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#21 – 100 Things That Make Me Happy (67-100)

February 7, 2013

67. Spring breezes

68. Wildflowers

69. Fireflies

70. Street fairs

71. Farmer’s markets

72. Kohr Brother’s strawberry banana swirl with rainbow jimmies

73. String lights over city streets

74. The library (any library)

75. Ferris wheels, especially on warm summer nights

76. Hammocks

77. Getting it right the first time

78. The smell of the beach

79. Tidepools

80. Fresh paint

81. Sparklers

82. Mini golf holes in one

83. The smell of a charcoal grill

84. Brackets & ampersands

85. Rainbow colors

wedding gazebo

Colorful paper flowers decorating our wedding gazebo

86. Sparkly nail polish

87. Random acts of kindness

88. Christmas songs

89. When Bigby goes crazy

90. My favorite coffee mugs

91. Patterned tights

92. Old books

93. Finishing a project

94. Using something I packed for “just in case”

95. Friendly, happy sales or service people

96. A joy happening in the life of one of my loved ones

97. Seeing my husband interact with children so naturally

98. When the radio plays the perfect amount of awesome songs to get me home without minding my long commute

99. Putting on clothes fresh out of the dryer in winter

100. Waking up and realizing I have more time to sleep

and one more for good luck:

101. Any memory from my wedding!

Fails

February 4, 2013

As my 1001 days winds down, I’ve decided to give up the goat of some of my goals that are just not going to get crossed off. Here they are, and why:

  1. Watch AFI’s 100 Greatest Films: I made it through quite a few, but the list is hefty, in quantity and content, and it’s tough to get through. I’m still interested in viewing the majority of these, but 1001 days, while it sounds like a ton of time, is a short time for a busy person who has a tendency to fall asleep on the couch if the movie isn’t action-packed.
  2. Replace the donut in the car with a real spare tire. I think I’ve come to realize that maybe there’s a reason cars don’t just come with a spare tire anymore. You can’t just throw on a tire and call it good to go, it has to be aligned and balanced and all that, so I think it’s best to stick with the donut and go to professionals to get the tire replaced when necessary.
  3. Visit four ballparks/six zoos/all Philly tourist destinations/wear a fancy hat to a Triple Crown race/see the Lion King. Shit costs money. And especially with the wedding saving and planning, it was hard to travel/spend just to fulfill some list item. I still hope to do all of these things someday, but putting a time deadline on them isn’t going to work out.
  4. Run a 5k/maintain a healthy weight/stretch every day. Can’t say I’m not a little disappointed about the healthy weight thing, but my shins have pretty much said NO to running, and I know stretching would help, but stretching is boring and takes a lot of time. Oh well. I’m still working on working out consistently, and I hope I can get back to a point where running is feasible for me.
  5. Pay off my debt/start a retirement fund.  I don’t even know why I put these on the list? I guess I was excited that paying off my car was in sight, and I did do that. But my student loan schedule was never going to permit me to finish in the 1001 days. The credit card debt, though I suppose it technically was possible, it wasn’t realistic with the wedding. I am proud to say that I didn’t ADD anything to the debt throughout the wedding process.
  6. Photograph a landscape in all four seasons. Procrastination/inspiration fail. I couldn’t find a landscape I liked enough to photograph that was also accessible to be easily photographed four times in a year, and I honestly didn’t try all that hard.
  7. See a falling star. Did you know that if you want to see a falling star you either have to get up or stay up til 2 or 3 in the morning? Yeah…probably never going to see a falling star that way.
  8. Take the bf (now H) camping. He was never all that into the idea, and time got away from me. I still hope to do this someday with him, as I have many happy memories of camping both as a child and as an adult. It can be fun people!
  9. Pumpkin picking. Ditto. We did apples and strawberries, but never got around to the pumpkins. Mostly because it’s just so much easier to pop around the corner to our local church and buy them at the huge fundraiser they have annually.
  10. Get a bicycle and ride with the bf. He pretty much stopped riding when we moved, and my interest in riding was pretty much limited to wanting to spend more time with him. Now that we have a dog, we usually prefer to take him for a hike instead.
  11. Write all my recipes on index cards. I started this and when my hand started cramping I thought, “Why am I doing this?” They are perfectly usable on the print outs that I currently use.
  12. Wear all my fancy shoes. Fancy shoes are uncomfortable. I prefer to save them for fancy occasions, of which we just don’t have that many anymore. At least not any that I’m willing to sacrifice the feeling in my toes for.
  13. Increase upper body strength to the point where I can shoot a 9mm without pulling up. HA! As H said as soon as I put that on the list 944 days ago, that is ridiculous. I will never be able to do that, and I shouldn’t feel bad about it. Though I do intend to work harder on my upper body strength going forward.

20 things that I definitely will not be completing, out of 101. There could be more by the end, these are just the ones that I know without a doubt I won’t even attempt to finish in the next 57 days. What do you think? Terrible? Reasonable? Honestly, I’m just proud of myself that I don’t really care all that much. That’s good news for someone like me—the list did not take over my life, and I’m better for what I did complete, but no worse off for what I didn’t. Good for me!

Review: Go Picnic Black Bean Dip & Plantain Chips Meal

January 9, 2013

Go Picnic Black Bean Dip Ready to Eat Meal

I saw these neat little ready-to-eat meals in a box at the movie theater recently, and I thought they looked interesting, but also, meal in a box? No, thank you. Then I saw them again at Target and they had even more varieties. I was intrigued and decided to throw one in the cart on a whim (as one tends to do at Target) and see if it was any good. I had very low expectations. Here’s my train of thought while eating it:

Go Picnic Black Bean Dip Ready to Eat Meal Contents

  • Black bean dip: This doesn’t look particularly appetizing. Needs a stir. There we go. Hey, it’s actually pretty tasty. Good black bean flavor, doesn’t taste shelf-stable, a smidge spicy. A little too citrus-y for my taste.
  • Plantain chips: Crispy and not greasy at all. Good accompaniment to the dip. Sturdy enough to actually dip, and serve as the stirrer I needed earlier too.
  • Edamame, pepita & watermelon seed blend: That’s an interesting blend, I’ve never purposely eaten watermelon seeds before. VERY satisfyingly crunchy. The roasted edamame is by far the overwhelming flavor, and that’s not a bad thing. Perfect amount of salt—enough to add flavor, but not enough to make you concerned for your daily salt intake. How much salt is in this meal anyway? …450 mg. Not exceptionally low, but pretty good. Oooh, the individual items each have their own nutritional facts as well, that’s nifty. The seed blend has 70 mgs of sodium in it.
  • Fruit and nut mix: It has ginger peanuts, cranberries and banana chips in it. I could have done without the banana chips, as I just had the plantain chips, but it’s not bad. I like the ginger peanuts very much. If you just eat it as a handful, that’s the thing you taste. Also perfectly salty and sweet. 35 mgs of sodium in this packet. 8g of sugar, that seems like a lot for a couple of handfuls of trail mix. Yummy though.
  • Dark chocolate with orange: I’m not the biggest fan of chocolate with orange flavor, but this two-bite disk is a good amount. And a nice finish to the meal. The chocolate seems pretty high quality, in that it’s smooth, and the orange flavor is subtle.

Did it fill me up? Shockingly, after I was finished, I actually did feel full. The box is so tiny, I did not think I would feel full at all. And I felt the good kind of full, the I-just-ate-a-healthy-meal full, not ugh-double-cheeseburger-you-are-so-good-but-now-I-feel-sick full. I ate the meal between 12:30 – 12:45 at work. I had my usual breakfast of two cups of coffee and a Nutri-Grain bar. (Did you know they have pretty much the identical nutritional values as the Kashi Cereal Bars? And you get more bars for less money, so I’m sticking with Nutri-Grain.) I didn’t really feel hungry again for several hours. Very impressed.

Overall thoughts: Delicious! Not what I was expecting from a boxed ready-to-eat meal at all. And I’m pretty pleased that I felt full after eating it, qualifying it as a true meal, not just a snack calling itself a meal. I would definitely buy this again, and if I was hungry and needed food from the concession stand at the movies, I would even pay their inflated prices for it (though to be fair, I don’t remember what the theater was charging and if it was inflated. I paid $3 for it at Target). Though it might be a bit tricky to deal with the chips and dip in the dark and on your lap. Plus, you get a fun fact on the inside of the box! Plus a sudoku puzzle, but those aren’t really my thing. Fun facts most definitely are though!

Go Picnic Black Bean Dip Ready to Eat Meal Inside

Final grade on the Taco Bell Scale of Satisfaction: 5 out of 5 – Nachos Bell Grande

Books I Read in 2012, Part Two

January 8, 2013

See books 1-15 here: Books I Read in 2012, Part One

2012 Books Part Two_cushion

  1. The Long Walk by Stephen King, 384 pages
    Considering a resolution to never read Stephen King again. I was glued to the story all the way through, and yet again, was disappointed by the ending. King fans will surely say I’m just not getting it, but if that’s the case, then I don’t see why I should keep trying. I don’t enjoy being engrossed in a story only to be disappointed in the ending. It’s so frustrating because I’m so into it all the way through; I love the characters, I love the plot, the story is engrossing, the writing is good…and then the ending just blows it for me. On the other hand, I must disclose that I loved The Green Mile, The Dead Zone was pretty good, and I’ve previously stated my devotion to The Eyes of the Dragon. So maybe he gets one more chance. Maybe.
  2. Black & Blue by Anna Quindlen, 320 pages 
    Meh. Soap opera-esque story of a woman who suffers from domestic abuse who finally decides to break free from her abuser. The ending was different than the way most of these stories end, but I wasn’t overwhelmed by the story at any time. Just so-so.
  3. The Man Who Loved Books Too Much by Allison Hoover Bartlett, 288 pages
    This was a really interesting book that showed me a whole world I didn’t know existed — the world of rare book collectors. If you think you love books, like I do, you’ll be surprised to see there is a whole other level out there! If I had the means I would enter that world in a heartbeat.
  4. From the Ground Up: The Story of a First Garden by Amy Stewart, 272 pages
    I loved this book. It was both charming and informative. I literally laughed and cried while reading it. Stewart talks about a lot of things related to gardening that I never thought I would be interested in doing more research on and possibly implementing in my own garden, like a worm farm, and she weaves that into a narrative about her life that makes this a captivating read.
  5. Spider-Man: Blue by Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale, 168 pages
    My husband suggested I read this after we went to see The Amazing Spider-Man and I had a million questions about Gwen Stacy versus Mary Jane Watson. (Like, “Gwen Stacy is so much BETTER, why doesn’t he stay with her instead of marrying stupid Mary Jane?!” “Because she’s dead…you should read this book.”) I must admit my prejudices towards Mary Jane probably stem from liking Emma Stone so much more than Kiki Dunst, since I’ve never read a Spider-Man comic…until now! I still think the only thing MJ has going for her is that gorgeous red hair.
  6. Monsoon Summer by Mitali Perkins, 272 pages
    This was a nice little YA novel about an awkward but smart and funny girl in love with her best friend who is forced to spend a summer in India with her family (her mother was adopted from India by American parents). *Spoilers* While there, of course, she grows and matures and learns to love herself for who she is, finally tells her friend that she loves him, and he, of course, loves her right back. Completely unrealistic, but it’s a reality I would wish for for my hypothetical future daughters, so I’ll be keeping this book on the shelf for them, for when they, inevitably, are awkward tweens.
  7. The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle, 304 pages
    I remembered loving this movie as a kid, which probably was mostly to do with the pretty, hyper-feminized unicorn than anything else, as I found the story to be way above a six-year-old’s comprehension. It was sad, depressing, frightening, depressing, and sad. Seriously, there was kind of a semi-happy ending, I suppose, if you looked at it through rose-colored glasses, but it was overall a big fat bummer. But one worth reading. The story is beautiful—it’s just not for kids. Damn you, Rankin/Bass! (Does anyone remember The Flight of the Dragons? I’ve got to get my hands on a copy of that.)
  8. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, 311 pages
    This was one of those frustrating books in which the narrative is set in some kind of dystopian future, but it’s never fully explained exactly what happened. It’s hinted at, and you can put the pieces together once the book is finished, but throughout the reading process, I really wanted to know what happened. The story is fascinating though, about a future society where sex is only for reproduction, men and women are kept separate and dressed in specific outfits to reflect their class: officers, workers, law enforcement, wives, daughters, handmaids (women who are forced to bear children for the wives), and various female workers. I enjoyed reading it, though it was also pretty depressing.
  9. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, 432 pages
    My favorite of the year. I’m glad I started reading this on our honeymoon, because I could not put it down. Every chapter leaves you needing to find out what happens next. I distinctly remember talking to my husband about the early parts of the story and my thoughts, and then just a few chapters later finding out I was so completely and utterly wrong I couldn’t even believe it. This was a fantastic read. I would highly recommend that if you want to read it, don’t let anyone who has read it before you tell you anything about the plot. Not one tiny detail. You need to go into it completely unknowing to get the true experience of what this book can be.
  10. Bossypants by Tina Fey, 304 pages
    I really enjoyed this book. It’s light and comedic, but Ms. Fey has a lot of thought-provoking things to say about women in comedy and women in general. I would definitely read this again.
  11. Wild (From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail) by Cheryl Strayed, 336 pages
    My second favorite. I love these kinds of books, that document one person’s trek into the wilderness (A Walk in the Woods, Into the Wild, Into Thin Air), and Ms. Strayed’s story was riveting. It was a story about finding yourself and healing yourself as much as conquering and communing with nature; all things which I find myself consistently interested in learning about.
  12. A Grown-Up  Kind of Pretty by Joshilyn Jackson, 352 pages
    Loved this one too. A mystery within a story about family, this was sweet and heart-wrenching and enthralling all at the same time.
  13. A Game of Thrones by George R R Martin, 807 pages
    And so it begins. I found the first book to be 70% exposition, but it’s all interesting. You’re getting to know the characters and the world they live in, and when you least expect it, the world gets turned upside down. A few times.
  14. A Clash of Kings by George R R Martin, 969 pages
    Again, mainly lots of exposition, and I think not even as much action as in the first one, which was not a whole lot. But the story is great, and you want to keep reading to find out what’s going to happen to your favorites, whomever they may be.
  15. A Storm of Swords by George R R Martin, 754/1128 pages read in 2012
    This is easily the best book of the first three. I can’t speak for the whole series, since clearly I haven’t finished it (indeed, the author hasn’t even finished it), but based on the strength of this book alone I would recommend getting started. I hope the rest of the books live up to the promise of this one!

Books I Read in 2012, Part One

January 7, 2013

I already posted this on my facebook page, so I apologize if you are a cross-over friend! But I wanted to add some commentary to my list. I thought about making notes on my thoughts right after I read the book, which maybe I will try this year, but for 2012 I decided to let my thoughts marinate first. I also had to break this up — no one wants to read my thoughts on 30 books all at once. Look for 16-30 tomorrow!

Without further ado:

2012 Books Part One_cushion

  1. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins, 203/390 pages read in 2012
    I loved this series, but Mockingjay was my least favorite of the three. As many others have said before me, I was sad that Katniss kind of “went away” in this book. Though I disagree with many in that I think it was a valid choice by the author, and makes sense for the plot. That’s all I’ll say so I don’t have spoilers.
  2. The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King, 380 pages (re-read)
    This is one of my favorite books, first read when my dad introduced it to me somewhere around 13 or 14 years old. Stephen King wrote this for his young (at the time) daughter, but the story is very enjoyable for adults too, which is why I keep coming back to it year after year. I still wish it was called Napkins.
  3. The Stand, Complete and Uncut by Stephen King, 1153 pages
    The main villain in The Eyes of the Dragon also appears in The Stand. At my dad’s urging, I finally decided to read this massive tome. I have to say, I was a bit disappointed in the ending, though the story-telling had me loath to put the book down through all 1153 pages. I just wished the payoff was better for the characters I grew to love.
  4. I’m a Stranger Here Myself by Bill Bryson, 288 pages
    Not my favorite Bill Bryson, and I’ve read quite a few of his works. I don’t remember much of it, which says a lot to me, though I also don’t remember struggling to get through it. Bryson is such a great writer, this one only suffers by comparison to his other awesome books, my favorites of which are A Short History of Nearly Everything and A Walk in the Woods.
  5. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, 358 pages (re-read)
    A delightful story that stands the test of time. If you didn’t read this (or have it read to you) in childhood, read it now.
  6. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison, 337 pages
    This one took me awhile to get through, though I really did enjoy the story. It just took awhile to get going. A modern classic everyone should read.
  7. The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger, 360 pages (re-read)
    I don’t remember what had me wanting to read this book again. Maybe I caught part of the movie on cable. It’s a light read, like a novel-length gossip column, a fun guilty pleasure.
  8. The Pelican Brief by John Grisham, 482 pages
    This one sucked me in to the mystery, and it really is a page turner. By comparison (as is usual) the movie was not as good.
  9. Still Life with Chickens by Catherine Goldhammer, 176 pages
    This was a charming little short read about a woman starting her life anew with her daughter after a divorce. It was really charming and sweet, and even though I picked up the book because of the promise of reading about raising chickens, I found myself equally interested in her attempt to rebuild a home for herself and her daughter.
  10. The Baseball Codes by Jason Turbow & Michael Duca, 260 pages
    A really interesting book about the glory days of baseball and the unwritten rules that all players used to know. It’s fascinating, and I didn’t find that I needed to have an encyclopedic knowledge of baseball to enjoy it.
  11. The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho, 167 pages 
    Bleh. This shows up on “must read” book lists all the time, but I didn’t really see what all the fuss is about. It was ok. I can barely remember the plot. I wouldn’t read it again, and I’m a big re-reader, so that says a lot.
  12. How to be Lost by Amanda Eyre Ward, 290 pages
    Easy to read, interesting story, but the ending kind of left me wanting. Just ok.
  13. Harriet, The Spy by Louise Fitzhugh, 298 pages (re-read)
    I will always love this book, and even if I never have children I will never stop reading it. Makes me want to read From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler again. And A Wrinkle in Time. And Bridge to Terabithia. And  The Witch of Blackbird Pond! Ok, I’ll stop now.
  14. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien, 233 pages 
    Having watched the animated movie endless times as a child, I was surprised that I never really picked up on the real story behind the Rats of NIMH. I recently re-watched the movie, sure they must have left out major plot points from the book to make it more palatable to children, but no, it’s all there. I guess I wasn’t a very focused movie watcher back then!
  15. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling, 240 pages 
    Delightful. I love Mindy Kaling, and I hope she continues to ascend to Nora Ephron levels of success.

The Fastest Alfredo Sauce Ever

December 17, 2012

Earlier this week I was feeling quite under the weather, and I had a craving for some comfort food. Specifically, something that required almost zero effort (since I was sick), but that was homemade. A lot of people don’t know this—alfredo sauce is one of the quickest and easiest things to make, and you probably have all the ingredients in your fridge and pantry already.

  • 1 cup heavy cream (light cream, half and half, whole milk or even 2% will also do the trick)
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper (use a little less if you are using ground black pepper)
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon chili powder

Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Once melted, add the rest of the ingredients and whisk. Bring to a simmer, and let the sauce thicken up, about 5 minutes. Pour over cooked pasta. Makes about 2 servings. (P.S. you shouldn’t need salt, the parmesan usually has enough salty flavor on its own, but taste it before serving and add salt if you feel it’s needed.)

The great part about this recipe is you can do whatever you want with it. The only ingredients you must have are the cream, butter and parmesan. I wouldn’t skip the pepper either, but if you hate pepper, you certainly can. The other spices are optional, though I find they add great flavor when you’re doing it fast. If you want a sauce with more depth and complexity, sauté onions and garlic in the butter prior to adding the cream (and omit the onion and garlic powder). Want an earthier flavor? Sub in a 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg for the mustard and chili powder. And of course, you can’t go wrong with adding any kind of protein to this; standard favorites are grilled chicken or shrimp. You could also add fresh tomatoes and spinach. Asparagus. Artichokes. Broccoli. Salmon…peas…bacon! The possibilities are endless. It’s a very versatile recipe, and a great one to have in your back pocket, whether you need to impress guests in a flash, or you just want something homemade fast.

The fastest alfredo sauce

Spiky and Sweet

December 5, 2012
Spiky and Sweet
Spiky and Sweet by kayemgi

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