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Ride the Coaster

Like a lot of adults over 30, I did not get to choose how I spent my birthday this year. So, there I was, celebrating at Valleyfair in Shakopee, Minnesota, home of Wild Thing, a rollercoaster that goes as high in the air as it can without interfering with incoming aircraft, reaching speeds higher than most states allow on any interstate freeway.

I am not even remotely an adrenaline junkie. In fact, my idea of a rush is not wearing my life jacket on a pontoon ride. But instead of fighting against the tide of my family’s excitement, I tried to make the best of it while setting very clear boundaries.

More than once, I declared, “It’s my birthday, and I will not be bullied into doing anything I don’t want to do.”

A strong backbone only goes so far in the face of a begging 8 year old, so luckily, I had an even better excuse to refuse to ride – my 5 year old. She is the perfect size for the Planet Snoopy rides but just a couple inches shy of the minimum for the more intense rides.

“You guys go,” I said to my husband and oldest daughter. “I’ll stay with her.”

It made me feel like a good mom. The little one was happy I was with her. Dad and big sister got to ride all the rides they wanted. I didn’t have to do anything that scared me. It was a win-win-win-win. Or so I thought.

Every so often, they circled back with us, eyes lit up like matching blue fireworks, smiles plastered across their faces.

“Steel Venom is the best!”

“That’s my favorite so far too! Should we do the Rip Cord?”

“Yeah! But let’s not do the Starship again. That was boring.”

“We should definitely go on Delirious though, and the Corkscrew again for sure.”

The two of them were speaking a language I didn’t understand. I started to feel like I was missing out as they took off for more adventures.

I waved to the little one as she rode up and down on the Kite-Eating Tree, but my eyes kept wandering over to the coasters.

I used to like this stuff. Maybe I should just do it.

My heart fluttered. Butterflies started dancing in my stomach. I could hear my heartbeat as my breath quickened ever so slightly.

Nah, forget it.

How often do we as moms do this? We “opt out” to watch the little ones. We use our motherly duties as an excuse to not take risks, or do scary things, or get out of our comfort zones. And, many times, we do so happily, convinced we are doing what is right, what is expected, and something no one can argue with.

I’m calling B.S.

Not on sitting out at Valleyfair – on sitting out at life. We have to stop using our kids as scape-goats.

Of course, there are legitimate times we need to tag out. Nobody wants to see you run a marathon with a newborn strapped to your chest. But if you are beyond that mentally and physically consuming stage of motherhood, step back and ask yourself if you are using your kids as an excuse not to try.

Being a mom takes a ton of time and energy, but it also builds invaluable skills that are needed in every aspect of our world. If you are a mom, you are a peacemaker, a rule-maker, an educator, a caretaker, a quick-thinking problem solver, and a hell of a strategist. If you weren’t, there is no way you could hold your head up long enough to read this. We need moms – like you and me – to be out there following our callings, building bridges, uniting communities.

If we “opt out” and use motherhood as an excuse, what is that saying to our kids, especially our daughters? Be a mom OR… something else. You can’t do both. I don’t know about you, but this is not the message I want my daughters to receive.

I want my daughters to know you can be an awesome mom AND…

…have a career.

…compete in sports.

…volunteer in your community.

….advocate for something you believe in.

…do something for no other reason than you love it and it’s fun.

So how do you ensure they are receiving the right message? It’s not by reigning them in and never letting them leave your sight. It’s by doing. By setting an example. By showing them that you can be a mom, this magical person who cures all ills, AND.

We cannot afford to have moms sitting on the sidelines. We have to play the game. We have to ride the Wild Thing.

And I did, literally. I screamed…a lot. I giggled…a lot. I thought I was going to throw up for a few seconds. But I know I made my daughter proud, and that was worth every terrifying second.

The Lazy Composter

Do you ever put something off because you think it is going to be really hard, but then when you finally do it, it was actually not that bad? Maybe it’s working out, finishing a work project, giving birth (okay, that really is THAT BAD). Recently for me, it was composting.

I love the Earth. I know, we all do, right? But I’ve really been making an effort to be more green in lots of small ways. I try not to use one-time use plastic. I’ve quit buying disposable water bottles. I’m trying to push a green agenda at the office. And for several years now, I’ve wanted to start composting. We eat fresh fruits and vegetables like they are going out of style. Throwing away all those carrot peels and apple cores makes me feel sick. All that biodegradable stuff is just stuck in a plastic bag to go fill up the landfills.

So this year for Mother’s Day, my gift was a composter! I was so excited to have the whole family on board, especially my husband because (let’s be real) a lot of the work was going to fall on him. I’m the house spouse. He’s the yard spouse. It works for us.

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We ended up ordering this bad boy from Costco online. If you get this one, be sure to summon all your patience before putting it together. It’s a bit of a bugger at first. It’s 100% recycled plastic with two different bins so you can let one pile do its thing and still have a place to put your stuff. It spins, so there is no need to stir the compost once you put it in the bin. It looks like it would smell bad, but it really doesn’t. I mean, I didn’t stick my head in there or anything, but when you open up a bin of hot garbage, you would expect an odor. But, nope! It’s not bad at all.

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This one comes with two separate sides, so you can add to one side and leave the other side to “brew.”

For the house, we got this cute one gallon pail with a charcoal filter. Looks cute, works well, and most importantly – no smell and hence, no fruit flies. The inner black bucket comes out, so it’s easy to carry it out to the composter (or that’s what the hubby tells me). I’m kind of kidding. I have taken the bucket out there myself several times, and I certainly could do it every time. It’s just that he always seems to be going out there to do something anyway, so it just makes sense, right?

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The gallon size is big, but I find it the right size for us with all the veggie prep we do.

So, what do we put in it? Coffee grounds, fruit and vegetable peels and cores, egg shells, grass clippings (some), and sawdust. No meat, no dairy, no salad dressing, no fats like oil and butter. That stuff makes the bin smell bad and attracts critters. Our bin came with a really handy yes/no sheet, which we looked at 5,000 times the first day and not even once since then.

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Smell has not been a factor, but I also think coffee grounds help with that.

 

We decided to get a compost starter to get things moving a little faster. We just added a couple tablespoons of the microbes to the bin and gave it a few spins.

Composting is so much easier than I ever thought it would be. I am sad I waited so long to start, but I’m really glad I finally jumped in and did it. You could do it too!

Mediterranean Veggies with Basil Chicken

I was inspired to make this colorful and light veggie dish after having something similar at an organic café in Minneapolis. It was so easy to recreate and pairs wonderfully with a variety of proteins – chicken, shrimp, fish, garbanzo beans – or just by itself. I’ll describe how I made the chicken, but feel free to leave it out or substitute your favorite protein.

You’ll need:

• 2 chicken breasts, tenderized (i.e. pounded flat with a meat hammer)
• 2 Roma tomatoes, cut into 1/8’s
• 1 bunch asparagus, cut in 1/2’s or 1/3’s
• 2 zucchini, spiralized into zoodles
• Feta cheese, to taste
• Butter or ghee
• Garlic, 2 minced cloves or 1 heaping tablespoon of pre-minced
• 1/4 cup water

Use to taste for both the chicken and the veggies:

• Dried basil
• Dried oregano
• Onion powder
• Salt and pepper
• Cooking oil

Directions:

1. Cook the chicken first. First, pound it nice and flat, then season the top with basil, oregano, onion powder, and salt and pepper. Heat cooking oil in a pan on medium heat, and place chicken into the pan. Let it cook halfway through, then flip it to sear the top side.

2. Once seared, flip the chicken back over, add a tablespoon or butter or ghee to the pan, and baste the chicken. Test for an internal temp of 165, and set aside to rest when done or very close to that temperature.

3. Heat oil in a stir fry pan, and sauté garlic. Once fragrant, add asparagus. Add 1/4 cup water to the pan, then cover and steam asparagus for 2-3 minutes.

4. Add in the zoodles and tomatoes, heating through until zoodles are at desired tenderness. While they are cooking, add in 2 tablespoons of butter/ghee, mixing with the garlic and natural vegetable juices to form your sauce.

5. Add in all seasonings to your preference.

6. Sprinkle feta cheese on top and let heat just briefly before serving with the chicken.

At Peace

Her face shrunken,
plastered into a restful seriousness,
wears an expression it never did
when she was alive.
I see no promise of her being at peace.

I can picture the tiny head
of my chameleon, Deacon,
his eyeballs bulged against
the lids that wouldn’t open
as hard as I cried.

Staring at his belly,
counting each breath.
His colors changed from
bright green to brown.

She brought me a blue box,
Anthony’s Jewelers written
on top in sprawling golden letters.
His tail wrapped to his head,
Deacon was laid to rest.

We both wore lipstick to the funeral,
her fancy shade of sunny mauve.
Then under our willow,
she said a prayer for
his precious lizard soul.

Now, her face fake and orange,
the sunny mauve matches
the casket lining too well, I notice,
as I lay my hands
on the shiny mahogany box.

The Queen’s Apple

If you think you know this one
Well, you just wait a minute
‘Cause stories can go many ways
Depending how you spin it

You’ve heard about a gal named Snow
And her seven little friends
But I bet you never heard the way
The story really ends

Snow was sure most beautiful
But she was also bright
She knew the forest inside out
And could put up quite a fight

Somewhere deep inside the woods
There lived a wicked queen
Who envied Snow in every way
Which made her act quite mean

And then one day that jealous queen
Pretended she was poor
She cried and said she needed help
Something Snow might fall for

But Snow was smarter than the queen
And saw through the charade
She knew that it was all a scheme
When she came by the old maid

But Snow felt sorry for the queen
And so she took the fruit
But as soon as she was out of sight
She kicked it with her boot

Through the trees that apple rolled
It’s spell still going strong
It came to rest next to a creek
Just when the queen came along

The queen, exhausted from her scheming
Dipped down to take a drink
And there the apple caught her eye
And she couldn’t help but think

“Why, what a lovely piece of fruit,
Such shiny, crimson skin.”
And before she gave another thought,
The queen just dove right in

It may have been her second thought
(Though clearly not her first)
That this, her lovely evening snack
The queen herself had cursed.

The wicked queen had always known
She’d pay for her life of sin
How fitting then that her demise
Was a dose of her own medicine.

Cheesy Broc-Cauli Rice with Bacon

Get ready- I’m about to up your veggie game in the most delicious way! This dish can be served as a side or eaten as a complete meal. It has all the requirements – protein, multiple servings of vegetables, healthy fat, and spice!

I’ve talked before about making cauliflower rice. You’ll want to do that again here, and also rice up broccoli in the same way. We tried this at home once, and now, that’s all we do. I call it “Broc-cauli rice.” Make it in bulk and store it flat in the freezer. When you’re ready to cook, just thaw for a couple minutes in cool water so you can easily get it out of the bag.

Ingredients:

Avocado oil – enough to coat the bottom of the pan
Garlic – 2 cloves or a teaspoon, chopped
Broccoli – 1 head, riced
Cauliflower – 1 head, riced
Salt and pepper, to taste
Cheddar cheese – 1 cup
Cream cheese – 1 ounce
Jalapeño slices – 10-15, chopped
Red pepper flakes, to taste
Bacon – 5 slices (1/2 pound), chopped

Instructions:

  1. Heat a large pan and add avocado oil. Sauté garlic until fragrant.
  2. Add broc-cauli rice, mixing in garlic. Sprinkle in salt and pepper. Once heated through, broc-cauli rice will begin to soften.
  3. Add cheddar cheese and cream cheese, stir until melted and incorporated throughout.
  4. Mix in jalapeños, red pepper flakes, and bacon.
  5. You know what to do next.

 

 

 

Sweet Dreams Potion

I wouldn’t say I’m a proponent of lying to your kids. Not really. But I am a proponent of greasing their imaginations to stir up courage, positivity, and fun! I admit, the “greasing” is typically spurred on by a desire to preserve my own sanity, but I don’t think that’s selfish. I mean, when Mom is sane, we all win, right? Right.

Our 4 year old is afraid of bugs. More precisely, she is deathly afraid of all bugs. This has been easy enough to navigate during the winter, but with spring (supposedly) on the horizon, it’s getting harder by the day. We had a housefly buzzing around the other day, and she screamed bloody murder, started shaking, and ran for shelter. And she knew it was just a fly. Oh, and ladybugs? Forget it! She does NOT find them cute in the least.

We were dealing with this phobia alright until the other night. At two in morning, she started screaming about imaginary bees and for the next three hours, begged to sleep in our bed. Something had to be done. So, naturally, I made up a potion.

Inspired by a friend’s story of using “monster spray,” I came up with the Sweet Dreams (and no bugs) Potion. This potion, combined with two new night lights, will keep your preschooler’s dreams free from bugs and your bed free from preschoolers. Or at least, that’s how it worked at my house. Anything is worth a shot for a good night’s sleep!

Recipe for:

Sweet Dreams (and No Bugs) Potion:

  • Fill a spray bottle with water, then add:
    • 5 drops lavender essential oil
      1 drop peppermint essential oil
      A pinch of sugar
      A kiss from every person in the house

    Shake it up while saying these words:

    Sweet dreams, no bugs
    Bedtime kiss and lots of hugs
    Bad thoughts out, good thoughts in
    Soon the sun will rise again

    Spray two pumps in your room at bedtime for sweet dreams (and no bugs). Spray more or repeat the words as needed.

    Sweet dreams!

    Go To Nashville

    Y’all, go to Nashville. Seriously.

    I’m from the Midwest and probably have no right to use the term y’all, but I’m going to because y’all need to go there. Even if you don’t like bbq. Even if you think Jason Aldean is a hack. Even if you have never seen one episode of the extremely popular hit series by the same name.

    There is truly something for everyone in this city. Want a laid back lounge? Hit Skull’s Rainbow Room. Want a rockin’ honkey tonk? Check out every corner of Broadway. Just want to eat some great food? Go anywhere in the Gulch, especially for brunch. Want a history lesson? Take a plantation tour, or go through any of the various music museums.

    Where to stay and where to go:

    We stayed at the Fairfield Inn & Suites in the Gulch, which is about a mile off of Broadway (Nashville’s version of “the strip”). As our Lyft driver put it, “Five years ago, no one went to the Gulch without a gun.” Today, it’s a revitalized hipster haven with tons of restaurants/bars/venues within walking distance. The streets are not nearly as crowded as Broadway, and there are no souvenir shops (I looked). I would highly recommend staying in the Gulch. That way, you can take on the chaos of Broadway only after you’ve had your coffee, a nice brunch, and about 10 mimosas.

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    My crew was ready for the bright lights of Broadway!

    Broadway has all the action. There is a party every 10 feet, so if you don’t like one vibe, you can move on to the next. For instance, Acme Feed & Seed has 4 levels, each with its own theme. The main floor has more of a diner feel with a full band every night of the weekend. The second floor is a dance club/lounge. The third is a mystery to me, as it was closed for a private party, but on the 4th level, the rooftop view is breathtaking and worth the climb. We  also loved Benchmark Nashville because of the quality of live music and the relatively laid back atmosphere. It’s basically like anyone’s hometown bar, but there’s a man/woman duo who plays there, and their talent is captivating.

     

    Printer’s Alley is an easy walk just a few blocks off Broadway with a completely different vibe. I was taken by the concept of this area because it started as a place for newspaper printers, then turned into a series of speakeasies during Prohibition. When you enter Skull’s Rainbow Room, you jump right back in time. The peephole on the door, the low ceilings, the cozy booths. Next time I go to Nashville, I will make a reservation at this place. As it was, we could only stand around like morons while the people smart enough to think ahead sat and enjoyed what looked to be amazing food.

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    Skull’s Rainbow Room @ Printer’s Alley  –                                                                                             Doesn’t look like much from this angle, but you get the speakeasy vibe.

    The food:

    I went to Nashville with one food goal in mind – hot chicken. And I never had it! I have no regrets. The restaurants were all top notch. Our first night, we indulged and spent more on one meal at The Chef & I than we normally spend on a month’s worth of groceries. Was it good? Yep. Would I do that again? Nope. I’m glad I did it once though. We ordered the chef’s tasting menu, which was 7 courses of Heaven including pork belly, Lobster Wellington, octopus, and seared Ahi tuna. Our greatest takeaway from that was the concept of avocado rice. I think that was worth the entire bill since we’ve started to make it at home now. (Look for a recipe soon!)

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    Skil fish in a coconut curry sauce

    The food at The Southern Steak & Oyster (just off Broadway) was just as good. The espresso martini was the perfect start, and the fried green tomatoes and cheese grits were the best appetizer I’ve ever had, hands down.

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    The beautiful Nikki with her creamy espresso martini at The Southern.

    Sambuca was another sweet spot in the Gulch. We went there too late (closes at 11), but I would go early and spend a whole night there next time. The Chris Weaver Band played fun dance covers with more energy than my daughter’s preschool class. Check him out when you get a chance. I would have never guessed that voice came out of that cowboy.

    The two hottest brunch spots in Nashville are both in the Gulch. Milk & Honey has a total Joanna Gaines vibe and is just around the corner from the famed Nashville graffiti wings. The two hour wait gave us plenty of time to walk over to Music Row and drink a bucket (yes, a BUCKET) of mimosas at Frisky Frog’s. Happy Anniversary to us!

     

    I don’t know if this is nostalgia talking since it was our last meal in Nashville, but I think my favorite dish of the whole trip was at Biscuit Love…Bonuts. These magical creatures are some sort of mix between a biscuit and a donut, laid upon a bed of blueberry compote and topped with a lemon mascarpone. I literally licked the plate.

     

     

    Other Stuff To Do:

    The Opry – Go to the Grand Ole Opry. It’s so cool. There’s so much history, the building is gorgeous, the seats are comfy, and you get to see 12 different artists perform. Our lineup was amazing, but even if you don’t know a single soul on the stage, I don’t think you will be disappointed.

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    Darius Rucker at the Opry

    The Johnny Cash Museum – I love Johnny Cash, and now that I’ve been to his museum, I love him even more. There’s no tour guide or anything, so you can just walk through at your own pace. If you have some time, there are a lot of fun listening stations. I was especially impressed with Snoop Dogg’s cover of I Walk the Line.

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    Belle Meade Plantation – The only sunny day we had was our last day, so we didn’t get to spend nearly enough time at Belle Meade. The 8 miles between Nashville and the plantation are so different from the city with sprawling lawns, colonial houses, and hundreds of towering Magnolia trees. The plantation itself is several acres, but the family used to own the entire area where the town is now. The family’s mansion still stands, along with several outbuildings, including slave quarters and a distillery. I would have loved to take the “African American Experience” tour, but that was full, so we toured the mansion instead. The tour guides dress in costume, and they’re extremely knowledgeable about the time period and the family. It truly makes history come to life.

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    Formerly a slave, the horse trainer lived here with his family.

    Scooters – I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the scooters in Nashville. Although our traveling was done by foot or by Lyft, we saw these scooters everywhere! Various kinds from various companies, as well as various levels of sobriety in the riders. (P.S. I’ve heard the locals hate them.)

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    I’ll say it again – y’all, go to Nashville! The music, the food, the atmosphere, the history. There is something for everyone! Well… except the kids. Leave the kids at home for this one.

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    Shock Guac

    In case you’ve been living under a rock, I need to alert you to the wonders of the avocado. Rather boring looking from the outside, the avocado contains a bright green “healthy fat” that can take a dish from ZZZZ to yippee! I admit, I’m dorking out on avocado, but it’s SO good. I even use it in place of a banana in my smoothie sometimes, which creates a silky texture more suitable for a spoon than a straw.

    Anyway, my 4 year old could make regular guacamole, but this one is NOT for her tiny tastebuds. I debated on whether to call this Guaca-holy moly, but ended up with the even classier title. The credit for this recipe goes to my husband, but the name was all me. 🙂

    2 ripe avocados, mashed
    4 t lime juice
    10-12 jalapeño slices, chopped
    1/2 t onion powder
    2-3 t crushed red pepper
    3 pinches salt
    2 pinches pepper

    Stir it all together until well blended. Eat on top of basically anything, including roasted sweet potatoes, eggs, rice, or alone with chips or veggies.

     

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