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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Ready for dinner

Hey, this is a reminder that food is a life source! EAT.

Last when we left off, I was a lady-in-waiting for her man to come home from overseas. Well, that's all over with! It was a great reunion and I couldn't have been happier than when Darrell and I hugged for the very first time in six months.

It was about 11pm, when two buses full of service men and women drove up to meet their loved ones once again. It was nerve wracking seeing everyone get off the bus, not because I was nervous, but because I was afraid of missing Darrell and our paths not crossing as soon as he stepped down onto the pavement. Darrell's mother, Michelle, and I searched in the darkness among the black silhouettes that seemed to come at us in every direction. Where was Darrell? Of course, Michelle spotted him first. I only saw the black outline of him, the street lamp behind him.

I wasn't crying yet. I was going to be strong, even as we held each other. But at that immediate moment when we embraced, the floodgates burst. It was so sudden. It was a mixture of happiness, relief and shock all at the same time. Finally, I could let go and breathe again.

And home was never so sweet.

Someone to talk to, watch movies with, to help clean the house, take care of the dog, to cook with, to eat with, to cuddle with. Love is sweet and savory.

And I feel restored. So here's to a beginning that will never end — a continuance of what was started and many meals to be shared.

Because love in life is like lasagna. It's full of layers. Dig IN!

— Hey, readers!

Here's a little of what this blog was created for... Now, I can begin to cook again and share my food ventures with you!

This is my take on lasagna.


9 lasagna noodles (8oz.)
For the sauce:
1 can crushed tomatoes (28oz.)
1 can tomato paste (6oz.)
2 tbsp salt
1/4 tsp dried basil
1 tsp sugar
1/2 large chopped onion
2 cloves of minced garlic
2 cups water
1 lb ground beef
1/2 sliced Andouille sausage
pinch of cayenne pepper
Fresh basil leaves

Ricotta cheese (amount to your liking)
Mozzarella cheese (amount to your liking)
Parmesan cheese (amount to your liking)

Begin to cook the sauce 30 minutes before boiling lasagna noodles. Sweat onion, garlic in olive oil until softened then add ground beef and sliced Andouille sausage. Drain. Add sauce ingredients.

(Fresh basil leaves are known to be a complimentary herb with tomato sauces.)
Stir and simmer for 1 hour uncovered.

Boil noodles until al dente. (The noodles will cook the rest of the way when baking in the oven. This will let the juices from the sauce soak into the noodles.)

Spoon a layer of sauce onto bottom of 9X13 baking dish, layer of noodles, and three cheeses. Repeat. Bake in oven at 325° for 45 minutes uncovered.

Andouille Lasagna
This is a good sized meal for about 4-6 people. Enjoy!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

On the edge of my seat...

You know how a really good movie or television show can make you hold your breath? — Just itching to see the next scene? That's kind of what my life is like right now with the whole waiting-for-Darrell-capades. It's not too much longer, kiddies. This waiting game is about to end and I can't wait.

I'm also a little on edge, because I've just about taken on the role of AM at work. I'm no longer shadowing, so that's good. Now, it's just a waiting game until I can get a promotion. All I want is to do so well, the company/my boss is just like: "Stefanie, you're so amazing at your job. Here, we want to give you more money." And then I'd be like: "Oh, it's just all in a day's work. I'd be glad to take more of your money, because I like money. Money is good. You can give me more money whenever you'd like."

That whole money thing leads to another part of this dastardly thing called life, which is the fact that bills are starting to pile up. And my eyeballs are starting to choke.

My whole month's salary can't cover the entirety of our bills. That's everything — from his bills to my bills to our bills. This is pretty sad, but it's OK. We'll be OK.

Keeping Barney and I company throughout the winter season here is the nostalgia of home. The short winter season here has reminded me of home (Maine), which right now is a good thing. A little slice of home — even if it is the frigid cold and ice — has been this warm and fuzzy feeling of when things were simpler and a little less stressful. I just can't wait until Darrell gets back and that frigidness and chill is replaced with lots of love and warm feelings again.

Let the countdown begin ~ Until we meet again!
Barney and I at the Sicily drop zone on Jan. 11.
**SnOw DaY**

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Christmas comes in January


My, my, how time does fly when you're moving into your first home and beginning a brand new job ... Let's just say it wasn't easy and it's still a work in progress. But let's catch up.

Ya'll know that I left my crappity-crap job at the newspaper for something a little less in my range of what I went to school for. Currently, I'm in the MIT (manager in training) program at Abercrombie & Fitch. Not bad. I'm certainly not miserable anymore and do not mind going to work every day. Plus.

I moved into my new home almost a month ago. (Wow, I can't believe it's already been that long.) The move went pretty smoothly and I'm trying to keep up with everything. So far ... I've been able to paint the kitchen and that's it. Pale honey from Behr is cute, I must say, and makes my kitchen look bright and warm and down-right country. Lovin' it.

I'll say this ... Owning a home is not a cake-walk. It's more like this huge, never-ending list of stuff to do. It's one project right after another. And don't expect to get everything done in a few months. No, no. This will be one big ongoing project for the next few years.

And that's OK with me. Normally, I hate tasks that are continuous with no end in sight but this is different. This is MINE. ALL MINE. And I'll make it how I want it. I never thought that purchasing wall art and paint and new furniture would get my heart pumpin'. But it really does.

I went to Rooms to Go shortly after moving in and found a gorgeous, cherry-wood master bedroom set. Fell in love and bought it. Larry, the furniture salesman, made an easy commission that day.

But I've learned a lot. My next few projects that are on my list is to figure out who the hell is supposed to pick up my garbage once a week, get my new washer and dryer hooked up, and get my backyard fenced in. (This is mainly for Barney.)

I've been a little bit of a damsel in distress, since I have so many things that I need to get done and not all the time in the world. My cousin, Annette, thankfully, lives only half an hour away, so she's been a big help in figuring out how home ownership works.

Now, don't worry. I'm not doing everything. I'm leaving a little here and there for the mister when he gets home. I've come up with a few projects for him to do when he gets home in a month or so. (He's so excited, so don't feel bad for him.)

It's exciting getting everything semi-ready for his arrival, but it's also a little saddening. First of all, I had to spend Thanksgiving without any family — a first. But I did learn how to roast a bird (chicken ... because I bought what I thought was a turkey. Turns out it wasn't.) and made a delicious Thanksgiving meal for me and my friend, Anya, who was also without family this holiday.

Christmas will also be semi-sad, as I will be alone. But I'm not that heart-broken about it. I can't really take time off from work to go home and it would just be too expensive for me right now. Instead, I will relax and enjoy my day off. I mean, I'm in charge of when I celebrate holidays from now on. So who says I have to celebrate it on Dec. 25?

Christmas is coming in January, because that's when Darrell gets home. The walls will be decked when he gets home and we will get to have our own first and special Christmas in our new home together. So while Christmas and New Years will be already over for everyone else, it'll be just beginning for us.

Until next time!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Home Sweet Home

"There's no place like home."
 — Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz

We all get a little nostalgic when we think about home. I mean, where we really came from. Whether it's your parents' or grandparents', it's a place where you kicked back and relaxed and really felt comfortable.

You remember the times you used to play "right over there" in the living room with your toys or the times you spent with family on Christmas, Thanksgiving and all the other holidays around the dinner table.

Well, home has been pretty distant and somewhat of a dream for me the last few years. I really haven't felt at home since I graduated high school. So where do I belong?
When was I ever going to get that feeling of nostalgia again? Well, I certainly didn't think it was going to be today. And at the ripe old age of 22.

That daunting title of being a homeowner was not something I would have necessarily thought would have been entitled to me at my age, but all in all, I guess now's the time to buy.

And that's why I became a homeowner.

It's a little exhilarating and a little nerve-wracking all at the same time.

I am a homeowner. 

It has a nice ring to it.

I have a mortgage. 

Well, that doesn't sound so nice. More like nails on a chalk board. But still, I can't wait to move into my new home, where I can make my own warm memories.

It's like a weird dream to remember myself a couple of years ago. No clue where I was going or really what I was actually doing with my life. And at no point did I think I was going to be living in a house of my own in the near future.

I mean, I could pack all of my belongings into a single car.

This is what I have to show for myself.

And I was always scrambling for a place to live while I was in college. My life was a big move-a-thon for the last four years.

Three months of summer. Move. Nine months of college. Move. Repeat three more times. Exhausting.

Now, I have one last big move. A move that I have to do all on my own (with the help of a moving company). And I'll be the first one to tell you, this whole process wasn't easy.

It all started a month or so ago, when Darrell and I had the discussion of where we were going to live when he got back from deployment and the apartment lease was up.

A house? No way.

No way was I going to own a home not even a year out of college. It's not feasible. And so much money!

Actually, it's very do-able, and so the hunt was on.

Now, remember, because Darrell is far away and really can't be a part of the process, it was up to me to house-hunt.

Whoa, whoa, whoa!

I know, crazy right? It seems like everything is moving fast, but I won't be young forever. My credit is good, Darrell can't really move being in the Army and all, and I want some stability in my life, which I haven't had since high school. So let me finish.

Well, it's about how much you love the house and then it's definitely about the location, location and location. Well, we had to be in a vicinity somewhat close to Fort Bragg.

So move somewhere closer to my job at the paper, right? Heck naw! I am not basing my future home on a job I know I don't want to keep. So I went with a quaint little town called Lillington, smack dab in the middle between Fayetteville and Raleigh — a growing and developing city.

It's something like love at first sight. How do you know it's the right one and that another that's better won't come later? I don't know how to really tell you, but you'll just know when it's your turn to house-hunt.

Three bedrooms, two and a half bath, two-story, two car garage, .57-acres, on a culdesac, and near a middle and high school. (You can kind of tell the neighborhood is good based on how nice the schools are. Just an FYI for you future home buyers.)

But there's so many different things you need to deal with when buying a home. I had a little lesson in first-time-home-buyers 101.

Where is it located? Condition? Neighborhood? Property taxes? Flood plain? Schools? Termites? What's an Escrow account? Interest rates? Home inspections? Appraisals? Home owners insurance? A 30-year loan... Wha-? How many more papers do I need to sign? You need my tax records? Credit history? Do I have credit history? What's in my bank account? How many bills do I have? How much do I make? Paystubs? Realtor? Loan officer? Hello? You need what? That too? What's my social? How much earnest money? What's earnest money? What did I eat for breakfast?

The market is still a little shaky right now, but it's probably the best time for first-time home buyers. Interest rates are low and sellers are ready to move a house.

So I've made that leap into home-ownership. Darrell and I are both ready. I closed on the house today. (Sadly, Darrell could not be there for that special moment, but we will both reap the benefits.)

I'm moving next week and will start my new job in Raleigh the following week. I can't wait to decorate and paint and make it ours. It's going to be a fun process and I can't wait to share it with Darrell when he comes home... to a new address.

There's no place like home.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

I'm in boot camp

Drop and rewrite the lede, maggot!
As my predecessor said, "The job is like you're in journalism boot camp," and boy, was she ever right.

If someone would have told the naive, excited-about-life, 18-year-old me that my major in college would lead me to a career field that had long hours, low pay, and was extremely stressful, I probably would've have picked something else.

It's not that I don't enjoy the writing or learning new things, but do I have to be an expert on a different topic every day? Oh, yes, you do.

It's like I pull back my expertise-bow and point my knowledge-arrow with both eyes closed and shoot at the target of know-it-alls. Only, I don't know it all.

This has been my struggle at work, as I make my way through the gobbly-goop of endless things-to-know. I'm the city hall reporter for a local newspaper, who dabbles a bit in health-related topics, and then everything else that gets dumped on my plate. Ah, there it is again. The plate.

I am constantly learning new things that I never thought I would ever have to think about and things that I'm sure no one else really thinks about either.

Like for example, how a landfill works. Great. I'm a garbage expert today. Wouldn't Dad be proud?

Or the inner problems a certain county animal shelter has had in recent months/years and the animal advocates, well, advocating for animal rights. (If you have any idea where I work, you probably could Google the local shelter and see what I'm talking about.)

I can also tell you a little about how local government works. It's not as glamorous as it may seem, but it's still interesting and good to know.

I always catch myself, sitting at my desk, staring for far too long at my 12-year-old computer screen (Remember, when we were in 8th grade and finally starting getting on the Internet? Yeah, those computers...), and wondering "what the hell am I doing?" Anyone else feel that way at their new job after college?

But don't worry, I'm starting to catch on.

In all honesty, I did get my B.A. in Journalism, but what I failed to mention was that it was in ADVERTISING. Hello!

Irregardless, I still got the job and have gotten the 411 on working at a local newspaper in a county where crime and poverty is highest in the state. Needless to say, I'm extremely adamant about locking my car. Two or three times over.

To get to work, I travel a total of 44 miles each morning and then another 44 miles back home. That means on a good day, I do about two hours of driving a day. It's extremely painful. My work day is an eight-hour day and sometimes more but don't forget to tack on the extra two hours of driving. Plus, any driving that I do for work going to events, meetings, and taking photos. Oh, did I mention I do my own art for my stories?

The job is frustrating at times, but I appreciate the fact that I do have a job.

(Even though my paycheck makes me embarrassed; my computer shuts down on me at least once a day while I'm working; the cameras refuse to operate at times; my confidence flat-lined due to some of my stories being ripped apart by my editor, and the distance I have to travel to get to work makes me want to pull my hair out and cry. Other than that, it's just peachy.)

I have even had a breakdown in front of my boss. How professional. But I'm not the only one. There are two others that work at the paper that have done the same and I know there have been more.

I can say though, that I do like seeing my name in black and white and seeing the photos I've taken in color. I have also met some great and interesting people along the way.

But in this business, if you're thinking about it, remember the work comes home with you, it sleeps with you, it gives you nightmares, and hangs over your head until you pay attention to it again. My little gremlin. This could only be because I'm in a difficult situation right now, but I know I must not be the only one in the business who feels this way? Just remember, you're never really going to get rich from this kind of work. Unless you're like working for USA Today, Wall Street Journal or the New York Times.

I'm still at the bottom of the ranks, and I know that boot camp is far from over. And I don't just mean at work, I mean in general life stuff. It's sort of the life that I was waiting for after college. I mean, that's when life really begins, right?

Well, I guess it's back to work for me...

Saturday, October 23, 2010

My baby, Barney

So adding to my life plate, as an animal lover, I picked up the most likely furry, four-legged friend... My dog, Barney.

Wriggling his whole body with his ears pressed back, Barney greets me at the door every day after I come home from a long day of work as if to tell me, “I’m so happy you’re home.”

He’s not perfect by any means, but all in all, he’s a good dog.

I met Barney about five months ago, before I even knew his name. Quietly, he stared up at Darrell and I, almost like he was already defeated with life. We were the only people there looking for a pet at that moment.

I bent down to get a better look at him through the wire cage and he seemed to perk up.

“Thanks for noticing me...

I looked over to the cage on the left and noticed a smaller puppy; brindle in color. She was adorable and excited to have me pay attention to her.

“What about her?” I asked Darrell. We brought the little brindle puppy into the “play” room, which only consisted of a couple chairs.

Brindle puppy flopped around the room; her skin so stretchable, it could go for miles. So cute, but we had to go back and check out the other dog we were drawn to, who wasn’t at all enthused about being cooped up.

Darrell and I both commented on how Barney didn’t seem to have a bark like the other dogs, not once since we had arrived at the Cumberland County Animal Shelter looking to make our family a little more complete.

The brown puppy wandered around the playroom, more interested in how to get out than us, I think. Every once in awhile he would come over to us and bring himself up to our level by placing his front paws onto Darrell’s lap.

We noticed the scar on his forehead.

“Wonder where he got that?”

Probably before he came into the pound, according to the dog attendant, who said the brown puppy had been stray and about four or five months old. Still a puppy but not a young one.

I was a little unsure about bringing home an animal with no idea where he came from. It was such a huge responsibility.

We brought Barney back to his cage, and I was ready to go.

(Pounds make me cringe sometimes. I know a little more first-hand about what happens to those little animals, because I write about one for work often.)

Darrell and I, still a little unsure about taking on the challenge of a puppy, began to walk out, until we heard the strangest howl or bark. I’m still not really sure which one it was but it was distinct.

It was the brown puppy, which looked more pathetic than when we first arrived. I began to really notice his rib cage, like an old fashioned washboard, it rested just beneath his coat. He was standing now with eyebrows furrowed up in that puppy-dog expression saying, “Can I come with you?”

The day we got to bring Barney home from the vet's office. Poor guy. Newly neutered and needing some TLC. May 17, 2010

Again with the howling bark. Darrell walked back over to Barney’s cage. I could tell his decision was becoming more easily swayed by the brown puppy’s attempt at gaining a new home than I was.

“Are you sure we should get a dog right now?” I asked Darrell. He bent down next to the brown puppy, and almost seemed to take on the pup’s wishful-ness.

“I don’t know, do you want him?”

How could he ask me that? Of course I did, but he would only be “our” dog for a couple more months. And then he’d be “my” dog when Darrell was supposed to leave in two months.

I fold. We signed his papers at the front desk and were so excited to have the brown puppy come home with us that day.

“You can pick him up on Monday at the vet’s office,” the front desk lady said.

What? I can’t have my dog now? Oh, right. I just bought a puppy for $60, plus hundreds of dollars in vet bills, food, toys, a crate, dog beds, and gas to take the dog somewhere nice for a walk. Great.

Darrell and I walked out of the shelter not really sure of what we had just done. The brown puppy was heading to the vet’s office to get neutered and looked over to make sure he was in decent health.

“Did we just really get a dog?” We really did. Nervous? Excited? We both rushed over to Petsmart and bought food, bowls, a crate, and a few toys. We were 98 percent excited and maybe two percent scared… Or maybe 98 percent: “what did we just do?” and two percent excited.

But now, I can’t imagine coming home from a long day of work to an empty apartment.

Barney has been my constant companion through and through. He knows when I am sad — he leaves the room when I cry to give Mama some space… Or he just can’t stand the sniveling — and knows just how to make me laugh.

We love to watch television together and he cuddles with me at night. (Hope he adjusts to not sleeping with me in the bed when Darrell gets back…)

“Such short little lives our pets have to spend with us, and they spend most of it waiting for us to come home each day. It is amazing how much love and laughter they bring into our lives and even how much closer we become with each other because of them.”
— John Grogan, Marley & Me

(Barney and I watched this movie together on the couch last night. I think he sensed how sad I was watching it, because he scooted in real close to me and laid his head on my lap. Barney reminded me a little of Marley, because Barney is a handful and can be a pain at times but he is a great dog.)

Barney, healthy and happy, hiking at Raven Rock State Park.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

I'm an Army wife

Fort Bragg, established in 1918 and sitting next to Pope Air Force Base, is a 127,000-acre plot of land filled with sandy hills, a crap-ton of pine trees, and thousands of soldiers. The two bases make up one of the largest military complexes in the world — a place I now call "home."

In the blazing summer heat of 90 to three-digit degree weather, this U.S. Army field artillery site, which was named after Confederate General Braxton Bragg, a former artillery officer and North Carolinian, is where I have begun to go about my daily business as a new addition to the military "family."

 "I love my soldier" and "Army Wife" bumper stickers are everywhere, but are no where near me. It's true I love my husband and yes, I am the wife of a soldier, but I refuse to let that signify who I am.

You might think of the Lifetime show, Army Wives, based on the novel by Tanya Biank (who apparently worked for my boss back in the 90's) when you think about the Army and Army lifestyles. And in some cases, the basic story lines are true. Obviously, I like the show, because it's entertaining and I can sort of relate but it's still a little on the corny side.

The reality is that being an Army wife means that you've signed up to be in the Army too — a whole lot of bullshit not knowing when things are happening or not happening, crappy cities, Army lingo and acronyms, FRG meetings (Family Readiness Group, for those that choose to attend), and loneliness.

A life of being away from your significant other due to training, school, and deployments equals some sort of loneliness, especially when you move to a new state where you know no one. That's the typical story of an Army wife.

I'm saying it's not a glamorous life like the show portrays and by no means a life I would've pictured myself leading only a couple of years ago. I'm pretty sure Fayetteville, A.K.A. "Fayette-nam," was not ever going to become my dream city where I would relocate to and start a family, but I guess it's beginning to grow on me.

But let me get back to that whole deployment issue. Right now, Darrell is "playing in the sandbox" on his six-month deployment. It's true that it could be worse. He could be gone for 9 or 12 or 15 months, but I hate it when people tell me "at least it's a short deployment..."

That's still a half a year that we can never get back!

This is the day Darrell left for his deployment. It was a really sad day... At least the picture turned out okay. July 12, 2010

Being an Army wife is not a lifestyle I'm really sure I know how to lead, but I'm working on it.

It's just another serving I'll just have to swallow for now.

Hooah! (Just kidding... You'll never hear me say that ever.)