Live, Learn, and (eventually) Laugh

My life before being married was fairly predictable. In fact, my morning routine might have been scheduled down to the minute with how truly routine it was. Get up, take a shower, get dressed, eat breakfast, do my hair, brush teeth, and out the door. Then my days at work were all pretty much the same. My evenings were also predictable, with slight variations.

However, I met and fell in love with a fairly spontaneous guy who likes surprises and spur of the moment plans. So, when we got married, my little routines made some slight adjustments. We would make last minute outings and plan little weekend trips away. But, for the most part, my love of consistency went unchallenged.

Then I became a parent.

And now I have no schedule.

That in itself is hard enough, but the part that has surprised me most is how much I miss the spontaneous things. Having a little guy in tow prevents many spontaneous events. Things have to be well thought out. Diapers packed, naps and bedtime planned for, and extra changes of clothes brought along–or bad things might happen.

But even my best attempts at planning can often end up in “live, learn, and laugh” situations. You know, those events that you go through, flying by the seat of your pants, just hoping it will end before anything really bad happens. Yeah, we’ve had a few of those.

Visiting someone’s house, only to have your baby pee on their bedding. Pushing naps/bedtime too much and having an extremely cranky kiddo for the next few hours. Diaper changing situations that are just unbelievable and unexplainable. But, this weekend takes the cake.

We tried to pull a spontaneous Saturday afternoon out in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago. We hit terrible traffic going in and decided instead of trying to head back home in just an hour or two, why not grab a hotel and spend the night? We made a quick purchase for all of the stuff we would need to make an overnight possible and settled in for the evening. But Parker would have none of it.

To make a long story short–we did not sleep at all that night. Apparently 6 month olds are aware enough of their surroundings to be upset by them, but not enough to get used to them and be OK. So, not such a great plan after all. Of course it is easy to laugh about now, but let’s just say we won’t be doing anything like that again any time soon!

The craziest part about being a parent? No matter what happens, you are still absolutely in love. It helps that they are so darn cute.

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Pizza Night

I love family traditions. I grew up with a super creative mama who would decorate the house for every season and come up with all sorts of ways to celebrate the holidays. And I’m not just talking about the big holidays.

St. Patty’s Day? No problem. She’d whip up classic Irish feasts including corned beef, cabbage, potatoes, and carrots. Not to mention, she’d usually dye our milk green. July 4th? Peppermint ice cream, watching fireworks from the roof, and launching water balloons across the canyon. Labor Day? An all day beachfest with each meal getting better than the last. Seriously, we were spoiled.

So as our little family has grown, I’ve started to think about what kind of family traditions I’d like to have. I’ll probably end up following in my mama’s footsteps in regards to holidays, but I also really like the idea of a weekly family night. Enter: Pizza Night.

Once a week, I’ve started making my own pizza from scratch (100% whole wheat olive oil dough, from that book I keep raving about). It seems like the perfect fun and healthy way to have dinner as a family. I can’t wait until Parker is older and will have fun helping put together his own personal pizza. For now, he likes to watch from his highchair as we enjoy one another’s company.

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Fabric Friday

Here is a little snapshot of what has been on my sewing queue (look at me getting all French and fancy!) this week. I decided it was high time I took a break from the kitchen and paid a little attention to my sewing machine. I must say, it has been quite the creative outlet. I just feel like a whole new person after getting to take a break from life for a little bit. Ah.

Does this fabric look familiar?

Wow, this looks really uncomfortable in a picture, but for some reason I just love sitting on the floor while working on . . . you almost got me to say it. Nope, I’m not revealing the goods quite yet! Also, you can see our house hasn’t been babyproofed yet. Hopefully the crawling is still a little ways off.

Love these spring-y colors. I must be inspired by the lovely warm weather we’ve been having.

Fun! And yes, I’m twirling my ring in this photo which is why my hand looks all funky.

Hope you all have a fabulous Friday and can’t wait to reveal more of my little project soon!

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The Bleu Olive

This past Friday we stumbled upon a great little place. You know, one of those places that makes you fall in love with your town all over again. We are fortunate to live in an area that has lots of little one-of-a-kind shops, and this place was no exception.

So, what exactly did we discover? The Bleu Olive.

It’s a spice shop that specializes in gourmet oils and vinegars. Yes, I’m probably a little crazy because even writing that sentence made my heart do a little leap. I love places like this. When Brian stumbled upon this little gem, he just had to take me there. Little did we know it would turn out to be an impromptu family date night!

Not only does this place have an incredible and unique selection of oils and vinegars, they also have a tasting bar of almost all of their products. Just imagine: freshly baked french bread, miniature cups filled with your choice of dip, and spices galore. Somebody pinch me. It was so awesome.

After eating my way through the store, I had to make some tough decisions. Everything tasted so stinkin’ good! So, here is what we came home with. I’m super excited about all of the homemade vinaigrettes, marinades, and dips to come!

Left to Right: Strawberry Balsamic Vinegar, Whole Fruit Persian Lime,
Honey Ginger White Balsamic, and Tuscan Herb EVOO.

The shop also sold those great little nozzles pictured above. What a great way to keep the oils and vinegars fresh and accessible. I definitely recommend checking this place out!

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Fruit-a-licious Salad

I grew up being a creamy Caesar salad type of girl. I can remember my mom unsuccessfully trying to introduce different types of salad to my sister and I, but we were resistant to anything other than our Caesar, croutons, Parmesan cheese, and lettuce. Well, my taste buds must have grown up because out of nowhere I tossed together this anything but ordinary salad.

And…I haven’t stopped eating it since! I’m not kidding. I’ve had this for lunch several times in the last few weeks and haven’t made a single change. So good.

I’m guessing you don’t really need a recipe to make a salad, but, just so you can try this fabulous salad for yourself. Here you go:

Fruit-a-licious Salad
Combine lettuce, cooked chicken, halved strawberries, blueberries, cored and sliced pears, pecans, and crumbled feta cheese. Toss with your favorite Raspberry Vinaigarette. Enjoy!

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Kefir

A few weeks ago I posted on my old blog about making kefir, but didn’t really give you all that much information about it. I decided to leave it  intentionally vague, because I knew I wanted to write more about it once I had this lovely blog up and going. So, here we go!

I first heard about kefir about a year ago, when I started to read various blogs about “real food”. Real Food is a movement started by Weston A. Price. I won’t go into all the details about it here (that will be left for a later post!), but in essence it means eating food that would be recognized by our great-grandparents. This obviously means trying to eat food that hasn’t been processed or re-engineered by human hands. There are a lot of other aspects to the “real food” movement, some of which I agree with and others which I’m still researching. However, the overall principle makes a lot of sense to me.

I mean, what exactly is vegetable oil anyway? And why would I want to eat something that has a list of about 50 ingredient, half of which are unpronounceable? My blogging friend Elizabeth put it well in a recent post where she mentions her own thoughts on food: try to eat SOLE foods (or Sustainable, Organic, Local, and Ethical). That cuts out most things that come prepackaged and mostly prepared for you. Obviously, this isn’t always possible, but I think it is a good goal to strive for.

One area that this can be particularly difficult is in cutting out drinks that are highly processed. It is easy enough for me to make my own french fries and cookies using ingredients I approve of, but soda? That’s a whole different issue. Enter kefir.

(Left: Kefir grains in sugar water; Right: strained Kefir water with dried fruit)

Kefir is a little grain that is a combination of yeast and bacteria, which basically has probiotic qualities. Kefir eats sugar and creates carbonation and fermentation, making it the perfect natural way to create your own soda. Not only does it satisfy your desire for a little fizz, it is super good for your digestive system! Now that’s the kind of soda I want my kids asking for!

After reading about kefir on several blogs, we decided to give it a try. We bought the kefir grains from Culture for Health online and they came dehydrated. Once the were rehydrated, we put them in a canning jar with a quart of water (pre-boiled and cooled) and 1/4 cup of organic raw sugar. You leave it like this for 48 hours. Then strain the grains and move them to a new jar and repeat. Take the sugar/water/kefir-less mixture and add whatever flavoring you like. We like to add dried fruit (strawberries, berry mix, mango-berry mix) but you can also add lemon juice or other flavorings. Let it sit for another 48 hours and then strain the dried fruit out. Voila! You have a healthy and yummy drink.

It sounds complicated, but really the amount of active time you spend is very minimal. It basically does all the hard work for you! Lovely! The finished product does have a slightly fermented taste to it, but not too bad. I usually can’t stand any type of alcohol and am able to drink these with no problem (at least the ones with a stronger flavor, like the berry mix).

Now that I’ve entered the world of bacteria, maybe it’s time to make my own yogurt? Hmmm…

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Oatmeal Cookies

Sometimes you just want something a little sweet. OK, if you are me, you always want something a little sweet. But, I also don’t want to throw away my whole day of working hard to eat healthy on a huge bowl of ice cream. Well, I do, but I would regret it later!

That’s why I think that oatmeal cookies are the perfect remedy. They are quite a bit better for you than their plain chocolate chip cookie counterpart, but I think they taste just as good. A few months ago I found this recipe in Cooking Light and it has been my go-to recipe since then. (Although, I would definitely add a second egg, otherwise the recipe is rather crispy. And I like a good chewy cookie.) Yum!

Has anyone experimented with recipes like this one by substituting whole wheat flour or a more natural sugar?

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Happy Birthday, Nikki!

Tomorrow is my lovely sister-in-law’s birthday. Happy Birthday to you, Nikki!

I am so thankful that I married into such a wonderful family. A few summers ago, we lived with my in-laws while we were in limbo between moving out of our CA apartment and moving across the country to IL. Most people would be complaining about living with their in-laws, but it really was a fun time for us all to get to know each other better. Especially for Nikki and I.

I grew up having a great relationship with my sister, so I was so excited to have another one in Nikki. I’ve learned a lot from her about cooking, working out, and being kind. She is just super thoughtful and doesn’t ever want to be a burden on anyone. A year and a half ago, I even got to be a bridesmaid in her wedding–it was so fun!

Not only is she a great sister-in-law, we’ve also become friends. I just have to say, that this is one talented chica. I love her style and how she puts a bit of herself into all that she does. This was super apparent in the awesome Christmas present she gave us this year. Check it out:

Yep, she painted this herself! And without ever having taken art lessons. I’m super impressed. Sadly, we haven’t found the perfect spot in our house for it yet, so right now it’s hanging out here on the floor. I totally think she should sell these–don’t you?

Anyway, Happy Birthday, my dear sister-in-law! I look forward to many more years of friendship and sisterhood with you!

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Chubby McChubster (a.k.a. Parker Thomas)

I’m getting really familiar with the phrase “wow, he is really big for his age.” Just about anyone who meets my little Parker dude seems to proclaim it. He didn’t start out big, 6 months ago on his Birth Day — just 7 pounds 11 ounces of awesome.

He’ s a little bigger now.

As in the 100th percentile bigger.

Like he is almost 22 pounds.

Just in case you were wondering what that kind of chub looks like on a kiddo. Let me share.

Do you see those arms? I promise there is no rubber band around his wrist, they really just look like that.

Oh, and let’s not forget about these thighs. The kid can hide anything in those rolls. Believe me, bath time is always an adventure!

Ah, yes, the cheeks. Hilarious and scrumptious at the same time.

Let’s not forget how he got this way. He eats everything.

Yep, my fingers. (Do you see his teeth poking through? So stinkin’ adorable. And sharp. Very, very sharp.)

And my face. He really does suck on my face. Crazy kid.

Oh, then he looks at me like this and I’m in love all over again. Wouldn’t you be? (And that hair, oh goodness!)

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Spicing it Up!

I recently saw this spice cabinet project from Smitten Kitchen and couldn’t help myself. I’m a sucker for all things glass, so thinking of my beloved spices all gussied up in glass jars was just irresistible. Not to mention, I like to buy my spices at Penzey’s Spices (we have a local shop in Naperville), but many of their spices come in plastic bags. This makes for quite the messy spice cabinet! And you know how it goes once you start mixing and matching different size spice bottles, things just get chaotic and difficult to find. I’m a fan of anything that makes life a little easier and more streamline!

So, here is what I did. I made the trek over to our local Crate & Barrel and picked up 20 of these little glass jars. Aren’t they so cute? I believe Smitten Kitchen got them from Target for around the same price. Then, as was suggested on her blog, I used these labels to identify each bottle of goodness. After creating a huge mess transferring spices from their current homes to their new-and-improved version, this is what I ended up with:

So lovely, no?

I am one happy camper with the final product! Everything is just so easy to find and (in my opinion) darn cute! It will be interesting to see how well the labels hold up overtime, but for now they seem to be doing quite well. The best part is how well the bottles stack, giving me a lot more room to add new spices. I think I might be feeling a trip to Penzey’s coming on…

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