As a stay at home mom trying to stay sane through keeping up with friends and following accounts of perfectly clean and decorated homes on Instagram, it can become a path down the dark hole… More
When Takeout Isn’t an Option
I love Chinese takeout, but there isn’t a great option near me. So, I make my own! Or as best as this American with a Scandinavian heritage can muster. I prefer Jasmine rice for the base of my dishes and here is a secret – add extra water. To achiever fluffier rice I add around 1/2 cup extra water or 1 part rice to 2 parts water. The next key is that when the rice is still wet, but just starts to stick to the bottom of the pan TURN OFF THE HEAT and put on the lid. This allows the rice to absorb the extra water without half of your rice sticking to the bottom of the pan. Give it a fluff after 5-10 minutes and you will have achieved fluffy rice.
Mongolian beef is one of my favorite dishes, but making it at home takes some time. Last night I opted for Korean Beef that utilized ground beef vs steak slices. It was easy, fast and delicious.
Korean Beef Recipe
- 1 pound lean ground beef
- ⅓ cup brown sugar
- ¼ cup soy sauce
- 1 tbsp. sesame oil
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 bell pepper, diced
- 1/2 bunch green onions, thinly sliced
- Whisk together brown sugar, soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, and ground ginger in a small bowl. Set aside.
- In a large skillet over medium-high heat, brown and crumble the lean ground beef until no longer pink. Drain if necessary. Add diced bell pepper and saute for 2-3 minutes. Stir in soy sauce mixture, allowing to simmer until most of the liquid has reduced, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes.
- Serve immediately over steamed rice. Top with thinly sliced green onions.
Honey Garlic Chicken With Broccoli
Tonight I still had Asian cuisine on the brain so we went for a honey garlic chicken with roasted broccoli over rice. I prefer roasted vegetables, so I start by chopping my head of broccoli into bite size pieces and toss them in olive oil, salt and pepper. I place the broccoli on a rimmed baking sheet and set it aside while I work on my chicken. Before we dive in on the steps, here is what you need.
- 1-2 tablespoons oil
- 2 cups broccoli florets (or 1 head)
- 1 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1 inch pieces
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 1/4 cup chicken broth or water
- 3 tablespoons honey
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- 1 egg, stirred
- salt and pepper to taste
- Prep your sauce by mixing the soy sauce, broth, honey and garlic. Microwave for 30 seconds, then stir. Set aside.
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
- Next heat 1-2 Tablespoons of oil in your pan, enough to coat the bottom, medium heat should be plenty to warm things up. I like to use sunflower oil as it is good for high heat.
- Once my chicken is cut into bite size pieces, I toss it in the cornstarch. Then I add my egg and make sure all the pieces are coated. With the oil hot, place the chicken pieces in the pan. I usually do this in two rounds so as not to overcrowd the pan. You want the pieces to be lightly brown on each side, then transfer them to an oven safe baking dish. It’s ok if they are not cooked through.
- When all of your chicken has been sauted, pour the sauce over your chicken. Give it a good stir, then put your chicken and pan of broccoli in the oven for 30 minutes.
- While your oven is going, make the rice.
- After 30 minutes, mix your chicken and broccoli. Serve over rice.
Corn Potato Ham Chowder – Let’s Get Cooking!
Earlier this week I posted a video on Instagram (@lifeinreview) of me prepping veggies for a variety of meals. So far we’ve had tortilla soup and corn chowder, yum! I’ll be honest I completely winged the tortilla soup. I used shredded carrots and diced onions and celery as the base for both soups. I still had leftover pork shoulder from last week’s slow cooker meal prep recipe so I used that instead of chicken. I also used a seasoning pouch that I had from Frontera. The great thing about soups is their flexibility.
One of my favorite tortilla soup recipes is by the lovely Pioneer Woman. You can check it out here: https://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/chicken-tortilla-soup/
Ok, onto the corn chowder! I love the Simple Truth line of products at Kroger. Not all are organic, but they all are natural/limited ingredient. I recently stumbled across cooked, uncured ham which is perfect for making chowder. I can’t eat nitrates, and they really aren’t good for you, so I was super excited to find uncured, nitrate free ham! With the veggies pre-sliced, a frozen package of corn and the packaged ham, all I had left was to dice up my organic gold potatoes. Gold potatoes cook faster than Russet and you don’t have to peel the skin off, both of which are great time savers.
Here is the chowder I based by meal off of: https://www.cookingclassy.com/creamy-ham-potato-corn-chowder/
I didn’t feel the need to add the heavy cream or sour cream at the end as my roux made the chowder plenty thick. I did add a little cheese and green onions to the top. Mmmmmm.
Hope you all are staying warm! Now go make some soup.
When things get hard, make something beautiful.
2019 started off with unexpected medical diagnoses for my family. When you are facing something that you can’t change or overcome it is hard to process. I decided to take my grief and turn it into creativity. Bread making is definitely not my strength, but an art I look forward to learning more about. The patience involved is often rewarded with a light, airy and intricately crafted treat that can only be achieved with time. Cinnamon wrapped in layers of soft bread was the goal.
I started with a basic dough and let it slowly rise in my garage, which has been much like a refrigerator these days. Once the dough had warmed up a bit on the kitchen counter, my munchkin helped me roll out the soft dough and then cover it with softened butter, cinnamon and sugar. After carefully rolling into a log, we sliced perfect little spirals and then gently placed them into two loaf pans. There were about 3″ of snow outside beckoning an ever adventurous child, so we briefly warmed the oven and let the dough in the loaf pans rise while we played outside.
Once our noses were thoroughly frozen and our bums were wet from snow angels, we baked the bread. The smell of cinnamon wafting through the house was tantalizing. After the agonizing wait for the bread to cool we finished one loaf with cream cheese frosting.
Rustic, simple, delicious.
Slow Cooker Pork, Squash Bread and Brussel Sprouts
Inspired by the book Whole30 Slow Cooker by Melissa Hartwig, two other moms joined me in a day of prepping 4 meals. Each of these we bagged and froze.
The first meal was pork with butternut squash. Everything from the recipe went in a gallon size plastic bag and then into the freezer. I put the contents of the bag into my slow cooker frozen. I cooked it three hours on high and three hours on low, the time will need to be adjusted based on the size of your pork. A meat thermometer is a great tool for gauging the doneness of meat.
- 2-3 lbs pork shoulder
- 2 bags frozen, cubed butternut squash
- 1/3 cup diced onion
- 1/2 cup apple cider (or juice)
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp dried thyme
Once cooked, I removed the butternut squash from the slow cooker (I used a slotted spoon to leave the liquid). I then used the butternut squash to make “corn” bread.
I used the liquid in my slow cooker to make gravy.
It’s been quite a summer of adventure and the travel isn’t over yet! To date, I’ve used the Southwest Companion Pass to take myself and my hubby to Jamaica, Manhattan/Queens, and Southern California. To my friends who let us crash at your places, thank you! Friends make traveling so much more affordable and it’s great for catch up too.
Our Jamaica trip was covered with Southwest points for the flights and Hyatt points for our amazing all inclusive four night stay. The next big adventure on our horizon is Arizona. We plan to check out Phoenix, Sedona, the Grand Canyon and possibly Scottsdale. The points I earned with Hilton, I had originally planned to used for our staying in NYC. However, being Memorial Day weekend I was having a hard time finding a hotel for a low enough amount of points and then my friend so graciously allowed us to crash on her sleeper sofa. (Did you know you can buy inflatable mattresses for sleeper sofas? They are very comfortable.)
TRAVEL FACT – If you are planning a hotel stay with points, look at the dates immediately following a holiday like Memorial Day or Labor Day. If you plan you trip on the weekdays following a major holiday, chances are you will be able to snag a really good deal on a hotel. Most every major hotel chain has a flexible date option on their website that you can use to find the cheapest days to stay.
So, with the Hilton points I ended up not using in NYC, I have been able to put them towards a stay at a Hilton resort in Sedona for two nights. You definitely don’t get as much bang for your point with Hilton vs Hyatt. Hilton is also managed by American Express. Having dealt with Amex and Chase, I really don’t care for Amex. There are a lot of sneaky details aimed at costing you fees, so make sure you read the fine print if you decide to earn points with Hilton.
One perk of Hilton Rewards is car rental discounts. You can use the Hilton Honors Rewards site to book a car with Alamo, National or Enterprise. During our recent trip to California, I was able to book a car for half the cost of any other competitor’s website.
Back to Arizona… We plan to stay a total of 5 nights in Arizona, two at the Hilton in Sedona and the other three at Holiday Inn hotels, or the IHG group. Currently IHG is offering 80,000 points if you spend $2,000 in the first three months. This is a fantastic deal and they are managed by Chase! I love that most of these hotel and airline miles are managed by Chase. It makes it super simple to login and manage all my accounts.
There is a Holiday Inn located inside the Grand Canyon National Park on the Southern Rim. Southern Rim accommodations are minimal, with most chain hotel options located in Flagstaff. Flagstaff is a little over an hour away from the Grand Canyon, so staying in the park saves a good bit of commuting time. However, with the limited accommodation options, this Holiday Inn cost 40,000 points per night. This high toll means that we will be spending our other two nights near the airport, so as to have enough points to cover all of our nights.
In addition to using Southwest points to purchase flights, you can also use them towards gift cards (and Le Creuset, but that is a different story). Even though using the points strictly for flights is the best deal dollar wise, we decided to use 20,000 points to cover the cost of our rental car for our trip to Arizona. Aside from gas, $24 in airline taxes, a $20 resort fee in Sedona and food, our trip will be essentially free!
The travel we have done this year would have not been possible without the Companion Pass, a whole lot of earned travel miles and some friends. Just to refresh on the Companion Pass, I started earning my Companion Pass in January of 2017. It took six months to earn, which left me with 1 year and six months to travel. The Companion Pass will expire on December 31, 2018. If I still have Southwest points, I will keep those but will lose the ability to have someone fly with me for free (you can change the person up to three times).
I have really enjoyed traveling with Southwest Airlines. Having done quite a bit of traveling in my teenage years, I didn’t have the highest opinion of Southwest Airlines. However, they have really stepped up their game and offer not only low prices, but free checked bags. More often than not I have been able to get A or early B boarding when checking in on the Southwest App and my hubby and I have been able to sit in the exit row on our flights, which is great for us as a 6 foot tall couple.
More travel details and tips to come. Stay tuned!
I assume that most everyone is familiar with mom jeans and it’s typical stigma. However, since becoming a mom I have a new appreciation for the reasoning behind such a high waist. Personally, I can’t stand to wear something with such a high waist but with all of the stooping, bending, toy gathering and child lifting that I conduct on a daily basis, I get it. Mom jeans are more about functionality than style. You just need the dumb things to stay up. I only wear jeans when absolutely necessary, most typically when going outside of the house to an establishment where there are a majority of non-moms. As soon as I make it back inside the walls of my own home, I toss my jeans aside and grab a pair of pants classified in the category of active, lounge or stretchy wonderfulness. Not only do they stay up and go on easily, they move and contort into whatever angles I need to contort into in order to save the minuscule toy pieces from the robot vacuum.
Now, let me specify these are not leggings. Leggings have three purposes:
1. Outfit completion/modesty while wearing dresses and tunics.
Toddlers think anything mom wears below the waist makes for a great hiding spot/tent/dark cave, you get the idea. Also as previously mentioned, there is a lot of bending that happens as a mom.
2. Husband attraction.
Maintaining a house, avoiding complete child chaos and serving as garbage disposal to avoid waisting food from the already limited grocery budget is stressful. For moms, leggings gives us some inner sass, but it’s really all about that bass.
3. The gym. You know who you are and you don’t have young kids.
Being rather tall for my gender, the extra 3” of fabric I require makes jeans very expensive and difficult to find. Neither of these attributes are mom friendly. Being in the child bearing years also means that my body is continually changing sizes. Talk about a self esteem booster. I despise all of my pairs of jeans. So to the mom who is reading this and contemplating going to the grocery store in stretchy pants, I feel you. I’ve been there. I’ve gone there.
Summer has its fashion conundrums and aside from my incredibly pale skin and cellulite, I can’t wait for warm enough weather to wear shorts, dresses and when you just need a judgement free zone – maxi skirts. Now if I could only find a pair of universally applicable, comfortable, and super cute shoes.
I recently spent an evening discussing the impact of becoming a parent. My fellow mom quickly agreed that it is an overall humbling experience. When your life transitions to sacrifice 100% of the time and you are left with barely enough time to shower, let alone think, you quickly die to self out of pure necessity. Interestingly, for dads, the experience is much different. The consensus was more of an emboldening and confidence building. If I can survive my kid, I can survive yours and just about anything else. Us moms were amused, but it did provide some interesting perspective on the roles that life throws at us as parents.
When the first two years have finally been surpassed and your child makes the transition from dependent to independent, all hell brakes lose. What was once a world revolving around them has now become a world where they must participate and contribute. This is also quite an awakening for parents. No longer are you keeping the kid alive, you have to quickly adapt to enforcing, instructing, encouraging and developing your little hellion into a well rounded future adult. Finding the balance between helping them pursue their natural born talents and providing guidelines for unacceptable behavior is a constant war that you are mostly winging.
In our house, dad gets the short of the end of the stick most of the time. He comes home from work to what can only be described as organized chaos and is thrown into a world that really only makes sense to mom. Perhaps this will be the season of humbling for dad and the season of exhausted, pillow screaming, emboldening for mom. As a toddler mom, my mind is repeatedly saying:
- I CAN survive this day
- I WILL help you become a better person
- You are WORTH all the difficult, crazy moments
Having strength and patience on a constantly changing battlefield is both humbling and emboldening. Thank goodness for grandmas, Netflix, weekends and guilty pleasures. James 1:2-4 reminds us:
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
I take comfort knowing that these trials of parenthood will help me grow and by rearing and refining my little one, she will become strong and steadfast.
Our next trip deal is NYC!
As far a cities go, I love NYC. It is unlike any other city in the world and I have been to a few. I’m really not a city girl, but it is a great city for a weekend getaway. With my Southwest Airline companion pass in my back pocket and around 100,000 points in hand, booking two flights was not too painful at 28,000 points. In dollars, this is around $380 per person.
Hilton is our aim for hotel accommodations. They currently have a credit card offering 50,000 bonus points when we spend $1,000 in 3 months. With points transferrable between Hilton members, 2 credit cards totaling 100,000 points should be enough for two nights in Manhattan. Expensive, yes. However, this is a savings of roughly $200 per night.
To pay for everything out of pocket, we are at $1,160 just for flights and accommodations. Huge savings for this one income family.
Once there we plan to use Uber for our airport transportation, which seems to be a little cheaper than the other options. Traveling around the city can be done inexpensively on foot or via Subway. I’ve only gotten turned around once or twice, but seem to always find a nice security guard to point me in the right direction. I’m also aiming to stay southeast of Times Square, which should be a central location for hitting up my favorite spots and introducing my hubby to the city.
Having spent time in Manhattan before, it is fun to see all the sights and do all the tourist things. Yet, it can be easy to miss a city when you are busy running around trying to make tours and see all the top spots. Mixing it up and picking one or two highlights, especially with weekend getaways, helps you embrace the place you are visiting instead of passing it by in a taxi. I’m looking forward to enjoying the food and the city itself. The people, the architecture, the vibe…
The flights cost $11 in taxes each. Transportation and food are going to be our highest expenses, along with one museum stop. My goal is $300 for the weekend. I’ll update you after our trip!
Well, Jamaica didn’t disappoint! Though going to a tropical location in the middle of January doesn’t leave much room for complaining. Overall, Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall was much like going on a cruise without the sea sickness, on boarding, off boarding or midnight buffet (though we were certainly not left hungry). I’d give our stay four out of five stars.
The resort is separated into family and adult only. Adults are free to access the whole resort, but there is an adult only pool and a few adult only restaurants. We stayed on the Adult only side (Zilara). Most of the restaurants are on the family side (Ziva), but the walk was not far and strolling along side the beach never gets old. Just about every cuisine is offered, with a Jamaican flair. We found the food to be a little bland overall, but there were plenty of options and we didn’t have enough stomach room to try all of the restaurants. Our favorite was the Italian restaurant, De Roza.
Presentation left nothing to be desired. I was also impressed to see dietary options offered at every restaurant including gluten free and vegan. The staff was quite attentive and made sure that you never went without a drink, should you be desiring something. There were also plenty of options for snacking.
Austin’s favorite stop each day was the beach side jerk chicken shack. Breakfast was my favorite part of the food each day. The Zilara side had a small buffet (the large buffet was on the other side of the resort). There was a breakfast menu, if you chose to order something in addition to the buffet spread. We tried the quiche and the very robust French toast. It was the skyscrapers of French toast! The buffet included a spread of cheeses, fresh fruit (the kiwi was sublime), crackers, jams, jellies, pastries, smoked salmon, capers, cereal, eggs, bacon, sausage, curried meat, sautéed bananas, and fresh squeezed juice. Does it get any better? I discovered a deep affection for guava jam.
There was also a small coffee and smoothie bar located just outside the restaurant. Each morning I stopped for a latte to take to the beach with me. One unexpected aspect that I truly appreciated was the small size of the dishes and beverages. It was fun to try lots of things so the smaller portions were perfect.
The pool was chilly as was the ocean water, but the sun felt great. The first two days it was extremely windy and the surf was too rough for anyone to be in the water. Thankfully, the last two days saw much calmer weather and we enjoyed wading in the little ocean lagoons. In the evenings there were fire pits across the resorts for sitting and enjoying the sound of the waves. It was a nice stop along our walk, especially in the cool breeze.
Each evening featured some kind of musical show. Most of these occurred on the Ziva side of the resort, but we were surprised to walk in on a show that had started next to the adult pool. Our room had a wonderful view of the pool and a little bit of ocean, so we scurried up to our balcony to watch the show. When we came upon the scene there was a fire breather. We apparently missed the singer previous to the fire breathing. However, following the fire, some lovely ladies came out and started to dance. Next thing we knew, they jumped in the pool and started doing a synchronized swimming routine with their buff dance partners. It was so unexpected, but certainly a highlight of the trip.
A room service menu was provided and available 24 hours a day. We enjoyed some cheeseburgers while playing Nertz. Did I mention we are introverts and it was windy? The balcony off our room had a wonderful couch and ottoman, perfect for watching Netflix on the free wifi or facetimeing with a toddler.
We had some issues with our neighbors and found our room to be rather noisy during the day from pool side activities, which would be the main reason for the 4 out 5 rating. Also, the transportation policy was recently changed and there is now a fee to be shuttled from the airport. Not sure if this was due to the recent rise in violence in the area, or just a way for Hyatt to make a few extra bucks. We were told it was $60 per person round trip. Not a horrible price, by any means. We were only charged $60 for the two of us, so not sure if that was due to our neighbor altercations, but in any event there is an extra cost there. Getting through customs, to the Hyatt lounge and the shuttle to the resort was a very smooth process.
We felt very safe the entire trip. There were security guards positioned at the edge of resort on the beach and the trip to and from the airport seemed to be in an affluent and well gated part of the island. Our energetic shuttle driver was telling us about the various resorts and areas as we passed, including a neighborhood with homes valued at 3 million U.S. dollars and up.
There were activities for those interested, particularly around the pools and were fun to watch. We mostly spent our time sitting, reading, eating and swimming. The room was comfortable as was the bed. I can’t tell you how many hotels I’ve been to and wake up feeling sore from the stiff mattresses. Double high five Hyatt for making such a comfortable bed. I also quite enjoyed the large tub, perfect for those of us with long legs. Relaxation and service are at the top of the priority list among staff at Hyatt Rose Hall and we certainly enjoyed our four night stay.
After reading some blog posts on how to earn free travel I was highly intrigued but quite skeptical. I decided to try my hand at earning free airline points at Southwest Airlines and see where signing up for one credit card got me. So we canceled our current credit card and switched over to Chase/Southwest. I will say that Chase banking has made this whole process very easy as I can manage all my credit cards from the same place. This busy mom brain needs continuity as much as possible.
The offer with Southwest airlines was earn 50,000 points if you spent $2,000 in three months. Rerouting our expenses to the Southwest credit card made it easy to earn the bonus points. We put all our monthly bills on that one credit card – groceries, utilities, gas, diapers, clothes, insurance, etc. Once we earned those 50,000 points I decided to open a second Southwest credit card. There are two personal credit cards you can open. One has an annual fee of $69 and the other is $99. (There is also a business credit card that can be opened in conjunction with a personal card.) As long as these cards are opened by the same person, all the points accrue. So same deal, $2,000 in three months. Now I was on track to earn 100,000 points. If you earn 110,000 points in one calendar year you earn a companion pass. This means one person can fly with you for FREE (you do have to pay tax). If you open a business card and a personal card you automatically hit 110,000 points. However, as a personal card holder you fall 6,000 points short (you earned 4,000 points spending the first $4,000). In my case, I had two friends open one personal card using my referral link. This gave me a boost of 20,000 points so in a little over 6 months I earned a companion pass! Plus, I kept all 100,000+ points. Once earned the companion pass is good until the end of the following calendar year (so for me, the end of 2018). Once you’ve opened a credit card, you are not eligible for point bonuses from Southwest for 24 months on that same card (if you were to close it and try to open it again for points).
Next came the exciting dilemma, where do we go? Hotels are expensive so if I can earn airline miles, I could probably earn hotel points too, right? After some deliberation we decided to take advantage of one of the few places Southwest flies internationally. The Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall all inclusive in Jamaica was our chosen destination. Hyatt offers 40,000 points plus 5,000 points when you add an authorized user. You have to spend $2,000 in three months (notice a pattern). This card has an annual fee of $75. Though I didn’t plan on keeping the card for more than a year. So for the remaining half of 2017, we used Hyatt credit cards. My husband opened one in addition to the one I opened. The beauty of Hyatt is that you can transfer your points to another Hyatt member. The all inclusive Jamaican Hyatt cost 25,000 points per night. So between the two of us we earned enough for three free nights! Now, if you have higher monthly expenses or have more months to work on spending money you could earn the remaining 6,000 points to spend a fourth night. You can also purchase points. It would be about $120 for 6,000 points. Considering you’d spend at least $500/night this is still a great deal. Once we had earned the 45,000 points on the first card, we transferred off all the points and canceled it. We plan to cancel the second one after our trip to Jamaica.
It only took 20,000 Southwest points to buy flights to Jamaica. The taxes are steep at $130/person. Still though, a significant savings. Hyatt offers transportation from the airport which saves even more money (and is much safer).
So to recap, it took around 12 months to earn all of these points. Depending on your monthly expenses and the sequence in which you open cards, this amount of time will change. Southwest charges you the annual fee up front. However, I also have enough points to make three more trips in 2018, which I will get to later. I decided to pay another $168 in annual fees to keep to cards open through 2018. This will also result in 9,000 additional Southwest points.
I can’t at the moment check to see if Hyatt charges the annual fee up front, as the website is being updated, but if I do find that I will update this portion of my post.
Someone asked me how this affected my credit score. I did some reading and when you first apply for a credit card it is considered a hard inquiry which will decrease you score. This has a temporary effect though, as banks want you to keep opening credit cards. I did not open cards sooner than three months in succession and I only opened three cards in 2017, my husband opened one. My current credit score is in the 700s. If you are going to need a lot of credit score in a short amount of time, you might not want to play the credit card point game.
I want to end this post by saying, be smart! We pay off our credit cards every month. Stay out of credit card debt. If I would have paid cash for our trip to Jamaica, airline tickets would have been a minimum of $500 each and the hotel would have been $2,000 minimum for 4 nights. Obviously prices vary depending on the month you travel. I spent $168 on Southwest credit cards, $260 on taxes, and $24 to purchase the remaining Hyatt points I needed for a total of $452.
Follow me on Instagram @lifeinreview for reviews of Zilara Rose Hall!