I. You. We Are Worth It!

“Respect your body. Eat well. Dance forever.”
― Eliza Gaynor Minden 

My nine-year-old step daughter Avalon never walks. She prances, glides, and pirouettes. Even when she runs, Avalon has the grace of a gazelle. Her little brother is her best pupil and she teaches him all of her latest dances. His jazz hands are exquisite!  😉

One of the best family purchases that we have recently made is a Bose SoundLink Bluetooth speaker (in the color red – of course). The sound quality is wonderful and it gives great ambiance to our family dinners. It is portable and easily moves room-to-room and this summer it will help with yard work and give spirit to our time in the pool and hot tub. Plus, it helps us MOVE MORE by dancing! In recent days Avie has taught me a couple of her dances and while it results in an uproar of laughter,  it is also helping me reach my step goals on my new Fit Bit Flex. The idea of spending hours at the gym on a treadmill or elliptical makes me shudder. But dancing with my step kids? Sign me up!

Can you see that dot of hot pink? Yep, that's Avalon. Watch...her...go! I think that she's my new personal trainer. She'll be shouting out cadences to me in no time!

Can you see that dot of hot pink? Yep, that’s Avalon. Watch…her…go!
I think that she’s my new personal trainer. She’ll be shouting out cadences to me in no time!

Buying a new activity monitor was a huge step for me. For months I have been grumbling about my lack of energy and the weight that crept on this winter. Now all that I can say is why did I not purchase one sooner? Last night my Fit Bit encouraged me to walk two miles after dinner so I could reach my step goal when before I would have had a hot cup of tea and relaxed. I have been using it to track my calories and water, and I will also be logging my weight every Sunday morning.

When I purchased my fitbit I made sure that I purchased a few extra bright colored bands. A girl must be fashionable too. ;)

When I purchased my fitbit I made sure that I purchased a few extra bright colored bands. A girl must be fashionable too. 😉

Speaking of weight – with reluctance I finally took the plunge and stepped on the scale. I really did not want to because I tend to get a tad bit obsessed by the number. However, I felt that it was time to be honest with myself and I need to have a measurable goal to stay accountable. I was semi-correct in my last post when I said I could tell from the way that my clothes fit that I had put on around fifteen pounds. Sadly, it is closer to twenty. The good news is that after a strong week of sticking to my healthy goals – I was able to take off 2.4 pounds. What a feeling of empowerment after many false starts and stops in the last few months. .

While I am a teacher and am fortunate that I have the ability to be on my feet and am able to walk around my classroom for most of the day, I have gotten out of my habit of walking during lunch and making sure that I move more during the day. That is an added benefit of my Fitbit since it encourages me to move at least 250 steps each hour (from 9-5). This means that I will definitely be walking during my lunch time and I will be taking a lap around the hallways in between classes (which serves double-duty since it is also a great way to monitor hallway activity). In the past it was all of these small little changes that helped me take weight off, and most importantly, keep it off (which I am determined to do again).

For the month of May I am building on the April goals that I shared a couple of posts ago. I am raising my water goal to 64 ounces a day, will continue to be moderate in my intake of starchy carbs, increase my consumption of vegetables, and I am replacing the 30 minutes of activity with 10,000 steps a day.

As far as exercise goes, I really do not have a viable excuse. The property on which we call home is stunningly beautiful and my Fitbit helped me compute that three times around our pasture is a mile. Not to mention that our four dogs guarantee that I have the best walking buddies around. Remi our German Shepherd does not let me out of his sight. ❤

Remi, Ollie, Louie, and Gracie help keep me motivated.

Remi, Ollie, Louie, and Gracie help keep me motivated. I will never tire of the view of our backyard/pasture.

I love to watch the world outside my door wake up.

I love to watch the world outside my door wake up.

The fresh air is intoxicating. I LOVE SPRING!

The fresh air is intoxicating. I LOVE SPRING!

In addition to the goals I already listed, I am also going to add breakfast into my routine. While I love green smoothies and believe in the power of breakfast – I do not always make time to do so for myself in the morning. I do a great job taking care of the others in my household, but I often put myself last.

Produce with Amy May Goals

I decided that I needed something different for breakfast and I found that our local Target now carries Vega plant-based protein powders and shake mixes. I bought the Vega Essentials vanilla shake mix and this morning threw it into my Vitamix with almond milk, frozen banana, spinach, pumpkin, and cinnamon. It was exactly what I needed and I cannot wait to create other flavor creations with what I have in the house. If you are looking for smoothie recipes, check out my smoothie tab.

I love the burst of plant-based Vegan protein this mix gives me.

I love the burst of plant-based Vegan protein this mix gives me.

In my last post I shared how a couple of weeks ago I had my eyes checked and found myself getting fitted bifocals (difficult to stomach since I have never needed glasses before). My husband picked out the frames for me because I could not even look at myself in the mirror. I do not have to wear them all of the time but they are starting to grow on me. So much that I am already thinking of what I want my second pair to look like. 😉 As several of my friends pointed out, glasses can be a cute accessory (and the fact that my husband and I each have vision insurance is a wonderful benefit).

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I am thankful that each day (each hour, each meal etc.) gives us the opportunity for a fresh start. While I could beat myself up for putting my exercise on hold and not making myself a priority – the strides that I have made in the past few weeks is the empowerment that I need to set and meet healthy goals. Last year I made a couple huge lifestyle changes – not only did I marry an incredible man but I also became a step mom and started a new degree program at Northern Michigan University. While I am familiar with life in the rural Upper Peninsula of Michigan, I now live many miles away from town and (much to the surprise of my friends and family) I am adapting to “farm life”. As I learn how to mesh my healthy goals with a hectic lifestyle, I know that I will learn many important things on the way.

Speaking of my new lifestyle. If you have been following my farm activities, check out how BIG our ducks have gotten! They certainly are not babies anymore. Neither is Lukas! I cannot believe how much he has grown up since fall. His reading is soaring (thank you Mr. Sandell) and his two front teeth are starting to emerge.

Lukas and Daphne.

Lukas and Daphne.

I cannot believe how much Lukas has grown too! ❤

Thank you for being part of my healthy community. I would love to hear the goals that you are setting for yourself. Remember, if you feel overwhelmed small goals are a great way to achieve success. When we feel successful, it helps to create a snowball effect and we can build on our goals as we go. If you are not moving now, ten or fifteen minutes a day is over an hour of activity a week. Add in a couple of servings of fruit and vegetables a day, make sure you are hydrating yourself with plenty of water, and do not make the mistake of putting yourself last. We are worth it!

 

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There Is No Better Time Than Now

Finally the sign of spring that I was looking for in our yard. The bulbs that I planted in the fall are starting to awaken.

Finally the sign of spring that I was looking for in our yard. The bulbs that I planted in the fall are starting to awaken.

“I am a frayed and nibbled survivor in a fallen world, and I am getting along. I am aging and eaten and have done my share of eating too. I am not washed and beautiful, in control of a shining world in which everything fits, but instead am wondering awed about on a splintered wreck I’ve come to care for, whose gnawed trees breathe a delicate air, whose bloodied and scarred creatures are my dearest companions, and whose beauty bats and shines not in its imperfections but overwhelmingly in spite of them…”
― Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek 

In June I will be forty-five years old. I have never been one to feel hemmed in by numbers, but I confess that in the past couple of years — I feel my age. While in my 20s and 30s I had boundless energy, now I notice the difference if I am not getting enough sleep. I can put weight on much easier (and take it off much slower) and I need glasses for the first time. Last week I joked on Facebook that it was a sign of aging when a hot date with your husband meant getting your eyes checked. I was not laughing when I got fit for bifocals. Though the doctor said that I would be fine with just reading glasses, I decided to get bifocals to also correct a slight distance vision issue (for night driving). My husband John and I tried to take the sting out of our bifocals by declaring how fortunate we both were to carry insurance from our employers (something I did not have in my early 20s. That’s a benefit of aging, right?). I made John pick out my glasses because it felt strange to wear them and I could not look at myself without being too critical. Maybe I will share a photo when my glasses come in if I can mange to get used to them.

In addition to ordering glasses, I have been doing well with the April goals that I set for myself in my last post, Setting Healthy Goals. While I have been lacking in water a bit, I have been moving more, watching my starchy carbs, and have been incorporating salads and more vegetables with every meal. I have found that bread is something that I cannot go without out so last week I bought one of my old mainstays, Food for Life Ezekiel bread. I love the bread with a smear of avocado, hummus, or natural peanut butter, and I enjoy it when it is made into toasted garlic bread.

While I am acutely aware that I will be forty-five in June, one number that I do not have the slightest inkling about is my weight. After I stepped down from leading Weight Watchers meetings, so I could spend more time with my family, I decided that I would not allow myself to be a slave to the scale. In fact, it has been close to a year since I have monitored my weight on one. While it has been unbelievably liberating, this winter I have managed to put on (in my best guess from the way my clothes are fitting) around fifteen pounds. Last Saturday I was horrified to find out that the summer capris that I bought last year do not fit. 😦 Sadly, it was exactly what I needed to get my rear-in-gear.

Speaking of last Saturday, it is amazing the difference a week can make. While the week before we were getting hit with record setting amounts of snow in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan – last weekend we were greeted with gorgeous 70ish degree weather. It was the perfect time to head out to enjoy a nature hike and get oxygen into our lungs. John took us to Autrain Falls (for local folks it is a lovely spot on M94 between Chatham and Munising) and I was able to capture the beauty with my new camera.

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In addition to some local sightseeing, we also were able to get some work done at home. My step-son Lukas is learning to drive our tractor and he helped John pull rocks from our property to decorate and protect my flower beds. Luke (with help from John) also took an impromptu dip in the creek on our back property. 😉

I love my new camera.

I love my new camera.

John, Lukas, and Avalon. You have to love spring hikes in the U.P. Shorts and Bog Boots! ;)

John, Lukas, and Avalon. You have to love spring hikes in the U.P. Shorts and Bog Boots! 😉

Lukas learning to drive the tractor.

Lukas learning to drive the tractor.

Since the snow is nearly gone I have been taking advantage of the network of trails on our property and have been taking long, spirited walks around our pasture. Incidentally, I tried a pair of my capri pants this morning and I was wildly surprised that they fit much better than they did last weekend.

While I was not going to set a reward for accomplishing my April goals, I decided that I would reward my efforts and help increase my motivation by purchasing a Fitbit activity monitor this week. I will make sure to post my step goals and if there is any interest, maybe I will start a challenge on my Facebook page.

I am pleased that my husband has joined my quest to eat more vegetables and fresh produce. We both have been feeling like we are in a food rut and nothing sounds appetizing. As I said earlier I am trying to cut down on starchy carbs and this does present a bit of a challenge (we love pizza and pasta). John has been very receptive to large dinner salads and I thought that I would share one that he has asked for several times in the last few weeks (trust me, getting this man to ask for a salad is a victory).

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Ingredients: romaine lettuce, spinach, strawberries with caramelized pecans, avocado with chopped cilantro and a squeeze of fresh lime juice, cucumber and feta cheese, Gorgonzola cheese, Newman’s Own garlic balsamic vinegar dressing (though it would be great with one of my dressing recipes), steak with Penzey’s Arizona spices, Parmesan cheese, and sautéed onions and mushrooms (added right before serving). While I try to stick to vegetarian and plant-based meals,  I did have a piece of wild salmon on my salad (as I have done in the past year on occasion). This salad is more proof that salads do not have to be boring and that they are filling when you load them up with fiber rich produce and protein. What is your favorite salad combination?
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In the coming days I will not beat myself up about putting on winter weight, but I am determined to do something about it. As I learned after joining Weight Watchers in 2007 (and losing 50 pounds) that making small changes in our lifestyle can transform our bodies and lead to lasting results. I am worth the effort – and you are too! Please join me in welcoming spring and putting our health first. Forty-five years old in June? No problem! I am ready to take on the challenge with style, finesse, and energy. Age is just a number and I have always been a late bloomer. ❤

A mini falls at Autrain Falls.

A mini falls at Autrain Falls.

Luke and Avalon loved splashing around.

Luke and Avalon loved splashing around.

I took off my Bog Boots and enjoyed the icy water.

I took off my Bog Boots and enjoyed the icy water.

A little "dip" in the creek on our property.

A little “dip” in the creek on our property.

The dogs loved taking a dip too. I love this photo of Ollie. He looks like a lion but he is as gentle as a lamb.

The dogs loved taking a dip too. I love this photo of Ollie. He looks like a lion but he is as gentle as a lamb.

John started cutting and peeling logs for our home addition and covered deck.

John started cutting and peeling logs for our home addition and covered deck.

Our ducks and new chicks are getting big.

Our ducks and new chicks are getting big.

Shakespeare II greets spring with a spirited Cock-a-doodle-do!

Shakespeare II greets spring with a spirited Cock-a-doodle-do!

Setting Healthy Goals

Blue skies
“April is the cruelest month, breeding
lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
memory and desire, stirring
dull roots with spring rain.”

― T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land

It is far from lilac season in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. This fact is reinforced by the presence of our second snow day of the week today. Monday our spring break was extended with a day off and this morning the snow is billowing from the sky which granted us another snow day. A few weeks ago we were graced with mild temperatures and I was thrilled to see that the tulips and daffodils that I planted last fall, and the tiger lilies that I planted last summer, were beginning to emerge. Now they are covered with a thick blanket of snow. I keep telling myself that this will make their eventual blossoms all the sweeter.

Our sweet golden retriever Gracie does not let anything get her down. Look at that smile!

Our sweet golden retriever Gracie does not let anything get her down. Look at that smile!

Ollie, like his sister Gracie, also loves the snow.

Ollie, like his sister Gracie, also loves the snow.

I am thankful for our cozy log home.

I am thankful for our cozy log home.

 

Last week John and I took the kids to Lower Michigan and spent a night at Soaring Eagle Waterpark in Mount Pleasant. Needless to say, fun was had by all and we cannot wait to go back! The weather did not cooperate on our drive home, but thankfully the Mackinac Bridge was open and my husband who is an expert driver – got us home safe and sound.

Avalon and Lukas had a blast at the water park and they can't wait to go back.

Avalon and Lukas had a blast at the water park and they can’t wait to go back.

Lukas and Avalon with Granny Barb, Don, and Maddy.

Lukas and Avalon with Granny Barb, Don, and Maddy.

The Mighty Mac.

The Mighty Mac.

We enjoyed our time downstate visiting with family and friends and while we were sad to leave, it always feels great to arrive home and be greeted by our pets. We have added a couple cuties to our farm. Finally, after a year of convincing, John agreed to get a couple of ducks. Avalon and I each named one. I chose Daphne and she named one Mo. I cannot believe how fast they have grown. This means that John will be adding a pond to his long Honey-Do list this summer.
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In addition to the excitement of spring break, John surprised me with a new camera. I have wanted one for YEARS and I had my first opportunity to snap a few photos at  the Pigs-N-Heat Fire Relief hockey game that John plays in each year. I am proud that my husband participates in an event that helps so many families in our community.

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Thank you, John!

Thank you, John!

Words cannot express how thankful that I am for my camera. My lifestyle has changed drastically in the last year. As I adjust to my new role of step mom, pursue an Education Specialist degree at Northern Michigan University, and continue my career as a high school teacher – along the way I have not made time for myself. The camera is one of John’s gentle reminders that I need to make myself a priority so I do not get burnt out. Photography is one of my passions and I cannot wait to record the world and share the images with my readers.

Along with taking photos I will continue to try to encourage my family, and my online family, to make healthy choices when it comes to food. While my step kids are fans of processed food and do not share my love of fresh fruit and vegetables, I have learned to take baby steps in encouraging them to eat healthier. One of the breakfasts that I made for them over spring break I call Strawberry Cheesecake Parfaits.  🍓🍧🍓 I use The Greek Gods Honey Vanilla yogurt, strawberries, crumbled graham cracker, and a drizzle of chocolate sauce. To some people this may not be a healthy breakfast and I agree that it is more of a dessert. But getting my step kids to eat any fresh produce is a victory! 😉 For those that are watching their waistlines, the yogurt is indulgent and a little goes a long way – therefore, you can health-it-up and pile on the berries.

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imageAs I have shared in my last couple posts, my healthy goals have taken a backseat to a hectic lifestyle. Therefore, I am starting small with re-establishing my healthy routines. For the month of April I am committing to a minimum of fifty ounces of water a day, thirty minutes of activity, increasing my vegetable intake, and limiting my consumption of bread, pizza (homemade pizza is one of our family favorites), and chips (tortilla chips are my biggest weakness). Like in the past, I hope that being successful with these goals will help them snowball into bigger goals. When summer comes we have a lot of plans and I want to have the energy to tackle all of our projects.

April Healthy GoalsI am a goal person and I find that when I set achievable goals for myself that I am unstoppable. When I attach a reward to my goals – I find success even more eminent. However, for now I am just going to embrace my goals and will set a reward for my May and June goals. I challenge you to set and share your goals here or on my Facebook page. Studies show that when we write out our goals, post them in a prominent place, and share our goals with others we are more apt to achieve them. I hope that you are enjoying your spring and I promise to give an update soon. As warmer weather approaches I look forward to gardening and sharing more of my fresh recipes with you.

 

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Sometimes I have to pinch myself to remind myself that I am not dreaming. What a gift it is to live in such a wildly, beautiful place.

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Our property is a dogs’ paradise. Is it any wonder why we have four dogs?

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Ollie has such a sweet and loving personality. Look at how gentle he treats the ducklings.

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It is the best feeling to be greeted by a wagging tail and the boundless love of a golden retriever.

The Versatility of Homemade Pizza

The Versatility of Homemade Pizza by Produce with Amy

Our house was always filled with dogs… They helped make our house a kennel, it is true, but the constant patter of their filthy paws and the dreadful results of their brainless activities have warmed me throughout the years. ~Helen Hayes

Lukas and Louie getting in some Saturday morning snuggles.

Lukas and Louie getting in some Saturday morning snuggles.

Ahhhhhhh, weekends – time to breathe and recharge! Though I think it is fair to say that we all have a bit of cabin fever in our house (yes, our four dogs and kitten too). The kids have been bickering and I have been short-tempered as I try to balance my reading for my college classes with household chores and planning out lessons for my own classroom. This weekend I did manage to organize my closet and the kids helped me fold and put away the mountain of clean laundry that always seems to sneak up. This afternoon I promised them that we would go to town so they can spend their Valentine money from Granny Barb and Grandma Karen and we will join John after he’s done with work for dinner at one of our favorite Mexican restaurants (a splurge since we do not eat out often). After dinner John has hockey practice for the Pigs-N-Heat Charity Hockey Game that he participates in each year. It’s a wonderful cause and we cannot wait to watch him take to the ice in March.

After school on Friday Avalon made red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting. The color nearly made my heart sink - not the healthiest thing to feed my family. Yet, the kids and John loved them. Next time we will experiment with a healthier alternative and share our recipe here!

After school on Friday Avalon made red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting. The color nearly made my heart sink – not the healthiest thing to feed my family. Yet, the kids and John loved them. Next time we will experiment with a healthier alternative and share our recipe here!

The kids and I started our morning with a green smoothie. Spinach, frozen bananas and strawberries, fresh pineapple, oranges, and water. I blended Greek Gods honey vanilla yogurt in their smoothies and added a large dollop of yogurt to each of their glasses. This makes up for the Pop Tart they ate yesterday and the red velvet cupcakes, right!?! 😦 Baby steps! It was a bit of project getting them to finish their smoothies – but I admit the Vitamix container was FULL and their glasses were huge. At least this way I know they are getting in some nutrients. (Avalon has the sniffles today and was complaining about a sore throat.)

I had a strong week health food wise and ate an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables (and I stayed away from the kids’ after school snacks that are lurking in my classroom). Last night was an indulgent dinner and I made one of our favorite meals – PIZZA! Yes, we love pizza in our house and we really do it up BIG. The truth is that homemade pizza really isn’t that complicated and I love how versatile it is. I make sure that I keep all of the items needed for the dough on hand and I always have cheese and pepperoni (for the kids and sometimes John) frozen in the freezer. The kids are not fond of vegetables on their pizza (remember, baby steps) though Lukas will eat mushrooms. John, however, has become quite the vegetarian pizza fan. At first it was just to appease me – but now he genuinely loves the combinations that I create (minus banana peppers, olives, and the tomatoes must be sun-dried, and not fresh, for him to enjoy).

Pizza for the kids with extra cheese.

Pepperoni for the kids with extra cheese.

Last week I made dough in our bread machine (I use the recipe that came with it – but sometimes I try other recipes on Pinterest). I made two pounds of dough and cut it in half, wrapped in plastic, and tossed it in the freezer. Yesterday morning I pulled it out and it was ready to go by dinner time.

Dough is so simple to make – flour, water, salt, sugar, and yeast (I buy a jar of yeast and keep it in the refrigerator). Sometimes I add seasonings right to the dough like basil, oregano, onion, and garlic powder. Freezing it makes for a convenient dinner. Trust me, after you start making your own you will never want to rely on frozen or takeout pizza again (though I confess that sometimes we succumb to both when in a pinch).
Frozen pizza doughYesterday I decided to create a pizza for John and I with what we had in the house. I decided to forgo the tomato sauce and instead slathered in the dough with olive oil infused with fresh garlic and dried oregano. I also caramelized onions (cook slowly on low heat until brown and soft – they become unbelievable sweet and delicious) and sautéed up a bunch of mushrooms and red bell peppers.

Often I will leave the vegetables raw and add to the pizza, but cooking them first allows them to sweeten and it helps the pizza from getting too runny from all the vegetable’s water content. I love the texture of canned mushrooms on pizza (better than fresh) and I’ve found that cooking them gives them a similar texture. Plus, when I used fresh I can cut thick slices and they give the pizza a “meaty” texture. I used real butter to saute up the vegetables but you can use your favorite cooking oil (I like to use coconut oil or a cooking grade olive oil).

Pizza Toppings

HOMEMADE PIZZA – AMY’S WAY

Pizza dough right out of the oven. After I removed it, I spread one with the infused olive oil and the other with pizza sauce.

Pizza dough right out of the oven. After I removed it, I spread one with the infused olive oil and the other with pizza sauce.

Spread the dough out on a pizza stone or pizza pan by adding olive oil to the pan and the top of the dough. Work the dough out (I pat with my hands – use olive oil to keep it from sticking) and bake for ten minutes in a 350 degree oven (before putting in the oven you can add seasonings to the dough if you would like – fresh garlic and/or garlic/onion salt or powder, basil, rosemary, oregano and even grated parmesan cheese). You can let the dough cool or add the toppings right away.

I love to experiment with different sauces. I buy pre-made pizza sauce and always have it on hand in the house – or I make my own with tomato sauce, tomato paste, and a variety of spices. Sometimes I use alfredo sauce (In the past I was known for my nearly world famous shrimp alfredo pizza), salsa, or BBQ sauce – or infused olive oil – depending on what kind of pizza we want. The nice thing about pizza is it’s easy to create a variety of combinations for one meal (make small individual pizzas or go half and half with toppings).

Once the pizza is topped I cook for approximately 20 minutes in a 350 degree oven and finish under the broiler so the cheese browns. If you’re plant-based Daiya makes non-dairy cheese that works well for pizza.

While pizza not be on the healthiest meals, if you load it up with vegetables and add a salad or broth based soup in the side – it is easier to eat in moderation. Not to mention that the leftovers are to-die-for! There’s nothing like a slice of pizza for lunch the next day (or even breakfast). Sometimes that is how I convince myself from putting that extra piece on my plate 😉

For this pizza I used the following:
*1/4 cup of olive oil with a couple teaspoons of minced garlic, dried oregano, and a 1/2 teaspoon of salt
Olive oil infused with herbs*1 small caramelized onion
*1/2 container of mushrooms (sliced)
*1/4 cup of sun-dried tomatoes (I bought the ones in bags and “reconstituted” them by soaking in hot water for a few minutes – though some people like to add oil)
*1/4 of a large, red bell pepper (sauted. Roasted red peppers from the supermarket olive bar

are phenomenal on pizza as well)
*Feta cheese, mozzarella cheese, grated parmesan, and little bit of cheddar (honestly, I did not measure – just added a couple handfuls and about 1/4 up of feta)

 

Mushrooms are a great meat substitute.

Mushrooms are a great meat substitute.

Some of my other favorite pizza toppings are:
*banana pepper
*olives (Greek are my favorite)
*artichoke hearts
*broccoli (great with BBQ sauce)
*jalapenos (fresh or pickled)
*zucchini (sliced paper thin)
*fresh basil leaves
*spinach

If you do not make homemade pizza, I hope that my post encourages you to try it. I was intimidated at first but it’s extremely versatile and the kids love to help me create pizza masterpieces (one day I am convinced they will enjoy the vegetables). It is on John’s Honey-Do List to build us an outdoor pizza oven when he encloses our back deck. How cool will that be? I can envision the memories we will make with family and friends as we build the perfect pizza together!

What are your favorite pizza toppings and combinations? Please share – I would love some new ideas. I hope that you are enjoying your February and that you are keeping spring in your heart. Thank you for all the new follows on my Facebook page and all of the supportive and encouraging comments. Thanks to you I have my blogging mojo back. Take care, my friends and I wish you a healthy and productive week! ❤


Homemade Pizza by Produce with Amy

Lemony Tomato Sauce with Dill

Lemony Tomato Sauce with Dill by Produce with Amy“There is no technique, there is just the way to do it.
Now, are we going to measure or are we going to cook?”
― Frances Mayes, Under the Tuscan Sun

I haven’t read Under the Tuscan Sun in ages and this is my reminder to do so soon. It was one of my favorites when I first began teaching and I pulled out line-after-line to share with my creative writing students. The way that Mayes described the colors of Tuscany took my breath away. Mayes writes, ” When it rains or when the light changes, the facade of the house turns gold, sienna, ocher; a previous scarlet paint job seeps through in rosy spots like a box of crayons left to melt in the sun.” In my dreams, I see the valleys she writes about — like bowls of fog  — filled with fruit tress. I want sink my teeth into figs, pears, and apricots and navigate the ancient Roman roads. I want to be there right now, don’t you? (It was -2 on my commute to work today.)

When I met John I learned that he shares my love of travel. We have plans to visit Alaska this summer – and he will be the travel director – meaning the vacation will be on his terms. Alaska was never on my bucket list before I met John but he talked so passionately about a trip he took there with his uncle and father that I want to experience the real Alaska with him. We will not be taking a cruise or staying in touristy hotels. We will be roughing it – so to say. I am nervous and excited to venture out of my comfort zone. I promise plenty of blog posts from our adventures.

I can get lost in the beauty of our home and land.

I can get lost in the beauty of our home and land.

My friends and family have found themselves shaking their heads in amusement many times over the past year as John encourages me to embrace my true Yooper. This includes helping him split and stack wood to heat our log home, cleaning the chicken coop, weeding the garden in my Bog boots and bikini, and this winter I have even learned how to load the outside wood boiler with logs.

Because marriage is about compromise, John has agreed to visit Italy and Greece – on my terms – for my 50th birthday (that gives us a substantial amount of time to save) and I cannot wait to experience the colors and flavors of the Mediterranean. In my mind’s eye I imagine the magic that  Mayes describes come to life before my eyes. I am a goal setter and I love having my eye fixed on the future and knowing that John and I can reward ourselves for hard work. It also helps me live more frugally, knowing that being wise with our money will pay off with new experiences and the wisdom gained by travel.

In my last post, Time to Make Myself a Priority Again, I shared my struggles in finding time for myself and even for cooking healthy meals. I was waving the white flag at my picky family and relying on processed food  – in return I have been feeling less than healthy. Last weekend an abundance of fresh fruit, vegetables, greens, and berries found their way into my shopping cart and this week I plan a repeat performance. My favorite mid-day snacks at work this week were grapefruit – peeled like an orange. They were so sweet and juicy that sugar was not needed (though I don’t think I’ve put sugar on grapefruit since I was a kid).

I love having a bottomless fruit bowl at home. Our kids love bananas and cuties.

I love having a bottomless fruit bowl at home. Our kids love bananas and cuties.

On Tuesday I got home from work and whipped up a batch of homemade marinara for a pan of vegetarian lasagna (a great way to sneak vegetables into my family’s diet). I sautéed garlic, onion, celery, red bell pepper, mushrooms, carrots, and spinach, and added one jar of store-bought spaghetti sauce and a large can of crushed tomatoes along with oregano and basil. I layered up the sauce with lasagna noodles, cottage cheese, and added three cheeses to the middle layer and top (mozzarella, parmesan, and Colby jack). My husband and stepson LOVED it – though my stepdaughter picked around her plate. Oh well, more for us! 😉

Vegetarian lasagna is a great way to "trick" my family into eating vegetables. They love lasagna!

Vegetarian lasagna is a great way to “trick” my family into eating vegetables. They love lasagna! I am wild about our new Pioneer Woman dishes and accessories.

In recommitting to my health, I started thinking about all the meals that I used to enjoy but have not made in over a year because I know that John and the kids would not favor them. I have decided to cook them again. John is always willing to help in the kitchen and we will just have to eat two totally different things more often. This morning when I came downstairs after getting ready for work; not only had John made my coffee and pulled my vehicle out of the garage, but he had already put dinner in the crock pot for him and kids (ribs with BBQ sauce). On Monday I roasted potatoes, asparagus, and Brussels sprouts and made sure to make a double batch – so there was plenty for tonight. I had roasted vegetables with a GIANT dinner salad with a veggie patty and a dollop of hummus for extra protein.

My dinner salad.

My dinner salad.

After dinner I decided that I would prepare one of my favorite tomato sauces dishes to have for lunch tomorrow. As I chopped up the ingredients and juiced and zested the lemon – I could not help envision the Italy that Frances Mayes has fanned out for me in the pages of her writing. Oh, what a delight it would be to select a fresh lemon from a tree and allow its perfume to fill the kitchen.  Like the quote I shared at the top of the page – I am often a cook that creates without recipes. Of course, blogging has changed that slightly, but I always recommend that you let your own taste buds lead you. Add as much or as little lemon as you like and season with the amount of dill that satisfies you. My recipes are always a suggestion and I enjoy hearing the tweaks that individuals make to suit their family and their own tastes.

This sauce is great with a variety of olives and I have even been known to chop up some of my mom’s famous dill pickles to add to the sauce. It is fantastic over pasta or zucchini noodles  If you eat fish, tuna is a wonderful accompaniment (I have added a tin of tuna to the sauce – or topped with a piece of seared tuna steak). If you are vegetarian or follow a plant-based diet, tender white beans are a fine addition.

LEMONY TOMATO SAUCE WITH DILL

*2 cloves finely minced garlic
*1/4 cup chopped onion
*1/2 cup chopped celery
* 1 Tbsp olive oil
*32 ounces canned tomatoes (I used crushed tomatoes because that is what I had on hand. I often use whole tomatoes and break them apart a bit with a spoon or my hand. In the summer I have made this with fresh garden tomatoes and there is nothing that can compare to it.)
*10-15 olives (cut in 1/2 or chopped)
*2 Tablespoons of capers
*Fresh chopped dill (I use kitchen shears to snip and I used approximately 1/4 cup. A couple teaspoons of dried dill would work as well)
*Juice and zest from one lemon
*Black pepper to taste 
(I do not add salt since the olives and capers add enough of saltiness to the sauce)

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Sauté the onions, celery, and garlic until soft. Add in the tomatoes and simmer for ten minutes. Stir in the olives, capers, dill, and lemon zest and juice – simmer a few minutes to incorporate the flavors. Spoon over pasta or zucchini noodles.

 

 

Print out the recipe here: LEMONY TOMATO SAUCE WITH DILL

I hope that you enjoy this sauce as much as I do. I cannot wait to have it for lunch tomorrow. Incidentally, after my sauce was finished bubbling on the stove – John, who was scrubbing the pans in the sink (he sweetly offered to help without my asking) – eyed the Lemony Tomato Sauce. “Try it,” I encouraged him, curious as to what he would think. “It’s good!” he responded in surprise. He thought it would be a great topping for pasta with seared tuna steak. It looks like I will be adding tuna to my shopping list. I wonder what the kids will think – I will have them try a bite (they love tuna steak).

Not only am I changing up my meals and snacks, but this weekend I am going to buy a new multivitamin and add in a vitamin D and calcium supplement. What are your favorite brands of vitamins? I am open to suggestions.

It is also at the top of my list to make more time for myself to read for pleasure, write, and focus on my photography. The Upper Peninsula of Michigan has dramatic landscapes in all seasons and I need to capture the beauty of our hobby farm in the winter.

Thank you for the comments and emails – it certainly is empowering to know that I am not alone in my struggles and I love that we can help encourage each other. As I like to say about my new role of motherhood – it takes a village – and I am happy that you are part of mine! ❤

Our kitten Trixie is getting big and Louie loves her so much. Not only do they snuggle together but he growls at the other dogs when they get "too close" to her.

Our kitten Trixie is getting big and Louie loves her so much. Not only do they snuggle together but he growls at the other dogs when they get “too close” to her.

Avalon and Lukas started a mutiny about school hot lunch so we bought them new lunch bags for Valentine's Day. I always send a snack with them to school but it's complicated because their school is nut free.

Avalon and Lukas started a mutiny about school hot lunch so we bought them new lunch bags for Valentine’s Day. I always send a snack with them to school but it’s complicated because their school is nut free. I will be scouring Pinterest for healthy cold lunch ideas.

 

Time to Make Myself a Priority Again

The view from our front porch today after a school canceling snow storm.

The view from our front porch today after a school canceling snow storm.

“We inhabit ourselves without valuing ourselves,
unable to see that here, now,
this very moment is sacred;
but once it’s gone –
its value is incontestable.”

–Joyce Carol Oates

Snow day #3 today in schools across the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and I am making time on my day off to write. Blogging is a delicate activity of knowing what exactly to put-out-there. It is a confessional business – especially when one of the reasons that I started this blog was to stay accountable to my healthy goals. Sure I could just post recipes, but it goes much deeper than that for me. Writing helps me think out loud and my posts become a time capsule that I can look back on and ruminate where I have come from and where I am going. Reading what I have written helps make my thoughts tangible.

In spite of the snow and cold, our days are getting longer and our plants are flourishing from the increase in light.

In spite of the snow and cold, our days are getting longer and our plants are flourishing from the increase in light.

Reflecting on events of the past year I am blown away by the lifestyle changes I have made. A new marriage and motherhood being the most significant. Over the past year I have been told by numerous people that being a stepmother is one of the hardest and most thankless jobs in the world and that I really had my work cut out for me. I smiled politely and felt my stomach lurch. Unfortunately, in many ways, I have learned that all of those people were right. Yet, I am learning important lessons on this journey that make me a better mother, wife, teacher, and human being. It reconfirms my belief that I need to focus my energy on the positive things and that it is truly the simple things that make our lives rich. When I feel frustrated I need to remember that when my stepson saw the calendar on the refrigerator that I created to help us navigate the custody schedule, he thought that the F (for Father) meant Family. I have to remember that my stepdaughter loves to shop for clothes together so that we can match. I have to find joy in the fact that they both want me to tuck them in each night and kiss me before they get on the bus each morning. I need to let love lead the way and hope and pray. I will delight in the fact that I am a role model to two beautiful individuals. I will try to forgive people who will never say thank you or  I am sorry. I will continue to bestow my love. I will trust. I will believe. I will remember to breathe.

So all about this breathing business. Have you ever felt like you have been holding your breath for months? (I imagine my friends and family who are parents – will get quite a chuckle out of this. After all, I was the one who in the past could escape into the luxury of naps and hot baths to unwind. I could leave the house whenever I chose and grocery shop without little ones tossing things in the cart or misbehaving in public. I could prepare meals with exotic ingredients and never worry about fussy taste buds.) Well, things have changed in my world. Not only am I newly married, a stepmom, and a full-time high school teacher, but I am also trying to tackle an Education Specialist degree at Northern Michigan University (a precursor to a EdD program at Central Michigan University). *sigh*

The past year has been a slippery slope for all my healthy goals. My fastidious meal prep routine has been nearly abandoned and my family is less than thrilled about the abundance of fruit and vegetables and absence of refined sugar that I believe is the healthiest. Yes, we have roasted vegetables with our dinners and I try to get them to eat as much as fruit as possible. Yet, the fact remains that a lot of processed food and junk has found its way into my shopping cart because I am tired of being frustrated when they will not eat what I prepare. In addition, I would rather spend time with the kids painting, doing crafts, and cuddling on the weekends instead of cooking/prepping the week’s meals for hours. But there is a price to pay and I am ashamed to say that I have consumed more boxed macaroni and cheese, tater tots,  and processed veggie burgers in the last few months than I care to admit.

Another decision that has impacted my healthy goals was giving up my role as a Weight Watchers coach. We live thirty miles away from the WW center and my husband, who is a police officer, works weekends (though his schedule changes next month 🙂 ) It was a heartbreaking decision but it made more sense for me to spend time with Avalon and Lukas instead of finding childcare. While I do not regret this decision at all, I do miss my WW friends and the accountability that we give each other. (My plan in the next couple months is to start attending meetings, even if it is just on a monthly basis at first.)

To make this post extra whiny – I am feeling the February blues and hormones that come chasing after women in their 40s. My energy levels are depleted, my skin looks dull, and my pants are tight. This Thanksgiving I got sick for the first time in over seven years. Sick. Stay in bed for three days sick. Something that I know would not have happened if I would be taking better care of myself.

At what point do we tell ourselves enough is enough? For me it was the other day in my classroom. Since the kids take a bus from their elementary school to the high school I teach at, I keep a stash of snacks for them in my cabinet. Without even thinking of what I was doing I ate a small bag of Cheese Its and a Rice Crispy treat. Instead of snacking on fresh fruit or raw vegetables and hummus (which would have normally been in my classroom mini-frig) I was resorting to food void of nutrition. I also have noticed that I am turning to caffeine by grabbing a *gasp* Diet Coke in the afternoon and making myself a cup of coffee at the end of the school day. Last week I have +150 new likes on my Facebook page and I feel like a fraud. I have over a hundred healthy recipes on this blog and I share the photos and recipes every day – but I am not making them at home like I should be.

My husband John is an incredible man and he gives me many pep talks. He tells me endlessly that I am beautiful that I look amazing for forty-four.  He loves my curves and makes me feel beautiful. Yet, I do not feel like myself and the way I am feeling reaches far beyond vanity – I want to be healthy! I had a long talk with John about how I need to make changes and I received his support 100%. While I will still buy my family the indulgences that they enjoy, the kids and I will try to make more sweets from scratch (instead of buying those with processed ingredients). I will encourage them to try more of a variety of fruit and vegetables (I have found when they cook with me they are more apt to eat what we make) and I will expand our menu to include some new foods that they have never tried.

This weekend when I shop I am going to fill my cart with fresh produce and John and I are going to start drinking green smoothies again (our goal is at least five times a week). I am going to commit to drinking more water and prepping Mason jar salads for my work week lunches along with prepping fruit and vegetables to keep in our refrigerator for convenient and healthy snacks. I will make sure that I have homemade veggie burger patties in the freezer and I will work more exercise into my schedule (there is nothing stopping me from strapping on snowshoes and taking advantage of the gorgeous views on our property (I promise to share photos).

This is what our counter looked like last spring, I need to get back to this.

This is what our counter looked like last spring, I need to get back to this.

Friends, thank you for taking the time to read my confession. While some may disagree with me putting it all out there – my guess is that there are others struggling too. We owe it to ourselves (and our families) to put our health first. I know that I will be a better wife, stepmom, teacher, and student when my energy levels increase and I feel great in my own skin. Please join me and post your confessional we will keep each other accountable. Feel free to post a comment here, send me an email at producewithamy@gmail.com, or leave a post or message at my Facebook page. It feels liberating to be honest and I cannot wait to implement these changes. Thank you for joining me on this journey to eat more fresh fruit and vegetables – imagine how productive we will be!

A weekend shopping trip brimming with fruit and vegetables helps me make healthy choices all week.

A weekend shopping trip brimming with fruit and vegetables helps me make healthy choices all week.

John, Lukas, and I shoveled the deck last week and it is drifted over after last night's storm. We just bought a new motor for our hot tub so we will be enjoying the deck again next week. Shoveling = exercise.

John, Lukas, and I shoveled the deck last week and it is drifted over after last night’s storm. We just bought a new motor for our hot tub so we will be enjoying the deck again next week. Shoveling = exercise.

I love the view from our front porch. Though I prefer to be sitting in one of the rocking chairs enjoying an iced green tea with fresh mint from the garden.

I love the view from our front porch. Though I prefer to be sitting in one of the rocking chairs enjoying an iced green tea with fresh mint from the garden.

Photo courtesy of Alesia M. Bachman of Superior Treasures Photography (make sure you check out her Facebook page)

John and I chaperoning the Winter Homecoming dance. We matched without even trying. Photo courtesy of Alesia M. Bachman of Superior Treasures Photography (make sure you check out her Facebook page)

 

Quadruple Berry Salad with Caramelized Pecans and Raspberry Vinaigrette

Quadruple Berry Mason Jar Salad“Do stuff. Be clenched, curious. Not waiting for inspiration’s shove or society’s kiss on your forehead. Pay attention. It’s all about paying attention. Attention is vitality. It connects you with others. It makes you eager. Stay eager.”
― Susan Sontag

As an English teacher, I make a living out of helping my students find connections to the world around us. I serve as their guide in helping them to think critically and to use writing as a tool to make their thoughts, ideas, and dreams tangible. We use narratives, poems, articles, novels, and videos as a touchstone to connect with other lives, time periods, and cultures. Our writing becomes a mirror that we can hold up to our ambitions and possibilities. I always tell my students to examine the world with the astute eye of a writer. It makes us pay attention to things that may otherwise slip by.

As a new mother, I try to help my step-children make connections as well. The kids spend the majority of time with us and we try to make the most of our family time together. Since my husband John is a police officer his job often entails the challenge of shift work. However, he currently is on day shift which means that he is home for dinner every night. Last week he cashed in some very precious vacation time so he could accompany as a chaperone for the Winter Homecoming dance. After fall Homecoming, I promised Avalon that if she had high grades, strong attendance, and positive behavior that I would buy her a new dress and let her attend the Homecoming dance. She met and exceeded our goals and expectations – and I think it is fair to say that she felt like a princess dancing the night away.

Avalon posing in her Homecoming dress. What a beauty!

Avalon posing in her Homecoming dress. What a beauty!

John and Avalon. Oh, how I love them both!

John and Avalon. Oh, how I love them both!

How thankful I am that I work in such a family friendly environment. I think that it is a wonderful experience for Lukas and Avalon to interact with high school students and develop relationships and make connections with teachers, administrators, and others that will be stakeholders in their education through elementary, middle, and high school.

Lukas and Lorraine work on creating the yellow brick road in the hallway.

Lukas and Lorraine work on creating the yellow brick road in the hallway.

Avalon and Kori decorating the hallway for Homecoming.

Avalon and Kori make a great team.

As a teacher, I see firsthand the difference it makes in a young person’s life when their parents are actively involved in their education both inside and outside of school. Our first teachers are our parents, and I do not take my new role of mother lightly. I share John’s responsibility to help raise productive individuals that are kind, thoughtful, and independent. One of our family goals in the next couple of years is to construct an addition on to our house. In order to make this dream a reality, we are

Avalon and Lukas wearing their hats for Spirit Week.

Avalon and Lukas wearing their hats for Spirit Week.

trying to save money and stay financially healthy. I am teaching the kids how we can stretch our resources by grocery shopping (instead of dining out all the time) and by appreciating things that are homemade. John models hard work for his children and is a wonderful example of how much value things have when they are made from your own hands. John is extremely resourceful and can build anything. This weekend he put down new flooring in the kids’ room and he is currently building us

Sibling sweetness.

Sibling sweetness.

a sauna from a shed that we purchased from the Gwinn High School building trades class.  Since we live out-of-town we want to maximize our beautiful property and create our own personal paradise.

Last weekend I promised the kids that we would make Valentine’s crafts. We recycled jars and used Mod Podge and tissue paper to make “stained glass” candle luminaries. They loved being creative and suggested that we make more for every holiday. Setting a pretty table is important to me and I love that our Valentine’s centerpiece was created from Avalon and Lukas’ handiwork. I think that they will make our February family dinners even more special.

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Avalon bought me the beautiful family candle holder/plaque for Christmas.

Avalon bought me the beautiful family candle holder/plaque for Christmas.

Speaking of beautiful table settings, I recently became enamored by The Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond’s gorgeous table wear collection. Since John and I merged households (I moved into his cozy log home) we feel it is important to acquire some new items together to help tell our story. We have kept quite a few of things we both had (for practical purposes) and slowly are buying a few new things. I wanted new every day dishes, but I am extremely picky. I could envision vintage plates and bowls, or at least a vintage feel, and Ree’s collection went perfectly with our red, yellow, and aqua theme. I love how bright and cheerful they are –  elegant  – with just the right amount of country charm! Not to mention that they are extremely affordable (which works with our goal to not squander our resources).

This weekend, after sleeping in from our late night at the dance and a huge breakfast, John took Lukas ice fishing and Avalon went grocery shopping with me. I told her with all the money that we saved with coupons and smart shopping I would treat her to Starbucks. She is a wonderful shopper and helps me remember the items on our list and she’s a huge helper in the kitchen. In fact, the recipe that I am sharing with you today was one of the first meals that Avalon helped me assemble last spring.

We take breakfast very seriously in our house. The eggs are from our hens and John and the kids had sausage from the pork that he raised last summer. Of course I sautéed lots of vegetables for my plate.

We take breakfast very seriously in our house. The eggs are from our hens and John and the kids had sausage from the pork that he raised last summer. Of course I sautéed lots of vegetables for my plate.

imageWhen I first started dating John, the kids (especially Lukas) were obsessed with the fact that I was a vegetarian. While they tend to be picky eaters and do not have a fondness for fruit and vegetables, I think they have made great strides in eating healthier. They love broccoli and green beans and for dessert they often will choose Greek yogurt and fruit. John, like the kids, has quite a sweet tooth but he loves to take a green smoothie to work and he enjoys my Mason jar salads. The combination that I am sharing with you today is his ultimate favorite. The caramelized pecans are a favorite snack of both John and Avalon and I often say that they are my way of “tricking” John into eating salad. While I do have a recipe for homemade Raspberry Vinaigrette, John prefers a sweeter store-bought version. I usually purchase Paul Newman’s Raspberry & Walnut dressing or Target’s Archer Farms Raspberry Vinaigrette – though I recommend that you give my recipe a try!

If you are new to jar salads, I recommend that you check out this link for helpful tips and tricks.

QUADRUPLE BERRY SALAD WITH CARAMELIZED PECANS & RASPBERRY VINAIGRETTE

I layer the following ingredients in this order – into wide-mouthed, one quart Mason jars. I usually make 7-10 salads. I do not have exact amounts of berries for the salads. I usually buy a quart of strawberries and blueberries and a couple pints of raspberries and blackberries and divide them up into each jar (the more berries the better!)

*If you do not eat dairy you might want to try this Herbed Tofu, from Vegan Yak Attack which makes a great feta cheese substitute.

*3-4 Tablespoons of Raspberry Vinaigrette Dressing (depending on how much dressing you like. John likes a lot of dressing. I usually add extra vinegar or lemon juice at the bottom to mine since I like my dressing extra tangy)
*Sliced carrots
*Snow Peas
*Sliced cucumbers

*Strawberries (I use fresh berries. Once in a pinch I used frozen raspberries and they worked out – though they were not quite as good as fresh)
*Raspberries
*Blackberries
*Blueberries
*Feta Cheese
*Blue Cheese
(or gorgonzola)
*A handful of caramelized pecans (link to recipe HERE)
*Spring mix lettuce
*Alfalfa sprouts

This combination has turned John into a salad fan and I hope that you enjoy it too! While life is busy, we are never too busy to make healthy choices. Mason jar salads are a real game changer when it comes to meal prep. I got out of the habit this fall when my schedule got tight and my goal for the coming month is to make jar salads each week for work. I also want to bring back my weekly blog posts. I miss sharing with you, and since I use my blog as a teaching tool, I miss sharing my writing goals with my students. As always, I would love to hear from you. I hope you are meeting your healthy goals and intentions for the new year. Remember, we are worth it!

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John’s mom made us cooking aprons for Christmas.

One of my students Kori and I at Homecoming. I love her!

One of my students Kori and I at Homecoming. I love her!

The kids had so much fun dancing the night away. Jordan, one of my students, made their evening extra special. She is such a sweetheart! Love her!

The kids had so much fun dancing the night away. Jordan, one of my students, made their evening extra special. She is beautiful inside and out – love her!

Miss Avalon enjoying her Starbucks treat.

Miss Avalon enjoying her Starbucks treat.