More ice!

On a cold, icy day…

Why hello winter! I had fooled myself into thinking that this was going to be a calm and warm winter. And, as usual with my weather predictions, I was wrong (seriously, if ever I claim to have the inside track on the weather, do what my husband does and prepare for the exact opposite). Anyway, Old Man Winter made his way to North Carolina last night and this morning! Hubs and I woke up to a rather chilly house and an ice covered yard.

Our patio

Our patio

Our power went out around 1:30 or 2 AM and did not get restored until almost twelve hours later (that being said, make sure to give a huge “Thank You” to the linemen / women who work diligently when there are power outages in less than ideal conditions, they do a great job at keeping us warm and safe). We had a brief “tease” that the power would return from 9 – 9:10 AM during which time I quickly plugged my phone in and started to make my morning drink of hot water over lemons. And then the power went out. Thankfully I had gotten a little extra charge on my phone and the water was close enough to being hot to count!

Any morning that starts with a panda mug cannot be that bad, right?

Any morning that starts with a panda mug cannot be that bad, right?

During the time I had with no power I learned a couple things, and I thought I would share:

1. I would not do well in a zombie apocalypse. Seriously, I would be the person who was forever wandering into dark and scary buildings (that I am sure would be filled with zombies just ready to eat me) trying to find a battery to charge one of my electronic devices.

2. I really like heating and air conditioning. Being from the South I have always had a deep respect for air conditioning, however, today, as I sat in my 55 degree house in what amounted to a ridiculous amount of clothes and put my poor dog and cat in their coats and sweaters to keep them warm, my level of admiration for heating definitely increased. I have not included a picture for the reason stated in lesson 3 (karma isn’t so fun or graceful)

3. I am many things and most of the time graceful is at least in the top 20 of that list… however, you put me on an icy sidewalk and let’s just say I make a Inspector Clouseau (Pink Panther movies – the originals)  look graceful. I’m pretty sure Sadie and Beau view the spectacle I made of myself as karma for putting them in coats / sweaters.

More ice!

More ice!

4. It truly is amazing how dependent our personal and professional lives are upon computers. Seriously, when my computer was dead and my phone was borderline, I was probably the least productive I’ve been since the last Lilly Pulitzer online sale (kidding, but only slightly). I mean, everything we do is online now and our methods of communication are for the most part contingent upon electricity and an internet connection.

Anyway, we now obviously have our power back and I am sitting here enjoying what is probably my 5th or 6th cup of tea for the day, still warming up!

5th or 6th cup of tea for the day. Thankfully these are decaf!

5th or 6th cup of tea for the day. Thankfully these are decaf!

I hope everyone is having a great day and for those who are dealing cold weather, please stay warm and safe!

Julie

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Creamy Tomato & Spinach Tortellini

So, if you have read this blog for more than one minute, I think you will gather that I have a slight love (and by love, I mean addiction) to pasta! Well, I also know that we are all always wanting easy, tasty recipes that are budget friendly! So, here is an easy meal that fits into weeknight cooking, is family friendly, works with your budget, and is pretty! Enjoy and let me know your thoughts or how you changed the recipe up! Click here for the PDF Version (Creamy Tomato & Spinach Tortellini)

Creamy Tomato & Spinach Tortellini - Simple Ingredients

Creamy Tomato & Spinach Tortellini – Simple Ingredients

Creamy Tomato & Spinach Tortellini

Ingredients:

1 (19 or 20 oz.) package of three cheese tortellini (frozen preferably)

2 Tbsp. butter

2 cloves garlic, minced

3 Tbsp. all purpose flour

1 tsp. onion powder

1.25 cups milk (I had 2% on hand, so that is what I used)

½ cup heavy cream

1 can (14.5 oz.) petite diced tomatoes (undrained)

4 cups (packed) chopped fresh spinach

3 – 4 Tbsp. freshly chopped basil

1 tsp. dried oregano

6 Tbsp. shredded Parmesan (plus a little extra for serving)

Extra Basil, for serving

Crushed red pepper flakes, for serving

Yum!

Yum!

Directions

  1. Cook and drain tortellini according to package directions.
  2. In a large skillet, melt butter over medium high heat. Add garlic and sauté for 30 seconds, next add flour and onion powder. Stir constantly and cook for 1 minute. While whisking slowly pour in milk and cream and whisk until smooth. Continue to cook stirring frequently until simmering. Once mixture is simmering, add tomatoes, spinach, basil and oregano. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cook until sauce has thickened and spinach has wilted. Add Parmesan and stir until melted. Remove from heat.
  3. Add drained tortellini into sauce mixture. Serve immediately.

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I hope you all enjoy this recipe as much as we did! Have a GREAT week and stay warm folks!

Julie

Ready to write!

Put a Stamp On It! It is National Handwriting Day!

Happy Friday everyone! So, in case you missed it, today is National Handwriting Day! I LOVE this holiday! Why do I love this holiday you ask? Well, the answer is simple – I love to write letters! Thankfully, I have a circle of friends who like to write letters as well! In fact yesterday, when I went to get my mail, I had a couple personal notes. One was a Thank You for a gift from a baby shower a week or so ago. The other, well, the other, I made a cup of tea and sat down to read. It is so nice in this fast paced digital life to receive communication that is not typed, or texted, but written. For someone to take the time to sit down and write a letter, well, that is something special.

As everyone is picking their jaws up off the floor about this old-fashioned drivel coming from someone like myself who has been born and raised with technology. I make my living from it! I probably should explain how this all came to be. (Cue fuzzy flashback sequence)…

Letters ready to mail!

Letters ready to mail!

A few years ago (ok, let’s be honest, more like almost a decade ago)  several friends and I were lamenting the fact that unlike our grandmothers and great-grandmothers who had boxes of letters from loved ones and friends throughout the years, all of us had inboxes (and there is nothing wrong with e-mail, I LOVE it also). Our inboxes are full of zeros and ones that comprise emails and notes of our life, and that is wonderful, but those zeroes and ones are only one click away from being lost to the cosmos. Thus, we resolved that we would start writing letters to each other and what a blessing it has been! We are all over the world now, and are all in various stages of life. Some of our group have kiddos, some have mega- careers, some are just busy, so organizing time to truly talk is next to impossible. Try coordinating a phone with three people, in three different time zones, factoring in travel schedules, children, doctors appointments, work schedules, family commitments and before long you will sigh, and just say, we will try again next month. And before you know it, next month has become next year and then those you were once closest to have become strangers. We promised ourselves that would not happen with our group (and yes, we still have phone conversations, emails and texts, but the commitment to write a letter to each other is wonderful). Through all of life’s changes, by making the time to sit down and write a thoughtful letter to each other, it has made a world of difference in not only how we view each other, but ourselves. It helps us remember all of the wonderful (and sometimes, not so wonderful) things that have occurred. And it allows us to be rocks for each other.

Also, on a purely selfish note, there is something inherently comforting about getting a letter that you can hold and read, a letter that you can mail with a newspaper cutout or a photo, a letter that you start writing on a Monday and finish throughout the week.  My love of writing and receiving letters has extended now to family and friends who weren’t initially in on the conversation, but I have been told by many of them how much they appreciate hearing from me and having a chance to write back.  Finally, isn’t it nice sometimes to know that someone cares enough for you to take the time and effort to write a letter?

Ready to write!

Ready to write!

Well, I am off to start drafting my response to my friend’s letter which is now safely stored in an old hat box with all of her other letters and those of many of my friends.  I hope everyone has a wonderful Friday and a great weekend! Happy National Handwriting Day!

JPF

Monthly Anniversary Flowers from hubs.

Thankful Thursday – A Simple Life

Good morning! I hope everyone is having a great week thus far! As I’ve said before, I believe a huge component of our happiness is being thankful. We are all so blessed… if you are reading this (or anything) you are lucky. There are still so many people in our world who are not able to read, imagine never reading a book? a letter? a text?

Well, normally I do a list, but today, I don’t feel like a list. Last night as I was sleeping, I awoke for some reason, not sure why, but I did. Anyway, while I was lying there trying to get back to sleep, it occurred to me, how blessed I am. I was in a King size bed with plenty of room, with my loved ones nearby. Hubs was out for the count next to me (which with his line of work, is a blessing), Sadie was snoozing at our feet, and Mr. Beau was curled up next to my shoulder. Everyone was asleep and the world was calm. We are blessed.

Gratuitous cute pic of Sadie. Seriously, sweetest dog. Ever.

Gratuitous cute pic of Sadie. Seriously, sweetest dog. Ever.

This got me to thinking a little more… we live in a nice house in a nice neighborhood. Neither our house nor our neighborhood are fancy, but they are nice, safe and well-cared for. We are so blessed.

Mr. Beau - 19 years old and still "catting" around!

Mr. Beau – 19 years old and still “catting” around!

As I was thinking this, I started thinking about my job which helps pay for many things, and I am thankful for it. I have coworkers that I like and that we work well together. I am challenged by my job and it is never dull. Hubs is employed in a job that he feels passion for and dedication to his team. We are blessed.

Life isn’t perfect. Would we like newer cars? Absolutely. Would we like to travel the world without a care? Absolutely. Would we like to be able to donate to help all sorts of charities? Without a Doubt. However, I am beyond thankful for what we have. A nice, simple life. We work hard to make money, we are not frivolous with our spending, so we have enough to give back to others. We are able to take time to volunteer within our community. We have a roof over our heads, food in our bellies (sometimes too much), gas in our cars, money in savings (not a ton, but adding more daily) , friends that we trust and love, jobs that give us purpose, loved ones who we enjoy spending time with, the ability to laugh at ourselves, and our health. Life is good and we are blessed.

Monthly Anniversary Flowers from hubs.

Monthly Anniversary Flowers from hubs.

I know it is so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day of wanting things and keeping up with the “Jones”, but, perhaps today or whenever, just take a moment, breathe, and remember all of the wonderful blessings you have, because I guarantee you, there is someone, somewhere praying to have even a tenth of what you have.

Life is good.

JPF

My Meal Planner!

Wellness Wednesday – Meal Planning 101

Happy Wednesday, y’all! I hope everyone is having a great week thus far! This week’s Wellness Wednesday focus is on how Meal Planning benefits us in multiple ways. I personally love to meal plan for a variety of reasons, some of which are below…

  1. Meal Planning is a great way to stretch your budget dollars. I typically check the Sunday newspaper to see what is on sale that week (I usually check specifically for meats since most of our meals include little processed food and for veggies we have a great local food stand about a mile or so down the road that we buy in season produce from). By knowing what is on sale, those are the types of meals I gravitate toward that week. I also see if there are some really good deals for stocking up to make some freezer meals.
  1. Meal Planning in addition to stretching your budget dollars can help shrink your waistline. Curious what I mean? Well, if you plan out your week and know what your caloric intake will be that week, you can also make sure you are either maintaining your weight or create a caloric deficit. I find it beneficial to plan not only dinners but breakfasts and lunches as well. For me, having my meals (for the most part) planned out helps keep me on healthier eating habits.

Curious how to meal plan? Well, I am by no means an expert, but I have found it helpful to do a couple things:

Be on the lookout for sales. Know your local grocery store. Oftentimes they will cycle their sales on a 6 or 8-week basis. Plan accordingly. I also like to stock up on items when they are discounted. During certain times of year you can get excellent specials and by doing this you can help stretch your budget farther (always important).

Sunday Paper! Full of useful coupons!

Sunday Paper! Full of useful coupons!

Write It Down. I cannot emphasize this enough. Write down your meals for the week and post somewhere that you can see daily. This gives you and everyone in your house time to get excited for each meal! I personally love my CarrieElle Meal Planner. I love that I can meal plan next to the page for my groceries. I always put our meal plan up on the fridge, so hubs can see which of his favorite meals we are having that week!

My Meal Planner!

My Meal Planner!

I also write it down in my fitness journal. This helps me ensure that I’m getting the right balance of calories and nutrition! You can use anything for this; I personally use a Plum Paper Designs Fitness Journal. I find that having something specifically dedicated to health works better for me, but everyone is different, so please do what works for you!  I also use my Fitbit app (AWESOME). Some people use an app; some people make a spreadsheet, etc. Do what works for you.

My Fitness Planner

My Fitness Planner

Have your recipes where they can be easily stored and found. If you are like me and Pinterest is perhaps too close of a friend (addicted???), I have a ton of recipes I have printed and I love to write notes on them as we make them and figure out how to make them “ours”. I use a notebook and put them in plastic sheet protectors. I sort them by type (Poultry, Beef, Pasta, Dessert, Appetizer, etc). I then scratch notes on them about when I made them, who it was for, what we thought, any changes, etc. This makes meal planning so much easier if you have your meals all in one place. Again, this is nothing against cookbooks, I use those as well, I just make sure that on the meal plan I’ve written down, I write which cookbook it is in and the page (trust me, on a weeknight when life is CRAZY, this step is a lifesaver).

One of my recipe notebooks! FYI - Plastic sheet protectors are lifesavers when cooking! Not that I know from experience!

One of my recipe notebooks! FYI – Plastic sheet protectors are lifesavers when cooking! Not that I know from experience!

There are just some nights that it is just too crazy to cook. Life happens folks, trust me, I know! Some days all you want to do is just pick up something or order in. Please don’t be afraid to “break the schedule”. Just remember to check the date on the meat (if there was meat in the meal) and put it in the freezer. Incorporate that meal into the next weeks plan, enjoy your dinner and move on.

Have fun with meal planning! I promise, planning can be fun! I have a group of girlfriends who also meal plan and we check in with each other, cheer each other on as we help stretch budgets, and there are weeks that maybe one of us is just crazy and we cannot plan for ourselves, and that is when we all pinch in and send each other our plans from that week. Remember, folks, if we all took just a little time to help other, this world would be a much better place!

Have fun planning! I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas! I’m always up to try new things!

JPF

Beautiful roses from hubs! Love him!

Weekend Recap – MLK Day, American Sniper, Flowers & the Pup

Wow! What a weekend! Hubs technically had a 4-day weekend (Friday – Monday), however, with his current position he is on-call 24-7. I was working Friday, and he had gotten up to go to the gym, well, while at the gym he received a phone call about one of his folks and had to go in. There went Friday. However, Friday night we were able to sneak in a movie, and I have to say it wasn’t hubs holding my hand the entire movie, nope it was Mr. Beau, my 19 (almost 20) years old cat. He is old, crotchety and sometimes senile, but he is definitely my buddy. In fact he is sitting in my lap as I type this post.

Beau - Hand Hold

Sweet Beau.. He loves to hold hands!

Saturday, we were thankful to have a day where we could just relax and do some things around the house. Saturday evening we had a “date night” ( I will do another post on the importance of date nights later) and went to get dinner at a local restaurant and see a movie. Here is where I am going to depart from the weekend recap for a moment. We went to see American Sniper.

If you have been hiding out or under a rock the past few days, you will understand the controversy that has come out about this movie. For those unfamiliar with the movie, it is based on the auto-biography of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle who served as a sniper (one of the most lethal) for four tours. For me, this movie provoked many emotions. I have not said it on this blog before because it was honestly not anyone’s business, but to give an honest review of this movie, it is necessary – hubs is military. He has had more tours and deployments than you can count. In fact, he bought a house in 2009, and until we were married, he had only spent a couple of months there. His job within the military is not always safe, is very unpredictable at times, and one that he would not trade for anything. I say all that, to emphasize the following points about the movie. First, I think everyone should try to see the movie if possible. It is not always an easy movie to watch, but I think it is important to see what war is like. According to hubs, the movie is spot on in capturing both the craziness of war and the sense of foreboding and waiting that happens. Second, I think this movie does a good job of showing how people are affected by their experiences. Again, this movie, for me, was very difficult to watch as it hit way too close to home (the same thing happened with the movie Lone Survivor).  Anyway, the movie was well-made and I’m pretty sure that nobody in the theater left with a dry eye (o.k. confession, hubs was fine as were a couple of guys who looked like they were in similar lines of work with hubs).

On Sunday, we were blessed to join our new church here. We had been trying different churches to find our church home and we were finally able to find a congregation that was not only welcoming but sincerely so, which is a blessing. However, after Church, hubs had to go back to work since another person had an issue that he had to resolve. I on the other hand, had the opportunity to take our pup, Sadie (a.k.a Snaggles or Wiggle Butt) for a walk and to give her one of her all-time favorite treats, a Busy Bone… seriously she LOVES them! She isn’t spoiled at all!

Sadie enjoying her busy bone in the yard!

Sadie enjoying her busy bone in the yard!

And, I was spoiled when hubs came home with Anniversary flowers! I am a lucky lady, he does this each month on the anniversary of our wedding. He says he does it now because when he has to travel again (his terminology) he won’t always be able to do sweet things!

Beautiful roses from hubs! Love him!

Beautiful roses from hubs! Love him!

Yesterday, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was a day that honors a great man. I think if more of us worked together the way Dr. King encouraged, I do believe our nation would be in a better spot currently. There is so much divisiveness that is hard to watch. You have politicians and the media just egging it on. You are either far right or far left, there is no place for those of us in the middle any more. I think it is important for us to remember Dr. King’s legacy of tolerance and understanding when we approach issues. Nothing is ever 100% one way or another, there is always a mixture and the world today has truly embraced extremism.

I will close with my favorite quote from Dr. King, “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sadie has been loving that the kids in our neighborhood are back in school now as it gives her free entertainment!

Sadie watching the neighborhood kids go to and from school! Sweet pup loves to "people watch"!

Sadie watching the neighborhood kids go to and from school! Sweet pup loves to “people watch”!

I hope you have a wonderful week!

JPF

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Easy Cheesy Baked Ziti

Good morning! As you know if you’ve ever read my blog before, I LOVE pasta. Seriously, I might have an issue. Anyway, here is one of the most requested dishes at my house, Baked Ziti. This is seriously one of the easiest recipes for Baked Ziti I’ve tried and it is the BEST! To be fair it does take a little prep time, but this is also one of those meals that if you are having a cooking day, cook the sauce and freeze it. Then, thaw and bring to a simmer on the day you need it! I do this frequently so we have an easy, yet delicious, weeknight meal! Baked Ziti, salad and a glass of vino, life is good! (PDF version of the recipe for easy printing – Baked Ziti).

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Baked Ziti

Ingredients:

2 pounds ground beef

1 pound mild Italian sausage

1 Yellow Onion diced

1 – 2 containers of sliced mushrooms (chopped even more finely)

2 Jars spaghetti sauce (I usually add a Tbsp. each of Basil, Oregano, Thyme and Rosemary)

8 oz. Mozzarella Cheese

16 oz. Ziti Pasta (or any type of cylindrical shape)

8 oz. Shredded Parmesan Cheese

8 oz. Shredded Mozzarella

Directions

  1. Cook Pasta
  2. Pre-heat oven to 350
  3. Brown hamburger and Sausage together, mix thoroughly. Drain any fat.
  4. Remove from pan and set aside.
  5. Add a teaspoon full or two of olive to pan and add mushrooms and onions. Saute until tender and onions are translucent.
  6. Add hamburger / sausage mixture back to pan and mix thoroughly.
  7. Add two jars of sauce and seasonings. Mix and bring to a simmer.
  8. Put ½ of cooked pasta in bowl and add enough sauce to coat completely (will be about ¼ – 1/3 of sauce).
  9. Grease 9” x 13” pan. Add pasta / sauce mixture to pan.
  10. Cover with a layer of sliced mozzarella cheese.
  11. Put the other ½ of cooked pasta in bowl and add enough sauce to coat completely (will be about ¼ – 1/3 of sauce).
  12. Add pasta / sauce mixture.
  13. Top with shredded Parmesan and shredded mozzarella.
  14. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.
  15. Take leftover sauce and freeze. Makes enough to make a 9” x x9” baked ziti later or is great as spaghetti sauce.

I hope you and your family enjoy this recipe as much as my family and I do!

JPF