Saturday, March 1, 2014

March Goals

This past week was my first full week at school since mid January.

Yep.

I haven't worked a full five days in over a month.

Between Snowpocalypse I & II, a field trip with my wonderful Scholar's Bowl team, President's Day, and an In-Service day, I have not seen five days at school in a row in a while.

This week just about did me in.  The kids were great, the environment was great, but I was still exhausted by the end of it - it felt like it lasted forever.




This first day of March was wonderful - catching up with a sweet sister in law and her kids this morning, then the rest of the day getting the apartment back to a reasonable living condition and doing laundry.  I really don't like having laundry stretch out over multiple days, so when I'm able to get it done in one day that's a huge gift.  

I was able to get five more research papers graded as well.  When I take up almost 50 research packets, the prospect of getting them all graded can be daunting.  I broke the process down to daily goals: five packets a day, and I'm done in under two weeks. 

Having small, daily goals has really helped me at school recently so it's a method that I've started to apply outside of work as well.  If I can look over the month, week, and day and see what needs / I would like to be accomplished in that time frame, it makes it much more manageable!  

I've borrowed this concept from Nancy Ray, a photographer and wife in North Carolina.  I first heard Nancy and her husband Will do their debt free scream on the Dave Ramsey show about a year ago. 

If you know John and I, you know that we are big Dave Ramsey fans and try to live out those principles in our own personal finances and living.  It's awesome when we find people living out this same dream.   

Since then, I've followed both their blogs as personal inspiration as John and I continue on our path. Listing monthly goals helps in all areas of life, finances included.  

March Goals
  • Finish reading Radical by David Platt**
  • Begin reading The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien**
  • Stay within budget (hooray for staying under *barely* in February!)
  • Actively photograph trip to NYC with Dad (!!)
  • Sign up for the teacher Relay for Life team!
  • Make progress on cross stitch stocking
  • Practice calligraphy
  • Finish one painting
Weekly Goals
  • Walk / elliptical three days a week
  • Strength training one day a week
  • Limit dessert intake to twice a week (ugh.  this one is going to be a doozy for me)
  • Balance budget
  • Plan meals and shop by a list (Aldi / Target)
Daily Goals
  • Give the Lord my upmost - be more focused during my devotion time
  • Drink 3 water bottles per day
  • Only one cup of coffee at work
  • Pack a balanced lunch in the mornings
  • Get 8 hours of sleep per night
  • Journal - even if briefly

I'll report back at the end of the month to let you know how all of these went! 

**If you are interested in seeing my reading plan for 2014, check out my Bookshelf page at the top! 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Big Easy Valentine's

I mentioned last time that our Chicago trip was, well, less than fluid.  John and I learned many things about each other, the big thing being we don't know how to vacation together.

Well, that is.  We don't know how to vacation well together.  

Little did I know that he resolved to give us more time to practice just a month and a half later!  He immediately began deal shopping for a place to stay in the French Quarter of New Orleans - somewhere I've been wanting to go for some time now!

My parents were in on it (I was convinced we were headed up to Huntsville President's Day weekend to spend some time with them), my in laws were in on it - even one of my coworkers! To be honest, I really should have seen this coming based a multitude of weird clues, but I didn't.  So, hooray for naivety making a surprise a really good surprise!

Last week took three work days from me because of snow - after the Snowpocalypse that hit Birmingham and left thousands stranded, everybody was playing it safe so they wouldn't have to say sorry later.  So three days at home and then a pre planned in-service work day at school, and I was packed and ready to head to Huntsville.

After my first meeting Friday morning, I get this text from the hubs (you can see my reaction that follows):





So, as you can see I was beyond excited.  Unfortunately, I had the rest of the day in a tiny cubicle to wait.  That day was spent bouncing between grading papers, looking up things to do in the French Quarter, and generally trying to contain my excitement and retain my professionalism.  

Which, by the way, is really hard to do when you know you are leaving on a surprise vacation in just a few short hours.  

John picked me up from school and after a quick Chik Fil A stop, we were headed south to NOLA! It took about five hours to get there, and we rolled on to Decatur Street.  

On the way down I emailed my old English teacher and friend Beck McDowell, who hails from the crescent city, for some insider tips of what to see and do.  She did not disappoint, sending me an extensive email of tips for navigating the French Quarter as well as this great blog post of the ins and outs of NOLA.   Her advice was hugely helpful when we got there and definitely gave us some direction in what we wanted to do! 

John used airbnb to find our place - a cute apartment smack in the middle of the French Quarter.  From the balcony of our apartment you could see Cafe Du Monde and a corner of the park!  Not to mention it was quite spacious:


The manager of the apartment was extremely friendly, going out of his way and interrupting his own Valentine's dinner to give us the keys and show us the ins and outs of the apartment.

After getting settled in, John and I hit the streets to do some exploring.  They say New York is the city that never sleeps, but after this weekend I'm convinced that moniker belongs a bit further south - the people of New Orleans, specifically the French Quarter, never sleep.  

The streets were hopping as we wandered through the French Quarter.  The coolest part about seeing this city was the history - some of the establishments have been, well, established, since the mid 1700s! 

Because we are crazy party people, we didn't end up eating dinner until close to 10:00 pm - a record for people who are usually in bed by then.  We stumbled upon a hole in the wall Italian place that looked delicious, and looks were not deceiving - it's quite possible that was the best seafood pasta we've ever had in our life.  And extremely reasonably priced too! 

I've mentioned before that John and I are on a pretty specific budget right now.  John did great by setting aside a specific amount of money that was plenty for us to do exactly what we wanted to on this French Quarter vacation!  I plan on doing a more specific budgeting post in the next few weeks, so stay tuned for that!  

Saturday morning we rolled out of bed around 8:30 and headed out for the day.  Our first stop was Cafe Du Monde, and we must have timed it perfectly because there was absolutely no line - we just walked down and sat at a table on the edge of the patio.  While we enjoyed our beignets and chicory coffee, a man on a trumpet serenaded us and the rest of the customers with old time hymns - it was lovely! 

You guys.  Beignets. So. Good.

What I loved about this trip is that we were totally on our own schedule - we spent the next few hours wandering the streets of the French Quarter, stopping when we felt like it for a quick snack or two!

John with his half dozen boogers raw oysters.  He loved them; I had the fried alligator.

John and I had a conversation once about the difference in "traveling" and "vacationing'.  Traveling, we decided, is exploring new things, having adventures, and also being exhausted when you returned.  Vacationing, on the other hand, was all about rest and relaxation.  I had made up my mind that the two were both great, but mutually exclusive.  You had to know which one you were setting yourself up for.  
This trip convinced me that I was wrong.  Although we walked for miles, there was zero element of stress and craziness on this trip.  Despite a bit of foot ache from the walking, the trip was incredibly restful.  


Strolling Jackson Square in the morning. 

Posing in the garden - it was a beautiful morning! 

New Orleans is alive all. the. time.  We loved being out and about in the morning hours, though, because we actually got to see how a city like this functions.  Vendors beginning to set up their goods, musicians rolling out their instruments - even a young man who, for a small fee, will provide you a poem of the subject of your choosing!

One of our favorite things was touring the cemetery right outside of the French Quarter! It was fascinating - and a bit spooky - to wander through all the above ground graves and see the breadth of time these graves span.





Saturday night, after miles of walking, we decided it would be a great time to kick back and relax on our balcony with a mufuletta - a signature sandwich of New Orleans.  It. is. delicious.  AND - massive. 

It fed us very well for several hours! 




De to the licious.

That night we were able to watch the first of the Mardi Gras parades from the comfort of our private balcony.  While it was, ahem, not what you would call "family friendly" - it was fun to get a taste of the culture, albeit from a safe distance :)

bad phone shot of the start of the parade from our balcony

The next day was check out day, but we still had plenty of time to see the last few things on our list.  

John got a taste of some good espresso at a local coffee shop.
And I had a nutella crepe.  You guys.  Nutella. Crepe.  Yes, it was as delicious as it looks. 

A few last views of our surrounding neighborhood. 

And a studly husband.  
Yep, he's a keeper.  

Our last stop was a recommended Gumbo place, and it did not disappoint! 


Delicious! 

Our bellies full of gumbo, we hit the road back to Birmingham.  Our legs were sore but our hearts were happy - we had a wonderful trip to NOLA and definitely plan on going back.  Turns out, we do know how to vacation together.  

What a wonderful surprise from my wonderful hubby!  







Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Oh, Hello - Is It Me You're Looking For?


Welcome to my view from the past six - count 'em - school / snow days of this school year.  Well, tomorrow makes number six.  And not in a row, mind you.  Snowpocalypse '14 and Wintry Mix '14 both wreaking havoc on my lesson planning...

When I finally took a break from Netflix While I keep watching Netflix, I decided it would be a good time for a blog update on the past few months.

First up: we moved! While moving was excruciatingly painful (separate post to come), it is absolutely wonderful to be able to stretch out in this bigger apartment.  Our kitchen and living area is much bigger (at least it feels that way to us), and - most importantly - we have a second bedroom!  John uses this as his office and workshop, which is now desperately needed because....

He is now totally self employed! After lots of prayer and conversation, we decided that it was time for his career path to shift.  What had started as a hobby had quickly become so much more than that and it was time to pursue it full time.  I'm so proud of how he has passionately developed this business and we can't wait to see what happens in the year to come.

On a completely unrelated note, if you happen to be in the market for a vintage guitar, make sure you check out www.truevintageguitar.com . 

Ok, shameless plug over.  

Our Christmas season stayed pretty busy.  Lots of traveling and unpacking - which unfortunately for me, meant no decorating.  All my festive accessories stayed wrapped up in their neat little box, skipped over this year in favor of some respite from the rest of the boxes that were glaring angrily at me, waiting to be unloaded after the move.  C'est la vie.

As usual, we spent part of Christmas in Birmingham with J's wonderfully large family and part in Huntsville with mine.  My sister was able to travel home from Los Angeles so it was beyond fantastic to spend time with her.

After Christmas, we traveled up to Fort Wayne, Indiana to see our dear friends David and Beth get married.  David and Beth have been engaged since we were all in college together, so it's been a long time coming.


There really is nothing like the company of good friends to make a trip.  We all came together from different areas to celebrate our friends, and it was a joy.  Laughter was abundant, that's for sure.

John and I became somewhat of wedding experts in 2013 - we ended up attending eleven! This one, however, remains at the top of the list purely because of the good company.  And, well, the dancing was pretty good too.  We know how to cut a rug!

 The fact that I just used the phrase 'cut a rug' should tell you the kind of circles we run in....



As usual, I had a pretty cute date...
Who loves to dance!


Ok. Guys.  I don't do line dances.  I just don't.  This was a big deal.


With the sweet Nash family.



Loved spending time with these ladies! 



And of course, the beautiful bride Beth! 

This is the last time Beth and I had our picture taken together:

Yep. 2011.

Afterwards, John and I sojourned to Chicago because, well - we could! We hadn't been on a real trip since our honeymoon, so we decided to check out the Windy City.  We'd both been there on separate occasions, but it was the first time for us to go together.

We had a lot of fun, but suffice it to say that we certainly learned a lot about each other on that tiny trip, things we plan to tuck away for future excursions.  That's what is so great about marriage - the little things that you learn along the way being collected and learned from for the future.

Don't let my quaint metaphors fool you - our process of learning about each other was not nearly that, well, quaint.  But there are blog boundaries people.  Blog. Boundaries. Suffice it to say that I love my husband, and we will go back to Chicago again one day :)

Bundled up at the Bean! 

We rang in 2014 in Naperville, just outside of Chicago, with our friends the Nashes.  I can't remember the last time I've seen that much snow! We got to go sledding which was amazing - but cold!

All in all, a great end to 2013 and beginning of 2014.  This year will see some fun trips, the beginning of our fourth (!!) year of marriage, and the start of a brand new career path for John!

2014, I love you already! 







Sunday, November 10, 2013

A Post, a List, and some Goals

I've been doing a lot of musing on change recently.  Change in career, change in family, change lifestyles.  Sorry, this post is not about pie.    

And no, before you get ahead of yourself - I'm not pregnant.  

I've been thinking also about how I want this blog to change.  I still want to log my life - the funny things that happen to a young couple here in the Magic City - but I also want to bring something of substance to the table.  

John and I live on a fairly strict budget.  Self enforced, because we have very lofty goals when it comes to our finances.  In the coming posts, I hope to bring you a bit of insight into the struggles and successes we have in our journey to meet these goals.  Recipes, budgeting, resources - perhaps it will encourage someone along the way.  

We are also getting ready to transition into a new apartment!  We are finally graduating to a second bedroom which is going to be used as John's much needed office and workroom.  

A move, while daunting, is a fresh start.  A clean, blank slate - new walls to decorate, new layout to accommodate - but how do you create a new feel with the same old stuff?  Yet another topic I'd like to tackle here.

A few goals for the upcoming move, hopefully chronicled here:

1) Navigating through the process of what to sell / what to give away.  Our things are piling up around us and I don't want to drown in them anymore.

2) Refinishing / painting a bookshelf - experimenting with bold colors (red!) in my decorating.

3) Packing efficiently over the next few weeks, in the midst of which I / we will be going on two big trips.

4) Redecorating projects for the new apartment once we move. 

You may have noticed the blog got a new name as well.  When I was trying to come up with a new name for the blog, I kept coming back to an old song I heard in my childhood.  I don't remember who sang it to me, but it always made me happy and I believe it sums our life up really well.  I hope it brings you as much happiness as it does me: 



O we ain't got a barrel of money
We may be ragged and funny
But we travel along
Singin' our song
Side by side

Monday, July 22, 2013

Chilled S'Mores Pie

Hello!

I decided to return to the blogosphere to write about one of my favorite ever things....food! Specifically, desserts.

Even more specifically, pie.

Chocolate pie.

Is it possible to be addicted to sugar?  I'm pretty sure the answer is yes.  Hello my name is Liz and....

Anyways, I had a family gathering the other night that I was asked to bring a dessert to.  I love opportunities like this because it's really hard for me to justify making an entire pie for just J and I.  I mean, it could be has been done, but it's not really something that should become habitual.

I scoured Pinterest for waaayyy too long before I settled on what I wanted make on this hot summer night:

Easybaked.net's Frosty S'more Cup!

How yum does that look?  But I realized after scanning the recipe that she uses a mini cheesecake baking pan in her process and immediately my thought process was thus: 

There is such a thing as a mini cheesecake pan? 
 I must have it!
But what part of the budget would it come from? 
I don't care!
No.  Can't. Must resist! No where to put it! Money!
If Target has one, I'm totes buying it when I get the ingredients.  
Ok. 

As you can see, I'm my own worst enemy at justifying purchases.  

The universe was on the side of my budget though, because Target did not actually have any in store.

Target is dead to me. 

No, just kidding.  Target will always be my home away from home.  

I happened to check the mail when I got home from ingredients shopping and Lo! There was a $5 off coupon for Bed Bath and Beyond in that tiny little mailbox.  It was like that mini cheesecake pan was calling my name.  

But melting ingredients and only a few hours until we had to be out called louder.  In a nasally, high pitched voice.  So I said so long to my dreams of justifying my purchase a mini cheesecake pan and resorted to making a pie.  

And pie is never a bad thing.  

Some of you may be wondering why I did not just use a muffin tin.  A few reasons:
1.  I was still bitter about the mini cheesecake pan debacle.  It hit too close to home.  
2. I was worried they would be difficult to get out (mini cheesecake pans have holes in the bottom for poking).  
3. I didn't think I would like the depth of the mini s'mores. 
4. If I made a pie, there might be LEFTOVERS.  Leftover pie is fab. 


So.  Here's what went down:



 Ingredients: 

Crust:
1.75 cups graham cracker crumbs

1/3 cup butter

Pie:
1/2 cup mini semi sweet chocolate chips, with extras for sprinkling on top! 

1/4 cup whipping cream

2 cups mini marshmallows
Y'all, I did not measure mine out.  I just fired at will. This is approximate. 

1.5 cup cold milk

1 box (3.9oz) chocolate instant pudding

1 (8oz) container Cool Whip

What is Cool Whip?  If it's wrong then I don't want to be right...


Directions, with my hilarious commentary: 
 (I'll provide a simplified version of this, sans commentary, at the bottom). 

Preheat oven to 350˚

Melt butter.  Mix with graham cracker crumbs in a small bowl until moist. 

MOIST YES MOIST.  People who don't like the word moist - get over yourselves.  Unless you are talking about clothing, in which case I am 100% on board with you.  

I've found that buying graham cracker crumbs is much easier than buying graham crackers and crushing them up.  That would only make sense if I just naturally had a plethora of graham crackers around to begin with.  Which I don't.  I know it's kind of cheating, but at least I didn't buy a pre made pie crust.  FOR SHAME.  

Just kidding premade pie crusts are fine.  No hate, just love.  

Dump moist mixture into pie pan and press flat around the bottom and up the sides.

Depending on your pan, this may be easier to do with your [clean] fingers or a cup.  I started with a cup to get the bottom even and then worked it up the sides with my fingers.  Remember, mixture must be moist.  But not too moist. Don't even think about pouring a damp mixture in there.  

Bake your crust for a solid 8 - 10 minutes in the oven, then take it out and let it cool to the touch before you add any more ingredients.  

 Next comes your chocolate ganache layer.  In a small bowl, combine the measured out chocolate chips and whipping cream.

The original recipe called for this layer to be milk chocolate chips, but I prefer semi sweet for a ganache, and for something that is going to be drowning in Cool Whip...

Melt in microwave in 30 second increments until smooth and well blended.

Pour over bottom graham cracker crust, making sure it is evenly spread.

A note on form - you see how the crust doesn't go quite up to the top of the pie pan?  I would correct for that next time.  It just made my eye twitch a little bit.  

I would also make sure my crust was good and baked together.  It kind of fell apart in slicing - not too bad, but not as solid as I would have liked.  

Also, make sure you taste the chocolate leftover in the bowl after you spoon it in.  You know, just to check....


Next comes your marshmallow layer.  Like I said before, measure them out if you like, but I fired at will.

It all depends on how marshmallow-y you want that layer.

Also make sure you test some marshmallows.  You know, just in case some went bad...





Now it's time to mix together your main filling.  Mix the instant pudding with the cold milk and blend well.  Careful - this will go everywhere if you don't guard it or have a big enough bowl



Fold in half the container of Cool Whip.  I used a wooden spoon to blend this part.  You won't want it to get too whipped.  


Now it goes in the pie.  You have two options: 1) Dump it in recklessly or 2) Dump it in carefully.  For this round, I chose #2 and I spooned the mixture into a gallon plastic bag and snipped the end to make a piping tool.  I did this to make sure my filling got in between every one of my marshmallows.  

In hindsight, I don't think it changed much.  If I was making mini individual versions of these, I would definitely pipe the filling it, but for a pie I don't think it matters.  

Cover with plastic wrap and let it sit in the freezer several hours.  


After it's frozen for several hours, take out and top with cool whip and sprinkle with chocolate chips.  Make sure you refrigerate until you are ready to eat it.  

Unfortunately, I ran out of time to take a picture of the frosted creation.  And I didn't take a picture of the frosted creation because, well, we were all too busy enjoying my brother in law's delicious grilled burgers and then scarfing down dessert.  

That's the funny thing about documenting things like this.  I want to take more pictures, but I also just want to eat my pie.  

Is that too much to ask? 


Chilled S'mores Pie

Ingredients

Crust:
1.75 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/3 cup butter

Pie:
1/2 cup mini semi sweet chocolate chips, with extras for sprinkling on top!
1/4 cup whipping cream
2 cups mini marshmallows (approx.)
1.5 cup cold milk
1 box (3.9oz) chocolate instant pudding
1 (8oz) container Cool Whip

Directions

Preheat oven to 350˚.  Mix together graham cracker crumbs and melted butter until moist.  Press into pie pan, covering bottom and edges thoroughly.

Bake in oven for 8 - 10 minutes until crust is set.  Turn oven off - you will not need it again. Let crust cool to the touch before you put anything in it.

Mix 1/2 cup chocolate chips with whipping cream.  Melt together in microwave in 30 second increments, until smooth.  Pour into pie crust, covering bottom evenly.

Sprinkle mini marshmallows on top of chocolate.  As many or as few as you like :)

In a large bowl, mix together milk and chocolate pudding until well blended.  Fold in half container of cool whip.

Fill mixture in over marshmallows - take care mixture sits evenly between all marshmallows.

Cover and put in freezer for several hours.

A little before serving, remove and frost pie with remaining cool whip.  Sprinkle with chocolate chips to taste.  Refrigerate until serving.

Enjoy!




























Sunday, June 23, 2013

Sweet Summertime

Well folks, my first summer as a teacher is skipping by - almost halfway over!

My first year of teaching flew by.  Wow!  God is good, right?  My first year of marriage / being a college graduate, I'll admit - I was disappointed.  I loved being married and loved the store I was working in, but I was disappointed that I wasn't doing the thing I felt like I was made to do.  That I wasn't putting to use my degree that took four years of blood, sweat, and tears to earn.

But - God is good!  Jobs that presented themselves involved long commutes, iffy environments, and very little job security.  When I got the part time job at BCS, it was a prayer answered beyond anything I could have imagined.

You see, I got to spend a wonderful first year with my husband, being able to focus on how to be married while still bringing in some income from the store.

I got the job at BCS early enough (April) to be able to plan as thoroughly as possible (which, as it turns out, is not very thoroughly).

By being part time, I was able to ease into a career that is often overwhelming and stressful for a lot of first year teachers.  Although I was constantly busy, my minimal grading load allowed me to take everything most things in stride as the year progressed.

I adore the school I work at.  While not without its flaws, I've never been in a school environment more uplifting and supportive.  I had a great first group of students too - I can guarantee that when they walk across that stage and get their diplomas I will be boo hooing with the best of 'em.

And now, as per usual, a selection of pictures and caption to give you a tour of my past few months.  I'm not sure what direction this blog is going to take in the next few months, but the uncertainty is full of possibility :)

Threw an engagement party for some sweet friends!
Beginning of a crazy wedding season - 13 in this calendar year!  But love getting an automatic wedding date, especially when he is so fun and cute! 


John's cousin's wedding took place at a gorgeous farm in Franklin, TN - one of the most picturesque weddings I have ever been to!

Our collection of "mantiques" continues to grow

Crawfish jambalaya night with silly friends

I love fun, spontaneous dates - like cupcake dates!

John tried his best to teach me how to survive in an old school video game.  I'll admit I failed him miserably. 

Celebrated one of my dearest friends and her baby BOY due in September! 


Thankful for sweet mothers on Mothers' day

My baby sister GRADUATED! Um, what? 

My dad got a Mac.  If you know my dad, you know how funny this is.  If you don't, you can just enjoy the facial expressions of these random people.  It makes me laugh.  
Got to spend some time at the lake with some of my favorite people...

Oh and this picture happened on the drive up.  Enjoy.  

My two year anniversary present to John - a record player!  Do we have room for this in our apt? Noooope.  But is it awesome? You betcha.  

John's anniversary present to me - a patio garden!  What a blessing to be able to make our patio a lovely place to be. 

A beginning of summer treat for me - enjoying a cup of coffee on the porch at 8am, still in my PJs!

Another sweet friend due soon - can't wait to meet this baby boy in August! 

Read a dear friend's newly released book on the way up Nashville - it's a hoot and half and I recommend buying it - but also check out her blog

What a blessing to be back with sweet friends from college for a good friend's wedding - miss these people!

Had a blast at Jonathan and Susie's wedding! 

Our cardinal friend who likes to visit us in the morning

Blessed with wonderful fathers

Exploring Birmingham with good friends.



Well, that's all she wrote for now.  More adventure to come in this crazy busy summer, so stay tuned!