Monday, August 22, 2016

Adventures in Gardening: Canning Tomatoes

Happy Monday, everyone. I hope everyone had a great weekend! In a word, mine was productive as I spent most of Saturday in the kitchen canning about 45 pounds of tomatoes! I appreciated being as busy as I was on Saturday because on Friday night I got the tragic news that my uncle had a heart attack and died. He was only 60 and appeared to be in good health so it was a total shock to our family. My heart just breaks for our family. Make sure you hug your loved ones every chance you get - this weekend was a reminder that life can change in the blink of an eye.

But back to the post topic at hand. My tomato plants have been producing like crazy and a girl can only eat so many tomatoes. So I decided to do some canning so we can enjoy the fruits of my garden in the cold winter months. Going into this canning project, I was pretty intimidated. I had helped my mom can when I was young but it's one thing to be the helper and a whole other thing to do the entire process by yourself! Phil was there for moral support and he helped move the heavy water bath pot on and off the stove but besides that, this was a solo project.

First up, I used 10 pounds of tomatoes to make a double batch of tomato salsa, using this recipe. I opted to broil the tomatoes as the recipe said that would enhance their flavor.

One of several piles of broiled tomatoes, waiting to be peeled.
I was nervous about the hot water bath canning process but it all worked out and all 8 jars sealed! Success!

8 1.5 pint jars of salsa. Yum!
Next up was the biggest project of the day - turning 25 pounds of tomatoes into this spaghetti sauce recipe
This is what 25 pounds of heirloom tomatoes looks like!
This was definitely the most time consuming recipe as it tok quite awhile to peel all of those tomatoes! For this recipe, I used the blanching method to peel them. After peeling all those tomatoes, I added all the other ingredients and let it simmer away on the stove for about 5 hours.
Lots and lots of marinara, simmering away.
 While that was simmering, I turned 10 pounds of tomato into roasted tomato marinara sauce using this recipe. This was definitely the easiest thing I made that day as the recipe did not require you to skin the tomatoes. Besides using my tomatoes for this recipe, I also got to use up some of my fresh oregano which has been growing like crazy!

1 of 2 pans of roasted goodness!
I decided to freeze this recipe to save some time. 
8 pints of marinara, ready to be frozen.
The other marinara was still simmering away on the stove at this point so I took a break, read for a bit and then we made this delicious dinner! We grilled the potatoes and halibut and I boiled the green beans. The green beans are from my garden and the halibut was caught by my friend's dad on a fishing trip to Alaska. It was such a healthy, delicious meal!

After dinner, it was time to process the marinara. I had to do it in 2 batches so it was a bit time consuming. But in the end, all 12 quarts sealed so it was another success!

I feel really proud of myself for taking on this project. It helped that I could call and text my mom with any canning questions as she is a canning pro! Canning certainly is a lot of work but it will be so worth to be able to enjoy homemade goods throughout the year.

Have you ever tried canning? Would you be willing to try it?

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Currently: August Edition

Happy Wednesday! I'm enjoying this quieter week and trying to take it as easy as I can so I can get back to full health. Here's what's currently happening in my world.

Reading: Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner. I chose this book for the book club I'll be hosting next Tuesday. I originally heard about it when I read The End of Your Life Book Club. It started off a tad bit slow/confusing but now I am really liking it.

Loving: all the fresh produce I've been eating! Between the green beans, beets, red peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes my garden is producing and the zucchini my coworker has been giving me, I'm eating really well for free! I'm thinking that I'm past break even on what I spent to plant my garden considering I've yielded over 50 pounds of tomatoes plus lots of other stuff! Ahem, that's if you don't consider all the money I've spent this week on supplies for canning!

Thinking: about how I can get better at not over-planning my schedule. I have lots of fun things to look forward to, but it's all felt like a bit too much lately. I'm debating between setting aside a plan free week each month or setting a limit of only making plans 1 night a week in addition to my 1 night of volunteering. It doesn't work for me to say I am going to 'plan less' - I think I need a strict rule to adhere to. I also need to work on not feeling bad about saying no to things... 

Feeling: like I'm never going to stop coughing! I went back to the doctor on Monday and got some steroids and a day and nighttime cough syrup and while they are helping, I'm still coughing so much. I'm approaching the 3 week mark of being sick so it's gotten beyond old! I left a message with my doctor this morning, though, to see what she suggests as I feel like I'm regressing again. Le sigh.

Anticipating: attending a wedding at a lake resort in Minnesota over Labor Day weekend. We will know several other couples so it should be a really fun! It boggles my mind that Labor Day is just a matter of weeks away, though! 

Watching: Season 2 of Veep on Amazon Prime now that it's available for free. We can't wait for more seasons to be available!

Working: on putting together grocery lists and task lists in preparation for the canning I am going to do this weekend. I'm planning to can spaghetti sauce and salsa and I will also make some marinara to freeze. 

Grateful: to live where I do. I appreciate living here every day, but when I host visitors, I especially appreciate it. There's something about seeing the city through others' eyes that gives me a whole new sense of appreciation. 

Listening:  to a new podcast called Science Vs. The host picks a topic and reviews the scientific research around the topic. My favorite episode thus far was the one on Attachment Parenting. I obviously don't have kids but it will still interesting to listen to. The host is from Australia and I just love her accent and personality!

Wishing: that I could teleport my mom here for the weekend so she could help me can! She has done so much canning so is a total pro. I helped her can when I was young so I have vague memories of how it works and have done some research on google, but there's nothing like having an expert at the helm to help out! I'm sure I'll be calling her LOTS.

What are you reading, anticipating, and loving these days? 

Monday, August 15, 2016

It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Worst of Times

Charles Dickens' epic first line from the book, A Tale of Two Cities, sums up how August has gone for me so far. I feel like I've packed about a month's worth of activities into the first two weeks of the month and am definitely ready for life to slow down a bit. Here's what falls under the best/worst category for the month!

The Best of Times...
- My month started out great with a girls weekend getaway to a cabin up north with 5 of my college friends. We did some shopping, ate great food, put together a 1,000 piece puzzle, caught up on each others lives, soaked up the sun, and laughed a lot. We had so much fun and are committed to getting together on an annual basis going forward!

Posing by Babe the Blue Ox, who is the side kick of the American Fok Hero, Paul Bunyan.
- We spent the second weekend hosting Alli and Chris and showing them the sights of Minneapolis. Neither one of them had been to Minneapolis so we did our best to show them the best that our city has to offer. We were gifted with absolutely beautiful weather! I did a terrible job of taking photos of all the things we saw and did, but some of the highlights were walking through the Rose Gardens by Lake Harriet, checking out Minnehaha Falls, walking through my old neighborhood, and eating dinner at one of the best restaurants in Minneapolis.

Alli & Chris by Minnehaha Falls
 - My garden has been producing a ton of fresh produce! I came home from a business trip and picked everything in the picture below, plus a bag of green beans. I already had quite a few tomatoes that I had picked the week before, so I need to figure out how to can stat! My goal is to try to make salsa and spaghetti sauce next weekend.

The Worst of Times...
- I have been so sick. Like the sickest I have been in a very, very long time. After hacking away all weekend during my girls weekend getaway, I ended up going to urgent care last Monday as I'd been sick for a week and hadn't made any improvement. It turns out I had a nasty case of bronchitis. I went to urgent care the morning before leaving for a 3-day business trip to northern California, so the timing was terrible.
Starting off my Monday with an urgent care patient bracelet.
- Being sick while traveling for work is HORRID. I coughed through presentations. I was constantly hot/clammy as my body couldn't regulate its temperature and it was so hot in the Central Valley of California where I spent most of my time. The low point of the trip was when I made the mistake of taking my antibiotics on an empty stomach and ended up throwing up one morning. I had to quickly rally as I had 4 different client meetings that day. I was on my own for the first two days and on the final day, the sales rep I was traveling with said I sounded so awful and said he would have understood if I wanted to stay in the car while he went in and did the client meetings. I opted to go into the client meetings with him as I figured I might as well contribute to the conversation since I was already there.

- To top things off, earlier in the month I found out that there was a water issue in the building where the condo I own is and because the connection between the dishwasher and kitchen sink in my unit wasn't properly installed, water backed up in to the kitchen. The laminate tile got wet and warped, so the flooring has to be replaced and I had to get that connection between the sink and the dishwasher fixed. And the oven element stopped working, too, so that is getting replaced.  When it rains, it pours I guess. Anytime I have to shell out money for that condo, it annoys me because I would LOVE to sell it, but it's STILL worth less than the balance of my mortgage. Le sigh. Luckily I have a property manager that deals with stuff like this because clearly I would not have had time to deal with it this month.

So there you have it. It's been a month of insanity. There have been good times, but there have been some tough times. I'm hoping that calmer waters are ahead because I feel like life is totally and completely kicking my *ss right now. Luckily, I have a mostly plan-free week. Thank God. I feel like I've barely seen Phil for the last 2 weeks so we really need some quiet time to just be together. And, his birthday falls this week so I'm glad I'll be around this week so I can help him celebrate it!

What's going on in your world these days?

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Virtual Coffee Date

Hi, happy almost Friday! It's been awhile since I've done a "Virtual Coffee Date" catch-up session, so here goes!

If we were having coffee today...

- I'd probably start off by apologizing for the hoarse man voice I'm rocking right now thanks to a nasty chest cold I came down with last weekend. This nasty cold forced me to stay home from work yesterday as I just felt so crappy and didn't want to subject my co-workers to the awful sound of me hacking away. Here's hoping the day of rest did it's trick and that I'm back to full health soon - ideally by tomorrow when I leave for my girls' weekend lake cabin getaway!

- I'd tell you how much I am loving gardening. I never expected to like it as much as I do! I also never expected it to be as easy as it's been. Sure, some thing have been a bit disappointing (like my radishes which didn't grow great as I didn't thin them - lesson learned), but all in all it's been so much fun. I got to pick my first batch of tomatoes last weekend. I heart tomatoes so much so am excited to have a steady supply of home grown tomatoes to enjoy over the coming weeks. Phil doesn't eat tomatoes (his loss!) so I think I am going to try canning salsa or tomato sauce as I'll probably have more tomatoes than I can eat on my own. I've never canned anything before but hopefully it's pretty easy to figure out.

I grew an heirloom breed of tomatoes that turns bright pink instead of dark red. They are delicious!

- I'd tell you that I feel blessed to have a full life but also overwhelmed by my busy schedule at times. Free week night evenings are difficult to come by these days and I've been traveling more for work lately so life feels a bit hectic. August is shaping up to be a busy month so I've decided that I can't say yes to anything else this month, outside of work travel.

- I'd tell you that despite the busy schedule, I have some really fun things to look forward to, like my girls weekend getaway this weekend, hosting our friends from New York next weekend, celebrating Phil's birthday later this month, a book club meeting I'm hosting later this month, and a Labor Day Weekend wedding that is at a lake resort in Minnesota.

- I'd also probably tell you that I managed to track down the email addresses of the couple that lives in the house with the door colors I like. I figured it'd be easier to try to ask them what color they used to paint their door versus trying to find a similarly colored paint chip. Plus it just seems like paint chips are never completely accurate and I'd rather not deal with the trial and error process of finding a color we like. They responded back and said they'll send me the paint color when they get back from the vacation they are on. My goal is to get our doors painted in September. I know it won't happen in August given my busy schedule!

- I'd also tell you that I feel kind of 'meh' about the summer Olympics this year. Maybe it's all the drama around the health risks associated with the location that has resulted in some athletes opting not to go or maybe it's knowing that I won't be able to DVR things since we don't have cable or a DVR. Whatever the case, I just don't feel as excited as I was in the past. Hopefully I'll find my Olympic spirit once they start to broadcast events.

- I'd end on a positive note and tell you that Phil and I bought our tickets for our Bend vacation this week! We got really lucky and got a great deal on our tickets! The price randomly went down $150 the day we bought them and we used a free companion fare I get each year through my Delta credit card, so we only had to buy one ticket. We are going in mid-October and will spend 3 nights in Bend and 1 night in Portland. I'm so excited for this getaway! Bend has lots of great hiking in the area and we'll do a day trip to Crater Lake National Park. It should be an awesome trip!

If we were having coffee today, what would you tell me?

Monday, August 1, 2016

Podcast and Books of July

July really came in like a lamb and out like a lion for me in terms of the pace of life. I eased into the month with a week long vacation and then sort of 'paid for' that week of ease and relaxation with a couple of super busy weeks of work and evening commitments. The first half of August is going to be equally busy but hopefully things will slow down in the second half! Luckily I have a girls weekend getaway this coming weekend which will be good for my soul!

This month I'm only sharing podcasts and books because July was another month of lame workouts. I am really, really struggling with how long it's taking me to get back to a normal level of activity. My physical therapist keeps reminding me this is normal but I'm just so impatient to get back out there and do more. However, I do know that surgery was the right decision as before I had surgery, it hurt to walk, and I can walk pain-free. So long term, I know surgery was the way to go. I also didn't take any outfit pictures this month because I wore a lot of my tried and true outfits and nothing all that exciting or photo worthy!


I actually had a bit of a hard time selecting which podcasts to share as I listened to so many great ones this month! There are my top 4!

The Problem with the Solution by Invisibilia - This was an interesting examination of a different approach to treating those with mental illnesses. The hosts visit a town in Belgium where families take in people with mental illness that would have otherwise been institutionalized. It's a thought-provoking episode.

Flip the Script by Invisibilia - Yes, I'm sharing a 2nd Invisibilia episode because this one was SO good. It looks at what happens when we do the opposite of what our instincts are telling us to do. The segment of the podcast that was most interesting to me was the part about how Denmark police officers are attempting to combat Islamic radicalization with love and compassion.

Taking the Lead by Note to Self - I don't consistently listen to Note to Self but their "Taking the Lead" series totally caught my eye (or should I say ear?). It's a 4-part podcast about two Brooklyn women who have a tech idea to help harried working mothers who still want to rise up in their professional ranks. It was really interesting!

What are Gender Barriers Made of? by Freakonomics -  This is a very thought-provoking podcast about why women are still subtlety penalized in the work arena by societal conventions. One of the most interesting parts of the podcast is when they talk about a case study that is used in grad school. The class gets the exact same case study, except for half the class, the main character's name is Heidi, and for the other half of the class, the main character's name is Howard. The only difference between the two versions of the case study is the name, but the students tend to come to entirely different conclusions. Both halves of the class find the protagonist of the case study to be competent, but those who think she is a woman think she is 'unlikable'. Even women who read the case study tend to find her unlikable.


July was a decent reading month for me as I read 5 books. My favorite was the Steve Jobs biography that I read at the beginning of the month. This is an example of why I like doing the Read Harder Challenge as this is a book that I probably wouldn't have picked up if not for the challenge (I read it for the biography category). Jobs is a fascinating man and a total and complete a-hole. My least favorite read was The Plague of Doves which I read for my local book club. I read and disliked another Erdrich novel years ago and after disliking this, I'm done giving that author a chance. She's very critically acclaimed but her books just don't work for me!

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson* - 5 stars
Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella - 4 stars
Remember Mia by Alexandra Burt - 3 stars
The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood - 4 stars
The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich - 2 stars

Monday, July 25, 2016

Getting To Know Me Through 17 Questions

A couple of friends posted this questionnaire recently and it was fun to read, so I thought I'd play along and answer the questions!
1. What brings you the greatest joy? Being active outdoors. Whether I'm biking, walking, running, kayaking, or hiking, being active outdoors is my happy place. And it's even better if I'm with Phil or a good friend.
2. What are your vices? Coffee, specifically a vanilla latte or coffee with vanilla-flavored creamer! I have to have it every day. 
3. What is on your nightstand? A lamp, the latest book I am reading, my glasses and glasses case, ear plugs, and kleenexes.
4. Do you have a secret talent? The only thing that comes to mind is using excel spreadsheets. I've worked in excel for years, so I am very good at writing formulas and coming up with ways to analyze data. I love spreadsheets so much that I use them to manage anything from party planning to the books I read each year to my finances.
5. What is your greatest indulgence? Getting massages. I try to get one a quarter, but I haven't had one since the beginning of the year. I've avoided booking them because my range of motion is still limited in my lower body due to my hip surgery, but I should book one and just tell my masseuse to focus on my back/shoulders/neck.  She'd have plenty of knots to work out in those areas!
6. What should everyone try at least once in their life? I'm going to copy Amber and say living alone. I know that living alone can be considered a luxury since it is expensive but I think it makes you grow as an individual, become more independent and it forces you to get comfortable with being by yourself (which isn't something I struggle with but I know it can be a struggle for others).
7. What makes you laugh? Phil. He has a very witty sense of humor. Sometimes I do not get his sense of humor because I am more literal (he calls me Literal Lisa) but all in all, he is a funny guy. In fact, he can say he gets paid to be funny because he writes the humor section in his company's monthly financial markets publication.
8. What is one thing people would be surprised to know about you?  I was a piano teacher when I was in high school. I had 10 students and charged $5/lesson. $50/week isn't much but it felt great at the time and I really enjoyed introducing students to music. 
9. What is on your bucket list? Traveling to Machu Picchu, Croatia, and Spain.
10. What is on your feet right now? Nothing. If I am at home, I am barefoot because it's really warm right now. If it was a cooler time of year, I'd be wearing a pair of cozy moccasin slippers.
11. How did you make your first dollar? I earned my first dollar babysitting.  I think I was around 12 when I did my first babysitting gig. I also got paid to mow my parents' 3 acre lawn (which was a time-consuming job) as well as my grandparents lawn.
12. What superstition do you believe in? Making a wish at 11:11 and I also make wishes when I find an eyelash and then blow the eyelash away.
13. What items in your closet do you wear the most? Right now, I have a variety of silk tops from banana republic that I wear all the time as they go with multiple skirts/pants in my closet and they are comfortable.
14. What is the best gift you’ve ever received? On the day of my high school graduation, my mom gave me a journal she had kept during my senior year, filled with the events of that year as well as advice she wanted to give that I was too bullheaded to listen to at the time. Another great gift I received was a necklace with a heart and the states of Minnesota and North Dakota on them. My friend Alli sent that to me when I found out I was being relocated to Charlotte. It's one of the few necklaces I own and I wear it often. 

My favorite necklace! My chest looks red in this photo but I'm not sunburned - I'm just flushed from getting ready in a warm house!
15. What is on your liquor shelf? Way too much stuff. Gin, vodka, rum, tequila, grand marnier, and the list goes on. Most are things I bought for a recipe or a party in the past. We never drink hard alcohol, so it's a good thing that it doesn't go bad! We should have an 'empty the bar' party some time, although, it might take several parties as our friends are not big drinkers.

16. What is on your kitchen counter? So much stuff. A knife block, toaster oven, coffee pot, food processor, binders with recipes I printed off the internet, a container that holds serving spoons, a napkin holder, my compost bin, and some random stuff that tends to pile up on one end of the counter! I should probably put some things away, like my food processor, so it looks less cluttered but I like having easy access to things when I want to use them. 

17. What would you never leave home without? My phone and a book! I try to always have a book in my purse.

What are you vices, how did you make your first dollar, and what brings you the greatest joy?

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

2016 Goals: Half-time Check-In

The year is over half over (!!!) so I thought it would be a good time to check in on how my 2016 goals are coming along.

1.  Health and Fitness

- PR at the YWCA women's triathlon.  Status = Not able to complete due to my hip surgery. :(

- Run a sub-4 hour marathon at Grandma's marathon. Status = Not able to complete due to my hip surgery. :(

2.  Personal growth

 - Identify an organization to volunteer with and volunteer on a consistent basis. Status = In Process. I decided to volunteer in an adult ESL classroom through Minnesota Literacy Council. In June I started to volunteer as a classroom assistant on a weekly basis and I am loving it!! I usually work with the beginner class and our students are a mix of Latinos and Somalians. It's given me a whole new level of appreciation for the things I take for granted. I know things are not perfect here, but being born in the U.S. is like winning the lottery as we have so much freedom, opportunity, access to health care and safety/security compared to other parts of the world.

3.  Reading

- Finish all of the books on my nook.  Status = In Process. I've read 3 books but still have 1 more to read.

- Read 12 physical books that I already own.  Status = In Process. I've read 6 books so am on track to complete this goal.

- Complete the 2016 Book Riot Read Harder Challenge. Status = In Process. I've completed 15 out of 24 tasks.

4.  Mental health

- Have one "shouldless" day a month and blog about it. Status = In Process. I've managed to have a shouldless day 5 out of the 6 months so far this year, so I have a little bit of catching up to do.


All in all, I feel like I'm doing pretty well with my goals. I won't achieve the health and fitness ones, but that's out of my control. Out of everything I've set out to accomplish this year, I have the most pride/sense of satisfaction about starting to volunteer on a weekly basis with an organization with a great cause.

Did you set any goals for the year? If so, are you on track to complete them?