience.  But what do you do with all those photos?  Are there any new, creative ways to display and save all those sunset pics?  My favorites are #5, #11 and #17
    Travel and Leisure: Creative ways to use travel photos
    Mix Pack: 2 Sea Salt + 2 Nacho + 2 Lime
  3. Do you remember this post about chips and salsa?  Well, if you remember I stated a strong desire to find a way for tortilla chips to be a vegetable.  Or healthy.  Or at least healthier.  Well, I haven’t tried these yet but I’m intrigued.  Especially since I’ve heard RAVE reviews.  Have any of you tried them??
    Siete Foods: Sea Salt Grain Free Tortilla Chipsfallhalloweenbooks_001.jpg
  4. You all know I’m a big reader.  The idea of choosing book titles that match or coordinate with the season you are in is completely appealing.  Snuggled under the blanket, drinking something warm and reading about a setting similar to the one you are in?  Perfection.  Check out this list of 25 titles The Ardent Biblio recommends for Fall.
    The Ardent Biblio: 25 Books that feel like FallTom Hanks
  5. Did any of you read the big hit A Man Called Ove by Frederik Backman?  Well, I just heard that Tom Hanks will be starring in a remake of the film and his wife, Rita Wilson will be producing.
    Variety: Tom Hanks to star in Remake

    Be sure to check back this week, we’ll be finishing up our Create Community series and I have a fantastic Fall recipe you won’t want to miss.  Finally, I would love to hear your comments about any of these items in the comments!

Create Community: Get More Political

The phrase “Get More Political” might have caught you by surprise.  In a time when there seems to be lots (and LOTS) of screaming from all sides, I really didn’t want to get into this conversation.  At all.  But, in learning more about what Melody Warnick learned in the political environment where she lives I realized it is so much more about the people.

Image result for local government

But shouldn’t it always be about the people?  Kindness often comes when human beings learn more about each other.  When you learn that someone in the opposite political camp also grew up in your home town and you both love the same college pizza joint, they seem a bit more human.  “It’s really easy to have a negative perception of government when you don’t know the people behind the scenes and don’t know how things operate.  But it’s hard to fuss too much about the horrible recycling program when you meet the five people who operate our recycling program and see how hard they work.”

Especially in this day and age, it is SO EASY to just hop onto Facebook: “How are you feeling today?”, this very innocent question posed by Mark Zuckerberg.  You have been annoyed by a windy day blowing your trash and recycling all over the neighborhood.  (I have had this exact frustration.)  People feel the freedom to post every annoyance known to man.  Are the waste removal workers to blame for the weather??  Have these same said complainers walked up to the trash and recycling workers and introduced themselves?  Do they know their names?  Have they offered their appreciation?  Truthfully these kind gentlemen (who so kindly wave to my son each week) don’t know my name, but if these workers knew how much we appreciated their work, don’t you think they would do their job even better?

Studies show that Americans feel more confident in local government than national; in one poll 72 percent of Americans said they trusted their city government to do the right thing while only 19 percent said the same of federal government.  I find that so interesting since so few people even vote during those smaller, localized elections!  Even in fiercely debated political battles during an election year, only around 60 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot!  In mayoral races from 2008-2011, no major city mobilized more than 45 percent of its voters.  In a few places, including San Antonio and El Paso, turnout was in the single digits.

And yet.  Do you vote at all possible elections, including smaller, local elections?  Do you realize that these elections are the ones that will likely most dramatically affect your daily life where you live?  The problem?  We trust our leaders (local and federal) just enough to stay completely uninvolved until we are angry about something.  If I asked any local government worker what is the best part of their day, I’m pretty sure they aren’t going to say fielding calls from angry residents.

I will be honest with you.  I can’t remember the last time I voted in a smaller, local election.  But this will be the last time.  In following this Create Community series, I signed onto my local town Facebook page and they even had an app.  Some of the feeds are citizens there just to complain.  Some complaints are valid.  So to shift the conversation a bit, I asked a simple question: What do you LOVE about our town?  If you had visitors and wanted to share the best of our town, where would you take them?

The answers were great!  Some of the places and restaurants I had been to and others were new to me.  I’ve lived here almost 7 years and I still didn’t know everything about my tiny suburb in Chicago!  Also, people chimed in saying they grew up here and never plan to leave.  That gave me a boost of confidence that not only is my town a great town, there are others out there who love it too.

While interviewing a local  government employee, she said there  are a couple things to keep in mind.  First, remember that the people you are calling to complain to probably live on your street, take their kids to the same park and frequent the same movie theater.

Second, don’t assume.  Anything.  Don’t assume tax dollars are being spent on something you don’t agree with.  Don’t assume workers spend their time trying to waste your money.  This solves not one problem and opens up the need for lots of required explaining because you made an unfair assumption.  Don’t be that person.

Lastly, ask questions.  If you don’t like something and would like it to change, ask why the decision was made in the first place.  Ask them to consider why you don’t like the town’s policy.  If they can’t change it, ask if there are alternate solutions to the problem.  The staff are there to answer questions, that is their job.  And maybe, just maybe, you will be heard and something will change.  And if not, start showing up and getting to know the people who make the decisions.  Your opinion will matter a whole lot if it will get your vote at the next election.

Get more political doesn’t necessarily mean shoving a sign in your yard supporting the next president, but it could.  But it also means caring more about where you live and who lives here.  I want to know that not only is my neighbor going to wave when they pull in the driveway from work, but they care enough about our town to learn about what needs to be done and then when they can, offer to help.

Action Steps

  1.  Follow your mayor and city councilors on social media.  Check to see if your town has an app or Facebook page and join.  (I was very pleasantly surprised to see the quality of our app.  It offered local events, officials-names and pictures, departments, news, requests and even daily deals!)
  2. Figure out when the next election is, do your research and vote!  Soap box: If you don’t vote, you’ve forfeited your right to complain.  Period.  (Soap box over)
  3. Check to see if your town offers a citizens academy/citizens institute/citizens college/neighborhood university.  It is a civic education program offered by the town government letting average residents take a look inside the inner workings of the town government.  A great way to see where your tax dollars actually go.
  4. If there is something in your town that is driving you crazy, a faulty light, a pothole, go to the city’s website and let them know.  I have a good friend who works for a city government for a very small town in Texas and she reminded me that the city relies on citizens to help keep their town working properly.  Just remember, it isn’t their fault the pothole is there and they will be the ones coordinating the repair.  So kind requests are much appreciated (rather than demands).  One particularly snowy winter, a snow plow completely bulldozed our mailbox leaving it laying down on the ground.  I notified the village and in less than a week it was not only fixed, but we were given completely new mailboxes with the appropriate numbers attached.
  5. Attend just one city council meeting.  You will appreciate the inner workings so much more afterward.  It might help you realized how much work (and how many people) it takes to make your town run well.

To see the rest of our Create Community series, click here.


The Outside Boy

The Outside Boy
by Jeanine Cummins


Genre: Historical Fiction

Summary: Christopher Hurley (“Christy”) is an 11 year old living as a tinker, a Pavee Gypsy that never stays put very long.  His life shifts dramatically at the death of his beloved grandfather and he still longs to learn more details about his mother who died giving birth to him.  His father has always avoided these conversations but his grandfather seemed to give him one last bit of information about his mother that no one else would.
With the patriarch gone, Christy’s father decides it is time to stop wandering the Irish countryside and give him an education and an opportunity to complete his first Communion.  Christy has always dreamed of being included in the schoolyard games and learning in a classroom but quickly learns his family’s lifestyle might keep him forever an outsider.

Books that fall into your lap that turn out to be everything you hope for?  THAT is why readers read.  My neighbor was looking for my book recommendations for her family vacation.  When she returned, she handed me this book.  Since I lead my own book club and do all the research for finding our books, I feel pretty aware of “popular” books and I was completely unfamiliar with this title or author.  Even better.

Cummins not only has a gift with words, I loved the way she connected everyday things to the overarching story.  For example, in the beginning of the story, Christy helps his Grandda deliver a colt and the mare doesn’t make it through the delivery.  “Maybe I knew the mare was going to die.  Maybe that’s why I felt so connected to the little colt, because my mammy died, too, when I accidentally killed her as I was being born.  I couldn’t help wondering if it was a similar night to this, if everyone waited, wretched and breathless, for the horrible news that was my birth.  Such a common truth: a travelling woman heaving her own soul heavenward while her baby boy slips, squawking and bloody, into the rough and dirty world to take her place.  There’s nothing worse than an ordinary grief.”  It was heartbreaking to see how he would carry the guilt of losing his mother in childbirth.

Cummins also has a remarkable ability to capture the mind of an 11-year-old boy.  Her descriptions were perfection: “Beano was the next to land, with his sister Kathleen in tow, and I knew it was him even before Martin said, “How’ya Beano,” because he just looked like the sorta fella who’d be called Beano.  He was hard to forget: big and sweaty and shapeless, with hands like two ham hocks sticking out the arms of his tight red jumper.  His black hair was matted acrosst his forehead in what might’ve been an effort at personal grooming.  He even looked to smell like beans.”  At times I laughed out loud, whether at her descriptions, or at the way an eleven year old boy would view the world.

Finally, I loved the charm of the narrator being so young.  His excitement was tangible: “I was sure Saturday would never come.  Something would happen.  I would get hit by a howling train or a runaway heifer before then.  Or I would catch consumption and die on Thursday.  Or maybe I would survive on my deathbed just long enough for Martin to return from the party and tell me all about it before I would cough up my last bloody tumor and expire.”

The Outside Boy is charming and funny and yet it is also gut-wrenching and sad.  The ending wraps up nicely, but not too perfect so as to ruin it.  The story of Christy’s mother propelled the story forward constantly and Cummins’ beautiful prose made me want to read everything she has written.  The Outside Boy has been my favorite fiction book all year and I highly recommend it to anyone.

For other book reviews, click here.

What is something that you discovered as a child that made you grow up a bit?  What was the first great loss of your life?  How did that affect you growing up?



Shipt Grocery Delivery: A Review

Standing in the yogurt section, the clock was creeping closer and closer to 5pm.  It was the *delightful* bewitching hour and I was still holding my coupons, my grocery list and snack cup full of Cheerios dangling from my pinky.  I had a plan!  I had a list!  I had snacks!!  My toddler was getting cranky (getting cranky?  already cranky?), my baby-who-doesn’t-sit-still-ever was slipping all over the buckled seat in the front of the cart and I had only just accomplished about twenty percent of my shopping.  Not only was I trying to do a weeks worth of grocery shopping with my two kids, I wanted to bring these groceries home, unload, put them all away and have dinner on the table in less than 90 minutes.

So, when another seasoned mom with maybe 15 years of experience ahead of me walked by and muttered, “I don’t miss those days.  That is so tough!”, all of my desire to get this huge task accomplished deflated completely.

At that point I’m sure I grabbed a loaf of bread, some cheese slices and called grilled cheese dinner.  Which I realize is completely fine.

Since then I have added another little one to the mix and taking little people grocery shopping is just simply…awful.  And I love grocery shopping!  I can still hear my mother responding with, “Not today” to every. single. request. we made while she wandered the aisles trying to figure out what to cook for dinner.  She didn’t like taking us with her either!

ENTER: SHIPT grocery delivery.

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Oh, you haven’t heard of it???  Oh my goodness you are going to LOVE me!!!!  My sister first tipped me off to this hidden gem of God’s gift to all people (but mostly moms). Shipt is a membership-based grocery marketplace that delivers fresh foods, household essentials, and even alcohol (in select areas) from local stores. Through an easy-to-use app, friendly shoppers, and a commitment to exceptional service, Shipt simplifies lives and saves time for what matters most.  Let me help you get started!

First, download the free Shipt app.  Go ahead, I’ll wait…

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Second, start your grocery list right in the app.  You can be specific like “Heinz ketchup” or just “potatoes”.  Also, specify “ripe avocados” or “avocados for guacamole in 3 days” if you want.  If you can’t find an item, there is an option to make a special request.  For example, my kids take old-school Flinstone vitamins (not gummy) and those didn’t come up in the system.  I was able to describe them (color of the label, etc) enough that my buyer was able to find them.

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Third, buyers often contact you when they arrive at the store and ask if you forgot something (which I often do).  Once I asked for lightbulbs and she sought out a store associate to ask for help with my request and when they couldn’t find my specific, she tried to find an alternative for me per the associate’s recommendation.  This was KEY for me because truthfully, when I’m in the store with my three kids, I don’t have time to look for an associate much less wait to hear his/her alternative suggestions.  If I can’t find on a first quick scan, I just don’t get it.  My buyer actually had the time to find me what I really wanted.

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Lastly, the bring the groceries to your door and into your home (if you want them to come in).  Not only that, they can deliver so FAST!!  My sister told me she made her list and placed the order at 10pm and the groceries were on her door by 7am the NEXT MORNING!  My cousin (who also uses it) says she loves it for the peace of mind.  When one of her four kids gets sick, she loves knowing she can have Pedialyte, Tylenol, Kleenex, trashbags and a bottle of wine at her door without having to leave home if needed.  (And yes, they do in fact deliver alcohol as well).  I was even able to request my shopper knock instead of ring the doorbell because my little ones were napping.  #multitaskingatitsbest

10 Reasons to Sign up for Shipt TODAY!

  1.  Someone (who you can communicate with) does all your grocery (grocery items, paper products and household items) shopping for you.  They often even check before leaving the store if you forgot anything.
  2. If an item is out of stock or unavailable, your shopper can contact you to discuss substitutions (another flavor, generic, etc).
  3. If you don’t see an item you are looking for in the search menu, you can make a special request.
  4. You can shop online or just use the app.  (I actually found the app to be quicker!)
  5. Since Shipt is connected with Meijer stores in my area, you can log your receipt and get MPerks!  This was great news for me because I saved over $1000 each year for the last three years with MPerks.
  6. The turn around time for delivery is SO QUICK!  Sometimes you can get your order in an hour!
  7. Payment is all done through the app so your buyer doesn’t ever need your credit card info.
  8. Delivery is completely FREE for orders over $35!  Let’s be real…I have never spent less than $35 at a grocery store.  Ever.  (There is an option to tip your shopper at the end of the transaction when all your groceries are delivered.)
  9. The sale price is listed in the app or web page so you can choose an item based on price rather than name if you prefer to buy based on sales.
  10. Shipt offers services in Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin.
  11. You never have to juggle a list, coupons and toddlers while filling your cart again!

BONUS: When you click on this link to sign up today, you get $10 of FREE groceries!  You can even try it for FREE for two whole weeks!

I have purchased my own membership, this is not a sponsored post.  Really liking the service helped me decide to share my honest experience with you.  However, I will receive credits through your use of the link above.

Have you tried a grocery delivery service?  What about it do you like?  How has it helped you?

Create Community: Eat Local Food

I cannot bring to mind anything that brings people together like food.  Food lets democrats and republicans, Christians and atheists, Bears fans and Packers fans come together and be civil.  Though my analogies are a bit dramatic, the sentiment is anything but.  When a friend is hurting and you have nothing to offer, you give bread and soup.  Meeting a stranger for the first time can cause a bit of anxiety, but a cup of coffee and a muffin seem to help bridge the gap.  It can be the ultimate peacemaker.

Thus, it is no surprise to me that one concept the attaches you to your home is eating.  There are those who eat to live and those of us who live to eat (certainly this evidence makes me guilty in this regard).  But if you are indifferent and forget to eat a meal (who are these people?!?!), even you have memories of a favorite meal with someone special or in a unique place.  One of the best ice breakers?  What is your favorite thing to eat off the Thanksgiving table?  Every person has a dish, and usually, a story to go with it.  That is why food is important.  It carries with it wonderful memories of people, of places that bring us happiness.

According to the National Restaurant Association, about one in ten jobs in the United States is in a restaurant.  When a restaurant is doing well, owners spend money locally helping improve local economy.  That, in turn, draws visitors from elsewhere, again, boosting the economy.  Think about what Food Network and shows like Diners, Drive-ins and Dives has done for little towns all across America!  It has even created another option of a vacation destination beyond resorts, shopping malls and amusement parks.

Cities and towns are even fighting to be known for a certain type of food.  Kansas City?  Barbeque.  Louisiana? Beignets and jambalaya.  Chicago?  Deep dish pizza and our signature hot dogs.  Philadelphia?  Philly cheese steaks.  When a town becomes known for a certain type of food, people love the hunt for “the best burger in town.”  And for foodies, places like New York, Chicago, San Francisco are a dream come true.

Mariachis, laughter and lots of food paint vivid memories of my first nights in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.  I had just moved there with my friend and college roommate to teach at the local American school.  We were 22, fresh faced and excited for our new adventure with the added excitement of our first jobs.  Of all my experiences living there for two years, food was truly central to the experience.  Anafre (warmed beans and cheese served with tortilla chips), fried plantains and limonada (fresh squeezed lime juice with seltzer water) bring back memories of getting to know Honduran staff, fellow American travelers and the Honduran people.  Food was the way they invited us, and food was how we participated and learned about their culture.

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A French concept called terrior (“the taste of place”) was discovered by winemakers and establishes that a wine will taste like the place where it is grown.  The image of Meg Ryan in an old classic French Kiss comes to mind when thinking of this concept.  It also can be the same idea as a place being known for a specific produce: Georgia peaches, avocados from California, and Florida oranges, for example.

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The popularity of CSAs (community-supported agriculture programs) has brought greater attachment to towns all over the US.  In 1990, only 60 farms nationwide operated CSA programs.  In 2012, more than 12,600 farms did.  People who participate in CSAs are also more likely to be engaged in their towns than those who don’t.  “Seventy-one percent of civic agriculture participants volunteered in the community, compared to 48% of the general population.”  Studies have also shown that people who garden or farm have higher levels of neighborhood attachment.

Warnick interviewed Steven Schnell, a professor of geography at Kutztown State University in Pennsylvania.  He first noticed the power of story to connect food and place in, of all places, microbreweries.  They have exploded all over the US, but why?  Well, better beer, but also many of the microbreweries were utilizing names and packaging to reference local figures, sites or events.  It gave customers not only food and beer, but also a truly local experience.

Think about how the food you eat at home is distinctly local.  Where do you offer to take visitors so they, too, can have the true local experience?  Even simpler, what is your “best” in town?  What is your town known for and where is the best place to find it?  Not only will you continue to attach yourself to where you live, you get to enjoy the process as you go!


  1. Find a restaurant in your town (NOT A CHAIN) and become a “regular”.  I’m not saying you’ll see Ted Danson suddenly serving your burger, but you might get to know the wait staff, owners and other locals.  Support local business, meet more neighbors, greater place attachment.  Win win win.  Don’t know where to start?  Google your town with “hidden gem”, “local”, “secret”, “neighborhood”, or “undiscovered.”
  2. Shop at your local farmers’ market or join a CSA.  LocalHarvest.org has a database of them or you can just search online using terms “farm share” or “CSA”.  Support local business, fresh/healthy food, greater place attachment.  Win win win.
  3. Try a one-week, “25-Mile Challenge”, eating only foods grown within 25 miles of your house.
  4. Plant a garden.  If this terrifies you, start REALLY small.  Maybe two herbs and one vegetable.
  5. Follow restaurants on social media.  Makes you aware of new menu items, promotions or even new openings.

If you would like to see the rest of our Create Community series, please click here.

All quotes and facts are from Melody Warnick’s research in This is Where You Belong.

What foods bring strong memories back to you?  Do you link certain foods with certain places you have lived or visited?  Have you ever participated in a CSA or visited a farmer’s market?  What did you like about it?

Jellicoe Road

Jellicoe Road
by Melina Marchetta


Genre: Fiction, Young Adult

Summary: Things seem to just happen to Taylor Markham.  She is seventeen and living at boarding school because her mother abandoned her.  When she reluctantly becomes the leader of the territory wars between the Cadets and the Townies, Hannah, the only seemingly trusted adult she confides in is suddenly just…gone.  She doesn’t like her position in any of it, especially when she sees the leader of the opposing Cadets,  Jonah Griggs.  His leadership brings out the worst in her and they will be spending a LOT of time together.  As the summer unfolds, Taylor is forced to grapple with more questions until she starts to push back to discover the answers she has long searched for.

This is my first experience with Melina Marchetta and I do not often dive into YA fiction.  Marchetta intricately (and brilliantly at times) weaves past, present and sometimes even dreams together.  The text flips between plain and italicized sections, present and future, reality and dream sequences.

This complexity is what shows the expertise of Marchetta but at times it was so confusing!  Continually reading the jacket description kept me moving forward in the story (because it sounded intriguing and straight forward on the jacket!) but the storyline jumped around so much it was difficult keeping things in order.  After discussing the story with our book club, I concluded that I felt the sense of place lacking.  The sense of place might have grounded the context of the big story.

Secondly, I felt the characters weren’t developed enough to differentiate them well.  The story follows 5 kids on Jellicoe Road and since some of their names were nicknames or gender neutral, I kept getting them confused.  (Wait, was this the sister?  Or his girlfriend??  Oh wait, that’s a BOY not a girl???  Ugh!)  Sometimes, Marchetta would differentiate using italics but sometimes she wouldn’t.  (One reviewer said she listened to this on audio and she really didn’t like it for this reason.  It was SO HARD to tell characters-and narrators-apart from each other.  I can completely understand this would make the story even harder to follow).

Jellicoe Road weaves together an amazing story and ties up loose ends, which I appreciate.  Marchetta’s characters are flawed making them believable, the dialogue was good,  and (appropriately) they didn’t necessarily finish “happily ever after.”  The book does address some pretty intense and adult themes but the desire to solve the puzzle made it a great page turner.  Finally, deep loss permeated Taylor’s story but I also loved how the author addresses the importance of how and from whom we can receive love.

Do you have a favorite YA fiction book?  What was the toughest thing you had to experience in high school?

For other book reviews, click here!

Create Community: Volunteer

Certainly you have heard of random acts of kindness.  You’ve probably seen the Christmas-themed lists to “get you in the mood” for the season.  There is even a website focused on just this idea where educators teach it in the schools.  They have highlighted World Kindness Day (November 13), Random Acts of Kindness Friday (November 24), Random Acts of Kindness WEEK (February 11-17)!  Who knew?!?

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Random acts of kindness are great but they are just that.  Random.  Those little things can make a big impact on someone’s day, but maybe you loved the feeling you got when you surprised someone so much that you wanted to do more.  I’d like to compare it to your casual and sporadic toss of cash into an offering plate as opposed to your committed, designated and regular donation amount to your church or organization of choice.   There is something very encouraging to the receiver about a giver who is committed and consistent in their donation (whether it be resources, money or time).

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Habitat for Humanity

Volunteering is such a win-win for you and your community.  Not only do you personally benefit from serving in a cause that you are passionate about, but (even more importantly) you serve the people in your community.  That in turn, makes where YOU live even better!

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Local food bank: Food prep

In 2005, researchers from the National Conference on Citizenship counted the number of nonprofits in 3,100 counties all over the country.  A short three years later, the recession hit and they discovered something astonishing:  The towns with a higher concentration of nonprofits were less likely to become unemployed than those with less nonprofits.  “Just one extra nonprofit per one thousand people added up to a half percentage point few out-of-work residents.”

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Together We Rise: Helping Kids in Foster Care

I was amazed when Warnick started noting some of the jobs citizens volunteered to do: put on a police uniform to help patrol the streets (Pasadena, CA), man the front desk of city hall (Naperville, IL!!), direct lost passengers around an airport (Philadelphia, PA), write parking tickets (Deer Park, TX).  Not only did these volunteers help their towns by saving them money, but they probably had a much deeper respect for the people who do those jobs on a regular basis.  Think about it: my first job was a waitress at a breakfast restaurant.  Not only do I have a great appreciation for a great server, I’m pretty aware of when they are not doing a good job.  And yes, I do tip pretty well.

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Ready.gov: Plan ahead for disasters

Not only can volunteering give your mood a boost and extra dopamine, it gives you a stronger “place identity.”  While I might identify myself as a teacher or parent in my town, my volunteering creates an opportunity to join the collective “we.”  Our profession and families offer us a sense of good pride, while our service of others can offer an even deeper sense of community pride.  This creates a  greater place attachment to our town.

This quote from Warnick states it perfectly: “The cycle goes something like this: You volunteer, so your town becomes better, which makes it easier to love, which makes you more attached to your town.  As Abraham Lincoln purportedly said, ‘I like to see a man proud of the place in which he lives.  I like to see a man live in it so that his place will be proud of him.'”

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Local cleanup after storm

Now, it has been proven that those people who stay in a town are much more likely to invest through volunteering (as opposed to those who move a lot).  Cities can be highly transient places, and yet, they often have the greatest needs.  A military wife once said to me that she had moved so many times and this one particular move was only going to be a one year term.  She hated the location of her new home and had no desire to connect.  But, when she did connect with a couple people in that community, she made lasting friendships that she deeply needed at the time.  Sometimes our shortest stays can have the greatest impact (on us and the community we serve).

So where do you serve?

Do you love someone who has been affected by cancer?  Do you love gardening and want to support the public gardens?  Are you a huge music fan and would enjoy supporting the symphony?  Maybe consider a Giving Circle.  Find a group of people that would all like to pool money together (so you can offer a larger donation) and then collectively choose what organization to support.  You can choose a different organization each year.  Whatever you choose, think about your passions and let that lead the way.  Not only will you enjoy the work, it will serve others and in turn make your home a better place to live.

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  1.  Start with whatever brings you great joy or breaks your heart.  Is it homelessness in your area?  Check out shelters or soup kitchens.  Kids without good role models?  Consider Big Brothers Big Sisters.  Children in the foster care system?  Contact local agencies to see where you can help.  Even if you aren’t a church goer, consider contacting one in your area.  They often have a great list of what the specific needs are in your area.
  2. VolunteerMatch.org as well as the United Way has a wide variety of options for you to choose from.
  3. If nothing is seeming to fit, look at your town’s website.  They might need some volunteers.  Added bonus, you not only have a greater appreciation for the people who work in your town, you also get to see where your tax dollars are going.
  4. RandomActsofKindness.org has tons of ideas for quick little volunteer options.  These can often be fun for getting little kids involved too.
  5. If you’d like your donation to have possibly a bigger impact, check out GivingCircles.org to see how to get started.

*All quotes and facts come from Melody Warnick’s book This is Where You Belong.

If you would like to see the rest of our Create Community series, click here.

Have you ever volunteered anywhere?  What kind of service has been deeply rewarding for you?

Chunky Chicken Chowder

Isn’t it so funny that at the end of summer when the temps dip just below 70 degrees for 10 minutes everyone pulls out sweaters and pumpkin everything?  And then in the Spring when the weather warms up just barely over 65 degrees everyone pulls out shorts and tank tops??  Well, we had one of those *barely* chilly days this week.  And I wanted soup.  Specifically, Chunky Chicken Chowder (say that ten times fast!).

(Do you remember this past Spring when I wanted summer and it just wouldn’t come?  This was the soup I made then.)

So this soup comes together really quickly and has lots of good, chunky bites to keep you full much longer than your typical broth-style soup.  My favorite part is that there are two different types of meat: chicken breast and chicken sausage.  The fun part is that there are many different flavors of chicken sausage so you can slightly change the flavor each time you make this!  For this recipe I used this all natural brand:

First, take a large soup pot and add olive oil to the bottom of the pan.  Start warming the oil while you chop the chicken breast into bite-sized chunks.  Season with salt and pepper before tossing into olive oil.  While these brown, cut up the chicken sausage into similar-sized chunks.  When the chicken breast has cooked on both sides, add chicken sausage to warm through.

Next, chop red (or yellow) pepper, onion and red potatoes.  Also, finely mince garlic.  Add these to the pot and stir with chicken and sausage.  Let the vegetables soften (about 5 minutes) and then add kidney beans.

Finally, add fire roasted tomatoes, red pepper flakes and chicken stock.

Bring all this to a boil and lower heat to a simmer (about 10-12 minutes) for potatoes to soften.  Serve with shredded cheese, a dollup of sour cream and tortilla chips on the side.

Chunky Chicken Chowder
Save RecipeSave Recipe


  • 1 lb. boneless skinless chicken breasts, chopped
  • salt and pepper
  • 12 oz. chicken sausage, chopped, flavor of your choice
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 red pepper, chopped
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 6 small red potatoes, chopped
  • 15 oz. can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 t. hot sauce OR red pepper flakes
  • 15 oz. fire roasted chopped tomatoes
  • 2 Qt. chicken stock or broth
  • Garnish
  • shredded cheddar cheese
  • sour cream
  • tortilla chips


  1. Preheat soup pot to medium high. Add olive oil.
  2. Chop chicken into bite-size pieces and season with salt and pepper. Saute chicken until cooked through.
  3. Dice chicken sausage and add to the pot. Next add garlic and let cook 2 minutes.
  4. Add peppers, onion and potatoes. Cook 5 minutes, then add red pepper flakes and fire roasted tomatoes.
  5. Finally, add chicken stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer for 10-12 minutes until potatoes are tender.
  6. Serve with shredded cheese, sour cream and tortilla chips and fresh cilantro if desired.

What do you reach for first when the season turns?  What do you crave when it starts to get cold?

White Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bread

Admittedly, I come out of Labor Day weekend every year whining and moaning a bit.  I LOVE summer and am so SAD that it is over.  Here in Chicagoland, the Fall chill has already started.  This picture was taken this morning:

I have a love/hate relationship with this tree.  Twice a day I pass this tree to take my daughter to school and pick her up.  It is the same tree every year that starts to turn so early.  Just a couple of leaves on the top taunt me saying, “Say goodbye to summer, fall is already on its way!!”

But.  When I finally concede that summer is over, I really do love Fall.  I do!  The leaves changing in our area are truly beautiful and I enjoy cooler temperatures, wearing sweaters and scarves and sitting by the fireplace.  Living in south Florida for two years had me answering the common question “How can you handle living in that COLD?” to which I always replied “the same way you handle living in the oppressive heat of summer–inside!”

What I actually like about the cold, however, is that it gives you a good reason to slow down.  It gives you an excuse to snuggle up to a great movie or bundle under blankets and read a great book.  When I lived in Florida I felt like I didn’t have enough down time because my Midwest mentality says if the sun is shining, you better be outside taking advantage!

Fall means pumpkin spice for a lot of people.   I don’t really jump on board with pumpkin spice in my coffee.  But!  I will take a delicious slice of White Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bread with my coffee, thank you very much!  What a tasty way to ring in the new season!

If you would like the see the recipe and how to make it, hop over to Hannah’s blog alifetransformedblog.com!  Full details on how to make it (along with the recipe!) are at A Life Transformed today.


Create Community: Enjoy Nature

Welcome to Fall and welcome back to our Create Community series.  This week we are talking about Enjoying Nature where you live.  If you missed our previous posts, be sure to check them out here:

Create Community for Yourself

Place Attachment

Walk More

Buy Local

Be a Good Neighbor

Do Something Fun

Let’s be honest, it is so easy to love where you live if it looks like this:

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Or maybe this:

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I have had the opportunity to live a lot of places and with varying climates.  Climate seems to be a BIG deal for me.  Living most of my life in the Midwest, I am very accustomed to the four seasons.  I did, however, live 2 years in Honduras as well as 2 years in south Florida where there are really only about 2 seasons: HOT and a-little-bit-cooler-than-hot.  There are reasons we take vacations in places that have weather very different from where we live.  It is refreshing and new and feels so good to get out of our norm.

When I grew up in Indiana, everyone complained about the grey winters (and they are pretty grey).  Living in Chicago, everyone complained about the bitter cold winters (again, pretty bitter cold, but much sunnier than east of Lake Michigan).  Hondurans and Floridians complained about their rain and heat.  All of these things are true.  A good family friend once said, “If everyone would stop complaining about the cold in Michigan, get the right coat and hat, you would actually LOVE living here!  There is just SO MUCH to do here, all year long!”

His enthusiasm caught my attention and he is completely right: Even south Floridians would enjoy the cold of winter if they had the proper gear.  Skiing and snow boarding, tubing, ice skating, snowmobiling, maybe even just hiking.  There is something almost sacred about the quiet that comes in the first blanketing snow of the winter season.  Conversely, Midwesterners could learn to appreciate the Florida summer heat once their blood thins a bit and then they have access to water almost everywhere.

Now keep in mind this is coming from someone who isn’t truly considered the outdoorsy type.  However, I grew up skiing and the exhilaration of standing at the top of a mountain is pretty incredible.  As an adult I’ve come to realize how the simple gift of fresh air can bring a new perspective on a particularly stressful or frustrating day.

“Studies have shown that spending time in green space improves immune function, lowers blood glucose levels in diabetics, boosts cognitive functioning and concentration, lengthens attention span and strengthens impulse control.  On the flip side, Dutch researchers have found that people who spend less time in nature have higher rates of cardiovascular disease, back pain, migraines, upper respiratory infections, urinary tract infections and more symptoms of ADD/ADHD.  Pulse rates and blood pressure soar along with their stress and anxiety.  They’re more likely to be clinically depressed.”

Warnick in her book found that in addition, green space builds social cohesion, the companion to place attachment.  It is what helps create the environment needed to live in the neighborhoods we hope to live in: friendly, inviting, welcoming.  There seem to be a better sense of community among people who are surrounded by green spaces and nature.

Another component which I haven’t mentioned yet is our access to water.  I was fortunate enough to grow up very near Lake Michigan (Indiana, Michigan and now Chicago).  My apartment in downtown Chicago actually had a view of the lake (if I craned my neck and smashed my face against the window).  But, when I got outside it was just a short two blocks walk to feel and smell the lake.  Standing at this exact spot at Fullerton and Lakeshore Drive in Chicago and I vividly remember thinking, “Is it possible to fall in love with a place?”

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What I really loved was the hustle and bustle of the city AND the proximity to Lake Michigan.  If you have been reading here for any length of time, you know my affection for Lake Michigan.  But I think I really realized how much I need to be near water when I moved to Tegucigalpa, Honduras.  It is the capital city in the center of the country, hours from the oceans that touch each side.  Not only that, it is a city in the valley between mountains, so much so that you have to get special certification to land an airplane in the Tegucigalpa airport.  After living there a while (my whole stay was two years), I realized how much I was missing water.  We did make it to the coasts in Honduras and other central American countries which brought much peace for me but I never realized how much I missed it until I didn’t have easy access.

Where you grow up often determines where you will settle.  Of people who grew up on the coast, 73% later settle in a coastal area; 63% who grew up among forests settled in a similar landscape.  The nostalgia of where we grew up seems to draw us again when we settle.  It might not be the same town but might have the same landscape.  Enjoying nature where we live can give us that familiar echo of home.

Try looking at your town in a new light.  What about the green space do you notice?  Are the local parks beautifully landscaped?  Do you have walking/biking trails?  How is nature highlighted where you live?  Be sure to take some photos and share them using #createmycommunity.

Action Steps

  1. If you have kids, make it a goal to visit all the parks in your town.  It is a fun way to explore hidden pockets you wouldn’t otherwise know about.  If you don’t have kids (or dogs), grab a book or your coffee and just go sit at a bench and enjoy being outside.  Leave your phone behind!
  2. Check to see if your town has a local nature center.  They can give you information about trees, plants and flowers that grow in your area as well as wildlife.  Ours has hands-on activities for kids,  a preschool, rooftop garden, outdoor amphitheater, walking trails and they even sell local honey!
  3. This should be obvious, but take care of where you live.  Pick up trash and be diligent about not leaving behind garbage when visiting a local park.  Every outdoor space is only as good as the people who take care of it.

Create Community: Do Something Fun

We return to our Create Community series this week with the topic of Doing Something FUN!!  If you missed our previous posts, check them out here:

Create Community for Yourself

Place Attachment

Walk More

Buy Local

Be a Good Neighbor

The concept of doing something fun seems so easy but when you are new to an area (or have been doing the same thing for a decade) in your town, it might feel a little harder.  And of course, the concept of fun is certainly subjective.  The writer Emily St. John Mendel noted, “Edmund Wilson once wrote that no two people ever read the same book and I’ve come to believe that no two people ever live in the same city.”

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Think about how cities have branded themselves (usually with the strategies of companies to highlight the best of what the town has to offer).  You know a few of them: Pure Michigan has become the alluring slogan for all the lakefront views all over Michigan.  And you know the one from Vegas: “What happens here stays here.”  If you live in one of these, you might not agree or even like these slogans, but they have certainly drawn people to both of these examples.

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Warnick discovered in her research that a town is what you think it is.  Even if it isn’t as glamorous as the bigger/better town next door, you can rebrand your town even if only in your own mind.  She found a study done in 2008 by Gallup and the nonprofit Knight foundation called “Soul of the Community.”  They talked to adults in 26 cities to determine how emotionally attached they were to their communities and why they felt that way.  Polling was done in cities of varying sizes from one million down to less than 20,000.

What their study found was very interesting.  It wasn’t the good schools, affordable housing and safety (what most realtors use to sell you a new home) that created the strong sense of place attachment.  The three qualities that created the strongest sense of place attachment and place satisfaction?  Social offerings, aesthetics and openness.  When citizens feel like there are lots of things to do, it is beautiful to look at and welcomes all kinds of people, they are deeply attached to it.  Secondly, the more attached they were to their cities, the better the city did economically.

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So, if you have things in your town you enjoy doing (maybe even on a regular basis), it creates a sense of attachment to where you live.  If you don’t love where you live, consider investigating some new things in your town that you haven’t experienced before.  Maybe use Google to help you identify what are your town’s strengths.  Not every town is good at everything, but your town is certainly good at something.  Make it your mission to find out what they are.

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Warnick admittedly is not a sports fan.  At all.  But someone suggested to her she attend the local university football game.  I loved her thoughts on this, “In all these ways–intense loyalty, the group identity, the sense of ownership–sports fandom is oddly reminiscent of place attachment…This experiment helped me see the very real link between rooting for your hometown sports team and rooting for your hometown…They do it because they love their city and the team’s victory is the city’s victory.”

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Lastly, if you are still struggling to find things to do, create your own.  Find a local park and find a new routine there.  Pack a lunch.  Read a book.  Enjoy a hike.  Try one new local restaurant this month.  Maybe even consider attending the local football game.  Ultimately, your place attachment has everything to do with the positive memories you have in your town.  So do something fun!


  1. Try to make a list of 10 local sites, historic landmarks, tourist attractions, parks, museums, statues and events.  Use Google or even Facebook to help you find some in your area if you need help.
  2. Inquire about any local festivals as they offer a great sense of community pride.  When you are shopping local, ask the shop owners if they are aware of special events.  Often they have a better awareness of the goings-on in your area.
  3. Even if you are still struggling, do what you love where you live.  Runner?  Find a local half-marathon.  Home chef?  See if any of the local shops offer cooking classes.  Book worm?  See if the book store offers book club and author events.

Should you decide to try a few new things, please use #createmycommunity so we can see what new activities you are enjoying!


Creature Comforts: September 2017

Happy September everyone!  Hope you had a great Labor Day with your family.  We had all kinds of fun at a local amusement park, a day in the city and family time.  It was a great way to end the summer.  If you follow me on Instagram, you know I even tried to sneak in a little reading too.

Our Creature Comforts series continues and I wanted to share a little about some fun things that I tried or enjoyed this month.  For our previous post in the series, click here.

Garlic Shrimp in Coconut Milk, Tomatoes and Cilantro is a quick stew cooked in a light, tomato coconut broth with a hint of lime and cilantro. Simple enough to make for a weekday dinner yet sophisticated enough to serve to company. Serve with a little brown basmati rice to soak up the delicious broth.

ONE// SkinnyTaste Garlic Shrimp in Coconut Milk, Tomatoes and Cilantro

My love for trying new things is great when I want my kids to have the ability to eat foods other than PB&J and macaroni.  But, sometimes trying new dinners on a weeknight can be disastrous when it takes 30% longer because you are just learning how the meal is supposed to come together.  YOU GUYS.  This meal took about 15 minutes to put together, the hardest part was cooking the rice.  If you have a rice cooker this meal is so quick.  Healthy, easy and so tasty it is PERFECT for a weeknight meal.  Quick tip: Make sure you choose shrimp that have already been peeled and deveined for quicker assembly.

If you are wondering, you cannot taste the coconut milk at all, it just gives it a creaminess without using cream.  We loved it because it is warming (perfect for Fall and Winter) but also light (so great for Spring and Summer as well!).  If you need nutrition values, click the link above, SkinnyTaste always provides them as well as WeightWatcher Points if that’s your thing.  (This is also gluten free, paleo and Whole30 approved!!!)


TWO//  Book Darts

I do believe this puts me firmly in the book nerd category #sorrynotsorry.  These are tiny brass “arrows” that point to the exact quote or paragraph you want to remember or refer back to in your next discussion.  I think I’ve sold my whole book club on how great they are!  They are super slim and don’t mark your pages at all.  Using them for only a couple of months,  I feel as if I might need to purchase a ton of them to highlight all my favorite books!  In this set you get 50 darts for $12.

Revlon Matte Balm, Sultrysource

THREE//  Revlon Matte Balm

This is one of those things that I grabbed on a whim and have been so glad to have it in my bag.  It has great pink color and I really like the matte finish.  The color sultry is my favorite color, but there are lots of choices.  And, at this price point, you can choose all different styles.  It feels so moisturizing and even comes in a variety of finishes (matte, glossy, etc).


FOUR//  The Outside Boy by Jeanine Cummins

This book was given and recommended by a friend and have really been enjoying it!  It is the story of a young Irish gypsy boy in the 1950’s.  When his grandfather dies, his universe shifts a bit.  He likes the mobile life he lives with his family, but his father puts him in school to finish his holy communion.  Only about 100 pages in, I’m enthralled by this boy and the life his family leads.  If you love historical fiction, check it out.  Expect to see a review soon!


FIVE//  Who What Wear brand at Target

Have you heard that Target is phasing out the Merona and Mossimo brands??  A sales associate tell me so I don’t have official confirmation from the company, however, they seem to be making up for it by launching new lines and this newest one has me very intrigued.  Found this summer when wandering with a friend, I was impressed by the cute styles and really good prices.  This particular dress above is less than $35!  The cute blouses and skirts are what originally caught my eye but they also seem to have some more casual pieces as well.

Nike Kids' Revolution 3 Running Shoe Toddler Shoesource

SIX//  Famous Footwear

Back to School shopping is always fun for me.  The former teacher in me loves all of it.  But, when I was traipsing all over town to find my kids new shoes I was NOT a happy camper.  I wanted them measured so I could make sure they were wearing the right size and frankly I wanted them to be happy with the look and feel of the shoes before I purchased.  Our outdoor mall had ONE store  that sold kids shoes and their selection wasn’t big enough to cover all of our needs.  (Not Macys?  Not DSW??  Nope.  They don’t sell kids shoes.  What???)

Anyway, while in Famous Footwear the sales associate told me their deal (Buy One Get One 50% off is good in store and online…and even a combo if needed!!)  That deal even includes sales and clearance!  They had tennis shoes for my kids but not dress shoes in store for my daughter and she said they would honor the deal part online and part in store!  And, if you buy online, you get an additional 15% off and free shipping on orders over $75!  If that weren’t already a great deal, you can ship free to your local store (if you don’t have a $75 order) and return all orders in store if they don’t work out.

This was totally a good deal for me.  We measured them in store, then ordered multiple choices online.  We got all the shoes we needed, returned the ones we didn’t and everyone is set for school.  You might be surprised all the brands they offer so be sure to check them out!

What have you been loving lately?  I would love to hear if you have tried any of these products!


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Create Community: Be a good neighbor

The concept of a neighborhood has come to have an almost romantic feel for me.  My husband and I grew up in neighborhoods that ran into each other and both of us had what I would consider an ideal situation: lots of kids, friendly people and a lot of opportunities for pleasant social interaction.  In my neighborhood alone, we had a welcoming committee, Christmas cookie exchanges, a Memorial Day parade where we decorated our bikes and followed a fire truck up to the neighborhood pool and then celebrated the holiday with a carnival in the parking lot.  Oh, and we walked to school with all the kids on our street.  It felt almost…like Leave it to Beaver.

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When we bought our first home, I had so many dreams of what I hoped for in a house.  We were expecting our first child and I couldn’t wait to see what friendships our kids were going to make just a few doors down.  But a few months later, I still had yet to meet a single neighbor.  Thankfully, one evening this very kind woman walking her baby in a stroller crossed the street and introduced herself to me.  I was so grateful for her taking the initiative.  Less than a week later her husband walked over with a baby gift for our new little one.

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Neighbors used to be the first people you would befriend.  In the 1950s, 44 percent of neighbors socialized at least once a week.  Think parties, picnics, poker games and potlucks.  By 1971, it had dwindled to 24 percent and that number continues to plummet.  The internet certainly continues to claim to connect us and yet we are more disconnected than ever.  As a result, most Americans barely know a few neighbors by name and 28 percent know no one at all.

Those of us with children or pets have a built-in conversation starter.  But, if you don’t have those or truly get hives from initiating conversation, you might have a hard time meeting your neighbors.  Can you imagine, though, the benefit of wonderful neighbors??  Now, that lovely woman who introduced herself to me ultimately became a wonderful friend.  Our kids enjoy playing together and I am so thankful for her introducing herself to me.  We have since met some others who are more than just kind.  They let us borrow weed trimmers and ladders and even offer to help us plant our new bushes.  We celebrate birthdays and anniversaries together and consider them close friends.

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If you have been reading here for any length of time, you know I was captivated by the book The Turquoise Table.  (Read my review here.)  Kristen Schell was tired of not knowing her neighbors so she decided to DO something about it.  She set up a picnic table in her front yard and just started to do life out there: reading, homework, dinner, snack time, puzzles and book club.  People started to notice and she created an entire movement out of it.

Then I heard about Neighbor’s Table (clearly I have a thing with the table…) and it literally took my breath away.  Sarah was new to Dallas, didn’t know a soul and wasn’t exactly sure how to meet people.  She knew she loved entertaining so she set up a table in her backyard and set a goal to invite 500 people to her table in one year.  FIVE HUNDRED.  She invited people she knew and people she didn’t.  To date, her website states she has hosted over 2500 people.

Community is made up of people who know and care about each other.  When studying civic engagement, Warnick learned that choosing between adding 10 percent more cops on the streets or 10 percent more citizens knowing their neighbors’ first names, you should always choose the latter, it is better for crime prevention.  Think about it: you will call someone if their garage is open and you have a relationship with them.  When people care about those around them, we have a better shot at keeping crime down and place attachment high.

Do we live in a perfect neighborhood?  Definitely not.  But I’m hoping it’s a work in progress.  I am to blame too for just pulling in the garage and not engaging outside of my home.  We love our home, but more importantly, we love that we share it with the people around us.  Consider challenging yourself with a couple of actions steps below to get to know your neighbors better.

To catch up on the rest of my Create Community series, click here.

Action steps
  1. Be bold.  Wave to a neighbor you don’t know.  Say, “Can you please remind me of your name?” if they have told you before.  Make a note in your phone so you don’t forget.  Set a goal for yourself to meet at least two new neighbors before the end of next month.  Even if you have lived in your home for over a decade (or more!), there is probably someone you still don’t know.
  2. Celebrate national Good Neighbor Day on September 28.   Bake cookies or banana bread or invite people over for coffee.  My husband and I try to celebrate with our neighbors every year on the anniversary of the day we moved in to our home.  Nothing fancy, usually just a cookout.  It gives us a chance to tell our neighbors how much we appreciate them.
  3. If you see someone moving in, introduce yourself.  It is so nice to have a friendly face and a name to help you feel grounded in new territory.  Bring them a few takeout menus (you know you have a million).  And lend them your ladder when they need to borrow it.
  4. Need to get to know more and want a bigger bang for your buck?  A potluck is a great way.  Divide up everyone by last name and ask people to bring a dish to share.  Our park district will even provide road blocks, a climbing wall and kids train if you are throwing a block party.  My sister moved to a new neighborhood last year and hosted a neighborhood-wide Easter Egg hunt.  She also hosted a back-to-school party and will probably throw an end-of-school bash.  Too much?  Maybe just have a cocoa and cookies night and do an open house.  Like football or sports?  Host a tailgate (outside so there is little cleanup!).  If you are willing to host, so many more people are willing to jump in and participate or even help.  Someone just has to take the first step.  Let it be you.
  5. Finally, BE a good neighbor.  If you get someone else’s mail, take it as an opportunity to go meet that person.  Maybe bring their trash cans up to their house for them while you do yours.  Offer to help rake leaves or shovel the snow off driveways.  No one says you have to be best friends with your neighbors but everyone likes living next to a good neighbor.

If you decide to take any of these action steps, be sure to use #createmycommunity so we can celebrate with you!  Or, please share your ideas in the comments!

Greek Salad with Grilled Chicken

Do you ever do this?  Make a bunch of grilled chicken but feel at a loss for what to actually do with it?  Well, this very quickly assembled dinner is delicious!  Greek Salad with Grilled Chicken is a healthy, quick dinner that won’t leave you weighed down when you are finished.

One of the things that always helps is to quickly season the chicken before it goes on the grill.  Just a couple of spices and you can completely change the flavor of your entire meal.  You could also marinate your meat but sometimes I just want to sprinkle something and go.

My husband is in charge of the grill so while he does that I do the chopping.  Within just a few minutes I have all of dinner ready.  Though some of my kids are a little resistant to salad for a meal, they will eat nearly all of this separated onto their plates which makes it a win for me.

The other great part about this is that the marinade is also the dressing.  It simplifies everything and leaves you with fewer dishes to do.  To get started, preheat your grill.  Next, to a large bowl add olive oil, lemon, water, red wine vinegar, parsley, basil, garlic, oregano, salt and pepper.  Whisk these ingredients well and add half to the chicken in a zip top bag.  Reserve the remaining dressing for the salad.

Next, start to warm the grill as you just do a bit of chopping: chop up some Romaine lettuce, halve some cherry tomatoes, dice up an English cucumber (the long and skinny kind), slice a whole avocado, quarter a lemon and pull out a pint of feta cheese.

Place marinated chicken on the grill and discard marinade.  Grill until juices run clear and have good grill marks.  Be sure to let chicken rest for 5 minutes before cutting into it so juices can redistribute.  Slice chicken and add to salad.  Dress the salad and serve immediately.  Enjoy!

Greek Salad with Grilled Chicken

If you would like, add 1/3 c. chopped and pitted Kalamata olives.

Save RecipeSave Recipe


  • For the dressing/marinade
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 2 T. water
  • 2 T. red wine vinegar
  • 2 t. dried basil
  • 2 t. minced garlic
  • 1 t. dried oregano
  • 1 t. salt
  • fresh cracked black pepper
  • For the salad
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 4 c. Romaine lettuce, chopped
  • 1 large English cucumber, diced
  • 2 Roma tomatoes, diced
  • 1 avocado sliced
  • lemon wedges


  1. Mix all ingredients for the dressing in a large bowl and whisk well. Pour half into a zip top back with chicken breasts. Let marinate while the grill warms. Reserve remaining dressing for later.
  2. Chop Romaine lettuce and cucumbers, tomatoes and avocado and put on the salad.
  3. When chicken comes off the grill, let the meat rest for 5 minutes. Finally slice the meat and add to the salad. Pour remaining dressing over the top.

What is your go-to quick healthy dinner?  Do you have a favorite marinade or herb mix for chicken on the grill?

Sixty-Four Restaurant and Wine Bar: A Review

When your town gets a new restaurant, everyone gets pretty excited.  My actual address sits in a pretty small suburb of Chicago, (we have less than 75,000 and next door just about doubles that number) so we like to take advantage of all of its benefits.

Recently the downtown area has been adding quite a bit of new storefront, restaurants and more walkways along the water.  Downtown Naperville is already known for good shopping, restaurants and a beautiful Riverwalk with brick-lined paths along the water.  One of our favorite family activities is grabbing an ice cream cone and people-watching as it seems the entire town comes out on a beautiful night.

Basement goals

So, when we heard that there was a new wine bar in town we were excited to try it out.  Sixty Four Wine Bar is appropriately named because they offer 64 wines by the glass every day.  There are free-standing kiosks in the center of the restaurant and dispense a bit like soft drinks (though in a bit more glamorous machines).  You have the option of three pour sizes (and prices), a taste, a half glass and a full glass.  The variety of wines and price points was varied which was appreciated.  They do change their wines fairly frequently so you feel anxious to come back and try others.

We decided to start with an appetizer, Crispy Calamari with Spicy Thai Basil and Sweet Peppers.  I tend to think of calamari as greasy and not very flavorful but these were excellent.  I think the Thai flavors paired excellently and the calamari was perfectly cooked.

Next we ordered the cheese plate served with green apples, mango jam, blue cheese marshmallow and crackers.  We chose the Drunken Goat (Spain) and the Barber’s Reserve Cheddar (England).  Though everything tasted good, I wished the cheese had come out in much thicker slices or cubes so I could better taste the cheese.  Because it was so thin, I felt like it was hard to actually taste it.

Finally, we ordered the Angus Burger with Red Onion Chutney and Smoked Maple Cheddar Cheese.  (I’m so bummed I forgot a photo of this!)  This burger was excellent, perfectly cooked.  We split everything so we could try lots of different things.

Overall I really enjoyed the food and the wine was fun and interactive though I wasn’t overly excited by anything I tasted.  Because rose is so popular, there were a lot of choices for that and limited choices for other varietals.  I think this would be a fun place for Girls Night Out or Bridal Showers or Couples.  When searching for a great bottle of wine as a gift, I certainly will return for the selection alone.

To check out their menu and wine varieties visit their website here.

To see other restaurant reviews click here.


Create Community: Buy Local

Continuing our Create Community series, this week we will look at Buying Local.  If you missed our previous posts in the series, check them out here.

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Campaigns for buying local are fairly familiar to me, and I could easily see how buying local would invest money back into the place where I live.  However, I had never considered that it would further connect me to where I lived.

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Think for a moment about the last time you moved (even if that was just into the dorm in college).  Where did you go to get your towels and laundry detergent?  Did you run to Target or Walmart?  There certainly is the benefit of the comfort level with these stores.  Since many are laid out in the same way, you know exactly where to find the shower curtains and brooms.  Not to mention, when you go this route, it would probably be cheaper than a locally owned store.

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BUT, did you know that for every job at a “bottom price” chain (like Target and Walmart), it eliminates 1.4 jobs locally potentially closing those locally owned stores.  What initially seems like a potential job boom for a town slowly degrades the community’s wages and therefore its overall business success.

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(For example, Warnick cited a study that showed big-box retailers returning 14% of its earnings back to the local economy while the rest was shipped back to the faraway corporate offices.  In contrast, independent businesses can circulate 52% of the revenue locally.  In simpler terms, if you spend $25 at a local boutique, $14 of it will stay where you live.  At a big chain, only $3.50.)

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Warnick stated, “Cities that support local businesses have stronger personalities, and it’s easier to become attached to our city when we know exactly who and what it is.”  Just think about it: what is the allure of that quaint coffee shop in the little resort town?  You like it because it is different than Starbucks.  Why do you love the children’s boutique in the neighborly part of the city?  You love it because the gift you are buying your friend is special and unique and not something she’ll throw in her cart when she’s picking up a prescription.  What is it about the clothing store that you like better than Macy’s?  It brings you back because it is often better quality and the people who sell it to you care whether or not you buy something from them.

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Notice those words I mentioned: different, unique, quality, care, special.  You will pay a bit more for those things, but don’t you want those extras when you make purchases?  I don’t know many people who don’t like to get a great deal when they have the option.  There are reality shows about buying things for free with coupons!  But at what cost?  If we want to keep the quaint, quality stores around, we have to be willing to spend some money there.

Being honest, I am always hunting for the best deal.  I love a good sale and even still use online coupons.  But learning about this has challenged my thinking a bit.  So, I took an afternoon and went to buy a book.  In a bookstore that wasn’t a big chain.  I had to take a bit more time to learn the layout because it was new (and not familiar like another uniformed layout bookstore in town).  They didn’t even have both books I needed.  They found one, ordered the second and happily helped me look for my daughter’s lost shoe.  Though that last bit isn’t in their job description, I appreciated that they were willing to help out a complete stranger and new customer.

If where I buy can have an impact on how I feel about where I live, maybe I should consider my purchases a bit more.  Our culture is saturated with the idea of being efficient and pinching pennies.  However, I don’t want those decisions to ultimately hurt where I have chosen to raise my family.  So, family members, consider yourselves warned: you’ll probably all be getting books for Christmas.

Action Steps

  1.  Find one item you can buy locally and stick to it.  (Need some ideas?  How about books, kids birthday party gifts, housewarming gifts, baby/wedding gifts, Mother’s Day/Father’s Day?  Maybe find one or two stores in your area and try to do all your holiday shopping there.  Bonus: Sometimes they gift wrap for free!)
  2. Visit two local businesses and ask if they have any events (wine and cheese night at the boutique that sells home decor or birthday parties at the local toy shop).  Not only will you meet other locals, you’ll get to know the staff who could help you pick up your next gift.  When they know you better, they’ll help you buy a better gift.  Maybe even something for yourself.
  3. When you visit your next local business, look around and notice the difference between it and its chain counterpart.  If you’re feeling bold, tell the staff what you like or appreciate about their store.  Consider what you would miss if it wasn’t there anymore because it didn’t make enough money to stay.  Would you miss it?  If so, then you should be a patron there!Name three independent stores or restaurants in which you have fond memories.  What is it about these places that you love?  If you worked in or owned a locally owned business, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic in the comments!


Balsamic and Herb Pork Tenderloin

Hey!  I hope you had a great weekend.  We are back at school full time around here and it has been an adjustment, to say the least.  I think we all forgot what our days looked like when my oldest was in school all day.  Our little buddy was pretty bummed out to lose his playmate.  As with all things back to school, though, we are back to the grind of planning menus and schedules.  Balsamic and Herb Tenderloin is such a great and simple choice when you need to make something quick!

Pork tenderloin is the best kind of pork.  Well, except maybe bacon and that may just be a tie because bacon is from heaven.  I’m certain of it.  But, pork tenderloin is delicious and simple yet nice enough to serve to guests and easy to prepare.  This comes together so quickly that the hardest part is deciding what to have with it!

To prepare, add the following ingredients to a zip top bag: balsamic vinegar, olive oil, Dijon mustard, garlic, rosemary, thyme, sage, salt and pepper.  Squish around the bag to make certain all ingredients are well mixed.  Add the pork tenderloin and marinate for about 30 minutes.

Next, preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Remove meat from the marinade and discard marinade.  Season with salt and pepper and then heat a pan on the stove.  Sear pork on all sides (about 2 minutes).  Remove from pan and place in oven safe dish and finish in the oven for 15-20 minutes.  {I choose to move the pork to a new pan because the bottom of the pork gets too dark for my taste if I leave it in the pan from the stove.}

If you have a meat thermometer like this one, use it!  They are fairly inexpensive and you won’t regret having one at your next Thanksgiving dinner (for that reason alone it is worth the purchase!).  Perfect pork comes in at 140 degrees at the thickest part of the meat.  If you don’t like any pink, I would try no higher than 155 degrees.  After that, your meat will dry out and not taste as delicious as it could.

Yes, this meat did come all the way up to 140 degrees.

Let the meat rest for a good 5 minutes before slicing and serving.  We served this with steamed vegetables and roasted potatoes.  I hope you enjoy this as much as we do!  Also, worthy to note, my kids love this too!  Balsamic and Herb Pork Tenderloin is a great meal to add to your regular rotation.

Balsamic and Herb Pork Tenderloin
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  • 1/4 c. balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 c. olive oil
  • 2 t. Dijon mustard
  • 1 T. minced garlic
  • 1 T. fresh rosemary
  • 1 T. fresh thyme
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1/2 t. pepper
  • 2 1/2 lb. pork tenderloin


  1. Add all ingredients to a zip top bag. Let the pork marinate for about 30-60 minutes.
  2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  3. Remove from bag and discard marinade. Season with salt and pepper and sear pork (about 2 minutes each side). Remove from pan and add to oven safe dish.
  4. Finish cooking pork in oven for 15-20 minutes until meat thermometer reads 140 degrees internal temperature at the thickest part of the meat.
  5. Let pork rest 5 minutes before slicing.

If you are looking for some other recipes, check here.

All Over But the Shoutin’

All Over But the Shoutin’
by Rick Bragg


Genre: Memoir

Summary:  Rick Bragg is a celebrated author and former journalist for the New York Times.  He is even a Pulitzer Prize winner.  But Bragg didn’t always live a glamorous life.  In fact, he came from a very poor area of Alabama, was a son of an alcoholic father and was raised by a hard-working mother that would often go without so he and his two brothers would have enough to eat.  This book was written to honor his mother.  “Maybe, if I tell it right, she will live again in these pages, that all the things she could have shared about who we are, who I am, will not be so badly missed.  I like to believe that.”

Bragg’s account is such a great example of why I love memoir.  His sparse language takes out all of the over-dramatization of his tough upbringing and yet gives it enough weight to feel the oppression of his poverty.  Bragg is unapologetic about his successes, but equally as resistant to self-glorification.  One of our book club member said he seemed so humble about his success, he was almost self-righteous about it.

In his words, “This is not an important book.  It is only the story of a strong woman, a tortured man and three sons who lived hemmed in by thin cotton and ragged history in northeastern Alabama.  Anyone could tell it, anyone with a daddy who let his finer nature slip away from him during an icebound war in Korea, who allowed the devil inside him to come grinnin’ out every time a sip of whiskey trickled in, who finally just abandoned his young wife and sons to the pity of their kin and to the well-meaning neighbors who came bearing boxes of throwaway clothes.”

One of the most fascinating aspects of the book for me was his exploration of the relationship with his father.  Though Bragg was angry to have lost his father to alcoholism, he seemed to never hold the man himself in much contempt. His analysis of what traits of his father were passed on to the three boys was also interesting.  I think it was Bragg’s very honest and transparent analysis of his own qualities that made him all the more endearing to me.

Bragg said of his brother Sam: “Sometimes I wonder what will happen if Sam and I are called to stand before Saint Peter on the same day, and my sins include everything from trifling with loose women to sleeping in church, and Sam just says, ‘Well, Pete, once I did fish on a Sunday.'”

Finally, Bragg’s use of language was fresh and almost sizzling.  His use of words and descriptions were among some of the best I have read.  Some of the people he encountered when on the job were fascinating.  I have said before (though maybe not here just yet), that a book’s rating will be decided by simply how it makes me feel.  This book was funny in the descriptions of southern life.  It was heart-wrenching as Bragg told of poverty, the loss of his father and trying to use his craft to get out of town.  He covered heart-breaking stories.  But above all these, the whole book was written to honor his “Momma,” as she was adoringly called.  His conversational style and highest regard for Momma made me fall for this beautiful, southern story.

To read other book reviews, click here.

What is your favorite memoir?  Does it matter to you how a book makes you feel?  Which book has drawn the strongest reaction from you?


Create Community: Walk More

Welcome back, friends, to our Create Community series.  The last two weeks (here and here), we discussed the challenge of creating community for yourself when you become an adult.  When we were kids, our parents chose our community for us: the neighborhood we lived in, the school we went to, sports teams, fine arts events, play groups.  Secondly, we talked about place attachment, the term author Melody Warnick used in this book to describe people’s sense of connection to their community.

In Warnick’s research, she discovered that there were ten common actions that we could actually do to help us create a deeper sense of place attachment where we live.  Each week we will dive deeper into each of them.

1.  Walk more
2.  Buy local
3.  Get to know my neighbors
4.  Do fun stuff
5.  Explore nature
6.  Volunteer
7.  Eat local
8.  Become more political
9.  Create something new
10.  Stay loyal through hard times
Let’s dive right in!

Walk More

Do you ever just take a walk around your neighborhood?  Do you ever bike to run errands?  If you have a dog you need to take out, I’m certain you have a better sense of your neighborhood than most of its residents.  Warnick learned that you have a much better sense of place when you actually put on your shoes and walk around where you live.  This might even mean walk to the nearest shop, gas station or market.

When exploring a new town, most people try to learn the area in their car.  This certainly is the most time-efficient way, yet research shows that our mental maps are significantly more accurate when we walk or bike.  Years ago when I lived in downtown Chicago, I was always amazed by the people who seemed to be born on the city streets because they knew them so well.  I’m not completely directionally hopeless, but it seemed to come so much easier to them.  Thinking about it now, they biked to work.  Walking (or bussing) the four blocks to my job made me an expert at the few blocks surrounding home and work, but downtown?  I was pretty lost.

Of course, the more you walk over periods of time, the better your mental framework of your own local map.  Not only do you know street names and chain restaurants, you have memories attached.  “This park is where my toddler took her first steps!  That field is where I took my dog to play catch the first time!  That office is where we signed the papers to own our home!”  I loved this quote by Warnick: “Each jolt of memory becomes a geolocation marker that we press into our mental map of where we live.  Little by little, we pin ourselves into place.”

Warnick interviewed a Raleigh, North Carolina resident who was shocked at how few people walked in his area so he started “Walk Raleigh”.  His semester abroad in Copenhagen inspired a new way of thinking and he set out to bring this new way of life to Raleigh.  He created signs sharing all sorts of landmarks and how long it would take to walk there.  When asked if walking matters, he responded, “Absolutely.  I think that it helps people discover the character of where they live and why they like it.  Otherwise it’s a faceless kind of experience.  You don’t come in contact with anybody.  Even having the comfort of being social and being around other people is so healthy.  It’s fun to walk down the street and say hi to people.”

Action Steps
  Sit down with a piece of paper and draw from memory your neighborhood.  Be as detailed as possible.  If you’re struggling, go for a slow walk with eyes wide open and try again.
2. Consider trying to run one of your errands by walking or biking.  Even better, permanently make this change a part of your routine.
3.  Does your town have a local walking tour?  (Mine doesn’t, it is a bit too small.  The neighboring suburb does, however.)  Consider trying it out and if not, check out some of the landmarks within the park district and see if you could create your own.
4.  If you are moving or planning to move, consider the Walk Score for your town.  WalkScore.com uses Google Maps to give a score for its walkability.  If you are walking distance to a bank, coffee shop, grocery store, you earn points.  The higher the score, the more likely you will be able to bike/walk to live in your community.  (Note: Parts of New York City and San Francisco are as high as 99 out of 100, where I live, a 33.)

Wow, if you have stuck with me to the end you are either my mom (hi, Mom) or dedicated to loving where you live!  Be sure to take pictures of some of your favorite things about where you live (on a walk of course!) and share with #createmycommunity.  I can’t wait to see what you share!


Greek Turkey Burgers

Turkey Burgers are not something I would ever choose on a menu.  I find them to be dry.  Bland.  But Greek Turkey Burgers, that is another thing entirely.

I’m not sure I had even tasted a turkey burger before marrying my husband.  But he convinced me that when you are craving a burger, sometimes a turkey burger can satisfy the craving for a lot less calories.  Adding the spinach didn’t get me all that excited at first but I also discovered later it adds some moisture to the meat.  And the burger has feta cheese.  Everything tastes better with feta cheese.  The lemon yogurt sauce on top makes this burger perfection.  To me, it just tastes like summer.

First, take your refrigerated ground turkey meat (I find room temperature makes it fall apart a little more) and frozen spinach, feta cheese, and dried oregano, dill, cumin, salt and pepper to a bowl.  Gently mix ingredients together until just combined.  Divide into four equal patties.  {Note: Sometimes I double this recipe and freeze the other half for next time.}

Lightly oil grill before placing burgers over medium heat.  Grill burgers 4-5 minutes per side until juices start to run clear.  Be sure to grill your buns so they are golden and crispy!

While the burgers cook, mix up the lemon yogurt sauce.  In small bowl, mix plain Greek yogurt, lemon juice, lemon zest, dill, salt and pepper.  Keep in refrigerator until serving.

Finally, when the burgers are ready, start to assemble.  Place burger on grilled buns and top with lettuce, tomato, red onion and even cucumber!  Slather top bun with Lemon Yogurt sauce.  Greek Turkey Burgers with Lemon Yogurt sauce are a light and refreshing meal that is healthy, satisfying and a perfect meal to enjoy during the summer!

If you are looking for something to make as an easy side dish, consider making this!


Greek Turkey Burgers
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  • 1 lb. ground turkey, cold not room temperature
  • 1/2 c. frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
  • 3/4 c. feta cheese, crumbled
  • 3/4 t. dried dill
  • 1 t. cumin
  • 1 t. black pepper
  • 1/2 t. sea salt
  • Lemon Yogurt Sauce
  • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 T. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 t. lemon zest
  • 1 t. dried dill
  • 1 t. black pepper
  • 1/2 t. sea salt
  • lettuce
  • tomato
  • red onion
  • cucumber


  1. In a large bowl, mix ground turkey, spinach, feta cheese, oregano, dill, cumin, salt and pepper gently until just combined. Separate into four patties
  2. Lightly oil grill and add burgers, grilling 4-5 minutes per side until juices run clear. Be sure to grill buns at the end.
  3. While burgers cook, mix up greek yogurt, lemon juice, lemon zest, dill, salt and pepper. Keep refrigerated until ready to eat.
  4. Add burgers to grilled buns, top with lettuce, tomato, red onion and cucumber and slather Lemon Yogurt sauce on top.

Please share your photos and comments when you try this Greek Turkey Burger recipe!

Rhinestone Jesus

Rhinestone Jesus
Saying Yes to God when sparkly, safe faith is no longer enough
by Kristen Welch


Genre: Nonfiction, Christian living

Summary: Kristen Welch, a native Texan and blogger at We Are THAT Family, agreed to take a trip to Kenya with Compassion International to highlight the work the organization is doing there.  It was on that trip, sitting in the slums, surrounded by raw sewage, starving children and families that Kristen’s heart shattered.  She asked God why He would allow this to happen to his people and God responded with the same question to her, “Why would you allow this, Kristen?”  In that moment she decided she must do something but had no idea what that would look like.

This book is Kristen’s story of how she, along with her family (as well as many Kenyan natives) started Mercy House, a place for pregnant girls to live, learn a trade, finish school and have a fighting chance at not only surviving but thriving in their community.  It is Kristen’s story of her struggle with learning business, starting a non-profit here and overseas, and battling her own feelings of insufficiency and lack of training.

Sharing her fears, dreams, stumbling blocks and frustrations along the way, Kristen challenged her readers to remember that many women tell her they could never do what she does because they are “just a mom”.  She used this book to show that she feels exactly the same way, it was completely God who led her and He is the One making all of the success happen.  Kristen often encouraged readers to continue to dream big because when we come to the point that we know we can’t, that is the place that God can and then He will get all the glory.

Finally, I loved the story of Kristen sharing how she is living a true deep relationship with Christ now.  She credits it to what she calls “living scared.”  It has allowed her family to trust Christ more, take more risks, live more generously, have better perspective and therefore get to see more miracles.  “Whenever I’m down in the dumps and whining about the obstacles, I’m almost always reminded that if it were easy, I wouldn’t need God.  This work wouldn’t be miraculous and dependent on God if I had all the answers.  If I made it happen nice and neatly, I would get the glory, not Him.”

Kristen’s challenges were thought-provoking and inspiring for me.  In times when women (her intended audience) are feeling like what they do everyday (doing dishes, folding laundry) isn’t enough, she reaffirms their ministry of serving their family.  “Since the family is God’s means of telling His story, our goal is to build a strong family.”  And when we are feeling afraid of dreaming because of the hurdles that make it impossible, she encourages to dream even bigger.  For God’s glory alone.

“Why are God-sized dreams so compelling?  Because we powerfully experience God’s presence in our lives through them.  It’s not about destination.  It’s not what we will get if we complete the dream.  It’s about a relationship…The pursuit of any God-sized dream is ultimately about the pursuit of the One who placed it within you.  It’s like a homing beacon for your heart.”  –Holley Gerth

Have you ever done anything out of obedience or love of God that terrified you?    When did you feel the most dependent on God?  I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

To see other book reviews, click here.


Create Community: Place Attachment

In my very first blog post, I told you all about a place that I consider my Comfort Table.  I explained a bit about why I chose this place over my childhood home, though it is somewhat amusing that I feel more rooted to this place than where I grew up.

“A place belongs forever to whoever claims it hardest, remembers it most obsessively, wrenches it from itself, shapes it, renders it, loves it so radically that he remakes it in his own image.”               –Joan Didion

Certain memories are deeply embedded that solidify my Comfort Table as Michigan and not Indiana.  I have my opinions about why, but when I started to read this book, certain puzzle pieces came together.


Author Melody Warnick was known for picking up and leaving any place that lost its allure after the typical honeymoon stage.  She moved several times post-college, always drawn to the ideal of a clean slate.  Years later when she had packed up her husband and kids for yet another job (or clean slate), she suddenly realized she wasn’t really going to be all that different in each place.

Even though they had just moved to a small college town in Virginia from Austin, Texas, she had somehow already written this new home off as “not her forever home.”  Why was she always doing this?  Was it possible to love where she lived now?  “What started as This is the place! would be edged out over time by geographic FOMO, or fear of missing out, a vague dread that someplace better existed in the world and I didn’t live there.”

So Warnick started to do some research (she is a journalist after all) as to why people love where they live.  She uncovered a term that she used often in her book called place attachment which suggests the “affectionate,  almost familial connection that can form between us and where we live.”  She discovered that place attachment is a combination of emotion and belief with action and behavior.  If that was the case, it was possible to learn how to love her town by things she could do.

Vice President of the Knight Foundation Carol Coletta says, “The hundreds of actions taken every day by thousands of people living in a city or a community help determine the future of that community.  When I walk out my door and there’s a piece of trash, do I pick it up?  Do I plant flowers?  Do I say hello to people?  Do I walk?  Do I sit on my porch?  It sounds so small, but those are the things that have a lot to do with the quality of life in a city, and once you can get people doing those things and realizing the impact that collectively they have, that’s where the magic is.”

Hearing that, I evaluated my own experience.  I didn’t really consider myself part of a community until I bought my home.  Though, until then, I had only lived two years in one location.  I’m not sure I had taken the time to consider how I was a part of a community.  When I lived in downtown Chicago, I considered it home.  But cities are full of transient people.  Even if you stay, so many others are moving on: to the suburbs, another city or somewhere else.

Now living in the Chicago suburbs, I do love where I live.  But I would like to put myself to the challenge to connect myself to my community even more.  Please join me in this series as we challenge ourselves to learn more about our own individual communities.  If you are looking to move or settle for the first time, consider some these qualities and action steps in your future community.  If you are already settled, challenge yourself to learn new things about your community.  Next week we’ll learn the first few challenges (out of 10) to loving where you live.

What do you love about your community?  Is your place attachment strong or weak to your area?  I’d love to hear your comments below.

Perfect Crispy Grilled Wings

If I consider myself a dessert connoisseur (which I do), then my husband considers himself a connoisseur of chicken wings (which he does).  He has tried them every which way: grilled, fried, boneless, bone-in, dipped, seasoned, dry, sauced and broiled.  All of them.  Personally, I never knew there were so many ways to cook such a tiny piece of meat.  But, when you get married you learn all kinds of things.  Perfect Crispy Grilled Wings is one of the things he has perfected.

Asking my husband when he really likes to eat these wings his answer grows in excitement as he continues: “Oh, man I really love them right off the grill in the summer when it’s hot and gearing up for a Cubs game.  Oooh, but is there anything better than listening to the pregame for a Bears/Packers standoff and it’s getting chilly outside…trailing off…Agh!  But what about New Years Day!  All those college games all day and it is so fun pulling out the grill when it is freezing and…”  You see my point.  There simply is not a bad time to make these!

David’s choice: always grilled, never fried, bone-in, unsauced but seasoned with ranch on the side.  Let me share with you how he does it.

To make the marinade add fresh lime juice, water and beer to a plastic zip top bag.  Then add salt and pepper, Goya all-purpose seasoning and paprika.  Mix well.  Split the chicken wings and add to the marinade.  Keep in marinade for as long as possible, even a couple of hours.

Grill until wings are crispy and juicy, about 10 minutes each side.  Skin should be golden brown and juices run clear.

You could easily add these wings with this appetizer and have a pretty great menu going.  Add a cooler of drinks and you officially have a party on your hands!

And yes, this is also delicious with chicken legs as well.

Perfect Crispy Grilled Wings
Save RecipeSave Recipe


  • 3 lb. wings, separated
  • 1/4 c. fresh lime juice (could also use lemon)
  • 1/4 c. water or olive oil
  • 12 oz. bottle of beer (David's choice: always Miller Lite)
  • 1/2 T. Goya Adobo seasoning
  • 1/2 t. paprika
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 4-6 dashes of Tabasco or Louisiana hot sauce (optional)


  1. Cut all wings in half.
  2. In gallon Ziploc bag, add remaining ingredients and mix well. Add wings to marinade and leave as long as possible, up to 4 hours.
  3. Grill for about 10 minutes each side until wings are golden and crispy. Serve with blue cheese or ranch dressing.

How do you like your wings?  Do you consider yourself a connoisseur of something?  What one food could you eat year round and enjoy equally?

Creature Comforts: August 4, 2017

Happy Friday Friends!

Creature Comforts is a new series that will be coming out occasionally to share a few things that I am loving these days.  It could be products, articles or anything that I find that I think you might enjoy.

Cuisinart BFP-650 1 HP Blender/Food Processor, Silver
ONE/Cuisinart Blender/Food Processor
This was a gift that just keeps on giving.  I thought I would use this mostly for shakes and making crumbs for pies, but I have used this for so. many. things.  First, I used it to make baby food for all three of my kids.  Simpler (and bigger) than any other baby food processor.  Second, I use it weekly to make my Favorite Fresh Salsa.  (I told you I don’t buy store-bought anymore!)  Finally, I love the extra to-go cups for protein shakes or smoothies.  You can never go wrong with Cuisinart!


TWO/ Contigo Autoseal Travel Mug
Recently my favorite travel mug died.  And then our other one started to fall apart as well.  Because I use these multiple times a week, they get a lot of use.  I did not want a quick cheap travel mug.  Contigo gives a 100% leak-proof and spill-proof guarantee because you press to sip, release to seal.  Completely genuis and simple.

Homepage Tile Image

THREE/ The Turquoise Table collection
Did you know that this book is becoming a movement?  Author Kristin Schell invited people to start using #FrontYardPeople and reengage the people in their community.  Oh, and one more really fun thing?  You can buy some of her products at Tuesday Morning!  If you missed my review on this book, check it out here.  Be sure to also purchase your own copy!

FOUR/ NEW Halo Top Flavors!
Halo Top will be releasing 7 new flavors this month.  If you didn’t see my review of this low calorie, high-protein ice cream, you need to check it out here!  You know I am a dedicated researcher and certainly plan to do some thorough investigative reporting when this hits the shelves.

Eco Rolling Backpack

FIVE/ Garnet Hill backpacks
Being in the season of back to school shopping, I wanted to share a favorite around our house.  Our first Garnet Hill backpack purchase lasted through three full school years (as did the matching lunchbox).  That is worth the little extra cash if they last for three years!  The best part is that they come with a free matching lunchbox.  They have multiple sizes and styles and a wide variety of designs to make any kid happy.  They also have a snack bags and lunch containers to help keep you organized.

Hope you all enjoyed our first Creature Comforts post!  Let me know in the comments if you have tried any of these things.  I’d love to hear what you think!


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Cafe Navarre

Brunch is, hands down, my favorite meal of the day.  Sleeping in, throwing on something comfy and meandering over to the local cafe for endless cups of coffee, reliving memories of the weekend and fantastic food.  Add in your best friend that you don’t get to see very often and sitting on the patio in the summer?  You have the picture of my perfect day.

Traveler tip: If you happen to know people in the town you are visiting, throw out a request for their new favorite places to eat and drink.  The locals are the ones who know the best places.  Don’t know anyone in town?  Ask your barista when you stop for coffee or even someone next to you pumping gas.

When we heard about Cafe Navarre in South Bend, Indiana, we stopped in to peruse the menu for dinner but were told they actually serve brunch as well.  While I was checking out the menu, my friend (a designer) loved checking out their interior design and overall ambiance as she has redesigned a couple of restaurants in her area.  We both loved the high windows, bright natural light and fresh decor.  The brunch menu looked so good, we decided to return for brunch the next day.

Image result for cafe navarre south bend

Image result for cafe navarre south bend

We started with mimosas and the build-your-own Bloody Mary bar.  They had homemade pickled green beans, maple roasted thick cut bacon and all types of pickled veggies, meats and cheeses to add to your drink.  The toppings alone made this worth the trip.

Traveler Tip: If your travel partner is willing, order different items on the menu and share so that you can try multiple items from the menu.

We did decide to split, so I chose the carrot cake pancakes.  On a brunch day, you always need something sweet.  These were remarkably light, with a light cream cheese mixture in between each pancake.  They were served with warm maple syrup and toasted pecans.  Even though they were decadent, they were much lighter than I anticipated.  The sweetness, however, might have kept me from eating a full order so I was thankful to share.

My friend, to balance the sweetness, ordered Crab Benedict.  Our server said of everything on the menu, this was her absolute favorite.  {Of note, I very much appreciate how knowledgeable our server was of the menu.  She knew the menu but wasn’t pushy.}  Because this isn’t a chain, it helps to have the servers know the menu well.  In my head I expected a crab cake benedict, but instead got eggs Benedict with large chunks of lump crab meat.  It was so light and flavorful and even fresh tasting.

This brunch was so wonderful I can’t wait to go back for dinner.  Next time I hope to try the gnocchi, Navarre salad and salmon.  Their lunch menu also sounded fantastic: autumn turkey sandwich, green goddess salad (I almost took this one to go after brunch!!) and shrimp and grits.  I was so impressed that each menu, brunch, lunch and dinner, were all different and you could tell were carefully crafted.  Be sure to check out Cafe Navarre in your next visit to South Bend, Indiana!

For other reviews like this, click here.

What is your favorite meal of the day?  Where is your favorite place to have brunch?  What do you like to order when you are enjoying a lazy morning?

Isla Coco

Hello, everyone!  I hope you had a great weekend!  We were thankful to celebrate new babies and long-time far away friends.  We even were able to slip in some good family time making s’mores in the backyard in our outdoor fireplace.  Hope you all have been checking of those last few items on your bucket list!

One of my bucket list items is to enjoy a HOT summer.  Seems silly since I have no control over the weather, but summers are meant to be hot.  Thankfully, this summer has been a hot one and I have enjoyed every minute.  We have had a couple of summers in the past that barely break 75 degrees and it makes me so crabby!  When that happens, I don’t even want to put on the grill.  (Which is such a bummer because then we won’t have this!)  This is my favorite spot in the summer: hot sun, napping children, quiet, my book and a delicious, refreshing drink like this Isla Coco.

This drink is so refreshing and different from your average cold drink.  I love lemonade in the summer and that is nice and all.  But this, this is something different.  We actually had this drink on our honeymoon and I loved it instantly.  Often I describe it as the lighter version of a pina colada.  This non-alcoholic version only has two ingredients!

First, pour some of this cream of coconut into the bottom of a glass.

Add some ice, and then pour lemonade over top.  Stir well.

That’s it!  I do find that the cream of coconut does tend to settle when making this in a pitcher.  So, make a pitcher of lemonade and then just add the coconut for each glass.  If you are having a party, just put the coconut in a bunch of glasses ahead of time to prepare and then add ice and pour lemonade over the top.  Be sure to check out these Isla Cocos.  It wouldn’t be summer without them!  Hope you enjoy!

Serves One serving

Isla Coco

5 minPrep Time

5 minTotal Time

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  • 2 T. cream of coconut (per glass)
  • 8 oz. prepared lemonade
  • ice


  1. Pour cream of coconut in the bottom of a glass.
  2. Add ice, then pour lemonade over the top.
  3. Stir well and serve with a wedge of lemon for garnish.


Cream of coconut can be found with the other mix-ins in the same area as the hard alcohol. If you would like to serve this as an alcoholic beverage, it was originally served with gin, though you certainly could also use vodka. Finally, the cream of coconut does tend to settle so be sure to mix well and prepare each glass individually instead of in a pitcher.


Do you have a favorite summer drink?  What is something that you must have or make for it to be “officially” summer?  Share your favorites in the comments.


Creating community for yourself

When you are a kid, community is your way of life.  You don’t know any different.   It is made up of your family and extended family, neighborhood kids, kids from school, athletic teams and maybe even church or religious organizations.  You don’t need to create community for yourself because your parents do it for you.

Between the ages of 18 and 30, I moved 14 times.  Sometimes within the same town, but when you’re moving all that stuff, (and my Dad will tell you, I have a lot of stuff,) it doesn’t really matter.  A move is a move.  Not only is a move exhausting, but so is everything else: finding a new doctor/dentist/optometrist, the nearest bank location/pharmacy/hardware store, a favorite sports bar/pizza joint/brunch place and heaven forbid if we can’t find Target.  {If I’m house hunting and can’t find a Target within 15 minutes, I’m not moving there.  Period.}

Image result for we have all known the long loneliness and we have found that the answer is community

All of those things are annoying in the beginning, but they don’t take too long to figure out.  The hardest part?  Community.  How do you find that?  How do you know where your kind of people are going to hang out?  Do you just start wandering up to strangers in the grocery store and ask if they have all 10 seasons of Friends too?  Tap the shoulder of the patron next to you at the new sushi place and ask if they want to be friends?  Hold up a sign at Target like a limo driver that says “friend needed”?  Ok, so these things are ridiculous.  But it is so much harder in real life to make these connections.

There are places that create community in themselves: work, church, your neighborhood.  But, if you are an introvert, those scenarios cause more anxiety than comfort when hoping to build a life with people.  You long for your friendships from childhood or college and can’t seem to get past the reminiscing stage.  The good ‘ole days.  And then, you might become a mom a realize how isolated you feel.

Well, truthfully, I am an extrovert and I got tired of it too.  My husband and I had just bought our (probably) forever home and I had yet to meet one neighbor three months in.  A new baby, a new home and a new life demanded a new community.

When I began to think about it, what I really longed for was easily found.  It would certainly take time to develop, but drawing it to myself wasn’t going to be too difficult.  I didn’t need anything new or to be different than I was.  I just needed to utilize three key things to help me find it: my home, my kitchen and me.

Image result for home quote, maya angelou

“Each of us longs for a place to belong, a connection that gives roots to our wandering lives.  Our hearts hunger for a community where we are intimate members, a sense of belonging to people who love us.  Our souls crave a purpose bigger than our jobs, a connection to a sense of meaning.  We yearn to know that our own stories have significance in the grander scheme of God’s megastory.  All of these may be found in home–a place to belong, a people to be a part of, and a purpose where God’ righteousness and design are celebrated and cherished in community every day.” (Sally Clarkson in The Lifegiving Home: Creating a Place of Belonging and Becoming)

Lucky as I was to travel all over and have friends and family in every corner of the country (and globe for that matter), I didn’t seem to live near them.  Yes, when I was single and still teaching, I did travel to visit them.  But now that I was committed to staying put, I needed to recreate that group of people in my neck of the woods.  I desperately wanted to feel like I belonged to this community and belong to the people who were in it.

When I came across this book, I was (and am) completely content living where we do.  We have lived here for over six years and for the first time since my childhood home, I feel rooted.  And yet, I still feel there is work to do.  So I’m using this book as a challenge to myself to deepen my sense of community in our area.

This will be the beginning of my Create Community Series.  Maybe you are a newlywed or transplant to a new town because of your job.  Maybe you have lived in the same town for years but still don’t know some of your neighbors.  Either way, the relationships that you have with the people you live among directly affect your happiness in that location.  Join me as we explore ways to create community right where you are.

Have you moved a lot or have you stayed in the same area for years?  What are your favorite things to tell people about your community?  Can you name a couple of things about your town that makes you proud?  Please share your thoughts in the comments below!





Zucchini Tomato Bake

I hope you all had a great weekend!  I’m still trying to catch up on sleep from my Girls Weekend (which was perfect) and now I’m ready to jump back in with sharing some of my favorite recipes!  Enter: Zucchini Tomato Bake.  (If you would like to check out some of my other favorite summer recipes, stop over here.)

When I was visiting my parents a few weeks ago, I had the chance to go to the local farmer’s market in Holland, Michigan which is one of my favorite things to do in the summer.  It has grown to where college kids come play instruments and sing while locals wander the farm stands purchasing fresh fruits and veggies.  Also, the corner coffee shop posts up so you can grab a latte while wandering.  If you happen to linger too long, there are even food trucks selling food!  It is one of the highlights of summer for me.

While I was there, I was able to pick up some zucchini and summer squash.  This recipe has been a family favorite for a very long time.  This season is perfect for it because zucchini plants are exploding and offering lots of produce!  I know “zoodles” are the hot new thing, but check out this recipe.  You don’t need any special tools and it can be ready in under an hour!

First, slice zucchini and yellow squash into coins and layer into greased 9 x 13 glass pan.  Try to have similar size pieces so they all cook evenly.  I like the color of both, but if you only have zucchini, that is fine too.

Next, slice tomatoes and lay on top of the zucchini.  I believe these were Roma tomatoes, but beefsteak tomatoes would also be excellent.

Then sprinkle shredded cheddar cheese over the top.  In a separate bowl mix together milk, eggs, Bisquick, salt, cayenne pepper and black pepper.  Whisk until thoroughly mixed together and then pour over all in glass pan.

Bake at 350 degrees until cheese is golden on the edges and it is bubbling.

Zucchini Tomato Bake is light and delicious and a great way to serve veggies and use up the abundance from your garden.  We love to have this as a side at a cookout, but I have also served it as lighter option at brunch.  Be sure to give this dish a try,  I know you will love it!

Zucchini Tomato Bake

10 minPrep Time

45 minCook Time

55 minTotal Time

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  • 3 cups zucchini (or combination of zucchini/yellow squash), cut into coins
  • 3 cups tomatoes, sliced
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 c. milk
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 c. Bisquick
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1/4 t. cayenne
  • 1/8 t. pepper


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Slice zucchini into coins and layer into greased glass 9 x 13 pan. Top with tomatoes. Finish with cheddar cheese.
  3. In separate bowl, add remaining ingredients and briskly whisk until thoroughly combined. Pour over veggies and cheese.
  4. Bake for 45-50 minutes until cheese is golden and bubbling.
  5. Let cool slightly before serving.


Please don't leave out the cayenne pepper! I promise it isn't spicy at all, it just gives a slight peppery flavor.


How do you like to use up zucchini from your garden?  What other vegetables or fruit do you grow in abundance?

Black Bean, Mango and Shrimp Salad with Honey Lime Vinaigrette

Happy Friday Friends!  I hope you have enjoyed your week and have fun plans for the weekend.  I get to meet up with my longest friend and have some good catch-up time which I’m so excited about!  But before I duck out for shopping and good food, I wanted to share this Black Bean, Mango and Shrimp Salad with Honey Lime Vinaigrette.  I wanted to save this recipe for later, but it is just too good to wait!

So, I have made a discovery about myself: in the summer, I want bright, colorful food.  I love to walk through a farmer’s market and see all the fresh produce.  They say you eat with your eyes first, right?  All the colors together makes it look so delicious!  (For example, this.)

In my humble opinion, no salad is really all that great without dressing.  This one, is lick-your-fingers good!  Fresh lime juice and honey are shaken with red wine vinegar and ground chipotle powder for a little kick.  A few more spices and it is ready to go!  It is fresh, a little sweet, a little heat and it completely makes the salad.  Trust me on this one, you have to make your own dressing (this one takes just a minute or two I promise!).

First, let’s just do a little chopping: orange (or red) pepper, 2 mangos, cilantro, grape tomatoes and 2 ears of corn (uncooked, kernels removed).  Add all of these to a large bowl with rinsed and drained black beans.

Next, let’s make the dressing.  To a jar or bowl, add the honey, fresh lime juice, red wine vinegar, olive oil, chipotle powder, cumin, garlic powder, salt and pepper.  Finally, mince one small shallot and add to the dressing.  Because I didn’t want the shallot to have a strong flavor, adding it to the dressing mellows the flavor even more.  Shake well and let sit.  If you used a bowl, whisk well and let set for a few minutes while the flavors come together.

Lastly, let’s roast the shrimp.  Very lightly toss raw shrimp in 2 tablespoons of the dressing.  Lay on baking sheet covered in foil and roast for 8-10 minutes at 400 degrees.  They are done when they are curled, pink and opaque.  Remove from pan immediately and add to bowl with veggies.  Let cool and add remaining juices as well.  (My apologies for not getting a photo of this step!)

You can either serve this when the shrimp comes to room temperature or put in refrigerator for three hours.  Just before serving, toss all together with dressing and diced avocado.

As I sit here writing this I’m drooling just thinking about how perfect all these flavors are together.  My second (or maybe third) helping was today for lunch and I’m really wishing I’d just finished it.  You must run and make this as soon as possible!  Black Bean, Mango and Shrimp Salad with Honey Lime Vinaigrette is the perfect way to get the flavors of summer on your table.

Black Bean, Mango and Shrimp Salad with Honey Lime Vinaigrette
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  • 1 orange (or red) bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 mangoes, peeled and chopped
  • 2 ears of corn (uncooked), kernels removed
  • 1/2 c. chopped cilantro
  • 1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 avocado, chopped*
  • 16 oz. raw shrimp (peeled and deveined), 20-30 ct.
  • For the dressing:
  • 1/3 c. olive oil
  • 1 1/2 limes, juiced
  • 2 T. honey
  • 1 T. red wine vinegar
  • 1 small shallot, finely minced
  • 1/2-3/4 t. chipotle powder (1/2 is mild, 3/4 if you like a kick)
  • 3/4 t. ground cumin
  • 3/4 t. salt
  • 1/2 t. garlic powder
  • 1/4 t. pepper


  1. Start by chopping the pepper, tomatoes, mangoes, removing kernels from the corn and chopping the cilantro and adding to a large bowl. Drain and rinse the black beans and add to the chopped vegetables.
  2. Next, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Add all the dressing ingredients to a mason jar or separate bowl. Shake jar or whisk briskly and set aside.
  3. Line baking sheet with foil and gently toss shrimp with 2 T. of vinaigrette. Separate shrimp into single layer and roast in the oven from 8-10 minutes until shrimp are pink, curled and opaque. Remove from oven and add shrimp to bowl with vegetables. Pour juices in as well.
  4. When shrimp cool slightly, toss all with prepared dressing and a chopped avocado. Serve immediately.
  5. If preferred, chill in refrigerator for 3 hours.
  6. *Add dressing and avocado just before serving.


This was delicious on its own, but would be equally as good if you substituted the shrimp out with grilled chicken. I would use a bit of the dressing to marinate the chicken to give it the same flavor. Also, because of the citrus and acid in the dressing the avocado was still good the second day and dare I say even more delicious than the first. Hope you enjoy!


What are your favorite flavors of summer?  What is your favorite way to celebrate the season?  Be sure to share your thoughts below!





The Turquoise Table

The Turquoise Table:
Finding Community and Connection in Your Own Front Yard
by Kristin Schell

Product Detailssource

Genre: Nonfiction

Summary: Kristin Schell agreed to host a dinner party at the last minute for a friend (the host of the party) who had an unexpected conflict.  In a moment of panic, she ordered two picnic tables for additional seating and when the delivery truck arrived, they set the tables down in the front yard.  In that moment, she had a glimpse of what those simple tables could be.
After the party, she decided to leave the table in her front yard, paint it a festive color (Nifty Turquoise to be precise) and “just show up.”  This looked a little different everyday but included coffee after getting the kids on the bus, book clubs, craft projects, homework and even meals.  She used it as a tool to get to know her neighbors and now she is starting a revolution.  She is hoping people will join her by creating their own Turquoise Table.

My wonderful friend recommended this book to me after hearing the premise.  First, it is a beautiful book just for the cover alone, but also it is beautiful for its mission.  Schell was craving community with her neighbors but felt overwhelmed with her own schedule as well as her four children and family responsibilities.  She felt encouraged to be the one to start the community but had no idea how.

You see, Schell had experienced one of those uniquely French dinners.   Imagine a rustic table, festive atmosphere, guests that weren’t rushed to get anywhere and delicious yet very simple food to keep people at the table.  Oh, and she described boisterous discussions and LOTS of laughter.

Does that sound like dinner at your house on a Tuesday??  It certainly doesn’t look dinners at my house!  You might start to say this is Thanksgiving or Christmas at your house but do you worry about breaking someone’s china or cracking the crystal?  Schell felt lured to the simple.  To the festive.  To the people.  “I was a stranger in a foreign land, yet being at the table in France fed a basic need–a need every human shares–to belong.  The experience at the table was more than a meal; it was nourishment for my soul.”

In many little ways Schell just “showed up.”  She would bring her morning coffee outside instead of drinking inside.  If she saw anyone (dog walkers, runners, moms with strollers) she would offer a hello or offer for them to join her if the mood seemed right.  Often, the brightly hued table was enough of a conversation starter.  Once a friend called her asking if she could bring someone over to the table because her friend was new in town and wanting to meet people in the area.

Schell gave up early on the idea that she needed Pinterest, Southern Living or Martha Stewart to do this.  She knew she couldn’t keep up with that.  In the end it was the people that brought her to the table everyday.  Avoiding Instagram feeds that put the best of hosts to shame, she brings back the simplicity needed to welcome everyone in the true spirit of hospitality.

This book isn’t really a how-to or step-by-step of creating your own Front Yard Group, though there are little tidbits throughout that can help you do that.  It is more of Schell’s stories that resulted in simply showing up and sharing her table.  I really loved this book and though some ideas weren’t necessarily revolutionary, we needed to be reminded of them because of our hasty culture.  The Turquoise Table is a beautiful book celebrating the art of true hospitality.  I cannot wait to add this to my own personal collection and I think this would be particularly lovely as a gift.

“Listening is a form of spiritual hospitality by which you invite strangers to become friends, to get to know their inner selves more fully, and even dare to be silent with you.”   –Henri Nouwen

Who is the most hospitable person you know?  What about them makes them especially hospitable?  What is one thing you try to do to make your guests feel welcome?  Please share your thoughts below!


Spicy Asian Green Beans

When I am meal planning, getting ready to cook dinner or am considering what to bring to a potluck, I rarely think about sides.  Sometimes I think about a salad (pasta or green or maybe this one) but honestly not much beyond that.  Spicy Asian Green Beans changed all of that for me.

To keep it simple, I will focus on the side dish and do a “basic” main dish (like lightly seasoned grilled chicken or pork tenderloin).  That way I can spend my time focusing on our side dish.  Though these green beans are so simple, you should be able to just add it to your regular rotation!

I grew up on green beans and wax beans (the yellow ones), for special occasions (Thanksgiving or Christmas) but also in the summer.  My mom and grandmother would sit with a big bag and cut the ends off for what seemed like a long time.  When I started cooking for myself, I found the work to be not worth the effort for a small portion.  With this glaze, that work is worth it and now I’ve found a quick tip that takes out all of the prep!

First, you can now find trimmed and cleaned green beans in your produce section!  Usually you can find it in the same spot that you’d find prechopped veggies and colslaw mix.  Honestly, I don’t want to spend my time trimming beans for dinner.  So this find made this dish so much easier!  I can find this brand at my local grocery store, but I have also purchased some at Costco.   This brand even lets you steam in the bag! Hericot Verts is another name (in French) for thinner green beans and those are what I used in this recipe.

Pero Family Farms Snipped Green Beans Bag 12 oz

Simply add soy sauce, white vinegar, oil, garlic, brown sugar and red pepper flakes to a fry pan.  Bring to a boil and let it slightly thicken.  Pour over steamed green (and/or wax) beans.  With just a couple basic ingredients, you can turn a very simple side dish like Spicy Asian Green Beans into the star of your plate!

Spicy Asian Green Beans

These beans were also excellent the next day. I added them to a salad with grilled chicken, fresh tomato and light drizzle of olive oil and soy sauce. Also, you can find trimmed green beans in the produce section and I have even found them at Costco. They can also be called haricot verts which is French. Serve these when you have someone you need to impress 🙂

5 minPrep Time

5 minCook Time

10 minTotal Time

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  • 2 T. soy sauce
  • 2 T. white vinegar or rice wine vinegar
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 2 t. minced garlic
  • 1 t. brown sugar
  • 1/2 t. red pepper flakes
  • 1 lb. green beans, trimmed
  • toasted sesame seeds for garnish


  1. Add all ingredients to a fry pan and bring to a boil. Let thicken slightly. Pour over steamed green beans and serve with a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds.

Do you ever focus on sides?  What are your favorite side dishes?  What is your favorite way to eat green beans?

Halo Top: A Review

Happy Friday Friends!  Can you believe summer is half way over already??  It truly just makes me want to cry!  I love summer so much and so I’m trying to soak up as much as I can before it slips away.  Before things too emotional, let me cheer you up with a little known fact…this Sunday is National Ice Cream day.  No really!

One of the best parts of summer really is ice cream for me.  Oooh man I love ice cream.  But there is not much you can claim in the health department.  Dairy?  Fruit??  Ok, that might be pushing it, but I have a really, really nice alternative for you: Halo Top.  It is a low-calorie, high protein and low sugar ice cream.  Also, the ingredients are all natural!  But all of those things are not as exciting as that large number on the front of the pint: the calorie count for the entire pint!!!

Now, before you discredit this, let me say first:  I don’t like frozen yogurt.  I don’t like “light” ice cream.  It just isn’t creamy enough (frankly I feel like most of it tastes like its been sitting in the back of the freezer for months).  This was totally different.  They do recommend you let it warm up on the counter just a bit before eating to make it a bit creamier (which I would agree with).

I did try all six of the flavors above (17 flavors in all).
Well, you know, for research.

Other flavors include: Vanilla bean, Chocolate, Lemon Cake, Strawberry, Mint Chip, Chocolate Mocha Chip, Chocolate Cookie Dough, Peanut Butter Cup, S’mores, Black Cherry and Red Velvet.

My favorites?  Probably Oatmeal Cookie, Sea Salt Caramel and Chocolate Almond Crunch in that order.   When I go out for ice cream I always order something with lots of flavors together (peanut butter/chocolate, toffee/mocha, toasted coconut/chocolate).  So, I didn’t try any of their “classic” (vanilla bean/chocolate) flavors, but I look forward to trying them next time.

Overall, I thought this ice cream was creamy, flavorful and delicious.  I also found myself feeling satisfied before typical ice cream would.  There was one time when I finished the pint in one sitting….but it was only 280 calories!  My suggestion, the next time you are hosting some adult friends, buy a handful of these and add some toppings.  You’ll have a great sundae bar!  Now go get some ice cream!



Circling the Sun

Circling the Sun: A Novel
by Paula McClain


Genre: Historical fiction

Plot summary:  A fictionalized story of the real Beryl Markham, celebrated horse trainer (one of the first women recognized in Africa) as well as record-setting aviator.  Pursuing a new job opportunity, Beryl’s father brings the whole family from England to Kenya.  Not long after, her mother decides she cannot fathom staying in Kenya and returns to England with Beryl’s brother.  Though she is content in Kenya and staying with her father, she is baffled and deeply hurt over her mother’s departure.  Seeking out the motherly relationship she lacks, she finds it among the tribes that surround her father’s land.  She also finds great satisfaction in training horses with her father.
Battling loneliness and depression, her insecurities spin her into a long line of bad relationships.  Her nature seems to mirror the wildness of her surrounding Kenyan landscape.  Beryl’s refusal to be tamed makes her tough and perfect for the work and environment, but miserable in her relationships.

{If you would like to check out other book reviews or other book club selections, please look here!}

Beryl Markham was unknown to me before reading Circling the Sun: A Novel by Paula McClain.  (You might be familiar with Beryl’s friend, Karen Blixen, who wrote Out of Africa under the name Isak Denisen.  Out of Africa then became an award-winning film starring Robert Redford and Kathryn Hepburn.).  McClain’s descriptions of the beautiful, exotic Kenya were breathtaking.  She certainly can offer a wonderful sense of place.  Because it is so different than where (and when) we live, it is needed to guide the reader in understanding the nature of Beryl’s home and life.

Though much more rustic than England, it is unfathomable to me that Beryl’s mother would leave behind her child regardless of her own discomfort.  This happens in the beginning of the book (as well as the beginning of Beryl’s life, she wasn’t even 5) and from that moment, Beryl became wild and opinionated and stubborn.  It felt like she was fighting to prove she didn’t need anyone while at the same time silently begging people to notice and care for her.

Beryl was fiercely independent but also struggled to manage her fear.  Her complex relationship with Karen Blixen revealed opposition (because of a love interest) but also a confidant.  She said to Beryl: “We’re all of us afraid of many things, but if you make yourself smaller or let your fear confine you, then you really aren’t your own person at all–are you?  The real question is whether or not you will risk what it takes to be happy.”

Frustrations mounted for me throughout the book.  Clara, Beryl’s mother was among the worst.  Expecting sympathy from her daughter after being abandoned without much of an after-thought.  “She didn’t seem embarrassed to be speaking of the past with me.  She didn’t seem to remember I was a part of her past in the colony, in fact.  Though maybe that was best, when I thought about it–if we could treat each other more impartially, as if there were nothing to apologize or make amends for.  As if nothing had been lost.”  

My greatest enjoyment was the setting.  Seeing the rich landscape through Beryl’s admiring eyes, made me appreciate it so much more.  Reading a tough, independent, hard-working narrator is great though I was easily frustrated by her very poor relationship decisions.  And she never got better at it!  She knew, from the beginning, that Kenya was truly her first love.  It brought her the most joy, the most freedom and her deepest sense of peace.  Also, the native Kenyans seemed more “her people” than the transplants she befriended, married and with whom she socialized.

One final note, the jacket describes this book to be about Beryl the aviator.  If you read the book for that purpose you will be sorely disappointed.  While it is true she set records with feats in this realm, it is only discussed in the last chapter of the book (Imagine if I said Unbroken was a book about an Olympic runner.).  This book is much more about Beryl’s early years with her father and her life as an accomplished horse trainer.

What were your thoughts about Circling the Sun?  What did you learn about the real Beryl Markham?  Can you relate to her independence?

Spice Bars

Hello, friends!  Have you all been having a good week?  We are getting back into the swing of things after the holiday, finally!  I hope you all had a great celebration with fireworks, fun and family!

Unintentionally, I might have misled you a bit.  I shared this deliciously grilled salad, fresh salsa,  and this perfect sheet pan dinner.  This is how I cook, but I have neglected the other side a bit…my love for baking.  My mom, sister and I love to be in the kitchen together.  Mom was always on the hunt for a fun new recipe to try, my sister was the adventurous cook always making her own spin on it, and I loved to bake.  My mother-in-law told me it was like watching a finely tuned machine as the three of us cooked together in my mother’s kitchen.  That always makes me smile to think of that memory.

This recipe is probably one of the very first recipes I remember baking with my mom.  She made them all. the. time.  They are fantastic so I never minded!  Sometimes when the to-do list seems to grow exponentially, I will suddenly have a strong craving for something sweet.  Spice Bars are the way to satisfy that craving!  (Or maybe that is me stress eating but we aren’t talking about that right now….)



Spice bars are so wonderful for so many reasons.  They have a wonderful golden color and warming flavor (from the cinnamon).  Chewy and so simple to make, they are even more perfect for the sole reason that you literally have everything in your pantry RIGHT NOW.  I’ll wait while you go get the ingredients….

Eight simple ingredients: vegetable oil, sugar, flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, honey and one egg.  That’s all!  Ok, let’s get started.

First, grab a mixing bowl.  Add oil, honey and sugar and mix well.  Finally, (I told you this was QUICK!) add flour, soda, cinnamon, salt and egg and mix until it just comes together.  It should look like this:

Press into cookie sheet with clean hands.  You will think that there is no way you have enough batter but you do, just keep pressing lightly until the bottom of the cookie sheet is completely covered.

Bake at 350 degrees for 13-15 minutes until light golden color (like honey).  Do not overbake as the cookies can get a bit tough if left in too long.  Let cool and cut into squares.  So delicious and would be perfect for a school party, dessert when you have friends for dinner or just a rainy day.  When you’re stressed…


A big thanks to my mom for this recipe and all the memories that go with it!  (I’m sure my brother and sister have a few memories too.)

Yields 24 small square cookies

Spice Bars

10 minPrep Time

15 minCook Time

25 minTotal Time

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  • 3/4 c. vegetable oil
  • 1/4 c. honey
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 2 c. flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 egg, beaten well


  1. In a large mixing bowl, mix the oil, honey and sugar well.
  2. Add remaining ingredients and mix until it just comes together.
  3. Press dough into cookie sheet in thin layer, covering the bottom completely.
  4. Bake at 350 degrees for 13-15 minutes, until lightly golden (about the color of honey).
  5. Cut into squares.
Cuisine: Dessert |


If you can, try to use really good cinnamon. Since there are so few ingredients, make each one a quality ingredient!


Let me know if you try these spice bars!  I would love to know the occasion (maybe a Tuesday??) you decided to try them.  Happy snacking!

Whole30: Final Thoughts and Lessons Learned

If you missed my first three installments of this series on Whole30, start here, followed by this one and then read this.  In this post I wanted to offer my final thoughts and lessons learned from my Whole30 experience.

Image result for healthy fit

Here are my major takeaways:
#1: Veggies play a much smaller role in my diet than I originally thought.  If I actually counted out my vegetable intake, it would probably be ONE serving at dinner and maybe a few random ones at lunch (i.e. baby carrots or lettuce/tomato on a sandwich).  This was a pretty embarrassing realization.

#2: Our dinners were usually pretty healthy (whew!) but it was breakfast and lunch that did me in.  Serving three kids under 5 quick-fix meals (pasta, PBJ, cheese quesadillas), it was just easier to eat what they were eating.  It is quicker, cheaper and easier.  And also a LOT less healthy.  Oh, and it made me feel super guilty that I feed my kids so many carbs!!!

#3: Feeling self-conscious over being a high-maintenance guest for dinner or even at a restaurant was stressful for me.  As far as I’m concerned, if someone else cooked it, it is delicious (especially if it is a friend).  Even though we planned not to have many outings during this time, we unexpectedly had to and it was stressful (more on this in a bit).

#4: All the “experts” say to eat protein for breakfast because it will sustain you through to lunch.  I could never figure out why that never worked for me until Whole30.  By about day 12, I could agree that my daily eggs were sustaining me through.  I just hadn’t tried long enough to see the effects.

#5: I slept SO HARD during this whole process.  Truthfully, it was something my husband didn’t like about it because he felt so sluggish in the morning.  Once we were both up and moving we felt good but getting out of bed was tough.  But, we also slept better than we ever have.

#6: It IS possible to eat nothing but healthy foods for thirty days straight.  It felt great knowing that I was putting only the best fuel into my body.  The feelings of empowerment, self-discipline and control felt great.

Some confessions though…

Sadly, my desire for sugar has not changed.  It isn’t something that just tastes amazing to me, it is something I enjoy.  Loving to bake and making fun sweets for my kids and parties will not go away and I hate to miss out on that enjoyment.  I just need to learn when to say no (way more than I am now…) and when to choose to indulge.

Secondly, I have three children.  Under the age of five.  Not surprisingly, they weren’t elated when I served roasted brussell sprouts and butternut squash.  But I served it to them anyway.  We have one child who will try almost anything and she would attempt a few bites of our “weird” dinner.  But, to make our dinners successful, I would give them what they know alongside our dinner.  (For example, when I made roasted spaghetti squash with meat sauce, I would just make some pasta with the same meat sauce for the kids so it at least felt like we were eating the same things.)
Understanding it is a process, I will continue to offer new things regularly regardless of whether they like it or not.  Sometimes, though, out of necessity I would make a completely separate meal for my kids.  This was kind of annoying, but when I knew it wouldn’t go well I would prep a couple sandwiches for them while we ate.

Also, during this time, a dear friend lost his mom and we decided to drive out of state to attend the funeral.  This was obviously not something we could have anticipated but we tried (oh, we tried) to keep up the plan.  Salads eaten standing up in a parking lot while we waited for my dad to pick up our kids had dressing that I’m certain had a little sugar in it.  After the service, we ordered steaks, potatoes and veggies of which I’m certain all had butter.
Whole30 purists would tell us that in that moment we cancelled out the previous days of work and would have to start over.  I refused to do that.  We just kept going.  Even though we planned ahead, sometimes it doesn’t matter and life happens.  We decided to roll with it, do our best and just keep going.  Our friend is way more important to me than proving a point.

Finally, I’m not following Whole30 now.  And the creators don’t expect it to be a 100% of the time change.  Sometimes I will choose almond butter and banana as a snack instead of graham crackers with the kids because I know they are better for me.  And sometimes I don’t.  I lost 8 pounds in 30 days and my husband lost 6 pounds.  My friend absolutely killed it and lost 14!!  It can be very successful but I appreciated the lessons I learned almost as much as the weight loss.
Now, if we stop off for ice cream as a family, I understand what needs to happen to counterbalance the treat.  If I’m feeling groggy after a breakfast and lunch of carbs, I know why.  It also leaves very little whining room if I continue to make bad choices.

I hope this series in Whole30 has given you some good reasons to try it, some strategies for success, tools to help you through and understanding to know that no one is perfect and no one gets it right all the time.  I heard a well known television anchor say that she sets *little* goals for herself (a couple weeks at a time).  She will eat very healthy until that date (maybe a wedding or dinner party) and then splurge on anything she wants.  When it’s over, she gets right back on and plans out her next treat.  The goal setting helps her stay focused in the middle while also helping her enjoy the indulgence even more.

I would love to hear your thoughts on Whole30.  How has life derailed healthy eating even when you were focused and determined to do well?  What lessons have you learned about yourself in the process?

Bien Trucha: A Review

Bien Trucha has been on my radar for years.  When you move from the city and leave the lively food scene of downtown Chicago behind for the suburbs, it can be so disappointing.  But, people had described Bien Trucha with remarks similar to places we talked about when living downtown.  When told it was Mexican food, I was even more intrigued.    Marrying into a Mexican family, we eat Mexican food a lot.  Is it possible to make Mexican food new!  exciting!  fresh!?  {Does being with someone for 10 years make you an almost-expert?  (To prove my point, I make my own salsa exclusively now.)}

Up to this point, I have reviewed places while on trips, vacations or visits with friends.  Bien Trucha is in my neck of the woods.  I love the idea of finding new places that I can visit over and over.  To celebrate an anniversary and a birthday, I called just over two weeks out.  Saturday was going to work best for us and the only available reservation slots were 5pm and 9:15pm.  Checking the next weekend the time slots were the same.  This told me two things: I would probably be paying a babysitter a lot of money because our meal would take a while and dinner was going to be gooood.

Geneva has a charming downtown comprised of State Street and a handful of side streets.  You can find lots of restaurants and fun shops.  There was even an art gallery and adorable boutiques. We were hoping to walk around but unfortunately it was late and rainy.  Bien Trucha lures summer patrons in with a fantastic patio between its two structures.  We decided to arrive early and sit at the bar while we waited for our reservation.  The atmosphere is charming and welcoming (a large patio between an old home and additional dining area) and inside it is modern and has a city vibe to it.

Fresh made margarita are fantastically light.  Not overly tart or syrupy, each is made by hand.  They serve each table with hot chips and a smoky take on refried beans.  These were not your average beans on the side of a burrito.  They had a depth of flavor I had never tasted in beans before.  We also ordered the guacamole tradicional which was the best guacamole I have ever eaten (and know that I have tasted my share of guacamole!).  Cotija cheese offered a tangy salty bite on top.  They also have a guacamole of the day, which mixes in the fruit of the day (pineapple in our case, though I heard it can be other unique choices like blueberry, mango or watermelon).

The heart of their menu is the tacos, though they also have tortas (lunch only), soup, salad, a variety of sides and fresh made salsa and ceviche.  We were told plates were intended to share family style.  My husband ordered the arrachera tacos (skirt steak with caramelized onions, avocado and roasted serrano salsa).  Tacos are small, about the size of your palm so they don’t feel quite as heavy as your average taco.  Four tacos come in a serving.

My choice was tacos de pastor (ancho-guajillo marinated pork, cilantro, onion, fresh pineapple and their morita salsa).  You know I love the salty and sweet together!  As I said, the tacos are small but they pack a big flavor punch!

We arrived early, and before our appetizer even arrived, we were seated at our table.  The service was excellent and though I expected a longer wait time, everything was served very quickly.  Not wanting our date night to end, I ordered dessert (because, dessert).  I chose a small cornbread cake sitting in a rum glaze and dusted with powder sugar.  This was dense but warm and fantastic with the rum glaze cut the sweetness of the cake.

Bien Trucha was perfect for a date night.  Great food, energetic atmosphere and nothing was over $15.  If you would like to try it out for yourself, check out Bien Trucha in Geneva, IL at 410 W. State Street.  They accept reservations and call ahead to add your name to the wait list.  If Geneva isn’t convenient for you, the company also has A Toda Madre in Glen Elyn, IL (499 N. Main Street) and newly opened Quiubo in downtown Naperville, IL (120 Water Street).

Have you tried Bien Trucha or one of its sister companies?  Be sure to weigh in in the comments!

Whole30: My favorite foods and tools

Today I would love to share some of my favorite products and even a couple of very simple recipes.  When cutting out things that have been a part of your routine for a very long time, it is good to go simple.  These products cut out a few steps so that meals came together a bit quicker.  Who doesn’t love shortcuts in the kitchen!  These are my top 10 tips and tools to use during the Whole30.  {If you missed Whole30: Why I Chose to Tackle Whole30 and Why You Should Too and Whole 30: Where Do I Start? go check it out!}

Many of these items are specifically found at your local grocery store.  You’ll see here choices from my local Meijer, Target, Trader Joe’s as well as Costco.  I will specify what certain elements to look for with each item.  BUT, that doesn’t get you off the hook!  Be sure to look at every single label before you purchase (even the ones I tell you because products and their ingredients can change!).  Train yourself to start to notice the additives and extras that are in your convenience items.

ONE:  Kirkland Organic Marinara Sauce–You could use other marinara sauce, just make sure it doesn’t have any type of sugar in the ingredient list.  I often added this to Costco’s organic ground beef for meat sauce.

TWO:  Kirkland Signature Organic Ground Beef (Costco) was delicious with marinara over roasted spaghetti squash.  Cut spaghetti squash in half length-wise, brush with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Roast face down for 45 minutes at 400 degrees.  Very satisfying!
Ground beef was also great for making taco salad or tacos using Romaine leaves instead of tortillas.

THREE:  Low-sodium bacon is great with a breakfast hash, eggs or added onto salads for a salty, smoky bite.  Did you know that regular bacon has added sugar??  I didn’t.  Look for the low-sodium kind and you should have a winner.

FOUR:  Aidells Chicken and Apple Chicken Sausage was great with roasted sweet potatoes and a fried egg in the morning.  Equally fantastic for dinner with some eggs, veggies and potatoes for dinner.

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FIVE:  Pre-chopped and peeled organic butternut squash (Trader Joes) was nice because it eliminated those extra steps and was a nice alternative to sweet potatoes.  Great also with roasted brussell sprouts, olive oil and balsamic vinegar!

SIX:  GoodFoods or Wholly Guacamole were a necessity for me!  I used this on my bunless burgers, with my eggs in the morning and as a dip with veggie sticks as a snack.  I could NOT have done it without it!

SEVEN:  Creamy Almond Butter is delicious with a banana or apple for a snack or quick breakfast.

EIGHT:  Pre-mixed salads (use your own Whole30 approved dressing).  Sometimes it takes too long to make your own salad.  These were nice when I was starving and didn’t feel like all the chopping.  Be sure everything in the salad is approved.  I don’t believe the cranberries in this particular salad would be Whole30 approved.  It was also great to use broccoli slaw or cauliflower crumbles for quick stir-frys.

NINE:  Variety of nuts were always kept in small baggies in my car and purse.  Perfect for when you are caught out and can’t get home during mealtime hours.  Whole30 guidelines suggest choosing raw nuts to avoid being cooked in oil.  They are delicious just toasted in a fry pan over the burner for 1-2 minutes (be sure to watch them, they burn quickly!   Ask me how I know…).  When you can start to smell the nuttiness, they are done.

TEN:  My favorite fresh salsa was so delicious on tacos, scrambled eggs and steak.

These items helped make my experience a success.  If you consider doing the Whole30, try some of these items, I’m certain they will come in handy for you!  Be sure to check out my final Whole30 post where I make a few confessions and my overall opinions of the program.

Have you tried any of these food items?  What were some of your must-haves during the Whole30?

Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life

Our June book club selection was Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life by C. S. Lewis.  (If you missed last month, check it out here!)  The jacket described this as Lewis’ story of conversion to Christianity and though I see that now, it didn’t feel that way in the midst of it.  You don’t actually hear of his conversion until the last 5 pages.  So as I was reading it, I felt like it was more of a story of his childhood and the hurdles he had to overcome to find the Joy he spoke of from the beginning.

Summary: C. S. Lewis is probably best known for his children’s fantasy series The Chronicles of Narnia.  In this nonfiction book, he writes about his young life.  How the loss of his mother at a very young age had such an impact on him.  His strained relationship with his father and unique bond with his brother deeply shaped who he became.  He also explored how reading and his education led him to some of the greatest realizations of his life.

This book was quite a departure for our group.  Though a shorter book than we usually pick up, the dialogue felt headier than others.  Surprised by Joy starts with Lewis explaining a couple of instances where he experienced a moment of capital-J Joy.  He said it came quickly, left very shortly after, always leaving him wanting more.   Describing it as something completely different from Pleasure or Happiness he said, “I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world.  But then Joy is never in our power and pleasure often is.”

Lewis was an intellectual and struggled to fit in.  He didn’t have his mother and a self-described “awkward” relationship with his father.  However, he adored his brother and cultivated his vivid and wild imagination by dreaming up imaginary lands with him.  He was not athletic at all, though he pretended just to participate in social activities with classmates.  Struggling to find friends, the ones he did find seemed to be teachers or superiors.  His greatest solace was found among books.

Some of his greatest hangups seemed to be the “intrusion” of religion on his life.  “I was also, as you may remember, one whose negative demands were more violent than his positive, far more eager to escape pain than to achieve happiness, and feeling it something of an outrage that I had been created without my own permission…It was also perhaps not unimportant that the externals of Christianity made no appeal to my sense of beauty.  Christianity was mainly associated for me with ugly architecture, ugly music, and bad poetry.  But, of course, what mattered most of all was my deep-seated hatred of authority, my monstrous individualism, my lawlessness.  No word in my vocabulary expressed deeper hatred than the word interference.  But Christianity placed at the center what then seemed to me a transcendental Interferer.”

The most fascinating part of the whole book for me was the last two chapters.   The focus on how his life was being interrupted by the great Interferer, was truly beautiful.  His studies in philosophy made it hard for Lewis to let go of previously held beliefs.  “Even if my own philosophy were true, how could the initiative lie on my side?  My own analogy, as I now first perceived, suggested the opposite: if Shakespeare and Hamlet could ever meet, it must be Shakespeare’s doing.  Hamlet could initiate nothing.”

For those who struggle with God or Christianity, I loved what Lewis said at the very end: “The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation.”  The best part of all of his story was that it was HIS story.  He didn’t say how it should be for other people or what the conversion experience should look like.  He simply shared his experience.  I believe he wanted to share the many hindrances that he had to overcome to find his true Joy.  I also believe he would be thrilled to hear if it helped others to find theirs.

What is your favorite CS Lewis work?  What hindrances have you had to overcome in your faith journey?  What books, music, art has changed how you look at your faith?  Please leave your comments below!

Raspberry Chipotle and Bacon Dip

My memory of the first time I tasted this dip is nearly perfect: I was on the deck at my parent’s house, a beautiful summer night and we had all been at the beach that day.  All of the grandkids (7 total including my kids, my niece and nephews) were running around with pink cheeks from a day building sandcastles and playing in the water.  The parents and grandparents were settled with glasses of white wine in comfy chairs when my sister walked up with Raspberry Chipotle and Bacon Dip.

Oh. My. Goodness.

Well, first I hesitated.  Bacon, with raspberry?  And chipotle?  That sounds odd.  {Based on this sandwich, you are learning I don’t shy away from odd.}  But I do love salty and sweet together.  So I gave it a shot.  Well, that shot nearly turned into me walking off with the whole platter and the bottle of wine to finish myself.

So, the best part?  It is EASY and quick!  First, line a cookie sheet with foil.  Then lay as many strips of bacon you can in a single layer on the foil  (this is just shy of one pound for me).  Put bacon in a COLD oven and set oven to bake at 375 degrees for 25-30 minutes.  I like my bacon crispy so I lean more toward 30 minutes but be sure to check it near the end so it doesn’t burn.  It can happen so fast!  Drain on paper towels when done.

While bacon cooks, grab two 8 oz. bricks of cream cheese.  You can use lower fat if you like.  It helps a lot if they are room temperature.  Spread them out to cover a whole platter using the back of a spoon or spatula.  Pour a 15oz. bottle of Bronco Bob’s Roasted Raspberry Chipotle Sauce over the cream cheese.  This may be a bit tricky to find but I found mine at World Market for around $4.  I’ve also heard you can pick it up at WalMart.  [Also, I love that I can identify every one of the ingredients in this: raspberry, sugar, jalapeno peppers, apple cider vinegar, salt, chipotle peppers, garlic powder, natural mesquite smoke flavor and pectin.]

Once your bacon has cooled, chop it up and then sprinkle all over.  Finally, chop up some green onions (green, light green and white parts, use ’em all!).  It adds great fresh color and cuts the richness of the bacon and the sweetness from the raspberry.  Spread onto crackers and serve to people you want to turn into your best friends.

Raspberry Chipotle and Bacon Dip

10 minPrep Time

25 minCook Time

35 minTotal Time

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  • 2 pkg. (8oz each) cream cheese, room temperature (can use low fat)
  • 1 jar (15 oz) Bronco Bob's Roasted Raspberry Chipotle Sauce
  • 1 lb. bacon, cooked and chopped
  • 1/2 c. green onions, chopped


  1. Line cookie sheet with foil and lay slices of bacon in a single layer on the pan. Put into COLD oven and bake at 375 for 25-30 minutes. Watch carefully at the end so bacon doesn't burn. Remove from oven and drain on paper towels.
  2. Using the back of a spoon, spread softened cream cheese in an even layer on a serving platter.
  3. Pour raspberry chipotle sauce over cream cheese.
  4. Chop bacon and sprinkle over the top.
  5. Finally, sprinkle chopped green onions. Serve on crackers.


Bronco Bob's Roasted Raspberry Chipotle Sauce can be found at World Market or WalMart.


Pinky’s: A Review

When you are traveling, it is so easy to check out the nearest Panera or Chipotle or something else that sounds familiar.  But the next time you find yourself out of town, I challenge you to find a great restaurant that is only local.  I’ll be transparent, I was at the end of my trip and my mind was already heading home.  But my friend made the effort to seek out a funky place and Pinky’s is where we landed.  Man, am I glad we ended up there!!

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This is a highly recognized restaurant in Charlotte, North Carolina.  In fact, it was highlighted on Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-ins and Dives!  The best thing about these types of restaurants is that they are very reasonably priced, great fresh menu and relaxed atmosphere.  We were looking for casual fare and this fit the bill.

Highlights of the menu:
[Appetizers]–veggie chili, Pimp’n Fries (fries with pimento cheese), Hush puppies and Crab puppies, Greg’s pickles (fried)
[Salads]–Tahini salad with falafel, Ginger Tuna salad
[Tacos]–Buffalo Shrimp tacos, Korean Pork BBQ tacos
[Burgers}–single, double and triple patties made to order (including toppings)
[Hot Dogs]–Reuben dog, Pinky dog (pimento cheese and chili), even vegetarian dog!
[Sandwiches]–Green Chili Pork sandwich (pineapple, swiss and arugula), Falafel, Tuna Melt

Corn Dog Shrimp Basket

This sounded like it would be so heavy but the batter was so light, they were delicious!  This was the item featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.  Oh, and that coleslaw on the side?  HOMEMADE and delicious.

Kick’n Chicken Tacos

Garlic Lime marinated grilled chicken topped with queso fresco, pico de gallo and garlic-parsley dressing.  These were so fresh tasting and delicious!  The black beans on the side weren’t just your average beans either.  You could tell they made everything from scratch.

Ding Dong Chicken

Thai-inspired grilled chicken breast served with honey-cilantro slaw, sriracha and chunky peanut butter.  I know it may sound odd, but this has the same flavors as the chicken satay with peanut dip that you might have enjoyed before.  And it was FANTASTIC.

Remarkably, there isn’t a single item on their menu over $10.  The quirky atmosphere keeps things light and festive and the fabulous food tricks you into thinking you are spending way more than you are.  Only 10 minutes from the Charlotte airport, be sure to check out Pinky’s if you ever get the chance!!

Have you ever stumbled across a hidden gem in your travels?  Where were you?  What favorite local restaurant would you consider the perfect diner or dive for visitors in your town?

Favorite Fresh Salsa

Summer has certainly packed a punch around here (mid-90s already!) and when those temps start to soar, my family likes to throw on the grill (as seen here!), pour something cold to beat the heat and relax on the deck.  But, since we often start grilling later, we start getting hungry before the food is ready.  Quick, easy, fresh and authentic, this Favorite Fresh Salsa is a MUST try while you wait for dinner.

Before trying this recipe, I was one of those people who would playfully bop around the salsa section at the grocery store and try all kinds of new things: peach, black bean and corn, medium, mild, hot, name brand, generic, you name it, I’d try it.  Eating salsa out was the best but never really considered making it at home.  Then I devoured  politely tasted this at my in-laws house, I knew I had to try.  BUT do you jump in after the first taste when this is not your comfort zone?   My mother-in-law could make this in her sleep while doing taxes and speaking in a third language.  Sometimes you need to leave this up to the professionals!!  This recipe, however, is easy even for those of you who don’t feel comfortable in the kitchen.

I should be clear, this recipe is not mine, it belongs to my mother-in-law.  Oh my goodness the amount of salsa she has made just since I have been in her family is startling.  Even more terrifying, how much I have EATEN since joining her family.  But, since it is made with 6 simple ingredients (including salt!) I will tell myself that it is healthy.  And it is!!  I’m just working on getting tortilla chips to somehow fit into the veggie category.  Can anyone help me with this???

Even though this recipe is exceptionally simple, I have found a few strategies to make it work every time.  Try to think veggies: jalapeno, onion, tomato and then seasonings: fresh lime juice, cilantro, salt.  Even though the ingredients are few and simple, it is important to note certain details about each one.

Tomatoes: I almost always use Roma tomatoes because they have a lower water content.  Tomatoes on the vine were cheaper once at the grocery store and they were also delicious.  One more thing, never refrigerate your tomatoes.  They will lose their flavor.
Onions:  Onions are SO IMPORTANT.  (I just heard my husband shudder in the next room.  He HATES onions.)  However, this ingredient is not optional because it gives the needed bite to counter the sweetness of the tomato.  Couple of tips, I use one medium shallot instead of a regular onion.  Though red onion gives great color, my husband just can’t stomach them.  The shallot is more mild and the perfect amount for one batch.
Jalapeno:  Did you know that jalapenos that have ribbing are spicier??  Who knew?  Also, I DO freeze these and use as needed.  Take note, however, that they get more of a kick when you freeze them so start with small amounts and add more as needed.   Cut the tops off and I leave the seeds because I’m dangerous like that.

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Next up, seasonings.
Limes: Make sure your they have a very *slight* give when you push on them.  Their skin should be firm but not hard.  If they are too firm, they are getting old or won’t have enough juice.  ALWAYS use fresh, never bottled.  Also, like tomatoes, keep limes out on the counter.
Cilantro:  Ok, ok there are people out there who have strong aversions to cilantro.  {Did you know if you hate it, it might be part of your genetic makeup?  Check this out!}  I think it is best with cilantro, but parsley is equally as delicious.
Salt:  Also another mandatory ingredient.  If you feel it tastes a little flat, add more salt.  Salt almost always fixes the problem.  In my case I use kosher salt, but feel free to use whatever you have on hand.

My husband’s family will probably laugh that this recipe made the blog because it is such a part of their family life and celebrations that it doesn’t feel all that “special”.  However, it is special to me and now I love that it is a part of our family traditions with my kids.  Hope you enjoy a great kickoff to summer!  Salut!

Yields About 8 oz.

Best Fresh Salsa

10 minPrep Time

10 minTotal Time

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  • 4 Roma tomatoes, rough chopped
  • 1 shallot, peeled and halved
  • 1/2 jalapeno with seeds, use more as desired
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 1/4 c. cilantro
  • 1/2 t. kosher salt


  1. In a food processor, add rough chopped tomatoes, shallot and jalapeno.
  2. Then add lime juice, cilantro and salt.
  3. Pulse until desired texture.
  4. Serve with tortilla chips.


You could do this in a food processor, blender or Bullet. I love the texture of the food processor the best, just pulsing until you receive the texture you like best.


Have you tried making your own fresh salsa recipe?  Write your review of your try at this recipe in the comments!

Grilled Vegetable Salad

I do believe my friends, it is officially GRILL SEASON!  My husband and I have decided to set the goal of grilling every single weekend and hopefully entertaining friends as well.  Even though hamburgers and hot dogs are the norm, I’m challenging you to eat your vegetables!  Enter, perfect Grilled Vegetable Salad!

As much as lettuce salads are great and refreshing, sometimes I just need something…different.  The idea of color in this salad feels perfect for summer. Wandering the produce section or farmers market is great to get inspiration until you get every color of the rainbow.  The grill adds such fantastic flavor and the variety of textures keeps it so delicious.

First, clean and chop veggies to easily lay on the grill.  Leaving peppers in big chunks and skewering (is that a word??) smaller vegetables makes the process pretty painless.  If you are worried about losing pieces through the grates, you could use aluminum foil, but I love the flavor of straight on the grill.

The opportunities to alter this salad to fit your wants are endless!  This is a fantastic healthy side for BBQs, a great lunch if you add potatoes or protein, or a fun build-your-own kabob bar!  This would also be delicious as a side to this meal!  Adding chunky feta cheese takes this side dish over the top because, well, cheese makes everything better.   (Goat cheese would also be fantastic!)

Here are some other choices for veggies to include:
Red–peppers, tomatoes, baby red potatoes (these will take longer)
Yellow–peppers, yellow squash, corn (perfect for summer!)
Green–zucchini, asparagus, peppers, brussel sprouts
Purple–red onion, eggplant, radicchio
Other–mushrooms, cauliflower

Quick assembly, quick cooking and delicious chilled, room-temperature or fresh off the grill!  Bring Grilled Vegetable Salad to your next summer cookout and you’ll be a hit.

Yields 6 hearty servings

Grilled Vegetable Salad

A fresh, healthy and delicious, Grilled Vegetable Salad is a perfect side dish at your next barbeque!

10 minPrep Time

10 minCook Time

20 minTotal Time

Save RecipeSave Recipe


  • 1 red, yellow, and orange pepper, seeds and stem removed
  • 1/2 red onion
  • 2 small zucchini, cut in one inch rounds
  • 1 bunch asparagus
  • 6 oz. cremini mushrooms, stems removed
  • 1 pint grape tomatoes
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 6 oz. feta cheese
  • 3-4 T. balsamic vinegar


  1. First soak wooden skewers in water in preparation for the grill.
  2. Heat up the grill to medium heat.
  3. Begin by washing and seeding peppers. Cut onion in half and that half into thirds and separate layers. Chop zucchini into one inch rounds. Remove stems from mushrooms. Skewer all of these chopped veggies.
  4. Cut bottom 2 inches off of asparagus.
  5. Make two whole skewers with whole grape tomatoes. With remaining tomatoes, cut in half and put in serving bowl.
  6. Drizzle all vegetables with olive oil and season liberally with salt and pepper.
  7. Place all veggies on the grill. Make sure all of them have good grill marks and they are tender, particularly peppers and onions.
  8. While the vegetables grill, chop feta cheese into cubes. Chop peppers, onions, zucchini, mushrooms and asparagus into large chunks.
  9. Add feta cheese cubes while veggies are still warm to soften slightly.
  10. Add balsamic vinegar and toss lightly. Serve warm, cold or room temperature.


I chose to grill about 2/3 of my grape tomatoes and leave the last 1/3 fresh and cut in half. I liked the idea of fresh and grilled together. You certainly could grill all of them or leave all fresh. If you don't have any balsamic (or don't care for it), consider a vinaigrette-type salad dressing and use that instead.


Small Great Things: A Review

Small Great Things: A Novel by Jodi Picoult

Product Details

Plot summary: Ruth Jefferson is a veteran labor and delivery nurse performing a routine exam on a newborn when the husband of her patient suddenly asks to see her supervisor.  Baffled, Ruth returns with her supervisor and discovers the parents are white supremacists and are requesting a new nurse.  Ruth is reassigned.
But, the next day when staff is needed in the OR, Ruth is left alone with this new baby and goes into cardiac distress.  Does Ruth ignore orders and help the baby and risk losing her job or does she abide by the parent’s wishes and not touch the child?  Her decision in that moment will have a much greater impact on her life than she ever dreams.
Told from three different perspectives, this book will challenge you to think about what you would do in that situation, but also if you ever dared to consider yourself as guilty as you really might be.

So, I have a confession.

This is the first Jodi Picoult book I have ever read.


I know!  I haven’t even seen the movie “My Sister’s Keeper.”  Of course, I knew her name and saw her books all over the place.  Though I had never opened one of her books, I put her in the same category as Mitch Albom.  You know the type: perfect beach read, emotionally draining, tough topics but easy read.

A rainy, gloomy Saturday morning gave me the opportunity to fly through the first 150 pages.  In one sitting.  From that moment the story would not stop penetrating my thoughts throughout the day.  Picoult writes in a way that is fresh and engaging.  I hesitate to say too much about the plot because it truly is something that you need to wrestle with on your own.  I’ve even heard this title recommended with the suggestion that you don’t even read the summary and jump straight in.

Book clubs will have lots to discuss about Small Great Things.  Characters decisions, upbringing, career paths and even choice of spouses offer a plethora of great discussion material.  Whether you agree with the arguments made on all three sides of this story, there is much to consider.

“It was so much easier to hate them than it was to hate myself.”

Small Great Things was a fast-paced read and very engaging.  Characters were believable and though the different perspective angle is getting overdone in fiction, I found it to be particularly interesting in this book.  It made you sympathize  with characters that you normally wouldn’t sympathize with.  The tough and controversial topic kept it from being cheesy and I was surprised on more than one occasion about the turn of events in the story.  Thus, not very predictable which is a good thing!  A great read, perfect for your beach bag and for lots of great discussion.

What have been your favorite books to read about controversial topics?  Do you enjoy the heated discussion that follows or do you avoid it?  Weigh in on your thoughts about Small Great Things in the comments!

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand: A Review

April book club selection
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand: A Novel by Helen Simonson

Product Details

Plot summary: In a small village of the English countryside, widowed and retired Major Ernest Pettigrew lives a quiet life.  Until one day when he receives the call that his younger brother has passed away.  This moment of grief suddenly brings about an unexpected friendship with Mrs. Jasmina Ali, the local Pakistani shopkeeper in town.  They find companionship in their love of literature and commiserating over challenging family members.  As their relationship develops, the neighbors can’t seem to accept the long-standing member of their community befriending the “foreigner.”

This was what I like to call a quiet book.  It has beautiful descriptions of the English countryside (certainly making me check out flights to London ASAP!) and lilting prose.

“The dense hedges of privet, hawthorn, and beech swelled together as fat and complacent as medieval burghers.  The air was scented with their spicy dry fragrance overlaid with the tang of animals in the fields behind their cottages.  Garden gates and driveways gave glimpses of well-stocked gardens and thick lawns studded with clover clumps and dandelions.  He liked the clover, evidence of the country always pressing in close, quietly sabotaging anyone who tried to manicure nature into suburban submission.” (p. 36)

The plot sort of bobs along quietly.  I adore reading exchanges between people who have deep respect for each other and the conversations between Mrs. Ali and Major Pettigrew were charming.  There are also some very funny moments.  For example, this exchange between Major Pettigrew and his only, self-absorbed and work-obsessed son Roger:

“You sound as if you’re calling from a submarine, Roger,” he said chuckling.  “I expect the squirrels have been chewing on the lines again.”
“Actually, it may also be that I have you on speaker,” said Roger.  “My chiropractor doesn’t want me holding the phone under my chin anymore, but my barber says a headset encourages oily buildup and miniaturization of my follicles.” (p. 101)

After reading a few other curmudgeon-type books recently (A Man Called Ove and The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry), I find what I enjoy most is reading about people’s thoughts and reflections as they look over the span of their lives.  What do they miss the most?  Isn’t it always the little things?  They miss the way their children looked at the breakfast table in their nightgown and socks.  Or the way their wives looked they day they met them.  I feel like those memories are what make a person.  The things that brought them such joy and sometimes regret.

“He was sorry now for the many times he had rebuked Roger and his friends-he had underrated the joy in their rowdiness.” (p. 200)

The last 75 pages did move along at a quicker pace than the first 275 pages, though I was never bored.  It was a charming, sweet and delightful read.  I found the relationship between Mrs. Ali and the Major very interesting simply because of the native/foreigner relationship as well as the cultural and spiritual differences between them.  Ms. Simonson is an exquisite writer and I look forward to seeing what else she has in store.  The way she crafts a sentence and describes people is quite enjoyable to read.  Highly recommended.

“Life does often get in the way of one’s reading,” agreed the Major. (p. 200)

Have you read Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand?  What do you feel about people’s reflections at the end of their lives?  What does it say about them?

Yesterday’s: A Restaurant Review

Every once in a while you come across something too good to keep a secret.  The crazy part about it is that this restaurant has been around for decades in the South Bend, Indiana area!  Need a great place to eat before or after a Notre Dame game?  Yesterday’s is it.

Image result for yesterday's restaurant granger indiana

I’ll be honest, I live in one of the best food scenes in the country.  We have world renowned restaurants and chefs and some pretty awesome places and cuisines.  But I recently went back to South Bend, Indiana for a family wedding that happened to fall on the same weekend as Mother’s Day.  My mom was generous enough to drive from Michigan to come watch my munchkins for the wedding and I wanted to take her out to thank her for that and celebrate the day with her.  It is very rare that I get to celebrate this holiday with her.

Some of the typical and expected places for Mother’s Day brunch that I tried were booked already.  And then I remembered Yesterday’s.  We didn’t come here much growing up, but the few times we came, we always left stuffed and happy.  Thankfully, they were open and even had a special menu for the day.

Image result for yesterday's restaurant granger indiana

The setting is a charming old home converted into a fantastic restaurant.  Because of this, you feel as if you are welcomed into a cozy home of a friend instead of a sanitized place where people eat.  The floors creak with age and the walls are filled with quirky photos and art.  The decor and place settings have a tropical feel but it is anything but cheesy.  It simply just lightens the mood.  Because of the quality of the food, people may expect linen tablecloths and a wait staff in tuxedos.  However, you feel like you’re being ushered into a vibrant and friendly home.

Now, the food.  Let me just tell you, the staff pay attention to details you completely forget about.  Your entree comes with a soup or salad and my salad was so good it could have been my meal.  Homemade (read: AMAZING) croutons and a from-scratch dressing (I had parmesan peppercorn) won me over immediately.  Put that on top of lettuce with onion, grape tomatoes and cucumber and you have a pretty fantastic salad!  Since my mother was watching, I refrained from licking the plate.  It was Mother’s Day after all and I wanted her to know that she did raise a child with manners.

It should also be noted that our waiter was incredibly friendly and attentive.  At one point I somewhat panicked that he seemed to be taking so much time with us.  But, when I remembered we didn’t have toddlers with us I sat back and enjoyed his company.  He was so personable I nearly asked he join us at the table.  Some of their staff has been there nearly 25 years!

When the entrees arrived, I couldn’t believe how beautiful this food was.  The presentation was spectacular and colorful!  This was my mom’s meal: Walk the Plank, Matie.  Great Lakes whitefish served almondine on a cedar plank.  Isn’t it so pretty?!  The real orchid on each plate shows the attention to detail at Yesterday’s.

My meal: Captiva Crab Cakes.  Served with a curry mayo on the side with steamed broccoli and garlic mashed potatoes.  Often when a vegetable is served on the side of something it is very much an afterthought.  This was the. best. broccoli. I have ever had.  Period.  The crab cakes were about 85% real crab meat with corn, peppers and special seasonings and very carefully browned in a skillet.  It was so nice that the crab was the predominant flavor and ingredient.  And again, so pretty!

You are too full, you say?  Oh, no.  You MUST get their fantastic made-in-house desserts.  Portion sizes are very large so it is completely acceptable to share.  Though I can’t find the exact name of this cake, it was something like triple chocolate cake with two types of chocolate ganache on top.  Yes, that is real whipped cream too, not from a can.

What a pleasant surprise to be reintroduced to such a fantastic place.  My mom and I had a such a lovely lunch with fantastic food and even better service.  Great for special occasions like dates, birthdays, anniversaries.  Other local “go-tos” for Mother’s Day brunch would have run about $40 per person not including drinks for a brunch buffet.  Pricing was pretty comparable here, but it was a special menu and we got to order what we wanted.  In my eyes, a much better choice for the money.

Best part?  We both went home with half our entrees for the next day and even some dessert, though we split that too.  If seafood isn’t your thing, they have a wide range of steaks as well as chicken and the #1 rated burger within 100 miles.  If you need a delicious, fun meal the next time you are in South Bend, Indiana, be sure to check out Yesterday’s!

Do you have a hidden gem in your hometown that you love?   Where would you love to take your mom for Mother’s Day?

Maple Roasted Salmon with Sweet Potatoes

Maple Glazed Salmon with Sweet Potatoes is a perfectly light and fresh dinner for summer!  If you know that eating fish is good for you but don’t know where to start, try this.  It is easy to assemble, ready in a flash and absolutely delicious.

As you may recall, my husband and I have finished our first Whole30.  But, now that it is over, I want to continue to make healthy choices.  Salmon is such a delicious fish and has lots of health benefits.  For example, it is rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, high in B vitamins and a good source of potassium.  Add to these benefits the vitamins (A, C and B6) from the sweet potatoes and you have a great meal!

To start, slice peeled sweet potatoes into 1/2 inch slices.  Toss potatoes with melted butter and sprinkle with salt, pepper and cinnamon.  Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet.  Roast potatoes for about 20 minutes.

While the potatoes roast, you can start the glaze.  Add the real maple syrup (not pancake syrup) and Worcestershire to a small saucepan.  This makes the flavor of the salmon and sweet potatoes really sing.  While this glaze comes together, check the salmon to make sure there are no bones.  Finally, after the potatoes have baked for 20 minutes, lay the salmon on top.  Brush half of the glaze over the salmon and roast for 10 minutes.  After salmon roasts for 10 minutes, baste one more time with the glaze and roast for a final 5 minutes.

This is also delicious with quick grilled asparagus.  Toss asparagus spears in olive oil, salt and pepper and then grill in a grill pan.  (Here is mine and I love it!)  Cook until crisp tender and enjoy with your salmon.

Maple Roasted Salmon with Sweet Potatoes is a light and delicious meal that is simple enough for a weeknight dinner but elegant enough for company.  Not only that, it is a wonderfully healthy meal, a wonderful way to kick off summer!

Yields 3-4 servings

Maple Roasted Salmon with Sweet Potatoes

10 minPrep Time

35 minCook Time

45 minTotal Time

Save RecipeSave Recipe


  • 4 sweet potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 2 T. butter, melted
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • pepper
  • cinnamon
  • 1/3 c. maple syrup
  • 2 T. Worcestershire
  • 1.5-2 lb. salmon filet, checked for bones


  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Toss sliced potatoes with butter, salt, pepper and cinnamon.
  3. Arrange on a single layer on a baking sheet. Roast potatoes for 20 minutes.
  4. In a small saucepan, stir maple syrup and Worcestershire.
  5. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer until thickened and reduced by half (about 5 minutes). Set aside.
  6. Check salmon filet for bones, discarding any you find. Season with salt and pepper.
  7. Raise oven temperature to 450 degrees. Carefully turn over the sweet potatoes and then lay salmon on top.
  8. Brush half of the glaze over the salmon. Roast for 10 minutes.
  9. Baste with remaining glaze and roast 5 minutes more.
  10. Salmon is done when it is opaque and easily flakes with a fork.


Be sure to use REAL maple syrup, not pancake syrup.


Whole30: Where do I start?

So you’ve decided to start your first Whole30!  I’m so impressed!  If you missed my post explaining why I decided to try tackling Whole30, be sure to check that out here.  You might be nervous, excited and fired up all at the same time.  Do you have “Eye of the Tiger” on repeat??  Well today I have three tips to get you started on the right track!

Image result for healthy fit

Whole30 is intense but it is supposed to be.  Over the next 30 days you are choosing to fuel your body with only the healthiest food it can get.  Do you wonder what it will feel like?  There are times when you will feel hungry, tired and crabby because you are craving a caramel latte and you aren’t going to cave!  But there are other times when you will feel amazingly healthy and strong.  When the crabbiness is fighting hard, fight back with the knowledge that you are offering your body the best kind of nourishment.

When considering your first Whole30, do three things first:

ONE:  Order (or check out at your library) the New York Times Bestseller It Starts with Food by Melissa and Dallas Hartwig.  I needed to know the why behind all of those foods I was being asked to eliminate.  Honestly,  the book is a huge reason I finished.  Understanding how food is supposed to work with my body and not against it gave me the tools to overcome cravings.  Food is supposed to be fuel for your body to function.  What you put in determines what you get out.

Possibly even consider writing in a journal while you do this.  I documented my beginning weight (though you are only supposed to check your weight at the very end, not during the 30 days), what I hoped to get out of the plan and quotes from the book that helped hammer home certain concepts.  Also, guess at some of the triggers that will tempt you over the next couple of weeks.  For me, I knew that sugar was going to be a big one.  Then you might be surprised what you add to that list and how new triggers surfaced throughout your month.

TWO: Grab your calendar.
Do not start today.  Yes, you actually read that right.  Whole30 actually takes planning and strategy.  Consider your schedule: do you have a birthday/anniversary/wedding coming up?  Are you willing to eat according to the plan during those times?  These events are not a good enough reason to cheat.  Out of 365 days in a year, you can find 30 in a row to dedicate yourself to clean eating.  I wouldn’t recommend it around major holidays like Thanksgiving or Christmas, especially if you dream about the food you’ll enjoy during those times.

To be honest, my husband and I discovered how much we celebrate with food and drinks.  We chose to do ours around the month of April ending just after Memorial Day weekend.  It nearly killed both of us to be on a holiday weekend with family celebrating and not enjoying all the holiday “treats”.  And that was the end of our Whole30!  So be choosy when deciding when to tackle it.

THREE: Meal plan.

Image result for whole30 shopping list

First of all, take one week at a time.  Plan ahead and be ready for any unexpected thing that can happen.  Consider having the same breakfast everyday for the first couple of days so you don’t have to think about that meal.   Second, buy 4-5 types of vegetables and 4-5 proteins.  In It Starts with Food, the authors state that fruits are good but not necessary.  However, I felt apples and bananas (along with baggies of nuts) were the perfect food to keep in my bag for those unexpected delays that keep you away from your kitchen.

Particularly for the first week, keep it simple.
Breakfast: eggs, sauteed veggies (peppers/onions/tomatoes), avocado
Lunch: salad, chopped veggies, protein of choice
Snack: piece of fruit, small handful of nuts or almond butter
Dinner: protein, veggie, potato
Don’t start with Pinterest or Instagram because you might get overwhelmed.  A few days in to your first week go to Instagram, Whole30.com, or my personal favorite, Pinterest for meal ideas.

Day before you start, grill up at least a couple chicken breasts, make a handful of hard boiled eggs and chop up lots of veggies.  You will appreciate the ability to throw together a salad, stir fry or breakfast “hash”.  Buy more meat and veggies than you think you’ll need because you will go through them faster than you think.  Also, grab a couple larger bags of raw almonds or other nuts that you enjoy.  These are great to keep around for snacks.

You will certainly be the most successful if you:
Know your purpose (understanding the why)
Plan ahead (strategically choosing the when) and
Choose what to eat (being deliberate of the what).

Next time I will discuss a few confessions, a few meals and products that I could not have lived with out, and final thoughts.

Have you read It Starts with Food?  What do you anticipate will be your greatest challenge?  What do you look forward to in completing your Whole30 experience?

Roasted Tomato Soup with Grilled Cheese Croutons

Oh, ho ho how tough it is to be tempted by Spring one weekend and turn around to have a Midwest winter come back to bite you!!!  We have been tempted a couple of times with delightful weather (read: children are going OUTSIDE).  Then,  THEN we get rain and freezing cold temps.  Not ideal, my friends, not ideal.

When the temps dip too low for the windows to be open, I want one thing:  I want soup.  And if I get to choose, it will almost always be  roasted tomato soup.  It is chunky so it feels hearty and it has TONS of flavor.  Added bonus: your house will smell amazing while you roast these very simple veggies.  Let’s get started!

Take 1 lb. cherry or grape tomatoes and 2 lbs. of Roma tomatoes cut in half and lay out on a baking sheet.  Roughly chop 3/4 of an onion and 4-5 carrots.   Smash 7 garlic cloves and add to the pan.  Pour 1/3 c. olive oil over the top and toss.  Season well with salt and pepper.  Roast in the oven for one hour at 375 degrees.

[Note: This would be the perfect time to invite people over so they can smell the amazing food you are cooking for dinner.  As these veggies roast, they create an absolutely DIVINE aroma.  You will be the rockstar neighbor who makes her own soup.  From scratch.}

Look at that delicious char on those onions and tomatoes!  Two different types of tomatoes give better depth of flavor.  Lots of garlic cuts the sweetness of the carrots and tomatoes and mellows as you roast it.

Once the vegetables have cooled slightly, use an immersion blender (like this one) OR pour carefully into a blender and blend until you reach desired texture.   If it isn’t blending well, add some of the vegetable broth (or chicken broth) to help it along.  Pour soup into soup pot and let simmer for a few minutes to thicken slightly.  Finally, add remaining broth,  2 T. balsamic vinegar, 1/2 t. red pepper flakes and 3-4 T. basil pesto.  Let this simmer a couple of minutes to let all the flavors come together.

While you wait, you can get to work on your grilled cheese.  Keep it simple, but make sure you use real butter to help make that golden crust.  Lastly, cut grilled cheese into cubes for a fun garnish.  Oh, who are we kidding, this is half the reason you made the soup!  (No judgement here).

This is also a wonderful recipe for those in your life who are vegetarians or if you would like to try a Meatless Monday meals.  Or it could also be a great meal to bring a new mom or someone who has just returned from the hospital.  It is warm, comforting, and also very easy to freeze.  Just cool, pour into freezer bags and lay flat.  Roasted Tomato Soup with Grilled Cheese Croutons is the perfect meal to warm you up on a cold day. Enjoy!

Yields 6 hearty servings

Roasted Tomato Soup with Grilled Cheese Croutons

10 minPrep Time

1 hr, 15 Cook Time

1 hr, 25 Total Time

Save RecipeSave Recipe


  • 1 lb. cherry or grape tomatoes
  • 2 lb. Roma tomatoes, cut in half
  • 3/4 onion, rough chopped
  • 7 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 4-5 large carrots, rough chopped
  • 1/3 c. olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 4 c. (32 oz.) vegetable broth (or chicken broth)
  • 2 T. balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 t. red pepper flakes
  • 3-4 T. basil pesto
  • Grilled Cheese croutons
  • 6 slices soft bread, any kind
  • 6 slices mild cheddar cheese
  • 3 slices mozzarella cheese
  • butter


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Lay tomatoes, chopped carrots and onion and smashed garlic on a sheet pan.
  3. Pour olive oil over vegetables and toss.
  4. Season with salt and pepper.
  5. Roast in the oven at 375 degrees for one hour, gently tossing if needed half way through.
  6. When finished, let cool slightly.
  7. Using immersion blender or standard blender, puree vegetables until smooth.
  8. If needed, use some of the broth to loosen the vegetables.
  9. Once smooth, pour pureed soup into soup pot and add balsamic vinegar, red pepper flakes and basil pesto.
  10. Let simmer for a few minutes while you make the grilled cheese.
  11. Smooth butter on one side of the bread, top with two slices of cheddar cheese and one slice of mozzarella cheese.
  12. Finish with one more slice of buttered bread.
  13. Toast until bread is golden and crispy.
  14. Cut off crusts and then cube the sandwich.
  15. Garnish each bowl of soup with a handful of croutons.


Whole30: Why I chose to tackle Whole30 and why you should too

I started Whole30 for the completely self-serving purpose of losing weight.  That is the truth.  There were some other things I was hoping to accomplish along the way, but honestly, I just wanted to lose some pounds and prove that I could actually cut. out. the. carbs.  (Why do we love carbs so much?!!?!?!) 

Honestly, I have done Weight Watchers (which among other programs, I see this as being one of the better ones), Medifast (I started losing my HAIR because of this one!  Whaaaat?), My Fitness Pal and various forms of “eat-nothing-you-like-and-you’ll-lose-weight” plans.  Clearly, if I have done that many, nothing has really stuck.  Reading different reviews of Whole30 intrigued me.

Here are the reasons I wrote down in my journal for starting (and finishing) Whole30:

Kick sugar addiction
Enjoy “treat” foods in moderation
Understand what food can do for my body
Understand my cravings and habits and use the knowledge to make better choices on a regular basis
Possibly eliminate headaches?
Gain more energy to spend with my kids
Regulate blood sugar issues

Couple of things you need to know:  Whole30 is an elimination eating plan (not a diet) to allow you assess how your body reacts to certain types of foods (i.e. dairy, grains/gluten, legumes, sugar, alcohol, MSG, sulfites and carrageennan).   It is called Whole30 because it wants you to be reintroduced to whole foods.  {Have you met squash before?  Yes?  Oh, a long time ago.  Let me reintroduce you!!}  I felt like I needed to relearn what REAL food looked and tasted like.

This program focuses on choosing to eliminate processed and other gut-busting foods for 30 days and then sloooowly reintroduce them to see how your body reacts.  It is NOT intended to be Whole365.  However, its creators, Melissa and Dallas Hartwig, would hope that over the 30 days you would identify some of your own triggers, what aggravates your gut and use that knowledge to move forward into a new healthy lifestyle.

My husband graciously agreed to do this with me, though he needed me to do all the meal planning and prep.  Normally I do most of this for him already, but Whole30 does require a good amount of planning, shopping (you will be buying all fresh produce and meats so you need to replenish often) and chopping.  As Americans, we use carbs as fillers ALL. THE. TIME.  Making tacos?  Let’s have rice!  Chicken parmesan?  A side of pasta!  How about a steak?  Mashed potatoes!!  Don’t have time to wait for chicken to defrost?  How about a sad excuse for protein slapped between two pieces of bread!!

“But hey!!  I added lettuce!  That’s a veggie!”
Ummmm.  No.  One wafer thin leaf of iceberg lettuce does not mean you ate your vegetable–singular!–today.
You see what I’m getting at.  I needed to know I could actually do it.

My mom loves to tease me about how my generation is solely focused on healthy eating and lifestyles.  I get it, and yes I believe we are.  BUT, I think that is a GOOD thing.  My parents played kickball and baseball outside until they were called in.  Our generation is inside playing on the iPad.  Yes, our kids might be better at computers but we have such an epidemic of childhood obesity it scares me for my own kids.  I want them to see that, yes, you can have cake at a birthday party, and something delicious at a carnival but you must also know your way around a rainbow of vegetables.  You don’t have to like all of them, I certainly don’t, but you need to find some that you do.  And how will they know which ones they like if they only know baby carrots and corn on the cob?

Ultimately, I wanted to answer some questions for myself and then hopefully pass on some of this new knowledge to my kids.   My kids need to see me saying no to unhealthy things and yes to things that fuel my body.  They need to know what “moderation” actually looks like.  In the next part of this series, I will talk about getting ready to do your own Whole30 and how to plan to successfully start (and finish!) your own Whole30.

Have you ever considered doing Whole30?  What is holding you back?  What would be your reasons for tackling it?  What would you hope to accomplish if you tried it?

10 Places I find my Comfort Table

I have told you what a Comfort Table is, but some of you might still be unsure of what that looks like for you.  So, in a effort to clarify and help you get to know a bit more about me, I’m sharing my top 10 places I find my Comfort Table.

           Image result for lake michigan photos

  1. Being near the water and the beach.  I grew up going to Lake Michigan as a child,  moved to Chicago after college (right off the lake) and have traveled to many, many beaches.  As cliche as it sounds, the sun on my face, the wind in my hair, the sound of the waves, I love it all.  Back when I was teaching high school in Chicago, I would escape to western Michigan before the school year started to get some much needed “beach-therapy”.
  2. Displaying IMG_7371.jpeg
    Drinking coffee with my favorite people in my favorite city.

    A good cup of coffee.
    After seeing my whole bean coffee, grinder and sheer amount of coffee in my home, people often call me a coffee snob…and I completely agree with them!  There will always be a release in my shoulders, a deep sigh and great comfort in smelling and sipping on a great cup of coffee.  I love how cozy it makes you feel.  If I have had the pleasure of sharing coffee with you, consider yourself family.  To me, it feels the same as sharing a wonderful meal together.

  3. Making the ultimate comfort food for those you love.  I love to cook and bake for my family and friends.  When I know a guest in my home hasn’t eaten in a while, I become very anxious and annoy them mercilessly until they allow me to feed them.  I love to share food that people haven’t tried before and I get deep satisfaction when my guests and family really enjoy the food I make.  It is good for my soul to feed them and I hope they consider it good when they have been fed.
  4. Reading a great book.  It is funny what reading has done for my mental space lately.  When I read in the afternoons I find that the circus that is happening in my brain from being a mom of three young kids quiets considerably and I am able to focus so much better on the rest of my day.  Since 2014, I have read over 90 books and each year I’m pushing to read more.  I love it, find myself learning something new everyday and enjoy it even more when a book reminds me of why I love great story.  I look forward to sharing some of my recommendations soon!
  5. Attending a great bible study.  I love to dive deep into the Word and study it with great richness.  It is also rewarding to get to know the community of people that I study alongside.  I have been so blessed by my home church in the many opportunities they offer: the moms groups, bible studies and teaching are fresh and inspiring.  I have seen great growth in our whole family since attending and I look forward to many more years to come!  If you are looking for a church in the western suburbs of Chicago, check it out!
  6. A long chat with a great friend (especially catching up with one who lives far away!).   Some of my dearest friends live SO FAR.  I’m in Chicago and I have Minnesota, Texas, Tennessee, south Florida, Ohio, and North Carolina.  See what I mean??  Great news:  Great places to visit!!!  Bad news: I never get to see these people.  My soul feels like it is parched when I don’t get to talk to these people.  And motherhood and marriage and work and life just make it hard to connect.  These days I feel like I can barely finish a sentence with my neighbor about trash pickup much less have a full on conversation with someone who means something to me (no offense to my neighbors!).  So when I do, it does my soul good.
  7. Giving someone the perfect gift.  Have you heard about The Five Love Languages?  Well, one of the ways I love to show love to people is through gifts.  I am ridiculous about gifts.  I spend so much time trying to think of and find the perfect gift.  My husband is the opposite.  Gift cards, all day, everyday.  And generic ones too!  I LOVE getting gift cards but I HATE giving them.  I like personal gifts, particularly ones that show I know that person well enough to buy something they would love or appreciate.
  8. Travel.  I love learning about new places and cultures, particularly through the food.  I have been to Russia, the Bahamas, Spain, France, Belgium and Amsterdam and many states across the US.  I’ve even had the opportunity to visit each Central American country when I lived in Honduras for two years with my first teaching job.
  9. Music that evokes emotions.  I think I crushed my Dad a bit the day I told him I would no longer pursue medicine but instead wanted to study music in college (sorry, Dad).  He often told me, “Do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life,”  and at that time I loved singing.  So I got my degree in vocal music education.  That degree gave me the opportunity to travel (see #8), have a career and to sing.  I was able to see each one of the countries above simply because of my music degree.  I am always amazed at how music can deeply affect the human soul and the emotions that can return when hearing a song.
  10. Home.  My childhood home was in Indiana, but when I was in college my parents moved.  I suddenly realized that my home could no longer be a place or a house.  After that, I moved 13 times in 12 years.  How do you make a home when you keep moving???  You begin to realize it is the people, the rituals, the memories that make a house a home.  It is the people you welcome and the refuge you offer.  It is celebrations and heartbreaks and recovery and getting back up again.  Home is where you are the most you and allows you and your loved ones to live life together.

What would you consider to be the places of your Comfort Table?  


The love of stories has been deeply rooted for as long as I can remember.  I received books as gifts for birthdays and Christmases and I remember seeing them swallow up the small space of the nightstand next to my father’s side of the bed.  My mother often read to us, but one particularly strong memory is of her reading The Secret Garden to us when we were young in preparation for a wonderful treat: seeing the stage production as a family with my beloved grandmother.  Later when we were older, we didn’t have television in the summer so I had to find something to pass the time on rainy summer days, and books were a great way to do that.Image result for photos of booksI don’t remember reading much for fun during high school and college (as many people don’t). When traveling I would pick up a random book here or there and read on the beach or some airport.  Reading was a hobby, but sporadic and completely random.  I didn’t keep track of what I read and I certainly had no direction or purpose for it.  But my love of reading was truly reignited when I moved to a new town not knowing a soul.  A few weeks after moving, my husband and I had our first child.  Now it makes no sense that I would start reading again within months of becoming a mother for the first time (you mothers can understand my thoughts here), but another discovery was quick to come: for those of us extroverts, motherhood for me could be exceptionally lonely.  

Oh, please do not misunderstand me.  I’ve known my whole life I wanted to be a mother.  I love to hold them, cuddle them, snuggle and play with them.  I loved teaching them new things (yes, I became a teacher because of it).  During high school and college I taught dance classes to all ages at three different dance studios and babysat for any family that would hire me.  When my husband and I got married, I couldn’t wait to stay at home with my kids.  But, as I mentioned before, we moved to a new place and motherhood is wonderful and amazing and fun.  And exhausting and worrisome and nerve-wracking.  I am in charge of this little soul who is truly now mine.  I was elated!  I am doing what I was born to do!!  But I didn’t have anyone to talk to about it.

I am thankful that I found a moms group that supported women in just our situation: veteran moms teaming up with new moms to help navigate the joys, trials and concerns of motherhood. From that group, I began to hear that other women we’re missing some of their old hobbies, one of which was reading. So, I decided to stick my neck out and ask if anyone would like to join a short-term book club.  I was so thankful there were quite a few interested and I decided to launch our group.  Be sure to check back, I’ll be telling you how I started my group!

There are many different ways to create your own Comfort Table, but I have found that one of the best ways is for you to start it yourself.  I know, I know, some of you are already getting anxious and nervous and sweaty because you aren’t like me and you hate being the initiator.  I get that.  I can hear a particular friend of mine yelling at me right now, ” That is SO not something I could do!  I hate initiating that kind of thing!”  BUT, consider what you might gain.  It might just be the thing you have been desiring for a very long time.  It might just become one of the best parts of your story.

Have you ever created a group of people that you enjoy being around?  If you haven’t yet, what would you like to be the focus of your group (i.e. books, dinner club, jewelry making, writing, etc.)?