...because home doesn't happen overnight.

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A little backstory…

In 2009, after experiencing unexplained weight loss and undergoing thorough testing, Steve was diagnosed with Barrett’s esophagus. (The disease presents much like GERD but is more severe and increases the risk of developing esophageal cancer.) He was prescribed medications to ease his symptoms, advised to avoid exacerbating foods and drinks and told he would have to undergo routine endoscopies and biopsies to monitor for precancerous and cancerous cells. Steve has a family history of esophageal cancer so the news was especially, well, hard to swallow.

He followed the doctor’s orders but after a few months nothing had changed too much, and emerging research was showing that some of his medications could have complications after long-term use. It was then that Steve started seeking alternative treatment options which included drastically changing his diet. (I’m over-simplifying his efforts to avoid a post with a 2,000 word count but…) Over time his symptoms disappeared and, eventually, he was able to stop all meds. His last endoscopy showed no signs of Barrett’s or even GERD. (!)

Fast forward several years. A friend at work introduced Steve to Crossfit which ultimately led him to discover the paleo diet. He took to both – Crossfit and paleo – and nowadays follows a *mostly* paleo diet *most* of the time.

I, on the other hand, do not. While I’m all for cutting out processed foods, I’ve found it difficult to do entirely. (Not that I’ve actually tried. I can’t even commit to starting a paleo diet.) Also, I’m no vegetarian (hello, Five Guys), but I’ve never been much of a meat eater. There are times when just thinking about chewing meat makes me cringe. That doesn’t bode well for eating like a caveman. I tend to subscribe to everything in moderation, although dairy and I haven’t been on good terms since I went dairy-free when Mabrey was a newborn. No cow’s milk for us; I buy unsweetened almond milk. Most of my time in the grocery store is spent shopping the produce, meat and natural foods sections…and telling the kids no to donuts, candy and fruit snacks. We eat a lot of eggs and fish.

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Since we’re in the Midwest, quality seafood can be hard to come by without paying a pretty penny at a gourmet grocery store. Instead, I order Blue Apron meals that incorporate fish. Their Alaskan sockeye salmon is wild-caught, sustainably sourced and is rated “Best Choice” by Seafood Watch, a company that helps consumers and businesses choose seafood that’s fished or farmed in ways that are minimally invasive to natural habitats. Blue Apron avoids overfished species. Their seafood is always raised within natural ecosystems or sustainable farms without the use of antibiotics and added hormones. You can read more about the company’s mission here.

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Over the years readers have asked how we meld Steve’s diet with mine and the kids’. Honestly, it takes effort and some days it doesn’t happen. Some days the kids and I eat something completely different for dinner. Either I make a separate meal for Steve, or he’ll make himself something. (During the week, he often gets home after we’ve eaten anyway.) Some days I don’t have the energy to make more than one meal for everyone, so I’ll make something tried and true that I know everyone will like that also happens to be paleo. Some days I don’t have the energy to listen to my kids whine about how much they don’t want (insert healthy paleo food) again, so I’ll make pizza, light on the cheese.

Even though the kids and I don’t identify as paleo, by association with Steve, we do eat more paleo meals than we would if we were left to our own devices. Thanks to picking up simple and effective cooking tips from Blue Apron, I’ve become pretty good at throwing together quick meals or tweaking recipes to fit Steve’s dietary needs. I have twinges of optimism where I think, “Hey! I could maybe do this paleo family thing.” Then one of the boys comes home with a bag of Doritos from their grandparents’ house or a sucker from a classmate’s birthday party, and I roll my eyes and give up too easily.

I thought it might be helpful fun to share a few things I’ve noticed from living with a paleo spouse…

*SO. MUCH. GREASE. Maybe it’s just what Steve is choosing to cook and his preparation methods but, holy cow, nearly everything is pan-fried in olive oil, coconut oil or butter. And when your spouse cooks like he’s on the set of a cooking show (meaning he uses every dish, pan and utensil EXCEPT for a lid and doesn’t have time for a thorough cleanup), oil and grease end up everywhere…on the stovetop, countertop, backsplash and even the island pendants. I’ve been known to throw open the kitchen window on the chilliest of winter days to air out the Denny’s smell. Sometimes when I leave the house, I can smell fried meat and onions on my clothes and I’m paranoid that I smell like the old people at the pharmacy who smell like fried food. Lots of grease here, folks.

*SO. MUCH. SUGAR. By far, the biggest thing I’ve learned is that sugar is hidden in just about everything. I read labels and search for products without added sugars. (Food companies like to hide them in all kinds of forms, in all kinds of foods.) I favor fresh ingredients over boxed foods. I’m much more aware of sugar content. I think that’s the biggest takeaway.

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*When in doubt, add sweet potatoes. Many Blue Apron recipes are paleo-friendly with little to no tweaking. I’ll use almond milk instead of buttermilk, almond meal instead of flour, etc. I’ll forgo non-paleo seasonings on one serving of meat or fish especially for Steve. If I’m looking for a side substitute for Steve, I’ll roast sweet potato coins. Slicing coins is so much easier and quicker than peeling/dicing. If I have more time, I’ll make mashed sweet potatoes. (The first time I made mashed sweet potatoes was from a Blue Apron recipe and I couldn’t believe how easy it was.) Or I’ll throw them into stews and use them as “filler” in salmon patties, too.

FYI – The kids aren’t keen on standalone sweet potato dishes but they’ll eat them when I sneak them into things like salmon patties. Or I’ll just bake diced gold potatoes for them. Again, we aren’t paleo perfect.

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*Platters > personal plates. One thing I’ve found helpful is serving meals (usually lunch or dinner) on a big platter and letting everyone fill their plates themselves instead of plopping down plates specifically catered to each family member. I choose what goes on the platter. The kids and Steve choose what goes on their plates. It feels less divisive, less restrictive. Luckily, seafood is one thing everyone in our family likes. Collard greens? Not so much.

*Inspiration > resentment. Truthfully, when Steve made the choice to go paleo, I was annoyed.

“What? Is my prosaic menu not good enough for you?”

“Why do I feel like this is going to be more work for ME?

“Well, of course, you can eat healthy. You only have to worry about feeding yourself. You aren’t at home all day with three little people who have very opinionated taste buds.”

“If you’re going to eat like a caveman, then I’m going to shave like a cavewoman.”

But you know what? I was taking it way too personally. He’s being proactive about his health in order to be the best husband and father he can for the longest time possible. He’s inspiring me to eat healthier and setting a great example for our kids. (He packs the boys’ lunches most days.) He’s healthier and happier, and he looks pretty damn awesome. #handsoff I’m so proud of him. Even if he won’t eat my really awesome spaghetti ;)

Do you follow a paleo diet or know someone who does? Do you have any tips for cutting out processed foods or favorite paleo recipes to share? If your family is committed to a paleo diet, how do you handle school events and family get-togethers? I find those situations the most difficult to control. Sometimes I’ll make a paleo dish and bring it to a family function to share, but the host is noticeably offended. What then?

If you’d like to start incorporating more fresh food into your meals, you can give Blue Apron a try by clicking here. The first 50 readers will get two free meals on their first Blue Apron order!

P.S. – How I clean the globe lights.

UPDATE: After reading through the comments, Steve was compelled to share his thoughts:

Hi, everyone. Steve here. So many great questions and insights. I thought I would try to comment on as many as I could in hopes that it helps someone out. First off, my Barrett’s did not present the typical symptom of heartburn. The only thing I ever noticed was occasional indigestion and the need to clear my throat after I ate. So the diagnosis was a real shock to me and my doctor. I found out later, through my own research, that my symptoms were consistent with LPR or silent reflux. I’ll be honest, when they told me I had Barrett’s, I was freaking out on the inside.

I’m the type of person who reads, researches, digs and occasionally obsesses over things. It only took about 15 minutes on WebMD and the recent death of a loved one to esophageal cancer for me to mentally seal my own fate. If you only take away one thought from this reply, recognize that stress and digestive health are intrinsically linked. There’s a reason we have expressions like “having a gut feeling” or “butterflies in the stomach.” This is not groundbreaking news, but I didn’t realize the full connection back then. Gradually, the increased stress resulted in worsening symptoms and on it went. I tried to do everything right, but perfectionism only exacerbated my anxiety. I can still remember standing in the grocery store after I had been told I should cut gluten, eggs, yeast, dairy, and nuts from my diet thinking “What the f*ck am I going to eat?” Thankfully, I’m in a much better place now. It’s been a long journey, but it was necessary for me.  A few things I’ve learned…

Be your own guinea pig. I’ve tried just about all of the diets.  And each time I’ve learned something about myself and my specific needs. Don’t be afraid to do the same. Some people say dairy is the devil, and other’s do just fine with it. Everyone is different to a degree. Ultimately, you will most likely settle on something that doesn’t fit perfectly into someone else’s definition, but rather suits your individual needs. Keep in mind that this will take time. Remind yourself that with each little experiment, you’ll be moving closer to what works best for you.

Be easy and honest with yourself. As I mentioned before, the more gravity you put on this, the more stress you’ll create. That’s not going to get you where you want. Treat each experiment with some lightness or a sense of curiosity about your body. Allow yourself to slip up or indulge once in a while. The only way a donut will kill you is if it becomes lodged in your throat which could just as easily happen with a piece of broccoli. That being said, don’t allow yourself to make excuses either. Eating half an ice cream cake every Wednesday is not an occasional treat. It’s a pattern. Again, it’s about balance and honesty.

Quality > calories. The quality and nutritional value of our food typically has a much larger impact on our overall health than just a calorie count. It’s not as simple as some would lead you to believe – calories in versus calories out. This explains why eating a low calorie/high carbohydrate diet often causes people to continue to gain weight. As a rule of thumb, we try to make the bulk of our groceries organic foods that are perishable.  

Forethought is your friend. Consistently eating clean takes some planning. When starting to make a change, you’ll need to think through your week and make a rough meal plan. Winging it is not a good strategy. Make sure you have quality snacks and go-to foods if you get in a jam. Don’t let this overwhelm you though. I promise, it becomes very easy after a while. Soon you’ll know exactly what you want when you go to the grocery store…or roll into Chipotle ;)

Eat! There are so many wonderful foods out there that are perfectly nutritious. Don’t focus your attention and efforts on what you’re cutting out. Look at all those wonderful foods that you can eat and dig in.

With those tidbits in mind, there were quite a few questions about my diet specifically. I don’t even like to refer to it as a “diet” because I think that term comes with baggage. It’s just the way I eat. It’s a combination of Paleo principles, Zone diet principles and what I’ve found my body needs. If I had to put some words around it, I would pull them straight out of the Crossfit Journal. This mantra is easy and makes sense to me, “Meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch, no sugar.” Typically, I eat a big breakfast hash that consists of some or all of the following: pulled pork or grass-fed ground beef or egg, sweet potatoes or Jersey yams, mushrooms, onions, cumin, coriander, salt and pepper to taste. It’s awesome. I drink a green juice most days as well (one primarily made up of vegetable juice). I have a snack around 10:30 a.m. of a protein, fat and carbohydrate. This is often canned tuna in olive oil, a piece of fruit or some carrots and some nuts. Then I work out. I supplement with a clean protein shake immediately afterwards. I eat a late lunch salad about an hour after my workout. My salads are epic and often the envy of my co-workers: romaine or spinach, chicken, sliced apple, peppers, carrots, cucumber, a few raisins, pecans and an oil and vinegar dressing. I have another snack in the evening before I head home (again, protein/fat/carbohydrate). Dinner at home usually consists of a piece of chicken or pork, steamed broccoli or cauliflower and grass-fed butter. If I want something sweet before bed, a date and a handful of almonds hit the spot most nights.

I hope this provides some help to anyone looking to feel and perform better. It’s a commitment, but it’s completely doable as long as perfection is not the goal.

*This post sponsored in part by Blue Apron. In order to remain transparent, I would like to mention that I pay out of pocket for my own subscription. Blue Apron provided the meal seen in this post. Thank you for supporting the brands that support this blog!

images: Dana Miller for House*Tweaking

02.02.16 / A Great Gift Idea

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Want to know what I gifted nearly all the adults in our lives over the holidays? Yep, Blue Apron. If you’re a long-time reader, you’ve heard me tout the food delivery service in the past. (Keep reading further though because I’m not simply regurgitating all the things I’ve mentioned before.) If you’re new here, let me fill you in briefly.

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Blue Apron delivers fresh ingredients in a refrigerated box right to your doorstep. The ingredients arrive in the exact proportions along with a recipe card and detailed instructions which include photographs of steps to give even novices in the kitchen the confidence to churn out a delicious meal. Typically, the cost is less expensive than dining out or ordering takeout. Simply sign up online for weekly orders. You can skip or cancel deliveries at any time! An online “cookbook” is free to anyone so you can replicate meals at home with ingredients from your local grocery if desired. (We recently tried the cajun fried catfish with collard greens and mashed sweet potatoes. It was a hit!)

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I’ve been subscribing to Blue Apron going on two years now ever since our friends in Nashville recommended it. I especially love to use the service during weeks that Steve is out of town (this week!) and also while on vacation. In fact, I had a delivery sent to our vacation rental in Asheville this past fall. I was a little worried because our location was nearly off the grid and tricky to find – especially after dark. After we arrived at the cabin, I called Blue Apron to relay better directions and they were super helpful about forwarding the information on to UPS. Even with the new directions, our food arrived after 9:00 p.m. the day of delivery so my account was automatically credited for the full amount. Nothing was wrong with the food (it was still fresh and we ate it) but the company was great about upholding its promises of timely delivery and quality ingredients. And I talked to a real live person on the phone who was super nice, easy to understand and not reading from a script!

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In the last year alone, there have been several improvements made to increase customer satisfaction. You can now view weekly menus weeks in advance of ordering and select which meals you would like to try. There is also a new recycling program available and plenty of tips and ideas for reusing the packaging. (We have reused the ice packs for picnics and packing coolers for road trips.) The company is working to provide more sustainable food by working directly with farmers. I would like to see organic produce offered, but overall I am impressed by the company’s efforts to listen to and address customer feedback by implementing change.

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At the end of 2015, I was surprised to discover that I had accrued free meals which I gifted to some friends and family members at no cost to me. I also purchased some meals to gift. Blue Apron is a great gift idea!

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If you’re a Blue Apron virgin, you can score two free meals on your first order by clicking here. Offer is only good for the first 50 readers so act fast!

*This post sponsored in part by Blue Apron. In order to remain transparent, I would like to mention that I pay out of pocket for my own subscription. Blue Apron provided the meal seen in this post. Thank you for supporting the brands that support this blog!

images: Dana Miller for House*Tweaking

09.01.15 / Some Outdoor Stuff

How exciting is that post title? It just grabs your attention and pulls you in, right? Haha.

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I like a good renovation as much as the next house-loving person. But I have to say it’s been nice living in a post-renovation home. We’re able to make it through entire weekends with no dust flying, no rooms off limits, no major disruptions. It feels like we’re finally living in our house. Maybe that doesn’t make sense but, if you’ve ever lived through a major remodel, maybe it does.

When/if we get the itch to DIY, we have several little projects still on the to-do list. This summer we crossed off a few of those things and even tackled some projects that weren’t on the list. We built screens to disguise the trash and recycling bins and the electric meter. (So far, we haven’t received any hate mail from the meter reader.) We also added a refrigerator side panel and organized the garage. I haven’t written about the garage yet, but we parked a vehicle in it for the first time ever! #postrenovationgoals

Today I’m sharing a few more outdoor projects we worked on this summer. They aren’t really post-worthy as stand alone projects so I’m lumping them together in one meaty post.

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We added snow rails to the metal roof. (And by we, I mean Steve.) You may recall that we originally installed clear plastic snow guards on the roof above the exterior man doors and garage door. (You can spy them here and in most of the exterior shots of the house.) They were *supposed to* prevent snow and ice from avalanching off the metal roof in the winter to protect our gutters and any humans on the ground. But after our first heavy snowfall two years ago, the guards over the front door slid right off with the snow. (!) It wasn’t exactly the protection we were hoping for. We think their failure had everything to do with the pitch – or lack thereof – of our roof.

The good news is we found a local company that was able to manufacture snow rails for us. The bad news is it took TWO YEARS to finally get the snow rails in our hands. (For the company’s sake, I’m not naming them publicly. While their product is excellent, we can’t vouch for their customer service.) The snow rails were color-matched to our existing roof and set us back $500. Steve easily tapped off the plastic snow guards with a rubber mallet. Then he cut sections of the snow rail to length and screwed them into the metal roof ribs with stainless steel screws. (The ribs are the raised “lines” on the roof.) The screws are rustproof and boast rubber washers. The major stipulation was that each continuous length of rail had to end on a rib. You can see how each rail ends on a rib in the photos above and below.

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The rail extends around the entire perimeter of the roof – front, sides and back. With help from his dad, Steve knocked out the job in two hours. We actually love the aesthetic of the snow rails and we’re glad to have the rails in place before winter hits. Of course, this means we’ll probably get no snow this year. So be it!

$500 plus two hours of DIY labor isn’t the end of the world but if you’re considering metal for a low-pitched roof in a colder climate, it’s just something to keep in mind. Learn from our mistakes, people. We’re your guinea pigs ;)

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We made an outdoor shelf for the kitchen window. (And by we, I mean I told Steve what I wanted it to look like and he built it.) I’ve always thought the window needed a shelf to better connect it to the deck area.

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The shelf is constructed of cedar boards and off-the-shelf exterior brackets – both from Menards. The brackets are screwed into the brick facade with Red Head wall anchors. FYI – Red Head refers to the type of screw, not the color ;) Steve added a lip of trim with nails and wood glue. I like that the lip provides a little security for loose items.

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The shelf is a great spot for drinks, napkins and dessert plates when we eat outside. We purposely didn’t make it deep enough for dinner plates because it’s not really conducive to acting as a pass-through… which would have been a cool idea but not practical. The kitchen sink is just inside the window but it’s difficult to access the shelf through the window.

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While I’m thinking of it, many of you want to know how the outdoor furniture is holding up. The plastic wicker-like bases are in mint condition. No breakage, no fading, no rust. Covering them in a high quality cover during the winter helps immensely. (See how we store the outdoor furniture here.)

The cushions are a bit more needy. They aren’t meant to be left out all the time. I only place them on the sectional when we’re using it. In the summer, I stash the cushions behind the sectional under the deep eave for added protection from the elements. In the winter, I store them in the attic. The covers are machine washable and I wash them each fall before stashing them away for the winter. They’re in pretty good condition. The zippers still work. There aren’t any tears or holes. There is a spot on one cover where a pile of dead leaves left a stain. The cushions are reversible so I just turn that side down. I line dry the covers after washing but there has been some shrinkage. They still fit the cushions but you can see how the piping doesn’t line up perfectly now. It’s not a deal breaker but, again, something to keep in mind.

Also, those Woolly Pockets are the bomb. I love them.

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We added hardware for future shade sails. Adding shade sails above the deck and dining patio has been on our wish list for a while. A few readers suggested checking out Costco for affordable options. Thank you! We did give them a look but we really feel like our space would benefit most from custom sails. We’ve determined a larger rectangular sail over the deck and a smaller triangular sail over the dining patio is the ideal setup for us. Because of ongoing insurance quandaries resulting from Everett’s accident earlier this year, we don’t feel comfortable shelling out money for the actual sails this year.

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Instead, we purchased and installed the hardware (basically a trio of heavy duty rings) along the eave and have loose plans to put in a trio of posts in the yard this fall. (I marked out the general locations of the rings in the photo above with red X’s.) We’re hoping to add the sails next summer. I’ll keep you posted. Sometimes, this is how bigger projects go. We piecemeal them into smaller projects as time and money allow.

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We put in two garden beds. I wish the picture better portrayed how much joy this project has brought to our lives. I also wish our neighbor’s fence was charcoal or black.

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One side of our backyard was overgrown with LARGE random shrubs. We cleared them out earlier this summer with the help of a chainsaw and a rented stump grinder and paid a tree trimming crew to come out, mulch everything and haul it off. That brush pile was three times bigger when it was all said and done. Then we made two basic 4′ x 8′ raised garden beds. We had rich soil + organic compost delivered to fill the beds. Layne had grown a few hot pepper and cucumber plants from seed at school last spring so we plopped those in one of the beds and let nature do its thing.

Clearing out the space for the beds opened up our backyard to a neighbor’s backyard. His name is Bassim. He’s Lebanese and the sweetest person. As soon as he saw we were attempting to grow a garden, he offered up two tomato plants from his garden that weren’t doing so well. He thought they would fare better in our raised beds. Plus, he’s just really nice. The tomato plants took well to the transplant. We had a decent first harvest: first cucumbers, then tomatoes and now hot peppers. I have no idea what we did right but we’re so into this gardening thing now.

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The kids LOVE going out and checking the garden everyday. They pull weeds and pick whatever is ripe. They bring in their mini harvests and wash it all by hand. The cucumbers usually don’t make it to the fridge. The kids eat them fresh of the vine. I’ve been making all of my favorite tomato recipes including this one. Bassim lets me clip fresh basil from his garden. It’s so good as a garnish.

Everything you’ve heard about growing your own food is true. It’s opens you up to whole new community. Okay, maybe one neighbor isn’t an entire community but still. When Bassim sees us outside weeding, watering or harvesting, he comes over to say hi and talk garden talk. And seeing the kids’ sense of pride and excitement in growing, picking and eating their own food is priceless. It’s something I want to continue to nurture.

The second bed is growing impressive weeds. Cue the womp, womp sound effect. We didn’t plant anything in it because we wanted to see how the first summer went with one bed. I thought about making it a cutting garden so I could grow flowers to bring inside for decoration, but our family has enjoyed growing food so much that I think we’ll plant more veggies next year. Suggestions?

That pretty much brings you up to speed on outdoor projects around here. Have you crossed off any outdoor projects on your to-do list this summer?

images: Dana Miller for House*Tweaking