Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Pinterest Challenge: Fall Wreath

It's that time of year again! Sherry from Young House Love and Katie from Bower Power have extended the Fall Pinterest Challenge, and I jumped on board.

Between writing my dissertation proposal, work, and attending Badger games, I haven't had a whole lot of time for anything DIY lately. I have several smaller projects on my To Do list, like Christmas cards and some handmade gifts, as well as a few larger projects, like curtains for several rooms and redecorating our bedroom. Totally reasonable things to squeeze in between a literature review, right?

So this Pinterest Challenge came around at a perfect time to throw in something small, like fall decorations. Nothing too time intensive.

I currently have an entire Pinterest board dedicated just to DIY wreaths. Nevermind that, of course, I have never made a wreath before. But isn't that what Pinterest is for? Taking on new craft ideas, day by day. And really, how hard can it be to wrap ish with yarn?

Here were some of my inspiration pictures:

From I Heart Naptime
From Someday Crafts 
From Etsy
From For Mamas
To keep my costs low, I decided to use some fall yarn that I had leftover from a few other projects, including these knit pumpkins/squash:

Yes, I actually knit these, back in the day.
And these felted nesting bowls:

I grabbed a foam wreath, and got to wrapping. This was the perfect project to do while I caught up on Once Upon a Time and Revenge from this week. It really only took an hour or so. Ta da:

Easy peasy pumpkin wreath. It's cute. I like it. But I will say, I think it needs a little something extra. Embellishments of some kind. Perhaps some felt leaves to add some flourish. A project for another day.

I am already planning ahead for a Christmas wreath. I'm thinking Santa's belt looks pretty awesome.

Check out the Pinterest Challenge projects here: Sherry, Katie, Carmel, and Sarah. Theirs are significantly cooler. Plus, they each have a whole link party. Enjoy!

Back to writing. Current page count: 15

Friday, October 19, 2012

A Timeline

It has begun. What I like to call Dissertation Beast Mode.

On Thursday, I made some decisions regarding what needs to happen to finish my dissertation thanks to the help of a wonderful faculty member. And it started with setting a very aggressive timeline:
  • January - Draft to committee members.
  • March - Proposal to committee/oral exams.
  • May - Begin data collection.
  • October/November - Defend.
  • December - Graduate.
What does this mean? It means that I may be saying no to some other things. I am committed to my current volunteer opportunities, but won't be taking on any more. There may be less fun things on my plate. I may live in the same house as Chris, but we may spend a lot less time together. Sad face. But my reality is that this is the only way that I am going to get it done. I cannot be a student forever. And I refuse to be happy with "ABD." It also means that some of the other 30B430 goals are on hold. Blogging may decrease too. Dissertating kinda has to be a goal all by itself. This is the goal that I care about the most.

Next steps include setting smaller benchmarks. Reading a lot. And writing something everyday. One of the best pieces of advice that I have received is to write something everyday, even if it is only a sentence. It keeps the work fresh in your mind. Which may have been the hardest part of stopping and starting again.

Current page count: 5

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Breaking 300

So I missed the big 300th post. It was actually my Hitting the Pavement post about getting back out on the road. Seems like a fitting milestone. (This post is 303.)

But, I thought that hitting 300 would be a good opportunity to share some fun stats from my blog. I'm a nerd. I like data.

Which are the most popular posts? These had the highest stats:
  1. Pinterest Challenge - This traffic is definitely thanks to linking my project on major sites like Young House Love and Bower Power. It saw 596 viewers!
  2. A Change in the Game - This was my post about having to stop training for the marathon. I was shocked to see that it was viewed 243 times. 
  3. Cupcake Fun and a Giveaway - 134 people were excited about that one!
  4. Just a Short-Haired Girl - Who doesn't get excited about a major haircut? 112 views.
  5. Our New Place: First Look! Back in March, I wrote about our new apartment. 91 views.
  6. The Final Countdown - This was the haircut preview that got viewed 89 times.
  7. Guilt - This was a hard post to write about my dissertation struggles. It got shared with either 80 people, or a few of you couldn't help but read it over and over.
  8. Short Hair FAQs - This was a recent post about the transitions to short hair. 74 views.
  9. To the Bride and Groom - My toast to Eric and Maria for their wedding. 67 views.
  10. 27. Find the perfect pair of jeans - Apparently getting a pair of skinny jeans is exciting enough to read 65 times.
Over half of those post are from the last few months, which is fun. Glad to know more peeps are reading my blog.

Which posts typically get the least views? Usually my book reviews. That's okay. I know not everyone is a book nerd like me.

Who reads this ish? The majority of readers are from the United States, but I also have had a number of visitors from Russia, the UK, Germany, Canada, Australia, Denmark, Thailand, Brazil, France, and many other countries. So fun!

How do people get here? I thought it would be fun to share some of the things people have been searching for that have brought them to my blog:
  1. old navy rockstar super skinny jeans - sorry folks, not a shopping website!
  2. tooth fairy costume - one of my past Halloween favorites.
  3. homeland tv on netflix - love that show.
  4. alpha phi creed - this warms my heart.
  5. coolest mermaid costumes - another great idea for Halloween!
  6. daughter euro bungy - planning a birthday party, maybe?
  7. easy diy fall decor
  8. fall banner diy
  9. fall pennant banner
  10. gingerbread man costume
If you were searching for one of those things, welcome! Hopefully you decide to come back again.

So that is that. Just a little blog fun.

Happy Wednesday!
(If you were one of the first to read this, it may have said Tuesday....just one of those days.)

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Planning a Monthly Menu

I love some good takeout, but we really need to start cooking at home...
I am pretty terrible at planning ahead for meals. Most days, I do not really think about what we are going to have for dinner until 6 o'clock, when we are both sitting there hungry waiting for the other person to offer to make something. Which kinda sucks. So I have made it a personal goal to try to put together a meal plan for the whole month - or to start, half the month.

Finding things to make for dinner can be pretty challenging. I can't remember if I have shared this or not, but Chris is a fairly picky eater. We typically have to stick with the basics - meats, carbs, etc. Since he does not eat fruit, vegetables, eggs, or seafood, it can feel like we are lacking variety. But he does let me try to be creative where I can and is usually willing to try something, or pick out the things that he doesn't like. I guess I would rather eat together and have our meals be a little boring, than have us each eating separate food all the time.

So after spending some time on Sunday scouring Pinterest, blogs, etc., I put together the following plan for the rest of this month:

10/15: Chicken with Creamy Corn and Potatoes
1016:  Slow Cooker Pulled Pork
10/17: Crockpot Chicken
10/18: Pasta and Sauce
10/19: Homemade Pizzas
10/20: Football Game Tailgating
10/21: Sunday Dinner @ Mom's
Pesto Stuffed Shells
10/23: Mini Meatloafs
10/24: Black Bean Soup and Cheese Quesadillas
10/25: Buffalo Chicken Lettuce Wraps
10/26: Chicken Fried Rice    
10/27: Event
10/28: Chicken Noodle Soup (can't wait to use our homemade stock!)
10/29: Curry Beef with Peas
10/30: Louisiana Style Red Beans and Rice
10/31: Trick O' Treat (may order pizza)

I got some great inspiration from Shannon at Shannanigans - she has been posting her monthly meal plans for awhile. In terms of my planning, my main strategies were to plan for crock pot meals on the nights that I stay late for meetings, account for events where we'd be fed and maybe a day or two where we will want to order a pizza. I also tried to mix up the beef, chicken, pork, and meatless meals - I would love a good piece of salmon or some shrimp every once in awhile, but only if I can make Chris a chicken version. I threw in a few standbys/favorites, like homemade pizza (great because we can each put our own toppings on), good old pasta with spaghetti sauce from the jar, and my favorite black bean soup from Real Simple. I also pulled some recipes that I have been waiting to try, like the Red Beans and Rice. I tried to find things that wouldn't make too many servings - we want enough for lunch, but not something that we are going to get sick of after eating it a few times.

I also started gathering possible future recipes and have them saved as I plan ahead for next month. We will have to keep track of what we like and what we wouldn't eat again. Last night's meal was great for using up some of my last veggies from the CSA basket. I was able to use cilantro, red pepper, and some of our potatoes. And it was a pretty good meal - looking forward to my leftovers today for lunch.

And I cannot wait for the pulled pork tonight! It only added 2 minutes to my morning routine to throw everything in the crock pot, and I expect it to smell pretty amazing when I come home.

If this goes well this month, I am going to try to plan out the full month of November. I am hoping this will allow us to reign in our grocery budget, and the amount of money that we spend eating out.

Do you meal plan? Make ahead your meals for the week on Sunday?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

30B430 Book 28: Therese Raquin

Ahh yes, book #2 of my trip to MN.

I got this book because it was in Audible's "A-List Collection," a series of books read by celebrities. Therese Raquin, written by Emile Zola in 1867, happened to be read by Kate Winslet. Who is going to say no to that?!

Kate Winslet is an amazing narrator. She does great voices for each of the characters, and keeps you interested. Which is good, because I wasn't totally interested in the book. I was kind of over the characters by the end, because none of them are really likeable. I think I would listen to anything that she reads though.

Here would be my brief synopsis of the book:

When Therese is a young girl, she is brought to live with her aunt, Madame Raquin, because her dad can't take care of her any more. Her aunt has a son, Camille, who is really sick all the time. Madame Raquin shelters and spoils Camille, and basically treats Therese if she is just as sick as Camille, even though she is perfectly healthy. The crazy aunt makes them marry each other, and even though Therese clearly hates her life, she goes along with it. Until she meets Laurent, Camille's artist friend, who at first is basically only interested in Therese because he is broke and can't afford prostitutes anymore. They have an affair. They decide to kill Camille, making it look like an accident. They think they are finally going to be happy together, but after they get married, with Madame Raquin's blessing, good old Camille comes back to haunt them. And they go crazy. And now hate and want to kill each other.

Totally uplifting, right?! At first I felt bad for Therese because her life was pretty horrible, but as the book kept going, she was just as devious as the rest.

I actually just found out that they are making this into a movie, which will be released in December. I may check that out. Apparently Kate Winslet was supposed to be the lead for a long time, and then was eventually replaced by Jessica Biel, who was replaced by Elizabeth Olsen. Guess they wanted someone younger. One of my favorites from Harry Potter, Tom Felton, is playing Camille. And Jessica Lange will be Madame Raquin - she'll do crazy well.

So that was that. Only two more books to go!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Hitting the Pavement

The last time that I ran was 53 days ago. That changed today.

After weeks of hesitation and thinking about running, today I just decided to get out and actually do it. I've missed it. A lot more than I expected, actually. This weekend is the Lakefront Marathon, and although I won't be running it this year, I still have hopes that I'll be able to do it someday. Which meant that it was time to get back out on the road.

Running is one of those things you are not just supposed to quit cold turkey, but that's kind of what I did. I got so overwhelmed by being sick, work, and being injured, that I gave up. I just couldn't make the mental space to try to work through it, and I didn't want to put the time into running if it hurt too much. Not the best recovery strategy, friends.

Today was okay. My feet felt a little wonky for parts of the run, but that was to be expected with so much time off. I think they were sort of in shock, so I took it slow. I am definitely not in my best shape, but I will get back there. This time maybe with a smaller goal.

The saddest part is that I think I just missed the best month of running weather. I suppose I'll take advantage of the cool October temps before the snow starts.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Northern Exposure Part 2: Canadia!

This is the post you all have been waiting for. The day that Canada let me cross the border and that the US begged me to come back. So I did.

Let's talk about the drive up. Northern Minnesota is seriously awesome.  If you thought I was impressed with the leaves in Northern Wisconsin, they don't have anything on Northern Minnesota. Leaves AND Lake Superior. And it is even more fun to look at leaves when you have someone in the car with you to Ooh and Ahh. And agree to pull over on the side of the road to take more pictures.

We stopped not far from the Canadian border in Grand Portage, MN. Grand Portage is part of the Grand Portage Indian Reservation, home to members of the Ojibwe tribe. We decided to check out the National Monument. It was amazing. Seriously loved it. 

Just six miles later, we hit border patrol. Check out this excitment! Officially using the passport.

This is also when I realized I hadn't yet signed my passport. Oops! Did it real fast.

The woman working border patrol asked a whole lot of questions. She seemed skeptical that one would truly want to drive from Duluth to Thunder Bay just for a day trip. Apparently that's "pretty far." We got through her questions, but to my sadness, she did not stamp my passport. Just handed them back. Sad day. We celebrated our border crossing with a little "O Canada." At least, the few lines of the song that we knew.

At this point, we cut off all access to internet, social media, and maps because we now would receive crazy international charges. We kept driving straight through to Thunder Bay, making note of all of the signs where we wanted to stop on our way back south. We were so hungry though, that all we could think about is food. This will become important later.

Our first stop was at a Robin's. We didn't really know anything about this chain, but we were starving and it reminded us of Robin Sparkles. It was just mediocre. As in, I threw half of my sandwich away. But I did have a donut. People in Canada must really like donuts.

After an unsuccessful attempt to find the "touristy" area by following signs, we sat in a Starbucks parking lot to steal their wifi and see if we could find the amethyst cave. Did you know that amethysts are mined in Thunder Bay? What up, birthstone! When we figured out that said cave was another 45 minutes away, we said "no thank you" and instead drove to their retail store in town. We bought nothing - too pricy.

At this point we decided that as a whole, Thunder Bay was meh. Perhaps we didn't really find the good touristy stuff. We more often than not found ourselves in neighborhoods where you could likely buy crystal meth. Not our plan. We decided to trek back closer to the border to our other main goal for the day, Kakabeka Falls. We knew the one thing that would lift our spirits was more nature. Ann and I love some good nature.

But first, we stopped at another pick me up - Tim Horton's! Nothing hits the spot like donuts and coffee.

I loved Tim Hortons. It was everything I expected it to be from HIMYM and more. Okay, maybe not - it didn't have a bathroom...

We were finally back on the road to the Falls. Past the airport, past the cheese farm, and so forth. Around this time we began to notice the holy lack of signage, Batman. Apparently Thunder Bay, Ontario assumes that all tourists come from the south. And that they explore all tourist options one at a time, climbing north up the highway. So out of nowhere, we found ourselves back at the border...not the falls. This is where we began to hate Canada with a fiery passion.

We debated just leaving, but we both really wanted to see the falls. Mainly to redeem our view of our neighbor country to the north. So we popped into the visitor center, to figure out exactly how far that we needed to back track. The woman at the visitor center was quite surprised that we had tried to explore Canada sans map. Perhaps not our best decision. In fact, I believe she said, "what time did you come through? Were we not open?" Fair question. It is safe to say that we have become so dependent on our maps and search features on a smart phone, that we didn't realize it probably wasn't the best idea to just wing it in Canada. Anyway, she showed us how to get back to Kakabeka Falls, and we decided to go.

Kakabeka Falls. Worth it. It is the second biggest waterfall in Canada, after Niagra of course. And let me tell you, totes gorgeous. Breathtaking. The following pictures just do not do it justice.

We were also to find an obligatory souvenir shop near the Falls. Because let me tell you, I was gonna be real angry to return to the states without some maple syrup and some tchotckes. Chris specifically requested tchotckes. $80 Canadian dollars later, and we peaced the heck outta Canada. Sadly, Ann didn't get this awesome hat.

Now that I have been to Thunder Bay, I think I want to try other  parts of Canada. Maybe the larger tourist attractions like Toronto, Vancouver, etc. I will definitely go back to Northern Minnie. The leaves - wowsa.

It's official. #8 is done. No stamp in the passport (I am still cursing the border official for that one). We also decided that this counts as a classic American road trip. One filled with the glorious sounds of Mumford & Sons for several hours.

Oh, and yes, I did intentionally call this post Canadia. Because one of my coworkers tried to convince me that is how it is pronounced there. I did not fall for this trick. But now I will continue to call it that.
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