Saturday, September 28, 2013

#23: Crochet Something

Well, my bucket list is getting knocked out pretty quickly this year. With the coming of cooler weather, my thoughts always turn to snuggly yarn and what I can crochet with it. A couple of weeks ago I started working on a beautiful ripply afghan in fall colors - orange, mustard, cranberry, olive, and espresso. While the pattern is pretty easy, it's also a big afghan, so it looks like by the time I finish it, it should really be done in Christmas (or maybe even spring!) colors. Not that I'm giving up! But in the meantime, I wanted a quick project that I could actually finish. And, because I started being a coffee fanatic again as soon as the cooler weather hit, what better project than a cute coffee cozy?

The first one I made for myself, and it looked so cute and took up so little material that I pulled out all my yarn "remnants" and whipped up a few more. I can do one in fifteen minutes, it costs pennies worth of yarn (since it really only requires a tiny bit), and I managed to score some buttons on sale at Joanns for twenty-five cents a pack. :) I sent the four that I had finished with Anna to the craft fair up the street and she sold two of them for me at $3 apiece! I'll definitely be making more to sell!

If you'd like to make one for yourself, here's the pattern for free. Because I'm sweet like that. You can thank me in coffee. ;)

Skill level: Quick and Easy, Beginner
Small amount of yarn - you can use various weights for different effects; sport weight yarn will turn out a sleeker, more refined look, while heavier weight yarns will create a chunky, country look
Size "I" crochet hook
2-4 buttons
Large needle and matching thread

Chain 16; turn.
Row 1: SC in second chain from hook, and in each st across (15 sc). Turn.
Repeat 29 times, or until cozy just wraps around mug or cup (the ends should just meet, but not overlap, and the cozy should fit snugly - it will loosen as you use it).
Row 31: Chain 4 (counts as first TR); turn. TR in each stitch across (15 TR).

Finishing: Weave in ends. Sew buttons evenly on the end of the cozy opposite the TR (the TR stitches are your buttonholes). Wrap your cozy around your favorite beverage and enjoy! :)

Friday, September 27, 2013

Self Preservation (And the most perfect Autumn day, ever!)

One of the loveliest things about Autumn is making apple butter. I love homemade apple butter - thick, spicy with cloves and cinnamon, perfect on toast or oatmeal or, you know, by the spoonful. :) (Funny story... Allen was REALLY grossed out last year whenever I'd eat apple butter by the spoonful - apparently he thought it really was "butter" of some sort; I had to show him the recipe before he'd concede that yes, apple "butter" is really just uber-thick applesauce, and thus, not gross to eat plain. ;))

This week Abigail got a day off of school for some reason - I don't know why and I don't care, lol - so we seized the opportunity to go to the farm together! We've done this trip together for the last three years, usually with her old preschool class, and even though we'll be going to pick out pumpkins with her kindergarten class next month, I wanted some one-on-one time with her. Well... with her and Maggie and Allen! :)

What do the two above paragraphs have to do with one another? Well, this farm has the best apple orchard! And their apples are very reasonably priced and taste amazing - seriously, if you've never had an orchard-fresh apple, you won't understand the difference in taste!

Abby had a ton of fun running around the farm for an hour or so, climbing on the wooden tractors and train, running on the hay bales, playing in the corn shed, checking out the bunnies, chickens, and goats, going down the slide, and just generally having a ball!

When she got tired, we went inside to pick out our half-bushel of apples, along with some apple, peach, and cranberry ciders, flavored honey, butternut squash, and one of the little marble turtles that Abigail and her mama love, that we found tucked away on a shelf in the shop store. Then we sat outside on the porch, in rocking chairs, eating an apple apiece and enjoying each other. :)

Then we went back to my house to turn the apples into butter!

I did all the peeling and chopping while Abby played with my siblings, then she helped me add the cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

I like my apple butter dark, so I left the crockpot on low and kept wiping down the sides with my trusty rubber spatula, and twenty-four hours of apple-scented bliss later - seriously, my whole place smelled like apple! - I had the yummiest spread ever. :)


A few days after I got sick, I had a morning where I woke up and felt a little better. It was short-lived... but I had time to go get groceries and more meds before I went back to bed (lol!). At Wal-Mart, I walked into a flash produce sale and found some amazing deals: grapes for fifty cents a pound, strawberries for $1 a carton, and avacados for ninety cents a piece. I bought a couple pounds of grapes, threw them in the freezer, and pretty much lived on them for the next couple of days - they were an amazing thing to eat when my throat was so, so sore! I also got a couple of avacados for cheap, thinking I'd be feeling well soon, but between being sick and then the antibiotics making my tummy unhappy, I ended up giving them to my family. :(

I also got three pounds of strawberries for $1 a pound. What was I thinking?! I didn't feel like eating them while I was sick, and by the time I started to feel a bit better, they had started to soften, and some were a little moldy and brown. :( I wanted to salvage then, so I made jam in the crockpot! I used this recipe, except that I used about half the amount of sugar, and right before I turned the crockpot off I whisked in several heaping tablespoons of cornstarch, and it thickened up nicely. It tastes amazing - way, way better that storebought! - and I look forward to eating it with peanut butter, on oatmeal, and... you know... on a spoon. :)

My family went out of town this past weekend on a camping trip, so I took advantage of the big house kitchen to stock my freezer with easy meals. I did this pretty faithfully the first couple of months I was living on my own - at least once a week I'd make a big batch of something and freeze the leftovers so I had an easy meal for later. I've been missing that lately, especially when I was feeling too rotten to cook. So, while they were gone I mixed up a batch each of Rachael Ray's Croque Monsieur casserole (with turkey and swiss instead of ham), Mu Shu casserole (with beef instead of pork), and her Shrimp and Pasta bake. Now my freezer is filled with food that only needs to be stuck in the oven (or microwave) and I'm all set!

I have yet to make anything pumpkin-y - usually I wait until the day after Halloween when the pumpkins are dirt-cheap - but I'm looking forward to trying to new pumpkin recipes, too. Any good recommendations?

Saturday, September 21, 2013


- I've been sick, so I wasn't sleeping very well, which means I was dreaming a lot. And then I was sick and taking medication, which means I was dreaming a lot and the dreams were really, really weird. Like this one: I was recruited to be an agent in a secret government spy agency that was run out of Wal-Mart, because as it turns out, Wal-Mart only existed to be a front for this mysterious shadow organization. (My BFF's response this this? "I always knew there was something going on with Wal-Mart..." ;)) As many of my dreams are, it was sort of a mashup of characters from my favorite TV shows, including Booth from Bones, Ziva from NCIS, and Wong from Special Victims Unit. We were all agents for the same agency... but none of the other agents trusted each other, so they were constantly kidnapping each other to "interrogate" the others for information. ?!? And all the while, I kept saying, "I have, like, no qualifications for this job AT ALL - why am I here?!"

- I love my crockpot. I have a really cool, really shiny, really ORANGE crockpot that my parents got me last Christmas, and I just love it. This weekend I made strawberry jam in it, and it was amazing.

- I hate it when my family goes away on a trip and I'm home alone in the house. The house is too big (especially when I'm basically deaf from ear infections).

- I really want to take a roadtrip, even if it's a very short roadtrip. With Crisy and Maggie and some good music. Preferably to a place where the fall leaves are splendiforous. Wonder if I could take them into going to The Wilds college and career retreat? ;)

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Down And Out

I feel like all I've done for the last eight days is sleep. I missed two days of work, and for the first five days I basically rotated between my bed and my couch for napping. I "watched" Castle but I don't know "who done it" in any of the episodes because I fell asleep before the ending. On Tuesday I made myself go back to work, and as soon as I dropped Abigail off at school, I came home... and went back to bed. Yesterday, I dropped her off, came home and went back to bed, got up to teach swim class, and came home and went back to bed.

I finally decided that I'd had it - whatever I was sick with, I hadn't improved any since Monday, and it was time to see a doctor. Since I lost my health insurance in June (:( ) I quickly googled to see what some of my best urgent-care options were. I quickly ruled out a trip to the emergency room (guys, do you know how inflated emergency room pricing can be? I was kind of appalled!) and after doing some checking on urgent care centers around my area, I was pretty discouraged at the pricing - or lack thereof (whenever anybody can't quote me a estimated cost, I get nervous).

I remembered reading on a blog I follow about someone using the urgent care clinic inside Walgreens, so I jumped online and tried to find one nearby. No banana - closest one was in D.C - but the search engine also suggested CVS' Minute Clinic as an alternative. I checked out the website, loved the fact that they published all their prices so you know in advance exactly what you'll be paying, and found one about 35 minutes away.

I was so impressed with the service! I had a wait time of under five minutes, the nurse practitioner I saw was amazing! She took one look at my ears and said I had one of the worst double ear infections she had ever seen, wrote me out a prescription for antibiotics (thank God!) and I was one my way in less than 30 minutes. The whole visit including meds cost less than $115.

Finding this option has been a huge answer to prayer! While I'm still paying for everything out of pocket, knowing I have an affordable option for routine issus or minor illness and injury makes life less stressful. :)

Hopefully the antibiotics will kick in quickly - this is the weekend that the county fair and Artsfest is going on, and I will be so, so disappointed if I don't get to go to either one!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

On Not Being Alone

Last week, I got sick. Started with a scratchy throat as I was leaving swim class Wednesday night. I went to bed early, feeling more tired than usual, and woke up around midnight shaking with fever. It just went downhill from there. :( Today is the first day I've felt better (thank God! I don't think I could have stood one more day). My right ear is still completely closed up, and my left ear is about half, so I feel kind of "underwater," but otherwise, I feel up to tackling the giant pile of laundry, dishes, and chores that pile up when you spend five days in bed.

As much as I hated being sick, this experience has driven home a powerful truth: I am not alone. Something I knew, in my head, but something that really needed to be driven down deep into my heart until I took it for granted.

If this past year has been an exercise is learning that God will supply all my needs, the last month or so has been dedicated to adding the suffix "-and often He uses people in your life to do it." I was surprised at how many texts, emails, and Facebook messages I got from so many different people, telling me they were praying for me to bounce back quickly, and offering to do or get whatever I needed. If at any time I had run low on soup, meds, ice cream, clean laundry, whatever, I could have taken up any one of a dozen offers and been well taken care of. Even some people I didn't know well - someone, for instance, that I had babysat for once a long time ago! - contacted me to see what they could do.

I forget this sometimes: I am not alone. Gradually over the last year, this has changed to I am not alone, because God is with me, and this past week, it changed again, to I am not alone, because God is with me, and He's people. :)

God calls us into community for a myriad of reasons - to stretch us, to grow us, to heal us, to serve, to be served, but ultimately, to be blessed. When Jesus told us "that your joy may be full... love one another," He wasn't tying together two unrelated but divinely-linked concepts: He was simply pointing out a natural cause and effect. When we are invested in the lives of those around us, we multiply our capacity to experience joy. We "rejoice with those who rejoice" and are blessed - even (perhaps especially) if our own lives are experiencing the doldrums at the moment. We see God provide for another, and our faith that God has us, too, in His hand is strengthened. We watch as a beautiful love story unfolds, and we wait in anticipation for the one He's written for us to begin. Tragedy strikes, we fall to our knees, and are awestruck (and humbled) by God's intervening grace. Occasionally we are abandoned by our community, and we learn, once again, that hard truth: His grace is sufficient.

Either way, it is into community that we are called. We are his hands, his feet, his arms. We are the body.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

On Food

Although I've always been a decent cook, my cooking over the last few years has been a bit limited, as every other member of my family has at least one (and, in some cases, several) limiting allergy/sensitivity/etc. Dairy. Eggs. Wheat. Peanuts. Etc, etc, etc. For the record, I agree with them that just about any dish can be modified to be just as tasty and allergen-free, as long as you're willing to do a little research and testing. But easy? Notsomuch.

Since moving out into my own place, I've been able to dig out some of my favorite recipes that include such sumptuous ingredients as cheese. And milk (and cream). And bread products with all their gluten fully included. And... did I mention cheese? :)

And of course, I've discovered some new favorite recipes. Like my favorite brussel sprouts, ever. I think I could eat them for breakfast. And tomato tart - I have eaten this for breakfast! :)

Here's a roundup of some yumminess I've been munching on lately:

I found the recipe for the best pot of chili this past week, so I thought I'd post the recipe so I don't lose it and cry you can also share in my good fortune! ;) It makes enough for a giant crockpot (enough to feed my family plus a guest and stick a few servings in the freezer for later).
  • Brown 3 pounds ground beef in a skillet; drain, and dump meat in crockpot. Cook 1 large chopped onion until soft; add 1 tablespoon crushed garlic and cook until fragrant. Add to crockpot. Chop and add 2 large red bell peppers and2 large green bell peppers. Add 1 bag frozen corn, 2 large cans crushed tomatoes, 1 small can tomato sauce, and 2 cans kidney beans (and next time, I will add black beans, too. Because I like bean-y chili). Add salt and pepper (and hot sauce, if you're like me!) to taste. South African Smoke Seasoning makes it to die for, just sayin'. Cook on low for at least 6 hours and voila! Amazing chili. Not too thick, not too watery, just perfect.
I at this for the next three days in the form of Cincinnati chili and it was so good. Btw, if you've never heard of Cincinnati chili, do go check it out, and make yourself a bowl. It's kind of amazing. For the record, I like mine "four-way bean" (no onions - ick!).

And speaking of that South African Smoke Seasoning... Mm, mm, mm, mm, mm! I picked it up on my trip up to Trader Joe's and it's easily the best $2.67 I've spent in a long, long time! So good. I can't wait to try it on a brisket in the crockpot.

I made my own pizza this week! Although I have yet to try making my own dough from scratch (this amazing dough was part of my Trader Joe's haul) I was able to get it to cook in my RV oven well enough (this is the only bad thing about being an RV full-timer - the oven sucks. Seriously, take a second, go to Google, and put in "rv oven". At least 90% of the hits will be the same complaint - burns on the bottom/outside while the top/inside remains almost raw). I did take the time to implement some tips from Julie at The New Lighter Life (lovelovelove this blog! I may have stayed up way too late a couple nights last week reading and it turned out way better than I've been able to achieve yet. On my to-do list this week is a stop at Lowes to hunt for unglazed tiles, which will hopefully improve my baking experience even more.

And last, but not least, I couldn't leave you with a list of my loves of lately without including this recipe for a single-serving microwaveable brownie. This has become my go-to recipe for when I want something sweet without heating up the oven, washing more than a mug, or have company. It works with rice milk and oil in place of butter just fine, so the kids love it, too, when they come to visit. I prefer a more cake-like, less dense end result, so I add about 2 tablespoons more water at the very end. Sometimes I also add a heaping tablespoon of cherry preserves, which is just lovely. :)

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Wednesday Randomness

I have so much to get done today. Tomorrow is the biweekly meeting of our little "dinner and games club" at my place - normally just me, my sibs, and my friend Crisy, so I don't usually go out of my way very much (except to cook an especially scrumptious dinner). Except this time, in honor of it being Fall, we're having a little party, doing crafts instead of playing games, and I invited some other friends who haven't seen my new place yet. So, naturally, it needs to be extra clean and all.

Except I really, REALLY don't feel like cleaning. So I'm blogging instead. :)

I wanted to show you a picture of my adorable fingernails that I painted last night, but I can't for the life of me get a good picture. :( They basically look just like this, except with a dark tan base, gold stripes, and a peachy-pink heart. :) Abigail thought they were kind of amazing this morning.

I bought the first pumpkin of the season yesterday, along with a giant pot of purple mums, a bunch of burlap, and a yard of festive fall material to make a tablecloth. Today, AFTER I get my cleaning done, I get to decorate. It's like self-bribery.

My girls are getting so big! I caught them sleeping, together and out in the open yesterday and just had to snap a picture. :)

Zhiva continues to be a little shy. Zinnia continues to be my little firecracker ;) but, if possible, she and I have bonded even more in the last couple of weeks. Yesterday she was just waking up when I came home from running errands, and she snuggled in my arms for about half an hour, getting ear massages and bruxing happily away. :)

Yesterday was so weird, because I couldn't sleep at all on Monday night. I tried everything - reading a few chapters of a novel, visualization, getting up for a big, etc, etc, etc, but nothing worked. Finally around 4:30 AM I got up, moved to the couch, and turned on an episode of Bones, and was able to drowse a bit (sometimes the sound of talking helps me sleep, lol). But then the episode ended and I figured I might as well get up.

I took Abby to school and then came home and slept for a few hours, but not very well. I have no idea what that was all about, but ironically, I found this at a Sheetz on the way home from running errands:

Chocolate and caffeine? Sign me up!
Tomorrow I'm going with my mom and various siblings on their biweekly trip to the "city" to go thrift shopping (at the best thrift shops ever!), stock up at Trader Joes, and possibly make a run on Ikea. I don't get to go very often since I'm usually with Abster, and hopefully soon I'll be working again, but I'm excited about the chance to get to spend some time together.
Oh, well, back to cleaning... *sigh*