One of my happiest moments in this past year was on the first night of my little birthday vacation when Sean suggested we order a cheese plate at dinner and then was just as happy as I was devouring it.
I have a Pinterest board of cheese boards.
So last week, when we were shopping for Thanksgiving dinner supplies, I spent too long at the Murray's Cheese Shop counter at our local grocery store. The very, very best part of this is you can ask them to cut smaller pieces of each cheese so you can try each one for just two or three dollars. You know, that way you can try six.
After the turkey was in the oven early Thanksgiving morning, I started cutting and assembling a cheese plate...with a couple kinds of crackers, deli meat, almonds and an amazing fig & orange spread from the cheese counter.
The cheese plate sat waiting on the kitchen table until Sean, Mac and I needed a snack to tide us over until everyone arrived for dinner.
Now I think we need to share a cheese plate snack every Thanksgiving...or maybe just every single week or something.
This year's turkey day seemed to be a success. We packed up a couple of baskets and met my sister at their company office so she could get some work done during the turkey crafting and snacking fun.
This year we tried paint and forks to make turkeys...it was fun, but took forever to dry. Thankfully we had a turkey cheese ball snack (I improvised from this idea) and turkey trivia to answer while we waited.
Oh and turkey trivia meant prizes for everyone. Late the night before I couldn't resist getting out colored pencils for the prize bags tags.
Then our other craft was Uncle Seany's idea. He suggested the kids decorate bags for each person to take home Thanksgiving leftovers...yet another example of how seriously we take leftover packing. It'll be fun to surprise everyone with those carefully drawn out bags in a couple of days.
I was teasing with my nephew and nieces that our turkey day crafting tradition will certainly continue when they are super cool teenagers. They are nine, eight and seven, so I know there are barely a few turkey days ahead, so I am trying to soak up every fun moment of our own extra day of Thanksgiving traditions.
I wish I had more fun Thanksgiving-y projects to share with you to start the week, but there's nothing quite yet. I have ideas for decorating the dining room (here it is last year), but haven't tried them to see if they work. And we have our fourth annual turkey day tomorrow with our nephew and nieces, so I'm late organizing the supplies for the various Pinterest ideas I collected up for crafting and snacking.
But that's all I've got for now...nothing.
Thanksgiving leftovers are serious business in my family. We all carefully pack up food to enjoy throughout the holiday weekend.
I have had fun decorating leftover containers in the past, but last year I decided to focus on really organizing them so it would be easy to pass out to everyone as they headed home.
First, was the realization that I should pack leftovers ahead of time. We make everything, but the turkey, the day before Thanksgiving. So it finally occurred to me, if you cook it the day before, why then reheat it all the next day?
Instead, when each dish was done cooking, I filled smaller serving dishes for us to use during our Thanksgiving meal and then filled a take-home container of each item for each person. That way what would have been leftover anyway hasn't been cooked twice. The additional bonus to this plan is all my serving dish sizes are much smaller, making it easier to heat up everything in the oven together once the turkey comes out to rest. The next additional bonus is that one more step of work has been taken out of Thanksgiving day, packing up all the leftovers.
The thing I needed to keep in mind with the pre-portioning is that some people want this and not that or one item is their very favorite and they would love extra. So out came the washi-tape color coding. Each family member was assigned a tape design and all of their leftover portions could be easily identified in the fridge. I also had more empty labeled containers ready to fill with turkey and pieces of pies my sister bakes.
Thankfully, last year the plan worked perfectly, so it will be a new washi-tape organized tradition.
I am guessing you never realized how long someone could write about a Thanksgiving leftover plan, but like I said, my family doesn't mess around with this dinner. If it doesn't seem completely crazy to you, hopefully it will help your Thanksgiving efforts go a little more smoothly.
Today was the first happy day at my desk in a while, since my computer seemed to be falling apart over the last couple weeks.
So very slow, not downloading, freezing, not printing, not saving, not connecting to the external hard drive. It was a mess.
After several attempts at solving it all, miraculously, it's pretty much back to normal.
I never appreciated making some worksheets for school and a holiday party invitation so much.
Last week I got to meet one of my Sociological heroes, Peggy McIntosh. She wrote, "Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack of White Privilege".
I took seven pages of notes while listening to her speak, but one of the most poignant was when she said, "If I really believe in inclusion and equity, I might have to give up my place".
I want to always work towards being the type of person that is willing to give up my place.
This morning was tough, but being in the classroom helped. And, as I drove home during the sunset, I saw the lights turning on at the Field of Valor set up in our community this week. I met Sean at home and we immediately went back out the door to the park. We walked through the 1,776 flags symbolizing the ultimate example of giving up your place.
Instead of wallowing in fear, I want to find more opportunities to try to help. And I really hope all of us can find ways to help support each other.
See you next week...
Way back on November 6, 2006, Sean and decided to stop the fertility treatments we were trying, to not try to adopt again, to dismantle the nursery we had and to give everything away.
That was the heartbreaking part.
But the hopeful part seemed like it was a pretty good plan. To be extra grateful we were Mac's parents. Sean wanted to start running and train for a marathon. He wanted to coach in the after school program at his junior high. And I wanted to finish my bachelor's degree and and finally be the teacher I had dreamed of being since I was twelve years old.
A year later Sean was running the Portland marathon and I was finishing the units I needed to transfer to the local state college.
Ten years later, Mac is working hard and enjoying college. Sean coaches three sports each school year and has been running over a hundred miles a month for years. And I am in my third year of teaching still pinching myself over the moments I get to spend with my students.
A few years ago I described our "infertility clause" like this, "Sean and I are big on counting our blessings so often when we are in a moment that we're really enjoying we'll point out to each other that this is what we get to have because of what we weren't able to have. Just trying to always keep the grass green on our side of the fence."
Ten years after we made our decision this could not be more true. We are a very lucky little family.
Sean made a framed magnet board that we have had in our little guest half bathroom for a couple of years now and I am usually really bad at keeping something cute on it.
As I decorated for fall last month, I decided I'd get some old pumpkin patch photos reprinted to hang on the board...and make some magnets to hang them with.
I printed some tiny versions of digital patterned papers and punched 3/4" circles to adhere to painted 1" wood circles with a magnet on the back.
It was one of those quick projects, among lots of school work, that reminded me that it's really, really fun to craft stuff up. Now I need to switch out the photos with Thanksgiving memories.
After two years of Halloween nights spent at high school football games, we will actually be home again this year. The front porch and mantle were decorated this weekend at pretty much the last minute.
Halloween has never been my favorite, but seeing all this makes me wish I had decorated at least a week in advance. Since all of this will only be up for about 72 hours total...then it's on to Thanksgiving since that is my total favorite.
Here's the trick or treat print in case you have any very last minute decorating to do.
Yet another project from this summer was a new television stand in our family room. We have had the couch for a couple years now and wanted to get something a little smaller than what we had, with more useful storage.
So off to Ikea we went and came home with this Besta stand. In an attempt to help this look a little more unique, one sheet of this wall paper was ordered and these drawer knobs were bought. I'm grateful that Sean was able to make another one of my crazy ideas work.
Now if we could just sit down a little more often to watch a show or two. We don't have many shows left that we watch regularly, but I am absolutely loving "This Is Us".
With Halloween a week away, I wanted to share the project I contributed last month to Eighteen25's Spooktacular September.
It wasn't terribly creative, but I made up Halloween versions of the dessert cups I have made before. This time I just filled some with candy corn and some with muddy buddies. Oh, but a pumpkin muffin with some caramel cream cheese frosting would be so good!
Ahhhh fall. The time of year where I look longingly at the social media posts sharing beautiful fall leaves and discussing crisp weather...while enduring another heat wave. Pretty sure I keep complaining about this every single year...2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010.
And today it was ninety-six degrees, so that's all I'll say about that.
Apparently I have completely forgotten to share anything in months, but I am still completely committed to using the Project Life app to crank out pages.
These twenty pages are actually from mid-May to early July. With Mac's high school graduation, there was lots of extra documenting beside the usual weekly stuff.
I continue to really love the details I am catching that I know would have never been made into something otherwise. For instance, I have a whole page of photos from driving him to high school for the last time...I know those will rip my heart out in a few years. Heck, they already do.
I started Thursday afternoon, when I got home from school, and have been working almost straight through this entire weekend. I pretty much just stopped to eat...and to go for a couple walks.
I have a lot of grading the next few weeks and will not have as much time on the weekends, so I buckled down now to get everything prepped.
I have almost thirty different class meetings planned...every activity, worksheet...lecture, notes and videos...ready to go. And I created at least half a dozen new lectures and activities.
My brain is mush...but happy teacher mush.
At the end of each year I have been gathering favorites around here and I think this might end up being the favorite gift I'll have wrapped all year, even though there's still a chunk of time left.
It's actually from all the way back in April that I never shared. My cousin's daughter's had her first birthday party and the toys I bought were too wonky to be wrapped with wrapping paper. So I broke out a paper gift bag and recycled this idea.
But I think my favorite part of my favorite wrapped gift is the tag that I dragged brush pens across to make some messy stripes...I'll have to recycle that idea too.
Mac is taking a ceramics class that offered extra credit to visit local museums, so today we went to The Broad.
Sean, Mac and I all gravitated towards different things as we wandered the galleries late this morning...and I went towards color, color and more color.
This is as good as recipes get. It's easy, can be made in advance, is perfect for parties and is just basically amazing. It's similar to this recipe I've shared before, but the couple of differences make it even better.
A good friend shared this and a spinach dip recipe ten years ago and they both have been made for so many parties around here. In fact, that seems to be just about the same thing I said when I shared the spinach dip recipe.
I also have made this caramel dip as a snack for events like mini cheer camp and have just omitted the toppings. It's a great way to get kids to eat apples.
Plus if you have pretzels or potato chips sitting around and love salty sweet combos as much as I do, dip those in too.
Caramel Cream Cheese Apple Dip
Using a hand-mixer, blend cream cheese, brown sugar and vanilla together until smooth. Spread the mixture into the dish you will serve it in. Top the cream cheese with the caramel dip, spreading it to the edges of the cream cheese layer. Sprinkle Heath Bar all over the top. Can be made in advance and stored in the fridge.
It's not really an actual trick, but more of a tiny detail.
I don't always tear off a piece of washi tape very neatly, which then bugs me. My solution has been to use a tape dispenser. This one by Poppin is heavy enough to stay put and the center pops in and out very easily, which means switching tapes takes barely a second.
I have always had plants around our house...mostly philodendrons since they seem to be the only plants I can consistently keep alive.
In the last year though, there have been more and more plants...
Which also means there have been a few too many plant funerals...actually way too many. Hopefully one day I will be able to really figure out how to keep house plants happy.
I have three to do lists going at once. A general life one, one for school this week, and school in the future (about fifteen lectures, activities, or worksheets I want to create for upcoming class topics).
So, today I reached into my pen drawer, since I decided a to do list item needed to be written in orange, and was reminded that having too many pens in so many colors really does make me unreasonably happy.
Oh and a to do list idea I really love...the ta da list.
I have decided that meat + beer + crockpot is pretty much my favorite cooking trick. Or at least in my top ten. I use this same chicken to make quesadillas, but it is also awesome as a grilled cheese sandwich with buttery toasted bread.
Crockkpot Barbecue Beer Chicken Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
(makes 6 sandwiches)
Place chicken breasts in a crockpot with chopped onion. Pour in barbecue sauce and beer. Cook on low for six to eight hours.
*You can also use frozen chicken breasts. When I do, I cook on high for an hour and then switch to low for 6-8 hours.
Remove chicken breasts from the crockpot and shred them. Add the shredded chicken back into the sauce to keep warm.
Spread softened butter on slices of bread and sprinkle lightly with onion powder. Build the sandwich with a slice of cheese on both pieces of bread and a pile of shredded chicken in the middle. Grill sandwich on both sides until browned and toasty.
Isn't there a saying for parents that the, "days are long, but the years are short"?
For people teaching college it should be, "the semester is short, but the hours at the computer are looooong".
Whether it's grading papers or futzing with a power point for a lecture or returning student emails or grading some more (I had seventy students turn in an assignment today), I usually feel less than awesome when I am done.
There is lots of stretching and often an ice or heat pack for my neck and shoulders, but one other thing I have been relying to feel better is soaking my feet in epsom salts with essential oils.
I simply fill a small jar almost full with salt, sprinkle in several drops of oil, and shake it around to mix it. Oh and then, of course, I just had to make labels for the jars.
These three foot soaks are all my favorites. I have been using this bucket, which was a major upgrade from the empty plastic storage box I used to use. All it takes is about 15 minutes and I end up feeling so much better.
It's been just over two years since I started using oils for headaches, colds, falling asleep and calming the heck down. Sean has had good luck when he's used oils for his allergies, instead of the medication he took for years, so we are both believers at this point.
I am sure you have heard about essential oils just about everywhere at this point...and pretty much the last thing I will could ever be is a sales person. However, if you are interested in trying a couple oils, or ordering a kit like I did two years ago, please email me and I would love to help.
We first fell in love with bocce when visiting friends in 2008 (especially when there are appetizers too). Since then we have always had a bocce set that we would occasionally play with on the grass in the front yard. We even have an indoor set that we used to teach our nephew and nieces how to play.
There is no public bocce court anywhere around our house to play, so we always thought it'd be extra awesome to have a bocce court in our backyard.
Granted the size of an official bocce court (sixty feet long and twelve feet wide) is about half of our small backyard...so ours is only a third that size.
And, traditionally, a bocce court is covered in crushed oyster shells. However, I never wanted sand of any sort because that just seemed like we would be inviting all the cats wandering our neighborhood to a gigantic liter box. We thought of just packing dirt down really well or trying tiny gravel. Then, when we were having the artificial grass installed, we saw the option for a putting green surface.
The company said our idea would work and Sean prepped and painted the wood border. Within a day our bocce ball set had an official home. We also bought a scoreboard to make it extra official...and to track that Sean will pretty much always beat me.
So now all we need is a pool...we have about two square feet left for it.
Sean has dreamt of artificial grass for years, so early this summer we had it installed where the tiny patch of grass was in our backyard. It's been three years since we put in gravel and a fire pit on the other side of the yard. In that time, despite our best efforts, our grass would look awful for most of the summer.
With drought conditions as they are in Southern California we couldn't imagine using the amount of water it would take for new sod. So Sean's dreams came true.
Mine too since this "grass" always looks perfect.
Next week I'll share what we did with the awkward strip of grass the runs along our concrete patio. It's another dream come true...
For six out of my seven semesters teaching I have made a class planner. It started when Mac asked me to make him one for high school...little did I know his request would end up being one of the best things I could do to help myself be a better teacher.
In the past, I have had the covers laminated and the book spiral bound. But the last couple times it hasn't been done very well, (even though I tried more than one place to have it done) which left me wondering how to solve the problem.
Right behind the cover I usually have fun with a title page. I discovered this design from Drew Ellis and loved the humor that in a year where my dream of a full-time position was a bust, it's time to re-focus on creating coursework for my students.
I print out my syllabus for each course with a few extra pages to keep track of participation assignments and office hour meetings. Then each week of the semester has two pages...one to brainstorm class plans and the other to write all the things I need to get done.
The index tabs take me to the course schedule for each class.
And of course there had to be a patterned paper bookmark too. I also bought the clear Arc planner pockets to store my notes and worksheets for class. Before I always had a file folder for each course, now it's all together in one item in my school bag. I just put in what I need for the day.
I always print note pages for each power point lecture where I add all the extra bits I want to tell my students...you can see a pink and blue lecture on gender tucked away.
In the past I was at the office supply store the night before the semester started begging to have this spiral bound with no time to spare. Now I can put in whatever extra things I can think of (or don't want to forget) and I can take out whatever I am not using.
So not to be overly dramatic or anything, but this class planner switch has been life changing.
During the school year, I prep a couple of dinners on the weekend and we switch back and forth between the two. This has been one of our meals this week and is a new favorite. Since it's taken me well into adulthood to start liking tomatoes, I never understood the tomato soup & grilled cheese combo. After concocting this, I totally get it...and it's amazing.
Creamy Tomato Soup
In a heavy stock pot or dutch oven melt butter over medium heat and cook onion and garlic until tender. Add canned diced tomatoes, sauce, paste and chicken broth and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat and use an immersion blender (or transfer to a blender) to blend until smooth. Bring soup to a light simmer again, add bullion, sugar, heavy cream and 1/4 cup of grated parmesan. Serve sprinkled with remaining parmesan and a grilled cheese sandwich.
I made one last January and I made one for the summer that I never shared...oh and I made one for my new school planner too.
Now I've made one for fall. There really is nothing better than a fresh combination of patterns and colors.
We ended up with an hour on Sunday night to sit in the backyard and read. Mac started at the community college (first day of school photos forever). I have to make dinners on the weekend if we want to eat during the week and left Mac instructions to get it started in the oven. Sean turned 39, and since I couldn't stop by his school as I have been able to in the past, I mailed him a helium balloon and birthday decorations with a lot of washi tape on the box. And the joy of a Cal State...parking full, full, full.
I am halfway through the second week of the semester and so happy to be back in the classroom with a really great new batch of students.
Part of the reason it's so fun to be back is because my college courses almost always include an activity or two during class time. It's usually a lighthearted way to explore the concepts we are learning together, something like analyzing our favorite songs or brainstorming ideas while you draw with crayons.
For the last couple of years I have used sticks that I have been painting and stamping as a way for students to gather into different groups each day, but this summer I designed cards and had them printed.
The cards all have the same back (more stripes) and then I made forty different front designs. Students will pick up a card on their way into the classroom and whenever we are going to get in a group I'll let them know if it's by color, letter, number or symbol.
These cards get students into groups of five, which I have found to be enough minds working together that not everyone feels pressure to have to talk (in case they are more comfortable listening), however there are not too many people in case everyone does want to jump into the discussion.
While they work together, I continuously move from group to group, so my first trip around the room is to collect the cards back up for the day. It is extra awesome to get to consistently interact with students throughout the class time.
I had the cards printed through Moo since you can upload as many as fifty different designs in one batch of printed cards. They are just business cards that are thick and glossy with rounded edges so they stand up to being used by a over a hundred students.
If you would like to order cards you can get $15 off your order with this link (this is an affiliate link, so I would receive credit towards my next batch of cards). I am also happy to send you the file of the cards I designed. Either comment here (and make sure you've linked a current email address) or send me an email.
We had a few summer projects around here like we always do. I have already shared the closet and next up is our upstairs hallway.
For years we have had a very mismatched gallery wall full of family photos and I was eager to clean it up. Here's how it looked before...
You can see this hallway from downstairs, so I wanted to paint the wall a fun color. We actually now have this same color over the hood in our kitchen, on our bedroom dressers, and one wall in our family room.
I thought of hanging a new gallery wall, but really wanted something easier to switch out. After a bunch of brainstorming and Pinterest-ing, I came up with magnetic frames. I bought three big barn wood frames and we bought sheet metal at the hardware store. I wanted this to look cuter than that though, so we stretched some fabric over the metal and taped it down before popping the metal into the empty frame.
When we took down the photos we scanned in a ton of them since they were from the pre-digital era, then I had some of our very favorite photos reprinted.
Love that our favorite family memories are still there and can be easily switched out and added to anytime I want.
For the last year or so, I have been pretty obsessed with putting together a stripe of colors. It started when I was making a banner image (one of my favorite class planning details) for one of my course's online website and now pretty much all my courses have them on their homepage. They have been around here too...like the current banner and I am sure there will be more.
I decided to take the stripes I made for this semester's courses and make myself little notes for my class planner. Here's the file in case you'd like to print some out... download don't forget striped notes
I made a big change in class planners this summer and it's working so much better. I'll share more soon.
Truth be told, I get a little sad and overwhelmed when the school year starts. And by little I mean it usually includes at least one full-scale freak-out.
So, maybe it's not so little.
When Sean headed back to school last week I decided that, instead of wallowing, I would celebrate the new school year by decorating our mantle a little bit.
I also crafted up another fabric wreath (here is are two others I've made over the years: one, two). I pinned red fabric scraps around the styrofoam form. Then, to try to make it look like an apple, I roughly cut out a stem and leaves out of felt. I glued the felt pieces to card stock to help them stand up better.
So now any sadness or worry is totally cured. Woohoo the school year! Bring on the endless emails! The working all weekend! The grading, grading and more grading! The feeling of barely ever being caught up no matter how hard you try!
Okay, so maybe I am not quite cured...but the cute mantle does help.
Sean started school this past Monday and I have just over a week before classes start. However, I have five syllabi to write and five course websites to put together, so I have been working all week to start to get it all done.
Now hopefully we can find some time to continue all of them this fall...
Over the last few months, I have uploaded photos into a bunch of blog posts that I have just saved as drafts (including several recipes to write). These birthday thank you notes are one of them.
I stamped a new favorite thanks stamp and then used a pencil eraser to make the dots.
I made one card and realized it would be a fair amount of work to stamp over and over. So, I scanned it in and printed out what I needed.
I have done it before and I will definitely use this trick again.
Here's a PDF of the notes in case you want to avoid stamping at all... Download thank you note sheet
It was so good that there are no words, but I will find them anyway. This trip was my dad's idea and he booked a ranch that he and mom had first gone to before I was born, a looooong time ago. I had been here once with my Dad and sister for a family reunion on my dad's side when I was seventeen. My mom has talked about Montana all my life, so we asked Dad if she could come along. My brother came too and my little sister and sister, her husband and my nephew & nieces.
The first night we were there we went out on a "wild life" tour when our hosts took us on a long drive to try to spot animals at dusk. The other highlight was my mom getting up on a horse...no small feat since her knee has never improved from her surgery last summer and pretty much will not bend...but nothing stops my mom.
Speaking of horses, Mac was uncannily natural on them. He hopped right on and rode around like it was no big deal.
I was uncannily natural at taking photos. I will spare you images of how I was on a horse...it was very, very far from natural for me.
Instead I obsessed over nature. Trees, wide open vistas, empty roads, wild flowers and the sky filled with stars late at night.
P.S. There were 1.2 million grasshoppers hiding in here and when we drove back down the hill, in an open vehicle, they all came flying up at our face.
Sean and I took a day to go on a long drive from where we were staying, just outside Helena. We headed towards Great Falls to just wander and stop to see a Lewis and Clark museum (and we stopped at the world's smallest river where we took this photo). Sean, the history major, taught me about all Lewis and Clark details I ignored in school and by the time I got there I was really into it.
But before we got to Great Falls, we stopped a few times to look out on the side of the road. One of those times was to teeter around as I waded into a crystal clear creek running down from the mountains we drove through. The water was so crisp and clear. I carefully selected a handful of these stones to bring home with us.
Of course, Sean was a natural on both a horse and taking photos. His specialty were panoramic ones. Especially love the one he took at dawn as he was about to go for a run on the ranch.
I told Sean we are buying a house and spending our summers in Montana. It's so peaceful. You cannot help but take a deep breath and slow down. You can drive and drive without a stop light or sometimes even a person in sight. Granted, it would be the slimmest of chances that we would ever actually end up with a house there, but the lifestyle really needs to come home with us...especially at the beginning of a school year. We need to be outside, take a deep breath and slow down way more than we have for the last several years. And, house or not, we really will need to go back to Montana...
"I'm ready to go..."
Traveling means I sing "Leaving on a Jet Plane" over and over...it's a very charming trait.
Early tomorrow morning we are getting on jet plane, which has become a rare event around here (only once in the last eight years), to travel to Montana. My dad has rented a ranch for this week and my whole immediate family is going. Actually, they are already there. We will be the latecomers tomorrow afternoon.
As I am sure you know far better than I do, flying has changed a holy heck of a lot. So we have each carefully packed our carry-on luggage and quart size bag. I also have some favorite travel items like my luggage tag and super soft blanket (that's ten years old and in great shape after a million washes). My Kindle has too many books loaded and my iPad has magazines and I have alligator socks to wear through security since I'm perpetually a flip-flop girl this time of year.
"Cause I'm leaving on a jet plane. Don't know when I'll be back again..."
Actually, I'll be back next week.
I was twenty-years old when I met McIntosh twenty years ago tonight...just for a second though, because he had to rush off to the NICU.
All two pounds three ounces of him.
That night he started proving he's one of the cutest, most perseverant people you'll ever meet. Twenty years later it's more true than ever.
Love you so much Mac...Happy 20th Birthday!!!
These keys are for my shared office space, now that I will be working at a third school this fall.
Earlier in the summer, I was asked to teach a couple of classes next fall in the Women's Studies department I am a graduate of. I loved every single one of my professors and now they will be my colleagues. This chance to join a warm and enthusiastic department is exactly what I needed this year and I am feeling incredibly lucky and super excited.
And a little overwhelmed, since there is a lot of pre-semester preparation looming before me.