Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Ah, Tuesdays....

     I love my Tuesdays off. I like my job very much, don't get me wrong. I work with some great people who are doing great things for others. But Tuesday is all mine to do (or not do) whatever I wish. Or it would be, if I actually used some of the tips and trick I read about in other blogs and share with all of you. Case in point: I have a college application to finish, an article for SageWoman due (It's Imbolc eve, and guess how much I have done for this festival?) and a refrigerator that is beginning to resemble the Ross Ice Shelf. (Empty frozen waste...) Oh, wait, it's not quite empty. Leftover chicken, and leftover pasta. Mmm. How the heck does Ellie turn this into a meal? Hello Google!

Dinner at the zoo.com (http://www.dinneratthezoo.com) suggests Butternut Squash Pasta with Chicken. And I just happen to have a butternut squash looking at me from a shelf across the way. (And yes, it is looking at me. Bubbah and I did a re-enactment of one of our favorite books, Sophie's Squash, so this particular squash has a face. Sorry Mr. Squash. You're dinner.)

So here you are, Butternut Squash Pasta with Chicken, courtesy of Dinner at the Zoo. (Why don't I ever come up with yummy-looking stuff like this??)  I will be heating the chicken I have in my fridge, and making up a box of pasta to add to what I already have (which is good, as I need some starchy water for the sauce). And as Mr. Squash is whole, I'm going to cut mine in half (I sound like I'm plotting a murder) and roast it before pureeing. Wish me luck!
This recipe for butternut squash pasta is linguine in a creamy butternut squash sauce, topped with chicken, bacon and herbs. An easy and delicious dinner that's perfect for fall! #FamilyPastaTime #ad

 Butternut Squash Pasta with Chicken

This recipe for butternut squash pasta is linguine in a creamy butternut squash sauce, topped with sliced chicken and bacon. An easy and delicious dinner that's perfect for fall!
Course Main Course
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes
Servings 4 servings
Calories 598 kcal
Author Dinner at the Zoo


  • 10 ounces dry linguine pasta
  • 1 pound of cooked chicken breasts (grilled, roasted, rotisserie, etc), sliced
  • 1/2 cup cooked crumbled bacon
  • 1 1/2 cups butternut squash puree (fresh frozen or canned). If using frozen puree, thaw before use.
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  1. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil; prepare the pasta according to package instructions, cooked to al dente.
  2. Drain the pasta, reserving 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid, and return it to its cooking pot.
  3. Place the pot over medium heat and add the butternut squash puree, heavy cream, Parmesan cheese. Stir to coat the pasta evenly; season to taste with salt and pepper.
  4. Cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally, until sauce is heated through and is starting to thicken.
  5. If you prefer a thinner sauce, add the cooking liquid, one tablespoon at a time, until desired consistency is reached.
  6. Arrange the chicken and bacon over the top of the pasta and sprinkle with parsley. Serve immediately.

Recipe Notes

To make fresh butternut squash puree, steam 2 cups cubed peeled squash until tender then puree in a food processor with 2 tablespoons water. Season with salt to taste.
Nutrition Facts
Butternut Squash Pasta with Chicken
Amount Per Serving
Calories 598 Calories from Fat 153
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 17g 26%
Saturated Fat 7g 35%
Cholesterol 45mg 15%
Sodium 422mg 18%
Total Carbohydrates 58g 19%
Dietary Fiber 4g 16%
Sugars 2g
Protein 48g 96%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Library Loot: Bookshelf Must-Have: Geek Mom from Brightly.com

A couple years ago I bought 'Geek Dad' for my husband for Father's Day, and he loved it. It is full of ideas and activities for him to do with our boys, and all have a blast. Now the editors of 'Geek Dad' have come out with 'Geek Mom,' and this Mom can't wait to check it out. I have it on order from my library. I'll fill you in with an update as soon as it arrives!

Bookshelf Must-Have:
Geek Mom

by the Brightly Editors

Get your geek on! Our latest Bookshelf Must-Have pick, Geek Mom: Projects, Tips, and Adventures for Moms and Their 21st-Century Families, is packed with great projects and ideas for families to learn, create, and play together.
  • Why You Need: Geek Mom

  • Geek Mom: Projects, Tips, and Adventures for Moms and Their 21st-Century Families

    by Natania Barron, Kathy Ceceri, Corrina Lawson, and Jenny Williams
    Whether you love geology or space, gardening or crafting, "Star Wars" or Superheroes, Geek Mom: Projects, Tips, and Adventures for Moms and Their 21st-Century Families is a fantastic guide to developing or sharing your nerdier passions with the kids in your life and having a whole lot of fun at the same time. A highly illustrated handbook created by the editors of the beloved GeekMom blog, it’s packed with ideas and inspirations to fuel wonder and imagination — things you can make, experiments you can do at home, games you can play. Each one has a handy key to help decide if it’s the right age or stage for your child. Importantly, alongside the activities, there are helpful tips for parents about raising kids in the digital age and encouraging both girls and boys to embrace their burgeoning curiosity and inner scientist. This is one book of ideas you’ll keep referring back to throughout your child’s development for family night fun, rainy day crafts, STEM projects, and even homework help. There’s something here for every budget, age, and kind of parent — mathlete, word-nerd, or maker faire-y — and when we see a book that includes a piece on “How to Get Your Kids to Make Supper,” we are IN!

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Myddfai Reiki: How to Lower Cortisol Naturally, tips from Care2.com

How to Lower Cortisol Naturally

Cortisol is typically known as “the stress hormone.” In our modern day culture where busy is the new norm, stress definitely seems to be something we’re all trying to avoid, and therefore cortisol is usually seen as an enemy.

Cortisol, however, isn’t all bad. In fact, it plays an important role in fat loss too. Dr. Jade Teta and author of the Metabolic Effect more accurately describes cortisol as the Jekyll and Hyde of hormones for how it impacts fat storage (by interacting with insulin) and how it also impacts fat release (by interacting with human growth hormone, catecholamines and lower levels of insulin.)

Most people want to avoid fat storage and many who want to lose weight want to encourage fat release. For people who are physically and mentally stressed out, this may require working to lower higher than normal cortisol levels to help restore balance.

Lowering cortisol naturally means taking a step back to identify unhealthy lifestyle habits that may be leaving you feeling overworked, drained, fatigued and just plain stressed out. These habits will need to be restructured or replaced so that your lifestyle habits work to nourish and rejuvenate your body rather than do the opposite.
Low-calorie diets have been shown to increase cortisol production, making it seem almost impossible to keep the weight off over the long run. Other research even suggests that stress reduction is actually more important than trying to eat healthy all the time. Rather than restricting calories in a way that becomes stressful on the body (and the mind, too), you’d be much better off eating healthy foods that you actually like to eat, remaining aware of your eating patterns and maintaining good portion control.

Go for Leisurely Nature Walks
Leisurely walking is a low-intensity form of physical activity that can have an enhanced stress-relieving effect on the mind when done in an outdoor nature setting. In a study on forest bathing (a.k.a. the Japanese therapy practice of taking in the forest atmosphere) where saliva samples were taken from subjects to measure cortisol levels, researchers found that the forest environment promoted lower cortisol levels compared to a city environment. It also resulted in lower pulse rates, lower blood pressure, increased parasympathetic nerve activity and lower sympathetic nerve activity.

Practice Yoga
Yoga isn’t just exercise performed on a mat for greater balance and flexibility — it’s a complete mind-body therapy that offers both physical and psychological stress relief. Research has shown that yoga can help reduce cortisol by acting at the level of the hypothalamus in a way that has anti-stress effects. Hatha, Iyengar and Kripalu are styles of yoga that are gentle to practice and ideal for beating stress.

Practice Mindfulness Meditation
Mindfulness meditation is typically a sitting practice that can be done with eyes open or closed. It involves bringing awareness to the body, breath, and thoughts. In one study, 30 subjects had blood samples taken before and after a four-day mindfulness meditation programme. The blood samples revealed significant lower cortisol levels after mindfulness meditation compared to before, suggesting that a few minutes a day of mindfulness meditation may be an effective natural aid in restoring balance to stress hormones.

Enjoy Live Music
Almost everyone can attest to the mood-boosting effects of music, but now there’s evidence of an anti-stress effect that comes from watching and listening to live music. Subjects who had their stress hormone levels monitored by saliva samples before attending a concert and then again one hour later during intermission showed that cortisol levels had been reduced right across the board. So whether you love going to loud rock concerts or enjoying classical pieces played by a live orchestra, going to a live music event should help you feel a little less stressed by the end.

Do What Relaxes You
Researchers can have their say in what works to lower cortisol for most people, but only you are the expert on what calms your own mind and soothes your own body best. Whether it’s reading a good book in your favorite chair, taking a long bubble bath, playing with your pet or indulging in a creative hobby, doing more of what you know relaxes you as often as you can should be a priority. Combining stress-reducing activities backed by science with personalized activities known to help you relax will offer you a much more complete solution to balancing cortisol naturally.
Remember that a little stress can be good, but a lot of it can be pretty bad. The trick is to maintain good balance by making stress management a serious part of your lifestyle.

Related Articles7 New Year’s Rituals to Refresh Your Spirit7 Tips for Keeping Up Your Walking Regimen in Cold Weather


Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Making it Work

Making it Work: Yule this year passed in a blur of work and school. We sent the little boys off to school Tuesday, giving ourselves one final day to finish holiday preparations: breads and cookies baked, packages wrapped and decorated, the sunfire collected by my husband and the Hestia candle on the stove top lit, ready for the rush of children and the Mystery of ...

Back to the Real World!

     It is a rainy day here; the sky is a cool gray-white and cars create a sibilant shushing as they pass. The house is nearly silent.On my Tuesdays off I share this space with a cat and my sleeping nineteen year old son who has recently begun working overnights. Marc Gunn's Irish and Celtic Music Podcast is playing quietly against a background of tapping raindrops. After the rush and noise of the holidays, the near-silence is exquisite.

     I don't mean to sound as though I don't like the holiday season, because I do. Even as adults we absorb some of the magic of the season, gasping with delight at the sight of twinkling lights on trees and houses, and sniffing the warm spicy smells of gingerbread and peppermint with mouth-watering anticipation. And our own children's excitement is enough to make any parent smile. (I even found a website that sent out daily text messages from Santa. My seven year old was over the moon.)

     But with all this excitement comes tears and tantrums, and not just from the children. I don't know how many times I snapped at my husband over the last two weeks when he asked what was for dinner. I had no plan, because I hadn't had the time to make up a menu plan like I usually do. And New Year's Day I woke up with a migraine that didn't let go until after dinner. (I only had one glass of champagne at midnight, I swear. Okay, two.)

     The near-constant party atmosphere of the last two weeks has taken its toll. The little boys are cranky and irritable- my three year old foster-son cries over everything lately. The teenager that works full-time off-shift is sleepy and sullen. I've been relying on a great deal of closed-away quiet time to prevent myself from going Amazon and running through the house bashing all the male beings in the head with my favorite cast-iron skillet. (Seriously: the cat is my only female ally here.)

     I realized that the only way to speed recovery from the holiday hangover, as my husband calls it, was to restore as much normalcy as possible as soon as possible. Thus, I sat down and wrote up a meal plan for the week with some help from Bubbah. We added a little something new, the Kids Cook Monday program. Every Monday my seven year old cooks dinner with me as his assistant. We actually started this last week, and two weeks in he's loving it. His plan for next Monday is Rachael Ray's Double Dumpling Soup. Last night it was Porcupine Meatballs from Dinner: A Love Story.

     I sat myself down with the kitchen calendar and wrote in the meals, special dinner nights like '2nd Friday Pizza Nite,' 'Taco Tuesday' (the third Tuesday of every month) and 'Eat Out Nite' (the 28th of every month. Bubbah announced that was going to be hibachi this month.) I wrote in my weekends to work and the little boys' bath nights. Everyone in the house can now look at the calendar and know what is happening when, even the three year old. (He recognizes the first letter of his first name, so his bath night has a big blue 'J' written in.) Some small measure of stability re-established. Bubbah brought me his calendar, and he wrote in his bath nights, Kids Cook Monday, 'Grandma Days' and the special dinner days. We also added 1/2 days and days off from school as well as the 'specials:' PE, music, art, technology and school library days. He feels grown-up having a schedule 'just like Mom,' and less anxious. He knows what he needs to do. Next we'll tackle his chores. Next week.

     My husband brought home a couple white boards to chart chore days and who is to do what, and we'll get the whole family involved in that. Even the three year old can pick up his own toys and match socks when we fold laundry. This way everyone helps out, but more important, especially for the little ones, there is a routine. This is doubly important for the three year old, as he having more prolonged visits with his parents and is facing all kinds of transitions.

     Is my prep work going to make everything run smoothly? Not a chance. Something can always throw a wrench in the works, but we at least have some semblance of structure, and I find that structure and routine are the best ways to get my family back on even keel after we've been wallowing for a time. (I just finished reading a book on naval history, can you tell??)

     Let me know what you do to get yourself re-sorted after the holiday hullabaloo- I need all the pointers I can get!

     Here's to you, and a happy 2017!

For more info on the Kids Cook Monday program, please visit  http://www.thekidscookmonday.org/

Monday, January 2, 2017

Myddfai Reiki: Chakra Cleansing for the New Year and a New You

Why Clearing Your Chakras Should be the First Thing You Do in 2017

If you’re into rituals and alternative healing methods for personal growth, there are a lot of different ways to ring in 2017 with fresh energy and positivity. In addition to clearing your mind and home of negative energy, you may want to move out any “stuck” energy that may be affecting your physicality. That’s where chakra-clearing comes in.

In Indian philosophy, the seven chakras are points in the body through which energy moves and circulates. When one chakra becomes clogged, it can set into motion a chain of reactions that can cause ailments in your physical health, mental well-being and personal security.

Even if you don’t buy into the ideas of chakras specifically, you might enjoy the chakra-clearing process as a self-help exercise that can help you refocus your own health and wellbeing in 2017. Here’s what you need to know about the seven chakras and how you can remove any energy blocks that may be occurring.

Chakras 101 …. And Why Secular People Should Care       
First, you should know that the seven chakras run along the length of your spine, starting at the base of your spine and moving upward to just above your head. This is because, in Indian thought, energy moves through your body by way of the spine. The spine, therefore, is the carrier of health, energy, physical and mental stress, and all other manner of important bodily messages.

In fact, this makes a lot of sense—spinal health is recognized as an important component of well-being, even in the medical world. Good spine health keeps you flexible, agile and able to perform important daily tasks, including exercise. Even further, good posture (which is directly related to spinal health) is known to correlate with increased confidence and happiness, according to research published in the European Journal of Social Psychology. Interesting correlation, no?

seven chakras of the Human body

Now, back to the seven chakras specifically. There seven chakras are comprised of the root chakra (base of the spine), the sacral chakra (lower abdomen), the solar plexus chakra (upper abdomen), the heart chakra (chest), the throat chakra (throat), the third eye chakra (center of the forehead) and the crown chakra (very top of the head). Each chakra is correlated with a particular element of wellbeing—elements that, interestingly, parallel the renowned psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
  • The root chakra represents your need to have a strong foundation, and to feel grounded.
  • The sacral chakra is correlated with the need to connect with others. It is particularly correlated with sexuality and sexual wellbeing.
  • The solar plexus chakra is connected to confidence and self-esteem.
  • The heart chakra represents our ability to love others and feel loved in return.
  • The throat chakra has to do with our ability to communicate.
  • The third eye chakra represents focus, ambitions, goals and big-picture thinking.
  • The crown chakra is correlated with enlightenment and spirituality.
It makes sense, then, that to achieve our full potential, we should work through these aspects of our self—and clearing our chakras is a symbolic way to start, even for secular individuals.

How to Clear Your Chakras

If you log into YouTube, you’ll discover that there are a plethora of chakra-clearing meditations available to free listening. These are great for meditation beginners or for anyone who doesn’t have a lot of knowledge about the chakras already.

If you feel confident in your ability to meditate on your own, you can clear your chakras without the guidance of a recording. Simply sit on the ground in whatever position feels most comfortable. You’ll first want to focus on grounding. Feel your tailbone connect with the ground you’re sitting on. Imagine that energetic cords are connecting you to the earth beneath you (if you’re secular, you may want to conceptualize these cords as gravity).

After you feel sufficiently grounded, move into chakra clearing. Move along your spine, starting with the root chakra and moving upward. At each chakra, imagine a bright ball of light in the chakra’s corresponding color, and imagine that ball of light circulating and shining around the area, opening up and releasing any blocked energy. The colors of the chakras are as follows:
  • Root chakra: Red
  • Sacral chakra: Orange
  • Solar plexus chakra: Yellow
  • Heart chakra: Green
  • Throat chakra: Blue
  • Third eye chakra: Purple
  • Crown chakra: White
If it seems too daunting to clear all your chakras at once, feel free to concentrate on one chakra per meditation session. You can also repeat a chakra as many times as it takes for you to feel ready.

Here’s to a healthy, happy and positive 2017!