Friday, March 29, 2013

Egg-cellent Easter Decor

This week has been full of chaos. Every day this week has really epitomized "one of those days." Yesterday even took it to a new level.

I seem to have industrial strength adhesive stuck to my hip, because my little man simply will not let me put him down. (This morning, he clutched at my shirt for dear life and immediately started crying when I handed him off to Daddy) It also means he hasn't been napping (yesterday nap time = zero) and leaving me less time for all those important two-handed tasks. Meanwhile, I've also been trying to finish up my March Madness challenge and plan for a great Easter.

While these aren't the finished products, my Easter endeavors are coming along nicely.

Table setting

I decided to go with a green, blue and yellow color scheme this year. Still working out the details (and figuring out which of my goodies I'll be using) but here's the work in progress so far.

Easter goodies. Love the butterflies from Michaels and the egg pedestals from Pier 1.
Tulips for the table. (I love spring!)
My not-yet-finished place setting. I'm thinking I'll dye eggs light blue and write everyone's names on them.


(For any grandparents who would like Brayden's card to be a surprise, now is the time to stop reading)











Easter greetings for the grandparents & family

Easter love for Brayden's cousins

And there you have it. My unfinished work-in-progress of a table and my (thankfully) finished cards!
Next on the list: Easter dinner. Yum! ♥

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Little Things

It really is true that little things make all the difference.

It's the little things that make a relationship special, a vacation memorable or a day amazing. Seeing St. Mark's Basilica or the Rialto Bridge in Venice were great - but I have much fonder memories of talking to the owner of a little glass shop about his journalist son who lives in Australia. Lauren and I went back to the shop to buy wine glasses and stopped by again the next day just to chat. Before we left on our final day, the owner (who spoke about ten different languages) gave me a gift: a necklace make of hand-blown glass beads. To me, that was much better than seeing something on a postcard.
There are several people close to me going through a challenging time in their lives right now. They have been in my thoughts quite a bit. Not only have their situations made me appreciate all of the big blessings in my life, but it has made me appreciate the little things even more. No matter how difficult life is at the moment, you can always find joy in the little things of life. So whatever is going on in your life right now - whether good or bad - try to remember that you can always find a reason to smile and a little joy to fill your heart.

♥ Coming home to see my husband (via the baby monitor) putting on a "puppet show" with a giant teddy bear for our little boy (so sweet!).

♥ The beautiful budding cherry blossoms in our neighborhood signifying that spring is just around the corner

Washington's well-known cherry blossoms are finally starting to bloom
♥ While out jogging, seeing a man pull his truck over to help a few stray geese make their way across a busy street

♥ Finally finding the perfect use for a beautiful vase I bought a while back

♥ Seeing my little guy in the cutest sweater ever (I could not look at him without smiling!) - and getting pictures of him on a mini-golf course during Easter festivities

The look on his face says Brayden is not impressed. I, however, was.
♥ The hilarious banter between my family members in our March Madness pool

♥ My pediatrician's genuine excitement and enthusiasm at our nine month appointment about how healthy my little boy is (and that he finally gained some weight!)

♥ Being lucky enough to see (and attentive enough to notice) all of the little accomplishments and observations my baby boy makes each day - learning to drop a ball in the top of a spiral slide toy, discovering the wonder of the rising garage door, trying to play fetch with our dog...

Love the quizzical look on his face as he figures out another feature of his toy.
♥ That great feeling of accomplishment + fatigue after completing a nearly six-mile run for the first time since before I was pregnant

♥ Seeing one of our dogs give the baby kisses when he was crying (although to be fair, she's aways trying to molest him)

♥ My little man's other top tooth finally breaking through!

♥ Waking up to unexpected snow this morning. Mother Nature must not have checked her Blackberry calendar. It is almost April, after all. :)

Scarlet watching the snow fall out the window.
♥ Making time to watch a movie with the hubby this week and then making jokes and dubbing dialogue with silly things once we realized just how awful the movie was

♥ The excitement of signing up for a totally quirky and fun color-bombing 5K this summer (brought to my attention by another mom!)

♥ Finally picking back up on a book I started reading months ago. Who knows - maybe I'll actually be able to finish it.

What are the little joys and blessings you've had this past week? I hope the upcoming week is full of even more of them and that you choose to notice and focus on the wonderful little things instead of on the inevitable things that may go wrong.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

2 more teeth & 6 pound pies

Not to state the obvious, but I've been doing quite a bit of cooking lately. I think my food-loving munchkin may be getting a bit jealous of all the good eats Mommy & Daddy are privy to because lately, his tooth production has gone into overdrive. He's been working on his two front (upper) teeth for what seems like forever now and one of them finally cut through! The other one isn't far behind, so it won't be long before my baby has four little chompers.

Brayden is doing just fabulous - getting quirkier and sillier with every passing day. He still lunges at me with his tongue out when I ask for a kiss (to which my loving hubby always answers with a loud "GROSS!" exclamation, but I not-so-secretly adore). He loves trying new foods and especially loves feeding himself (he's getting pretty darn good at bringing a loaded spoon to his mouth). He eats like a high school athlete and is nearly as active as one. His sleep habits are (finally) healthy and almost-regular. He's on a loose schedule (with naps around 8:30 or 9 and again around 1 or 2) but still is pretty sensitive to disruptive days. We went on a day-trip to his Aunt & Uncle's house on Saturday and ever since then, he's been waking up earlier than usual in the morning and only taking 40-45 minute naps, which is just killing both of us (any tips on how to break the cycle are appreciated). Other than the overtired start to the week, everyone here is doing just dandy.

Happy Eater.
March Madness has certainly lived up to its name thus far. The cooking has been time-consuming and messy (thank goodness for the "I cook, you clean" motto I've employed with my dear hubby). Despite the unfortunate consequences, we've been really enjoying the meals. The second batch of recipes was no less amazing than the first. The highlight was definitely the deep dish apple pie I made. Using five pounds of apples, this thing was a MONSTER. And absolutely delicious. This was one of the few recipes from the Smitten Kitchen that I altered (I prefer certain spices more than others and adjusted the sugar level for the filling). It came out fabulously - homemade crust and all. The only lowlights this week were the recipes that were "nothing special." Nothing was bad - a few things just weren't great. We have quite a bit on the menu for the last part of the month, and have high hopes for more winning dishes.

Poor hubby.
The other facets of my March Madness challenge have been a bit dwarfed by all the time spent cooking. I've been able to stick to a regular running schedule for the most part but have been plagued with some moderate knee pain lately. I'm still hoping it will get better, but will have to just wait and see. As for the writing, I ran into a bit of a roadblock right out of the gate. Although I'm antsy to start back up on my book, I realized that I wasn't going to get too far with the mess I'd created. I had six different notebooks haphazardly scribbled with thoughts for this book (as well as future book ideas). So even though I'd love to be working on the narrative of my book, I decided I should probably organize my notes and thoughts into a system that wasn't a black hole for ideas. If I really use my time wisely, I might be able to finish the organization this week and be back to the book over the weekend. Fingers crossed on that one.

In short, it's been an insane month so far. But you know what? I kind of like it. :)

1. Cinnamon french toast: Run of the mill french toast. I was excited that you baked it in an oven instead of cooking each slice individually, but with the way the slices were supposed to be laid out, part of the toast was crispy and part was soft.
2. Grapefruit olive oil pound cake: This was incredible. So moist and flavorful without having an obnoxiously citrus flavor to it. I think it only survived two days in our house.
3. Flat roasted chicken with tiny potatoes: The lowlight of the bunch. Just a basic roasted chicken with lemon flavor. My go-to roasted chicken recipe has a lot more complex (and tasty) flavors than this one.
4. Chocolate chip brioche pretzels: The hubby doesn't like chocolate in his breads so he wasn't a huge fan of this (I thought it was okay). Other than the chocolate, the texture and the dough were really good. It would be worth another try without the chocolate.
5. Margarita pizza with homemade dough: I was skeptical of 45-minute pizza dough (since it has yeast in it, I figured it would take the traditional few hours to rise). She had a trick that made it work and it turned out great. Very tasty. Definitely a recipe I'll keep on hand since it was quick and easy enough to make while holding a baby.
6. Brownie roll-out cookies: I made these at the same time as the popcorn cookies and I think they were overshadowed by their colleagues. But they were REALLY good. The flavor was very smooth (not an overpowering chocolate, but still very really flavorful) and had a great brownie-like texture.
7. Buttered popcorn cookies: Outstanding. The salty and sweet was phenomenal.
8. Sweet & sour brisket with roasted fingerling and carrot coins: I'm not really a red-meat eater, but I did taste it and it had great flavor and tenderness. Everyone else who ate it thought the same.
9. Rosemary Gruyere sea salt crisps: Me and Lauren went crazy over these. They were amazing. We especially loved the texture - they were like moist and chewy (but still crunchy) crackers.
10. Pancetta, white bean and Swiss chard pot pies: One of my favorites to date. The filling was so flavorful but balanced and all the vegetables really came out in it. I used my own vegetable stock in the recipe (which I swear makes a huge difference) and the lid was just as tasty.
11. Deepest dish apple pie: Instant hit. With my amendments to the recipe, it's definitely my go-to apple pie recipe.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Tuesday's 10: Baby Quirks

Tuesday's seem like a good day for a "Ten Things" list. Today's ten things are some of my little guy's favorite quirks and traits. Given his overly silly parents, Brayden has quite a surplus of them. A few of my favorite Braydenisms...

1. Crossing his legs like a businessman when I change his diaper and he's not wearing anything.

2. Sticking out his tongue when making an effort to do something (or think about something)

In case you're wondering, that's an airline bag of pretzels he's holding up to his face in the top right. Maybe he's thinking about why he's doing that.
 3. Choosing which laws of the physics he wants to follow (Gravity is not one of them).

4. Making up his own rules of the universe: Blocks can never be stacked in his presence. The purple phone on his farm toy can never be on the hook. Mommy is never allowed to make a meal without holding him.

5. Clapping after getting up from a spill. Laughing when he's sliding down stairs or teetering on the edge of the bed/couch (then looking over at me with a big smile because he knows I'll catch him).

6. Being in a hurry to get nowhere. He doesn't know where he's going, but he sure wants to get there quickly.

Must. Go. Faster.
7. Having the funniest "weaknesses." If we ever want to distract Brayden, we just have to put a shoe with laces on the floor in front of him (or a remote control).

8. Random (joyful) outbursts. Two nights ago (right before bed, of course), he and I had a ridiculous laughing fit together. I would look at him and he would squeal. Then I'd take a step towards him and he would squeal and scream with joy. It went on like that until he was laughing so hard he could hardly breath. Lauren was cracking up on the sidelines and just kept saying he'd never heard Brayden laugh like that before.

My sweet little quirky baby. I love his random fits of joy (and squeals!).
9. Flirting with the ladies (curiously, he usually only goes for the good-looking ones).

10. Always having something to smile about. As a parent, you get a lot of unsolicited advice and criticism thrown your way from strangers. A cashier at Target actually said the nicest thing ever to me. After commenting about the happy baby I have, she said "Happy Mommy, happy baby. He's around you more than anyone else, so that's where he gets it from." I hope I have something to do with it. If I do, I'm going to make sure that bright-eyed smile never fades. ♥

Lovin' life. :)

Friday, March 8, 2013

So. Much. Food.

With the March Madness cooking spree I'm on, I'd like to extend an invitation to anyone in need (or want) of a home-cooked meal. Come over. Please. Help us eat all the food I've been cooking. I've already played delivery-lady and handed out food to all my neighbors (because it's totally normal to bring cheddar cheese rolls to someone's house as an unsolicited gift). And yet, our fridge is still full. Thankfully, it has (mostly) been extremely yummy.

So far, The Smitten Kitchen cookbook is a complete winner. We tried seven different recipes this week and only one of them was something I wouldn't make again. First week highlights include homemade gnocchi (way easier than I thought it would be) and something I never thought I'd follow a recipe for: mashed potatoes. My husband is a true connoisseur of mashed potatoes, and I came downstairs to find him alternating between stirring the pot of nearly finished potatoes and licking the spoon. He responded to my "are-you-serious?" look by simply asking, "Can we please eat? These are amazing." The recipe was for browned-butter mashed potatoes and tomato glazed meatloaves. I've never used browned butter before and was a bit worried that all I was really doing was burning it, but the delicious mound of potatoes said otherwise. If mashed potatoes can taste way better than, well, mashed potatoes, these did.

The only true lowlight so far has been a pasta dish (which sure looked tasty before we dove in). The recipe was for cauliflower pesto linguine, and even though there seemed like there should have been a lot of great flavor in it (roasted almonds, Romano cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, parsley), it was as bland as can be. I normally wouldn't even have tried something calling for cauliflower pesto (I prefer to eat my cauliflower as, well, cauliflower), but on this cooking venture, I've decided to branch out and choose recipes I normally wouldn't have gravitated towards. It's worked out in our favor so far - with the exception of the weird, flavorless pasta, of course.

I'm holding off on a full critique of the cookbook until the end of my cooking escapade. But for now, I can say I'm really impressed. The recipes we've tried have been truly terrific.

1. Mustard Milanese with arugula fennel salad: A bit too much mustard for someone who's not a huge fan, but the mustard-loving hubby really enjoyed it
2. Cheddar swirl breakfast buns: Delicious. Since Lauren has a weird "no melted cheese for breakfast" thing, these will be more like dinner rolls for us in the future. And yes, I actually took half the batch to a neighbors house.
3. Gnocchi in tomato broth: Excellent. Easier than expected and no strange materials were needed (the recipe avoided a food mill/ricer by using a box grater).
4. Tomato glazed meatloaves with brown butter mashed potatoes: Amazing. The mashed potatoes were stupidly good.
5. Emmentealer on rye with sweet and sour red onions: Soooo good... even the "I don't really like grilled cheese" man in the house loved it.
6. Linguine with cauliflower pesto: The only miss so far. I think the cauliflower really muted the other flavors in this dish and it came out as a boring, flavorless pile of noodles.
7. Gooey cinnamon squares: These are really good. It is a very unique dessert that's not quite cake (too gooey), not brownie (it's not chocolate) but some delicious place in between. The non-chocolate brownie, perhaps.

Friday, March 1, 2013

My March Madness Challenge

I'm a big fan of March Madness. And with Michigan going strong this year, it should be even more exciting than usual. I fully anticipate Brayden hearing a bevy of inappropriate language and just hope that I don't have to talk my husband down from the ledge - again.

While I'm certainly looking forward to the many hours spent filling out brackets and watching basketball, I've decided to take on my own March Madness Challenge. And because (as usual) my aspirations are overly ambitious, I'm honestly not sure how it's going to pan out.

Since my world essentially revolves around the two men in my life, I wanted to try to focus on some other aspects of my life this month (already you're seeing why this will be such a challenge, no?). That's the inspiration for the chaos. And now the chaos itself.

The Cooking Part

Despite owning enough cookbooks to try a new recipe a day for the rest of my life, I have never gone through one cover to cover. (Don't worry, this isn't going to be a Julia and Julia moment here) For Christmas, one of my sisters bought me the cookbook I had been eyeing - The Smitten Kitchen. If I were going to try every recipe in a cookbook, this would be the one. I can honestly say there aren't many recipes that don't look delicious.

I may eventually go though all of them, but I'm aiming smaller for now. I'm shooting for 30 recipes in 30 days (because come on, I don't need another thing to think about on Easter!). This includes breakfast, lunch, dinner and desserts - so my husband should be getting an even bigger array of meals than usual. I already cook quite a bit, but with this goal, it's going to be amped up even more.(Potential bonus = the possibility that Brayden will learn that between the hours of 5 and 6, he actually does not need to be held by me)

The menu is planned, the groceries for the week are stored and meal #1 starts tonight.

The Running Part

When I get busy, working out gets cut way more often than it should. I know that I feel more energized when I'm running and doing yoga; I know that it keeps me sane keeps me from killing my husband when he asks me something I've told him a dozen times; I know that despite the effort involved, it really is great time for myself. And yet, when the stress level rises, the working out falls.

In hopes of getting myself to the mat more often, I already bought a multi-class yoga pass that expires in mid-April. And now I've decided to register for the GW Parkway Classic. I've done this race a few times and it's one of my favorites. It's a 10-miler in April and the course is just beautiful. Hopefully, with that looming in front of me, I will have to make time to run. Right?

And finally, the most difficult one of all...

The Writing Part

This is it. This is going to be the month that I finally (yes, finally) resume writing my book. (Though really, I should just say "start writing my book" since ten pages doesn't count for much)

I've always had some overriding reason why I can't do it. Grad school. Full-time reporting. Full-time reporting on the Hill. Grad school again. Teaching. Oh and the recent favorite - "um, I have a baby." There's always going to be something going on in my life that keeps me busy. If I just keep waiting until I have enough free time to write it, it simply won't get written. And seeing as how this is one of my life goals to write books, that's not the path I want to take.

So March is going to be the month. This weekend, I'm going to get everything organized and talk to Lauren about getting me some blocks of uninterrupted writing time each week. He's been pretty darn supportive of this endeavor so far, so I'm sure we'll be able to figure something out. And for the record, this is a "good faith" goal. There's no 30-in-30 or 10-mile race date. It's just a good faith effort to get myself into a regular writing pattern this month.

And there you have it. My own March Madness Challenge. With the number of hours in a day and the number of hours that all this requires, I doubt I'll be a No. 2 seed. But come on, everyone knows that March Madness is a time for upsets. :)