Friday, August 31, 2012

Guest Food Selections: Better, Worse or the Same?

I am about to host a small party with some old friends and I am thinking through my menu. The pressure to impress is not too high, but as I was throwing ideas around in my head I had a very interesting thought that I have no clear answer for. Do I buy and serve the same foods I typically buy for my family, better food, or cheaper alternatives? There are varying factors for each choice, and some commonly associated reasons for doing each. Here is my thought process with each category possibility:


Some people buy "better" food than they would typically serve their own family when hosting. This can be for many reasons: trying to impress others with good taste/health, a splurge because it is a special occasion, or fear that your guests will not like the "lower" quality you eat. Some people like to take special time to prepare more time consuming food/prep when guests will enjoy the fruits of their labor as well. 

The Same?

I would say serving the same food is probably an exception for most people. Even for me this option is used the fewest number of times in comparison to better and worse food. Some people might just keep on buying and serving what is habit and comfortable for them. In reality, this makes sense, especially if you aren't trying to keep up with the Jones'. The perk of this option-you are totally comfortable with yourself and what you like. The downside-you aren't getting anything different or new to try (and you aren't saving any money by purchasing "worse".)


Ok. This one is pretty obvious. I am going to put it out there as truth because I have never heard of any other reason for doing it other than to-SAVE MONEY! If you are hosting for many other people and trying to offer a variety of food why WOULDN'T you try to save a few bucks by purchasing in bulk and/or lower quality food. In contrast with "better" food, I would venture a guess to say that your amount of prep time and cooking is going to be less with "worse" quality food. I don't think there is anything wrong with this. You get to enjoy your company without worrying that you will over steam your fresh vegetables by 2 minutes too long, while forgetting to turn down the grill temperature on your delicate meats, and while also forgetting to add the garnish to your dip that had to be prepared exactly 14 hours ahead...

Ok....I'm being a little prejudiced. I do suppose my preference is "worse" quality food ONLY for the reason that I want to have a good time and not need to worry so much about the timing and every little detail that generally is required of "better" food. I like a variety of all the foods though. For my get together, I am going to buy "better" foods that don't need much prep or maintenance as well as some "worse" foods that will allow me to need to spend less time cooking and serving it.

So, does that mean some "better" +  some "worse"= "the same" ??? I think that "the same" might be the net result.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Quick Fact-Vacuuming Sensitive Items

Just recently, I have been noticing some items around the house that could use a little extra attention as I prepare to have guests over. I have a Dyson vacuum, and they are known to have a pretty strong suction power behind them. This is GREAT when we are discussing the cat and dog hair I need to clean up from my pets.

I have items such as light fixtures, window coverings, and other high up items that need a powerful dust/clean. One way to still utilize your vacuum is to place a thin handkerchief across the entire opening of your hand-held attachment. This will keep anything other than dust and dirt from being sucked up as well as cut down on some of the powerful suction that might break or ruin your item.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Birthday Update!

Okay, so after all my talk about what I  wanted for my birthday, I felt I should update you all on what happened. Prepare yourself for some major gushing...

It was Amazing!

I got home from work to see a sign in the driveway, and opened the door to find crepe paper and balloons everywhere! Shannon even went with a pink, purple, gold theme with the balloons so they would match the sign and cupcake crepe paper.

He layed my gifts out on the dining room table along with roses and chocolates...and we drank wine while I opened them. He got me some beautiful bracelet cuffs, that I just adore! And these funky glass bottles that I plan to use for essential oils. He explained while I opened them that he bought them as a reminder of how I want to fill a wall with shelves of different glass containers of candy. He said that he thought I had kind of forgotten about it and he wanted to remind me that we can still do that. My other gift was a gift certificate to my favorite salon. Shannon made a point of telling me that I could spend more than what was on the gift certificate. He wanted to make sure we had money set aside just for that; Shannon believes it is important for me to feel pampered because he appreciates how hard I work for us. I cried.

Then Shannon cooked us lamb for dinner, which was wonderful, and he made a two layer cake for dessert.

After dinner he poured me a bubble bath, we watched the Newsroom (currently my favorite show)...and we had a lovely evening.

Shannon let me buy my own stockings...he felt safer that way, but even without them, he knocked it out of the park! 

Also, this year I decided to cut up my birthday cards and use them to make thank you notes, I had a lot of fun making up sayings to go with the pictures.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Quick Fact- Folding Sheet Sets

Laundry is my least favorite chore-and the sheets for a bed are no exception. How are you supposed to fold a sheet that has elastic-rounded edges anyway!?

Be prepared to have your jaw hit the floor because the most obvious easy solution is moments away from changing your life!

Fold your sheets as best you can...then using one of the same matching pillow cases from your sheet set, put your folded sheets inside of the pillow case.

WHAT?! I know, right...such an obvious solution. Especially for those of us who tend to mix and match sheets, fitted sheets, and pillow cases because the stacks fall over in the linen closet! A lump of a pillow case isn't perfectly attractable if you have company rummaging through your linen closet, but it sure beats what would be in its place.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Quick Fact-Brushing Your Teeth

Brushing your teeth. Everyone does it (or should!). I was always raised to brush my teeth before I went to school (or work) then again before bed time. There was an awkward period of time with braces and retainers that I would also brush my teeth after lunch or snacks.

Wouldn't you know it, they now have research showing that you can cause more harm to your teeth brushing after you eat than if you would wait?!

Here's the scoop....if you brush too closely after eating food, the enamel (the layer that protects your skin and you can NOT replace once lost) becomes weak. This is especially true with foods that have higher levels of acid. When your enamel is in a weakened state, your brushing can actually cause you to lose enamel. This level is practically untraceable, but if you brush after every time you eat, every day, every week, every month, over years...that's a lot of enamel!

Best advice, brush twice a day, but make sure you give yourself some time after you have finished eating so that your enamel isn't as soft.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Do You Really Study for College?

School has been a fairly easy thing for me all the way from the beginning. I have seen others struggle throughout, and others pick and choose what is difficult for them be it a specific time period of life or a particular subject. Just like a mountain, it can sometimes seem so large when looking at it from the very beginning, but your perspective changes as you climb nearer the top.

Almost every class I have ever taken at any grade seems daunting and scary at first. Looking ahead to all the things you will soon be required to start and finish can make things seem even more impossible. Almost all the time, I am able to look back on time and feel like it was a piece of cake...after the fact!

Deep down inside, I know that I can do anything I set my mind too. If it is so completely out of the realm of possibility it would never be something I would have set my mind to to begin with. I don't believe in setting yourself up for failure, what good does that do?

Everyone has decisions to make in life, and what kind of dedication one is willing to put into school time is one of them. Are you willing to sacrifice your fun or free time in order to do the extra "not-required" readings for the class? Are you willing to read your assigned text book readings word for word, or do you skim over the whole thing then hone in on the areas you are less familiar with? There is also another option...not doing the reading (eek!!)

Some people are able to get away with this option, and I have in the past been one of them depending upon my believe of my self in quickly gaining the knowledge I need to pass the graded assignments.

For the first time ever, I am finding myself doing all required and non-required assignments and readings for my current class. The class is ACCOUNTING. This is one class I have always heard people gripe and complain about, but now that I am in the position of the course I know there is just no other way around it. I have no background on the subject and I don't know anyone who knows about it well enough to help "get me by".

One of the things I am discovering about this course is that you don't have to be good with actual math-you have to be good at figuring out what needs to included or excluded in very simple math (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division). This, as well as knowing how to categorize certain expenses/revenues, or whether something current or long term.

In order to actually have a clue what I'm doing with the numbers, I have to have a good handle on the actual definitions of words and what they mean. If you fall behind right out of the gate, each week (out of only 6) will get increasingly harder and more impossible to recover from.

My point: I am making the active decision that for the remaining 4 1/2 weeks I will be sacrificing doing the most fun things in life. Can I actually use ALL of my available time learning about accounting...probably not. You can't constantly cram without some serious fall out and burn out. But, to the best of my actual ability I will be applying myself fully toward being able to master this class.

What about you? Do you like to get through things doing as little as possible, do you get through school work with the effort required for a specific grade, or do you get through your school work hoping and praying it was enough and not changing a single thing about your normal life style?

After this course is over with, I will be able to breath a huge sigh of relief and hopefully my memories will be much more pleasant than my current thoughts are! It will be time to party in 4 1/2 more weeks, and then the next day it will start all over again with the next course!

And P.S. The something else I obsess about will be something completely useless and mind numbing such as Facebook, or coming up with weird blog topics I will never write about, or something else that doesn't make my quality of life or happiness any better!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Marriage Tips Learned Over Time

I have been married for 6 years, which seems like its really been much less, but regardless there are things that you learn individually and as a couple that help keep a marriage healthy, happy, and strong. So, adding to the "Stepford Take 5's" I am going to add my top five marriage tips that every couple should embrace and work on to keep their marriage alive and fulfilling!

#5-Remember to Say "Thank You"

When my husband and I began dating over 8 years ago, I promised him early on that I would ALWAYS thank him for taking me out for a meal (or buying me something). It was slightly humorous once we were living together and had a joint bank account, but I still wanted to use my manners, and keep my promise that I would say thank you. I would say, more than eight years later I have about an 85% success rate in remembering this promise. Regardless, there are some couples out there that this notion would never even cross their minds. Even though what we have is "ours", it still places an emphasis that I realize we have come together from separate places to reach goals and enjoy life together. I want him to know that I appreciate his sacrifices of time and money toward me and our family.

#4- Remember to Say "I Love You"

Another thing over time we have maintained with even higher success than "thank you" is "I love you". When couples first say these three magical words, they tend to get used a lot in the beginning because it is a fresh new feeling and feels so right to say. Over some time, we begin to feel even more comfortable in our relationship and start to assume the other person just knows it and doesn't need the verbal reminder of our love for them. We say the actual words "I love you" less than in the beginning, but we still say them more than most other couples that have been together as long as we have. We say I love you when physically leaving the other person, we say it at the end of a phone call, we say it each night before bed (OK, occasionally one of us falls asleep early or one of us gets mad at the other person...but ALMOST always).

#3-It's O.K to Change Over Time

My husband and I are both singularly and collectively NOT the same people we were when we first met. How could we be? It is something important for couples to think about every once in a while. People change each other, so I would be scared if we hadn't changed over time. One of my favorite ways to tackle this discussion is to sit down and talk and have a "remember when" conversation. It is a way I can bring up positive (or negative) memories or experiences and then compare them to how things have improved over time or what I would like to try to change back to the better way it was. Plus, it is just fun to think about how far one has gone in life and how things can change on a whim without thought or planning.

Every couple has something about the other that they love at first, then over time it becomes an irritating habit or something they could never share that really bothers them because they already said it didn't. This is natural and happens to everyone, but it is all about how you handle it. Are you able to let things slide or must you make it a priority issue in your relationship? Honesty is a good policy, but it is possible to be too honest and break down a trust that has been built. It takes far longer to repair trust than it does to build it up the first time.

#2- Allow Your Significant Other to Continue to Trust You

As we change over time, we also sometimes change the things we like or want to do. If our new interests are in slight conflict of a previously discussed topic, it is going to be very important to maintain open communication (#1 on the list). Doing things in secret or deceptively is a sure fire way to get your significant other to begin to lose trust in you and your relationship. There could be a reasonably simple explanation as to why you don't want to talk to your significant other about something, but I guarantee it will be much harder AFTER your partner has created their own imaginative explanations for what you have been doing or thinking. You can avoid your spouse wrongly assuming things about you by maintaining an open communication.

#1- Open Communication

This is relationship 101 here, but something that still fails to occur regularly and at its optimal level.  Open communication is important to all types of relationships (co-workers, parents, siblings, friends, etc.). Many people have advice for this, and many people think they know the perfect way to achieve open communication, but I think the truest fact of all is that every relationship is completely different. Therefore, every group that tries to achieve open communication is going to have their own special way of going about it. I do have some generally accepted guidelines to make your communication fair and respected:
*don't just talk, but listen too
*use language that isn't accusatory, use "we" or "I", limit your use of "you"
*talk about things that are bothering you before you are fighting, it's not fair to have a list of things not related to your argument to use as fuel against the other. Stick to the relevant facts of your fight

I'm sure there are many other great tips on happy and successful marriages, but for me, these are the five that are very important. Try to remember the little things, they go a long way!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Technology & Your Body's Health

As people become more and more aware of research and what can cause harmful affects to our bodies we are easily overwhelmed with the newest and worst things to avoid. Well, I think I have narrowed my list down to a few that I feel are important for people to at least consider...I'll make it a "Stepford Take 5;s" post!

#1-Exclusively Drinking Bottled Water

I love bottled water. There are no weird tastes, it is convenient, and I enjoy drinking bottled water. But, not taking into account the total "un-greenness" of bottled water, we are left missing out of a few things. Bottled water mainly lacks fluoride that is naturally present in tap water. There are been studies conducted showing that children whose mothers did not have natural sources of fluoride in their diet while pregnant had children with more cavities years later. It is believed that the fluoride a pregnant mother ingests does in fact contribute to the dental health of their unborn baby. I made this number one because it is something that most people just don't think about. Most of my #2-#5 picks you have probably already heard.

The same can be said about the lack of fluoride for your own body. Your dental health declines with age, but withholding fluoride will only expedite this natural process. Try using a filter on your tap water to take out contaminates but that still maintains the fluoride in the water.

#2- Microwave Oven Usage

This is the next new thing to avoid-the microwave. Studies have shown that eating food that has been warmed in a microwave raises a person's white blood-cell count tens of thousands higher than those who do not. Now, we have very very large numbers of all sorts of cells (white, red, etc.) in our bodies. My point is that there is research to support that this one specific choice does have a specific results. I would rather not have my body changing its natural counts of anything just because of how I want to heat my food.

Microwaves are such staples of life that completely getting away from them will be very difficult, if not impossible. Many restaurants use microwaves to heat up specific ingredients used in large you won't always know when a microwave has been used if you didn't make it yourself.

My accidental tip is to use your microwave as storage! I have a large dog that will drag food off my counter if I leave it out, so I often use my microwave for items such as chocolate, bread, cake mixes, crackers, and her other favorite things. By creating the extra step of having to empty out the microwave to use it, I have effectively been able to depend on it less and less. The oven doesn't take THAT much longer to heat up your food, plus the texture and freshness of it is much better than a microwave can provide on leftovers.

#3-Cellular Phone Usage While Pregnant

I very recently read an article on Yahoo! that was sharing the recent correlation between pregnant women's cell phone usage and their children having ADHD. I know that statistics can be twisted to prove just about any point....but I think there is probably some truth behind any one's large use of a cell phone (or microwave!). Your electronics have some amount of radio-activity or other types of waves used to transmit signals and whatnot. Just in living in this day and age in general we are exposed to all sorts of radio waves, light waves, and who knows what else. So, it makes sense to me to limit the exposure of our bodies to these things whenever it isn't necessary.  Is it necessary to sit on your couch playing on your iPod while watching TV and having your laptop on your lap downloading some large file?! Probably not....

#4- Plastic Food Storage

Using plastic food containers is similar to buying tomato based food products packaged in metal cans....there are chemical reactions that take place between the food and the container that cause extra contaminates and chemicals to seep into your food, and be ingested into your body upon consumption.  Even if you avoid a microwave oven, your plastic food containers can still start leeching chemicals when cleaned and sanitized through the dishwasher because of the high heat. There is one way around plastic food containers...if you hand wash in luke-warm water to avoid high heat and never put the container in the microwave. But, an even safer bet is to invest in glass food containers that have plastic lids. You will find that you never have to "transfer" dishes/containers in order to heat your food up the way you wish. A glass container can get popped in the oven or toaster oven easily without fear of catching fire like metal!

You will also find that your glass food storage containers will last longer than plastic, and look cleaner. I find the investment totally worth it.

#5- Hair and Body Products

Did you know that if you color your hair or use other products on your skin or head that your body absorbs some of the chemicals from within the product? I never really thought about it until my sister's doctor was sharing a story about two of his patients who died because they were dying their hair at home...

The teenage girls were dying their hair at home and decided to mix two different brands of hair dye to get the color they thought they wanted. It turned out, the two different brands mixed together created a lethal chemical combination that caused their livers to fail because it was too much for their liver to filter.

So just keep in mind, everything you put even on the outside of your body can have unseen and unknown consequences on the INSIDE of your body. Your kidney, liver, and other vital organs can only handle so much use before they can not perform their required jobs properly.

Do you have any other tips on what we can do do minimize our bodily harm through seemingly inescapable staples of today's world?

Happy Birthday Mrs. Jairica Stepford!!!

It's the most wonderful time of the year....Jairica's Birthday!!!

Now, we all know it is completely un-lady like to announce our own birthday, so that is where fellow Stepford sisters can come in handy! From the bottom of our hearts, and with all the well wishes in the world, both Stephanie and Sara Stepford want to wish Jairica a wonderful birthday today and for many more in the future!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Working With Others...and Remembering Etiquite!

I have found myself in a very uncomfortable position while working with some graduate student peers for my current course. There are several who are very outspoken and do not use much tact when speaking unkindly about the instructor and the class. In fact, a few of these people have expressed their opinions about how they feel while the entire group was present WITH the instructor. I have some opinions about this...and I have some areas I would love to heard advice on as well!

The first issue: keeping the peace with team mates and group members! My lifeline in this course are the students that make it up. I agree, my instructor knows the course material but has not figured out how to effectively communicate or teach it. My first instinct is to descretely send an email to the person (or small group of people) that I feel are not airing their grievances properly! If you have an issue with what the instructor is doing, I feel that they should e-mail him privately rather than take him off guard and basically assault him publicly in front of the entire class.

My second issue: I do not want to make my classmates hostile toward me. The ease they had talking negatively about the instructor leads me to believe that if another classmate poses a risk or threat against what they want, they will have no problems excluding me from discussions and group work.

The third issue: Aside from not having my peers want to include me with the work related to this course, I am also causing a potential long-term reference to not be available down the road. Networking within the work place and places of education can prove to be important and beneficial when later looking for a job or needing to know someone with a specific skill or education you need.

So, as you might be able to figure out there is no real clear-cut answer to my problems. For now, I am biting my tongue. I figure that the instructor and other classmates can draw their own conclusions about how the select few of this class are not handling things professionally. I also figure that my own actions speak loudly about how I wish to be.  I don't plan on adding fuel to the fire...or water to put it out either!

I found this communication hierarchy interesting: 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Homemade Spaghetti Sauce from Homegrown Tomatoes

This year, my tomato plants have decided to yield all of their tomatoes simultaneously. So, I knew I needed to come up with something to do with all of these tomatoes (fresh are my least favorite way to eat a tomato).

I have read lately that tomato based foods sold in cans are detrimental to your health. (Just wait for tomorrow's post on your body's health!) The acids that are natural in the tomato react with the chemicals in the cans over time. This means that when you eat the food product inside, you are getting more than what was naturally in the tomato.

No, I know what you are thinking, "Why is she going to make a tomato based food product that is overwhelmingly sold in glass jars?!" The answer is that I figure my first fresh tomato--->tomato food should be something that seems hard to mess up! Making spaghetti sauce seemed like a safe start, and if it failed I could add some beans and call it "chili"!

Here are the ingredients I used per my dad's recipe and a few extra ingredients of my own:

at least 8 fresh ripe tomatoes
3-5 fresh bay leaves (if stored in the fridge and moisture free the shelf life is fairly long)
2-3 stalks of celery FINELY chopped
2-3 cloves of fresh minced garlic
2 tbs chili powder
1 onion
1 pound of ground turkey, beef, chicken or sausage*
I added 3 tbs italian seasoning
I also added somewhere around 1-2 cups of vegetable stock
Then I added a small dash of cinnamon

If you buy seasoned sausage you might not need to add the Italian seasoning

 This is what you need to start, but there is going to be some work involved!

Meat preparation: in a skillet (electric or stove) cook the ground meat, garlic and onion. You don't really need a photo for cooking ground meat right? Right!

Tomato Preparation: Start a pot of boiling water to blanch the tomatoes in. While the water is heating, cut a small circle to remove the stem of the tomato. On the bottom end of the tomato score a small X. This X does not need to be deep, but rather just cut through the skin. After all tomatoes have been de-stemed and scored with an X, they can be blanched for no more than 15 seconds in the boiling water. This process is to very easily be able to remove the skin of the tomato. When I did this, I was very tempted to keep them in longer because I didn't immediately notice anything happening. As soon as you remove the tomatoes from the boiling water place them in an already filled pot of cold water. This move from hot to cold will really make the skin simple to remove.

Once you peel off the tomato skins, you are ready to quarter your tomatoes and remove the slimy seeded part of the tomato. I thought that I would end up getting rid of most of the tomato in this process, but surprisingly there isn't that much slimy gooey stuff when quartering it. I notice all the slime when trying (but failing) to cut nice looking tomato slices.

I recommend just using your finger to clean out the goo because you can feel what needs to come out and not have to worry about cutting out a usable part of the tomato.

Sauce Preparation:

Now that you have the meat cooked and the tomatoes peeled and seeded you are ready to combine all ingredients together in a crock pot. I cooked mine for around 8 hours on low, but I bet it is ready after about 6 hours if you have less time. Now think about your ingredients....are they all in very small pieces? This is where I went wrong. Every spaghetti sauce I have ever eaten and enjoyed did not have large noticeable pieces of anything. So make sure you have chopped and minced your ingredients small enough that the only really recognizable ingredient is the meat.

My sauce in the end tasted good, but really was more of a chili. I took the "smart" route and turned it into a replica of Skyline Chili's 5 way with spaghetti noodles, chili, kidney beans, cheddar cheese, and some crackers. I think the necessary changes I needed to make was cut my ingredients much finer, add more tomatoes (this would eliminate the need for adding stock), and add a touch more Italian seasoning.

Just remember, everyone's idea of the perfect spaghetti sauces is slightly different. Some like it sweet, some like it savory, some like it to have strong tomato flavor, and others like it to be cheesy. Good luck and happy cooking!

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