Tuesday, September 18, 2012

My ridiculously good (and large) chili recipe

When I was living in Conway, Ark., I was asked to judge a chili contest for city/county employees. I did a lot of fun things when I was living in Conway, including attending sniper school, but I'm not sure any of them was as fun as judging a chili contest. If you ever get the chance, I recommend it.

The whole time I was eating all this chili, though, I just kept thinking it wasn't as good as mine. I've experimented with my chili a few times over the year, but I always go back to my tried and true (and truly amazing) recipe. I wrote about this recipe when I was working at the Fulton Sun and writing Stephanie's Kitchen. It was one of two recipes people asked me about when I was out covering stories in the community.

Without further ado:

Ingredients are pretty simple

Ground beef (I like full-fat versions and actually think ground brisket would be amazing in this chili if you're willing to spend that kind of money on a brisket just to grind it)
one large onion
one large and one medium can of tomato sauce
one can of diced chili-ready tomatoes
one can of chili beans
one can of kidney beans (light or dark and drained!)
one can of tomato paste
your favorite chili seasoning (sometimes I use my own mixture, sometimes I buy the pre-mixed kind)
a hot sauce (not Tabasco sauce. a hot pepper sauce.)
about a cup of brown sugar. (use this to taste)

Brown the ground beef and the onion until cooked through. Mix the rest of the ingredients in a large stock pot (because I only know how to cook for an army) and add two or three drops of the hot sauce and most of the brown sugar. Let it cook together and then taste. It should be sweet with a hint of heat toward the end of the bite. Add more hot sauce or more brown sugar to taste.

When you eat it, top it with your favorite extras (or use it for chili dogs!). We usually go with a little chopped green or white onion, cheddar cheese and some sour cream. 

This is a lot of chili. Enough for a lot of meals, so I recommend freezing part of the batch. Then it's an easy thaw and reheat when it's a cold day and you don't want to cook!

Sorry, no photos of chili. I don't find it a very photographic dish.

What's your favorite chili recipe? Share and I'll make it (and probably write about it!)

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

I don't care how hot it is, I wanted comfort food

There are dishes I put away at the end of each winter, but inevitably desire halfway through summer, no matter how hot the temperature.

I made one of those dishes this week. Chicken and dumplings are the ultimate comfort food, and they can be a quick and dirty dish for a busy working family. I am a person who is never afraid of taking a shortcut when I have the opportunity. Chicken and dumplings are RIPE for shortcuts.

For this dish, I melt butter in a stock pot with sliced carrots (SHORTCUT ALERT: BUY PRE-SLICED), chopped onions, celery and garlic. Cook the vegetables covered until the onions are translucent and the carrots and celery have very little bite left. Add four to five tablespoons of flour to the vegetables.

Add shredded chicken (SHORTCUT ALERT: BUY A ROTISSERIE CHICKEN AND SHRED BOTH DARK AND WHITE MEAT) and canned chicken stock. I usually add a large box or can of chicken stock.  Bring to a boil. The stock will thicken from the flour on the vegetables. After you add the stock and meat, mix in minced garlic, rosemary, sage, black pepper, a touch of salt, chopped parsley and thyme.

While the chicken and stock is heating up, it's time to make the dumplings. THIS IS A HUGE SHORTCUT ALERT: Instead of making dumplings, buy Grand's buttermilk biscuits (homestyle, not flaky) and quarter them. If you like a smaller dumpling, cut them into sixths or slice them. Either way, this is a huge shortcut and it tastes the same.

If you want your broth thicker (more like a gravy), mix your biscuit dumplings into flour. It will allow the broth to thicken even more.

The result: The ultimate comfort food. The depth of flavor that comes from the garlic and other herbs mixed with incredibly flavorful rotisserie chicken and vegetables is just warming. It really feels like a cold winter day (especially if you keep your home at 68 like we usually do!)

Enjoy this delicious dish, and don't forget to pin it if you love it!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Crafting a great photo

It's been awhile since I had my last family photo session, but today, I remembered how much I LOVE taking great family photos.

I'm spending much of my day packing for my first week in KC, but I had to get a quick start on editing photos of the Kowalski family. I've known Keith for about three years and taking their family photos was so much fun. I don't have much to say about crafting a great photo because I'm really of the belief that those being photographed really make the photo. All I do is push a button to capture the image.

So I'll leave you with a sneak peak of the Kowalski family photos.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Forget diamonds. Weddings are this girl's best friend.

Today, we got an invitation to a wedding for Rob's cousin TJ and his fiance Stacy. We love TJ and Stacy, even if I spent a couple of years of my life getting 3 a.m. drunk phone calls from TJ, so I was super excited to get their invitation.

I love weddings. I love the idea of starting a new life with someone and the circle of starting the day single and ending with your life partner. I'm a pretty optimistic person about the future, so weddings are a great day for me whether I am doing the wedding photography or am a part of the wedding, or just there to see two of my friends or family members share their life with one another.

The days are great. I'm probably one of the few photographers on Earth who truly enjoys shooting a wedding. I don't find brides overwhelming. I go in with my research done on specific shots needed and I am relaxed because I know what I'm doing.

To be fair, I have had some easy brides. Britt and Kevin held their wedding in the country in a barn setting.

The shots were fun and easy to get.


And who can resist a bride wearing pink cowgirl boots for her wedding!

Getting TJ and Stacy's invitation was especially exciting because it was a great wedding invitation. 

First, the options for RSVP were phenomenal. If you can't see them behind the ribbon, they are as follows:
Enthusiastically Accept
Regretfully Decline
Regretfully Accept
Enthusiastically Decline
You Aren't Married Yet?!?

TJ and Stacy have been engaged for a long time. They may have even been engaged at my wedding five years ago, but I can't remember specifically when they formally got engaged. 

I really enjoy a well-designed wedding invitation. I think I must have been a wedding planner in a past life. My love for wedding photography, being a part of a wedding and designing wedding invitations is too strong to not have ties to that business. 

When I got married, I spent a few weeks teaching myself Adobe Photoshop and InDesign to design my own wedding invitations. This was the design we ended with:


When printed, the flower and LOVE were printed on the wedding paper and the invitation wording was on an overlay. I had so much fun designing these invitations and went through several redesigns before we settled on this one.

Then, when Alex turned one, we initially planned a great party at a local park and I designed that invitation as well. We eventually moved the party and made it fairly small, but this is the invitation I designed for that:


Designing invitations is something I enjoy and it's fairly easy for me. Anyone interested in an invitation design can email me at stefaniebrookephotography@gmail.com

You can go to Stefanie Brooke Photography on Facebook for more photos of Britt and Kevin's wedding. It really was a beautiful setting and a great day. They're a great couple.

And don't forget to follow me on Pinterest! You can click here, or the follow me button on the right side of the screen. I love finding great wedding ideas on many of your Pinterest pages. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A great product!

A few days ago, I detailed my experiences with a product that really didn't work as advertised. Today, I have a very different tale to tell.

A few weeks ago, I sent my husband into Walgreens to get dish soap. We were running low, and I really hate running out of it, so he had to buy some before ours was gone.

He came out with some weird brand of soap. I gave him a hard time and wasn't mad because he didn't know better, but there are two items in my house I won't skimp on -- dish soap and laundry detergent.

I am an avid user of Tide for my laundry detergent and Dawn for my dish soap. Now, I'm not dedicated to any particular products of each brand, but those are my brands. I know they cost more, so I try to find sales when I'm running low, or clip coupons.

So when he came out of the store with the off-brand dish soap, I cringed. I vowed to use it, but I wasn't happy about it.

Today, I finally ran out of that off-brand soap! I picked up the best product for dish soap I have ever used -- Dawn Power Clean.

This stuff advertises itself as overnight soaking power in five minutes. It's so true. I made dinner in my 9x13 glass pan (the hardest thing in my kitchen to clean). The meal I made is particularly difficult to clean because it uses butter and brown sugar as the cooking liquid for pork chops (a great recipe!) and it becomes almost a caramel which sticks heavily to the pan. My husband has refused to clean this particular pan if I don't put foil down before I cook my brown sugar and butter pork chops.

So tonight, after I ate, when I was washing the dishes, I tested out the power of the overnight soaking in five minutes. For five minutes, I soaked that pan and when I went to wash it out, it wiped clean immediately.

I am in love with a product.

I think I mentioned a few times in my last post about my love-hate relationship with cleaning -- as in, I love to hate cleaning. This product makes me want to clean more. It makes me want to take every dish I washed over the last few weeks with the off-brand soap and wash them again. I won't, because they're perfectly clean, but that doesn't mean I don't want to keep using Dawn Power Clean over and over again.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Pinterest Inspired: Stephanie tested : the best brownies you will ever eat

I did my Pinterest Inspired recipe a day early this week because we were going to my parents for dinner.

I decided to make a brownie with a hidden Reese's peanut butter cup inside and layered on bottom with chocolate chip cookie dough.

This is the base for this brownie. It's pretty easy and cheap to make. You can make your own cookie dough, but I used store bought, pre-measured dough. It made it easy to take one square of dough and push it down. Top it with peanut butter cups (or Oreos, or Rolos or even mini Snickers bars). Then top it with brownie mix. This is basically three desserts in one. 

Cook the mixture per the instructions on the brownie mix. Once I'd added the eggs and oil to the mix and poured it in this 9x13 on top of the cookie dough and Reese's, it took about 35 minutes to cook. Just keep an eye on things. I checked it after 20 minutes, 30 minutes and decided to take it out at 35. 

This is the best brownie you will ever taste. Clearly by the picture above, I can't cut brownies. It really didn't matter that I couldn't cut the brownies into perfectly clean squares. They tasted wonderful. It really was three desserts in one.

I won't try to convince any of you that this is healthy by any means. I don't think it is even possible to make this particular recipe healthy, except if you only eat one tiny square. I cut my brownies into 24 small brownies.

Some tips: You can make these using brownie pans which separate the brownies while baking. I don't have one, but that would make them much prettier. You could also use a muffin tin to make these. If you do, keep a close eye on them while cooking. They should bake much faster.

Again, this is the best brownie you will ever eat, but it is fattening and rich, so I recommend eating in moderation. Until next week: keep pinning those great recipes. I'm always looking for new pins to test.

Product Review: Kaboom with Oxi-Clean

I'm not really the most prolific cleaner in my family. My mom can tell you that on Saturday's, Melissa and I would have dusting and vacuuming duties and I hated it. I just am not a person who enjoys spending my entire day cleaning. I love the outcome at the end, but I hate the process to get there.

So for the last few weeks, while watching Sprout, or Disney, or whatever children's channel is on my television (because that's all we are allowed to watch), I've been seeing commercials for Kaboom oxi-cleaner with this color technology. Sprays on blue, turns white when it's clean! No scrubbing needed! Or so the ad says.

I decided to test out this amazing product to see if it would make cleaning my shower and bathroom counters easier. The ad lies.

Sure, Kaboom sprays on blue and turns white "when clean." It turns white almost instantly and it does not cut through shower scum like it says. I still had to scrub to get water spots off my shower. It doesn't soak into a sponge very well, so when I tried to wipe it off once it was white, I ended up with a soapy mess on my counter. I ended up using a towel to wipe up the soapy mess.

And the product claims to make cleaning your toilet easier, but one would have to drain all the water out of the toilet bowl to test it, since it sprays on like scrubbing bubbles.

All in all, it's better than store brand products I've used in the past, but isn't any better than most brand name bathroom cleaners. Don't buy into the hype. You still have to scrub to get the shower actually clean.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Loaded chicken recipe

I made one of our favorite meals tonight, and it's a recipe I think everyone deserves to know, taste and enjoy!

If you've ever been to Colton's Steakhouse, one of their best dishes is loaded chicken. This is a remake of that recipe. 

Chicken breasts
Bacon: One slice of bacon per chicken breast
green onions
honey mustard (I make my own, but the store bought stuff works, too)
Your favorite shredded cheese mix

Fry the bacon in a skillet large enough to hold your chicken breasts. If you have to do the chicken in batches, you may need to add a bit of oil in between batches.

While you're frying the bacon, season the chicken with your favorite seasonings. I use Famous Dave's Rib Rub.

Once the bacon is cooked, cook the chicken in the bacon grease until the internal temperature is 165 degrees.

Preheat your broiler.

Chop the green onions and top the chicken with green onions and cheese and put under the broiler until the cheese is melted. Then top with some honey mustard. Since I make my own, I use about two tablespoons. 

This works with almost any side dish. Today, we paired it with zucchini sauteed with some garlic and topped with Italian cheese. 

It's a great meal with minimal cost and big flavors!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Toy storage in the living room

I've been looking for a way to organize my son's toys in the living room for some time. I tried crates and boxes and it just all looked cluttered. Now, I've found the perfect tools to organize his toys, and I'm so excited about it!

We had an old corner tv stand we were using, but our television was just a bit too big for it and we weren't using the corner for the television anymore, so we got a new entertainment center option and decided to use the corner unit for toy organization. We purchased the baskets from Lowe's in the colors we intend to paint the corner entertainment center. It's currently black, but I plan to trim it in a turquoise. 

This is perfect for Alex because his toys are accessible, but easily cleaned up and it gives a table option for him to color or read when he wants. 

 For now, on top of the unit, I have a zoo toy he received for Christmas. He loves this toy and often plays with it right on top of the table.

Unfortunately, this unit only held about half Alex's toys, so I set out to find something stylish for my living room that could also serve as storage for more toys. I found this great piece at Hobby Lobby. The old chest has photos of Europe all over it and will fit will in any room in my home for toys, personal storage, or just as a decoration piece. 

Do you have a rehabbed piece of furniture in your home? How do you keep from having a cluttered living room with a young child?

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Pinterest Inspired; Stephanie Tested: Banana Bread and slow cooker pork

Today was a great day of testing things found on Pinterest! I have read about greek yogurt bread a couple of times recently, so today, I went to Pinterest to find a great recipe. The recipe I found was amazing. It called for greek yogurt, (I used vanilla, which was perfect because I ran out of vanilla last weekend and forgot to buy more) eggs, flour, sugar, mashed bananas, butter, baking soda and a touch of salt. The recipe called for walnuts, but I don't eat nuts, so I omitted them. I also added cinnamon. The bread turned out great! It was perfectly moist inside while maintaining a crisp crust. The banana flavor was present, but not overwhelming. 

This bread is a great option for someone looking for a no-mixer banana bread. Alex was even able to help me for this one by peeling the bananas. Click the photo to find a link to the original pin. 

Also today, I made a pork roast recipe found on Pinterest a few days ago. This was a honey-parmesan slow cooker pork. I love slow cooker meals because I don't have to do much to have a delicious dinner. The sauce for this pork roast recipe called for soy sauce, honey, garlic, salt, pepper and grated parmesan (very important! I used shredded and it was OK, but it was hard to mix with the shredded and honey sticking together).

Just pour the sauce over the pork and cook on low for 6 to 7 hours. The sauce will mix with the juice from the pork and when the pork is done, the recipe calls for turning the juices into a gravy with cornstarch and water as a thickener. Here's the problem: crock pots have a very distinctive flavor. It's almost metallic and I don't like it. So I didn't love this gravy. I could be crazy. It's a real possibility.

The pork, though, was great. It fell apart when I pulled it out of the crock pot. That's another reason I love slow cooker meals. The meat is SO tender. The flavor on the meat from the honey and parm was great, too. I paired it with diced potatoes and onions, covered and cooked for ten minutes in the microwave and topped with light sour cream. Rob will top it with cheese. It's a go-to side dish in our house because it's easy and flavorful. I also cut up a cantaloupe for some sweetness with dinner.

All in all, it was a great day of testing Pinterest items. Click each picture to go to the original pin and as always, find my pinterest inspired; Stephanie tested pin board here.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Black bean burritos

A couple of weeks ago, I spent the evening with my sister and her husband. My sister is one of my dearest friends. She's incredibly motivational and being around her makes me happy. I stayed with her while at a job interview in Kansas City. I hope I get it for a lot of reasons (number one being that I am not cut out to be a stay-at-home mom) but one of them is that my sister motivates me to be a better person and care more about myself. She also leads a great life, which she writes about on A Listful Life. I highly recommend her blog. It's a great read.

While I was there, she made black bean burritos. I had never eaten black beans before, but this is a staple in my sister's house, and I didn't want to be a burden, so I decided to try something new.

They were delicious! She and Chase spent all of lent without eating meat, so she has a better handle on vegetarian dishes than I do. I have been telling Rob I was going to recreate her burritos for a few days, and today I finally did it!

This is the base of her black bean burritos. I added chicken, which I seasoned with McCormick's Quesadilla Casserole pre-measured seasoning. The recipe is super easy. 

(1) red pepper
(1) green pepper
(1) jalepeno
black beans (I used low sodium canned, but she uses freshly soaked beans. Either will work)
chicken breasts (I had a huge chicken breast that I butterflied and cut through to make 2 cutlets. It was plenty)
Minute Rice - (I cooked two dry cups with about 1.75 cups of water which turned out perfect)
McCorkmick Quesadilla Casserole pre-measured seasoning packet
cream cheese (use this to your desire. My sister used about 4 tablespoons. I used the entire brick because I added the chicken and rice and doubled the veggies.)
Burrito size tortillas
Mexican Cheese (if desired) 
Sour Cream (if desired)

Use olive oil to cook your chicken, seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic powder and the seasoning packet. Reserve leftover seasoning to add to the veggies
Once the chicken is cooked to 165 degrees, remove it from the pan and let it rest while you start to cook the two peppers, jalepeno and black beans.
At this point, you should also be cooking your rice. If you are using leftover rice, don't worry about heating it up. Once it's finished, add it to the pan of black beans and veggies.
Slice the chicken in thin slices and add it to the pan. Heat everything through. Add your desired amount of cream cheese.
Spread mixture on burritos leaving room around the edges. If you want cheese and sour cream, add those to the middle. Fold your burrito.

At this point, they are ready to eat. I actually like my burrito a little crispy, so I put a little oil in a pan and toasted my cooked burrito so the outside got just barely crispy. If you do this, start with the seam side down and don't overfill your burrito. I learned the hard way tonight.

This was sort of a mix of a recipe I found on Pinterest and my sister's black bean burritos. Either way, it was delicious and definitely will become a staple in my house. It's not that unhealthy and with better (for me) tortillas, it would have been even healthier. One of these burritos comes in around 400 calories and after one, I'm stuffed!


Sunday, July 8, 2012

Pinterest Inspired; Stephanie Tested -- Homemade donuts and a great marinade

I'm trying something new at home on Sundays. I'm going to make things inspired by Pinterest. It may not always be in the kitchen, but with the great recipes out there, it'll be tough for me to find crafts that interest me as much as the recipes!

This morning, I started my Pinterest Inspired; Stephanie Tested with some homemade donuts.

 These donuts used a few ingredients to make a great breakfast for my husband and me. I laid out these ingredients after I made the donuts, so please forgive a few missing items.

The donuts used vegetable oil (I used an entire container, but probably could have used a little less) and canned biscuits. I don't think it matters if you use buttermilk, southern style or any other style as long as it's not a flaky biscuit.

I started by heating the oil on medium heat. I didn't want it scorching, but the recipe suggested the oil be heated to 375 degrees. I chose not to use my deep fryer, but just a heavy bottomed skillet on my range.

I spread the biscuits out on parchment paper so they wouldn't stick.
 My biggest problem with these amazing donuts was finding something to poke the hole in the middle out. I started with the cap to my cinnamon, but it was too big. I didn't have any bottle caps in the house except for some really small water bottles, and I wanted something more than that. I finally decided on a honey cap.

In the future, I will likely buy a round cookie cutter made specifically for donuts.  While the honey cap worked, it was difficult to cut completely through the biscuit.

 I tested the oil with the donut holes first. They turned out really well, too.

Then I put the biscuits in the oil and cooked them on each side for about two minutes apiece. They came out great!

While they were cooking, I mixed cinnamon and sugar in a bowl and covered the donut holes in the mixture. Then, as each batch of donuts came out, I covered them in cinnamon and sugar, too.


These were a great way to spend the morning with Rob.

And bonus! I tested a marinade found on Pinterest tonight, too.

I mixed two tablespoons of soy sauce, 1/4 cup of EVOO, 1/4 cup of brown sugar and a couple tablespoons of my favorite steak seasoning. Then I put the mixture in a plastic bag and marinated my pork chops. The preparation took about three minutes. I marinated for about three hours and then cooked them in a skillet. I would have rather grilled them, but my grill pan broke a few weeks ago and I haven't replaced it yet.

You can find all my Pinterest Inspired; Stephanie Tested! items by using clicking Follow me on Pinterest on the right side of my blog. You can also click here to find a board specifically dedicated to my tested items.

Let me know if you try any of these items by commenting! And don't forget to share your favorite Pinterest finds by tagging me on your Pinterest posts. You never know, they might show up in my next Pinterest Inspired; Stephanie Tested column.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Staying at home

There have been some big changes in our household.  At the moment, I'm staying home with Alex for awhile.  The good news: more time for crafts! The bad news: no money for them! I do have a few projects for which I already had the materials needed, so hopefully I can work on those and other cheap projects in the next few weeks. 

I have been experimenting more in the kitchen, which doesn't take much for me. I've always loved to cook, but haven't ever been much of a baker. I have been working to change that.

A few weeks ago, I made a beer bread.  It was OK, but not a recipe I would make again. It came out much more cakey than I generally like my bread.

I used a recipe from CD kitchen which called for flour, baking soda,, butter, beer, salt and a touch of sugar.  It really was a simple recipe to make, but like I said, it turned out more like a cake with a crust.  

Today, I'm making my amazing brown sugar pork chops.  These chops are the perfect mix of sweet and salty. They can be made with any kind of pork chop, but we generally buy the thin chops which are 10 for $10 at Hy-Vee!
Season the chops with salt and pepper.  Then put a pad of butter on top of each chop and 1/4 cup of brown sugar.  Cook in a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes (until the chops are 165 on a meat thermometer).  The butter and brown sugar will mix together to form a great sauce.  Serve with your favorite side dish!

I got that recipe from an anchor at 10/11 news in Lincoln, where I served as a producer for a little more than a year.  I've sworn by it ever since and shared it as often as I can.  It truly is an inspired way to make pork chops.

Now, for what I'm reading this week.  Being home, I have a lot more time to read, so it's more like what am I not reading.  I'm focusing on finishing a great book about love, courage and acceptance, though.  

I have been obsessed with the show Sister Wives for a couple of years now.  I've recently realized the show may have started about the true polygamous relationship in which Kody and his four wives find themselves, but the show really is about acceptance.  

This book is about how the four ended up together and the struggles they've had along with the triumphs in their lives.  The struggles they endure are rarely different than those most monogamous marriages experience.  Sure, he has 26 (26!!!!) kids and four wives, but each of their relationships is separate and distinct.  

I know some find him sleazy or creepy, but when I take each of the relationships in its own regard, he's not different from my husband or yours.  

I highly recommend the book.  It's a little longer than most of the books I read, and more in-depth so a one day reading just is not going to happen with this book.  It's a fascinating book, though. 

As far as what I'm watching, don't ask.  If I hear the Caillou theme song one more time this week, I might scream.  And I know far more about the family in Good Luck, Charlie than any 29-year-old should EVER know.

Until next time, what are you reading? Any book recommendations? Do you have craft ideas for kids? Leave a comment and I'll post photos when A and I use the recommendation!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

National Chick Lit Month

Wow. I can't believe it's been almost a month since I posted last!

I've been working on this entry for a few days in my mind, but finally tonight, it's time to just get it all out there.

I told everyone who would listen about May being National Chick Lit Month. I spent almost the entire month reading. I read so much I barely even cooked!

I know many of my readers are women and I wanted to share with you some of the better books I read (and some unknowns that were fantastic!)

The Bro-Magnet was a fascinating tale of a guy's guy who couldn't find a girl. I won't ruin the ending, but he gets the girl.

My Big Fake Irish Life, written by Caitlin McKenna, was one of the last I read in my month of Chick Lit (which actually started around Easter, but who's counting?). This tale of a struggling actress trying to find her footing in L.A. was funny and the underlying themes of recreating oneself is widely appealing.  Linda (or Meghan as she renames herself) is a witty character who struggles between her American Life and her acted "Irish" life.  As a character, she's easily likeable and creates a web which is heart-breaking.

I feel obligated to write about the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy. I technically read this "mommy porn" book before national chick lit month began, but for weeks, I couldn't get the characters out of my head. I wanted to know more about Ana and Christian. I wanted to know why they acted or thought they way they did. One of the "extras" in the electronic version of the final book was the first few chapters of the first book written from Christian's perspective. Even having read this entire series in about four days, I'd happily read all three books again from Christian's perspective.

I read both Kissed in Paris and Sleeping with Paris this month. While these books are technically a series, the character in each book is new. There are cameos of the previous book's leading character.  Truly a fascinating way to create a series of books.

The Pastor's Wife was quite possibly my favorite book I read during National Chick Lit Month. This book was well-written with a theme of acceptance and growth and was free on amazon.com (I read all my books on my Kindle fire, or my iphone's kindle app.) As a member of a tight-knit congregation at church, I felt for the main character in her struggles to fit in with a group who didn't understand her or who she was.  This is a must read!

I started reading Kyra Davis' Sophie Katz mysteries when I was pregnant with A.  I couldn't put them down when I was pregnant and when I found she'd recently released a new novel, I couldn't put it down either. I have the rest of this series in paperback, but this on the Kindle. It's the kind of book I can read a hundred times and find something new each time. I have and do recommend this entire series to anyone looking for a character to love and hate at the same time. Her inability to listen when people say "stop" really lies with me as I have very similar tendencies.

In the six weeks after I started reading the Shades of Grey series, I read 26 books, all chick lit.  I have another 10 I've purchased (or downloaded for free) that I haven't gotten to, but I had some books on the backburner in May I'm working through before I go back to Chick Lit.

I have about a million things I could write about right now, but since I spent the last month reading, I have a backlog of blog entries I need to write. Until then, keep the pages turning!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Planning for life ... what a joke!

I've been thinking a lot lately about life planning. I had a very clear plan when I was 22. I knew how the rest of my life was going to be, and I don't think any of it is turning out that way.

When I was 22, I thought I'd be married by 23. I was in a decent relationship and I sort of expected it to be my last. It wasn't. He shattered my heart into a million pieces a month after my 23rd birthday. In fact, on my 23rd birthday, I had a meltdown and explained to him that turning 23 and not being married was the first step to my entire plan unraveling. In retrospect, maybe that turned him away. Or maybe it was the other woman he was planning to marry. You know, it's the little things.

When I was 22, I planned to be done having kids by the time I was 30. Well, 30 is less than 9 months away and I can tell you unequivocally, I'm not pregnant and that is not going to happen. I have one, and my perfect family would include a second. Obviously, it won't happen by the time I'm 30, but maybe shortly thereafter? A conversation I need to have with the hubster.

When I was 22, I thought I was going to be a radio star. I thought I was just an up and comer and would be working for CBS or CNN radio in no time. Five months after I turned 23, I abandoned radio after losing my passion for it.

When I was 22, I thought I would have the perfect life. Don't get me wrong, my life is pretty good, but I thought I'd be in the kind of relationship where I didn't have to think about a budget. I thought I'd be marrying someone and we'd travel the world and drink wine every night and cook together. Let me tell you something ... real life is not like that unless you're my sister.

So I often wonder these "what ifs" about my life. What if Rodney hadn't shattered me. Would I be in Texas with him? What if I hadn't met Rob. Would I still be in Conway, Arkansas? (The answer is definitely no. Conway -- great town, dry county.) What if I had come right back to Jefferson City when I graduated. Would Rob and I have ever met? Would I still feel as disjointed here as I do today? What if Rob and I had stayed in Lincoln. Would we still have Alex?

And that's what it comes down to -- that perfect little boy. While he is tremendously energetic and trying at times, it all comes back to him. And he's the reason my "what ifs" never matter. Because every time he runs into my arms or says he loves me, my world is perfect again. On the worst days; on the saddest moments; he makes it all worth it.

So for now, life is what you make of it. Let what happened in the past shape you, rather than guide you. Learn from mistakes and love what you have. Too often, it's ripped from us in an untimely manner, so I hope each of you (and me!) can learn to appreciate the life before you with passion and remember the life behind you with fondness.

Friday, April 20, 2012

I have a confession ...

Why do women get so emotionally involved with the characters in the books we read?

I ask that after reading this article on Huffington Post where the author says she has cheated on her husband with Christian Grey, the dominating male in the Fifty Shades series that have taken women by storm. I found myself reading her article and saying "YES. I TOTALLY FEEL THE SAME WAY!"

I feel like I have cheated on my husband with Christian Grey. Two weeks after finishing the series, I still find myself thinking about the relationship between Christian and Anastasia. I compare myself to them and my own relationship to theirs. And it almost killed my relationship.

A week ago, after being on the road for work, I had an opportunity to spend a brief few days with Rob before I went back on the road for work. And I found myself begging him to be more like Christian. I wanted someone who was chivalrous and kind. I wanted someone who would turn off the sporting event to be with me and do what I wanted to do. And as I was saying things I really only meant to keep bottled in my head, I could see the hurt in his eyes.

I still want some of those things, but as I've been sitting and comparing my relationship to theirs, I realized I was too envious of the lifestyle this author created. And that's just it. It's just a creation -- a utopia for mom's across the country about which they can dream. It's a fantasy, and while I could debate the quality of writing with anyone (because honestly, it wasn't of the high caliber we see in most bestsellers), what E.L. James did with the characters made the book for me. E.L. James was able to find pieces of every housewife and mom in this country and put them into the book. And she was able to take the character of Christian Grey and turn him into the man every woman in America desires.

I didn't marry Christian Grey. I married Rob. He's a wonderful man and an amazing and caring father. (In fact, he's at home right now taking care of our sick son while I'm at work!) He has flaws, but we all do. So while I strive to be more like the strong woman I found in Anastasia, all I can really ask Rob to be is himself. Because in the real world, that's what really matters. I don't want my husband playing a role created by some author. I want my husband to be true to himself in all that he is. And if I'm half the wife I strive to be, that will be more than enough for me.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Another week, more traveling and no crafts

You know, when I took this job, I really thought I was going to be able to craft a lot more. Not so since it seems like I'm living out of hotels these days.

Really, it hasn't been that bad, but this week, I spent two days on the road and three more days exhausted and just trying to catch up on life and work I missed because I spent two days on the road. Next week will be a real test for me. I am working all weekend at my part-time job, because I love it, and then leaving Monday morning for a three day/two night trip to Kansas City. By Thursday, when I'm waking up in my own bed, I'm going to be grateful for my crappy mattress that desperately needs replaced, but at least it's in my home, in my room.

On to the good stuff. I didn't take any photos this week, which I know, is very surprising. I was in Springfield at the Hilton Garden Inn. The thing about Springfield that outsiders don't understand is their friendliness. We were traveling with a colleague from St. Louis who was amazed at the kindness of the staff at the hotel. We told her it's just a Springfield thing. Total strangers say hello as they are passing on the street. People hold doors open for everyone and then ask how their day is. It's a Springfield thing. And it's part of the charm of the city. It's not a small city by any means, but the people make it feel like your hometown. Well, except my hometown, where everyone is all consumed with government and make no effort to be kind to strangers, but that's another blog for another day.

The Hilton Garden Inn was incredible. It was a brand new property that was eco-friendly and was very well designed. The rooms were clean and spacious. I generally like more light than I had in my hotel room, but it was still a hotel room and lights are still generally minimal in hotel rooms.

My only real complaint about the room was the bed. I know everyone is going to these "sleep number system" type beds, but that was the most uncomfortable bed I have ever slept in and I had a mattress once that sunk so deep I thought it might be a water bed. I woke up several times in the middle of the night. I'm hopeful that my other Hilton property stays aren't quite so bad, but I have a feeling that all Hilton properties have the same beds.

The food in Springfield was wonderful, as always. As I was looking for a Starbucks on Yelp, I realized that Springfield has more unique restaurants than any city in which I've ever lived. There are the typical chain restaurants, and some that aren't quite as typical, but then there are a ton of places that are unique to Springfield. Ebbett's Field is one of those places. In college, I loved eating at the Ebbetts Field on Walnut. In fact, if memory serves, the weekend of my cousin's wedding, we went to Ebbetts the night before to drink. Seriously, memory could be an issue that weekend as I seriously thought I was dying with a 103 degree fever and a severe infection in my throat, but I'm pretty sure I still remember that night.

They've opened a south branch of the restaurant known in Springfield for its sports memorabilia. I had the monterey chicken sandwich -- a seasoned chicken breast (a little heavy on the lemon pepper) topped with provolone cheese and served with fries and a pickle. Their fries were covered in parsley and were delicious. I do wish one of the two had been served with a condiment. The chicken was a little dry and the fries just needed something. Maybe ranch dressing or honey mustard would have pulled the meal together nicely.

My second night in Springfield, I had Maria's downtown. I was with an old friend (he's not old. Our friendship dates back to 5th grade.) and the atmosphere was perfect. We were sitting by the front windows which overlooked downtown Springfield. The room was large enough and had great acoustics, so we were able to carry on a conversation without feeling like we were shouting. And the food was pretty good. It was Mexican and I've never had a cheese enchilada I didn't like, so I was pretty happy with that one. The chicken enchilada was topped with some white sauce that was almost gritty. I think it was supposed to be a cheese sauce, but it didn't have the intense flavor of cheese most cheese sauces have.

The best way to describe it -- the sauce when making a homemade mac and cheese and you've added too much of the milk mixture and not enough cheese. I'm still not sure about that sauce at all. It really wasn't great.

Overall, here's how I would rate the stay:

Drive (50 to Union and then 44 to Springfield): A+ This drive is gorgeous. Long, but gorgeous.
Hotel: B+ The friendliness of the staff and the delicious Pinot Grigio I had delivered to my room made up for the uncomfortable bed. I can sleep when I'm dead.
Ebbett's Field: B- It really needed a condiment with the sandwich or the fries. Dry on dry just isn't good.
Maria's A- In reality, I was able to remove most of that sauce from the enchilada without too much work.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

A Friday full of food

Last Friday was a great day for food in my house. I had a morning meeting at Yanis Coffee Zone in Jefferson City, and let me just say, it was the best omelet I have ever had in my life. The business associate I was meeting was running late, so I took the opportunity, and great weather, to drink a white mocha and eat Yanis' veggie omelet at one of the tables sitting on the sidewalk of downtown Jefferson City.
I didn't ask, but I am 99% sure that omelet was made in a cast iron skillet. I say that because the bottom of the omelet was seasoned perfectly with a mix of seasonings one can only get using a pan that holds seasonings in its grooves.

It was also the largest omelet I've ever seen in my life, and a perfect way to start my Friday.

For lunch, I had my Friday usual -- a veggie sub (without mushrooms) from Sub Shop. It was great as always. No need to ever review that. I recommend them to everyone I know.

Then Rob and I headed to Columbia for a date night of movies and dinner. We had some time before our first movie was set to begin, so we were looking for places to eat on Yelp when Jazz caught my eye. I'd been to Jazz before, though it was years ago, and I'm fairly certain the location has changed. We, once again, took advantage of the great weather and sat in their patio area.

Jazz is located in the same shopping center in Columbia as Macy's, and, as the lady on the phone had to tell me because we couldn't find it, it's three doors down from Dick's Sporting Goods. She was right and we found it easily once we were actually looking for it in the right place.

I started my night with an Abita Purple Haze. I think this must be my favorite beer on Earth, and not just because it tastes like grape soda -- though, I do love a grape soda now and then.

The first time I had a Purple Haze was at Jazz, many years ago, when I didn't drink much beer. In fact, I had probably only tried Natty Light, Coors Light and Bud Light back then. Can you tell I'm a light beer drinker?

However, the first time I went to Jazz, I had graduated college and was home for a weekend to see my friend Allison. We had planned to go to dinner and out with friends afterward. I don't remember what we were celebrating, but I do remember we were celebrating something. I was not an experienced beer drinker like I am now, and back then I preferred a mixed drink over beer any day. Purple Haze was the perfect mix of the sweetness one gets from a mixed drink, and the carbonation of a beer.

Since then, I've had beer from all over the world. I regularly get the sample packs from Hy-Vee and enjoy them. I still think Purple Haze is my favorite beer, though. When I'm out, in general, I drink Blue Moon or Michelob Ultra, but neither can hold up to Purple Haze. It really does taste just like grape soda.

On to the better part of the meal.

I chose Jazz specifically because it was a Friday. Rob thinks he's Catholic and won't eat meat on Friday's, and most years, I suffer through that with him, but I just couldn't handle it this year. I don't know how my sister hasn't eaten meat for the last six weeks. Trying to come up with six vegetarian meals is like pulling teeth most years for me, let alone six weeks worth.

Rob ordered, as expected, seafood. Cajun Fried Shrimp, specifically. He paired it with sweet potato fries and two (that's right, TWO) hurricanes. Good thing we were going to two movies to sober him up!

I ordered the blackened chicken fettuccine, which was divine. I mean, seriously, I could have seen angels eating that dish. I could eat it every day and still be happy, though I won't because I'm not driving 30 miles for fettuccine every day! The chicken was cooked in cajun spices and blackened on the flat top (or grill, but the level of blackening told me it was a flat top). The sauce was a mixture of cream and cajun seasonings mixed with finely chopped fresh herbs.

It was delicious. So, if you're in Jeff City, head to Yanis Coffee House. Get a great coffee and a delicious Mediterranean omelet. If you're in CoMO, Jazz is amazing. It's casual, and, when the weather is good, sitting in their patio area is great.

I know some of you are waiting to hear a bad review from me. I have a lot of travels coming up, so maybe it will happen, but for now, I'm eating great food and loving it.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Weight loss rewind

Remember a few months ago when I said I planned to lose a substantial amount of weight by the time I turned 30?

Yeah, I'm not doing so well on that front. It's my fault because I let life get in the way of cooking and eating healthy foods, but not anymore.

This morning, I started a diet rewind. I am going back to the healthy eating that had me shedding pounds quickly. I haven't made terrible choices lately with food, but the ones I have made certainly weren't great.

I started with a shake this morning by Yoplait, adding in a banana and a container of black cherry Greek yogurt. So far, I'm not hungry by 9:30 like I usually am, but I'm still sipping on this super thick shake. Next time, maybe only half a container of Greek yogurt.

I have a Bistro salad from WalMart for lunch and 6 strawberries for an afternoon snack. In retrospect, I wish I would have also brought a couple pieces of string cheese to go with the strawberries. Maybe I can convince my husband to bring those by on his way to work.

Otherwise, I'm going to start weaning off the soda. I had been having two Diet Dr Peppers each day, but I'm going to try to get off the pop completely. I am trying cold turkey, but we'll see how tired I am this afternoon before I make that final decision.

What are your great diet suggestions? I will get bored quickly, so I'd love recipes and recommendations for great foods/drinks that you enjoy, but that also fit a new healthy lifestyle I am trying to re-embrace.

On the working out front, I'm getting back to the YMCA to start walking again. I won't be able to go in the morning with my new work hours, but I plan to go each afternoon after work, time permitting, and then take a class or two if I can handle it. 

Thursday, March 15, 2012

A mid-week meeting at the Lake

I had a mid-week meeting at Lake of the Ozark's earlier this week. The nicest two days of the year, so far, were spent at Camden on the Lake, which was an amazing resort.

I have so much to blog about regarding this trip. The room, the food, the lunch the next day ... all, and I mean ALL, are blog-worthy.

We'll start with the room. Camden on the Lake is the newest Resort at Lake of the Ozarks. It sits right on the shoreline, and houses H Toads. It is in the same cove as Shady Gators.

A quick rate search on their website shows off-season (current) rooms costing between $149 and $216 per night. If you go for a conference, the rates are likely to be considerably cheaper. Mine was.

Now to the good stuff, my lakeside grand suite truly was lakeside. From my balcony, it almost felt as if I was on top of the water. It overlooked most of the cove and in the distance you can see Shady Gators. This photo makes it look pretty far away. It wasn't. Most could probably park a boat at the hotel and swim their way to Shady Gators without being out of breath.

The room itself was split into two rooms. A hallway separated the two. The linens were soft and the down-filled (or down-like filled) pillows put me to sleep in no time. A television is mounted to the wall over a dresser, and the room holds a sitting chair, desk and two side tables.

As an aside, I know many who hate hotel beds, but when you're staying at a hotel like this one, it's like heaven. I seriously felt like I was floating and the pillows made it even better. I can't tell you enough that the extra money one pays for a hotel with a nice bed is totally worth it.

Now that we've talked about the bedroom, let's talk about the fact that this room had a tv in the bathroom, a fireplace and a kitchenette where I could have made any dish that didn't require an oven.

On to the food!

H. Toads has a limited selection, but I didn't hear anyone say a bad word about anything they ate the entire conference.

For lunch, I had a southwest chicken wrap that was flavorful and filling. The wrap was southwest cream cheese, chicken, lettuce and other veggies in a herb tortilla. My dining mate had their shrimp salad with a crab cake. She raved about it, as did a dining partner during dinner. Both said it was filling and delicious. I, as many of you know, don't eat anything that ever lived in water, but if I did, I'm sure I would have loved it, too.

For dinner, I had the pasta primavera pictured here. It was good, but I definitely prefer a cream sauce over a garlic butter sauce. I need a little bit of substance beyond butter. It also had mushrooms in it after specifically asking for no mushrooms. It was, however, light and flavorful, which was needed on a day when it was 85 outside, even as the sun was setting. The chicken was cooked perfectly, as were the vegetables and pasta. And the garlic bread was completely divine.

My real highlight of the conference, though, was lunch before I came back to Jefferson City. It was a chance for great conversation with a good friend, and great food in a place I least would have expected it.

Sadly, I took no photos of Wobbly Boots or the food I ate, but all of it was delicious. So delicious that I brought the leftovers home for my husband so he could experience this wonderful food.

Collin suggested we start with a wings appetizer. The wings had Wobbly Boots homemade sauce, tasting almost like a chipotle bbq. They are smoked, rather than baked or fried, which made the meat fall off the bone.

They are, however, messy, which led to a lovely mess on my shirt I was wearing for work. Or maybe I caused the mess. Either way, bbq sauce on silk ... never coming out.

I had the brisket meat on a bun sandwhich. The brisket was tender, juicy and seasoned well. Again, a homemade seasoning if one is to believe the menu. I paired it with the mac and cheese, which was OK, but heavy on the cheddar. I prefer a milder cheese for my mac and cheese.

The real star of the meal, though, was the sweet potato fries. I had never had sweet potato fries, and I didn't order them, but Collin did, so I stole a couple. It was suggested that I dip them in honey mustard. THAT was the best suggestion of the day. Sweet potato fries will be my go-to anywhere I can get a side of honey mustard now.

All in all, a good conference with great company and great accommodations.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Restaurant Review - Prison Brews

I'm taking a page out of my sister's playbook today in my blog post.

There are a ton of great local restaurants in Mid-Missouri and I am going to start writing reviews of them.

This weekend, Rob, A and I went to Prison Brews in Jefferson City. I've been several times, but usually only for a drink or two ... never really for a full menu.

When we were deciding where to get lunch on our way home, I used my handy Yelp app to help me decide where we should go. I am fairly limited with Rob's undying hatred for Mexican food (when all I want sometimes is El Jimmys!) so I knew I had to find some place to accommodate both of us as well as have a decent atmosphere that would keep A entertained.

And I don't know how the weather was where you were this weekend, but here in Mid-Missouri, Saturday was gorgeous! In fact, the right side of my face got a little bit of sun during this lunch outing!

When we got there, they offered to seat us inside or out, and because it was so nice, we opted for outside. After they seated us, I wasn't sure we made the right choice because A couldn't see the Kindle Fire or the iPhone and seemed to be bored. He doesn't appreciate a nice day out like us adults if he can't run around and play in it! While the waitress was taking our drink orders, Alex made the comment that he wanted to color, which we have an APP for on the Kindle. I told him he couldn't because we couldn't see the screen outside. He wasn't particularly happy about that statement, but didn't throw the tantrum I thought he would, and in that moment, I was glad we were outside with the laid back diners.

When our server brought our drinks, though, she earned a place in our hearts. She brought a coloring book and crayons for A! He proceeded to color happily and tell everyone around us what he was coloring and that he was hungry. We were, too, and despite getting our order in after a group of six women sitting nearby who were seated after us, our order came very quickly. We were impressed.

Rob had a beer brat with the sweet potato fries. He raved for the rest of the weekend about those damn fries. I wish he raved about my cooking for days like that! He said the brat was also very good.

I had a bacon cheeseburger with cheddar cheese. It was divine. The meat was spiced just right and it had that nice grill char on it. I had regular fries, which had been seasoned with course sea salt and garlic. To be honest, I am clearly still raving about them today, so I shouldn't judge Rob for raving for two days.

Alex couldn't decide between corndogs and a cheeseburger (though I'm not always sure he understands the difference between the two) so we asked him as the waitress was taking our order. In that moment, he wanted a cheeseburger, so that's what we got him. It came with tater tots and applesauce. He seemed pleased with the choice. He ate all the applesauce, about half the tater tots and at least half the cheeseburger. That was the shocking one. He rarely eats the main part of the meal -- so much to the point that I have considered only giving him one dish at a time to make him eat more of the good stuff.

Rob also ordered a sweet tea with his lunch. He said it was good and not too sweet, which is why I usually get half sweet/half unsweetened when I get sweet tea.

I also had Prison Brew's micro-brew Honey Wheat. A lot of people say it tastes a lot like Blue Moon, and like Blue Moon, it is served with an orange slice. I think it's better than Blue Moon and one of Prison Brew's greatest asset along with the great atmosphere and creative dish names with it's proximity to the former prison (which is almost just across the intersection from the restaurant).

There many other dishes I wanted to try and if I were a true restaurant reviewer, I would have tried four or five other dishes on the menu. I didn't need to, though, to recommend everyone I know going to Prison Brews for any excuse for a good meal and a great beer. There's a reason this restaurant was named best small business in Jefferson City last year!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Pinterest project!

Just saying the word Pinterest makes me smile these days. I've found and pinned so many amazing recipes and projects, I won't ever get them done!

I am, however, doing a pinterest project for my new office at work. In fact, with enough leftover fabric, I may be doing a couple of pinterest projects to tie my new office together.

I purchased a white bookshelf from Target last week. It's not an expensive bookshelf, or anything exciting but it looks something like this. Before I put the thing together, which will undoubtedly take me half an evening, I plan to purchase an amazing fabric that fits my personality so well.

You can find the fabric on this ETSY site. I've requested three yards for a listing, but haven't heard back yet. 
Three yards of the fabric should be enough for the shelving unit, plus enough for a lamp shade for a desk lamp. I have a huge painting of the Eiffel Tower my sister brought me from Paris a few years ago, and I will likely hang that in the office as well.

I love the pinks and oranges in this fabric so much. It just fits my personality perfectly.

Once I have the fabric on the bookshelf and the thing put together I will put some picture frames and books along with other things on it to get it a bit more colorful in this office.

Anyway, that's really all for now. It had been awhile since I blogged, and since I am getting ready to do a Pinterest project, I wanted to share my excitement with all of you!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The perfect print

For weeks I have been looking for the perfect print for my yellow and grey kitchen area. I think I have finally found it. I found it on this etsy account today while searching yet again for a yellow and gray that worked for me.

I am absolutely in love with it. Once I get it, I can get the perfect gray paint for the table legs and I can find a yellow that matches for the seat cushions. Then it's just completing my refinish of the buffet and actually doing the projects.

This kitchen is going to come together soon and I am really excited!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Lenten challenge to love and accept ourselves and others

I don't like to spend my time blogging about political messages or serious situations, but last night's episode of Glee made me really think about who I am in this community.

Bullying in schools has got to stop. There has to be some sort of consequence that will stop this from happening. Teen suicide rates are rising rapidly, and we as a society need to let our teens know they are loved -- no matter what their skin color, sexual preferences, weight, height, mental capacity -- they need to know they are loved.

As I watched Glee last night, it sent shock-waves through me. It sent me back to a time when I seriously thought life might be better for others if I was gone.

I was bullied in high school. Certainly not to the extent Glee's Dave Karofsky was bullied in last night's episode, and not to the extent that Dave Karofsky once bulled Kurt, but I was bullied. I was pretty low on the food chain and while I had friends that were wonderful, there were plenty of people who weren't. Up until my Senior year, I pretty much hated high school. I wanted to transfer to the catholic school in town because I had some friends who worked with me and I felt like I would be more accepted there. I wouldn't have been.

There's just something about living back in Jefferson City. When I was in college, I would look in a mirror before I left my Springfield apartment for a weekend at home and I would feel gorgeous. I was happy. I would get home, look in a mirror and I would feel like that episode of Seinfeld where the woman was gorgeous sometimes and in other light, not so much.

It has only been in the last three years of living here that I have become comfortable with who I am. I am a communications professional. I am incredibly talented at what I do and I never really gave myself credit for that. Instead, I focused on feeling left out. And I still do feel left out to an extent, but much of it, I expect, is my own doing. A large chunk of my high school class is living in this community and I never feel quite good enough to try to join any of the young professionals organizations in town. I fear the rejection that might come with trying.

But Glee, yes, that show about singing teenagers, taught me something last night. It taught me that until I love myself and show the confidence that I really am good enough to be someone in any community in which I live, I won't ever be that person. I won't ever join a young professionals organization. I won't ever serve on a committee aimed at making a difference in this amazing town in which I live. And I won't ever have that large group of friends that I had in college when I did have that confidence -- when I was far away from this town and all the memories that go with it.

So, in the spirit of Lent and the Easter season, I'm issuing a challenge to myself and I hope it's one some of you will take on as well. I am going to be happy with who I am -- limitations and all. And I am going to truly accept others. I am going to let go of the anger and fear I have had about this community. And I am going to be the best and happiest me I can be.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Redoing my home

I should preface this blog post with the disclaimer that I rent my duplex, thus, while I could probably convince my landlords to let me paint, I don't care enough to add color to my home with paint, so I'm doing it with accessories and various other pieces.

This segment on the Nate Berkus Show inspired my design for my dining room. I have a table that we bought from a moving neighbor. I knew I wanted to redo some of it, but I was never really sure what I wanted to do with the room. This segment gave me the perfect idea. I'm a very yellow person. I love the color yellow and the sunshiney feel it brings me when I see it. So my kitchen/dining area is going to be very similar to the dining room Nate put together with the yellow seat cushions. I'm still looking for the perfect fabric for curtains for my dining room area. That same fabric will be used on some lampshades for my sidetable I'm putting in the room.

As far as the side table goes, it's currently a dresser in my bedroom, but I never use it except to throw crap on it, so I want it out of my room. No need for it. This is the dresser that I have been talking about redoing since October. Maybe by next October, I'll actually finish it.

While formulating the plan for this room, I began formulating the plan for every room of my house. We have been looking for new living room furniture but just weren't sure what we wanted in that room. Now, I know I want dark brown furniture with turquoise accents. Our current tv stand, which we plan to replace, will be repainted turquoise and become a home for Alex's various living room items, like books and crayons and even the legos. There's a corner ready and waiting for it now!

I intend to use this tutorial to turn our two small side tables into ottomans, so I will likely re-stain them with a dark stain and use a turquoise and brown fabric for the tops.

I'm not totally sold on this piece of fabric and have been thinking about something like a damask or other turquoise and brown fabric. For now, this is a prototype and this room will evolve over the next few months, I'm sure. I also haven't shared some of these plans with the hubby, who does have a say in how our home looks, so you know, I have that to consider!

As far as art in the living room, I have a plan. I am going to buy three nice sized canvases and paint them the same turquoise I paint the shelving unit. Then, I'm going to buy this wall decal to put across the canvases. Then I'll paint the canvas over again in brown, so the Birds and tree branch will be a pop of turquoise. If anyone has any better techniques on this project, I am open ears!

My bedroom is already black and red and white, and it's staying that way. I will do some wall art, or purchase some wall art for the room, but I haven't figured out what yet. I am also going to be doing some bookshelves in the room that will hold wall sconces  which will plug into the two outlets on the wall where my bed is. We are looking for a new bed (mattress set and frame) and are likely going to make our own headboard. All projects which will take considerable amount of time considering the schedule I currently keep. I need some time off from life to get all this done.

Those are the plans so far. I am excited for the projects and taking things one room at a time. I tend to look at the big picture like it's an elephant and I can't get through anything, so I am looking at one project at a time and hoping to get some weekend time to finish things up.

So, do you have any yellow and grey fabrics you love? Any turquoise and brown? Help. That's the first thing I have to do so I can match paint colors and other items!

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A long week

I'm sad that this blog has become about weight loss and not all the awesome crafts I'm doing. Oh wait, I barely have had time to breathe, let alone craft and then blog about it!

It's been a busy couple of weeks. I have been working crazy busy hours and both jobs and interviewing for a new job and trying to lose weight and not generally being very healthy.

I haven't been getting enough sleep nor watching my nutrition very well. I have stuck to my calories (except for one slip which shall remain named Chicken Quesadilla Grande from Applebees and OFF LIMITS!) but I haven't done much in terms of working out or nutrition. I did dance tonight to Glee. It got my heart pumping, but not a real work out. I didn't lose any weight last week, but I didn't gain any either, which was good considering I wasn't the healthiest dieter around.

Oh, yeah, probably the big news of my week is that I got a new job. I know. It's the third full-time position I've had since I moved back to Jefferson City, but I wasn't really looking for this one. Yes, my hours at the station are long and sometimes frustrating, but I was pretty happy. This job came to me and was too good of an opportunity to pass up. I applied, got an interview and was offered the job last week.

Otherwise, not much happening on the home front. No crafting, but hoping once I get settled into the position, I'll have more time. I have about five projects half done. Would be nice to finish them.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

A bad week, but still good news

This has been a bit of a routine lately -- coming in to Learfield on Sunday, weighing myself and then eating breakfast while I write about the goods and bads of the week.

I do promise to get back to crafting at some point, but lately I've been working a lot with the legislature in session as well as college basketball in high gear. Soon, soon I will finally finish the dresser I've been working on since ... October.

I lost another 4 pounds this week, which is good since it was a REALLY rough week. I didn't keep up with my partner in this trek to health, partly because I wasn't able to work out at all this week, but also because I ate out way too much.

In fact, on Tuesday, I more than doubled my alloted calories for the week. It just shows that pre-preparing lunches and snacks for the week on Sunday is more important than ever. It was a long day at work, and no time to even take a walk around the building.

I almost didn't input all the food I ate on Tuesday into My Fitness Pal because I was afraid to find out what I really ate, but I did, and it encouraged me to make sure I made better choices the rest of the week. In fact, even long days at work when I didn't have time to make something and ate out, I made better choices the rest of the week, and it obviously paid off.

Monday is a new day, and while I won't be able to start my day at the gym, I am going to be able to start it out right, with a good breakfast, a 10 a.m. meeting and then to work for the rest of the day. Tonight, I'll begin preparing lunches and snacks for the week. I already have one good snack made. It's a great trail mix that is rich enough, I'll never eat more than a half a cup at a time.

It's also probably the easiest trail mix you'll ever make.

Fat free pretzels
peanuts (slow roasted or honey roasted)

I literally put all of it in a gallon size ziploc bag and turned the bag around until well-mixed.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Crafting a new body update

I've lost 6 pounds in the last couple of weeks since I really started working to craft myself a new body.

No, I don't mean crafting a new body like in Silence of the Lambs where he's sewing an outfit out of skin. I mean that I'm creating a new me.

It's not just about my body. I am working on my mind and who I really am. I often talk about how much hate there is in this world and how much anger everyone has. I really think our world would be a better place if we worked together more instead of hating each other. I want to spend the next year doing that ... helping others.

In February I will be participating in the Polar Plunge for Special Olympics. From time to time, you'll see on my Facebook page a post about donating to the cause. This particular cause is special. Special Olympics works to show people everywhere that it doesn't matter if you have a learning or physical disability ... that you can do anything you want to do. I really believe that is true. Every day as I watch my two-year-old do and learn things that are seemingly two years away, I see that with motivation and encouragement, anyone can participate in everything they want to do in life. It's not always going to be easy, but it can be done.

Anyway, if you want to help me participate in this amazing event (that I'm completely terrified of) head to http://somo.org/teamKRCG. You can click on my name to donate specifically to me.

I've always done really well at sticking to a 1500 calorie diet and am hoping to even be able to knock that down to 1200 as my weight loss continues. 

I'm also looking at the types of food I am eating. I am eating more wraps and less sandwiches. I'm eating more fruit and less processed snacks. We are frequently out of bananas long before the week is up and we ate an entire bag of oranges this week. I am still craving the occasional sweet item, so I am using sugar free hot apple cider and low-fat hot cocoa to cure those urges. They usually happen at night.

I am also looking at the ways I can take my leftovers and remake them into a new meal. So next week, (like seven days from now), I'm going to go through and make wraps out of each of my meals. I'm going to get a variety of tortillas to use for the wraps. Each day, I'll post about the meal the night before and how I re-worked it into a totally new meal.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

My bedroom

I've wanted to do something new with my bedroom for a long time. I've been trying to figure out the best thing to do for awhile, but I think I've finally figured it out.

Inspired by a photo I saw this weekend (but clearly cannot find now for whatever reason), I am going to give me room an entirely new look. I told Rob awhile ago that my plan was to redecorate one room at a time in our home while keeping in mind that we rent and are on a very limited budget. I have ideas for each room already, and am hoping to be able to flesh out many of them with homemade projects.

Our bedroom has always bothered me. For a long time, we've had our mattress on the floor with no frame, and I have always said it's a little bit of Zen in the room, but really it's because I haven't found a bedframe I really like that I think will stand up to time. I found one this weekend at Nebraska Furniture Mart. The frame, head and footboards are all black.

I'm also going to add lighting to my room by putting some wall sconces onto the side of two bookshelves on either side of my bed. I haven't decided if I should use wired sconces and drill a hole down the inside of the shelves where I can hide the cord or if I will use wireless sconces that may not shine as bright. You can help me decide that!

I have some more wall art that I've been working on that I hope can add to the room some. My bedding is red, black and white and is full of circular images. I have decided to make something that looks like this:

Instead of dealing with welding and metal rings and all that, I found a tip to use needlepoint rings to replace the metal. Gorilla Glue will stick the rings together, though you can cut slits in the wood so they slide together and are at the same depth. I haven't decided if I will do all the rings inside the larger one, or make a wider piece of wall art to stretch between the two bookshelves. Eitherway, the rings will all be painted red, black and white. I have white walls, so I think the color will add something to the room.

I am moving a long dresser out of my room to be painted and turned into a dining room piece. I will likely move the other dresser out of my room as we rarely use our dressers, but live out of closets (or hampers in busy weeks. The dresser will be in our office, but will probably be re-purposed at some point as well. That furniture has been in my room since 2004 and has served me well, but it's time for it to be used in a different capacity.

What do you think of the plans for my room? Should I use wired sconces or wireless? Any other ideas you've seen that you want to share? Help!