Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Mom's Mac-N-Cheese

I used to be a little chubby.  (I'm not saying it's my mom's fault, but I dropped a good 20-30 pounds when I moved out).

My mom is especially famous for her Old-Fashioned Mac-N-Cheese.  Growing up, many of my friends had only ever eaten the orange stuff that came in the blue box, so we'd have to invite them over so they could try the real stuff for themselves. 

My mom loves to cook for people, but unless you are not planning a trip to the Greater San Antonio Area, here's the recipe so you can make some for yourself.

2 Cups elbow macaroni (6-7 oz)
2 Tbl grated onion (I always use an entire onion)
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
3 cups cheese
2 cups thin sauce
1 Tbl Butter

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Cook macaroni as directed.  Place half the macaroni in an ungreased 2 quart casserole dish.  Sprinkle with half the onion, salt, pepper and cheese.  Repeat.  Pour white sauce over casserole.  Dot with butter.  Cover bake 30 minutes. Uncover bake 15 minutes. 

Thin white sauce:
Melt 2 Tbl. butter on low in a sauce pan.  Remove from heat and slowly add 1 1/2-2 Tbl. flour.  Stir and mix and slowly add 2 cups of milk (you can use a whisk).  Cook over medium heat until mixture becomes thick and starts to boil, stirring constantly.  Use immediately.

FYI: It is best served with frozen peas.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

What I've Been Reading: Invisible Women, Dystopian Teen Romance Series, and Non-fiction True Crime

My book tastes are a little eclectic.  Here's what I've been reading.

I will start with my favorite. My friend Suzanne picked, Calling Invisible Women by Jeanne Ray for book club. It is about a 54 year-old woman who wakes up one morning to discover that she's invisible.  The worse part is that her husband and children are so caught up in their own lives that they don't even notice. I loved it-it is smart, funny, poignant, and well written, but mostly I loved it because I can so relate. 

I spent the first 23 years of my life as the star-it was all about me and what I could achieve.  When I became a wife and mother, I stopped adding notches to my resume and settled into the supporting actress roll to my husband and children.  If I continue this metaphor to my current state, I think lately my name would most often only show up in the credits under crew (if the janitorial staff or Kraft Services even gets mentioned in the credits). I spend the majority of my time doing a laundry lists of mundane tasks-including way more actually laundry than I'd like. This is the life I chose and I wouldn't trade my life for the spotlight of a high powered career woman, but now and then I have felt a little invisible.  If you sometimes feel like this too, you'll love Calling Invisible Women. I can't wait for book club to hear what everyone else thought.
5 stars

In Devil in the White City, Erik Lawson weaves together the stories of the architect of the 1892 Chicago World's Fair and the serial killer Henry H. Holmes. Reading about the details of planning the fair was tedious for me and I would have appreciated more pictures. The idea that Holmes could kill somewhere between 28-200 people without being caught was disturbingly fascinating. He was the ultimate con-man and psychopath, but unfortunately, no one knows a lot of details about his crimes and there just wasn't much to write about.  I found about as much information on his Wikipedia page, then in reading the almost 400 page book. 
3 stars

Before, I tell you about my next two reads, I would just like to say to all the authors out there: Just because series are all the trend, doesn't mean that you have to write a series. I would prefer a really great book, to a mediocre series.  You can not all be J.K. Rowling.

Divergent by Veronica Roth

 In post-apocalyptic Chicago, people divide themselves into the factions based on the value they feel is most important: Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent).  They live in peace for a few generations until human nature creeps in and sparks an all-out war.
 I loved the first one and liked the second slightly less.  The third one really started to drag for me and the ending made me plain mad.  Read the first two and then I will just tell you what should have happened in the third and save you all the time and frustration. I'd give the books, 4 1/2 stars, 4 stars, and 2 1/2 stars.

Legend Trilogy -Marie Lu

Set in the future when global warming has led to mass climate change and about half of the US under Water.  It is the love story of June, a privileged military prodigy and Day, the governments most wanted criminal.  

Better than most dystopian series. I'd give the entire series 4 stars, but the last book only a 3.

What's the best book you've read lately?

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Cute, Cheap, Custom Dressed in sizes 0-36W (and they even have pockets!)

How often have you found a great dress, except for:
-it was the wrong length
-you hated the embellishments
-you hated the sleeves
-the neckline showed too much cleavage-or not enough :)
-it didn't come in your size
-too expensive
-it was cheaply made

Then you are going to love eShakti.

They sell fresh vintage inspired dressed from sizes 0-36.  The best part is that you give them your measurements and they make each dress especially for you. You can even customized length, sleeve length and neckline. Life changing.

When it is not freezing outside and my daughter isn't in finals, we will do a little photo shoot of us wearing our new dresses, but here are the dresses we ordered:
Vintage Bicycle
My daughter wanted this cute black dress with old fashioned bicycles embroidered along the bottom.  Until our fashion shoot, you will just have to take my word for it, but it is even cuter on.

Retro Shirt Dress
I bought this navy shirt dress for myself. Despite the fact that I haven't turned down a cookie since Thanksgiving, it was very flattering. I wore it on Sunday to church, and felt a little like Doris Day or Marilyn Monroe.  It had that clean, classic look that made feel pretty and feminine and if I dare say, even a little sexy. 

Both are made of high quality fabric and have details of more expensive clothing like top stitching and hidden zippers. The grand total for both dresses, including shipping was only $82.95 and they arrived in about 2 weeks time.  I couldn't have done better if I would have sewn them myself.

I don't know if it's standard, but I also received coupons for $35 to use on my next purchase.

Red Shawl-Collar Dress
Red-Hot Color Block Dress

I need a dress for an upcoming job interview for my husband: one that says "Please hire my husband", and am trying to decide between the above ( I like the bottom, but my daughter likes the top-feel free to vote in the comments). I am going to add cap sleeves, but I could order it w/ any of these sleeves options:

I actually like the original necklines, but I also have the option of changing it to any these:

You tell them how tall you are and then how long you'd like the hem to be:

They are always running great promotions and so it isn't hard to get a fabulous dress for well under $50.  If you are a first time customer and shop in the clearance, you can even find quite a few things under $20!

Buy 2 get 1 free (or get 25% of one)


And  $25 $30 Gift coupon w/ your first purchase:
  eshakti, fall, autumn, plusfashion, colorblock dress, plus size dress, petite fashion, womens clothing, online shopping, plus apparel, bridesmaids dresses, fall2013, affordable clothing, dresses with pockets, custom clothing, customized apparel, spring

So check them out and tell them I sent you (I'll get a commission and then I can buy more dresses).

UPDATE:  My husband liked the color-block one better, so I just ordered it.I had $35 thank-you credits from my first purchase, and I got %25 off for the current promotion, I could add sleeves for free b/c it was the first time, so my grand total including shipping was $19.92!!!I think that is less than my husband's tie!

Friday, January 10, 2014

22 Marathon Running Tips-From a Frumpy Non-Runner

Last year about this time, I decided to run a marathon. (Read all about it here) There's a lot of great expert advice out there.  Here's some non-expert advice from a frumpy 40-year old mom that HATES all matters of exercise and has never experienced a "runner's high" in her entire life.

1. Check out Hal Higdon's Website-better yet read some of his books.

2. Treat your long runs as dress rehearsals for the marathon.  Drink, eat, and wear what you will during the race.

3. Have a good partner. I would not pick someone that I was trying to attract.  Running long distances makes your body do really gross things and none of it was pretty. 

4. Recorded books.  I listened to music for the first few months, but running for endless hours is boring. I always ran slower when I listened to books on tape, but it helped w/ the boredom on days I had to run alone.  I highly recommend teenage romance novels involving the paranormal or the end of the world. BTW My husband never listened to anything when he trained for his-he says it helped him focus.

5.  Tell everyone you know that you are running a marathon-people will want to support and encourage you.

6. Cotton bras, socks, and panties are not your friends.  Buy the stuff that is designed to pull the moisture away from your body. I wanted to avoid TMI, so I will try to put this as delicately as possible: sweaty panties and dehydrated women tend to cause all manner of feminine problems. 

7. Seams are your mortal enemies. Under 10 miles they are fine, but especially on any runs longer than 15 miles each little seam will start to act and feel like a tiny razor blade-especially in the more delicate places on your body.

8. Bring a good support staff-they can bring your chopstick, sunglasses, hats, towels, etc. Our husbands stood on the sidelines at several points in the race and it helped me pick up my pace and ignore the pain.

8.  Eat some good fiber the day before so you can go to the bathroom before the race-it is so much better than during the race.

9.  Don't sprint at the beginning.  (It harder than you'd think).  

10.  Buy a Garmin GPS  watch-I was too lazy to chart out distances.  I loved that it kept track of my time and pace.  My favorite feature is that it told me how many calories I burned. Toward the end, I had some pretty impressive numbers.

11. Dedicate each mile to someone.  I picked people that were going through hard times-chemo, sick kids, custody battles, divorce, and those people that have to suffer having me as an immediate family member.
12. Pick a battle cry.  Mine started as "I can do hard things", then evolved from "I will do hard things" to "I do hard things." When it got tough (basically any time I was running), I would repeat over and over "I do hard things."  

19. Have someone on call to come and pick you up in case of emergency on your long runs.

14. Map out your training schedule and be realistic about other time commitments. I did a 30 week plan and from week 22-27, running became all consuming.  I was either preparing to run, running, or recovering from running.  I was exhausted and took lots of naps.

15.  Pick a nice flat race on a day that works best for you.  My husband ran in Fargo, ND and I drove 4 hours to Abilene and it was better than running a tougher course close to home at a time that wouldn't work as well with our training.

16. Take it Glucosamine and Chondroitin (guess you should ask your doctor).  I don't know if it is just a placebo effect, but it really seems to help my knees.  It does take a week or so for you to notice a difference

17.  So normally a pair of shoes may last you a few years-but if you log this many miles, you are going to need to replace them every few hundred miles.  About week 22, I thought that I might not be able to keep going I was so sore, but I bought new shoes and I wasn't as sore. I normally wear a 7 1/2.  On shorter  faster, runs, I wear an 8 and on long runs an 81/2. 

18.  We noticed the first part of our bodies that got in shape were our lungs.  Pretty quickly, we got to the point where we weren't breathing hard and could talk normally.  Next our muscles got in shape.  I wasn't any more sore after the first time I ran 18 than when I ran 7. (After 20 it was another story-but even then I was fine after about 24 hours).  Finally our skeletal systems were strong enough to be able to run 26.2 miles.  People that don't train end up actually breaking bones.

Me in all my post-marathon glory
19 . Accept the fact that running a marathon is going to be grueling and awful.  It's not like learning a new skill where it's really hard in the beginning and gets easier until it's no big deal.  I never got the "runners-high" and it never got any easier.  If you hate running 1 mile, you're going to hate running 26.2 miles.  Also understand that it is just as much mental as physical.  It will be awful-but you can do it and when it is finally over you will feel amazing.

20. Drink.  Under 5 miles, I wouldn't carry anything.  Over 5, I had a fanny pack with attached water bottles.  Over 10, I used a Camelback.  Over 15,  I would do stash more water at my house and loop back to catch it up.  In retrospect, I should have trained more with Gatorade, since that's what they had during the race.  (I didn't want to deal with getting sticky or stained.)

21. I never really got the food thing figure out. The entire idea of gel packs grossed me out and they give several of my friends heartburn and gas.  I trained w/ gummy bears and pretzels, but I think the race might have gone better if I would have found some sort of gel that worked for me.

22. Finally don't set a time goal.  Your only goal should be to complete it and you don't want to feel like you failed because you ran it a little slower.   Set a time goal for your next one.

There you have it-there's all my advice. Good Luck!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Rood, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband "Master".

My friend Judy picked this for book club and I was curious exactly how the author would define "biblical womanhood"- there are lots of opinions out there. Historically, the Bible has even been used to justify the mistreatment and inequality of women.  I would consider myself someone that strives to follow the teachings of the Bible, but being a Mormon, some people like to have long debates on whether or not I am a even a Christian. 

I was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed this book. First of all, I love the entire idea of a challenge like this -maybe I will even do modified version of some of the challenges someday. Among her challenges, she cared for a computerized baby, sat on the roof as penance, camped out in her yard during her "monthly', called her husband "master", kept kosher, spent time in a monastery, learned to cook, sew, and even knit. Secondly, I loved the warmth, humor, and candor she used when sharing this experience. 

I could write pages and pages on my thoughts, but here are some of my favorite quotes/parts. 

"Evangelicalism is like my religious mother tongue.  I revert to it whenever I'm angry or excited or surrounded by other people who understand what I'm saying.  And it's the language in which I most often hear God's voice on the rare occasion that it rises above the noise." xviii

 I have been blessed to have many spiritual experiences with people of a variety faiths, but I can relate (although I would substitute "Mormonism".)

The Bible, especially the Old Testament is full of women being treated poorly-sometimes even savagely, and it bothers me.  I appreciate that they bother her too. 

"Caring for the poor, resting on the Sabbath, showing hospitality and keeping the home-these are important things that can lead us to God, but God is not contained in the them." 36

I love that. The gospel is not a spiritual chore chart, but should be a way to become more like Jesus Christ.

So apparently Evangelical Christian women place a big emphasis on being the woman describe in Proverbs 31. (Mormon women also take self-imposed guilt trips on their inability to be the perfect wives and mothers, we just don't specifically use this chapter to fuel those guilt trips).  The author's Jewish friend pointed out that Proverbs 31 is not even addressed to women, but as counsel from a mother to her son King Lemuel.  In other words, King Lemuel's mother was teaching him that "women of valor" or "Eshet Chayil"  do all these amazing things and he should appreciate them for it. Hebrew men actually recite this line at Sabbath meals to honor their wives.  The author uses this blessing as a verbal "high five" anywhere she saw women using their force for good.  I love this!  We are too hard ourselves and should maybe give each other more shout-outs. Eshet Chayil all of you that made dinner or ordered pizza. Exercised or took a nap.  Laughed or cried. Cleaned a toilet or performed heart surgery. Read a kid a story or yelled at him for not turning in his homework.  Eshet Chayil!

Perfect description of Hobby Lobby: 
"If ever one should wish to see a modern incarnations of the Proverbs 31 woman in her natural habitat, Hobby Lobby would be the place to start. Jazzy worship music played of the PA, while petite, white-haired ladies carrying home-made totes glided through the fabric rolls, humming along and smiling politely at the raccoon-eyed crafting hipsters who darted across their paths." 80

BTW One of my very favorite talks about this from a Mormon perspective was written in 1987  by Patricia Holland, and I read it when feeling overwhelmed by my lack of super powers. It can be found here. The entire talk is amazing (go read it), but here's a portion.
We must have the courage to be imperfect while striving for perfection. Wemust not allow our own guilt, the feminist books, the talk-show hosts, or the whole media culture to sell us a bill of goods—or rather a bill of no goods. We can become so sidetracked in our compulsive search for identity and self-esteem that we really believe it can be found in having perfect figures or academic degrees or professional status or even absolute motherly success. Yet, in so searching externally, we can be torn from our true internal, eternal selves. We often worry so much about pleasing and performing for others that we lose our uniqueness—that full and relaxed acceptance of one’s self as a person of worth and individuality. We become so frightened and insecure that we cannot be generous toward the diversity and individuality, and yes, problems, of our neighbors. Too many women with these anxieties watch helplessly as their lives unravel from the very core that centers and sustains them. Too many are like a ship at sea without sail or rudder, “tossed to and fro,” as the Apostle Paul said (see Eph. 4:14), until more and more of us are genuinely, rail-grabbingly seasick.

Evans spends a great deal trying to be "submissive" to her husband, which caused me to reflect on my own marriage. I was raised to believe that the husband is the leader of the home, but also that I am his equal partner. Sounds a little contradictory I know and I can't even explain it, but it works for us.   We are both motivated by trying to insure each other's happiness not by power trips and neither of us wants to hinder the other's dreams or success. We are a team-Scott and Tara versus the world. We value each other's input and I think he would find running our family as some sort of dictatorship exhausting.

She also talked about eating ethically.  I was deeply disturbed by the suffering and exploitation of others so I can eat cheap chocolate.  I have been blissfully unaware and it's time I became more informed and possibly change some food purchases. (FYI Costco does sell "fair trade" chocolate chips for pretty cheap.)

Her experiment taught her: 
"It  (The Bible) isn't a flat, perspicuous list of rules and regulation that we can interpret objectively and apply unilaterally to our lives." 294

I so agree. I believe that if I want to talk to God, I pray.  If I want Him to talk to me, I need to read in my scriptures.  Different passages have meant different things to me at different points in my life and that's the beauty of it. 

The book reminded me that I should be less snarky, more charitable, and should probably even compliment my husband more. I should mention, that I enjoyed following her on this spiritual journey, but lots of people were deeply offended by the entire project. I totally recommend the book and can not wait for book club to hear what everyone else thought. 

UPDATE:  I think this might have been the best book club discussion we've ever had.  We laughed, cried, got way too personal and I came home on such a high for being a woman surrounded by great women, that it is still lingering the next morning. If you're looking for a good book for your book club (especially if most of you go to church on a regular basis), pick this one.