Thursday, May 29, 2014

Things I Love Thursday // 5.29.13

  • Our recent holiday weekend ~ We kicked things off Friday night with a Date Night, always a good time. Then we had a late night rendezvous with one of my best high school friends who happened to be all the way on this side of the country (pictured below)--SO fun to catch up. Saturday was a lazy day of recovering. Sunday we enjoyed our first Charlotte baseball game with friends. And Monday we relaxed poolside with some other friends, followed by an impromptu backyard dinner (which included the best grilled hamburgers from Reid's). 
  • My spontaneous cooking class ~ My friend Carrie invited me to take the place of another friend who had to cancel last-minute for their Sur la Table Mediterranean-inspired cooking class. We had a great time and made several delicious recipes that I look forward to making for my family very soon and sharing with you here. 
  • My new grill pan ~ I've been interested in acquiring a new stovetop grill pan (after I accidentally destroyed the last one I had--I don't' even know how I accomplished that feat). After our cooking class, we perused the store with our discount coupons. It turned out that the pan I coveted was on sale already. Yay! Then, when the clerk went to the stock room to find my desired color (matte black), he came back with the larger version for a lesser price. It was their last one and the manager had marked it down for a quick sale. Double yay! It was a delightfully ridiculous price and I've already put it to use tonight on a another fabulous recipe I'll be sharing soon.  
  • Discovering a new, delicious, (VERY) affordable chardonnay ~ I couldn't believe my ears when my girlfriend "confessed" the price of the full-bodied, buttery, oak-laced chardonnay she brought to book club this week. Yummy! 
  • Watching Greg play tennis in the driveway with the girls ~ So sweet and so fun. I love to see him sharing something with them that he has enjoyed throughout his life. His gentle coaching, patience, and enthusiastic encouragement has paid off. Geneva can rally longer than I can (which admittedly, isn't saying much--but still). 
  • The way our gardenia has come back this spring ~ Our very kind movers smuggled this plant onto the moving truck in February of 2012. It had never really had a very impressive bloom and then it made the 8-day trek across the country in the snow. Once it arrived here, it was shoved aside and completely ignored neglected until recently. I moved it to a new spot, gave it some plant food, and began watering it regularly. I think it's safe to say that it's feeling happy! I wish you had a scratch-and-sniff monitor… the fragrance is unbelievable. 
  • Solidifying summer plans ~ Our journey out west is creeping up and we are getting so excited. In addition to spending some time with family and friends in Oregon, the girls have several camps lined up and we have lots of "sleeping-in pool days" scattered throughout the summer months. 
  • Enjoying a good book ~ I've actually enjoyed two great books back-to-back in these past few weeks. As you know if you've been reading along, I loved Sue Monk Kidd's, The Invention of Wings. I just finished Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. I found the plot and characters to be original and believable. While the character of Lou became tiresome at some points, overall the story was beautiful. AND… my book club just announced our next book, one of my all-time favorites, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. If you can believe it, I'm the only one of more than a dozen readers in the club who has already read it. I'm so excited for the others to experience the story. 
  • My little (charitable) saleswomen ~ While we (mostly me) recovered on Saturday from our fantastic night out on Friday, the girls set up and hosted a Snow Cone Stand in front of the house. They sold their deliciously syrupy, coned refreshments for fifty cents a piece. As they planned to donate all of their proceeds to the Carolinas Kids Cancer Research Fund, many of our neighbors and friends generously declined their sticky change. Greg and I matched their earnings and they were able give a surprisingly decent gift. 
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Thursday, May 22, 2014

Things I Love Thursday // 5.22.14

  • Writing up another installment of TILT! ~ It's been so long. I swear, the end of the school year is 10x as busy as the beginning. Cheers to summertime: sleeping in, lazy days at the pool, twilight spontaneous cocktail hours, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera… I really do value this time to reflect on the simple things that make me happy.
  • My little people rocking their aviators (and Waterlogue
  • Our new Roomba ~ I had given up on the idea that our kitchen table and chair legs might someday sit upon the dark hardwood floors sans tufts of Richard Parker fur. I cannot express to you the delight I enjoy in seeing these 28 wooden legs stand hair-free--especially when this condition comes as a result of my effort in pressing a button
  • The sweetest little handprint molds that my friend Sarah sneakily orchestrated with the girls for my Mother's Day ~ Honestly, it's going way too quickly. 
  • Fearless Geneva ~ I loved receiving a couple shots of G on her field trip from her teacher. She had said in the note that the tigress was really "interacting" with the kids (through the glass). Everyone had instinctively backed up, except Geneva--who moved forward. 
  • The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd ~ I just finished this book for my book club. I love when historical fiction just gets it right. It was also great to be reminded of some of the amazing historical figures I had been introduced to in one of my first graduate school classes, "Communication and Social Change" which focused on the Suffrage Movement. I will surely revisit Charleston, South Carolina with a new eye on our next trip.
  • The magnolias coming in ~ This bud is almost double the size of my fist. I can't wait to see the whole tree in bloom again. 
  • Lumiere ~ Far and away the BEST meal we've enjoyed in Charlotte, thus far. I talked Greg into the Chef's Tasting Menu with wine pairings and we could not have been more impressed. Our server, Ramsey, pushed the experience over-the-top and we were completely sated. 
  • Fresh strawberries from the farmer's market 
  • Discovering The Gashlycrumb Tinies and ordering a copy of the book for our home ~ Written by Edward Gorey in 1963, it is a morbid, humorous, and sarcastic account of 26 children (each representing a letter of the alphabet) who die in different scenarios. The "story" is told as a poem. The part I've come to love best is that Geneva has memorized the entire book and will recite it on demand. So good. (Or bad?) 
  • Reaping the rewards of all the prep and hassle of hosting a garage sale over the weekend ~ It is so nice to have finally opened those boxes in the basement (it's been 15 months!), cleared through the girls' closets (and my own), purged so many things that have been collecting dust, and best of all: counting the cash at the end of the day. 
  • When I casually comment to Geneva that her pillow-hair looks a little like Medusa and she really embraces it as a compliment 
  • The puppy-sitting we got to do for our friends ~ While it did confirm that a puppy is not in our immediate future, it was a terrific experience. We loved all the belly rubs, puppy-breath kisses, and enthusiastic tail-wagging. Someday… 
  • The prospect of catching up over drinks with one of my best high school friends tomorrow night ~ Woot woot! Cheers to keeping in touch!
  • The fact that we've been living cabinet and drawer-front free for the past 4 days… because I know it means that our kitchen "facelift" project is underway ~ Yahoo! 
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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Home Transformation | Front Yard Landscaping

We managed to take on the front-of-house landscaping project back in December. We worked with an amazing landscape designer and everything came out beautifully. Originally, we had plans worked up for all of the beds on the property. As it turned out, executing half the plans fit into our budget so the backyard beds remain enthusiastically overgrown and chaotically unkept (though bursting with blooms and wild southern greenery). We're so glad that we didn't skimp on the details or the scale in order to address all of the beds "a little bit." Instead, we chose to fully undertake half of the project at the time and look forward to completing the plans for the back-of-the-house at another time. It's remarkable how much more the house looks like a home now that we've added all the plantings.
I've gone back through some of our photos to find a couple that show the front beds BEFORE
The beds had always been neatly weeded and there was a little greenery planted throughout. I actually didn't notice how bare they looked for the longest time--focusing instead on the interior of the house, like the entryway, living room, and dining room. The most flattering picture of the front yard that's been posted here was in the New Southern Porch blog post from this time last year.
When everything had been planted, it already looked so much better. And yes, the skies really are bright blue here some of the time in December--though our "regional" grass (Zoysia) does go brown and dormant through the winter. In fact, many of the plants were dormant when they went in. The Weeping Japanese Maple had no leaves (out of the frame below--far left) and neither did the European Hornbeams (which you can barely make out in the photo below, flanking the outer columns). 
 While the plants were big and beautiful, the only thing getting ready to bloom in December were the Yuletide Camellias and some brightly colored pansies in the "annual beds" that hug the walkway. However, the Pink Drift Rose bushes had promising new growth and the Big Leaf Hydrangeas boasted many buds, hinting at what was to come.
And finally, it's SPRING!
The hydrangeas are really coming along. We have 5 of the Big Leaf variety at the right side of the front beds. We also have a large Limelight in the bed that lines the driveway (not pictured). I can't wait to see the big-headed flowers they produce.
The Pink Drift Roses are in full bloom right now, bursting with blossoms.
Our Weeping Maple has come in with beautiful red leaves. The Creeping Jenny survived the snow and is beginning to reach its arms out toward the giant boulder that serves to mark the far left edge of the bed.
And most impressive, are the giant Hornbeams that have begun to fill out with an abundance of green leaves.
Oh yeah… our grass is coming back too! Everything is looking green, fresh, and loved. The sweet tea tastes even sweeter now from the front porch rocking chairs--I kid. I've not quite embraced the south to that extent yet. No sweet tea for this girl. I'll stick to Vermont Vixen sipping (recipe at the bottom of the linked post) on the front porch for now.
Cheers!
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Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Recipe Review | Herbed Greek Chicken Salad

With the weather warming up and the evenings getting busy (soccer, tennis, play dates, etc.), it was time to introduce a new entree salad into our regular dinner mix. This protein-packed Greek chicken salad was everything I hoped it might be: easy, flavorful, healthy, and filling.

Herbed Greek Chicken Salad
{via My Recipes}
~
What you need:
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
3/4 teaspoon black pepper, divided
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
Cooking spray (I used a dash of olive oil instead)
1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut into 1-inch cubes
5 teaspoons fresh lemon juice, divided
1 cup plain fat-free yogurt (I used Greek yogurt--Y'know… getting into the spirit of the dish an' all.)
2 teaspoons tahini (sesame-seed paste)
1 teaspoon bottled minced garlic*
8 cups chopper romaine lettuce
1 cup peeled chopped English cucumber
6 pitted kalamata olives, halved (I used about 6 per serving!)
1/4 cup (1 ounce) crumbled feta cheese (Again, went a little heavy here.)
~
What to do:
  1. Combine oregano, garlic powder, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a bowl. Heat a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray (olive oil). Add chicken and spice mixture; sauté until chicken is done. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon lemon juice; stir. Remove from pan and set aside. 
  2. Comine remaining 2 teaspoons lemon juice, remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper, yogurt, tahini, and garlic in a small bowl; stir well. *Because I have a distaste for pre-processed garlic, I used a clove of garlic, run through my garlic press. However, this did leave quite a bite of garlic in the dressing. I might consider using the garlic paste in the refrigerated tube next time… not sure. What do you think?
  3. Combine lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes, and olives. Place 2 1/2 cups of lettuce mixture on each of 4 plates. (I have a couple raw-tomato haters in my house. I built my salads in each bowl per each diner's preferences.) 
  4. Top each serving with 1/2 cup chicken mixture and 1 tablespoon cheese.  Drizzle (or plop--it's pretty thick) each serving with 3 tablespoons yogurt mixture. 
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Friday, May 2, 2014

Spring Break Highlights | Charleston, Savannah, Hilton Head

In a brilliantly frugal state of mind, I suggested to the hubby that for the girls' spring break this year, we tag-along with him on one of his work trips. We are fairly new transplants to the southeast portion of the country and much of it, we have not seen. "We" referring to the girls and I. On the contrary, my husband travels nearly every week, visiting his offices in all the states south of us, plus Puerto Rico. 
As it turns out, the stars aligned and he was able to plan two nights in Charleston, South Carolina, followed by a night in Savannah, Georgia. On top of that, our neighbors and fast-friends were planning to spend the Easter weekend (which wrapped up our break) with their family on Hilton Head Island and would we like to join them? This rounded out the tail-end of our "southern spring break adventure" with two nights on the island. Here's a summary of how we spent our time. 

This post will probably be VERY long--but count yourselves lucky (unlike me) that I lost my camera and with it, most of my pictures from the trip.

Charleston, South Carolina

The hotel was great. It had a pool, which was the girls' only requirement. For me, it was terrific because of the location. We walked everywhere (including the aquarium, below). There were shops, restaurants, people-watching, the waterfront, parks, etcetera--all right there. Our first discovery was the French chocolate cafe, Christophe Artisan Chocolatier. We had ample time to wander down King Street where each of us found a new sundress. We even picked up a pair of super-silly socks for the Mister.
The aquarium itself is nice: well-appointed, organized, and clean. Overall, it was quite small--especially if the "standard" by which you measure aquariums is based on your memories of childhood afternoons spent at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Though it must be said, the mermaid element was actually awful. Yes, they really did feature "mermaids" swimming (that's an overly generous description) among the fish in their largest tank performing "shows" which consisted of trying to not float up to the surface while simultaneously sucking on an oxygen tube. I was viscerally offended. Apparently, I was the only one who was, as there were approximately 10,000 (total exaggeration) parents in line with small children (and some not so small) to pay an additional fee to have their picture taken with a girl wearing a long blond wig, her legs stuffed into a sequined tail, and arriving to the throne (what the hell?) via a wheelchair. I guess it's one thing when you're in the Magic Kingdom--we've been conditioned… However, I was terribly unprepared to encounter the farce at what I'd always considered a place of science and learning. Despite the underwhelming aquarium exhibits, there was one HUGE highlight: The Sea Turtle Hospital. The only way in is to purchase regular admission to the aquarium and then pay an additional entrance fee for the private tour of the hospital. It was fantastic. There was "actual real science" happening everywhere you looked and my kids ate it up (as did I). 
Family Dinner with Friends
While in Charleston, we had the pleasure of a delicious home-cooked meal with the Brannen family. As you can see below, the girls had no trouble jumping right into the mix with the three Brannen boys. (Oldest not pictured--but certainly was involved in the battles, explorations, zip-lining, and treehouse scouting.) We sipped amazing wine, ate like kings, and enjoyed ourselves immensely. 

Savannah, Georgia

Savannah is all live oaks, Spanish moss, public parks, history, and monuments--sprinkled with SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design) students donning purple hair in lieu of shoes (another exaggeration). What I loved most about Savannah (aside from the 22 stunningly green public squares generously situated throughout the historic district) was the laid-back vibe of the place. We stayed at the Mansion on Forsyth, a charming boutique hotel directly adjacent to Forsyth Park, the largest public park in the city. The sunshine brought out picnickers, frisbee chasing dogs, soccer players, loungers, musicians, and squealing children. It was a riot of activity and after a quick dip in the hotel pool, we took our time strolling along the canopied path dripping with oak branches and moss. Between several monuments and the huge parisian-inspired fountain, we came across a terrific playground and spent some time on the swings. It was here that we first heard "whisper" of the possible danger in collecting the fallen lace-like trails of Spanish moss (which G had been doing all afternoon). A small boy with a big accent sitting atop the play structure announced to us, "Y'all keep touchin' that there moss, is gonna steal yo soul." For real. He said that. This four-year-old authority on spiritual safety with regard to botany. The girls looked to me, wide-eyed. I silently shrugged my shoulders in a way I hoped communicated, "He seems like he has our best interests at heart; let's not mock his voodoo story while he's still within earshot." Smiling, we continued on our way, dragging the moss behind us. 
The following day (Friday) was soggy, as was the remainder of our spring break. I was disappointed with the weather but pleased that it meant Greg's golf outing was cancelled and his vacation with us could officially begin. For the first part of the trip, his presence was limited to the over-stuffed duffle in the corner of our hotel room. He'd slip out before we woke to head to work and return late, after a work dinner, when the girls were already fast asleep. After a tasty breakfast, I convinced my family that a tour on one of the many shuttle/carriage services was in order. Just outside our hotel, we hopped on a covered trolly and were ceremoniously carted all over the historic district and down along the waterfront. Your tour is largely reliant on the guide you happen upon. We were told that each guide did their own research and was left the autonomy to craft their stories, highlight legends, provide history lessons, and share travel tips to their liking. "Tammy," originally from Tennessee, was a long-time Savannah transplant and her thick accent added to the experience. Though heavy with dining, snacking, and "where to get the best candyice-creampralines" tips--the tour was historically informative as well. I would recommend taking a guide-led tour if you're ever in Savannah. You can get off and on the route at any of the stops to further explore the area. It was on this tour that we next heard about the dangers of Spanish moss. Tammy told us, "they was full of chiggers" and that we "best not go around handlin' any of it, les' y'all wanna cover yo red welts with nail polish--cuz thas the only way you gonna get rid of 'em." It seems our tiny spiritual advisor was onto something… 
 
{Our selfie at breakfast in the gallery restaurant, 700 Drayton}
{Forsyth Park via}

Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

After our tour, we hopped in the car and headed to Hilton Head to meet our friends, Beth and Adam (and their adorable twins) for the holiday weekend. We were warmly welcomed at the home of Beth's parents who could not have been more generous, funny, entertaining, or inclusive. Enjoying the best accommodations of the trip, the girls had their own room and so did we! We dined on a gourmet meal, put the kids to bed, and finished the night laughing, playing board games and visiting, fire-side.
Although the soggy conditions of the day turned into a torrential storm that lasted through the night on Friday, we did manage to take advantage of the break in the downpour on Saturday morning to walk over to the RBC Heritage PGA Tournament happening around the corner from their home. Leaving the Dads to enjoy some golf, Beth and I took the kids and walked over to the Harbour Town Lighthouse and Marina. Due to the weather, the place was practically a ghost town; however, we managed to enjoy the views and the kids got to run around and explore. We were back at the homestead by 10am and we hastily got ready to attend the Bunny Brunch where we were entertained by the grumpiest Easter bunny any of us had ever encountered. All six of us "grown ups" had a delightful time whispering to one another the bunny's inner thoughts (including the imagined details about the night he had before arriving to the brunch that morning).
{Getting photo-bombed by Lucy} 
 
 
 
When the fellas headed back to the tournament later that afternoon, Beth and I took the kids on an epic bike ride through the misty wet of the afternoon, winding our way along the paths to the beach where we collected shells and then over to the stables where a better-prepared mother generously shared her 10 pound bag of carrots with us so that we could all feed the horses. Warm baths and movies followed for the kids (plus reading, reading, reading for one of them) while the adults spent the remainder of the day and on into the night relaxing, eating, and sipping. One of the best moments of our trip was when Beth's dad sat down at the piano and taught G to play Heart and Soul with him.
Easter morning arrived with the biggest "backyard" egg hunt I've ever witnessed. The four kiddos made out like bandits! After indulging in yet another fabulous meal (Have you ever heard of Christmas Brunch--the recipe? You must try it!) we leisurely collected our belongings, packed our bags, and loaded up the car. Four and a half hours later, after many samples of the girls' Easter loot, we were home.
Richard Parker was well-cared for in our absence but clearly missed our company. He demonstrated this by practically climbing the french doors to get to us as we came across the driveway and into the house and then trailing us from room to room for two days. Of course, now that our spring break was officially over, the sun burst into the sky and we've been enjoying warm temperatures ever since.
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