Thursday, May 31, 2012

Weight of the Nation


A walk around the lake with Grandma & Auntie L (Dave's mother & sister)

Over the long weekend, we watched the four-part HBO documentary, Weight of the Nation.  I enjoy documentaries and have watched many concerning our nation's diet and food supply.    Weight of the Nation really resonated with me, especially the segments about childhood obesity.  It saddens me to think of children having to deal with adult medical conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.  Living in neighborhoods where access to fresh fruits and vegetables is limited.  Where there are no parks and play spaces.  Schools eliminating physical education while filling the cafeterias with processed foods.  Predatory marketing aimed at children.  The effect on our future generation is troubling and I can't see our nation being able to continue on this way. 

The film also made me examine my own habits and those of our family.  Dave makes a point of having the kids outside and playing in the backyard everyday.  Unless the kids are working on a school project, time outside is mandatory at our house because Daddy said so!  He also takes them to parks and playgrounds on the weekend.  Thankfully, our kids are healthy and active.  And, I want to make sure they stay that way!  However, I've got some work to do when it comes to myself.

For full disclosure I should mention I'm not overweight.  According to my BMI, I'm a normal weight.  But over the years, my weight has steadily increased.  In real life, it's hard to talk about weight when you appear "skinny" to those around you.  But when I look in the mirror, there's no denying the extra baby weight that has stuck around for the last...oh 5 years!  And when you consider risk factors like race and family history, I feel its best to make changes now and not when my doctor is telling me that I'm pre-diabetic or need to start medication for high blood pressure.  For me the key is increasing my activity level and reducing the amount of calories I consume in the form of sweetened beverages (my weakness!).  Instead of staying behind to clean, I've been joining Dave and the kids on their trips to the park.  We've also started taking walks around the neighborhood as a family in the evenings.  And I'm drinking more water these days!  Small changes that I'm hoping will make a big impact on my health and my waistline!

If you're interested in watching Weight of the Nation, you can find all four parts online here.

Did you watch Weight of the Nation?  What were your thoughts?      

Mary Ellen                   

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Quick Snacks for Working Moms - Stove Top Popcorn in Coconut Oil




Looking for a quick and satisfying snack for the family?  Try homemade popcorn on your stove top!  No special popper is required; a regular skillet will do.  When making popcorn, I use organic, extra-virgin coconut oil.  Unhydrogenated (that's key - so check the label!) coconut oil is a good fat that is high in lauric acid.  Lauric acid has been shown to have anti-fungal, anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties.  And coconut oil has also been shown to boost metabolism.  If you've been looking for a way to incorporate more coconut oil into your diet, popcorn is a great way to start!




For this snack, add three tablespoons of Nutiva organic, extra-virgin coconut oil to a skillet.  Then add 1/3 cup of popcorn kernels to the skillet.  I usually add a little more than 1/3 cup.  You just want to make sure the kernels are in a single layer.  Cover the skillet and heat over medium high heat.  Give the pan a shake occasionally during popping to prevent scorching.  Remove from heat when popping stops.  Season with sea salt or your favorite popcorn topping and serve.  Although it's pretty tasty without any seasoning at all!  

Enjoy!

Mary Ellen



Sunday, May 27, 2012

Easy Homemade Popsicles



Stay cool this Memorial Day weekend with these easy homemade popsicle tips from Living On A Dime!

*****

Easy Homemade Popsicle Tips - Popsicle Paradise!

Remember when you used to sit on your front steps on a hot summer day eating a popsicle? It was usually red or purple and on special occasions you got a fudgesicle. Remember how you tried to lick the drips faster than the sun could melt them? Sometimes the drips would roll down your fingers, forcing you to make the mind numbing decision whether to lick your fingers or the new drips forming on your popsicle. Every once in a while a few drips would get out of control and fall on your bare toes. Remember how your dog's tongue felt like sandpaper when he licked the sweet gooeyness off of them?

It's funny how we try to make drama and expensive memories for our children when it's the simple everyday things we remember the most. Try some of these ideas to keep the kids entertained this summer:

To find popsicle molds, look at discount and mail order stores or garage sales. If you don't have any molds, use small paper or plastic cups. Put a wooden stick or plastic spoon in the center.

For mini popsicles, pour orange, apple or grape juice or flavored drink mix into ice cube trays. Partially freeze and then place toothpicks in the center of each cube (or place plastic wrap over the top, secure and insert toothpicks through plastic wrap).

Making your own popsicles can give great variety and keep your kids cool this summer!
For non-traditional popsicles:
  • Freeze applesauce in popsicle molds.
  • Mix fruit or jam into yogurt. Freeze in small, snack sized Ziploc bags for frozen yogurt on the go. Cut a hole in the end of the bag for easy access/eating.
  • Mix gelatin and freeze. Add gummie fish or worms before freezing for added fun.
  • Freeze syrup from canned fruit.
  • Add food coloring or sprinkles to yogurt or softened ice cream for added pizzazz. Then freeze in popsicle molds.
  • When you have leftover jam or jelly, put 1/4 cup of hot water in the jar and shake well. Pour into popsicle molds and freeze.
  • If jelly or jam doesn't set up well, use for popsicles or add more water, boil and make syrup.
  • Make a batch of pudding. Add coconut, nuts, marshmallows, crushed cookies or sprinkles if desired. Pour into molds. Freeze several hours until firm.
  • Stick a toothpick in the center of blackberries, strawberries, raspberries or sliced bananas. Dip in chocolate if desired. Freeze on a tray. Once frozen, store in freezer bags.
  • For easy snow cones, freeze orange juice (or any other flavored juice) in ice cube trays. Store frozen juice cubes in a plastic bag. Blend 5 cubes in the blender until they have a shaved ice consistency. The shaved ice will keep its consistency if kept frozen in a container.
  • For watermelon popsicles, blend one cup each watermelon chunks (seeds removed), orange juice and water. Blend well. Then pour and freeze into molds.
  • For strawberry popsicles, blend 2 cups strawberries, 1 cup vanilla ice cream or yogurt, 4 cups orange juice and 2 tablespoons sugar. Blend smooth. Pour into molds and freeze.
  • For banana popsicles, dissolve one 3 oz. package strawberry gelatin with one cup boiling water. In a blender, mix gelatin, 1 banana and 1 cup yogurt or ice cream. Blend well and pour into molds.
Pudding Pops
1 pkg. pudding (not instant*)
3 cups milk
Combine 1 large package of pudding with 3 cups of milk. Mix only enough to blend well. Quickly pour into popsicle molds and freeze. Chocolate and vanilla pudding may be layered for a fun treat. Makes 8-10 popsicles.
*Regular homemade pudding may be used instead of store-bought pudding mix.


Tawra Kellam and Jill Cooper are frugal living experts and the authors of the Dining On A Dime Cookbook. Dining On A Dime will help you save money on groceries and get out of debt by cooking quick and simple homemade meals. For free tips & recipes visit http://www.LivingOnADime.com , sign up for our free Living On A Dime Newsletter and learn to save more!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Garden In Bloom


The garden is filled with blooms!


Zucchini blossoms


Cucumbers


Grape tomatoes


Bell peppers

There are even a few little green tomatoes forming - yay!

Even though this gardening season is still young, I've been thinking ahead to next year.  I shared with Dave my idea of expanding to three squares and he agreed!  So next year, I'm planning on having two squares for vegetables and one square dedicated entirely to fresh herbs!  I can't wait!

Mary Ellen




   

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Just My Type - Vintage Smith Corona Typewriter!


On his most recent yard sale adventure, my sweet husband came back bearing gifts for me.  He found something I've always wanted - a vintage typewriter!  He found this vintage (I'm thinking 1950s) Smith Corona typewriter with carrying case over the weekend.  The lady even gave him a few boxes of typing paper.  Although, I'm not sure one could even find a replacement ribbon (remember those?!) these days!  I have the typewriter displayed on a small table in our living room, since that's where our roll top desk is also located.  I would love, love to find another vintage typewriter for my office at work!


In addition to the typewriter, he also found this old, wooden trunk already painted  my favorite color!  I plan on cleaning it up a bit, maybe distressing it a little more.  I'm envisioning some French type image (like this) transferred or painted on the top with hardware added to the front.  The trunk is currently in our foyer, as I'm attempting to brighten the space with colorful pieces.  The foyer walls are painted a Merlot color, which I loved at the time we painted it - and still do.  But, there's so little light coming into the foyer, the space just looks too dark.  Like a cave.  And not very welcoming!  I want to go neutral with the wall color and bring in more colorful accents.  At least that's the plan in my head!

What have you found at yard sales recently?

Mary Ellen

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Making Your Own Baby Food


Baby Ashleigh

I guess I should start out by saying I'm not planning on making any baby food in the near future.  So, there's no hidden announcement in this post LOL!  But, recently I had a conversation with a coworker whose little one is getting ready to start solids.  Speaking with her brought back wonderful memories of being in the kitchen on a Saturday afternoon making up batches of baby food for the week.  Making my own baby food was not only enjoyable, but also very easy to fit into my schedule as a working mom.  Usually just an hour over the course of the weekend was all the time needed! 


Baby Clayton

When Ashleigh was a baby, we used store-bought jarred baby food.  But, there were a couple reasons I decided to try homemade baby food with the boys.  (1) Quality - by making my own baby food, I had complete control over what was going into the food, and thus what was going into those little tummies!  No additives, no sugar, no salt and I could use the best quality fruits and vegetables available.  Plus, the taste of my homemade baby food was far better than the jarred!  My homemade baby food actually tasted like the vegetables themselves.  I sometimes wonder if that's why the boys love vegetables so much now that they're older. (2) Cost -  buying fruits and vegetables in season or on sale helped to keep the cost of making baby food low.  In addition, I was using the same fruits and vegetables the rest of the family was eating, so there was no need to buy anything extra.  


Baby Reed with Daddy's Cleveland Browns cap!

There are some cute gadgets on the market now for making baby food.  Having my Vitamix sure would have been nice back then!  But, I made do with the little 10 speed blender we received as a wedding gift.  To prepare the fruits or veggies, I would either steam, boil or bake until tender.  Peas and carrots were usually steamed.  Apples were peeled, diced and boiled,  For peaches, I cut them in half, removed the pit and then baked in a casserole dish with a small amount of water.  The smell of peaches baking in the oven is AMAZING!  Bananas I didn't cook obviously.  But when blending, I added plain yogurt to prevent browning.  Once the fruits or veggies were cooked, I pureed them with some of the cooking liquid or water until it was the desired consistency.  The puree was then poured into ice cube trays and frozen.  Once frozen, I would pop the little cubes out and place them in freezer storage bags that were labeled and dated.  To serve, I would take a few of the cubes out of the freezer bag the night before (2 - 3 cubes were about the same as one small jar of baby food), and allow them to defrost in the refrigerator.  Then, they were ready the next day for my Momma to use while we were at work!

If your little ones are in daycare during the day, the center may require jarred food.  But, you could still make your own baby food for use at home. Since the advice about what foods infants are allowed to have and at what age changes, please consult your pediatrician.  Below are some helpful links about making your own baby food.

Wholesome Baby Food
 This site was my number one source for recipes and preparation instructions!  

 

The Wholesome Baby Food Guide
by Maggie Meade

Photobucket

Vitamix Healthy Baby Page



Mary Ellen      

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Swirling



Some days are just ordinary.  School, work, home.  Rinse and repeat.  And then some days are extraordinary with a bit of spontaneity!  Like last week after dinner when Dave told the kids they could get ready for bed OR we could go out for ice cream.  Guess what they picked!  We headed over to Moonlight Swirl, a frozen yogurt bar with 12 rotating flavors and TONS of toppings!
 

The kids made their own interesting creations...


I made my personal favorite - a walnut sundae.  As a child, I remember going into town to the Dairy Queen (which was only open during the summer months) and ordering walnut sundaes with my family.  Back home you could order them by name.  But up here, the DQs aren't familiar with this delicious treat.  I usually have to explain its contents which are soft serve vanilla, wet walnuts and a cherry on top.  But at Moonlight Swirl, I can construct my own with LOTS of wet walnuts and LOTS of cherries!


We had fun eating our sundaes under the moonlight!

*****


Speaking of swirling, congrats to Christelyn Karazin and her co-author Janice Roshalle Littlejohn on the release of their new book, Swirling:  How to Date, Mate and Relate, Mixing Race Culture and Creed.  Christelyn runs the very popular site Beyond Black & White; a lifestyle blog, forum and magazine all in one for black women dating or married to men outside of their race or culture.  Like moi!  Congrats ladies!  I have a feeling this is going to be a best seller!

Mary Ellen          

Friday, May 18, 2012

Kentucky Headhunters - Dumas Walker


Oldie but goodie!  Kentucky Headhunters "Dumas Walker"

Have a great weekend!

Mary Ellen

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Life With Boys - Planes


It's no secret that little boys love planes - and trains, and cars, and trucks!  My mother-in-law arrived over the weekend bearing gifts for the children.  For Clayton, an airplane with battery-powered launcher.  As expected when dealing with little boys, the plane has been broken several times and repaired several times (yay for hot glue guns!).  And has traveled over the fence into the neighbor's backyard numerous times.  Thank goodness they also have little boys and understand the need to retrieve various flying objects and projectiles!


But what I did not expect was for the plane to make a crash landing into Clayton's hair!  Luckily no curls were lost (read clipped) during the extraction process :)

Mary Ellen

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

What I Wore to Work - Speechless Dress


Dress - Speechless (Goodwill)

This dress might look familiar.  I found a similar Speechless high waist dress with ruffles and puffed sleeves a few months back.  However, the blouse on this dress is black and white.  I just love how this style of dress makes the waist appear smaller and how it accentuates ones curves!


Ruffles and my homemade bows!

Mary Ellen

Linked at The Pleated Poppy

pleated poppy


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Lemon Peppermint Homemade All-Purpose Cleaner


Bring the delightful scents of lemon and peppermint into your home, with this homemade all-purpose cleaner!

Lemon-Peppermint All Purpose Cleaner
{adapted from homemade cleaner recipe found here}

2 tablespoons lemon infused vinegar
1 -2 teaspoons Borax
Hot water
Dr. Bronner's liquid peppermint soap
Spray bottle

Add vinegar and borax to spray bottle.  Add enough hot water to dissolve the borax.  Once borax is dissolved, add a few drops of the Dr. Bronner's peppermint soap.  Fill the rest of the bottle with hot water.

TIP:  Save on spray cleaners.  Spray the solution on a rag and then wipe.  This way the extra spray cleaner is not wasted and you save time by not having to rinse off the over spray.  - from Dining On A Dime Cookbook  


Mary Ellen

Monday, May 14, 2012

All About My Mom!


Happy Monday!  I hope all you Moms had a wonderful Mother's Day!  My Mother's Day started out with plenty of gifts from the kids.  Apparently, they were very busy at school last week making lots of sweet and creative gifts for us Moms!  Ashleigh made these flowers using cupcake liners (what a cute idea!).  And on the back, she wrote all about me!

All About My Mom by Ashleigh

My mother likes to...shop and play pool.

She is...20 ft tall. {not quite!}

She hates to...go to work and clean.

Her favorite food is...cooked ostrich. {that's true!}

She gets mad when...I scare her.

She has always wanted to get an...iPhone.

My mom is special because she always...helps us, cooks dinner and cleans the house.

I get in trouble when I...mess with her stuff. {true!}

If I could give my mother something special, just from me, it would be...a hamster. {LOL!}

She weighs about...50 pounds. {at one point in my life, yes!}

My mother looks prettiest when...she wears her dresses. {aaaahhhh!}

I like being with my mom most when...we go to the farmers market.



Clayton made various floral prints, including some with his hand prints.  He also made me a small bowl using pottery clay which he was very proud of!  And I was too!


Reed's preschool teachers made bookmarks using pictures of the kids!  Very creative and oh so cute!  He also made a laminated butterfly with torn tissue paper for a stained glass effect.   


And from my sweet husband, this beautiful new ruffled apron!  In addition to the garden plants I received as an early Mother's Day gift last weekend.  And the day off from preparing meals :D  It was a wonderful Mother's Day!

Mary Ellen

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Thrifty Find - Two Tone Charlotte Russe Heels


Shoes - Charlotte Russe - Goodwill

My latest retro Goodwill find - these cute black & white two-tone Charlotte Russe heels!  I've been looking for shoes just like this for quite some time.  So, I was overjoyed to finally find a pair during one of my thrifty outings
.

Stepping out in my yellow sundress and new (to me!) shoes!

Mary Ellen

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Spring Garden - Out With the Old, In With the New



Last time we visited the garden, I was putting in my Spring transplants.  At the time, my chard and lettuce plants from last fall were still going strong.  But with our warmer than usual Spring temps, the plants finally bolted.  So, I decided to replace them with more Spring vegetable plants.  The plants are actually an early Mother's Day gift from Dave!  To the garden square, I added Yellow Crook Neck squash and Ichiban eggplant.



As well as some Thai basil


And regular Sweet basil, for some homemade pesto!


I added herbs to replace the lettuce plants which had been moved to containers.  
Parsley 



Rosemary & Thyme



I also have some cilantro growing in a few pots - great for homemade guacamole!



And this Sweet mint plant, I've nicknamed Lazarus!  I bought the plant last year for my container herb garden.  The hot Carolina sun completely scorched the poor thing.  I put the pot aside, planning to clean it out at some point.  But over the winter, I noticed tiny green sprigs emerging.  I put the planter underneath our covered shelter to protect it from the frost.  But other than that, I gave it no attention at all.  And now, it's completely grown back!
  

And here's Sheba kitty, checking everything out!  

Mary Ellen


Monday, May 7, 2012

Homemade Seasonings



Save money in the kitchen with these homemade spice mixes from Living On A Dime!


*****

Save Money With Homemade Seasonings
by Tawra Kellam
http://www.LivingOnADime.com

Seasoned Salt
I use this one in almost every meal I cook. It saves so much time having everything in one shaker!
8 Tbsp. salt
3 Tbsp. pepper
1/2 Tbsp. onion powder
1/2 Tbsp. garlic powder
Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Store in an airtight container.

Taco Seasoning
6 tsp. chili powder
4 1/2 tsp. cumin
5 tsp. paprika
1/4 tsp. oregano
3 tsp. onion powder
2 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/8-1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
Mix all ingredients and store in an airtight container. One teaspoon of homemade taco seasoning equals 2 teaspoons store-bought.

Italian Seasoning
1/4 cup dried basil
2 Tbsp. dried marjoram
2 Tbsp. dried oregano
2 Tbsp. dried coriander
2 Tbsp. dried thyme
2 Tbsp. dried rosemary
2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. sugar
Combine all the ingredients. Store in an airtight container in a cool dark place for up to 3 months.

Cajun Seasoning
1 Tbsp. paprika
2 1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
3/4 tsp. white pepper
3/4 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. thyme leaves, dried
1/2 tsp. oregano, dried
Combine ingredients and mix well. Store in an airtight container.

Fajita Seasoning
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
2 1/2 -3 tsp. chili powder (vary according to how spicy you like it)
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. chicken bouillon granules
1 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. onion powder
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. cumin

All Purpose Seasoning
3 Tbsp. paprika
2 Tbsp. salt
2 Tbsp. dried parsley
2 tsp. onion powder
2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. ground black pepper
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. celery salt
Mix all ingredients together and store in an air tight container.Use on hamburgers, steak, chicken, fish and vegetables.

Tawra Kellam and Jill Cooper are frugal living experts and the authors of the Dining On A Dime Cookbook. Dining On A Dime will help you save money on groceries and get out of debt by cooking quick and simple homemade meals. For free tips & recipes visit http://www.LivingOnADime.com , sign up for our free Living On A Dime Newsletter and learn to save more!


Saturday, May 5, 2012

Easy Guacamole from Gluten Free Goddess


Tonight we're enjoying this Easy Guacamole recipe from Gluten Free Goddess.  Made even easier with my Vitamix!


Just avocados, grape tomatoes, garlic, lime juice and fresh cilantro straight from my back porch herb garden.
    
This guacamole recipe tastes so light and fresh.  And no onions!  Definitely a favorite in our house for snacking!

Happy Cinco de Mayo!

Mary Ellen






Friday, May 4, 2012

Thoughts of a Black Republican - North Carolina Amendment One

Please note the opinions expressed in the following post are solely mine.  I usually don't talk politics, preferring to keep blog fare light.  However, the following thoughts have been going through my mind as the May 8th election approaches here in North Carolina.  Feel free to share your opinions in the comments - even disagree with me.  But, I ask that you do so in a respectful manner.  Thanks! ~ Mary Ellen 

On May 8th, North Carolina voters will take to the polls.  At the forefront is Senate Bill 514, known as Amendment One.  The bill proposes an amendment to the state constitution defining marriage between one man and one woman as the only domestic legal union recognized by the state.  Around our quiet little neighborhood, yard signs have sprouted up showing support for both sides of the issue.  When it comes down to where I stand on the matter, I find myself on the fence!

I was raised in a Christian home; Baptist to be exact.  Even though my parents were lifelong Democrats, they maintained traditional, conservative values.  The Bible is clear in regards to marriage - one man, one woman.  That is how I was raised to view marriage.  Even though I'm now apart of a different faith tradition (Catholic), my default when I think of marriage remains the same.

BUT...on the other hand....

Does it have any effect on me or my marriage if two people of the same sex wish to legalize their union?  I would have to say no.  And is it really necessary to amend the state constitution when state law already prohibits same sex couples from marrying?  Then, there is the matter of this video.  Jodie Brunstetter, wife of NC Senator Peter Brunstetter, allegedly states her husband crafted the bill in order to protect the "Caucasin race".  Mrs. Brunstetter is now maintaining her comments were misconstrued.  Well, my marriage doesn't look like this




So does that mean my marriage is not worth protecting because it doesn't further the Caucasin race?  For me, the comments Mrs. Brunstetter is alleged to have made brings to mind that not too long ago, laws existed to prevent the marriage of blacks and whites.  Some of the same arguments offered against same sex marriage today (harmful to the fabric of society, harmful to children born of those unions, unnatural, sinful) were also offered against marriages JUST LIKE MINE at one time in this country.  And I can tell you first hand, there is nothing unnatural about the love my husband and I share for one another!

Lots of points to consider before next Tuesday!

Mary Ellen