Two lasagnas.

I've been known to get the randomest cravings- just ask my husband. He doesn't even try to make decisions about what we eat anymore because he knows that I'll only want what I want when I want it. So one day, he asked me what I wanted… and I was having a craving for vegetable lasagna. Not just any vegetable lasagna, mind you- but something similar to a kind I had once that I distinctly remember tasting sweet. (My cravings are obnoxiously specific.) I scoured the interwebs for the perfect vegetable lasagna and found this first recipe I'm sharing with you. And it was SO GOOD! I added some brown sugar and cinnamon to the sauce and it tasted exactly like what I had been craving. It was super easy to make and fed us for three days straight! You can find the recipe here.

Luscious Vegetarian Lasagna

Yield: Makes 6 to 8 servings


8 ounces lasagna noodles

1 can (14-1/2 ounces) whole peeled tomatoes, undrained and coarsely chopped

1 can (12 ounces) tomato sauce

1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves

1 teaspoon dried basil

Dash black pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

1-1/2 teaspoons minced garlic

2 small zucchini, diced

1 large carrot, diced

1 green bell pepper, diced

8 ounces mushrooms, sliced

2 cups 1% milk-fat cottage cheese

1 cup (4 ounces) shredded mozzarella cheese

1 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese

Parsley sprigs for garnish

1. Cook lasagna according to package directions; drain.

2. Place
tomatoes with juice, tomato sauce, oregano, basil and black pepper in
medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low.
Simmer, uncovered, 6 to 10 minutes.

3. Heat
oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook and stir onion and
garlic until onion is golden. Add zucchini, carrot, bell pepper and
mushrooms. Cook and stir 5 to 10 minutes or until vegetables are
tender. Stir vegetables into tomato mixture; bring to a boil. (This is where I added the brown sugar and cinnamon. I just eyeballed it, but I would say about 2 tsps of brown sugar and 1/2 tsp of cinnamon.) Reduce
heat to low. Simmer, uncovered, 15 minutes.

4. Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine cottage, mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses in large bowl; blend well.

5. Spoon
about 1 cup sauce in bottom of 12X8-inch baking pan. Place a layer of
noodles over sauce, then half the cheese mixture and half the remaining
sauce. Repeat layers of noodles, cheese mixture and sauce.

6. Bake lasagna 30 to 45 minutes or until bubbly. Let stand 10 minutes. Garnish with parsley.

(Other vegetables can be added or substituted for the ones listed above)

Tex Mex Lasagna

The other lasagna recipe that's been a hit around the house is one I make often for guests and every time they have requested the recipe. Plus, it's vegetarian-friendly and VERY budget-friendly! I love me some green onions, so I pile those on the top for garnish- enough to have some in every bite. I found this in The Best of Cooking Light: Superfast Weeknight Dinners.


3/4 cup bottled salsa (any kind and any temperature you prefer)
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 (14.5 oz.) can no salt-added diced tomatoes
1 (8 oz.) can no salt-added tomato sauce
Cooking spray
6 pre-cooked lasagna noodles (I cut them to fit the pan and use the leftover to fill in the extra spaces)
1 cup frozen whole-kernel corn, thawed
1 (15 oz) can black beans, rinsed and drained
2 cups (8 oz.) pre-shredded reduced-fat 4-cheese Mexican blend cheese
1/4 cup chopped green onions

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

2. Combine first 4 ingredients; spread 2/3 cup sauce in bottom of an 8-inch square baking dish coated with cooking spray. Arrange 2 noodles over sauce; top with 1/2 cup corn and half of the beans. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup cheese; top with 2/3 cup sauce. Repeat layers once; top with remaining 2 noodles. Spread remaining sauce over noodles. Sprinkle with remaining 1 cup cheese. Cover and bake at 450 degrees for 30 minutes or until noodles are tender and sauce is bubbly. Let stand 15 minutes. Sprinkle with onions.

Makes 4 servings.

Let me know if you try these and how they turn out! We like them so much around here I usually buy the fixings to make them each time I go to the grocery store. Enjoy!

Baby’s first letter.

Dear Linnea,

Two months ago today, you came into the world in such a whirlwind I could barely see straight. I went to work that morning feeling totally normal and left that afternoon in bona-fide labor. You were born less than thirteen hours later. It was the hardest, most physically demanding, exhausting, BEST THING I have ever done. And your daddy was there helping all along the way. 

Alley Delivery-29_2
I tell you all the time how I grew you in my belly. What a miraculous thing God had in mind when He knit you together. You, my beautiful baby, my little angel, are an amazing little creation.

Alley Delivery-75
I have spent this time watching you grow, cuddling you incessantly, seeing how quickly you are falling in love with your Daddy- like you could possibly help that. He is one wonderful man. I always knew you would be a daddy's girl. I don't think any man will ever love you as much as your Daddy does (but we are praying that someday one will!). There is nothing more precious than when he comes home from work and all he wants to do is hold you in his arms and make faces at you so that you smile at him. And oh boy, that smile! The first time you smiled at me a couple of weeks ago filled me with so much joy! As if you weren't already beautiful enough- you go and do a silly thing like smiling at me. Goodness, child. Sometimes I think my heart might just explode- and yet it somehow contains this growing love I never could have understood until you came into my life. 

I find myself getting excited to share experiences with you. I took you to the park one day and we laid under the shade of a tree together and you smiled and cooed at me all afternoon. I went to the toy store the other day and bought you a tea set that we can play with together when you get a little older. I am excited to take you to Disneyland and throw birthday parties for you and teach you the different noises animals make when you see them at the zoo. Right now, you don't do much more other than kick those little legs of yours and reach out with those tiny little hands that look just like mine. You're still such an itty bitty one- less than seven pounds- but from what Daddy and I can tell, you are bright-eyed- SO bright-eyed- and healthy. And we are so thankful for that.

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I love to sing lullabies to you, even silly ones like that ridiculous "binky song" I made up this morning. "I've got a binky, binky for my girl- binky for my girl- binky for my girl!" I love holding you and rocking with you in my arms while I feed you. I love weekends when Daddy gets up in the morning and brings you into our bed, and we take in the wonder that is our daughter. I love your little newborn kisses. I love your drama arms. I love when I pick you up from your crib when you're fussy and you calm down right away. I love when you hold your little head up, peering over my shoulder at your surroundings, or other people in the room, making everyone go, "Awwww!" I love how completely smitten I am with you. I love how completely smitten everyone is with you. You should see your Amma- oh my. If she could have you all to herself forever and ever she would take you in a heartbeat.

Now that you're here, Linnea, it is impossible for Daddy and I to imagine life without you. We hold so much hope for your future and pray that we will be the parents you need us to be to become the woman God made you to be. You have gifted us with a brand new perspective on the whole of life that only exists by your presence.

But you- you are a priceless gift. We love you so much, Little Monkey. We are looking forward to many more months and years of watching you grow up- and we will cherish every second of it.


With all our love,

Mama and Daddy

Can you even stand the cuteness?

Today I took Linnea to the park, set up the t-shirt quilt (made out of my old track t-shirts- I couldn't part with them!) on the grass next to a tree, and laid a very happy, content 8-week-old in the shade, kicking her little legs in the air, looking around taking in the beauty of the great outdoors. Best. Afternoon. Ever.

this was yet again The Cutest Thing I've Ever Seen, I started snapping
pictures with my phone…


And caught a big ol' smile on camera for the
first time! Can you even stand the cuteness? CAN YOU?!?!?!?!

OH MY GOSH I AM BESIDE MYSELF WITH ADORATION. I just cannot get enough of this kid. I pretty much wanna swallow her whole. Just sayin'.

Surgery. It’s not as bad as it sounds.

It's funny how a doctor can call even the most simple procedure "surgery" and consequently send patients into a downward spiral of panic. Last week I went in for my six-week post-partum checkup, and everything was fantastical until I mentioned that I was still bleeding- not profusely, but just, you know, still bleeding. At a point when it probably should have stopped. She ordered an ultrasound and afterward I was informed that I had "retained placenta" and had to have a D+C. Hmmm, OK, and what is that exactly?


Good Lord, that is such a dirty word when you're the one who has to go through it.

So a D+C is a simple procedure where they get all up in your business and scrape out the inside of your uterus. Something for which, fortunately, there is an anesthesiologist present who injects the good stuff into your veins and knocks you out completely. Takes 30 minutes or so. Breezy recovery. So it's not that bad- why the brief bouts of terror?

You see, needles don't bother me- until I see them. I've had my ears pierced, and even had a period of rebellion in my life when I pierced my tongue and got a tattoo. Because I never saw said needles, and I was fine. But show me the needle and FORGET IT. In addition, you can pretty much stick me with a needle anywhere and I barely notice, but get a sharp object anywhere near the crook of my arm where they draw blood and I go white as a ghost. Therefore, pregnancy and childbirth, as easy as I had it, was not a walk in the park for me when it came to all the blood tests I had to have done.

So here's the backstory. When I was six years old, in our family doctor's office, a man who was so caring and wonderful and who I trusted completely, I had to have my blood drawn. At six years old, I had no idea that it would be better not to watch them do it- I thought, in all my infinite wisdom, that I needed to see it and I would feel better. So I watched. AND PASSED OUT COLD. When I woke up, I thought I died, and I have had a phobia of getting my blood drawn ever since. I know- pathetic, right? I was six years old! Get over it already!

So the worst part of today's surgery was the fact that I had to sit there for about an hour, fully conscious, with an IV line sitting in my arm in preparation for the glorious anesthesia I'd be receiving for the procedure. It bothered me SO MUCH. I couldn't even feel it but the fact that I knew it was there made me all lightheaded and weirded out. It's the first thing they do and the last thing they remove before you're all done. But whatever, I survived to tell the tale, and I'm at home less than two hours later and feel like a million bucks.

How I ever took up sewing as a hobby I WILL NEVER UNDERSTAND. There are a lot of needles involved in that pastime!

Why I am SO EXCITED: The TomKat Studio.

As you may know, when I found out I was expecting Linnea, I set out on a mission to start a home-based business as a Virtual Assistant and developed No Strings Virtual Solutions. As is the case with most business ventures, it took some time to develop and get off the ground, and before I knew it, Linnea was nearly here and my world was taken over by all things baby. That's the beauty of owning your own biz- you can prioritize your life appropriately and focus on what's most important! I had a couple of project-based clients that I helped with the launch of their Web sites and blogs, but I put anything beyond that on hold as I prepared to become a mom. 

The TomKat Studio

My hubby went back to work on Wednesday, and I was finally settling into somewhat of a rhythm with the little one to where I would be able to start building my business and taking on clients again. That's when I saw a post on Twitter from the TomKat Studio (whose blog I've been following since I saw her on the cover of our local magazine, Go Gilbert! back in May) saying that she was seeking a virtual assistant for her paper and party business. Kim has THE CUTEST blog I've ever seen and it's clear that her business has taken off in recent months, so I jumped at the chance to be a part of it. I even had friends who saw the post and sent it to me knowing I would love it. Imagine my excitement when she e-mailed me to let me know that I was her top choice! I mean, LOOK at her adorable creations!

The TomKat Studio

There are so many reasons I am so thrilled to work with her, besides the fact that she is one of the sweetest people I've ever talked to. She is immensely talented, creative and is genuinely living out her passion, and I love that kind of energy! Back when I started No Strings, my husband asked me what kind of clients I wanted to serve. I told him that I could work with almost anyone, but in a perfect world I would love to work with creative entrepreneurs- just like Kim! Her Web site was one I frequented when I needed inspiration and it also got me excited that I was having a little girl- bring on the pretty parties please! And lastly, that issue of Go Gilbert! is the only one I kept around the house because it was that article that inspired me to venture out on my own. It was only a few days after I read it that I found out I was expecting- and you can bet it gave me the confidence I needed that I could handle being an entrepreneur AND a good mom too!

The TomKat Studio

So who would have thunk that a couple of months after our little one was born that I would be working with the very person who inspired me to start my own business? It will never cease to amaze me the way that God orchestrates things in our lives. We NEVER know just how good His plan can be until we find ourselves in the midst of it! And I am sure there is so much more amazingness to come! For now, I am looking forward to helping this successful, creative business owner and fellow mom build her company and realize its full potential. Cheers to Kim and the TomKat Studio!

The TomKat Studio

(Un)happy camper.

I am now on day number three of what I have dubbed "inconsolable afternoons." Clean diaper? Check. Full tummy? Check. Burped? Check. Won't burp? OK. Mylecon? Check. Comfortable? Don't see any pinchy diapers… Check. Rocking in her boppy doesn't work, binkies don't work, holding her and rubbing her back doesn't work, singing lullabies doesn't work (although my singing voice may just exacerbate the problem…).

Only two things have changed this week that are completely new to her since she was born. Number one is that Cody returned to work on Wednesday. So is this in any way connected to my husband's absence after being here consistently over the first six weeks of Linnea's life? I'm gonna say no, mostly because I'd like to think I'm enough to console her, but I may be in denial because she is already so clearly a Daddy's Girl. All he has to do is hold her and speak gently in her ear and she is GOLDEN. Sometimes when I pick her up she screams even louder… unless, of course, I'm feeding her. Then it's the epitome of peaceful in this household. 

See? Screaming when Mom holds her:


Happy as a clam when Daddy holds her:


And I will spare you a picture of me feeding her. But trust me, she's perfectly fine when I do.

Anyway, RULING THAT OUT, that leaves me with a solid theory as to why she's so upset in the afternoons, because I just don't think these are so-called "daily fussy times." This is knock-down, drag-out, top-of-the-lungs screaming as soon as she is done eating that has lasted almost until her next scheduled feeding. With no daytime naps. And it is COMPLETELY my fault. The theory?


I started drinking caffeinated coffee again. Not a gallon at a time, but a cup or two in the mornings. And after drinking strictly decaf when I was pregnant, this may have been a bit of a shock to her tiny system. Consequently I have a very unhappy infant who doesn't sleep longer than 15 minutes at a time between feedings and crashes at night. (But hey, at least she sleeps at night!) No wonder she doesn't like me. Ha!

Anyway, we'll see if my theory is correct now that I'm giving up the stuff… again. God forbid we have a colicky baby- I would feel so bad for her because I imagine that is miserable! We'll just keep our fingers crossed for more times like these:

Mommy loves you from Andrea Alley on Vimeo.

Daddy's girl from Andrea Alley on Vimeo.