An Uncomplicated Life Blog

Monday, April 22, 2019

How To Dry Your Own Herbs

Drying herbs is easy, fun and cost-effective

While I sometimes struggle with getting a yield from my vegetable garden, I do not - for what reason I can't discern - have an issue growing herbs. I have lavender, sage and rosemary growing in my veggie garden, and I tell you what, nothing will kill these plants! Nothing. Two winters ago it was about 20 degrees for two solid months (a rarity here in Dallas). I thought for sure that would kill them. Nope, the herbs came back stronger than ever! So much so that I had to do some serious trimming back this spring. I couldn't stand to just throw all these herbs away (I mean, organic herbs go for $7 a bottle at Whole Foods!) so I decided to dry them myself. This, friends, is how to dry your own herbs. Perfect for when they're in season and you have far more than you can use fresh.

First things first, you absolutely need a pair of sharp garden shears. I tried to do this with my sharpest pair of scissors and while I *could* cut through the thick stems of rosemary, I couldn't get through the sage. So do yourself a favor and invest (probably the wrong word choice, as they're not expensive!) in a sharp set of garden shears and watch how much easier your life is. Just do it. Not sponsored by Nike.

Ok, now that we got that settled, back to herb-drying. Honestly, I was feeling a little dismayed at how well my rosemary and sage were doing. They started to over-run my raised veggie garden. I had just planted tomatoes in the next row and thought, well shoot, there's already barely enough room for these tomatoes! In another month, these plants would easily be taking up a third of my garden bed. I use the rosemary year round, but the sage is almost exclusively used at Thanksgiving. I'm working on coming up with a fresh, summery recipe featuring fresh sage so keep an eye out for that (I'll link it here once it's live later this spring) but even so, I just have SO much sage I knew I had to do some serious trimming.

I began trimming and my garden looked instantly better. I looked at all the herbs I had cut and thought, what a waste! Then I thought, wait a minute. Why would I toss these?! I have tons of baby food jars to put the dried herbs in - why don't I just DIY this? Herbs are expensive and the best part of drying your own is you know how they were grown and handled, so you know what fertilizer was used, which pest control sprays need to be washed off, etc. That's a win! Plus, I learned it's super easy. Here's how to dry your own herbs:

1) Cut back your herbs at the base of the stem, where it either connects to the main plant stem or where it branches off in a Y. This will result in better growth of the plant in the future, believe it or not!
2) Wash the herb(s) to get any dirt or pest control sprays you use off while the leaves are still hydrated
3) Use string to hang the herbs upside down. You can do this inside or outside. Since it's nice here already, I decided to do it outside and let the sun help me (that will help the drying process go faster, provided it isn't humid and doesn't rain!)
4) Once the herbs are FULLY dry (brittle to the touch), remove the leaves from the stems and store in a glass airtight container. You want to make sure the the herbs are fully dry - any moisture will mold/rot the whole batch, so make sure that the herbs are dry from both internally and externally. I used baby food jars for storage because I had them, but any glass container will work. I like smaller batches (aka, I wouldn't use a mason jar) because you'll be able to use them before they go bad. Dried herbs last about 6 months, provided you waited until they were fully dry before storing them. For reference, in Dallas, with temps regularly in the mid to upper 70's and sunshine on the herbs with low humidity, I waited a week and a half before I took the herbs down to store them.

It's so easy to dry your own herbs, using everything from your garden and saving money
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Super easy, right? The hardest part is waiting until the herbs are fully dry before storing them. Also, be prepared for your herbs to explode after you do some trimming! While I did a pretty solid trim to get these herbs, not even two weeks later, I needed to trim back the plant AGAIN because it had such explosive growth after the first trim (and our weather finally was consistently sunny and nice, promoting further growth)! Fresh herbs are delicious, but when you have more than you can use, here's how to dry your own herbs so that you can enjoy them year-round. 

Thursday, April 18, 2019

What It Feels Like To Know You're Done Having Babies

It's a weird time when you're still fertile, but you know you're done having children. Here's some thoughts on it

Before I was even pregnant with the twins, or even knew they were twins, I wrote this post on contemplating having more children. I didn't know or understand the answer to the proverbial question "how do you know you're done having children"? I learned along the way that if there's a question of if you want more, you're not done yet! This, of course, is assuming that you're able to get pregnant relatively easily and in full control of your fertility - which, thankfully, I have always been. Now that I'm on the other side of deciding IF I were to have a third child (that quickly turned into a fourth, too!), and I'm safely on the other side of ever being pregnant again or having another baby, I wanted to take a retrospective look back, and talk about what it feels like to know that you're done having babies. Because it's a weird, weird place to be, quite frankly.

Homecoming with baby Henry. 5 pounds 12oz of sweetness... And I was so clueless!

I've never been a massive fan of pregnancy. I hate all the rules that come along with it, all the restrictions. But there are some really, really precious parts of carrying a child. One of my favorite parts is getting the positive pregnancy test. For a few moments, minutes, hours, or days, you are the ONLY one in the world that knows you're creating new life. You see the two lines on the test and you're the only one who's cued into the secret. And if you're like me, you immediately start texting/calling your best friends and family members because you're so overjoyed, you just can't keep it a secret! I don't think I can describe the feeling you get when you see on your pregnancy test that you are, indeed, carrying new life. It's shocking and thrilling and terrifying and enlightening. And that's independent of if the baby is a surprise or you've been trying for months to get pregnant. It's the same feeling, either way.

It's insane to me to know I'm never going to see a positive pregnancy test again. I'm never going to have that weird feeling of extreme joy and fear again. Joy of the pregnancy and future baby; fear of something going wrong or miscarrying. I'm never going to go to Target or Walmart or a pharmacy, either if I'm "late" or if I'm hoping to be "late", buying a pack of tests, hoping that nobody sees me. I'm never going to try to open the shrink wrap off those tests again, getting frustrated with how hard it is to break through the plastic when I'm so anxious to see the result. I'm never going to sit alone on a toilet again - lies, I haven't sat alone on a toilet since late 2014 - I won't sit on a toilet with my toddlers surrounding me again, asking why I'm peeing on a white piece of plastic. And I won't sit on my knees in the bathroom, waiting for the three minutes to pass, obsessively waiting for a line to show up.

With Henry, I was so regular, I knew what HOUR my period would show up. It didn't show at it's scheduled time. The next day, I had an insanely early (like 4am) flight to Houston for work, since I was still the director of grants for a huge nonprofit here. After only half-assing my attention to the conferences I was supposed to report back on, I got a crappy boarding number on Southwest for my flight home (a C boarding group! But I did move my flight up by three hours, so I guess I was lucky to just make it on the flight) and my husband, who's on a first-name basis with Southwest I swear, had given me two drink tickets. Now, it's a 45 minute flight from Houston to Dallas, so I only had time to take advantage of one of those tickets, but I remember this: ordering a white wine, and thinking, "this is probably the last time I'm going to be able to drink on a flight... Unless this damn period shows!" I landed early, and my husband and I went to a Mexican place for dinner. I had a margarita. And I remember thinking, "enjoy this - this is the last marg for a long time!" The next morning I took a pregnancy test, just one day late on my period. The test line turned positive before the pee even reached the control line! As weird as it sounds, I knew that baby was a boy and that, despite a previous miscarriage, he'd be our first born.

I went out and bought a card for my future husband, telling him he was going to be a daddy. We had been engaged for 9 months, and were going to get married in another 4 months. We had planned on starting a family right away, so we while we were both surprised, we were both overjoyed. I think about this now and think, "Man, I'm never going to have the surprise of a positive pregnancy test again! The "holy s**t, are you serious?!" thoughts and the joy of an impending baby.

Since I had gotten such an early positive with Henry, I was completely bamboozled with Otto. It was our second month trying and I took a pregnancy test on day 29, just like I had with Henry. It was a bit, fat NEGATIVE. My sister had planned a visit just a few days later, so I shrugged it off and thought, "well hell, at least I can enjoy some time drinking wine with my sister! And hey, that means we won't have a Christmas baby, so that's a plus too. Moving on to focusing on getting pregnant next month!" I mean, my test was negative, right?

Look at our old bathroom! And this dress has weathered many pregnancies... 5 months pregnant with Otto here
A few months later with a different, partially finished bathroom! Pro tip: don't remodel your bathroom while pregnant, and need to pee all night long

But then my period never showed. On day 36, I took another test - just entirely annoyed that my period hadn't shown yet, wanting to get it over with so that my husband and I could try again for the next month. I took the test while Henry napped in the next room. I sat on the toilet, waiting for my response. As I watched it, again, the test line turned pink before the pee even reached the control line! I literally sat on the toilet and laughed out loud at how crazy it was that I had already gotten over the fact that I wasn't pregnant when indeed I was. How I was kind of glad we wouldn't have a baby right at Christmas when indeed we would (and did - my due date was Dec 29 but he came Dec 18, and we got home from the hospital just in time on Dec 21!) After laughing about it, I immediately started texting my best friends the amazing, blessed news.

My husband found out later that night, when he got home. We were thrilled Henry would have a bestie so close in age. I knew Otto was a boy from the second I saw those pink lines on my pregnancy test. I wanted him to be a boy. I wanted him to be a boy so he and Henry could grow up to be the best of friends. So far, they are! Henry might not say it, but the best gift we've ever given him is Otto. They're thick as thieves.

It's so weird that I'll never have a planned but surprise late pregnancy pregnancy test again.

Same dress, same bathroom, both with a new look! No wonder we gutted that thing, right?! And this dress was one of the only things to fit me all the way to the end of a twin pregnancy. 33 weeks pregnant with twins here!

When I took the pregnancy test for the twins, I suspected I was pregnant. We had been trying for three months. It was the longest it had ever taken us to get pregnant! On day 31 (because I was sick of testing early and wasting all my pregnancy tests) I decided it was time to test. I picked Henry and Otto up from school, then poured a glass of wine, convinced I'd wait it out at least another day (I mean, pregnancy tests are expensive and testing early is annoying and disheartening). After I finished the glass, I couldn't stand it anymore. It made me *just* brave enough to decide to do it, negative test be damned! I grabbed a test from the box, and I went into the toilet room in our master bath, followed by two little toddlers. There's no testing/peeing alone after you've already got two toddlers.

The test line showed up as positive before the pee even hit the control line. But honestly, I had already known I was pregnant. I breathed a sigh of relief (because it had taken us THREE FRIGGIN MONTHS to conceive, which was a record for us. I feel for all my friends for whom this takes months or years to achieve. The wait is AWFUL) and then Henry and Otto asked why I was crying. I told them they would have a brother or sister in the fall. They were both excited! And then, because I've had a miscarriage before, I had all 3 of us get down on our knees, and we each prayed for the baby. That he or she would be healthy and full term, and that we would have the privilege of knowing that baby earth-side. That is, without a doubt, one of my most precious memories of Henry and Otto - both of them praying for a future baby brother or sister, so happy for mommy and so happy to add to the clan. And little did we know, it would be TWO more babies!

I think about that sweet memory, and think about how nothing like that will ever happen again.

One of my favorite parts of having a baby is the time I get to spend with my husband at the hospital. It's seriously the best! I don't know why people are in such a rush to get home - I'd love to stay there for a week, maybe two. You've got nurses who help you, doctors at the ready if anything goes wrong, and if you've got more children at home, it's the only time you're ever going to have with just the babies and your spouse. Oh, not to mention catering is a call away (hello hot meals!), there's nurses aids changing your sheets daily, a lactation consultant is there to help you around the clock, and insurance is footing most of the bill. It's like a vacation!

With all of my children, staying in the hospital is a great memory. Even though I had two surprise, emergency c sections. I've delivered at two different hospitals in Dallas, and both had the most amazing nurses. It was so wonderful to be cared for with so much love, and to have so much support right after delivering a baby. The twins were probably my favorite post-birth experience. My OB switched to a new hospital with a brand new mother-baby unit. We decided to upgrade to a suite (NOT covered by insurance, but worth every cent of the $900 cash it cost us) and it was so nice to have the extra room for two bassinets of baby, a bed for my husband to sleep in, and a room with a table and TV for my older boys when they came to visit. The nursing staff there was just fantastic! It was the first time we decided to take advantage of a nursery (because with multiples, you'll never sleep if you don't send them away for a little bit, trust me) and the nurses did it in a way that was pro-breastfeeding. We agreed on a time for the babies to come back to me, but if they got fussy before that, they'd bring them back to me, changed and ready to nurse. They were so compassionate about me getting rest to recover from the debauchery of the birth I had, but also respecting my wishes to exclusively breastfeed. That hospital and those nurses should serve as a national model for how to have compassionate care for new moms, I swear! It was THAT good.

As silly as it sounds, it makes me sad that I won't ever have another post birth hospital stay. Even my stay at my first hospital was nothing but great with fabulous nurses! VBAC or C section, my hospital stays have been one of my favorite times after having every single one of my children. It's such a sweet bonding time, surrounded by caring staff, alone time with my husband, and food on call. What's not to love about that?!

Hospital hanging with the twins. It was a great time!

While all of these are weird feelings that are hard to describe, and sad to know I'll never experience again, it's not all bad. I think about the first month or two of having a baby at home, and how stressful it is. How little sleep you get, how annoyed with your significant other you are, how figuring out the "new normal" is so much work with other young kids at home. I'm totally ok if I never have to do that part of it again! While I enjoy babies and love toddlers, I don't like newborns. I think that stage is so, so hard.

This is what it feels like to know you're done having babies. I'll miss some of the most precious parts about pregnancy; the most obvious of which is the sacred time when you're the ONLY person in the world who knows a new life is coming and the feeling that brings you. The cute baby bump and all the attention you get is another big plus. Knowing your baby before anyone else is another (I knew Henry was a night owl, Otto was a good sleeper, Knox was an active nutjob and Teddy was a chill baby that liked to eat from just my pregnancies) is another thing I love about pregnancy. And those glorious hospital stays! I'd do that again for sure. But babies are hard. And I have four of them. I'll miss the good parts but gladly be though the challenges of bringing new life into the world.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Patio Decoration Tips

As the weather warms up, use these patio or courtyard decoration tips to brighten and liven up your outdoor living space

I think the single most life-changing, life-GIVING thing about re-locating to the South is our ability to be outside 12 months out of the year. Yes, we have winters here and yes, it can some days be too cold to be outside, although most likely, it's just going to be too rainy. Even on our coldest winter days, it's still in the 40's (there's only the very rare day that doesn't get out of the 30's). I'm a big enforcer/encourager of daily outdoor time. I mean, have you seen my Instagram?! We're outdoors every. single. day. The fresh air is good for everyone, even our baby twins. However, I can totally relate to not wanting to spend time outside when it's not a pretty or pleasant place to spend time at. So, I thought I'd share some of my best tips to decorating your patio (or general outdoor space), making it more livable and enjoyable, and actually using it to your benefit and the best design of the space. *affiliate links used*

Courtyard view out to the yard. Having paved space in the backyard has been GREAT - the kids play here year round

First up, our covered space. We have a small patio that's covered from the awning of our roof. See, Dallas homes are built to keep the sun out. We're like the opposite of everyone else - sun in our homes means high energy bills. So we have over sized-awnings and soffets, and light reflective windows. Ever notice how most my photos are taken outside? Yeah, that's because even though we have floor to ceiling windows in just about every room, the light doesn't come in because of the design of the house. I appreciate our low energy bills, but it does get annoying to have such a dark house. Just another reason to make sure and get outside everyday! The first stop on my patio or courtyard decoration tips is my patio, that's covered by an awning from our living room. This is a small space; just enough for a long and lean table or a table for four or even potentially a small couch and coffee table, if it was positioned correctly. 

Our covered space is perfect for a table and chairs. I recommend steel (aluminum gets blown over easily) and woven seats like ours so that you don't have to bring cushions in and out nonstop - or clean them!

Ok, so how do we deal with making the most of this small space? We've decided that since it's covered, always shaded and has a ceiling fan (which is SO great for warmer climates) we'd make it our eating space. We currently have a table for four (we'll need to expand that to 6 soon enough - this one is close to what we have for an AMAZING price) and some flowers and herbs growing nearby. If you have a pleasant space that's near a door, like ours is for easy bringing food out entertaining, I'd suggest making it your dining space. We have steel framed table and chairs so that winds won't blow anything over. I also recommend woven chairs, like what I linked and is pictured here. This way you don't have to bring cushions in and out of the home, you won't forget them when it rains and then plop your butt down on a wet cushion, there's nothing to clean but it's still comfortable. Low maintenance but comfy? I'll take that over the most stylish outdoor furniture any day!

Put an herb garden right outside your back door for easy access to fresh herbs all summer long

I like having an herb garden planter like this one nearby so that I don't need to go on a pilgrimage for my herbs when I'm cooking (just right outside the back door!) and so that you can also plant things that are bug-deterrent. I've planted rosemary and mosquito grass in my planters near the covered patio before. We also have citronella candles that we light (get a soy based candle with essential oils like this one), and wear lemongrass-based bug spray. You have to take all the precautions when you live where there is West Nile Virus and Zika! I'm not sure if the bug-deterrents or the bug spray does a better job, but all of those plus the ceiling fan on keeps it fairly pleasant, even in one of the worst mosquito states in the U.S.

Hanging plants in the courtyard

Moving on down the way from the covered patio is the courtyard. We use this space CONSTANTLY. It's actually one of my favorite parts about the house. The boys can ride their bikes on it without getting stuck in the grass or the mud. We can easily set up the pool without ruining grass (like this one you see on my Instagram all summer long - we love this thing!) It helps keeps bugs away. And it creates stable spaces for chairs and tables. We've decided to have Adirondack chairs with side tables line the courtyard for spaces to sit and to warm up the space. This link has them in nearly every color - we chose green but I love just about all of them! We have Japanese Yews lining the space to bring green in, and then have potted plants to bring in color. We plant our pots in March and they usually last all the way through November! Although I know many people in Dallas who re-plant things because our growing season is so long, and the summers get so hot, you've got to plant different plants that can "weather" the weather, as it were. In our courtyard space we have decorative planters on the ground, hanging baskets, bird houses and table plants in decorative pots. Want a cute luminary DIY? Check out this post I made to give your space a cute lighting touch for a party!

Seating area in the courtyard - perfect for sitting and watching the kids splash in the blow up pool 

Onward out to the yard, we have a decent size grass space. Out here we have a swing for the boys (also featured heavily on my Instagram - here is the exact swing we have!), our raised veggie garden, three large potted plants, and landscaping on the side of the house. My goal is to leave this space as grass-heavy as possible so my kids have room to run, bike and move. When it's really hot, we set up the sprinkler out here for them to run through it. It's also where we experiment with growing our own vegetables in my raised veggie garden. Want to learn more about my veggie garden? Check out this post about growing veggies from seeds and this cute DIY I made to keep it organized!

The grassy area of the yard where we have a swing, the kids' table, the veggie garden (not pictured) and the grill

Decorating outdoors is one of the best parts of home ownership. I've surprised myself with how much I enjoy gardening and planting. We spend time outside every single day because of our year-round nice weather, so having a well decorated and pleasant outdoor space has been crucial for our enjoyment. Use these patio decorating tips to make your outdoor space a beautiful, useful and fun place to be, too.