Lap dogs

Apparently I’ve started a new tradition for myself. Last year I did the exact same thing on a Sunday evening — put bacon cheeseburger soup in the crockpot, officially switched my pandora station to Christmas music and decorated my tree. (I should also mention that this was last Sunday evening. I’m apparently a bit behind…)

I also took it as an opportunity to trial-run some Christmas photos with Hurley. He’s not super impressed, but my goodness does he look handsome!

Hurley Xmas

This is probably my third attempt at bacon cheeseburger soup (and heaven forbid I use the same recipe). Hands down, this was definitely my favorite rendition of it. It’s cheating a little since I technical combined two recipes. I started with this recipe as the base and incorporated parts of this one to avoid using half-and-half. It could also be because I used italian sausage instead of ground turkey since it was on sale, and I also used a block of cheese as opposed to shredded cheese. I’ve also decided the sliced carrots are the way to go, and celery was a great addition, too.

Regardless of what made this the winning dish, it was delicious!

Cheeseburger soup

The rest of the week was a blur between work and also trying to learn more about a board of directors. As part of my 30 Before 30 list, I went to a board matching event on Veterans Day. It’s more or less a speed dating approach to meeting nonprofits in the area. I really connected with one director who runs a programs for women experiencing homelessness (double win!), so this past week I not only attended a board meeting but also their big fundraising event. It seems to be a promising match, so stay tuned!

Then more excitement came — I’m a doggie aunt again! Meet Millie Vanillie Bean (to match her older sister Mocha Jo).

Millie

I seriously can’t get over how small and light-weight she is! It’s also strange to have to watch where you’re walking. Hurley’s pretty present (especially in the kitchen), but this 5-month old girl is so small that I’m afraid I’m going to step on her. You can barely feel her resting her head on you or standing on your lap. That will change as she grows (and I know all too well that goes with my little bear) so I’m taking advantage of it while I can. I think it goes without saying that Miss Millie will grow up surrounded by lots of love and cuddles, not to mention some fun-loving labrador mentors. ❤

Hurley hasn’t met her yet, so we’ll see how he reacts to the news. In the meantime, I’ve kept him busy with holiday photos. He was surprisingly better this year than he was last. It only took about 30 minutes tonight, which may as well be a record for us. When he sat on my lap and gave his aunt this look, though, I knew he was done.

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I also confirmed he’s not a fan of his jingle bell collar… At least it’s just a once-a-year event, right? And it pretty much secures his place on the nice list (though I’m probably a bit really biased when it comes to this guy).

Needless to say, we’ve officially kicked off the holiday season in our household!

Transition time

This week my body seemed to be utterly confused. I’m one of those crazy people who tends to turn on the Christmas music after Halloween (I figure there’s a short window for enjoying it so I may as well take full advantage of it). The 70 degree weather made it difficult to even attempt anything related to Christmas, though in no way was I complaining about that!

In fact, it meant I nixed the gym quite a bit to take Hurley on long walks along the trail instead. I figure I’ve got the next 5+ months to hit up spin and BodyCombat classes. How many opportunities am I going to get to make this guy’s day (aside from my typical smothering and spoiling, that is)?

Doggie Trail

Regardless, meal planning gets a bit tricky with the shortened daylight. I opted for a crockpot recipe on Monday so it would require minimal prep time while allowing me to eat dinner at a decent time. This time the winner was a beef stroganoff recipe that caught my attention.

I did appreciate the minimal prep, and it’s the first time I think I’ve ever used cream of onion before (which I’d recommend for dishes like this). This dish seemed to have a lot more flavor than previous stroganoff recipes I’ve tried. I’d been tempted to add peas or some type of vegetable to it (instead of having it on the side or with a salad) but sometimes you just have to let yourself indulge.

Stroganoff

In retrospect I would have cut back on some of the cream (either the cream of mushroom or halving the cream cheese). I’m not sure if my stomach can’t handle creamy foods as much or if I just know the impact heavy foods have on my energy level/workout ability, especially having it as leftovers for lunch. It may be that I picked up on it after day four or five of leftovers, though. I really do need to start cutting some of the recipes I try in half…

On Wednesday I tried an entirely new recipe for me — mini muffuletta meatloaf. I’d never come across anything like this, and it sounded delicious. I did switch out the pepper mix and instead used a black olive bruschetta I found at the grocery store. And I used ground turkey instead, which altered the flavor a bit. I also decided it would be less messy on my end to just cook one loaf.

Meatloaf

I was pleasantly surprised by the recipe, though I shouldn’t have been given all the flavors I love. It was also relatively quick. One thing that typically deters me from recipes like this is trying to find side dishes. I wasn’t quite as successful this time (salad and green beans), though I should have paired it with a baked sweet potato. Oddly enough, I think it would have been a good flavor combination.

The goal for next week is to have meals that are slightly more well-balanced. I’ve realized I tend to gravitate toward Mexican dishes since it’s easier to incorporate a range of foods (vegetables, grains, protein). Perhaps that’s what I’ll find on the docket for next week (along with putting up my Christmas tree since we have a holiday on Wednesday)!

Fall favorite

With most foods I try, I’m indifferent about whether I’d make them again. I can probably count on both hands how many recipes I’ve made more than once. Last night, however, I made a recipe I will undoubtedly make again. I was actually tempted to send the photo to the family and tell them to try it ASAP and/or that I found our post-holiday meal using leftover turkey.

Although I love chicken and dumplings, I tend to have an on-again, off-again relationship with soups. Thankfully I spotted this chicken dumpling casserole. Perfect solution.

I should mention I doubled the dumpling portion of the recipe, in part since I put a little too much seasoning in it and I was nervous it would be too much. It turned out to be in my favor since it fully covered the chicken layer (plus I love dumplings). The other addition is that I added in corn as a way to incorporate vegetables. A little different but worth it.

Casserole Steps

Forty minutes later, I had this comforting goodness. Legit food love right here.

Dumpling Casserole

This is such a great substitute for chicken and dumpling soup. I’ve already vowed to learn this recipe by heart and whip it up all fall and winter.

The day before I also attempted a new recipe: sweet potato sloppy joes. It was certainly a different take, and surprisingly delicious. As always, I used ground turkey instead of ground beef. I added in quite a bit of seasonings to the sloppy joe mix and saved the leftovers for pasta later in the week since I’m not a huge fan of leftover sweet potatoes.

Sweet potato sloppy joe

That’s all I’ll say on the sloppy joe recipe since I’m still hung up on the chicken dumpling casserole. Seriously, try it.

Blood, sweat and tears (quite literally…)

August was apparently a big month for me in terms of completing projects. After I finished my big evaluation report for work, I used the couple of days I took off to focus on finishing up the never-ending DIY project.

This is by far the largest DIY project the middle and I have taken on to date. And I should be clear right up front that this would not be complete without her. It was a true labor of love that tried our (but mostly my) patience every step of the way. If she weren’t my voice of reason, this would very likely be in pieces at a bon fire. There were points where it got that ugly.

But let me start back at the beginning.

When my parents downsized earlier this year, they decided to get rid of my mom’s crafting table, which was previously our family dining room table. I’d always loved the gorgeous pine wood and figured I could spruce it up a bit for my own dining room. (I tried to find a photo of our original table, but most included unflattering photos of the middle and I’m not about to make those public given how much she contributed to this project).

My mom has also been intrigued by painting furniture, so she decided to paint it blue before passing it on to me given how worn down it was.

full before

Normally something like this would work in my house, given I have a pink entertainment center, a teal desk and love color. Thanks to Pinterest, though, I fell in love with a particular style. The minute I saw it, I knew that’s what I wanted. This was a close second since it would match the style of my table a bit more.

And thus the project began. The weekend after Memorial Day weekend, the middle and I started the process of stripping paint – which let me tell you, takes a hell of a lot longer than I thought. All I can say is thank goodness for the middle. She searched which type of paint stripper was best, so at least we had a fantastic product. (Seriously, if you ever need to strip paint, which I hope to never do again, buy this. It doesn’t burn you at all or smell terrible).

For the first round we lathered the paint stripped all over the table and chairs, covered it with garbage sacks and let it sit overnight. (We also did her wine rack too, which took considerably less time.)

Paint stripping

Initially we were excited by the results. Peeling it off was actually kind of enjoyable, particularly when we could see the wood coming through — even under the original blue of the chairs.

Round 1

Unfortunately, as the day wore on, I became substantially less excited. There were areas the paint stripper dried, making it difficult to make much progress. Also, trying to strip paint off a table top, four table legs and six chairs in one afternoon? Not at all smart on our part… Lesson learned: take it one or two pieces at a time.

Over the next few weeks we continued to chip away at the paint, trying to get as close to the original wood as possible. It helped to have the spray-can version of the paint stripper. We’d lob it on a section of a chair, wait a couple minutes and then keep peeling away. We also tried another brand of paint stripper, but given the number of times I burned myself even using gloves and trying to be careful, it wasn’t worth it. The orange wonder seemed to do the trick on it’s own.

I won’t lie that I had a handful of weak moments where I thought about just buying new chairs for the table. Having to deal with this level of detail (particularly on the chair legs and the design on the chair back) was just too much. So many curves and crevices. Plus it was incredibly messy (I will say mineral spirits helped with that a bit). And this was just phase one!

chair back

chair side

Somehow after a few weeks (probably because of the middle…) we prevailed. We’d reached a point where we’d stripped about all that we could, signaling it was time to move onto the next phase of the project: sanding.

Ready to sand

The middle also saved the day in borrowing tools from her boyfriend’s family so we could have two electric sanders. I don’t even want to imagine what it would be like trying to do it by hand with sheets of sanding paper.

I’ll be honest that I lost a little motivation during this phase. Especially with the detailing sander, it took a lot of focus and I felt like I wasn’t seeing any real progress. It was exciting to see the wood smoothing out so well, though.

Sanding detail

At this point we put the table on hold for awhile. I knew, though, that we had to finish the project sooner rather than later (if only because my sister and her boyfriend would want to park in their garage at some point…). My motivation perked up again when the middle sent me this picture while I was on my way back home from my training in California that first week in August. Isn’t is insane how much difference sanding can make?!

anded table

And with that, it was time to start priming. The middle even created a great corner to make sure I could spray without ruining anything in her garage or the driveway (which I may have done during the paint stripping phase…).

Priming

Naturally nothing with this project was easy. After spending a full afternoon taping around the spokes of the chairs and covering the seats (to avoid getting any paint on the wood we planned to stain), I loaded up the paint sprayer and was ready to power through priming. Except nothing happened. In 50 minutes all I managed to accomplish was two strips of wood on the bottom of the table top.

I called it quits, coming back the next day with a new paint sprayer. Long story short, that sprayer was a bit too powerful (one of the chairs is a lasting reminder of that…) and thankfully the old one started working. In the course of an afternoon, I knocked out all the priming. Finally it felt like I was seeing progress!

(And as I did with my entertainment center, I’ll put in a plug for paint sprayers. Absolutely worth the investment, especially on projects like this!)

Primed

That weekend was also when I narrowed down my paint options. Guys, I had no idea how many shades of off-white there were! It was incredibly overwhelming. I knew I didn’t want any color tint to it (gray, blue, pink, etc.). I also didn’t want it to be too beige or tan, since the wall color in my living room borders on a creamy yellow. Plus my two sources of inspiration had pretty crisp white.

Finally I settled on bone. I won’t lie — I had my doubts once it was painted. It was was a bit more white than I intended, though the middle mentioned that perhaps doing a gray or cream primer may have helped make that more subtle. (I say that like it’s a tip to remember in the event I’m ever crazy enough to take on an endeavor like this again.)

Selecting a stain also proved to be a struggle. I didn’t want to go too dark, since I already feel like the wood in my house is overwhelming dark. But I wanted something that had just enough contrast to the white. After three trips to Menards, I finally found a shade I liked: hickory.

That brought on it’s own moment of panic. The stain I loved was a gel stain, which I’d never worked with before. (To be honest, it’s not like I’ve worked with much stain anyway. I’ve only done my coffee bar and that was under the supervision of a pro…). And the employee just kept saying, “It’s all about what you prefer.”

I decided to be brave and run with the gel. We started by putting a pre-stain on all the furniture. Then came painting on the gel…which promptly resulted in me googling tips for applying gel stain. The directions said to wipe the excess after three minutes, but that resulted in a not-so-ascetically-pleasing (read: ugly) finish. We (and by we I really mean I) almost scrapped the gel stain idea, but I’m thankful I didn’t.

One tip that helped is the comparison that liquid stain is like spreading butter on toast. Gel stain is like spreading peanut butter on toast. So long as we had the right consistency, we didn’t have to wipe the excess after three minutes.

About an hour later, the staining was done. And that’s when I really fell in love.

Half chairs stained

Chairs

In the next day or so, we made final touch-ups to the stain and the white paint on the spokes near the seat. I will say that if you’re ever in this type of predicament, definitely paint before staining. It might have even been that day that we polyurethaned all the chairs (all the days of working on this project started blending together after while). But finally, something was done! So we celebrated.

celebrate

We saved the table top for the very end. This is where staining really counted. I’d feel okay about screwing up the bottom of the table or even one of the chairs. But the table top is really where I needed to bring my A-game.

light top

Once the stain dried, I was a bit anxious when I saw how streaky/uneven it was. The middle used some mineral spirits on it the next day, which helped a tad. We also applied a second coat, which seemed to even it out quite a bit. Finally, a week and a half ago, the middle applied the polyurethane to the table top. There was no turning back!

final table top

This past Saturday morning I applied the final coat of polyurethane to the table. The final step should have felt substantially more rewarding. Why was it not, might you ask? I discovered a flaw in my plan. Googling confirmed that, unfortunately, oil based polyurethane will turn white paint yellow.

Yes, you read that right. White paint will turn yellow, which is exactly what happened to my chairs.

I kid you not, I about broke down in tears right then and there. I reached the finish line, but it wasn’t the table I’d worked so hard to rehab. But I was also the first to admit I was burnt out on the project and no way in hell was I started over on those chairs.

Thankfully, the lighting in my dining room is dark enough that you can’t really tell it’s yellow. It looks more like the off-white I’d been envisioning, though I’ll likely reassess whether I want to repaint it when I move at some point in the (hopefully not so immediate) future. But I still have to admit it looks fabulous in my dining room — especially with my newly created canvases!

final

final 2

I love the burst of white in my dining room and the contrast the stain has to the white (well, technically yellow…). It definitely matches the look I was going with, so I’d consider this a major Pinterest win (minus the yellow, of course).

And just a few more photos for good measure — is this transformation not amazing?!

Chairs Before and After

Table Before and After

Pinterest photo

With that, I’m retiring from DIY projects for the time being. As my mom jokingly says, it’s been real, it’s been fun, but is hasn’t been real fun. But I will say I am pretty damn proud. (And another big shout out to the middle!) I think this ups our DIY cred.

Quite the ordeal

Let me tell you, making this tamale pie recipe over the weekend was quite the ordeal — and not because of anything I did.

Given I’m on a salsa kick, I was excited to try this new recipe since it includes another one of my favorites: cornbread. Plus this was the first time I’d made it from scratch. Even when I was getting groceries earlier in the day I was tempted to just get a box of cornbread mix, but I figured since I had the time, I should give it a shot.

The cornbread was baking as I finished with the ground turkey. I’d also decided to add black beans and a bit of enchilada sauce to that as well for more flavor. Five minutes before the cornbread was done with the first round of baking, my power went out.

What are the odds?

The oven was warm enough to where it baked the cornbread as well as it could have. The edges were starting to brown and it had a good consistency to it (so thank goodness I went with the 9×13 pan or it might have been too thick). I added on the enchilada toppings and waited. And waited some more.

It wouldn’t have been so bad if I weren’t already hungry, smelling how fantastic it already smelled and smothering a dog during the hail portion of the storm. Have I mentioned how much poor Hurley hates storms? He wasn’t quite as intrigued by the size of the hail as his mama was…

Thankfully an hour later, the power came back on and Hurley could relax (at least a little). My first order of business was preheating the oven to get my tamale pie going again. Twenty minutes later, I finally had dinner.

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Not that I was expecting it to, but I’m happy to report it didn’t effect the flavor of the dish. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the pairing. Certainly I’ve had corn tortillas with tacos/enchiladas/etc. so I figured it would have a similar taste. The cornbread was much more prominent but still incredibly delicious. I may actually add this to the lineup of staple dishes I make (not that I tend to have many of those, though. I guess I’m just a sucker for trying something new each week).

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Although it was somewhat of an ordeal, I will say I was lucky in that the power was only out for an hour and while it was still (relatively) light outside. Other people in my spin class the next morning had it much worse…

Speaking of ordeals (since you all know how much I love to take and post photos of my little bear), Hurley also had a big to-do of his own this weekend. A trip to the dog park on Saturday morning kicked his allergies into high gear. An oatmeal bath and benadryl didn’t do the trick, so back to the vet we went (at their insistence).

Selfie at the vet? Why not. At this point I’ve lost count of how many trips we’ve had in the last year and a half. Although the silver lining to this is I’m slowly getting over my fear of going to the vet. Hurley, on the other hand, is less typically less than impressed (he hams it up quite a bit in the waiting room, though).

Screen shot 2015-09-08 at 9.00.54 PM

There was also one more big development this weekend (after overcoming several, several ordeals), but you’ll have to wait another day or two for that reveal. 🙂 I can’t wait to show it off!

It’s the time of the season

In some ways, this week’s meals had a theme now that it’s one of my favorite times of the year: salsa season. Growing up my mom always made us homemade salsa in the late summer, and thankfully the middle took on that tradition (also thankfully aided with food processors). Pasta sauces for me are like salsa for her. Each time it’s a little different but every time it’s so damn delicious.

Salsa

I apologize for that poor photo quality. If I would have been thinking, I would have snapped photos after we made it on Saturday….but that wasn’t my priority. Taste testing very much was, though.

Since we started the day by purchasing 20 pounds of canning tomatoes at the farmer’s market, I knew my meals this week would need to have tomatoes involved.

The first meal was actually the one I’d intended to make last week — one pan balsamic chicken and veggies. Sadly asparagus wasn’t on sale, so I opted for green beans and threw in some tomatoes along with the carrots. I also paired it with chicken rice, though the chicken and veggies would have been just find on its own.

Balsamic chicken

I had to plan my remaining two dishes carefully based on leftovers (as you’ll see shortly), so last night I made cheesy pesto chicken lasagna spaghetti squash. It’s a mouthful but folks, I found a winner! Not that I really have staple dishes, but this would undoubtedly be one of them.

What I didn’t realize (though probably should have) is that you can pre-cook spaghetti squash. I almost did it Sunday night but instead baked it Monday between work and the gym. When I came home, it was a matter of making the chicken (I actually opted for ground turkey instead of chicken) and putting all the layers together.

Steps

About 40 minutes later and I had this deliciousness. While I was putting the mozzarella cheese on, I half wondered if I could have gotten away with shredded mozzarella cheese. This is definitely worth it. It melted to perfection. Plus I loved that I didn’t have to feel as guilty about spaghetti squash!

Final squash

In some ways it reminded me of swedish meatballs, though in part it’s because of the way I cooked it. Instead of buying pesto sauce, I purchased a packed and made it with the ground turkey. It added a ton of flavor, though next time I’ll likely mix some pesto sauce into the spaghetti squash.

The final dish is one I knew I likely wouldn’t get away with bringing to the office for lunch leftovers. I’ve never had fish tacos before, so given my access to delicious salsa, I decided to try blackened fish tacos with avocado cilantro sauce.

Instead of tilapia, I ended up going with mahi mahi since that tends to be my fish of choice. In addition to what was listed in the recipe, I also decided to make brown rice and also a corn, black beans and tomato blend to put on the tacos as well.

Taco fixings

The above photo isn’t great, but I love that there’s an add-on instagram app for photo collages!

Anywho, I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly the meal came together. I baked the fish according to the instructions (about 15 minutes), and that’s all the time it took to whip up all my taco fixings.

Fish tacos

I was pleasantly surprised by the avocado cilantro sauce. It was a really good pairing for the fish and I’m hoping it will stay relatively fresh for leftovers.

While it was good, I’ll likely stick with carnitas. Ever since I discovered how to make those (naturally with Chipotle’s copycat cilantro lime rice recipe), that’s been my meat of choice for tacos. I’d actually told the middle this past weekend that I’m not sure when I last made actual tacos with ground beef. Not that that’s a bad thing, though.

I’ll be honest that tonight’s dinner primarily ended up being chips and salsa, which didn’t come as a surprise to me. It’s a problem, quite honestly. Thank goodness salsa season isn’t too long or I’d really be in trouble! But for now I’ll just indulge and appreciate the good mix of recipes that came along with the purchasing of 20 pounds of tomatoes.

Revisiting my intentions

I love fall. For some reason this time of year seems like a more appropriate time to make resolutions and goals, almost moreso than the first of the year (probably because by then I’m worn out from the holidays and ready for spring weather).

Two weeks ago I traveled for work. Although the training itself made for a long week, I lucked out in that I had the perfect travel companion. One of my co-workers is equally drawn to life chats and even life coaching, making for great conversations and opportunities for reflection.

During one of our dinners, we were talking about being intentional with our time, energy and tasks. I almost had a moment of panic when I realized that intention is my word for the year. Looking back, my life from late April to mid-September seems like such a blur that I feel like I’d failed in my intentions (nice play on words, huh?).

Now that I’ve had some down time, I’ve been making more of an effort to identify areas where I want to be more intentional, in part to reinvigorate my efforts for the remainder of the year. What’s interesting, though, is that I’ve shifted how I view my word, at least to some degree.

When I started the year, my efforts were more geared at myself and what results being intentional that would yield. How am I spending my time? In some ways I treated it like a quality improvement process for my life. How can I make it more efficient and effective? When I look back, I think it was more about creating another layer of accountability for myself. Unfortunately, that just seemed to create another layer of stress and internal pressure that, quite frankly, I don’t want weighing on me.

Thankfully, in part through the last few months, I think being intentional has become much bigger. It’s about making sure that I’m living out my values and being intentional with others.

feels good

Success is

There are two big areas where I have focused on being intentional these last few months, primarily due to all the deadlines and stress levels. The first is the notion that “well done is better than well said.” I’m pretty sure I’ve talked about this before, but it truly is one of my core values that I strive to be intentional about.

I’m big on accountability. I don’t want to just talk a good game — I want to deliver. It could be about professional matters, like meeting deadlines or accomplishing tasks, or it can be more personal in nature, like saying I’m going to get out to the east coast to see the little or eat healthy. As I’ve talked about before, I want to show up when and where I can.

Particularly with the help of my leadership institute director, I’ve been more intentional about the professional aspects. I take more time to consider what projects I take on and how I can set realistic goals and deadlines for myself. A big part of that has been learning to say no to other tasks that sneak up (and believe it or not, this people pleaser has said no to a few things!). This has been key to keeping my work load somewhat manageable and trying to have better work/life balance, recognizing that flexes over time.

The second area is one that I learned from my co-worker. She made a comment a number of weeks ago that really stuck with me: “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.”

For some reason this was a big game changer for me, though it may seem like common sense. That’s actually why I included the other graphic above. In addition to liking what I do (my actions, decisions, projects, etc.), I want to like how I do it. And that means being intentional with my words, tone and actions. When I know I have to say no, for example, it’s how I say it that makes me feel okay about it. That’s not an easy task for me, so framing how I want to turn down something has made it feel better for me personally.

In some ways it helps that I’m an introvert. My tendency is to process and consider what I want to say or how to respond anyway. Mostly I think this approach has helped more from a people-pleasing perspective. I don’t have to say yes to every request. I don’t have to consistently put other people’s desires, wishes or expectations above my own. Knowing it’s not what I say but how I say it prevents me from constantly going along just to get along, which is great progress for me.

The downside to some of this is that most of my intentional efforts pertained to the more professional areas of my life (work and volunteer). My hope is that in the coming months I can better incorporate that into my personal life. But it does help to know I’m creating a life that’s more in alignment with who I am and my mode of operation, if you will. And isn’t that truly what my year should be about?

Thankful Thursday #18

If there’s anything I’ve learned in the last week, it’s that mother nature always wins and it certainly has a way of putting things back into perspective.

My adventures started last Thursday. I’d been traveling for work and was more than ready to head home to my furbaby. Mother nature intervened. An hour before we were supposed to board, an announcement came that an incoming flight (the plane we were supposed to take) was struck by lightning. It was re-routed and they weren’t sure when it would arrive in DC.

As the hours passed, we realized there was no chance we’d make our connecting flight and nothing could get us remotely close to Lincoln. We retrieved our luggage to head back to our hotel for another night. Although I was beyond disappointed, I also felt a little lucky. I wasn’t on a plane that was struck by lightning. Could you even imagine? And instead of spending the night in a terminal, I got to go back to a hotel and had great conversations with my co-workers over a much-needed beer. The experience definitely bonded us in a way that nothing else could have (including the contagious giggle fits the following morning as we got more plane delays).

When we landed, I can honestly say I’d never been more thankful to be in Nebraska — particularly since the middle picked me up at the airport with a fountain pop.

Perhaps because of my long stint in the confined terminal of an airport for 12 hours, I ended up coming down with a head cold Saturday night. I honestly don’t know the last time anything knocked me on my ass this hard. Even today I’m still carrying around a box of Kleenex and Sudafed.

I’m not entirely sure mother nature is to blame for that one, but it was definitely a fluke thing I had no control over. I had no choice (quite literally) but to curl up with Hurley and give my body the rest it needed. No work (though I tried until my boss sent me home), no workouts, no nothing. There’s never an ideal time to go get sick, and this week was no exception. Somehow it was what I needed, though. (Now if only my voice would go back to normal…)

Speaking of Hurley, my big moment of thankfulness occurred last night. The middle closed on her new house last Thursday and we’ve been painting ever since (though she’s been burning the midnight oil way later than me).

Last night storms were in full force. As we were upstairs painting the spare bedroom, we were literally just having a conversation about how storms aren’t as fun and exciting when you’re an adult (in part because I’ve got an anxious dog) when we heard the tornado sirens. Dropped jaws and silence.

Why am I thankful? This is the first time we’d been painting at her house and actually had the dogs with us. Also thankfully, we only had torrential downpour, crazy lightning and loud thunder. (Although a house just a few blocks north of her was struck by lightening.) Tornado or not, you can bet one of us would have been in the car trying to get to the pups.

They weren’t to keen on the sirens or being confined to the basement, and they definitely weren’t crazy about the weather. But they were safe and with us. And after awhile, the babies were sound asleep.

doddies

Mother nature certainly makes you stop and count your blessings. When you realize how much control you don’t have in life, you appreciate the good fortunate and luck you do have.

Different takes of cheese(turkey)burgers

I swear I’m still among the living — albeit with a hectic schedule and a computer on the fritz (fingers crossed it’s not a hard-drive issue…). It helped that the two recipes I tried last week weren’t really worth writing home about (or more literally, writing a blog post about). This week was a different story.

The next best thing to a crockpot recipe on a busy night is one that I can prep prior to going to the gym. Monday night I got to do just that with this chicken burger recipe made with spinach. It took probably 20 minutes to prep (primarily because it required bringing out my food processor, though I don’t know that that’s a must) before being refrigerated for two hours. I think refrigerating it makes all the difference, not just in terms of flavor, but because it helps the burger keep it’s form a bit better.

Once I got home from spin class, it took literally 20 minutes to whip it up with the salad and all. I used the middle’s approach to making her heavenly grilled cheese — slow and steady. I cooked the burgers on medium heat and covered them at the end to make the cheddar cheese melt a bit better. So delicious and full of flavor!

Chicken burger

The next night I went for comfort (in part since our weather has been more fall-like than spring) with a cheeseburger soup recipe. I tried a similar recipe back in November but with the crockpot.

I can honestly say this one blew that out of the water, I think because it was a lot thicker. It almost had the consistency of chili or beef stew. Plus I hadn’t thought about topping it with croutons (although it even says on the crouton bag that you can put it on top of soup…) and that made it even better. I did throw pickles just into my bowl to see if I still liked it (and the answer is yes).

Cheeseburger soup

I’m happy to report on day 3 of chicken burgers and day 2 of soup, I’m still loving both recipes. And on day 5 of computer issues, I’m finally not freezing and stalling every two minutes. Major progress this week!

Hibernation prep

I have to admit I’ve been a bit of a grump lately. The culprit? Mother nature.

On more than one occasion last week, I wondered what in the world possessed me to move to Nebraska. Last weekend featured 50-degree days that were perfect for the dog park. By Tuesday, however, Hurley and I could only go out for about 15 minutes because we’d reached single-digit temps. How did this happen?? All the sudden I’m in search of snow pants and a full-on face mask so I can get Hurley out on walks in this god-awful weather (though once it warmed up enough to actually snow it was more bearable).

Clearly six winters in Missouri made me weak.

But whining and complaining about it isn’t going to make the next five months any easier. This weekend I decided to confront winter head on, knowing that the cold temps and snow are here to stay.

With the help of the middle (and not so much the canines…), I got plastic insulation on most of my windows. I also put up thermal curtains in my bedroom and purchased heavy-duty door mats to help with the wet boots and Hurley tracking in snow and mud. Oh, I also put air in my tires. First time I’ve ever had my low tire pressure light come on before. Thanks, mother nature.

I also got an offer I couldn’t refused. Since my neighbor and I share a driveway, he offered to do my half this winter using his snowblower. I’ll take it! (Though by my second shoveling outing this weekend I’d developed a system to make it relatively efficient should I want the workout.)

As the weekend came to an end, I let the aroma of beef stew fill my nicely insulated house. The craving came on Saturday when one of my old kickboxing/spin classmate (I couldn’t think of a more appropriate word) posted a photo of her beef stew on facebook. It seemed like a perfect kickoff to winter. I looked at half a dozen recipes or so on pinterest before decided on this crock pot beef stew recipe.

There were a few modifications I made based on my own preferences. I’m not a huge fan of beef stew meat, so I opted to just get half a pot roast. I also didn’t include celery (since I knew I’d likely just pick around it) and threw in green beans and mushrooms. And I must say, it was nice to have a full size crock pot.

stew

The flour at the end really did the trick in thickening up the stew. Initially I wished I would have cut down on the beef broth (in part because I only used one pound of beef instead of two), but it was a good ratio in the end. Great comfort food with a nice mix of vegetables. Plus it puts canned soup to shame.

beef stew

Hopefully winter won’t be so bad after all… At the very least, I know I won’t have to be under house arrest for days on end. I forget that snow doesn’t phase people here. But I may opt to hunker down with Hurley anyway.

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