Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Mid-Week Boost: Traveling

One of my favorite pictures from my Paris trip, 2005

Due to a lack of planning on my part, I am going to be my own guest post-er for this week. Check out my blog here (ha ha).

As I was contemplating whether to cancel the Mid-Week Boost for this week or just post myself, I kept thinking about what on earth I was passionate about. Let me clarify: it was probably harder for me to identify something that I was NOT passionate about than it was for me to think of something I WAS. In other words, I have way too many interests.

One of my passions is magazines (unfortunately), and something I came across just last month in the Oprah magazine was an article about finding your passion in life (or something to that effect). There was a little mini handbook that you could fill out to help yourself discover just what it was that could become your new passion. Some of the questions that it asked were, "What did you like to do most as a child?", "What are talents or qualities that you have that people often compliment you on?" or other questions to that effect. After thinking about my own answers to those questions, I came up with three things I should be passionate about: dancing, gardening, and playing Cinderella.

Unfortunately, I haven't done much of any of those lately, unless you count all the cleaning I've had to do thanks to the roach spray.

So I started to think of my own questions this morning while getting ready for the day:
What gets me excited?
What do I always wish I had more time or money for?
What do I associate with some of my most positive experiences?

And then suddenly: The Answer:


My answer surprised yet didn't surprise me. It surprised me because I feel like it's been quite awhile since I've actually gone much of anywhere. It didn't surprise me because traveling is the perfect hobby to accommodate two other passions of mine: trying out new things and taking pictures. I started to look for evidences that supported this as one of my passions in life, and I didn't have to look far: strewn all over our thrifted coffee tables are recent issues of Budget Traveler and National Geographic Traveler. I thought of how I've begged Matt in the past 48 hours to consider the idea of us going on THREE different vacations next year (we'd originally just planned for one, but recent opportunities have made me dream bigger).

Me at the Matterhorn in Switzerland with fellow classmates, 2005

This is why traveling is one of my big passions in life:

1 - I love experiencing new things. I wonder if I had a touch of ADD as a child, because I was always drawn to the idea of NOVELTY. If something is new to me, I'm all over it. What can I say? That's why I invented the Change It Up Challenge.
2 - I love experiencing different cultures and everything that goes along with that: different languages, different social customs, different ways of celebrating holidays, and of course, different food!
3 - I love how traveling always makes me appreciate home more. Even after the most fabulous vacation, there truly is nothing to compare with that feeling of coming back home.
4 - I love how traveling gives me time to meditate on the things that matter most to me and that it gives me new insights into myself and into the world around me.
5 - I love how the experiences and memories I gain while traveling are always with me. There is nothing that can compare to a happy memory--there is no  price that can be put on that.

Despite my love of traveling, I am obviously limited by the fact that Matt and I are both students and that we both are working just part-time while going to school. Nevertheless, here are my best tips for being able to plan out a fabulous (and affordable!) vacation:

1 - If you have two incomes coming into your home, just live off of one person's income. With Matt and I, we pay all of our bills and all other necessities from mine and bank pretty much all of Matt's. It is only because of this that we can even feasibly think of going on 3 vacations next year (or even one).
2 - If you have a particular place in mind and a rough time frame, there are several travel sites that will email you every time a plane ticket or hotel dips below a certain price. Just name your price, and see the miracles happen!
3 - Dream. If there's someplace you'd really love to go, dream about it---but then turn that dream into a working plan. Start figuring out how much money it would take to go there, and make a doable plan.
4 - When you're preparing to actually leave on a vacation, don't set your expectations too high. This sounds counterintuitive, but I've found it's best not to set unrealistic expectations. Most of life's disappointments (if not all) come from expectations not being met. Therefore, if you just go into traveling with the idea of having a different experience, then you're probably much more likely to enjoy yourself.
5 - Don't forget to plan down time while traveling. While it can be tempting to just dash like mad from one location to another, vacations are for relaxation and enjoying the company of loved ones (or your own company, if you go it alone). Schedule some down time at night to check out your hotel's hot tub, or make some time in the middle of the day to take a short nap.
6 - If you can't afford a big vacation, plan a mini vacation to a nearby location. Most of the funnest vacations that I've taken have been to more local places, such as Moab or Park City. Check out what tourist locations are near you (even if they're in your same town!) and make plans to go visit.
7 - Remember this philosophy of mine: money spent on traveling is always worth it, because memories go on forever. Sure you could invest that money into new furniture or a nice entertainment center, but time spent together with the people you love truly is priceless.

Taken during my trip to Moab with friends in 2008 (we each spent only $50!)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Tell-All Tuesday

*You know that extra pound and a half from Thanksgiving? Well, it's pretty much gone--75% of it anyway. Eating smart works every time.

*After a church leadership meeting tonight, I realized that I am grateful to be exactly in the spot I'm at in life--there are so many people facing so many problems, and my life is so simple. I love that.

*I have 3 classes that are cancelled this week. Woo hoo!

*I had fully intended to have our Christmas decorations up by now. As it stands, we only have managed to put up two nativities and a sign that says "Christmas" Oh, and a door wreath. The rest shall come out when the roach spraying mess is done away with. Which just might be never.

*One of our finds from Black Friday is a pre-lit tree that we saved over 70% on. I'm excited to post pictures of our very first Christmas tree together. I know you all can't wait.

*We're not sure if Matt's nativity from Africa has all the pieces--we think it's missing either Mary or Joseph. It's kinda hard to tell. It did, however, make sure to include an elephant and a giraffe.

*The drain under our washer was fixed today so I can finally wash our clothes without the fear of the entire house flooding. Our neighbors can also wash their clothes without giving us the fear of our entire house flooding. It's the simple things in life that matter, really.

*I supposedly find out this week where I'm student teaching. I don't know if I should be more excited or nervous about this fact.

*I'm looking forward to hitting the gym tomorrow with my friend Petrice. It will be the first time in about a month and a half that I've been able to go, and I have just been craving some hardcore body-beating.

*I am so ready to go up to bed and cuddle now. Good night everyone!

Thoughts on Thanking

I know my thoughts on Thanksgiving are a bit belated. I was enjoying my turkey and gravy, okay? But this Thanksgiving holiday really left me pondering long after the tryptophan had settled into my digestive system, and I'd like to just record here a few of the thoughts I had over the break.

I don't know really know when the pondering all started--maybe it was while Matt and I were trying to decide how to divide up the holiday or when my family was going around the table at dinner and saying one thing we were all thankful for. I do, however, know when the pondering started to stir me enough inside to make me want to change a few things: church. As I sat in sacrament meeting and listened to a woman share about how she associated gratitude with adversity but also with hope and how she was grateful for all she had even though she had just lost a newborn baby just a few months ago, I felt the familiar realization that I have been altogether too selfish and too focused on the wrong things in life.

I started to think of all the scriptures I could on gratitude and for some reason, the one that kept coming up over and over again was, "Thou shalt not covet." An odd coincidence maybe, but I don't think so. I don't know what it is exactly, but ever since getting home from my mission, I've had a serious case of the comparison crazies--because I didn't know exactly how to assimilate myself back into the American culture, I started to compare myself to others to remember my social cues and what was expected of me. The problem was, the comparison never seemed to stop. In fact, I'd say it just made things a lot worse. Whereas on my mission, I was content with the bare minimum in clothing, food, and technology, it seemed like upon arriving back in the States, all I could think about were all the things I lacked from being gone for so long. Sure, I always knew that I had gained much more than I had lost, but I still couldn't shake the nagging feeling that I needed to play catch-up with the rest of the nation. I started following blogs like crazy, which ended up being a double-edged sword: I was inspired to update my own blog and record my own thoughts, but I was also sucked into the mindset that I always needed to get MORE: more clothes, more lipstick, more DIY craft supplies for the house. And even with a bulging closet of clothes and an apartment more stuffed than a turkey, I still couldn't rid myself of the mindset that it wasn't enough.

Then the roach spraying incident happened.

I was forced to take out all of our worldly possessions and pile them in the center of the floor for the whole world to see--I felt that my own material worldliness  had been exposed. That combined with the feelings of gratitude that usually accompany Thanksgiving made something click within my head, and I realized:

I don't need to be on the cutting edge of trends.
I don't need to be as beautiful as, or as skinny as, or as well-dressed as, or as crafty as anyone else.
I just need to be me.

It will be a long process to rid myself of this comparison compulsion I've somehow gotten myself into. But I've at least gotten a headstart: I stopped following a lot of the blogs that were making me feel like I wasn't "enough" and have started to de-clutter my apartment and my head. I've started to make myself concentrate more on what I already have than on what I lack.

And you know what?

I feel happier than I have in months.

Here's to simplifying!
Here's to being grateful!
Here's to realizing that however much I have, it is enough.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Last Week's Done List

Last Week's Done List

*Gained a pound and a half of well-fed evidence on my love handles. Totally worth it.
*Gathered up every item in our home and moved it all to the center of each room, away from the walls.
*Realized I had way too much stuff.
*Donated (or am in the process of donating) many lovelies to the D.I.
*Survived our first roach spraying experience
*Finished an annotated bibliography of 30 texts I might someday use in my content area
*Started a new book (Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson)
*Played Settlers of Catan way more than most humans would care to.
*Won approximately 27% of those games
*Went undefeated in my family's Thanksgiving Rook tournament with my sister Jill as my partner
*Saved over $300 on Black Friday
*Somehow convinced Matt to come with me for Black Friday (ha ha! It's a Christmas miracle!)
*Went on one glorious, one-hour walk on the clear perfection that was Thanksgiving night
*Realized just a little more how blessed my life really is.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Mid-Week Boost: Writing

This week's Boost is brought to you by my very own friend, Stephen Bradford. Bradford is the genius behind The Life & Times of S.R. Braddy, which is probably one of the funniest male-written blogs out there. Check it out!

I nearly turned down Torrie’s invitation to contribute to her blog’s “Mid-Week Boost” feature, since I’ve been almost completely bogged down with projects of my own. However, since the invitation was to spend a couple paragraphs on something I’m passionate about, I had to accept. I mean, I’m nothing if not a man completely in love with his own opinion. And boy, do I have opinions about writing.

I love writing. I’ve been writing for about as long as I can remember, depending on how generous you are in defining “writing.” I studied English at Utah State University, eventually settling on a bachelor’s degree in creative writing, a decision I made completely from dedication to the craft of literature and not at all because it shaved a good year off my estimated graduation date.

Writing has proven to be a rather silly career path from a purely monetary perspective. I’ve made a dollar on my publications to date which, when you factor in the cost of postage, paper, and ink, likely amounts to a net fiscal loss on my part. Still, my personal life has been enriched by the art of writing, and I have no regrets.

With that introduction out of the way, I present to you a little tutorial on the craft of creative writing, in the hopes that someone out there will read this post, feel inspired, and go get a real job. I call it:


Selecting a Genre

The world of writing is wonderfully diverse. There is a type of writing for just about everyone out there. I strongly encourage any aspiring writer to explore as many of the different genres as they come across, thus limiting their effectiveness in whatever genre they ultimately decide on.

To start with, there are the three main genres of writing – fiction, nonfiction, and poetry*. Each of these three genres contains their own strengths and weaknesses. Fiction allows a writer to craft a realistic world without resorting to any silly “research.” Nonfiction relieves the writer of the burden of coming up with any original ideas. Finally, poetry exists for people who suck at writing anything else.

To make the decision even more paralyzing, each of the main genres contains hundreds of sub-genres. For example, someone who decides to write nonfiction should be delighted to learn that they don’t have to spend their days writing stuffy textbooks. They can indulge in a sub-genre called “memoir,” which is a French word for “stylized account of an unhappy childhood.” If you choose to write memoir, though, I’d recommend that you wait until your family has all passed. Families hate memoirists, and memoirists hate families.

Poets have even more options available. A poet may choose to write sonnet, villanelle, pantoum, limerick, free-verse, epic, narrative, rondeau, roundel, rondelet, haiku, ghazal, quatrain, cinquain, sestina, or even slam poetry, although that last should be reserved primarily for angry people without enough “street cred” to call themselves real rappers.

Of the three major genres, fiction is probably the strangest. While there are sub-genres to fiction (i.e. romance, fantasy, thriller, and fan-), there exists a peculiar blank genre known as “literary fiction,” which is almost completely devoid of distinguishing characteristics – aside from a pervasive attitude of misery. All authors are, of course, welcome to write any genre they wish, although they should be aware that writing anything other than “literary fiction” will likely result in their works getting snubbed by the academic illuminati.

*Oh, I guess you could call “script writing” a genre, too, but since any writer who produces a script worth passing on will see their work torn to pieces and completely transformed by hoity-toity producers, directors, actors, and visual artists, I don’t consider the writer to have much say in the final product.

The Writing Process

Writing is all about process. Every writer’s process is completely different, and can change over time.

For example, I used to write by playing video games all day. I pursued this path happily for several years; sadly, though, I found my daily word output surprisingly lacking.

Later, I transitioned to writing by watching a lot of movies and television. These hours helped me build a solid foundation in understanding plot, character development, and who Christina was seeing behind her husband’s back this week.

Then, feeling unsatisfied with the less-than-impressive body of work I produced through watching television, I started to write by reading a lot. The thousands of books I’ve read have made an invaluable contribution to my artistic ability. Now, I’m able to finally look at a text, think about it, and say, “Yup. That’s writing, all right.”

My current process is a highly experimental one that I’m not sure I’ll stick with for long. I call it the “Sitting Down at My Stupid Desk and Pushing the Stupid Keys on My Stupid Computer and Writing for Once in My Stupid Life” process. While I’ve increased the quantity and quality of my writing exponentially through the liberal use of the SDMSDPSKMSCWOMSL process, I have noticed a severe lacking in other areas of my life – most noticeably in the progress I’ve made in the latest Batman game.

To keep focused on this particular process, I usually get involved with “National Novel Writing Month”, a project which challenges its members to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November. I’ve found that I’m able to overcome most of my writing insecurities with sheer volume of words.

You don’t have to imitate any of my processes, of course. Feel free to experiment and find your own.

Creating a Work Environment

You may find it important to select a properly motivational work environment. Certain areas allow for a more creative energy to flow – the local library or a secluded park, for example. Other locations, like the middle of a busy freeway, may make it difficult to concentrate.

Personally, I find that listening to music helps the mind focus on the task of putting words together into coherent sentences. Be careful to select the right kind of music. I prefer something classical, instrumental, and boring. Boring classical music acts as a sort of blinder for the concentration, convincing the brain that it might as well write, because there’s certainly nothing else interesting going on in the world.


Sadly, it seems that the days of the reclusive writer who toils in anonymity and squalor his whole life only for his works to be celebrated by the world at large posthumously have come to an end. In today’s world, it is important to develop a network of writing contacts that will validate your ego when your writing is good and bust your chops when they find it lacking.

In building your network, a balance needs to be struck between accessibility and experience. One’s own mother, for example, is unlikely to be a good member of one’s writing network, as she may hesitate to “bust chops” appropriately (unless her maiden name happens to be “Brontë”). On the other end of the scale, famous writers like Edgar Allen Poe are notoriously private and difficult for amateurs to contact. They may or may not also be dead.

A good middle ground can be found among the throngs of English majors attending college or those who recently graduated. Indeed, it is a rare English student who denies wanting to pursue a career in writing while they teach “on the side.” Such students are likely to have just the correct balance of passion for the subject matter and inexperience to provide the criticism one needs. Even if you don’t live around a college or university, you may still be able to find a washed-up literature student through the miracle of the internet.

I hope you all have found my thoughts on the subject of writing useful. Now, if you will excuse me, it is getting late, and I still have to reach my NaNoWriMo word count goal for the day. Ahem…

“Wendy looked through the door. It was a dark door. No, really, it was, like, really dark. How dark, you might ask? Well, it was really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really…

Thanks, Bradford! You're always been one of my biggest writing inspirations!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Tell-All Tuesday

*Hooray for Thanksgiving Break!

*That would be a much bigger hooray (like a HOORAY) if it wasn't for the following three facts: one, I have to work tomorrow. Two, Matt has to work tomorrow AND Friday. Three, we get to spend hours upon hours tonight getting our house ready to be sprayed for roaches tomorrow (due to a neighbor having seen a single roach in her kitchen). While I'm glad we won't have to worry about roaches, I am not as glad about having to move all the food out of the cupboard, pull all the furniture away from the walls, and move everything out of our storage closets. Happy Thanksgiving, stupid roaches. Now DIE.

*I went to a teacher development training today at Logan High just so I could see what all the "real" teachers do. I had a hard time not giggling when everyone kept looking at me wondering what the heck I was doing in their training. Experience, people. Just gaining experience.

*I did a lot of soul-searching for about 35 minutes while the rest of Logan High was eating lunch. For what I was soul-searching about, check out my post on my other blog:

*Last night I tried out a whole lot of new recipes, new cooking techniques, AND new meal-planning strategies (aka, have more than just the entree to serve Matt when he gets home from work). Thumbs up to me for successfully completing all three goals!! (and making Matt like sweet potatoes!)

*I really want to go take advantage of the $4.99 burger combo deal happening at Angie's today, but we're trying to save money to prepare for the holidays. The real question is: will I mention the deal or will I not mention it? For on such hinges the fact of us going or not...

*Even though money will be tight next semester while I'm student teaching (and not working), can I just say how excited I am to quit my job? VERY EXCITED. I pretty much am counting down the days until freedom.

*I am going to attempt the Black Friday madness, people--there are two big-ticket items that I really just don't to pay full price for. And I'm going to make Matt come with me. Heaven help me (more for tolerating Matt's unavoidable complaining before, during, and after, not so much for the actual shopping itself). Let the madness begin!

What are your plans for this Thanksgiving week?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

This Week's Done List

This Week's Done List:

*Celebrated being just days away from Thanksgiving Break with some discounted chocolate satin pie and bubbly. Let the weekend of good eating begin!

*Finished the most annoying assignment of my life: compiling an annotated bibliography of 30 texts that I could potentially use in my future classroom. Yuck.

*Read over 175 pages of student writing and met with almost 30 different students to discuss said pages (I don't know how I made it through that particular nightmare, considering I still had my normal job to worry about as well as my own homework, my church calling, and my hubby).

*Went grocery shopping for the first time in over a month. Well, "real" grocery shopping (aka, when I buy more than just milk and bananas). Matt was so happy he probably could have cried.

*Cleaned out the fridge. It was this act that ultimately clinched the undeniable truth that I couldn't put off going to the grocery store any longer. (Translation: we were out of milk, eggs, meat, fresh fruits or vegetables of any kind, and, horror of horrors, cheese. Interestingly, we were not out of ice cream. But that was because we'd made a special stop to buy it two days before).

*Finally finished a book

*Went to Matt's vocal recital and was again astonished at how amazing he is. (Brag moment here: he was saved, along with the other very best singers, for the very end of the recital. He was the best male singer by far. Musical talent is so attractive).

*Hit up Old Navy's pre-Black Friday sale and saved over $120 (and no, I did not need to SPEND $120 to get to that amount either).

Still To Do:
 *Buy a pre-lit Christmas tree on real Black Friday so that we can start decorating our very first tree together this next weekend :)

*Take one of my cardigans back to Old Navy because the stupid security tag was still left on it. If I had a dollar every time that happened to me...seriously...

*Eat myself silly on Thursday and not feel one bit guilty about it.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Book #16: Breaking Night

Title: Breaking Night
Author: Liz Murray
Genre: Memoir
# of Pages: 329

I don't normally go for memoirs (not for any particular reason), but when I heard my Ethnic Lit teacher last semester talking about how excited she was to read this book based on a true story about a girl who went from being homeless at 16 to graduating from Harvard, I couldn't get my mind off of it. For several months, I kept trying to remember the title of the book, but to no avail. Finally, one day I got the brilliant notion of just typing in "Homeless to Harvard" into Google and found exactly what I was looking for. Aren't I so resourceful?

Anyway, I snatched this book up the first (guiltless) chance I got: one of the rare days when Barnes & Noble offers 50% off all bestsellers when you order online. Even though I had other books I should probably have been reading before this one, I couldn't resist it.

I'm so glad I didn't put it off.

Breaking Night is the inspiring story of Liz Murray, a girl who grew up to two parents who were addicted to crack and who both contracted AIDS through their drug use. By the time she was sixteen, Liz's living situation had gotten so bad that she ran away from home. Before being homeless, she had been put into a group home for not attending school. After getting out of the group home, she tried to go to high school again but could not force herself to have the discipline to attend regularly enough to pass. By the middle of her 9th grade year, she had officially dropped out and spent her days trying to find enough food to eat and a place to spend the night.

At 17, she left an abusive relationship to fend for herself. During that period of spending nights alternating between friends' houses and stairwells, she found within herself the need to do something more with her life. Even though it seemed that all doors had been closed to her from the beginning and all the obstacles too great to overcome, she started trying to re-enter any alternative high school that would take her. When one finally took mercy and accepted her, she decided right then and there to start afresh and not make the same mistakes she did the first time. The story's ending is so triumphant I felt like crying in the middle of USU's library between tutoring appointments.

This memoir is inspiring and heartwrenching--you won't be able to put it down. Murray has the delicate gift of being able to talk about depressing subject matter in a non-depressing way; she never makes herself out to be a victim, and her writing is straightforward, stoic (in a good way), and completely compelling. And although she dealt with mountains of negative experiences, she very tastefully talks about her experiences in her memoir--there is hardly any language at all, and she doesn't go into any explicit details that would have made me too uncomfortable. I found myself rooting for her against all odds, and now I'm inspired to search out the movie that was made of her life.

Trust me, you want to check out this book--you'll never look at the world (or your own situation growing up) in quite the same way again.

My Rating: 5 stars

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Mid-Week Boost: Creating

Hey everyone--I'm really excited about my new weekly post idea: Mid-Week Boost! Each week, I'll be asking a different person to write in and tell us one thing that he/she is passionate about. Since Wednesdays are usually the most blah day of the week, I thought that this would be a way to put a little spice in it and remind us all of the things we love in life (and also maybe get us interested in trying out new things). I'm excited to have Corina here today from Corina's Corner: I checked out her blog a couple months ago and completely fell in love with her artwork and photography. Hope you enjoy!

Hello!  This is Corina from Corina's Corner.  Torrie asked me to write the first edition of her new column, Mid-Week Boost.  She told me that she wants these posts to focus on what people are passionate about and what inspires them.    So I have been trying to think for the past week about what I am really passionate about and what I always come back to is that I am passionate about creating. No matter what it is, I love to create. I love to sew, paint, build, design, cook…the list goes on and on.

I love photography. I love the visual aspect of creating, capturing a beautiful moment, a colorful image, frozen in time to look back at forever.

I love sewing...bringing different pieces of fabric together to create a new piece that is more functional than the first.

I love cooking...(ok mostly eating...)

And my newfound love, painting...

I have always been creating. I have loved it since I was very little. I can't exactly pin point when I first started creating, but I think what drew me in was a part inside of me, inviting me to be creative.

Occasionally it is challenging and frustrating, especially when I can imagine exactly what I want to create but I can't figure out how to do it.  I know there's always a way though, so I try not to get frustrated and move forward.

I am currently taking a wood shop class where I am building a TV stand.  Even though I find it extremely challenging, I love it.  I love taking a bowed piece of wood, that is rough and has water stains and completely transforming it, making it smooth, beautiful, and functional.

Creating for me is relaxing and helps me stay grounded.  I love having a project to work on, something I look forward to working on and finishing.  I think everyone should have some kind of a creative outlet, or hobby, something they enjoy doing, that can brighten their lives and the lives of others.

Thanks again, Corina! And while I'm here, if anyone has an interest in being a guest post-er for an upcoming Wednesday, go ahead and comment below or email me at 

Let me know what you think about the new column!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Tell-All Tuesday

*Do you ever get to the point where you feel like your brain is like melted cheese? That's how I feel right now, after tutoring other students on their writing for almost 6 hours straight (before which I had to observe at the high school for 4 hours, before which I went to my own classes and did my own homework). Translation? One giant heap of melting brain matter. So forgive me if this post is somewhat lacking (or just crazy).

*We are out of shampoo and I have had absolutely no time to run to the store. Translation: very greasy hair in spite of my shower this morning. And p.s.-- dry shampoo is not all it's cracked up to be.

*Thankfully, I have awesome friends who go out of their way to lighten my load: the lovely and amazing Petrice (who just got an amazing and lovely haircut) brought us by some healthy and hot white lentil soup and breadbowls. It was the perfect thing to come home to after a VERY long night at the library.

*I am about thisclose to finishing Breaking Night, and I can't wait to do a review on it. This book is incredible, people!

*I have four brand-new magazines that I haven't even touched because of how busy I've been. You know my schedule must be crazy when that happens...

*I'm really excited for the new blog feature I'll be starting tomorrow. I hope you'll all love it as much as I will!

*I ate Arctic Circle today for the first time in years. It brought me back to all my days as a teenager, when my friends and I would make the mile or so walk up to the nearest Arctic Circle and see how many cars of boys would honk at us. Oh, those were the days...

*I'm going to put myself to bed in about twenty minutes, even though it's only just past 9. It's just been one of those days. And tomorrow will be the same thing. And so will Thursday. I'm gonna need the extra hour of sleep.

How was the beginning of your week?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Change It Up Challenge (Nov): Cleaning

I come from a very clean family--one of my Dad's first memories of me is when I mopped up my own juice spill when I was two years old (which I'm sure I learned from watching my mother, who is the cleanest person I know). Unfortunately, that go-getter attitude towards cleaning that I had when I was two did not carry over to my adult life, or even to my teenage life (or even over to the next year of life, I'm afraid). I think my mom has been telling me to clean my room since I was old enough to start accumulating too much stuff (a.k.a., preschool). I just always had better things to do than clean, it seemed--extracurricular activities, reading, friends, work,, for me, has always been a weekend thing: wake up Saturday morning, cook up some creamed eggs over toast, then clean the house for 4 hours. And this system worked just great for my early college years, because I always had roommates who were willing to clean on a daily basis :).

The cruel irony of my personal bad habits when it comes to cleaning is this: although I am not, by nature, a very clean person, I am VERY used to living in a clean house. If anyone has ever had the pleasure of being at my mom's house, you know that it is always immaculate. Therefore, I expect to live in a clean house, but don't have the tendencies towards making it that way. Oh cruel, cruel world.

Now that I'm married, I've found that my "roommate" seems to have the exact same cleaning habits I do, but that he doesn't require quite the same standard of perfection of cleanliness.

Translation: our apartment has turned into a fire hazard.

And the time has come to do something about it.

So this month, I'm asking you for your advice:
-How do you split the cleaning duties between yourself and your significant other?
-What strategies do you have for maintaining an orderly home despite a busy schedule?
-I have way too much stuff and not enough places to put it: do you have any organizational strategies for me? Any cute ideas you've  seen on Pinterest to make a small space hold more stuff?

I welcome your answers to these and any other comments you might have. I will try my best to try them all. And in my report at the end of the month, if I tried your suggestion, I'll make sure to credit you with that in the post.
Wish me luck!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Aggie Basketball

This is Matt and me, 
excited to be with...

These people:

Watching this sport:

And doing a lot of this:

Go Aggies!

This Week's Done List

This Week's Done List:
*Screamed myself hoarse at the USU basketball game on Friday night (picture post to follow)
*Beat everyone in Settlers of Catan
*Beat Matt at Monopoly Deal (ha ha)
*Had a girls' night (finally!) with my old roommates
*Did not finish my milkshake at said girls' night (yay for learning to stop when I'm satisfied)
*Worked on my communication skills (this is huge for me)
*Remembered to clean my hair out of the drain after showering 2 out of 3 times (baby steps, people)
*Didn't wait until the last minute to submit one of my writing assignments
*Did blog post on the results of last month's Change It Up Challenge
*Read over 100 pages more in Breaking Night
*Mailed off all the thank-you notes
*Joyfully made it through the first six months of marriage
*Made our bed every morning (with Matt's help)

To Do Still:
*Finish Breaking Night
*Do blog post on this month's Change It Up Challenge (I'd love your feedback on it---I could definitely use some tips in the area that I'm working on this month!)
*Survive the week of insanity that lies ahead of me: it's a 60-hour workweek, people. This could get interesting.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Change It Up Report (Oct): Exercise

(picture from

Last month's Change-It-Up Challenge was all about learning to incorporate exercise into a (very) busy lifestyle. During the summer, I got into the habit of going to the gym just about every single day; it was relatively easy, because I would just go right after work (around 5:30) and get back home before Matt ever even got back from his job. Since I would have just been sitting at home by myself doing nothing, it was easy to get into the habit of doing that every single day.

Then the school year started.

I went from just having to worry about a full-time job to taking a full-course load, working 32 hours at Robertson's, tutoring math twice a week, having a busy church calling, and having another tutoring job on the side that would up my total work hours for the week up to 60 whenever it kicked in. Keep in mind that throughout all of this, I have been a full-time student and a full-time wife. Needless to say, I had a full plate. Although I hated it, exercise started to take a backseat to everything else going on. It had to. 

But when I noticed that I started to put on a pound or two after having worked so hard to lose ten, I knew that something needed to change. I also was starting to get cranky more easily, and I was starting to get winded while doing everyday activities. The real question pressing on my mind was this: "How on earth could I possibly fit one more thing into my schedule? I'm already so stressed out as it is."

I didn't want to have to wake up earlier to get my exercise in, esp. since the fact that I average 7.5 hours of sleep a night is one of the few things keeping me sane. I knew that I couldn't regularly cut out the hour and a half it takes me to go to the gym. So what could I do?

After thinking about it all month, I came up with a couple strategies that really helped me (and incorporated them into my life). They're really simple and mostly do not involve intense exercise, but I figured that getting some exercise was better than getting none. So this is what I came up with:

*I bought a pair of 10-lb. dumbbells from Wal-Mart first thing after deciding that this would be my CIU Challenge for the month. On most days, I do a quick 5-minute toning session (flies, curls, etc.) whenever I can squeeze it in. Sometimes it's during commercial breaks (during the rare moment I have time to catch a show with Matt) or it's right after getting home from work or it's when I need a quick break from studying. The important thing is that I do it more days than not (which allows me to keep the toned arms that I worked so hard for in the summer).
*When I'm home alone and need a break from studying or cleaning, I'll turn on music really loud and do Zumba moves by myself. Once again, I figure even jumping around for 10 minutes is better than not doing anything.
*One thing I've loved is taking Matt's birthday gift out for a spin every chance I get (and every time it's not too cold). I love the feeling of the wind in my hair and of the cold in my lungs--there's just something about exercising outside that's a huge mood boost for me. Even if I just go for 15 or 20 minutes around a couple blocks, I feel a huge difference.
*For family night on the Mondays when I wasn't working, Matt and I would go play a couple quick games of tennis for about 45 minutes while dinner would be cooking in the oven. I find that this is one of the best strategies I came up with--because sometimes I don't want to go to the gym because it means time away from Matt, I love it when we can go and exercise together because it hits two birds with one stone.
*On a couple Fridays, I packed my gym clothes in my car and just headed to the gym straight after work. This couldn't be a daily occurrence, but since Fridays are less busy I can sometimes afford to go then.
*I've invested in a couple short exercise videos (like a short dancing video, a Tae Bo video, and I have a Yoga Meltdown w/ Jillian Michaels video on loan), which allow me to just pop one in and work out for as long or short as I can.

Overall, what I found from my experience was that despite how busy I was, I DID have time to fit in a little bit of physical exercise on most days. Also, it goes without saying that I felt better every time I did. I'm excited for next semester, when I should have a little more time to invest in working out, but for now I'm grateful that I've come up with some strategies that have really worked for me in incorporating exercise into my busy daily life.

What kinds of strategies have worked for you in fitting in exercise?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Wedding Wednesday: Last Thoughts

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?
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

This is the most recent picture taken of us. It was taken two nights ago on our 6-month anniversary, which we spent eating hamburgers and fries at Angie's and playing Monopoly Deal slumber-party style on our living room floor (slumber party style meaning with lots of pillows and blankets put down to cushion our bums). I think I lost every round but one. But we still had fun. Mostly because Matt is a good winner and doesn't rub it in. I, on the other hand, grandpa always said, "Show me a good loser and I'll show you a loser." And I guess that's just always stuck.

It's impossible to choose what I love most about Matt, but for the sake of choosing something, I'd say that I have to go with how peaceful he is. And I'm not just referring to the fact that we don't fight and rarely have conflict---he's just a very peaceful person to be around, very calm. Whenever I'm in his presence, I always feel more at ease and I just seem to get this vibe that no matter what, everything will be okay. I know that's pretty abstract, but it's very true. Even my sister once commented on it; she said to my mom (referring to Matt and I as a couple): "They're just so peaceful together." I think it's one of the highest compliments anyone's ever paid us.

There are other things I love about Matt too, of course, among which are his fish kisses (pretty much exactly what they sound like), his quickness to smile or make me laugh, his absolute diligence in doing his part on his schoolwork, his thoughtfulness, his little acts of kindness to me every day, his athleticism, his spirituality...okay, this might go on for awhile. Basically, I just love the guy. And that love grows stronger and stronger every day that we're together.

Thanks so much, honey, for a wonderful first six months together!!

***Note: This is, indeed, the last of the Wedding Wednesday posts. But I have been brewing up some ideas of what I can replace this column with, and I'm really excited with what I've come up with. So stay tuned for next Wednesday!!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Tell-All Tuesday

*Although my body fought back valiantly (and had been ahead in the battle for about 2 weeks), it finally succumbed to Matt's cold. I now officially have a sore throat, dry cough, and congestion. I'm just glad it hasn't been as bad as Matt's, though. I still think it was all them apples that kept me fighting for so long!!

*Can I just say how satisfying it was to drop all 48 of the last thank-you cards into the mail yesterday?

*The two lessons I taught to the psych classes at the local high school last week went amazingly well. My observing teacher said he's never seen a student teacher manage a class so perfectly or teach her subject so effortlessly. I'm still smiling about it. Yay! :)

*I missed all the excitement at work yesterday---apparently the management sprung a surprise drug test on everybody first thing (while I was at school). It was the talk at the figurative water cooler all day long.

*Thanksgiving is upon us in two weeks, and I am READY.

*My skin has felt (and looked) pretty amazing since I bought all those skin care products at the Mary Kay party last weekend. Yesterday in my work's bathroom, I was admiring the disappearance of the worry lines on my forehead. There ARE miracles in a jar, people!

*Yesterday we celebrated our 6-month anniversary. I'll be posting more about that in tomorrow's last Wedding Wednesday post. Has it really been 19 weeks already since I started that?!

*I'm starting to miss my long hair now that my haircut is starting to grow into the awkward middle stage. Sigh. This always happens to me.

*Speaking of hair, on Sunday I wore a headband for the first time ever. I mean, it was one of those uber-skinny rubber-band-type ones, but still. I felt very chic-teen.

*I'd best stop procrastinating my reading assignment for class, seeing as how it starts in 25 minutes.

What would you put in your own Tell-All Tuesday?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Here's What's Cooking...Apricot Chicken

K, so you totally cannot judge this recipe by the terrible photo above (basically I had eaten all of my chicken and then said to Matt, whose chicken was still halfway intact, "Stop! I have to take a picture!"). I've been trying to experiment with different slow cooker recipes every Sunday that we're up here in Logan, so this was this week's try.

I thought its juicy texture and sweet (but not too sweet) flavor was perfect for a snowy Sunday afternoon. Ideally I would have paired it with fresh rolls and a fruit cocktail, but as it was, we were lucky to just get the entree. That's just how it is sometimes.

Anyway, here's the recipe (I took it from the Oct. 2011 issue of All You magazine):

Apricot Chicken

12 dried apricots
8 medium chicken thighs, about 2 lbs. (I actually just used two chicken breasts and two huge wing/leg parts, and it worked perfectly)
Salt and pepper
2 tbs. unsalted butter (I cut this out and it still tasted great)
2 tbs. vegetable oil (I substituted olive, to make it healthier)
1 onion, sliced
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth

Rinse apricots and scatter them in slow cooker. Pat chicken dry; season with salt and pepper. Melt butter with oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook thighs until golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes per side. (Brown in batches to avoid crowding skillet). Arrange over apricots.

Pour off all but 1 Tbs. fat in skillet. Add onion and cook, stirring, until just soft, 2 to 4 minutes. Add broth to skillet, turn heat to high. Bring to a boil, stirring to loosen brown bits on bottom of skillet. Pour contents of skillet over apricots and chicken. Cover and cook on low for 4 hours.

Carefully transfer thighs to a serving dish (they tend to fall apart easily); cover with foil to keep warm. Pour remaining contents into a saucepan. Boil, stirring often, until reduced and thickened, about 10 minutes. Pour over chicken. Serves 4.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

This Week's Done List

This Week's Done List:

*Tried calamari and stuffed mushrooms for the first time (and liked them!)
*Finished writing my thank-you notes. Yes, you read that right: after six months of procrastination and guilt-tripping and fussing over it, I finally finished writing the last of the thank-you's. It's probably the most significant thing I've accomplished in these six months of marriage.
*Taught two full-period lessons to real, live high school students
*Cleaned our bedroom for the first time since moving in. Let me clarify: this is the first time our room has been clean, organized, and free of random boxes since our wedding. This is probably the second most significant accomplishment since we got married.
*Tried out a new slow cooker recipe
*Practiced Chopin's "Nocturne" for an hour while Matt was at work
*Did not complain (too much) about the first snowfall of the year

Still to do:
*Take pictures of aforementioned first snowfall (or maybe the third or fourth snowfall) for our next Photo Walk (hopefully Matt is feeling better soon so that we can)
*Buy stamps so we can actually mail out the thank-you notes
*Write my post about last month's Change It Up Challenge
*Write my post about this month's Change It Up Challenge

So much to do, so short of a week...

Weekend with the Roses

We had the pleasure of spending our weekend with these lovely people: The Roses (Petrice and Caleb). I was grateful for the excuse to have a "real" date night, by which I mean that it was pre-planned and involved something other than grabbing hamburgers and watching movies here all night at the apartment (not that I don't love those date nights, too--but change is always great, too!)

We spent our evening gorging ourselves at The Olive Garden, then trying to work off all the calories at The Rock Haus (indoor rock climbing venue here in Logan).

Saturday, Petrice and I left our men at home for a much-needed girls' night out. Petrice had been invited to a Mary Kay party, and I so graciously agreed to tag along (actually, I pretty much just invited myself cuz I wanted a free facial).

Let's just say that my skin is going to be much more hydrated than normal for the next six months or so :). Thank you to everyone who bought precast concrete products from my job for the last month: it allowed me the best early Christmas present I think I've ever bought myself.

And there you go: our "after" shots. I don't normally go for brown shades on me, but it was fun playing dress-up for a little while (okay, for like four hours. Matt was freaking out back home).

All in all, a pretty great weekend. Thank you so much, Petrice and Caleb!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Wedding Wednesday: Kids

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?
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

Yes, we have kids--these are ALL ours.

Our nieces and nephews, that is.

I'm so funny.

Anyway, Matt and I do not have any kids yet (we've only been married 6 months, people!). Both of us look forward to the day when we'll be parents, but we know that that day is not yet. I'm sorry to shatter anyone's hopes and dreams, but we probably won't be having kids until Matt graduates with his bachelor's degree (almost two years down the road). So none of that "Aren't you pregnant yet?" kinda stuff, okay? Okay.

One of the things that I've always loved about Matt though is how very comfortable he is around kids, and how good he is with them. I know many a man who resists holding other people's babies, but Matt is not one of those men. I have the utmost confidence that Matt will be an ideal father, and I only hope that my own parenting skills will someday catch up to his. It will be greatly rewarding for me to see him grow in that role of father someday and I think it will be, well, interesting to see myself grow into the role of mother. We don't know exactly how many kids we want yet, but we've talked about having 4 or 5. (I guess we'll see how much we like the first one).

But, until that day comes, I will be using my tried-and-true (for 6 months anyway, ha ha) birth control: the Marina (an IUD). A lot of people (me included, at the beginning) think that you can't put in an IUD before having kids (and especially not before getting married), but you can. My doctor did an amazing job to make it go as smoothly as possible, and even though it was still painful, I really love it now; I have seen very minimal side effects and love that I don't have to trust myself to take a pill every day (which I absolutely know I would fail at---case in point: the fact that I still forget to take my multivitamins every day even though Matt faithfully packs them into my lunch every morning). I know other people have had some negative experiences with having IUDs put in, but I couldn't be happier about my choice. The greatest part is that you can keep it in for five years, but you can have it taken out whenever you want. And besides abstinence, it's the most effective birth control there is right now. I think that's pretty cool.

Anywho, that's about all I have to say on that. Any questions?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Tell-All Tuesday

*I am still on a sugar high from Halloween yesterday. I think I ate about seven of Petrice's homemade donuts and then slurped down two full glasses of homemade root beer and then put down almost half of a root beer freeze at A & W. It's a good thing this Halloween business only comes around once a year.

*I am excited to be posting last month's Change It Up Challenge soon (hopefully by tomorrow or Thursday). Even though I didn't incorporate exercise into every single day, I feel like I've developed more healthy strategies for fitting physical fitness into my lifestyle. And I'm keeping those ten pounds off! I think that over the holidays, when I've finally quit my job to prepare for student teaching, that I'll be able to drop my final five pounds. I'm really excited to have some more time to myself again.

*This is the week of teaching for me, it seems--not only am I teaching a mini-lesson in one of my classes tomorrow, but I am actually going to teach TWO full-length AP Psych classes at Logan High on Thursday. I'm glad to get the practice (I've been practically begging the teacher all semester to let me do it), but I'm starting to get the little flutters of nervousness that something is going to go horribly, irreversibly wrong...

*I was going to continue writing about some more of the trivialities of my life, but I just got the news that one of the men from a family that I grew very fond of on my mission was just killed today. I am so grateful to know that death is not the end and for the sweet comfort that the gospel of Jesus Christ brings me in such times. This news is just one more reminder to me to never take the ones I love for granted and to live my life the best that I can each and every day.

*Sorry to end on a sad note--hope all of you have a good (and safe) Tuesday.

Halloween 2011

Halloween 2011

Halloween this year started early, with a visit to my mom's house for her annual Halloween party. Included in the ghoulish treats were spider cupcakes, mummy dogs, and jello jigglers in the shape of bats and pumpkins (made with grape and orange jello).

All the nieces and nephews (and even most of the adults) came dressed up and ready for a good time: pin the smile on the jack-o-lantern, a spooky scavenger hunt, make your own bat (check out how cute they turned out!), and frosting Halloween-themed sugar cookies.

My mom put in a lot of work, and we had a lot of fun!

Last night, we were invited over to Petrice and Caleb's Halloween shindig, which included a crackling bonfire and homemade donuts and root beer.

Matt went around trying to scare me with his mask until he made Petrice's little boy cry.

Then he felt bad.

Thanks Petrice, for such a fun Halloween! (And thanks Kayla, for coming to A&W with us to round out the evening with Papa Burgers and even more root beer).

Hope everyone had a great Halloween!

Do you like how lazy we are at costumes?
Petrice and Caleb weren't lazy though--I'm still laughing about Caleb shaving half of his hair off so that he looked like he was balding and Petrice's bosoms that sank down almost to her belly button. (Don't they still make an adorable little "old" couple, though?)

And just for fun: spooky pictures by the firelight.

Sorry for the pic overload! (This has basically become my scrapbook and journal all in one, so I feel like I should be keeping a log of my life. Hope you guys don't mind.)

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