Friday, April 27, 2012

Life since spring break

What a crazy, incredibly quick month April has turned out to be.  A week of work (which happened to be Holy Week, which translates to LOTS of work!), Spring Break, and the two weeks since Spring Break, and the month is basically over!  Here's hoping the next six weeks or so go this quickly as well....

So what goes on in our corner of the world.  My parents and brother made the trek from Iowa to Virginia, as has become their custom for the past couple of spring breaks.  It's quite convenient that our Spring Break falls the week after Easter when my parents are able to travel.  We celebrated Jocelyn's third birthday a couple weeks early...

I think her favorite toy of the week was Uncle Jonathan.

We celebrated David's baptism....

The outfit was worn by both of John's uncles for their christenings.  My mom made new pants and so we had a multi-generational outfit :)  He was very curious by the baptismal fount and was a little ham during his trip up and down the aisle of the church.

I also FINALLY finished the stocking picture.  It's about bloody time....

The fabric is now with my mother, who has considerably better sewing skills than I do, who is putting together the actual stocking.  I'm happy with it.  I'm now working on a much smaller butterfly print, which should be finished quickly.  Pictures to follow!

Finally, I have the most beautiful irises coming up in my garden and I just wanted to share:

OH.  And last but not least, it's the end of the world as we know it.  I have.... JOINED A GYM!  AND I LIKE IT!!!  I'm not quite sure how this happened.  I let John talk me into it over last weekend.  Since then, I've been to the gym 4 out of the past 6 days.  And had one of the best workouts ever.  I will be at the gym tomorrow to start a new program.  I AM SO EXCITED!! 

Monday, April 9, 2012

Blessed Spring Break

I don't think students realize how much their teachers look forward to spring break.  I have just a bit of time before my parents arrive from Iowa.  We will have lots of shopping and sight-seeing and all kinds of activities for the week.  This weekend will be Jocelyn's early birthday celebration and Sunday is David's baptism.

After a short break from this blog, I realized I have read several books over the month of March, including the Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan and the first book of the Kane Chronicles, also by Riordan.  I read a couple of books in the 39 Clues Series (several authors), along with the book Found by Haddix and the Death Cure by Dashner.  I've realized that almost every single book I read was part of a series.  I'm not sure if that's necessarily a good thing or a bad thing.  I'm currently working on a "stand-alone" and it seems to be going quickly.  I could do a review for them all, but that would be a very long post.  I'll probably post a quickie review next week.

I've nearly finished my stocking.  I just need to add the beads to the cross-stitched picture before it is ready to be turned into the actual stocking.  I've been waiting for my mother to come because she is much better at doing the sewing-type stuff of assembling the stocking.  The beads should only take an hour or so to complete.  Pictures will follow when the beading is finished and then hopefully when the whole thing is done.

Lots of cooking has been going on.  Almost all of the meals have been dishes I make on a fairly regular basis and so I don't think to post about them.  I have plans to try a couple new dishes this month.  And yes, I do have my meals for the month planned out.  John and I have discovered that we can spend the smallest amount of money on groceries if I plan for the month all at once.  We have one big shopping trip at the beginning of the month and then shop for milk, cereal, and other items that run out on an as-needed basis.  At some point I will explain how I am able to feed a family of 4 on $200 a month (and no, I'm not exaggerating!).

So not an overly exciting post, but catching up on the past couple of weeks.  I need to add some pictures from Easter as my children were absolutely adorable and it was gorgeous up here.  Happy Spring to everyone!

Friday, March 23, 2012


It's been one of those weeks.  The kind in which you're ready to move to a new state (if not a new continent) under a new name and start over.  Preferably without children, some of the time.  [Please note, NO!! I do not mean that seriously.]  My church is preparing for the Easter music season, with plenty of rehearsals, my school has just left contest season and I'm getting ready to start pops music.  The students will love it, except for the fact that they cannot all be sopranos and therefore cannot all sing the melodies they have heard on the radio.  They will occasionally have to sing... gasp... harmony!!!!!  I know.  What a cruel music teacher I am.

On other fronts: my cross-stitched stocking has had to take a back burner as my usual sewing time has been taken up by escorting an almost-three-year-old back to bed on a very consistent basis.  She really started doing this the month or so before David was born and we "fixed" the problem by giving her a nightlight and letting her keep her bedroom door open.  Since then she's been up maybe 2-3 times a week after being put to bed.  And then daylight savings time arrived.  It is no longer dark when she goes to bed and I am the horribly mean mommy who makes her go to bed at her bedtime, not when it gets dark.  I just can't win these days!  She comes up with every imaginable excuse to get out of bed and refuses to go back to bed on her own.  It's been exhausting.  On the other hand, as I type this she has not yet gotten up tonight, so a collective knock on wood would be appreciated :)

I also discovered another really great chicken dish that I wanted to share.  With photos even!  John was giving me weird looks as I took a picture of my dinner plate before eating, but it was worth it.  I even considered being one of those really awesome bloggers who takes a picture of all the ingredients before you start, but then I realized it wasn't worth getting all those extra dishes dirty just so I could show how it started.  Not to mention I would have to clean a space in my kitchen to take said photos.  You'll just have to survive with the finished product: Peachy Chicken

What's even better about this is that it's basically a one-skillet meal so clean-up is relatively easy.

What you need:
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (I used full breasts and cut them in half)
1 Tbsp. Canola oil
1 Tbsp. butter/margerine
1 can (15 1/4 oz) sliced peaches, undrained
1/2 C packed brown sugar
1/2 C orange juice
1 envelope onion soup mix
Hot cooked rice (optional)

Brown the chicken in both thte oil and butter in a large skillet over med. heat.  Move the chicken to a plate and keep warm.  In the same skillet, pour in the peaches with juice, brown sugar, orange juice, and soup mix.  Bring this mixture to a boil and cook for 2 minutes.  Reduce the heat and return the chicken to the pan.  Simmer uncovered for 15-20 minutes or until chicken is fully cooked.  Serve over rice, if desired.

I really liked the chicken, Jocelyn really liked the peaches, and John liked the whole meal.  David had no opinion, that I'm aware of.

So.  I'm looking forward to a hopefully relaxing weekend that will seem much longer than it actually is.  Happy Friday!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Ultimate Grilled Cheese

No, this is not in reference to the Food Network series.  This is just my opinion.  But wow.  Anyone who is a fan of grilled cheese sandwiches needs to try this dish.

1 tube refrigerated crescent roll dough
4-6 slices each muenster, swiss, monterey jack cheese
1 cup shredded cheddar
4-6 ounces cream cheese
Sliced pepperoni (optional)
1 Tbsp butter, melted
Sesame seeds

Using half the tube of crescent rolls, seal the seams and press into the bottom of an ungreased 8x8 baking dish.  Cover with 4 slices of each cheese and top with the cheddar.  Slice the cream cheese into about 1/2" slices and place on top of the cheddar.  Cover with pepperoni, if desired.  I'm not a fan of either cream cheese or pepperoni, so I put these on John's and Jocelyn's portions and just added an extra slice of the muenster and jack cheeses on my portion.  Cover with the remaining crescent roll dough, again with seams sealed.  Brush the top with the melted butter and top with sesame seeds.  Bake at 350 for 35 minutes.  It is extremely cheesy and melty and gooey and just fantastic.  I'll take pictures next time... it was devoured before I could get any!

Hope you enjoy!

This recipe was adapted from a recipe found in "More Fast Fixes With Mixes".

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Easiest Chicken Dinner EVER!

It's been a crazy couple of weeks at our house.  And at work.  And at church.  And for life in general.  Progress is being made on my cross-stitch stocking, although I've had a couple days when I completed work and it didn't look like I had done anything.  I've read several books, but left the list lying around somewhere.  I'll find it eventually.  A couple good ones, a couple "meh" ones.  Nothing I hated, but nothing that blew me away.  Lots of different dinners, especially some of my old stand-bys from my childhood days.  I'll post on those eventually.

But then tonight.  I got back from school today and realized I was supposed to make dinner!  Ha!  So here's what I did:  I put a couple chicken breasts in a ziploc bag, added around half a cup of parmesan cheese (just the cheap, grated stuff), and a whole bottle of Italian dressing.  Mix in the bag, marinate in the refrigerator for a couple hours, bake at 400 for about 20 minutes.  I served it with ranch [instant] mashed potatoes and some steamed green beans. Oh my goodness.  John took one bite and declared it needs to be a repeat meal.  And for him, that's fairly high praise.  Jocelyn had seconds on both the chicken and the "papaytos".

A word of warning.  The marinating mixture does not look all that appetizing.  And in my opinion, parmesan mixed with Italian dressing does not smell all that appetizing.  But the cooking (baking?) smell was incredible and the fact that it's in the refrigerator covers a lot up.

But it was an incredibly easy meal to do and we really enjoyed it.

Happy Almost-Friday!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Catching Up on My Reading

I've finished four books in the past couple weeks and I'm quite proud of the accomplishment.  I should admit that I am a very fast reader and all of the books I read were by choice and so I was looking forward to all of them.  I know a couple people who do the reading challenge at the beginning of the year where the reader picks 12 (or so) books that he or she wants to finish over the course of the year.  At the end of the year the list is examined for what was completed and what wasn't, and also additional books that were read but weren't on the original list.  I would fail at that kind of challenge because I read the books that appeal to me in the moment.  I suppose I could challenge myself to read a certain number of books, but with two children I can't guarantee anything.  So I will continue what I'm doing :)
So my recent books:
Crossed, by Ally Condie
Summary by
In search of a future that may not exist and faced with the decision of who to share it with, Cassia journeys to the Outer Provinces in pursuit of Ky - taken by the Society to his certain death - only to find that he has escaped, leaving a series of clues in his wake.
Cassia's quest leads her to question much of what she holds dear, even as she finds glimmers of a different life across the border. But as Cassia nears resolve and certainty about her future with Ky, an invitation for rebellion, an unexpected betrayal, and a surprise visit from Xander - who may hold the key to the uprising and, still, to Cassia's heart - change the game once again. Nothing is as expected on the edge of Society, where crosses and double crosses make the path more twisted than ever.

My opinions: First, this is the second book in a series.  I finished the first book last year and I have to say that I finished it and I wasn't sure if I liked it or not.  Even weeks later I hadn't made up my mind about it.  So when this book came out I checked it out from our school library and brought it home and it sat on my bedside table for months.  I finally finished the books I "wanted" to read and tried to talk myself into reading this.  I picked it up and was immediately drawn into the characters.  The chapters alternate between the perspectives of Cassia and Ky as they travel through this dystopian society in which children are "matched" [the title of the first book] by the people who run the society.  Cassia was "mistakenly" matched with two people, one of whom is Ky, who should not have been in the matching system to begin with.  I really liked the layout of this book as opposed to the last one.  It leads into a third and final book.  While I enjoyed this book more than the first, I was still not overwhelmed by the book.  I will read the third book because I can't just leave things unfinished, but I'm hoping this last one will be more impressive.  I give it 3 stars out of five.

Book 2 - The Weight of the Sky, by Lisa Ann Sandell
Summary by
Sarah, like every college-bound junior, deals with constant pressure from teachers, friends, and parents. Besides that, she s a marching band geek and the only Jew in her class. So when she gets a chance to spend the summer on a kibbutz in Israel, Sarah jumps at the opportunity to escape her world. But living in Israel brings new complications, and when the idyllic world Sarah creates suddenly shatters, she finds herself longing for the home she thought she d outgrown.
This lyrical novel beautifully captures the experience of leaving behind a life that s too small, and the freedom of searching for a place with a perfect fit.
This book was okay.  It's nearly 300 pages read more like about 75 because it's all in free verse.  I'm not a huge fan of free verse, but I've read others that weren't bad.  The characters were not very developed, the plot was not overly logical to me, and I didn't agree with how the plot played out at the end.  The Jewish religion was very prominent and was examined by the main character as she travels through Israel.  Again, it was okay, but I probably won't search out anything else by this author.  I should add that the reason I read this book to begin with was because I needed something to read while I was doing some other things.  It's not one I would have picked up on my own, but it was available when I needed it.

Book 3 - Delirium, by Lauren Oliver
Summary by
Before scientists found the cure, people thought love was a good thing. They didn’t understand that once love -- the deliria -- blooms in your blood, there is no escaping its hold. Things are different now. Scientists are able to eradicate love, and the government demands that all citizens receive the cure upon turning eighteen. Lena Holoway has always looked forward to the day when she’ll be cured. A life without love is a life without pain: safe, measured, predictable, and happy.
But with ninety-five days left until her treatment, Lena does the unthinkable: She falls in love

I started this book and didn't realize that it was the start of [yet another] trilogy.  It's also another dystopian society book which I have enjoyed.  I wasn't thrilled with the writing, but the story was good.  I think I would have enjoyed it more if I had known there was more to come.  Full confession: I like books that wrap up with a nice little bow.  I don't have to agree with the ending, but I want the questions to be answered.  I finished this and that is NOT what happened.  When I returned the book the next day, very disappointed, my school librarian let me know that there was more to come.  Lo and behold, the next book came out last month!  I will be looking for it very soon.  Overall, after learning there is more to come, I give this book 4 out of 5 stars.

Book 4 - she said/she saw, by Norah McClintock
Summary by
Tegan was in the backseat when her two best friends were gunned down in front of her. Was it an argument over drugs? An ongoing feud? Or something more random? Tegan says she didn't see who did it. Or know why. Nobody will believe her. Not the police; not her friends; not the families of the victims; and not even Kelly, her own sister. Is she afraid that the killer will come back? Or does she know more than she is saying? Shunned at school and feeling alone, Tegan must sort through her memories and try to decide what is real and what is imagined. And in the end she must decide whether she has the strength to stand up and do the right thing.
I enjoyed this book.  A lot.  At just over 200 pages I expected it to take longer than it did.  The chapters alternate between the two sisters.  Kelly sees life from the perspective of a movie director and her chapters read like scripts, complete with action cues, monologues to the camera, and flashback scenes.  Tegan simply narrates her own chapters and presents her side of the story.  Throughout the book the reader does not know what, if anything, Tegan saw.  As a reader of many different books, I had a couple ideas of where the plot could go and I was partially correct at the end.  There are not many plot twists, and I thought the behavior of Tegan's schoolmates was very passive, considering the circumstances.  Maybe that means I've been reading too many violent books.  I can't see that being the situation in "real life".  I would give this book 3.5 stars out of 5.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

A Busy Three Days

Lots going on.  Two recipes, one new and one tried and true and loved.  Finished a book.  Took David to the 4-month appointment [lots of tears were had].  And accomplished a minor miracle.  So here goes....

My food experiences first.  We tried a homemade version of a hamburger helper dish.  While cooking 8 ounces of elbow macaroni, I browned a pound of ground turkey (though the recipe called for ground beef). I added 16 ounces of tomato sauce and a packet of onion soup mix.  After that was mixed I added a cup of cheddar cheese.  When the pasta was finished that got added to the pot as well.  Everything got mixed and then put into a casserole dish (ungreased), topped with another cup of cheddar cheese, and baked at 350 for half an hour (half covered, half uncovered).  It was okay.  We liked the texture and we liked some of the taste, but the onion soup stuff was weird.  We're thinking we'll try it again, but add different spices instead of the onion soup mix.  The chunks of onion didn't cook through and were crunchy and the flavor was just off.

Then tonight's dinner.  This is one of John's favorite dinners, and I really have to agree.  It's pretty simple but just a bit time-consuming.  It is also a one-skillet meal, so it's awesome for clean-up.  You slice a pound of kielbasa sausage lengthwise and then slice about half an inch thick.  Brown this in about a tablespoon of olive oil (I would use grapeseed, but I don't have any).  Add a package of au gratin potatoes and the sauce mix along with 2 1/2 cups of water.  Mix it up and cook for 18-20 minutes over medium heat, stirring every 3-4 minutes or so.  If you don't stir then the potatoes get stuck to the bottom of the pan in a giant lump.  Once the potatoes are soft, add a 8-10 ounce package of mostly thawed California medley veggies (carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower).  We use a full 16 ounce package because it fills out the dish, Jocelyn will actually eat the veggies (even the broccoli - but not the stems), and they are just really good for you!  Mix it all up and cook for 8-10 more minutes.  Remove from the heat, top with about a cup of cheddar cheese, and recover for about 2 minutes to let the cheese melt.  This dish is really pretty with all the colors of the veggies, potatoes, and even the meat.  We really like this meal.  We got it out of the Fast Fixes with Mixes cookbook, which is a favorite in our house.  Maybe someday I'll get pictures, but the food usually disappears too fast. :)

My book: I read Shadow Hills by Anastasia Hopcus. 
From After her sister Athena's tragic death, it's obvious that grief-stricken Persephone "Phe" Archer no longer belongs in Los Angeles. Hoping to make sense of her sister's sudden demise and the cryptic dreams following it, Phe abandons her bubbly LA life to attend an uptight East Coast preparatory school in Shadow Hills, MA -- a school which her sister mysteriously mentioned in her last diary entry before she died.
 Once there, Phe quickly realizes that something is deeply amiss in her new town. Not only does Shadow Hills' history boast an unexplained epidemic that decimated hundreds of its citizens in the 1700s, but its modern townies also seem eerily psychic, with the bizarre ability to bend metal. Even Zach -- the gorgeous stranger Phe meets and immediately begins to lust after -- seems as if he is hiding something serious. Phe is determined to get to the bottom of it. The longer she stays there, the more she suspects that her sister's untimely death and her own destiny are intricately linked to those who reside in Shadow Hills.

My review: I LOVED the first half of this book.  I don't know if it's the type of books I've been reading lately or what, but I had all of these ideas on what could happen, or where the plot could go, or what twists could be thrown in.  Nope.  It was pretty much what they set it up to be.  It was still good, but it wasn't great.  The writing wasn't spectacular, but it was very accessible.  The plot was good, but predictable.  The characters were fun, but again, slightly undeveloped.  I would give this book 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Mr. David.  He is such a happy baby.  He has officially doubled his weight: 11 lbs, 12 ozs.  He's two feet "tall".  He's pretty much a little guy and the doctor is very happy with everything.  We have tried rice cereal, which he hated, and bananas which he did not hate.  We're planning to revisit the cereal because when we tried it he was very hungry and the spoon did not go as fast as either the bottle or mommy.  The bananas were given at a much calmer time and he seemed to enjoy them.  Maybe we shall combine the two....  He got three shots and mouthful of medicine today, but calmed pretty quickly.  And still ate the bananas.  What a trooper.

And finally, our minor miracle.  John and I paid off our last credit card today after our federal return came in.  I get to call them tomorrow to cancel the card.  SO EXCITED!!!!  At some point I'll share our journey with debt and getting out and hopefully inspire someone to try to do the same.

So it's been a big three days.  I'm looking forward to a relaxing Friday at school and then the weekend already.  We need more three day weekends :)