Midwest is Best

A midwestern guide to all things homemaking

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Rain, Rain come this way…

This morning I looked outside and I was so excited!  It had apparently rained during the early morning.  “Yeah!” I thought.  “Just what my plants needed!”

I guess I was wrong though… As I walked around our house, I came to realize it did not rain.  We somehow got a teeny, tiny shower that just sprinkled my front flower bed (and no where else in my yard).  How that I happened – I’ll never know. So here is my picture for the day.  The tiny water droplets are all that I got last night, but at least it made for a pretty picture.








Also, here is a snapshot of my kale.  Still going strong…. Definitely will be planting this variety again next year!








Let’s all cross our fingers and hope for some rain showers to come our way soon!


Weekend in Review

Well in keeping up with my 365 Challenge I thought I’d share a few pictures that I was able to snag this weekend.  We had a lot of family fun over the weekend.  We celebrated my dad’s birthday on Friday and then the annual Halsne Steakfry on Sunday!  Man, we were stuffed!  Hitting the green smoothies pretty hard the next few days to undo some of the damage (I hope).

Dinner at Julie and Bob’s on Friday.  (Friday)


Hello kitty! I figured I couldn’t feature Leala and not feature one of our adorable kittens! (Saturday)








Bob was passed down a family treasure at the steakfry.  (Sunday)


And today’s picture… here is the mess we are currently living in as we rush to finish our kitchen by this weekend.  Paint, sanding, new flooring, and cleaning the house top to bottom… This week might do me in!   IMG_4711

Little Treats

Wow – June 6th already!  What happened to the month of May?  Or even April?  Spring flies by here at the Halsne-Spellman household.  We gear up for a very busy time.  Both of our business, photography and farming, are in full swing in April, May, and June.  Aaron, like all other area farmers, has had an adjusted planting timeline due to the weather; which has almost been a blessing in disguise as we have been able to better stay on top of our photography business during this time.  Spring sports, weddings, graduation, and dance recitals all slam us in the same 4-5 week time-span and despite how well we prepare for this time, we always find ourselves stressed out, behind, and worn a little thin.

But now our work is back to a more manageable pace and we’ve had a little time to A) Sleep and B) Do Laundry.  I’ve also decided to give myself a few little treats to keep me going through the last big push of ordering and wedding work.  First, I finally got some of my new pants tailored so I actually have something new and work appropriate to wear to our wedding this weekend! (Yeah! Side note – if you haven’t yet been to a CAbi show, you really should get to one.  They have fabulous clothes that are really well-cut and stylish.)  I’ve also been making sure to get out in my garden and tend to my plants – which I actually find very relaxing.  It makes me so happy that I have some landscaping done to the front yard this year and that my garden is finally growing something other than weeds 🙂 To top that all off, my herbs are starting to produce enough leaves that I’ve been able to start cooking with them!  Last night, I made a sweet potato gnocchi with sausage, apple, and thyme (recipe and pics to follow soon). Also, I am being very selfish tomorrow and getting myself a manicure.  Have you ever looked down and thought, “Eeek!  My hands look like Godzilla!”  Well, that is what I thought the other day.  And no matter what brand of nail polish I use or how careful I am, if I paint my nails myself, I usually end up having to take it off a day or so later due to chipping.  So, I’m investing a little money in a Shellac manicure tomorrow.  If you haven’t yet experience a Shellac manicure, you should run right out and get yourself one.  I’ve had several and your polish really does stay chip-free for 2 weeks!  I usually only take it off becuase my nails have grown so my nail bed is showing at the bottom.  Shellac = God’s gift to busy women!  I always feel so much happier when I have my nails done 🙂

(And don’t worry about Aaron – he has a little treat coming to him too!  Tomorrow we’re headed into Beer Crazy to stock up on some “essentials” so he can get another beer brewed soon!)

I know that we aren’t the only ones who find the spring time to be extra busy.  What have you done to keep yourself going through this hectic time?  Do you deserve a well-earned treat too?!  Then go ahead and indulge!

Menu Planning

Today is March 28th.  It should be well into spring by now.  Instead we are still struggling to hit temps in the 50s.  I know that warmer weather is right around the corner – I can just feel it in my bones!  As such, I’ve been thinking a lot about spring cleaning, organizing, etc… Spring just brings that out in everyone.  And for some reason, it seems like for the last two weeks all I’ve done is talk about menu planning.  I can’t help it!  It keeps coming up in every conversation.  Anyway… menu planning is something that I’ve loosely been doing for about 9 months but I’ve really buckled down since January and have a few tips to share.

There are many benefits of menu planning.  For me it has decreased our grocery bill, wasted less meat/produce, and brought some sanity back to dinnertime.  I really enjoy cooking and baking but not when I’m scrambling to figure out something to feed us – let alone something healthy.  While I love menu planning – I’ll be the first to admit that I take “detours” almost every week 🙂  Sometimes, I forget to let the chicken thaw out or misjudged the amount of something and now have to substitute. Menu planning can be as flexible as you want it to be 🙂

First, I would strongly suggest creating a template of a menu that can be reused from week to week.  (There are several cute idea on Pinterest  (see pics below) – however, I was lazy and just did a boring Word doc).  After you create your menu – be sure to post it somewhere that you will see it every day.  I put mine in my home office but you can use the refrigerator, cupboard door, or on the counter.  It doesn’t matter where you keep it – just make sure you can see it every day. 

menu 1

Some day I’ll upgrade my menu planning doc to something like this!

menu 2

Great way to incorporate the menu and grocery list in one!

As you sit down to create your weekly meal plan, be sure that you have you calendar in front of you.  Create meals according to your schedule. Do you have a yoga class every Thursday night?  If so, choose something quick and easy that night like tilapia fillets and steamed veggies.  The fish will thaw out in about 5 minutes and usually takes no more than 10 – 15 minutes in the oven.  Or create a crock pot meal the night before and just turn it on before you leave in the morning. Then your cooking is done for you before you even walk in the door. Use your calendar to your advantage.  It took me several weeks before I realized I should stop trying to make a large meal on Tuesdays.  I usually have Mary Kay training or facials on Tuesday evenings so I don’t even get home until 8:30pm.  Now, I know to have something ready to go that takes little-to-no prep and cook time on Tuesdays!  (Live it, Learn it :))

As you create your menu, plan to use your fresh produce up as quickly as possible. I usually get groceries every Monday morning.  So as I plan my menu, I try to plan to use my fresh produce up on Monday – Wednesday.  (I should clarify – when I say produce I mean produce that “turns” fairly quickly and doesn’t have a long shelf life.  For example, strawberries, mushrooms, romaine lettuce, etc).  This will help you decrease your waste significantly.  Again – a lesson that took me several weeks to learn.  I would constantly buy mushrooms (because I’ll put them in just about anything) but I would wait until the end of the week to use them and by then they were “questionable”. (Shhh… don’t tell Aaron :)) But now, I know to use my frozen veggies or potatoes towards the end of the week and use the berries, salads, etc at the beginning.  Again, this works for me because I get groceries on Monday but if you are a Thursday shopper then you can use your fresh produce all weekend and aim the frozen goods towards mid-week.

Another lesson learned is to plan “big-ticket” items towards the beginning of the week.  “Big-ticket” means something that can be made into several meals.  For example, roasted chicken, pork tenderloin, or even a large batch of cooked ground turkey.  Plan you “big-ticket” menu item towards the beginning of the week and then use the leftovers to create other meals on the following days.  Last week, I made a few pounds of ground turkey.  I’ve turned it into stuffed peppers the first night, corn and turkey quesadillas the next day (literally just using the filling from the peppers in a flour tortilla shell), and then used the rest to top a homemade pizza on Friday night. Or you can also throw something like that into some pasta sauce and spaghetti noodles – easy peasy!  By doing this, I significantly cut down on the prep/cook time throughout the week.  As I mentioned above, I love cooking but I am a busy gal and most of my meals take less than 30 minutes of prep/cook time.

Menu planning has also helped me create a much healthier lifestyle for our home. I’m no longer struggling to find healthy options.  By planning out my meals, I can methodically include healthy sides such as steamed cauliflower (Aaron’s favorite), sweet potato wedges, side salads, or quinoa.  I can also monitor how many “cheat” meals I am creating.  For example, we love doing a homemade pizza on Friday nights.  Yes, it is healthier than a greasy Casey’s pizza but pizza is pizza… just not that healthy!  I also have drastically reduced the amount of pasta meals we eat.  Pasta is great because it is quick and easy but no matter how you cook it – it just isn’t that healthy for you.  By menu planning, I can keep pasta-based meals to just one per week.

In addition to the health benefits, our grocery bill has been reduced as well.  Your menu plan automatically turns into your grocery list.  We waste less produce now, buy less pre-packaged foods, and reduced our “doubling-up” (Raise your hand if you also have 5 jars of red pasta sauce because every time you go to the grocery store you are convinced that you used your last jar…).

These tried-and-true tips have really helped make cooking dinner enjoyable again.  Do you have any tips that help make dinnertime more manageable?

Week One … Almost Done!

Well it has almost been an entire week of non-corporate work life.  I have to say it doesn’t feel that different yet.  Someone asked me the other day if it felt like I was on vacation from my “real job”… and it kind of does (just a little bit).  Today I actually am picking up a camera and doing some shooting – something other than the computer work I’ve done all week!  But I can tell a difference though in the work-life balance.  We’ve had a healthy breakfast, lunch, and dinner each day so far – including the weekend (my Friday celebration not counting of course).  The laundry is done, the floors vacuumed, and there is fresh bread baking in the kitchen.  Yes, balance is something that is an immediate result… one that I hope lasts!

Now, I am trying to focus on something called IPAs (a little acronym I learned from my Mary Kay director!).  IPA – Income Producing Activities.  Very important to have these activities as a focus because it is so easy to get drawn into non-IPAs.  Like spending an hour on Pinterest looking at pose ideas for seniors.  Or (my favorite) cleaning and organizing the office – I could spend HOURS moving things from here to there and then back over here… then back over there! Writing my blog = non-IPA.  However, making  checklist of IPAs and keeping it posted in plain sight (another tip I learned from Mary Kay – whoot! whoot!) helps remind me to refocus.  And obsessive-compulsively checking my bank account reminds me as well 🙂

Week one almost done…. so far so good!  My only complaint – I am now waking up even earlier than I did when I had a corporate job.  Something in my head just says “It’s 5:00 – time to get up!” Good thing my “boss” doesn’t mind if I lay back down and doze off for a while  until a more reasonable hour 🙂

If you had the opportunity to leave your current job for your dream job – what would it be? Are you one of the lucky ones already living it?


Change is Coming…

I’m going to by-pass commenting on the large gap in time between posts…. All I can say is that change is coming…

Recently, I temporarily lost my mind… (perhaps permanently)…. I have decided to leave the safety net of corporate America and venture out on my own (well kinda…).

Tomorrow will be my last day working for someone else.  I cannot tell you how excited I am for a new adventure but very, very sad that I won’t be seeing my wonderful co-workers on a daily basis anymore.  Instead, I have decided to join Aaron on a full-time basis with our photography business.  I am super pumped for this opportunity and all that it will bring.  I am excited to have some balance back in my life rather than trying to manage multiple businesses.  I plan to keep growing my Mary Kay business as well but my main focus will be Spellman Photography.

I still have a ton to learn but thankfully I have a very patient and talented teacher.  While the technical skills will continue to grow, I’m going to focus on the “business-side” of our work – effective immediately!  Marketing, wedding shows, price restructuring, web updates, OH MY!  We will be busy, busy, busy.

Change isn’t just coming… its here to stay.

Holidays Are Upon Us…

It is official…
The 2012 Holiday Season has arrived!  I can’t count how many Thanksgiving/Christmas related conversations I’ve had this week.  And it always comes back to scheduling… Can we find a way to add a few extra hours to Thanksgiving and Christmas Day?  That would be very helpful.  As our families continue to grow, so does the inevitable scheduling headache.  However, this year all seems to be working out very smoothly.  I feel so blessed to be close (both in proximity and relationship) to Aaron’s and my families.  We never have to travel out of a 30 mile radius from our house to celebrate the holidays.  We can see both families and have both meals – which usually leads to us both having belly aches by the end of the night 🙂
Besides the scheduling conversations, we also are talking about our holiday traditions.  For me it is a pretty simple pattern:

1.  Thanksgiving with the Halsne and Spellman families

2. Get out Christmas decorations and put up the tree (lucky if this actually happens before December 1st but that is always what I aim for)

3. Christmas cookies/goodies baking with my mom and sister

4. Christmas Eve with the Halsne family

5. Christmas morning with the Halsne family, followed by Christmas lunch with the Spellman family

6. Sleep off food coma on couch 🙂


I am the tradition keeper in the family.  I make sure we all sit in the right spots at the dinner table (me next to Dad, naturally), we make kringla and divinity during our baking days, and I move the teddy bear on the advent calendar.  We aren’t too fancy but for me all these little traditions bring back so many good memories.
What are your favorite holiday traditions?

Damn girl – Look at those…. Pins?

I am addicted to Pinterest… I will say it out loud.  I should probably go to a Pinners Anonymous meeting once a week to help me cope with my problem…   However, since I do not have access to said meetings in the greater Des Moines area, my addiction is allowed to grow and flourish with wild abandonment.

This likely will not be the last post I ever make about Pinterest and its infinite, wondrous capabilities 🙂

So the other day, I was happily pinning away (my choice subjects are recipes, home decor, and wedding ideas -shhh… don’t tell Aaron about that last one) and I realized was seeing a lot of repins of stuff I’d already seen that day (when this happens I get very agitated) so I thought about if there were any specific ideas I was looking for that I would just use the “search” function to help get rid of the duplicates. Just as I was about to do that, I decided that I’d look back into my “Following” page to see if anyone had pinned anything good in the last 30 minutes that I might have missed…. Sure enough I saw this gorgeous outdoor patio flooring (if you have time I highly suggest you search for “acid stained concrete” on Pinterest).  So as I went to repin it, I saw that this picture had been repinned by my friend from MY board.  Duh, Katie… I had liked it so much the first time I saw it that I repinned it then, but I had probably pinned so much that day that I had completely blanked out that I had actually already seen and pinned this idea!!!

I told you I have a Pinterest addiction…. do you believe me now???

Anyway, that little pin prompted me to go back through all my existing boards.  This confirmed two things to me: 1. I spend waaayyy too much time pinning and 2. I have excellent taste 🙂  I looked through hundreds of existing pins – each one more fabulous than the next but realized I have actually utilized very few of these ideas.  No, I have not made homemade salted caramel ice cream yet. No, I have not turned my used toilet paper and paper towel cardboard inserts into fabulous works of art.  I have yet to refinish any piece of furniture.  So I have come to the sad, sad conclusion that I am a Pinterest hoarder.  I keep all these great ideas, but do virtually nothing with them!  So I have made a vow to myself, that at least once a month I will attempt one of my pins!  It could be a simple recipe or maybe something more adventurous (I just pinned how to turn a twin size bed frame into a cute farmhouse bench) but I will TRY something once a month!

I believe that if I start now, I could do a new idea everyone month until the  day I die and would still have a few ideas left over 🙂

Less time pinning = More time DOING 🙂
Does anyone else LOVE Pinterest?  If so, what are your weaknesses when it comes to pinning?

Pet Peeve Thursdays

For those of us who just can’t wait until Friday to unwind a little, have had a trying Monday – Thursday, and just want to air their pet peeves… introducing Pet Peeve Thursdays.

Today it seemed like all my pet peeves were coming out of the woodwork!  I am hoping that voicing my pet peeves will allow me to move on from the day.  Here are just a few (in no particular order):

  • Whistling in public 
  • Shuffling your feet with you walk (girls ages 16-24 seem to be the main culprits here – especially when it is Uggs season)
  • People that say caramel like Kar-Mall (really people there are TWO a’s in that word… say it with me care-a-mel)
  • Invisible bumps in the floor that trip you and make you look like a fool in front of your co-workers
  • Crickets (people say that every creature has a purpose but I can’t seem to put my finger on why the cricket was created)

That is probably enough pet peeves for today… need to save some for the next installment….  And really I do feel better!

What are your pet peeves!?!?

Colorado Trip Revisited (Cont.)

Hello Again!

…. Feel free to slap my wrists for taking such long breaks between posts about our Colorado trip!  I’ve been busy, lots to do, blah, blah, blah and just plain forgot! Picking up where we left off!

Day 4 – Estes Park & Rocky Mountain National Park

On Sunday, Aaron and I woke up bright and early (not easy to do after a rocking wedding reception and after hours) and headed to Estes Park.  As with every place in Colorado it was a scenic drive but by the time we got there we were ready to eat and stretch our legs!  If you haven’t been to Estes Park, I would highly suggest you check it out. It is a town where time seems to have stopped.  All sorts of “old-timey” shops are lined up and down the main street.  I tried and tried to convince Aaron that we should get one of those “old western” pictures (where you dress up and everything) but alas, he was a party pooper – plus it is expensive and as photographers we knew we were getting ripped off! We stopped at a local eatery and mustered up the courage to eat some wild game.  Aaron had an elk burger, while I had the bison burger.  Maybe it was because we were starved but the burgers were actually very good (mine was better:)).

We strolled along for a bit more, enjoyed some caramel apples, and then loaded our full bellies back into the car and headed up to Rocky Mountain National Park.  The park has a highway that runs all the way to the top ridge and then comes back down on the western side of the mountains.  We headed on up the mountain and took in the beautiful sights.  Like every other tourist, we stopped at many of the pull-off areas and took scenic pictures (and looked for wildlife – I really wanted to see a big horn sheep)!  I had never been on a mountain like that before and I was just stunned by the beauty.

A nice Dutch tourist took our picture… I’m pretty sure he told us to “say cheese” in Dutch!

We made it all the way to the top and had started back down the other side when we were greeted by some elk.  Did I say some elk?  I meant LOTS of elk!  The elk had taken over a small campsite and were causing traffic to be backed up pretty badly. We were able to snag lots of pictures – they didn’t seem too camera shy 🙂

We continued our descent down the mountain and headed back to Denver where we would be staying for the next 2 nights.  It was a long drive back, we were exhausted and hungry and by 11:30pm we had finally checked into our hotel, eaten some dinner (delicious fish and chips from a local Irish pub) and poured ourselves into bed!

Day 5 – Idaho Springs and Denver

Despite our late night on Sunday, we woke up bright and early on Monday morning and took a short drive to Idaho Springs for a zipline excursion.  Originally we were supposed to do a rafting/zipline excursion but the river was too low to raft.  We had a great time ziplining though!  Stepping off the side of a mountain is a bizarre experience but quite thrilling – plus we looked super cool in all our gear.


Right outside of Idaho Springs is Mt. Evan, so we took a little drive up the mountain until we hit Echo Lake.  I had really been wanting to see a mountain lake and this one sure fit the bill – it was beautiful.

Echo Lake… so beautiful and serene…

From Mt. Evan, we headed over to the Red Rock Amphitheater.  This place has been the home to many concerts, ballets, and other performances and there really isn’t anything comparable to it.  The natural formation of the rocks had created near perfect acoustics for performers and Aaron being the band geek that he is couldn’t get enough!

Reminded me of the Flinstones or Pride Rock from the Lion King 🙂

After checking out the Amphitheater we headed into downtown Denver for some lunch. We ended up at Croc’s (great Mexican inspired restaurant) and our waiter suggested to us some amazing local craft beers. Not only did we get excellent food (bacon wrapped shrimp with tomatillo sauce) but we were introduced to Dry Dock Brewing Co.  Dry Dock is a local brewery that has been snatching up awards left and right for their amazing beers.  We fell in love with their Apricot Blonde… In fact, we loved it all so much, we called them up and asked for a tour that afternoon.  Thankfully they were very accommodating.  So after lunch we headed over to the brewery, received a brief tour, and sat and enjoyed sampling their other various beers – each one was sooooo good!

I am determined to have the Apricot Blonde again! It is the perfect summer beer…. better than any ‘shandy’ around!

After we had our fill of Dry Dock, we traveled back to Boulder in search of a waterfall.  I follow a blog called “Iowa Girl Eats” and she was in Boulder the same time as us and blogged about this beautiful waterfall they had found on a hike.  I thought that sounded like a great idea so we set out to find the same waterfall…..

Aren’t we cute… (actually we were freezing.. darn that fickle mountain weather!)

… we succeeded!  It was rainy and chilly but still amazing.  After we snapped some (er… many) pictures, we headed back into Boulder in search of some pizza!  We ended up in the “college town” part of the city and had a delicious pizza dinner at The Sink (featured on Diners, Dives, and Drive-ins on the Food Network). Stuffed full, we made our way back to Denver.  I won’t tell you that we got lost and ended up driving through the “rough” part of town near midnight.

Day 6 – Denver

Tuesday was our last day in Colorado.  Everything was bittersweet that day… Aaron kept saying “say goodbye to the mountains this will be the last time you see them…” What a turd!  Thankfully our flight didn’t leave until 7pm so we had plenty of time to go exploring that day.   We headed out about 30 miles east of the city and went to an animal reserve that was designed for rescued large game.  Many lions, tigers, and bears (oh my) along with wolves, pumas, and even a porcupine.  The reserve is miles and miles of mostly open land and a 25ft high bridge cuts through the middle.  We able to walk on the bridge and look down into the animals dens rather than looking through 10in of plexiglass at a zoo.  The animals that were there had many sad stories (rescued from bad situations) so it was a little saddening but we got to see the tigers at feeding time… that was pretty cool!!!!

Keeping in our animal theme, we headed back to Denver and hit up the Denver Downtown Aquarium.  It was overall a pretty relaxing day.  We got to see some nasty looking sharks and even petted a stingray!  After the aquarium, we headed to Freshcraft, a downtown Denver restaurant that one of the locals we met at the Dry Dock Brewery had suggested.  We feasted on some delicious food and of course, enjoyed more local craft brews.  Then it was time to pack up and head back to the airport.  On our way, we stopped at the Moonlight Diner again (where we had enjoyed a magnificent breakfast on Day 1) for a traditional chocolate malt.  So. Darn. Good.  I hadn’t had a malt in months (years maybe) and this really hit the spot!

A short wait at the airport and before you knew it we were back in Des Moines.

While we loved visiting Colorado, we were thankful to be back in Iowa (with its flat roads, minor traffic, and more affordable cost of living)… Aaron and I are keeping some of the Colorado influence in our lives – trying to make sure we enjoy being outside when we can (and when it is 1000 degrees) and have even tried our hand at brewing our own beer (thanks to my brother-in-law).  We are counting the days until we can go back and visit again!

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