Being Mrs. Pierce

Life as a wife, hiker, wanna-be chef, book-lover, traveler, and now, mom

April Recipes: Skinnytaste Fast and Slow April 29, 2018

Filed under: Cooking — skpierce12 @ 9:57 PM

My cookbook of choice for April was Skinnytaste Fast and Slow: Knockout Quick-Fix and Slow Cooker Recipes by Gina Homolka.  This recipe collection perfectly fit the 2018 cookbook challenge guidelines by being a book that has sat largely untouched on my shelf for months.  I love the original Skinnytaste cookbook, but for whatever reason I never became that interested in trying many recipes from Homolka’s follow-up book.  Thanks to this challenge, though, I’ve quickly discovered some “keepers” from Fast and Slow, and now I know that this is a cookbook to keep.

In order of ranking, here are the four recipes I tried from Skinnytaste Fast and Slow during the month of April:

1.  Greek Chicken Sheet Pan Dinner – p. 158 – 4.5 stars

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One-pot and one-pan recipes always receive a second glance from me, so I was excited when John seconded my interest in this recipe while looking through the cookbook.  We love Mediterranean food, so we both found this recipe particularly interesting.  I was a little nervous about the amount of lemon that is called for (1 sliced lemon, 1 juiced lemon, and 1 TB of lemon zest), as neither of us love a strong lemon flavor, so I omitted the lemon zest.  I’m glad that I did, because the balance of flavors was perfect.

This came together quickly – perfect for a weeknight dinner.  I used regular carrots, halved, as heirloom carrots are not to be found at our grocery store.  I also subbed out dried oregano for fresh (and reduced the amount called for), as apparently there was a run on fresh oregano the day that John went grocery shopping.

The recipes says it serves four, but between John, James, and myself, we about finished the entire recipe.  Only a few carrots remained on the sheet pan when we all finally called it quits.  Not only is this a “keeper,” I’m already planning on which night to cook it again.

 

2.  Burnt Broccoli – p. 255 – 4 stars

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On the same night that I prepared the Greek Chicken Sheet Pan Dinner, I also made this side dish in order to add a little green to our dinner plates.  Roasted broccoli is a staple in our house, but the addition of the whole garlic cloves and the trick of broiling the broccoli for two minutes at the end of its baking time elevated this particular roasted broccoli recipe to another level.

Peeling the six garlic cloves did add to the prep time for this, but it was worth it.  Again, this was a recipe that serves four, but a couple of broccoli spears was all that we put in the fridge for leftovers at the end of the meal.

 

3.  Brussels Sprout Hash with Bacon and Eggs – p. 26 – 4 stars

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This recipe is filed under “Healthy Mornings” in the cookbook, but Homolka notes that it’s delicious any time of the day.  I made it for dinner and served Baked Sweet Plantains (see below) and toast with jam on the side.

I loved, loved this hash.  Brussels sprouts are one of my favorite green veggies, and I’m always on the hunt for new ways to prepare them.  The bacon and shallots added a lot of flavor, and the sprouts ended up soft without being mushy – perfect.  Each serving of the hash is topped with a fried egg, which I cooked until the yolk was firm.  Runny yolks gross me out.

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This hash also would be delicious without the egg, served on the side of a main.  This is yet another “keeper.”

 

4.  Baked Sweet Plantains with Cheese – p. 259 – 2.5 stars

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The one disappointment from the cookbook were these plantains, but it’s likely due to the fact that my plantain was still green (and therefore lacked sweetness) when I made this recipe.  I had left the plantain on my counter to ripen for over a week, but it remained as green as ever.  I wanted to make this fourth recipe by the end of the month, though, so I decided to just see how the recipe would turn out with a green rather than a ripened yellow plantain.

As expected, there was no “sweet” to the baked plantain slices.  The additions of grated mozzarella and chopped cilantro at the end were tasty, however.

John enjoyed these more than I did, but I haven’t given up on the recipe just yet.  I have a second green plantain still sitting on my counter, so once it finally ripens, I’ll give this recipe a do-over.

 

I have yet to decide which cookbook I’ll cook from during May, but stay tuned!

 

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March Recipes: Eating in the Middle March 25, 2018

Filed under: Cooking — skpierce12 @ 9:06 PM

After failing to cook any new recipes in February for my 2018 cookbook challenge that I’m completing with my sister-in-law, Kalyn, and mother-in-law, Loveta, I was back on track this month.  (Although I have to admit, I probably wouldn’t have gotten around to this except for a visit to see Kalyn.  Hearing her talk about her cookbooks and seeing her enthusiasm inspired me to get going again on this challenge.)

 

For the first time this year, I actually selected one of the cookbooks on my shelf.  In January, I stuck with online recipes that followed the “Lean and Green” requirements of my newly-begun Optavia program.  I haven’t been as strict with my diet, however, during March, so I didn’t feel the same compunction to be as rigid on my recipe selections this month.

 

My husband gave me Andie Mitchell’s weight loss memoir, It Was Me All Along, and her cookbook, Eating in the Middle, over a year ago.  I quickly read the memoir, but the cookbook had largely sat untouched on my bookshelf.  Considering its goal of blending healthy, everyday recipes with occasional indulgences, Eating in the Middle was the perfect cookbook for me this month as I’m working to find my own way to “eat in the middle” (instead of at either extreme) of the feast-or-famine dichotomy.  Of the four new recipes from the cookbook that I tried, three were wholesome and one was decadently rich.

 

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1.  Baked Banana Bread Doughnuts – pp. 16-17.  4 stars.

Several years ago, one of my students (whose mother knew I love to bake) gave me a doughnut pan for an end-of-year gift.  The pan then tagged along with me on two moves but never saw the inside of an oven.  That, along with the fact that this recipe uses staples that I already had on hand, secured the making of this recipe.  And I’m so glad that I did!  Never having made doughnuts before (baked or otherwise), I wasn’t sure what to expect.  I was surprised, for example, at how thick the batter was as I spooned it into the pan.  I’ve never loved cake doughnuts, either, so I wasn’t too hopeful about a “light” cake doughnut recipe.  I am happy to admit that I was wrong!  These doughnuts were delicious.  My husband didn’t quite believe me at first that the flour in the recipe is entirely whole-wheat–which I didn’t tell him until after he’d expressed approval of them.  James gobbled up his doughnut with exclamations of “More! More!” after every bite.  I didn’t make the optional maple-cinnamon cream cheese glaze, but even unadorned, these doughnuts earned “keeper” status from the Pierces.

 

2.  Turkey Breakfast Patties – p. 22. 3 stars.

I’ve made homemade turkey “sausage” patties before with middling success, but I wanted to try this recipe anyway because it has a fairly short list of ingredients and it’s easy for me to cook early in the morning before James wakes up.  A breakfast recipe is more likely to come to fruition than many other types of recipes these days.  In the end, these were fine.  I did like that the recipe included grated zucchini, which seemed to help keep these from getting too dry as Mitchell promised.  We ate all the patties over a couple of days, but I wasn’t sad to see them go.  I doubt I make these again.

 

3.  Coconut Oatmeal Cookies with Caramel Drizzle – pp. 222-224. 4 stars.

If you haven’t guessed based on the name alone, this is the indulgent recipe on this list.  It has butter, brown sugar, walnuts, shredded coconut, chocolate chips, caramel–the works.  There is no question that the cookies taste as good as all of those ingredients imply!  I loved the particular blend of textures, especially, as the cookies are simultaneously chewy, soft, and crunchy.  They easily earned their 4-star status!

This recipe taught me that I still have much to learn about the art of drizzling, however.  My caramel drizzle was goopy and completely unlike the thin, artistic drizzles so elegantly photographed in the cookbook.  I ran out of drizzle two-thirds of my way through decorating my cookies, and considering that I was nursing a couple of minor burns on my fingers and feeling too angry at the caramel to make another round of drizzle, I gave up.  John ended up preferring the non-drizzled ones, anyway.

Despite my drizzling disaster, these cookies are keepers.  I’ll make them again–but hopefully after watching a YouTube video or two about drizzling.

 

4.  Kale Chips – p. 83. 3.5 stars.

I used to like kale, but then I tried Swiss chard and kale became my forgotten leafy green stepchild.  But since I’m all about simple recipes these days (caramel drizzles notwithstanding), the four ingredients for this recipe–kale, extra-virgin olive oil, salt, and black pepper–were singing my tune.  These were easy to prepare and quick to bake (in fact, I should have taken mine out of the oven sooner than the minimum 10 minutes listed on the recipe, as a few pieces burned).  James and I were the biggest fans of the kale chips, and John found them decent.  I doubt I’ll make these often, but I do like that they are a healthier way to satisfy a salty, crunchy craving.

 

All in all, I enjoyed my experiences with Eating in the Middle, and I look forward to finding more “keepers” in the cookbook in the future.

 

Fort Worth Nature Center: Oak Motte Trail March 16, 2018

Filed under: Hiking — skpierce12 @ 2:22 PM

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While living in Fort Worth, John and I hiked several of the trails at the Fort Worth Nature Center, but there were many paths that we had not explored when we moved to the hill country.  During a recent spring break trip to DFW to see my parents, we returned to the nature center, this time with James in tow.

 

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Out of shape and without a lot of time on our hands, we selected the Oak Motte Trail, an easy 2.16 mile loop hike.  We parked at the visitor center and walked one leg of the Prairie Trail to get to the start of the Oak Motte loop.

 

The weather was perfect for a mid-morning hike in March: sunny and cool.  We had expected a spring break crowd at the center, but we came across only one other family of hikers during our walk.  I love having the trails to ourselves!

 

The Prairie Trail lived up to its name with its tall grasses and flat landscape, and then as we approached Oak Motte we were greeted with, surprisingly enough, oak mottes, or groups of trees.

 

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The wintry landscape was dry and brown, but the trees – even leafless – were majestic (or as majestic as trees can get in North Texas).

 

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James was pretty excited about the trees above and sticks on the ground below, preferring to look at them rather than the camera.

 

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I’m not sure if it was the shade from the tree branches overhead, the warmth of being snuggled in next to my back, or exhaustion from a weekend with Grandma and Grandpap, but within 15 minutes of being on the trails James fell soundly asleep in the Ergobaby.

 

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John spent much of the next hour holding on to the back of James’s head as we hiked so that it wouldn’t flop around too much.

 

We walked at a rather leisurely pace, talking about John’s book that he’d finished the night before (The Killer Inside Me, if you’re curious) and favorite hikes from the past.

 

The scenery remained consistent throughout the Oak Motte trail, with the only real alteration in view being the break in the trees due to power lines.

 

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Before long, we were back at the Prairie Trail and headed for the nature center once again.

 

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James finally woke up just at the end of the hike.  He seemed a little grumpy that he’d missed out on the fun!

 

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Soon we were on our way out of the center, headed to the lunch buffet at Bosses Pizza just down the road (in which we completely undid any and all health benefits from the morning’s hike).

 

I am glad to have returned to the Fort Worth Nature Center, which is a gem for hiking enthusiasts in the DFW area.  Its trails are well-marked, interesting, and varied, making the entrance fee ($5 per adult; free for children 2 and under) well worth the cost.

 

My 10-Year Weight Loss Anniversary February 11, 2018

Filed under: Uncategorized — skpierce12 @ 3:09 PM

After each new turn of the year, I spend weeks, if not months, correcting the year on everything I write.  But I’ve had less trouble remembering that it’s now 2018.  While I’d love to claim that it’s because I’m less scatterbrained than usual, it’s simply because my mind keeps reflecting back on 2008.

And why was 2008 significant?  A few days before Thanksgiving 2007 I went on a diet.  It was not my first diet nor would it be my last.  It was, however, the diet that, over the following year, would be pivotal for my health, happiness, and life.

Ten years ago, I looked like this:

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I was 252 pounds, wavering between a size 22 and a size 24.

I had started my freshmen year of high school in 1995 wearing a size 10, an appropriate size for my 5’11” frame.  Over the following 12 years, I gradually (and sometimes not so gradually) packed on the pounds.

Ten years later, an array of feelings arise in me when looking at that photo.  In some ways, I find myself unrecognizable.  In others, the hurts and fears and shame shining in my eyes are still my own.  I had used food to deal with painful emotions and stress – a habit that I continue to struggle with to this day.

Hitting the 250-pound mark 10 years ago, however, was a tipping point.  I was in my mid-20s, single, and working in a small county library in small town Texas.  I was lonely and isolated.  I also had a lot of free time on my hands, as the only other single twenty-somethings in town already had a kid or two, and the creepy, middle-aged, married man I occasionally ran into (and quickly learned to avoid) at the laundromat was the only one requesting dates.  It occurred to me one evening as I sat alone in my house, stuffing myself with chips and guacamole for dinner, that either 1) I was going to continue the unhealthy spiral of binge eating and weight gain until I was so heavy they’d need a crane to get me out of the house, or 2) I could make use of all of my free time and lack of social life to make a change.

Not ready to give up on life at the age of 26, I chose the second option.  With the help of my sister and good friend DM, I learned to follow the WeightWatchers plan and walked six days a week.  By November of 2008, I looked like this:

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Perhaps now it’s a little more clear why 2008 was a milestone year for me.

The massive weight loss thing – it’s something I’ve kept close to my chest.  Obviously it comes as no surprise to those that knew me before I shed the weight, but I can think of only a handful of people I’ve personally shared it with over the past ten years.

When John and I were on our fourth date, he gave me an opening to talk about my past.  I mumbled and stumbled my way through the weight loss story as quickly as I could.  I still don’t show him–or anyone–pictures of myself from that time if I can help it.

I’ve been wondering lately why I’m not more open about my major weight loss.  You’d think I’d want to shout it from the rooftops: Look what I did!  And in my own way, I guess I did for a while.  I joined Facebook and started posting pictures of my new, slender self – an unfathomable act to my former, heavier self.  But as I changed career directions (building on the confidence I gained as a result of losing weight), I never, ever talked about my story while in grad school or in my first teaching job.  It would only be about five years after the big loss, in the midst of major life changes (marriage, moving, a new job), that I began talking a little more openly with coworkers about my weight history and ongoing struggles.  In the stress of those life changes, I’d gained some of the lost weight back, and as I sought to slim back down, it was easier to swap stories with those facing similar battles with the bulge.

After much contemplation brought on by this 10-year anniversary, it’s become clear that I haven’t shared my story more widely because I’d feel a fraud if I did.  It’s less about the fact that everyday I carry lingering shame about being 252 pounds with me and worry that people will judge me for ever having been so big, and more about the fact that I haven’t finished what I started ten years ago.  I still solace myself with sweets and junk food when I’m stressed, overwhelmed, sad, or overly tired.  When seeing a new picture of myself, I take a quick mental inventory of every place on my body that I find unflattering.  Hips looking too wide?  Nope, that’s not going on Facebook.  Too much roundness in my face?  DELETE.

I can’t shout, Look what I did! because I am in the midst of weight struggles to this day.  I’m just not a size 24 while struggling.

Part of me is proud of what I accomplished, of course.  I’ll never forget the feeling of joy when I donated size after size of clothing to the local shelter and stood in a clothing store dressing room with a smile, rather than tears, on my face for the first time in a long, long time.

But the shame remains as I yo-yo between three different sizes of clothing and search elusively for peace with food.

Perhaps I’ll have found that peace by the time my 20-year weight loss anniversary rolls around.

At least, that is my daily hope and prayer.

 

Cibolo Nature Center February 3, 2018

Filed under: Hiking — skpierce12 @ 10:34 PM

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On a mild, partly cloudy day in January, my little family headed towards San Antonio for the day.  We left our school work behind (mostly – John graded papers while I drove) in order to spend a day together, in nature, away from our usual Saturday routine (lesson plan, play with James, grade papers, play with James).  I had a cold, but we were determined to get in a hike before John’s UIL season ramped up and took over our lives for the rest of the semester.  I also didn’t want to fail to meet my 2018 goal of going on a hike at least once every 2 months!

We selected the Cibolo Nature Center in Boerne for our hike.  A San Antonio magazine given to us by a friend had featured the trails available in the center, and we were lured there by the promise of easy hiking and the beautiful photographs of the cypress-laded creek.  Neither of those would disappoint.

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Adjacent to the parking lot are replica dinosaur tracks of real ones found in the area.  James, who when he sees a picture of a dinosaur growls menacingly in reply, cared nothing about the tracks but “grrrr”d nonstop at the placard next to them with a dinosaur image.  This was where we started our hike.

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Now that James has surpassed the 25-pound mark, it was time to try out the back carry position with our Ergobaby.  James LOVED being able to take in the scenery more easily and swing his legs back and forth!  It took me a little while to feel balanced with the extra weight on my back, but in the end, I was firmly in the back carry fan club.

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As we set off on the marsh trail, we could easily pinpoint Cibolo Creek thanks to the line of trees a short distance away.

 

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Boardwalk trails are among my favorites, and despite the wintry environment, the marsh surrounding the trail was surprisingly beautiful.

 

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As we left the marsh trail and approached the creek, we lingered at GreenMan’s Lookout for an elevated view of the nature center.

 

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The creek was too tempting to ignore any longer, so next we hiked to the crossing.

 

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While I feel certain that the cypress trees in spring and summer, vibrant and green, are a sight to behold, the muted, neutral palette of the dormant trees and grasses in winter had its own allure.

We forded the creek and hiked down a path to the left until the trail disappeared.  Playing it safe, we turned around and walked back to the crossing and then hugged the creek for a while upriver.

 

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On occasion, it took some maneuvering to forge ahead.

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Cibolo Creek and its stately trees, however, more than made up for our slippery-footed efforts.

 

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After dallying near the creek for as long as possible, we bid the cypresses goodbye and embarked upon the woodland trail before concluding our hike.

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Full of shrubby oaks, the woodland trail was an easy, albeit run-of-the-mill, central Texas hike.  Perhaps we should have saved the best–the creek trail–for last.

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By this point, though, James was tired and ready for lunch, so we had to hurry our steps.  At the end of the woodland trail, we immediately left to forage for food rather than picturesque landscapes.

Cibolo Nature Center is truly a gem in the San Antonio metropolitan area, and I expect that we’ll return on another day.

 

January Recipes: Lean and Green January 23, 2018

Filed under: Cooking — skpierce12 @ 9:01 PM
This is my first blog installment of my 2018 cooking goal, done in conjunction with my mother-in-law and sister-in-law (the latter of whom came up with this idea), to cook at least 4 new recipes from a cookbook I already own each month this year.
It’s month 1, and already I’m cheating.
I didn’t select my recipes from a physical cookbook on my shelf because I’ve also started a new health plan from Optavia.  In order to stick with my “lean and green” meal guidelines, I chose recipes from Sandy’s Kitchen Adventures blog, which features a number of approved lean and greens.
So without further ado, here are my 4 new recipes that I’ve tried in January, in order of most liked to least liked:
1.  Avocado Cauliflower Rice – 4.5 stars
This is a delicious side dish that was approved by husband, toddler, and myself!  I made my own cauliflower rice with my food processor, and I’m glad I did.  I processed it down quite small (even smaller than typical rice grains), but that ended up working well for the dish.  In my experience, the store-bought cauliflower rice tends to be both a bit expensive and heavy on bits from the stalk rather than the florets.  I made this dish twice (doubling the recipe each time), but I made enough cauliflower rice the first time in order to make the dish again a couple of nights later.  That really sped things up on night 2 of making this, so if you can make your “rice” ahead of time, I would do it.
I used just regular olive oil instead of the flavored one Sandy mentions, and that worked great.  I ate mine with baked Cajun-seasoned tilapia both nights, but John had grilled fajita-seasoned chicken breast with it on night 2 and said he liked that even better than the tilapia (which he also thought was great).  He had his both nights with tortillas, diced avocado, and salsa, which he recommends.
We’re calling this one a keeper!
2. Thai Turkey Burgers – 4 stars
Turkey burgers have been a staple in our house, as patties are easy to find pre-made and they are quick and easy to grill.  HEB recently stopped selling our favorite brand of turkey patties, however, so we’ve been eating them much less.  As a result, this recipe caught my eye.  I liked the idea of infusing a turkey burger patty with Thai flavors, which I typically like.
I doubled the recipe, which therefore yielded 4 patties total.  The ingredients list isn’t long, so the patties came together quickly.  John then grilled them for me.
I ate my serving cut up in lettuce wraps, but John had his as a traditional burger on a bun.  He especially liked these, commenting on the flavorful addition of the green onions and cilantro.  I found mine slightly dry; adding a condiment to the lettuce wraps would’ve helped.
Despite that, they were yummy and different, and I do intend to make these again!
3.  Crock Pot Chili – 3 stars
I typically stay away from slow cooker recipes that require you to brown meat separately because that seems to defeat the purpose of a “one-pot” meal, but I made an exception for this dish.  With our recent cold snap, chili sounded good.  And this chili was good.  It’s not the best chili I’ve ever had (my father-in-law’s chili wins that award), but it’s a solid recipe.  It did fill the house with appetizing smells all day like Sandy promises, which was nice apart from the fact that it kept me thinking about food all afternoon!
I may or may not make this one again.
4.  Crock Pot Thai Chicken – 2 stars
This was my biggest disappointment of this set of recipes.  The Weight Watchers Slow Cooker Thai Chicken has been a favorite for several years now,  so I initially was excited to find a similar but “lean and green” approved version of it.  The problem with this particular recipe was that there wasn’t enough sauce to really keep the chicken moist and flavorful.  I served it with cauliflower rice, which made for an overall bland meal.  I highly doubt I try this again.
 

2018 Goals January 3, 2018

Filed under: Cooking,Hiking,Reading — skpierce12 @ 10:17 PM

My husband has inspired me to set my 2018 goals in writing on my blog so that I will be held accountable to them.

  1. Lead a healthier day-to-day lifestyle, which will hopefully also lead to me losing a little weight.
  2. Cook at least 4 new recipes from a different cookbook that I already own each month.  I’m doing this challenge in conjunction with my mother-in-law and sister-in-law, the latter of whom came up with this fun idea.
  3. Read at least 30 books this year.
  4. Write at least one blog post per month.
  5. Go on a hike at least once every 2 months.
  6. Finish James’s baby photo book and keep relatively up-to-date with his current one.

Yay for goals!