Thursday, June 27, 2013

Kitchen Tales

Four years and a couple months ago, Dan and I were apartment hunting. We stumbled upon this quirky little place situated just perfectly between all of our "stuff" (you know...train station, church, school, family). The price was right, and it needed a little TLC, so after a little deliberation we signed the lease.

Fast forward four years and a couple months, and we're still here, minus some carpet and linoleum, plus refinished hardwood, tiling, painted walls and a remodeled bathroom.

Needless to say, our landlord's been good to us and we've been good to him (the only thing he did was the bathroom remodel, since there was a leak that wasn't our fault). We love our place, complete with all it's quirks.

It is, however, very small. And being small comes with certain challenges. One of those challenges is the kitchen.

Our front door opens into our kitchen, so it quickly becomes important for the kitchen to be a functional and inviting space. Also the kitchen is my favorite room in the apartment (not that I have a lot of choices here...) so I like to keep it fairly clean and organized.

Since I had extra time at home this week, I decided to tackle some of that cleaning and organizing.

Yesterday I hit several key spots in the kitchen, and thought I'd share some of my tricks for keeping a fully stocked and busy kitchen with minimal space.

This guy is probably my proudest kitchen storage solution. This is the top of a china hutch given to us by some friends who were leaving the country to become missionaries (read: FREE). It fits perfectly in the space behind the front door, and as you can see, I can store a ton of stuff in here.

All my unopened foodstuffs go here: boxes of pasta, jars of red sauce and salsa, canned goods, etc. Once it's opened I move it into the cabinets, since that's a little more protected from dust and Lily fur, but this works great for unopened goods. 

I also fit some awkwardly sized bakingware, along with vases or unused glasses. It's a versatile space, and sometimes it becomes a catch-all (although that was the point of the project: cleaning out the catch-all stuff, cleaning the shelves, and putting back only the stuff I need). 

On top of the hutch lives my most-used cookbooks, Kitchen-Aid mixer, and some cake pans that have become the home for my potatoes and onions. Yep, classy.

On the other end of the kitchen is my kitchen cart. This little beauty is from Ikea, and it was the first thing we purchased for the apartment when we signed the lease. It houses my knife block, all my pots and pans, my crockpot and my Pyrex dishes, as well as being the primary locale for all food prep (and let's be honest, some food consumption). Worth every penny of the $100 we shelled out.

My sister actually ended up buying one too, when she got her own place. It has two drawers as well, although we can only access one when the cart is pushed into the corner like you see here. That's our "junk drawer": takeout menus, recipe cards, gum, odds and ends...

I nest everything, but as you can see it's highly effective! I read a comment on a blog once that someone didn't like nesting items because "it takes too long." I clearly do not agree. 

My beloved little ceramic milk and sugar cartons, in a place of honor on the kitchen cart.

The rest of the kitchen is pretty simple. I squirrel away what I can wherever I find space. I use the top of my fridge,

Nesting at it's finest: I've got cutting boards, cookie sheets, cooling racks and a muffin tin all on top of my microwave (our fridge is a 3/4 height, so on tiptoes my 5'6 self can reach everything). 

See all the stuff tucked away behind the microwave? Toaster, french press coffeemaker, and a loaf pan containing napkins. I usually store the pitcher I use to water plants up there, too. 

And even the space above the cabinets.

It gets dusty and hard to reach up there pretty quickly, so I only store things I don't use very often up there. Big serving platters, bowls, etc, and I just give it a quick scrub before I use those items.

Last but not least, our kitchen table: another Ikea find, which we love for its leaves and its price (sorry, couldn't find a link for this).

Complete with bowl of fruit in the corner.

(You know how you always dream of something about your grown-up life? Be it your job, your wine cellar, your rooftop terrace? I always dreamed of having a lovely bowl full of fresh fruit in my kitchen. Glad I managed to have one childhood dream that came true!)

(Like everything else in my apartment, it never stays this clean for long, but it looks nice when we manage to get things spotless!) 

Most of the things I've learned along the way are pretty basic: make sure everything has a home (I'd love a food processor or salad spinner, but there's just nowhere to put them), keep like things together, and keep your most-used items easily accessible. Nothing mind-blowing, but this is how I apply it!

What's your kitchen space like? Any amazing tips or tricks to keep things running smoothly?

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Go West...but not too far

Not quite five years ago, my family moved to Michigan for my dad's work. This was kind of a big deal because both of my parents are from the East coast, and we'd been comfortably settled in the Philly suburbs for my whole life. The other reason it was a big deal was because I stayed here.

(You can read more about that transition in my very first post, here.)

Anyway, my parents subsequently separated, my sister moved back East with me, and my brother had a little daughter. So needless to say, visiting my parents is quite different than it would have been four years ago.

Last weekend I packed up my bag, some Tastycakes, and some Wawa coffee and headed to South Bend, Indiana. I got to spend time with my mom and her new husband, my brother and niece, and my dad and his new wife. It was a busy weekend, but I truly enjoyed everyone's company and getting to do some "quality" stuff with my family.

Granny (my mom) and niece in Thing 1 & 2 shirt

First order of business? Strawberry picking, of course! 

"Yook! I found one!" 

Check out that deliciousness. And adorableness. 

Cutest picture ever (We picked cherries when we were done with strawberries).

My brother, niece and I all trekked up to the teeny tiny Michigan town where my dad lives. Unfortunately I didn't get any good pictures of our activities, but we visited a local winery and had dinner together. Very fun. 

Clearly she agrees. Also, I discovered that car seats fit very comfortably into my little car. Score! 

It was a great weekend, but after 10 hours to get there, about 3 hours to and from Michigan, and 10 hours back, I was very glad to be home!!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Little Bit

Little bit of family and fun and new adventures this weekend...and a whole lotta this: 

School's Out!

School finished this week!

Cue the celebrations and triumphant music.

Even though it was a heck of a year, I can honestly look back and say it was awesome. I learned so much, really became a part of my school, and (I hope) truly taught my students some stuff and connected with them in a meaningful way.

The last couple days have been fraught with good-byes, packing up the classroom, and generally feeling strangely quietly letdown as the kids rushed out of the classroom for the last time.

The room felt empty (and I kinda did, too) without all the colorful decorations I'd worked so hard to put up and without the kids laughing and joking and running around (because, no matter how many times I told them "it's not recess" 8-year-old boys cannot contain themselves).

But, it was a successful year and even though it looks like I'm going back to aide-land come September, I'm focusing on summer for now.

We have a bunch of awesome plans already.

I'll be teaching ESY (extended school year) again, so I don't get to completely pack away my teacher voice just yet.

I'm visiting my parents, brother and niece before ESY begins.

I'm running not one, but two 5K's (the Color Run and it's nocturnal cousin, the Electric Run). Should be an adventure, considering I'm not a "runner. "

We are traveling to Colorado with our traveling buddies, Chad and Liz. While there we will be partaking in whitewater rafting, rock climbing, hiking, and of course, good beer. We're also skipping over to San Diego for a couple days because we simply cannot resist the chance.

Dan and I are going to the annual family vacation in the Adirondacks, which is always restful and lovely.

And I'm hoping to spend some time chilling! You know, reading, cooking, being outside.

What are you up to this summer? Any exciting plans or new challenges ahead?

Friday, June 21, 2013

Garden Terrace

Or something like that. It's no secret that I love to grow things, and my porch is no exception. We live on the second floor of a very old building, and we have a little (maybe 3 square feet?) porch that Dan has fixed up so I can plant things.

I've done a tomato plant and a strawberry plant, but this year I'm sticking to flowers and herbs. Simpler, and smaller.

It's doing nicely (much better, in fact, than my actual in-the-ground garden. Go figure)!

Petunias and Four-o-Clocks. Petunias are from Produce Junction, and Four-o-Clocks are from seed. 

Wildflower mix...when it first came up there was a ton of clover, but I weeded that out. (Pun!)

Basil, more wildflowers (not sprouted yet), chives, lettuce, and peas (also not sprouted). There's also mint, which is not pictured. 

Hanging baskets. 

It's very satisfying to see a crummy little porch (you can see the old dirty wood in some of the pictures above, it's not a lovely space) become much more appealing with a little green and effort. It's especially nice at night in the summer when I turn on those pretty lights. It gives off a very terrace-y effect for such a tiny space. 

Don't mind the equipment in the background, it belongs to my landlord. 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Four Years of Different

Technically my four-year anniversary to my husband was last week, but I'm been in the throes of last-week-of-school so it didn't get noted on here (although I posted on facebook 'cause, c'mon, nothing is real if it's not on facebook). Anyway, that extra week exposed me to a way better idea than the cheesy Things I've Learned post I was planning to right.

Because, if we're honest, I have way more learning to do than wisdom to share. 

So, thanks to the wonderful and ubiquitous Pioneer Woman, I'm borrowing her idea:

15 Ways Dan and I are Different

(This should be way easier than sharing things I've learned!) 

1. Dan looooves fajitas. 
I do not love fajitas. Something about the seasoning. 
Tacos have become our compromise. 

2. Dan has red hair. 
I have brown hair. 

3. He would prefer to drink beer anytime. 
I go back and forth between beer and wine. 
But neither of us are into mixed drinks. 

4. Dan likes action-packed, intense, real-world movies and TV shows. 
I like goofy, dumb sitcoms that let me pretend I'm someone else for a little while. 
(Preferably someone who is skinny and stylish and witty.) 

5. He is terrified of children. 
I don't know what to do without kids around. 

6. He likes to build things (he built this contraption to stir yeast for his homebrewing. It was freakin awesome). 
I like to cook things (and, much to his chagrin, have a really hard time making the same thing exactly the same way twice). 

7. Dan does not like sushi. 
I looooove to eat sushi. 

8. He does not care if the apartment is cluttered. 
I cannot breathe or function if I can't see surfaces. 

9. He likes brown. 
I like black or charcoal gray. 

10. Dan loves gadgets and electronics and things to make his life easier. 
I love not having extra stuff and I HATE cords. 

11. Dan likes to sit on the leather couch. 
I like to sit on the upholstered couch. 
Which technically works out fine, unless one of us wants know...sit together. 

12. He loves to be with friends. 
I love to be alone. 

13. He loves ancient Rome and Greece (and knows an astonishing amount about both!). 
I love science, especially biology. 

14. He is good at getting important papers to their proper places on time. 
I am always forgetting where I put stuff and when things are due. 

15. He drinks Dr. Pepper and Coke Zero. 
I drink Sprite and...water. I'm boring. 

But for all that, happy four years, my love! I'm thankful for each of them and love that our differences keep thing interesting. 

As long as I stock Coke Zero for you and you keep your gadgets contained. 


Friday, June 7, 2013

Things that Made Me Smile

It was a pretty good week, you guys. Which I'm thankful for, because as the indomitable Jen Hatmaker puts it, "we are limping, limping across the finish line, folks."

I'm tired, the kids are tired, we're kind of just done. But there are seven days to go! So here are a few things that brightened my week.

1. Going to see Singin' in the Rain with my sister and buddy Chris. A mom-and-pop movie theatre that we frequent is doing a series called Hollywood Summer Nights, playing tons of old-school classics on the cheap. We're going to be partaking a lot, and this was a great way to start.

2. Cooler weather. Don't get me wrong, I love summer, but it's almost impossible to function when the temps skyrocket to 95 with about 385740% humidity. Especially in a stuffy classroom with 19 kids and two ancient oscillating fans.

3. A pleasant Lily. Sometimes I realize that, infatuated as I am with this furry little creature that has invaded our lives, she's stuck in toddler phase and can be a real pain in the ass. We're pretty sure she's part Border Collie, so think LOTS of energy, the kind that can only be released by sprinting to chase something that may or may not change directions. Yeah. Intense physical and mental stimulation. We're hoping to get her into agility training at some point.

4. Laughing with my students. Now that we're no longer down to any wires, I try to lighten up and enjoy their goofiness instead of channeling it. They wanna scat along to Beethoven's 5th? Go for it.

5. Chinese food for dinner tonight! Cause seriously, what else does a girl need on a Friday night than some friends and delicious General Tso's?


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

In Which I Declare Myself...

A nerd. 

I know, I know, big gasps of surprise from...

No one. 

"Wil Wheaton explained in a much-shared YouTube clip about why it’s “awesome” to be a nerd. He declared that the defining characteristic of being a nerd was loving things. It’s not what we love, he said, but how we love: with passion. That passion makes us nerds." --Jason Boyett, in Parenting and Passions and Making Nerds of Your Children.

Upon reading this, a huge smile spread across my face. Yes, I'm a nerd, and I'm darn proud of it. I've often thought about the concept of hipsters, and their "nothing is cool" attitude. I couldn't ever subscribe to that notion, because there are just so many cool things out there.

For instance, I've watched several butterflies hatch from their chrysalides in the last week. 

I've watched kids slowly learn to put letters together into words, and those words into meaning. 

I've watched great movies, read wonderful books, gasped, laughed, and sobbed along to my favorite stories and characters. 

I've watched babies become toddlers, and toddlers become children, and children become people. 

There are just too many cool things to be excited about. This passion, this excitement, this desire to experience things fully...why would you want to suppress that?

So, hats off to nerds everywhere. Wave your nerdy flag, and don't forget to pass that enthusiasm and passion on! 

Monday, June 3, 2013

Yet Another Link

I know I've been doing this a lot lately, but my mind has been full of school. Sometimes I need other people's words to start my own flowing.

I'm new to this blog, but this post gave me goosebumps. A link up itself from one of my favorite bloggers Sarah Bessey, it totally pinpoints the world of youth group that I had.

I grew up in a big, non-denominational church. We had a band on the stage every Sunday, a "cool" pastor who gave real-life sermons that didn't get into theology. We had a youth group of hundreds, tons of retreats and camps and short-term missions trips. I was that child.

And you know what? It worked.

For all the drama, all the emotionalism, all the youth-pastor support and cheesy activities, I had good friends, dedicated adult leaders, and an environment that allowed me to embrace God. Without those things I have no idea what would have happened to me.

I was also blessed enough to visit other churches, make other friends, and have other experiences that drove me into doctrine and theology and deeper questions and answers. I was lucky enough (how could that even be the right word?) to have good teachers and books when I was questioning my faith and doubting these truths.

So, to youth leaders, youths, and college kids--embrace these sometimes-corny, oft-derided youth group experiences. They just may be what anchors you in the truth of the gospel, be exactly what you need to keep from dipping toes into the pool of evil that is just waiting for the right moment.

Thanks to be God for all of his ways of reaching us, of holding us, of drawing us to himself. Cheesy worship songs, catechisms, weekend missions trips--as long as it points you to Christ, to the truth that God offers us grace and love and salvation--it can all be effective for him.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Operation: Collard Greens

(Wow, this is post #101! Thanks to everyone out there who reads this!)

Dan and I go to a fairly small, fairly young PCA church (that's  Presbyterian Church of America, anyone else out there who wasn't raised in Reformed circles). We're closely connected with what I come to find is a nationally renowned school, Westminster Theological Seminary (our pastor teaches there, many of our members are students, etc). We love our church, it's been a huge blessing in our life and it's awesome to be a part of a young church that is growing and changing.

Due to our connections with Westminster, we have people come to our church from all over the country (world, even...we have a couple people from Korea and Japan). Some folks stay for a season, while they're in school, others stick around. But we all have one thing in common.

We love food.

Our church potlucks are quite the affair. No soggy casseroles or store-bought cookies, no sir. We've got gourmet cooks and they like to show off. We get spiral ham and fresh homemade sushi and French delights.

So  our church decided to host a Real Pit Barbecue this weekend.

Now, if you were to ask this Yankee what a barbecue looks like, I'd answer some burgers and dogs, maybe ribs if you're feeling fancy, thrown on a grill with some good cold salads (pasta and potato and green and fruit...) on the side.

Come to find out, I'm very wrong about that.

A Real Pit Barbecue involves smoking a billion pounds of various cuts of meat for about 24 hours in some enormous contraption that someone rented from Lancaster County. It also involves sides like slaw, beans, and greens.

Not salad greens.

Collard greens.

Cue the scary music.

Does anyone else out there have experience with these things? I'd love to hear your thoughts, because this morning I arose with the sun (seriously, 7:15 on a Sunday?!) and tackled operation: collard greens.

I followed this recipe, which is very highly rated. Gotta start somewhere, right?

I purchased two big bunches of collard greens from my farmer's market (so at least my ingredients were fresh and couldn't be faulted).

And I set to work.

Chopped some onions....

Fried some bacon....

Mmm, bacon.

Looking good so far, right? How can you go wrong with onions fried with bacon?

Chopping collard greens is no simple matter. You have to cut out the stalky thing in the middle, because it's too stiff and won't cook down nice and tender with the rest of it.

Anyways, add some broth and simmer away. I hear "the longer the better," but I had to get these babies to church.

This is about five minutes into the simmer. Fully cooked collard greens are not that fresh and green-looking. 

I'll give you the feedback later on. One of the gals from church was quite enthusiastic about a collard greens contest, and I just can't get behind that. For one thing, I tasted a bite about halfway through the simmering time, and it just wasn't very tasty. Chewy and salty and...just not that delicious.

Oh well. We'll find out if this is normal, or if operation collard greens....bust.