Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Christmas in pictures

I love the holidays and all of the traditions associated with it. I had lovely Christmases with J's family and with my own parents. It would take far too long to describe them all, so I'll share some photo highlights instead. :)

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas! Our tree is up and decorated. We have some great new ornaments this year :)  And a stocking that one of my students made for me is hanging on our mantle. The shopping and crafting are finally done. I may have made four stops for additional craft supplies in the past week. (On a side note, did you know that Home Depot's website will not only tell you if something is in stock, but also what aisle it's in? Very helpful!) The presents are all wrapped. I think we're in the home stretch! Ready for Christmas tomorrow, but definitely still have some packing to do before leaving to visit my parents this weekend. But one step at a time, right?

One of my students made this!

It's been a good week. First, there is nothing is wrong with my car! Which is always good news. Whew. I finished the scarf I've been working on intermittently for months now. The yarn is a lovely silk/bamboo blend. I'll have pictures of it later :) And I gave myself another fun, festive manicure. 

This week I'm very thankful for friends and family. Last Friday evening and again Saturday morning at run club I got to catch up with some friends I hadn't seen in a while. I'm feeling very inspired by several in this one group of friends who have decided to change careers or take another similar major leap after years of doing something else. Going back to school in a completely different field, opening up their own business, etc. It's really quite amazing. Monday evening was the alumni dinner for the high school group at our church that J has been advising for several years now. Even though I've never been "officially" a leader, I really feel like I've watched these kids grow into young adults and it's so great to see them again and hear what they're up to.  Last night was the annual Christmas Eve Eve party with a different group of friends. We do a Secret Santa Exchange and the present I got this year was awesome!

Yup. That's yarn and festive socks packaged up to look like a wreath. So cute! We also got a nice little package of chocolate dipped treats AND another baggie of homemade doggie treats for Conway from another friend. So sweet and thoughtful :) I'm very grateful for all the friends I've made here!

Took this picture on my run this morning. Yes, folks, it was 58* in Cleveland on Christmas Eve. Crazy!  Now we're hanging out with J's family.  Conway is currently running around, barking and trying to get a bite of the beef brisket. :) We'll be going to church later and then having our big Christmas celebration tomorrow morning.  Looking forward to it! And also very much looking forward to seeing my parents in a few days!

What holiday traditions do you look forward to?

Happy Holidays to everyone out there!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Happy Hanukkah!

Happy Hanukkah! 
(Picture is from the first night of Hanukkah, I'm just a little behind in uploading it ;) )

I have to admit, I think the best Hanukkah present is being DONE with the semester! My final exam essays are graded and final grades are in. Hooray! Thank goodness for Starbucks is all I have to say about that. I've been spending my time catching up on my life. I've been reorganizing craft supplies, making various appointments, grocery shopping, doing laundry, etc. Today I got my hair cut (and am thankful for a stylist I like and can trust!) and tomorrow I'm taking my car to the shop. Cross your fingers for me. 

In addition to organizing, I've been pretty crafty this week. We did an arts and crafts project in my church covenant group, which was lots of fun and a type of craft I'd never do on my own! I'm currently working on some Christmas presents (so no pictures of those yet!) and I finally got around to making the cardigan that's been on my "must sew!" list for a few months now.  And I'm very pleased with the results.  I got both the pattern and the fabric from Girl Charlee.  (In the interest of full disclosure, if you sign up through my link and make a purchase, I get $5 store credit. Feel free to feed my fabric addiction). The pattern is called the Julia Cardigan and it's also available on both Craftsy and Etsy, if those are more your style. It comes in sizes XS through 3XL.

I've made several things from online patterns, but this is the first one I've actually purchased and it was a little more complicated than the free ones I've been making lately.  It was also my first time making something with long sleeves and I was very nervous about how those would turn out. I had visions of one being way too tight and the other being huge because I messed something up ;)

I can't say that I did everything perfectly, but this was a great pattern and I think my cardigan turned out very nicely. I've already worn it once!  As it's a paid pattern, I won't reveal too much about the construction, but I like that it started with the cuffs. So you can feel accomplished real quickly! I used a very lightweight burnout fabric for the cardigan, which produced a beautiful finished product, but was not the easiest to work with. I really liked the pattern and will probably make it again, but likely using a heavier fabric. 

The finished product: 

Two thumbs up from me for this pattern and tutorial! It made things I thought would be really difficult quite manageable (especially those sleeves!)

 And I'll leave you tonight with this cute picture of Conway and his buddy Luke, a fellow Border Collie mix.  They spent all day Tuesday playing outside and were quite exhausted and muddy by the end of it! :)

Sunday, December 14, 2014

White Chocolate Cranberry Bars

I will never be a food photographer!
Today I'm sharing the recipe for my White Chocolate Cranberry Bars. This recipe has been adapted from a couple of different places and is basically a knockoff or copycat of Starbucks Cranberry Bliss Bars. And it's good. :)

But first - just have to share that I had my LAST class of the year for my ESOL teaching job this week (and my last party ;) )  I also surviving finishing up my end-of-semester paperwork. This is one of the things I like least about my job. But the paperwork is what helps us get the grant that funds my program, which means my students get to take free English classes and I still get paid. So at the end of the day, it's worth it (even though I will continue to complain!)

After taking this picture, I spread all the paperwork out even more across the table! 
Keeping everything organized! Party supplies in the bag on the left, paperwork in the middle, and the day's lesson plans in the bag on the right  :)  Check them all out here.
I managed to make it to run club this weekend, which was great. I did a total of 5 miles on Saturday, including 3 with a friend at run club. He is a professor and also on the board of the department where J works, so we spent a lot of time discussing very academic and intellectual matters ;) And yet it was still strangely relaxing because we were running while having that conversation. Later that day J and I got our Christmas tree (finally) and hung our wreath on the front door. Hopefully soon we'll get around to actually decorating said tree!  We also went to two holiday parties. At the second party, we met a man who said he worked with musicians in Nashville (he is a musician himself). He mentioned that he didn't really like to work with the larger groups, but preferred small-time artists. Like Joni Mitchell. (that sound you just heard was my jaw hitting the floor!) J is particularly fond of Joni, and this man promised that next week when he talks to Joni he will tell her J says hi. I think that's pretty darn cool.

Before I share the recipe, I just want to say how much more I enjoy baking since the wedding because I have such nice tools now and using them reminds me of the lovely people who gave them to me! So thankful with this recipe for my stand-mixer (not required, but certainly makes things easier), my actually-non-stick bakeware, and my microplane zester :)

 And, without further ado, the recipe:

Cranberry White Chocolate Bars



1 1/2 sticks butter (melted)
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (I used half all purpose, and half King Arthur Flour White Wheat flour)
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 cup dried cranberries
6 oz white chocolate chips


1 8-oz package of cream cheese (room temperature)
1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
1/2 Tablespoon orange zest (feel free to do this to taste. With this amount the orange flavor is very subtle, but you may want more.)
3oz melted white chocolate (chips worked fine, but melts or baking chocolate would probably be better)
1/2 cup dried cranberries
optional: melted white chocolate for drizzling on top


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Coat a 9x13 pan with nonstick spray. (note: the blondie layer will be pretty thin in this size pan, you can use a slightly smaller pan for a thicker blondie. I think 10x10 would also work nicely.)
2. Mix together flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and ginger in a medium bowl.
3. In a large bowl OR the bowl for your stand mixer (if using - it's certainly not required!), combine brown sugar and melted butter. Let cool.
4. Beat eggs and vanilla in with brown sugar/butter mixture.  Gradually add the dry mixture to this.
5. Stir in the chocolate chips and cranberries.  This will make a very thick batter.
6. Spread mixture into pan. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool completely before frosting.

What it looks like before frosting!
While it cools, prepare the frosting:
1. Use electric mixer to beat the cream cheese and powdered sugar together. Gradually stir in the melted white chocolate. Add orange zest (and feel free to taste it at this point to decide if you'd like more than I used in my recipe!)

When the blondie layer has cooled, frost it and sprinkle the cranberries on top. If desired, drizzle additional white chocolate on top. Store in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

All done! (I made a double batch and put some into smaller pans, hence the not-9x13-pan in the picture)

And try not to eat the whole pan yourself :) 

Tomorrow I've got a date with 38 final exam essays for the class I'm teaching online. I probably should start tonight, but the sewing machine is calling my name... 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Getting into the holiday spirit

Getting a ride to cut down the tree!
I have to confess that this year I'm finding it very difficult to get into the holiday spirit. I can't help but wonder if it's because since Halloween I've been saying "no no no no no!" to Christmas things and I can't get out of that mindset. But ever since last Thursday, when my band played Sleigh Ride for the first time, I've been starting to feel more and more in the holiday spirit.

This weekend was full of holiday joy. Saturday J and I took the high school youth group from our church to Amish country to cut down a tree for the sanctuary. Afterwards we roasted hot dogs and made s'mores by the fire at the tree farm and drank hot cocoa.

Sunday was my band's holiday concert. It was a more-than-sold-out crowd! Amazing :) One of my students came with her daughter and granddaughter. It was so sweet and really meant a lot to me. And she said they all enjoyed the concert.

This is the one!

I've got a festive manicure with a cute accent nail (special shoutout to Julie, my Jamberry consultant!) and finally got to do some holiday crafting this weekend.   I'm sending four headbands to my favorite little Erin as soon as I can get to the post office.

I make them in grown-up sizes, too :)
I'll eventually be selling my headbands at my etsy store once I make enough to keep an inventory, but if anyone wants to buy one in the meantime - just let me know! They are non-slip and I've tested them running and at intense yoga classes :) If there's a particular design you have in mind, I'm happy to do a custom order!

This semester is rapidly coming to an end and I'm seriously drowning in standardized tests and paperwork. But we are also having a lot of fun in class this week.  In my multi-level classes we are talking about different ways to describe people (particularly appearance.) The workbook had them reading short personal ads, so I had them write their own. I told them it could be about them or they could make up a person.  The results were quite funny!  
Love all of the random topics that come up in my beginner class!

All the supplies for our holiday party fit nearly in my Thirty-One Utility tote :)
As part of our holiday party in my evening class tonight, I took a crazy chance and read them How the Grinch Stole Christmas. It's definitely a part of American Christmas culture and since it's part of my job to not only teach language, but culture, I decided to give it a shot.  I am happy to say that it went very well and my students loved the story and the message. While it wouldn't work in a low level class, it was a really fun thing to do.  We also talked about Hanukkah in class. While many of them have had other ESOL classes where they learned about Christmas, none of them had ever studied Hanukkah before and they were very interested in learning about it.

A small sampling of the goodies! Recipes from Hungary, China, Bangladesh and Russia. 
We've also been having holiday potlucks in my classes for the last day of the term. I love, love, love these parties and seeing what my students bring in! All sorts of amazing and interesting food from around the world.  And, man, can some of my students cook!

See that on the near end there? That's one of my favorite holiday recipes. A Starbucks Cranberry Bliss Bar knockoff recipe. It's pretty amazing. Stay tuned to this blog for the recipe in my next post! :)

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Berry Manilow Yams

A very belated happy Thanksgiving to you all!  We had a lovely, pretty low key holiday. Complete with a little bit of snow :) We spent most of the weekend relaxing, going to J's hockey tournament (his team won the whole thing!), watching football, and knitting. Well, maybe it was just me who did the knitting.  J's uncle and aunt were in from out of town and it was lovely to see them again. 

Thankful for these guys!

I love having such a cuddly dog :)

I look a little silly in this picture, but life is good! (And that's my sky scarf I'm working on in the picture..  Just one more month to go!)

One of my favorite things about Thanksgiving, after seeing family of course, is the food. So many special dishes that I eat only once or twice a year. The past two years I've celebrated with J's family, but I've brought to the Thanksgiving table one of my favorite dishes that my mom has made for a long time: Berry Mallow Yam Bake (aka Berry Manilow Yams). I'd like to share the recipe with you here!

Berry Mallow Yam Bake

Serves 6. (But easily doubled or even tripled)

Note: While the ratio of everything in the crumb mixture should remain the same, the proportions of the other ingredients can be easily adjusted to taste. (So feel free to go crazy with those marshmallows. You know you want to.)


Gathering the ingredients
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup old fashioned or quick oats (uncooked)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 cup butter

2 x 17 oz cans of yams or sweet potatoes (If you use fresh, cut and bake them until they're soft before putting everything together)
~2 cups fresh cranberries (I usually use a little less)
1½ cups miniature marshmallows

Ready to go in the oven
  1. Combine the first 4 dry ingredients and cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse, pea-sized crumbs.
  2. Toss 1 cup of crumb mixture with yams (if using canned, make sure they're well-drained) and cranberries. Place in 1½ quart casserole dish (I personally recommend a shallow dish so you can put more marshmallows on top. But that might just be me). Top with remaining crumbs. Bake at 350˚ for 35 minutes.
  3. Sprinkle casserole with 1½ cups miniature marshmallows. Broil until lightly browned. 
Feel free to snuggle (and take selfies) with your dog while the yams are baking.

Ready to eat! Enjoy!
Now that it's December, classes are winding down. This week and next I'm wrapping up our current units and doing some progress testing for my students.We've had some very interesting discussions in my level 0 class about chores. I think the most interesting part was that the only male student in my class was the only one who seems to think that men should help with chores at all! Definitely some cultural differences at work here :)

I drew a scene and my students had to ask the appropriate question (What are they doing vs. what is he/she doing?) AND say the answer :)
Today in my evening class we talked about different ways to describe people. I was pretty proud of my drawings of different hair styles ;)

I also had everyone draw a friend or family member and use the new vocabulary to describe that person. Guess who made an appearance in my drawing!

I can't believe there's only one week of classes left after this. It's been a crazy, but amazing, first semester in this new job and I'm looking forward to classes starting up again in January. (Not until the 26th! Too long of a break!)  But, before then, I'm really looking forward to a couple of potluck holiday parties in my classes. Some of my students are amazing cooks ;)