Sunday, July 31, 2011

Photo Walk - Black & White, Take 1

This week's photo walk got rained out, so we didn't get too many pictures. We started out trying to just go for cool angles and contrasts, but since most of them started to look pretty creepy, we decided to just go for a little bit creepy. But, since we hardly got any good pictures at all, we decided to reserve a future walk for Black & White, Part 2. Happy Sunday!










Friday, July 29, 2011

Change It Up: Free Online Classes

My life as a bookkeeper has lots of lulls...sometimes hours and hours of sitting at a desk, staring at the phone, willing it to ring while at the same time hoping that it won't. To pass the time more enjoyably, I've tried numerous tactics: studying cookbooks (yes, I do actually study cookbooks), finishing the wedding entry in my journal (ha ha), looking up short story contests, doing my couponing...but lately, I've been wanting more fulfillment. Not that sitting around answering phones all day isn't fulfilling, but sometimes a girl just needs more in life than entering bills and cleaning the constant dust swirling around.

Then I remembered something I'd read on our church building's bulletin board about free online classes through byu (elearn.byu.edu) and decided to check it out. I was a bit skeptical at trying some of the classes (like, for example, how on earth is an online intermediate swimming class going to work? Virtual reality?), but got a little bit excited when I saw some of the other options: personal enrichment courses on values like honesty and self-discipline, religious study, finance, family history, politics...it seemed too good to be true that I could keep up with my constant goal of being an autodidact all for FREE. This is one time, BYU, that you are defnitely rocking my socks.

Although I've been a little disappointed by some of the homework assignments (yeah, I know that's super weird), I have overall loved being able to learn new knowledge and build on existing knowledge while I'm at work, and the short course I took on Self-Discipline still has me pondering. I'm currently in the middle of the course on American Politics and am finding that I'm not disliking it as much as I thought I would (I will get over my dislike of politics yet). I like how many of the classes hit regular issues that concern all citizens (like finance and government) and apply gospel principles while teaching the fundamentals.

Overall, it was a happy online find, and I'm so glad I looked into it--now I can utilize all the time I was dawdling away before looking at pinterest and facebook....although those are okay in small doses too :)

Intermediate swimming, let's see what you will teach me...

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Pioneer Day Weekend

For those of you not from Utah, every 24th of July most Utahns get a vacation from work in honor of Pioneer Day (to celebrate the arrival of the Mormon pioneers to the Salt Lake Valley in 1847). It's pretty much the best holiday ever, complete with parades, barbecues, fireworks, and pioneer fairs all across the state. Matt and I were so excited to be able to go and make the hour drive down south to visit our families (only the second time we've done so since getting married).
The weekend was full of hamburgers, chatting, playing Monopoly Deal, and hearing Matt's mom speak in church. We were sad to have to pack up and go back to Logan to start work again.


Matt's mom cooking us up some homemade scones...mmm hmm!!
Matt's family camps out the night before the big pioneer parade in Salt Lake, so we all gathered there the night before to have a barbecue and catch up with the extended family.

And of course, no trip home would ever be complete without a trip to our favorite place in the whole world: Leatherby's!! (More on how Leatherby's became "our" place in my Wedding Wednesday post in a couple weeks)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Wedding Wednesday: How It All Began

Okay, so remember how I was supposed to post all these wedding pictures and stuff? Well, obviously I haven't done that yet. So, to give myself a kick in the pants to get going, I decided to copy Sam, who copied the people she mentioned in her first WW post, who probably copied some other trend-setting blogger. Don't you just love how we're all such little thieves in the blogging world? But at least I give credit where credit is due, right? Right. So here is what will happen: below you'll find a list of various wedding- and marriage-related topics that I will discuss within the next several weeks (every Wednesday). Are you all excited? Good. Because this is the only way you'll hear about our wedding otherwise.

So here are the topics:

1. how it all began: how you met, first date, first kiss, how long did you date? first picture together.....etc.

2. when you knew he was the one: self explanatory.. but how and when did you know?
3. proposal: how it happened, how long were you engaged for? was it a total surprise? pictures of that... etc.
4. the ring: tell us about it! did you pick it out? did he? pictures! tell us about his ring too!
5. engagement/bridal pictures: let's see em!
6. the colors: show some of the flower and colors you used
7. the dress: was it what you always imagined? did you have it made for you? white or ivory?
8. the little accessories: you know, veil? shoes? jewelry? what did your bridesmaids wear?
9. the reception: where was it at? show us some pictures! what day did you get married?
10. the cake/food: i love food. so tell me about what you had at your wedding!
11. your song and/or the first song you danced to at your wedding: share a music video or lyrics if you can!
12. favorite part of the day and least favorite part of the day: can be anything.
13. honeymoon: where did you go? was it good? ;) haha...jk.
14. thoughts on marriage: what is the easiest/hardest part? if you could change anything, what would it be?
15. first place that you lived together: pics if you have them!
16. kids: do you have any yet? if not, when do you plan on it? how many do you want? any tips on good/bad birth control?
17. most recent picture of you and your significant other and what you love most about them :) and any other thoughts.




All right, y'all should first know this: Matt and I have known each other since high school and have been part of the same friend group for about 7 years now. We also took numerous classes together in high school (including choir for several years and advanced body conditioning). So the above pictures are NOT the firsr pictures of us two technically. They are, I believe, the first pictures that are ever taken of just the two of us.

There were, however, several pictures taken of the three of us (Matt, me, and The Dean) on our choir trip to Washington D.C. senior year of high school, but...that's a long story. Maybe I'll blog about it someday, but probably not. So you'll all just probably never know.


But what you all REALLY want to know is how it all started. Well, Matt's and my story is longer than most (just because we knew each other for longer than most couples before we started dating), but I'll try to just stick with the good stuff (or at least the remotely interesting).

Like I said, in high school we all ran around with roughly the same people. But, as so often happens, there began to be *gasp!* drama within our little group. Basically what happened was people started to like each other (I know, earth-shattering, isn't it?). Matt and I were no exception: while Matt was head over heels for one of my best friends, I was dating one of his best friends. The more I got to know Matt, the more I actually began to develop a bit of a crush on him, but nothing ever happened at that time.

Until Matt got home from his mission. Because he was the oldest of all of his guy friends, he was just about the only guy in our circle of friends who was home. And since the aforementioned friend of mine whom he had crushed on for so long had gotten married in the two year interim of his mission, he was basically just stuck with me and Kayla (Matt's and my mutual best friend). That's when the first two pictures were taken: just after Matt got home.

Then followed a very long two year dating-game thing, where I basically ran off and dated a bunch of people and Matt kept his love for me a secret (yeah, Matt is definitely the likable hero of our story, and I'm just the clueless girl). And sadly, every time he tried to divulge said-secret, I started dating somebody else. It just seemed destined to never happen. Especially when, in fall 2009, when we actually HAD started to date a little, I announced that I myself was going away to serve a religious mission for 18 months. Although I'm sure Matt was a little devastated, he never wavered in his support for my decision (although I know he wanted me to stay home and marry him--more on that later).

We did kiss though before I left on my mission. But I was keeping my options open and dating a couple other people at the time, so nothing more happened before I left. Something I can see now though as I look back with more perfect hindsight, I'm really grateful for all those years we had just to be friends--he was the one I learned to trust to talk about everything (even my breakups with other guys), and I always knew he would be there to lean on no matter what. So even though our journey together probably seems excruciatingly long and roundabout, it really helped us have a solid foundation to build from.

And that my friends, is where I'm going to have to leave my story until next week, since the rest has to do with how I knew Matt was the right one for me....dun dun dun!!

(And for more picture overload, here are a few pictures taken of us before my mission, either from dates or just from friend outings):


(I just noticed that I always take these kind of pictures from the exact same side. I need to make Matt do this once in awhile to break up the routine...)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Tuesday Tell-All

*Remember my cute little His/Hers garden post a couple weeks back? Well, depressingly & inexplicably, half of my container garden now lies dead, despite numerous waterings & fertilizer sprayings. So we'll just pretend that this picture is of my own container garden, although it most definitely is not.

*I amazingly did not gain weight over the weekend, although my diet temporarily went MIA. But this week I am back full-throttle; I found out this last weekend that my body actually kinda had gotten used to eating a lesser, healthier diet and that it kind of didn't feel so great after I tried to stuff too much family barbecue stuff into it. So I'm happy to say that I am progressing, slowly but surely. Hopefully by the time school starts, I'll be posting some progress pics (although I was happy to note that someone *finally!* noticed that I had lost weight)

*Remember last week's fire? Kinda great for me personally last week, not so great for me professionally this week. Due to the reconstruction going on in my usual office, I am now out in the middle of an ashy, foul-language-laden temporary workspace, and I don't even have a bathroom anymore (or my beloved drinking fountain!). So I've taken to not drinking water so I don't have to use the gross laborers' bathroom and am praying that I have my own (non-smoky) toilet soon. The upside to working out in the middle of the front lobby? I'm not suffocating from the heat anymore, thanks to a constant draft blowing in through the front doors. The downside? I'm now suffocating from the dust settling into my lungs from the construction and the concrete and the outside parking lot.

*The long weekend was just what the morale doctor ordered for me. I'm excited to post some of the pictures we took of our adventures (nothing too extraordinary, but I was just excited to be doing anything besides answering phones and working out). I've been a super slacker in the taking-pictures department, so it was good to finally get some.

*I decided I spend an abnormal amount of time worrying about when my magazines will come. I really do have a problem.

*Listening to Harry Potter on audiobook is about the best thing EVER to listen to while traveling. It is, however, creating a problem with my punctuality at work, seeing as how I tend to be much more interested in staying in the car to finish listening to the chapter than I am in entering invoices and taking calls from cranky people who want to be paid.

*You wanna know something? I don't think I ever really worried too much about paying bills when I was single. Now that I'm a married woman, I seem to worry about them all the time. What's up with that?

*Remember those books I mentioned last Tuesday that I'd ordered from B&N? Yeah, they still haven't come yet. I have taken off a whole week from book-reading in anticipation of getting these new books, and all for NOTHING. Sigh.

*K, that's about it. Time to go eat my most recently-tried new (healthy) recipe: Black Bean Tortilla Pie. Mmm hmm!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Change It Up Vacation

Due to the fire at my work (check out the short article The Herald Journal did on it here) and also to the upcoming Pioneer Day holiday weekend, there will be no Change It Up Challenge post for this last week (although I did try out something new---I just haven't had the time to blog about it between sweeping up ashes and trying to figure out what we're doing this weekend).

Have a good, safe weekend full of fireworks, handcart parades, and barbecues! (Unless, of course, you don't live in Utah and don't get to experience the wonderful-ness that is Pioneer Day. Too bad!)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Here's What's Cooking: Tuna Pasta Casserole

One of my favorite websites I've discovered to help me along in my weight loss goals is eatbetteramerica.com, which not only offers free coupons (yay!), but also offers hundreds of "healthified" versions of America's favorite comfort foods. Since Matt and I were getting a little sick of just eating ground beef and chicken as our main meat staples, I decided to branch out a bit and try out this tuna pasta casserole. It's MUCH healthier than the original (only 360 calories per one-cup serving!) and uses a lot of vegetables that Matt and I frankly don't usually give a second thought to. Besides eating it, my favorite part of cooking this was seeing all the rich colors of the vegetables all mixed together in my frying pan...I don't know, there's just something deliciously eye-pleasing about all those reds, greens, and creams mixed together...


Tuna Pasta Casserole (from Eatbetteramerica.com)
Prep Time: 20 min (it took a little longer than this for me to chop everything up)
Start to Finish: 1 hr
Makes: 8 servings (1 cup each)

2 1/2 cups uncooked multigrain or whole-grain rotini or penne pasta (8 oz)
2 teaspoons olive or canola oil
1 medium green bell pepper, chopped (1 cup)
1 medium red bell pepper, chopped (1 cup)
1 medium onion, chopped (1/2 cup)
1 package (8 oz) fresh mushrooms, chopped
2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
1 can (10 3/4 oz) condensed 98% fat-free cream of mushroom soup with 45% less sodium
1 container (8 oz) reduced-fat sour cream
2 oz 1/3-less-fat cream cheese (Neufch√Ętel), softened
1/2 cup fat-free (skim) milk
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 cans (5 oz each) solid white albacore tuna in water, drained
1/2 cup shredded reduced-fat sharp Cheddar cheese (2 oz)
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
12 stone-ground wheat crackers, coarsely crushed (about 1/2 cup)

1. Heat oven to 350°F. Spray 13x9-inch (3-quart) glass baking dish or 3-quart casserole with cooking spray. Cook pasta as directed on package, omitting salt; drain.
2. In 12-inch nonstick skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add bell peppers, onion, mushrooms and garlic; cook 4 to 6 minutes, stirring frequently, until vegetables are tender.
3. Stir in soup, sour cream, cream cheese, milk and pepper until well blended. Stir in tuna, pasta and Cheddar cheese. Spoon into baking dish; spread evenly. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and crushed crackers.
4. Bake uncovered 35 to 40 minutes or top is golden brown and mixture is bubbly.

High Altitude (3500-6500 ft): Increase fat-free (skim) milk to 1 cup.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

This is the Kind of Thing that Happens to Somebody Else...

Bet you homemade brownies that your last 24 hours were nothing like mine, nor will they (probably) ever be. Because, my friends, it seems that this is the kind of stuff that only happens to somebody else:


"This" referring to getting a call just as you're getting out of your zumba class telling you that there's just been a huge fire at your workplace.


Luckily it wasn't as bad as it could be. Not nearly as bad.


It still wasn't much fun to clean up this morning.

 
And this, gentlemen, is why you should never put gasoline down the toilet and then put your cigarette out. Not saying that's exactly how it happened, but how else does a sewage tank explode?


On the bright side, I had more work to do this morning than I've had in weeks AND I got to come home at noon. This fire might be the best thing that's happened to me all month.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Tuesday Tell-All

Since last week's Tell-All worked so well to clear my head of all the random junk that just floats across it, I decided to just continue the tradition. I know, you're all so excited to hear the randomness that is my thought process. So here I go:

*Matt and I are re-addicted to The Biggest Loser again, since discovering that we can try Hulu Plus for one month for free. It's a good reminder to myself that I'm not the only one who struggles with overcoming the bad habits that have been years in the making.

*Speaking of weight loss, I've lost 3 pounds since starting my new "get healthy" plan. It will eventually be posted as a Change It Up Challenge, once I've lost 10 pounds or hit 5 weeks, whichever comes first. Although there are some days when I feel like I can't do it anymore (*cough* yesterday), overall I feel really happy doing it, because I feel like I'm in control for once of my cravings and my bad habits. Also, even though I'm now just at the weight I got married at, I feel like I'm a lot more toned. I'm excited to see where I stand in a month!

*I'm listening to my "Tito el Bambino" Latin music station at work, and my coworker (The Accountant) is humming along. Or trying to. Actually, I can't tell if he's trying to hum along with my song (which I'm sure he's never heard before), or if he's trying to drown out my song with his humming. Whichever it is, it's funny.

*Barnes & Noble was having a 50% off sale yesterday on all their bestsellers. I ordered 4 new books (got free shipping!), and I just CANNOT WAIT. It doesn't matter how many times I get new books during the year---each time feels like the first time riding a roller coaster. Books just excite me way too much.

*I've taken to only filling my water bottle with a couple inches of water every time I go the drinking fountain. My reasons for this are two-fold: one, it makes it look like I actually have something to do when I have to go fill it every 15 minutes, and two, it makes me not go crazy from sitting all day long. I'm so crafty.

*Remember last week, how I said I wished I'd snuck in my Oprah magazine to work? Well, I came up with a better solution. You see, as I also mentioned in last week's Tell-All, I'm a bit of a magazine freak. The only problem is, I never seem to have time to actually read all of them (especially the ones I subscribed to to make myself more "cultured," like Time or The Atlantic). So I've taken to smuggling the magazines I never find the time to get around to into work to read when I have nothing else to do (which is pretty much 95% of the time), and I've actually learned some pretty interesting stuff. If you want to read an article that will blow your mind when it comes to a popular theory behind parenting, read this article titled on the cover of that issue as, "How the Cult of Self-Esteem is Ruining Our Kids." Seriously, I'm still thinking about this article a week later.

*Lady Gaga's "Alejandro" just showed up on my Latin station. Bwa ha ha!!! (does anyone else see the humor in this?)

*Sometimes I find myself weirdly relating to Andy Saks on The Devil Wears Prada, even though our jobs are nothing alike. Is that weird?

*Wanna know the most disappointing thing ever? This last Sunday, I got all cute in my brand-new skirt and top and was just feeling prettier than I had in a long time. Then, as I sat down to eat my cereal, I realized that the girl who had sold me the skirt had left the stupid "remove & dye" tag. Words do not describe my disappointment at that moment. Of course, I did count my blessings that I had noticed at the moment I did, instead of finding out while sitting in church :)

*Pretty please everyone squinch up their eyes and cross their fingers and wish really hard that Matt doesn't have to work this Saturday so we can go home this weekend for the holiday. Pretty please?

*Okay, time to go fill the water bottle again...

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Photo Walk - Dry Canyon

Last Sunday, Matt and I went on a "penny drive" in order to determine our photo walk destination. For anyone who is unfamiliar with the rules of the penny drive (or walk), it just means that you flip a penny every time you come to a fork in the road: with heads you turn right, with tails you turn left. Well, after about twenty minutes of penny tossing, we ended up in Dry Canyon. I didn't even know Dry Canyon existed, but it does.
And if you're wondering why these photos aren't really that great, well, it's because Dry Canyon is just that: dry. Boring. Even we, in all of our "see the beauty in everything" philosophy, had a really hard time enjoying it (the hundreds of dragonflies zooming all around us didn't help).

One good thing about me posting these pictures? Since you've already seen what it looks like, you'll have no desire to go there in person yourself.

You're welcome.











Saturday, July 16, 2011

Book #13: I Am the Messenger

Title: I Am the Messenger
Author: Markus Zusak
Number of Pages: 357

After the last few disappointing reads, I knew it was high time to get my hands wrapped around something that wouldn't make me want to hurl it against the window after a few hours of reading. So I picked up I Am the Messenger, a book I have been putting off for years now for no apparent reason. Maybe it's because the person who highly recommended it to me (who shall remain nameless) admitted that it made him cry during the last few chapters, and I had flashbacks to Zusak's other favorite, The Book Thief, which had me red-eyed and sniffly during the entire last 50 pages. But much to my delight, I found myself enchanted immediately with the book within the first few chapters, and I read on, eager to find out what would happen next. Of course, my stomach did a few twists and turns as I thought about what could very well be a tearjerker ending. But after successfully not crying during the final Harry Potter movie last night, I decided today was the day to finish off this little young adult wonder, and I'm proud to say this: I did not cry. Although admittedly, my throat might have gotten a tad bit tight there near the finish line...

I Am the Messenger tells the story of Ed Kennedy, an ordinary, good-for-nothing taxi driver who spends his nights off drinking and playing card games with his friends and wishing hopelessly that his best friend Audrey will magically return the feelings of complete love and devotion that he has felt for her for years. His life promised to go on just like that, with little to break up the routine, until the day when he stops a bank robbery. And then a mysterious playing card with three names on it appears in the mail, and Ed finds himself on a mission to deliver "messages" to various people in the town. Sometimes the messages heal, sometimes they hurt, but one thing is ever present on Ed's mind during them all: Who has chosen him to be the messenger, and where will he be forced to go next?

I'll start off my quick review by saying this: Zusak is a brilliant writer. His style is so unusual, and his ideas so original, that his books always promise to be rewarding reads. One thing I like too is that his stories have a purpose--a moral, if you will. Not a hit-you-over-the-head kind of moral, but they leave you feeling inspired in some way. So many books today are written just to entertain, which is why Zusak's books are so refreshing: not only are they fun to read, they also leave you thinking in the end. The characters in this book were so carefully drawn and the plot so mysterious that it makes this a book you want to get through quickly to find out what happens next.

Although I won't give away anything here, I will say this: the ending still has me a bit puzzled. I read the final three chapters about three times over, and I'm still trying to figure some things out. Interestingly, this isn't bothering me as much as I thought it would. Maybe because I think I already have it figured out--I just need to discuss it with someone else who's read it to test my theory.

Anywho, it was nice to finish a book that actually left me satisfied. Y'all should check it out.

My Rating: 4.5 stars. I probably would have given it the full five, but it did have a lot of swearing and I'm still not sure about that ending. But I loved it.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Change It Up: Morning Scripture Study

After doing Change It Up Challenges in every other area: intellectual, physical, social, beautiful (ha ha), I knew it was high time to work on the spiritual when I was sitting in church this last Sunday and heard a talk in sacrament meeting that seemed to just clip me up-side the head and say: "This is for you, you stiff-necked dummy." (Just kidding. The Spirit is much kinder than that, although the clip up-side the head did sting a little...). But in all seriousness, I came to a lot of sudden realizations during that meeting--first of all, I knew I had been slacking in the spirituality department for quite awhile. It's tough to serve a mission where you have 24 hours a day to devote to developing your spirituality and then come home to find that you have to juggle that along with all your other personal goals, just like everyone else. Luckily, some habits have stuck with me hardcore since the mission, including personal and companion prayer. Unluckily, since getting married, I've often found that my scripture study has been less than ideal.

You see, while I was engaged, I knew I couldn't possibly afford to miss a single day of scripture study. So even though that sometimes meant that I was fighting to keep my eyes open while reading, I still did it every day, without fail. Since getting married and taking on a job where I work more than 40 hours a week, I've discovered that not only has the frequency and length of my scripture study sessions diminished, but the enjoyment of them as well.

And that's when I realized something: there is nothing in the nature of scripture study itself that has changed---the words still lie there, exactly as before, waiting to inspire and teach and humble me--but rather, what's changed is ME. As an old teacher of mine back in Young Women used to tell us, "If today you're farther from God than you were yesterday, who moved?" (I'm sure that's a real quote from some General Authority, but I have no idea where the original is). In that church meeting last Sunday, I felt the old familiar feeling of, "Okay, I need to repent. I'd best get on with it already." So I went right home and shut myself up in the spare bedroom for about an hour, pondering and reading and making goals. When I left the room an hour later, I felt much better (and not just because I was leaving the room of our house where the lingering smell of old cats is the strongest)--I felt like I was, once again, moving in the right direction.

My first goal was to start waking up earlier to read my scriptures before work. Now, if you know me really well, you'll know that I usually always have chosen to study my scriptures at night, before bed. Even on my mission, due to an odd schedule, I usually studied in the evenings (because we couldn't be out past dark in one of my more dangerous areas). But the problem with reading scriptures right before bed is that sleepiness frequently interferes with spiritual promptings and the will to sleep often greater than the will to learn. So, although I knew it would require a bit of a sacrifice on my part to start waking up at 6:25 a.m. instead of 7, I was willing to do it.

On Monday, I started to do something that I haven't done since my mission: I started to look up every single one of the footnotes to every single one of the verses as I went along. This process takes quite a bit longer, but it has made a WORLD of difference in my understanding of the scriptures from the moment I started doing it a few years ago, and I find that it actually makes it much easier for me to ponder and reflect on what I'm reading, as well as make connections between verses that I hadn't before. Also, when I first started doing this, I realized how much I definitely did NOT know about the Gospel---sometimes I think that when we go to church every Sunday and hear a lot of the same messages, we think that somehow we "know all this already." But we don't. We don't at all. If we REALLY knew, we would be hearing different messages in church and in General Conference, because we'd be ready for them. It's like a quote that I love from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: "To know and not to do, is really not to know." Therefore, if we really "knew" all there was to know about the gospel, we would have much more revealed to us.

But that's another tangent. I want to say how this particular Change It Up really helped me...you see, I've actually struggled quite a bit at my job these first couple months. I know I haven't posted much about it here, but I have. I found that there are certain aspects of working in a rough, industrial workplace that provided a bit of a negative environment for me. I found myself more anxious, more negative, and more complain-y. I sometimes felt like I was the only one who was trying to do what was right. (Has anyone else ever felt like that? It's a lonely place to be in.) But when I started to study in the mornings and really pray for help at work, I found that things started to get better...a lot better, in fact. And I don't know if it was so much that the environment changed at all---it was that I had changed. It's been a really good week.

If you're not familiar with LDS beliefs, you can go here. But I do want to share my testimony of this principle: I know for myself that daily scripture study truly does make a huge difference in our lives--I know that when I study the scriptures, I have the Spirit. And when I have the Spirit, everything else in my life goes much better and that I myself am a better person. I know for myself that God is real, and that He is speaking to us, His children, even today through a living prophet and apostles. I know that it's the small things we do--praying daily, reading the scriptures, going to church--that make the biggest difference in our lives in the end. And the greatest part about all of this is that every human being is free to know for himself (or herself) of the truthfulness of these principles. Like Christ himself said, "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself" (John 7:17). Therefore, if we want to really KNOW, we must first DO.

Change It Up Successful? Of course. Whenever we devote more of our time to our relationship with God, we will always experience success, even if it's not the kind the world tells us to seek after.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Here's What's Cooking: White Chili

Since starting the diet changes I mentioned in my last post, I've been on the lookout for recipes that are actually GOOD for me AND that taste good. I know, it sometimes seems like an impossible mission, but someone has to do it, right? Anyway, don't judge this recipe on the above photo--this is a seriously amazing white chili recipe that I got from Matt's cousin. And the best part? Each serving is barely over 300 calories and has almost 40 grams of protein. Ka-ching!

Dave & Marie Galke's White Chicken Chili

1 T olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, minced
2 4oz. cans chopped green chilies
4 cups chopped cooked chicken
2 t ground cumin
1.5 t dried oregano, crumbled
1/4 tsp cayenne or crushed red pepper (or more, depending on taste)
3 16oz. cans great northern beans, drained and rinsed
6 cups chicken broth
3 cups grated Monterey Jack cheese
Salt
Pepper
Sour cream

Directions:
-Heat oil in large pot to med/high
-Add onions and saute until translucent, about ten minutes
-Add garlic, chiles, chicken, cumin, oregano, and hot pepper
-Saute two minutes
-Add beans and chicken broth
-Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 2 hours or more
-Add 1 cup grated cheese
-Stir until thick and melted
-Season with salt and pepper
-Serve with remaining cheese and sour cream

***Note: the calorie count is only counting the one cup of cheese that goes inside the chili. I personally think it tastes great without anything else added in (although it maybe tastes even better with them added, although your calorie count will go significantly up). This chili is so filling and so delicious that you'll want to make it every other week! (I know I'm considering it)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Tuesday Tell-All

Some random thoughts going through my head today:

*I'm so glad there's toilet paper in our work bathroom; I was tired of the chafing of paper towels.

*My days go by so much better now that Matt wakes up early with me. Because of our differing schedules, he used to still be asleep when I went to work. Now that we've both cut back on our reading time late at night, we both get to bed at a decent hour and wake up at the same time. I love the extra face time, even if it's just for half an hour or so!

*Also love how Matt makes my lunch for me :)

*This new get-healthy plan I started yesterday feels different...it feels like success. Those last few mission pounds don't stand a chance! I'm actually excited to post some before and after pictures in a few weeks, because I'm sure that this time I'll actually be able to tell a difference!

*There's nothing better than the thunderstorms we've been having lately--love the cooler temperatures!

*I think I'm finally getting used to my new last name. Sometimes I'll still check the "F's" on a list instead of the "M's", but I'm getting there

*I believe I now subscribe to literally a dozen different magazines. I think I have a problem.

*I just checked out a new audiobook last night: A Brief History of Just About Everything. I will be a genius within the month.

*Being married to a man who loves saving money is good for me; I put $100 into our savings account today. Small amount, but it all adds up over time.

*I wish I had snuck my latest Oprah magazine to work today

*My back is sore from my power toning class yesterday: I think I have the weakest core known to man

*Is it lunchtime yet?

K, that's all.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Amazon.Com Giveaway Winner!

*Drumroll please*

And the winner is......SAM from http://samnhal.blogspot.com/ "The Married Couple"

Thanks for following, Sam!

And stay tuned all you faithful readers out there, for the next 200 posts :)

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Poetry Sunday: Peace of Wild Things

Photo by Matthew Meidell

The Peace of Wild Things
By Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

His/Hers: Gardens

Hers



His

Why yes, that is indeed a rock garden. Plus one avocado pit.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Change It Up Challenge: Couponing

I'll start out this post by saying this: I never in a million years thought I'd be the crazy coupon lady.

You know the lady I'm talking about---with her two carts full of groceries and her stack of coupons as thick as a slice of Texas french toast who takes about an hour to check out and who asks to speak to the manager when one of her $1 coupons doesn't seem to be going through that should. You know the one.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, I have officially become...one of the crazies.

My introduction to couponing started very young--my mom has always been frugal and will even say, to this day, that she'll never buy anything full price. Then, when she started working at the magazine Refund Cents, she became even more savvy than before--I will never forget the summer where we scored hundreds (literally) of Nabisco snack packs for nothing but the cost of the sales tax. So you see, my training started early, although I was too caught up in my own teenage world of fantasy, where I always had plenty of money to do whatever I wanted and virtually no one to owe my money to, to pay too much attention.

In college, I made meager attempts at saving money--I would buy the generic brand more often than not and try not to buy too much ice cream. But I still held off on the coupons, rationalizing that the saving of a few pennies was not worth the time it took to cut them out.

Then I got married.

Now, Matt and I are better off than a lot of newlywed couples (as far as I know)---we're in no debt and have the next year's worth of school costs covered through scholarships and grants. We have money in savings, and we have a 401(k) left over from Matt's former job at a clothing factory. So I figure we're doing pretty well. But with dreams of going to Alaska next summer and wanting to buy a nice camera before then and not have to tap into savings for any of the above, I decided it was time--time to step into the role I was meant to inhabit since the day I first laid eyes (and tongue) on those bags of Nabisco snack packs.

But I won't drag this personal part of the post too long---I've promised all of who have been following my facebook status updates (all ten of you) that I would share the secrets to all the free items and unbelievable deals I've gotten over the past month. So I'll just do a quick run-down of some before and after comparison stats:

Before:
Average Monthly Grocery Total (incl. household supplies): $250-350 (for two people)
Rough Average Amount Spent Per Grocery Shopping Purchase: $65
Average Amount Spent on a Box of Cereal: $3
Average Amount Spent on Meat Per Month (Chicken & Beef): Probably about $50
Average Number of Grocery Shopping Trips Per Week: 2-3
Average Stores Visited Per Week: 2

After:
Grocery/Household Supplies Total for July: $170.05
Average Amount Spent Per Grocery Shopping Purchase: $18.90
Average Amount Spent on a Box of Cereal: 81 cents
Amount Spent on Meat: $36.42 (& I have literally probably 3 weeks worth of chicken in my freezer now)
Average Number of Shopping Trips Per Week: 1
Average Stores Visited Per Week: 2-3
**Note: By shopping trips, I mean trips out in the car taken only for going to the store. Therefore, if I stop off at a store that's on the way to/from work, that doesn't count toward the total.

The funny thing is, if I do this list again next month, I think it will be almost half of what it was this month--I just kept getting better and better at couponing and sale shopping the more I got familiar with it, so this is just my first month of savings and it's the most I plan to spend in a month for a long, long time.

But now on to the steps that YOU can take to save just as much (if not much, much more than I did). I will say one thing--this whole couponing business is definitely a learning process, but it's not nearly as difficult as I thought it would be overall. So if you haven't done it so far because you think it will be too hard/time-consuming/embarrassing or whatever, I'm here to tell you it won't be. So no more excuses!

But on to the list.

1. Be Prepared for Start-Up Costs

Couponing requires some start-up costs. But keep in mind, these resources will save you WAY more in the long run than if you hadn't subscribed. Below is a list of the three circulations I subscribed to for maximum saving:

*The Newspaper. Since I don't care too much about actually reading the news, I just subscribe to the Deseret Morning News on the weekend so I can get the Sunday coupon inserts. Cost: $37 for a 6-month subscription.
***Edit: Look around for deals online or call the newspaper subscription line directly and ask if they have any new member deals. Don't pay full price for a subscription when you don't have to!

*Refundcents.com. Technically I didn't pay for this one (because my mom works there, so I get cool perks and stuff), but it's super cheap and totally worth it--for just $18/yr, you can get the monthly publication full of refund deals and coupon bargains as well as the online subscription that comes with daily updates of all the best deals out there. Or, if you just want the online subscription (which is all I have), it's just $12/yr. Trust me, this site is incredible, and Michelle (the magazine editor-in-chief) does literally almost all the work for you when it comes to shopping at certain stores like RiteAid and Walgreens (where you can make a killing every week). The best $12 (or $18) you'll ever spend! If you're interested in subscribing to refundcents.com, click here and type in this code in the "Notes" section when checking out: GKN4

*The All You Magazine from Wal-Mart. This one isn't quite as *necessary* as the above two, but each issue comes with about $60 worth of coupons. Plus it's just fun to read. Cost: $25 for 30 issues if you subscribe online, or $2/issue at the store.

2. Clip out coupons like crazy

Coupons are everywhere--in the newspaper, in magazines, in the aisles at the grocery store, in the mail, in the front of grocery stores...plus, there are a TON of online coupon sites that allow you to print out coupons for absolutely free. My favorite is Coupons.com, because it has links to a lot of other brand-specific sites, like Kellogg's or Pillsbury, which offer coupons of their own. Often, all you need to do is sign up for a free subscription by giving them your email address and you'll get weekly coupons coming to your inbox.

Since coupons tend to accumulate VERY quickly, I'd recommend getting a coupon organizer. Refundcents.com has some for very cheap ($6.94, incl. shipping). Click this link if you're interested. Or you can keep a bundle of envelopes or a binder or a special place in your wallet...whatever works for you!

3. Match the sales to the coupons, and cater your weekly meals around the sales

This is the single most valuable piece of advice I can give. I used to just go to the grocery store every time I needed something for a recipe and just make whatever recipes I wanted to without giving thought to what was cheap or what was in season, and that's how I spent so much money on groceries before (because I love to cook). Now what I'll do is look at the weekly ads for my local grocery stores (Smith's is my favorite, because of their Rewards program) and see what good deals are going on that week. Then I look and see what coupons I have and match them to the items that are already on sale. Sometimes this means buying things that I don't necessarily need right at that moment, but that I'll certainly need later, like toothpaste or cereal. Also, when something is a really good deal and you use it a lot, just buy a lot of it. I wasted so much money on meat before by buying it every week; now I just buy a whole lot when it goes on sale and stockpile it in my freezer until we're ready to use it.

If you plan out your menus and your shopping around the sales, you not only save money, but you also cut down on your grocery trips (hence cutting down on your gas costs), because you're not running out every time you need something---organization is key to saving.

4. Look for special deals like promotions or rebates or cash back that will save you even more money

Once again, refundcents.com cannot be beat in this category--many companies offer free samples of full-size products or amazing rebates or cash back rewards if you just know where to look. The site does all the work for you and you just have to choose the deals you want. Also, look for specially marked packages for promotions--a lot of the times, companies will offer rewards if you go online and enter in the codes from your purchase. That's how I got 5 boxes of Kellogg's cereal for $1.50--I bought 5 on them for sale for $6.50 (using coupons), then I entered in the 5 codes from the boxes to receive a $5 prepaid debit card in the mail. Yeah, promotions and rebates take a bit more work, but I've received (or am expecting to receive) almost $100 back in the mail from rebates/promotions for this last month alone.

5. Don't be scared to speak up to the cashier or ask for a manager if something doesn't ring up right

This is the area I need to work on the most, but it's something my mom has told me for years. Basically, it boils down to this: a smart manager is not going to want to lose your business, so they'll usually be very willing to help you work out any problems you have with your bill. I'm pretty terrible at confrontations like this, but I'm usually really glad that I do---for example, when Matt and I went to Target to spend all of our wedding gift cards, they didn't enter the coupon we had right. I ended up going back to the store later and disputing the amount of the receipt and we ended up saving $60. That's half a month's worth of groceries, just for speaking up! So don't be shy. We'll work on it together.


Anyway, thus concludes my very official list. I think it sounds almost too official---like all of a sudden I'm a know-it-all, which I most definitely am not. But I am maybe a teensy bit of a coupon addict now. And I am my mother's daughter---I am now finding it nearly impossible to buy anything full price. So all you of you readers out there who haven't tried this yet but kinda want to, I say: JUST DO IT. You can thank me later :)

Change It Up Successful? I think the numbers speak for themselves.

P.S. If any of you have any specific questions for me, leave a comment or email me at torrief@gmail.com, and I'll get back to you ASAP. Plus, I think I might start a semi-regular posting of some of the killer local deals I stumble across. What do you think?

**Edit: My sister pointed out that if you live in the Cache Valley area, you can actually get a newspaper subscription through the Herald Journal for cheaper than you can get it through one of the papers out of Salt Lake (like The Morning News). Thanks for the tip, Jill!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Weekly Writing - Concrete

Back when I was still in creative writing classes, we did an idea that was something like this: take any regular, ordinary, "boring" topic and write an informal essay on it (not the stuffy, dry kind of essay that we all got assigned in middle school--the kind of essay that just gives you the liberty to talk about a specific subject at length in a non-fiction format). For previous examples of what I'm talking about, check out my post on mowing lawns or my post on box elder bugs. For this week's writing exercise, I'm going to do something similar, but my topic for this week is concrete, mostly because I'm around it all day and it's all I see as I gaze out the window at work.


Although concrete has been around for centuries (its early roots can be traced back to the Roman Empire and even to the Egyptian pyramids), it might as well have been invented last month for all I knew--my first day at work, mysterious phrases flew back and forth from one end of the office to the other, phrases like standard manhole, grade rings, Grade III RCP, cracked nipples...everyone but me spoke this unintelligible, foreign language, and they spoke it with such speed that it was all I could do to keep my brain engaged enough to nod and smile like I knew what they were talking about. After days of confusion, I finally gave in and asked one of our estimators to show me what all of these words meant. He pulled out a complex maze of drawings and dimensions and tried to give me a 30-second run-down of all the complexities of The Manhole, which is probably our main product (next to all the people wandering in looking for window wells). Making the connection from brain to movement, I nodded my head and smiled once again, then ran to my office to look onto the layman's source of all knowledge: Wikipedia.

Manholes are basically man-size underground chambers (or vaults, as wikipedia says) that are used every several feet underground in order to grant an access point for maintenance and repairs on underground utility lines. There are hundreds of them in our yard--several tons heavy and stacked right on top of each other, looking in all their glory like concrete representations of the Olympic rings, except they're not hooked together and they go on as far as the eye can see (or at least as far as the length of the parking lot). Priced at a couple thousand dollars apiece, they loom impressively in their expensive, heavy glory, casting nets of shadow over the crunching gravel.

Back in the shop, where all the magic happens, a haze thickens the air--a haze from the welding sparks, from the mixing machines, from the cutting and trimming and shearing of concrete. Each day, my desk has a thin film of white dust that somehow turns my fingers black upon contact.The cement creates its own powder upon drying (or at least this is my theory), which then swirls around and around in the surrounding air until it finds the nearest tactile object to settle on--wood, clothing, hair. Each time a storm rolls through, the winds kick up a furious cloud of concrete dust that coats and covers all the cars parked out in front--it's a marvelous sight, really, the tempest of grey and ivory that swirls and kicks until it shields the eyes of each car's windowshield from its anger.

But I just sit here and watch, locking the outside door against the blasts and blinking the dust out of my eyes, safe in my space.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Faithful Reader Giveaway!!

Hey everyone! In honor of my 200th post on Autodidactic Ambitions (that would be this post, mind you), I am going to be the oh-so-generous person that I am and give away a $15 gift certificate to Amazon.com to one lucky reader of Autodidactic Ambitions.

All you have to do to enter is:
1. Follow this blog
2. Include your email address in your comment (that's where I'll be sending the gift certificate)
3. Tell me what you'd buy if you won the gift certificate (brownie points for you if it's a book!)

Deadline for giveaway entries will be at 11:59 p.m. this Sunday, July 10. I will announce the winner next Monday, July 11th!!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Change It Up: Audiobooks

Some of you may be wondering how a book-a-holic like me hasn't managed to try out audiobooks yet. Well, I'll give you three reasons: (1) expensive, (2) I'm a faster reader than they are, and (3) I didn't want to get so distracted by a thrilling story that I end up back-ending the car in front of me at a stoplight. Also, the few times in the past when I'd attempted the venture, the library was all out of the "real" audiobooks (you know--the ones that you'd actually WANT to hear someone read aloud to you, aka. Harry Potter). Additionally, I like to count up the books I read each year (as if you couldn't already tell), and I think that counting an audiobook would be akin to cheating. Thus are my reasons laid out for all to judge.

However, Matt and I chanced to wander into a library the other day (when we finally realized we were now no longer rich enough to wander into bookstores), and I randomly started perusing the audiobooks section. Now, I didn't expect to find anything, mind you, but there my hand was reaching out for one before I had a chance to think about it---The Thirteenth Tale. The funny thing about my hand reaching for this particular item is that I've already read The Thirteenth Tale. I loved The Thirteenth Tale. So much, in fact, that I'd been planning on re-reading it again...within the next 50 years when I'd *hopefully* finished all the other books lounging around the house. But there, right on the shelf at eye-level at our very own Logan Library, was the solution for all those books I want to re-read but can't find the time to---audiobooks. Thus, I don't need to ponder over whether I should count the book towards my yearly "books read" total, and I can re-visit those old favorites without guilt.

I am brilliant sometimes.

Upon popping the c.d. in my car's player and coaxing it to actually crank out some distinguishable sounds, I discovered with delight that I did not appear to be too much more distracted while driving (except for the few times during intense parts where I missed my turn) and that I actually didn't MIND going out to run errands because it meant more time with the British lady in my c.d. player who told spellbinding stories that took my mind off of the menial tasks ahead of me. Basically what I asked myself after about two seconds was this:

HOW HAVE I NOT DONE THIS BEFORE??!! AM I INSANE?!

Apparently. Or just very, very stubborn and a bit set in my own bookworm ways.

However, even though it has been a positive joy to have someone read to me every time I get into my flashy '94 Ford Escort, there is a problem---sometimes the library discs skip and the British woman in the c.d. player starts to sound like she's got permanent smoker's cough. It's times like these where I start missing turns and narrowly missing garbage cans as I frantically try to figure out what my temperamental c.d. player could possibly want now (besides to eat the story right up, it's so good).

And the one other problem is that the library still doesn't have my Harry Potter audiobooks, so whatever am I to do now? Buy them?

As if.

Change It Up Successful: Heck yes! Sometimes I wish my brilliant ideas for experiments would come much sooner than they do, because it makes me wonder sometimes what else I'm missing out on...
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