Thursday, February 24

booking it..

[ Edit: Do you remember the Book It program? It was through Pizza Hut, and I think I participated from 3rd-6th grade. (Man I could go for a personal pan pizza right about now!) We didn't get a ton of prizes, outside of the Book It! button to wear.  I didn't proudly wear my holographic pin though -- I think my nerdiness then was pretty apparent, even without a giant purple pin declaring my love for reading.  I couldn't help but think of this when talking about reading goals or challenges.  Back to our regularly scheduled blogging....]

I didn't make any formal New Year's resolutions, but I did make a few informal goals for 2011. One of those goals was to try and read more often. I have always loved books and reading is one of my favorite ways to relax and unwind at the end of the day. Still, where the Man makes a point to read every morning, I was never one to budget time for reading. And when I did, my book choices were not the best.
just a small sample from my collection of embarrassing reads...
Granted, I love my cheesy chick lit but a literary diet of those beloved pink-covered, heart splattered, salacious novels is equivalent to living off cotton candy and Dove chocolates. True, some days I crave a cheesy chick book-- and I'm not denying myself that, but after a series of Christmas themed romance compilations over the Holidays I was actually craving something a bit more substantial.

Keep in mind, when I mention substantial reading, I'm still talking about reading for leisure-- no Ayn Rand or Stephen Hawking here. 

Since another goal was to try and be more frugal, instead of hitting up Amazon or BAM for my latest read (or even a thrift store, as I often do,) I checked out the *free* selections at the Public Library. After surfing their online catalog, I had a list of requests. I also decided to give audiobooks a try while driving to and from work. I started with:
Mrs. Meyer's Clean Home: No nonsense advice that will inspire you to clean like the dickens.

This was a fun book to flip through, and had some handy tips-- but many of them I had seen before. I do want to make an effort to keep our nest cleaner and a little greener (without too much effort.) The only tricks I've actually made use of are using baking soda in the wash to help freshen our towels and cut back on my love affair with bleach; and using lemons to clean the garbage disposal and freshen our laminate countertops. I really love the smell of fresh lemon and will probably continue to keep a few on hand. I think the biggest change I noticed after reading this book was my comitment to try and not spend so much money on cleaning supplies. I will still ooh and ahh over the latest and greatest cleaning invention, but I'll be less likely to actually commit to a purchase.  I'd eventually like to give some Mrs. Meyers or Shaklee products a try one day, budget permitting.

Speaking of budget:
The New Good Life: Living better than ever in an age of less.  - John Robbins

I was looking for a book that talked about managing personal finances and this one seemed to have an interesting "whole health" perspective. Still, I worried it was going to become a little preachy-- as many green-living, financial health books have a tendency to do. Many of the concepts presented by the author were a bit out-of-reach for our nest. For example, giving up meat -- the Man and I are both carnivores. Sorry environment, and my apologies to our grocery budget. Or installing solar panels, composting, or raising chickens-- the ideas are fantastic, but I don't believe our neighbors would appreciate any of that very much. I will be attempting to raise my own tomatoes this year, so that's a start.

However, though many of the ideas were extreme-- I did find myself connecting with his discussion of redefining the "good life." For me, that is trying to shift away from that "I want = I need" idea of spending and shopping and stepping back from many of my shopaholic ways. Part of the importance of the 111 challenge for me was seeing how burdened I had allowed myself to become with STUFF. I'm not stopping shopping for pleasure, but I am trying to spend more wisely, choose items more carefully, and really think about what is prompting me to purchase.

On a different note, I thought I'd try a biography or two :

 Escape and Triumph - Carolyn Jessop

I started with Triumph, going in reverse order unintentionally, as it was available on audiobook. It was intriguing to see a glimpse inside of the FLDS cult that Carolyn was once a part of. Her persepctive and participation in the Texan raid of the Yearning for Zion ranch was compelling. Prior to these books, I knew little about the FLDS religion other than the little I had heard from news coverage of the raids a few years ago. I am amazed by the chronicles of her life as part of the FLDS and her transition from such a limiting cult view to her recovery and journey to becoming a cult survivor. I highly recommend both of these books-- the author tells her story with strength, humor, and an element of awe towards the life she once lived. You will be moved and, if you're anything like me, your curiousity will be peaked.

Carolyn spoke to the FLDS views of femininty and that discussion pulled me to another extreme.  Let's get girly, shall we? 

The Good Body - Eve Ensler
During my junior year at Montevallo, I coordinated a performance of Eve Ensler's Vagina Monoglogues. It was a powerful experience in many ways-- seeing the campus support, bringing such a controversial show to a small town in the middle of a conservative state, and being able to raise a suprising amount of money for her cause. The women (and men) involved were so dedicated to making the perfomance a success, but also to truly immersing themselves in the experience. Our rehearsals did not just practice her monologues, they connected the women involved through a meeting of the minds.

We talked about how we felt as women, what it meant to be feminine, we talked about sex and love and all nature of the taboo. It was emotional, it was moving, it was hilarious and sometimes it was just plain hot... literally and metaphorically. We broke fire codes and sold out every night. I would love to be a part of that show again...

Back to the matter at hand-- The Good Body was interesting, and I liked it-- but it left me feeling unresolved and not necessarily empowered. Although it presented different perspectives on beauty and what makes a "good" feminine body, I was unmoved and somewhat unimpressed.   In my opinion, if you're going to read/listen to Eve Ensler-- go all out and get her defining work, just remember to not have the volume up too loud with the windows down-- or you might get some odd looks.

So, that is what I've been reading/listening to lately.  What about you?  I'm always looking for a few good books...

Sunday, February 20

i heart..

I have a lot of blogs I love. Alot.  But, i am baker skyrocketed to the top of my "baking ideas" category as soon as I saw this

Rose Cake at i am baker

but it gets better, check out the inside!

vertical layers!!
This is a showstopper:
Ah-may-zing! Her rainbow cakes are gorgeous!
and then there were these:
I love the graphic designs on these Valentine's cookies!

Plus the fact that she just seems to be an all around awesome, approachable, and crazy talented baker.  She makes me want to bake cookies-- and I'm not normally a cookie-type of gal.  Her tutorials are very detailed.  A good tutorial, that takes everything step-by-step, makes me feel like I might be able to accomplish something stunning like her heart cake that has been featured ALL OVER blogland.

It was a messy process, and I have a few things I would change about my efforts.
  • make a double batch of batter -- I hardly had enough for 3 layers, and thicker layers work much better
  • have a few bleachable rags nearby, I went through about 3 or 4 bar mops just wiping up red velvet batter, that stuff stains and gets EVERYWHERE
  • freeze your cakes if possible, mine were refrigerated, but still very crumbly
  • carve carefully-- I was a bit too impatient and though I thought I was being careful, it seems like I was hacking away at the cake recklessly
  • remind yourself that usually the uglier the cake, the better it tastes
For the outside, I attempted to frost in roses like Amanda's Rose Cake.  I will surely be trying this again as it was so simple and gave a really cool effect.

And after doling out a few slices to willing family and friends, we see the somewhat Heart Cake.

I was fairly happy with my first attempt, and I will be trying both of these methods in the future.  The Man was happy and said "as long as it tastes good..." but we both thought the concept was pretty cool.  He even suggested a strawberry lemonade version, with strawberry cake for the inside and lemon cake for the layers. 

Maybe next time.  For now, I'll have a piece of cake and see what Amanda is working on next.

Monday, February 14

quick crepe paper roses

Not a very inventive title, but "what I did to keep myself busy while the Man played Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood" or "a crafty project from blog land that I was determined even I could finish" or "what I burned myself on while watching back to back episodes of Cesar Millan's Dog Whisperer" weren't quite the catchy appealing titles I had hoped for.  So we'll go with "quick crepe paper roses" as a starter instead.

After seeing it around blogland, I thought this project would be perfect for our Valentine's mantle.

I first saw crepe paper roses on Shelly's blog over at House of Smiths. 
Find her flower tutorial here.
She made these seem so simple and it gave me hope.  I too could make something cute AND inexpensive!

So I flagged it in my reader and come the month of sweethearts-- I knew it was time.  I dashed to the HobLob before buying groceries one night and left with 3 different spools of red, pink, and fuchsia crepe paper.  I also picked up two metal heart-shaped wreath forms.  My total was around $7 for everything.

The Man had to work late (as he often does) and I decided to pile up in the floor and give these roses a whirl.  I watched a few tutorial videos seen here and here and felt like I had the hang of it. I would write it out step by step-- but the video shows it so much clearer.  A few tips:
  • I used scotch tape (around the stem) to keep the roses from unraveling
  • I cut off the stem and pinched the base of the rose to keep it together while applying LIBERAL amounts of hot glue
  • I wrapped the wreath in a layer of crepe-paper to help fill in any gaps
  • Use low-temp glue-- there is a high level of burn potential here if you're not careful
I made about 75-100 pink roses and still had plenty of crepe paper left.  I stuck to the baby pink for my heart wreath (the red wasn't as rich as I hoped, and the fuchsia just didn't "go").  I just kept layering the blooms on top of each other until I felt the wreath had a good shape and was fully covered. 

I'm not sure how much time it took.  I worked on and off for a few days and my wreath was complete! I can think of so many other things to use these roses for and they seem like a perfect crafty staple. 

Shall we add this to our crafty repertoire?  I mean, it's cheap and easy... and cheap!  I think I spent a total of $3 on this wreath (not counting glue sticks and time and compensation for minor burn wounds).  Even Inari liked it, or rather--licked it.

Besides, what's more Valentine-y than pink roses and hearts?
Happy Valentine's Day from the nerdy nesters (and Bessie the cow bank)!

Sunday, February 13

feeling senti-mantle

One of the things I love about our nest is the fireplace.  Granted, we've never used it for an actual fire but I love decorating it for the different seasons. What's awesome is that the Man can have his wall-of-entertainment-and-electronics and I have my wall of girlish-seasonal-goodness.  I think the two work together well, I can decorate until my hearts content and we can still pile up on the couch and see the television comfortably.  Plus with the odd shape of our living room, I can't imagine configuring the furniture any other way (the Man will vouch that I've tried.)
Nonetheless, decorating the mantle for me is a little bit of an obsession. I thought I'd share a peek into my obsessive mind-- our mantle over the last four months-- or, since we got the house put back together post-kitchen-renovation.  I've always wanted a large mirror for that space, but in the meantime-- a cork board and two smaller mirrors will do.  I think they make a nice foundation for smaller decorations.

 For November, I used a grapevine wreath from a yard sale, a few fabric leaves and pumpkins, and a sweet harvest angel that the Man's Aunt gave us.  I added in my Willow tree couple, and the floral pumpkin made by the Man's Mom and the Sister perched on a plant stand just barely out of the cat's reach.
In December, it was all about anything red, green, sparkly and ballsy...wait..that's not right. I really like Christmas balls..lots of them... wait, that sounds even worse. Oh just look at the picture:

For January, I was kind of lost.  I didn't quite want to jump into a Valentine's explosion of hearts and sweetness and love...

so I went with an icy, sparkly, shimmery style.  I took away most of the color and added in a lot of silvery touches.  The wreath is one I found at a yard sale for $5 and initially used it for the front door.  The Man vetoed it this year because it is pretty spiky and almost "took his eye out."  Thankfully our new wreath for the door is much more Man-friendly.

Last year, for much of January and February I inundated the mantle with anything heart-shaped, red, or pink I could find-- with my penchant for pink, it was a LOT!  This year I tried to simplify while still keeping in tune with a lovey-dovey feeling. I've noticed there are some elements on my mantle that I love so much, I want to keep them up year-round (like my cream Smith & Hawken pillar stands, clear glass vases, and the often present wood rose tree.)

I decided to put a few sentimental things center stage and also put some of my crafty goodness on display. I'm really happy with the way it's turned out and get a little sappy every time I walk past, but that's what the month of luuuuu-ve is all about, right?

Thursday, February 10

let's make like a tree...

.. and get sappy.

Lame, I know-- but something about this time of year turns me into a sappy, sentimental pile of mush. Perhaps it's the upcoming celebration of Saint Valentine, maybe it's the fact that College Night is right around the corner, possibly it's that things have finally slowed down after the hustle and bustle of October-December to actually allow time for my mind to wander and reminisce. I believe it's a combination of all of these.. so time for a little brain dump. Not eloquent, I realize, but it pretty accurately describes what you have to look forward to in this post. (Edit: after finishing this novella-- be warned! It is far too wordy, lasts forever, and you might need tissues.  I did.)

reuniting with my purple family
No, my actual family members have not contracted some crazy west-Nilian virus that turns their skin purple.  What I'm talking about here is my alma mater's homecoming tradition-- the University of Montevallo's College Night.  For those who do not know or understand College Night read: this article at, this listing in the American Folklife Center, or go straight to the source at the UM College Night page.

Palmer Hall, home to College Night for the past 92 years
For me, going back to College Night is non-negotiable.  I've been every year since graduation and consider myself to be a Proud Vintage (Vintage Purples are those who have graduated or "passed and been forgotten".)  This will be the Man's third year returning, and though he still doesn't understand the mania that ensues-- he has started to join in on the rivalry.  I'm going to pretend his disdain for the Gold Side comes from his support of me and the other Purples, but truly I think he's just tired of having to sit through their "shows".   

My co-leader and I as Vintages.
We were kinda unstoppable, if I do say so myself.
I love College Night and the Purple Side.  When they say that the Purple Side is a family, we aren't joking.  Many of my closest friends are Purples and I look forward to seeing everyone each year.  For many of us, College Night is the only time we have the opportunity to visit.  From the moment we arrive on campus, it is a flurry of "oh-my-god-how-are-you's!" and "PV whooo's!" and hugs and talking over each other and excited chatter from everyone who can't wait to see everyone else.  It's madness, and I love it.

As a former Leader, I have a soft spot for what the leaders go through.  I was lucky to have a chance to speak with the current male leader and encouraged him to take a minute after the show last night to step outside the steps of Palmer and savor the moment, take a deep breath, and take it all in. This was something I did during my leader year, and I have never forgotten that feeling.  This is what he wrote on my facebook wall:
"Just want you to know, that I did that thing that you said... you know, walked outside with my co-leader, [...]after our opening night and looked at the campus... You were right. One of the most beautiful moments of my life that I will always remember. The sky was dark, and the campus was all lit up, and it was SNOWING! Huge snowflakes falling from the sky, and sticking to the grass, and a whole bunch of people were out in the main quad jumping and screaming and having a blast in the snow. I just wanted you to know :) PV"
I can't wait to be back on that beautiful campus.  I can't wait to see my dear friends.  I can NOT wait to circle up with my Side on Saturday night in the hallowed Palmer Hall and experience the electricity in the air and the power of the Purple Side.

 missing "mildly retarded"
 It's been about two years since a former professor, and dear friend of mine passed away after his battle with cancer.  John Franklin (lovingly known as JOF) had such a dynamic spirit and was a huge part of my college experience.  It's weird looking back to see how much influence he had on me, and how much he grew to mean to me over the years. 

John and his "hand dipped cones"
from Dairy Queen. 
I was honored to be able to visit him when he was sick, and even more humbled by his family's acceptance of me in their time of grief. We planned a memorial for him at Montevallo and I am honestly amazed to this day that I even survived that weekend.  I am so grateful for my friends, my Montevallo family, who were there.  We all were mourning, and the outpouring of love from everyone there was so powerful, so honest, so real -- it directly reflected the impact that John had on everyone around him.

I don't know what has prompted his being on my mind so much lately-- perhaps it's because I have settled down and finally have time to craft again, or maybe it's just that I am finally able to look back and remember without being overwhelmed by the memories of his last few months.

There are moments when I wish we could just sit down over dinner and catch up. I wish he could see the house (and make fun of my decorating choices) and meet the Man (and probably make fun of us) and be around to see how many of his students and friends from his time at Montevallo have flourished and grown to find success, who have direction, who have finally found their passion and and making their dreams happen. 

He used to joke that most of his students were "mildly retarded" and would never amount to much-- but I think everyone who knew John, and who was affectionately called "mildly retarded",  knew that he was proud of them.  As I return to Campus this weekend, I'll be thinking of him-- while cheering for the Purples in Palmer watching the cheerleaders in uniforms he helped us design, while watching the Gold Show and hearing his biting critique just like our last College Night together, while drinking a glass of sweet tea with the one and only Miss Pam, and while being surrounded by the Montevallo family that love and miss him to this day.

love and all things considered
When I left my Montevallo home after graduation, I moved back to Auburn to be with my family.  I initially felt coming home was a sign of failure, like I hadn't actually moved on, like the last four years had been erased and I was back in high school.  I had been accepted to attend graduate school at the University of Alabama, but had a complete change of heart. I left the program, the assistantship, the lease, everything to come home.

Thankfully, I did move back.  It enabled me to help my Dad recover from some of his more serious health issues, be around for my Sweet Grandmother as she lived the last months of her life, help my Dear Mother recover from surgery and adjust to her life as caregiver for Sassy Grandma, and led me to where I am today- happy, settled, and loved.

Still, moving home was difficult.  My life changed drastically.  Though I was always working while in school (I had a job or three at any given moment), I still feel like I was able to live "the college life."  Once I moved to Auburn, I made do.  I got a job, I got an apartment.  I worked.  I worked to pay bills.  I worked to keep busy. I worked to figure out who I was, after leaving my college self behind.   I'm sure we've all been through a time like this-- where you're just living, going through the motions. 

I don't mean to imply that I wasn't happy, I was.  After the first few years, I was finally happy with the person I was becoming, and happy being alone.  Happy being by myself, doing my own thing-- cheesy chick flicks from Movie Gallery on a Friday night, lunches at Country's barbecue with the Dad and his cronies, and my weekends spent strolling through thrift stores looking for the next find.  I pretty much kept to myself.

And then I lost a bet.

The card I made for the Man on our first Valentine's Day.
Can you tell we're fans of South Park?

Apparently my "isolation" and "resistance to relationships" (thanks, pop psychologist) was pretty opaque.  The wager was that if I lost, I had to promise to put myself "out there more."  So I did.

The day before I was scheduled to leave the country to travel for work, I received a message from who would soon become the Man.  Yes, we met online (this is the nerdy nest, after all..)We exchanged notes and over the course of the next three weeks had an old-fashioned, new-fangled courtship thanks to VOIP and many late nights.  I'm sure we would have moved our first date up a bit, except he wasn't too keen on flying to Canada. When I returned home, we went out for dinner.. and have been going strong ever since.

Many times, I berated myself for being a hopeless romantic.  For believing in a type of love that is  undeniable, uncommon, persistent and above all else--real.

Instead, as I look forward to a magical weekend of visiting my alma mater-- the school that helped to make me who I am, spending time with some of my greatest friends, remembering those who changed my life for good, and laughing with the man I love-- I remind myself that I am not a hopeless romantic with a flawed view of what love can be.

I am a hopeful romantic, who still believes in love.  I feel that we all deserve to be loved and if we haven't found that person -- maybe you just haven't met them yet.