Thursday, September 26, 2013

5 Quick and Easy Fall Recipes

I tried these recipes out last year to include in John's care package and couldn't resist pulling them out to share again. They're tasty, and they feature the absolute best flavors of the season: pumpkin, caramel, and apple. And, by the way, they travel in care packages really well too!

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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

September Sponsor Spotlight and Giveaway!

It's officially fall and it's officially time for the first giveaway and sponsor spotlight of the fall! I am so glad to have these ladies on the sidebar! Check out these blogs and the lovely women who write them and enter our giveaway!  

Meet Rosey from Mail4Rosey! 

Rosey is a mom of four, and new grandmother of one. She has a Masters in Higher Education Administration, and is right in the thick of her dissertation research for her PhD. She loves to travel, and she loves to blog.

Meet Mrs. Aguila from Life of Mrs. Aguila! 

In love with Mr. Aguila, Daughter of the One True King, Avon/Mark sales rep, shoe collector, makeup junkie, shopping addict and coffee drinker.

Mrs. Aguila's Avon: Shop | Facebook

Meet Natasha from The Artisan Life and Natasha's Nibbles and Noshes! 

I love creating things! This fall I'm busy student teaching, trying to get ready for the holiday craft fair season, and counting down the days until I'm back with my sailor.

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Sunday, September 22, 2013

4 Wickedly Fun Halloween Candy Crafts

If you weren't a reader last year, you may have missed these super cute Halloween crafts! I sent these to John and Becky and had a blast making them and I wanted to share them again! (Check out the Halloween care packages here.)  Make one or two for someone special or send a whole box so your loved one can share them! Enjoy! 

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Thursday, September 19, 2013

5 Ways to Strengthen Your Relationship During Deployment

John's been home for more than three months now, but I continue to get emails and Facebook messages asking for deployment advice and help. First of all, I love talking to other military significant others, and I love getting these messages (so if you're thinking about sending one, go for it!). Friendly bloggers from across the country helped me during John's deployment and I am so happy that I'm able to return the favor! The most urgent question I've received is this: How did we make our relationship work for a year?  I would love to say I have all the answers, but I can only speak from my experiences and from John's deployment. With that said, this is what worked for us:

1. Don't get upset when the status quo changes. It is easy-- crazy easy-- to get upset, annoyed, frustrated, or worried when things deviate from what you're expecting. Early on in the deployment, I got used to waking up to an email from John every morning. And (you guessed it), one day an email wasn't there. I freaked out. Where was he? Was he alright? Was he safe? Was there a communication black-out? Did something happen? Did he forget about me? Half a day went by, and (you guessed it) an email ended up in my inbox. His shift had been changed so abruptly and without notice, that he couldn't let me know. Throughout the year, his schedule changed over and over again, and so did the times we could talk or email. Moral of the story: Don't get attached to a schedule, and if you do, don't waste time or energy being upset about it.

2. Don't slam the laptop lid... or hang up the phone.  Deployment made me feel powerless. I had no control over what was happening to John, when the deployment was going to be over, or even when John could contact me. Phone calls and Skype sessions are precious. The few times we had arguments, I didn't allow myself the satisfaction of cutting off our communication. It would have felt really satisfying to slam my laptop lid, but the reality afterwards that I could not call him back to apologize would have been terrible. Talk about the issue instead and say I love you when your conversation ends. Which leads us conveniently to numbers three and four.

3. Never stop saying I love you. Obviously, this is a little hyperbolic. But seriously. Say it. You can't hug him. You can't kiss him. You can't see him. (Or if you can Skype, he more often looks like a blob of color than not.) Don't let an opportunity to say I love you (or write it, or type it) pass by.

4. Be real. In our experience, it is far better to be honest and real than to be the mythical military significant other. You know, the stoic one that never cries, never gets down, always takes care of every little problem with complete ease. I tried that for a microsecond. It didn't work. It was important for us both to talk about everything-- the good and the bad. It doesn't always make for the most comfortable conversation, but it does make for a relationship that has trust and honesty at its core.

5. Laugh. There's a lot about deployment that is tough. Look for the humor in the situations you find yourself. Share it with your significant other. Send jokes. Remember that deployment really does end, even though it sometimes feels like it never will. Smile.

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Thursday, September 12, 2013

100 in 365 Wrap-Up

Last year I created this list of things that I wanted to do while John was gone. Looking over this list, I'm pretty surprised that I got so much done. I'm disappointed with what I read, but in all fairness, I read a ton last year-- just not the books that I said that I wanted to. Go figure! My new list for 2013-14 is residing at the 100 in 365 tab, now. Check it out and see what's on my plate for a new year. Here's what I accomplished, September 2012-September 2013!

Wedding Stuff
1.       Learn how to cardas.
2.      Make centerpieces. (28/25ish) 
3.      Plan a wedding.  
4.      Go to a Bridal Expo.
5.      Find the perfect wedding gown.
6.      Research what we need to set up our house.

7.      Read the Bible in a year. 
8.      Read Louisa and Marmee.
9.      Read Bossypants.
10.  Read Les Mis.
11.  Read The Count of Monte Cristo.
12.  Read Candide.
13.  Read The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
14.  Read Up from Slavery.
15.  Read The Three Musketeers.
16.  Finally finish the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin.
17.  Read Deliverance From Evil
18.  Read all of Geraldine Brooks’ fiction. March.  Year of Wonders. People of the BookCaleb's Crossing.
19.  Read all of Tony Horwitz’s books. A Voyage Long and Strange. Confederates in the Attic. One for the Road. Blue Latitudes. Midnight Rising.
20.  Read This is How You Lose Her.
21.  Read the Age of Miracles. This is the kind of book I want to write. So poignant and beautifully written.
22.  Read American Sphinx.
23.  Read the new JK Rowling book. It didn't change my life, but it was certainly wonderful to read another book by JK. And it gave me hope that she'll be writing and releasing another one!

24.  Run the Baltimore half-marathon. Ashley and I walked/ran it on 10-13-12!
25.  Get to my high school weight and stay there until the wedding, and preferably longer. 
26.  Run or walk another half-marathon in the spring. I ran an 8k with Ashley on 3-16-13! It's not a marathon, but I ran the WHOLE thing and it's gonna have to do!

John’s Deployment
27.  Send John a care package at least once a month. (36/12)
28.  Make John something homemade or handmade at least once a month. (12/12).
29.  Write John a letter every day he's gone. (359/360)
30.  Be at the airport when John comes home for leave.  We said hello on 01-06-13!
31.  Be at the airport when John leaves after his leave. We said goodbye one 01-23-13
32.  Be at the airport when John comes home for good.
33.  Make the cutest sign EVER for when John comes home for good.
34.  Start looking for housing for us when we know John's orders.

Learn Something New
35.  Take French lessons at JHU.  Sadly, not happening this year.
36.  Learn how to cook Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter dinner the way Mom does. Thanksgiving.
37.  Re-learn how to sew.
38.  Earn another certification this year. (Pending on program and cost...) Not happening this year.
39.  Study for the GREs (?) and/or start on application materials for MFA or PhD. programs. Not happening this year.
40.  Take a cake decorating class.
41.  Learn how to actually play pinochle.
42.  Learn a new song with Becky while she plays ukulele.
43.  Learn how to make sushi.
44.  Go to the Glass Grill and learn how to blow glass with Becky.
45.  Take a self-defense class.
46.  Learn  the Wobble.

47.  Write 6 short stories (0/6).
48.  Enter at least 2 more short story contests or submit at least 2 more short stories for publication somewhere. (1/2) 

Making Stuff
49.  Make a Christmas present for everyone in my and John's families. (10/10) (Proof here!)
50.  Make 12 new dinner recipes over the next 12 months. (1/12)

51.  Make homemade marshmallows.
52.  Complete two of the cross stitch wall hangings I bought for our first place together. (2/2)
53.  Make cookies for my students just for fun.
54.  Make a quilt with Mom. Worked on one, but it won't be finished by the end of this year.
55.  If it snows, build a snowman. No snow this year. Sadness.
56.  Make something for the English Department. 
57.  Try to make salted caramels. Here's the recipe!
58.  Make at least two cross stitched Santas for my Santa tree. (2/2)
59.  Cook an entirely organic meal.
60.  Find a delicious recipe for and make fried green tomatoes.

Going Places and Seeing People
61.  Visit VA Beach and Katy at least once this summer.
62.  Go to International Village in PGH this summer.
63.  Attend the church picnic.
64.  Go to as many PSU football games as possible and get a picture with Becky in uniform every time.  And the evidence is here!
65.  Visit PSU on a non-football game weekend. We went while John was home on leave!
66.  Visit PSU on a non-football game weekend. Spent an awesome weekend with Becky on 2/16-18.
67.  Visit PSU on a non-football game weekend. Cheered Becky on in her directorial debut on 2/22-24.
68.  Visit PSU on a non-football game weekend. Blue and White Weekend on 4/19-21.
69.  Visit the BMA.
70.  Visit the Walter's Art Museum.
71.  Meet Ms. Eger for sushi this fall.
72.  See the Cherry Blossom Festival in DC this year. For realsiesI did it! 
73.  Hang out with Lebanon County friends at least once during the summer.
74.  Visit Vicki.
75.  Visit a cute town on the Eastern Shore.
76.  Vote in the Presidential Election.
77.  See Baltimore's Christmas celebration in Mt. Vernon, or have a viewing party and watch it on TV.
78.  Plan a sister's weekend sometime during the school year.
79.  Go to a quilt show with Mom.
80.  Attend and participate in a Holi Festival of Colors in Baltimore.
81.  Hike Mt. Nittany.
82.  Eat at Petite Louis in Roland Park.
83.  Lindsay, Vicki, and Donna at Penn State in August.
84.  Visit Lindsay.

85.  Do 77 phone interviews for TFA. This is not going to happen since I missed the first round of interviews. New goal: do at least 25 phone interviews for TFA. (24/25) (Ah, so close!)
86.  Shore up my IRA.
87.  Start a new car fund.
88.  Start an apartment/moving fund.

89.  Do some kind of nail art thingy.
90.  Do something ridiculous in my classroom (teach without talking, rap, etc.). Lesson with authentic Salem Witch Trials texts, spoke in a goofy, ye Olde Newe Englande dialect.
91.  Read in the bathtub with cookies and candles. On a school night.
92.  Spend election day doing something completely fun that has nothing to do with school.
93.  Play an April Fool's prank.
94.  Go to karaoke with my sisters.
95.  Get Baltimore crabs with my sisters. We opted for sushi.
96.  Go to an author’s book reading either at JHU or the Enoch Pratt Library. Saw Junot Diaz at UMBC on 11/7/12.
97.  Volunteer at the USO at BWI. This was something I thought I had the emotional capacity to do, but I don't think I can be a good, competent volunteer if I cry at every guy in a uniform that I see...
98.   Run the Poetry Out Loud club at my school again this year.
99.  Volunteer for a political campaign (preferably Obama’s).  Phone banked with Shannon on 11/3/12.
100.                      Do 20 random acts of kindness that are out-of-my-way—not just holding a door open, etc. (3/20)

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Monday, September 9, 2013

Delicious Amish White Bread

You need to stop what you're doing and make this recipe. Wait, no. Continue what you're doing--since you're reading about the recipe. Then, once you're finished with the post, stop what you're doing and make this recipe. It is absolutely delicious, especially right out of the oven. Especially with a generous amount of butter melting on a warm slice. You will not regret your decision.

You'll Need:
  • 2 cups warm water 
  • 2/3 cup white sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons active dry yeast (I used Rapid Rise)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 cup oil 
  • 6 cups flour
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 
  2. In a mixing bowl, dissolve the sugar into warm water and stir in the yeast. An off-white foam will form on top of the sugar water mixture.
  3. When foam is creamy, mix salt and oil into the mixture. Add one cup of flour at a time until dough comes together.
  4. Knead dough on an oiled or floured surface until smooth. Cover with the bowl and allow to rise until mixture has doubled (1 hour). 
  5. Punch down and knead. Divide in half. Place each half into 9x5 non-stick (or oiled) pans. Cover with damp cloth and allow to rise for 30 minutes. 
  6. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Note: I originally found this recipe on the internet, jotted it down on a piece of paper, and have since lost the citation. The directions are rewritten and I have added and subtracted directions where necessary for what worked in my kitchen. 
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Saturday, September 7, 2013

10 Minute Bruschetta Pizza Slices

John and I were in a predicament one evening this summer-- we had a loaf of delicious, homemade French bread (recipe forthcoming) and... Okay, that was the predicament. We just wanted to eat bread for dinner.  To assuage my guilt over just having a whole loaf of bread to eat, I whipped up these little morsels of goodness!  (And yes, we made the entire loaf and ate it in one sitting. Whoops. What a delicious mistake!) 

You'll Need:
  • French or Italian bread (sliced at least 1 to 1 1/2 inches thick)
  • mozzarella cheese
  • Italian dressing
  • diced Roma tomatoes
  • basil and salt to taste
  1. Preheat the oven to 350. 
  2. Place the slices of bread onto a non-stick cookie sheet. 
  3. Layer diced tomatoes and cheese.
  4. Spread basil, salt, and Italian dressing on each slice.
  5. Bake for 10 minutes or until cheese melts and slightly browns.

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Thursday, September 5, 2013

6 Care Package Ideas for Fall

A year ago, John and I were only three months into his deployment. Now, he's been home for three months! I haven't made a single care package since May, and even though my fingers are itching to when I look back on last year's pictures, I'm so glad that Afghanistan is behind us! But, in case you may have missed my care packages from last year, I'm putting 'em all in one spot. Click on each picture for the corresponding blog post! Enjoy! Happy fall!

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Tuesday, September 3, 2013

5 Ways to Save Money On Your Wedding

Going into wedding planning, John and I knew that we had to be smart about our wedding budget. I was leaving my job of five years to move to where John's stationed and we'd be making two moves in five months.

Obviously, those things had an impact on our wedding planning. But we both agreed: we wanted a timeless, elegant wedding. The trick was figuring out how to do it on a budget. Here are a few things I learned from 14 months of wedding planning:

Have a plan. It took me a while to decide what I wanted for our wedding, but when I finally made up my mind, I had it figured out to the last detail. I was able to create a plan of action for the most expensive parts of the wedding. I used the weekly 40%-off coupons from Michaels to buy large glass cylinders for table centerpieces. Yes, that meant that I could only buy one a week (although I enlisted the help of my sisters and parents), but it also meant that I was able to buy 28 vases that retailed at $363.72 (before tax) for $218.23. Had I bought these at the last minute, I would have spent $145.49 more.

Pay attention what, where, and when you buy. This includes coupons, sales, websites and stores that aren't typical wedding supply stores. We used Snapfish for our Save the Dates ( and spent less than $70 doing so), for invitations (and reaped the benefits of buying during President's Day Weekend by getting 35% off our purchase), and Ikea for some of our wedding decorations (read how we saved $190 here). Last summer, I shopped Bath & Body Works on their semi-annual sale and saved 75% on 100 glass votive holders. Scope out clearance racks after holiday and seasonal sales. If you can, buy in bulk-- many stores will give you a discount.

Make what you can. I enjoy being crafty and had a lot of fun making different items for our wedding that would have otherwise cost us much more to purchase. Among many projects, I made and filled pearl-studded wedding rice bags, used ribbon to add a touch of color to our wedding invitations, DIY'ed personalized dress hangers for my bridesmaids, crafted table numbers, and used baby's breath, tulle, and ribbon to make pew bows. Of course, these are just a few ideas-- there are many more floating all over the internet. 

Prioritize your wants. John and I decided early on that we didn't want to have regrets from our wedding, and we made sure to prioritize what was important. Even within those priorities, we were able to make some compromises that helped us stay within our budget. I wanted real flowers, but I didn't mind using ones that were in-season and having smaller bouquets. I wanted a certain style of wedding jewelry for my bridesmaids and myself, but I didn't have to have a particular brand. Knowing what we both thought was "worth it" gave us more wiggle room on some of the less important aspects of the wedding.

Don't be afraid to ask for discounts or special considerations. I asked for discounts from every vendor we worked with, from our photographer to the reception hall to the wedding dress boutique. Because John is in the military, we were able to take advantage of military discounts. But there are more than just military discounts out there. 

Ask about available promotions: depending on when you book the reception hall, they may comp the wedding party's dinners; if you work with the caterer early, you may be able to lock in prices at a lower rate; having your wedding at a time that isn't booked up may yield lower prices for various services. Think about the affiliations you might have: are you a teacher? student? When in doubt, just ask if they offer any discounts at all.

If your wedding vendor offers a package that doesn't quite meet your needs, ask about changing it or what a la carte items cost. When we began working with our fantastic videographer, he offered a package that included a wedding trailer. We didn't need it, but we did want all of the raw footage from the day. He was gracious enough to offer us the raw footage in lieu of the trailer. (And I am so glad that we had a videographer. At the wedding, I was flashmobbed and we would not have a video of it otherwise.) 

Disclosure: This piece was produced in conjunction with a prompt from Credit Card Insider; however, I was not financially compensated for this post. If you're interested in more wedding planning advice, join the conversation here.

Have you seen these other wedding posts?
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