Saturday, December 31, 2011

Saturday smells like...Ground meat and sausage

So one of J's Christmas gifts from me this year was the food grinder attachment for our KitchenAid stand mixer.  I also got him the sausage stuffing attachment and a bag of sausage casings from our local butcher. 
J quickly went off in search of meat soon after we got back from our Christmas travels, and he came home with chuck roast (beef shoulder) and Boston Butt (pork shoulder...J Googled the name so I'd understand why the shoulder is named for the rear; it's a long story so I'd suggest you go here if you'd like to learn).  He got right to work on the beef, as seen here:

Clearly, this week we've been eating lots of fresh ground chuck.  I have to say, there's something particularly amazing about a hamburger made this way.  J cut most of the fat out so that it was particularly lean, then he added in butter for fat.  Later in the week, he diced and marinated more of the chuck before grinding.  Either way, both made a great burger.

Last night, J chopped up the Boston Butt and split it into two bowls. The first he seasoned using Williams-Sonoma's Chorizo spice blend, and the second he seasoned using Williams-Sonoma's Breakfast Sausage spice blend.  Today, he'll be grinding the pork, and hopefully I'll get a picture of the sausage stuffing attachment in action. 

Friday, December 30, 2011

Reflection Friday

So it's almost the end of 2011, and since it's also Finicky Friday, I decided that I'd dedicate this post to reflecting on the past year--checking out how we did on our goals for 2011 and generally just waxing eloquent (maybe).

So our (my) first and largest goal was to blog daily in an effort to reach our stated blog goal of consistent blogging.  For the first six months of the year, that was accomplished almost without exception.  For the next five months, I blogged consistently 2/3 of the time. This month, I blogged half the time, though not necessarily every other day.  Moral of the story?  I can't work and blog reliably.  The more time spent at work, the less time spent blogging or doing things worth blogging about.  But still, since the big goal was to be consistent in our blogging, I think this is a goal accomplished.

As for the rest of our goals, I finally got around to stating them a week into 2011 here.
  • Run 150 miles each. Not even close. Best case scenario, we maybe walked/ran 85 miles. 
  • Participate in a half-marathon. Right now, we're looking towards the Flying Pig in Cincinnati, but we are open to others.  Right.  See previous goal.
  • Continue our weight loss efforts. 25 pounds for JE; 40 for J.  I gained and lost and gained and lost.  J lost his 40.
With respect to the MP, complete the following home improvement projects:
  • Finish the main bath (seal and grout the marble, prime and paint the walls, reinstall toilet and vanity, buy and install mirror, install new shower curtain curtain rod)  Actually, we got this one mostly done.
  • Finish the master bedroom (make and hang curtains, print pictures for photo wall, hang pictures on photo wall)
  • Finish front of house (paint shutters, reinstall flag pole)  I'd say 50/50 on this one.  The shutters are still green and the gutters still need replacing.
  • Back of house (rebuild deck using composite lumber, move storage shed)  Not a darn thing done here.
  • Library (stain bookshelves, figure out what kind of countertop to install, install built-ins)  No.
  • Living room--if we accomplish everything else and are feeling a little bored (In the words of President Reagan--Tear down this wall!, and then fix the stairs, paint)  Obviously this didn't happen.
Continue to work on our finances. Currently, we spend entirely too much on food for two people (grocery and eating out combined), and we hope to pare down to half of what we spend now.  Meh. We've been more intentional and aware of our spending.  We don't eat out nearly as often as we used to, and when I take over the grocery shopping, we don't spend as much there, either!
Internalize and live our 2011 phrase--Be alert, for God is a whisper. Read more about that in yesterday's postI think we've worked on this one a lot.  Something we're still working on it figuring out how to tell when God is telling us something.  That's kind of a hard one.

This is kind of tough to look at, because there is a lot of negative in the way of accomplishments.  Someone asked me the other day how I would describe 2011 in one word.  My word?  Rebirth.  The person I became in 2011 is a very different person I was in 2009 and 2010.  While there were parts of that person who was happy, I think that the new me is a generally happier, more at peace person.  I don't want to put words in J's mouth, but I think I'm probably an easier wife, too.  Unforunately, this new me doesn't seem to have been nearly as goal oriented as the old me... Check back next week to see what I'm going to do about that.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Thankful Thursday--December 29

I can't believe this is my last Thankful Thursday post of 2011.  When I started this whole categorized blogging experiment in February, I didn't realize that Thankful Thursdays would be the day I fully embraced.  I'm so glad I have, though.  When I look back at the things I've expressed thankfulness for this year, they range from the mundane to the deeply meaningful.  J pops up more than once, but I suppose he should, shouldn't he?  I've been thankful for each of my jobs this year at some point or another, and as the year ends, I continue to be thankful for each opportunity to earn money that has presented itself this year.  I'm thankful for my talents, and for those times when others recognize them (and really, especially so when they pay me for them.). While I'm not certain what form the MP will take in the new year, I think it's safe to say that Thankful Thursdays will continue.  I appreciate the structured opportunity to take a minute each week and reflect on what (and who) has been most meaningful to me that week.

So this week, I'm thankful for the many family members and friends J and I were able to spend Christmas with.  We saw all of our parents, many of our dear friends, all of J's nieces and nephews, as well as some of the surrogate nieces and nephews we are blessed to have in our lives (with two more to go this weekend).  In addition to spending time with those we love, J and I were blessed with some pretty awesome Christmas gifts, too.  We're pretty lucky.

I'm thankful, too, for a week off.  I knew when I went back to W-S for the holidays that I was signing on for a busy 6 weeks or so, and that I may be without much time off.  I don't think I realized just how busy I would be or just how few days off I would have in December (let's just say there were only one or two days and those came in the first week of the month).  As a result, I spent much of the month wishing it away and focusing on getting through Christmas.  While I wished those days away, I'm reveled in these days off--three whole days with practically nothing to do have been especially appreciated.  I start working myself back into the whole work thing today, but it is with a renewed appreciation for my job(s)!

Finally, this week I'm thankful for you.  I don't know who most of you are, since you're not commenters, but I love checking in on the stats page and seeing that you exist or hearing you mention something I posted about in conversation.  Thanks for reading and for caring about happens in our little corner of the world.

What are you thankful for this week?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Visions of sugarplums

I mean, seriously, isn't this what Christmas is all about?  This week I'm sharing two pics for wordless Wednesday--the first is little D, the 18 month old daughter of my BFF from college.  Is she not precious?  I was so excited to spend a couple hours with D and her parents Christmas morning.

And second--Baby E, who got into the real spirit of "Boxing Day" on Monday.  His big brother is in the box behind him, too.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Thankful Thursday--December 22

This week, I'm thankful that Christmas is almost here.  Isn't that awful?  I've been trying really hard to settle into the expectation of Advent and preparation for Christmas, but the closer we get, the more steadily my hours at W-S increase and the less time I spend at home.  I'm just really, really ready to be back on my 'regular' schedule.  And with Christmas right around the corner, that means my regular schedule is right around the corner, too.

I'm thankful, too, for the opportunity that Christmas gives us to spend a little time (especially short this year) with our families and friends.  Monday night I had wonderful girl time while wrapping presents with B and sweet 'family' time with her little ones.  Tuesday night our EFM group met at one of the participants homes, which was beautifully decorated for the season. Tonight, I'm looking forward to more giftwrapping, cookie decorating, and girl time with B and K.  Travels to see our families will give me hours in the car with J, which is one of my favorite things.  And this weekend, we'll have time with our parents, siblings, and neices and nephews--all of whom are growing up entirely too quickly for such infrequent visits.

Finally, I'm thankful that this year is almost over.  I've actually pretty much enjoyed 2011 (the poor luck of the last month or two notwithstanding), but I love the idea of fresh starts.  While I feel this much more strongly in the fall, the dawn of a new year brings new opportunities, new adventures, and new goals.  I'm excited to see what 2012 holds for us.

What are you thankful for this week?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

My adventure with the U.S. Postal Service...

This is a mostly wordy post, so I'll start you off with the picture and hope you stick around for the story:

J and I finished our Christmas cards last night (notes and labeling), so I set out this morning to mail them before going in to work.  My morning went something like this:

8:45--Prep the cards for taking to the post office (stacked and tied with a festive bow...yes, I'm serious).  Decide I won't go to my local shipping center/post office because I need to mail one overseas (Hi Jess!) and also need to pick up a small flat rate box for my brother's (and his family's) gifts.  My local shipping guy would do well with most of the cards, but would send me next door for the international/flat rate part of the job, and that post office never fails to tick me off--especially this time of year.

8:50--Run to the bathroom to brush my teeth before leaving.  Ram my knuckle (the left pinky that's still slowly healing from last week's fall) into the sink faucet.  Curse.  Blink back tears.  Pull it together and brush teeth.

9:00--Finally leave the house, cards tucked lovingly in my arms. Toss them in the passenger seat.

9:02--Apparently forget all about the cards and head out of our neighborhood toward work.

9:05--Remember the cards.  Curse again.  Consider turning right at the next major intersection to go to a large post office.  Decide it will be packed and decide to go to the small, never busy post office near work.

9:07--Consider again the large post office, which could be reached quickly by backstreets if I turn right at the next intersection.  Decide I'm committed to the small post office near work.

9:10--Drive past the church, continue on to the small post office.

9:13--Walk into the small post office, where I'm greeted by a long line of people and only one clerk.  Curse.  Wait in line for ten minutes.  Finally reach the front of the line. Learn that the stamps I want are out of stock.  Wait several minutes for clerk to confirm that in the back.  Avoid angry glares from other customers.  Informed I can get those at the large post office I passed up.  Curse under breath.  Decide to go ahead and purchase the international stamp and flat rate box.  Am informed that I can't pay for the flat rate box because I might overfill it and it will cost more.  Give clerk puzzled look at my apparent complete misunderstanding of the whole "Flat Rate" concept.  Run my card for 98 cents.

9:31--Back to my car with my stack of cards and a flat rate box.  Drive back past work on my way to the large post office. 

9:37--Arrive at large post office.  Walk in to find no line and two clerks ready to serve.  Curse again, this time with a snide laugh.  Purchase my preferred stamps.  Stick them on my cards.  Mail cards.

9:45--Back to my car.

9:55--Actually arrive at work.  Blow up at choir director, who mistakenly asks if my cards are out yet.  Try to make it sound funny.  Realize it actually kind of is.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Off Topic Tuesday

So it's been a busy few days (who am I kidding; it's been a busy few months), and while I had posts in mind for Sunday and Monday (on Saturday we let IHOP cook for us, so there wasn't much to share then), I literally fell asleep before I could write either.  So, since I had ideas for those posts and no idea for a Tuesday Talent post, I'm going off topic.

Sunday's post (had it been written) would have been about the Christmas Pageant at church on Sunday/my Sunday School Class overnight.  We started the overnight with most of the youth at our church on Saturday evening with the pageant dress rehearsal.  Because we have a small church, every kid with any interest in participating got a role of some sort and we ended up with a little more than a dozen children aged 4 to 14 (or so).  Our pageant had two scenes.  In the first, two children set up their family nativity set, with the older child giving his version of the Christmas story.  In the second scene, the members of the nativity set 'come to life' and explain their purpose to a Power Ranger (also now alive) left behind by one of the children.  There were some hilarious lines, and the St. R children and youth did a fabulous job.  My favorite part of the process was watching one of our seventh graders bond with a four-year-old.  He completely became her shadow and I think would now go anywhere for Miss E.  I love this part of my job!  My Sunday School class (eighth and ninth graders) directed the pageant, and it was fun to really watch them grow into this role, as well.  All in all, a great experience!

Monday's post would have been about decorations for the holidays around the MP.  Now, you may remember my post several Monday's ago about getting our tree out.  I may have led you to believe the tree would be put up shortly in our living room.  Quite frankly, I kind of led myself to believe that would be the case, too.  It wasn't.  The tree stayed in the laundry room until Sunday afternoon.  I finally took the time to rearrange the room, clear out my Stella & Dot materials, and ask J to haul the tree in.  It isn't completely decorated yet, but I got the garlands on (the grapevine garland and tree-top bow went on first, followed by my new burlap ribbon--purchased before I realized that it would be this year's big thing--and finally the popcorn garland).  This year marks the twentieth year for my popcorn garland.  I'm thinking that in five more years I may just bronze it or something...

I also hung our stockings on the mantle, added string to the kitchen shutters for the many beautiful Christmas cards we've received from family and friends, and decorated a gingerbread house to use as a centerpiece on the table.  Oh, and I put our two grapevine trees in that empty corner to the left of the tree.  It's like a little forest in that corner... 

It's starting to feel a bit like Christmas around the MP!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Fitness Friday--December 16

It's been a while since I wrote a Fitness Friday update.  As with most things, when I'm not checking in, it means things aren't going well.  I haven't been checking in with my scale either.  I can tell from the way my clothes fit that I've gained weight and I don't really need to get on the scale to tell me that.  Ironically, I maintain my weight much better when I do step on the scale daily.  Stepping off, for any period of time, is (for me) a sure path to weight gain.  So there you go, five more pounds.

In terms of fiscal fitness, well...  We're okay.  Two car wrecks in two months (thank goodness for comprehensive insurance, but there's still the deductibles to pay), plus J's transmission going out (and the bills we paid en route to discovering that was the final problem), plus the rental we needed (and loved) for a week equals a lot of love for our credit card.  It tough to balance using up the emergency fund with the tantalizing
"short-term loan" of a credit card.  We split the difference, but still have a higher balance than we did a month ago.  So much for paying that off by the end of the year! 

So there's our not so rosy fitness check.  See why I've been avoiding thinking about  it?  As with physical fitness, not paying attention to our fiscal fitness almost always seems to worsen our situation.  There's probably a lesson there.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Thankful Thursday--December 15

Have you heard the saying "If it wasn't for bad luck, you'd have no luck at all".  Well, other than with respect to finding J, I don't generally consider myself a "lucky" person.  I've used that saying with respect to other people, but certainly not myself.  I just don't think luck plays into my life very often.  And then the last month happened.  And y'all, I totally get it.  I've been on quite the run of bad luck.  Or I've been letting myself be wrapped up in things that stress me out without really mattering, and have let that stress take my attention off important things.  Like the speedbump I step over ever day with no trouble...until I step into it and go flying...  Anyhow, I guess I'm thankful for bad luck, as without it, I'd have no luck at all.

Seriously, I'm thankful that nothing is broken. Even in my run of bad luck, I've been terribly lucky.  Car wrecks, sinus infections gone rogue, trips and falls--I'm not broken and quickly on the mend. That's something to be thankful for!

Finally, I'm so thankful for my friend K.  I've been bummed that my self-imposed busy schedule this time of year has taken away time to spend on preparing for the holidays.  In addition, we decided not to have our Christmas cards printed this year as a money-saving measure.  Well, printing them ourselves + little time to put things together + a self-imposed expectation that they will go out before Christmas equals a stressed out JE.  Enter K, who has offered to put them together for me.  What an incredible blessing!!  If all goes well tomorrow, I'll print off the pictures and drop them by her house.  By this weekend, I'll be stamping and mailing.  Yay!

What (or who) are you thankful for this week?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

There are no words...

Um...yes, that's my hand...last night after "immobilization".  Why yes, those are shish kabob skewers.  Isn't that what you'd use?  Assuming the pain is still there after the lortab wears off I'll be heading to the doctor for a more
'official' splint.  In the mean time... sometimes you have to work with what you've got.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Tuesday smells like...

Okay, so this post is totally going to read like a Saturday smells like... blog post.  The thing is, I'm praising J's talent for cooking (and I'm afraid I'll forget it by Satuday), so I figure it works for a Tuesday's Talent post, too.

Over the weekend (or maybe last week?  When I'm sick it all runs together.), J roasted a whole chicken.  He's really just started doing this kind of thing and we've learned that the 'low and slow' method works best.  We've also learned that slow roasting doesn't work for supper on a weeknight (my mom can attest to that one), but it works great as a prepare ahead kind of thing.  So that night (whenever it was) J roasted the chicken.  Then another day this weekend he boiled down the stock into a great broth.  Now, typically, he'll take this stock and turn it into a chicken tortilla soup or something like that.  He's pretty good at it.

He's also getting pretty good at listening to his wife.  Sometimes, especially when I'm sick, I prefer bland food.  I don't know if you've ever eaten chicken tortilla soup, but bland isn't a word you'd use to describe it.  I expressed to J that if I was going to eat his soup, he needed to leave it as it was--plain chicken broth.  And you know what?  He listened!  A little salt and pepper, and I think that's it (that's all I can taste anyway).

But here's where the talent really comes in:  He knew that I'd be getting better soon and might be ready to add something to the soup.  So he diced green onions and chopped up some of the roasted chicken.  He put it all together in the fridge and let me know about it.  Yesterday, when I came in from W-S (where I'd worked an hour longer than planned and missed lunch), the soup was my first stop (after letting Zep out, of course).  J is amazing.  A cup of chicken broth, heated up in the microwave, a handful of chicken and a spoonful of green onions later.  That's it.  And it was the best cup of homemade soup ever!

So there you go:  J's talent for cooking as shared through chicken soup!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The longest day ever

Success!  I think I've finally figured out how to slow down time!  Yes, I know, the Nobel Prize folks will be calling any minute for the details.  (*Smirk*  Oh, did I mention you should have been reading this post with tongue planted firmly in cheek?) 

See, I mentioned last week that I had a bit of a virus.  I think I also mentioned my sucess at self-diagnosis and that I dropped by the doctor when it seemed to get worse.  I've fought sinus infections before, and I knew I needed help to get through the mountain of a Saturday I'd planned for myself (Pancakes with Santa at work, followed by a day-long vendor fair selling Stella & Dot, followed by three--yes, three--Christmas gatherings).  Quite frankly, that kind of Saturday would have done me in on a good day.  On a sick day, I was too out of it to realize that it was really too much to tackle.  I valiently 'manned up' and made it through.  I even had fun.

Then I woke up to the Slowest. Day. Ever.  Zep woke me at 7:00 a.m.  I let him out.  I let him in.  I fell back asleep for hours.  Zep woke J and me up at 8:00 a.m.  He let Zep out.  We both fell back asleep for hours.  We woke back up at 8:45.  In a flash, J was dressed and ready for church.  I moved like molasses in the direction of getting dressed.  After hours, J stopped my efforts, brought me medicine and sent me back to bed.  I lay there for 30 minutes or so, then called to give him all of the reminders I would have shared with folks at church had I been there.  And then I fell asleep for hours.

At 11:00 I woke feeling somewhat refreshed.  I was very still for the next hour and a half, but determined that I could, perhaps, wrap gifts for at least a little while.  I went to W-S, explained my situation to the manager and received her blessing to wrap as long as I could, then go home.  I wrapped for hours.  (Seriously. I was congratulating myself on my ability to muscle through and even briefly thought that perhaps what I'd needed all along was to be in the trenches of retail at Christmas time.  Sure I got woozy a few times, and needed to sit down once or twice, but I got tons of gifts wrapped and on their way.) And then the manager told me to go home.  I went to clock out.  It wasn't even 3:00.  I'd only been there for two hours.  I considered that maybe the timeclock was wrong.

I went home. I ate some lunch.  I stayed awake for a LONG time.  By 5:00, I was asleep.  I slept for hours.  I woke up at 7:00.  As I type this, my eyes are getting droopy--a sure sign I'll be asleep within minutes. 

I'm still not certain how I've been asleep all day (really, I've been asleep half the day) and still gotten things done.  Maybe it's the meds, but I prefer to think I've crossed into another dimension where time really does slow down...

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Thankful Thursday--December 8

Remember that viral infection I mentioned yesterday?  Well, I correctly diagnosed myself.  And when I woke up today with a raging sinus infection, I self-diagnosed that one correctly, too.  How do I know?  The doctor's office managed to squeeze me in and confirmed both diagnoses.  And they called in a prescription for me.  Today, I'm thankful for our GP and her willingness to tweak her schedule for a patient.  I'm thankful, too, that she affirmed my decision to hold off going in earlier this week, and to come in today.

I'm thankful, too, for USAA.  We've talked about them before--how well they respond when we've got something wrong with the house or the car.  This week, they've been fabulous with my several phone calls, emails, and attempts to get comfortable with their mobile app.  As a result, J is happier than I've seen in a while with his new (to us) car.  And that makes for a very happy JE.

Finally this week, I'm thankful for the stark contrasts of this time of year.  I'm not sure if it is because of my work environment or just the 'place' I'm in this year, but I've been more appreciative of the idea of Advent this year.  I've been more thoughtful, more intentional in my time and how I've thinking about Christmas gifts.  As a result (somehow), I'm also more appreciative of the many activities and the frenetic pace of the season. Funny how slowing down can make you appreciate the chaos of the season...

So what are you thankful for this week?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Word-only Wednesday

I know. 
I've not blogged in days. 
You showed up today expecting one of two things:  a picture or another day without a post in my unexplained hiatus.  Surprise!  You get neither!  You do get an explanation though, and that's got to be worth something (something small...but something.) 
In a nutshell, I worked all day Sunday (at church and W-S), I worked much of the day Monday (at W-S) and I worked all day Tuesday  (at church).  I'm behind in practically everything, and to top it off I seem to be fighting a losing battle with some sort of viral infection (what started as an ache in the left side of my throat in the middle of the night Saturday/Sunday escalated to scratchy throat and constantly runny nose yesterday).  J and I are still doing the one car thing, so I can't really even sleep in to catch myself up because I'm up early with him.  With my mind going every direction, pinning myself down long enough to write a coherent blog post on a pre-determined theme is just beyond my capacity.  Thanks for understanding!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Saturday smells like...sausage and eggs with salsa

This morning was a rare gem when it comes to Saturday mornings at the MP.  Neither of us had morning plans, so we enjoyed a quiet morning on the couch with the Food Network and our computers.  J was inspired by something (Micheal Symon, I think) and headed upstairs to make breakfast.  The proverbial cupboard is almost bare as we've not been grocery shopping since before Thanksgiving last week, so it took a little digging.  What did we end up with?  Scrambled eggs with some italian sausage and garlic mixed in, topped with parmesan cheese and Ale-8-One salsa.  Yum!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Thankful Thursday--December 1

This week, I'm struggling with being thankful.  If you read yesterday's post, you know that we're having car troubles.  Apparently both of our cars are in worse shape than we'd anticipated, and it seems that our days without car payments are limited.  While it's fun to imagine owning an SUV, actually owning one, complete with the car payment that it would come with, is something else.  But, I'm still thankful that we can swing the resources to have had a rental, and I'm thankful to have Sandy back, too.

I'm thankful, too, for my big brother, who celebrates a birthday tomorrow.  He and his family have had a rough year (earthquakes and tsunami and nuclear threat definitely constitute a worse week than I've had), and they've come through it so well.  They are such a reminder to me to be thankful for my blessings.

Finally, I'm thankful for my boss, Fr. Johnnie. The other day, I was really frustrated by a glitch in a computer program I was using.  I'd struggled with it for a good twenty minutes before I gave up in frustration.  I stomped into his office and asked if he had something I could throw.  His response?  He handed me a small statue of Jesus and said "here, throw Jesus.  Will that make you feel better?"  What on earth can you say to that?  It was such an awesome blend of 1. pointing out that my issue was small potatoes in the grand scheme of things, and 2. being just generally so ludicrous that I had to break into laughter.  I went back into my office thankful for his sense of timing and humor and figured out a solution in just a few minutes.  I don't think I've ever had that sort of working situation, and I'm so thankful for it.

What are you thankful this week?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Meet Terri

J and I are currently participating in an unplanned extended test drive of a vehicle we never plan to consider buying.  Meet Terri:

Why?  Well, last Monday, Sandy slipped on some wet pavement and bent up her undercarriage.  Ten days later, she's still in the shop, though I've been given some small amount of hope that she might be fixed today.  J and I enjoy the occasional one-car family experience, so we figured we would juggle Irene for a few days (at first, it really was just going to be a few days).

Then, on Saturday, something went wrong with Irene.  We're still not sure what, as the suspected problem sensor has now been replaced and she's still not quite right.  While being a one-car family sounded like a fun adventure, being a zero-car family was not something J and I were interested in.  So, off I went to Enterprise (that is a whole different story that requires much thankfulness for our friends B & D) in search of something small and cheap.  I came home with a five day rental on a GMC Terrain:  something neither small (though the girl at Enterprise assured me it was a "Small SUV" and unfortunately the smallest thing on their lot) nor cheap (though again, the girl assured me that we got the same rate as a full-size car so really it was a bargain...).

For those of you who don't know me well, I'm not a fan of big vehicles.  The last time I owned a four-door vehicle (as my primary source of transportation), I was 16.  I don't have the best spacial awareness (J can't tell you how many times he's apologized to people I've not seen and walked into), and that extends to my vehicles.  So, smaller is generally better.  Imagine then, me as a the primary driver of an SUV (even a small one).  It could be scary.  Luckily, the Terrain comes equipped with extra side mirrors that show my blindspot and a back-up camera to help me see how close I am to whatever is behind me.  Last night, J offered to drive her home after we'd picked up Irene from the shop (this was before we knew Irene wasn't better).  He didn't realize that I'd become so attached to our little rental I'd already been brainstorming names.    Really, we've both become attached, and we now understand the appeal of an SUV (particularly a small one like this, which gets excellent gas milage!!).  We're still not in the market to replace either Sandy or Irene (shame on you for thinking that!!), but we're certainly more open to a vehicle like this when it is time.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Holiday Happenings

Most years I'm pretty hardcoare about waiting until December first before I start decorating for Christmas.  I just feel pretty strongly that Halloween is to be celebrated (and decorated for) in October, Thanksgiving in November and Christmas in December.  That said, the first of December falls this week and J and I had a pretty relaxed four-day weekend (okay, so I worked Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday at Williams-Sonoma and put in a couple hours at St. R on Saturday morning, not to mention teaching Children's Chapel Sunday morning, so maybe my long-weekend wasn't all that relaxing...).  By 7:00 Sunday night, I was ready to think about Christmas. 

Last year I spent a very long hour underneath our tree in a dim living room looking for the sockets to connect all of the lights on our tree.  When I took the tree down, I managed to keep as much connected as possible, but there were still three or four connections to be made.  Not interested in repeating that miserable evening under the tree, I decided to pre-light my pre-lit tree.  This time, I put everything together one layer at a time in the very bright laundry room.  I also tagged loose light ends with long ribbon so I could find them later.  Once I thought I had everything connected, I plugged the tree in.  Blessedly, all the lights came on!!

Next up (perhaps this should've been the first step, but I wanted to get the tree all ready to go while J was still available to carry it upstairs), I headed upstairs to work on the living room.  And then I couldn't remember how I arranged it last year and headed back down to my laptop to review pictures from previous years.  Apparently I took no pictures of my tree last year (how on earth??).  Regardless, I've changed the furniture a little bit anyway, and need a new configuration. 

I spent the rest of the evening thinking about how to rearrange my living room, and plan to make those changes today.  By this evening, our living room should be ready for Christmas, and probably our front porch, too.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Saturday smells like...Turkey and all the fixings

Y'all knew what to expect for this week's "Saturday smells like...", didn't you?  Well, in case it's a surprise, I've got a post chock-full of pictures to take you through our Thanksgiving dinner.  The smell, and taste, of everything was amazing.  I hope your Thanksgiving Dinner was half as good!

We started with the Turkey.  I shared the brining picture in Wednesday's post.  That was followed up by coating the skin in a combination of Olive Oil Mayonnaise and herbed duck fat.  The duck fat was also squeezed under the skin of the breasts so that it would drip through the meat while cooking.  Here is the pre-cooking picture:

And the post-cooking picture:

In addition to turkey, we had roasted parsnip puree (in process here):

and the potatoes romanoff I mentioned Monday.  Six potatoes, an entire block of Vermont white cheddar and a large container of sour cream.  Yum.

We also had W-S focaccia stuffing, made with italian sausage, onions, and turkey stock.  So savory!  I don't seem to have taken a picture of it put together, but here is one of the onions sweating (on the left burner) and the turkey stock warming (on the right burner):

And stir-fried roasted-chili garlic broccoli. 

Here is everything on the table we set up as a buffet (obviously there was way more food than room on the table!):

From left to right:  The parsnips puree, W-S Apple-Organge Cranberry Relish, the broccoli, gravy, potatoes romanoff, focaccia stuffing, the awesome apple-cranberry sweet potatoes our friends B & D brought, and the turkey.

And here's where we ate:

After we ate, we had the best dessert.  While I've typically gone the more traditional pecan or pumpkin pie route, this year we decided to try something diferent--pumpkin ice cream.  J made a fabulous cinnamon chantilly cream to top the ice cream, and we accessorized the ice cream with gingersnap cookies and a drizzle of Applecreek Orchards' Bourbon Caramel sauce. 

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thankful Thursday--November 24

Back in February when I started Thankful Thursdays, I commented how it would be like 51 mini-Thanksgivings (and one big one) for me this year.  (Yes, since I started these in February, my math was a bit off...I'm clearly older and wiser as we near the end of 2011.)  That big Thanksgiving seemed so far off, and it still surprises me how quickly it arrived. So here go, one big Thanksgiving Day edition of Thankful Thursday:

This year, I'm thankful for my blog and my resolution to blog daily.  While some parts of this year have flown by, my resolution to blog daily has slowed the year down, as well.  I have almost a year's worth of daily snapshots--moments and thoughts and shared frustrations--that will help me (us) remember this very different year in our lives.  I don't (and can't) know how this year might have been remembered if it weren't for the (mostly) daily posts.

I'm thankful, too, for the resources that J and I continue to have available to us.  Our jobs, our home, our cars (our car insurance, of which we've both been beneficiaries this fall) make our day to day existence both possible and comfortable. 

Finally, I'm thankful for our family.  For our siblings, who, even from a distance, manage to give us the most interesting stories to share with each other and our friends.  For our parents, who manage to love us even when we make it difficult.  For our friends, who have become family to us.  For Zeppelin, who shows us daily what it means to love unconditionally.  And for J, who certainly follow's Zep's example when it comes to his affections for me.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Step Two to an awesome turkey

Step One to an awesome turkey happened on Monday night at the MP--J spatchcocked the tukey.  If you don't know what that means, Google it and read Martha Stewart's explanation.  Apparently, it will make this year's turkey even better than last year.

Step Two to an awesome turkey is what you see here:

Our turkey spent twenty-four hours in the fridge with a dry-brine, then was transferred last night to the wet brine.  This brine is a combination of Williams-Sonoma's Apple & Spices Turkey Brine blend, a gallon of homemade turkey stock, a gallon of homemade chicken stock, and a half-gallon of water.  Our bird will hang out in this briney heaven until Thursday morning when we commence with Step Three to an awesome turkey (the herbed duck fat part of the process!).

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

...tied up with string

If you read last week's post about wrapping gifts, then chances are you came back this week to learn how to tie on your ribbon.

To recap, you collected these items before sitting down to wrap your gift:
  • A box, if your gift is not already in one. Boxes are infinitely easier to wrap than oddly shaped items (though personally, I love the challenge!).
  • Wrapping paper. You want a nice, medium weight wrapping paper. The super-thick (read: expensive) stuff is sometimes tough to get sharp edges and smooth folds with. The thin (read: cheap) stuff will rip when you try to pull the paper tight.
  • Tape. I keep both double-sided and traditional scotch tape on hand.
  • Scissors. I keep two pair on hand--one to cut paper and one to cut ribbon. Trying to cut fabric ribbon with scissors used mostly to cut paper will frustrate you and destroy the ribbon.
  • Ribbon. I love a two-inch grosgrain, because it makes beautiful simple bows. If you're going to make a fancy bow, use a wired ribbon. By all means, feel free to use curling ribbon if you like a pile of curly ribbon on the top of your package (and use the paper-cutting scissors for that one).  I'm using a one inch grosgrain ribbon in the picture below because it is easier to see what is going on.
...and you followed the instructions until you had a neatly wrapped package.  Now, you're ready to add ribbon to finish off the look.  I decided to do this tutorial mostly in pictures.  If you're at all a visual person, this will help.  If you're a word person, I'll try to explain what is happening in the pictures.

First, unroll a few feet of ribbon but don't worry about cutting it off the spool.  Make a loop with the end of the ribbon, about as long as you'd expect half of your bow to take.

Then, with your loop held in your left hand, stretch the ribbon horizontally toward the right side of your package, then down and under the package before coming back up the left side to complete one circuit around the box.

At this point, cross the ribbon over the loop-end and fold it down toward you.

Wrap the ribbon down the front of the package, underneath toward the back and back up to the top.

When you bring the ribbon to the top of the package from the back, pull it to the center of the package (where your knot will be), measure off eight or so inches (about as much as looped off at the start) and cut your ribbon off the spool.  Take the now-free end and slide it under the horizontal ribbon on the right side of the knot. 

Tie the two loose ends using an overhand knot and pull tight to be sure the ribbon wrapped around your package is snug.

Before we move onto tying the bow, ou might wonder why I suggest wrapping the ribbon this way.  It is, in all likelihood, different from how you've always done it.  Here's why:

When you wrap the ribbon around the box to the bottom, then twist it and bring it back up to the top to tie your bow, you're left with a knot on the bottom.  The knot will cause your gift to rock when you set it on a flat surface.  When you tie your ribbon this way, it smoothly overlaps on the base of the box.
To make your bow, make a loop with each end of ribbon (it should look like bunny ears), holding a look in each hand.

Tie the two loops using an overhand knot to create your bow.  When you do this, you may pull your loops too far which makes them a little floppy.  It's possible that you might like them that way, but I don't.  To tighten your bow and neaten your loops, pinch the inside of the loop and tug on the tail coming out of that loop.  This should simultaneously tighten the bow and shorten the loop.  Do this to both sides for an even bow.

Finally, finish the ends of your tails.  You can certainly cut across the ribbon on a diagonal, but I generally dovetail the ribbon.  To do this, fold the tail in half length-wise like this:

Then, cut across the folded ribbon at a 45-degree angle.  When you open the ribbon back up, it makes a nice dovetail.  If you fold the ribbon at all at an angle, instead of lining up the edges, your dovetail will be asymmetrical.  If you cut along a curve, your dovetail will be curved.

So there you have it:  a neatly wrapped gift with a professional looking bow on top (okay, this is an unwrapped gift box with a professional looking bow on top, but if you started with last week's tutorial, then you've got both the neatly wrapped package and the bow!).  Happy giftwrapping this holiday season!!

Like last week, I'm linking up with Beth's linky party.  Head over there for more great tutorials!

Monday, November 21, 2011

The MP 2011 Thanksgiving Menu

So J and I did a great job of planning fun outings for Thanksgiving when we first married, but then I went and got seasonal work wrapping gifts at a retail store. Guess what that means for our Thanksgiving weekend?  Yep, it's kind of cut in half by Black Friday which ruins any chance of getting away.  How do we fix that?  Immerse ourselves in the culinary marathon that is Thanksgiving, do a little work on Friday morning, and enjoy a lazy long weekend.  It's different, and it's probably not our first choice, but we count ourselves blessed to have work and an opportunity to break from work, if only for a day.

Yesterday, before I left to train the new gift wrappers at W-S, J and I discussed our Thanksgiving Day menu.  We started with last year's menu, which was pretty amazing, and tweaked to suit our tastes this year.  I thought I'd share it with you guys so you can at least conjure up the delicious tastes we'll be enjoying on Thursday.

First up is the turkey.  Not just any turkey, we'll have turkey brined for 36 hours, then rubbed and stuffed with herbed duck fat.  You've not tasted a more moist, succulent turkey than this one.

We're going without mashed potatoes this year (see below), but there will be gravy made from the duck-fat turkey drippings and some cake flour.  I don't even like gravy, but I certainly had seconds of it last year.

Instead of mashed potatoes, J will make mashed parsnips or celery root (he's not decided yet) and I'm making potatoes romanoff, a baked dish made by first baking potatoes, then chilling them, grating them, mixing them with mass amounts of white cheddar and sour cream, then baking again.  Amazingly good.

There will be also W-S focaccia stuffing and cranberry relish, as well as steamed broccoli for a dash of healthy eating.

For dessert, last year we roasted pumpkins and made our own gingersnap crust for pumpkin pies.  This year, J decided he didn't want pie, so I'll be making pumpkin ice cream instead.  We're going to pick up some gingersnap cookies and whip up some chantilly cream to serve with the ice cream.

I think that's it, though I feel like I should add one very long nap after dinner to the plans!  Between the cooking and the eating, J and I will certainly need one on the schedule!

What are you planning to make for Thanksgiving?  Or are you going out to eat instead?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Thoroughly un-Fit

So this is probably the least 'fit' fitness friday ever.  After our fabulous efforts at walking last week, we haven't walked at all this week.  Most of the week it rained, and that's just not something I'm willing to go walk in.  Unfortunately, after the rain came cold.  Since I wasn't exercising, I did feel the need to make a positive change somewhere else--most days this week, I went to work with a big bottle of homemade sprite--a liter of water, a few squirts of lime juice, a long squirt of lemon juice, a teaspoon of Truvia and a CO2 catridge full of bubbles.  I probably still drank more diet coke than is good for me, but I didn't drink as much as last week, and that's got to be a good thing!

There is no real fiscal fitness news to report this week, either, other than to say that we've completely fallen off the limited eating out wagon.  I suppose it is a positive to report that we're not eating out as much as we were a couple months ago, but I also think that kind of thinking leads to the slide back down the slope into more spending.  I had been doing a good job at using cash for eating out, but it's so easy to just hand over the debit card and then not keep track of how much you've spent.

How do you keep from backsliding, either in your diet or your spending habits?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Thankful Thursday--November 17

This week, I'm so thankful for my boss.  If you read Sunday's post, you know it was a tough day for me, but after taking Monday for me to think through and process, I sat down with my boss on Tuesday afternoon to talk it through.  Luckily, he's totally got the 'pastoral care' part of his job down, and said everything I needed to hear.  I'm thankful for that, and for the sense of peace that comes with knowing where you stand.

I'm thankful, too, for the opportunity to go back to Williams-Sonoma this holiday season.  I know it sounds crazy, but I still just think it's amazing that someone will pay me to wrap packages.  I'm the kind of person who is generally thinking about five diferent things at a time, so having time set aside to strictly work with my hands and not think about what I'm doing is pretty blessed time (and they pay me for it--crazy!!).

Finally, we've been praying on Sunday's for seasonable weather.  Traditionally, the prayer is for good weather, but several weeks ago, Fr. J asked that I change it to seasonable.  While we've had a few days of steady, cool rain in Central Kentucky, I find it to be seasonable, and I have to be thankful for that.  It is so much easier to accept what we generally think of as poor weather when reminded that this rain is seasonable, and it is good for our earth.

What are you thankful for this week?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A few of my favorite people

Typically our Acolytes sit in the front of church with the priest and other servers.  Last Sunday, however, we were training two new Acolytes, and there just wasn't room for the extra bodies.  Fr. J sent all of the youth servers to the chapel off to the side of our sanctuary.  I secretly think the kids liked being out of the spotlight, and they certainly mugged for my camera when I popped over for a picture after taking communion!  Aren't these guys awesome??

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Brown paper packages...

This week's Tuesday Talent is so flaky it really might have qualified for a Finicky Friday post, but I just had to share it, and if you read through to the end, you'll pick up a How To's-day tutorial, too!

Yesterday, I had my first full shift back at the giftwrap desk at Williams-Sonoma. In five hours, I wrapped more than two dozen packages (most of them pre-wraps in anticipation of sales later this week and next). I had a bit of a slow start (it actually takes a few packages to get back into the groove), but I averaged under ten minutes to wrap a gift from start to finish and was thrilled when, at the end of my shift, I noticed one package was wrapped in five minutes (no, we're no timed; I was just keeping an eye on the clock at that point in the day).

So anyhow, here are my professional tips on how to wrap a present.  Note, this is part one--wrapping the gift.  Part two--adding a ribbon bow--will be posted next week to avoid an insanely long post today!

Before you start wrapping, collect the following:

  • A box, if your gift is not already in one. Boxes are infinitely easier to wrap than oddly shaped items (though personally, I love the challenge!).
  • Wrapping paper. You want a nice, medium weight wrapping paper. The super-thick (read: expensive) stuff is sometimes tough to get sharp edges and smooth folds with. The thin (read: cheap) stuff will rip when you try to pull the paper tight.
  • Tape. I keep both double-sided and traditional scotch tape on hand.
  • Scissors. I keep two pair on hand--one to cut paper and one to cut ribbon. Trying to cut fabric ribbon with scissors used mostly to cut paper will frustrate you and destroy the ribbon.
  • Ribbon. I love a two-inch grosgrain, because it makes beautiful simple bows. If you're going to make a fancy bow, use a wired ribbon. By all means, feel free to use curling ribbon if you like a pile of curly ribbon on the top of your package (and use the paper-cutting scissors for that one).
Now, on to the wrapping part of this tutorial:

Unroll enough paper to wrap all the way around your box, plus a couple inches. You might measure the circumfrence of your box and roll out that much paper, then cut it off to be sure you've got the right amount. Also, measure the width plus the height of the box (shown as the red line in the graphic below), and add a couple of inches to get the width of your paper. Cut (using the paper-cutting scissors!) so that your paper is the right size.
Set your package in the center of the paper, top side of the package facing down and top of the package facing away from you. (The paper that comes with a grid on the back makes this easy, but you don't need a grid. Just eyeball it!)

Pull the edge of the paper closest to you up and onto the back of the package. Secure with tape (I use the regular tape for this step. Then, reach across to the opposite edge and pull that paper up to meet the taped edge. It should overlap by a couple inches. Before you secure it, fold the edge over so it makes a neat edge (no one wants to see the rough cut edge). Secure the neatly folded edge to the package (I use the double-sided tape for this step. Just like no one wants to see a rough cut edge, I don't think they want to see tape).  When you pull the flap over to secure the edge, pull tightly so that the corners are crisp.  Otherwise, you'll have too much extra paper in the next step and your corners will be sloppy.

You should now have a rectangular tube of wrapping paper with a package secured in the middle. There are two ways to address closing up the ends. If your package is flat (like a shirt box or a jewerly box), I prefer method one. If your package is blockier (like almost anything else), I prefer method two.  (Note, in my explanation below, I refer to 'top' and 'bottom' flaps.  I've not moved my package, so the front of my package is on the table, and the 'bottom' flap will be folded up from the front of the package toward the back; the back of the package is facing up and the 'bottom' flap will be folded down toward the front of the package.  Clear as mud?)  
  • Method One: Fold in the front and back sides of each end and secure with tape (regular tape).  This will leave you with a triangle (or maybe a trapezoid) on the top and on the bottom.  Line the edges of the triangle with double-sided tape and fold down to the end of the package.  Then, fold the bottom flap up (without tape).  Notice how far up the package the tip of the triangle goes.  Decide how you want the end to look (flap to the end, flap folded over at the middle of the package).  Unfold it, add double-sided tape, refold and secure.  Repeat for the second end of package.

  • Method Two:  Fold the top side down and secure with regular tape.  Crease the front and back sides, which now look like right triangles.  Line the long edges of both triangles with double-sided tape.  Fold the back side (closest to you) flat against the package and secure.  Fold the front side flat against the package and secure that, as well.  Finally, decide how you want the end to look (flap to the end, flap folded over at the middle of the package). Unfold it, add double-sided tape, refold and secure.  Repeat for the second end.
As I mentioned in the first step, pull the paper tight so that your corners are crisp.  At this point, I pinch my thumb and forefinger together and run it along all of the edges to be sure my edges are well-defined.  It just looks nicer this way, doesn't it?

You should now have a beautifully wrapped package.  Next week, I'll cover accessorizing with ribbon and tying a bow.  I'm doing a gift wrapping training at our store for seasonal employees later this week, so maybe I can sneak pictures of  'good' and 'not so good' examples to share, too!

Finally, I'm planning to link up to Beth's linky party, so if you get here before I've linked to her blog, check back later in the day to see the other cool tutorials!

Home Stories A2Z

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Talents, revisited

Back in January, I wrote a Sunday post based on the Parable of the Talents.  In that case, the parable served as the basis for my Sunday School lesson that day.  I was in a pretty different place last January.  I'd just finished the holiday gift wrapping season at Williams-Sonoma and was still feeling my way through life 'post- Girl Scouts'.  I had started to think about applying for permanent jobs, but still didn't know how much I wanted to work or even which talents I wanted to share with others.

As it happens, ten and a half months later, I find myself working for the church that got me thinking about how to use my talents in the first place.  Today, the same parable was the gospel lesson.  Today was also the day of our parish meeting and the chili-brownie cook-off that I mentioned yesterday (J's turkey chili did not win--that honor went to the vegetarian chili--but I think he may have been in the running for second place).  Needless to say, there was a lot going on. In the midst of the busy day, someone commented to me that (I'm paraphrasing here) I have a lot going on in my personal life and am not doing enough for our children at St. R.

Now, maybe I would have heard this comment differently on a different day, but today's lesson about sharing our talents led me to hear it this way:  I heard someone tell me that my job should be more important than my personal interests.  I don't know if I agree with this.  Yes, I think my job, and doing my job, is important.  In fact, I think that I have this job as a result of the soul searching I did earlier this year and my desire to find something that both paid some bills and met my desire to make a difference in the life of a child.  It's tough, because this job is supposed to only be 20 hours a week (and anyone who's worked a salaried job knows you end up working more than the hours you're paid for), and there's a lot of work to be accomplished in those hours.  I feel like I have brought about some positive changes and introduced some new activities for our youth that weren't present before.

I have two big questions I'm working through now, and I would appreciate your comments to help me work through this.  First, Is it right (of anyone, including myself), to expect me to bury some of my talents because they don't directly relate to my job, even if I'm cultivating those 'other' talents outside of my work schedule?  Second, If you're being paid for a set amount of time, and you're already exceeding that amount of time, should you be expected (again, by anyone, including myself) to give more/do more to meet someone else's expectations?

I kind of feel like the answer to both questions is 'no'.  I think that it is through cultivating all of my talents that I become a mostly-well-adjusted person. Furthermore, I think my job performance is directly related to how I'm feeling about my place in the world, and when I'm well-balanced and well-adjusted in the rest of my life, I'm in a better place at work, too.  I don't think the things I do outside of work (including things I do at church that aren't necessarily work-related) take away from who I am or what I accomplish at work.  If anything, I think they add to who I am and what I do.  Second, I'm working to find balance in my life--something else that results in a generally happier and more well-adjusted JE.  Finding balance means, to me, stopping work when I've crossed off the most immediate and pressing items off my daily to-do list.  It's unfortunate that I work in a place where the most immediate and pressing items that land on my desk aren't generally child-related.  The child (and youth) related work gets done on those rare and blessed days when the list gets crossed off before I hit the four hour mark (my minimum time to be in the office on a daily basis) or more frequently, outside the 20 hours a week I'm paid to be in the office.  It happens before or after or much after, when I really should have left hours before. 

Am I right?  Or am I missing something in my thought process?  Is there another question (or an answer to an unasked question) that I'm missing altogether? 

If I am right, how does one say this?  I feel like anyone who would suggest I'm not doing my job isn't going to respond well to an argument that counters this line of thinking.  I feel like the comment is a passive-aggressive attempt to send me on some sort of guilt trip, and I'm not inclined to accomodate that.  I am inclined to address it.  I just don't know how to do that...

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Saturday smells like...turkey and chicken

This Sunday marks the return of the Chili-Brownie Cook-off to St. R.  Now, I don't know how long the break has been (at least three years), but the folks at our church who remember the Chili-Brownie Cook-off seem pretty excited that the tradition has been revived.  J, of course, is never one to miss an opportunity to cook, so he's been working on his entry all day. 

For starters, he decided to make a turkey chili, so he went to Kroger this morning to get everything he needed.  (Did I mention how well my grocery shopping went this week?  Yeah, that clearly wasn't enough...)  By the time I got back from my DAR meeting, he had a stock pot full of turkey and vegetables cooking down, as well as lentils and other vegetables in the crockpot.  When I looked in the fridge, I found a whole chicken rubbed with herbs.  Later, when the turkey stock had finished cooking down, he used some of it to brine the chicken.  I imagine this is going to be one tasty bird when he roasts it tomorrow (yes, he brought it into the bedroom to show me his handiwork...I thought it only fair that I share with you!)!

I'll let you know tomorrow how the turkey chili does in the cook-off!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Fitness-Check Friday

Most weeks I gloss over the physical part of my fitness check-in and head straight for the fiscal part.  This week, I'm thrilled to have news to share on both fronts!  (Yeah...some days this blog is lamer than is probably one of those days.)

On the physical fitness front, J and I walked eleven and a half miles this week.  The odds of us hitting 150 miles for the year (not to mention running a half marathon) are pretty slim, but I think we might get close.  (Here's how:  we're spotting ourselves fifty, because even though we didn't record it, we did go through phases of walking/running in 2011 and we probably got in around fifty total).  In addition to just feeling generally good about exercising, we're also feeling better in general.  Gotta love positive unintended consequences of good choices.

With regard to our fiscal fitness, we've been making progress there, too!  While we did better the first half of October than the second, we still finished the month with a much more balanced food budget.  As a result of working on the food budget, as well as being generally more aware of our spending, we were able to cut our credit card bill in half (it wasn't huge to start with, but it was higher than we were comfortable with and half is a good number).  I did our weekly shopping yesterday at Aldi and continue to be amazed by how far our dollar stretches there.  (Granted, it stretches much further when I'm the one shopping...)  I'll keep you posted!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Thankful Thursday--November 10

I try to be thankful throughout the week, and more often than not, I forget what I was thankful for long before I get around to writing my Thursday blogpost.  This week, though, I've managed to remember most of what I've been thankful for (yay!).

First, I'm thankful that J and I live in a community that places value on building sidewalks and walking trails.  Yes, Lexington may have recently been named the most sedentary city in America, but the local government has put so much effort into developing a system of walking trails in recent years.  On Saturday, J and I stepped out of our back gate for a quick walk on our local trail.  About 3/4 of a mile into the walk (typically 2.5 miles around the trail and back to our gate), J mentioned that he was kind of hungry.  I suggested we call in an order to a local barbeque place.  He (or I...we're not sure) suggested we walk there to pick it up. We cut across the grounds of the Christian school next to our park and walked on a nice, wide sidewalk to another walking trail about a mile from ours.  At the edge of that trail, J crossed the street to the restaurant while I waited and walked a little more with Zep.  Then, we found our way home a different way, but always on nice sidewalks.  Total walk:  4 miles, maybe a quarter of a mile of it 'off-road'.  For a city that hasn't always been friendly to walkers, we were pretty impressed.  Tuesday, we followed our trek up by walking to our local polling place to vote before work.  Total walk that day: 2.5 miles, all on a walking trail.

Secondly, I'm thankful for my brother, my dad, my grandfathers, and everyone in our country who've given up their own lives to give the rest of us the freedom to pursue our own version of happiness.  Happy Veterans Day tomorrow!

Finally, I had the longest day yesterday.  In fact, I divided it into sections in my mind and gave J updates as each section was accomplished.  I started the day at a 7:00 a.m. meeting and didn't finish until I'd finished a 4:00 - 7:00 p.m. decorating shift for the Holly Day Market.  In between, I got to share Stella & Dot with some folks, I got to spend a couple hours at work, I got to speak to a DAR chapter about our DAR Schools, and I got to be crafty and creative.  At some point, I think around 10:30 or so, I was tired and ready to call in the rest of the day and just take a nap.  But then I realized--I get to do all of these things today.  Every single bit of my crazy busy day is something I've chosen to do.  And I have crafted such a life for myself (and J has supported me in crafting such a life) that I didn't have to worry about taking a day off or asking anyone permission to make it all happy.  It's in moments like that one that I realize how very blessed I am, and I remember to be thankful for those many blessings.

What are you thankful for this week?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

What's your favorite color, baby?

UK fans will recognize this post's title as the start to a UK cheer and promptly respond "Blue and White!"  Though I have to say, last Wednesday, there was a heavy dose of crimson-loving in Rupp Arena, even among those of us decked out in UK blue.  Here's a shot of J and me at the UK-Transy game:

Monday, November 7, 2011

Craft Room Update

So last week I told you about the changes I'm making to my craft room to accomodate my new daybed, and yesterday I mentioned a little more.  Now, I'm ready to show you a close-up of where my daybed has been placed.  There is definitely still work to be done on the room, but I'm pleased with the progress so far!

First, I definitely decided to put the daybed under the window at the end of the room, instead of along the wall just inside the door.  I also decided to slide the bookshelf down into the spot I'd initially picked out for the daybed.  I'm not sure what should go into the place where it was, but I'm sure something will find its way there.  Here is the view from my desk (please ignore the mess on the desk--I'm not ready to deal with that, yet):

It's almost funny to me that I'd never considered this layout, since I love how symmetrical and orderly it is now.  You can't tell, but there is a space between the desk and the bed so you can walk through.  One of the things I love about my desk is how you could walk around it (this is more useful when I'm using it as a craft table...not so much when I use it as a catchall), so I'm glad that the daybed actually makes use of that space, too.

I plan, someday, to recover the daybed, but since it is an upholstered mattress rather than just a covered cushion, I think it will be some time before I am crazy enough to take on that project (or smart enough to hire it out).  In the meantime, the soft gold fabric works for me.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Plan B

So last weekend my mom and I worked on my craft room.  We straightened and organized and mostly cleared out the spot I had in mind for my new daybed.  In fact, all that was really left to clear out was a full trash bag (that I filled when I cleaned out my old car 2008) and a box in the corner (and a few things stacked on top of the box).  Not much at all, and I figured I could get through it all pretty quickly.

In general, I was right.  I have a general system when it comes to organizing, which is to say take my first pile (or bag, or box) and make several piles out of it.  A pile to keep (which may be seperated into several different piles), a pile to donate and a pile to throw away (I learned this system from an old TLC show).  Now, this is only a partly successsful system for me, because I generally don't do anything with the "keep" pile; I just push it together into its own new pile and go about my business feeling good about having a smaller pile (because I can guarantee that 2008 JE kept a bunch of stuff in her car that was ready for the trash can or Goodwill).  So clearing out the trashbag and other small bags/boxes went pretty well. I had a great donate pile, a full bag of trash, and a medium sized pile of things to save (most of which wouldn't pass J's "save" test, but pass mine in the name of baby steps).

Feeling pretty good about myself, I moved on to the box.  Now, the box was labeled "Kitchen/Pictures" so I suspected that it might have been packed when I moved out of my apartment in 2007, but that more likely it had been emptied and re-packed a few years ago when my mom and I tackled the craft room during one of her visits.  I was wrong.  It was packed up four years ago, deposited by the movers in this corner, and left.  I found four binders full of grad school notes, several framed items, my old toaster oven and the crock pot that I was sure must have been donated to Goodwill on accident back in '07. 

Now, the toaster went straight to the Goodwill pile.  I'm not so certain about the crock pot (Side note:  this was a pretty nice crock pot and as a result, I didn't register for one when we got married.  When I couldn't find it, I decided to suck it up and deal with using J's old crock pot, until we finally bought one for ourselves a couple years ago.  Now, because I adhere to the 'you can never have too many crock pots' mentality, I hung on to J's 'just in case'.  I finally convinced myself to let go of it last week.  So I'm pretty sure this is the universe's way of telling me that I was right, and that only by letting go of the old crock pot could I be brought back together with my first crock pot.  So I can't just take this one off to Goodwill.  Can I?). 

The framed items are another story:  several pictures of me with my sisters, a couple of cross-stitch ADPi pieces my mom made, an old mirror--all things that should probably find a home on the walls in my craft room.  Oh, and a framed picture of me with an old boyfriend.  Not quite sure what to do with that.  WHAT?, you're thinking.  Why would you hang on to that?  Well, here's the thing.  This is a picture from 2003 (I think), and he's wearing a tee-shirt that says "Plan B".  Now, I'm a girl who looks for purpose and signs and reasons to make things work (see previous paragraph on why I shouldn't throw out a crock pot I lived without for four years).  I know I looked at that picture a thousand times, and I know that it was looked at by an awful lot of people since it sat on my desk at work for at least a year.  I don't recall ever noticing or explaining his tee-shirt.  (For the record, he belonged to a game group called Plan B, and they had tee-shirts made up.  But no one knew that.) To the outsider (or me, when I glanced at it today), it kind of looks like he was proclaiming to be my Plan B.  Like those "I'm with stupid" tee-shirts that suggest everyone is in on the joke, we were walking around with a giant neon sign declaring that we weren't anything lasting.  How on earth did I miss that sign?  I'm not sure, but I suspect it is that I wasn't looking for it.  Just like I wasn't yet looking for my Plan A, the guy snoozing on my couch downstairs pretending to watch football. I'm kind of tempted to keep the picture out as a reminder to me.   Or maybe to tuck it in another box to pull out in another four or five years.

Oh, and I've decided not to put the daybed where I thought, so the bookshelf is now in the spot I just cleaned.  And I've moved on to Plan B in the craft room.  With luck, you'll see a picture of that tomorrow.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Thankful Thursday--November 3

This week, I'm especially thankful for the DAR lady who made it possible for me to buy my dream daybed, for my mom who helped me rearrange my craft room so it will fit, and the good friend who is taking me to pick it up tomorrow (thank goodness for husbands with pickup trucks!)

I'm thankful, too, for the partner at J's office who gave us his tickets to the UK-Transy game last night.  I think we've gotten tickets to an exhibition gave from him every year for the last four or five years, and last night's was particularly special since J is both a Transylvania grad and a UK grad.  Transy actually came out in front and hung in the game for most of the first half, and it was really fun to cheer for both sides!

Finally, I'm thankful for my jobs, all three of them.  Each has had a pretty cool shining moment this week, and as a result, I've been reminded to appreciate each in its own way.  Kind of a cool thing.

What are you thankful for this week?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

One last look... Halloween at the MP.  After my last trick-or-treater Monday night, I slipped out front with the camera to capture the porch our 40 or so munchkins came to.  I seriously love Julius, my halloween flag, my scary tree (on my fabulous storm door), my pumpkin and even my scraggly mums.  I love the look they pull together.  It feels decidedly the way I feel when I picture "grown-up JE" in my head.  I hope you all had a Happy Halloween and are ready to embrace the season of Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Checkerboard shelves

So this is probably stretching it, and I'll be irritated tomorrow when I don't have a picture for Wordless Wednesday, but I just wanted to share this picture of the shelves in the craft room.

I started buying these photo boxes several years ago (if you clicked through yesterday's post to the picture of my craft room back in 2008, you saw the beginnings of this collection).  When my mom and I moved the bookcase upstairs (it used to be in the library in our basement, but was removed when we got our barrister shelves), I discovered that three boxes would stack on each shelf.  Mom took over the placement strategy, and we ended up with this awesome checkerboard.  You might notice that a few are still unopened.  I bought ten a month or so ago, and haven't needed to use them.  Then, after putting everything on the shelf the other night, mom noticed that I was 5 white boxes short of a perfect pattern.  I picked those up yesterday, thanks to a sale at Michael's. 

Most of the boxes are labeled, and it is (so far, at least) a pretty well-organized crafting system.  I commented to my mom how strange it is that someone who can be so cluttered can also be so very OCD about having her craft supplies so very organized.  I totally love it.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Craft Room redo

My craft room is always in some state of mess.  Remember way back in 2008 when I blogged about trying to clean the room up a bit?  That was about a year after I condensed much of my pre-wedding apartment into this 120 (or so) square feet.  About a year later, I turned a partly broken laptop into a desktop on my desk, moved a small printer cart in next to the file cabinet and added a four drawer chest to that wall as well (to hold gift bags and tissue paper).  My mom came up and helped me sort through all of those copy paper boxes, and those boxes left over were moved into the closet. Over the last couple of years, I've continued to periodically clean and organize the room, but it is much more frequently a catch-all for anything craft/hobby/work-related.  I think (hope) that is about to change.

Also a couple years ago (in October 2008), I first spied a daybed at Duncan Tavern, the Kentucky DAR headquarters.  You can see part of it in this post about Miss Molly (on the far right of the picture).  Earlier that year, when I'd been working on my craft room (see post referenced above), I decided that I needed a daybed in the room.  The ideal space I identified, though, was too narrow for a traditional twin sized daybed.  On the day we delivered Miss Molly to her new home, I thought to myself that this particular daybed might work--if only it wasn't locked away in a museum!

Fast forward to last month.  An email went out about an auction at Duncan Tavern.  Several items that did not fit the period represented had been deaccessioned and would be auctioned.  "My" daybed was on the list.  Squee!  On Friday, mom and I attended the auction.  I'd ignored the cardinal rule of auctions (discuss how much you can spend with spouse), and I was worried.  I've been discussing our tight budget, and despite my immense love for the daybed, I wasn't willing to spend too much on the dream.  I set my limit in my mind and prepped myself for disappointment.  Which happened about an hour later when the daybed sold for $50 over my limit (and $25 over my highest bid...yeah, you did that math right!).  Then, in desperation, I decided that maybe I could spend more.  I quickly texted J and asked for approval on the higher number.  Then, I went in search of the winner.  I guess I got lucky, as she was having a moment of buyers remorse (she ignored the cardinal rule of auctions, too) and feeling sympathetic toward me.  In fact, we were able to swap out the paperwork, tear up her check, and submit a new one from me for just $5 more than her winning bid.  Success!!

The only problems?  One, getting it home (I've still not settled that question yet), and Two, where to put it.  Now, I knew where I wanted to put the daybed, but I also knew that the space in mind was full of craft-room junk.  Mom and I spent a couple hours Sunday afternoon working on the craft room.  We made considerably progress, and I expect we'll wrap it up today.  Once the daybed arrives, I'll take pictures so you can see it!