Monthly Archives: November 2012

So, I Pray at Restaurants…

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I didn’t have class yesterday, and since the semester is so close to being over (T-minus 6 days!), I don’t have much schoolwork left. I decided to take my textbook to Chick-Fil-A and get a little reading done while I munched on my beloved Chick’n Strips Salad and a fruit cup. I thought of it as “Treat Yoself” day 😉

Turns out, I’m a complete flippin’ idiot. I pulled up to Chick-Fil-A at 12:10. The drive-thru line was wrapped doubly around the building. I almost thought I’d have to park at Sheetz and walk over when I finally spotted a teeny space wedged between two SUVs. I made a beeline for that mother and then dashed inside… only to realize that there were two available tables in the entire place. I was about tenth in line, so I could’ve been that incredibly rude customer who “reserves” a table using her suitcase-sized purse or some non-essential item of clothing, but I just couldn’t do that. I patiently waited my turn, barely being able to hear myself order over the thundering din of screaming toddlers and businessmen on Bluetooths. Somehow, I found a small booth by the window. As I dressed my fragrant salad with Honey Mustard and admired the freshness of my fruit cup, I noticed that the booth of college students — hulking, male college students — in front of me was holding hands with their eyes closed, saying a prayer.

I know it’s rude, but I couldn’t help but watch them as they quietly finished their prayer and went on about their meal. I was truly in awe that these guys would hold each others’ hands and pray in the middle of a crowded restaurant. I think I was also in awe because I knew I was about to do the same.

See, my family and I frequently pray at restaurants. Sometimes we hold hands, and sometimes we just lean in together. One of us says a few quiet words to bless our meal, and then we continue with our business. Each of us pretty much has a standard prayer when it’s our turn. Mine goes like this: Dear God, thank you for this food, and please keep us safe in our travels. Covers most of my bases, right? 😉

In my experience, there are two sticky things to consider when praying at restaurants: (1) whether any guests with us will feel uncomfortable if we pray, and (2) avoiding the waiter/waitress arriving to deliver food or refill drinks. While I shouldn’t have to compromise my values or beliefs for someone else, sometimes praying aloud is something we choose to forego if we’ve invited someone to dine with us who practices a different religion or someone we know we would be making uncomfortable. It’s not like my family is going to force a kumbaya circle, or insist that everyone go around and say five things for which they’re thankful, or enlist people to do a group Tebow in the middle of a crowded restaurant… We’re simply expressing our gratitude.

Honestly, I think it’s awesome when I see other young people praying in public. I’m not what most people would consider to be a conservative person, but it brings a smile to my heart when I witness other people sharing in their faith, unafraid that others might see them or judge them. I don’t believe in martyrdom or intentional showiness, but such a simple event can have such a profound ripple effect. I really wanted to shake those guys’ hands and tell them how cool I thought what they did was, but instead I just enjoyed what I witnessed, and I carried that happiness with me all day. They’ll never know the effect they had on me, but that’s one of the things I find coolest about faith.

Question: How does it make you feel when you see people praying in public?

Thursday Thrills #2

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I’m back, with Thursday Thrills, episode two! Today, I want to share with y’all some things I’ve been loving recently.

The first is a blog. It’s more than a blog, really; it’s an emotional, inspiring, candid storybook overflowing with personal details, intimacies, hard truths, and pure, unadulterated honesty. It is quite literally the best blog I have ever found, and I feel like I’m getting to know a new friend when I read Dan’s stuff. Please, check out Single Dad Laughing. It may make you laugh, it may make you cry, it may make you angry… but it will definitely make you think. Personally, I’ve been inspired simply by the way Dan writes to be more frank in my writing. I’m thrilled beyond words that you’re reading, but I began the blog for me, so it’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to. Capiesh?

Secondly, I’m loving Breaking Bad. I’m midway through season 4 on Netflix, and I don’t know what I’m going to do when I run out of episodes. Ian kept pestering me about checking it out. He’s never even seen it! I gotta say, his plot summary of “It’s about a high school teacher who makes meth” was sensationally underwhelming — and not cause for me to jump up and run for the television. Now, I’m hooked. Pun intended?

My third thrill is the amount of positivity on social media. As much as I occasionally enjoy crazily stalking tanorexics from high school and deranged exes on others’ Facebooks, I’ve never had the desire to create my own page. I guess I’m mainly referring to the Twittersphere, because I don’t do Pinterest, Tumblr, LinkedIn, Stumble Upon, or any of that other jazz. Maybe it’s because the election is finally over, or maybe it’s because people’s semesters are drawing to a close, but I’m really sensing a great deal of positive energy. Normally around the holidays, I read and quickly grow weary of people’s Tweets about their whacked-out in-laws and their dreaded holiday parties, so this year is a refreshing change of pace 😉

Fourth, Home Alone. For the past three nights, I’ve watched the first 30-45 minutes of Home Alone as I snuggled under my covers. The same parts never cease to make me laugh, and they’re sometimes not even key parts. This is one of my all-time favorites:

I’ve gotten myself into the terrible habit of needing the television on to fall asleep. If you’re like me — though I can guarantee that you’re not — and you have a 13-inch monster with a built-in VHS player, your movies rewind and eject themselves, and the TV turns itself off. I swear by it, I will not throw out this brick of a machine until it flat-out dies. I paid for it in cash at Circuit City the summer after 7th grade… I’m really dating myself here. Circuit City?

Bear with me on this one. My apartment complex has begun a program called Poo Prints because evidently some doggie-owners aren’t cleaning up their biznass. I literally laughed out loud, by myself, in my apartment, when I received the notice. Now, I don’t have a dog, but I read — and thoroughly enjoyed — the entire memo. Each dog-owner is required to make an appointment with the leasing office to have his dog’s cheek swabbed for a DNA sample. The samples will be sent off to a lab, which will send back a registry bank of all dogs in the complex. Thereafter, if somebody’s biznass is found around the neighborhood, it will be analyzed (immediately I wondered, by whom?) and compared to the DNA samples. When the “owner” of the poop is identified, he or she will be fined like $300 for the first offense, leading up to possible lease termination for the third or fourth offense. I’ll be honest, I cannot wait to see this plan in action. When my family had a dog, I wasn’t always honest the best about picking up his… treats, but my apartment complex even has a fenced-in exercise area for dogs, with little poo-baggy stations all around the complex. When it’s that easy, how lazy do you have to be to not give a shit?

Lastly, I’m loving Ian.

He’s pretty… special. As flattering as this picture is (please, try not to swoon over what appears to be our faces morphing into one) he’s a great dude. He’s been by my side through thick and thin (and very thin), and his unwavering faith in our relationship has gotten us through some serious stuff. I’ll grant you that he’s a terrible listener, and it irritates me to no end that he runs the dishwasher with 3 or 4 items in it because he’s “not paying for the water,” but the reasons I love him and the reasons why we’re perfect for each other are immeasurable. I’ve never been a believer in soulmates, but he’s bringing me around to the notion 😉 After all, there’s got to be some reason I would stay with a guy for three years who licked my face…

Have a thrilling Thursday, my blends!

P.S. If anyone can tell me how to make a YouTube video loop, I’d be forever grateful! #TechnologyFail

Gift-Giving: Scrooge or Santa?

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As much as I absolutely love giving gifts, this Christmas my wallet is hurting more than usual. I’m trying to save for the cruise Ian and I are taking in March, plus I desperately want a new cell phone. Currently, I have the Samsung Fascinate, and it is a hunk of junk doesn’t work. Nevertheless, I was on the hunt for cutesy, inexpensive (read: not pricey, but not cheaply made) gifts for my grad school girls. Three ladies dear to my heart tolerated my Project Nazi shenanigans with admirable patience and grace this semester, and we were very successful in our work. We generally don’t exchange holiday gifts because we’re all in similar financial boats, but this year I felt they deserved a little something for their high A.K. tolerance levels. If I’d been them working with me, I’d have needed a bottle of vodka at every project meeting just to get me through myriad questions and “what ifs” and nit-picking.

Insert Christmas Tree Shops here.

I’m pretty sure my mother has achieved VIP status at one Richmond location. When she walks through the door, the employees must all chorus, “Hey, Ruth!” and greet her with a mug of hot tea and her usual shopping cart. Well, she introduced me to this nifty store a few months ago during one of our mother-daughter errand-running sprees. Despite its holiday-themed name, Christmas Tree Shops — plural, for reasons beyond me — is a chain of stores full of home decor and crafting supplies, plus neat little doodads. Over my Thanksgiving break, I ran across the most adorable wine glasses I just had to have for my grad school buds:

“Naughty is more fun than nice,” “Open another bottle of Christmas cheer,” “Define ‘naughty'”

We’re all winos (duh), plus there were even blonde and brunette glasses with different sayings! I picked up a glass for each of them, plus a couple bags of mixed-flavor hard candies to stuff in the glasses:

I seriously underestimated the height of the wine glasses, so my friends received upright wine glasses filled with candy in upside-down gift bags… or upside-down wine glasses in rightside-up gift bags… or something. Anyway, I scored all of this loot for about $13, and the girls “oohed” and “ahhed” and squealed when I gave them their thanks-for-still-being-my-friend-after-a-nightmarish-semester gifts last night before class. (Score one for CTS!)

I can still recall the awkwardness of middle school, when many of the girls exchanged gifts at Christmas time. On more than one occasion — because I was clearly the Regina George of Midlothian Middle School (ha!) — someone popped up with a gift for me, when I had not planned a gift for her. That meant scrambling to find something for her and pretending that she’d been on my list all along.

Maybe not everyone agrees with me, but I’m of the mentality at this point in my life that girlfriends can openly discuss with one another whether or not they’re going to exchange gifts. Then, if someone surprises me with a gift, I will of course thank her profusely for it, but not feel obligated to return the favor. After all, there’s no sense in needless spending just to ensure that every female acquaintance in my class feels warm and fuzzy. This ain’t Kindergarten, where everyone gets a generic Star Wars or Strawberry Shortcake Valentine… this is grad school, and I’m broke, people. “Ms. Manners” or Martha Stewart might slap my wrist for such sentiments, but without being a total Scrooge or breaking the bank to please every soul, this is how I celebrate with friends. Just sayin’ 😉

Question for you: How do you feel about gift-giving with coworkers or acquaintances (I’m not talking close, intimate friendships here) around the holidays?

“Just Keep Swimming…”

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The valedictorian of my high school graduated with a whopping 5.1 GPA — possible only if you cram your schedule with advanced courses, like AP Calc and AP Gov. We’re talking about a girl for whom, in the 8th grade, a special category had to be created for student(s) who earned not just As in all 4 core academic subject areas, but all A-pluses. This was someone recognized by colleges all over the country for her philanthropic endeavors, her scholastic achievement, her outstanding standardized test scores, and her record number of scholarship offers. And yet, at our graduation, her valedictory speech centered around the “just keep swimming” mantra of Finding Nemo — a parallel between the precipice of adulthood and the leaving behind of childhood innocence, and the persistence Dory had in assisting Nemo’s father in finding him. She repeated the phrase in triplicate over and over, and I was literally laughing at her. That ridiculous comparison still astounds me, and I’ve been out of high school for six years.

[Rant complete.]

Yesterday evening, I edited and emailed myself an assignment to print tonight in the graduate school’s computer lab. Hey, if they’re going to give us $80 worth of free printing at two cents a page every semester, I might as well make good use of my private school dollars at work. I realized that after the completion of one last paper and one final exam for the semester, I will be more than halfway through my Master’s degree program. It doesn’t feel that way sometimes, when I consider the two classes I’ll need to take this summer, the 700 Practicum and Internship hours I still need to earn, and the three semesters I have left… but that’s when I remind myself, I’ve been swimming this long. I have less than 18 months to go until I’ll have my hard-earned degree in hand.

So what’s a few more laps? 😉 Maybe that crazy bitch student with the 5.1 GPA wasn’t too far off the mark.

[But I still think her speech sucked.]

Via

Impulse Buying

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All my life — nearly 24 years, mind you — my mom has instructed/reminded me not to go grocery shopping when I’m hungry to avoid impulse buying. She also knows that my eyes have a tendency to be bigger than my stomach.

Guilty.

I try really, really hard not to grocery shop before or too long after meals in the name of said impulse buying, but I’m weird in that regard. I’m typically fantastic about sticking to my list, but I’m not great at budgeting pre-store. My dollars are well spent, though.

See, my impulse buys are rarely ever junk. I don’t typically try to sneak Doritos past myself, or justify to myself why I need a carton of Triple Chocolate Caramel Fudge Cone ice cream. Actually, I’m more likely to arrive home with unnecessary items like an organic gluten-free margherita pizza “to try,” or a $6 carton of vegan soup stock… what?

I guess you could say I’m more of an “experimental” impulse-buyer —
“Hey, these cookie dough protein bars look pretty tasty…”
“You know, I have been saying I want to try chocolate granola…”
“Well… frozen spinach is on sale, and I might need it for some future recipe I haven’t even discovered yet…”

Yesterday, I unloaded sea salt sweet potato chips and Asian pears that I hadn’t planned to buy.

I see no reason to be upset when I spend a few unanticipated bucks on fresh fruit or organic vegetables. Why be pissed about healthy impulse buys? Sometimes, when certain items on my list aren’t available (e.g. blueberries yesterday) I find myself needing to replace those items. I try to find comparable substitutes, though. For example, I might replace the fresh blueberries that were unavailable with frozen fruit; I wouldn’t replace blueberries with candy bars. Occasionally when the item I specifically want isn’t available, I don’t try to replace it with anything — I just mark it down as a “next time” buy.

Here’s how I (generally) avoid impulse buys:
– I eat at least 30 minutes before I go grocery shopping.
– I bring a snack if I think my blood sugar will drop while shopping, to avoid buying a quick-fix.
– I write out a specific, detailed list.
– I jot down menu options for the week and which grocery items I need to purchase to make them happen.
– I put question marks beside items I want as opposed to need, and I evaluate my cart before picking those items up last.
– I avoid going down aisles on which I don’t specifically need something.

Do you buy things on impulse? How do you avoid impulse buys?

Recipe Borrowing: Sweet Potato Chili

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This year marked the second annual Thanksgiving weekend chili supper among the Lew Crew, the Andersons, and the Jenkinses — three families who have known each other since before their adult children were born. Last year, I brought my own Crock Pot of vegan chili; this year, I provided Brittany’s sweet potato chili I’ve read so much about. [Praise be to the Blog Gods who make so many delicious, healthy recipes available to the masses.]

I was really excited about this get-together for many reasons. For starters, I hadn’t seen any of my dear old friends since last New Year’s. There’s Kaitlynn, who is a year older than I; Scott, who is my age; Shannon, who is a sophomore in college; and Bethany, who is a junior in high school. As we’ve gotten older, even as we’ve spread out across the state, we’ve become a much more cohesive — if not albeit less mature — group. It’s nice to see everybody after the hubbub of Thanksgiving has passed but the families are still all together.

For another reason, I love trying new recipes and experimenting with new eats with my fam. Perhaps against my better judgment, I cooked and served a brand-new recipe on the same day. Normally, if I’m not the only one trying a new recipe, I like to taste-test it first to make sure it’s fit to serve people. Ya dig? This year, my family was hosting the chili supper, so my chili had to be extra-incredible!

For another reason, this is the first chili “season” I’ve eaten meat since I was in 8th grade, so it’s been quite awhile since I savored various chilis. And finally, it’s really meaningful to see all of these almost-family members, because our family moved five years ago out of the neighborhood block we all shared for so many years. Scott works in Northern Virginia, Kaitlynn works in Richmond, Caroline and Shannon and I are in school in totally different parts of the state, and Bethany is still too young to rage 😉 I kid. But it’s getting harder and harder for the three families to pull off lengthy gatherings and then drive our separate ways. These days, no one seems as gung-ho to either host or attend a late-night fiesta, so it’s a real treat when we can pull off something like this with everyone in attendance.

And now, for your dining pleasure…

Here’s what you’ll need to make (my edited version of) Brittany’s sweet potato chili:
Prep time: 10 minutes, cook time: 90 minutes
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 1/2 large onion, chopped
1 green pepper — cored, seeded, and chopped
1 red pepper — cored, seeded, and chopped
2 jalapeno peppers — seeded and diced
2 medium sweet potatoes, diced
3 2 large cloves garlic, minced
2-3 1 tbsp chili powder
1 tsp sea salt
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp fresh ground pepper
1/4-1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
1-2 1 tsp basil
1 bay leaf
14.5 oz. diced tomatoes
28 oz. vegetable broth
30 oz. black beans — washed, rinsed, and drained
juice of one 1/2 lime
garnish: chopped fresh cilantro, chopped scallions

1. Heat oil in large pot on medium-high.
2. Add onion. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally for 10-15 minutes or until tender.3. Add bell pepper and sweet potatoes. Cook, stirring occasionally for 5 minutes.

4. Stir in garlic and cook one minute.
5. Add chili powder and next 6 ingredients. Stir and cook one minute.
6. Add tomatoes and broth. Simmer uncovered for 30 minutes.
7. Stir in beans and continue to cook for 30 minutes or until sweet potatoes are tender.
8. Remove bay leaf and stir in lime juice.
9. Add garnish.I’m not super-hype on spiciness, so I toned down some of Brittany’s spice factors. I also try not to add sodium to anything, so I eliminated the sea salt element.

I got rave reviews about this recipe, so my thanks go out to Brittany, as well as all those brave souls who were willing to be guinea pigs to test this incredible vegan chili! I told everyone that it was a new recipe, and that I am no longer a strict vegetarian, but I did not tell everyone that the recipe was vegan. As disappointing as it is, I’ve found that telling people something is vegan automatically turns some people off, when what they don’t know won’t hurt them. A few of our guests simply were not interested in meatless chili, or were more interested in my mom’s seafood chowder. Some of our guests were a bit wary of my chili, but they tried it anyway out of politeness. And most of our guests dove right in without hesitation! Hey, at least our old family friends were willing to try it 😉Question: Do you have a chili recipe you’re willing to share? I’m trying to expand my repertoire, though I always give credit to the original chef!

Oh, Black Friday

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…is the bane of my existence.

…is the most anticipated and yet most dreaded, belabored day of my shopping life.

…is the reason my bank account is weeping.

…is one of the least efficient days to be bustling around busy malls.

…is the first day I find it acceptable to listen to Christmas carols.

…causes my blood pressure to rise higher with each store I visit (especially Target).

…does not excite me quite enough to wake up before the sun.

…makes me feel humbled by and grateful for all of the blessings in my life.

…causes me inexplicable stress, even though I have a meticulous Excel spreadsheet logging every item purchased and every penny spent.

…somehow excuses me from proper driving etiquette, granting me permission to lay on the horn for any reason.

…makes me wish Christmas were tomorrow — I absolutely love gift-giving!

…prepares me adequately for the next 30 days of frenzied holiday madness.

…is the day before my family and I pick out the most perfect Christmas tree (from a lot). When Ian and I first started dating, I told him that we go out into the wilderness every year and cut down a tree ourselves with a lumberjack saw. Oops 😉

…is one of my favorite days of the year!

What did you spend your Black Friday doing?