Thursday, February 28, 2019

Slow Cooker Red Beans & Rice

I am so excited to share a new recipe with you today! So a few weeks ago I was thumbing through the latest edition of Food Network magazine and came across this feature about New Orleans and red beans and rice. Yes please. My awesome Mother in Law made it for us when they were visiting and it was so yummy. I made a few tweaks, added some things, subtracted others, and the best part....I made it a slow cooker recipe. This one pot wonder was so delicious. Enjoy this traditional 'Nawlins dish!

Cast of Characters:

-1 smoked ham hock (I legit had no idea what this was, basically you add it in for flavor but don't actually eat a giant meaty version of a bay leaf. My MIL cut one in half and froze it so I had it on hand for this slow cooker version. I know if might seem tempting to leave it out, but don't. The flavor sends this dish over the top).
-1/2 lb. Smoked Sausage
-1 lb. dried red beans
-3 tbs. olive oil
-1 onion chopped
-4 stalks of celery chopped
-1 can low sodium chicken broth
-1 green pepper chopped 
-3 bay leaves
-1/2 tbs. minced garlic
-a few splashes of hot sauce
-1/2 tsp. apple cider vinegar
-1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
-1/2 tsp. sage
-1/2 tsp. thyme
-1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce 
-dash of salt and pepper
-6 cups water 
-rice for serving 

1. You will need to soak your beans overnight in water. I put mine in 7 cups of water, in a covered bowl, in the fridge. I was thinking of skipping this step and buying canned kidney beans but the "red beans" are actually a bit different and work well for this recipe. It's not intimidating to soak beans (maybe I'm the only one that needed that pep talk). 

2. In the morning, dump everything but the rice in the slow cooker and put on low all day. When you're ready to serve, remove the ham hock and bay leaves. 
I chopped the veggies the night before because the last thing I want to do at 6 am is cut an onion 

3. That's it. I served this with microwave rice (easy peasy) and dinner (and lunches the next day) was done! 

Now if only I can make some King cake, we can feast traditional Mardi Gras style. And here's a picture of Hank chowing not on red beans and rice but his newest fave, cinnamon raisin toast. I just love that cute lil man. 

Savor Your Sparkle,

Monday, February 25, 2019

February Reads

I am so excited about all the books to be read in 2019! I read 4 great ones this month. HERE are my January Reads and if you click HERE you can read through my 2018 reads. Grab your beverage of choice, a cozy blanket, and get reading!

1. The Day I Went Missing by Jennifer Miller: This book came on my radar through Pinterest. I had pinned a bunch of suspenseful novels and this one came up on my feed. The local library system didn't have it, so I ordered a used version on Amazon. This is the true story of a Hollywood writer who is duped by a therapist and basically, she is conned out of tons of money. The ending is truly bizarre. I enjoyed the suspense and wanted to keep reading to find out how this whole disaster would end. It's a chilling picture of how quickly and easily one can fall prey to a scam. I didn't love this read, but I did enjoy it.

2. Glow Kids by Kardaras Nicholas: I. LOVED. THIS. BOOK. If you are a parent, read it. A teacher, read it. A concerned citizen, read it. The tagline to this book is, "How Screen Addiction is Hijacking Our Kids and How to Break the Trance." This book is written by an addiction expert and it chronicles the research on how screen time, specifically violent video games, impacts the developing brain. Beyond the basics of how excessive (emphasis on excessive. This book does not promote being Amish nor does it bash technology. It calls for a balanced approach. I can get on board with that) technology harms young people, there were two sections that I found especially appealing. One of those is about the uptick on mass shootings in this country and the new psychological conditions that are emerging due to isolation and lack of human contact for young people. Another section that was fascinating to me was about the big business of technology, curriculum, and money. There is, no doubt, an "educational technological industrial complex" and it's alarming how misguided and uninformed some of these policies are. This book should be required reading. It's important now and will only continue being more so.

3. Final Girls by Riley Sanger: This book was good! It's a thriller about a young woman who survives a horrific murder and her relationship with the other "final girls" who also survived their own respective traumas. There's some shady characters, some steamy scenes, some gore and violence, and believe it or not, some classic elements of chick lit (the main character is a New Yorker, living with her boyfriend, and she runs a baking blog). I suspected the "twist" within the first 20 pages, but then abandoned that theory as the book went on, and I ended up being correct in the end. I consider it a sign of a good read that I went on this twisted journey and was surprised when my original idea ended up being correct. This one is dark but good.

4. Becoming by Michelle Obama: I FINALLY I got my hands on this book. I've been on the waitlist for this one even before it was published. This is just a solid, great biography. Michelle Obama is truly admirable and her story is told in a beautiful, reflective manner. Random fact about me: I wrote my senior thesis about First Ladies and how they interacted to the media. When I wrote that paper, in 2008, Barack Obama was running for President and I remember thinking what a wonderful first lady Michelle would be. This is a really interesting read and as I closed the book I definitely felt like I had a nice picture of the kind of person Michelle is and what her experiences were like. I'd recommend this one.

I read a statistic from the public library that 24% of adults did not read even part of a book in 2018. How sad is that? I love love love reading and I hope that if you don't enjoy it, 2019 is your year to get your hands on a book to make you fall in love with reading.
Savor Your Sparkle,

Monday, February 18, 2019

Logging In & Breaking Open

This is a piece I wrote for Share Parents magazine and am sharing here as well.

While loss of a loved one is a struggle impacting every generation, grappling with loss in the age of social media is a very new issue. And truly, as a blogger, who is a self-professed over-sharer, it's something I never ever thought about. Until I had to. There are wonderful things about social media and I'm a fan. If I wasn't, I'd log off permanently. But I like the connection. I enjoy keeping up, celebrating others' joys and milestones, and connecting to friends and family near and far. It's been said that a curated social media feed is a "highlight reel" and I would tend to agree with that. But what happens when your "highlight reel" is hijacked by horrific devastation? What happens when the Facebook status bar asks, "What's on your mind?" and you feel like replying, "Well, my first born child, a precious baby girl died, Facebook, so what's on my mind? Feeling trapped. Devastated. Heartbroken. Frozen. Numb." No, I did not post that but I could have--it would have been accurate.

After Hadley passed away, it occurred to me, "How are we going to tell people?" How do we share... that we had a baby! And she's perfect!... But she's sick....very's not looking good..... She's in heaven now. Ugh. I would not wish the breaking of that news on my worst enemy. But in that moment, I was grateful for social media. I had called and texted my closest friends, but other people, colleagues, acquaintances, college pals, they would find out through a mindless Facebook status scroll on a Sunday morning in June. It felt like ripping off a band-aid. It was out there and I was so grateful I didn't have to break the news in another way. I could type it, hold it at a distance, and let it fall like ash onto the ground. Out of my hands.
So, in many ways, I have been grateful for social media during all of this. It allowed me to share the news quickly and not in person, it provided a place to be me---raw, and messy, and vulnerable. I'm still healing (obviously), but I credit a lot of those early breakthroughs in the darkest days to the opportunity to write out our story. To take the heaping mass of awfulness, and sort through it with words, to make connections, to put it all out there for memories sake. But most of all, I shared, and continue to do so,  in the hope that it might make others feel less alone in their pain. I know it sounds funny now, but social media had a role to play in the healing process and I recognize that.

However, there's the darker side of social media, too. It goes back to that good ol' highlight reel. You know what someone who's lost a baby--someone who is still a bit loopy thanks to the C section Percocet, someone who asked her family to hide all the baby gear so she won't see it when she gets home from the hospital, someone who feels defeated, miserable, and essentially broken doesn't need? She doesn't need to see pictures of your cute family in color coordinated outfits on vacation. Nor does she need to see your pregnancy announcement and your often taken for granted assumption that being pregnant means a baby will be coming home in 9 months. Those days were hard. I wanted to be happy for others, and I really, truly, unequivocally was. But that doesn't mean it didn't sting just a little. Grief brings out a lot of gray areas and one of those for me was that there exists a place between jealousy and joy for others. And since social media is the palette where many people paint their big life stories, that was a place with plenty of hurt for me.

But just as I acknowledge the difficult place social media was for me after Hadley passed away, I also acknowledge it as a joy- maker too. In those initial days of loss, I wanted to see sweet baby photos. I wanted to see cute families and I even wanted to see Christmas morning photos. I would "like" your kids' Halloween costumes, and leave a comment on just how grown up your toddler is looking these days. Because I wanted all that too. And seeing others' living the life that I wanted meant that maybe it would work out for me too. I will never forget a phrase that was originally spoken my our wonderful doctor, and later it emerged in therapy. It was: "Let yourself get excited for the future." Excited? Are you kidding me? My baby died. There was nothing to be excited about. My future was smashed in a thousand tiny pieces. At the time, in the summer of 2016, the notion of "get excited about the future" seemed completely insane. But a part of me, the best and truest part of me, held tight to hope and little by little, my heart opened, and lo and behold, excitement did begin to emerge, like a colorful photo, developing bit by bit.

Social media can be a minefield to navigate for anyone, but especially for families grieving the loss of a loved one. Here's some advice from someone who's braved the wild west of social media amidst loss: Beware the highlight reel. Don't be afraid to open, raw, vulnerable (but only if it feels right for you). Let the sting hurt, recognize it, name it for what it is, and decide to dive in or log off. Both options are valid and a very personal decision. But don't forget that while you scroll, you are the director of your own "reel." Mine sure doesn't look like I imagined, and there's more pain and darkness than I would have liked, but it's mine and it's special. Share your story in a way that's comfortable because you, grieving mama, know just how fortunate you are to be alive and able to share it. Filter optional.

Life Lately

Happy President's Day weekend to you! I haven't blogged in a bit so it's time for another edition of Life Lately! Today is a much needed day off (thanks Presidents!) so I worked out, am tackling the laundry pile, and now I'm getting some school and blog work done with an iced latte and I'm loving life!

Hank is 14 months old and he is doing so well. He's taking steps and eating and sleeping like a champ (knock on wood). He got his second haircut last weekend and there's just something about a haircut that makes him look so grown up. He's developing such a fun personality and is so happy go lucky.
A cake pop!

 We had a great Valentine's Day. AJ had to work that night (we're having our date night this week) so my family came over and we had dinner and hung out. I packed AJ this Fun and Festive Lunch and enjoyed the party with my 1st graders. I forgot how exhausting holidays with 1st graders are. Although, last Valentine's Day I was just coming off of maternity leave so everything was a bit of a blur! I visited our Hadley girl last week too.

 On Friday, AJ's family came into town. We've enjoyed relaxing and hanging out together. They are staying with us this week. On Saturday, Matt, Susan and I went shopping and then we all had dinner at Cheesecake Factory. On Sunday, AJ and I saw Green Book at the movies. It was really good!

 I don't know about ya'll but I am OVER winter. These sunny days get me excited for spring, longer days, and walks with my guys!
love those Utah mountains!

Have a great week! And if you're just as excited for Bachelor Monday as I am....hopefully this is the week of FENCE JUMPING! Haha. 

Savor Your Sparkle,

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Fun "Punny" Valentines Lunch

Hi Guys, Happy Valentine's Eve! "Cupid" has been here and left Hank a Valentine book and some Paw Patrol bath decals. That Cupid sure knows what my little dude likes! Ha! I know my students are super pumped up about our class party an Valentine exchange tomorrow.

So....on the way to work this morning I thought of a fun idea to pack for AJ's lunch tomorrow. He's had a super busy week with parent teacher conferences so I thought a fun lunch treat was in order. Now, ya'll know I LOVE a good pun, so I went kind of crazy with the puns for his lunch. I had to stop at the store this afternoon so I grabbed the meat and cheese "roll ups" and chips, but we had everything else on hand. These ideas would work well for coworkers, friends, and even in kids' lunchboxes.  Let the Valentine "pun" begin!

1. Italian Deli Roll-ups: "Valentine, together we're on a roll." 

2. Cherry Bubly Sparkling Water: "My heart is bubbling with love for you"
3. Kind Almond Bar: "I'm NUTS about you."
4. Clementines: "Orange you glad it's Valentine's Day?"

5. Ruffles Chips: "You're all that and a bag of chips." 
6. Mini Luna Bar: "I love you to the moon and back."
7. Goldfish crackers: "Out of all the fish in the sea, I'm glad you're mine." 
8. Mints: "We're mint to be."

I had some Valentine treat bags and ribbon, some cute red papers,and voila! I did have to pack it in an old pink lunch box instead of the plastic bag I normally put his lunch in so as not to ruin the surprise! And finally....I've been working on these sheets for my students for our upcoming conferences and decided to make one for AJ too! Lol. Teacher nerd alert! 

We're not exchanging gifts this Valentine's Day but I still want to let him know I love and appreciate him. It doesn't need to be fancy to be fun and festive. Happy heart day tomorrow! 

Savor Your Sparkle,

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Game Changers

Hi There,
   Instead of a normal "What I'm Loving Lately" post (by the way, you can check all those former ones out HERE), I decided to compile a list of things I'm enjoying that are "game changers." Ready for a random assortment?!

1. Donut Shop Sweet and Creamy K Cups: So I found this one by accident because I put Kroger K Cups on my Clicklist order and they were out so they replaced them with these guys and I am hooked! So basically they are K cups with creamer/sugar already in them so no extra creamer is needed. It produces the perfect cup of coffee and it doesn't chill it out with creamer from the fridge. Yes, I'm sure it's bad for me and chock full of chemicals. Don't at me, bro (AJ and I can't stop saying this phrase to each other)! Such a great grocery find!

2. Earring Organizer: I've been searching for a great organizer for my earrings for a while and just last week I decided to check out Etsy. Score! I found this local company called Never Lost Earrings and purchased the white 8 x 10 frame holder and I am in love! I had so much fun putting in all my earrings and am excited to wear some I haven't seen in a while since they've been in a messy box. Yay for accessory organization!

3. Snow Day! On Wednesday we had a snow day and it was GLORIOUS! The best part about it was that it was completely unexpected. I was dressed and doing my makeup when AJ got the text. We did a happy dance and immediately got back in our pajamas. I am on outside duty this week at school so I was especially thankful. We read, played, and snuggled up at home all day. It was perfection. And spring can come now. Anytime. Please and thank you.

4. Glow Kids: I usually wait until the end of the month to post my reads, but I started this one this week and cannot stop singing its praises. This book is about technology and its affect on children. It's written by an addiction specialist and it is fascinating. It is a sobering wake up call as well as a deep dive into the money/technology/education realm (ahem, can you say corruption?). I recommend this book to every single person. It's a library book so I've been taking photos of quotes I like (ironic), but I am considering purchasing it so I can highlight. This book and its message are the very definition of game changing. Get your hands on this book and the research in it!!

5. Gel Manicures: Ya'll know I love a good mani so I'll say it again: Game. Changer. Going 2 plus weeks with no chips is the best! I went with a light pink for Valentines Day but I'm thinking of getting some cute nail art for St. Patty's Day.

6. Sean McConnell: I discovered Sean's music in the summer of 2016, after we lost Hadley and I have been a fan ever since. We even met him in Boise. Anyway, I love his style, his lyrics, and I just think he's a pretty cool guy. His new album, Secondhand Smoke, comes out tomorrow and I cannot wait. Listen to his song Shaky Bridges (so so so good).

7. A New Purse: Ok, so this isn't really a game changer  but I am hunting for a new purse And ladies, isn't the perfect bag an outfit and attitude game changer?! I am considering a crossbody, love a preppy look, it must be big but not giant. The great purse hunt of 2019 begins! Send me all your faves!

Happy Fri-Yay Eve!
Savor Your Sparkle (and all the game changers),