Color Me Happy!

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

To say that we've had a colorful April would be a serious understatement.

Between Easter, all the beautiful Spring flowers popping up everywhere, some fun craft projects, and The Color Run last week, I can't seem to get enough!


We had a blast at The Color Run in Baltimore last year so I was super excited for the race again this year!

I'm sure most people have heard of it by now, but the Color Run is a 5K race where everyone dresses up in white and runs through stations along the course where people throw and spray colored powder on you so that at the end, you are nothing but a colorful, happy mess. It's a total blast!








My goal for this year was to run the entire 5K without stopping so that I could check off another 101 list item. And guess what?! I DID IT!

So long #19 - Run a 5K.

Runners to the left, walkers to the right - I never even touched the right side!

Last year, I had to stop and walk a few times so I was so incredibly happy when I crossed the finish line and had not stopped once the entire 3.1 miles!

I'm hoping now to start working on my next running goal - getting my mile time under 10 minutes... This will be a tough one for sure!

Happy Hump Day!

Earth Day Part 2 - Making the Switch

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

In our quest to make our home more eco-friendly, we came up with a two part plan that focused on both the inside and the outside of our house. I talked last week about the changes we made to the outside, so I figured today I would share what we were doing indoors.

Unfortunately, we didn't have it in the budget this year to purchase completely new high efficiency appliances for the entire house like I would have liked (a girl can dream, right?) So instead, we decided that an overhaul to our household cleaning supplies was a more more realistic goal that would still mean big changes that were better for both our bodies and the environment.



I can't lie, I was a little nervous at first. I can be a bit of a germaphobe at times and my standby cleaners have always been Clorox wipes and Lysol sprays, so making the switch to all natural, environemtally safe products was not going to be easy. But after everything I have been reading over the years about the controversy over Triclosan (the common active ingredient in antibacterial soaps), the dangers of some common household cleaning products, and how toxic these cleaners can be for both the environment and our health, I knew we had to make some changes.

I started by pulling out as many of our current cleaning products as I could find and gathering them on our kitchen table. I was a bit overwhelmed and surprised by how many different products I actually use. For the bathrooms alone I had six different items: Clorox toilet bowl cleaner, Clorox surface wipes, Windex, tile spray cleaner with bleach, Scrubbing Bubbles, and swiffer wet jet for the floors. I made a mental note that simplifying our stash would also be a major proiority. If there was an eco-friendly product out there that could do multiple jobs, I was going to find it. Anything to reduce the pile of stuff taking up space in our hall closets!

After gathering everything together and figuring out what I needed to replace, it was time to start finding alternatives. I began doing some research, and of course reading a bunch of awesome blogs (by far the most helpful was Katie over at Kitchen Stewardship), about what kinds of eco-friendly products were out there and what really worked. I didn't want to fork over a bunch of cash for a new product that was only going to leave me frustrated with the results. I came up with a pretty good list of products that covered just about all of the areas of our home. What surprised me is how few items I needed. It came down to this:

1. Vinegar
2. Hydrogen peroxide
3. Baking soda
4. Seventh Generation Free & Clear Liquid Dish Soap
5. BioKleen Automatic Dish Powder
6. BioKleen Bac-Out
7. Seventh Generation Toilet Bowl Cleaner
8. Soap Nuts
9. DIY Orange Power Cleaner

For the WHOLE HOUSE. I was shocked.

To break it down a little further (and to make sure I had everything covered) I made a list of how I would use the products in all the different areas of our home.

For the mirrors/windows/glass
Vinegar/Water 50:50 mixture spray bottle and newspaper to wipe clean

For the Bathtub/shower
Straight vinegar as an after-shower spray (smell is completely gone after it dries)
Scrub with baking soda for soap scum/stains (this works wonders)

For the Toilets
Surface cleaning - Hydrogen Peroxide/Water 50:50 mixture and microfiber cloths
Seven Generation Toilet Bowl Cleaner

For Tile Floors
Mop with Vinegar/Water (No more than 1/4 cup in 32oz spray bottle)

For the Counters/Surface cleaning
BioKleen Bac-Out
For sanitizing - Vinegar/Water mixutre
For deep disinfecting - first Vinegar/Water Mixture, second Peroxide/Water mixture
For stains around faucets and sinks - Baking soda and a toothbrush

For Carpet/Pet Stains
BioKleen Bac-Out

For Oven Stains
Baking soda or salt scrub
DIY Orange Power Cleaner to cut grease

For handwashing dishes
Seventh Generation Free & Clear Liquid Dish Soap

For dishwasher
BioKleen Automatic Dish Powder
Vinegar as a JetDry substitute

Laundry
Soap Nuts (full review here)
Clothing Stains - BioKleen Bac-Out
DIY Wool Dryer Balls

With only NINE new products, I was be able to clean our entire home and reduce our impact on the environment. I say "was" because for our Spring cleaning project this year, these were the only products I used. I gave them their very first test run a few weeks ago and I literally have zero complaints so far. I love them all!

One of my favorite products is the BioKleen Bac-Out. It had such great reviews online that I couldn't wait to try it. And when I finally got to test it out, I became a believer. I love it for many reasons but mainly because it can be used in so many areas of the house. It's great for cleaning the counters, sinks, stains on our rugs, stains in our clothes, and so many other surfaces in the house. As Katie says, it "kills germs, fights stains, [is] gentle on surfaces – what more do you need?"

The Soap Nuts are probably the biggest (but also most satisfying) change. I'm so used to just dumping in a cap full of detergent in every load and now I'm using a little bag of nuts from a plant to do the same job. It's so strange but they work so well! Although they may be a little intimidating since they are so different, they're really not difficult to use at all. Katie's review also really helped me to understand a bit more about how the nuts actually work and how to tell when to change them out for fresh ones.

If you are looking to try a few of these products yourself, you can check out the links I have posted above. The best place to get the soap nuts is Naturoli - they've got great deals and they explain everything in detail on their website too, for those that may have more questions. For the rest of the products, I got most of them from Soap.com and I plan to keep going back there when I run out in the future. They had so many great coupon codes and deals that I literally got 10 items (I bought multiples of some things) for only $25 and free shipping. You really can't beat it!

Moment on a Monday

Monday, April 28, 2014


"Slow down and enjoy life. It's not only the scenery you miss by going too fast--you also miss the sense of where you are going and why."
- Eddie Cantor
 
 
Living Proof by Gregory Alan Isakov on Grooveshark

Adorbs.

Friday, April 25, 2014

I know I said I would post the second part of our Earth Day activities yesterday but I still haven't uploaded the pictures for that post yet (they are sitting at home in my camera waiting for me). I'm hoping to have it ready to go on Monday so look for it then!

As a substitute, I thought I would share this absolutely adorable video to brighten up your Friday afternoon.

It's been floating around Facebook today so if you haven't already seen it, be sure to check it out. Her innocence, the precious little song, the way he adores her - just priceless.

It will surely melt your heart. Enjoy :)

Earth Day - Part 1

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

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Happy (belated) Earth Day! I meant to post this yesterday but somehow the entire day slipped by without a single moment to sit down and publish it. Oops! Despite my tardiness, I hope that everyone had a wonderful day yesterday and maybe did a little something special for our Mother!

Earth Day is and always has been one of my favorite days of the year. For the last couple of years, Mike and I have tried to do something special in April to celebrate and protect our beautiful planet. In the past, we've volunteered for a few local environmental organizations, cleaned up rivers, picked up trash along the highways, planted trees, made birdhouses, and participated in a few other eco-friendly activities.

This year, we split our efforts into two projects focusing on making a greener home both inside and out. We decided to tackle the outside first. While we still have yet to purchase the plants (our budget only allows so much room every month for outside projects and our garden took up most of that so far), our goal is to make an effort to spruce up our yard with a bunch of flowers and plants that are native to our region. We sat down a couple weeks ago with a professional landscape planner and talked about the kinds of local plants we want to include and he helped us to create a beautiful design that made us both happy. All around our yard we plan to grow azaleas, black eyed susans, red maple, dogwood, chokeberry, american wisteria, holly, and many others. We learned a lot through the process and I like to think our yard will be much happier as a result.

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Why did we use only native plants when planning our landscape? Well, it's acutally more important for the environment than people tend to think.

Plants that are native to an area have been growing and evolving there for thousands of years and have adapted to the local soil and climate in a way that exotic plants have not. They are more likely to thrive there and are relatively easier to care for, using less fertilizer and pesticides. However, one of the biggest reasons it's so important is that it decreases the spread of invasive species which in turn increases biodiversity.

Now, I could easily get carried away here so without giving a complete ecology lesson, I'm going to keep it short and simple for those that may not know.

Biodiversity is good and invasive species are not. A region that has high biodiversity has a wide variety of living things that helps to sustain and preserve the ecosystem as a whole. All of the plants, insects, animals, and humans in that area interact and depend on one another to create and maintain a healthy ecosystem. If the system is disrupted and biodiversity is decreased in an area by say a natural disaster like a flood or tornado, or (in the case I'm describing) an invasive species, the ecosystem suffers. These invasive species tend to spread very quickly because they have no natural predators in the area. The native plants and animals then have to compete with the invasive species to survive and because the invasives are so aggressive, the native species is destroyed.

I actually spent a semester in college working to eliminate invasive species at local nature reserve and learned a lot about how destructive they can be. We tagged invasive bushes for removal, "drilled and killed" a major invasive vine that was strangling local trees, hauled invasive trees for a prescribed burn, and built cages to protect newly planted native trees from hungry deer.

It's important to note that invasive species are not just limited to plants either. There are also invasive animals, insects, and fungi that can take over and totally destroy an area. You may even recognize a few of the common ones...





I know that in the mid-atlantic region, we've been fighting the stink bugs since the early 2000s but it was reported last year that they have spread to more than 40 states. If you are interested in finding out what kinds of invasive species are in your area, the USDA lists the information here by state.

There's also a ton of information on this subject so if you'd like to read more, I suggest checking out a few of these sites:

It All Starts With Science: Invasive Speices Along for the Ride
EPA: Invasive Species of the Mid Atlantic
National Wildlife Foundation: Invasive Species
Nature: Protecting Native Plants and Animals
Stink Bug Info

Tomorrow, I'll be continuing with Part 2 of our Earth Day projects, so stay tuned!

Easter

Monday, April 21, 2014

Was it just me or was yesterday a glorious day?

After church in the morning, we stopped by my parents' house to take some pictures in the warm sunshine under my mom's beautiful weeping cherry tree. Every spring, it's one of the first to bloom in their yard and I love taking Easter pictures in front of it if it's warm enough.


After the pictures, we got changed into some comfy clothes to relax before our early dinner.  Mike's mom joined us for the afternoon and we had a great time visiting with everyone. We enjoyed some delicious ham and potatoes, and of course wineee. I was so excited to be able to enjoy a big glass of moscato (or two) with dinner. FINALLY.

We spent some time after dinner going through some old boxes of keepsakes and watching home movies of past Easter's. In the boxes my dad brought up from the basement, we found a whole bunch of neat photos, one of which really caught my eye.


It's another awesome shot that our good family friend Rich Riggins took not long after I was born. I think it captures our little family perfectly.

We finished off the night by hanging out watching the O's game in Boston. It was really heartwarming to watch the tributes they put together for the Boston Marathon bombing. It's amazing how resilient the citizens of Boston and the marathon community are. The overwhelming support they showed for the families of those that were killed on that day really brought a tear to my eye.

We ended the evening with some delicous homemade angel food cake and strawberries. And of course, for me, a third and final glass of wine. It was a beautiful, perfect, lazy Sunday - just how I had hoped it would be.

And just because I can, here are some of the super cool outtakes from yesterday...




 
I hope everyone had a wonderful Easter!

DIY Rustic Wine Racks

Thursday, April 17, 2014

With the warmer weather slowly starting to ease its way in, Mike and I have been trying to take advantage of every opportunity we get to work outside. (You know, when it's not snowing in April...)

We were glad that we had a chance to complete this wine rack project over the weekend and I thought it might be fun to share how we did it!

I originally saw the idea on Pinterest (of course) and thought the racks would be perfect in our dining room. We have a small metal wine rack that we got as a wedding gift that we still intend to keep because it's so pretty, but it only holds nine bottles. Now to most people, nine bottles of wine might seem like a lot but let's get real here. If you know anything about me and my wine obsession, you know that's not nearly enough space. When I go to pour myself a glass, I like to have lots of options to choose from, and with all the tasty reds and whites out there, it's pretty easy to fill up a small rack.

So when I saw a few pictures online of these gorgeous, rustic wine racks made of pallets, I just had to have a set of my own.


As a side note, they do sell these racks on Etsy but they are anywhere from $50 to $100 each and that doesn't include shipping. Considering that Mike and I got our pallet for free and overall spent less than $20 making them ourselves, in my opinion it's definitely not worth the hefty price tag.

I also like how many different types of plans are out there. You can cut the pallets in a bunch of different ways, stain or paint the racks, add slots for wine glasses, and change the plans to fit your space however you want.

For the project we chose, you only need a few things: a pallet, some basic tools, wood stain, and some big deck screws. We used this little graphic from the Orchard Girls as our guide when we cut the pallet.


We made the same cuts on both sides of the pallet so that we could make two racks instead of just one. After we had our pieces cut, we added one of the extra boards to the bottom of each rack and screwed them in place.





At that point, all the hard labor was basically finished. All we had left was to sand the whole thing down inside and out so that there were no rough edges, wipe away all the dust, add two coats of stain, and voila!

 


This project took us a bit longer than expected but that was probably because we had to spread it out over a few weeks due to the fluctuating temperatures. We also wanted to air the racks out quite a bit before bringing them into the house with the strong stain smell. Doing it in the summer might have been a better option, but I think they still turned out really well!

Yard Work Equals Hard Work

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


There's something to be said for a hard day's work.

After laboring and sweating under the sun all day, with dirt under your fingernails, and tiny blisters on your hands that serve as the mark of a job well done, there is nothing more relaxing than washing it all away in the stream of a hot shower, and then hopping into some dry and comfortable clothes.

To me, that is true relief. And at the end of this past weekend, that's how I felt. Truly relieved and fulfilled.

We spent a good six hours working in the yard on Sunday in preparation for all kinds of new shrubs, flowers, and trees that we want to plant. On Saturday morning, we drove out to this garden center in the area that does free landscape planning. Since we are newbies to the whole landscape game, we thought it would be best to talk to a professional first before we jumped into something big. We walked away with a detailed plan for only the front yard since that's pretty much all our budget will allow this year. So after talking it over and deciding on a plan, we got to work on Sunday with all of the yard prep. We had some help from our incredible friends Matt and Ali and we are so thankful that they came over and pitched in with some of the hard work.

And the weather! Oh my gosh, the weather. It was a gorgeous and sunny 80 degrees and we loved every minute of it.


We tackled projects in both the front and the back yard and made a pretty good dent in our Spring to-do list. We raked all the lingering leaves that had piled up around the house and added it all to our compost pile. Hopefully by next year we'll be able to actually use our own compost in our gardens. We also tore up the front yard beds, getting rid of the old weed cloth, rocks, and red mulch from the previous owners. Surprisingly, the soil quality below the weed cloth seemed to be pretty good since it was fairly soft and had a bunch of little worms deep down inside. Even though after all of our work the beds are empty, it still looks so much nicer just having them cleaned up a little. I can't wait to start putting in some plants!


Mike also took the time to finish up repairing a section of our fence out back that was broken and then he built me my first raised garden bed. We are planning to try out the Square Foot Gardening method this year and see how it goes. If we like it (which I can't imagine we won't - it's so easy) we plan to add a couple more boxes. For now, I think one 4x4 is enough to get us started. If you're interested in building one yourself, you can check out the method here. I highly recommend reading the book, too. It's so easy to understand and it explains everything super clearly.

 
Our last project for the day was to rake and till up the side bed in the back to prepare for the square foot garden. We tore out all the weeds and put down a good layer of weed cloth along with the one 4x4 box Mike built. We thought about putting down mulch at first to cover the surrounding, unused area, but then decided that pea gravel looked a little better. I think overall, it turned out pretty well.

You can see a little bit of a before picture here with all the weeds and grass. When we started working with it on Sunday, it was much more overgrown.



After we had cleaned ourselves up, we headed to Annapolis for a cookout with Mike's family. It was so peaceful driving along the winding back roads with the windows rolled down, music playing, and the sun setting over the water.

I couldn't have asked for a better weekend and I hope we have many more like it as we take on all of our other projects!


What A Glorious Feelin'

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


Holy monsoon! I mean I know they say that April showers bring May flowers, but goodness...

If I had known that it was going to storm this badly in the Baltimore area before I left for work, I would've brought a change of clothes. And probably a trenchcoat. Or four. But instead, I have no choice but to slosh around in my shoes and wet jeans all day.

Honestly, though, that's alright.

Because regardless, it's still a beautiful day. And even though it's pouring, I can't help but smile.  I've got a hot cup of tea, a gorgeous view of these incredible weeping cherry trees blossoming right outside my window, Ingrid Michaelson singing me pretty little songs, and an easy day at work. It's all in how you look at it and I'm choosing to sing in the rain. All thanks to good ol' Don up there and one of my best friends who reminded me that it's all about perspective.

Regardless of the weather near you, enjoy this fantastic Tuesday!

Kale Salad with Warm Cranberry Almond Vinaigrette

Friday, April 11, 2014

Stop what you're doing right now and make sure that you write down the ingredients to this recipe so that you can swing by the store on your way home to make it. TRUST ME. You will thank me later.

I'm serious, guys, this is by far one of the best, I mean BEST salad recipes out there. And believe me, I would know. I'm like a salad expert, I mean, salad is my all-time favorite food after all. I am obsessed with it. If you don't believe, me, just ask Alicia. She was my roommate in college and I once gave her a straight fifteen minute speech on why salad was the greatest food of them all. I literally talked about toppings and greens and dressings for fifteen whole minutes. She thought I was nuts (and probably still does) since she doesn't eat "bunny food" as she calls it, but for real, she would even probably tell you to trust me on this one.

So that being said, let's skip all the crap and jump straight to the good stuff...

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Kale Salad with Warm Cranberry Almond Vinaigrette

Ingredients
3 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
1 shallot, peeled and thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 cup dried cranberries
2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
juice and zest of half a lemon
1/8 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. black pepper
1 bunch kale, very thinly sliced
1/4 cup sliced almonds
(optional) 1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese or goat cheese

Directions
Heat 2 Tbsp. oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add shallot and saute for at least 5 minutes or until tender. Add garlic and saute for 1 minute. Then add cranberries, red wine vinegar and lemon juice and zest, and stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper.

In a large bowl, toss the kale with olive oil and an extra pinch of salt, and massage kale with your fingers for 1 minute until tender. Add in the cranberry/shallot mixture and almonds, and toss to combine. Serve topped with crumbled cheese if desired.

Then, DEVOUR. ;)

The Sunshine Returns

Thursday, April 10, 2014


Guess how warm it's going to get today?! The forecast is predicting a beautiful and sunny seventy degrees.
YES. SE. VEN. TY. Can you believe it?!

I woke up this morning to the sun peeking through the shades and although it was just shy of an hour before my alarm was supposed to go off, I jumped out of bed and pulled back the curtains to admire the world in all it's warm, golden, brightness.

There is no way that you can look around you in the spring with everything coming back to life and not smile. There's just no way.

The little yellow and white daffodils standing tall in their clusters in the yard. The green grass slowly returning to life after a long, sleepy winter. Little pink buds poking their heads out of the tips of the tree branches just waiting to burst.

There's so much to see out there. It makes me feel so alive this time of year.

Carlisle also seems to be enjoying the shift in the sun's patterns. He's begun to take over most of the bed in the morning, sprawling out completely to warm his furry little self. He loves to lounge there after I get up and makes it nearly impossible for me when I try to make the bed. I end up having to kick him out of the room until I'm finished. When I finally let him back in, he hops back up into his spot and glares at me while I get ready, clearly not pleased that I moved him. But he warms back up to me pretty quickly when I head out to the kitchen and in his most pathetic little kitty meows he starts begging for a second breakfast.

If the weather is as nice near you as it is in Baltimore today, be sure to soak up a little sunshine! Happy Thursday!

A Little Life Update...

Wednesday, April 9, 2014


Things have been pretty nuts around our house lately with all of the spring cleaning and projects that we've taken on and as of this June they are about to get a little bit crazier because...

I got into Grad School!!

I am now officially a degree candidate for the Master of Science in Biotechnology at Johns Hopkins University! I cannot even begin to describe how excited and grateful I am to have been accepted into this program. It was only a few months ago that I was toying around with the idea of even applying and now that I can say I am a student makes me so incredibly happy.

So goodbye #69 - Go back for my Master's degree.

Woohoo! It feels so amazing to knock that one off the list.

I decided to start as soon as possible so I will be registering next week for summer classes. I can't believe I'm starting this process but I am so excited to hit the books again!