Friday, December 30, 2011

Seasons of Love

It feels as though the last few weeks have flown by in a blur of wrapping paper, visits with family, and trips back and forth to Kalamazoo and Detroit. We've celebrated Christmas (several times over), my grandmother's 90th birthday, my mother-in-law's retirement, and Anna's 2nd birthday. I have lots of pictures and videos to share, but right now I'm too exhausted to try to go through them all so it will have to wait until another day.

Although I had to include this one, since it pretty much sums up how partied-out we're all feeling.

I had the thought this morning that I had probably reached my one-year "blogiversary" - and I was right. I wrote my very first post on December 29th of last year. And then I got to thinking about this past year, because isn't that kind of what you do when it's time to pull out a new calendar? One of my favorite songs (really - you should hear me bust it out when it pops up on one of my Pandora stations) is from the musical "Rent".

But maybe instead of 525,600 minutes, I could measure my year in the 65 or so blog posts I've written.
Since I have such a nice way to look back over the last twelve months, I thought I'd share with you some of my favorite memories.

Mike and I were talking about how this, the second year of our daughter's life, has gone much faster than the first. And it's probably because we have been sleeping a lot more.

I faced the harsh, cold reality that I no longer look like a college student, even if I can kick really high. I also learned that I'm falling behind on the times.

I struggled with my new identity as a mother, but I also ran my first half marathon and finished my Master's degree. Woot woot!

I discovered some delicious new recipes: fronanas, zucchini chicken salad, and the life-changing cake balls.

My sister came to stay for awhile, and she convinced me to get organized.

My brother-in-law came to stay for awhile, and he reminded me to be grateful for what I have.

And I learned some important lessons about motherhood, like how you should remove dead birds from a toddler's view, how nursing Anna has been awesome, and how time moves way too fast.

I am so thankful to all of you for reading my words and for your encouragement and thoughtful comments - on here and on my Facebook page.

I wish all of you a happy 2012 and hope that the last year has been as good to you as it has been to me and my little family.

How do you measure a year? Any resolutions?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

My Runaway Bunny

"If you become a bird and fly away from me," said his mother, "I will be a tree that you come home to." From The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown

A few weeks back, as Anna gleefully paraded around the basement completely naked, Mike turned to me and said, "You know, I'm going to be really sad when I can't just squeeze her little butt whenever I want."

And I laughed and agreed, and then quickly became distracted. (Most likely by something along the lines of "Please, Anna, do NOT pee on couch". My life is very glamorous, you know.) But his words have been sticking with me.

Here we are, on the anniversary of the day Anna came into our lives, and I can't help but feel sentimental. Because he's right. How many times in a day do I tell her I love her? How often do I smoosh my lips against her cheek and inhale her smell? How much do I love tickling her tummy and hearing her squeal with delight? And how soon until she wants nothing to do with any of those things?

When you become a parent, the learning curve is steep and you grow and change in ways you never expected. One of the biggest realizations, I think for both Mike and myself, though, has been the fact that we are to our parents what Anna is to us.

I understand now why my mom insists I call her when I arrive safely home. And why my dad showed up to every softball game I ever played in. I get it.

At some point in time, they laughed at all the silly things I did and marveled at my cute little butt as I pranced around free of clothing.

In one of my favorite blogs, the author shared a trick she uses for when her babies are waking her up in the middle of the night or driving her up a wall. She says she imagines it is twenty or thirty years in the future, and her little ones are all grown up and living their own lives, and for one night she is allowed to travel back in time to hug them and snuggle them and rock them again as babies.

Mike thinks I'm crazy, but I sometimes start feeling sad when I think too hard about the fact that someday Anna will be spreading her wings to head off to college or start her own family. I know that she is only two. But I also know that these past two years have gone by in a quick blur, and from what I hear, it only starts to fly by faster. Right now, she is our everything, and I have a hard time imagining it any other way.

Anna, let me say this: No matter where your life takes you, no matter who you become, your dad and I will always be the tree you can fly home to.

As long as you let me pinch that cute little butt of yours.

Happy Birthday, Anna!

And Mom and Dad, in case you were wondering, my butt, while not quite as little as it once was, is still pretty darn cute. At least that's what Mike tells me.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Pass the Wine, Please

This mama is hittin' the road in a few hours. It seems a little self-indulgent to be leaving Anna and Mike for the weekend, what with Christmas and Anna's birthday right around the corner, but sometimes a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do, right? And this girl couldn't be more excited for a few bottles glasses of wine, some Christmas shopping, and bonding time with my sister. I also get to dress up and wear a mask to help celebrate a friend entering into her third decade. If you hear someone shouting "I'm free! I'm free!" around four this afternoon, it's probably me as we pull out of the driveway. Don't judge.

And just so I have some pictures to look at when I start to miss my little family, probably right around five o'clock, here are some from the past few weeks that I've been meaning to share...

Our first big snowstorm of the year. All these outdoor shots were taken by Mike.

Nose kisses!

Taking a walk with Oma and Opa.

Our pin-head snowman. I got lazy. Anna was not pulling her weight.

I also want to share a few pics of my bathroom.

Remember when it looked like this?

Well, my amazing mother-in-law Winnie came to the rescue last week. And if I felt stupid before for waiting so long to scrape that damn wallpaper off, I can't begin to tell you how moronic I felt after our work was done. Because the bathroom looks amazing. Like, I walk in there and I'm all "Ahhhhhh." And we had a ton of fun sanding and taping and painting. So, lesson learned: don't look at something ugly for almost two years when it takes like three enjoyable hours to change it.

I just noticed the empty paper towel roll on the floor. Sigh. Some things never change, right?

Winnie painted this cabinet - how awesome is it?

That's all I've got for now.

Enjoy your weekend - I know I will!

Happy Friday!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Franks and Beans! Franks and Beans!

When it comes to this time of the year, I really struggle with all the ordinary, boring, every day stuff. Why would I want to be folding laundry when I could be perusing the Interwebs for more Christmas goodies for Anna? How in the world can I be expected to sweep or mop my floors when there is holiday music to listen to while I get my craft on? And, really, how can I be expected to grocery shop and cook wholesome meals when all of my magazines and Pinterest pins are filled with peppermint-y, sugary, fatty, amazing sounding treats? I honestly think I could spend the entire month of December baking cookies, drinking peppermint mochas, watching Love Actually, and clicking the "add to my cart" button on Zulily.

Alas, I do not have the life of Buddy the Elf, and I have a family to feed and take care of. So in between all the fun stuff, I try to squeeze in a few loads of laundry and at least a couple servings of vegetables. Even better if I can do it with minimum mess and cost, right?

I found this recipe about a year ago in Everyday Food magazine, and I would say it's been in our two-week rotation pretty consistently since then. It's super easy to make, pretty healthy, and it all comes together in one pot, which makes this dishwasher oh-so-happy. It's also cheap. I guess I've never officially done the math, but I would bet all the ingredients together cost less than ten bucks.

For the longest time, we just called it "Turkey Sausage and Beans", because that's pretty much what it is. And then I passed the recipe along to Kristin and Drew, who made it and promptly named it "Mike's Franks and Beans". Which is kind of perfect, and also makes me think of There's Something About Mary every time I say it.

On second thought, though, maybe you don't really want to think about Ted's unfortunate zipper incident while you're eating this...

Anyways, here is the recipe for Mike's Franks and Beans. Enjoy!

2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound kielbasa or other smoked sausage, halved lengthwise and cut into 1-inch pieces (I use turkey kielbasa - I find in recipes like this you can't really tell the difference and it's a little healthier!)
3 medium carrots, diced small
2 shallots, diced small (I've used red onions if I didn't have shallots)
salt & pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cans black beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth (basically one can)
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (I usually skip this. I know lots of cooks say it adds so much flavor, but I'm lazy and always seem to end up throwing most of it away.)
sour cream or plain yogurt, for serving

1. In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add sausage and cook until browned on all sides, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a plate.

2. Add carrots and shallots to skillet and cook until beginning to soften, about 4 minutes; season with salt and pepper. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.

3. Add black beans and broth and bring mixture to a boil. Add sausage, reduce heat to a rapid simmer, and cook until carrots are tender, about 12 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in parsley. Serve with a dollop of yogurt or sour cream.

Somewhere out there, Fievel is actually hung on a Christmas tree, instead of being dragged around by a toddler.

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What do you love the most about the holidays? How do you keep from spending all your time consuming Peanut Butter Blossoms and bedazzling your house?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

She's Crafty - And She's Just My Type

This is the one in which I get crafty. Or, if you prefer it a little fancier, craft-ay.

It seems as though all this non-running has taken a toll on not only my physical fitness, but my mental health as well. I can't begin to tell you the number of times I've woken up in the last six weeks from dreams of jogging. I never really noticed it too much, I guess, but apparently exercise is good for more than providing you the opportunity to devour ice cream every night and making your leg muscles a little stronger.

So without the outlet I used to get pounding the pavement, my muscles have been shrinking and I've been spending a lot of time on a little obsession website called Pinterest. (Don't worry, I've still been scarfing ice cream every night, so not all the benefits of exercise have been erased from my life.)

The best way to describe Pinterest, other than totally super awesome, is as this big virtual bulletin board where you can "pin" things you really like - recipes, home decorating ideas, wardrobe inspiration, funny quotes. So many times I've been browsing the Internet and come across a cool art project to make with Anna or a yummy-sounding recipe, only to completely forget about it an hour later. With Pinterest, I can "pin" it to one of my boards, and it's there for me to go back to when I have the time. I'm telling you, it rocks. (Full disclosure: when I showed the site to my sister for the first time, she was like, "Oh. So it's basically a bunch of shit that I will never do." Well, yeah, a little bit. But I also think it will inspire you.)

With all my extra energy, and all these amazing ideas being thrown at me from Pinterest, let's just say that my free time the last month or so has been filled with baking, knitting, glitter glue, spray paint, and many, many trips to Hobby Lobby and Michael's.

First up was this nifty little Thanksgiving banner:

I found it on Pinterest through a site that was offering a bunch of free printables. Check it out here. I actually made this at my sister's house, and we were both totally amazed that we were able to just print the letters on card stock using her normal printer and that they came out looking so cool.

I made playdough for Anna. I baked several different kinds of pumpkin cookies. I knit a scarf.

Yesterday, I spent ten bucks on supplies at Target and made this wreath. It literally took me twenty minutes, although I have to admit I skipped the part about gluing the ornaments together. And then it took me twenty more minutes to hang it because mine turned out kinda thick and the screen door wouldn't close. But regardless, I love it.

And finally, yesterday I hung my latest mantle decoration. This one was organized by my mom, who found the idea and bought all the supplies, but I really can't wait to put it to use. It's an advent calendar made from tiny mittens and clothes pins. The number tags are little price tags you can find at any office supply store - I stitched them on using embroidery floss, and then used glitter glue pens to write the numbers on. The plan is to fill each mitten with a little trinket or toy for Anna to get each day leading up to Christmas. I think it will be a small victory if she doesn't rip the whole thing down once she discovers there might be gummy bears hiding  in the mittens, but my hope is that this becomes a tradition for years to come.

I'm also working on one really big craft project for Anna, but lots more on that to come later.

If you're not on Pinterest, do it. Do it now. And let me know if you need an invitation, because I am more than happy to spread the love. And if you're already there, find me! Share your pins!

And before you start worrying that our entire house is going to be covered in glitter and yarn, I should tell you that I signed up for a spinning class tonight. My knee is starting to feel better, and even the most hardcore of crafters need a break now and then. Besides, wielding a glue gun is hard work - I need all the strength I can get.

Happy Crafting!

What are you doing to get ready for the holidays? Any fun crafts? Delicious recipes?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Her Soul Crawled Out From Its Hiding Place

One of my favorite books is Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God. Janie, the main character, goes through a couple of rough marriages and relationships before she finally meets the man she is meant to be with - Tea Cake. Janie starts wearing blue, because for the first time in her life, someone she loves has expressed a preference for what she wears: "Tea Cake love me in blue, so Ah wears it."

I have a point, I promise.

I never was too interested in experimenting in the kitchen. My mind is definitely filled with awesome memories of decorating cookies at the holidays with my mom and sister, and I certainly always enjoyed eating the delicious food my mom put on the table, but I wasn't ever that inspired to whip something up myself.

That all changed when I met Mike.

The old saying about the way to a man's heart being through his stomach? Yeah, you can say that again.

I quickly learned that the surest way to bring a smile to Mike's face was to present him with food. And I don't know about you, but when I discover I have the ability to bring joy to someone I love - well, I'm gonna bring it. It started off simple, usually involving fifteen phone calls to my mom from the aisles in the grocery store to make sure I was buying the right ingredients. And sandwiches. Lots and lots of sandwiches.

One day, I stumbled across the Food Network and happened to catch an episode of Rachael Ray's "Thirty Minute Meals". That, my friends, is what I like to call a game changer. Because I found her website, and then my mom bought me a few of her cookbooks (perhaps to avoid all the annoying phone calls?), and I subscribed to her magazine, and before I knew it Rach had me exploring the worlds of Italian parsley and EVOO and all things Yum-o! Full disclosure here - while I love her cookbooks and her magazine and often look recipes up on her website, I have a really, really hard time watching her on television. I know she has lots of haters, but the girl expanded my cooking horizons by about a million, so I give her props, even if I can't stand the sound of her voice.

And then she published a recipe for a beef and cheddar pie in her magazine, and the angels sang and Mike's stomach did a happy dance and the circle was complete.

This recipe, for what we now call "meat pie", probably gets requested the most when I ask Mike what he would like for dinner - if anything, it's a close second to BLTs (see - back to the sandwiches!). When I first invited our friends the Mansours over for dinner, this was on the menu. And, no joke, Mike said to me, "Wait. I have to share my meat pie with strangers?" And the last time I made this, again no joke, he told me that when he dies he would like to be buried in meat pie.

So now, I would like to share the recipe with you. It's definitely not healthy, although I suppose you could reduce the amount of cheese and use ground turkey or chicken instead of beef. It is delicious, though. If you don't believe me, just ask Mike.

Meat Pie

2 pounds ground beef
2 carrots, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1 large onion, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
2 stalks celery, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1 large clove garlic, finely chopped
1 large baking potato, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1/2 cup dark beer - I've used Newcastle and Bell's Best Brown, anything in your fridge will work
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
Salt and pepper
2 sheets frozen puff pastry, thawed but cold
1 large egg yolk, beaten with 1 tablespoon water

1. Preheat the oven to 375. Once you have all the veggies chopped up (for me, this is the longest/most annoying part), throw them into a big skillet with the meat. Over medium-high heat, break up the meat with a wooden spoon and stir everything up until the meat is no longer pink and some of the liquid has evaporated, probably about 15 minutes.

Lower the heat to medium, and then add your beer. Let that cook for about 10 minutes.

Throw in the cheese, 2 teaspoons of salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper. Give it a good stir, and then remove from heat and let cool. 

2. On a floured surface, roll out one of the puff pastry sheets so it's about 12 inches round. Place it on a deep-dish pie plate or a 10-inch oven-proof skillet. I use a skillet - I tried the first time to use just a regular pie dish (not deep) and it didn't all fit. I've also used a 9x9 Pyrex, but for me the skillet is the way to go.

Roll the second piece of pastry into an 11-inch round. Using a slotted spoon, scoop the meat mixture into the skillet. 

Lightly brush the edge of the crust with some of the egg wash, then put the second sheet on top. Crimp the edges together, and trim them if you need to.

3. Put the whole pie on a baking sheet. Brush the top with more of the egg wash, and cut an "x" in the middle. You can also get a little fancy here and cut out some shapes with your leftover pastry. Sprinkle it liberally with more salt and pepper. 

Bake for 45 minutes. I usually check it about halfway and throw some foil on top if it's starting to get too dark. Let it rest for about 15 minutes, and you are ready to enjoy!

I try to serve this with a salad, but Mike usually laughs it off as he's asking for seconds. It's also really good heated up as leftovers the next day - if you have any!

Even Anna gives her seal of approval.

Oh yeah - the original recipe can be found here.

I hope you enjoy!

Happy Friday!

What recipes do you make to bring it? Please share!