The Accountability Struggle and a Few Ways to Beat It

Do you find yourself struggling with workout accountability? Do you cop out more times than you’d like to admit? Do you tend to start something and then fall off the wagon? I’m certainly not a fitness trainer or professional but if there’s one thing I am and always have been good at over the years, it’s not missing workouts. If I’m in—you can go all in on me showing up. Now, have I missed some? Of course—I’m by no means perfect. If I’m being totally transparent, I actually didn’t go to a workout today I had initially thought I’d attend. So what better person to give you advice than me, right? HA. I don’t usually go today and it wasn’t really planned and it was on a day I rarely workout (more on why this is a formula for failure later). Normally though, I’m there. 

I talk to quite a few people who’ve told me they really struggle with making the workouts, classes or fitness commitments. They feel guilty and get down on themselves and it’s a bummer headspace to be in–I get it. I recently sat down and tried to think of some of the reasons my track record might be good with sticking to my fitness goals. Is it an inherit personality thing? Is it from a lifetime in athletics? Is it because I so desperately look forward to time out of the house to myself? I realized a couple of things (some tiny and some a bit more thought provoking) and wanted to share. These may or may not work for you. Maybe one or two resonate. You may already be doing them. I’m not sure. Just in case you’ve found yourself struggling to get to the gym or your workout class or in keeping that promise to yourself, these may be worth giving a try.

1.) Lay out your clothes the night before. I know. It’s a little wonky and seems insignificant and like a tiny thing to do, but I think it’s big impact. Whether you are working out at the butt crack of dawn, in the afternoon, after work or later in the evening, lay out your workout gear. Whenever you workout and regardless of what it is you’re going to be doing, always get the gym bag packed the night before or lay out the outfit. I would go so far as to say to put the gym bag next to your door so you literally can’t miss it in the morning or throw it in the passenger seat of your car the night before. Here’s the funny thing with this one—the clothes, the bag–they turn into a form of your accountability partner. You wake up and see the clothes sitting there laid out and ready and you see the promise you had made to yourself just a few hours earlier that you were going for that walk. The gym bag by the door is the reminder of the commitment you made last night to hit the treadmill. Somehow, these non-human articles turn into powerful reminders that we made a commitment to ourselves—don’t let those leggings down! 

2.) Speaking of accountability partners—get one. This whole concept could be a single blog post in itself but I’ll try to be brief(fish). It is said that we run on either internal or external motivation. If you are someone like me, you are internally motivated and pretty good at holding yourself accountable. This means if you say you’re going to do it you don’t need anyone enforcing that motivation other than yourself. You’re on it. Then if you add in accountability to someone externaly, the chances of you bailing other than a majorly good reason are slim to none. If you are someone who is externally motivated (which is the highest percentage of people), you’re going to do best with someone holding you accountable. To put it bluntly, you’ll likely let yourself down if you don’t have someone telling you or reminding you or calling you out to get it done.  What the heck does this all mean? It means that literally everyone benefits from an accountability partner—those internally and externally motivated. I want to say a little more on partners instead of making it such a blanket statement.

First, don’t get an accountability partner with the same accountability problem as you. Latch on to someone who will make you better. Reach up in this instance so that you can get to the point that someone else in your life is reaching up to you. If you and a friend are both wanting to do better and you want to support each other, a great option would be to reach up to the instructor in the fitness class or the trainer or someone else in your life who has a better track record. Obviously you still want to support each other but you both might need that extra support from someone in a different head space. The thing I like about holding yourself accountable to the instructor is that now he or she not only depends on you to attend because you said so, but also because you’re helping fill the class. You don’t want to let the instructor or yourself down. I’m internally motivated but I’m friends with my spin instructor—I know she’ll give me crap if I miss and I also know she depends on numbers to fill her classes and I don’t want to let her down and be an empty bike that could’ve been filled by someone else more committed.

Second, accountability can be as simple as speaking your schedule or plans to the people in your life. Tell family and friends or co-workers you’re starting a routine or class. They’ll ask you about it and it may just be enough motivation for you to attend. No one likes answering “oh I am not making it,” Or “I didn’t go,” to people asking how that new routine is going you were jabbering on about. Who wants to deal with veiled sympathy or veiled satisfaction people silently scream at you with their eyes when you fail? No one. No one wants to deal with that. Say what you want, but you know you have those people in your life and they’re who you need to prove wrong. Let them hold you accountable without even realizing it. Sometimes these people are the most powerful partners and motivators.

Finally, find classes with a cancellation policy—money is an accountability partner and a strong one. You’re less likely to skip if they’re charging you for missing class. Who wants to flush money down the toilet? Gym memberships are costly, don’t waste that money per month when you don’t show up. The fitness world is pricy–get your money’s worth.  

3.) Do what you love. If you hate running, don’t decide to be a runner. If you hate weights, don’t do weight training. There are plenty of physical activities out there that give you incredible benefits. Don’t feel like you have to do one just because it’s the new hot thing or everyone is doing it or people say it’s the only way to go. If you love walking then hike and walk your little heart out. If you love sports activities then find somewhere in town offering lessons or leagues. If you love being on a bike then spin and bike trails. If you don’t like strenuous heavy lifting, pick up a yoga class. There’s something for everyone and if I’ve learned anything, it’s to work in your joy. If you don’t, you eventually burn out. If you are working in your power and joy, you will stick with it and actually look forward to what you are doing instead of dreading it. I’m not saying it’s easy or always fun—there will still be hard classes and days you want to skip—but if it’s something you don’t mind doing, you are way more likely to let that moment of weakness pass and stick to your guns.

4.) Routine. I can’t speak generally on this because some people are not into routines, however, if you’ve been struggling with accountability you may have to try this one. It will help. Pick a time you workout and stick to it. Pick a class and stick to it. It doesn’t mean you have to work out the same time every day, it means that each week your routine is the same. Maybe you do a class on Saturdays at 9:00 am and then one on Thursdays at noon—then do it every single week. They are different times but those are the ones you do and don’t deviate. People will get to know your routine. You’ll get on a routine so that it becomes your normal—not a workout but a part of life–a habit. Once you form a habit, you don’t even think about it. So the goal is to get to the point that it’s a habit you’re subconsciously doing. If you are willy-nilly all over the map, oh I’ll workout here and there and maybe today, you aren’t creating a habit. This is exactly what happened to me today. It was so out of routine–out of habit–it almost felt wrong. But if you nail down certain dates and times and put them in your calendar and get the help in to watch the kids and tell friends and family, it will become something you don’t even think about anymore because it’s your way of life.

The other nice thing about routine is you will get to see certain people week in and week out who become silent accountability partners. If someone is missing from a class I attend weekly, I always wonder why or where they are. When I went to the gym and saw the same person next to me on the treadmill, I’d wonder where she was if she wasn’t there running and reading her People magazine. You want that. Why? It means they’ve gotten to know and expect you to be there. Be the person people wonder about when you’re absent.

5.) When all else fails work out with a grateful heart. This is the one that will get me out of bed super early on a Saturday morning after I’ve had too much wine or am so tired I don’t think I can even make it to the chair (where my clothes are laid out). Have a grateful mentality. I look at some of my aging family members who struggle to even walk up and down stairs. I know what they would give to have their healthy, younger bodies back —that could run, spin away on a bike, squat and lunge, chase down a drop shot and go into an all out sprint for kicks—without pain. I think about this often because I think about my own mortality a lot. There’s going to come a time when I can no longer do the things I can do today and I know I’m going to wish I could. I’m going to give anything to be able to get up early, hop out of bed and get ready to go workout at a spin class and absolutely crush it. Work out with a grateful heart. No, I’m not being that annoying friend who is saying “it could be worse,” or “be grateful,” but I guess maybe I am and I’m ok with that. Think of people who are dying and bedridden. Think of people cooped up in a nursing home tied to their wheelchairs. Think of people who’ve lost a limb. I know. I’m being kind of annoying but sometimes it’s annoying because it’s uncomfortable…and the truth. It could all be gone tomorrow and you’d give anything to go for that walk. So on the days it’s especially hard, try thinking with a grateful heart. It will help you overcome that moment of weakness and doubt. 

There are lots of other tips and tricks out there. These are just a few of mine that have worked over the years. They may or may not be for you, but if you’re struggling, they’re worth giving a try. Maybe I missed a few that are your own favorites—be sure to share them in the comments below for everyone reading. If you do give one or all of these a try, let me know how they work for you in the comments as well. Now, get those clothes laid out for tomorrow and be the partner people are reaching up to for accountability. You can do it!  

Shave Shave Hooray!

I shave my face now. No, I’m not transitioning or having a Britney moment. What I’m doing is one of the it skincare and beauty trends of late and I can’t believe I waited so long to try it. You’ve likely heard of Dermaplaning (it has been around for awhile) or wondered about it yourself haven’t you? If the term shaving your face makes you a tad uncomfortable or dissuades you from trying, we can use Dermaplaning. Much prettier isn’t it? “Hey Connie, I’m shaving my face now.” or “Hey Connie, I’m dermaplaning my face now.” Definitely a difference. I’m the type to call a fig a fig though and it’s basically shaving your face… and you want to do it.

Today, I’m going to debunk two of the biggest reasons why I waited so long to try and, what I’m guessing, may be your own two biggest fears. I’m also going to give you a few pointers because in my limbo of fear, I did major research, read reviews, researched some more, reviewed some more and then researched again just in case before I delved into it. 

For anyone wondering what I’m even talking about, dermaplaning (or face-shaving in my books) is a procedure you receive by a trained technician one to two times a month, with each session lasting around thirty minutes. The cost is relatively low considering costs of other skin treatments. In the session, the technician surgically scrapes any irregularities off the surface of your skin using a sharp blade. New gadgets have also hit the market for you to achieve similar results at home. The process removes the outer-most layer of dead skin and any peach fuzz found on the face. As someone who isn’t hairy, let me just say you never thought you had a mustache until you dermaplane. You never thought you had peach fuzz until it clumps up on your face the same way your dog’s hair clumps in the comb. You never thought you had dead skin because you exfoliate often with your cleanser but then you see your face glowing like a happy little firefly on a summer night after you do it. It’s kind of horrifying, addicting and amazing all at once. 

I watched blogger after blogger and models and influencers rave about this process. I saw trusted professional services offering it and read article after article about how wonderful it was for your skin. I read the cons and scoured reviews of products only for the negatives and kept coming up empty-handed. Obviously there are some cons but not the ones you’d think. I was intrigued as the benefits of this treatment were wild—brighter skin, minimizing fine lines, lessening age spots/discoleratin, makeup going on flawlessly, makeup not settling into fine lines as much, skin regenerating new cells more quickly for younger looking skin, minimizing acne scars, less breakouts, I mean on and on. I was terrified to try it for two reasons only–that my hair would grow back darker and thicker. Somehow I saw myself morpohing into The Bearded Lady in The Greatest Showman

What tipped me over the edge? It wasn’t the constant debunking of my two fears. It was that I rolled into the new decade on the other side of thirty-five and I couldn’t help but notice signs of aging settling in (to my fine lines). At last, based on my research and my vanity, I was finally convinced to go for it. I can assure you the two fears I was most concerned about are myths and I’m going to kick in a few tips for you if you opt for an in-home treatment as I did. You can pay to go see a technician for the professional service, but you can also do it in home just as easily and with pretty similar results. I’m not telling you what to do either way—you have to do what you are comfortable with and these are my personal results.

1.) Will my hair will grow back thicker? No it won’t. I’ll say that again for those in the back–NO. It won’t. What your facial hair was, it will continue to be. Shaving doesn’t change the structure of your hair follicle. This is probably the biggest myth with dermaplaning. I know it was my biggest fear. I was convinced that my tiny, blonde wispy hairs would grow back thicker and coarser. Biologically, it’s simply not true. If you already have coarse hair, expect for it to stay the same. If you have wispy hair like I did, expect it to stay the same. No thicker. No bearded lady. 

2.) Will my hair grow back darker? No. It’s not going to magically change colors anymore than your eyebrows change colors or your hair on your head changes color when it grows. It’s going to come in not only the same density (as discussed above), but also the same color. Again, your genetics determine your hair follicle and it’s not going to change by shaving. 

I think that these two fears can be compared to people who get lash extensions. When you take off lash extensions it’s a shock. Your lashes likely haven’t changed much but it seems like they’re gone. That you suddenly have no lashes. With dermaplaning, once you have shaved and know what you look like without that forest of peach fuzz, it will seem more noticeable to you if you let it grow back because you’ve gotten used to it not being there. It’s not going to come back any darker or thicker but once you’ve done this treatment you notice the difference. Just like plucking, too. Remember that first time you did your brows and you realized you had rocked a unibrow for a few years? Was that just me? Anyone? Ok maybe that was just me. But my point is you realize it only because you are aware. 

I have a few tips for doing this procedure in-home. 

1.) The tool is important. You do not use a normal razor on your face. Don’t be whipping out your shaver for your legs to do your face or stealing your husband’s trusty blade. Use a single blade. My favorite is the Tinkle razor three-pack. Not only do they work great but they are dirt cheap. Get them here: https://www.tinkleyourface.com You can snag these on Amazon as well, but there are a lot of sellers sneaking in fake razors. I didn’t want to chance it. I’d pay to be sure you get what you want.

2.) Always dermaplane with a clean, makeup-free face. I like to do it at night after I remove makeup and cleanse. If you don’t, you are just scraping off makeup, ruin the razor and miss a ton of hairs and skin. Afterwards I cleanse again and give my face a dousing of my favorite serum and then moisturize. 

3.) While you’re at it, touch up those brows. Don’t forget your brows. This is an amazing way to remove some unibrow action and get those pesky hairs under the brow bone area. You want to be ultra careful around your eyes (do I really even need to say that?) as your skin is thin there. Despite waxing or plucking religiously, you don’t always get all the hairs and sometimes you can’t even see them—but they’re there. This will remove them for epic wow brows. Just don’t shave off your brow tails. Slow and steady.

4.) Do your entire face. Don’t just do your chin or skip your nose or your forehead. Afterwards, you’ll notice—so will everyone else. Do your entire face. It will especially affect your makeup if you only do one area—why does she have a funky shadow on her forehead? I like to start around my cheekbones and work my way down to my chin. I then start up at my forehead/brow area and finish with my nose and upper lip. Remember, this process isn’t all about the hair—it’s about getting rid of the dead skin. So even if you have little to no hair on your forehead, you want to get rid of that layer of dead skin. Also, don’t go against the grain (for lack of a better term) and careful around your hair line so you don’t start shaving your head.

5.) It’s addicting but don’t overdue this. Do it on an as-needed basis. You’ll know. Just like your at-home glycolic peel or microderm, you only do them a couple of times a week MAX. This is a whole other level treatment, so I would say once a week max if not once every two weeks. Like I said, you’ll know. You don’t necessarily want stubble growing back but don’t overdue it for the sake of your skin.

6.) Be careful with sun exposure immediately following dermaplaning. You should be wearing SPF every single day as is, but still be careful going in the sun after doing this—it’s fresh new skin you’ve uncovered and it will fry. 

There you have it folks. I’m hooked and you will be too. My initial results were incredible and immediate. My skin is brighter, healthier, younger looking and will continue to be with each swipe of my Tinkle blade. My makeup (which I had a pretty good makeup game to begin with) leveled up. It will transform your skin. Don’t wait to try it as long as I did out of fear of the beard. It’s a myth. Again, speak to a professional if it will make you feel better and maybe have it done professionally the first time. However you decide to finally delve into this, I think you’ll love it and if you’re still scared to admit you’re a face-shaver I promise your secret is safe with me. 

I’d love to hear your feedback if you decide to try or if you’ve been on this for awhile, tell me your results and how you are liking it. Maybe I missed a tip you want to share–please do so below. Also, leave any questions in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them.

Chow Down and Cheer Super Bowl Sunday with these Fan Favorite Recipes

I was raised on the appetizer. When other families would gather around a beautifully set table and enjoy a Christmas dinner with ham or turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, homemade buns, green bean casseroles and so on, we were chowing down on appetizers all night while we opened presents. Each year, a new one would be added or someone would try something new. I loved it and never missed that Christmas dinner at all. Over the years I’ve collected a slew of appetizer recipes, from cucumber sandwiches to wings to dips to bacon-wrapped everything to seasonal, you name it. I can confidently attend any event with a slew of options up my sleeve—yes, even “snobbier” options. As I began cooking, I tweaked some of my favorites to my own taste preference and have come up with some twists on the originals. 

With the Super Bowl fast approaching this weekend, I thought I would try to get a quick post up for you in case you were on the hunt for a great game-day option. I have loads of other appys in my vault but these are great wintery ones that feel football game appropriate (and ones I won’t have to kill you for sharing). I kid, I kid. As I typed these out, in true midwest fashion, I noticed almost every single one utilizes ranch dressing in some way shape or form. Aren’t you happy I’m here to help keep things classy? Also, if you’re looking for healthy options, you won’t find them in this particular post. Tasty? Yes. Healthy. Not so much.

These are great to bring to a party, great for if you’re hosting a party or if you’re just doing something small and fun with your family. I hope you find one that catches your eye and  maybe give one or two of them a whirl. I’d love your thoughts, too, so comment below with which one most excites you to try. If you have any questions on the recipes, feel free to also drop a comment below. Enjoy! 

Kurtis’s O Canada Wings

These wings were inspired by my husband Kurtis. He has perfected them over the years and they are our tribute to his home country. When I lived in Canada, the “buffalo wings” I had come to fear (not a huge spice fan) took a strange turn. Kurtis was chowing down on them one night and I couldn’t understand why they were a creamy orange color. I tried one and a whole new world opened up to me. These “O Canada Wings” are a Canadian version of buffalo wings—and they are epic my friends. Perfect for game day or a backyard bbq. 

3-4 packages of wings (purchase them split)

1 large bottle Frank’s Red Hot Wing Sauce 

1 extra large bottle Hidden Valley Ranch dressing (40 fl oz)

Preheat Oven to 350 degrees. Season wings to your liking. Foil a sheet pan and bake wings until crispy. Approximately one hour or so. 

While wings are baking, mix ranch and wing sauce. Kurtis doesn’t measure but he would recommend 3/4 the bottle of the ranch. Add wing sauce to your desired spiciness. At least 1/4 of the bottle. The sauce will be pale orange. Stir.

Dump wings into a large bowl and pour sauce over top. Gently toss. 

The wings are ready after that step but we like to put them in a Crock-Pot on low for them to merry for a bit. Stir occasionaly. 

Aunt Suzy’s Wontons

Kurtis first had these at my aunt Suzy’s annual Halloween party and he begged me to make them for literally every single other appetizer related event or party we ever attend or host. LITERALLY. Every one. They have become a crowd favorite and when appys are discussed, I usually get the nod to make these. They are one of my most asked for recipes. They are crunchy and unique, mild and tasty. They are also pretty on a platter so if you need something that is pretty and tasty this is a good one. They are kid-friendly, too. Be careful though, one tends to turn into four or five. Or ten if you’re Kurtis.

1 pk Won Ton skins

1 lb Jimmy Dean pork sausage

1 red pepper finely chopped

1 can chopped black olives

1 bottle Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing

2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

Mini muffin tins

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

In the mini muffin tin, form Won Ton cups. Bake for ten minutes.

Cook sausage and drain grease. Combine sausage with the other ingredients except for ranch in a large bowl. Add ranch until mixture is moist (sorry had to use that word). You don’t want it too dry but definitely not oozing ranch. 

Fill Won Ton cups with mixture (don’t overflow them) and bake for approximately ten more minutes.  

Beer Dip

We are a family of not only appetizers but also dips. I could do an entire cookbook on dips alone. This beer spread has a fun zing to it and while pretzels are often served with it for a full pub-like effect, I have to say that this dip on a Ruffle chip is about as close to perfection as you can get for my basic palette. Yes, there’s beer in it, but none of us have ever gotten drunk of it–yet at least. I still let my kids eat it. If you can’t stand that thought, opt for a non-alcoholic beer. For a low-carb option, try parmesan crisps or celery sticks. 

2 cups shredded cheddar

2 8 oz cream cheese softened

2 TBL bacon bits (I like the real ones not the crunchy ones)

1 package of dried Hidden Valley ranch seasoning

1/2 can of beer

Combine cheddar and cream cheese and dry dressing mix. Gradually stir in beer.

Chill for at least two hours (but honestly the longer the better). 

Buffalo Chicken Dip

Everyone probably has this recipe in some form or another but I like making mine with a Rotisserie chicken. I think it adds in a whole next level of flavor because sometimes this dip tastes bland. We are BIG blue cheese fans, so I recommend topping it with crumbles. Shredded cheddar is fine, too. This one is great with celery sticks, chips, pretzels or even baguettes. 

1 Rotisserie chicken

2 8 oz packs cream cheese (softened)

1 c Hidden Valley ranch dressing

3/4 cup Frank’s Red Hot Sauce

1/2 cup shredded cheddar or blue cheese crumbles

Skin the rotisserie chicken and chop up the meat. I focus on the breasts and save the legs for something else. 

Heat the chopped chicken and hot sauce in a skillet over medium-low heat. Stir in the softened cream cheese and ranch. Stir until blended and warm. Top with shredded cheese or blue cheese—whichever your preference.

From here, you can either place the mixture in a pie pan and heat in the oven to brown the cheese or add to a crockpot on low or serve immediately. Your choice.

Cracker Mix

I roomed with a fellow tennis player my freshman year of college and she brought this to one of our meets early in the season. I think I was late to my match because I was in a corner chowing down on this mix. It’s unique and addicting. This is a great one to have in little bowls around the house if you are hosting or to bring to someone’s home in a cute tin. Even if they don’t tell you they need you to bring anything it would be a nice gesture—it will get eaten, trust me. You can mix and match the crackers to your liking—this is just my personal go-to lineup.

(Use six boxes total —feel free to mix and match)

Bugles

Goldfish crackers

Cheez-It Grooves white cheddar

Rye chips

Wheat Thins

Ritz Crisps Original

twin pack of Hidden Valley Ranch dry seasoning

Orvil Redenbacher butter popcorn oil

Dump the six boxes of crackers into a large roaster or disposable roasting pan. Stressing the word large. Stir gently. Sprinkle seasoning packets on top or crackers and gently stir again. Add popcorn oil (slowly). You may not need an entire bottle. Stir gently to coat. Bake at 250 degrees for one hour, stirring every 15 minutes.

Twisted Taco Dip

Don’t skip this!! I know you’re thinking—who doesn’t have this dip recipe? Boring! I have a surprise up my sleeve–read it out. I don’t use taco seasoning in my taco dip. Instead, I use dried ranch seasoning powder. It takes it to a whole other level and your guests will notice (and ask why yours tastes so much better). You’re welcome! 

2 8 oz packages cream cheese

1 package dry Hidden Valley ranch seasoning

1 jar mild or medium taco sauce

1 small can sliced black olives

1/2 jar sliced green olives

1 can diced mild chiles 

shredded cheddar 

Blend the dressing mix with the cream cheese and spread onto a large round platter. Spread taco sauce over top. Top with listed toppings and finish with shredded cheese. Refrigerate to give it time to set and for favors to blend. Serve with hearty Tostito chips.

Ham & Cheese Buns

These little guys are my favorite game day entree to serve. They are simple to make and can even be done ahead of time less the butter mix. They always get crushed and no matter how many times you serve them, people always love them. You can mix it up with these as well—try beef with cheddar or turkey and cheddar and bacon or beef and blue cheese crumbles. Have fun with it if you get bored of ham and cheese. 

1 TBL Dijon mustard

2 TBL Poppy Seeds

1/2 cup butter

24 Hawaiian dinner rolls

1/2 lb thinly sliced honey ham

1/2 lb sliced swiss cheese

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Melt botter in saucepan over low heat. Add poppy seeds and Dijon mustard. Whisk. 

Form sandwiches on a parchment paper or foiled and lightly sprayed sheet pan. I split the cheese so that it goes bun bottom, cheese, ham, cheese, bun top. 

Brush the tops with butter mixture and drizzle remaining butter mix over top. 

Bake for 20 minutes and serve immediately.  These are best when the tops are slightly browned and crispy.

Kurtis’s Caesar Drink

I’ll never forget the time I went out up in Canada for the first time. I ordered a Bloody Mary. The bartender looked at me like I was drugged. Then when I was exasperated they didn’t have my drink, the just rolled his eyes and told me I was in a new country now and to get used to it as he handed me a drink. The “it” was a Caesar and let me tell you, it now reigns superior over the Bloody Mary in my book. It is lighter and not as thick and murky as your typical Bloody Mary. Although we aren’t in Canada anymore, it’s the only thing we serve on Freedom Farm. I’ve also converted a few people over to it already. The key is Clamato. You’ll find it by the Bloody Mary mixes. Kurtis also drinks “beer and clam” which was another Canadian specialty. Pour your beer and add some Clamato to it. If Vodka isn’t your thing, try it with Gin. It’s also excellent. 

In this order:

1 glass of ice

freshly squeezed lemon

freshly squeezed lime

a few dashes of Tabasco (if desired)

a few dashes of celery salt

1-2 shots of Vodka (depending on your mood) 

COLD Clamato juice (cold is key)

Stir. 

Wet rim with a wedge of lime and then add lime to cup. Add one more dash of celery salt. Garnish (celery, olives, beef stick, pickles, whatever). You can also rim the glass with Sea Salt.

My Low-Carb Lifestyle & Five Tips for Living Your Best Low-Carb Life

For me, low-carb has become a lifestyle—coming to me as naturally as my cup of coffee first thing in the morning. It’s not for everyone, though. Fitness, eating habits, skincare, fashion, makeup—all of them are not a one-size fits all for people. What works for me may not work for you and what works for you may not for me. With that being said, I can say with certainty that low-carb has and continues to work for my lifestyle.

I’ve had three c-sections. After Tia, the weight came off pretty easily. I had started attending fitness classes five days a week and was running at least three times a week up to five miles per run. With just one child and no other job title other than “mama” at the time, I could keep this commitment pretty easily. The weight came off and I was in stellar shape. 

I remember lying on the table during my second c-section and feeling that rip. If you haven’t had a c-section you won’t know this, but if you have, you know the rip. It was a painless pressure feel of them ripping apart those abs that I had worked so hard to get back (and I had gotten them back–they were pretty). I think this doctor was feeling especially aggressive that day because I don’t remember a rip like that with Tia. Anyway, the rip, the tug, the pull and instead of thinking, I can’t wait to see this baby, I remember thinking, there go my abs. And my friends, there they went. If anyone sees them let me know, I’ve been looking for them since. 

Losing the weight after my second c-section was radically different than my first. It just didn’t come off the same. Those last ten pounds hovered and my body felt…saggier. I mean, let’s be honest. There’s no pretty way to put it. Everything didn’t bounce back into place rubber band style like it did the first time. I was eating healthy and working out. I couldn’t hold the same commitment to fitness as I did with Tia because I was now running a business and raising two babes only 16 months apart with a husband working six to seven days a week (he’d leave at 5:30am and get home around 6:00pm). I walked a ton because that was easy to do with the girls and we had a treadmill and weights and I had a fitness program a trainer had given me. I ate healthy meals and didn’t overindulge. But the weight wasn’t coming off. At this point, I knew I needed something a little more. I knew my body well and was well aware of health, fitness and nutrition from a lifetime of sports and trainers. I looked at a lot of diet options and finally decided to try the Atkins. With Hadley, I went hardcore into this diet. I learned about it, read a ton of articles and religiously followed it for six months. I’m not getting into the nitty gritty of it or saying that’s the diet to follow—there are a lot of articles swearing it will kill you and equally as many saying it’s epic and amazing. I’m not going there. What I’m saying, is Atkins is how I ventured into low-carb. I strictly followed it for a time and then shook it out to fit into my life. It wasn’t about my life fitting into the diet—it was about the diet fitting into my life. Eventually, it wasn’t a diet and was my lifestyle. I knew what I could eat, how much, what things affected me most, where I needed to be for carb intake for my energy and more. I guess it became my own diet because I perfectly curated it to my life. 

In 2018—a year and a half after I had Carolyn—we went to Florida. I had been eating (sort of) low-carb after her birth and continuing to be moderately active, with two to three mile walks almost daily. But I wasn’t feeling good. My pants were snug. The weight I had initially lost was creeping back. I saw a picture of myself on the beach and just had that feeling…like, yikes. Now, I carry my weight well. People like to give me grief sometimes and would even say “you look great,” “you don’t need to lose weight,” etc. This isn’t coming from a skewed image of myself. This was coming from a, I know my body better than anyone and I’m telling you, I don’t feel good and I don’t feel healthy and you might not know it because I have an oversized sweater on but I can barely button these pants place. So, I decided to recommit to what I had learned. What worked for me before, worked again. I tweaked only two things—upping my cardio and cracking down on my carb count. 

I’m in as good of shape now as I was after Tia. Same size pants. Clothes fit well. All the things. The low-carb lifestyle I had adopted and adapted after Hadley is what best works for my lifestyle and my body. Like I said, it’s not for everyone and there are tons of different low-carb options out there with lots of different terms and names. Each has its own following and merit. My body is a different body after three c-sections and that’s ok, but I know my body well and it’s healthy and happy and looks great in whatever I decide to dress it in thanks to the low-carb lifestyle I follow. 

If you too are on a low-carb diet or have decided on this lifestyle, or are maybe thinking of it, here are five of my favorite tips for you to help make it a bit easier. Most importantly, remember this simple equation for counting carbs: Net Carbs = Total Carbohydrates – Fiber – Sugar Alcohols. 

1.) Hold the starch, extra veggie. Why even tempt yourself? When you go out to eat is likely your biggest set-up to fail. When you’re home, you’re in control. When you’re out, you usually get a big ‘ol side of starch. What I like to do is remove the temptation completly. Anytime I’m out with friends or for date night I order my protein (typically a filet or salmon) and ask for extra veggies instead of the starch. They are usually happy to accomodate. The good news is, your veggie option is usually broccoli, asparagus or green beans. If it’s carrots, run and ask for something else. Consider carrot a starch. Usually it’s one of those green veggies though and then you’re in business. I like them steamed and put lots of lemon or even some shredded parmesan on them if they have it available. 

2.) Cauliflower is your new bestie. Your new bestie also smells like garbage, but you’ll get past that. I missed bedding my meals on rice. It wasn’t the rice I missed though, it was just that extra something with my stir-fry or that saucy casserole I had made. I missed my homemade spaghetti but it was the sauce I missed, not the pasta. Cauliflower can replace all of that. Tuna casserole? Use cauliflower rice instead of noodles. Beef Stroganoff? Use garlic mashed cauliflower (see recipe below–it’s one of my favorites) instead of mashed potatoes. Spaghetti? Cauliflower rice instead of noodles. You can replace just about anything with cauliflower something. Yes, it smells, but it is incredibly healthy, keeps things moving (if you get what I mean) and is a perfect filler for those things you think you miss.

3.) Don’t be fooled by whole wheat, bean, vegetable or whatever pasta. Pasta is pasta. I check labels. Pasta companies are getting smart. Low-carb is huge–almost as big as gluten–and they are trying to offer variations to their pasta so that it’s healthier and we’re tricked into thinking since it isn’t that regular pasta it must have less carbs. Is whole wheat pasta healthier? Yes. But it usually has more carbs than regular pasta. Is bean pasta healthier? Yes. It has less carbs than regular but it’s still loaded with carbs. Just because it’s healthier doesn’t mean it fits into the lifestyle you’ve chosen. It’s best to steer clear in general and opt for Zoodles, Spaghetti squash or cauliflower. 

4.) Water is life. I’ll keep this part short. When you cut carbs, you can get bunged up like a gopher (as my husband would say). You should be drinking about a half gallon of water every day as it is, but when you go low-carb–especially early on–you need to hit that and then some. Water is a vital part to any low-carb lifestyle and it’s essential that you drink it by the buckets or else you’re going to find yourself in major struggle town. Water, water, water. 

5.) Find an app you like to track your food, exercise and carb intake. Tracking is important with anything in life–if you set a goal for yourself and you want to achieve it, you have to track it. The same goes for your carb goals. Writing in a journal is fine, but there are apps out there now that have the actuals for you and take a lot of the guesswork out of it. Whatever your target net carb for the day–50, 100, etc.–you want to be tracking throughout the day to see that you do or don’t hit that. You’ll be surprised at how much you eat and how many carbs are in a lot of foods you initially thought were good for this lifestyle. My favorite app to use is MyFitnessPal.

People always ask what I miss most living low-carb and I get a kick out of it. I can eat carbs. I still do eat carbs and of course I cheat here and there. I don’t really miss anything, though in all honesty, because you can find a low-carb version of just about anything. Anything you can’t find in low-carb, there are fabulous substitutes to trick your mind and satisfy your craving. Parmesan crisps, Alyssa’s cookies, sugar-free Jello, Stevia, cheese cubes, and turkey sticks are some of my favorite snacks. I drink wine, use creamer in my coffee, splurge on pizza, you name it. But I’m disciplined, too, and took the time to find out my best version of “low-carb” that best fits my life and my body. If I have one more piece of advice for you, it’s this: don’t be afraid of trial and error and straying from your plan to find what’s best for your life. Again, if you are trying to fit your life into a diet, you’re likely to eventually fail. It’s not supposed to go that way. It’s about a plan that best fits into your life. 

Lauren’s Garlic Mashed Cauliflower

Ingredients:

1 Head Fresh Cauliflower, cut into florets. You can also sub with a couple of packages of frozen cauliflower florets (get the steamable bag).

Minced Garlic (equivalent to one clove)

1/2 cup grated Parmesan Cheese

2-3 Tablespoons Cream Cheese (room temp is best for blending)

Salt and Pepper to taste

Splash of red wine

Directions:

1.) Steam Fresh or Frozen Cauliflower and drain

2.) Slowly add Cauliflower to food processor or blender and blend. Add in remaining ingredients and blend to preferred consistency. Serve. 

Five Fall Fashion Trends Worth Following

My auntie returned from Europe and brought with her a piece of clothing that flipped a small Midwest town on its head—a miniskirt. It may come as no surprise when I also tell you that she once gave me an incredible piece of fashion advice. I’ll get to that.

First of all, I’m deviating a little bit. This post doesn’t have many personal stories in it, just my opinions on what I know about fall fashion trends. I promised to be authentic with you, so here’s the scoop… I started a new post but I was still just a little too close to the events in it and had to step away into something a bit fluffier. In the writing world, the closer you are to something, the harder it can be to write. Bear with me though. I’ll get it out, just not yet.

I’m about to give you five fall fashion trends that I think are worth following or implementing in some way. I want to be crystal clear about two things though before we go any further. First, if you wear the outfit, you will always be in style. What? Yes. Let me say it again, if you wear the outfit, you will always be on trend. If the outfit wears you, it’s no good. I know you’ve been there—you were uncomfortable, self-conscious, possibly in pain? I mean, I get it. I’ve bled for fashion, cut off circulation and suffered next-day back pain. When the outfit wears you you’re all kinds of out of sorts. I hate to say it, but people notice. If we are uncomfortable, people usually know. But if you feel amazing and confident and love a piece of clothing to bits, people take notice of that as well. You know the piece—it hugs you in all the right places or is your power color that brings out your eyes or brings back certain memories of your first date with him. When we are confident, whether something is on trend or not, we demand to be noticed without even realizing it. We give off a great vibe to others and next thing you know, they’re asking where you got the shoes or bracelet or shirt. It’s because you look amazing in it, feel amazing in it, and are totally rocking it. Like. A. Boss. 

For my second point, I need to go back to my auntie. She once told me that every trend comes back. Chubby, not fashionable and confused, I didn’t get that. She said if I loved a particular piece, to keep it because it would be back in style again at some point. I really didn’t believe that one. Who in their right mind would ever wear Fanny Packs again? Or leggings, or sandals with socks? Literally everyone…again. 

Trends come and go and come and go and come back. I’m old enough now to have seen this on multiple occasions. One day those Fanny Packs are in, next day they’re the butt of fashion jokes and then the next day you catch yourself wearing one again. How did that happen!? Who let them back in!?

Auntie was right. If you love something, keep it. You may not wear it as often or it may stay tucked away for awhile, but that piece will come back on-trend and you’re going to save yourself a lot of money because, guess what, you already have those wide-legged jeans that are back. WHOOP!! So do the Marie Kondo thing when cleaning out your closet—does it spark joy? Don’t ask yourself if it’s trendy, ask if it brings joy. If the thought or memories of that piece make you happy or you see yourself in it again, keep it. Maybe it’s a well-made piece you really don’t want to give up on quite yet. Save it, if only for a rainy day, because chances are it will have another moment of glory. 

Ok, now that we have a few points cleared up, let’s have some fun and delve into my five favorite fashion trends this fall. I don’t necessarily love all of them, but if you do want to play around a bit and rock a trend or two this fall, these are the ones I suggest embracing. 

1.) Snakeskin

I’m kicking off the list with what I think is the most popular trend. Drumroll….SSSSSssnakeskin. To be perfectly honest, I hate snakes and I’m not a huge fan of this trend. Just thinking about snakeskin makes my own skin crawl. I can’t bring myself to wear snakeskin anywhere on my body other than my feet. I once had a snakeskin handbag (which I obviously should’ve kept) and I finally had to give it away because I couldn’t handle it. I literally couldn’t touch it because it felt too much like the real thing (or how I imagine because I sure as heck have never touched a snake). It felt real, let’s leave it at that. Also, anytime I was brave enough to use the bag, I’d hang it over my chair when dining, forget about it and then scream halfway through lunch because I thought a Python was behind me. 

My own feelings aside, snakeskin is all the rage for fall. I’ve seen shirts, coats, belts, shoes, handbags, swimsuits, kimonos, pants, you name it. As far as I’m concerned, a dead snake is the best snake, but for animal lovers out there you will be happy to know that most of it is faux. If you have a higher budget to work with and don’t give a rip about snakes, you can still get your hands on the real thing, too.   

So, how do you incorporate this slithery style? If you are of the squirmy type like myself, try the print on shoes. It isn’t as intense and is a subtle way to incorporate it into your fall wardrobe. These sneakers by Antonio Melani would be a good start. Link: https://bit.ly/2kx04vl

One thing to remember, like all hot trends, it will go. Make sure the items you invest in are items you will still want hanging in your closet a few months or years from now. I have a pair of the most fabulous heels I purchased in London that are black with snakeskin print up the back. I bought them years ago and they never go out of style. Not even when snakeskin was out of style. Why? Black heels are staple pieces. The snakeskin flair didn’t take away from the fact that they were your basic black heels with a fun detail. When you look at your closet a few seasons from now, are you going to be pumped to have tons of snakeskin patterns slithering around in your wardrobe? For me, I’d burn it the second it was gone. Maybe you are a snake loving gal. If the pattern excites you and you want to go bold, this shirt would be great to wear alone or under a sharp black blazer. Plus, it’s at a great price-point. Link: https://amzn.to/2ly9p6z

2.) Camouflage 

I am of the belief system that camouflage (camo) will never go out of style. At one time, I was totally against it. I actually loathed camo and would have snarky thoughts towards anyone wearing it outside of a hunting lodge. As I learned more about fashion (and cleaned up my attitude), I quickly realized that camo was a staple print in the industry. I think it was when I saw Victoria Beckham wearing it that my thoughts began to shift. I mean, this was Posh Spice turned classy as heck fashion influencer and designer. She always looks sharp. Her comment was that everyone should have a great piece with the print in his or her closet. In the past few years, I’ve totally converted. 

The print is always hidden in stores somewhere but you’ve surly seen it sneaking its way into just about every boutique, runway and store as of late. Athleisure companies love it because it’s easy to incorporate into leggings, sports bras, sweatshirts and casual shirts. But you will find it elsewhere as well. Dresses, handbags, skirts, coats, jewelry, you name it. 

If you are as camo crazy as I am, you may want to consider a bolder piece. Below is a coat that I picked up last season from a boutique I love called Vivie Boutique. It’s priced well, made well and perfect for fall. Wear it with a hoodie underneath or a long-sleeved waffle top to totally rock the trend. Link: https://bit.ly/2kyb7EK

Another one of my favorite camo purchases are these leggings from SPANX. I picked these up last year and I think they’re even hotter this fall than last. Here’s why this piece is a win-win-win situation. 1.) You’re rocking the camo trend 2.) You’re in high-wasted, sculpting pants. 3.) They are black camouflage for something different and black is always slimming. Figure flattering and trendy? Yes, please! They are a little pricy compared to some other legging options, but the quality and what it does for your bod makes it worth the price. This is a great option if you are someone who is wanting to do camo but may not be a huge fan of the green. Link: https://bit.ly/2k4FfHw

Are you struggling with this one? Not a huge fan of camo? I’ve got ya covered. Try incorporating it subtly. Like the snakeskin scenario, you can do this on footwear or on a handbag. I think this below handbag by AHDORNED is absolutely gorgeous. It’s a great crossbody, sized well so that you can actually fit things into it and it’s classic black. The strap is nice and wide for extra comfort. The strap is also where you’ll see the camo pattern. It’s subtle but a very cool pop of pattern to jazz up the bag. Plus, a piece like this is a safe investment because it will ride the trend waves and always stay in style. Link: https://bit.ly/2lHhTIi

3.) Puffed/Statement Sleeves 

My girl Anne Shirley would be all over this one. Dynamic, oversized, puffed sleeves. I’ve seen lifestyle bloggers drowning their arms in sleeves for about a month now and it’s not going away any time soon. I can get behind this one, when not totally out of control, for two reasons…

Reason number on is puffed sleeves = power statement. I wish shoulder pads would always be on trend. They broaden and heighten our shoulders and give a touch of masculinity. Bold. Ballsy. I love it. I’m not saying you need to go Gaga bold, but a little bit of height and curve goes a long way in elevating your outfit. This Anthropologie top is a great example and I’m a sucker for a well-named piece. It’s still feminine and delicate, but that extra little puff on the sleeve takes the look to next level confident. Think of confident people—they stand straight and tall. Puffed sleeves give that illusion whether you’re standing tall or exhausted. Life on the rocks? Wear puffed sleeves. No one will know you’re verging on your annual breakdown. Link: https://bit.ly/2lXtDGP

My second reason for getting onboard with this trend is lots of arm room = comfort. Who doesn’t love a good, comfy, oversized sweater? The statement sleeves of the season aren’t tight and constraining. They aren’t skin-showing or lacy. They are oversized, chunky, and blankety (is that a word? It is for now). You’re going to look so comfy casual cute that everyone is going to want to wrap you up and snuggle. This may terrify some of you, but you get my point. The below sweater is sweet and stylish with those big, comfy sleeves. Plus, it’s in one of the hottest colors of the season—lilac. It’s priced well, too, which always helps. Link: https://bit.ly/2k7wbll


4.) Fleece

Mary had a little lamb whose wool was one of the hottest fall trends. This trend was on the rise last winter and doesn’t seem to have dwindled over the summer. I love this particular option because it feels really safe. Like, can’t we all get behind comfy, cozy fleece? Ok, yea, those of you who are always hot may not love this one. Actually the thought of fleece may have you sweating already, but for a lot of us it’s a safe bet. Even if you live in a warmer climate (speaking from experience on this one), this is a wonderful transition piece for cooler fall nights and into winter. I’m not necessarily talking fleece-lined leggings or blankets, think more along the lines of pullovers and jackets. Obviously there are some out-of-control options that rocked the runways, but I’m going to stick to the basics on this one.

My favorite option for someone looking to try this trend is a Sherpa fleece pullover. They give you a, “I just went skiing” or, “I might be going skiing” look whether you’ve ever touched a ski in your life or not. Pair it with some leggings and hiking boots and you are fall’s trend darling. I love this Etsy option. Not only is it Sherpa and soft as can be, but you can monogram it as well and I love me a good monogram. Link: https://etsy.me/2IEJpGF

Another great option, and one I personally own, is this pullover from The Sherpa Pullover Company. It’s oversized, warm and bit thinner than some of the other ones out there. Cozy is an understatement on this piece and it comes in a load of colors. This runs large, so keep that in mind when ordering. Link: https://bit.ly/2k5G8zH

You may not have to invest a dime. A lot of you probably have some fleece (or fleece looking) pieces laying around your house. Maybe an older North Face fleece jacket? A leather jacket lined with it? The nice thing about this fall trend is that if you invest in something like a pullover or even a jacket, you will still be able to wear these long after the trend passes. I actually think everyone should invest in a really great, comfy, Sherpa fleece for your closet. It will stand the test of time and man oh man is it comfy. 

5.) Dusters

I’m not talking Swiffer here. Wouldn’t that be a cruel joke? Hottest trend of fall—dusting your house. Ew. No, the dusters I’m referring to are the loose fitting coats. Think of Clint Eastwood in the old Spaghetti Westerns. Or John Wayne might be even better—Eastwood wore a lot of ponchos. Dusters are long, loose, light coats. Dusters have evolved to now include duster sweaters, cover-ups and even kimonos. The nice thing about this trend is that you can stick to something really basic and make it a safe bet. A simple black sweater duster can be worn for years whether dusters are in or not. Going with a particular print is a bit bolder. A full-on fall trend would be a snakeskin print duster (which I’ve seen). 

This clothing piece is also great because despite your climate, you can find ways to incorporate it into your wardrobe. If you live somewhere that is quite mild, a kimono duster is a great option because the fabric is light and airy. This one from Pink Lily Boutique might be a great option of you. Pair it with jeans and a camisole for a great date-night look. Link: https://bit.ly/2T2lv4h

If you are feeling the John Wayne don’t mess with Texas vibe and want to go a little badass, try this duster cape. Capes are actually another huge fall trend, so you’d be knocking out two in one. It’s a bold statement piece, comes in quite a few colors and is affordable. Pair it with your leather leggings and over-the-knee boots and you will feel like Superwoman hitting the town. Link: https://amzn.to/2lKrz4M

If you live in a cooler climate, it may be worth investing in a classic duster coat. They are still fairly light, so if you reside in The Frozen Tundra, you may only be able to wear it for the fall and early spring seasons. It’s still a great option to throw on over your outfit and it can definitely make a statement even if you are taking it off once indoors. This one caught my eye because it has a plaid print. Plaid is another pattern trending this fall, so you’ve got yourself another two for one in this piece. If you do go with this one, be sure to size down. The reviews say it runs quite large. Link: https://bit.ly/2kB6euq

Again, remember that if you truly love a piece, it will always be in-style. Don’t get too hung up on trends. It’s fun to give a few a try, though, whether you go balls to the wall or incorporate it subtly. The above links I gave are also just suggestions. Maybe they aren’t your price point. That’s why they are just suggestions. I love looking at really high-end pieces I’d never purchase, not to depress myself, but to use them as a guide to go find something similar in a more cost effective price point. All I’m saying is have fun with it and see if there is something you can possibly get behind to try out this fall. Which of the trends will you be trying this fall? Any of them you can’t wait to see die? As always, I love to hear your voices below in the comments. Happy fall ya’ll! 


Tried and True Kitchen Staples: Five Basics I Love for Cooking

I started cooking tuna casserole for myself when I was ten, have two parents who enjoy cooking and grew up helping out in kitchens of multiple family members. Needless to say, I know my way around a kitchen. I now have a family of five, cook for large gatherings and do all the spreads—Easter, Christmas, Thanksgiving, dinner parties, birthdays, BBQ’s, you name it. Some go better than others, but I’ve done them and I’ve come to rely on some tried and true staples over the years. Don’t expect anything too fancy pants. I’m a very basic cook. I use basic items, basic tools and basic recipes. I can use fancy, complicated tools and cook fancy, complicated meals, but at this particular moment in my life, the simpler the better.

You probably have every single one of these items already, but I wanted to shine some light on them, give you a few new tricks and share some recipes you can use with them. Maybe you don’t have them—no problem—I’ve linked my favorites in case you feel moved to snag one or two. I actually have a list of about twenty items to share with you, but I write like I talk (which is a lot), so out of respect for you and to keep this blog shorter than Middlemarch, let’s start with five.

1.) Crock-Pot

Hi my name is Lauren and I have a Crock-Pot addiction. Check my butler’s pantry and there you will find one in all different sizes—extra small, small, medium, medium large, large, extra large. I even have a triple buffet server. Clearly, I’m Crock-Pot crazy and should be hired as a spokesperson. Yes, I know all the rage right now is the Instant Pot and it does all these fancy schmancy things, “pressure cooks meat, steams rice, sautés vegetables, makes yogurt, cleans your house and folds the laundry all from the push of a button!” Truth is, I love my Crock-Pot and I won’t be jumping ship anytime soon. Why? It’s so stinking easy. Have you seen that Instant Pot? I mean, it’s terrifying. I’ve looked at them and there are all these buttons and steps and programming and a manual I’d have to read in my spare time (HA, spare time). It’s a tad too intimidating for this old gal. With a Crock-Pot, you dump it in, turn a dial (the only dial) and off you go.

I’m all about delegating in life. I delegate meals to my Crock-Pot. She’s like my in-home chef. I get the groceries, give her the ingredients and she cooks them for me, perfectly. I’ve used a Crock-Pot from my post-college days to feeding a family of five. It’s not the Instant Pot that turns water into wine, but you can cook roasts, stews, sauces, soups, casseroles, breakfasts, desserts, and even create scents for your home in them. For a curveball you weren’t expecting, I even use it to keep the towels warm for my foot spas and facials. There are digital ones now too, if that’s your thing, although I prefer the old-school dial. The dishwasher-safe cleanup is life. Plus—and this is a big plus for me—at around $30.00 for a 6-quart, they are much cheaper than the $100.00 6-quart Instant Pot.

Here’s the key to really maxing-out the Crock-Pot. Prep your meal early. I like prepping it early in the morning when I’m still only a cup of coffee in and half asleep. I turn it on low and next thing I know, it’s 4PM and my home smells like a delicious home-cooked meal and I almost completely forget I made it earlier that morning. When I used to work outside the home, there was nothing better than coming home and smelling a delicious meal cooking away and knowing I didn’t have to prepare dinner. Don’t be afraid to use it in the summer, too. I don’t know why everyone tucks it in for the summer like it’s a hibernating bear. It doesn’t heat up your home like an oven does and aren’t we even busier in the summer? All the more reason to utilize it.

If you don’t have a Crock-Pot, start with a 6-quart. You should be safe with that size. You can find the one I have here: https://amzn.to/2jYJpkg

So dust off your crockpot or break-in your new one and try this recipe from Better Homes & Gardens. It’s Kurtis’s favorite spaghetti sauce, family-friendly, incredibly simple and tasty: https://www.bhg.com/recipe/sauces/spaghetti-sauce-italiano/

2.) Multi-Tier Food Steamer

I’ll never forget the time I saw my mother-in-law steaming corn cobs in her two-tier steamer. I was horrified. I’m an Iowa girl. I was raised on Fincel’s corn. You boiled it or grilled it. But then I saw how seamless and easy it was and the corn was perfectly cooked and delicious. I went out the next day and bought my own and the love affair started.

Steamers weren’t big in my family’s kitchen growing up, and I don’t remember eating a whole lot of steamed food. This new double-decker steaming process was a fun new adventure. Asparagus? Steam it. Green Beans? Steam them. Rice? Steam it with that little insert thinger. Asparagus AND Green beans? Heck yes, just utilize a basket for each. So easy, so quick. I, too, turned into a corn steamer and with the two-tier option I can steam multiple ears at a time to feed our corn loving family.

The greatest discovery came, yet again, from my savvy mother-in-law. That steamer could be used for crab legs. Yes. I just went there. It’s one of my favorite treats to prepare and I’ve perfected it over the years. Here’s how: Grab crab legs from the store. I usually get them frozen from Costco or Sam’s because they are priced well, but you can get them however and wherever you prefer. Where you typically fill your water in the steamer, pour in white wine. Oh yes, that’s right. You are steaming them in white wine. I usually have a Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay on hand, but you can use any white wine you want. Fill it to the top of the steamer fill line and pour yourself a glass of wine with the rest. Place your crab legs in the steaming basket(s). If you need to use both baskets and stack them, go for it. I cut up a couple of lemons and squirt some lemon juice overtop of them and then put slices of lemons in with the legs for flavor while they steam. Set the timer for at least 15-20 minutes but check them sooner. You will know they are done when you can start smelling crab and you can always test them and put them back in if needed. It’s usually ten minutes or so depending on quantity and if they are fresh or frozen. They cook beautifully, are flavorful and absolutely elegant.

I couldn’t find my exact steamer (which is slightly terrifying) but this one is similar and priced well with good reviews: https://bit.ly/2jYnSrZ

3.) Glass Kettle

I never purchased a bottle warmer when I had Tia. The wipe warmer we purchased was the biggest waste of money ever, and I wasn’t about to make the same mistake with another warming gadget. I figured I could easily warm my glass bottles the old-fashioned(ish) way—by heating up water in a measuring cup and then putting the bottle in it to warm. Was it as fast? Maybe not as fast as a warmer, but still efficient. Did it work? You bet it did. It worked well through two babies at least, until that ill-fated morning in November with Carolyn.

It was 5AM and Carolyn was ready for her bottle. I was still recovering from my third c-section, groggy, overtired and dreaming back to the good old days when I got seven hours of sleep a night. I gimped into the kitchen while Carolyn was in her swing, poured some tap water into a glass measuring cup, punched in a few minutes on the microwave keypad and stuck the cup in to heat. Catching the microwave before it beeped so as not to wake anyone else in the house, I grabbed the glass cup out of it and quickly stuck the glass bottle into the cup. It exploded…all over my face. I was positive I had permanently burned my face and that pieces of my skin were likely dripping off. I screamed, ran to the bathroom and immediately drenched my face with cold water. I was too afraid to look in the mirror for fear I had blistered and burned off my eyebrows and lashes. So many tears. I was drowning from splashing so much water on my face, choking as it shot up my nose and sobbing into the sink. It was one of those finer mama moments. I like to think we all have them, at least I tell myself that to feel better.

Fast forward a couple of weeks. I didn’t burn my face off but had learned a valuable lesson— there are even articles out there about this happening to other people. Word of my incident spread through the family and my auntie sent me a glass kettle to use instead of the microwave. Since then, it has become a staple in our kitchen. It was perfect for heating my bottles. So if you are debating a bottle warmer, consider this. It transitioned into many other uses as well. We use it on the daily to boil water for tea, hot cocoa and it’s awesome for instant oatmeal in our crazy busy mornings before school. You may not even know you will use it. I was hesitant when I received it because I didn’t think I really needed it. Wrong. I figured after bottles I would pack it away. Wrong. It came with us from Midland to Dubuque and now sits prominently over on our coffee bar in it’s own little spot.

This is the one I have and I like it because it has an auto shut-off is easy to clean and, at under $20.00, is a steal of a deal: https://bit.ly/2jZYnXg

4.) Sheet Pan Trifecta

The Sheet Pan Trifecta will forever be my go-to shower gift for brides or new homeowners. Technically, this is a three-piece essential, but I can’t justify one without the other because I use them all equally and together. The sheet pan trifecta consists of, you guessed it, half sheet pans. Also included are pre-cut pieces of parchment paper and sheet pan baking/cooling racks. This trifecta was introduced to me years ago by my mom, with the last piece being so impactful on Kurtis in our time spent at Tressa B&B that she gave some to him for Father’s Day this year.

Every home needs these three pieces. Whether you are single, married, with or without kids. Whether you cook a lot or a little or are new to cooking or a wily veteran. Entire cookbooks have been written on sheet pan cooking and in today’s time-crunched society they are essential to a kitchen. You cut stuff up, throw it together on a pan, douse it with some spices, mix it with olive oil, throw it in the oven and boom. Dinner is served. One of our family favorites, sheet pan fajitas, was perfected by our super-nanny Caity. We basically rotate them every other Taco Tuesday. You can find that recipe below with my links.

The pre-cut parchment paper is perfect for cooking or baking. I love these sheets because when I make my homemade buns–which is like once a year–they never burn on the bottom and easily lift off the sheets every time. They catch bacon drippings when you do your bacon in the oven (did anyone ever make that mistake with me? Bacon greased pans are a nightmare). I love them because I was so incompetent that I could never get parchment paper to properly fit my pan. First of all, I’d rip it so badly I would end up wasting a ton of paper or it wouldn’t rip off at all. I wised up and used scissors, but even then I somehow always had too much or too little.

The racks are a whole other story. I didn’t initially buy into them quite like the pans and paper but since raising kids, being short on time and cooking a multitude of oven-ready food, they are quite handy. Whether making homemade or store-bought, they help cook the food more evenly than just throwing it on the pan. Plus, they double as awesome cooling racks for cookies or cakes or cooling your canned pickles.

Ms. Caity’s Sheet Pan Fajitas:
Peppers (orange, red, yellow) sliced Chicken (2 boneless/skinless breasts) sliced Onion powder
Garlic powder
Salt
Pepper
Chili powder
Cumin
Smoked Paprika
Lime juice
all tossed in olive oil
Place on a parchment lined sheet pan and bake at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until chicken is cooked through. Serve with tortillas, avocado, sour cream, guacamole, shredded cheese, salsa-whatever fixings you prefer.

Link to pan & sheet set: https://bit.ly/2jUyKa7

Link to racks: https://amzn.to/2kf65gn

5.) Cast-Iron Dutch Oven

Rounding out my list is perhaps my favorite of them all, a big ‘ol cast-iron Dutch oven. There aren’t any epic stories behind this recommendation other than simply saying, trust me. You need one. I’m also going to get a little snooty—I highly, highly recommend you invest in the Le Creuset option. Not Rachael Ray, not random Walmart brand, not the random one that pops up on your Facebook feed because you were reading this and thinking Dutch oven. In this case, not all shoes fit the same. There really is a difference. One that I use was my grandmas and is still in prime condition and she’s long gong. My parents are still using the one they were gifted for their wedding thirty-eight years ago. They are costly upfront, but they last and last and last and you can use them for so many things. I make my homemade chicken soup in there—broth and all. They are great for reheating food, stews, chili, sauces, veggies, sides, main dishes, you name it. Use it on the stove or use it in the oven. Heck, use it on the stove and then stick it in the oven.

If you are on a budget, try finding a used one. Maybe a family member has one kicking around they aren’t currently using. You may even luck out and find one in an antique store—I’ve seen them there. Start with a 5.5 or 6-quart. I’ve linked one below. If you are a newlywed or recently graduated college and were gifted some cash, use it to purchase one. It’s like the black blazer of your kitchen—a must. Le Creuset also has outlets and I go out of my way to hit those when I can to grab a piece or two. Over the years I’ve grown my collection and I honestly treasure each piece. Other than throwing my back out from lifting them, I’ve never been disappointed with my purchases.

One of my favorite things to cook in my Dutch oven are my grandma (Grandy’s) Dagwoods. Isn’t it fitting that it’s her oven I typically use? I don’t actually know why they are called Dagwoods–maybe Blondie’s husband like them? Did I just really age myself there? Anyway, they are her version of sloppy joes. I remember when I was in Canada I cooked a humongous batch of them for some of the oilfield workers and although they loved them, I was disappointed that they just weren’t tasting the same—why? They were cooked in a stainless steel pot. Here’s her recipe for you to try in your own Dutch oven…

Grandy’s Dagwoods 2 lbs Ground Beef 1/4c Celery
1/4c onions cut small Salt
Peppe
1 Beef Bullion Cube
1 can Tomato Soup
A few shakes of Worcestershire sauce
Brown Beef in Dutch oven. Add remaining ingredients. Cook slowly for 1 hour. Stir occasionally. The longer they cook/sit, the better they get.

Try this 5.5 qt Dutch Oven: https://bit.ly/2lzLkfi

And there you have it. My five favorites. Did you see some of your favorites in here as well? Are you still reeling from my Instant Pot rebellion? Are there some missing we need to know about? Sound-off in the comments below and be sure to let me know if you want to more posts on this subject. Happy cooking!

Featured

Welcome to the Gong Show

I was aimlessly scrolling Instagram stories the other night and came across the most perfectly executed story highlight of an influencer’s Sunday moment with scripture. There was spiritual music softly playing in the background, strategically highlighted sections of a Bible and a grammatically perfect  “random thought” that really struck her that morning. The story was flawless. She softly whispered to her listeners that she was randomly inspired to pause her reading and share it. LIAR. Random my tush. If that’s the kind of perfectly thought-out, plastic, well-constructed person you want to follow, you probably want to stop reading this mess right now. It’s not what you will find here. 

Quick introduction, my name is Lauren. Hi. Welcome to my blog. I’ve learned in my 35 years on this planet, that there comes a point in time that you embrace the dumpster fire moments as much as the Kodak ones and to be totally honest, I seem to find myself in more of those (let’s call them “df” or gong show moments) than perfect ones. That’s the “gong show” portion of the blog title by the way. Ya’ll know what gong show means? Go ahead and look it up. My husband is Canadian and it’s a term he introduced me to years ago. I sort of love it. 

I will say that I love scripture lady’s effort and I’m here to cheer on all women (and men), but I can’t relate to that. Not on any level. It’s too perfect. The word perfect gives me indigestion. So does the word balance. I feel both those words, while initially harmless, have evolved in society. I think they are each a big fat lie we are supposed to buy into and chase after with every last ounce of breath we have until we die—having never attained either. Side note, I don’t have it all figured out and I’m not on a soapbox here—I continue to struggle with this daily. It’s especially hard in a world of above scripture lady, who makes it look so dang easy and (stomach cramp) perfect. 

Harmony is my jam. Harmony is something I can get after. Harmony is arranging the aspects of our lives to make our one big story. The big picture. I like harmony because it’s not perfectly equal—some days one aspect is running better than others. Some days we excel as a parent and epically fail at our jobs. One day dinner is home-cooked and Better Homes worthy and the next thing you know you forgot a kid had swim practice and she’s out the door without trying your Pinterest dinner you nailed. But it’s ok, because it’s the big picture that matters. The big puzzle of our lives and you know what? You need every single piece to finish that puzzle. Whether it’s a beautiful corner piece or one of the funky middle pieces or that piece the dog gnawed on when he was a puppy. We need them all. You will find me writing about those pieces often in this blog and my attempts to find that harmony and embrace it amongst the chaos (gong show) of my life.  

You will also find daily adventures, thoughts, recommendations and more as a woman who is raising three daughters and leading/running an international business. I’m also an oilfield wife of ten years who solo parents for weeks at a time while my hubby is working in a different state(s). I’m a lover of a lot of things, so you will find a hodgepodge of entries. Anyone with me on this—I was never THE BEST at anything, but I’m pretty decent at a lot of things. Same goes for my lifestyle hobbies. I’m pretty decent at fashion, cooking, fitness, crafting, home decor, all that jazz. Not the best. I belly laugh at the thought of making that claim. But I can stand proud behind decent. 

So, if you are interested in some decent thoughts and recommendations on everyday lifestyle and how I work daily to find that harmony between running a biz and raising my babes, then you’ve come to the right place. Might I also add that here you will not find perfection. You won’t find perfectly snapped photos with perfect lighting. I’m sure I will screw up some punctuation. Make a few typos. Take a picture with something in my teeth. Throw a tantrum. Place a pillow in the wrong spot. Pair a wine incorrectly. Make a joke that falls flat—I’m wildly sarcastic so brace yourselves for that. Maybe I’ll even struggle with some things that will make you think…yep, Lauren’s having a “df” gong show day. But that’s ok and that’s why I feel it’s important for me to write this. Even if one single person can relate. If it’s a much needed breath of fresh air for at least one of you—that makes it worth it to me because I know how much I crave connections like that. I promise you honesty, transparency and authenticity. After all these years, I’ve embraced the good, the bad and the ugly of who I am and I’m getting to be pretty ok with that. I think the sooner we all get really ok with ourselves, the better. Welcome to the gong show. I hope you stick around for awhile.