Friday, December 21, 2012

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas! It's a little early, but I'm taking the next few days off to spend time with family and friends, eat lots of good food, exchange gifts, and celebrate the reason for the seasonJesus.

Let's take this time of year to focus on what's important in life and count our blessings, slow down, be kind, make memories.

Happy holidays, my friends! Enjoy!

Our Christmas cards (as of 12.20.12)

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

This Year's Holiday Cookie Exchange

On Sunday, my sister-in-law and I hosted a cookie exchange at my place. Everyone brought about three dozen homemade cookies each to swap, and I served up a few new appetizers. It was such a fun and "sweet" way to celebrate the holidays!

My cookie contribution... mini Caramel S'more Cups. Super easy recipe with a chocolate chip cookie base, a Rolo tucked inside, and mini marshmallows + chocolate on top.

Caramel S'more Cups
From Betty Crocker

1 pouch (1 lb 1.5 oz) Betty Crocker® chocolate chip cookie mix
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 egg
36 round chewy caramels in milk chocolate, from 5 (1.91-oz) rolls, unwrapped
108 mini marshmallows (1 cup)
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips 

Heat oven to 375°F. Spray 36 mini muffin cups with cooking spray. 

Make cookie dough as directed on package, using butter and egg. Shape dough into 36 (1-inch) balls. Place 1 ball into each muffin cup. 

Bake 8 to 9 minutes or until edges begin to brown. Remove from oven; firmly press 1 candy into center of each cookie until flush with cookie top. Top each with 3 marshmallows. Bake 2 to 4 minutes longer or until marshmallows are puffed. Cool 30 minutes. Loosen edges of cookie with small metal spatula and remove to cooling racks. Cool completely. 

Place chocolate chips in small resealable freezer plastic bag. Microwave on High about 1 minute or until softened. Gently squeeze bag until chocolate is smooth; cut off tiny corner of bag. Squeeze bag to drizzle chocolate over marshmallows. Let stand until hardened, about 10 minutes.

Here are the appetizers I tried. I think I'll keep them in the mix for future parties!

Seven Layer Mediterranean Dip
From greens and chocolate; originally from Circle B Kitchen

20 oz hummus
1 cup cucumber, peeled and diced (about 1 large)

1 cup shredded romaine lettuce

2 large tomatoes, diced

1/2 red onion, diced

3/4 cup olives, diced

1 cup crumbled feta cheese

Pita chips for dipping

In large glass bowl, spread the hummus in an even layer.  Then add cucumber, lettuce, tomatoes, olives, and cheese.  Keep chilled until ready to serve.  Serve with pita chips.

Prosciutto and Parmesan Stuffed Mushrooms
From greens and chocolate

Makes about 20 mushrooms

16 oz package of whole button mushrooms
3 tbsp salted butter
4 cloves minced garlic
1/4 cup chopped green onions
2 tbsp fresh Parsley, chopped
1/2 cup Italian breadcrumbs (store-bought or homemade breadcrumbs seasoned well with Italian spices)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
4 thin slices of Prosciutto, sliced into small pieces
2 tbsp fresh oregano, chopped
kosher salt and pepper, to taste
1/3 cup shredded white cheddar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Pop out the stems from the mushroom caps.  Finely dice the stems and set aside.  Heat a saute pan and add 2 tbsp butter.  Toss the mushroom caps until they begin to release their liquid, and are partially cooked.  Be patient, as the mushrooms might take awhile to begin releasing their liquid. Remove from the pan, and set on a baking sheet, open side up.

In same saute pan, add remaining tablespoon of butter and saute the green onions and garlic until softened slightly, about 3 minutes.  Add the diced mushroom stems and cook until all ingredients are softened.  Turn off heat.

In bowl, combine the mushroom and green onion mixture, bread crumbs, parsley, oregano, and salt and pepper to taste.  Lastly, add the grated parmesan and chopped prosciutto.

Stuff the caps with the mixture and top with grated white cheddar. 

Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes, until cheese is browned.

Taste better than they look (greens and chocolate has much prettier pics!)
Artichoke Wonton Cups
From Taste of Home 
[My mom suggested mixing in some diced jalapeno for more flavor, and after trying the original recipe, I agree that it could use a little boost. But who can resist what's essentially artichoke dip in a cup?!]

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup mayonnaise 
1/2 teaspoon onion powder 
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder 
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese 
1 can (14 ounces) water-packed artichoke hearts, rinsed, drained and chopped 
1 package (12 ounces) wonton wrappers [I used mini fillo shells instead; find them in the freezer section]

In a small bowl, combine the Parmesan cheese, mayonnaise, onion powder and garlic powder. Stir in mozzarella cheese and artichokes; set aside.  

Coat one side of each wonton wrapper with cooking spray; press greased side down into miniature muffin cups. Bake at 350° for 5 minutes or until edges are lightly browned.

 Fill each cup with 1 tablespoon artichoke mixture. Bake 5-6 minutes longer or until golden brown. Serve warm. Yield: about 4 dozen.

Sweet & Tangy Meatballs [great crockpot recipe!]
From Table for Two

Large pack of frozen meatballs
1 16 oz. jar grape jelly
1 12 oz. jar of chili sauce [I used the Heinz version]

In a small pot on medium high heat, combine jelly and chili sauce until they’re combined and jelly is not chunky.

Put the entire bag of meatballs in the slow cooker insert and pour the jelly chili sauce on top, stir the meatballs around until they’re all coated.

Cook on high for 4 hours or low for 6 hours. Toss every couple hours or so to re-coat the meatballs in the sauce. Serve hot.

The picture's a little steamy...

 What are your favorite holiday cookies and appetizers?

Friday, December 14, 2012

A Year of Self-Employment

My last day at my corporate job was Friday, December 16, 2011. It's been a year, if we stick with the same day of the week. At this point last year, I was packing up my office. People stopped by to say good-bye. I turned in my Blackberry and ID tag. I left the building with a couple of bags of stuff and a surreal feeling.

After five and a half years, I was going out on my own. I was taking a leap of faith.

How different my life is now. I love it, but of course, there are things I miss. The steady paycheck, the people, the constant collaboration and feedback, the availability of resources, the fun perks and free magazines, the flow of projects. (And today, I'm missing the company holiday party... ha!)

I learn new things every day, both good and bad, and experience plenty of ups and downs. But even during the challenging times this year, I've recalled the reasons I made this choice and felt reassured in my decision. I have the rare opportunity to pursue my dream, use my talents, make my own choices, and have the flexibility and freedom I desire. The sky's the limit for what I can do.

I have a vision for what I want my business to look like down the line. I'm not completely sure how I'll get from where I am to where I want to be, but then again, I had no idea a year ago what today would look like.

I found this quote below about a year ago, and I thought it was impossible to adopt this attitude, especially for an anxiety-prone person like me. But it's true, if we let go of fear and look for the fun, we'll slowly grow into the person we're meant to be. We'll quietly move to that place where we're most happy and fulfilled.

So much happens, so much changes, in a year's time. In high school, I used to joke that a lot can happen in two weeks. A lot can happen in a single moment too. I'm reminded of this in light of today's tragedy in Newtown, CT.

Let's refuse to take the people and blessings in our life for granted. Let's be grateful that we are living and growing and learning, no matter what our lives may contain. Let's accept the changes that will come along and trust that we're on the right path. Let's pray for others and give of ourselves. Let's remember what's truly important, now during this holiday season and into the new year.

How much has changed for you in the past year, two weeks, day? What does "fear" and "fun" look like in your life?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Book Club: Gone Girl

Our book club met on Tuesday night at C's place to discuss The Night Circus. C. served up homemade potato-artichoke soup and grown-up grilled cheeses, plus delicious brownies. It was the perfect dinner for a chilly winter night!

Personally, I enjoyed the book more than I thought I would (I'm not usually very interested in fantasy-based novels). Some of the girls found the story a little confusing as it switched between time periods and contained a lot of characters. And the ending was deemed a bit "anti-climactic." The summary on the back of the book might have portrayed it to be focused on the romance between the magicians, but the development of their love was pretty much skipped overand the circus was really the center of the story.

The circus, with its magical tents, intricate clock, and mesmerizing bonfire, captivates anyone who encounters itincluding those of us who read about it. I thought the characters were unique, full of personality and secrets, and the descriptive writing was enchanting. Erin Morgenstern created a whole world and filled it to the brim with magic and mystery.

Our discussion turned to the visual descriptions and how we could picture the circus and characters like a movie in our minds. We talked about how young children approach reading, as well as the apparent relationship between the speed at which a person reads and how much they enjoy reading. I also referenced this Huffington Post article about the workings of our brains while reading... it's something I often take for granted but wow, it's fascinating!

For next month, we'll be reading Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. I've heard lots of buzz about this book, and it's been a popular book club choice. Have any of you read it? What did you think? (No spoilers please!)

via Review:
Amazon Best Books of the Month, June 2012: On the day of their fifth wedding anniversary, Nick's wife Amy disappears. There are signs of struggle in the house and Nick quickly becomes the prime suspect. It doesn't help that Nick hasn't been completely honest with the police and, as Amy's case drags out for weeks, more and more vilifying evidence appears against him. Nick, however, maintains his innocence. Told from alternating points of view between Nick and Amy, Gillian Flynn creates an untrustworthy world that changes chapter-to-chapter.

Calling Gone Girl a psychological thriller is an understatement. As revelation after revelation unfolds, it becomes clear that the truth does not exist in the middle of Nick and Amy's points of view; in fact, the truth is far more dark, more twisted, and more creepy than you can imagine. Gone Girl is masterfully plotted from start to finish and the suspense doesn't waver for one page. It's one of those books you will feel the need to discuss immediately after finishing because the ending doesn't just come; it punches you in the gut.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

What Your Bookshelf Reveals About You

Currently, there are painters in our condo, working to cover our patched and splotchy ceilings with a nice, clean white hue. After going DIY for the walls, we weren't about to take on the ceiling project. It's awkward to have strangers in your home, whether you stick around or not.

This is all a long way of saying that I've become acutely aware of my belongings lately. Sure, it's just stuff, but the things within your home reflect who you are and what you enjoy. They indicate where you've been and where you're going, what matters most to you.

And that's perhaps most apparent in viewing the contents of someone's bookshelf. Or in my case, our one set of bookshelves as well as the countless books scattered throughout our condo.

I'm working from my friends' house around the corner while the painters paint away. S. and R. have an amazing collection of books (S. is a fellow English major!). They have their bookshelves set up like a mini library, but it also serves as a little glimpse of the two of themit feels personal and familiar and interesting. (Bonus: they have a lovely Christmas tree to admire, something we are lacking due to the condo improvements recently.)

I recently read A Cup of Jo's post on the new book My Ideal Bookshelf, a illustrated collection of the favorite reads of one hundred creative thinkers. What a fascinating way to get to know people better. (I also adore the story of her sister and brother-in-law that she shares in the post!)


My own bookshelf is overflowing, books stacked on top of the rows. I have books in every roomwriting-related ones in my "office," cookbooks in the kitchen, little stacks on the coffee table, on my nightstand, in the shelves of the media center, here and there. I own classics, modern-day novels, chick lit, books on style, design, food, entertaining, faith, relationships. Books from college and grad school. Books from various book clubs I've belonged to. Books I've been given as gifts and ones I've picked up for myself along the way.

As I thought about those booksand what they say about meI realized that what I read is very closely aligned with what I write, here on the blog and elsewhere. Those books reflect what I enjoy, my passions and my aspirations. Perhaps bookshelves are much more intimate than they seem.

What's on your ideal bookshelf? What do your books say about you?

Friday, December 7, 2012

If You Don't Like It, Change It

First, let's all say it together: TGIF!

This week, I've been working on getting up a little earlier. Instead of a 9 am wake-up time, I've started my day anywhere from 7 am to 8:30 am (okay, okay... one day, I slept in until 9:30).

I love having the flexibility to create my own schedule, and I'm naturally one to go to bed later and get up later. Plus, I often wake up for a couple hours in the middle of the night (so annoying!), so being able to sleep in a bit is a nice option for those times.

But as much as I wanted to ignore it, I kept feeling this need to wake up earlier. When I did, I always felt more productive.

As my mom has told me: if you don't like something, change it.

via The Everygirl
I wasn't sure if waking up earlier was the answer, but I felt like I could use my time better and get more done during the day, so I decided to try it out and see what happened. If I didn't like it, I could always go back to waking up later. I had nothing to lose.

Well, so far, I do like getting up earlieronce I get past the initial sleepiness and dragging myself out of bed.

I still have time in the morning to browse blogs and social media, check email, and catch up on the latest news flying around the Internet... time to ease into the day. But if I do all of that earlier now, I also have extra time in the morning to do something productive and start my day on the right foot.

In a similar way, I have been slacking on exercise and eating all kinds of carbs lately. I wanted to make some healthy changeseat better, work out more, that kind of thing. So this week, I tried my first "green smoothie" in order to cram more veggies into my diet. Not too bad! And I went to a Zumba class (haven't been to one of those in years!). As a former dance team member, the easy-to-follow, fast-paced moves and high-energy music turned a workout into FUN.

If you don't like it, change it. You have the power to change your life for the better.

What do you dislike? What change can you make to improve it?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

What to Do When You're Feeling Uninspired

The number of times I posted here in November was an all-time low for me. I was fairly busy but not any more than normal.

I think it may be because I didn't allow myself time and space to be inspired and be creative.

We are in the process of making some repairs and updates to our condo, which sort of got in my head. Working from home when it's cluttered and crazy makes it hard to focus. Sure, I could scoot out to a coffee shop here and there, but I knew what I would face back at home.

I have to get over it though. I have to stop making excuses.

Lack of inspiration isn't an excuse either. Sometimes, writing is simply a "butt in chair" kind of thing. Sit down and write some words until something comes out, until something makes sense, until inspiration finds you.

And sometimes, there are ways to find inspiration and create new ideas before getting down to business (er, writing). There are techniques to help spark your imagination.

I recently recycled 2010 & 2011 issues of my magazine subscriptions (Glamour, SELF, and InStyle, for those who want to know). They are one of many sources of inspiration for me. And yes, I'm kind of a magazine hoarder...

Because of all this, I realized I needed to take the first step and recommit.

I want to recommit myself to writing here more often. My goal is three times a week, and while I may not always hit that goal, it's herewritten out for all you lovely readers to see.

And don't worry, I'm dedicated to writing quality content. I still believe in quality over quantity, but I also believe in consistency!

I'm making this commitment both for youbecause I love sharing my ideas and life, in hopes of making yours a little better and brighterand for mebecause I need to remember that sometimes the very act of writing will lead to inspiration, rather than the other way around.

Staying inspired isn't easy, so that's why we're covering the topic of creativity in our Create.Compose.Communicate newsletters during the month of December.

Are you ready to recommit?

I hope you'll join me and Sarah for our exploration of creativity, inspiration, and finding the courage to write even when you don't feel like it. We'll cover lots of ways to overcome that uninspired feeling. But the first thing to do is commit to writing, no matter what.

If you haven't yet, go ahead and sign up here. The first newsletter of this month goes out tomorrow, December 6.

Check out what Sarah has to say about creativity over at her blog, Inspiration-Driven Life.


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