Saturday, December 31, 2011

Christmas - St. Louis and Arkansas

We have had a wonderful two-week Christmas trip. We left Champaign two Saturdays ago and drove down to spend a night in St. Louis. It's our tradition to have a very mini get-away at the end of the fall semester. This year, we stayed at the Westin downtown. I HIGHLY recommend the hotel. The room and bathroom were the biggest I've ever seen and very nice. And, if you're not there during baseball season, it's relatively cheap. We ate dinner at Copia, which was delicious, and then walked around City Garden to enjoy the lights.

Sunday morning, we had breakfast at Rooster (also delicious) and then headed down to Wynne, Arkansas, to see Darby's mom's family. We had a wonderful steak dinner and got some great gifts from everyone. Darby has a lot of cousins and they are all about the same age, so it's always fun to get together.

All the cousins and Grandpa and Alma

We stayed in Wynne an extra day and hung out with cousin Todd and his wife Rachel. They took us to the Memphis zoo, which was awesome. My favorite was the panda bears, but I didn't get a picture because they were behind glass. I also enjoyed the little meerkats. I love zoos.
How many meerkats do you see? There are three! The two on the edge are sitting on one in the middle! :)

We usually are only able to stay in Arkansas for one night, so it was great to have a little extra time to spend with family there.

Monday, December 26, 2011

ACU AlumNight

Well, I have a few pictures and memories to share from our Christmas celebrations. But, I can't find my camera cord right now, so those will have to wait until later.

I've mentioned our ACU group a few times on this blog, but I don't know if I've ever explained exactly what that is. A year after Darby and I moved to Illinois, two other Physics majors from ACU (Austin and Daniel) moved up with their wives (Erin and Liz). The other two couples had been pretty close at ACU, but Darby and I hadn't known them very well. Austin and Erin started attending Philo Road, so we became friends with them pretty quickly. Eventually, the six of us started watching LOST together every week. After LOST ended, we decided to keep the tradition of a weekly get-together going. Someone (I think it was Austin) came up with the clever name "ACU AlumNight." For the past two years, we've spent time together each week (more or less) bowling, skating, going to corn mazes, eating, playing games, and talking, talking, talking (often heatedly...Austin and I are big debaters, much to everyone else's chagrin). We are so blessed to have this group of friends. Even though we've met some great people in Illinois, there's just something about sharing a common background that brings you closer. We enjoy reminiscing about ACU and talking about how perfect Texas is in every way. ;)

Before we left Illinois for Christmas, we had to say good-bye to Austin and Erin. They are moving to France for 3 years, so Austin can finish his research. That's one of the really hard things about living in a college town---almost everyone leaves at some point. Selfishly, I wanted us to be the first to leave. It will be so weird to go back and not see Austin and Erin at church. And I will miss mine and Erin's weekly coffee/chat sessions. But, I'm very excited for the adventures they will have living in Europe.

Before they left, we had a friend of mine take pictures of the 6 of us in front of the University of Illinois "Alma Mater" statue. I think the pictures turned out great. I can't wait to get one framed and displayed.

(Photo by Ryan Salvador)

Wildcat pride :) (Photo by Ryan Salvador)

Friday, December 16, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Well, I survived another semester and am now frantically baking, wrapping presents, making Christmas cards, and generally trying to cram a month of Christmas merriment into 2 days. :)

Darby and I decided not to give each other presents this year since we're saving for our Italy trip. But we did fill each other's stockings (with a $25 limit, which was actually pretty difficult). Darby had mentioned that he would like some guitar picks, so I went to the music store downtown and picked these out. I thought they were nice--plain but still interesting. They came in a pack of 10.

Unfortunately, I couldn't see the back of the picks in the package. When Darby opened them, he died laughing. This is what the back looks like.
Oops. I lost the receipt, so we can't return them. Oh, well.

And here's our traditional Christmas tree picture.

We leave tomorrow to start our trek down to Texas. We're so excited to see everyone. I love Christmas!

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Favorite Ornaments

A couple of years ago, I shared some of my favorite ornaments. We've acquired quite a few new ornaments since then, so I thought I'd share some more. I love putting up our tree each year. It's so fun to remember the stories behind the ornaments and think about the people who gave them to us.

Darby's parents send us an ornament each year, and they are always so perfect and personalized. Last year, John and Debby made these adorable Scrabble ornaments.

And this year, we got this cute one. I love it. It reminds me of home.

A couple of years ago, Hannah started a tradition of giving us all ornaments as part of our Christmas gift. She said she will continue "until she gets tired of it or forgets." Ha! This is the one she gave me last year. We're suckers for gifts with "sisters" quotes on them.

On our honeymoon, I started a tradition of buying an ornament for every trip Darby and I go on. However, that has proven a little difficult in practice. So, our collection of trip ornaments is a little incomplete. I did find this one to commemorate our first-ever camping trip in September.

I hope we never have an "elegant" tree. I love our mismatched collection of meaningful ornaments.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Thanksgiving Highlights

Well, I took a whopping 1 picture during our 10 days in Texas (and stole one from my mom). Oops. We had a great trip. I'll just list some of the highlights.
  • Getting to enjoy a delicious Cajun lunch with Darby's brother, sister-in-law, nephews, and cousin.
  • A whirlwind trip to Oklahoma City to visit Darby's grandpa (and talk briefly with Uncle Greg and cousin Beth).
  • Cooking some of the Thanksgiving meal with Debby
  • Finding out I'm awesome at Wii boxing :)
  • Mom's apple pie and Blue Bell homemade vanilla ice cream
  • Neighborhood walks with Dad, Hannah, Matt, and Tori (Matt's girlfriend)
  • A Just Dance 3 marathon with Hannah, Matt, and Tori
  • Black Friday shopping with Hannah
  • 2 Sundays at Robinson. It's always nice to go back and see everyone. Although I'm starting to feel like an old woman. Every time I go back, I just can't believe that all of the little kids I knew are now in high school or college.

It was such a fun time to be with everyone. Since we had such a long time, I really felt like we got to spend quality time with both of our families and weren't rushing from one place to another all the time. And I ate so much good food. I decided to wear the same jeans I had worn on the trip down on the way back, and they were soo tight. :/

Unfortunately, fall completely left Champaign-Urbana while we were gone. It is now decidedly winter. But, we get to go back to Texas in just a few weeks for Christmas, so it's not too bad.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Jessica's Wedding

Last week, I went down to Texas for my friend Jessica's wedding. Jessica was part of my group of high school church girlfriends. I don't get to see those girls very much, but they are still so special to me. I missed the weddings of two of them (Krista and Stephanie), and I felt so guilty about it. I hated missing out on their special days, and I also hated missing out on time with all of the other girls. So, this summer, I made a commitment to not miss out on any more friends' special days, if at all possible.

I'm so glad I was able to go. The wedding was lovely, and Jessica looked absolutely beautiful. A lot of us stayed at Jecca's house the night before the wedding, and we were talking and laughing just like old times. (I also talked in my sleep just like old times.) Jessica put together a dance workout class for us after the rehearsal dinner. It was hilarious. Picture about 12 people with the same level of coordination as me and 2 actually good dancers.

I was so blessed to have such a strong group of girlfriends during my middle school and high school years. And, even though, they're not as much a part of my daily life now, I feel equally blessed that we can pick up where we left off whenever we do see each other.

The beautiful bride and me

Steph, me Krista, and Whitney in the photo booth at the reception

And to prove that we didn't look that bad:

Me and Stephy

Krista and Me

Me and Whit

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Halloween Fun

We had a relatively low-key Halloween this year. On Friday night, we helped out at our Fall Festival at church. Darby and I were in charge of the bucket toss, along with our friend Kim. The woman I tutor came with her husband and 15-month-old, so I had a lot of fun showing them around. I tried to convince Darby to dress up, but he didn't feel up to it this year. Oh, well. I'll save my idea for next year. :)

Last night, we had the ACU group over for a fall dinner. I made this yummy Pioneer Woman soup and this autumn sangria. I set up a little caramel apple bar where people could dip them in different toppings (Heath bits, Butterfinger, peanuts, chocolate). I really like caramel apples but only about once a year. They're just so messy! This time, I melted the caramel in the Crock-Pot, which really made it a lot easier. It was a nice evening with friends. I'm trying to soak in the remaining fall loveliness before dreaded winter sets in.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


I've never really needed a reason to waste time online, but the middle of the semester brings out the worst in me. And this semester I've discovered Pinterest. So it's all over. Have you seen this site? It's like a virtual bulletin board where people pin images from all over the Internet: food, crafts, clothing, organization, decorating, funny pictures of animals. It's all there. And it's so addictive. If I spent half the time I spend looking at ideas actually doing some of them, I'd be Martha Stewart. :)

Just this week, I actually tried one of my "pins" for the first time. I made this "monster munch" from Our Best Bites and packaged it up as a little Halloween treat for some friends. Because, really, who has time for homework when there are Halloween gifts to be made?

Sunday, October 23, 2011


A couple of weeks ago, Darby went to a week-long conference. I'm happy that he gets the opportunity to go on trips like that, but I really don't like him being gone. However, I know that moping about it won't help, so I try to look on the bright side when he's gone. I can wake up whenever I want; I can watch whatever I want on TV; I can decide on a whim to go out to dinner with friends, etc., etc. But, even with all of my little pep talks, I still just feel kind of blah when Darby's gone.

I kept asking myself, "Why can't I just enjoy not having to think about anyone but myself for a week?" And then, one day, as I was walking home from the bus stop, feeling mopey that no one would be there to greet me, it hit me. The flip side to not having to think about anyone but myself is that no one's thinking about me. And to me, that about sums up why the benefits of marriage far outweigh any loss of freedom. Sure, there are probably some things I gave up by marrying young. But I can't even begin to explain all of the things I've gained. I have someone at home who cares where I am, who makes sacrifices for me, who is on my team no matter what.

So, I'll still try to make the best of my alone time in the future. But I also won't be so hard on myself when I find that I much prefer interdependence to freedom.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Sugar 'n spice

Our good friends Katy and Jon are back in town visiting for a couple of weeks. They're expecting a baby girl in January, so we threw a baby shower for them at church on Saturday. The theme was "Sugar 'n Spice," so we had tons of candy and cupcakes. It was my ideal shower. :)

The cupcakes. More came later. There were a lot of cupcakes.

The candy bar. The kids at the shower loved this.

The adorable centerpiece Erin made.

The hostesses. Me, Billie, Erin, and Casey. We had so much fun putting everything together.

Jon and Katy opening one of their many gifts. There was such a great turnout at the shower and they got tons of adorable clothes.

Katy, Jon, Darby, and me. Jon's black eye is a long story. Poor guy.

It's been so great having Jon and Katy in town. We haven't seen Jon since last November and Katy since February, and we missed them so much. I really wish they still lived here, so we could be there when their little baby arrives. But, I know they're going to have a great life in San Diego, and hopefully we can go visit them someday (perhaps in the middle of winter!).

Wednesday, October 05, 2011


Tonight, just as we pulled into the garage after church, the odometer on our trusty blue Escape turned to 100000. The Escape was a (very generous) high school graduation gift from my parents. I love it. I think it's the perfect size car. It's higher off the ground than a sedan, but it's still short, so it's easy to maneuver into tight parking spaces. And you can fit tons of stuff in the back, especially if you fold the seats down.

I've been very fortunate in that I haven't had to make any major repairs to the car. The brakes make an unsettling noise, but we've been assured by multiple mechanics that there's nothing wrong. My little car even held up quite well the time I was hit by a gas tanker. I'm hoping it continues to hold up, as we have no plans to replace it any time soon.

When it does eventually bite the dust, I'll be so sad to see it go. So many good memories in that car (and some not-so-good, but quite funny ones, like getting a ticket the very first night I drove it, or backing it into a billboard for no apparent reason). That car took me to ACU and back and forth to Waco a million times; it took me to visit friends all over Texas; it took Darby and me on our first real vacation together. It got us to Illinois (and you better believe we used every inch of that trunk space). And now it's taken us to Wisconsin, Missouri, Indiana, Arkansas, and Tennessee. And I'm hoping that in a couple of years it will take us back to Texas for good. :) I'm planning on driving this baby into the ground, so hopefully you'll be seeing a 200,000 mile post in several years.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Lovely Lemmons Ladies

While we were in Abilene, we had the good fortune of getting to stay at Emerald's house. It was wonderful to be able to see her and Lily again (twice in three months...yay!). And, despite the title of this post, Em's husband, Eric, was also at home. It was very good to see him, too, but I don't know that I'd call him lovely. :)

Lily wasn't quite sure what to think of Darby, but she did enjoy bossing instructing him on the xylophone.

Don't you just love her tutu and cowboy boots?

While we were in Abilene, we even got to tour a historic home. In fact, we had the special privilege of sleeping there. :)

Me and Em in front of her house. It's an actual landmark. Isn't that awesome?

Darby and I wanted to get a picture with Lily before we left on Sunday. But, Lily had just woken up, and, as you'll see from the pictures below, was NOT receptive to Darby's attempts to cheer her up.

Oh well. Even without a smile, she's still pretty cute.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Laura and Dan's wedding

This weekend, Darby and I went to Abilene for my dear friend Laura's wedding. I met Laura while I was working at ACU after graduation, and we immediately "clicked." We have very similar oldest-child personalities and share so many of the same interests. I only knew her for about 18 months before we moved, but in that time, we talked for hours and hours and were in a supper club and book club together. And, since I've moved, we've continued to talk and e-mail regularly, but I've only been able to see her once very briefly. So I was very thankful to be able to attend her wedding.

The beautiful bride and me. The photographer got a picture of Laura, Dan, Darby, and me together, but, obviously, I don't have it yet.

On the morning of the wedding, Laura invited many of her close girlfriends over to eat brunch together. I had heard so much about many of these friends but had never met them, so it was wonderful to get to finally see them in person. Laura is incredibly sweet and went around the room telling what she admired about each person. She has done such a good job of keeping up with people from all stages of her life. It inspired me to do a better job of that.

The wedding itself was incredibly sincere and moving. It was held in her parents' backyard and was so beautiful and personal. Laura's brother performed the ceremony, and she and Dan had both prepared very moving vows. Dan is also a wonderful person, and he and Laura make a great team. They have been dating for 8 years, so this wedding was very eagerly anticipated by everyone. :) And the reception was catered by Abuelo's. Yum!

You know how you sometimes go to a wedding and you just feel a little unsettled about it? Maybe you don't know either the bride or groom very well, or you do know them both, but you're not sure they're a good match? Well, this was the complete opposite of that. I feel so confident in Dan and Laura's commitment, and I think anyone who witnessed the ceremony would say the same thing. It was a very special day, and I'm so glad I was able to be a part of it.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Early retirement?

I use an online program, Mint, to keep track of our finances. Overall, I think the program works very well. But, when I logged on today, this is the balance that was displaying for our checking account.

Saving a little bit here and a little bit there really adds up, I guess. :)

Monday, September 12, 2011

Roughing It

This weekend, Darby and I went camping in Indiana. It was our first time to camp together (and only my second time to camp ever), so it was quite the adventure for us. We borrowed a tent from Liz and Daniel and set up a cozy little campsite.

We did some hiking in Turkey Run State Park. I forgot to bring my camera on our hike, but it was absolutely beautiful. (If you're interested, google "Turkey Run State Park" and click on Images to see some nice pictures.)

Darby did a great job of tending the fire, so we could enjoy our hot dogs and s'mores. Sleeping was a little difficult because a group of frat boys were partying very loudly until about 1 a.m. Also, if we go camping again, we'll definitely buy a foam pad to put under our sleeping bags.

Darby remembered making "biscuits in a bag" in his Boy Scout camping days, so we gave it a shot. Despite how it looks, it actually tasted pretty good.

I must admit that camping was somewhat of a pretext for getting us to Indiana so we could buy...Blue Bell ice cream!! Darby just found out that Blue Bell has started distributing out of Indianapolis. We had to go about an hour out of our way to the store that carries it, but it was so worth it. We bought two pints for immediate consumption and two half-gallons to bring home. Yum! Soo worth it.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Welcome, Fall!

After a couple of weeks of abnormally high temperatures, it is so wonderful to see highs in the mid-70s in the entire 7-day forecast. I was getting tired of coming home from school all sweaty. Now that I'm teaching, I have to dress up a little, and I just don't have too many dress clothes appropriate for 100 degrees. :)

This long weekend has been the perfect balance of productivity, relaxation, and socialization. I've enjoyed a U of I volleyball game, brunch with friends, a wedding, free Custard Cup, lunch with the Millers to celebrate Dick and Kim's birthdays, a long walk with Darby, and some reading time. Tonight, we're going to a barbecue at some new friends' house. I made homemade Spiced Brown Sugar Banana ice cream, so I'm looking forward to that and lots of other yummy food.

Hope you've had a wonderful weekend as well!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Top-5 Tuesday: Recipes

As you all know, I LOVE to try new recipes. In fact, Darby jokes that he can't get too attached to any recipe I make because I'll probably never make it again. :) However, I do have a few "tried-and-true" recipes that I go back to over and over. The common denominator (except for the red velvet cake) is that they are all quick and easy (and taste great, of course!). So, here are my current 5 favorite recipes:

1. Cheesy Stuffed Shells

20 jumbo pasta shells, cooked, drained, and rinsed with cold water
1 26 oz. jar spaghetti sauce
16 oz. cottage cheese
10 oz. frozen spinach, thawed and drained
1 c. grated mozzarella, divided
1/4 c. grated Parmesan
1 tsp. oregano

Spoon thin layer of spaghetti sauce into 9x13 pan. Mix cottage cheese, spinach, 1/2 c. mozzarella, Parmesan, and oregano. Spoon filling into jumbo pasta shells and place in pan. Top with remaining sauce. Cover with foil and bake 25 mins. at 400 degrees. Uncover. Top with remaining mozzarella. Bake 5-10 mins. more until cheese is melted and bubbly.

2. Crockpot Chicken Tortilla Soup
I usually add 4 oz. cubed Velveeta during the last 30 minutes of cooking instead of topping with cheddar cheese before serving.

3. Cottage Cheese Bread
This sounds weird, I know, but it's so good.

1 pkg. yeast (regular or rapid-rise)
1/4 c. warm water
1 c. cottage cheese
1 tbsp. sugar
1-1/2 tsp. salt
1 egg
2-1/4 c. flour
1 c. grated cheddar cheese

Sprinkle yeast over water. Let stand 5 mins. and stir gently. In mixer, blend yeast, cottage cheese, sugar, salt, and egg. Add flour, 1/2 c. at a time, until stiff dough forms. (I use the dough hook on my KitchenAid mixer, and I only mix until the dough pulls away from the bottom of the bowl. I'm sure you could knead by hand as well.) Cover dough and let rise 1 hour (mine never rises very much, but it always turns out fine). Press down dough and mix in cheddar cheese with your hands. Transfer to greased 1-1/2 quart round casserole dish. Bake about 40-50 minutes at 350 (until golden brown on top). Brush with melted butter.

4. Big, Soft Chocolate Chip Cookies
You can make these cookies smaller, but they're not nearly as soft and good. If you do make them smaller, be sure to reduce the baking time.

2 c. plus 2 tbsp. flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1-1/2 sticks butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 c. brown sugar
1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
2 tsp. vanilla
1-1/2 c. chocolate chips (milk or semisweet)

Mix together dry ingredients and set aside. Beat butter and brown sugar until well combined. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Add dry ingredients and mix just until combined. Stir in chocolate chips. Spoon dough by 1/4 cupfuls onto baking sheets. (Make sure to leave 2-3 inches between cookies. They will be very big!) Bake 15-18 mins. at 325.

5. Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
This cake is a little fussy but so worth it. I've switched to using cake mixes for almost all cakes, but I still do this one from scratch. Note that the original recipe calls for 3 oz. red food coloring. That is A LOT. I use just 1 oz., and it's plenty red. Also, I make my cream cheese frosting a little differently. I like it really tangy, so I start with 16 oz. cream cheese and 1 stick butter. Then, I just add powdered sugar and vanilla until it tastes right. I don't like it to be super sweet. Whatever you do, do NOT overbake this cake. Check it early and often.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Good News Brownies

I've just started reading Here If You Need Me, the memoir of a woman (Kate Braestrup) who went to seminary and became a chaplain for search-and-rescue workers after her husband died unexpectedly in a car crash. I'm not too far into it, but so far it's a very good read and an interesting look into a life of somewhat unconventional faith.

One passage in particular really touched me. Just after the author learned of her husband's death, a person came to her door with a religious tract, asking "Have you heard the Good News?" The authors neighbor, who had answered the door, slammed it in the young man's face. Then, Kate writes:
A few minutes later, the doorbell rang again. This time, I answered it. It was my neighbor, an elderly woman I had exchanged no more than a dozen words with in the ten years I'd lived in Thomaston. She had pot holders on her hands, which held a pan of brownies still hot from the oven, and tears were rolling down her cheeks. "I just heard," she said.
That pan of brownies was, it later turned out, the leading edge of a tsunami of food that came to my children and me, a wave that did not recede for many months after Drew's death. I didn't know that my family and I would be fed three meals a day for weeks and weeks.... All I knew was that my neighbor was standing on the front stoop with her brownies and her tears: she was the Good News.
This is exactly what I think Christianity should be: loving our neighbors. But it's so easy to let those opportunities to show love pass us by. Or, in my case, to make up excuses for not doing things. For example, if I were the old woman I'd probably say to myself: "Oh I hardly know her. She doesn't want me coming over with my brownies." But that one small gesture stayed with Kate for years. It's worth it to make that effort. And the worst thing that could happen is that my brownies might be rejected and I'd have to eat them all myself. I think I can live with that. ;)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Top-5 Tuesday: Summer Memories

This summer went by way too fast, but that was mostly due to it being full of fun trips and time with family and friends. So I guess I can't complain too much. As I begin the semester, I'm looking back on some of my favorite moments from this semester.

1. Our trip to Texas, of course. Loved every minute of it: spending time with our families, Fat Tuesday reunion, holding Finn and Samuel.
2. Mini-trips to Madison, St. Louis, and Chicago. (I had to cheat and include all of these as one. I realized I have way more than 5 favorite memories!)
3. Anniversary lunch at Timpone's. Darby and I accidentally made other plans for the evening of our anniversary, so we decided to meet on campus for a lunch date. It was so fun to do something different. Having a little celebration in the middle of the day actually made it seem more special.
4. Swimming in Memphis. I know this is kind of lame, but I love swimming, and I never get to do it anymore. We stayed in a hotel in Memphis that had a nice pool, and we had it almost to ourselves. I loved it!
5. 4th of July weekend. The other 2 summers we've lived here, we've been out of town for the 4th. This year, it was great to relax at home and spend time with friends here. Plus, we got to see 2 fireworks shows!

What were the highlights of your summer?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Back to the grind

Despite my best efforts to keep it from happening, I guess summer had to end. Although I'm not looking forward to homework, I am excited about getting back into the semester routine. I'm still very much a nerd who loves getting my textbooks and writing all of my assignments in my planner. :) And I am both excited and nervous about the class I'll be teaching this semester. I can't wait to meet all of the students tomorrow. I don't have classes until the afternoon today, so I'm enjoying my final few hours of freedom at home.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Top-5 Tuesday: Local Restaurants

One thing that I really love about Champaign-Urbana is the number of great, non-chain restaurants we have. For the size of the town, it's really amazing. Here are my 5 favorites:

1. Sun Singer - This is mine and Darby's go-to date place. It's technically a wine bar and store, but their food is excellent, too. And, unlike most restaurants, the portions are reasonable, so you don't leave feeling overstuffed.
2. Jim Gould - This is definitely a splurge, but it's worth it. We've been there twice for special occasions, and both times have been wonderful.
3. The Bread Company - This is a charming little on-campus bakery that also has great, upscale dinner food. Darby and I love the chocolate fondue.
4. Papa Del's - Another on-campus gem. This is my favorite pizza ever (including several famous Chicago pizzerias). And Papa Del's will always have a special place in my heart as the first meal Darby and I ate in C-U.
5. Custard Cup - So I don't know if this technically counts as a restaurant, but it's my list, so I'm saying it does. :) 4 words: Heath Bar Cheesecake Snowstorm.

What are your favorite restaurants? I'd love to hear, even if you don't live in Champaign. Darby and I always enjoy visiting local restaurants when we travel.

Sunday, August 14, 2011


On Friday, I was administering an oral test for incoming international students. I would take students individually into a classroom, give them the test, and then they would leave while I stayed in the room to mark their score sheet. I had been working for several hours without a problem. Then, a student left and shut the door behind him. When I went to leave the room, I realized the door was locked. I was a little bit panicked, as I wasn't sure how I was going to get anyone's attention. The classroom was a little far from where everyone was congregated, and there was construction going on in the building, so it was very noisy. I started banging on the door. I was reluctant to yell "Help!" because it seemed a bit melodramatic. I was afraid I was going to have to call Darby to get him to come over to the building and tell someone that I was trapped in one of the classrooms. But, after a couple of minutes, the test coordinator heard my banging. She tried the door, but it was locked from the outside as well. So, she went to go get someone who had a key. They tried one key, but it didn't work, so they went to get another key. The whole ordeal lasted maybe 7 or 8 minutes. When they opened the door, there was a whole crowd of international students clustered around, and they started clapping and asking if I was OK. I felt like one of the Chilean miners. It was quite embarrassing. And made even more embarrassing by the fact that several of the students I was about to test had seen the whole thing. I bet they were wondering about the reliability of their scores, what with their test proctor being such a dummy. ;) I won't be using that classroom again, that's for sure!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Recipe Round-Up

My friend Mary Kay requested the recipe for the corn salad I posted a picture of last week. It's from a cookbook my brother gave me for my birthday, called Bless Your Heart: Saving the World One Covered Dish at a Time. It's a very cute book and has all of the traditional Southern potluck, funeral, and new baby recipes.

Corn and Black Bean Salad
1/2 c. apple cider vinegar
1/4 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper

In a small bowl, whisk all ingredients together until the sugar dissolves.

2 (15-oz) cans whole kernel corn, drained
1 (15-oz) can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup diced red bell pepper
1 cup diced green bell pepper
1 cup diced red onion
2 cups diced (fresh) tomatoes
1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded, and diced

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients. Add dressing. Cover and chill at least 4 hours.

Obviously, I like quintupled the recipe. :)

Along with the corn salad, I made these French Dip sandwiches from my favorite cooking blog, Our Best Bites. They were very yummy.

And, of course, I've been trying out new dessert recipes like crazy. My favorites that I've made recently are these candy fudge bars and this Heath bar cake.


Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Top-5 Tuesday: TV Shows

I've been wanting to start some kind of weekly series on my blog for a while now. That way, I'll at least have a guaranteed post once a week. I've decided to call it Top-5 Tuesday, and each Tuesday (hopefully), I'll share 5 of my favorite things.

This week, it's TV shows. I was never much of a TV watcher until the past two years or so. It was just too much trouble to follow more than a couple of shows each season. Now, though, with the popularity of TV on DVD and streaming Netflix, we've become much bigger TV watchers. I'm not sure whether this is a completely good thing, but I have enjoyed getting into series, and it's nice to have a way to unwind and relax with Darby. So, as of now, here are my 5 all-time favorite TV shows.
  1. Psych - This is a light-hearted comedy/detective show about the very observant, but somewhat aimless Shawn, who pretends he's a psychic in order to work with the police. The snappy dialogue and likable characters keep the formulaic storylines from becoming tired. I think the show really hit its stride in the third season when they started developing each of the characters a little more. And, of course, the friendship between Shawn and his partner and childhood buddy, Gus, is very sweet. The sixth season came out on DVD in May, and Darby and I are very impatiently waiting for it to become available on Nextflix.
  2. Friday Night Lights - We started watching this show after Kalyn and BJ recommended it. Although the show features a lot of football, it is truly about relationships of all kinds. The depiction of the relationship between Coach Eric Taylor and his wife, Tammy, is one of the most realistic portrayals of marriage I've ever seen on TV. The show occasionally veers into melodramatic, teen soap territory, but always finds its way back. We watched the first four seasons on Netflix, and the fifth and final season just aired on NBC. The series finale was one of the best I've ever seen, providing closure without seeming trite (take note, LOST!).
  3. Friends - An oldie but a goodie. I own all 10 seasons and have watched them straight through twice. And yet, I still tune in almost every afternoon I'm home to watch the reruns on TBS. Now, that's the sign of a good show. It is immensely quotable. Almost every time Darby and I leave the house, we say "Got the keeeeeyys?" And we never tire of watching and quoting "The One with Russ" and "The One with the Screamer [Ben Stiller]." I still cry every time I see the episode where Chandler convinces Erica to choose him and Monica as adoptive parents. Great show.
  4. The Office - I've been a little disappointed in the past three seasons, and I'm very skeptical of how the show will continue without Steve Carrell. But the first four seasons were good enough to overcome any shortcomings. Like Friends, I've watched episodes over and over and never get tired of them. And Jim and Pam are my absolute favorite TV couple. The episode where they find out they're having a baby gets me every time. And who can even count the hours of entertainment "That's what she said" has provided?
  5. Mad Men - A co-worker introduced me to this show, and Darby and I were immediately hooked. It's set in a New York advertising firm in the '60s and centers on Don Draper, the mysterious, womanizing creative director. I can't reveal much about the show, as there are a lot of surprises in the first season, but it has it all: excellent writing, acting, and cinematography. And although I would hate to be treated like the women on the show, I would sure love to wear their dresses. Be forewarned, though: This is not a feel-good show. You might want to follow each episode with an episode of Friends or something. :)
What are your favorite TV shows?

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Memphis wedding

How can it be August already? The summer has gone by too fast. :( I'm trying not to think about the semester starting too much and just enjoy the few weeks of relative freedom I have left.

We had a great time in Memphis last weekend at Darby's cousin's wedding. It was great to see all of Darby's family, and we actually had quite a bit of free time to relax, swim in the hotel pool, and enjoy some great Memphis restaurants.

The cousins and cousins-in-law (minus the Dillard crew, who somehow escaped the picture-taking)

The beautiful couple (Todd and Rachel) at the reception

I forgot to take a picture of Darby and me until late in the night. Excuse our somewhat disheveled appearance. We didn't hold up too well sitting outdoors in the Memphis heat and humidity at the reception. :)

On a different subject, I made dinner for our weekly Wednesday night dinner at church last night. We had French dip sandwiches, chips, and corn salad. After I loaded the GIANT corn salad in the car, I just had to take a picture. It took up a whole car seat!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

John and Debby's visit

John and Debby came up last week for their annual summer visit. We met them in Lombard on Thursday evening and rode the train into Chicago on Friday morning.

Right after we got to the city, it started pouring, but, fortunately it cleared up in time for the afternoon Cubs game. It was our first time to go to Wrigley Field, and I really enjoyed it. We were a little torn about who to cheer for, since they were playing the Astros. I decided to go with the home team, and they won!

Darby and me at Wrigley. Please ignore my hideous hair. We got caught in the storm, and my ponytail didn't fare too well.

After the game, we went over to Navy Pier and took a boat ride around the lake.

Debby and John

Saturday morning, we hit up the Art Institute, which I absolutely love. After enjoying some delicious Cajun food at Heaven on Seven, we went to the Museum of Science and Industry. Before we left Lombard on Sunday morning, we had breakfast at a very cute little crepe cafe. It was delicious and evidently pretty authentic. The chef was a very enthusiastic French man.

John and Debby went up to Madison for a couple of days and then came back to our house on Tuesday. It was great to have them at our house, and not just because Debby stocked my freezer with several dozen of her famous crescent rolls. :) I broke out my ice cream maker for the first time this summer (where has the summer gone?) and made Heath Bar Crunch ice cream from the Ben & Jerry's cookbook. Yum!

John and Debby headed south this morning, and we'll meet up with them in Memphis tomorrow for Darby's cousin's wedding. Phew. It's been a crazy summer, but it's been wonderful to get to spend so much time with friends and family.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Proud wife

Guess who's married to a published author? That's right! Darby's first article was published online in Applied Physics Letters this week and it will be coming out in print soon. Now, I will admit I haven't read the article. (Shocking right? The title just reaches out and grabs you. How have I been able to resist?) But that does not diminish my pride in Darby's accomplishment one bit. He's worked very hard for the past few years, and it's great to see the product of that work. I'm sure this is only the first of many publications for J. D. Hewitt. :)

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Facing my fears

Last week, some friends of ours called us, frantically looking for someone to feed their pets while they were out of town. Evidently, the people they normally ask were out of town, as well. Darby said that he was going to be out of town, but that I could do it. (Now, I don't blame Darby for this incident; I doubt I would have been able to say no either.) We knew what their pets were: a giant lizard and two frogs. What we didn't know (and probably should have suspected) is what they eat: live crickets. So, this whole week, while Darby was in Ohio, I had to scoop up crickets from a tank and feed them to these animals. At first, I didn't know if I could do it. But, Darby was able to go with me the first time, and I saw that there was no way the animals could escape from their tanks, so that made me feel a little better. And I was able to use a cup to catch the crickets, so I didn't have to touch them. So, I did it. By. my. self. This was a big accomplishment for me, especially with my irrational fear of lizards and lizard-like creatures. And actually, I grew a little fond of Sandy the lizard. Now, I still would never touch her, but I did talk to her sweetly. That's progress, I guess.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Meet Me in St. Louis

This weekend, Darby and I met Carolyn and Josh in St. Louis. Carolyn and Josh live in Kansas City, so St. Louis is roughly halfway between us. We've been planning to get together ever since they moved, and I'm so glad it finally worked out.

We got there on Friday afternoon and went to the City Museum, which is more like a giant playground than an actual museum. It has all sorts of tunnels and slides. Carolyn and I had a little bit of trouble in our flip-flops (and Carolyn in a dress!), but Darby was in heaven.

My head looks so giant compared to Darby's. :)

Carolyn and Josh in the fake caves

Me at the bottom of the 10-story slide. It was a little scary but very fun.

Darby near the top of the giant jungle gym. The rest of us were too chicken to go quite that high.

Josh and Darby, being awesome

On Saturday, after a wonderful crepe breakfast, we went to the zoo. The zoo is free, and it is awesome! Even though it was crazy hot and humid, we enjoyed seeing all the animals.

Darby petting the sting rays (and a couple of sharks). We all paid $3 to enter the special exhibit, but I think Darby's the only one who got his money's worth.

The giraffes. See the little baby in the background? So cute!

Penguins! The best thing about the exhibit was that it was 45 degrees in there.

After thoroughly exploring the zoo, we went to fortify ourselves (and cool down) at Pi Pizzeria, which was recommended by none other than President Obama. It was delicious. Then, we went back downtown to take a few obligatory pictures in front of the Arch.

It was such a fun little getaway. Of course, it was wonderful to see Carolyn again. And Darby and I both really enjoyed getting to know Josh a little better. They are such a fun couple. Hopefully someday we'll be able to visit them in Kansas City.