Friday, February 24, 2012

Gratitude Check (a.k.a. my 100 things)

I have been reading up on blogging and writing in general. One of the books I've been looking at suggested to help find inspiration; make a list of one hundred things that you love.  It is supposed to encourage the "writer" to think/write the obvious (anything chocolate) and not so normal (watching a squirrel run on the back fence).  The end product is a wonderful list of things to include or work into your blog, stories, novels, or what ever you are writing.

But here's the thing, what started out as an exercise in creativity for me, turned into an exercise in gratitude. It was a great reminder of all the little things that I love about everyday life.  Those small, gratifying moments that are so simple but oh so sweet. I highly suggest that you make your own list--here's my list to help you start on yours. Enjoy :)

1. the feel of Jim's hand in mine
2. Duncan's "mmmmwha" noise when he kisses me
3. warm, chocolate chip cookies when they are fresh out of the oven and the chocolate is still gooey.
4. hugging, shaking hands, high 5's, to all my seniors as they get ready to graduate.
5. the face my students make when they finally get a concept--that a-haa moment.
6. watching it snow and it's quiet.
7. after the Christmas tree is finally decorated and I turn off the lights and just look.
8. snuggling under the covers
9. a really good cup of tea.
10. finishing a book
11. Duncan's belly laugh--it's just so wonderful to hear.
12. winning a really tough Words with Friends game
13. talking to my sister on the phone every week
14. Birthdays and anything birthday related.
15. the smell of roses, magnolias, or lilacs
16. old family pictures
17. Santa Claus
18. when something is on sale that I wasn't expecting.
19. snow days
20. caramel caribou ice cream
21. getting an email from one of my friends who I haven't heard from in a while
22. Thank yous
23. watching Jim and Duncan play chase.
24. sand in my toes
25. fall colors
26. Black Bear dates
27. the social studies bubble (how I miss you!)
28. Wicked
29. freshly washed and changed sheets
30. falling asleep to the sound of rain
31. Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring by Bach
32. my nestie buddies
33. stay in your pjs days
34. my danskos (oh do my feet love you)
35. my mom's parmesan bread
36. the hymn, Hail thee, festival day (my favorite)
37. spell and grammar check
38. cookie monster because C is for cookie and that's good enough for me ;)
39. breakfast for dinner
40. watching the wildlife in our back yard
41. long hot showers
42. a good movie that I can watch over and over
43. that knowing wink Jim gives me
44. crossing off the last thing on a to do list (really crossing off anything on my to do list!)
45. comfy clothes a.k.a. my sweat pants and a hoodie
46. hiking up Mt. Cutler trail in North Cheyenne Canyon Park
47. fireworks
48. Vera Bradley
49. west wing marathons (on tv and on from my dvds)
50. when people comment on my facebook page and pictures, and now on my blog!
51. the warmth from my mothers hug
52. watermelon, pineapple, and cantaloupe
53. hearing the right song just at the right time
54. how my hair looks and feels right after I get it done at the salon
55. a good pedicure
56. teacher friends who understand (you know who you are!)
57. Pachelbel's Cannon in D
58. sunshine on my face
59. a really good cheeseburger with mustard and pickles
60. speaking of pickles...fried pickles
61. my great grandmother's ring that has been passed to me by my mom
62. funny stories that make me laugh
63. National Board Certification
64. ice tea
65. crockpot dinners
66. Calvin and Hobbes comics
67. that tingly feeling you get when something amazing and beautiful happens
68. when Duncan captures my face between his hands so he can talk to me
69. the lil' gym
70. beautiful warm sunny days
71. reading with Duncan
72. cat naps
73. chocolate, chocolate, did I mention chocolate?
74. former students who keep in touch and let me know how they are
75. Napoleon Dynamite -- GOSH!
76. fresh cut veggies and ranch dip
77. salted caramel hot chocolate
78. the start of a new school year
79. the end of the school year
80. the Constitution
81. my wireless mouse
82. best friends
83. my wedding ring
84. Jim's support when I am stressed or frustrated
85. learning something new
86. family dinners
87. finding money or change in pockets
88. Coast Guard festival
89. McKenzie's Chop House white cheddar garlic mash potatoes
90. discovering a new love, idea, or passion
91. Charlie Brown and Snoopy specials on tv
92. childrens artwork
93. finding a bargain
94. snow angels
95. when all the traffic lights are green on my way to work
96. sound of waves crashing against the shore
97. my mother-in-law's zany, funny sense of humor
98. playing the piano
99. Cardinal's baseball and Detroit hockey
100. Ants on a log (celery stuffed with peanut butter and raisins)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

It Snowed!!

One of the things about living in Virginia is the lack of snow. It has been a big adjustment for my husband and I since both of us are northerners by birth and we moved from the west (Colorado to be exact) to our new home. We didn't have a white Christmas this year, no sledding and hot chocolate, snowmen or snow angels... it's been a bit depressing. Until yesterday. At last, we got a "dusting" -- 3 inches!!! I even had a 2 hour delay to work--heaven! Dunc who had never really played in snow (last year he was only just 9 months) was amazed and excited. So as I headed out the door clean off my car, I wrapped up Duncan in his boots, coat, hat and mittens and off we went. He had such a good time. Daddy even came out to play a bit too.

                                  After our first snowball "fight"--one of my favorite snow pictures

                                                            Playing chase in the snow

                                                                       What fun this is!

After my car was clean, a mini snow ball "fight" and making some snow angels, off I went to work, and Duncan inside to enjoy a snack with Daddy. What a perfect way to start my morning and my week. How blessed I am for this time. May you be blessed with a moment this week too.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Yummy in Your Tummy! Baked Potato Soup

I am a lover of baked potato soup--with bacon crumbles, cheese, green onion--you name it. I love it, love it, love it! It was one of my favorite pregnancy foods and finally after months of searching, Jim and I found the "be all-end all yummy" potato soup from King Soopers and would splurge with crusty bread .  But as the soup Nazi from Seinfeld would say... "NO SOUP FOR YOU!" . Our new gluten free lifestyle put a wrench in our plans--wheat flour. Curse you flour--foiled again.

But not so fast!  Thanks to the "mama loves food blog" (I link a lot of her recipes on my pinterest page) we now have a new favorite -- crock pot baked potato soup. Delicious! My husband loves it, and I am once again in heaven. Read on below.
Yummy Baked Potato Soup!
Slow Cooker Baked Potato Soup 
  • 5 pounds russet potatoes, washed but NOT peeled. Diced into 1/2 inch(ish) cubes
  • 1 medium/large yellow onion, diced
  • 1 medium sized bulb of garlic minced (if you use jarred, its about 5 tsp)
  • 64 ounces (8 cups) chicken stock or broth
  • 16 oz cream cheese, softened (I used low fat)
  • 1 tablespoon seasoned salt (I used good old fashioned Lawry's)
  • pinch of black pepper
  • optional garnishes: crumbled bacon, shredded cheese, green onions--really what ever you would like.
  1. Add potatoes, onion, garlic, seasoning, pepper, and chicken stock to slow cooker. Stir
  2. Cook on high for 6 hours or low for 10 hours.
  3. Ready to start cooking...
  4. Add the softened cream cheese and puree soup with an immersion blender until the cheese is incorporated and about half the soup is blended.( Since I don't have an immersion blender and I love to use crock pot bags for easy clean up, I removed about 3/4 of the mixture and mixed the cream cheese and it in my kitchen aide blender-- then just stirred it in with the soup in the crock pot-- it worked like a charm).
  5. Stir well, top with your choice of garnishes & enjoy!
All blended and ready to serve...
This recipe yields about 10-12 servings and it freezes great. I like to make the full recipe (and I have a monster huge crock pot--as you can see above and below), but you can easily half the recipe if needed.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Valentine's Story: A Boy and His Balloon

Happy Valentine's Day to all. Our family has been a bit busy (a.k.a. crazy) for the past two weeks, so Valentine's kind of sneaked up on us. No date night, candy, flowers, or gifts, but instead homemade baked potato soup, crusty bread (for Duncan and myself) and ice cream for dessert. Simple and my husband and I loved it. But what to do for a rowdy 21 month old? Simple...a balloon.

Since the age of 3 months, Dunc has been fascinated with balloons--the color, size, shape...everything about them. At first it was all about watching them float around. Now a days, it's about banging, jumping, and rough housing--and carrying his "ba-loon" where ever he goes (including is "tiny place hideout").  Hope you enjoy some pictures of smiles and love of a boy and his balloon. Happy Valentine's all.

Playing with my "ba-loon".  It's the best valentine's present ever.

Where did mommy go? By the way, did you notice my
artwork on the wall behind me? I surprised mommy with that!

Please, please, no more pictures...

Just hanging out in my tiny place (a cupboard in the bathroom)

Monday, February 6, 2012

my food review--Betty Crocker Gluten free cookies

So as you all have read, my husband is gluten intolerant which makes like a bit interesting in our household. One of the things he misses the most is baked goods--especially chocolate chip cookies. So today I thought I would try out Betty Crocker's gluten free chocolate chip cookie mix and let the cookie monster have at it!

The ingredients needed were simple--softened butter, vanilla, and an egg--which it good when you have a 20 month old running around at your feet wanting to help. After a small temper tantrum caused by not being able to pour the vanilla, we were on our way. I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of chocolate chips in the mix--way more than expected (truth be told I had gotten out some to add, but didn't need to).

The instructions say to mix the butter, egg, and vanilla together, then add the mix. Stir till crumbly. Spoon onto a cookie sheet. Bake 8-10 minutes (we did 9 min) at 350 and VIOLA!!! Cookies. One note--Be sure to let the cookies sit on the pan for at least two minutes or you will have one crazy mess! (learned that the hard way)

Down to the review!
Likes: The chocolate chips stayed melty and soft. The cookie was crispy on the outside but moist and soft on the inside. Another Like: they looked great! (see picture) My husband couldn't tell the difference between his cookies and the gluten version I made for my students. Finally they tasted pretty darn yummy. I admit--I'm a cookie snob and still trying to like gluten free and these were good. 

Dislikes: the cookie was a bit "grainy" tasting at the end of a bite--it's main replacement for wheat flour is rice flour, so that is expected. If you are new to gluten free be forewarned, this happens a lot. Another dislike --I felt the mix was way too crumbly--how on earth was I going to make teaspoon size drops when it constantly fell apart? Solution?!?! Roll the dough up into a tube -- like you would find with the pre-made cookie dough or refrigerator box cookies -- then cut/break off small pieces and place on cookie sheet.  My final dislike--the amount of cookies made--granted it's a box mix, but I only got 18 cookies. I was hoping for more. In our house the cookie monster (my husband) and cookie jr. (my son) ate at least half the batch last night. I would bet you $10 bucks the rest will be gone by this evening--tomorrow at the latest.

Overall  I definitely recommend these cookies, especially if you are just starting out in the gluten free world and haven't had much experience in creating your own flour mixes. They do cost a bit more (like most gluten free stuff does anyway), but they really are a tasty treat that everyone will like. 

Thursday, February 2, 2012

An attitude of gratitude.

So I have really been thinking about the idea of happiness lately. Am I really happy? Sure I'm happy that my husband cleaned up the dishes last night and that Dunc finally slept through the night, but really.. is that all it is about? Then I read that  researchers believe that showing gratitude is the single most effective way to to increase happiness. And who couldn't use a little more happiness in their life? I know I could! So that got me thinking about the whole concept of gratitude--I ended up creating a doodle web (see below) as I thought about the whole idea. Could it really be this easy? This just called out "experiment time" .... hmmmm.

My gratitude mind map/doodle. It's scary sometimes where my mind goes....

Before I started, I had to figure out just exactly what gratitude is. I'm a teacher so I did what I tell my students to do all the time--"look it up".. According to Merriam Webster's Online Dictionary, the word gratitude comes from the Latin words: gratia (meaning favor, charm, and thanks) and gratus (meaning pleasing and grateful). In easy English--it's expressing thanks for gifts we have received.

Back to my experiment. Time to show my gratitude. I've started off slow, thanking my husband for picking up his clothes (which really does mean a lot to me since it drives me nuts when he leaves them all around the house), including in my prayers my gratitude for the gifts that I do have (a home, both Jim and I having jobs we love, a wonderful family), sending a thank you note to a friend just for being my friend,  and even going as far as calling up my mom to thank her for all the baby/toddler and how to handle sickness advice she has given me in the last few months. This was important to me since it feels like I am calling her at least twice a week with questions. And do you know what--it is working! I am finding that by sharing my gratitude, it makes me feel good and the one I share with happy... and when they are happy, they share their happiness with me too. (Or in the case of my husband, it makes him more inclined to keep picking up his clothes, which REALLY makes me happy!) It's like a big circle and all I know is I want to keep it going.

So, what does this mean for you and me? Simple... If someone has been kind, thank him or her... today. Sure, you can wait and buy that person dinner next week, but how about writing an e-mail this afternoon or leaving a voice-mail message telling them how much you appreciate the kind words or deeds? When we show our gratitude, it's a way of sharing our joy with that person. It strengthens not only our faith and happiness, but theirs too. And who knows, you might just remind them to show their gratitude, too.

Start today and  make a commitment to show your gratitude by sharing it with others whenever you have the opportunity. Find a way to demonstrate your gratitude to the universe. Feed the birds! Pick up trash or volunteer your time.  Action gives life to ideas. When we start to look for ways to show our gratitude, we will find more and more to be grateful for.

Oh, and by the way... thank you so much for taking the time to read this as I start my blogging journey--it really does mean a lot to me. :)