Monday, August 27, 2012

Iowa Insights

We are no longer Iowans (for the time being!)  Brent wrapped up his internship on Friday.  We loaded up the 'ole U-Haul and left Iowa at 3 pm.  After 7 hours of driving, we checked in at the Marriott in Dayton, Ohio.  My drill sergeant husband woke us up at 5:30 to get back on the road.  We arrived in Durham at 4 pm and spend the next 4 hours unpacking and cleaning like crazy people.  We were both obsessed with getting the house back to normal as quickly as possible.  {Having not been lived in for 12 weeks, there were cobwebs, people.}  Poor house.  Then, Sunday morning I jumped on a plane to Houston for a week of work.  I wish that being home for only 12 hours was some sort of cruel joke. ...But it's real.  :-)  I've had plenty of time to think over the last few days, and I wanted to share some of the insights I found in Iowa.

1.  I can live with MUCH LESS than I thought.
It's no secret that I love my home.  I love living in a cozy, homey, cute place.  To me, it's worth it to invest in our home since we spend so much time there.  However, I have lived, survived, and thrived for 12 weeks without my house, furniture, kitchen appliances, decorations, and most of my clothes.  We brought very little to Iowa - our sheets, TV, a few pots & pans, some clothes, and some shoes.  Although I did miss my home in Durham, living with less and in lesser quality than I'm used to has been strangely OK.  I didn't die without wood floors and granite counters, and the plain white walls didn't close in on me.  I have found myself telling Brent on multiple occasions how content I am.  And that's not a lie - I feel very sincerely CONTENT.  I've known for a long time that going to a fancy mall will suddenly trigger a desire for a $15,000 shopping spree for things you didn't want just ten minutes prior.  Similarly, without fancy things in plain sight, it's easier to want for less.

2.  I love my husband so much I can hardly stand it.
Since we were in Davenport only temporarily, I can't say we made many (OK... any) lifelong friends.  The John Deere people didn't really reach out to us socially.  If I lived there permanently, I would have reached out more and initiated some social events.  But the fact of the matter was, we didn't know anyone.  We did find one couple friend eventually, but for the most part, it was just Brent and me.  The two amigos.  And I loved it.  It's also no secret that both of us are introverts, so we love time by ourselves and time together.  No offense to anyone, but Brent is probably the only person I never get tired of.  I mean, never.  It's kind of odd to be honest.  No matter what we're doing, I just love to be with him.  That may be kind of sappy, but its true.  I know first hand that marriage is a series of peaks and valleys.  We've had our share of valleys.  But I praise the Lord every day that we are in a peak and have been for a while.  I felt like this summer brought us closer together and strengthened our marriage since we only had each other to rely on.

3.  I want to serve as a response to God's love for me, not out of guilt.
I tend to over-commit and do things out of guilt.  My life in Houston was marked by one over-commitment after another until I basically drove myself crazy.  That's one reason why the move to Durham was so positive for me.  It was a chance to step back, lower my blood pressure, and make wiser choices around commitments.  I always tend to feel like I'm not doing "enough" (whatever that is).  Moving to Iowa for the summer forced me to slow down even MORE, which was a really good thing.  I had some time on my hands and really no commitments, which had been basically my dream for years.  I enjoyed it, but I had a surprising insight from it.  I finally rediscovered my DESIRE to serve and commit that I had been missing for so long.  Instead of doing things because I feel bad or I feel like I should, I finally slowed down enough and got in the Word enough to where I began to re-understand the immensity of God's love for me in a way that compelled me to want to serve.  For example, I've felt guilty for years that I haven't served in a formal way at church.  They are always lobbying for people to join a volunteer team, and I never have because I just wasn't feeling it, and I didn't want to add one more thing to my list.  While in Davenport, I finally "got it".  Remember that church we visited where the welcome team was so unbelievably genuine and warm and gave us homemade bread?  That one thing inspired me, and suddenly, I WANTED to serve on the welcome team at church.  I felt the impact it had on me, and I couldn't wait to get back to Durham to sign up - as a response to God's love for me.

4.  Every place has a few bright spots.
Confession:  I cried when we first got to Iowa.  I think I already admitted that on a previous post.  It ain't no Durham and it ain't no Texas.  But I have to say... it grew on me.  The summer was SO RELAXED.  There was no traffic and no stress.  Life moved at a slower pace.  There were less options and fewer choices, but that kind of made things easier.  As we went through the summer, we found a few bright spots that we really enjoyed.  We LOVED the walking trail right behind our apartment.  It was literally steps form our door, and it was BEAUTIFUL.  We had perfect walking weather, and we enjoyed our nightly walks.  We also found a few restaurants that we frequented.  There was a great Mediterranean place where we had lunch most Saturdays and a fantastic stone oven pizza place that we ate at (ahem) six times.  I know if we lived there longer I could find more things to love if I looked hard enough.

5.  Getting sleep is worth it.  Every time.
I thought I'd leave you with a funny one.  Some might think this contradicts my #1 insight, but Brent and I have decided that sleep is so important we'll do almost anything to get it.  Especially since we know we will NOT be getting sleep from January on.  We have been married for 7 years, and we've slept in a king size bed for that entire time.  That's a long time to get used to a sleeping arrangement.  Upon arrival in Iowa, we found that they had provided us with a bed somewhere in between a full and a queen (we measured).  We tried valiantly to sleep on this bed (with Blazer) for 3 nights.  I woke up every morning tired, sore, and annoyed.  My arms and legs were literally hanging off the side.  After night three, I picked Brent up from work and he said, "We're going to the mattress store".  I had entertained the thought of buying an additional bed, but never mentioned it because I thought he would say I was being ridiculous.  Apparently, he was entertaining the same thoughts :-)  We ended up purchasing the cheapest twin mattress they had, about the cost of one night's stay in a hotel.  It was pretty funny trying to explain to the salesman what we wanted it for.  We pushed the twin up against the full/queen and put sheets over both.  It's kind of "I Love Lucy" style, but more pushed together :-)  The result is what we lovingly called "JUMBO-BED".  Y'all, it was hilarious.  And glorious.  I slept on the twin part and  Brent slept on the queen/full part.  I've really never slept better.  We decided that the equivalent of one night in a hotel is WELL WORTH it for a summer's worth of sleep.  We're going to donate the mattress to an international student when we get back to Durham.  Here is JUMBO-BED for posterity.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

18 Weeks

Baby N has finally made an appearance!  This is the week I really felt like I could tell I was pregnant.  Baby is the size of a sweet potato!  Notice he/she is not just a regular potato, but a SWEET potato.  I'm just relaying the facts. :-)  Brent was in Finland for work all last week, and when he got home he said he definitely noticed a difference.

Cravings:  fruit (peaches, berries, and grapefruit), turkey bacon, Italian food (mostly pizza), and thirst-quenching drinks (I bought Gatorade for the first time since college).

Symptoms:  Still really none.  I'm sleeping great and feeling great.  I *think* that I have felt the baby move, but I'm not 100% sure.  I have felt something a few times when laying flat and very still and not breathing.  Ha!  Brent does not like that very much.  He says the kid is moving to say, "What happened to my air?!" Don't worry, I'm not breathing for like 3 seconds.  I feel like I have felt a little bump or thump.  But I really WANT to feel it, so I may just be making things up.

Happy Things:  We are going home to Durham on Friday.  I am SO, SO GLAD.  You can ask my husband - I've had a good attitude about this summer's arrangements, but I think I might be officially done.  I've enjoyed our time in Iowa, and it has taught me a lot.  However, I really, really, really want to sleep in my own bed and cook in my own kitchen and sit on my own couch and do laundry in my own washer that doesn't require quarters.  12 weeks is just a long time to be away from home.  Another happy thing to look forward to is that we have our ultrasound scheduled to officially see our baby on September 5th.  We haven't decided if we will find out the gender at the office or in some fun way, but we are definitely finding out one way or another.  This mama needs to get started picking out baby things, and you better believe there will be a color scheme and monogramming involved.

Struggles:  Life is about to get Crazy with a capital C.  Less than 12 hours after we return to Durham, I jump on a plane and go to Houston for a week of work.  Then, the fall semester will be in full effect with everything picking back up - Brent's school, Bible study, small group, church stuff, and - oh yeah - getting ready to have a baby, making a nursery, and registering!  I still have 6 more trips to Houston before baby, so it will be busy.  Another struggle this week is that I haven't seen the baby since week 7 and I haven't heard the baby since week 14, so sometimes the enemy prompts me to worry.  I'm trying not to worry about anything since there is nothing I can do!  The Lord is shaping this baby exactly how he has planned, so that is not up to me.  Still, I really do want to see and hear the little guy/girl.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Flatbread Fanatic

Confession:  I've had pizza for lunch for three days in a row.  I can't help it!  I've been craving tomato sauce and cheese (ie: pizza), and I found the PERFECT make-at-home flatbread pizza!  Since I've made it three times this week, I thought it was good enough to share with you.
Last week, I purchased these "flat out" multi-grain flatbreads from the grocery to make asian chicken wraps (also very good... maybe I'll post that later).  The nice people at the flatbread company had a little message for me on the package:  Makes amazing pizzas!  Well, I had never thought about using a flatbread for a pizza crust before, but I do LOVE thin crust pizza.  The thinner, the better!  So I decided to try it.  Plus, can you see how many calories a flatbread has?  100!!!  I know - it's like some kind of bakery sorcery.  But it's true.  You show me another pizza crust that has only 100 calories.

These flatbread pizzas are perfect for lunch because they are individually portioned and endlessly adaptable.  This would be really fun with kids since they could each make their own and pick their toppings.

First, crisp up the flatbread in the oven.  I used a pizza pan and a 400 degree oven.  I let it crisp up for about 4 minutes, turning once.  When it was nice and crisp, but not burned (duh), I put on the tomato sauce and Italian cheese blend.  You know how to make a pizza, right?  I prefer for my toppings to go all they way to the edge since a flatbread isn't really a crust.  Besides, be warned that any exposed flatbread will get very crispy (read: burnt) when you cook & broil it.  Just another reason to add more toppings :-)  I add a sprinkle of red pepper flakes and oregano at this point, just for funsies.

Next, top it off however you want.  I personally think thinly sliced mushrooms and thinly sliced salami (a la Campisi's) is ridiculously delicious, but you can obviously put whatever you want on your pizza... even if it isn't as good as mine.

Pop it back in the oven at 400 for another 4 minutes or so - until everything is all melty.

Then, (and this is key!) turn on the broiler and broil that baby up for just a minute or so.  This will give you the browned cheese and crispy toppings I crave.  Watch the pizza the entire time it's under the broiler.  I would cry for you if you burned it.

Take the pizza out, slice it into rectangular slices (again, a la Campisi's) and devour.  So.  So.  Good.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Books Lately

Need something to read?  Hope your iPad and Kindle are charged up...

Young Adult
If you have not read The Fault in Our Stars, please do so immediately.  This is my number one recommendation of the year so far.  I hereby declare that this book is a YA MASTERPIECE.  It's suitable only for high school or above, and adults will be deeply affected.  I hesitated to read this book because I heard it was a tear-jerker, and I am usually not a fan of making myself depressed on purpose.  However, I agreed to read it with my teachers in May, and WOW it is a book like no other.  I'm not going to lie - I sobbed.  For hours.  On my bed.  By myself.  But, I strangely enjoyed it.  If you've ever had a good book cry, you know what I mean.  First of all, John Green is a GENIUS.  He is just amazing, and I have enjoyed all of his books, but this is the best by far.  The cover and title tell you absolutely nothing about the book, so here's the deal:  This is the story of Hazel and Augustus, two young teens with severe cancer, both in remission when they meet at a cancer support group.  Together, they re-examine life, death, and what it means to leave a legacy.  This book is so intensely realistic, you will feel as if you know the characters.  It is by turns crushingly sad and laugh-out-loud funny.  You will find yourself laughing at the most inappropriate moments.  And you will cry.  A lot.  Do it.

This book is SO WEIRD!!!!!!!!!!  A librarian friend urged me to pick it up, and I'm glad I did, if only for the experience.  There is no text in this book - only pictures.  The book is huge and beautiful - full color, glossy, two page spreads of pictures make up every single page.  Don't buy it - check it out at the library.  OR - you can read the digital edition - there is an app!!  Just look in the iTunes App store.  Talk about crazy - I read the entire book in an hour and when I finished, I said out loud, "What the HECK just happened?!?"  I demanded that Brent read it so that I could talk to him about it, and I proceeded to read it all over again, taking notes this time (nerd alert!) to figure out this enigma of a book.  I am confident that I "figured it out" after reading it 3 times and talking to Brent.  It was SO FUN!!! Essentially, it's a mystery where the protagonist vanishes on the first pages, and you spend the rest of the book figuring out what happened, piecing together clues from the pictures.  If you read this, message me. Let's talk.

Hound Dog True is a feel-good book reminiscent of Ida B.  It's written for a younger audience - about 4th grade - and it will just warm your heart.  Mattie Breen is painfully shy, and her single mom's transient lifestyle has them moving every year.  When they move in with Uncle Potluck, the janitor at Mattie's new elementary school, Mattie decides that she will be Uncle Potluck's apprentice so that she can avoid the other students at lunch and recess.  Of course, things go awfully wrong, and all Mattie wants is a friend that is "hound dog true".  You will just love Mattie.  

I swore off dystopia books for a while because I just couldn't take any more.  But I came back.  I always do.  Divergent is getting a lot of hype right now as the "next big thing" in the wide world of dystopia.  I found it to be a refreshing spin on the classic dystopic tale, partially because parts were so unexpected I just had to keep going.  In futuristic Chicago, Beatrice must choose between one of five factions with which to spend the rest of her life.  After she makes her choice, she discovers she is an "anomaly" who does not fit into any one group and, as a result, the society wants to kill her.  The group she ends up joining is "dauntless" (the brave), and their training consists of many twisted and somewhat violent exercises.  It was like Hunger Games in the sense that as I was reading, I was like, "What the heck am I reading?!?  I kind of like it!"  Never fear, you will find the prerequisite teen romance, action, and questions of "is this society really perfect?"  It's a trilogy, and the second one is already out.

 I've been awaiting The Fox Inheritance for years.  I read Mary Pearson's first, The Adoration of Jenna Fox when it came out in 2009 as a sci-fi thriller.  Jenna Fox was in a fatal car accident with her friends, but her parents, in a last ditch effort to keep her and her friends alive, replaced their minds with computers and their bodies with a high-tech polymer that would never die.  This book, the sequel, tells what happens 260 years later when they are still alive.  I think the summary on Goodreads is awesome, so here it is:  Once there were three. Three friends who loved each other—Jenna, Locke, and Kara. And after a terrible accident destroyed their bodies, their three minds were kept alive, spinning in a digital netherworld. Even in that disembodied nightmare, they were still together. At least at first. When Jenna disappeared, Locke and Kara had to go on without her. Decades passed, and then centuries.  Two-hundred-and-sixty years later, they have been released at last. Given new, perfect bodies, Locke and Kara awaken to a world they know nothing about, where everyone they once knew and loved is long dead.  Everyone except Jenna Fox. It sounds a little chessey, but I truly enjoyed this one.  It kept me going till the very end and was quite thought provoking!

I mentioned The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer on my blog back in March.  It's another very engrossing, very smart read that kept me guessing and made me think.  It's a psychological thriller that turns paranormal at the end.  It's about a teenager, Mara, who wakes up in the  hospital after a terrible accident that killed her three friends.  She has post traumatic stress disorder which causes her to hallucinate and not be able to tell what's real and what's not as she tries to put the pieces of her life back together and figure out what really happened.  This is definitely a page-turner!  

Back to my dystopia obsession - I've been meaning to read Ship Breaker for the last year.  It's won lots of awards.  It's set in a futuristic Gulf Coast Texas, presumably Galveston.  Countless oil tankers and huge ships have washed ashore on a the post-apocalyptic Galveston beach, and kids make a living as "ship breakers" wriggling into tight spaces in ships and stripping them of anything of value to sell on the beach.  It's a violent, harsh world in which survival is the only code.  This is a gritty, fast-paced dystopia that really had my heart racing.  I couldn't put it down!


I know I'm waaaaay behind the times on The Secret Life of Bees, but I am so glad I finally caught up.  This was a delightful summer read to really escape into.  This is the first book I've found that's reminiscent of The Help, which I LOVED (duh).  It's set in South Carolina in 1964 where Lily Owens lives with her abusive father after her mother is killed accidentally in a domestic skirmish when Lily herself, a toddler, finds a gun on the floor and accidentally shoots her mother.  When Lily is 14, her black maid, Rosaleen, is arrested for insulting a group of white men.  She and Lily escape to Tiburon, South Carolina where they stay in the home of three black sisters who are beekeepers.  Slowly, Lily's past comes to light so that she can deal with who she is and where shes comes from.

This is my latest fix for my historical fiction obsession.  This book concurrently tells the story of two women, connected across time:  Sarah Starzynski, a Jew in Paris during World War II and Julia, an American journalist in Paris in 2002 researching the Vel' d'Hiv' roundup.  In the roundup, Sarah's family was seized and taken to Auschwitz where they were ultimately killed.  Sarah escaped from the camp and ran away, finding safe shelter with a family in the French countryside.  This is an intensely realistic and heartbreaking account of the Holocaust that is hard to read at times, but you just can't stop.  As the two women's stories intertwine and come together, you will be mesmerized and touched.

This is totally different from any of the other books on this post - it'a Christian book written by pastor Francis Chan.  This book is life-changing.  I don't recommend reading it quickly from cover to cover.  It needs time to sink in.  I read it as a part of my daily Bible study, one chapter at a time.  It will challenge you and make you think.  I found myself wanting to talk to Brent about every chapter I read as it stirred things within me and provoked lots of reflection.  Basically, it's about the epidemic of lukewarm Christianity in America.  He argues that God's love for us is so great and so CRAZY that if we really understood it, we could not possibly respond with anything less than our very lives.  It's both intellectual and practical, and it will push you, for sure.  I L.O.V.E. this book.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

It's The Journey...

I've been meaning to post about a little craft I did for our 7th wedding anniversary back on June 25th.  I had a budget of approximately $15 for an anniversary gift, and I knew just the thing.  (My husband is the type of person for whom saving money is a really good gift!)  If you've been on Pinterest for more than five minutes, you've undoubtedly seen many iterations of this particular DIY craft.  They all have to do with using maps creatively to showcase places you've been or places that are important to you in a piece of art.  Since we've been, um, MOBILE for the last 7 years, I thought this would be the perfect gift to display in our home now and in the future.  

I bought a $10 frame at Target, a $6 US atlas (yep, they still make them - I was surprised too), and a piece of white poster board.  Next, I cut a heart template out of the poster board and used it to trace hearts around the 6 most important cities to us:  College Station , Houston, Dallas, Durham, New York, and Davenport.  Then, I cut out two more blank white hearts to symbolize the future places God will send us.  I'll  replace those with maps when I actually know where we're going :-)  I glued down all the hearts with double stick tape and used a Sharpie to write one of my favorite sayings - actually a motto of YES Prep - "The journey, not the arrival, is what matters most."  Lovely and appropriate sentiment, don't you think?  I can't wait to find the perfect place to hang it in our home when we get back to Durham.

I'd highly recommend this project since it cost about $15 and only took 45 minutes to put together from start to finish.  You can create it however you want, and it makes a great personalized piece of art!
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