Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Real Military Housewives of Blogland

Mal Smiles

Cheers to linking up with The Real Military Wives of Blogland hosted by Mal and Samantha today!   I'm so pumped to support them in their mission to dispel the stereotype of what a military spouse is by enlightening people with our actuality with an introduction, a blurb of our military journey, and one thing we'd like people to know about military life.

Raised in the Chicago area, below the poverty line by a divorced mother of 3 (she was 18 at my birth), I am the first person in my family to graduate from college (Bradley University, Go Braves!).  (My grandparents only attended school until 8th grade, but my parents finished high school.)  I was the only girl in my neighborhood not to become a teen mom, and was looked down upon by the other teenagers for not having my own baby, smoking, or skipping school!  

My mom always believed in me and told everyone I'd grow up to be a stock broker!  She and I always knew I was focused on obtaining a great education, helping disadvantaged kids, and moving far away.  At age 21, with a B.A. in my pocket, California recruited me to teach there.  I had a long, successful career teaching at-risk kids for 13 years.  I bought my own home at age 24, made a killing selling it, then waited until the market became more affordable to buy an "average, not fancy" home in my dream neighborhood.  Which, of course, is when I met my marine and, a year later, chose to rent my house out and join him on his military adventure.
Yes, I went into the bedrooms of convicted felons (yes, murders, too) to check for contraband.  Yes, I carried a firearm, handcuffs, and taser, among other tactical items.  Yes, I wore body armor.  Yes, I served warrants at 2AM and arrested people.  

Something I recommend for every military spouse/sig other:  In Georgia, I chose not to teach.  I have another degree, in Sociology, that I chose to use to become a Georgia State Parole Officer.  Yes, it was a 2 month hiring process of a criminal justice test, background checks, and a polygraph, but the part I recommend is that I went away for 9 WEEKS to the GA State Public Safety Training Center and my Marine had to MISS me, hold down the fort without me, etc., and worry about me (ie. during firearms training).  Our relationship has never been better!  I've felt a new sense of appreciation from him ever since, even 2 years later!      P.S. I knew it was wearing on him when the Sergeant Major texted me and asked when I was coming back, lol!  Guess he was a bit grumpy.

Click here for more general stuff about me.

(click here for FAQs)
After a year of dating during which we lived over an hour's drive apart (squeezing in dating around his training NATO troops in Europe), I did a trial move (I was not accustomed to living with boyfriends) with my grunt (affectionate term for infantry) to the East Coast while he was at Command & Staff College at Marine Corps University.  He had been under the impression he would be stationed in California for 2 more years, so he was nervous to tell me about unexpectedly being chosen for school across the country.  My stoic, positive, and sometimes excited reaction to his relocation bombshells is one of the things he says "sealed the deal" for him.  He had much more dramatic women in the past to the point where he dreaded sharing his news.

Since 29 Palms (Southern California desert) and Quantico (we lived in the historic and coveted "Old Town" Alexandria, VA), we have been living in Atlanta for the notoriously stressful aka "36 one-month deployments" aka "2/3 of marriages don't make it through these 3 years" that is Marine Corps recruiting duty.  This summer will be our 4th move in 6 years, to Camp Pendleton (San Diego, Southern California coast).

One thing people may not know is that some military jobs come with ACTUAL roles and responsibilities FOR the Marine's significant other!!  BELIEVE ME, I didn't realize it until we came to independent duty in Atlanta.  It was trial by FIRE!
The handbook I was given when reporting in as the CO's  "spouse".  Link below.

My significant other is the Commander of Recruiting Station Atlanta (15 stations and 105 marines that recruit the area covering a large part of the state).  The buck stops with him.  His boss, The Colonel, is in another state.  There is no Marine Base in Georgia.  He is the one who represents the Marine Corps by giving LOTS of speeches and attending many events.  He works 70+ hours a week and for those of you who are military you will understand what I mean when I say there are days that he is literally buried under a mountain of fit reps he must defeat.

Upon our arrival, there was a change-of-command ceremony in a giant park in front of City Hall where 105 Marines were standing in formation and the previous commander handed the flag (guidon) to my Marine, the new commander. The Colonel had flown in to give a speech, during which he welcomed me by name, and the outgoing CO's wife and I were given flowers for our service.  My Marine and I made a list of what our goals were for helping and supporting the military families of the 15 recruiting substations spread out all over.  
The Sergeant Major (a female!), Master Gunnery Sergeant, and their spouses and I became close.  The Sergeant Major asked me to go with her to do a home visit for a struggling recruiter's spouse.  I became part of the bimonthly PAR training and welcome committee for incoming spouses.  A few weeks later, the district FRO flew in and handed me this book, Parade Rest:  Protocol and Social Customs for Marine Officers and Spouses.  He gave a training to the FRAs and there was an entire PAGE in his slideshow presentation about ME.  The senior enlisted spouse also has a page.  There were several bullet points listing my responsibilities in areas such as fostering community and advocating.

 From creating a private facebook group to donating a mattress/furniture to giving a speech at the annual picnic, there are many tasks I have completed in an attempt to fulfill my role.  It would take a couple pages to list them all.  I was further shocked when we attended an event for the Montford Point Marines and The Commandant of the Marine Corps was present (with his wife, who also has many roles as illustrated on her fb page).  I worked full time and arranged my hours to attend events to support the command.  There is even a part of the station evaluation with a box to check as to whether the CO's spouse has undergone specific trainings.

I'm just me.  Being in a 5 year relationship without being truly "married" is a shock to some people in the military community and otherwise.  However, times are progressing and I've met Generals in the same position of enjoying a committed relationship without marriage, while their significant others are respected as such.  Some people cannot help themselves from implying that we should tie the knot, which I do consider rude, however.  Don't even get me started on the children thing.  We are happy DINKS!  Just like the Real Housewives on tv, not all military 'housewives' are married, have kids, have jobs, etc.  Diversity is something to be celebrated!

I'm still not used to it when people seem nervous to speak to me because I'm attached to their husband or wife's boss.  It's startles me when I realize that I'm 'under the microscope', such as when I stand up and turn to face the back of the room (because I've memorized the order of the annual USMC Birthday Ball Ceremony) for the arrival of the cake, and A BALLROOM FULL OF GUESTS take it as a cue to all turn around right after I do.  Once, some young wives/girlfriends scurried over to me at a ball and complimented me on my shoes.  I said, "You can't see my shoes."  They replied, "Oh, we saw when you crossed your legs at the head table."  And then there was the time where a wife was miffed at me that she and her hubs weren't seated with us at the head table.  And I was like, do people think I do the seating, or any of the planning for this ball every year?  I don't.  I do, however, answer to Mrs.  It's just easier.

So, while I'm sure many spouses out there have gone above and beyond what I'm doing, I just wanted to share my experience.  In some ways, we look forward to blending in and not being the Commander at his next duty as an XO.  But as an eternal optimist, I must reflect on this unique experience and admit the upsides.  It has been fun meeting the military husbands and wives, it's been awe-inspiring meeting so many retired and active Generals and their girlfriends/wives (the female General I met is unattached), it's been an honor to attend funerals of the fallen, it's been exciting to see young people sign up for their dream careers and come back from boot camp a new person, it's been meaningful to see my love give rousing speeches, and it's been humbling to see the sacrifice of time and unyielding effort given by these Marine families (many of whom did not choose to partake in 3 years of recruiting duty, especially when this 'sales' job has nothing to do with the Marines' real careers that often involve tanks or helicopters, for example) to make the mission and help these high school young adults achieve the title of United States Marine.

*there is an enlisted wives handbook called Roses and Thorns
*No, we did not choose nor want recruiting duty 

Friday, April 18, 2014

23 Easy Gluten Free Easter Foods to Make, Thaw, Bake, or Buy

    4 ingredient, naturally gluten free Easter egg nests from Allrecipes.  Photo from SarahisWright
Having 9 years of Gluten Free EASTER experience, let me brainstorm a list of gluten free Easter foods you can make so you can indulge and enjoy just as much or more than the gluten eaters out there:
Sit egg vertically to cut lid off zig zag style.  Chill filling before stuffing egg whites.Use chunks of black olive for eyes, carrot for nose.

  • Make your own "cadbury" eggs with recipe here.  Get Lyle's syrup at CostPlus World Market or substitute with white corn syrup 
  • Gluten Free cupcakes see photo here.  Also decorate with pastel icing or get creative with piping bags.  I use Betty Crocker gluten free cake mixes.
  • Deviled Egg Chicks (see photo above).  If you chill the filling, you can skip using a piping bag to stuff the egg whites.  I like to use an apple corer or small knife to make a zig zag shape on the egg whites to make it look more like a broken eggshell.  Add horseradish or apple cider vinegar to filling for a kick of flavor.  *beware of the mayonnaise!  The container of mayo must be gluten free/new and not shared by knives that have been used on gluten-containing bread or other products.  No crumb contamination! 
  • Candy:  Peeps, most Cadbury candy, M&Ms, jelly beans, etc.  Beware of certain chocolates (like Lindt) that contain gluten.  There are many searchable web lists.
  • Chilled Baby Shrimp pasta salad.  Just substitute gluten free pasta like tinkyada or DeBoles. 
  •  Shrimp and Cocktail Sauce
  • Blue Almond crackers with cheese (I like Brie)
  • Crudite (veggie plate).  My mom got me a gluten free spice mix at a festival that you mix with yogurt to make a dip.  You could make dill dip with gluten free ingredients. 
  •  Oven-baked Cinnamon tortilla chips with fruit salsa.  Use Rudi's gluten free tortillas or corn tortillas that are gf.  5 Star-rated recipe here  See the tropical avocado salsa I made here
  •  Egg nests (4 ingredients, naturally gluten free, use Cadbury eggs to fill)
  • Egg in the nest (fried egg in bread hole) (using gluten free sandwich bread)
  • Mini tea sandwiches.  Use gf bread, cut with metal cookie cutter for cute shapes.  Use Hormel gluten free ham with no nitrates or Hormel turkey or Boar's Head meats and cheeses or gluten free tuna (no broths in can). I use the gold can of Bumble Bee tuna with all white tuna in water.
I MADE THIS!  For $12 I bought the watering can (Michael's craft store) and fruit and one large metal sturdy flower-shaped cookie cutter (Michael's) and I used lettuce and ribbon to garnish/decorate.  Partygoers thought I bought it for $40-$60!

Gluten free frozen French Macaron mini cookies (chocolate & vanilla) from Trader Joe's.  Thaw 30 min on counter.

Soft gluten free pretzels.  Microve a few seconds.

I love this XO Double Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe.

  •  Chex mix (use gluten free ingredients)
  • Rice Krispies bars (use gf cereal like Cocoa Pebbles, Strawberry Chex, etc.) 
  •  Trader Joe's has gluten free frozen French Macarons (pic above) that I judge gluten free.  They are adorable pastel tasty bundles.  They are very difficult to make from scratch.
  • Chocolate Mousse is naturally gluten free when made the traditional way
  • Merengue Cookies (my mother calls it divinity).  It's mostly egg whites and sugar.  
  •  Wrap chunks of gluten free  (dairy free) goat cheese or pineapple in prociutto and secure with toothpicks for their own handles.
  • peanut butter blosssom cookies- just substitute for gluten free flour blend

  •  Betty Crocker gluten free sugar cookies mix (I haven't tried this yet)
  •  fruit kabobs or fruit "flower" arrangement.  I made mine from youtube video (see pic above)
  •  Gluten free XO double chocolate chip cookies (pic of box above) I made these and they are my new favorites!  Soft, chewy texture, not crumbly at all & yum
  • Whole Foods carries the microwaveable SOFT gluten free pretzels (pic above) that I dip in honey or frosting
  • Gluten Free ice cream cones filled with...cupcake batter & baked or just gelato, fro yo or ice cream 
  •  Chocolate-dipped fruit
*DRINKS-  I love to MUDDLE (mash up fruit, bonus if you use a mortar & pestle) drinks.  I web search for knockoff recipes of alcoholic or virgin versions of the muddled limeades, lemonades, and other spritzy springy drinks at Ruby Tuesday's and P.F. Chang's!  Think Watermelon Lime, or lemon with basil, mango lemonade, raspberry lime, pineapple cherry.

*ALSO try Gluten Free versions of other traditional Easter dishes at Linda's blog.

I'm on TV! And the rest of my week

Chinese jasmine
So, last weekend was The Dogwood FESTIVAL at the HUGE and awesome Piedmont Park in Midtown Atlanta.   My Marine especially loves this park, so when we got here he began holding giant FIELD MEETS where the kids/high schoolers/poolees who are waiting to go to boot camp from all over Georgia are bused in to partake in a fun fitness competition amongst the various cities/recruiting stations.  The prize is a trophy of sorts and bragging rights.  

Some parents and significant others attend to watch these kids work together to CARRY LOGS above their heads, do a formation run (and sing cadence aka military marching chants), and all kinds of calisthenics.  They even get to eat MRE's (the meal ready-to-eat that real Marines eat on deployment).  The finale is a big tug-of-war and all the recruiters and my significant other leave there hoarse from shouting so much encouragement.  It's a big feeling of "esprit de corps" and since there are so many passers-by, it's fun to see all the attention the event draws.  After parking, I can hear them long before I see them!

On recruiting duty, the active-duty recruiting families are spread out and don't see one another much, so it's nice that we communicate through our closed facebook page and some of us were able to attend this event and socialize.  

Last time I joined in by jogging behind the formation, but this time I had to be dressed up since my art class was later in the day.  I wish I had pics of the side French braid I did and the dress that garnered so many compliments that day.  My mom (super shopper) had flagged the dress for my Florida visit and I approved and bought it there.  It's coral with a boatneck, giant white polka dots, and a "mullet" hemline (high in front and low in back).  It's quite unique from a handmade fleamarket place, it flows and had a transparent yellow panel in the back.  Strangers kept complimenting me as I walked through the park.

A gluten free note- as soon as I walked into the festival, I was pleased to see a LARA bar booth offering gluten free samples of nut bars and the like.  Fun!
car covered in pollen.  photo from

POLLEN-  the pollen here in Georgia is a major spring phenomena.  I have never seen anything like it. A yellow blanket covers cars, sidewalks, pets, everything.  The pollen count spiked over 4000 lately and there are big greenish yellow clouds of it floating around.  At the Dogwood festival, I saw people wearing white surgical masks, and I knew exactly why.  It reminded me of once when the fire season was so bad in Southern California, that ash was falling from the brown sky, a burning smell filled the air (even though we were far from the fires), and they handed out masks at my work.  

The pollen was so bad that my boyfriend was sneezing and suffering from post-nasal drip for the first time ever!  So we stayed inside the mall to shop after a lovely brunch (The Cheesecake Factory kale and quinoa salad! gluten free goodness!).  We only SHOP once per season, but when we do, we go big.  The boyfriend found 7 pair of shorts at Macy's.  He has the perfect body, so everything fits like it was sewn for him, but being a redhead/ginger means that many colors wash out his complexion.  We enjoy trying things on and giving each other the yay or nay.  We appreciate each other's honest opinion.  I took part as well, finding many dresses at Dillard's, and a couple my boyfriend liked at New York & Co. where I haven't shopped in years.  I also bought Easter clothes to add to the books I'm sending my 1 year old niece at Baby Gap.  
Two dresses, two skirts and a top.  Watercolor print, sheer polka dot (center blouse), and pleated skirt a la Taylor Swift.

Maxi dress (flourescent), lace backed hippie top, and flowery print dress with boat neck and 3 layers of ruffles on each 3/4 length sleeve.  It looks very "Duchess Kate" to me.  I have avoided flowers since high school, so it's new for me.

Yellow polka dot denim shorts, ruffly top, jean jacket, canvas khaki shoes, etc.  for my baby niece.
Monday, I went to my boyfriend's office (recruiting headquarters) to WELCOME the incoming WIVES.  Every other month, a handful of new families are stationed here for the strenuous and infamous recruiting duty.  It's nothing like living on a military base (which many have gotten used to over many years), the recruiters work 70+ hour weeks, and the families can feel isolated.  There is a slide on the powerpoint presentation for "family readiness" that lists my duties as a "commander's significant other".  There is also a handbook for Officers' other halves.   The welcoming is one way I choose to fulfill that role.  
These USMC families have just undergone a stressful move, have heard nightmare stories about the work stress  on this duty and the high divorce rate during it.  Experienced military wives as well as newbies have a very full 'cup'.  They need to talk and destress about their pcs (move) and adjusting to their new surroundings before they can take anything else in.  Once they feel heard, and emptied their cup a bit, then there is room in their cup to fill it with info on what to expect and how to utilize resources and support on such a difficult independent duty.   Luckily, all of these families happened to choose Georgia because they have family here and they got their choice!

Tuesday, I did chores and 60 minutes on the elliptical trainer at the gym.  Still working out 4-5x per week, in an attempt to look great in a bikini this summer.

Wednesday, I joined the hiking group for a 5 mile hike at Sweetwater Creek.  There is an old Grist mill there and some of the trails go along the river.  It was impressive that a new mom joined us this week, carrying her infant in a front baby carrier for five miles.
This is from another day last year at Sweetwater Creek.  That's the mill ruins.
Wednesday's hike.  Sunny, breezy, great hike!
Also, Wednesday, I got an email notifying me that I am in the running to work as an "extra" (in the background) on a hiking movie being filmed on the Appalachian Trail in Georgia.  Mostly I do these gigs for fun, but this is one I was really excited about, so I'm hoping it all works out!
Where's Waldo?  Vampire Diaries- I made the cut!

Thursday, the first episode I was in of Vampire Diaries aired.  Here I am as a "traveler" with special powers (kind of like a bodysnatcher).  It's cool that I made the cut and am somewhat visible!  

Friday, today it's rainy and my boyfriend has to work late as the guest of honor at a local high school "mess night"  (high school rapport is very important in recruiting).  Here is more info on "dining in" or "mess night" as a Marine Corps tradition.   Realizing he was going to be out late, he called and surprised me with a lunch date invitation.  He is really doing so much better with time management and showing me that our relationship is a priority rather than just lip service.
Lilly Pulitzer dress similiar to mine.  photo from ebay

Tomorrow we have a birthday party to attend where the dress attire is Black and White semi-formal.  It's my first party where the guests have a color requirement.  I'm wearing a hand-me-down white Lilly Pullitzer dress my mom gave me from when she worked at the mall and got great deals.  I'm hoping my tan isn't fading after the rainy days.  I plan to wear it with gold shoes to dress it up.

Easter- being a military family. we are far from family during many holidays.  Our Easter tradition has pretty much been to color eggs, hide them from each other, and then have a picnic.  We have a huge yard here with lots of plants and hiding places.  Last year my Marine never found some and I'd forgotten which hiding spots were still unfound.  Glad it didn't happen indoors (stinky eggs in a few days)!

Hoppy Easter, everybunny!

Daily Diaries with Diaries of an Essex Girl

Friday, April 11, 2014

Another Week in Georgia Gone By...

Daily Diaries with Diaries of an Essex Girl
The big bass I caught.  Boyfriend battered and fried it gluten free. num num
It was a small showing for the drawing class I teach at Hobby Lobby but my Marine finally had a Saturday off so he took me to a late lunch at Uncle Maddio's where we both ordered personal custom gluten free pizzas.  Later we got fro-yo at  Yogli Mogli where they have the allergens listed right on the flavor signs (I like salted caramel, peanut butter and mint- I prefer the milk-based yogurts, but, like many celiacs, I do need to chew up a Lactaid tablet with my first bite) and well-contained toppings (gluten free include Butterfinger crumbles, M&Ms, whipped cream, sauces, and fruit).
Sunday, I caught a BIG FISH!
When you're with a military man, there are strict grooming standards by which he must abide.  This means he gets his hair cut (with a razor fade) every 6 or 7 days (thank goodness it's tax deductible).  Inevitably, his barber becomes a good buddy.  In our case, a fishing buddy.  We went fishing with the barber, aka "Uncle Steve" for the second time this weekend at Lake Lanier and it was chilly but fun.
The piranha electric fillet knife made easy work of the gutting.

Uncle Steve, a "good ol' Southern boy", and his buddy taught us how to "shoot" the rubber lure by pulling it toward our bellies (bending the pole dramatically toward us), and then letting go, like a SLINGSHOT so the bait would propel under the dock where the fish are gathered.  Uncle Steve is pretty serious about fishing.  The boat has GPS to locate schools of fish!
We each caught four smallish crappie and I got the big bass, over a foot long, 2.5 lbs.  Last time the barber and I caught several fish, while the Marine only got one.  Uncle Steve filleted the fish quickly with his new electric knife called the piranha.  I know bass aren't known for "good eatin'", but since Mama caught the biggest fish, it was up to Daddy to fry it up in the pan!   My bf was intimidated by the task at first, but he found a simple recipe on Allrecipes and battered all the fish in a mix of Pamela's Gluten Free Baking Mix , spices, and corn meal.  We rarely eat fried food, so it was extra tasty.  The bass was the most substantial and not a fishy flavor, beating out the crappie that had too many bones for the speedy eating boyfriend.
I'm wearing the Norwegian flag headband.  My Marine ordered it- the same one  Norwegians wore in the Winter Olympic Games.

Mandag (Monday):  I am learning more conversational sentences with my Norwegian instructor.  I can do future words and am using to practice adding vocabulary.  Flott (wonderful)!
Did you know only Danish and Norwegian use the ø?  It sounds like "eu".  So the word bjørn (bear, the animal) sounds like be-yeurn' or be-yearn'.

Tirsdag:  After a couple weeks of putting it off, I got my Marine to do some planning (reserving the movers, choosing dates) for the pcs move to California.  This used to be achieved via an office appointment at a nearby military base.  It's our first time using the website and we did not have the very first item required on the form (ugh!), but worked through the rest of it.  After I lost patience about him not knowing anything about the mystery number, I politely emailed the Sergeant Major.  The next morning, voila!
It can be embarrassing for the Marine when a significant other emails the Sergeant Major, and he was not enthused about it.  But after waiting weeks for my Marine to find time to begin this process, I needed to make progress.  The email worked and afterwards the boyfriend said it did not actually bother him because the number was not on any paperwork he had been given, so he was not at fault.
Tasty, light textured carrot cake gluten free cupcake at Cupcakelicious in Woodstock, GA.

Onsdag:  Fourteen members of the HIKING group met at the Old Rope Park in Woodstock, GA,  and hiked 3.5 miles (in under 2 hours) and then went to lunch.  It was a lovely, breezy day and the company and conversation was fun.
The lunch was at J. Alexanders (a breakfast & lunch place) that has several locations around here.  I have never been there before, and there was no GLUTEN FREE menu.  Online gluten free searching did not help, so I ordered grits, bacon (after the waitress assuring me they don't soak it on bread to drain the grease), and fruit.  Afterward, I hopped across the street in the quaint dining district to Cupcakelicious and was lucky enough to find a carrot cake gluten free cupcake.  It was light in texture and flavor, although a bit heavy on frosting, a lovely snack.  The friendly,chatty guy at the counter explained they have one different gluten free flavor each day.
Tersdag (Literally Thor's Day.  I had a grandfather named Thor.  I'm SO Norwegian!!):
I was disappointed to discover I had overlooked an email delivered Sunday asking me to work as an "extra" on a VINCE VAUGHN MOVIE being shot here in Georgia.  They needed me Thursday and Friday, so it was too late at this point.  I guess my email inbox was too clogged and I hadn't seen it.  Not meant to be, but a note to self to clean the emails out better so the good ones are more visible.  I can sort it on my laptop, but not as easy to sort on the phone.

At the gym (I've been going 4 to 5 times per week, yay!), there was an obnoxious-sounding sub teacher for my "Flirty Girl" fitness dance class so I joined the swim class instead.  It was such a sunny and lovely day, the class was in the outside POOL this time.  If you think water class is easy, I have two words for you:  Water. Resistance.  G.I. JANE is what they call the move that is like a belly crawl across the top of the water from one side to the other that I hope tones as much as it feels like it should.  My instant reward was to relax at the pool while getting bronzed (and absorbing Vitamin D, since I've moved here the Dr. said I'm deficient!).

Fredag:  My second attempt at the über-challenging "FITNESS QUEST" class.  This time I made it through, but felt dizzy and headachy from all the up, down:  overhead press squats, then down for mountainclimbers, etc.  Not sure how often I'll do that one.
I plan on advertising my art class more in hopes for a bigger showing tomorrow.   The Dogwood (beautiful trees) festival is this weekend as well as a big field meet with 500 poolees (future Marines), running and flipping tractor tires, etc.  I also plan on enjoying my latest gluten free find:  Blue Bell All Natural Fruit Bars 70 calories and bits of real fruit in there.  Super yummy.   I'll bid you adieu with a crafty creative Easter favorite of mine.  Deviled eggs that look like chicks emerging from eggshells.
Enjoy your weekend!

Here are the deviled eggs I made one Easter.  Some of the whites are jagged like shells.  It's easier (and turns out less messy-looking) when you have time to chill the mixture before stuffing the egg shells.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Why Don't You...?

Shake things up! In lieu of watching a movie or playing YouTube videos, perhaps this weekend you will have a few minutes to shake up your routine by doing something you haven't done in awhile, making use of stuff that's just sitting around your house, waking up your creativity, wiping out a procrastinated task, or letting someone know you care.
Why Don't You...

  • use a kitchen gadget that's been gathering dust (crock pot chicken n dumplings? Smoothie?)
  • jot a note in a card or postcard and mail it to an elderly family member 
  • put cloth/reusable bags in your car trunk so you will have them when you go shopping
  • put foldable lawn chairs in your car trunk since it's spring and you might be needing them
  • look up a spring festival to attend
  • go paint something at one of those ceramic stores for your mother on Mother's Day
  • fix something that's broken: jewelry, etc.
  • type the first chapter of that book you always wanted to write & look up a writing group to share it at this month
  • wipe off the dust bunnies coagulating on your ceiling fan- or at least look up there to see...
  • brush your pets' teeth
  • write a haiku 
  • swap out some photos from your picture frames, have digitals printed (upload to walgreens and pick up in an hour) and buy or paint a new frame
  • buy plain terracotta planters, decorate with paint pens or paint, and plant seeds
  • fly a kite (like we've done twice so far this spring) 99 cent kites, yay
  • press flowers
  • look in your spice cupboard, find something rarely used in there and look up a recipe for it
  • bake something to bring with you when you meet friends or family this weekend
  • unearth old exercise equipment and use it like you intended when you bought it
  • gather a stack of stuff you've been meaning to sell online, photograph it and post it for sale
  • find something that keeps not getting done on your to-do list and prepare/do a baby step to make it easier when you can start back at it next week (look up the ph#, research a list, etc.)
  • schedule reminders in your phone for mundane items you often forget (fertilize flowers, pet meds)
  • paint your toenails (or your partner's)
  • use that Groupon you got that expired (it's still worth face value)
  • return stuff to the store or put it in the car with a receipt so it's ready to go
  • stock up the toilet paper carrel or refill the handsoaps
  • open your messiest closet or cupboard and commit 20 minutes to making it better than it is now
  • get a shadow box for something special to honor it the way it should be
  • find out where the master gardener's give their mandatory free classes and attend a spring window basket class (the fall one I went to was amazing and I created awesome stuff after)
  • make or fill a birdbath or bird feeder or bird house
  • plant an herb garden or the upside down hanging tomato planters if you don't have much space
  • use plain yogurt to make a fancy dip (get a spice mix or look up a recipe online)
  • change out the drawer pulls on an old dresser (Hobby Lobby & CostPlus World Market)
  • wear a hat you rarely wear but look good in
  • rotate things that have been pushed to the back or to the bottom- place them in front to use them-- freezer items, clothing on hangers or in drawers, books
  • run the dishwasher then match up your tupperware to the lids and recycle extraneous
  • use the "good" stuff:  the good dishes, your good shoes, your good makeup, etc.
  • learn how to use something you already have (fancy camera, instrument, tool, art stuff, computer)
  • use your home- did you buy your home with entertaining in mind? have you done it lately?
  • randomly invite someone new to the area or a new friend to come along with you this weekend 
  • go to image3D dot com and create a viewmaster of personal photos for an upcoming gift
  • make real postage stamps using your photos (great gift idea) or kids' photos
  • go in your attic or basement and find some items to display/rotate out ones that have been out
  • make a wall collage of frames grouped together. look online for examples, pointers
  • buy new towels and donate or put the old in the garage for spills
  • use your picnic basket.  get it out and plan a picnic for tomorrow
  • finish a project you started.  if not finish, then commit an hour to further it along
  • dust off your bikes, racquets, or other sporting equipment and use it
  • need to break up your weekday routine? today you can invite an old friend to a Taco Tuesday or Margarita Monday
  • Have you delayed sending a thank you?  Go to keurig website and send a set of coffees or teas 
  • burn your candles, you bought them for a reason
  • look at your dwelling- do you still need...curtains, blinds, headboard, bed skirt? All of these make your rooms look SO MUCH BETTER and for a small cost can make a room feel so much better
  • gather up toiletries to create a basket for your guest room so it's ready next time
  • do that thing- that thing that stops you from inviting people over, fix it so it stops stopping you
  • take your vitamins, drink green tea, or whatever else it was you read about that you wanted to do
  • download a language app or learn something in a "game" format on memrise dot com
    Window box I created with 'thrillers, fillers and spillers" after attending a free Master Gardener's lecture.  Master gardener's are required to share their knowledge and they are all over the place.  Find out where you can learn from them for free!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Friday Flashback: My Week in a [gluten free] Nutshell

Daily Diaries with Diaries of an Essex Girl

A Leg Up!  
I was surprised to receive an email from one of my fabulous Zen Doodle students stating that Hobby Lobby was looking for people to teach classes like mine.  They asked her if she'd do it and she told me about it.  I literally jumped in the car and twenty minutes later, I was booked to teach every Saturday at the Dunwoody, GA, location!  I love it when women make the effort to give one another a leg up!
I teach Zen Doodle art class every Saturday at Hobby Lobby in Dunwoody, GA!
A Couple Gigs
Although I didn't submit for gigs this week, I was called and asked to work as an extra again on Vampire Diaries (I'll post pics after it airs if I don't end up on cutting room floor) and one I haven't done before, Devious Maids, for my car and myself.  Beautiful weather, chatting with fun people, interesting sets, earning cash, what's not to like?

A Windy Day
I love to fly kites.  It's one of the few fond memories I have of quality time with my father.  He'd buy kites and take us to a park.  I also enjoy flying kites at the beach.  We sent one way up high and tied it to our beach chair at Tybee Island.  I even kept a kite in my classroom and would take it out at recess on windy days.  You'd be surprised how many kids haven't flown kites.  As a parole officer, I bought a bunch of kites at a dollar store and put them in the trunk of my work car and handed them out one day to kids wandering around doing nothing, as well as children of my parolees.  We went to the park down the street Sunday and saw a couple novel activities:  kids ascending and descending on ropes in trees and people doing Live Action Role Play, beating each other with foam swords.
Kids literally hanging around at the park
Foam sword and shields.  Live Action Role Play, aka LARP

A Bit of Sweat
I looked up a local hiking group and joined them (retirees and teachers on spring break) for a five mile, two hour, often vertical like a StairMaster, hike with a rewarding view at the top of Lake Alatoona.  It's been nice weather and I also enjoyed the drive with the convertible top down.  The pollen count has since skyrocketed here, so not sure if I'll be doing that this week!  I also jogged 4 miles at the indoor track at my gym (easier on the joints) and attended my favorite Flirty Girl class that culminates in a dance routine to "Timber".  I plan to go to the intense circuit class today (last time I swam before the class so I only made it through 45 minutes) and the swim class and weights tomorrow morning.
I read the label and find these to be gluten free.  I eat them and do not get sick.  

A Plateful of Gluten Free Goodness
My latest favorite gluten free dessert (great to bring to parties, I brought them to the clothing swap) is frozen macarons at Trader Joe's.  Just thaw 30 minutes.  Remember, real French macarons are made with almond flour, and if there is no cross-contamination or wheat flour used to dust the pans, for example, they are naturally gluten free.  So is authentic chocolate mousse, although restaurants often muck it up with wheat flour or other monstrosities, ruining it for us gfreeple.  Yes, I have attempted to make real macarons myself.  Don't ask how that turned out.  When the chef on YouTube admits it took her three tries to get them right....

A Clothing Swap...and a dress with a story
A women's social group had a clothing swap.  It rained, so the turnout wasn't big (6 people with items laid out on tables at an indoor activity room at a park).  Nobody was even near my size, but I did get a couple purses.

I donate to Goodwill regularly (all my clothes came from there as a child), so I had set aside nicer quality items.   Some dresses and gowns I used to donate to The Giving of the Gowns (before I found out they don't check military IDs and all our E-6 wives told me they regularly take gowns from there- when they are intended for the youngest, lowest-earning military women and wives so they can attend the USMC Birthday Ball every November).  I also brought name-brand handbags that, if not swapped, I would attempt to place on consignment.

The Beyonce Dress
One lady was healing from a recent tummy tuck and breast lift so she took my Beyonce dress, lol!  The Beyonce dress is a sparkly, backless number that I wore to The Montford Point Marines banquet  where, unbeknownst to me, General Amos, Commandant of the Marine Corps, was in attendance.  He does not come every year, and it was right after we arrived in Atlanta so I'd never been before, but if I had been shown the invitation I would have realized that he was giving out belated Congressional Medals to honor the first black marines who trained at a segregated boot camp with white drill instructors at Montford Point.  It was a privilege to witness the medals being placed around the necks of these men who have lived through so much.  The Silent Drill Platoon performed (and dropped a rifle again-it's extra fun when they drop one), we met General Amos and Mrs. Amos, but I will never forget what an inappropriate frock I was wearing.  I would NEVER have worn such a flashy and ostentatious number if I had seen the invite and known what the event was really about.  I was just told it was a dinner and dancing.

Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Amos
Congressional Medal Recipients

Thursday, April 3, 2014

How I Found Online Dating Success, Gluten Free!

Most of the time, I reveled in the single life.  I did have times where I'd wished I'd stayed home (click here for my list of dating don'ts), but that still happens even now that I'm contentedly coupled...).

Anyway, in my late 20's, a coworker who'd enjoyed her experience talked me into trying online dating.  I signed up for a three month membership went better than anticipated.   I just had a knack for it.  Attribute it to inbred Midwestern pragmatism (I was seeking less of a 'soul mate', more of a quality companion), enhanced by innate Scorpio(n) skepticism (weeded out the exaggerators), a highly accurate "gut feeling" for gauging people (law enforcement trait, helped weed out the scaries and players), and the art of UNDERSELLING oneself (I posted work photos, for example, and showed up prettier).

Dating online (I continued after the 3 months) resulted in 3 relationships lasting 9+ months (including the current 4.5 years and counting), lots of fun experiences, and several rewarding friendships.  When people ask how my beau and I met, I'm proud to say I shopped for him online.  In more formal settings, however, I just skip to discussing the casino lounge (our first date venue).
Get over your discomfort with online dating.

Here are the Online Dating Strategies that paid off for me:

---> Don't fall for the fakes/Don't go for the gimmicks:  As with infomercial ads, this goes for dating
For example, when you are in the thumbnail picture view, scrolling through Man-a-palooza, 
ignore any photos that are: 
  • black and white or artistic photos (the person isn't comfortable with his own self and feels the need to embellish), or they are using a REALLY outdated photo.
  • wearing sunglasses over eyes (on a photo that is advertising you for a relationship, hiding the eyes is a sign of dishonesty-especially mirrored lenses- a guy pal of mine divulged to me that he wore them so women wouldn't see that he was oogling things he shouldn't be)
  • headshots only- if there is more than one photo, and none show the whole body (in clothes, of course), the person is likely being dishonest about their physical specifications.  A friend of mine showed up for a date where the man had only a photo of him in a car, and he turned out to be obese.  Even if he's a Nascar driver, he should show helmet to racing boot.
  • wearing a hat- often used to conceal baldness...or toilet seat hair.  I actually like bald on some men.  There was a time where I took a risk on a hat-wearer and when we spoke by phone he said he was not bald.  When he showed up at the comedy club, luckily he walked up to me, because I never would've recognized him- he was a redhead!  If only he knew, he was selling himself short- I have an affinity for Ginger Men.
  • Childish- wearing hats on backwards or drunken photos with a bunch of guys or riding snowmobiles, dirt bikes, skateboards, or shopping carts, this guy is immature
  • Professionally Done pics:  superficial, self-absorbed likely
  • Photo overload- too many pics can signal a narcissist.  Same goes for men tanned, waxed, and posing in tight shorts by the pool- yes, these are out there
  • with hot women- he's either a playboy or wants to be seen as one, or doesn't know how to use the cropping tool, in which case, keep on scrollin!
Other Man-shopping tips (as far as EVALUATING PROFILES- of those who email/message you, and of those you are considering emailing/messaging):
Some of these were automatic dealbreakers for me, others I'd peruse the profile, and keep track of "strikes" on my hand.  3 strikes, and the profile was a no-go.
  •  If (in his "seeking" age checklist) he has 18+ picked, and you are 25 +, you are too much woman for him.  Any man who's dating 18 year-olds isn't looking for conversation or a relationship.
  • If he left most of the profile areas blank.  He's not serious about finding the right person.
  • If his profile is very negative, stating everything he does not want.  
  • If he only talks about what he is like and not what he wants, or vice versa.
  • over-generalities- likes to walk on beach and travel, but lists no specifics.  

Emailing tips:
  • Returning an email, keep it short, answer questions he asked in a mildly fun or flirtatious manner, and ask questions back.  Only respond if you are interested.
  • Emailing prospects you are drawn to:  I kept a few cute emails on file and customized them with one question asking about something on the dude's profile to make it personal.  The cute emails were on themes that men "get": baseball, poker, fishing, etc.  I'm a rookie at this... I decided to pitch you an email since your stats...check out my rookie card and see if you are interested in making this a ballgame.  In the subject line:  Hey there, sailor- or- Howdy, Slim- or- Irish Eyes a smilin'-or- from the Girl next door (if he lived in your same city).  Spend time on it the first couple times, then just copy them to a file for future reuse.  Don't talk about yourself much.
  • Keep emails light, you can ask delving questions on the phone or in-person, but DO ask clarifying questions related to subjective buzz words in their profile.  A big one is "laid-back".  They all say that, but believe me, there is a wide range of laid-backedness!!  Ask specifics.  Or if they like to Travel- where and when was your last trip?  
  • If the person writes in all lowercase letters or doesn't capitalize the pronoun I, or  types in all caps, or doesn't use punctuation, or misspells words, then take these as signs of immaturity or education level.  If the tone is negative or sexual or there is no clue that he's read you're profile, those are all very meaningful bits of info.  Dating is like detective work, you're always reading clues.
  • If the person doesn't respond, leave it alone.  Move on.  Don't take it personally.  Acknowledge that it sucks, attribute it to something benign like he went back to his baby mama or he thinks you live in the town by the rehab place he went to (bad memories), or he is busy w Fantasy Football. Scroll on.
  • If you feel like sending a rejection email, rather than just deleting an undesirable, keep it positive.  ie.  Thanks for the email, but you're not in my age range.  Best of luck.
--->Meet the person.  In person! My rule is up to 4 emails/brief messaging stints, then a phone call.  I'd say roughly half of the people that I talked with by phone "made it" to the meet-face2face-level.  (I didn't feel comfortable with the instant messaging deal.  I think it could rush things.)
Don't be like my neighbor, Wendy (who looks similar to Wendy Williams, actually), who was "pen pals" for months with a guy whom she never ended up meeting (big surprise) or Jenny (single mom) who was on Christian single parent dating site where, after months of time and no face-to-face contact, a guy asked her to send her money.   This stuff never happened to me, because I have a strong antennae for red flags.
**Gluten free people:  bring snacks, use apps to scope gf restaurants in the area (and have a few go-to's at-the-ready in case someone asks for a suggestion), and explain it in a concise but not too intense or gross way when the topic naturally arises.  You only have to worry about how accommodating the person is and how strong of an emphasis you need to place on it if you want to kiss them.  If they are truly interested in you, they will have googled it by the second date, which is impressive.
 Here are phone tips:
  • Some people have an aversion to giving out their phone numbers.  I usually emailed my # with a friendly and cute disclaimer that by calling the number the person was agreeing to use it respectfully and not leave messages with colorful language, etc.  But, really, if you only answer calls from contacts with names that come up, why be afraid?  If the person calls and leaves a voicemail, you don't have to listen to it.  I really only had one person leave a mean message, and as soon as it began, I deleted it, and then I created the disclaimer idea.  
  • Establish some questions that you may gain useful insight.  Avoid questions that only have one socially acceptable answer (this is what annoyed me about eharmony on the free weekends I used- what's most important in your life? the answer was always God or family- and that didn't ).  Are you honest?  Nobody ever says no.  
  • Good questions to ask:  Tell me about your last vacation?  What did you do for your mom on Mother's Day/bday/holiday?  Have you cheated? (Are you surprised to hear that some people do say yes to that one? Informative!)  What did you do last weekend?  Have you ever been arrested?  What did you learn from your divorce?  In your group of friends, which guy are you?  How do you celebrate Halloween/last year/examples....
  • Ask questions to clarify details in their profile- Here's a big tip--language is very subjective!  Especially when men and women are often planets apart as far as perspectives go.  There are very popular phrases (seen over and over and over) used to describe a wide range of people. (Laid back, no more drama, spontaneous- often are attributes people assign themselves, but in many cases it's just wishful thinking.  A guy I met who was deathly afraid of fireworks with an anal-retentive streak called himself laid back).  Consider the word "travel":  'Travel' to one person may be an elaborately planned, expensive trip hiking in Asia for two weeks; for another person 'travel' may bring to mind a three hour drive to Vegas for the weekend, sitting in a casino--so ask when and where was their last vacation?  What was their favorite vacay?  More probing questions about family (almost everyone says they are close to their family- what is 'close' to them? gift-giving, daily calls, weekly visits, family trips- how did their family respond to their last girlfriend?), and drinking- they almost all say they drink a couple times a week, but I found that it was more like four or five times a week- Fri. and Sat. night, Sun. for the game, and Tues. night margaritas at Taco Tuesday with colleagues.  Another one- nobody says they are dishonest, but give scenarios- would you return a wallet with cash?  A watch you find at the gym?  I've gotten interesting answers on these.  
  • Note the vocabulary, the tone, the mood, and the amount of talking vs listening the person does.  Personally, I didn't like it if the person tried to call me pet names on the first call.
  • Decide whether or not you are still interested in meeting the prospect- If the wiseguy crosses appropriate boundaries on the phone, count him out.  I had someone ask me my bra size, ask me to send more pictures via cell phone, and one guy shouted a greeting at me on the phone like fraternity boy...all of which were dealbreakers for me.  Another bad omen, looking back, was if they were adamant and unwilling to be swayed about where to meet.  Control freak.
  • If you ARE interested in meeting, before hanging up, set a meeting up for the following week.  If they aren't available, then cross them off the list.  The great thing about the one week, then meet! timeline is that you haven't invested much time, so it's easy to cross them off and scroll on!
    Don't misrepresent yourself.  Use current photos.  Undersell and over-deliver.
Here are first meeting tips:
  • Offer to go to an event- it's more fun than a coffee shop, and more "worth the PRETTY" (effort toward getting dressed up and make-up, hair, etc.) since you want to look a bit nicer than you do straight from work.
  • Choose a weekend DAYtime or a weeknight (not a weekend night).  
  • Drive separately, let a friend know where you're going and whom you're meeting, and generally keep safety in mind.  There are apps for these tasks.
  •  Frankly, the first date venues that led to my 3 relationships were:  county fair, P.F. Chang's (gluten free), and a local classy casino lounge.  I generally pick things I want to do anyway-not letting dating cramp my style.  Comedy shows were also a fave, you talk in line but not during the show.
  • Don't use people.  Offer to go dutch, or if the guy obviously makes a significant amount more than you do, offer to pay the tip.  Don't say, "So are you buying me another drink, or what?"  Yes, I heard that asked before.
  • Don't invest too much...time, effort, creativity.  Figure out a standard you are comfortable with.
  • Keep the mindframe that the woman is the one to be pursued (I'm sure there are successful women huntresses out there, but I wouldn't advise it).
  • Be confident.  Wear something that you feel good in, play your "game-day"anthem en route to the date, or fake it 'til u make it, if need be, by chanting mantras like Serena Williams', "I am the Bomb dot com!"
  • Don't be weary of awkwardness.  Make light of it.  Smile.  
  • Anything that makes you feel weird, just use:
The golden phrase of dating:
                                                         "I'm not comfortable with that."                                                        

In my experience, there is no way for a man to manipulate or disobey this sentence.  It is impenetrable.  I usually say it in a pleasant tone with a smile that conveys:  we don't have to ruin the evening over this, and just because other women have conceded, doesn't mean I'm going to.  You're not used to me, I'm not used to you, but I'm setting the boundaries here, because I am the woman.

Let's practice:

HIM:  "Let me walk you to your car."  HER:   I'm not comfortable with that.
           "Follow me to my place."                       I'm not comfortable with that.
          "Sit closer to me."                                    I'm not comfortable with that.
 "Not comfortable with that? Why not?"            I'm just not comfortable with that.

If someone has a thick skull, just employ the broken record technique.  And obviously, if the person is aggressive or you don't want to be there, just leave.

Benefits of dating online:
I was young and cute living in a man-dense population and met plenty of men at the post office, in the grocery store, or at the car wash.  However, there are many reasons why I preferred online dating.  
  • Variety:  First, the men I was meeting were not always professionals.  I tend to draw blue collar types, and I like am attracted to them.  But I learned that no matter how much they swore that it didn't matter that we were different as far as higher education, it always ended up bothering them, manifesting in them enrolling in a night school program (meaning they'll be more stressed, have less time and money, and hanging out with nineteen year-olds).  Later, after I'd left, I'd find out they were dating someone less educated, and hence dropped their community college endeavors.
  • Also along the variety vein, it's easier to review your "past" patterns (ask your friends) and intentionally go in a new direction.  Set a goal to try out people against your regular "type" while still avoiding red flags.  
  • Quantity:  When things don't work out with someone, it's a great distraction to check your online dating stuff to see what's going on in there!  Easier to move on mentally!  Less emotional recovery time!
  • When you date people on reputable sites (typically the ones that charge a fee), you will find people who are experienced daters, who won't make faux-pas or waste your time or be rude when they see incompatibility.
  • Scope it out....You can log in as the opposite sex and fill out the criteria that describe you and look over your competition.  This can also help you modify your profile if necessary (ie. if everyone on there is skinnier than you, then you might need to change from "average" to "a few extra pounds")
  • Baggage:  I found most of the "vitals" were completely true:  # of kids, education, job, etc. as listed on the profiles.  The only time I unwittingly dated someone who was still married, was meeting someone off-line, in person, at Wendy's karaoke birthday party.  I found that men exaggerated their height and income, while they told me that women exaggerated their looks and weight.  The men always seemed so relieved when they saw me, and almost always exclaimed, "You look way better than your picture!".  Under-sell and Over-deliver!  While the men usually looked like their photos, and in three cases looked FAR better than their photos.  Only once was I extremely dismayed regarding appearance, as noted elsewhere in this post.

Be yourself:  aka the "don't punk someone" rule (from the old Mtv show, Punk'd).  Know yourself, and know the difference between trying new experiences and "morphing" into something you are not in a (often subconscious, unintentional, but desperate) effort to reel someone in for the long haul.
  Example: if you don't like sports, say so.
I played softball and basketball in high school.  But I also played violin.  I grew up with sports-crazed brothers.  I watch football, but only the Bears, and only the second half.  And I prefer to DVR it and fast-forward through the commercials, penalties, and replays.  I enjoy attending baseball games on summer nights, but won't watch on TV.
My current boyfriend is a BIG sports fan.  Let me clarify...without much effort, he displaced the year-long reining #1 ranked  sports trivia CHAMPION at Buffalo Wild Wings, triumphing through the multiple categories: tennis, golf, Nascar, Olympics, etc. on his first attempt.  He watches every sport on tv: marathon running, rugby, curling, swimming.  If it's not sports, he's watching old action movies on cable.  I was honest with him and didn't "overplay" my interest in sports , so he DVR's most sports now and watches it when I'm gone or asleep.  BUT, sports doesn't dictate our Sundays or prohibit us from attending other events or being outside on a beautiful day.  Why?  Because he wouldn't be my boyfriend if it did.  We wouldn't be compatible enough.
Don't "tell yourself" or rationalize that you are "trying out new interests" or "compromising", when you are really pretending to like things that he likes.  And, don't hide things you like.  You don't have to have the exact same interests.  You want him to like you for you, and the way you spend your time together doesn't have to revolve around your divergent interests.  Refer to the movie, Runaway Bride, if necessary.

In sum, open your mind, date freely (no checklists), and have fun!  Feel free to comment if you have questions about how to handle a situation you have encountered.  I also plan on offering online dating profile evaluations with recommendations if you want my opinion.   Enjoy your dates, look for the best qualities in each person and ignore the bad ones to get through the date without misery, but hold out for the best for  continued dating.  Online, BABY!

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