Wednesday, July 31, 2013

One Truth About Simplifying

(The current disaster I'm working with in my organizational challenge: our bedroom)

Forcing myself to go through my entire apartment piece by piece this year and closely examine each of our possessions has brought me to this truth (among others):

Our ability to simplify and minimize and rid ourselves of the surplus in our lives is like a muscle---constantly exercise it, and it grows stronger, but if you never do it, well...

You get the idea.

It used to be that I went through my closet (since that was about the only space I ever routinely "de-cluttered") about once a year (or whenever I could no longer stuff my latest purchase into it), and generally I could only bear to part with a few items, which usually consisted of things that no longer fit or that were obviously out of style.

Other than that though, I had a difficult time letting go---I became a mastermind at coming up with reasons to hang onto that turtleneck I hadn't worn in two years because I got compliments every time I wore it (ignoring the fact that I almost never put it on because I hate the feeling of tight fabric on my neck) or rationalizing those electronic cords that were mysterious in their purpose and that lay, tangled and unused, in a box shoved into the farthest corner of the closet, reasoning that they "might come in handy someday."

However, now, almost 8 months into my household overhaul, I am reaching feats I never thought possible---I am no longer looking for excuses to keep everything I've ever owned, and I'm slowly becoming addicted to the unique rush that only comes from seeing bare shelves, surfaces, and floors appear.

I've also learned to ask questions (and honestly answer them) when my habitual self tries to start up its rationalizations, like:

Can I remember the last time I used, wore, or truly enjoyed this?

Am I keeping it only out of guilt or fear?

Is the item in its current condition bringing me joy and satisfaction?

Would I notice if it were to suddenly disappear?

If I were to list the hundred most important things to me, would it come even close to making the list?

Each day, I find I am more and more capable of letting go, and you know what?

I'm discovering that that brings a joy and satisfaction that nothing material ever could.

What are your secrets for simplifying your life? What questions do you ask yourself when you start internally debating over keeping an item?

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Things That Bring Me Joy: Fresh Cut Flowers

I have a confession to make: I buy myself flowers. Like, all the time.

Sometimes (maybe two or three times a year), I'll receive a beautiful bouquet, usually of roses, from my thoughtful hubby. Often, these occasions accompany some holiday (Christmas, Valentine's Day, etc.), and they never fail to bring me joy when they do happen.

But, because my nature-loving self just needs to have fresh cut flowers around me more often than two or three times a year, you can often find me raiding the floral section at the grocery store, sniffing around the $4.99 bouquets with a trained nose (because even though I'm making a luxury purchase, it had still better be a cheap luxury purchase, dang it!).

I didn't hit upon this happy joy in life (of buying flowers for myself) until fairly recently, when I felt like I had some money to burn (it must have been a payday).

And you know what I quickly discovered?

That five-dollar purchase brought me noticeably higher moods and positive feelings for a solid three weeks.

Now THAT'S what I'd call a pretty good investment.

Lately, I've been trying to buy myself this little bit of visual happiness about once a month or so, and it seems like such a simple thing, but I can honestly say that it's affected the mood of our home since the flowers are one of the first things I see when I walk in.

Isn't that crazy?

What $5 things bring YOU a little extra happiness? (And does anyone know of any other long-lasting flowers besides daisies and carnations?)

Monday, July 29, 2013

Off to the Woods

Well, I'm about an hour out from departure to girls' camp--3.5 days filled with campfire banana boats (essentially grilled bananas stuffed with chocolate chips and mini marshmallows), low-mess crafts, spiritually-themed hikes, and group skits.

It will basically be awesome.

Of course, as of Sunday morning, I was deathly afraid that I might come home from camp to find that this stray black kitten that Matt just "had" to take in Saturday night might still be here when I got back. Luckily for us, we found out at church that it actually belonged to somebody in our congregation (hallelujah!), and so I was able to chuck our makeshift litter box and its half-eaten can of tuna guilt-free.

Thank goodness for a still-pet-free life.

I scheduled some posts for the next few days, so stay tuned!

Friday, July 26, 2013

A Summer Lunch in Solitude

I learned an important fact about myself this week as Matt's been away:

I eat about a bajillion times healthier when he's not around.

This totally blows my mind because I'm constantly trying to sneak vegetables into all of our meals because heaven knows that man would never think to eat them of his own accord.

But perhaps it is because I know that I'm going to meet with a little veggie-resistance when he's home that I just up and went crazy this week: I had salads for almost every meal, averaged 7-8 servings of fruits and veggies a day, and ate almost entirely like a vegetarian.

Who knew?

And because this salad I made was just too fabulous NOT to share, I decided to let you in on the secret recipe (just kidding, it's not secret---it's actually a dish that I only slightly tweaked from the hot mama of all blogs.)
So here goes---the recipe for the most perfect summery salad ever.
*one tomato, sliced and cubed
*one avocado, sliced into small chunks
*one cucumber, peeled and sliced into quartered coins
*feta cheese
*olive oil
*garlic powder
Mix the first four ingredients together, drizzle with a little olive oil, and sprinkle salt and garlic powder to taste. Serve by itself or with a sliced baguette (toasted or fresh).
Serves: 2

Another thing I learned about myself? When I'm alone, I almost always eat at the kitchen table, usually by our large window. This probably doesn't seem weird to anyone else, but Matt and I seriously eat almost every single meal in front of the t.v. (I know, I know---we're completely terrible).

But there's something about a salad that begs for a little more inner contemplation than usual---something about the way the creamy avocado mixes with the texture of a fresh cucumber that makes me want to turn off the outside world, kick up my bare feet, and contemplate the mysteries of nature.

Or at least the mysterious actions of my neighbors across the way.

This summer salad was SO good at its job, in fact, that I'm contemplating trying to convince Matt to turn off the television altogether during meals.

Heaven help me.

Do you watch t.v. while eating? Or are you the type to chow it down the good ol' fashioned way---around a sturdy kitchen table while actually carrying on a conversation?

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Come Home Already

Dear Partner in Crime:

Please come home from this scout camp already.

I'm tired of making food just for myself and not having anyone else to be impressed with it.

I'm tired of rolling over in the night and not having any covers to steal or any face to (accidentally) smack.

I'm tired of going days without hugs.

I'm tired of not having someone there to tell me that I forgot to rinse my dishes again.

I'm tired of watering the garden by myself, especially because you're the one that does most of the weeding :)

I'm tired of having only the t.v. to talk to, and it doesn't listen like you do.

I'm tired of an apartment without a handsome hubby in it.

So come home already, k?



Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Summer Dating Challenge: New Restaurant in a New Town

For our second dating challenge (from the 10 Summer Date Ideas I posted awhile back), we decided to venture outside of Logan, which is something we don't do often (unless we're headed to Bountiful, but that doesn't make us any more familiar with the surrounding towns). Here's the original dating challenge for this particular date:

Drive to the next town over (or, if you've been there a lot, drive a few towns over) and stop to eat at the first eatery you come to that's locally run. Make friends with your waiter and ask him/her to recommend a dessert stop (elsewhere) that you could go check out after your meal. In other words, it's kind of like a shortened progressive dinner that combines the thrill of new places with the lower expense of only going to two eateries.

We started out around 3:30 PM because we wanted to beat the dinner rush (and because we live in a sprawling valley where the nearest town that doesn't have "Logan" in the title is over 20 minutes away). We passed fields of purple wildflowers, more cows than we cared to count, and tempting raspberry stands all over the side of the road.

Our purpose was clear though, and we were not to be deterred.

Except the problem was, we didn't realize that in the surrounding small towns, there really WASN'T much in the way of restaurants and the like (unless you counted the occasional Mickey D's). We were getting antsy--so antsy, in fact, that we stopped at the Pepperidge Farm outlet for sustenance as we continued our arduous task of finding a new restaurant.

You see, Matt and I are the kind of people that find a place we both like, and we go there for everything. When we were in Bountiful, we went to the Leatherby's in nearby Salt Lake (where, coincidentally, Matt proposed to me AND where we decided to go when it came to catering our wedding). In Logan, we go to Angie's, a local diner that serves a killer double-decker burger combo for only $6.99 that includes a drink, hot French fries, and more burger than I know what to do with.

Needless to say, we don't venture out of our culinary comfort zone often.

However, after driving for about 35 minutes, we saw it: a charming little bistro named Callaway's that had flowers climbing up trellises and an empty parking lot.

We pulled over, stomachs ripping apart with hunger, when we saw it: they didn't open for another 45 minutes. We debated and huffed and hawed over the decision, but in the end, the drive home would be almost as long as the wait itself, so we just decided to go exploring around the local town (Smithfield), where we found a deliciously darling flower shop and a hardware/home supply store that basically carried everything where we were able to kill time for the next half hour.

In the end, I was SO glad we waited because Callaway's delivered up (literally) the best pizza I've ever eaten in my life (along with some killer breadsticks). My dish (the ravioli) was just all right, mostly due to its miniscule size, but Matt's ranch chicken pizza was seriously to die for--the expensive cheese on top alone was enough to make me want to pass out with pleasure.

Of course, when it came time to ask for dessert, we couldn't even think about it---we were both so stuffed that we just wanted to roll ourselves out of there and lie down in our air-conditioned apartment, and pronto.

(Technically that makes us 0 for 2 when it comes to completely fulfilling the "rules" of the dating challenge, but at least these are pushing us out of our comfort zone, right?)

Couple quick notes: Callaway's is a little pricey, but totally worth it when it comes to the taste. If you're looking for the most value for your dollar, don't get the ravioli (it literally only came with 6 ravioli noodles and cost $16), but DO get the pizza (a medium is more than enough for two people, and it only costs about $14). Matt was highly disappointed in the root beer and actually sent his back in exchange for a lemonade, so I just thought I'd throw that out there for all you RB fans.

All in all?

A winning date.

Are you the type to always visit the same restaurant over and over again? Or are we just boring?

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Tuesday Tell-All

*I have recently discovered two new walking trails, and I'm super stoked---our go-to place has always been the dam just up the street from us, but I've always been the type that needs a lot of novelty in my life, so I've just been itching to get back out on these beauties (for all you Logan people, they're the River Trail just up by Stokes Nature Center and the River Walk just down by the golf course. Yeah, apparently Logan needs to get more creative with her name game).

*Really, I should be discovering two new trails every week considering what a nature hot spot that Logan is, but even though I crave novelty, I don't always go out and make it happen. Isn't that weird?

*Confession: I am a Spider Solitaire freak. I have been playing more games of it lately than I care to admit, and I'm on a hot winning streak: I've won over 50 games in a row on the "advanced" level, and I don't plan on losing any anytime soon. You see, my very first employer (who also happened to be my next-door neighbor) often liked to play the game on his lunch break, and I noticed that he was often going back and undoing all the moves he'd just done. When I asked him why, he said that he believed that every single game of Spider Solitaire could be beaten, but that it sometimes required going back to the beginning and starting several times over again. Well, so far I'm proving him right---some games take me hours to figure out (kinda embarrassing to admit that that's how much free time I sometimes have lately), but I always beat them in the end.

*I'm a little more proud of that fact than I probably should be.

*I finished two books yesterday (both life-changing!), and while I was entering them onto my "Reading List" page (click on the tab above), I realized that I have officially read more books now at this point in the year than I did in all last year combined. Who knew that the secret to reading more wasn't me setting a goal of how many books I should read per year--it was me committing to a resolution to read at least two chapters a day from any book. Go me!

*See this picture of all these gorgeous people? Yeah, I'm lucky enough to work with these ladies on at least a bi-weekly basis. This is my young women's organization (along with two of our six young women), and they are constantly inspiring me to become a better version of myself. (Side note: this is a picture I took at our last weekly activity, which is when I found out about one of these great trails in Logan I never knew about.)

*It's funny how little I mention about my calling and these ladies on here (esp. considering how much I see them). But considering that this here bloggie can only cover about 10% of my life, I guess it's not so strange. Just know that they're an important part of my life and that they're basically awesome.

*So tomorrow is our favorite Utah holiday (Pioneer Day), and I don't really have any big plans. I am excited to go down to Bountiful and spend a lot of time with my family and best friend, but I'm sad that Matt won't be coming with me (as he's off to Scout Camp----boo). Oh well---maybe I'll be able to scare up a barbecue and catch the fireworks from the roof. Whatevs.

*Random question: in the book I just finished (Born to Run), it talks about how bad running shoes are for your body and how they make you much more prone to injury. Although they don't go out and say anything for sure on the "barefoot shoes" (just on literal barefoot running), I've been tempted to save up and get me a pair. Do you know of anyone that's bought those funny-looking barefoot shoes (the ones where you can see all the individual toes)? Do you know if they work?

*Last weekend on our date (which I'll post about on another day), Matt and I did something we swore we'd never do again: we went back to the Pepperidge Farm outlet. You see, the last time we went, we were so disappointed in the lack of selection and in the sharp increase in prices that we decided it wouldn't be worth our while to ever go back. Well, since we happened to be in the area ANYWAY last Friday, we decided to just go give it another shot. I think buying that four-pound bag of Lido cookies for $8 just might be the best and worst thing that's ever happened to me.

*Well I'm off to donate plasma. (Speaking of donating plasma, I had to go to the emergency room the other day to see a friend--don't worry, everything's fine--and upon seeing one of the plasma phlebotomists there, I immediately calmed down. I decided that's a scary sign that I've probably spent WAY too much of my life at the plasma center...)

Have a killer Tuesday, friend!

Monday, July 22, 2013

In Which I Wear the Only Headband I've Ever Liked

I've never been one to wear headbands. Even in the 90's, when those thick crescent-moon-shaped numbers were all the rage, I never got too into the style: I felt like it brought attention to all the wrong things (like the ever-present gap in the side of my bangs) and that it made me look, well. immature.

And of course, to a 12-year-old (which is probably about how old I was when they were all the rage), I wanted to look anything but immature.


But, when one of my adorable sisters-in-law gave me this beautiful gold number last Christmas, I was instantly smitten---it felt like a socially acceptable tiara, and I found myself gliding along in my gladiators and maxi skirts, feeling much like a Greek goddess.

A good accessory can do that, you know.

In other news, I learned another style trick. (Side note: I realize I am iceberg-slow when it comes to coming up with new fashion-y things. But dagnabbit, when I get something, I have to brag because it is just THAT unusual.)

Here's my latest secret: turning my Old Navy maxidresses (which I wear all the time---this one's in one of my posts just last week, for crying out loud!) into faux-skirts by throwing a cute blouse over the top.

Seriously, I feel so proud of myself I think I might just  have to go treat myself to about five cookies now to finish off my very healthy green-smoothie breakfast.

(It's okay---I just ran 5 miles this morning. No big deal.)

Where do you stand on headbands?

Friday, July 19, 2013

His/Hers: Current Reading Stacks



Matt and I have been trying to sway each other to our reading tastes for years--we've tried bribery, compromise, and the old "If you read this, I'll read that" strategy.

A little over two years into this eternal marriage, and I don't think we're any closer to becoming unified in what "great" literature really means.

(I'm right, of course.)

What are your reading tastes like? And if you have a significant other, does their taste match yours?

Thursday, July 18, 2013

50 Weeks to Organized: Week 29

Seeing as I saved most of my Big Projects for summer, it probably seems as though I haven't been focusing as much on simplifying and de-cluttering as before, but that would be grossly untrue: in fact, this room I'm about to show you has been a constant project for me since I decided to do this challenge back in December. In other words, I've been working on getting this baby in order for over 6 months, and that's the wretched truth.

Of course, when I remind you of how bad the room looked to begin with, you'll probably see why:

I think this space, more than any other room or area I've organized this year, has really been the driving force behind me wanting to seek out a more minimalistic lifestyle--once I was confronted with this overwhelming mass of STUFF every day that never brought me joy (only heaps and mounds of stress and frustration), I was finally able to find it within myself to start getting brutal in my decisions.

Because this is the room that stored most of our mementos, it was the one that had typically always tripped me up by feelings of guilt ("I can't get rid of that because...") and fear ("I really shouldn't chuck this because what if...?"). Once I recognized that I was letting those two emotions completely dominate me when it came to my stuff, it became a bit easier to start letting go---I knew I didn't want my possessions to be there because of negative feelings I had, so I started looking for things that truly fostered positive emotions in me.

When I made it as simple as that, I got pretty merciless.

I cannot express in words how much lighter I feel now that this room is completely under control. I can now look in this room and feel happy, not only because it's no longer an eyesore, but because I've really only kept stuff that brings me happiness.

Ready for your own happy high?

Pick a space--any space--and check out my to-do list below.

Junk Room/Spare Bedroom To-Do List:

*Break the room into sections. It will be entirely too overwhelming if you focus on the mass as a whole, so come up with various areas that you can focus on (bookshelves, desk, closet, floor, etc.)

*Lay ground rules: what are you willing to keep storing in this space? How much space do you actually have to keep things? (for us, we only had a small closet and a little bit of space in the desk drawers. If it didn't fit in one of those places reasonably, we let it go.)

*Starting on one section at a time, go through and sort everything into piles: belongs in another location, donate to charity, throw out, needs to be filed or organized, etc.

*When everything from one area is in a pile, tackle the piles---donate, throw out, and sort right then and there.

*For mementos, ask yourself some questions: is it currently being displayed or enjoyed in such a way that it's bringing me satisfaction? Am I willing to change how I store or display it to bring me more satisfaction? If the item brings you joy but is not currently being displayed like it does, find a way to display it. For me, that meant creating a scrapbook of sorts---basically any letter, card, ticket stub, or certificate that was meaningful to me, I put between page protectors in a binder. I need to go back through and organize them further, but now they're in a format that I could actually enjoy, rather than being stuffed in a box somewhere and never looked at.

*If a nostalgic item is no longer bringing you joy and is only taking up space, donate or get rid of it. Something that helped me to do this (since I apparently get pretty emotionally attached to things) was to take a picture of me with the item before I got rid of it (and for some, write about why the item was important to me). That way, I still got to "keep" the item in my life forever without it actually taking up any space. Win-win.

*Learn to get ruthless: if your mind starts playing the "What if someday I need this" game, remind yourself of the last time you actually used the item. If it wasn't in the past year or two, get rid of it. (It was this thinking that finally allowed me to get rid of that mass of electronics cords that's just been sitting there because "someday" I might discover I suddenly need one of them, even though we hadn't used any in probably five years.)

*Limit yourself on certain types of items you want to keep storing to just one box. For example, I allowed myself one box of mementos from my childhood and one from my mission. That was it. (I got rid of about 8 boxes in our closet this way.)

*Don't overstuff your drawers or closet, as that pretty much defeats the purpose. If, when you're starting to finish up, you realize that you can barely stuff anything else in your storage spaces, go through them again---trust me, you can ALWAYS find stuff to get rid of the second or even third time around. (I accredit it to the fact that learning to de-own things is a skill that gets better with practice.)

*When everything has been put in its new place, consider a rearrangement of the furniture or decorations.

*Vacuum, dust, and clean the windows.

This Project's Quick Stats:
# of Items Tossed/Donated: 115 (and that's counting all the papers as just one thing!)
# of Items Left to Toss/Donate Before Dec. 31st: 85
Amount of Money Spent on Project: $20 (for a 4" binder and page protectors)

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Things That Bring Me Joy: Baking

I know I've blogged a bit about my love of baking before, but this is just too big of a passion not to write about a little more.

For a long time (up until about three years ago), I didn't call myself a cook: I only referred to myself as a baker, since my specialties always seemed to revolve around concocting pastries, brownies, and breads that were rolled, kneaded, and risen to perfection. Almost all of my earlier memories of being in the kitchen involve baking, whether it was rolling out sugar cookie dough to hand out to the neighbors for Christmas or trying out a homemade donut recipe with my sister during the summer.

Most other people that I talk to are often uncomfortable with the "baking" aspect of cooking---you see, "cooking" allows for a lot of experimentation, a few mis-measured ingredients, and quite a bit of improvisation. "Cooking" generally means you can get away with not using a recipe, or at the very least, it means you can get away with only viewing the recipe as a set of general guidelines rather than hard-and-fast rules.

Baking, on the other hand, is a disciplined science that requires a harmonious blend of specific measuring, close watching, and that extra something that can probably be chalked up to intuition---the ability to discern the fine line between "just mixed" and "overmixed," between "add enough flour to form a soft dough" and "crap-you've-added-too-much-it's-basically-a-lizard-like-tire."
I sometimes still dance that fine line, but I find that more often than not, baking allows me just enough of a rigid structure and challenge that I never get bored, but it also gives me a way to artistically use my hands to provide my own contributions of beauty to the world.
You see, everyone else in my family got blessed with an overabundance of artistic ability (a fact we owe to my father, who is now a professional calligrapher working for Hallmark). When it appeared that my drawing and painting skills were probably never going to pass muster in my mind, I gave myself over to the art of cooking, relishing the feel of air bubbles hissing into my fingers from the bread dough, sniffing in the sharp scent of yeast just beginning to foam, and delving my fingertips into the cream of the cake batter to assure myself that all was right in the world. 

A personality- and handwriting-analysis expert who used to substitute at my high school once told me something that puzzled me for quite a long time: along with a description of some of my gifts and talents, she gave me just one piece of advice after doing an extensive handwriting analysis: "learn to bake bread."
It seemed to be the most random thought she could have possibly flung out from her mind, but I'm beginning to realize that there might be a bit more power to that advice than I'd first granted: baking bread (or anything) from scratch teaches me to finish what I start (sometimes a weakness of mine), to be willing to take the long way (and not just the easy way), to show caring through other methods than simply words, to nourish body AND soul with the wholesome act of providing and partaking. In short, it seems that baking has become the way to form a perfect union between the part of me that's always dreaming, creating, and thinking big, and the part of me that likes a routine, a concrete goal plan, and a structured challenge.

What has baking (or cooking) taught you?

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Tuesday Tell-All

*Some people wonder what I do with myself since I have the whole summer free from work. Two words: bake, and play. Of course, by play, that encompasses leisure in all its forms---reading, gardening, even cleaning (on occasion). And, as far as baking goes, you can find out more about that particular joy of mine when I do a post on it tomorrow. Let's just say this: I think I might have a hunch about why I haven't lost any weight yet this summer (even though I have gained muscle, like I posted about the other day).

*After all this blissful business of not having to worry about teaching, going back to work is going to be a slap in the face. Last week's four-day-long Common Core conference felt eternal. Someone invent something already that slows down the delicious times and speeds up the bland times?

*But, considering that I still have a whole month of summer left, I'm trying really, REALLY hard not to think about the inevitable end of summer any more than is absolutely necessary. I still have loads on my want-to-do list, including day trips up to both Tony's Grove and Bear Lake and some more dates from my summer dating challenge. These next 6 weeks have got to be full of a LOT of living for me to be able to sanely make it through another teaching year.

*Speaking of teaching, I've been doing a lot of thinking lately---I've been wondering if teaching is really the thing I want to do for the rest of my life. Aside from the ridiculously low pay, I often felt like my work was belittled and way underappreciated by the world at large. I know I can't judge the rest of my life by my first year of teaching, but still---it's really been on my mind. If you could change careers or go take a different path, what would you do?

*In other news, our garden is really starting to produce, and by produce, I mean lots and lots and lots of zucchini. Only about six zucchinis in, and I'm already on the lookout for more recipes to use it in. Do you know of any good zucchini recipes besides zucchini bread and pasta?

*Last Saturday, I went into the local bookstore with the best intentions to only magazine-browse, but I walked out an hour later with two books. However, one of the books---Born to Run---which I've already started, has already made the shopping guilt go away. Seriously, that book is exactly the motivation I needed to keep up my thrice-weekly running regimen for the rest of the summer (and maybe for the rest of forever). Anyone else read it?

*So, there's been a change of plans in our vacation plans this summer---originally, we were going to do a ten-day road trip to uncover some family history stuff I've been wondering about, but we've changed our minds: with our garden and our church responsibilities, ten days just seemed a little bit out of reach. So now we're going to spend five days in Kansas City with my dad, which I'm super stoked for because Matt's never been out there. Five days of world-famous KC barbecue, hanging out at my dad's workplace (Hallmark), and visiting historical sites with my pops and hubs = awesome vacay. Can't wait!

*Well, this tell-all is a bit on the short side, but I've got to go get ready for a meeting tonight. Hope your week is a lotta bit of summery awesomeness!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Summer Dating Challenge: Farmer's Market

I've been intending to do one of the fun summer date ideas I posted about for awhile now, and Saturday, we were finally able to scratch up some time.

Here's the summary of the date idea copied and pasted from the other post:

Go to a local farmers' market (check out Local Harvest's website for a location near you), and give each of you $10 (for a total of $20 between the two of you). After walking around for awhile to enjoy the general splendor, split up, and follow these two rules: one, spend $5 on something that you can take back home and make for breakfast together, and two, spend the other $5 on a special treat or trinket you think your spouse would enjoy. Then go home and make breakfast together with your finds and eat it out on your porch/patio.

I'll be the first to admit that we cheated a little. We have a hard time exploring new places apart from each other (I blame it on the fact that I love to see Matt's reaction to new things), so we ended up picking out the stuff for breakfast together. And when we were supposed to pick out something for the other person, well, we both knew we were ultimately going to end up at the same spot (this insanely decadent-looking stand full of homemade cheesecakes and whipped chocolate pies), so we both went together and picked 'em right out.

And here they are, our spoils:

And I've got something else to confess: this was actually my first time ever going to a local farmer's market (like, one that had fresh food and everything and not just crafts), and I've got to admit, I was kind of addicted from my first sighting of fresh onions stacked up alongside red-edged rhubarb and plump berries.

After our eyes had had their fill of the visual dessert that was the fair (and our stomachs had the edge of hunger taken off by several free artisan bread samples), we headed back home to make waffles from scratch (see recipe below) and chat about the usual: our garden, books, photography, you name it. Due to the stormy skies, we ended up eating our meal inside, but it was still the perfect kind of Saturday morning.

It seems like such a simple little date (and it was), but you know, I've discovered that I'm the kind of person that really needs some novelty every now and then.

But doesn't every marriage?

And now, for the fluffiest recipe of waffles EVER (that I grew up on and am asked constantly by friends and visiting relatives to make):

The Best-Ever Waffle Recipe

2 cups milk
2 cups flour
2 eggs
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup shortening

Put all the ingredients into a blender, and mix thoroughly for 3-4 minutes. Pour the batter into a heated, greased waffle iron, and toast until golden brown.

Serve with syrup, fresh berries, or any other of your favorite toppings (such as powdered sugar, peaches and cream, etc.)

Serves: 3-4 people (depending on how hungry everyone is)

What kinds of things do you do to bring a little novelty to your relationship (or your life)?

Friday, July 12, 2013

Six-Year Blogiversary

It just so happens that while I was checking my blog archives today, I found out that today (yes, TODAY!) is the six-year anniversary of me starting this ol' blog.

Of course, I didn't regularly start blogging until a couple years ago, but I thought I'd take this moment to thank you---my lovely readers---for this wonderful journey.

Sometimes people ask me why I blog, and the truth is, there are lots of reasons. The simple fact is this: I love the creative outlet it gives me, I love the people it lets me connect with, and I love how it lets me chronicle and share my life with all of you lovely people.

Thank you so much for following along!

Below, a list of some popular posts from awhile back:

10. The story of how Matt proposed

9. How I knew that Matt was The One

8. This is the kind of thing that happens to someone else...

7. My tips for beginning coupon-ers

6. My first (and only) experience with waxing

5. Running the Salt Lake Marathon

4. Thoughts on being a first-year teacher

3. No more trying to be Superwoman

2. What to do when a parent tries to get you fired

1. In defense of cooking

Here's to the next six years! And to all of you people who are making this journey so very worthwhile for me.

Thank you!

It's Not Just About the Weight

Almost three years ago, I got home from serving a mission in El Salvador about 25 pounds heavier than when I'd left the U.S. eighteen months prior. In addition to having to adjust to "normal" life back at home, I was having to adjust to a completely different body shape and size.

Since none of my clothes from before fit and I definitely didn't have the money to buy new ones, I decided to start exercising two hours 4-5 times a week at the nearby gym.

Enter my ex-boyfriend into the picture.

We were making lunch together in my parents' kitchen (this was about a week before I was moving away to go back to school), and I was expressing my frustration that despite my many hours put in at the gym, I hadn't lost any weight. In fact, my weight had gone up a pound (and not a flighty little water-weight pound---a real, honest-to-goodness, stubborn-as-all-get-out pound).

"Oh well," I told him. "Everyone just tells me it's because I've put on a pound of muscle, so I guess I'll just have to keep sticking it out."

My ex-boyfriend looked at me incredulously. "Well, everyone's wrong, then. There's no way you could have put on a pound of muscle---it takes Olympic athletes hours upon hours upon hours to put on a pound of muscle, and they're working out 9-10 hours a day. That's the biggest lie people tell you, but don't believe it---you're just putting on fat. I'll tell you one thing---it's probably due to your diet. You eat like this every day, and of COURSE you're not going to lose weight."

I looked down. We were eating pastrami sandwiches on whole-wheat bread (no mayo) and grapes.

But, since he was the one going to school to be a doctor and not me, I believed him. However, because what he'd said discouraged me more than anything else, I basically just tried to change my attitude about my weight instead of "pushing myself for nothing."

A year passed, and I got married (to a different guy, thank goodness!). I was determined to lose the weight once and for all, and so I started to track my food intake religiously, slashed my calories down to 1200 a day, and worked out at least 3 days a week. Imagine my surprise when I found out that my lunch that year before that had been so disdainful to my ex-bf only had about 450 calories in it (a perfectly reasonable amount to have for lunch while on a weight-loss plan). My brain started to wonder if maybe he really didn't know what he was talking about after all, especially when I lost ten pounds in just over a month (which has pretty much stayed off).

Fast forward to the next year: I was training for my first marathon, and my weight steadily was growing for about the first month of training, even though I was running about 25-30 miles a week.

"What gives?" I asked myself. "This seems grossly unfair."

About a month into training, I unexpectedly lost four pounds in five days, without changing any other variables in my running or my diet.

And now, bring up the time to the present, where I have been faithfully running and strength training at least three times a week and fitting in walking wherever else I can to get rid of a few pounds I put on at the stressful end of my first year of teaching.

My weight went up a pound or two the first three weeks, and now I'm back to my starting weight.

Except this time, I got smart: I took my measurements weekly (which was about my only sanity-saver when, once again, my weight started to creep back up again).

So, this one's for you, ex-boyfriend: proof that I CAN in fact gain a pound of muscle in under a month.

BEFORE STATS (Height: 5' 5")

Weight: 133.0 lbs
Bust: 36"
Arms: 13"
Waist: 29.5"
Hips: 36"
Thighs: 22"


Weight: 133.0 lbs
Bust: 35.5"
Arms: 11"
Waist: 28"
Hips: 34.5"
Thighs: 21.5"

Dear 23-year-old self:

Don't listen to that ex-boyfriend who told you that you were going about it all wrong. Also, don't keep thinking about that other ex-boyfriend who would count how many Dove chocolates you'd eaten and tell you that he thought you'd "had enough" after five or six. Keep exercising---not only will it save your sanity, but you WILL see the results you're looking for: you've just got to take your other measurements (and not just your weight). Someday, not too far down the road, you will realize that your body is beautiful and strong and capable of more than you ever thought possible.



Your future (wiser) self

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Here's What's Cooking . . . Slow-Cooker Meatballs

As part of my quest for the good life, I've been trying really hard to cook healthy, homemade meals at least five times a week.

Of course, in the summer (when I'm not working), this is easy-peasy.

It helps that I find recipes such as this one for spaghetti and meatballs that practically cook themselves. I'm not normally a huge spaghetti fan (like, at all), but I LOVED how this one turned out.

Check it out next time you want a relatively quick and easy slow-cooker recipe.

Spaghetti and Meatballs (from Miss Paula Deen herself)

1 pound ground beef
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup Italian-flavored bread crumbs
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes with basil
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes with basil, garlic, and oregano
1 teaspoon sugar
Hot cooked spaghetti

1. In a medium bowl, combine ground beef, egg, bread crumbs, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and garlic powder. Gently form mixture into 1- to 2-inch meatballs.

2. In a slow cooker, combine crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, sugar, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Gently place meatballs into sauce mixture in slow cooker.

3. Cover and cook on high for 1 hour. Reduce heat to low, and cook for 3 hours. Serve meatballs and sauce over hot cooked spaghetti.

Yield: 5 servings
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