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!