Yummy things…

Sometimes, we get lazy about our dinners around here.  Since my in-laws buy a share of a cow annually and keep us supplied with high-quality ground beef (ah-mazing), it tends to figure into a lot of our meals.  On Saturday night, we grilled burgers with a green salad on the side.  (Have you ever tried mixing a little dry salad dressing into your burger meat?  Delicious, and an interesting alternative to garlic salt, which we’ve used in the past.)  They were fantastic.

Often, though, the ample supply of ground beef lends itself to lazy, one-pot, Hamburger Helper-style meals, one after another after ANOTHER.  These are easy and fine, but, having grown up in a house with most dinner plates parceled out into little peace signs– a little meat, a little veg, a little starch, sometimes, it’s just not what I’m craving.  Unfortunately, when we’re not feeling ground beef, we tend to lazily order take-out.  This almost always has to do with a lack of prior planning on my part; we just don’t have the right staples on hand to cook up an alternative. Because we’re trying to pinch pennies in advance of our upcoming vacation (and because I’ve done a better job grocery shopping recently), we had a better option last night.

We decided to keep the beef in the freezer and cook up a little chicken in the crock pot.  We went with this Asian-inspired recipe, found on The Comfort of Cooking via Pinterest, for Honey Sesame Chicken.  In the interest of full disclosure, I quadrupled the amount of red pepper flakes it calls for, because really–1/4 teaspoon? What’s the point?  This recipe met our practical needs for the day (quick prep so we could enjoy the sunshine at the pool) and our taste buds’ needs for the evening meal (a different flavor than we usually cook up at home).

On the side, we prepared an equally simple DIY fried rice from Courtney’s blog, My Wifely Adventures.  We usually use frozen peas and frozen cubed carrots in this recipe but were caught without carrots last night.  We simply omitted them, and it tasted just as good.  I considered adding the frozen lima beans we found in the freezer (Are they really any different from Edamame?), but Mark gave that idea a serious side-eye.  The moral: use the veggies you have, and all will work out just fine.  I think Courtney’s advice of adding the cooked rice to your wok cold is probably worth listening to; it will keep the dish less sticky.  Steamed snow peas might have been a nice addition on the side.

There are more beautiful pictures of both recipes on their original blogs, but here is our end result (photo shot just moments before I devoured the entire bowl):

Hone ySeasme Chicken and Easy Fried Rice

Pinterest saves me again in the easy recipe department!  We went to bed happy and well fed after our daily dose of the Tour de France. We may or may not have eaten on the couch. Our house smells like sesame oil this morning which is absolutely delightful.

Happy eating!



Tonal stripes? Sure. I can do that.

I’m about to discuss putting together a nursery for a half-baked babe. While I realize that my efforts are coming far earlier than needed, as a teacher, the free time in my life is now, not later. Given this, I figured that getting the (figurative) heavy lifting done before returning to the classroom his fall would be wise. I still have a bit of work to do (art for the walls, repainting and repurposing our old bathroom mirror, window treatments, and a couple of small DIY projects), but the nursery is a project now well underway.

Before I even knew whether this baby was a boy or girl, I’d begun pinning beautiful wallpaper patterns on my secret Pinterest board. Wallpaper has really gotten a bum rap over the years. Not only is it notoriously messy and time-consuming to hang, but my own prejudice had that all wallpaper was inherently outdated (ridiculous, I know). As it turns out, there’s far more to wallpaper than borders with ducks and chickens on them. For as much as I love what I saw on sites like Thibaut and in individual pins all over Pinterest, I was overwhelmed. I knew I’d be tackling the project by myself, and I also knew that we had nearly our entire house to paint as well. In the interest of time and my own sanity (and in light of my limited skill set), I decided to save the beautiful paper for another day and experiment instead with expanding my painting skills beyond just a solid-colored wall.

I decided on this tone-on-tone stripe technique, found on This Old House.com. The directions seemed simple enough. Pick and apply a paint color (two coats), then, in whatever geometric pattern is preferred, overlay alternating stripes of this Behr technique glaze (two coats). If a person wants more contrast, (s)he could pick a different color paint for the alternating stripes in a glossier finish (semi-gloss, for example). The result of using just the glaze overlay, the site promised, was a subtle suggestion of a stripe because of the difference in sheen (high gloss for the glazed stripes, eggshell for my chosen base color, Sherwin Williams Agreeable Gray*).

Here was my approach:

1. Paint the room with the base color. Leave ceiling and baseboard tape in place on wall(s) to be striped.  I elected to stripe only the wall behind baby’s crib.

2. Settle on an uneven number of stripes (vertical, in my case) based on the desired stripe width. Mark the edges of each stripe lightly with pencil hash marks up and down the wall using a pre-measured tape template and laser level. Wall doesn’t divide perfectly? No big deal. Round off the last couple. The eye can’t detect a different of 1/2″. No one will be the wiser.

3. Using wide painter’s tape (I use ScotchBlue tape), tape the OUTER EDGES of each stripe to be glazed (just outside the pencil marks). It’s pretty easy to mess this step up if the tape is not properly placed. Keep reminding yourself of the proper width of each glazed stripe as you move across the wall.

4. As a visual reminder while glazing, mark each stripe that will NOT be glazed with a scrap of tape in a visible spot.

5. Using a credit card edge, burnish each strip of tape firmly into place from top to bottom to ensure hard edges without bleed-through.

6. Based on the desired number of stripes you’ll be double-glazing (NOTE: not the total number of stripes), you can calculate how much glaze to buy. Make sure that the outermost stripes remain in the base color to avoid extra cutting in and waste.

7. Cut in the top and bottom (or left and right end, if horizontal) of each glazed stripe using a good angle brush.

8. Roll each glazed stripe, then return for a second coat, removing the tape immediately after the second coat is applied, being sure to pull the tape away from the edge of the wet glaze.

photo 5

This was the look when I was finished. It was indeed a “subtle suggestion.” In fact, for all my perfect technique and beautiful edges, I had to stand at a 30-degree angle to the wall in twilight in order to detect that a stripe even existed. I wanted subtle, but not this subtle.

The following day, I re-taped (yuck). The day after that, I returned to the paint store and moved one step up my paint chip to Sherwin Williams Incredible White (which isn’t really white, in my opinion) in semi-gloss. I cut in a second time, rolled two coats, and pulled the tape during nap time. The result?

photo 2-1

photo 1-1

One shade different was the perfect contrast for me– at least for this project. I didn’t need the glaze. The end result is not the beautiful wallpaper, but it is more interesting than a plain wall. Now that I know I can do it, I’m wondering what else I can paint stripes on…

*I use Sherwin Williams and Benjamin Moore colors a lot, but I always have them matched in Olympic One at Lowe’s. It’s a good paint, covers well, and is much less expensive.

Shish Kebabs

Sunday night’s treat was a dinner of shish kebabs on a bed of wild rice. We went with this marinade (“the best shish kebab marinade ever,” according to its Pinner) and skewered on water- soaked wood with sweet onion, bell peppers, and mushrooms. We used London Broil, but the marinade would have worked just as well with chicken or pork as it did with our steak.

A tip: if you prefer your meat medium-to-rare (as we do), consider skewering it separately from your vegetables; the latter will require longer on the grill.


Dusting it off again…

After a long hiatus, now that summer has arrived in full force, it’s probably time to dust off the keyboard and get to the business of blogging again.  What have we been up to since last I wrote?  Quite a bit, actually.  I can tell it’s been too long when I look back at the last blog photo of Henry and I barely recognize him.  Here’s what’s been going on:

Screen Shot 2014-07-11 at 4.54.48 PM
We made this little person.  Just a gummy bear of eight weeks in this ultrasound, our daughter (Henry’s little sister) is now hanging out at the twenty week mark (that’s five months, for those of you who find pregnancy week-talk irksome).  Just as it was with Henry, this pregnancy has been wonderfully uneventful.  A little more tired than usual early on, but no nausea or other unpleasantries.  In fact, just as it was with our son, my appetite has been raging throughout. (This was my first clue that #2 was heading our way: I couldn’t keep food in the house.)

This is a double-edged sword, of course.  While I’m fortunate to feel good, it’s not really necessary to eat for two when the other person in question weighs only half a pound.  While I’m looking forward to the arrival of our little girl, I’m also looking forward to whittling myself back down to a body that feels comfortable wearing something other than knit dresses.  Bathing suits on pregnant bodies?  Pregnancy in summer is just mean for those of us without an iron-clad sense of self-esteem.


At 123,000 miles, we said goodbye to my trusty Subaru.  It could have gone longer–much longer–but we needed more space.  When F2 arrives in early December, we’ll be a 2-car seat family.  Our infant car seat (and practically all others) rendered the Forester’s front seats impossibly uncomfortable for all but the shortest adults; the idea of driving back and forth to Omaha (or anywhere over an hour, really) with our knees jammed into the dash was pretty unpleasant.  Even without the infant seat, our traveling road show of baby, baby, dog, and luggage was beginning to be more than the Subaru could manage without a car topper.  We needed bigger, but we definitely weren’t ready to leap into a new vehicle (or car payment).  The silver bullet is our stopgap.


With a collapsible third row, tons more cargo space, and leg room all-around, this MDX will take us through F2 and beyond.  It’s a slightly older, used model, but significantly lower in mileage than the car we traded in and still in very good shape.  It was a good, frugal purchase made with the future (familial and financial) in mind.

Katie Soctt Henry

We went to St. Louis two weeks ago to visit the little nugget, our new niece, Abby (swaddled above with Mom Katie, Dad Scott, and a curious Cousin Henry).  Here she is in her 4th of July finery.  Pretty sweet, right?

Abby 4th

From Thursday-Monday, we were in Omaha visiting Nana and Grandpa F.  Henry had all sorts of fun, staying up until all hours of the night, taking in some baseball, enjoying his first fireworks show, playing in the pool, and other assorted hijinks, as seen here:

H Slide

What’s coming on Windy City Wilderness?  Some recipes, my attempt and tone-on-tone stripes in the new nursery, a few bargain buys around the house, a little east coast adventure, and a wholesale redesign of the blog itself.  Let’s see if I can keep this up for a while!



Breaking the Blog Silence: Asbestos and Mesothelioma

Most Americans of a certain age–certainly anyone who’s ever bought or sold a home–know a little about the dangers posed by Asbestos.  A known carcinogen with fibers invisible to the naked eye, Asbestos is most commonly envisioned lurking in in the insulation of older buildings.  The reality, though, is that Asbestos has been used in a wide variety of applications over the years.  As our knowledge of its risks has grown, the EPA has banned particular uses of the Asbestos, but our government has yet to ban its use outright.

Asbestos exposure, however limited or incidental, can lead to Mesothelioma, a rare and aggressive cancer that attacks the lining of the body’s major organs.  A person might have worked in a field where exposure was common, or she might have been the wife who washed her husband’s work clothes.  In the case of Heather, whose story appears below, she might be the little girl who hugged her Dad upon his return home from work every day, nearly dying years later from exposure to the fibers that hung undetected on his jacket. Unlike other cancers affecting the lungs, Mesothelioma has no link to tobacco use.  Despite modern medical interventions, including chemotherapy and radiation, Mesothelioma is nearly always fatal.  Often, the decline is both devastating and swift.


This week is National Asbestos Awareness week.  Please take a moment to read Heather’s story, share it on social media, learn more about Asbestos and Mesothelioma, and find out what you can do to help.

…in which I discuss what new moms really need in their hospital bags, according to me.


***Warning: in this long post, I acknowledge that childbirth (and the aftermath) isn’t necessarily glamorous, comfortable, or tidy.  I also specifically mention items like nursing pads, Depends, and mesh underwear.  Read at your own discretion.***

With so many friends currently “in the family way,” I’ve been reminded just how many “hospital bag checklists” and other baby gear lists exist in the blogosphere.  The intent is heartfelt: advising soon-to-be moms of all the necessary accouterments that will make their hospital stays more pleasant.  However, I’ve noticed that many of these posts (especially those written before the arrival of the author’s child), tend to be a little heavy on the precious and a little light on the practical.  As an unsolicited public service, I’d like to offer my take on what a new mom might actually need (and want) when the time comes.  I’ll preface my list by saying that I pack light for travel and can’t stand clutter, so my list might be a bit more Spartan than some.   Feel free to use, abuse, or adapt to fit your own needs.

For baby (packed in diaper bag, then packed in your bag):

  • Snap tees (1-2/anticipated day of stay plus an extra)
  • 1-2 sleeping gowns (if desired)
  • 1-2 pacifiers (if desired)
  • Seasonally-appropriate blanket (for photos, trip home)
  • Cap
  • Going home outfit conducive to car seat straps
  • Rear-facing infant or convertible car seat (left in car, installation checked before hospital departure and/or at local firehouse prior to labor)

Here’s the thing about newborn stuff: it’s tiny, as are they.  Most hospitals will gladly provide a pacifier or two upon request if you want to use one, and the little snap tee shirts (not onesies—remember that umbilical cord stump) take up about three square inches of real estate in your bag.  My hospital provided several of these tees; it might be worth asking if yours does as well.  We ended up not needing the few we brought, but they took up so little room, I didn’t mind.

In the hospital, Henry wore snap tees and a diaper most of the time.  Because he spent so much time sleeping, he was nearly always swaddled (in the hospital’s receiving blankets, which were perfectly sized for the purpose). Getting born, it seems, wears a baby out.  Because he was swaddled, he didn’t really need pants (plus, I worried the waistband might irritate his umbilical stump).  I learned to swaddle by watching the post partum nurses, so I just chose to work with the same materials they used.

Henry slept (very, very well) swaddled until he was old enough to roll, and for all of those months, my favorite swaddling blankets remained the flannels we took home with us from the hospital.  When you’re back at home, inexpensive Carter’s flannel and pricier Aden and Anais muslin also work well.  Swaddle sacks (here or here) were great when he was a little bigger, but I couldn’t swaddle him tightly enough in them when he was just born.  Not sure about swaddling?  Consider bringing a couple of sleeping gowns with open bottoms.  You’ll want fast, easy diaper changes. (Later, you’ll select zip-up PJ’s over snap-up for the same reason.  No one likes fumbling with snaps in the dark.)

You could bring a hat or two, but the knit cap the hospital provided stretched well and fit Henry’s average-sized noggin better than many of the others I had.  If you do bring one, hand knit yarn might work better than machine knit cotton in the early months because the larger stitches stretch to fit.  I used the hospital cap at home for a long time afterward, even when more attractive hats were introduced to the rotation.  It stayed put on his head– more than I could say for some.

If you’d like a pretty blanket to lay over baby in her bassinet, go for it, but know she likely won’t need it.  Instead, think of what will cover her (clothes, blanket) on the trip home.  What will the weather be like?  What will work well with your car seat?

The hospital will give you more diapers and wipes (or wet cloths) than you could possibly imagine while you’re there; you won’t need to bring any of your own.

Mom clothes:

  • Robe
  • Slippers
  • 2 pair of comfortable, loose-waisted PJs with necklines conducive to nursing (if that’s the plan)
  • Two nursing bras with reusable pads (I recommend Bamboobies) OR
  • Two tight sports bras with disposable pads if you intend to formula feed exclusively
  • One attractive-but-comfortable outfit for going home and in-hospital newborn photos (if you intend to have these taken)
  • Special jewelry (if desired)

To be honest, I remained in the hospital gown for most of my two-night post partum stay because it was easier to deal with (and because sitting up in bed was uncomfortable).  Pulling pants on and off every time the doctor comes in or one needs to use the restroom is unpleasant and impractical.  Eventually, though, I did shower and put on PJs because I wanted to feel like a human being.

The robe is an absolute must.  Hospital gowns are open in the back, so a lady will want a little modesty when up and about. You’ll definitely want slippers on the cold floor, too.  On the loose PJ front: you’ll want things comfortable. Even an uncomplicated birth leaves a person feeling a bit tender, so clothing that’s in any way constricting or irritating shouldn’t make the cut.  You’ll want things roomy in these early days because you’ll value comfort over style and because, unfortunately, you’ll still look four or five months pregnant (albeit softer in the middle).  If you’re going the PJ pant route, do bring two pair.  Also, don’t expect either pair to survive your stay without permanent damage. (Target is your friend on this front.) For nursing bras, I preferred cotton, cross-front styles with no clasps and reusable nursing pads.  Buy half a dozen pair of Bamboobies; they’re softer and more absorbent than the disposable pads, and they machine wash well.

I’ve read some packing lists that suggest bringing boy shorts or other granny panties and eschewing the mesh underwear the hospital provides.  I did not.  Cheap underwear—no matter how large it is—is uncomfortable.  The fabric is rough, and the elastic is binding, and I didn’t want anything that felt uncomfortable.  Mesh undies aren’t cute, but they’ll be in ample supply, they’re comfortable, they’re thin (no VPL), they’re disposable, and, in my view, they’re a no brainer.  I wore mesh underwear home from the hospital.  Really, who cares if they’re hideous?  You’re likely not going to feel like a model when you’re body is recovering and you’re sleep deprived, and no one’s going to see your undies, anyway.

Mom’s toiletry bag:

  • Regular make-up and personal care items (in travel-sized containers when possible)
  • Hair ties (3-4)
  • Headbands (2)
  • Glasses and/or contacts, case, and solution
  • Depends
  • Gum or mints
  • Anti-bacterial hand gel
  • Lip balm
  • Nursing salve or balm

You won’t need pads at the hospital; the ones they’ll give you will be bigger, better, and more absorbent than anything you can buy.  Leave your own pads at home, and bring as many of the hospital’s pads home with you as possible.  Depends are a good all-in-one alternative, and you might find them more comfortable and easier to deal with in the early days, too.

You won’t need Advil, stool softener, witch hazel, spray bottles or any other medical odds and ends.  You are, after all, in a hospital.  Ring the call button or wait for rounds; your nurse will be happy to supply whatever you need (including a peri bottle, which will probably be your best friend).  You likely won’t even have to ask.

Other Mom Essentials:

  • Compact digital camera (and charger)
  • Tablet (and charger)
  • Cell phone (and charger)

Could you bring the DSLR?  Sure.  Do you need to if you have a compact, high-res alternative?  No.  Save the space, and spring for the in-hospital professional pics (if they’re offered), or have newborn photos taken in the week or two after birth.

Here are the needs that should be met in this category: phone calls, photos, writing down information, playing music, reading, and recharging.  Figure out how to meet these needs in the smallest footprint possible.


  • Love your pillow? Bring it.
  • Love your husband? Your hospital bed is apt to be more comfortable than his, so bring his pillow and a comfortable blanket.
  • Make use of your post partum team.  If you intend to pump and have your own, bring it with you (even though it’s bulky).  Make sure that a nurse or lactation consultant shows you how to use it.  If you don’t bring yours or plan to rent one, make sure the nurses show you how to use one of the hospital’s.  In addition to their helpful pointers, you’ll be given lots of free pump bottles and parts, too.
  • If you plan to nurse, get help early and often (it’s not always as easy as a natural process might seem).  If you plan to formula feed (even once in a while), be honest with your nurse. Don’t take guff about your choice, and ask if they have any starter formula, bottles, and nipples they could send you home with.  They may not be what you choose to use in the long run, but, if it’s an avenue you think you might go down, they might be helpful to have on hand.

There you have it.  One mom, one baby, and hopefully, one carry-on.  Happy baby-having!


A regular girl, her wonderful husband, a black dog, a baby boy, and a girl on the way.


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