welcome ... enjoy yourself

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

best of 2013

Happy New Year's Eve!  I love celebrating a new year.  It's an opportunity to review the past 365 days and to look forward to the next 365.  I like checking in, seeing where I've been and deciding where I want to go.  I especially love making "best of" lists, particularly because they're so fun to look back on.  Here are my top five favorite posts, my favorite books, movies, and 
F I V E   F A V O R I T E   P O S T S

F A V O R I T E   S H O W S
(In no particular order, and please no judging :)
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Call the Midwife
Bob's Burgers
F A V O R I T E   M O V I E S
(In no particular order...and I swear I saw more movies than this in 2013, but this was all I could remember)
Catching Fire
Up on Poppy Hill
Beasts of the Southern Wild
F A V O R I T E   B O O K S
(No particular order again...and can you tell what I spend most of my free time on?)
Call the Midwife, Jennifer Worth
Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver
Where'd You Go Bernadette?, Maria Semple
My Ideal Bookshelf, Mount and La Force
Help, Thanks, Wow, Anne Lamott
Fall in Love for Life, Barbara "Cutie" Cooper
A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L'Engle
A Wind in the Door, Madeleine L'Engle
World War Z, Max Brooks
People's Pops, Jordi, Carrell, and Horowitz
Tiny Beautiful Things, Cheryl Strayed
Steal like an Artist, Austin Kleon
The Art and Flair of Mary Blair
Journey, Aaron Becker
Divergent, Veronica Roth
The Conference of the Birds, Peter Sis
Like Water for Chocolate, Laura Esquivel
F A V O R I T E   T R I P S
(Europe was my favorite but everything else is listed randomly)

Europe extravaganza
San Francisco, CA
Portland, OR (a couple times)
Oregon coast
Syracuse, NY
St. Louis, MO (multiple times)
Holland, MI
Madison, WI
Rice Lake, WI
Richmond, VA
H A P P Y   N E W   Y E A R!!

Monday, December 30, 2013

today i'm thankful for (2013 edition)

celebrating our first anniversary...

snowy walks through our old neighborhood...

a trip to the Missouri Botanical Garden orchid show with my family...

a snow day...

a spring break trip to San Francisco...

an Easter celebration with our Milwaukee community...

a visit from my fabulous sister-in-law...

watching Libby finish her first half marathon...

a new addition to the family...

a trip to England, France, and Iceland...

a successful gardening season...

the fifth annual Jesuit Volunteer Corps reunion...

time in Oregon with a dear friend...

a family vacation in Michigan...

moving into our first apartment as a married couple...

more time in Portland with family and friends...

fall traditions...

a visit from my mom and dad and lunches in Port Washington...

lots of relaxing nights with these guys...

dinners with our community...

a delicious Thanksgiving...

a visit to Richmond that reminded me to go with the flow...

painting and preparing for the holidays...

a Christmas spent with so many people I love.  

Wow, what a year!!  Though I've been keeping up with my weekly gratitude exercise, I hadn't realized just how many special things have happened to me over the past year.  Creating that list really gave me a profound feeling of this really being a wonderful life. 

Friday, December 27, 2013

baileys' range

The holidays: time for eating, seeing friends and family, and eating some more.  Man have I eaten a lot recently.  I think I'm going to need to go on an all air diet for about a week after the new year, but not yet!  For the next few days I still have a lot of food, friends, and family on my schedule.  Today I tried a new restaurant in downtown St. Louis called Baileys' Range, and it was amazing! 

The food paintings pulled me in right away, and I got a "good food" vibe when I walked in the restaurant.   I'm thinking I might need a few of these in my kitchen.  And I love the sign above - every week the restaurant has a burger battle.  This week, diners can decide between the shepherd's pie and curry chicken burger.  The winner will get to stay on the menu again next week and will battle it out with a new burger.  If I wasn't a vegetarian I think I'd pick the shepherd's pie. 

Baileys' Range gets lots of their stuff from local vendors, make their own ice cream, and make a lot of their burgers on site (maybe all?  I just saw them making some so I assume that they do at least some of them on site).  I was especially pleased to see that they'll make all of their burgers vegetarian for you.  I could have had my pick of anything on the menu, but I decided on the sweet potato patty with a sage allioli.  A-ma-zing. And after seeing my friend's strawberry shake, I threw out my no-dessert-resolution and ordered a cookies and cream ice cream.  OMG.  I want the recipe so I can make it with my brand.new.ice.cream.maker!!!  

All this talk of food has made me hungry, and butternut squash risotto is awaiting me, so time to wrap things up.  I may have a problem...

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

merry christmas

Merry Christmas!  We enjoyed a quartet of Christmas parties and now I am feeling pooped but thankful I was able to spend time with so many people I love.  I hope you had a wonderful holiday and maybe even had some time to rest and relax!  I know this time, though magical for many, can still be hard and bittersweet for those who have lost loved ones or who are suffering in some way.  My thoughts go out to all of you, and I hope you are still able to enjoy some element of this season.  Merry Christmas from my family to yours.   

Thursday, December 19, 2013

cookie party

This weekend, I hosted my second annual cookie making party!!  Five of my friends and I gathered to bake, eat, and share delicious Christmas cookies (and treats).  We each brought a favorite holiday recipe and then split up the goods at the end of the night.  I captured almost all of our treats in the photo above - just missing the puppy chow.  I'm proud to say that I still have cookies leftover from Saturday that I plan to give away as Christmas presents (as long as Pedro and Diego don't find where I've hidden them). 

Pedro helped me get ready for the party and kept a look out for people arriving.  (We got a couple of inches a few hours before the party.  It was gorgeous!)

I made a couple of small flower arrangements to add to the festive feel of the night.  I spent $12 total on three small groups of flowers (the red, pink, and white flowers came separately), and I put them together in two bouquets just a couple of minutes following this tutorial.

A few of the beautiful bakers :)

Saturday was my first time making chocolate covered pretzels.  Don't know I made it to 28 without ever making them, but I think it's probably because I've always been around other people who make them for me.  And because I usually just stick to snowballs (see below).  I was really surprised by how easy the process was and really happy with how the pretzels turned out!  I melted my chocolate in the microwave for a few minutes (30 seconds at a time to make sure it didn't burn).  We dipped the pretzels half way in the chocolate, added some spinkles, and let them dry on parchment paper. 

Tah dah!

A few more photos of the finished product.  This was such a nice night filled with nice wine, ladies, and sweets.  I'm really excited to give away Christmas cookies since it's a heartfelt way to show people I'm thinking about them and put time and energy into making something really tasty for them.  It'll keep me hosting cookie parties for many years to come.    

Here's last year's cookies and cookie making highlights

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

20 tips for thriving in winter

With winter right around the corner (that's right, it's still officially fall!!), I wanted to share my top 20 tips for thriving during a long winter.  I grew up in Missouri and thought I knew what winter was until I lived in upstate New York, Chicago, and Milwaukee.  Having five northern winters under my belt, I can confidently say that these tips will make your long winter much more enjoyable.  And before you know it, spring and warm weather will be here again!

**I decided to call this a thriving list instead of a surviving list after reading this post from Elise at Enjoy It.  Thriving brings to mind thoughts of enjoying yourself whereas survivings makes me think of just scraping by.  

1. Get outside It may seem counter intuitive, but it actually helps alleviate the stir craziness if you get outside during the cold months.  Go ice skating, build a snowman, shovel a driveway, take a walk, or be real adventurous and go down hill or cross country skiing.  Some of my favorite walks have happened in the snow - there's a magic to the quietness of winter.
2. Eat some comfort foodYou're not going to want to eat lots of warm, filling foods in summer, so take advantage of this cold weather with some of your favorite cozy recipes.  We make lots of clam chowdertarts, and chili around our house.  And mybaking and bread making are at their height in December and January.
3. Take up an indoor hobby I fill a lot of my long winter nights with lots of arts and crafts projects.  I do the majority of my painting in the cold weather months when I don't have barbeques and gardening to distract me.  I'm also hoping to learn a few newknitting skills from my mom - I see some circular needles in my future.

4. Use a light machineSpending so little time in the sun can start to take its toll on your mood and your body.  Paul invested in a light machine a few years ago, and when I start feeling down I sit in front of the light machine for a few minutes a day and seem to feel better.  
5. ExerciseBeing cold is no excuse to sit around all winter long - and it won't end up making you feel any better.  In addition to walking the dogs, I try to do a work out video a couple of days a week.  I'm definitely not as active as I am in spring, summer and fall but even a little release of endorphins can do wonders.
6. Invest in warm outerwearI'm talking down coat, furry hats, puffy mittens and insulated/waterproof boots.  They make all the difference when the wind chill is below zero...for several weeks in a row.   

7. Dress in layers 
Long underwear is your friend.  Learn to embrace tights, boots, scarves, and sweaters.  Winter is a lot better when you're not perpetually freezing. 

8. Insulate your windowsWe add a layer of plastic to our windows to keep our house warm and our heating bill as low as possible.  It makes me feel a little claustrophobic, but it's necessary.  

9. Get a library card or Netflix subscriptionLong, cold nights are a perfect time to catch up on all those books you've been wanting to read and all the movies and tv shows you've been wanting to watch.  If you want to be really cool you could make a check list of the books/movies and cross them off as you go through winter.   

10. Decorate for winterOne of the saddest day of the year is the day all the Christmas decorations come down. Ease the post-holiday depression by decorating your house for the rest of the winter months. Gold ribbons and snowflakes can really make a place sparkle.  I hung these little guys up last year.  

11. Keep up your social lifeI don't go out as often as I do in the summer, but I still make a point to meet people for happy hours or have people over for game or movie nights.  Laughing and spending time with friends is good for the spirit.    

12. Plan your gardenI like to think that Mother Nature spends January and February planning her spring debut, so I like to plan my garden plan in winter too.  It's actually really helpful to have things planned so you can order your seeds and plant your starters in time for spring planting.  

13. Take a tripWhen the long winter really starts getting to me in February and March, I try to take a trip south for a mini reprieve.  Last year we went to San Francisco (part 1 and 2), and I can honestly say it was one of the happiest weekends I've ever had.  The sunshine just felt soooooo good after so much cold and clouds.  I've also made a February tradition of visiting the orchid show at the Missouri Botanical Garden with my mom.  Flowers always seem to cheer me up.  
14. BlanketsA good blanket makes me very happy in winter.  My aunt bought us an amazing blanket a few years ago that I live under from November to March.   

15. Take picturesI've seen a few bloggers posting about their December photo albums.  The idea is to take pictures and scrap book a page for every day/week for the whole month so you don't miss all the cool stuff that happens.  December was already full enough without adding another thing to my to do list, but I thought that making a winter photo album seemed like a great idea for remembering that there's still plenty to enjoy and capture in January, February, and March.    
16. Enjoy warm beveragesJust thinking of a cup of tea on a cold day gives me warm, fuzzy feelings.  And what better time of year to enjoy a hot toddy? 

17. Bring spring insideWhen I start getting antsty for spring in February and March I start buying tulips and other flowers for our apartment.  The bit of color helps to remind me spring it on its way. 
18. Throw a party
Poor January and February seem to have been forgotten when the holiday schedule was compiled.  A few years ago Paul and I started having friends over for a Groundhog's day party, in JVC we had a leap year party, and oursushi making party from last year might have to become a tradition.  It doesn't matter what you celebrate, just get some friends together and put your party dress on.  Having something to look forward to and plan is nice when you need to lighten up another cloudy week.

19. RestUltimately, winter is the time of year for slowing down. For recouperating from the craziness of the last year, for taking stock, and for getting excited for the next year's plans. May through December are always super busy for me, so when it starts snowing in April, I try to remember that I won't have the bad weather as an excuse to just befor the majority of the rest of the year.  Slowing down and just being is an essential part to thriving.  

20. Celebrate/embrace winterI was terrified at the start of my first northern winter in Syraucse. I guess I thought I would slowly freeze or just be unhappy for six months. But it actually turned out to be a really enjoyable time. I learned how to drive a 16 passenger van in the snow, drank warm cider with donuts, ate lots of good soups, learned how to bake bread and granola, went ice skating, went sledding, and even did some star gazing on top of a huge pile of snow and ice one night. When I was able to just embrace the season for what it was, I actually liked winter. The end of the season will always be hard (snow in April is just depressing), but overall I've decided that winter is nice. 

What would you add to the winter thriving guide?

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

pom pom garland

I made this simple decoration for our front entry, and I really enjoy how it's brightened up the space.  I've been seeing a lot of pom pom garlands making their way around Pinterest, and I read somewhere (I wish I could remember where!!) that you could make your own by threading pom poms onto embroidery floss.  I bought the cheapest pom poms I could find on Amazon (about $4 for a package of 500 mini pom poms) and decided to give it a try. 

Using a yarn needle, I threaded hot pink embroidery floss through my favorite colored pom poms spacing them at random intervals.  A few of the larger pom poms fell apart when I did this and some of the smaller ones were too tight to get a needle through (like I said, cheapest I could find), but for the most part it was really easy to string them.  I did this strand while watching a movie Friday night and only poked myself with the needle a couple of times.  I had enough pom poms left over to make a second strand that was longer for our kitchen window.  All told, this project cost me about $4.50 if you include the ornaments, and it was well worth it for the color and sparkle it adds to our entryway.