My Favorite Easy Sweet and Sour Tofu

 

For an easy and healthy dinner look no further than this yummy sweet and sour tofu recipe from The Professional Mom Project!

Before I was put on my rather limiting gluten, dairy and egg free diet we used to make this super easy and yummy sweet and sour tofu dish often.

We like to serve the tofu with roasted veggies – we’ve tried broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, zucchini, mushrooms and Japanese eggplant. You can eat the sweet and sour tofu with the carb of your choice – quinoa, rice, stir fry noodles – they all work really well.

If you don’t like tofu you can use cubed chicken as well. I’d just cook the chicken for a bit longer and make sure that it’s properly cooked through.

Ingredients for Sweet and Sour Tofu

ingredients needed to make sweet and sour tofu

1 block of extra firm tofu (I prefer using organic and non-GMO)
1 egg (beaten)
1/4 cup of corn starch
3/4 cup of brown sugar
4 tablespoons of ketchup
1/2 cup of white vinegar
1 tablespoon of Tamari sauce

Instructions to Make Sweet and Sour Tofu

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Prepare a baking pan by lining it with aluminum foil and spraying with olive oil spray.

tofu cut in strips for sweet and sour tofu

Cut tofu into long strips. I find working with tofu strips a bit easier than working with cubes.

tofu in cornstarch for sweet and sour tofu

Place the cornstarch in a large ziplock bag and then add in the tofu. Mix everything up and make sure to cover the tofu with the cornstarch.

Eggs beaten to coat tofu to make sweet and sour tofu

Beat the egg in a medium sized bowl.

coat tofu in egg mixture for sweet and sour tofu

Set up your counter in the following order: tofu coated with cornstarch, bowl of beaten egg and prepared baking dish already sprayed with olive oil spray.

Dip the tofu strips (that have been covered in cornstarch) into the beaten egg and then place them on the baking dish.

egg coated tofu in pan for sweet and sour tofu

Next make the sweet and sour sauce by combining the brown sugar, vinegar, Tamari sauce and ketchup in a medium sized bowl.

Sweet and sour tofu sauce

Once the sauce is well combined, pour it over the tofu and place the tofu in the oven to bake for 25 minutes.

Sweet and sour tofu in the pan ready to go in the oven

The sauce will caramelize and get sticky from the brown sugar. Trust me, this sauce is super yummy. Once cooked you can layer the quinoa/rice/noodles, then mixed veggies and top with the tofu and sauce.

Baked sweet and sour tofu

sweet and sour tofu with roasted veggies and quinoa from The Professional Mom Project

If you like the sound of this recipe you should give my honey baked chicken with quinoa a try!

Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Egg Free Oh My!

Gluten free, dairy free, egg free

Currently…

As my journey continues I’ve become quite sick of feeling sick. The exhaustion, foggy brain and pain have been really difficult for me the past few months. In an effort to feel better, gain energy and get my life back while dealing with thyroid cancer I sought out a naturopathic doctor to help lead the way.

She is a great doctor but is not replacing my endocrinologist or primary physician in any way. I’m just hoping that maybe with her help I can start to feel a bit better than I have been lately. My primary care will remain with my endocrinologist and GP but if there are some more holistic things I can do to make my life better then I’d like to try and do them.

At my first appointment we talked a lot about my medical history and how I was feeling. Based on what I told her she thought I might have some food sensitivities and that we should check them out through a blood test.

Food Sensitivities

We went ahead with the blood test and I recently got back my results. Apparently I have a leaky gut and am sensitive to gluten, eggs, all dairy, peas, corn and sesame. I’ve been told to go gluten free, dairy free and egg free for the next six months at which point I will hopefully be able to reintroduce some of these foods back into my diet.

The ND told me that within a few weeks I should start to feel better.

Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Egg Free – What’s Left?

These are going to be difficult changes to make but if they make me feel better it will be worthwhile.

I’ll be focusing on fruit, veggies, gluten free grains, nuts, lean protein and beans. Luckily after having to do the Low Iodine Diet twice, I’ve found some yummy recipes to get myself started including my vegan gluten free chocolate chip muffins (made with oat flour) and my gluten free pasta with avocado sauce.

Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Egg Free – The Plan

I’m starting out the first week completely dairy free since I think that will be the easiest for me to  incorporate into my life. I’m also going to significantly reduce gluten and eggs but not give myself such a hard time about it this week. Over the next few weeks I’ll gradually move to becoming completely gluten, dairy and egg free.

Another part of my plan will be to make more of my lunches for work rather than purchasing meals that might include items I’m sensitive to. I’m also researching vegan and gluten free websites for recipes to try and figuring out how to replace eggs in baked goods (I tried flax seeds and water in gluten free pancake mix and it worked pretty well). For some much needed inspiration I’ve started a Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Egg Free Pinterest Board and I hope this will help with my meal planning.

So much in life is attitude so I’ve decided to take this on as an adventure. We’ll see if it works and if my health improves. It will also be fun to challenge my creativity in the kitchen. We’ll see how it goes and I’ll keep you posted!

Do you have any resources for individuals leading a gluten free, dairy free, egg free lifestyle? Or any favourite recipes? Any help would be awesome!

 

How to Choose the Perfect Summer Camp

how to choose the perfect summer camp for your child

How to Choose a Summer Camp for your Child

I love camp! I think summer camp is an amazing opportunity for kids to get outside, explore new activities and make new friends. When I was a kid I was lucky and was able to spend most of my summers at a variety of different types of summer camp.

My parents sent me to arts camp, sports camp and general day camp where I had the opportunity to swim every day, explore nature and meet new friends.

As I grew up I went to sleep away camp for a number of years and then became a camp counselor, swimming instructor/lifeguard and unit head (at a day camp) looking after over 100 kids and 30 counselors as a part of my unit.

E and I started off by sending R to camp for one month last summer (when he was 4). He had so much fun, met new friends and learned new skills. This summer he’ll be going to day camp for the entire summer.

Camp has so many benefits but it is difficult to choose summer camp for your child. Do you want to send your child to a camp that is small or large? Urban or rural? General or specialized?

There are many factors to consider and hopefully this post will help you choose the perfect summer camp for your family.

Accreditation

When checking out a new camp one of the first things I would do is see if the camp is accredited. For example, in Ontario the Ontario Camps Association reviews camps and determines whether or not the specific camp meets the OCA’s specific standards.

While nothing is foolproof, having an accreditation can provide some comfort knowing that the camp in question meets a certain set of criteria.

Location

Where is the camp located? Depending on the experience you’re hoping your child will get you’ll need to consider the camp’s surroundings. In Toronto we have camps that are set in urban spaces or an oasis in the city. The further out of the city you go the more of a farm like experience you’ll get.

Is the camp close enough to your home or work to drop off your child? If it’s not close enough, does the camp offer transportation?

If the camp you’re looking at has bus transportation, you’ll need to consider if there’s an additional cost. In Toronto many of the bigger camps include transportation in the cost, but sometimes it is only to a depot rather than a home drop off and pick up.

Bus depots are often less expensive but can be a bit of a hassle since there will likely be many campers and their families waiting at each stop. Also,  if the bus is late you’re stuck waiting at the bus depot for it.

Home pick up and drop off is likely a bit more expensive or an extra cost but it is super convenient. One thing to consider though is how long the bus ride will be for your child each day. This will depend on how big the bus is and how far away you live from the camp.

Age of your child

Some camps are known to be perfect for smaller kids. These camps might have facilities specifically designed for smaller children such as little kid sized sports equipment or a swimming pool with a large shallow end. While other camps might specialize in certain activities that are appealing to older kids.

Before deciding on where to send your child check the demographics of the campers. How old are most of the kids who attend? How many cabins or groups of kids will there be around your child’s age?

To find out this info you can take a look at the camp website and call/email to ask.

If your child is young, find out how many kids are in each group and how many counselors there are. The ratio of counselors to children is super important to make sure the kids are properly cared for.

I would also look into the age and experience of the counselors who will be taking care of your child. Are they 14 year old junior high students who will be on their iPhones all day or is there a mix of more experienced camp counselors along with younger ones.

General or specialized

Most programs for smaller kids are general in nature exposing children to lots of different activities, sports and arts/crafts. As kids get older many programs can get more specialized focusing on specific sports, dance, theater or science.

Since R is still little he’ll be going to a general camp for most of the summer where he’ll swim, play different sports, learn about nature and do arts and crafts.

Personally, I think a general camp experience is great for most kids. During the school year so many children are over scheduled with extra curricular activities that it’s nice to give them a chance to explore different things. You might find that your child develops a new found passion for making bead bracelets or Popsicle stick houses 🙂

If your child is older, he/she will likely have an opinion on the type of camp he/she goes to but I think it’s great to mix it up and still provide some of that general free form camp experience.

Cost

Camp can be super expensive or very reasonably priced depending on the camp. Private camps are often more expensive while camps run by your city or community organizations are likely less costly.

When cost is an issue I’ve found that the month of August is often less expensive than July since families tend to go on vacation in August. Therefore one option might be to send your child to a less expensive camp in July and a more specialized camp in August.

In addition, you can also see if any subsidies are available. Many camps offer them to make sure everyone can get a chance to attend. Also if you send more than one kid to the same camp they often give significant family discounts.

Word of mouth

Word of mouth is the best way to find out the real deal about a specific camp. Ask your friends, family and your child’s teachers if anyone can suggest a camp or knows about the specific camp you’re considering.

While making all of these inquiries you might find out about another camp of interest or decide to send your child to the same camp as his/her friends. When putting cabin groups together, camp administrators will often ask if your child has any friends or family attending as well. If they do, the camp will most often put the kids who know each other together in a group. This is very helpful if your child is shy or not that comfortable in new situations.

Choosing the right summer camp for your child is a big task. There are so many things to consider when making this decision. I hope this post has helped you in figuring out how to choose the perfect summer camp for your child.

 

Checklist for choosing the perfect summer camp for your child

Did you go to summer camp when you were young? Are you sending your kids this summer?

We’re not done yet. Living with thyroid cancer

Living with Thyroid Cancer

Cancer sucks. There’s no way around it.

April was daffodil month in Canada. The daffodils are a sign that the individuals who wear them support the fight against cancer and those living with cancer.

When I was a kid I always bought a daffodil pin. When I worked in the business district, I would purchase the live daffodils to brighten up my office.

Sadly this awful disease touches most families at some point, including my own. However, I never really thought I would fall into the “living with cancer” category.

I’ve told the beginning of my story (you can find it here) and I was really hoping it would be more of a short story or magazine article as opposed to a chapter book. Unfortunately, it looks like we’re going for a Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows size novel around here.

I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in January 2014 and had surgery in March of that year. To follow-up on my surgery and radioactive iodine treatment that took place in 2014, I had a follow-up “tracer dose” of radioactive iodine in October 2015. This is apparently standard procedure. Patients who’ve had treatment typically need a second full body scan to check if the original radioactive iodine treatment worked.

After my “tracer dose” in October,  my doctor’s assistant advised me that my scan was clear – yay! I was super excited when the doctor’s assistant told me that there was “no evidence of cancer”.

My family and friends were thrilled and everyone said it’s about time we heard some positive news.

A few weeks later (yes, weeks) I received a call from my endocrinologist. He asked me if he’d ever followed up with me after the scan in October. I told him that I had not heard from him, but spoke to his assistant who said my scan was clear.

At that point in our conversation he said, yes, the scan was clear but we received some blood test results and they came back showing a higher level of tumor markings than he’d hoped. Ok, I said, so what does that mean? Unfortunately for me, it looks like there are still some stubborn cancer cells running around in my body causing trouble.

This conversation was very upsetting. I was angry at my doctor – why didn’t he call me earlier and tell me these results instead of his assistant giving me a false sense that everything was ok and I was all done?

I had to go back to my husband, parents, family and friends and explain – I still do have cancer. It’s microscopic but still there.

Now everyone asks me “what can you do about it?” According to my endocrinologist, nothing. There’s nothing I can do right now. This is how it is and for the next little while I have to continue to living with thyroid cancer.

My journey continues. I hoped it would be finished by now after surgery and two treatments. Unfortunately this is unclear. I’ve worked very hard to learn how to live with and deal with uncertainty in my life but sometimes, as with this situation, it can be too much. I’m tired.

Living with Thyroid cancer and uncertainty

I really strive to be a positive person and look at every situation as one where the glass is half full rather than half empty, but I feel like this set of circumstances is particularly difficult to shade with rose coloured glasses.

I’ve followed up with my endocrinologist who has advised me that thyroid cancer is a marathon. Unfortunately for me (and my family) I’m only at the 10 mile mark. Even still, I have no doubt in my mind – I’m going to keep running and try to pick up my pace.

To be continued…

 

Low iodine diet friendly vegan gluten free muffins

 

Perfect vegan and gluten free breakfast option! Healthy chocolate chip muffins that are high in fiber and low iodine diet compatible. See the full recipe at The Professional Mom Project

I’ve adapted this recipe for Vegan Gluten Free Muffins from one of my favourite cookbooks. The recipe is based on Oh She Glows Out the Door Chia Power Doughnuts from Angela Liddon’s Oh She Glows Cookbook.

It’s easy to make these muffins low iodine diet friendly, as long as you don’t add the salt and make your own nut milk using raw almonds. I would also double check that the chocolate chips are vegan and that you are allowed to use them. If not, you can always replace the chocolate chips with blueberries, which would also be yummy I’m sure.

Ingredients to make LID Vegan Gluten Free Muffins

Ingredients for LID vegan gluten free muffins

3/4 cup oat flour
1/2 cup chia seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt (don’t add salt if on the low iodine diet)
1/4 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1/3 cup maple syrup (pure)
1/3 cup nut milk (make your own if on the low iodine diet)
1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup vegan chocolate chips (double check they are allowed if you’re on the low iodine diet)

Instructions to make LID Vegan Gluten Free Muffins

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit and place muffin liners in large muffin tins (start with six and you might need a couple more).

To make oat flour (use gluten free) put the oats in your food processor – I use my baby bullet since it’s small, quick and not too noisy.

Process the the oats until you’ve created a flour.

oats for vegan gluten free muffins

ground oats for LID vegan gluten free muffins

Once the oats are ground into a flour, place them in a large bowl and add in the chia seeds, baking powder, cinnamon and salt (if you’re not on the low iodine diet).

Combine the dry ingredients.

dry ingredients for LID vegan gluten free muffins

Once the dry ingredients are combined, add in the wet ingredients: maple syrup, almond milk and vanilla and the chocolate chips. Mix everything together. My “dough” is often very runny but don’t worry it comes out once you’ve baked them.

all ingredients for LID vegan gluten free muffins

When all of the ingredients are mixed together pour the dough into the muffin tin. I used 1/4 cup for each muffin.

LID vegan gluten free muffins

Then bake the muffins in the oven for 22 minutes. You can test to see if they are ready by placing a toothpick in the middle and making sure that it comes out clean.

These muffins are healthy, high fiber and yummy. They usually keep in a tupperware container for a few days.

LID vegan gluten free muffins

vegan gluten free muffins

9 Twitter tips for Beginners Part II

9 Twitter Tips for Beginners part 2
photograph by Haute Chocolate

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post on Twitter tips for beginners. I thought I’d be able to write it in one shot but apparently I have a lot to say on the subject!

Here’s part 2 and I hope you find these Twitter tips useful as well!

Be Helpful

When I started using Twitter I did it for fun. I just shared anything and everything I thought was interesting from a wide range of different topics.

As I started using Twitter in my job search, I began tweeting items  that were law and education related because that was the job market I was hoping to enter. By doing this, I kept myself up to date on key issues. I also became familiar with the various thought leaders and the trending topics.

My Twitter following grew substantially at this time. I think it’s because I was focused more on sharing interesting stories than gaining followers.

Since starting the blog, I haven’t changed my strategy much other than to follow other lifestyle and mom bloggers whose work I enjoy reading. I only promote my own posts maybe once a day (if I can remember to schedule them – more on that below).

Use Google Alerts for Tweets

I think I first heard about Google Alerts when I was listening to one of Pat Flynn’s Smart Passive Income Podcasts. In the podcast he suggests setting up alerts for topics of interest to use as inspiration or content across social media.

Google Alerts is quite easy to use. If there’s something you’re interested in, type it in the search button, enter your email address and create an alert. Every day you get email updates on your topic(s) of choice.

I have a few of these set up and I go through them at the end of the day to choose which articles I’ll schedule for future tweets.

Personally, I like to read the articles before I schedule them to make sure they offer useful advice. After reading the articles, I’ll either create my own tweet or use the tweet button on the article and then paste it into my scheduler.

This is a great way to make sure you never run out of scheduled tweets.

Schedule your Tweets

Speaking of scheduling… I know that there are a number of different Twitter schedulers out there and I’m sure they all work very well.

Personally, I’ve only tried Hootsuite and I really like it. I use it for work and for my personal account. I love that it’s free – key when you’re on a budget and it does the trick.

It can take a few tries to get used to the dashboard and how to schedule but once you are comfortable with the dashboard and set up it’s easy.

After you link up your Twitter account you can choose different streams (columns) for your screen.

I use:

  1. “home” stream – my Twitter feed
  2. “my tweets” – the tweets that I’ve sent out
  3. “scheduled” – the tweets that I plan to send out; and
  4. “mentions” – if someone has tagged me in a tweet
  5. “retweets” – to keep track of any retweets of my posts

At the top of the screen there’s a little box where you can write your tweet, schedule it using the calendar icon and add media using the paperclip icon.

If you’re sharing a link, Hootsuite also lets you shorten the link to make the tweet more concise. When you add your link you just click the “shorten” button and voila you have a much shorter link to share.

Tweet Often and at Different Times of Day

I probably tweet about  6-10 times per day with maybe one tweet of my own content and the rest other people’s posts, articles, events etc.

I’m sure many Twitter gurus would have a different ratio of sharing others work vs your own but I’m focusing more on growing my audience and as that grows, more people will be exposed to my writing as well.

In terms of scheduling you can either choose your own time or have Hootsuite auto schedule it for you. I’ve done both and haven’t seen much of a difference either way.

The convenient thing about using auto schedule is that you don’t need to worry about tweeting too close together, or too often in the same window of time.

Have fun with Hashtags

A hashtag is the pound sign (#) tweeters put in front of a word or phrase. You can search hashtags to see which ones are popular in your areas of interest. This allows you to identify what other people are discussing on your topics.

For example, if you want to see what other people on Twitter are saying about homeschooling, just type #homeschool in the search window and a bunch of tweets will come up. If you want to add to the conversation, write your tweet and add the hashtag at the end (in front of the key word).

You can also use Hashtagify to find out related hashtags. Searching Hashtagify for #homeschool I find that related hashtags include #education, #kids, #math, #parenting etc. You can add these to the tweet as well. What’s great about this, is that now, your tweet will be found not only by people searching for #homeschool but people searching for #education or #kids or whichever other hashtag you add.

Your tweet could look something like this:

Check out these amazing tips from @homeschoolexpert www.hse.com #homeschool #education #kids

Twitter Parties

So, I find Twitter parties to be their own unique thing. Some people love them, other people hate them. Personally, I find them fun to participate in depending on the topic.

Usually Twitter parties are hosted by a few different bloggers and/or brand ambassadors. These individuals promote the party on their networks and spread the word. To participate, you often have to follow the hosts on Twitter and sign up for the party on the host’s website.

The parties start at a specific time and usually the hosts set out a number of questions and people answer them. The questions usually start “Q1:” “Q2:” etc and when responding party goers typically put “A1:” “A2:” in front of their answers. People will often add the host’s twitter handle to the answer and use the specific hashtag that has been created for the party.

Mommy Blog Expert has an amazing Twitter party calendar that she updates every week and you can see if there’s a party of interest to you. Also, if you follow influencers they will often tweet out about upcoming parties too.

So Fab Chats also has a great list of parties and if you login to their site they have a platform that lets you follow along easily.

Hope you’ve found these additional 6 Twitter tips helpful!

What are your best Twitter tips?

How to Help a Friend with Cancer

How to help a friend with cancer
Photo by Helene In Between

The other day a work colleague told me that one of her old friends had just been diagnosed with a rare form of blood cancer and the doctors were trying to figure out the next steps to take in his treatment.

My colleague knows that I am living with thyroid cancer (I’m very open about it with everyone including the people I work with) and she asked me how she could help her friend. This question got me thinking about the best way to help a friend with cancer (or any illness really) and I’ve come up with some tips.

How to Help a Friend with Cancer

Be there for your friend

My colleague told me that she had been speaking to her friend a lot over the past few days, offering to help as much as possible and emailing him articles, courses and other items that might be of interest to him. She asked me if this was all too much and if I thought she might be driving him crazy with all of this attention.

I told her it sounded to me like she was doing all of the right things.

I’ve found that depending on your friends and their own circumstances, some people can back away when something goes wrong. For whatever reason, sometimes people can’t handle the idea that a close friend is ill, in pain or needs help.

I understand completely how difficult it can be to see your friend or loved one sick, but this is the time that your friend or loved one needs you most.

When a person is sick, knowing that their friends and family are there to rally around them can really help.

If it’s challenging for you to see your friend ill, think about how your friend feels. If you were in the same boat, what would you appreciate? A visit? A phone call? A quick text to check in?

There’s no need to spend hours by your friend’s side but please do make an effort to reach out to your friend and check up.

Distractions

When someone isn’t well, she likely doesn’t want to constantly be reminded of her sickness and likely doesn’t want to always be talking about it, thinking about it or be made to feel different because of it.

This is where good friends come into play – go to a movie together, out for coffee or to get your nails done. Tell your friend about what’s going on in your life and with your family. This is helpful because it can take your friend’s mind off all of her troubles and allow her to offer you support as well.

If your friend isn’t strong enough to venture out of her house, bring the distraction to her – magazines, books or watch a funny movie together on Netflix.

Often, just having company can make a huge difference in brightening someone’s day.

Play dates

If you and your friend both have kids, get them together for a play date.

Having been in this situation, one major source of anxiety for me was knowing whether or not R was being taken care of, happy and having fun. I was lucky, R was in full time daycare at the time of my surgery and RAI treatment so not much in his routine changed. Because he was in daycare, he was able to keep hanging out with his friends without much involvement from me.

Had R been at home with me, I know I would have appreciated friends dropping by with their kids to keep R entertained and busy. This would have been especially true had I been bedridden for a certain amount of time.

Support your Friend’s Partner

Like many women, I worry more about my family than I do about myself. In addition to being concerned about R, I was concerned about E’s well-being.

Your friend’s partner likely won’t ask for help but reach out to support him or her as well. I can only imagine that there are so many emotions and challenges that can come along with having a sick partner and he or she needs support too.

Help with Day to Day Activities

The day to day activities like cooking, grocery shopping and cleaning the house are often the tasks that get put off when you’re sick.

I think that any help you can provide a friend would be greatly appreciated. From baking muffins and bringing them over to arranging for a cleaning service to help with the house – all of these show concern and an understanding for what your friend and his/her family are experiencing.

Has one of your friends dealt with a difficult health challenge? What did you do to help your friend?

9 Twitter Tips for Beginners Part I

Twitter tips for beginners part I
photo from HauteChocolate

Twitter can be lots of fun or super overwhelming. I initially started on Twitter a few years ago when I was home with R. It was a quick way to get news, celebrity updates and keep up with different topics of interest to me. I also found Twitter helpful when I was looking for a job a couple of years ago.

In my current position, I promote different programs to undergraduate students. Twitter happened to be one of the most effective ways to get the word out. From there, my own Twitter following began to grow and now I have over 2,000 followers.

I know that’s nothing in comparison to some of the super Twitter personalities out there but I’m amazed that 2,000 people are interested in what I’ve got to say. I feel that if people are going to listen to me, then I have to help them and give them meaningful and useful content.

In using Twitter for work, blogging and personal reasons, I’ve learned a fair bit about the platform and have come up with a few Twitter tips for beginners.

I totally didn’t realize how many Twitter tips I would come up with so I decided to split this post into two parts. The first part explains a bit more about Twitter and then sets out the first three Twitter tips for beginners. I’ll share the rest of my Twitter tips in a subsequent post.

Let’s start from the beginning:

What is Twitter?

Twitter describes itself as “an online social networking service that enables users to send and read short 140 character tweets”.

Who is on Twitter?

According to Twitter, there are over 320,000,000 monthly active users on Twitter (whoa that’s a lot of people).

Celebrities, politicians, CEOs, college students, stay at home moms and everyone in between are on Twitter and most of us have it hooked up to our smartphones.

Should I go on Twitter?

If you’re not already on Twitter, then you should be. It can be a great platform to keep up with friends, stay current with the news and promote your work.

What’s with all of the acronyms?

Since you only have 140 characters to express yourself, people use a number of short forms. The most important ones are:

RT – which stands for re tweet. If you want to share a post that your friend tweeted you can either press the retweet button or add your own comment plus RT and the twitter handle.

For example:

If the original tweet from @MrClean reads “Top 10 Cleaning Hacks: http://mrclean.com…”

You might retweet it and write: “Great cleaning tips RT @MrClean Top 10 Cleaning Hacks: http://mrclean.com…”

MT – stands for modified tweet. If you’re sharing someone’s post using a different way to describe the post, you would indicate this using MT.

For example:

If the original tweet is from me and reads: “Look how much I love my mom! Check out these great gifts: http://theprofessionalmomproject.com/gifts”

You might change it and write: “Great gift choices for mom MT @nicole_salama http://theprofessionalmomproject.com/gifts”

But no one’s following me. What do I do?

Here’s where my Twitter tips come into play:

Start following lots of people to get the lay of the land

Depending on your reason for entering the twitosphere your strategy will be different.

If you’re hanging out for personal reasons and to keep up with friends, then go to the search box on the top right hand corner and search for your friends. If they have Twitter accounts, those accounts will show up and you can follow them. I’m pretty sure your friends will follow you back 😉

Also, follow different organizations that interest you – news, fashion, diet, health – everyone is on Twitter and they all provide helpful bite sized tips.

If you’re building a business, then I’d suggest finding out who the leaders in your sphere are and following those people. They likely won’t follow you back at the start, but following these experts is a great way to learn.

You can also look at who else follows the business leaders you are interested in and follow some of those individuals. If you have similar interests and you provide helpful information, it’s likely that those individuals, who are also starting out, will follow you back and you can grow your following together.

Use Crowdfire

Crowdfire is one of my favourite apps. You can link up your Twitter profile and it will tell you:

  1. who has recently followed you;
  2. who has recently unfollowed you;
  3. who your “fans” are (the accounts that follow you, but you don’t follow back);
  4. who your “non-followers” are (those accounts that you follow, but that don’t follow you back); and
  5. which accounts that you follow who don’t actively post on Twitter so you can unfollow them if you choose to

You can also use the app to find out who near you is on Twitter, which might be useful if you have a local business you are looking to promote.

If there’s an influencer that targets your key audience, you can also type in that account name under the “copy followers” button on the app and find out who follows that influencer. Once you find out which accounts follow that particular individual, you can follow them as well.

Personally, I’m a bit addicted to the finding out who has recently “unfollowed” me. By getting this info in a quick and easy way, I can decide if I want to keep following that account or delete it from my feed. It feels a bit sneaky, but since there are so many people out there who follow you just to get the follow back and then stop following you once you follow them, it’s worth keeping track of. Personally, I don’t get that strategy – especially if the person is in your area why not just follow back?

All of these features are free which is fantastic if you’re blogging on a budget.

RT and MT tweets by people you want to connect with

I find it super flattering when people take the time to RT or MT one of my blog posts or tweets. After someone does this I usually send a quick reply tweet to thank that person and check out his or her profile. If the person’s interests are similar to mine then I’ll follow that person.

I’ve found this technique particularly useful to connect with other bloggers. Not only do you tweet out some interesting articles, the person who you re-tweet or mention gets notified and that’s a great way to get on someone’s radar.

This isn’t something you necessarily want to do a million times if you’re not getting the response you’re hoping for but it’s worth a try.

I’m going to post the rest of my Twitter tips in a later post, but in the meantime, are you on Twitter? What’s your Twitter handle?

I hope you found this post helpful, Part 2 is up! You should check it out for more helpful tips and tricks.

38 things I’m grateful for on my 38th birthday

38 Things I'm Grateful for on my 38th Birthday

My birthday was a couple of weeks ago and it got me thinking. Usually, I’m not great with birthdays. There’s something about them that just doesn’t sit well with me. I’m a generally optimistic person (or I try to be) but getting older every year doesn’t make me bubble over with happiness and enthusiasm. Especially as I watch the wrinkles get deeper and the steadily increasing number of grey hairs popping up on my head.

I often use my birthday as a time for reflection – how did I do this year? Am I where I want to be? What do I need to figure out before my next birthday?

If I’m not 100% content with where I am in any given year I feel like a failure and as though the year that has gone by has been worthless.

As I write this out I’m realizing that I am putting way too much pressure on myself. No one is perfect, just getting up and going forward on a daily basis is an accomplishment I should be proud of.

I’ve been through a lot and it’s taking me time to get back on my feet but that’s ok. I’m putting one foot in front of the other, going in a positive and productive direction and there’s not much more I can ask of myself.

I recently read a post on The Mighty by Melissa Fuoss entitled 37 Little Things I’m Thankful Cancer Couldn’t Take From Me.

I found Melissa’s post inspiring and decided to countdown the 38 things I’m greatful for on my 38th birthday (in no particular order):

1. Sunshine on my face

2. Having a wonderful family that cares for me and will support me no matter what

3. Snuggling with R before bed and listening to him fall asleep

4. Being married to a kind, funny, thoughtful and all around amazing man

5. Resting my head on E’s shoulder

6. The smell of my mom’s house on Friday night

7. The first sip of a yummy latte on a cold day

8. When R sticks out his hand for me to hold

9. Coming home to a clean house (doesn’t happen often with a little boy at home but when it does it’s amazing)

10. Cooking a great meal and enjoying it with friends and family (however I could do without the clean up part…)

11. Living so close to my parents

12. That we have the ability to financially contribute to charitable  causes we care about

13. That we have the ability to travel and explore new cultures and share these with R at such a young age

14. Putting on comfy sweats at the end of a tiring day

15. Listening to R sing while he plays

16. The moments of quiet that E and I occasionally get to share

17. Visiting R’s junior kindergarten class and watching the students laugh, play and sing together

18. Chocolate cupcakes

19. That my body is still strong despite cancer

20. That my resolve remains strong despite cancer

21. That I’ve had the opportunity to visit many wonderful and amazing destinations around the world (and I look forward to visiting many many more)

22. My education and the opportunities it has afforded me

23. The friends I’ve made along the way (so far)

24. Getting engrossed in a good book and having the time to read it

25. Having a good laugh – whether with friends, family or just watching tv

26. The ability to purchase food and necessities when we need them

27. Working in a relaxed environment doing a job that is helping people

28. The sound of the ocean

29. The lovely, cozy feeling of getting into my bed at night

30. Fresh flowers – tulips, roses, sunflowers. I love them all

31. Having the ability to grow our own veggies in the garden and maybe eat them before the bunnies, squirels and racoons get to them

32. When a kind person opens the door for me or lets me go in front of them in traffic

33. The sound of rustling leaves underfoot when I go for a walk in the fall

34. The look of wonder on R’s face whenever he sees something he’s never seen before

35. An air conditioned room on a really hot day

36. The feeling of getting on an airplane knowing I’m going on vacation

37. Falling back asleep on a Sunday morning when E and R are downstairs together

38. Looking through pictures of all of our amazing memories

We all have many things in our lives to be grateful for. From our children to the roofs over our heads and the food on our plates. Creating a list like this reminds me that despite my challenges there’s much to be thankful for and to look forward to experiencing.

What would be on your list?

 

 

Baked Mac and Cheese

I love this recipe! This baked mac and cheese is healthy, high in dietary fibre, easy to make and comfort food at its best.

Go to the Professional Mom Project to make this awesome baked mac and cheese with broccoli, cauliflower and whole wheat pasta

 

I’ve been making this recipe for several years and I’ve refined it and changed it over time. It’s based on Skinnytaste’s recipe for Skinny Baked Broccoli Macaroni and Cheese.

I hope you enjoy it as much as we do!

Ingredients to make Baked Mac and Cheese

2 1/2 cups of 100% whole grain short pasta (I used rotini)
4 cups of broccoli or cauliflower (or a mixture of both)
2 tablespoons of butter
1/4 cup of whole wheat flour
2 cups of skim milk
2 cups of reduced fat cheddar cheese
salt and pepper to taste
Herbes de Provence to taste
4 tablespoons of parmesan cheese

Instructions to make Baked Mac and Cheese

Pre-heat your oven to 375 degrees and lightly spray a casserole dish with olive oil spray. I use an oval-shaped casserole dish and it seems to work well.

Bring lightly salted water to a boil.

Once the water has boiled, cook the pasta per the instructions on the box and add in the broccoli/cauliflower so it gets cooked as well.

Broccoli cauliflower and pasta for baked mac and cheese

After the pasta is cooked al dente (still a bit firm), drain the pasta and the broccoli/cauliflower and set them aside. Once the pasta and veggies cool down, chop the cooked veggies into bite sized pieces.

drained veggies for baked mac and cheese

Using the same pot you used to cook the pasta (to make clean up easier and faster), melt the butter on low heat (so as not to burn the butter or the pot).

Melting butter for baked mac and cheese

When the butter has melted, add the whole wheat flour and mix until fully combined.

melted butter and whole wheat flour for baked mac and cheese

Then add in the skim milk, season lightly with salt and pepper and add in the Herbes de Provence to taste.

mac and cheese sauce with spices

Bring the milk mixture to a boil and let simmer for around 5 minutes, mixing with a wooden spoon several times. When the milk mixture has thickened a bit, add in the two cups of cheddar cheese. Stir the cheese in the milk mixture until fully melted.

baked mac and cheese sauce with melted cheese

Once the cheese has melted, add in the pasta and broccoli/cauliflower. Combine the pasta, veggies and cheese mixture until fully covered.

baked mac and cheese before the oven

Place the pasta, veggie and cheese mixture into the prepared casserole dish. Flatten out the top a bit to make sure that the pasta is evenly spread out. Then top the pasta mixture with the grated parmesan cheese (if you happen to add more than 4 tablespoons don’t worry – I won’t tell anyone…)

mac and cheese ready to go in the oven

Bake the casserole uncovered for 20 minutes.

baked mac and cheese

If you think this dish looks yummy (which it totally is), you should also take a look at my Pesto Pasta with Roast Tomatoes!