In the country...

routine rules
love grows
hard work pays
noise carries
crops pop
living's easy
green rocks
beauty blooms
... and pigs stink


My alone time

Yesterday was a good day... not super exciting or productive, just good. Chris was out of town touring a combine factory in Illinois, which left me with some alone time. Of course I always miss my husband while we're apart, but I think it's healthy to miss the one you love (once in a while), and spend time with yourself to do nothing. Well, not nothing... I washed dishes, painted a ceiling, cleaned the stove, went grocery shopping and unclogged my bathroom sink. Those things weren't so fun, but eating as many crackers with cheese as I want (judgment free) while watching 'Soul Surfer' last night in my pajamas was! Anyway, I think oftentimes people mistake the idea of loneliness with being alone. Nope! They are two totally different things. I think alone time is positive, empowering and underrated... there is something to be said about a person who can spend and enjoy time solo. And loneliness... *sigh* Well, nobody wants to be lonely (I hear the old Christina Aguilera/Ricky Martin ballad in my head right now). Luckily, lonesomeness never has the chance to creep in while I'm home without Chris because my sweet, devoted doodles are always at my side. At the risk of seeming like a crazy dog lady (guilty), fun with Rocco and Callie is the best way I can think of to spend almost any kind of time, especially my alone time. They just make me laugh. P.s. Technically, I think it's still considered time 'alone' when your only company have tails...
Callie enjoyed the horses...
... while Rocco enjoyed their poo.
Alone time well spent, indeed!


An epic duo

Cooking and eating are two of my favorite things to do, and I've truly found my match in Chris. Well, he doesn't cook much, but he can certainly eat. We definitely love our food, but our tastes are quite different. He is a true 'meat and potatoes' guy, and I'm... well, I like meat and potatoes too, but unlike Chris, I have little taste-bud restriction. So, I guess when I say that we have 'different' tastes, I really mean that he doesn't like a lot of things that I really really like. These foods include (but are not limited to) pickles, seafood, mushrooms, chocolate-covered raisins, olives, cottage cheese, dark chocolate, vinegar, sushi, artichokes, cilantro and sour cream... whew. I am proud of him though because his foody horizons have definitely expanded since we've been together (I can actually use onions in my cooking now!!). Luckily there are two scrumptious foods in this world that we both really really love- buffalo chicken and cheese (mmm, my mouth is watering as I type the words). Anyway, we got our fix on both the other day when I made this casserole. I was so excited when I found the recipe that I (literally) immediately started cooking it for lunch... at 9:30 am. It's true. And Chris was just as excited... we had it for lunch and dinner that day. :) Sooooo good.

Buff Chick Mac 'N Cheese!
-6 slices bacon
-1 lb. chicken tenderloins
-1 lbs. elbow macaroni
-10 tbs. unsalted butter (divided)
-2 cloves fresh, minced garlic
-1 1/3 c. all-purpose flour (divided)
-3 1/2 c. milk (divided)
-3/4 tsp. black pepper
-3/4 tsp. salt
-3 c. sharp cheddar cheese (divided)
-3 c. monterrey jack cheese (divided)
-1 egg
-1 1/2 c. vegetable oil
-2/3 c. hot sauce
-1 c. bread crumbs
-1/2 c. ranch dressing

-Preheat oven to 400 degrees F
-Coat bottom and sides of a 13 by 9-inch baking dish with non-stick cooking spray
-Arrange bacon on a foil-lined pan and bake until crisp, allow to cool and coarsely chop
-Boil a large pot of salted water over medium heat, add  macaroni and cook al dente, drain, place back in pot
-Melt 8 tbs. butter in a large saucepan over medium heat, whisk in garlic and cook for 1 to 2 minutes
-Whisk in 1/3 c. flour and cook about 1 minute, then add 3 c. milk, salt and the pepper, and bring to a boil, stirring frequently
-Add 2 c. cheddar and 2 c. Monterrey jack (reserve additional cheese for topping) and stir until melted
-Combine cheese sauce and bacon with macaroni until well combined, pour evenly into prepared baking dish
-Put remaining 1 c. flour in a medium-sized bowl, and in another bowl, whisk remaining 2 tbs. milk and egg together
-Coat chicken tenderloins in flour, then dip into egg mixture and back into flour
-Heat oil in a large skillet over medium/high heat and fry chicken until golden brown and cooked through -Drain grease off on a paper towel-covered plate, then coat chicken with hot sauce in a large bowl
-Carefully slice chicken into bite-sized pieces, evenly place on macaroni, and drizzle extra hot sauce on top
-Sprinkle remaining cheeses and bread crumbs over casserole
-Melt remaining 2 tbs. butter and drizzle it evenly over the bread crumbs
-Bake at 400 degrees until golden brown and bubbly (about 25 minutes)
-Cool and drizzle with ranch dressing before serving

**Do your little tastebuddies a favor and try this stuff! They will definitely thank you for it, and then, you can thank me later... happy cooking!


Purpley thrills

My 13-year-old brother inspired this colorful post. On a recent Cedar Point getaway, Jake made a bold declaration of love for a certain color. It was on our last full vacation day that mom suggested we purchase these bright, white-lettered 'Cedar Point' t-shirts to wear that evening during 'Starlight' hours. Surprisingly, everyone agreed, and chose their shade at the gift shop. I went with orange, mom felt pretty with pink, Tracy decided to rock bright blue and Jake, to our surprise, wanted purple. Hmmm. As we questioned his unique decision, he insisted that it was not strange for a boy to like and/or wear purple. He was quite convincing. Now, I'm not sure if he wanted it so badly because it's not 'the norm' for dudes to love purple, or because it truly IS a great color. I wholeheartedly appreciate either reason, but knowing Jake, I think both aided in his t-shirt selection that day. I really admire his confidence. It's awesome. Not all guys would feel so secure in wearing purple-colored clothing. But that's just Jake. He is a true individual and always wears his heart on his sleeve, especially his purple ones...
So, after our trip, I really started to notice (and love) all the purpley-hued things around me... they just make my heart happy.
 I hope your heart is happy too!
Thanks for the inspiration, Jake. I love you.


Michigan on a mason jar

Michigan is a place I hold very close to my heart. Much of my childhood was spent in Petoskey, MI visiting my dad's side of the family. I still carry memories of raspberry picking with my grandma, lakeside rock hopping with my sister, and dairy farm exploring with my little cousins. So, when my aunt and uncle offered their beautiful, 'up north' vacation home to Chris and I as a honeymoon getaway, I was elated. We gladly accepted. I couldn't wait to share this very special place with my new husband. So, two days after our wedding, we made the long, nine-hour haul to Petoskey (with this note on our back window)...
Luckily, our fellow drivers' celebratory horn honking, big-day reminiscing and lovely sing-along'ing' kept us  entertained, and we were there in no time. Arriving in Michigan brought back so many memories... it looked exactly the same and so different at the same time. You know what I mean? It's weird. I guess everything looks/feels different when you're revisiting a piece your childhood as an adult. The little town is strewn with trendy restaurants and boutiques, and also, quaint antique shops and old specialty stores. It's awesome. Chris loved it too, which made me love it even more. We had a wonderful time together... time spent shopping, indulging in delicious food and relaxation, and exploring. These explorations included many scenic drives, a bike ride around Mackinac Island (a historic, vehicle-free island on lake Huron with really good fudge), and long, romantic walks on the shore and through the woodlands.
On one of our hikes, I found a big piece of birch-wood bark, among other interesting Michigan treasures, like Petoskey stones. I'm a big scrounger (usually for shells) so I kept it. When we returned home to Pennsylvania, I unpacked my bag of vacation keepsakes and contemplated my utilization of this cool tree part. Well, it sat, sad and alone, in my craft tote until my recent obsession with mason jars inspired me to create this little honeymoon memento...

Mason Jar Crafting: Birch-wood lantern 
I carefully shredded thin, tissue-paper-like strips...
and paper mached three small jars.
I wrapped each with wire and attached them vertically.
And then, the tea lights...
set my lantern aglow.

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