This year as my friends were posting their resolutions, I realized this would be the first year I didn’t. I have things I have been working on that I plan to continue and projects I plan to complete. Every day is a new one, so why limit my efforts to the beginning of the year when each day is a chance to turn over a new leaf? As soon as I hear someone break a resolution they’ll say, “Oh well, maybe next year.” Why? Why not try again tomorrow? Why does our demarcation of years speak to our willingness to try to change? Making a big resolution without an appreciation for the steps to get there is a sure way to set yourself up for failure. So, instead of promising myself I’ll lose 20 lbs by May or clean out 35% of my cabinets, I’m just resolving to do better.
My best unsolicited advice is to step into those goals for self improvement. Keep your big rocks, but instead of giving yourself a stiff neck staring way up at the mountain and worrying about how far you have yet to go, mark your waypoints and fix your eyes on those. Getting healthy is rather vague, so how about what it takes to get there? Make those your waypoints and see how far you get once you have a fixed plan.
If the past two years have taught me anything, it is to not put so much emphasis on sticking to a plan. You never, ever know what’s coming and being inflexible is a sure way to stress yourself. There are multiple trails you can take to reach your destination. Don’t stress if you have to take an offshoot to get there.
So what am I working on? Since April of last year, I have been doing my best to work out 5-6 days each week, and that guidepost has been working pretty well. My FitBit helps me to stay on track with little reminders and it’s nice to plot my progress while I stare down a bigger goal. I actually won a fitness challenge last Spring and used the prize money to treat myself to a new fitness watch. It was nice to mark that progress and enjoy a reward.
This one was not a resolution last year but should have been: Separate work at home from being at home. I am finally, finally getting a handle on the house while learning to shut the door to my home office when I’m done for the day. My work cell gets turned off and I have peace after 5PM. Becoming a 100% remote worker was a big adjustment, but a great one. Setting boundaries was critical to keeping it together. It’s too easy to slip back into my office to check emails or make a note for the next day. By closing the curtains and shutting the door, I’m mentally shutting out my work so I can truly be home. When I worked at my office in town, I’d have a 45 minute commute to downshift before I got home and there was that distinct separation between office and home. I had to find new ways to mark that work-home life separation and also shift into “home mode” when my work day is done. For now, that looks like shutting that office door, slipping out to the barn to feed horses and walking with the dog to grab mail or go see what my husband is up to in his shop. Cooper and I always stop to check out the sunset, and that helps me ground myself with perspective.
He doesn’t help, but he offers morale support.
I have Monday off for New Years Day observed, so I’ll be writing in my notebook and listing things I’d like to do this year. I’m not calling them resolutions, as they’re more of tasks than anything. I’m keeping my big rocks marked by waypoints and I believe I’ll be successful by taking steps rather than leaps. I hope you reach your goals in the best way for you, as well.
When I built my first home, I was in my mid-twenties and happily single. If I had a party or hosted company, I would shove my errant laundry back in the dryer and sweep counter clutter into a deep drawer. I worked pretty much seven days a week as a foreclosure and investment realtor and didn’t really have to deal with an actual dirty house like we do now with our dust hound of a dog. Now that I’m working from home one career and happy marriage later, cleaning and keeping house has taken on a whole other meaning. Cue the dramatic interlude…
Marrying a farmer is great! My talented husband can fix anything, build anything I dream and wrangle my horses, but…BUT…the dirt that gets tracked in reached a fever pitch this year. Now that I’m home 24/7, I see the house ergo the dust in every type of sunlight. Plus, when did that menagerie of junk by the kitchen door get so tall, and why are there three random tubes of horse meds by the door? For eight years I was literally never inside during midday and I never knew the level of dust that had beset upon us, nor the hard water stains in my shower that the skylights reveal at exactly 11:30 AM.
Once I became aware of the situation, I didn’t know what to do and how to tackle our enormous house that had become a bit of a disaster while I recovered from ankle surgery for the better part of 2020. I decided a live-in maid would save us since I just could not catch up. I’ll save that story for another post, but short story, no one locally will show up to work and it’s just plain hard to get an international or out of state housekeeper. The search continues, but for now I am finally surfacing thanks to YouTube. Yes, YouTube, home to any kind of fix it or fix your life videos, good old YouTube saved my home and really helped my marriage, too.
Below are the best five tips I gleaned and adapted from watching housekeeping videos while I use my elliptical. Next week, I am going in depth with what I did to get back on top of the house before it could run me off to live in a tiny apartment.
Clutter is like inventory to manage. Hear that, boutique owner friends?! Is it dead inventory or does it have useful life? If it’s dead, sell it or move it out!
When you leave a room, never walk off with empty hands. Bring something out of place and go put it back where it belongs. I’m looking at you, laundry pile!!
Take five minutes to focus on one thing, be it a junk drawer or a heap of clothes on the floor of your closet. By working in little units of time, you will make some headway, I swear. It’ll also get you in the habit of “making it happen.” I bought a bunch of the little organizers below and loved the quality and price. Stock up and start a closet revolution!
Check your cleaning from eye level. What does that mean? When you wipe a surface, get low, squat or whatever so you are looking eye level to the countertop. See those little crumbs you left behind?? Yep, it happens. Clean that counter and get low and look again.
Make throw away rules. You can start by basing them on replacement cost. Would it cost you $10-20 to replace, IF you ever use it again? How long before you’d really need to replace it? What’s the usage frequency? If clothing, is it even comfortable or does it fit funny and require you to stand a certain way? What about quality? Do you have something better or need better quality? Is it seasonal? Will it be out of style next year? Was it a thoughtful or meaningful purchase or did you throw it in the basket at the dollar spot in Target? You know what to do!!
I’m keeping it short this week because I have some way more detailed projects to share. Let me know if these help you, and drop your best tips below.
Our Fall this year was a week of mid-80s and nights in the high 60s. Come Halloween we plunged right into Winter and it seems to be here to stay. That means seasonal house cleaning and comfort food. While our search for the “unicorn” live-in housekeeper continues, my attention turned to flipping my closet to Fall sweaters and shifting our menu from lighter fare to heavy stews and good casseroles to warm our spirits.
If I was, actually, a house wife then I’d have time to make homemade roux like I did before I caved to conventional wisdom and started buying jars of Savoie’s roux. It’s good and dark already and doesn’t require that maternal attention that a homemade roux needs. Today the menu includes shrimp stew for Sunday dinner with my mother-in-law. We have been working on her memoirs and organizing her family photos, so today needs to be a good hot meal that won’t require too much babysitting. By that I mean it’s like babysitting teenagers who you have to look in on and maybe threaten once an hour to be sure they aren’t burning down the house. My stew cooked down for six hours but that’s because I was heavy handed with the roux and wanted a super thick consistency. You can hurry this up and be eating in a couple of hours if you cook it on higher heat and keep a closer eye on the pot.
Shrimp Stew (the easier way)
Jar of Savoie’s Roux
2 lbs of shrimp
Several uncooked eggs
Holy trinity: garlic, bell pepper and onion OR a frozen seasoning blend with onions, peppers, etc. Don’t tell anyone if you go this route. It’s a little too short-cuttish.
Old Bay Seasoning
Tony Chachere’s Seasoning
Crab boil liquid or powder
Friends or family
I am using about a third of a jar spooned into a hot pot. Let the roux start to warm and when you see it melting at the edges, start stirring it. If it’s cold and a little dry like mine is today, you can add a few tablespoons of vegetable oil.
Once the roux gets to be a smooth consistency, you can go ahead and add your cold water.
I filled my pot about 3/8 full since this will be a thicker “gravy” than gumbo. Turn up the heat to a low rolling boil and go clean around the kitchen while the roux disperses. Keep any eye on that pot, though. Boiled over pots are awful to clean off of a stove.
Once your pot starts to foam and boil, you’ll want to reduce the heat a little so you don’t have one of those epic boil overs that seem to plague my scattered brained self.
Some like to add their onions and bell peppers with the roux, but I don’t like looking at the curdled mess. I am waiting until this point to add my seasoning vegetables. Apparently we are out, so I rummaged through the freezer and found this shameful little short cut. Never tell anyone if you do this. Some brands call this “Mirepoix” and my husband and I cannot figure out if it’s supposed to be some adulterated version of Native American and Cajun French. Regardless, I grabbed a bag and tossed it in our basket last month and I’m glad to have it today. Some brands also call this a seasoning blend, as pictured on another fateful day of short cuts.
Your seasoning vegetables will reduce and add liquid to the pot, so you may wish to add another couple of spoons full of roux. I like my stew pretty thick, so I am keeping an eye on consistency as it cools down, and I’m also watching to see if it turned into a more blonde roux. My Cajun Mimi would not approve of a blonde roux, so to spare her eternal shame, I sneak in some browning liquid. This is the cheat of all cheats. It’s not a test or marriage, so I’m saying it’s ok. Just don’t publicize this if you claim to be legit Cajun.
I’m starting to judge the darkness of my roux at this point, so I decided to shake in some of the instant roux to thicken and a tablespoon of browning liquid. I gauge my roux color like I do my coffee. There’s just a certain shade of brown that my heart says is just right. Now is also a good time to give it a good stir and add some seasoning. I threw in five bay leaves and a dozen shakes of Old Bay Seasoning. This gives it a real gumbo flavor and enhances the seafood taste so well. Add your garlic or Tony’s to suit now and you can always add more right before you add your shrimp.
Now is the time to get a project or two done while your pot simmers for a couple of hours and you interfere just twice. I am reducing the heat to low and covering the pot. You still want to keep an eye on it once I’m awhile to be sure you aren’t getting too much of a boil going. This depends totally on your stove. I finally got used to cooking with gas and I tend to burn everything when I use the electric stove upstairs.
After a half-hour, I uncovered my pot and gave it a good stirring. I also added the crab boil at this juncture. See how the jar says it has 1700 servings? That means don’t add a lot! One teaspoon is all. If you heap this on indiscriminately, you’ll be hurting the next day. Don’t taste your roux right now. It’ll be awful. Let us cook down for another hour and a half. Trust me. There’s nothing like a too-strong roux flavor on your tongue to ruin your pallet for awhile.
With the time change, it’s now 5:15 PM and we have been cooking since 11:30. A thick roux stew is more of a Sunday affair, so it’s not a work night dinner, FYI. Along the way, I added three cups of chicken stock when I decided my roux base got way too thick and tasted much too strong. At 4, after about 4-5 hours of cooking down the base, I added 2 lbs of shrimp. Now that that has simmered, covered for about an hour I am adding eggs. Really real Cajuns crack eggs and toss them into certain stews. You can definitely skip this if it weirds you out, or you can crack a few and rest assured it won’t mess up your dish either way. the eggs sort of poach themselves and soak up all the flavor of your dish.
Cover the pot and increase the heat so your eggs will cook nicely and soak up that flavor. Given ten minutes and a fresh out of rice, you are ready to mange! That means eat if you aren’t from around here.
This dish paired well in a pinch with some butter crescent rolls and Italian green beans. I panicked at the last second and realized we had no side!! TGI garlic green beans. Microwave or drop them into a little pot, add a bit of lemon and pepper and no one will know you plumb forgot a vegetable. Sorry, we really aren’t here for the veggies.
While it was a lengthy cook time, this turned out to be the very best stew or gumbo I have ever made! It got rave reviews and I was smart enough to cook enough so I didn’t have to cook the next night. Enjoy and drop any questions in comments below.
The best Italian food I have ever had was in Greece! It took me several days on Mykonos Island before I had a eureka moment and realized Italy is next door and that’s probably why the Greeks do Italian so well. I always crammed for Geography in college and dismissed what I learned to recycle those brain cells for another exam. Stick with me and you’ll witness lots more “I wonder what else I don’t know” moments.
Lemon ricotta eggplant stack with potato gnocchi and greens
Add to your pan:
1/4 cup heavy cream
3 tbsp salted butter
1/2 tsp lemon juice
Let thicken and add 1/2 cup of water and one chicken & herbs boullion cube, crumbled. Whisk and turn off heat.
Add a tbsp of Parmesan/Romano shaker cheese and turn heat back on low after stirring. (Do you not call it “Shaker Cheese?”
Peel and Horizontally cut the eggplant in half.
Slice eggplant into 1/4 inch slices.
Mix 1/2 cup heavy cream and 1/2 cup water with one egg and whisk.
Soak slices a few at a time in mixture and then pour 2 cups of Italian breadcrumbs into another bowl. Dredge your wet eggplant slices in the breadcrumbs.
Cook eggplant in air fryer or pan fry and set aside. I use the recommended settings on the side of my machine, so 390 degrees and turn once until they are brown enough for your liking. 5-7 minutes may just do it. I always have to spray both sides with pan or olive oil spray so that things actually brown and crisp like I want.
Cook Gnocchi per package instructions. I used a half of a 17.6 oz package to serve two. Boil water with a healthy shake of cajun seasoning and add gnocchi once it’s boiling. Watch that pot because it can boil over quickly. True story, ugh!! Once the gnocchi surface, strain them well and set aside.
Holy cow it’s good so far!! Test your eggplant in the sauce. Boom!
Start a tiny pot on low and add 3/4 cup of the ricotta. As it softens, stir in 1/2 tsp of Italian seasoning. My favorite is actually Cavender’s Greek seasoning.
Add 2 tsp more shaker cheese to thicken the lemon sauce. Turn off the heat and let it thicken for about 10 minutes. I keep my eggplant warm on a ceramic plate with our vintage plate warmer set to normal. It’s the best kitchen helper I have!
Next, I assembled my stacks using ricotta and sauce. I added Muenster cheese slices to to the top of the eggplant stacks and let us melt under broil for about 3-4 minutes. Keep an eye on the broiler so you don’t blacken your stacks!
Pop open a can of southern style greens and microwave in a bowl for about a minute or so. Hey, I don’t have all day to simmer the real deal.
My husband and I just celebrated ten years of marriage with a trip to the Ozark Mountains. We started out toward Hot Springs and stopped at this adorable feed store in Texarkana where we ate lunch with a friendly Turkey and a whole bunch of chickens.
The next stop was Hot Springs at The Waters Hotel, which is our favorite place right across from Bathhouse Row. I’m going to tell you all about the great parts of the trip, but first I need to fast forward to halfway through, when the fur hit the fan ON our anniversary, AT the dinner table.
I worked hard to have tons of PTO saved up and an awesome team so I was able to leave for our trip and not look back for the most part. I work for a family-owned healthcare consulting company that has been around for about fifty years. Three generations of my family have worked with these fine folks, so I have always felt a strong bond with and obligation to this company and the family who owned it. Just a few days into the trip, my boss called while we were at dinner on our anniversary day (we had our fancy dinner the night before since we would be on the road again on the big day). He told me to go where it was quiet so I stepped outside of the tiny Mexican restaurant in nowheresville, AR. The company had been acquired, he told me, and the change of hands would take place the very next week with the big announcement to follow. The short explanation was a blur and what I gleaned from it was I was very fortunate to be keeping my job and a heck of a lot of new responsibility placed certainly on my shoulders. Between the first few minutes my thoughts raced…I wasn’t ready to retire just yet but if I had to, we’d be ok…what about my beloved employees? Am I going to have to move back to an office? Could I tolerate that? Few details aside, I was left with so many questions and told to follow up with a good work buddy who could tell me more since my boss was also traveling and needed to hang up quickly.
I walked back into the restaurant, breathing deeply and not knowing whether I was about to cry in public. I told my husband what I gathered and choked down a little food. I know it’s just a job, but I take so much pride in my work and my career that this was a bombshell for me and I knew it would be for my co-workers.
A few times in my tenure, my company had absorbed employees from other institutions when we got their accounts, and I remember well when those folks came to interview to keep their jobs. They were all so nervous. Now I knew what they had felt as their roots were jerked to the surface and they faced transplant shock.
After dinner, we took the winding mountain roads back to our second stay over of the trip at breath taking Whitney Mountain. From 700 feet above the fingers of Beaver Lake, I surmised what my possibilities were and tried to chill and shift gears back to vaca mode. That sure didn’t happen.
I didn’t sleep that night. We woke up super early to catch the sunrise over the lake and it did not disappoint. Our inn keeper set out a lovely breakfast buffet and we got to dine near another vista as I wondered aloud just what would happen with my job. As much as I tried to set it aside so I didn’t burden my husband with talk of nothing but, I just couldn’t shake the uneasiness.
Fast forward through the rest of the trip, more toss and turn nights and a general damper on my mood. After a couple of days in the odd little town of Eureka Springs, we moved on to Branson and checked into a pretty cool resort on Table Rock Lake. Yes, I booked all the water front properties for this trip. It’s a big deal for me to stray from my beloved beach locales, so I approximated the views as well as I could.
After checking into our last stay of the trip, we went to Silver Dollar City where my whole outlook changed. I booked a premium lantern cave tour without really reading up on what it entailed. I really should have done that. I thought we would be kind of bored at an amusement park, so I only allowed for a few hours there although I wish now we had allowed a full day. The cave tour lined up at 4:50 PM, so I had just enough time to choke down a two foot long corn dog since we missed lunch. I’ll call that my two annual corn dogs since we haven’t been to a fair since 2019.
Once we lined up for the cave tour, we had to pass through a low entrance in a wall to be sure we would fit through the smallest space in the cave. That got me halfway concerned. Next we were handed lanterns and advised if we had bad knees or bad night vision to go back home. Well obviously that is me, but I knew this would be a really cool diversion so I sucked it up and got to the front of the line as we forged outside.
Little did I know that we would be descending into pitch darkness down a 500-foot, shaky metal staircase. I honestly had to pause and breathe deeply, pray some vague prayers from Catholic school a million years ago and muster all my iron will. The only way I could get down was to hang onto the railing and hold my LED lantern all the way down by my feet, stooping a little as we moved.
I stuck close to the first guide because I could see a little more from his flashlight sweeping the ground. My own lantern literally showed just a little bit of my feet. I am still shocked to death that I didn’t have some sort of incident given my accident-prone nature and all my broken and replacement parts. This was a true test to my new ankle and it didn’t let me down. Down and down we went, pausing for stories and some pretty cool history of the Marvel Cave. Twice our guides flipped a switch to turn on accent lights and I wished we could be seeing the entire beautiful surroundings.
The cave used to be home to a half million bats. Yes, no exaggeration! Now there were around 40,000 due to an epidemic of an itchy nose disorder that kept bats awake during hibernation time. The poor little fellows basically starved since their bodies didn’t wind down like they needed to. We only encountered a couple although I am sure there were tons overhead that we just didn’t see due to the darkness. One did buzz my head about halfway through and I only noticed a breeze until I heard someone say “Duck!” That would have been my undoing, so no doubt my prayers were heard all the way through as I faced my anxieties in the dark. When we got to the end of the tour I asked the guides what the difference was between this and the free tour. The free tour has the lights on…I shook my head and laughed as we boarded the cable car that would climb back up 500 feet to get us to the land of daylight and humans and likely thousands and thousands of pumpkins in the park.
Facing my worries in the dark and emerging unscathed (and surprised) was cathartic. My heart still hurt that my company was changing and my boss was retiring, but a glimmer of hope remained that I could really do some good to help usher us into the next phase of business. After another day in Branson, I was pretty much ready to get home and see what was going on on the interim. The next week or three—really three—were still nerve wracking, but I finally decided that I was safe in my job. I have dug in so hard and worked long days to cover as much ground as I can on my current projects and perpetual responsibilities. The home cooked meals haven’t been quite as consistent during this time, but I planned ahead so we would have good leftovers on days when I knew I’d be too exhausted to stand over a stove.
Plan, plan, plan is my current mantra. I thought I was juggling hard months ago with my day job and the boutique and home and horses…that’s worth a little chuckle. Closing the boutique was God’s timing and I know I couldn’t have possibly held onto all my obligations if I hadn’t closed that book. That broke my heart, too and now I see it all turned out ok. I trust that this transition in my career will be for the best also. Until that becomes readily apparent, we are now searching for a live-in housekeeper, Hallelujah!! I’ll tell you all about that and more travel stories next week.
I hope you all have a gorgeous week and know that whatever is happening now will reveal its purpose as time goes on. To have peace, you just have to have faith that you’ll make it through and you’ll be your best when that chapter is done.