Monday, February 4, 2013

Working for the Weekend

Today was my first day back at work and I'm wiped out! I feel like a little kid after the first day of school. In other words, Jesse had to pick my face up off my plate halfway through the meal. Okay, maybe I made it through dinner, but it's 9:00 and I'm struggling to keep my eyes open. It probably doesn't help that we had a pretty full weekend of going out to brunch, homemade surf & turf, plus a Super Bowl party!

Starting from top-left: the architecture at Chadwick's (where we ate brunch) is amazing, my stuffed grilled cheese sandwich, enjoying the commissary (for the first time!) with my neighbor, our surf & turf dinner, intense football watching at the SB party (I forgot to take pictures of the pulled chicken I made. Fail.)
Since I don't have projects or meals to write about tonight, I'll tell you about my first day back at work, which turned out to be a lot better than expected. I wasn't really looking forward to going back to work, mostly because I had gotten so used to my routine of getting up around ten o'clock, making eggs and toast for breakfast, easing into my work day and snuggling up on the couch with Rooney and my laptop for the afternoon.

Now that I'm back at work it means eight hours in an office with no windows and the same chair. All. Day. The worst part is hearing my alarm go off at 6:55 in the morning. I hit snooze once this morning and Rooney curled up next to me just as it went off for the second time, making it that much harder to put my feet on the floor and get out of bed.


Knowing that it was my first day back, I wanted to make a good impression so I rallied and got ready with just enough time to grab a Lara bar and a yogurt. Tangent: I went to the store with Jesse for the first time since my surgery and I felt like a kid in a candy store. Two new things I got were the cherry pie Lara bars (thanks for the recommendation, Kelly!) and the new Chobani coffee with dark chocolate chips mini yogurts. I highly recommend both items! 


The unexpected highlight of my day was arriving to work and opening my office door to find a small stack of presents, cards and notes. The presents were Christmas presents that were given to all employees, but since I wasn't there for the Holiday party, they left them in my office. I got a nice fleece jacket and an umbrella. As for the notes and cards, those were from my birthday ... which was in November! One of the notes was a promise to take me to Chipotle when I got back, so I plan on redeeming that ASAP.

To top off my belated birthday celebrations, one of my co-workers and I had already scheduled my birthday lunch for my first day back in the office, so I got to enjoy a little Kung Pao Chicken and a Fortune cookie for lunch. Not too shabby for 2+ months late!


All in all, it was a good day, but I was ready to pass out by two o'clock. It's a good thing I'm only going into the office part-time right now because I'm not sure I'd be able to do this again tomorrow. It'll be nice to have a day to recover before I go back for round two. :)

Well I'm off to bed, but I'll try to write about something more substantial later this week. I hope everyone else had a good start to the week!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Hey, Macklemore! Can we go thrift shopping?

When my favorite bloggers over at Young House Love (YHL) called out to their readers about a little challenge, I couldn't turn a blind eye. And when said challenge included Macklemore, my new music crush, I jumped right in. Ok, that last part is a lie. I waited until the last day because I'm a procrastinator.

The challenge was inspired by Macklemore's hit song Thrift Shop. Here's the music video so you can see where YHL's inspiration came from. And here's the official unedited video for those that want the full experience (as YHL put it, it's a bit, um, saltier).

Now that we're all in the mood for thrifting, here were the rules of the challenge:

1. Go to a thrift shop with – just as the chorus of the song says – “$20 in your pocket”and take a picture. 
2. Spend that $20 any way you’d like and photograph your spoils.
3. Find one item (or more) referenced in the song and snap a pic.

It sounded easy enough to me. I like money, shopping and scavenger hunts ... what could go wrong? Famous last words.

Camera Roll-744

Here's what went wrong with this challenge. First of all, I didn't have any cash on me, which meant I couldn't complete step one. Fail.

Instead, I had to wait until Jesse got home, which was well after I was done shopping, and ask him for $20. I guess I didn't have to admit that part, but this post is quickly becoming a therapy session.

Camera Roll-779

My second failure began when I entered the first thrift shop. As soon as I walked in I remembered why I never go ... they make me all itchy. They're a great idea in theory, but all I see when I walk in are racks upon racks of smelly clothing, piles of chipped dishes and cheap vases everywhere. There's just so. much. junk.

I'm sure I sound pretentious, but let me just say that I want to like thrift shopping. I see some bloggers write about outfits that are almost entirely thrifted, and they're cute! And then there are the bloggers that find sweet little nick-nacks and all I can think is, why don't I see that when I go thrift shopping? It's straight up jealousy over here as I'm sifting through janky Walkmans and Garfield memorabilia. Not kidding.

I'm beginning to think the real problem is that people around here aren't very good donors. They need to step up their game so I can have a better thrift shopping experience.

I'm probably getting the stink eye from every DIY blogger right now because I don't know how to thrift. I can feel the rejection through my computer.

That's the end of my tangent, so let's move onto step three. I know I skipped step two, but I'll come back to that. Step three was the scavenger hunt where you had to find items mentioned in the song and photograph them. I felt a little shady, but I managed to get a few good pictures.

Starting on the top, left to right (song lyrics included): 
1. John Wayne ain't got nothin' on my fringe game
2. The sneaker heads would be like “Ah, he got the Velcros” 
3. Dressed in all pink except my gator shoes
4. I bought a skeet blanket, then I bought a knee board
5. I’m digging, I’m digging, I’m searching right through that luggage

I found so much crazy stuff at my first stop that I thought about working my way through the whole song, but I had to get out of there before I broke into hives. I left the store empty-handed. I was pretty deflated at this point and considered giving up. 

On my way home, I remembered the Habitat Re-Store and figured I'd give it a try. While it's not a traditional thrift shop, they carry some secondhand items. The best part is that they don't carry any clothing, and I'm coming to realize that's the part that makes me feel a little blerg about the whole experience.

Camera Roll-755

I was hoping to come out with a new lamp or maybe a few of my own nick-nacks to display, but I found something that was much better. As I perused the aisles, I came across a bamboo coffee table with tons of potential, but a) it wasn't in my price range, and b) I had nowhere for it to go, so I left it behind and kept looking. (I wonder if the chairs came with it?)

Camera Roll-756

Just as I rounded the corner, I came across the cutest little chair, but it looked too good to be true. It had a nice, dark stain that was worn down in all of the right places, turned legs and very unique spindles. As people passed by I could feel them staring me down, wishing they had gotten there first. (Thrifting Lesson #1: The moment you start protecting a chair like it's your first-born, you know you've found something good. Don't set it down.)

Camera Roll-758

This picture doesn't really do it justice, but I fell in love. It's actually a really petite chair, but it's hard to tell without anything nearby for comparison.

I stood there for about five minutes, shaking it and checking every spindle. One of the spindles was a bit wobbly, but nothing that jeopardized the structure of the chair. I couldn't believe that I actually found something good.

My next worry was the price. There was no tag on it, so I was nervous that it would blow through my $20 budget. (Keep in mind, I have very little experience with thrifting.) I took the chair up to the register and asked the cashier for the price. She pointed to "the guy in the green apron" and told me to ask him. I asked for the price and then held my breath as he inspected the chair ... that was my chance ... "this spindle right here is a little loose" ... he shook it to check my accusation and replied ... "six dollars" ... done. Not only did I not break the budget, I still had $14 to spare. I'm pretty sure I was grinning from ear to ear as I skipped walked out of the store with my treasure.

I quickly decided that my chair would look great in our guest room. We have a full-sized bed in there, but only one nightstand. It would be nice to have a flat surface on the other side of the bed to give guests someplace to set things (i.e. glasses, jewelry, cellphone, etc.). With the nightstand idea in my head and fourteen imaginary dollars in my pocket, I headed over to TJ Maxx in search of something cute to set on the seat. $35 later I was walking to my car with several great options, a gift for a friend, cleaning spray and a hole in my pocket!

Here's what it looks like in our guest room. I may choose to paint it down the road, but for now I'm enjoying the worn down look. As YHL taught me, live with it for awhile before making any drastic changes.

Chair by bed

Let's take a closer look at that chair ...

chair closeup

That's right, it's the Young House Love book for the YHL challenge. It was too easy to pass up. :)

And with that, my dramatic tail of thrift shopping has come to an end. Is anyone still reading? It's alright if you just looked at the pictures and skipped over the words. I didn't intend to say so much, but I guess my story was more traumatizing than I realized.

I'm off to go see what everyone else bought with their $20. Who's coming with me?!

You can read about my first, less traumatic thrift shopping experience here. Secondhand furniture is my jam. Do you like thrift shopping? If so, what kind of things do you shop for? Any tricks you can share to help me get over my fear?

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Sunday Dinner: Stuffed Shells

You know life is getting back to normal when Sunday dinners are back in motion. And with a dinner like stuffed shells, I'd say I'm well on my way to a full recovery! *fingers crossed*

I never got the chance to write about my hiatus, but after enduring migraines for most of November due to another spinal fluid leak, I had my third surgery in December. Third time's a charm, right?

Another surgery meant I was out of commission for about 6 weeks, which also meant Sunday dinners weren't happening. Who wants soup ... again? Apparently, I was the only one.

While it's nice to be waited on, and the idea of handing over responsibility for our weekly meal planning is even better, I sure did miss my kitchen.

I'm trying to get back to my regular routine in the kitchen, but it's slow going. I'm not allowed to look down for very long or bend forward at all. So now imagine trying to cook an entire meal or get anything from the bottom cabinets. It's hard work, I tell ya.

That being said, I've managed to pull out a few winners with a little help from Jesse. The most memorable have been chicken cacciatore, tacos, shrimp fried rice, Reuben sandwiches, and stuffed shells. Oh stuffed shells. Those were my favorite on the list. The shrimp fried rice and Reubens were a close second and third, respectively. :)

Let's jump back to the stuffed shells though, since that's how this post started.

I love ricotta. I also love stuffing food with food, as evidenced by the stuffed peppers I once wrote about. And who doesn't love Italian food? I know it's at the top of my list. And when you combine those three things, plus a few key ingredients, you get an amazing dish ... Italian Sausage and Spinach Stuffed Shells.

I served mine with a side salad, but the shells were the star here. If you wanted to stretch this dish to ensure leftovers (which are equally good - tested and confirmed), you could throw in some garlic bread.

I made 23 shells for four people and there were six leftover. We were trying to save room for dessert (thanks to our guests for bringing cannoli* ... very appropriate!). Otherwise, I think we would've polished off the last six shells.

I hope you get a chance to try the recipe, and if you do, please let me know how they turn out. My recipe is a combination of a few others, plus my own flair, so I'd love to hear what you think. Enjoy!

*Did you know that the singular of cannoli is cannolo? I had to look it up because it looked weird when I added an 's' to the end. Thanks to Wikipedia for the lesson of the day!

Italian Sausage and Spinach Stuffed Shells
Servings: 4-5
Cooking Time: 45 minutes

23-25 jumbo pasta shells

2 hot or sweet Italian sausages, crumbled (about 6 oz.)
3/4 bag baby spinach (5-6 oz)
15 oz. ricotta
1 egg
3/4 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. parsley
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 cup Italian cheese blend or mozzarella, plus extra for topping
1 jar (26 oz.) of your favorite pasta sauce

1. Begin by removing the sausage from the casing, if needed. Fry it in a medium size pan and crumble it as you go. When it is fully cooked, transfer it to a bowl and save about 1-2 tsp. of the grease (optional) for the next step. 

2. Steam the spinach in the leftover sausage grease until wilted. Add the spinach to the sausage and chill in the refrigerator or at room temperature until ready to use. 

3. Boil large pot of water and cook shells for 10 minutes or until al dente. Drain the shells and run under cold water to stop the cooking process. 

4. While pasta cooks, combine the ricotta, egg, cheese, and seasonings in a medium size bowl. When the sausage and spinach are cooled, add to the ricotta mixture. 

5. If baking right away, preheat oven to 350 degrees at this time.**

6. Pour 1/2 cup sauce in the bottom of a 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking dish and spread evenly to coat. Stuff about 2 Tbsp. of ricotta mixture into each shell*** and fill the pan. Once the bottom layer is full, create a second layer, placing them in between the shells on the bottom. When all the shells are stuffed, pour pasta sauce over the top to cover everything. Sprinkle Italian cheese over the top. 

7. Cover pan with foil and bake for 35 minutes. Remove foil and bake an additional 5-10 minutes. 

*Doubling the Recipe: If using an entire box of shells, double all ingredients except spinach and pasta sauce. For spinach, use one full bag. For pasta sauce, you can probably still use one jar, but have a 2nd jar available, just in case. Doubling the filling means you can fill each shell pretty full. After first layer of shells are in the baking dish, pour a thin layer of sauce before adding the second layer, or place extra shells in a new pan.

**Make-Ahead Directions: Prepare recipe as directed, but do not bake. Cover with plastic wrap, then foil. Refrigerate up to 24 hours or freeze up to 2 months. Remove plastic wrap; replace foil. Bake: refrigerated jumbo shells at 350 degrees about 40-50 minutes; frozen jumbo shells at 350 degrees about 2 hours or until hot and bubbly. (times given are approximate)

***I dried inside of shells using a paper towel before adding filling - not sure if it's necessary.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Wingbacks, Poufs and Pillows

I've been eyeing a chair at World Market for the last few weeks and I can't get it out of my mind. I check their website every couple days to see if it's still available. So far, so good. They've marked the price down once, but I keep hoping that they'll mark it down even more so I can somehow justify it.

Elliott Wingback Chair in Pacific Blue

There's one problem with my idea ... we have a huge sectional in our living room, which doesn't leave space for any other seating. It's something that drives me crazy for a few reasons: 1) Additional seating would provide more variety to the room, allowing more design options for me, 2) Sometimes I want to rest my bum on something else ... I don't always want to get swallowed up by our large couch, and 3) It would be nice to have a variety of seating to provide our guests so we don't all have to pile onto the same piece of furniture together. 

The seating situation has driven me crazy ever since we started buying furniture for this house, but with such a long, narrow living room, we aren't left with any other options. That being said, there's still one open corner in our office and a wingback chair would be the perfect solution to the emptiness. We currently only have a computer chair in the office, so a second chair would be a nice addition. Yes, this is me justifying a future purchase ... please let the price drop even more ...

While going through my chair dilemma, I did a little online window shopping and came up with a few alternatives that might look good in our house. 

{1} Elliott Wingback Chair in Nutmeg - While I would really like the Elliott Wingback in Pacific Blue for our office (pictured above), the Nutmeg version would look great in other rooms of my house. The deep, rusty orange would complement the earth tones of the living room, while the Pacific Blue option would provide a splash of color against the gray and white decor in the office. And I think either chair would be a nice surprise in our Wedgwood Gray (bluish gray) and Chartreuse sunroom. I. Need. This. Chair.

World Market

{2} Crenshaw Light Grey Modern Club Chair - The coloring of this chair is a bit too neutral for my taste, but I would love to dress it up with a black and white striped throw, a fun accent pillow and a fancy little pouf. And while I would love it in our living room, I could really see this being a great choice for the corner in Jesse's office. I can already picture me curled up with my iPad while Jesse sits at the computer doing "computer work" aka paying bills.




{3} Arianna Stationary Occasional Chair in Aegean - While the upholstery of this chair is a more muted tone than my crush at World Market, I really like knowing it's a La-Z-Boy. The La-Z-Boy brand has been around forever, so I would feel good about spending a little more money to get a better product. The simple lines and muted color would allow me to mix in some fun accent pieces, like the pouf and pillow below.




All of this online shopping is fun, but it sure does make me wish I could buy a few of these items for my house. Have you guys been scouting any good deals lately? It seems like January is a good time of year to find some of the best discounts and deals ... especially on clothes! But that's a post for a different day. :)

I know my posts were pretty sporadic in 2012, but I'm hoping to finally be done with all of the health issues I went through last year! I'm still being restricted quite a bit by the doctors, so it may be awhile before I have any projects to post about, but a girl can dream, right?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Where did the last 7 months go?!

The first sentence of a blog post after taking a 7 month hiatus is perhaps the biggest hurdle to writing again. But I finally decided it's time to buck up and get started. I have a few ideas swirling in my head and blogging holds me accountable for making those ideas reality. I also have a lot of updates health wise -- too many for one post.

I'm pretty sure I'm down to two readers (Hi Kelly and Carol!), or maybe even just one (Hi Kelly!), but I've felt so lost lately and I couldn't quite put my finger on it until this week. I'm missing my creative outlet. I've still been cooking (don't worry, no one was starved by my lack of blogging) and working on a few home-related DIY's here and there, but I miss sharing the back story, how-to, and/or experience surrounding each project. While I know I can call my bestie at any moment and she'll listen to me ramble about even the smallest details of my day, something has been pulling at me to write again. So here I am ... and I'd say you're stuck with me, but the decision to read this is really up to you. :) Is anyone still on board?

A lot has happened since I've been gone, but I'll spare you the gory details for now. Here is a quick summary to catch you up on my life since April:

May: I traveled home to KC to visit my family for the first time in a year! I use FaceTime with my nieces and nephews whenever possible, so they definitely remembered me, but I sure did miss them! I also traveled to Chicago on a business trip and let my sister and one of our friends tag along to enjoy the perks of a free hotel room.

my mom and me in KC
spending time with my sister in KC
FaceTime with Jack - singing Kermit the Frog

June: I had one business trip to Salt Lake City in the middle of the month and then I spent the next two weeks stuck at home with some of the worst migraines I've ever experienced. After a few tests, it was determined that my spinal fluid leak was back. On the plus side, Jesse and I managed to get away for a long weekend with two of our friends down at a riverside house in Virginia. I couldn't indulge in all of the fun (i.e. boat rides and adult beverages), but I had a really relaxing weekend and was grateful to be out of the house!

view flying into Salt Lake City
view from the river house

July: Half of this month was spent with migraines and the other half was spent coming to terms with the fact that I'd be having another surgery in August to fix the spinal fluid leak again. It would be the same surgery I had in February, but with a few minor tweaks to see if the doctor could get the packing to hold better. I tried to work ahead as much as possible so my colleagues wouldn't have to take on too much of my work in my absence.

August: We started out the month with a weekend trip to Virginia Beach for Jesse's soccer tournament. It was a really fun weekend and it was nice to have a small break before my surgery. Once we got back in town, my parents drove out to be here for the surgery. The rest of the month was consumed with surgery and post-op recovery. It was really nice to have my parents here to take care of me and to spend so much uninterrupted time with them. Once they left town, Kelly came to visit me for a long weekend. I was so happy to see her and she definitely helped with the healing process -- they say laughter is the best medicine. :) Jesse and I celebrated our 3rd anniversary at the end of August (despite the actual date being July 25th) by going to Totem, a Cirque du Soleil show that was live at National Harbor.

relaxing at Virginia Beach
before surgery (x marks the spot)
after surgery
check-up appt. with my dad
enjoying time with my parents
Totem for our anniversary

September: September really flew by! I had a conference in DC at the beginning of the month. I stayed downtown for the duration of the event because I was working really long shifts, but I felt so odd staying at a hotel in my own city. It was actually really nice to enjoy the city views and a few nice meals all without worrying about traffic, money or getting home. After the conference, we went to a 10-year anniversary party for Jesse's work and had a really nice time staying at National Harbor for the night. The next weekend was Jesse's birthday, which meant a full weekend of sports, friends and food!

Nats Bash for Jesse's birthday
DC United game for Jesse's birthday
Birthday party at our house

October: Another really busy month for us was October. We spent the first weekend in NY for a family member's memorial service, which was bittersweet. It was really nice to see and meet some of Jesse's family, but the main reason for the reunion was not forgotten. The second half of the month was spent with back-to-back house guests. Hosting our friends is a lot of fun, but it was around this time that my headaches returned, making it a bit more exhausting than expected. I did manage to put up a few autumn decorations this month, which seemed to make the season much better!

driving to NY
Enjoying time with Jesse's family
VA Brewfest (with friends) 
Port City Brewery Tour
autumn gourds
Happy Hallow-rooney!

November: We spent the first weekend of the month up in PA for an annual Fall party that my sister-in-law and her husband host. I had such a great time seeing Sunny, our newest nephew, and catching up with them. I was supposed to go to KC the following weekend, but after an eventful appointment with a neurologist at Johns Hopkins, I was advised not to fly because he was worried that the change in pressure might lead to more migraines. Not only that, he mentioned that all of my recent headaches might be due to another spinal fluid leak. He scheduled more MRIs and CT scans, which took place the week of Thanksgiving. After an awful sinus infection took me down in the middle of the month, I haven't been able to do much since. My headaches have gotten worse as the month progresses and the test results were inconclusive. Womp womp. The doctor scheduled another test for next Monday, which scares the bejeezus out of me ... it involves a spinal tap! Oh, on the plus side, my birthday was yesterday and while the celebration was very low-key, I had a wonderful time. I celebrated once with my in-laws while we were there for Thanksgiving and again with Jesse last night. He brought home Thai food from my favorite place and I got to open my presents! I feel so grateful to have so many friends and family members that love me! :)

The food at Corina and Neil's party
hanging out at Corina and Neil's house
Evan's baptism
I spent way too much time here this month
Thanksgiving dinner in PA
all gussied up for Thanksgiving
birthday loot round 1
Birthday loot round 2
blowing out my candles w/ my niece, Emily, via FaceTime.
Her birthday is one day before mine. :)

So there you have it ... that's my life as of today. It's been a long year, which I suppose is a good excuse to take a blogging break, but I really miss writing. I hope that I can post a little more frequently than every 7 months and I'll do my best to keep you guys updated on my health status as things continue to progress. Is anything new going on with you? Are you gearing up for the holidays? I'd love to hear if you have any plans! And really, I'd just love to hear from you if you're reading this. :)