Thursday, December 6, 2012

I Pinned It, I Did It: Ruffled Burlap Tree Skirt


Let the Christmas crafting begin!

You've probably seen DIY ruffled tree skirts all over Pinterest. I've been attracted to the burlap ones since -- like everyone else -- I'm obsessed with burlap.  I wanted to replace my current tree skirt anyway (it looks like a santa suit), so I decided to give it a shot.

I used the tutorial from this blog: My Crazy Life

I would post the tutorial on here, but her directions are very detailed and come with photos. I followed them almost exactly.

Here are the only points I'll add:
  • Consider the size of your tree before you start. My tree skirt is actually a little too big for my tree... I still love it, and we'll "grow into it" someday when we have a bigger tree. But if you have one of those tall, skinny trees, you may want to cut a smaller square for your base, or you'll end up with a tree DRESS.
  • Burlap DOES NOT ruffle. It is too stiff of a fabric. If you use burlap, you have to make PLEATS with the fabric strips, which basically means a lot of folding and gluing. See this blog for examples and photos.
  • I used 3-inch strips of fabric with the exception of the top row, which I made bigger (4 1/2 inches) to keep from having two short rows. I thought the strips were perfect, but I do wish the top row matched the rest. All in all, it took 3 1/2 yards of fabric with a few strips leftover.
  • I used a painter's canvas drop cloth for the base of the skirt (like the blogger), but I couldn't find one even close to 4x4, so I bought a 6x9 (I think) and cut it down to a 4x4 square. It worked great as a base fabric, though -- it's sturdy enough, and the neutral color doesn't show through.
  • Cut holes on the sides of the skirt before you start gluing fabric so you don't forget. This way you can tie the two sides together behind your tree.
  • Keep your extra fabric strips. I used two of mine to tie the skirt sides. They make pretty matching burlap bows. :)
  • DON'T bother with Goop. It's messy, smelly and ineffective. Hot glue only. But if you're working with burlap, be careful not to burn yourself! (I did, many times....)
  • This project took me about 8-10 hours when it was all said and done. I split it up over a period of almost 2 weeks. I wouldn't recommend doing it all in one sitting unless you don't mind being sore EVERYWHERE. Seriously, I felt like an old woman doing this. I had to take breaks every 15 minutes or so...

What Christmas crafts are you making this year? Have you made a tree skirt?

<3 Mrs. G

P.S. I'm accepting suggestions and recipes for Christmas baking...

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Thanksgiving Recap

Why does Thanksgiving always catch me off guard? Last year, Mr. G and I had a wedding that week, and this year it came earlier than usual. I'm never prepared. It's probably a good thing I don't have any fall decorations, because Thanksgiving always comes and goes faster than I can throw away my pumpkin and log into Pinterest for craft ideas.

The one thing I've managed to somehow prepare in time for Thanksgiving is the food. Even though I don't typically start thinking about it until the week before and cooking it the night or two before, it's miraculously worked out so far. I even (successfully) cooked my first turkey last year! We spent Thanksgiving with my in-laws this year, so everyone brought one dish. Since I love holiday cooking, I contributed a couple more. :) Here is what I made for this year's feast:
  • 11-lb Turkey (for Mr. G and me)
  • Apple & Goat Cheese Salad
  • My Mom's Sweet Potato Casserole
  • 44 Cupcakes -- 18 Pumpkin, 26 Chai :)


For my turkey directions, check out my Thanksgiving post from last year. I only did a couple things differently this year: I cooked the turkey in an oven bag (it keeps the pan clean and browns the skin), and I used the packet provided by Jenni-O for gravy instead of my mother-in-law's recipe (we didn't keep enough drippings to make the latter, but it was still really good!). And FYI, Jenni-O turkeys have a thermometer that pops out when the turkey is cooked, so it's super easy to tell when it's done. I made this for our "round two" of Thanksgiving at home, just for Mr. G and me. We had it with mashed potatoes and leftover sweet potato casserole (starches much?).

And in case you're wondering, I'm STILL eating turkey leftovers.

Apple & Goat Cheese Salad

This was inspired by the Apple Gorgonzola Salad at Buca di Beppo. I worked there for four years, and that salad was always my favorite. I posted this recipe once before and called it the "summer apple salad." Here's the link. Try it out -- it's a light, sweet salad that pairs well with a raspberry/cranberry/walnut vinaigrette and can be enjoyed as much in the fall or winter as in the summer. :)

Mom's Sweet Potato Casserole

My mom makes the best casseroles. Maybe it was her Southern roots, but holidays at my house were always delicious and abundant. This is one of her sweet potato casserole recipes. I've made this one three years in a row now, but this year was the first time I tried the crunchy topping (usually I just do marshmallows). For the record, the crunchy topping is way better! Here is her recipe:

  • 2 c sweet potatoes (canned is fine)
  • 3/4 c sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 6 tbsp melted butter
  • 1/2 c milk
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • Topping:
    • 3/4 c crushed corn flakes
    • 1/2 c chopped nuts (I chopped up honey glazed peanuts)
    • 1/2 c brown sugar
    • 6 tbsp melted butter
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Bake sweet potatoes according to directions on can. Mash when they are cooked.
  3. Add eggs, melted butter and spices to mashed potatoes.
  4. Slowly add milk until mixture reaches pudding consistency.
  5. Pour mixture into greased 9x9 pan and bake for 20 minutes.
  6. Sprinkle topping on casserole when it comes out of the oven. Return casserole to the oven to bake 10 additional minutes.

Chai Cupakes

I've been wanting to make chai cupcakes for a long time. I have a slight major obsession with chai tea. I drink it every single morning while getting ready for work, and I usually order it whenever I go out for coffee. (For those who share my obsession: my favorite chai makers are Panera, Starbucks and Uncommon Grounds in Minneapolis.) Sadly, these cupcakes turned out to be much more challenging than I expected due to several issues I encountered with this recipe. I got it from Pinterest (naturally), and the blogger who posted it neglected a few details:
  1. I had no idea how many cupcakes the batter was supposed to make (I wanted 12 cupcakes and ended up with 26).
  2. The ingredients were very imbalanced -- the dry/wet ratio was off due to the pot of CHAI TEA I added. Even after adding several additional cups of flour/sugar and test baking three cupcakes, I still ended up with soupy batter and sad little cupcake craters.
  3. The frosting recipe (honey cinnamon swiss meringue) lacked directions entirely. Have you ever made swiss meringue? If so, you know that it requires VERY specific directions. With most frostings, if there are no special directions, you can pretty much throw all the ingredients in the KitchenAid and mix them up. Not so with swiss meringue! I eventually found these directions and was able to make a successful swiss meringue (after throwing out a batch), but Mr. G hated it. :( I liked it, but just in case I was the weird one, I made a double batch of my go-to buttercream -- Magnolia Bakery's vanilla buttercream. (Pro tip: use less butter or more confectioner's sugar if you want buttercream that doesn't melt; I've learned this the hard way. Multiple times.)
Thankfully, even though they looked pitiful, the cupcakes actually tasted amazing. I think they may be my new favorites.... In spite of how angry they made me!

Pumpkin Cupcakes

I made these cupcakes last year around Thanksgiving for the first time. Here's the link to my post with the recipe. This year, I substituted the vanilla buttercream for the cream cheese frosting and sprinkled cinnamon on top. I was going to make a salted caramel frosting, but after two (kinda) failed attempts at the swiss meringue, I just decided to make something that would work for both the chai and pumpkin cupcakes. Whatever, I was tired.

How was your Thanksgiving? Did you try any new recipes, or do you have classics that you always make? Feel free to share your recipes and your cooking/baking stories and screw-ups with me. :)

<3 Mrs. G

P.S. I may not have any Thanksgiving decorations, but Christmas I've got covered. Right now I'm working on a burlap ruffle tree skirt (Pinterest project, of course). I'll post it soon!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Lactose-Free: Week One

As you may already know from my last post, Mr. G and I are abstaining from fast food throughout the entire month of November. I know it's not that long of a time to abstain from anything, but we needed to force quit this habit for a bit to give our bodies a break (and to make sure we could do it). We're 12 days in now and so far, so good: no McDonald's, no pizza, no takeout, not even Chipotle! We've been eating all whole foods, all the time. Ok fine, except Halloween candy. But overall, it's still been a success.

Ironically, I've also suddenly had to give up another (much larger) portion of my diet per doctor's orders -- dairy.

Here's the back story: I get these weird, sharp chest pains sometimes, but they happen so sparingly I never think much of them. However, in the last couple of months (and especially in the past few weeks), they've been happening MUCH more frequently. They used to happen once every few months; now, they happen several times a week and sometimes even twice a day. I finally gave in and decided to make an appointment, but naturally when I call the doctor to report "chest pains," I have to go in immediately. So, in the midst of an extremely busy work day last Friday, I went to the clinic to see pretty much the only doctor left on a Friday afternoon. She did a chest x-ray (normal) and took my blood (I didn't faint this time!), but since my pains are quick, inconsistent and all over the place, she couldn't really pinpoint a cause. I told her that I was always under the impression that these pains were caused by digestive troubles, and since I have a pretty sensitive stomach, I had been wondering if they were somehow related to my diet. She rattled off a laundry list of tests to try and then asked me questions about my lifestyle and diet:

Smoke? No. Drink? Very little. Fruits/veggies? Eat them. Water? Drink it, albeit not enough. Sleep? Yes, but not nearly enough. (who does, amiright?)

Then out of the blue, she made a suggestion: Try going 2 weeks lactose-free. Lactose intolerance is very common, and many people develop it as adults. If my pain is caused by digestive issues, this could potentially be the source. So, going 2 weeks cold turkey is the best way to test that theory.

My first thought was: Nope.

Here's why: I consume a LOT of dairy. If you are what you eat/drink, I would be a cow. Seriously. Cereal every morning, coffee with (homemade!) creamer at work, yogurt with every lunch, cheese at most lunches/dinners... And that's not even the good stuff: chocolate, Nutella, ice cream, baked goods (if you know me, you know I love cupcakes), and did I mention Nutella? Nor is it the little stuff: sour cream, ranch dressing, cheese sticks, pasta sauce, some breads, and the list goes on.

But, I knew she was right. So I sucked it up, bought a bunch of dairy substitutes, ate a (homemade!) pizza and Reese's cake on my last night of lactose, and I dove in last Sunday.

I also did some research of my own to learn what specific ingredients to watch out for and to find some common substitutes for these ingredients. In my research, I learned that lactose intolerance is actually supposed to be the norm among humans and all mammals; we stop producing lactase (the enzyme that breaks down lactose) at age TWO. Yet we have adapted a tolerance to lactose over time that allows most of us to keep processing it. Still, it is estimated that 75% of people worldwide are lactose intolerant, and I'm trying to find out if I'm one of them.

So far, I've been (almost) 100% faithful to my diet, and I'm impressed by some of the dairy alternatives I've tried (vanilla soy milk is amazing), but I don't feel that different. In fact, I've had more chest pains this past week than ever. I'm not sure what that means, but I'll see how this coming week goes. If nothing else, I've been forced to eat super healthy, which can't be a bad thing.

Wish me luck! And please feel free to recommend lactose-free dinner recipes or, more importantly, dessert ideas. I did try lactose-free ice cream, and it was pretty good. But I miss chocolate a LOT.

<3 Mrs. G

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

No McDonald's November (our fast food fast)

Found our Halloween costumes!
Over the past year or so, Mr. G and I have been taking gradual steps to improve our diet. Instead of focusing on weight or appearance, our goal has simply been to eat better so that we are working with our bodies instead of against them. Also, we figured that if we start these habits now, they will carry over when it really counts and our metabolisms take a dive.

We have steadily incorporated more fresh veggies/fruit, whole grains, protein, organics, etc. and decreased our intake of sugar, fat (trans fat especially), high fructose corn syrup (HCFS), refined grains and just processed food in general. This is not an easy process, and it is a steep learning curve, but taking it a step at a time helps. It also helps that I work in a health-conscious office and can solicit advice from my coworkers, who just happen to be nutrition specialists and personal trainers. :)
The good news is: our pantry and fridge are often stocked with fresh produce, lean meat and low-fat dairy, and we cook tasty, balanced meals almost every night.

The bad news is: eventually this food runs out -- usually when we are too busy/tired to shop or when we're trying to hold out until the next paycheck.

Thus, we have one major indulgence that continues to hold us back: fast food. Particularly McDonald's. Mr. G has a love affair with the place, and I have to admit that I really enjoy their angus snack wraps. And those fries! If he suggests it, I rarely have enough self-control to say no. Other culprits include: pizza, Chipotle, Taco Bell, and occasionally, Chinese takeout. Even though I know these things are terrible for me, I eat them because they are cheap and convenient, and it is usually caused by one of the following scenarios: I am too tired/busy to cook, we've been out running errands or at the gym until past 8 PM and are STARVING, we've been eating really well and think that we deserve a "break," or we are traveling to/from somewhere (like the cabin) and need a quick meal. At work, we call these moments "inflection points" because they cause your willpower to deflate so that you give in to bad habits, even when you know better. Mr. G and I typically have these moments a couple times a month, and that's when we end up at the drive-thru window or the takeout counter.

So, in an effort to start limiting our fast food consumption, Mr. G and I have decided to go an entire month without eating any fast food whatsoever. We're calling it No McDonald's November. Why shave hair when you can shave calories? (ha.) While I realize that there are healthier food options at McDonald's and most fast food restaurants, I know that I personally won't choose them, so it is better for me to avoid these places altogether. If you have the self-control to make healthy choices at a fast food joint, more power to you! Also, eating fast food once in a while isn't a crime; once it becomes a habit and a crutch, you have cause for concern. I think even eating it once a month is too much, but only you know your body.

The key to all this is taking it one step at a time. This is the last big step for us, and it's a tough one to overcome. But I am confident we can do it. We even shook hands on it -- after agreeing on a Chipotle compromise. :)

Wish us luck! (or join us!)

<3 Mrs. G

P.S. In case you were wondering, Halloween candy is NOT on the banned foods list! Except it probably should be, since we've already eaten an entire bag and had to buy a new one for the neighborhood kids... Whatever, it comes once a year!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Coping with Wanderlust -- The 10 U.S. Cities I Would Most Want to Live (If I Didn't Live Here)

I've really been getting the itch to travel lately. It's been a long time since Mr. G and I ventured outside the Land of 10,000 Lakes. In fact, we have only left MN a couple of times since moving here last Spring -- twice to visit my family in Nashville, two business trips for Mr. G and one weekend trip for me in LA with his sisters. That's not to say we haven't gone anywhere or done anything; we traveled upstate twice last year, recently took a trip to nearby Stillwater for our anniversary and spent many weekends this summer at our cabin north of the cities. Nevertheless, I'm starting to feel a little claustrophobic here in the southern suburbs of Minneapolis, and even though I love this state, I'm ready for a change... No doubt the fall weather is contributing to this as well. :)

For example, a LOT of my friends have traveled to Seattle this year for whatever reason. It's a little strange, really; I mean, why now all of a sudden? Is there a Groupon that I missed or something? Seattle is one of the places I want to visit most in the U.S. I don't know why, but I'm drawn to places that are known for being rainy, cold and kinda dreary (case in point: London is my top pick for international travel). So, I've been living vicariously through my friends' Facebook updates and Instagram feeds showing pics of "the original #Starbucks!!" and so on. It doesn't help that I habitually listen to Owl City on repeat every fall (not sure why; it's just a thing for me), which means "Hello Seattle" has been stuck in my head for weeks. Salt on the wound, Owl!

So, in my usual fashion, I've dealt with my restlessness and wanderlust by compiling a list. :) It's pointless for me to list of all the places I want to travel because the answer would be EVERYWHERE, so instead I came up with the 10 U.S. cities I would most want to live if I didn't live here (...even though I haven't been to some of these places). Disclaimer: this is just for fun; I have no plans to move, nor do I want to. So don't ask. ;) Here is my list, which is (sort-of) in order:

  1. Boston, Massachussetts (been here)
  2. Seattle, Washington
  3. Chicago, Illinois (been here -- briefly)
  4. San Francisco, California
  5. Denver, Colorado
  6. Washington, D.C.
  7. Manhattan, New York (been here)
  8. Nashville, Tennessee (from here!)
  9. Asheville, North Carolina (been here)
  10. Atlanta, Georgia (been here)
Mr. G and I are hoping to take a big trip next year (remember what I said about London?... :) ), so we are saving our vacation $ and time off for that. In the meantime, we'll be taking a daytrip to Red Wing, MN, in a couple weeks with his family (they take a fall trip each year; last year we went to Duluth), and we'll head down to Nashville again over Christmas. Hopefully that will be enough to tie me over until next year!

In which city or cities would you most want to live? Do you have any upcoming travel or relocation plans? Have YOU been to Seattle this year, too??

<3 Mrs. G

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Raspberry-Rhubarb Cupcakes

If you know me, you know I'm always looking for an occasion to bake cupcakes. I try to avoid baking them randomly, since they will just end up in my stomach. My mother-in-law's birthday was last week, and she loves rhubarb. As it so happens, I had recently bought some rhubarb at the Minneapolis Farmers Market in July and froze it, and since Mr. G is not a rhubarb fan, I figured this would be the perfect time to use it.

As you may remember from a previous post, I made a raspberry rhubarb crisp last summer and loved it, so I decided to try raspberry-rhubarb cupcakes and use the same topping from the crisp for my frosting. It's called Devonshire cream, and it's basically a sweeter, thicker whipped cream. My mother-in-law is actually the one who introduced me to it and gave me the recipe, so it seemed fitting.

I was worried the cupcakes would be too tart, but they came out amazing; I think it was because I created a compote with the fruit before adding it to the mix, which seemed to get rid of the tanginess. Also, my Devonshire cream ended up as more of a glaze, but it still tasted great, so I was happy.

Here's the recipe:

Raspberry-Rhubarb Cupcake Recipe (adapted from Betty Crocker's strawberry-rhubarb cupcake recipe; makes 12 cupcakes)

Compote Ingredients:
  • 1 cup sliced fresh raspberries
  • 1 cup chopped fresh/frozen rhubarb
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp butter/margarine
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup butter/margarine, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  1. Make fruit compote: Add compote ingredients to a 1-quart saucepan over medium heat. Stir frequently until mixture comes to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes, then remove from heat. Transfer to a small bowl, cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.
  2. Pre-heat oven to 350 and line muffin pan with 12 cupcake liners.
  3. In a small bowl, mix flour, baking powder and salt; set aside.
  4. Take out 2 tbsp of compote for frosting (I took it out to keep proportions correct but didn't use it in my frosting).
  5. In another small bowl, stir remaining compote, milk and vanilla.
  6. In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy (2-3 minutes). Add egg and beat until blended.
  7. Add half of flour mixture and half of fruit mixture, beating well after each addition. Repeat with the remaining mixtures. Batter should be thick.
  8. Divide batter evenly among muffin cups and bake for 20-25 minutes depending on the strength of your oven (mine is extra hot and finished in about 17 minutes). If you insert a toothpick in the cupcake, it should come out mostly clean.
  9. Remove cupcakes and let them cool before frosting.

Devonshire Cream "Glaze" Recipe

  • 8 oz. softened cream cheese
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 cup whipped cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  1. Whip cream and set aside.
  2. Cream sugar and cream cheese with mixer.
  3. Add whipped cream and vanilla; mix well.
  4. Refrigerate.

Up next is Mr. G's birthday on the 22nd, and I'm already brainstorming ideas for his dessert... His birthday is actually on a Saturday this year, so we'll be going to a football game with a bunch of friends; it should be a really fun day, and the lucky boy gets his fancy new grill soon! :) After that is my mom's birthday, and I wished she lived closer so that I could bake something for her.

As for other September events, Mr. G and I celebrated our 2nd anniversary on the 4th. It was the Tuesday after Labor Day (lame), so we stayed at home and recreated our wedding meal (quite successfully, I'll say), drank some wine, baked cookies and watched a movie. It was perfect. Then we celebrated in style the following weekend with a trip to Stillwater: we toured a vineyard (see pic above!), stayed at a charming B&B, ate a delicious dinner at a wine bar (best tenderloin I've ever had) and did some window shopping. All in all, we had an amazing anniversary week. Each year, the bar gets raised... These past 2 years will be hard to beat!

Not gonna lie: I LOVE September, but my wallet and my waistline are looking forward to October. ;)

<3 Mrs. G

Monday, July 30, 2012

I need to believe that people are good

There is never a time that showcases raw humanity more than the aftermath of a tragedy.

For better or worse, the recent Aurora theater shooting has reminded us of this. While it's easy to point fingers at the shooter, James Holmes, as a figure symbolizing the depravity of the human race, I think it's better to look to the outpouring of support for the victims of the shooting and the incredible stories of sacrifice, heroism and compassion that have come out of this horrific event. Whether it's an airline offering free flights to family members of victims to attend their funerals or brave men who took bullets for their girlfriends or an actor visiting his fans in the hospital or the encouraging words of a faithful woman who narrowly escaped death -- this is what we should be focusing on. The kind and courageous acts of many, not the wicked act of one and certainly not politics or semantics.

On an entirely different note, happening right now is one of the greatest displays of human achievement in the world: the Olympics. If there is any event that can always bring back hope and unity, it's the Olympics. Nothing inspires me more than seeing the cameraderie, the passion and the spirit of the Olympic athletes -- from the U.S. and around the world. It's a beautiful thing, and it restores my faith in humanity. I believe that we need these reminders -- wherever and whenever they come -- and we need to keep faith, now more than ever.

And I need to believe that people are good; not that they are inherently good, but that there is goodness in them. Call me naive, call me immature, call me whatever, but know this is coming from an optimistic skeptic (or a skeptical optimist?). I know that as humans, we can be pretty terrible. I've witnessed it, I've heard about it, I've been unable to ignore it. But I've also seen that we can be pretty great. This is the lens with which I choose to view humanity -- not rose-colored but a slight rosy tint.

People will always continue doing both evil and wonderful things. We can't pretend that the evil things don't happen, but we can choose how they affect us. I choose to be an optimist. I choose to see the good in people whenever possible. I choose to judge little and love a lot. I choose to try and be humble and forgiving in hopes that others will return the favor when I don't deserve it. I choose hope.

What do you choose?

<3 Mrs. G

Sunday, July 29, 2012

i thank you God for most this amazing day

Recently, I have been feeling very blessed. We were up at our cabin over the week of July 4th with friends and family, and it was the most amazing feeling to have so many people we cared about in one place -- at our place, no less. But it was also a weird feeling, because this lifestyle is still so foreign to me. I didn't grow up going to cabins or even lakes very often. This "cabin life" that is so essential to the culture here in Minnesota doesn't exist in the South. The only people I knew with cabins lived in the mountains, and even lakehomes weren't very common. But I guess having 10,000 lakes is also a bit of an advantage for this state...

As a kid, I never went boating, never tried any water sports, never even went fishing, and I only swam in a lake a handful of times. Here, everyone has grown up with lakes and boats and water sports. It's part of the childhood experience in MN, and that's just in the summer (don't even get me started on winter activities here). I feel like I'm behind and constantly trying to catch up, but almost past the age of being able to, if that makes sense. For instance, I still haven't tried waterskiing and have only been tubing once (last summer). And here's an embarrassing confession: I get scared just sitting in the boat sometimes. When the boat takes a sharp turn, my heart starts beating really fast and I feel like I have to adjust my body to overcompensate for the turn, whereas everyone else just sits calmly. I'm practically in the middle of the boat, praying it won't tip over... After a few days, I got more used to it and have started employing the same technique I use while Mr. G is driving -- I just keep my head down and, if necessary, shut my eyes. If I don't see the boat tipping, it's not tipping. Very rational, I know, but if it keeps me from looking like a panicked fool or crying, I'll take it.

Anyway, when the boat isn't about to capsize, it actually feels wonderful, and I'm starting to get why people enjoy them so much... On a hot day, nothing beats taking the boat out to a random spot on the lake, jumping into the cold water, and then letting the wind dry you off on the ride back. I'm learning to love it.

On our first night with the boat, Mr. G took me out on it -- just the two of us -- while the sun was setting over the lake. We drove around the perimeter of the lake, seeing everything for the first time, and then stopped for a while so Mr. G could fish. In that peaceful moment while we were still, I felt overwhelmingly blessed, relaxing in a boat on a beautiful sunset lake with a cozy cabin (our cozy cabin) waiting for us. And that was when a line from a poem by e.e. cummings (one of my favorite poets) came to mind: i thank you God for most this amazing day. That was exactly how I felt then -- in awe of the moment and yet wanting to give thanks for it. Here's the full poem:

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday;this is the birth
day of life and love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any--lifted from the no
of all nothing--human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

From that day on, there were several times throughout the week of the 4th (mostly on the boat -- sometimes out of happiness, sometimes out of fear) that that line popped into my head. It became a short prayer of thankfulness, a small way to acknowledge little blessings and those "life is good" moments. I decided to keep it going in hopes that I'll become more present and aware of all the ways in which I am blessed. So now, whenever I have one of those moments where everything seems to be right with the world -- even if just for a few minutes -- I repeat that line in my head: i thank you God for most this amazing day. It makes those moments just that much sweeter.

As for adjusting to cabin life, I'm beginning to accept that this is my new normal, and I'm excited about this new phase of my life. I still get overwhelmed about all the work that goes into cabin ownership (ie: mowing the lawn, cleaning cobwebs, cutting down trees, killing lots of mice), but my learning curve was steep. I'm starting to get it, and I'm starting to consider myself part of the cabin culture. I'm even more excited that our loved ones can enjoy it with us, and that someday, our kids will grow up coming here in the summer. This will be their normal. That blows my mind. God is good, and life is sweet.

Here's to many more amazing days and little blessings.

<3 Mrs. G

Monday, June 25, 2012

Living Intentionally - A Blueprint for Self-Improvement

Ok, so I know it's been 6 months since my last post. I hate to use the whole "life is busy" excuse... But really. Life has been INSANE.

Here is a quick recap of what I've been up to:
  • I trained for and ran my first half marathon. :) I've been posting on my company blog since January about my training, so feel free to go on over there and check it out.
  • WE BOUGHT A CABIN. With Mr. G's sister and brother-in-law. In Northern Minnesota. On a lake! A dream I didn't even know I had has been realized.
And here are a couple photos to catch you up:

Now that I have accomplished two large bucket list items (one completely unexpected, one seemingly impossible) in the course of 6 months, I'm left with a bit of a void to fill. Not that I'm not incredibly happy and grateful, because I am, but I crave forward motion. I prefer having a goal to pursue at all times, and being between goals leaves me feeling directionless. However, it's these times that can be the most rewarding because I'm constantly seeking, absorbing, and reflecting.

I've been gathering a lot of inspiration lately from several sources (work, church, training, Pinterest, this blogger), and everything is pointing me to the realization that I have a desire to live more intentionally. By this, I mean that I want to live a fulfilling, inspiring and faith-driven life by attempting to become the best possible version of myself. My hope is to bring a larger purpose and theme to my life by accomplishing a lot of really small things - or just doing them better. The thing is, I fully expect not to succeed at this, but that's not the point. The point is to try. The point is to set a higher standard for myself and do my best to uphold it. Here are some quotes supporting my point:

"The miracle isn't that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start."
-- John Bingham

"Glory lies in the attempt to reach one's goal and not in reaching it."
-- Mahatma Gandhi

"You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream."
-- C.S. Lewis

"To possess high ideas and to attain somewhat unto them."
-- Alpha Gamma Delta Purpose

I decided to come up with a list of things to strive toward on a regular basis in order to make me happier, healthier, less selfish, more compassionate, more productive, and an overall better person. Here goes...

Steps To A Better Me

Every Year:
  • Travel somewhere new - near or far
  • Volunteer at least once
  • Donate 3 times per year to causes/charities outside of tithing
  • Finish a book every 3 months
Every Month:
  • Have 1 "media-free night" - no phone, TV, internet, etc.
  • Try 1 new cooking recipe
  • Try 1 new cupcake/baking recipe
  • Have 1 or 2 date nights with Mr. G
  • Do 1 random act of kindness for someone
  • Drink no more than 2 sodas
  • Explore somewhere local
  • Work remote from a coffee shop one Friday
  • BLOG
  • Attempt 1 new DIY project every other month
  • Buy something (can be small!) once every other month that makes me feel pretty or confident
Every Week:
  • Exercise 3 days/week
  • Do 1 selfless act for Mr. G
  • Say a long prayer for everyone I love
  • Bible study with Mr. G 
Every Day:
  • Get 6+ hours of sleep
  • Practive positivity
  • Pray
  • Read my Bible - except on Saturdays :)
Whenever Possible:
  • Join a women's lifegroup at church
  • Write and submit a piece for publication
  • Run a 5K in less than 30 minutes.
  • Run a half marathon in 2:15
  • Run a full marathon
  • Clean out closet and donate clothes
  • Drink more water
  • Drink more wine :)
  • Go on a global missions trip with my church
  • Put a sincere effort into initating and maintaining friendships
  • Sign up for baking and/or cake decorating classes
  • Sign up for graphic design classes (through work possibly?)
  • COMPLAIN LESS and be thankful more
What do you think of my list? What would you put on yours?

<3 Mrs. G

    Tuesday, February 21, 2012

    Kale Chips + Surgery Update

    So I've been wanting to try kale for some time, but I could never figure out what to do with it. I knew it was lettuce's more nutritional but slightly less appetizing cousin; it has a reputation of being bitter and chewy. I've heard of it being used in salad, but that didn't really excite me. And then, thanks to Pinterest, I discovered kale chips!

    I actually pinned a couple different recipes on my {food love} board, but the one I went with is from the Lululemon blog. Lululemon is a Canadian company that sells super cute workout clothes (I got one of their energy bras for my birthday and I'm so excited to wear it!). Their blog is also pretty cool, and this particular post contained some helpful tips on how to prepare kale and bring out more of its flavor.

    Here is the link to the recipe. The only thing I did differently was add some sesame seeds (an ingredient in the other recipe I looked at). Other than that, just beware of oversalting! Here are some pics of my finished kale chips:

    In other news, Mr. G is in surgery right now for his back and hopefully will be finished soon. He is having a spinal decompression for a herniated disc in his lower back. It's a minimally invasive surgery with moderately low risk, so we're hoping to go home today - pain free. :) Keep us in your thoughts and prayers, please. Especially Mr. G - he has handled all of this very well, but he is so active that I know it's been hard on him to feel so immobile. He can't wait to start running with me, and I can't wait to have him back!

    <3 Mrs. G

    Sunday, February 12, 2012

    Life Update

    Hello everyone,

    Sorry for the gap between posts; we've had a LOT going on in life as of late, which is part of what I'll be discussing in this post.

    Picked up my bib on Saturday :)

    To start with me, I've been continuing my training runs and officially signed up for both the half marathon and a St. Patrick's Day 7K, so there's no turning back now! I'm still determined, but unfortunately my legs aren't keeping up quite as well... I have shin splints that refuse to go away, and they are beginning to hinder my progress. It's very frustrating, especially since I've been following all the right steps. You can read more about my training here.

    In other news, Mr. G's back pain progressed to the point that he finally went in to find out what's wrong. Turns out he has a herniated disc in his back that is quite large and will take a really long time to heal unless he gets it surgically removed. After prayer and careful thought, Mr. G decided to go through with surgery instead of waiting up to a year for a full recovery, and I fully support his decision. His surgery is on next Tuesday, the 21st. He should be in and out within the same day and starting to feel better immediately, which is wonderful. Still, he'll be facing several weeks of recovery (during which I will be doing pretty much everything), so all prayers are much appreciated.

    In the meantime, we have a nice Valentines Day dinner planned for Tuesday and fun birthday plans for me next weekend. :) I promise I'll post my kale recipe soon - as well as my Super Bowl creations!

    What are your V-Day plans?

    <3 Mrs. G

    Sunday, January 29, 2012

    Fresh Mozzarella Pizza

    Here's another Pinterest recipe I made this week: fresh mozzarella pizza. It was supposed to be a tomato & basil pizza, but I forgot the tomatoes and I used spinach leaves instead of basil leaves (although I sprinkled dried basil on top). This pizza was AMAZING, even without the tomatoes on it, and it isn't that unhealthy. It would be even healthier if I had made the pizza dough myself using whole wheat flour (a project for when I have my stand mixer) and the pizza sauce from fresh tomatoes.

    Here's the recipe on Pinterest. This served as more of an inspiration for my pizza rather than an exact guide, especially since the guy is clearly a pro and several notches above my skill level. I have always wanted to make a homemade pizza, so I looked to him for ingredients and spices to include. Next time I'll go all out and make everything from scratch. :)

    Here are the ingredients I used:

    Pizza dough, pizza sauce, fresh mozzarella, spinach, onions, basil, minced garlic, parmesan cheese

    As for directions, I just followed the instructions on the pizza dough. Basically, you roll out the pizza dough and stick in the oven by itself for 5 minutes. While the dough is setting, cut the fresh mozzarella (and tomato) into slices. If you want to add onion, dice that as well. Take the dough out of the oven and spread 1/2 cup pizza sauce on it. Then add the mozzarella, tomato and spinach, and sprinkle your spices and parmesan cheese on top. Stick the pizza in the oven for 6-10 minutes or until the crust is golden brown (mine took about 8 minutes). That's it; you're done! So easy, and so delicious.

    My next recipe is a healthy one - baked kale chips!

    <3 Mrs. G

    P.S. I made the pizza again with tomatoes, and it was even better!

    Monday, January 16, 2012

    Ham & Egg Cups + the World's Best Wheat Cookies?

    Hi everyone,

    This is the first of several recipes I'm trying this week and next courtesy of Pinterest. The other two I'm trying are kale chips and tomato basil pizza.

    Today's recipe, however, is ham & egg cups. Or at least that's what I call them; I don't think they actually have a name... Here's the link to the recipe. It's super easy to make, it only takes about 10 minutes, and it's a delicious source of protein and veggies! I used chopped green onions and shredded cheese on top of mine. Here's how they turned out:

    Another recipe I made last night is an oldie but goodie with a little modification. Remember my world's best sugar cookies? Well I attempted to make the the world's best wheat sugar cookies using mostly whole wheat flour in place of bleached (part of our effort to eat only whole grains). That combined with my vanilla buttercream frosting made the cookies taste like sugary, buttered wheat bread. They're not bad, but they're no world's best. Whole wheat flour is dense and dry. I've heard that mixing it with bleached flour and/or adding more liquid ingredients can help, but I'm not convinced I'll try it again. If you have any tips or success stories, please share!

    In other news, my shin splints are still not healed, so my half marathon training is on hold a little bit longer... Nevertheless, here are my most recent marathon-related posts. Another one will be up on Friday! Hopefully I'll be running again by then.

    <3 Mrs. G

    Sunday, January 8, 2012

    Spinach Dip Recipe & KitchenAid Mixer Debate

    Hello everyone,

    I figured it was time for me to share my spinach dip recipe since I make it basically every week - especially around the holidays. It's also been a favorite of mine, Mr. G's, and pretty much all of our friends for the past few months. It's really simple to make, and it tastes SO GOOD. I originally got the recipe from my Betty Crocker Cookbook app, but I tweaked it a little and my version is actually healthier. Here it is:

    Creamy Spinach Dip

    • 1 box (9 oz.) frozen chopped spinach (preferably Green Giant)
    • 1 8 oz. container sour cream (I use fat-free and actually prefer the taste)
    • 1 cup mayonnaise (again, I use light)
    • 1/2 tsp celery salt
    • 1/2 tsp dried dill weed
    • 1/4 tsp onion salt
    • 1/4 cup chopped green onions
    • 1/4 cup chopped yellow onions
    To make it, first cook the spinach according to the package directions (I usually boil on the stove). Then mix all of the ingredients together in a bowl, cover it and let it sit in the fridge for about an hour. That's it! You're done.

    Now I need some advice...

    I want to buy a KitchenAid stand mixer for my birthday in February, but I'm torn between getting a tilt-head or a bowl-lift. Both of the ones I'm looking at are similar in price, so basically I'm choosing between power and convenience... Here are the two I'm down to (I would get either in silver):

    Tilt-head: KitchenAid Artisan series (5-quart glass bowl, 325 watts)

    Bowl-lift: KitchenAid Professional series (5.5-quart bowl, 575 watts)

    Stand mixer owners/aficionados - let me know your thoughts. I'm leaning toward the Artisan, but I'm not 100% sold.


    <3 Mrs. G

    Changed my Mind. My 2012 Resolution.

    As I said in my previous post, I'm not really the resolution type. This week, however, I decided to change that. Right after I posted my bucket list, I reached a new threshold in my workout - by switching around my routine and doing cardio before strength training, I was able to run 10 minutes non-stop. I know that's nothing crazy, but for someone who never runs, it was a big moment for me. The next day, a coworker sent out an email trying to get a team of us together to run the Minneapolis half marathon in June in honor of another coworker's 4-year old son recently diagnosed with leukemia. I believe things happen for a reason, and I figured if this opportunity was going to present itself so conveniently, then I should do it. So now my resolution for 2012 is to run a half marathon and knock that off my bucket list. :)

    Sometimes I need a purpose that's bigger than myself in order to push myself to do something. When I can do something that will not only be a major personal accomplishment (not to mention get me in good shape) but will also contribute toward a great cause, that will keep me motivated. And this time around, I'm definitely driven. I've run harder, longer and further this week than ever before in my life. Today alone I ran the distance of a 5k, which gives me hope that I may actually stand a chance at this! I bought new running shoes today as well, which definitely helps. I went to the Running Room in Apple Valley, where they analyze your feet to determine what kind of shoe you need. I ended up getting the Brooks Glycerin 9 in grey/aqua, and after testing them out today, I'm super happy with them. It's like night and day with my old shoes I bought from TJ Maxx 4ish years ago...

    If you're at all interested in following my progress (I guarantee honesty, entertainment and hopefully inspiration), I'll be blogging about it on my company blog. I'll be posting my first training-related post on Monday and then probably every Friday after that. If you're on Pinterest, you can also check out my running board for ideas, motivation, and cool products I come across.

    Has anyone else committed to running a half/full marathon this year? If not, what are your resolutions?

    <3 Mrs. G

    Monday, January 2, 2012

    Bucket List for 2012 & Beyond (Mostly Beyond)

    Hello everyone,

    Hope you all had a lovely New Years! We didn't do much - just hung out with a couple friends and sipped champagne. But it was nice. :) We did have Christmas with Mr. G's family earlier in the day on NYE and had a great time. Nashville was wonderful, too. We have a guest bed now as well as some other awesome things. For example: between both of our families, we've doubled our everyday dishes and china this Christmas! Funny what you get excited about after you're married...

    I don't really have any resolutions this year, but I thought I would go ahead and post my (ever-growing) bucket list in honor of the new year, even though these are not specific to 2012. I'll probably think of a hundred more things after I post this, but here is what I have so far:

    • Visit every continent (except Antarctica)
    • See the Northern lights
    • Go on a missions trip (perhaps later this year?...)
    • Have children
    • Adopt a child
    • Buy a house
    • Buy a car
    • Start a business
    • Write a book
    • Go scuba diving
    • Take a cake decorating class
    • Make homemade lobster bisque (boil the lobster and all)
    • Buy something designer full-price
    • Invent a recipe
    • Learn how to sew (well, re-learn)
    • Have a garden
    • Own a boat
    • Stay at a bed and breakfast
    • Become trilingual
    • Go to the Olympics (as a viewer, not an athlete...)
    • Run a marathon
    • Participate in a flash mob
    • Be able to fit in my wedding dress forever :)

    I know I say this every year, but 2011 really will be tough to beat... New home, new job, first full year of marriage... It was a good year to us. :) May this year bring you joy, peace and many blessings. Cheers to 2012!

    I took Mr. G to a Minnesota Wild game as a Christmas gift :)

    "Be always at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let each new year find you a better man."
    -- Benjamin Franklin

    <3 Mrs. G


    Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...