Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Thankful Thanksgiving

I know, it's pretty cliche to make a list of things I'm thankful for at Thanksgiving, but there's a reason things are sometimes cliche - they are good and they are right. There's no bad time to make a gratitude list, so here goes mine:

I'm Thankful For:

1. Steve. He pretty much dominates this list. He is the best man I have ever known, better than I deserve. Steve is sweet, strong, smart, sexy, sure, silly, and simply stupendous. (That list wasn't intended to be all s's but once it got going, I went with it.) We really are a good team, best friends, and intense Skip Bo rivals (I recently had a 12-game winning streak). I trust him completely and feel comfortable being myself 100%. He sees me at my best and my worst...and he doesn't think my worst is all that bad. We don't really fight, but we don't always agree. I feel happiest when I'm cuddled up next to him with his arms around me. I'm so thankful for the man he is, for the woman he makes me want to be, and for the life we share.

2. Our home. We have officially been in our house for a year now, and I can't believe it. In ways, I feel it can't possibly be just a year, in other ways, it feels like we've lived there for years and years. From the moment we moved in, it felt like home. I know a big part of that was because I was there with Steve, but it really does fit our preferences and personalities. It's large enough to fit houseguests, has some nice, distinct quirks, and it is in a pleasant, quiet neighborhood. There are a lot of places to walk in our neighborhood, and I love that most of the neighborhoods around us are quite festive for all the holidays. I feel like we like in a small town, but we're really close to big towns with lots of shopping and eating options. It's pretty darn close to perfect.

3. My job. Working at the Student Health Center at Weber State University is pretty darn close to being the perfect job while going to school. I don't work too many hours so have plenty of time to do homework and spend time with Steve, it's close to home and really close to my classes (one building over), they are really accomodating if I need to take time off to take a test or talk to a professor, and I get to do homework at work if it's not busy - which is quite often. An added, and important, bonus is the great people I work with. They're all very nice and I enjoy chatting with them. I'm very fortunate to be in the position where I can afford to work this job while going to school instead of needing to work a full time job in order to pay the bills. I'm thankful that my husband has a good job and is happy to support me while I go to school. I hope to return the favor someday.

4. My mom. I have a wonderful mother. She taught me how to be a lady, taught me to be strong and independent, and taught me how to work and be proud of a job well done. My mom is beautiful, inside and out, and I'm proud when people tell me that I look like her or that they see her in me or vice versa. Mom came to visit us last month and I really enjoyed spending time with her. She didn't come for any other reason except to see us and to go to the places around our home that we love. One of my favorite times was window shopping on Historic 25th Street in Ogden. We stopped at all the stores Steve and I enjoy, discovered an Argentinian bakery with yummy pastries, and bought chocolates at a cute, unique shop. The whole time, we laughed and talked. It was wonderful being with her. I'll always remember that weekend and how special she made me feel by making a trip up just to spend time with me and Steve. That's the kind of wonderful mom she is. I'm thankful she's my mom and I'm thankful for all the lessons she has taught me (even when I wasn't willing to learn from her).

5. My family. I grew up with three brothers. They were great. We fought, of course, but we had a grand time playing with each other too. They taught me to be strong, to stand up for myself and not be pushed around by boys, and they taught me a little bit about what kind of man I wanted to marry someday (they probably didn't realize they were teaching me this). They tolerated my bratty phase, my bossy phase, and my distant phase. Now we're all really good friends. And, they married, or are about to marry, good women who I really enjoy spending time with. One of my favorite traditions that I'm afraid is disappearing now that I live away from Cedar is making Christmas candies with my sister-in-laws. We spend all day making delicious confections to pass out to friends. This year, I'll be doing it on my own and it won't be the same. I'm thankful that we get along so well and have such loving relationships. I'm especially thankful for my brothers' kids. I love being an aunt and I have the most adorable niece and nephews in the world. I love them so much. I'm also thankful to be gaining a new niece and nephew in a couple weeks when my brother gets remarried. They are cute kids and I'm excited to get to know them, be a part of their lives, and to learn to love them.

6. My dad. I have an interesting relationship with my dad, but no matter what, I love him and am thankful for him and for the things he has taught me. When I was younger, he taught me that I should expect to be treated like a lady by the men in my life, he took me on practice dates, and he taught me not to settle when it came to choosing the man I would spend the rest of my life with. I married a man who has all the same wonderfully good points as my dad yet who is also unlike him in all the ways I wanted. I'm thankful that my dad's second wife is nice and who has treated us well from the beginning. I'm also thankful to have a cute little sister. She's closer in age to my niece, but she's my sister and I love her and marvel at how great she is.

7. Friends. I have always been blessed with wonderful people in my life. Angels disguised as friends. These friends have been with me through thick and thin times (literally and figuratively); we've shared dreams, secrets, tons of laughs, and our share of tears. I've met my friends at school, at work, through other friends, and a few of my closest friends are cousins of mine. Our lives have sometimes taken us away from each other, but our spirits remain close. I don't see my friends as often as I used to or would like, but every day some memory or thought about one or more of them comes to mind. I pray for my friends and hope they're doing well and are happy. And, when we actually get to spend time with each other, it's as if no time has passed and I'm just as at-ease and happy with them as ever. My mom once told me a true friend is one that you can reconnect with as easily as if you were never apart. That is how it is with my friends. I'm so very thankful for my friends. I am who I am in large part because of their influence and example.

8. My body. Even when I was obese, I had a healthy body; I could walk, hike, play tennis, swim, and other fun activities, though often with lots of huffing and puffing and a red face. Now I really appreciate my body. I am thankful to be able to run and ride a bike again and to do other things that I hadn't done when I was so heavy. I'm thankful that my body is more healthy now - not just because of the lost weight but also because of the increased activity and healthier food. I can comfortably fit in theater seats, airplane seats, office chairs, and that I don't worry about breaking flimsy-looking chairs at restaurants or people's houses. I don't limit myself any more - I live my life to its fullest. I even went skydiving last year. Yes, I'm very thankful for my slimmer, healthier body and all the activities it allows me to do.

9. Sadie. I was a little nervous about getting a dog. I knew it would change our lifestyle. And, the first week or two, I had a few rough patches. However, I really enjoy having Sadie in our lives now. She is such a loving, well-behaved dog. If you need a smile, come over and see our crazy dog. She will warm your heart with her big welcome - a furiously wagging tail and maybe even some rare greyhound kisses. Petting her releases happiness molecules that travel from your hand all the way up to your head and heart. An added benefit of having Sadie is having to walk her a few times every day...even if it's blistering hot or freezing cold. And, taking her for a quick two-minute walk to do her business isn't going to cut it. That girl doesn't do anything until she's been walked for at least 10 minutes, so you get a good walk in.

Well, I'm done with work and off to class, so I'd better end this post. I hope everyone has a wonderful turkey day with family and friends.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Wonderful Weekend

Who doesn't love the weekend?

Well, there are kids in my classes that don't because that's usually when they a) work, b) do homework, c) both. That said, who else doesn't like the weekend???

I certainly do! This past weekend was particularly enjoyable. Here's what went into such a nice, productive, enjoyable two days: (pretty much ranked in order)

1) Tons of time with Steve. Now that he works 3pm to 11pm during the week, I really treasure the time we have together on the weekends. We have so much fun together; laughing, talking, playing games, even just walking the dog. He's definitely my best friend and I love him so much!

2) Shopping. It used to be that the thought of going from store to store for any reason (though especially clothes shopping) was enough to make me want to hide under my bed until the threat went away. However, with dramatic weight loss came more enjoyment while clothes shopping and with marrying Steve came more enjoyment with all other kinds of long as we're doing it together. He and I have similar shopping preferences - where we like to shop, how long we like to look at things, when we're absolutely done, etc. - so the experience is pretty pleasant. AND, we got almost all of our Christmas shopping done!!! BEFORE THANKSGIVING! That is a record for me. In addition to Christmas presents, we also bought my brother's wedding present and birthday presents for my mom and niece, AND I bought some presents for Steve while he was sleeping (he worked until 6am that morning). I have 2/3 of the money left for him, so I still have some shopping left to do, but it feels good to have the rest done so early.

3) Food. Saturday night we ate at Olive Garden. Normally when we want Italian, we go to a nice little restaurant in Ogden called Rovali's that has excellent food and service. However, I spent last week craving OG for some reason (the salad??), so we went there mid-shopping. I enjoyed my stuffed rigatoni and chicken immensely! Sunday morning, I made a delicious quiche from stuff in my fridge - bell peppers, onion, chicken, bacon, two types of cheese, eggs, and half-n-half. It was definitely the best quiche I've made - and I make pretty darn good quiches. I loved every bite! Later Sunday, I made meatloaf and garlich mashed red potatoes. The meatloaf was so juicy and flavorful and the potatoes were creamy and buttery. Mmmmm. I love the satisfaction that comes with making delicious food!

4) My hair. My bangs are still too short, but they aren't as short as they were. I can look into a mirror and not cringe. I don't care if some think it's shallow - when you think you look good, you feel good. This weekend I finally felt like I looked good again and I noticed the added spring in my step as we walked around stores.

5) Football. All of my college teams won (Weber, SUU, Utah, and Steve's UCLA), my NFL team won (Detroit Lions), and my fantasy team stands a decent change of winning if my remaining player doesn't tank tonight. Even if he does, I'd rather my real teams win and my fantasy team lose than vice versa. Here's hoping for a win-win though!

In short (haha), nothing spectacular happened this weekend, but I really really enjoyed myself. I truly believe that most of life is made up of small moments that could be easily overlooked if you're not paying attention. It's better to get every ounce of enjoyment from those moments (they can be pretty packed!) than wait for the big occassions that can be awesome but are usually pretty spaced out, too.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Life Update: School, Family, Work, Hair...You know, the important things

I must say that I enjoy being back in school and am not too ashamed to admit that one of those reasons is that while in school I don't feel too bad about not working full-time somewhere. Granted, with going to class and having homework, I put in almost as many hours as a full-time job but it's totally different, I don't care what anyone says.

I have three classes this semester: Intermediate Accounting, Cost Accounting, and Individual Tax. The latter class is my favorite, partially due to the course content and partially due to the professor. My other two classes aren't difficult classes but the professors have wonky teaching styles, so the classes tend to be a bit more challenging than they probably should be. Oh well, I love a good academic challenge, especially when I end up getting As, which I am on track to get in all three classes.

I'm not really good at making friends in my classes, especially at the beginning. I tend to like to work out problems on my own, I learn the material better that way, so I kind of stick to myself. Eventually, though, I get to know the people in my classes (and I end up being known as a smartie) and really enjoy becoming friendly with them. While getting my undergrad at SUU, I ended up making some really good friends from my classes. This is beginning to happen in my classes here at Weber. I'm already becoming friends with a gal in my Cost Accounting class and slowly I'm getting to know other people in my classes, talking to them about homework, the professors, our career plans, etc. Even though it takes me a bit of time to get to this point, I really like the social element of school.

When I started school, Steve told me that he was fine if I didn't work at all, so I could concentrate on school. That was really sweet, but I kind of wanted to work a little to kind of help with the family finances, even if just a tiny bit. I told him I'd work part-time but only if I got something on campus. Well, I did! Yay! I work 20 hours a week at the Student Health Center and really enjoy it. They understand that I'm a student first so have worked with me if I needed to miss work to finish a huge project and they allow me to do homework at work if it's slow. And of course they work around my school schedule. It's pretty much perfect for me. And, I really like everyone I work with. Colette, the office manager, is my direct supervisor. We sit at the front desk and help the students when they come in to see one of the two doctors on staff. It's also great because I don't work weekends, nights, or holidays! In fact, I don't think I work at all after the semester ends and I know I have the summer off. So, it's not a ton of money, but I feel good about bringing a little to the table and it actually does help with our budget and financial goals.

After making several trips to Cedar and other various places to see family over the summer, after we went to my nephew's baptism the first weekend in September, Steve and I decided to not take any big trips until Thanksgiving. I kind of thought I'd be bereft of seeing my family for all that time...silly Julie! We ended up seeing my brother who lives in Sandy for 4 weekends in a row after that and October was chock full of family visits!

My youngest brother visited the first weekend, along with his girlfriend (now fiancee) and her son. We had a blast going to Lagoon with them and just sitting around playing games and chatting. The next weekend my mom came up. The best part of her visit was that she came up just to see us - there was no other reason. It felt good that she had just wanted to spend time with us. We had a lot of fun with her. Steve was working when she got here Friday evening, so I got to spend a few hours just her and me, which was really wonderful. We showed her some of our favorite things in our area and just really enjoyed her company. Two weekends later, my dad, stepmom, and little sister came up to go to the Weber State vs. SUU football game. It was a fun game to go to, even though Weber shot themselves in the foot with all their penalties. I even got to see my great friend, Cardine, at the game - Bonus! Finally, last weekend we babysat my nephew while Jason and Rachel attended the University of Utah football game. My nephew absolutely adores Steve and our dog, Sadie, so a good time was had by all. And, we wore both him and Sadie out by throwing the ball around the fenced in tennis court.

I'm blessed to have such a close family and really enjoyed getting to have so many fun visits from them lately.

In September I decided to have my hair cut short. It wasn't a HUGE difference because my hair was currently an A-line bob just a couple inches below my chin. After the hair cut, the front was just a couple inches shorter, the big difference was the back - it was short. I liked it, though I didn't love the front so ended up tucking it behind my ears all the time. A couple days ago, I went in for a touch up and ended up with even shorter hair. I liked it a lot though. Then this morning, I got the crazy idea to cut my bangs. It had been so long since I had cut my own bangs that I had forgotten the cardinal rules*. Now instead of having whispy, feminine, adult bangs, I have chunky, blunt, child-like bangs. Oh, and for the first time since cutting my hair short, I feel really boyish.

Now, I could totally let this ruin my life, or I can remember that hair grows back - in fact, bangs tend to grow faster than other hair - and have fun with my new look.

The biggest hurdle to this latter, and better, approach is my husband. It's funny how much more I worry about how I look now that I'm married. Before, I wanted to look good to hopefully be found attractive by a guy who would then want to date me. However, I had this idea that they get what they see, so if I had blonde hair, they'd better like blondes, etc. Now though, it's harder (though obviously not impossible) for me to change my look because I kind of feel like Steve fell for a girl who looked a certain way and if I change that look it's kind of unfair to him. Fortunately, he says he loves me no matter what I look like, that I look beautiful no matter what, but I still want to look my best for him.

Oh well, tough noogies. Me being me, I change my hair. Sometimes it's going to look really good, other times it may not. Don't get me wrong, I'm having fun with short hair...just not the uber short bangs.

Life is good. One indication of that for me is not ever dreading a certain day, especially Mondays. Of course I still prefer the weekend because I get to see Steve more and we have lots of fun together, but I never wake up wishing it weren't that day. Thursdays are my longest days but even then, I don't mind them because I enjoy what I'm doing throughout the day.

What's not to enjoy? I am married to the most wonderful man I've ever known, we have a comfortable, nice home and a crazy, cute dog, I'm healthy both body and mind, I get to go to school to learn new things and meet new people, I have a job I enjoy, and my life is filled with wonderful friends and family.

Yeah, life is defitely good.

* The first cardinal rule = Don't Ever Cut Your Own Bangs. If you sin against this rule, please remember the following: don't cut your bangs while hair is still wet and always cut them longer than you think they should be. Since you tend to pull your hair down before you cut, if you cut them where you think you want them, when you let go of the hair, they'll be a good deal shorter than you wanted.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

What We've Been Eating - Chicken Fried Rice

My husband loves this dish. He's a big fan of rice so it is right up his alley. I got it from a magazine but have made changes to it to fit our tastes. Steve would probably eat it every month, but I refuse to make it that often. It's not a difficult dish to make, no fancy steps, everything is pretty easy to do; but it's a little time-intensive, you do a lot of things to get to the end result. It's worth it, though, just not every-month-worth-it. Here's the recipe:

Chicken Fried Rice
Olive oil (you could use any oil, but this is what I use)
1 yellow onion, chopped/diced
6-8 oz ham, diced (I've used turkey ham and it was just as tasty)
bok choy, chopped/sliced/cut up into bite-sized pieces*
1 red bell pepper, medium-diced (you don't want overly small or large pieces)
2 tsp fresh ginger, grated or finely diced - trust me, use the fresh stuff
2-3 cloves of garlic, finely minced or grated
2-3 skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 dab of butter
4-5 eggs
1 1/2 tsp curry powder
4 c cooked and cooled bismati rice - about 2 cups uncooked.
low sodium soy sauce, to taste (I like low sodium because I add salt to the other ingredients)
salt and pepper, to taste

*I use all of the top, leafy part and part of the lower stalk. I cut off a healthy part of the bottom stalk because I find it to be too fibrous and I don't love it. The recipe says to use the whole dang thing. Also, I only use 3-4 stalks because otherwise the bok choy kind of took over the dish. Do what you want, though.

1. Get the rice going. My bag of bismati rice calls for a cooking time of 20 minutes, so it's good to do this first. That said, I often forget to do it until halfway through the recipe since it's not listed as the first step in the magazine. Cook the rice according to the package directions.

2. Add about 1 T of oil to a saute/frying pan (a large one), when the oil is hot, add the chopped onion and ham, add a dash of salt/pepper. Cook for a couple minutes then add the bok choy. Cook until leafy parts have started to wilt, about 3 minutes, then add the diced red pepper and cook for a couple more minutes, just to get the red pepper a little softer. Add the ginger and garlic, stir, cook for a minute, making sure not to burn these delicate flavors. Add another dash of salt and pepper (I don't know about you, but my veggies don't come pre-seasoned), then remove everything from the pan and put in a big bowl - seriously, a big bowl - you'll need it for latter steps!

3. Add about 1 T of oil to the pan and let it get nice and hot. Then throw in a dab of butter (approx. 1 T) and let it melt. When the butter is melted, add the diced chicken, sprinkly with a good dose of salt/pepper. Spread out the pieces, then leave them alone for a bit so they'll get nice and brown. Once browness has been achieved, turn the pieces over and let the other side get the same way. Remove chicken from the pan and put in the big bowl with the veggies.

4. Check on the rice. If your timer hasn't gone off yet, check the rice anyway. If it has gone off by this time, hopefully you didn't wait until this step to check it. Whenever it happens, once the rice is cooked to the consistency you want (soft, fluffy, doesn't chip your tooth when you bite down on it), spread it out on a cookie sheet to cool until you need it. Note, though, that I've used the rice straight from cooking it, still hot, and the dish has turned out fine.

5. If there isn't leftover oil/butter in the pan after you removed the chicken, add a little more butter to it and let it melt. Scramble the eggs and add them to the hot pan, don't forget to add salt and pepper! Cook them until done. If you tend to like your scrambled eggs on the runny side, that won't work for this recipe, you'll want them to be on the firmer side. Don't let them get brown like some people (my husband) do at times. When the eggs are fully scrambled, remove them from the pan and add to the big bowl with the veggies and chicken.

6. You don't want to do this next step until your rice is ready (cooked, not necessarily completely cooled unless you're more awesome than I tend to be). If your rice is ready to be used, please proceed. Add 1 1/2 T of oil to the pan along with the curry powder. You can add a tad more curry powder if you really like curry powder, which I do. Mix the two ingredients together and heat over medium high heat for 30 seconds or until you can really start to smell the curry. Don't burn! Add the rice, stirring it so every bit gets covered in the spiced oil. Gently press the rice down to cover the entire pan and leave it for 4-5 minutes so the bottom layer gets a little crispy.

7. Stir all the other ingredients into the rice and add the soy sauce. The recipe calls for 2 T, but Steve and I like a good deal more. I usually put in 4 T, then we add more to our individual portions. Before you call the dish finished, give it a good taste to see if it needs additional salt/pepper. If you've added decent amounts throughout all the steps (veggies, chicken, eggs), then you should be okay, but please add some if needed to avoid bland food. Thank you.

That's it! Like I said before, no step is very difficult to accomplish, there's just a lot of things to chop and throw together in different steps. It takes me about 40 minutes to do everything, depending on when I remember to cook the rice. It's totally worth it to see how much Steve loves eating it!