Spring Flowers

Once Conservative Boy spotted the first signs of spring sprouting from the ground in the front yard, I started checking out the progress of my little friends regularly.

After refilling my coffee cup while working, I would peek out the front window. Or when I went out to get the mail from our mailbox, I’d sneak down the steps for a second to crouch down on the sidewalk and see how many centimeters things had moved since my last visit. Gradually, more and more little plants made an appearance and began unfurling their leaves toward the sun.

And then the buds began appearing.

I tracked the progress of the daffodils, our first bloomers, with my camera once they got close to opening.

I could tell the little yellow blossoms were just about to make an appearance, and boy oh boy did I get excited. Last year, I had no idea all these flowers would appear in our front yard. This year, I knew. But it was no less exciting.

I took this photo very early last Wednesday morning, before I started work. I was just sure the daffodils were going to open for me that day. I mean really, really sure.

But, unfortunately, before they did I had to leave for Florida. (I know, woe is me. I was forced to go to a state where the flowers bloom all year. Feel sorry for me, please.)

And when I returned, just as I suspected, I was greeted with a few sunny daffodils that had bloomed.

Only the problem was, I was also greeted by snow. A big layer of wet slushy snow, that weighed heavily on top of all my precious plants.

Frost-bitten flowers? Sad sad sad. I was afraid I had lost all of my flowers to an early spring snowstorm, and that just devastated this fledgling gardener.

But it turns out they may be more resilient than I thought. By Monday afternoon, once the sun came out and melted most of the snow, the plants began to perk up a bit.

And although some of the blooms are a bit limp and worse for the wear, they’re still there.

By George, I think they might make it. Spring wins!


A Clearwater Beach Wedding

Hello there. Yes, I know. It has been a few days since we last chatted.

That’s because I spent a long weekend in sunny Clearwater Beach, Florida, for a wedding. The weather was nice and sunny (although a bit breezy). So besides squeezing in a bit of work and homework, I stayed away from the computer. Instead, I enjoyed this.

This is the morning view from our balcony.

And this is the early evening view from our balcony.

When I wasn’t taking photos from the balcony, I was down by the pool soaking up the sun. Or walking on that incredibly long beach you see just past the pool.

And then, of course, there were the wedding festivities. You know, rehearsal dinner cruises on the bay.

The actual wedding ceremony. The reception. All that good stuff ...

… capped off by a 4:50 a.m. wakeup call yesterday morning. Alright, so that ended the fun part of the mini-vacation—that and the weather when we arrived home in L-Town.

But that’s another story for another day. Let me bask in the sunny glow from Florida for a few more minutes, even if now it’s only in my mind.


Sharing Butter Love

I almost forgot to tell you: Butter is famous.

No, I don't mean he's famous in our neighborhood. (Although that's true—I can attest to that fact because I regularly spot people walking or driving by just to wave at him sitting in the window.)

I mean he's famous in the blogosphere. Specifically, he made an appearance recently on my friend Cara's blog, after she and her fiance Mike visited us in lovely L-Town.

See for yourself!


Forgetting About Butter

Butter comes in to see how things are going in the office. At least he pretends he's coming in to see how things are going. But really he does his slow walk around the desk for a very specific reason: It's time for a bathroom break. (Or, if it's after 4:45, because it's almost dinnertime.)

And so out into the living room and through the kitchen we go, as Butter leads the way to the back door. I put him on his trusty chain and let him loose to wander around the backyard, where he does his business and attempts to chase away squirrels and paces around with his nose pressed to the ground, sniffing out any intruders.

While he does this, I refill my coffee cup and go back into the office.

Usually, he scratches on the door to let me know it's time to come in. Or a few minutes later I go out and see him sitting there patiently, staring through the screen door, waiting for me.

But occasionally I get busy. I get a message on iChat or a phone call or I get wrapped up in writing and I forget.

Then, 10 minutes later, when I realize I haven't heard his scratching on the door and he's still outside, I panic and race back through the living room and kitchen, uttering [insert infrequently used expletive of your choice here].

Occasionally (don't call the cops on me for this!) I discover he has tangled himself around the tree and is patiently waiting for me to untangle him. Once the weather gets nice though, I usually find him doing this:

Yep, sitting. Surveying his domain. Enjoying the fresh air and the chirping birds without a care in the world. Sometimes, he doesn't even bother to look my way when he hears me. He doesn't even get up.

Or he gets back up, then plops right back down again if I don't immediately usher him inside.

Life is good on the back step and he could care less that I've forgotten about him.

Then it takes all my willpower not to join him, to hang out on the step and forget about what I'm supposed to be doing.

Alas, inside we both go. Butter makes a beeline for his treat cupboard in case I'm feeling generous; I make a beeline for my office again.

Until the next time Butter decides it's time to pay a visit to the office and make his slow walk around the desk.


Fun in Chi-Town

When you spend a weekend in Chicago, there are plenty of things to try ...

Like working at a terrific coffee shop for the morning (this one: Intelligentsia).

And buying so many hot beverages so they'll keep letting you use their free Internet that the baristas take pity on you and buy you a latte and a giant cookie. (Who says city folks ain't nice?)

And deep-dish pizza. (It's Chicago-style, baby. But you have to take my word for it because the pics are too blurry.)

And views from a downtown apartment so terrific you don't want to do anything besides look out the window. (It's the bean in Millennium Park! And the lake!)

Then, when you tire of that view, you walk across the living room to this. (Who's shocked I came back to L-Town after this? I am!)

... And American Gothic? A ginormous American Gothic? Random.

Plus shopping on State Street and wandering Michigan Avenue.

And going to Jersey Boys. (Terrific, I tell you. Terrific. Go see it.)

And blurry baseball-shape desserts at Harry Caray's.

Remember the views? Yeah, I thought so.

(I must give props to my supporting cast: My Mom, Conservative Mom, Kid Sister, The Trump Tower, and the bean. The only one missing? My Sister. Next year maybe ... )


Working in Chicago (Part 2)

Eating. the. best. chocolate croissant. ever.

And kicking myself for not having my camera cord so I could share it with you.

I think they stuck an entire dark chocolate bar in the middle. Good chocolate. It's heavenly.

Now to work ...

(And yes, Dolly is still singing. I think we're getting the whole album here. I just heard Islands in a Stream.)

Working in Chicago

Yep, back in Chicago again. I love this city. I like to pretend I live here while I'm visiting. Although I suppose if I lived here I'd be walking by, in a hurry, on my way to work. Instead, I'm sitting and working in a terrific little coffee shop that is playing Dolly Parton (don't ask), where coffee is served by incredibly tattooed baristas (a sign of a good cup, right?), and where my cup of joe is served just how I like it: In a big, round white mug on a saucer. (Of course, being the graceful creature I am, I spilled half of it just walking to the table. But what's new?)

Happy Friday!


A Neti Pot

Warning: This is a post about snot.

Well, it's not entirely about snot. But snot is part of it. So if you're uncomfortable speaking about snot in mixed company (hey! it's nothing to be ashamed of, we all have it), you may want to skip this post. Have a nice day. See you tomorrow.

OK. Who's still with me? Brace yourself for this.

This is a neti pot.

Specifically, this is a blurry picture of my neti pot.

At least, it has been my neti pot since just after Christmas, when My Mom shipped it to me because she had amassed a collection of them.

[I know what you're thinking right now. Despite its appearance, you do not smoke anything out of this little purple pot. Do you really think My Mom would recommend that sort of thing? Come on. Focus.]

My Mom sent this to me after Christmas in D.C., when I was thoroughly congested and snotty and both My Mom and My Sister insisted that I needed to start using one. I resisted—I'm not a big fan of things getting too close to my nose, thanks. But once My Mom sent this lovely little thing, I had to give it a try.

And I have used it religiously twice a day since then. Now I can't live without it. Between the neti pot and my daily Claritin, I have not had any cold-like symptoms, excessive snottiness, or sinus headaches, despite the fact others around me have gotten sick and I am allergic to the dog I live with.

But wait. I'm getting ahead of myself, aren't I? You're still wondering what the heck the neti pot is and why I use it, right?

The idea of nasal irrigation originates in a land far, far away, a land known as India (you know, the home of Ayurveda and Yoga). That's what you do with the neti pot: you irrigate your nasal passages. Sounds delicious, doesn't it?

Basically, a neti pot is a means for keeping your sinuses healthy. I've heard that sinus problems are the number one reason people in the United States see a doctor, and I'd believe it based on personal experience. Nasal cleansing alone can't solve all the world's sinus problems, mind you, but it can keep your nose clean and your sinuses clear. Today, even many doctors in the United States (including My Mom's) recommend use of the neti pot. Basically, what you're doing is clearing the pollution, pollen, dust, etc. from you nasal passages—all those irritants that can cause allergies, sinus infections, and the like.

It's super easy to do. You fill the pot with warm water (make sure it's warm ... I've learned that water that is too cold or too hot is a bit uncomfortable). Then you add in some salt (non-iodized; mine is specifically made for neti pot use). Now, stand over the sink and tip your head to the side. Put the neti pot spout up to your nostril and pour. If your nose isn't too clogged, the water will eventually start pouring out of your other nostril. Repeat on the other side until the pot is gone.

Sounds easy, right? I'll be the first to admit, though, that it's intimidating as hell at first. And a bit uncomfortable. That's why I was so hesitant. The first time I tried it my nose was so stuffed the water didn't go anywhere; it just came pouring out all over my face. It was a nice saltwater facial and all, but not very effective.

Later when I tried it with my nose cleared, it felt terrible. Terrible. You know when you go to the ocean and get so pummeled by a wave that later that day you bend over and salt water comes pouring out of your nose, even though you left the ocean behind hours ago? That's what it feels like at first.

And I'm not the only one who thinks so.

Still, I forged ahead, knowing all those people who rave about neti pots can't be wrong. I realized a few easy techniques make neti pot use much easier—and almost enjoyable.

First, you have to play around and make certain you get your head tilted correctly so the water flows through the right pipes, if you will. Otherwise you get that ocean water in the nose feeling or you start to notice the salt water working its way into your throat. Blech.

Second, you have to breath. Breath loudly, slowly, through your mouth. It's relaxing, and it takes your mind off the sensation of the water flowing through your nasal passages. Of all the things I tried, breathing made using the neti pot worthwhile.

Give it a try. Stick with it. Once you get past the initial discomfort and confusion, it's really easy. And it starts to feel good. Trust me, your schnoz will thank you for it.

Still not sure how it works? Lucky you I found this video, complete with soothing music and step-by-step instructions (full disclosure: when I use my neti pot, there isn't any music playing and I am not this serene, which is probably by Conservative Boy makes himself scarce when the snot pot comes out).

(Sorry, it's a bit lame. Maybe My Sister will channel the hours she used to spend making infomercials in front of our bathroom mirror when we were kids and make her own video. Now that would be entertaining.)

If you want to learn more (and buy your own), The Himalayan Institute can hook you up. Or if you think this is all a bit of hippie hoo-hoo, perhaps this WebMD explanation will make you feel better. I learned Oprah's a big fan too. And if Oprah's a fan, well, shouldn't you be too?


Giving Away a Vacuum

OK. I'm not really giving away a vacuum. I have never done and probably never will do giveaways on here, unless I convince Conservative Boy to finally take down his shrine to George W. Bush in the basement. Is it really necessary? I've had to look at it for the past six years. I think it's about time it came down.

So, like I said, the only giveaway you'll find on here will be a chance to win a George W. Bush bobblehead, a book, and other select memorabilia that you no doubt will jump at the chance to display in your own home.

But if you're interested in a real giveaway, you might want to check out the other blog I write for, The Home Know-It-All. If you leave a comment in the comments section of today's post, you just may win Black & Decker Pivot Floor Vac. Free! No strings attached!

(I get nothing for posting this by the way. I just wanted to share a fun giveaway offer with you. And the best part is, even if you're friends or family of yours truly, you can still enter because the prize winner will be chosen at random by a nifty computer program. So go enter!)

End shameless blog promotion.


Yummy Yogurt

I'd like to share another one of my addictions with you. It hasn't reached the level of my cookie obsession (we're nowhere near that yet), but this addiction is one of my favorite workday snacks. And if you're at all interested in getting rid of certain types of yogurt that aren't as good for you as you thought (ahem ... certain brands containing HFCS ... ahem), this is a terrific (and much fresher) substitute.

So, without further ado, I present probably the easiest recipe you've ever seen me tackle. Let's call it Julie's Berry Good Yogurt. That has a nice ring to it, eh?

First, you wash your berries. In this particular instance, it's sliced strawberries. Yesterday I made the same thing with blueberries. You can do it with about any berry. Or bananas. Or peaches. Mmm. Peaches. That would be good.

Once you're done swooning over your fresh fruit, it's time to add the yogurt. I recommend Stoneyfield Farm vanilla yogurt. You don't need any other flavorings because the fruit takes care of that for you. Go ahead, be generous. Come on, pour it on.

Now, if you're in a hurry you could stop there. But then you'd miss one of the best parts. The cereal. Today it's Grape Nuts (oops, actually it's Nutty Nuggets, if you must know ... we buy generic). Some days it's granola. Either way, this adds a bit of a crunch.

Now comes the hard part. Stir.

And eat!

Nutritious and delicious in just 30 seconds.


Loaded Oatmeal Cookies

There's something I need to tell you. It has been weighing heavily on my shoulders for quite some time, and I think I'll feel a lot better if I just get it out in the open.

I'm a cookie freak. A big-time cookie freak. I have to have cookies in my house, preferably fresh-baked cookies. I have to eat them with coffee, I have to eat them for dessert after any meal, I have to have one with my hot tea when I hit my 3 p.m. slump during the workday. I. Love. Cookies.

That's why I had to try the recipe for Loaded Oatmeal Cookies I spotted in a recent issue of Better Homes & Gardens.

Well, actually, there were a number of reasons I had to try the recipe. Besides the fact that I am a cookie freak, or perhaps because of it, I thought these cookies looked yummy. Plus, miraculously, despite the random ingredient list, I had everything I needed on hand. (This usually doesn't happen.)

So about a week ago, I made a batch of the loaded oatmeal cookies. They received rave reviews from the random assortment of people who ate them (most of whom were named Julie). And they are really really really healthy for you. I mean, really. They have oats and cinnamon and dark chocolate and cranberries and walnuts and these are all wonderful foods. Plus they have flax seed meal and wheat germ.

Uh-oh. Did I lose you? Wait, come back. I can explain. The wheat germ is a great source of folic acid. And the flax seed meal has fiber, lignans, and omega-3 fats. Very important, all. And I promise, you won't even know they're in there. Conservative Boy didn't notice. His friends didn't notice. And they shun health foods at all costs. So you will be OK.

(If you have to buy flax seed meal and wheat germ because you're not as random as I am and they're not already in your cupboard, you can also use these healthful ingredients in smoothies, on cereal, in oatmeal, and in other baking to boost the healthfulness of your diet. Stop asking questions and just do it.)

OK. If you're still with me here, I'll get to the recipe now. It's good, remember? This cookie freak wouldn't lie.

Loaded Oatmeal Cookies
From Better Homes & Gardens (a prize-tested recipe in the March 2009 Smart Cookie category, if you must know)

1/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar (yes, I know, they have a lot of sugar ... but they're still healthy!)
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/8 tsp. salt
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup flax seed meal
1/4 cup wheat germ
2 oz. dark chocolate, finely chopped (but not too finely ... chocolate chunks are heaven)
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup chopped walnuts, toasted

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Toast walnuts.

In a large mixing bowl, beat butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add brown sugar, granulated sugar, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt.

Beat until combined, scraping sides of bowl occasionally.

Beat in egg and vanilla until combined. Beat in flour. Stir in rolled oats, flax seed meal, wheat germ, chocolate, cranberries, and walnuts.

(Dough will be a little crumbly and photos will be a little blurry.)

2. Drop dough by rounded teaspoons 2 inches apart onto ungreased cookie sheets.

(Now do you see why I vote for not chopping the chocolate too finely?)

Bake for 9 to 11 minutes or until tops are lightly browned. Let cookies cool on cookie sheet for 1 minute.

Transfer cookies to wire rack to cool. Supposedly makes about 30 cookies—but do you ever get that many? I never do.


Taking Butter Photos

Butter is a lovely fellow with his yellow (almost white) fur and his big, boxy head and even bigger sweet eyes and soft wet nose and ... oh goodness, do you see where this is going? I could go on and on.

Anyhow. Butter is pretty handsome, so much so that people stop us on our walks quite frequently and comment on how pretty he is (and wonder what the heck kind of dog he is because he's just not quite lab).

So that got me thinking that maybe, just maybe, Butter could be a doggy model. Can't you see him bounding through a field toward a man whose life is restored thanks to Levitra? Or tumbling down some steps, the grownup version of that yellow puppy that makes my heart melt in the toilet paper commercials? Or the regal fellow that greets you when you flip through your magazine and land on an ad for flea and tick medicine?

Oh yes. He'd be terrific.

Except I hate the thought of making anyone—dog or person—be a model unless they really really want to. I was a model once for an hour or two. Let me tell you, it was quite a gig. I modeled step-by-step decorating projects for a Home Depot book I was working on.

Yes, that's right. I wore safety goggles and pretended to use power tools. It was hard work because somehow you have to look like you are enjoying yourself while working a giant saw, but at the same time you can't be grinning because who stands there and cuts boards with a big grin on her face? Plus, you want your hair to look good. And my hair never really looks photo-worthy, especially when it has to be pulled back so it doesn't get chewed up by the big power tools.

That was the day I confirmed without a doubt modeling isn't for me. Heck, I don't even like having my picture taken half the time. That's why a good portion of our family photos taken during my late elementary school and junior high years show me slouched or sticking my tongue out defiantly. My thought: If I'm not going to look good in photos, I might as well make it look intentional.

But I digress. We're not talking about me here. We're talking about Butter and the other reason that I won't pursue his doggie modeling career. As attractive as the thought of fame, big-dollar contracts, and infinite supplies of dog food are, the truth of the matter is I don't think Butter is cut out for the modeling business. He will look absolutely adorable, resting his head on his little paws, gazing up at you. Or he'll sit, all regal, surveying the landscape outside his window (that's what he's doing right now, in case you're wondering).

But the second I approach with the camera, he moves. He doesn't necessarily run across the room, but he moves just enough to make the photo completely blurry.

Or to give me a great shot like this.

And this.

I would say the number of photos I've taken like these are in the hundreds now. And the good ones? Those are few and far between. He thwarts my every attempt at capturing just how adorable he is, almost as if he knows even one cute photo will ruin the rep he's trying to create when the mailman walks to the door.

Butter, you're not fooling anyone with that big, mean bark. Now sit down and be sweet and let me take your picture.

He could use a few lessons from his uncle Walker. The King? The King could be a doggie model. The last time I got out my camera and pointed it in his direction, he ran straight for Conservative Mom and Dad's bed, jumped up, and posed as if he'd been posing all his life. Now that's one photogenic dog. You can see for yourself here.

But not Butter. Butter just wants to play. He wants to lick my face, my camera.

He wants to stick my hand in his mouth and wrestle. He wants to do anything besides sit still and look handsome, which he's good at as long as the camera is turned off.

He's such an attention hound, you'd think he'd want me to take photos to share with you all. But I guess he only wants attention when it's in person, when you're here rubbing his belly.

And apparently he's going to force me to get a new digital SLR camera like I've been coveting for over a year. I'm pretty sure it's the only way to capture him in film (or, rather, in pixels)—because then at least I can stay a few few away from him and use my trusty lens to zoom in on his model potential, without disturbing him. Although I'm sure he'll still have moments when he can't be bothered by the paparazzi. And then I'll be nice and give him some space.



Lovely Ms. E's French Bread

As you may have noticed, I'm on a mission to bake bread. Any bread. All bread. Remember, I love bread.

It started with this tasty wheat sandwich bread, which I thought seemed like a fairly easy recipe.

A delicious recipe, yes. But, I found out after the fact, not as easy as it could be.

Lucky for me, Auntie R's mother (we'll call her Lovely Ms. E) saved the day. She sent me an email with her incredibly easy French bread recipe because she thought I was making this whole bread-baking affair too difficult.

Boy, was she right. This French bread recipe is a breeze. And good, too. Although, as you can see here, I need to work on my French bread-forming skills a bit, as my loaf wasn't as fat as the ones you buy in bakeries. (Or maybe I just need to let it rise more. Who knows? That's what experimenting is for, right?)

Without further ado, I present Lovely Ms. E's French Bread:

1 cup warm water
1 pkg yest
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp melted shortening (Lovely Ms. E uses canola oil but says any oil will do)
3 3/4 cup flour

1. Dissolve yeast in warm water.

2. Add salt, sugar, and shortening.

3. Gradually add flour and knead well. (Lovely Ms. E would like to remind us all that this is the most important step.)

4. Brush the top with oil and let rise, one, two, or three times (once is enough for Lovely Ms. E).

5. Place on a greased sheet covered with cornmeal, form into a long loaf with tapered ends, and slash across the top in several places.

6. Brush the top of the loaf with cold water and let it rise.

7. Brush with cold water again. Sprinkle with sesame seeds if you wish. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes.

8. Enjoy!

(Lovely Ms. E also offered to send me her recipe for dinner rolls, which I took her up on after Conservative Boy started salivating at the thought of them. You see, we've enjoyed those rolls every time we've visited Auntie R, Uncle H, and the Lovely Ms. E in Georgia, and the second I mentioned that she had sent me a recipe C.B. wanted to know if it was for her wonderful rolls. So stay tuned for more bread-making with the Lovely Ms. E!)



Every Christmas Eve (well, almost) since I can remember, my family enjoys a big crockpot full of seafood chowder. (Many years when I was younger, this was followed by an angel food birthday cake for Baby Jesus—angel food, get it?—but that's not what this post is about.) And every Christmas Eve (well, almost) since I can remember, someone in my family says: This seafood chowder is so good, how come we only eat it at Christmas?

So true. So true.

That's why last weekend I decided enough with the once-a-year chowder. So I gathered up the ingredients and made it for dinner on Monday night. It was delicious, as usual. So much so that after Conservative Boy and I had it for dinner on Monday night, we also had it for lunch on Tuesday and Wednesday. (Yes, we eat lunch at home together most days of the week. Isn't that just so special?)

The most wonderful thing about this chowder is that it's exceptionally easy to make. And it's perfect for people who aren't very fond of clams in their chowder. (In fact, even those of you who aren't big fish fans probably would like it if you use a mild fish like tilapia. Although why oh why don't you like fish? That's what I want to know. It's so darn good and good for you too.)

Anyhow, here's the recipe, courtesy of My Mom:

2 lb fresh or frozen fish filets (I used tilapia)
1/4 lb salt pork or bacon, diced (I used bacon)
1 medium onion, chopped
4 medium potatoes, cubed (I advise cubing them smaller than I did)
2 cups water
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 13-oz. can evaporated milk

Cut filets into bit-size pieces. Saute salt pork and onion and drain. Put into crockpot with fish. Add all remaining ingredients except milk. Cook on low 6–9 hours. (Or put it in late like I did and crank it up to high. Hey, whatever works.) Add milk last hour.

Serve in big bowls, preferably accompanied by a fresh veggie and fresh-baked bread. (C.B., of course, says it's best with the addition of Tabasco. Shocked, aren't you?)

200 Posts!

Hello there. I just wanted to inform you of a very important fact: This is my 201st post. In it, we are celebrating 200 posts, because apparently I missed seeing the number of posts when it was actually time to write number 200.

What is the significance of this fact? There isn't one. Not really. But don't you think that 200 sounds like a nice, big, successful number that should be celebrated?

I think so. I'm going to eat a Girl Scout cookie—or five—right now to celebrate. What do they put in these things to make them so darn addictive? (Maybe it's the high fructose corn syrup? Ack!)


A Terrific Proposal

Stop the presses. I would just like to clarify up front that I am NOT breaking the news on my blog that C.B. and I are engaged. This is not a post about MY engagement news because I have no engagement news. So go ahead and keep the "When are you guys finally going to get married?" questions coming for the foreseeable future.

What this is about is a really terrific proposal that happened last Friday. The reason why I care (and why, therefore, you all instantly care, right?) is because:

1. It happened in part on one of my most favoritest blogs. (Yes, I know favoritest is not a word. But special times call for special made-up adjectives.)

2. It happened to someone I know!

Here's the scoop.

As you may have noticed by how often I mention it here, The Pioneer Woman is probably at the top of my must-read blogs list. I, like about a million other people, excitedly wait for her random posts to appear on farm life, cooking, decorating, photography, and more. She's just fantastic and, as such, her blog appears at the top of my Google reader so I never miss a post.

Pause. I must preface what comes next by saying that I am incredibly annoyed at myself. I usually catch up on my feed reading at some point on Friday afternoon or over coffee and a cookie on Saturday morning. But this week I didn't! This weekend I didn't look at my blog feeds at all. And for this I am forever shamed.

Because, on Friday afternoon, after I was done with work for the day (why that fact is important will soon become evident), The Pioneer Woman posted this seemingly simple post about a Photoshop technique called actions.

I know it will bore you, but please scroll down. Near the end of the post you will be surprised. Because, it turns out, this is not a straightforward Photoshop post.

I will pause now so you can go read it.

OK. Are you back? How crazy is that?! Some fellow named Drew oh-so creatively proposed to a lovely lady named Randall, who happens to be an avid reader of the blog.

Are you in suspense? Do you want to know what happened? I was too. (OK, not really, as I found out what happened before I even read this post.)

If you want to experience the excitement first hand, PW posted an update on the happy couple this morning. Read it. Then come back to me again. And I promise to stop doing that.

Isn't it terrific! She said yes.

Now, the reason I'm sharing this all with you is that the Randall of the now-famous couple is my coworker. And the reason why it's very disappointing that I was not working Friday afternoon (and not actually in the office) is because she was sitting in our office when she happened to finally—finally!—check up on Ree at the ranch and see the message.

She, of course, instantly jetted out of the door of the Lexicon offices and raced home to see Drew. And get that gorgeous ring. (Can we talk about that for a second? I love it).

And so there you have it. She said yes. Although not before she left a comment on the first blog post: "That's me!" How cute is that? (By the way, hundreds of people have since commented on both blog posts, sharing their excitement. It's fun to read the comments too if you have some time.)

Congrats, Randall and Drew! And kudos to you, Drew, for being so darn creative.

[Disclaimer: This post is in no way meant to drop not-so-subtle hints to a certain conservative fellow. I'm just sharing a story I thought was too cute to keep to myself!]


A Correction

Yesterday, when I mentioned that I was excited for spring and so were the pretty green buds appearing in my front yard, I missed out on including someone on the list.

This guy.

As the days grow longer and warmer, Butter spends more time gazing out his window at the lovely almost-spring unfolding. He also spends more time in the backyard on his long chain, playing in the mud and chasing evil, evil squirrels who threaten his domain.

And everywhere he goes, that darn tongue seems to follow.

You do see why my front window is never, ever clean, don't you?


A Weather Warp

Apparently I went to sleep two days ago and woke up in another climate. Not that I'm complaining.

At the beginning of the week I was wearing big fuzzy sweaters. Right now it's 65 degrees and sunny. Wait. Scratch that. Now it's 70 degrees and sunny. Where do I live again?

I'm not the only one who's confused by the sudden change in temperature either.

Say hello to my little friends.

Oh-so observant Conservative Boy actually alerted me of their arrival yesterday because I was still in a haze of 5 a.m. cramming for midterms, frantic paper grading, and trying like mad to be my most creative self for work.

I am so incredibly excited to see them that I can hardly contain my glee.

Except, admittedly, I'm a bit concerned for their safety. Don't you think they're jumping the gun just a bit?

Ah, well. Who am I to question nature? She's been around and doing her thing far longer than me. I'll just gaze lovingly at these little buggers all weekend and pray they stick around.

Just think! The season o' more plant photos than you can possibly stomach is right around the corner. Less baking and more gardening ... wheeeee, sign me up.

Being Organized

If you happen to take a peek at The Home Know-It-All today, you'll see a picture that may look familiar to a few of you who have been to my house before.

It's the bookshelf in my office. It looks quite lovely despite the fuzzy quality of the photo. It's nicely organized, has a few decorative objects (including treasures from such exotic places as Russia, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and Wyoming), and likely will lead readers to believe that the rest of my house is just as organized.

Only what my coworker Katie failed to mention to you in that post, dear readers, is that on the other side of my desk sits the twin bookshelf. And it looks like this:

Oh the horror! It's like Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde. It's my right brain and my left brain side-by-side. It's public Julie and private Julie. My mom is so embarrassed right now. I just know it.

I am not exaggerating when I say that these shelves are a mere three feet apart from one another. The big difference is that the tidy one from The Home Know-It-All blog post is positioned so that it's visible from the office door and most of the room. The other one is harder to spot—and, for some reason, I instinctively turn left when I need to reference books or magazines, grab office paper, or use a tissue.

These bookshelves are a lot like my life. Very tidy and organized and well-run on the surface, but chaos just below. Conservative Boy has accused me of being "closet dirty." I wouldn't go so far as to agree with that. But if you spent some time looking around our house, really looking, you'd see that beneath it all things are a little out of control.

Take, for instance, "my" closet in the office. (C.B. and I each have a bedroom closet and an office closet.) The half that I can see now because I left to door open showcases colorful canvas cubes, each with a label such as "purses," "scarves," and so on. Below that, summer clothes and dress pants hang neatly. And below that, a set of plastic storage drawers holds my ever-expanding collection of Lulu athletic wear (and sheets, but that's boring).

Now slowly (and I mean slowly) slide the doors to the right to witness the left side of the closet. (The left side again! What is it with the left side?)

If you aren't killed by the resulting avalanche, take a moment to survey the scene. You will find an assortment of suitcases and duffle bags, in case I ever need to make a quick escape. (Joking, C.B. Joking.) Precariously perched on top of that? A random fuzzy blanket, gift bags stuffed full of an odd assortment of wrapping paper scraps, tissue paper, ribbon, and more gift bags (because I refuse to throw away any gift-wrapping I receive if it can be reused). And somehow, balancing on top of that, boxes. They're all fairly small boxes but there are quite a lot of them, because I also refuse to throw away any box we receive shipments of books, clothing, etc. in. Why throw away or recycle a perfectly good box you could reuse? Above, on the top shelf, you'll find even more boxes, an old camera, and more gift bags.

Which leads me to one important question: Where the heck did I get all these gift bags? (If you'd like to borrow any boxes or gift bags, let me know. I'll gladly share.)

This is perhaps one of the best examples of my secret unorganized life. But you'll find the same thing in other places. Our kitchen cupboards are pretty tidy, but don't you dare open the tall one to the left of the refrigerator.

(The storage container cupboard to the right of the refrigerator was in the same shape until one day Conservative Boy almost drowned in all the sliding containers, threw them all out of the cupboard with a roar of anger, and set to making tidy piles of each shape and size of container. For as much as I am closet dirty, he is a closet neat freak. What a pair.)

Oh, and don't open that third drawer down on my side of the makeup counter in the bathroom. Bad idea. Bad. Or the trunk of my car. And don't look in my personal email account either—the mass of emails in there has led C.B. to contemplate trading me in for a more organized model on multiple occasions.

Fortunately, he hasn't given up hope on me yet.


Fried Cheese

I know, I know. I rant and rave on here about eating fresh, local, seasonal food and about how ingredients like HFCS are making people sick and obese. And then I go ahead and post this:

But look at it. It's delicious fried cheese. It's my weakness.

There's something about little orbs of cheese that have been deep fried that I swoon over. I can't explain it. I jump at the chance to eat these artery-clogging creations at state fairs, pubs, wherever I can find them.

I guess you could say I've become a fried cheese authority of sorts. So I was ecstatic to find out about a new takeout BBQ place in Lincoln (although I use the term "BBQ" loosely because there isn't a lot of that on the menu). Last week, Conservative Boy and I decided to try it out and consumed an incredibly healthy meal of fried food, fried food, and more fried food. It was all delicious but the tastiest part by far was the cheese. In fact, I think I am moving this cheese to the top of my L-Town fried cheese list.

But I will probably have to sample all the fried cheeses in town once more just to confirm this conclusion.