Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Breaking News

I have great news to share with you, friends!

My sweet, precious, smart, motivated, hard working husband was offered a position with another financial institution yesterday. He interviewed for the job about three weeks ago and will start on February 16. He will be a Business Analyst III in the Operations Division. We are so excited!

I am so proud of him. In less than a year, he has launched himself up the professional ladder and impressed a whole heck of a lot of the right people. We have prayed hard over the direction of his career ever since we got married almost 19 months ago. God has opened doors and directed our steps in perfect timing with His will.

This new opportunity will help us achieve so many of our goals a little sooner rather than later. We are excited to see what lies ahead. God has been good to us, and we give Him all the praise!

"Success comes when preparation meets opportunity." -Henry Hartman

60 Days + Packing Tips

Today marks 60 days until we leave for glorious Mexico again! It's our second trip in less than a year, and it will be a much needed vacation. We have had a lot going on in our lives over the past few weeks that I look forward to sharing with you soon. Someone posted this beautiful picture of the beach at the resort on the resort's Facebook page. Our trip can't get here soon enough!

While daydreaming about our vacation since we booked it today, I started to compile a sample packing list for someone taking an all inclusive tropical vacation. Of course, the amount you pack is contingent on how many days you are staying, so adjust accordingly. Here are a few of my suggestions (aside from obvious ones like a toothbrush and underoos):
  • 3-4 bathing suits: you live a bathing suits during the day in the tropics. they're tiny and lightweight - perfect for carry on luggage.
  • Tervis tumblers: most all inclusive resorts will fill up your tumbler instead of the tiny plastic cups on the beach or by the pool. tumbler = more drinky drinky and no sweaty glass!
  • medicine: everything from Tylenol to Immodium and everything in between. be sure to also pack a small first aid kit.
  • electronics: some of you know that we LOVE to stay in touch with home while we're away, so we take the laptop and cell phones with us. this also includes the DSLR camera and a point and shoot. having so many electronics with us also helps back up the photos we've taken. we keep them on the SD card, laptop, I-pod and smart phone. if we lose something, we're sure to have the photos backed up somewhere!
  • snacks: we discovered on our last trip to Mexico that US Airways no longer provides complimentary snacks in flight. not to mention, food in the airport is crazy expensive. take your own snacks that are high in sugar - nabs, honey buns, granola, etc. to keep you energized while you're traveling.
  • pens, passports, travel documents: when flying internationally, you will need these items with you in flight. take your own pens so you don't have to borrow someone else's to fill out your customs forms. this prevents the spread of germs too. (did you see "Contagion"?)
  • 3 dresses: you rarely eat with the same people each night, so no one will know that you're wearing the same dress to dinner on Saturday night that you wore on Wednesday night. pack jersey type material so if it gets bunched up during your travel, it won't wrinkle.
  • 3 pairs of shoes: 2 pairs in the suitcase; 1 pair on your feet. come on ladies, you're on vacation, not a runway. there's no need to pack your entire wardrobe. you are on vacation to relax, not impress.
  • plastic bags: include a quart size freezer back for each carry on. include a plastic grocery bag to pack wet bathing suits for the journey home.

Hope this packing tips help if you are going on a vacation somewhere fun and hot!

60 days. I can make it.

Monday, January 30, 2012

How to Plant & Maintain Bulbs

One of the cheapest ways to have beautiful flowers year after year is to plant bulbs. Bulbs are considered perennials. A variety of flowers start as bulbs that are usually planted in the Fall. Different bulbs should be planted at different depths. See this handy chart below:

When planting bulbs, it's important to remember to plant them pointed side up. My college roommate told me that she planted bulbs in her yard one year but they never came up. I told her she probably planted them pointed side down and they are now blooming in China. Planting bulbs is very easy as long as you have a bulb planter (and semi-soft soil):


Remember to plant bulbs in the Fall so they will bloom in the Spring. Some bulbs bloom in early March - sometimes as early as February in this area of North Carolina. Where you plant a bulb in your yard will depend on the amount of sun it requires. Look on the packaging to see where you should plant them. Place two to three bulbs in one hole, and remember to put them in pointed side up. Cover the bulbs with dirt and mulch or pine straw. Water and wait. (If you have a problem with squirrels digging up and eating the bulbs you've planted, try sticking golf balls in the flower bed or laying down chicken wire.) When the plants start to appear from beneath the Earth, they look like this:


I found this fantastic picture that shows the growth stage of a bulb. This picture shows a tulip. The growth process can take several weeks from the time you see the little green tip poke through the ground, so be patient. If it snows after the plant starts to show, don't worry - these little flowers are resilient.

At the end of the season, the plants will start to die. Fear not - they will return next year! Allow the plant to die and get sad looking. After all the leaves are brown and crunchy, gently pull them out of the ground. If you get resistance from any of them, leave them. You can pick them up later. This will allow for your flower beds to be clean and pretty and give the plants room to grow next year.

Happy planting!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Weekly Menu

Sunday - Spaghetti

Monday - Pork chops, rice a roni, corn

Tuesday - Chicken Parmesan, spaghetti noodles, green beans

Wednesday - Country style steak, mashed potatoes, broccoli

Thursday - Out to eat

Friday - Dental surgery, round 2. Meal TBD.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Learning to Drive

I do not recall the exact age that I started learning how to drive. Daddy let me drive the riding lawn mower all over the yard when I was still pretty young, and I would have to say this is when I began understanding the concept of having control over a moving vehicle/piece of machinery.

I eventually moved from the lawn mower to driving Daddy's truck around the yard. Although I drove with two feet and never went above 10 mph, I never hit anything and started learning where the vehicle was in relation to everything else around me.

At 14, Daddy would stop on Main Street in town (about a half mile from our house) and let me drive the rest of the way home from ballet practice. There were rarely other cars on the street, and we kept the speed to around 25 mph. I learned how to drive with one foot and use the turn signals, lights and windshield wipers.

I got my permit at 15 and drove my Daddy to the beach the very same day. He had some stuff to do for work, and I drove the entire three hours down and the entire three hours home. It was EXCELLENT practice and a great Daddy-daughter day. During the next year, I drove with Mom too - she never let the boys drive with her when they had their permit!

I got my license on my 16th birthday much to my delight. I drove Mom and me to Raleigh for lunch and had FOUR deer run out in front of me while on the way. Fortunately, I didn't hit any of them and kept my cool the whole time.

I was fortunate to have both parents very involved with my driving experience. They did a great job of teaching me everything I needed to know!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Living Word Family Church


I began attending Living Word Family Church with my brother and his wife in November 2007. This was a different church than I had ever been to. Growing up Baptist, I had never experienced a non-denominational, Spirit-led church. When John and I got engaged, he began attending LWFC with me. About six months after we were married, we decided to relocate our attendance to Living Word's satellite "South Campus" in Garner, as it is closer to our home.

"South" (as we affectionately call it) is perfect for us. With an average attendance of 75-100 people each Sunday, it feels like home - like family. We know the regular attenders. We have gotten involved by serving on a team (John facilitates the worship media and I am on the welcome team). We feel the Spirit each and every Sunday.

We are proud to call this OUR church. If you're looking for a church in this area, won't you join us? We would love to share our home and our Lord with you.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

For the Love of Football

It wasn't that long ago that I thought football was dumb. I didn't understand the game, nor did I understand why people got so excited over it. Almost three years ago, John explained the game of football to me and shared his passion for all things college and pro football related.

I had a choice: Learn the game and get excited over it or "lose" my husband during the months of September-February. You know what I chose. Now, I love me some football! College football is much more exciting to me than NFL, but now that these young college bucks are graduating and playing for the NFL, I'm learning to love that just as much.

We are HUGE Tim Tebow fans. Let's take a moment, shall we?

"Mmm, hey Timmy!"

Being that NCSU is John's alma mater, we are also big Wolfpack fans. Even though they don't always have a great season, we are still fans and enjoy watching their games. Go Pack!

When we got married, we talked a lot about whether or not to buy season tickets to State games. It's a huge expense for seats and an almost every weekend commitment September-November. There's also the extra expense for gas to drive to the games, food, alcohol, clean up and cute clothes. We decided against buying season tickets, so we make the best of game days at home.

A few things we have done to "homegate" (instead of tailgate):
  • Weather permitting, open the windows to the house and let the breeze flow through
  • Bring the TV from the bonus room into the living room so we can watch two games at once
  • Set up corn hole in the backyard
  • Cook and/or grill out - wings, buffalo chicken pizza, burgers, etc.
  • Turn on the gas logs and stay warm during those cold, late season games
  • Invite friends over to watch the game
  • Use the bathroom inside instead of in a port-a-potty
  • Listen to the commentators so you know what's going on
  • Not feel dumb if you cheer or boo for the wrong reason

Okay, maybe those last two are just for me. :)

Although we're not in the "moment" of the game with all the other fans, we still have a really good time watching at home. This year's football season is coming to a close, but we are already looking forward to it gearing up in the Fall.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Kitchen Duty

Each Sunday, we spend our morning at church, grab a bite to eat for lunch and come home. John usually spends these afternoons watching football (or whatever sport is in season) while I spend these afternoons in the kitchen. The kitchen is one of my true loves.

I typically spend 2-4 hours in the kitchen each Sunday afternoon. After putting on my most comfortable shoes, my apron and taking off my rings, I get started. Kitchen duty typically includes:
  • Writing the weekly menu on the calendar
  • Washing all produce - fruits and vegetables
  • Allowing porous fruits (mainly berries) to dry on the counter before putting them back in the refrigerator (this prevents mold from growing on the fruit)
  • Cutting up any produce that can be cut ahead of time, especially large fruit like melons
  • After cutting up melons (cantaloupe, honeydew, pineapple), I store them in individual plastic containers so they're easy to grab when packing lunches
  • Cutting fresh boneless, skinless chicken breasts in half length-wise and individually packaging two halves in sandwich size freezer bags before putting them in the freezer
  • Individually packaging other meats (pork chops, cube steak etc.) in sandwich size freezer bags and storing them in the freezer (This is a HUGE money saver for us. Since it's just the two of us, using a whole 1lb.+ package of meat for each meal doesn't make any sense. By packaging things individually, I can take out what we need without wasting food.)
  • Packing Monday lunches for John and me - sandwich, chips, cookies, string cheese, fruit, yogurt. Packing lunch the night before = more time to sleep in the morning.
  • Baking muffins for my breakfasts that week - I bake 8 muffins and store them in a large plastic container. The container goes with me to the office on Monday morning and stays under my desk. Each day, I eat 2 muffins (my company caters breakfast every Friday, so I only need 4 days of breakfasts). I take the container home with me on Thursday evenings. This prevents me from having to make breakfast at home before work every morning = more time to sleep.
  • Preparing Sunday night's dinner - Sunday night is usually the night I try a new recipe since I have unlimited amounts of time to spend in the kitchen.
  • Washing the kitchen items I use as I go. If you'll "clean as you go" (thanks Mom!), it will make cleaning up in the end much easier.
  • Cleaning up. After it's all over, I put away all items that I used and wipe every kitchen surface down with Windex and a paper towel.

I love kitchen duty. I love being in the kitchen while John's in the living room watching sports. I love preparing all these things ahead of time so that my daily load during the week is a little lighter. Yes, I spend several hours doing this, but I take my time - it could probably be done a lot faster. Preparing ahead of time saves SO much time in the long run. I'd encourage everyone to spend an hour in the kitchen each weekend to prepare for the week ahead. You'll thank yourself (and maybe me) later.

Monday, January 23, 2012

It's January, But...

*This is not a sponsored post.

Let the season of never-ending yard work BEGIN! That's right - we're just a couple of weeks away from preparing our lawn for the growing season. Here's a run down of what we do to our Bermuda grass between the months of February-November to keep our yard looking spiffy!

February
Apply pre-emergent to lawn. This is going to give the lawn nutrients and start killing off weeds before they can take root. It will also help your lawn turn green a little faster. We like to use Scotts Haltz with Crabgrass Preventer.

April
Apply post-emergent. This will help build roots and prevent dandelions and other major weeds, like onions (we have these SO bad). We like to use Scotts Turf Builder with PLUS 2 Weed Control.

June
Apply fertilizer/summer heat guard. This will help to feed the lawn and strengthen it against heat and drought. We like to use Scotts Turf Builder with SummerGuard.

August
Apply late summer fertilizer. This will help to give an extra boost to what was done in June. We like to use Scotts Southern Turf Builder with 2% Iron.

November
Apply winter guard (no, not like the group you danced in during high school). This will protect the lawn for the long winter ahead and strengthen it for the next growing season. We like to use Scotts Turf Builder with WinterGuard Fall Lawn Fertilizer.

You can go directly to Scotts website and customize your Lawn Care Program just like we did. Our goal this summer is to continue making our yard healthy and green, and we'd love to win Yard of the Month!

A couple of other things we do to prepare for the summer are:
  • Trim and/or limb up trees in the yard - we have 5 wimpy baby trees that need shaping
  • Shape greenery - the five boxwoods in the front bed need extra care
  • Plant bulbs - this should actually happen in the fall before the ground gets hard*

I'll be doing an "All About Bulbs" post next Monday, so check back for more information!

Every season except for Winter is my favorite season for many different reasons. The Spring is such an exciting time of growth and COLOR, so I love it dearly. Working in the yard is a lot of fun and is something I enjoy. I love coming home at the end of the day in the Spring/Summer and seeing the beautiful work we have done. I'll post pictures throughout the next few months.

Weekend Review

Our weekend was very laid back. John wasn't feeling well all day on Friday, and he was in bed by 5:30 Friday night. I spent the evening eating homemade tacos and watching repeat episodes of "House Hunters".

We got up Saturday morning, and John was feeling a little better, so we went to the grocery store to pick up our weekly items. We decided to go see "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" that afternoon with a gift card to the movies (movies are SO expensive these days!). The movie was so sad. Like, "Marley and Me" kind of sad. I'd Red Box it if I were you. We laid around the rest of the afternoon, picked up pizza for dinner and watched reruns of "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives". We're exciting, aren't we!?

John still wasn't feeling 100% on Sunday morning, but we made it to church and lunch before coming home to snuggle down and turn the gas logs on. It was SO cold and rainy outside that we didn't want to do anything but wrap up in a blanket. I made beef stroganoff for dinner, and it was no bueno. Not good at all. Good thing we had leftovers (pizza, tacos, sandwiches) from the weekend in the fridge, so we just grubbed down on that.

Poor John is still at home today. He's just not feeling well. I'm hoping he can get LOTS of rest and snuggle time with Milo, RN. Hope you had an awesome weekend!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Weekly Menu

It's menu time again! Here's what we're having this week:

Sunday - Beef straganoff and cabbage

Monday - Whole chicken, roasted potatoes, cabbage

Tuesday - Meatloaf, rice, okra

Wednesday - Grilled chicken and veggies

Thursday - Chicken alfredo and Texas toast

Friday, January 20, 2012

Time Management at Home

Time management has always been a skill of mine. Be it school or work, I've always been able to manage my time wisely and multitask to accomplish a lot in a short amount of time. My favorite place to test my skill is at home with household chores or kitchen duties (more on kitchen duty next week - stay tuned!). Here are a few tips to make the most of your time at home:
  • Make a list of the tasks you need to accomplish.
  • Rank the tasks in descending order based on the amount of time it will take to accomplish each task.
  • Start with the task that will take the most time, such as a large load of laundry. Do this task first.
  • Move on to the next task, such as baking something yummy. Preheat the oven first, then prepare the dish and put it in the oven to bake while the laundry is going.
  • While the laundry and oven are doing their thing, start dusting. This will likely take some time, but it will be quiet so you can hear when the washer/dryer or oven timer stop.
  • Vacuum after you've dusted and the dust has fallen onto your floor. I'm big on "top to bottom" cleaning. Thank you, Daddy, for teaching me this concept when you taught me how to wash a car all those years ago!
  • Clean the bathrooms last. Why? Because cleaning bathrooms stinks!!!!
  • A secret to staying motivated: Keep your shoes on while doing chores! A psych professor in college once told me that if you keep your shoes on, your brain is focused on working instead of relaxing. Not sure how much truth is in that, but keeping your shoes on WILL prevent you from curling up on the couch or kicking your feet up on the ottoman to relax and watch Bridezillas. Just sayin'.
  • Now let's head outside. Yard work at the Sykes' Plantation (ha!) is never-ending between the months of February-November. John and I work together to maximize our time so we aren't in the yard for hours on end.
  • We begin by John weed eating and me cutting the grass. I only cut the flat parts of the yard, as our yard is very hilly and it's extremely difficult for me to push a mower up the hills.
  • John usually finishes weed eating before I'm done with the grass, so he moves on to edging the parts of the yard I have already cut. After we're done, he cuts the parts of the yard I wasn't able to get.
  • While he's finishing up the yard, I take the blower and blow off the driveway, back porch and sidewalks. I also take the water hose and give the plants and flowers a good soaking.
  • We finish up yard work by inspecting flower beds for weeds, which we promptly pull out and throw away.

Life is short. Who wants to spend it doing chores? Not this girl. Work together as a team and organize your time so you get the most of out it. I'll discuss what I call "Kitchen Duty" in detail next Tuesday, so check back for details! Have a great weekend everybody!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Why I Chose Meredith College

A sketch of Johnson Hall - Administrative Building.

For those of you who are not familiar, Meredith College is an all women's college in Raleigh, NC. To my knowledge, it is the largest all women's college in the Southeast with an approximate total enrollment of 3,000. This is my alma mater.

When I was ten years old, I had a dance recital on Meredith's campus. Just before entering the auditorium for the evening, I saw a woman having her bridal portraits made. For whatever reason, I was hooked - this is where I wanted to go to college. For the next seven years, my mind never changed. In September 2000, applied via early decision application for admission to Meredith in the Fall of 2001. I received my acceptance package in the mail on November 1. Just thinking about that glorious day still brings tears to my eyes.

I got home from school that afternoon and checked the mailbox to find a large envelope from Meredith. Since Mom was still at work, I called her to tell her what I had found. She told me not to open it. Too late! I had already sliced the end with a knife and was waiting to pull out the contents. I told her I couldn't wait - I had to open it right then. She said okay. I slowly pulled out the papers and read the first sentence of the letter...

"Welcome to the Meredith community!"

"MOM!!! IT SAYS WELCOME TO THE MEREDITH COMMUNITY! OH MY GOSH, WE GOT IN! WE GOT IN! WE GOT INNNNNNNNN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" Mom and I laughed and cried and squealed and celebrated over the phone. My next call was to Daddy who I also laughed and cried and squealed and celebrated with (yes, I'm pretty sure my Daddy squealed too)! It was the best day of my seventeen year life.

But why? Why was this so wonderful? Why was I so excited to go to college?

Because to me, this wasn't just a college. The reputation for quality education and well respected women lured me to attend. It was something I had dreamed of for most of my life. Meredith, to me, represented everything I wanted to be.

I wanted the stellar education. I wanted to graduate in four years. I wanted the support of professors and staff. I wanted the female companionship that my heart had so longed for during middle and high school. I wanted the safety of a small school surrounded by a large wrought iron fence and security guards at its only two entrances. I wanted the large dorm room with excellent dining hall food. I wanted the tradition and history that only this school could offer. I wanted to be close to home but far enough away to develop more of my independence.

I wanted to be a Meredith girl.

My years at Meredith lived up to every expectation I had. In class, I learned more than I could have ever imagined, and this knowledge is something I continue to use daily. The endless traditions (Honor Code Ceremony, Ring Dinner, Cornhuskin', Freshman Frolic, Crook Hunt, Spring Fling, etc.) are memories that I look back on and smile. The friendships I made while there are friends that I will have for the rest of my life.

I love that sometimes we had A/C and sometimes we didn't. I love that I registered for classes old school style by sitting in the hallway outside of the registrars office (with no central air) twice a year and praying that the classes I needed wouldn't be wiped off the white board at the top of every hour. I love that we didn't have digital cameras, Facebook or MySpace.

I will always remember the cold winters at Meredith and sledding down the hills after stealing lunch trays from the dining hall. I will always remember my favorite professors and their willingness to help me do whatever it took for me to be successful. I will always remember the friends I made and the memories we shared. I will always remember late night Cornhuskin' practices in the freezing cold.

I proudly wear my Onyx on my right hand. Whenever someone asks if I went to Meredith, I am happy to tell them yes!

I am proud to be a Meredith woman.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

My Favorite Body Care Products

*I was not solicited by any company to write this post. These are my personal preferences and opinions.

There are so many body care products on the market these days for both men and women. My preferences for what products I use really haven't changed that much over the years. Here's a run down of some of my favorite body care products:

Clinique
Okay, so maybe this is more beauty care, but I love Clinique facial skin care and make up. I started using it my freshman year of college. I use the 3 step skin care program with the oily skin liquid facial soap, step 4 cleanser and the moisturizing gel. I also use the foundation, loose powder, eye shadow and mascara. I use Cover Girl for eye liner. These products really work for me, but I'm not a big make up person, so it's all very basic.

Dove
I've been using Dove soap since my Mama started bathing me with it as a newborn. In recent years, Dove has come out with different versions of their soap and even body wash, but I stick to the plain ole white Dove soap for washing my face at night and shaving my legs. To me, there's just nothing better than the sweet, clean smell of white Dove soap.
Pantene
I have also been using Pantene since I was a child. There's just no need to get all crazy fancy with hair care, in my opinion. I use the volumizing two in one (shampoo + conditioner) for my fine hair. I also use the spray leave-in conditioner after I get out of the shower. It helps get the tangles out!
Aveeno
Oh my - Aveeno is my latest discovery. When I could no longer justify paying $14/bottle to Bath and Body Works for body wash, I had to look into something different. Off to Wal-Mart I went where I decided to try Aveeno. It's still a little pricey, but with Wal-Mart prices AND the fabulous coupons in the Sunday paper, it's a much better deal than B&BW. I'm not scent specific because I love them all.
Those are a few things that I use on a daily basis. I also use Jergens unscented body lotion on my entire body everyday. My great-Granny used this product as well, and when she passed away, the person who prepared her body told my Mom that Granny had the most beautiful skin. Mom and I have used Jergens daily ever since then. I am still trying to find another brand of hair gel/cream. I prefer to use curling cream instead of a spray since sprays just make the bathroom surfaces disgusting. I've tried a bunch of different ones since Matrix Curl Life was discontinued and haven't found one I love yet.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Weekend Review

Sorry for the all the posts today - I totally forgot to blog yesterday. We had a pretty busy weekend.

John was in another wedding for one of his fraternity brothers. The rehearsal was Friday night, and the dinner afterwards was at Fleming's Steakhouse. The food was delicious! We had a nice time getting dressed up and having a fancy night out.

We didn't do much on Saturday before we had to leave so John could be at the church by 3:30. The wedding was absolutely beautiful and the reception was lovely. We had a really nice time and are so happy for the new Mr. and Mrs.! We hope they are enjoying their honeymoon in the Bahamas this week.

We served at church on Sunday and enjoyed a pot luck lunch after service with our church family. We left church and returned John's tux before heading home to relax. We went back for Sunday night service and picked up take-out Chinese and Japanese on the way home.

We were able to relax on our day off yesterday. Neither of us had a shower before 4pm! I had "kitchen duty" and did a couple loads of laundry, but overall - I did very little. It was so nice!!

Today marks 18 months that we've been married. We are still loving life and marriage. It gets easier as each week and month passes. We are 74 days away from our second trip to Mexico in a year, and after watching a special on Mexico on The Travel Channel yesterday, we are ready!

Hope you had a great weekend as well!

Can't Sleep? Try These Relaxation Techniques!

I'm not a good sleeper. I'm not sure that I've ever been. It takes me a long time to fall asleep, and I'm usually up 2-3 times each night to either pee or blow my nose. That's hot, isn't it!? Usually my sleep issues are related to Milo being in my way, not being able to breathe through my nose or having to pee (seriously, I always go before bed and I'm not pregnant - I don't know what the problem is!!).

Anyway, when I was in college, it would take me an hour or more to fall asleep because of everything going through my brain. Y'all remember what those days were like! So one day, I asked my most favorite Psychology professor at Meredith, Dr. Jack Huber, what I could do to help slow the busyness going on in my brain when trying to sleep. Here are some awesome tips that he gave me that I still use on an as needed basis today:

  • Use your bed only for sleeping. Don't read or watch TV in bed. When you do that, you train your brain to recognize that space as an area that you do not sleep. Conversely, don't take naps on the couch. Your brain will then recognize the couch as your place to sleep.
  • Lay on your back with your eyes closed, arms by your side and focus on your breathing. Slowly take deep breaths in and out. FOCUS on this activity - listen to yourself breathe, pay attention to the rise and fall of your chest. Allow your mind to focus only on what you are doing.
  • While laying on your back with your eyes closed, envision a black space. Envision the number ten slowly appearing in white. Take a deep breath and blow out the air, envisioning the number disappearing with your breath. Slowing repeat this exercise for numbers 9-0. Really focus on this activity. Allow your mind to stop thinking about everything you have going on and really pay attention to the numbers decreasing and disappearing.
  • Again, laying on your back with your eyes closed, slowly flex and release different areas of your body. Start with your face - eyes, nose, mouth. Move to your neck, shoulders, chest and abdomen. Move to your arms. Move to your hips and gluteus maximus, down to your thighs, knees and calves. Finish with your feet. You can practice this exercise in the opposite direction if you prefer.
  • You can always try the old "think of a place you find beautiful" (i.e. - beach, mountains, etc.), but I've found that doing this allows my mind to wander back onto the busyness of life.

Try these techniques the next time you find your mind "just can't shut off". Sweet dreams!

"Family is the Most Important Thing"

Without throwing a pity party here on this Tuesday morning, it has been my experience in life that the only people you can really depend on to stick with you no matter what is FAMILY.

I had my fair share of girl drama and friends who came and went over the years, but through it all, my family remained. As I grew up, I gained two wonderful sisters-in-law, and now that I am married, I have gained another wonderful sister-in-law. I am a blessed girl. My immediate family is a very tight-knit group. Though we've had our ups and downs, we are fiercely loyal to one another.

Because of this family dynamic, it has always been important to me to live close to my family. When dating John, it pleased me to know that he feels the same way. Neither of us have ever dreamed of leaving this state or moving more than an hour away from our dearest loved ones. We are about 40 minutes from John's parents and about 20 minutes from my parents. We are about 45 minutes from John's sister and about 15 minutes from my brothers.

Having our family close by only benefits the members. Both sets of our parents are great about not meddling, not coming by unannounced and allowing us to live our lives. We are able to see each other as much or as little as we wish. If a need arises, we are able to gather around that person and support them in any way they need. We know what is going on in each others lives, and we are not strangers. We are able to share our lives in a way that we wouldn't be able to if we lived out of state.

Family is the most important thing. We are so blessed to have an amazing family who loves us (and us them) unconditionally. We may have our squabbles from time to time, but at the end of the day, we are family.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Rawhide

video

Why, yes I do let Milo take his treat straight from my own mouth. I love that dog.

Weekly Menu

Sunday - Date night

Monday - Steak and baked potatoes

Tuesday - Chicken piccata, egg noodles, roasted asparagus

Wednesday - Pan fried tilapia (again - yum!), sauteed squash and onions, rice pilaf

Thursday - Tacos

Friday, January 13, 2012

How to Make Perfect Southern Sweet Tea

We always have home made sweet tea in the refrigerator. Most of the time, I make a gallon each week, but with the weight loss/toning goals of 2012 in our household, I have cut back to two quarts. Here are the steps that I take to make my version of the “perfect Southern sweet tea”.

Step One

Choose a tea bag. I haven’t found a favorite, as I think it’s hard to tell a difference, but I do use family size DECAFFEINATED tea bags. Sometimes I buy the store brand, sometimes I buy brand name – usually Lipton.

Step Two

Get a tea kettle. Boiling it in a pot may be fine for some people, but this girl needs a tea kettle. I got a new one from Santa Grammy (my mom) for Christmas that makes two quarts at a time!

Step Three

Fill your tea kettle to the fill line with tap water. Place kettle on the stove on HIGH. For best results, match the size of the tea kettle base with the size of the eye on the stove. For two quarts, insert one family size tea bag (or two regular size tea bags). For one gallon, insert two family size tea bags (or four regular size tea bags). With the string and paper hanging out of the top, snap the lid on the kettle.

Step Four

While the tea is steeping, prepare the pitcher you are going to put it in. For two quarts, I recommend 1/2 cup of sugar. For a gallon, I recommend 1 cup of sugar. If you prefer less sweet (who would want that??), add less sugar!

Step Five

Allow the tea to boil. Once the tea kettle starts singing really high, remove from heat and turn off the eye. Remove the lid and remove the tea bag. Watch out for the steam! Remember to squeeze the tea bag before lifting out of the kettle by using a wooden spoon and pressing the bag against the inside of the kettle.

Step Six

…are there really this many steps to making sweet tea?? Pour the hot tea from the kettle into the pitcher. Again, watch out for the steam! Using a wooden spoon, stir the tea and sugar until the sugar dissolves. Add more cold water to fill the pitcher to capacity.

Step Seven

And this is important: For the best taste, refrigerate the tea overnight (or at least 8-10 hours). This will allow the sugar to get all yummy in the tea and will make sure that the tea is good and cold. Pour over ice and enjoy!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Travel Agent Myths Debunked PLUS Benefits!

*I was not asked by Exley Travel to write this blog. These are my unsolicited thoughts.

When discussing our travel plans with a friend in late 2010, she suggested that we contact her travel agent, Alex Case at Exley Travel just outside of Charlotte. Having never used a travel agent before, I was hesitant to contact her but decided to give it a try. It turns out that she was a fabulous resource for us when planning our vacation, and she was able to get us a much better deal than we could find on the internet. We are so glad that she is now our travel agent for life!

Ever thought about using a travel agent? Here are a couple of common misconceptions:
  • Travel agents have fees - Not so. Travel agents are paid by the companies they book for. For example, the vacations our agent has booked for us have been through US Airways Vacations. They pay her, not us.
  • The internet has better rates - Not always. For our upcoming trip to Mexico, Alex was able to beat the rates we found on the internet by $700! Most agents can try to match the price you find on the internet if it is lower than the rate they offer you.
And here are some of the other benefits of using a travel agent:
  • The agent does all the work for you - Who has time to sit on the internet and search and search for good travel deals? Heck, who WANTS to do that? Not me. We email our agent our wishes and budget, and she presents us with a few of our options. She's even gone so far as to suggest different locations that we hadn't thought of that would fulfill our requests and budget. How sweet is that!?
  • When booking, you pay a small deposit and pay the balance 45 days before travel - You absolutely can not do this via the internet, folks! Each trip we have booked through Alex allows us to pay a $300 deposit at the time of booking and pay the balance for the trip 45 days before we leave. This allows you to save your money a little longer instead of paying it up front!
  • The agent takes care of all paperwork - Upon paying the balance, the agent will send you all your paperwork: boarding passes, airport transfer papers and other fun things like koozies! She will also take care of making sure you receive your frequent flier miles so you can redeem them when you've racked up enough of them.
  • The agent is your advocate during travel - Should something go wrong during your trip, such as missing a flight or not getting the room you requested, you can call your agent and she will handle it for you. Sometimes when booking through those discount travel sites, airlines and hotels are not as accommodating when you have a problem.
  • Travel agents have the inside 411 - Travel agents often have access to deals that the internet will never advertise. If you have an agent on your side, she can send you deals as they come up. If you use an agent repeatedly, she will get to know you and what your travel wishes are so she can cater these email alerts to you.
  • Travel agents are cool - Who wouldn't want a friend in the travel industry? We really love our travel agent and are so glad we've seen the light.
If you're interested in using a travel agent for your next trip (foreign or domestic!), give our agent a shout.
It's Alex Case at Exley Travel: alex[at]exleytravel{dot}com. Tell her we sent you.
Happy traveling!

Determining Net Worth

I have always been and still am pretty passionate about personal financial responsibility. It angers me to know that our country is in dire financial straights because of a lack of corporate AND personal financial responsibility. I started following a blog a few months ago that focuses on personal finance, and the writer recently posted about determining net worth.

What is net worth? Net worth is the total of your assets minus the total of your debts.

Yesterday, I ran some rough numbers to determine our net worth and was pleasantly surprised!

If you're interested in figuring out your net worth, here's my very simplistic version of how calculate it:

Total Assets:
Home
Vehicles
Retirement accounts (include pensions, 401(k)s, IRAs)
Valuables (anything over $1k, i.e. jewelry)
Cash (savings, CDs, STCs, bonds, etc.)
Anything else that would add to your assets

Total Debts:
Mortgage balance
Vehicle loans
Student loans
Home equity
Credit cards
Anything else that would add to your debts

Total your assets. Total your debts. Subtract the total of your debts from the total of your assets and you have your net worth!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

$0.50

My in-laws have the cutest marriage even after almost 35 years! They joke and flirt and are affectionate, and it’s precious to see how in love they are even after all these years. One thing they do, and perhaps have always done, is compete. It’s nothing serious – a very friendly competition. It is usually over something very small, and it’s almost always in the form of a $0.50 bet. For example, when arriving home in the evening, one might say, “$0.50 that you left that light on in the kitchen.” Although it means nothing and carries no weight, it’s something fun that they enjoy doing. No one actually pays the other, by the way.

I’m happy to say that this is something fun we’ve carried over into our marriage. It can be on the dumbest thing, or it can be on something as serious as the outcome of a football game.

“$0.50 that the Broncos will win tonight.”

“$0.50 that you left the garage door open.”

“$0.50 that Milo’s hiding under the bed.”

Silly, but fun. It’s so important to keep the “fun” in the relationship, no matter how many years have passed!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Organized Storage Space

I pride myself on being organized and tidy. Cleaning and organizing is a stress reliever for me, so there are usually a few times a year that I spend a weekend reorganizing the storage locations in our home. When taking down Christmas this year, the mood to reorganize hit.

Attic

We have a small walk-in attic storage space off the bonus room in our house. It’s unfinished but has plywood floors and a light. Our HVAC system is located in this room as well. It gets very hot in the Summer and very cold in the Winter. After Christmas, I moved all of the “Decorations” storage boxes to this space. Each box has a label (thank you P-Touch label maker) so it’s easy to remember what’s inside (i.e. Ornaments, Snowmen, etc.). The boxes are not over-filled, so they are easily stackable. The Christmas tree is in a rolling bag and is kept on the floor of this space. I have one box of Fall decorations, and these are located here as well. Any decorations that require climate control are located in the closet of the guest bedroom.

Guest Bedroom

This closet houses Christmas decorations that require climate control: the Willow Tree Angel Nativity. This closet is also home to extra linens that won’t fit in either linen closet: pillows, quilts, blankets. These items are kept in the closet with a box of moth balls or in a plastic box with a couple of moth balls dropped inside. Moth balls, in case you don’t know, keep moths from eating linens during the Spring and Summer. Not all fabrics require moth balls, but I use them often just to keep things safe. It is easy to air the fabrics out by either washing them or hanging them on the clothes line (or over a shower curtain rod or laundry drying rack if you don’t have a clothes line) for a couple of hours.

Office

The closet in the office keeps the wrapping paper box, gift bag box and boxes box (you get the idea). It’s my go-to for all things gift-giving! The party box is also located in this closet. I began the party box in 2011 when John turned 25 and we hosted a big party at our house. It is a box full of different types of party gear – paper plates, napkins, cups, plasticware, decorations, etc. for a variety of events, but mainly birthday parties. It’s a great place to keep it all together. When a party or event that I am hosting is approaching, I check the box to see what I have before I go out and shop for what I need!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Fashion Help!

John is in a very fancy wedding this weekend. The rehearsal is at 5pm with the dinner following at 6:30pm at a very nice restaurant in Raleigh. Since it's supposed to be in the 40s during the day and the 20s at night this weekend, I was going to wear nice, black dress slacks with a sparkly top for the rehearsal dinner. Is this appropriate?

As for the wedding, it is a 5pm wedding, so I'm assuming this is cocktail attire? I have three very nice cocktail dresses that are knee length and strapless - not exactly ideal for 20 degree weather. Any ideas for alternate dress or keeping warm in a cocktail dress? The last thing I want is to wear my coat all night.

Suggestions are welcome!!!!!

This Week's Menu - A Day Late

I was thinking about starting to post our weekly menu as a way to give you some ideas for your own menus and how to keep variety in your meals. Albeit a day late, here is our menu for this week:

Sunday- Hot dogs, fries, tomato and cucumber slices

Monday - Chicken Parmesan, angel hair pasta, sauteed green beans

Tuesday - Pan seared tilapia, sauteed squash and onions, roasted potato wedges

Wednesday - Country style steak, rice, corn (in your area of the country, this might be called hamburger steak or chicken fried steak with gravy)

Thursday - Homemade buffalo chicken salads with tomato, cucumber, salad crunchies and cheese

Friday/Saturday - I do not cook on these nights.

If you'd like the recipe for any of these dishes, please let me know. I'm happy to share!

Weekend Review

This weekend was really nice and laid back. John got off work a little early on Friday, so he went to the gym and in the process got a nail in one of the brand new Michelin's we put on his car back on November. We called my brother, who works at a car dealership, and he advised us to put the spare on and bring the car to the dealership the next day.

After all that was over, we went to El Tapatio for dinner and to Wal-Mart for groceries. Something must have been wrong with the registers because the lines were abnormally long. You would've thought a hurricane or snow storm was coming - it took us about 20 minutes to get checked out! Once home, we put groceries away and watched "Friends with Benefits" that John got on Bluray for his birthday last week.

We got up Saturday morning and John went to the dealership to meet my brother. We received a huge blessing when we learned that the nail hadn't punctured the tire - it was just stuck in the rubber. Thank goodness!! I went to the Starving Artist sale with my Mom to try and find the same 16x20 frame that we had put my bridal portrait in back in 2010. I wanted to frame another portrait of both of us from that day to hang beside my portrait in our bedroom. Success - we found one!! I'm looking forward to ordering another portrait and updating our room a bit.

Mom and I met John at Chickfila for lunch, and after lunch we finished up grocery shopping at Lowe's Foods. When we got home, I found that John had vacuumed the entire house, made the bed and started laundry! He is such a good husband! We worked together and cleaned the inside and outside of all 12 windows in our house. It looks SO much better now. After folding two loads of laundry, the three of us walked a little over 1.5 miles! THEN, we came home and played almost two hours of Kinect Sports! I'm not sure what had gotten into us, but it was such a beautiful, warm day that I guess it just made us super productive. We picked up wings at Zaxby's for dinner and watched some football that night.

We went to church Sunday morning and rode around looking at land after that. We checked out the lot I had my eye on, and unfortunately, it's not as great as I thought. It has a really bad slope, isn't as wide as I hoped it would be, and is about 100 yards from very large powerlines. The right thing will work out when the time comes. I spent that afternoon on "kitchen duty" getting us ready for the week, and John spent a couple hours at the gym with a buddy from church. We had hot dogs for dinner and watched the Broncos beat out the Steelers in overtime! GB2!!!

Hope you had a great weekend!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Ideas for a Happy Lunch Break

Most everyone working a full time job is allowed a one hour lunch break each day. We all take that time to eat our lunch, run errands, etc. but here are some other ideas for a happy lunch hour - and they're all FREE!!
  • Find a bench outside and read a book.
  • Drive to the top of your parking deck, crack the windows and catch a nap. Be sure to set the alarm of your cell phone so you don't oversleep!
  • Sit at Starbucks and people watch.
  • Sit at the mall and people watch.
  • Sit in the lobby of your building and people watch.
  • I like people watching.
  • Learn how to knit or crochet, and spend your lunch hour practicing somewhere quiet.
  • Organize your coupons and make next week's menu and grocery list.
  • Clean out your purse.
  • Go to the library and check out or download a new book or magazine.
  • Take a 20-30 minute power walk. If your location isn't conducive, drive to a local park, college campus, shopping center or mall and walk there.
  • If you and your honey take the same lunch hour, call each other and have a mid-day download session of how your day is going. Tell each other how much you love each other!
  • Scroll through the pictures on your phone of your pet. Those are sure to make you smile!

Happy lunching!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Direction

I started blogging back in 2007 when I realized how much I enjoyed reading other people's blogs. The blog world is so huge, and deep down, I wanted to be a part of it.

My blog started as something simple. It was about me and my life as a single gal living in the city with my sweet dog. As time went on, the blog turned into a place where a documented the adventures of dating my future husband, our engagement, wedding planning, house building and all the interesting things that go along with that.

Once married, I closed my first blog and opened a new one. It would be a place where I shared our lives as newlyweds. It has been a great outlet for me to share my thoughts about a variety of topics.

As I begin this year of 2012, I've done a lot of soul searching about the direction of this blog. What do I want to accomplish? Why do I blog at all? Who is reading it and why do they care?

The internet is a large place. It is global. Anyone can read this blog. Many of my readers do not identify themselves, so I'm not always certain who I am addressing. I do not wish for this to always be a cupcake blog where I write about my weekend, my favorite recipe or the latest precious thing that Milo did. Sometimes, I want to write about things with substance, things readers care about, things I care about.

So, I've come to this conclusion: There are several things that I enjoy, that I am passionate about, or have a great deal of knowledge. Among the "cupcake" topics, I would like to start posting about these things.

And...

I would like your input! Are there things that you would like to read? Are there any topics you'd like for me to cover? I'm open to suggestions, so send them my way either by leaving a comment or emailing me at beckyrsykes[at]gmail{dot}com.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

1st Post of 2012!

I suppose I will jump on the bandwagon with the rest of the bloggers today and reflect on the most recent year's passing. 2011 was pretty awesome for us. We were just normal. Not engaged. Not building a house. Not newlywed. Just us. Finally.

We kicked off January with John's 25th birthday celebration at our house. All immediate family members came for dinner and cake - make that 19 folks in our 1750 square foot home. Ole!

Life settled down until late April when we flew to wonderful Mexico for a long Easter weekend getaway. It was perfect. Y'all probably don't need a recap and don't want to hear how we're going back in 88 days. Not that I'm counting...

May brought a bit of fear and sadness as Milo had surgery to remove what we learned was a benign cancerous tumor from his leg. God has healed him and protected him from cancer returning for almost one year now. We are thankful.

We spent a week at Emerald Isle in late June/early July for the Annual Rudder Family Beach Vacation. It too, was perfect. We had plenty of family time, fun, food, sand and sun! Shortly after returning from the beach, we celebrated our one year anniversary quietly. That's what we like. Being married is just awesome.

The next few months were calm again, but October was a busy one! John was in the wedding of a childhood friend and we traveled with John's family for a fun day at Kings Dominion. It was such a good time, and we were exhausted when we got home.

The holidays geared up and rounded out of 2011. Since you just got to read all about those, I won't review them. We are looking forward to 2012 and all it will bring. Hope you had a pleasant Christmas season and new year.

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