I am finally posting about all of the crazy Christmas-ness going on over here. Yes- I admit, I broke my cardinal rule this year and started Christmas decorating BEFORE Thanksgiving. I also started wrapping presents AND listening to Christmas music pre-Thanksgiving this year too. So much for my grinchy ways. I was so excited about Christmas this year that I had my theme picked out way back in October! (So much for Halloween right?) I desperately wanted to do a Country Christmas. I first started by taking some of my shiny red and gold ornaments from last year and covering them w/ cute country material, like this gingham, and tied it with raffia.

Before: (oooo shiny!)

After: Voila! Country-fied ornaments. 

Next- I went a little bonkers @ Target and got a whole bunch of plain brown wrapping paper, raffia, and brown paper bags bags and then nearly swooned w/ happiness when I found the $1 ornaments that matched my theme and made perfect "bow replacements" on my packages. I also got a tube of 10 country Christmas bells for $5, some holly berry picks for $5, and cinnamon scented pine cones for $5.
See: Country-fied Christmas Tree! (just an FYI- raffia as tinsel = huge pain in the arse) 

And Country packages! 
Next stop was my in-laws basement for their Christmas decor rejects and I swiped up these 2 wreathes and added some ribbon, raffia, and easy to remove sticky hooks:

The mini trees were $3 at Big lots! I just set them on some natural fibered stuff (bowl and candle) that I had to give them different heights.

Please disregard the chew-toy. :)

This one also stolen borrowed from the Derry basement (added a candle I already had and some shiny ornaments on top of some burlap to keep in country)

I also threw some ornaments in my candle holder by the fireplace and I am in LOVE with our country-Christmas stockings! (Check back next week for a Papa-made mantel!!)

And since I had a whole bunch of pine cones and some ribbon left over: Pine Cone Chandelier! Heck yes!

And here we have some ornaments and raffia stuck in vases I already had, plus some garland stolen borrowed from the Derry basement.

What Christmas decor is complete without some poinsettias (fake of course since I have dogs likely to eat them)? Also- some pine cones in mason jars with raffia bows. (I have said it before, and I will say it again- You can take the girl out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the girl!)

And some more poinsettias and random sprigs of something- love the dollar store!

One family's old-never-used-Christmas/winter-decor = My snowman candle holder :) Thanks Grissom family!

And finally, the best Christmas stuff in my house: CHRISTMAS PUPS!

Izzie really has it rough.

Santa Baby and Santa Paws!

Merry Christmas Decorating!!! 

 And, just in case you'd like some Christmas inspirations other than Country-ness, here is a website that I got a lot of ideas and inspirations from!

Keep Calm and Carry On

   My goodness- it certainly seems that I have been neglecting my blog these past couple weeks. Well I have been a bit under the weather and quite a bit stressed. You probably remember a few posts ago when I shared about my promotion that I was pretty excited about- well I got another one. Yep- 2 promotions in one month! I am more stressed about this one than I am excited- right now anyway. I have been promoted to the Director of Dementia Care Services and while it is a position I had hoped I would eventually have, it was not expected so quickly. My would-have-been-boss is moving on to a different facility and they decided to go ahead and offer me the position. Wow. It's awesome that my superiors have the confidence in me that I will be able to do the job, but it is still a lot of swallow and a lot to learn in a short 2 weeks time. I do not have any management experience yet- so there will definitely be challenges along the way. The good news: my own office! haha I am looking forward to eventually being able to make the space my own and really owning it. I think on of my first additions will have to be something like the photo at the top of this blog. Which has also become my new mantra.

I also have to work on finishing up my bedroom re-do that I wanted to have done in 2 weeks... way back in October. Well- life happened and I still have a few small projects on my To-Do list. The one I am most excited about is the new curtains I have ordered. I tried to be smart and thrifty and use a tablecloth, and while I like the color and print- it is really not working for me. I also have to replace a piece of art. Finish a mini-art project, and find something to do with my mini-necklace dresser because barn red doesn't really work in a country yellow bedroom. So, still a little ways to go on that.

In my book-life I have also gotten stuck on Eat, Pray, Love. (Eat, Prey, Love was much easier to get through). I am a little irritated by some of her faith concepts and now I am just plain bored. It is officially overdue from the library now too, which is only going to make me mad when I have to pay a fee for a book I am not even that crazy about. (and you know I am going to make myself sit through this movie too. I love Julia Roberts!)

I have discovered a show that I pretty much love. It was short-lived, only one season, but really good. It's called Firefly. Here's a fun music video that shows clips from the show. I kinda dig the song:

Doing Hard Things

So- here’s a blog-life update- No books, no projects. I feel led to share what I learned in church this week. As you know, (because I blogged about it) I am struggling to make some life-changes to be healthier. At church we are in a series called “My Life Could Be Reality TV” and this week’s focus was on the show The Biggest Loser and about doing hard things in life. Fitting right?
To here Matthew’s sermon click  here.
This was a really hard lesson to sit through for me, because I have a lot of difficulty with self-discipline and this message pointed out to me that I am not relying on God or the Holy Spirit to help me be disciplined. The message was focused on 2 Timothy 2 and how Timothy was charged with very difficult tasks and challenges as a young man. Paul also gives Timothy tools to complete these tasks- namely that the Holy Spirit is inside of him and has given him the tools to do hard things in his life.
I have been completely relying on myself and clearly- this is not working for me. One of the major points in the sermon was that if you do what is easy in life, life gets harder. If you do what’s hard, life gets easier. Case in point for me- my weight. If I continue to do what’s easy and just eat yummy-but-so-bad-for-you-food and continue to sit on my butt, I am going to get fatter. I am going to have less energy and my health, at 24 years old, is going to deteriorate. On the other side, if I do what’s hard and deny myself calorie-filled-bad-for-you-food and set aside time to be active, I am going to lose the weight, have more energy, feel better, and not break down crying in a fitting room (yes- that happened on Saturday). I have hit a low in my physical health and self-esteem and I am completely aware of it, but yet do not have the strength on my own to change it. That was a fantastic realization yesterday- that I CANNOT change this on my own strength. I HAVE to rely on God. This has been very clearly laid out for me in the past week. At small group last week people were sharing victories they have had in their lives and how they realized they could not overcome difficult things on their own and had to rely on God to give them the strength and discipline to do it. Could this be beat into my head any more clearly? I hear you God. I finally hear You.
So, readers, thank you for starting on this journey with me and thank you in advance for your patience and support. This is not something that is easy for me to write about and I have only very recently actually acknowledged that this is a problem. Thanks again and I will leave you with this Scripture because it tells us that God has given us the tools to do the hard things:

2 Timothy 1:7 (New International Version)

7 For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.

A Thousand Splendid Suns - A Review and Little-life update

After more than 189 weeks on the New York Timesbestseller list for The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini returns with a beautiful, riveting, and haunting novel that confirms his place as one of the most important literary writers today. Propelled by the same superb instinct for storytelling that made The Kite Runnera beloved classic, A Thousand Splendid Sunsis at once an incredible chronicle of thirty years of Afghan history and a deeply moving story of family, friendship, faith, and the salvation to be found in love. Born a generation apart and with very different ideas about love and family, Mariam and Laila are two women brought jarringly together by war, by loss and by fate. As they endure the ever escalating dangers around them-in their home as well as in the streets of Kabul-they come to form a bond that makes them both sisters and mother-daughter to each other, and that will ultimately alter the course not just of their own lives but of the next generation. With heart-wrenching power and suspense, Hosseini shows how a woman's love for her family can move her to shocking and heroic acts of self-sacrifice, and that in the end it is love, or even the memory of love, that is often the key to survival. A stunning accomplishment, A Thousand Splendid Sunsis a haunting, heartbreaking, compelling story of an unforgiving time, an unlikely friendship, and an indestructible love

Oh. my. gosh. First off, *SPOILER ALERTS* I don't know how I can review/discuss this book without completely shattering every plot point. So- spoilers abounding my friends. If you haven't read this book- you should skip this review, go to the nearest library and get it, read it, come back here and then discuss your views of this incredible story. For the record, I am giving it a 5/5 - so worth the read. I was really nervous about reading this book, because I had a very difficult time with the Kite Runner, but it was so different in so many ways and I think more relate-able for me, since I am a woman.

Ok. Now, where to start... (maybe the beginning eh?)  This book takes you on a journey in 2 women's lives that are completely different and end up becoming completely entwined with each other's. This story is about love, loss, war, struggle, heartbreak, abuse, sacrifice, and family. I am near tears just thinking about this story. I think I am just going to have to give you a plot summary because this book truly speaks for itself:

The first character we meet is Mariam. She is the illegitimate daughter of a prominent businessman and so is growing up in a hovel on the outskirts of town. She gets visits from her father, who she idolizes, once weekly. her life is turned upside down when Mariam is 14 years old because her mother kills herself. She is then rushed into an arranged marriage as to not disgrace her father. More about this amazing character later.

Then there is Rasheed- the husband. There were glimmers in this book when I almost liked him. It almost makes me sick that I felt this way about him, since I now know how it all ends, but I was seeing him through Mariam's eyes. He was not unkind to her early on in their marriage and tried to make her comfortable since he knew she was a young, scared girl. I was nearly proud of him for being sweet to her and buying her gifts because I know that's not what the culture would generally teach (from my limited understanding of middle-eastern culture). I was pretty irritated when he made Mariam where a burka all the time in public, but it made her feel safer, so even that was OK for me, for awhile. Then Rasheed starting to become distant, condescending, and abusive... right about the time Mariam starting having miscarriages.

These left her heartbroken and wounded. She was so thrilled at the prospect of motherhood and so crushed when she lost baby, after baby, after baby. I think there were 8 times in all. She was sheltered and isolated from even her neighbors. She wasn't allowed to be in the main rooms when Rasheed had company and had no one to lean on through her struggles. In the meantime, her country is being torn apart by war. First the communists take control and then warlords, and then the Taliban.

And then we meet Laila. What a girl. Laila comes from a different background than Mariam. Her father is a teacher/professor and highly values education. He doesn't want Laila to rush into marriage, because it can wait. She is very close with her father. Laila also has Tariq. He is the love of her life and she is crushed when he tells her that him and his family are leaving Afghanistan. In the grief and emotion of that moment, Laila and Tariq make love. He wants to marry her and take her with them, but she won't leave her father. Luckily, only 2 weeks later her family decides to leave too and as Laila is taking boxes out of her house it is hit by a bomb and destroyed. Who pulls her out of the rubble? Rasheed.
And what would you do with a beautiful, young girl you pull out of rubble and nurse back to health who is newly orphaned with no family? Marry her of course.

As you can imagine, this didn't go over well with Mariam. It went even less well when Laila announced she is pregnant (it's Tariq's- which is why she agreed to the marriage to Rasheed). Laila receives news from a visitor that Tariq has died due to a bombing. This man claims to have spent time with him in the hospital until he died. Laila is crushed, and like Mariam, has no one to share her grief with. However, over time, Mariam's heart thaws towards Laila and her little girl. These women become a family of sorts and a source of mutual support and love for one another. They weather Rasheed's storms together.

Rasheed becomes increasingly violent over the years, once even putting a pistol in Laila's mouth when she fought back during a beating. Laila has another pregnancy and has difficulty with the delivery. She ends up at a hospital for women, which has no medications or supplies because the Taliban are in charge. Laila goes through a cesarean birth without anesthesia. (This scene made me physically cringe with my whole body. I admire this character so much) She ends up giving birth to a son which Rasheed couldn't be happier about, but he cannot feed the whole family. He forces Laila to put her daughter in an orphanage. She fights to see her daughter on a daily basis- enduring beatings from Taliban soldiers on the streets and from Rasheed at home.

Then, one day, Tariq shows up on Laila's doorstep, very much alive and well. This is the point which I could no longer forgive Rasheed for anything he did. He set up this man to lie to Laila to make her believe Tariq was dead so she would not try to run away. APPALLING. On this night the beating was so severe that Rasheed truly meant to kill Laila. The only thing that stopped him was Mariam- burying a shovel in his forehead. At this point in the story Mariam realizes she is choosing her own path for the first time in her life. She sacrifices everything for Laila and the children to enable them to have a good life. A life outside of Kabul's war-torn, bombed streets, a life without Rasheed, a life with her daughter and with Tariq. Mariam is eventually executed for her crime, but without regrets. Laila and Tariq are able to be married and live outside of Kabul for a time, but then return after the Taliban loses power to help with schooling and an orphanage where her dear daughter had to stay while Rasheed was alive.

A. MAZ. ING. This story was so incredible. I loved every word of it. Anyone else out there read and love this book as much as  I did?


I wanted to keep people posted on how I am doing with my  healthy life changing goals. So far, OK. I have had pretty healthy breakfasts all week, ranging from an over-easy egg on an English muffin with OJ to whole wheat waffles with all natural peanut butter and milk to a Fiber One pop-tart in my meeting this morning. I have had yogurt or a dan-active smoothie almost every day and have started my new digestive supplement, Align, which seems to be working out well.
I kind of tanked on lunch yesterday- Arby's hot ham and cheese w/ curly fries. Other days this week I had soups or leftover pasta from home (which was made with whole wheat penne and organic marinara sauce).
Dinners have been OK- baked pasta was eaten a few times (gotta love the leftovers!). Two nights ago I made my Mexican rice w/ tortillas - super super super easy meal!! Ready in 10 min!! Here's the recipe:

White Rice (I prefer the 5 min rice)
frozen corn,
can of salsa

Cook rice first, add in salsa. I like the steam-fresh frozen veggies, so I add my corn in already cooked, but you don't need too. Toast the tortillas in the oven if you want! That's all there is to it and you can add as much other schtuff as you want to the rice mix. I have had friends make it with black beans and onions too. Super yummy.

I have also found my new, most-favorite snack ever! They are Mountain Blueberry Flax Granola Crisps. Yogi is the brand. They are delish!
I attended my first belly-dancing class on Tuesday and have been little more than a lump on my couch the rest of the week, save for last night when I was a lump at someone elses house during small group :)Belly dancing was fun and interesting. If I had to judge from the first night, I don't think its a class I am going to love as much as I did pole-dancing, but it will be fun and different and it is a night spent NOT on the couch.

Anyone else out there struggling with making healthy life changes? What have you found to work for you or not work?

"You're fat because you're happy!"

Yeah.... sure. I love that we tell ourselves that we are happy and that is the reason for the overweight-ness. I'm not sure exactly when it hit me... but I have recently realized I got fat. There really isn't any other way around it. I have gained a net of 30 pounds since I graduated high school 5 years ago. I was too embarrassed to go to my 5-year reunion because I looked like this:
Yes- that's an ice cream sandwich in my hand. Go ahead and judge me. This is the actual day my 5 year high school reunion took place. I arguably had more fun in Chicago with my husband's amazing family riding segways than I would have at the reunion, but still, it's a good visual aid. I am calling this "Fat Ashlea". (I even saved the bmp. file under that title) I am writing this post about my struggle with the hopes that I can accomplish some life-changes in the next year and hold myself accountable to this journey since I am putting it out there for the world to see. It is important to me to make long-term, lifestyle changes, so that I don't just put the weight back on once I manage to lose it.

So, here are some of the things I struggle with:

1. FOOD. I eat horribly. Carbs are my fav. Chocolate is my friend. I can watch my husband down an entire plate of brownies and think that having 3 isn't that bad. Family gatherings also center around yummy and so bad for you food. (chocolate chip cookies to celebrate the Emmys? Sure I'll come over!) 
I also have ZERO self-discipline. I am trying to give up soda in No-Pop November (except for Sprite. so sue me) and my goal is to have a Don't-Do-Lunch December and brown-bag it everyday that month. I read somewhere that if you can do something for 21 days it becomes a habit so I am hoping the no pop and brown-bagging lunches stick with me for good. That's the idea anyway.

2. Stress. It's a killer and eating bad food makes me feel good. I was having an awful day at work today, so instead of eating my brown bag lunch (it wasn't all that healthy- Ramen...) I went to Target and got some breaded chicken tenders. The stress also causes fat producing hormones or something... I think it's called Cortosil... there's an informerical.

3. Excersise. Now, I legit try with this one. I just feel like there are better things I could be doing with my time, like shopping, crafting, playing with my pups, or reading a book. :) See #1 for self-discipline skills.

Now, how am I going to fix it? My main motivation is my own self-esteem and my health. I want to feel healthy and gosh darnit- I want to feel sexy! I am a newlywed (kind of) for crying out loud- I should never want to have clothes on! Another motivating factor is a future family. I want to be healthy before my body is housing another person and I want to be able to establish healthy habits for my munchkins from day one. 

 So, in a 2-birds-with-1-stone effort, I have taken a pole-dancing work-out class. The entire class is designed to make women feel sexy and confident.... and shed a few pounds along the way. By the end of 8 weeks I learned an entire routine! Now that is over and I am starting another fun work-out class tomorrow night: belly dancing! 
I hope to supplement these workouts with some weight-lifting at the gym at work and another 2-birds-1-stone effort: yoga. I love doing yoga and it is all about centering yourself and letting go of the stress in your life. I really carry my stress with my physically in my very tight neck and shoulders. I want to be able to release my body from this and increase my flexibilty and tone my bod at the same time. I did get a great deal on Groupon for a 2 month unlimited pass for Bikrim yoga, but am going to save that until it's colder outside. In the meantime, I am looking for a local yoga place that's not too expensive. I would ideally like to do it once a week for now.

So that's my rough plan for the stress and the exercise. I am taking baby-steps with the diet because I really want to have some lasting changes. My first goals are going to be to have healthier breakfasts, incorporating granola, yogurt, and some protein into the mornings instead of my much-loved Count Chocula. I have also started taking a multi-vitamin and picked up a probiotic supplement to hopefully help my digestion issues. 

And now I feel like I have officially bared all of my insecurities to the blogosphere. Feeling a little raw and discouraged... maybe I will go eat some oreos. (just kidding.... maybe). :) Be gentle with me.