Starting Anew?

Hi friends, Project Courtney was hacked and I wiped it clean.

Not to worry, the bad guys are locked out now!

I can restore old posts, but I’m deciding whether or not to do that. When there was a real possibility that I’d lost everything, I not only accepted that all of my posts were gone, but I grew to like the idea of a fresh start.

I’m still deciding whether or not to populate old posts while I put the site back together.

I have to say, it was a bit of a blessing that this happened after my hiatus but before I regained my momentum…basically, while nobody was looking. I got an education on beefing up the security muscles, that’s for sure! Knowledge gained, nothing lost.


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Free Blog Tools to Pretty Up Your Site



Blogging is supposed to be cheaper than therapy. However, there are plenty of shiny toys you can buy to make your blog more impressive, which can really add up after a while.

Luckily, plenty of services are offering free blog tools that make you look like a professional designer. Most of them can do this because they operate on a “freemium” model (in which you pay for extras). But there are also some that operate totally free.

I’ve made a list of my favorites, because I like you.


See my header up there? And my subscribe graphic in the sidebar? Those are PicMonkey originals, folks. And I created them for free. The best part is, it took all of 20 minutes to do both. It would have taken 10 if I weren’t playing around.

While I would have loved to have had access to all of the fabulous elements PicMonkey has to offer, it was my first time out and I wanted to see if I liked it. (I’m leaning toward LOVE. Needless to say, PicMonkey is becoming a favorite among my free blog tools.)

If you want to give it a try, use my affiliate link to get a free day of Royale, which in PicMonkey speak means use all the things. A whole day! You can decorate an entire blog or seven if you have a whole day!


Like PicMonkey, but I’m seeing more. The premium services are set up a little differently. Instead of paying by the month, you pay for what you use. But don’t worry – you can create just about anything you need for free.


I’ve never used Photoshop extensively, but I’m told GIMP is the shareware software analogous to Photoshop. For picky designers and photo editors, GIMP has more than I could ever use.

Color Scheme Designer

I’ve said here before how my husband threatens to put a full-length mirror by the door so that I can make sure my clothes match. Color coordination just isn’t one of those things that comes easy to me. I can choose pretty base colors, but I’ll always load them into Color Scheme Designer to coordinate my complementary colors.

I’ve even used this as a guideline to paint rooms in my house!


I still find it hard to believe this site exists. Free, “do whatever” stock photos. No special permissions, nothing. Oh, and they happen to be gorgeous. They release 10 new photos every 10 days, and they have quite a stockpile from which to choose. Did I mention they’re gorgeous? Because these photographers are giving away nothing less than high art.

Welp, that oughta hold you for a while.

Do me a favor and show me what you’ve made, mkay?



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Remember the BRCA Test? Results Are In.

Remember when I swished the mouthwash?

Remember the weeks of “what if?”

Well, the waiting is over.

Results are in.



I thought for sure I was a carrier of the BRCA gene mutation.

But, I’m not.


Feels good to type that.


I’m relieved. Ecstatic, actually. Above all else, I’m thankful. Incredibly thankful.

I’m thankful that I don’t have to make any life-altering decisions. I don’t have to decide whether or not our family is complete. I don’t have to decide whether or not (or would it be when) to have surgery. I don’t have to decide whether to throw off my hormones for the rest of my life and try to maintain my health with medications.

Decisions aside, I’m thankful that I don’t have to envision my children watching me suffer.

This is incredible news.



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Before and After: Installing Vinyl Tile in the Bathroom


Carpet in a bathroom is just not my thing.

White carpet in a bathroom is just…I mean…you know what bathrooms are for, right?

(c) Project Courtney
(c) Project Courtney



Those stains are just from being wet. Despite potty training two kids in this bathroom, there is nothing on that floor produced by a human. Honest.

But it looks like…well…you know.

Hoss and I decided that we’d had enough, so we ripped it up.


He thought ripping up carpet was the bees’ knees. He was flexing all over the place, not entirely believing that he was strong enough to take out a floor. Little did he know that the previous owners just kind of glued it onto the previous tile.

Annnndddd….look at what we found! The before-before picture.


That was a look then. Teeny tile in clashing colors was probably hip around the 1960s, right? Must’ve been the magic mushrooms.

Anyway, I found this tile at the home improvement store that has the look and feel of stone (unless you tap dance on it, in which case it will reveal itself as vinyl). It was a small space, so ceramic wouldn’t have been too expensive to try, but I didn’t want to have to get special equipment to cut tile.

Vinyl can be cut with a utility knife. Score, bend, and SNAP!

I couldn’t resist saying “bend, and SNAP!” a la Reese Witherspoon in Legally Blonde while I was cutting. (In my head. I don’t re-enact movie scenes while tiling.)


Anyway, back to business.

Had I known using self-adhesive tile was this easy, I would have done it when we moved in. If you’re still doubting how user-friendly this stuff is, consider that I did the entire job by myself, with three kids under five in the house with me, during the week we all had the flu. It took two stretches of two hours, including grout.

Ready to try putting your own self-stick vinyl tile in? Here’s what you need.

  • Tile
  • Utility knife

If you’re planning to grout it…

  • Spacers
  • Pre-mixed grout
  • Grout float and/or putty knife
  • Sponges
  • Water pan


Installation was simple. Rip carpet, clean the surface. Start in the middle of the room, not the edge. Old, 1920s houses like mine have all kinds of angles and curves that will throw your tile out of whack. Use a carpenter’s square to align your tile, if you don’t have retro tile to use as a guide like I did. Once you’ve stuck the first, put these spacers on the corners.


Now, my various video tutorials say I used these spacers the wrong way, that they should be standing up. Well, for one, mine wouldn’t stand. And two, they make nice 90-degree angles for you to follow if they’re lying flat. You don’t need to align anything once you have that first tile down.

Keep sticking vinyl tiles and placing the spacers, making sure the arrows on the adhesive backing all face the same way. Once you’re out of space for whole tiles, you’ll need to cut.

I used paper to mark and measure, but if you’d rather be proper, you can use a measuring tape. I used a piece of scrap tile as my straight edge. I about lost a finger using my grout float for that.

I had to fit tile around a heat register, sink, toilet and tub. A perfectionist would have cut curves, but I knew my curves weren’t coming out so smooth. So, I opted for smaller cuts of tile and plenty of grout. However, I couldn’t avoid the bathtub curve. I just traced the pattern onto a piece of paper and called Mister in to do the cut.

So, that’s all there is to installing vinyl tile in the bathroom. Since the edges are beveled, I could have skipped the spacers and laid them touching, but I opted to grout.

So naturally, next, we grout!

How did I do?








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Homemade Italian Sausage Recipe


italian sausage
(c) Project Courtney – all rights reserved


I grew up around Italian food. I remember turning the crank of the pasta maker with my Nana, seeing her arms orange to the elbows from the paprika during soppresata time, kneading bread dough, walking into the wine cellar hearing and smelling the crushed grapes start to fizz.

Getting introduced to something called a slaughterhouse at age seven. Because that’s where the freshest meat comes from, of course.

You know, those warm and fuzzy childhood memories. o_O

So, when we discovered the Mister’s gluten issues, of course I thought for sure my Good Traditional Cook card would be revoked and I’d morph into more of a specialty food box-opener.

As I learned that there was much more to life than white flour, I adapted pretty quickly, though I had to re-learn everything.

True, I lost a utensil (the hunk of bread you have in one hand while you eat with the other), but nobody can take Nana’s flavors away from me. I just have to think beyond spaghetti.

I’ve found that most grocery store Italian sausage brands do not contain gluten. However, most do contain either MSG or nitrates or both. Rather than comb the stores for a natural-ish brand that actually tastes good, I decided to take matters into my own hands.

I say this every time I make from scratch something I used to buy, but I’m not going back.


Homemade Italian Sausage Recipe


1 tbsp fennel seed, coarse ground

2 tsp salt

2 tsp pepper

2 tsp paprika

1 tbsp dried Italian herb blend

4 cloves garlic

2 lb boneless pork shoulder, cubed (or ground pork if you’re not going to grind it yourself)

1/4c red wine

First, grind the fennel seeds in a spice grinder or coffee mill. Leave them whole if you like it that way. I crushed them in the mortar and pestle to get them half whole and half ground.

fennel seeds
(c) Project Courtney – all rights reserved

Next, combine all dry ingredients – fennel, salt, pepper, paprika and herbs – in a large bowl. Mix in the garlic, meat and wine. Run the mixture through your grinder, or combine if you used ground pork.

Break off a little bit and fry it up to check your seasonings. After you’ve made your adjustments, shape your sausage into links, patties or meatballs.

I shaped mine into little meatballs and plopped them into simmering minestrone. Feel free to use your Italian sausage just as you would cook up the store-bought kind.

Note that this was my method for free-form sausage. I’ve never used casings without supervision, but I have every reason to believe that this recipe would work beautifully if you would want to grind everything into casings.

Another thing…if you don’t have pork, feel free to use ground chicken or chicken thighs. I’ve made chicken apple sausage for breakfast using chicken and it rocks my socks. It’ll work.


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Lose the Baby Weight: Week 3 Check-in

Lose the Baby Weight


I’ve been working out consistently for three weeks. Look at me, all dedicated!

Ha. Come on, you know me better than that. I’m not so much dedicated to working out and having a “hot bod” (whatever that means) so much as I am dedicated to that opportunity to turn my brain completely off and lift heavy-ish things. I count to ten and listen to the gym’s cheesy playlist, and it’s practically like sleeping.

Except it’s definitely not sleeping because no tiny people are interrupting me.

With the Mister’s gluten issues and the kids off of gluten, I’ve been unofficially off of gluten myself. I’m watching the sugar, because I don’t like the feeling of the spikes and dips, and I haven’t been having as much dairy without morning cereal or my favorite snack, Nutella on graham crackers dunked in milk.

I will say that I’m seeing brighter skin, the under-eye circles are fading to the hue of the other moms of three under five, and I sense a boost in my mental clarity and energy.

I’m not in the habit of weighing myself, so I don’t have a weight loss progress update. But I can say that I’m back in my pre-pregnancy tops and my in-between, non-maternity jeans are finally starting to feel roomy. I’ll give it another week before I try the pre-pregnancy jeans.

There are a lot of co-factors at work here, so it’s hard to say what’s helping. Whatever it is, I’m liking the results.



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Genetic Testing for BRCA 1 and BRCA 2




Want to guess why I took a selfie while swishing mouthwash?

I’m assuming you already read the title of this post, so, okay. Genetic testing. Good guess, high-fives to you.

That’s me, collecting my cell sample for my BRCA 1 and BRCA2 test.

Swish and spit until you get to the fill line. Gross.

I vaguely referenced it here, but I didn’t go into detail. My mom died of cancer when I was 19. She was first diagnosed when I was 11 – breast cancer, then ovarian cancer.

Her case fits the picture of a hereditary breast cancer. Mom was first diagnosed before age 40 (at 38). She first had breast cancer, then a number of years later was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, which was determined to be related to the original breast cancer. Also, she had several female relatives on her father’s side who had either breast cancer or a combination of breast and ovarian cancer.

Ever since, the OB/Gyns have been on me to get a genetic test done. Until now, I refused. I had my reasons.


Why I refused genetic testing for BRCA in my 20s


First, I was young. Cancer could develop young, especially the hereditary types, but for some reason, I decided that breast cancer wasn’t on my radar until age 30.

Second, I didn’t want the insurance companies to be able to use my genetic information against me.

Third, I knew I would eventually want children, and I didn’t want pressure to prematurely remove my reproductive equipment.

And…there was a fourth reason. Remember in The Matrix, where Cypher says, “ignorance is bliss,” in between bites of juicy steak?

If I had screwed up genes, I just didn’t want to know yet. You don’t go get genetic testing done because you’re looking for something else to keep you up at night. I wasn’t going to do anything about it at that point, so why bother?


Why I finally decided to get tested


Well, some things changed. I hit my magic number of 30, the age at which I promised myself I’d start thinking about these things.

As far as the insurance situation goes, some political moves have been made that take care of that concern. Since my mother’s death, it has been made illegal on multiple levels to deny me insurance based on information from genetic testing. I’d have recourse based on the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 and the Affordable Care Act’s stipulation that insurance companies must still provide insurance if the applicant has a preexisting condition – in case some judge somewhere decided that being a gene carrier in absence of the disease is the same as having the condition.

Then, there are the kids. We hit our minimum. Not necessarily our maximum, but if we had to declare our family complete, we would be okay doing that at this point.

And then, about knowing my status…ignorance is still bliss, but with the ability to take preventive action, I wouldn’t feel so helpless and doomed.

I brought up breast cancer and genetic testing with my midwife at my 6-week appointment after Nugget’s birth. I told her my reservations, and she explained the range of preventive measures that can be taken aside from surgery. Of course, she knew my family history and strongly recommended it.

“Even if you’re positive, you don’t have to go full-blown Angelina Jolie. We’ll just watch you closer,” she said.

Good enough for me.

So, I scheduled an appointment to swish.



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Gluten and Behavior Problems in Children

gluten free snacks
(c) Project Courtney – all rights reserved
Don’t let the horns fool you. His snacks are gluten free, so he’s not as beastly as he looks!


I have a suspicion.

So, we’re in the middle of an experiment.

My test subjects? My darling children.

That makes me sound like a horrible parent or mad scientist or something. Trust me, it’s not as bad as it sounds.

Here’s the deal.

My suspicion is that at least one of the kids inherited dad’s gluten issues. I’ve discussed it with our family doctor. She offered testing, but warned us that Celiac testing is pretty invasive. First, they take a blood sample, which isn’t much for an adult, but could be pretty traumatic for a two-year-old. If that comes back positive, the child goes under general anesthesia and gets a colon biopsy.

The treatment? Avoid gluten.

Instead of putting them through all of that, I’m getting rid of gluten and noting the changes.

See? Told you I wasn’t a horrible parent.

At home, we don’t eat a lot of foods containing gluten. Mister can’t go near the stuff, and I tend to feel and look and think much better without it, too. The kids have their crackers and whatnot, but breads and grains aren’t really a staple in our house.

However, we weren’t home for the holidays. We visited family, and we all know how it is around the grandparents. Anything goes.

That translates to three days straight of the kids consuming little other than cookies, cakes, waffles and breads, with truckloads of sugar in between.

They were fine while we were visiting, but once we got them home, they turned off their nicey-nice filters and snapped.

I’m talking, we needed an exorcism.

I know my kids react to sugar, but this was different. As I expected, there were fluctuating rounds of hyperactivity and crashes. But this time, there were talks of “belly hurt,” potty problems, and patches of bumps on the skin. We had night after night of panicked night-waking, and both kids’ under-eye circles made them look like they hadn’t slept in days.

Most notably, though, were the behavior problems. They went into these raging temper tantrums, incited by sippy cups of the wrong color and spats over wanting that blue crayon among the other 22 blue crayons. Picture your normal toddler tantrum, then caffeinate it, add some intense limb-swinging and thrashing, and expect it to last about 10 times as long as a typical tantrum.


Is there a connection between gluten and behavior problems in children?


I know the Celiac gene is floating around, and I’ve seen gluten’s behavior effects on gluten intolerant grown-ups. So, I opened up a trash bag and loaded up the wheaty pantry items for the food bank.

We’re on Day 5 now. It takes a while to eliminate anything completely from the body, but already I’m noticing some things.

Pasty-pale skin pinked up.

Undereye circles are fading.

Skin patches cleared up.

Potty problems and abdominal discomfort disappeared.

Both kids are sleeping through the night.

Behavior problems are gone. We will go entire days without tantrums, and when the kids do get upset, they recover much more quickly than they did before.

They are doing better than pre-experiment, better than before traveling for the holidays. It seems they haven’t noticed the change – we grab quick snacks of apple slices instead of crackers or pretzels, and they’re happy with either.

We don’t miss the breads and pastas, and the primary cook in the house (moi) got used to gluten-free cooking years ago.

We haven’t gone without gluten long enough to know for sure, but so far, we have more vibrant kids, happier parents and a more harmonious house.

The only way I can confidently attribute our behavior problems to gluten is when I bring it back after 4 weeks or so.

But, will I?

Right now, I’m thinking I won’t. Wheat products are nutritionally empty, I’m used to going without, and I haven’t had to think about cross-contamination for Mister.

And I’m losing baby weight.

No gluten is no problem.




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The Best Kind of Diet to Do in the New Year

chicken broth
(c) Project Courtney – all rights reserved

It’s my site, so I’m going to voice an opinion here.


I think the best kind of diet to start the new year is an elimination diet.

Furthermore, I think every adult should do one.

Yep, I said every. I usually avoid extremes when writing, so you know I mean biness.

A while back, I wrote about how Mister did his life-changing elimination diet. It took care of so many problems – problems we didn’t recognize as problems, as well as problems we certainly didn’t think would have been resolved by food. He’s 40lbs lighter, he focuses like a brain surgeon, he has crazy-eyes energy, his skin glows, his joints reverse-aged about 20 years…I could go on.

It took a long time to purge the system and then reintroduce foods one at a time – at least 2 months, maybe more. It took twice that for this granddaughter of Italian immigrants to re-learn how to cook for him, and it took over a year to figure out just how sensitive he was to trace amounts of his problem foods. First, he went through the lifestyle transformation alone, and eventually we turned our whole family’s eating on its head. For the better.

After seeing firsthand that identifying food sensitivities can work miracles, I’ve decided that every adult should do an elimination diet. If you can be strong for 3 weeks, you may be able to leave some of your poundage and chronic discomforts behind.

No, I’m not overselling this. Mister is a new person.

Let’s pretend you have a gluten intolerance, but you don’t know it. Would it be uncommon for you to have cereal for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch, and a bowl of pasta for dinner? That’s a lot of burden for your body to handle.

So, what happens if you’re eating a whole lot of something that your body can’t process? Any number of things, including fatigue, brain fog, skin issues, digestive discomfort, mood swings, and it can even mimic food poisoning.

I’ve read personal accounts of chronic autoimmune disorders and mental illness that were corrected by diet alone. Based on Mister’s reactions, I tend to believe these stories.

It’s no news that we don’t eat the way we were built to eat. We don’t eat seasonally, there are additives, pesticides, hormones and pollutants in everything, and there’s much less variety in today’s Standard American Diet than there was even 60 years ago.

It’s not even the same stuff. If you feel so inclined, do a quick search to learn about how the cultivation of wheat changed around the 1980s.

Know what also happened in the 80s? The U.S. Dietary guidelines started recommending that we shun fat and ramp up our bread and cereal consumption in order to get “enough” complex carbohydrates. And everyone got fat and sick.

Retrieved from
Retrieved from

(In case you haven’t figured it out by now, gluten is the big offender in our house.)

If you’re starting the new year committing to a diet of low-carb, low-calorie, paleo, keto, or any number of buzzwords, you just may be working backwards. Why not first identify foods that are causing you problems, and see what happens? There may be more going on than simply calories in, calories out.

Just a thought.




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It Was a Good Christmas

(c) Project Courtney - all rights reserved
(c) Project Courtney – all rights reserved

Hoss dipping sandwich cookies and sprinkling them with crushed candy canes.

Feety pajamas.

Nugget in red and white stripes, ready with a smile for anyone who caught his gaze for more than a second.

Lady A taking a small bite from every chocolate before placing it on the pretzel, assuring me that they “brokded.”

Wrist-deep in white paint to make hand-painted handprint snowman bulbs.

(c) Project Courtney - All rights reserved
(c) Project Courtney – All rights reserved

Superhero and princess capes.

Side-hurt games of Taboo, fueled by wine and quick wit.

Late naps, skipped naps, forgotten bedtimes and truckloads of sugar.

My kids delivering a heartfelt and heartwarming compliment to everyone who hosted festivities.

Sleeping in, because the kids tiptoed past the parents and went to find the fun grown-ups at 6 a.m.

Hoss and Lady A choosing the perfect gift for Daddy.

Hoss and Lady A giving me “the best gift of all” after I opened my gifts…hugs.


It was a good Christmas.





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