Posted in Food & Beverages, Healthy Living, Recipes

A Tasty, High Fiber Breakfast Smoothie: Berry Oat

My smoothie this morning

Someone just gave us a gently used Nutribullet, thanks to the amazing Freecycle site. (If you don’t look here for stuff you need, you seriously should! It’s a great way to save stuff from landfills, de-clutter, get things you need but don’t need brand new, and even find some amazing treasures for home projects).

So, this morning, I decided to make us a delicious, high-fiber smoothie before church.

Berry Oat Smoothie Recipe

  • 1/2 cup dry, quick oats
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup frozen blueberries
  • 1/2 cup frozen strawberries
  • 2 spoonfuls of unflavored powdered fiber supplement (optional)
  1. First, dump the oats in the blender, cover, and chop to a fine powder – basically making oat flour.
  2. Then, pour in the milk.
  3. Next, add the fruit.
  4. Finally, add the fiber powder.
  5. Blend all together and serve immediately.
Posted in Food & Beverages, Healthy Living, Recipes, Seasonal

A Summery Non-Alcoholic Cocktail: Lime Berry Refresher

This past winter, while I was developing a fun cookbook for Ulysses Press, called Hogwarts for the Holidays, I had the pleasure of creating some fun drinks based on concepts from the popular book series. And that kind of lit something in me.

Now, I have fun creating all kinds of beverage concoctions – all non-alcoholic (since I don’t drink) but still fun and delicious. I avoid using added sugar for the most part as well, so that makes these great for anyone trying to drink something more exciting but low-calorie.

One of the ones I’m enjoying this summer (not in the book) includes this delightful fruity, low calorie medley.

Prep time: 7 minutes

Serves 4.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup frozen berries, almost thawed
  • 2 teaspoons fresh squeezed lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon lime zest
  • 4 16-ounce glasses, chilled
  • 1 cup crushed ice
  • 2 can sparkling water, lime or plain
  • Garnish options: sprig of mint, slice of lime, or a whole raw strawberry

To Make

  1. Throw the berries into a food processor and process until pulped.
  2. Transfer the berries to a blender.
  3. Add the lime juice and lime zest to the berries. Blend well.
  4. Add 1/4 of the ice to each glass, then a quarter of the berry mix.
  5. Next, pour half a can of sparkling water into each glass.
  6. With a long-handled spoon, stir the ingredients together.
  7. Garnish with a slice of lime, a whole berry, or a sprig of mint, if desired.
  8. Serve immediately.
Posted in Food & Beverages, Health & Fitness, Healthy Living, Lifestyle

The Joy of Sun Tea

When I lived in Australia for a few months back in 2008, I had the joy of introducing my friends and church family there to sun tea. I hosted a church-wide “American” dinner that I whipped up for everyone (BBQ pulled pork, sweet potato casserole, green bean casserole, angel food cake, coriander cookies), and served sun tea as the American beverage.

I grew up in the South, so technically I should have used sugary tea, but knowing that my Aussie friends didn’t have much of a sweet tooth, I opted to do traditional sun tea.

How to Make Sun Tea

If you’re not familiar with making sun tea, it’s really rather simple. And absolutely delicious and delightful. It’s a beverage from my childhood, from my mother’s farmer-family side of the tree.

  1. Find a glass jar with a lid or use cling wrap and a rubber band
  2. Add 2-6 tea bags of choice to the jar (I like strong tea, so a 2-quart jar is usually a full 6 bags)
  3. Fill the glass jar with clean, fresh, cool water
  4. Cover the jar and place in direct sunlight.
  5. Let the tea “brew” for a few hours until it reaches the strength you prefer.

Great Options for Sun Tea

Our family’s personal favorites include any of these teas.

  1. Straight up black tea
  2. A blend of half black tea, half green tea bags
  3. Raspberry Royale Tea from Bigelow
  4. Mango Magic from Ahmad Tea
  5. London Fog from Harney & Sons
  6. Breakfast in Paris from Stash Teas
  7. Blueberry & Honey from Tevive
Posted in Health & Fitness, Healthy Living, Lifestyle

3 Healthy Substitutes for Junk We Crave

The other night, a friend mentioned her “COVID-15” as she sighed over not giving up sugar this summer as she had planned. With everything changed, less activity available, and almost zero safe socializing, it’s been easy for a lot of folks to put on these extra pounds. Especially since, apparently, everyone’s becoming a baking expert these days.

I work from home all the time and live about 45-minutes from most of the folks I know. We only recently moved to this area, so we never got the chance to make local friends. So, in many ways, the quarantine hasn’t changed our day-to-day life much.

It has, however, helped me become even more conscious of the things I’m eating and doing. I had wanted to focus on my health this year anyway, but after having COVID, I’ve especially felt this need.

One of those ways we’re making changes for health’s sake is substituting healthy items for less healthy.

1. Sparkling Water Instead of Soda

I’ve never been big into soda pop myself, but my husband has always had soda somewhere in his peripheral. I was getting bored with plain old water and felt like my own fruit-infused water was a waste of the fruit, so I decided to give naturally essenced, no sweetener added, sparkling water a try.

I quickly found a few flavors I love and tried introducing them to Matt. It took a while, but he began drinking the water as well and now we no longer keep Sprite for his upset stomach. Lemon or lime flavored carbonated water has all the qualities he was looking for without all the sugar.

2. Fruit Instead of Sweets

We generally only buy candy once a month – when I’m craving chocolate during my period – but otherwise, sweets haven’t been a huge issue for us. Except last year when I was developing a dessert-heavy cookbook for Ulysses Press. All those rich, buttery, British baked goods sucked us in.

Now, when I’m craving baked goods, candy, ice cream (my weakness!), or other sweets, I’m eating a piece of fruit first. Plums, peaches, nectarines, tangerines, apples, berries, etc. all provide that sweetness that I’m looking for without unnatural sugars and empty calories.

There’s some debate in the diet-world on whether or not fruit is good for you. If you have specific medical conditions, like diabetes, these concerns are valid. However, most of us should be eating a variety of fruits for the nutrients they provide. Restrictive diets (elimination of whole food groups) aren’t particularly healthy in the long run.

You can be selective about which fruits you consume, of course, and you should be. Some are much higher in carbohydrates than others, some are higher in fiber than others, and some are much higher in certain nutrients than others. Do a little study to learn which fruits fit best with your lifestyle and focus on those, but even then, don’t exclude the others you love altogether.

3. Hummus and Veggies Instead of Chips and Fries

We are a savories household. We love fries and chips (plantain chips for me!). But we know how unhealthy these can be. So instead of noshing on starchy potatoes, we whip up some hummus and baked or raw veggies wedges. We cut up sweet potatoes, green plantains, and other veggies that will crisp when baked and enjoy these with hummus dip made from dried chickpeas and Tahini. Or we cut up raw carrots and celery and green peppers and dip those in.

This substitute provides us with not only less fat and grease in our diets, but packs a punch of protein and veggies in when we’re craving junk. The trick is limiting the amount we eat.

Posted in Health & Fitness, Healthy Living, Lifestyle

The Good And The Bad Of Internet Fitness Challenges

I’m a fitness buff. I love running, strength training, doing yoga, taking long walks, trying new sports. But even with my great love of the active life, it can be hard to stay motivated. In fact, this is something I’ve been struggling with for several months now. Not because of the pandemic, but because, well, I’m tired. Or the weather is too hot or too cold or I’m too busy…and…

Fitness challenges are one of the ways I stay accountable to myself in times like these. But there are some dangers to them, too, which is why I’m very selective about the ones I do.

  1. Virtual fitness challenges can be great motivators for social people.
  2. Virtual fitness and dietary challenges, however, are a one-size-fits-all thing, generally, which means they won’t be effective for everyone.
  3. These challenges can be a great way to connect with other like-minded people.
  4. But if you become at all obsessed with them, you may cause physical harm to yourself.
  5. The right challenge will be tailored to your specific needs – whether that’s dietary restrictions, physical limitations, time constraints, or current conditioning. You’ll likely have to create your own or use a flux challenge instead.
  6. It’s vital to find the right challenge and online group that will keep you accountable but won’t demoralize you for missing a day, not being “fit enough” to complete the challenge, body shame you in any way, or anything along those lines.
  7. Many of the challenges are run by people trying to sell specific nutritional supplements. Avoid these at all costs. The programs are not really fitness challenges for the most part but instead are propaganda for the products and often involve stressful selling tactics.
Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash

If you want to join a challenge, you can look on Facebook for a solid group like this one.

Or look for challenges on trusted health and fitness sites like Shape , SELF, and PopSugar. The reason I recommend this criteria is that they have experts in fitness and health running the sites and generally are not just “throw together” ideas put up to draw in members or run by folks who don’t really know what they’re doing.

Posted in Healthy Living, Lifestyle

When You Just Need Some Good News

Image by Gino Crescoli from Pixabay

I don’t have to tell you that the world is in a quagmire of chaos right now. But I might have to remind you that there are still good things going on in the world today in the midst of all this.

I do a weekly post for a platform I contribute to, targeting trending news. After weeks and weeks of having nothing positive to report about based on Twitter, news feeds from CNN and similar networks, etc., I wanted good news for a change. I found some – and actually got to write on positive things for that weekly post.

I’m passing those sites on to you now, too, in case you just need to see the positive in the world today.

Posted in DIY, Healthy Living, Home & Family

DIY: Scalp-Soothing Homemade Shampoo

Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay

DIY isn’t really a hobby of mine – much as I’d love it to be – but I have been getting more and more into natural, homemade everything. Specifically, I’m eliminating shampoo because I have a very sensitive scalp. For about a year, I had a store-bought shampoo I could use, but it’s recently been causing scabs and painful sores on my scalp. So…it was time.

Here’s the simple recipe I created to create this soothing solution for my unhappy head.

Simple, Soothing Minty Shampoo

You’ll also need a bottle with a flip top lid (screw off are too difficult to handle in the shower).

  1. Boil a little extra water since some will naturally evaporate (I boil about 1.5 cups).
  2. Once the water has boiled, put the tea bags in a heat-resistant bowl and pour the boiling water in.
  3. Let the tea steep for 30 minutes.
  4. Remove the tea bags and pour the tea, castille soap, essential oil, and olive oil into your flip-top bottle.
  5. Combine thoroughly.

Store in a cool, dark place.

Tips for Homemade Shampoo Use

  1. It will take a couple of days to get used to the shampoo. Your hair will feel heavier and slightly greasy after you rinse it out thoroughly. This is normal and will improve after a couple days of use.
  2. Don’t use as much of the homemade shampoo as you would store bought. It’s very liquid and seems like you need more, but you really don’t.
  3. Catch the shampoo in one hand and lather together in your hands before applying to your hair. This will help it lather and will reduce the amount of shampoo you need to use.
  4. Pair with a homemade conditioner to avoid chemicals in conditioners. (Recipe coming soon…still perfecting mine!)

Posted in Great Books, Healthy Living, Lifestyle, Personal Growth

8 of the Best Classic Light Reads This Summer

If you love reading, and always have, you probably have a number of favorites from your childhood like I have. This year, I’ve decided that I want to re-read many of them. As an adult, I’ll have a different perspective on many of them, of course, but the joy of my childhood tucked into corners, sitting on my window seat or flopping on the grass with a good book comes flooding back as I read these. If you haven’t read them yet, you really ought to.

  1. The Anne of Green Gables series, by L.M. Montgomery – there are 8 books, equally marvelously flowery, and beautiful, and delightful.
  2. Kilmeny of the Orchard, also by L.M. Montgomery. I’m a big fan of this writer – I have all 32 of her novels and short story collections.
  3. A Girl of the Limberlost, by Gene Stratton Porter – a delightful read about the turn of the Century Midwest, butterflies, moths, and the wilderness.
  4. A Little Princess by Francis Hodgson Burnett – I’ve fashioned storybook attics after hers
  5. Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell – a surprising story of survival based loosely on a true story
  6. An Old Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott – a book that shaped so much of my young life
  7. Heidi by Johanna Spyri – another whimsical tale with deep truths that helped to shape me
  8. The Light in the Forest by Conrad Richter – a story of loss, growth, prejudice, and change
Posted in Health & Fitness, Healthy Living, Lifestyle

Why I Take Both a Morning and an Evening Walk Each Day

Photo by Retha Ferguson on Pexels.com

Even though I’m a runner who hits the gym most nights at about 8 or 9pm (or at least I did until lock-downs), I take walks twice daily whenever possible. When I first get up and right before the sun goes down, I’m out there, stalking through the snow or meandering a sun-kissed trail through the neighborhood.

With all the running I do, you might think it’s a little weird that I bother with two walks each day on top of my jogging adventures, but I’ve found that two walks a day does wonders in several areas of my health.

Two Walks Per Day Helps My Mental Health

On my walk a few weeks ago – a lovely Weeping Willow in my neighborhood

In the early morning, a bright (or grey) sky helps to set the mood for the day. I’m out, I’m active, and I’m getting my body in motion. This not only helps me physically, but it helps to set my mind for the day. I tend to think all night long, even in my sleep. Getting out on a trail with the birds and the squirrels is life-giving for a nature nut stuck in the city.

Two Walks Each Day Helps De-clutter My Mind

I work a lot. As a writer, I’m jotting down ideas, sending out pitches, contemplating new stories, scripts, and novels just about every waking hour. But I have a life! I’m married to a wonderful man and have a crazy cat who craves attention.

Taking a couple of walks throughout the day helps to de-junk my brain. I can work through the stuff that’s in my head, rattling around. And working through it clears out my thoughts and frees up space for life apart from work.

Multiple Walks Keeps Me Active Throughout the Day

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I used to work at active jobs, as a nanny, dog walker (biking my route), recess coach, tennis coach, home organizer, etc. Until becoming a full-time writer, I only sat down for a couple of hours a day. Now, I am on my butt for most of the day.

I keep active throughout the day by taking these two walks, getting up every 25-30 minutes and moving for 5-minutes, and doing my running, yoga, and weight training. These two walks help take me past the “basics” of my day and keeps my body more fluid and relaxed.

But the days I don’t take these two walks? I don’t get up as much. I don’t exercise as easily. I don’t get in nearly as much movement and I wind up stiff and achy.

Even Ten Minutes Can Make a Difference

If you’re not able to take long walks but still want to benefit from taking two walks, you can. Even ten minutes per walk can make a huge difference. Try it for a month. Set an alarm each morning and night and get out there. Even if all you can do is pace the hallway in your apartment building or meander throughout the house, you will likely find that your body thanks you.

Posted in Chicago, Healthy Living, Home & Family, Lifestyle, Personal Growth

Creating a Fairy Garden on My Balcony

Image by Noupload from Pixabay

Chicago weather seems to finally think it’s just possible that it could be spring. Yes. We’re late to the game. But we usually are.

During the Stay-at-Home orders, a lot of us are finding different things we can do to keep creatively busy while still getting some fresh air and not exposing ourselves or our neighbors to potential infection. Yesterday, I started the process of my own personal project: building a fairy garden.

What is a Fairy Garden?

A fairy garden can really be any gathering spot where fairies may just want to gather. They include flowers, lush greenery, trees, bushes, lovely ground cover, and fairy houses, of course.

Why Grow One?

My personal inspiration for this fairy garden is two-fold. Last year, when we still lived in the city, I came across a neighbor’s amazing fairy garden just after moving into our new neighborhood. There were fairy houses, gorgeous flowers, stunning greenery, flourishing vegetable plants, and these beautiful, sparkling decoration items that simply made my heart sing.

I knew this was something I would emulate one day.

A few days ago, while researching for a client, I came across more inspiration. I found D.I.Y. instructions for making fairy houses of recycled objects like milk jugs, glass jars, pop bottles, and other objects that normally I would recycle or toss.

This sparked the memory of that solitary oasis in the middle of a noisy, unfamiliar neighborhood.

This had to be my project.

Now What?

So, yesterday I started gathering supplies. I saved some plastic bottles bound for the recycling bin. I visited Dollar Tree for some initial supplies. I looked through Freecycle posts for possible options. I dug through my storage bin to find gardening supplies and the hummingbird feeder I’d been meaning to put out for weeks.

The majority of my supplies, minus the upcoming fairy houses themselves.

Today, I finished preparations by finding more supplies around the house, finding inexpensive flowering plants, strawberry plants, and vegetable plants at WalMart and rounding out my assortment of planters with a last visit to Dollar Tree.

All the new plants, each under $3.00, save for the Foxglove (the tall one).

Over the next few weeks, you’ll see more posts on exactly how I’m putting together this miniature oasis on my balcony in the suburbs, from creation to the fairy houses to the magical mossy chandelier and more.