Wednesday, August 31, 2011

you are STRONGER than you seem

... which could also be called:

the one where I admit I have no idea what's going on

Either of my parents would tell you I came out of the womb headstrong, confident and demanding. My mother was in hard labor with all 9 lbs of me for 24 hours with no drugs - I just didn't feel like coming out yet. I cried if someone other than my mother held me, which they labeled as colic - I just wanted to be with my mom. The point is, I know what I want, and always have. I can remember, as a slightly older child, telling my parents I needed a drink. "Do you NEED it, or do you WANT it?", my father would ask. Hmm: I'm not dehydrated. I'm not in a desert. I don't have to swallow a pill. "I guess I want it." But I got the drink anyway, so I never broke the habit of confusing my wants with needs.

What I'm trying to get at is this: our wants often become so desperate (at least in our minds), we think we need the thing in question. But more times than not, we don't need it. So if I don't need that pair of shoes or a second brownie or a new car (I could go on and on), what do I need? I've come to realize recently

I don't know

That revelation is so scary, as someone who has maintained the "I can take care of myself" attitude so confidently for many years. The admission that I don't know what's going on in my life, in my head, in my body. And then, a moment later, it's not scary. Because the more I find I don't know what I need, the more I find God does. Which is pretty cool, right? 

Yes. It is cool.

A lot of this goes back to the control thing. I'm a Type A personality (or as my best friend Kelly likes to call it, "crazy") and that's basically just a nice way of saying I'm a control freak. I should have a warning label, but this will have to do. In my aforementioned 26 has been a big year note, I should've included the mention that giving up control has been one of the things I've been trying to accomplish, and that can be directly correlated to giving that control to God. I mean, as long as somebody's got a handle on my life, I guess that's ok, right?

Right. It is ok.

The long and the short of it (mostly long, at this point) is this: 
God knows what I need. 
I do not. 
I need to stop pretending that I do. 
I need to start understanding that, if He thinks I need it, I do.
And if He thinks I need it, He'll give me the strength to get through it.

Which is awesome.

So while I might whine or get frustrated or even cry over this lack of understanding what's happened or where I'm headed or what's going to come my way, I'm really focusing to remember the positive, and that is that - whatever it is - I can handle it. And I made THIS to remind myself. I just have to figure out where I'm going to hang it.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Recipe: Italian Meatballs

which could also be called "a quasi-italian girl's meatballs"

Several months ago, I saw that a friend's husband had made homemade meatball subs. I thought "I'm part Italian. I am going to Italy soon. I can do this" (again, this was several months ago). So I sat down and I did it. And GUESS WHAT! My father-in-law, who grew up in western Pennsylvania where every woman makes her own meatballs, liked them. Genuinely liked them, even after he found out they were made with ground turkey. If that's not a seal of approval, I don't know what is.

Some friends we had over for dinner a few months later enjoyed them, too. And Ben & I enjoyed them. So, you could say, the meatballs were a great success. In fact, such a success, I swore I wouldn't buy the frozen ones anymore because these homemade babies were soooo much better. 

And that lasted about a month.

But I made them again last night for a potluck at work today to celebrate a co-worker who's having a baby, and they're just as good as I remembered. They're not as pretty as the frozen ones, but they're so much better.

  • 1 lb ground turkey
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup breadcrumbs
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup parsley
  • 1 tsp italian seasoning
  • 2 tbsp parmesan
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • salt and pepper (to taste, about 1 tsp each)
Meat Goo, Gross!
  1. Saute onions in small pan with a little bit of cooking spray until translucent
  2. Mix milk & breadcrumbs in a small bowl, let stand for 20 minutes
  3. Combine turkey & beef in a large bowl
  4. Add eggs, parsley, cooked onion, garlic, parmesan, olive oil, garlic, italian seasoning, cayenne, salt & pepper (I normally add a few ingredients, then mix it all together, then add a few more and so on; makes it easier to get everything combined)
  5. Stir in breadcrumb / milk mixture
  6. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze for 20 minutes or refrigerate for 1 hr
  7. Cover two cookie sheets with aluminum foil and spray with cooking spray
  8. Preheat oven to 425
  9. If you have a small ice cream scoop, use that to ball the meatballs. Otherwise, keep a glass of cold water handy to dip your hand in and begin balling the meat - should be about golf ball size
  10. Line the meatballs 6 rows of 5 (I was able to make exactly 60 from this batch, but I make mine small
    An Army of Meatballs! Oh No!
  11. Bake 20 minutes - there will be some nasty looking greasy stuff on the pan, I normally wipe that off the meatballs with a paper towel but I'm sure it doesn't really matter
  12. You can either add immediately to a sauce pan with tomato sauce, or freeze for later use. OR, do what I do, throw them in the crock pot on low or warm for a few hours
Ta Da! Nom Nom Nom

Monday, August 29, 2011

Craft Corner: Baby Alphabet Book

Not so much a craft as it is a project, but still, a little DIY action never hurt nobody.

Something you should know about me: My design-minded friends be damned, I use the heck out of some Microsoft Publisher.

It started with a welcome banner for my assistant, which evolved into a variety of banner types for every occasion: bridal showers, bachelorette parties, birthdays, baby showers (and births) ... even a welcome-home-dog-who-ran-away banner. I am the go-to girl for party decorations in our department, a title I take very seriously and may be featured on the next iteration of my resume.

But I digress, this post is about the Baby Alphabet Book project we did for Grace's shower. It was specifically requested by the DIY queen herself, Leslie, and I'm happy to make anyone's "job" easier by sharing the documents I already created. Of course, feel free to adapt these templates with font changes or sizes to fit your needs.

What You'll Need:

  • Scrapbook (preferably not the 12x12 books, as that will be a challenge to print)
  • Printer
  • Microsoft Office Suite
  • 26 Sheets White Paper (color copy paper is slightly thicker)
  • Art Supplies: Markers, Crayons, Stickers, Stamps, etc.
  • Scissors or Paper Cutter (I have one from scrapbooking) 
  • This Template

So easy, and stuff you already have (minus maybe the scrapbook, I used a pink 8x8 book from Michael's for this baby girl with a 40% off coupon). Just print the sheets, cut them to the size of your book, and let the guests expose their hidden talents. Make sure you ask all the artists to sign the back of their page so Mom can tell Baby who made each letter, and TA DA! you have a personal record of all the shower attendees that will be enjoyed by Mom and Baby alike.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Recipe: Taco Bowls

Another Andrea Shipman-inspired recipe, courtesy of Budget Bytes. It couldn't be an easier recipe - seriously, no prep whatsoever. And the ingredients are probably all things you have in your fridge already!


  • 1.5 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts (mine were frozen!)
  • 8 oz frozen corn (if you like corn, you can use the whole 16 oz bag)
  • 1 can black beans, drained (again, if you like black beans, use two cans)
  • 1 jar salsa (I only had a half jar, so I supplemented with a can of Rotel tomatoes & chiles)
  • 1 tbsp each: chili powder, cumin, garlic powder (hint: buy the cumin in a large jar from the ethnic section for major savings. it's one of my favorite spices)
  • 1/4 tsp each: oregano, cayenne pepper, salt & pepper
  • Rice (as you may know, I use boil-in-bag)
  • Optional: Shredded Cheddar, Fat Free Sour Cream, Fresh Cilantro - I used dried because I didn't have any fresh cilantro!

  1. Place everything in a crockpot (except rice, cheese, sour cream, cilantro)
  2. Set on high for 8 hrs
  3. 10 minutes before it's finished, cook rice to directions on bag
  4. Use spoon or fork to shred chicken in crockpot (should be very easy to shred)
  5. Top rice with chicken mixture, cheese, sour cream and cilantro

You can also use the leftovers (this recipe makes a lot!) as tacos - just fill a flour tortilla instead of topping the rice. Lunches for a week, you're welcome.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

My first baby shower

(I should note here that this is my first time co-hosting a baby shower, not having one thrown for me. don't get ahead of yourselves, people)

Way back in February, Grace told me she was 10 weeks pregnant. That exact day, we began planning her baby shower. There were excited whispers and emails among our tiny supper club of "we're going to have a baby!" (which Grace loved, by the way, and often responded with "are YOU going to push it out of YOUR vagina?!"). There were tears when she walked off the elevator one spring day with a pink dress on (yes, she color-coded her wardrobe on the day they found out the baby's sex). There have been multiple planning lunches to discuss the finer details of this shower.

And then it was finally here.

We thought we were prepared. We had shopped, spent, crafted, cut, baked, printed and invited. We had activities and games planned, a menu set, decorations made. And somehow we STILL were running around like chickens with our heads cut off the day of. 

Chickens who had frilly pink bathing suits to hang and green whimsical birds to cut out and cakes to ice and punch to make. 

Chickens who had so much fun planning a special day for such a sweet sweet mommy-to-be.
The co-hosts started out just me and Melati. Then sweet Sloan volunteered her house for the event, and she was usurped into our planning committee - and thank goodness she was! She made (MADE?!) these amazing cupcakes and the cake.

We really did have a lovely time planning and executing the shower, and were so excited to see 20 beautiful guests arrive to celebrate Grace and Baby Tarrant.

Beyond the amazing cake & cupcakes, some of my favorite touches included...

two punch varieties I made: "Knocked Up" (non-alcoholic) and "Knocked Out"  (alcoholic). Delicious and adorable!

... Creating an alphabet book for the baby, with each guest coloring a letter

... Utilizing Sloan's boys' easel to welcome and greet the guests

...  "Baby Bingo" to engage the guests while Grace opened all her adorable miniature gifts for Baby T. Lisa won a fabulous hot pink clutch, if I do say so myself ;)

Be on the lookout for a recipe post soon to surround the punches, veggie pizza, fruit tarts and other highlights from the menu. Also, happy to share any of my templates for decorations, signs, games, etc. 

And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the gorgeous invitations, designed by Emily Forsberg (seen above on far left). She's a rockstar!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Craft Corner with the Jotas

I'm not sure if I've introduced you, dear readers, to my very best group of girlfriends. The good news is, I imagine half my subscription base pools from those girls, so only a few of you may potentially be in the dark.

Sarah's Wedding, 2008

Things you should know about my very best group of girlfriends:

  • We refer to ourselves as Ese Jota (long story)
  • We went to high school together (some went to middle school together, and even PRE-SCHOOL, but we all came together in high school) in Manassas, Virginia
  • We (some of us, I'm looking at you Courtney, Abby, Tressa & Rachel) have matching tattoos of compasses (there's a story there, too)
  • We are currently located in 8 cities across 5 states and span two coasts 
  • The foundation of our friendship is rooted in celebrating Secret Santa

Secret Santa 2007

Eventually, when we all started getting married and having in-laws and our parents moved away from the town we grew up in, it became harder and harder to get together every Christmas to do Secret Santa. Someone had the brilliant idea to switch it to the summer time, and move the location to the beach, and the natural progression of things was to change the name to Secret Seashell. So each year, the nine of us and our "playthings" (read: dates, boyfriends, fiances or husbands) get together at a beach house somewhere on the east coast and exchange gifts but mostly get drunk.

Secret Seashell 2008

From May 2011-May 2012, we have four weddings in our group of nine. FOUR. Plus four bachelorette parties, and 27 bridal showers (23 of them were for Kelly). That might be an exaggeration, but regardless, it's an expensive year for Ese Jota. Our solution was to forego the traditional beach trip for a "Raleigh Weekend", and replace our traditional $50-$75 spending limit for gifts with the mandate that they must be homemade. For some of the girls, this is no problem; namely, the one who sews & crafts for a living. But for others of us (cough, Tressa) it was a challenge.

Everyone put so much love and effort into their gifts, and the results were awesome. So many cute ideas that you will likely see me re-use for gifts in the upcoming future. Here are the highlights (until I get more pictures):

Clemson-colored Bath salts and Soaps from Jenny to Kelly (she's gonna love me for this photo) - one even had a tiger in it!

Skirt Apron and Reversible purse from Abby (the aforementioned professional seamstress) to Rachel; the matching wine coasters are pictured below

A very long-awaited "Edward, Size Large" (in t-shirt form) - look how enamored she is! The quote reads "Look After My Heart ... I've Left It With You". I never got into the whole vampire thing, so it's just creepy to me, but whatever.
Personalized stationary from Aubrey Hale to Sarah

Really adorable Map-Frames from Kelly to Tressa (again, probably gonna kill me for this pic). One is of Hilton Head, SC (where Tressa & Greg are getting married in October) and one is of the Arlington, VA area (where they live). Expect to see these again, I love-love-love this idea (found on pinterest).

A garden stone, complete with all of our pictures incorporated, made by Tressa for me. This is such a huge accomplishment for Tressa, you have no idea, and I LOVE it! Adorable.

And finally, the gifts I'm obviously most proud of, hand-painted monogrammed wine glasses and wine-cork wall hanging, from me to Aubrey Hale. Inspiration taken from Whitney for the glasses (which are showcasing Abby's wine glass coasters, made for Rachel, to match the apron) and The Elephant's Trunk, via Caroline, for the wall hanging. Expect to see these again, too.

Let me know if you want step by step instructions for any of these, I'll try to hook it up!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Recipe: Chicken Makhani (sort-of)

Let me start by saying "THIS MIGHT BE MY FAVORITE THING I'VE EVER MADE". It's only fair to say, considering I said it about 25 times last night while eating. I actually said to my dear, sweet husband "I don't even care if you like it, I will eat your's too, because I. LOVE. IT."

I was introduced this week by Andrea to a new blog : Budget Bytes. The writer, Beth, is on a mission to prove that everyone can cook, and they can do it inexpensively and deliciously. God Bless Her! Her "Not Butter Chicken" recipe inspired my "Chicken Makhani Sort Of", an Indian dish which I probably never would've attempted without Beth's post. Also, she forced me to invest the $6 for Garam Masala and MAN! is it worth it.

Ben says it reminds him of something cozy to eat on a cold day (AKA Comfort Food) but I will not be able to wait for cold weather to make this again.


  • 2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts, fat trimmed and cut into large chunks
  • 3 tbsp butter or margarine
  • Garlic powder
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • Ground ginger
  • GARAM MASALA (this stuff will change your life)
  • Ground cayenne pepper
  • 15 oz tomato sauce
  • 2 tomatoes, diced
  • 1/2 cup plain fat free yogurt (PLAIN, not vanilla)
  • Boil-in-Bag Jasmine rice ('cuz I'm a cheater)

Before you go any further, you should notice there are no measurements on the spices. That's because this recipe is really about your tastes. I kept throwing more spices in, so I'll give guidelines but you really should keep tasting the sauce to get it to where you like it!

  • Heat butter on medium high in a large sauce pan or pot
  • Brown chicken in melted butter, Remove from pan and reduce heat to medium
  • Add onion, garlic powder (1 tsp), ginger (1/2 tsp); stir and let cook for 2 minutes
  • Add garam masala (1 tbsp), cayenne pepper (1/2 tsp)
  • Cook until onion becomes clear; Add tomato sauce and tomatoes and stir thoroughly
  • Add chicken back in, cover, and reduce heat and let simmer for up to an hour

  • Cook rice according to directions on box - Seriously, I don't eff with rice
  • Just before serving, mix in yogurt with chicken mixture and stir well
  • Serve chicken & sauce over rice and eat your face off 

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Stuck in Cary: Volume 4 ... THE BATHROOM IS FINISHED!

This may be hard to believe for anyone who has not had their downstairs bathroom under construction for 2+ months, but Friday was one of the happiest days of my life. My amazing husband and amazing father-in-law finally finished! Sweet sweet Ben made a promise (possibly against his will, but that's irrelevant) that it would be finished by the time my friends arrived and, although it was truly down to the wire, he didn't disappoint.

To be fair, we flip-flopped on how we wanted to handle the updates a number of times. "Let's put in a stand-alone vanity" / "Oh we can't, because we're out of tile". "Let's buy a scrap piece of granite and cut it to fit our stupid custom-sized counter top" / "Just kidding, it's going to cost $200 to get the granite cut". A lot of flip-flopping. So when we finally came to an agreement that we would purchase pre-cut "granite" from Home Depot and my talented FIL would cut it to fit our stupid custom-sized counter top, it became a race to the finish.

Ugly Ugly brassy fixtures, horrible blue paint
Wallpaper that was a pain in the butt to take down (at least it appeared to be, ask Ben) 
More ugly brassy fixtures, I hate you mid-90's construction 
Poor painting job which resulted in blue all over the floor boards

Things "we" (read: they, with my supervision / sustenance by providing food and drink) accomplished:

  • Tearing out fixtures (toilet paper holder, counter top, mirror hanger, towel rack)
  • Ripping down poorly applied wallpaper ... to reveal horrid bright ugly blue & green paint
  • Painting a beautiful gray/purple color

New flowers, New toilet handle and no-slam seat (sounds silly, but it's cool!)
Polished nickel fixtures - on places where there are actually studs!
And Beanie hand-scraped up all the paint off the floor boards
Fancy rectangle sink
Pretty, pretty new light fixture with beautiful marbled shades & mirror
Installing a great multi-colored granite-esque counter top and fancy new sink

Needless to say, I'm super excited. Once I recover from the 12 extra people who were staying at my house all weekend, you may all (read: the 4 of you that might occasionally read this blog) come over and use my beautiful new bathroom. Huge thanks to Ben & Beanie for rocking it out.