06/26/17

Giving back at Ronald McDonald House Tampa

Started my 38th trip around the sun volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House with this group of amazing people! 

These people are the real deal. Kind, smart, funny, and most of all, selfless. When I started talking about getting a group together to volunteer our time at the Ronald McDonald House here in Tampa as a way to celebrate my birthday, they all said “yes!” without a second thought. And yes… we made cupcakes… and YES I had one, of course. It was my birthday after all! 😉

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I started volunteering at the Tampa location of the Ronald McDonald House (RMH) way back in once upon a time, time (1995) with my mom and some high school friends. Since then, we have returned as often as possible to cook a meal for the families staying at the house. The last 5 years I have visited the house almost monthly with my best girlfriends, blogger buddies, family, and my husband to give back. 

From the website: What began as one family’s misfortune became good fortune for millions of families worldwide. In 1974, Kim Hill, the 3-year old daughter of Philadelphia Eagles tight end Fred Hill, was diagnosed with leukemia. During Kim’s three years of treatment, Fred and his wife Fran often camped out on hospital chairs and benches and ate makeshift meals out of vending machines. The Hills watched other parents around them doing the same thing. They learned that many of the families traveled great distances to bring their children to the hospital, but couldn’t afford hotel rooms. The Hills began to think that there had to be a solution. Fred rallied the support of his Eagles teammates to raise funds and help other families experiencing the same emotional and financial traumas as his own. Through Jim Murray, the Eagles’ general manager, the team offered its support to Dr. Audrey Evans, head of the pediatric oncology unit at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Dr. Evans dreamed of a home-like temporary residence for families of children being treated at her hospital. Together, they created the first Ronald McDonald House. That first Ronald McDonald House opened in Philadelphia in 1974. By 1979, ten more Houses had opened. By 1984, McDonald’s restaurants and local communities founded 60 more Houses; then 53 more opened by 1989. Today, there are 286 Ronald McDonald Houses in 35 countries around the world.

Ronald McDonald House provides a “home-away-from-home” for families with children receiving medical treatment in area hospitals. Between the houses in both Tampa and St. Pete, 80 bedrooms with private baths are offered to families whose children are receiving treatment away from home for days, months or even longer, for little to no cost. The Ronald McDonald House offers families a way to continue to be together, even when far from home. The Houses are all located near local hospitals; most within walking distance. Each house offers home cooked meals, private bedrooms, computer rooms, play areas, laundry rooms, and indoor/outdoor areas for watching television, relaxing or reading. The Ronald McDonald House runs solely on donations and volunteers. Although families are asked to donate toward their stay, they are never turned away for the inability to do so. 

There are so many ways to volunteer at RMH. They’re always looking for house volunteers, including people willing to help prepare home cooked meals at their kitchen. Here’s how it works (for the Tampa location of the RMH):

  1. Visit Take Them A Meal.
  2. In the center of the page you’ll see a section labeled “FIND”. Type “tampa” where it says recipient last name, and “meal” where it says password.  
  3. Once you are logged in you will see directions for preparing or donating a meal at the Tampa location of the house (directions for other Tampa Bay RMH locations can be found here.)
  4. Once you have reviewed the directions, scroll down and you will see a list of available dates to provide meals and which dates are already booked. When you find a date that fits your schedule, click “Take”, then fill in the form. You don’t need to know what you are cooking in advanced and can put “TBD” when asked about the meal. You are required to cook the entire meal at the RMH kitchen and cannot prepare anything at home in advanced. The only exception is if you choose to donate pre-made items purchased at a grocery store or catered from a restaurant (like rotisserie chickens). You will receive a confirmation email when you book a date, and the day before you are scheduled to be at the house. 
  5. Once you have booked a date, now it’s time to recruit a group to help! Because you will be preparing a home-cooked meal for 20-25 guests that are staying at the RMH, you can bring up to 10 friends to help you. I usually create a Facebook event to recruit people to join me and to help stay organized. Volunteers must be 14+ and accompanied by an adult 21+. 
  6. Volunteers are required to provide all the ingredients to create the meal. I typically will decide on what to make, and then post a “shopping list” in my Facebook event so that people can sign up to bring 2-3 items each as a donation. You can also choose to collect $ from each friend who is helping to cook then have 1 person do all of the shopping. The house receives MANY pasta/taco type of dishes, so if possible, think of something else to make. I can help you brainstorm some things we have made in the past that were a hit. The kitchen is fully stocked with seasonings, oils, eggs, milk, utensils, pans, dishes and other essential tools for meal prep. The kitchen is also equipped with two commercial sized refrigerators and freezers, two ovens, 2 stovetops, 2 dishwashers, and 2 deep sinks. Volunteers are also responsible for cleaning up after the meal is done. 
  7. Dinner is typically served between 5pm-6pm, so dinner should be hot and ready to be served between then. Although the website says 6-6:30pm, I often find that families come a bit earlier to take food back to the hospital, so I typically aim for dinner to be ready to go by 5pm. There are crock pots available to keep things warm. I typically arrive between 2-3pm to begin cooking. Although not required, you are welcome to stay and help serve the families as they come through. Additionally, as you’re cooking, families who are staying at the house might stop by to smell what’s going on. This is a great time to get a chance to interact with them and see the appreciation they have for the hard work and time you’ve put in to prepping a home cooked meal for them. It’s an extremely rewarding experience!

Additional information: The house is located on Davis Island, at 35 Columbia Drive, right behind Tampa General Hospital. You can park anywhere you see a space designated “RMH permit parking” outside of the house. To enter, ring the doorbell and a volunteer will let you in. If this is your first visit to the house, the desk volunteer will give you a tour of the kitchen so that you know where everything is. 

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If you have any questions, feel free to reach out! I would be happy to help you!
Steph 🙂
06/24/17

6 years

2191 days since we met, and every day is better than the last…

One of our first dates in 2011

Happy first date anniversary, husband! This life together is just everything.

 

xoxo

06/23/17

How to make friends (and not get hashtagged #Targetstalker)

Have you seen this? Ball Pit Turns Strangers Into Friends
No? Go ahead and click on it. It’s only a few minutes and sooo worth the watch. I’ll wait.

……….. *this is me waiting*………….

Back? Great! What did you think? Amazing huh? Don’t you think we need more ball pits in the world?

I mean making friends when you’re a kid is SO easy. Whether it be a ball pit, playground, sandbox, or lunchroom table at school, making friends as a child pretty much consisted of 3 actions:

1. Make eye contact.
2. Laugh at something together, OR share something with each other, OR like something the other person has/is wearing/etc.
3. BFFs.

Of course there are those special exceptions, like when an adult forces you to be friends, like how I met my dear friend Meghan way back in once upon a time time (6th grade). Our teacher asked us if we would befriend this poor child who was just a social outcast in our class. I guess she pegged us as the “nice girls” and within moments we were game-planning how we would befriend the girl. Flash forward to 2017 and Meghan and I are still great friends.

Unfortunately, when the school and college days are over, and you’re faced with jobs, relationships, responsibilities and babies, making friends becomes a thousand times more complicated. And I don’t think it’s for lack of trying. It just becomes more of an awkward ordeal than when we were kids. I mean just try going up to that friendly looking individual walking around Target, gripping the same Starbucks drink as you are, and try to drum up a conversation about that stylish lamp in her shopping cart.

Suddenly you find yourself on her Twitter with a hashtag #Targetstalker.

Right now I’m very fortunate to have an awesome group of girlfriends whom I have met over the past few years (yes, as an adult!) that completely have my back, and can laugh with through all of our life adventures. Some of them I met through mutual friends; some through teaching or volunteering; others through blogging and social media! I have been lucky enough to have never had to follow someone around a grocery store. Yet. 😉 

I’ve seen a lot of talk lately on social media about adult friendships. When the ball pit video was making the rounds, I knew something was definitely up. Maybe it’s more noticeable when you’re in your mid-30’s that making new friends IS quite the feat. Maybe it’s because by the time we’re in our 30’s we’ve lost friends, been hurt, etc. and we know how it could pan out, so we avoid it altogether? Maybe we feel like we just don’t have the time in our busy lives to get to know someone new.

However, when you realize that good friends are a necessity, you put the work into finding them, and cultivating them. Sometimes there’s an instant connection and no work is needed at all. Sometimes you feel the need to give a person an application. (I’ve never done this. Just for the record). 

Here are my tips for meeting new people, and making life long friends. I’m no friendship expert (I’ve had my share of disasters!), but maybe you’ll be able to take something from this post and get out there and mingle!

*Join a Meetup group, interest club, volunteer organization or sports league. Finding others with common interests is the best way to drum up conversations and make connections that will lead to potential long-lasting friendships. Oh, and make sure you talk to people and don’t just stand there like a statue. Smile, make eye contact, crack a joke or two. Otherwise you’ll end up on Instagram, yet again. Hashtag #weirdstatueperson

*Strike up a conversation with someone. I mean, ok, you could totally compliment Target lady about her lamp choice without potentially ending up on Twitter. But it’s necessary to learn how to feel people out. If she says “thanks” and walks away quickly, don’t follow her. If she says “thanks- I think it will go great with the color I just painted my living room”, feel free to proceed with step 2 and ask her about the color. Look for those natural opportunities to extend conversations.

*Use social media to your advantage. Branch out from online connections and find ways to get to know one another in real life! Make sure it’s mutual. For example: host a volunteer day (like volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House!) and invite some of your blogging buddies, or online fitness pals to come along. It’s a great way to do something nice for others while making some new friends! 

*Keep things no pressure. Friendships should progress naturally. Don’t expect to be BFF’s in a day.

*As relationships evolve from acquaintances to friends, always remember to be reliable, honest, loyal, trustworthy, a good listener and a good friend. What does it mean to be a good friend? It means you have something to bring to the table. Dumping all of your “woe to me’s” onto a person day in and day out is exhausting, and it will push people away. Friendships need a good balance of give and take. Make sure you recognize your own strengths and know what you can contribute.

*Choose your friends wisely. Don’t befriend someone just because. If a friendship becomes unhealthy, stressful or demanding, move on. There is no time for negativity and unhealthy relationships at our age!

*Introduce new friends to your current friends. That’s the easiest (and best) way to build a network of awesome people to surround yourself with!

Do you find you have trouble making friends as an adult?

 

06/20/17

Easy oven baked ribs

I can’t recall the first time I had ribs. 
But I remember NOT liking them.

I’m not much of a “eating meat off the bone” kind of lady, so gnawing on chicken wings, T-bone steaks, and ribs just isn’t my thing.

But then, I decided to play around with making a version at home and that’s when these delicious, tender, fall-off-the-bone ribs came into my life. 

And I was forever changed. 

These ribs are totally fool-proof, can be whipped up on a slow-paced Sunday afternoon, and are definitely a crowd-pleasing dish. You can serve the alongside a dollop of potato salad, or remove from the bone and serve over a bowl of creamy polenta. Mmmmmmmmm……..

The best news? If you omit any bbq sauce, these ribs are Paleo and low carb! Here’s the recipe! 

Foolproof ribs
Serves 2
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Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
3 hr 30 min
Prep Time
10 min
Cook Time
3 hr 30 min
Ingredients
  1. 1 full rack of pork baby back ribs
  2. 1/4 cup coconut sugar
  3. 2 tbsp. sea salt
  4. 1 tbsp. black pepper
  5. 1 tsp. red pepper flake (optional if you don't like heat)
  6. 2 tbsp. garlic powder
  7. 1 tbsp. onion powder
  8. 1 tbsp. smoked paprika
  9. 1 tsp. chipotle powder
  10. 1 tbsp. liquid smoke
  11. the juice of 1 lime
  12. **Optional- your favorite bbq sauce
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 250(F).
For the rub
  1. Combine all of the seasonings together with the liquid smoke, lime juice, and coconut sugar. Mix with a fork until well combined. Set aside.
Prep the ribs
  1. On the back of the ribs there is a thin membrane to remove before cooking. I usually run a sharp knife down the enter length of the back of the ribs, then use a spoon to tuck under the white membrane and peel off. I usually use a knife to pry up a corner of the membrane, then I just pull it down the entire length of the ribs. It's ok if it tears, just find a new spot and repeat the spoon method again until it's all removed.
  2. When the membrane is removed, rinse the ribs and pat dry.
  3. Massage the rub on the front and back of the ribs. Wrap loosely but completely in foil, place on a sheet tray and bake at 275 for 3 hours. No peeking!
  4. At 3 hours, unwrap the ribs and turn up the oven to 350. Bake uncovered for an additional 15 minutes. **If you like your ribs saucy, this would be the time to baste your ribs with your favorite bbq sauce.
  5. Finish outside on the grill to ensure a crispy exterior, or broil an additional 5 minutes on high heat watching carefully not to burn the ribs. Enjoy!
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06/19/17

Currently: June edition

Hi friends! June has been a super busy and eventful month so far, and we’re only halfway through! 

First things first… wedding pictures have arrived and I am completely in L-O-V-E all over again!

Goodness, gracious. Kristen Marie Photography is incredibly talented, right? Swoon! Don’t worry- I’ll be sharing more later on this week. 🙂

Last week I was in Chicago for work and Brian flew up to spend a long weekend with me after my work retreat concluded. It was the perfect weekend getaway and we totally made the most of those three days! Not only did we see the sights of Chicago, but we also caught a Cub’s game AND a Dave & Tim concert! My favorite part of the weekend was definitely going to Wrigley. 

I grew up a baseball fan because my grandfather, Aurelio (Abuelito) was a fan. He taught me the rules, who to root for and why, and how to fall in love with the game. We’d play catch and home run derby at Horizon Park and I learned to love to play the game too. He was a HUGE fan of the Yankees, the Braves, and Cubs. I have fond memories of sitting on the recliners of my grandparent’s house watching the Cubbies play on WGN. Abuelito taught me all of the names of the players, and how to read the stats. We would sit and cheer on Sandberg, Maddux, Dawson, and Grace while snacking on Bugles and Yoo-hoo. We collected baseball cards and Starting Line-Ups, and drove to Fulton County Stadium as often as we could to watch the Braves. He DREAMED of coming to Wrigley one day. To sing along with Harry Caray and admire the Ivy. He never got the chance to, but I hope, in some way, he is here with me today (that’s him in the picture on my phone). As I sat on those historic seats, all that I kept thinking in my head was “I made it to Wrigley, Abuelito!”

Last week I also wrapped up promoting an amazing event with Scotties Tissues

Back for their 4th year, Scotties Facial Tissues partnered with animal rescue organization up and down the east coast in an effort to get eligible cats and kittens into loving adoptive homes. Each organization – The Animal Protective Foundation (Albany, NY), Boston MSPCA (Boston, MA), and the Humane Society of Tampa Bay (Tampa, FL) all received $5,000 each to go towards the re-homing of cats. 

I’m SO happy to report that during that event over 400 cats and kittens have gone into loving forever homes! Thanks to all of my fabulous Orangespoken readers who helped to share the event details. We couldn’t have done it without you! And congratulations to Gina M.! You won a $25 Amazon gift card and a Scotties tissue care package for helping to spread the word! Check your email for more details 🙂

And last but not least… a little confession time! 

No, no, I’m not recreating a Mrs. Doubtfire scene… just trying out a new-to-me skin product! Here’s my confession: I don’t have a skincare regimen. Call it lazy (or call it cheap!), this is just not an area I have prioritized. My go-to has been washing my face with soap or body wash, then slapping on a layer of BB cream with sunscreen or tinted moisturizer before heading out the door. As I approach my 38th trip around the sun next week, I decided to dive in and start taking better care of my skin. After chatting with my friend Mary Kay by Loren, she helped me choose the perfect Mary Kay products for my dry/normal skin. For $45 I purchased the botanicals kit (pictured on the left below) which includes a foaming cleanser, mud mask (pictured above), a refreshing serum, and a daily cream! She also gave me samples of their Timewise kit to try out (aimed at preventing or addressing imperfections and damage from the sun or aging). I love that a small amount of each of the products goes such a long way too! I decided to go ahead and take her 21 day skincare challenge as a birthday gift for myself this year.

Loren has some AMAZING deals going on right now if you’re looking to try out a skincare kit for 21 days! You can receive the Botanicals kit I purchased for $45 ($58 retail), the Clearproof acne kit for $40 ($45 retail), The Timewise Miracle Anti-aging set for $82 ($95 retail), or the Timewise Repair and Reverse set for $185 ($205 retail). All you have to do is choose the skincare line that fits your needs, purchase it at the discounted price, use the products for 21 days (twice a day), take a before and after picture, and leave Loren a review on her Facebook page once the challenge is done! The best news? Your products will last long after the 21 days is through! 

On and here’s my post-mask face. 😉 So fresh and so clean clean. 

So what’s new with you, friends? 

 

06/12/17

How to make a healthy bowl for dinner!

Out of all the searches that drive readers to my blog, the top search phrase has always been “healthy cooking for beginners” (click here for my healthy cooking 101 post!).

I get a LOT of questions about how to meal plan, how to shop and how to cook. I’ve had people tell me that their eating habits are horrible because they “can’t cook”, and resort to pre-packaged foods, fast food and dining out. I’ve heard this on the blog, social media and even in person. 

Well, I’m here to tell you that healthy cooking is EASY. No seriously, I promise! It all comes down to confidence, planning, effort, and resilience! Continue reading

06/1/17

Oat Flour Pancakes

I first saw pancakes made with oat flour (ground up oatmeal!) a few years ago. I remember trying them and being floored at just how delicious they were! I made them so much that I kinda grew tired of pancakes! (I know what you’re thinking- how? HOW?!).

Until today. 

These fluffy flapjacks are gluten free, refined sugar free and full of flavor! Here’s the recipe: Continue reading

06/1/17

Tampa Cat Adoption event w/ Scotties! #Giveaway

I grew up being a dog owner. 
And we had a LOT of them: Sugar, Coach, Chloe, Claire, and Shadow (who is still here with us today!).
From the day I was born, a dog was part of our family and so owning (and loving!) a cat was never on my radar. 
 
It wasn’t until I moved in with my (now) husband, that I became a cat owner. It started as just something I would try because Brian loved cats and always had one growing up. I was hesitant, but decided to give it a shot. 
One cat turned into two cats, and now, I feel like I can call myself a tried-and-true real life cat person! 

Continue reading