Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Ginger Orange Cranberry Sauce.

For the last several years, I've made a cranberry jello salad for Thanksgiving.  This year, though, I wanted to experiment a little and do something different.  So of course I went to Pinterest for inspiration!  I decided on this Ginger Orange Cranberry Sauce, and I'm so excited for my family to try it!  Donny and I both sampled it, and it's DELICIOUS!

Adapted from Oh My Veggies

12 oz cranberries, frozen or fresh
3/4 c. granulated sugar
3/4 c. ginger ale
3/8 c. orange juice
Zest of one orange (approx 1.5 tbsp)


1. Zest your orange. 
 2.  Place all ingredients in a large saucepan and heat until boiling over medium-high heat.
The cranberries will begin to pop open! 
3. Once it starts to boil, reduce heat to low and simmer for ten minutes, stirring frequently and squishing cranberries against the side of the saucepan with your spatula/wooden spoon.
 4. Remove from stove and pour into a heat-safe container.  The sauce will thicken as it cools.
This recipe can be made ahead of time and refrigerated for several days before eating!

Also Thankful For...

Obviously, I'm beyond thankful for my amazing husband, my wonderful family, great friends, terrific church family, and a job that's given me countless opportunities.  But, I'm also thankful for...

... finding extra money in my coat pockets.  It's the little things that give me joy.

... pinterest.  Seriously, I don't know how I'd cook without it.
... Michael Connelly.  Meeting my goal of reading 50 books this year couldn't have happened without him.
... diet coke.  I don't know how I'd function some days without it.

... candy crush.  This game has gotten me through many-a-day at the courthouse waiting for my cases to be called.

... ear plugs.  I love my husband so much, but I wanted to punch his snoring face every night before I started wearing them.

...  It makes keeping track of books SO easy.  I used to get book journals when I was young and never used them.  Now I have one online that's perfect!

What are you thankful for?

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

When Friends Make Bad Decisions.

Alternately titled-- "To Speak Up or Not?"

One of my good friends just lost a friend because she chose to speak.  I lost a friend because I didn't.  So really, what's the best way?  In both of our situations, I think we made the right choice.  I think she was right to speak her mind, and I think I was right not to.  But sometimes I wonder...

So what's the rule?  Do you only speak if your friend is in serious danger?  Going to make life-altering choices that are terrible?  Only if you think they'll listen?  Or anytime you have an opinion, no matter how small?

If you remember, my best friend moved to Las Vegas this summer to begin a Master's program in counseling.  Now four months later, I'm still convinced that she did it to run away from a job that was not good.  I think she would have taken any opportunity that got her away from that situation.  But I never encouraged her to stay, stick it out and try to fix it.  I never told her that if she wanted to truly pursue Christian counseling, that perhaps Las Vegas isn't the appropriate place to get that perspective and training.  I never asked her to stay here where her friends and family live within driving distance.

I have a hard time telling other people what to do with their lives.  I know I'd resent it if someone told me how to live my life, so I said nothing to her.  And now she lives across the country, and we've spoken twice since she left.  

In contrast, Rebekah* did tell her friend Lanie* that she was concerned about Lanie's relationship with her new guy.  And, as feared, Lanie picked the new guy over her long-time friend.  Rebekah and Lanie's friendship is basically over now due to that honesty and concern.

Two different approaches, same outcome.  No more friend.

So which is better?  I wish I knew.  

I also wish I still had my friend.

*Names changed to protect privacy.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Book Club Friday-- Wedding Night.

GoodReads Synopsis: Lottie just knows that her boyfriend is going to propose during lunch at one of London’s fanciest restaurants. But when his big question involves a trip abroad, not a trip down the aisle, she’s completely crushed. So when Ben, an old flame, calls her out of the blue and reminds Lottie of their pact to get married if they were both still single at thirty, she jumps at the chance. No formal dates—just a quick march to the altar and a honeymoon on Ikonos, the sun-drenched Greek island where they first met years ago.  Their family and friends are horrified. Fliss, Lottie’s older sister, knows that Lottie can be impulsive—but surely this is her worst decision yet. And Ben’s colleague Lorcan fears that this hasty marriage will ruin his friend’s career. To keep Lottie and Ben from making a terrible mistake, Fliss concocts an elaborate scheme to sabotage their wedding night. As she and Lorcan jet off to Ikonos in pursuit, Lottie and Ben are in for a honeymoon to remember, for better . . . or worse.

My Thoughts:  It's been a while since I have read a Sophie Kinsella book-- the Shopaholic series got to be too outrageous for me, and I've avoided her books ever since.  But something about this story looked entertaining, so I gave it a shot.  And I'm very glad I did!  Sophie Kinsella's books are definitely not grounded in reality-- this story, much like all of her books, is heavy on ridiculous situations and overreacting characters.  But somehow I didn't mind it very much.  It was incredibly funny and, of course, had a happy ending.  I think what I surprised me most was that it wasn't totally predictable-- there were plenty of surprises in the story to keep my brain engaged and wonder what would happen next.  I really enjoyed it and definitely recommend it!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Thankful Thursday.

Today is going to be a crazy busy day both at work and afterwards. So before my day goes nuts, I thought it would be good to start off focusing on the good stuff in my life.

I'm thankful for Pandora that lets me listen to Christmas music all day long.  She and I had a little trouble yesterday because she wanted to play regular Michael Buble music even though I was clearly on the Michael Buble holiday station.  But after a little training, Pandora and I are getting along much better now.

I'm thankful for the chance to play my flute again!  I've taken a break from the orchestra for the last several months, but our conductor asked me to play for the Christmas program, which always SO fun.  I'm looking forward to it!

I'm thankful for pizza/caprese grilled cheese.  Seriously y'all-- this is the best sandwich I've ever had.  I desperately need another one ASAP.

I'm thankful for friends who will go see late movies with me.  Donny had no desire to see Catching Fire, so I decided to make it a girls' night!  I haven't had much chance to hang out with my friend Rebekah in a while, and this was the perfect opportunity! 

What are y'all thankful for today?

Monday, November 18, 2013

DIY Travel Map.

Donny and I love to travel.  We don't get to go nearly as far or as often as we like, but we love going to new places.  This year being our paper anniversary, I came up with a genius idea to commemorate our journeys (both together and separate) with a travel map!
It was super easy, not expensive, and a lot of fun!  I did this project at my parents' house on a Sunday afternoon, and my mom was a huge help.  I'm sure one person could probably do this on their own, but it was SO much easier with two.  Here's what you'll need:

~ A map.  This one came from the National Geographic website.
~ Foam or cork board.  I used a foam board from Office Depot.
~ Utility knife
~ Spray glue
~ Straight pins
~ Spray paint in various colors

The map had been unrolled and left to flatten for at least a week before we got started on the project, and that helped SO much.  We started from the bottom, spraying the foam board with the adhesive and lining up the map flush with the edge of the foam board.  We slowly unrolled the map up to the top, spraying the board as we went, and using a yard stick to help eliminate bubbles and bumps.
The hardest part was cutting the foam board down to the size of the map (to get one big enough for my map, we had to get a fairly large foam board).  But soon the map was cut and mounted!

For the pins, I used straight pins that I had at home along with three different colors of spray paint-- red for places Donny had been, blue for places I had been, and purple for places we've been together.
I stuck them in a box on top of newspaper in the yard to paint them, and it worked great.  I gave them three coats to completely cover their original colors.
The final result!

The beautiful part of this project was that it was a gift within a gift. Not only did Donny love the map, but it also gave him a woodworking project, which he loves.  For something like this, you obviously need to hang it somehow, and a map on a foam board isn't super pretty.  So, he got to work in the garage to make a glass-less shadowbox for it this weekend.  That man was in heaven!

And now our map is in a beautiful frame!  This is what I call great teamwork.  

Friday, November 15, 2013

Book Club Friday-- The Fault in Our Stars.

GoodReads Synopsis:  Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel's story is about to be completely rewritten.

My Thoughts:  It's difficult for me to talk about what I loved about this book without giving away the ending!  But I thought that it was an incredibly sweet and deep love story-- especially for a young adult book.  I laughed, I cried, and I laughed while I was crying (which thoroughly confused my husband, who threatened to take the book away from me during the crying phases).  What I didn't love about the book were the main characters.  Hazel and Gus were completely unbelievable as real people to me-- they were far too deep-thinking and self-aware to be real teenagers, even ones with cancer.  They felt like Dawson's Creek characters.  But despite my inability to really connect with the characters, I definitely connected with the story and enjoyed it.  It's one I highly recommend!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Anniversary Weekend in Asheville.

Donny joked with me this weekend that anniversaries were invented so that men could prove to their wives that the wives had chosen the right guy.  But if that's true, then I absolutely did!

I am a notorious micro-planner for trips, and Donny is the exact opposite, preferring to just fly by the seat of his pants.  But a few months ago, he told me not to plan anything for our anniversary because he was going to handle it.  For months, I had no idea where we were going or what we were doing.  He did eventually tell me where we were going so that I could pack appropriately for the trip, but I loved that he took the reins to create our weekend.

Friday, we both got off work a little early.  Asheville is only about two hours away, so we got there right around dinnertime.  Our hotel looked like a mountain lodge, and he had booked us a suite (with the biggest jacuzzi I've ever seen in my life!).
After we checked in and unpacked, we went to Juicy Lucy's, which Donny had read about online.  Supposedly it was the best burger place in Asheville, and I must admit that it was delicious.  I mean, it was no Bad Daddy's, but it was pretty great.  I only wish they had had a turkey burger option, but they did have some of the best french fries EVER to make up for it.
After dinner, we drove around downtown Asheville for a while and explored a little before going back to the hotel.  We had an early morning on Saturday, so it was an early night for us.

Saturday morning, we got up early and got ready to go to the Biltmore Estate.  We had gotten the tickets from my mom (who gets discounted tickets through her job), but they were day passes onto the estate only.  We still had to go that morning to get an entry time into the actual house.  Given that it was the first Saturday that they had Christmas decorations up, it was a big weekend for Biltmore, and there was no guarantee that there would be any times available for us to get in.  So, we got there a little before the office even opened to try to get an entry time, and fortunately there was.  We got in with the first self-guided group at 8:30am, and it couldn't have been more perfect.  There was no one in front of us, and we walked right up to the door and in the house without waiting in line.  Seriously, if you're ever going to the Biltmore House, take the earliest time into the house that you can get.  By the second or third room, we had gotten ahead of all the other people in the 8:30 group (we don't tend to linger like a lot of people), so we were the first people in all the other rooms-- it felt like we were on a private tour of the Biltmore House!
The house is BEAUTIFUL.  It's huge and ornate and insanely decorated.  I wish we had been able to take pictures of it, but they wouldn't have been able to do the house justice.  For example, the dining room is seven stories tall with a pipe organ in a balcony.  A full pipe organ!  Crazy.  And the Christmas decorations make it smell amazing.  I was just in love with it.
After the tour, we walked around the grounds for a while and went over to the gardens briefly before going to the winery.
We had been told by one of the tour guides that more than 10,000 people were ticketed for the day, so we knew we wanted to hit everything as early as possible before most people arrived. The winery opened early this weekend at 10am, and we were there around 10:30.  A German woman gave us a tour of their facility and explained how they made their wines, including the sparkling wines, which I found fascinating.  The tour ended with a free tasting of any and all of their wines!  I tried several but didn't like many (I'm not a huge wine fan), but Donny liked quite a few.  We ended up buying some different blends to go with the bottle of Riesling, which we already had and that I actually do like a lot.
Dining on the Biltmore Estate is crazy expensive.  Fortunately, they do have a place that is somewhat reasonable.  Although, the food isn't very exciting... haha.  I didn't care-- I knew we were having a fancy dinner, so I was just fine with a hot dog.  And also fine with not spending $50 on lunch.
We explored the Antler Hill village for a little while longer then decided to leave the estate for the rest of the afternoon.  It was starting to get super crowded, and we had seen pretty much all there was to see.  I had found the alleged best cupcake place in Asheville on yelp, so we made that our first stop after we left.  I got kind of annoyed at the place, which was in the ghetto, had no signage to tell me which cupcake was what flavor, didn't have any vanilla cupcakes, and half of the cupcakes they did have were vegan.  I finally found a coconut one that was normal (albeit pretty small), so that's what I got.  And then when I bit into it, I knew that it was all worth it-- what a heavenly, delicious cupcake!
We went back to the hotel, where I watched my Tar Heels beat Virginia pretty bad and took a quick nap before our dinner reservations.  Not sure what the traffic/travel would be like in the evening, we went back to the Biltmore Estate fairly early.  I wanted to get some pictures of the house at dusk.  I was only able to get one (from the car, as we drove by), but it turned out pretty good!
Our dinner reservations were at the Dining Room at the Inn on Biltmore Estate.  Donny had arranged for us to have a table right by the fireplace and for flowers to be on the table for me when we arrived!  It was so special and such a wonderful surprise.
Fancy dinners always have a lot of ingredients that I either don't know or don't think I'd like.  But I decided to take a risk and get the pork tenderloin with some side dishes and flavors that I wasn't sure about.  And holy cow, that risk paid off.  This was quite possibly the best meal I've ever had in my life.  I forgot to take a picture before I ate, but you can see how good I thought it was...  I threatened to lick the plate.
Dessert was a fig and honey souffle with a honey creme anglaise.  The souffle was so soft and airy that it literally melted in my mouth.  Crazy delicious.
Donny also gave me my anniversary gift at dinner (even though it was technically a day early).  I've been desperately wanting one of these bracelets forever, and now I have one!  I love it so much.
Everywhere I turned at dinner, I felt like there was another surprise!  Neither one of us are what I'd consider to be super romantic, but he planned the perfect romantic dinner for us.  It was wonderful.  :)

Sunday, we were able to sleep in for a little while, so we took our time eating breakfast and packing before checking out of the hotel.  We decided to go to the North Carolina Arboretum since the weather was so beautiful.  Unfortunately, most of the plants and trees were pretty dead by this time of year, but they did have a pretty neat Lego exhibit.  Some artist (a certified Lego builder, if you can believe that there are such things) built Lego sculptures that are throughout the arboretum.  We went on a quasi-scavenger hunt through the gardens to find them all.  There were bumblebees, roses, koi, dragonflies, and more, but I think our favorite was this lawn mower!  That's a LOT of legos!
After we left the arboretum, we wandered around Biltmore Village for a little while and had lunch there before heading home.  Upon arriving home, I saw that Donny had another surprise in store-- this was hanging on our wall!  It has the words to "Just the Way You Are" by Billy Joel inside the heart-- our first dance song at our wedding.  What a sweet and wonderful gift.  :)
And I gave him his gifts.  I stuck strictly to the paper theme for our first anniversary, so I made a travel map of the US for us to pin places we've been as we travel throughout the years!  It was really fun to put together, and I'll be posting more about it later this week.  I also gave him a book he's been dying to have (and almost bought last week...) by Nick Offerman (aka Ron Swanson).
Then we tried our cake, and amazingly it was still good after having been frozen for a year!  I'm definitely looking forward to eating on it this week.  :)
Since we were home fairly early, my parents took us out to eat for an anniversary dinner, then we came home and spent the rest of the night watching the Cowboys game.

It was the perfect anniversary weekend, and I couldn't have planned it better myself!  Donny did such an amazing job-- I'm so blessed to have him as my husband.  :)