Friday, January 17, 2014

Influenster product review: Venus Embrace Sensitive

I hope this is the first of many product reviews for Influenser! If you have no clue what is, here's the rundown. You create an account and do surveys and polls to indicate your interests. Doing this helps you earn badges. Based on your badges, you are selected for free, full-size samples of products to review. You keep everything they send you, absolutely FREE. Interested? Let me know by comment, and I'll send you an invite to join!


On Tuesday, January 14, I got a full-size Venus Embrace Sensitive razor with a shower hook and an extra cartridge. I paid nothing. This product hasn't even hit shelves yet--you literally can't buy it. It feels really cool to be able to use and review a product before it is publicly released. I feel like such an insider!

So, let me give you a little background on my experience with Venus razors. I used to own one, you know, when they first came out in my pre-teenager-dom. The shower hook sucked, and my razor was somehow always getting knocked in the trash can. I ended up buying a few across a year or so because they always needed replacing from being accidentally thrown away, but I eventually got tired of paying for a new razor all the time and decided to start using disposables.

I've been using BIC Soleil disposable razors with either 3 (regular Soleil) or 4 (Soleil Bella) blades for the last 5 years or so. The shave is okay. The heads on these razors are pretty stationary, so they don't move all that well with the contours of your skin. I've found that the blades dull quickly, and I usually get red irritated bumps right after shaving with Soleil. I also have to shave my underarms every other day and my legs every 5 days. But, with the coupons that company runs, I can usually get them for next to nothing, so that's my motivation.

So, I decided I'd test this bad boy out. I took a long, steamy shower on Tuesday. I lathered up with some Skintimate shave gel, shaved my legs and underarms, and let me tell you, it's the closest shave I've had in about 10 years. I'm not kidding. I didn't get any irritation. No burning, nothing. I wanted to wait a few days to review because I wanted to see how my hair started growing back in. It's been COLD in Bloomington, too, so I've had chill bumps a lot. That always seems to make my hair grow faster. Honestly, though, I don't think I will need to shave my underarms until at least Sunday and my legs until like Wednesday.

Let's compare:
BIC Soleil
underarms every 2 days
legs every 5 days

Venus Embrace Sensitive
underarms every 5 days
legs every 8 days

That's a pretty drastic improvement!

Other things I loved: the pivoting head, which really follows your skin. I feel like with other razors' inflexibility, I'm always forced to press too hard to get a good angle, which ends up irritating my skin more. Also, the rubber handle--totally nonslip. I didn't drop that thing a single time, and we all know how slippery shaving cream makes things.

There were definitely a few cons, too, though. I was absolutely terrified of cutting myself with this razor. It has 5 blades. SHARP blades. I don't want to find out what a cut from this thing feels like. There is no plastic cover for the blades when the razor's not in use. I'm kind of scared to hang it in the shower because I don't want it to fall and cut my bathing toddler. On that same note, the shower hook seems to only stay suctioned to the wall when the shower's wet. It has already fallen off twice since Tuesday. I think I'll keep it in my shower caddy instead. I also noticed that, while it was great that the shaved hair sat on top of the razor and didn't get down in it and clog it up, I had to rinse it off more frequently while I was shaving.

One con I can't specify yet, since this product isn't sold, is price. I'm poor. I don't have the money to buy razor refills at $15 a pop (just a guess, based on current Venus pricing) for 4 cartridges. Unless P&G runs some awesome coupons, I don't foresee myself being able to use this razor regularly. I have a decent stockpile of coupon-bought BICs, which I will probably continue to use on a regular basis for the most part. Maybe I'll just use my Venus for strapless and bare-legged occasions, until I find a better means of affordability for the refill cartridges.

Overall review: highly recommend. Look for coupons to improve affordability. Store in a safe location to prevent accidental cuts.

#ItsNotMe -- it's my razor. #VenusEmbraceSensitive #VoxBox #Influenster

*I received these products complimentary from Influenster for testing purposes.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Modern amenities and thankfulness

In response to the recent water crisis surrounding many of my family and friends back home in WV, I wanted to write about being thankful for modern amenities.

On a typical day, I use my cell phone, car, heat or A/C, fan, lamps and overhead lights, computer, printer, washer, dryer, shower, sink, toilet, straightener or blow dryer, TV, dishwasher, fridge/freezer, oven, stove, and so much more. I usually don't give a second thought to any of it--I just use all these things blindly.

Oh, and let's not forget about modern medicine! I don't know how I would survive without my Zyrtec and Flonase.

It's hard to imagine a time where none of this stuff worked as quickly and easily, much less a time where none of it even existed. It's harder still to realize that there are lots of countries and cultures around the world who know these things exist, but have no access or means of affordability for using them.

In a world where we so often take for granted even the most basic things like clean, running water and using an actual toilet, instead of a pit in the dirt, it's not a stretch to see how we are also lacking in the category of thankfulness.

I want to make an effort to be more humble and thankful for the simple things in life that make everyday survival easy, and I challenge you to do the same. If you're reading this, you are blessed. Even at rock bottom, you probably have access to more modern amenities than millions of other people on this planet.

Food for thought.

More later.


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Kitchen essentials, part 3--fridge and freezer foods

Here's my final list!

Essential Fridge and Freezer Foods:
  • celery
  • carrots
  • lettuce
  • spinach
  • oranges/tangerines
  • apples
  • berries or grapes
  • whatever other fruits or vegetables we've bought for specific dishes
  • milk (skim and 2% or whole)
  • 3-5 types of cheese (cheddar, colby jack, monterey jack, parmesan, etc.)
  • buttermilk
  • butter
  • pre-packaged minced garlic (so easy)
  • typical condiments
  • eggs
  • yogurt
  • bacon or sausage
  • ground beef
  • chicken (whole, parts, breasts, etc.)--we've been really into chicken leg quarters lately because they're cheap
  • water (we love cold water from our Brita pitcher)
  • iced tea and coffee
  • ice
  • frozen vegetables (green beans, peas, corn, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, etc.)
  • white wine
  • beer
  • vanilla ice cream
  • wonton and/or eggroll wrappers
  • cheese ravioli
We tend to keep the above items as staples and shop around that according to what we need for a certain meal we plan to make. I like to keep a decent amount of frozen produce because 1. it's cheap and 2. it doesn't go bad as quickly. I hate wasting food, so if I can save myself from that fate, I go for it! Plus, frozen vegetables are usually really fresh-tasting and have much more intact nutrients than canned.

Enjoy! :)

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Kitchen essentials, part 2--pantry foods

I try to keep a well-stocked pantry, but I'm sure I have room for improvement. I'm always up for trying new ingredients and new dishes, so any input is welcome.

Essential Pantry Foods:
  • lots of canned tomato sauce, paste, and diced tomatoes
  • onions
  • potatoes
  • cream of mushroom, celery, and chicken soups
  • spaghetti or linguine
  • penne or ziti
  • shells or macaroni
  • 3-5 varieties of rice--minute rice, brown, white, Arborio (ideal for risotto), basmati (ideal for Asian food), wild, etc.
  • raisins
  • saltine crackers
  • breadcrumbs
  • popcorn
  • tea
  • coffee
  • sugar
  • all-purpose flour
  • self-rising flour
  • cornmeal
  • brown sugar
  • peanut butter
  • vinegar
  • olive oil
  • vegetable or canola oil
  • nonstick cooking spray
  • salt
  • pepper
  • baking soda
  • baking powder
  • cocoa powder
  • confectioner's sugar
  • cake flour
  • Crisco
  • vanilla extract
  • chocolate chips
  • cinnamon
  • ginger
  • nutmeg
  • cloves
  • paprika
  • basil
  • oregano
  • cumin
  • ground mustard
  • coriander
  • bay leaves
  • garlic powder
  • celery seed
  • Old Bay seasoning
  • cayenne
  • chili powder
  • onion powder
  • dill
  • crushed red pepper
  • thyme
  • rosemary
  • allspice
  • chives
  • parsley
  • chives
  • chicken and beef bouillon
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • soy sauce
  • ketchup
  • mayonnaise
  • mustard
  • syrup
  • honey
  • salad dressings
  • hot sauce
  • Tabasco sauce
  • pancake mix or Bisquick
  • pre-packaged sides (cheesy broccoli rice, shells and cheese, couscous, etc.)
  • canned tuna, salmon, or chicken
  • 2-3 varieties of beans--black, navy, kidney, pinto, etc.
  • lentils
  • applesauce
  • oatmeal
  • Cream of Wheat
  • 3-5 varieties of cold cereal
  • granola bars
  • animal crackers
  • fruit snacks
  • yeast
  • taco shells and/or tortillas
  • taco seasoning
  • chili seasoning
  • salsa

Kitchen essentials, part 1--gadgets

A few of my friends have asked me to share the items I keep in my pantry at all times. Great idea, I say! I love reading lists like this because they inspire me to try new things and help broaden my spectrum of potential dishes that can be made on a whim. Since there's a lot of stuff in my kitchen, I'm going to break it up into several posts:

Part 1: gadgets
Part 2: pantry foods
Part 3: fridge and freezer foods

This is by no means exclusive; these are just my most-used items that I wouldn't want to be without. As you'll see, I like things in 2s. It's nice to have a back-up, sure, but I frequently use the items in 2s simultaneously, especially for big holiday meals.


Essential Kitchen Gadgets:
  • 2 large skillets--one nonstick and one regular
  • 2 medium skillets--one nonstick and one regular
  • small nonstick skillet
  • stock pot with lid
  • 2 large pots with lids
  • 2 medium pots with lids
  • medium double boiler with lid
  • 3 baking sheets--small, medium, large
  • 2 cookie baking sheets with center air insulation (Baker's Secret brand is my preference)
  • 2 loaf pans
  • 2 muffin tins (12 + 6 or two 12s)
  • 2 pie pans (glass or metal)
  • a 10-piece set of French White (it's classic!) Corningware casseroles, ramekins, and lids
  • 2 9x13 pans
  • 2 sets of mixing bowls (we have one plastic and one metal)
  • salad bowl
  • large serving platter
  • salad spinner
  • large roasting pan with rack
  • 3 cooling racks
  • 5 or so serving spoons (slotted and regular)
  • enough dinner and dessert plates, bowls, glasses, forks, spoons, and knives to serve 8 people
  • 2 rubber spatulas
  • wide plastic spatula (my fave for pancakes)
  • 3 metal spatulas (1 slotted)
  • pie server
  • 3 whisks
  • hand mixer or stand mixer
  • spaghetti spoon
  • ladle
  • 3 big metal spoons (1 slotted)
  • Crock Pot (I love my 6-qt. auto-timer Crock!)
  • 3 glass measuring cups (1-, 2-, and 4-cup)
  • metal measuring spoons
  • metal dry-ingredient measuring cups
  • lots of food-storage containers
  • garlic press
  • apple slicer
  • boiled egg slicer
  • waffle maker
  • hand or stand mixer
  • toaster
  • coffee maker
  • 2 pitchers (we use one for iced tea and one for iced coffee)
  • ingredient prep bowls (Kitchen-Aid sells a nice set of 4 with lids)
  • sifter
  • strainer
  • basting brush
  • 2 pot holders
  • oven mitt
  • 2 trivets
  • electric can opener
  • 10-piece (minimum) knife set
  • 3 cutting boards (1 large for cutting lots of veggies at once, 1 for meat, 1 for miscellaneous other uses)
  • colander
  • ice-cube bin
  • Crock Pot liners
  • foil
  • various sizes of Ziplocs
  • Saran wrap
  • parchment paper
  • wax paper
If you're into alphabetizing, sorry--I probably just cranked up your anxiety with this random-order list. Anyway, there it is! What other essential gadgets do you have?

Saturday, January 11, 2014

My biggest weakness as a mom

I'm a pretty realistic and self-aware person, so I think it goes without saying that I am under no delusions when it comes to being a mom. I am well aware that I'm not perfect. I have many areas that I am continually working to improve upon, but it seems that my biggest weakness in life--impatience--is always bleeding over into my role as a parent and putting me in my place.

Yesterday afternoon around 3:00pm, Kimmy was down for a nap. Jarrell had just dozed off, so I thought I would also try to take a nap. It had been a long week, and I was exhausted.

No sooner had I drifted off than I was awakened by Kimmy fussing and crying in her room. I assumed the usual--that she was either fussy from having 3 molars coming in at once or that she had thrown all her stuffed animals out of the crib and wanted them back.

I half-thought about letting her be for 10 minutes or so to see if she would settle back down, but then the tiny voice of patience and reason in my head told me to get my sleepy self up and check on her. 2 minutes later, I got up to go see.

When I got to her crib, I saw vomit all over her sheet, her blanket, and her shirt.

Instant guilt.

I totally took for granted that she rarely cries, and when she does, she genuinely needs assistance or attention the majority of the time. In my sleepy haze, I almost ignored her needs. Guilt doesn't get much heavier than that for me, especially since she very rarely pukes and is terrified of the process.

She seems to think she is going to be in trouble for vomiting. As soon as she makes eye contact after throwing up, she starts sobbing and puts her head down in shame. I honestly don't know how she came up with that behavior. I puked so much in my childhood that I have an extreme amount of empathy for the situation and would never dream of shaming her for it.

So, I got her sheets, diaper, and clothes changed. I comforted her. I started on her laundry. She eventually cheered up, even though she remained nauseous and pukey the rest of the evening, poor thing.

The moral of the story: my impatience for Kimmy's crying and waking me up almost cost me a crucial opportunity to fulfill my daughter's need for comfort. If I didn't make a constant effort to be patient with her, it could seriously hurt the trust she has built in me.

She is still very little, and so much is still brand new to her. It's my job as her mommy to hang back and let her experience the world at her pace because that's the only way she can build her own understanding of things. If I never let her fall and rush through life taking the reins for her, she won't have the chance to make the mental connections that are so important in the toddler years.

I wish I knew the source for this, but I want to share a poem that always helps ground me when I'm having a hard time achieving the above:

Give me patience when little hands
Tug at me with ceaseless, small demands.
Give me gentle words and smiling eyes
To keep my lips from hasty, sharp replies.
Let not fatigue, confusion, or noise
Obscure my vision of life's fleeting joys,
So when in years to come, my house is still,
Beautiful memories its rooms may fill.

More later.


Thursday, January 9, 2014

Kimmy's communication

Kimmy Jarae is now 17 months old (as of January 7). She completely blows my mind on a daily basis with all the things she knows!

Yesterday she kept following me around the house, wrapping her arms around my legs, and saying, "ohhhhh" while giving me the sweetest hugs. This afternoon when I turned on the TV for us to watch "Bubble Guppies" together, she said, "bow-buhl!" (I didn't even know she knew what that show was called!) Tonight she told me, "nye nye" before going to bed. She is full of these cute surprises lately!

I've tried to do a mental count of all the words she can say, but I can't seem to lock down a number. It's hard to differentiate words she says with words she knows. I truly feel that she understands almost everything I say to her, so how can I discount her a word just because she can't pronounce it yet? And then there are the words she knows, but just has sounds for. Example: she is OBSESSED with Curious George. She can say his name ("Jujjjj"), but she calls other monkeys "ah-ahs" because of the sound they make. She has obviously mastered the word...except for being able to say, "monkey."

Her nonverbal communication and movement are equally entertaining. I love the kisses she blows. (Well, really, she just kisses her hand and leaves it pressed against her lips, but it's a nice attempt.) She loves to wave, shrug, nod, dance, jump, spin, do assisted somersaults on the living-room rug, RUN, climb, clap, and close doors.

But my very favorite thing in her repertoire right now is the squeal of absolute delight that leaks out of her mouth when she hears the bath water running and knows she's going to get to play in the tub! She does a little dance, which is like a little stomping-in-place jig, and squeals and screams and laughs. Ultra cute!

I love my funny monkey! She is such a wonderful companion. She is loving and thoughtful, and she has a wicked sense of humor. I am blessed to be able to watch her learn and grow and take in the world. It's hard to believe she's almost 1 and a half! Love her so.

"Nye nye!"


Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Parsley pesto and linguine

I've been trying to get rid of a big bunch of fresh parsley in my fridge for several weeks. We bought it to use in a dish at Christmas and forgot to use it, so it has been looking awfully lonely in the crisper drawer.

I didn't feel like cooking an elaborate meal tonight, so I took the ultra-easy route and went with simple Italian food: pasta and pesto! It's big on flavor, super filling, and spot on for a Wednesday night comfort food fix.

If you've never made pesto, here's the rundown. It's basically a green leafy herb purée with oil, parmesan, garlic, and usually pine nuts, almonds, or walnuts. It's typically made with basil or arugula, but it can really be made with any green leafy veg or herb. Common variations include parsley, kale, spinach, Swiss chard, and cilantro.

I'm not a nut (ha...I punned again!) for the nutty texture in pesto, and I'm indifferent towards pine nuts anyway. Not to mention that's not even an ingredient I keep in the pantry. Anyway, I left that part out. I also added my own touch!

Parsley Pesto
3 c. fresh parsley leaves (some stems are okay--it'll all be puréed anyway)
2/3 c. parmesan cheese (preferably off the block and not of the grated Kraft variety, which contains fillers and not so much cheese)
3 cloves fresh garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. Old Bay seasoning
1/2 c. extra-virgin olive oil

Add all ingredients, except oil, to a food processor and pulse to a paste-like texture. Scrape sides of processor to incorporate all ingredients. Turn it all the way on and add oil gradually in a steady stream through the opening on the top of the processor. It will bind together, but if it starts to separate before your pasta is done, just give it a quick stir.

Serve tossed with warm pasta, as seasoning in vegetable or potato soup, as a sandwich spread, or freeze in an ice-cube tray and use as a flavor starter for vegetable sautées.

Extremely cheap, easy, and versatile. Super flavorful. You really can't go wrong with pesto. Enjoy!


Recent recipes

Cooking is my therapy. There is nothing like a little [a lot of] alone time in the kitchen! Since we were snowed in this weekend, I cooked to my heart's content.

Barbecue Chicken Pizza
1 package Fleischman's rapid-rise yeast
3 c. all-purpose flour
1 tbsp. sugar
3/4 tsp. salt
1 c. warm water
3 tbsp. olive oil
1 c. barbecue sauce
1 clove fresh garlic, minced
1 c. cooked chicken, chopped
1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 1/2 c. shredded cheese (any combination of sharp cheddar, colby jack, fontina, mild/medium cheddar, etc.)
1/2 c. fresh parsley

Preheat oven to 425.

Heat 2 tbsp. olive oil to medium heat in a skillet. Add onions and cook 10-15 minutes or until golden and caramelized.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, salt, and yeast. Add warm water and mix with a fork until combined. Briefly knead the dough and form into a ball. Coat with 1 tbsp. olive oil and allow to sit for about 5 minutes.

Press dough onto a pizza pan sprayed with nonstick spray. Poke surface with a fork to prevent air bubbles. Bake for 5-10 minutes or until about 80% done.

Top with barbecue sauce, garlic, onions, chicken, and cheese. Bake an additional 10-ish minutes or until cheese is melted and crust has continued browning.

Top with fresh chopped parsley, slice, and enjoy!

We are big fans of this pizza in this house! I make it every few weeks, and we rarely have leftovers. I'll admit that I undercooked the dough a little this time in my haste to sink into a plate of yummy sweet, tangy, cheesy goodness. It was still delicious, even if it looks underdone in the picture. Major plus: this only takes about a half hour start to finish!

Next! I've had a can of crushed pineapple in my cabinet for months, and I just couldn't seem to find a use for it. A Facebook friend recently shared a great recipe for pineapple cake, and I saw my golden (ha!) opportunity! This cake has no butter or oil, so it's pretty healthy, as cakes go.

Easiest Pineapple Cake*
2 c. all-purpose flour
2 c. sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. vanilla
A pinch salt
20 oz. can crushed pineapple (undrained)
(Optional: 1 c. chopped nuts, which I didn't add. I'm not a huge fan of the nuts + cake texture.)

Preheat oven to 350. Mix all ingredients in a large bowl. Pour into a greased 9x13 pan and bake for 30-ish minutes.

My tip: really watch this cake while it's baking. The original recipe said to cook for 35-40 minutes, but mine was done way early. Maybe glass baking dish vs. dark baking pan matters. I always go with my dark metal pan. So, yeah. Just watch.

Now, here's my favorite thing about pineapple cakes: they get an awesome caramelized edge. The natural sugars in the pineapple turn into golden-brown perfection when heated.

I kicked up the sweetness factor by frosting with a homemade buttercream while the cake was still warm, but the cake itself would be moist and plenty sweet all on its own. The original recipe calls for a cream-cheese icing, which might be nice, too. I didn't have any cream cheese on hand, though, and I'm actually not a huge fan of cream cheese in sweet dishes. (I like it more in savory things like dips and casseroles.)

I'm not sure what's on the menu for tonight, but who knows--maybe I'll be posting that adventure in the near future!

More later.


*recipe credit:

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

On Christ the solid rock I stand

I've been pretty down the past few days. There, I said it.

I'm sure it's from some combination of being cooped up inside for 4 days, due to the extremely low temperatures that accompanied the polar vortex; missing out on 2 days' pay at work while the university was closed, since I'm only a part-time employee; and feeling like I can't shake this sinus infection/possible ear infection I've had going on for over a week.

And then there's the mountain of debt I'm under, my inability to find full-time employment, my house (well, apartment) being a constant wreck, feeling rather unhappy with my health lately. Oh, and that good news I alluded to in a recent post? Yeah, nothing came of that. I could go on, but I'll spare you the whining. Also, that's so not where I'm heading with this post.

I just spent a very refreshing shower pondering all the possible topics I could expound upon tonight. I thought and thought as the hot water relaxed my tense muscles, and the steam loosened my sinuses.

After a long train of thought that went absolutely nowhere, a familiar song started playing in my head. I grew up with hymn after glorious hymn being etched in my memory (one of the perks of being the daughter of a Baptist pianist/organist): something I frequently forget until one of those tunes starts playing in my head. I take it as a message from God, saying, "Hey, remember me? Remember these words and that melody that are somewhere in your brain and have the capacity to shake your bad mood and make you remember how much I love you?"

Through all my struggles--through my current test--part of my job, part of the reason I've been planted here, as I see it, is to help others. To reach out by using my gift of language and my mind full of vast amounts of information to write a message whose words will grab someone's perspective, shake it, and mold it into something softer, more enlightened, and renewed. Tonight, God gave me the power to do that.

"My Hope is Built on Nothing Less"
by Edward Mote, 1797-1874

1. My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus' blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus' name.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

2. When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace;
In every high and stormy gale
My anchor holds within the veil.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

3. His oath, His covenant, and blood
Support me in the whelming flood;
When every earthly prop gives way,
He then is all my Hope and Stay.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

4. When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh, may I then in Him be found,
Clothed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne!
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

Text: 1 Timothy 1:1
I love these words. I'm not the only one with problems, and there are others who have it far worse. My struggles are real, sure, but so are everyone else's. So what's the message in all this?

This world and every thing and circumstance in it is feeble...breakable and uncertain. God is mighty. God is unchanging and unshakable.

Where should we turn when times get tough? Who can give us hope? Who provides an unwavering stronghold? Who has the timing and the answers?

No human. No thing. Only Jesus. He's waiting for you. He hears your cries when no one else can.

Here's to a happy tomorrow in Christ!


Monday, January 6, 2014

Life before and after Kimmy

It's no secret that my daughter was a huge surprise. After our initial shock, Jarrell and I quickly accepted that Kimmy would be part of our lives without ever looking back. She is such a joy!

We all have our tales of pre-baby naïveté, though, and this is mine.

While I was pregnant with Kimmy, Jarrell and I basically did whatever we wanted when we wanted. We went to the movies, the grocery store, out for drives, to the bedroom to take naps, out shopping, out to eat, etc.

I knew pregnancy was hard work, tiring, and no small responsibility.

I knew labor was painful. I knew it was generally a long process for a first child.

I knew very well that not all babies are good (calm, happy, good sleepers, all that) and was aware that newborns drained you of all energy. However, I had been around enough babies to feel comfortable caring for and being tender with my own newborn.

Despite all the [unsolicited] advice from friends and family, I was still in for a few shockers once my sweet baby arrived. I suppose it's a rite of passage for all parents and is just one of those things you have to experience for yourself.

Shocker #1: morning sickness is no light, laughing matter--pregnancy is hard. It can rock your world. My 1st trimester was ripe with weight loss (22 lbs.) and sleeping up to 18 hours a day. The most physically exhausting time of my entire life to date.

Shocker #2: labor pains HURT, and giving birth is no easy feat. Worst pain of my life. Worse than anyone could ever attempt to describe. Epidurals sometimes don't take. In my case, neither of mine did. Sometimes labor doesn't progress as it should. Birth plans can go awry. C-sections become a valid option when you've all but given up on getting your child out of the womb. (Side note: Having a C-section doesn't make you any less of a person, woman, or mother, and your birth can be just as joyous as a traditional birth!)

Shocker #3: newborns cry. A lot. I was fully prepared for my baby to be instantly comforted by whatever means I attempted to calm her. Wrong! Newborns have to learn to be comforted by what their parents do. It took a full week for Kimmy to be calmed as quickly and easily as I had envisioned. Luckily, I was blessed with a wonderfully happy child who was relatively low-maintenance as newborns go.

Shocker #4: free time is a thing of the past. I knew the first few months would be exhausting, but all those people who warned me about never sleeping again were actually wrong. Kimmy has always been a good sleeper, and sleeping when she slept as an infant made feeling rested a pretty attainable goal most days.

What they really should have warned me about was never getting to do anything on my time table again...such as getting out of the house by a certain time, getting to go to the store alone, being able to spend time or money on yourself or your own needs, and (the most shocking to me for whatever reason) getting to go to the movies. Jarrell and I have been to the movies once since Kimmy was born. One time. We used to go all the time, but what a different phase of life we are in! I've been twice with Kimmy to see animated films, but it would be lovely to go see something with my big love again.

I don't know what I was thinking--maybe that after a certain point in Kimmy's childhood we'd get more free time. Or I guess maybe that's true, but we're still a few years away from that. Babies and toddlers need constant care. It is very much a give, give, give activity being a mother...but I gain much more than I ever thought possible by giving my love and attention to Kimmy-girl.

(And, luckily, we do have one free night of childcare lined up for when we do decide to go to the movies next! It's wonderful to have good friends.)

The lesson in all this: be appreciative. Priorities change, life becomes about other things, and routine becomes a thing of the past. Through all this, never take things for granted because you never know when your "normal" will shift.

More later. 


Sunday, January 5, 2014

Creamy vegetable pasta bake

I am a big fan of "winging it" for dinner. Tonight I did just that and concocted a delicious comfort food masterpiece!

Creamy Vegetable Pasta Bake
3/4 lb. penne pasta
1 large onion, diced
1 c. frozen cut broccoli, thawed
3/4 c. frozen sweet peas, thawed
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 1/2 c. milk
3/4 c. grated parmesan
2 tbsp. mayonnaise
1 clove fresh garlic, minced
1 c. sharp cheddar, finely shredded
1/2 stick butter, divided
1/8 c. Italian breadcrumbs
Dash salt and pepper

1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. Grease large casserole dish with 1 tbsp. butter.
3. Caramelize onions (2 tbsp. butter, medium heat, 10-15 minutes or until onions are a deep golden color).
4. Cook pasta al dente. Drain and remove to large bowl. (Do not rinse! You need the gluten to help the sauce thicken and adhere as it cooks.)
5. Heat mushroom soup, milk, and remaining tbsp. of butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Once smooth, gradually whisk in cheeses until melted and thickened. (I've had trouble with melted-cheese sauces in the past. My tips: grate/shred your cheese very finely to avoid clumps and really add it in gradually--maybe 1/2 c. at a time.)
6. Add vegetables, mayonnaise, garlic, salt, and pepper to pasta and toss. Transfer to casserole dish.
7. Pour cheese sauce over pasta mixture and allow to sit for 1-2 minutes to absorb.
8. Sprinkle breadcrumbs on top.
9. Bake 20 minutes covered and 15 minutes more uncovered, or until breadcrumbs are a deep golden brown.

This was a pretty hearty and complete meal, but we ate it with pan-seared chicken breasts. It would also be delicious with sautéed shrimp or even a simple slice of garlic bread. We will definitely be eating this one again!

As always, feel free to share!

More later.


Friday, January 3, 2014

Blog topic suggestions

I know I've got a bunch of readers, thanks to my Facebook shares, and I'd like to know what you'd like me to blog about!

Submit a comment on this post (not on Facebook) and let me know! It'll give me a nice idea of who's reading and what you'd like to know about me. More suggestions = more posts. :)


Thursday, January 2, 2014

Cabbage rolls

Happy New Year! I'm not big on considering New Years a holiday, but I'll go with it. I like the symbolism of a fresh start, but I truly loathe new year's resolutions. Personally, I don't feel that I need a new year for a new goal. If I want to set a new goal, I just do it, no matter what time of year! I like it better that way for multiple reasons, but especially so I don't fall into the pool of people who crumble under the pressure and fail miserably at their resolutions a month or two in.

Regardless, we had a wonderful first day of January! Jarrell had work, but I had the day off. Kimmy and I woke up a little before 8:00am, ate breakfast, and watched some cartoons in bed. We were both so sleepy and on the verge of dozing off, so I put her back in her bed and got back in mine. We ended up going back to sleep until almost noon! It was wonderfully refreshing. After that, I fed her her lunch and got to work on my cabbage rolls. We played all afternoon until she took nap #2. That evening when Jarrell got home from work, our friends Josh and Laura had just arrived, and dinner was almost ready. We enjoyed a lovely evening of good food and good conversation...and a little of the Rose Bowl game. I love having friends who live close by and don't mind our cluttered, toddlery home!

So, let's talk cabbage rolls. In my hometown (and I suppose southern WV in general), everyone makes cabbage rolls on New Years Day. Everyone. It's actually almost impossible to find cabbage or sauerkraut in the grocery store if you wait until New Years Eve/Day to shop. My childhood is full of memories of Gugs's NYD cabbage rolls with half-dollars or quarters inside a select few. If you found one with a coin, you were supposed to have good luck the whole year through. It's just an old superstition and purely for fun, but we always looked forward to it.

My Gugs is one amazing cook, and I'm so glad I've grown up cooking this recipe with her. It's one that I'm proudly sharing because it's just so delicious and fulfilling. However, I did tweak it ever so slightly this time around. I added a few things, and I altered it to make fewer rolls, since it's basically just Jarrell and I having a go at this year. Anyway, here goes:

Cabbage Rolls (to feed 2 - 4 people with, about 20 rolls)
1 large head green cabbage
1 1/2 lbs. ground beef, raw
1 medium onion, diced
3 c. white rice, cooked
1/2 c. fresh parsley, chopped
1 tbsp. salt
2 tsp. black pepper
1 large jar/package/can sauerkraut (do not drain)
1 large can diced tomatoes (do not drain)
1 regular-sized can tomato sauce
1 package kielbasa or smoked sausage, halved lengthwise and cut into 4"-ish pieces

Boil a large pot of water and cook cabbage with lid on about 20 minutes or until softened and brightly colored. Cook rice and set aside to cool. (Minute rice is fine, but it tends to lose its texture through the 2nd cooking process. If you have the patience for regular medium/long-grain white rice, use that.) Submerge cabbage in a large bowl of ice water to cool. In a separate large bowl, combine ground beef, onion, rice, parsley, salt, and pepper--doesn't have to be homogenous, but you don't want massive chunks of meat that won't cook evenly. Flip your head of cabbage to the core side and slice through leaves individually with a sharp knife, removing leaves to a colander to drain. If some leaves are smaller, that's okay; hang on to them, in case you need a patch for a torn leaf. In a large stock pot or crock pot, add a thin layer of kraut, tomatoes, and tomato sauce. On a large cutting board or clean counter, assemble your rolls. Put about 1/2 c. of filling in each cabbage leaf, and roll it up like a burrito. Add them to your pot seam side down. If you have a torn leaf or one that's too small to hold the filling, double wrap it. Add the remaining kraut, tomatoes, and tomato sauce on top of the assembled rolls in the pot--the weight will help hold the rolls down and stay sealed. If there isn't enough liquid to cover, add more. These take 4 hours on high in a crock pot or 1 hour boil-to-strong-simmer on a stovetop. Serve with mashed potatoes and fried kielbasa/sausage

Now, my family quarters and dices the sausage and puts it right in the stock pot. It adds a great flavor, but I've found that the soft texture really bothers me. You don't get that nice, tense crunch through the sausage casing like you do when you sear it in a pan. We served the sausage on the side for the first time last night, and it was so delicious! Get a nice forkful of cabbage/filing, mashed potatoes, and sausage, and, in the words of my brother, "your tastebuds will haaaaave a party!"

To all my readers, I wish you a 2014 full of Christ, family, success, love, wealth, smiles, laughter, and all the things that make you happy!