Just Around the River Bend

If there’s one thing most people know about me, it’s that I’m not an “outdoorsy” person.  Now that doesn’t mean that I hate nature.  I just prefer to enjoy it while I’m sitting on a beach or from the backseat of the car as my family drives through the Smoky Mountains.  You see growing up in my family, our idea of fun didn’t consist of hiking or camping or canoeing.  We would go to places like Gatlinburg not for the mountains, but for the miniature golfing, shopping, and dining.  So this is why at the age of 29, I just went canoeing for the very first time in my life.

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I assumed that maneuvering a canoe down the river would be a fairly simple task.  I mean it’s not white water rafting.  You just have to paddle the canoe in the right direction.  After all Pocahontas makes it looks so easy while she’s singing “Just Around the Riverbend”.   How hard could this be?

It took about thirty seconds before I realized how hard canoeing was actually going to be.  My friend and I had barely pushed off from the bank of the river before I had us turned around and going backwards.  As if keeping the canoe in the right direction wasn’t hard enough, we also managed to unsuccessfully avoid several tree branches that were dangling over the river bank.  (It was about this time as I was being whacked in the face with tree branches that I remembered why I’m not an outdoorsy person.)

Surprise, surprise.  Canoeing turned out to be a lot harder than a cartoon character made it look in the movies.  One thing was for sure, you didn’t know what was waiting just around the riverbend.  Sometimes there was an easy stretch of water where we didn’t have to paddle as hard, and we could enjoy the scenery.  Then the next thing you knew, you were trying to keep the canoe from tipping over in the wake of a passing jet ski.

Looking back on that day, I realize how much life is like trying to maneuver a canoe down the river.  There are times when life is easy and you can just enjoy the ride.  However, there are also the days when something you weren’t expecting rocks your boat, and you find yourself just trying to stay afloat.  In those moments, I was thankful that I wasn’t the only one in the canoe.  Even though there were times when my friend may have wanted to push me out of the canoe (something about not paddling hard enough), I was thankful to have her experience to guide us out of those rougher waters.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in life over the last few years, it’s the importance of having a community to support and guide you through those rougher waters.  When I graduated from college seven years ago, I expected my future would be smooth sailing down a straight path.  What I didn’t expect was seven summers of job searching, multiple temporary teaching positions, and being turned down too many times to count for various positions.  It was a rough ride with many twists and turns, but throughout it all I had the support of family, friends, and coworkers.  They listened when I needed to vent my frustrations, encouraged me to keep going when I wanted to quit, and prayed that God would lead me to the right job.  Just like my canoe trip down the river, my path to finding a teaching job wasn’t an easy journey, but I never felt like I was navigating through it alone and that made all the difference.

So maybe canoeing wasn’t quite as easy as Pocahontas made it look in the movie, but she was knew what she was talking about when she said that the water’s always changing, always flowing.  Life is the same way; always changing, always flowing.  So when life has you turned around paddling up stream or smacks you in the face with another unexpected obstacle, lean in to those around you for the guidance and support you need to keep going.   It’s so much easier to navigate those rough waters when you know that you have someone who will see you through whatever is waiting just around the river bend.

Sweet and Spicy Arugula Rice Noodles

Last week I spent a ton of money at the farmer’s market with no real plan. So then I had to come home and find recipes to go with all of the random ingredients I purchased. So now this week, I stuck with the left over random ingredients that need used up before they go bad and before I leave to go to my parents’ for my little brother’s wedding this weekend. It is times like these that I come up with some of my absolute favorite recipes. Armed with arugula, green onions and a desire for something sweet and spicy, I went to work.

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I went searching on the internet for ideas, and this is what I came up with. Due to allergies I took a few different recipes and modified what was in them. It was a quick, easy, and super delicious meal that left me feeling full, but not heavy. I hope you enjoy this as much I as I did! (I was even able to make it without too many interruptions from my four-month-old puppy)

Bayli (my adorable puppy, see below), event  thought is smelled delicious and wanted to get a bite. Thankfully I caught her just in time before she about ruined my meal. After I thoroughly enjoyed this I took Bayli on a nice long walk, and then ate a delicious gluten-free zucchini brownie. I guess that is what happens when you buy too much zucchini at the farmer’s market.

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Sweet and Spicy Arugula Rice Noodles
Recipe Type: Main Entree
Cuisine: Asian
Author: Erica Smith
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 2 Servings
Ingredients
  • 10 green onions diced (only use the white part)
  • 3 fl oz sweet chili sauce (I used Trader Joe’s brand)
  • 2 Tbsp soy sauce or tamari (if gluten sensitive)
  • 2 sweet chicken sausages, diced (I used Trader Joe’s chicken apple sausage)
  • 1 cup zucchini, seeded and diced
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 package (~2 cups cooked) rice noodles
  • 2 1/2 cups arugula, washed and dried
  • Cooking spray of choice
Instructions
  1. Put water on to boil for rice noodles in medium pot(read the directions on your specific rice noodles to find out how they want them cooked).
  2. In large pot spray with cooking spray of choice then on low heat brown the chicken sausage (make sure to check the package as some are not fully cooked).
  3. When the water is ready add rice noodles. While the rice noodles and chicken sausage are cooking, dice the zucchini and onions into small bites. I only used the white part of the onions. For the zucchini I sliced it then cut it into fourths.
  4. When the rice noodles are done put them in a strainer to dry.
  5. Remove the sausage form the heat
  6. Add soy sauce, minced garlic, green onion, zucchini, and sweet chili sauce in large pot. Place on low heat for 5-7 minutes or until onions and zucchini are soft.
  7. While that is simmering, cut the sausage into bite sized pieces and add.
  8. Once vegetables are soft, add the sausage and allow to simmer for 2-3 more minutes.
  9. Turn off heat but leave pot on stove and add rice noodles Stir allow rice noodles to separate and start to absorb flavor.
  10. Once the rice noodles have nicely separated add the arugula and stir fro approximately 1.5 minutes.
  11. Serve and Enjoy!

Pinterest: Death of the Designer

I wear a lot of hats. My creativity compels me to always be learning and figuring things out so when someone asks me, “will you,” and I say, “yes.” Even if I don’t exactly know how. It’s a challenge. I’ve gotta figure it out.

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Flower arranging happens to be one of those ‘things’. Somebody said, “will you,” and I said, “yes.” And I’ve said yes now over 20 times, including my own wedding. I absolutely love arranging flowers. I’ve always loved the outdoors but I have been obsessed with flowers ever since I studied Georgia O’Keeffe in high school. I am inexplicably drawn to the organic beauty, color and uniqueness of each bloom.

I buy books on them.

I cut them out of magazines.

I paint them.

I dry them.

I plant them.

I arrange them.

Even as a child, I would grow them for the school flower show.

I’m telling you, flowers and I, we are meant for each other.

But here’s the kicker. Arranging flowers is not like painting. I paint whatever I want to and keep showing it til someone decides to buy it. But I can’t arrange flowers whenever I want to and hope someone will buy it because they are temporal. And that’s something that I love about fresh cut flowers. Their beauty is brief, like a mist, a reminder of our own life and mortality.

So in order to feed my obsession, I am forced into a client-designer relationship with brides. A wedding is the perfect time to express all that pent up flower creativity. Except for the bride and that damn Pinterest. Pinterest kills of my creativity.

Believe it or not, I actually started arranging flowers BEFORE Pinterest. I know, crazy right? I didn’t have pictures upon pictures UPON PICTURES to tell me how to do it. I figured it out on my own. Turns out I’m pretty good at it. I’ve done it for over 20 weddings and had professional florists compliment me. But now Pinterest makes EVERYONE think they can DIY their way to a perfect wedding. I end up being told exactly what to buy and how to arrange it because every bride now has a hundred pictures of bouquets that she is in love with and wants it to look like. And my opportunity for creativity is lost.

This isn’t just happening with flowers and weddings. It is happening with all forms of creativity, every possible opportunity for the designer to express oneself. Anything and everything is now at the fingertips of anyone and everyone via the internet. So when a client approaches a designer about designing something, they already have a million ideas in their head with no room left for the creative to be creative. It leaves the designer as nothing more than a puppet in the client’s hands. Then what is the point of being creative??

I don’t design things for people because I think they have great ideas and they just need me to actually make it. No creative person does. We design things because we think we have something to offer besides our mere technical skills– our creativity. We all live for those moments when the client says, “I love your idea,” or, “you communicated that a lot better than I ever could.” So give us the chance. Here’s a tip: the next time you are paying someone to design something for you, whether it be a logo, a website, your house, or a bouquet, don’t look on Pinterest before you hear and see what the designer has to offer. You might just be surprised. And your designer will be very grateful.

Unexpected Community

Imagine what it would be like to live in the past, even just 100 years ago. Imagine living in a time and at a place where your community, your whole and only community, was where you lived Travel wasn’t as easy. There were no cell phones and there certainly wasn’t the internet. Your community was determined by your geographical location. This would mean you didn’t get to be very picky with whom you were “in community.”

Unexpected Community

In the past year I’ve had the blessing of getting to know my neighbors well. This is the first time in a long time I haven’t moved after a year of being some place, and I believe a lot of that has to do with my neighbors. I have an incredible group of friends outside of my neighborhood, but I’m also blessed that I can walk to a couple of neighbors houses and it’s like sitting with family. My neighbors aren’t people I would have naturally become friends with if I didn’t live next to them, but they enrich my life.

When I had to make the tough decision to put down my dog due to fear aggression, two of them sat and cried with me. When I miss my family a little too much, they provide that comfort of family here. They bring me goodies and delicious food, and I do the same for them. When I recently got a new puppy, they have lovingly taken on the names of “aunt”, “bestie”, and “grandma” to my puppy and love her as if she was their own. They love me as if I am their own.

It makes me wonder, how drastically different my life would be without social media, my cell phone and the internet. True, my life would be missing a lot, but here is the question I find myself asking: what if I make an effort to live both in the modern world and in the world presently around me?

I can tell you, this glimpse of community I have with my home right now has transformed my life and made me a much better person. Community at its finest is found when you least expect it. Take a risk. Talk to your neighbor. I promise it will be worth it.

Whole 30 Adventure

Hello! I’ve been gone a while, adjusting to life with two little ones. And can I just say, there is definitely a learning curve going from one child to two! Also, since I’ve been gone, my husband and I have decided to really kick things into gear health-wise. First challenge: Whole 30. What is this, you may ask? Check it all out at Whole 30. The basic idea is that you cut out all “bad” foods (things that could be causing health problems, bloating, etc) and feed your body with good, whole foods for 30 days in the hopes of “resetting” your body. Many people have overcome health issues that they thought would plague them for life, so we were really interested in trying it. On this “diet”, you can eat unprocessed meats, eggs, fish/seafood, vegetables, fruits, and nuts/seeds (no dairy, sugar, grains, legumes, beans etc.). Sound restrictive? It is, but I’ve found that there are a lot of good things we can eat, I just have to get creative!

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The Trial Run

We tried starting the 30 days April 1st, and for a week did really well. Then we realized that since we were going to be gone for over a week (hubby on a work trip and myself and the kids going out of town), that we probably wouldn’t be able to stick to the plan while we were away. That being the case, we restarted our 30 days this past Tuesday. So far so good for me! If you poke around on the internet, you will find that you will go through stages during your 30 days due to food withdrawals. I’m not sure if I have felt these symptoms seeing as I already feel pretty gross due to lack of sleep (yay for having a newborn around again!), but I’m sure I will feel some symptoms eventually. This time around, my hubby’s parents are joining us in the challenge. Their lives are a little busier than mine, so its definitely more difficult to come up with food items that can be grabbed in a hurry. That being said, there IS hope! I want to share with you some great recipes I have found while preparing for this challenge; recipes that will make you forget you are eating super healthy.

Where to Start

First off, clear your panrty and fridge of all things NOT allowed on this diet. This is key; “out of sight, out of mind” really rings true here. Secondly, find some great recipes! There is some really great advice on the blogs What I Wore and The Clothes Make The Girl, so make sure to check both of them out. For breakfasts, its eggs, eggs, and more eggs. Many Whole30 veterans recommend just looking at your day with “meal 1, 2, and 3” in mind instead of “breakfast, lunch, dinner”. A good idea, but I find myself still wanting breakfast type foods in the morning (no 8 am pork chops for me-ha!).

Three Daily Meals

I get bored with eating the same thing every day so I bounce back and forth between scrambled and fried eggs. I usually pair it with some fruit and like to also add some homemade hashbrowns; I have to eat a big breakfast these days I feel faint; nursing a baby football player is no silly business (seriously, he is only 2 months old and already 16lbs!). Lunches are typically salads with plenty of protein mixed in. Dinners have been what’s changed the most around here, but I have found some super flavorful meals that fit the bill. The big thing is that you make sure to eat a ton of veggies on the side to make sure that your stomach feels full. I know I have a long way to go, but I’m excited to see what this month brings. I am finally on board to becoming a healthier person and it feels great! I will definitely keep you updated this month on both how I’m feeling and what recipes/resources I find.

Have you completed the Whole30 challenge? If so, what advice do you have for the newbies? If not, seriously give it some thought; it could change your life 🙂

 Some Recipe Ideas

Kale, lettuce, cucumber, avocado, sunflower seeds, brussel sprout salad

Olive Oil Mayo

Morrocan Dipping Sauce

Sunshine Sauce (haven’t tried this one yet but am dying to try it! Waiting on obtaining one ingredient then I can try this deliciousness)

Healthy Eating as a Family

When I began losing weight three years ago, I warned my husband that it (the weight loss and the changes I was making) would affect him and our family. I would be cooking and eating different meals and needed his support. The whole family was going to have to go along for the ride, including our then one and a half and six month old girls.

Looking back, I am extremely grateful that I changed how I ate when my kids were very young. When kids are under two, they pretty much have to eat what you give them. While they have preferences and are starting to know what they like, they can’t make anything for themselves or open their own fruit snacks yet, so as parents you have most of the control still.

Healthy eating as a family

Healthy Eating as a Family

Now don’t get me wrong, they still ate then, and do now, normal kid food. We enjoy chicken nuggets, grilled cheese, and peanut butter sandwiches as much as the next family, but they had to eat what I made or not eat. That’s an important lesson to learn early.

For those with kids that are older and are looking to make healthy eating changes, it’s possible! I have had to use different techniques on our kids to get them to eat healthy and accept that they are in fact going to eat what I make. Here’s how:

Introduce new healthy foods slowly.

Don’t go from making chicken nuggets and French fries to all vegan food overnight. That is a recipe for disaster. Take the healthy foods they already enjoy and include them at meals and slowly introduce new fruits and veggies.

Make healthy food fun.

Our 4.5 year old, doesn’t like bananas, but if I put chocolate chips on it and call it a banana ghost, all the sudden it is delicious. Try peanut butter on celery or ranch on carrots. The same thing you may do to get yourself to like a new healthy food. Another way to make it fun is cut food in cute shapes or use fun names to get them interested in it.

Try growing your own food.

We just (literally today) started our own little backyard garden. We have strawberries, zucchini, tomatoes, peppers, and carrots. My husband and I decided to let each of the girls plant a seed they wanted, so we are growing a pumpkin and watermelon, hopefully! I do not have a green thumb, but the girls were so excited to try planting and growing things that I thought okay, we can give it a try. What’s the worst that can happen?

Stop eating off their plate.

If you’re an adult and are trying to lose weight, don’t snack with your kids! I am very guilty of going out to places and packing lunch for the kids, but nothing for myself, so I end up eating a few bites of a sandwich and a couple carrots. By the time I get home, I’m starving so I eat a full meal and then some. It’s not healthy. Pack yourself a salad, a healthy sandwich, a smoothie or even just a protein bar so you aren’t getting overly hungry and binging at home.

Yes, losing weight with kids around is tough. But you can do it! Get them eating healthy, and make healthy eating a way of life for everyone. And don’t forget a piece of cake every now and then, never hurt anyone.

Mock P.F. Chang’s Lettuce Wraps

I don’t know about you, but when I got introduced to P.F. Chang’s lettuce wraps for the first time, I fell head over heels in love. I loved the crisp lettuce on the outside, with this unique flavored meat on the inside. However, since those days I’ve developed more than one food intolerance and allergies to boot. As a result I am no longer able me to enjoy lettuce wraps at P.F. Chang’s. So, I had to create them in my own kitchen. The result was delicious and healthy! They were also super easy to take for lunches for the next few days.

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I went digging through a few different recipes to get an idea of how to get the taste I was looking for. After researching  a bit, I then perused my kitchen for ingredients. A few things I interchanged from the original recipes I was looking at. In my opinion, I really like the way the taste turned out. If you have allergies or are trying to recreate some of your favorite recipes at home, I always suggest looking at a few different recipes and then putting your own spin on it. It may take a few times to get it right, but the product in the end is worth it. I hope you enjoy one of my favorite restaurant knock offs I’ve done yet, my Mock P.F. Chang’s Lettuce Wraps!

Gluten-Free Turkey Lettuce Wraps
Recipe Type: Main Entree
Cuisine: Asian
Author: Erica Smith
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 4
A mock P.F. Chang’s Lettuce Wraps lightened up with lean ground turkey.
Ingredients
  • 1 lb lean ground turkey
  • 7 green onions, diced
  • 1/2 each green, red, and yellow pepper, diced into small chunks
  • 1/2-1 tsp of red cayenne pepper
  • 1/3 white onion, diced
  • 1/3 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 can water chestnuts, drained diced
  • 1 cup shredded Brussels sprouts
  • 1/3 cup chives, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup tamari
  • 3/4 cup grape tomatoes, cut in half
  • 1 head of lettuce
Instructions
  1. First in a large skillet I cooked 1 lb of ground turkey. If you prefer ground chicken, that can easily be interchanged.
  2. Once the meat was done, I drained out the grease and added in all the additional ingredients minus the lettuce. I let this simmer for about 20 minutes on low-allowing all the flavors to marinate together.
  3. While this is simmering, I pulled apart the lettuce leaving the pieces whole and washed them. You want to leave enough time for the lettuce to dry.
  4. Once done, let it cool for a few minutes then scoop one to one and a half large spoonful into each lettuce pocket.
Notes
To ensure this recipe is gluten-free and corn-free, be sure all ingredients are labeled or certified gluten- and corn-free, if they’re not naturally.

How to Start an Apartment Garden

Spring is here, which means my yearly itch to start a garden has returned, with gumption. The ground is soft, the sun is shining and my tummy is not-so-quietly urging me to get some veggies in the ground so they can get into my belly. There’s just one problem: I live in an apartment – I don’t have ground that I’m allowed to grow things in.

No yard, no grass – nothing. How are you supposed to have a garden with no yard and no grass?

How to Start and Apartment Garden

You improves, that’s how. By calling on Pinterest and my mom’s gardening experience, I’ve become quite the small space vegetable grower.

Last year, I decided to focus on tomatoes and grew three different kinds. On a very basic level, if you keep it simple and just choose one or two types of veggie to grow, you’ll face less stress and have more success. Even better, when you don’t have to worry about sharing a lack of horizontal space, you can focus on your verticals. Growing things up, that is!

The only method I’ve ever employed started in my house and then moved into large planters outside. Now is the perfect time to go ahead and either purchase seeds or little starter plants, keep them inside until the last frost, and then transfer them into larger containers to foster continued growth outside. Again, don’t worry too much about the types of seeds you choose, especially if this is your first foray into gardening. Pick something simply and you know you like, I chose to grow tomatoes because:

  1. I eat them a lot
  2. They can be canned for use later for sauces
  3. You get a lot of them from one plant
  4. I didn’t have to do a lot of maintenance with them.

You can obtain deep planters from your local home stores, dollar stores, or hardware stores (some people use plastic totes too!). Potting soil should be available at those stores as well. You’ll want to purchase items that you can tie your plants to so that they grow up and can be held back from overtaking your small growing space. I used dowel rods (and sticks from the yard) and then cut up old nylons to use as my ties (they don’t cut into the plant and it’s a good way to reuse those nylons with runs in them!).

Even though I joke that my garden corner is pretty pathetic, I am proud that I took the time and effort to maximize my little space to provide me with “free” tomatoes throughout the summer and frozen/canned options throughout the winter.

Do you currently have a small outdoor space that you would love to use to grow something? Share pictures of the space with us or share your own small space garden preparation ideas, we’d love to hear them!

Black Bean Mango Salsa

Inspiration for this delicious black bean mango salsa hit me in the kitchen, when I was hungry, and had odd ingredients left hanging around. Oddly enough, that’s when some of my favorite recipes are created. I wanted something quick that didn’t require cooking, so I raided my fridge and found an onion, an avocado and a delicious, perfectly ripe mango. I was on to something – something dip-like. When considering what to use as the base of what I was going to make, I knew I needed some protein. I grabbed a can of black beans and thought, why not?

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Mangoes are my favorite fruit in the world when they are in season! I literally suck on the pit to get every bit of “meat” off – I cut the skin off around the pit and gnaw on it. What can I say, I love them! The secret to mangoes when shopping for a ripe one is not the color, but the feel and smell If she gives a little when you squeeze – enough for you to feel out the pit – and smells sweet, she’s ready. The sweetness of fresh mango is a perfect compliment to acidic onion, and paired with avocado and beans, you have a texture wonderland in your mouth.

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I am not going to lie, I thought the avocado might be a little odd when I grabbed it, but just “went with it.” Best move ever! In the end, it creamed nicely over the beans and mango and helped hold all the ingredients together on a salty chip. Imagine it guys – sweet, salty, crunchy and creamy – a dream in your mouth! And irresistable, too. A girlfriend of mine stopped by after I had made the dip. When I asked if she was hungry, she politely said “no,” but when I told her what I had and she saw it, “ok maybe a little!” Followed by, “where’s the recipe?” I hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

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Continue reading “Black Bean Mango Salsa”

How to Build Positive Relationships

I’m sitting on an airplane, drinking a gin and tonic, contemplating what makes for a healthy relationship. My husband, whiskey in hand, looks over my shoulder, raises his glass and chimes in with, “lying, sarcasm and alcohol. You’re welcome.” You wouldn’t know it by his suggestions, but he is actually pretty good at relationships.

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There are a million and one things to read on healthy relationships – so many so that contributing without being trite or formulaic is a struggle. We’re in relationships with people every day. From our coworkers and neighbors to our family and friends – everyone we encounter on a consistent basis. Everyone is different; what works for some does not work for others. All too often, we know what we don’t want in relationships with friends and family because we recognize what unhealthy looks like, especially in relationships outside our own. Unfortunately, too often in our own lives, even if we know we are practicing unhealthy relationships (which a lot of times we aren’t even aware), we don’t know how to do otherwise. Continue reading “How to Build Positive Relationships”

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