Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Last Queen

I finished another book.  This one is called The Last Queen by C. W. Gortner.  It was a very good book.  The beginning is a little uninteresting because in such a short span of time the book covers several years and you're sort of waiting for the real story to begin.  However, the second half of the book was wonderful.  It is very well written and you can tell that the author did his research. 

The book tells the story of Juana Trastamara, a Spanish queen who lived during the late 1400s and early 1500s.  While it is based on true events, as with more historical fiction the author has taken some liberties.  However, he does admit to what they are in the afterword.  She is not a well-known historical figure so it was interesting to learn about her, her life, and the connections she had to familiar figures (her sister was Catherine of Aragon, first wife of King Henry VIII). 

I think I might be looking to see if the author has other books as I enjoyed this one much more than some of the last couple books I've read. 

10 in 10

Since 2010 ends tomorrow, I thought I'd list 10 things that happened in 2010 that made me happy.

1.  We got married!  Back in April my husband and I finally got married after being together for over 4 years.  It was amazing and definitely the happiest day of my life. 

2.  We moved.  After 5 years of hoping and a year of actively trying we finally moved out of the crappy town we were living in and finally get to live in a beautiful area that we love.

3.  DH got a new job.  That job not only allowed us to move, but allowed us to pay our bills.  We were struggling to find a job that could do both.  It's also a thousand times better than his last job. 

4.  Maui.  We went there on our honeymoon.  It was so much fun and it is beautiful. 

5.  I got an interview.  After graduating a year and half ago and very little luck in the job department I finally got an interview for a job.  I still don't know if I got it, and it's not really what I wanted, but it's still an interview.

6.  Crafts.  I learned how to do a lot of new crafts this year.  I improved my cake skills and even came up with my own recipes.  I also learned to sew some basic things (and I plan to continue working on that). 

7.  This blog.  After a lot of thought I started this blog.  It doesn't have any regular readers yet, but I'm hoping to change that in the next year.

8.  We started looking at houses.  DH and I are starting to really plan and think about buying our own home and just starting made me happy.  Hopefully next year I can say we bought one. 

9.  A new car.  DH's old car was falling apart and was just generally horrible so we were finally able to get rid of it and get him something newer and safer.  I no longer have to worry about getting a call to tell me he's stranded on the freeway.

10.  Family and friends.  I am really lucky to have some wonderful people in my life and not being in school allowed me to spend a bit more time with some of them.  I didn't get to do as much as I'd like, but I still count myself lucky. 

What made you happy in 2010? 

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Catching up

Now that I finally have the ability to post pictures I thought I'd catch up on the things I wanted to share, but couldn't.

First, we have the snow that we woke up to back in November.

This is actually looking out to the main road near our house.  It never did get plowed.

Some of the snow covered trees down the street.

 There's a chance of snow again later today, which I'm not too excited about because I have to actually go somewhere tomorrow.  If it doesn't snow, all of the rain we've had today should still turn to ice.  Oh boy. 

Secondly, I have pictures of some of the Christmas cards I made and sent out this year.  I used my Cricut to cut a lot of the shapes that I used.  The first one is embossed.  I used a really pretty stamp that I got in a set from Michaels.  Unfortunately, I can't remember who makes it and my packaging is gone.  Some also have other embellishments that I bought.

This cut comes from the Lyrical Letters cartridge.
These were cut from Joys of the Season

Now that I can share pictures I'll be trying to post a lot more crafts to share along with photos of completed items on my 101 in 1001 list. 


After finally figuring out how to make the sewing machine work I decided to make some pillows.  I had picked out some fabric that worked well with our couch and the rest of our living room and after practicing a bit I started cutting. 

First, I cut 4 18.5" squares to fit over the pillow forms I bought.  Then I matched the pieces together and sewed on three sides.  You have to leave the fourth side open to fit in the pillow form.  Unfortunately for me, that meant hand stitching them closed.  I won't share those pictures (because it's not pretty at all), but it's safe to say that I need a lot more practice. 

Anyway, here are the pillows I made:

They are both brown on one side and a turquoise color on the other.  I'm so excited that I can actually share a photo.  My card reader arrived today while I was out buying more fabric. 

If you have any questions on how to make these just let me know.

Monday, December 27, 2010

My First Attempt

DH and I spent yesterday at home just enjoying our Christmas weekend.  While he played a new video game, I decided to set up my sewing machine because I don't do well not having something to do and it was sitting so nicely in its box just calling my name.  The directions are definitely not written for someone who has no experience sewing.  I tried to use the DVD to thread my sewing machine.  It still wasn't working like I wanted it to.  I finally got it threaded and it wasn't working properly.  I used the trouble shooting guide and it wanted me to change the tension so I tried that and it still wasn't working.  That made the problem worse actually.  The thread kept breaking and I made some horrendous knots in my scrap fabric that I was practicing with.  It wasn't pretty. 

The sewing machine won the first battle.  I gave up.

I walked away and spent some time with DH.  We played the Xbox version of Monopoly (which was a lot of fun) and had dinner.  Then I asked him for some help.  I thought that maybe I hadn't threaded the machine properly and since his mind is much more mechanical than mine (and I struggled with the directions) I thought I'd have him take a look and see if he could find a place that I hadn't threaded it correctly.  He did.  It wasn't between the tension disks.  That still didn't fix it.  I was still struggling.  I couldn't get the lower thread to come up and then it got massively tangled a few times.  I started over.  Then he watched me attempt to sew and saw how wonky it went.  He also noticed how much the machine bounced.  So he held it down while I sewed another straight line of fabric.  It worked perfectly. 

It turns out that other than a minor threading issue (which we aren't even completely sure about), it seems to just be an issue with my cheap plastic table that I wanted to sew on.  So it will have to be moved to the desk that doesn't bounce all over when I want to sew.  That means less space (unless I move downstairs), but I'm willing to put up with that if it means finally being able to use the sewing machine that has been teasing me since Black Friday. 

Today, I'm going to attempt to sew some pillows with some really pretty fabric I got yesterday.  I'll post pictures in a couple days (we're finally getting a new card reader so I'll be able to post pictures!). 

Sunday, December 26, 2010

My Christmas

My Christmas was fantastic.  On Christmas Eve my mom and her boyfriend came up to celebrate with DH and I.  Despite feeling sick all day (I think I might have a garlic allergy), I still had a pretty good day.  We watched Horton Hears a Who and sat around talking.  DH made an amazing herb crusted pork loin.  I didn't eat any at dinner because I still wasn't feeling well, but I had some later and it was really good.  It's been added to our regular dinner list.

DH and I spent Christmas morning together and opened our gifts to each other and then relaxed and played with our new stuff for the morning.  It was wonderful to not feel rushed to get somewhere.  We've never had that before but this year we made sure to set aside some time to ourselves. 

Then in the afternoon we went to my in-laws' house and opened presents with them and had a nice turkey dinner and played a couple games.  We got to hear from DH's cousin, who is now living back east so we haven't seen him in a long time.  We watched Christmas movies and spent the afternoon hiding inside because it was pouring rain. 

Even though it wasn't exactly the Christmas we had been hoping for (our plans changed about 30 times in the month leading up to Christmas), we still had a wonderful holiday.  I hope everyone else did too. 

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Merry Christmas

I will be taking a break until after Christmas.  I hope anyone reading this has a wonderful Christmas full of joy and love.  I will return with a summary of our Christmas and hopefully some fun crafty stuff to share. 

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

I have no self-control

As it turns out, finishing my Christmas shopping so early is dangerous for me.  I saw so many gifts that I wanted to get for people, but kept telling myself that I was done and had hit my budget so I couldn't and shouldn't buy anymore gifts.  Until today.  I was on Amazon and found a great gift for DH so I had to order it.  Fortunately I'm out of time to do that with anything else. 

3 Days!

We are completely ready for Christmas now.  All of the gifts are wrapped (I wrapped my own after DH put them in boxes) and under the tree.  The house is clean and ready for guests.  I have done my final grocery shopping trip until after Christmas.  Now I just need a nap. 

I can't wait to celebrate Christmas with my husband.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas treats

I spent my day baking and dipping marshmallows into chocolate.  I originally was going to make enough to send snacks to work with DH and still have some leftover for me to bring to work.  That didn't happen.  I was trying to avoid going to the store today and I thought I only had enough butter for one batch of each thing.  As it turns out, I cut out the lemon bars I'd been planning to make so I could have doubled up on the snickerdoodles and had more to bring in.  The snickerdoodles are packaged to go to work with DH tomorrow.  I'd rather share with the people he works with than where I work.  I've snacked on a few and they are delicious. 

I also tried to make brownies, but the recipe I used refused to bake properly.  The edges are really hard and when I cut into it the center is still undercooked.  The recipe (I used the Hershey one) said to bake at 350 for 20 to 25 minutes.  I had the right temperature and probably ended up baking for 40-45 minutes and they still aren't done correctly so I ate one of the edge pieces, but I'll probably throw the rest out.  I also dipped an entire bag of large marshmallows into chocolate.  Those will also go into the packages for DH's coworkers. 

This will probably be the first year that I haven't made Christmas cookies.  Growing up my mom and I would always make cutout sugar cookies and frost them together.  I loved doing that.  The recipes have changed now that I'm older (I don't use shortening so I don't use the one I grew up with), but I still love the tradition of it.  I just don't have the time this year.

What sort of goodies are you making this year? 

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Recipe books

Today has been a very rainy, stormy day.  We had some flooding behind our house and there are a ton of storm warnings in our area so we decided to stay home today.  I took advantage of the opportunity to organize all of the recipes I've collected over the years.  I've got some from Everyday Food and Rachael Ray Magazine and tons of others as well.  That means I have a ton. 

I have two photo albums that are almost completely full of recipes.  One has about 100 openings and it is full of recipes for regular meals that one might make for dinner.  It's divided into sections like "chicken" or "pasta."  The other is twice the size and is full of desserts.  Going through that one gave me some inspiration to try some things tomorrow so that I can take them to work.  I'll be making some stuff to send to work with DH too. 

I like having it all organized now so that I actually have a chance at finding a recipe that I'm looking for.  It did make me hungry though. 

Wedding Album

I got an email from our wedding photographer on Friday that our wedding album is finally completed.  It wasn't his fault that it took so long to come in (it's been 8 months since we got married).  We were dealing with moving and adjusting to a new city and it just took us a while to get around to picking the pictures we wanted.  Hopefully within the next couple days we'll have it and we can share it with our families for Christmas. 

This also means that I should have large photos from our wedding to finally put in frames.  DH and I have lived together for several years (and 3 different places) and we've never decorated a single one of them.  I'm hoping that now that we're a bit more settled and not dealing with school or wedding planning we'll finally start putting up pictures and making this place look more lived in. 

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Telex From Cuba

Telex From Cuba by Rachel Kushner takes place during the revolution in Cuba that brought Fidel Castro into power.  I thought that getting to see that time in history was interesting.  The book wasn't really good or bad.  The writing style was decent.  Some parts were really slow and other parts moved quickly.  Not something that sucked me in really quickly, but I didn't really struggle to stay with it. 

It was yet another book that jumps from story to story, but this one didn't have as obvious connections as the other one.  One of the stories mostly seemed to be there to allow us to see what was going on with the rebels, but it didn't really add much to the story.  I think it would have been better to just stick with telling it from the point of view of the Americans that were working in Cuba.  That one piece tended to seem like a separate story. 

Overall, the book was fine, but not memorable.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

International Mail

I got my Christmas cards out in the mail on Monday (most of them anyway).  One of those Christmas cards is traveling all the way to Switzerland to see my wonderful cousin.  She's been living over there for a couple months now and is supposed to be there for about a year.  While I'm bummed that she's not around I can still talk to her through email and text messages (she will also hopefully be coming for a visit this summer).  Plus, I know this is a good experience for her. 

Sending that card to her was the first time I've sent mail to another country.  I really thought it would be more expensive, especially after looking up the price to send her a package of cookies.  It was 98 cents to send the letter.  The cookies would have cost me about 40 so she'll have to wait until she comes home.  I couldn't believe it.  Less than a dollar to send a letter thousands of miles.  If I'd known that I would have already sent her a couple letters. 

She's like me and loves to get mail that isn't junk or a bill.  When I was in college she would occasionally send me letters.  Once she tried to send me some Andes mints along with the letter and it got completely chewed up by the mail sorter machine.  My letter came to me in a ziploc bag.  My Christmas card to her did not include chocolate (she's in Switzerland --she has much better options there), and should be greeting her sometime early next week. 

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Feeling Crafty

With Christmas here I'm feeling extra crafty right now.  Plus, DH and I just did a couple house walk-throughs at some model homes here in town so I want to decorate my house.  Unfortunately, in our house we don't buy anything for ourselves right before Christmas (to avoid getting something that someone else already intended to give as a gift, which has happened).  I'm also waiting for a lot of stuff to go on sale right after Christmas.  So, until then I probably won't have a ton of stuff to blog, but I definitely plan on posting some of my projects after the holidays.  When I share those I'll also share some of my new favorite blogs that I got the ideas from.  

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Traveling Death and Resurrection Show

I made another trip to the library and picked up a bunch of books.  My most recent one was The Traveling Death and Resurrection Show by Ariel Gore. 

I have to say I'm not very impressed.  The storyline was fairly interesting, but would have fit better as a short story.  It is short, but it would have been more fitting to have cut out most of the first half and just had a little bit of the explanation.  How the other characters met doesn't really play into the rest of the story.  The first part is a ton of unnecessary explanation while the ending and main plot of the story comes quickly.  There isn't even a real ending for the characters.  Some characters' stories are wrapped up well enough, but others are left hanging. 

The writing left a lot to be desired as well.  Some parts flow really well and sucked me in.  Others felt really repetitive as every single sentenced started with "I" and were hard to read through.

The best part to me was that it's set mostly in Northern California so I at least somewhat recognized the locations in the story.  

I don't think I'll be picking up another one of her books again.   

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Arms Maker of Berlin

My most recent book was The Arms Maker of Berlin by Dan Fesperman.  It took a little bit of time to get into (it's another one that jumps between stories), but once I was in I read through it really fast.  It's the story of a historian named Nat Turnbull and his adventures trying to find some missing files that have something to do with his late friend and mentor who was a spy during World War II.  The book also jumps back to the story of Kurt Bauer, a famous arms maker, and his story during World War II from informing on others and losing the love of his life. 

I've found that I really enjoy books that have something to do with the resistance movements during World War II.  I'm not sure if the names of these groups are accurate as I've never done the research myself, but I like reading about their underground work trying to bring down Hitler and the Nazi regime. 

I think anyone who enjoys World War II historical fiction would like this.  It's got a bit of the same feel as Angels and Demons by Dan Brown with the main character following clues and racing against others to get to the information in time.  If you like that style you'd probably enjoy this book as well. 

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

cake recipes

I decided to type up my finalized cake recipes so I can put them in a binder.  I only have vanilla, chocolate, and mocha cakes completely finalized, but they are now typed up and will be in a binder.  As I experiment with more of the cakes and finalize those recipes I'll add them to the binder.  It's nice to have one recipe that shows the ingredients for many different sizes.  That way I don't have to redo the math each time I want to make a half batch or something like that.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

I'm ready!

I have spent a little bit of time each day wrapping Christmas presents and I'm finally done.  All of my online orders are in and everything is wrapped, including one gift to me from DH.  I told him what I wanted and was even with him to pick it up so I went ahead and wrapped it for him.  Now we just need to decorate the tree so they have a place to go. 

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Christmas Decorations

DH and I spent our day getting ready for Christmas.  For the first time since we've lived together (this is the fourth Christmas) we decorated our house with Christmas lights.  We've never lived in a place where it would actually work and/or we weren't afraid they would be stolen.  We put up a ton of lights and our house looks awesome.  Even our neighbor mentioned how much he liked it.  Unfortunately, I still don't have a way to get photos to my computer, so I'm unable to share the awesomeness. 

After we finished that we decided to go get our Christmas tree.  I have to say that my house smells amazing.  I love the smell of a Christmas tree.  We haven't decorated yet, but we plan to tomorrow and after that I can put all of the Christmas presents under it.  I haven't finished yet, but my craft room is full of wrapped presents just waiting to hide under the tree until Christmas.  I thought I was done, but I thought of another gift that I'd like to get for DH so I think I might head out tomorrow and pick it up at the store.  He has more than enough this year, but I know it's something he would love and it's small enough for me to count it as a stocking stuffer. 

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Name Change

Today we went to the bank to change my name.  I've decided that our bank needs to retrain some people because I have now gotten three different answers on what I need to bring to change my name.  Fortunately we had everything we needed.  The process took a little longer than I expected, but it wasn't too bad.  The hardest part is that she had to take my bank cards because they will no longer work since the name doesn't match the account.  I think I'll survive though, especially since I'm already done Christmas shopping and I have no real reason to go out shopping this week.  I'm excited to finally have all the big stuff with my new name.  It makes it feel more official. 

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Easy Homemade Lasagna

I've never made lasagna before and it sounded really good so I bought everything at the store today and it's in the oven right now.  I didn't use a recipe; I decided to wing it.  I know the basics of what goes into lasagna so it didn't seem very hard.  Here's my version:

2 jars of your favorite pasta sauce
1 can of diced tomatoes
about 3/4 cup parmesan cheese
1 small tub of ricotta cheese
a little less than a full bag (the small one) of shredded provolone/mozzarella
1 pound of shredded beef
garlic powder
onions (I used dried)
italian seasoning
9 lasagna noodles

Brown the meat with the garlic powder, onions, and italian seasoning.  In a separate pot boil the lasagna noodles.  Once done, rinse the noodles in cold water.  Put a thin layer of pasta sauce at the bottom of your 9x13 pan then put your first layer of 3 noodles.  Put down about half of the ricotta and tomatoes and 1/3 of the parmesan, leftover pasta sauce, and shredded provolone/mozzarella.  Repeat.  For the last layer, put down the final layer of noodles then cover with the rest of the pasta sauce.  Add the parmesan and a layer of provolone/mozzarella.  Put into an oven that is preheated to 375* with a foil tent on it for 25 minutes.  Remove the foil and bake for another 20-25 minutes.  The cheese on top should be bubbly and a little brown. 

My house now smells like garlic and tomatoes and I can't wait for my husband to get home so we can have dinner. 

I did it!

I finished my Christmas shopping by December 1st!  I really didn't think I'd make it, but everything is either hiding in the closet or on it's way from Amazon.  Now I'm ready to decorate and enjoy the Christmas season.  I also need to start planning our Christmas celebration because it looks like we are going to be able to host it this year. 

How far has your shopping got?  Did you set any goals for this year?