Saturday, December 31, 2011

My Very Own "Happiness Project"

I've mentioned "The Happiness Project" in my last two blog posts, so I wanted to take a moment to tell you why I loved this book so much, and why I highly recommend it to anyone who is trying to enjoy their life more and be present in every situation. I honestly don't know where to begin, so I'll just give you a brief synopsis of the book so you know if you would benefit from reading it or not.

Gretchen Rubin, the author, realized that although she was happy, she was letting life slide by without soaking in the moments She knew she could become even happier. So she started her own "happiness project". Each month she concentrated on a certain area of her life to intentionally become a happier person. One month she organized and purged. Another month she focused on parenting. This chapter was especially inspirational for me. She made her kids laugh at least once a day. She gave them time without any other distractions. One of her main rules was "Be Gretchen." She realized that she had to be who she was, not what she thought she should be or what others thought she should be.

Disclaimer: Parts of the book I found unrelatable. For example, one month she focused on finding a spirtual master. Way to "new-agey" for me. I absolutely believe that Jesus Christ should be the center of our life and without Him it is impossible to be truly satisfied, but I also believe that in some ways we are masters of our own fate and there are ways we can make our like better than its current state.

It sounds cheesy, but this book has really changed my life. There. I said it. It's crazy, but it's true. I feel totally empowered and inspired. Let me give you some examples:

  • The other night I was so tired of looking at Ysmaille's pile of clothes on his dresser. So I folded them and hung them up. It took maybe a minute. I immediately felt better and I'm sure he appreciated that I wasn't nagging.

  • Today I was on the internet, for no other reason that it was available. I noticed Ysmaille and Amirah on the floor playing. They were having so much fun together. And although I was in the room with them I was totally unengaged. I stopped what I was doing and joined them.

  • Last night as I was driving to a party the song "Cotton-eye Joe" came on the radio. I immediately turned the station because I didn't want anyone to hear me listening to THAT song. Then I thought, "This is ridiculous. I actually kind of like this song and it makes me happy." So I turned it up and sang along. I was being Melanie. No apologies.

I don't know what the next 12 weeks will look like, but I do know this. I am going to make some small changes to my life that will hopefully add up in a big way.

January's goal: Organize and purge.

I've already cleaned out Amirah's closet and started reading "Simplify Your Life: Get Organized and Stay That Way!" Thanks to Sabrina for the loan.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

2011 Resolutions: 1 out of 3 Ain't Bad

In 2011 I made three resolutions.
One of them I dismally failed at (having someone over once a month). Fail.
One of them I succeeded partway (choosing a different friend to pray for and encourage each month). Better luck next time.
One of them I proudly accomplished (reading 12 books- one each month). I did it!

The White Masai is a non-fiction book about a European who falls in love with a Masai, moves to Kenya, and has his child even though it means living in a hut and not sharing the same language with her husband. It's a train wreck, but interesting.

Something Borrowed is a romantic love triangle that takes places in NYC. It's a quick easy read, but certainly not life-changing.

Something Blue is a the sequel to Something Borrowed. It's got a somewhat predictible ending, but it's still an enjoyable read.

If you haven't read any of Alexander McCall Smith's books from the "No. 1 Ladies Dective Agency" you are missing out. They take place in Botswana and are a great look into the culture of this African nation. The characters are fantastic. Kalahari Typing School for Men does not dissapoint.

Sweet Valley Confidential. Okay. Not the most mature pick I've ever made, but I couldn't resist this book because I had grown up reading Sweet Valley Twins and later Sweet Valley High. Scandalous.

I wrote a review of Julie and Julia this summer as part of my Summer List 2011. It's a somewhat dry book, but if you are interested in cooking it might appeal to you. Plus, I generally just enjoy books that discuss someone's resolution to complete a goal.

I enjoyed All the Finest Girls primarily because I could make connections to my own life. Part of the setting was on a Caribbean island. It is a very strange read, but kind of intriguing

Love and Respect. People have been reccomending I read this book for over a year and I finally did. I won't say it revolutionized my marriage, because I am still working on changing how I respect Ysmaille, but I highly reccomend this book. It certainly changes the way I look at love and respect in a marriage.

The Help is fantastic! I love it on so many levels. The characters are irresistible. The setting is in the Deep South during the middle of the 1900s and takes a close look at race relations during that period of time in American history. I highly reccomend this book.

The Flying Carpet of Small Miracles really made me take a closer look at the War in Iraq. It's easy to just thinking of the radical Islamic men being killed, but it's hard to imagine what life is like for the civilians living in a war-torn nation.

Monique and the Mango Rains made me really appreciate the fact that I don't have an arranged marriage, I have been able to give birth in a sanitary hospital, and have running water for a shower. This is a true story written by a lady in the Peace Corps who lives with a Malian midwife for two years.

The Happiness Project. I'm going to write a blog post all its own for this book- my final read of the year. I LOVED it! I can't wait to start my own "Happiness Project" in 2012. I'll tell you more about it soon.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Update on the Fall List 2011

I had a pretty successful fall and am gearing up for the New Year. I can't wait to tell you about a book I am reading as I think it will be the perfect inspiration for my obsessive "to do lists". There is nothing I like more than making a list and checking it off.

Here's what I got accomplished this fall:
1. Made a fall wreath for the door
2. Get a salted caramel frappuchino at Starbucks
3. Took a walk to collect leaves
4. Went on a dinner date with Ysmaille
5. Made a pumpkin roll
6. Carved a pumpkin for the front porch
7. Went trick-or-treating with Amirah
8. Ate breakfast downtown
9. Had a photo shoot with Selena

Unfortunately, there were a few things that were on my list that I didn't get to check off.
1. Go through a corn maze (I want to do this EVERY single year and I never do. Must do it next year!)
2. Make a ruffled tote (I almost got to this one, but after carefully reading the directions I thought I might be a little too much of an amateur sewer for this one, but I did make an adorable apron for Amirah's birthday)
3. Print photos for Amirah's baby book (ABSOLUTELY must do this before the new baby comes)
4. Go to Hagerstown City Park and swing. (It'll be more fun in the Spring anyway)
5. Make a fabric bookshelf (I still plan to do this, but since our two children will share a room I wanted to wait to see what gender this baby will be before attempting this project.)

In summary, out of 14 items I got 9 accomplished. Not bad considering I work full-time outside of the home, do 3 loads of laundry a week, cook at least 5 meals a week, and manage to make time for my family and friends. I'm pretty happy with all the accmomplishments I've made this Fall.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Right Now

Right now I am ...

Watching: Pirates of the Carribean (the 4th one). Really I'm sitting beside Ysmaille as he watches it and I waste time on the internet.

Feeling: a sense of peace over God's plan (I'm sure you'll hear more about this later).

Wearing: pajama pants and my 12 year old SU sweatshirt.

Drinking: ice water.

Hoping: that I get through the next 7 days of school.

Wishing: I had the perserverance to finishing Amirah's baby book.

Waiting for: our trip to Florida.

Loving: all my fun ideas from Pinterest.

So... that's my life in a nutshell.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Pregnancy Highlights

17 weeks pregnant today...

Total Weight Gain: 8 pounds (give or take)

Sleep: I pretty much fall asleep on the couch every night by 9:30. The pregnancy is not keeping me up. But my almost two-year-old is. She has decided that she doesn't require more than 6 hours of sleep at a time.

Movement: I felt some movement last week (little flutters), but haven't felt anything in a couple of days. Part of me thinks I imagined it. Part of me feels worried. Do you ever stop worrying when you are a parent?

Gender: I will be 20 weeks on Christmas Day. We only have a boy name, which makes me think we are having a boy. The Chinese Gender chart (which a friend swears is 100% true) says we are having a girl. Time will tell.

Symptoms: Backache.

Maternity Clothes: I don't remember this "nothing fits stage" being so long the last time. Seriously. Nothing fits. My regular clothes pinch and give me an odd form of pregnancy muffin top. I tried wearing maternity clothes last week and Ysmaille (who never notices what I wear- good or bad) said my pants looked saggy. Sigh.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Yummy Crockpot Sandwiches

I saw a recipe for sandwiches in the crockpot a couple of months ago on pinterst and just had to try them. It is so easy. You start with a loaf of round Italian bread (I actually used sourdough instead), cut it apart, and fold ham and cheese (and whatever condiments you want) inside the slices. Wrap the whole thing in tinfoil twice. Place additional tinfoil on the bottom of the crockpot with 1/4 cup of water and then put in on low for 3-4 hours.

This is what it looks like before.
The after product. All you have to do is cut the sandwich the rest of the way through and you have individual sandwiches!

It was a hit (even with the smaller crowd).

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Fall List Continues

One of the things I was looking forward to the most this fall was carving pumpkins. I've never done it before. We bought these beauties three or four weeks ago, but haven't really had the time to carve them. Well, today the snow gave us no excuse. While Amirah napped Ysmaille and I got creative.

Our unsuspecting victims

The guts

Our creation (Ysmaille's on the left, and mine on the right)

They look much better lit up

Check out the stunned face and the fashionable gloves. In my defense I wasn't expecting snow before Halloween so Amirah wasn't prepared with gloves.

As a side note (for those of you who care) I've also accomplished making a pumpkin roll and going to Starbucks for a salted caramel hot chocolate (it actually ended up being a salted caramel mocha frapuccino). Here's too fall!


Thank God it Snowed!

Ysmaille's been reffing soccer a lot this fall. Sometimes he would ref 2-3 nights a week and then be gone ALL day on Saturdays. It was the all day Saturday reffing that made me sad. Saturdays are supposed to be the day that working families get to spend together. Amirah and I missed Ysmaille so much. We went to Bender's to pick a pumpkin without him. We went to the Apple Fest without him.

Today he was supposed to ref for only a few hours, so I knew we would have the afternoon with him. Last night while we were grocery shopping they called to tell him that the soccer games were cancelled because of the upcoming snow. I was so happy I just hugged him right in the middle of the store. I have my baby back!

Plus, as an added bonus he let me sleep in today and go Amirah her breakfast. Now he is cleaning the house. What a man!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Crossing it off the list...

After making my wreath it took me a while to dive into the rest of my list, but I've had a pretty successful week. Amirah and I took an impromptu walk at Scotland Schools for Veteran's Children the other night and I was delighted to see lots of beautiful leaves. I picked out a few. I had originally intended to make a leaf garland, but when it comes down to it I was just too lazy.

Aren't they pretty? I really love the dark purple and red ones!

My original intention was to cover each one in contact paper and cut them out, but like I said... too much work.

I also had a photo shoot with Selena. If you haven't checked her out, you should. She is an awesome photographer, and cousin, and friend... You get the point. She's just awesome. Here is her website:

Today Amirah and I went to Bender's Potato Farm right here in C-burg. It was great! We picked out two pumpkins that Ysmaille and I are going to carve. I'm so excited because I've never, ever carved a pumpkin! Amirah also got to take a "train" ride and play on the hay slide. It was a super fun day.

Ysmaille and Amirah are going out tonight for a little date (i.e. a trip to Walmart for a nightlight so maybe Amirah will actually stay in her "big girl" bed tonight). I think I'm going to stay home and putter. I also want to make a pumpkin roll (something that's on my fall list). We'll see what happens.

So, you can see things have been pretty productive around here. I'm certainly embracing fall and I am open to any suggestions to add to my winter list. As you know it's winter that I'm afraid of.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Fall has officially begun...

For a teacher summer officially ends when school starts. Even though there are many days that are still hot, even though there are a few more picnics to enjoy, and even though the crickets still sing their song at night you and I both know... it's over.

Fall has it's own beauty and I try to embrace it, but despite the fun of dressing up for Halloween, drinking apple cider, and the joy of crisp fall evenings a little twinge of sadness lingers under the surface for me. See, the thing is... I don't like winter. And I know it's on it's way. This fall I decided to embrace life and let winter take care of itself. That is why... (drumroll please)... I have created my Fall List 2011. And today, folks, only a few days into the official season I've chalked #1 off my list-- make a fall wreath.

Disclaimer: I couldn't have done this without Mom. She's just so darn crafty. (And I don't mean that in a sly, foxy kind of way). Although she is foxy. I hope I look that good at 49+ a few years. Anyway, I digress. Here's the picture.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Fall List 2011

I had so much fun with my Summer List I decided to make a Fall List, too. Here it goes...
1. Make a fall wreath for the door.
2. Get a salted caramel hot chocolate from Strabucks.
3. Go through a corn maze.
4. Take a walk and collect fall leaves.
5. Go on a dinner date with Ysmaille.
6. Make a pumpkin roll.
7. Carve a pumpkin for the front porch.
8. Make a ruffled tote.
9. Print photos for Amirah's baby book.
10. Go trick-or-treating with Amirah.
11. Eat breakfast downtown.
12. Have a photo shoot with Selena.
13. Go to Hagerstown City Park and swing.
14. Make a fabric book shelf.

Wish me luck. That's an ambitious list to finish in three months!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Here's what's happenin'

1.  School started on August 29 and I am busy, busy, busy!  I have 27 third graders in my class this year.  I forgot how tiring it is to balance being a good mom, teacher, and wife.  I can't imagine doing anything else though.  It makes me happy!
2.  We are planning a trip to Florida in December.  All but one of Ysmaille's seven brothers will be there.  And I've got FIVE new neices/nephews to meet!  I cannot wait.  Did I tell you we are driving there?  Craziness!
3.  My cell phone just survived a second swim and is still working!
4.  I made lots of freezer meals this summer and have only used two so far this school year.  Why?  I can't ever remember to take them out of the freezer.  There have been lots of nights with paninis and egg sandwiches.
5.  Amirah is talking ALL THE TIME.  She speaks in full sentences and is very expressive.  I am so thankful for a daughter who likes to talk.  She is so fun!
6.  Ysmaille and I have decided to watch "Grey's Anatomy" from start to finish.  I think there are 126 episodes and we are on episode 50-something. 
7.  I am absolutely addicted to pinterest!  Have you signed on yet?  I could spend hours at a time looking for craft ideas, recipes, and fashion inspiration.  Love it!
8.  I loved having a SUMMER LIST 2011 so much that I've decided to also create a FALL LIST 2011.  I'll have it posted soon so you can follow along.
9.  My sister, Angela, had a beautiful baby girl two weeks ago.  She is absolutely perfect!  Angela found out she was pregnant at 15 weeks (long story) and delivered five weeks early so she had the shortest pregnancy I've ever experienced.
10.  I'm going to BUNCO tonight!  Can't wait.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

#15 on Summer List 2011

Read Three Books. Pretty simple since one of my New Year's Resolutions was to read a book a month. Three months of summer. Three books.
The first book I read was Julie and Julia by Julie Powell. I saw the movie before reading the book, which I usually try to avoid. In my opinion neither were that spectacular. If you enjoy cooking like I do you can at least appreciate all Julie went through to cook every recipe in Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." If you ask me most of the recipes sounded gross. I'll take tacos any day.

Several weeks ago I went to a yardsale where there was a box of FREE books. Well, you know how I am. I can't resist free. I picked up a copy of All the Finest Girls by Alexandra Styron. This is a weird book that goes back and forth from present day to main character's childhood. She was raised in a dysfunctional family and felt very alone and misunderstood until her nanny moved in. The book primarily takes place in the island homeland of her former nanny. Not sure if I strongly reccomend it or not, but if you want to borrow it you may.

The Last Summer of You and Me by Ann Brashares (The author of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants) was a good read. I read it in only a few days during our trip to Tennessee. It is a coming-of-age book that takes place in a coastal New England. Parts of it were slow, but it kept my interest because I just kept wanting to know what was going to happen next.

Since we are talking about books I strongly reccomend you read Love and Respect. I've been hearing about this book for years now and I started reading it a few months ago. If you are married it is a must-read. It has changed how I relate to Ysmaille (at least how I am TRYING to relate to Ysmaille).

Monday, August 22, 2011

Summer List #14

I added "Clean Basement" to my Summer List 2011, not because I thought it would fun, but because I knew I needed to do it this summer or it simply wouldn't happen.

Our basement has been a source of stress for me for awhile now. Mostly it's filled with the baby items Amirah no longer needs and Ysmaille's tools, building materials, etc. It's not that I don't contribute to the mess, but my craft items are generally neat.

Here's what the basement looked like before... Yes, I did let Amirah play in the midst of the mayhem. The after. Now I know it's not perfect, but it's definitely an improvement.

The picture below is what Ysmaille's tool are looked like before. (It was actually a lot worse than this, but the picture cut off some of the worst mess at the left)

I purchased this 5 shelf rack at Target to help organize things like saws, spray paint, nails, flashlights, wire, cones, putty... well, I think you get the point.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

#12 and #13 on Summer List 2011

On my Summer List 2011 was to have a "MELANIE DAY". I dropped Amirah off at April's house and headed to Harrisburg for some shopping. I also intended to stop at Barnes and Noble, have a delicious treat and read magazines, but I ran out of time. I did manage to squeeze in enough time for lunch at Panera Bread where I read my book. I was looking for "pops" of color to add to my wardrobe, but was unsuccesful. As you can see I mostly got some basic neutrals, but I'm pretty excited about my purchases. For under $50 I was able to buy a denim shirt, a t-shirt, a flowy vest, a cardigan, a shirt dress, a pair of khakis, and a necklace. Plus two of the items came with belts-- an added bonus!

Later in the week we travelled to Tennessee to see Dukens and Angela (and Eli). It was a long trip with a crying one year old in the backseat, but we had a ton of fun in the short time we were there. I feel so blessed to have such a great relationship with Ysmaille's family. Angela and I got off to a rough start two years ago when we met, but she has quickly become one of my best friends.

Ysmaille and Eli-- these brothers CANNOT get together without wrestling. Here is Ysmaille trying to poke out his brother's eye.

We went to the aquarium in Gatlinburg. My favorite part was walking through the shark tunnel. You just cannot go to a place like that without marvelling at what an AWESOME and CREATIVE God we serve.

Amirah just adores her Uncle Duke. Here they are reading together.

Angela, Amirah, and I spent Sunday afternoon in Knoxville. We stopped at Market Square for Amirah to play in the fountains.

With summer vacation officially ending in one week I will be hard-pressed to finish my list. I've got 6 more things to complete. Wish me luck!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

#11 on Summer List 2011

I am so dissapointed I forgot my camera on this excursion. One of the things I wanted to make sure I did this summer was visit Grandma Harnish, my Dad's mom. She is an amazing lady who is now in her upper 80's. Last week she canned corn and tomato sauce. Just yesterday she made applesauce. She doesn't let anything slow her down.

Today Ysmaille, Amirah, and I traveled to Lancaster County to visit her. She told us she would have lunch for us. This is what we ate:

-Stouffer's lasagna
-Bread with butter and jelly
-7-layer salad (I'm pretty sure this is a Mennonite dish, and it not very good for you because it has lots of mayo, but I love it anyway!)
-crackers and cheese
-homemade applesauce
-sugar cookies
-peach dessert

Isn't that crazy? It was just a Saturday lunch. She loves making food for her family though and so Ysmaille and I ate enough to feed a small army.

I'm so glad that Amirah has a chance to know her great-grandma. She is the only grandparent I have left and the way she is going I expect her to be around for a long time. Love you, Grandma Harnish!

Monday, July 25, 2011

#10 on the Summer List 2011 (and a revisit to #1)

A campfire at Mom and Dad's house was also on my summer list. Since Dukens and Angela (Ysmaille's brother and his wife) were here we thought it was the perfect time. In lieu of the traditional campfire ring we use the chimney stove. (I know it has a name, but I'm not quite sure what it is.)

Angela roasts her marshmallows to perfection.

Me and my man.

Love these two. Once again IMPOSSIBLE to get them to look at the camera.

Brothers: Dukens and Ysmaille

#9 on the Summer List

Here's the thing. Sun is not my friend. I spend most of the summer walking around with SPF 50 on. So an EVENING on the pool was perfect. It is still hot and humid, but I don't have to lather myself in sunscreen.

Our beautiful daughter, Amirah

It is IMPOSSIBLE to these two girls to look at the camera simaltaneously.

See what I mean? IMPOSSIBLE.

After an evening in the pool we had an impromptu feast of hotdogs, chips, cookies. You know the really healthy summery fare.

Gotta love those sippy cups.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

------ Not Sure What to Call This Post ------

Just some random things I want to say.

1. I love, love, love the sound of Amirah's screams when she is upstairs with her daddy. I reread that line and thought I should clarify. They are SCREAMS of COMPLETE JOY. She absolutely delights in the attention he gives her. I am so thankful for their special relationship.

2. I am having so much fun this summer that I didn't think I'd ever want to go back to school. I was nervous. Was teaching the wrong choice for me? Then I went into my classroom today and felt the excitement begin to build. I'm not ready yet. But I will be. I feel so blessed to have a job I love!

3. I love the NATE BERKUS show. Have you seen it? He used to be a regular on Oprah, and now has his own show. It's just an informative show with fashion advice, home decorating ideas, ways to save money, etc. Plus, he's such a cutie.

4. Ethel Strite's cooking class rocks! Last week we had meatball subs-- the best I've ever had. I made the recipe this week and I'm thinking about making them again next week. Secret ingredient? Chili sauce. Does anyone know if I can find it without high fructose corn syrup?

5. Since I'm on the topic of cooking... I bought flour and chocolate chips to make cookies today. When I got home I realized that I didn't have any butter. I looked online to see what I could substitute. One website said I could substitute 2/3 cup of oil for 1 cup of butter. I did it and my cookies were better than usual!

Monday, July 11, 2011

#8 on Summer List 2011

On my Summer List 2011 was a hike at Caledonia. My sister-in-law, Angela, is here for almost two weeks and I wanted to take her to Caledonia anyway, so I thought we might as well throw a hike in there somewhere :)

It was actually really funny because we packed a whole afternoon of festivities in about two hours. We had meat to grill and figured it would take at least an hour to get the charcoal hot and the meat cooked. Luckily for us, the grill we picked had just been deserted and it was perfectly hot and ready to go. We grilled, ate pasta salad, some watermelon, and lemon bars. It took 30 minutes and then we were off. No time to waste!

After dinner it was time to move on to the stream. Amirah loved playing in the water!
Next it was playground time. Amirah went down the big slide with her Aunt Angela.
Finally it was time to cross off another activity from my list. My friend, Jen, gave us this carrier months ago, but we've never had a chance to use it, so I was so excited to give it a try. Amirah really liked it. We were off on our fourth and final adventure...

Here we are hiking. As you can tell by our foot gear it wasn't a particularly strenuous hike, but a hike nonetheless.

Another activity off my list. I'm getting close to the 1/2 way mark. This summer has been so much fun so far. I can't wait to see what the next four weeks hold!

Don't you love this picture? After our big hike we needed a little relaxation!