Baked spaghetti… Paula D, Betty C and me.

I’ll be honest.. I hate following recipes to the T. I follow my mom’s and grandma’s examples and barely measure anything.. I just put in what looks or smells good. I do follow exact measurements for baking, though. I’ve had some messed up cookies before!

I found this recipe from Paula Deen, but considering it’s a Friday night and didn’t want to spend almost 2 hours cooking after working out, I decided to check out what Betty Crocker had to say. This recipe is a mix of both of those, plus a few added touches (like spinach). I’m not used to writing my recipes down (just like my mother!) so bear with me.

What you’ll need:

About 2/3 lb. ground beef (I separated my 1.6 lbs into three parts for separate meals)

One can diced tomatoes, any kind

One can tomato sauce (or you could use Ragu, whatever you have in your pantry)

Half a medium onion

Half a green pepper

A generous handful of spinach

1-2 cloves garlic, chopped

Seasonings of your choice (I used onion salt, Mrs. Dash, crushed red pepper, black pepper and a couple bay leaves)

Two eggs

About 4 oz. uncooked spaghetti (I use whole wheat, and you really could use a different kind of noodle.. whatever you have on hand)

One 8 oz. package mozzarella cheese (I also had a little feta left.. I incorporated that too)

1/4 c. milk

Okay. So. As you can see, I just use whatever sounds good, and whatever I have on hand. I did shop for this meal, but sometimes you have to improvise.

Instructions:

1. Cook ground beef in skillet. I bought 97% lean, so there was no grease. Add onion and garlic (we had a few mushrooms left so I added those too). Preheat oven to 350.

2. Add chopped green pepper.

3. Add tomato sauce and diced tomatoes.

4. Cut up spinach (I use kitchen scissors) and add to sauce. Add seasonings. Mix together and let simmer over low-medium heat for 5-10 minutes.

5. In the meantime, spray 8×8 glass pan. Break uncooked spaghetti noodles in half and place on bottom of pan. About a quarter size is what you need.

6. Mix together eggs, cheese and milk in separate bowl. If you don’t have mozzarella, you could use ricotta or even cottage cheese.

7. Spread cheese mix over noodles in pan.

8. Add sauce mixture on top and sprinkle with mozzarella cheese.

9. Bake in oven for about 30 minutes.

It was a great success! We both loved it. We sprinkled parmesan cheese and had bread and butter on the side.

Where I need to be

I’ll admit it: when I quit my job teaching high school Spanish, I was bitter about having to leave. I thought I would be swept off my feet to join my husband in Korea for three years, and it all fell through. I felt like I quit my job for nothing. I was sad to leave that place… I loved my students, my coworkers and (most of) the hustle and bustle that comes with being in high school. (No lie, sometimes I just shut myself off to the outside world in the morning before classes started! Sometimes it was scary in that hallway, haha.)

But I was sad. My kids were sad. Yes, most of the 100 of them. I gained a good deal of useful experience for the future, both in teaching and and in being a decent human being.

I said, “Well, I may not go back to full-time teaching, ever.” What?! Was I crazy?

I love school. Like, love school. I don’t think most can comprehend the level of nerdiness I am capable of. I love learning, and textbooks, and writing notes with my very best chicken-scratch handwriting. I love the newness of the first day, with new outfits, new shoes, and new pencils. I love all those things as a teacher, too. I love seeing kids I’ve had before in class come into my room, comfortable, happy and ready to start a new school year (most of the time).

I love seeing the look on a student’s face when he understands, finally, how to conjugate ser in the present tense. Or the sense of rapport when a student is struggling with a personal issue and I’m able to help her through it. I love making jokes and laughing with my students. Sometimes we laugh so hard we cry. (For us, it was Napoleon Dynamite quotes. Dorky, I know.)

I went to a school yesterday for an interview. [I’m currently pleading with Jesus to give me this job.] As I was waiting for the principal, I was witnessing the (semi)controlled chaos of the end of the day. Students of all ages milling around, talking to friends, listening to their iPods, even a group playing Magic the Gathering. I love the craziness that it brings and I wasn’t annoyed in the least by loud voices and feet stomping.

School is where I’m supposed to be. Having my own classroom again would be akin to heaven on earth. I love that in those four walls, I am responsible for what happens. I’m the boss (but not a boss like “Like a Boss”, so don’t worry.) I’m also the mentor, big sister, friend, parent and tutor. I make split-second decisions hundreds of times a day. I inspire and encourage.

Now, this view of education wouldn’t really mean a whole lot coming from an idyllic green graduate. I’ve been around the block a couple times, and I know the downsides of education. I hate dealing with the politics and busy work. I hate the national mandates that make absolutely no sense because the people writing them usually have never stepped foot in a real classroom.

However, I choose to make those four walls my sanctuary. Our sanctuary, that’s free of bullying, put-downs and bad self-esteem.

I am a teacher.

Revisiting the budget

So, as if you couldn’t guess this, my husband and I love food. A lot. In fact, we love it so much we spent waaaay more than is necessary this month. It did include camping, cooking for small group and getting food for my craft night, but still. There is no reason we should have spent that much.

We’ve been trying to stay on track with Dave Ramsey’s plan to pay off debt. However it’s been tough over the last almost-three years since we gave up credit cards forever. With visiting while we were long distance, moving and my four different jobs in the past 15 months (ugh) it’s been tough to budget consistently. Dave Ramsey says to have $1000 in the emergency fund, but with two older cars and wanting to travel back to Illinois after the new year (by plane), we really need more than that.

We have an Excel spreadsheet set up. We went over the budget for when we moved to Texas over and over and over again. The goal was whatever money I was bringing in, we’d apply it to our next loan that we have to pay off. The balance is only $7600 out of an original $12,600. I can’t wait to pay this one off, because the payment is almost $200 a month. That’s a lot of money to be freed up! We bought Aaron a car, we bought a washer and dryer and other household items.

We sat down this weekend to look over what we spent in September. Gas wasn’t bad, only $270 for both of us. Both of our cars get almost 30 mpg. He drives back and forth to post twice a day, and I drive to the east side. So, not bad! Food, though, was redonkulous!! Groceries alone were almost $500 and eating out was almost $200. THAT IS CRAZY! We’re only two people.

October is a new month! That’s the best part about the budget; we always have a clean slate every 30 days. Our goal is to stay below $350 for groceries and eating out. Now that we shop mainly at the commissary, we seriously save so much money! I’ve been going out to Starbucks with friends about once a week, which I think is still doable. We’ve been taking our lunches. This morning, I made homemade hummus with my friend Kim’s recipe. Easy and yummy! I used an entire bag of dry garbanzo beans and soaked them overnight. I used also almost a whole can of chicken broth, a head of garlic, tahini and lemon juice. But, if you just want to make one batch….

Ingredients:

1 can garbanzo beans

1/4 c chicken broth

3 tbsp tahini (finally found this at the commissary, the most expensive ingredient)

2 tbsp lemon juice

3 cloves garlic

Mix all ingredients together in a blender or food processor.

So, with the entire bag of garbanzo beans and can of chicken broth, it made about 42 ounces of hummus! WOW. It filled this large Cool Whip container and a little Rubbermaid one. It’s so much cheaper than buying it, and more fresh.

We also save money around the house. Like I posted on a previous entry, I also make my own laundry detergent. After our ginormous container of dishwasher packets is gone, I’ll make my own soap for that, too. I also use a 1:1 ratio of white vinegar to water for a general cleaner. It works well on glass, too. Baking soda and vinegar work well for a drain cleaner.

We don’t pay for a gym membership since it’s free to go on post. We don’t have cable, or even a TV. We don’t pay extra for data on our phones. (It’d be $60 extra a month! That’s a lot.) We got a deal on the internet.. we pay $30/month. That’s only for a year, so we’ll have to negotiate with Time Warner Cable when the year is up.

Don’t be deceived; we still enjoy being at home! Haha. We subscribe to instant streaming from Netflix, so that’s $8/month. We both love to read. That’s cheap with lots of unread books around the house and the library down the street. I sew and knit, and use coupons when buying materials for that. We also enjoy the occasional movie (only $5/ticket anytime for military!).

Now that it’s getting cooler… or, kind of (90 degrees in late September, anyone?) we won’t use as much electricity. I was happy to see that even after getting a washer and dryer, our electric bill didn’t go up very much.

Car insurance.. well, that went up after adding Aaron’s car. However, with raising our deductible and getting rid of a few extras, we have a $726 premium for both cars for six months. That’s not bad at all. We figured we’d keep full coverage so that if our cars are totaled out, we’ll at least get something so we can buy another cheap car. Not everyone would agree, but $1500 is better than nothing after a collision!

All in all, I think we have our ideas about the budget under control, we just have to implement it so that we can have some in savings and save for our trip to Illinois.

Exploring El Paso on a budget.

Yesterday I had coffee with a friend and she was telling me about all the things to do and see here in El Paso. Honestly, I wasn’t surprised as this is a big city (500,000+) with a very unique mix of culture and heritage. I just didn’t know where to find all these fun things to do!

This morning, since I didn’t have to work, we went grocery shopping early at the commissary. It was a good time to go, as we went when they opened and it’s not the weekend after payday. We got everything on our list for $85! We would have spent probably $120+ had we gone to Albertsons or Big 8.

After settling all the food in its new home, we went to a thrift shop that my friend told us about. It wasn’t a bad place at all! We got two paperbacks for 35 cents each.

Then we went to the Museum of Archaeology, at the base of the Franklin Mountains. There was a nature trail walk, and admission was free to the museum itself. I guess I didn’t realize how many cultures are represented in this mecca… Native American, Mexican, Spanish… the list goes on. I should have taken pictures, but didn’t even think about it.

We picked up a free guide called “El Paso Scene” which  lists all the cultural, musical, art, basically anything-you’re-interested-in events in El Paso and the surrounding area. I got out a piece of paper, wrote down all the weekends from this one to the end of October and perused to see what we could go to on a budget.

Tomorrow (September 25):

Red and Green Chile War Fiesta in San Elizario, a short drive east from El Paso. Admission: free.

Socorro Mission Bazaar in Socorro, on our way back from San Elizario. Admission: free.

Next Saturday (October 1):

La Union Corn Maze in La Union, New Mexico, only a short drive northwest. I love that we’re so close to another state! Admission: $10, but $2 discount with military ID. We’ll try to get a group of people to go.

Weekend of October 7: (our “stay-cation”)

El Paso Zoo, downtown El Paso. Admission: $7.50 with military ID (normally $10).

Bodies Human Exhibit, El Paso. This one is a little pricier with military admission of $15. It’s a traveling exhibit, though, so I definitely want to see it!

Weekend of October 14

Franklin Mountains State Park, El Paso. Finally hiking to the top of North Franklin Mountain. The park charges $4 per person to get in.

El Paso Chopin Music Festival, Chamizal National Memorial Theater, El Paso. Admission: free! 

Weekend of October 21

UTEP Football Homecoming game, Sun Bowl. Admission: $15.

Israel Houghton, Harvest Christian Center (our church!). Admission: not sure.

Weekend of October 28

Wine tasting at southern New Mexico wineries. Not sure yet which winery we’ll go to.

We’ve been spending quite a bit of money eating out. If we cut back on that, then going to these events won’t be an extra expense.

El Paso is our home for the next few years, and to make it worthwhile, it only makes sense to get out there and see what it has to offer!

Don’t leave me out! : Facebook musings.

All these changes on Facebook have me thinking a lot about social networks. What are their purposes? Why be involved in more than one?

I joined Facebook when it was the new thing for, get this, college students only. Then with its success it was opened up to everyone and their dog, quite literally. (I know someone who has a Facebook for a cat.) Funny, right?

My question is… why do we even spend the energy on these sites? I don’t know about you, but they can be addicting. I have no less than 386 friends on Facebook. Do I talk or interact or “like” anything on every one of these people’s pages? Heck to the nizzo. Do I even care about what’s going on in all of their lives? No. Some I haven’t talked to since high school, so seven years. Seven years with virtually no contact with someone is a long time.

But do I have the audacity to delete most of my “friends”? No, because, you know, someday I might need to ask them something or… something. Yeah, something like that. :shiftyeyes:

Facebook is so superficial. We all know it, but most of us give in to it anyway. I can’t tell you how much time I’ve spent just since moving to Texas perusing (or stalking.. for lack of better terms) all the people we left behind. It’s ridiculous. I know that I won’t talk to most people again. It’s sad, but it’s reality.

I don’t think as humans we’re made to really develop 386 or more quality relationships with people. Most of us can think of two or three close friends (maybe this includes our spouse, for me it does) who we tell everything to… they know virtually everything about us. For them, Facebook is redundant. For everyone else, it’s stalking material. Creeeeepy.

People may ask me, So, why don’t you just not check Facebook that often? Well, friends, it’s the same reason I don’t have credit cards anymore. I will use it, and it won’t be pretty. I know myself and my tendencies. While we’ve lived almost three years (since February 2009) without those plastic demons, I can’t say I’ve totally kicked the habit. So I don’t even allow myself to walk through the door.

So why don’t we just walk away? For people like me who spend way too much time on Facebook and related sites, it’s a fear that I’ll be left out. “Oh, didn’t you see that So-and-so had her baby? He’s so cute! She posted pictures on Facebook.” Yeah, I hate to admit it, but that makes me feel left out. So what if I haven’t talked to “her” (whoever it is) in years… I’m nosy and want to see the baby!

I think, though, that I won’t be left out. I’ll have more time to write, read, knit, with Aaron, whatever. And I’ll be spending less time reading and worrying about what everyone and her mother is doing. I have a cell phone with unlimited minutes and texts… why don’t we use that? I’m sick of using my unlimited texts for Facebook and Twitter.

I know this seems like a silly plug, but I like Google. My e-mail, blog subscriptions and social network can be in all one place. Drama is eliminated because there is no “requesting” friends. You just follow someone, and they can’t see which circle you place them in, so you know, I don’t offend someone who thought they were my friend but they’re really just an acquaintance. (Okay, it’s more likely that it would be the other way around and I would be offended.. ha.)

I deactivated my Facebook twice, I think, for a couple months at a time. I felt freer, like I was bucking the system somehow. I was in control over what I was doing on the Interwebz instead of it having so much ridiculous control over me. There are a lot of things I want to accomplish in life, and none of them are “become an expert stalker and communicator through Facebook”. I seriously commend those who haven’t given in to its wiles. Sigh. I always gave in again.

Facebook is not evil. For me, though, with my addictive tendencies, it’s bad. Just like credit cards or sweets. Maybe Google+ will be, too.

Sighhh. The debate continues for me. Something needs to change, one way or the other.

The season of good.

Good things are happening in the W household… Fall is here! And to celebrate, we’ve had temps in the 90’s in the desert. Fall-like, eh? And the leaves turn yellow and just fall off the tree. It has been cooler at night. In fact, I’m using three thin blankets now instead of just the sheet and and one blanket. How did 65 degrees become cold? I digress… Here are a couple pics of our fall decorations.

I put candy corn and a white pillar in the hurricane. I made the leaf coasters from felt.. super easy, and cheap! Gotta love that Pinterest for ideas.

A “Happy Harvest” decoration, a couple pilgrims, pumpkin salt/pepper shakers and leaf garland. I swore we bought more than this when we got married… our collection seems to shrink every year!

Running

As far as running is concerned, I’ve discovered the track at the gym. It’s indoor, and measured weird. 11.3 laps equal one mile. I did some half-mile repeats yesterday without the Garmin and felt really good. Just taking it literally a step at a time. No use in forcing myself to run when I just don’t want to. Staying fit and healthy is the goal here, so whatever exercise gets me there, right?

Work

There’s been some drama at work lately. I’m not a fan of drama, never have been. I try to stay away from it, and sometimes come off as a big jerk. This isn’t personal drama, it’s scheduling drama. I had been offered a promotion, like I said, and so I worked in this new position for a couple weeks. It’s just not my thing, doing administrative tasks, and especially having lots more responsibility for not-so-great pay.  Because I was in the office more, I wasn’t teaching as much. I love teaching and tutoring. That’s why I sought out this job in the first place. (I don’t think I’ll ever be a principal. Ever.)

I talked with my boss on Monday, which went really well. We figured something out to where I’ll be working in the office on Fridays and the rest of the week I’ll be tutoring in the evenings. And, get this, I’ll have most Saturdays off! I have no idea how that transpired, but I’m not gonna complain.

I still would love to find a full-time aide position or something like that. I’ve applied at a few districts, but not getting my hopes up. The job I have now definitely suffices. I love being able to be at home during the day and get things done.

Husband

I love my husband. Seriously. It gets sweeter every day, and I thank God for giving us the strength to get through the distance, because being together is just the best thing ever. The other night he went to bed earlier than usual because he had a migraine. I wanted to go to sleep, too, but just wasn’t tired enough. I stayed up for awhile and then finally headed to bed. It was such a great feeling knowing he was home. Sleeping alone was something that took me awhile to get used to, and now I really try to not take for granted that we’re together.

We work well together around the house. We try not to eat out except for once a week, so during the week I’ll get dinner ready and then he’ll cook it since I don’t get home until two hours after he does. This system works out well. We also both tackle the chores around the house. I’m blessed to have a man who not only knows how to do things around the house, but doesn’t complain about it.

Right now it’s rumored that his unit won’t deploy until the end of next summer. How awesome is that? It could change, of course, but that’s the latest he’s heard from one of his superiors.

Church

Harvest is an awesome church. We love the people… we’ve made some good friends through small group. We officially became members after doing the “mission and values” class. We were approached by one of the pastors who asked us if we’d be interested in teaching the junior high class on Sunday mornings. We would go to first service and then teach in the second. We met with another pastor on Sunday who oversees some of the youth activities and he explained our duties. Basically we’re going to set up a coffee shop feel for discussion, study and prayer for the 7th/8th graders. We have so many resources at our disposal… it’s just crazy. And we have freedom in what we teach, which is great. We’ll start that October 9th.

Around the house

We got a washer and dryer a couple weeks ago for just $150 total! I got them on Craigslist, and the guy and his wife actually brought them over and set them up. I went to Lowe’s to get a hose for the hot water and a vent for the dryer, and wa-la! No more hauling everything to the laundromat.

In the interest of saving money, I asked one of my friends from our old church (sad to say “old church”… boohoo) how she makes her laundry detergent. It’s cheap, mostly all-natural and so easy to make!

Just one batch lasted me almost two months. Granted, we’re only two people, but lots of time we’ll have two outfits per day when we work out. Mix these ingredients (I found both Borax and washing soda at Walmart) and use 1 tbsp per regular load.

Going into fall and winter…

I am so excited about the next few months. About the cooler weather, earlier sunsets. About giving out Halloween candy to trick-or-treaters. When we lived in the apartment, we didn’t have kids come and trick-or-treat, so we’re doing it this year since we have a house. There are lots of kids in our neighborhood; I see them walking back and forth to the school down the street all the time.

I’m excited to celebrate our first Thanksgiving at home. We went to my parents and my in-laws’ before for dinner. Last year I had my immediate family over. This year it’ll be the two of us, and hopefully a house full of friends. We’ll see… lots of people already have  plans.

And there’s the Turkey Trot and Thanksgiving Parade.

This Christmas we’ll get to celebrate at home. Not sure where we’ll get a real tree (that’s something the husband insists on…). I suggested decorating a cactus, but he wasn’t too keen on that.

While it’d be great to be able to go back to Illinois and celebrate the holidays with family, it’s nice to just be at our home and celebrate together. After all, the two of us do form our family for right now.

 

El Paso

Aaron mentioned the other night that El Paso is starting to grow on him. I have to agree, and it surprises me. Most likely, we’ll be here for about three years. I’d actually love it if we were here through the end of his enlistment (4.5 years left). We’ve joked around about settling here, but I’m not quite sure about that possibility. I admit, there’s something about Texas in general that draws me in. With his job prospects in the civilian world, we could live in a number of different places. Guess we’ll see what’s in store for us…

Texas is our home now.

We’re on the cusp of fall, at least from what the calendar tells us, and I’m a little bummed out. I love fall in central Illinois… leaves changing, the air is crisper, you bring out the sweaters and scarves.

Here in El Paso, it’s almost 90 degrees for the high today. Leaves changing? The only changing they’re doing is being blown off the trees. Air becoming crisper? HA. Maybe when it’s a “chilly” 62 at night. (What is wrong with me?? 62 cold??)

Anyway. I love all the festivals. Last weekend in our hometown was their annual festival and it made me sad to not be there. All the other towns around will be having their festivals too, if they already haven’t. And then there’s the orchards… apple picking, pumpkin picking, pumpkin butter, hot cider…. siiiggghhhh.

My husband is right though, this is now our home. So we have to make it feel like home, despite what the thermometer says. So today I lit a big jar candle, turned on a fan, made some instant cappuccino, and called it fall. In  my own house. That’s legit, right?

Now that we’ve been here over two months, it is starting to feel like home. Our house looks, well, lived in. We have weeds growing in the yard (surprisingly, I know). We now have one car with Texas plates.

And I have to say, I kind of like it here. It’s not so bad. There’s plenty to do and see… we just haven’t gotten out to see everything yet. The summer here has to be filed in my mind like the winter in the Midwest. Don’t go outside for a long period of time if you don’t need to. Find things to do inside where it’s not so hot.

Columbus Day weekend, we both have a few days off. We plan on finding more things to do around here… maybe hit up a few museums, go to the zoo, or tackle McKelligon Canyon. No matter what we do, we’re home, and we’re together.