Friday, March 24, 2017

Currently: March Edition

Hello, Friday!  This was a doozy of a week. My calendar was jam-packed. I know I've said this multiple times lately but I really need a quiet week soon!  Fingers crossed that April is quieter. The most time-consuming wedding to dos are done so that should help, I think!

Reading:  The Turner House by Angela Flournoy.  There's been a lot of buzz about this book as it was a finalist for the National Book award last year and it was the runner-up in last year's Tournament of Books (which is the book equivalent of March Madness). I am really enjoying it! It's about a large family of 13 kids that grew up in the Detroit area. Aside from delving into family dynamics and the different personalities, the book also addresses the decision about what to do with the parents' home which is way underwater (the book is set in 2008 during the housing crisis). I'm really impressed that this is a debut novel.  

Loving:  mangoes and cottage cheese (but not together). I haven't eaten mango much in the past, but 2 recipes I made this month (jerk pork with Caribbean salsa and blackened fish tacos with cabbage mango slaw) called for mango in the taco topping so I bought mangoes twice in one week. I snacked on some while making these recipes and was reminded how GOOD mangoes are. I need to buy them more often! I'm also loving cottage cheese as a snack.  It's so high in protein and a good way for me to get some calcium (I can't stand milk so get my dairy primarily through yogurt).

Feeling: overwhelmed. My calendar is out of control these days, as evidenced by the picture of my March calendar below. Some of the things on my calendar are workouts (e.g., barre and sessions with my personal trainer) but it's all stuff that requires me to be at a certain place at a certain time.  

Thinking: about the seating arrangements for our wedding. Figuring out how to divvy up the guests between tables is quite the puzzle! But I love a good puzzle, so I will figure it out.  RSVPs aren't due until 4/21 so I won't be able to finalize things for several weeks but I wanted to get a head start. 40 people have already RSVP'd and we sent out invitations last Friday!

Anticipating:  my wedding showers in April! My college friends are hosting one in Minneapolis on April 9th and then the following Saturday I'll have my family one at the lake over Easter weekend. My family and friends are putting a lot of thought and work into planning these special events so I am looking forward to seeing what all they have up their sleeve! I'm one of the biggest planners in my family so it's been weird to not be involved in the planning but also wonderful to just show up and enjoy it!

Watching:   the second season of Love on Netflix. This is a fun and quirky show about the relationship of 2 20-somethings in LA. As I've mentioned before, Phil and I have different tastes in shows but this is one that we both enjoy!

Working: on figuring out a strategy to prevent myself from over-scheduling. I sound like a broken record as I keep saying I need to plan less.  But obviously saying I'm going to 'plan less' isn't working. I think something more specific. More on this in a post coming next week.

Grateful:  that I get to marry my favorite person in less than 2 months.  Life feels pretty chaotic right now but I sure love coming home to Phil at the end of every day and look forward to doing that for as long as we both shall live!  I'm also grateful that so many of our friends and family, both near and far, are coming for the wedding. I'm so excited to have so many special and important people in one place!

to the Chatty Sisters podcast that my friend Kelly and her sister Caroline launched this month.  I've been friends with Kelly for many years so it's fun to hear her voice on a regular basis!  And I got a shout-out in episode 3!

Wishing: that the weather would warm up.  March is typically not a great month in Minnesota as it can be quite cold. But I'm just ready for warm, springy weather.  I'm so over my winter wardrobe and winter jacket.

What are you loving, watching, and grateful for these days?

Monday, March 20, 2017

Wedding-Planning-Free Weekend!

Happy Monday and Happy First Day of Spring!  I hope everyone had a fun weekend.  Did you celebrate St. Patty's Day?  I can't say that we did, but neither of us has any Irish blood in us so we don't feel compelled to celebrate.  After 2 weekends full of wedding-related to dos, we were due for a wedding-planning-free weekend!  Here is how we filled it.

On Friday night we had Phil's mom over for dinner. I made these fish tacos along with guacamole. The archdiocese gave a dispensation on Friday that allowed Catholics in my diocese to eat meat in celebration of St. Patrick's Day, but it felt like 'cheating' to eat meat since I wasn't celebrating the holiday. Plus fish tacos are so good! I used tilapia and they were so tasty (sorry, no photo!).  I think the best part was the mango slaw, though.  I'll definitely be making that again! After dinner we played a couple of games of Yahtzee.

On Saturday morning I drove out to the west metro area to go to a barre class with a good college friend. It was nice to start off the day with a good workout! After the class, we grabbed breakfast at a cute diner in the area and then we stopped by a new French restaurant that opened up called Bellecour. The restaurant has a cute bakery so we stopped by for a macaron (which was delicious!). It was great to catch up and spend some time with my friend's daughter.

Heidi, her daughter Elle, and me enjoying a macaron!
Saturday afternoon we cleaned the house which is one of my least favorite chores.  It helps that we divide and conquer, though!  In the late afternoon we went to Phil's college friend's couples baby shower. It was fun to see some of Phil's college friends!

After the shower, we headed over to hang out with one of Phil's best men and his wife. We hadn't hung out with them for awhile so it was fun to spend Saturday evening with them! They have an adorable little guy, Leo, who is 16 months. My friend snapped this photo of Phil and I reading a book to Leo.

On Sunday morning I was up early so I could go to mass at 8:45 before heading to my personal training session at 10. The training session was soooo hard!  We did a bunch of different strength training circuits and he had me run some intervals for 10 minutes in the 2nd half of the workout.

Phil went to his mom's for the day and he took Oscar out there for the week (his mom loves having Oscar's company so we bring her there every other month or so). I missed having Oscar around but still enjoyed having day to myself at home. I haven't had a plan-free day in so long so I relished being able to stay home all day. I spent a good chunk of Sunday afternoon working on meal prep for the week.

Sauteing veggies for the egg bake

Sauteing peppers for my salads
Chopped fruit and veggies for snacks
It feels good to have breakfast (veggie and chicken sausage egg bake), lunches (salad with jerk pork and veggies) and snacks taken care of for the week.

The evening was spent relaxing and reading. And I course watched 60 minutes. I love that show and Face the Nation! I also watched a little bit of March Madness basketball but both mine and Phil's brackets were busted yesterday as the teams we picked to win the tournament lost (Louisville and Duke).  Womp womp.

This is another jam-packed week as we have a tasting tonight for our dessert table (!!!) followed by barre class (if we get out of the tasting in time), then tomorrow I fly to NYC for a day full of meetings in New Jersey on Wednesday. I'm squeezing in a dinner with my friend Alli and her husband on Tuesday night which I'm excited about!  Thursday night I have a kick-off meeting for the 2017 community garden season and Friday I have a personal training session right after work.  I reeeeeally need a plan-free week night badly but don't see that happening soon since I travel again next week (this time to Chicago).

I hope everyone has a wonderful week!

What were you up to this weekend? Did you celebrate St. Patrick's Day?

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Activism Through Reading: Strangers in Their Own Land

I'm back with my next selection for my Advocacy Through Reading project. My 2nd book will be 'Strangers in Their own Land' by Arlie Russell Hochschild which was recommended by the NYT as a book that would help people understand Trump's victory. Hochschild is a renowned sociologist. In this book, she travels to the bayou country of Louisiana, which is a stronghold of the conservative right movement. Here is a synopsis from goodreads:

Strangers in Their Own Land goes beyond the commonplace liberal idea that these are people who have been duped into voting against their own interests. Instead, Hochschild finds lives ripped apart by stagnant wages, a loss of home, an elusive American dream - and political choices and views that make sense in the context of their lives. Hochschild draws on her expert knowledge of the sociology of emotion to help us understand what it feels  like to live in "red" America. Along the way, she finds answers to one of the crucial questions of contemporary American politics: why do the people who would seem to benefit most from "liberal" government intervention abhor the very idea?

This is a book I am reading to try to understand the views of a group of people that I have a hard time relating to.  By reading this book I'm hoping to gain more of a personal understanding of the views of groups of people who have been left behind by the economic recovery and how and why they saw Trump as the candidate that would save them.

There is such a divide in our nation right now.  I know I am just one person, but by trying to learn more about a group with views different than mine, I'm hoping it will metaphorically help me step across a divide that feels so insurmountable right now.

I'll be back in late April/early May with my thoughts on the book!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Activism Through Reading: The Faith Club Review

As I mentioned early last month, I've decided to embark on an Activism Through Reading project. My goal is two-fold. I want to expand my knowledge about topics that tend to be debated, with varying levels of knowledge. Secondly, I want to understand the thoughts and feelings of people with opinions that different from mine.

My first selection was "The Faith Club" which is a book written by three women who came together with the goal to write a book for children that would explain the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim faiths. Early on in the project, the women realized that they needed to address a lot of stereotypes and misconceptions about each of their faiths, and so this book was born.  

My goal of reading this book was to learn more about the Muslim faith. And boy did I learn a lot by reading this book! As I have mentioned before, I was raised Catholic and continue to practice my faith as an adult. My focus has been entirely on my faith and I know very little about other faiths, mostly because there is always more to learn about my own faith. That said, I recognize that learning more about other faiths helps me build understanding of others. My goal was to learn more about about the Muslim faith but I ended up learning quite a bit about the Jewish faith as well. 

Here are some of the things I learned by reading this book:

1. Similar to the Jewish and Christian faiths, the Muslim faith descended from Abraham. Muslims  believe Muhammad was the last of a series of 25 messengers and prophets, starting with Adam and including Moses and Jesus, who were sent by God to guide people to the right path. Muslims believe that Judaism, Christianity and Islam, which means peaceful surrender to the will of God, are three forms of one religion, which was the religion of the prophet Abraham.  Thus, Muslims are required to believe in the Gospels and the Torah. 

2. The word "jihad" means a struggle or effort. It is mostly meant to resolve an internal struggle to overcome sin. Unfortunately, this word has been corrupted by extremists/terrorists who are using it in ways that are not in line with the Muslim faith. This BBC explanation of jihad addresses the concept of holy war. I think many of us associate jihad or holy war with something that is actually not in line with what the Qur'an teaches. If you look at the Qur'an's teaching on what can necessitate holy war, it is clear that the campaign of ISIS/ISIL is not in line with the teachings of the Muslim faith. So it is wrong to associate their terrible actions with what it means to be a Muslim. 

3. The Muslim faith can be split into Shia and Sunni Muslims. They are divided based on who they think should have been the Islamic leader after Muhammad died. Within the Sunni sect, there is a movement called "Wahhabism." It is an extremist group that is thought to be the source of global terrorism. It's an extreme minority within the Muslim faith and it's an extremely wealthy group as they tend to inhabit the oil-rich areas of the Middle East. Both Shia and Sunni Muslims denounce this group.

4.  I also learned a lot about the battle between the Jewish and Muslim faiths over Israel. I vaguely knew about the conflict in this region, but Ranya, the Muslim author and Priscilla, the Jewish author, had many debates about this territory.

5. Lastly, the book addressed some of the roots of antisemitism. I did not think that antisemitism was something that was alive and well in the U.S., but the events of the past several months have opened my eyes to the fact that it is still a problem.

Main takeaway:

I'm walking away from this book reminded that groups of people can corrupt the teachings of a religious faith. I think we can all agree that groups like the Westboro Church have corrupted the teachings of Christianity. As a Christian, I denounce the acts of the members of Westboro Church. Their message of hate is not in line with the teachings of Christianity. It does not reflect the fact that we have a loving and forgiving God. Similarly, Muslims denounce the actions of terrorists who have corrupted the teachings of the Qur'an. I am not trying to compare the Westboro Church to ISIL because clearly ISIL has carried out their corrupted beliefs in extremely horrible ways. I am merely trying to show that various faiths have groups whose actions are not in line with the teachings of their faith. And just as I do not want anyone to see the actions of the Westboro Church and associate their practices, words and beliefs with what I believe, other Muslims do not want to be associated with the horrific actions of ISIS/ISIL. Especially since many of them have been victims of ISIS/ISIL.

My hope is that our country's leadership will stop associating being a Muslim with being evil or prone to terrorist acts. The group that has corrupted the Muslim beliefs and used those corrupted beliefs to justify their horrific actions has resulted in what I believe is a great misunderstanding in the Western world about what it means to be a Muslim.

And that is why I read this book. Obviously I only read one book so my knowledge of the Muslim faith is still very limited. But I know more than I did before I read this book. My hope is that I can help to disspell misconceptions about the Muslim faith when they arise in conversations with friends and family.

If you want to start to learn more about other monotheistic faiths, I highly recommend this book. It's a very accessible and engaging way to learn about the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths. I also think it is useful to find ways to engage with others that have different beliefs and faiths than you do. Because of where I live, most of my friends are Christians. But thanks to blogging, I've made a couple of friends who are Jewish and we've had several conversations about our beliefs. I've also had the opportunity to meet others from the Muslim community by volunteering in an adult ESL classroom. Obviously that is not the place to engage in conversations about their faith, but it's allowed me to get to know them as a fellow citizen of Minneapolis. The benefit is that it humanizes a group of people that I did not have contact with before volunteering.

Have you learned much about other faiths? Do you have a curiosity about other faiths? Would you consider reading this book?

I'll be back later this week with my next selection!

Friday, March 10, 2017


Hello, Friday!  I'm so happy to see you!  This was another whirlwind week with several evening commitments and we have a busy weekend ahead of us...  I'm in dire need of a shouldless day but am hoping to squeeze one in at the end of the month!  Here's a TGIF-style recap of my week!

The high of my week was going to my first dress-fitting appointment last night. I looooove my dress so much so love any opportunity to put it on.  My dress fits me really well so I won't need a lot of alterations (just hemming and the bustle) which is good as those add up fast.  

The low of my week was feeling like crud at the start of the week. I came down with a cold late last week and felt pretty crappy over the weekend and then it dragged on into the week. I'm feeling better but now Phil is starting to get sick.  :(  I hope my mom and Sisters-in-law didn't catch it while they were at our house last weekend. 

A book I am reading is The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon. It's a  YA novel that I got from my Book of the Month Club Subscription in December. I find that YA tends to be a great 'palette cleanser.' I just finished a dark book (Beauty and Sadness) which I did not care for at all, so I needed to read something engaging! This book is about a family from Jamaica that is being deported so it's a timely book to read. There's also a sweet love story so I think it's going to be a great book!

For my workouts I had personal training sessions on Monday and Wednesday and went to barre class on Tuesday. Yesterday was a rest day and today I'm hoping to squeeze a quick workout in before heading to our marriage retreat. Saturday will be another rest day since we have our marriage retreat ALL DAY. On Sunday I'm planning to go to a barre class and will also do a 21 day fix total body cardio workout. 

The best money I spent was on some frozen yogurt on Monday. I have been so good about avoiding desserts but was craving ice cream so I decided to treat myself to a small cup of froyo at a self-serve place during my lunch break. I went with fruit for toppings (plus like 6 m&ms) to keep it somewhat healthy. It tasted soooo good, especially on my sore throat. 

My plans this weekend include going to an engagement retreat tonight (7-9:30) and all day tomorrow (9-7). This is a retreat that is required by the Catholic Church in order to get married in the church. It's going to be a long couple of days but I know we'll get a lot out of it as they cover topics like communication, finances, family planning, etc. I have no plans on Sunday besides going to barre class. I'm going to try to relax as much as I can on Sunday as I'm feeling rather worn out right now!

What was the high of your week? What was the best thing you spent money on this week?

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Wedding Wednesday: DIY'ing our Centerpieces

It's been awhile since I've done a wedding update!  I have something fun to share this week as my mom and Chicago SIL were here this past weekend to help me make the centerpieces.

Let me start by saying that I NEVER expected to do many DIY projects for our wedding. But when I started to talk to people who've gotten married about the (high) cost of the flowers, I decided that I needed to move outside of my comfort zone and do some serious crafting.  Plus with our book theme, it was easy to come up with decor ideas that use a limited number of flowers, thanks to pinterest. Luckily my Chicago SIL is super crafty and was thrilled to help me translate our vision/theme into decor. I hate asking people to help with things so it was great that she offered to help without me asking. I did use some Delta miles to fly her in for the weekend, though, to make it inexpensive for her to come.

We had a long list of projects to tackle but they all turned out great!  Here is what we accomplished!

First off, we needed sustenance for our busy day! I made this egg bake but substituted chicken sausage for ham. I had to put mushrooms on one side since Phil is anti-mushrooms (gasp!). You can assemble it the night before and just put the cheese layer on top before baking!  I'll be making this again!

My sister-in-law brought her cricut machine with which was sooo helpful. It's a machine that you can program to cut things. We used it to cut the book pages for our candle projects (it trimmed the pages to 5" x 5" and we also used it to cut hearts in some of the pages). It was a huge time-saver!

My mom and sister-in-law Emily working on the book pages!
I don't have a lot of action shots because our hands were often covered with glue and/or glitter when we were working on the candles!  My mom snapped some action shots when we were working on putting glitter on wine bottles and votives. 
The bride getting her glitter on!
My sisters-in-law, Julie and Emily, working on the votives. You may notice flutes of champagne in the photo - we needed a treat for all of our hard work!
We worked from 10 in the morning until around 5 so it was a long, full day. We did have to make a stop at Joann Fabric's in the middle of the day for more supplies and we of course took a break for lunch.  But it was a very busy day!  Here's a picture of the finished products from Saturday!

Next up, we mocked up the 3 different centerpieces. I decided to hire a day-of wedding coordinator to handle the decorating and all of the last minute details that pop up on the day of the wedding. So I wanted to give her pictures of how the tables should be set up.  Here's what we came up with! We only made 5 glittered wine bottles to use on the guest book and escort card tables, so they won't be used in the actual centerpieces (instead we'll use gold-painted bottles). But they at least give the coordinator an idea of what the centerpieces will look like

The next day, after fueling with a breakfast of sweet potato hash, we headed outside to spray paint a whole lot of stuff.

Wine bottles and table number holders
 Luckily the weather was very mild so it was the perfect day to be outside!

After all that spray painting, we had earned some lattes!

But first, coffee

We headed back to the house to apply glitter to the "YUM" letters, which will go on the dessert table!

And then we were DONE!  In total, we worked about 10 hours on all of these projects. It was a lot of work but I'm so happy with how everything turned out!

We capped off the weekend by going to my good friend Courtney's mini-golf birthday party. It was great for my SIL to meet some of our friends, including one of the best men and 2 of the ushers!

Emily and me

I'm so grateful for all the help I received from family over the weekend!  I couldn't have done this without them!

Thursday, March 2, 2017

March Happiness Project: My Faith

With a new month comes a new focus for my happiness project! The season of Lent began yesterday so it seems like the perfect time to make my faith the focus of my happiness project.

I was born and raised Catholic and continue to practice my faith by attending mass weekly. Being Catholic is a big part of who I am. But I definitely have an opportunity to deepen my faith. Deepening my faith results in a greater level of peace, which in turn makes me more happy.  Here is what I plan to focus on this month:

1. Faith-based book club. I signed up for a faith-based book club in March that is being organized by the church where we'll get married. We'll meet 3 times in March and discuss the book "Searching for and Maintaining Peace:  A Small Treatise on Peace of Heart."This will also give me an opportunity to meet some other members of the church.

2. Read one other book related to faith. Besides reading the book for the church book club, I also want to read 1 other book with a message related to my faith. I have several on my book shelf and to-read list so it will be easy to find a book to read.

3. Establish a routine for daily prayer. I'm not great about making time for daily prayer each day. I want to focus on carving out time at the end of each day.

4. Go to Stations of the Cross 3 times during Lent.  For those who aren't Catholic/aren't familiar with this Lenten tradition, the Stations of the Cross is a 14-part series of prayers led by a priest, commemorating the day of Jesus's crucifixion. It's typically done on Fridays during Lent and many Catholic churches (at least in larger urban areas) host fish fries afterwards.  I used to go almost every week with my parents when I was young but haven't been in a very long time. There is a Catholic church 2 blocks from work that has stations of the cross at 11:15 every Friday so it should be fairly easy to go every other week during Lent.

I'm looking forward to a faith-filled month!

Do you have any goals or areas of focus for March?