Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Year in Review

Let's not sugar coat it, 2014 was a tough year. But when you look past the rough spots, it was a pretty good year. 

The Good:
My sister got married in Jamaica and I took a ton of pictures

The Bad:

I think I started to really open up more on the blog, sharing things like

I wrote a short story and shared it here: Part 1 Part 2

And sometimes Life smacked me in the face and said "wake up dumb ass!", like

Plus a few other favorite posts, like

I set a goal for myself (besides  my 14 in '14 challenge) on Goodreads to read 35 books which I've surpassed and read 47. I want to set a goal next year for 50 books, but it might be a little high reaching. We'll see. Anyway, here's my top 5 favorite books from the year:

Steph shared a really good quote on her year in review post: "There are years that ask questions and years that answer." This definitely was a year that questioned a lot for me. We shall see what 2015 brings....

Monday, December 29, 2014

Favorite Podcasts

It takes me a while to get "with the times". I discover something and think it's amazing and then someone will tell me "uh Nicole? This has been around for years." Podcasts would be one of those things. When I upgraded my iPhone, the podcast app was brought to my attention. Now I know podcasts have been around for years but they weren't something I thought I had easy access to until now. 

Now I'm obsessed. I listen to podcasts all day, every day. I'm pretty sure I'm annoying my boss with the whole "huh? what? you're talking to me? ugh hang on let me pause and take my earphones out".

Here are my current favorites:

1. Serial

Is there anyone out there who hasn't heard of Serial? They just wrapped up the final episode of Season 1, and it's become the most popular podcast of all time. I never thought I'd look forward to a Thursday, then Serial came around and I couldn't wait for Thursdays to come so I could listen in to the new episodes. 

2. Screen Junkies: Movie Fights

Screen Junkies is responsible for the hilarious "honest trailers" on YouTube, and their "Movie Fights" podcast is just as entertaining. Each podcasts features debates like "who was the best James Bond" or "What did you think of the new light saber". It's led to some pretty good debates between Dave and I.

3. Risk! True Tales Boldly Told

This is by far my favorite podcast. So much so I've maxed out the storage space on my phone downloading back episodes. I currently have 99 in the queue and a few more that can be downloaded. Risk! is a podcast where people tell stories about themselves that wouldn't be something they'd probably share with others. Fair warning, foul language is abundant in this podcast and some episodes are definitely NC-17-ish. Definitely not for the conservative type.

4. Welcome to Night Vale

Welcome to Night Vale is a fictional podcast about a small town set in a desert. It's a really weird podcast but it's enjoyable if you like to listen to audio books. 

5. Books on the Nightstand

Two people who work in the publishing industry created this podcast to talk about books. If you're the kind of person who likes to get ideas about the next book they should read, what more do you need?

6. The Cracked Podcast

I love Cracked's app, it's just full of random articles that I really enjoy reading. This podcast is an offshoot of their articles, which means once I've scoured through all the most recent articles I can then listen to them talk about it even more. 

7. Stuff You Missed in History Class

As someone who enjoys history, I love hearing about more obscure moments in history that you don't normally hear about. Not only does it give me tidbits of knowledge to share with others, but I'm also learning about things I would have never known about.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas (or Happy Holidays if you celebrate something else!) from me, Dave, Nibbler and Squishee!

May your day be merry and bright! 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A Christmas Card of Sorts

Dave's dad includes a "year in review" letter in his Christmas cards each year. It's something I always enjoy reading. Since it'd be creepy for me to ask all of you for your addresses so I could send you a Christmas card (and expensive to boot!), I thought I'd share the card I sent to family and friends this year with my own little year in review.

This year has certainly been a year for the books. We've definitely had some highs and lows, but luckily there have been more highs than lows. I graduated in May and began grad school in the fall. I just finished the first semester up and did very well. 

In June, Dave and I traveled to Jamaica for my sister's wedding. While there Dave was able to scuba dive and take in some sights. Unfortunately I didn't get to join him but hopefully we'll have many chances in the future to do so. In October, we joined a few friends in OBX for a few days and had an excellent trip. In doing so, we've also knocked off another state from our "visit 50 states" bucket list dream and are up to 10 states visited!

Nibbler and Squishee turned 4 in August. They're both still as cuddly as ever and currently treat the tree as their new toy box. I wake up each morning to find at least 2 new toys under the tree and the tree skirt askew. I like to think that they're just trying to give Dave and I a few presents as well. 

2015 is approaching much quicker than I expected, but as with each new year I'm excited to see what it will bring. Happy holidays to you and yours!

All my love,

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Because Everyone Should be Able to Eat Pizza

This post is sponsored by Smart Flour, as always all opinions are my own. 

I recently decided to host a small tree trimming party with a few friends. It wasn't a big, extravagant event but I still wanted to be a good host to my friends and provide them with a good treat to snack on after they helped me decorate the tree.  

I had some gluten free pizzas from Smart Flour that I thought would be perfect to share with them. One of my friends suffers from Celiac's disease and the one thing she said she misses the most about eating gluten is pizza. What better way to say "thanks for helping me trim my tree!" than to surprise her with the one meal she misses? 

The first thing my friend said after her first bite was "are you sure this is gluten free?" The crust was crunchy and perfect. I don't normally eat the crust off my pizzas but even I ate it, and enjoyed it. Needless to say the pizzas did not last long and everyone was raving how good they are. 

I'm not going to lie you guys, I shy away from gluten free products. It's like fat free cream cheese to me, I just want to hiss at it and run away. Smart Flour's gluten free pizza is different. It was absolutely delicious and definitely something I'd enjoy again.

The pre-made pizza comes in three flavors, Garden Margharita, Classic Cheese, and Uncured Pepperoni. My personal favorite was the pepperoni. Crusts are also available for purchase if you want to make your own pizza. If you're interested in checking out Smart Flour's products, they have a handy list of locations here.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Bacon Jam

This year I decided to gift homemade bacon jam to friends and family for Christmas. I mean come one, it's a jam made with bacon! This recipe is very simple, so if you have any last minute gifts that you need to come up with, this would be something you could easily whip up.

I found this recipe last year in Martha Stewart Living and decided that I was going to make it this year for gifts. The one thing that I would have to say about this recipe is that you are going to need a ton  of shallots. If you think you have enough, add another two bags. This jam is delicious with crackers (with or without cheese!), or just eaten right off the spoon! MSL suggests serving it with aged cheddar and crostini which sounds like heaven to me. 

Bacon Jam Recipe, from Martha Stewart Living

What you need:
-1 1/2 lbs sliced bacon cut into 1 inch pieces
-2 cups finely chopped shallots (MSL says 3 large or 8 small shallots will do the trick, it's more like 5 large and 10 small)
-4 small cloves garlic, chopped (about 1 Tbs)
-1 tsp chili powder
-1/2 tsp ground ginger
-1/2 tsp ground mustard
-1/2 cup bourbon
-1/4 cup maple syrup
-1/3 cup sherry vinegar
-1/3 cup packed light-brown sugar

What you do:

1. Spread half of bacon in a single layer in a large skillet, cook over medium heat, stir occasionally until browned. Transfer to paper towels to drain, remove fat and repeat with remaining bacon, reserving browned bits and 1 tablespoon fat in pan.

2. Add shallots and garlic to pan and cook over medium until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add chili powder, ginger, and mustard and cook, stirring together. Increase heat to high, added bourbon and maple syrup. Bring to a boil, scraping up the browned bits. Add vinegar and brown sugar and return to a boil. Add bacon, reduce heat to low, stirring occasionally until liquid reduces to a thick glaze, about 1o minutes. 

3. Transfer mixture to a food processor and pulse until it has the consistency of a chunky jam. Refrigerate in an airtight container at least 1 hour and up to 4 weeks.  

I put the jam in these jars to give out to loved ones for gifts. 

Friday, December 19, 2014

End of the Week Roundup

This week has gone by so fast, I've literally been a day behind the whole week. So Wednesday I thought it was Tuesday and I almost didn't complete today's post because I thought it was Thursday. So it's a bad thing for getting things done but a really good thing when you realize you're one day closer to the weekend (and Christmas!).

1. Dave and I put up a few strands of lights in our bedroom, and I'm loving it. Christmas lights are one of my favorite kinds of lighting.

2. I made this Minnie Mouse teddy bear this week. I'm starting to step outside the lines of a typical bear and I'm really loving how it's turning out!

3. I also finished up a girl's onesie quilt this week too. 

4.  I can't stop listening to this song this week.

5. I got this once in a lifetime pic of Nibs posing in front of the Christmas tree this week. 

How did your week turn out?

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

I Hate Winter but...

I am not a fan of winter. I hate being cold, I've never been a fan of snow, and the shortened daylight hours makes me lazy and grumpy. But if I'm going to get through the next few months I need to find the silver lining in winter so I created a list of things that I get to enjoy more because it is winter. 

Like the fact that hot showers are infinitely better when they warm you up after a cold day. I love the feeling of the warmth spreading through my body starting at the tips of my toes and spreading upward. It's one of my favorite parts of the day during the winter. 

Or that my cats, who are already cuddlebugs suddenly can't get enough cuddling in. The warmth of their soft fur and the weight of their bodies sitting on stomachs and legs is about as comforting as you can get. 

Plus, hot chocolate with marshmallows (and/or whipped cream!) is always for some odd reason a little bit more delicious when it's cold out.

And, even though we lose daylight which stinks, the quiet that comes along with dark days is nice too. I love having a break from all the hustle and bustle of life. Have you ever been outside in the evening when it snows? It's one of the most beautiful sights you'll ever see, and it's so quiet you can literally hear the snow fall. 

Finally, the best part of winter? Clothes are a little bit looser and comfortable so it hides more. No need to worry about dieting or passing on the pie, your leggings and sweater tunic will do all the work to hide that extra few pounds!

What are some things you enjoy about the winter?

Monday, December 15, 2014

15 in '15

It's that time again! I really enjoyed picking out 14 books to read last year, even if I didn't enjoy all the books I chose. This year I chose to mix in some books that I haven't read from my own shelf with books on my "To Read" list on Goodreads

1. Sharp Objects

Gone Girl left me obsessed. I really hope the rest of her books are just as good, I love a book that sucks you in and won't let go even after you're done reading it.

2. TV Gods

I love mythology, and I really enjoy when writers put a twist on the stories and set them in modern times. I'm intrigued to see how this book will play it all out. 

3. A Discovery of Witches

The VP of my department insists I read this book. He's suggested some really excellent books for me to read previously including The Alchemist, so I'm sure this will be good too. 

4. The Thousand Dollar Tan Line

I love Veronica Mars (both the show and the movie), so reading this book was a no brainer. Hopefully it'll live up to the series. 

5. The Serpent of Venice

One of my favorite authors, I got this book when it was released in April and I can't wait to delve into it. 

5. I Don't Know What You Know Me From: Confessions of a Co-Star

I love memoirs, and I like Judy Greer so I'm hoping this book is worth the read. 

6. Big Fish

One of my all time favorite movies, I've wanted to read this book for so long. No more excuses!

7. Orange is the New Black

I love this show. I know that the show is very loosely based on this book, but I still want to check it out. 

8. American Gods

Ever since I read The Ocean at the End of the Lane, I've started to become very attached to Neil Gaiman so it's my goal to read all of his books, hence adding one to this list!

9. Dead Until Dark

I really liked True Blood when it was on TV, so I figured I'd see where it all began.

10. The Great Gatsby

Believe it or not, I've never read this book. I think it's time to get myself acquainted. 

11. The Glass Castle

Everyone that reads this book tells me how good it is, time to find out for myself!

12. Pride and Prejudice

Another book I've never read (please don't hurt me!), this needs to be read before I hit 30, next September. Eeek!

13. Insurgent

I read the first book this year, I figured it wouldn't hurt to finish out the series.

14. Clan of the Cave Bear

Dave's grandmother has been telling me to read this book for the past 8 years, I think it's time I finally listened to her. 

15. Paddle Your Own Canoe

I really like Nick Offerman, so I'm sure this book will be good to read. 

What's on your list to read for 2015?

Friday, December 12, 2014

End of the Week Roundup

Another Friday is upon us...can you believe Christmas is only two weeks away?? 

1. Saturday was another crafting day spent with friends. We painted gourds, made these yarn ornaments, and painted clear glass ornaments. 

2. Sunday I volunteered at my company's kids Christmas party where I face painted...and dressed up like an elf.

3. This Vine has had me laughing all week long. Poor kitty!

4. I got my grades back from my first semester of grad school and I aced both classes, score for me!

5. Nibbler loves curling up with me, even if it means curling up with my butt while I'm passed out on the couch.

How did your week turn out?

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Four is My Favorite Number

Four is my absolute favorite number so when I saw Lauren's post on fours, I just had to borrow it for my own!

4 names people call me other than my real name:  Nic, Nikki (by select few, I hate it!), Pickle (again, select few), Nic Nic

4 places I have been: Vermont, Jamaica, Turks and Caicos, Tennessee

4 things I don’t eat: pickles, peanut butter, sushi, spicy food

4 favorite foods: mashed potatoes, steak, chicken gravy, milky ways

4 things I’m always saying: "shut ya face", "like um", "what the", "really"

4 things I'm looking forward to next year: hopefully getting pregnant and having a healthy baby (I hope I haven't jinxed myself!!), continuing grad school, possibly student teaching (eep!), another great year with an amazing husband

4 movies I have watched more than once:  The Avengers, Big Fish, Where the Heart Is, Hot Fuzz

4 places I would rather be right now:  on vacation (any vacation!), reading on my couch with my kitties, laying in bed with Dave laughing at Buzzfeed articles, sewing in my craft room

4 tv shows I watch:  Sons of Anarchy, The Simpsons, Modern Family, Chopped

4 jobs i've had: gas station attendant, bank teller, customer service rep for an insurance company, hoagie maker

What are some of your "four" answers?

Monday, December 8, 2014

To Christmas Card or Not Christmas Card...That is the Question.


Christmas cards always seemed, to me at least, like something families with children did--not a married couple with two cats. When Dave and I got married three years ago, I was 26 and still felt too young to send out Christmas cards. I thought, who cares about the two of us besides family? 

I personally am not a fan of the greeting card type of Christmas cards. Don't get me wrong, I love to get them, but I hate to send them. They seem too impersonal for me to send. And sending out a personalized picture card seemed too weird to send if it was just Dave, the cats and me. 

But this year I'm starting to feel differently. I want to send out personalized cards, even if it's just us and our fur babies. I flip flopped on the idea for a few days and decided that this year we would send them out. It feels a little weird still. I mean, we've been married three years and we're just now sending out the cards, with no kids? But I feel like I'm hitting that "age" where Christmas cards are okay to send.

So we attempted to stage some nice pictures in front of the camera, but they didn't look right. Then I thought back on the past year. All the ups and downs, highs and lows, and decided to just share a few pictures from our year, to sum it up nicely for family and friends while wishing them well for the holiday season. 

What are your thoughts? Do you send Christmas cards even if it is just you and your significant other? 

Friday, December 5, 2014

End of the Week Roundup

Hello Friends! This week has been a crazy but good week. I've been running around nonstop but it's all good things. 

1. Thanksgiving was great and Black Friday was spent on the couch watching TV. Good times. 

2. Saturday I met up with a friend and we created these ornaments. They were super easy to make and look great!

3. Tuesday night was my last grad class for the semester. I know that I've got at least one "A" under my belt, so it was a successful semester.

4. Wednesday I hosted the teen book club's holiday party. It's my favorite meeting of the year. In lieu of reading a book, I bring a pizza and we play games all night. Sorry for the creepy flower faces, I don't think my teens parents would appreciate me throwing them up on the world wide web. 

5. Last night, Dave and I went to a local radio show's food drive along with my best friend Joe. If you haven't heard of Preston and Steve you should check them out, they are hilarious. Here's me with Steve!

How was your week?