Year-End Reflection

I've usually been pretty good about writing here, but ever since school started, I've been enjoying life offline so much that there hasn't been time. Now that I have two and a half weeks off, here I am.

This year has been crazy, in both good and bad ways.

Matt and Amy and their boys moved to Texas. While we're stoked for them, we sooo miss them! Also, our friends Robert and Justina moved to northern California for Robert to get his teaching credential. We miss them and hope we eventually live closer together again.

Our friend moved in with us for awhile until she gets closer to her personal goals toward the middle or end of 2014. Since she's a little younger than us, it's been eye-opening to see things that we've done that she is doing now, and we are trying to share our knowledge to help her avoid the mistakes we've made (coughdatingcough) and we also enjoy seeing the good things going on in her life.

During the summer, we went to a few awesome shows (Train, Gavin DeGraw, Panic! at the Disco, creeped out by 30 Seconds to Mars). Mike continues to work at his healthcare job and we love that he doesn't bring any work home. I finally have the job I want.

Having a teaching job has been one of the greatest blessings in my life, and the biggest highlight of my year. I finally  feel like everything that I've worked so hard for is now coming alive. I couldn't say that in spring. Every time Mike and I would leave my parents' house after a weekend visit, I would end up crying in the car or when we were back home. One time we pulled over into the I-HOP parking lot  five minutes into the drive home, and I bawled. I felt like I wasn't doing anything purposeful with my life. I was searching and searching after 5 years, and nothing was working out. I was lost and frustrated after working so hard for so many years, and felt like I was disappointing my family (when really, it was me being super hard on myself).

I had a job interview for a teaching position I was already in, so I should have been a shoe-in. But then rumors of favoritism and politics came to life, and I became victim to a system I had no control over; a fourth teacher was put in place to finish the last two months of the school year. She had been a student teacher there two years earlier.

I got over this after a few months, but stopped substituting at that school. At the end of the summer, I was fortunate enough to land an interview at a high school down the street from where we live. My ego was bruised but I learned so much about myself from earlier in the year. I walked into that interview with these thoughts: They may already have someone in mind. However, I am the first interview of the day, so I'm just going to be me, be awesome, and if they don't like me, it's not a good fit, and I can go on with my life. After a great interview experience and baking lemon bars from that school's recipe book from the 80's, I got the job. I. LOVE. This school. And I especially love how wonderful my department is.

Early in September, I suggested to my Aunt Pam and Uncle Mike that it'd be special if they and my Granny Jean got to see my first official classroom. I didn't know that this visit would not only be special for Granny Jean, but for Uncle Mike. I still remember how proud he was when I told him I got the job. I remember everyone walking to the classroom with me on a hot afternoon. I remember his smile when I told him and Pam that I signed my contract and would stay the whole year. I remember his face light up when I first came over wearing a blue staff shirt, even though he was feeling awful. The cancer he had had for several years was finally too much. I miss knowing that he's just a mile away and that I can see him and Pam on a walk with the dogs in Serrano Park, or sit in front of the fireplace at their house, or out on the back porch with the waterfall running. It feels like he's still there. I still talk to him in my mind. I miss him so much and it all happened too fast.

The week of Thanksgiving, Mike's dad had a heart attack. You don't want to think that your parents age and these things happen, but they do. It's a scary wake-up call. We have our beliefs, which are reassuring, but time on earth is too fragile. Very scary. He is doing very well, and is likely going to move closer to us and also to stay in the vicinity of LA and acting. Looking out for each other is so important.

Mike has a great job. I have a great job and I love it. I'm getting another class next semester. We have great friends we miss and great friends we plan on spending more time with. Mike and I have a few vacations planned (Las Vegas, Disney world) which we're excited for. Our dogs are great. Life is bitter and mostly sweet at the same time.

Here's to a new and better year in 2014! I'm starting that mindset today.

And Christmas? Well, this sums it up for me:

Maya and Harley's Halloween costumes.
All of my cousins on the McFadden side.
Shaver Lake for Robert and Justina's 5-year anniversary.
The puppies at Christmas.
Uncle Mike and Khalue.


Sharing Time

With so many of our friends announcing their pregnancies, it seems only fitting that we jump on the bandwagon and share...

...one of the best cookie recipes ever. I mean, all of these prego moms are going to be needing some special desserts, am I right? ;)

This is hands down one of the best cookies I've ever made. I had several people say that, so I had to share so everyone could enjoy them. I'm drooling just writing this post.

You can make them without the caramel to have brown butter snickerdoodles, but I'm not sure why you'd want to do that. :p

Brown Butter Salted Caramel Cookies
{inspired from Two Peas and their Pod}

2 1/2 cups all-purpose Gold Medal flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup unsalted butter, sliced
1 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon plain Greek yogurt
1 cup caramel squares, cut into 1/4's {I kept mine whole but either way is delicious}
sea salt, for sprinkling on top of the cookies

For Rolling the Cookies:
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1. In a medium bowl, Whisk together the flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.
2. To brown the butter, heat a thick-bottomed skillet on medium heat. Add the sliced butter, whisking frequently. Continue to cook the butter until melted. The butter will start to foam and browned specks will begin to form at the bottom of the pan. The butter should have a nutty aroma. Watch the butter carefully because it can go from brown to burnt quickly. Remove butter from the heat and let cool to room temperature.
3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the brown butter and sugars. Mix until blended and smooth. Beat in the egg, yolk, vanilla, and yogurt and mix until combined. Slowly add in the dry ingredients and mix until just combined.
4. Form the dough in a ball and cover with plastic wrap. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. You can chill the dough overnight.
5. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Measure about 2 tablespoons of dough and roll into balls. Flatten the ball with the palm of your hand and place a piece of caramel in the center of the dough. Wrap the cookie dough around the caramel, making sure the caramel is completely covered with dough.
6. In a small bowl, combine the cinnamon and sugar. Roll the balls in the cinnamon-sugar mixture. Place dough balls on a large baking sheet that has been lined with a Silpat baking mat or parchment paper. Make sure the cookies are about 2 inches apart. Sprinkle the cookie tops with sea salt.
7. Bake the cookies 8-10 minutes or until the edges of the cookies begin to turn golden brown. The centers will still be soft. Cool the cookies on the baking sheet for 2-3 minutes, or until set. Transfer cookies to a wire cooling rack and cool completely.


Summer fun.

Hrm. I should update this, yes? Yes. So, what has happened in two months?
  • I worked out a lot. I signed up for two weeks of unlimited boot camp classes where I take my weekly classes [DrivenFitnessNow.com]. I loved it, and did it twice.
  • I won third place in my age group in the local 4th of July 5k. Yeehaw!

  • We barbecued with our friends the Martins (who moved and we really miss them), and waited a looong time for the Sun & Sail Club fireworks show. (Someone knocked over the display and they had to set it up all over again.)
Cuddling the scared fur children

  • We went to the Orange County Fair with the Martins later in July. It was a blast. I rode the Ferris wheel for the first time, and it was my first time doing a super fun photo booth.
The heavenly maple-bacon donut

Robert got his wish to go through a fun house

  • We went camping with our friends the Morrissettes and their two girls, adorable and adorable. This needs to happen again.
Dutch oven cobbler. 'Nuff said

Regrowth after the Malibu fires earlier this year


Holding a cutie

So proud of our first tent
  • We planned and bought Harley and Maya's Halloween costumes. To be shown in a later post.
  • We went to a concert for the bands Train, Gavin DeGraw, and The Script. We learned we didn't like The Script as much as we thought we did. I liked Gavin more than I originally did, and I got to touch Pat Monahan, who is really short.

  • We photographed an open house, family photos in a bathroom, and have other events lined up which we're excited for.
  • I interviewed for and was chosen to be the newest English teacher at our local high school. So. Excited. What's great about this is it's really an answer to prayer. I gained and was passed over a teaching job last year, which was for 7th, 8th, and 10th grades, where I had to travel to four different rooms. I was passed up due to pure favoritism. Although it was a big letdown, it mentally and emotionally prepared me for this year: teaching 10th graders at an even better school, in my own classroom, down the street from where we live. Amazing. God is good.
I'll post photos of my classroom when I get the time. G'night!


Sunset in Newport Beach, California

I can't get over how beautiful the light was tonight while we were photographing a family reunion. Here's a teaser! Playing with different edits.


CVS This Week

Crest Pro Health Rinse, 1 L $4.99
Crest 3 D Rinse, 16 oz $4.99
Buy 1, Receive $4.00 ExtraBucks, Limit 2
Use $1.10/1 – Crest ProHealth Rinse, 438mL or larger, limit 4 like coupons per household per day – (coupons.com)
Or $1.10/1 – Crest Pro Health Rinse, 458 mL or larger, excludes trial/travel size, limit 4 like coupons per household per day - (pgeveryday.com)
Pay $3.89 each, Receive $4.00 ExtraBucks each
Final Price: $0.11 MoneyMaker

Colgate Max Clean, Max White or Max Fresh Toothpaste, 6 oz $2.99
Buy 1, Receive $2.00 ExtraBucks, Limit 2
Use $2.00/2 – Colgate Total, Optic White, Max Fresh or Sensitive Toothpaste, 4 oz o larger, no more than 4 coupons for the same product in the same transaction – (coupons.com)
Pay $3.98 for two, Receive $4.00 ExtraBucks
Final Price: Free, when you buy 2

DermaSilk 1-minute Wrinkle Eraser Pen $19.29, regular price (in Simi it's $20.99 but the final price is still only $.99)
Buy 1, Receive $10.00 ExtraBucks through 6/29, Limit 1Use $10.00/1 – DermaSilk Full Size Product, valid through 6/29 – (dermasilk.com)
Pay $9.29, Receive $10.00 ExtraBucks
Final Price: $0.71 Moneymaker


Happy Father's Day, Dad

Dear Dad,

Happy Father's Day! Wow. For me, those three words really just don't do it. Just like "Happy Mother's Day" barely begins to scratch the surface of how I feel as a daughter. I thought I'd actually share some of those feelings publicly, because you're just too amazing not to share.

I've always loved looking like you. I think some of my friends in elementary school thought "Oh, that sucks" when I had the nose and smile of a boy. A boy, eeew. But I secretly smiled inside, and now I take tremendous pride in my inheritance. I share your features. You shared with me the fact that I look a lot like Grandma Carchia. I like owls a lot like she liked owls. I love that. Thank you for that. I'm sure we would have shared a lot more if she could have been there when I grew up. Any memorable piece of your mom I can be, I treasure.

You never treated me like I was too young or naive to understand anything. You still give advice and financial education freely, and I love that. Your years of mistakes and learning have provided me with a strong foundation of confidence on which I'm grateful to grow on. That isn't to say I haven't been good at finding ways to make my own mistakes anyway, and in that case, I'm grateful you were there to help me clean up my messes when needed. I have hated disappointing you in those times, but I love you for loving me during those times and letting me grow through them.

I had always been naturally driven toward the next goal, whether it be educational, financial, or social, much like you. When I fell in love and made up my mind to get married, you didn't oppose that natural course at all. It wasn't until it was time to get into the getaway car after the wedding reception that I felt, and continue to feel, a weird sensation: you and Mom are my parents, but I was now a woman on my own. I rejoice in it and yet, as all women are someone's little girl, I yearn to go back to the days of making chore lists and looking for ways to make you happy. I have learned that generally speaking, this never fully goes away. But it is a testament to me of just how great of a parent you and Mom have been for me and Allyson. We love you so much that sometimes it hurts. It's a good hurt.

You are my friend, my mentor, my roots, my ground, my father, and I love you. A ton. Happy Father's Day, from a humbly proud daughter.


PS - Mom, I write letters to you constantly in my head. I want to call you more often than I do. I can make you cry with one like this for your birthday. Just say the word :)