Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 in Review

Sheesh, I knew we had quite the year, with relocating from Texas to North Carolina, but typing this all out made me realize just how busy we were!

We rang in the New Year with friends at one of our favorite TX restaurants, Jasper's, followed by champagne in coffee mugs, and (an illegal) DIY neighborhood fireworks display.

I spent a few days in Dallas for a national conference for work.

For Valentine's Day weekend we headed to New Orleans. We cashed in some Hilton points to stay in the Roosevelt Hotel which was totally worth it - there was a TV in the bathroom, people!

My best friend since 7th grade came and stayed with us for 10 days in Texas, doing veterinarian things at Texas A&M during the week and enjoying all the things TX has to offer on the weekends (yay rodeo!)

We traveled to PA for Easter and a memorial service for my grandfather (belated) at the state park where he sailed his boat for many years.

My trusty 2001 Camry called it quits on me while driving to College Station for work. This led to us buying our first ever brand new car.

We spent a few days in Charlotte, exploring and finding an apartment. We finally signed a lease the morning of our flight.

I enjoyed a weekend at my alma mater for my 5 year college reunion. Simultaneous feelings of "how did I get so old" and "it's like no time has passed" ensued. Great fun was had staying in the dorm we had lived in junior year, enjoying all of our favorite hole-in-the-wall restaurants, and drinking multiple giant iced coffees from our favorite Dunkin Donuts knock-offs (seriously, they were sued at one point because so many people pulled into their parking lot thinking it was a Dunkin Donuts.)

I had my last day at work then our movers came and packed up our apartment, so we checked into a hotel for our last night in Texas.

Early on the 1st of June, we headed off on our 1,068 mile journey to our temporary home in Charlotte. We stopped in Mobile, AL on the way.

After two weeks in the hotel we moved into our apartment, stayed for less than a week and then headed North for two weeks. I spent a week at home with my parents and a weekend with one of my best college friends in NYC.

We went to the Jersey Shore for the 4th of July, ate one of the best meals of our lives at the Knife & Fork Inn in Atlantic City, climbed a lighthouse, stumbled upon world championship sand sculptures, soaked up sun and time with our nephew, and enjoyed fireworks on the beach.

We hosted my parents as our first visitors in Charlotte.

We celebrated our one year wedding anniversary!

We headed to CT for a wedding and Boston to see friends.

We bought a house! Well actually, we bought a plot of land that will eventually have our house on it.
We started off the month at a beautiful Labor Day weekend wedding in Saratoga Springs, NY.

We took a spur of the moment weekend trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. We enjoyed amazing panoramic views, moonshine, and junk food (and rain, don't forget the rain!)

We headed to Cape Cod for a lovely beach wedding, and rented an awesome house next to a nature preserve with some college friends.

We hosted my in-laws for their first trip to North Carolina. We visited the Biltmore and Asheville and showed them around Charlotte.

I did some solo tourist stuff in Atlanta while A. attended a training. I visited the World of Coke, Centennial Olympic Park, and ate clam chowder by my lonesome.
Centennial Olympic Park from our hotel room window.
Old Coke ads at the beginning of the Coca-Cola tour.
We celebrated my 28th birthday with several fantastic meals in Charlotte.

We had our pre-construction meeting for our townhouse and walked around "in" our house which at that point was a leveled pile of dirt. Closing date is set for late February.

We drove home to Philly for Thanksgiving, stopping in Washington D.C. on the way to visit with my brother (and eat!) We enjoyed a week of quality time with family and childhood friends, fantastic food, and chilly weather.

We got our first "real" tree!

We checked out the Speedway Christmas event at the Charlotte Motor Speedway.

We drove back to Philadelphia for another week with our families for the holidays. I took no pictures. Sadly we left a day early to beat some bad weather, but it was nice to enjoy one last lazy, rainy Sunday for 2013.

We did some after-Christmas sale furniture shopping to fill our to-be house.

I also got to spend an afternoon with one of my best friends from college who was visiting family in Greenville, SC.

Tonight we're anticipating a low-key celebration of Chinese food, champagne, and movies at home. I couldn't be more excited!

And finally, for you visual learners:

2013 Road Map
I only included states that A. and I visited (or drove through) together. He would have to add a few more for various work trips. In 2013 we visited 17/50 states.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Favorite Ornaments

I've been really enjoying seeing other bloggers' holiday decorations and ornaments, so I thought I'd join in today, too! These are just a few of my favorites. My in-laws got us a bunch of ornaments the past few years and gave us a box of A's ornaments from childhood...I put some of them on the tree but not all because we got a pretty small tree and it would be completely baseball themed if I'd put them all up. All of the ones I'm sharing today though are ornaments that A. and I got together or have a special meaning for us.

The first one is our wedding invitation "suite" cut into strips and put into a clear plastic ball. I've been making these for all of the weddings we've been attending for the past year or so.

This next ornament is a big nod to our time in TX. We got this one of our first year's there at a store in the local mall called "Y'all Texas Store." That store came in handy for stocking up on fun gifts for our families, too.

This one we picked up on our spur of the moment weekend trip to Gatlinburg in September. We got it at a Christmas store in the Arts & Crafts Village outside of town. There was a man dressed as Santa who asked if we've been good and it made me feel so awkward we had to leave pretty much immediately...but not before finding this cute little guy. Gatlinburg had wood carved black bears everywhere, so as soon as I spotted him, I knew it was perfect.

Next up is an ornament we picked up in St. Maarten, one of the islands we visited on our honeymoon.

I gave this ornament away this past weekend at my Meetup group's Ugly Sweater Party & White Elephant gift exchange. I DIYed it last week; painting a sunset scene and (abstractly) the Uptown Charlotte skyline on a papier mache ornament from Michael's. Then I added gold glitter glue, because what ornament isn't better with a little bit of bling? It's by no means perfect, but I was happy with it and it was one of the gifts that was stolen at the gift exchange.

Almost there, promise! Here's our tree topper - I love it! We picked it up last year on clearance at Target after Christmas. Growing up, we always had Moravian stars hanging up at Christmas and this topper reminded me of them.

And finally, a shot of the whole tree. We definitely need a better tree stand and a tree skirt. Hoping that Target's after Christmas sales will come through for me again this year.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Five on Friday the 13th

1. Getting crafty - A. was away for a few days this week and I used the time to clean and do laundry, be crafty and bake. I'm making peppermint oreo truffles and gingerbread cookie truffles for an ugly sweater party I'm going to this weekend, and I finally finished a few of the winter/holiday crafts I'd been putting off, including a homemade ornament for a White Elephant gift exchange. I'll share it after the party, but I'm pretty excited with how it turned out! I still haven't hit "submit" on our holiday card order, so those are looking more and more like they'll be New Year's/Season's Greetings cards.

2. Roasted broccoli. I seriously can't get enough this week. I've eaten three whole heads of broccoli by myself. Yum.

3. GorillaPod Tripod by Joby
Image via
 I've been eyeing this snappy little tripod for quite a while, and recently added it to an Amazon order. It attaches easily to my digital camera, and it's bendy legs make it possible to get all kinds of shots. I'm awful at taking pictures of cooking and crafts projects, and I'm a big self-timer fan and this tripod has really come in handy a few times already. I haven't used it for anything as extreme as the picture above, but it's a great little (cheap) gadget. Stocking stuffer, perhaps?

4. Gingerbread House Forever Stamps
Image via
How cute are these Gingerbread House forever stamps?! Add that to the fact that our holiday cards are going to double as "new address" cards for our house and I had to snatch them up. Now there's no excuse not to get our cards out. They are just the perfect mix of whimsy and stylish.

5. Baked French Toast - I've been experimenting with baked french toast recently, and have found the perfect recipes. They are both from the blog Two Peas & Their Pod. The first one I made was on Thanksgiving morning and it was kind of a combination of their Baked Pumpkin French Toast and their Baked Eggnog French Toast. I also made a batch of the eggnog version last night and put it in the oven first thing this morning as a surprise for my husband to celebrate his company's year-end presentation being today. Today was always an exciting day in Texas, the whole office would get together for a big holiday party at A.'s boss' house after the presentation. We're sad to be missing out (but excited to spend it with a new group of coworkers in Charlotte), so I wanted to do something special.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Holiday Traditions

Holidays are all about traditions, aren't they? I remember the year that my parents suggested we make a turkey breast instead of a whole turkey for Thanksgiving, and my brother and I about flipped. Even though both of us were leaving a few days after Thanksgiving to go back to our respective colleges, and it was only going to be four of us for Thanksgiving dinner, it just COULDN'T BE Thanksgiving without the wings and drumsticks, could it?!? Well, we had a turkey breast and it was still Thanksgiving, but it was a good first lesson in changing things up a bit.

My husband and I grew up about 3 miles from one another, so our holiday time sharing isn't as extreme as most people I know, but it has still taken some creative problem-solving to appease everyone, and I'm sure we'll continue to tweak our holiday traditions as the years go by. We were together for about 8 years before we got married (3 of those years living together in Texas.) For those three years before we were married we'd travel home together but then go our separate ways - A. to his parents' house, and I'd go to mine. Since getting married we stay together, but try to split our time fairly evenly between the houses.

We usually end up having two dinners on Thanksgiving Day, but luckily Christmas is a little easier. A's family does most of their celebrating and gift exchanging on Christmas Eve, whereas my family does everything on Christmas day. I love being able to enjoy both days without having to shuffle back and forth and feel like we're missing something. A's family does a delicious Italian feast on Christmas Eve, and it has become a really special part of Christmas over the past 9 years I've attended.

As much as I love our current holiday traditions, I also feel like we aren't really creating our own traditions yet. I've been told a lot of that comes when you start having kids and making the effort that goes into creating traditions for them, so we're a little while off from all of that. So for now, we'll continue our shuffle, but we're making an effort to do holiday things in our home before we travel. I've always preferred that we exchange our gifts privately, so we've traditionally either found a few quiet moments to do so or we'll do our exchange a few days early. We also try to treat our trips as vacation and do some fun things by ourselves. For Thanksgiving we stopped in D.C. for a night in a hotel downtown, and over Christmas we're looking into a few day trips to local attractions. Because we haven't had a chance to go on a real vacation this year (that's what happens when you live far away from family and friends - we traveled to a lot of weddings, plus the move), we like to make the most of our time away.

What holiday traditions do you love? Are you creating any new holiday traditions on your own?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

'Sposed to be cleaning but instead I keep finding crafts to do, packages to track, pictures to scan, and treats to make...Whoops. Using the oldest trick in the book, I've dumped our clean laundry on top of our bed so I "have" to fold it before going to bed tonight.

Will post my treats and projects after I'm out from under my mountain of laundry!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Weekend Wrap Up and Menu Monday

We had a nice weekend that was a mix of busy and lazy. Sunday's nasty weather really lent itself to a lazy day. We went outside once to walk to the grocery store to return Redbox movies and grab an onion for last night's dinner. Love a dreary Sunday every once in a while because it makes me feel okay with wasting a whole day doing nothing.

Friday evening we decided to check out the Speedway Christmas event at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. We aren't racing fans, but this sounded like fun - Christmas movies on their giant HDTV screen, over 3 miles of lights, a Christmas village with concessions, a petting zoo and rides, and a chance to drive your own car on a few of the turns on the track. The beautiful weather on Friday made it even more fun - we rode through the light show with our windows down, blaring Christmas music from the radio. We visited the animals, walked through the shops, and split a funnel cake. The movie that night was Christmas Vacation, we didn't stay to watch it but the screen was really impressive.

Saturday we made a quick trip to IKEA to pick up a bunch of picture frames, then we stopped by our house site after we'd gotten a call that our foundation had been poured the day before. I'd been worrying all week about when they'd be able to pour it because of all the rain that was in the forecast. Luckily, with the break in the rain Friday and Saturday, the foundation was poured and framing will start this week (you can follow along with weekly update pictures under the "Our House" tab.) Ended up doing our grocery shopping on Saturday afternoon so that we could have a lazy day at home on Sunday.

Sunday we slept in and then I made soup for lunch - Chicken & Stuffing Dumpling Soup...yes, I made a box of Stovetop stuffing a week after Thanksgiving...yes that makes me ridiculous. To be fair, I'd found the recipe before Thanksgiving, but there weren't any leftovers for us to take home. It was delicious and would definitely be even better with homemade stock from the turkey bones, and leftover turkey and stuffing. It reminded me a lot of matzoh ball soup but the stuffing made for even better "dumpling balls" because of the poultry seasoning.

The rest of the day was spent cleaning, cooking, and watching football and our regular Sunday night shows. The Eagles game in the blizzard was a ton of fun to watch. Somehow Lincoln Financial Field got a lot more snow than my parents' house about a half an hour away. I can't believe that I'm starting to enjoy watching football...very unexpected. Maybe Texas rubbed off on me even more than I thought.

 Menu for the Week

On Friday afternoon I had stopped by Pasta & Provisions to take advantage (again!) of their Friday meal deal. I picked the pomodoro sauce and a pound of fresh linguine.  I love their fresh pasta and can't wait to enjoy it for dinner a few times this week.

-Meatloaf, Mashed Potatoes & Mushroom Gravy
-Cioppino over linguine
-Linguine with Roasted Broccoli

I'll be back this week to talk about holiday traditions.

Friday, December 6, 2013

December 6th Five on Friday

Linking up for Five on Friday!

1. Hubby making gingerbread 
During my most recent trip to Trader Joe's I picked up a box of their gingerbread mix, without a real plan on when to make it. The other night, A. took it upon himself to make it. I honestly can't remember another time that he's baked (and neither can he!) I've already put it on my list for my next TJ's trip, before it's gone for the year.

2. Polar Seltzer
When I moved south after college, I was dismayed to find a serious lack of flavored sparkling/seltzer water. The only stuff I could find consistently in Texas (and North Carolina) were the artificially sweetened fruit waters, and those were NOT what I was looking for. Eventually my grocery store in TX started stocking a bunch of the La Croix waters and even a store brand, but only a few flavors here and there. North Carolina didn't seem to offer much more, but a recently I found my absolute favorite seltzer, Polar Seltzer, at Earth Fare. Polar is headquartered in the city I went to college in, and I could always find any flavor I was looking for, and cheap! They don't offer the full array of flavors here, but my water intake has increased dramatically (anyone else find it harder to drink as much water as you're supposed to when it's not blazing hot outside?) since finding it. For the record, my absolute favorite flavor is Blueberry, and I've never met anyone else who likes it like I do.

3. Chromecast
A. and I volunteered to be the guinea pigs for the new Chromecast after talking about it with my dad over Thanksgiving. It arrived the other day and we're just starting to take advantage of it. The part I'm most excited about it being able to stream our Netflix queue on the TV in our bedroom (silly, but true, previously we'd been confined to the living room and there have been many times where I've wanted to watch some crappy movie or watch "just one more" episode of a bingewatch TV show after getting ready for bed.)

4. Cooking challenge
There's no way around it, this time of year is expensive. Between a ton of travel, buying gifts, and all the other things that come with the holidays, I'm sure we all start to feel the pinch. We're making a goal to cook as many meals at home as possible the rest of this month. We have some holiday parties to go to, so that'll break it up a little bit, but it's amazing how much money you can save by eating in a few extra times a month. But, I'm bored of the recipes we make all the time, so I've been pinning and reading lots of my favorite food blogs for some new ideas. I've built up a good list and can't wait to start trying some new recipes out. This weekend I'm trying my hand at Cioppino, in hopes of perfecting it one day. Even though it pains me to pay so much for seafood at the store, I know we'd spend a lot more on the same dishes at a restaurant, which makes it a bit easier to stomach.

5. A last hurrah at warm weather?
I know we're 2 weeks away from the official start of winter, but I am not complaining about the warm weather today. As much as wintry weather and chilly nights tempt me to curl up and get cozy in front of our tree, I'm looking forward to a warm evening outside tonight.

Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Winter Bucket List

With Thanksgiving behind us, we're full swing into the holiday season. Thanksgiving being so late this year has really thrown me for a loop - we only have three weekends left before Christmas (and one of them will probably be spent traveling!) So, I made the following list of wintry/Christmas things I want to do so I can try to jam pack them into the little time we have between now and the 25th!

 We've already started working on some of these items:

-On Sunday afternoon we got our first "real" tree. We've had a tiny (2 ft) tree the past two years, one I received at a White Elephant at work and the other we picked up at Lowe's, so getting a real tree and decorating it with the ornaments we've been collecting for the past several years was high on the list this year. Our apartment smells deliciously pine-y, just don't look at the bottom of the tree, we need a tree skirt and currently have magazines keeping the tree stand level on the floor.

-Send holiday cards - these are a work in progress thanks to a Groupon a while back, but they probably won't go out until a week or so before Christmas, luckily the design I picked is more of a Season's Greetings/New Year card, so hopefully no one will care!

-A White Elephant party with my wonderful Meetup group should take care of the ugly sweater list item. I found my old standby hideous Christmas vest that I got in 2009 while I was in Philly this past week and packed it.

-I'm making plans to go to the holiday afternoon tea at the Ritz Carlton in Uptown Charlotte, and hit some of the other Uptown spots at the same time, so I could probably check off several of these items in one afternoon.

I think I'm doing almost all of my shopping online this year - so shopping didn't make the winter bucket list. What are you doing to get ready for the holidays?

Monday, December 2, 2013

Weekend Recap and Meals for the Week

We spent most of Saturday in the car making our way through Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia and on to Charlotte. After getting home we made a quick and easy dinner from the pantry and caught up on some shows we missed with all the excitement of last week. We slept in a bit on Sunday morning and then headed out to do errands - grocery shopping, a trip to Target, and to the King's Drive Farmer's Market which currently houses the Darrell Simpson Tree lot. We found a great little tree and brought it home. Unfortunately we need to go back to Target to get at least another string of lights because it's a little bit plusher than we were expecting to get. We spent the rest of the evening unpacking some of our other Christmas decorations and some of the wedding gifts we were able to bring back from our parents' houses this trip (in hindsight, having our registry gifts shipped to Philadelphia was kind of silly, but we knew we'd be moving in the not-so-distant future and didn't have much room in our apartment in Texas.)

Menu for the week
-King Ranch Chicken and salad - I was introduced to King Ranch Chicken Casserole when I moved to Texas, and I have a half package of corn tortillas left over from something else. I'm hoping to lighten up the original recipe a little bit.

-Italian Zucchini Boats with salad and garlic bread - these Skinnytaste zucchini boats show up on tons of blogs and Pinterest boards I follow, but I've never actually made them before, so I'm excited to give them a shot this week.

-Hawaiian Chicken with Vegetable Kabobs and Coconut Rice - another Pinterest find.

-Hash Brown Casserole and salad - this is actually a test recipe for Christmas morning, I think of Christmas when I think of ham, and diced red and green peppers would make for a festive casserole.

Today I'm scouring the Cyber Monday sales, but so far haven't found anything much more impressive than what they had over the weekend...maybe I'm looking in all the wrong places?

Sunday, December 1, 2013

PA Trip

We got back late yesterday evening from our Thanksgiving trip to PA. As I mentioned last week we spent one night and day in D.C. and then the rest of the week in Philadelphia. When we go back to Philadelphia, we end up splitting our time between my family and A's, as they only live a few miles apart. It also means that we're go, go go most of the time that we're there.

I got to see a bunch of my girlfriends from high school, two of whom are recently engaged (one as recently as Tuesday night!) We visited the same brewery in my parents' neighborhood a few times through the week to catch up with different groups of people as they came into town. We have TONS of weddings in 2014, a planner just became item #1 on my Christmas list.

We also got to love on lots of babies, my cousin had a baby girl in July, and we spent a bunch of time with our almost three year old nephew throughout the week.

I think I also mentioned that we were continuing my family's tradition of a combined birthday dinner during the week of Thanksgiving. Last year we went Latin, this year we went BYOB Chinese. We ate at a well-known Chinese restaurant in Philadelphia, called Han Dynasty. Everything is family style and a lot of it is REALLY spicy, Szechuan style. We knew this going in, so we picked most of our dishes off of the lower end of the spice spectrum (there are little red numbers from 1-10 next to most of the dishes.) We ordered three starters - dumplings in chili oil, cold sesame noodles, and dan dan noodles (perfectly spicy noodles with ground pork.) For entrees we ordered ginger shredded duck, pork with garlic sauce, three cup chicken and salt & pepper shrimp. Everything was delicious. My dad literally drank the sauce from the bottom of the three cup chicken serving bowl.

As for our Thanksgiving festivities, we had two Thanksgiving dinners on Thursday, one in the early afternoon with A's family and one around dinner time with my family. On Wednesday I made our centerpiece, made pies with my mom and prepped a baked pumpkin french toast to go into the oven first thing on Thursday morning. The french toast was a big hit and I'm already thinking about what we could prep on Christmas Eve to enjoy on Christmas morning.

 I'll be back tomorrow with some menu planning for the week. Are you tired of turkey, or still looking for creative ways to use up leftovers?