About 2 weeks ago I started craving muffins.  Panera Bread makes these super-awesome-colossal Carrot Walnut muffins that are a mere 8000 calories, and are to die for.  Seriously, they’re a whopping 430 calories with 21 grams of fat! So if I allow my fat a55 to consume very many of these on a regular basis, I will die. But what a way to go, right?

NOTE: If you are going to have a “snack” or “treat” when watching your calories, you should try to keep it between 100-200 calories max and nutritionists say anything over 5 grams of fat is not considered “Low Fat.”

If you remember, I’m trying to make some healthychanges and lose some weight this year and regular muffin consumption is not a good way to get there. Oh sure, you can mix up the ingredients with a few substitutions here and there for a healthier mix, and I tried that.  Two weeks ago I came across a base muffin  recipe using whole wheat flour and honey. I thought, “Much healthier--I’ll try this!” I used the whole wheat flour/honey base and made Lemon Poppy seed muffins and they were disgusting!  A total waste of time, not to mention that it only made my muffin craving worse!  The muffins had a bad weird taste. It reminded me of cooked meat and not good meat, (like steak cooked on a grill), more like…I don’t know what like, but trust me, it wasn’t good. Fortunately I used a regular muffin pan (makes smaller muffins than Panera’s and most bakeries), so I didn’t eat a lot.  I ‘tested’ two, my husband had one.  I asked him how it was, and smart man that guy of mine politely said: “They’re different.” OK…long story short, I am done with whole wheat flour. I tossed 2 and a half lb. bags.  They were that bad.  I think the honey may have played a role in the weird taste, but I’m still willing to give honey a second chance another time.

After this muffin fiasco, I went back to the recipe books and Good Ole Google.  I found a recipe that uses plain Greek style yogurt.  I substituted plain yogurt for the Greek kind.  Greek yogurt is creamier in texture, but I’m not really sure that would make a lot of difference in muffins. Another change I made was to increase the zest and lemon juice, to make the flavor more lemony.  Also, if you choose to top your muffins with a lemon icing glaze, you really don’t need as much powdered sugar as a lot of recipes call for.  Click here for Lemon Poppy Seed Muffin Recipe.

Another way to satisfy your Inner Munchy Beast while lowering the calorie intake is to make muffin tops vs. muffins.  They have special pans for ‘tops’, but all you really need to do is only fill your muffin tin or paper liner half as full as you normally would. Also, remember if you use paper liners instead of greasing or spraying your pan, you also reduce fat and calories.

Here’s the final (2nd batch, sans whole wheat flour and honey) muffin. 
Aren't they pretty? Trust me, these were much better!
Do you have a guilty pleasure?

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Pay It Forward

Today I “Paid it forward”. I love that term, even though this has become a catchy phrase and the name of a movie (a good one), it still simply means: Do unto others as you would do unto yourself. Not talking about paying the customer’s tab behind you in the drive-thru at Starbucks. Yes, that’s a nice thing to do, but not really paying it forward.  Paying for someone’s drinks at Starbucks is like picking up the tab for someone’s Sax 5th Avenue shopping spree.  If they are shopping at Sax, they can afford to. A person who can afford to stay in their car while it’s running and gas is +3.75 a gallon to order a $3-4 cup of coffee doesn’t need financial assistance either. Paying it forward isn’t just about money; it’s about helping someone, providing assistance, doing a kind turn for someone else.

I’m not going to tell you what I did, because I’m then the focus is on me and that’s not the point I’m trying to make.  All I will say is that I learned of a stranger’s need and I was in a public place and I acted on it.

In 1997, when I was newly divorced and finishing my last semester of college, I was broke, without a job, and going to school on Pell Grants and Student Loans. My ex-husband was a deadbeat dad and I was really, really struggling. My rent w/utilities was around $600, I had a 6-year-old in part-time daycare while I was in class, I was getting food stamps and I had to put gas in the car. That was it. No movies, no shopping, no McDonalds Happy Meals, no extra anything. It was hard; my divorce came at the worst time (school-wise). Being poor wasn’t new to me, but being destitute and kind of desperate was.  But, with the help of several people, I was able to stay in school, keep my child in daycare, and graduate Cum Laude in December 1997.  These are some of the things people did for me without me asking:
  • My mother’s husband wrote me 6 post-dated checks each for $600 dated on the 1st of each month for the last half of the year. Those checks covered my rent.
  • My sister babysat my daughter for free on the one night a week I had an evening class.
  • She also found me a job house cleaning a couple of afternoons a week that paid for the gas in my car.
The only help I asked for during that 6 month period was from a church at Christmastime. I could not afford presents that year for my daughter. An anonymous couple ‘adopted’ my daughter and provided a lovingly selected donation of gifts. This couple specifically requested a 6-year-old girl. They had a little girl who died when she was the same age and every year they adopted someone else’s at Christmas. That year my child was blessed with their In Memoriam gift.

There were other gifts of help during that period too, some from family, some from strangers. I remember all of them and am eternally grateful. I believe that people come into our lives to help us or to teach us and if you cannot see one of those 2 things then maybe it’s you who should be doing the helping or teaching.

Can you remember a time when someone did something completely unexpected or unsolicited in your life?  I would love to hear about it, feel free to share your story in the comments section below.


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Backyard Adventures Day 1

I had an awesome day working in the yard on Sunday, getting up close and personal with a few of the thriving weeds, some stray grass, some dead stuff from last year's garden and I planted a few things too! Read on for my first Gardening Show and Tell...

A weed is just a plant whose virtue has not yet been discovered. Emerson said it. I didn't. But if anybody out there knows what this 'plant' is called and what its purpose is other than to annoy the crap out of me, please, please tell me.

Thankfully, there aren’t too many other weeds to pull, just mostly grass and clover.

My first Honeysuckle bloom!

With all the rain we’ve had in the last 2 weeks + the warm temperatures, I decided I’d better get busy with my garden tending ‘cause Mother Nature ain’t waiting for me. You know what I mean? The Hostas started coming up about 3 weeks ago!

I still had some dead stuff to pull and clean up from last year.

Besides the obvious cues from Mother Nature, I’m definitely behind on my gardening when you compare it to the Yard Wars. The Yard Wars are a kind of Chess game played by grown men with their lawn mowers. No words are spoken, no bets are waged, just the incessant hum of lawn mowers nearly every day somewhere in the neighborhood. My next door neighbor actually mowed his yard 2 days in a row! Did it need it, you wonder? No. My husband hereto known as the Yard Master mowed our lawn twice in one week. Did it need it? No, probably not. I only give the Yard Master a pass because he was going to travel early in the week and wouldn’t be able to mow until the following weekend.

We have two small beds on each side of the house. I always liked picket fences, so after we moved in years ago, we replaced the 6’ wooden fence and gates with PVC picket and gates. I’ve had a heck of a time getting something to “stick” and thrive in these two spots. The one pictured above with the oh-so-lovely weeds had a trumpet vine for the last 2-3 years, which I loved because they attract hummingbirds – which I also love but the Yard Master did not. He complained that the vines spread too much and made it hard to mow. Hello! That’s what it’s supposed to do—it’s a vine. So, after much complaining and his agreement to put up a lovely trellis over the gate, I agreed to let him remove the offending trumpet vine.

This year I thought I would try Sweet Peas in this bed.

They tend to spread and vine and they smell delightful, but at least if they get unruly, I can tame them without the need of a saw or ax! Yep, the Yard Master had to use a shovel, saw and ax to terminate the trumpet vine.

I Hate LAVA ROCKS! One of the previous owners of our house had some kind of fetish with red lava rocks.
He put them in every single bed, nook and cranny he could find. They are everywhere! I throw them away, and more come back. It's a vicious cycle.

I put out 2 Hummingbird feeders, set up the jelly feeder for the Orioles and one other seed feeder for the Finches and such. On Sunday, I cleaned out the big squirrel-proof feeder, set up another feeder with the gourmet blend and an orange nectar feeder for the Orioles too. Altogether, I have 7 different feeders. I just love the birds! We love to sit on the deck out in the Spring and Summer to listen to and watch the birds. Now that I think of it, I like the sounds of Summer as much as the flowers and the warm temperatures. I still haven’t seen a Hummingbird but I did see 2 Monarch butterflies on Monday. What birds have you seen so far this Spring? We spend a LOT of time in our backyard during the summer. We are blessed with an Eastern exposure and a covered deck. A covered deck is almost as good as a Florida Room and a hot tub, but I’m happy just the same. We have 2 major flower beds: one surrounds the deck and a 60’ x 3’ wide bed runs along one fence. I’ll draw you a sketch and show you the layout in my next garden post. This bed has the Hostas from the picture above, daisies and some mums. Occasionally I will plant a few colorful annuals that bloom early to attract the hummingbirds, but I don’t have a lot of maintenance in this bed.

My Favorite Sounds of Summer (in no particular order):
• birds
• Wind Chimes
• kids playing outside
• The Ice Cream Man!

My husband got me these as an anniversary present a few years ago. To hear the sound, click here.

What are some of your favorite sounds of Summer?

I even laid my late kitty’s grave marker. We buried her on a warm day last January in her favorite flower bed. It’s the spot where she did most of her meditating. : ) I always plant Impatients in this bed because it’s shady and probably also the reason she liked it too. She lived to be 13+ and I still miss her. To see her picture click here.

I was feeling a little bit guilty about not going to the gym on Sunday, but after all the lifting, hauling, pulling—not to mention the butt load of squats (pun intended) and the soreness in my legs and hind quarters AND the sweat (ick), I think I more than made up for an hour and a half at the gym. I made a deal with myself on Saturday: I can go to the nursery and pick up some plants, but only after I went to the gym. So I worked out, and then went over to Larry’s Nursery in Riverside. I knew I wouldn’t get the whole yard done, so I only bought a few annuals for the beds, but also a few plants for the pots around the deck (because I’m so excited about the warm weather, I can’t wait for things to bloom-I want some color NOW!

I bought 2 hanging pots. This one:

And this one:

I got 4 of these adorable Pansies for a couple of pots. These Pansies look like happy little faces, don’t you think?

I hope you enjoyed this time in the garden and I'd love to hear about your garden too. Have a great rest of the week and weekend!

I know I've been on "radio silence" for the last couple of weeks. We've had some tragedy in my family and we've been dealing with some pretty tough emotions. I've wanted to share, but just needed to process a little before I spill. So...I will share, just not today.

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