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?