Revisiting Sorrow 17 Years Later

In this post I’m touching on something extremely personal, and something I don’t talk about much since it’s not the most pleasant of topics. But I’ve been drawn to type it out as I’ve been thinking about it more as June 5th approaches. There’s no rhyme or reason here, no lesson. Just something to share.

I also want to clarify that this post consists of details from my own memory. I understand some of my former classmates and friends who also went through this event may be reading this, and have memories of their own. I also understand those same people probably have opinions of what they believe happened, but I believe I was privy to information most were not, due to my closeness to those involved. While I will be disclosing a few details of that information in this post, I won’t be explaining all of it.

When 2001 began, I was in the second semester of my freshman year in high school. My closest male friend at the time, Nick, had introduced me to his best friend, Jesse, who transferred to our school in the middle of the year, and who quickly joined my small circle of friends. Inside jokes were created, friendships were built. Jesse was shy, pretty quiet, but he adjusted well throughout the rest of the year. Because we weren’t old enough to have driver’s licenses at that age, long three-way phone calls between Nick, Jesse, and I were common. Most of the chats revolved around classes, homework, possible hang-out plans, and teasing him about his crush, my best girl friend, Elisa, who attended another high school and also had a crush on him.

Closer to the end of the year, Jesse started missing school more than a normal teenager would, but he would give the excuse that he was sick, or not even give a straight answer. He seemed nervous to say, and it almost looked as if he were hiding something. Nick and I were a bit puzzled, but didn’t think much of it, and it wasn’t our business so we didn’t press him.

Then finals week arrived, and Jesse was absent from classes again. Nick hadn’t heard from or seen him, and neither had any of our friends. Two school days passed without incident, and I got home around my usual time (3 p.m.) that Tuesday, June 5th. I hadn’t been inside long when the phone rang, and caller ID showed Nick’s number. I picked up the phone to a solemn greeting and pauses between words as he tried to explain what had happened without breaking down.

I can’t type out the conversation as I remember it. It’s too difficult and my brain attempts to shut down each I try hitting the keyboard. But here’s a short generalization of the information I received.

Jesse was dead, and had died that day. He had been found in the garage of his home, and had been doused in gasoline and set on fire.

Police allegedly had ruled it a suicide, at least at first, but in our hearts Nick and I knew better, and details that came to light while we both sobbed on the phone made it even more clear our friend had been murdered. I was never aware of any sort of investigation into the incident after that day, and as far as we knew the case was closed.

I recall hanging up with Nick and crumpling to the floor in tears, not knowing how to handle what I was dealing with. I remember blurry number buttons as I dialed Elisa, and barely uttering the words of Jesse’s death to her as I struggled to not choke on the lump in my throat. She lasted maybe two or three minutes before she hung up, overcome with emotion. My mom arrived home from work soon after and I ran to her crying, saying over and over that Jesse was dead.

Imagine trying to get up the next morning and having to focus on taking exams. Imagine walking through the school doors early the next day with your world changed, and your group of friends sitting around a table, unable to speak and barely able to make eye contact with each other because the tears in their eyes would spill over. Imagine each one of those friends bringing something special with them as a token of their own relationship with Jesse.

That morning I had my Physical Science exam, and Jesse was meant to be in it too. When the teacher was passing out papers for us to begin, he asked the class where Jesse was as he checked the clock on the wall. By that time word was spreading, and I had to look away from my teacher’s face when he registered the news someone in the room muttered.

Visitation was a couple of days after the phone call from Nick that will stick with me for the rest of my life. The casket was closed. I barely remember the funeral, but remember the walk with Elisa from the church to the cemetery next door, and placing my own white rose next to hers on the site. I remember Nick helping carry the casket. I remember waiting months to see a grave stone, and placing more single white roses on it every so often afterward. I still associate white roses with Jesse.

It’s been years since I visited the grave site, but I think of Jesse from time to time, about what he would have done after high school, what career he’d have, and where in his life he would be now, at 32 years old. I also wonder if and how much his death shaped the lives of others in our group of friends. It sucks that 2001 was a time when records weren’t recorded online, and a time when I didn’t have a camera. I have no photos of him besides the original obit clipping from the newspaper.

Unfortunately Jesse’s passing was the first of a few more of my former high school classmates during and after high school, but his prepared me for the others. Death is never easy to face, but hopefully someday we’ll all be reunited with those we love.

Personally, I can’t wait to see him again.

—K

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Recapping my Mayo Clinic Surgery and Recovery

I’M BACK!

After a much needed hiatus during and after my trip to the Mayo Clinic, I finally have the gumption to start blogging again. At least for the most part. I will admit I probably won’t be updating as much as I used to, due to the lack of energy, and — to be honest — inspiration. Life is just too hectic, and I’m finding I’d rather be spending time doing other things lately than blogging, especially since I sort of feel the same way I did a year ago.

That being said – if any of you readers have a topic you’d like to see from me, please let me know.

Anyhoo, let me get back on the blogging train by giving you the rundown of what took place in Rochester, Minn. at the Mayo Clinic over the course of two weeks (Feb. 27 through March 13). I warn you all now — this will be a very long post.

And before I forget — just a warning there will likely be some semi-graphic photos, so be prepared for that.


The trip to Minnesota is a long one, as you can imagine. I traveled there with Justin and both of my parents. The first two days were scheduled as testing and consultation days, so I underwent an MRE, blood work, and a fistulagram, then sat down with my (and Justin’s!) PA-C, Shayla, and my surgeon, Dr. Nelson. Together, they went over my imaging and said the fistulagram showed that the tracts are spiderwebbing throughout my abdomen, with one main tract connecting to my sigmoid colon (near the end of the colon), and another tract connecting with my small bowel where my previous surgery in 2016 took place.

Part of this was a surprise: never before have I had issues/disease in my colon. Also, the fistula was the main reason I had struggled gaining weight since the 2016 surgery. It was basically funneling all of the nutrients away from where they get absorbed into my body and pretty much to the end of my colon. Surgery, Dr. Nelson said, was necessary to fix the problem and any other issue she may encounter while exploring the rest of my insides. She would need to resect the area of sigmoid colon where the fistula ended, and also the area where it connected to my small bowel. Because imaging scans can only show so much, Dr. Nelson also said she may need to perform a more extensive surgery depending on the condition of my gut. One of these possibilities was having to create a temporary ostomy, but she believed the probability was low based on the knowledge she already had.

Trusting in her and Shayla’s expertise and confidence in a successful surgery, I did not hesitate to sign the consent paperwork.


Surgery

On March 1st we arrived at the hospital, I used the antiseptic wipes to clean myself off and changed into a gown, had an IV inserted, and was prepped by a nurse. Justin was in the prep room with me, and we had a surprise as the stoma nurse came in to mark spots on my abdomen where to best place an ostomy if Dr. Nelson needed to create one. It was Laurie, the same stoma nurse who oversaw Justin when he had his colon removed at Mayo in 2015! She recognized us too, so there was a short, happy reunion before I was being ushered onto a stretcher that would take me into a pre-operative waiting room.

Some short goodbyes to my family, a thumbs up, and I was whisked away into the depths of the hospital, where I was visited by a few nurses and the anesthesiologist who told me more about what would happen in the OR. After an hour, it was time.

If you’ve ever had surgery, being wheeled into the OR is a strange experience. Everything is illuminated, white, sterile. It’s almost alien. Everyone in the room is covered from head to toe save for their eyes, and the air has a buzz of activity, almost like a prepared tension. I was transferred to the operating table and greeted by a few of Dr. Nelson’s female team members, and then Dr. Nelson herself, who reassured me everything was going to go well and I’ll be back with family before I know it.

She was right, of course, but for Justin and my parents it was about half of a full day. Surgery itself ended up taking 7 hours, and they didn’t see me until a few hours afterward, and I know it was late when I woke up in the hospital room. I had more IVs in me than when I went into surgery, a catheter, and an NG tube.

The following day I don’t remember much except being in a lot of pain. They eventually hooked me up to a PCA, where I could hit a button every 10 minutes or so and pain meds would be delivered through my IV. This also knocked me out, so that entire day I was comatose, but I remember in a state of “twilight” where I woke up in a ton of pain and didn’t know where I was, so I had a mini freak out. Fortunately, Justin has spent the night in the room, heard me, and was there to tell me to hit my pain button. Right back out I went.

 


Post-Op and Recovery

Instead of giving  details in strict chronological order from here on out, I’ll provide details of what took place throughout the next week.

When I finally become coherent enough to understand the world around me, I came to realize what I was told would be unlikely during surgery had actually happened. I had a bag on the left side of my abdomen. I was definitely surprised, and Justin explained the scenario to me:

Basically when Dr. Nelson and her team saw inside my abdomen, it looked like a bomb had gone off. My small bowel was folded in on itself and was matted together, and apparently I had a small perforation but the way my intestine was laying on itself helped block anything from leaking out too much. Justin said he received two phone calls from Dr. Nelson while in surgery, one where she said something like, “I’m honestly not sure how she’s alive considering how poor she looks inside. We have our work cut out for us, but she’s in good hands.”

They removed about a foot of the jejunum area of the small bowel (where I had the problems last time), and about a foot of the sigmoid colon where the fistula was connecting to it. To allow a better chance for that area to heal, Dr. Nelson created a temporary colostomy. They recommend me having it for at least one full year before discussing possible take down.

It might shock some of you to know that having a new ostomy didn’t create more than a reaction of disappointment. But because Justin had a temporary ileostomy, and then a permanent ileostomy since 2014/2015, I’m familiar with and knowledgeable about everything that has to do with how they generally work, the supplies needed, and how to use the supplies. Going into surgery, I knew I could handle it if I ended up with a bag.

Back to recovery. In addition to my pain pump, I was given antibiotics, magnesium, and ended up having a blood transfusion along the way. I made sure to walk a few times each day, which was rough at first, but became easier each time I paced the halls. The NG tube was the largest annoyance, because it really irritated my throat, it was hard to move around without it being tugged on, and I wasn’t able to eat while it was in (obviously). I also ended up having a PICC line placed so they could administer TPN and lipids for extra nutrition, and draw blood for lab work since my veins are tiny and were wearing out from so many initial and replacement IV pokes.

I had a variety of fantastic, patient nurses on the floor who took very good care of me and were always kind. And with that came another surprise. Back when Justin had his permanent ileostomy created, he had a wonderful nurse named Mariah a few nights during his recovery. She was great, but mostly memorable because she also has Crohn’s Disease and the three of us connected that way. Justin and I had always wondered if she was still around, but doubted it. We were proved wrong when she walked into my room for her shift! She admitted she didn’t remember us, but we didn’t expect her to, as nurses take care of hundreds of people every year and cannot be expected to recall every single patient. Even so, it was a comfort, and we knew we could rest easy with her around.

Every few days Laurie, the stoma nurse would come around to check in on everything, and she would go over options of ostomy bags, pros and cons of each, and other ostomy care products. We also changed my bag a couple of times so I could learn a bit more about the process and how to take care of my skin around the site which can easily get irritated from not being able to breathe and, of course, stool leaking out. It’s a very odd thing to touch a part of your body that’s supposed to be on the inside.

What we were all waiting on was my bowels to “wake up,” or start moving stool through so I saw output in the bag. This takes time, though more time for someone with a colostomy, since it takes longer for stool to reach the end. However, with a week after surgery under my belt with no activity, my surgical team decided to try and stimulate some movement.

The first procedure to try is irrigation of the bowel. This is where a nurse attaches a very long bag (you can see it’s almost as long as my leg in the photo below) around the stoma, and also funnels water into it, which the colon then will flush out, along with stool. From there it’s hoped the colon will start to regulate bowel movements. The irrigation process did produce some stool output right away, but wasn’t continuous.

The next option was having a CT scan performed, which happened the next morning. I’m not too clear on how this helps, especially since I couldn’t drink any contrast due to the NG tube situation. Usually CT scans are a walk in the park, but I was slightly nervous receiving IV contrast during the test because at this point my veins were so shot from being poked so much they were pretty much not having it anymore. The one IV I had left was with a very small catheter, and hoped it wouldn’t be an issue with Mayo Clinic’s pressurized injection system for IV contrast. Unfortunately, my fears were correct and there was too much pressure going into the IV, which resulted in the IV blowing and contrast getting into both vein and tissue. So all the sudden I felt like the skin on my arm was being ripped off and the scan had to be stopped while I lay there sobbing as the attending nurses and radiologists tried to comfort me. After the pain subsided enough to where it was manageable (which was still about a 6 or 7 out of 10), they continued the scan as fast as possible.

At that point, it had been a week and a day since surgery, and no change in sight. I was getting stir crazy and emotional, as memories from my 2016 hospital stay still haunted me. Although my pain was decreasing significantly and I barely needed to hit my button, I still wasn’t able to eat, was extremely bored, was confined to my floor’s hallways, and was increasingly anxious. The awful CT scan experience put a dark cloud over the entire day, and my surgical team had no more options for me besides waiting.

But good news was right around the corner. That same night, output started and continued. And from there, everything happened quickly. The next day, my NG tube came out and I was allowed a liquid diet, then progressed to soft foods. Two days later and still feeling great, my PICC line was removed, was finally released and received the OK from Shayla to travel home.


Present Day

It’s been more than a month since surgery, and all things health related have been positive. I’m on my way to my normal weight for the first time in nearly two years and I’m feeling stronger because of it. I’m back on a standard diet, and though I’m cautious about some foods due to the ostomy, I’m not finding many issues. I’m still receiving Entyvio infusions, and most of my Crohn’s symptoms are non-existent. Living with an ostomy is definitely a change and a learning experience, and sometimes not a pleasant one, but manageable. In most cases, someone passing me on the street wouldn’t even know I had a bag.

I’m extremely thankful to my team at Mayo and what they’ve done for me, even though to some it might seem extreme. I’ll cross that bridge when I get there, but I do hope my body allows me to become re-connected next year. Until then, all I can do is make the most of the situation I’m in!

—K

—Some photos by Justin McKee—

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Introducing: Stitch Fix Extras!

One of my favorite companies announced it’s adding something extra special to each box it sends you! Now, Stitch Fix will be adding undergarments — bras, bralettes, panties, socks, camis, tights, and even shapewear! They’re called Stitch Fix Extras, and I just gotta say:

And it’s about freaking time! I’ve always wondered why they haven’t explored this avenue yet, and I actually like how they’ve decided to present it. Instead of your Extras being one of the 5 awesome pieces included in your Fix, they’re actually included alongside your 5 items! So basically you’re getting shipped more pieces for the same $20 styling fee. I can definitely get behind that.

Don’t know what Stitch Fix is? Check out earlier reviews located in the tab under the banner at the top of this blog to find out how this personal shopping experience works its magic.

So let me tell you more about how this works.

When you schedule your Fix, you’ll be able to select the Extras you need and add as much as you want before the box ships. Once the box arrives, it’s the same as before. Try everything on, keep what you want, and send back what you don’t.

Now to break down some of the new products!

  • Bras — Stitch Fix is offering underwire bras from six 34B to 44DDD, and bralettes in sizes XS-3X.
  • Camis and Shapewear — I pretty much layer with camis every day, which means they get worn out quickly, so this Extra would be pretty valuable in my life. They are offering camis in sizes from S/M- 3X. Sizes in shapewear range from S-2X.
  • Panties — Stitch Fix will carry different styles of underwear to keep you comfortable, confident, and feeling sexy no matter the coverage.

So how are you feeling about this new addition to Stitch Fix? If you couldn’t tell already, I’m pretty stoked! The only issue I foresee as a blogger is not being able to model most of those undergarments so you can see the fit, but you’ll just have to deal with that! I’ll take standard photos of them as a display.

Now that you know the goods, make sure to sign up right away to get your own personalized stylist and box containing Stitch Fix Extras! Or, pick out a Stitch Fix Gift Card for that someone special who needs a fashion boost!

This post contains affiliate links and banners through which I may be compensated, but all opinions are my own.

—K

Now you can have your own personal stylist! Click the banner below and schedule your first box. Once that box shows up at your doorstep, you’ll help me support this blog.

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Create Perfect Panoramas with Your Camera

Panoramas are really something to behold. A panorama is a large image that is mostly used in landscape photography.

Most everyone who owns a smartphone has played with the panorama feature using the camera application built into their phone’s software.

The concept is to take your phone and move it horizontally along the course of an area and the phone will take an image of the area that you shoot. This image is one long image that is technically multiple images stitched together to create one image that is a lot wider than what just one shot could accomplish on its own.

Panoramas have existed for far longer than our phone’s ability to shoot them.

Creating a panorama using your phone is easy because the device walks you through each step and basically does all of the work for you; wonderful technology.

The technology is good, but it can be a touch limited as far as image quality goes — and as many of you know, image quality is a high priority of mine. The downside to using a phone is that the image sensor doesn’t have the pixel density of higher quality cameras, and sometimes the images can be stitched together improperly which can create a whole course of trial and error re-shoots that can be annoying.

So, the focus of this post will be on shooting panoramas with a Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) camera.

The same concept applies when shooting with a DSLR as when shooting a panorama with your phone; you’ll be taking several images in a row, one right next to the other for as long as you want the image to be.

This requires some planning. You’ll need to decide where to begin the image and end, what lens to use for the shots and you’ll need to use some imagination as to how the final image should look. The one downside to shooting panoramas with a DSLR is that you won’t see the final image until you get the images back on the computer at home (or on the go if you have a laptop).

When I shoot these kinds of images, I generally tend to shoot between three and four images to create the final image. However, that’s due to my using a very wide lens — if you’re using a lens that is longer than 24mm wide you’ll probably need more than just four images to create a decent panorama, and that’s OK; whatever works.

To successfully shoot the series of images that will make the panorama, you’ll need to keep parts of the previous image in the frame in order for the image to stitch together properly and to decrease any image distortion the lens may introduce. If you look at the four individual images attached to this post, you’ll notice they all share many of the same structures as the previous shot.

The panoramas I put together come together nicely nearly 100 percent of the time and that is largely due to shooting the individual images properly the first time around.

 

Once Photoshop is finished stitching together your images into a panorama, you’ll want to zoom in and scour the areas where the images merged together to make sure that there are not any lines from buildings intersecting in strange ways.

A good example would be a panorama of a skyscraper. Say you have one image with part of the skyscraper in it, and the next image in the lineup has the other half… but not quite enough of the skyscraper to line up properly. Suddenly, Photoshop doesn’t know what to do with the images and your image has windows that are misaligned and deformed; not good.

That’s why making sure you shoot your images properly the first time is key to making this process work.

One thing to also keep in mind is moving subjects. You’ll notice that there were some people in the panorama I have attached to this article. I had to shoot my images quickly so the people didn’t end up moving too far before the next shot was taken.

If a person moves from one shot to another, chances are you can have two sets of the person in the same panorama, which creates a headache in post processing.

Once you have your images, the magic happens. Take your images to the computer and use Photoshop’s photomerge option to stitch the images together. Much like your phone, Photoshop can (brilliantly) stitch together the images you’ve taken with great accuracy.

After Photoshop has merged your images together, you’ll need to do some cropping to get rid of some of the jagged edges of where the photos jut out in odd places, but after you do that your image is complete.

Panoramas are a fantastic way to show a large area in a single image without needing the use of a wide angle lens.

Recent technology allows for us to create these kinds of images on our mobile devices, and that’s simply awesome, but if you want to create a high quality image worthy of a large print size, stick with a DSLR set up.

You won’t regret it.


Justin McKee is a photographer with big ideas living in Michigan. In addition to portraits, wedding photography and video, he also enjoys wildlife photography. He always seeks to learn more about his craft.

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5 Easy Ways to Bond with Your Significant Other

While gifts, dates, and elaborate shows of love are always great ideas, this Valentine’s Day I decided to do something a little different for a post.

Who doesn’t want a better, more connected, and meaningful relationship with their significant other? I’d be willing to bet most would like that more than anything money can buy. So I created a list of ideas on how to better bond with your loved one, no matter if you’re in a new relationship, have been serious for a few years, or are in any stage of marriage!

And I’m happy to report that these suggestions have worked to improve my own connection with my husband! Without further ado, let me introduce my favorite easy ways to bond with your significant other. The first may be the most valuable.

Unplug

In this day and age, we are connected to our mobile devices 24/7. It’s easy for the hours to waste away while on your phone or tablet. And don’t get me started on the notifications that seem to pop up every minute that call for your attention, interrupting what could be a meaningful moment with your partner!

Constantly looking at a screen caused an issue in my relationship with my husband before we were married, so we agreed on a rule. While we’re out to dinner, participating in an activity, or watching one of our favorite shows or movies at home, we put the phone away completely or not touch it if it’s beside us until the event is over. Sometimes there are moments where we need to check something, but we keep the time on our device as brief as possible.

This rule has really helped us feel more connected to each other and appreciate date nights more than before!

Play Games

Whether it’s old-school board games or those involving cards, choosing a simpler past-time for an activity can bring our your inner child and form memories that last you throughout your relationship. Play them at the kitchen table, on the living room floor, or snag some travel size versions to take with you to the park. Friendly competition is fun!

Justin and I enjoy Uno and Battleship most, but if we have more people to play with we’ll go for Cards Against Humanity or Dutch Blitz.

Cook Together

If the way to the heart is through the stomach, this is the perfect way to bond with your significant other! Even if it’s not an elaborate meal where a lot of prep is involved, split the steps between the two of you and work together to create a delicious dinner. I typically will chop ingredients or take care of pasta, while Justin takes care of browning and searing meat, or draining heavy pots.

This also gives both of you the opportunity to teach the other new cooking techniques, recipes, or how to use certain appliances. And I personally believe the food made together tastes better than any takeout option.

Try Something New

There’s no way some sort of bond wouldn’t happen when you both do something completely new! Sharing a first experience will bring you closer, because you associate that one thing to the other person. It’s exclusive to the two of you, and therefore can be something special you can keep within your relationship if it turns out you both enjoy the activity!

Here are some specific ideas: attend a symphony, travel to a location neither of you has explored before, visit a local museum or art gallery, volunteer for a charity you both care about, or go camping.

Hold Hands

This is probably the easiest option of my list, because you can do it whenever you’re together! Taking your significant other’s hand makes you feel close and connected more than just physically. That emotion of love happens immediately, and travels up your arm and into your heart.

This sort of touch can provide a sense of calm, assurance, joy, safety, peace, and comfort. It can even conjure the phrases “it’s okay,” and “I forgive you” after an argument. This type of innocent, physical touch can begin a bond and strengthen it.

I hope you liked my little list! I encourage you to try this out with your loved one — not just on Valentine’s Day, but throughout the year — and watch as that unspeakable connection grows!

—K

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Sighs & Smiles — The Ups and Downs of January

It’s been a while since I’ve written one of these posts! Let’s just get right to it and not waste time.

Sighs

  • I’ve been dealing with an uncomfortable side effect from my 2016 surgery more in the past couple of months than ever before. You see, the area where they resected my small bowl has become dilated to a size that’s closer to my colon. Because of this, I tend to easily become bloated regardless of what I eat or drink. Every afternoon and through the evening, my abdomen becomes distended. It seriously looks like I’m pregnant, and it’s not pleasant. Hopefully it’s one of the things that Mayo Clinic surgeons can fix (more on that in a minute).
  • January was so long and tedious! I feel like it has lasted forever. I’m so glad it’s done! Anyone else have the same thought?
  • Bills. Especially heating bills. DTE is filled with crooks. I don’t believe for one second Justin and I used so much electricity in one month for an 800 sq. ft. apartment to get the type of bill we received. Ridiculous.
  • Justin’s grandma on his dad’s side passed away earlier in the month. I had only met her once, right before the wedding, and I’m glad I was able to before she left this Earth.

Smiles

  • I’m listing the upcoming Mayo trip happening at the end of February under smiles because I’m hoping the outcome will result in a better quality of life. Right now, I have a couple of tests and a consult on the itinerary, with potential surgery on March 1. Surgery is daunting and always something to take seriously, but I need it to fix the ongoing fistula and hopefully resect that dilated section of bowel. If they notice any sign of that pelvic mass I had back in September, they’ll remove that, too. Recovery is going to suck, since they have to cut me open, but I’m hoping I won’t be out of commission for too long. I’ll be posting regularly on the trip, so make sure you follow me on my Instagram account!
  • Justin and I took a spontaneous driving day to search for snowy owls we knew were nesting near where some of my relatives live in Michigan’s Thumb. We actually saw two of them, and they were so chill. They allowed us to take many photos, some up close. I love owls! We did see a couple of bald eagles as well, but they were too far away to photograph with the lenses we had. But we still considered it successful, and we’re going to try and search for more wildlife this weekend.
  • If you missed my last post, I started my 2018 Goodreads Reading Challenge, and I’m already excited to get into some new series! Books are seriously the best.

What have been your sighs and smiles for January?

—K

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Challenge Yourself with Goodreads in 2018

You didn’t think I forgot a post about the 2018 Goodreads Reading Challenge, did you? Nah, it’s been in my mind throughout this entire month but I’ve had other things I wanted to share first!

Each year, the website Goodreads offers a reading challenge to its users for fun and to help encourage them to read more and discover new genres or books. For 2018, I’ve pledged to read 21 books, which is only one more than last year’s completed goal, but I didn’t want to overwhelm myself.

I’ve already read two books and have started my third, so I’m making good progress! I think in the next week or two I will reserve some novels from the library so I have them when I need them.

I’m looking forward to some new books to love, and can’t wait to dive headfirst into series I’ve heard so much about. I have to say quite a few of novels on my to-read list are coming from my friend Jashana, who is active in the book community on YouTube and reads way more books each month than I can fathom.

Here’s some of the books I’d love to read this year:

  • Love & Gelato — Jenna Evans Welch
  • A Shiver of Snow and Sky — Lisa Lueddecke
  • A Wrinkle in Time — Madeline L’Engle
  • As I Darken — Kiersten White (and the others in the series if I like this first book)
  • Bonfire — Krysten Ritter
  • The Screwtape Letters — CS Lewis

And here’s some to-read ideas if you need them:

  • The Lunar Chronicles — Marissa Meyer
  • The Night Circus — Erin Morgenstern
  • In Stitches — Dr. Anthony Youn
  • Lying — Lauren Slater
  • Creature — John Saul
  • Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience — William Blake

And with that, I’d like to present my video book review on the 2nd and last book I completed for this challenge: Uncommon Type: Some Stories by Tom Hanks. Did I enjoy it? Did I hate it? Find out by watching below!

And if you missed the review of the first book I read in 2018, go here! I plan on attempting to film short video book reviews for each book I complete this year as a new way to make this challenge interesting!

Want to connect with me on Goodreads? Click here and add me as a friend, then join the challenge! Give me your recommendations on what I should dive into this year!

—K

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Creamy Chicken & Rice — Customizable Comfort Food

Using a slow cooker and rice cooker — my two favorite small appliances — this weekend, I created a dish I hadn’t made before. I’m not a great cook by any means, but fortunately it was simple and turned out well enough that I thought I’d blog about it. Because don’t we all need more recipes?

I know I do. Especially since my husband’s definition of cooking is making ramen noodles (love you, honey!) with some awful smelling chili oil. Since red meat is usually on the more expensive side, we stick with chicken a lot, and I love pairing chicken with rice — my most-loved carb.

This recipe is based off one I found while browsing Pinterest, but it’s easily able to be customized to your tastes. I did a little bit of that, but since it was my first time making this dish I stuck to the original pretty closely.

Here’s the recipe for Creamy Chicken and Rice:


Ingredients

  • 1 package chicken tenders cooked and shredded
  • 3 cups shredded cheddar or colby-jack cheese
  • 2 cups uncooked rice (this yields about 4 cups cooked rice)
  • 2 1/4 cups chicken stock
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • Up to 1/4 cup Italian bread crumbs
  • 4 Tbsp butter
  • 2 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  • Melt butter in large pot on stovetop
  • Add minced garlic and whisk for about a minute, then whisk in salt, pepper, and flour
  • Add chicken stock and bring the mixture to nearly boiling, whisking continuously, then stir in 2 cups of cheese until melted
  • Stir in shredded chicken and cooked rice, then transfer everything to a 9×13 baking dish. Top with breadcrumbs and the remaining cup of cheese, then bake in the oven until the cheese is melted and the breadcrumbs have browned

There’s no way to make dinner item look pretty, but it sure tastes good!

This was a filling, comforting meal, but Justin and I both admit it was missing something. He suggested taco seasoning, and I think we’ll try that next time. Steamed veggies also would go well in this dish or as a side!

And to be honest, I don’t think I’ll add the oven step next time either. Baking it made it a bit more solid, and I would prefer it less so. Obviously, if you do that, remove the bread crumbs from the equation.

I hope you enjoyed this post, and possibly try the recipe! Buon appetito!

—K

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5 Things I Love Today — Jan. 18th, 2018

Hello lovelies! It’s time for another edition of “Things I Love Today!”

Most of these things revolve around two topics: eating and staying warm, because there’s not much else to do when you’re facing frigid temperatures, ice, and snow day in and day out. Needless to say, I’m over it. I want warmth, sunshine, and green trees again.

Without further delay, here’s today’s list!

Our Electric Blanket

I’m taking credit for this one, since I suggested an electric blanket as a Christmas gift when my mother-in-law asked for ideas for her son. Honestly, it’s been a luxury neither of us take for granted, as we try and keep the heat down to save money, yet deal with freezing floors and drafty door cracks. It’s been used every single day since it’s been in our possession. I highly recommend getting one if you’re in colder climates!

My Mug Collection

There have been times I’ve wondered if I have too many mugs, but this winter I’ve proved that’s not possible. Between my husband and I, we’re using an average of one a day between the teas, cider, and cocoa we’re whipping up to help us combat our chilly apartment. I think there’s about 8-10 mugs in my cabinet, one large enough to eat soup out of, and one as tall as a tumbler! Combine it with that electric blanket I just mentioned, and well, you’re in for a cozy night.

Tim Horton’s

Depending on the area in which you live, you may not know the glory that is this Canadian eatery chain that sells delicious breakfast and lunch items. I’m not sure if they’re most famous for their Iced Caps (short for Cappuchino) or Tim Bits (their cute name for doughnut holes), but I’m partial to the bacon, egg, and cheese croissant sandwich. I eat one at least once a week, so does that count as addiction? Either way, I need the protein and calories, and it’s perfect for picking up on my way to work. The bagels are a favorite as well. I love you, Timmy Ho’s!

Kohl’s Cash

This is pretty self explanatory. Spend money at Kohl’s stores, get money back! Due to the purchase of a new bed set, I had about $40 to use, and there’s nothing quite like shopping for “free.” I had one specific thing in mind (see the next paragraph!), but didn’t realize it was going to be so inexpensive, so I was able to take my time and ponder what else was needed. After looking and debating for about an hour, I decided to go the cute route and purchase a few adorable clothing items for Hannah, my best friend’s daughter. Seriously, though, I hope Kohl’s never gets rid of this awesome perk!

My New Rice Cooker

This is what I purchased first with the Kohl’s Cash! My rice cooker was my 2nd favorite kitchen appliance (nothing beats my slow cooker), but it had died sometime between the last time I used it and when I unsuccessfully tried to use it for dinner about a week ago. I am the WORST at cooking rice, so this gadget was something I wasn’t going to go without for long. I purchased one — on sale — from Hamilton Beach, and it also has the option to steam food while the rice cooks. I plan on using it for the first time this weekend and can’t wait to test it out.

I hope you enjoyed my list! What are YOU loving right now?

—K

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Get Creative with Crayons

Guest post by Justin McKee

We’re revisiting our childhoods this post by playing around with crayons, and incorporating our privileges as adults to mess with heat to melt them.

I did this project a few years ago just for fun and I thought it’d be nice to revisit it — especially now that I can write about it.

The crayon thing is cool, but you might be asking: “how does this apply to photography?”
I’ll get to that in a moment.

First thing’s first: get some crayons!

I chose to get a big roll of paper and used painter’s tape to attach it to a wall on a slight angle. From there, I lined up the crayons, taped them together securely and then attached them to the top of the paper.

Remember, we’re going to be melting these, so make sure you have a lot of paper for the wax to drip off of.

I do NOT recommend using a hair dryer. I started out with one for this post to show how badly the effects of it can be. You’ll notice in the pictures the wax went in every direction but down when I used the hair dryer (even when I pointed the dryer straight down).

So, pro-tip: Don’t do that.

Alternatively, I tried a curling iron; that didn’t work at all. There simply isn’t enough heat.
In the end I opted to use a candle lighter (one of the long ones). I held the flame well away from the crayons to make sure that no fires broke out — you have to be smart here if you decide to use fire. It’ll take longer to melt the wax, but at least your house will still be standing at the end of the night.

From there, I simply let the crayons melt and drip down on the paper.

OK, here’s where the photography part of the post comes into play.

Look for different angles to shoot this unique subject. That’s the challenge.

I tried different angles, apertures, focal lengths and more before I was satisfied with the three shots attached to this post.

I used a number of lenses ranging from a 16-35mm f/2.8 to a 70-200mm f/2.8.

The best part of this project is that you can take your time with it. Once the wax dries in its drippy form, you’ve got all the time in the world to shoot.

I used a single source of light that was adjacent from the wall and I made sure the light was very close to the crayons so there was as much light as possible. Making sure the light is closer lets you use apertures as wide as f/2.8 and as closed down as f/14 if you want to play with depth of field.

If you decide to try this project, be sure to be safe and have fun! It’s a unique blend of crafts and photography that is simply a blast to play around with.


Justin McKee is a photographer with big ideas living in Michigan. In addition to portraits, wedding photography and video, he also enjoys wildlife photography. He always seeks to learn more about his craft.

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