Archive by Author | bethanybordeaux

So Your Child Wants to Quit Violin Lessons….

So we’ve been slacking a little bit on the blog this week.  Mary-Hall, as you all know, has been busy with her first week of being a mom of TWO sweet boys, (if you missed the big news, check it out here!) and I don’t really have an excuse.  I’ve just been lazy.  So today I’m doing something that we never really do….I’m re-posting a blog that was originally posted on my music website, www.bethanybordeaux.com.  But I really love this particular post because my mom has some great words of wisdom.  So here you go!  I hope you enjoy the read….and the bonus picture of me playing the violin as a tiny munchkin.

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I love getting to meet people on the road and talk and hear their stories and questions.  Often times I get asked how I started playing violin as a career, my stance on music education, etc.  But then sometimes I meet moms of tiny violinists and the question comes up…“If my child isn’t as excited about lessons as they used to be, do I make them keep going? Do I let them quit?”  I always share my experience as best I can to encourage them.

Then a few weeks ago, a mom sent me a message on Facebook.  I’d met them at an event a few years ago and we had talked…I’d encouraged her that violin could be a great thing for her then 6 year old daughter and she and her husband had felt that it might be exactly what the Lord had for them and their little girl.  And apparently the little girl had the same idea.  Lessons were begun with a beloved teacher and it was a great experience all around.  Well, for a while.  Then she’d been moved to write me a letter.  Her daughter is now on the verge of turning 12 and they feel at a crossroads.  To quote her letter, “She has a natural gifting so there’s not that desire to practice, which I’m sure that’s totally normal for her age. But we aren’t going to let her quit because at this point we feel like we’d be letting her out of what we know God spoke. But I don’t want it to be miserable for her!!!  My question is, did you ever go through that? How did your parents encourage you to stay the course? What could I be doing to really make the violin something she loves?”

I felt a tiny bit at a loss. I can cheer-lead for music education all day long as I’ve been both a student and a teacher.  I know the impact it’s made on my life.  But there was a key element missing here as I’ve never parented a child at ALL, let alone through the decision to persevere or call it quits with an activity.  But fortunately, I DID know someone who had been through this, not only with violin lessons, but with a myriad of extra curricular activities that I chose to be a part of as a child, adolescent and young adult.  My own mom.  So I emailed her asking if she’d be willing to sit down and write a response.  Fortunately not only was she willing, but the letter she wrote was excellent.  So excellent that it seemed a shame not to share it with you all.

Dear Fellow “Violin Mom”,
I’m Bethany’s Mom.  Bethany passed your message on to me, thinking that perhaps I could give you some feedback from the point of view of a Mom whose “been there, done that.”

Now, believe me, I’m not claiming to possess the wisdom of the ages, just a little bit that comes from experience.  Here are some things I’d consider, although you may already be aware of all these:

  1. Is your daughter actually asking to quit, or is she just at the stage where the novelty of playing violin has worn a little thin?  Maybe her playing needs a little “new life” breathed into it through attendance at a special workshop or a few lessons into a different genre of music – some bluegrass or Celtic fiddle (which is usually pretty lively, fun stuff that can expand a player’s overall ability).  If she is actually asking to quit, find out why.  Sometimes at that age, kids get teased about their activity, if it isn’t the “cool” activity of the day. Also, that is the age at which girls’ lives are really beginning to open up and they see other activities and opportunities that compete with their music.  Bethany primarily took violin and piano up until age 11, at which point her schedule began to truly burst with other interests (horseback riding, 4-H, a theater group for children that she founded, show choir, jazz ensemble, etc. etc.).  These all had merit and gave her great experiences. There were many times all the way through high school when she barely had time to practice violin, but we plugged away at lessons from week to week.  After all, a girl may play soccer for a season in her life, but music can be taken THROUGH LIFE.  If she wants to “try other things,” allow it, if you can possibly afford the time and money for it all.  Not having to choose between violin and another activity may make it easier to stick with her music, even if her progress plateaus for a while.
  2. I’m assuming she takes not just private lessons, but has the opportunity to play [music] with other kids?  If she’s not in a group class of some sort, playing violin can be an “isolating” experience, and I’d recommend a class, workshop, etc. so she can develop camaraderie with other young musicians.  Also, help her find ways to use her violin playing as a ministry – at church, at nursing homes, etc. (Bethany even “sold songs” at a church bazaar to help with the fundraiser.) Using her talent may be key to maintaining interest.
  3. It’s difficult to think of an 11-year-old going through hormonal changes, but the fact of the matter is, a girl that age is changing internally, and whether or not you can see the transformation just yet, her endocrine system is cranking up and can cause mood swings that may make her act like she’s “miserable” one minute and perfectly chipper the next.
  4. It’s difficult to know whether God was speaking about your daughter’s entire life, but she’s now had 5 or 6 years to gain a valuable musical education and all that goes with that (fine motor skills, listening skills, brain development, poise, etc.).  Just like riding a bicycle, IF she did take a break from violin, she has already benefited from the training and she could pick it up again without having lost too much – although again, sometimes we just have to plug away and maintain.
Let me share my own experience. As an 8-year old, I wanted to learn the guitar.  I was so small, and my parents unable to afford much, so they bought me a ukelele – which doesn’t sound much like a guitar.  However, I taught myself a number of chords and still desired to learn the guitar.  At age 13, I was almost tall enough to handle my aunt’s guitar, which we borrowed. But it was just a difficult age at which to start. I wanted to go out with friends, and for other reasons, I stopped lessons after only a few months.  “Life got in the way,” but in the back of my mind I still desired to learn to play the guitar, even while I learned the violin alongside my daughter (as you may know, part of the Suzuki Method is that a parent learn along with the child).  Anyway, to make a long story short, I always WISHED I had persevered with the guitar back when I was a teen, and finally, about 2 years ago – at age 60, I again took up the instrument.  I’m never going to be a “Chet Atkins,” but I sure have fun with it.  I always wonder, though, how accomplished I could be now IF I had plugged away when I began at 13.  But those chords I learned on the ukelele and during my 3 months of guitar lessons stayed with me and gave a little jumpstart.

I sure hope your daughter will hang in there – not necessarily to become a professional (that was not our goal with Bethany – just that music would be beneficial to her overall development) – but to have a skill she can enjoy throughout her whole life – and use to the Glory of God on many occasions.

Best wishes to you both!
Barbara Daniel

Spring Chickens

I know we’ve had a lot of chicken posts recently, but I needed to add one more.   For those of you who have been tracking with the Saga of Sylvia the Sick Chicken, I have sad news….Sylvia went to that big chicken coop in the sky last Wednesday.  She’d rallied there for a little bit…and then just started getting, well, slower.  She’d stop in the middle of the yard to nap.  She stopped eating.  She wasn’t really pooping (sorry, but she wasn’t).  She stopped getting excited about seeing us.  And she barely weighed anything.  So Wednesday morning I decided to spend some quality time with her.  I wrapped her up in a towel and put her on my lap while I got some work done on my computer.  She napped most of the day.  She didn’t seem in pain, just content to sleep on my lap.

That afternoon I had to run to a meeting and about 10 minutes after I left Keith sent me a text message: “I think Sylvia just died.” it read.  Then, about 15 seconds later, “Yep.  She’s definitely dead.  She just laid over on her side and went to sleep.”  We were sad to see our girl go, but happy she went in peace.  If you’re wanting to reminisce her short life (like I did) then you can check out this video from last August when she laid her first egg.

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Sylvia snuggled up on my lap napping. She passed away about 30 minutes after this photo was taken.

 

Yesterday was nice weather and Spring seems to have finally sprung, well sort of…so Keith and I decided that it would be a good time to do a “Spring cleaning” in the coop and de-winterize all the little cold weather tweaks that we’d made.  You might remember that we added a heat lamp and a made a few other temporary changes.  So Sunday we shoveled out the pine shavings from the coop floor, removed the heated waterer, heat lamp and indoor roost, rehung the outdoor roosts and gave everything a good cleaning.  The girls seemed really happy with their tidy home and hopped around the backyard eating as many earthworms as they could find.

Although I’m super thankful that we brought Beverly Clucky home to replace our first chicken casualty, Gertude, (who had a brain tumor,) we’re not rushing into getting a new girl this time.  I know it’s Spring and all the co-ops are starting to put out all those cute little chicks and it’s so tempting to bring home a new little critter.  Please, before you do….read all about my experience adding a new girl to the flock.  It’s not all fun and games and cute little feathered friends.  It’s a slow and painstaking process, one that for us worked out well despite my doing everything wrong, but one that I’m not sure I’m up for repeating anytime soon.  So for now, we’re going to hang on to our three amigas and be thankful that everyone else is healthy and happy for the time being.

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L to R: Louisa, Jane and Beverly Clucky. Our little flock of remaining hens.

Paleo Pepper Pot Roast

I’ve actually been making this dish since before I even know what Paelo was.  In fact, it was the first “grown up” dish that I learned how to cook.  It’s a crock-pot recipe so that’s not exactly saying a whole lot, but it was a big deal to me to say that I could cook something.  It was also the first dinner I ever cooked for Keith, way back before we were even officially dating….and it’s been a staple for us since.

So as I was looking for a simple yet tasty dinner to put together for tonight, I remembered we hadn’t had this particular recipe in a while.  And then I realized that it was totally in line with the Paleo diet, so I immediately headed out to the grocery store.  And I thought you guys might like it too…it’s got a little bit of a kick.  So here ya go.  Pot roast anyone?

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Paleo Pepper Pot Roast

Ingredients
  1. 1 chuck roast (mine was about 2 pounds.)
  2. 1 jar peperoncini peppers
  3. celery – chopped
  4. diced or sliced white onion
  5. carrots -chopped into 1 inch chunks, or, 1 package baby carrots
  6. one packet Kroger brand (or comparable)  “Salad Magic Zesty Italian” salad dressing mix (**note….this is just a seasoning packet to make your own salad dressing….not actual liquid salad dressing.)
Instructions
  1. Put half the carrots, celery, onion and jar of peperoncini peppers into a crock pot.
  2. Pour half the salad dressing mix packet mix on top of the veggies and pour in half the pepper juice.
  3. Add the chuck roast, then add the rest of veggies on top along with the rest of the seasoning packet and pepper juice.
  4. Turn crock pot on low setting and cook for 8 hours.
  5. Serve and enjoy!

*Note:  Although it renders the recipe “non-paleo” it’s also really yummy to cook red new potatoes in with the roast.

 

Winner, Winner, Chicken….Winner.

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After having had a long week of hand-feeding Sylvia the chicken and freezing weather, we had a brief moment of beautiful sunshine and the girls were more than ready to run around the yard eating whatever they could find.  Booger the cat and I sat outside with them and as I fed them treats, they all started to congregate around me on the steps to our out-building.  Keith, ever-ready to grab a great photo op, snapped a photo and posted it on facebook where a friend mentioned we should enter it in the “Flaunt Your Flock” photo contest that Tractor Supply Co. was running.  We did.  And we voted and asked people to vote, but with so many entries, we didn’t hold our breath.

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Fast forward to this morning when I woke up to the sound of my phone ringing.  Since it was a number I didn’t recognize, I screened it….and then squealed with delight when I listed to the voicemail from Matt, from TSC, who was calling to find out what prize I would like to choose as I’d been selected as the week 2 winner!  What!?  Awesome.  Since our girls have been eating food like they were teenage boys, I chose the ten-pound bag of feed and container of dried meal-worm treats (the favorite delicacy to our feathered ladies) which they assured me would arrive in the mail in about a week.  I’m sporting my brand-new “Sriracha” rooster tee all day in celebration.

Here’s the thing though.  The weekly winners are based on the merit of the TSC judges.  The overall grandprize is based on popularity….so your vote counts….and there’s still time to vote for my photo.  Just CLICK ON THIS LINK (or on the photo below) and it will take you straight to the contest so you can vote for me.  And, you can vote for me once every 24-hour period if you feel super motivated/dedicated.

My photo as featured on the winners page!

My photo as featured on the winners page!

So excited that my sweet girls got some recognition…….and some yummy food coming their way!  THANK YOU Tractor Supply Co, for such a great competition and for supporting hobby farmers like myself.  We appreciate all you do!

Paleo Mashed Faux-tatoes

When we started on our Paleo adventure we certainly started branching out a bit, but there were some things we swore we’d never do.  Or at least, one thing we swore we’d never do…mashed cauliflower.  If you just gagged or said “ewwwww” out loud, I feel ya.  I did too.  All the way through about 5 Paleo cookbooks I gagged.

Then for some reason, I just decided what the heck.  Keith had planned Bison burgers one night and I thought mashed potatoes sounded amazing.  But potatoes aren’t on the diet.  (Well, sweet potatoes are in moderation….but that wasn’t what I was craving.  I was craving mashed potatoes like my grandma used to make.  White, fluffy, buttery, creamy mashed potatoes.  And that made me start thinking about all those recipes I’d seen in all those cookbooks claiming that mashed cauliflower was the perfect substitute for mashed potatoes.  I figured why not give it a whirl?  All I had to loose was the $2.50 for a head of cauliflower and the 20 minutes to make it.

I was shocked at not only how easy this recipe was, but how absolutely delicious they were.  They took me back to my grandmother’s kitchen and my cauliflower-hating husband not only ate a gigantic portion, he also declared they should become a “staple” in our household.  So without further ado, I bring you:

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Paleo Mashed Faux-tatoes

Ingredients
  1. 1 head of cauliflower (about 4 cups of cauliflower)
  2. 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  3. 1/2 teaspoon of dried rosemary
  4. 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  5. pinch of onion powder
  6. salt and pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Chop cauliflower (florets & top piece of main stem) into 2 inch pieces (I broke off the leaves, held the head over a bowl and just sort of hacked at it, then threw the bottom of the main stem away.)
  2. Steam the cauliflower until it’s tender (I think it was between 10 – 12 minutes for me).
  3. Once the cauliflower is steamed, dump it into a food processor.  Add coconut oil, rosemary, oregano, onion powder, salt and pepper.
  4. Puree until creamy and smooth. Serve with steak, grilled chicken breast, etc.!

(if you don’t own a food processor, you can use a stand mixer, hand mixer and bowl, or possibly even a blender.)

Oil Pulling

I first discovered the joys of coconut oil when Keith and I started our journey into the Paleo eating plan.  It was a recommended alternative in cooking to butter or other fats and so we bought a jar and started using it in our cooking.  Then my mother-in-law mentioned that not only did she use it in her cooking, but she often used it as a makeup-remover or in place of facial lotions.  My love for the stuff was cemented when I got a painful sunburn on our trip to Mexico last year.  I rubbed coconut oil into the burn, went to bed, and it was almost completely gone the next morning!

But then I started to see things online about a mysterious thing called “oil pulling” that was being credited for solving just about everything except world peace.  What could this magical cure-all possibly be?  So the other day armed with some spare time and intrigue, I did some research.  Since the list of potential benefits is high and the cost is low, I decided it was worth giving it a try so this past Friday night I purchased a gigantic tub of coconut oil from CostCo for $14 and Saturday morning I started my regimen.  But I’m getting ahead of myself and you’re probably thinking, what the heck IS it?  I’ll give you a brief run down.

What Is Oil Pulling?

Oil pulling is a practice supposedly rooted in some ancient medicinal practice from Asia.  You swish the oil around in your mouth and it supposedly absorbs or “pulls” all the toxins from your mouth into the oil, then you spit it out.  You’ll want to use the highest quality oil you can find, of course as it is the purest and has the most benefits.  And just what benefits does this practice have?  Well, here’s a list of what I’ve found online:

* Helping to strengthen the gums, jaws and teeth.
* Helping to prevent gum disease, cavities and even gingivitis
* Helping to prevent bad breath
* Provide a holistic method and remedy for dealing with bleeding gums
* Helping to prevent dryness of the mouth, throat and the lips
* Helping to prevent general soreness around the area of the jaw (such as TMJ sufferers)
* Relief for migraines and headaches
* Reducing arthritic inflammation
* Helping to reduce the signs of eczema
* Helping to reduce insomnia
* Reducing the effects of a hangover after consuming too much alcohol
* Helping to support the normal function of the kidneys
* Helping to reduce the symptoms of bronchitis
* May help to reduce pain
* Some oil pullers have even reported that it helped to improve their vision

How-To Steps

  1. Oil pulling is apparently most effective when you do it first thing in the morning before you eat, drink or brush your teeth.
  2. Take a teaspoon (approx) of coconut oil and stick it in your mouth.  (I stick it in there in its room temperature state and it quickly melts in your mouth.  However, it does make me gag a little at first, so if you have serious texture issues, you might want to melt it for about 10 seconds in the microwave.)
  3. Set a timer for 20 minutes (no more, no less) and swish the oil around in your mouth.  (This would be a great time to take a shower, read your morning devotional, cook breakfast check your email, whatever.  Doing an activity makes the time pass quickly!)
  4. At the end of 20 minutes, spit it into the trash can.  DO NOT SWALLOW (remember, it’s got all those toxins in it!).  DO NOT SPIT DOWN THE DRAIN (or your drains will quickly clog.)
  5. Brush your teeth and go about your day.
  6. Repeat each morning.

Opposition and Disclaimers

Because I do my research carefully, I checked out both sides of the story before trying it, or bringing this blog to my readers.  And just as there are millions who claim it heals everything from acne to cancer, there are an equal number of folks who say it’s total malarkey.  I checked out what Snopes.com had to say  (they think it’s neither helpful nor harmful) and also found this blog of a girl who had a crazy-bad reaction after “pulling” for 2 days with coconut oil (she had done 2 treatments a day, so 4 treatments).  Other folks have said that while they had a reaction to or couldn’t handle the texture of coconut oil pulling but have had positive results with safflower, sunflower or olive oil (the blog author referenced above switched oils and did fine!).  However, a note of caution, the Paleo guidelines recommend you avoid safflower and sunflower oils at all costs, so there’s that to consider too.

My Experience

Granted I’m only a few days in and I don’t have any particular horrible maladies.  I’m not sure that it will really affect the dry scalp that I battle in the winter (although I certainly hope so) and while I do think that my teeth look a tiny bit whiter, that could really honestly be the power of suggestion.  But here’s what I DO know.  My mouth feels cleaner than it’s ever felt.  Like straight-from-the-dentist clean.  And it lasts most of the day even after I’ve eaten.  And it’s amazingly relaxing.  I’ve been using the time spent oil-pulling to read my Lenten devotional and pray and that combined with the swishing is such an amazing way to start my morning.  So if I have a super clean mouth and a relaxed mindset going into my day, that’s enough reason for me to keep doing it.

I guess the bottom line is that oil-pulling, like ANY out-of-the-ordinary health practice, probably isn’t for everybody. Listen to YOUR body! If you have a particular health condition you might want to check with your doctor (or dentist as well in this case) to make sure they don’t know of anything that might conflict or react with your medicines or illness.  And know that results can vary….something that cures one person might not cure another, etc.  But so far…my experiences have been positive.  I’d love to hear your thoughts!  Have you tried it? Liked it? Heard of it? Hated it?

Sylvia the Sick Chicken

This is a post that I was hoping I would get to write with a happy ending…and even though we’re not totally out of the woods yet, I’m going to go ahead and publish this in faith that all is, in fact, well.

Sylvia the Chicken hangs out in the bathtub.

Sylvia the Chicken hangs out in the bathtub.

One of our hens, Sylvia, hasn’t laid an egg in a really long time, but we weren’t too concerned because it’s pretty normal for hens to stop or slow down their egg production in cold weather, and lets face it….even with our fancy heat lamp and all that, it’s been a brutal winter.  But then last week, we noticed something was a little bit off with our beloved black australorp.  She was wandering off by herself alot and instead of dashing across the yard chasing bugs and pecking around for treats she seemed to prefer napping under a bush.  She wasn’t really eating or drinking much and one night, the other hens flat out refused to sleep on the perch with her.  When I went to pick her up, I noticed she was gasping for breath and her poor little body was really really hot.  No thermometer needed to know our girl was running a really high fever.  So we made the executive decision to bring her in for the night and start her on some antibiotics.


The first night was the toughest.  She was clearly dehydrated, but was too weak to drink on her own, so I fed her with a syringe (no needle, of course) and she gobbled down dose after dose of medicated water and some “sav-a-chick” electrolyte water (who knew they made gatorade for chickens!?) and then I put her in a pet crate with a cozy nest of hay for the night.  The next few days were a routine of mixing up antibiotic twice a day, coaxing her to nibble on dried mealworms out of my hands and researching poultry maladies on Google.  After several missed diagnoses, we decided that she most likely was suffering from egg yolk peritonitis, an uncomfortable sounding genetic disorder that typically results in a dead chicken.  Our girl however continued to rally through the weekend (our house sitter Ellen was a champ on Sunday and Monday when we were both gone for work….mixing up bowls of medicine and patiently monitoring how much Sylvia drank).

Resting in her makeshift pen in the upstairs bathroom.

Resting in her makeshift pen in the upstairs bathroom.

Why the quarantine you ask?  A couple of reasons.  First, because she was showing some fairly serious respiratory distress we were afraid it was some sort of airborne pathogen and the last thing we wanted was to loose our entire precious flock.  Second, the temperatures in Nashville were reaching the teens and single digits at night and we figured that just couldn’t be good for a sick chicken.  Third, as her condition was deteriorating quickly, we realized we were going to need to put her on antibiotics if we wanted to try to save her.  But, since you can’t eat eggs from a chicken who has been on antibiotics, we couldn’t let any of our other girls drink the medicated water, and clearly there is no explaining to a chicken which water bowl is theirs, so the only way was to make sure the other girls didn’t have access to her “special” water.

Once we were confident that it wasn’t something that was contagious (we didn’t want our other girls getting sick!), we started letting Sylvia out to play during the day so she wouldn’t loose her place in the flock and so she wouldn’t get lonely.  Louisa, Jane and Beverly Clucky were all thrilled to see their sister again and instead of bullying her like I was afraid they might (we had a tough time integrating Beverly Clucky when we got her, so this was a justified concern), they took her “under their wing” and followed her around, curled up next to her when she needed a nap break, etc.

Birds of a feather......flocking together under a bush.

Birds of a feather……flocking together under a bush.

I think tonight will be Sylvia’s last night in the bathroom as she seems to be almost completely healthy again.  I’m not sure if she’ll ever lay eggs again (and of course, even if she does we’ll discard them for the next few weeks since she’s been on antibiotics so they wouldn’t be safe to eat), but we’re thrilled that she’s on the mend.  She’s also mellowed out a bit which is fun…she used to be a little bit difficult and now she seems to genuinely like being held.  Her whole body relaxes and she snuggles up to me.  So sweet.  I guess she knows I saved her little chicken life.  I’ll leave you with some tips on what to do if you have a sick chicken, and one more sweet photo from this week.  Fingers crossed our girl will be completely recovered in no time!

Sick Chicken Tips

  • Watch for any birds that might keep to themselves, seem lethargic, stop laying, or exhibit other behavioral or physical changes.
  • Isolate the sick bird to prevent the rest of the flock from falling ill.  Even “non-contagious” things like injuries should be isolated as healthy chickens tend to pick on injured birds, resulting in the death or further injury of the ill hen.
  • Research online….there are lots of excellent poultry owner forums online or in chicken raising handbooks that can help you diagnose possible diseases based on symptoms.
  • If you feel like your bird needs medicine, consider a poultry antibiotic power mixed in the sick chickens water.  Remember not to eat their eggs for several weeks afterwards and that healthy birds should not have access to the medicated water.
  • If you need to get serious medical attention, consider finding a vet in your area that specializes in poultry, or at least birds.  Remember though that vet bills can be expensive and won’t always end well (one of our original flock, Gertrude, saw a vet for what ended up being a brain tumor and then had to be put to sleep.  It was a sad and expensive day.)
  • A great alternative to a vet would be your local farm co-op or TSC.  They often carry basic medicines and their staff are typically pretty knowledgeable.  And they won’t think it’s weird that you love your chickens as much as you do.  And speaking of loving your chickens….
Hanging out with mommy makes everything better.

Hanging out with mommy makes everything better.

Paleo Brownie Bites

Wednesday night I got the cooking bug, which is something that I need to get more often.  And although I might cheat on my healthy eating when I eat out (or am on the road), my Paleo experience did change one thing: the way I grocery shop, meaning that cooking at home is my best bet if I want to be healthy.  First, I whipped up a batch of my Squashed Banana Muffins, with two extra bananas instead of zucchini.  It was a delicious variation and I loved having a muffin for breakfast this morning with zero guilt!  Next, I made a beef stew that I’ll post next week.  And then….I made a tasty treat to satisfy my sweet cravings.

Keith had actually found this amazing recipe on the internet the night before and when I saw how simple it was, I decided I needed to give it a try, and was so glad I did.  Normally I alter recipes that I find online, but this one was just so good as it was that there was just no improving it, (although I did shorten the title a bit.)  So all the credit goes to Rebecca Bohl of (PaleoGrubs.com) for this recipe…I just bring you notes (italicized) and photos, and a high high recommendation that this is a recipe you need to make.  Now.  And while I don’t have kids, it’s for sure a kid-friendly recipe as it doesn’t involve knives or the oven!  Kids will love dumping all the ingredients into the food processor and watching it all whir around together and then what’s better than rolling things in little balls like play-dough?

Paleo Brownie Bites

Ingredients
  1. 1 1/2 cups walnuts
  2. Pinch of salt
  3. 1 cup pitted dates
  4. 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  5. 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
Instructions
  1. Add walnuts and salt to a blender or food processor. (*I have a fantastic food processor, but I actually chose to use my Ninja blender for this recipe and it worked great!) Mix until the walnuts are finely ground.
  2. Add the dates, vanilla, and cocoa powder to the blender. Mix well until everything is combined. With the blender still running, add a couple drops of water at a time to make the mixture stick together. (*I did about 10 drops of water, and I think it could have used a little more.)
  3. Using a spatula, transfer the mixture into a bowl. Using your hands, form small round balls, rolling in your palm. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week. (*I let the balls sit in the fridge for about 20 minutes before I ate one, and I’d recommend doing it as they taste really great lightly chilled.)
Rolling out brownie bites.  So so easy and yummy.

Rolling out brownie bites. So so easy and yummy.

Finished and ready to eat!  They may be called "Brownie" Bites, but they are almost more of a truffle!  Delicious!

Finished and ready to eat! They may be called “Brownie” Bites, but they are almost more of a truffle! Delicious!

Travel Guide: 6 Tips To Travel Like A Pro

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As you can tell by the fact that we have an entire post category devoted to it, Mary Hall and I both love to travel.  Alot.  Of course, there was the epic United Kingdom trip that we took together as teenagers, but we’ve both made our way around the world and the country individually on many occasions.  Since I currently work as a road manager and freelance musician, I’m on the road almost every weekend and even though my destinations aren’t always exotic, I’ve discovered that there is certainly an art to traveling no matter if you are going across town or across the world.  While I know that there are plenty of folks that travel way more than I do, I thought I’d bring you what wisdom I do have to you kind folks.  I hope to see you on the road.

1. Loyalty Isn’t Just For The Dogs. – The most important thing I can think of in travel is to choose a chain and stick with it.  It doesn’t so much matter which brand you choose, only that you choose one!  Most programs are created fairly equal, so pick whichever one is most convenient for you based on places you travel frequently.  Choose what program works for you, and then stick with it.  Besides earning points or miles for free travel, most programs have different tiers that provide different benefits such as free upgrades or waived luggage fees that you can qualify for based on your amount of travel, and if you travel alot, those perks can make an exhausting day a little bit better.

2. Join The Club: ALL of Them. – I know, you’re thinking, “but you just gave us this sermon on brand loyalty!”  I know, I did.  And I’m not being a hypocrite.  See here’s the deal.  Sometimes you can’t control every aspect of your travel.  Maybe your boss is in charge of booking rooms or your favorite airline doesn’t fly to the airport where that big meeting is.  But this doesn’t mean you have to miss out.  Not only are most loyalty programs free to join with no annual fee so you can join them all with no worries, but most programs have partnerships with other programs.  Simply log on to your online account and set your earning preference to earn what you want.  I have about 8 hotel loyalty memberships….I’ve chosen one as my “main” hotel chain and that account is set to earn hotel points.  All the other ones are set to earn airline miles on my “main” airline chain.  If I only stay at a specific type of hotel once a year, it would take forever to earn a free night.  But having a few extra airline miles on my favorite airline will go much further to earning a free ticket!

3. Be A Card-Carrying Promotion Hunter. – Another great way to earn free travel or perks for more comfortable travel is to get the credit card.  I have a major credit card (one Visa and one AmEx) for my favorite hotel brand and favorite airline.  Not only do I get bonus points on purchases made at those chains, but I get luggage and onboard discounts as well as enough bonus nights to almost have status right off the bat with my hotel card.  If credit cards aren’t your thing, that’s ok.  There are still lots of promotions out there that you can take advantage of that won’t affect your credit score.  Many programs will send out emails advertising promotions, and if you don’t want any more traffic flooding your inbox, then you can still take advantage of most of these by just logging on to your online account and checking the “promotions” tab.  Marriott for example has a particularly awesome promotion that they have been running 2 or 3 times a year called the “MegaBonus.”  Just register and then for every two nights you stay within a certain period of time, you get one free night.  Pretty awesome deal.

4. Attitude Is Everything: The Golden Rule Still Counts.  – If you’re a frequent traveler it’s not so much a question of IF something will go wrong, it’s more like WHEN.  Flights will be delayed, or cancelled.  You’ll get to the rental car place only to find out that they JUST gave away that SUV you’d reserved.  Your hotel room won’t be ready at check in, and when it is, you’ll quickly realize that someone smoked in the non-smoking room or that your towels aren’t exactly what you’d call clean.  But here’s the thing.  You’re not the first person this has happened to that day and you won’t be the last.  But you can be the NICEST.  Think about it.  If you are a customer service rep and you have a line of angry people with messed up travel plans, and in the middle of it all, up steps a kind, even-tempered person who treats you with respect and understanding, who are you most going to want to help?

Ashamedly, I’ve not always been kind in every single situation of travel-gone wrong, so I understand that sometimes its hard to keep it together.  But I’ve also noticed that the times I have been patient and kind, the folks behind the counter have, in turn, been nicer to me, and I’ve walked away having been helped, but also feeling like a decent human.  Winning, all around.

5. The Only Dumb Question Is One You Don’t Ask. -  Some situations are how they are, and you won’t be able to change them.  But sometimes, customer service reps are able to help you out in ways you wouldn’t have thought of if you didn’t ask.Just today, this particular rule proved itself again.  I’d paid for Early Bird boarding on Southwest for two people, roundtrip which totals $50….and is a fee that Southwest advertises as being “un-refundable” no matter the circumstances.  However, in between the time I purchased the early bird and the actual flight, both passengers earned “A-List” status on Southwest thus getting free-early bird.  So I called Southwest and asked about a refund even though I was aware of their advertised policy.  And you know what?  The customer service rep was super nice and told me that she couldn’t refund my $50, but she COULD send me a $50 Southwest voucher valid on any future Southwest travel and transferable to anyone I chose to use it on.

6. If At First You Don’t Succeed, Then Call, Call Again. - This one is one that I learned from watching my husband, and I’ve used it to my own advantage on a few occasions. For some reason, not all phone customer service reps will tell you the same thing.  I don’t know why this is, but I know it’s true.  So what do you do when the first customer service rep you get isn’t helpful or doesn’t tell you what you want to hear?  You politely thank them and you hang up.  And then you call back.  And you repeat this until you find someone who gives you then answer you want (or realize that your request is unreasonable….you be the judge.)  This usually works the best if you’re trying to change a flight or get a seat upgrade.  And rule #3 totally applies here too.  The nicer you are, the more likely you are to get what you want.

Methuselah

In November of 2012, my dad turned 70.  Since it’s not often that one turns 70, I decided to throw him a big birthday bash and collect as many members of the family as I could.  About twenty of us gathered to eat and celebrate and generally have a good time.  Because my dad loves to fish, I decided I’d loosely theme the party around fishing.  For party snacks, I set out large bowls of Swedish fish candy and goldfish crackers and for the birthday cake, Elizabeth at the Puffy Muffin (who also did my wedding cake) did the most amazing fishing cake ever complete with realistic looking waves, fishing pole, bobber and lures.  We added a few extra guests at the last minute, so I grabbed a half dozen cupcakes while I was at the bakery and added Swedish fish as toppers.

Dad's fishing cake by Elizabeth at the Puffy Muffin.

Dad’s fishing cake by Elizabeth at the Puffy Muffin.  Call her for all your cake needs, big or small.  seriously.

However, finding fishing themed party items that didn’t revolve around Finding Nemo or other characters only suitable for preschoolers, proved to be quite a challenge. (side note, if you ARE planning a kid party, here’s a great party snack from Mary-Hall from our archives).  I ended up going simple and making a happy birthday banner out of burlap and aqua colored felt, serving drinks in Mason jars (my dad’s name is Mason…..clever, huh?) and making two giant fluffy blue tissue paper flowers/orbs/decorative things to put on the food table.

Dad surveys all his Birthday decor and treats.

Dad surveys all his Birthday decor and treats.

And THEN…..I took a cue from Mary-Hall, or actually from her mom, from long ago.  1996, to be exact. Remember our crazy high-school social club experience?  Well, since I wasn’t inducted as a member until 10th grade, but Mary-Hall had been “kidnapped” in 8th grade, she got to participate in the 9th grade “presentation” while I sat at her “table” as a guest.  The “tables” were a big deal and many a Mama spent hours (and no doubt serious dollars!) decorating their daughters’ tables.  Mary-Hall’s craftiness was directly inherited from her Mom, who had put together a lovely table for MH….complete with vases of water containing live goldfish.  Well, they were live when the program started, anyway.  Apparently the event was more than the poor fish could handle and by the time the program ended, a few of them had gone-belly up.  Sadly, I can’t find the glorious photo of us, at this blessed event, but here’s a photo of Mary-Hall for your viewing pleasure.  I was so sad I didn’t get one of those green dresses.  Seriously.  So sad.  Now…….notsomuch.

Mary-Hall looking classy.

Mary-Hall looking classy.

Fast-forward 16 years and the possibility of decor-going-dead-in-the-water did not deter me from copying this brilliant decoration at my dad’s party.  My friend Amy and I headed over to the “PetSupermarket” (not making that up) about 20 minutes away and for a grand total of $2.14, purchased 20 goldfish.  “Such a Deal!” as my Mom would say.  (In fact, I’m pretty sure she did actually say those very words in conjunction with said goldfish later on that afternoon.)  I filled up several jars with water and goldfish and arranged them festively on the table as centerpieces.  It looked adorable.  People loved it.  At the end of the day, the fish no longer had a purpose, but I didn’t have the heart to just flush them, so my niece’s then-boyfriend took half home in one of the mason jars, and I took the other half, fully expecting them to all be lifeless by the time we arrived home.

Over the next few days, they went on to that great goldfish-pond in the sky at the rate of about one every 12 hours until it was down to one, lone fish.  But he made it through a whole day alone, and then another and another….in fact he sat in the mason jar on the counter for about a week before I moved him to a larger vase.  And then after about two months, I figured I might as well buy him some goldfish flakes and a real bowl and those little rocks you put in the bottom of the bowl.  Keith laughed at my investment, but since the whole deal only cost $5 at WalMart, I figured might as well.  I gave the fishbowl a home on the piano in my office.  We went out of town for a week and I forgot to tell the housesitter to feed the fish.  To my amazement, he was still kicking, er, swimming when we came home.  I gave him a generous helping of flakes and promised to be a better fish mom.  Finally, on when he turned a year old, I decided to name the darn thing.  Since I’m pretty sure no 11 cent goldfish has EVER lasted this long, I dubbed him Methuselah, after all, I think a year and a half (his current age) is probably equal to 969 goldfish years.

The cat occasionally will hop up on the piano and sniff the bowl and Methuselah always swims over to check him out, as he does when anyone approaches him, but no incident has ever occurred.  I think I’m actually going to be sad when the little guy does pass on.  He brings a smile to my face every time I glance over and see him hanging out in his bowl.  Just taking it all in.

Methuselah, the world's oldest goldfish (maybenot, but close).

Methuselah, the world’s oldest goldfish (maybenot, but close).

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