Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Operation Bike MS: Part Three

This post is part of a series documenting my journey toward the Gateway Getaway Bike MS. Read Part Two HERE. To learn more about Multiple Sclerosis and to support me as I reach my goal of $500, please click HERE.

Dark-thirty. That's what time I trained this morning. See?

Coach Erin said 10 miles today, so that's exactly what I did. See?

I only grunted in agony once--this time on Mick Deaver hill. I took it as a "short-cut" so I could get home quicker.

That was a painful lesson to learn. 

Somehow I got home in time for the hubby to leave for his first day of school, kissed him good bye, made some well-deserved breakfast, and had some quiet time to absorb some scripture. See?

Getting up super early to train has its benefits--like pulling myself together before the little one awakes. 

She loves it too, because she doesn't have to wait around for Mommy to make breakfast. See?

See you on the next ride!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Operation Bike MS: Part Two

This post is part of a series documenting my journey toward the Gateway Getaway Bike MS. Read Part One HERE. To learn more about Multiple Sclerosis and to support me as I reach my goal of $500, please click HERE.

I woke up this morning at 5:45am--fifteen minutes before my alarm was set to sound--because I was just THAT excited. This morning was slated for my 18-mile training ride. Went to bed early the night before, made sure I was hydrated...I was PUMPED.

Rolled out of bed, trudged to the kitchen, started coffee, changed into my bike clothes. Reached into the fridge for my coconut milk and heard "drip, drip, drip."


Peered down in front of me and watched coffee colored water streaming mercilessly out of the cabinets below the sink. I stood dumbfounded for a few seconds--struggling to process how my yummy coffee had magically transported itself across the kitchen to flow into yucky puddles on the floor.

Sad Face.

Several moments later, it hit me. Before I brewed new coffee, I poured the old batch out (yes, sometimes I forget to empty the coffee pot. Sue me.), and that must be what was leaking volumes.

I continued to stand with gaping mouth--struggling to form a plan.

When I finally pulled myself together and waded over to look under the sink, I found the drain pipe had torn in two--obviously the culprit of my Sunday morning coffee flood.


After a few fluffy towels and a quick call to emergency maintenance, I was set to head out the door. Fifteen minutes late, but ready to ride just the same.


My was the countryside gorgeous. I really felt at home again.  My route was supposed to take me east of town on Richland, south on Rangeline, west on New Haven, and then north on Old 63. In my youthful exuberance, however, I forgot to pay attention to my map while I was riding, so my route ended up looking more like this:

Oops. least I got a good workout, right?

Some of the hills were really tough for me, one was so steep that I was all the way down in gear ONE. But the in the midst of the grunting and growling, I kept focusing on the fact that my pain would be over inside of two hours. Those suffering from Multiple Sclerosis endure constant pain for the rest of their lives. Reflecting on this put those silly hills into perspective and surprisingly my ride improved greatly.

Other than a little soreness and lethargy, I felt pretty good afterward. Not gonna lie, though...I cant fathom riding double the distance two days in a row. Ugh. Good thing I have a couple more weeks to work up to it...

See you next ride...

Operation Bike MS: Part One

It's only three weeks away, but I'm just crazy enough to do the Gateway Bike MS!

I've wanted to join my brother, Matt, on this ride for several years now, but some wild life event always seems to prevent my participation. Grad school, pregnancy, name it, I've been there. Well, no more excuses! After hitting the snooze button twice,

I finally rolled out of bed this morning, slurped some coffee, geared up, and headed out on the hilly streets of Columbia for my ride. Trainer Erin says to do 2 8-10 mile rides during the week and a 18-20 mile ride this weekend (my goal is 80 miles over two days in the Bike MS), so I headed down old 63 to Grindstone, Grindstone to Rock Quarry, Rock Quarry to Broadway, and Broadway home. Some of those routes do not have bike paths or sidewalks, so part of my ride was a little adventurous! Especially the part when I screwed up my gearing sequence climbing a terrible hill on Rock Quarry. 


 Even so, I was reminded how much I LOVE riding and that I'm so excited to do it raising awareness for MS! :) 

Happy riding, everyone!

Friday, August 8, 2014

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: International Travel Tips

A few days ago I returned from a two-week trip in the South of France.

Two weeks.

No dirty diapers to change, no snoring husband.

All by myself.

*Cue Celine Dion*

Sounds like heaven, right?

Yes, the trip was amazing. Words can't describe and pictures could never capture the virginal beauty of the sleepy village of Mons overlooking the serene Mediterranean waters. I discovered the wonders of sulfite-free wine, became acquainted with several new friends, celebrated the joining of two inspiring souls who are very much in love, and basically just breathed deeply for the first time in what seems like years.

Though the retreat was wonderful, there were a few several lessons on international travel to be learned along the way. I remained calm and positive through every mishap, but I do hope my new found experience will benefit you the next time you decide to hop over the pond to embark on a wild trek through Europe.

And so I give you:

Ten Tips from a Tired Traveler

1. Be Smart When Booking Flights

I speak from experience when I tell you--book direct flights whenever possible--even if it means spending a little more money. Nothing is worse than realizing your nice two hour layover before your first connection has diminished to fifteen minutes due to flight delays. If you're lucky like me, you will still sprint across O'Hare to the next gate only to find that the plane pushed off from the gate five minutes early. Yep--book direct. Or just not through O'Hare.

2. Packing: Less is More

I consider myself a fairly low-maintenance lady. A week before a big trip like this, I make a packing list and spend several days refining and re-thinking what I will really need to bring with me. Do I really need to blow dry my hair? No. Must I bring five books to read when two will do? No. After packing my most needed belongings into the suitcase, I still find myself weeding out seemingly excessive items. Even so, my bag somehow ended up weighing around 46 lbs--4 under the limit. Great, right? Yes, unless you consider the treacherous cobblestone mountain I needed to climb once I arrived to the village with said bag. It took me and two friends to drag the heaping monster to my door. And then I almost passed out trying to make it to the bottom of two flights of stairs. How would I ever fit the three bottles of wine I planned to bring home? Lesson for you? Don't bring so much crap!

3. Use Your Apps

No matter how many times I mentally rehearsed the French phrase for "I'm allergic to wheat, dairy, and eggs" my brain always froze when I actually needed to deliver it to the nice lady at the counter. Though I didn't have reception to use data on my phone, I already typed in these words and other helpful sentences into my iTranslate app. The long list of French phrases were a life saver (literally).

Another app I like, Trip It,  plans your travel itinerary using information pulled from your email inbox. It was able to access all of my ticket confirmations and reservations so I had a nice neat screen compiling all of my plans. Since I had a few flight mishaps along the way, I did end up needing to confirm gates with airline websites, but that wasn't Trip-It's fault. My favorite part about using this app? I didn't have piles of paper to keep track of. Wonderful!

There are so many travel apps out there--peruse them and find the ones that will benefit you!

4. Fighting Jet Lag

My best advice? Sleep on the plane. Whatever you have to do---just get some sleep. I brought earplugs, Aleve, an eyemask, and a little extra money for some wine if needed. Another tip from a friend was to stay well hydrated. I concentrated more on fluids during my flight to the EU than I did on the way back, and I noticed a sizable difference. I was also surprised to see water fountains and/or bottle-fill stations in the airports, so bringing an empty water bottle in your bag would be an excellent idea. Just don't use a straw bottle with a bite-valve, it will erupt in your carry-on during the flight. Proved through my own experience. Twice.

5. Carry-on Must Haves

In addition to the items listed above, I will ALWAYS pack extra clothes, glasses, contact solution/case, and a toothbrush in my carry-on. It's not worth the risk to pack everything in your checked luggage! I've never had problems with bags before this trip, but I was sure glad I had an extra pair of undies handy when my mammoth suitcase didn't appear on the baggage claim belt in Nice. Though my things were hand delivered to me the next day, several others who haven't been so lucky.

6. Money Matters

To have financial peace on your journey, I recommend a little planning ahead of time. Figure out how much money you plan to spend (in whatever currency you plan to use...for me it was euros), and use this spreadsheet to keep track while you are gone. I used a paper version because I didn't have access to a laptop, but since this spreadsheet has all the formulas plugged in, using it on a computer would be much easier.

7. Cover Your Butt

Though helpful advice in it's literal sense, this item is all about protecting your identity and bank account while you are away. When traveling internationally, it's a good idea to register with the US Embassy in the country you plan to visit. Even if you never have a need to contact the embassy while you are abroad, the program can keep you updated on travel alerts and warnings. Very helpful in the crazy world in which we live! I also made copy of my passport and my credit cards to leave with a family member if they were to be stolen. If someone swipes your passport while you are away, you'll have trouble coming back to the US without someone helping you out with the handy copy you made! As an extra precaution, I made extra copies of these items and hid them in another (locked) part of my luggage so if I had any card/passport theft I'd be prepared. It's also an awesome idea to notify your credit card companies of your travel plans in case they decide to shut down your spending mid-transaction. But really, I'm sure you already knew that. :)

8. Let the Locals Be Your Guide

I'm sure this is a gigantic surprise, but people do things differently than we do! Who'da thunk? One day on my trip, I made the poor decision to jog part way down the mountain and back. When I reached the top, I was gasping desperately and incredibly thirsty. Previously, I noticed several places in the village where water was continuously flowing out of spickets on the wall. Thinking the purpose of the fountains were of purely historical or decorative nature, I didn't give them a second thought. However, as I was trudging back from my jog, I witnessed a local (a runner who had effortlessly passed me along my way...grr) walk up to the wall, cup her hands, and slurp the hydrating goodness. Really?!? I'm allowed to DRINK from the fountain? I'm such an idiot. Nevertheless, acting as if I planned it all along, I swiftly fell in behind the savvy French lady and took a nice long glug myself.

9. Smuggling Wine

Wine in France was literally like 4 euros. GOOD WINE. The best wine I've ever had. Don't be like me. Buy the wine cheaply from the grocery store/market and pack it in your checked luggage. DO IT. I was a dork and waited to get it in the Duty Free section at the airport. The same wine was quadruple the price. End result? I have crappy American wine in my refrigerator again. Boo. Hiss.

10. It Is What It Is

If you heed any of these silly little tips, heed this one. Arrive at your departure gate with NO EXPECTATIONS. It's so easy to build up the amazingness of your international adventure to be a dreamy fantastical traipse through gold encrusted happy land. Though my trip was wonderful, there were definitely bumps and dings along the way. I wasn't always in a good mood, and I didn't always feel physically equipped to do what I needed to do. Nevertheless, I had a very realistic attitude about the whole thing and entered my journey without much idealism. It's a good thing, because even though things didn't pan out perfectly, I was able to roll with the punches, find humor in the dysfunction, and enjoy every cobblestoned step of the way.

Tried and True Travel Gear

Nook HD--The charge on this thing lasts FOREVER. I contentedly read Gone with the Wind for the duration of my flights.

Airplane Headphone Jack Adapter--Granted, only one of my flights had a screen within my view, but it was also the only one that required a two-pronged headphone adapter! Score!

Travel Towel--There were no towels in my rental apartment in France, so I brought this one with me. It was a lifesaver--especially since we also didn't have a dryer. It was big enough to wrap all the way around me and absorbent enough to get me and my waterlogged hair completely dry without all of the bulk of a regular bathroom towel.

Jewelry Organizer--I usually don't require this much vanity, but seeing as though I was in a wedding and needed several dressy-uppy outfits, I figured I'd make a concession for myself. This bag is amazing--a place for studs, rings, and roomy pockets for necklaces and dangly earrings. I got mine at Target (and the colors are way cuter), but they aren't listed online.

Ginger Candies--These were a delight! I found them at a local healthfood store--and they settled my stomach during take-offs and landings. Also useful during pregnancy!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Nook HD Cover Tutorial

Searching for a cute cover for my Nook HD (8G) was no easy task--so much so that I decided to make my own. I didn't even want to spend the measly $7 on a generic looking cover on Amazon when I could make one similar to those I found on Etsy absolutely free since I already had all of the materials I would need. I couldn't find any Nook HD-specific cover tutorials online, so it took a few days to work out all of the details in my mind of how I wanted to put it together--and even then I had to consult this older iPad tutorial for some help. And even THEN I ended up making it just small enough that the Nook wouldn't actually fit in the cover. Oops! On my second try (thank goodness for a large material supply...) I decided to go more slowly, measure more precisely, and to take pictures along the way so someone else could learn from my time wasting mistakes!

Nook HD Cover Tutorial


Nook HD
Measuring Tape
Writing Utensils
Scrap Paper
Pattern paper/Cardstock
Rotary Cutter/Cutting Mat (optional)
Straight Pins
Coordinating Thread
Sewing Machine
Iron/Ironing Board
Coordinating Elastic/Hair-tie
Coordinating Button
Hand Needle


Cut from the pattern/template (see below in step 3)

Outer Sleeve:
2x Outer Fabric (home decorator weight is the best. I got mine at Jo-Ann's)
2x Interfacing/Padding material (flannel/felt or interfacing will work)

Inner Sleeve
2x Inner Fabric/Lining (the part that touches the Nook--mine is basic brown broadcloth)
2x Interfacing/Padding Material

1. Measure the Nook HD from the back of the device with measuring tape...not a ruler. I made the mistake of measuring the front (screen side) with a ruler the first time, so my calculations were all wrong. The measuring tape accounts for the extra length/width added by the curvature of the device. Tricky!

2. Draw out a small diagram to help you remember the dimensions and aid in calculating your cutting measurements. For my cover, I added 1/2" each to the length and width to provide 1/4" seam allowance along each edge of the cover. See calculations below

3. Using the final measurements, cut a template from pattern paper, parchment paper, or whatever you have lying around. I used bright blue cardstock. 

4. Iron material and cut!

From top to bottom: Outer Fabric, Lining Fabric, Interfacing for Lining, Interfacing for Outer Fabric
I really wish I could figure out how to rotate these pictures!

After cutting 2 of each fabric, you should have a total of 8 pieces
 5. Sandwich the outer fabric with the outer interfacing. I will use the patterned fabric and the dark blue heavy duty felt. Starting at the bottom of the four layered sandwich, the layers should be interfacing, outer fabric right side up, outer fabric right side down, interfacing.

6. Put an arrow pointing to the top of the cover where the opening will be for the Nook, pin the layers together, and sew along the sides and bottom using a 1/4" seam allowance. I think I actually used 3/8". After sewing, run the iron over the stitching to set, and trim the outer edges. 

The finished edge of the outer sleeve
7. Using the same technique from the outer sleeve, assemble the inner sleeve, and pin. But don't sew yet, you will make one modification! 

8. As you can see in the picture above, I've marked an area at the bottom of the inner sleeve that says "No Sew"--leave this part open as you sew around the sides and bottom so you will be able to turn it later. If it seems weird, it's ok. It will make sense later. When you are finished sewing the edges (and ironing and trimming), cut a small rectangle the interfacing fabric on both sides where you left the opening for turning. This will reduce bulk after you turn the final product and sew up the opening. 

9. Time to grab the iron again! Turn the outer sleeve right side out and use your fingers to push out the corners and seams. Iron it flat. 

10. Prep your hand needle and thread to sew on the button. Using your best judgement (it really was a crap shoot for me), place the button on the front of the cover near the top. Reference the picture below for a general idea of where it should go. 

The end is in sight! If you're like me, all patience you had at the beginning is long gone by the time you begin sewing on the button...

11. Next, fit the outer sleeve (right side out) into the inner sleeve (wrong side out) so that the outer fabric and the inner lining fabric are touching. Scootch, pinch, and pull until it's a nice fit---the side seams should be lined up as well as the upper edge. Pin around the upper edge. 

A view to show how the fabric is layered

12. It is now time to affix the elastic/hair-tie. In my first failed attempt, I used a hair-tie. Had the cover been large enough to actually use, the hair-tie method would've worked perfectly. This time, however, I opted for just plain skinny elastic. I don't think this was the best idea because it was difficult to get the loop just right. 

Anyway, using whichever you decide, attach the elastic--loop side down--on the back of the cover between the outer fabric and the inner lining fabric--aka between the second and third layers. 

13. Sew around the top edge using a 1/4' or 3/8" seam allowance. Go really slow and make sure your pins don't get caught in the machine or the thread! 

What it looks like sewn

14. Remember that little hole you left when sewing the inner sleeve? Now it's time to work the magic! GENTLY pull the outer sleeve through the hole in the inner sleeve. GO SLOW. 

This is what it looks like  when the inner sleeve is pulled completely out. 

15. Fold the opening in on itself to close the hole in the inner sleeve and sew it shut. 



16. Tuck the inner sleeve down in the outer sleeve, press with the iron, and voila! You could choose to top-stitch around the edges like I did, but in hindsight, I probably wouldn't. I think it'd look better without it--or at least with lighter thread. make the call! 

And there it is, folks...a cute little cover for your Nook HD! When it was all said and done, it only took me an hour to complete--and I made it for FREE using materials I had on hand. If you don't have random fabric strewn about your house (why wouldn't you, though?) I can't imagine you'd spend more than $10 or so buying everything--as long as you had the essentials like a sewing machine and scissors, of course.

It fits this time!

My Nook is safe and sound and ready for hours of in-flight reading when I travel to France in two weeks!

And now to clean up the mess that has been happening about my feet...

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Grocery Tips and Tricks

In every attempt to trim our budget, it seems that food is typically the most difficult area to control.

You’ve been there—aimlessly roaming around the grocery store trying to figure out what to fix for dinner, with a grumbling tummy to boot. This usually leads to buying expensive “heat-n-eat” foods and ultimately lands you in the very same position the next evening—because you still don’t have a plan!

You whine and exclaim, “I’m too busy to plan!”

Very busy you may be, however with just a teensy bit of creativity and organization, I’m confident you will be able to simplify your grocery shopping and save money as well!

In attempts to conquer the illusive grocery beast, I’ve tried couponing, monthly meal planning, freezer cooking, driving all over town to hit every sale I possibly can, and spreadsheets. Oh the spreadsheets!!

 At the end of each one of these techniques, I found myself increasingly frustrated and less motivated to stay on top of my intricately designed system. So, without the time or energy to maintain these time consuming methodology, I’ve learned to consolidate my efforts into six manageable steps that can be easily completed during baby’s naptime!

As with anything, it’s important to try new approaches with an open mind. If it doesn’t work for you, modify it! And it is equally (if not more) imperative to extend yourself plenty of grace in any organizational process. There will be blunders and roadblocks--expect them and roll with the punches!

The Plan
I try to coordinate my meal planning time with the store sale rollover day. Around here, that’s Wednesday for Hy-vee and Aldi. In a good week, I will plan the meals and make my grocery list on Wednesday morning and complete the shopping either Wednesday afternoon or Thursday morning. This way the sales are fresh and I probably won’t need to re-arrange my meal plan mid-shopping trip due to an out of stock item. Very annoying!

Take Inventory: Briefly glance through your cabinets and fridge/freezer to make a mental note of what you have on hand, and maybe some items that need to be consumed before spoilage occurs. I used to write everything down on a spreadsheet, but that process became very tedious and overwhelming for me so I had to simplify!

Browse Sales: Check the ads of a couple grocery/big box stores that are most convenient for you geographically. For me, this is Walmart, Hy-vee, and Aldi, and they always post the weekly sale ad on their websites. Write down sale items that you actually use in your every day diet along with what the sale is ($2/lb, $.99/ea or whatever), items you frequently use in favorite recipes, and items in new recipes you would like to try. When you are finished, scratch out the more expensive duplicate items. I use a basic Steno-pad and put my list of sale items (by store) on the left side of the sheet.

Plan Meals: On the right side of the sheet, list the days of the week you will need to make a meal. Then, plan meals from your recipes (I keep a stack of tasty sounding recipes nearby when I’m planning) using as many of your on-hand items and sale items in the store as possible. It’s helpful to also think about what kind of activities are going on each day/evening so you can plan a meal that suits the schedule for that day—otherwise your precious savings efforts could go to waste along with the food that was never prepared! After the meals are decided, I write them down on a calendar that is located near my food prep area so I always know what to prepare each evening. I’ve tried relying on my memory—but my mind is so cluttered these days that I just can’t depend on it anymore!

Make Grocery List: This part is usually the trickiest for me because I frequently leave items off the list only to realize it when I’m halfway through a meal preparation with no way to get to the store to pick up the missing ingredient! Don’t be like me! Double check your list! Anyway—I usually start by writing down regular weekly grocery items that don’t involve dinner recipes. Next, go through each recipe you plan to make during the week and write down the ingredients you will need to buy.  Additionally, write down any sale items that you will stock up on. Since you will be saving money by planning meals around the sales, there should be extra cash to stock up on items that you know you will use in the future. In our house, we are always on the lookout for a good deal on Pepsi. When it goes on sale for $3/12-pack or less (regularly $4.50 or more depending on the store), I buy at least three and then we are set for a month!

Organize by Store: Next to each item on the list, write down the first letter of the store where you plan to purchase the item and circle it (the letter, not the item). If this is visually overwhelming for you (it is for my husband), make a short list for each store. I don’t do this simply because I hate re-writing my list—but this might be something that doesn’t bother you! Sometimes I’ll even write down what the actual sale is next to the item in case there are signage issues at the store. You could also just print out the ad and take it with you. Or, you could be like my awesome friend and take advantage of price matching programs so you won’t need to travel to more than one store! One day I may attempt this—I’ll let you know how it goes!

Unload the Loot: Think your job is done as soon as the overflowing grocery bags land on the kitchen floor? Wrong! This is an awesome time to quickly clear out stale (ahem..moldy) leftovers and spoiled (chunky) milk before filling your fridge with new grocery items. Trust me, you will feel much more content looking into your refrigerator without the unappetizing clutter messing things up. AND—you’ll be able to find things MUCH easier. This is also a great opportunity to check the dates on any meat you purchased during the shopping trip. If it will go bad before the day you plan to prepare it, be sure to stick it in the freezer and then make a note on your handy meal calendar to thaw it in time to cook it.

And, that’s it! I hope you have found a few things that will ease your food prep woes—and if you have a different way to save money and time whilst grocery shopping, please share in the comments!  

Monday, February 3, 2014

Project Allergic: Apple Spice Muffins (Gluten, Dairy and Egg Free)

Last week I found a tasty version of gluten-free apple muffins to add to my weekly breakfast line-up, but after scouring every possible place I could have saved it on my computer favorites and iPhone bookmarks, it was nowhere to be found.

Not what I wanted to deal with in my hungry pre-coffee bed-headed state. This was a good reminder that I need to streamline my recipe organization soon...

Standing at my kitchen counter, I frantically searched the web for a similar recipe and managed to uncover this.

I already had most of the ingredients, so modifying it to fit my allergenic needs was a snap. I was impressed with the fluffy yet substantial texture of these muffins, and they really hit the spot paired with a bowl of fresh blueberries and a piping hot cup-o-Joe. :)

Modified Apple Spice Muffins

Wet Ingredients:
3 Flax Eggs*
3/4 c. Applesauce (I used my granddad's home-canned version)
1 c. Brown Sugar (I'd love to experiment with reducing/replacing the sugar. My only complaint)
1/2 c. Canola Oil (Next time I'll try using melted Coconut Oil)
2 tsp. Vanilla
1 tsp. Cinnamon
1/2 tsp. All-Spice
1/2 tsp. Nutmeg

Dry Ingredients:
1 1/2 c. Brown Rice Flour
1/2 c. Oat Flour (Bob's Red Mill=Gluten Free)
1 tsp. Baking Powder
1/2 tsp. Kosher Salt

1/2 c. Peeled/Cored/Diced Apples (plus extra if you have a hungry toddler like I do!)

Pre-heat oven to 350°

1. Mix all of the wet ingredients in a larger mixing bowl.

2. Sift all of the dry ingredients into a smaller mixing bowl

3. Slowly fold the dry ingredients into the wet, being careful to not over-mix.

4. Place liners into a muffin tin and fill cups about 3/4 of the way full.

5. Gently press a few apple pieces into the top of the muffin. They come out nice and soft, so you could probably put on as many as you want. Or, as the original recipe shows, you could also put the apples in the middle of the muffin.

6. Bake the muffins for around 20 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. I had to bake mine for 24 minutes.
*Flax eggs are soooo easy and a wonderful alternative for those of us who can't eat chicken eggs:

In a small bowl, whisk together 1 Tbsp. Ground Flax Seed Meal with 3 Tbsp. Water. If the recipe calls for more than one egg, just double the recipe accordingly. So for this recipe, I used 3 Tbsp. Flax Seed Meal and 9 Tbsp. Water. After everything is mixed together, put the bowl in the refrigerator for 5-10 minutes, or until the consistency is thick and gel-like. When you add it to the mixture, it should easily slide out of the bowl, leaving little residue behind.