Tuesday, November 26, 2013

My Thanksgiving contributions

As you've probably guessed, Thanksgiving is my FAVORITE holiday! Food, food, food:)..oh and family too!

We usually go to Nebraska to spend time with some of my side of the family, and there is always so.much.food. It's insane - even for me. I do try to contribute more than just a giant mouth to cram food in, so here are two recipes I'm trying this year. Yes, I keep them simple and full of sugar:

Caramel Chocolate Pretzel Bark:

There are so many variations of this, but I am using the one I found on Live Love Pasta:

Ingredients & Instructions

2 sticks of unsalted butter
1 cup light brown sugar
1 pound bag of mini pretzels (you probably won’t use the whole bag)
12 ounce bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 pinch of sea salt, for sprinkling on top

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Cover an 11×17 baking sheet with aluminum foil and set aside.
Melt 2 sticks of butter in a small saucepan over medium heat.
While the butter is melting, place enough pretzels on the prepared baking sheet to form a single, even layer.
Once the butter has melted, add the brown sugar and stir well to incorporate. Allow the brown sugar and butter to simmer and bubble, but do not let it boil. You may need to adjust the temperature to low.
Stir the butter-sugar mixture occasionally. It should take about 3 minutes for the butter and sugar to caramelize, but keep a close eye on it because it will burn quickly.
When the sugar and butter have caramelized, pour the mixture evenly over the pretzels, strafing it back and forth down the length of the sheet. The caramel hardens quickly so it’s important to pour it as evenly and quickly as possible.
If there are any clumps, use an offset spatula to spread the caramel as best you can.
Bake for 5-7 minutes.
Allow to cool completely.
Use a microwave safe bowl to make the chocolate layer.
Microwave chocolate chips in intervals of 30 seconds, stirring after each interval, until smooth.
The chocolate should melt in only a couple of minutes.
By this time the pretzel-caramel mixture should be out of the oven. Pour the chocolate over the pretzel-caramel mixture, strafing it down the length of the baking sheet just as you did for with the caramel layer. Again, move evenly and quickly.
Use an offset spatula to smooth out any clumps or thick spots.
Sprinkle sea salt evenly over chocolate before it starts to harden.
Allow the baking sheet to harden in the fridge for at least 1 hour.
When the bark has cooled and hardened, remove from the fridge and carefully pull the aluminum foil off the back.
Break the bark into pieces and serve.


Best stored in the refrigerator. Some readers have mentioned the caramel being too soft to spread the chocolate over top. If you’re experiencing the same problem you can put the caramel pretzel layer in the freezer to help the hardening process.

It's supposed to turn out like this:

 I'll let you know if it does!

Pecan Pie Bars:

There are even more variations for this recipe, and I chose the one from  Just A Taste:

Ingredients & Instructions
For crust:
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
For topping:
1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup honey
2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 cups chopped pecans

Preheat the oven to 350ºF and line a 9x13-inch pan with foil, leaving enough for a 2-inch overhang on all sides.
First make the crust by creaming together the butter and brown sugar until fluffy in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add in the flour and salt and mix until crumbly.
Press the crust into the foil-lined pan and bake for 20 minutes until golden brown.
While the crust bakes, prepare the filling by combining the butter, brown sugar, honey and heavy cream in a saucepan and stirring it over medium heat. Simmer the mixture for 1 minute, then stir in the chopped pecans.
Remove the crust from the oven and immediately pour the pecan filling over the hot crust spreading it to cover the entire surface.
Return the pan to the oven and bake an additional 20 minutes.
Remove the pan and allow the bars to fully cool in the pan.
Use the foil overhang to lift out the bars and transfer them to a cutting board. Peel off the foil, slice into bars and serve.

These are supposed to turn out like this:


I hope they do! I don't like pecan pie, so I'm curious to see if I'll like these. I kind of hope I don't so it will be one less thing I eat, but I also kind of hope I do so it can be one more thing I get to eat!

I'll also be making pumpkin bread using the mix from Trader Joe's. I've heard it's amazing, so I'm excited to finally try it!

Have a fabulous Thanksgiving!! I have so much to be thankful for, and I'm sure you do too:)

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Friday Favorites on a Sunday. . .again

I really do know the difference between Friday and Sunday. I've just had bad timing the past couple of weeks, but no more! 
(Let's be honest, though; with Thanksgiving next week I will most likely be in a food coma on Friday, so don't hold out hope for great timing next week either).

Keeping in line with my love for TV I am sharing some of my all-time favorite shows via a word cloud because they're fun...and because the amount of shows I know well enough to honestly deem favorites is a little embarrassing, but you can't really tell when they're in the cloud.

I have spared you the number of TV shows I am still dying to watch, though. The list is too long and always growing!

Hope you had a great weekend and were able to share a few precious laughs (or cries) with your TV friends!

Friday, November 22, 2013

My second favorite hobby (after eating, of course)

I dread the inevitable question that eventually comes when you find yourself forced into small talk with someone you've recently met:

"So. . . what are your hobbies?"

I feel like people want me to tell them I run marathons, I have a massive Pinterest-inspired craft collection or I'm secretly a master chef or photographer.

I do like to run, read, listen to music, write, volunteer, blah, blah, blah. But honestly, one of my favorite hobbies is watching TV. I know - pathetic, right?

We've all heard that TV just "rots your brain," and we all know at least one of those people who love telling you they don't own a TV, but in moderation I think it's a perfectly fine hobby to have.

Sure, I've wasted entire weekends plowing through a season (or three) of my newest obsession, but it's not something I do - or even want to do - every weekend. As long as one understands the differences between TV and real life (sadly, many do not) and the dangers of being an actual couch potato, I don't think it's anything I should have to feel ashamed about.

Would my time be better spent doing something...oh, I don't know..productive? Probably. I really should work on carving out more time for worthwhile activities, but this is one hobby I enjoy too much to completely give up - plus, I'm really good at it:)

I don't know if I love it because I'm nosy and like having such a deep look into people's lives (real or fake) or because it's an easy way to fool myself into feeling like I have a ton of friends without actually having to talk to anyone (yes, I know how sad that sounds), but I do know I benefit in more than one way because of my love for it. For example:

It can be a conversation topic that saves me in the middle of an awkward social interaction - so pretty much every one I have. With the insane amount of shows out there today, most people have at least a favorite show or two, and since I watch a lot of TV I probably know enough about their favorites to buy me at least five much less awkward minutes of talking. Plus, the shows you love can say a lot about you, so it's a pretty easy way to learn more about a person you don't know very well.


*It's a great (and easy) way to bond with someone. Whether it's bonding over our love (or disgust) for a certain character or relationship or our shared empathy for a current situation a character is facing, it can feel like something exclusive shared between just us (I know that it's actually not exclusive and there have to be other people watching for it to continue to run, but please don't ruin this for me).

*Sometimes I just want to laugh - and laughing is good for you! I love catching myself laughing out loud when I'm caught up in a show. At first I'm always embarrassed (I'm not sure why since usually it's just in front of my cats or Jared, and they've seen me do much stranger things), but it is actually quite freeing to be in such a happy, carefree zone and enjoying something so much that you can't help such an outburst. So thanks to my love of sitcoms and SNL I am more comfortable enjoying a good, loud laugh and trying to not take everything so seriously.

*Catering to the desperate human need to belong, I like that I relate to such a wide variety of characters, knowing there are millions of others out there watching and relating in the same way. And I love that there are so many of us who can identify 100 percent with Liz Lemon. It just goes to show we're all really not that different.
*It can serve as motivation in two ways. First, quite frankly, spending so much time watching people who are obviously in great shape makes me want to be in great shape. I know this is horrible of me to include because I could easily do a separate blog post on all the reasons this mindset is dangerous and wrong, but I'm just being honest. 


Second, depending on the show, I'll feel motivated to do a number of things like be more social, not give up on a goal, set new goals, be more appreciative, spend more time with family or look at life from a different perspective.

Sometimes I just want to escape reality for a little bit, and Netflix is a lot cheaper than taking a lot of vacations.

*Someday when I have my own treadmill placed perfectly in front of a TV I can combine two hobbies and spend hours running without even realizing how fast I'm going. Who can argue with that?

Well, I've now either spent way too much time trying to justify a bad habit or I've convinced you there really are some benefits that come from this 'hobby' of mine. You decide!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sunday Favorites

We were back in Jamestown this weekend, and I didn't have time to do a post on Friday or Saturday!
We went back to watch my sister-in-law play in a volleyball tournament (she killed it, by the way!). It is no secret that I am not the biggest fan of going back to Jamestown, but I reminded myself a little positive thinking would do me some good, and, really, it's not so bad. I even came up with 8 of my favorite things about taking the trip back to the good ol' "buffalo city."

1. Five straight hours of one-on-one quality time with my favorite person in the world:)

 Five hours of unlimited naps (for me, not Jared).

3. Snacks for the road (again, for me, not Jared:)!

4. Friends! I still have a couple of close friends who live there, and I absolutely love being able to see them. It really makes me miss the good days we used to have when we saw one another every day. I ended up getting just ONE picture of us over the weekend, but it somehow disappeared off my camera, so I am sad I cannot share their beautiful faces (and souls) with you!

5. Family! Both of our parents still live there, so it is great to be able to see all of them in just one trip! I was obviously not thinking clearly because I don't have any family pictures from the weekend to share either!

6. It's fun to stay at the YMCA! This is where I first started working out regularly in college, and I worked here for a while as well. There was a very old but very special treadmill I used every day when I started to run more and more. It is not there anymore, but I love working out here when I am back, and I always end up seeing a few familiar faces. 

 7. The church I grew up in. It has definitely expanded, but there are still so many people there who will always be family to me.

8. Coming home. No matter where you go, it always feels good to come home. . .even when you come back to this because you have very naughty kitties.
Good thing they're so cute:)

I hope you had great weekend!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A glimpse into the life of . . .

                MYRA WATTS

Myra with one of her beautiful grandsons
Myra Watts = Wisdom. Period.
She is currently an assistant professor at the University of Jamestown in Jamestown, North Dakota (my alma mater - formerly known as Jamestown College).

She is also the director of the Character in Leadership program (an academic minor at the school) and director of the Learning & Academic Advising Center. And she and her husband, who also works for the school, have raised three pretty cool people, one in particular who is truly an amazing individual I am extremely lucky to call one of my best friends.

I was able to take classes from Myra through the leadership program, and I learned more in just those few classes than in any others I had in college. Her selflessness and general outlook on life are so inspiring (and just plain put me to shame), and I know I - or anyone - could go to her with a question about literally anything, and she'd have the perfect answer that would make so much sense but would be something I never would have thought of otherwise.

There is just something about her that makes you want to be a better person, and I am so happy she agreed to share some of that wonderful wisdom with us!

First job ever: At 16 I spent the summer in a small town called Cambria on the coast of California and worked at a Chevron gas station. It was back in the day when attendants pumped gas and washed windows – every window on every car, as a matter of fact. Girls didn’t work at gas stations back then, so it created a stir and a story in the local newspaper. (I LOVE this!) I earned $1.50 an hour. Such a great job!

First job after graduating/first ‘grown up’ job: I worked at an aerospace company as a data manager. I was thrilled to leave this job 10 months later for a teaching position at a  private high school  (teaching 10th grade English) - a job that I absolutely loved!

Dream job: I am working my dream job. I love being with college students and working at a university. I am so grateful for all the opportunities I have been given to stretch and grow as an individual. And I love teaching. It is so exciting to watch a light go on for a student when something clicks or the student awakens to a new idea or thought. I have been at the University of Jamestown for 20 years, and I feel blessed beyond belief to have been able to work with faculty, staff and students there. We are soon leaving this area and moving to a new place, and I am eager to see what adventures lie ahead there.

What advice would you give someone interested in pursuing the same (or similar) position? Clearly a person needs to get whatever credentials are required. But after that I would say that the most key trait for anyone in any position is to really cultivate a heart of service. Ask continually how you can serve your colleagues and those whom you wish to influence. How can you help the other person achieve what he or she is after? How can you help the organization achieve its higher goals? I believe this is when a job becomes more than just a job; it becomes a calling – something that enlivens you as you become part of a caring community in the place where you work.

What is a major challenge you see recent graduates facing? I think recent graduates have high expectations as to the level of job they will be able to secure immediately following graduation. The reality of the situations they often find themselves in after they graduate does not always meet those high expectations, and that can create some real unhappiness. A major challenge therefore is to stay engaged and involved in whatever level of work one is doing. A career is journey, and the path doesn’t always take a person where she thought she was going. Staying open and receptive is a key to finding happiness along the way.

What advice do you wish you could give your 25-year-old self, career-wise or just in general? My advice would be to pay attention to the current moment – waking up to the moment one is living.  It’s great to have dreams and goals, but it’s easy to lose sight of the splendor of the current moment one is living as one hopes for something more spectacular down the line. So I would advise my 25-year-old self to really enjoy a cup of coffee with a friend, to really take in a sunset, to crunch through the piles of autumn leaves in October, to just be open and awake to what is happening in each moment as it is happening. Actually, this is the advice I give myself every day.

What has been your biggest challenge/obstacle so far in your career, and how did you get past it? My career path has been circuitous. I am in a place I never expected to be. There was a point, however, when I knew that I had to get more education to really hit another level. Going back and getting a master’s degree as an older student was a challenge but also completely satisfying and exciting. I loved every moment of it, so what seemed like an obstacle turned out to be a tremendous opportunity to grow personally and professionally.

Who has been your biggest influence, personally and professionally? No question. My husband, Gary. He’s my champion. It has been his wisdom and encouragement that have helped me to grow in life-changing ways. He has been my greatest and most profound teacher.

What hobbies and activities do you enjoy in your spare time? I love to read. And I love to watch movies or sit around and drink tea with my husband and philosophize about life.

What are two books that have inspired you? A book that has been inspiring to me is Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. I love Frankl’s statement that “everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” That is hopeful.

An author I have loved for many years is Erich Fromm, and all of his books are inspiring to me, but I especially like The Art of Loving. I believe that becoming a truly loving person is our single greatest call in life. I am inspired by those writers who can share insights or illuminate a new avenue of thought that we haven’t noticed before. Erich Fromm is certainly one of those people.

What is number one on your bucket list? I would love to walk the Road to Santiago, which is a 500 mile path that millions of pilgrims have walked over the past 1,500 years. The path begins in the Pyrenees mountains in southern France and ends at the church in Santiago on the western coast of Spain. It takes at least a month to walk. I need to do this soon!

Favorite ice cream flavor: Coffee flavored ice cream.

Thank you so much, Myra!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Friday Favorites

The last thing I want to do in the middle of a Minnesota winter is run outside in freezing temperatures or trek through the snow to find my car to drive 10 miles per hour through more snow to get to the gym. Sometimes I suck it up and do it anyway, but other times it is so nice to have these:

There is really no excuse to skip a workout when you own these. Of course I still do skip them from time to time, but I can only handle a stare down with those ladies for so long (sometimes minutes, sometimes days).
Here are my five favorites:

1. Jillian Michaels: Banish Fat, Boost Metabolism

 I usually do a combination of DVDs to create a workout, but if I am short on time and can only do one I choose this one.
It's roughly 45 minutes and combines cardio and some strength training using only your body weight, so it can easily done absolutely anywhere!

2. Physique 57 Classic 57 Minute Full body Workout

I would love to be able to afford barre classes at a studio, but this is what I have for now, and I love it!

3. Personal Training with Jackie: Power Circuit Training

This was the first workout DVD I bought, so the first time I did it I was super sore. It's gotten much easier over time, but the heavier the weight, the harder it is. It goes through lower body, upper body, then abs, with each section lasting about 15 minutes. I like doing it before or after a run.

4. Jillian Michaels Extreme Shed & Shred

 This has two different workouts. One is a little over 30 minutes and easier than the other, which is around 40 minutes. The workouts are mostly strength, but there's a little cardio in there too. I like to do the harder one before the easier one and then whatever else I feel like!

5. Jillian Michaels Ripped in 30
An upgrade from her first 3-2-1 interval system, I find this one to be a little harder, so I like that it's more challenging, but I really don't enjoy it sometimes. There are four different workouts that get progressively harder and are about 25 minutes each. Every workout is made up of three sets consisting of three minutes of strength, two minutes of cardio and one minute of abs. I like to start with level three, then four, two, one!

I realize my collection could use some updating, but it's not like they don't still work. Now go spend some quality time with Jillian this weekend!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Climbing out of a rut

After opening with that nice, little lecture on running I have to be honest with you: I have found myself stuck in lazy, unmotivated rut. I guess I shut down the second the weather turned, and while in the past I have let cold weather get the best of me and my attempts to be healthy, it at least never happened this early.

I have recently found myself in the following

Go for a run after work or take a nap and then feel too groggy to do anything but laundry and mindlessly eat through a jar of peanut butter the rest of the night?

Jillian Michaels DVD or a Nashville marathon with pumpkin fro yo on a rainy Friday night?

Head to the gym or curl up with Pinterest and pizza on a cold Saturday afternoon?

Though the right choices are pretty obvious, guess what I decided NOT to do in all three...yep. Go me.

While decisions like these are fine every now and then (your body does need a break sometimes!), consistently doing so will lead you down a sad, dangerous path. That may sound dramatic, but if this behavior is continually repeated, it really does hurt your physical and mental health.

So far on my current quest for a balanced, healthy lifestyle I have managed to be anything but..well, balanced. I have spurts of excellent behavior - smart eating, consistent workouts, good energy, a positive mindset - but then I start sliding after just one or two indulgences. I'll skip a workout and promise to eat extra healthy that day only to find myself craving all kinds of junk at night and eventually giving in. I then promise myself I'll wake up super early to work out and eat extremely healthy the next day, but I'm sure you can guess how that ends up going. The cycle continues until I finally reach a breaking point while trying to squeeze into pants that should easily fit. Then I start climbing my way back up, but there are always too many setbacks on the climb, which is why it's become this - >

Get off the weight loss roller coaster!  (Source)

Sometimes I wonder if subconsciously I enjoy the challenge of this grueling climb back toward healthier habits - why else would I let myself fall back into poor habits time and time again? I even recognize when I'm slipping and tell myself I'm slipping but still end up watching myself fall back to where I hate to be.

The good news is there actually was a point in my life where I was maintaining a healthy balance, so I know for a fact I am capable of getting back to that happy place. The bad news is I still haven't quite figured out how to stay - for good - once I get there. If When I have a firm grasp on this I'll be happy to share, and while on my way I'm open to any and all tips and advice:)