Sunday, November 29, 2015

Joy to the World!

I'm a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormons. When possible on Sundays, I discuss some things related to my faith and what I believe. With respect to your own beliefs, I hope this gives you a chance to get to know me and my religion a little better. For previous installments, click here.

It's officially the Christmas season! Here's the lastest video from the Church about why we celebrate this time of year.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

A mark, a yen, a buck, or a pound

Blake and I frequently get comments about how much fun stuff we do. And you know what? They're right. We really do. We live in a really interesting region with more things to do then we'll likely ever accomplish, but that doesn't mean we can't try! We realize we may not live in this area forever, and we don't want to miss it.

We also don't want to run out of money, so we have found ways to do things as inexpensively as possible. Fortunately, many of the attractions in the DC region are free - all the Smithsonian museums (including the zoo), monuments, various historical parks, a number of events and concerts. That covers quite a few of our adventures and dates. Many other things are fairly low cost, like national parks with a $5 per car entry fee.

We are also big fans of coupons and deals. We almost never go out to eat if we don't have some sort of coupon. I even keep some apps on my phone just because certain deals will pop up sometimes. Just this morning, as we were getting ready to go clean the church when I got a notification that McDonald's was offering a free Egg McMuffin because the Capitals (our local professional hockey team) had lead in the first period last night. Sorry oatmeal, but you're just going to have to wait, because McDonald's is on the way to the church. I had to run into the store while Blake went through the drive through so that we could each use the coupon on our apps, but free breakfast is free breakfast! We also use somewhat regularly, which offers discount gift cards to a variety of restaurants. We even got a Living Social deal for the website to really cut back on that price. I also sign up for emails from our favorite restaurants to get their coupons. I have it filtered to a different folder automatically, so it doesn't clutter up my main inbox.

Because we live in such a touristy area, Groupon and Living Social often feature paid local attractions, like the historical ships we visited a few weeks ago. Because of these, we've seen more off the beaten path places like Lincoln's Cottage and Gunston Hall. We probably wouldn't recommend them to people who have only a week or less in DC, but they've certainly enriched our experience here.

As often as we can, we usher at Ford's Theater, yes the one where Lincoln was assassinated, because you get to watch the show for free if you put in an hour of work before curtain. Done and done. A lot of theaters do that actually, we just happen to have a neat, historical one to work at.

Last year, the local second run movie theater was doing a Kickstarter to help them buy new seats. At a certain reward level, you got three free movie passes as a thank you, so we each backed them for that amount and paid for three dates in advance, in new seats to boot! I actually went up a reward level, so I got the three passes as well as a Date Package - two movie tickets, two drinks, and popcorn to share. Movies are kind of expensive dates, so we don't go to the theater that often. To have four dates already paid for has been great! In fact, we still have two passes each. We did go see The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part II in theaters this week, because seeing the very first one was our very first date and we've seen the rest of them together in the first run theater, but we went to a matinee and paid less than full price.

We have Amazon Prime (especially to supplement our entertainment since we cut cable last year) and if whatever we are ordering doesn't need to be here in two days, we take advantage of a $1 credit to digital content. Doing that two or three times pays for an at home movie rental date.

To help us remember what dates we've already paid for or are inexpensive and we definitely want to do them, we keep a list on a chalkboard in our kitchen. The list on the right is of walks we want to go on (or have, because they were on this list and we haven't erased them yet). Zoo and slurpees (there is a 7-11 right by the entrance) is probably going to be zoo and hot chocolate (also 7-11) in January after the new cub makes its public debut.

We do pay full price sometimes. Sometimes it's worth it, because of tradition (like Five Guys on General Conference weekend) or the activity is that good (such as Maryland Renaissance Festival - but we chose not to go this year due to time and budget reasons). However, because we've really been great about making and keeping a budget this year and we do wheel and deal our way through so many other things, we know when we can afford it.

We've decided that adventuring is something that is one of our priorities in our marriage, so with a little bit of effort, we make it work with our current budgets of time and money. We do still appreciate a good, lowkey time too, as evidenced by the weekend we are currently having. We did go on a mid-day walk today though, with a stop at Noodles & Co. for lunch with a BOGO coupon we got in the mail. The weather was extremely mild for late November, so we enjoyed sitting on the patio outside with Malcolm before coming home to an afternoon of relaxing or doing homework or other projects. 

Friday, November 27, 2015

It's a quiet thing

What do you get when you combine a bucket list item, a need to walk the dog, your own walking goals, and a holiday from work?

A sunrise walk from the Tidal Basin, past some monuments, and across the Memorial Bridge. And back.
Photo credit: Blake

This was our family's own little Turkey Trot yesterday morning and it couldn't have been a better morning for it. The weather was pleasantly crisp (instead of downright freezing), the sidewalks and roads uncrowded, and the walk not too long or too short. We've been wanting to walk across Memorial Bridge for awhile, so we finally did!

The rest of day was a lot of lazing about and relaxing, coupled with plenty of cooking. It was just us, and that was just what we needed. We also went on another walk around our neighborhood after dinner, so some good mileage has been added to our annual totals.

We actually didn't make our Thanksgiving dessert until today when we had the missionaries over for Thanksgiving Dinner Part 2 - a caramel apple tart. We were too tired and full to even attempt it yesterday, but it was delicious and fresh out of the oven tonight.

Sometimes the quiet adventures are perfect too.
Photo credit: Blake

Thursday, November 26, 2015

That would be enough

Today I am grateful for:

Long walks
Beautiful scenery
Living in a really interesting and historical region
Holding hands
Answers to prayers
Hermit Thanksgiving - December is going to be insanely busy, so we are relishing a quiet, long weekend.
Malcolm kisses
Wonderful friends
A good job
Learning opportunities 
Good books
Good music
A warm and comfortable apartment
Fuzzy socks
Dishwashers (currently running for the third time in 24 hours, with more dishes in the sink)
Slow cookers
The gospel 

I have a really great life. Blake and I were talking at dinner about how many things could have gone wrong this last year that didn't. Instead, we are facing a bright future with a lot of adventures and I'm excited to embark on them! Not everyone is as fortunate as I am, and even I have had times where things went a different way than expected, so I know am truly blessed.

I hope you have had a wonderful Thanksgiving! I know I have!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Cause it's gonna be hot! in that big boiling pot

Clearly, crafting is not a priority right now and I'm at peace with that. However! I still find time to make really tasty food. We have to eat after all, and it might as well be good. Some of the things we've made lately are slow cooker pulled pork, egg salad (dill makes this amazing),  and cracked wheat muffins.

Last Saturday, Blake and I made lemony lobster risotto with dill and Parmesan and it was SO good. We had a gift code from for a free date night meal kit, so all the ingredients were shipped to us in a refrigerated box, all measured out and ready to go. They also sent the recipe so that we could make it again once we acquire the right ingredients. Blake and I teamed up in the kitchen and the results were amazing. It's fun to cook together.

At least one night each weekend, we like to make pizza. We've decided that on most weekends, Blake needs to stay home and study one of the nights, so that night we make homemade pizza so it's still something to look forward to. We bought a pizza stone with some wedding money a couple of years ago and we definitely make use of it.

This pizza was made using canned dough, but we make our own now.

And sometimes our plans go awry. One Sunday, back in February, we came home from church to a home without power, so the beef stroganoff in the crock pot was not ready. Luckily, we had some cold cereal on hand (not a usual occurrence) and decided to eat it by lamplight. The power came back on during my second bite, but Blake got up, turned off the lights, and we finished eating in the mostly dark, just because we could.
I had a banana too. Blake does not like bananas.

I'm looking forward to making a delicious Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow. I toasted some homemade bread this evening that Blake made a week or so ago so that we'll be ready to start our preparations with slow cooker stuffing!

Any good meals at your house lately?

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

So I creep yeah, I just keep it on the down low

I was invited by the fifth grade girls to chaperone their field trip yesterday to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. Since the best thing to do after being out of the office/library for two days is to leave again, I was happy to go. Even if I have to keep an eye on five ten-year-olds as they run around a busy museum, it beats catching up on shelving and paperwork.

Now, I don't know if any of the students went home to their families and gushed about cool things they learned, but I sure did. Even though I've been to this museum threes and fours of times, I still found some new things.

In the insect room, a museum employee had three insects he was taking out of jars to let people touch or hold, depending on the insect. At the insistence of my students I held a feinting beetle. It's defense mechanism is to play dead when a predator is nearby, so it played dead on my hand for a couple seconds before it trusted me enough to start crawling.

I wanted nothing to do with the Madagascar hissing cockroach.

Based on how much I gushed about it to Blake, my favorite thing of the day was the last insect, the Australian walking stick. It is so cool! The museum employee had a female, apparent because of her large abdomen and tiny wings. These bugs are amazing at camouflage and mimicry! When they are first born, their mom shoots out the eggs. If there is no male around, it's okay - the female will just clone herself! Ants then carry off the eggs into their nests, where it is cooler and wetter than above ground. When the walking sticks first hatch, they look like ants, so the ants raise them as such! It wasn't really covered what happens when the ants and the walking sticks realize they are not the same, but I'm sure at some point the walking sticks get too big and move out on their own.

Out on the branches of trees and bushes, Australian walking sticks generally hang so that their abdomen just looks like a dead leaf blowing in the breeze, but if they're crawling around right side up, they look like a scorpion!
Not a scorpion!

Their life span is only about 9 months, but I think it's a pretty impressive 9 months.

I also learned, from our IMAX movie - Mysteries of the Unseen World, that dragonflies can move all four of their wings independently of one another, which is different from any other flying creature out there. This also them to hover and fly forwards and backwards.

Another other cool thing I got to do was touch a piece of Mars, a rock collected on Mars by a robot (I don't remember which one) and returned to Earth. The moon rock you can touch in the Air and Space Museum is pretty dang neat, but the Mars rock (in a similar display) is just off to the side in the minerals and gems room and you could easily miss it if  you're not looking for it. In fact, I must have missed it the other times I've been there. I definitely rectified that situation yesterday.

I'm bummed the new dinosaur exhibit won't be open until 2019, but I did think it was neat that there is a fossil lab with windows on three sides right in the middle of the temporary exhibit. The workers I observed were making storage boxes and taking photos, but that's still cool. There was a sign on the glass not to tap it, since it might disturb the mammals inside.

Overall, it was a fun way to get out and do something different for the work day and hang out with some students. I should have added a juice box to my lunch though. Anytime we had a field trip where we had to pack a lunch, Mom spoiled us by getting us a more fun than usual lunch to make the day even more of a treat, usually a Lunchable and a juice box. I did at least pack myself one last snickerdoodle and some Hershey's Hugs.

I did have to make up for it today by doing paperwork and lesson planning. I decided to put off shelving until tomorrow, but I'll make sure my podcasts are up to date in the morning so that I don't get terribly bored. 

Monday, November 23, 2015

I like your style

Who are you and what are you?
Malcolm has now been with us for more than a year and a half, so it's time for another list of things Malcolm likes and dislikes!
Bad lighting = fuzzy photos, but if I moved, he'd move

Things Malcolm Likes

Food - Your food, his food, anyone's food. He's mostly pretty good about leaving you alone while you're eating, but he's rarely far from the kitchen if someone is in there and definitely at your feet if you're eating. We know he's really tired when he's not responding to the presence of food.

Popcorn - He knows not to get into the bowl when we're sitting on the couch and eating, but the moment a piece drops anywhere else, it's his.

Praying - Blake and I usually say our mealtime prayers together while standing in the kitchen and holding hands. It's not uncommon for Malcolm to come stand in between us and bow his little head too.

Dog Park - There is a great dog park about 2 miles from our house, behind the library. We try to go a few times a week and Malcolm is a big fan. If we're walking toward the route to the dog park but, at a certain junction, turn right for home for a shorter walk instead of left for the dog park, he will very likely protest, usually in the form of sitting or pulling. Sorry, dude.
Blake has been inspired by Thomas Kinkade

Fuzzy selfie!

Snuggles - Malcolm is a champion snuggler. Sometimes he's off on his own in the papasan or on the floor, but when he wants to snuggle, he is fantastic at it.

His people coming home - You know he's especially excited when it turns into a full body wag.

Sleeping in our room - We used to make him sleep in the bathroom, but we switched to our room after a few months of trust building. He goes to bed so much easier now, sometimes before us.
As Blake said: It's a dog's life

Weekend sleeping in - He's not allowed on our bed, except for two times - as we're getting ready for bed and if we're sleeping in on the weekend. We realized after awhile he doesn't need to go pee at 6:30 (or so) when he jumps on us and begins cuddling, and we're trying to enjoy a few extra lazy snoozes ourselves, so we let him stay.
Weekend morning snuggles

Cute and he knows it

Things Malcom Dislikes

Smoke alarm - Nothing makes Malcolm retreat to a happy place in his mind (or behind the couch) faster or for longer than the smoke alarm. Even if it only beeps once or twice, he's not himself for awhile. Luckily, his happy place is quiet and non-destructive. You can imagine how fun this was for everyone when the smoke alarm went haywire one morning around 5:30.
Hi guys!

Leaving the dog park - If you don't have a treat to convince him it's time to go, be prepared for a game of chase.

Missing his humans - If one of us is traveling, Malcolm tends to act a little weird around bedtime for the first night or two.
We love seeing deer on our walks

Overall, Malcolm is a friendly, good-natured, energetic dog. He's really settled into our pack and we're glad he's around! It took some time, but as we've all gotten to know each other better, we've gotten down to a pretty good rhythm of things. He's fantastic at walks, doesn't make messes in the house, hasn't chewed on any furniture for awhile, is super great with other humans and animals, and is just generally a really good dog. It would still be nice if we spoke each other's languages sometimes, but it works out just fine anyway most days.

Thanks for being awesome, Malcolm!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Beautiful words of love coming from God above

I'm a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormons. When possible on Sundays, I discuss some things related to my faith and what I believe. With respect to your own beliefs, I hope this gives you a chance to get to know me and my religion a little better. For previous installments, click here.

According to the eighth Article of Faith:
 We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.
Since the Bible as we know it was compiled by a council of people under the direction of a king, rather that a religious leader, we recognize that there may be errors in translation or scriptures that could have been included that were not. It's also gone through revisions and translations since then. Even now, many different denominations use different editions/translations/versions of the Bible.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints uses the King James Bible, as explained by the title page:
Containing the Old and New Testaments Translated out of the Original Tongues: and with the Former Translations Diligently Compared and Revised, by His Majesty’s Special Command  Authorized King James Version  With Explanatory Notes and Cross References to the Standard Works of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
We do believe it to be inspired word of God and are instructed to study it as such. Right now Blake and I are reading the Old Testament together every night. While one of us is traveling, we still use Skype to read together. Since I didn't pack a Bible this last trip, I would have used the scriptures on my phone, but then I was using my phone to Skype. So, I had the idea to grab the Bible left by the Gideons in my room to read with Blake.

Apparently the version they distribute is the New King James Version, copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Here are some of the verses, Deuteronomy 28: 25-29, we read one night in that version:

Here's how they read in ours:
25 The Lord shall cause thee to be smitten before thine enemies: thou shalt go out one way against them, and flee seven ways before them: and shalt be removed into all the kingdoms of the earth. 
 26 And thy carcase shall be meat unto all fowls of the air, and unto the beasts of the earth, and no man shall fray them away. 
 27 The Lord will smite thee with the botch of Egypt, and with the emerods, and with the scab, and with the itch, whereof thou canst not be healed. 
 28 The Lord shall smite thee with madness, and blindness, and astonishment of heart: 
 29 And thou shalt grope at noonday, as the blind gropeth in darkness, and thou shalt not prosper in thy ways: and thou shalt be only oppressed and spoiled evermore, and no man shall save thee.
Basically, the tone of the Gideons' version is a little less formal, more colloquial, possibly even more approachable. It reminded me of when I've read the same verses in English and Spanish. I understand the gist of the verse either way and the spirit of the message is still present.

Ultimately, we still read the scriptures, whichever version, something that's been a daily priority for us since sometime while we were dating. If you want to know more about our scriptures, you can read them online here. You can also request a free copy here.

As always, if I can answer any questions, please ask!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Getting to know you

Part of the VAASL conference this year has been a celebration of Virginia authors. There was an authors reception on Thursday night where various local authors were spread around the exhibit hall, signing books and meeting fans. On Friday night, the annual banquet was held and Maggie Stiefvater, who lives in the Shenandoah Valley, spoke.

To date, I have only read one book by Maggie Stiefvater, Shiver, and I ultimately did not care much for it. I'm even more wary of paranormal teenage romance trilogies than I am about dystopian trilogies. I really liked her talk though, and I am willing to give another book or series by her another chance.

After the dinner, Maggie was going to sign books and there was line practically out the door for it. So, Margaret, my keynote speaking conference buddy who has read even less Maggie Stiefvater than I have, jumped in line with a book to have signed for a friend, and I went to the restroom. Margaret was pretty close to the front when I got back, so I went up to stand next to her and a few other librarian friends and said, "It's not cutting if I'm not having anything signed, right?"

Everyone agreed, but then the conference planner/new VAASL president handed me The Raven Boys, the first book in The Raven Cycle.

"Do you want me to have this signed for someone?"

"No, it's yours now. I ended up with an extra copy."

"Well, okay then! Thanks!"

And about a minute later, I was at the signing table, having Maggie sign a book I received just moments earlier and have never read.

"To Amanda." *flashes name badge for spelling* "So far I've only read Shiver, and I didn't care for it much."

"That's okay. I think my books have gotten better since then."

"That's cool. I just got this one and I've heard good things, so I'm looking forward to reading it."

It was a bit awkward. But what DO you say to an author whose only book you didn't really like and you were not planning on meeting until literally a minute earlier?

The Virginian author/illustrator at today's lunch, Henry Cole, was also interesting to listen to. I'll be honest though - I dozed off a little during his talk. I was getting the sleepies after lunch and I knew I had a 2.5 hour drive coming up after, so I rested my chin on my hand and closed my eyes for a few minutes to take the edge of. I don't think anyone noticed, thank goodness. I did wake up in time to watch him illustrate this super cute drawing to the music (and even rhythm) of a Peggy Lee song.

Friday, November 20, 2015

I want to be in the room where it happens

My very first task at this Virginia Association of School Librarians conference on Thursday morning was to present. I was at a three day professional development course over the summer and ideas were shared and it was suggested I submit a proposal to present in the fall. And I did. And I was accepted! So yesterday was my first opportunity to present at a professional conference of any kind and I think I did pretty darn well!

My session was on the The Music Teacher and the Librarian, and I shared a variety of ways that music teachers and school librarians can collaborate on lessons to support one another's program. Using ideas I gathered from other librarians, music teachers, and other educational colleagues, as well ideas of my own, I threw out several ideas for musical read alouds, research projects, listening and writing assignments, and other ways the librarian might be of use to the music teacher in fun and engaging ways for the students. I even got to work Hamilton into my presentation.

Since my school does not have a music program at this time, there is a lot I can't implement myself, but I hope the twenty-five or so people who attended got something out of it that they can take to their school.

It was a little nerve-wracking being among the first presenters. Everyone is still energetic and excited and not yet conferenced out or overwhelmed with ideas, like you might be by the third day. On the other hand, it was nice to get it over with and then just enjoy the rest of my meetings so far.

And enjoy them I have! As expected, I've been to sessions that have inspired me to make changes in my library now and other things to file away for later. Now that this is my second year attending VAASL meetings (I attended all the events that I could last year), I'm getting to know people and enjoy some networking as well. One of the sessions I attended today turned into a bit of a therapy session for me. It was intended to be a meeting of any solo librarians to network and meet together, but it ended up just being me and the facilitators. So, we talked about my job and the challenges I'm facing. They were really reassuring and encouraging and made me feel like I am doing the right things. I was even told that they were glad I was not the shrinking violet type, because I'd be even more challenged at my job if I were. It's really nice to receive professional validation from other librarians who know more than I do. One of them had even been to my presentation and enjoyed it!

I also won, in a round of genre bingo, a copy of a biography about my Texas hometown hero - Babe Didrikson Zaharias. She was a great athlete from the early 20th century who also grew up in Beaumont. I can't tell you how many times I wandered around the museum about her. It was right off the soccer fields, so I'd go there during my siblings' games sometimes.

It has also been wonderful to spend some time with an internet friend of mine, after meeting her in person for the first time. We've been friends on Twitter for at least four or five years and finally we got to hang out! She was a keynote speaker on Thursday and I think we both appreciated having a buddy to spend time with the last couple of days. It was also a highlight to get a shout out during her keynote address. I'll have to get up to Boston one of these days and hang out with her again!

I'm really glad to be attending this conference. Meetings like this can be hard for an introvert, and I miss my husband and dog, but I'm glad I'm here - learning things, feeling energized and rejuvenated about my job, and being among my people, strangers and friends alike!