Gratitude Attitude

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” -Luke 11:9-10

November always nudges me and reminds me to be thankful. Maybe it’s because we are 3 months into school and I look back wondering how that time passed so quickly. Maybe it’s because the leaves changed colors and it’s a little crisper out (actually expecting snow later this afternoon). Maybe it’s because a small vacation from work is within reach. Whatever it is, I am trying to wake up with a “gratitude attitude” this month. A few weeks ago as I was watching the Ellen Degeneres show while on the treadmill at the gym, I heard something that has been popping into my mind every morning. Ellen was interviewing Steve Harvey. He explained how he was not always in the position he is now. He also explained how being thankful is the key to his success. He wakes up every morning and for at least the first 5 minutes, he thanks God. “Thanks for waking me up today and giving me another day of life. Thanks for 7 hours of sleep last night. Thanks for coffee that will get me through my morning.” Whatever it is, he thanks God. I am trying to take part in this practice. It can be hard (especially on Monday mornings), but it really does put into perspective how blessed I am. God gives abundantly and deserves some thanks. Speaking of that, here are some of the blessings and happenings since the last time I wrote….

  • Nick and I attended a San Fran 49ers vs. St. Louis Rams football games a few Mondays back. It was a late night for a Monday but still cool to see the players we watch every Sunday on TV, play right in front of us.
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Let’s go NINERS!
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fans 🙂
  • Our close friends out here, Ellie and Kurt, tied the night in late October. We went to the Blumenhof winery before the wedding and then headed to Kurt’s family’s property for the wedding. It was gorgeous! The reception nearby was a blast. Congrats guys!
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My go-to girl since touching down in MO.
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Lovebirds!
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My stud of a date!
  • Then mama Spach flew to St. Louis and we made the 5 hour drive together to St. Charles, Illinois to spend the weekend with Aaron and Jess. We did some shopping and eating and then celebrated baby Spach to be at Jess’ shower Sunday morning. Can’t wait for my niece’s arrival sometime in December/January!!
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Baby shower day. ❤
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Oh my word. Love this DOG.
  • Next it was Halloween time, Nick’s favorite! We didn’t actually dress up at all this year but we did go to Fright Fest at the nearby 6 Flags. The 4 haunted houses were freaky. Then we went to a mystery theatre dinner with Nick’s old roommate. It was so much fun and Nick was the bailiff in the show.
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Fright Night faces!
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Fall decor in my house and the walkway outside of my school! Gorgeous colors.
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A drink before the mystery dinner theatre!
  • In the kitchen, I’ve been trying to keep things interesting and easy. A recent go-to is this super easy chicken fajita bake. Thaw 2-3 chicken breasts and put in a 9×13 baking dish. Cover with a packet of taco seasoning and then cut up peppers and onions and layer on top. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with shredded cheese. Bake for 45 min at 350 degrees and voila!! Delicious fajita makings made easy.
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Chicken fajita bake prior to the bake!
  • I also branched out and made lasagna soup in the crockpot. A different spin to one of my favorite dishes. This was tasty and warm for a chilly week.
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yummma!

 

I am especially grateful for all 5 senses during the upcoming holiday seasons–the sights, smells, sounds, tastes and touches of this season are special. I attended a 3 day conference this week for work about working with children with visual impairment. It was so interesting to put on visual simulator glasses and try to read braille and just think about what the world is like for those who don’t have total use of all their senses. Lots to be thankful for…7 days of work left until Thanksgiving break but who’s counting? Until then, trying to keep my gratitude attitude afloat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Refreshment

“I will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint.”-Jeremiah 31:25

It is pretty hard to believe that the first quarter of the school year is wrapping up next week. This means lots of progress reports and lots of reflecting on progress (or not) made with my students over the first quarter of the year. It also means reassessing my approaches with a few students and looking for other ways to reach them. Needless to say at this point, I am also feeling a little wiped. Thankfully today and tomorrow are inservice days at work without students. I find myself needing to take a step back and remember that I am not solely responsible for the kid’s success/failure each day. God will refresh me for the upcoming 3 quarters of the year and will continue to provide and be present in my therapy sessions with these kiddos! On the regular, my time spent with the kids doesn’t go as planned but I know that they are learning and taking away more than just speech and language skills from our interactions.

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An attempt at a communication board for a few of my nonverbal kiddos!

In other news, the weather is changing and cooler temperatures (and occasional nasty storms) have reached Missouri. Another attempt from God to refresh! The skies have mostly been gorgeous out here, along with sunsets and the trees changing colors. Snapped this on my drive home from work the other day!

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Ahhh! How gorgeous is that!

Recent weekends have been relaxing and packed with football (WE ARE!). Two weekends ago Nick and I went into the city with our close friends, Ellie and Kurt (who tie the knot next weekend) and we got to see the Eli Young Band for a cheap 10$. It was a really fun night in the city with good music and friends.

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Cheese at Ballpark Village.
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Quick snapshot with the band truck. ATTENTION: Nick is smiling. Nick is smiling. This does not happen often!
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Nick, myself, Ellie and Kurt. Grateful for good friends out here!

Last week, Nick won 4 St. Louis Blues hockey tickets from his gym. We took Ellie and Kurt along with us for the game. Our assigned seats were way up in the nosebleed section but since it was a pre-season game we took advantage of open seats closer to the action. It was very exciting!

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Hockey games are intense!!

Finally in the kitchen, I have been obsessed with all things pumpkin (cookies, bagels, coffee creamer, pasta, ice cream). Eeeek..it’s a problem how much of a sucker I am! I have been whipping up tacos once a week and they are so satisfying. I heat up black beans and corn in one pan and then turkey burger in another! I have been using plain greek yogurt as a sour cream substitute and adding fresh avocado on top. Just looking at this picture I snapped makes me hungry for tacos all over again.

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Taco taco taco!

As this week wraps up, I will continue to look to God for refreshment! And I will continue to embrace all things fall (and pumpkin)!

Light steps and a joyful heart

“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

-2 Corinthians 4:17-18

Beginning another school year was daunting for me. I had my first year of working with kids in the books so this year should just be easy, right? Erh..well, then crept up the increasing responsibilities and the fears that I am not doing enough for some of my kids who have so many communication needs. My mom gave me a devotional book called “Jesus Calling,” with daily devotionals that are relevant to a woman’s life. I have read it every morning before work up to this point and it has been shaping my perspective on this new school year. I am slowly allowing joy to replace fear, worry and anxiety. I am trying to give these work-related insecurities to God and let my interactions with the kids and my co-workers be guided by love and care. Light steps and a joyful heart is my reining mantra as I trudge through my day-to-day duties.

In other news…

The weekends around here have been busy! This is probably why it took a full month for me to post on here again. Nick and I traveled to St. Charles, Illinois to visit my brother and his wife for my 25th birthday. Their soon-to-be little one is due Christmas day and Jess looks AH-MAZING pregnant. She is all cute little belly and athletic little legs. (I think fall is the perfect time to be pregnant. Mommy jeans and over-sized sweaters anyone?) We watched Penn State football, watched the guys play in Aaron’s work softball game and ate out for my birthday. I also literally cried with happiness seeing my dog niece, Nellie. I think I have an unusual attachment to her that stems from never having a dog of my own while growing up.

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25! Thanks for showering me with sweet surprises all week long, Nick!
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That face! Her eye is a little crooked, she walks with a wiggle and I love her.
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Very grateful for a brother and sister-in-law.

Then my parents flew to St. Louis to visit for a weekend. Jimbo takes a week off in the fall and they decided to visit their adult children in the Midwest. We took them to a St. Louis Cardinals baseball game in the city, visited the late prez Ulysses S. Grant’s home, played cards and ate good food. Then they hopped the train off to Chicago to visit Aaron. Mom made meals and snacks so that even when they physically left, their presence remained in food form in the kitchen.

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That view though! Beautiful day via Busch Stadium.
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3 of my favorite people squished all around me.

In other news, Nick got me a gym membership right across the street from my townhouse. It’s been a welcome change in the form of exercise and I’ve been literally laughing out loud watching Ellen Degeneres when I am running on the treadmill. I’ve been busy in the kitchen as well. Check out below for my latest creations and links to the recipes.

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http://natashaskitchen.com/2014/04/11/pineapple-fried-rice-recipe/

Pineapple Fried Rice: I added chicken to the mixture and nixed the ginger and sesame oil (14$ tiny bottle was not in my budget). It still turned out deliciously tasty with the pineapple and red bell pepper.

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http://www.crazyforcrust.com/2013/09/peanut-butter-pumpkin-bread/

Peanut butter chocolate chip pumpkin bread: So many things I love whipped into a delicious, moist bread. I made this and then ate a slice every night for 9 days until it was gone. The greek yogurt, pumpkin puree and peanut butter ensure that it is not a crumbly bread.

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http://www.averiecooks.com/2013/06/reeses-pieces-soft-peanut-butter-cookies.html

Reese’s pieces soft peanut butter cookies: Maybe I was on a peanut butter kick this month? I made these cookies as a birthday treat for my coworkers. They loved them! Jam-packed with choco chips and Reese’s pieces. Just looking at the pictures of these makes me hungry.

 

My heart is happy after reading back over this post and the joys of the past month. Trucking forward towards October, all things fall, weddings, baby showers, football and more adventures in the kitchen.

Summer Lovin’

It’s been TWO MONTHS since I last posted on here! Eeek. June, July and the beginning of August flew by so quickly. I feel extremely blessed because I spent the summer months back in PA getting my fill of time with family and friends. I stood beside two of my best friends as they married the loves of their lives. I spent many days with my dear friend’s baby girl, Molly Mo. I finally can say that I feel comfortable feeding a baby! I went to the beach 3x- once for my friend’s bachelorette party, once for a day trip with my ma and once for girl’s week with my aunts, ma and grandma! I went on daily walks/runs with my ma, mowed my grandma’s yard each week and spent time with my high school friends around town at our local brewery. I also visited Pittsburgh, my grad school friends and attended an SLP conference. PHEW- it was a busy summer, but a great one. See below for highlights of the summer!

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Early birthday celebration dinner with my parents and Gma!
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On the beach in OCMD for Katie’s Bachelorette Party weekend!
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4 days in Pittsburgh with Emil Lee Kennedy- running, eating and exploring together! Oh and Bella!
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Girl’s Week at the beach with Mom, Grandma, Aunt Kim, Aunt Robin!
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The current love of my life–Molly Mo! The happiest and sweetest baby around. Susan and Matt are doing such a great job with her.
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Some of our group at Katie’s wedding! Got to see Nick for a few days this summer when he flew in for the wedding.
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Katelyn got hitched!!!

On Tuesday, I flew back to St. Louis, Missouri and traveled back to my little town of Union. My townhouse and car were alive and well. My classroom was in a state of disarray. My mail was piled up high. I hankered down and spent Wednesday and Thursday cleaning, running errands, paying bills, getting groceries and getting my classroom in shape. I really did not cook much over the summer since I had my dear mother doing most of it, so I also got back into the kitchen these past few days. See below for 2 recipes that you have to try! Then check out my classroom (Super-hero themed this year)!

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Spinach and Mushroom Quinoa (recipe on http://juliasalbum.com/2014/06/spinach-and-mushroom-quinoa-recipe/ )

 

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Baked Oatmeal Cups for On the Go! Recipe at http://thefoodclick.com/all/2013/08/08/individual-baked-oatmeal-cups

For this recipe, I swapped canola oil for the coconut oil and honey for maple syrup!

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One bulletin board from my classroom. OUR SPEECH IS SUPER!

Yesterday was our first day back to work, staff only. This week we have staff days Monday and Tuesday and then the kids come in on Wednesday. A brand new school year with new challenges is daunting. The physical prep in my classroom is not nearly as important as the mental and spiritual prep needed to face another year! I know a new school year equals new changes as well. From PA back to MO, from a first year SLP to a second year CCC SLP…changes are plentiful. I am currently finding peace and joy in knowing that despite all of these changes and challenges in my life…

” Jesus is the same yesterday and today and forever.” -Hebrews 13:8

Heaven on Earth=Lazy Sunday afternoons

After I survived 11 snow days, I thought I had seen the worst of Missouri weather. Then April rolled in and it became ‘storm’ season. Last week was a little scary with thunder, lightning, hail, wind, rain and funnel clouds in the area. Here is a picture of the worst of the storm as it quickly rolled into my development last Thursday night. Our track meet was cancelled due to the weather so I was safely inside my townhouse when this all touched down.

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Our track meet was rescheduled for Friday night. After the meet, I finally headed in Nick’s direction for a weekend of freedom. Nick had his heart set on seeing the new ‘Captain America’ movie. I had my heart set on feeding the ducks in his pond, a run and cooking up a new recipe. With an entire Saturday and Sunday to ourselves, all of these things were accomplished. Saturday, we met up with a few of Nick’s friends for dinner, pool and then the movie. If I was on my own, Captain America would not be my first choice in movies, but with Nick and his enthusiasm for the Marvel series sitting next to me, it made for a pretty awesome flick. I visited the mall for an hour on Saturday to do some shopping and stumbled across these superhero leggings. Almost bought them to wear to theatre just to make Nick laugh (almost).

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Amazing how fun it is to meet people through other people on the weekends. We went to the movie with Nick’s good buddy from work, who is dating a girl that is getting her Master’s in social work. What I thought was going to be a ‘night with the guys’ actually turned into some interesting conversation with this girl who I had a lot in common with. Nick and I posed for a pic mid-pool game with the group.

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Finally on Sunday, we went to church, got Thai food, fed the ducks and took cat naps. Heaven on Earth= Lazy Sunday afternoons. I wanted to make us a hearty Sunday meal that required little prep and would leave leftovers for the week for both Nick and I. I have been on a Mexican kick lately so this recipe I stumbled across online was just what I was looking for.

Mexican Skillet Pasta (One Pot Wonder) 

INGREDIENTS:

1 lb ground turkey –  1 (15 oz) can of tomato sauce – 2 cups salsa (your choice on type used) – 2 cups of pasta (we used the vegetable tri-color rotini) – 1 cup corn – 1 cup black beans (make sure to rinse) – shredded cheddar cheese (1/2 cup to a cup based on preference) – avocado or guacamole

DIRECTIONS: 

Cook pasta. Brown and drain turkey in large skillet. Add tomato sauce and salsa  to meat and stir well. Then mix cooked pasta, corn, beans into skillet. Stir in cheese (preferred amount) to thicken the sauce. Serve and add sliced avocado or guac on top. Enjoy!

HELPFUL HINTS: 

Make sure to use a large enough skillet. Mine was overflowing!

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“Valentimes” Day

Only one snow day this past week which left 4 actual days of work. And on Thursday, it reached 51 degrees, while back in PA my family and friends were getting pounded with 12+ inches of snow, rain and sleet. It was a fun week to work in an early childhood center, with Valentine’s day coming up. We usually give the kids a “party day” and it’s chaotic and hilarious to see how excited the kids get. We talked about who we love in therapy and superheroes ranked pretty high for my kids. In my  sessions this week, we made “Valentimes” for moms and dads (pretty common for my kids to pronounce it this way) and made our own “Love Monster” after reading the adorable children’s book by Rachel Bright. Check them out below.

vday crafts

After all of my car troubles, Nick decided to drive to my place this weekend. I told him that I would make us a 3 course Valentine’s meal. I go to his place most weekends, so I really enjoy cooking in my own kitchen when I have the chance. I borrowed a few of the recipes below from Pinterest and will share the links. Prep started Thursday night when I headed to Aldi’s and stacked my cart with ingredients. If you know me, you know that I love dessert so let’s start there. The first thing I made, Oreo Bomb Cake from “The View from 510” blog, needed to be in the frig for 8 hours so I decided to make it the night before. Here is a before shot on the left showing the layers that make up this tasty dessert. On the right is the finished shot, with a huge chunk taken out because I had already served it to Nick. (He gave two thumbs up but requested a smaller piece next time!)

precakecake

Friday after work, I hustled into the kitchen to get started on the appetizer and meal portions. First up, a spinach salad with chopped almonds and pecans and freshly sliced strawberries. I made an Apple Cider Vinegar and Honey Vinaigrette Dressing with a few spare ingredients that I found in my kitchen. When grocery shopping, a salad dressing didn’t really cross my mind. Thank God for the internet!  Below is the dressing in the works. I used my heart shaped measuring spoons that were party favors from my good friend Theresa’s bridal shower last year. Perfect for this Valentine’s day creation!

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The main course was my favorite part by far. Paired with a little Pinot Grigio, it was filling and flavorful. I made Crock Pot Sausage and Cheese Tortellini from the “Ice Cream with a Fork” blog. The sausage needed to be browned ahead of time but otherwise it was an easy meal, with all ingredients in the crockpot for 4 hours with a lid and the final half hour without the lid. This allowed the sauce to thicken up at the end. The recipe made plenty and we will be eating the rest later this weekend. The before picture shows the spoonfuls of cream cheese. The after picture was taken after we had actually eaten. I almost forgot to catch a shot of the meal!

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All in all, I’d say the “Valentimes” meal was a success. It was really nice to enjoy a meal over a long stretch of time (Nick insists it was too long of a stretch). A meal also tastes really good when you know the prep that went into it. Given that it’a three day weekend, I am glad to have two more days to relax. We are currently watching the movie, “I Love You, Man,” on TV and Nick is doing his best impersonations of “Slappin’ da bass mon.” Happy Weekend Everyone!

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Quinoa? Key-mwhat?

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Side Note: Today is my 8th snow day. I doubt that I would have time to post twice in the past two days otherwise. Above is my car and parking spot. I’ve shoveled out twice in the past 18 hours. 

Southwestern Quinoa Stuffed Peppers

I have been attempting to make a new recipe each weekend. Nick usually whips up breakfast for us and I feel obliged to at least make one meal. Otherwise, we test out many of the restaurants in his Fairview Heights neighborhood (Thai, Italian, Sushi, Mexican…Yum!) and I beg for ice cream each night. Weekend meals deserve to be more special than the mundane things we eat all week when we are apart, right?

The recipe below is a southwestern variation of the stuffed peppers, Mama Anspach usually makes with rice, ground beef and Velveeta cheese. About two weekends ago, I decided to whip these up for our Saturday night dinner. These are super filling and made enough for two meals for both Nick and I. This was also my first time cooking quinoa (pronounced Key-mwah). Took us about 20 minutes of wondering around and then asking an employee to find the small, hardly discernible bag in the grocery store. It was worth it! Enjoy 🙂 stuffed pepper

This picture was taken prior to popping them in the oven and adding the cheese. It shows how much extra filling there was!

INGREDIENTS:

4 large peppers (green, red, yellow, orange..It’s up to you!)

1 pkg quinoa (In the grain section of the grocery store. I bought the kind that requires boiling in water, same as you cook rice. I also bought the kind that included red barley.)

1 can diced tomatoes

1 can corn

1 can black beans (drained and rinsed)

1/2 cup diced onion

1/2 cup Ortega mild taco sauce (This adds moisture to the mix so be generous!)

Seasoning to taste (Your preference here. I added tbspn. cumin and tbspn. chili powder for a kick!)

Shredded cheddar cheese ( Generous amounts but your preference also.)

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare the quinoa by the directions on the package (prep is very similar to rice boiled on stove top). Cut the tops and insides out of the 4 peppers so that they are hollow. Boil water on the stovetop and add the 4 hollowed peppers in with the open sides face down. Heat for 15 minutes or until peppers darken in color. Pull out peppers to cool and sit in pan that allows them to sit up right. (I used a loaf pan which held all 4 of my peppers upright!) In large bowl, mix quinoa, diced tomatoes, corn, black beans, onion, taco sauce and seasoning. Scoop this mixture into the 4 peppers. (I used my ice cream scooper which made this very easy.) I also had lots of excess filling that I put in the pan to surround the peppers. Add shredded cheese on top of each pepper and cover with tin foil. Heat in oven at 350 for 40-45 minutes. I kept the tin foil on until the last 1o minutes and then took it off to let the cheese melt. Tastes delicious served with tortilla chips and a side of salsa.