22 November 2014

My Very First Meet-Up

Meeting someone in person…it can be nerve-racking.  A couple weekends ago, this was me at a Starbucks waiting to meet my Instagram friend for the very first time.  

We had been friends for a while, via social media, and I found out she lived nearby.  Eventually, we agreed to meet up for coffee and conversation.

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I honestly didn’t know what to expect.  This isn't a typical thing for me to do, but I guess this is what happens after you create a network of friends on-line.  Eventually, they become close to you in a way where you want to reach out.

When my Instagram friend arrived, we really hit it off.  We were chatting it up long after my coffee and vanilla bean scones had disappeared.  We actually lost track of how long we had been occupying space at Starbucks!  It's no wonder though, since we were already acquainted with each others lives.

I ended up doing her daughter’s engagement photo shoot the following week.  It was awesome and I am so glad that I met my friend Jen.

Have you ever ventured out to meet a blogging buddy or someone you met on-line?  How did it go?  Would you do it again?

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20 November 2014

Because My Homemade Christmas 2013 Rocked!

It's Throwback Thursday, why not publish that post that didn't get published last year?  I realize it is nearly half-way through November, of 2014, and this post was nearly ready to go last year.  That won't stop me from showing off all the things I made by hand for my family and friends.
DIY Homemade Christmas Gifts | Simply D Constsructed

That, and I couldn't publish this post until all recipients received their gifts.  Spoiling is no fun.  Plus, once we were coming down from that holiday high, I did not want to look at another mason jar or gift wrapped in pretty paper for at least 11 months.

This was such a fun and crafty holiday for me.  Though I don't think I saw my table remain clear for longer than the amount of time it took to eat dinner. There were a few times I thought "lets just save Mom the heartache of cleaning it off, and eat dinner on the floor everyone."  I KID.  That will be the Mom of the Year award write-up for sure.  

I was so busy and obsessed with this huge project of mine before the holidays kicked off, that I would not be surprised if one of the kids happened to take a picture of the craziness that took over our dining room. "...and here is a picture, showing the reason why we all ate dinner on the floor, criss-cross applesauce for roughly a month.  By the way, here is your mason jar, Mrs. Smith."  Ha-ha!

1.  I used a "Handmade" vinyl stencil (clearance aisle, Michael's!) with sticky backing that is also reusable, and I sponge-painted it with a light blue acrylic paint.  I labeled several jars and fell in love with how they looked. 

2.  One of the fillers for those jars was homemade hot chocolate mix. I love using mason jars, because they're so versatile. 

3.  Another craft I picked up quickly (not that I was good, but I really enjoyed it that much) was sewing.  I wanted to make tissue covers, to put a whole box of tissues, sans box, inside and it would be soft like a pillow.  Nothing is more annoying than having a box of tissue getting tossed around in a vehicle, so that was where my head was when I made these Holiday pattern-inspired tissue "pillow cases."

4.  These little burlap-looking cloth sacks were purchased on Oriental Trading by my best friend.  I bought the gazillion leftover  bags from her and thought "I will use these!"  I turned them into little favor baggies for my daughter's class party.  At first I just wanted to throw in some candy and call it a day, but that spark of inspiration turned into a willful flame of creativity.  I took some card stock (one patterned, one plain) and two different sized punches plus a hole punch and made cute labels.  

5.  This is how I ended up packaging everything for my family.  It surprisingly fit pretty well.

6.  One idea I came up with for the hot chocolate was to stuff huge marshmallows into the tops before sealing them.  I am a perfectionist and it would truly hurt my heart to think that the layers would shift en route and look a mess by the time my family and friends received their boxes.  Not totally sure if it worked, but I tried!

7.  I really love the way candy bark looks, with all of the pretty colored candies one can use.  I decided to make a holiday-colored bark and used pretzel balls again. (sweet and salty and delicious!)  I made a pan and filled a couple of jars with the bark.  Then I decided to dress up the jars with patterned cardstock cut to fit right on top of the lid but under the ring.

8.  Marshmallows probably would not help the flavor of this gift, though I don't think I want to test my theory.  These little jars were filled with homemade taco seasoning - the same kind I use at home.  I think I did the layering the hard way, even though I multiplied the recipe (doubled or quadrupled, I like even numbers) It was hard to tell if I'd have room for another round of spices so there was definitely room at the top of the jar when I closed it.  I suppose taco seasoning does not have to look pretty.

9.  Another sewing adventure here, these were little rice pads.  I bought some cheap hand towels from Walmart and sewed them shut save for a small corner.  I added rice with just enough space to easily sew that last corner shut.  You're supposed to heat the pad in the microwave for 30 seconds or so, to get it nice and warm.  Then you put it on any sore parts of your body.  I heard back from one of my sisters, saying that it really worked.  Anyway, I wrapped each pad in cute paper and some raffia, some topped with paper poinsettias - totally a last minute decorative decision (those are the best, aren't they?)  

I hope you enjoyed my Throwback Thursday's tour through last year's round of gift-giving.  And maybe enjoyed a laugh or two.  All in all, I think my family and friends appreciated the effort and thoughtfulness that went into this themed gift idea. Maybe this should become a tradition.  Good thing I invested in a longer dining room table, huh?

Do you ever create a theme for gift-giving? 

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17 November 2014

Aqua Aerobics - Guest Post

Have you ever tried aqua aerobics?  They offer this form of exercise at my gym, though it's adapted for senior citizens.  My new blogger friend Kaitlin has a great passion for aqua aerobics, and let me tell you - she schooled me with this post.  
Aqua Aerobics
She asked if she could write a guest post for my blog, to which I hurriedly agreed before she could change her mind. [My first guest post!  Welcome Kaitlin!]  After reading what she wrote, I think I might have to persuade my gym to tailor it for the younger crowd, to include kids as well! 

Start Your Youngsters Exercising With Aqua Aerobics

When we think about working out, it’s usually for ourselves. But don’t forget to include your children in your plans, because it will start them on a healthy lifestyle. I love aqua aerobics, so I introduced my kids to this great form of exercise, so they could enjoy all the fun I have with water workouts.

The essence of water workouts. Getting in a good aqua aerobics session is pretty easy. An exercise in the water that raises your heart rate, like treading water or aqua jogging, can qualify as a water workout. There are a variety of workouts you can do in the water that are very similar to things you do in the gym, from kick boxing to weight training. In the water, a person’s body only has to support a fraction of its own weight, and that low impact aspect is one of the reasons water exercise has become so popular. Here are some resources with more great information:

Water Aerobics And Water Fitness Exercises

My Ultimate Guide To Aqua Aerobics

Health Benefits of Water-Based Exercise

Make it a game. If I tell my kids it’s time to clean their rooms, they just roll their eyes. If I were to say “hey, join me in a water workout,” I’d likely get the same response. So instead, I make it a game. One of their favorites is Spiderman, and when I say that I’m about to do it, they line up with me. We start near the side of the pool, and begin to tread water with our arms. As we do that, we begin to run up the side of the pool and back down, starting with the alternate leg each time. We all keep going until we get tired, stop, then after a rest go again. They never seem to grow tired of this one.

What’s next? After we stop Spiderman, I start doing lunges, where I step out over one leg, return to the original position, then step out over the other leg. Since the kids are shorter, they do this in shallower water. On land, lunges are a grind for me, but in the water, it’s a much more gentle experience that still works out my legs. After that, I’m surprised when the kids are still with me, but I start aqua crunches, and they go right along. I fold a towel and put it lengthwise along the side of the pool, and the kids do the same. We put our arms up on the towel, then begin to bring our legs up to our chest, and back down. The kids leave me behind on this one, as they make it a competition to see who can do the most. Do they realize at this point they’re exercising? I’m not sure, but I love it.

Hey, can I go along? The funniest part was when the kids and I were headed to the community pool to go aqua jogging. I told my husband where we were going, and he shocked me by saying “Hey, can I go along?” I promptly agreed, and we made a family adventure out of it.  We went when the lap lanes are open, and just took off down a lane in a good jogging posture. Once again, the kids could go further than I can. I shared a lane with one of my boys, and the other shared a lane with Dad. The kids loved it. With him joining in, it only made water workouts more cool for the kids, so they have become very regular about exercising in the water with us.

I’m so excited to see my kids exercising in the water – they’re staying fit, having a good time, and establishing a healthy lifestyle.

Kaitlin Gardner started An Apple Per Day to explore her passion for a green living lifestyle, and healthy family living. She and her husband have just moved to rural Pennsylvania, where they enjoy exploring the countryside to discover interesting and out of the way places. She is also learning how to paint watercolors.

Thanks for being a guest on my blog, Kaitlin!
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16 November 2014

Dinner Made Simple With Spaghetti Squash

Where are all of my spaghetti squash lovers???  Definitely raising my hand here.  I get along very well with carbs from pasta and breads, but they aren't always my true friends in the end. 

Spaghetti Squash Recipes

Spaghetti squash is a great alternative to pasta, and it does not taste like a vegetable!  At all!  But don't take my word for it; you must try it for yourself.  If you haven't incorporated spaghetti squash into your weekly meal plans, you seriously should. 

Below, I'm sharing my way of preparing spaghetti squash, as well as a couple of recipes from Hungry Girl.  
1.  Preheat oven to 350.
2.  Place spaghetti squash in a 9x13 casserole dish with about 1 inch of water on the bottom. (I really believe this helps prevent scorching)
3.  After 30 minutes (depending on your oven), take the spaghetti squash out.  Halve the squash length-wise, and let it cool enough to be able to handle.

Scoop out the seeds and stringy innards, for lack of a better word.  Then take a fork and work the inside of the squash loose.  It'll come apart in strands, just like spaghetti.  After taking a fork to the squash, this is where some people stop and just eat it with sauce.  It is perfectly good this way!

Since I was a gourmet chef in another lifetime like to pretend I'm a gourmet chef in the kitchen, I take an extra 10 minutes to saute my garlic and onions and whatever other veggies and/or meat that I have.  Then, at the last minute I throw in my spaghetti squash and crank up the heat in the pan just to combine the flavors and bring everything to the same temp.  Grab your favorite pasta sauce and dinner is done.  Voila!

The Hungry Girl has some great spaghetti squash recipes that she shared on her blog, complete with nutrition facts and printable recipes.  She's awesome like that.

Note: I learned today that I have been skipping a very important step in preparing spaghetti squash: straining and blotting.  This would be the reason for the excess liquid on my plate.  Trial by error, right?  I never minded it before, but I'm definitely not going to make this mistake next time.  Blot your squash!

There are a few minor variations to making this dish but it is a really simple one to prepare.   If you're looking to curb those carb cravings and still have your spaghetti too, this is the way to go.   

Now go get your squash on and consider it an easy healthy dinner night!  
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14 November 2014

A Wall With a Story - DIY Ideas For Your Walls

Ahh, the holidays.  They are quickly approaching, with Thanksgiving just 2 weeks away.  There will be food, fun and family, and of course those guests who hardly make it for a visit any other time of the year.  You want to prepare your house, maybe get the guest bedroom cleaned up a bit, throw some art up on your bare walls...

I'm not going to lie, this totally sounds like me with my holiday stressors.

Do you ever have a hard time coming up with ideas to decorate your house?  I know I do, especially when we are having company around the holidays. 

The walls are the first thing I tackle, but that usually goes hand-in-hand with moving.  Before I even start to think about tablescapes (still perfecting this art) and my front door (wreaths), I must put up my pictures.  I cannot stand to have a plain wall where it can be helped.  That is like a blank canvas: it needs a story to tell. 

There are many unique ways to decorate your walls.  Some people show off family photos with a gallery wall.  Others have really cool art work, or they choose a theme to go with.  Pinterest has become a wealth of inspiration for me.  I love to have a mix of pictures and phrases painted on wood, and some quick DIY decor to tie it all together.
My DIY picture ledge

Today, I have a great list of ways to decorate your walls with DIY artwork.  There is literally something to compliment everyone's taste.   

How about you?  What kind of stories do your walls tell?

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04 November 2014

Tomato Soup for the Soul

Who doesn't love tomato soup?  Cold weather = comfort foods, and tomato soup is pretty comforting to me.   I decided to try and make one (somewhat) from scratch.  Naturally, Pinterest came through for me in my time of need.  The Pinning Mama has an excellent copycat version of Panera's creamy tomato basil soup.

The Pinning Mama - copy-cat Panera creamy tomato basil soup.
She had me at "basil." 

I find that whenever I want to make something from scratch, it tends to be after I get back from the gym, and we are all starving and ready for lunch.  Me - I'm near hangry status at this point.  I like planning things out but sometimes it just doesn't happen.

What's that saying?  "Fail to plan = plan to fail."

Well, my friends, this was not a failed attempt.

Her version is so easy IF you aren't trying to be a guerilla chef in the kitchen.  (I wonder if I should coin that...)  I did tweak her version a tad.  I was halfway through sauteing some veggies when I made this decision, and didn't want to waste them.  The celery/onion/sweet bell pepper mix was smelling amazing, so I dumped the garlic into that and carried on. 

Other variations:  And I didn't have any broth - I replaced broth for water, and added 4 chicken bouillons (I never know when to use these).  I used 1 14.5oz can of tomato sauce instead of the 28oz can of diced tomatoes. And I did a rough chop of basil.  I LOVE basil.  It didn't matter that they stuck to my lips as I unsuccessfully tried to slurp my soup. (Bad manners kids, don't follow my ways!)  I also did not use as much heavy creamer.  I literally did a slow pour until the color looked pretty.

Check my Instagram to the right for a pic!  I inhaled it too quickly to get a good shot.

The soup was phenomenal.  I paired it with a tuna sandwich (kinda boring) and it hit the spot.  My preference for adding the veggies made it chunky, but I did not mind one bit.  You could always use an immersion blender (adding that to my Christmas wish list) or a food processor (my way for now).

Be sure to visit her blog for the full recipe breakdown!

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01 November 2014

Cold But Free in Carolina

Baby, it's November and it's...cold outside?  Yes I know, it's snowing in some parts of the country right now.  But North Carolina?

I'm not a typical North Carolinian but I think I've adapted to the weather here, in which I fully expect it to be sufficiently warm enough to survive in a light jacket or sweater and jeans.  Though I don't mind getting weather reminiscent of places that typically have all 4 seasons. :-)

Anyway, I had more important news to share besides the fact that I was forced to turn on my heater today.  I am officially done with school for the rest of this calendar year.  Doesn't sound like a big deal, but it totally is!  This week was finals week, and now I have two whole months of free school-free time.  Of course I will still be busy; only one aspect of my life has been freed up.

So, I wanted to tell you all that I am very excited to get back to blogging consistently again.  We will see how it goes.  I've missed being on here routinely, since before school starts.  I miss connecting with everyone most of all.  

What have you been up to?  Are you experiencing any cold weather in your neck of the woods?  I'd love to hear! 

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