Thursday, November 21, 2013

Some things about pregnancy....

1.  Weird symptoms nobody mentioned before: nosebleeds (hydrogen peroxide is great for getting a blood stain off of a shirt; not so great for getting it off of a book); freckles and splotches; cracks in the corners of my mouth; insatiable hunger.  I have an area on my stomach just above and to the right of my navel that is completely numb, like I got a shot of Novocain.  Apparently, that too is normal.

2.  What it feels like when the baby moves: this was something I was afraid I would miss out on, as I was told at a 17week ultrasound that my anterior placenta would probably hide his movements.  Not the case.  This kid moves constantly, and I feel it all.  I first began to notice the movements for sure around 20 weeks.  They felt like small muscle spasms in my upper abdomen; as a runner, I am used to feeling these little twitches, so it took me a bit to catch on.  Over the next weeks, I could feel the baby getting stronger.  He gives little kicks; sometimes it feels like he is rolling over or flopping about; sometimes thrashing rather wildly.  My favorites are when I can put my hand on my stomach and feel a little hand (foot?  knee?  elbow?) rubbing back against me, in a kind of exploratory way.  He gets the hiccups.  I first noticed these at 29 weeks.  Tiny, regular little blips.  They never last for very long, but he gets them sometimes two or three times a day.

3.  Clothes.  This is so hard...well, relatively, I know there are much worse things in life than trying to dress yourself and a 30 lb protrusion in the middle of your torso.  At the moment, even maternity tops are not fitting--nothing is quite long enough, so I am constantly pulling on the bottom of my shirt, hoping that I am not exposing baby belly while trying to teach Modern British literature.  The horror, the horror.

Maternity jeans, I found, are a joke.  At least for me.  Most are made so that they are real jeans, but instead of having a waist band with a button, they have a stretchy piece with elastic that rises anywhere from 2 to 6 inches.  My problem is that I can't stand pulling this fabric up over my stomach--I feel squished and uncomfortable--so I bunch it up around my hips, just under the bump.  However, this leads to the issue of my jeans then sliding uncomfortably down my hips.  Denim is heavy; gravity works.  My solution (you'll never believe this): Pajama Jeans.  Remember the commercials when they first came out?  They were incredibly cheesy, and I remember thinking the whole thing was a joke.  I am not joking now.  These things are seriously great.  They are lightweight and stretchy, so they put up a better fight against gravity.  They have an invisible drawstring waist.  They have pockets.  They are dark with gold stitching down the side, so they actually pass for real jeans--at least no one has yet seemed to notice.  And, they are comfortable.

Why am I not wearing dresses?  Well, I am, but more rarely.  These were great over the summer and early fall.  I had several in stretchy jersey that fit beautifully.  But, since it has gotten colder, I am faced with the dilemma of determining what goes over my legs.  Tights are no longer an option.  I got them on a few times, but the last time I tried, I got them all the way up one leg and half-way up the other before I fell over on the bed like an overturned turtle.  Jordan had to help pull them back off.  Leggings are better--for some reason, getting them on is not as much of a hassle.  But, I have never quite figured out what to do about my feet.  It looks weird to wear socks with leggings, but going sockless makes for some chilly toes.

Only three more days of dressing for work--then I am unashamedly embracing the Pajama Jeans, sweatpants, and Tshirts.

Nevertheless, this whole thing has been a wild but pretty fantastic ride.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Morning Routine: How I Start My Day

Now that classes have started again, I have tweaked my morning routine.  Although I am a morning person, getting going can be a challenge (I prefer to piddle about aimlessly, instead of diving in).  However, I know that my day will go much better if I get off to a good start, so I have been rather ruthlessly disciplined about making this routine work.  I have found that the best way to get things done in the morning is to not give yourself options.  Don't decide, don't think about it.  Automatically get up and do it.  When something becomes a habit, you can circumvent the deciding process, during which you might talk yourself out of doing something that you know you need to do.  (I read a rather interesting book a while back that talked about this very process: The Power of Habit)

In order to achieve this, I do a bit of prep work the night before.  I lay out the clothes I will need first thing (on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday mornings, this means running gear).  I have my alarm set on my phone (I know, I know, an ancient flip-phone, but it works) and I leave the phone with my clothes on the bathroom counter.  When it goes off in the morning, I have no choice but to get up and walk over to turn it off, and there are my clothes, ready and waiting.  I don't even think about it--I just put them on.  I also have my nook out, and I do a quick check of email, Facebook, and the weather.  Even a couple of minutes of the bright screen time helps to wake me up, then I am out the door.  I love this.  The early morning run is something I savor.  No one except other runners and walkers are out at the park, and the sun slowly comes up as mist burns off the pond.  Fantastic.

On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings, I have an 8am class, so I get up, turn off my alarm, and head straight for the shower (after a quick check of the internets!).  When I get out, there are my clothes waiting for me.  I get dressed and fix my hair and makeup.

Once I am finished getting ready, or once I get back from my run, I eat breakfast and have my quiet time.  Bible study and prayer are habits that can be difficult to form, but I know they are crucial.  The best trick I have found is to tie them to something I know I will do without fail--which is eating breakfast.  Recently I found a resource offering different daily Bible-reading plans that could be sent to your email.  I chose the "Every Day in the Word" plan, which sends passages from the Old Testament, New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs.  This works well for me as a daily supplement for my more intense Bible studies that involve commentaries and lots of note-taking.

For breakfast, I try to eat a combination of complex carbohydrates (high-fiber cereal, oatmeal, or whole-grain waffle) and protein (scrambled or hard-boiled eggs, peanut butter, yogurt, or kefir), with some fruit or veggies as well.  I also almost always have a cup of decaf Earl Grey tea.

I love my morning routine, and it works for me.  I know that this is subject to change.  Recently I have been thinking about how different things will be once the baby gets here--he'll have his own ideas about when things will be done.  But, for now, I am enjoying my peaceful (if predictable!) mornings.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Summer Recap

According to the calendar, summer doesn't officially end for another month, and according to the typical weather around here, it could actually continue through mid-October.  But, since we are teachers, our summer really ended Tuesday.  It is back to school time. So here is a look back at Summer 2013.

Where I Went:

Tryon Palace, New Bern North Carolina.  At the end of June, Jordan and I took a quick weekend getaway.  Our first stop was New Bern, to visit the first Governor's palace in NC.  Beautiful, and, funnily enough, very British.  It was, of course, a British government building before the Revolutionary War.

We went next to Fort Macon State Park, near Atlantic Beach.  We had visited Fort Caswell, but Macon is in much better condition.  They were doing artillery demonstrations, so we saw two types of cannons fired, which was very cool and very loud.

Our last day was spend in Wilmington, NC.  We visited the USS North Carolina in the morning, and then drove to Carolina Beach State Park.  Our intention was to see Venus Fly Traps, which are native only in a 70 mile radius of Wilmington, but, despite walking the entire trail twice, we failed to find any.  It was a nice hike, though, all boggy and swampy and quite different from our typical mountain hikes.  You'll notice the recurring state park theme--we have a goal of visiting every state park in North Carolina.  Of the 35 parks (one is currently under construction), we have visited 14, so getting close to halfway there!

What I Ate:

This was my favorite breakfast this summer: Grape Nuts Fit cereal + blueberries + honey + kefir.  Kefir is something new for me--it is a fermented milk, kind of like yogurt, but with even more probiotics (which are bacteria!  but they are good for you!).  It is tangy, a bit like buttermilk or Greek yogurt.  With a bit of honey, it is delicious.

Kale and White Bean Stew.  The recipe is from the now obsolete Whole Living Magazine, although their online contents have been archived and are still accessible.  Kale is also something new for me.  In the stew, it wilts, though still a bit crunchy, and goes nicely with the tomatoes and beans.  We also had a kale slaw at a church dinner that was delicious and apparently came in a bagged kit from Costco--who knew!

Apple-Plum Skillet Cake.  This was a bit of an experiment.  We watched The American Baking Competition on CBS this summer (hosted by Jeff Foxworthy) and drooled every week over the amazing recipes.  There was one challenge that involved making a Tarte Tatin, which is baked in a skillet, but has a pie crust.  This is not tarte tatin (it's cake, not pie), but it was pretty tasty, nevertheless.  I adapted the recipe quite a bit from a Pioneer Woman recipe, and it came out pretty delicious, although it was a bit stressful--my only skillet is a tiny six-incher that I've had since undergrad (because you must be able to make cornbread in your college apartment!)  I really need to upgrade to a bigger skillet--maybe then I wouldn't have such as issue with batter run-over.

Here is a combo "What I Made" and "What I Ate."  Except I actually didn't get to eat any of this!  It is Banana Bread, using my mom's recipe.  We were asked over for dinner by several lovely friends this summer, and since I don't like going empty-handed, I made Banana Bread.  This recipe is very easy and simple, but it makes the moistest, tastiest bread.  I prefer it with walnuts or pecans, but I usually leave them out when baking for others.

The quilt top is for Baby Womick.  I have, by this point, moved on to actually quilting.  I am quilting by hand around the perimeter of the strips, and boy, does it take a while!  This is my first quilt, and it is not perfect (you can definitely see that the corners don't match up), but it will definitely be cozy and warm.

Other summer stuff has involved lots of reading: I finished the Chronicles of Prydain series (which I started in 6th grade, but somehow never got around to the last two books!), as well as lots of books on parenting, childbirth, baby sleep, nursing, and raising boys.  But, like the doctor said, most babies haven't read the books, so he may not behave just like we expect.  He'll be his own person, and I just can't wait to see what that means!

We've also spent lots of time with the family, going to church and choir practice, running (including a 5k on Tuesday), and, of course, working--even in summer, there are classes to be taught, lesson plans to be made.  But, I do enjoy summer's laid-back pace.  However, I'm also excited for a brisk and busy fall--good things ahead!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Simple Autumn Wreath

I don't know why I never made a wreath before--it was very simple!  

Grapevine wreaths can be found in many stores, including Wal-Mart.  I got this one many years ago, and cannot remember how much I paid for it, but I saw someone recently say that they found one for $3.  The fall mums were from Big Lots for $5, and the roses were from Wal-Mart for $0.97.  I looked high and low for a small chalkboard--I had seen a wreath featuring one on Pinterest and loved it.  There was not a single chalkboard of the right size to be had anywhere, so I decided to just paint it instead.

I started by clipping the flowers, leaving the stems pretty long.  Those things are surprisingly hard to cut, and took some twisting as well.  I then sorted the colors.

I arranged things on the wreath, making sure to leave enough room for the board.  My initial thought was to wire each of the flowers, but actually, I ended up just curving the stem a bit to match the curve of the wreath and threading them in.  If any felt a bit loose, I would then reinforce with the floral wire, but, for the most part, they seemed quite secure.  I began with the mums and then filled in with the roses.

To make my faux chalkboard, I measured a 1/2 inch border, and then blocked it with painters tape.

Then, I covered the board with black acrylic craft paint.  It took two layers to get it nice and opaque.

I had planned to create a stencil for the monogram by printing a letter on printer paper, and then cutting it out.  However, half way through this project, I remembered my printer wasn't working.  I took an hour break while doing far too much unproductive research and experimentation with downloading drivers and compatibility mode and so on.  I gave up and carefully free-handed the "W"  in pencil while looking at the font I liked from Word.  I then used the white craft paint to outline and then fill in the monogram.

I used floral wire to make a hanger on the back, securing it with super-glue, and then covering with tiny squares of painters tape for good measure.  I then attached it to the wreath with a bit more floral wire, giving it a bread-tie-twist to keep it secure.

Done!  I am displaying the wreath on a wreath stand my mom bought be from a gift shop in Meadows of Dan, Virginia.  No one uses our front door, and the side door, which everyone does use, would not be nice on a wreath (storm door would squish it).  I am happy with the arrangement, and I am already planning a new Christmas/winter wreath.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Packing Cubes

I mentioned in a previous post that I had abandoned the "stack-fold-roll" method of packing in favor of using packing cubes.  Here's a closer look at what they are and why they work.

First, here are the clothes I packed for a week at the beach: not really a ton of stuff, but not hyper-minimalist either.  Normally, I would have rolled these up to go in my bag.  While this can be a good use of space, it has a few problems: first, it is hard to keep them nicely rolled/folded in the bottom of a bag.  When you get where you are going, you have to dig around for what you need, and things inevitably come undone, and I end up with basically a pile of laundry in my bag.

Here are the clothes folded and placed in a packing cube.  Note: it is not actually cube-shaped; more of a rectangular prism, really.  (I didn't come up with the name.)  They are soft-sided nylon, with mesh panels on top, and a double-zipper on three sides.  The more you put in them, the better, because things slide around less and they hold their shape.

Here are all the clothes packed into the cubes.  These are made by ebags, and I ordered my set of small, medium, and large off Amazon when they were on sale.

The thing I really like is that they make my bag so neat.  For my valise bag, they are especially useful because I turn them on their sides and file them.  They have handles, which makes pulling out the one you need even easier.

For the beach trip, I packed everything in a large duffel bag.  When we got to the condo, I took out the cubes, unzipped them, flipped the top under, and placed them directly into the drawers in my room.  Unpacking: done.

I am thinking that these have several further applications: keeping gym clothes organized, separating diaper bag essentials, etc.  We shall see!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Vacation Meal Planning: Making the Most of Your Vacation Rental's Kitchen

Last week, I spent a week at the beach with my family.  We stayed in an ocean-front condo with a kitchen.  Since the group included 10 people, including a toddler and an infant, eating out every night would have been nightmarish.  So, my sister and I planned meals for five nights and divvied up the grocery-buying and equipment-packing.  The results were pretty great, and we were greeted each evening with exclamations of "oh, yeah!" from my teenage cousin and his buddy.  It's nice to have an appreciative audience!

The backbone of our meal plan was the crock-pot.  My sister and I each brought one, and one night we actually ended up also using the one that came in the kitchen.  Only two nights were non-crock-pot meals.  Here's what we made:

Night One: Taco Salad

This is a family favorite and very easy: ground beef browned with taco seasoning, served on tortilla chips with lettuce, tomato, sour cream, salsa, cheese, onions, olives.  Doesn't get more simple than that.

Night Two: Barbecue

I think many people are surprised to find that you can make barbecue in a crock-pot, and I am sometimes hesitant to release that detail.  We come from a barbecue-cooking state, and regional lines are thickly drawn--everyone has an opinion on how barbecue should taste and how it should be prepared, and I am sure that many would be horrified at the thought of calling something that came out of a crock-pot "barbecue," but my family sure enjoys it!

It is ridiculously easy: pork tenderloin in the crock with about a cup of water and a drizzle of barbecue sauce (there's not much point in using a lot at this point).  Cook on low for about 8 hours or high for 4-6 hours, depending on the size.  Once it's done, it shreds easily with a fork, and then I pour the sauce on.  We like Sweet Baby Ray's, but again, to each their own!

We eat it on a bun with slaw: homemade also, and we like it simple--chopped cabbage, maybe a bit of carrot, mayonnaise (Duke's, if you please!) and salt and pepper.  We ate it that night with corn that my parents had picked up at a produce stand on their way down to the beach.

Night Three: Hawaiian Chicken with Fried Rice

This was a bit of a mash-up: I brought the Hawaiian Chicken recipe; my sister brought the fried rice recipe.  Both originally came from Pinterest.  The Hawaiian Chicken is a fantastic crock-pot recipe, and the only one that I prepped before we left home--it involves combining the ingredients (chicken breasts, pineapple chunks and juice, vinegar, sugar, soy sauce, and garlic) in a ziploc bag and freezing.  I doubled the recipe, dividing into two gallon-size bags, and freezing--the next morning they went into the bottom of the cooler.  The whole frozen thing is dumped out of the bag and into the crock-pot, and then shredded, similar to the barbecue.  My sister made the fried rice, a recipe that I hadn't tried before, but it was particularly tasty, and went well with the Hawaiian Chicken, despite the regional differences (not that either are particularly authentic to begin with!)

Recipe for Hawaiian Chicken
Recipe for Fried Rice

Night Four: Ham and Sweet Potatoes

This was my sister's recipe: sweet potatoes are placed in the bottom of the crock pot, topped with sliced ham, and covered with a brown sugar/ dry mustard mix.  We finished the meal off with squash from the produce stand.

Night Five: Spaghetti and Salad

Simple, easy, everyone can make spaghetti--noodles, sauce, and ground beef.  However, this one didn't actually work out for us.  We found out that the meat had been recalled, so we decided to forgo the meal and eat up the leftovers instead.

Although we enjoyed the nights we ate out, cooking in was pretty special.  My sister and I live several hours apart, so it was great getting to do something like cooking together.  We are very much in sync and the whole process of preparing meals in that little kitchen flowed seamlessly, and almost without the need to discuss it--we just did it.  There aren't many people with which that can happen!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Orange Peanut Chicken Stirfry

I have finally finished reading Michael Pollan's newest book Cooked: A History of Transformation.  It has an interesting premise: he examines the development of the four basic methods of cooking by matching them with a classical element--fire for roasting meat, in which he shadows a North Carolina barbecue pit master; water, for cooking in pots, the foundation of most home cooking; air for bread baking; and earth for the work of fermentation, in which he learns the making of sauerkraut and pickles, cheese, and beer from die hard "fermentos."

The funny thing about the book is that among the several interesting things that I learned, one was that I had been doing many things in the kitchen without knowing why or that the same techniques and ingredients had been used in basically every culture since the invention of cooking.  For example, almost every home-cooked dish begins with what the French call mirepoix--a combination of onions, carrots, and celery that is sauteed in butter or oil.  Almost every culture has their own mirepoix, with the base vegetable varying slightly depending on region--an Italian dish is more likely to feature tomatoes and onions, an Asian dish might have onions and ginger.  Pollan was struck, as am I, by the ubiquity of the onion.

I have been making mirepoix all this time without thinking about it.  A friend once remarked that I put onions in everything, and, really, it is true.  Spaghetti?--saute onions, bell peppers, and mushrooms.  Pizza?--the same.  Frittata? Quiche?  Both onions, peppers, and mushrooms, although I might add something else, like asparagus, for fun.  Even meat loaf begins with sauteed onions, as does chili and most soups that I make.

So, in honor of the unconscious mirepoix, I bring you a little recipe that I developed a while back.  Although I call it a stirfry, it is in no way an authentic Asian dish.  But it is tasty.  And it does start with my favorite mirepoix

Orange Peanut Chicken Stir Fry

1 lb thin chicken breasts
1/2 box thin spaghetti noodles
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2-3 bell peppers, cut into strips
1/2 box mushrooms
1 small onion, roughly chopped

for the sauce:
1 tbsp peanut butter
2 tbsp orange juice
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp powdered ginger

Prepare your chicken however you like--grill it or cut into small strips and brown in a bit of oil in a pan.

In a saucepan, add the red pepper flakes to a bit of olive oil, and then saute the onion, peppers, and mushrooms until tender.  In the meantime, boil noodles until they reach your preferred level of doneness.

In a small bowl, whisk the remaining ingredients together until it reaches a smooth consistency.

Add the chicken and noodles to the sauce pan with the vegetables, then top with the sauce.  Use tongs to distribute evenly.  If you like, add crushed peanuts for extra peanut flavor and a bit of crunch.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Death Comes to Pemberley: A Review

P.D. James's latest novel is a sequel to Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice (I know, I know, don't leave yet).  James gives Austen's creation the mystery-novel treatment, in which Wickham involves the Darcy's in a murder investigation by being found in the woods at Pemberley with a dead body.  Despite that intriguing premise, the novel gets off to a slow start; she begins with a somewhat amusing summary of Pride and Prejudice, clearly meant for people who had never read it, but a bit tedious for those who have.  She then directs us to Pemberley, six years after Elizabeth and Darcy's wedding, where preparations for a ball are underway.

Most strikingly: Elizabeth has changed.  Throughout the novel, she is constantly described as anxious, apprehensive, exhausted.  She is given to vague, but grim forebodings.  James has done little to capture the witty and practical heroine of Austen's novel (though, likely, Elizabeth Bennett cannot truly be reproduced to the exacting standards of Austen's readers, so why try?).  James's Mrs. Darcy seems to serve as an emotional conductor, relaying the appropriate sensations to the reader to create the right mysterious atmosphere.  Darcy fares better and is more complex, a mixture of intelligence, compassion, and propriety.

The mystery itself is suitably interesting, but we are subjected to numerous reiterations of the facts--we read exactly the same story, in nearly the same words repeated from the first encounter with the Wickhams, the interviews with the witnesses, repeated to the magistrate, at the inquest, at the trial.  The redundancy seems fairly inexplicable, as it really adds nothing to the plot or our understanding of it.  A final gripe: inelegant information dumps.  We 21st century readers can't figure out that the legal system is different in the 19th century, so we have long speeches where one character relates text-book style information to another character.  This, of course, can only be for our benefit, and it seems that it could have been more gracefully integrated.  Honestly, I would prefer an editorial footnote to these little lectures that are fooling no one.

As a whole, though, the book is a good read, a page-turner that I flew through pretty quickly.  The dialogue (even some free indirect discourse) is pretty convincing, and there are a few, fun mentions of characters from Emma and Persuasion.  A light read, though lacking many humorous touches--it seems there is a bit lost in transforming a comedy of manners into a mystery.  Recommended for Austen fans with the understanding that this is not a purist's sequel, and for mystery fans looking for a historical setting with a minimum of grit and gore.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Packing: A Week at Disney World

This is a post I meant to do last summer!  We went to Disney World in June 2012 and had a blast.  I am mildly obsessed with packing, and always put a lot (read, "way too much") thought into what to bring, so even though it is a year late, I am still posting this!  Also, read about my planning and itinerary creation here: Disney World: Planning

It sounds weird, but packing for Disney was pretty tricky.  When we went to England a couple of years ago, I was determined to pack everything in a carry on, and so I carefully coordinated everything to minimize how much I had to take (see that post here: Packing Light: Ten Days in England).

The trickiness comes in because you will basically need two outfits for each day: not amenable to traveling light!  However, I knew that walking around the park would mean being hot and sweaty and I would want to change before going out in the evening.

For day, I chose basic T shirts, including some I usually use for running which are great at wicking away moisture.  Running shorts, sneakers, short athletic socks, and a visor finished things off.  I carried my Ameribag, which is designed to feel like it weighs less than it actually does.  I carried this because I knew I wanted to have my camera and water bottle in the park (hydration is crucial), but next time I think I would try to find a way to get away with less.  Actually, who am I kidding--next time I'll have children and will probably be the resident porter!

After spending the morning and lunchtime in the parks, we would usually come back to the hotel for a swim, nap, and shower before heading back out for evening activities.  Disney is super-casual, so I didn't worry about choosing anything too dressy: just khaki shorts and a white skirt that could be paired with any of the tops.  We wouldn't be walking nearly as much, so the tennis shoes and flip-flops were fine.

The extra items: I brought yoga pants and extra T shirts to wear on our travel days.  We rented a fifteen passenger van (there were 8 of us going--6 adults, a teenager, and a toddler--plus all our luggage), and this worked out well.  Comfort is key on a nine hour drive.  I also packed the necessities: pajamas, swimsuits, and a cover-up.

Here is everything (minus toiletries) as it went into the bag (a large duffle).  I liked rolling the clothes together (sorted by type:  tops, shorts, bottoms, swim, etc), because they take up less room, and don't get quite as wrinkled.  However, since then, I have purchased packing cubes, which I love.  They should feature in an upcoming packing post.

Here is a demonstration of the stack and roll method, although I am pretty sure it doesn't need explanation. 

I was pretty happy with the clothes I brought--I was comfortable and appropriately dressed and even though I brought two outfits for each day, they didn't really take up that much room.

One Dress, Three Ways: Maternity Autumn Work Wear

I know maxi dresses have been around for a few years now, but I have always resisted.  They just seemed so...long and flowy and conspicuous.  However, I have found that they are extremely forgiving of growing bumps, so when I found one in my favorite color (I know, gray is the most boring thing ever, but it's beautiful and versatile and I love it), I picked it up.  I was beginning to have second thoughts, however.  How was I going to wear this?  The top is rather awkward and, without a camisole, obscene.  I was wanting something to wear to work once classes start back this fall, and I rather doubted that this would work.  However, since the dress came from a consignment shop, it couldn't exactly be returned.  I decided to see what I could do with it.

Here is the back view, just to emphasize that the top was not going to work for creating a professional image on its own.

Look 1: Black Blazer.  At this point, I can still button the top button, but it would also look fine open.  I would wear this with a long silver chain necklace, which I forgot to put on for the picture.

Look 2: Blue Button Down with Brown Leather Belt.  I love belts and wear them almost everyday.  A friend asked how I would manage to wear them with the bump--just cinch them higher, of course!  I also think my brown leather boots would work with this look.

Look 3: Long Gray Sweater.  Gray on gray--love this.  I am hoping I don't stretch the knit out too badly as I get bigger.  Notice the strategically placed arm to actually make the bump visible.  I am 20 weeks along, and although the bump shows up in person, on camera it somehow disappears.

A few thoughts on making the maxi dress (typically a casual, summer item) work for the office in the fall/winter:

1) Pick the color/print carefully.  Solid charcoal gray (or black, beige, navy) can be made to seem appropriate.  Bright colors and huge prints might be a bit more tricky.

2) Keep the top covered.  Basically, it it going to make the dress look like a skirt.  I toyed with the idea of cutting off the top and adding elastic to actually make this a skirt, but decided against it--I think it is more comfortable this way, and I don't have worry about waist band placement.

3) Choose a fitted top.  To balance the long, flowiness of the dress, a more tailored piece helps.  A loose top with a loose dress is going to look sloppy.  A belt can make a looser top seem more fitted.

Just to point out a few things: first, none of these pieces is "maternity" and I hope/plan to wear them all again post-pregnancy.  Second, this is my first pregnancy, and I have no idea how big I will get.  Hopefully these (and a few other ideas that I have, some involving actual maternity wear) will see me through.  

Classes start back in late August and I am due in mid-December.  With teaching five days a week over the course of my third trimester in weather ranging from sweltering late summer to freezing early winter, this should be an interesting experience.     

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Baby Bliss: Things I Have Learned in the First (Almost) Half of Pregnancy

Our baby is due in mid-December, so I am just a couple weeks shy of half-way there.  Here are some things I have discovered over the last few months.

1)  Tired.  So tired.
I had been warned that the first trimester would make me exhausted, but I wasn't quite prepared.  I felt like I had been drugged.  I could lay down in the floor and go to sleep at almost any time.  I napped sometimes three times a day.  As I described it to Jordan, I was too tired to stand up, too tired to sit up, and laying down was pretty exhausting.  If there was something less physically demanding than laying down, I would have done that.

I am incredibly fortunate that most of the first trimester was after spring semester ended.  I have been teaching an online class this summer, so I have been able to grade, write, email, and then nap.  One of the funniest tired moments was at about 9 weeks.  Jordan and I were vising our parents for a week, and we decided to hike in Linville Gorge.  All was well until the return trip, which involved hiking up out of the gorge.  I had to stop and rest about every 100 yards.  At one point, I sat down on a rock in the middle of the trail, put my head on my knees, and dozed off.  We finally made it out, and Jordan was very relieved that he didn't end up having to physically carry me out of the wilderness.

2)  There's a fine line.  And I have no idea where the line is.
Believe it or not, exercise actually gives you energy.  Unless you do it too much, and then you are comatose for the next 12 hours.  I tried running through the first trimester, and I actually did pretty good until the last couple of weeks.  By that time, my 30 minute trot meant  my nap time would quadruple the next day.  So I switched to just plain walking.  Last week (week 15/16), I started ramping things back up a bit.  I go to the gym three times a week and do ten minutes on the bike, ten on the treadmill (mostly running, with a bit of walking), and ten minutes on the elliptical machine.  On the easiest settings.  This seems to be working, as I don't get too exhausted, but I still feel like I am getting a workout.  I am hoping to get more running in before I get too big in the third trimester.

On the same principle of the fine line, stretching is good for you.  Everything I have read extols the wonders of yoga for pregnancy, and since I have been doing yoga for several years now, I have kept it up with a bit of light practice at home and a class once a week.  The funny thing about pregnancy is all these hormones are circulating in your body.  One of them, called Relaxin, relaxes ligaments, which is good news for when you are giving birth.  The bad news, for me anyway, is that it means I have pulled more muscles from over stretching in the last few months than I have in years.  Even doing very basic yoga moves that I have done thousands of times before can cripple me for the next few days.  Like I said, it's a fine line.

3)  I am incredibly happy.
Before I got pregnant, I was worried.  I was worried about how worried I would be once I was pregnant.  (Does that even make sense?)  I was anticipating being overwhelmed with anxiety (the sweaty-palmed, heart-racing, cold-creeping-down-your-neck kind of anxiety) once I knew that birth and parenthood were inevitable and impending.  I was worried about this future worry right up until I got pregnant.  Then what happened?  It went away.  I am not overwhelmed with anxiety.  That's not to say that I won't be closer to delivery.  I have always been rather terrified of childbirth--the anticipation of pain sends me for a loop.  But for some reason, I have been quite calm and philosophical about the whole thing.  It will hurt.  I will practice pain-relieving methods and then get an epidural. I will be fine.  I know I am being very nonchalant about the whole thing, and I don't know if it is the hormones or if it is just resignation or if God is granting my prayers that I would be strong and calm (I lean toward the latter!).  But my overwhelming emotion is just plain old happiness.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Consider the Cross: A Book Review

Disclaimer: I received this book for free in exchange for my honest review.  The author also linked this blog on her website.

I met Kirsten Oliphant in graduate school when we were both TAs for the English department.  Since we have graduated, I have kept up with her through Facebook and her blog I Still Hate Pickles.  After reading her book Consider the Cross, I wish I had more of an opportunity to get to know her while we were still in school together.  Kirsten's writing on her blog is often funny and frank, but is also reflective and raises serious or provocative questions.  These latter qualities take the forefront in her new book.

Consider the Cross is an Easter devotional.  Released on Ash Wednesday in order to be read through Lent, it contains forty devotions focusing on the last week of Jesus's ministry before the crucifixion.  At the beginning of each day's reading is a primary scripture reference, along with parallel references from the other gospels.  The text of the Scripture is not provided, and while this does de-emphasize translation issues (since you will use whatever translation you have), toggling between Bible and devotional on an e-reader is tricky--you'll probably want to go old school with your print Bible.  Each entry is short--a reflection on the scripture and several thought-provoking questions at the end.  Oliphant intentionally avoids getting into study-driven theological issues.  She writes, "These daily devotions are less me trying to teach you something, but more to engage you in thinking about what God might have to teach you" (2).  The approach is well-suited to the Lenten-season when we often reflect and meditate on the meaning of Christ's sacrifice for us.

I think one of Oliphant's biggest strengths is in setting a scene by pointing out details: for example, the intimacy of the Last Supper or the look Christ gives Peter at his denial in Luke's account.  Her second strength is in the questions she raises: they are pointed, even piercing, but they are clearly questions she has already asked of herself.  Although some of these questions are best-suited for self-reflection, I think that many of them would be great for group conversation--the book as a whole could be easily adapted for group study.

Ultimately, I enjoyed the experience very much.  I find it difficult sometimes to truly focus and prepare for Easter--we often are so busy that it is over and gone before I even let it touch my heart.  Reading through this devotional for the last six weeks has given me an opportunity daily to reflect on Christ's work and love.  Although I plan to return to it again next Lent, it certainly does not have to be reserved specifically for Easter-time.  Anytime is a good time to "consider the cross."

Kirsten's book may be purchased from Amazon, here:

Check out Kirsten's blog here:

Monday, March 11, 2013

Wood-burning and Watercolors

And now, for something completely different....

I have had this box for years.  Many years.  I received it one Christmas when I also got a wood-burner.  Although, I used the wood-burner for several projects, but never got around to this.  Recently, I decided to give it a go.

To me, wood-burning (or "pyrography" if you will) is both fun and slightly terrifying.  You basically have a super-heated stylus that you use to draw on the piece of wood.  Occasionally, carbon builds up on the tip and emits some sparks.  For this project, I used a regular number 2 pencil to draw the design (inspired by a Tiffany window at the Met called "Dogwood").  Then, I went over it with the wood-burner.  

I used a regular colored pencil in white for some of the petals, but for the rest I used water color pencils.  I love these, and I think they worked out well for this project.  For the most part, I used them dry, then went over it with a wet brush, but for some of the more pigmented sections of the background, I used the pencil on sections that were fairly damp.  I touched up a few places with dry colored pencils at the end.  Although not perfect (the "frame" in particular got a bit messy in places), I am pretty pleased with this project, and plan to try a few more wood-burning/colored pencil projects.  So, what do I put in my fancy new box? 


Sunday, February 24, 2013

Recipe Roundup

Lots of people joke about Pinterest being a great way to waste time.  I don't consider it time wasted--not when it gives you things like this.  Below are my results with a few recipes discovered on Pinterest.

French Breakfast Muffins from Velvet Lava.  I made these yesterday, and they are pretty amazing.  They have my favorite muffin texture, which is dense, slightly crispy, and crumbly.  They have a cinnamon-sugar topping that is fantastic, but they were actually quite easy to make.

Baked Avocado Fries by Baked In.  I love avocados, but can't find enough to do with them (other than guacamole), and they seem to go bad so quickly.  Enter avocado fries.  They are a bit messy to make (check out the author's hands in her post to get the idea), but the results are great--creamy avocado inside, crispy breadcrumbs on the outside.  I like them with ranch dressing, but Jordan thinks they are just fine on their own.

Creamy Tomato Tortellini Soup by Recipe Swagger.  Mmmm, I love tortellini.  And tomato soup.  So, here is the best of both worlds.  I think that the next time I make this, I might use the homemade tomato soup recipe I have from Martha Stewart instead of the Campbell's, but even with the canned stuff, this is pretty good.  A sprinkling of bacon pieces on top wouldn't go awry, either.

Banana Oat Breakfast Cookies by Watching What I Eat.  These were a bit of a miss for me.  They tasted pretty good at first.  But, then next time when I got another one, they were damp.  Like, not just moist, but damp.  Cookies aren't supposed to be damp (they were stored in a Ziploc container on the kitchen counter, by the way).  I like the idea of these cookies, though.  Jordan and I eat granola bars as an afternoon snack, but they kind of freak me out.  I suspect that they are really just candy bars masquerading as health food.  And, have you ever looked at the ingredient list?  The ones we were eating contained glycerin.  Like, soap.  So, I would like a healthy cookie/ bar recipe without a lot of sugar to replace the store-bought stuff.  Any suggestions?

Yay, for Pinterest!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Bathroom Closet Organization; or, Novel Uses for Shoe Organizers

I like for things to be organized.  It makes me feel good, and it calms some vaguely panicky nerve in the back of my mind that whispers, "something is unsettled."  Clearly abnormal, I know.  However, for the last few months, every closet in our house has been is a state of unsettled disarray.  I finally got around to tackling the bathroom/linen closet. (Pantry, you are next!)

I can't believe that I am showing the messy contents of my closet, but, you have to see the "before" to get the big picture.  Since I have organizational inclinations, I own things like fabric bins.  I also have some genetic impulse to save things that I don't necessarily need, like old shoe boxes and college-era shower caddies.  So, a fairly cobbled-together organizational system that isn't really working.  I especially like that the shoe box holding our meds is sitting askew on top of toothpaste and contact lenses.  Nice.

First, I pulled everything out.  Here, you really get the full effect.  Lots of stuff.  In random collections.  Although I love having the closet where it is, it can be a bit annoying because it is both deep and narrow.  I got the idea for using a pocket shoe organizer from a YouTube channel called HomeOrganizing.  The woman in the video uses hers on the back of a bifold door, but, of course, it works just as well on a regular door.  The only problem I had with mine is that it was wider than the door, so I had to fold one column of pockets back.  It is still functional, it just doesn't look as nice as it would on a wider door.  

I sorted everything into various categories by row and then by pocket.  So now, I have a pocket that just holds headache meds; one pocket just for sunscreen; etc.  I would like to find a way to label the pockets, but I haven't quite figured that out yet.  The two fabric bins went back on the shelf: the larger one has oversized items, like the packages of cotton balls and cotton swabs.  The smaller bin contains beauty products that I consider "seasonal"--I'm not wearing bright pink nail polish in winter, so there is no point in keeping it with my regular makeup.  Overall, I really like the outcome.  Now, our sheets are on a shelf all by themselves (by the way, placing your folded set of sheets into one of the pillowcases keeps everything neat and together).  I can access everything and know exactly where it is.

Here is a little bonus shot of my vanity drawer.  It is really shallow, but it works for this type of stuff.  The white bins came from Wal-Mart and the clear ones came from Bed, Bath, and Beyond.

So, it seems a bit strange to be showing off my closets and drawers, but I thought the shoe organizer was a really useful tip, so I wanted to pass it along.  Anyone have any special tricks for organizing bathroom items?