Wednesday, February 29, 2012

My Inspiration

I've been thinking a lot about what motivates me and inspires me lately. Specifically in the areas that I tend to blog about . . . basically all the areas of my life! And I found that it's mostly other people. Sometimes I'm inspired by a friend, a conversation, one of their own ideas, or maybe it's a magazine or blog or dare I mention pinterest?

So many of you out there have such great ideas. I love reading about what you do to keep your kids busy (like using finger paint to make butterflies with your feet) or how you stay motivated to keep training for your 10K (cause I need the motivation too). Or how your friends decorated for your baby shower. Or how you hand made your Christmas gifts, Valentine's treats, or came up with a theme for a party. It's all so inspiring.

Why? Because it makes something that could be seen as mundane or normal special and memorable. (And sometimes it is even more cost effective for those of us on a budget!) That's what I want. I want my life to be made up of special and memorable moments!

I've decided to share with you the websites that I find to be the most inspiring to me these days:

 - The Krazy Coupon Lady - she helps me find the best deals and saves me a ton of money (at least $30 a month) And she posts great (yet affordable) gift ideas.

 - The Pioneer Woman - she was an inspiration to me when I was looking for a purpose in my blogging. This lady does everything, but especially cooking and photography.

- Cluck Cluck Sew - This is a newer blog I've started to check out, great for quilting ideas and tutorials

- - This is where I go when I need motivation to live healthier.

- - some of you may already be aware of the power of this site, but I just found it a few weeks ago and I'm in love! Inspiration for everything!

- Etsy - I'm sure I will never have my own Etsy store but just looking at all the things people make is amazing! And it's great for finding ideas for my next projects!

Other sources I find inspiring:
America's Test Kitchen cookbooks (any of them!),
Clean Eating magazine
(Basically any magazine will do if it deals with the home, cooking, and has a little fashion!)

I'm sure there are more and I may be adding to this list on a regular basis but you get the idea. It's important to stay inspired! It keeps us thinking, moving and living!

Monday, February 27, 2012

And The Oscar Goes to . . .

Last night was the Academy Awards. I'm sure you were aware of that. For me, they usually aren't a big deal. I should say before I was married they weren't a big deal. Since my husband is a huge fan of movies and hopes that they will one day be his career, they are a huge deal! Every year we talk of having people over to watch them, but we end up having scheduling conflicts or just being too busy to act on our intentions. But not this year!

We started talking about our Oscar party a long time ago. But we actually didn't start making any real plans until last week. That being said, it was a busy week!

But, busy as it was, it was so super fun! I did some blog-stocking research and found a lot of great ideas and even a few easy downloadable extras.

Take a look at our "Night at the Oscars."

We had a pool going of who would guess the most award winners right. I made the ballots and everyone voted before the Academy Awards started. As they announced each winner you would hear someone shout "Yes!" and quite a few others moan "Argh!" It definitely made me follow the show better! 

I came up with a little "photo booth" of sorts for us to have a little fun during the commercial breaks. Almost everyone participated in the fun and we got some great photos! (I'll protect them and not post them here, but trust me, they were great!) Hopefully, they'll be a reminder of the great night we all had!

I found downloadable wine charms to help us tell our glasses apart. I, of course, was "Best Picture!" The Oscar statues were also from a downloaded PDF and were just printed on card stock.

We restructured our dining room so of course the lighting got in the way! Everyone taller than 5 1/2" was in danger (sorry guys)!

I made little tags for all the food and had people write on them when they arrived with their goodies. This was a slow-cooker sweet-and-sour meatball recipe from my favorite America's Test Kitchen. I didn't get photos of everything (my bad) but there was plenty to go around!

As the award show came to a close there were three guests very close to winning our pool prize. Not surprisingly, Chris was among them. And when the last three awards were announced, Chris was in fact, the winner! (I think he was extra motivated since he already knew that the prize was 2 movie tickets.)

We all had a wonderful evening and will definitely make this an annual event!

P.S.  Of the movies up for Best Picture, my vote had been Hugo. We really enjoyed that one. And it did take home quite a few awards! My other favorites this year were Midnight in Paris, The Descendants, and The Help.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Quilting Expo: Where it all started

Last year two of my friends and I went to a quilting expo. At the time, none of us were big quilters much less into sewing. You can read about our trip here. But it sparked an interest in all of us and we started a little sewing club of sorts and have done a lot in the past year. 

The quilting expo happens to be a regular event (twice a year) so one of my friends (the other was not in the country) and I made the trek again today. I had big plans and a long list of things to get. 

It can get really overwhelming looking at all the different booths of fabric and sewing supplies. But it can also be very inspiring! We did a quick walk through to see what was there and then headed back to the booths that originally caught our attention. 

My friend even tried one of the exhibits featuring a special tool used for cutting fabric:

To be honest, choosing fabric is probably my least favorite part of sewing. I love looking at it, don't get me wrong, and I love "going shopping" for it. But making the final decision is really hard. And coordinating fabrics is not one of my strengths. 

Thankfully, my friend has a special gifting in that area and helped me pick out a lot of really great stuff. 

Afterwards, we headed to JoAnn Fabrics to pick up the other things we needed for our projects and stopped for lunch. Now, I just need to set aside some sewing time and get started!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Custom Designed Wrapping Paper

I attended a baby shower this evening for a friend from church. I had no problem making the card and buying the gift (I enjoyed doing both of those things quite a bit!) but when it came to wrapping it up, I was at a loss. I hadn't picked up a gift bag or baby-themed wrapping paper and didn't want to run back to the store to get it.

I've used paper bags to mail packages before, usually using them as a wrapping around an ugly box or something. I usually have to flip in so the outside of the bag with all the logos and wording is on the inside.

When I was younger, my mom taught me how to make a little gift bag out of wrapping paper.

I decided to put these two ideas together and make a small gift bag out of a grocery bag. It was a total disaster! Turns out the creases in the paper bag don't go anywhere even when you try to make new folds. Wrapping paper is so much lighter and easier to fold.

Option two was to just wrap the gift in the paper bag without a box and do my best with those darn creases. That didn't look too impressive (especially when I was thinking about the other gift packaging that was sure to be at the party).

Thankfully, my creative mind was working over time trying to make this work and I noticed my Trader Joe's grocery bags were covered in blue graphics - perfect for a little boy's gift. I cut out the blue wave, the seagull, and changed up the letters from "Reusable" and "Recycle" to make "Caleb."

It turned out pretty great if I do say so myself!

Honey, what's for dinner?

No, my husband doesn't usually ask me this question. But I didn't know what else to title my random blog post about food. I've tried a few new recipes this week and I wanted to share my adventurous-ness with you.

Earlier this week I made sweet and sour pork with rice. I don't normally cook a lot of pork dishes so I'm never very confident. The recipe was from Taste of Home, which I love by the way. Most of the recipes I've tried from my Taste of Home cookbook have been awesome. So that gave me a little more confidence.

Taste of Home never fails, it was delicious! Pork, pineapple, green pepper, carrots, and onions piled high on top of a bed or brown rice:

And last night I made minestrone soup with carrots, cabbage, onions, tomatoes, zucchini, beans and lentils. This recipe came out of my new cookbook "The SparkPeople Cookbook." I made plenty so we will be enjoying that one again . . . and again!

Next up on the list is a new sloppy joe recipe that is actually mostly vegetables and very little slop.

(sorry for the poor quality in photos, the lighting in my dining room is atrocious!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Cake Decorating: Lesson 1

My sisters bought me a cake decorating kit for Christmas and on Monday I finally got to use it! One of our very good friends turned 30 and I decided to make a big deal about it and make him a cake.

I had seen my mom decorate birthday cakes for years (like 27 or something) so I thought I would start my first project doing what I had seen her do a hundred times.  She made it look so easy! Well, after my first attempt at it, I decided to crack open the decorating book that came with the kit. Yes, I realize I should have done that first!

I was able to fix it up a bit and it didn't turn out too bad! It tasted delicious even if the looks could improve--I made the chocolate cake from scratch, thanks to Betty Crocker.

To complete this special birthday dessert I made another batch of homemade ice cream. This time: Grasshopper Pie (mint, brownie, and chocolate chip). 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A New Kind of Valentine's Day

Chris and I have never been "big" on celebrating Valentine's Day. Well, I take that back, we love having an excuse to spend one more evening together but we don't like dishing out the big bucks for it. We usually have dinner "in" and I might be given flowers (after the price goes back down).

This year was a little different. Valentine's Day fell on our normal community-group night which we sometimes host at our apartment. I didn't want to cancel our get together just because it fell on Valentine's day, but I also didn't want everyone to feel like they were missing out on a night of love/romance/ or a fancy meal with their significant other or friends (since not everyone in the group is married).

I decided to plan a special meal for everyone. We set the table up really nice and formal, Chris did buy some flowers for our center piece and I served up some roasted asparagus and pork chops with a herb-cream sauce and rice. (Sorry, I was so concerned with serving the food I forgot to take photos of the meal.)

Dinner turned out really well (if I do say so myself) and the conversation that flowed around the table warmed my heart as I reflected (silently) on the blessing that each person is to me.  After dinner, one of our guests treated us to chocolate covered strawberries!

During the day on Tuesday I was thinking about how glad I was to be celebrating this holiday of love with such close friends. Friends who are teaching me every week what it looks like to love as Christ loves. To serve as Christ served. Valentine's Day doesn't have to be about the romance between a man and a woman. Why not celebrate the romance between God and his creation? Why not celebrate the one who created love?

I felt like last night was a night that honored the Lord and celebrated the love and community He had blessed us with in each other.  It was a new kind of Valentine's Day -- and it was wonderful.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life."

"In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins."

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Saturday Morning Brunch

This morning we took our bikes to the streets again.  This time on a brunch date (it was brunch because I over slept slept in later than I thought I would). Chris had been telling me (or maybe he was bribing me) about this donut shop he thought was really good and wanted to take me there when we could both bike.

Well, since Chris bought his bike last weekend we decided to make that donut-date happen this weekend. Dynamo Donuts and Coffee was pretty unique; they probably had 10 different donut flavors--all of which sounded amazing. Chris settled on the Chocolate-rosemary-almond donut and I got the apricot-cardamom. I don't think I had every had such a flavorful donut before --and it wasn't just in the glaze, it was the actual donut!

Some of the flavors we didn't get to try were: Maple Glazed Bacon Apple, Pumpkin Chocolate Chip, Sticky Bun, Vanilla Bean, Carmel Apple, and Spiced Chocolate.

It kind of reminded me of an ice-cream shop with the flavor combinations and the line! I'm telling you, anything is possible in San Francisco. And for those of you have not made the trek out to visit us yet, let this be one more reason to get on the plane!

Chris and I have biked together quite a few times over the past week, but today I actually brought my camera. Since I know you are all dying to see what his new bike looks like! So, here it is!

And here we are!

And just in case you didn't believe me when I said I had been biking -- here's proof! 

a good clean meal

For Christmas, one of my very best friends gave me a subscription to the magazine "Clean Eating."  I'm not totally a "clean-eater" but I enjoy making good tasting healthy food and the less processed and packaged foods I eat the better.

I've tried a few recipes from my first issue and both were delicious. Last night, I made this mac-and-cheese with broccoli and white beans. And let me just repeat myself and say it was super tasty and quite filling!

Some of the recipes I've come across in the magazine are a little intense (a lot of ingredients) or expensive, but I've been able to find quite a few that are totally do-able on my budget. Looking forward to many more nights of "clean eating."

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Kisses from Katie: A Story of Relentless Love and Redemption

A few weeks ago I was reading a blog and came across another blog link to Kisses From Katie, I was curious and started reading a few posts and just had to keep reading. Eventually, I decided I needed to know more and got her book from the library. 

A few years ago, Katie Davis was a high school senior who took a short term mission trip to Uganda. This trip would change her life. A year later, she had moved their, permanently. In the four or so years that she has lived there, she's legally adopted 14 girls, runs a non-profit that provides education, food, and medical supplies to 400 children in area villages. She feeds the hungry, cares for the elderly and takes in the orphan (literally). 

I can't believe that this young woman (who is the age of my youngest sister) has such a solid walk with God. Everything this woman does exudes Jesus. In her writing she comes across as very humble and compassionate but when you are reading her story you can see a supernatural strength and courage. God is truly using one woman to change lives -- she may even change the world. 

Reading a few of her stories reminded me of my time in Africa, and I did start to miss it. She shares stories of meeting each one of her adopted daughters, how her non-profit came to be, and the struggles she had of leaving all the comforts of America to live across the world. Many of the situations she comes across would be hard for me to stomach. But she has this theme through out her day to day life. She just keeps loving those in front of her. And her love is very tangible. She touches, she feeds, she shelters, she fixes, she cares.

I felt a little convicted when reading the book. Guilty that I don't live in a dirt hut and give all of my resources away to help those in need. Guilty that I don't even come close. Guilty that I don't have that kind of deep faith/trust with my Savior. Page after page, I kept questioning, "God, what is my life suppose to look like, what should I be doing?"

I haven't heard His response yet, but I know I need to tell you to read this book. It will help renew your eternal perspective and tug your heart in the right direction of caring for the things God cares for. His story is the story of relentless love and redemption. Katie's story is just one example of how we see it here on earth.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Date Night - Bicycle Style

Chris has wanted to buy a new bike for a long time, probably since we moved to the city and he saw the advantages of the road bike. The slim tires and the light weight frame made moving around the city seem effortless. His old bike, which is now my bike, is a hybrid. Basically it's a cross between a road bike and a mountain bike. This suits me just fine since it you sit more upright than leaning forward which is better for my low back and wrists. (My only complaint is that I have a hard time maneuvering it up and down stairs because it's big and a little heavy.)

He started saving for his new bike after his 27th birthday. He decided his birthday money would be used as the starter for his "bike fund." In June we added the bike fund to the budget and set aside a certain amount to go toward his bike every month.

It seemed to take forever! I know he was really eager to get a road bike and was envious of the other bikers who seemed to whiz by at high speeds during his commute to work. He just kept riding the hybrid and saving. Month after month. After Christmas when I started getting the nerve up to ride, he was even more eager to have it so we could bike together (and he didn't want to be bike-less).

Well, yesterday was the day! Chris purchased his new bike at a local bike shop. He had been eyeing this bike for awhile but we needed just one more month's savings in order to pay for it. Saturday was like Christmas, except he actually worked and saved really long and hard to get it.

Last night was date night. As we were getting ready, Chis asked, "So, you want to bike or drive." Wow, we have so many options now! I jumped at the chance to bike with my husband! (And I had never ridden at night and could have used a guide!) The restaurant was just down the hill and we got there in less than 5 minutes. Then after dinner we rode about a mile and a half to a friends birthday party (so part of the evening was date night anyway). The night was pretty quiet and although a little chilly, was pretty nice. We had a really great ride together.

After the party, we got back on our bikes and made the journey home. The streets weren't too busy so again it was a pretty good ride. Chris really enjoyed his bike and can't wait to get more comfortable on it.

And we both can't wait to start exploring the city on weekends together with our new mode of transportation!

My Closet of Contentment

Have you ever opened your closet door or dresser drawer and said something like, "Uh, I have nothing to wear!"? (Okay, maybe that one was just for my female readers.)

I have. And I still do. I go through these phases where I am just sick and tired of what I have. I want something new or better yet, I want everything new. You know what I'm talking about. Where nothing excites you anymore, or everything you have just seems old, used, worn out or just plain out of style.

I try really hard not to live in those moments for too long or let them happen too often. I know I have plenty of things to wear and I should be very grateful for all that I have. Seriously. Not just, "Oh, okay, I'm fine with what I have." But rejoicing with a heart filled with gratitude that I am well taken care of and provided for. I know people (lots of people) who go without a lot of things because they don't have a choice right now. I know what life in a third-world country looks like for many (and I know it is much worse than what I was exposed to for most).

Why is it so easy for me to get caught up in the have-nots or the I-wishes? Why do I care so much about what I can wear or eat or purchase?

The other day when I was feeling this way I decided to literally take stock of what I have. More specifically, what clothes I have purchased or been given in the past two years. I was shocked. Here's what I saw:

sweaters, dressy shirts and long sleeve shirts . . . and that doesn't show two jackets or my new shoes.

A lot of solid colored tops, a few new pair of pants, shorts and capris . . . 

The clothes I've purchased in the past two years is definitely enough to last me a while but that's not even half of what I own! 

A lot of those new clothes were gifts, and I don't want you to think I'm ungrateful. I'm actually extremely grateful for those gifts because they are cute, and my style, and I love them and they came from very special people. And it means I get to wear new clothes!

But my point is, that being in a place of discontent is dangerous. Very dangerous! It can start with something small like wishing you had newer clothes but it can spread to wishing you had a bigger apartment, better furniture, a different job, a house, a yard, or dare I say a (fill in the blank) spouse or family? 

I don't want to get there. I need to be thankful, grateful, and joyful for what I do have . . . all the time. I need to be content with who I am, where I am in life, and what I have around me. I need to be content with the clothes I have in my closet and remember how blessed I really am.

Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Dietrich Bonhoeffer biography

I don't normally go for biographies. Especially biographies that are over 500 pages! But, the Jews for Jesus Store (where I work) was promoting Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas to our donors and it was a huge hit. Seriously. So, I felt like I was missing out by not being in the know of this apparently great man of WWII. Yes, I had heard of Dietrich Bonhoeffer before, in fact one of his books is on my reading list, but I didn't know anything about him.

The book is long, but very thorough. The first two chapters were the most difficult to get through as you aren't familiar with the characters yet and are reading the "begot so-and-so" history of his family. But after I got through that, it was really great.

The author takes you through is childhood and what the depression was like in Germany (awful). Then we see Dietrich as a young adult starting to take on theology with the big-wigs. But not until his mid-twenties (as if that was old) does he really begin to thirst for a relationship with Jesus. And in his German culture, that was strange. There really wasn't much talk of this "relationship" at all. But he believed and that relationship changed his life.

He was a huge advocate for community and actually started a theological seminary where he lived with his students and practiced what he preached (disciples like prayer, meditation on scripture, scripture memory, etc.)

Throughout his life he is making friendships that will eventually form the group of conspirators against Hitler during the second World War. And although they aren't successful in their plots they were successful in standing up for Christ, the Church, and the Jewish people during this time of persecution.

He really was an amazing man of God and very inspiring. I also really enjoyed learning more about that time of history and from the German perspective. I remember very little of what I learned in high school (shame on me, I know) but am so thankful that it's not to late to learn!

If I haven't given away too much of his life or the book and you are interested in more, you can check it out at

(yes, that was a plug).