Friday, March 1, 2013

What a decade it's been!

Today marks the ten year anniversary of the day Levi and I met. Aww! I think we have a pretty good story, so I decided to write it down and share it.

Ten years ago I was 17, a senior in high school,  and Levi was 21, on hiatus from college and working and playing in a punk rock band. I'd made a new group of friends that year and one thing we loved to do was go to these punk rock shows that bands from all around NY would come to play at. My friends and I were running late and missed Levi's band, Perfect Salesman, playing that night. I had gotten a new, pretty bra that day, so being a 17 year old girl, I wanted to show it to my girlfriends. We went into an empty stairwell (I repeat - empty!) and I lifted my shirt to show them. While this was going on, the door bursts open and in walks this really cute guy carrying band equipment outside. Ahhh! I was horrified!

Later in the evening I saw the guy again, standing on the side of the room. Tall, skinny, mop of disheveled long dark hair... just my type. And oh man, he was hot! My friend Jenn needed to use the bathroom, or maybe that was just a ruse to walk by him, but I commented to her that there was the cute guy who'd seen me with my shirt up and we headed off in that direction. When we got next to him, Jenn, out of her mind but with great intentions, pushed me into him so hard we stumbled. She then happily announced, "This is Nani. She thinks you're cute so you two talk," and ran off to leave me there. If I'd been horrified before, I was bordering on mortification. Somehow, this tall, cute guy saw fit to laugh it off and talk to me. That night I wrote my email address on his arm, never expecting to hear from him again. He lived about 2.5 hours away and was this awesomely adorable bass player in a popular band. I was just... me. I figured all I'd get out of it would be a funny story to tell my other friends for a few days, and that would be that. Low and behold, the very next day I had an email from this Levi guy.

Seeing that I was still in high school and he lived 2.5 hours away, we had something of a whirlwind, sporadic romance. He got his band to play every local show he could so he could see me. I spent the night at his parents' house once, with my friend Jenn along as somewhat of a supervision. That trip was an eye opener for me. Even at the age of 17 I knew that whoever I ended up with needed to have a family I felt good with and could get along with. Sitting on the couch at Levi's parents' house, it occurred to me out of the blue, "I could marry someone with a family like this." I still remember that moment to this day; it was very a very clear and profound moment. Once when I was having a really hard day he left his family dinner, drove 2.5 hours out to spend about 2 hours with me at my house, and then drove 2.5 hours home. That was when I knew he was a little more serious about me than I was about him. I honestly think Levi had known he wanted to be with me from the first day we met. I was young and pretty, with the attention of a lot of guys, and I took advantage of that to be a flirt. I wasn't always very nice or fair to Levi, and I feel so awful about that now. He always put up with me, and was always there when I wanted him, because he knew there was something real with us.

When I wound up pregnant with N in college, my boyfriend was something of trouble. Trouble with the law, trouble with drugs, trouble with another girl. We split up while I was pregnant, and Levi was there immediately. He drove the 5+ hours to visit me for a weekend at college and was prepared to take me home, marry me right then, and raise my child as his own. We had a wonderful weekend together, and I was fully prepared to take him up on his offers. Then, I happened to speak to N's biological father for his birthday, and we decided to give things another chance. Levi left that weekend, hurt and angry. I didn't know if he would ever speak to me again. He joined the Marine Corps a month later and I figured it was probably over for us forever.

Obviously, things didn't work out with N's biological father. Over the next two years Levi and I stayed in brief contact. Every few months or so we'd catch each other on instant messenger and chat for a few minutes. Levi commented once that we were super friends, because I was the only person he'd ever dated that he'd stayed in contact with. "Super friends." I was long regretting my decisions in letting him go, and those words seemed like the final nail in the coffin.

One night in February 2006, Levi posted online that he was looking for a place to download a particular song, if anyone knew where to find it. I replied to him, because he made it sound like he'd recently discovered this song and wanted it, but it was a song I'd listened to all the time in high school so I knew he'd heard it with me. He responded that he had the song as his ringtone on his phone and wanted the whole version. He said the song always made him think of me. I replied that having it as his ringtone must make him think of me a lot, and he replied back that he never stopped thinking of me. Ding, ding, ding! That was it! The rest, as they say, is history.

Within days Levi was asking me when we could get married. Keep in mind, we hadn't seen each other in over two years at this point! But still, we decided that yes, we were going to get married. My parents were skeptical, to say the least. Levi was stationed in North Carolina at the time, but he had to be in Maine for a week or so, so in May I drove to Maine and spent a weekend with him. His parents also drove out and we had a meal all together. I was worried his parents were going to hate me for all I'd put him through in our past, but they were the wonderful, loving people they've always been and even brought a present for me to take home to N. Levi confessed after the weekend was over and I'd gone home that he was really worried it would be a repeat of past events and I would decide I didn't want to be with him again. Not this time!

He was able to come home to NY on leave in July, when he met N in person for the first time. They immediately took to each other. N also met Levi's family; from the first second they laid eyes on him he was theirs. During that trip, Levi's parents gave him his mother's engagement ring to give to me, and my parents put an engagement announcement in the newspaper. It meant so much to me when my dad suggested an announcement. That was the moment I knew he and my mom loved Levi and truly accepted him as my future husband. Everyone knew that as fast as it was happening, with as little time together as we'd had, we were really headed for marriage.

The plan was to be married in NY a few days after Christmas, because it was really the only time Levi's brother would be able to be there to be his best man. N and I were going to immediately move to NC after that, but the wait list for base housing was looking like it could take up to two months to get a house. Levi and I decided the best thing to do was for me to fly down in October and have a Justice of the Peace marry us, so we could get on the housing list in time for the move after the big wedding. Isn't military life romantic?

Long story short, we were married, we had our big wedding, we moved to NC and life has been wonderful ever since. N's biological father and I had decided when we split that he wasn't fit to be a father, and when Levi and I were married we started the process to have him adopt Nikko. Because it was uncontested we never had to go to court, and everything was done through paperwork. Bringing our family full circle, the paperwork was finalized and the adoption made official on the same day S was born. I have been unbelievably lucky to have Levi in my life. I think the word soulmate is a bit cheesy and cliche, but he truly is my other. My completion. There aren't words to describe all he is to me. Happy ten years, my love!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Pumpkin-sweet potato brownies

I know what you're thinking. How can brownies not be chocolate? Or at least peanut butter, or maybe cheesecake? Go with me. I found this recipe on Pinterest and had to give it a try. The original, found at Candy Fit looks great as is, but I decided to change mine up a bit, both for taste preferences and what I had on hand.

Pumpkin-Sweet Potato Brownies

Serves 12


  • 1 can (15 oz) pumpkin or equivalent cooked pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling!)
  • 1 small sweet potato, cooked (I took about a cup of cubed sweet potato from my freezer stash and microwaved it for a few minutes)
  • 1 cup egg whites
  • 1 cup plain oats
  • 1/2 cup non-fat Greek yogurt
  • 2 Tbsp ground flax seed
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/8 cup butterscotch chips
  • 1/8 cup dark chocolate chips (or 1/4 cup total of your choice of chips)

  1. Preheat your oven to 385° and spray a 9x9 pan with non-stick spray. I use a Misto with olive oil for my non-stick spray.
  2. Put all of your ingredients, except the chips, into a blender or food processor and process until smooth. I used a blender and had to scrape the sides a few times to get all the oatmeal incorporated. 
  3. Pour your batter into a bowl, then fold in the chips.
  4. Pour the whole mix into your prepared pan and pop in the oven for 30-40 minutes. Your bake time will depend on your oven and how much sweet potato was actually used. This doesn't test the same way a traditional flour cake or brownies would. If your toothpick comes out clean but wet-looking, they're not done.
  5. Remove from oven, allow to cool, then cut into 12 even pieces.
Normally I consider it a travesty to cut anything in a 9x9 pan into more than nine pieces, but these are pretty thick, so twelve pieces still gives you a hefty chunk of brownie.

I decided to go with butterscotch and dark chocolate chips since my husband will eat pretty much anything that contains butterscotch, and the kids will eat anything that contains chocolate chips. It's a win-win. They think they're getting a pumpkin-cake type treat, but I know they're having a protein and vitamin packed snack.

Your totals will vary slightly, depending on your exact ingredients, but one serving of my brownies contains:
  • 83 calories
  • 1.6 g fat
  • 181 mg potassium
  • 13.4 g carbohydrates
  • 2.5 g fiber
  • 3.4 g sugar
  • 4.7 g protein
  • 132% DV of vitamin A
  • a small amount (<20% DV each) of a whole host of other vitamins, minerals, and essential nutrients
Give them a try and let me know what you think. We ended up with mixed results. I actually don't find it very appetizing due to the crust the top of mine formed, but N and S wolfed it down! It's not something I'd make for myself again and V took a few bites but didn't finish hers. The big kids gave it the "you should make this again!" seal of approval, though.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

A quick share!

Whenever I do something crafty and post it on Facebook, I'm often asked if I'm blogging things anywhere. Well, now I am!

Despite our Christmas decorations being down and packed away for quite some time now, I just realized that all of the photo frames I filled with Christmas-related pictures and word art are still hanging. Yikes - time to change those! Since the next major holiday we do in our house will be Valentine's Day, I decided to jump right ahead to that. I don't have the energy to redo them all right now - there are eight frames total - but here is a pretty little word art page I finished up tonight.

Click here to view and print this cute Valentine's printable I put together. Enjoy!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Camera lessons, part one.

A few years ago when Circuit City closed we were able to get a decent DSLR camera and extra lens at a great price. I like taking pictures, but that's been the extent of my hobby - pictures. I don't even say I like taking photos because that somehow implies what I'm doing is more than snapshots, and they aren't. I have been terribly lax with learning anything about the capabilities of my camera, or how to take pictures and what to do with them later.

Once again, Pinterest to the rescue! Never before have so many great tutorials and tips been so readily available and easily organized. I've decided to start small and simple. The first thing I tried was simply using focus length to change the overall look of pictures. Nothing complicated here: the farther away you are from a subject and the more zoomed in on it you are, the more the background blurs and your subject becomes the focal point. It also eliminates the fisheye effect that being too close to a subject gives pictures. This blog post was my instruction. I happen to have a 75-300 lens, so I snapped that on and gave it a try. It was a wet, dreary day outside so we stayed indoors and these are all taken with a pop up flash (one step at a time, remember?). These snapshots, taken randomly around the house, instantly step up a level as the background blurs and the subject takes center stage. If we'd been outside where I could get even farther away and zoom in more, it'd be even better!

V, 2 years old

S, 4 years old

N, 8 years old

These next three really show how using a long focus makes it super easy to change the focal point, which can drastically change a picture. The first two, of my kids' doll house, show how easily you can change the focal point in a tiny amount of space. I did use the manual focus to take these, so give me slack if they're not perfect. The manual focus is another step in the learning process.

First, we focus on the door.

A slight adjustment of the focus and now the clear focal point, just inches away from the door, is the sink.

I think this shows the most drastic focusing. I did absolutely nothing to the foreground or background of this picture. I laid down on the floor and shot straight on at this hairband that was laying about eight feet away from me. Because of the intense zoom, only the exact plane of the chosen focal point is in focus.

Even a hairband gains interest with a long focal length.

I am really looking forward to working with my camera. I don't have any grand dreams for myself to do anything other than improve the pictures I take of my own kids, but it'd be nice to finally use my camera to its full potential.

Big changes in our lives!

We got confirmation last week that my husband is definitely going overseas this year. I am not feeling very prepared; it's hard to believe, but in the nine years of military service he has, Levi has never deployed! He's had various non-deployable jobs and all kinds of training and schools that just never left him available for deploying. It was bound to happen sometime, but I feel like a newbie PFC wife, not knowing at all what to expect.

It's happening relatively soon, so we're in a mad dash to get as much stuff in the house packed and ready for his departure as possible. The kids and I will stay in North Carolina to finish out N's school year (even maintaining a legal residence, homeschoolers have to transfer if you'll be out of state for more than a month). When his school year is up, we'll pack up the rest of the house and go to New York to live with family while we try to sell the house. I'm pretty confident it'll sell. It's in a good spot at the front of the neighborhood, we have done a lot of upgrades - including a gutted and completely redone kitchen, new roof, and new foundation, and we have a good realtor to work with. Levi has started clearing out the shed and I've started in the house, and we've agreed to just keep working, working, working. We'll take some time next month to have a little family vacation before he goes, which we're all looking forward to.

I tend to lay blame on Levi for how much stuff we have, but I know I am guilty, too. I am especially aware of this since I went through all our school and craft supplies this weekend and realized we have more than we can possibly use. I don't want to pack up all of the little crafty bits and baubles, and school stuff that always goes on sale like notebooks and pencils, so I bagged up a ton of stuff to take to a meeting with homeschoolers today at the park. Thankfully they picked it all over pretty well and took home at least 75% of what I was hoping to get rid of. The rest can hang out for a yard sale we'll have later. It's hard to let go of this stuff because I know someday I would use it, but I know we need to be realistic about what we want to deal with moving, and the reality is: not much! I'm just hoping Levi will really get on board with this, too. I'm not going to ask him to get rid of stuff he really uses or stuff he really loves, of course, but there are a lot of things I am willing to bet haven't seen the light of day in years. It's a process, I know, but we have limited time to do it!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

It's treat time!

I am a firm believer that a healthy, balanced, real food diet is the absolute foundation to good health. That said... I'm also a firm believer that junk food in low moderation is pretty awesome. And sometimes you see something on Pinterest that you just can't ignore. Enter stage left: homemade donut holes! These are made with premade biscuit dough, fried, and rolled in powdered sugar. I would use homemade dough in the future to make these slightly healthier, but I happened to have a tube of mini biscuits in the fridge already. My kids wolfed them down, and I enjoyed a few as well. I'd intended to save some for Levi when he got home tonight, but I don't imagine these keep very well anyway, and the kids were practically licking their plates for more...


  1. Open a tube of ready-to-bake biscuit dough, mini biscuit dough, or prepare your own homemade dough.
  2. Cut the dough into bite sized pieces. Using mini biscuits, I cut each biscuit into fourths.
  3. Heat oil in a heavy bottomed pot to 350°F.
  4. Carefully drop biscuits in, a few at a time. You want to have room in the pot for them to float around. I used my smallest pot and did five donuts at a time. I also used wooden chopsticks to maneuver my donuts, but if you're not chopstick-profficient you can use small tongs or a fork.
  5. Allow the donuts to cook a minute or two on each side. I found that most of mine flipped on their own when they were done on one side, but some needed to be manually flipped.
  6. Carefully remove cooked donuts to a plate or bowl lined with paper towels to drain, and repeat for the remaining dough.
  7. Once cooled, roll in your choice of powdered sugar, cinnamon, granule sugar, or enjoy plain!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The best homeschool scheduler I've found!

I have been homeschooling in some form for the past five years, since N was preschool-aged. I have tried every scheduler/tracker I can find. I've done hard copy on paper, I've done spreadsheets, I've done apps. I haven't really liked anything. Hard copy wasn't bad, but I hate my handwriting and editing ability left something to be desired. Spreadsheets were okay, but I couldn't access them on the go very easily. Apps always lacked something. Finally a fellow homeschool friend suggested I try Skedtrack™.

Ahhh, the clouds parted, the sun shone down! It is everything I have wanted in a scheduler/tracker, and it's free! It's easy to input and edit, it tracks time and attendance, it keeps grades, it creates reports. It's easy to use with more than one child. And best of all, perhaps: if you don't get an assignment done, it automatically moves it to the next scheduled day for that subject and bumps everything else back so you don't have to worry about scrambling to catch up or else manually change your whole schedule for that subject. If you do catch up and complete the next assignment, just mark both done and the schedule automatically puts everything back into place for the upcoming days. I cannot tell you how great this feature is, especially with two little ones running around. Let's be honest: not everything we schedule is completed on the scheduled day, and having a program that automatically adjusts to that is invaluable.

Another bonus to this program is that it is accessible on any computer, tablet, or smart phone. I haven't used it on my phone, since the small screen would make inputing and editing a little tiresome, but in a pinch or simply to mark assignments done, it's great to have the option.

I really can't say enough about how much I am loving this program. The site is neat and clean, accessible through easy links and tabs, and the FAQ section is great. I had one suggestion about login time outs and I heard back from customer service within hours. If you've been on the lookout for a homeschool scheduler and tracker, I highly, highly suggest Skedtrack™!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Where have all the manners gone?

Last winter when when several houses in the neighborhood were being repaired after hurricane damage, my son N met some boys who's dad was working on a roof down the street. They were really nice kids, and they all enjoyed playing together. We haven't had a chance to get them together again since, but every once in a while the older brother and N talk on the phone. I decided as part of my new year goal to reach out to friends, that we should reach out to the kids' friends as well. Earlier this week I had N call these boys and ask if they wanted to come over this afternoon. Every time N spoke to them, they were not sure but "probably" could come. Last night I had N call once again to get a straight answer; I had him tell them we needed to know for sure because if they weren't coming over then there were things we could leave the house to do. They said yes, they would be here this afternoon.

Well, today rolls around and an hour past the agreed upon time, they still weren't here. I had N call again, and only then did they say, oh never mind, they were not coming over. What the heck! Who does that? I understand if things come up, but it sounds like they just didn't want to leave the house today. Okay, fine. But you still call and let the other party know that your plans have changed. Especially when the other party has said if you're not going to come over there are things they can go out to do instead. I had a really hard time keeping my cool when N got off the phone because I was so frustrated, both with his friends' lack of manners and with his disappointment of not seeing friends he'd been so excited to see. At least it was a chance to provide my kids with a real world lesson in common courtesy, and let them know the proper etiquette for canceling plans.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

A peppermint pig!

While we were away over New Years we were able to find a store with Peppermint Pigs™ for sale! If you're not from northern New York, you may not know the tradition of the pig.

From Saratoga Sweets:
In early Decembers long since past, while the quaint Victorian village of Saratoga Springs slept quietly through a chilled and moonlit eve, legend suggests that a bit of magic was in the making.
The first dusting of winter's snow gathered in darkened downtown doorways and twirled by night's wind seemed to dance and whirl like sugarplum fairies. Behind the oaken doors of gingerbread-sized candy shops that dotted Saratoga, tireless old candy makers, bathed in amber glow of crackling hearth and bubbling candy pots, labored on into the night creating... and continuing a holiday tradition known to all as the Peppermint Pig™

This Peppermint Pig™ as aptly it was named, was cast of hard candy similar in fashion to candy cane and festive pink in colour. And while the pig is honored in Victorian holiday tradition as a symbol of good health, happiness and prosperity, these special Peppermint Pigs,™ unique to Saratoga Springs, New York, came to represent much more. They proudly stood for and old-fashioned Yuletide itself-a wonderful time when red-cheeked children laughed and rode old wooden sleds over fresh snow, when church bells pealed and fond recollections were shared by family and friends. After the holiday dinner, the Pig was passed amongst those gathered, each in turn giving the pouch a firm tap and sharing a tale of the past year's good fortune. The delicious broken peppermint and warm memories were enjoyed by all in hopes of prosperity for the coming year.
The various candy makers who crafted the pigs have long since passed on, their businesses fading away. Now, Saratoga Sweets is the only producer of the true Peppermint Pig™ and finding them outside of northern NY can be tricky. The pig was a tradition that we did in my house for several years when I was growing up. We'd sit around the table and smash the pig, then a container of sweet pink pieces would sit on the counter, available for a taste any time.

It was exciting to find a pig down here in North Carolina, simply for the novelty of it, but sitting around with my family last night, each taking a turn whacking the pig, took me right back to my own childhood. Right down to the, "Whoa, whoa, whoa! Everybody else back up!" when the kids crowded around and someone nearly took a hammer swing to the face. Thankfully it's only a small hammer that comes with the pig, and in the end no one was hit. Then, the taste! That sweet, sharp, unmistakable taste of a Peppermint Pig™. Mmmm, the memories. I highly suggest picking one up for your next holiday season. If you're not local to NY or cannot find one in a specialty shop near you, they are available to order online.

image credit:

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

New year, new goals.

Rather than resolutions this year - things I am going to do - I am instead working on goals - things I want to work on doing.

The cliche of course: weight and health. In November we had Levi's Marine Corps ball and I worked hard for eight weeks ahead of time to lose over 15 pounds and fit into my dress. I still have a way to go until I am at a weight that I feel comfortable with. Since the holiday season started immediately after the ball with Thanksgiving, my eating habits haven't been that great. I haven't gained any weight back, thankfully, but surprisingly. I have been eating junk and I feel like junk. I am really looking forward to meal planning and getting real food into my body again. In using food to improve my health, I'll hopefully garner a trimmer waistline as well.

I am also really hoping to work on friendships. I have made three friends since originally coming to North Carolina that I felt particularly close to, and two have already moved away. Of course, since we're all military families, that's bound to happen. I am terrible about keeping up with friends, I know. While we had friends over this past weekend, I was using my friend's phone and she received several messages from one of our friends who's moved and it occurred to me that they're in touch while I am not. I know that's largely my fault; I have never demonstrated I am capable of or willing to mutually work to keep in touch. There is just no excuse for that in this age of technology and I feel so badly about it. I really want to work harder to put myself out there for those I consider my friends and keep those friendships from dying due to distance and a lack of contact.

Another somewhat cliche goal is to work on our finances. We are very lucky to have a steady paycheck, health insurance, and no credit card debt. However, we don't have savings. A military salary doesn't allow for loads of extra cash, but there is no reason for us to be living relatively paycheck to paycheck. We simply spend too much money on things we don't need to be buying. I came across a great piece about using several different bank accounts to better manage your finances (I hate watching videos when I want to look over information; keep scrolling down, it's all written out below the video). At first it seemed counter intuitive that spreading out your money helps you to use it more efficiently, but organization can never be wrong, right? By separating out our money as soon as each paycheck hits, we'll never spend more than we should be on any one thing. Bills and household expenses, Levi's individual spending (like gas, haircuts, coffee, and whatever he wants to spend on), my individual spending (like gas, groceries, and various children's expenses), and a few different types of savings accounts. Our plan is to set up multiple accounts when we get our tax return this year so we can start out our savings with a nice cushion.

At the end of last year I spent a few days going through our bank statements from the past three months, totally up and averaging our spending and bills. Now we know what we've been spending, and what we should be spending, so when the time comes we can divvy up our paycheck into the proper amounts for each of the bank accounts. In the meantime I've decided I want to stick with cash for my spending. We went away for an overnight for New Years Eve and only used cash while we were gone. I haven't liked using cash in the past because it can be harder for me to keep track of where it goes without the ease of the bank statement we get from using our check cards. While we were away though, I realized we're a lot less likely to spend unnecessarily when we have to hand over tangible cash. I think using cash will really keep me in check for now. I've left it up to Levi to decide how he wants to handle his spending for now, but he has his budget number and he better stick to it!

My final goal for the year is to get back on with knitting. I have been working on a project for most of the last year that I am very excited about, but it's taken so long it's sucked most of the fun out of knitting for me. When we were away for the new year we went to a calendar shop where everything was 50% off to buy our kitchen wall calendar for 2013. I also found a really neat daily knitting calendar that I'm hoping will help with my knitting funk. It has 1-3 days per page, and 1-4 pages per project, so you can theoretically complete all of the projects in the calendar if you work a bit each day. I'm hoping those short, easily completely projects will get me back in a knitting mood. Ideally I'd like to get my business, Knits By Nani, back off the ground. I was quite busy and successful with it earlier last year. Not that it was making enough money to live off, but enough to help pad our savings accounts that we'll be setting up.

Lots and lots planned for my 2013. I hope yours is full and productive as well!