A Very Thankful Thanksgiving

Drew and I have so much to be thankful for this year.  We both have jobs that not only pay the bills, but we truly enjoy them (99% of the time!)  We have a large network of family and friends that loves and supports us, our dream home, and overall health and happiness.  I often find Thanksgiving as a time of reflection, as I’m sure most of us do.  While this year has not been without its difficult times and emotional roller coasters, our blessings far outweigh the bad.

fireplace pic

Last Tuesday, we headed to Kentucky to celebrate Thanksgiving with my parents and extended family.  While traffic wasn’t bad, it rained pretty much the entire way.  Theo had fun playing in the snow and even though I’d much prefer it closer to Christmas, I can’t argue that it looks beautiful.  Drew and I made the famous chocolate ganache praline cake, which is no doubt a labor of love.  We actually had to make the ganache twice since the chocolate hardened too quickly the first time.  It takes about three hours from start to finish, but one bite and it all becomes worth it.

us by the cake

It’s hard to pick a favorite Thanksgiving dish; everything is delicious and holds its own unique memories.  My Dad’s deep-fried turkey is always a hit, and my grandmother’s macaroni and cheese recipe hasn’t been tampered with for generations.  We have our twists on traditional favorites (oyster stuffing anyone?!) but definitely serve the usual suspects – sweet potato casserole, rolls and pecan pie.

the bird

After dinner, we always gather in the family room to watch football and let our stomachs settle before it’s time for dessert.  At least 3 or 4 people end up falling asleep, whether on the couch or sprawled out on the floor.  While I don’t brave the crowds and venture out on Black Friday, it’s fun to still pick through the ads.  But what’s even more fun? Sleeping in the next day and then eating a slice of cake for breakfast.

cousins

With this being the last year that my parents will be living in Northern Kentucky, the week was a little bittersweet.  We may very well be eating turkey on the beach next year, or Drew and I may even offer to host.  That being said, I made extra sure to take in all the traditions and memories: making Uncle Doug’s fruit salad, eating lasagna the night before, watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade over breakfast, looking for the turkey coloring contest in the paper, pre-Turkey day spinning class with Mom, grabbing “just one more” slice of cake at 8 p.m.  Wherever we celebrate Thanksgiving next year, no doubt we will once again be counting our blessings.

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The Magic of Ordinary Days

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As of late, we’ve had several back-to-back weekends full of, well, nothing.  Sure, we’ve gotten out and about and done things, but we haven’t had schedule full of to-do’s or traveling.  Of course all that is about to change this coming week as we head to Kentucky for Thanksgiving, but we’ve had several leisurely weekends at home.  Two Saturdays ago we got up early to hike up Kennesaw Mountain.  It had been a little over two years since the first time we went, hiking to the top for a lunch picnic with several other couples.  This time it was just the two of us and we stopped at a quaint little coffee shop along the way to pick up coffee and breakfast.  The view at the top is worth the short hike up and the Atlanta skyline is just beautiful.  Like I said in my previous post, I have definitely taken a new liking to Fall.

fall decor

We’ve had a lot of fun decorating our home for the Fall season.  It’s also been fun to take our time adding things here and there, like hanging up the gold window treatments in the dining room and finding new pillows for the couch.  I think I’ve been to TJ Maxx more times in the past two months than I ever have in my entire life.  This past Tuesday night, I headed to a friend’s house for a girls’ night full of laughter, hot soup, and crafting.  Several of us made wreaths and though I thought I could hold out hanging ours until after Thanksgiving, I just couldn’t wait.  Yes, I am one of those people that post-Halloween, I crank up the Michael Buble Christmas music on Pandora.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Thanksgiving (if you’ve seen the incredibly spread at my parent’s house, what’s not to love?), but as soon as November 29th rolls around, I am in full blown Christmas mode.

wreath

That being said, I’m using this post as an opportunity to hold myself accountable for being content and grateful throughout the holiday season.  I want relax and soak it all in, rather than spinning my wheels in anticipation of what is still left to be done.  It’s no fun wishing away the magic of the season, in hopes that it may arrive a bit quicker.  We’ve spent the last several weeks at church diving into what it means to intentionally seek out rest.  It almost seems like a contradiction to talk about during this time of year, but perhaps this is when we need it most.  I plan to journal each and every day, noting everything from the mundane and ordinary to the extraordinary.  Too many days go by where I try to remember what happened that day, only to forget or have one day run into the next.  By giving each day its own celebration, I think the season overall will be much, much richer.

Falling in Love with Fall

pumpkins

I have long said, “If it could be 80 degrees and sunny year round, I would be a happy camper.”  Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve loved the summer months and detested the cold, bitter winter.  However, now that I’m older, I’m finally starting to appreciate Fall.  I used to sulk for the first day in September or October where I’d have to grab a jacket before heading outside.  But when the temperature dropped a few weeks ago, quite a bit earlier than it has the past couple years in Atlanta, I was ready.  There are far too many great things that come with the changing of the season…

Leaves changing colors.  Pumpkin everything.  The red cups at Starbucks are back!  Warm cardigans and cable-knit sweaters.  Halloween.  Apple cider.  Thanksgiving.  Deep fried turkey.  The sound leaves make crunching under my shoes during my early morning runs.  Hot chocolate with mini marshmallows.  Carving pumpkins.  Early Christmas shopping.  Holiday office parties.  Fall baking.  Holiday displays in all the stores.  Decorating our home for Fall.  Fuzzy slippers.  Curling up by the fireplace with a good book.  The list goes on.

fallrunning

Fall is my favorite season for running. All the changing leaves are so beautiful!

This past week was Halloween, and I was so excited to finally be able to hand out candy to trick-or-treaters.  It was just something we just didn’t get to do living in an apartment complex.  Also, you know you’re becoming a real adult when you balk at the price of candy.  I literally stood in the aisle at Kroger for a good ten minutes, wondering how in the world I was spending over $20 on two bags of candy that little fairies, ghosts and goblins would gobble up in seconds.  Thankfully we didn’t run out, and I would stand to argue that I actually had more fun than the trick-or-treaters, “oohing” and “aahing” at all the cute costumes and waving at all the families from our front porch rocking chairs.  It’s definitely a tradition I’m excited to continue for years to come.

pumpkin cookies

Iced pumpkin sugar cookies, just one of our many traditions this time of year.

Not a surprise that another one of my favorite things about Fall is baking.  There’s just something incredibly comforting about the flavors of Fall–pumpkin, cranberry, and spices like nutmeg and ginger.  I also have a lot of childhood memories of days spent in the kitchen with my Mom and grandmothers, wearing aprons too big for me and getting more flour in my hair and clothes than in the mixing bowl.  Today, whenever I make something that reminds me of a family recipe, I’ll take a picture and text it to my Mom and it feels like we’re back in the same kitchen, baking and laughing together.

My Mom’s harvest pumpkin loaf is one of my favorite things she bakes.  I always look forward to it this time of year.  Since I won’t be able to have any until we visit over Thanksgiving, I decided to try making my own version.  It’s a bit different than hers–I added cranberries and left out the nuts and glaze topping–but it smells and looks just as good!

bread

Pumpkin Cranberry Chocolate Chip Quick Bread
Makes one 9×5 loaf

Ingredients:
3/4 cup white flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp each cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, ground gloves
1 container vanilla or pumpkin-flavored yogurt
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1/2 cup honey
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a 9×5 baking pan.  In a large bowl, beat together pumpkin, yogurt, honey, egg and vanilla extract.  Slowly beat in flours, baking soda, baking powder, salt and spices.  Once even combined, stir in cranberries then chocolate chips.  Spoon batter into pan and bake for 45-55 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

A Last Hurrah of Summer

So this is a much delayed post…but as you’ll soon learn, it’s been a busy past few weeks for us!  Now how’s that for a cliffhanger?  Unless you’re know us well, then you obviously know what I’m hinting at 🙂

boat2

A few weekends ago we spent an afternoon boating on Lake Lanier.  One of our friends found an awesome deal on Groupon for a large group to spend several hours on the water, wake-boarding and just soaking up the last few precious rays of the summer sun.  I do no such thing as wake-board, but I definitely enjoyed the latter.   The weather was perfect with barely a cloud in the sky.  Even though it’ll stay relatively warm in Atlanta for another few weeks, it really was one of our final “hurrah’s” of the summer season.

boat1

The following afternoon we spent strolling the streets–literally–around Midtown.  Last May, the city put on an event called Atlanta Streets Alive, closing down Peachtree Street to traffic and letting people walk freely while checking out storefronts and pop-up events.  Drew and I had so much fun last time (climbing a rock wall was involved) that we were excited to find out they were bringing it back again so soon.  The weather was perfect and we spent over 2 hours walking several miles, exploring stores, running into friends and soaking up the sun.  We never doubted how wonderful it is to live in Midtown, right in the heart of everything, but it’s events like this that make me love Atlanta even more.

midtownlove

After spending several hours outside, where the temperature neared 90, we were quite grateful to be back in the AC.  The temperature has been slowly dropping since, and I can’t help but be lulled into the Fall season when my Pinterest feed is being overrun by Halloween decor and the return of Starbucks’ pumpkin spice latte.  So, true to form, I made a breakfast cake that has Fall written all over it.  I want to eat this while sitting on the back of a hay ride, snuggled in a sweater and watching the leaves change colors.  Also, the accompanying frosting is not optional. 

applecake

Apple Spice Breakfast Cake with Caramel Frosting
Makes 1 bundt cake or 2 medium-size loaves

Ingredients
For the cake:
1 container vanilla or plain yogurt
3/4 cup apple butter or applesauce
1 large egg
1 Tbs vanilla extract
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 large overripe banana, smashed
1 3/4 cup apples, chopped
1 tsp each of the following spices: cinnamon, allspice, ground ginger, cloves, nutmeg
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda

For the frosting:
1/2 stick butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 Tbs milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease bundt or loaf pans. In a large bowl, stir together yogurt, apple butter or applesauce, egg, vanilla and sugars until combined. Add in banana, apples and spices. Slowly mix in flours and baking soda and stir until just combined, but be careful not to overmix. Pour into pan(s) and bake 40 min. or until inserted knife comes out clean. Allow to cool completely before frosting.

To make the frosting, melt butter in a small saucepan over medium high heat. Allow to boil for one minute, add in brown sugar, and allow to boil for another 2 minutes while stirring continuously. Remove from heat, stir in milk and vanilla. Sift in powdered sugar, whisking until frosting becomes thick. Allow to thicken about 5-10 minutes before pouring over cooled cake.

Hiking up Kennesaw Mountain

I’m discovering that Fall in Atlanta is quite different than Fall in Kentucky.  Whereas Bowling Green is getting gloomy and frigid at about this time, the temperature in Atlanta is still hovering around the mid 60’s.  I haven’t worn a jacket to work once this week.  That’s really saying something since I am almost always cold and reaching for a blanket or sweatshirt.  What I find even harder to believe, besides the fact that it’s a week before Thanksgiving and I see people walking around outside wearing short sleeves, is that I actually want it to get colder.  As I was telling Drew a few nights ago, it just doesn’t feel like the holiday season unless I’m wrapped up in a warm quilt, sipping hot cocoa and waiting for my nose to thaw out from being out in the cold and return to its natural color, rather than bright red.

That being said, it’s been wonderful to have a few more precious weekends available for doing outdoor activities before the temperature drops for good.  There are so many outdoor events going on throughout the city, especially during this time of year.  There’s a Christmas lights show in the Botanical Garden a few blocks from our apartment that would be absolutely magical to see; every time I drive home from work at night I can see neon blue, pink and green lights sparkling in the dark night at the entrance gates.  Wanting to break away from my boring runs on the treadmill in our apartment’s gym, I’ve decided to start accompanying Drew on some of his outdoor runs.  There are few things I despise more than being cold while I’m running but I don’t think that’s going to be an issue for at least another few weeks.

Taking advantage of the perfect weather, this past Saturday Drew and I went hiking up Kennesaw Mountain with several of the couples from our house church.  We brought sandwiches and trail mix with plans to eat lunch once we all reached the top.  The hike up was absolutely gorgeous, and we stopped several times to get a better look at the breath-taking views.  We couldn’t have asked for a better day, or weather; as we looked out at the city below us, nothing but red, green and yellow trees could be seen for miles around.  It’s nice to know there are places you can go to escape from the hustle and bustle of city life, if only for a few hours.

On the drive back into town, we stopped with Lance and Shelly to see the “big red chicken” off the interstate. We’d heard them mention it before, but never really knew the extent of what they were referring to.  As we got closer, literally, a “huge red chicken” appeared out of nowhere in front of a KFC restaurant.  Drew managed to get a few pictures from inside the car before we began driving back.  As Kentuckians, we appreciated to nod to our roots (and to the best fried chicken around).

That night Drew and I went on our weekly date night to a new restaurant called JCT Kitchen.  We didn’t know what to expect but looking at the menu online, everything sounded delicious.  It was a lot fancier inside than it looked on the outside with dim lighting, white tablecloths and cozy bench seating. We ended up splitting a bottle of wine and ate a leisurely, delicious dinner.  The tea light candle at our table kept going out so we had to grab ones from the empty tables around us.  I’m sure we got a few stares from our waiter and other customers from doing that, and because we were constantly checking our phones for updates of the LSU/WKU game.  I guess that goes to show, no matter how fancy an environment we’re in, we’re still going to joke around and be ourselves.  The fact that we can do that with each other is one of the things that I treasure most.

WKU Homecoming 2011!

Back in Kentucky for WKU Homecoming 2011!

Some of my favorite things about fall are the changing leaves, apple cider and pumpkin pie, and football season.  Particularly the latter.  Although WKU has never had a very good football team (at least not when I was in school), I was still very excited to go back and visit during Homecoming weekend.  On Friday afternoon after work, I made the long trek to Bowling Green, stopping in Nashville to pick up Drew from the airport.  He’d spent the past several days traveling for work so we were more than ready to be reunited!  We arrived in Bowling Green a little after 10 p.m. and headed straight for our hotel.  As we walked through the hallway toward our room, my Mom came out to greet us.  Every time I see my Mom-which has only been twice since moving to Atlanta-I get flooded with so many emotions.  I’m more than happy with my new life in Atlanta, but I still miss my mom every single day.  Chelsea and her mom were also staying in the same hotel—how perfect! As soon as we were all reunited, I knew that even with all the time that had passed, nothing had really changed.  A great weekend was in store for all of us.

Heather, Scottie and I at the Imagewest Open House

Our Saturday started out pretty early; we headed to campus for a morning open-house at Imagewest, the student-run agency I interned at during my senior year.  It was a little surreal walking in to the agency as an alum and someone who’s starting out in the real Ad world.  All the current students were asking both Drew and I for advice, which was a total role-reversal.  For the past 4 years, I was the one looking all googly-eyed at the alumni who’d come back to visit, just praying that one day I’d “make it” too.  As I signed the guestbook and dropped my business card in the jar, I realized that I most likely wouldn’t be where I am now if it weren’t for my experience at Imagewest.

My sorority little sister 🙂

After leaving Imagewest, and parting ways with Drew, the girls made mimosas and navigated through a sea of red toward the lawn for tailgating.  We brought Macey, Karly’s dog, with us–she was definitely the life of the party.  I’m actually glad Drew didn’t get a chance to see her since I think he probably would have tried to steal her and bring her back to Atlanta with us.  It was fun (and again, surreal) mingling from tent to tent and reuniting with people I hadn’t seen since May.  I now completely understand why WKU alumni come back for years and years, even bringing their kids and in some cases, grandkids.  Sure, there are thousands of people, yet it feels like a close-knit family.  I hope Drew and I continue to go back each year that we’re able.

The girls, reunited at long last!

After tailgating, and a short sting shopping with Mom and Chelsea, we made our way to Olive Garden for dinner and drinks.  Drew and I rarely eat at chain restaurants in Atlanta so I’d forgotten just how delicious Olive Garden’s salad and breadsticks are.  And hats off to the bartender for making on heck of a margarita.  Sitting around the table with my two best friends from college, along with the moms, made me nostalgic, almost sad.  The times that we’ll be able to get together like that again aren’t as numerous as they once were. Still, I don’t think there’s any distance that could keep me from seeing those girls.  We’re already talking of planning a New Year’s Eve weekend in Nashville.

Kevin, Katie and I at Olive Garden. Wish I had taken a pic of our magnificent-looking margaritas!

After a mid-morning brunch at Cracker Barrel, we all packed into our separate vehicles and set out in opposite directions.  Saying goodbye to Mom was difficult as always but knowing that my parents will be visiting us the first weekend in November made it a bit easier.  And I know I’ll be seeing Chelsea and Katie before too long.  The best thing about our friendship is that no matter how long we go without seeing each other, we always pick up right where we left off.

A Night at the Zoo

In addition to our adventures at the pumpkin patch this weekend, Drew and I also attended Jazzoo Atlanta Saturday night.  I’d been hearing about the event all week long on the radio but at $100 a pop, there was no way I was going to suggest we go.  On Friday, Drew won 2 tickets via a Twitter contest hosted by Scoutmob.  The first person to tweet a picture of a cute and cuddly zoo animal would win 2 tickets to the annual event.  Drew ended up winning the tickets!  Imagine my surprise when I’m scanning through my Twitter feed during my lunch break and see Scoutmob tweeting that my husband has won tickets to Jazzoo.  Things like that don’t happen too often, but it’s awesome when they do!

The evening featured 30 local restaurants offering samples of their menu staples, a dozen fully-stocked bars and entertainment acts like live jazz music and acrobats.  Not to mention the event was taking place among hundreds of zoo animals!  Proceeds benefitted the zoo and from the great turn out of people, I’d say it was a very successful event.  Drew and I went in jeans and sweaters, knowing it would get chilly once the sun went down.  As we arrived, people were stepping out of black limos, dressed in cocktail dresses and tuxedos.  We felt a little awkward at first but once we entered the zoo and got some food and drinks, we just let ourselves have fun and enjoy the evening.  Some people took the event very literally, dressing up in cat ears, tails and even full panda suits (see picture below).  It was clear that everyone was there for a good time, and to help support a very worthy cause.

With so many food vendors, it was impossible to try everything (although I really, really wanted to).  We mapped out the places we wanted to go to most and sampled a great variety of dishes.  Some of our favorite included grilled chicken tacos from Tin Lizzy’s,  shrimp and grits from Six Feet Under (where we plan on taking my parents for dinner when they visit next month!), BBQ from D.B.A., noodle bowls from Genki, and the cutest mini chocolate cupcakes from YumYum Cupcake.  Another highlight from the night was the cirque du soleil-esque performance that took place right in front of our table as we were eating. It amazes me how much upper body strength those men and women have.  I can’t imagine being able to hold myself up in thin air balancing on ropes that look thin as ribbon.

We left the zoo, hand in hand, with full bellies and completely exhausted from the busy day.   We definitely want to go back to the zoo when it’s daylight so we can see more of the animals.  And from the great tastings we had, we’ve added several restaurants to our “Must Try” list. That’s the great thing about Atlanta: there are so many new things to see and do.  I don’t think we’ll ever get tired of this city with a new adventure around every corner.  This weekend taught me how important it is to live in the moment and enjoy each day as it comes.  I can’t wait for the next free weekend where we really get to explore this great big city of ours.