Monday, July 28, 2014

Just Like in Real Life (Why You Won't Hear Me Complain About Facebook)

I realized a few months ago that I had not printed out any pictures in quite some time.  This is not like me.  I like to have about 8 to 12 pictures from the previous month up on the bulletin board in my kitchen.  I walk by this bulletin board probably 20 -40 times a day.  It makes me happy to see those pictures.

I puzzled for a bit about why I hadn't been printing my pictures and displaying them.  Then it occurred to me.  It was at least in part because of Facebook.

A little history first: I was against Facebook when my husband joined back in 2006.  I didn't know a lot about it but assumed it was a lot like those sites that put you back in touch with everyone you went to high school with that were popular at the time. (, I think one was called. No, thank you.)  Then I started looking at his page.  My older brother was there.  So was a good friend from my hometown.  So after about a month, I joined.  I was surprised by how quickly people from my past popped up, but even more surprised by how many people who are a part of my life now friend requested me. 

I quickly was in touch with cousins who I had grown up with but now lived in different states, my teaching assistant from a previous school, and one of my best childhood friend who lives several hundred miles away. Pretty soon, my mom and my aunt were my "friends" as well as a former boss. I saw pictures of their kids, got to hear anecdotes about their lives, and got to share my own life in a way that I couldn't before this new fangled invention.

It's not that there weren't bumps and adjustments along the way, because there were.  An all-out political war was waged one summer (mostly private) between myself and some members of my family when some articles and posts were shared.  Comments were made.  But guess what?  We got past it.  Just like in real life.  Then there were a few people who irritated me on a daily basis. Just like in real life.  I decided their online presence wasn't necessary in my life. Just like in real life.  There were a few who "unfriended" me.  I'm a big girl.  I got over it.  Just like in real life.

I hear people complain all the time about Facebook.  They complain  about how they don't care what people had for dinner or when they went to the gym, about how they hate the way the format keeps changing, how their privacy is being invaded, how they hate what this person posted, how they hate all the selfies.  Say whatever you want.  I will tell you this.  I love Facebook.  It's not perfect.  It's all in how you use it  - just like most other things.  Here are just a few things I love about it:  It's free.  It's put me in touch with family that I wish lived closer but don't.  It's let me get to know people who live close by better. It lets me share how my kids are growing up with relatives we don't see as often as we'd like.  It's let me know when sales at my favorite stores are going on. It tells me when there are events I want to attend.  It's shown me different places to visit on vacation.  It helped me to get people to read my blog.  It let me start a reading group that's grown beyond what I thought it would be.  And best of all, it's become an online journal for me.

You see,  I wasn't printing out my pictures regularly anymore because I would go back and look at my Facebook page instead whenever I wanted to feel happy and review what I had been thinking and what my family had been up to for the last couple of months. 

I read Gretchen Rubin's two books, The Happiness Project and Happier At Home, this summer.  One of the things she suggests to promote happiness is keeping a one sentence a day journal.  This intrigued me.  I tried it for a bit and didn't like it.  I kept trying to come up with some profound and all encompassing sentence for each day which was really frustrating.  That's because it's in the details that we realize the profound.  I was already sharing minute details on Facebook without even thinking about it.  Okay, so I don't post every day.  Sometimes, I post more than once a day.  And sometimes it's more than one sentence.  But it's close enough to have the same effect.

The online version is all fine and good, but I really still am a book kind of a person.  I love my Kindle but still appreciate a physical book.  I love photo albums and reading old stuff I've written.  Just having my story online wasn't quite satisfying enough.  Then Facebook came through again.  In a suggested ad, I read about My Social Book.  Before I go on, let me just say this is NOT a blog post sponsored by them, although it may sound like one. 

My Social Book will make you a physical book of your Facebook posts, pictures, friends' comments, and all kinds of other Facebook-y things.  You can choose the time frame and what you want included.  They recently ran a special of 30% off and free shipping (and I knew this because I had "liked" their page, thanks again, FB), and I decided to try it.  I haven't made a photo book on Shutterfly or Walgreen's in years simply because it took too much time to download all the pictures, decide on the background and layout, and then if you wanted any words (very important to me), you had to think about what to say about each particular picture or occasion.  It's hard to go back to the time frame in old pictures and come up with something to say that doesn't sound canned.   I didn't have to do any of that with My Social Book because I'd already done it as I posted things throughout the year. 

 I decided to create a book from the first of January 2013 to the first of January 2014.  It broke my year down month by month.  Here are few shots of my book.

This is the beginning of the January section.  It chose a few of my most "liked" pictures and my most "liked" status for the beginning of each month.

In each month's section were my pictures and statuses from that month and also the comments of my friends.  These two pages show some of the pictures of the Daddy/Daughter dance my daughter and husband attended that month.

Here are two of the pages from when I was posting about our July trip to St. Louis last year.  I did print these pictures out, but they had yet to make it into a photo book.  Until now.

Something I really liked was that things that I had forgotten about were in the book.  The details!  Oh, the sweet details!   This is page from when a friend of mine gave me a chocolate bear because of this blog post that I shared on my blog's Facebook page.  Seeing it made me smile all over again.

Highlighted pictures for June: a picture from my wedding day I shared on my anniversary, my daughter with the basket she made, my husband and kids on Father's Day, and my sister-in-law with my daughter after her dance recital

The page below showed a meme I had shared that made me laugh.  I loved that not only does the book have the photographs I took but the quotes and memes I shared that were relevant to me for one reason or another.   There are also pictures of a family night when we played Monopoly Jr. on these pages.

Look, it's all my Facebook friends!  And the bear again!  2013 was the Year of the Bear for me.  It will now be forever immortalized.  I wouldn't have even had a picture of a bear in my regular photographs unless I saw one in a forest and happened to have my camera. Not likely.  That would have been a real shame, because that bear was important to me.

And finally, at the back, "The Most Liked Pictures!"

By the way, for the next three days, My Social Book is offering 60% off.  I may or may not have gone back to order the 2012-2013 year.

I know this may not be for everyone.  Again, it's all in how you use it.  You may not want to see the memes I think are funny or the blueberry cobbler I made for dessert.  Great! I'm really not posting it just for you.  I might ask you though, what are you doing on Facebook anyway if you don't care about details?  It's not a Mensa convention.  It's a social network.  If you don't want to see it, don't check in with me.  Just like in real life!  Isn't that great? But if you do care about the details of my life, it means you really are my friend.  Just like in real life.   For me, life is in the details.  What better way to document them?


Sunday, July 27, 2014

My Old Friend, The Crockpot

The crockpot is my friend.  I have a feeling a lot of working moms feel this way. Throw a bunch of ingredients in it in the morning and come home to a meal. Even better, they now make crockpot liners, so clean up is a snap.  I actually have three crockpots of different sizes (four if you count the pressure cooker I got from my mom that has a delayed timer slow cooker function.  Love this).  This winter I bought this one because it was super cute and only $16.  I really wish they would do more patterns like this with boring looking appliances.  Most of my kitchen appliances are black, so I felt like I needed this new guy to jazz things up.

Hello, Gorgeous

But then I got to feeling bad for this guy...

Is it weird to personify your slow cooker?  Never mind, I already know the answer to that.  Anyway, this guy is the workhorse of the crockpots in my house.  He is the biggest one I own, so he is the one who gets the call of duty for family gatherings and other parties in addition to feeding my family on a regular evening.  Big job or small, he always answers the call.  He's the one that gets taken out to chili suppers at my children's school or toted to potlucks at work.  He's been beaten and banged up through pulled pork, chili, taco and potato soup, chicken and noodles, and pot roast.  He also helped me turn several bushels of apples into applesauce this fall and can make a gigantic batch of refried beans like you wouldn't believe.  I felt like he deserved a makeover.

So I was browsing Pinterest one night and saw this pin.  I knew it would be just the thing to give this guy a new lease on life.

First I scrubbed the surround and took off the little dial.   Then I flipped it over and gave it a quick spray tan with my handy chalkboard spray paint.  If  you don't have any of this stuff, you need to get some.  Seriously.  After a 20 minute drying time, I gave it a second coat and let it dry out in the sun.  Then I snapped the little dial right back on it.

After 24 hours, I primed the surround by rubbing chalk all over it and then wiping it off with a damp paper towel, as per the instructions on the spray paint can.

And now a Before and After shot...


and After!


Now I can let everyone know what's inside at parties and potlucks.  And I feel so much better about this guy's outlook on life.  We all deserve a new look from time to time, especially when we've worked so hard.  Now on to mod podge-ing the toaster...

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Make Something Monday: Paper Bag Town

I recently wrote a post about our Summer Schedule.  For this Make Something Monday, the kids didn't have anything they particularly wanted to make, so I suggested we make a version of this Paper Bag Town from Kids Activities Blog.  The original post was for younger kids, but I thought my kids (9 and 11) might get a kick out of it because they both still enjoy playing with their little figures so much. One thing I will say for the two of them, imagination is not something either of them lack. (Actually, I was tempted to make one of these myself when I saw this idea.  There's always been something so appealing to me about making up my own little world. I still do it in my head sometimes.  LOL)  I was right.  It was a hit.  Not only that - because they are older, I was barely involved at all.  They came up with all sorts of storefront ideas for their town.  Older kids actually have a better idea of what is actually supposed to be in a town than younger kids.  They also have much longer attention spans, so an activity like this can take hours.

The idea is simple.  Paint some paper bags two different colors for a roof and the building.  They set up in our playroom and had several bags turned out in no time.  We had a whole bunch of paper bags and a bunch of craft paint left over from other projects that we were able to use.  This was also a reason I suggested it!

Next, draw on the bags to make the windows, doors, and signs. Or you can paint them on as my daughter did with some of them.

Something we added to make sure they stood up was stuff each one with a plastic bag before we stapled them closed at the top.

Pretty soon we had a candy store, costume store, hospital, and several houses.

Another thing we added was the base for the town.  I had a $1 white plastic tablecloth laying around.  We pulled in one of our folding tables from the garage and covered it with the tablecloth.  Then my daughter drew roads, trees, and a pond on it.  Then they set up all the bags in the town.

 Kat Kong invades the city!

 Future city planner

 Then it was time to bring down all the Littlest Pets and Nintendo guys to set up house.

In our house, Nintendo figures have had to coexist with Littlest Pet Shop Pets and Polly Pocket.  It makes for an interesting world.

I wondered if my kids would be too old for this. They're not and I'm glad.  They spent several hours putting this all together while I was upstairs making dinner and writing.  I only went downstairs to snap a few pictures as they progressed. We've left it up all week, and they've been down to play with it on and off.  This is exactly the kind of thing they need to be doing.  As I type this post, my daughter came up and asked me where the Sharpies are.  They're adding a hotel!  Childhood is so short.  No need to hurry it along.

I Come Bearing Lasagna

I love to bake.  Cookies, cakes, bread - it's all good.  Cooking is different, though.  I don't hate to cook, but it's not my favorite thing to do.  Cooking is more of a freestyle event.  My mom, God love her, did not like cooking either.  She taught me the basics, so I didn't starve when I went off to live on my own.  I could do grilled cheese, spaghetti, and macaroni and cheese.  Toast with peanut butter saved my life in my single days. 

Also, I am a picky eater.  I'm much better than I was as a kid (think plain everything: spaghetti with no sauce, hamburgers with no ketchup, raw potatoes instead of fried), but there are still quite a few things that I turn my nose up at.  I think that makes it harder to be a good cook.  Truly good cooks improvise and think about trying a little of this with that. They taste as they go along and experiment.   My husband is much better at this than I am.  He actually got me eating and loving scrambled eggs because of the way he prepares them. 

After we got married, I applied myself and became a better cook with help from The Food Network, various cookbooks, and a few years ago, Pinterest.  I actually have a lasagna recipe now that I feel good about bringing to others or serving at gatherings.  I think that's the true test of a dish - your willingness to share it with others.  This is inspired by a Paula Deen recipe, but I've changed it in several ways to suit my particular tastes.  There were two things that drew me to trying this recipe:

1. You don't have to cook the noodles separately, which I consider a major convenience.

 2. It uses cottage cheese instead of ricotta cheese like a lot of lasagna recipes.  Ricotta cheese - eeewww!  See what I mean about still being picky.

Round up your ingredients.  You'll need two pounds of ground beef (not pictured), one diced onion, 2 tsp. of minced garlic, 2 tsp. of  ground oregano, 1 tsp. of basil leaves,  1 can of diced tomatoes with basil, garlic, and oregano, two cans of tomato sauce, one can of tomato paste,  1 1/2 cups cottage cheese, 1 5 oz. package of grated Parmesan cheese, 16 oz. of shredded mozzarella, 2 large eggs, and 6 lasagna noodles.

Brown your ground beef and throw in the diced onion and minced garlic.  Drain the meat and add the oregano and basil.  Do this in a large pot so that you can add all the other stuff that comes after easily.

Add the tomatoes, tomato sauce, and tomato paste.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer about 30 minutes.

While this meat/tomato mixture is simmering, mix the cottage cheese, Parmesan cheese, and eggs together in a bowl.

Next, get out your large baking dish.  In my house, this is known as the lasagna pan, even though it's used for other things.  It's from Rachael Ray's line of dishes which is only appropriate since she was one of my first Food Network teachers.

Cover the bottom of the pan with a thin layer of the tomato mixture.

On top of that layer three lasagna noodles, NOT overlapping.  I used Ronzoni's Healthy Harvest lasagna noodles.

Next, cover these with about half of the cheese mixture.

Then add about half of the remaining tomato mixture...

...followed by half of the shredded mozzarella.

Then add 3 more lasagna noodles and the remaining tomato sauce mixture.  You'll have half of your mozzarella cheese left over at this point. 

You can't see the second layer of noodles here, but trust me, I put them in!

  Bake this pan of crazy deliciousness at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.  After 45 minutes, remove it from the oven and top it with the remaining mozzarella cheese for another 15 minutes.  It will  come out looking like this:

It will be hard, but let it rest for about 10 minutes before serving.
This is the perfect dish to take to a family if someone is sick or just had a baby.  Do not make the same mistake I did, however, if you make it in one of those disposable aluminum pans.  PUT A BAKING SHEET UNDER IT SO IT DOESN'T COLLAPSE ALL OVER YOUR OVEN DOOR WHEN YOU TAKE IT OUT!  What a mess that was! 
If I'm making this for someone, I usually stick one of those pre-buttered and pre-garlic-ed loaves of French bread they have at the grocery store with this, along with either a Caesar or fruit salad, and a dessert.  If you think of it, it's nice to include paper plates and napkins too.  No one wants to do dishes if they're sick or just had a baby. I put it all together (except for the lasagna- it's way too big and has to be carried on its own) in one of those reusable plastic grocery bags from Dollar Tree. 

This is my blueberry banana bread which is my favorite of all time.  You can find the recipe for it here if you're interested. 

I usually do a fruit salad if there are kids involved!
There you have it!  Once upon a time, lasagna intimidated me, but no more!  This recipe is not difficult at all.  Try it and come bearing lasagna like I do!

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Swan

We recently got back from our second vacation to Michigan.  I wrote about our first trip to Michigan last summer here.   This year we went for a whole week, so we were able to do more than just hit the beach (although you can be sure we did hit the beach too).

One of the things we did this summer was to visit Holland.  Holland was settled by a Dutch minister with his family and members of his congregation in 1847.  It is still proud of its heritage and boasts many things to do related to it.  We wanted to tour its working windmill, De Zwaan, (The Swan) while we were in town. 

You can barely see us, but we are standing in front of this huge windmill.  This windmill was actually brought over from the Netherlands.  Part of it has been rebuilt since then.  It was the last one to ever leave the Netherlands.  It was first built in 1761 and was badly damaged in World War II.  They have a blade from the original windmill outside that is on the ground.  You can see the bullet holes in it from the war.  My daughter was very impressed by this.

 You can see the name in this picture.
The Swan is the only fully functioning authentic Dutch windmill in the United States.  Yep, fully functioning -as in they really make flour in it.  Our tour guide told us that The Swan has the only female American miller who is Dutch certified.  Apparently, she taught herself Dutch just so she could go to Holland and become certified.  People who have such a specific purpose in life always leave me a bit mystified and in awe of them.
Here are few other shots of the inside.
We climbed the many levels to the very top.  At first, I didn't think we were going to get to go outside on the deck, but we did.  What a view!  It didn't hurt that it was a gorgeous, clear summer day.  The tour guide was explaining some things about the blades of the windmill and mentioned how the miller climbs up them to maintain them, when I stopped her.  "Seriously?  She climbs those blades?"  Seriously.  She does.

Seriously - it made a little weak in the knees to be out on the deck!

 Our tour guide was nice enough to snap this picture of us on the deck.
Guess what my souvenir from this trip was? 

I always try to find a Christmas ornament when we visit a new place. I wrote a post about that here. This little windmill is made from the traditional Dutch blue and white Delftware.  Holland has the only Delftware production factory in the U.S  It even says Holland on the side.

I'll be honest, this was the kind of thing that probably would have bored me crazy as a kid.  My kids did pretty well, but I'm sure they would have rather been at an amusement park.  That's okay. As I get older, I appreciate the history and craftsmanship behind things like this windmill.  I want my kids to know that.  I also appreciate the way people care enough about their heritage and legacy to keep something like this maintained and running. Can you imagine caring about any thing this much?  They brought this enormous windmill across the ocean and put it back together!  I sometimes lose patience putting batteries in something if I have to unscrew the battery panel!  Not only did they bring it over, but they keep it maintained and running and beautiful!   As I was reading The Monuments Men this winter, I wrote down a quote that speaks to this:

 ""We do not want to destroy unnecessarily what men spent so much time and care and skill making... [for] these examples of craftsmanship tell us so much about our ancestors....If these things are lost or broken or destroyed, we lose a valuable part of our knowledge of our forefathers. No age lives entirely alone; every civilization is formed not merely by its own achievements but by what it has inherited from the past. If these things are destroyed, we have lost part of our past, and we shall be the poorer for it."
British Monuments Man Ronald Balfour, draft lecture for soldiers, 1944