Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Aging Isn't a Four Letter Word

Tomorrow, I will be 46 years old. I've been easing myself into the idea for the past few weeks stating, often at the beginning of sentences, that I'm 46. To some degree, this is a comfort to say, knowing that I am really not there yet, toes in the water without the full plunge. It's just another day. But truly, it marks the last year of me being in my mid-40s and that is a hard pill to swallow.

Things change as we get older. Already, I've noticed that my skin is less elastic, wrinkles are starting to seep from the outer corners of my eyes, and when I look in the mirror, I really see a middle aged woman. I'm not fighting that, but accepting it isn't something that I've learned to do, either. I notice changes in actresses who I've watched through the years, those whose ages hovers around mine; Christina Applegate the young tart from the t.v. show Married with Children, took me by surprise in the movie, Vacation, presenting with crow's feet and aging skin. She is definitely beautiful, but looks her age, and she is younger than I am. So, where exactly does that put me?

This photo, from the Laney Gossip site, shows Applegate at the Vacation premiere.
She's gorgeous, and she is also showing signs of getting older naturally.

In the same movie, Beverly D'Angelo made a cameo appearance and was hardly recognizable. The amount of work she has had done to her face made me feel so sad, and truthfully, she was tough to look at. She didn't look younger, she just looked like an older woman who'd had a lot of work done.

These side by side photos of Beverly D'Angelo, regardless of the years between the time they were taken, show a different woman. It's not the age that's gotten me, it's that she doesn't even have the same face.

I've never been under the knife, for anything other than skin cancer, and I cannot imagine spending the money, or taking the risk to do so, electively. While I would like firmer skin, or to erase the lines that are beginning to creep up, I won't be doing it by way of plastic surgery.

The biggest thing, for me, is to get to a place of acceptance. I'm taking care of myself, eating healthy, exercising, and getting plenty of rest. I've started using a line of skincare to cleanse, moisturize, repair and protect my skin. I'm doing all that I can to put my best face forward. Beyond that, all I really need to do is be okay with the face that I see in the mirror. My husband always says that he wishes I could see myself the way that he sees me. I wish for that, too.

Inside, I have a fear that if I am too accepting of myself, I won't see all the bad things that other people see in me, and will be unprepared when someone makes a snide remark. I worry that if I am too self-accepting, I will let myself go, fall apart, and be an embarrassment to both myself and my family. On the flip side, the more that I worry, the more I have to worry about. I start to improve on how I look and then I think, just a little more and I'll be happy. But there is no end to that way of thinking. There will always be someone younger, fitter, prettier. Happiness will always elude me, if I base it on matching someone else's ideal of beauty.

The only way around all this, in my opinion, is to live in the spirit of gratitude. Instead of thinking about what I don't like, I have to start being grateful for what I do have. Rather than hate parts of my body, I will be grateful that I am healthy. I will focus on what's good and whole, and less on the things that I cannot change. And instead of looking in the mirror and judging myself, I will look at the faces of those that I love and be thankful.

Monday, November 2, 2015

The Trendy "I'm Thankful For" Status Update

I find copycat facebook status trends to be annoying. There's one that says something about getting in a sleeping bag and slathering oneself with butter, supposedly in support of breast cancer. There's another, posting solely what color bra you're wearing  in support of the cause. There are the trendy ones that beg for attention, stating something to the effect of I want to see who reads my facebook status, so if you do, post where we first met. All stupid, in my opinion.

There is one that I've liked and participated in for years though. It's the gratitude status that's posted daily beginning the first of November and leading up to Thanksgiving. I hadn't thought to do it this year, however, until divine intervention played a hand.

After a lovely dinner with my cousin T and her friend Lori, we were sitting in traffic when Lori remarked that she was enjoying the ride, and said something about learning patience. I asked her how something like this is learned. She admitted that it's a practice and isn't always perfect, but that she tries to think of all that she is thankful for instead of what's annoying her. She counts her blessings.

When you count your blessings, there isn't room for anything negative. Your mind cannot have two thoughts at once. In traffic, for example, instead of thinking about the traffic, you think instead about the blessing of being in a comfortable car, or sharing time with the people who are riding with you.

I've never been much of a replacement thinker. I've always allowed the thoughts that came into my mind to dominate the inner dialogue. My brain would play scenes and I would react, at least internally, to those thoughts. This is a very stressful way to live. After my night with Lori and T, I started applying the count my blessings practice, and I'm completely in love with reframing my thoughts. Still, it takes practice.

Last weekend, I lost my voice. I'd been run down, doing too much for everybody else and not enough for myself. My body decided that it was going to put a halt on that. Having no voice made it difficult to complain, fight, or do much of anything except rest and yield. Two days of yielding taught me that much of what I battle against on a daily basis is really not important. I don't need to correct the way that something is done, or share a pointless story. During those days, every word counted, because speaking was agitating my vocal chords, so the words I spoke needed to matter. I was forced to lean on others to help me communicate, and I had to find ways to have them hear me when I needed to be heard.

In the midst of my laryngitis, I awoke in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, and immediately felt like my balance was compromised. I started to feel like I was at the tipping point of having vertigo. Vertigo is not fun. I've had it more than once, and it's by far one of the most awful things you can experience. I was scared. I went to my husband for comfort, and he sat with me, reassuring me that things would be alright. He would be there for me and take care of me, and he helped to calm me down. At that moment, as I feared the possibility that vertigo might return, I started to think that I would be so grateful if I woke up without vertigo. It wouldn't matter if my voice was still out, or if I felt congested. I just wanted to feel normal.

And there is was. Those grateful thoughts were the jumping point for me to count my blessings. I was blessed to be able to walk normally, to see things clearly. I was blessed to have a husband who would wake up at 3 a.m. with me, listen to my fears and calm them. I was blessed to have a messy house to clean, two wild dogs to walk, a healthy child to drive to school. I was blessed. I am blessed.

You are blessed, too.

I am sharing my blessings daily, and you are welcome to check them out on Instagram (follow me @domesticgoddessltd). I urge you to give yourself the gift of counting your blessings. Start today, and do it every day, as often as you can remember. It's a life changing experience.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

A Daily Dose of Dog Walking

There is nothing like the love of a dog... except maybe the love that we have for our furry friends. My two dogs, Sugar and Rocco, are potentially the only beings on the planet that love me unconditionally and without judgement, and they provide a comfort that no human can rival. I absolutely treasure them and wish to provide them with all the good things I am able.

In much the same way that parents hire babysitters and nannies to care for their children, dog owners must do they same for their pups. It's no small task, watching and caring for a dog (or two or three) and it's important that we find people that we trust.

My schedule has grown hectic, and though I work mostly from home, I find that I am out for hours at a time while my pups are stuck in the house. Sometimes it's for work, other times I am just running around with the kids, at football games or track meets. I don't want to worry that my poor dogs are sitting in a dark house, or haven't been out for a potty break. In my opinion, they deserve love, some fresh air, and the chance to relieve themselves at least once during the hours that I am away. I began looking into having a daily dog walker for my little ones, and found that help was right around the corner.

There is a local business called Helping Hand Pet Care Services that's run by a woman named Patrice Petronaci. Patrice is a total gem at working with dogs. Sugar, who can at times be skittish, was completely at ease when Patrice visited our home. What's great is that her services are specifically geared towards daily walks, so you can get your dog on the schedule and not worry about any conflicts. In addition, your dog(s) get to know her, and the walk is part of their daily routine. It's a treat to look forward to. And at rates that hover around $18 per walk, it's a totally affordable service.

It's also great for people who might be home but would prefer to contract the job out to someone else (ah, one walk that you can let someone else handle... especially with cold weather ahead). Yes, please!

If you haven't yet tried it, having a regular dog walker is a great thing. It provides consistency, routine, and exercise that your dog craves. Since she is coming into your home and taking care of your beloved pets (she takes care of other animals, too), it's important to choose wisely. If you are in the area, I highly suggest giving Patrice a call. She will come out and meet your mutt(s), and do a free evaluation, based on what you're looking for and how many animals* she will be taking good care of while you are out.

Helping Hand Pet Care Services is available for those living in Mountain Lakes, Boonton Township, Boonton, Denville, Lake Parsippany, Rockaway, and the surrounding area.

Call Patrice at 973-229-5968 to schedule a time to meet and get started!

*Patrice also cares for cats, birds, bunnies and other sweet creatures. Just ask!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Small Town Takeover

When you're here, you're home.
The Red Barn restaurant

Not everyone lives in a small town. Those of us that do know both the up and the downsides to small town life. The perks are huge. People know your dogs, your kids, and are always looking out for their well being. There are lots of community events, both at the schools and through the town hall, that are either free, or that benefit some aspect of the town. 

I've noticed that, lately, things here are starting to change. Our post office is nothing like what it used to be. Just a year ago, it was a place where people talked as they waited in line, where the clerks knew the locals and would talk to them about their lives, asking how they've been, and sharing stories. I knew that when my letter crossed the desk and went into a bin, it was in good hands.

Now, though they still manage PO boxes and take mail, our mail goes to a neighboring town where it's sorted and put on the truck to go to Newark. It used to be that when I'd send mail in town, it would be there the very next day. It went from my hands to the post office and then out for delivery. Now, it leaves and goes to the neighboring post office, and then to Newark? Ridiculous, and what a waste of gas. While it would be just as easy for me to drop at a friend's house, I like the idea of sending stamped, postmarked mail, and it saddens me to know that, despite my efforts to save our post office, this has happened. I miss my old mail carrier, Rob, who stood with me while I was on the phone with my doctor waiting to see if I had a brain tumor, and who hugged me as I cried tears of relief and said, "I'm okay". I miss going into the PO building and listening to Ferdie sing, or chat with Gabi as she would go through my packages. Alas, the wheels are in motion.

There are other things that could slip into the same role, if we don't pay attention, and I think it's important that we guard them. Our police department currently has dispatch (I think) during the day, but on the off hours, our calls go to another town, 20 minutes away. This was done in an effort to save money. I miss calling and asking who's on, when I have a less than emergency call but just need a little help. Fortunately for us, our police officers are still widely available and helpful, and have an active knowledge of our community. They talk to the kids as they walk home from school, and are sure to be familiar with residents in town. On Halloween, the town closes streets to car traffic so that kids can walk without worry while trick or treating. The police are here to help redirect lost children, answer questions, and let the kids know that they are here for them.

We have a great pharmacy here, too, that's independently owned. The pharmacy, Preston Drugs, will deliver your prescriptions to your home (or your car, if you prefer) so you don't need to get out in bad weather or if you are sick. Still, people choose to go to big box pharmacies, which I don't understand. Now that A&P is closing, the opportunity for people to move their prescriptions to a local, smaller drugstore is available (don't allow them to transfer to Walgreen's just because they'll do it for you, please). Preston has a tab on their website that will help you transfer your prescriptions. Another local option is Main Pharmacy in Boonton. Though I am not familiar with it, it's been in town forever and is a favorite of many locals.

Small shops are what keeps the American dream alive. Say what you will about that dream being dashed -- I know what you are thinking -- but this is still our country and we have the power to make big changes.

Instead of going to chain restaurants, go to indie owned places. We have some great restaurants around here, including Hapgood's in Mountain Lakes, The Reservoir Tavern (locally known as the Res) in Parsippany, Matta Donna in Boonton, and both The Red Barn (breakfast and lunch) and 900* in Towaco.  Rather than shopping online or at the mall, take your business to great places like Simplify Marketplace, which is owned by ML resident Beth Moran. They have pretty much everything you'll ever need, including home goods, personalized stationary, hand made items, jewelry, accessories, Laker apparel, and baked goods. In Denville, you can get home goods and ladies' apparel at two shops on the same block, owned by the Olenowski sisters: Surprises In Store, and Sisters. For footwear, I personally love Shoe & Sneaker Barn (also in Denville). The point is that there are so many opportunities to support our small towns that it would be silly not to. 

And finally, if you are able, please mail cards! Notes, birthday greetings, holiday greetings. Maybe our post office is changing, but let's not allow the art of letter writing/card sending fall by the wayside.

It's so important to nurture and support the places and people that bring joy to your life. Look around and see what it is that you love about the place that you live, then be sure to put your attention there. It's truly the little things, that we sometimes overlook, that we would miss the most if they were gone. Be proactive and keep them strong. Shop local.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Before Sunrise

I've never been a morning person. Ask anyone who knows me, and they'll tell you (fearfully) that it's true. After giving birth to my son, people were convinced that I'd get up early. The baby would force it. Babies get up early, they said.  My son is my only child, so I had the luxury of sleeping when he slept. The house went to pot, but I was a well-rested mother. While I would be forced to wake up early, I'd nap with the baby, every few hours, so it didn't matter much. When he gave up his naps, I began putting him to bed at 11 p.m. so he (we) could sleep 'til mid morning. 

When he started nursery school, I put him in the half day classes that started at noon. Same for kindergarten. First grade was rough for both of us, with an 8 a.m. homeroom bell, and he was late more often than he was on time. Slowly, I adjusted and got up, fed my son, and got him to school. It was no easy task and it's not been pretty.

All these years later, our two dogs need an early morning walk each day. My husband has taken on the duties of that walk, citing my angry morning demeanor as the reason he'll lose sleep to get it done. I'm up to take my son to school, but the dogs want to go out before we leave, so it would require me getting up an extra half hour early.

It wasn't until this weekend that I decided it was time for me to put my big girl pants on and start waking up earlier. It was a tough choice, because it means that I will be going to bed before my husband gets home, which cuts into our couple's time. I've tried to wait up at night for my husband, who works until nearly midnight, but in that circumstance, both of us are exhausted, and it's just not healthy.

Setting this alarm was tougher than it was for me to wake up to it.

I told him it was time that I start getting up to walk the dogs. He was hesitant. No way did he want to deal with me, grumpy, each morning. Begging him to give me a chance, I told him I'd go to bed early so that I wasn't mean and exhausted in the a.m. He agreed to give it a shot.

Last night, Night One, I was in bed by 10 p.m. and falling asleep close to 11. It was a major change and boy, am I tired. But I did it. It was nice. The sun was just coming up, during the dogs' walk, and the day felt fresh. I woke twice during the night, at 3:30 a.m. and nearly 5, probably because my body has gotten so used to so little sleep. Ironically, I was surprised that I didn't oversleep, and that it took until late afternoon for me to feel, well, exhausted. 

My husband got the opportunity for a full 8 1/2 hours sleep, which made me feel like a better wife, knowing that he isn't sacrificing his sleep; our time together (though a little less) was wonderful. He was productive, not exhausted, and we both seemed to be more present.

Tonight is Night Two, and I am hoping that my commitment to the early to bed mentality remains strong. 

Are you a morning person? Getting into the groove isn't easy, so I'd love to hear your tips for happy morning wake-ups.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Cost < Reward

Kids aren't cheap. We all know this. In the past two weeks, I've spent more money on compression shorts, pants, and both long and short sleeved Nike Pro apparel for my son than I care to tally. Tonight I didn't have to do the math; the tally was presented to me by the Dick's cashier who asked if I wanted to charge the whooping $165 I'd racked up on the few items I bought for my son's cross country meet tomorrow. (It's going to be cold, so we needed long everything.)

After leaving Dick's, I stopped into the grocery store to buy him a 12-pack of Horizon single serve chocolate milk cartons (his post-run beverage that he shares with his friends), some Clif bars, and string cheese. While checking out, I requested a measly $20 in cash back, asking the cashier if she could give me a ten and two fives. She looked bothered at the thought of breaking it down as per my request. "If I have it in the drawer" she snipped. I apologetically (and sort of casually) explained that it was for my son to have at his meet tomorrow, in the event that he wanted to buy a snack. "If I give him a twenty, he'll spend the whole thing," I said.

It struck her, a mother's plight. She started to talk about how costly it is to raise kids. She didn't say this with anger or resentment, but from a place of knowledge. She explained that she is the mother of four children, and she works two jobs just to pay for their college tuitions, and to live. Her eldest daughter finished medical school and is currently an internist, her second youngest son is now starting the master's part of his medical degree. She has one son in the military, and one who is going to County (she pulled him out of his original university, despite his scholarship, after seeing that he was partying too much and fearing for his well-being). She told me that she recently said to her son, the one that's in med school, that once he gets a job, he and his sister (the other doctor) will have to take care of her financially, because she's sick of working two jobs. She said this with a laugh. It was clear that she'd do anything for her kids. In fact, she already has.

The job of a parent is a big, important one.

There are many parents I know who put themselves before their children. They take money that would be used for their kids, and put it towards the things that they want for themselves. They choose to do things socially that sacrifice the time they have with their children. They believe that it's their time to live their lives. But what about their kids, the ones who need to be raised and guided? When people choose to have children, they should commit to raising them for 18 years, being present and available. In the grand scheme of things, it's a short period of time. Those 18 years of raising (the good, the bad, and the plain old gnarly) are a gift that we, as parents, are fortunate to have. Our kids will grow up, move out, and have their own life, just like we do. We want them to answer our phone calls, choose to visit, and most importantly, to look back fondly at their childhood.

What could possibly be more important than that?

When Thinking Pink Means More Than Jumping On the Bandwagon

You don't want to wait until you find a lump in your breast to get a mammogram. If you haven't gone for your mammogram, you are from one of two schools of thought: it won't happen to me, or it will happen to me and I don't want to know.

I understand. At 44, I took my mammogram script and put it in my purse, where it quickly got swallowed up by the vast mess of papers, receipts, and wrappers. I was engaged, and that took precedence over a mammo appointment, in my mind. It was forgotten.

I once 'boobicon'ed my Facebook profile picture in support of breast cancer awareness.
Getting a mammogram would have been more proactive.

The following year (this year), I went for my annual exam, got another script, and lost it in the same way that I lost the previous year's script. I knew, though, that I needed to get my mammogram, so I called the office to get another one, this time with my married name on the script.

I sat on it for a few weeks. I'd get the mammo done, I would. But the thought of scheduling it, making time for the appointment, taking a shower and not putting on lotion or deodorant... such a pain to deal with. That is, until I found a lump.

I was getting out of bed, and the right side of my right breast felt tender and sore. Being post-menopausal, I knew it wasn't premenstrual breast tenderness, or a clogged milk duct, but it felt like that kind of pain. I put my hand to the soreness and whoosh, there it was. A lump.

Wait. What? This could not be. I just had a breast exam three months ago. And yet.

I freaked. I woke my husband up. "Feel" I said. "There's a lump." And when he nodded yes and said "It's probably a cyst", I started to cry. He felt it, too. It was real.

Breast cancer awareness month was approaching, which ironically only made matters worse. Everywhere, there were stories about lumps and prevention, both good and bad stories, and I just wanted to know that I was okay. I'm okay, right?

I called the imaging center immediately for an appointment, but when they heard I had a lump, they wouldn't book it. They told me that I needed a script for an ultrasound, as well as the mammogram script. "So when you call with a lump, you can't get in for a mammogram?", I asked.  It seems counterintuitive. I called my doctor's office four times before I got a nurse on the phone to ask her for a script for an ultrasound. "I am a 45 year old, post-menopausal woman with a lump. I know that I am not the most pressing or important patient in your office, but I'm scared," I said. The nurse understood and immediately got on it.

My appointment was booked for two weeks from that day. And today the two weeks are up. It's finally time for me to know what's going on. Hopefully, it's nothing, and I'll have learned to put my health first and get that yearly mammogram.

But for now, I don't know what will happen, or what is ahead, and frankly, I am scared. Really, really scared. For the people who think it won't happen to them, I ask, "Then, who?" But I am supported. My husband is nothing short of a saint, and he's always here for me. I have good friends, a few of whom are cancer survivors, all of whom will lend a listening ear. I have a supportive loving family.

And hopefully, I have nothing. Nothing more than a benign cyst. Or lumpy breasts.

But now, I don't know. I won't until I go to my appointment and the radiologist does whatever she does to let my doctor know what's up.

And if it turns out that I am A-OK, I will take my health more seriously, eat better, exercise more. I will advocate for women to get routine mammograms, even if doing so seems to be a pain in the neck. Because while taking the time out to go for a mammogram may be inconvenient, it may also be saving your life.

Note: I am writing this in the hopes that women feel moved to schedule their mammograms, and that they do self-breast exams. I am also sharing my story so that people understand that the process to getting checked sometimes takes drastic findings. I am not writing my story to have people stop me and inquire as to how I am doing, and while I appreciate your concern, I prefer to hear from you via message. Thank you.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Comfort of Dogs

All the love in the world.
There is something about the love of a dog that is completely unexplainable. It's nothing they do, per say, that is particularly helpful to daily living. They don't talk, or offer words of advice when life's got you down. They require lots of care, their poops must be picked up, and they are always, always, like toddlers.

And yet, when things aren't going well, when you're feeling sad, or frustrated or scared, nothing beats cuddling up with a mutt.

Ah, a life with dogs. Pictured here: Rocco & Sugar.

We've got two. Sugar, a  black lab/American bulldog mix, and Rocco, a jack russell/rat terrier mix. When my son and I rescued Sugar, she was about a year and a half old. Her black fur was thick with dandruff, and she smelled. She had an episode of diarrhea as we were driving her home from her adoption, and she attempted to cover the pile with the few treats we'd given her. At some point in her life, she'd run from her foster home and had been hit by a car, causing her to endure a handful or surgeries for the five months prior to my meeting her. Sugar was terrified of her own shadow. Somehow, she knew we'd take good care of her, and she tried to settle in. She wasn't much of a cuddler, but when I found myself alone at night, she'd come onto the couch where I was sitting, and lay beside me. Slowly, she'd nudge me to the edge of the couch, and I'd hang tight, nosing my face into her warm fur.  Just having her there made me feel safe. Occasionally, she's put her nuzzle onto my lap and sigh. Something about her trusting me made me feel worthwhile and loved.

Sugar's the quiet one.

After a year of Sugar living with us -- only eating when being hand fed raw meat, running from the littlest noise, and pacing the house but never really relaxing unless she was in her crate -- it was brought to my attention that she might need a pal, another dog to help her relax and come out of her shell. I searched for a dog that seemed like s/he might be a good fit. There were so many cute dogs, and truly, what did I know about finding a pal for Sugar? Her easy going demeanor made it easy for her to get along with any dog, but would any dog be kind to her? I wanted the best fit but had no idea how to find that.

The Petfinder listing that stole my heart. 

After meeting a few dogs, who were rescued before I even had a chance to apply for them, I ended up with Rocco (who was named Bastin, before we changed his name). A little ratter, with the biggest ears I'd ever seen, seemed to be the one. He'd been living in a foster home with 13 other dogs his whole life. So, dog friendly for sure. Ah, what profiles don't tell. He barked and barked and barked, and if anyone tried to pick him up, he gnarled and bit them. But we'd already taken him, and were committed to making it work.

Sugar and Rocco became fast pals. And despite Rocco's (still) incessant barking and occasional grumpy nipping, he's become the furry love of my life. Having both dogs has changed everything. They are entertaining, wonderful to snuggle up to, interesting to watch, and something about their presence simply calms me.

They love each other.

I wish I knew why. I have an amazing husband who is everything to me. He's loving and attentive, and provides an indestructible support for my life. My son, and my three stepchildren, are wonderful bundles of energy, full of stories and laughter. They keep us busy and always make things interesting. But something about those dogs...

When they are jumping at the door, barking at visitors, squirrels, cars, etc., comfort is not the word that comes to mind. Their canine demands are less than inviting. I command them, unsuccessfully, to Shush! then proceed to roll my eyes and wish they would just. be quiet.  And when I am holding both leashes in one hand while using the other to unceremoniously pick poops up off the lawns of neighbors, well, I could live without those moments. But when they look up at me with those sweet wide eyes, mouths agape, tongues wagging, the feeling of complete unconditional love emanates from them.

Wag goes the tongue.
Perhaps that's it. No matter how I look, what kind of mood I am in, or how I'm behaving, my dogs' loyalty is consistent. They always want me to run my hand across their back, tug on their ears, or cuddle up beside them on the couch. It's a total acceptance of who I am, and that is by far the most comforting feeling in the world.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Through the Trees

I wasn't raised to incorporate exercise into my life. Even now, with a gym membership, yoga classes, boot camp, and a town ripe with runners, getting motivated to workout isn't easy. There are people who wake up, hop out of bed and go to the gym, or for a run, and that's how they start their day. Exercise, for that type of person, is as necessary as oxygen.

Most people that I know use exercise as a means to maintain or lose weight, but in truth, proper exercise is beneficial for the body's long term (and even daily) living. We all know this, but since the long term benefits don't satisfy our immediate gratification need, it gets lost in translation.

While visiting Disney World this past spring, my stepdaughter and I both noticed how many overweight people were zipping through the parks in motorized chairs, many of whom had extra large sugary drinks in their hands. It's this very thing that keeps me motivated; the fear of not being able to do things without assistance. I don't know what's ahead for me, regarding my health, but I am going to do my best to lay solid groundwork.

There is an online 30 day squat and plank challenge run by Mirzuk Fitness that I've signed up for, and part of the point of the daily practice is that it takes 30 days to make a habit. While habits can be broken, I am banking on this habit building premise to give my son a more fit life that with which I've been presented.

School was not in session today, and my son had afternoon plans to go into the city with his father to get his ID card for art school. This meant no afternoon cross country practice. I asked his trainer if we could maximize the morning hours by having him run with my son. The location he chose was a county park in town. It's got miles of trails, a great place to run.

The beginning of the path my son ran with his trainer this morning. Total, complete heaven on earth.
While they ran, I did my squat and plank challenge workout, then read a few pages from a book I'm reading for a study group. The park was quiet, with dogs and runners passing only occasionally. Though it was cool, the sun shone down through the trees. I thought about the gift my son has been given, a morning run with his trainer, Jeff Eades, someone who's run ultramarathons and serves as a (very cool) mentor to my son. I hope that, years from now when he is heading out for a run, he'll remember this morning run as the one that got him into the habit.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Best of You

Life isn't about the finish line, it's about the path you take to get there.

After posting my last blog entry, Keep the Good Ones, Ditch the Rest, I got a slew of messages and comments about the topic. The comments ranged from "I completely agree," to "Lighten up". All of the responses were great because they helped me see the perspective of others, but none changed the way that I feel.

Honoring our lives means many things. It means getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods, exercising, feeling love, having friendships and just enjoying life. It also means, at least to me, minimizing drama as much as possible. I am not filming for a Housewife series, which means I am not getting paid to up ratings by including myself in circles with unhealthy people. On more than one occasion, I've had to make something up and excuse myself from a lunch/dinner/situation where I felt the direction had taken a turn for the worse. I am fast becoming a self-preservationist.

Last week, my close friend asked me to take a seven week TRX group training session with her, at our gym. It was the last thing that I wanted to do (my past TRX experience had been awful), but I agreed to do it because it gives me the opportunity to see her while getting a workout. We've talked while walking beside each other on the treadmill, or while curling dumbbells, but in those situations, the intensity of my work is self-directed (meaning, it's easier to do less). Group training includes a forced push by the trainer, and peer accountability. Today, the group training began. I had a morning packed with things to do, including sending out emails to everyone participating in a fundraiser with which I am involved. One hour before the group training began, my friend sent me a text that read "One hour! Woot woot!" Though I hadn't yet paid, and technically could have backed out, I committed to my friend and told the trainer I'd be there. It was up to me to stay true to my word, even though at that moment it was tough. As I chugged my coffee and scooped back my oatmeal, I thought to myself, "This TRX idea was stupid," and also "I need to get more sleep."

I arrived at the gym, and saw my friend's happy smile when she'd seen that I made it to class. I talked to the trainer about past TRX experience and injuries, and we began. An hour on the clock. It wasn't easy. We warmed up with more squats than I thought humanly possible. I wondered if I'd be sore for yoga tomorrow. I wondered what my husband was doing in the weight room. I wondered if I should drink more water. And then the wondering stop. The work became more difficult, and each accomplished task gave me a feeling of pride. I focused on my body, my muscles, and felt good about the work. This TRX class, as it turns out, was a really good idea.

I got back into yoga in much the same way. My friend Tray had been going for about a year, each week inviting me to join her. While I have always loved yoga, I hadn't practiced for a while and felt uncomfortable getting back on the mat, fat and out of shape. In a moment of weakness - or perhaps strength - I agreed to go, and there it was. I couldn't back out. A year and 30 lbs. lighter, I am fully committed to my twice weekly practice.

Me with my friend Tray, after practicing yoga on the lake together, the morning of my wedding.

It's amazing what happens when you find something that changes the way that you feel, whether it be about your day, your life, or most importantly, yourself. Not only did I get to spend an hour with my friend and work out with her (which is motivating because she is a powerhouse), I also learned that getting back to hard working exercise made me feel good about me.

And that's what yesterday's post was all about. It wasn't about other people being bad or failing me, it was about choosing to create a life that supports me at my best, so that I feel good about myself.

I will start sharing links again on the DG Files facebook wall so that it's easier for people to comment. Follow me there, by clicking here.

Keep the Good Ones, Ditch the Rest

My friend KT is a straight shooter. She has said, on more than one occasion, that she has no tolerance for bullsh*t. In fact, each year on her birthday, she mentally sorts through the people who are considered to be friends in her life, and decides who among them truly are good friends. If they are toxic or drama filled, she boots them from her life. It's not a majorly obvious action... no facebook unfriending, no calls made to say, "You're out!" Instead, she gently edges away from them and moves forward with her life.

Now, let me begin by saying that I believe in lifelong friendships. These are the friendships that allow you to be yourself, the ones that allow for a 2 a.m. call when something goes wrong. They require both parties to be active participants and for both people to care about one another. I have a few of these friendships, and I treasure them.

A true friend, C, has always been there for me. Without fail.

Devoting my time to real friendships is an idea worth developing; it requires both commitment and time. Having time means eliminating the faux friends who are not much more than placeholders (time wasters). I've joked that I'd like to copy KT, and begin the trim down. Sometimes, I've even toyed with the idea of letting go. But I never really followed through. I got hooked into keeping toxic people in my life. Either I'd keep the friendship alive out of guilt, or I'd do it, selfishly, out of need. My life has been packed with superficial friendships made of people that showed up for the drama (perhaps to watch the train wreck that was once my life), or people who wanted to kill a few hours with a willing participant. But now, with a fully packed life, I've come to the realization that I don't want to spend my time stoking fires of old acquaintances that I believed were true connections.

It's heartbreaking, for sure, putting away the idea of a friendship that I thought existed, tough remembering moments that felt real with people that seemed to be friends for life, only to discover that they never were. But it's a crucial step to live a fulfilling, joyful life.

The idea of ending a friendship, with the same permanence one might having after leaving a lover or a bad job, is a tough one. Deciding to follow through takes guts. About a week ago, I posted something about this idea on my facebook page. The response was amazing, and I realized that I wasn't alone. This touchy topic of friendship breakups is long overdue.

Just tonight, I read a blog post from health coach Mary Ellen Zung, who is sending me her posts as part of a ten day sugar cleanse.* Friendships seem unrelated to a sugar cleanse, you'd think. However, she writes that "many people crave sweets when they are lacking supportive relationships"  and that "healthy relationships [among other things] will satisfy our real hunger for life." It makes sense, and it's given me that final push required to make big changes in my personal life.

I am making conscious choices to keep friends that have proven to be real, who have my back, and who like me for who I am. I will put my time and effort into nurturing and growing those friendships and, the extra time (time that I might have used to call a faux friend for coffee) will now be spent nurturing my life, caring for my family, or putting up my feet and cracking open a book. Hey, it might even be used to go for ice cream with a true blue buddy.

I am curious (hopeful, excited) to know how you feel about eliminating acquaintances, those who zap you of energy or don't consider your feelings, from your life? Are you up to the challenge? If not, why not? Please comment below. You can totally comment anonymously. See the photo below for what to look for (just click the option, Anonymous).

*While I know and believe that sugar is a real craving, and is physically addictive, I have no plans of completely eliminating it from my life. I will, though, work toward eating it mindfully and in moderation. 

Monday, September 21, 2015

Beware the Vine

I made the choice early on to live in a quiet neck of woods in a small Morris County town, where we have lakes, grassy hills, and tons of trees. In fact, homeowners cannot cut down trees without applying for a permit with the town first, and getting approval. There is a steep fine for not abiding by this rule, and our Shade Tree Commission goes to great lengths to enforce it. We take our trees very seriously.

As I've gotten older, I find myself being more and more grateful for the gifts nature provides, looking to the trees for solace (as opposed to searching out a group of people that I could chat with to kill time). Last week, while waiting for my son's first cross country meet to begin, I soaked in the rolling hills and beautiful large trees that surrounded the race area. While walking, I was tempted to reach out and run my fingers through the thin branches of hanging leaves, until I noticed the three leaf pattern: matching sized side leaves with one larger big leaf between them (forward facing). This is the classic poison ivy leaf pattern.

The hanging leaves, even the thin branches at the center of this tree, are poison ivy leaves on vines. There were so many that, had you not paid attention, you'd have thought they were the tree's benign leaves. Looking at the upper leaves off the main branches of the tree, you'd have seen the tree is a maple tree.

I looked closer to try and understand how much of the tree was taken by the poison ivy. Shockingly, most of the trees had climbing poison ivy ropes, with leaves at eye level. It is a public park, and the poison ivy is part of the landscape, for better or worse. Still, I wondered how many people might have walked through these branches, unaware that they were poison ivy; how many might have found themselves with the rash and wondered where it came from. Perhaps, passing this info to you will prevent you from grabbing a poison ivy leaf. A neighbor once taught me the following precaution, "Leaves of three, let them be." If you keep that in mind, you'll be in good shape.

Look at the leaves of three (beginning at the left of this photo, midway up, in focus). That's poison ivy.

While I am not a trained gardener, living here has made me quite familiar with the stuff. People think that poison ivy leaves are supposed to be shiny, or green, or red, or smooth. Well, it's all true, at different stages. The one thing that is always true is the size pattern (to note: there is a strange weed that has a similar pattern but has thorns, which poison ivy does not).

Seasonally, the leaves change color. They get bigger, too. Bigger than a human hand. So don't confuse the size with safety. While dogs and cats can rub up against the poison ivy and won't get a rash, the urushiol (the oil that causes the rash) can rub off onto furniture or you! causing you to get the rash without being exposed to the vine.

Be mindful of the vine. It contains urushiol, as well. The vines get hairy (think, Thing, from the Munsters). You can get poison ivy from the hairy vine, even if it's been trimmed from the tree and is dead. 

The vine attached to this tree - the thick, hairy one - is a poison ivy vine. If you look near to the vine, you will see the small leaves of three. There are also other weed leaves, and the trees leaves, so the poison ivy is somewhat masked.

I know more than one story of people who burned logs and branches, unaware that they were burning poison ivy. In one story, one of the people inhaled it and had a reaction in their lungs, requiring hospitalization. In another, the smoke caused a huge rash on my friend's face, also requiring hospitalization, intravenous steroids, and more.

You can easily make yourself aware of what poison ivy looks like in all seasons, and it's vines, and prevent yourself from getting a rash. If you bump your wheelbarrow (shovel, ax) into it, there's a solid chance that the urushiol oil is on the wheelbarrow and must be properly cleaned. I am obsessed with this vicious little vine, and while walking with my kids, my husband, anyone really haha! I point it out.

Take note, be aware, and then go enjoy nature.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

There Is A Season - Turn, Turn, Turn

Ten years ago, and it feels like yesterday.

It's official. I'm old.

Old is a relative term, so I owe it to you to qualify that. To some, a 45 year old is a spring chicken. To others, a peer. But as I watch my son walk through the front doors of his high school, or down a busy NYC street with friends, away from me,  I wonder where the time has gone. The child who used to look up to me, now towers over me by more than a handful of inches. His voice, a deep man's voice, is a far cry from the little one that used to ask, "Mama?" It goes in the blink of an eye. I didn't believe it when people told me, as I held my babe in arms crying for more milk, that time would pass faster as he got older. I couldn't fathom having a baby out of diapers, let alone a young man in high school. Alas, here we are.

I couldn't be happier seeing my child make the leap toward independence. We were joined at the hip, and there were times when I thought I'd be going to college with him. He's healthy, thank God, and is now choosing to pull away from me. He spends times with friends, goes to art classes in the city, and daydreams about his life in Los Angeles (the one he assures me is just a few years ahead). I ask "Do you miss me sometimes?" He shrugs, "Not really, Mom." I ask, "Will you miss me when you are living all those miles away?" He replies, "I don't think so, Mom. Nah."

This is good. Don't get me wrong, it's definitely bittersweet knowing he doesn't need me anymore. It's also freeing, knowing that my son is ready to lead his own life. I don't have to worry that he will be upset at the thought of taking the next step, and I don't have to feel guilty having joyful times that might not include him. He is confident and self-assured. He wants to have his own life, to grow up and go out into the world. It's good news, and it's good for him.

But for me, well, I'm already missing my baby.

Given all this, along with the fact that I remarried in June and now have three more kids to love (my husband's), I've had to rethink my life. When I look back at these years, what will I remember? Exercising that practice now, I remember traditions, big moments, and valued time with people I loved. But I also remember crying a lot over things that didn't matter. I remember running in circles, planning events that meant nothing to me, the details of which are mostly forgotten. I notice all the things I wasted time on and wish I'd done it differently. Hindsight is always filled with clarity, isn't it? If only I knew then what I know now. Of all those past things -- wasted time, energy, money and love -- I wish I focused more on my son and less on those who didn't matter. I can't turn the clock back, but I can change what's happening now.

My friend Kim P. recently told me that if she could do things all over again, she'd take her kids out of school for fun day trips and spend more time with them. This resonated with me. I can't pull my high schooler out for fun adventures, but I can soak in every moment that I do have with him.

And it's because of this that I've decided to end my candle making career and close my business. I will still make them for the local yoga studio (because those small, fabulous batches feed my soul), and maybe a few dozen candles at the holidays, if my heart sees fit. But for these next few years, I'll be hanging onto every minute I have with our kids, grabbing onto the fact that I am fortunate enough to stay home and be with them. In fact, I'm white knuckling it.

I'll be writing about my experience of going back to being a stay-at-home mom, sharing recipes, frustrations and more. Please keep posted xox

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Most Beautiful Spaces To...

My everyday life is important to me. I do my best to spend time in places that feed my soul. Where I shop, eat, workout, all of it, is very important to me. I choose places that make me feel like I am on vacation, even though I'm home.

Here are a few of my favorites:

...get a massage or facial
The Urban Muse Day Spa

Imagine walking into a room, dimly lit with candles, soothing music floating through the air. The space is warm, the walls dark wood, everything is incredibly peaceful and beautiful. This is the feeling in the treatment rooms at the Urban Muse.

When you walk in, you walk through an insanely eclectic and large shop. Selections feature everything from body products to jewelry, to cards and gifts; even home goods from Fish's Eddy. It's a cool shop with creative and well-crafted gifts. The spa treatments simply take it to a new level. I honestly cannot imagine going anywhere else for a massage or facial. I saw some great deals on group on, asked around about the services (and got good feedback) but, ultimately, I didn't buy them. The Muse has spoiled me.

There is a gorgeous relaxation room for before and after treatment, a place to sit and get your zen on. It's quiet, dark and inviting. There are healthy snacks out for the taking, water infused with lemons and cucumbers, assortments of tea. They even offer beautiful, warm bathrooms with beauty products for your use, and a gloriously large shower for guests to use before or after (or both) that seems like it should be in someones luxury home. When you undress, you are given the supremely plush robes to wear. Everything is spotless and top notch.

One of the many sculptures in the relaxation room at the Urban Muse.

Treatment rooms are similar. Candle lit, with quiet music playing, and some sort of diffuser that makes the room smell noticeably present without being overwhelming. Each clinician/therapist that I have experienced is professional and does wonderful work. I always leave wanting just a few. more. minutes.

...get your hair done
The Lounge Hair Studio

This longstanding, top of the line hair studio is breathtaking. The front wall of the studio is lined with long windows, allowing tons of natural light to come into the studio, and since it's located on the second floor, no one is peeking in the windows. As with the Urban Muse, the furnishings are gorgeous and dark, with rough brick walls. The waiting area has a to die for leather chaise, amongst other chairs, and the receptionist comes with an offer of coffee, tea, and water.

All of the stylists are on trend, and my most recent visit with a Level 1 stylist (via a groupon) was incredible. She paid attention to what I wanted to do with my hair and listened to what I needed, while guiding me with options for what I may think about doing in the future. You must visit. Call, ask for Gabby, and tell her I sent you. The experience, from beginning to end, is totally pampering. I highly suggest you do this for yourself. It may cost a little more that the factory style salons, but it's worth the money... you will not be disappointed.

...find your zen
Prana Yoga Center

My God, this place. I have to tell you, if I didn't do yoga, I might start just so that I could spend time in the space. The space is warm and beautiful, all dark wood floors, and beautiful Ganesha and interesting art and sculptures decorate the space. Walking in the door, you feel a strong sense of welcoming and well-being. There is a waterfall wall in the shop area, where they sell yoga mats, clothing, candles, skin care, MantraBand bracelets, and other wonderful things.

The studio is a large space that is sectioned off into two rooms (which is often opened to accommodate larger classes). They have many types of yoga classes, all being wonderful (my favorite being Christy Linson's Vinyasa Flow class), and I always leave feeling blessed. I've been to other studios to practice, but nothing even comes close to this studio space.

...dine out
Rails Steakhouse

This long awaited, heavily hyped restaurant does not disappoint.

Years in the making, Rail Steakhouse at Towaco Crossing is the best thing that's happened to Montville in a very, very long time (and Montville, truth be told, is a pretty awesome place on a bad day). The space is huge, and incredible to look at. Everything is made from beautiful, earthy elements. There are walls made of carved wood with loose logs sitting inside them. There's an enormous, two story thick log of wood through the center that must have been the trunk of a tree, and the main wall is made of gorgeous stone with open spots that have candles inside them. In addition, built into the wall, on both the first and second floor, are fireplaces. You can sit on leather couches by the fire, have a drink (or even dinner) and enjoy the warmth of the fireplace. The fireside wall has a high ceiling, so you are able to see up to the second fireplace, and part of the upstairs bar. Everything is eye candy.

A small, fantastic wall at Rails Steakhouse. The logs you see are loose. 

Seating is everywhere, and always taken. The buzz about Rails is so positive that you cannot get a reservation Thursday - Saturday until the end of March (so make your reservations now!) but the good news is that you can sit at the bar or on one of the many leather seats, and eat your meal. By the way, the bars are great (there are three floors, and each floor has a bar and a dining room). The lower bar has an exposed brick oven, where pizzas are made. There isn't a bad seat in the house.

There are many more places that I'd like to write about, but these are the most luxurious of them all. I have a short list of places that I like to visit, and these are on top. Give them a shot and, when you visit, tell them the Domestic Goddess sent you.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Mexican Egg White(ish) Muffin

I love nothing more than an egg white omelet. Egg whites are like a blank slate for the ingredients that go inside.

After seeing a recipe for egg muffins, shared by my friend and blogger (at The Jersey Momma) Debbie Zelasny, I decided to make some. Not being fond of the flavor of the yolk, I searched for some egg white recipes and found a few. Nearly all of them required at least a few yolks, and since I am not sure why (perhaps it has something to do with the ability to hold the muffin's shape), I decided to use a few in my recipe, as well.

Mostly every recipe allows for any type of vegetable you desire (some people cooked theirs first, others didn't), so I felt confident that I could take my favorite omelet and make it into a muffin.

Mexican Egg White(ish) muffin. 30 minutes from start to finish.

This recipe is as easy as making breakfast, provided that you have a muffin tin and some really good non-stick spray. Mine calls for cheese, three types of veggies, one type of herb, and eggs. I found that putting some of the cheese on the bottom of the muffin spots will create a solid floor for them, and then topping the veggies with the remaining cheese keeps the top from having veggies pop out. Also, be sure to dry out your vegetables, after rinsing them, with a paper towel. You do not want added moisture in your muffins.

Cheese on bottom, veggies, pour egg mixture over, then more cheese on top. Notice how much non-stick spray I put on the muffin tins. They popped out with ease. 

You must spray your tin very well with non-stick spray so that the muffins lift out easily. Do not skimp on spray.

When you fill these up, fill them to the top, and carefully move them to the oven (middle rack). Cooking times varied, but mine took about 25 minutes. When they are ready, they will almost look like popovers.

This is how they look when they are just about ready to come out of the oven. I let mine brown for a few more minutes, to get a nice golden color.

After I made these, I ate one, then put them on a plate, uncovered, in the freezer, for about 35 minutes (prevents sticking to one another). I then put them in a freezer zip lock and stored them in the freezer. When I want to eat one, I can just pop it in the microwave to warm it up.

Mexican Egg White(ish) Muffin
59 calories per muffin

12 eggs (whites only -- I cooked the yolks to give my dogs)
3 whole eggs
3/4 c Sargento Reduced Fat Four Cheese Mexican
1 small heirloom tomato
1 small green pepper
1/2 small white onion
handful of fresh cilantro
2 T 1% low fat organic milk (milk makes the muffins fluffy)

Preheat oven to 350*. Spray muffin tin with non-stick spray. Set aside.

Dice pepper, tomato, and onion. Tear cilantro into small pieces.

Beat the eggs and egg whites together, along with the milk. Divide cheese in half.

Take one half of the cheese and distribute evenly into the 12 muffin spots in your tin. Scoop equal parts of the vegetables and cilantro and put over the cheese (should be about 2/3 full (not packed, but loose)), then pour the egg mixture over the top. Sprinkle remaining cheese across tops of the muffins.

Bake for 20 - 30 minutes, until top is puffed up and golden. Let sit for a few minutes, then hand lift the muffins out of the tin. They are somewhat delicate, so using a utensil may damage them. If you sprayed the tins enough, they should release easily.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

You vs. Food (Be A Winner)

Our society seems to constantly be battling with food. We do detoxes, cleanses, eat meal replacements, take supplements, eat fake foods that pretend to be healthy but are anything but whole. We ban certain foods and force ourselves to choke back others.

I've been thinking about this a lot lately, and last night, upon seeing an Instagram post by my friend, it really struck me that food is a big issue for many. My friend's post showed a plate filled with the following: spinach and tomatoes, cooked in oil and garlic, then tossed with feta; grilled cauliflower; and tofu. A comment below the photo asked "How can you possibly get full on that?"

I know how the commenter felt. I, too, once believed that I couldn't be satisfied without a plate full of something that seemed substantial, like steak or a plate of pasta. While the reality is that cauliflower on it's own will make you feel full, forgetting all the other fibrous (filling) veggies, it's more about what we are accustomed to seeing on our plate and how we register what we think is a full plate.

When we diet and we make food the enemy, it makes sense that eating clean would feel like an uphill battle. Saying no to something that doesn't make your body feel good (but your mind wants) feels like deprivation. But it should feel supportive. If your goal is to have more energy all day long, saying no to a caffeinated beverage seems contraindicated, when in truth, removing the caffeine and eating energy producing foods like oatmeal and bananas will provide energy naturally.

Changing the way you eat to be healthier and help your body perform in a more optimal manner is a good thing to do, but not by making those foods that do nothing more than satisfy the taste buds, bad. Sometimes a processed food full of sugar and artificial dyes is just the thing you desire, and there's nothing wrong with eating that (once in a while).

A friend of mine just embarked on a popular shake supplement to lose weight (because, she said, "it works"). You drink a shake for breakfast and lunch and have a "sensible" dinner. Well, maybe it works because you are calorie deprived, or maybe for other reasons of which I'm not aware, but it's a temporary fix. Eventually, the weight you lose in crash diets comes rolling back on. Diets don't work. For my friend, it's simply to kick start her healthy eating plan, but personally, I couldn't do it.

It's preferable to eat whole foods that nurture our bodies and provide nutrients to keep us strong and healthy. Our bodies are machines, and the better the stuff we put in, the better they will operate.

Tonight, as I made a modified copy of my friend's Instagram post (spinach, tomatoes, feta), I felt blessed to be able to eat such a tasty meal. My appetizer was a single serving of cottage cheese. Not because it will help me lose weight, but because it tastes good.

My favorite pizza slice. A grandma slice topped with spinach, peppers and sun-dried tomatoes from Roma Pizza.

And today's lunch? A slice of pizza topped with vegetables, followed by a small scoop of ice cream. No foods are off limits. I try to avoid processed sugar because, if nothing else, sugar feeds cancer. Still, a little scoop of ice cream on occasion isn't the worst thing.

Monday, February 2, 2015

A Chicken Worth Pickin'?

Tonight's chicken special, mashed cauliflower, and asparagus.

I saw a recipe for Man-Pleasing Chicken last week. I wasn't sure how I felt about the name, but the recipe photos looked darn good. I thought I'd give it a try.

There are only five ingredients, if you don't count the salt and pepper, so you won't even need to hit the grocery store before you cook. I had all the ingredients, but forgot to pick some fresh rosemary from outside. Personally I missed it, as I have a love affair with rosemary, but the dish didn't. It held up just fine on it's own.

You'll need mustard, rice vinegar, pure maple syrup (don't use pancake syrup; it's mostly corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup -- there is zero maple syrup in it), and chicken. The recipe called for skinless chicken thighs, but I don't ever really eat chicken on the bone (unless it's fried, and at a fair), so I used boneless thin sliced chicken breast. I didn't have Dijon, so I used Kosciusko Spicy Brown Mustard, which made it less spicy (though I will be trying it with Dijon, after I go grocery shopping).

Here's everything you'll need to make this chicken.

I prepped it the night before, because I wanted to get to making it but already had other dinner plans. I mixed the sauce together and poured it all over the chicken, then put it into the fridge overnight, for a full 24 hours.

I cooked it for the recommended time, basting midway through, as suggested. It came out looking fabulous. It was well cooked, and still juicy. It tastes almost like barbeque sauce (that's the maple syrup), but also kind of like a hot dog (thanks to the spicy brown mustard). My fiancé and I both really enjoyed it; my 14 year old son was not as impressed. Then again, he's got a cold and was exhausted at dinner time... we will have to try again.

Cooked. A chicken worth pickin'.

I served this with my new favorite side, mashed cauliflower along with some asparagus, which was just perfect.

I've provided the link to the original recipe for you here, but have also typed it out (with my modifications) for you below. Enjoy.

A Chicken Worth Pickin'
Modified from the recipe, Man-Pleasing Chicken on

1 1/2 lb. chicken breast
1/4 c pure maple syrup
1/3 c spicy brown mustard
1 T rice wine vinegar

Preheat oven to 450*F.

The original recipe calls for an 8 x 8 pan, but since I had boneless breasts, 1.5 lbs. worth of bird needed a bigger pan. So go ahead and use the pan that fits your chicken.

Blend the maple syrup, mustard, and rice wine vinegar into a sauce.

Line the pan with aluminum foil. (It makes clean up waaaay easier.) Pour a third of the sauce on the bottom of the pan. Set aside.

Salt and pepper the chicken pieces, then dredge through the sauce and place them in the foil lined pan. Pour remaining sauce all over the top of the chicken, coating well. Cook for the full 40 minutes at 450*, but take your chicken out of the oven after 20 minutes to spoon the sauce back over the top to keep it juicy and flavorful. 40 minutes seems like a lot for thin chicken breasts but since there is so much sauce, the chicken stays tender and doesn't dry out. And then you can rest assured your chicken is cooked.

Friday, January 30, 2015

A Fake-fredo Recipe You'll Love (Thank you, Kate)

When I start something new, I go whole hog. I'm not the type to dip my toe in the water, I jump, then see how the water feels. It would make sense then, that the same holds for my new view of nutrition.

After my last blog post, I received a very cool healthy recipe for an Alfredo sauce from my foodie friend, Kate McArdle. Kate and I both have an intense love of cheese (and, bacon), so when she offered this fake-fredo sauce recipe, I knew it had to be worth trying. 

Kate introduced the recipe to me like this, "I've made this so many times.  Apparently the tiny bit of water (8 cups) you use to boil the pasta makes the water extra starchy and when you mix the cheese into the hot, starchy pasta water, it makes a really creamy sauce without all the butter and cream.  I've used Parmesan cheese more often then not (because I ALWAYS have some) and it tastes like Alfredo sauce without the insane dairy fat overload... It is SO simple - I think you will really like it! I've also thrown steamed broccoli into it - amazing.  Give it a try!" 

If that doesn't sell it, what could?

The recipe that Kate sent me, Spaghetti with Pecorino Romano and Black Pepper (Cacio e Pepe), was one that she found in the cookbook, The Best of America's Test Kitchen 2011. It seemed great as is, but I didn't have the 2T heavy cream that the recipe called for (just not in my fridge, crazy right?) so I replaced it with 1T Philadelphia cream cheese, and 1T Organic Greek yogurt. It works. I bet cottage cheese would be a great replacement, too - it's saltier.  I was running low on Pecorino Romano, so I blended it with the Grated Parmesan I had in the fridge. I also chose to pair my Alfredo sauce with brown rice pasta, but you can use any type of pasta you'd like.

I added spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, and red pepper flakes to mine, after I plated it. I highly recommend trying these additions. The flavors just pop, and it adds a little more nutrition to this already awesome meal.

Here's Kate's recipe with my modifications. I call it Fake-fredo Sauce.  If you make it without the veggie additions, this is what it looks like:

A fabulously, fine Fake-fredo sauce.
My uber-cool son likes the pasta. He's just too chill to show it.

DG's Fake-fredo Sauce
326 calories for the entire sauce recipe 

Modified version of the recipe Spaghetti with Pecorino Romano and Black Pepper from The Best of America’s Test Kitchen 2011
  • 4 oz Pecorino Romano, fresh grated fine, plus extra for serving
  • 1 lb your choice of pasta
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon Philadelphia cream cheese
  • 1 tablespoon organic Greek yogurt (plain)
  • 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive-oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper 

Add the grated cheese to a medium heatproof bowl. Set a colander over a large heatproof bowl. Set both aside.

Bring 8 cups of water to a boil in a large pot. Add the spaghetti and the salt, and cook, stirring frequently, according to package directions until the pasta is al dente. Drain the pasta into the colander (still set over the large bowl – you want to capture and pasta cooking water because you’ll be reserving some). Transfer 1 1/2 cups of the pasta cooking water to a measuring cup (put a bit more aside, in case you need to thin sauce; discard the rest). Put the pasta in the now empty bowl.

A little at a time, whisk 1 cup of the pasta cooking water into the grated cheese. Once it’s completely incorporated, add the cream cheese and yogurt, olive oil and pepper. Whisk until combined (I used a fork) – the sauce should be mostly smooth. If the sauce seems too thick, add more water; too thin, add more grated cheese. 

Pour the cheese sauce over the pasta, a little at a time, tossing to coat. Once you’ve added all of the sauce, let the pasta rest for about 1 minute, tossing it frequently. Serve garnished with extra grated cheese and freshly ground black pepper.

You can also add steamed spinach, broccoli, fresh basil, sun-dried tomatoes. It's all a matter of taste.