The Herb Bar

When we took down the fence around the garden we had a bunch of good boards left, so naturally I spent some time pinteresting.  I had seen a few ideas with building sort of a wall and then hanging little containers of herbs.  DH initially built this as a side table to put drinks on next to the hot tub but it was too hard to reach and just awkward.

Before

So I repurposed it into an Herb bar!

My initial herb buckets (from Michaels craft store) had a basil plant, sage plant, mint plant and thyme seeds (sitting in the sun germinating for this picture).  Add metal blue crabs, some netting and tealight size hanging mason jars (also Michaels).  Cute right?!

Initial Display

After 2 weeks the basil and sage just grew like a tree (straight up) and my seeds didn’t quite like the environment but the mint plant looked great!   So I changed out the basil, sage and thyme seeds for oregano, chocolate mint and thyme plants.  Much better!  This is the effect I was looking for:

Final

Tip: I used gallon size ziploc bags to line the bucket, put some rocks in the bottom and then planting soil.  I cut off the excess top of the bag after the plant was well watered the first time, so the top is just about even with the rim so you can’t tell it’s there.  Hopefully this keeps the buckets from rusting so I can keep using them.

This is with the tea lights lit:

Dusk

Bonus points for practicality – I used a few mint leaves to make coconut-lime mojitos!  And I read spiders don’t like mint so every few days I snip a few leaves off to release the scent.  I’m not sure if that’s the same effect as using the essential oil but let’s not get started on that dabble…at least not yet!

Gastro-musings

So it’s been nearly a year since my gastro-intestinal issues led me to seek professional medical help. I’ve basically come to the conclusion I have IBS-D, and nothing can be done medically to cure this.  So through trial and error I’ve come up with some rules for myself to keep symptoms to a minimum (disclaimer: this is not medical advice just simply what I’ve found to work for me!) I am also lactose intolerant and sensitive to sucralose sugar substitute.

  1. No coffee on an empty stomach. At first I completely gave up drinking coffee but found that one cup in the afternoon was ok.  I have a cup of coconut chai tea with a touch of flavored creamer first thing in the morning which gives me that coffee-ish start to my day.
  2. No lettuce. This one I sort of stumbled across after reading some posts on a message board. I haven’t experimented with different types yet(wondering for instance is boston bibb is less problematic than romaine?), for now I’m substituting shredded cabbage for lettuce on Taco Tuesdays.
  3. No tomato sauce. This one was really hard at first since we had pizza/Italian at least once a week. Now that I’ve been keeping this out of my diet for months it’s not so bad.  I can eat raw tomatoes without an issue and if I go “light” on the sauce I can tolerate it.
  4. No dairy.  This one wasn’t so hard since I already knew I was lactose intolerant. What I DID learn was that most hard cheeses have little to no lactose – yay! And the coconut milk in a carton tastes great, it needs to be refrigerated to have the consistency of cows milk.
  5. No eggs straight up.   This is a more recent discovery. Again, stumbled on this as a result of a “oh hey when I didn’t have eggs for breakfast I didn’t have GI distress” revelation.  Eggs dispersed in baked goods seem to be ok.

The biggest help I came across just about a month ago – I was researching peppermint oil and came across the Heather’s Help for IBS website. Fast forward through hours and hours reading through posts on that website and reviews on Amazon.Com and I ordered the acacia fiber and peppermint oil capsules.  The peppermint oil capsules didn’t have any effect for me but the acacia fiber has been a tremendous help!!!

Along with the acacia fiber I’ve switched to eating more soluble than insoluble fiber and by doing this have cut down my GI distress days to 1-2 per week as opposed to 10 days per week (haha, bad joke).  The soluble fiber tactic I came across on the Heather’s website, in a section about what to eat when you feel like you can’t eat anything at all.  It’s eating foods higher in soluble fiber that will make a soft slow moving gel in your GI tract, as opposed to insoluble fiber which wants to get everything moving moving moving.  So I started with 1 tsp of the acacia fiber each morning, rice cereal with a banana for breakfast, baked potato or plain pasta for lunch, and low fiber dinners.  Admittedly I am living a boring food life the past month but keeping to this truly keeps my distress at an all time low (and almost makes me feel cured).

In the midst of all this going on, I injured my achilles tendon running and messed my back up by limping around.  It took 6 weeks before I dismounted from my stubborn horse and saw my doctor who referred me to physical therapy and gave me a prescription to help me sleep.  After a month of PT and actually getting sleep at night I am starting to feel like my old self.

This non-calorie-burning carb-heavy start to 2017 has resulted in a 10 pounds heavier me but getting my GI distress down to a just slight annoyance is a huge relief and I know once I get back to my regular exercise routine I won’t have to squeeze into my shorts – which could also be a side-effect of wearing Lularoe all winter but we won’t go there 😉

A Bit o’ the Green

I figured I better get this blog post done before Easter!  Another fun holiday that I like to decorate and have a themed dinner for is St. Patrick’s Day (green is my favorite color after all!)  Although, I am not a fan of the typical corned beef and cabbage dish so usually come up with something a bit more to my taste.  After a few hours on Pinterest (which included my usual tangent clicks and pinning to boards) I decided on a reuben cheese dip with rye bread, mini roast beef sandwiches and leprechaun hats for dessert.

The reuben cheese dip was DELICIOUS! Here’s the link to the recipe I sort of followed – I am so not a fan of sauerkraut so I left that out, I got some chipped turkey pastrami from the deli and I bought a bag of cheese fondue.  Heated in a pie dish in the oven, it was ah-mazing.  https://communitytable.parade.com/377496/melissasperka/st-patricks-day-appetizers-classic-reuben-dip/

The mini roast beef sandwiches were Kings Hawaiian rolls with shredded roast beef, then a slice of swiss cheese and popped in the oven for about 10 minutes. I had some Thousand Island dressing and horseradish as condiments.

The leprechaun hats were surprisingly good to eat – I thought the chocolate would harden to much to make them edible (and I’m a total newbie at chocolate dipping so the coating was a wee bit thicker than expected) – and of course, super cute! One of my dinner guests ate one as an appetizer 🙂

StPatsDay1

For a tablescape, I created little rainbow jars (skittle) and pots-of-gold  (individual wrapped rolo candies).  Naturally, I found these projects on Pinterest.

StPatsDay

I’m off to get some Easter ideas from the Wilton candies website (annnnnd probably Pinterest too!)

In search of Aurora

Seeing the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) has long been on my bucket list.  I’ve followed a handful of pages on Facebook for a few years and have several websites bookmarked which give forecasts and alerts of upcoming Aurora events.  About a year ago we started planning a trip to Iceland with my Mom.  I found a great house to rent in the town of Vogar – one of the reviews of a previous renter said they saw the Northern Lights right from the back deck, perfect!  And an even greater stroke of luck, there is a direct 5 hour flight out of Boston.  We read that it is best to have at least 4 nights in order to have a better chance at seeing the Lights, so we went from Tuesday morning to Saturday evening.  It was actually Monday night when we left Boston, with the flight and time change it was early Tuesday morning when we landed in a super windy rain storm.  We had rented a car from Budget (we didn’t plan on any off-roading so no 4WD) and braved our way out to the car and only got lost two times driving to the rental house.  We slept for a few hours and then went on an afternoon drive to the southwest peninsula (Reykjanesbaer) where we had lunch at the Rostin cafe.

The first night we saw the brightest Lights we would see all week and right from our back deck, beautiful! (the first picture is a 3 second exposure taken on my cell phone)  We are amateur photographers so our camera settings weren’t perfect but seeing the Lights in person was amazing, although we give the display about a 2 out of 10.  It was also mostly cloudy the whole time we were there and there was quite a bit of light pollution across from where we were staying. One night we did drive out to a darker spot, but after waiting about 2 hours in the car for the lights we called it a night. We are now planning another Northern Lights trip, considering North Pole Alaska as they seem to see the lights in some form every night.

 

We drove the Golden Circle on Thursday which was forecasted to be the warmest/sunniest day but we found ourselves driving through mini snow storms most of the day.  We started out at Thingevellir National Park to see the Tectonic plate separation as a result of earthquakes in 2000.  This is also where Game of Thrones filmed Eyrie Pass scenes – pretty cool!

Next up on the drive is the Geysir – pretty neat to see snow on the ground but warm water is running down the hillside and steam rising from random spots in the ground. We saw the main Geysir erupt, it seems to erupt every 3 minutes or so.

The final stop is the Gulfoss waterfall. You can hear the waterfall before you see it, and it is immense. Such an amazing sight.  It was cloudy when we were there but it is said when the sun shines there are mini rainbows everywhere from the mist.

We drove down from Gulfoss and through the Southern section of the Golden Circle route, where we saw many geothermal vents in the town of Hveragerdi which has the highest concentration of greenhouses in Iceland and where much of Iceland’s homegrown produce is grown.

On Friday afternoon we went into Reykjavik to complete a few other “must do’s”- we ate fish-n-chips at the Reykjavik fish house (and happened to meet a couple from the city next to where my Mom lives!). I found the EVO Gamer monument for a friend whose name is on one of the tiles. Then we headed down the street to find the famous hot dog stand – Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur – for a hotdog with the works. Next we drove to the Sun Sculpture (there is temporary  free parking right by the sculpture) and took a few pictures. Our last planned stop had been the Hallgrímskirkja cathedral but in talking to a couple while getting our hotdogs they said there was a funeral going on and part of it was under construction so you couldn’t go inside…so we decided to just drive by on our way back to Vogar.

Earlier in the week we had found a Dunkin Donuts inside a gas station store and there was a little cafe called Ginger – we ate there twice!  The chicken with vegetables (roasted sweet potatoes!) were delicious. Because of our schedule of staying up almost all night to catch the Lights, we weren’t very adventurous in going to any local restaurants. The two grocery stores are Bonus and Kronan – we preferred Kronan as it more resembled the typical US grocery store.   We found shopping in the grocery store slightly confusing – we had brought coffee creamers with us but ran out so we attempted to buy coffee creamer…it turned out to be yogurt!  We went back to the grocery store and a very nice couple helped us find the right one – if you go, the product on the left is yogurt, on the right is creamer –

 

One attraction we did not check out was the Blue Lagoon – the geothermal hot spa. It was fully booked the whole week we were there! And after reading some reviews and cautions we decided this was for the best for our hair and Mom’s knees.

During the trip we were both reading books by the same author 🙂  And I got the idea to paint my nails in Northern Lights inspired colors from (naturally) Pinterest –

The weather was what I would classify as ‘winter’ – mostly cloudy, in the mid 30s and one day we had a snowstorm with about 3 inches. We didn’t have plans to hike in the snowy areas so we didn’t bring special weather gear and we were plenty warm. The houses there are heated with geothermal heating which worked very well – we could walk barefoot and feel the warm tiles under our feet. We were plenty warm at night and even considered opening a window as it was at times too warm for us to sleep!

The trip was fabulous overall, great time spent with my Mom and our entire travel experience was A+!  Turning my thoughts next to my new and improved garden, looks like the weather will be perfect on Saturday here for beginning the construction…

Operation: Turkey Day in F-L-A

I’ve been meaning to post this one for weeks, December flew by!  About a year ago we started planning to spend Thanksgiving with my Mom in Florida. Because we hate leaving our 3 dogs in the kennel we started searching for a dog-friendly rental home.  We found a great one on the FlipKey website – it was harder to find one with a full fenced back-yard than I thought!  It was only a few miles from my Mom’s and about 20 minutes from the Disney parks. We rented a small SUV to not put miles on our own car (it was 800 miles one way).   Next on our list was to get Disney tickets…we are military so took advantage of the Salute to Heroes promotion and got 4 day park hopper passes for about half price.  These passes also included the Fast Pass which turned out to be a huge benefit.  I thought I’d share a few things I learned from this Disney experience:

1) We had no idea how busy Disney would be the week of Thanksgiving…but yeah, us and a billion of our closest friends.
2) The passes we purchased at the Military Morale office were just “vouchers” and so had to be exchanged at a ticket office for actual park passes.  So we planned ahead and went to Animal Kingdom on our first day in FL (Sunday), received our passes and spent a few hours exploring the Africa exhibit. Note that you cannot use the Fast Pass until you have the actual passes, so once we had the passes we were able to load them into the app and reserve our times for Soarin’ and Spaceship Earth (on Tuesday!)
3) Parking: we purchased preferred parking at Animal Kingdom and had to walk for about 3 minutes to the front gate.  They are really efficient with the trams though so on the other days when we used regular parking, there was never a long wait for a tram. Note that if you hop parks in a day, the parking you pay for at one park is good at another park (this was helpful when we went to Hollywood Studios in the morning and then Epcot at night).
4) Getting into the park: if you have a bag you have to get in the line to have it searched, those without bags go right to the gates.  The times we went (10am)  it was not a long wait, maybe 10 minutes.
5) Fast Pass: priceless.  I used the Disney app on my phone to register our passes and then I was able to use the Fast Pass to set up times for us to ride Soarin’, Spaceship Earth and Space Mountain.  Other rides were already fully “booked” with the Fast Pass (like I said there was a billion people there!) and wait times were over an hour and a half at some points :/
6) Disney phone app: priceless.  You can set up your Fast Pass times, see the wait times at all the rides/attractions, get maps etc.
7)At all the parks I was impressed with how clean it was given how many people there were in the park, and there was never a wait for a bathroom!

We didn’t spend hours and hours at each park, we went around 10am and stayed until around 1-2pm.

We first went to Animal Kingdom and made our way through Africa, the bird enclosure was so cool with different brightly colored birds.  The meerkats were super cute and of course the Tree of Life was an amazing sight.  We would definitely return here to see the rest of the park and ride the Safari.

We went to Epcot during the morning to ride Soarin’ and Spaceship Earth. We took the boat ride across to the American Pavilion and just missed seeing the American Adventure (runs once an hour). One night we went back for the Grand Illumination and took time to see the O Canada! attraction which was very interesting (and air conditioned!) The Grand Illumination and Fireworks are brilliantly presented, a definite don’t miss!

We went to Hollywood Studios mostly to see a childhood friend who is a Disney actor, we used the Fast Pass to get on the Great Movie Ride (slow moving through iconic movie set ups) and then walked around a bit. We are not huge roller coaster fans so Tower of Terror and the Aerosmith coaster didn’t hold any appeal for us.  I was sad to find out the Backlot Tour ride had closed in 2014, it was one I remember being so very interesting and exciting.  There are a bunch of new things happening for Hollywood Studios with a new Star Wars and Toy Story attraction area, so some things are already closed off for that construction.

Magic Kingdom we spent the least amount of time at – we arrived right in time to see the parade which was neat, we rode Space Mountain, had lunch and then tried to walk around the Castle…there was just so many people it was not enjoyable.   I would definitely like to go back at a less-crowded time and see the Castle at night.  We heard that Tinkerbell flies down the guidewire from the top of the Castle to the Tomorrowland pavilion at night during the fireworks show!

This was a wonderful trip, capped off with a turkey dinner and swim with my family on Thanksgiving day at my Mom’s ❤

It’s just a bunch of Hocus Pocus

I love Halloween! The pumpkins, ghosts, things that glow in the dark, oooh!  I have always loved having a spooky themed dinner party and dressing up. About 10 years ago I dressed up as a fairy from the Nickelodeon show Fairy Godparents and my Mom was gum stuck to the bottom of a sneaker shoe (you see where I get my creativity from 🙂 ) . When I was younger I dressed up as the Marvin Martian from the Looney Tunes cartoon…complete with a metal colander on my head!  Last year I decorated our foyer in a Harry Potter theme – complete with “floating” candles, sorting hat, magic wands and glowing potions. I was going to dress up as Professor Umbridge but it was 100 million degrees that day and I ended up just wearing a glow in the dark shirt.

One of my all time favorite movies is, of course, Hocus Pocus.  So much so that I saved it to the DVR last year and have periodically watched it all year long .  For some reason I have never dressed up as one of the Sanderson sisters, but this year I decided to be Winifred!  I started pulling everything together in July.

Turns out there are a lot of other Hocus Pocus fans out there and Pinterest has been a solid resource for the DIY costume:   the red wig is the same one as the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland, the under dress is a purple renaissance costume, easy to find green and black striped socks and a green velvet cape.

For the spell book, I found a cardboard version which I painted goldish-auburnish, a cool pendant with an eye in it, and some shape-able rubber snakes that I painted silver.

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My husband found a lacy over-dress and collared tunic and chunky beaded necklace at good will. I used glitter glue to make the symbols down the front of the dark green lace over dress, and thin gold rope along the edges of the collard tunic and as a finishing detail, used floral wire to insert in the corners of the collar to make them curl under.  I crafted the belt “buckles” with the gold rope  and the glitter glue and took apart an old costume necklace for the center stones.

Here’s the final result, my most epic costume yet!  And lucky for me, Thackery Binx stopped by dressed as a black pug 🙂

winnieandbinx

 

A bug in the craftroom

One of my BFF’s loves ladybugs and I when I saw this on Pinterest I knew I had to attempt it – an applique ladybug table center piece.  Thanks to pre-selected fat quarter sets picking out the fabrics was easy, the back is a pre-quilted pre-batted black and white paisley print.  I happened upon a ladybug party invitation which was the perfect template for the ladybug. After a trial run I discovered the black fabric I picked out was too flimsy for the head and antenna so I found a thicker fabric and that made it much sturdier.

ladybug1

Two parts of this project were  a challenge for me  – getting the corner blocks sewn in properly (my seam ripper got a workout after I realized my first mistake) and the ladybug applique.  Thank goodness for YouTube videos on appliqueing! I did a practice run which was helpful to say the least.  I wanted to prevent the sides of the ladybug from lifting and because I didn’t quilt the whole piece it needed something to hold the middle down. So I experimented with some stitches on my sewing machine and found this scalloped one –

ladybug2

I was really happy with the effect! I learned when using one of these automatic stitches you need to let the machine do the work and not hurry it along, you can see a few scallop stitches that are not as dense as the others where I pulled the fabric too quickly (patience ladybug!!).  I will definitely experiment more with the stitches on the machine now that I have some confidence.

My next project is my Halloween costume which I am SUPER excited about and will be posting about soon!

 

And the verdict is…

All negative! No celiac, no gastritis, no Barrett’s esophagus. While I’m grateful there’s nothing medically wrong with me I’m frustrated because this most likely means IBS and/or it’s my food sensitivities (wheat, dairy, eggs, corn, soy). <sigh>

So after way too much googling and learning a lot, I decided to start with giving up my coffee. It wasn’t a several pots a day habit, just 3 coffee mugs a day – about 14oz per mug though – and the first morning cup always on an empty stomach which I’ve learned provokes all kinds of undesirable reactions. Tough at first, I definitely went through caffeine withdrawal, but it’s been effective in relieving 90% of my symptoms.  I should say 95% giving up because I have experimented with just one cup of brewed ground coffee (based on some things I learned on the internet) a few days a week with only a slight reaction.  On several celiac blogs I found a recommendation to try chai tea to “mimic” the coffee, which really works! Admittedly I use 3 tea bags in one mug with just a little non-dairy creamer, but so far so good.  I am in love with Tazo brands flavored chai – Vanilla Caramel, Chocolate, and Pumpkin Spice.  (psa: they were on sale last week at Target for $3/box!)

I’ve been lenient on the dairy and wheat intake, but am still 90% better than I was a month ago.  So now to focus on better clean eating and seeing if I can narrow it down to what irks my GI tract – which probably means I should truly eliminate the sensitive foods for at least 2 months. One idea I thought of to get more of a range of veggies/fruits is to have a different color for each day – like Monday would be orange: oranges, cantaloupe, orange pepper, butternut squash – etc.  This strikes me as easier than trying to eat several different ones each day!  And provides me with a neat list of blog posts to make 🙂

In addition to my what-to-not-eat obsession, Fall season and Halloween dabbles abound, I’m SUPER excited about my Halloween costume for this year…stay tuned!

Winter is coming!

And not soon enough if you ask me (or Jon Snow).  Thoroughly disappointed in my garden this year – after all my hard work with the cover crop, using hay as a mulch/cover, fighting off the slugs, etc, just ugh. All for a handful of tomatoes, one spaghetti squash and well, enough cucumbers for 2 half batches of pickles so that’s a positive.  I’m currently babying my 8 or so corn stalks to possibly bear me one, JUST ONE, ear of corn.  Couldn’t resist having the DH grab the last brussel sprout and baby broccoli plants at the local home store, those are going to have to go in a container though I think.

As un-fruitful as the garden has been, it is apparently very hospitable to my “Charlottes” (aka sewing machine spiders or Argiope).  For the past few years we have had one or two pop up in mid August around the pool and in the garden and they are so cool to watch!  And huge, holy moly I’ve never seen a spider that big.  We named them both Charlotte – Pool Charlotte and Garden Charlotte – and they do their thing and then disappear, and an offspring appears again the following summer.  Well, THIS summer we have had EIGHT Charlottes!!  As of this morning I counted 7 though so someone moved out, but the rest are all hanging out in large webs strung between the shrubs, or the cucumber trellis or between the fence and the asparagus.   Strangely only two of them are really big right now, the rest are sort of medium size so will be interesting to see how big they all get and if there are any egg sacs leftbehind for the winter.  These are the two biggest(about 3″ top to bottom) they are outside the garden area:

frontsideyard_charlottes

This sneaky one made this web overnight from the fence to the asparagus ferns, I almost walked right into going to water the corn (it’s only about 3 feet off the ground):

garden_charlotte

Okay so back to my disappointment garden –  my brain started turning and hatched the garden re-do project, woo! I’ve decided to tear out the existing boxes (4 years old), take down the fence and create a whole new garden with smaller and deeper boxes.  Of course new soil too which (already crossing my fingers) will be beneficial for next years plants.  Only dilemma is moving my asparagus – next spring will be year 4, I hate to dig them up as I keep reading they don’t do as well when transplanted but they can’t stay where they are!  My strawberry plants were going into their 3rd year, I haven’t researched how well they do with transplanting so may just start over with those in a dedicated box (or one of the neato strawberry planters that I see all over Pinterest).  Off to the drawing table!

Sometimes you just need a little sparkle

I used to have my nails done in acrylics for years and years, sometimes french tipped other times a daring dark or blinding bright color.  I had the same nail tech for all those years who I loved, and second in sadness only to leaving my longtime hairstylist behind was leaving my nail tech behind when I moved South.  And while I finally found a new hair stylist to love I just never found a new nail tech.  And so I’d grown out of that phase a little and embraced my natural nails (after taking 6 months to heal from the years of acrylics 😮 )

Every once in awhile I get the urge to have my girly acrylics though, especially the french tips.  I tried the drugstore diy kits…and those were a pretty big fail for me. My right hand never looked anything close to acceptable (I’m right handed) and I could never get that ridge between fake tip and natural nail to be smooth.  I’d always end up peeling them off after maybe 2 days because I couldn’t stand the imperfections.

Recently I tried an at-home gel system, bought the LED lamp and all.  I was super impressed with the Sally Hansen 3 step gel – easy to apply and with the lamp it’s totally dry within minutes, bonus! (as you can read about here I’m not known to sit patiently for long).    I picked out “Purple Prisms” -which on the box looks like a lavender base with sparkles – in reality it’s a clear polish with sparkles. I actually put a coat of Sinful Colors “Tempest” (a pretty lavender and a gift from my Mom) on first, then the prisms, then the top coat. Came out really pretty and it stayed on for days and days, almost a whole week. (side note, the Sinful Colors line is really durable – my “Tempest” pedicure lasted 3 weeks!)

Earlier this week I got an inkling to have some french tipped nails and I  happened to have some french tips in my manicure bag from the earlier failed diy attempts…so I get the bright idea to try the gel over the tips since it’s self-leveling.  Not super crazy about the sparkles over french tips (I AM in my late 40’s afterall)

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but my bright idea worked! No ridge, yay!

selfleveling

I managed to snap 2 of the tips off within 24 hours – my natural nails aren’t very long right now, would work better with more natural nail to glue the tip to – but I know now I can pull this off for special occasion fancy manicures.  Or when my week just needs that bit of sparkle.