Monday, June 29, 2009

As I was driving to work this morning, I heard on the radio that, according to a study conducted by Clairol (maybe not the most reliable source), women are on average the happiest and most confident at age 28. Two things struck me about this:
  1. Thank goodness I'm not supposed to be my happiest and most confident yet. I mean, I do feel pretty happy, but I think I have a long way to go in the confidence area.
  2. 28? Really? That still seems so young. Is it all downhill from there? I think that there will hopefully be a lot more reasons to be happy and confident when I'm 50 or 60 than at age 28—children, grandchildren, a decades-long marriage, more career experience, a closer relationship with God.

If anyone's reading this who's over 28, what do you think? Were you most happy and confident in your 20s or later in life?

Friday, June 26, 2009

Kitchen Fail

There is this hilarious blog I discovered called Craft Fail, where, as the name implies, people post pictures and stories of their failed craft projects. It's always good for a laugh, and it usually makes me feel better about myself, as most all crafts I attempt are "fails."

I think there should be a kitchen fail blog. (Maybe there is one that I don't know about.) Until I find one, I'll just post my own story here. My mom once told me that she enjoys hearing about my kitchen mess-ups, since, according to her, I don't mess up enough (with my cooking...she didn't specify other areas). This one is not as bad as my sausage-ball incident, but it probably is the most number of mistakes I've ever made in one recipe. Feel free to add any of your own kitchen mishaps in the comments; it'll make me feel better.

In preparing for Darby's parents to come, I decided I should probably offer them something for breakfast besides dry cereal. I've been wanting to make this coffee cake from Smitten Kitchen for quite some time. It seemed simple enough, and I was super excited to use my new kitchen scale to precisely measure the flour.

I had already decided to substitute blueberries for rhubarb, and light brown sugar for dark brown sugar. Little did I know that those changes were just the tip of the iceberg.

I dole out 1 3/4 cup flour, mix the dry ingredients together, and get ready to mix the wet ingredients. Uh-oh. The recipe calls for one egg and one egg yolk. I only have one egg. After some Googling, I decide that I can substitute 1/4 c. applesauce for the egg yolk.

I mix the wet and dry ingredients together and notice that the mixture seems a little dry. So, I go back and re-read the direction. Uh-oh again. The 1 3/4 c. flour was for the crumb topping. The cake was only supposed to have 1 c. flour. So I add a little milk.

As I'm making the crumb topping, I realize that I put an extra 2 tbsp. of butter in the cake batter, which is why it only seemed a little dry, not super dry, I guess. I have no idea how my ratio of wet/dry ingredients compares to the actual recipe. Uh-0h #3. I decide to just go with it.

I stir together the flour, sugar, and spices for the crumb topping. I'm about to pour in the melted butter, when I read that I was supposed to mix the sugar and butter together, then stir in the flour. Uh-oh #4. I go ahead and pour the butter in. The topping is supposed to come together like a solid dough, which you then break apart. It doesn't. At this point, I'm afraid to add more butter. Also, I'm lazy and just want to be done. So I just sprinkle the topping over the cake and put it in the oven.

Amazingly, after all of that, the cake was still edible, although a little dry. I feel like I have to make the cake again, though, since I pretty much have no idea what the actual recipe would taste like. I also feel like I should perhaps learn how to read recipes. :)

Monday, June 22, 2009

Adventures in Arkansas

Well, we are back from the land of slow drawls, big hair, and 100-degree heat. :)

It was a beautiful wedding and reception, and it was nice to get to see all of Darby's family.

I realized while we were there what an "Illinoisan" I'm becoming. I used to not notice Southern accents, but now it's all I can think about whenever I hear them. (People tell Darby and me all the time that we do not sound like Texans; I'm not sure how we managed to escape the telltale accent.)

I also realized that I definitely fit in more appearance-wise with midwesterners. Women up here prefer a more, shall we say, "natural" look. When I walked into the wedding reception, I realized that I couldn't remember the last time I had been in the presence of so much make-up, hairspray, and fake tan all in one room. I felt like I stuck out like a sore thumb (a very pale thumb). If and when we do move back to Texas, that will be hard to get used to. Here, I usually feel like I look pretty good. There, I feel like a 12-year-old girl stuck in a room full of Miss America finalists.

We had a little adventure getting to Arkansas on Friday. We were driving down the Interstate, about to cross the border from Illinois into Missouri, and everything was going smoothly. Darby noticed the gas light come on. We had just passed a BP station, but we didn't want to have to turn around, so we decided we'd just stop at the next station we saw. Well, I think you can see where this is headed. We didn't see another gas station for about 30 miles, so we ran out of gas. Darby pulled off on the shoulder, got out, and flagged someone down. Thankfully, a man stopped right away and offered to drive Darby to the next gas station (about 7 miles down the road). He only had room in his car for one person, so I stayed with our car. I realized about 5 minutes too late that I probably should have written down the guy's license plate number. If Darby never came back, I'd have virtually no information to give to the police. Fortunately, he made it back about 30 minutes later.

The guy who picked him up had an interesting story. He had been in and out of jail already that day (for driving with a suspended license). Glad he didn't get pulled over again! But, it just goes to show that not everyone in jail is a bad person. This guy stopped for us when lots of other cars passed on by. (Kind of a modern-day Good Samaritan story). It's funny...I usually find an excuse not to stop when I see someone on the side of the road (even when Darby is with me), but when you're in that situation, you are just praying that someone will come along who is nicer than you and will stop. I'm going to try to be better about that from now on.
Here I am entertaining myself and trying not to think of all of the terrible things that could happen to Darby.

All in all, we only lost about an hour and then we were on our way. The funniest part is on the way back, we saw a gas station about 5 miles down the road from the BP station. Don't know how we missed it!!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Early Birthday

My actual birthday is today, but Darby and I are at his cousin's wedding in Arkansas, so we celebrated Thursday night. I told Darby that I wanted my gift from him to be going out to eat at a nice restaurant.

After deliberating for several weeks (I am not exaggerating), I finally settled on The Great Impasta, a nice Italian place in downtown Urbana. It was delicious. I had ravioli alfredo (you only thought there couldn't be a pasta dish unhealthier than fettuccine alfredo...think again!)

This next part of the story is going to sound pretty lame, but oh well, I guess my lameness is no big secret. I baked my own birthday cake. Is that sad? Darby would have gladly bought me one, but I'm always looking for an excuse to bake, and I think homemade cakes taste better than most storebought ones anyway.

I deliberated over the type of cake for a long time, as well. (My decision-making abilities seem to be deteriorating with age; you would think it would be the opposite.) I finally settled on a strawberry cake with cream cheese frosting. The cream cheese frosting was never up for debate; that's a must!

I think it turned out fairly well. It was yummy, not too sweet and very moist.

I'll write more about our adventures getting to Arkansas and more of my birthday celebrations when we get back.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Surprise Flowers

When we moved in last August, there was only one flowering plant in our flowerbeds. It was very beautiful and bloomed all the way through October, I think. This bush looked reaallly bad in March. We thought it was dead. Darby started cutting off all the branches to make it easier to dig up. When he got to the bottom, he realized that it was still alive. We left it and within a few weeks it had grown back and started blooming. All it needed was to be deadheaded. Oops! I am definitely not a green thumb.

This spring, it was so fun to see what bloomed in April and May. We had beautiful little purple and white flowers on the bushes lining the edges of our flowerbeds, and some brilliant hot pink flowers bloomed on a couple of plants that I had thought about digging up they were so ugly. I'm glad I didn't. I didn't think to get pictures of those flowers, but we enjoyed them for several weeks.

However, the biggest surprise came a couple of weeks ago when this huge grassy plant all of the sudden exploded with yellow buds. The flowers are so pretty. I'm not sure what kind they are, but I love them! What a fun surprise!

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Row, row, row your boat

Tonight for our "date night," Darby and I went to Kickapoo state park (about 20 mins. away) and rented a canoe. It was so fun!! We found out about it because there was a coupon for $3 off canoe rental on the back of one of our receipts at the grocery store. I'm so glad we saw it.

Don't look up Darby's shorts. Hee-hee!

This picture was kind of staged. I didn't do much rowing. :) It kinda hurt my shoulder. Plus, Darby seemed to be handling it just fine.

We saw a deer! It let us get really close without running away.

There was hardly anyone else out tonight. It was very peaceful. We're going to go back sometime and canoe on the river instead of the lake (a little more exciting, although I'll actually have to do my part of the rowing), and we're going to rent a paddleboat! It was a great date night, which we capped off with chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream. Yum!

Sunday, June 07, 2009

One summer goal down

This weekend, Darby and I set up our badminton net and played a couple of times. I'm improving little by little. I told Darby that maybe by the end of the summer I'll be good enough that we can actually keep score. :)

So far, the summer has been nice and lazy, as summer should be. The weather here is wonderful! The high has been in the 70s most days. We've been able to take a lot of walks. On Saturday morning, we went to the downtown farmer's market. I would love to be able to buy all of our produce there, but it is just sooo much more expensive than the supermarket. (I know it's better quality, but still.) We don't have a lot of produce available here yet, but I did get some strawberries and a couple of tomatoes. Homegrown tomatoes are just so amazing!

During the summer, I don't do as much cooking as I normally do. Even though our house stays much cooler than our apartment in Abilene did, it still gets pretty hot with the oven on. So we've been eating a lot of sandwiches and getting the occasional $5 pizza from Little Caesar's. I had clipped a recipe for pasta salad from Taste of Home a year ago or so, and I finally made it the other night. It is sooo good! I'm not big on mayonnaise or other heavy dressings, so a lot of pasta salads don't appeal to me. This one was wonderful, though. It has a very light but flavorful dressing, and the salami and pepperoni give it even more flavor. Don't be afraid of the red wine vinegar. It smells pretty strong, but there's so little of it compared to the size of the salad that it's not overpowering. Try it out for an easy, oven-free lunch or dinner. (We ate sandwiches with ours, but it could easily be a meal in itself.)

Salami Pasta Salad
From: Taste of Home

2 cups uncooked small pasta shells
3/4 c. chopped green pepper (I omitted this because Darby doesn't like peppers very much.)
3/4 c. chopped fresh tomatoes (I used grape tomatoes, halved.)
1/2 c. chopped pepperoni
1/2 c. cubed hard salami
1/2 c. whole black olives, quartered
2 oz. provolone cheese, cubed (Chunk provolone cheese is pretty expensive, so I just bought slices and tore them into little bits.)
1/3 c. chopped onion (I omitted this, as well)

1/3 c. vegetable oil
1/4 c. red wine vinegar
2 tbsp. sugar
1-1/2 tsp. salt (You could probably cut back on this as pepperoni, salami, and olives are all very salty.)
1/2 tsp. pepper
1-1/2 tsp. dried oregano

Cook pasta. Drain and rinse in cold water. Place in large bowl and add other salad ingredients.

In a jar with a tight-fitting lid, combine the dressing ingredients; shake well. (The dressing will be bright pink, but it doesn't tint the pasta. I was a little afraid at first.) Pour over pasta mixture; toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Eight years ago, I had no idea...

Eight years ago today Darby and I went on our first date. We saw A Knight's Tale (his parents drove us, as we were both just shy of 16!) Afterward, his parents took us to eat at McAllister's Deli. I wish I could say our first date was "magical," but honestly, it was a little awkward. We both went home and thought, "That's not gonna work." Obviously that wasn't the end of the story.

I do not believe in soulmates. I don't think there's just one perfect person for everyone out there and that if you don't meet him/her, you'll never be in love. I believe there are several people you could fall in love with, and that if your love leads you to marriage, you make the conscious decision to continue loving that person. The problem with soulmates is that if you marry someone and then meet your true "soulmate," what are you supposed to do? Leave the person you're with?

That being said, I do believe that God can lead you to a certain person at a certain time. And I definitely do believe that there was something guiding mine and Darby's relationship besides just our feelings. Eight years ago, it was not "love at first sight." (Actually, that would have had to occur 12 years ago when we met for the first time.) We didn't just "get" each other immediately, and I don't believe we've ever stayed up all night talking. (I'm not really an all-nighter kind of gal.) Don't get me wrong, we have always had a wonderful friendship, a strong attraction, and we've both experienced the "butterflies." But it used to bother me that our relationship wasn't as "romantic" as what you see in the movies or read about in books. I've even had friends whose relationships were more like that than mine. But I'm realizing more and more that our story is special, too. God brought us together again and again, and we've chosen each other again and again. There was never a sense of inevitability, a feeling that we were "made for each other," but there was an undeniable connection that got us through those awkward first dates, one year of separation, and two break-ups.

I am so glad Darby asked me to the movies eight years ago. Sometimes I'm amazed that we actually made it to where we are today. Then I remember that God helped us connect the dots from June 6, 2001 to July 7, 2007 (and beyond). I don't know that Darby is my "soulmate," but he is my lifemate, and I couldn't be happier.