Monday, April 30, 2012

Baked Oatmeal

I have discovered recently (within the past couple of years) that I really love oatmeal cookies. Not oatmeal raisin, just oatmeal. If nuts or chocolate chips are thrown in, that's peachy, but keep the raisins and craisins and other "sins" to yourself - or at least out of MY cookie!

That got me thinking that I might actually like eating oatmeal now. I used to not like it, but I also used to not like grits (it goes back to my "texture thing") but I love grits now so I might could get on board with oatmeal, too. Still, I'm timid when it comes to trying new things and I like to baby step into it. As I was wasting too much time on pinterest, I found a recipe for individual baked oatmeal cups. Hmm. Baked oatmeal? That sounds at least cookie-related. And it's small so they can be shared and enjoyed over time without needing guests or a huge commitment. So I pinned it and it sat for a while. The recipe I found was super-healthy - no sugar, sweetened by applesauce, including mashed banana. I started losing interest around the banana part, but I read through the comments and found there were plenty of people who were suggesting alternatives or just leaving the banana out. I decided I might could get on board with this after all.

Still, we don't keep applesauce in the house. I'm sure Jeff would eat it, but I had just been to the store not 6 hours ago and applesauce wasn't anywhere on the radar and I wasn't about to go back out just for that. So I started searching the internet for alternative recipes for baked oatmeal that might work. I found one that was much more my speed - butter instead of banana, brown sugar instead of applesauce. Yup. This is definitely sounds more in the neighborhood of "cookie" and less like "healthy breakfast" which I'm totally fine with! I combined the two recipes and made a few changes of my own, and this is what I came up with!

3 c. oatmeal
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
3/4 c. dark brown sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1/2 c. chopped walnuts
1 c. milk
2 eggs

Put cupcake liners into a 12 cup muffin tin, then spray the liners with cooking spray. Spoon 1/4 cup batter into each cup and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Verdict: Yeah, I can eat oatmeal like this! I had one while it was still warm with a big glass of milk. Yum! It doesn't even need chocolate! The help with portion control is much needed. I froze half of them and stuck the other half in the fridge for grab-and-go snacks. Jeff gave them a big thumbs up, too!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Buck's Pizza - Alabaster

Remember when I wrote a review of a new Mexican place near our house,  El Potro? Well, they didn't even last a year. A place called PaNYC moved in, but it was so many different things I never knew what exactly is was and refused to try it on principle. It didn't last long, either. The building sat empty for quite a while, but a couple of months ago we noticed the "for lease" sign removed from the front. Then the sign changed and it said "coming soon - not panyc" which immediately endeared us to whatever it was going to be. Pretty soon the sign changed again and announced that Buck's Pizza was moving in, and we waited excitedly. We noticed lots and lots of cars in the parking lot in the past few weeks so we knew staff were being trained and it wouldn't be too long. They finally opened on Monday and the parking lot has stayed pretty stinking full ever since.

We decided Thursday night would be as good a time as any to give it a try. We went early (about 5:45 pm) and were seated immediately, but they were obviously already busy. It took longer than I would have expected for our server to greet us but after a rather awkward first encounter, she took our drink orders and got our drinks pretty quickly. She asked then if we were ready to order, but we asked for a few more minutes. Then she disappeared! It took us maybe five minutes to decide what we wanted and then sat and stared for at least ten minutes waiting for her to reappear. When she finally did appear from wherever she had been, she walked straight past us so we continued to sit and wait several more minutes. Finally, a gentleman we assumed was the owner came by and noticed Jeff's drink was empty and offered to get him a refill. Jeff told him we really just wanted to place our order. Although he was obviously not comfortable with it, the guy took our order. Several minutes later our waitress finally reappeared and asked if we were ready to order and we told her we already had so she just walked away. We didn't even get a "sorry about that, do you need anything else right now?" which kind of ticked me off, but whatever.

Jeff's food came out first. He got a small "Wild Buck" (basically a super-supreme) and we were going to share an order of the boneless buffalo wings, but when they brought it out there was no silverware and only one plate. We asked the guy who brought the food from the kitchen (not our server) for silverware and got a couple of forks and a hand-full of napkins. I just ate a few wings from the basket while I waited on my stromboli and they were really good. They had a nice flavor without being too unbearably hot. The waitress came by and asked if we needed anything before I got my food but we just said no because the guy from the kitchen said it was coming. It probably took almost 10 minutes before mine came (Jeff was at least halfway done) and I immediately noticed a problem. Although I had ordered a CBH special (cheddar, bacon, and ham) I got a bacon cheeesburger, although I didn't know that's what it was until we got the check at the end. I just knew there was something missing (ham) and something I didn't order -  I kind of thought it was sausage, which I normally hate. I tried it and it tasted pretty good, but it just wasn't what I wanted. I didn't send it back because I knew the guy had put it in wrong but it wasn't really his fault since he didn't have anything written down and Jeff had put him on the spot in the first place. I probably wouldn't order it again, but it wasn't bad. I ate half and brought the other half home with me so I'll probably have it for dinner tomorrow or at some point over the weekend. My bigger gripe was that I didn't have a knife and it wouldn't cut with the side of my fork so I just had to kind of rip it apart. I generally don't like doing that, but it beat trying to bite into it, and a bunch of the ground beef fell out while I did that which saved me having to scrape it out, although I still did a little of that too. I ate some of the beef and it did have a good flavor (I still thought it was sausage) but again, not what I wanted.

We didn't see much of our waitress after my food came out. The one time she did appear, I asked for a box. Next time I'll know to also ask for a cup for the sauce because it wasn't offered. I consolidated our two containers of ranch into one and put my extra sauce in the empty ranch cup so it worked out. Our drinks stayed pretty well filled, but that was thanks to several other staff members! After we finished and my leftovers were boxed up, we again were left sitting for quite a while, to the point that Jeff was asking if there was someplace we went to pay or if they were going to bring us a check. I had seen other tables get their check so I knew that from observation. At this point the place was packed and there was a line of people waiting for tables. The busboy stopped by and asked if he could get stuff out of our way, to which we agreed because we were beyond ready to go. We even gave him our drink glasses, which I will pretty much NEVER do. When he asked if we needed anything, we told him we were waiting on our check. He went in the back and told someone, and came back to tell us that it should be right out. Several minutes later, after he had cleared a few more tables he was walking back by our table and noticed us still waiting and rolled his eyes. Obviously he said someone again because the owner came back to our table to ask if we were waiting on the check and we told him we were. Our waitress finally appeared with our check, and we were ready to hand it back to her almost immediately. She walked back and forth in front of our table several more times and I was about ready to have Jeff stick the folder with our check in it out to block her path the next time she came by, but I think she realized I was glaring at her and she came to take it. Again, it took what seemed like an eternity before she came back with our credit card so we could finally get the heck out of dodge!

I'm sure we will return, but it may be for carryout next time. I expected a little bit of dysfunction because this was their first week, but everyone else was very polite and on top of things except for this one girl. I still want to try the CBH special!

*Edit 5/6/12 - We went back for lunch today, and all the little "kinks" from our previous visit seemed to have worked themselves out. In fact, if it's possible, even the food was better this time! I am guessing that, before too long, we'll be on a first name basis with most of the staff at Buck's!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Slow Cooker Gumbo

I'm not a gumbo fan, but my darling husband is. It can be a million degrees outside, but if we are at a restaurant that has gumbo, he's going to order it, complete with hot sauce and saltine crackers (much to my embarrassment at a very nice steakhouse!) Still, I have never tried making it before. After a recent inventory of the freezer I discovered about a hundred things of okra so I decided it was time to try my hand at gumbo to use some of it up.

Now I know that "real" gumbo starts with a roux and all that jazz. But I just didn't have the time or patience for that this time around, so I found a slow cooker recipe from Food Network. However, I knew I wasn't going to stick to this recipe either, it was just a starting place.

I've said it before and I'll say it again - the thing I love best about slow cooker recipes is that there is no "technique". You just get it all in and turn it on. This recipe was great because it required very little prep on my part. The bell pepper was frozen from our garden last year and the tomatoes were canned. The okra was frozen from my in-laws garden. The thyme was fresh from my herb garden right now. The onion broth was a recipe I tried a while back, and while I mentioned making it, I haven't ever shared the recipe, so stay tuned for that. This is probably the closest to "real food cooking" I have ever come and it feels nice!

1 package chicken breasts (about 1.5 lbs), cut into small pieces
1 package frozen okra
1/2 smoked sausage, cut into small pieces
1 onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 bell pepper, diced
6 cubes onion broth
1 pint tomatoes
2 Tbsp cajun seasoning (I used my own blend but there are plenty of good ones from the store)
1 bay leaf
Fresh thyme

Cook on low at least 5 hours. Check on it and stir it occasionally. If you added the chicken breasts whole, start shredding after about hour 3.
Serve over rice (I saw one comment on the original that suggested adding your uncooked rice to the pot about 2 hours before eating if you like the one-pot meal option. I didn't do that but thought I' would pass it along anyway!) Jeff ate two bowls and gave it a big thumbs up!

If you try it, let me know what you think. If you change it up, let me know what you did. Hubby may like your version better!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Info Every Parent Should Carry At All Times

Today people all over the southeast, but in Alabama especially, have been remembering the devastation of the tornados last year. I had a different perspective as an employee at the state's only Level I trauma center so when I think of all that was happening at that time I think about what I encountered at the hospital and what I continue to encounter in other emergency situations.

When I get called to an emergency at our Children's hospital, one of my first tasks is to get some basic info for the healthcare team in the back. More often than not at least one piece of info is missing because someone doesn't have it. Maybe mom keeps up with this stuff but she wasn't with the child when whatever it is happened or worse, she was and is also hurt/sick or at another hospital. Maybe they keep the social security cards locked up where they can get them if they need them, but nobody has time to grab it when they're rushing to the hospital. Even the parents that normally know all this stuff just can't remember it in the middle of an emergency because they are worried about their child. This is absolutely understandable, but it really is important so it helps to write it down and put it in your wallet or type into your phone (or both!)

Full legal name
Date of birth
Social security number
Info about vaccinations (especially if they are on an alternate schedule - what have they had and how many doses?)
Any medications - what, how much, how often, and why (this includes over the counter stuff!)
Allergies - drugs, food, insects, anything!
Previous illnesses, injuries, and hospitalizations - you don't need to list every cold, but it's helpful to know if the child just got over something. Also, any special needs or developmental delays.
Blood type and weight (you probably won't get asked this, but it's helpful to have)
Primary Care Doctor's name and phone number

It's not a bad idea to give a copy of this info to grandparents and make sure it's written down in case a babysitter needs it. If you're worried about someone having access to your child's ssn, put it in a sealed envelope marked "in case of emergency"! If you have a family emergency notebook, put a copy in that, too.

Personally I think it's a good idea to have this on your spouse, too. I know most of this about Jeff, but he will tell you he doesn't know most of this about me! If you don't put the whole vaccine record, at least put the date of the last tetanus shot! If something ever happens to us and someone else has to give this about us, we're both in trouble! We assume that grown-ups should know most of this about themselves and be able to provide their own history and information. For a regular visit to a doctor's office that is true, but what about in an emergency? I can't tell you the people we had in the ER who we knew their name and maybe even had their insurance info, but had no information to contact a family member to let them know they'd been in an accident. Sure, most of them had a cell phone, but a good portion of those phones were password protected. I understand people wanting to do this, but if you do PLEASE WRITE DOWN YOUR CODE AND PUT IT IN YOUR WALLET! Or even better, put contact info for your next of kin in your wallet. It could be something as simple as a business card that you write "in case of emergency please call" with their name and relationship!

I hope and pray that nobody ever needs to use this, for themselves or any other member of their family, but please do yourself and those caring for you and your loved ones a favor and keep it on your person just in case!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Saving at Sea

The cruising infographic I shared several weeks ago presented several suggestions for saving money on the ship (see section 5), and while they were good suggestions, they can stand to be expanded upon and I have a few tips of my own.

Keep track of your drinking and gambling expenses - This seems like a no-brainer, but you can actual control some of this before you ever set foot on the boat.
  1. Know yourself - I'm not a huge alcohol drinker. I may purchase two cocktails during the course of a cruise. Don't get me wrong, I'll have a couple of glasses of rum punch during the previous cruisers reception (and let's be honest, they're a lot more "punch" and a lot less "rum" at those things) but it's just not a place that I'm willing to spend a lot of money. What I do love is soda. That is my weakness. I don't drink coffee. I get my caffeine via Dr. Pepper. I figured out that if you're going to drink more than two or three a day, it's worth it to get a soda card. I know on Carnival, you can find out the price online, but I've gotten them enough that I know about how much it'll be. If you do some google searching, you can sometimes find drink menus that include prices so you can see how much your favorite might be.
  2. Bring your own - I know on Carnival, each adult who is of age can bring a bottle of wine in their carry-on luggage (DO NOT check it. It will be confiscated and returned at the end of the trip. My mother-in-law made this mistake last time!) There is a corkage fee if you want to take your bottle to the dining room and have it with dinner each night, BUT there is nothing preventing you from carrying in a glass of something from somewhere else. If you order something, just hang on to your glass. Pour up a glass in your room before dinner and just bring it with you! You can also bring sodas with you, but I think it's limited to one case per person, and it's just a headache to try to carry and keep up with that, so I never do. I know several people who have. It's a personal choice.
  3. Share - I guess because of people passing around soda cards, the past few times they've been sticklers for swiping it and checking to make sure I'm the one using my card to get a soda, and I'm ok with that. However, even in a restaurant at home Jeff will often pick up my soda and take a sip, and so I am happy to let him do that on vacation, too. This also works the other way when he has a cocktail or something and I just want a little taste of it!
  4. Use cash in the casino - until my last cruise, I could always use quarters in the slot machine (which is the only thing Jeff or I have ever played in the casino) so it was never an issue of charging to our account. This last time the quarters weren't an option in the machine but I THINK (so don't be mad if I'm wrong) you can go to the casino cashier, at the very least, to get chips for table games. If that's your thing, just use the cash and avoid using the account. When you're out of money, you stop playing. It's not a hard concept.
Use ship's phone and internet sparingly. Rates are usually steep. - Yes, they really are. However, you don't have to be completely cut off while you're on vacation (although personally I recommend it!)
  1. Turn your phone on "airplane mode". If you can't stand the idea of turning it off for the week (or like me, you have games, music, books, and all you "fun stuff" on it) keep it on airplane mode to avoid charges for the call or text message from that person who forgot you were gone or sent something to everyone they know.
  2. Use your phone OFF the boat in port. No kidding, you have to get off the boat and usually off the pier for the carrier to change (this was especially true in Mexico). If you HAVE to call home or check messages, it's cheaper to pay for that international coverage than the "cellular at sea" service, which is an option also.
  3. Share with someone. The last cruise we took, there were about 12 of us who were all flying home together. And we all wanted to do the online check-in the day before. So rather than everyone individually buying a minimum of 15 minutes (or whatever it was) to do something that took maybe 2 minutes, each person chipped in a few dollars and we had one or two people that took care of checking everyone in online.
  4. REMEMBER - IT'LL ALL BE THERE WHEN YOU GET HOME (or when you get back into port)
Always pay attention to your running balance on the ship. - I really don't know that I could break this one down into anything simpler, but I do want to suggest a couple of ways of doing this.
  1. Keep ALL your receipts. Yup, even from the bar (for some people, especially from the bar!). At the end of each day, before you go to bed, add them up and see what you spent for the day. Maybe keep a running list in a journal or notebook somewhere so you can also see what you've spent OFF the boat to know your totals.
  2. Check in at the purser's desk. There's almost always someone there and they can tell you your account balance at any time. Some ships now also have a sort of "on-demand" in room tv system that allows you to do this as well.
  3. Limit charging privileges. You can have everyone in your family linked to the same account but only one or two people have charging privileges. This can help those who are prone to impulse purchases if they must consult with someone else!
  4. Carry cash. No, you can't use cash in the gift shop or at the bar. But you can make payments at the purser's desk at pretty much any time. If you want to check in every day and make a payment every day, that's certainly an option. When you run out of cash, you have to stop charging! And if the casino won't take those rolls of quarters, never fear because the purser's desk will be happy to take them and apply them to your account!
A few more thoughts - Here are a few more tips not mentioned on the infographic, but are worth considering.
  • If you're going to book a spa treatment, do it during a port day. It's generally cheaper. Also keep an eye out for daily specials
  • Although room service is included, tipping for that is not. Make sure you have a little bit of cash for this if you think that's something you want to use.
  • Bring your own water bottle to refill. The water on the boat is fine to drink (and take with you to shore) and while you can buy bottles on the ship, they're expensive.
  • I always bring my own cup for my sodas rather than buying the cup they're selling (some cruise lines buying the cup is the only way to do their unlimited soda program, so know that before you carry one). I don't ever ask the bartenders to fill my personal cup, and I was warned by one that some wouldn't do it, but many of them will see the cup in my hand and offer so I will happily accept. Even if they don't, I can just dump it immediately from one cup to the next and not have to keep up with the glass! It's also the only way you can take something (not in a bottle) off the ship!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Slow Cooker Orange Chicken

This was one of the first thing I decided I needed to try from Pinterest, but I'm just now getting around to it. Part of it was the fact that the original recipe had you breading and pan-frying the chicken before putting it into the slow cooker. Um, no thanks! I've done this before and the breading never sticks and it's just more to clean up. The one advantage may be that the flour would help thicken the sauce a little bit. I decided to do it my way (no frying) and just add a little corn starch to thicken it.

I used about 2 lbs of chicken breasts cut into bite sized pieces. The sauce was super simple - 6 oz frozen orange juice concentrate (defrosted), 3 Tbsp ketchup, 3 Tbsp brown sugar, 1 tsp balsamic vinegar, 1 Tbsp low sodium soy sauce, and 1 tsp corn starch. Because this was a sort of "trial and error" recipe I didn't do what I normally do, which is throw everything in and just let it go. I put  in the chicken pieces and mixed up the sauce with everything from the OJ to the balsamic in at the very beginning and let it cook on low. After several hours of cooking (probably about 3) I decided to try adding a little corn starch to thicken the sauce. Truthfully I didn't see a ton of difference which could mean that I needed more, but the sauce wasn't unpleasantly thin (at least in my opinion) so next time I will probably not even fool with it. I saved the soy sauce for last, after everything was done cooking (6-7 hours on low). I'm really sensitive to salt (what is normally ok for a lot of people is sometimes too much for me) so I added a little bit at a time at the very end until I found a flavor I liked. I honestly have no idea how cooking changes this since I don't use soy sauce much, but I am guessing it might intensify it some, so just know yourself and your preferences. If in doubt, do like I did and save it for the end. Remember, you can always add more but you can't take it out!

As a personal preference, next time I will also add some red pepper flakes. I like the combination of sweet and spicy, and I think that would really put this over the top. It was good without it, but I would have liked a little bit of kick with it, too.

I served it with fried rice and some steamed broccoli. You could absolutely toss some of your favorite veggies into the pot and let them cook with everything else. I thought about adding some mandarin orange slices, but my hubby gets funny about fruit in his savory food, so opted against it. Maybe next time.

I used the MyFitnessPal recipe builder to figure out exactly how "bad" this is. I guessed there were about six servings, but you may could stretch it even more than that. Using the " six serving" figures it comes out to around 235 calories a serving. Even with my fried rice it was still less than 400 calories for dinner. Not bad.

This would make a great and easy Mama and Baby Love style slow cooker freezer meal. I couldn't find any of the small (6 oz) cans of frozen orange juice concentrate, so I just got the big can and cut it in half while it was frozen and stuck the rest in a freezer bag for later. It would be just as easy to double this recipe and freeze half for later (or freeze both bags for later during a big prep/cooking day!)

Give it a try and let me know what you think! (And yes, I know I'm a blogging slacker because I didn't get a picture. Next time, I promise I will get one and come back to post it!)

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Crock Pot Chicken Nuggets

I decided to try combining two different recipes and see if I could come up with something spectacular. The first was a recipe for chicken nuggets in the crock pot. The second was for a copy-cat of Chick-fil-a nuggets.

I started with about 2 lbs of chicken, which was three pretty large breasts cut into bite sized pieces.

I dipped the chicken pieces in a bowl with 4 eggs and about 2 Tbsp olive oil. Then they went into a mixture of italian bread crumbs with onion powder, chili powder, and a little powdered sugar. Since I had probably 1 cup of bread crumbs left in my little cannister, I just tossed everything in that and used it to do my breading since you'll be throwing out the leftovers anyway!

I used one of those liners sprayed with cooking spray. after a layer of chicken pieces, I topped it with a piece of aluminum foil with a bunch of holes poked with a fork. I got three layers and still had plenty of room in my pot for at least one more.

I put the lid on slightly sideways so it's vented and some of the steam could escape with the pot turned on high.

I checked on them after two hours and the small one I tested on the top was cooked all the way through, but it was still a little soggy so I left it for about another hour. When I came back the ones on top were perfect and several on the sides were nice, but the ones in the center of both the middle and bottom layers were still pretty soggy. Since I had the oven on for something else, I just tossed the soggy ones on a foil lined baking sheet for about 10 minutes and they got nice and crispy and perfect.

Verdict: Ehh. The bread crumb mixture was nice, but it'll never satisfy a Chick-fil-a craving. Still, I'll probably use it again. I'll probably do milk instead of olive oil with the eggs though, and maybe only three eggs. The crock pot method just wasn't worth the extra time and effort of layering and waiting. I'll probably make my own chicken nuggets again, but I'll do it in the oven.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Cruising By the Numbers, Part II

Remember last week when I posted this infographic? Well I decided to make my comments in a separate post to let you know what I have learned about some of this stuff. In writing this, I realized I have a lot more to say than I want to put into one post, so expect a little more about this each week for a while!

There were several cruise lines specifically mentioned, but I have never cruised with any of them. I've only ever cruised with Carnival. But I have researched other cruise lines and this is what I've seen/learned.

Carnival boasts "some of the most spacious staterooms at sea". While I have no experience of this, I do know from talking to other people that this is probably a pretty true statement. Even with that, the rooms aren't huge (at least a standard inside room) Sure, you can pay for a balcony room (which is bigger) or a suite if you want that, but it depends on what your budget and priorities are.

One of the most appealing things about Disney Cruise Line (at least for me and for my future information) is that the child's price is based on their age. This is not true on Carnival (or any other cruise line I have seen.) On Carnival, you will pay the same for a toddler as you would for a teen. However, a Disney cruise is generally more expensive, so I don't know how this would balance out. In my opinion, Disney magic and attention to detail is always worth the cost, whether it's a park or a ship, but I'm a sucker for magic and details! Right now my dream cruise is on Disney.

Destination: All my cruises have been to the Caribbean. In fact all of them (at least until this next one) have been to the Western Caribbean and all have stopped in Cozumel. It's been nice enough, but I'm definitely ready for a change. Alaska is next on my list of places I would like to visit, and the Mediterranean is after that!

I have left from three different ports - Mobile, AL (which is currently not being used as a cruise port), New Orleans, LA, and Port Canaveral (Orlando), FL. Mobile was definitely nice and easy to get through, but I don't have any complaints about Port Canaveral, either. New Orleans was a mess, no two ways about it. However, I'm anticipating taking other cruises out of New Orleans eventually and I'm hoping for a better experience.

Spending: According to the infographic, the average cruiser spends $220/per day ON THE BOAT! I definitely understand the temptation. It's easy to forget that you are, in fact, spending real money when you just have to swipe your room key or sign a piece of paper to get a nice umbrella drink by the pool or a couple of nice 8x10 photos each day. It can add up pretty quickly. This probably also includes shore excursions booked on the boat or charged to your account, which can be really pricey.

Saving: There are several good suggestions for saving money on your cruise, like cruising during the off season, making a lot of your own arrangements for travel and excursions, and keep up with your spending. I have a few tips of my own, but I'll save those for later, so keep checking back for more on these and other fun topics.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Week 67

Here's another update on all the things left on my 101 things list.

3. Put money into savings - this is going well. I'm sure we could be doing more, but we're on track and have a plan so I feel good about it.

14. Visit four new states - I've already been on one (Utah) and so I need to go to three more. We're planning a trip to Portland, OR and I'm hoping we can sneak in a few others, but the number four was pretty arbitrary when I chose it, so there's no real attachment to the "four"

19. Prayer/devotional journal - I've been doing this for about a month and it's going well. I'm enjoying using the journal I have now, but I'm looking forward to exploring others, too.

20. A marker for Jeff's dad's grave - We're planning a trip over to GA to start this process over the summer.

21. Knit a blanket - yeah, I haven't even thought about starting this yet.

22. Vacation with my side of the family - hasn't happened yet, maybe this summer or fall!

23. Use my boating license - this just got a little bit harder because we sold Jeff's boat. Hopefully I can still do this sometime this summer!

26. Read three classic novels - I've read one. I have a bunch of stuff I want to read so I don't know that this will top the priority list. I have the books on my kindle, so maybe I can do it on vacation!

28. Teach Jeff to play piano - I'm going to order some basic books so I can start teaching him to play!

32. Eat at home - this definitely hasn't been a priority. I need to make it one.

35. Painted pottery - I have the groupon, I just need to use it! It would help if I actually had an idea for what I wanted to make.

38. No fried food - this will probably happen if I get serious about the eating at home.

42. Surprise trip - I had kind of forgotten about this, but now that I'm thinking about it I'm excited about the possibilities!

47. New sheets - I have gotten one set, and we're in the market for new bedding for our master bedroom, so I'm expecting this one to happen by the fall

48. Walking - I need to be more deliberate about this one.

49. Bake a cake - I'm expecting to do this one this summer.

54. Artwork - I have had a good idea that I'm excited about, but just haven't sat down to work on it.

55. Needlepoint picture - I haven't found one I like or been really inspired to try and find one, much less start working on it. This one is moving further and further down the priority list!

56. Picnic - No real reason for not doing this yet, but I have a plan!

57. Learn to quilt - No work on this, but I have someone I'm going to ask to teach me, so I'm excited.

58. Use the good china - Now that the good china is unpacked, it's actually possible! I just have to do it!

60. Begin re-writing thesis - I've done more thinking about it, but no work. I don't anticipate doing a ton of actual writing on this, but the Academy may change everything. We'll have to wait and see!

61. New Madame Alexander doll - I think this is going on my Christmas list.

62. Stuff out of storage - This one will probably be a fall project and will involve hauling a lot of stuff to give away! If it's been sitting packed up for years, the chances of my needing it are pretty slim.

67. Gun - We've talked about it, but need to act on this one. It'll probably be a summer or fall project when we're not both working weekends!

69. Tape 6 sermons - I honestly don't know that this one is going to happen. I really wanted to tape my Easter sermon but it didn't happen. I only need one more to complete this, but I want it to be one worth having!

72. Zoo - I think I'm going to do this in the next couple of weeks!

76. Living room rug - I think we've decided which one we want, we just have to get it!

81. Camp counselor - I'm excited about getting to do this twice this year! Yay!

88. Ballet - I'm really hoping I can go see the nutcracker this year! Anyone want to go with me?

89. Bread - As soon as we run out of bread, I'm going to make more rather than buying it!

90. Wine glasses - I'm not sure when I'll make it back up to Nashville, so there's no telling when I'm going to get these. I don't really need them so it's not a big deal if I don't get them.

91. Dutch oven - I'm hoping to get one this summer.

93. Wide format printer - This may be a Christmas thing, but it's not a priority at this point.

101. Make jam - this will definitely be a summer thing. I have a recipe for a strawberry jalapeno jam I'd like to try!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Breakfast Sandwiches

I have developed a really bad habit of going through the drive thru almost every morning I babysit to get breakfast. It's tasty and easy. I'm not so much concerned about how unhealthy it is (although I probably should be) - my motivation was more about the cost. Hey, whatever works!

I combined several techniques I've seen and couldn't be happier with how this came out! I only made six sandwiches, but you could do 12 in the same amount of time and effort. Since this was my first time making the bacon and eggs like this, I did them separately so I could keep an eye on them. Next time, I'll totally throw them in the oven together to get it done that much faster and just keep an eye on them.

First things first - I had to cook the bacon. I decided to try baking it and it was perfect. I cut my bacon in half (so it was the size I needed when it came out of the oven!) and put it on a foil lined baking sheet. I was able to get about 20 half-pieces on my sheet (about half the package) I set my convection oven to 400 degrees and stuck the bacon in as soon as I turned it on (so before it was heated up). I set my timer for 10 minutes, which is just about as much time as it took my oven to heat up. I just kept an eye on it, and it was probably ready after a total of about 15-17 minutes. If you like it super-crispy, you could probably leave it a few more minutes. After I pulled it out, I just put the bacon on a paper towel to drain a little of the extra grease. Then once it had cooled, I just tossed the foil with the extra grease. So simple!

Next up was the eggs. I used some cooking spray to grease a muffin tin, then cracked an egg into six of the wells (but you could just as easily do 12). I turned the oven down to 350, but stuck the eggs in before it cooled down. I set the timer for 15 minutes, but when I checked them they weren't quite as done as I wanted so I let them cook about 5-7 more minutes. I'm not exactly sure because I was working on other stuff at the same time and forgot about it a little bit! I got them out and let them cool a little bit.

Then, I just had to put my sandwiches together. I used english muffins and put two of the half-pieces of bacon, then the egg, and a slice of cheese. I wrapped them in foil and tossed them in the freezer. This way I can pull one out the night before, then heat in the microwave for 60-90 seconds in the morning!

I got some frozen hashbrown patties and cans of Diet Dr. Pepper, so I have the same meal I get from the drive thru. I crunched the numbers, and 12 of these whole meals would come in at about $1.85 each. That's about 1/3 of what it costs at the drive thru! I'll count that as a win!

*For a slightly healthier version, you can use just the egg whites instead of the whole egg, a whole wheat muffin or bagel, canadian bacon, and low fat cheese.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Book Review: Still by Lauren F. Winner

Remember when I first posted about Still? I read it throughout Lent and finished it shortly before Holy Week. Today, the RevGalBookPals are sharing lots of different reviews of this book, so I thought I would throw mine in there since I finally finished.

I'm not going to lie, this book took a long time for me to read. It's not because I couldn't get into it. In fact, it was quite the contrary. I was SO into it, it wasn't just a mental exercise, but was a very emotional experience as well. I get really into books. I identify with characters and will laugh out loud at funny stuff and tear up at sad stuff. But this was a whole new level of experience for me. When I write reviews, I try to be as objective as I can while still claiming my own experience. But there was no objectivity in this reading so there can be no objectivity in my writing about it. Just consider that my disclaimer.

Beginning on page 60, the chapter about "Middles" seems to have particular significance to me, especially now as I enter my Season of Sabbath and a new middle of of my own. Ms. Winner says that "middles are often defined by what they are not" which definitely hooked me. This idea of the middle defined by what it isn't is how my first theology class at Vanderbilt Divinity School was taught, and it really threw me for a loop, but has become an important part of how I think, and I'm pretty proud of it! The connection to "the spiritual equivalent of middle school" was quite painful, but something worth thinking about. The fact that she claimed her own dislike of the same idea was quite comforting to me! The idea of the middle game as the beginning of creativity was a new one to me, and gave me a lot of hope for my own middle, and this new journey.

Later, on page 132, she states "this is a condition of the middle: you take wisdom where you find it" to which I wrote the comment "A thousand amens!" (Which I decided would be a great subtitle for this post, because that has generally been my response to this whole book!)

"Anxiety, II"
The writing about anxiety definitely hit home with me (as if everything else didn't!) because anxiety has been a huge battle for at least the last 10 years of my life, maybe even more. I'm finally getting to a point where my life isn't as controlled by my anxiety, but that produces its own anxiety because it's such a new and foreign thing to me. The second chapter on anxiety, beginning on page 88, had me underlining and writing probably more than any other chapter. The idea of "living by quarter hours" gave me a very concrete suggestion for a way of being in the world. While I haven't actively practiced this yet, the idea stays with me and I think it will be lived out and lived into at some point in the not so distant future.

When I came across the line taken from the desert fathers, "after noticing a thought, replace it with prayer." I immediately thought of the phrase "wrap it in prayer" which has always been a little uncomfortable for me. But as I turned this phrase over and over in my mind, this is what I came up with and wrote in my book:
"Wrap it in prayer" - not trying to hide or smother whatever it is, but to hold, comfort, or protect it. Sort of like wrapping something (or someone) in a quilt or in a hug.
Let it go. It doesn't mean that whatever it is will leave, but it does mean that because you aren't holding on to that thing, you are free to hold onto something else.

In a slightly unrelated note, I appreciated that, when she made reference to "the Jesus Prayer," she wrote it out! I have often heard of "the Jesus Prayer" and read about ways people use it or times they say it, but I never knew exactly what it was! That simple gift of not making assumptions was especially touching to me, and a good reminder about why it's important to not make assumptions about what people, even life-long "church people", know!

I'm going to read this book again, but not for a while. I'm already thinking of the idea of using this as a sort of Lenten devotion for next year because I am expecting to have my mind and heart in a very different place as a result of my Season of Sabbath and time at the Academy. Check back with me this time next year to see what else I have to say!

And if you want the short version, YES I HIGHLY RECOMMEND THIS BOOK TO EVERYONE!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Cruising By the Numbers

I know I just did a cruise post last week, but I'm really excited about the fact that we just finished paying for the blasted thing and wanted to celebrate with a little more vacation-related fun.

Several weeks ago I was contacted by Sarah from because she had seen some of my past posts about my previous cruises and she shared this neat cruising infographic with me. I thought it was really interesting and decided it was definitely worth sharing in my series of posts as I prepare for my next cruise. I've got a few comments about some of this stuff, but I'll save that for a few weeks. For now, check this out!

cruising infographic

Source: Coupons

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Trying (unsuccessfully) for Baby Bodeen

So if you've been keeping up with 101 things in 101 weeks, you'll know that in January of 2011 I put down as a goal for the next 101 weeks of my life to be having a child. And if you've been paying close attention you'll notice that not a single word has been mentioned about this one. I've been pretty quiet about it because #1 it's personal and #2 there's been nothing to tell (or so I thought) but I think I'm finally ready to talk about this. It's still personal and it may be too much information for some people, so if you don't want to know you can stop reading here. No judgement, no hurt feelings. I just need to get this out there.

Jeff and I decided, before we were ever married, that we would probably wait about a year before trying to have children. Well, we also determined pretty quickly that the birth control pill I was taking was doing some nasty things to me and my hormones so at my check-up my doctor wrote me a prescription for a new pill, but casually made the comment "well, you're married now, so it's not like it would be the end of the world if you did get pregnant." I knew then that is was also time for a new doctor. Within just a few weeks, Jeff was officially laid off from his job. We knew it was probably coming but it was still hard. We figured it wouldn't last too long. It lasted a lot longer than we ever would have imagined starting out. In the middle of all this the new birth control pill still wasn't fixing the issues I was having (which I now think were mental/emotional as much as they were physical) so I quit it completely. It was one less bill to have to try and come up with the money to pay, and we could just address the reproductive concerns in other ways. In the end, we didn't do a whole lot of active prevention, but we weren't actively trying either.

Our first anniversary came and went and we were hopeful that Jeff would get a job soon, but I was also feeling tugged toward a CPE residency, so late in the summer I applied to start in the fall. The good news was that we had health insurance again. The bad news was that, because it was a 12 month residency there was really no provision for maternity leave. We decided that we would wait to start trying until February of 2011. That way, if I did get pregnant the first try, I could still finish out my residency before I delivered. Yes, I would lose my benefits before the actual delivery but it would at least cover most of my pre-natal care.

So that was the plan. And that was what we did. I started charting my cycles a few months out with a handy iPhone app so we would know when was the best time to "do the baby dance". And even in the middle of my dad dying and CPE getting crazy and Jeff STILL not being able to find a job, we tried. And every month my period would come right on time and I would be crushed. And I would cry. Or my period would be late and I would take a test and it would come out negative and I would be sad but still wait and hope until my period did show up (which it always did) and I would cry even harder. It was easy to blame it on hormones and stress and everything with CPE and everything else in my life, but I hated it.

By the time CPE ended Jeff had a new job. We had new insurance. But I was getting increasingly frustrated with the whole situation. I felt very betrayed by my body. I kept replaying all those high school lectures about how easy it is to get pregnant and it didn't make sense. I felt a lot of shame, like I was a bad woman because I couldn't reproduce like I thought I should be able to. I was barely 26 years old. This was prime time! Or at least I thought it should be.

At the end of October I finally got up the courage and called a new doctor to make an appointment. At this point it had been almost two years since I had seen anyone (yes, I know, I'm bad) and more than anything I needed to know that I wasn't "broken". I am so thankful for my new doctor. I never thought I'd be comfortable seeing a male for "female stuff" but he was wonderful during my first visit. He sat down and explained all the what-ifs and numbers and what is "normal". He drew blood and checked hormone levels and assured me that, from what he could see at that point, everything was working fine. I wasn't broken.

The one "number" that stuck with me was that, after 12 months of unprotected sex (not even active "trying") without a pregnancy, a woman can be diagnosed with infertility. At the point of my appointment I was "sort of" in that gray area already (since we weren't really keeping up with that kind of thing before) but now I have definitely crossed that line. Even though I haven't been back to the doctor to make it official, I know where I am and what I'm dealing with and I feel a lot of shame and loneliness in it. Don't get me wrong, I'm so happy for all of my friends and all of their sweet little miracles. But I'm also very jealous.

My husband has been wonderfully supportive in all of this. I know he hurts right along with me every month that we don't get a positive test result. We have cried together over this several times. There have been moments when we have both felt like failures. We can sometimes make jokes about it, but most of the time we just dream together about our future child. We have talked about how far we are willing to take medical intervention and what we would like our next steps to be. We have decided together that, if nothing has happened by the time I go back for my next check-up with my doctor, in addition to exploring more on the medical end, we will also start actively pursuing adoption.

We have made some decisions about how far we would take medical testing/intervention, and the answer is "not nearly as far as most people." We're not willing to go to as far as exploratory surgery or IVF. I just can't see putting myself through all of that. I respect all the women that do, but I'm just not one of them. If I had an identified physical need for those things, it might be different, but that isn't the case. I do believe that everything happens for a reason and everything that DOESN'T happen also has a reason. I may not know what that reason is, but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

On some level I wish things were different. I wish we had gotten pregnant quickly and had an easy, uncomplicated pregnancy and given birth to a healthy baby and we were a sweet, happy family now. But I do appreciate the fruit that has come from this journey. Jeff and I are definitely closer and I think more able to communicate about our feelings. I have had some great experiences I wouldn't have had if I had a child. I am looking forward to the experiences that are yet to come. I'm not sure I would have reached the point in my person growth that I have reached if I were focused on someone else rather than on myself and my stuff, and at the end of the day I feel like my being healthy is the best thing I can do for my family.

I am a firm believer in the idea that everything happens for a reason, and everything that doesn't happen also has a reason. I rarely understand those reasons (especially on the front end) but that doesn't mean they aren't there. I know that someday I will have the child and the family that I am meant to have. And until then, I will keep waiting and hoping, and praying, and preparing as best I can.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Orange Congealed Salad

We called this "fluffy stuff" when I was growing up, and I had never made it so I thought I'd give it a try. I was really pleased with how it came out and I got lots of compliments on it from everyone at Easter lunch, so I decided to share.

2 small boxes orange jello (or 1 large box)
1 c. hot water
1 c. cold water
16 oz. greek yogurt
1/2 c. chopped pecans (optional)
1 lg can crushed pineapple, drained
1 can mandarin oranges, drained

Take your two boxes of jello and dissolve into 1 cup hot water. Once it is completely dissolved, add 1 cup cold water and let it chill for about an hour and let it get semi-set. Mix in greek yogurt, nuts, pineapple, and oranges. Chill for several hours until set.

I make mine in a rectangle casserole dish. You could use a fancy ring mold or something else, but this way if it's a little bit soft it's not a big deal.

I didn't worry too much about getting ALL the juice out of the pineapple. A little bit of extra liquid is ok and it will still set up, but try to drain off a fair amount of it.

I also cut the mandarin orange slices into about two or three tiny pieces. You could probably skip this step if you wanted to, but I prefer little bits of stuff instead of huge chunks. It helps everything be more uniform.

That's it. It's very simple. The great thing about this is how versatile it is. You can leave out the orange pieces if you want or use any other kind of fruit and change up the flavor of jello to make pretty much anything.

Monday, April 9, 2012

How I Rocked Easter

I believe that the successful execution of the Easter festivities in my life just go to prove (if only to myself) that I am indeed a rock-star! Let's take a look back starting with Wednesday, shall we?

Wednesday - Made a congealed salad and started prepping other food-stuffs. My fridge is already getting frighteningly full. The garage fridge may be commandeered. Wrote clues for easter egg/scavenger hunt and got corresponding pictures for puzzles. Yoga at 6:30. This whole "intentional breathing and presence" thing really has something to it, especially during Holy Week. I highly recommend it. Second trip to the grocery store this week on my way home. On-call for Children's at 10pm.

Thursday - Thankfully didn't get called out overnight. Go off call at 8:00 am. Get dressed and head to the Honey Baked Ham store. I was a little shocked but it was dead. I'll have to remember that for the future. Got an 11 lb ham, a 3 lb turkey breast, a pecan pie, and some sweet potatoes to eat with leftovers. Put away all that and rearrange the fridge AGAIN. Re-write the order of worship for service tonight because I can't find the file where I saved it. Babysit from 11:15 to 5pm. Get stuck in major traffic so I'm the one 10 minutes late for church. Good thing they can't start without me! Service went well. Did some more egg/scavenger hunt prep after the service. Saw the most AMAZING, bright rainbow as I was leaving.

Friday - Babysit from 8am - 1:30pm. Make a hashbrown casserole, Greek onions, cucumber and onion salad, 22 miniature coconut cream pies, and a lemon cake. Finish up around 5pm when Jeff gets home. Get changed to go have dinner at the Summit and wander around for a bit. Stop at the grocery store on the way home to get snacks for the egg hunt tomorrow. Put together all the eggs for tomorrow and clean the kitchen up a little bit. It's getting down to the wire. I don't get to bed until after midnight (which is now really late for me!)

Saturday - I decided to let hubby sleep so I got up and took the dogs out. Fried a pound of bacon and decided that, while I was at it, I'd also make breakfast so I made coffee, scrambled eggs with cheese, and biscuits. (I'm a good wife like that). Also glaze my cake and toast extra coconut for decorating all the miniature pies. Deep clean the kitchen. Made rotel dip for the afternoon snack at the church. Pull out all necessary serving pieces for lunch tomorrow. Pot some lavender. Refill the bird feeders. Trim my rose bushes and herb garden. Add water to the fountain out front. Went to church for the easter egg/scavenger hunt and practice for the drama portion of the service. After we got home I made broccoli salad and triple checked everything else. I was done with everything by 5:45 pm.

Sunday - Woke up ridiculously early (like 4:45 am!) and couldn't get back to sleep. Allergy symptoms were terrible and I'm not good at sniffling quietly so that Jeff could sleep, but I tried. Sunday school at 10, worship at 11. It all went really well and I was very pleased. After church headed home to find family already there, which I really hate, but oh well. Got everything out and ready for lunch. We would have been ready to eat by about 1:40 but we had to wait for a few stragglers. Lunch was good and we only had a few things left over, so I was pleased. I was hoping to get pictures, but got distracted by everything else. We had a grand total of 23 people, which was good. Not gonna lie, when the last person left around 5 pm.

All in all, it was a very successful venture. One of Jeff's aunts asked me, as everyone was leaving, if I'd do it again and the answer was "yes!" I enjoy entertaining and doing things as I went through the week made it really easy.

What are some of your tips for entertaining, especially large groups?

Friday, April 6, 2012

Counting Down to Another Dream Vacation

Yes, I know I'm a goober. I can't help it. I get really excited about anything out of the norm, especially when it involves going someplace or doing something new. This vacation really does combine the best of both worlds of things that are known and comfortable with those that are new and exciting. Add to it the fact that this will be one year since our last real vacation, and it makes for a very happy Sandy. Half the fun of a vacation (at least for me) is getting to prepare and anticipate it, so the more time I get for that the better it is!

Known: Cruise on the Carnival Dream leaving out of Port Canaveral and staying in the Cloud 9 Spa; Anytime dining

New: Port stops in Nassau, St. Thomas, and St. Maarten; Cabin with a balcony. Jeff has only ever been to Nassau, so it'll be nice to share something new with him since he has a sort of "been there, done that" attitude toward a lot of cruises (because, let's face it, he has!)

We're still negotiating a few of the particulars like getting ourselves down there. Last time, we flew. It started as necessity but ended up as SUPER convenient. I like flying, but Jeff isn't a huge fan, especially of short flights (and BHM to MCO is only 90 minutes!) Originally I thought we would drive since we have more time, but the more we think about it the more appealing the idea of flying again becomes!

I really am trying to not get too over-the-top excited until after my birthday (which will still give me about 7 weeks of excitement!) but it's hard! This picture is from our last cruise on the Carnival Dream, specifically from a port stop in Cozumel. It was probably one of the best vacations I've ever taken and so it's very easy to look forward to doing it again! If it weren't for the pesky business of paying for it, I would be ready to get on the boat tomorrow!

I've got some great new info/resources about cruising in general, so if it's something you're interested in, stay tuned!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Yoga Update

I'm now halfway through my yoga for beginners class, and it's been AMAZING. Annie, who is also the studio owner, is a fantastic teacher and I absolutely adore her.

The first week was a lot harder than I thought it would be. It started out with a lot of time and attention to breath. Well, for a former band kid, that was easy. Long, even, deep breaths are what I did all the time. They're still what I do when I need to chill or center myself. So that part came very naturally. The moving part, not as much. It wasn't even the moving that was hard, it was the holding in certain places that was harder. I'm not gonna lie - the first class seemed to last a really long time. I made the intentional decision to take off my watch for class but it was hard, too. By the time class ended, I was ready for it to be over. Still, it was good. I felt good because, well, I just felt good. But I also felt good because I had worked hard and done something just for myself.

The second week I think I was more nervous than the first. During the first class only 5 of the 12 people came because of spring break and other conflicts, so week two was full. It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. The class itself also wasn't as hard. I really enjoyed the moving between poses and holding for a breath or two, and then moving out of it again. I also love the variety of pace in the class. Again, no watch. But this time, as we were coming to the close of the class, I was really disappointed that it was over already. I definitely could have kept going for a while longer! I never would have expected the more active pace to jive with me, but it definitely did.

The third week I was really excited going in, but immediately got nervous when she told us we'd be doing back bending. I quickly discovered it wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be (not the back bends I remember from elementary school, although maybe someday I can get back to that!) and it actually felt pretty good for the most part. Again it was a harder class because it was a lot more new poses so it was a lot more slow movement and holding. I really dig the whole "one breath, one movement thing" and so I'm bad about holding my breath while I'm holding poses (which isn't what you're supposed to do!) Overall, I liked the way the moves were sequenced and I feel like I'm remembering the names of things like Cat & Cow, Staff Pose, Mountain, Warrior, Tree, Half Lotus, Triangle, and I'm sure there are others that we've done and I just can't think of.

The thing that's working to my disadvantage at this point (and what I think will keep me from ever being "good" at yoga) is that my body is just plain not proportional. I know I'm short (5'2) but proportionally speaking, I have long legs and a very short waist. When you're trying to fold and have your hands flat on the ground, it just doesn't work. Even if I were in perfect shape, I don't think it would work! I'm still pretty flexible in spite of everything, so that helps. I also have at least a moderate ability to balance, so that is good, too. Now to work on that "strength thing"...

If yoga is something you enjoy and you are in the Birmingham area, I definitely recommend checking out Villager Yoga. On Friday, April 13th they will be having their next "Yoga & ..." class. This month it is Yoga & Art. There are still spots available if you are interested. It's $25.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Week 65

This week I decided to update on a few things on my list that I am finally ready to cross off, not because they have been completed but because they have not, and will not, be completed before the end of this 101 weeks.

1. Having a child - I am not currently pregnant. I do not anticipate becoming pregnant in the immediate future. Because a normal, full-term pregnancy is 40 weeks, baby would have to be WAY early to come in before week 101, and I hope and pray that does NOT happen. I think this is the one I've grieved the most. More on this is coming, so stay tuned if you're interested.

4. Get commissioned - you may remember back in December when I found out I would not be interviewed by the Board of Ordained Ministry and therefore not be commissioned. Yes, it's taken me several months, even knowing this, to be able to cross this off my list. Instead, I'm looking forward to living into my Season of Sabbath.

25. We anticipated writing a will to be necessary because of #1 (having a child). No kid means no will right now.

64. - I don't know if I'm just not on the e-mail list anymore or what, but I realized too late that I had totally missed the dinner for this year. Maybe next year, but not before the end of this project.

83. - Because I won't be commissioned, I can't start the APC board certification process.

85. - Although Jeff is open to going back to school someday, it's not in the cards right now. This seemed much more possible (and necessary) during his long unemployment, but now that he is very happily employed, this can wait.

There are several other things that I put on the list thinking they would be related to one of these (like knitting a blanket, learning to quilt, and making a needlepoint picture) and while they may not take the form I had originally thought they would, they're still things I'd like to at least try before the end of this project!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Tulle Wreath

This was another craft project inspired by a variety of pinterest projects. It wasn't all that hard, it just took a little bit of time. The only "tool" needed was a pair of scissors, and if you really wanted you could probably do without them.

Basically, I just bought a wreath form and several spools of tulle and started wrapping. I figured out that the pieces of tulle needed to be about a yard long, and used the very scientific measuring device of my arm. I figured out that the "about right" length was from the tip of my middle finger to all the way across my shoulders, give or take a few inches for cutting. I could bunch it up and wrap it three or four times to make a big enough section for me to be happy with it and cover up all the underneath.

The wreath form I used was a straw one. I would have preferred a foam form, but the only foam form I found at Hobby Lobby was squared and designed for flower arranging, so I went with the straw one. I really REALLY wish I had left the plastic on it. The straw made an unholy mess all over the place. Plus, the loose straw made me very itchy. So yeah, moral of the story - if you use a straw wreath, leave on the plastic!

I probably used about 65 yards of tulle, total, so just pay attention when you are buying your tulle. The green and white had glitter in them, and they were smaller rolls (about 12 yards each) and I used all of those and actually needed a little more. The pink, purple, and blue came in 25 yard rolls so I still have some of them left for other projects.

You could easily change the colors and use it for team colors, birthday, baby shower, or other holidays. I could definitely see doing another one of these!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Sugar & Spice Nuts

This is may be my new favorite treat of all time. They do take a little bit of time and attention, but just a little. I made these while seriously multi-tasking - doing laundry, making a wreath, and making candy. It would also be perfect for making on a rainy day where you want to extend very little effort, but not be bored out of your mind and end up with something very tasty!

I was very excited to discover this recipe for crock pot sugared pecans on Pinterest, but since I'm not a huge fan of cinnamon pecans, I decided to give it a shot with my rosemary cashews. When I combined them, I came up with this, and I've got to say, it's a winner.

Now, I know there are some folks out there that don't like the idea of using those slow-cooker liners because they don't like the idea of cooking in plastic because of chemicals, fumes, and whatever other yucky stuff is in there. I can totally respect that, but I think my slow cooker liner contributed to the success of this recipe!

First off, pre-heat the slow cooker on high for about 15 minutes. Then, melt a stick of butter. I had a couple of partial pieces that needed to get used, so those got thrown into the mug I used to melt my butter and I think I ended up with a little bit more. I'm from the Paula Deen school of "no such thing as too much butter" so that didn't bother me a bit. *For all my vegan friends, you could probably use about 1/2 cup of your favorite oil like canola or walnut*

I used 1/4 cup of brown sugar and 1/4 cup of powdered sugar. This didn't give me the same "candy coating" that you would probably get if you used just the powdered sugar, but I like the flavor of the brown sugar so I was willing to give up a little of that. Mix sugar with the nuts and butter in the slow cooker. Cover it and cook on high for about 30 minutes.

After the 30 minutes, stir it up, turn your slow cooker down to low, and leave the top off! Let them cook for 2-3 hours, stirring them occasionally. I checked on mine about every 30 minutes. This is where having the slow cooker liner came in really handy because, as I stirred up the nuts, I could shake them around with the liner and make sure the melted butter and sugar that collected in the bottom could pour over the nuts. It was SO much easier and I avoided burned sugar on the bottom and clumpiness on the nuts that get stuck on the bottom.

After about two and half hours mine were looking great. No, they didn't have a hard, shiny candy coating but there was very little melted butter and sugar left on the bottom of the bag so I decided they were about done. I turned them off, and topped them with rosemary and cayenne and just a little bit of salt (because I used unsalted butter) and gave them a good mix.

I couldn't resist the temptation to take a taste of the warm, sweet, buttery goodness. They were quite fabulous. The hardest part was staying out of them!

If you try them out, let me know what you think.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

A Season of Sabbath

Over the past several months, I have made a series of life and career-changing decisions. Remember my last word interaction with the Board of Ordained Ministry? Well, after the shock wore off and I was able to process everything I pretty quickly came to the understanding that this really was one of those messages from God that I couldn't ignore. Something had to change. It was time for me to take a step back from serving as clergy in the local church. Now, even though I knew that was the right decision, that doesn't mean that it didn't involve some serious pain and grief in the process of acting on it.

In February, I sent the letter to my district superintendent stating my plans to discontinue my service as a licensed local pastor. There was some seriously mixed emotions involved in that experience because I got absolutely no response or acknowledgement of this from the district office. Still, there was a certain sense of relief and freedom having done this.

In the middle of this, I applied for and was accepted to the Academy for Spiritual Formation. Our first session will be the first week of August. I've already started doing some reading and met some important people, so I'm looking forward to a great two years.

Last Sunday, I announced to my congregation that I would be leaving, which was a really difficult experience. Although there were plenty of smiles and hugs, there were also a lot of tears. Although I have two more months, I know those months will fly by before I know it.

This next season in my life will be one of rest and care for myself and allowing myself to be cared for and nurtured by others. It will also mean some firsts in our marriage, like finding a church home where we can both be connected, making friends our age in our community, and taking weekend trips for the heck of it! I am looking forward to it, but there is a little bit of fear of the unknown in these things!

In the weeks and months ahead, expect to hear more about how this season plays out!