Sunday, December 19, 2010

Christmas Week

This morning when I woke up, I realized it was the week of Christmas and little butterflies of excitement bounced around my stomach. You would think it was Christmas day that makes me excited, but it's actually not. For me, Christmas week means celebrating redemption and just being with family.

When I was growing up, the entire month of December I was excited about Christmas. My parents did a phenomenal job with the Santa works and made every detail extra-special. As I've grown up, I've come to realize though I'm still loving Christmas the entire month of December, it's for very different reasons.

I had a very special and unique childhood in that my entire family lived within 45 minutes of each other. Every holiday and birthday we would get to see everyone. When only our nuclear family moved from Oklahoma to Indiana, that changed. We would still get to see family members, just not all at once and not every holiday and birthday. But it made when we got to see them even more special.

Now my family is even more spread out. Most of my family still resides in Oklahoma, but the rest of us are scattered. My sister now lives in NC, my sister-in-law and nieces in Tennessee, my two closest friends in Egypt and Austria, and my parents and parent-in-laws in Florida. Though my husband and I are also in Florida, we're in the process of relocating. This Christmas will most likely be our last Christmas in North Florida.

The varied living locations makes Christmas a little more complicated. This year, we were trying to ship presents all over the place. International shipping makes things extra complicated, but my Austria-bound friend is a smart shopper and ordered something from the states and had it shipped to me directly. She's a great person who knows me really well-- she perked me up on a rough day last week. I received a very unexpected package from her containing stickers with the cutest apron ever (hot pink with green apron strings and black polka dots = my dream apron!) and the words "From the Kitchen of Paw Prints in the Sink" with my name on it. After just graduating with a degree in Creative Writing, this thoughtful gift made me feel more secure and confident during an insecure and doubtful week. Thanks for that, K :) Once I can scan the image in, it will be my new logo for Paw Prints in the Sink.

The reason I became so excited that it's actually Christmas week is because this week, my sister and brother-in-law are coming down from NC for Christmas. I was lucky enough to see them for Thanksgiving as well, but as I'm blessed with a great sister, I like seeing her as often as possible. She's a constant in a world of chaos, making me even more grateful. And though her husband shows his love by immense non-stop teasing, I miss seeing him all the time as well.

Christmas is so much more than presents and persimmon pudding. It's truly about celebrating the real reason for the season and showing gratitude to the family members who love you--and who you love-- regardless. And so in my home, Christmas week is just as great as Christmas day.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Christmas in... November?

At first I thought it was just my imagination. Christmas seemed to be popping up earlier and earlier each year.

But now... I have proof.

Other than the fact that Black Friday sales have been going on since November 1st (which is really a contradiction, since Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving and therefore the only day on which there can be Black Friday sales is, in fact, that day.). Stores are already advertising their Black Friday hours. Christmas trees went up at JC Penney BEFORE Halloween. Absolute craziness. Can we not enjoy each holiday as it comes, without mass harassment from retailers?

In addition to retail stores going Christmas-Crazy early, T.V. stations are now doing the same. ABC Family, one of my favorite channels for holidays because of their "25 Days of Christmas" series, is now beginning in NOVEMBER. I'm pretty sure "25 Days" means it should begin December 1st.

At this rate, in 10 years Christmas ads will begin, quite literally, in July.

I love Christmas. But like most things, Christmas (and other winter holidays) should be celebrated in the month in which they occur. I understand beginning Christmas tidings the day after Thanksgiving. But by extending celebrations each year,  Christmas is growing LESS scarce. And as all economists know, scarcity creates value. Therefore, retailers are devaluing Christmas. Shame, shame shame.

The more important matter is that retailers are trivializing winter holidays by pressuring consumers to purchase more items and sooner than they did last year. Perhaps the heads of each major retail company should watch "A Charlie Brown Christmas" and be reminded that decorations, gifts, plays, etc etc are not what Christmas/ holidays are really about. Whether one is religious or not, at the very least Christmas is about spending time with those you love and creating memories to reminisce about for years to come, when you're missing those people. How many gifts are under the tree, how new your tablecloth is, what kind of food you have... it's all irrelevant. Holiday time is a time to appreciate your friends and family. Sadly, for retailers, there is no price tag for that.

And yet, I'm writing about Christmas the second week in November. Ironic? Yes. Necessary? Definitely.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Truth About Disney

Many people know Disney is near and dear to my heart. Many people often mock this, citing "Happily Ever After" as unrealistic and me along with it. But the people who write off Disney at face value should really take a deeper look.

Disney may sometimes end with "Happily Ever After", but that's rarely a theme throughout. There's always some great loss felt with much heartache before the protagonist can move along. The important role Disney plays in our lives and that of children and people of all ages is to prepare them for life. We will all face losses, some will hurt more than others. But when it comes down to it, there's always something to live for. Life moves on, gets better. Where one person may brush us off as not good enough or anything else, someone else will come along who appreciates you and treats you with the love and kindness befitting a prince (or princess...depending on who you are).

Some may disregard the messages portrayed in Disney films, but that speaks more of themselves than of Disney. They may not see "The Lion King" as a portrayal of boy running from his problems, distancing himself from his family, when really they needed him more than ever. It may sound silly, but "The Lion King" taught me to face problems instead of running away. "The Little Mermaid" taught me to think for myself, instead of simply believing everything those around me believed. "Beauty and the Beast" told me being a bookworm was not only okay, but would benefit me. Disney films tackle social, racial and ethical issues in a way that makes sense to children and adults alike, and provides an interesting story always told in a beautiful way.

And really, what's so bad about happily ever after?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Living in the Dark Ages

The fear of getting too close is not unfamiliar to me. Depending too much on anything is dangerous, as it can be suddenly and shockingly removed. And I'm left here, alone, with symptoms of withdrawal and not knowing how to go back to the way life was before it entered my life.

My fear has come true.

My central form of organization for life, my iPod touch, has broken. An empty white screen stared back at me for a day until I gave up hope of a revival as sudden as its demise. I did what any concerned loved one would do. I called Apple.

I had to speak with two people at Apple. The first guy, bless his heart, spent five minutes on the phone with me while my computer took its sweet time opening iTunes. After being thoroughly embarrassed by my computers' lack of reaction, he suggested I try restarting it. I said I'd call back.

After remedying the computer, I got the serial number of my iPod and had Apple call me. They're paying to have my iPod shipped to them, where they will repair it for free (or so they told me), and then ship it back to me. In the meantime, my entire schedule is up in the air. I stored my schedule, all four of my e-mail accounts and various other items in my iPod. So I feel like my life has been turned upside down.

I never planned on becoming so attached to a piece of technology. But my entire day is in sync with my iPod. My music, my calendar, my e-mail, my blog reading, my e-books, my games, my house searching app.... I have to do without all of this for a week.

Which basically means I'll respond to your e-mails after next Wednesday, when I'm told I'll have my life back. Until then, I feel like I'm living in the dark ages.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Truth About... Vegetables.

    Despite being a vegetarian for six years, I have hated vegetables for most of my life. It wasn't until this year that I began expanding my veggie horizons and trying different veggies cooked a variety of ways. It all started when we were invited over to a friends' house for dinner. She fixed squash, which I'd never had before, and I fell in love. Since apparently tomatoes are considered a fruit, this was the first new vegetable that I actually liked. 

Shortly after my squash experience, a friend at work had me sample the BN Broccoli Cheddar soup. And that was the first time I tried broccoli. As it turns out... I like it. Not raw-- it must be cooked. Which is considerably odd, as I prefer most vegetables raw (and how I survived on salad, pasta and peanut butter for six years). Since then, I've also broadened my horizons by trying spinach. Another friend at work recommended I try fresh spinach cut into small pieces tossed into my salad. As my hubby loves spinach and I haven't served it once in the three years we've been together, this seemed like a good first step.

The first time I tried it, I cut the spinach into ridiculously small pieces. They've gotten gradually bigger as time goes by. But I discovered this actually does work, and make spinach taste edible. I also realized that I had allowed canned vegetables to wrongly lead me to the conclusion that I don't like 90% of vegetables. 

This startling realization led me to question my dislike of other food groups.For most of my life, I've wrinkled my nose at seafood. I tried shrimp on our honeymoon in the Florida Keys, but it had a weird texture. Then a friend of ours invited us over for dinner and served a shrimp cocktail as an appetizer. As it turns out, I do like shrimp. In fact, last week I made Curry Shrimp with Snow Peas (thanks to Real Simple magazine, for providing a fun recipe worth trying!). 

With my newfound seafood bravery, my hubby and I made grilled lemon pepper tilapia. As it turns out, I like that too. Since then, I've made roasted tilapia three times (thanks again goes to Real Simple for providing another recipe).

My discovery of veggies and seafood has also encouraged us to eat healthier all around. So far, so good. We've been eating healthier for two weeks (by this, I mean we're only eating healthy meals. Although we do keep snack size treats around for every now and then). For example, tonight we're having salad (with spinach, carrots, tomatoes and romano cheese), scalloped potatoes and roasted lemon pepper tilapia. For dessert, you ask? I'm going to try some smoothie making.

The Baking Odyssey has somewhat stalled. This is partially due to my obsession with my Kitchen Aid mixer and partly to our new healthy streak. But I can only go without baking for so long. Maybe I'll thank those friends at work for introducing me to giving them sweets. :)

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Reason for my Absence

As my sister so kindly pointed out, I have not updated my blog in forever. BUT I have a very good reason. My awesome husband. It's all his fault.

It's his fault because he got me a Kitchen Aid Artisan stand mixer for our 6 month wedding anniversary. Which means instead of baking things from my book, I've been baking breads and goodies from the Kitchen Aid cookbook that came with the mixer. So to play catch up, here's what I've baked recently:

Lots of bread. Homemade bread is pretty much the best side dish with dinner ever. And it's great for sandwiches too.

Chocolate Lava Cakes-- Melt Ghiradelli chocolate with heavy cream, refrigerate until malleable. Roll into cold little chocolate balls, then make cake batter. Pour cake batter into chocolate ramekins, add ball. Bake. Delight in the amazingness. So rich, but so good.

Nieman Marcus Chocolate Chip Cookies-- OMG. That is all.

I once used the stand mixer 4 times in one day. That's how much I've been baking. I've definitely made more than this, but I can't seem to think of what it is I've been making. Of course, it doesn't last very long.

In other news, I've begun writing for I am the Tallahassee Budget Fitness Examiner, so check it out please.

More baking to come, and you know what that means. I'll actually update the blog more often :)

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Éclairs and Brownies

Last week, I was feeling a bit adventurous. I came across a recipe for éclairs, and decided to give it a go. The breading is a cream puff in elongated strips. The directions say to use a pastry tube, which I had never heard of. J looked it up for me and the results were identical to my cake decorating set. The pastry tips would substitute for this pastry tube. However, I was out of pastry bags. So I made a makeshift one out of a ziplock bag, which is always recommended and NEVER works. The bag always splits from the pressure of pushing out the batter/icing. Did I mention cream puff batter is SUPER messy? It is. My kitchen looked like a disaster zone. I finally made the appropriate shapes, but they were much too big. After baking, your supposed to split them. I couldn't find ANY source that explained how or when to do this. So I guess-timated, and failed. They were on the cooling rack (since the recipe said "cool then split") when I walked back in and they had collapsed. I still stuffed them with a chocolate mixture, but it ended up being something you need a fork to eat.

As for the was a failure filled day. I tried to make a custard filling, but the milk scorched and then the egg scrambled itself in the mixture instead of gently mixing in (this is why they tell you to put some batter in a bowl with the egg, mix it, and then return to the pan. Because if you don't you've got scrambled egg in your custard. This is the one instance where I've cut a corner to avoid dirtying an additional dish and it has failed me). So the custard (and sadly, after much scrubbing, the pan) went to the trash. Thankfully, there is a recipe for "quick" filling in the book, so I used that. This consists of making instant pudding, but using less milk. I had less pudding mix than the recipe called for, but didn't feel like doing the math and made the filling per package directions. After chilling for ten minutes, my pudding was the proper filling consistency. They may not have been super pretty, but they were pretty good. And 2 recipes down :)

Last night, J told me, in his subtle way, that he really wanted brownies. Although I still have some brownie mix in the pantry from the pre-baking odyssey days, I decided to knock out another recipe and make them from scratch. Ironically, a couple months ago I really wanted to make brownies from scratch. I searched the web and couldn't find a single recipe that didn't call for something pre-mixed. Little did I know there are 6 brownie recipes in the BH&G cookbook. So last night I made Chocolate Syrup brownies, which calls for 1.5 cups of Chocolate syrup. It's an insane amount of chocolate. They turned out well, even have that flaky top crust, but they're cake-y. Instead of being dense, they're fluffy. I prefer box brownies right now, but I do have another 5 brownie recipes to try which will probably change my mind.

3 recipes down, the Baking Odyssey continues.

Monday, June 21, 2010

A Cupcake Update, Apple Dumplings

The cupcakes have been tackled. And I learned an important lesson.

Last Tuesday, my friend Jill joined me in the Baking Odyssey. We only had to make one emergency grocery store run, and that happened (surprisingly) after the batter was made: we needed more cupcake liners. The batter went smoothly, we made Fudge Cupcakes, except the only baking SODA I had in the house was in the refrigerator (this issue has since been resolved). And so, I used baking POWDER, thinking the two basically interchangeable. As it turns out, they are not. The cupcakes still turned out yummy, but they were slightly denser than expected, as well as not rising a whole lot.

On the bright side, while they were baking, we made 2 kinds of frosting! Which means 3 recipes down in one day.  We made both fluffy white frosting (which tastes exactly like marshmallow fluff) and lemon butter frosting. The lemon butter frosting should have come with a warning: it's really more of a glaze than a frosting. It did give a little zest to the fudge cupcakes though.

It was also really nice to have someone baking with me. What I love about baking is that it can be an either solitary or social experience. It was nice to have Jill around to help translate the recipes as well. I love BH&G for their vagueness with phrases like "sprinkle generous amounts of sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg", but I'm not such a fan of it when the recipe is too vague even for me. Jill and I spent a good 20 minutes throughout the couple of hours she was over trying to figure out what exactly they meant. But in the end, it all worked out swell. :)

For Father's Day, I decided to make my dad Apple Dumplings. I have never made Apple Dumplings before, and was quite excited to try it. I had a certain picture in my head of what they were supposed to look like, which it turns out, was quite wrong. The majority of the recipe went snazzy, and then the time to actually put the dumplings together came. You roll out a just-made dough, cut it into squares, fill with apples, top with spices, moisten edges and bring edges together. When I read "bring edges together", I thought, upwards. So I brought all the edges up into a point at the top, which of course didn't work, and then I just smooshed it all together, thinking it was just the first one and the next one would be prettier. Repeat for 6 dumplings.  As I was falling asleep, after they had baked and been taste-tested (I wasn't going to give Dad something that might not taste good!), I had an epiphany. I should have made a square, or even a triangle, but not an upright smooshyness. And that was my error. But in any case, they were yummalicious. Which is what's really important, right?

Even more importantly, 9 recipes down. 279 to go. I can totally do this (though I may not eat, or even try to eat, the Prune Whip recipe that is one of the 279 remaining.... Ew. Really-- Ew. It will also be interesting to ask for Gooseberries at Publix).

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Cheesecake Supreme: Recipe 5

Sunday felt like one of the hottest days of the summer, though I know it will only get worse. July in Florida is always worse than June. And what does one do on one of the hottest days of the year? Why, bake a cheesecake of course!

I had a wonderful plan for a cool dinner. A nice full salad, composed of cool romaine lettuce, ripe tomatoes, fresh cucumbers, a little sprinkling (or lot of sprinkling) of medium-sharp cheddar cheese, a few croutons and some nice grilled lemon pepper chicken. And for dessert: a nice chilled cheesecake topped with strawberries.

The one thing I didn't consider? Cheesecake Supreme bakes in the oven at 400 degrees for ten minutes, then you drop it down to 300. Either way, my kitchen got HOT. That was not part of my plan.

Also not part of my plan? Using 5 hours of prep and baking time to make the darn thing. 5 hours of my life for a cheesecake? I think not. So here's what I cut:

1.5 hours called for to heat the cream cheese to room temperature--> 30 seconds, power level 1 in the microwave accomplishes the SAME THING! So instead of waiting for cream cheese to soften for 1.5 hours, I saved 1 hour, 29 minutes and 30 seconds.

2 hours chilling in the refrigerator --> I just popped it in there while we ate. When we were ready for dessert a little while later, I cut and arranged the strawberries atop the creamy white surface and voila- dessert. Though not thoroughly chilled, it was still magnificent.

I'm quite proud of myself for achieving the proper cheesecake texture on my first attempt.

Aesthetics were not so easily achieved. My wacky oven is 75 degrees hotter than it tells you it is, and though I baked for the minimum suggested time, it still cracked. However, I used the sliced strawberries to cover the crack. This coincidentally ended up in a peace sign. Sort of.

In any case, 5 recipes down, 283 to go.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Odyssey Continues: Peach Pie

Continuing the Baking Odyssey, I made two miniature peach pies on Friday. I had two not quite ripe peaches, and I really wanted them out of my refrigerator. I love peach; the color, the fruit, the cheesy phrases. It's odd, I know, but I just love all things peach. In an effort to use as many recipes at once as possible, I decided to make a crust recipe actually in the recipe book (as opposed to my great grandmother's crust recipe which I've faithfully used my entire life, not even looking at another crust recipe). While preparing said crust, I apologized to her out loud (this is made even more weird by the fact that she passed away quite a long time ago...which only makes me feel worse).

Now that I've betrayed my great-grandmother, I fear what will become of my future crusts. However, this crust was lacking somewhat when compared to my GG's crust. But how could it not? Her crust recipe always wields unbelievably soft, flaky crust. This crust was tender, but not nearly as flaky. However, GG's crust does not stand up well to being used as a lattice crust, and this one did. So although some flavor was lost, the look was achieved. This also saddens me. Now that I've successfully made this crust, and therefore can check it off the list, I can now alter it to make it taste better for the other lattice-topped pies.

Also, just a side note, the modern kitchen and the 1976 kitchen-- not stocked with the same appliances. Exhibit A: I do not have a pastry blender. Nor do I know what a pastry blender is. I do know that it was supposed to help me cut the shortening into the flour mixture. So I used a fork. And you know what? It worked just fine. Although I did have to use shortening, which I hate with a passion, because it's sticky and gooey and basically a mess waiting to happen. However, I will have to overcome this hatred, because about every other recipe in this book calls for shortening.

Because I had only two peaches, I decided to make two personal-sized peach pies. However, I do not have two pie-appropriate matching I mismatched. Martha Stewart would be thoroughly disappointed. Yet my husband did not even comment, because he was too busy devouring the delicious pie. Haha--take that unpretty peach pie. Take that.

Since I halved the crust recipe, I should halve the pie filling recipe too, no? Well, that was my intent. Then I got unreasonably distracted by Toy Story showing on the Disney channel, and ended up creating the non-halved proportions for the filling. Twice as much as I needed. Possibly more, because the recipe calls for more than double the two peaches I had. I realized this right before putting my medium-cubed peaches into it. Did I dump half that sugar-flour-spice mixture into a plastic bag so I could have the proper proportions? Nope. I super-coated those peaches (which were supposed to be sliced, but eating pie with sliced peaches--not easy. Also, slicing not-ripe peaches-- not easier. ) I'm not sure if it was the unripe peach juice mingling with the excessive amount of sugar and spices, but those little pies were absolutely amazing. Probably the best thing I've ever baked in my entire life. The phrase scrum-didlie-umpcious comes to mind. I don't mean to brag on myself, but these were seriously amazing. Insanely sweet, but amazing. If only we'd had some vanilla ice cream a la carte, it may have lessened the intensity of the sweet. But alas, we did not. Yet those dishes were empty super fast.

Alas, I failed on the prettyness factor. My half of the crust recipe was not enough for two full mini latticed pies. So photos? I have them, but I'm too embarrassed to share.

The pie chapter is kind of my comfort zone. I feel safe there, despite the near chocolate-cream-pie disaster. However, the gloves must come off. I have to move outside my comfort zone (and save some comfort recipes for later when the scary recipes are sure to make me need comfort recipes) so I must move on. I'm thinking cupcakes. I can ease myself into the harder stuff, such as fudge and candies.

So there you have it. 4 recipes down, 284 to go. I'm either going to complete this endeavor by the end of summer, or if I need an escape plan, by the end of the year. Watch out cupcakes; I'm on my way.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Baking Odyssey Begins: Day 1

The Baking Odyssey is my journey back into the world of baking. And I don't mean with assistance from Betty Crocker or Duncan Hines, where you only have to add eggs and veggie oil and pop it in the oven. I mean real, true, honest to goodness, made from scratch and terribly bad for you baking.

I used to bake ALL the time. One year I even entered the Bloomington Indiana Chocolate-fest with a friend. I made my pie crusts from scratch with my great-grandmother's recipe. At least I never compromised on that. But as the years have gone on, I've relied more and and more on Betty and Duncan and pre-made mixes in general. I always return to the same cookbook when I do bake from scratch, so I decided to go on a little quest. I'm going to make EVERY dessert recipe in that cookbook. What cookbook, you ask? The 1976 edition of the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook. And it will be an odyssey...There are 288 sweets, divided into cakes & cookies, candies, desserts and pies.

Although I've always used this cookbook, I've also always been wary of a few recipes. After one too many frostings gone wrong (and a last minute emergency rush to the grocery store to buy store-frosting), I gave up on making frosting. That changes now. There's a whole section on frostings. And this time I'm making them all.

I've always stayed away from meringues, candies, anything with weird fruits or vegetables in the title (i.e. dates, prunes (bleh!)), but that changes now. So here goes. Wish me luck.

Day 1: Chocolate Cream Pie topped with Meringue

The Process: Fairly simple. Except for the whole boiling chocolate on the stove without it sticking to the pan bit. Also, I used semi-sweet chocolate chips instead of semi-sweet chocolate squares, but I don't think that made a big difference. I started out by making the crust-- from scratch, of course, but eventually I'll have to try the recipes in the book and not just use my great-grandma's (yummy as it is-- I have 288 recipes to go through!). However, the crust is baked before adding the filling, and then baked again with the filling and the meringue. I forgot to stab the raw crust with a fork to release trapped air until it had already baked for about five minutes, so I'm pretty relieved the filling covered up my delayed-stab marks. Also, although my crusts have always tasted amazing (and I don't mean to be a bragging Betty here, but I've only ever received the utmost compliments and thousands of requests from my sister to make it, just so she could it eat raw. It's THAT good.), they've never been especially pretty. I just kind of pinch around the edges to hold the filling. Well, since I'm making this many desserts, I've decided to try and make them pretty, too. So I made a beautiful decorative scalloped edge. Which looked wonderful... until I filled it with chocolate cream to the brim, topped it with meringue, and then it disappeared beneath a mountain of pie.

I also tackled my first meringue. Despite the intimidation of topping a perfectly good pie with beaten raw egg whites and sugar, I went for it. Then I baked it 13 minutes, and pulled out a picture perfect pie.

The Result: The recipe merely said "Cool", not "Chill x hours" or "refrigerate", so I let it cool on the cooling rack for a couple hours. Yet when I went to cut into it.... It was soup. It was chocolate pie soup topped with meringue. I was crushed. Years before, I'd tried to make this recipe and failed. Having blocked that out, I followed the directions nearly exactly. So to have pie soup was devastating. My poor husband, who had been quite looking forward to chocolate cream pie-- notice the lack of soup there-- was also disappointed. He recommended we pop it in the fridge or freezer for a few hours and then see if it set properly. An hour or so in the fridge helped a little, but the filling still collapsed to fill the void left by the pieces we put on our plates (despite the gooey consistency, using bowls would have been surrendering. And you just don't surrender on the first day, soup or no).

Yet after sitting in the fridge over night, a small miracle occurred. The pie set. This afternoon, when I sadly pulled it out of the refrigerator and pulled a slice out...there was no collapse to fill the void. There was just...a space. It was beautiful.

You know what this means? I finally conquered chocolate cream pie AND meringue on the same day.

And you know what else? 2 recipes down, 286 to go.

Wish me luck ;) And come over and eat some of this pie, because really.... I don't want to get fat. And I have very little self control when it comes to chocolate.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Homes that Built Me

Those of you who love country music will most likely immediately recognize the Miranda Lambert reference in my title. I heard this song on the radio a week or so ago, and it really got me thinking. Here's a link to the music video via the wonderful youtube: http://

I wish I could pinpoint the exact word or phrase that made this song resound with me. It had such an effect that I actually bought it. I hardly ever buy music. I just watch the videos over and over again on youtube :)

There's something about the concept of going back to the place you grew up and recapturing who you were when you lived there. It inspired me to take a look back at the houses that built me.

The first few houses I lived in I have no true memories of, and therefore they are only houses to me. The only memories I have are created ones; stories my family told me to match the photos in old albums. The first true home I have memories of is also the site of my earliest childhood memories. It's in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. It was a brick house with blue paneling and a blue garage door. A basic 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom home with a standard layout. From the outside, it may look like just any other house. But that house taught me a lot.

When the time came to paint the garage door, I learned stopping and smelling the roses was for amateurs. Watching paint dry is a true test of letting time go. There's a famous phrase, something about the boredom of watching paint dry, but I found it quite beautiful. Certain parts dry faster than others, creating patterns. It was beautiful. Sitting on warm concrete, watching the sun and the paint create different shapes and images, making up stories to go along with them. This is one of my fondest memories from that house.

We had a playhouse in the backyard. A little yellow and white one room structure that stood side by side with the dog houses. Rollie Polies congregated there in the spring, and spiders chased me out during the summer. The swing set is where I first began negotiating. Having never been stung, I was terrified of anything that had that capability. While slowing my swinging arc, a bee landed on the clover directly below my swing. I bargained with it: I would try not to hurt it, or any other stinging creatures, if they left me alone. Then I jumped and bolted for the door. I think it worked. To this day, I have yet to be stung. (Knock on wood, of course). We had an above ground pool back there as well. What a journey that was. It seemed to take forever for it to be installed. When it was finally done, my sister and I would sit, clad in swimming suits, in front of the T.V., waiting for the weather report to roll around on the guide (back before Weather on the 8's) to determine if it was warm enough (by Mom's standards, not ours. We would have swam when it was snowing) to get in. As soon as that 82 rolled by, we'd be running for the back door.

Time changes everything. We moved from that house to another, and the pool moved with us. Years later, it was destroyed by roofing material during a small tornado. Hamsters, gerbils and lizards taught us how short life can be, and nothing beat coming home to a mile-a-minute tail wag from our dog.

More home memories coming soon. Miranda Lambert's CD and the "House that Built Me" single is available for purchase.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A List of Books to Read

I've been meaning to do book reviews, but I've been reading faster than I've been posting. So I'm a double failure, but still, here's a list of great books I've read recently, and why you should go get them right now.

"Dog On It" and "Thereby Hangs a Tail", Spencer Quinn: This new series is absolutely hilarious. It's a new mystery series (Dog On It in paperback, Thereby still only in hardcover) narrated by... a dog. And it's a riot. Unlike many authors who assign human qualities to animal narrators, Quinn does a wonderful job of capturing the true character of Chet, our canine narrator. Chet gets distracted by his tail (come on, any dog owner knows that happens!), and although he can't piece together the clues he sees, the reader can. Which makes this series the ultimate whodunit. Not only do you get Chet's detective/person (and by person I mean owner, but not really. Our dogs love us and we love them, and they're not truly own-able) talking things out with Chet, but you also get Chet's solo-view on the matter. Which he often forgets. Chet is a believable narrator because he doesn't truly comprehend what he's experiencing. HIGHLY recommend. Seriously, stop reading and go get this book.

"The Sweetness and the Bottom of the Pie", Alan Bradley: A 70 something man writes in the voice of an 11 year old girl. And pulls it off. It's incredible. The second book in the series, with a ridiculously long title (The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag, or close to it) was also phenomenal. The series follows 11 year old Flavia de Luce in 1950's rural England as she solves crimes. She is a chemistry progeny. And a riot. She may be 11 years old, but she's wicked smart. And her "experiments" on her involuntary subjects (her sisters) are a delightful side plot.

"Her Mother's Hope", Francine Rivers: In the 3 years I've been working at a bookstore, Francine Rivers has yet to come out with a completely new novel. Now, finally, she's begun a new series. "Her Mother's Hope" follows two generations of women in the same family (almost 3, but the title-referenced mother's mother has a bit of a story involved too). Of course it's amazing. How could it not be? It begins in Europe, goes through Canada and even ventures into our good ol' USA. To make it even more interesting, Rivers based the book on her mother's and grandmother's letters, and even ventured to her ancestor's hometown in Europe to do research. I'd love to research a book in Hawaii, to any publisher who'd like to send me there (all expenses paid, of course! And I can't forget the hubby ;) ) It's a great mother-daughter book club read, as well as just enjoyable. Though parts of it will make you cry. I cried. Despite that, I'm still looking forward to book 2 coming out-- supposedly this fall?! It's an interesting look at mother-daughter relationships as well.

"The Walk", Richard Paul Evans: I detailed this pretty well in my last post, so think back to that. It's a wonderful book. Be prepared to cry though.

"Bitter is the New Black", Jen Lancaster: If you haven't read her blog, Jennsylvania, you should. It's hilarious, and it will give you a taste of her writing before you venture into spending money territory. She states her mind and her feelings, which is refreshing. She may have been overconfident at one point, but she seems to have an accurate view of where she's at now, and isn't afraid to admit she's made mistakes (quite refreshing!). She's says what you want to say, only don't have the guts to. It's awesome. I admire her gall. And it's laugh-yourself-off-the-couch funny. A wonderful combination of wit and hindsight-wisdom.

"The Scent of Rain and Lightning", Nancy Pickard: Another mystery. Guess what section of the bookstore I've poked my nose recently? I've been loving the mystery section, clearly evidenced by this post (Quinn, Bradley and Pickard can all be found there). This is the new Barnes and Noble Recommends book, and I picked it up more because of the title than anything else. I love the smell of a thunderstorm. This is highly influenced by growing up in Oklahoma, and the fact that the book takes place in Kansas may increase my level of bias. However, it was phenomenally well written. She's won about a gazillion awards at this point (all in the mystery realm, I believe) and I often shy away from award winners because they are too prose-y. I love a good book, but a writer who's too busy trying to sound like a writer than working on a good plot is sadly often the recipient of awards. However, Pickard may encourage me to pick up more award winners. The plot kept me on my toes, trying to figure it all out before she told me. And even though I was a smidgeon close, I was still shocked and surprised at the ending. Yet still satisfied. It's a beautifully written with a compelling story; what's not to love? WARNING: For the faint of heart and scaredy-cats like me, don't read this after dark. I made that mistake once. The book switches time frames, from 1986 to present day. It's clearly distinguishable, but the scary stuff happens in both time frames, so you're not even safe reading one part at night. However, if you're used to murder mysteries, you should have no problem.

So that's what I've been reading (and liking). Now pick at least one and read it so I have someone to talk about it with!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Take a Walk

What is the most important thing in the world to you?

This is probably one of those questions I should ask myself more frequently than I do. I get caught up in day-to-day life. Work, school, paying bills... These things occupy my attention. Laundry needs to be done, the floors always need to be cleaned, something could always be more organized. But are these things important to me? No, not really. Should they be? No. So why do chores and money get the most of my thoughts and attention?

I love organizing, don't get me wrong. There's a very satisfactory feeling I get while organizing as well as after I'm done. And it's not terrible and boring to me; I actually enjoy it. It bothers me when things aren't organized. It grates on me, and I can't get it out of my mind. There's this little nagging voice saying, "Your duvet is going to get dusty if you don't get an airtight bin and put it in there. The closet needs to be organized. Have you seen your pantry in the last month?" These voices get heard, these issues get resolved. But how often does an emotional issue get prioritized like that?

I just picked up Richard Paul Evans' "The Walk" today at Barnes and Noble. I'm already about halfway through. It's one of the books with a wonderful story, but that also really makes you take a look at your life. The premise of the book follows a twenty or thirty-something advertising executive that loses everything important to him, and in a desperate grasp decides to walk from the state of Washington to Key West, Florida. This is not just a physical journey, it is an emotional one. He begins his actual walk midway through novel, and that is where I currently am. And I'm already re-evaluating my priorities.

To take a step back and look at my life through another's eyes is not easy. But when I look at my life and see where my priorities lie, it almost disgusts me. I put so much effort into things that won't really matter in the long run. Instead of focusing on my relationships with those I love, I allow work and housework to get in the way. Those things get my priorities. They shouldn't. And my goal is to alleviate this problem as quickly as I can.

No matter what career path I choose, it will always be a job. It may be rewarding and encouraging, but it will still be a job. From now on, I hope find ways to work on the relationships that mean the most to me. If an outsider looks at my life, I don't want it to look like my priorities aren't with my loved ones.

It's a pretty phenomenal book to make me think this deeply and this much while only being 160 pages in. It doesn't matter how it ends at this point; the journey is truly the most important part.

A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step. I may not have so far, but from this step on I will finally begin to smell the roses-- and honeysuckle, too.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

What's Under the Food Counts Too

I recently realized something horrendous: our house is not cohesive. I used to like the eclectic cozy vibe that emanated from my furniture but now... it drives me crazy. Since I can't randomly replace all my furniture (or slipcover it all- those things are seriously expensive!), I've decided to tackle small things. Like the dishes.

Our dishes were the definition of eclectic. We had plastic plates and bowls that were 4-for-a-dollar at Target four years ago, and saying they looked worn would be a kind way to put it. We also had a mish-mash of designs among our ceramic plates. For our wedding, I registered for Pfaltzgraff service for 8, in a beautiful design, which went on a possibly never-ending backorder about two months before our wedding. Of course they didn't bother to tell me the dishes I registered for were no longer available to be ordered, they just took them off our registry. Thanks, Amazon. Thanks a lot. Not to fear, friends, I have finally got my Pfaltzgraff!

On the downside, it's not the original design I wanted. On the upside, it was approximately 80% easier on my bank account. They were available at Sam's Club (LOVE their random kitchen stuff!), and then went on SALE at Sam's Club (LOVE that way more!). So although they weren't originally what I wanted, they've become so much better. Partially because they are in my cabinets! And they are beautiful, and durable, and I don't have to open my computer to see them! My mother-in-law has the same brand in a different design, and assured me that they are incredibly durable, which is perfect for my hubby, who can be kind of hard on dishes (mostly glasses).

And to make it even better, we replaced our worn plastic dishes with pretty melamine ones from Target. A beautiful dinner isn't just about the food; after their plates have been scraped clean, our guests will see our beautiful dishes. There's something very satisfying about that.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go drool over my dishes. The ones in the cabinets.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Take Only What You Need

It was a simple sign: Please Take Only What You Need. It was on the paper towel dispenser at the Dolphin Research Center in the Florida Keys. And it changed my way of looking at the environment. It changed the way I look at my actions, and the impact those actions have on our planet.

I hate having wet hands. There's just something about it, I can't explain, that irritates me. So I would use a massive amount of paper towels to make sure I got all of the water off. Now, I look at it a little differently. If there's an air dryer, I use that for half, and towel dry (with a small amount of paper towel) the rest (which also allows me to use the paper towel to open the door, because some people aren't as hygienically aware as others). And really, having not-completely-and-totally-100%-dry hands hasn't really bothered me that much. Or harmed me in any way. Who knew?!

When all the eco-friendly products first came out, they were iffy and expensive. They cost more, and seemed much less sturdy. So I kept recycling and trying to leave as a little of a carbon footprint as possible, and waited for those products to improve.

The time has come. I recently purchased a sponge, made from recycled material, that can be cleaned in the dishwasher. I am a clean freak. I can't stand the thought of germs building up anywhere in my house. So typically, sponges are on my not-allowed-in-eyesight list. But, considering it can be cleaned in the dishwasher (aka, little to no effort needed on my part), I am making a significant effort to use less paper towels. Now, I LOVE paper towels. And not just any paper towels-- Viva paper towels.

It started as an allegiance to my grandfather, Jim. He would only use Viva paper towels. After he passed away, I developed a weird obsession with Viva paper towels. In my mind, it was a constant reminder of Gramps, a little way of holding on a little longer. Despite my cleanliness focus, I spill...a lot. So every time I grabbed a paper towel, I would think of Gramps and he would be a little less gone.

Despite my clear emotional attachment to Viva paper towels, I felt I needed a legitimate reason to explain to my husband why no other brand of paper towels will ever enter our house. And so, this is my logic:
Viva paper towels are super absorbent. So despite the fact that they cost slightly more than the average cheap-0 paper towel, we use less and therefore spend equal if not less money, because we're using better paper towels less often.

I hope my going green effort does not harm Viva paper towels in any way, because my yearly spending probably pays for their bonuses... Sorry, guys.

Another green effort I'm making is to get rid of stuff, but without it going into a landfill. Goodwill now loves me, and I'm trying to sell stuff on Craigslist as well. So the junk I no longer want is being repurposed, instead of collecting dust. Well, it may still collect dust, but not in my closet. And that's what's important, right? :)

Now that "green" products are increasing in quality and decreasing on price, the trouble is deciphering the label. Many products are claiming to be green that aren't. Shame on them. Shame, shame, shame. In the Spring issue of Shopsmart, the Consumer Reports household magazine, they tested many different green products and explain how to tell if a product is green or fake-green. I highly recommend it.

Another step-- I'm attempting to grow my own food. This is both a diet plan and eco-friendly. By eco-friendly, I mean the vegetable and fruit market will see a slight dip in my purchasing, and therefore in the long run (assuming this works and I don't starve to death or cave and buy their food), less pesticide will be used on crops. I love organic food, but it's still priced outside my budget (except for Cascadian Farms granola, which is both on sale at Target right now and $1 off coupons are regularaly available online). So while I attempt to grow blackberries, raspberries, grapes, tomatoes and cilantro, I'm telling myself it's a step in the right direction.

I'll keep you posted on my green efforts. In the meantime, happy Earth day. Plant a tree, or see the new Disney Oceans between April 22 and April 29 and Disney will donate something in your name. Which is pretty awesome. Happy planting!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Do The Robot

Last week, I was super excited when the ticket window at AMC handed me a voucher for a free ticket. Using my moviewatcher card, I had somehow earned or randomly been chosen for this wonderful gift. Of course, I couldn't use it on the movie I was seeing that day. And it expires in a month. And I can't use it on any "special engagements". When I inquired what constituted a "special engagement," I was informed that it was any movie on their electronic train-schedule-esque board with an asterisk. Oook, How do I know which movies have asterisks when I'm sitting at home trying to pick a movie with my husband? So I ask someone else, who tells me a "special engagement" is any movie that's been out for less than 2 weeks. Oh joy.

Since I got two different responses, I decided to call on the evening in which my husband and I wished to see a movie. It has been a very long time since J and I saw a movie together. Perhaps it's the work-week business and the high weekend prices. Ok, just scratch that and make it a definitely. Unsure if the movie we want to see (The Bounty Hunter, for those of you interested) is still considered a special engagement, I decided it would be simplest to just call and ask.

Apparently calling and asking is a thing of the past. When I tried to find a phone number for our local AMC, all I could find was the corporate number. Finally, I called ,assuming I could somehow get to a live person on such a hectic movie night as a Saturday.

So at this point, for those of you keeping track, it's AMC 2, Me 0 in the point scale. I was wrong again. I get a recording. Here's how our conversation went, me and the crazed AMC Robot.

AMC Robot: Would you like to hear the movie times for AMC Tallahassee Mall?
ME: No.
AR: Would you like to hear what movies are currently playing?
AR: I'm sorry, I couldn't understand that. Would you like to [at this point she lists four different options, none of which are live person]
AR: I'm sorry I didn't understand that. Would you like to purchase tickets for a movie?
Me: Yes.
AR: What movie? Say the movie name.
Me: The Bounty Hunter.
AR: I'm sorry, I didn't understand that. Please try again.
ME: THE BOUNTY HUNTER [all caps indicates me yelling here]
AR: I'm sorry, I didn't understand that. Please try again.
Me: The Bou-nty Hun-ter (annunciating like a robot)
AR: What time would you like? There is a 7, 7:45, 9:45 and 10:30. Say your movie time.
Me: 9:45.
AR: I'm sorry I didn't understand that. Please try again.
Me: Ni-Ne Fo-rty Fi-ve (again with the robot talk)
AR: You've selected the 9:45. Is that correct?
Me: Yes.
AR: How many tickets would you like?
Me: Two.
AR: I'm sorry, I didn't understand that. Please try again.
AR: Ok, let's make sure I've got this right. You want two tickets for the 9:45 showing of The Bounty Hunter. Is that right?
AR: You're total is-
AR: I'm sorry, I didn't understand that. Please try again.
ME: Are you f-ing kidding me?!
AR: I'm sorry, I didn't understand that. Please try again.

At this point, I hit the zero button. She then told me the number for the AMC in the Tallahassee mall. I didn't have a pen or paper. I then spent 45 seconds yelling REPEAT! before hitting the zero again. Then she offered to transfer me.

When I finally got to a live person, I learned that the movie had only been out for a week and I couldn't use my free ticket. We didn't go.

AMC 3, Me 0

Lesson learned: Talk like a robot, and you'll spend less time yelling at one.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

C VS The Furniture- C is the Winner!

I battled the furniture...and I won.

We have limited space and limited means to organize that space and make it as wonderful as possible. I wrote earlier about my endeavor to re-arrange the furniture in our house in order to improve it for both us and our guests. And I succeeded! The chair is in the bedroom, and though I've only sat in it once, I'm enjoying the way the room looks much more now. The space is also more functional, which is a nice bonus.

On a plus side of our friends and guests, we now have a love seat! That means no more wooden dining room chairs in the living room while we're hanging out. We now have a couch, a chair, and a love seat. It's amazing- we could actually have both sets of our parents over and everyone could be comfortable! It's the little things that make life better. I promise pictures are coming soon, but I'm a bit of a photo failure right now and haven't uploaded photos in nag me. And eventually I'll post them.

I battled Spanish- and I lost. Sad day. After taking two years in high school, I thought I could take the CLEP test, get the credits I needed, and graduate this semester. Sadly, I had more confidence in myself than I deserved. I took a placement test as practice today, and only tested out of one level. I needed to test out of three levels. On the bright side, I didn't waste $87 for the CLEP test and I am saving approximately $600 on course fees, but I'm kicking myself for not doing this last semester. I know I have a list of good reasons-- a full course load, wedding planning, working quite a bit, and ultimately no free time to study Spanish-- yet I still regret it. Now, I will graduate one to two semesters late. Although this is a major bummer, I realize that my plan and God's plan may not be the same. In the end, I will be where I'm supposed to be. All I can do is accept that and try and make the best of it. However, if anyone looks like me and knows Spanish fluently.... Just kidding. Maybe. Unless you really want to, and feel the system is flawed....

Re-arranging the furniture was a very nice distraction from the emotional flip-flop I've been in recently. I'm very thankful for my amazing husband and wonderful friends in Tallahassee, but I've really been missing my out-of-town friends. It seems the older we get, the farther we move away, and often to more remote places with sketchy internet. The friendships remain strong, sometimes even growing over the distance, yet I still miss being able to sit down and drink coffee with them and just catch up. I was able to do that in town with a friend yesterday, and it made me realize how much I miss having all my friends nearby. So to those of you (and you know who you are!), just know that I'm thinking about you and missing you.

To end on a happy note, Febreeze and Swiffer joined forces, and my floors smell amazing. Not quite amazing enough to have me camp out on them, but pretty darn close.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Post Wedding Thoughts on the Post Wedding Blues

The Post-Wedding Blues- sadness that your wedding is over, you miss planning, all the attention, blah blah blah.

Did I feel the post-wedding blues? Not immediately. Planning my wedding was not what I thought it would be. Before he dropped down to one knee on that cruise ship balcony (sounds romantic right? Now add a Bruce Lee shirt and my pre-cruise proposal nightmare that he proposed on said balcony and in my immense excitement I knocked the ring out of his hand into the blue abyss, never to be seen again except by those creepy fish in the deepest darkest parts of the ocean.), I thought wedding planning would be a blast. I love organizing events, so wedding planning should be right up my alley. I'm a bargain shopper, working on a small budget is not a problem. But where I pictured bridal magazines on the Starbucks table between myself and my closest girlfriends went up in a poof shortly after we returned from the cruise.

First the stress of setting the date. With family in five states, three friends in other countries and the military to work around, that was not so easy. Once accomplished, I realized that idyllic image of bridal magazines and closest girlfriends would be a lot harder with one of those girls in Eygpy, another in Canada, another in Texas, and the fact that bridal magazines cost the same amount as a trade paperback book (I'm a bookseller, I know these things). Being the budget conscious shopper I am, I couldn't bear to buy more than two. Luckily for me, my Canada-girlfriend Katya's dad somehow ended up with a free subscription to Modern Bride, which she so kindly forwarded to me.

Despite the distance, my girlfriends really pulled through. Looking through dresses online via phone and facebook messages was loads of fun. And my local friends went wedding dress shopping with me, which was also loads of fun. Even if we were on completely opposite time zone schedules, they were the best bridesmaids a girl could ask for--all 6 of them. (Oh yes, that's right-- our 50-guest wedding had a 17 person bridal party including bridesmaids, groomsmen, flower girls, ring bearer, bride and groom. That's how we roll. Our friends rock.)

Despite amazing friends, wedding planning kind of sucked. I'm all for negotiating and working out a deal-- wedding vendors aren't. Especially not in this economy. One photographer even called me names and said my wedding would be ruined because we didn't choose him-- keep in mind he responded to an ad I posted that stated what we could pay. He was probably the rudest person I have ever dealt with. I had to threaten to file for harassment to put an end to his obnoxious e-mails. Thankfully, a friend from class recommended her roommate, who was starting a photography business. We looked at their photos, and they were amazing. We truly lucked out-- we had the most amazing wedding photographers, and they were willing to work with us on every single detail.

The wedding ended up going well-- completely thanks to those amazing friends mentioned earlier. And it was such fun to see all the pictures taken, both my friends and by our superstar photographers. But even a month after the wedding, I did not have the post wedding blues. Then it hit me: my wedding was over. This special day I'd been dreaming about my whole life was over. So this is what people were talking about. It was sad. What do we dream about now? As renters not planning to buy for another 3 years, it's hard to dream of owning a house when it's still three years away. Babies are the same thing. So for the next three years it's just kind of what?

So basically I learned that the post-wedding blues aren't all blah blah blah. It is sad. But on the other still end up married. To someone you love (hopefully). And you probably chose it. So I had a short little burst of the pos-wedding blues, but really-- the trade off is pretty great.

And maybe in ten years we'll renew our Hawaii. :)

Welcome and Design Conundrum

I couldn't decide on any one thing to write about, so Paw Prints in the Sink will be a compilation of just about anything and everything. You can expect book reviews, poetry, random thoughts, great recipes, adventures in married life, decorating dilemmas, dog-family stories and probably loads more. So to get us started....Decorating!

I'm not sure if it's married life or just being sick of school, but interior decorating has regained a priority in my life. This goes hand in hand with my OCD organized personality. I'm using Spring Cleaning, reorganizing and redecorating our house as a treat when I finish my papers and take the CLEP for Spanish (which I'm praying will give me all the credits I need so I can graduate this semester!). I know, cleaning as a reward means I'm pretty weird. But since we upgraded our old tiny TV to a nice flat screen, we've (or rather, I have) been doing a lot of re-arranging with furniture. Our new TV didn't fit in our old TV stand, so we moved a table from another room. But there's about an inch on either side of the table that the TV hangs over. The simplest answer to this conundrum is get a bigger table, right? Except I'm trying to spend little to nothing on this little project of mine. I want to work with what I have. Which means I can sand and refinish furniture, but I'm trying not to buy too much. Oddly enough, I'm going to Quincy on Friday to look at a love seat for $30.
What the heck- trying not to spend money, right? But we need more seating in the living room and $30 for a love seat sounds like a pretty awesome deal. Especially considering it's blue, so it matches our other living room furniture. This will allow me to move a chair into the bedroom. The chair-in-the-bedroom thing actually started the search that led me to finding the couch. The said putting a chair in the bedroom would make it more cozy, and could make it seem more luxurious without spending a lot. Presumably you're supposed to already have this magical chair, but since we're low on seating, I'm having to replace the chair.
Of course, I was neither satisfied nor dissatisfied with our bedroom until I read that article. Now I look at our room a whole new way. What message does our design send? Right now it's still eclectic college furniture, different wood tones and random framed paintings. Our wedding prints aren't even up in frames yet, so it really just looks like a sophisticated version of collegiate furnishings. There's nothing wrong with that, but I'm over it. I've lived with it for almost four years, and I'm ready for my house, rental or not, to look like me. So stay tuned for adventures in re-arranging as well as before and after pics.