Monday, December 30, 2013

Breaking Away From Young Adult Fiction

For a few days I've been mulling over what to blog about first. For me, this has been the year of bloggable experiences like musicals, my first crock-pot attempt, classroom crafts, decorating my apartment, and reading books, of course. In the future, l plan on writing a musical review of Wicked, Les Mis, Phantom of the Opera, and Lion King. You can also be on the lookout for a rueben dip crock pot recipe post, and a "wine-themed" decorated apartment post. However, for now I am going to do a book review!

Being a junior high English teacher (it's true, by the way, teaching Jr. high kids is as ridiculous as you would imagine), I've been reading a lot of Young adult fiction. In case you are interested, or want to keep these titles on tap for when your babies turn 13, my recent favorites have included the following: The Divergent series, the Matched series, The Fault in our Starts, and anything by Rick Riordan (like the Percy Jackson series). However, seeing as I'm also a grown woman, I've been trying to read some more age appropriate books, which is what I would like to recommend to you all!

The beauty of an age-appropriate book is that it is so much more relatable to our current experiences. My top recommendation fits that relate-ability perfectly. It is a book called Firefly Lane, by Kristin Hannah. This book follows the story of two best friends- Kate and Tully- from childhood, to high school and college, and finally into adult life. Ultimately, this book is about the bond and struggles of friendships between women. As a brief generalization, Tully is outgoing, loud, charming, career oriented and successful, but incredibly insecure. Kate is quiet, plain, stable, a mother, and (slightly less than Tully) insecure in her own way. In the beginning of the book, Kate relies on Tully to learn how to be social (which is easily the most important thing to a high schooler, right??), but as the story goes on we see that the real dependency is the one that Tully has on Kate. Kate is behind the scenes, but is the rock. As you can guess, and as you've experienced, when you have a pair of best friends who are opposites, there are problems and hurt, but also forgiveness and love.

As I was reading this book, I thought so much about my own friendships. To some I am the "Tully" and to some I am the "Kate." I can be outgoing, but inconsiderate, like Tully,  and I can also be a behind the scenes rock. Maybe you can easily identify with one of the roles, or maybe you identify with both. Regardless, I'm sure you can see that no matter the frustrations in a friendship, and no matter the inevitable hurt and, hopefully, forgiveness, the joy and support women receive from each other is so needed and quite a beautiful thing. We all love the men in our lives, but our best friends offer us something so special that I think we often take for granted.

This book is engaging, a great read, and a perfect reminder of the love we have for our best friends. It does such a nice job of illuminating the changes friendships go through and the challenges that accompany those changes. I promise you you'll probably laugh, cry, and then write your bestie a note.
My other recommendations are by Lisa Genova and they are called Left Neglected and Still Alice- both about women struggling to maintain their lives with a limitation (Alzheimer's and Left Neglect). Again, just great reads for adult women.

So, buy one of these on your Kindle or visit your local library and treat yourself! All three of these books pair nicely with a beer, cup of tea, or glass of wine! Merry Christmas, friends!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas! Don't worry, I didn't forget that Christmas day already happened last week. We are just starting our Christmas celebration since Advent just ended and Christmas actually continues on into February (perks of being Catholic). What this means for me: it was totally ok that I didn't even get the Christmas tree set up until Christmas day, I can still add all the ornaments other than the three and giant angel currently on the tree without feeling guilty, I can still make my chocolate, walnut, cranberry bark, and I can still send out the Christmas cards to friends and family that didn't quite make it to the mailbox yet.

As pathetic as all that sounds, I actually was on top of a few things this Christmas. For example, Jeremy and I had most of our Christmas shopping done before Thanksgiving. However, this was more due to necessity rather than any grand planning on my part. We saw Jeremy's side of the family in October and my family for Thanksgiving, so I figured I should have all the Christmas presents ready instead of shipping them for Christmas, because we all know that would never end up happening and cost a small fortune. After having done the shopping this way though, I think I'll stick to it for the future. It was so much less stressful to casually shop for people throughout the year, I didn't have to brave the crazy stores right before Christmas, and I think I actually saved money with better deals and really taking the time to find gifts that fit each person.

Christmas at home was pretty quiet, but really nice. Jeremy and I got dressed up and went to mass in the morning. I made him take a picture to document baby's "first" Christmas. We really need a tripod though so we can take family pictures. I'm just over 33 weeks here!

Jeremy and I had already accidently figured out or found out almost all the gifts we were exchanging, so we tackily agreed to forego wrapping any gifts. It was slightly hilarious.

We got together with some friends for dinner in their new home. I volunteered to make the ham, potatoes, and homemade macaroni and cheese. I used this recipe for the ham in the crockpot. It was delicious! The smallest ham I found was over 9 lbs, so I had to cover everything with tin foil instead of the lid and we are still eating leftovers. I'll include the recipe for the macaroni and cheese at the end. Our friends made some delicious apple pies, green beans, and cranberry sauce from fresh cranberries! After dinner we played Jeremy's new game, Ticket to Ride.

We both missed our families, but without all the craziness of traveling and emphasis on gift giving, I felt a bit more connected to the real reason for the season. I found time to reflect on the tiny child born in Bethlehem and his young, holy mother. It reminded me to pray more for our own growing family and to savor all the blessings we have received. I said a little prayer to our little one in heaven whom we lost last Advent season due to miscarriage and requested they pray for their new sibling arriving in a few short weeks. Overall, Christmas was beautiful and I wouldn't change a single nuance :) I hope you all had a very Merry Christmas day and continue to enjoy this gorgeous season of celebration!

Macaroni and Cheese (adapted from Martin's recipe)

16 oz box macaroni
3/4 cup milk
1 1/5 cups heavy cream
1 cup sour cream
4 1/2 -5 TBLspn flour
3/4 stick butter (6 TBLspns)
4 cups shredded cheese blend (mine is a blend of cheddar, Monterey, and American)
3/4 tspn onion powder
3/4 tspn garlic powder
1/4 tspn salt (optional)
1/2 cup bread crumbs

1. cook macaroni, set aside
2. melt butter in a medium saucepan. When melted and bubbling gently, add flour and whisk until smooth. Gradually add milk and cream while whisking. Allow sauce to thicken (you can add more flour if you need to at this point).
3. Add sour cream and whisk until smooth.
4. Add 3 cups of cheese and mix until melted and smooth
5. Whisk in garlic, onion powder, and salt. Turn heat down to lowest setting and stir occasionally.
6. Place macaroni in a casserole dish (you may need more than one!), and pour sauce over it until thickly covered. Mix and add sauce as needed.
7. Sprinkle with leftover cheese and breadcrumbs.
8. Bake for 15-20 minutes at 350 degrees or until cheese on top melts and is slightly brown.

This freezes really nicely in disposable aluminum pans. You could almost make it heartier by adding shredded chicken, real onions, and other veggies!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

August Book Reviews

I notice we haven't been on here much lately, but here's my post in hopes of reigniting the blog! 

As a Librarian working primarily in Youth Services, I have spent ample time learning my Library's collection and reading A LOT of book reviews for children and young adult literature. What I don't to do as often is actually read the books... and I often wonder how the other Librarians working in my field are able to read the amount they do.  

As a member of both YALSA and ALSC, I am subscribed to the groups' listservs and receive tons of emails daily about everything from the newest best books you've read to discussion of controversial books, to requests for more titles similar to "enter your choice here" to even stumpers!!  Every time a Librarian posts a plea for "Help -- Stumper" and goes on to describe the book their patron is looking for, it never fails -- somebody on the listserv is able to name the title and author of the book! It's really an incredible tool, and it never ceases to amaze me that the stumper is solved often within the hour.  But my bigger question  --  HOW is it possible they all have read everything under the sun?! Seriously, do they ever get sleep?!

Anyways, tangent aside, I wanted to share three titles I've recently read -- all of which fall into the children or YA literature category, but nonetheless, are books even adults can enjoy.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
I'm still not sure how I missed reading this book as a child. Now reading it in my twenties, I can't believe I missed out on it -- it is perhaps one of my all-time favorites in children's literature. 

Following the death of her beloved grandfather, Kit Tyler, a young woman raised in Barbados, travels to the New World to find her only remaining living relatives in Wethersfield of the Connecticut Colony. As she tries to adapt to this new and different way of life, she never ceases to shock the rigid and solemn Puritan community in Wethersfield by her outlandish ways. In turn, she is shocked and struggles to fit in with the severe strictness of the Puritan way of life. She meets and befriends the lonely old widow, Hannah Tupper, who lives by the Blackbird Pond, and her friendship with the woman helps give Kit the strength to face her trials. 

But when an illness strikes the community, the townspeople are quick to call blame Hannah, for they believe she practices witchcraft and are fearful of her because she is a Quaker, with beliefs that greatly differ from their own theology. Kit must find to courage to do what is right and stand against her tormentors when she too is put on trial for witchcraft.  

A few things that particularly struck me about this book.  Though it was published in 1958, it reads like it could have been published yesterday.  Much of the language is of course older sounding and fits with the setting of 1687 colonial America, but the novel overall feels like it was written for today's audience. It was later revealed by a Newbery Committee member that this title won the 1959 Newbery Medal unanimously on the first ballot, which is an exceptionally rare occurrence -- I don't believe it's happened since.  

Speare also does a fantastic job with her characters and accurately portraying early Colonial America and the ups and downs to the rigid ways of Puritanism.  While she reveals some of the good traits, she also shows the great evil that comes from their harsh intolerance of others and those who believe different from them.   It's interesting while her book illustrates how fear and hysteria about witchcraft in Colonial America led to horrible events, the same thing was happening in our country right during Speare's era with the Cold War and the fear of communism in America.  Perhaps a bit of a statement on Speare's part regarding current events.  Excellent all around book and truly one that can be enjoyed by all ages.  Recommended for everyone ages 8+. 

Bomb: The Race to Build -- and Steal -- the World's Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin
A truly amazing and horrifying story that sheds abundant light on the history of the atomic bomb and how it has elevated to the constant existing threat of nuclear annihilation that we face today. This single project would forever change worldwide warfare as we know it. Sheinkin's well-written book weaves together three main narratives: America's top-secret Manhattan Project during World War II, the Soviets' attempts to steal the top-secret information from inside Los Alamos itself, and the Allied attempts to thwart any German attempt at building an atomic bomb.  

Sheinkin succeeds not only in breaking down tough scientific concepts behind the atomic bomb for the average reader, but also creates a factual historic novel that reads much like a fast-paced crime thriller. This is an excellent read for middle grade readers and up, especially for those who have an interest in history and World War II. 

Quite frankly, I knew very little about the atomic bomb prior to reading this book. It has potential to provoke excellent discussion, particularly where ethics and morals are concerned.  Was it ethical to use such a destructive weapon?  It's said it could have saved thousands...probably at least tens of thousands of American soldiers from further battle in Japan -- but at the cost of thousands and thousands of civilian lives in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Is the world a safer place with such weapons? Could the world ever survive another world war? One thing's for sure -- it'll never be the same. A really interesting topic that is still quite relevant in our world today. 

Team Human by Justine Larbalestier & Sarah Rees Brennan  

This is a book I didn't have particularly high hopes for but after both positive reviews from Kirkus (which isn't an easy feat) and from friends, I decided to give it a go... and was pleasantly surprised. 

First things first -- there are A LOT of paranormal, particularly vampire, books out there.  When you step into a YA section today, you can get lost in it and it's difficult to sift through and find the gems amongst the garbage. 

Main character Mel is absolutely dismayed when arrogant and gorgeous Francis Durvarney is allowed to start at her high school. Because he is undead.  To her further dismay, her best friend, Cathy immediately falls for him and becomes hell-bent on being with him forever, even though a transition going wrong could mean becoming a zombie. Mel is determined to get through to her best friend, and prove that Francis is no good, meanwhile helping her friend solve a mystery involving the undead and overcoming some of her own prejudices when she meets a human guy raised by vampires.  

I know, I know... sounds a bit ridiculous, right? I thought so too. But let me say a few things about why I actually enjoyed it.  First off -- it was funny. Very funny. It starts a bit slow, and doesn't sound particularly unique at first,  but really picks up a little ways in.  Sure, it's absolutely a parody of the Twilight series, along with some even older vampire tales, and yet, it turns out to be much more than that, definitely going some places I didn't expect.  The characters are pretty well developed,and most even turn out quite likable!   They are flawed and realistic, and grow.  There's a dose of teen angst, but it doesn't overpower the book.  Refreshingly, there's no love triangle. The minor vampire characters I found extremely entertaining.  The "Bella" character, [Cathy] actually has hobbies (yay!) and the book overall had it's own plot and story to tell, which makes it so much more than just a satire. 

Out of all the vampire books out there, this one is worth checking out. It you're in the mood for a teen paranormal with dry humor, definitely check it out!  It may not be for everybody, but it was much better for me than I had expected!  

Thursday, April 18, 2013

I'm Finally Finished!

I'm finally done! I did it! I made the adorable little clutch that Theresa posted... umm... errrr... a MONTH ago!? Please keep in mind this is my first sewing project in ten years.

I found my fabric and started cutting....

Note that these pictures do not include the multiple scraps I made by not paying attention to the sizes I should have been cutting.

Then I got out the sewing machine. With my nose in the manual, my encouraging husband commented that it looked like it would be easier to just go out and buy a bag....

I loaded the bobbin up and shoved it in the shuttle. Then I successfully threaded up the machine with my wonderful, bright pink thread. I was feeling pretty pleased at this point.

Then I tried raising the bobbin thread. FAIL.

I called mom and I called friends. No success. Had to wait until Monday to bring it to my friend who generously loaned me the machine. Monday sort of turned into Wednesday because I forgot the machine one morning and left it in the car Tuesday.

Thus why it is now Thursday.

But look at how adorable it is!!!

Ok, I have a lot to learn in the sewing department. The corners and sides are a bit wobbly, but I was very happy with my first attempt. I can't wait to find more great fabrics to make this little bag in as well as try more sewing projects!

For directions, please visit Theresa's earlier post. She has some great tips. Or, the original blog, The Elm Street Life by Whitney.

Thursday, April 4, 2013


Apologies for the lack of posting! This isn't even going to be exciting: no pictures, no crafts, very little productivity.

However, I have some incredibly good excuses :)

I LOVED Theresa's last post about her little black clutch. I even got to see it in person over St. Patrick's day weekend. She hadn't done the post yet, and I just kept gushing over it and exclaiming at random intervals that I really wanted to make one, no make twenty, of them in different colors for every girl I knew. I guess she got the hint that I really needed instructions, because she promptly returned home and put up her post ;) Thanks Theresa!

So I saved up coupons, reviewed who needed an adorable little clutch and a homemade gift, and finally set out to JoAnn's a week ago (It's a half hour away, so I like to plan the trip when I have multiple stops to make). I got this great printed linen for the exterior and I was sooo excited throughout the rest of my shopping trip (Well, the five new dresses I also picked up may or may not have been contributing to my state of euphoria) that I couldn't wait to get home and start my new project.

Upon my return home, I proudly showed my new outfits to my poor husband, who tried really hard to look as happy as I was, and enthusiastically started to organize my other craft finds. I picked up the stencil that I got at Michael's for fifty percent off, and opened it up while imagining all the great things I was going to use it on - canvas bags, tee shirts, glass vases, napkins, kitchen towels, etc - when I noticed that all of the pieces weren't punched out! I looked at it again in disbelief. I must just be looking at it wrong, I thought. But no, right in the middle of several of the stencils are the unpunched pieces of the design! I was a bit deflated. I was going to have to go alllll the way back. But I still had my fabric and I was going to start my clutch and FINALLY get out the sewing machine.

Alas, my project wasn't meant to be. No, it's just meant for another day. The woman at JoAnn's didn't cut out the correct amount of interfacing! And she charged me for the amount I wanted.

I've planned the trip for returns and exchanges next Thursday. Expect to see warm and sunny pictures from Myrtle Beach along with the new purse!

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Perfect Little Clutch

After trying to find my sister the perfect clutch purse for her birthday, I was exhausted! I ended finding one that was good enough, but most of them were either too expensive or just not pretty. So, I decided that I was going to figure out how to make my own, so that in the future if I needed a clutch for a certain occasion, I could just whip one up! I ended up finding a great blog called The Elm Street Life with incredibly easy instructions on how to make a basic clutch, but a very pretty one. I did not actually take too many pictures when I was doing this project, so the pictures below are just an overview of the fabric and the way it turned out!

These are the materials that I used. I used black linen for the outside, and this beautiful floral cotton fabric for  the lining. Finally, the white is the 808 Pellon interfacing that the instructions call for. With my coupons for Joanns, the whole clutch cost me only $12 to make!

The end result!

One of my favorite parts - the awesome lining!

Like I said, Whitney's blog, The Elm Street Life has such great instructions for this bag! They are easy to follow for even the beginner sewer. My clutch only took me two nights to sew together. Check it out!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Refurbished Desk

This desk has been in my parents' house for as long as I can remember. It was built by my uncle and then given to my parents. My mom used it as her sewing desk before she replaced it with a newer version. So, for the past few years, it has sat in my parents' garage collecting dusk and spider webs. When Dan and I moved into our new house, I mentioned to my mom that I was looking to buy a cheap desk for my craft room. She suggested I use my uncle's desk which I wasn't exactly thrilled with, but decided to give it a try. I've always been interested in learning how to sand and paint furniture so this was the perfect piece to try it on!

The first thing I did was sand down the desk with a 60 grit sponge hand sander to get the stain sealer off. Then I went over the desk with my electric 80 grit sander to smooth it out.

Then I used Zinsser White Primer to prime the desk for the paint. I decided to do two thin coats of primer on the desk leaving a few hours in between each coat for it to dry. 
I then used Olympic Latex Satin White Paint to coat the desk with two coats of paint. I felt like I needed those two coats to even everything out. (As you can see, I took this picture after finishing the project ;) )
Finally, I used Minwax Polycrylic Sealer to seal in the paint. I just used one coat to seal in the paint and it works great!

As the final step, I picked out new hardware from Lowe's and assembled them on the desk. I love the finished project and feel like it is a completely new desk!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Reluctant Reviewer: Part 1

I've always loved to read. As a kid I read through the entire Bobbsey Twins series and quickly moved onto Nancy Drew by late 3rd grade. My mom didn't quite know what to make of my sister, an equally avid reader, and me. We had very strange rules such as: You may not read at the table during meals, and you may not get out more than ten books at a time from the library. Yes, we had restrictions on reading. To be fair, I know for a fact that reading interfered with doing chores, and I was known for losing books, so they were probably appropriate rules.

I still love to read. For the past five months, I think I've raced through approximately a book a week. However, as I've gotten older, I've noticed I don't remember things very well, and it's quite embarrassing and frustrating when I finally pick up the second book in a series after a two month lapse from the first book, and notice I have a hard time recalling characters and the overall plot.

My solution: write book reviews. I've started on by writing really brief reviews, but I'm always a bit worried I'm going to include a spoiler. So they generally go like this: Great book, incredible suspense, couldn't put it down. Yeah... that's really going to help me remember the storyline.

Ok, honestly, the part about worrying whether I'm going to spoil the book for someone else is really just an excuse. The truth is, I think I'm a terrible book reviewer. When I think about the last time I wrote something remotely academic, I cringe. It's been a pretty long time. Like five years long time. I don't think I'm going to do the books justice.

However, I'm fleeing my comfort zone, because I finished two books last month that were too fantastic not to share. They were recommended by my dear friend, Faith, who is not only an accomplished book reviewer, but also an aspiring author. Check out her blog for other great books and the first chapters of her own books here.

The first book I want to share is Code Name Verity written by Elizabeth Wein.

Recommended as young adult fiction, I, as a full blown adult, truly enjoyed this novel.Wein uses a wonderful combination of fact and imagination to craft two irresistible friends living during the nightmarish era of World War II.  In the midst of the horrors of war, these unlikely friends are drawn together by their unorthodox, but exciting jobs; pilot and spy for England. Filled with adventure, suspense,tough choices, and true friendship, this book left me awake almost the entire night even after I finished it at 1:30am. 

Ok, it's official, I'm really a terrible book reviewer. However, if I say any more at all, I'll probably ruin the entire book. So I guess you're just going to have to take my advice, check it out of the library, and prepare yourself for an entire day off because you won't be able to put it down.  

Second book review coming soon....

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Dr. Seuss Part 2

So, I was originally going to post these projects one-by-one in parts 2, 3, 4, etc. but as life would have it - I just didn't get around to it! So, here are all the Dr. Seuss projects that I had at my Dr. Seuss party yesterday! It was quite a success and all the children and their parents had a lot of fun!

1. One, Fish, Two Fish Toss Game

The first thing I did was find a picture of a fish online that I liked and would be easy to cut out. Then I pinned  it to a piece of felt and cut out two identical pieces.

 Then I sewed the two pieces together and left a small hole as an opening so that I could stuff it.

 I stuffed the fish with some "fluff" that I use for stuffing pillows. I then pinned it back together and sewed it closed.

The last step was adding a white felt eye for each of them and they were all finished! The kids really enjoyed taking turns tossing the fish in the basket!

2. Costume

For the party, my co-teacher and I decided to dress up as Thing 1 and Thing 2. I got two red t-shirts at JoAnns for $3.50 and decided to sew on the logos! I learned how to print on fabric from Pinterest (of course). You iron your fabric onto freezer paper and it makes it stiff enough to go through the printer!

I printed out a Thing 1 and Thing 2 logo on the fabric. 

I cut it out and decided to add a second layer of fabric under it to make it thicker and not so see-through.

I used a liquid stitch to keep it tight against the shirt. I then added a quick stitch around the outside for reinforcement.

I'm pretty happy with the way they turned out!

3. The kids' projects

This was a project that I came up with that day! It is the Lorax's Truffula Trees! I used yellow pipe cleaners and feathers on orange paper to really give it a Lorax-feel!

I also came up with this that day! We realized we didn't have enough crafts for the party so I cut the different pieces of the Lorax's body and had the kids glue them together!

This is a project off of Pinterest, so I can't claim creative rights to it ;). But I couldn't help post this because it came out so cute! We painted the bowtie and penne pasta red and white! We printed out the Cat in the Hat face and glue it onto a clothespin! To finish it we hot glued a magnet on the back so it could be a refrigerator magnet for the kids artwork!

4. Finished Cat in the Hat

I let the kids color him - I think they did a pretty good job! Then I laminated it and cut it out. He was a wonderful addition to our party!

5. The snack

The last thing we did was a Green Eggs snack. Unfortunately, I did not get any pictures of it, but it came out really cute! We dyed pudding green to make the green part and added a vanilla wafer in the middle to make the green eggs!

I'm sorry this post is sooooo long, but I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did!

Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Beauty of a Rose

My husband is so sweet and so talented. St. Valentine's day was a bit hectic. I had the day off but inevitably found myself running all over doing errands and babysitting. I'm terrible at gift giving and keeping secrets, so Jeremy already had his present early- a box of chewy Star Crunch (excuse: St. Valentine's day fell after Lent already started, and I decided it would just be cruel to give them to him on Thursday and make him salivate over them till Sunday).

When the day was almost over, we burst into the house together where I beheld a beautiful rose and a box of the most AMAZING chocolates ever. This is pure objective fact- there is no subjective opinion when it comes to these raspberry chocolate truffles. And, I did salivate over them until Sunday.

WARNING: The creativity contained within this post is entirely my husband's (once again).

Jeremy and I share a digital SLR camera, which he has mastered and I fondly like to stare at and dream about taking wonderful shots. While reading, I noticed Jeremy stealing my rose away. Having piqued my curiosity, I followed him upstairs where he had the rose in our spare room and the camera out. I eyed his set up skeptically. Our spare room could interchangeably be called the junk room. How was he going to make this rose look pretty without the mess detracting from it's beauty?
I'm not even sure if this is the fully edited picture, but I think the end result is gorgeous! The background was dark blue (our spare comforter) and I'm not positive how it turned black, but he figured it out!

Here are some more pictures we both took and made into a calendar for our relatives this past Christmas. Jeremy probably took all the really good ones.

There are more, but I thought I'd share the more "springlike". We are getting tired of the cold here and are in the midst of planning a trip to Myrtle Beach. Hopefully more fantastic pictures to come soon!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Slow Cooker Tortellini

Apologies in advance for the lack of photography. I haven't quite mastered the art of capturing delectable mushy food ( Crispy on the other hand I make look good right?). Therefore, I shall attempt to make this dish sound almost as delicious as it really is!

Confession: I found this on Pinterest; no claims to creativity here. But, I just had to share it because it is delicious, perfect for meatless Fridays during Lent (or whenever), oh, and did I mention it's easy? Ridiculously, wonderfully easy.

You will need:
A large slow cooker (6 quarts)
1 bag of fresh spinach
1 bag of tortellini (I used cheese stuffed)
1 block of cream cheese
2 14 oz  cans diced tomatoes
1 box or 4 cups of vegetable broth
Garlic powder and Italian seasoning to taste

What you do:
Pour the vegetable broth, drained tomatoes and block of cream cheese in the bottom of the slow cooker. Chunk up the cream cheese (Um, I used a big spoon, but however you are able to mush up sticky, mushy cream cheese into large chunks easily will work just as well)
Add the whole bag of spinach. Mix it up a bit to get all the spinach to mush down a bit (Lots of mushiness in this recipe). Then mix in your tortellini. Add seasonings. Cook on low for 4 hours. Stir up about 15 minutes before done and then again right before serving. Make sure all the cream cheese is mixed in.

The sauce should look nice and creamy. We served it in bowls since it was a bit more like soup the first time. It was a bit thicker the second time (haven't quite figured out why yet), but still just as delicious.

Hubby loved this, I loved this, guests have loved it the two times I've served it, so I would rate this recipe a success. Also, it took me literally about five minutes to dump everything in the slow cooker which is another bonus. Great for cold winter nights or when you're craving comfort food. Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

It's Either About a Prison or the Holocaust

...said my roommate when I told her I was reading the book The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, by John Boyne. If you don't want to know whether it is about prison or the Holocaust, I recommend you stop reading my post (although, don't worry, I won't give anything else away). But I definitely recommend the book!

It is, of course, about the Holocaust. I stumbled upon this book when I saw the entire 8th grade class carrying it around school. I was convinced to read it when I caught one of my 8th graders reading it during one of MY lessons. I thought to myself, "Either I'm a boring teacher, or that book is really good." I knew the former couldn't be true, so I assumed the latter and decided to mosey downstairs during my plan to borrow one of those books from the English room.

I borrowed the book on a Monday and I finished it after school that Wednesday. Granted it is only 277 pages, but I'm a teacher and a grad student and usually get angry when I see people in coffee shops reading for fun because I wish I had the time. Apparently, for the right book, I do.

Like other Holocaust literature (The Diary of Anne Frank, Number the Stars, The Book Thief, etc), the book contains the common themes of humanizing the de-humanized, re-discovering the horrors from a unique perspective, juxtaposing innocence and evil, forming and breaking relationships, realizing we need to open our eyes to the "holocausts" of our time, etc.

The book is told from the perspective of a 9 year-old boy, Bruno, whose dad is a commander at the  concentration camp his family moves in next to. We get to see the world from the mind of Bruno,  not an ignorant mind, just formed by everything he is familiar with- his parents and annoying sister, his three best friends, his bustling city, his housemaids- there is no familiarity with anything remotely related to the Holocaust, so he simply does not have a clue to what is happening at the place he sees across the fence when he looks outside of his window. This perspective creates one of the most powerful themes from the book, which, as stated in the author's note, is misconception and misunderstanding. My English studies mind appreciated the child-like perspective, how the writing style nearly perfectly matched that, and all of those other previously mentioned deep themes, but the part my emotional self appreciated the most was the simple theme of friendship (read: at the first mention of best friends I was crying on the couch).

As I was reading this book, my mind kept traveling back to my visit to Auschwitz my junior year of college. I still think back on this with very puzzling memories. The day our school visited was a sunny day and my impression of Auschwitz was that of a place where I could see kids playing in the brick streets surrounded by the brick buildings. Our tour included stops like seeing the gas chambers, piles of shoes and clothes, and the cells. I knew I should be sad and moved, but I was either so exhausted or so emotionally drained that I could hardly given any emotional response, even when Fr. Dave made me stand in a cell with three other people. It wasn't until we went to see an art room filled with drawing created by someone who lived at the concentration camp. It wasn't the incredibly skeleton-like bodies or the hollow faces that got me, but the fact that the pictures portrayed friendship. I remember standing in the room surrounded by pictures of bony figures, looking around at my friends next to me, and, again, that was the point I lost it with the tears.

So, when you are looking for a quick, meaningful read, this would be a good book to pick up. Like a visit to Auschwitz, the horrors of the Holocaust are clear in the story, but like the art I saw on my trip, even more clear is the remaining presence of love and friendship.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Why Women Really Should Stay in the Kitchen

Women should stay in the kitchen because men might die while occupying the space. Not because they can't use knives, and not because they can't clean properly (I have learned many useful cleaning tips from my own husband), but because the recipes they come up with might really be lethal.

Jeremy used to joke that the only chicken recipes he could make was chicken alfredo. Well we know how healthy alfredo sauce is for you. But that's honestly child's play compared to what he came up with last night

We were listening to a comedian, Jim Gaffigan, who was going on and on about bacon. Who doesn't love bacon!? Jeremy looks at me and says, with a scary brightness in his eyes, "Why hasn't anyone DEEP FRIED bacon?"

I blinked, stared at him for a bit, and replied, "Well, darling, probably because it would kill you".

Ok, we don't really use pet names like darling, but it fit.

Unconvinced, he continued to mention it for a week or so. Last weekend he smiled nicely and asked, "Can we have a superbowl party here?"

"Um sure"

"Ok great!"


"Can I make deep fried bacon!?"

And he did. In all it's deep fried baconey glory.

Happy Ending: No one actually died in the process nor after consumption. I might also add that I always do appreciate Jeremy in the kitchen despite his artery clogging recipes!


Jeremy used a deep fryer

2 cups flour
1 lb thick cut bacon
2 eggs
1/4 cups milk
salt and pepper to taste
Maple syrup (for dipping)

Preheat oven to 350. Whip up your eggs and milk in a bowl. Combine flour, salt and pepper in flat pan or bowl. Cut your bacon in half. Dip in eggs and then coat in flour. Place in deep fryer for about 5 minutes or until looking bubbly. Remove and place on a baking sheet. Put in oven for a few minutes or until golden brown. Serve with maple syrup.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Cat in the Hat (Part 1)

So, most Preschool/Elementary Educators know that Dr. Seuss' birthday is coming up on March 2nd. With all the much-needed breaks Dr. Seuss books provide us (they serious take about 20 minutes to read, but yet the children are somehow entertained through the whole thing) could we not remember the man's birthday? So we are having a "Birthday Party" for Dr. Seuss at my preschool on March 1st. First of all, I have a secret passion for themed parties in general, but a children's themed party is just going to be over the top! Luck for me, I work with another teacher who is just as into this party as I am. So, as we start planning and making things for this, "Dr. Seuss Birthday Party", I will be posting them on this blog which is why this one is labeled as "part 1".

One of the games I came up with for our party is a, "Pin the tail on the Cat in the Hat". In order to have this game we obviously need a "Cat in the Hat" picture. There may have been easier ways to do this, but they probably wouldn't be as crafty or hands on. I decided to draw the "Cat" myself. I am an okay drawer with pretty simple things. I had a lot of confidence that I could draw a pretty good "Cat" body, but the face was going to be tricky.

So the first thing I did was find an image that I wanted to copy. This one fit because it would be easy to make the tail detachable for the game.

Next, I sketched his body onto a large piece of butcher paper with a pencil. The pencil is very forgiving when you mess up, so I always use it to outline my drawings. The "Cat in the Hat"'s body is pretty simple, so I just drew this free-hand.

The face is the tricky part, so I blew up his face on Microsoft Word and printed it out. I placed it where I wanted his face to be in the picture and traced over the print out with a sharpie. I traced around the black lines, and not on them. This allows the black sharpie to "bleed" through the print out paper onto the drawing paper. The sharpie will not bleed through completely, but it will give you a rough outline that you can draw over to give it a professional look.

After this, I finished the picture by tracing over my pencil lines on the rest of his body with the black sharpie. 

This is a picture of the finished product once I traced over the whole thing.

I am really happy with the way it turned out. My plan is to take it back to school and have the kids color it in. Once it is all colored in, I am going to laminate it, cut it out, and tape it to the wall for our party! I will post pictures of it when it is all completed too!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Craft Room Crafts

So Dan and I moved into a small 3 bedroom house back in July. I love having all this space, but I really didn't know what to do with it either. We changed one bedroom into our guest room and the other bedroom we decided could be my office/craft room! My craft room is a project in itself! I have finally gotten around to  organizing it which was the first step. And just recently I bought a plain bulletin board to make into a cute accent piece to the craft room. This is how I made my plain, boring bulletin board into a beautiful craft masterpiece! ;)

This is the bulletin board that I bought from Joanns for $6.00 after a 50% coupon!

The first thing I did was pick the fabric that I wanted to decorate my room around. It is a beautiful navy, green, white, and light blue floral fabric that I love! I decided to pick the deepest color in the fabric to paint my bulletin board. The deepest color is navy so I taped around the edges of the board and painted the sides navy blue with a simple acrylic paint. I used a small roller brush and it took two coats to get it on real thick. The whole thing took me only 2 hours which is a breeze!

After the paint dried, I cut the fabric to the size of the board and used cool metal tacks to keep it in place at the corners. Now I have a fun bulletin board to display crafts and post pictures of crafts I would like to do!

P.S. I found these cute buckets at the Target $1 spot and thought they would go so well in my craft room. I divided my craft tools into each one - one for markers, one for scissors, etc.

I love the pretty ribbons!