The Second Month (A Continuation of Thoughts on Being a New Mom)

Everyone says to enjoy every minute of your newborn because it goes by so fast. I can definitely second that sentiment – the first couple weeks were a blur and the first couple of months went by incredibly quick. Connor is almost two months old and I can’t believe how fast he’s growing. And I don’t mean just physically, because he has certainly gotten bigger in both his weight and height, but his mental development is skyrocketing.

For me, I felt like the first month of Connor’s life was devoted to survival. Learning how to take care of a tiny human being who depends on absolutely everything from you (food, diaper changes, burping, etc.) takes some getting used to! We had to learn how to nurse as a team and I began learning what his different cries meant – from happy squeals to hunger cries. The second month has been more enjoyable and I feel like I’ve been able to reflect more on this time with Connor.

During the second month (from about 5 weeks to 8 weeks) Connor shifted from only sleeping and eating all day to being more awake and aware of his surroundings between feedings. It is an amazing time to see how he reacts to his environment.

 

We still aren’t on a true schedule as much as my project management brain wants us to be. And that seems to work for us. That being said, we have a general schedule where we wake up around 6 to 7am to eat, play, then nap even if it’s only for a short while. This nap is an incredibly important one I’ve found. If he doesn’t get a good nap in the morning our whole day is thrown off and my usually happy-go-lucky baby is cranky the whole day. Then, he goes 2.5 to 3 hours between feedings throughout the day (sleep, feed, play) with a longish nap midday and another one in the afternoon. Then around 6 or 7pm he will eat and play for a short while then hopefully go down for a longer nap (like 4 or 5 hours!) where I’ll theoretically go to sleep from about 9pm to 12am. Then, we feed again and he goes until about 3 or 4am. And we start the day over again at 6/7am! If I have help or Nate is off for a few days someone can feed Connor a bottle around 12 or 1am and I can sleep for almost 6 hours if I time everything right and Connor cooperates. He still isn’t great at falling asleep without a lot of coaxing on our part – he falls asleep on one of our chests and we transfer him to the napper. That’s one of the more frustrating parts, at least for me when I’m sleep deprived, and just want to get a good three hour nap in. But, I know he won’t be this little for much longer and he likely will not want to snuggle either so I try to keep that in mind when I’m just desperate for sleep.

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This “schedule” seemed to start around 6 weeks and I noticed it more so when we were in Spartanburg to celebrate Christmas with the Byrds. If you have the opportunity to have extra sets of hands to help out take advantage of that! Grandma (Nate’s mom) was amazing and would give Connor a bottle around 12/1am and I got a few nights of extra sleep from about 10pm to 4am. I always pumped about 20-30 min after my last nursing session to remind my body it still needed to produce even though I was “skipping” a feeding. The only downside – and I really shouldn’t complain because sleep is SO nice – was that my boobs would be uncomfortably full and it’s harder for Connor to latch when that’s the case. I have learned how to hand express for that exact reason.

 

The mental development of babies is incredible. I can’t even imagine how hard it is for a newborn to comprehend his surroundings. Now, with Connor having more awake time during the day, there is a lot more mental stimulation going on. His eyes track contrasts and lights and the distance he can see seems to have extended past the original 8 inches to a couple feet. Connor loves to stare at lights in particular and on one occasion Nate came home to find us staring at the Christmas tree lights. I think he thought I was going crazy when in reality that was the only thing that was keeping Connor from fussing.

Nate gets home around 5:30pm most evenings and I’m always relieved to have an extra set of hands. I try not to hand Connor off right away, but it’s hard when I’ve been home all day with little to no adult interaction. He’s a full time job. I spend at least 35 hours literally just feeding him, which doesn’t include the time I spend changing, burping, and playing or consoling Connor. There are no true breaks and I’m always on duty. I think one of the worst questions you can ask a mom who stays at home (when they are so young) is what did you do all day? Sigh..I kept our child alive. What did you do? Maybe instead ask how the baby’s development is going or if you think he’s learned something new. When Dad is off work for a few days that’s when he realizes just how much work it is to be a stay at home parent. The laundry or dishes may not be done, but we survived another day. And the amazing thing is that he is growing and learning so much!

I’m not going to lie, there are days that I am jealous of Nate going to work. The lack of mental stimulation and adult intervention certainly takes its toll on me. I am not cut out to be a stay at home mom and am very impressed by those who are. While I am looking forward to going back to work, I know the transition will be hard for me especially since I will have been with him every day for 12 weeks. I wish I wasn’t such a light sleeper too…there are times that I’m lying in bed and we have Nate snoring away on one side (I have to push him to get him to sleep on his side a lot) and Connor grunting and moving around on the other side. I know that Connor would cry if he really needed me (i.e for nursing) but I’m usually on alert and have a hard time sleeping through his noises. I’m sure that will get better once he’s in his own room, but for now I need him in the same room as us especially since he is eating at least every three hours.

Outings are difficult for us. For example, I had to take Connor to the UNC hospital for a hip ultrasound when he was six weeks old to look for hip dysplasia. It was a terrible experience – not the ultrasound itself, but parking and physically getting to the hospital was awful. First off, if you don’t know me I need to tell you that I’m terrible at finding parking at new places. If I don’t know where I’m going I expect someone to give me detailed directions not only to the place but also regarding parking if it’s not super obvious. I called the ultrasound department on three separate occasions prior to his appointment for directions and never received a call back. THREE times I called. Ugh. On this particular day I got to the hospital and was driving around in a circle looking for the women’s health center, which I found relatively  quickly. But there’s no parking immediately obvious to me. So, I think I’ve found parking and it turns out to be a lot for handicapped people. Great. Luckily, a very nice man said he was driving past the parking for the hospital and I could follow him. Thank goodness for nice people. I had to park across the street in a parking deck on the fourth floor and cross a sky bridge to get to the hospital. I didn’t know this so I only had Connor’s car seat. No stroller and no Boba wrap. I had to lug the car seat around. Thank goodness he’s still really small, but it was terrible and my mood kept getting worse. My arms were dying by the time I got to the lobby. So, I get to the lobby and can’t figure our where to register. There are patients everywhere and not much staff that I can see. And the information center, where I ended up asking for help, doesn’t actually know where you can register. Helpful. I finally found where we needed to go and we had to take the elevator to the ground floor and walk through the adult ultrasound suite past very sick people (masks on, etc) and the whole time I’m cringing on the inside because I’m carrying a newborn around in this hallway that to me was very dingy and dirty for a hospital. Thankfully, the technician was on time and the appointment was only 20 or 25 minutes where she took a bunch of pictures of his hips. Getting out was relatively easier than coming in since I had an idea of where we were going. We then had to wait for our pediatrician to call with the results. I thought we were in the clear when we hadn’t heard from him in a few days, but we got a call on Wednesday saying Connor has slight hip dysplasia at 58 degrees. Hips need to be at 60 degrees or above. So now we have to go to a pediatric orthopedic specialist at two months of age. And of course now I’m paranoid that he has hip dysplasia and will need to wear a harness. This is because he was breech. I’ll write an update on this in my next post since it’ll be after his two month check up.

Other excursions haven’t been nearly as painful – I try to feed him before we go anywhere and wear the Boba wrap as an easier way to carry Connor around. He likes car rides and if we are lucky he will take a nap. I usually have a couple of hours to run errands and am hoping to do more of that now that I’m more comfortable taking care of Connor on my own. It will feel like taking back some control of my life being able to be out in the real world. Nate and I had two successful outings going out to dinner at Chili’s and Red Lobster where Connor slept for most of the meal and when he woke up was content to look around the restaurant until we finished eating. It’s very liberating to know we can go out to dinner. The worst that can happen is that we have a meltdown and need to get our food to go or eat separately while we take turns walking him. We will have to take advantage of this time because I’m sure when he gets older it won’t be nearly as easy.

 

All in all, I am so thankful to have a healthy and happy baby. It’s a lot of work but very rewarding. Development of babies is crazy fast and it seems like if you blink you will miss it. My advice would be to write things down so you can look back and remember the newborn days. Snuggle as much as possible and realize that this phase is very short lived.

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Thoughts on Being a New Mom

Being a new mom is hard. I won’t sugar coat it. I had an easy pregnancy with just a few bumps along the way (no pun intended) and definitely had a more idealized view of what motherhood would be like. I talked to friends who are moms and read as many blogs and books as I possibly could while waiting for Connor’s arrival. But none of that prepared me for being a new mom. Not even close.

I found out that I was pregnant on Nate’s birthday…talk about a great gift! And as soon as I found out I worried about every little thing. Early on it was things like – Did that twinge mean it was ectopic? Or does that spotting mean it’s a miscarriage? And later on worries like – Did he move enough today? Or what if he has a defect of some sort? I’m an anxious person and a worrier (thanks Dad!) so I read a lot and Googled everything. Trust me on this, do not Google. It’s not worth the stress!

We also had a lot going on this year. I started a new job in January, found out we were pregnant, bought and renovated our new house, and sold the old house. Talk about possibly overdoing it for 2017! I not only had to navigate telling my new job that I was expecting (which they have been awesome about), I also had to deal with working on having the new house renovated and the fun (huge sarcasm here) of working with a contractor to ensure it would be done by early November. It still isn’t finished – close, but there are still a few punch list items that need to be completed. Thankfully, the major items had been completed by the time Connor arrived.

We welcomed our baby boy, Connor Robert Byrd, on November 2nd 2017. He weighed 6lb 3oz and was 19in long. I’m biased but he’s a pretty perfect baby.

Because Connor was breech my whole pregnancy…well at least from 30 weeks on…I had a scheduled c-section at 39 weeks. I also had low amniotic fluid which limited options in trying to turn the baby using the inversion method. And that was hard. As a woman you are judged all the time. I fully intended on having a natural delivery (with an epidural because I do not handle pain well) so being told he was breech and I would likely have to have a c-section took me down a notch. Again with the worries – Was it something I did? Will he be OK? I don’t want to have surgery! Once I came to grips that a c-section would be my reality I was fine for the most part. Although you could talk to my mom and she will tell you about how I called her the day before the due date convinced I was going to die on the surgery table. Again…please don’t Google anything! My doctor was amazing and had delivered over 3500 babies by the time we came along so I knew that I was in great hands. But there’s a lot of judgment from women who can’t believe you would get a c-section. And at 39 weeks? You should wait longer so he will be bigger…he will flip for sure…ha. If you saw me when I was pregnant you would realize there was literally no room for him to move and flip much less grow much more. Everyone has their reasons for the type of birth they have and as long as it’s not detrimental to the health of the baby you do what you need/want to.

So while the c-section was not what I had initially wanted, it ended up being fine and I actually kind of liked the fact that we knew when he was coming. I’m a Project Manager so having things on a schedule works well for me. We were able to tell the grandparents when they could come and plan the next month or so of visits based on the November 2nd birth date. I could have everything scheduled for my maternity leave for work because we knew his birth date

I won’t go into the details of the recovery suffice to say that it is a major surgery and I am so thankful Nate could be there the entire time we were in the hospital since I could barely get out of bed to go to the bathroom much less pick up a newborn. I had a good recovery too – I was moving around and back to pretty much normal (I.e no drugs by one week and able to drive by two). This was much faster than anticipated based on what my friends and colleagues had told me based on their experiences. I’m now six weeks out and got approval from my doctor to begin light exercise and I’m able to take baths again.

Seeing your baby for the first time elicits a rush of emotions. For me, it was love at first sight and tears of joy, an overwhelming sensation of oh my gosh he is so small and we have to take care of him. And then you take him home and the emotions are all over the place. You come home from the hospital where the nurses help you out all day to just the three of us as a family and no clue where to begin.

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I am not ashamed to admit that the first two weeks were incredibly rough. They don’t call it the “baby blues” for nothing. I broke down more than a few times based on how overwhelmed I felt about the entire situation. I wasn’t able to get him to latch very well to nurse because he has a very recessed jaw (as most babies do) and I was incredibly engorged so that did not help matters. Some advice if you are planning on your first child and want to nurse, get to know your breasts. That way when your milk comes in you know what it feels like for them to be empty. The best advice that I got was to pump enough for a bottle so that someone (husband, grandma) could take one night feeding and I could get a stretch of 3 or 4 hours of sleep. Sleep deprivation does some crazy things to you and that was the worst part about the first two weeks for me.

During our first pediatrician visit we learned that he had lost 11% of his weight and I was stressed out. Thankfully, a lactation consultant was recommended and she helped me get Connor to latch with a nipple shield and explain how to work with him to nurse better. A nipple shield is a misnomer because it doesn’t shield your nipples but rather makes your boob into kind of a bottle for the baby to latch onto.  That helped, but I was still overwhelmed. Feelings of unworthiness and anxiousness came to the surface and I cried a lot. How can I be nursing if I have to use a shield to get him to latch? Feedings were taking at least an hour and because he had lost weight I was told to feed him at least every three hours. So I would feed at say 12PM, burp, change his diaper, get him settled by 1:30PM and have maybe an hour if I was lucky to lay down or eat before the cycle started all over again. No one tells you how much the first two weeks suck. You don’t sleep and if nursing isn’t going well you are stressed out when you are awakwI thought I was failing. When it’s all on you to feed the baby (if you decide to nurse) there’s a lot of pressure to be successful and not complain. It’s natural right? How can your baby not breastfeed? It should be just like the movies where they latch right away with no issues. What no one tells you is that every mom goes through their own issues with a newborn. For me it was getting him to latch and just how much time it took for him to feed. For others they have to exclusively pump because their baby won’t latch no matter what. And for others they give their baby formula. All are great options. A fed baby gains weight and is happy which makes a mom happy and that’s all that matters in the end. I attend a weekly new parents support group that has helped me tremendously. You realize that you are not alone and that each baby has their own issues moms are working through.

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It was hard. I wanted to give up breastfeeding so many times. I told myself just get through this week and if it’s still terrible we can give him formula and he’ll survive. And then I would go another week. I didn’t give up on breastfeeding and now six weeks later he is able to latch without a nipple shield and feeds between 30 and 45 minutes. It’s still a long time but I know he will continue to be more efficient. And that makes me happy. There are days where I get frustrated but I remind myself of how far we have come on this journey.

Then there is all the advice for new moms. All from well meaning people – friends, family, your doctor, lactation consultant. You should be feeding your baby every three hours or don’t ever wake a sleeping baby. Who is right? No one really…you figure out what works for you and your baby. In the beginning I did feed him every three hours even if he wasn’t awake. Until he got back to his birth weight that made sense to me. I guess they can sleep through hunger signals. He gained weight back by his two week appointment and we moved from having to wake him to feeding on demand. That was hard for me. It’s so ingrained in my brain to be on a schedule that not relying on every three hours drove me crazy. But, for me, he feeds better (as in more awake and actively eating) if he tells me when he’s ready versus me waking him up. Now he goes anywhere from two to four hours (we had a five hour stint once in the middle of the night where I woke up in a panic) and that’s ok! He obviously needed the sleep. He gained over a pound in two weeks and this week weighed in at 8lb5oz and I’m thrilled. I still feel overwhelmed by how much time it takes him to eat and the fact that I’m the only one who can nurse him. I have to remind myself that we as a team are making great progress.

And I should also say he’s a very good baby. Newborns can only cry to tell you what they need – hunger, diaper change, cuddles, burping. And for the most part that will make Connor happy if all of the above have been seen to. I can’t imagine how I would be feeling if he was colicky or had reflux or was just a fussy baby. Then there are the times that he just can’t be consoled in the evenings. And while I felt terrible…it doesn’t make me a bad mom. That’s normal for babies. The pictures below are from Thanksgiving (left) and his one month photo shoot (right). What this picture doesn’t show is how the Friday after thanksgiving he had a complete meltdown and cried all day, so much so that we took him to the pediatrician to make sure nothing was wrong. He was fine, likely overtired and overstimulated from thanksgiving.

While being a new mom has wonderful moments – when he smiles or coos at you – it’s incredibly difficult because you’ve never done it before and you take care of a tiny human being under severe sleep deprivation. I’m happy to say it’s getting better, but I take it day by day. It also took me about a week to write this post because there’s so little “down time” to do anything and my priorities have to be to take care of myself first (I.e. eating and resting) so that I can take care of Connor.

Those are just a few thoughts on being a new mom. I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences. And if anyone wants to talk I’m here in support of all the new moms out there.

 

 

 

Stuffed Peppers

This is the year I finally got bell peppers to grow in the garden! They may be small compared to what you buy at the store, but they are full of flavor. Here’s a look at the final menu:

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I found a recipe on Allrecipes.com, but tweaked it with what I had at hand. The peppers are stuffed with white rice, turkey burger, and Mexican corn.

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To 1/2 cup white rice, add 1 cup water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to simmering and allow the rice to cook for ~20 min (or until done). During this time, brown 1 lb of turkey burger using a skillet.

Slice the tops of the peppers off and remove the seeds and insides. Because the bottoms of the peppers were not flat, I also sliced the bottoms so that they would stand upright.

Once the turkey burger was cooked, I added the boiled rice, 1 can of tomato sauce, 1 can of Mexican corn, 1 Tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce, garlic and onion powder, and salt and pepper to taste.

Stir well to mix and add the mixture inside the peppers. I had way too much mixture because I did not have enough bell peppers, so we ended up eating the mixture inside tortilla shells as well. I had some leftover cherry tomatoes and I sliced up the tops from the peppers and added that to the mixture for the tortillas.

I covered the dish with foil and baked at 350F for 30-45 min or until the peppers were soft and cooked through. The recipe says an hour, but I think by covering with foil this speeds up the cooking time.

I topped with some shredded cheddar cheese. As another pepper dish, I made stuffed Jalepeno poppers (see my previous post here: Jalapeno Poppers). I apologize for the missing photos in that post, I did some spring cleaning on my computer and need to re-add the photos when I have some time.

Simply delicious!

Online Recipe

Stuffed Peppers Recipe

Shut The Front Door!

Choosing a front door color is a tricky business. It’s one of the first things that a guest will see when they come to visit and can have huge curb appeal. I have been wanting to paint our front door for a while now. Our front door was, you guessed it, white. Boring! I had actually picked out the paint that I wanted to change it to a long time ago, it’s probably been several months now. It’s called “La Fonda Antique Red.”

Here are the obligatory before photos (inside, and two outside shots):

A dark red color called to me. With a light gray siding, black shutters, and brick for the outdoor decor of the house – red seemed to be a good choice. I really do like red accents – and the La Fonda Antique Red seemed just perfect.

Painting the front door was a relatively easy process, but it did take a full day to do. First, I removed all the hardware off of the door – door handle, door bolt and chain, and the knocker.

Once I removed the hardware, I took the door down. No easy feat for one person to do. The front door is heavy! I moved it downstairs on top of a drop cloth so that I could clean and sand it. Because I decided to remove the door knocker, I had to fill in the holes with wood filler and sand that down too. I gently sanded the door and wiped the entire door clean prior to painting.

I decided to paint both the inside and outside of the front door. This seems to be a pretty unorthodox decision – most recommend keeping the inside of the door a neutral color matching the trim. Since our home has a lot of red accents (think blankets on sofas, rugs, kitchen dish towels, placemats, etc.) I actually think that having red on the inside will bring the decor together.

I needed to tape off the windows at the top of the doorway, and then I started painting. The type of paint is an exterior paint made by Valspar – exterior paint is a must for front doors. I must admit that it was a big change with the first set of brush strokes!

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Here are the first and second coats on the inside of the door (photos below). In the photos the paint is still wet, but once dried the paint turned darker and evened out.

I needed to enlist help from Nate’s youngest brother, Mike, to put the door back on its hinges. With Nate being out of commission until his knee is better, Mike has been a huge help with lifting heavy objects.

I am in love with the finished product! I think the red on the interior goes well with the rest of the house.

Another DIY project is successfully in the books!

Front Door Websites:

Paint Colors for Front Doors

Suggested Paint Colors

 

 

Kitchen Renovation

Well we did it. It may have taken several months, but our kitchen has been remodeled! We used a company called Builder’s of Hope, so we can’t take credit for the actual remodel but I’d like to think we had the vision for the project.

If you’ve ever been in an older home that was built in the late 60s/early 70s you will see what we had. Small kitchen, awkward space, little storage. I took tons of before photos so that you would get the full effect of the after photos! While we didn’t have anything moved around – that would have been a nightmare involving plumbing, what did have done completely transformed this level of the house.

To start, the photos below show what our house looked like before the renovation. When you walk through the front door you would see the bottom left photo. Up a few stairs there is a tiny doorway into the kitchen and the green wall is a false wall (bottom right photo) that effectively blocks the person from seeing straight into the kitchen when the go through the front door.

And don’t even get me started on the faux parquet linoleum flooring. Can we say outdated? It made the house feel even older than it actually is.

Then, when you go into the kitchen, the island was too close to the refrigerator so that when you opened the door, no one could get by you. There was also an outdated wine rack hanging in the middle of the ceiling and awkward shelves down the side of the wall. It’s hard to explain now because the renovation makes the kitchen look and feel so much bigger.

The first day, our contractor shortened the island by about 18 inches, removed the wine rack and shelves. You can see in the photos below where the 18 inches of the island were removed. This had to be patched before the new flooring could be put down. He also removed the linoleum flooring. Already we could see a huge improvement!

We had a little bit of a hiccup at this point where the flooring we wanted had not come in yet, so we had to live with the base floors for a while. Probably about a month or so. It wasn’t ideal, but livable.

Once the flooring was on its way, the doorways were opened up and the false wall removed. Below you will see the before photos of the false wall (top three photos) and the after photos with the wall removed (bottom two photos). My very own pantry is going to where the false wall was located!!!

Next up, opening the doorways. This probably made the next biggest impact to the flow of the room, right after removing the outdated wine rack/shelves and shortening the island. The drywall was removed first to determine that the studs were located in good areas as well as to allow the contractor to reinforce the overhead load bearing wall. The photos below show how far out the doorways ended up being.

The next series of photos show the doorways being opened up, drywall repair and spackling, as well as the initial impact of the opened up doorways.

We also had the parquet linoleum in the foyer area removed. Guess what was underneath? HARDWOOD FLOORS! Why in the world anyone would want to cover up hardwood floors is beyond me. We still need to work on refinishing them a little bit, but the removal of the linoleum was a huge change.

Repair to the floor where the doorway was opened up also had to be done. The right hand doorway had the most repair done. The contractor did a really nice job matching the hardwood and staining as best he could. If you don’t know that it’s been patched you would be hard pressed to find it just looking around. The repair section was similar to the left hand photo below (I must have forgotten to take that picture). The top right hand photo is the first coat of stain and the bottom right hand photo is several coats later.

The new vinyl flooring was a perfect fit to bring the kitchen together.

Have I mentioned yet about the lack of storage space in our kitchen? One of the best things about this renovation was that I got my pantry! The one I’ve wanted for years. Literally. Best addition to the house ever! And so pretty.

So now, instead of having the false wall that “hides” the kitchen from the front door, we now have a pantry! I purposely put the lowest shelf relatively high in the bottom cabinet to allow for storage of my pots and pans. I found a really nice storage rack specifically designed to hold pots, pans, and lids at Lowe’s. I had to finagle it a little bit to fit all of my pots and pans, but this was a great investment. When you have little storage space, you learn what works to increase the storage you have to work with.

Nate’s Dad, being the handy woodworker that he is, made shelves that fit the newly shortened island.

We are totally in love with our new kitchen. The extended doorways, shortened island with additional shelving, new pantry, and new floor makes this floor very appealing.

The photos below show the left hand side of the floor as you walk into the house (top left and right photos), and then as you go into the kitchen (bottom two photos).

The photos below show the other side of the floor looking in (left photo) and a view from the kitchen side (right photo).

Before, During, and After:

Happy times in the kitchen!

Bread and Butter Pickles

Not only did I make the best bread and butter pickles known to man, but I also successfully canned for the first time ever!

These pickles are also really pretty when canned. Spoiler alert – I plan to give these out as Christmas gifts. One of the great things about canning is that when properly prepared, the pickles, sauces, fruits, etc. are good for years!

I have to give credit where credit is due. This recipe came from a work colleague’s girlfriend, Ann. Thanks for sharing the recipe! I bought the jars with lids, pickling lime, pickling spice, and canning utensils (funnel, jar holder, etc.) from Walmart.

I think these pickles turned out so well because the cucumbers came fresh from the garden. Five pounds may seem like a lot, but my cucumber plant (and I only have the one!) has been producing like crazy. Seriously. I think I have cucumbers coming out of my ears over here! I used six cucumbers to make 9 jars worth of pickles.

I scrubbed the cucumbers to remove the spines prior to cutting them. After slicing the cucumbers to the shape/size of pickle that I wanted, I placed them into a gallon-size Ziploc bag. To the sliced cucumbers, I added 1/2 cup of pickling lime and coated the cucumber slices by flipping the bag over several times.

Once coated with pickling lime, the cucumbers were placed in a large bowl and covered with cold water. To keep the cucumbers from floating, I placed a lid on top of the cucumbers. This sits overnight. The pickling lime makes the cucumbers crispy to give the pickles a nice crunch.

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The next morning, I prepared the jars for canning and made the pickling syrup. To sterilize jars, heat the oven to 225F and place the jars, lids, and screw tops on a cookie sheet (or two if needed). Make sure to spread everything out so that the heat can get around each of the items. Heat the jars, etc. for at least 10 min.

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Rinse the cucumbers in cold water several times to remove excess pickling lime. During the 10 min heating time, I prepared the pickle syrup. Add 7 cups of granulated sugar to 5 cups of apple cider vinegar in a large pot. Add 1 oz (about half of the spice container) of pickling spice and stir. Heat and add the sliced cucumbers. Cook cucumbers until they turn clear.

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Then, using the funnel scoop cooked cucumbers into each of the sterilized jars. At this point, try not get to too much of the syrup in with the cucumbers. I highly recommend the funnel – this ensures you do not scald yourself with hot cucumbers or hot syrup.

Boil the pickle syrup for 5 min. Remove from heat and add syrup to the jars containing the pickles. I filled the jars to the first line where the top screws. Be careful! The syrup is very hot. I ended up leaving the spices in with the pickles – I think it makes the jars look really pretty. But, you could remove the spices by using a strainer. Just be careful if you do this – the syrup is really hot. I cannot emphasize this enough!

Once filled, use the jar holder to keep the jar still while you place the lid and screw the top onto each jar. While the jars are dropping to room temperature, you will hear the jars popping as they seal. The pops were music to my ears. As long as the lids cannot be pressed down, you have successfully sealed the jars. And, voila! You are finished! Just wait until the jars reach room temperature before trying out the pickles. Delish.

 

Sunflowers – A Summertime Flower

I love sunflowers. They are so bright and cheery and remind me so much of summertime. We had them in the wedding bouquets. Luckily, (or maybe I planned it?) sunflowers are still in season in September, which is when we got married.

Wedding Dress with Bouquet

My mom decided to try her hand at starting miniature sunflowers from seed. The package that she received calls the flowers “Dwarf” and they are expected to get to 1-2 feet in height.

She followed the directions on the back of the package and was expecting the seeds to germinate within 7-10 days. However, the first batch of seeds did not germinate so she ordered another batch. Sure enough, the first set germinated late (~ 21 days) as soon as she got the second batch in the soil to germinate 🙂

Since they had so many seedlings when my Dad came through to visit he dropped off a bunch for me!

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I planted each sprout into a pot or container with new pot soil. For some of them, I planted several together which was probably not the best idea since they need about six inches of space between. The closest ones for me are probably in the 4 inch range.

I then generously watered them and put the pots around the deck and one in the front yard. And then the waiting game started! Every so often I would go check on their growth to see if they were close to blooming. Mom did the same at her house in NJ.

As the name implies, sunflowers grow best in full sun. They are hardy flowers and can do well in most soils as long as it has good drainage. The seed, stem, and leaf emit inhibitory growth substances and should not be planted with other garden plants such as beans or potatoes.

If you’ve ever had a bird feeder and filled it with seeds that include sunflower seeds, the hulls that pile up below will eventually kill the grass underneath due to the toxins in the hulls. The toxin is harmless to animals or people and eventually biodegrades in the soil.

Now that the sunflowers were planted, I anxiously awaited the arrival of the flowers!

Mine started blooming a couple of weeks ago and they are gorgeous! I love that they are small so they do not require any sort of tie to keep them growing upwards.

So beautiful! And here are some photos of Mom’s sunflowers.

The ones in NJ look taller and definitely have bigger flowers, probably because hers are spaced appropriately so the plant is getting plenty of nutrients!

The bag for this particular type of sunflower does not indicate that it will produce sunflower seeds for eating, but maybe they will?! The blooms will be beautiful in any bouquet if I decide to cut them for that purpose.

Happy planting!

Sunflowers 

Sage-Infused Recipes

It has been a long time since my last blog post. For one, I’ve been really busy with house projects and traveling so I haven’t had the time. But, the good news is now that I’m back I have plenty to blog about!

I recently (probably a month or so ago now) replanted our herb gardens that hang on the deck and decided to add sage to my plant list this year. I do not know a whole lot about sage other than you usually use it in pork sausage, but I figured that I would be able to find some recipes online.

There are several types of sage and you can find plenty of information about each online. Some websites that I browsed through are included at the end of the post. The variety that I have is doing incredibly well in the hanging herb garden. So well in fact that it’s taking over!

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When I searched for sage recipes there were several with butternut squash and with pork. I thought to myself, why not try out both?!

I have never cooked with butternut squash before so this was a new experience for me. I found several recipes online and decided on a couple from allrecipes.com. Because the butternut squash takes a while to cook, I started baking the squash and preparing the pork chops in between the baking and squash smashing step.

Butternut Squash Ravioli

Preparing and baking the squash ended up being a lot easier than I had originally thought it would.  First, I peeled the skin from the squash and cut it lengthwise. Then, I scooped out the seeds and innards from the inside of the squash. Next, place 1 Tablespoon of butter to each hollowed out portion. Sprinkle both halves with salt and pepper.Place each half cut-side up in a pan and cover with foil. Bake for one hour at 450F.

Once softened (should be easily pierced with a fork), scoop out cooked squash and mash in a bowl.

In a separate small bowl mix together 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, 1/2 teaspoon allspice, 2 teaspoons cinnamon, and 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese. Add this spice mixture to the mashed squash and mix well.

Now onto the fun part! Preparing the raviolis! To make clean-up easier, I laid out who to  wrappers on a sheet of parchment paper. Side note: wonton wrappers can be found at any grocery store near the produce section where the pre-made salads are stored in the refrigerated area. Brush each side with egg white. I added about a tablespoon worth of the squash mixture to the center of the wrapper. Lay another wrapper on top and fold down to make the ravioli. The egg white helps to keep the wrappers sticking together.

Add prepared raviolis to boiling water and boil for 5-8 min depending upon how many you add at a time. I did two batches and had to cook for closer to 8 min. While the raviolis were boiling, I prepared the butter-sage sauce. I used my handy-dandy spice scissors and cut ~ 1/4 cup worth of fresh sage and added that to 1/4 cup butter and browned for a few minutes.

Once finished, I added the butter-sage sauce and some extra Parmesan cheese to the tops of the raviolis. Yum!

Sage Pork Chops

As I mentioned earlier in the post, I also prepared pork chops with the ravioli. Since the butternut squash takes about an hour to bake, I prepared the pork chops during that time and let it simmer for ~ 45 min in the broth.

First, you rub seasoning onto both sides of the pork chops. Mix together 2 teaspoons salt, 1 teaspoon black pepper, and 1 teaspoon fresh sage in a small bowl. I don’t have dry sage and the fresh sage is much tastier. Rub generously on both sides of the pork chops.

Melt 2 Tablespoons butter in a saucepan (I have a cast iron skillet that I like to use for cooking meat) and brown each side for about 5 min. Once browned, add 1 cup of beef bouillon (I did 1 cup + 2 packs of bouillon for extra flavor) and cover the pan. Simmer for ~45 min. You can see in the photos that I had two thick chops. If you were to have thinner pork chops, you do not need to simmer for as long or else the meat will be really dry.

This part of the meal was really easy to prepare, whereas making the raviolis took more time. Both were absolutely delicious!

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Websites:

Four Types of Sage

Varieties of Sage

Six Types of Sage

Sage Pork Chops Recipe

Butternut Squash Recipe

Easy Crockpot Barbeque Chicken

Since I am waiting for the gardens to start producing (and they are growing fast!), I have been trying out new recipes. Particularly, recipes with chicken. I have yet to find a crockpot recipe with chicken as the main dish, that isn’t soup, that I like. I did not have high hopes, but I found a barbeque chicken recipe on allrecipes.com that I decided to try.

The recipe is simple enough. Add chicken to the crockpot, mix together the barbeque sauce, pour on top and cook for a few hours. See the original recipe at the end of the blogpost. Of course, as with all recipes, I modified the ingredients list.

 

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Most of the ingredients I used are in the photo above. To modify, I added garlic powder, minced onions, liquid smoke, and JGM’s mix – none of which is included in the recipe.

I added 2 packages of chicken tenderloins, which ended up being a little less than 2 pounds total chicken. To make the barbeque sauce add together 12 oz barbeque sauce, 1/2 cup Italian dressing, 1/4 cup brown sugar, 2 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce, 1/2 Tablespoon liquid smoke, 1 teaspoon minced onions, 1 teaspoon garlic powder, and 1/2 Tablespoon JGM mix. The amounts of the last items (liquid smoke onward) are estimates since I do not remember exactly how much got added. Mix all the ingredients together and add on top of the chicken. Coat well and cover the crockpot. Cook for 3 hours on high.

 

 

After cooking for three hours on high, I removed the chicken from the sauce and shredded the chicken. After shredding, I placed the chicken back into the sauce and mixed well. We made barbeque chicken sandwiches for dinner and I must say they were a hit!

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I think that there are two key points to mention that made this recipe a success. The first is adding liquid smoke – it gives just the right amount of flavor to the chicken. Secondly, when cooking the chicken in a crockpot I recommend cooking on the lower end of the time (3 hours on high instead of 4). This ensures that the chicken does not dry out. Enjoy!

Online Recipe:  Crockpot Barbeque Chicken

 

 

It’s Spring Time!

And we all know that spring time means garden time! The weather has been wonderful lately with the forecast being sunny and mid-upper 70s. I cannot believe how quickly Spring is coming. I hope that I haven’t jinxed it by announcing this to the world.

For the past couple of weekends I spent a few hours amending the soil in our backyard gardens. To do this, I raked up all the pine needles, leaves, etc. from the top of the soil. I actually think that this coverage helped keep the soil in pretty decent condition. After raking off the top coat, I added more peat moss, black kow, and garden soil to each of the beds. Soil tends to compact over the growing season so additional soil had to be added to each of the beds. Since we also had the compost barrel working its magic all winter, I was able to add some really nice compost to the beds as well! The compost looked really nice and I was able to add enough compost to all of the gardens in the back yard.

The photos above show what the gardens looked like before (left) and after (right) once the extra soil and compost (middle) had been added.

 

Since I got the gardens ready pretty early in the season I decided to start cool-weather crops from seed. I planted potatoes, onions, carrots, spinach, lettuce, beans and peas, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts. We had some leftover red potatoes that were kept in the fridge and I decided to see if we could get those to grow in the garden. I dug two rows about 12-16 inches apart and buried three potatoes in each row. Excess soil was kept on both sides to cover the potatoes in raised rows (https://greenthumbilina.wordpress.com/2014/11/30/growing-potatoes/). The potatoes might be a stretch, but we will see how they grow!

All of the other veggies were sown with seeds as described on their packages.

You can see in the photos above that after planting the seeds they were labeled with a plastic stake so that I know where each vegetable is located once they sprout. I also laid down the watering hoses around the seeds so that when the rain is lacking I can set the watering on a timer. For the most part, I sowed multiple seeds per hole to ensure at least one or two would sprout.

My little helper (below) was pretty exhausted after this morning of gardening!

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After about 8-10 days, several of the seeds had started sprouting! By the time I wrote this blog post it had been almost three weeks since the first seed was planted and I have to say that the garden is doing quite well!

Above, you can see the peas, beans, and spinach plants have sprouted. Additional ones that look really good include the Brussels sprouts, carrots, and onions. Crossing my fingers (and toes) that the spinach will make it this year (https://greenthumbilina.wordpress.com/2015/10/13/a-fall-garden-the-greens/)!

Spring can be a deceiving season. The weather in the beginning of March, when I planted everything, was sunny and warm with temperatures hovering in the mid 70s. This past weekend, however, the weather has been damp and gray and in the 50s. I worry about the temperature dropping low (around or below freezing) so I decided to set up the garden hoops so that a cover can be placed on top if need be. Additionally, the peas need trellis support already so I set up a few stakes for those plants (above; https://greenthumbilina.wordpress.com/2014/08/24/peas-and-harmony-on-a-trellis/).

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And I’ll leave you with one more photograph of my little helper, Deacon. We are hopeful that our early Spring garden will do well this year.