Saturday, July 12, 2014

Dill pickles, potato salad and rest for the soul

I'm tired of being busy and having plans all the time. Summer is supposed to be slower and more relaxing - but between work and camps for the kids and vacations and the 4th of July - today was a glorious plan-free day. Well, I had plans that went like this -
1. Long run with Molly
2. Shower and nap
3. Figure out what to do with abundance of cucumbers and tomatoes and red white & blue baby potatoes in my kitchen
4. Drink beer & watch soccer
5. Grill burgers for dinner

I am happy to report these were the best plans and they worked out fabulously.

Molly and I ran 8 miles:

2. I showered and laid down (but my neck hurts so I didn't really nap.

3. Carson and I looked up tomato sauce recipes because I had 6 pounds of tomatoes that were super ripe. We found this recipe:

And this happened:
And then this made my house smell like heaven:
And the final product (which apparently "freezes beautifully" and as Annelle said in Steel Magnolias: "this is in the 'Freezes Beautifully' section of my cookbook. And I wanted to take something that freezes beautifully!":

So I also have about 6 pounds of adorable little potatoes that happen to be red white & blue. If you have not heard of Rise 'n' Shine organic farms and their CSA offerings, go check it out. I can't believe this is the first year we have taken part. 

We get some recipes each week with our share and suggestions about what to do. With the potatoes, we got this recipe:

And it turned out amazing - I would give it rave reviews. It was so tasty and satisfyingly delicious! Plus it's pretty:

Finally, we made pickles. I have had cucumbers in our CSA box for the last 2 weeks that we haven't eaten. I have gotten a lot of questions about how to make pickles. They were the first thing I canned when I got my canning supplies. Super, super easy. But I use a mash-up of the Ball dill pickle recipe in my Ball canning book and 3-4 different recipes on my Pinterest "Food in Jars" board. Basically, dill pickles are so simple my recipe looks like this:

And here is how I really do it:
Get some cucumbers, fresh dill (NOT dill weed, just dill) and some garlic (we have garlic from rise n shine, too - delicious!). 
Group cukes together by size roughly. If you like whole pickles, or pickle halves - by all means cut them like that. We prefer quarter spears and round slices for our burgers and sandwiches. 

Sanitize your jars - I run mine through the dishwasher because I'm lazy. Then peel all that garlic (I use 1-2 cloves per jar but I like my pickles really garlicky.)

put a clove of garlic and some dill (2-3 little sprigs) at the bottom of each jar:

Pack the jars with the cucumbers. Pack them really tight. Fill them up! This part is kind of like a little puzzle. 
Top with another clove of garlic (or not) and another sprig of dill and line up your jars:

At this point you want to put your lids in a little saucepan to simmer. It sanitizes them and prepared the sealing part for sealing. (You can only use canning lids once - after they are sealed to the jar and reopened, they won't reSeal.) 

Get the canning pot (or super large stock pots with a rack to lift the jars from the direct heat on the bottom also work fine for this!) going - fill it half to 2/3 full with really hot tap water and put it on the burner on high heat. 

For the brine: combine:
8.5 cups water
2.25 cups white distilled vinegar (5% acidity - this is standard cheap regular old white vinegar...)
1/2 cup of pickling salt (sometimes called canning salt)
***canning salt makes the water stay clear. Regular salt works fine. It will taste fine. But the water will be kind of foggy and cloudy. So the pickling salt stays clear. 

Put these three things in a non-reactive (not aluminum) pot and bring to a boil. Remove it from the heat. Now - you will ladle the brine into the jars using a funnel and leaving 1/4" headspace. A note about tools:
This 4 piece set comes together as a beginning canning set and I got it as a birthday present from my grandmother a while ago. The funnel is self explanatory, the tong thingies are used to put jars in and take them out of the hot water. The little stick thingie is a magnetic lid lifter (for getting the kids out of that simmering water...) and the last thing is a headspace tool to measure 1/4" or 1/2" headspace to leave when you fill your jars. 

I also have this funnel - which is awesome because it sits securely on any size jar and it has the headspace measurement right on it. After you fill the jars, wipe the rims to dry with a paper towel and put the lids on. 

Put the rings on and tighten (but not super tight) - by now your canning water should be close to boiling. Using tongs, gently place the jars into the canning pot. 

The water should be up to the neck of the jar or covering the jar. Process (let it sit and cuddle in the pot) for 15 minutes. Then use the tongs and set them on a dish towel to seal and cool. 

You will maybe hear some "pings" - that's the pressure pulling the seal down. Check for a good seal and then label your pickles!  I think you need to wait about 3-4 weeks before they are "pickles" but my people usually can't wait more than 2 weeks. 

Yay pickles! This was a terribly long post, and very picture heavy, and all about food. But it's been a great day and now I am drinking beer and watching soccer while Willie is grilling burgers. Success. :)

 Can I quote Marianne Williamson here? I think I will. “…As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.” 

Friday, July 11, 2014

StitchFix #1 review - July 2014

  • It came, it came!!! I have been waiting for about a month now to get my first Stitch Fix

  • What? What's that? You don't know about It's a style service... Basically, after filling out a pretty comprehensive style profile and lots of information about your body type and sizes and stuff, a stylist picks out 5 pieces for you. Tops, pants, skirts, dresses, accessories... And ships them to you for free.  When your Fix is shipped, you get charged a $20 styling fee... (Though if you keep any of the items, that $20 becomes a credit.) The box arrives, you try on your 5 things, get a personal note from your stylist and 5 style cards to show you how you can make complete looks, and a list with descriptions and prices. 

Now, as a quick aside, we have purged our home. I have rid myself of all unnecessary goods. I have taken no less than 32 bags (30 gallon trash bags) of assorted clothes, household items, and linens to the Salvation Army in Rome since March. I have reduced my wardrobe by at least 50% or more. In that process, I determined that the things I kept were 1) not bought on sale 2) of high quality 3) classic design and 4) multifunctional for work, casual, etc.  So, in an effort to enjoy my style a little more, I treated myself to the stitch fix experience. 

My first box came today!

It was wrapped beautifully:

And gave simple instructions!

  • My stylist (Lisa) sent me a nice note and 5 style cards for the pieces I received:

    so I got 2 tops, a pair of skinny pants, a kimono cardigan, and a chevron print dress... Here are the items in no particular order. In the interest of transparency, I am also including the price. (You get to choose the price range for your clothes. I was in the $50-100 price range, though I will go down to the under $50 or "the cheaper the better" price range next time!)

    1) Daniel Rainn - Daria Scarf print cross-front blouse - $74
    Um, no.  This was the one total fail in my box. I hate the print. Like, absolutely despise it. It does not look cute or professional or even intentional. The way it crosses with the funky pattern not matching up makes it even worse. The cut would maybe be ok if it was a smaller all-over print? But I also did not like the bottom. The hem was elasticized. Yuck. And it was too pricey. 

    Verdict: RETURNED

    Item #2 - Pomelo Landers Lattice Crochet Detail Tank $78

    Ok, I confess, when I saw that my box had shipped, I looked up photos on Pinterest and the interwebs to see what I got - and this was underwhelming from what I could tell. A white shirt? Really? 

    But then when I got it out the box, the fabric was soft and flowy.  The detail at the neck and shoulders was beautifully sewn.  It had a cute keyhole button detail at the back neck. The back hem was ever so slightly longer than the front to hit at the right spot on my backside. 

     In the end, I really liked this shirt the most out of the whole box.

    VERDICT: kept it!

    Item #3 - Pomelo Harriet Chevron Print Detail Dress - $64

    This dress is SO me. If I had to just choose from photos and could only keep one thing, this would be it. And even once I got it on, I adored it:

  • Unfortunately, there was one little problem. It wouldn't zip up. 
    Major bummer. I seriously feel this dress just must run small. It is my size and all the other things fit, for the most part... I hope I get a cute dress like this next time (that fits...)

    VERDICT: returned (but only because I couldn't zip it)

    Item #4 - Pixley Monty Scarf Print Kimono Cardigan - $54

    I wanted to love this. Well, I do love this... The fabric and print and colors and style of boho-chic are great. But... On me it looks like a box. It gives me no waist or shape, and according to my husband, it makes me look old.
    But look at it!!!! Pretty. 

    VERDICT: returned

    Item #5 - Sanctuary Rizzo Skinny Ponte Pants - $88

    ok - I have never worn or even tried on skinny jeans or skinny pants. (I know, sad, right?) but, news flash - I am not skinny!!!! I embrace my body shape, and am totally cool with it, but I am way curvy to wear tight pants. (Have you seen the Jimmy Fallon/Will Ferrell "I got my tight pants on" skit? You should... Here - it's irresistible - there is a bad's from the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon...)

    Anyway, I am still slightly torn about these.  But I have convinced myself that 1) they are versatile 2) they are seasonless 3) they are way cuter than yoga pants 4) they could be dressed up or down 5) my husband likes my butt in them. So....

    I went back and forth and back and forth. But the more tops I tried on with them, the better I felt about keeping them. They are like leggings with their clingy-ness and stretch, but thick Ponte cotton with the cute sewn details - think jeggings, only haute fancy jeggings.  My planned big fall purchase is riding boots and these will be perfect...

    VERDICT: kept

    So, what do you think? Did I pick the right things? I got my $20 credit applied from the styling fee, so that helped a little.  And, if you keep all 5 things, you get a hefty 25% discount (which would have been $85.50 in this case!)

    You should try it!!!! If you do - use this link or one of the linkies above. (It is just to take you to the main stitch fix page, but if you use this link, I get a $25 credit for referring you!)Click here to try it!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

DIY Laundry Detergent

I have an allergic child.  I was never allergic to anything as a child, though my seasonal allergies have shown up the past couple springs.  My sister sneezed at everything and had eczema and hives and all kinds of trouble with asthma...and now my daughter has it, too.  One culprit: laundry detergent.  Fabric softener seems to be ok (in particular the Purex crystals even though they are purfumed...), but something in Tide, Gain, ALL - unless it's marked free & clear, she ends up with hives and itchy raw skin.

So, for a while I made our own laundry detergent (after seeing an episode of 19 Kids & Counting, though I think it was 17 or 18 kids &counting at the time...).  I used the Duggar's recipe, which was borax, ivory soap and washing soda.  It lasted for ages.  Then I started looking around for other recipes to tweak, and I made a couple more before... one day, I was out, and I had to wash clothes RIGHT THEN to pack for the kids to go to their dad's and bought some free & clear stuff and I've just been living off convenience the last few years.  I don't think I've made my own since I got married almost 3 years ago.

The last type we used (and just ran out of was this:

I paid $19.00 for this at Big Lots, I believe.  They are on Amazon for $26.46 with free prime shipping.  So, with 84 loads, I paid between .22 and .31 a load.  Not a terrible price.  I had to add vinegar and baking soda to the towel loads and the smelly kid clothes and occasionally a shot of OxyClean for stains... so that adds to the cost.

We wash roughly 6-7 loads of laundry per week.  This includes a fair amount of towels because my kids swim on their swim team year round, and I run/exercise daily, so that stuff has to be washed a lot (it is STANKY!)... This container of ALL mightypacs, which I bought in late March, has lasted us almost 3 months.

SO, I decided to compare my homemade DIY detergent.  This is a work in progress.  Now, I love super all-natural things.  I believe there are too many chemicals used in the things we put in and on our bodies.  Having had cancer, and knowing that certain chemicals are carcinogens, I like to limit that.  That said, this is NOT an all-natural 100% free-of-chemicals recipe.  But, it is way way less polluted than the pre-made stuff, and way cheaper.  And all the containers are recycleable or reusable!

You need to make a plan first about what you are going to put this stuff in - I had a plastic container that was used for something else (storage) so that cost me nothing - but I know I got it at the dollar store when I did purchase it...

1 box Borax (4lb, 12 oz.) - $3.97
1 box Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda (3lb, 7 oz.) - $3.24
2 bars ZOTE laundry soap (or you can use 4 bars of ivory) - .97 each = $1.94
1 big box of Arm & Hammer Baking Soda (4lb.) - $2.24
1 bottle Purex Laundry Crystals (optional - 55 oz.) - $7.96
1 container of OxiClean (optional - 3lb.) - $8.99
TOTAL: $28.94 (about what the mighty Pacs for 84 loads costs on Amazon...but 4 times as many loads.)

The Purex and the OxyClean are the "unnatural" parts of this.  They are also the most expensive.  Without the oxiclean and the smelly stuff, You'd be looking at $11.99 to make this whole batch.

I like the Crystals because they smell good and keep my towels and running clothes fresh.  When mixed into this huge batch, it's not a huge amount per load.  Also, I prefer to keep the OxiClean in there because it does keep the clothes brighter and cleaner looking, as well as boosting the stain-fighting/removing.

The first order of business is seriously the worst part, but once it's over, it's so worth it.  Grate that soap with a cheese grater into a big bowl:

Then you mix all the other ingredients in with it.  I put in about a quarter of each ingredient and stir it, and then layer the next quarter, and then stir it (I use my hands), because if you just dump it all in there at the same time, it's harder to mix.
This is the full batch in the container.  It's heavy.  It's a lot.

You need about 2 TBSP per load.  Yes.  Read that again.  2 TABLESPOONS.  It's half an oxiclean scoop (which I saved for the big container) and if you use the Purex crystals, the container it comes in is perfect for keeping a smaller amount accessible, and the cap has little lines on it.  The middle line (marked in purple here) is the 2TBSP mark.  This will be great for the kids, because they have progressed from just sorting and folding laundry to actually washing and drying it.

And there you have it!  I have no idea how many loads this will do, but I would venture a guess that it will last me until Christmas at least.  Which would make it less than .14 a load.  I'll let you all know when I run out and recalculate then!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

On Mourning the Loss of "Littles"

Tomorrow is the last day of school. Field day!

Carson Claire and Cole Patrick are 8 & 9 years old, respectively.

One more day before I have a 4th and a 5th grader. Cole is almost to double digits.

They just completed their first youth triathlon!

Y'all - I have a confession. You know how the first day of kindergarten is full of tearful mommas? 

I didn't cry when my kids went to school, I celebrated. Not because I wanted to be rid of them...but because I was so proud. One of Cole's first ambitions as a 2 year old was to ride the school bus and learn about space... He couldn't wait to go. When he did go, Sister cried for weeks because she couldn't go to kindergarten with Bubba. I wasn't sad when they had their first lost tooth, their first sleepover, first sleep away camp, nothing. I have always been excited and happy they are growing and learning. 


Until now. It has arrived. I am losing my babies. I am mourning the loss of "littles" ... Because instead of having their firsts, we have moved on to lasts. The last baby tooth, the last CYCLE camp for up-to-3rd graders. The last day of 3rd and 4th grade.

Do not misunderstand, I am not sad they are growing and learning. I love that they are so entertaining and self-sufficient and full of interesting facts. I love that they are who they are and very different from each other and from their parents. I am proud they have become respectful and well adjusted kind young humans. They are helpful and can be left alone for a half hour while I go for a run and I don't worry too terribly about them speeding their big kid 2 wheelers down the evil knievel inspired hills in my neighborhood. ( I can tell them "hey, I should be there by 3:30 but don't panic if I am not because I have a hearing at 2 and it might run long." And they get it... We can watch non-cartoon "new classic" movies together (The Goonies, Big, Ghostbusters, My Girl, etc.) and they enjoy them. They can swim in the deep end of the pool without me having a panic attack. They get my corny jokes. They make up their own. 

Oh, and we can ride bikes and run together. 

All of these things are celebrated and appreciated. I love who my kids have become. I don't want to turn back the clock and make them little. (Though a pause button just every now and then would be ok...)

But, I'm still sad and I can't shake it. I guess this last bit of "growing up" has been pretty obvious and I am hyper aware of the loss of the "little kids"... Maybe it's because they are close in age and I feel like they were both little and now they both aren't. Maybe it is because I may never have another little. Maybe it's because, sometimes, in the middle of a quiet night, I will be startled awake and hold my breath thinking to myself "is one of the babies awake?" And then I remember, they aren't babies. They aren't in cribs. They can get out of bed whenever and come down the stairs and get me. But they never do. Maybe...maybe I miss that "heavy baby" feeling when a feverish infant or toddler held on your lap or chest finally surrenders to sleep after fighting valiantly for hours. 

Maybe it's because my littles had a single momma for most of their "little" years, and I wonder what it would be like to parent a new little with the love of my life. (For the record: He parents the Cs now with me (and their dad) and has for the last almost-3 years...and for that I am terribly grateful.)

Maybe it's because if I have big kids, I'm older, too, and closer to the reality of true middle age...

Whatever the reason(s), I have felt the tug of missing the littles my Kiddies used to be. But, I wouldn't change a thing. I wouldn't go back. I wouldn't do any little thing even a little different. I love how we are now. I love the dynamics of my family. We are full of love and pride. <3

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Your friend, JJ, starring in: "Pick Me for Ragnar!"

I don't typically enter those contests on the interwebs - you know, the giveaways on Facebook for liking and sharing photos and pages, and the blog giveaways for leaving a comment... I guess I feel I have had more than my fair share of good luck in life and all, so power to the people that do enter and "may the odds be ever in your favor!!!" (Imagine accent of Effie Trinket from The Hunger Games here...)

Much my surprise, though, I recently entered such a contest. Dimity and Sarah from Another Mother Runner (who I consider my running friends, though they don't know me yet...) were looking for 2 wannabe first-time marathoners. I didn't think I would ever want to run a marathon when I started running 9 months ago (never say never...You can read more about my running journey and my recent Half Marathon experience on my blog post "Why I Run"...)

Alas, the competition was crazy good, and I was not chosen as a winner, though it was hard to feel too terribly sorry for myself since the two ladies that were chosen are remarkably fabulous. I am so excited to follow their journey to Philly and their first 26.2...

But I still really wanted to run with D&S. I listen to their podcast on iTunes (Get episodes here...) and since I'm fairly stubborn and stuff... I decided to enter an equally cool contest to run with the BAMR Ragnar Relay team in San Francisco this fall.  September of 2014 (the time of the Ragnar Relay) is not only my runniversary, it's also just after my one year Cancerversary.  I was declared cancer free late last summer and officially in remission!  I want to celebrate that in a BIG way - I know that running as a BAMR at Ragnar would be a wicked cool way to celebrate...

I am worthy. But now I have to convince Dimity & Sarah that I am worthy. How am I going to do that???

As a trial attorney in my non-running hours, I make every effort to prove my case, beyond a reasonable doubt. To introduce evidence in a trial, attorneys can't just "say" this is the evidence, they have to call witnesses to testify. I thought perhaps those who know me would "testify" in the case of "JJ vs. AMR Ragnar Contest"... If you are reading this, consider yourself under oath and answer the following question:

"Why should JJ be chosen as a member of the Another Mother Runner Relay team?"

I am calling on you, best-running-friends and mother runners and father runners, family members, facebook friends, twitter followers, my Momfia and Moms RUN This Town peeps... and anyone and everyone who happens to believe in me.

If you are reading this, please leave a comment here*** and TESTIFY on my behalf as to why Dimity and Sarah NEED me on their Ragnar Relay team. (Please leave your first name and how you know me in the comment.) The contest ends on 4/28, so please share this blog link at will on social media... Running, and the friendships made therefrom, has changed my life. I hope to be an inspiration to others like my runner friends (including Dimity and Sarah) have been to me. I am crossing my fingers and holding my breath. Thank you!!!!

***Apparently Blogger comments left via mobile phone vanish into the black hole of the internet.  Thank you to those of you whole love me enough to type a comment on your phone - but note that it will likely not show up here - thus, if possible, please leave a comment from a computer or use the desktop site...and verify that you can see your comment when the page refreshes.  It wasn't supposed to be this complicated!***