Jenyfer Matthews
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March 25th, 2015
Sweet Inspiration

Sometimes when my mind is wandering, inspiration will suddenly strike. It would be the solution to a problem or just a random idea for how to deal with a project I’m working on – like the perfect color for a piece of furniture I’m restoring. Sometimes it is a twist on a recipe.

For instance, it suddenly occurred to me that I could make a basic white sauce and then add some of my homemade pesto to it to make a pesto cream sauce. That may seem obvious to many of you but it was nearly a revelation to me. I’m planning to make it soon and add some shrimp to it for a special meal.

The other day I was hit with the inspiration to make a cake – a variation of a pineapple upside cake, only with my homemade apple pie filling. And then when I did actually make it, I also tossed in some pomegranate seeds for texture and color. It was fantastic – and eaten too quickly to get pictures.

I told my friend about it and she said she’d had a variation made with peaches and drizzled with a cinnamon roll-like glaze. Guess what’ll I’ll be making next time?

Both of my children have entered the insatiable teenage years… they really appreciate it when I get inspired in the kitchen!

March 16th, 2015
Paraffin Voodoo

I was in the Cincinnati area this weekend for a tennis tournament – the bonus aspect of which is that I also get to visit with a friend of mine at the same time. Before my daughter and I hit the road on Sunday, my friend and I made a trip to a fabulous nearby grocery store, Jungle Jims. To call it a grocery store is a serious understatement. The place is nothing short of awesome – so much so that I find it hard to describe it adequately. You really kind of have to see it in person. The closest I can come to describing it is to say it is similar to Trader Joe’s – on steroids.

Within the store, there are sections dedicated to the products of various countries, one of which is Mexico. The products include more than simply food however – there are also toiletries, and in Mexico’s case, candles. Mexico is a predominately Catholic country and they are apparently very into devotional candles. There are candles with pictures of Jesus and Mary and various saints printed on the holder. But there are also candles dedicated to various situations and problems, some of which very specific.

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Who couldn’t use some fast luck?

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I know a few people I could think of while burning this candle!

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Where has this candle been all my life?!

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In case this front of the candle wasn’t clear enough, there are instructions on the back:

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I love the “Love” with the strike out mark through it!

And in case the candle above wasn’t to your taste, you have a few more options to choose from on the same theme:

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If the sword doesn’t get your message across you can always try a cobra:

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I would love to know how the color scheme works since all of the break-up candles are brown.

My friend and I had a great time looking at all the choices and trying to read the Spanish for more clues. I am in no way mocking these candles – I think they are great. There are a few I wish I’d known about a long time ago!

March 9th, 2015
Hell in the Kitchen

My children have always been big eaters… at least I thought so until they hit the teen years. Their daily eating requirements before were nothing compared to lately. You hear those stories about people who get lost in the wilderness in a snow storm and survive for 15 days on a pack of M&Ms and eating snow. I don’t think my children would survive for half an hour without eating. They are very much like infants still – needing to eat every couple of hours.

Last week my son asked me to teach him to make scrambled eggs. Scrambled eggs are a good basic thing to know how to make so I showed him. He was so pleased with his results that he immediately wanted to make two more eggs.

The next day I came home from work and he was in the kitchen eating a bowl of… brown mush. I looked a bit closer and it was oatmeal, but so brown that I asked him had he put cocoa in it? No, cinnamon. LOTS of cinnamon. In fact, much of my kitchen was dusted with cinnamon – there was a fine layer all over the countertop, the trash can lid, the floor, and even on the wall. The. Wall.

There was also a dirty pan on the stove from the eggs he’d made himself.

He next asked for me to show him how to make pasta. This boy loves nothing more than he loves pasta. I also know that if I allow him free reign on making pasta that no box of pasta I bring into the house will be safe. I’m beginning to wonder if they make cupboard locks to thwart teenagers.

The next kitchen lessons are definitely going to be in cleaning up after himself and portion control. The silver lining on the excess cinnamon is that I’m fairly certain cinnamon is a natural insect repellant.

March 5th, 2015
Amish Life is Looking Better and Better

I’m still fighting with my laptop. In the end it needed a new hard-drive. Not great, but better than buying a new computer entirely.

I brought the computer home and it seemed fine, but the resolution was wonky… the screen seemed all stretched out. I even had to scroll right to see an entire webpage which isn’t normal. I tried playing around with the resolution but could not get it quite right. I got it looking better but still not happy with it. Grrrr…

Then I reloaded Firefox, but almost immediately some other program snuck in and started hijacking my homepage setting and putting up so many pop-ups that I couldn’t see the page I was trying to access. I managed to re-install my computer virus protection / optimizer but that didn’t help. Then I un-installed the programs that I could see in my control panel that seemed to be causing the issues but that didn’t help either. Finally I just uninstalled Firefox all together. Grrrr…

As I was doing that I was also trying to send a text to a coworker and it wouldn’t send. I couldn’t send texts for probably an hour. Texting is my primary use for my phone. Computer acting up and no texts? I might as well be back in the 1980s.

Sometimes I really hate technology…

March 3rd, 2015
Snow, Snow, Go Away

Where did February go??

I guess I shouldn’t complain about the speed with which the last two months have zoomed by since that means spring will arrive all that much sooner. It is snow / sleeting as I type this post.

I lamented the lack of seasons when we lived in the Middle East. Relentless warmth and sun sounds pretty nice until that is all you ever get. There were times when I would look out of the window and blank on not only the date but the month. I remember getting excited when it would get cloudy in the United Arab Emirates. If it rained I was ecstatic (it rained perhaps once a “winter”). I really think that you appreciate the nice weather so much more when you have suffered through the awful stuff.

I was pretty thrilled with sunny and 22F after having had windy and -23F!

Spring is not necessarily my favorite season but I am looking forward to it. I want to be able to go outside and take walks again without fear of slipping on ice. I want to putter in my yard. I have found some wonderful summer dresses on my recent thrift store expeditions that I am longing to wear. And sandals! I’m always happy to get my boots out in the fall but right now I’m missing my sandals.

Time can keep marching along for now please – I want to get to the next season!

February 18th, 2015
Technological Issues

It’s tough to write a blog post when your computer suddenly decides that it doesn’t have a wifi connection … in the middle of surfing the internet.

I did what I could do to diagnose the issue myself but was unsuccessful. The wifi button was clearly showing as “on” but the computer still insisted it was off. So I took it in to a local computer place to have it looked at. The prognosis isn’t sounding great. Just what I wanted to do – buy a new computer.

Technology is that way – it becomes obsolete very quickly. However, I am pretty sure that this isn’t just a matter of the computer getting old and wearing out. I was forced to let my daughter start taking my computer with her to her tennis training every day after she cracked the screen on her own computer. The problem? She isn’t always that careful and more than once I’ve opened the screen when we get home and the computer just pops on because she hasn’t properly shut it down – which is really not good for the hard-drive. As it happens, she did that yesterday. What a coincidence.

I may be forced to purchase a new computer, which isn’t an expense I was looking for at present. But the worst part is that I might still be forced to let her carry it around because school doesn’t finish for a little over three months… I miss the days of books and paper.

The mercury retrograde was over last week – I thought I was homefree on the technological issues…

February 13th, 2015
My Grumpy Valentine

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In spite of how very fitting this Valentine is for me this year, it still made me laugh when I saw it at the store while shopping for some treats for my children.

Most of you who visit this blog probably have never read one of my books. I tend to like stories in which my heroine’s life is at a crisis point where she is forced to reinvent herself / rebuild from the ground up. After approximately three years of constant upheaval and trauma – my mother’s death, my family’s sudden evacuation from Egypt and nearly year long period of uncertainty while we waited to see how / if things would settle down, now I’m facing what I hope is my final challenge. (At least for now!) I don’t feel like it is something that I want to elaborate on too much just yet, but suffice it to say that it’s something that has been a long time coming and I hope that I will be on the other side of it by the end of the summer. We’ll see.

If you have a Valentine, enjoy each other this weekend. If you don’t, there is no reason you can’t be good to yourself. Loving yourself enough to expect better is the first step after all…

February 2nd, 2015
Faking It

I had a little time the other day so I took my car in for an overdue oil change at a local express place I’ve been to before. Part of their process is to give your car a “safety check” and then recommend more services to you.

As it happens I had a bulb out in my headlights and I did decide to have that replaced while I was there (I will do the tail lights myself but headlights are a pain in the butt). They asked me about my wiper blades too. I had been thinking about getting my wiper blades replaced because I do really hate it when my wipers do not work well so I asked how much they charged for three blades (front and one rear). The technician told me $25/blade. As she began to give me the sales spiel I laughed and told her no thanks – my last blades were only about $10/each and I’d gladly do it myself to save a difference of $40.

After I declined the wiper blades, she did wisely put away the air filter she was going to try and convince me to get. However, she did pull up a list of other maintenance tasks and try to scare me into having my manual transmission fluid changed as well as my serpentine belt. Um… I had that belt changed already at another place and I told her so. Same with several of the other services she offered. She seemed a little flustered by the time she was done.

Frankly, most of the services she suggested were ones I’d prefer to have done at a more specialized place. Oil change places should stick to oil changes and perhaps a limited selection of other easily accomplished maintenance tasks. It is supposed to be a “quick” place to go after all.

It really does pay to have half an idea of what is and is not a reasonable service at places like that so you don’t get totally ripped off – or at least have the confidence to fake it. Good thing for me I’ve always driven old cars I suppose because I have learned more than I may have ever wanted to know about cars and engines and maintenance. Even if I don’t always really know if I need the service or not, I usually decline it. I admit it is kind of fun to surprise mechanics with my knowledge and call them out on their unnecessary service suggestions. I’m blond but not stupid.

I went to the parts store after I left the oil change place to get wiper blades and was able to get all three for just over $30 – installed. While chatting with the guy at the parts store I also discovered that the technicians at the oil change place (where he used to work) work on commission. Shocking!

Going to have to check into how much air filters cost at the parts store too so next time I’m getting my oil changed and they try to sell me one I can whip it out of my trunk and have them put it in!

January 29th, 2015
Kicking (My) Butt

Just before the new year, one of my co-workers was saying that she really wanted to get back into working out. I flippantly suggested that she should try kick-boxing. She did a quick search and found a class at a gym in town and said she’d do it – if I did it too. The first two classes were free so I thought what the heck, it might be fun.

There are a lot of ways to describe the class, but “fun” is perhaps not the word that would spring to mind first.

Looking back, I realize I had very little idea of what a kick-boxing class would actually entail. I knew it would include kicking and hitting things, but what else? It turns out that it is an hour of hard cardio – jogging in place, jumping jacks, push-ups, and sprinting. Pretty much nonstop for an hour.

And then there is the boxing and the kicking. The second half of the first class involved breaking into teams and doing relay-type circuits with suicide sprints and then a series of boxing on a big (hard) bag on a stand – and cycling through that three times. I made it through the class but felt as if my heart might burst at times – clearly I need the cardio workout! The second class we focused more on hitting and kicking pads our partner was holding and seemed slightly easier – and “easier” is clearly only relative.

I did my third class this week and we were back to hitting the big bag. I had bruised my knuckles the first week but only on one hand so I thought that perhaps I needed to pay more attention to my form or not be quite so enthusiastic. I bruised it again this week and wasn’t hitting nearly so hard because that bag is hard and my hand hurt. This is what it looked like after class:

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I suppose I am going to have to get myself some gloves if I plan to keep going to this class.

My hand looks painful but in fact it was my legs and butt that were feeling class #3 the most – we did lots of sprinting as well as relays that involved running to the bag and then kicking it 10x, 20x, 30x. I did it but was on the low end of the “impressive display” scale. That’s okay however – I’m also on the upper end of the age scale for those in attendance and those young-uns have probably never ruptured a disk in their back.

At this point I plan to continue attending the class. I do so love a challenge…

January 23rd, 2015
Running Away from Home

Once again I find myself apologizing for not writing more. It has been very quiet at work – so quiet I bring my kindle to work and read much of the day (discreetly) – so it isn’t as if I don’t have the time to write. My mind is just a bit of a blank at present.

Things are about to get busy however.

The second semester of school is about to begin. I am happy to say that my daughter and I got through her first semester of (home)high school with pretty good results. She never got too terribly behind on work (though there were some long days on the weekends) and her grades are decent. She was anxious about how the end of semester tests would be, but now that she’s taken them I hope that she’ll not only feel more confident the next time around but also that she can adjust her approach to her work through the coming semester so she is more prepared next time. (I’m an optimist)

Our local tennis club hosts a professional level women’s tennis tournament every February and we have hosted the same player for the last two years. This year our player asked if we could also host her doubles partner… who is a vegetarian. Ok… The vegetarian thing isn’t really that big a deal because I cooked that way for years of course, however I will need to do some serious menu planning to make sure that I am cooking enough food for six people – two competitive athletes – for up to 10 days. I asked our “pet” pro if she and her doubles partner would be willing to play a practice match with my daughter and her doubles partner and they agreed with enthusiasm. Should be fun. The tennis that is – I’ll reserve judgment on the cooking!

I am sad to say that the local gallery where I had some of my jewelry for sale has gone out of business. They had a great selection of unique items but sadly, most people prefer to shop in malls for inexpensive, generic items. If I had a dollar for every time someone complimented me on my earrings or a handmade clothing item that I got in a gallery but then followed the compliment with “I could never wear that…” I’d be rich. It hasn’t put me off making things entirely however – I need to photograph the items I took back from the gallery so I can add them to my etsy shop and also go ahead an make those quilted purses. Oh yes – and then find a way to drive traffic my way…

Work is still in a bit of a lull which is good and bad. I don’t necessarily like being slammed and working 60 hours a week just to barely keep up, but having something to do is nice as well. We have a number of projects starting so this is likely a “be careful what you wish for” scenario.

But since work is currently quiet and my daughter won’t have any homework this weekend or a tennis tournament, I decided to make a run for it and take this opportunity to go and see a friend of mine in Ohio for the weekend. I’m going to enjoy every minute of it – from listening to my own choice of music for the 4 hour drive down to sleeping in her fantastic guest room and hopefully making a trip to the best thrift store ever. It will be a quick trip since I’ll be coming back on Sunday afternoon, but if you do it right, even a short trip can feel like a long time.