Monday, May 31, 2010

Budgeting Woes and Menu Planning

For the last six months or so, my laptop has been out of commission. My dad's been working on it a lot, and finally gave me a new hard drive so that I could have my laptop back while he's working on getting the data off of it.

Anyhoo...

The return of my laptop means the return of my budgeting software. I spent a fair amount of time tonight logging all of my expenses for the year so far. I was shocked at what I found! When we don't budget, we spend an inordinate amount of money going out. I knew it was a lot, and that we should pare down, but WOW!

So *B* and I decided to lay down menus for the week and ACTUALLY stick to them. So here we go:
Tuesday
Chicken, Zucchini, and Mushroom Kabobs

Wednesday
Chicken Tacos Chipotle Style with Succotash

Thursday
Chicken Parmesan with Peas

Friday
Homemade Pizza with Green Beans

Saturday
Barbecued Pork Loin with Yams and Applesauce

Sunday
Mexican Lasagne (featured here) with Succotash

I have had a few leads on summer jobs, but none of them are perfect. I'm still waiting to hear back from the library. I am already committed to going to Camden, NJ for a week in June (for which I get paid). I have been offered a half-summer position at a summer camp at my school. But that still doesn't quite pay the bills. A friend of mine from grad school just said that she can't do evening tutoring anymore, so she offered me her tutoring position about 1/2 hour from my home. While I don't have one specific job this summer, I think we can make it. But it will be tight. I will be SO thankful when all this wedding business is over. Not so much because I'm wishing my life away, but mostly that I'm wishing my stress away :o)

Memorial Day Weekend

First and foremost: A big thank you to those who have served and are serving now in our military. A special thank you is in order for those who have paid the ultimate price for our freedom.

Secondly, we went to see Prairie Home Companion at Wolf Trap on Saturday for their Memorial Day edition.
We're such nerds that we got there 2 hours early to wait for the gates to open 1 1/2 hours before the show. We got AWESOME lawn seats.

Wolf Trap is really amazing. Just beyond where you see the chairs and people is a fairly steep hill. That makes all lawn seats good seats. Unlike other places I've been, this means that everyone can see despite others sitting in front of them.

The actual seating is really gorgeous, too. The entire stadium is made of a really beautiful wood.

This is their set. It really does remind me of home :o)

Garrison Keillor himself came out to the cheap seats!

I love a man in a suit and red sneakers.

The end of the show!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Simple Pleasure Thursday

My simple pleasure is the smell of plants. I had forgotten how amazing tomatoes and squash plants smell. Yes, the fruits are nice. But the smell of the plants themselves are amazing.

When I was a little kid, my mother had an awesome garden for a year or two. It, as things are wont to do, fell by the wayside. But for a short time, it was magical. I would run out back and pick asparagus for dinner, or just wander around the straw filled rows. Some of my strongest memories are of the smell and feel of patty pan squash plants.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Growing Garden

My garden has really taken off now. The squash and tomatoes are a wee bit yellow, and the lettuce badly needs to be harvested. But overall, it looks amazing given that this is my first ever garden.
Lovely, lovely lettuce. Some has already been harvested. Yum! The snow peas behind it are getting HUGE! I should have made the trellises bigger.

My lima beans are still tiny, but my regular peas are doing well, as are my carrots and parsnips in the closer bed. I let my salad mix go to seed, but I'm okay with that.

The peppers, tomatoes, zucchini, yellow squash, and patty pan squash are doing really well. I've got a ton of tomatoes there - Beefsteak and Roma.

Look at these potatoes! They were just rotten potatoes at the bottom of the bag from dinner one night that I cut up and threw in a bucket! Who knew...

Something's been eating my sunflowers, but they keep shooting out new leaves defiantly.

Look at this gorgeous asparagus! Six of eight root balls have put out shoots. I'm very optimistic about them.

Here, we've got Indian false strawberries (native/wild) and a random pea plant I tossed against the fence when I had no more room. It's doing well :o)

I have lovely sweet pea flowers.

Isn't *B*'s compost pile great??

I love this view of the backyard. *B* got the barrel for $10 at a local orchard. I hope the peach trees put out leaves soon.

My blackberry has finally started putting out good, new growth.

My chives and rosemary are going nuts. I've been doing lots of research on preserving them for the winter.

Here, I have lavender, English thyme, and lettuce that I had pulled out, roots and all. I threw it back into a pot and it's starting to grow new leaves.

Here I have the cilantro and parsley that I kind of forgot about. Oops!

This is my basil and (I think) parsley doing really well.

This will be lovely lettuce for a summer hostess gift.

We found this (chocolate?) mint plant at an organic store. I love it.

My mom had let her green onions (scallions) go too big, so we through them in our backyard.


Does anyone want some lettuce? I've got a ton!

These are more random plants that I started as seeds and have kind of forgot about. I've been giving them away left and right.
My bulbs - onions, shallots, and garlic.

My mint plant is getting eaten by the aphids. While I haven't taken care of it as I should, it seems to be doing alright.

So that's what's going on here garden-wise. We've harvested two bunches of lettuce and four strawberries this year. I'm looking forward to the rest coming here shortly!

Another Form of Work

I've often heard it said that "marriage is hard work." While I'm not quite there, I've just recently come to understand what this means. I've always thought my relationship was good - we never fight, he does nice things for me, I try to do nice things for him. But I've realized that we've been living past each other. We are each in our own world for the duration of time that we're in the same place.

Obviously not us. Image from http://www.disaboomjobs.com/career-resources/working-from-home-telecommuting/how-to-get-hired-from-virtual-volunteering

This weekend, we worked really hard to change that. Last night, it seemed to come naturally again. It seems that letting your guard down, just for a few weeks or months, means that the great relationship you've formed slips away. And without regular tune-ups, it falls into disrepair.

It's for this reason that we're going to try FHEs again. Last semester, I was in school once a month on our FHE night, so it really threw things off. We just let it go. I'm going to try hard to come up with a schedule of things to do together in order to strengthen our relationship. I am hopeful between our FHE and the marriage sessions we'll be doing before we can get married in the church, we will set ourselves up with a stable foundation on which to build our lives.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Last Week of Classes!

I'm sorry if I've been sporadic for the last week or two. It's the last week of classes! I have my kids for three days this week, graduation Thursday, off until next Wednesday, then three days of exams and they're gone for the summer. We get out on June 9th. I can't believe how quickly this year has flown. I'm just about finished my second year of teaching.

Bring on the anxiety. Yes, summer is quickly becoming my biggest source of worry for two reasons. 1) I haven't signed my contract yet. I'm 99.95% sure I'm being hired back next year. But I still worry about it. 2) I haven't found a summer job yet. I've applied at least three places, with two being places I've actively been calling. They keep saying they'll let me know either way, but I never hear anything. I called one of the two places just this afternoon, and they told me they don't have my resume! Great. Worse comes to worse, I'm applying at every small business in town starting June 10th.

Speaking of jobs and anxiety, *B* did not get the job at my school. I was sad, but I know that it was for the best. The lady coming in is immensely qualified for the job.

I'm going to try to quit my anxiety meds this summer (with my doctor's help). I really hate the side effects. I'm hopeful that, with a therapist, I can get over everything I need help with.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Random Thoughts

This weekend seems to be dedicated to things I haven't done in a long time. For the first time in maybe a year, *B* and I went to a movie last night. We saw Shrek Forever After in 3D. It was pretty good. I don't know if it was worth the $14.50 a piece (fourteen fifty! That's crazy!), but it was good to get out of the house.

The other surprise for this weekend is having NO PLANS! I haven't had no plans in MONTHS. I can't actually remember the last time I had no plans. I'm so excited :o) Maybe we'll wander down to Ikea, or maybe we'll stay home. Maybe we'll work in the garden, maybe we'll read. I don't know, but I do know that we can do anything.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Bloggerversary

I can't believe I've been blogging for one year. Though my focuses have changed and probably will continue to change, I have really enjoyed it all. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Wanted: Good Homemade Bread

SWF seeks a good white/Italian bread recipe that yields a loaf with soft insides AND outsides. Must be tasty and enjoy baking in my oven and long walks on the beach.

I have been making bread for a while now. I keep bookmarking bread recipes, and I try them, but they're never quite right. I need to find a bread that is just like the kind you get in grocery store bakeries. It has large holes (is that called loft?) and is very soft. Does anyone have the perfect bread recipe?

Simple Pleasure Thursday

My simple pleasure for today is remembering you like vegetables. I wanted to go out for dinner today, but decided to make something quick instead - hamburger helper. And, because we're trying to eat a little more healthy, I made up some quick succotash (Lima beans and corn). I devoured the veggies far before I ate the hamburger helper. They were delicious. I must remember that more often.

Picture from Doe and Mouse

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Recent Reading

I've taken up reading over the past few months. I had lost the habit while in college, but gained it back since having my own house. Over the last week or two, I've read three good books.

The first was called "Friend of the Earth" by T.C. Boyle.
I had been given this book for my college graduation by a favorite professor. I tried to get into it once, but couldn't. The second time around worked much better. This book is somewhat post-apocalyptic. We've ruined the environment, but the world is not the arid desert one would expect. It rains all the time, and just about the only meat available is catfish. The book bounces back and forth from their present day (2025-ish) to the narrator's past (2000-ish). In present day, the narrator keeps exotic animals - lions, Patagonian foxes, hyenas, etc. In the past, he was an eco-terrorist, sabotaging big business.

The second book I read was "Black and Blue" by Anna Quindlen.
This was a whole different story. In this book, a woman gets up the courage to leave her physically abusive husband with her young son. It really reminded me of "Sleeping with the Enemy." It's a VERY fast read - I read it all at one shot.

The final book I read was my favorite - "See You in a Hundred Years" by Logan Ward. I literally JUST finished it. Unlike the other two, this was non-fiction. The author chronicles his family's experiences when they leave New York City to live a 1900's life in the Shenandoah Valley. Ward was inspired by a PBS show - the 1900s house - that I absolutely adored. This book details a dream of mine, to live off the land. I don't know if I would carry on after the end of the experiment. Aside from writing about the hardships of that kind of life, which he does, Ward also goes into depth on family life, community, and happiness. I absolutely adore this book. Though it's a library book, I might just go buy a copy to read again.

Distress

When we got Hailey, about two months ago, we said it would be a trial run. We just never said whether or not the trial was over. It hurts to say it, but I don't think we can keep her.

On Friday, the seniors at my school released a hamster in the hallway as a senior prank. Someone took it around asking if anyone could take it home. Being the softy I am, I did. We put her in a bucket in our bedroom until we could get a cage from *B*'s mom. Hailey slipped through the bedroom door while I was in there, and before I could even think, her head was in the bucket. She had the hamster in her mouth! I screamed and pulled back her head trying to get her to let the hamster go. It seemed as if she killed her. Miraculously, the hamster flipped over after a few seconds and started running. This was the beginning of the end.

Hailey has been biting our cats for a while now. She chases them all times of day and night. They're very stressed out, and their hair is falling out. Hailey went to the old owners overnight while we were gone, and we got back, the cats seemed much, MUCH happier.

She won't listen to us. I've tried doing commands, screaming, asking, everything you can think of. I've even tried retraining her with treats. Nothing works.

It looks like the only option I have is to ask her original owners if they can have her back. The stress level in the house when she's here is astronomical. What would you do?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Fresh Air is the Cure

I went up north this weekend. I feel so much more relaxed now.

Isn't it gorgeous?

They had a super-cute baby goat.

They had a not-so-super-cute black snake in the grass.

There were piglets with mama pig.

Look at how precious!

Run piggy, run!

Hello there, Mr. Mule.

These guys were running all over the place.

Doobie the Doberman was looking at me because I was holding a piece of smoked pork.

This big guy is an Anatolian called Damian. He. Is. ENORMOUS!

Whether it was rude or not, I brought food for our family friends. They were very appreciative, and it made me feel good to help out. In some respects, I know that the people up there don't have a lot, but given the pictures above, I think they have way more than I do. They have gorgeous land, fresh air, and animals galore. So what if they can't afford an iPod, a new computer, or cable TV?

The party was very nice. People seemed to have a good time. We camped outside, which was fun. I woke up to the sounds of roosters crowing, dogs barking, and wild turkeys gobbling. But once I saw *B*, we realized we both had little green specks all over our faces. The floor is flaking because the tent is so old, and you can see daylight through it. We need a new tent. But we'll deal with that as we can. For now, we're going to try to seal the floor to get at least one more use out of it this summer.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Importance of Dinner

Dinner used to be a family event. Or at least that's what I'm told. My family sort of just ate in front of the television. But back in the day, gathering around a table was the norm, and not just relegated to holiday meals.

If I've learned one thing in the education classes I've taken, it's that the key to child development is family dinners. There have been stories on the research from ABC News, NPR, and other news outlets. I even seem to remember a Stouffer's commercial to this effect.

I had a professor for my Special Ed class who expounded upon this subject. She said that she was having a tough go of it while her kids were in high school. Her husband development serious psychological issues, she was having financial problems, and the stress was really getting to her. But every day, she put food on the table at night, even if it was just peanut butter and jelly, because she knew how important it was to her children's development. She was (is) convinced that having food on the table helped her to maintain some normalcy, and led to meaningful conversations with her children. It would have been very easy to get wrapped up in the stress of life and forget about her children. Feeling neglected, they would have found acceptance and companionship elsewhere, which could involve drugs or worse.

I'm slowly building a list (mentally for the moment, but in writing at some point) of things I want to remember for when I have kids. Dinner time is definitely one. Family home evening is another. Library day is a third. What kind of things are must-haves for raising your families?

Leaving Home

It seems like *B* and I really haven't been able to leave home on the weekends in a long time. Sure, we go to the store or visit my parents, but we haven't made any trips. This weekend, someone up north is having a graduation party, so we're going and camping out in their yard. I'm excited! It should be fun. The place we're going, people live off the land. The hostess's house used to be an old hunting cabin that her mother transformed. They raise chickens and goats. The people we know there genuinely use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without.

On a slightly related note, I've been turning something over in my mind and beating myself up over it. When we go to the party, we will see family friends there. They do not do very well for themselves. For example, last time I went, their electricity was cut off (but in their state, I was told that means they only get 10% of available power) so they had to turn the fridge off to cook something on the stove. I asked their daughter, who does not live out here, what they like to eat so I could bring them up a box of food. Once I had sent it, I realized that she might be offended that I'm offering food to her parents. Was this rude or inappropriate?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Simple Pleasure Thursday

My simple pleasure is the end of five day work weeks for the year. Next week, I teach three days with no classes Friday. The week after, we have a three day week with a fourth being graduation. The week after that, I have a three day week for exams. And the week after that, I have to show up for two and a half days and then not again for three months I love .my job sometimes :o) Now to get a summer job...

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Rocket Days!

We have now come to the part of the year that I love the most. It is rocket time here at my school. My physics classes will be building rockets, predicting the height of a flight given an engine and a payload, and comparing their actual maximum height (using an altimeter) to their predictions. We might even be able to watch a movie in class, October Sky. That movie was the first date I ever went on - yes, I'm a geek. We're not allowed to show it at one go, but we might break it up over two or three days. Over the next two weeks, if the weather is good, I'll post pictures or maybe even video of the launchings (sans students, of course).

Everything else is winding down, and I'm getting kind of nervous. I have less than a month left to find a summer job. I've applied at two places (Sylvan Learning Center and my local library) and have not heard anything from either. I'm very much hoping to get the library job. I could walk to work, and it would be a well paying temporary position in the children's section.

We are, of course, still waiting to hear on *B*'s chances at the job at my school. When I talked with him about the questions they asked and the answers he gave, they all seemed right on target. I'm still praying very hard that he does indeed get the position.

I haven't had much sleep in the last few days. I keep going to bed around 12-1 am and getting up at 6 am. Talk about burning the candles at both ends. I have really been going nuts researching my family. In some respects, I've found a huge wealth of knowledge out there on the web. In others, I've got nothing. I really need to just put it down for a week or two and start up again later. Interesting factoid - one of my family members married a woman who died giving birth to their first child, a son. He then married her daughter (his stepdaughter) who had a few children then also died in childbirth. Then he died at sea, leaving everyone orphaned.

I have neglected my garden just a tad because of all of the rain or activity going on lately. I really need to keep on top of it. The lettuce looks like it's ready to harvest here shortly. I believe that the frostbitten lettuce that I pulled out at the beginning of the year is starting to grow again, so we can transplant that right back on in.

Birding is going well. I've discovered another species eating the suet on our back deck. While this is not my picture, we have a few grey catbirds roaming around the yard.

Picture from Memories of Chapel Hill

All in all, it's proving to be a crazy, but happy time right now. I am hopeful all will continue to go well.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Diagnosis: Grading Overload

I have this awful habit. I let work pile up, ungraded. Last year, it was because I was making all of my worksheets, powerpoints, and labs from scratch. This year, it's sheer procrastination. It's kind of a binge and purge if you would.

At the beginning of a quarter, I slack off on collecting a lot of work. I figure we've got a whole quarter to do work for grades. The things I do collect, I put to the side because I can grade it a little bit later. No matter how easy it would be in reality to grade, I psych myself out. Multiply this by 5 classes, and it piles up fast.

Then it really is a daunting task. I usually measure in inches, as in "I have 5 inches of work to grade!" When it was SAT season, I had 5 hours in which I had nothing but grading every other Saturday that I could do. Without that, it has gotten out of hand.

So today, I buckled down and graded for just over 5 hours. This means through period 1 (they were taking a test), period 2, period 3 (again, test), and the beginning of period 4. I'm pooped! Done! I have a lovely pile of tests left to grade, but that is it. I will not collect anything for the rest of the year save the final study guide and a packet about rockets.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Family Project

My mom's side of the family has always been interested in our family history. The story goes that my great-great grandfather was actually the grandson of Sitting Bull. When his mother, Snow-on-Me, died, his father gave him up to a neighbor, whose name we carried on. Now, whether this is true or not, I don't know. But it's an interesting story.

After writing the post The Most Perfect Wedding Presents, I took Mrs. Mordacai's advice and checked out familysearch.org. It is brilliant. I'm SO glad she told me. I found more ancestors on the side that actually followed their history, and it led me to question my father's side of the family.

Things I've Learned:
-My grandmother's family all came from the same place I live (within 10-20 miles), back to the early 1700s. Maybe this is why I feel so connected there.
-I'm definitely German six ways from Sunday.
-My father's side of the family has interesting crossovers, feuds, and scandals.
  • A woman on my grandfather's side married a man, and when he died two years later, married his older brother
  • My great-grandfather's second wife destroyed or sold all of my great-grandmother's possessions when my great-grandfather died so that my grandfather and his siblings couldn't get them
  • My great-great-grandfather was having an affair downstairs with his soon-to-be second wife while his first wife was upstairs dying of the flu a few days after giving birth
-Many German records were burned in the mid 19th century.
-The German cemetery in which my great-great-grandfather is buried changed its name in WWII to avoid attacks.
-There is a picture of a 19th century Chinese man in the photo section of the family bible (which I didn't know existed at all) with no name - am I related to him??
-I lived down the street from the cemetery in which my family members are buried all my life and didn't know it.

Every day I find more ancestors, dates, and places. I've actually become a wee bit obsessed. I stayed up until midnight last trying desperately to find out about my great-great grandfather (the closest relation for whom I have no information). I have a phobia of cemeteries, so my mom agreed to go into the cemetery in which he is supposedly buried to try to find him. I don't really feel I can rest until I know something about him.

How important is family history to you? Who is your family historian?

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mother's Day

A happy mother's day to all the mothers, soon-to-be mothers, yet-to-be mothers, surrogate mothers, and substitute mothers.

As for my own mother, we went out yesterday in celebration of mother's day. There is a little festival I go to every year the day before mother's day. They have good music and tons of flowers and crafts. My mom and *B* and I went together this year. We picked up all sorts of interesting things. I bought a geranium plant from the boy scouts and a painted gourd bird nest for the chickadees in my yard. I also bought some mandarin coconut homemade soap. I can't wait until I learn to make soap myself. Geraniums remind me of my grandmother, and I decided it would be nice to have them around. My mom bought an ostrich fern and cake-in-a-jar. I will learn how to make this. And, of course, I'll post it for all to see :o) It was a chocolate-irish cream cake in a mason jar - fully cooked. Oh was it delicious. We ate it with our fingers in the middle of the street. We also had fresh homemade funnel cake, pressed lemonade, and I had a crab cake.

Today, my mom and I are going to see my grandparents. I'm taking my genealogy software to fill in some of the gaps I've been missing on my grandfather's and grandmother's father's side of the tree. I'll post more on the genealogy project a little bit later.

Happy Mother's Day!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Simple Pleasure Thursday and Tiniest Huge Problem

My simple pleasure is my backyard. We've got gorgeous birds, tons of plants, and now two, yes, TWO producing asparagus beds. Once started, they can propagate for up to 25 years. I was able to take my book outside, enjoy the weather, listen to the birds, and watch the world go by. It is sooo peaceful.

As peaceful as my evening was, my night has been very stressful. We now have a full blown ant problem. Our neighbor mentioned that the homes had a problem the other day, but I wasn't too concerned. I now see what he meant.

I decided that, in honor of tomorrow being Friday, I'd make cupcakes for my department. I got the cupcakes made, and was letting them cool to ice them. A few minutes later, I go in, and they are SWARMING with ants. I'm not talking about 5, 10, or even 15, but maybe 50 ants on 9 cupcakes. They were IN the cupcakes. So, out they went. I feel like they're crawling all over me even though they seem to be confined to the basement and kitchen.

I've read online that people swear by everything from poison to cornmeal, borax to chalk, even honey and cinnamon. What do you do when you have ants?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Feeding Our Neighbors

At my school is a religion teacher who is, as one would imagine, very serious about his Catholic faith, as is his wife. She's now pregnant with their third child, with a 6 year old and a 1 year old in the house. She has been diagnosed with a disorder that when she is pregnant, she vomits almost constantly, can't eat, and becomes dehydrated very quickly. Her illness means that she cannot take care of herself, much less the children or the house.

Their church set up a website to coordinate driving her to the doctors and making dinners for the family. It's actually a really nifty setup. Anyhoo, I decided to make Layered Mexican Chicken Casserole for them. It's really tasty. The recipe is below, adapted from a Weight Watchers.

1 spray(s) olive oil cooking spray
2 pound(s) uncooked boneless, skinless chicken breast
30 oz canned black beans, rinsed and drained
3 cup(s) fat-free sour cream
2 cup(s) shredded reduced-fat Mexican-style cheese, divided
8 oz chopped green chilies, two 4-oz cans
2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp black pepper
4 large corn tortilla(s), cut into 2-inch strips

Instructions
Preheat oven to 350ยบF. Coat a lasagna pan with cooking spray.
Cut chicken into 1 inch pieces and saute in a large pan until cooked through.

When cool, transfer chicken to a large bowl and add beans, sour cream, 1 cup of shredded cheese, chilies, cumin, and pepper; mix well and set aside.


Arrange half of tortillas in bottom of prepared lasagna pan, overlapping pieces to cover surface.

Top tortillas with half of chicken mixture, layer with remaining tortillas and then top with remaining chicken mixture. Sprinkle with remaining cup of cheese.


Bake until filling is bubbly and cheese is melted, about 30 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before slicing into 12 pieces. Serve with salsa on the side.