Saturday, August 29, 2015

Seasons Change, So Do Cities

Los Gatos, 2009

Six years ago today, Max and I were in California, saying I do. I had no idea that six years later we'd be living in Alabama. And you know what? Max didn't either. That's the amazing, fantastic thing about marriage: you get a partner in life. Every challenge, every opportunity, every joy, every decision over these last six years, we've shared. And put most simply, my husband makes me happy. There is no one I'd rather be with, whether we're on a boat in the ocean or sitting in traffic on a freeway. His intelligence keeps me on my toes, his humor makes me laugh, and I'm floored every day by the way he takes care of me and puts me first. It's humbling, it's flattering, and quite often I wonder what I did to get so lucky.  

My favorite Carrie Bradshaw quote starts: "Seasons change, so do cities..."
I've alway's taken the "seasons" as referring to the seasons in life. When Max and I met, we were both in our own respective young twenty-something seasons, living in California's Bay Area.


San Francisco, 2008

It was a beautiful season, as were the newlywed years. Hopping on a last minute flight to Vegas? Check. Scuba diving with sharks? Check. Sleeping in on the weekends? Double check. But, "seasons change and so do cities" - we moved from the Bay Area to Scottsdale, and from Scottsdale to Huntsville. And boy has our season changed; we're in the New Parent Season. The "we don't get nearly enough sleep" season. The "look at each other and burst out laughing because our toddler is being ridiculous" season. It's not as relaxing, we definitely don't have the freedom we did before, but somehow this is the best season yet. Becoming a parent with my husband, and sharing life as a family is amazing in ways I'll never be able to describe.


Scottsdale, 2013

I can't tell you the number of times we are stopped by older people when we're out and about with our son, always getting the same advice: to enjoy this time because it goes by fast. Most of the people doling out this advice have kids in college, and I can see the sadness in their faces about the fact that their babies are grown. The New Parent Season is tough, for sure, but it's incredible and I can already tell it's fleeting - and just like those people giving us advice, I'm going to miss it terribly. Our little baby is somehow already two! I think Max and I are both acutely aware of the fact that this season will be gone in a blink, so we treasure every snuggle, every giggle, every story time with our sweet little man.

Huntsville, 2015

To my husband of six years: thank you for making me a wifey and a mamma! Happy Anniversary! 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Taco Tuesday Side - Vegetarian Crockpot Black Beans


Happy Taco Tuesday! Today's post is all about the side - homemade black beans! It's so easy to just open up a can of beans come taco time, but after my success making pinto beans, I thought I'd give homemade black beans a whirl. I used the same method as I did with the pinto beans (aka the slow cooker, my BFF). Here's what you'll need:



You won't actually use all that garlic, just three or four cloves from the bunch ;) 

Add everything to the slow cooker, turn it on low, and leave it for a good 10 hours (I gave it a stir every so often to mix). Bam. Tons o' beans. Black beans are fantastic as a side, of course, but they are awesome to have on hand in the fridge to add to salads or scrambles. I also love making these black bean burgers, and recently found this recipe for Southwestern Pasta Salad. It's perfect for using up Taco Tuesday leftovers (like these black beans!). I just add in whatever meat we used, the beans, and since it's summer, I use fresh corn and tomatoes since we can get them locally.


Vegetarian Crockpot Black Beans

Ingredients
3 cups black beans, rinsed
1 diced onion
3-4 whole cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 jalapeƱo, slit down the side
2 quarts vegetable stock 


Directions
Place all items in a slow cooker. Simmer on low for 10-12 hours. Transfer beans and desired amount of cooking liquid to a large bowl (mash if desired). Serve with a squeeze of lime. Try not to eat entire bowl ;)



Monday, August 24, 2015

The SAHM's Guide to Business Travel


As a Stay at Home Mom, I have zero business travel to do - that's kind of the definition of being a SAHM, right? But husby has quite a bit (we're talking 50,000+ miles of flying just this calendar year already, whew!). This means it's just me and Sweet P, sometimes for weeks at a time. I'm so grateful for the opportunity to be a SAHM. I know lots of moms choose to work (and lots of moms are the ones doing the business travel). Also, I realize that husby's travel is somewhat by choice and relatively safe (military wives are on a whole different level, and really they're angels for what they do). So, take this advice just for what it is - some things that help this SAHM get through Business Travel... 

1. Change Your Thinking
Husby has been traveling since we first got married. Those first trips, I'd get sad just thinking that we'd be apart (I also had some crazy run-ins with snakes in the house and shelves breaking in the middle of the night while he was away, but you can read all about that here). Anyway, sometime in the past few years, I realized I can get so much done while Max is gone! Instead of focusing on how you'll be apart from your spouse, you can use each business trip as an opportunity to get excited for things you'll do on your own. This is the time for making freezer meals, catching up on laundry, organizing the pantry, hanging those pictures you've been meaning to put up - even just getting the whole bed to yourself or binge watching reality television. Get excited! Do I still miss my husband when he's away on business? Of course. If I could just have him stay at home, would I? Absolutely. But I can honestly say that focusing on those fun and/or productive activities totally helps!



2. Get Out
One of the dangers of being a SAHM is the "staying at home" part. The "oops I haven't spoken to an adult all day" part. So when I know husby will be out of town, I make sure our days are full of outings. Bonus points if I schedule something with a friend because that keeps us accountable. We've been "keeping busy" while Daddy's away from the very get-go (Max went on International business travel when Parker was just seven weeks old!). In the early days, we belonged to a baby music class, did Mommy & Me Yoga, and attended our Boys Club get-togethers (read a day-in-the life post with a three-month-old while husby was in London here). Scottsdale was oppressively hot in the summer, so lots of times we would head to the (posh, gorgeous) mall just for walking (much, much easier back in the day before Parker was mobile). These days, to get out (with a toddler), we do story time at the library, head to the pool (in hot weather) or park (in cool weather), or visit the Botanic Gardens. 


Also, on more than one occasion if I'm out of ideas and it's late in the afternoon (and Parker is refusing to take his nap), we'll hit up Target. Mamma gets a latte, Parker gets a cake pop, and we can look at all the shiny pretties for sale. It's a win-win-win. 


And while you're out, pick up some flowers (a must for me if husby's away!).

Also, once Parker turned two, we started making calendars for the weeks husby's away. It lets Parker know what we're doing each day, and when Daddy will be back. 



3. Don't Cook
I'm not saying to not eat, just don't cook. I usually go all-out when I cook our meals, and spend lots of my day prepping and cooking. I honestly enjoy it, but it's really for my husband. I mean, I like nice dinners as well, but they're not as fulfilling if he's not there to share them with. So when he's gone, P and I have simple dinners. And it saves so much time (which you'll need to do all your fun and exciting things, refer to number one). Quesadillas, rotisserie chicken from Costco, simple fresh roasted veggies (or microwaved frozen ones in the winter!) - easy peasy, lemon squeasy. We'll also eat out, which totally eliminates cook time and dishes. Score. (Less vital when baby hasn't started solid foods yet, but once that begins, meals at home are a hot mess). Plus, going to a restaurant can be considered "getting out" (refer to number two ;)



4. Get Help
We aren't lucky enough to live anywhere near any of Parker's grandparents. We are pretty much on our own. That means when Max takes off, I'm an island of one. I remember at one point when Max was on foreign travel and Parker was just a few months old, I attended my Mommy & Me yoga class and the instructor picked up Parker, who had started to fuss. I realized that I had been the only one to pick him up for two weeks - the only one to dress, bathe, feed, change him. Yes, it's my "job" as a SAHM, but it's also nice to get help. Recently, we found a babysitter who has started coming by from time to time so I can go to appointments or do other things during the week on my own. If I know Max has business travel, I'll schedule the sitter for a couple hours to just have some time to go to a yoga class, or run errands and just breathe. I think getting just those few minutes to recharge makes me a better mom - I'm usually dying to get back to Parker anyway, and so excited and ready to be back with him when I get home. 



5. Make Home Welcome
Don't forget, business travel is hard on the one actually traveling, too! If my husband's on the other side of the world, he'll do his first business day there, then come back to the hotel for another business day working from his computer at night. Then there's the actual exhaustion that comes from flying/traveling. Parker and I of course let Max know how much we appreciate how hard he works for us. We love FaceTiming with him while he's traveling, and sending him photos letting him know we're here and we love him. Then when it's time for husby to head back home, I try to have something yummy freshly baked and waiting for him (most often these cookies because they're super quick and easy). Very 1950's of me? Yes. But the point is to make coming home just a bit sweeter. I'll also do a chalkboard "Welcome Home" sign or write with dry erase marker on the bathroom mirror (or get Parker in on the sign making). If husby's going out of the country, we'll also drop him off at the airport and be there to pick him up when he comes back (bonus points for signs and/or balloons). This way, he doesn't have to drive his own car in his jet-lagged state, and it gives us the opportunity to give him a proper airport welcome! 


Now, I'd love to hear from you! Are you the business traveler in the family? Or do you hold down the fort like me? Any tips or advice that I missed? What works for you? 

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Free Thank You Cards From Shutterfly!

I opened my email this morning to find this offer from Shutterfly


I've ordered several different sets of personalized Thank You cards for Parker from Shutterfly over the years. He is one lucky little guy, so he has lots of Thank Yous to write. The Shutterfly cards are always completely darling when they show up in the mail - I always love how they turn out. So I had to jump on this offer! It took all of two minutes to pick a design, upload a photo from Instagram, and order the cards. And guess what? It can all be done via phone! Oh, technology, what did we do before you? Here's what's on its way to us right now:

Twelve of these babies! I chose the design that reminded me of a watercolor painting since Parker has been so into watercolors lately. The REFRESHING promo code is only good until midnight tonight, so act fast! What will you order with the free offer?
Click here to join Shutterfly if you haven't already, and enjoy 101 free prints :)

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Sweet Home Saturday - Neiman Marcus Chocolate Chip Cookies




Max's sister sent this handwritten recipe for Neiman Marcus Chocolate Chip Cookies to me when Max and I were engaged.


The first time I made them, Max commented "Well, these don't look anything like when my mom makes them." (#wifeyfail) Have I mentioned before that I didn't cook or bake at all before Max and I got married? This meant he had to stomach some interestingly prepared recipes at the beginning of our marriage. (#blesshisheart) And you might think it's impossible to mess up cookies, but I finally figured out what I was doing wrong: I was using old baking powder and baking soda, which left the cookies twelve kinds of flat. Oops.



Fast forward to today, and Parker and I can practically make these cookies in our sleep. They are our go-to cookie: super classic, super delicious, with a "secret ingredient" and a little spin of my own. Ready to make a batch for yourself? 

Start by preheating your oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl, combine butter and sugars, then beat in egg and vanilla with a hand mixer until light and fluffy (I use my KitchenAid stand mixer). 

In a medium bowl, combine dry ingredients, including this:

The secret ingredient! Instant espresso powder. It gives the cookies lots of depth and just takes them to the next level. Give the dry ingredients a stir.

Combine dry mixture and butter mixture. Add chocolate chips. Here's where I'm quirky - we don't have regular chocolate chips in the house. Ever. I always buy thesemini ones, and thesejumbo baking ones. So I use a combo of the minis and jumbos (half a cup of each) for these cookies!


Once the dough is ready, use a scooper to place on a greased baking sheet (or, use a silpat like I do!). Bake 8-10 minutes (I always cook for eight minutes because we like the cookies soft and a bit gooey inside).



Remove pan from oven, and place cookies on a baking rack to cool.

Resist the urge to eat every single one.


Neiman Marcus Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients
1/2 cup softened butter
1 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons sugar
1 egg
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cup flour
1 1/2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
8 oz. chocolate chips

Directions
Start by preheating your oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl, combine butter and sugars, then beat in egg and vanilla with a hand mixer until light and fluffy (I use my KitchenAid stand mixer). 

In a medium bowl, add dry ingredients and stir. Add dry mixture to butter mixture and combine. Add chocolate chips and stir until combined. Use a scooper to place on a greased baking sheet. Bake 8-10 minutes and let cool on a baking rack. Serve with milk, of course!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Oh, Hey, 5 Friday Favorites

1. Summer Thunderstorms
I've said it before - summer rain is akin to seeing a unicorn for this California girl. And even though it's somewhat common here in the South, I still get super excited for it. I mean, who doesn't love a rainy day? Especially when it's hot as Hades outside. So when Parker and I woke up to rain on Tuesday morning, we jumped in the car to get drive-thru Dunkin' Donuts to make the day a little more special. 

And of course we kept our pajams on... because on rainy days you get bonus points for the longer you wear them ;)  


2. Sephora
I had glorious, uninterrupted alone time at Sephora this week. Score. Although Starbucks is my happy place, Sephora is kind of amazing. Usually I have to avoid it like the plague because I'm toting a little man, but on this particular day I was alone (coming from lunch with the Sweet Huntsville Bloggers) and Sephora was right. next. door. Parker was with the sitter and so I happily wandered up and down the aisles, over and over. And over. Makeup is just so darn pretty. I ended up picking up a bottle of this stuff, have you heard of it? Everyone has been raving about... the jury is still out whether or not it's working for me. Also, I was super excited for this purchase:

I had been needing a hairbrush and this one was twelve kinds of adorable. It's advertised as a detangler, and so far it's working wonders on my hair. 

3. Doe Run Farm
Look who's Instagram photo made it on the community supported agriculture newsletter this week? 

Yes, that's my Eggplant Parmesan! Which was a flippin' hit around here, much to my surprise (it was my first time cooking eggplant, ever, and, I never thought I would serve my Texas born-and-bred husband a meatless meal - but he loved it!). I am seriously having a ball cooking each week with all the fresh produce from our Doe Run Farm boxes. I think I'm going to go into a bit of a depression come wintertime when there is nary a fresh local cucumber in site. 

4. Little Blue Truck's Beep Along Book 
This book came in the mail from Amazon this week!

Knowing Parker's love for all the other Little Blue Truck books, I pre-ordered it and was so happy Amazon automatically upgraded to day-of-release-delivery (so it arrived right on the day it came out). You can't tell from the picture, but the car (which makes the beeping sound when pressed) is actually three dimensional and made of fabric. The text to the book follows the tune of "If You're Happy and You Know It" so we've been singing the words when we read it - and Parker has been beeping his little heart out. The book is definitely a must for any truck loving toddler. 

5. Dada
Max was on business travel to Santa Barbara this week. Since HSV and Santa Barbara are both tiny airports, this meant three flights each way for my poor husby. He could not be sweeter, though, and sends photos and videos of the planes and airports for Parker (who is fascinated by it all). One day this week, Parker was doing some free-form watercoloring, and I asked him what he was painting. Are you ready for it? "That windsock. That Radar." 

I mean, obviously, right? My little engineer-in-the-making. 





Thursday, August 20, 2015

ABCs and One Two Threes



I mentioned awhile back that Parker is mildly obsessed with letters. It started with his love of stop signs when he was just months old. It progressed to yield signs, and exit signs, and he wowed us with his ability to identify the letters on all of these signs after simply listening to us recite them. Right now, he's kind of in love with his own name. If asked who he is, he'll reply "K-E-R, Pah-kah!" (for some reason he only latched on to the last three letters, but he's two so we'll take it - he also sounds like he's from Boston when he says his name and it's adorable).

Being a former elementary school teacher, I wanted to jump right in with letter/sound combinations, and link letters to words. I realized this was a bit ambitious, because again, he's two, so I decided on a lesser but more attainable goal: Identification of Uppercase Letters. Parker actually already did very well with about half the alphabet (10-12ish uppercase letters) just from his innate curiosity. He was truly leading his eduction, so these letters were random: E, X, I and T from the exit signs, V from a nightgown I wear, S, T, O, and P from stop signs, C from Costo (his favorite place) and so on.

 liquid watercolorspaintbrusheswatercolor paper

I decided I wanted to cover the entire alphabet, introducing the letters he doesn't know and reinforcing the familiar ones, and we'd do so with an art project for each letter. At the end, I'll bind them into a book, but for now we hang them on Parker's wall as we complete them. We've been mixing it up for our art projects. Sometimes I'll have Parker watercolor and then I'll cut out the letter (like above) but his very favorite thing to do is masking tape art.

I start with art paper and use painter's tape to make the letter we're working on (or number as in the example below). For tricky ones like this, I use lots of little pieces of tape (OCD much?). Block letters like uppercase A's and E's are much, much easier to make.



I let Parker choose his own colors to work with, and then I just pour the paint right onto the paper (this helps ensure enough paint gets on to completely cover the number or letter, which is the goal). Parker loves using the brush to cover up the letter (or number). 


I always like to have a space set aside for his art to dry (old boxes or newspaper ads are perfect for that - just remember to set it up before you get started!).

Or, take it all outside, my favorite! With the summer heat, though, this is really only an early morning option for us. "Bye, bye, E! Bye, bye, E!"

Once the paint is dry, just peel up the tape and you'll be left with the letter or number!



Happy Painting!

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