I’m Going to Hollywood!

Last night, I turned off my alarm so I could catch a few extra Zs, so naturally, this morning, I woke up, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at 4:45.

What’s got me so excited I can’t sleep? Well, telling you requires spilling a secret. So are you ready?

*phew!* Here goes.

I have a secret life as a fantasy and science fiction author.

There. Now the secret is out. It’s why I’ve been neglecting my blog. Instead of writing blog posts, I’ve been writing stories, and I got the news in November that one of my stories is getting published!

I’m a real author now, y’all!

The Writers of the Future contest is the oldest, largest, and most prestigious writing contest for new authors of fantasy and science fiction. Every year they publish an anthology featuring the three winners from each quarter, and though my finalist story wasn’t one of the winners, they reached out to me in November and asked if they could publish it in the anthology anyway along with the winners.

Um… YES!

My story, “Obsidian Spire,” is the story of a young warrior who sets out on her first mission on her own. She has been sent by her father to quash rumors that a long dead wizard has returned to wreak havoc on the countryside, but when she grudgingly accepts a village boy as her guide, she discovers that there’s more to everything than meets the eye.

The anthology goes on sale next Monday, and you can pre-order your copy today from Amazon! There are TONS of great stories in there. Some science fiction, some fantasy, a little dash of horror… Whatever floats your boat, and all of these stories are from some incredible, brand new authors, at the very beginnings of our careers!

When Gwen’s husband is found murdered, she’s the only suspect. After all, they were the only two people on the moon. —Moonlight One

Flora’s father is a mech-soldier of the Slayer Class, but how much of him is really left inside the machine? —The Armor Embrace

When an alien with godly intelligence is discovered watching the earth, one man must try to learn if its motives are pure. —Envoy in the Ice

If you were stranded in an open boat and the only hope for rescue came from a ghost ship, would dare to ride? —The Devil’s Rescue

Some gifts come with heavy price tags, and the giver must rise to the occasion. —Tears for Shülna

What if an alien asks for your help with a question, and the answer affects the future of the whole human race? —The Drake Equation

Barlow has a talent for finding the dead. Or do they find him? —Acquisition

When Varga sets out to explore the ancient stronghold of a long-dead wizard, she discovers that the ruins aren’t as deserted as she thought. —Obsidian Spire

If only that reptile in the sewer were something as predictable as an alligator. —Gator

On a distant world among the cloud peaks, the light-hawks promise a rich reward for those daring enough to harvest one. —A Glowing Heart

In a world where memories can be stripped, Bill discovers that he has a family he has never known. —The Long Dizzy Down

Not all spirits have the best of intentions, and they must be dealt with. —The Woodcutters’ Deity

You can put an end to something wondrous, but only at a cost. —The Dragon Killer’s Daughter

In a life-or-death situation, sometimes you wish that you had a really powerful spell. But that begs the question—what is power? —Useless Magic

Some devils are as old as a dream, and more evil than men can imagine. —Adramelech

When the world needs saving, three children are called to the task. —The Fox, the Wolf, and the Dove

Can an aging sorcerer find a way to track down his old nemesis with the small bit of magic he has left, or is he just fooling himself? —The Magnificent Bhajan

But it gets better! Not only is this a new author contest, it’s an illustrator contest, too! So each of our stories gets an gorgeous illustration by an up-and-coming artist! So it’s a book full of great stories and great art.

But it gets even better! (And this is why I’m up early bouncing around instead of sleeping in.) The contest organizers will fly all of us–authors and artists–out to Hollywood for an amazing week long writers workshop where we will get to learn from some of the most successful authors in the industry. I mean, even if you don’t read fantasy and science fiction, you will have heard of these people.

And at the end of the week, they have an incredible gala and awards ceremony with a red carpet, crazy fancy dresses (thank goodness for Rent the Runway*!–more on that later), amazing performances from EMCirque, and more. You guys. I’m going to have to get up onstage and give an acceptance speech! Aaaah!

If you’re in the Los Angeles area, tickets may still be available and they’re free, so all you have to do is RSVP (but you must RSVP)! Here is the event invitation. If you’re not in the LA area, but you still want to check it out, they will be live broadcasting online from www.writersofthefuture.com starting at 6:30 PM PST.

So now you understand why I’m so excited! Keep an eye on my Instagram feed for updates on all the fun!

I hope you’ll pick up a copy of the book. I’ve gotten to read all the stories ahead of time, and they’re all just fantastic.

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The Trouble with Growing Paste Tomatoes: Determinate vs. Indeterminate Varieties

I love growing my own tomatoes. I don’t grow them for slicing, sandwiches or salads. I grow my tomatoes so that in autumn I can make and can my own pizza sauce. The trouble is, a lot of paste tomatoes are indeterminate instead of determinate.

What does that mean?

July is when all the hard work in your garden finally starts to pay off. Here's what I'm harvesting from my July garden.

Indeterminate vs. Determinate Tomatoes

In tomato sauce production, that is, the big commercial fields that grow the tomatoes for our ketchup, jars of marinara, and tomato paste, they grow determinate tomatoes. This means that the tomato produces all of its fruit at once. All of the fruit ripens at the same time, and all of the fruit can be harvested at once. This makes sense, right? If you’re going to harvest the fruit out of a field with a tomato harvesting machine, then you’ve got to do it all at once. A few weeks ago some folks on my team at work took some bloggers out to California to see this in person. Check out this post from DadLogic showing how tomatoes are harvested and turned into tomato paste. It’s fascinating.

What what about those indeterminate tomatoes that I’m growing in my yard? Indeterminate tomatoes are plants that produce their fruit gradually over the entire season. This makes perfect sense for home gardeners, because most home gardeners would be baffled by a sudden single harvest of pounds of tomatoes with no tomatoes after that. You’d want to harvest a few for your salad, then the next day harvest a few more, and so forth. It’s perfect for having tomatoes all season long.

In June, the garden really starts rocking. See what warm weather veggies are taking off and which cool weather vegetable need to be taken out.

Here’s the trouble…

I’m not growing tomatoes for sandwiches and salads. I’m growing tomatoes for canning, which means, I need to have a lot of tomatoes all at once. Even with 8 lbs of tomatoes last year, I only wound up with 4 jars of sauce. A tomato here and there just won’t cut it.

So why wouldn’t I just buy determinate tomatoes like the farmers do? Deer. Caterpillars. Raccoons. The wildlife in my neighborhood is attracted to my garden like it’s some kind of all summer buffet. The idea of having one crop all at once sounds great to me, but it also feels a lot like putting all my eggs in one basket if that makes sense. If the fawns wean right around the time the green tomatoes start appearing, the entire crop is lost, and it’s lost forever.

What works best for me is having indeterminate tomatoes so if the critters decide to come for a snack, there are still plenty of blossoms on the vines to produce lots more fruit to make up for what I lost.

countertop tomatoes

But what about that canning thing?

With the indeterminate tomatoes, I run into the problem of having a tomato here and a tomato there. So how do I get enough to make my pizza sauce? I need 10 lbs at the very least to make this whole thing worthwhile.

This was a struggle I ran into last year. The tomatoes were going bad before I could get enough to can. What could I do?

Then, mid-season last year, it hit me. I knew the solution to my problem.

I froze them.

 

I started washing them and freezing them in big gallon bags. I managed to save 8 lbs last year, and got my pizza sauce. It wasn’t enough to give any away (I guard my sauce jealously), but it was enough, if we used it carefully, to last my family through winter, spring, and summer.

This year, I started freezing tomatoes as soon as they ripened. I’ve got around 15 lbs of paste tomatoes packed into my freezer today, with a bunch more ripening on the counter, and more on the vines. (Full disclosure: My local grocery had a sale on roma tomatoes, so I went ahead and bought a few lbs and froze them, so some of those came from the store.)

Frozen Tomatoes

Won’t freezing ruin my tomatoes though?

In my experience, freezing sauce tomatoes actually helps. A frozen tomato will thaw out mushy and falling out of its peel. This is gross if you’re wanting a tomato for a sandwich, but for sauce? It’s kind of perfect! Saves me the time of having to fool with peeling them!

That first year, peeling and seeding tomatoes was a total nightmare. You have to boil them, dunk them in ice water and then get the skin off. It took forever, and I scalded all my fingers, which would’ve been great if I was living a life of crime because, Hey! No fingerprints! But since I’m not living a life of crime and I like my fingerprints and I also like my fingers to not hurt, it wasn’t so great at all. Also, I ended up losing a lot of the tomato that stuck to the peel and wasting what could otherwise have gone into my pot.

When you freeze a tomato, the peel slips right off after it thaws, so you don’t have to fool with boiling water, burned fingertips, and wasted fruit.

And here’s a bonus tip: My grandma, who’s been canning her whole life, tells me that you really don’t have to get all the peel. You can just toss the tomatoes in the blender peel and all. She tells me that when she makes salsa, the peel seems to help thicken the salsa and improve the texture!

So, if you’re growing tomatoes for sauce, and you’re having trouble getting enough to can, consider freezing them! It’s worked great for me, and I hope it works well for you, too.

Freezing Tomatoes pin

Leche Libre: Redefining the Look of Modern Motherhood

Leche-Libre-Kick-logo

I breastfed my children for seven total years, and in that time, I wore more V-necks, camisoles, and double-layered t-shirts than you could shake a stick at. I got so sick of what I came to feel like was my uniform. I felt certain that nursing clothes would never be able to go much beyond the bland tops and pants that I had gotten so accustomed to wearing.

Then, a few months ago, in a Facebook group, I met Andrea, the founder of Leche Libre, a clothing line she designed in response to those same feelings of fashion blandness that I had felt! I could not believe what I was seeing. Could these clothes really be for nursing moms? They were so fashionable! Edgy, fun, and punk! And exactly the kind of thing I’d been yearning for in my breastfeeding days.

all-of-us-with-kids-logo

At a glance, I could think of a ton of different ways to style these dresses and tops. I could wear the dresses with tights and Doc Martens. I could throw on a pair of heels for at the office. I could imagine how perfect the jacket would be in the cool California evenings when the wind blows off the ocean and the Midwest winters when a V-neck is just too cold.

Andrea’s mission was to create a line of edgy nursing clothes that would empower women to breastfeed in public with confidence, and I’d say she nailed it.

Right now, Leche Libre is running a Kickstarter campaign. I am thrilled at the chance to share these gorgeous nursing clothes with you guys, and I’m excited to be able to support a woman-owned, mom-owned business. There are 8 days left in the Kickstarter, so now is the time to get in.

collection-pic2

 

Some points to consider:

  • This is a mom-owned business. Andrea is building her business from the ground up, so supporting her not only gets you fabulous breastfeeding clothes, it helps another mom.
  • Leche Libre clothes are ethically made in the US, so you know that women on all sides of the transaction are being supported.
  • Andrea is teaming up with the Chicago Volunteer Doulas to coordinate donations of Leche Libre garments to teen moms who face the most barriers to breastfeeding, so even if you are no longer nursing, I would encourage you to get in on the Kickstarter to help support these young moms and their babies.

Andrea says, “Instead of thinking, ‘I just had a baby, my social life is over,’ I want women to say, ‘I just had a baby, now let’s go have some fun!’”

Visit Andrea’s Kickstarter page to and pledge your support to Leche Libre now before the campaign ends on September 1!

navy-peir-main

 

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This is not a sponsored post and I was not compensated by Leche Libre for sharing my opinions.

How I Keep My House Clean With One Simple Checklist

It’s confession time. I am a terrible housekeeper. I mean, terrible. My eyes just pass right over messes and my brain doesn’t even register that they’re there. It’s not that I’m dirty. It’s just that I tend toward entropy.

entropy housekeeping

It’s not that I want to be a slob. I dream of having a beautiful, magazine-ready house like I see on Pinterest. I just get so overwhelmed when I try to really dig in and clean anything, and when I actually do manage to get a room organized, it usually falls back into its naturally messy state within a few hours.

Because of this, I’ve struggled with getting the weekly cleaning done. I would get so caught up in trying to dig my way out that I’d lose sight of the basics: vacuuming, wiping windows, cleaning bathroom.

So one day I decided to make myself a checklist, because nothing is more satisfying than checking off an item on a list and knowing you’ve gotten it done. I thought to myself, “Self, you just list out every little thing you know you need to do, and then you can get it done one-by-one.”

So I sat down at my kitchen table and made that checklist. It was two pages long! I looked at the list and my eyes glazed over.

cleaning checklist

I went upstairs to play blocks with Cricket. Nothing got cleaned that day.

A few months ago, I decided to try again with the checklist thing, but this time, I decided to be realistic. I thought through each room, and mentally decided what the real priorities were.

Was it critical that I get the toilets scrubbed each and every week? Absolutely. Would the world end if I didn’t straighten the hall closet every week? Nope. Do I really need to dust the living room every week? Yeah, we’ve got allergies, so dusting is a must. Do I need to vacuum the upstairs carpet weekly? Oh, yeah, but the moon won’t fall from the sky if I skip the baseboards.

Going methodically through the house, I made a list of just the basic priorities of what I wanted to make sure got cleaned every week. In making the list, I reminded myself how long these tasks actually take, and I realized that I can clean an entire bathroom in 10 minutes or less! Chores that seemed like they took hours really only took a few minutes.

cleaning-checklist pin

I printed out my list, had it laminated, and each week, I check my boxes with a wet erase pen. If I don’t get to something that week, I put a star by it and start with the skipped task the following week.

 

Since making the list and tailoring it to the needs of my own house instead of what a magazine thinks I ought to be doing each week, my house has become so much cleaner, and my neat freak husband has taken notice of my hard work! Even better, I feel good when I walk into the house. It feels almost brighter somehow.

You can download your own copy of my Quick Cleaning Checklist. Or you use my list as a foundation to make your own.

Click here to download the Quick Cleaning Checklist

 

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A Newbie’s Guide to Surviving a Conference

A few weeks ago, I traveled to a blogger conference as a part of my job. This was my first time attending a blogger conference, and it was incredible. It was tons of fun, a lot of hard work, and I learned so much. While I missed my family, I’m really glad I went.

This week, I’m off to WorldCon. This is not a part of my day job, but it’s kind of an open secret that I’m also an aspiring speculative fiction writer and so this is a more personal professional development opportunity for me.

I’m glad I went to the blogger conference first because there are some really basic things I learned there that you never really think about asking and folks don’t think about mentioning. So I’m going to share with you a few of the little things that made the light bulb over my head go off and made my time at the conference just a little bit easier.

A Newbie's Guide to Con Survival

Wear Clothes With Pockets

You’ll need a place to stash pens, phone, cards, and so on that you can just grab without having to dig. For guys this is easy. Your clothes always have functional pockets. For women this can be a little more challenging. At Type A West, I found myself digging around in my bag way too much. Yes, the pencil skirt was a professional and appropriate choice of attire, but without pockets, it made it difficult to whip out my phone to snap a quick photo or produce a business card in a non-awkward way.

On the second day, I thought I had pockets, but they were still sewn shut, so I had to spend a few minutes tugging at threads on my butt pocket. Kind of embarrassing. “No, I swear I’m not scratching my butt. I just need a place to stick my phone.”

So the lesson I learned was: Pockets. The more the better.

Bring Business Cards

When me boss asked if I had business cards, I had to scramble to get some. I had been so caught up in the preparation for the actual event that it hadn’t occurred to me to have any made.  I only had time to have them printed at a copy store, and they did the job, but looking back I wished I’d planned ahead and had some nice ones printed at MOO. This time, I’m ready with a gorgeous stack of cards to trade. (If you want 10% off your first Moo.com order, follow my affiliate link.)

People come to conferences to learn, but they also come to network, and for the first time in my professional life I found myself actually in a position where I needed to be able to trade business cards. So plan ahead and have your business cards ready to go.

 A Newbie's Guide to Con Survival

Bring a Fine Tip Permanent Marker

The worst thing about getting home with a stack of business cards is trying to remember who it was you got them from and what it is you chatted about. Lots of people are leaving white space on business cards to allow space for note taking. Jotting down notes helps me process information, and a few quick notes helps me remember just what we talked about.

I had a ballpoint pen to write with, but with the glossy finish of most business cards, it was practically useless. I would have given just about anything for a fine point permanent marker. So at WorldCon, I will be traveling with a pack of fine point Sharpies to make sure if I need make a note on someone’s card, I can.

 

Carry a Bottle of Water

Yes, I know. Water is heavy. It can be a pain in the neck to lug around, and sure there are usually water fountains around somewhere, but having a water bottle in hand (or in the shoulder bag at least), serves as a constant reminder to stay hydrated. Sure the desert air was a factor in my being constantly thirsty at the blogger conference, but talking dries you out like crazy. So at WorldCon, I’ll be sip-sip-sipping from my water bottle.

 

Talking to Strangers is Not So Scary

This was huge for me. I’m a pretty introverted person. Talking to people I know can be challenging. I am super awkward in person. But talking to strangers? I was terrified. But I learned that meeting strangers is actually kind of nerve-wracking for everyone, and remember what I said about networking? Everyone else is there to network and meet other folks, too.

Sitting down at a table to eat breakfast with a bunch of people I’d never met turned out to be… great! I met some fantastic people. It’s not nearly as scary as I thought to sit down next to someone, introduce myself, and say, “So, what do you write about?”

A Newbie's Guide to Con Survival

 

Here are a few more necessities I’m including in my con survival kit based on my blogger conference experience:

  • Lip balm – I’m so glad I’ve got the super slim Grateful Naturals lip balm to slip into my pocket!
  • Hand sanitizer – I’m not usually a hand sanitizer kind of person, but Con Crud (the cold you pick up by the end of a convention or conference) is a real thing and I want to avoid it.
  • Vitamin C – See above about Con Crud.
  • A portable device charger – My phone died on me the first day of the blogger conference, and luckily my boss had a charger. She won’t be there to bail me out at WorldCon, so I’m bringing my own.
  • A light jacket – Some rooms at the blog conference were hot, some were very cold. You never know what you’ll run into.
  • High protein snacks – I don’t want to miss a session or a panel, but I don’t want to get sick from lack of food!
  • Notebooks and pens – Of course!

I’m so excited to learn and improve as a writer! This is going to be a fantastic few days!

 

A Newbie's Guide to Con Survival

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This is not a sponsored post. Any brands pictured are simply the ones I use in my every day life. I was not asked to write this post.

Creamy, Spicy Coconut Curry Sweet Corn

I love sweet corn. I love it grilled. I love it boiled. I even love it… curried? This recipe is rich and creamy with a smoky-sweet spiciness that really gets your tongue tingling, and the added vinegar and cilantro keep it light and bright.

This recipe is rich and creamy with a smoky-sweet spiciness that really gets your tongue tingling, and the added vinegar and cilantro keep it light and bright. Cook it with bacon for a delicious side dish, or leave the bacon out for a delicious vegan main dish.

My Sister-in-Law introduced me to this recipe when she came to stay with us when Cricket was born, and I could not get enough of this surprising combination of flavors. I am thrilled that she has graciously allowed me to share this recipe with you!

Aside from the creamy, spicy flavors in this dish, the thing I really love about it is how flexible this dish is.

You can make it spicy by adding a bunch of chipotle sauce or you can keep it mild by leaving the chipotle out altogether and using a small amount of smoked paprika instead.

You can serve this as a bacon-filled side dish. Or, if your vegetarian/vegan friend is coming over for dinner, this makes an excellent main course if you simply leave out the bacon and substitute coconut or other oil for the bacon fat. It seems my poor vegetarian friends are always given a side salad, and a dish like this will show them that they are not just an afterthought.

If you are serving vegans/vegetarians, and you season your cast iron skillets with bacon fat like I do, you should cook this recipe in a different skillet. Invariably, some of the animal fat will make its way into the food, so using a regular skillet would be the best way to ensure this dish is truly vegan.

When I made this for my parents, I served it with grilled chicken skewers marinated in a simple Indian yogurt marinade (think ginger, garlic, garam masala, and so forth) and a cooling avocado and tomato salad.

IMG_1632

A couple of quick notes to help make sure this comes out as wonderful for you as it does for me:

  • Use canned coconut milk–the kind you get from the Asian food section–not boxed coconut milk like you would drink.
  • I use button mushrooms, but if you want to get fancy, you can use oyster or other exotic mushrooms. These are more delicate so you would need to add these after you add the corn and coconut milk.
  • If you don’t have cider vinegar, you can use lemon juice or even a splash of sherry, but you do need a bit of something acidic to keep the dish from tasting too heavy. This is what keeps people coming back for seconds and thirds!
  • If you don’t have fresh sweet corn available, feel free to use frozen.

 

Coconut Curry Sweet Corn

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

A creamy, spicy take on sweet corn

Credit: my sister-in-law

This dish can easily become a delicious vegan meal by leaving out the bacon and sauteing the onions in coconut or other oil.

Ingredients

  • 3 slices bacon, diced (optional)
  • 1/2 large onion, julienned
  • 8 oz mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 3 ears of corn, cut from the cob (about 2 1/4 cups)
  • 1 cup canned coconut milk
  • 1-3 Tbsp chipotle sauce
  • 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/3 bunch chopped Cilantro

Directions

  1. In a large skillet over medium high heat, cook the bacon until it is crispy. Set bacon aside to drain and pour off all but 1 Tbsp of the grease.
  2. Caramelize the onions in the bacon grease (or coconut oil if you left out the bacon). When the onions are well caramelized, add the mushrooms and cook until just soft.
  3. Add the corn to the skillet and continue cooking until the corn is warmed through.
  4. Add the cooked bacon, coconut milk, chipotle sauce, vinegar, and salt to taste, and simmer for 10-15 minutes, or until thickened slightly. If it becomes too thick, you can thin with a splash of chicken or vegetable stock.
  5. Remove from heat and add cilantro. Serve warm.

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Camp Pokémon: If Your Kid is a Little Too Young for Pokémon GO

With lots of fun mini-games, Camp Pokémon is a great, free way for little kids too participate in the Pokémon excitement.

The whole family has gotten into Pokémon GO. Even my husband who has always just rolled his eyes when The Grasshopper and I start talking Pokémon downloaded the app and has been playing. We all enjoy running around the neighborhood, checking in on the gyms, visiting the PokéStops, and finding new pokemon.

Well, almost all of us.

Poor Cricket just can’t seem to get the hang of it, and while her big sister can throw a Poké Ball like a true master, Cricket tends to just fling them offscreen. Bless her heart, she wasted a dozen of my Poké Balls trying to catch a pidgey the other day.

She wants so badly to participate, and while she’s great at spinning the PokéStops, when it comes to catching Pokémon, she just doesn’t have the fine motor skills yet.

The good news is, there’s an app out there that gives her the chance to play Pokémon along with the rest of us: Camp Pokémon.

With lots of fun mini-games, Camp Pokémon is a great, free way for little kids too participate in the Pokémon excitement.

The app is a collection of mini-games that introduces young kids to the world of Pokémon and gives them a way to participate in the excitement.

There’s a game where you learn about Pokémon strengths by selecting which Pokémon type is strongest against the Pokémon floating down the river.

With lots of fun mini-games, Camp Pokémon is a great, free way for little kids too participate in the Pokémon excitement.

There’s another game where you get to practice throwing pokeballs arcade-style at Pokémon as they parade past. (This one is actually kind of hard!)

With lots of fun mini-games, Camp Pokémon is a great, free way for little kids too participate in the Pokémon excitement.

There’s a memory game that introduces the Pokémon TCG (that’s “The Card Game”) that starts easy with simply matching Pokémon, but gets harder (matching types), and then harder again (matching evolutions), as your child’s knowledge and speed increase.

With lots of fun mini-games, Camp Pokémon is a great, free way for little kids too participate in the Pokémon excitement.

With lots of fun mini-games, Camp Pokémon is a great, free way for little kids too participate in the Pokémon excitement.

Cricket’s favorite is the game where you have to look for Pokémon in the wild. She loves going to the different environments and searching for new Pokémon.

With lots of fun mini-games, Camp Pokémon is a great, free way for little kids too participate in the Pokémon excitement.

There are lots more games, too, and even the chance for kids to unlock Mega-Evolutions, which both Cricket and The Grasshopper get excited about.

With lots of fun mini-games, Camp Pokémon is a great, free way for little kids too participate in the Pokémon excitement.

The skill level required for these games is pretty low, but they’ve still managed to make the games a little challenging by adding levels to each game, so I enjoy sitting with her and taking turns playing. Best of all, for us, it lets Cricket keep up with her big sister and gives her a real and satisfying way to become part of the world of Pokémon.

If you’ve got a little one, I really recommend this game. It’s free, and kids don’t have to know how to read in order to play. So if your little one is aching to play but isn’t quite ready to become a Pokémon master, let them play at Camp Pokémon!

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Garden Update July 2016

July is when all the hard work in your garden finally starts to pay off. Here's what I'm harvesting from my July garden.

July was a month of incredible garden highs and crushing lows. This was the month that the garden started paying off in a huge way, which was exciting for all of us.

Cricket, especially, has been excited to finally start harvesting the fruits of her labor. She planted our beans for us this year, and she loved the chance to grow purple beans!

July is when all the hard work in your garden finally starts to pay off. Here's what I'm harvesting from my July garden.

I was hoping she’d eat them, but alas. Her vegetable passion seems to extend only to growing them so far.

But I sure enjoyed them!

July is when all the hard work in your garden finally starts to pay off. Here's what I'm harvesting from my July garden.

The peppers and the tomatoes have also been a source of excitement.

Look how big this sweet banana pepper is?

July is when all the hard work in your garden finally starts to pay off. Here's what I'm harvesting from my July garden.

We’ve got tomatoes beginning to blush.

July is when all the hard work in your garden finally starts to pay off. Here's what I'm harvesting from my July garden.

And other tomatoes ready to pick (and some that got knocked off the vine by varmints).

July is when all the hard work in your garden finally starts to pay off. Here's what I'm harvesting from my July garden.

Even tomatoes with silly shapes!

July is when all the hard work in your garden finally starts to pay off. Here's what I'm harvesting from my July garden.

The basil is going nuts.

July is when all the hard work in your garden finally starts to pay off. Here's what I'm harvesting from my July garden.

The okra that Cricket begged me to buy is getting tall and beginning to put out blossoms.

July is when all the hard work in your garden finally starts to pay off. Here's what I'm harvesting from my July garden.

But the real source of joy was the sweet corn. The sweet corn was my crop. These were my plants. I squeezed 45 corn plants into my 2 foot x 6 foot bed, and it grew perfectly. I lavished love on it.

It grew tall and put out tassels! (That’s where the pollen is).

July is when all the hard work in your garden finally starts to pay off. Here's what I'm harvesting from my July garden.

I hand pollinated the beautiful baby ears to make sure they would be perfect.

July is when all the hard work in your garden finally starts to pay off. Here's what I'm harvesting from my July garden.

And they were perfect. They were gorgeous. Some stalks even had double ears!

July is when all the hard work in your garden finally starts to pay off. Here's what I'm harvesting from my July garden.

We had a storm issue where some of the corn fell over (this is called lodging).

July is when all the hard work in your garden finally starts to pay off. Here's what I'm harvesting from my July garden.

But I propped it, staked it, and it recovered.

I was just about ready to harvest it. I even filmed a little video where I felt around on the corn and said, “I think it’s just about ready…”

I was going to harvest our first ears the very next day.

But when I woke up in the morning, disaster had struck. Raccoons. They ate every single ear, stripped them to the cobs. They left nothing.

July is when all the hard work in your garden finally starts to pay off. Here's what I'm harvesting from my July garden.

“That’s okay,” my husband said. “There are immature ears still growing. We just lost the first round. This is why you staggered planting. It’s going to be okay.”

But that night, the raccoons returned and stripped the rest of the ears, immature and all.

July is when all the hard work in your garden finally starts to pay off. Here's what I'm harvesting from my July garden.

The corn has been a total loss. There were only 2 ears that we were able to save and eat. I had no idea that one animal could be so destructive.

We’ve had other pests.

A few slugs.

July is when all the hard work in your garden finally starts to pay off. Here's what I'm harvesting from my July garden.

A solitary tobacco horn worm that we disposed of with haste.

July is when all the hard work in your garden finally starts to pay off. Here's what I'm harvesting from my July garden.

But nothing has been quite as soul-crushing as the raccoon.

I tell myself that garden season has really just begun. There are weeks of harvesting ahead of us: tomatoes, more peppers, carrots, gorgeous herbs, but the loss of the corn really hit me hard.

I’ve got to keep looking forward, though. Tomato season is just getting into gear, and my vines are loaded with green tomatoes!

July is when all the hard work in your garden finally starts to pay off. Here's what I'm harvesting from my July garden.

With gardening, there’s so much that’s outside of your control. It really puts into perspective for me what farmers deal with. A farmer I spoke to recently told me it is like planting dollar bills in the ground and praying they grow. Now, my little backyard garden is definitely not anything like a real farm, and I am not kidding myself that I can truly understand the feeling of risk farmers who rely on their crops to live really feel. But seeing just how fickle nature can be despite all the care you take helps give me just a glimpse of what farmers must go through on a daily basis. Wow. I sure am grateful to all the folks that grow my food!

July was a tough month, but I’m already looking ahead to the August harvest!

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Because of the work I do for Monsanto, I got the chance to take home some of the vegetable plants and seeds in my garden. I was not asked to write this post and all opinions are my own.

Cosleeping Adventures: How We Sidecarred Our Crib

How we converted a crib into a cosleeper and sidecarred it to our bed

Cosleeping has been a big part of our lives since the Grasshopper was a baby, and it seems especially relevant to me now that Cricket has declared her intent to sleep on her own like a big girl. So let’s rewind time a bit and I will show you how we sidecarred a crib so that Cricket could sleep safely with us.

Cricket Cosleeper sidecar crib
Keep in mind that Cricket is a toddler in this photo which is why you see her on her stomach with the stuffed animal and the blanket. Always follow safe sleep practices.

I’m sharing what worked for our family, but you may find something else works better for yours and that is okay. There are so many roads to wonderful parenting. If you do decide that cosleeping is right for you, please research carefully to ensure you are following the guidelines for safe cosleeping. This post is not a recommendation for one type of sleeping over the other and it is your responsibility to make sure that the choice you make is made with safety at the top of your mind.

After doing our research on the risks/benefits of cosleeping, we decided that sidecarring a crib was the right choice for our family. Sidecarring a crib simply means attaching a crib to the side of the bed. For us, this allowed me to sleep with Cricket without having her on the same sleeping surface as myself, which felt safer than having her on the bed with me.

We explored commercial cosleepers, and they all looked really nice, but they all seemed pretty small, and it felt like she would outgrow them quickly. In the end, we created our own cosleeper out of a cheap convertible crib that we purchased at a big box store, and it worked beautifully for us!

We assembled the crib as you would a toddler bed with one side off, but instead of placing the mattress on the lowest position as you would for a toddler, we placed it at the highest position.

SAMSUNG

The trouble is, we have a tall bed with a tall mattress, so it still wasn’t quite high enough.

Lucky me, a young person I know had recently gone to college and I remembered that she had purchased risers to help lift her bed up so she could store things underneath. With a set of risers and a thick layer of high density foam under the crib mattress, we were able to get it to the right level.

cosleeper sidecar crib high density foam

To keep things from wobbling or falling over, we used industrial strength bungee cords to attach her crib to our bed. These had to be tight (and I mean TIGHT) so that the crib would be stable.

cosleeper risers sidecar crib

Still, we needed to bridge the gap between our mattress and hers. Because it was only a space of a few inches, I shifted her mattress over the gap and placed a second piece of high density foam behind her mattress to tightly fill the space left between her mattress and the crib frame.

 

It’s important to note that we made sure any gaps were either securely covered or tightly filled. Babies are wiley and it’s easy for them to wiggle and get their heads stuck in things. There’s a reason why crib slats are required to be no more than a certain distance apart, and it’s important to always keep an eye out for gaps.

This method of cosleeping was really helpful for us. Having Cricket in bed with us without actually being in the bed helped me sleep more and helped ease those frequent nighttime breastfeeding sessions.

Again, keep in mind this is a toddler sleeping. Always follow the rules for safe infant sleep.
Again, keep in mind this is a toddler sleeping. Always follow the rules for safe infant sleep.

My (Dis)Organized Life

I have struggled for years, my whole life really, to get organized. I tried lists, apps, calendars of all kinds. Mostly, I just remembered

For a while, the iPhone seemed to be the answer. There are tons of apps out there, many of them truly wonderful, that help people organize their days. They give reminders, coordinate between multiple people, and let you tier out and prioritize to-do lists. It seems like all of these apps work great for me for a month or so, and then I begin to struggle.

I have discovered in the last couple of years that I just can’t process the information unless I write it out by hand. Because of this, I’ve made the switch back to a paper planner.

I've made the switch back to a paper planner and my life is so much better!

Now, I’ve tried and failed at the paper planner thing before. My mother always used a paper planner, and I tried a few times when I was younger, but each time fizzled after a couple of weeks. I had good luck in college with the New York Public Library’s student planner, but now that I’m juggling my work schedule, my home schedule, my husband’s schedule, and the schedules of my two kids, it just doesn’t meet my needs anymore.

For 2016, after months of feeling like a top spinning out of control, I decided to purchase a bigger, heftier planner. I had a number of requirements:

  • Sturdy coils and cover that wouldn’t get bent up in a backpack, purse, or brief case
  • A monthly spread at the beginning of each month (you’d be surprised how many don’t have this)
  • Plenty of space to write appointments and to-do lists
  • A dedicated space for meal planning
  • A way to differentiate between work and home (part time work is great, but it adds a layer of complication)

And it had to be pretty. I knew I was going to spend a year looking at it, and I didn’t want something that just looked completely utilitarian.

I searched high and low. I looked in book stores and online. I bought one that I thought I liked, but I didn’t. Then, I stumbled across the Erin Condren Life Planner (ECLP). Initially, I was worried. It wasn’t cheap, but I got $10 off (affiliate link) and I got it on sale, so I justified the cost. I am so glad I did. It has made my life so much easier.

Erin Condren Flat Lay 2

I started off with an elaborate color code scheme, plans for how I was going to use each of the three boxes the vertical layout gave me, and definite ideas on how I was going to list out everything and get it all done right now.

What I realized, though, was that I needed to give myself permission to be flexible. The ECLP gave me all of the space I needed–it met all of the requirements I listed–but with all the rules I had set for myself starting out, I quickly felt overwhelmed and anxious. What I had to come to terms with is that it’s okay for one week to be color coded and one week to not be. It’s okay to skip a day. It’s okay to change the system from one week–even one day–to the next.

I had to give myself permission to be imperfect. I realized a few weeks in that part of what has caused me to fail so many times before at organization was that I didn’t allow myself to be flexible. I didn’t allow myself to experiment and try different things to see what worked and what didn’t.

I've made the switch back to a paper planner and my life is so much better!

Once I allowed myself to try different things, I started having fun with it, and if I’m having fun with something, I don’t want to quit. I’m on month 3 of using my Erin Condren Life Planner, and so far, it’s been just what I need. Some weeks are busy with lots of notes, others are not. Each week, I try something a little new, keep what works, and ditch the rest.

 

If you’re like me and you struggle to get yourself organized, if you feel like you’re going a million different directions, none of which are the right way, give this planner a try. It’s been a life-changer for me. No more missed appointments, forgotten after school activities, or skipped chores. I’ve even developed a reputation at work for being super organized, which I’m sure will make my mother chuckle.

I've made the switch back to a paper planner and my life is so much better!

In a future post, I’ll share with you why I ditched the To-Do list and why you should to, so stay tuned!

I got my first Erin Condren Life Planner on sale, and if you want to get $10 off your first Erin Condren Life Planner, be sure to sign in and order through my affiliate link.

 

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