Christmas 2013

drew and me

The last few weeks of 2013 were quite busy for us!  So much so that I am just now getting around to blogging a recap of the holidays.  As usual, Drew and I traveled to Kentucky to spend time with both sides of the family.  Even though we both still had to check in with work every so often, it was extremely refreshing to have almost 2 weeks physically out of the office.  Spending time with family is definitely one of our top priorities, and while Atlanta is still a 6 hour drive from both of our families, we definitely were able to do so this Christmas.

canton xmas

Before heading to Kentucky, we celebrated Christmas, as well as several birthdays, with the Georgia relatives.  Then we headed to Louisville to spend the weekend with Nanny and Granddaddy.  Nanny and Granddaddy’s house is always so cozy during the holidays, and I felt honored to help them decorate this year and hear about their past family traditions.  We were also able to organize a cousins’ breakfast one morning, which was so much fun and will hopefully be a new annual holiday tradition.  The family is constantly growing, with new babies and upcoming weddings, so it was wonderful to have everyone be in the same place at once.

louisville xmas

cousins breakfast

Next up, an afternoon in Shepherdsville with my Mom’s family.  Just when we thought we’d eaten all we could at Nanny and Granddaddy’s house, more great food to enjoy! My Mom was born on Christmas Day, so we celebrated her birthday as well.  That evening we headed to Fort Mitchell, where we would spend the next few days with my parents.  Over Thanksgiving, I had mentioned briefly to Mom and Dad how much I loved baking, decorating–and then eating–gingerbread men.  To me, recreating memories is just as fun as establishing new ones.

shep xmas 2

4 on couch

gingerbread mom and me

There was a light dusting of snow on Christmas Eve…I’d been hoping for a White Christmas but I wasn’t going to complain about some flurries a day early! It hasn’t snowed in Atlanta since we’ve lived there, but I can always count on Kentucky to give me my fill 🙂

snow

Our final leg of traveling was a stop in Owensboro to visit Drew’s parents.  We spent most of the weekend trying to keep warm, staying in to watch movies and (surprise!) eat more delicious food.  The following Sunday we headed back home to Atlanta, feeling relaxed and refreshed.  Visits with family are always so special; they give me renewed energy and perspective.  Drew and I always feel so lucky to have the amazing, loving family that we do, but we always are reminded of just how blessed we are during the holidays.  While it was hard to say goodbye to everyone, as well as closing the chapter on another year, we know that 2014 will be a great year!

oboro xmas

Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree(s)

nannytree1

nannytree2

Toward the end of our Thanksgiving travels in Kentucky, we stopped in Louisville to spend some time with Nanny and Granddaddy.  Drew had mentioned wanting to help them get the house ready for Christmas and I couldn’t wait to help Nanny go through all the decorations she’s collected over the years – everything has a story.  While Drew went out to run some errands with his grandfather, Nanny and I made our way to the basement to pull out the ornaments, stockings and other decorations. She pulled out one of the stockings that she used for Drew when he was growing up – apparently all the grandchildren had the same patterned stocking but they would tell the boys’ ones apart by the stitched “UK” letters at the top. She gave it to us to take back home and it’s now hanging from the middle of our mantle.

ourmantle
Friday night, after decorating the tree with as many ornaments as it would hold, we all gathered around the dinner table for Thanksgiving leftovers, which I’d stand to argue taste even better than the day-of.  We brought leftovers from our Thanksgiving dinner up in Fort Mitchell, but silly us, of course they were stocked with some of their own! If there’s one thing both of our families can do equally well, it’s cook.  We definitely had ourselves a feast.

ourtree1

We headed back to Atlanta the next morning and, inspired by Nanny and Granddaddy’s tree, decided to go out and get our own the following day. Now that we have a house, we’re able to get a much larger tree than when we were still living in the apartment. I think this one is double in size! Every night, as soon as I get home from work, I’ll plug in the lights and just stare at the tree while cozying up on the couch. Each time I seem to find an ornament I forgot we had.  I think I’m going to try to convince Drew to let me leave it up until well into January…wish me luck! 😉

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.

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.

To My Dad

fathersday

Dear Dad,

I’m sure raising a girl wasn’t always easy.  I probably went through a ‘tom boy’ phase like any other young girl,  but I had dozens of Barbies, held weekly bake sales and wore bows in my hair from a very young age.  To your credit, you did what he could, acting as an assistant coach on my soccer team through middle school and taking me to my first Bengals and Reds games.  I owe my love of sports completely to you.  The fact that I probably know more about pro football than my husband is something I enjoy rubbing in often, and it’s all due to the countless Sunday afternoons I spent with you watching football on the floor in the living room.

Megan&Drew_1017

I have memories of us building sand castles on the beach, riding in the passenger seat of the golf cart on Bald Head Island where we’d take our annual family vacation.  I remember the summer before I turned 16, when you let me drive, which lasted all of 5 minutes before a guy pulled us over and asked to see my license.  Then there were the dozens and dozens of gingerbread men we’d decorate during the holidays.  And the times I asked you to read The Night Before Christmas or sing Silent Night to me over and over again, even when Christmas was months away.  And you always obliged.

Megan&Drew_1007

On my wedding day, mere minutes before we walked down the aisle where you’d lead me to the man I’d go on to spend the rest of my life with, I was cool as a cucumber.  Not because I was super confident–I had reoccurring nightmares of falling down the aisle or tripping on my dress–but because you made me feel so at ease.  You squeezed my hand, smiled and told me that I was beautiful, and in that moment I felt so proud and blessed to be your daughter.  As we danced our father-daughter dance at the reception, I remember being let down when the song ended because I felt so content and safe in your arms.  And I have to imagine that’s exactly how I felt the first time you held me.

I’m not the best with words, especially aloud, but I want to let you know how much you mean to me.  I can’t say “thank you” enough, and all the Hallmark cards in the world won’t do justice to the amount of love, admiration and appreciation I have for you.   I love you Daddy.

 

 

Happy Mother’s Day!

dancing

To my mother:

Thank you for the unyielding, unwavering love you’ve shown me, every day since the day you and Dad brought me home from the hospital.  I feel so honored, grateful and blessed to call you my Mom.  I look up to you so much, even more now that I’m older and truly realize all that you’ve done for me, the sacrifices you made and the understanding you bestowed.  Thank you for making me feel beautiful, and telling me so when there were days I felt anything but.  Thank you for holding me up when I fell down, and for dancing next to me when I stood tall.  Thank you for literally helping me learn to walk again, and for holding my hand when I wanted so badly to quit.  There are so many memories that I cherish, and so many more that I know we’ll have.  I love you. 

Even though I wasn’t able to spend the day with my Mom today, we were able to have a nice long chat on the phone and catch up with each other.  I look forward to Sunday afternoons for that very reason; my Mom and I can talk on the phone and an hour will pass before we even know it.  Every time we talk I’m instantly transported back to the couch in my parents’ living room, where we used to curl up with blankets and talk for hours.  Whenever I’m there for a visit, we’re always sure to spend time on that same couch, reminiscing about the past and talking excitedly about the future.

apron

I figured that if I couldn’t physically celebrate Mother’s Day with my Mom today, I could do the next best thing to pay homage to her: bake.  I learned how to bake from my Mom, who no doubt learned from her Mom, and so on.  I have vivid memories of being a young girl with an apron tied around my waist, pouring through the endless kitchen cabinets.  What became known as “glass bowl” involved Mom giving me a dozen different ingredients to measure, mix and make my own creation.  We’d never actually cook or eat whatever concoction I created, but I know that’s where my love for baking first blossomed.  To this day she is the best cook I know.

This afternoon I made banana chocolate chip muffins, with a cream cheese filling.  Some of my favorite things to make with Mom were sweet treats: decorated sugar cookies, cranberry orange scones, and the infamous chocolate ganache praline cake that is somewhat of a legend in our family.

muffins

Banana Chocolate Chip Cream Cheese-Filled Muffins
Makes 15 muffins

    • 2 cups all-purpose flour
    • 3/4 cup brown sugar
    • 1 teaspoon baking powder
    • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 1 egg
    • 2 overripe bananas
    • 1/2 cup milk
    • 1/3 cup butter, softened but not melted
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
    • Spreadable cream cheese, softened

Preheat oven to 350.  Arrange 15 liners in muffins tins.  In a large bowl, mix together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  In another bowl, beat together egg, bananas, milk, butter and vanilla extract on a low setting until smooth.  Pour wet mixture into flour mixture and stir until combined.  Stir in chocolate chips.

Drop a spoonful of the muffin batter into each liner.  Using a teaspoon, drop cream cheese into each of the liners.  Top each with remaining batter.  Bake for 18 minutes.

Braves Game and a Very Happy 4th!

At first I wasn’t so sure how I felt about the 4th of July falling on a Wednesday.  If it had fallen on a Tuesday or Thursday, we likely would have had a four-day weekend.  It also meant we wouldn’t be able to go to Centennial Park to watch the fireworks show…unless we wanted to stay up until midnight or later and then get up at 6 A.M. for work (uhh, no).  It just seemed strange to have the day off work right smack in the middle of the week.  However, it was actually surprisingly nice to have a mid-week reprieve.  Plus, it’s only another two days until the weekend!

Our Braves tickets, compliments of my work buddy, Dave.

We kicked off the holiday right by going to our first Braves game of the season Tuesday night.  Drew’s friend PJ, and his girlfriend Lauren, were in town for a few days so we figured a baseball game would be the perfect outing for the four of us.  My awesome cubicle neighbor Dave was able to set us up with some free tickets that actually turned out to be great seats.  (Thanks Dave!!) It had been storming on our way to the game but our seats were under an awning so even if it started pouring again, we’d stay dry.  Thankfully the rain stayed at bay and we were able to enjoy a great game-and a Braves victory.

The four of us braving the rain at the Braves game. Heh heh, get it?

The view from our seats. The sky looked ominous, but thankfully the rain stopped just before the game started.

Even though we had the day off, we woke up on Wednesday morning not much later than we typically do on a weekday.  The ACJ Peachtree Road Race—the largest 10K in the world with over 60,000 entrants—was taking place just a few blocks from our apartment.  We jogged over the corner of Peachtree and 10th, watched the runners for a while, and continued on our own run around the course.  We passed through the park to see all the runners come through the finish line and we were absolutely amazed by how many people there were. We thought the Color Run was huge, but this race had a good 20,000 more people!  As much as I don’t like big crowds, I’m darn determined to run this race with Drew next year.  It sure looked like a lot of fun!

The crowd of finishers at the AJC Peachtree Road Race. I want to run it next year!

After a quick jog back home, I served us up some patriotic blueberry pancakes.  Drew actually had chocolate chip ones (surprise, surprise).  After breakfast we took advantage of the day off, pulled out the couch into a fold-out bed and took turns between watching Netflix and napping.  Theo loved having us home and nestled himself right in the middle of us, tucking into the covers and asking demanding to have his head scratched.

Drew chopping up the watermelon…

Several of the couples from our house church group came over to meet up and walk down to Piedmont Park together.  Our apartment is maybe a half mile walk from the park entrance, but when you’re carrying heavy coolers and watermelon, it sure feels longer than that! We set up our picnic sight right under a tree, put down our towels and immediately set up our food and drink spread.  I made a pasta salad which is my go-to for picnics and BBQ’s, and have provided the recipe below 🙂 Some of the guys played Frisbee while the girls sat around and chatted.  After Drew chopped up the watermelon like a champ, we had a watermelon eating contest.  Elle was definitely the winner!

…for the eating contest that Elle most definitely won 🙂

Once it started getting darker, we set back for the apartment.  Some people were going on to watch the fireworks but we tidied up the kitchen a bit then headed straight to bed.  I thought we might hear some of the fireworks, and was actually curious as to how Theo would react to them, but I was asleep before I knew it.  I commented to Drew that the day seemed to last a long time, which is definitely a good thing.  We had a great time watching the race, taking it easy, and spending time catching up and enjoying good food with our friends.  After today, only one more workday separates us from the weekend.  Yep, having the 4th of July on a Wednesday turned out to be pretty nice after all!