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April 2016

How to Spend Summer in DFW

I cannot wait until summer.  I’m a teacher, so I’ve been counting down the days until summer since, oh, probably Thanksgiving.  I kid, I kid.  Or do I?  I made the official paper chain a few weeks ago and draped it around Dwayne’s neck for daily viewing.  (25 days after today.)

summer countdown

Aside from our annual family trip, I’m planning on spending most of my time in town.   Even though I grew up here, the only thing we ever really did in high school was go to Chilis and see movies at Tinseltown.  (Tinseltown is now officially known as Cinemark West Plano, but I can never call it that.)  My senior year of high school, I went to Deep Ellum on occasion for concerts with my friends.  I can only imagine how thrilled the adult concert-goers were to be sharing their nights out with some super cool seventeen year old high schoolers, but that’s about the extent of my metroplex exploration.  Ya’ll, there’s some pretty cool stuff to do here in Dallas (and Fort Worth, since it’s pretty cool too)!  This summer, I’m going to find it all.  Here’s the working list, but I am open to suggestions, too! I’ve broken down my list into categories, because I don’t know how to insert a spreadsheet into this here blog.

 

Restaurants – I’ve never been to any of these places, but I will eat at every one this summer:

 

Kid-Friendly:

 

Date Nights – we were gifted some pretty awesome dates as engagement/wedding gifts, and we haven’t had a chance to enjoy them all yet:

 

Cultural? (I feel cheesy calling it that, but it seems pretty all-encompassing of my remaining destinations):

 

What am I leaving out?  What do I need to add?  and who wants to come with me to this stuff?!

The Secret Ingredient to Instantly Improve Every Meal You Make

Disclaimer: I am no chef.  If you are (Aunt Cheryl, I’m talking to you here), you’re going to read this and think Duh.  You just figured this out?  Yes, I just figured this out.  I’m a rule follower.  The food version of this is a recipe follower.  If the recipe doesn’t specify a step, I don’t include it.  Until now!  I’m working on cooking more without recipes, and improvising as I go along.  So, earlier this week when I was throwing my breakfast together, I noticed this secret ingredient to culinary greatness just waiting for a chance to shine: herbs

What is this ingredient you ask?  Chopped herbs.  Yep.  That simple.

As I’ve mentioned before, my family likes to get together on Sundays to have dinner together.  Usually we go to my parents’ house, but occasionally we mix it up.  I was planning to host this past week since my mom was out of town and the entree was an herb crusted chicken.  Due to circumstances beyond our control, dinner fell through and I was left with a pile of basil, oregano, and thyme that smelled incredible.  (Sidenote, does anyone else start singing Scarborough Fair every time they see, hear, or speak the word “thyme”?)  I had already chopped them all up, so I tossed them in a Pyrex and put it in the fridge to potentially be used later.

Fast forward to a few days later when I was making my breakfast scramble.  I’m a creature of habit.  Prior to consuming my second cup of coffee, I basically just stumble around in a stupor getting ready in the same routine I follow every day.  The breakfast part of that routine is as follows: I heat up a skillet, melt some coconut oil in it, and start popping open Pyrex containers in the fridge and throwing their contents into the skillet.  (Sunday meal prep is essential to this routine.  If there are no Pyrex containers in the fridge, then the routine is interrupted and I have to think to create a backup plan.  This is extremely risky pre-second cup of coffee.)  This week, one of my magical glass containers held the chopped herbs!  Why not?  I’ll toss those in too.

It.  Tasted.  Incredible.

I can’t overstate it.  And you guys, this was several days later.  Before saving the herbs, I made sure to dry them completely, which helped keep them from going bad quickly.  Imagine how amazing freshly-picked herbs would taste?  Hopefully, if the Great Gardening Catastrophe works out better than planned, I won’t have to imagine.  In the meantime, I will be stocking up every week at the store and including this miraculous ingredient in every dish.  breakfast scramble

Try it and let me know how it goes!

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

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One of my friends recently turned me on to The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing and I can’t stop thinking about it. In moving as many times as I have, I feel like I’ve purged most of my belongings at least thirty-two times, yet I always seem to have too much stuff.  Everywhere.  I keep making it my mission to go through and declutter it, but I never manage to succeed.  Does anyone else have that problem?  You decide to tackle the office on a weekend, and five hours later all you’ve done is shred a bunch of papers and feel drained from examining each one of them so you pat yourself on the back for a job well done and give yourself the rest of the weekend off for working so hard?  Just me?

I was skeptical when I first heard the title of the book.  To me, “tidying up” implies just putting things away where they belong.  To a certain extent, that is what the author suggests, but she first requires going through every item you own to discard what you no longer want or need.  As cheesy as it sounds, I feel empowered and capable of the monumental task having listened to her process.

sunny day

I took this picture yesterday while walking Murphy around our neighborhood.  At work, I’m stuck in a classroom without any windows, but I spent the whole day thinking about this gorgeous view.  For most of our walk, I thought about this summer and all that I want to accomplish.  Last summer, I was taking three classes, working, and planning a wedding.  This year, I am taking my very last class before my internship and not working at all, so I will have more free time on my hands than I am used to.  I definitely plan to explore DFW and have some fun, but I want to declutter and get my life organized once and for all.  I’m putting this out into the world so ya’ll can hold me accountable.  Ask me about it.  (You know, 28 school days from now when I’m ready to begin.)  Make me tell you my plan.  Bring me food or come take my puppy to the park so I can declutter without distraction.

Okay, that last part may be asking too much, but I’m serious about the rest of it.  Let me know if you want to join the tidying movement with me!  Another friend of mine has been seriously decluttering, and I am so inspired and motivated by her.  Comment below if you’ve accomplished this in your own life or want to drink the kool-aid with me!

The Great Gardening Catastrophe of 2016 – Transplanting

A few weeks ago, I documented the installation of my first ever vegetable garden.  It’s time for an update!  After a few days of checking my milk jug seed starting planters, I discovered that this was not going to be the type of instant gratification project I love most.  The green beans finally (read: after four or five days) started to sprout, and some adorable little leaves shot up.  It was thrilling!  Progress!  But, after several more days, and then several more days after that, still nothing in the other milk jugs.  I determined that I needed a new tactic.

Thankfully, I had thought ahead and decided preemptively not to put all of my eggs in one basket (or use up all the seeds in one attempt).  I put a few more seeds from each vegetable into a plastic bag with a damp paper towel and hung them in the window to try and sprout them before sowing them into the soil.  seed sprouting

 

This strategy was far more fruitful.  The basil started sprouting within a day!  seed sprouting

 

I waited about five days until each of the bags had some sprouting, and got ready to transplant.  At this point I actually started researching how to go about doing this and learned that you should put the sprouts in soil as soon as they start to shoot roots.  Oops.  Oh well.  I should also add that this rash of productivity hit me so suddenly that I found myself sitting on the front patio, in the dress I wore to work, on an evening when a cool front hit, so I was shivering in the 50 degree wind.  (Northern relatives, no judgment here.)

I collected all of the milk jugs from the raised bed, grabbed a few extra pots the previous owners of my house had left behind, and my super cute gardening gloves, just because.

seed sprouting

 

gardening glove

 

After filling each of the pots, I started to peel open the milk jugs.  My poor bean sprouts had suffered some neglect, and this was all that was left of them.  bean sprouts

 

Eek!  That one looks pretty solid, though, right?  I thought so.  Holy moly had its roots grown deep too!  Without getting too terribly nerdy here, I’m amazed by plants.  It’s incredible what livings things will do to survive.

I very carefully pulled each individual seed sprout from the paper towel where they were all burrowing by this point, and I pressed them gently into the tops of their respective pot of soil.

seed sprouting

 

I moved the pots back into the raised beds, where they should be able to get loads of sunlight, at least if our current Noah’s Ark worthy weather forecast allows the sun to peek through at all.

In the meantime, I also picked up some autumn sage to plant in our front pots.  Planting already established plants is definitely more instant-gratification.  This pop of color is helping me hold out hope for the vegetable garden a few yards away.

autumn sage

Stay tuned for catastrophic updates!

Crock Pot, You’re My Friend

Do you ever find yourself with a line from a movie or a song stuck in your head but have no idea what it’s from?  I kept repeating the line “you’re my friend” to myself the other morning while prepping my crock pot dinner, and it was driving me crazy.  Finally, I remembered it’s from “Red Solo Cup.”  Toby Keith, proclaiming his affection for his beloved drink vessel, sings:

Red solo cup, you’re not just a cup

You’re my… you’re my friend

That.  That is how I feel about my crock pot.  Right now, I have a class Tuesday night, so I rush home with just enough time after work to grab my stuff for class, feed the puppy, and well, cram in the assignment that’s probably due that night.  (Procrastination is a problem for me.)  I hate eating fast food, though, so when I don’t have time to make dinner after work, I love tossing stuff in a slow cooker in the morning and letting it do all the work all day.  Getting to walk in the door and being knocked down by the uh-mazing smell of dinner wafting my way is pretty fantastic, too.

I usually try to be as environmentally friendly as I can, but every once in a while, when I just can’t with any more cleaning, I’ll use those ingenious slow cooker liners to eliminate ALL dish-doing.  Is there anything more winning than that?

crock pot

This particular meal was a taco ranch chicken I found on Pinterest somewhere.  Chicken, chicken broth, taco seasoning, and ranch seasoning.  Yes, please!  I started mixing my own taco seasoning about a year ago, and I finally got around to trying my own ranch mix.  About three ingredients into the recipe, I realized I needed to just go ahead and double it.

 homemade ranch dressing mixhomemade ranch dressing mix

It totally reminded me of those sand art things that were so popular when I was a kid!  This particular recipe was a little too dill-heavy for me, but I’ll definitely be using it up and trying again.  I have to share a warning from personal experience.  When I finished adding all the ingredients, I screwed on the lid and shook violently to mix all of the seasonings.  But I couldn’t resist taking a whiff to see how delicious it smelled.  Friends, RESIST the urge!  At least wait until the next morning to let everything settle.  All of the really fine garlic powder and onion powder particles were still floating around, and those guys are strong.  I may have singed off all of my nose hairs.  By the next morning, though, it smelled just dreamy.

Do you use a slow cooker?  I’ve been feeling a little uninspired with the recipes I have found because most of them seem filled with cream-of-something or very sugary sauces that I try to avoid.  I would love to add to my recipe repertoire if you have any to share!

30 Things That Make Me Ridiculously Happy

Full disclosure: I stole this idea from Helene in Between, whose #7in7Challenge is responsible for the weird pictures I’ve posted on Instagram all week.  Plus…

  1.  Lists.  I love lists!  Nothing motivates me quite like a solid, well-organized, possibly categorized list.
  2. Spreadsheets.  Clearly I am the nerdiest human alive.  I own that.  When I moved back home two years ago, I knew I was going to be living with my parents for an undetermined period of time while I was house hunting.  I had to be mega strategic in packing to make sure I had what I needed and created the ultimate moving spreadsheet.  It was a work of art.  I should be a professional moving adviser.  My former pastor once uttered the claim that he could “make (Microsoft) excel dance.”  He probably doesn’t remember saying it, but I’m still envious.
  3. A strong cup of coffee.
  4. Hearing this kiddo sing.  Jamming out in the car and worshiping in church, it’s the best.IMG_4198
  5. Google classroom.  I won’t bore you with teacher stuff, but it’s making my life tremendously easier.
  6. Forrest Gump.
  7. Going to sleep without setting an alarm for the next day.
  8. Friday Night Lights – the show, not the movie.  My former roommate and I watched the entire series in the summer of 2011, and we do it again every single summer.
  9. White cheddar popcorn.  Yum.
  10. The $8 maroon sweatpants I bought at a tent sale my freshman year of college.  They’re about to be retired, and I don’t know if I’ll ever find a suitable replacement.
  11. Playing cards – hand and foot with my girlfriends, kings in the corner all summer, and golf with my family on Sunday nights.  I love it all.IMG_4067
  12. Taco Tuesdays.  One fewer day to meal plan for, and a guaranteed crowd pleaser every week.
  13. This guy, who loves my mom so much more than he loves me, but who still greets me with an excitedly wagging tail every time I come home. IMG_2779 IMG_3051
  14. Chips.  with salsa, with queso, with dip.  Plain Julio’s chips which might as well be outlawed for being so addicting.
  15. Flowers for no reason.  This may very well be the girliest thing about me.  I LOVE surprise flowers! I’m blessed with a husband who speaks to me in this love language.IMG_6202
  16. Really good customer service. I will fill out every survey, ask to see your manager, or email your immediate supervisor just to brag about someone who goes above and beyond.
  17. Baseball season.  Little league, minor league, pros, the movie Major League… I love it.IMG_4260
  18. Nolan Ryan.  Even though the Rangers ran him off, this man is still at the top of my list of people I’d like to share a meal with at some point in my life.
  19. Staying in my pajamas all day.  Especially when they’re super soft Soma pajama shorts (with pockets!).
  20. Pockets.
  21. Sunday dinner at my parents’ house.  This was the catalyst that determined my move back home.
  22. Round Rock, Texas.  A piece of my heart will always stay there.
  23. Bad jokes.  Like, extremely corny jokes.  The ones that make everyone else groan.  They slay me.  I especially love when my sister-in-law tries to guess the punchline.
  24. Tiff’s Treats snickerdoodle cookies.  Unrivaled in excellence.
  25. MMBop.  COME AT ME with your judgment.  I could not care less.  I’ll enjoy it til the day I die.
  26. Knowing that my favorite student ever is now an official member of the Aggie family.  I found an old text from her after A&M beat Alabama their first year in the SEC that said “I’m totally going to A&M now.”  She was kidding at the time, but she’s now crushing it as a freshman at the best university in the country.
  27. Rocky III.  So much better than Rocky IV.  My husband agrees, and it’s one of the things about him that made me know we were meant for each other.
  28. Getting rid of things.
  29. Press Here.  It’s the most adorable, creative children’s book, and I love it.
  30. Countdowns.  Especially the countdown to summer.  38 more school days!

The Great Gardening Catastrophe of 2016 – Installation

I’ve always wanted to be a successful gardener.  Well, always as an adult at least.  One year when I lived in Austin, my roommate and I tried to grow our own Halloween pumpkins because we thought it’d be adorable.  No pumpkins grew, but we did get a really killer vine.

At that same house, I managed to take the life of two plants that were deemed “unkillable.”  Since then, I’ve attempted a few other times unsuccessfully, all the while continuing to pin things to my “Green Thumb” board on pinterest with great aspiration.

Here’s the thing.  Gorgeous plants would be fantastic.  But at my innermost crunchiness, I mostly want to grow my own food.  I long to be able to walk just steps from my door and collect produce to serve up for dinner.  I want to pop open a mason jar with pasta sauce that I made from tomatoes, basil, and garlic that I picked from my own garden.  Imagine being able to impress the fam at Sunday dinner with a salad I made from harvesting mixed greens and herbs in my own yard?  I mean, right?

I’ve tried a few very small scale herb gardens that were short-lived.  My one attempt at growing Brussels sprouts was cut short when my dog ate the plants approximately 37 seconds after I covered the roots with soil.  But now, this is the year.  I don’t really do New Year’s resolutions, but I do often have one or two things I want to try.  For 2016, I am determined to grow something that I can eat.

I attended a vegetable gardening class put on by our local extension agents in January.  The certified master gardeners may very well have been speaking Mandarin, but I did pick up a few things.  For instance, dirt is very important.  Also, soil gets better over time in raised beds.  In other words, start with low expectations for your first year.

My husband graciously agreed to help me, and we made the trip to Home Depot for loads of supplies I’d never heard of prior to pinterest.  We decided on a raised bed made of cinder blocks, rather than assembling one out of wood, since it can be easily adjusted as needed, or torn down if/when it fails miserably.  Plus, cheap.  Here is the constructed bed, complete with freshly mixed soil.

IMG_5972

What are those milk jugs?  I’m glad you asked.  I also read about winter sowing.  It seems somewhat ridiculous, given the unusually warm spring we’ve had, but it still sounded practical as a starting point.  Essentially, you cut open the milk jugs, fill the bottom with soil, and scatter seeds.  Then, you moisten the soil, close the jugs back up, and wait for them to sprout.  Easy enough, right?

Here are the newly-drilled drainage holes.

IMG_5966

 

Next step?  Moisten the soil.  Ohhhhhhh.  Uh oh.  The instructions called for using the sprinkler attachment on a hose.  I didn’t have one of those.  But since the drill was still out, and was feeling especially MacGyver-y, I made my own.  My husband had been using this pitcher to water our potted flowers out front.  It was a gift from some friends and came with plastic cups designated for several of the Rangers pitchers.  (A pitcher pitcher!  Get it?) IMG_5969

IMG_5967

For this purpose, I chose Joe Nathan, former Rangers closer, mostly because he no longer plays for the team.  It seemed like the most appropriate sacrifice.  I filled up the pitcher and poured water through the cup to get the full sprinkler-attachment effect.

Then, I waited.  and waited.  and waited some more.  I checked on my milk jug garden daily because that’s what the master gardeners said to do, and I do what I’m told.  Let me tell you, this is not a hobby that provides instant gratification.  Finally, a full five days later, I saw progress.  The green beans were sprouting!

 

It’s been three weeks now, and the green beans are still showing little sproutlings.  The other vegetables, notsomuch.  I’m going to try to get some tomatoes and herbs to sprout inside and then transplant them outside after a few days.  That’s the plan for now.  Stay tuned for updates!