Monday, December 31, 2012

highlights from 2012

January / a belated cabin Christmas
February / House hunting
March / Laura's first trip to Uganda 
April / Moved into our new home in Maryland
May / Visited Laurel in Kentucky
June / Family trip to Hawaii
July / Missed Hawaii and thought about family
August / Got back into baking
September / Chopped off my hair
October / Visited Becca in Boston and drove to Cape Ann
November / Found out I get to go back to Uganda
December / Made friends with stingrays on our Caribbean cruise 
What a great year.

Thanks to Sam, Holly, Kristen, Amber and Jackie for guest posting!
a Marylander's POV
Holly's orange dreamsicle bread
Kristen's guilt-free snacks
Amber's guide to Hampton Roads

Jackie, on being a mom

Thursday, December 20, 2012

nifty gifties

Some of the items I mentioned in my 2012 gift guide were straight from my own Christmas list, but what about the other things I asked for? Here are five things that caught my eye recently:

1) chevron clutch from pretty penney
I saw this clutch on Dooce's gift guide for kids. Embarrassing? Slightly. I know I'm getting it (thanks babe) but I won't be able to open it Christmas day. Production time is around four weeks and we ordered it last night. Hey, it'll be fun to get a present in late January!

2) essie "midnight cami" nail polish
I'm picky about nail polish and I could see this being one I'd use all the time.

I fell in love with these after borrowing a friend's pair.

Everything about this clutch is adorable, from the asymmetrical opening to the polka-dotted interior. Yes please. It's cute in green, too.
5) "The Snow Child" by Eowyn Ivey
Someone somewhere (can't remember) wrote a rave review about this book and made me want to read it. I did read about a woman who picks up a snow/winter-related book every year and reads it around Christmastime. Maybe I'll adopt that as a new tradition?

Monday, December 17, 2012

crockpot Italian sausage and veggie soup

This is one of my favorite soups! I love the flavor that the sausage lends to the broth, and I get unreasonably excited about adding big handfuls of fresh spinach at the end. This is a great recipe to play around with. You could use mild sausage or a combo of the two, use different veggies such as zucchini or mushrooms, swap the chicken broth for beef broth and/or use a different pasta than shells.

Crockpot Italian sausage and veggie soup (similar to this)
makes 8 servings

put the following into a large crockpot and cook on low for 6-8 hrs or on high for 4-5:
-3 to 5 links of cooked spicy Italian sausage (we find 3 is enough)
-1 chopped onion
-1 cup of chopped celery
-1 cup of chopped carrots
-1 can great northern beans, drained and rinsed
-1 can of Italian-style diced tomatoes, drained
-8 cups chicken broth- use more or less depending on how much broth you like. (I recommend using bouillon cubes or paste instead of canned or boxed broth. SO much cheaper!)
-3 cloves of garlic, minced
-several large pinches of Italian seasoning
-salt and pepper to taste

add before serving, if desired:
-fresh spinach
-1/2 box of cooked pasta shells (I recommend adding pasta to each serving as opposed to adding it to the crockpot—otherwise the pasta will overcook and become mushy.)
-cheese to add on top (we like mozzarella or cheddar)

Christmas card 2013

Thursday, December 13, 2012

a dedication

On Monday night I resolved to dedicate my 26th year to Christ. I told myself I would get up the next morning for a 6:45 a.m. Bible study that I was recently invited to. Then... I had a hard time sleeping. :-/ My stomach hurt. I tossed and turned. It felt like I had just fallen asleep when my alarm went off. I put the pillow over my head and tried to go back to sleep. I'll go next week. I can still be dedicated to Christ. I'll just read my Bible later. 

But I couldn't go back to sleep.

I attended a former classmate's memorial service a few days ago and was greatly impacted by the words spoken by Joey's friends, family and pastors. Joey was my classmate all throughout elementary and middle school, and we also attended the same college (though by then we had lost touch).

According to those closest to him, Joey was a man of integrity. During his two-year battle with cancer he soaked up knowledge of God by attending Sunday school, church and Bible study. He read his Bible even when he was in a hospital bed with drugs pumping into his body. He sent encouraging emails to his family and coworkers and asked people how he could be praying for them.

I struggle with doing those things and I have a healthy body.

All day on Monday I pondered my spiritual growth. I thought, that is the kind of legacy I want to leave. I don't want to keep choosing myself. I don't want to live for my own gain. I don't want to live for the world. I want to be so focused on Christ and obeying Him and advancing His kingdom that I, like Joey, would rejoice in suffering and use it to bring glory to God.

I was listening to Ascend the Hill on the way back to Frederick after the service and I found myself praying the words of the hymns. My heart was heavy from grieving and reflecting, but I found it lifting as I sang.

Oh, love that will not let me go, I rest my weary soul in Thee.
I give you back the life I owe,
and in your ocean depths its flow may richer, fuller be.
My life is not my own, it's yours. 

I tried to go back to sleep on Tuesday morning. I couldn't. I made it to the study.
God- 1. Me- 0.

So anoint me with joy, and joyful I will be.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

crockpot chicken and veggie soup

Andy and I are doing the P90x diet, which breaks your food items into groups like "carbs," "protein," "fats," etc. Regardless of what phase of the diet you're doing, you're supposed to get several servings of protein and veggies and at least one serving of carbs. I love the ease of the crockpot and decided to create a one-pot meal that would include all of the yummy foods that are good for mah belly. I also only used one knife and one cutting board, so clean-up was super easy.

Crockpot chicken and veggie soup
put the following into a large crockpot:
1 cup of the following veggies, chopped: celery, onion, zucchini, carrots
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 cups fresh green beans, chopped
2 cans of diced tomatoes (I used the Italian-style kind)
3 chicken breasts, diced and seasoned with oregano and salt and pepper
roughly 36 oz low sodium chicken stock
2 bay leaves
salt and pepper to taste
to add later:
1 cup instant brown rice (or 1 cup of cooked pasta)
1 large bag of spinach, chopped

I did all of the prep work last night so that I could toss everything into the crockpot before work this morning. I set it on low for 8ish hours and added the instant rice 20 minutes before serving. I added the spinach at the last minute. I was surprised by how flavorful the soup was considering I hardly used any seasoning. We both loved it. Most of the soups I make are naughty, cream-filled soups, so I'm thrilled to add a super healthful soup to my repertoire!

Monday, December 3, 2012

our Caribbean cruise

We're baaaack! We had a great time cruising to Grand Cayman and Cozumel with our buddies Kevin and Jackie. It took me two and a half days to get my land legs back, and Andy came down with a cold, so both of us wish we could be on vacation just a little bit longer. We also kinda miss this guy:

kissingray 2 by lrennie86
smooching a stingray in Grand Cayman
Both the food and entertainment were better on this cruise than our last one (which was also Carnival). It was a little windy on the pool deck so we mostly hung out inside and played games and cheered people on who were doing karaoke or playing some ridiculous trivia game. We also ate and ate and ate, and then went back for dessert. I tried alligator and frog legs for the first time and ordered two appetizers and two desserts nearly every night! You best believe I wore drawstring pants on the plane ride home.
We went to Stingray City and the Turtle Farm on Grand Cayman. Both places were great, but if we had to pick a favorite we would both pick Stingray City. Being in the water with the rays was so thrilling! We fed them fresh squid, which they sucked out of our hands like a vacuum. Those baby turtles were awfully cute, though. 
In Cozumel we took a taxi to a public beach and shared a jetski instead of paying for an excursion. The public beach was swarming with people trying to sell stuff, so we moved our chairs and wound up having a private little section of the beach all to ourselves. Andy read a Bill Bryson book and I read "Secret Daughter" for book club. I wanted to stay on that beach forever, but we had a free dinner to get back to! We stopped by a little coffee shop on our way back to the ship and had the most amaaazing iced coffees.
It was a simply fabulous time.
Also, the shower in our bathroom was the best ever.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

bon vogage

IMG_1816 by lrennie86
from our 2008 cruise to the Bahamas
We fly down to Tampa tomorrow morning to set sail on a cruise through the Caribbean. We're traveling with our friends Kevin and Jackie and plan to do lots of card playing, crossword puzzling and reading under the sun. Ahhh. The four of us have been dreaming of this trip for several years now and we're all so excited that it's finally here.

See you in December!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

last-minute winning Thanksgiving dishes

It's not too late to make one or both of these super quick and yummy dishes for Thanksgiving tomorrow! They both cook at 350, so I always make them together and pop them in the oven at the same time. Why is it we only make some of our favorite dishes once or twice a year? I really need to make both of these more often.

First up is corn casserole. If you like moist, buttery cornbread, you'll love this dish. I eat at least three helpings every Thanksgiving. (Update: two of my friends made this for their family's Thanksgiving meal and it got rave reviews!)

Corn Casserole (serves 8-10)
1 package of Jiffy corn muffin mix
1 can whole kernel corn, drained
1 can cream style corn
1 cup sour cream
2 eggs
1 stick of butter, melted

Heat oven to 350. Combine first 5 ingredients, then stir in melted butter. Pour into a large rectangular baking dish and bake for 50 minutes.

Next is an apple cranberry crisp. This dish can be served as a side (instead of cranberry sauce) or a dessert (great w/ ice cream). It's great cold too—I had it for breakfast today and am working on my second helping right now. The great thing about this crisp is that it's not too sweet.

Apple Cranberry Crisp (serves 8-10)
4.5 cups of diced apples, peel on (I used 3 and 1/2 granny apples)
1 bag or 3 cups of raw whole cranberries, rinsed
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 brown sugar
1.5 cups oatmeal
1.5 sticks butter, melted
chopped pecans (optional)

heat oven to 350. pour white sugar over apples and cranberries, stir, and place into a 9x13 or 3qt baking dish. in a separate bowl, combine brown sugar, oatmeal and melted butter. pour mixture on top of fruit. bake for 50 minutes, sprinkle pecans on top, bake another 10 minutes.


Monday, November 19, 2012

2012 gift guide

while you're at it, get a few ideas from my 2011 gift guide

1. a handmade stocking stuffer
DIY strike-anywhere match jars
(see another similar project here)

2. a quirky (and oinky) conversation piece
CB2 gold pig bookends, set of 2 -$29.95
3. a sweet nightstand catch-all
set of 3 cloud trinket dishes - $22.50

4. a calendar for the new year
2013 illustrated wall calendar - $15

5. weekend vacation inspiration
The New York Times 36 Hours - $39.95

6. a notepad to add glamour to grocery lists
watercolor notepad - $12

7. because (almost) everyone loves cheese
cheese-making kit -$19

8. a new kind of arm candy
Baggu and West Elm tote- $45

9. clay animation + mockumentary + British accents = genius
(note: adults will cry from laughing so hard. kids, not so much)
Creature Comforts season 1 - $19.99
10. a Bauer-like messenger bag
Rothco Vintage canvas messenger bag - $41.48

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

planning meals for company

I have been a lazy blogger lately! I used to have this blog on the brain constantly, but lately I rarely ever think about it. Life has been so full. The last weekend that didn't include travel or visitors was five weekends ago! We haven't nailed down our Thanksgiving weekend plans yet, but we're both determined to make it relaxing whether we're home or away.

The weekend before last we had friends from college in town. We played Acquire and drank lots of coffee, ate breakfast in our pajamas, talked books and marriage and jobs (us gals), and played basketball and watched football (the boys). On Saturday night we all went downtown for "First Saturday," a monthly downtown event where the shops stay open late, wine and snacks are given out and bands play on the sidewalk. I knew we were going to be eating an early dinner downtown, so I made a big breakfast and a picnic-like lunch. I took a cue from my mom, who often serves a similar lunch when we go to the cabin. With my friend's help I set out sliced summer sausage, apples, cheese and bell peppers, along with baby carrots, grapes and two types of crackers. We destroyed most of the munchies, but whatever was left over was tossed in a ziploc for snacking on later.

I've been purposefully trying to plan fuss-free meals to keep myself from getting too overwhelmed when company comes a-calling. We had friends from Harrisonburg visit this Sunday and we didn't know when they would be arriving. I didn't want to slave away in the kitchen and be exhausted by the time they arrived, nor did I want to be cooking a whole lot while they were over. By using leftovers, I hardly cooked at all. I had made a big batch of Italian sausage soup on Friday, so I served that for lunch on Sunday along with some bread and dipping oil. For dinner I thawed leftover chicken burrito filling and all I had to do was heat up the tortillas and assemble the burritos. I did make sweet corn cake to go with the burritos, but all that requires is a few ingredients and five minutes of your time. We also had chips and salsa on the table for everyone to snack on.

Here's the recipe for the soup I made. This makes a TON of soup, but it's so good you'll be glad you have a ton leftover. You're going to need a huge pot! Be sure to leave the pasta out if you plan on freezing the soup. Otherwise, the pasta will overcook when you reheat the soup. (This happened to me and the soup was still delicious, but if you like firm pasta then I suggest cooking it separately). My advice would be to cook up pasta and ladle the soup over it.

I left out the carrots and added a can of northern beans, a tablespoon of fresh basil (in addition to dried) and several pinches of dried Italian seasoning. It was SO good. In fact, I ate some for breakfast today. (I have a cold, okay?)

Friday, November 9, 2012

one door shuts


Seven weeks ago I was furiously scribbling addresses on envelopes and stuffing them with support letters. My heart was light and full of joy. My prayers had been answered! I was going back to Uganda.

Was going.

The trip (planned for this month) was cancelled the day before I was going to stamp and send out all those letters. I cried for days and asked God why? a million different times. I prayed that God would mend my broken heart and fill it with hope and trust, because I was struggling with those things. Honestly, I felt like someone had died.

I e-mailed everyone who I had already sent letters to and let them know of the change in plans. I wrote, "I'm very saddened by this news and would appreciate your prayers as I must lay these plans aside for now."

This one of the replies I received:
"We were sorry to hear that your trip was cancelled but believe that God's plans are so much better than what we plan.  Praying that another opportunity for you to return to Uganda will come in God's appointed time."

Five days later I got an e-mail from my uncle Bill (who told me about Zion Project back in 2008). He had forward the following to a pastor at his church: "I am attaching a support letter that I had received from my niece. Unfortunately the November missions trip to Sarita’s work in Gulu that Laura wrote about was put on hold. Laura has a heart for Sarita’s ministry, she has been there before and she wants very much to go back. Please keep her contact info on hand in case an opportunity to accompany others from our church comes up." 

Half an hour later, an e-mail from the pastor popped up. It including the following fabulous note:
"You are welcome to join our trip that we are planning for February 2013."

God gave me a heart for Uganda. God knew I wanted to go back. He heard my prayers. God opened a door for me to go, and then He shut it.

And then, one week later, He opened it again.

photos from the March 2012 trip to Gulu, Uganda

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

home work

Have you checked out The William Morris Project Jules came up with over at Pancakes and French Fries?

For 31 days she chose to live "according to the famous William Morris quote, 'Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.'”

I think of that quote every time I set out to tidy a cabinet, drawer or closet. I am a terrific organizer when I set my mind to it, but the unfortunate truth is that if a spot in my house isn't organized in the first place, it's likely to stay unorganized for a long time. When we moved in April I had no idea where I wanted things to go. I basically threw stuff into closets, shut the doors and figured I'd deal with it later. 

It's been seven months and I'm still dealing with it.

This coat closet was probably the most unused space in our house until a few days ago. Right after we moved we shoved all of our flattened moving boxes in there along with yard tools, golf clubs, tennis shoes, charcoal, car washing supplies and random curtain rods. Last week I turned on my Spotify Mad Men playlist and got to work taking everything out and then deciding what should go back in. I reassembled the shelving unit that we kept in the pantry of our old house, moved the golf clubs to the basement, brought a few of our winter coats out of storage and added the fabric storage bins that were sitting empty in my closet. Now they'll hold hats, gloves and scarves.

Oh gosh. The under-the-sink cabinet. Previous bane of my existence. Not anymore! Before, this space was crammed with FIVE huge jugs of dishwashing soap and a million plastic bags were floating around. I could never find what I was looking for and I was always knocking things over. Now everything is neatly tucked away. The paper bag holds bags (shocker) and my lunchbox is hidden behind it. 

Other than the top shelf, my skinny little pantry stays nice and tidy. At first I was disappointed by how small it is compared to our old one, but I've come to realize that having a smaller pantry forces me to buy only what we need.

Next space to get the William Morris treatment — our "craigslist" room. It's a scary place! 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

an unexpected vacation

Andy mentioned to me a while ago that he had an extra week of vacation to take before the end of the year. Since we were in Hawaii for ten days in June, already have a vacay planned for late November (more on that later) and I knew Andy was going to use his personal days around Christmas, I was completely surprised. It turns out he didn't use a week last year, so, HELLO unexpected vacation! We picked last week for him to take off and figured we'd have ourselves a quiet little staycation.

What really ended up happening was an overnight in Harrisonburg last Sunday/Monday, a few days at home and then a trip to Baltimore on Friday and Saturday with my mom and dad. On Friday we took a water taxi from the Inner Harbor to Fell's Point, where we had hauntingly delicious crab cakes at Duda's Tavern and rich gelato at Pitango. Then we took a short nap and picked up some coffee to get our energy up for the big thrill of the trip — the Baltimore Aquarium, of course! The aquarium is offering a special where you only pay $12 for admission if you go between 5 and 9:30 p.m. (Daytime tickets are $30 a pop!) I turn into such a little kid at aquariums. "Dad, look at this!" "Whoa, did you see that Mom?" "Andy! Andy! Andy!"


As dazzling as the aquarium was, the real star of the day was our dinner at Della Notte in Little Italy. We ordered scallops for the table while I agonized over the menu before ultimately deciding on the Chilean sea bass. (My parents and Andy got the veal.) I wanted a pasta dish but they all sounded too rich for my sensitive stomach. The fish was fantastic and I ended up having enough room to try the desserts we ordered to share —tiramisu, cannoli and créme brulee. Oh my gawsh it was all so delicious. I definitely recommend it for a romantic or celebratory dinner.

Even though I originally wanted to head to Hampden on Saturday and shop along 36th Street, I decided a relaxing morning trumped being tempted to spend money in overpriced boutiques. Andy was very happy with this decision! We drove over to Harbor East to see "Argo" and had pizza in Little Italy before heading home. ("Argo" was fantastic by the way and is the perfect movie to see with mom and pop.)

Inner Harbor
more Inner Harbor
Baltimore Aquarium
Fell's Point

spooky store front

in Fell's Point, right after gelato

on the water taxi