Celebrating Dr. Seuss With BookSpring in Austin!

wonderandthink

Happy (112th) Birthday Dr. Seuss! From the classics everyone knows and loves like The Cat in the Hat and The Grinch, to recently published books What Pet Should I Get?. Dr. Seuss is, in my opinion, the ultimate children’s book writer. His work is still so widely loved and read that it’s hard to believe he hasn’t been on this Earth for 25 years. Imagining childhood without the words of Dr. Seuss is a bit like imagining childhood without Disney characters or popsicles, and I’m forever grateful to the man otherwise known as Theodor Seuss Geisel for inspiring in me a lifetime love of reading, rhyme, and writing.

Yesterday, I got to celebrate the great rhymer and illustrator’s birthday as a guest reader at T. A. Brown Elementary School. T. A. Brown, along with over fifty other schools in the Central Texas area, is part of the community of schools served by BookSpring. BookSpring is an Austin non-profit that reaches over 40,000 kids with over 140,000 books each year and it has an amazing vision: A community where all children have the opportunity to become literate.

Bookspring
I love BookSpring’s Graphic about how they address literacy!

For over forty years, BookSpring has been the local facilitator for the national Reading is Fundamental (RIF) program, runs a huge Read-A-Thon every year, partners with MedicAid clinics to give “Prescriptions for Reading” (how cute is that?), and “creates transformative experiences with lifelong impact between adults and children through reading and reading aloud.” In 2015, they distributed over 50,000 “forever books” to kids who otherwise might not have the chance to own a book of their own. I’m lucky to be working with BookSpring all spring as my Junior League of Austin volunteer placement. I’d love to tell you all about BookSpring and/or Junior League, so please contact me if you’d like to learn more.

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The school has a fabulous librarian who decorated the whole library in Seuss theme, organized a poster contest (I was a judge – it was a tough call!), and has dozens of guest readers coming in all week to read to her classes and hang with the kids. She was even dressed as a – very chic I might add – Cat in the Hat complete with tail!

The book of the day was And To Think I Saw It On Mulberry Street, which I hadn’t read before, making it extra special and now I have a new favorite Dr. Seuss to add to my shelf! A group of excited third graders trooped into the library, giggling at the tall girl in an even taller Cat in the Hat-style hat (I’ll try to get a picture for y’all). As I read the book to them, there lots of insightful commentary on the ever-wilder adventures the main character had on the way home from school. Then we got to do Seuss-inspired activities at stations. We colored our own Lorax mustaches (a favorite), played Seussical games on Nook e-readers, dominated crossword puzzles, decorated bookmarks, and more.

WonderThink

Library was a favorite class of mine (Mrs. Dillard was the BEST!) in school and I loved seeing these kids so excited to be there. Even more exciting was listening to them tell me about what books they were reading – The Dork Diaries are big y’all – and their own favorite Dr. Seuss books. Dr. Seuss wanted kids of all ages to use their imaginations, read, and explore life, and I’d like to think he was smiling down at us yesterday, celebrating his life’s work by reading, coloring, and playing!

YouerThanYou

I’ve experienced a hair miracle!

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I have a (less than serious) confession: I have horrible allergies. They’re so bad they extend to my hair and my scalp. Luckily I have a fantastic stylist who pointed out that my severe gluten & oat allergy means I need to use gluten free hair products too. That advice made a huge difference in my (formerly) itchy, dry, and yes, embarrassingly flaky scalp. But I recently learned that I need a special weapon to battle my seriously itchy scalp when my seasonal allergies flare up: a Tea Tree + Coconut Oil scalp treatment.

{my stylist is Nina at Urban Betty in Austin}

 teatreeoil 

I used to dread washing my hair because it would literally hurt me for a day or two after, but now that I use the proper products, that’s not the case… until recently. Pollen counts have been off the charts (up to an 11.6 out of 12!?!) lately here in Austin, and, alongside my gluten allergy, I’m allergic to about every natural substance from dust mites to trees, grasses, weeds, and mold. So when the count gets that high and it is dry out (we are in a drought), my old nemesis, the dry, itchy, painful scalp, comes a-callin’. 

None of the usual tricks were working – I confirmed my products were gluten free (check out the EWG website to learn all about what goes into your goods here), scrubbed my scalp diligently each time I washed it, massaging vigorously, and still I was suffering. Until I had a thought… Coconut oil does wonders for my dry skin, and the Strawberry-Tea Tree-Coconut Oil Sugar scrub I made keeps my skin (& the hubs’) smooth & hydrated… Would it do the same for my problem scalp?

  

ingredients  

So, I whipped up a Tea Tree + Coconut Oil scalp treatment and… It worked! My scalp feels amazing, looks healthy and shiny, and didn’t itch for almost 24 hours (a huge record for me) and my hair is looking pretty fab. Want to try it? Here’s how you can make it at home, too!

 showercap 

  1. Put 4-5 tablespoons of coconut oil into a heatsafe container 
  2. Gently melt the oil (either in a hot water bath or 10 seconds in the microwave) and stir
  3. Add 5-8 drops of Tea Tree Oil (otherwise known as Melaleuca)
  4. Stir well
  5. Apply to scalp (I used the measuring spoon) and massage 
  6. Put shower cap on & let sit for about 2 hours (longer if you want, I watched a movie)
  7. Shampoo oil out in the shower
  8. Relish your itch free & dandruff free scalp!

Bonus tip: wetting hair with warm water helps you access your scalp, but isn’t a requirement.

melted oil 

Why it works:

  • Coconut oil is highly moisturizing, anti-inflammatory, & antibacterial
  • Tea tree oil is antifungal, antibacterial, & antimicrobial 
  • It also boosts blood flow to the scalp, reducing dandruff and stimulating hair growth (learn more here!)

 teatree 

The only “after” pictures of my hair are these 😂:

 mrs beaver  
mrsbeaver2 

(B & I were Mr. & Mrs. Beaver from The Chronicles of Narnia for the Faith Explorers group of 5th & 6th graders at church this weekend!)

Man-Pleasin’ Cheeseburger Soup


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The other night B had sore teeth after a little dental work. But, just coming off of Whole30, he was used to having plenty of protein at every meal. How could I give the man the meat he wanted, in a format that wouldn’t hurt his mouth? 

After searching around the kitchen, I found some (very common) ingredients, combined them, and voila, Cheeseburger Soup! I tested the recipe again Sunday night, and got the double thumbs of approval from B (my husband), so I knew it wasn’t a one-time hit. This recipe is gluten free (as all of my recipes are), but it definitely isn’t the healthiest soup you’ll ever make. If you need a filling, hearty soup, try this out and please let me know about your experiences in the comments below. If you added another ingredient and it tasted great, I’d love to try it too! 

Serving Size Notes: the recipe below can be adjusted to increase or decrease the number of servings (originally made for two people, you can bump the number up or down, and the ingredient list will change to fit your needs). You’ll need about a quarter pound of ground beef and one cup of tomato soup per serving. And, honestly, some people might want seconds, so keep that in mind. 

Budget Tips: buy a block of sharp cheddar cheese and grate it yourself. I use a simple hand grater to get my cheese done quickly and cheaply. It costs so much less than already grated cheese, and it doesn’t have all of the icky anti-caking chemicals that aren’t great for your body. Also, look for ground beef that is marked down or on sale – you can always freeze the beef it and use it later, just let it defrost before using it in this recipe. 

This recipe calls for a creamy tomato soup, and I personally prefer Pacific Creamy Tomato because it is gluten free and comes in a great resealable carton. I seasoned the meat like I season our burgers – if you have a special way to season your burgers that your family knows and loves, try that one night and compare it to my seasoning blend. I do think that using some Worcester Sauce adds a nice umami element to what could be a very basic soup. Enjoy!

CheeseburgerSoup
Man-Pleasin' Cheeseburger Soup
Yum
Print Recipe
Alden's Apron Man-Pleasin' Cheeseburger Soup is a cheesy, beefy soup with a tomato base - this hearty soup is an easy-to-make crowd pleaser. It's also gluten and nut free!
Servings Prep Time
2 people 5 minutes
Cook Time
10 minutes
Servings Prep Time
2 people 5 minutes
Cook Time
10 minutes
CheeseburgerSoup
Man-Pleasin' Cheeseburger Soup
Yum
Print Recipe
Alden's Apron Man-Pleasin' Cheeseburger Soup is a cheesy, beefy soup with a tomato base - this hearty soup is an easy-to-make crowd pleaser. It's also gluten and nut free!
Servings Prep Time
2 people 5 minutes
Cook Time
10 minutes
Servings Prep Time
2 people 5 minutes
Cook Time
10 minutes
Ingredients
  • 1/2 lb ground beef
  • 1/4 tsp salt Pink Salt or Sea Salt
  • 1/8 tsp pepper
  • 1/8 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp Worcester sauce
  • 2 cups creamy tomato soup (I prefer Pacific brand)
  • 1 cup sharp cheddar cheese finely grated
Servings: people
Instructions
  1. In a 2 quart saucepan, brown beef over medium heat.
    Ingredients
  2. Before meat is done browning, add in salt, pepper, garlic powder, mixing well to incorporate. Note: I like to mix the three together before adding to beef.
    spices
  3. Add in Worcester sauce, stirring well.
    WorcesterSauce
  4. Turn off stove and drain beef after it is done browning. (You can use a spoon to remove the excess oil in the pot.)
  5. Turn stove back to medium heat. Add creamy tomato soup to browned beef, stirring to mix well.
    TomatoSoup
  6. Add in half cup of grated cheese to soup and beef mixture. Stir slowly until cheese is melted into soup.
    CheesySoup
  7. Keep adding in cheese by the half cup, mixing it in each time.
    MeltyCheese
  8. Season with additional salt and pepper, to taste. Serve while hot and enjoy!
    YummySoup
Recipe Notes

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My Favorite Whole30 Resources & A Bonus Gift!

Whole30On

If you haven’t checked it out already, take a peek at my Whole30 page – it’s full of links that can help you on your Whole30 journey. 

I wanted to share a few of my absolute must-use resources and recipes for a successful and fun (and hopefully not too painful) Whole30 experience! Also: you can do it! The first week is tough, but after that, you can totally make it!

Cookbooks

Best Whole30-Friendly Cookbooks 

 I love using real, printed, cookbooks in the kitchen. Plus, in the event of zombie apocalypse, I’ll still be able to whip up some delightful food. 

  1. The Whole30: 30 Day Guide To Total Health & Food Freedom  by Melissa Hartwig
  2. Food for Humans  by Michelle Tam, aka NomNomPaleo
  3. The America’s Test Kitchen Cooking School Cookbookby America’s Test Kitchen (note: not everything is Whole30-friendly, but learning and using all the basic and advanced techniques, especially for meat, poultry, and fish, will make your meals more satisfying and you’ll feel like the cooking champion you are!)

Best Whole30 Recipes/Cooking Gear

  1. NomNomPaleo’s homemade mayo – you can’t beat it, and it is so, so good! Watch a video tutorial
  2. Anything from this Food & Wine 30 Awesome Whole30 Recipes list
  3. NomNomPaleo’s Kalua Pig – it really is amazing. Slow Cooker Recipe or Pressure Cooker Recipe
  4.  Instant Pot – I’ll review mine soon, but an Instant Pot is the single best piece of equipment you can have in your kitchen. It makes cooking a breeze, insanely fast, and keeps any cooking smells (like from bone broth) out of your house! Get yours here!
  5. Hip Pressure Cooking’s One Pot Roast Beef – actually anything from Hip Pressure Cooking is excellent, and even includes conversions between types of pressure cookers! It’s a goldmine, y’all.
  6. NomNomPaleo’s Crispy Potatoes – ultimate Whole30 indulgence. And don’t skip the lemon juice – it’s great. Also, I use dried parsley and it’s yummy (for when you don’t have fresh)

Huge Bonus Gift from Alden’s Apron

And, just for you lovely blog readers, here’s a downloadable grocery list with tips & tricks from my Whole30 journey! I hope it helps you a bit! Click on this link to get the PDF: Alden’s Apron Whole30 Checklist  

 

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Happy Galentine’s Day

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I’m all about love, lifting up and celebrating relationships, but honestly, Valentine’s Day has never been my thing. I tend to feel that way about all greeting card holidays. That’s why I love the growing Galentine’s Day trend – let’s celebrate our sisters & friends! 

Lifting each of you precious sisters up this weekend – and know that it doesn’t matter if you’re married, single, dating, divorced, widowed, or engaged – God’s amazing, overwhelming love for you is free and present every single second of your life. He loves us more than we will ever be able to understand – more than any other person on earth can love us. 

In lieu of sending every awesome girl I know flowers (although that would be cool… Maybe one day!), this is my Galentine’s Day card to YOU! 

Read this out loud, filling in the blanks with your name. Say it whenever you’re scared, or tired, or happy, or lonely, or feeling blessed. It’s always true!

  
Love,

Alden

Want To Fall In Love With Salt Again? Try Pink Salt!

PinkAndSeaSalt

I was talking to my mom recently about food. Ok, we talk about food almost every time we talk (or text), but this time it was about the most important spice in any kitchen: salt. And I made a recommendation to her that I’ll make to you – switch to Pink Salt. You won’t regret it!

I’ve had a love/hate relationship with salt for my entire adult life: I love how it brings out flavors in foods, but I hate how it makes me puffy, gives me sores on my tongue from overindulging, and has some pretty negative health side-effects. That is, until I made a life altering discovery. I met my new salty love, Pink Salt.

Six years ago, I was living in London, working on my Master’s degree, and battling some health issues. I knew I was gluten-sensitive, and I knew I had issues with certain foods, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. So, I dove headlong into health and food research mode, reading anything possible about food, hanging out at the Whole Foods on Kensington High Street, and soaking up all the knowledge my yoga instructors could dish out six days a week.

SpreadofSalt

This is a timely post for me, because the day I decided to take all of my newfound knowledge and put it to the test was this day, Shrove Tuesday (aka Pancake Supper Night aka Fat Tuesday aka the reason we have Mardi Gras) five years ago – and I made the decision to use the 40-day season of Lent to recommit myself to health and to treating my body the way I know I should. This was before Whole30 was a thing, so I didn’t have the resources we do now, but with the help of a few other great books (like those by Kimberly Snyder), and a Biblical reason focused on reflecting on the Lord and learning to do without through fasts and taking on new disciplines, I began a 40-day fast of gluten, sugar/sweetener, and anything artificial.

While prepping, I read about how salt isn’t great for my body, and how it elevates blood pressure, how table salt has all sorts of anti-caking agents (artificial stuff I couldn’t have on my new Lent plan) and possible contaminants in it, and I knew from personal experience that even a touch too much salt and I was bloated and puffy for days. I needed a new alternative to salt my food and bring out the flavors in my homemade meals, especially now that I couldn’t replace it with other flavor enhancing items like Soy Sauce (I hadn’t discovered Tamari yet), sugar, and lots of commercial spice blends. What would I put on my food for 40 days?

PinkSaltAllForms

I went into the Whole Foods on Kensington High street and ran into an employee there who asked if I needed any help. I usually say “Oh no, just looking, but thanks!” but this time I told her about my salt problem, and she led me to the spice aisle and introduced me to my new best friend: Himalayan Pink Salt. She told me about how

Needless to say, I was sold. I bought my first little shaker of Himalania Pink Salt. Then I graduated up to buying it in larger bags and uses my own salt grinder (to match my pepper grinder), and I haven’t looked back since. In case you’re wondering, in our house we use pink salt in place of any other type of salt – for eggs, for baking, to salt meat. I grind it with the grinder so I can choose the coarseness I need – very coarse for salting meat, fine for seasoning eggs in the morning, you get the idea.

PinkVWhite
You can use less Pink Salt than other (white) forms of salt!

Pink Salt made my first 40-day sojourn into health easier. And, a client of mine in London (I edited academic papers for graduate students), ended up writing a paper on Pink Salt from her home in Peru, and her first hand accounts of harvesting and using the gorgeous mineral gave me much needed third-party validation that Pink Salt is the best salt. So, if you are on your own health journey, and you either miss being able to use salt, or you think a salt alternative could be good for you, go get a little thing of pink salt. If nothing else, it sure is pretty!

Bonus: You can find pink salt at almost any grocery store these days, but be prepared to shell out for it. For the best deals, either try Tuesday Morning (you can get a huge grinder bottle there usually for under $10 that will last you at least six months), online, or check around for prices at local healthy food stores.

Dogs: A Lesson In Unconditional Love

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I just had a moment with my two dogs, Rosie & Ruger, and I was overwhelmed by their capacity to love me, each other, and my husband, who is the center of their entire world (it’s actually scary intense how obsessed they are with him – and cute!). I think all pups love their people beyond words, and I also think rescue dogs (like ours) end up with an even deeper love – we’re their heroes! Opinions vary on the spiritual state of pets, but regardless of where you stand, it’s hard to deny that we can all learn a lot from dogs when it comes to giving unconditional love. 

Two Dog Love
Rosie & Ruger: true BFF love!

It’s always been hard for me to fully accept and understand just how much God loves each of us. Even me – little ol’ tiny grain of sand in a massive world me. I can totally accept that He loves you – I love you, so why wouldn’t He love you one hundred times more? This has become a stumbling block for me when I want to grow my faith and be able to actually live in the perfect peace of Christ Jesus. If I can’t accept the love, how can I accept the peace? 

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I like the power of this version from The Message

So, when I have moments of feeling absolutely adored beyond all others by my pups, I get a glimpse, a momentary peak, at how God sees you, and me, and everyone on this earth. And I feel like I’m sitting on a beach, feeling that glorious sunshine on my skin, flooded with Vitamin-D induced happiness. Then I’m back in the house, full of gratitude and awe, and ready to face the rest of the day.  

Full Power Verse [To Remember That God Loves You & Is For You] – Romans 8:28-39

Top 5 Saving Graces of Whole30

  1. Ghee. Oh that sweet, sweet, it’s almost butter – but magically without the dairy – goodness.
  2. Avocado. Guacamole on carrots? Tomatoes? Burgers? Chicken? A spoon? Yes, please!
  3. Potatoes. Red ones, white ones, sweet ones, small ones, big ones, if it’s a tuber, it’s allowed. No stinky ketosis (anyone remember that from Atkins?)
  4. Tea. A caffeine source I can drink without copious amounts of sweetener and creamer, aka, God’s gift to my mornings, afternoons, evenings…
  5. Mayo. Whole30 Mayo, to be specific. Use NomNom Paleo’s recipe. Heavenly, homemade mayo that can transform into a variety of sauces and dips and reinvigorate that chicken! 

 

Mayo
image from whole30.com

It’s Winter, Are You OK?

Winter is the easiest time of year to get sick – we spend more time indoors, breathing recirculated air in buildings, the flu is on the rampage, it’s cold (sometimes) and it’s tempting to only eat comfort foods and hibernate.

No one wants to feel run down, constantly battling a cold or runny nose, get achy and have a general malaise. If you have any of these issues (as I do every winter), the following three actions can help.

Cute Winter Dog
Don’t get SAD, get glad!
  1. Take Vitamin D: even if you think you get enough via sunlight and diet, you probably don’t. If you’re worried at all about it, a simple blood test can tell you your level, and just because it is in the “normal” range, doesn’t mean it’s high enough. Normal is for everyone else – you’re extraordinary and want to live an extraordinarily healthy life, so go get a bottle of 5,000mg Vitamin D capsules, take one every morning for a month, and see how you feel. 
    • Bonus: Your hair and nails will be insanely strong and fast-growing the longer you keep this up. My hair grew something crazy like 8+ inches in a year after I started my regimen.
  2. Take Vitamin C: not those gummy chewies, not the drinks, but real deal Vitamin C swallowable pills. The advice I was given that has prevented Brian and me from getting sick this winter (from things that aren’t allergies – can’t vitamin those away… yet) is to start with 500mg on day 1. On day 2, increase to 1000mg, then increase in 500mg increments each day until it makes your stomach hurt. The next day, back off by one (for reference, I take 1500mg/day and Brian takes 2000mg, so I took 2000mg on day 4, tummy hurt, so I backed off to 1500mg on day 5 and continue with that now!) Click for more info.
    • Bonus: The antioxidant Vitamin C will make your skin radiant and help kill cancer-causing free radicals in your body.
  3. Use a Happy Light: What’s a happy light? It’s a special lamp that emits light in a spectrum that simulates the sun (the main two types are by Verilux and Philips). Use it to defeat SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), boost your Vitamin D intake, regulate your sleep (you have sleep issues don’t you? if not, I’m supremely jealous, cause I have them like whoa), and make mornings brighter, easier, and more natural. Mayo Clinic agrees.
    • Bonus: I got mine on major discount at Tuesday Morning. Plus, it helps more than just SAD too: click here to read!

Bonus Round… Drink Immunity Tea

Health guru Kimberly Snyder (she’s the original green smoothie evangelist and her book, The Beauty Detox Solution, changed my method of eating and my approach to food in general), has a great Immunity Tea recipe. It works! Get the recipe and step-by-step instructions on her website.

 

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Confession: Part 1 (of 2)

I have a confession. Since last spring (2015), several people have asked me:

  1. “How do you look so great?”
  2. “How did you cook [insert meal posted to Instagram]?”
  3. “How can I do it, too?”

While flattering, it also scares me to be truly honest about what I consider “triggering” subjects for most women – namely weight loss/ diets/ getting healthy/ lifestyle choices. I’m scared to lead people in the wrong direction. I’m scared that if what worked for me does not, in fact, work for someone else, resentment and mistrust might build.

But, I started a blog called The Nestette (blithely sitting on an airplane en route to London, momentarily forgetting that a blog I love, Myquillen Smith’s, is called The Nester… oops) anyway. I did this without resolving these feelings and doubts, wanting a place to store and share my recipes, hobbies, tips/tricks I’ve been taught or learned, and stories. It obviously ended quickly because of the aforementioned fears.

After taking time to wade through these feelings, and learning about a concept called “the fear of man” (basically the root of what we currently refer to as lack of self-esteem, confidence, and trust… for more read this book), I realize that if not now, when? So, I’ve made a commitment to do a Jon Acuff-inspired “Do Over” challenge and put things out there, and to NOT let the potential opinions of others be a road block.

So, welcome to my [new] tiny corner of the internet, Alden’s Apron. All opinions, photos, recipes, trips/tricks, and more are mine, unless otherwise noted and with sources linked, if possible. My husband and two pups support this endeavor, but aren’t responsible for [most] of its content.