Saturday, December 31, 2011

My husband got a job!

This is pretty much what I've been
thinking since I heard the news!!!
This summer, my husband Andrew started going back to school to get a master's degree in computer science.  He's been taking classes and working at a gourmet food and wine store.  While he's been enjoying the discount he gets at the store he's working at, he's been hoping to find a job in his field so that he can get some experience while he goes to school.  

Well, a friend of ours has been working for a company that times races and mentioned that the company was looking for someone who had some IT experience, but was still willing to learn.  Andrew met with the head of the IT department and received an official job offer a few days ago!!!  It's part time for now, but may end up turning into something full time.  We're both thrilled about it!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Still not enough devotion

Remember when I first started blogging here?  I explained the title of the blog and the quote it came from.  It seems I still don't have enough devotion to follow through on posting, but I'm not going to beat myself up for it.  I will post when I have the time and inspiration to because that's when it will be worth reading, even if that's not on a regular basis.
Image from here

My goal in blogging was never to be the best at it (because I definitely have a ton of competition out there), but simply to contribute to the blogging community which I love so much.  I find so much joy reading the thoughts that people put out there and commenting on other's posts that I want to bring that same joy to those who read my blog.  So I will keep doing what I'm doing in the new year!  Thanks to those of you who read and comment here.  I truly enjoy each and every word of what you have to say!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Prompt 9

When were you most scared this year?


I was most scared this year when I was trying to get Andrew to deal with his depression.  I have experienced my own depression, but I didn't appreciate how hard it is to be the one who's living with the person who's depressed.  (I actually called my college roommate to talk about this because she was the one who had to live with me when I was depressed.)

I knew he was feeling al sorts of emotions, but I wasn't able to do anything to help other than tell him that I was there and supporting him.  I actually had a really hard time trying to figure out how much to push him to deal with the depression.  It was hard to be the only one he was comfortable talking to and I knew that I had to get him to talk to someone who actually knew how to help him, because as much as I wanted to I just wasn't able to.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Prompt 8

Beautifully different. Think about what makes you different and what you do that lights people up. Reflect on all the things that make you different - you'll find they're what make you beautiful.


Here are a few of the things that make me different:

  • I'm loyal to a fault.  I don't like to give up on people.
  • I love reading aloud.  That's part of what makes me a good English teacher.
  • I love the smell of clean laundry.
  • Whenever I think about being green, I think about saving the polar bears.
  • I like pretty much anything sparkly.
  • I get  really excited by little things.
  • I love it when someone takes the time to really know and understand me.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Prompt 7

What do you hope to remember?

  • Andrew playing with Schmoo and getting really into it
  • Spending the day with Pete
  • Laughing at things Butterball and Olly did
  • Celebrating Ashlee's birthday and seeing her happiness
  • Having Barb see our house for the first time
  • Replacing the disposal with David (and then being the one to figure out what was wrong with it!)
  • Watching Andrew plan the gardens out and get really into it
  • Helping Sarah wedding plan
  • Visiting Andrew's family in Michigan
  • Buying sparkle reindeer and remembering how well Andrew knows me
  • Lots of little moments when Andrew and I got to spend time together

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Prompt 6

Image from here
Make. What was the last thing you made? What materials did you use? Is there something you want to make, but you need to clear some time for it? 


The last thing I made was a prayer shawl that I knitted for a ministry at church.  I have really enjoyed making it because I've been spending time knitting each week with a group of women from my church.  Its been fun to spend time with them.  Having that time once a week helps me to make time for crafting, but I'm really excited to have some time off of school when I can (hopefully) spend some time scrapbooking, which I haven't don't for a while.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Prompt 5

What (or whom) did you let go of this year? Why?

Image from here
Since I just posted about the loss of my grandma, you already know whom I let go of this year.  Instead, I'll talk about what I let go of, which was the belief that I can control the things around me.  I am always trying to do this, but obviously it is just not possible because too much is out of my control.  With everything that happened this year from Andrew's job searching to Andrew's going back to school to daily events that I had to deal with at school, I was constantly being reminded that I was not in control.  That's a hard lesson to learn (and relearn) but a good one because I definitely don't know what I'm doing enough to be in control.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Prompt 4

Wonder.  How did you cultivate a sense of wonder this year?



The way that I've kept wonder in my life is by thinking about God's timing.  With all of the challenging things that happened this year, there have been definite times when I was able to see what God was doing - or if not to at least trust that He knows what He's doing.

The main example of this?  My grandma moved from her condo into a retirement community this year.  I had helped with the move, but had not gone to see her on my own until the last day of school.  We had decided that I would come over and we would spend the afternoon together and have dinner together.

I spent the afternoon with her - teaching her how to use her DVD player so she could watch The King's Speech later that night and even having a conversation with Andrew on speakerphone -  and then we went out to dinner together.  We talked about her life growing up, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet which we'd both read, and a whole bunch of other things.  Then I took her home, gave her a hug, and told her I loved her.  She passed away the next day.

The sense of wonder in that comes from the fact that God had to know what he was doing in terms of timing.  Obviously I'm sad that my grandma is no longer with us, but I'm so amazingly grateful that I got to spend her last full day with her.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Prompt 3

What books did you read this year?

This year I read a lot of books.  I mean a lot.  I had been keeping track of the books I read using the virtual bookshelf from Living Social until I received this message from them.

It's not you.  It's us.
First of all, thank you for your enthusiastic support over the past four years. Your continued engagement with our these applications means a lot to us here at LivingSocial, and we're sad that we haven't been able to dedicate the time and effort you deserve to keep this community alive and thriving.
It's not you. It's us. You see about two years ago we tried a new idea, which has taken our team and company in a new direction. This community needs tools and products that are fully supported and continually improved, and unfortunately, this is something we just can't support right now.
We know your data is important to you. Before we discontinue the service, we gave you 30 days to save it.
They then suggested that I switch my list of books over to Goodreads, which I am loving.  Not only does it let you keep track of books that you have read, are currently reading, and want to read, it also lets you track (and share) your progress as you read books.  As someone who loves to check things off and visuals, this is a great feature!

Now to get to my list of books.  I'll only list my favorites because I have read a bunch this year!

  • The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
    • I didn't like this one that much while I was reading it, but I haven't stopped thinking about it since.  It's told from the perspective of a dog, and that fact alone makes it awesome enough to read.  Add to that the fact that the dog is obsessed with racing cars, because that's what his owner does for a living, and that he likes to watch races on TV and you have a great book.
  • Imaginary Jesus by Matt Mikalatos
    • This is a hilarious book.  The basic plot is that there is a guy who lives in Portland, Oregon and hangs out with Jesus or at least someone he thinks is Jesus until he meets the Apostle Peter who shows him that the Jesus he thought was real is really imaginary.  They then begin a chase to find and confront his imaginary Jesus and, along the way, they meet a lot of other imaginary versions of Jesus, such as King James Jesus and men's retreat Jesus.
  • The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins
    • I don't think I need to write about these books.  If you haven't read them, you should.  I really liked these books, though I'm someone who loves a good dystopia book.  I couldn't put these books down.
  • The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
    • This is another book that I wasn't sure I liked while I was reading it.  (Well, actually I listened to this one...)  I had a really hard time getting into this book because it is narrated by death and it is set during the Holocaust.  That's right.  I promise it's not nearly as depressing as it sounds.  The characters in this book are AMAZING.  I seriously loved (or hated depending on which one it was) them all and they stuck with me for months after I finished reading it.
  • Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

    • Of all of the books I read this year, this is the one that's the most important because my grandma and I had a long conversation about it the day before she died.  The book had been on my to read list for a while and she read it with a book group and loved it, which inspired me to read it.  I always think of her when I think of this book.  It's about a Chinese boy growing up in Seattle during World War 2 and deals with the Japanese internment.  There are so many different aspects to this book: the internment camps, racism, jazz, and the huge issue of deciding what is right and wrong.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Prompt 2

Writing. What do you do each day that doesn’t contribute to your writing — and can you eliminate it? (Author Leo Babauta of Zen Habits)


The major thing I do that doesn't contribute to my writing - or anything else productive for that matter - is getting distracted by television and internet.  I spend a lot of time watching TV, reading email/blogs/Facebook on the internet, or doing both at the same time.  I know that I get much more done when I'm not doing these things, but they are what I tend to gravitate towards.


The easiest solution to this would obviously be to turn off the TV and the computer.  I have been doing this more this year for two reasons 1) we started getting the newspaper delivered every day and 2) I started reading more books.  


Image from here
I love getting the newspaper because I feel like I know what's going on in the world. I used to wake up and watch the first fifteen to twenty minutes of The Today Show before I left for work, but now I read the newspaper.  It gives me a chance to start my day without any electronics and also lets me take a few minutes to think about things before I have to deal with students.  










Image from here
I've also been reading more thanks to renewing my library card and regaining access to the library that's by school and by borrowing my mom's Kindle.  I don't have a hard time reading once I've started a book, but now that I have the Kindle, I always have access to a new book.  I'll work on continuing to turn off the electronics and focus on the things that I need to accomplish or that are more important.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Prompt 1

Encapsulate the year 2011 in one word. Explain why you’re choosing that word. Now, imagine it’s one year from today, what would you like the word to be that captures 2012 for you? (Author: Gwen Bell)


I would have to say that 2011 was a year of growth.  I learned that I need to be able to grow and change, even if I don't always want to.


Image from here

Last year my husband, Andrew, lost his job a few days before Christmas.  It came as a complete shock to both of us.  We were still reveling in spending our first Christmas in our new home with our cats and dog and weren't sure what we were going to do with only one income since we now had a house payment to worry about.  I was able to see what a strong man my husband is as he took a while to deal with the disappointment and then started figuring out what to do.  I saw such a change in him from when he was job searching last, when he moved from Michigan to Indiana to be near me.  He was more confident, more determined, and more motivated than he was before.  He ended up getting a job at Vine and Table, which is a gourmet deli and wine store.  He also made the decision to go back to school for a masters in IT.


You may be asking yourself, what does any of this have to do with you?  And you're right.  It doesn't much.  I wasn't the one who lost my job.  I wasn't the one who decided to go back to school.  But both of those things forced me to realize how terrified I was, and still am, of change.  I love tradition and really enjoy being able to do the same things over and over.  With Andrew's life changing so drastically, I had to accept that change and learn that change can lead to growth, even if I didn't want it to.  I was forced into change and growth and I couldn't be happier because, even though it's difficult, it shows me how strong I am, how strong Andrew is, and how strong we are as a couple.


Since then we've had some other major issues to deal with, but we've taken the approach that if we can get through that time than we can get through whatever else we're forced to deal with.


I'm not exactly sure what I want my word for 2012 to be.  When I wrote about this prompt last year, the word I picked for 2011 was intention.  As I put it then, "I would love to be more intentional with my time and energy, to deliberately think about what I want to do with my minutes because they quickly add up to hours, days, weeks, months, and years."  I think my word for 2012 would have to be something along those same lines, though I feel bad choosing the same word two years in a row.  


Maybe my word for this year will be challenge.  I think it's time that I start to challenge myself to get out of my comfort zone, which I did a little bit this year by starting my Mary Kay business, but would like to continue by challenging myself physically, mentally, and creatively.  With my desire for tradition I tend to get set in my ways, so challenge seems like a good word to help me continue the growth I've had this year.



Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Reverb 11

Last year I participated in a blogging event where a bunch of bloggers responded to prompts during each day of December called Reverb 10.  I'll admit that I didn't make it through all of the prompts, but I loved the idea of taking time "to reflect on the past year and to decide how to approach the next year."

I was sad to hear that the creator of Reverb 10 would not be doing it again this year, but she is encouraging people to create their own prompts and participate in Reverb 11.  I found some good guidelines over at Kaileen Elise's blog.  I will be borrowing some of her prompts and rewriting some of the prompts from last year because I liked them so much.  Feel free to join me in this journey!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Kindle

I have a new love in my life.  It's a Kindle.  (It's actually my mom's Kindle, but since she hadn't even taken it out of the box since she got it she decided she'd let me borrow it for a while.)

I have this cover for the Kindle, which makes it
feel more like a book.  A definite plus for me!
I had some reservations about embracing the e-reader trend since I absolutely love reading books and want to make sure that they are here to stay.  There's something about the feel of actually holding a book and turning the pages that the Kindle will never be able to replace, but there are some definite advantages to the Kindle.

1) There are SO MANY free books out there.  I have ninety-five books on my Kindle and I've gotten them all for free!  That's definitely amazing.

2) The version of the Kindle that I have can read aloud to you.  That's right.  It can basically act as an audio book, and it manages to take care of my biggest problem with audio books, which is that when I get to an exciting part I want to be able to actually read the book because I can read faster than the audio book can read.  The Kindle lets me switch back and forth between audio and actually reading.  The downside to this, as Andrew would tell you, is that the Kindle reads aloud in a somewhat annoying computerized voice, but it does give you the choice of a male or female voice.  The benefits of being able to listen to books read aloud definitely outweighs any annoyance I have with the voices.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Slowing down

I've been stressed lately and this weekend it finally caught up with me.  I'm sick.

I have a tendency to do this.  I go and go and go until I end up sick and forced to slow down.  So that's what I'm doing.  Slowing down and catching up on the things I've been wanting to do.  With that in mind, here are my goals for November:

  1. Put up Christmas lights outside.
  2. Put up the Christmas tree and other decorations before we leave for Thanksgiving.
  3. Finish Christmas shopping, but don't stress myself out over it.
  4. Figure out what we're doing for Christmas cards this year.
  5. Have a fire in the fireplace.
  6. Keep working out.
  7. Finish reading the books I'm in the middle of, which is starting to be quite a stack.
  8. Run a successful fundraiser at school.
  9. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving feast at school.  (See if Dad is going to deep fry the turkey for us!!!)
  10. Cook Thanksgivingy food since it is that season!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Think different

Image from here.
If you haven't read the commencement speech that Steve Jobs gave at Stanford in 2005, you need to.  Find it here.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Catching up

I have been trying to get a lot done lately so I haven't taken the time to blog.  Here's what I've been up to:

-working on my Mary Kay business and trying to figure out how to balance it, teaching, and living, while still making money and having fun
-spending time with Andrew, Schmoo, and the cats
-hosting a game night at our house (Disney Trivial Pursuit anyone?  It's harder than you think.  Believe me.)
-cleaning the house
-replacing the disposal (with my brother's help)
-trying to keep in touch with friends
-teaching
-napping because teaching has been especially stressful lately
-hanging out with friends
-knitting a prayer shawl
-reading library books that I needed to finish so I could return them
-borrowing my mom's Kindle to try it out (I'll post more about that later this week.)
-watching TV
-managing my fantasy football team
-watching football (Sadly the Colts aren't doing too well without Peyton...)
-catching up on blogs

What has everyone else been up to lately?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Why we chose to get married on September 11th

The moment when we first saw each other on our wedding day.
When we were planning our wedding we had lots of people who felt that it was their place to tell us why we shouldn't get married on September 11th.  This included everyone from friends who were confused by it to the worker at Office Max who copied our programs.  Since today marks the 10th year since the attacks on the World Trade Center and our 2nd anniversary I felt it was time to talk about why we chose to get married on that day.


When the attacks on the World Trade Center happened on September 11, 2001, I was a freshman at Hope College and Andrew was a senior at Flushing High School.  We did not know each other yet.

When Andrew's mother passed away on September 11, 2005, I was in my first year of teaching at Lafayette Jefferson High School and Andrew was a senior at Hope College.  We had spent a lot of time together and decided that dating long distance didn't make much sense for us.  However, his mother's unexpected death showed us how much we cared about each other.  In the days following his mother's funeral Andrew told me he loved me for the first time.

When we were deciding on a wedding date, we knew that we wanted to get married at The Mavris and we started looking at the dates that they had open.  When we had our first meeting with John Mavris, he mentioned that they had Friday September 11th open.  We both dismissed the date saying "Who would want to get married on that day?"  We started looking at other dates they had available later in the fall.

My favorite picture from our wedding.
But when we were talking about it later, Andrew and I both agreed that we didn't have any problem getting married on September 11th and even liked the idea because it would be a way of honoring his mother and of creating a positive memory to go hand in hand with the memories of the attacks on the World Trade Center and his mother's death.  It was our way of moving on while still remembering.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Freezing corn on the cob

Image from here
It's about as simple as it sounds.  I had pinned instructions for freezing sweet corn on Pinterest a while ago and this weekend seemed like the perfect time to try it since Marsh had corn on the cob 8 for $2.  

I followed the instructions exactly except I ended up boiling the corn for 3 minutes instead of 2 because I found that it took a while to get the water back to boiling when I put the corn in.  

The corn turned out so tasty that Andrew and I actually ended up eating a few ears now instead of freezing it all.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The goodness of Goodwill

If you're my Facebook friend, you may have seen this as my status over the weekend:
Gretchen bought jeans at Goodwill today for $3.50 at the storewide 50% off sale. Then I found $2 in the pocket, so my jeans only cost me $1.50!
Not only was finding $2 in the pocket of the jeans an awesome experience, but shopping at Goodwill was as well.  I am a huge supporter of Goodwill.  I love their mission and I LOVE shopping at the stores, especially those in central Indiana because people tend to donate new or slightly used clothing items that are in perfect condition.

While shopping at the Goodwill 50% off sale this weekend and spending a little over $20 I managed to get:
Image from here
-3 pairs of jeans
-1 pair of yoga pants
-1 sweater
-1 long sleeved shirt
-1 short sleeved shirt

That doesn't include the $2 I found in the pocket of one of the pairs of jeans.  That means I really got all of those things for a little over $18.  Score!

Why spend more money than you have to when you can shop at Goodwill, spend less money, and make every shopping experience a bargain-hunting adventure!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Book review: Sideways on a Scooter: Life and Love in India

Image from here
This was an interesting book about a woman who moved to Delhi, India and lived there for six years. It's part memoir and part commentary on some of the Indian customs, including arranged marriages, the caste system, and the differences between India and America. It was funny and quirky and kept me reading. I thought it did a great job of summing up some of the best and worst and most confusing parts of India.

"If India had been a man, we would have had a very unhealthy relationship indeed.  The place overwhelmed and infuriated me; sometimes, after a hot day of frustrations, I felt as though it was taking blood from me to feed itself.  In the mornings, though, waking up with India beside me, I was a girl newly in love.  I'd lie very still, blinking into the bright white light.  I could hear Radha moving around in the apartment, and I'd pray that she wouldn't intrude.  I like to let the outside cacophony wash over me, as though it was a part of my dream.  If I lay perfectly still, I imagined, it would stay with me for the whole day."
- Sideways on a Scooter: Life and Love in India by Miranda Kennedy

Monday, August 29, 2011

On being positive

Image from here
I was talking to a friend of mine on Sunday and she told me that while our church is going through a time of transition, her family has decided that they will look at everything positively.  I LOVE this idea for several reasons:
1) It means there is no decision about how to react to specific situations because you've already decided to be positive.
2) It will keep them involved in what's going on at church even if things aren't exactly as they want them to be because they've promised to look at everything positively.
3) It will allow them to keep each other positive.  If one person gets discouraged, there is always someone else to encourage them to remain positive.
4) This is a great idea that could work in any situation because who couldn't use a reminder to remain positive from time to time.

And because you probably want to know, here's what's going on at church.  We're in the middle of transitioning from a head minister who has been there for years to an interim minister while we search for a new head minister.  We also managed to lose one of our associate ministers at about the same time, who will not be replaced for the time being.  This is definitely going to be a long search process to find a head minister because we haven't even found the search committee for the new head minister, let alone began searching.

While this transition can be scary because there is so much changing, I'm choosing to look at it as an exciting time in the church, which will help determine the direction of the church for years to come.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

From India. With Love.

Image from here
One of my favorite bloggers is having a giveaway for her birthday over at From India. With Love.  She is living in India and of course posts gorgeous pictures of the people and things she sees on a daily basis.  Can you tell I'm a little jealous?  Head over to her blog to enter to wish her a happy birthday or to enter the giveaway yourself.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A quick update

My friend's mom's surgery went really well.  Thanks for the prayers.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Prayers

A friend's mother is going into surgery tomorrow morning.  As someone who knows the uncertain feeling of having a parent go into surgery I ask if you could pray for her and her family tomorrow.

Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge. -Psalm 62:8

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Rest


"If you are going to do creative work that will change the world, then there
is one ingredient necessary to your success: REST.

You must take time to take care of your soul, to check in with your
emotional self and make sure all is well with your inner life. This is
ESSENTIAL — more than with any other type of work, in my opinion.

Because your vocation requires you to pull from within, to consult the
genius inside of you, to reach into the depths of your soul and share it
with the world — to inspire, encourage, challenge, and change.

I will say it again: If you endeavor to create, you must rest."

Jeff Goins

It's not often that I have someone telling me to rest.  I know I have a tendency to not do it enough, to simply keep going until I can't go anymore, which is why this quote resonated so much with me.  This quote was originally posted by Rachel over at No. 17.  Go check out what she had to say about it.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Recipe: Applesauce

And here's my recipe.


Applesauce

This makes enough for 4 people. If you would like to freeze or can, use more apples. 

--4 large apples, skinned ,cored, and cut in quarters
 
--juice from 1 lemon
 
--1/2 tsp cinnamon
 
--1 tsp vanilla
 
--1 T brown sugar
 
--1/4 cup H20
 

Skin, core, and cut your apples into quarters.
 Plop the pieces into your crockpot. Add the juice from the lemon, and the water. Pour in the vanilla (I used imitation--we were out of the good stuff), and add the cinnamon and brown sugar. 

Cover and cook on low for 4-6 hours. When the apples are super tender, mash with a potato masher or large fork. My apples were very tender after 6 hours, and I used a fork.
 


Substitutions/Changes:
~I wanted to make more applesauce so I used 10 apples and doubled everything else.
~I also used my immersion blender to make it into applesauce, which was so easy.


5/5 stars


I LOVE homemade applesauce.  My mom used to make a whole bunch and then freeze it, which is why I was so excited to make this recipe.  I used 10 apples and doubled everything else, which was enough to fill the entire crock pot and then it cooked down to about a half of a 6 quart crock pot of applesauce.  I used my handy, dandy immersion blender to make it into applesauce.  It was so easy because I could do it while it was still hot and in the crock pot.


The flavor of this was really good!  It's so much better than store bought applesauce.  The only thing I would change would be to not double the water because it did end up a little watery, but I will definitely be making this again and then freezing it, though it's so easy to make that I could just whip up a batch if I want some.

Recipe: Beef Stroganoff

It's week 2 of the crock pot challenge!  Here's Laura's recipe for the week!

Beef Stroganoff

Ingredients:
1 lb beef sirloin cubes, raw
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced or (or equal amount of garlic powder)
1 can cream of mushroom soup, undiluted
2 tsp Worstershire sauce
1/2 of 4 oz can sliced mushrooms, drained
8 oz sour cream

Combine all ingredients except sour cream in crock pot.  Cook on low for 8 to 10 hours.  Stir in sour cream until well blended.  Serve over rice or noodles.
Substitutions/Changes: 
~stew meat for beef sirloin
~4 oz mushrooms instead of 2 oz

3/5 stars

I need to try this again because, while good, I think it needs quite a few tweaks. First, and perhaps unfairly, I think parts of the recipe should be doubled. There are certain things I love to have leftovers of, and beef stroganoff is most definitely one of them. This recipe only made about 4 servings, so there's not much left over. Here's what I would do: double the soup and seasonings and quadruple the mushrooms (if you're into "funge," as we call it in my household). Absolutely do NOT double the sour cream. Cook's instinct told me 8 oz was waaaaay too much, so I didn't put exactly that amount in, but it was still WAY too sour-creamy, and the sour cream flavor drowned all the other flavors. I'm used to my mom just putting an unmeasured glob into her recipe, so I'd probably only use 4 oz next time if I weren't going to make a double batch. Also, as I've become quite a fan of funge lately, I'd recommend putting in the whole 4-oz can of mushrooms in a single batch and 2 cans in a double batch. As to the meat, right, like I can afford sirloin. I wasn't crazy about the texture of the stew meat, and I'd only use half a pound for a single batch and the whole pound for a double, but as I do 98% of my shopping at Aldi, stew meat was the most convenient. All in all, probably a great recipe. Just needs heavy tweaks.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Recipe: Crock pot lasagna

My husband has been wanting to make homemade lasagna for a really long time, but I think that Stouffer's does a fine job of making lasagna.  But we had two containers of ricotta in the fridge that we needed to use up, so I decided to try out this recipe.

4/5 stars


I left out the red pepper flakes because I didn't have any and I added some store bought sauce for the top layer because I ran out of the sauce that the recipe called for.  If I make it again I'll probably either add another can of crushed tomatoes to make more sauce or just use store bought spaghetti sauce because that'd make it so much easier.


The thing I was surprised about with this recipe was how easy it was.  Seriously, all I had to do was mix the sauce ingredients together, mix the cheese ingredients together, and then layer them with uncooked noodles and spinach.  Part of my resistance to making my own lasagna was because I've seen several recipes where you have to cook the lasagna noodles before adding them to the lasagna.  


The cooking time of 3 - 3 1/2 hours was perfect.  The noodles were cooked all the way through and the cheese on top was melted.  The lasagna looked really impressive when I served it.  The layers held together well, even though the cheese mixture was a little hard to spread when I was making it.  As for the flavor, it was pretty good.  I think it could be better with a few changes, which I'll explain below.


I gave this recipe 4 out of 5 stars for what it could be!  When I make it again, which I will, I will make it even easier by using store bought spaghetti sauce because the store bought spaghetti sauce I used in the top layer had mushrooms in it and definitely added to the flavor.  The other things I would do is use a little less spinach, a little more mozzarella/parmesan cheese in the cheese mixture, and probably add some ground beef because I know that Andrew's going to complain about the lack of meat when he tries it!


The best part about this recipe?  It's gotten me over my fear/resistance to making homemade lasagna!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Monday, August 15, 2011

Recipe: Pizza soup

My friend Laura who's doing the crock pot challenge with me sent me her review of pizza soup.


--1 jar (14 oz) of pizza sauce
--3 empty jars full of water
--1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
--1/2 red onion, chopped
--1 cup sliced mushrooms
--1 cup baby tomatoes, cut in quarters (or 1 can diced tomatoes, drained)
--2 already-cooked Italian sausage (I used chicken Italian sausage)
--1 cup sliced pepperoni, sliced in quarters (Hormel turkey pepperoni is labeled gluten free)
--8 fresh basil leaves, chopped (or 1/2 T dried)
--1 T dried oregano
--1/2 to 1/3 cup of dried pasta (if your pasta is tiny, use 1/3 cup. if it's big, do 1/2. I used 1/2 cup Trader Joe's brown rice penne)
--shredded mozzarella cheese (to add later)

The Directions.

Use a 5 or 6 quart crockpot for this recipe. Serves 4 hungry adults, or 2 hungry adults and 2 kids with enough leftovers to feed them all again.

Wash and prepare veggies. Dump them into the crockpot. Cut up the sausage into small pieces--I sliced, then cut the pieces in fourths. Add to crockpot. Cut up the pepperoni, add it, too. Add basil and oregano. Pour in the pizza sauce, and follow with three empty jars of water.

Cover and cook on low for 7-9 hours. Everything in this is already cooked, so you are really only heating through and allowing the flavors to meld.

Thirty minutes before serving, add the dry pasta, and turn to high. My pasta only took 20 minutes to soften quite nicely.

Garnish/top with shredded mozzarella cheese.


Substitutions/Changes: 


~yellow onion for red onion
~chorizo for Italian sausage 
~no bay leaves
~very little oregano


3/5 stars


This tasted great! Verrrry pizza-y, and I've been craving pepperoni pizza for weeks! And makes quite a bit. I substituted yellow onion because that was what I had, and I thought it would work better than the red onion; I substituted chorizo because I don't like Italian sausage; I skipped the bay leaves because I didn't have them and didn't want to deal with them (Fishing out 10 bay leaves from hot soup? Yech, no thanks.); and I used maybe about half a teaspoon of oregano because not only was that all we had left, but the stuff makes me sick. I also used a blend of Italian cheeses to top instead of just plain mozzarella, and that was fantastic. 


Now, my complaints: I'm a big fan of bold, seasoned food, so this, prepared (sort of) the way the recipe directs, didn't do it for me. I added in some salt, crushed red pepper, and Penzeys Tuscan Sunset seasoning, which all helped TREMENDOUSLY. Oh, and I also shook in some Tabasco on my portion, but that's just me. I also think it needed more pasta. My biggest complaint by far, and the reason I'm only rating this 3 of 5 stars, is because of the grease factor. The soup was incredibly greasy from the pepperoni. When you finished your bowl, the sides were COVERED with red-orange grease, and if you had more than one bowl, you felt queasy. I blotted a few of the pepperonis with paper towel, but that was really too much work. It's possible, though, that I just wasn't using a high enough quality of pepperoni.   


Would I make it again?  Not sure.  I'd probably have to really be craving it.  While tasty, I didn't relish sticking spoonfuls of unhealthy soup into my mouth.  There's very little redeeming, health-wise, about this dish.  Other than the mushrooms and the tomatoes, it has no nutritional content.  As Crockpot365 says, it's a great dish for kids.  Who, let's be honest, can afford all those calories and the grease.


You can tell I'm not the one who wrote this review because I'm a total wimp when it comes to spicy food.  I've never put Tabasco on anything in my life!  And Laura's much more thorough when it comes to writing review than I am.  Maybe I'll get better at writing reviews during this challenge too!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Structure

Another school year starts next week and I'm getting more excited about it as it gets closer.  The thing I like about the start of another school year is the structure it brings, especially after the summer which usually has almost no structure to it.

I am definitely one of those people who works well with structure.  When a teacher used to assign a project in school, I was the student who wanted to know exactly what they were looking for and how much time I would have to complete it.  If they had a rubric that was broken down into the parts of the project so that I could check them off as I finished them that was even better.

Image from here
This trait has followed me into my adult life.  I get more accomplished when my time is structured and I have a list of the things I need to accomplish that I can check off as I go.  (My new favorite thing is listing them in a word document and then using strikethrough to show when I finish them.  There's something much more satisfying about seeing the entire sentence with a line through it than simply seeing a little check mark in a box.)  So even though I may not be looking forward to all of the things that come with starting another school year at least I know the structure (and all that I will accomplish because of it) is something to look forward to.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Teacher discounts

As I think about going back to school I'm loving that several stores are starting to offer (or maybe they already did and they're just advertising) a teacher discount.  We're talking some of my favorite stores.

                                                    Michael's offers 15% off to teachers.
Image from here

                        Jo-Ann's offers 15% off to teachers with a few bonus days of 20% off.
Image from here
These discounts are perfect since I'm in charge of the art club at school.  The only thing I keep thinking?  Come on Hobby Lobby!!!

Other stores that offer teacher discounts include New York and Company, Office Max, and Office Depot.

A crock pot meal a week

So school is starting next week, which means that I'll have much less time at home than I do now.  I always mean to cook more during the summer and then never really get around to it.

Image from here
Today I made the peanut butter chicken crock pot recipe that I've posted about before here.  I was reminded of the recipe when I went to visit my friend Laura and she made it for me.  I was texting her today about how I was making the recipe and we got in conversation about how we wanted to try more crock pot recipes.

So we've taken on the endeavor of cooking a crock pot meal a week.  I think that it's a totally achievable endeavor, especially with someone else doing it with me.  And with each of us trying out a different recipe we can find the good ones and then pass them on to the other one.  I'm really excited about it!!!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Recipe: Almond Ricotta Cheesecake

Picture and recipe found here
Andrew brought home a whole bunch of ricotta cheese from work so I've been looking for recipes that use ricotta.  I found this one and made it last week.  It was easy to make, didn't involve many ingredients I didn't already have (which is always a plus), and tastes great!  The almond flavor is stronger than the cheesecake flavor because the ricotta is so mild, but I loved it.  I'll be making another one today so that I can use up the rest of my whipping cream and because you can never have enough cheesecake!

Almond Ricotta Cheesecake

Ingredients:
     Crust:
  • 1 cup finely crushed graham crackers
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup butter or margarine
     Filling:
  • 2 cups (15 oz.) ricotta cheese
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup whipping cream
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 and 1/2 tsp. almond extract
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup chopped blanched almonds (I left these out of mine.)
Directions:
  1. Combine crust ingredients.  Press evenly over bottom and 1 and 1/2 inches up sides of an 8-inch springform pan.
  2. Combine ricotta cheese, sugar, whipping cream, flour, salt, water and almond extract in large bowl of electric mixer; blend until smooth.  Add eggs one at a time; blend until smooth.  Stir in chopped almonds.  Pour into pan and bake in preheated 350 degree oven 1 hour or until set.
  3. Cool in oven with door propped open 30 minutes.  Refrigerate 4 hours or longer before serving.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Marriage

Our rings on the ladybug ring box
that Andrew proposed to me with.

"There's something about when we spoke our vows together and the rings went on our fingers... something clicked." -Valerie Bertinelli

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

When your virtual life interferes with your real life

Obviously I think that blogging and other forms of virtual life (Facebook, Pinterest...) are worthwhile or I wouldn't spend time on them.  I just need to remind myself from time to time that my virtual life should not interfere with my real life.  At least not to the point where I'm interrupting my real life to update my virtual life.

I want to make sure that when I'm spending time with people, I'm really spending time with them by giving them my full attention.  There are definitely times that I've not done this and have had to be reminded by Andrew to pay attention to what's going on in real life instead of virtual life.

I need to remember what my virtual life is about.  
  • Blogging is about connecting with people and reading other bloggers' opinions about life, faith, art, food, fashion, and all kinds of other topics.  
  • Facebook is about connecting with people that I would otherwise have a hard time staying connected with.  (I just read a really interesting blog post about how to delete half of your Facebook "friends" which I think makes some valid points, though I'm not sure that I'm ready to delete people quite yet...)  
  • Pinterest is about having a place to store all of the ideas I find on blogs and want to remember, be able to find later, or try cooking/making/etc.  At the moment, Pinterest is the most addictive to me because it's new and easy to use and because there are always more ideas out there to pin;)  

Sunday, July 17, 2011

I was mentioned on the 2,000 hours blog!

Have you read the 2,000 hours blog yet?  It's a blog that's written by Charles Ripley who is a high school English teacher who just finished his 5th year of teaching and is concerned about the number of teachers that get burned out in 5 years or less.  He describes his blog by writing, "2,000 Hours is a blog with a single purpose. I'm going to record every hour of work I do as a teacher for the next year. I hope to change misconceptions about teachers in America by doing so."  It's a fabulous blog that you should definitely check out, especially if you have concerns about the number of hours teachers work.


I was mentioned on his blog because I wrote a comment telling him how much I liked The Hunger Games series and asking for suggestions of dystopian literature.  You can read his post here.  I like the concept of his blog because I know that I spend a lot more time working than I'm paid for.  I've started documenting my hours at the beginning of this summer.  So far I'm up to 25 hours and 25 minutes.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Book review: The Hunger Game series

I feel like all I've been posting on here lately have been book and movie reviews, but that's because that's most of what I've been doing with my time this summer.  I promise I'll post about something other than books.  Eventually.

I don't usually read books simply because everyone else is reading them.  I usually have to have another reason to read them, either that they interest me or they've been highly recommended.  Part of my resistance to popular books is because there are many of them that end up as series of books.  And I am not the type to read only one book of a series.

So I resisted reading the Harry Potter series, but ended up reading the first one and then the rest of them when a friend dared me to read the first one and not like it.  I read it and liked the concept, though I thought the writing could have been much better.  My husband will tell you that one of my biggest complaints with the Harry Potter books is that the first few all started the same way - with Harry and friends going back to Hogwarts and waiting around until the action started, usually around or just after Halloween.  That's not to say that I haven't been swayed by the series.  I have read all of the books and seen all of the movies.  I'm actually going to see my first and only midnight showing of a Harry Potter movie for the last one.

I resisted reading the Twilight books until some friends convinced me to go see the movie with them and I usually try to read the book before seeing the movie.  I read it and liked it enough to read the rest of the books.  The main thing that kept me reading the Twilight books was the love triangle.  I think they're basically like romance novels for young adults - there's not a lot of substance to them other than the relationship between the characters.  The writing is definitely not very good (she uses the same descriptions over and over again) and neither are the characters.  Bella basically spends all of the books waiting around for either Edward or Jacob to save her and doesn't seem to have much going for her on her own.

Which brings me to The Hunger Games books.  I had several friends that highly recommended them.  I didn't know much about them and I didn't really resist reading them because I had heard such good things about them.  I read the first book and was hooked.  I could not put it down.  I thought the concept was really interesting.  The series is set in a post-apocalyptic society that is made up of a capital and twelve surrounding districts.  To keep the districts under their control and to remind the citizens of what happens when they fight each other, the capital created the hunger games.  Each year, a boy and a girl are chosen from each district, placed in an arena, and forced to fight to the death until only one remains.  I thought that the idea of the hunger games alone was enough to keep most people reading, especially in a time where the majority of our entertainment involves either competition or violence.

The main character, Katniss Everdeen, is really well written.  She's witty, sarcastic, and completely believable.  She has definite faults, but there's something about her (probably her fierce love for her family and her sense of justice) that kept me liking her.  The other characters were just as intriguing as Katniss.  I got the sense that I could have heard parts of the story told from any of the character's point of views and found it just as intriguing.

The overall plot was interesting.  There were several plot twists and I didn't see most of them coming.  There were even a few that had me completely in awe about what was going on.  The one complaint I had with the series was the way the plot tended to jump around and left me having to figure out what was going on, though this mostly happened when one of the characters had been injured and had spent some time in the hospital or unconscious I thought it was done too many times.

I would definitely recommend these books.  They were interesting and definitely brought up some good themes such as government control, violence for violence's sake, and maintaining a sense of justice during war.