Tuesday, December 24, 2013

You make me wanna roll my windows down and cruise

Somehow it's already been a whole year since I married my best friend in the whole world. We're now five days into our second year of marriage and life is wonderful!

To celebrate our anniversary (and the end of another busy semester and reaching the halfway point of law school), we took a 24 hour mini-break to Staunton, Virginia, a charming small town about three hours southwest of us. We found a hotel deal on Groupon a few weeks ago and once I got off work on Friday, we were on our way.

We stayed in a lovely hotel that had been built in the heart of Staunton (pronounced Stan-ton) in the 1920s and recently restored. It was beautifully decorated for Christmas and was incredibly comfortable.

After a pizza dinner (with a gift certificate from our hotel package deal), we went to see "A Christmas Carol" in the Blackfriar's Theater at the American Shakespeare Center, which was next door to our hotel. Since I've been in and seen about a million versions of this timeless tale, I was a little afraid that it was just going to be a typical, no-frills adaptation. Lovely, but standard. I'm pleased to say I was so wrong. This adaptation was brilliant, with just enough audience interaction, modernization (mostly some present day pop culture references), and incredibly talented acting to not completely take us out of the story but be totally entertaining and still quite poignant. We LOVED it, even when Scrooge yelled right at me when I was in his way as he crossed in front of my seat.

Our evening was topped off with a drive through Christmas lights display at Gypsy Hill Park. It was fun to see what local business, churches, and families came up with, and we were pleasantly surprised by a miniature Washington, D.C., temple from the local LDS congregation.

Saturday morning we slept the heck in (so needed when we usually get up around 5 AM), had breakfast in the hotel restaurant (also part of the package), and then wandered around the shops in "downtown" Staunton. We found a few Christmas presents and decorations and enjoyed the small town ambience.

It was a great little escape and celebration and now I'm ready to enjoy two weeks off of work and spending a great deal of time with my handsome husband of a year!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

It took me years to write, will you take a look?

Once upon a time, when I was in high school, I decided I wanted to write my lowercase Rs as miniature uppercase Rs. I thought that would be cool and add something unique to my handwriting. I trained myself to do it, and ever since then, that's how I've written them. I don't think anyone has ever really commented on it, but I like it, so there.

However, last fall, when I was substitute teaching, I started writing on whiteboards in front of children a lot more, especially my last name. Before I got married, my last name had one R, now it has two! I worried that it might be confusing to children just learning how to print, so I started trying to write more lowercase Rs. I was only subbing for a couple days a week for a few months, so once I was at a new librarian gig, I stopped worrying about my Rs again.

Now, as fate would have it, I'm working as a K-12 school librarian and teaching library and information literacy skills to K-6 graders and writing on a whiteboard nigh unto everyday. Once again, though no child has expressed concern either way, I find myself worried that miniature uppercase Rs might confuse them, so I'm trying to write more lowercase again.

Does it matter? I have no idea, but I'm trying to have clear and understandable handwriting, at least on things that my students will read. Oddly, I kind of like the look of my lowercase Rs, so I don't actually mind switching back and forth. It's affecting my handwriting in other situations, and I've probably spent way more time thinking about this than I need to.

And now you have too.

One thing I won't be changing about my handwriting is that I cross my Zs. I started doing that in as a result of multi-variable math, so that I wouldn't confuse my Zs with 2s. I haven't needed to do that kind of math for a while, but I still like the way it looks.

Do you have any handwriting quirks? And what you do think about lowercase v. miniature uppercase Rs?

Saturday, November 30, 2013

I said what'cha what'cha what'cha want what'cha want

It should come as no surprise that I have finished  the Shadow Children series. They are written for a somewhat younger audience than myself and are rather short books to begin with, so of course I read them quickly. They were also rather compelling and well written, so I definitely enjoyed getting caught up in a new to me series for awhile. 

What might be a surprise is that two weeks ago I bought a new Neil Gaiman book (Fortunately, The Milk) that I haven't read yet. Even I'm not sure why I haven't yet. Just been doing other things I suppose. 

I really don't have a rhyme or reason to what I tackle next on my to be read list. It just depends on my mood or reading energy level (young adult or middle grade fiction is much easier to read than much adult non-fiction, for example) or what's available when I'm looking for something new. If I'm just reading for fun, it's going to be something I want to read and that changes based on all sorts of factors. 

It's not like I'm trying to prove myself to anyone, so I'll read what I like when I like, thank you very much. If it fits into some sort of reading challenge parameters, like the A-Z challenge I am so close to finishing? Awesome. 

I've had to read so much prescribed material for school with three college degrees and my K-12 education that I balk against doing it in my reading for pleasure. I'll take recommendations of course, but if I read something another person has suggested, I'll do it when I want to, much like Eilonwy suggesting Shadow Children several years ago and me just reading it now. I'll read what I read as it strikes my fancy, and that's okay! 

How do you decide what to read when?
What I bought two weeks ago when I finally spent a gift card my mother-in-law gave me for Christmas last year. Score!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Raise the song of harvest home

I have so much to be grateful for in my life. Things are going really well right now, and I'm so glad for that. I have a really good marriage, job, home, family, and that's just the big stuff.  I know life hasn't always been this good, and there will probably be rough times ahead again, but right now life is good.

One thing I've been grateful for today is that from 2006-2012 I always had somewhere to go for Thanksgiving since I couldn't go home. At least once I was with my aunt, but every other time has been with kind and generous friends who welcomed me into their homes and, at least for a day, into their families. Being a Thanksgiving refugee wasn't always my favorite thing, but I was always taken in somewhere. 

Today, however, I finally got to have Thanksgiving dinner with my family and even in my own home. I have a new baby family now and we had a wonderful newlywed Thanksgiving together, just the two of us. We made all the essentials (turkey, stuffing, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, gravy, rolls, and pie) and I finally cooked a turkey for the first time. Everything was delicious and we had a great time cooking it all together. 

I'm particularly pleased with my turkey and cherry pie, both things I've never made before. Blake said the pie was the prettiest pie he's ever seen and admitted he didn't usually eat pie crusts, but he liked this a lot. (I made a different crust for a different pie a few weeks ago, and he didn't eat all the crust.) I thought it was particularly appropriate for a newlywed Thanksgiving. 

The gorgeous and tasty turkey:

The whole spread:

It's been one of the best Thanksgivings I've ever had! I hope you have also had a great day. Here's to start of a wonderful holiday season!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Sweet cherry pie oh yeah

True to personal form, I'm nowhere near where I wanted to be on my sewing project yet. I did acquire the necessary freezer paper, even though it took me two grocery stores to find it. So, what am I making?

Plush Adipose babies, a rather darling Doctor Who character

So far, I've cut out four of them, and embroidered the face for one. Since I didn't finish them for Saturday, my new goal is sometime before Christmas.

Also, today I made a cherry pie, and Blake called it "probably the best looking pie I've ever seen." We'll find out tomorrow if it tastes as good as it looks!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Listen girl to what I say about the man from Gallifrey

I was introduced to Doctor Who during my last semester of college when the reboot was starting. I watched the first two episodes of the show before the guy who introduced me to it and I broke up. This was pre-Netflix and I don't think my ex was exactly acquiring his recordings through legal means anyway, so no more Doctor Who for me for awhile.  

Eventually, a few years ago, I rediscovered the show on my own and this time it stuck. I fell in love and it's definitely one of my favorite shows of all time. I introduced Blake to it sometime last year (and I watched The West Wing for him - also loved it) and, thankfully, he's become a fan. Once the 50th anniversary special date was announced, we had a deadline for getting him all caught up.

We met that deadline by Saturday afternoon, just in time.

Saturday evening, after recording the afternoon simulcast of the special so we could watch it anytime, we had two other couples over for a Doctor Who themed dinner party. Four of the six of us wore Doctor Who themed shirts and we had lots of yummy Doctor Who treats.

We made:

Bowties (Blake made these)

Drums of Madness (Cucumbers filled with herbed cream cheese)



"Fish fingers" and custard

Sonic Screwdrivers

Sonic Screwdrivers the beverage (OJ and lemonade with mint leaves)
Cassandra Lasagna

Our friends made:

TARDIS brownies

Complete with marzipan Dalek

Three Doctor Bowtie pasta (three cheeses)

Slitheen eggs

Fez and Bowtie pasta

It was all delicious and the evening was a complete success. We all enjoyed the special and it was great fun to have some people to share in my nerdiness! 

For the record, my favorite Doctor is Tennant, followed closely by Eccleston. Smith is good and I accept him as the Doctor, but it's only at the end of his tenure that I'm really starting to like him. I am definitely looking forward to Capaldi! Someday, I'd also like to watch the original series, but I don't consider myself any less of a fan for not having done so yet. 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

You've been so kind and generous

I have amazing in-laws. I really, really do. Blake's parents are some of the kindest, most thoughtful, and just plain fun people I know and I'm really happy I can be another one of their daughters.

They were so excited to find out Blake was dating someone and even happier to meet me, first via Skype and eventually in person. We got along swimmingly right from the start and they've been nothing but wonderful to me since.

I've heard tell that some men will complain that their wives don't cook like their mothers, but I don't have to worry about that. One, Blake has always loved my cooking (I can tell he especially loved something when he licks his plate) and two, I have the cookbook Blake's mom made for all her kids with all their favorite family recipes and then some. The thing is huge, like three inch binder huge, and is full of some great recipes. It was a real labor of love to put together and I'm super excited to have recipes from both of our families. Sometimes, we use my family's recipes for things, sometimes we use his, and sometimes we use recipes I've collected elsewhere, but I do love getting to try the things Blake grew up loving.

It's especially helpful when some of the recipes have notes like this:

Blake's dad includes us in a daily group good morning text. We're lucky enough to get them at reasonable hours of the day, usually around 9 AM, but those who live closer to the Arizona time zone risk being woken up. Either way, it's sweet and amusing and I love it. (He was kind enough not to text us during our honeymoon, though our phones were off anyway.)

Blake's parents often send us care packages or sweet cards. When we went to visit them over the summer, they sent us away on an overnight getaway that involved a bookstore, lunch, a hotel with an attached water park, and room service breakfast. They also care a lot about my family, frequently asking about them or bringing my parents oranges from an orange grove in Arizona. When we introduced our families to each other the night before our wedding, it was amazing how well everyone got along - siblings, parents, and grandparents alike. We all really feel like one big extended family that just hadn't met yet.

Most of all, I feel like they genuinely care about and love me. They are truly interested in what's going on with me and I really enjoy our weekly Skype chats and other contact we have.

Thank you for welcoming me into your family!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Children's voices, oh how sweet

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.

A couple of years ago, I talked about some of my own memories as a child growing up in the Church. As I mentioned then, the children's ministry in our church is referred to as the Primary and is for children 18 months through age 11.

It's a wonderful organization and I'm grateful for the experiences I had when I was a part of it. The LDS Church has a great focus on the importance of the family and children are very welcome in our meetings. Being in single adult wards(congregations)  for more than ten years, I missed being around children and their sweet personalities.

Since marrying Blake, we've moved back into a family congregation and there are lots of children and, for the most part, it's wonderful to be around them. Today, for example, the Primary children came to the Relief Society (women's ministry) class and sang a Thanksgiving song to us. Of course, children will be children and they are often loud during the more reverent portions of our services or hurling their little bodies into the back of our pew. We also had no fewer than four children go rogue and run up onto the stand during Sacrament meeting (our communion service that's for the entire congregation at once) before their parents were able to catch up with them.

Still, we're glad to have them and all family members in our meetings and in our congregation. Blake and I realize that one day we'll have our own children to wrestle with at church, but we look forward to teaching them the gospel that has blessed our lives so much and building the habits that will help us create a strong and lasting family!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

I'm making a note here: Huge success

I have spent this entire day preparing for and throwing a dinner/viewing party for the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary special. Immediately after waking up and showering, we went to the grocery store and then came home and I got to party prep work while Blake studied. 

Our last guests left around 11:00 and now that the dishwasher is going and everything is cleaned up, I can tell you that I am exhausted and it was worth it. I'll post in greater detail on Tuesday, but we had a great time and I really enjoyed putting everything together. Next time, I'll probably spread out some of the prep work more over days instead of hours (I didn't finish the party favors that will now be Christmas gifts), but I'm still incredibly happy with the results. Everything turned out great and we all had a really enjoyable evening  

As a teaser for Tuesday, here are the fruit roll up bowties that Blake so kindly assembled

Bowties are cool.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Feed me, Seymour

I started The Hunger Games trilogy when I was home for Christmas in 2010. Even though I really could have used the sleep, I stayed up until 4 AM one morning reading the first one. I don't remember if that's when I finished it, but I was hooked either way. Best books or series ever? Probably not, but I definitely liked them a lot.

Even though I didn't know it at the time, these books were kind of a life changer. Because we both liked the books, Blake took me to see the first movie on our first date. As such, the story and the movie holds a special place in our hearts. We didn't go so far as to have a Hunger Games themed wedding, but we both carried mockingjay pins, me in my bouquet and him on his boutonnière. 

We knew that when the second movie came out it would make sense for us to see it. Fortunately, Miss Apple included us in a group invitation to see it tonight at a theatre in downtown DC. We happily accepted!

A fun thing Blake and I do is save all our spare change in a small mason jar. When the jar is full, we each guess how much might be in if before we count it out. Whoever is closest decides what we do with the money. The first time, Blake won and we went to a delicious Thai food restaurant in Old Town Alexandria. This time, I won and after several weeks (we've been busy) decided that this outing would be financed by the coin jar collection. 

The plan was to meet up in Chinatown after work, have dinner by ourselves, and then join up with the group for the movie. Yestersay, I got a Buy One Get One coupon from Noodles & Co in my email. Bam! Dinner location chosen and I suggested we use the saved dinner money to make a rare splurge on popcorn and a drink at the movie theater. 

Unsurprisingly, we had a great time. Dinner was tasty, the movie really good, and we enjoyed seeing our friend. It was also nice to have an evening out in DC. We don't do that particularly often. 

I'm quite glad we spent our jar money this way. We're already looking forward to the next film! 

Friday, November 22, 2013

Oh-oh-oh, oh-oh-oh I'm grateful!

Fun socks

Successful lessons

My black maxi skirt



Having my car paid off

A lovely, comfortable home



Contact lenses

Warm showers

Having someone to stick my feet under when sitting perpendicular to him on the couch



You for reading this post!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Everyday is a winding road

I had schemes tonight y'all. I was going to come home from work, fold the laundry, make dinner, greet Blake, eat dinner with him, then I was going to work on a sewing project. I purchased the fabric last week, my tables are clear for such things, and I had a good couple of hours to get started. I anticipated having everything at least cut out by the end of the evening.

Life, as John Lennon would say, is what happens when you're busy making other plans.

The website I was going to download the pattern from? Expired four days ago. And there is no cached version.

No problem. I'm feeling inspired. I'll modify and free hand.

Then I, randomly, find a tutorial online about an easy way to cut patterns out of felt. Using freezer paper. Which I don't have on hand.

So, tomorrow, I will drop by a grocery store on my way home, purchase freezer paper, and actually get started on this project. Ideally, I'll have pictures of the finished project for next Wednesday's post.

I guess tonight's project is doing something about all this folded laundry . . . 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Content like a panda bear

Hi. My name is Amanda and I love pandas.

I don't think we've discussed this much yet in this forum, but really, you shouldn't be surprised. My parents, thrilled to have their first child, started calling me Amanda Panda Sandra Sue and variations thereof pretty soon after I was born. When I was two, they saw a nightshirt with pandas on it that said "Pandamonium" and thus my panda collection was begun. 

It's grown ever since. I do try to keep it from overwhelming my decorating/wardrobe/life, but I definitely don't keep it a secret from those who get to know me. For example, my t-shirt collection has gotten to the point where a few months ago, a t-shirt on Woot.com was featured that I liked and I told Blake I wanted to get because "It's about books! And it doesn't have a panda!" I needed a little variety in my shirts and he agreed.

 My bedroom at home is decorated with a panda theme, though some of the components have moved with me to DC. Besides all the usual things like clothes, jewelry, and about a zillion stuffed pandas, I also have a panda teapot, Christmas tree ornament, a fuzzy board book, wallet, iPhone cover, art, more books, and so on.

These are the panda books I've acquired since August:

Two them I actually purchased within the last week.

I had panda cupcakes at my bridal shower!

This is my panda hat:

And my darling friend Marcia had a coworker who brought in cupcakes to work today, and one was decorated like panda. So, she snagged it and brought it to me this evening!

This is not the first time a generous friend or family member has considered my love for pandas and it won't be the last. I am thankful for each and every one of them! And don't forget! Until November 22nd, you can vote for the name for the new panda cub at the National Zoo!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Consider yourself part of the family

In 2011, Brotherface got married to a darling woman I am happy to have as a sister-in-law.

In 2012, I got married!

In 2013, Sisterpants got engaged and will be married in spring of 2014. I've spent some time with her betrothed, and I am fond of him as well.

Three up, three down!

During summer 2012, when I brought Blake home to meet my family, all eight of us (my parents, Mr. and Mrs. Brotherface, Sisterpants and The Boy She's Going to Marry But I Can't Honestly Remember If They Were Dating At The Time, and Blake and me) went river rafting down the Provo River followed by a family picnic. I think Future Mr. Sisterpants also came over for Sunday dinner that weekend too. Even though we didn't know that we'd all be one big happy forever family then, it's fun to think about now. Future Mr. Sisterpants was also at our wedding reception, which I'm grateful for in light of future events.

The great news is that we all got along, the newbies fit in well with everyone else, and I'm really looking forward to this new family dynamic being official!

Also, in putting this post together, I was struck by how much my siblings' (future) spouses look like us, being of similarly average height and blonde haired. Blake, on the other hand, is tall and dark haired. I'm grateful my family let him in anyway.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Treasure, that is what you are

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.

Sometimes Mormons are referred to as a "peculiar people." You can find many references to the Lord's peculiar people throughout the scriptures. Today, that word usually means "strange or odd." It's somewhat easy why we might be seen as such. We don't drink, take God's name in vain, have sex outside of marriage. We attend church every week, pay tithing, and attend the temple. Just to name a few things that tend to set us apart.

Elder Rodney Turner put it this way in 1972:
 In referring to themselves as a peculiar people, the Latter-day Saints tend to do so with certain theological concepts and religious customs in mind. Such things as the belief in an anthropomorphic deity, the preexistence, work for the dead, temple marriage, and the Word of Wisdom are cited as proof that we are a peculiar people.
That's how I understood the phrase until tonight as I started doing a little research for this post. In a quick poll of the other members of my household, I wasn't the only one. We've been taught that in various church classes for years. But, it turns out, I'm completely wrong, thanks to a misinterpretation of the word using the modern definition.

Elder Russell M. Nelson explains it much better than I could.

So, we're not weird at all. We're treasured.

I like that a lot.

And we're actually pretty normal people. I hope that my non-LDS friends have noticed that about me. A tool that church has come out with in recent years is Mormon.org, where you can find people like yourself and learn about their testimonies of the gospel. You can find stories about people who have tattoos or used to be Hindu or who were raised in the church like I was.

If you're think we're odd, that's okay. I can take it. But, as always, if you have any questions about anything related to the Church, I'm more than happy to answer them!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Hit the road, Jack

It should be no surprise to you that Blake and I like are our adventures. We liked adventures and traveling and road tripping before me met, so we've really been grateful to always have someone to do these kinds of things with and with whom we get along with so well. We've both been on trips with people we did not travel well with, and it's a special kind of torture. But it turns out that we really travel well together and can spend many hours in a car, just the two of us, and have a great time at it.

Knowing this, I planned a surprise, two day road trip for the two of us to the wilds of Southern Virginia back in August. All Blake knew before we left was that we were (probably) going south and we would be camping. He was an excellent sport about it and even drove the whole time. Before we left home, I gave him the first clue to our first destination - Sonic Drive-In for breakfast. Once we finished there, he got the next clue, and we preceded the same way for the next two days.

The timing of our adventuring and getting to see everything I wanted us to see worked out rather well, if I do say so myself.

Friday was primarily a history day. Our first stop was Montpelier, the home of James Madison. It was a beautiful property.

Then, we saw a silo painted like a Nutcracker. Why? Well, why not?
Husband added for scale

We continued our presidential tour at Ashlawn-Highland, the home of James Monroe, which was much more modest, but still lovely.

For lunch, we at historical Mitchie Tavern, with a delicious Southern bill of fare.

Blake was not surprised at all that our next and final stop for the day was Monticello, home of Thomas Jefferson. We had fantastic tour guides at all the homes and really all enjoyed the history and stories.

As promised, that night we camped, another thing both of us enjoy, haven't done for a long time before meeting each other, but did together three times this summer.

Saturday, we enjoyed more of the outdoor and natural wonders of Southern Virginia. First stop was Foamhenge, a complete replica of Stonehenge made out of styrofoam. Why? Again, I ask you, why not?

Then it was off to Natural Bridge and the nearby Caverns. The caverns were cool, but it was the bridge that was really amazing. Even George Washington thought so when he carved his initials into the rock. They discourage that kind of behavior now.

After lunch at a 50s themed diner, we went to a drive through safari park. My family did one when I was about five and I loved it then. We both loved it this time too.

Blake had a zebra say hi.
I had two. We weren't supposed to feed or touch them, but they were rather friendly.
Finally, we finished our afternoon touring Stonewall Jackson's home and a rather significant place nearby.

Overall, it was an incredible success. We still talk about what a great time. We are really blessed to live in such an amazing area of the country with so much history and beauty within a just a few hours from our home!