Summer 2012: Read More

School’s out for the summer and I’m trying hard to plan ahead for plenty of things to do so that I don’t find myself sitting in front of the TV being lazy for weeks at a time.  I’ve got 8-weeks of summer.  I’m not sure how many books I can actually read and my list keeps getting longer, but I’m going to do my best!

Open books: The opensource.com summer reading list

Photo credit to opensourceway

Fun

Faith & Family

For the Teacher in Me

So – I realize that is quite the list, but I’m excited to read as many as I can!  Now it’s your turn: what are you reading this summer?

Project Home Sanctuary – {Purge} Kitchen

The first step in creating a home sanctuary is to get rid of all of the extra stuff in the house.  We aren’t particularly “cluttery” but there are definitely plenty of things that we have that we don’t use or don’t need that would certainly make our house feel more at peace.

One afternoon, in a stroke of crazy productivity, we decided to come home and go through everything in our kitchen.  We split the work up but it basically went something like this:

  1. Scrub and clean everything.  This seriously included everything.  We emptied the fridge, got rid of any old foods, took out all of the shelves, washed and dried them.  We moved the fridge and the oven out from the wall to clean over, under and around it, we scrubbed, scrubbed, scrubbed the counter tops.  We wanted everything CLEAN.
  2. Go through every dish, pot, pan, utensil.  We went through everything in the cabinets and decided only to keep the things that we use.  Anything that we had double of or anything that we hadn’t remembered using in the last couple of months got thrown in the donate pile.  This included ditching the microwave in favor of clearing off the counters.
  3. Next up we organized the food pantry.  There is only two of us so we don’t have much of a need for a “pantry” but all of the dried goods, baking goods, oils and such all needed a good organizing.
  4. Scrub the floor!  After all of that work we scrubbed the floor and made sure everything was sparkling clean and organized.

I’m not usually one to be late to bed but it felt so good when my head hit the pillow WAY too late that night knowing that we had gotten rid of so many unnecessary things, that things were clean, and that everything had a place.

There are a still things I’d like to do in there to “finish” it a little bit.

  • paint the coffee cart a deep teal blue color
  • organize the dry goods/pantry a bit better – mason jars, tall canisters, cute labels
  • window treatment
  • switch out the random assortment of colored dish towels for all white
  • shelf liners to keep things cleaner for the next time I decide to do all of this craziness

I’ve always spent so much time in my kitchen.  I love food and I love to create and it feels so good to work in a place that just feels so peaceful now.

Tasty Tuesday: NYE Appetizer

We rang in the new year with a group of great friends and with a great friends gathering always comes great food!  We were tasked with bringing a six pack of beer and something “appetizer” ish.  At some point during my week off I saw a segment of some Rachael Ray show all about appetizers and this great recipe for spinach artichoke dip was one of the things she made.  I was intrigued by this dip because my husband LOVES anything with artichokes but this had a bit of a twist.  First, there wasn’t the usual high fat cream cheese as a base.  The simple butter/flour roux was enough to make it creamy with chicken stock and milk.  For an additional twist, Gorgonzola cheese made this a fresh new flavor of spinach-artichoke dip. For my dip I basically followed her recipe.  The only changes I made: I don’t have a microwave so I defrosted on the counter; I cut everything in half and it was plenty to feed our large crowd since we had such a variety of appetizers; I didn’t buy the recommended Stacy’s brand pita chips – use whatever veggies/chips you have on hand!  Enjoy!

Gorgonzola Spinach Artichoke Dip

Delicious!

Recipe courtesy Rachael Ray, 2008

Ingredients

  • 2 (10-ounce) boxes chopped frozen spinach
  • 1 box frozen artichoke hearts
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 cup milk
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Pinch ground nutmeg, or to taste
  • 1 cup Gorgonzola crumbles
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded (a little larger than grated, available in tubs) Asiago or Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • Thick sesame bread sticks, for dipping
  • Celery hearts, trimmed for dipping
  • Pita crisps with Parmesan and herbs (recommended: Stacy’s)

Stuff used.

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Defrost spinach 10 minutes on defrost setting in microwave then drain well by wringing out in dish towel. Defrost artichokes as well, 6 minutes on defrost in microwave then wring out and finely chop.

Heat a sauce pot with butter over medium to medium-high heat. Add garlic to melted butter and stir 1 to 2 minutes, then sprinkle in flour and combine 1 minute more. Whisk in stock and milk and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Thicken 2 minutes then remove from heat and melt in Gorgonzola. Stir in spinach and artichokes and half the shredded cheese then transfer to a small casserole and top with remaining cheese. Brown and bubble in the oven for 10 to 12 minutes. Serve with bread sticks, celery hearts and pita crisps for dipping.

Project Home Sanctuary

I don’t know if I believe in resolutions or not.  I believe in new beginnings, fresh starts, an opportunity to try something new.  I know, for me, resolutions are made to be broken – like a bad habit.  Project Home Sanctuary is about creating a healthy new habit: making my home a sanctuary.  For too long I’ve lived with too much clutter, hanging onto things and “save-it-for-laters”‘ that are grieving my freedom to live, love, create.  I’m creating a home sanctuary not for outer image or to learn my new crafty decorating skills (thought that’s a bonus since I do enjoy it) but rather to feel peace, joy and hope in my earthly dwelling place.

“Build for me a sanctuary and I will dwell among you.” (Exodus 25:8-9)

Also, if I build it, He will come.  And what I want more than anything on this Earth is for my physical life and being to be a dwelling place for Him and His full love.

NYE in Pictures

Welcome to a new year and new beginnings.  It’s 2012!

A Birthday Wish: Another dream checked off of my list

This week I celebrated my 27th birthday.  My golden birthday I think is what they call it – 27 on the 27th.  The only thing I asked for this year was NO GIFTS!  I wanted to go and DO something on my birthday.  I’m all for giving a great and thoughtful gift but for me memories are made when I do things and share life together with others.  I think Travis’ original plan was to do something involving the cold, the snow, and my favorite winter sport: skiing.  However, we didn’t travel back to CO this year and therefore have NO SNOW!  :(  Plan B was to help me check off one of the few remaining things on my “To-Do While Living Near NYC” List: Go out to a fancy dinner and to a Broadway show!

We had 7pm tickets to see Sister Act at the Broadway Theater on 53rd and 7th Ave to plan the rest of our evening around.

Getting Dressed Up!

We're ready to go!

It was so fun to get all dressed up and ready to go.  Thanks to all of the boldly colored walls in my apartment, we had a great backdrop for a quick photo before we left.  Of course I couldn’t help but get in on the planning and my anxious self decided we needed to leave early due to the impending rain storm that was coming!

PATH Ride

I’d decided early on that I wanted to have a great Italian meal for dinner so to my urbanspoon app I went in search of a place near our theater.  After nearly four years of living here I was honestly completely unaware of the theater district and restaurant row (W 46th St. between 8th & 9th Aves).  I really thought all those bright lights and signs were just that.  I had no idea that those were all actually theaters!  And – there are SO many restaurants tucked into every street!  The original restaurant was a bit too far to walk for a rainy day so we settled on a 5:15pm reservation at Lattanzi.

First stop on our walk: Starbucks of course!  I’m still pretty caffeine free so this is a decaf skim hazelnut latte.  I’m clearly still working on cutting out all of the sugar in my diet.  But – it was my birthday so I indulged!

:Starbuck Stop!

About 4ish we started walking toward 46th St. via 8th Ave through the rain and the wind.  Knowing that we had some time to kill I was eyeing the happy hour signs as we walked and found a great happy hour – half price drinks and some cheap food.  Pigalle had a great atmosphere, friendly bartender, good AND cheap drinks.  If I’m ever looking to meet friends in midtown for a happy hour again I’ll definitely go back!

Happy Hour!

From there we headed to dinner.  We both agree that, yes, the show was great, but the food and restaurant environment was the clear winner of the evening.  The caprese appetizer: AMAZING!

Amazing!

I forgot to take pictures of my food/drink because I was enjoying it so much!  Here’s a link to the menu!  Suffice it to say, we loved the food.  The portions were perfectly sized and it all tasted awesome!

I did remember to take pictures at dessert: the best tiramisu and a cappucino!  Sorry it’s so dark.  It was a nice dimly lit restaurant – and I hate using flash.

Dessert!

After dinner it was off to the theater!

Sister Act at The Broadway Theater

My First Show!

Our View of the Stage

My First Tickets & Playbill!

My Illegal Pic of the Final Number

After the show we spent some time walking around midtown admiring all of the other show lights and sounds of the city since the rain had stopped.  It was an awesome birthday – one I’ll never forget!  Here’s to another awesome year!

The show is over!

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

One of the few things left on my “to do” list while living in the northeast was to go to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. This year seemed to be the year to go: the weather this November has been unseasonably warm, we weren’t leaving town,and our turkey eating plans weren’t until later in the afternoon. Here’s how the day went:

4:00am: Wake up, get ready and head to the train station.
The best choices we made at this early hour: making egg sandwiches at the house before leaving, buying round trip tickets from New Brunswick to NYC and back.

6:45am: Head to the C/E train uptown toward 72nd and Central Park West. I had researched and read the night before that the express train runs on the local stops so when the express train came first, we hopped on and lucked out – 72nd/CPW was the third stop! The coolest thing happened on the subway and I’m bummed I didn’t get a picture of it! Our subway cars we’re FULL of parade goers but one station was PACKED with all of the brightly colored dancers that were heading to the start of the parade. There were so many of them, we had no idea how they would ever fit on a subway train full of people. Somehow they made it to the parade. See!

7:30ish:  Arrive at the corner of 71st and Central Park West.  Decide that there is a fairly open spot to stand on the corner and rather than continue to push further up Central Park West, we stay here hoping our view of the parade stays this clear!  We spend the next hour and a half chatting and eavesdropping on the conversations around us.  By the time the parade started we’d formed a little group with the people around us and we were all so excited for the parade!

9:00: The parade started!  Because we were so close to the beginning of the parade route it didn’t take long for the balloons and floats to make their way to us.  For the next two hours I was like a kid in a candy store!  It’s amazing to be in a crowd of people all so excited and the balloons are magnificent in person!  We had so much fun snapping pictures, oohing and aahing and watching the eyes of all of the kids lined up in front of us light up as they saw all of their superheroes go by!  Spiderman was definitely the big hit on my little corner.

11:00 or so: Santa Claus!  Now I’m not a believer in or a big fan of Santa Claus, but I will admit, this float was magnificent and it really was an amazing end to the parade!  All of the kids get SO excited at this point and everyone talks about how it “ushers in the holidays”.  Santa was pretty spirited too – he did a great job showing his jovial character and having a great time interacting with the spectators.  It was a fantastic finish!

11:15am: We were among the first to see the end of the parade and as soon as it ended, we booked it up to Amsterdam and 72nd to hop on the 1 train back to Penn Station.  It was great to be among the first crowd to head back and feel like we were moving away from the crowds still watching the parade.  It was a great walk up to the subway station.  I’d been in NYC on Christmas Day but it is something else to see all of the hustle and bustle on Thanksgiving Day!

Noon: Back on the NJT towards New Brunswick and a fantastic afternoon and evening with friends giving thanks and sharing a wonderful meal!

In all, the parade is one of the best things I’ve done since moving out here.  It is just a parade with floats and balloons and all but it is magical to see it in person and it’s great to see it through all of the kids that are there.  I’m so thankful to have had the opportunity to go.  It was another one of those things that I was able to cross off of my life list.  I grew up watching and admiring the parade on TV and it really was a dream come true to see it in person.

DIY Christmas Wreath

After a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend spent at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and enjoying great food with friends, I was feeling festive and wanted to create something in the spirit of the holidays for my house.  I’m not particularly crafty.  As a matter of fact I don’t think I’ve ever actually successfully made anything.  My mind is pretty creative though.  I have tons of ideas swimming around in my head for things to hang on my walls, curtains to hang over my windows, and ways to add meaning to the things in my home, I just don’t always know how to make it come to life.

For some inspiration and how-to tutorials, I went to pinterest of course!  I decided that a homemade wreath was a great place to start.  I’ve always wanted to hang a holiday wreath but I always cringe at the prices for pretty wreaths in the stores.  I figured I could find something fun and try to make it for less that $25!

These were my two inspiration wreaths:

 

I liked the look of the twiggy wreath on the right, but Travis didn’t like the colors of the yarn. So, I found the second wreath (left) for color/arrangement inspiration.

Off to Michael’s I went, armed with inspiration and a desire to stay under $25.  Since I’m not generally crafty, I needed to buy everything for this project.  I decided on a couple of different colors/textures of yarn, two different sized Styrofoam balls, and a medium sized twiggy wreath.  Travis is a weird guy and already had a glue gun with the little glue stick things.  That was a bonus!  I also picked up a container of bells and a couple of twigs with berries and pine cones.

First up I had to make all of those little yarn balls.  Since, again, I’m not overly crafty, this took some trial and error for me (and my awesome helper)!  We discovered that you basically just have to wrap the yarn randomly around the Styrofoam for it to “stick” to them and pull the yarn as tightly as possible around the ball as you go.

To assemble the wreath, I basically just used a hot glue gun to hot glue various yarn balls into place and then I filled in the extra space with a little bit of greenery, berries, pine cones and a few festive bells.

Here’s an in-progress (about half way done) shot:

And the finished product:

For my first attempt at craftiness I think I did a pretty good job.  I now have so many additional ideas swimming around in my head for other small ways I can make the house look festive for not a lot of money!  Speaking of money – I think I came in under budget.  My receipt at Michael’s said I spent $32.  However, I spent $5 on Christmas ornaments and technically I didn’t use all of the bells, styrofoam balls, and I didn’t come CLOSE to using up all of that yarn.  So – I think I’m under $25 AND I have some leftovers to decorate other places in the house!

I hate Verizon. I killed them with Google Voice.

While there is competition in the cell phone market, it’s hardly competitive. For whatever reason, it always seems as if there is really only one option for a service that you “need”. We loved T-mobile. Unfortunately, when we moved out here to to Newark, the service wasn’t reliable enough to be useful. The pricing between Verizon and Sprint is pretty much the same.

If you ask me, any service that requires you to be locked in is immediately suspect. When that contract is up and you need a new phone, like now, because pieces keep falling off, that huge discount on that fancy device is alluring. The two year hit seems easy to swallow.

But what sort of company simply passes off taxes and fees onto the customer? All that government stuff should be covered by them. I’m sorry, are they not rolling in money? Can they not simply increase the price when my contract is up. Apparently, the contract is only one way. They can increase taxes and fees, but I can’t get out. (Although you can change any aspect of your plan whenever you want, just not cancel it.) When I signed up for the contract it was $70 for the family plan, $10 for the extra line (mine), and $60 for 2 unlimited data plans which included all sorts of fancy messaging. Taxes and fees of course can’t be estimated (cause they increase EVERY month). That’s a base $140 minus the 15% NJ Teacher’s Union discount which hopefully would off-set the taxes and fees. I have yet to pay under $160. Apparently, billing was just restructured so I can now expect over $200 including the discount…every month. Taxes and fees this month are $50.

After a long sweaty bout of screaming obscenities and calling them bad bad names, I decided to execute my right as a consumer to not give them my money. Of course, I can’t cancel the contract, but I can alter it, including closing extra lines attached to the account. I have a home phone that doesn’t get used thanks the to the Optimum Triple Play (which I hated up until this point, but that’s another rant). They can’t port a cell number to a landline unless the area code matches.

To the rescue is everyone’s favorite Big Brother, Google. Google Voice phone numbers are free. I have been using it as a business number that forwarded to my cell. Now, it forwards to my home number. For a $20 one time fee, Google called Verizon, took my cell number, and closed the line for me. Texts go to my email. Since I am only out of wi-fi range for 10% of my life, I should be alright. I can even still use my smartphones wifi to get my messages.

I simply do not need, nor do I want to be, that easily accessible anymore. You people have become far to comfortable not leaving voice messages or thinking texts are acceptable for important information. I’m bringing contact back into being apart!

I am seriously considering a Pay-as-you-go Virgin mobile hotspot and a iPod Touch. $10 for 100mb or 10days and it rides any towers Sprint has access to. Pretty handy for the 10% I don’t have free wifi.

My favorite thing? All cell phones are legally required to ALWAYS make 911 calls, activated/on a plan, or not. As a customer, I am paying “NJ 911 System/Emerg. Resp. Fee = $0.90” every month. WTF?!

Always We Begin Again

Time is our ultimate currency, we must be careful how we spend it.” John McQuiston II

After an insanely busy month of July that I wished I had slowed down enough during to write and reflect and an extremely slow and relaxed month of August spent on the road visiting friends, family and getting rejuvenated for the upcoming year, the time came to prepare for the coming students and school year.

Hello! My name is... Poster for students

Color & Creativity

After six weeks of observing a coaching new teachers, I came away with a few specific goals for the school year:

1. Create a more visually inviting space!  In order to achieve this I spent several nights in front of the TV getting caught up on all the latest episodes of Sons of Anarchy and creating colorful posters for my classroom.  Some of them are instructional posters that are helping my students recall equations and key words and some of them are fun inspirational quotes!

2. Work/Life Balance & Integration.  For 3 years I’ve struggled with simply being too busy!  In reality, I’m doing just as much work, if not more, this year BUT I’m really working hard to find the balance between work and life and also to find the way that my everyday life and my school life fit and work together.  While I do believe that there’s an obvious line between working (and especially working/teaching children) and my personal life I found in previous years that too often I wasn’t finding the connection between what I was spending my out of school time on with what I was doing in school every day.  In short – what’s the connection between the sacred and the secular?  And is there a difference?

3. Family & Community Support.  I’m convinced that partnering with the families and communities of my students is of paramount importance to their success.  I have not done a great job in the past staying in touch with my students’ parents, coaches, friends, brothers, aunts, etc.  This year I have developed a plan to change that and create a different learning environment for my students.

This summer was a learning experience for me.  A lesson in working hard (and not being great at it) and in how to rest a relax.  I was reminded tonight as I stumbled across an old book that, “Always We Begin Again”.  Whether it be after the eight weeks of summer to greet classes of new students, the new goals set for a new year based on lessons learned, or the three times I deliberately stop throughout my day to be thankful for these moments that I have, slow my mind and body down and begin again.  Here’s to a new and exciting year!