Thursday, August 31, 2017

overdose awareness day

August 31st: Today is Overdose Awareness Day. 
Please take a few minutes to say a prayer for those struggling with the disease of addiction, and for the families, like myself and my family, who have lost a child/brother due to addiction/OD. We have to end the stigma, shame and judgment and choose to educate instead. Don't ever think it couldn't happen to your child or anyone in your family. Ignorance and denial are the enemies of this disease. 

Did you know the opioid crisis is so bad, it's going to be declared as a National Emergency? Drug OD's are now the leading cause of death under 50. See here for more info and statistics:

Short Answers to Hard Questions about the Opioid Crisis

RIP, my precious son, Philip Thomas Riley. If love could've saved you, you would've lived forever.

Friday, August 25, 2017

harvesting tomatoes

What's growing in your garden right now? Zucchini? Tomatoes? Green beans? Blueberries or apples? Here in northern Illinois, at least in my backyard, it's tomatoes.

As a member of the Wayfair Homemaker program, I have been compensated for this post. All ideas and  opinions are completely my own.

We planted four cherry tomato plants this year: two red and two yellow. I've been picking tomatoes every day this month. But let's face it ~ there's only so many raw tomatoes you can eat, right?

What I like to do with an overabundance of fresh tomatoes is to roast them. Roasting brings out their natural sweetness and there's so many ways you can use these summer a sandwich, burger or grilled chicken; toss in salads; use in soups and stews; even on grilled cheese. You can use them right away, refrigerate for up to three days, or freeze for up to a year. To roast, I simply put the tomatoes on a parchment-lined baking sheet, drizzle with 1T of extra-virgin olive oil, and sprinkle with freshly grated pepper and garlic salt. (Have you tried this garlic salt from Trader Joe's? It comes in its own little grinder. This stuff is amazing! I use it on everything.) If you're not into garlic salt, I don't know you use regular salt. I then incorporate all the ingredients by using my gloved hand to gently rub the oil and spices over all the tomatoes.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Once the oven is ready, put the pan of tomatoes in and roast for 15-20 minutes.

This is what the tomatoes should look like when you pull them out of the oven. Let them cool down until you're ready to incorporate them into a recipe or refrigerate or freeze them.

I'm making caprese salad, but I put a little twist on the classic recipe by using roasted tomatoes instead of fresh ones. I also have a surprise ingredient for even more of a switch...

Fresh mozzarella balls, fresh basil, and the surprise ingredient - kalamata olives.

Unfortunately, my late summer harvest does not include basil. This is how pitiful my supply looks right now. That's why I had to buy the packaged stuff at the store.

I'll include the exact recipe at the end of this post, but just as a guideline, cut the mozzarella balls and kalamata olives in half, chop the fresh basil, and put in a pretty bowl.

Gently add the roasted tomatoes and sprinkle with more freshly ground pepper.
That's it! This caprese salad doesn't need a dressing since the tomatoes were roasted with olive oil and seasonings. It incorporates into the entire salad. Yum!

I think this salad is so appealing with the yellow and red tomatoes, ribbons of fresh basil, and the addition of kalamata olives. And since it's quick and easy to make, it's perfect for a light lunch, as a side dish for dinner, or to take to a summer potluck. 

3-1/2 cups fresh grape tomatoes (a combination of red and yellow looks best)
1 T extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
Freshly ground garlic salt, to taste (or regular salt)
1 - 8 oz. container whole milk fresh mozzarella (ciliegine), drained and cut in half
1/3 cup kalamata olives, drained and cut in half
Fresh basil, cut into fine ribbons, to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. 

Place tomatoes on a parchment-lined baking sheet and drizzle with the olive oil. Sprinkle with the pepper and garlic salt and using a gloved hand, gently incorporate the oil and spices over every tomato. Roast tomatoes in oven for 15-20 min. Let cool.

In a medium-sized bowl, place the halved mozzarella balls, the halved kalamata olives, and the fresh basil. Add the cooled roasted tomatoes and gently stir.

If you should need a pretty serving bowl for your caprese salad, may I suggest one of these...anything from classy to casual to whimsical:

Torcello Glass Serving Bowl

Whatever's growing in your garden ~ or whether you've been getting your late summer harvest veggies at a farmer's market ~ I hope you're enjoying the fresh bounty that this season has to offer.

Friday, August 18, 2017

late august

I can feel and smell it, like I always do this time of year. Summer is winding down. The air is still humid, but it doesn't have that fresh, ripe summer scent. Instead, it's more languid and heavy. Cicadas start their electric buzz in the late afternoon. Kids just went back to school and the neighborhood is eerily quiet during the day.

My Kentucky Pole Beans have finally started producing and the Candy Corn vine has bloomed. Sedum blossoms have shown up on top of the rubbery leaves, which is always a sure sign that fall is coming. The Joe Pye Weed is in full bloom and the bees are loving it.

I've been cutting the last of the flowering perennials to make little bouquets around the house. I'll miss doing that when I have to go back to relying on supermarket flowers. Trader Joe's does have the best (and most inexpensive) flowers, but it's not the same as walking into your yard and cutting your own.

Zippo just saw our regular veterinarian and is now on a medication for his hyperthyroidism. He's doing great on all his new medications and will see the eye vet for a follow-up at the end of the month.

Have a beautiful weekend ~ make the most of what's left of summer!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

a quiet birthday celebration and fun with cousins

(me, NC cousin, local cousin, sister)

A low-key and lovely birthday last week for moi...
The perfect new shoes for this Crazy Cat Lady - Bobs by Skechers and Pad Kee Mao at my favorite Thai restaurant. That was followed by a weekend of family togetherness...

Family from North Carolina were in town for a few days and we had a get-together at my sister's house. Is there anything cuter than a little girl (my second cousin) in a summer dress and cowboy boots playing cornhole? 

The next morning, I headed to downtown Chicago with my sister, our cousin who lives locally, and our cousin from NC. I hadn't seen my NC cousin in almost 19 years! The four of us sat at a table by the beach and talked and laughed for two hours. NC cousin couldn't get over the fact that buildings were right there at the beach. We had a perfect view of the John Hancock building from our table. After lunch and drinks and people watching (side note: thongs on middle aged women are not pretty), we walked around and made our way to Water Tower Place, which is basically a seven-story shopping mall. We eventually wound up on the seventh floor and found Garrett Popcorn - a Chicago must that I've never had! My sister warned me that it was very rich. I got the cheese-caramel mix and she wasn't kidding. A couple of handfuls and I was done. More walking around where we spotted Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago and were awed by its outside beauty amongst the highrises. We crossed the street to take a look and lucky us, the doors were open so we were able to go inside. Of course, my phone camera couldn't do the interior any justice, but wow. I was immediately struck by its reverence and beauty. 

I wish I could bottle up these long days and brilliant sunshine and family memories.

Monday, August 7, 2017

flea market ~ and a zippo update

 What a great time we had on Saturday! Me, Brian, my mom and aunt headed out to the flea market. We hadn't been there in several years. We didn't go with the intentions of buying anything...we just wanted to have a nice day outdoors together while the weather is still beautiful. This is probably the only picture you'll ever see of me in a hat. I am so not a hat person. Even when I was a kid, I hated hats. I don't even wear them through our brutal winters here in the Chicago area. I will put up the hood on my coat though. ;-) So, the only reason I wore a hat this day was to protect my hair color. I had just gotten my hair cut and colored the day before.

My mom and my aunt.

This is a huge flea market ~ we probably only covered half of it in a few hours. There are hundreds of vendors. I kept my phone in my purse and only took a couple of photos, so I borrowed the following ones from my aunt.

We loved these bourbon barrels. How cool would one of these be on a big patio or deck with a round glass top to make a table?

Lots of pretty bottles at this one vendor. These sure would be pretty lining a window.

I spent a whole fifty cents at the flea market. I was going through a box of vintage buttons and found one that said "Pip". Pip was my nickname for Phil. I had to have this button for his memory shelf.

On to news about my Zippo...

He saw the veterinary opthamologist last Thursday. Poor thing had all kinds of eye tests, a blood pressure test taken from his tail, and was put in a cat bag (like a little sleeping bag for cats...only his head was poking out) so that they could take blood from his jugular vein. He freaked out in the bag and peed in it...and all over the vet! She took it in stride and was laughing. She said she brings two changes of clothes to work with her every day. Of course, Zippo then had to have a bath. They didn't put him in a tub of water. They were able to wash him with a wet, soapy washcloth.

Turns out Zippo not only has secondary glaucoma, but cataracts and chronic uveitis. He's on three different medications. The pressure in his eye was 58. I believe the normal range is 10-20. 

Look how much better my fur baby's eye looks already! We went for an eye pressure re-check this morning and the news was very good. His pressure was down to 13! They also did what's called the "menace response" which tests the cat's blink reflex. The tech covered Zippo's good eye, then waved his hand in different directions in front of Zippo's right eye. He rated a weak-positive. Most of the blood tests have come back negative - but they're still waiting for a few more. The vet is trying to determine what caused Zippo's glaucoma in the first place (since it's secondary glaucoma). His urinalysis came back that he has borderline kidney disease, but the vet said for a cat his age, this wasn't bad at all. I have to follow up with Zippo's regular vet.

The vet also said with this good news today - so far - he doesn't need eye surgery. At the first visit last week, a shot in the eye or even removal of his eye was a possibility. I didn't say anything to the vet, but Brian and I discussed this and we decided if it came down to where Zippo needed his eye removed, we wouldn't do it. I know it's a very personal decision, but Zippo is 18 years old, has borderline kidney disease, and only weighs 8 lbs. To put him through the trauma of anesthesia and a major surgery would not be fair to him. He's had a long, loving, wonderful kitty life and we do not want him to suffer.

Happy Meowy Monday!

Thursday, August 3, 2017

guest post: keepin' it cozy ~ how to hygge like the danish

I have a delightful surprise for you today. For the first time, I'm doing a guest post. Welcome Jennifer Ullrich of A Life Designed! have known Jen since she was a baby. Our families attended church together and our parents were good friends. Jen moved to Maryland 14 years ago, but we've always kept in touch.

As an elementary school teacher, Jen was going through the motions, feeling like a hamster on a wheel, barely keeping up with her family, work and relationships. When she did have time to relax ~ she couldn't. On the outside, she had it all. On the inside, she was discontent and restless. An illness forced her to evaluate her priorities. She started to fantasize about a different kind of life: A life where she was present for the people she loved. A life with physical and mental space to think and create. A life where she decided to spend her time.

Jen learned to love the idea of less: less stuff, less busyness, less obligations. Instead, she sought more: more peace, more time, more space, more freedom. She's now an Online Education Instructor which offers flexibility in her work hours ~ and she loves what she does! Jen's here today to talk to us about 
"Keepin' it Cozy: How to Hygge like the Danish."

(Photo credit: Pedro Lopes)

The Danish word “hygge”, pronounced HOO-guh, has been getting a lot of attention.  It’s been called everything from a feeling to a lifestyle trend.  
Books and articles are popping up all over the place about hygge, so I did some investigating to see if I could find out a little more about why it’s being talked about so much.  
There’s no English word that’s equivalent to hygge, so defining it can be somewhat difficult.  Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, published a book last year titled, The Little Book of Hygge:  The Danish Way to Live Well.  He describes hygge like this: 

Hygge has been translated as everything from the art of creating intimacy to cosiness of the soul to taking pleasure from the presence of soothing things. My personal favourite is cocoa by candlelight...
Cozy?  Candles? Cocoa?  I’m in!

Here’s what I’ve discovered about hygge.  It’s about being present, enjoying the little things, and the comforting feelings of warmth and coziness.  Hygge involves doing things that bring happiness and joy, practicing self-care, and enjoying both the indoors and outdoors on your own or with family and friends.  

Hygge is often equated with cold weather activities like snuggling by a fire with a warm drink, wearing thick, insulated socks, and eating comfort foods like stews and soups.  But hygge can also include outdoor activities like a taking a long, leisurely walk, bike riding, and appreciating nature.

So, how can you incorporate a little hygge into your everyday routine?  The Hygge Manifesto is a good place to start and encapsulates the elements of hygge.  The manifesto covers three main areas:  Environment, Connection, and Attitude.

It’s not about buying new furnishings or creating the perfect room.  It’s about using what you already have in your home to relax.   
Dim the lights or use candles to create a cozy feeling.  
Use pillows, blankets, soft fabrics, and comfortable furnishings.  
Build a fire in the fireplace to add warmth. 
Use fresh flowers and plants to bring nature indoors.
Indulge in comfort foods like soups, stews, hot cocoa, coffee, tea, and home-made desserts. 
Spend time in nature.

A big part of hygge is being present in order to build connections and share time with family and friends.  This connection time is used to relax, unwind from the day, and strengthen relationships.  Ways to connect and share include:
Cooking a meal together or baking a special treat.  Time in the kitchen is a shared activity, where conversation and togetherness is experienced.  
Snuggling up on the couch with a pet. 
Listening to music or reading books. 

Having positive conversations based on shared experiences and reminiscing.  Topics that are controversial, dramatic, or disagreeable are tabled for another time.  In other words, no drama, no conflict, no political discussions.
Technology is turned off.  That means no TV and no social media.  Respect family and friends by cherishing time together and keeping activities sequestered from the outside world.  Be with the people who are in front of you instead of your Twitter followers.

Hygge embodies an attitude of gratefulness, appreciating what you have and the people in your life.  A hygge attitude involves:
Accepting the people you’re with for who they are.  No judgment, no analysis.  Just love.
A focus on quality time.  You’re not getting things done.  You’re investing in relationships.  
Your actions are unhurried and leisurely, and create a feeling of peace and security.  
Feeling safe is valued and promoted.  

Hygge in Summer
If reading about hygge has you wishing for cooler nights, or even winter (gasp!), don’t worry.  You can practice hygge any time of year.  Here are some ideas for incorporating hygge into your routine right now:
Open up curtains and blinds to let in natural light, creating a connection with the outdoors.
Have a fire outside with s’mores and conversation.
Take a long walk in the woods.
Enjoy a glass of sangria or lemonade on the deck or patio before dinner.
Open the windows to air out your indoor space.
Catch fireflies at dusk.

Create a bouquet of fresh flowers from your garden or visit a local farmer’s market for some seasonal blooms.
Take mealtimes outside.  Sit on the front porch with a cup of coffee in the morning or have leisurely backyard barbeque with friends.
Spend time near water.  A pool, sprinkler, lake, or beach can help you feel relaxed and refreshed.

No matter how you choose to hygge, remember to enjoy the moment.  It’s a great way to practice mindfulness every day.  To get more articles like this one, visit me at and sign up to get emails sent directly to your inbox.  

An empty nester whose two children are away at college, Jennifer Ullrich lives in Maryland with her husband, Randy and their Golden Retriever, Charley. Jen loves playing the piano, yoga, reading and running.

Jen's blog - A Life Designed - is about purposefully creating the kind of life that's right for you. Won't you join her as she walks this path? You can also find her on Twitter and Instagram.