Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Out with the Old

It is the last day of 2013. All the Christmas decorations have been put away and life will slowly return back to its normal routine.

Personally, I like the new year. Some don't like January, but I really do. I like the feeling of renewal. Houses get back in order after being decorated for the holidays. The cookies and candy make they way out. And as with my usually uncommitted resolution, there is a desire to get in better health so in come the healthy food and gym memberships. 

But before looking ahead to the new year, the last day of the old year is a good time for reflection. Each year holds the good and the bad and 2013 was no different.

My biggest life changing event was becoming an aunt. I found out last January that our family would be growing by 2 feet. I can't even begin to describe how much I love my niece, Brynley. I am excited to watch her grow. I pray that as she grows older, she will learn to love Jesus and understand how precious she is in His sight.

It was a year of an unexpected and significant job change. My company's acquisition was such a blessing for me, but the majority of my coworkers will be looking for new jobs during the first several months of 2014. It is definitely bittersweet.

With my job change came the decision to move back to Ohio. I have been blessed with the ability to work solely from home so it doesn't matter where I am located. While my heart had been set on moving at the end of my lease in August, the landlords have graciously let me out early. I am currently house hunting, which is something I never thought I would ever do.

I am looking forward to 2014, but am thankful for all the Lord has blessed me with in 2013.

Happy New Year!!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Back to the Heartland

I am moving back to Ohio! I almost don't even think that it is really happening. God has completely shown his faithfulness to me over the past few months. I was planning on moving back at the end of my lease but with my job changes, the opportunity to move came about much sooner.

My landlord was extremely gracious in working with me. They haved asked that I wait until the end of March. I was hoping for the end of January, but I am still happy with the compromise. My lease was up in August and I know they didn't have to let me go early. That was a big relief.

I was home last weekend. While it is my hometown, I have lived out of the area for almost 10 years. But I felt very much at home. It was a wonderful feeling and I am going to be close to my mom, which I am happy about.

My mom and I have been talking about where I would go to church. In my heart, I would love to be a part of a church body with a good singles' population. But I know that is probably not going to be available. I was at my mom's church, which is where I had gone when I lived there, but there is such a feeling of being with family and people who care about me. On Sunday, I finally vocalized that I was moving back and I received such a warm response. I felt very loved!

I also have the opportunity to purchase my first home and that is an exciting prospect. I haven't made any decisions, but I really like the idea of being settled and making a space completely my own.

So I am going to start the transition of being home the week of Christmas. I will being taking some weekends to pack up my things and take my time moving out, which is also a big relief...because I HATE moving! It is really not a fun thing to do.

I am so excited to be moving back and getting back to the Heartland!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Thanksgiving For One

So I thought I was hosting Thanksgiving this year. I wrote about it, planned for it, maybe even stressed a little over it. Well, it turned out that my plans were all in vain. My brother and his family were supposed to come and they were not able to make the trip. And my mom decided to stay home as well since she was on vacation for 2 weeks in November. It actually may have worked out better because western Pennsylvania was supposed to get a bad snow storm that turned out to be less climactic than was predicted.

Last weekend, we went to my mom's house instead. I thought we were going to have Thanksgiving dinner there. Wrong again. We did go out to dinner, but it wasn't Thanksgiving. I wanted turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie.  I love Thanksgiving food!

Since everything changed, I decided that just because I wasn't going to be with my immediate family didn't mean that I couldn't have Thanksgiving. I could have gone to another family member's house, but to be honest, I just didn't want to. So being my independent self, I made Thanksgiving just for me!

I obviously wasn't going to making some 12 pound turkey, so I bought a turkey breast roast. Something I could easily manage and I found a crock pot recipe!

My mom bought me brussel sprouts, since I have had a little bit of a craving for them since eating them in NYC. I was also given a  butternut squash by my mom's neighbor. 

My stuffing didn't turn out and my potatoes were barely on the right side of eating, so they weren't that great, either. I didn't have a pie crust and my lazy self was not about to go out and buy one. I had all the stuff to make my own but I don't have a pie pan. I made a crustless pumpkin pie. I am not a huge crust lover, but there is something about an actual pumpkin pie that would have made it taste better. 

All in all, it was a pretty good day even though I was by myself. The one bad thing is that the cook has to clean up her own kitchen!

Monday, November 18, 2013

2 Years

In August, I wrote about days that at one time had no meaning and then one event changed that date. November 18 is one of those days for me. Two years ago, November 18 became a day that would change my perspective on everything. On Friday, November18, 2011, my dad passed away.

We knew that my dad's death was imminent, but that didn't make it any easier. There are particular moments of that day that I will always hold very close to my heart, ones that I can remember like it was yesterday.

Only a few hours earlier, my brother and I had gone to the cemetery to pick out the place where my dad would be laid rest. It felt like we were picking out land to build a house. I remember exchanging looks with my brother when we saw a plat map of the cemetery and all the graves. He is buried with tens of thousands of other people and only half the cemetery has been developed.

While the days that followed were very difficult, it was months later when I was deep in a really dark place. All motivation was gone. I didn't care about anything. I could have sat at my desk at work for 8 hours just staring at my computer screen and then come home and laid on the couch the rest of the night. I was so unhappy.  That is the only way I can describe it, just unhappy.

Thankfully, the time has past.

My dad has missed so many things where he would have played a big role. My brother re-married in a place my dad would have loved to visit. He would have become a grandfather. And my niece will never know him. He would have met my pride and joy - my dog, Luna.

But it is the everyday things that I think I miss the most. When I ever had a cooking or baking question, my dad was the first one I would have called. He made cookies a lot and every time I make some, I think about him. We would recipe swap. It was something that only I shared with him.

He took beautiful pictures. He even was recognized for this picture he took of swans. My mom has this picture hanging in her house. My sister-in-law surprised my brother and had this picture matted and framed for their wedding. I already have pictures that he took that I want to put up in my own house someday. There is something comforting about knowing these pictures were something he saw as beautiful.

Even though the emotions of losing my dad are close to the surface, I also know how absolutely blessed I am to have the father that I did. So many people have unavailable fathers - physically and emotionally. My dad was available and wanted to be available. I have good things to remember, cherish and share with those who loved him too. 

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Thankful for What?

The last couple of weeks have been absolutely crazy. I was so proud of myself for finishing and completely 31 posts during the month of October. I planned and prepared so I could post. They were not all my best work, but I was really happy that I finished. Then November hit.

Besides working on all my posts for October, my work life was tossed up into the air and I was waiting to see where all the pieces fell. A division of the company I worked for was acquired by a competitor. Because the majority of my responsibilities revolved around this division, my position was also acquired. As with any merger or acquisition, there is a real fear that I could lose my job. There was a lot of uncertainty, including where, as in location, was I going to work. The division is headquartered in Chicago. The new company is headquartered in New York. I am in Pittsburgh. Was this now going to be an issue?

In the month since the acquisition was announced, I am feeling much, much better about my position with the new company. Earlier this week, I traveled in New York to meet my new boss. I had talked with her several times on the phone and already liked her. Meeting her face to face reinforced how great she is. Not only that, but the offices are in New York City!

I have been to New York a handful of times. Never have I gone as a 100% tourist. I have always been there for other things. I have done a little sightseeing, but not a lot. However, the views from the office provided some pretty spectacular views. The office is in the Financial District in lower Manhattan. Their conference room has a view of the Statue of Liberty. And HR has a view of Freedom Tower. It was pretty cool since I don't have a view at all.

Why is that? Because I am not a remote worker, which means I work from home. And even better….I can work from any where, so I can freely move back to Ohio without worrying about finding a job. And will still be able to go back to New York to see their fantastic views.

This acquisition has been a blessing in disguise. Through some conversations earlier this week, I have been presented with some pretty great opportunities and I can't wait to start them. Who knew that I would be thankful for an acquisition?!?! Well, God did. He knew this would be happening in my life. This is a complete blessing that He has bestowed upon me. But even more than that, I need to show my thankfulness by doing my job well. In this day in age, job security cannot be taken for granted. And I definitely don't want to forget that.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

One of the Best Days Ever

At the end of September, I had one of the best days of my life. I met my niece, Brynley, for the first time. I had been waiting for that day for almost a month and it had finally arrived. I had seen pictures of her sweet face, but I was able to see her and hold her myself.

Right before I got to my brother and sister-in-law's house, Brynley had a melt down. I can only imagine how my sister-in-law must be feeling with a crying baby when she herself is sleep deprived and maybe doesn't know why Brynley is crying. 

I was only able to stay for a couple of days, but I really enjoyed my time just hanging out and not worrying about going here and there. It was really relaxed.

Brynley and I were able to spend some quality aunt/niece time together. Even with my limited baby experience, I loved holding her even when she was crying. I was even dubbed the Baby Whisperer, something I am quiet proud of.

My excitement of being an aunt is just beginning. I wish I lived closer so I could be a part of Brynley's life everyday, but that just isn't my reality. But I am able to be a part of her life in different ways. For instance, I just sent her a really adorable Halloween card.

While I never want her to think that I am buying her love, I will spoil her! But when we are together, I want to spoil her with my time and attention, not gifts.

I can't wait to watch her grow up to see the kind of little girl and young lady she will become. One thing she be completely confident in is that she has people in her life who love her, pray for her and only want the best for her.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Candy Bar Cookie Redo

On Sunday, I posted about my disappointment with the final result of these cookies. Well, I am happy to stay that I modifications were successful this time. 

I used the Toll House chocolate chip cookie recipe that is printed on the back of the package. Instead of adding the chocolate chips, I added a bunch of candy. And I add a lot! I used the same candy - mini M&Ms, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, Kit Kats and Nestle's Buncha Crunch - as I did on Sunday. But I used A LOT more. The original recipe calls for a cup and a half of candy. I used well over 2 cups in this version.

I also made the cookies  a little bit bigger this time. All in all, I am very happy with the redo of these cookies and highly recommend using some of your left over Halloween candy for some cookie making!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Welcome Halloween

This has to be my favorite wreath that I have created. It definitely takes some time to complete. It is definitely not the cheapest DIY wreath either. But the finished product looks great!

Of course, the inspriration came from Pinterest. The best thing about this is how easy it is. Each part takes time, but not a lot of brain power. I cut my ribbon around 5 inches. My hot glue gun got quite a bit of use as well. I went through quite a bit of glue. As I have done a few of these types of projects, I have realized that the repetition of these projects is really relaxing for me.

I went with a black, orange, purple and green scheme. There was also a little white and yellow to add some contrast to the dark colors.

I tried to keep everything separate. I didn't want to clump the patterns together. This made it easier to make sure that I was using a variety of ribbon.

Adding all the ribbon to the wreath form was time consuming, but it was easy to see the progress being made. It felt like I was moving forward with this project.

While the wreath looks done from the front, I need to finish off the sides. But I ran out of glue and I wanted to enjoy it all of October.

On Etsy, I have seen a similar wreath be sold for up to $100. After doing this wreath myself, I can definitely understand that. I easily spent over $30 in ribbon alone.

I might do another one of these wreaths for St. Patrick's Day. It is super cute and I have gotten a lot of compliments on it.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Candy Bar Cookies

These cookies looked so yummy in this pin, but I was less than thrilled with the final result. The cookies were flat and hard. I prefer a chewy cookie. I didn't even take a picture of the final product because I didn't like how they looked.

I loved the idea of adding lots of different kinds of candy to the dough. I picked out my favorite candy, which included LOTS of chocolate.

I used 4 different kinds. The recipe called for 1 and half cups, but I would definitely use more the next time. Even with cookies spreading out, there didn't seem to be a lot of candy in the cookie. I was hoping these would be chock full of candy. 

Even though I was disappointed with how these cookies turned out, I still really like the concept. It is a fun take on a Halloween cookie with all the candy. Of course, these would be great any time of year. Next time, I am going to use my chocolate chip cookie dough as the base and add lots more candy. I have lots of left over candy and a Halloween potluck this week so my second attempt may come this week!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Weekend Links - Pinterest Edition

Here are some great posts I found this week while roaming among the 31 Days blogs.

If you are like me, you have tons of pins on multiple Pinterest boards with great plans to make them....someday. Here a few determined bloggers who are making some of the pins on their boards.

This is actually a pin I have pinned, but it is nice to see someone else actually try it. Kati from Kati's Little Corner of the World made this cute little heart shaped cupcakes! I definitely have to try these at some point.

Pumpkin bliss!! This time of the year there is pumpkin overload. Good thing I love pumpkin! These little pumpkin donut holes/mini muffins look so yummy! Rachel at The Purposeful Wife made these little treats for a play date and were a hit! I might have to try them out on my family in couple of weeks.

Have a great weekend!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Keeping Autumn Clean

I love Bath and Body Works. There is just something about smelling good. There may also be a slight possibility that I am obsessed with their hand soaps, just a slight chance. The fact that I have bottles upon bottles might be an indication. But I just can't help myself!

Of course, the seasonal scents smell so delicious. And they are hard to resist with names like Sweet Cinnamon Pumpkin, Pumpkin Cupcake (to go in my cupcake-themed kitchen!), Creamy Pumpkin and Pumpkin Caramel Latte. See the common demoninator? 

There were also some outdoor scents that were just heavenly, like Sonoma Vineyard Berries, Aspen Autumn Day, Heartland Harvest Maramalde, Vermont Sugar Maple and New England Autumn Bouquet. It is just wonderful!

I usually end up over buying and then have more than I can get through. But next comes the Christmas scents and, heaven forbid, I overlap seasonal scents! It is just another way to add a little autumn flair to my bathroom and kitchen. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Holiday Disappointment

Last week, I talked about the pains of hosting my first Thanksgiving dinner. Well, disappointment has already set in. My brother and his family are not making the trip to Pennsylvania for Thanksgiving. My sister-in-law is heading back to work from her maternity leave at the beginning of November and can't get the extra time off to travel.

To say I was disappointed would put it mildly. There may have been some tears shed after I found out that they weren't coming. I had plans! I wanted everything to be special! And now it isn't going to happen.

Instead, they will be going to my mom's house the weekend before Thanksgiving. I guess we will be celebrating a little early this year.

My disappointment wasn't stemming from the fact that I wasn't going to be able to host Thanksgiving. Just like many families who live far a part, we can't always spend the actual holiday together. Schedules conflict. Traveling, especially holiday traveling, is difficult and tiresome. The holidays don't feel the same when they are celebrated at a different time.

I was spoiled growing up in that we didn't travel during the holidays. We were always able to eat Thanksgiving dinner on Thanksgiving and open Christmas presents on Christmas. Now that my brother and I are older and live hundreds of miles apart, it is harder to do that. And my brother needs to spend time with his in-laws during the holidays, as well. It isn't fair for them to sacrifice their family time, either. But it is hard not to be jealous when they live in the same area and can be a part of their everyday lives if they choose.

While the disappointment is still there, I need to remember that I am thankful for my family everyday and not just on the fourth Thursday in November. Whether my family is all in one geographic location or in three different places, I hope they are making wonderful holiday memories.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Pumpkin Spice Latte

Really....is there anything more that I need to say about this? It is truly autumn in a cup!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Great Expectations

I had great hopes of decorating my apartment for fall. I had visions in my head of what it should look like. Here it is the last full week in October and I haven't finished decorating. There is stuff out, but it doesn't look very nice.

So from my Fabulous Fall Pinterest board, here are some of the projects that I wanted to do, but didn't get to start.

I am beginning to realize that I need to take advantage of the early displays of seasonal decor so I can get all these projects done. It isn't as fun to have to rush to get them done when you already want to have them displayed. You can't enjoy the decorations as long.

Here's hoping to getting everything done next year!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Pumpkin Spice Cookies with Pumpkin Kisses

These cookies are a fun twist on the tradition peanut butter blossoms, if you love pumpkin. And I do! 

The pumpkin kisses can be a little hard to find. I found mine at Target and I either see tons of bags or no bags of these little treats.

So if you can find these little gems, I highly recommend trying these cookies out. Click here for the link to these wonderful cookies.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Weekend Links - Food Edition

Here are some great posts I found this week while roaming among the 31 Days blogs.

Who doesn't love convenience? But lately, packaged food has lost is appeal even if I want something quick. Good Cheap Eats is focusing their 31 Days posts on DIY Convenience Food. This recipe for Easy Chicken and Cheese Flautas look super yummy. I can't wait to try them.

I love potatoes! This recipe for Snack Mix Roasted Potatoes looks absolutely delicious! Laura from Trains and Tutus linked to Vittles and Bits for this recipe. I can't wait to make these.

Although I haven't tried freezer cooking before, it has something I have wanted to do. This recipe for Black Bean and Pumpkin Chili from The Architect and The Artist looks especially good. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Scent of Fall

I love burning candles, especially during the fall and winter. There is something about those smells that make me a little nostalgic. For me, the scents evoke a peacefulness. They can be comforting.

I found one of my all-time favorite scents last year at Bath and Body Works - Marshmallow Fireside. It is heavenly! Its name describes it accurately. It is sweet and smoky all at the same time. But it is a fall scent. When it was on sale after Christmas last year, I couldn't bring myself to buy it because it smelled too much like fall. If I had been using my noodle, I would have stocked up for this year!

My mom pointed out another new favorite for this year - Leaves. This scent is quintessential fall. According the description on Bath and Body Works website, it is a blend of gold nectar, red apple and spiced berries. Whatever it is, it is wonderful! 

Just thinking about these candles get feeling all cozy. One thing great about these candles is the scent. It travels well and smells great. The thing I don't like is that they burn so quickly! But I have a project for those leftover candle jars! I just have to burn through them.

What are your favorite fall candles?

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Thanksgiving Hosting Pains

As I mentioned in a previous post, I am hosting my first Thanksgiving this year. Although it is only for my mom, brother, sister-in-law and niece, I want everything to go perfectly. I want everyone to have a good time and for it to be a memorable experience, especially since it is my niece's first Thanksgiving.

My kitchen counter space is incredibly small. My lack of space is definitely going to make cooking lots of food an issue. My mom will help with everything, but their may be some testy moments because there just isn't a lot of space to spread out. I am definitely not going to cook a full turkey. Too much food for too few people. That is one of the challenges of cooking a big dinner for a few people. There is always tons of food leftover!

Besides cooking plans, I have sleeping arrangements to be concerned about. My mom is actually contemplating putting my brother and his family up in a hotel since they will have my niece, Brynley, with them. In addition to the three of them, my mom and and her dog will be staying with me and my dog. So that is 4 adults, 2 dogs and one baby in a 2 bedroom apartment - a lot of people in a small space.

No matter what happens over the Thanksgiving holiday, I am looking forward to being all together. We haven't been together as a family since June and that was before my beautiful niece was born.

A lot of people stress out about making sure everything is perfect, and I am sure I will fall into that category too. But next year, no one will care how perfect the centerpiece was or if dinner was served on time. They will remember who they spent the day with. Hopefully, it will be an enjoyable time.

I Believe

At first, I didn't know what I wanted to write about for the Blog Hop. And then it jumped into my head. One of the questions for the chapter 1 Reflection Questions asked if one of the promises that had been mentioned in the previous question spoke to our greatest need right now. I answered with "See, I am doing a new thing!" from Isaiah 43:19.

When I woke up the next morning, this phrase ran through my head over and over and over.

I believe God's Word is true, no questions asked. But since my Christian walk is not where it should be, I choose to believe God will not work in my life that way because my faith is not where it should be. But I belive God is able to work however and in whatever manner He chooses.

"See, I am doing a new thing!"

In the last several months, I have been thinking about where God wants me. If I move back home to Ohio, which is where I really feel like I am being led, I would have to find a job in an area that has struggled to recover after being hit hard by the economy. But this week, I found out that I am going to be working from home full time. This may allow me to move back to Ohio without finding a new job. I believe if Ohio is where God wants me He will provide a way no matter the obstacles.

"See, I am doing a new thing!"

God isn't asking for my help to change the circumstances in my life. I often try to take control of the reins, then fail, then doubt. Those negatives thoughts start to invade my thoughts.
"I can't do this."
"I am not good enough."
"why should I expect anything different?"

But if I would listen and trust God, He is saying, "See, I am doing a new thing!" He may also add, "Colleen, please get out of my way and let me do this." :)

I am getting in the way of seeing God work in my life because I doubt. I look back and see what I want to see. I am not looking at the situations where God has evidently worked in my life to get me where I am today. Evidence that I can be confident in...that I should be able to live in and trust God, not just trust in God. Believe God and not just believe in God. There is a difference and I am starting to understand what it means in my life.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Football Fanatic

Football is a great love of mine. College football on Saturdays and NFL on Sunday. Even if my teams aren't playing, I will still have a game on.

Being from Ohio, I am an Ohio State fan. Go Bucks! I didn't go to Ohio State, but it is still my home state team. In Toledo, people are decked out in the scarlet and gray gear on Saturdays. It is great! I do see as many people decked in their college football gear in Pittsburgh.

Since I grew up about 45 minutes away from the University of Michigan, there are a lot of people who cheer for that other team. Traditionally, the Ohio State/Michigan game was played on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. Now it is played the Saturday after. I can't explain the electricity in Toledo, Ohio, on that day. It is fun!

I was also born and raised a Pittsburgh Steelers fan. My parents brought me home from the hospital in a Steelers sleeper. No pink frills for me. Unfortunately, the Steelers are having a less than stellar year, although they did just get their first win on Sunday. It is almost hard to watch them play because they just don't seem to have the same tenacity they once did. It is disappointing to see. I see Heinz Field on my drive home from work. It is a pinnacle in the Steel City. The Steelers had quite a few decades of success, so I guess thinking that it was always going to be like that is a little naive. But I will continue to cheer and be a Monday morning quarterback!

Are you a football fanatic on the weekends?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Pumpkin Palooza

I love pumpkins! Even the orange pumpkin color represents fall. Although now I am obsessed with white pumpkins. They are so pretty! The traditional with a touch of modern.

I found these ceramic white pumpkins at Hobby Lobby over the summer. I HAD to have them. I didn't know where I would put them, but I loved them. When I went to finally buy them, they were no where to be found and my heart sank just a tiny bit. But they were hidden in a display that I very carefully dismantled to get my pumpkins. Right now they are on my dining room table in a little display. They are going to be my favorite fall decoration to uncover each year.

I have a few other pumpkins around my apartment. I have metal pumpkins that I got about 10 years ago. Even after all these years, I love seeing them. It reminds me that it is fall even if the temperature outside is 80 degrees.

I had great plans of this post being about a cute little pumpkin decorating idea that I originally saw in HGTV magazine from one of my absolute favorite designers, Sarah Richardson. I am not really into pumpkin carving, but this idea is great to use if you are tight on space in a glass vase. You wrap ribbon around the pumpkin. That is it!

Another similar idea found on Pinterest is to tie ribbon around the stem of the pumpkin. You could do this with big or small pumpkins. I stopped in the grocery store last night to look at their pumpkins, but I wasn't ready to commit to doing this yet. Maybe I will do this a little closer to Thanksgiving.

Do you like decorating with pumpkins?

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Chocolate Chip Pudding Cookies

My dad came across this recipe several years ago. While I am not sure if this is the same recipe he used, it is probably pretty close. There is something about adding the pudding that makes these chocolate cookies stay really soft...and really good!

I was hoping that adding the pumpkin spice pudding mix would give it a little pumpkin flavor, but it didn't. There might be an ever so slight taste, but nothing to write home about. The original recipe calls for vanilla pudding mix and there isn't an overwhelming vanilla flavor with those. But I was crossing my fingers that these would have a little special fall flavor.

One thing the pudding mix did was darken the cookie dough. So I guess you could say that they have a seasonal appearance. :)

Even though I was a little disappointed that the pumpkin flavor didn't shine through, the cookies still turned out very delicious. I can't complain about that. 

The recipe that I used came from See Aimee Cook. If you stick with the traditional vanilla pudding or try the pumpkin spice cookie, you can't go wrong with this recipe. It is a definite keeper!