Clean Pumpkin Fig Bars

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Fall is my favorite time of the year! The mountains of Kentucky are visually stunning this time of year! The brilliant colors of the leaves are gorgeous! While puttering around the house and making plans for fall break this weekend my thoughts turned to the joys of holiday baking. I wanted to create a new fall dessert…I wanted to create a new clean pumpkin treat that was more than a pumpkin treat. I wanted to create a delicous clean treat! While scouring the pantry for ingredients I stumbled upon inspiration. I love when that happens! The unthinkable ingredient just kind of jumps out at you and your original plan takes a total 360! That’s when inspiration truly takes over and an inspired recipe begins to unfold and come together!

With that being said, I am super excited to share with you my latest recipe for clean fig pumpkin bars. If you like fig cookies and pumpkin pie…I am confident you will enjoy my fig pumpkin bars! Are you ready? Let’s get started!

Crust Ingredients:

2 cups of Old Fashioned Oats
1/2 cup of dates
1/2 cup figs
2 tbs. coconut oil
1/2 cup pecans or walnuts
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1 tbs. honey
1/4 cup water

Pumpkin Pie Filling Ingredients:

15 oz. canned pure organic pumpkin or puree (I like pure)
2 fresh eggs
3/4 cup unsweetened almond milk
1 tbs. honey

2 tbs. coconut oil or you may substitute with unsalted butter
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. pumpkin spice
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg
small pinch of salt

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Ovens will vary, but my best bars worked at 350. Combine the dry ingredients for the crust one at a time and add to either a food processor or a ninja. I used my ninja and it worked out great. Once you’ve added the ingredients you will need to pulse slowly until the mixture is chopped well. Add water and honey a little at a time until the crust comes together. You will know your crust is ready to press in the pan when it forms a ball and stays together. Spray a 8 X 8 glass pan with cooking spray and press crust mixture evenly into the pan and set aside.

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For the filling you will need to whisk the eggs in a large bowl, add the pumpkin and mix thoroughly. Add softened oil, or butter to the mixture. Add wet ingredients one at a time mixing with each additional ingredient. Add dry ingredients and mix well. Whisk until the filling is fluffy.

Pumpkin fig bars II

Pour pie filling over the crust and smooth out. Tap gently on the counter top to remove any air bubbles and then bake in the preheated oven for an hour. Check your pumpkin bars for doneness by inserting a toothpick. When the toothpick comes out clean your pumpkin bars are ready. You can add a sprinkle of chopped nuts for a little extra crunch. Allow them to cool completely before cutting. I like to allow mine to cool for about thirty minutes on a wire rack and then place in the refrigerator for an additional thirty minutes before cutting. Once the bars are cooled you are ready to enjoy!

Pumpkin fig bars III                                       Pumpkin fig VI

The bars will keep refrigerated for up to two weeks, but trust me they won’t stay around that long! I hope you and your family enjoy my spin on a tradition pumpkin pie for a sweet and clean holiday treat or any day treat!

Pumpkin fig bars V

Feel free to leave feedback. I love to hear from my readers. I would like to hear how you enjoyed this sweet treat. Did you try it with a whipped topping, for an afternoon treat with coffee or for your fall festivities? From the mountains of Kentucky…happy fall y’all!

Each bar is approximately; 75 calories, with 6 g fat and 2g saturated fat, 17 carbs, 24mg cholesterol, 3g protein, and 4g dietary fiber and 46 mg sodium.

Canning Tomato Juice the Easy Way!

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It’s hard to believe that fall is upon us! While walking Freckles this morning I noticed the colors of the leaves. The subtle changes that are already taking place are beautiful, which make me anxious for all of the fall festivities, foods, colors, fashion and every part of fall except knowing that winter follows these wonderful months. Dreading the snow and ice of winter is a natural part of living in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains…but I can honestly say, there’s no place like home and I can’t imagine living anywhere but the mountains of Kentucky.

With the happy thoughts of fall also came a bit of sadness. As we walked past our garden a mix of emotions consumed me. We’ve been very blessed with a bounty of delicious vegetables this year. But, seeing the final tomatoes of the season struggling to cling to the dying vines, the bean vines turning yellow and the corn stalks anxiously awaiting becoming decorative fodder shocks…a bit of sadness consumed me and filled my heart. I knew that I would miss visiting our garden and picking vegetables each evening. I would even miss hoeing the rows of ripe delicious vegetables, all the hours of hard work…but then thinking about the abundance of canned food our garden has provided somehow made the upcoming days of winter a little less undesirable. Suddenly, I had an overwhelming urge to cook a bit stock pot of homemade vegetable soup!

With the last days of summer approaching also comes the time to can tomato juice. My family loves tomato juice in homemade vegetable soup, chili, macaroni and tomato juice and sometimes just as a wonderful and tasty juice to drink. Anyway homemade tomato juice is incorporated…it’s delicious and always makes the dish a bit tastier!

When I first began canning for myself and my family. I was eager to incorporate skills I learned as a child growing up in a farming community and also experiment and create strategies of my own to discover my own style. I was eager to make it mine, to know it and to own it! Over the years I have learned many new tricks, strategies, and ideas that have made canning much more pleasurable and shortcuts that also helps canning fit into my busy schedule. As a college professor, writer, wife, mother and grandmother my schedule can fill up very quickly, as I’m sure yours does as well. I also wanted to find methods to can healthier food to accommodate my style of clean eating. I’m anxious to share my quick and easy method of canning delicious time-tested tomato juice with you so that you can also preserve your own delicious jars of tomato juice for you and your family.

Ingredients:

Fresh tomatoes (I typically process 3-5 gallons of tomatoes at a time, but you may process as few or as many as you have)
Table salt
Lemon juice

Tools:

Quart jars with rings and lids
Water canner
Large fine mesh wire strainer or sieve 
Ninja, blender or food processor (I prefer using a ninja but either will work)
Large stock pot
Wooden spoon
Funnel

Process:

Wash and sterilize jars, rings and flats. Add a tablespoon of lemon juice and one-quarter teaspoon of salt in each quart jar and set aside. Wash tomatoes, cut the core and any bruised or bad spot out of the tomatoes. There’s no need to peel the tomatoes. Cut tomatoes into quarters and place in the ninja or blender. Using the ninja I pulse several times and then process the tomatoes for a couple of minutes, usually only two minutes or so, just until they become a thick tomato puree. Pour the puree into the large stockpot. Once all of the tomatoes have been processed through the ninja and poured into the stockpot turn the burner on and slowly bring to a boil. Once the tomato puree is boiling begin stirring and allow tomatoes to boil five minutes stirring constantly. After five minutes turn the burner off and remove tomatoes from heat.

Place the funnel in the mouth of the quart jar. Holding the strainer or sieve over the funnel begin adding the tomato puree into the strainer. You may use a ladle to add the tomatoes to the strainer. Using the wooden spoon press all of the tomato mixture through the strainer and through the funnel filling the jar with beautiful tomato juice. Once the jar is full with at least a half-inch head space remaining wipe the rim of the jar and place the sterilized flat and ring on the jar. You can then clean your strainer out. You will notice that there’s not much left in the strainer, but you will find seeds and a little tomato peel remaining. The great news is there are little to no seeds in your juice! Yay!

Continue filling the jars by pressing the tomatoes through the strainer and into the jars. Once you’ve filled the jars (usually a 3-5 gallon bucket of tomatoes makes at least 7 quart jars of juice) place jars in the canner with water covering the jars by at least an inch. Slowly bring water to a boil. Once the water begins to boil process the jars of juice for twenty minutes. After twenty minutes turn the stove off and allow the water to settle and slightly cool. Carefully remove jars from the canner and place on a towel or cooling rack. You should hear that wonderful popping sound that we all enjoy hearing so much! The jars should begin to seal right away. Once they’ve sealed and cooled you are ready to add the dates on the lids with a permanent marker and add the beautiful jars of red deliciousness to your pantry shelves!

I have learned that canning a few jars of juice at a time prevents me from getting burn out and becoming overly exhausted with making tomato juice. I have also found that I still gain as many jars of juice over a period of weeks or possibly two months as I do when I have tried to juice bushels of tomatoes at one time. I like juicing in increments as I can involve my grandchildren and allow them to learn the process of canning and gaining a cultural experience and learn a tradition that many have already forgotten. I love passing down cultural experiences from generation to generation.

I hope that you enjoy my method of canning tomato juice as much we do and find as much pleasure in the dishes that you create with this tasty deliciousness. Be sure to check out Canning Green Beans the Time-Tested Way for another time-tested method of preserving your beautiful bountiful vegetables. If you’ve enjoyed my recipes or articles, please feel free to leave a comment. I truly enjoy hearing from my readers. Also, thank you for your continued support. For now, blessings from the mountains of Kentucky!

 

How to Dehydrate Summer Squash & Zucchini

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I love quiet mornings in the Appalachian Mountains. With the house filled with the aroma of brewed coffee and the roosters crowing their good morning wake up call I am filled with enjoyment, peace and the security of home. I’ve always believed in that all too familiar cliche…”there’s no place like home”…even when home is buzzing with activity. Activity is actually an understatement. It’s been a very hectic week around our home. My kitchen is still buzzing with action as we plan, prepare and fill our pantry and freezer with healthy garden food for the upcoming winter months. 

As our garden flourishes our table continues to be filled with family, memories, conversation and wonderful healthy dishes. We’re also still enjoying the process of canning, dehydrating and freezing for upcoming winter months. It’s a comforting feeling and a feeling of accomplishment to know that our family will be enjoying green beans, okra, corn, apples and many more delicious homegrown treats from our garden including summer squash and zucchini. Yes, those big bountiful plants are still producing an impressive amount of deliciousness daily! We have been blessed with enough of both vegetables to enjoy daily and to also preserve for our family, our families family, our church family and our neighbors! God has truly blessed our garden with a bountiful harvest this year!

squash

In my last blog post I shared twelve ideas of how to enjoy all those summer squash and zucchini that you’ve grown. I hope you  stepped outside of the traditional banana bread and baked as well as enjoyed the tropical pomegranate bread made with summer squash! I’ll be honest…we’ve enjoyed a couple more loaves since I posted the recipe. It has quickly become a new family favorite. When you bake don’t forget to vacuum seal a few extra slices for that warm winter evening snack, or anytime snack! If you’ve not checked out this delicious recipe…don’t hesitate…check it out! What are you waiting for? You’ll love it! Tropical Squash & Pomegranate Bread/Muffins For your convenience, just simply click on the link above and introduce your family to my families new favorite!

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With the freezers beginning to fill up and the canning shelves being carefully lined with a multitude of goodies, I decided it was time to crank up the dehydrator and begin filling up a couple of gallon jars that house dehydrated squash and zucchini each year. Year after year I am amazed how quickly a gallon of each delicious dried veggie accumulates! Dehydrating is a simple process that is also an easy an effective way of preserving almost any kind of fruit or vegetable. For squash and zucchini the process is easy. Simply follow the directions below and then enjoy your favorite summer vegetables year round.

Process:

Wash and dry squash and zucchini
Slice in desired thickness and shapes (I prefer thin sliced) with the peel
Long spiral noodles are great as well
Line dehydrator trays
Set temperature to 135 for 13 & 1/2 hours
Dehydrators will vary, but this works best for me
Check vegetables for crispness.
Stop the process when vegetables become crispy.
Place slices in an airtight jar (glass works best)

dehydrated zucchini

These wonderful slices of goodness can be enjoyed in a variety of ways. Put a few in a bowl or zip lock baggie and season them with your favorite seasonings and eat them as a snack. They make great veggie chips! I enjoy putting the crispy slices in soups, omelets, casseroles and many other dishes. When the crispy slices are added to dishes they will rehydrate from the moisture of the other ingredients in your dishes. For example, in soups the broth will rehydrate the veggies and bring them back to plump deliciousness. Either way…crispy or rehydrated you can’t go wrong with dehydrated vegetables. The shelf life is great as long as the container is airtight, they don’t take much shelf space, are very versatile, they’re healthy and they taste great!

I hope you and your family enjoy yet another method of preserving, enjoying, and serving all of those wonderful summer squash and zucchini. As always, it’s a pleasure to hear from each of you. Feel free to share your comments, ideas, recipes and your thoughts on my posts. Don’t forget to clik follow to be notified of new posts in the future. Also, check out and enjoy my recipe of the week Tropical Squash & Pomegranate Bread/Muffins I’m sure your family will enjoy it as much as mine. As always, God bless from the mountains of Kentucky.

http://www.ahealthiermesimpleandclean.com Copyright 2017

 

 

Tropical Squash & Pomegranate Bread/Muffins

It’s that time of year again! What time? The time to figure out what to do with the bountiful harvest of summer squash and zucchini that consumes our garden, refrigerator, counter space and even the dining room table. Even though our family enjoys both squash and zucchini…the multitude and rate at which it grows during the month of July can be a bit overwhelming, especially if you don’t know what to do with these tasty and healthy veggies. God has truly blessed our garden abundantly this year. I’m excited today to share some creative ideas of how we are preparing both squash and zucchini for our summer meals as well as filling our freezer and pantry for the winter months ahead. So grab a cup of coffee and delve into day one of our journey of preparing and processing summer squash and zucchini.

So what did we do with our bountiful harvest of zucchini and squash? We prepared them and also processed them into the following;

1. zucchini & pomegranate bread/muffins (today’s recipe)
2. tropical squash bread/muffins
3. dehydrated zucchini and squash slices
4. dehydrated zucchini noodles
6. zucchini chips
7. zucchini & squash vegetarian lasagna
8. canned pineapple zucchini
9. zucchini and squash stir fries
10. pickled squash and zucchini
11. parmesan zucchini boats
12. zucchini & squash omelets

What better way to kick off this series of blogs than with bread recipes! I love the smell of fresh-baked breads in the winter and just as much in summer months. Actually, I like the smell of fresh-baked breads any time of the year. But, there’s nothing quite as aromatic and satisfying as tropical squash bread baking. Yes, that’s right, squash bread. I have and enjoyed a variety of zucchini breads over the years but had never attempted squash bread until last week. As I worked around my kitchen with the abundance of both squash and zucchini that we had picked my mind raced with what to do with all of those beautiful yellow squash. With the dehydrator full of both zucchini and squash slices awaiting their fate of being vacuumed sealed for later rehydration. I began planning a new zucchini bread recipe…so why not try baking bread with squash. I am so happy that I followed through with this idea. Both breads were amazing! I hope you and your family enjoy them as much as my family does.

Squash Pomegranate Bread Ingredients

3 cups of self-rising flour (can be substituted with whole wheat or coconut flour)
1 pinch of salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon (I prefer fresh grated cinnamon)
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon of organic flax chia seed combination (optional)

1/2 cup organic dark brown sugar
1/2 cup fresh raw honey
1/2 cup semi-drained unsweetened crushed pineapple (fresh is best)
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
1 medium yellow crooked neck squash (about a cup and a half grated)
1/2 cup of dried pomegranates (can substitute with dried cranberries)
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce or apple butter ( I prefer using my homemade apple butter as it adds an additional layer to the flavor)
3 fresh eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 over-ripe organic banana
1/2 cup chopped organic pecans

Mix dry ingredients well and set aside. Mix remaining wet ingredients and add to the dry ingredients. Mash the banana and add to the mixture. Rough chop the pecans and add to the mixture. Don’t over mix. Wash, dry and grate one medium-sized crooked neck squash into the mixture. There’s no need to peel the squash as the peel adds wonderful flavor, color, and fiber to the bread. Don’t worry about the seeds as they will bake away as well. I use a simple hand grater to grate the squash. Once the squash has been grated give the mixture one last stir.

Pre-heat oven to 350 and spray a loaf pan or you may spray a muffin tin and bake as muffins instead. Once the oven is preheated pour the mix into the loaf pan or muffin tin and bake on the bottom rack of the oven for thirty minutes. Check the bread at the thirty minute mark for doneness with a toothpick. Ovens will vary therefore check every five minutes until baked. I like my bread to have a bit of a crispy edge and moist inside…so, usually fourty minutes and my bread is done! Don’t over bake the bread. You’ll know when your bread is done by the edges, when the toothpick comes out clean, and it springs back to touch.

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Before you know it your kitchen will be filled with the aroma of tropical bread baking! This is a sweet delicious treat that is great served as a breakfast treat with a cold glass of milk, a hot cup of coffee or served as a dessert! Honestly, it tastes great anytime of the day or night. It’s tropical flavor dances on your tongue warm or cold.

Tip of the Day:

Once your bread has cooled  you can freeze individual vacuum sealed slices to ensure that you have a slice of this tasty bread anytime. I have vacuum sealed pumpkin roll, zucchini bread and now tropical squash bread. When you are ready to indulge in this sweet treat simply remove from the freezer and either allow it to thaw or defrost for a couple of seconds in the microwave. The bread is amazingly still moist and just as flavorful!

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Pictured above are loaves of tropical squash bread and chocolate zucchini bread. I can’t wait to share the chocolate zucchini bread in upcoming days! I hope your family enjoys this delicious bread as much as mine! Please feel free to leave comments. To find out more creative and useful ways to preserve and bake both squash and zucchini click the follow button on my blog! From my kitchen to yours…Blessings from the mountains of Kentucky!

squash bread II

squash bread

 

 

 

Canning Spicy Kosher Dill Pickles

It’s been a little while since I last posted. But, I have to admit…life has been a bit crazy for this farm girl/college professor/author. Between teaching two fully loaded classes this summer, which I loved, promoting book sales, and I’ll let you in a little secret…I’ve been working hard on two more books. I’m hoping to have one of the books ready for editing by fall and the other complete by winter. I’ll keep you posted as both books progress!

However, the summer has consisted of more than just being connected to my laptop with students and writing. June was planting time for the Bowling’s. We finally have everything in the ground and have begun to reap the wonderful rewards of hours and hours of planting, weeding, hoeing, and nurturing. The cucumbers, zucchini and squash are growing faster than we can keep them picked. Needless to say…we’ve thoroughly enjoyed zucchini and squash sautéed, baked, zucchini noodles and also made into delicious breads. By the way, I’ll be sharing a new zucchini bread recipe very soon!

I can’t believe we’re already harvesting from our garden! We just canned our first dozen spicy kosher dill pickles this week. For years we worked to perfect our kosher dill pickle recipe. We’ve developed our pickle recipe over a few years by adding, taking away and adjusting the seasoning. After several attempts, we finally perfected the recipe a couple of summers ago. I’m anxious to share our delicious pickle recipe with you so you can enjoy these quick and easy spicy kosher pickles with your family.

Canning pickles requires a little prep work and a few ingredients.

Ingredients:
30-35 cucumbers of choice (I like the pickling cucumbers best)
3 cups of water
3 cups of white distilled vinegar
1 tablespoon of whole black pepper corns
1 tablespoon of red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon of coriander seeds
1 teaspoon of white sugar
at least 12 sprigs of fresh dill
1 tablespoon of dried dill
1 tablespoon of mustard seed
1/4 cup of kosher salt
one cup of fresh garlic cloves (whole)
Pickle crisp (optional)

Process:
Wash cucumbers (set aside)
Wash and sterilize a dozen jars, rings, and flats (even if they are new)
Slice cucumbers into quarters and pack carefully into jars (pack jars tight)
Add a sprig of fresh dill to each jar
Add one whole crushed clove of garlic to each jar (can be processed whole garlic, but fresh is better)

Combine the following ingredients in a large cooker:
3 cups of water
1 tablespoon black pepper corns
1 tablespoon dried dill
1 teaspoon white sugar
1 tablespoon mustard seed
1 tablespoon of red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon of coriander seeds
1/4 cup of kosher salt
bring to a rolling boil and add 3 cups of white distilled vinegar and turn heat off.

Pour or dip mixture into jars over the sliced cucumbers and I like to add 1/4 teaspoon of pickle crisp to each jar for an added crispness to the pickles. Be sure to leave head space for the processing of the pickles, wipe the rim of the jars, add the flat and ring. Seal the jar but don’t tighten extremely tight. Place the jars in the canner, cover with water at least an inch above the jars and put the lid on. I like to use a stove top canner. I’m a creature of habit and have always canned with a boiling water bath. I’ve found it to be successful. So, I find no reason to mess with success. Set temperature to medium high so the jars don’t heat up too fast. Bring the water to a rolling boil.

Once the water begins to boil set your timer for fifteen minutes. After fifteen minutes turn the stove off and allow jars to sit for five minutes. Carefully remove the jars from the water with jar lifters (which are the handiest inexpensive tool you’ll ever invest in) carefully place the jars on a towel to protect the surface beneath them. Don’t allow the jars to touch. Soon you’ll hear the POP that I never grow tired of hearing. That sound means the pickles are sealing! They should all seal within the hour. Once the jars and lids are cool to the touch write the date on the lid with permanent marker. Allow jars to cool completely before storing away in the pantry.

kosher pickles

I hope you and your family enjoy our spicy kosher pickles as much as my family, friends neighbors do. We’ve found them to be a tasty addition to burgers, hotdogs, soup beans, and actually as a side to most of our meals. Please feel free to leave feedback. I always look forward to reading your comments. Feel free to check back for upcoming summer canning ideas and more about my new books, life as a college professor, and more of my adventures of living in the Appalachian Mountains. If you notice there’s a jar of squash that’s visible in the picture above. I’ll be sharing this recipe with you soon. Wishing you and your family the best from the mountains of Kentucky!

 

 

Living in the Appalachian Mountains

Courtesy of Jonathan Bowling

Elk captured on our son, Jonathan Bowling’s, trail camera behind our house. @copyright Healthier Me Simple and Clean.

Many people believe that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I have been overheard many times making this statement when referring to the beauty of the Appalachian Mountains. I am also a believer that not only is beauty found within the eye of the beholder, but also that success lies within the desire of the believer.

Recently I read an article about life in the Appalachian Mountains that lingered in my thoughts, with a mix of emotions hovering over and within me. Life in Appalachia was portrayed with gloom and despair, thus leaving the reader with a feeling of hopelessness. The article implied that people who were born into poverty didn’t have a choice to live otherwise. The picture that was painted was a stereotypical view of Appalachia that many have and continue to exploit to gain popularity whether it be an audience for their blog, for social media publicity, money, or their name in lights. What the author of this very derogatory article neglected to divulge were the joys of growing up in the Appalachian Mountains.

Over the years authors, filmmakers, and actors in Hollywood have profited through exploitation of Appalachia choosing to focus on what small towns “don’t” have. Films have been made with careful selection of the poorest part of towns carefully and intentionally divulging only dilapidated buildings, rather than new structures, or renovated buildings that houses independent thriving businesses. Many times the focus is often on poor housing in small towns rather than homes that proudly stand boasting beautiful manicured lawns, hardy vegetable gardens, luscious rolling green mountains, blooming flowers, and carefully trimmed hedges and trees. When the media chooses to focus on the negative aspects, or poverty, which by the way exists in all towns whether they’re large or small…the reader is left with a gloomy feeling of sorrow, despair and almost a feeling of doom.

Appalachian people are often-times portrayed as being illiterate, undereducated, and ignorant people who are less fortunate than those living elsewhere. Manchester, located in Clay County, is a small town in Appalachia where I grew up, raised my family, and still reside today has been recently been accused of being one of the hardest places to grow up in the United States, as well as being a community where citizens are expected to have a shorter lifespan than those living elsewhere. I find both of these statements to be misleading, offensive, and also stereotypical. I find myself smiling when I reflect on my childhood. I don’t recall life being a hardship, doom, gloomy, unhappy time in my life. Today, I enjoy sharing my memories of growing up in Kentucky through stories, both oral and written.

My memories are filled with fun escapades of playing outside, working in the garden, helping can fruits and vegetables, listening to countless stories told to me by my grandparents, afternoons sitting in the shade with family just enjoying the serenity of the mountains, playing with cousins, enjoying wonderful cooked meals from the vegetables that we raised, and learning wonderful skills from my mother and grandmother. We didn’t live within city limits, and still do not. We were raised in a rural community that enjoyed farming. My grandparents had a small store that was often referred to as the heart of our little community. Many of my family members still reside in this same neighborhood. I was raised to know that I had choices, and also to believe that I could be anything that I wanted to be. I was encouraged to always try to better myself by reading, learning, working hard, and also by believing in myself.

I was raised in one of the poorest parts of the state of Kentucky. What? We grew up poor! No one told me that! I wasn’t aware that we grew up in a poverty-stricken area. No, again, I was raised to dream and dream big! I could be anything that I wanted to be. I could be a mother, I could be a Christian, I could be a teacher, I could be an author, I could be whatever I chose to be! I was taught good moral values, about Jesus, how to work the land to feed my family, how to always believe in myself, to be proud of my heritage, to have a plan for my future, and if I got knocked down…get back up!  Instead of profiting from negative doom, gloom, and despair…I prefer to divulge the wonders of the Appalachian Mountains, the joys, the beauty, the opportunities, growth, success, and the wonderful mountains that I am proud to call home.

Again, I was never told that we were poor, or that we lived in an impoverished area, and never told that I couldn’t better myself. As a public school teacher, I always passed this same advice to my students. I always encouraged my students year after year that they could be anything that they wanted to be, to reach for the stars, to believe in themselves as I too believed in them. Today, as a college professor, I am still relaying that same positive message.

Many might say that small Appalachian towns have nothing to offer. I disagree. So, what does our small county of Clay have to offer? The beauty of the mountains, rich farm soil, beautiful pastures for livestock to graze, farm fresh eggs, distinguished schools, top-rated teachers, private Christian schools, a multitude of welcoming churches, book clubs, a well stocked public library, quilting clubs, pumpkin patches, ATV rides, elk hunts, successful local authors, artists, parks, employment at the federal prison, kayaking, fishing, local shopping, home cooked meals at locally owned restaurants, farmers’ markets, Main Street markets, grass-fed beef, fresh venison, beautiful walking trails, beautiful homes, friendly people, smiles, and a welcoming environment. One valuable opportunity that goes unmentioned in many articles about our small town of Manchester is the opportunity to complete a college degree at Eastern Kentucky University, which is located within city limits. These are only a few things that residents and visitors have to enjoy. Again, beauty lies within the eye of the beholder, happiness with the heart of the dreamer, and success within the heart and desire of the believer.

I have been asked many times over the years why I haven’t moved…but my answer is and will always remain the same…”I can’t imagine growing up or living anywhere else than in the beautiful Kentucky mountains. As the title of my first book states, Kentucky is…The Mountains I Call Home.”

book 1

Divine Appointments

With clouds hanging low in the sky this morning and the peaceful sounds of the dove cooing, and echoing over awakening mountains…I find myself in a melancholy kind of mood. I’m not sure, but I think several events that occurred in the past two weeks have helped me to arrive at this level of emotions this morning. Yes, it’s been an eventful couple of weeks. Not that it’s been a particularly sad, unhappy, or over zealous events, but nevertheless weeks of events that others might find to be insignificant or may not give any thought to all. I don’t know, maybe I think too deeply, or maybe I react differently than some. It wouldn’t be the first time that I’ve been accused of, “reading too much” into things. Maybe, it’s the poet within me that ignites my senses. Maybe…I am an over-thinker, maybe I over react, or maybe…I am becoming more receptive of what the Lord is trying to impress upon me or instill within me. Nevertheless, I think I’ll enjoy the mix of emotions that fill my cup this morning.

chickens

To say the last couple of weeks were busy is an understatement. My daily planner has been overflowing with appointments. Urgent appointments to work on taxes as the deadline swiftly approaches. Scheduled appointments with advisees worrying about their upcoming schedules and anticipated graduation dates, appointments with colleagues to discuss students, curriculum, and more, appointments with students who desire to enter the Education Program, and the most important appointments of all…the ultimate appointed daily time of prayer with our Lord, Jesus Christ. Over time, I have found that keeping this daily appointment helps make all of the other appointments more meaningful, purposeful, and cohesive. And then there’s those divine appointments that often seem to spring up from know where! Or do they? Was it a by chance meeting? Did I just happen to be in the right place at the right time? Was I supposed to be there? What do you think? Were those divine appointments predestined, or were they by chance?

Over the past few years I have come to believe and have arrived at the decision that time is precious. Time is one thing that we cannot get back. With time, there are no do-overs! Thus, we must make the most of every precious moment that we are blessed with. I have arrived at another conclusion through various moments and gentle reminders within my spirit that it’s not about me, or us. It’s about helping others, being a positive beacon in the dark times that others might be enduring, it’s about Him, and about living a happy and appreciative life so there are no regrets. This has led me to the belief that all meetings/appointments whether they are planned or unexpected, in a professional setting, or if it’s in the checkout line at the grocery store can be a positive experience, thus, divine appointments.

So, how do I define divine appointments? Divine appointments do not have a criteria per say. Divine appointments can be the student whom I speak with that is struggling to pass a very important test. A divine appointment can be a friend who needs to be encouraged. A divine appointment can be the lady behind you in the checkout lane who is struggling with finances, or the loss of a loved one. A divine appointment can be simply the stranger that you meet in the frozen food aisle who is in search of a friendly face or a smile. A divine appointment can be that someone you meet who is unsure of the world around them. A divine appointment can be an elderly parent who needs to be reassured that their life was purposeful and that they did a great job raising their children. A divine appointment can be a colleague who needs a simple pat on the back or a hug. A divine appointment can be the young lady who has checked out thousands of dollars of groceries to bitter impatient customers and would like to have a kind word. A divine appointment can even be the person who is trying to pull into traffic, but others have left unnoticed. Divine appointments have been defined with a variety of definitions by many people over the years. However, my definition of divine appointments is simply an opportune meeting with another, whether it is scheduled or by chance, that allows you spread cheer, love, joy, kindness, a positive attitude, while also showing the love of God.

As a professor, I am continually encouraging my students to reflect on their week. So, as I enjoy the taste of my favorite coffee this morning, the sounds of the mountains coming alive, the purposeful crowing of our roosters, the soft snoring of my canine friend, Freckles, who is napping by my feet, and a little “me” time…I find myself following my own advice by reflecting over the past two weeks, while also thinking about the divine appointments that I have had, and whispering a prayer for those whom I have had the pleasure of encountering through those divine appointments, and also counting my blessings. I find myself questioning my self as well. Have I truly enjoyed the time that I have been blessed with and what more can I do for others? With reflections of days gone by and visions of the days ahead of me…I feel excited, inspired, and look forward to the moments and days and opportunities that lay ahead of me, as well as the divine appointments that await me.

From the mountains of Kentucky…be blessed and enjoy the divine appointments that you encounter. Feel free to leave comments as I enjoy hearing from each of you.

Ooey, Gooey, Clean, Baked Apples

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Apples are a staple in my house! They’re  also one of my favorite healthy treats. I’ve loved them since I was a little girl. I remember sneaking apples from my papaw’s apple trees when I was growing up. We would rest in the shade of the trees and eat until our bellies were full! Papaw didn’t begrudge us food, never, he was had a very giving and loving heart! But, the apples on the trees were meant for canning apples, apple butter, and many other wonderful delicious treats that my mom and grandmother prepared. We, my sister, brother, and cousins could have all the apples that we wanted that had fallen to the ground, but were cautioned to not pick the apples from the trees. But, as we all know kids don’t always follow the rules. I was no exception. I loved the taste of apples then, and I still enjoy apples of all varieties.

I enjoy eating apples raw, cooked, as applesauce, apple butter, dried, in oatmeal, baked in breads, and in many more delicious healthy dishes. However, one of my all-time favorite dishes is definitely not a healthy dish! I confess…I love baked apples or apple dumplings. I love the richness, the sweet taste of brown sugar, and the deliciousness of the sweet apples.

Recently, for a week I found myself stopping and staring at the remains of a big bowl of apples. There were five apples left and they seemed to be crying out to me to be prepared in some type of rich, delicious, sweet dish. I considered baking apple bread, but that didn’t seem to be what my pallet was craving. I thought about fried apples with breakfast sweetened with honey and stevia. I even thought about breaking away from eating healthy and satisfying my craving and making apple dumplings. Then I thought about the consequences of the dough, the sugar, and all the butter that goes into traditional apple dumplings. The thoughts of feeling bloated and guilty caused me to refrain. Four years into a healthier lifestyle and the struggle is still real! So, I did what I love to do. I decided to create a delicious, clean, and healthy baked apple dish. With much thought, deliberation, a few errors, and a lot of love. I was able to create what truly satisfied my craving for a sweet, ooey, gooey baked apple dish that didn’t leave me feeling bloated and guilty. I am excited to share with you my Ooey, Gooey, Healthy, Clean Baked Apple dessert! I hope you enjoy it as much as my family has enjoyed it. Let’s get started!

Filling Ingredients:

Five to six organic apples
3 cups of ground Old fashioned oats (I use a coffee grinder to grind the oats)
1/2 cup of Fresh honey or organic honey (I prefer fresh)
1/2 cup of Pure organic maple syrup
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons stevia
2 teaspoons maple extract
1 tablespoon almond milk
1 teaspoon of organic coconut oil (this replaces the butter)
1/2 cup craisons

I like to use a small Pyrex glass baking dish for this recipe. Spray the dish with cooking spray. I prefer coconut oil. Wash the apples and dry them well. Core the center of the apples out. Set the cores and the meat of the apples to include in the crumble.

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For the filling of the apples you will need to grind the oats to a fine flour-like consistency. Mix the ground oats with the above dry ingredients well and begin incorporating the wet ingredients slowly and one at a time until the consistency is pasty. Spoon the mixture inside the apples. Pack the mixture well and allow it to flow over the top of the apples. Don’t worry if you have extra filling you can incorporate it into the crumble. Place the apples in the dish. Now you’re ready to move on to the crumble!

Crumble Ingredients:

3 cups of ground old-fashioned oats
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1 cup of craisons
1/2 cup of finely chopped almonds
2 tablespoons of stevia
1 teaspoon of maple extract
1/2 cup of fresh or organic honey
1/2 cup of organic maple syrup
bits and pieces of the reserved apple cores, minus the tough part of the core (this is optional)

1/2 cup of Organic brown sugar (I prefer the Simple Truth brand) do not add this to the crumble. (this is optional)

Again, mix the dry ingredients well with a fork. Add wet ingredients slowly one by one until the mixture is crumbly, but mixed well. Spoon the mixture around the pan of apples. Once you’ve added the crumble mixture sprinkle the brown sugar over the apples and crumble and drizzle either honey or maple syrup over the sugar. Cover the dish with non-stick foil, or spray the foil before covering. Bake at 355 degree for an hour. Ovens will vary. You will know if your apples are done when a skewer or knife inserts easily.

While your apples are baking make the drizzle! Yes, there’s more ooey gooey goodness!

Drizzle Ingredients:

1 cup of plain non-fat Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon of stevia
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1 teaspoon of maple extract

Mix ingredients well and chill. Once the apples have baked allow them to cool a little before drizzling the glaze over the apples. I prefer to drizzle each individual apple as I eat them. Either way it is delicious!

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This dish will definitely become a holiday favorite for my household! Actually, I think this dish will be an anytime favorite. The total prep and cooking time was an 90 minutes. But, as we all know…any good dish is worth the work and the wait. I hope you enjoy my Ooey, Gooey, Sweet Clean, Baked Apple dish as much as my family has. I would love to hear from you. Feel free to leave your feedback. Until the next time…from the mountains of Kentucky…be blessed and be healthy!

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Clean Apple Cranberry Muffins

With a hint of snow in the air a desire to cook and create delicious meals was stirring within me. A craving for something sweet and healthy consumed my thoughts. I also knew if I did not give in to the urge and begin mixing ingredients that I would reach for something that I shouldn’t to satisfy my desires. Even though I am a clean eating activist the pantry always holds a sweet treat for one or more of our five grandchildren, and my husband who loves to indulge occasionally in a sweet dessert. I admit just knowing the sweet treats are in the pantry sometimes stirs a craving.

Yes, the battle with sweets is real, even after all these years. I have learned to fight fire with fire. When the cravings begin to lurk in the crevices of my mind I counter attack them with one of the many healthy sweet treats that do not leave me with an overwhelming sense of guilt, bloating, and discouragement. Instead, after indulging in a healthy treat I feel satisfied, full, and sense of pride feels my being for winning the small battle with sweet treats. Yes! I defeated and quieted the voices that call out…feed me, feed me! Again, the battle between myself and indulging in sweet treats is real!

Quickly I scoured the pantry for ingredients. I discovered that I had week old apples that I could use, or otherwise they would be prepared in protein waffles or a smoothie. I had organic reduced sugar dried cranberries hmm…yes, I had the fruit and the makings for a sweet baked treat. Now I needed to create this unknown sweet dish! The decision was made. I would have some delicious clean fruit muffins to enjoy with a midday cup of coffee.

Ingredients:

2 cups of whole wheat plain flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons stevia
1/2 cup finely chopped almonds
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
1/2 cup peeled and diced apples (any variety)
1/2 cup of reduced sugar organic dried cranberries
1 large egg white
1/4 a cup of all natural stevia sweetened organic syrup (can substitute with honey)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon juice (fresh is better)
1/2 cup apple butter (I prefer homemade sweetened with stevia)
1 tablespoon raw honey
1/2 tablespoon of coconut oil

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Mix dry ingredients and then add wet ingredients one at a time.

 

 

Mix dry ingredients incorporating one ingredient at a time. Begin adding wet ingredients one at a time. Do not over mix as this will take away from the texture of the muffins. Fold in fruit as the last ingredients. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees and spray a muffin tin with cooking spray. I prefer olive oil spray. Scoop mixture with an ice cream scoop into the tin and drizzle lightly with honey. Bake until a wooden toothpick comes out clean. Baking time will vary with different ovens. I bake in a convection oven and my muffins were ready to remove in fifteen minutes.

I was excited as the aroma of the muffins filled the house. I quickly brewed a pot of coffee to enjoy with a muffin, or two. Delicious is an understatement! These muffins rocked! They were not too sweet, but delicious, moist, and very satisfying. I decided to put them to the test and allow our daughter and son in-law to be the critics. Both of them gave them a thumbs up and a rating of ten out of ten! They were a hit with everyone.

I hope you and your family enjoy my clean apple cranberry muffins as muffins as much me and my family did. Feel free to leave comments or feed back as it is always welcomed. If you enjoyed this recipe I can’t wait for you try out my new clean luscious brownie recipe or my clean sweet potato casserole that I will be posting soon. So for now wishing you and your family a blessed week from the mountains of Kentucky!

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A delicious sweet treat that tastes great any time of the day!

 

 

 

 

Ten Achievable Goals that helped Improve My Year and My Life!

Do you find yourself making New Year’s resolutions year after year that you simply do not keep? If so, don’t feel bad, because you are not alone. Making and breaking resolutions is a common practice among a large majority of people whom I surveyed. Many of the people I surveyed had similar responses when asked about the resolutions or goals they had previously made and also previously neglected. Some of the neglected goals included; lose twenty or more pounds, exercise more, read twenty or more books per year, organize my entire house, save more money, shop less, spend less time on my phone, watch less television, pray more, go to church every Sunday, eat healthier, floss my teeth everyday, and the list goes on and on. I must admit, I too, have made and neglected several of the above resolutions in the past. It’s hard to believe that it’s already the time of year to set new goals. But first, before setting new goals, we must reflect on previous goals.

As the year comes to a close I find myself browsing my memories of the year 2016. I also find myself reviewing my goals that I wrote down in December of 2015. Had I achieved them? Had I tried to achieve them? Did I veer off the path? As I reviewed each goal that I had carefully chosen and written down I felt a sense of satisfaction. I had worked hard to attain my goals. Did I ever fall, or fail? Yes, I had worked hard, and yes, I had veered off the path several times. However, I had gotten back up, and dusted myself off and resumed the path that I had mapped out for myself. Had I achieved all of my goals? I achieved some of them, but made progress with all of them. Some of my goals are still a work in progress, but nevertheless I am progressing. What were my goals? How did I and how do I maintain my desire to achieve them? What was my plan? I am anxious to share my ideas with you so that you too can set realistic and achievable goals to help improve your year and your life.

Nearly six years ago while trying to decide what goals to set for myself I realized that the goals that I had previously set, and previously neglected, we’re not realistic goals. My goals were too large! I should have set more manageable goals. Was this possible? My mind immediately rewound and replayed my voice. I could hear myself encouraging my first grade students. I could visualize myself explaining to six-year olds how to set realistic goals. For example, I had students whose goal was to read “big chapter” books. I encouraged them to set mini-goals to read small books first. When they achieved this goal, set another goal to read lengthier books, then advance to small chapter books, and finally begin reading their desired “big chapter” books. So, the decision was made. I would try to follow my own advice that I gave my first, fifth, and sixth grade students when setting their goals. I would begin by setting smaller more achievable goals.

It worked! I had made it through an entire year and had made progress with each goal that I had set. I felt really good about myself and was more encouraged, positive, and better able to deal with stress on those days when I felt the urge to cheat on my diet, spend a little extra on myself, etc. I was also able to resume my plan and move forward on the path that would lead to achievement. The goals that I set actually helped change my year, and have improved my life every year thereafter. I now find myself repeating this story to many of the students that I advise each semester in an effort to encourage them and to also help them learn to set realistic and achievable goals that are meaningful and will change their life as well. What are these goals? I’m excited to share them with you so that you too can make positive changes in your life.

  1. First and foremost, start the day with prayer and meditation as well as a little “me” time. I enjoy walking my dog early in the mornings. This gives me the opportunity to gain exercise, pray, meditate, plan, reflect, visualize, dream, and also appreciate nature, while allowing my canine friend to gain her exercise. Me time can be walking on the treadmill, enjoying a quiet cup of coffee, yoga, a long hot bath, or relaxing on the porch. Wherever your happy place may be…take the time to pamper yourself and focus on you every day, even if it’s just fifteen minutes. I have found that me time promotes peace, tranquility, and a positive attitude, all of which will help you reach your desired goals.
  2. Stop dieting! What? That’s right, stop dieting! Simply make better food choices. I achieved this goal by eating less processed foods, less restaurant food, meal prepping, and also planning my meals. Drink less soda and more water. Replace at least one unhealthy item with a healthy item. For example, replace white sugar with stevia or honey. Bake foods instead of frying them. Replace white bread with whole grain bread. Decrease salt and increase black pepper. Replace cream based dressings with oil based dressings. Eat Greek yogurt instead of regular yogurt. Eat crunchy veggies and fruit instead of chips. This list could go on for pages. Do you have to make all of the above changes? The answer is no. Simply, select one or a couple that you feel would make your diet more healthy. Once you’ve become accustomed to this change you might find that you will have a greater desire to replace more unhealthy foods with healthy ones. Take the step to reducing your intake of unhealthy foods. Remember, your journey begins with a single step and a single choice.
  3. Random acts of kindness are a wonderful way to promote happiness and encouragement while also helping to promote unity of mankind. Have you ever been in the checkout line with two items and find yourself behind someone with a full cart of items. Did you feel the dread of standing in line while the person in front of you prepared to checkout the large number of items and use the hand full of coupons they were clutching? I’ve been there too. Have you been on the receiving end when that person with the loaded cart offered to allow you to check out your two items ahead of her? I have been there as well. Do you remember that wonderful feeling that you felt as you quickly checked out and made your way to the exit? It was a warm and nice feeling. It served to remind you that there are still nice people in the world. How about the feeling that you felt when your waiter explained that your meal has already been paid for? Whether it’s a smile, kind word, encouraging word, paid meal, advancement in a long line, or tiny token of thoughtfulness…each are random acts of kindness that we all enjoy, and that often come when we need them the most. It’s an even greater feeling to be on the giving side of the random act of kindness. I challenge you to shake that veteran’s hand and thank him/her for their service. I challenge you to allow the person with fewer items than you to check out before you. I challenge you to smile or tell the cashier who doesn’t seem to be very talkative to have a blessed or wonderful day. Buy the person behind you lunch, or a cup of coffee. Leave a kind note in a colleagues mailbox or on their door. This list could go on and on. The possibilities are limitless. Above all, be an encourager not a “discourager.”

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    A gift I received as a result of a random act of kindness. I’ll treasure it always.

  4. Read every day, but don’t focus on reading a large number of books in a year. Simply set a goal to read at least twenty minutes per day. This will keep your mind fresh, be a healthy change from television or your electronic device(s), while also helping you to learn something new everyday. Remember, we’re never too old to learn. Reading improves the memory, thought process, and also is a wonderful form of entertainment. In today’s technological society reading is more convenient than ever before which limits your excuses to not read. You can achieve your desired reading goal by reading on your smart phone, tablet, kindle, in a magazine, newspaper, blog post, or my favorite…a good old-fashioned book! Reading for twenty minutes each day will also help you spend that quality time with  yourself that we all need and deserve.
  5. Make time for family and friends. I have come to realize that time does not slow down, for anyone or anything. It truly feels that time is passing more swiftly than ever before. Do you ever think about how eager you were to grow up when you were a child? I’ve thought about this often over the years and have advised my young students as well as my children and grandchildren to slow down and enjoy being a child. We are a child for a short time and an adult the remainder of our lives. Time is something that we cannot get back once it is gone. Make the most of it and enjoy time with family and friends. Plan to have dinner together, road trips, family night, visit each other, go out to lunch, have coffee together, go shopping, or simply sit on the front porch (without our smart phones) and enjoy conversation with them. This can include your immediate family, extended family, and or friends. Don’t take time for granted…make time for family and friends.
  6. So, you want to save a little money? We’ve all made this resolution or set this goal, and all of us have also ended up breaking this resolution or not meeting our goal. I decided several years ago to cut corners on unnecessary spending by watching for bargains, clipping coupons, and also use digital coupons. I also decided to take my lunch to work to avoid buying lunch or spending money in the cafeteria for food that ended up being tossing in the garbage, or consume unhealthy food that I did not need. The result was a smaller grocery bill each week, a few more dollars in my purse at the end of the week, and feeling of satisfaction. Whether it was one dollar or ten dollars each week the savings were added to my makeshift bank, which started as a simple zip-lock bag, and quickly grew to a small storage container. This year my savings were used for various things. I used part of it to help with our remodeling project, to pay my granddaughter who likes to earn a little extra money by dusting, walking my dog, or vacuuming the inside of my jeep. I had a nice little Christmas savings as well. Did I veer off of the path, did I stumble, lose sight of my goal, or go on a spending spree? Well, I didn’t go on random spending sprees, but I did enjoy a few shopping trips…but I am always on the lookout for bargains. Did I eat out for lunch? Of course I did occasionally as it was a great way of spending quality time with family, colleagues, and or friends. We all need to indulge occasionally, but it’s important to not fall into a pattern of indulging on a regular basis. It was a great feeling to have my extra savings available when I needed it without having to dip into budgeted money, or our savings account. I look forward to exceeding last years’ savings this year through the same simple steps. I challenge you…take a cup of coffee with you instead of buying that specialty coffee everyday. Make that specialty coffee a special event, take a friend out for coffee occasionally and spend quality time with them while enjoying your favorite cappuccino.

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    I enjoy an occasional cup of coffee from our local coffee shop.

  7. Exercise more, yeah this is one that most of us make year after year. Year after year we start with a zest and a made up mind, but also year after year we lose that fire and determination and fall into a rut once again. Nearly six years ago, I began working toward this goal in various ways that has helped improve my health and also helped me to achieve my goal, as well as maintain my weight after losing seventy pounds. What did I do? I simply set realistic small goals for myself. These goals included walking my dog daily, even when it was snowing or raining. Parking farther away from the store, even when it’s snowing or raining. Using the elliptical daily, even if it’s just fifteen minutes per day. I have also worn a fitbit for the last three years and tracked my daily steps. Boy, was this an eye opener! I have worked hard to ensure that I am actually getting up and moving every hour. There are hours during the day that I cannot get up and move, such as during my commute to and from work. However, I find this great “me” time, time to listen to an audio book, time to do breathing exercises, and also time to pray, meditate and reflect on the day or plan for the next day. Exercising more can include going to the gym, going to zumba class, or running in the park. But, let’s face it…with the demands of our jobs and the fast paced world we live in, these are not always an option. Instead, take time each day to achieve your goal in small manageable as well as realistic goals. Get up and move everyday!

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    I track my steps using a fitbit.

  8. Get organized! This is a goal that I too have several failed attempts. It is now a work in progress and I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. How did I do it? One area at a time is how I started this goal and have maintained my progress. Also, with each mini-goal, I use the three-step process. I make sure that I have a container for donations or sell items, items you wish to keep, and a container for unwanted items to toss. I began my organized journey with the linen closet. I was amazed how much soap, deodorant, air fresheners and many more items I found while cleaning this small space. I bought enough one dollar plastic bins to line the shelves and labeled each so everyone in the family knew where to put items away. Labeling has helped me maintain a clutter free and organized linen closet. Once a month for a year I have worked to de-clutter and organize an area of our home, and once a month or more for a year I have tossed, donated, or sold the excess items and organized the things that I chose to keep. I love  having less clutter and more organization as well as space. My home is still a work in progress, but there is a significant less amount to organize and de-clutter than there was last year! Cha-ching…another realistic goal achieved!
  9. Grow a plant! Yes, I just said that…grow a plant! I love working in our vegetable garden and my herbs. Fresh vegetables are much healthier for you than veggies purchased at the store and are less expensive. I enjoy being able to have fresh basil, chives, oregano, and stevia at my fingertips. Fresh herbs are very expensive in the grocery store, and you either have too many or not enough. Will you be required to grow a large garden to have fresh herbs, tomatoes, or cucumbers? No, you can simply have small  bed, box, flower pots, or a small raised bed. Tomatoes, cabbage, lettuce, and onions make a wonderful addition to flower gardens and doesn’t require a lot of space or upkeep. Growing your own herbs and vegetables can also help contribute to a healthier diet. Herbs can also be grown inside, so there’s no reason to deny yourself the pleasure of fresh thyme. Find a herb or plant that doesn’t require high maintenance and will live in your desired location. I have found that thyme is a very easy herb to grow. It requires nothing more than watering, and of course an occasional pruning. I don’t find this difficult as I love cooking with thyme. It’s a great addition to eggs, meats, soups, and much more. Whether you choose to grow a single plant, a window box herb garden, raised bed, flower bed, or a full-scale garden…nurture your plants with tender loving care, make a simple plant journal, record their progress, what worked and what didn’t work, take pictures of their growth, take pride in your plants. It’s a great feeling to watch something that you’ve planted or repotted, nurtured, and enjoyed grow into a fully mature plant. It’s an even better feeling to reap the rewards of their fruit, spice, taste, beauty and or simply their wonderful addition to your home. Caring for your plant(s) is also a wonderful opportunity to spend quality time with yourself, or your family

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    I love being able to clip fresh herbs from my herb box.

  10. Make a blessing jar. This was an idea given to me by my Sunday school teacher. Last year was the first year that I had set this small, but significant goal. I simply took a container that I already had to use for my jar. I used a small crock that a previous student bought me. It was the perfect container to add and collect my daily blessings. Several people decorated jars, boxes and other various containers. This is how it works; Simply, find a container or make one,  at the end of each day write down something positive that has happened during the day. Trust me, even on those days when everything seems to be going wrong…you can find something positive to be thankful for. The object is to find positive things in your life and to take focus off of the negative things, which happens to all of us. The plan is to open your blessing jar on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day and revisit and read each blessing that you wrote down. It’s a great way to reflect, remember, count your blessings, while also promoting a positive frame of mind. I challenge you to try it…go ahead and begin today counting your blessings.
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    My blessing jar

     

    In review, these are the realistic goals that has helped improve years for me including 2015, had a major impact on my health, happiness, and my family as well as my life; make a blessing jar, grow a plant, get organized, save a little extra money, make time for family and friends, read every day, stop dieting and most of all make time for yourself! These are only suggestions, and not scientifically proven, but goals that helped me have a better quality of life. What are you waiting for? Today is already the second day of the new year! Have you set your goals? Are your goals realistic? Revisit the goals that you’ve already set to ensure they are realistic and achievable goals. If you’ve not set your goals yet…take that first step of your journey to achieve your resolutions, or your goals! Remember, your journey to a better life begins with a single step. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my New Year’s goals and resolutions. Please feel free to leave your feedback. I’m interested in your goals and how you achieved them. God bless and have a wonderful 2017!