In two short weeks, Sugar Bee will be off to kindergarten. This will be the second biggest change in my life, her birth being the obvious first. (Getting married isn’t far behind.) This summer has been wonderful and I’m so sad that it will be ending soon. Actually, sad is an understatement. It’s borderline devastating for me.
Rare family picture – Florida, June 2016
As you may know, I am blessed to work full-time and be able to do it from home. This has given me the best of both worlds; to maintain a career and also raise my daughter. As hectic as it has been at times for me, and there have been plenty of days that I felt like a complete failure or that I needed 6-8 more hours in my day, I wouldn’t change a thing. We have (mostly) operated like a well-oiled machine with schedules and expectations. The result is this amazing, intelligent, feisty, independent, slightly OCD (okay, very OCD), incredibly outgoing young girl that I find myself having conversations with that often make me silently “wow” to myself. And I’m going to lose her and, surprisingly, miss her company.
Dress like a Pirate day at KCSMA
Sugar Bee has been in morning preschool since she turned one as I knew how much she needed more socialization and stimulation than I could provide while working. The first year was easy having her home with me, but once she got mobile, I had no choice but to get help. Now for the last year and a half, we barely made it to car line before it ended at 9:15 AM. Her pre-k room this past school year was right next to the drop-off door (lucky us!) and her teachers were sweet and would see us coming, letting her in. She and I are clearly not morning people, but it is also because our morning snuggle time has become more important. We both cherished this time that I guess we could just deal with all of the rushing later because we wanted it. Even now, when she wakes up, she comes straight to my room and climbs in the bed to snuggle. Some mornings, we’ve both fallen back to sleep as long as we didn’t get sucked in to watching all the videos on the Weather Channel app. Our slow and lazy mornings are part of our daily routine. It’s all about to change.
Enter the start of summer. I had half of her summer activities booked long before school was even over. Everyone likes to make their comments about me being “so busy” and that Sugar Bee “always has something going on.” Um, hi. I work outside the home, in addition to all my household duties. I have a job, albeit I have an incredibly flexible schedule that lands me working until 11 PM or later several nights a week, but I still have lots of stuff to get done on a daily basis and deadlines to keep. She had over a week off between the end of school and her first week of camp. It was a nice break for us, but after that second week was ending, I was happy she had camp. Not because I wanted her away or needed “me time,” but because she needed to be somewhere, anywhere, and playing and being creative with other children. She plays wonderful on her own, by herself (since she could sit up, actually), but she enjoys other people just as much. She’s an only child and without a sibling, it’s obvious to me that life can get pretty boring at times.
Finale at Princess Dance Camp – I love her choice!
The first week was her first experience with full-day camp, 9 AM – 4 PM, and it was at her future school. It was a great opportunity for us both! I got a lot done in all areas of my life and she was able to spend a week in the very school that she will be attending for kindergarten. She did fantastic despite the very long days and she had a blast! The following week was vacation bible school at our church and that was just mornings. I picked her up by lunch, as all of our other camps have always been. Then we were off to Florida for a week to spend time at my dad’s house, and when we returned, she had a week of half-day princess dance camp at her dance school.
The week of the 4th of July, she had the most awesome experience at an all-day, outdoor camp on a lake. It was only a four-day week, but she was outside all day long and had incredible experiences paddle boating, canoeing, fishing, swimming, rock wall climbing, singing, crafts, and making memories. And one of her friends from pre-k was there, too! This camp was from 8 AM to 4 PM and I was very worried about us being on time as it was over 30 minutes away. By the third day, she had already adjusted her wake-up time and I didn’t have to wake her. I think that we will be okay getting to kindergarten on time. It was excellent practice for us! However, I missed her those days at Camp Gideon. I found myself getting there way early, like those moms that I would poke fun at for being there 25 minutes early, waiting in an invisible carpool line, reading a book or Facebooking instead of going inside to pick up their kid. But there I was, excited to see my sweet Sugar Bee and hear all about the adventures of her day. I was there early so that I could get her when they first started dismissing the kids. I couldn’t wait to see her! There are times when this child makes my heart feel so full that I think it will explode. And it’s been happening almost every day this summer.
Last day at Camp Gideon
So last week was our first week of nonscheduled summer. Here I am at the start of the second week, with only 13 days left before her first day of real school. On August 1, 2016, Sugar Bee will be owned by the school system for the next 13 years. I will only get her and her snuggles on school holidays and vacations. I’m probably going to be so excited for next summer to have her to myself. I have not been to the gym in almost two weeks. This is highly unusual for me as I’m usually there for at least three classes a week. I did get on the trails a few times since then for a run, but I’m far from where I usually am with my exercise schedule. I just can’t get myself to go. I doubt I’ll be there much for the next two weeks, either. There will be plenty of time to double-up on my classes and run the pup on the trails once she starts school, but I will never have these two weeks with my little girl again. I am savoring every morning snuggle, I’m actually crawling into bed with her at bedtime (something I’ve pretty much never done so as to avoid creating a habit), I’m blowing off plans to do stuff with my mom, and I’m not finishing house projects that I started at the beginning of the summer. I will have plenty of time to do stuff with mom and finish projects at the house (and blog more) when August comes. I will never get these moments back and it looks like she is my one chance at experiencing all of this, so I will sit and soak it all up. Every little thing. All. Day. Long. She is my one and only, and even though I make her think that she’s not so she doesn’t become a total butthole in society, she is the center of my universe.
Sunset beach dinner tradition
I know that Sundays will play an even more important role in my week. They always have been since it’s the only day of the week that we were all together while The Russian was finishing college, but now they will be the only day of the week when I can have my snuggler back. I still work my part-time job at the flight school every Saturday and I’m often off to work before she’s awake. So I will have Sundays. From six days of morning lovin’ to one. I’m sure when I check in at the end of next summer, I will (possibly) understand more of what all the other moms say about how they can’t wait for school to start and the kids are making them crazy and they want their time back, but right now, I don’t want this to end.
School starts on the 1st and then on the 5th, she will turn five. Her party will be the next day (also my mom’s birthday). It’s going to be a very overwhelming week to say the least. I’m sure there will be lots of wine (or vodka) to get me through the nights to balance out the coffee that will help me through the mornings. I will be sad and happy. Happy for her in so many ways – her bright future, new friends, new learning experiences, independence from me – but sad that I will have lost my baby. My only.
So here is where and how you will find us as much as possible during these last two weeks of freedom, when we are not on the trail with the pup and I don’t have a conference call.
View from my Desk
It’s a rough life, but someone’s got to do it. And I’m going to do and love every single minute I can with her. We will never have these two weeks again.
My garden has been very productive this year. I’m quite proud of myself as each year I have learned something new that has led to this year’s success. I’m picking 1-3 dozen cherry tomatoes every day. I’ve had eggplants, zucchini, lots of jalapenos, and plenty of crookneck squash. This has led to some very delicious meals! And mostly free 🙂
This was two weeks ago…it’s even fuller now!
While I’m still waiting for cucumbers and bell peppers to emerge, I’m enjoying the literal fruits of my labor. Most of the time, I’m throwing a bunch of fresh veggies into my breakfast, but not the other night. Two large zucchini, a ton of cherry tomatoes, and a stalk of basil, all from the garden, were sitting on the counter calling to me. So I listened. And ate them up.
As a cheesemonger, nothing makes a meal better than adding cheese. In this case, it was goat cheese. I love the depth of flavor that goat cheese adds to dishes. The Russian and I ate the entire thing between the two of us. So fast, and of course my other two favorite dinner adjectives, cheap and easy, make this one a keeper and one worthy enough of blogging. After all, it’s been over 6 months since my last post! Obviously, life has gotten busy and with summer almost over here in Georgia, I’m ready to have time to start dedicating to this space. Can’t wait! Although it’s bittersweet…the increase of available time to dedicate comes with the fact that Sugar Bee is off to kindergarten in 2 1/2 short weeks. Time flies.
Before I get to the recipe details, short as they are, I need to give proper credit to the term “zasta” that I’m using. The daughter of friends of mine had the same thinking as me and didn’t care for the term “zoodles” so she came up with “zasta.” I love it and will forever refer to zucchini noodles as zasta. I hope you enjoy this meal as much as we did!
Zasta with tomatoes and goat cheese
Super fast and easy with very little cost, especially if you have a rockin’ garden this year, this vegetarian meal will be a keeper!
1-2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 shallot, finely diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 dozen or more cherry tomatoes, halved
1 roasted red pepper, diced small (jarred okay)
2 zucchini, spiralized into noodles
4 oz crumbled goat cheese
salt and pepper, to taste
Fresh basil, 1-2 Tbsp chopped
Heat EVOO in large skillet over medium heat. Add shallots and saute for 2-3 minutes. Add garlic and cook an additional minute or two until fragrant.
Add tomatoes and cook 3 minutes or until skins start to wrinkle. Add red pepper and simmer 2 more minutes.
Add zucchini, salt, pepper, and a bit more EVOO, tossing to coat evenly. Don’t cook too long or all the water will release from the zucchini. You want a little bit of juicy, saucy goodness, but not soup! (See last picture below. We loved the sauce!)
Add almost all of the goat cheese (reserve 1-2 Tbsp for topping when serving) and stir to toss completely and melt the cheese.
Divide between two plates and top with basil and remaining goat cheese. Serve immediately. Enjoy!
It’s Day 7 of this kick I’ve been on over at my Facebook page, sharing recipes to help you get hot meals on the table during these busy holiday weeks. Monday night, I made up one of my own to share. I dug around and just used what I had in the fridge and pantry, and I will offer other ingredient ideas below that you can include depending on what you have on hand. I also tailored this a bit to Sugar Bee’s tastes as she was the one that chose between Mexican and Italian as options for the spaghetti squash that The Russian had cooked up for me the night before. (I ran out of steam to finish cooking dinner Sunday night, so I stashed it in the fridge to use the following night.)
It was actually even faster to make this dish than it usually would be because the squash was precooked (but not pulled into threads). I just put it in a closed container and popped it in the fridge that night. It was all set to get spaghettied and thrown into the pan when the time came the following night. Even better was that I didn’t have to worry about burning my hands off after the squash came out of the oven because I’m too impatient (and often pressed for time) to allow it to properly cool off. And it’s amazing as leftovers because the flavors have time to meld together. Play around with this one. I’m sure it will be slightly different every time I make this!
After purchasing a spaghetti squash and 1-1.5 pounds of ground beef, sift through your pantry and see what you come up with. You could use diced tomatoes (I would have included a can of fire-roasted, but Sugar Bee is on this “no tomatoes” kick these days and I’m picking my battles), taco seasoning instead of the spices I used, enchilada or tomatillo sauce in place of the tomato sauce, sliced black olives (again, Sugar Bee or they would have been in there), or kidney beans. Then from the fridge, you could add shredded carrots (when you start the onions), sliced scallions (when you top with cheese), or sour cream to mix in. The possibilities are endless! You could even swap the beef for shredded chicken or lose the meat completely and triple the beans instead. This one-pan meal is perfect for a busy weeknight, especially if you cook the squash earlier in the day or even the night before!
1 medium-large spaghetti squash
1 Tbsp bacon fat/lard/ghee/EVOO
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1.35 lbs ground beef
2-3 Tbsp of chili powder, depending on desired spice level (I used 3)
2-3 Tbsp of cumin
2 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp garlic powder (I was actually out of garlic or this would be 2-4 cloves of minced garlic)
4-oz. can of diced, fire-roasted green chilies (I use Ortega as there’s not a lot of junk in their stuff)
15-oz. can of black beans, drained and rinsed
8-oz. can of tomato sauce
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 cups shredded cheese (I prefer a Mexican blend)
Preheat oven to 375°F. Cut squash in half and scoop out seeds. Rub insides with a little olive oil and place cut side down onto a cookie sheet. Bake for 25-35 minutes. Squash is ready when skin gives slightly when pressing on it. Try not to overcook or you will get mush instead of spaghetti strands. Remove and allow to cool.*
When squash is finished cooking and is waiting to be pulled into spaghetti, melt fat or oil in large, oven-safe skillet (broiler proof, preferably) over medium-high heat. Add onions and saute for a few minutes until softened.
Add ground beef and spices to pan. Cook until meat is almost finished and you can’t see any pink. Preheat broiler on high.
Add chilies, beans, and tomato sauce, stirring well to combine.
Shred the squash into spaghetti strands with a fork and add to meat mixture. You may want to taste and see if you need to add more spices once everything is coated and combined. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Even out the squash and meat mixture so it’s flat. (If you don’t have a pan that can be used under the broiler, transfer to a broiler-safe baking dish.) Top with shredded cheese and place under broiler for 3-4 minutes until top is golden brown. Serve with some sour cream, chopped fresh cilantro, and/or sliced scallions. Enjoy!
* You can do this the night before and store in the refrigerator in a sealed container until ready to use. Just don’t shred it until you are about to throw it into the pan!
Rain. We have seen enough rain this fall in Georgia to last us all winter. Once the rainy days turned cold, it got worse. I knew yesterday was supposed to be the last day of this dreary weather until next week, but there was such a chill in the air that I knew that soup was what was needed for dinner. So here’s a down-and-dirty, super-short, no-frills post with the recipe.
This was originally inspired by a recipe in the magazine that I receive from Kaiser Permamente as an insured member (they actually have some good recipes in there!), but of course I have made several changes to it, improvements, if you will. It’s hearty and full of vitamin A thanks to the sweet potato, while the black beans fill you up with fiber and deliver almost all of the magnesium and iron that you need for the day. Between the two, you get 100% of your daily intake of potassium in a serving of each (one cup of each).
The best part? Fast, cheap, and easy (my favorite things) and only one pot to clean. Sure, there’s a cutting board and a knife, but that’s really it. This honestly does only take about 30 minutes, start to finish. Yippee!
Sweet Potato Black Bean Chili
Super fast, cheap, and easy meal for any day of the week, especially a cold one. Almost no mess and very little prep time, this one is sure to be a keeper! Even Sugar Bee likes it 🙂
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, butter, ghee, or other oil of your choice
2 cups of peeled and diced sweet potatoes; 1 large or 3 small
1 large onion, diced
6 cloves of garlic, minced
2 Tbsp smoked paprika
2 Tbsp ground cumin
1 Tbsp tumeric
1 Tbsp chili powder
2.5 cups vegetable broth (or chicken stock if not vegetarian and you want a richer taste)
2 15-ounce cans of organic black beans, rinsed
2 14.5-ounce cans of fire-roasted diced tomatoes (I use one can of regular dice and one can of petite dice)
Juice from 2 limes
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Shredded cheese for topping (optional)
Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add sweet potato and onion and cook, stirring often, until the onion softens, about 4 minutes.
Add spices (garlic, paprika, cumin, tumeric, chili powder) and cook, stirring constantly, for about 30 seconds.
Add the broth and bring to a simmer. Cover and reduce heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook until the sweet potato is tender, about 10-12 minutes.
Add the beans, tomatoes, and lime juice. Increase heat to high and return to a simmer, stirring often.
Reduce heat and simmer until slightly reduced, about 5 minutes.
This morning was the first time I have ever felt any anxiety at all when leaving my daughter off at school. Aside from maybe the first time I left her at the church school when she was one, this morning was new for me.
My daughter isn’t like all the other girls her age. Her preferences are cars, planes, (used to be trains), construction, and anything at all that she can build with. Dolls and dressing up? Not so much. She has a doll, but it doesn’t get any love whatsoever, poor thing. I was thrilled when at the beginning of the summer she said that she wanted to try ballet and tap. She’s struggling over wearing tights, but other than that, she absolutely loves it. And she’s pretty good, too.
I have finally been successful at getting her to watch some Disney princess-type movies with her. The order she’s seen them so far (her choice as I own a bunch of them); Mulan, Brave, Pocahontas, Frozen, The Little Mermaid, and recently, Aladdin. She has some awareness about the other princesses and their names; between me, her school friends, and ballet class, she doesn’t have much choice. I have been used to the Cars and Planes movies playing all the time, and she loves action ones like Bolt, Big Hero 6, and the Lego Movie. She is a spirited kid with an engineer mind and I have never felt any concern for her and her amazing personality. Until this morning.
On the way to school, she was going on about her costume and how she can’t wait to see what all her friends are dressed up as. I asked if she had talked with any of them about what they were dressing up as and she started to fill me in. Her boyfriends in the class whom she plays with the most will be anything from Darth Vader to a Transformer. Then I asked about what the girls will be dressing up as: Belle, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Jasmine (although I think she made that last one up). All a common occurrence just like last year when I had two dozen Annas and Elsas come to my door.
Out of nowhere, I started to get nervous…for her. She’s one of the youngest in her class at barely over 4 years old. She has already been to a few 5th birthday parties and nearly everyone in the class will be 5 before May when school breaks for the summer. I have personally witnessed some of the older girls in the class being cliquey at school and parties. At 5??!!! Good Lord, it’s going to be a loooong road for this generation. The good thing is that Sugar Bee doesn’t seem to mind. She notices….she’s a noticer that misses nothing at all…but she goes on about her way and finds someone or something else to play with. She’s confident at four. It’s the future that worries me.
This is the costume that she picked out of racks of them at the store:She has loved fire trucks since she was teeny tiny and that love has never left her. She’s wearing the hat that my cousin gave to her when we visited his fire house in Ohio last month. She’s very proud of herself and loves her costume. She wanted me to put “dragon makeup” on her so she looked like she just finished fighting a fire. I told her we can do that on Halloween. She’s so creative and is always acting out rescues with her Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars, along with all her larger police and fire vehicles. She even wanted to bring her three fire rescue cars to go with her costume!My ramblings and slight anxiety are about my parenting. Face it, we all know kids can be mean and ostracizing. And normally, I would have never given this a second thought for her since she’s just in pre-K. But I have seen it starting already, mostly with the ones that have older siblings that then gather the ones that will be “the followers.” I just keep shaking my head, thinking, “Already?! They are only FOUR and FIVE!”
Have I taught her enough yet to make her confident about her choices? Will she be able to defend her thoughts, likes, and preferences when questioned, or worse, bullied? I could never have imagined that I would have these thoughts before elementary school; 2nd or 3rd grade was the first I really expected to have to even worry about this stuff. On the way home, I kept imagining the girls in class telling her that she’s wearing a “boy” costume. Women are firefighters, too, dammit! And it’s not like they wear a different outfit than the men to do their job.
This is only the beginning for me. For her. I’m sure I’m overreacting and that nothing like this is going to happen today. If it does, I only pray that she retains her confidence with who she is and what she likes, and that she talks with me about it. I am sure that we will face this eventually. I never want to see her spirit squashed. Looks like I will have work to do before she hits public school.*****UPDATE***** So I went to the second half of her class party to observe and she was incorrect on a lot of the costumes…surprise, surprise. She’s four. Clearly she was the only girl in a neutral costume, but she told me that everyone said to her, “Hey, Sasha! I love your firefighter costume. It’s really cool!” I’m taking that one for what it is because even if it’s not true, she clearly felt good about herself and that’s what matters most. Watching the class play in the big room inside because it was getting yucky outside (and who wants to mess up a costume on the playground?), I could see that she does have more in common with the boys than the girls with the way she plays. I watched her try to break in and participate a few times with “the” group of girls, but with no avail. I plan on talking with her about it at some point, once I can find the right words to help give her the tools that she needs. Wish me luck!
Tater tots. We all used to look forward to them that one day out of the week when the cafeteria would serve them up for lunch. Of course that deep-fried goodness isn’t particularly a part of my family’s current eating lifestyle and I actually have no means (or clue) on how to deep fry anything. Sorry, South. Guess I’m still a Yankee.
I don’t have anything against potatoes and I love a few good french fries once in a blue moon, but when I first heard about swapping white potatoes out with cauliflower in tot form, I was definitely excited about trying them. I have been making different varieties of mashed cauliflower for years now, so this seemed to be the logical next step. So far, I have made two batches of cauliflower tots from different recipes on the web, but both times, The Russian was far from enthusiastic about the taste and Sugar Bee wouldn’t even try one. She’s the cauliflower freak (raw with hummus, of course) and I thought she was going to be the perfect tester. Nope. I ended up eating both batches (these were two very separate instances) and I felt like there was a thing or two missing from each recipe. Which brings me to last week when I finally decided to play around and create my own version of cauliflower tots. They are so fast, cheap, and easy (my three favorite things) that you will hit yourself on the head as to why you haven’t tried any of the many recipes out on that Pinterest thing.
Take out food processor, chop cauliflower into rice-like pieces…… …put in bowl with all of the other ingredients and mix thoroughly……spoon into greased mini muffin pan and bake.Seriously so freaking easy. Just try it tomorrow. Or maybe even tonight.Did I mention that they are delicious?? The Russian easily ate a third of the batch after tasting his first one. Not only did Sugar Bee try one, she ate three of them at dinner. And I could have eaten the whole batch. This version has cheese and I am going to work on a dairy-free version next, inspired by a comment from my Instagram of this success.
Baked Cheesy Cauliflower Tots
Ditch the deep-fried potato goodness and give these healthier baked tots a try. Extremely high in Vitamin C and a great source of B-6, magnesium, iron, and calcium, a head of cauliflower also offers you around 11 grams of protein. After you make these, it will be easy to eat half of a head in one meal as you fill your belly with this kid-approved tater tot replacement.
One small head of cauliflower (or 2/3 of a large head)
1 cup shredded cheese of choice (I have used both a Mexican and an Italian cheese blend)
¼ cup almond meal
½ tsp ground mustard
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp kosher salt
a few grinds black pepper
Preheat oven to 400ºF. Lightly grease a mini muffin tin with cooking oil or spray.
Remove main stem from head of cauliflower and break into pieces. Place in food processor and pulse until finely shredded. Smaller stems are okay to include.
Place the shredded cauliflower in a kitchen towel to remove excess moisture. (Note: I let mine sit out and get room temperature before working with it and I find that there is less moisture released, so this step can be avoided if time allows.)
In a large bowl, combine the shredded cauliflower with all of the remaining ingredients, stirring well to distribute evenly.
With a spoon, scoop the mixture into each muffin cup, pressing down firmly with your fingertips as you go.
This recipe has been such a hit, that I have decided to only make double batches from now on. If I bring them out while guests are over, I will end up with an empty container. But I love feeding those I love, especially when it’s something that is healthy and nutritious. The Russian and Sugar Bee alone could eat the whole batch, so I can’t fault my friends for loving these nuts.
This is so super easy; one bowl and a foil-lined pan means minimal cleanup. That makes me happy. These would be awesome in the fall and around the holidays because of the flavors, but my BFF’s mom had sent her several bags of pecans harvested from their grove (Gerry’s Pecan Grove) and she shared a few bags with me this spring. So I went to work messing with a recipe from the chia seed book I’ve mentioned in previous recipes (Lemon Chia Balls and Cinnamon and Spice Sweet Potato Chips). Now I’m buying pecans all the time from Aldi just so I can keep up with our habit. I will be emailing the grove for more soon and see if I can get set up with a regular shipment. I’m thinking these would make nice Christmas presents this year. 🙂
In a large bowl, whisk together maple syrup, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and sea salt. Then stir in pecans, chia seeds, and chopped cranberries until everything is well coated. Transfer to a baking sheet lined with foil and spread out in a single layer. Bake for 15 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes.Once they are done in the oven, transfer them to waxed paper and let cool completely (if you can).Store in an airtight container…if they are not all eaten that day.
Maple Spiced Pecans
The health benefits from the pecans, cranberries, and chia seeds make this snack a great choice. Its sweet crunch is addicting and I have yet to find someone who doesn’t fall in love. This can easily be split in half if you are making this snack for one….then you would use 1/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons of maple syrup.
3/4 cup pure maple syrup
1+ teaspoon ground cinnamon
A few shakes of ground nutmeg
A good shake of ground clove
1/4 teaspoon kosher sea salt
4 cups pecan halves (raw are best)
1 cup dried cranberries, chopped
1/2 cup chia seeds
Preheat oven to 325°F.
In large bowl, whisk together the maple syrup with the spices and salt. Stir in the pecans, cranberries, and chia seeds, tossing until well coated.
Lay the mixture out in a single layer on a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes.
Transfer the mixture to a large piece of waxed paper and allow to cool completely.
Store in an airtight container in a cool place and enjoy while they last!
Unless you have a uterus, you might want to pass on reading this post. There will be a little TMI about the female body, so I will not be offended if you leave now. If you have female parts, especially if you currently menstruate every month, I’ve got some good stuff to share so I hope that you continue on. And if you don’t fit that bill and continue reading anyway because you have a spouse or daughter or lady friend that you care about and you want to be informed, I applaud you.
Almost four months ago, I purchased my first menstrual cup. Yes, saying those last two words together made me feel a little uncomfortable at first (and they still do sometimes), but that is not all my fault. It’s the way I was brought up in the world of disposable feminine products that have been the norm for my nearly four decades on this earth, and long before that. And then there’s the fabulous marketing that goes along with these products to influence and help us make decisions about what to buy.
After digging around a little, I learned that menstrual cups are not new. In fact, they have been around since at least the 1930s(1). I found this post that includes research showing a similar concept was used in the 1860s!(2) If you are at all like me, you should be a little curious as to why it seems like we have only just started hearing about them? My answer: Big Business. Think of all the money that these manufacturers are able to allocate to their advertising. You can’t watch a show on the television or flip through a magazine (I’m not the only one still doing these things, right?) without having tampon or maxipad ads thrown at you. They even cater to young girls now with their packaging and naming. In 2010 and 2011, women in North America stocked up on $3 billion worth of feminine hygiene products(3). So their heavy marketing obviously works in their favor, but I think that’s because the alternatives have been kept hidden away from us. I’m here to tell you all about it.
Why I made the switch
This is a completely under-regulated industry. Since the FDA sees feminine products like pads and tampons as medical devices, there is no mandatory testing of the safety of these products and no laws to enforce companies to disclose their ingredients. This makes it almost impossible for us to know what is in our feminine products and to be educated enough to avoid chemicals of concern that are found in them.
Made from cotton and rayon, tampons (my preferred choice for the last 20+ years) are bleached with chlorine compounds that leave behind highly toxic dioxins, as well as pesticide residue from using non-organic cotton. Sure, I once thought I could just switch to organic cotton tampons that were not overly processed, but on month when I have a heavy cycle, I can go through a good box and a half of tampons. It’s not that easy to just run out to the store and get more as not everyone carries Natracare and Seventh Generation tampons and pads. (I’m including links to purchase both brands from Amazon (Natracare and Seventh Generation) in case the cup idea is too much for you, but you are interested in switching to healthier feminine products.) For some scientific information about the chemicals I (we) have been literally shoving into our bodies every month, WomensVoices.org has a fantastic piece for you to read, called Chem Fatale Report.
Graphic courtesy of WomensVoices.org
Why I love it
So why did it take me so long to write about this if I’m so happy? I wanted to give it a good test. The first month, I was kind of learning the ropes. Inserting and removing take a little bit of trial and error. If you go with the bell-shaped cup like the DivaCup that I chose, folding method two is the one that has worked best for me. And my trick to share with you is that I found that if I set on the edge of the bed or something after the initial insertion, my body actually slides it into position even better than I can. It feels crazy weird, but I learned that my muscles are much more relaxed when sitting than while standing or squatting, and I can feel my body actually guide/slide/whatever the cup into the perfect position.
I also wanted to wait until I gave it a good test with all the types of exercise I do on a weekly basis. I was a little gun-shy about using it through my entire cycle that first month, getting frustrated sometimes when I couldn’t get the fit right and giving up to use a tampon. I can report now that I will never look back as last month’s trial solidified that I never need to use tampons again. I do a considerable amount of weight lifting, including a variety of squats, and not one complaint from me about leakage or falling out (as actually happened to me with a tampon in a Power Box/Tae Bo class one time). I have ran with it. I have done yoga and stretching with it. I have done Zumba with it. The only thing left to test it with is swimming and I can’t wait!! The pool opens next month and then I’ll be going to the beach in June. I am beyond excited at the prospect of not having to go straight to the restroom after getting out of the water in order to take the tampon out. Not to mention making sure that the string isn’t hanging outside my suit. There are no worries with this cup thing. Not a single one.
More reasons I’m in love:
I have been inserting it before my period actually starts, on the day it’s expected to begin. No more surprises while out!
It’s so reliable that there are no more trips running to the bathroom for frequent changes or to check for leaks. The cup can be left in for 8-10 hours at a time (and up to 12), depending on how heavy the flow is. I actually almost forget about it!
It’s made of medical-grade silicone and is latex free which is very important to me as I’m allergic to latex.
Tampons offer just eight hours before TSS (Toxic Shock Syndrome) becomes a possibility. With menstrual cups, you can go up to 12 hours in between emptying and it’s not really sitting there next to your skin; it’s in the cup. Also, if your tampon has even a slightly higher absorbency than your actual flow, you risk shredding. Tiny bits of cotton can cause small cuts in your vaginal walls—a perfect breeding ground for the bacteria causing TSS.
I don’t have to worry if I have any spares in my purse or car. One and done!
I’m learning even more about my cycle and my body. I’m always up for that.
**TMI/education alert** As the DivaCup site mentions, “Menstrual flow only begins to develop an odor when it is exposed to air. As The DivaCup is worn internally, your days of worrying about period odor are over. Menstrual fluid on tampons and pads is exposed to air which creates odor throughout the day.”(4) Which also means that the bathroom smells better, too, as there are no more used tampons sitting in the lidded garbage can. (Sorry for the extra information on this last bullet that you didn’t want.)
It saves money (see below), and who doesn’t like to save some green?
Let’s talk about money
My hormone and cycle history could be a post all its own, but let’s just start with when my cycle returned six months after weaning my daughter, the most recent history as she will be four this summer. It has been pretty whacky, sometimes light and others very, very heavy. Some months I would go through almost two boxes of tampons, one of regular and one of super. I always felt like they filled up quick or weren’t as absorbent as they used to be, and maybe they just were not fitting me well anymore. Maybe my body had changed, or maybe the products have changed. I will admit that I’m a bit of a conspiracy theorist, especially when it comes to the government, big pharma, and big business, and the more I started thinking about it, the more I started thinking that maybe, just maybe, they are making these things less absorbent so you go through more of them every month? Seems like a good business tactic to me. (Moving along now…)
Then came my first cycle that I only used the cup. Um, why did I need to use so many tampons each month? Seriously…when emptying the cup after 12 hours, I would look and see that it was almost never filled. So tell me why did I have to change my tampons every 4-6 hours, 3 when it was a heavy day? We really don’t lose that much blood during the course of our cycle. I have seen proof of this from my own body with my own eyes. The cup can hold about an ounce of fluid and the average woman releases about 1-2 ounces throughout the whole cycle. Only one time have I seen the cup close to full, but that was also a day that I cramped a lot. (And I swear your period completely changes after giving birth.) Most of the time, it’s only about 1/4-1/2 full. Again, why did I have to spend so much money on tampons every month and use so many? What a mystery.
I picked up my DivaCup for around $20 though a buying group I belong to from Facebook. Basically, my savings in what I would have spent on tampons the past three months has paid for the cup already. And this thing is good for at least another 9 months before replacing it as they are good for a year, longer if you take good care of it. I really, REALLY encourage you to read through all of these First Questions as I think you might start to see the potential here.
If you have been having hormone/endochrine disruption and have tried everything from diet changes to herbals and supplements, you just might want to give the cup a try. Or at least make the switch away from all the brands that we came to know and “love” as we grew into women. I feel that our bodies are becoming more and more sensitive to the chemicals we used to be able to tolerate on a daily basis. Just a few years ago, we weren’t bombarded with toxin exposure from everything to carpets and drapes to food and toiletries. Perhaps our bodies just can’t take any more and just one small change that we can make to reduce our toxic exposure can help heal us a little. Baby steps.
Like the majority of the kids in the part of the northeast that I grew up in, I was raised as a Catholic. It seemed you were pretty much either Catholic or Jewish. Because of this, most of the kids that went to public school together also attended the same CCD classes and belonged to the same church. If you lived in my hometown, it was highly probable that your family belonged to St. Patrick’s Catholic church. Unless, of course, you were Jewish. I think we had a few other denominations of Christian churches around, but I can’t really remember any. Where I grew up, spring break always seemed to fall on the week before Easter to include Good Friday, what I personally consider the holiest of days. I’m not sure if things are still this way, and it may or may not have been to accommodate Holy Week. (I am curious about this now.)
The old stone church – St. Patrick’s Parish, Yorktown Heights, NY
I’m embarrassed to admit that I still don’t really know much about the differences between the other Christian religions. In fact, I probably know more about Judaism and the religions of cultures different from mine (which I studied while in college) than what separates the Catholics from other Christian sects. One of my best friends growing up was Jewish and I never thought twice about prayers or meals or their traditions. I have been very close with a family that practices Kosher traditions and their faith has always played a big part in their lives. I have seen what a strong family they are; a strong marriage, fantastic children, and a truly loving family. I believe this has a lot to do with the sharing of their faith as a family. We both believe in the Old Testament, it’s just latter part of the Christian bible that separates the two religions (I know there are other things, but I’m simplifying it). We are both steeped in traditions, one of the things I love most about my own religion as I am generally a traditional person.
Saying that one was raised Catholic, generally means you attended CCD (now called PSR) which is basically Sunday school, you were forced to go to mass on Sunday mornings, and maybe you even attended Catholic school instead of public. You at least attended mass until you completed the sacrament of Confirmation. After that took place, it seemed that many parents backed off on the Sunday morning ritual (including my own) as social lives, SAT stuff, and college applications started to fill your weekends.
By the time I went to college, my outlook on religion (and the world) had gone through a lot of changes, yet I still picked a small, private college that had deep roots in religion, Manhattanville College. It’s not in Manhattan. (That sentence is for my fellow alumni.) I chose that school for a long list of reasons, but religion wasn’t really one of them. Well, not exactly. I loved the diversity of the student body and I ended up taking lots of courses on various religions from around the world. I have always been curious about the customs, foods, and people that are different from me. Perhaps I was also doing some subconscious soul searching.
I spent the next 9-10 years drifting farther and farther from the church. I became what are referred to as “Easter-Christmas Catholics,” attending mass on those two holidays and a few others interspersed here and there throughout the year. Those attendances were usually because I was visiting my grandmother upstate or she was at my mom’s, so I would always attend. She was a very faithful woman that loved her church, and that deep faith can also be found in my mother. It seems that now the legacy is living on through me.
I had a crazy-fast romance with The Russian; meeting the last day of June in 2003, getting engaged that September, married that November (by a judge the first time), and moving south to Georgia the following January. What a six months that was! For someone that is not very good at making decisions that had never lived more than 30 minutes from my childhood town, I still laugh sometimes at that time of my life. Moving south was the best decision I have ever made, but it also marks the beginning of some of the toughest times of my life.
When we moved, The Russian couldn’t work as we were waiting for the government to do what they had to do with his status. The financial responsibilities fell on me. I had spent the previous 5-6 post-college years in NY teaching preschool and pre-K, supplementing with a ridiculous amount of babysitting on the side. Did I mention that we moved here without any jobs? We had an apartment that was paid for and that was it. So I looked for work. Anywhere. I ended up with three jobs in order to support us, and we still needed help occasionally from family. I worked Monday through Thursday for a naturopathic doctor, Fridays for two to three families at a time to watch all their kids at once, and then on Saturdays and Sundays I worked at a flight school (where I still work on Saturdays because it’s awesome and I love it). Yes, I held down three jobs and worked seven days a week to support us. I always do what needs to be done. This ended up costing me some of my health which is how I began my journey in the natural world, but it also brought me back to the church.
This was such a dark time for me, not my darkest ever, but I was exhausted, struggling with a new marriage in a new place with no money and no friends. My friends have always been my family, sometimes more than my family to me, and I cried. A lot. I was so homesick. I wanted my mom. I wanted my friends. I wanted to be back in New York. But I continued on, thanks to the strength that I found when I went back to my faith.
It was February 25, 2004. Ash Wednesday. That was the day I realized that I was not alone. I did have something to turn to. I had my faith, and at that moment, I began my journey back to the church. I googled Catholic churches in the area where I was working and found one that had a mass I could make to get ashes during my lunch. It was strange to walk into a church I had never been to, alone, unsure of the way things flow for communion, and I didn’t know anyone. Then the priest at the altar completely surprised me. He was young…as in, he seemed to be around my age. And during the homily, he spoke to us instead of talking at us. He didn’t stay behind the pulpit. Instead, he walked around the front and up the aisles a bit, making eye contact and smiling. This was so strange to me and I felt so welcome and calm that I almost cried right then and there. I knew I had found what I needed. I was glad that I listened to the voice in my head that told me to seek out mass that Ash Wednesday. It was the start of something big for me.
I continued to go to church there, becoming a registered parishioner and attending mass nearly every week even though it was 20+ minutes from where I was living. There aren’t a lot of Catholic churches down here as we are in Baptist land, and I didn’t do much looking around after finding Father Bryan. I knew this was where I was meant to be. He was a contemporary, even relating his homilies to things like Star Wars. He was the best priest I had ever encountered and I know God wanted me to meet him for this purpose. I needed to see that the church is changing, albeit slowly, but it is capable of change. And I was getting drawn in because of what I was now experiencing.
In 2005, we got married. Again. I needed, and wanted, to receive the sacrament of marriage. I wanted to share our love and celebrate with all the other people in my life that didn’t join us for our very small (8 other people) first marriage and celebration. It was planned back in New York at my mom’s church as it was easier to ask a few people to fly up there than to ask everyone up there to fly down here. It wasn’t a full mass. I was the only one to receive communion, my sacrament of marriage, and that was all that I needed. It was so important to me that The Russian gladly obliged to marry a second time, this time in the Catholic church.
October 15, 2005 – St. John the Evangelist, White Plains, NY
Then in 2006, The Russian joined the Army. I had changed jobs and started to feel like this particular church was no longer a good match for me. Long story short, some other priest started with politics from the pulpit and I nearly walked out – some people did – so I knew I had to find a new church. I go to mass for my personal relationship with God, my own spirituality, not for that junk. I don’t have to agree with all the things that the church pushes forth, I have my own mind (most die-hards would call me a “cafeteria Catholic”), and my going to church is about me and my spirit, nothing more. So I found another church that was close to my flight school job that had a Saturday Vigil mass. I started going to and in the first few weeks, who do I end up seeing there?? Father Bryan! I knew that again this was where I was to be. I registered at Saint Catherine’s and have been a member since. This is where I really started to grow and realize why I was back for good.
When The Russian deployed, it was tough. I had amazing friends and a great support system by this point (2009-2010), but there were still many times that I would cry for no reason. That was a hard time in my life, despite the appearance I put up going out to distract myself. I had to in order to stay sane. I decided it was time for me to start getting involved in my church community as he wasn’t home and I had too much free time. I noticed in the bulletin that they needed Catechists, the people that teach PSR/Sunday School/whatever you want to call it. I was missing teaching and thought this would be a great place for me to start. So I signed up. I was given 3rd graders my first year and I taught on Wednesday afternoons. As I taught that first year, my assistant in the room was full of compliments. There were times when the kids would ask me tough questions and I swear that I had no idea where I got the answers from. Her and I would look at each other sometimes and make “Wow” faces as she knew that I had never taught religion before. It was the Holy Spirit coming through me. What else could it be?
Grandma Tish and Gram – Two of the strongest women that I have ever known
During his deployment, I also lost both of my grandmothers within two weeks of each other. I honestly feel like I would have been lost during that time without my faith, without believing some of the foundational pieces of my religion in order to make sense of it all. And let go. My dad’s mom left us first and my mom’s mom was still hanging on even though she should have already left to meet her maker. Both of these women were close for many years, so I asked Grandma Tish to tell Gram that it was okay to leave, that it was time to go. A few days later, she did. When I went to Gram’s service back in NY, I had another reason to be thankful for the church. The priest had actually known my grandmother very well and it was an amazing eulogy. He was full of words that gave me comfort and I started to feel proud that I am continuing her legacy through our faith. I am not as involved as she was or my mother is, but I’m sure I will be as I get older. When I would visit Gram in North Carolina at the place she ended up spending the last years of her life, I always took her to church. It became our thing and I think even when it got more difficult for her to remember my name or who I was at first glance, she was happy to see me because she knew I would take her to church. I miss her, but I feel connected to her every single time I’m at mass. Faith.
Gram and mom in NC – 2009
Growing up, we are put in religious education classes and dragged to church (what it feels like to a kid) on Sunday mornings. Looking back, I feel that I missed so much of what was taught. My heart wasn’t there, it was just an obligation that I had. I didn’t get it, not like I do now. To be able to share with children really deepened and strengthened my faith and understanding in ways I couldn’t have imagined. The following year, I signed up again and got the perfect class for me – Kindergarten. I LOVED that class. I had the best time teaching them and have many incredible moments where again, I have no idea where the words came from. Sometimes it felt like an out-of-body experience. I got pregnant that October and haven’t been able to go back to teach PSR since then, but I will once Sugar Bee is old enough to attend. And I can’t wait.
Teaching wasn’t the only reason I that I understand why I was led back to the church. It was also for my daughter. She has the strangest affinity, and I say strange in a positive and endearing way, for Jesus. Let me be specific here, it’s Baby Jesus. Everything relating to Christ is referred to as Baby Jesus with Sugar Bee, and I absolutely love it. She often went to mass with me up until the age of two when it started to get more challenging. Since the age of one, she has been attending “school” at local Baptist churches. I know that her love for the Christian religion is not a sole credit to me as I don’t take her as often as I would like these days, but she has gone several times during this Lenten season, and for this I thank these churches. I have never thought twice about the fact that she’s not in a preschool at a Catholic church. We are all Christians and they are teaching her more that I had ever hoped for her at this age. She gets upset if I pick her up early and she misses bible time. That makes me beam with pride and my heart swell. I am eternally grateful to them for instilling what I am not sure I would have been able to as her mom. What a blessing.
We sing Christmas songs. All. Year. Long. I can’t complain and it’s not every night this year because I have been resisting rocking my sweet babe to bed every night, something that I would do the rest of my life if she would let me. Her favorite song in the entire world is Little Drummer Boy, which happens to be in my top 5. Since this past Christmas, she likes to sing it to me at bedtime. How could I refuse?
One of the most incredible conversations that continues to happen between me and Sugar Bee is when we pass a funeral. There are several large cemetery and memorial parks around our house and the first time she noticed a funeral, she had questions. I explained it as simply as I could, that someone had died and those people were all gathered there to say goodbye. This little child said, “That’s so sad, mama,” but her mood changed when I told her that it was okay because that person was going to meet Jesus. She was so content with my explanation, but still said that it was sad. Now whenever we pass another funeral or we stop for a funeral procession as they do in the south, she talks about how that person is going to meet, of course, Baby Jesus, and that it’s still sad, but good. And I find myself smiling every time.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit
We baptized Sugar Bee in my church when she was three months old. There were rumors of The Russian leaving again for an extended period of time and we decided to just do it. As I said before, she attended mass quite often as a little one. We took a break from when she turned two until around three, but she wants to go to church with me. How can I refuse that?
She is still learning the ropes at communion time, and I have to share a few of the things that she has done. (crap, this is a LONG post!) Before making first communion, both for non-Catholics attending mass or for the littles that walk up to receive a blessing, it is customary to walk up with your arms crossed, placing your hands on your shoulders. The first time she started to “get” what was going on, she got upset on the way back to the pew. When I asked her what was wrong, she said, “I didn’t do a good job because I didn’t get any.” She almost started to cry, and I almost started to laugh. I squeezed her tight and reminded her about her cousin’s First Communion and she was content for the moment. A few months ago when the deacon went to bless her, she tried to grab the whole cup of communion out of his hands. He and I looked at each other and chuckled. She wasn’t amused. Then two weeks ago, the person giving her the blessing raised their hand above her head and she gave them a high-five. That time, we both laughed out loud. Last week during Palm Sunday mass, I glanced down while I was kneeling and praying before receiving communion and there she was, kneeling along side of me, hands clasped and her eyes closed. I found the hugest grin sweep across my face and I thought I was going to burst with pride. This is why I found my way back to the church. To nurture this child, not only with her mind and her body, but also her soul.
Sugar Bee with us and her godparents – October 2011
I look around my church when I am at mass and I feel sad. I feel somewhat alone in my generation. There are not that many young families at the masses that I regularly attend, granted that I usually attend Saturday Vigil or Sunday evening ones, but most people are around my mom’s age and older. Who will be there to keep our church going? What has happened to my generation? To get slightly political, I blame the media. Christians, and most often the Catholics, are made fun of and treated poorly for their beliefs. Not to say that they are perfect and don’t deserve some scrutiny at times, but what group of people is perfect? There is no perfect religion or group of people. Christians are being persecuted in the Middle East, just for being Christians, and no one is talking about it in this country. Christians represent the largest population in the world, yet the media in this country is all but silent about these atrocities. These “tolerant” people in government and the media are quick to bash Catholics and Christians, showing very little support. Yes, the Catholic church might be the richest in the world, but we are also among the largest donators and charity supporters, incredible humanitarians, and strong missionaries. I probably should evangelize, but I don’t. (Insert Catholic guilt.) If people ask me anything, I will share, but I personally don’t care what people believe. To each their own. I am only responsible for my own soul. Church as an institution isn’t for everyone. I happen to get something out of it. Actually, I get a lot out of attending, but I don’t judge anyone for not being a practicing member of whatever faith. Just believe in something.
Catholics are moving forward and have a Pope now that is trying to show the world that we are capable of change. Don’t let a few judgmental Christians or other negatively painted stories that you hear about in the news decide if you want to be part of the church or not. I promise that you are not being told all the good being done.
This was a long and flip-floppy post. Anxious to get it out before Easter Sunday, I probably should have spent more time reorganizing, but there it all is. Thanks for visiting and have a blessed Easter and Passover!
Being half-crunchy, I really wanted to try my hand at dyeing eggs with the colors that Mother Nature has given us. This was my first attempt and I am not totally discouraged, but it was a learning experience.
I usually buy eggs from local farms, and sometimes get them for free from a family friend who knows someone with lots of chickens that lay more eggs than they can eat. They look better. They taste so different than “regular” eggs. And I’m supporting local farmers. We all win. The problem is, you will hardly ever get a white egg. Sometimes they are pale brown, yellow, or greenish blue, but it’s extremely rare (as in never) that I get a white one. I am going to have to google why that is, but I want to get this finished first. I will get back to you on that one. I think this all would have gone better if I had regular white eggs from the store, but too late now.
I did a little digging around and found two great posts, one from green child and another from Better Homes and Gardens. I have a video saved somewhere that I need to dig up where this woman did an amazing job making her own dyes to use in place of food coloring for baking that I’m sure would be awesome for this, but if I recall correctly, it was a lot more work than I have time for. My trial was simple and fast to start. It was the waiting that took a long, long time.
I started off deciding on four colors, and chose them based on what seemed to have the least amount of work involved. I already knew tumeric would be great, and if you ever cook with it, you know why. It stains everything and my poor clear plastic measuring spoon that I was dumb enough to leave in the bowl too long didn’t even get clean from the dishwasher. Oh well. At least that color works. I decided to go with a grey/purple/blue color, a pinkish red, a yellow, and a burnt orange.
Here’s what I did with them on Sunday night when I started:
Grey/purple/blue color: 1 cup frozen blueberries and 1 cup water, brought to room temperature, and then removed the berries
Yellow: 2 Tbsp of ground tumeric, mixed with 1 cup boiling water, then added 2 tsp of white vinegar
Pinkish red: Two cooked beets (I should have used raw, but I went with what I had as this was a last-minute thought) in 4 cups boiling water, mixed with 2 Tbsp vinegar; I also added some beet juice, both pickled and from the container of cooked beets, removing the beets before adding the eggs
Burnt orange: 2 Tbsp of paprika (I used smoked as that’s what I mostly cook with) in 1 cup boiling water, then added 2 tsp white vinegar
When everything was room temperature, including the eggs, I dropped them all in. And waited. I did this in the evening, finally getting them in around 9 0’clock. I put them out in my garage fridge and waited until morning. I was all excited…and then slightly disappointed.Monday morning, I took them out and took a look. There wasn’t all that much difference in color. I could see a faint tint and it had already been 12 HOURS! So I dropped them all back in after giving everything a good stir. Back to the fridge they went. And I waited some more. In fact, I waited another 24 hours and took them out Tuesday morning. Probably didn’t make much of a difference to leave them in longer, but some places did get darker. This will have to do. Easter is on Sunday.
Sugar Bee hasn’t had dyed eggs before and this is the first Easter that we will be doing the whole creepy Easter-Bunny-came-and-hid-your-eggs-now-go-find-them-and-I-hope-I-remember-where-I-put-them-in-case-she-can’t-find-them-all thing. Last year was her first real Easter basket, filled with way more toys and stuff than candy and crap. Yeah, what a shocker. I’m that mom. I own it.I know that I read somewhere about shining them up a little with olive oil, or maybe I’m making that up, but that’s what I did and it actually did enhance the colors a little more, making them a little deeper.All in all, I’m pleased with my first attempt. I wish I had started experimenting sooner, but I will mess around more next year!