Birthday ditch day was born four years ago when I was having lunch at one of my favorite CenPho spots – Postino – with some co-workers. It was a beautiful spring day and we were sitting on the patio, eating and lamenting how we wished we had the day off, so that we could drink some wine and just enjoy the weather. That’s right. Birthday ditch day was spawned so that we could day drink on a work day. That first ditch day, two of my girlfriends took the day off with me and we hiked, got manis and pedis, and drank wine.
We had our very own “Treat Yo Self” day ala Donna and Tom from “Parks & Recreation.”
Ditch day technically doesn’t have to be a weekday or an expensive endeavor. My friends, Adele and Chris, spend a weekend day for Chris’ birthday each year together as a family, and end the day with a trip to Whole Foods to buy ingredients to make dinner. If you want to keep it even more simple, there are a lot of free items you can get on your birthday, so you can use your ditch day to take part in Rachael’s favorite tradition – the birthday freebie scavenger hunt!
Ditch day for me has evolved into taking a Friday off with my husband Bryan, and spending the day together. Although each year the agenda is different, the idea of spending some weekday quality time with my best friend has become a birthday tradition that makes my teenage self green with envy.
This year we had donuts and coffee on the couch, then I headed out for some morning pampering at my favorite mani/pedi spot. Pink glitter nails? Yes, please!
After a relaxing morning, we headed to the Phoenix Art Museum to see two exhibits I have been really excited about – “Read My Pins!” (a selection of broaches from the collection of former Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright) and “Lifelike” (an exhibit where the art is not necessarily created in the medium that it appears to be – I will be writing a future post on this).
The rest of the day involved food (lunch at Short Leash Hot Dog’s brick & mortar store – Sit…Stay! and dinner at my favorite Phoenix occasion restaurant, The Gladly) and a movie.
We had such a good time that we are already planning out what we might do on Bryan’s birthday ditch day.
Just because we aren’t kids anymore, doesn’t mean that we can’t take time to relax and enjoy getting to be another year older. What will you do this year on your own ditch day?
A few weeks ago, Rachael and I were fortunate to be invited to the home of my friends Adele and Chris for a lesson on creating booze infusions. My plan was to write a single post, with recipes and tips on the process. Once we arrived, and started taste testing, I realized there was so much more to share, as the experience itself was a great reminder that sometimes it’s good to slow down. So, today I will tell you about our experience, and in a follow-up post, I will provide you with the recipes we made and some basic tips on infusion so you can create an experience like this for yourself and your friends.
Adele, Chris and their daughter are the kind of people you cannot believe you have the privilege to know. They are all incredibly creative, thoughtful and gracious people. They share my passion for food, and we have had a lot of fun over the years trying out new restaurants in Phoenix, or experimenting with cooking (like the time a group of us went to Adele’s house to make ricotta and goat cheese).
Over the past few years Chris has experimented with infusing different flavors into alcohol to create flavored liqueurs. Booze infusion is simple in nature – you soak a variety of ingredients in the liquor of your choice, and then let it sit until you like the taste. One of the most basic infusions that a lot of people are familiar with is limoncello — lemon zest soaked in vodka for a few weeks and then mixed equal parts with simple syrup.
Before we got started our lesson, we viewed Chris’ entire collection of infusions – contained in dozens of bottles and mason jars covering an entire wall in their pantry. Chris jokes that he is sort of a “mad scientist” when it comes to trying out new combinations but he’s an artist, too. He takes risks, imagines outcomes and tries new things just to see what happens.
We grabbed a dozen bottles of varying flavors and sat down at their kitchen table to sample Chris’ creations. Some of our favorites were limoncello, vin-de-orange (red wine, rum, bitter & sweet oranges, grapefruit and spices – a combo Rachel described as tasting like “a library, tobacco and Christmas.”), chai liquor, and tequila that was infused with lime and salt (a margarita in a shot).
As we sipped, Chris explained that many medicines actually started out as infusions. Some of the first forms of aspirin were actually the bark of a willow tree infused in alcohol. Another early infusion purpose was preserving fruit. People would combine fruit, sugar and alcohol in order to keep fruit fresh throughout the year.
We asked Chris how they normally drank the infusions – did they have them as after dinner drinks? Did they enjoy them with friends as we were doing that very day? Or did they use them in recipes?
Chris explained that his favorite thing to do was what we got to experience – having a group of friends around a table, and sampling a variety of his creations. “These infusions take such time to make,” Chris explained “But they arrest the moment. What I mean by that is that it helps to stop time. By taking time to enjoy these, you will remember this moment. You will remember the laughter and conversation that you had because we all sat down at a table together and enjoyed the experience, and each other.”
We went there to learn how to make delicious infusions, and as often happens when I get together with Adele and Chris, I came away with a life lesson. We live in a society where speed is king – we have fast food, overnight shipping, movies on demand – and because of this, we often forget to slow down and enjoy life.
I challenge all of you to have an “arresting moment” experience. Get together with friends for dinner at home, make something beautiful for the people you care about, turn off the technology, and enjoy time with the people you love.
Don’t forget to check out my follow-up post on basic tips for booze infusion, as well as the recipes for our three creations – Ginger Vodka, Raspberry Vodka and Cin-Van-Sky (a cinnamon/vanilla/star anise infused whiskey).
Once upon a time there was a little girl who loved stories. She loved the stories about sheep, the one with dinosaurs, the one with monkeys and especially the one with a family of bears whose home is burglarized and vandalized by a sneaky, sleepy golden-haired girl. This smart little girl and her mom loved to read together, so they went to the library where they got lots and lots of fantastic books and they read happily ever after.
Reading with kids lays a foundation for a lifetime of learning. Story time is a great time to snuggle and bond and the stories can spark important conversations. My daughter Betty and I are excited to share some of our favorite books so you can enjoy them with the special kids in your life.
Little Blue Truck – This short story follows a kind and friendly Little Blue Truck who depends on his neighbors when he gets stuck in a bit of trouble. Reading this is a great way to start conversation about the importance of friendship and community.
All of Baby, Nose to Toes – A rhythmic rhyming story about loving every part of your sweet baby. Who loves this book? Me! I do!
Farmer Brown Shears His Sheep: A Yarn About Wool – As a knitter, I was thrilled when we received this book as a baby shower gift from Elizabeth’s godmother, Emily. When Farmer Brown shears his sheep, they feel too cold so they decide to take matters into their own hooves with very funny results. In the process, we learn how wool becomes yarn. I don’t think this book is in print anymore, but there are used copies online and it is available in some libraries.
Eating the Alphabet – Beautifully illustrated images of fruits and veggies adorn the pages of this basic ABC book. This one is great for practicing the alphabet and generating interest in trying new fruits and veggies. We sometimes use the colorful pages of this book for a game of I-Spy.
Caps for Sale – Elizabeth’s Auntie Christina loved this Reading Rainbow book as a girl. A fun tale of a peddler who runs into some mischievous monkeys, this story is a great one for acting out and doing voices. Children catch on quick and are delighted to help “read” the monkeys’ lines.
Dinosaur Roar – If you’re pregnant and we’re friends, SPOILER ALERT, you will get a copy of this book as a shower gift. This was Elizabeth’s first favorite. As a 3 month old she was spellbound by the pictures and the way I did the voices. As a one-year old she anticipated her favorite pages and now, at two and a half she’s “reading” the story to me. This one will be a favorite for years to come and when she outgrows it, I’ll tuck it away for my grandbabies.
Sheep in a Jeep – My cousin Austin gave this book to Elizabeth. He is a Jeeper, which means he loves climbing hills, crawling over rocks and slinging mud in his red jeep – just like the sheep in this fun rhyme. The story provides opportunities for parents and kids to talk about teamwork, cause and effect and helpfulness.
The Perfect Nest – Jack the cat has a master plan to get the perfect egg for the perfect omelette by building a perfect nest to attract a chicken. His plan works a little too well and hijinx ensue. There are great opportunities to do fun voices and accents when reading this story aloud and kids will enjoy the beautiful, bright illustrations.
What are some of your favorite children’s books? Do you have any from childhood that you saved for your own kids? Please tell us about the best books in your kids’ library so we can add them to our library wish list.
My family is not a big sports family. We watched the Super Bowl because everybody watches the Super Bowl and we like the commercials, but it is the only time of the year football is on at our place. We don’t know what the Suns are up to – ever. I only know it isn’t baseball season because it’s too cold to play in the Midwest right now and they call baseball players the “boys of summer.” The only sport we get worked up over is Roller Derby. In fact, my one and only sports tee is supporting the Arizona Derby Dames Bombshells. Then, along come the Olympics and things change. From the torch lighting to the closing ceremonies we watch and love every minute. We enjoy the stories, the feats of strength, the drive of the athletes – it’s better than the movies and happening in (almost) real time.
A few Olympiad back, during the Beijing games we decided to order out Chinese and watch the opening ceremonies while enjoying our egg rolls and a fun tradition was born. For the London games, we dined on Jacob’s amazing bangers & mash and this year we will be enjoying a few Russian dishes to commemorate the games in Sochi.
When Jacob and I started researching Russian recipes we realized that there wasn’t much uncharted territory. My family is Hungarian – my great grandmother was born there – and like many immigrant families, the food is one of our last links to our past, and something we cherish. Pierogies, stuffed cabbages and hearty soups are standard fare for Hungarians, Poles, and Russians, so most of what the Internet had to offer felt kind of like old news. In the end, to our pleasant surprise, our favorite compilation of Russian recipes was from allrecipes.com, a site we use often for “everyday” recipes. Here’s our Olympic menu:
* Pirozhki – For an appetizer and general snacking we’re going with pirozhki, which looks like a perogi but this is more of a bun and appears to be hand-food instead of fork food.
* Borscht – Borscht is a hearty beet and vegetable soup which could easily be made hearty enough to be a stand-alone dish. We decided to do it as a soup course because, despite its quirky-sounding name none of us have ever tried it and we are offering smaller servings so we can try more recipes. * Chicken Kiev – I am so looking forward to this. Chicken Kiev is a thin cutlet of boneless chicken breast wrapped around a piece of savory, flavored butter and fried. Some of you may have seen an item in your grocer’s freezer called Chicken Kiev that comes individually packaged for baking at home. Beware the processed and formed chicken loaf. You are now fairly warned – I’ve fallen for it in the past and it is not proper food.
* Ukrainian Apple Cake – For desert I am going to try my hand at a particularly tasty-looking apple cake. I think this is going to be a big hit.
Whether your favorite winter sport is biathlon, bobsleigh, curling, ice hockey, luge, skating, skiing or snowboarding, I hope you enjoy this year’s Olympic Games and maybe try something new, too. Go Team USA!
Last Thursday my two-and-a-half-year-old daughter had a little cough so I told the sitter to give me a call if she didn’t feel well. She did fine all day, but seemed a little feverish when I picked her up. Friday she stayed home with her Grandma, and I went to work as usual. I’ve never seen anything like what happened next. My healthy girl went from having a “little cough” on Thursday to being admitted to the hospital with IV’s and oxygen tubes in less than 48 hours. Pneumonia. For three days my husband and I watched her every breath as her heart rate spiked and her belly rose and fell, struggling against the fluid in her lungs. We watched her sweat and chill as she fought a fever, and we begged her to take sips of water and juice to fend off dehydration. She was so tiny in that great big hospital bed and I was the most afraid I have ever been.
You read books or hear stories about women whose babies were just fine and then they get meningitis or pneumonia and 12 hours later the child is dead. An acquaintance of mine posted to Facebook a few weeks ago that her best friend’s child was sick and they were in the hospital. A few days later the child was gone without warning. They told me my daughter was going to be OK. They said she wasn’t in danger and I needed to take care of myself. I’m not sure anyone understood that I was too afraid to hear them. I was too afraid to go to the doctor myself, though I had pneumonia also. I was too afraid to go home and sleep even when my husband was by her side. I was too afraid to think of what could happen when I was gone. I knew being there couldn’t stop it, but I knew I would be by her side if she needed me.
She’s fine now. She bounced back like a champ. I, however, spent a week in the bed with double pneumonia. I’m just starting to feel human again, though the doc says it’ll be about a month before I’m back to normal. At least my girl is feeling healthy again. We are incredibly grateful for the amazing care we received at the hospital. I know there is a special place in heaven for pediatric nurses. To our family and friends who checked on us, prayed for us, helped do our work while we were away, or visited the hospital to watch a little Star Wars with Elizabeth, Thank You. We love you and we appreciate you.
**Valentine’s Day is a celebration of all kinds of love. All month long I’m bringing you stories from the people I love most about the people they love most!**
Grace is one of the most beautiful people I’ve ever met. Inside & out. We met ten years ago, it was my second day at a new job and she’d come to interview for a position with the same company. I remember two things about her from that day – I desperately hoped she’d get the job because I just knew we’d be instant friends, and she had great hair. Grace is one of those people who can light up the room with her smile; she’s wicked smart, a fiercely loyal friend and has a highly contagious laugh.
Grace is also an amazing Mom to a bright, creative and thoughtful son named Jackson. When I met her, she had just moved back to Orange County and was trying to pull her life back together as a newly single Mom. Over the past ten years I’ve been witness to all of her hard work as she fought to build a beautiful life for and her son.
When the idea for this series popped into my head, she was the first person I thought of to interview. I so badly wanted you to meet her. I wanted to give her an opportunity to tell a part of her story – I wanted to capture that story as a gift for Jackson too.
This Portrait of Love is for all the single parents out there (my Momma included), who find enough love within themselves to love their children for two.
Christina: Tell us about Jackson. Grace: Sigh, my Jackson. He is a beautiful, unique boy who has a sensitive heart for serving others. He loves God, art, animals, sports, friends and Android apps!
C: How did you feel when you found out you were going to have a little boy?
G: Well, let’s just say I was convinced I was having a little girl and I was less than enthusiastic when the ultra sound tech said, “I’m 95% sure it’s a boy! Do you see this outside plumbing?” Excuse me? Outside plumbing? You have got to be kidding me!
It took me two days for it to sink in that I was really having a boy. My husband at the time was tearfully over the moon happy about having a son. Once I got over myself and the dreams I had for my “little girl”, I couldn’t wait to see this little guy with “outside plumbing”. I loved him from the beginning even though I thought he was a girl for the first 5 months!
C: What were the first few minutes after Jackson was born like? G: I talked to Jackson through my belly while I was pregnant. It was so wonderful to finally see him, smell him, touch him, kiss his chubby cheeks, rub his bald head and know he was absolutely perfect. I felt like I was watching my own dream. I couldn’t believe the labor was over; I had obsessed over what labor would be like for almost 9 months! He was just perfect and he was ours.
C: What’s your favorite part about being a mom? G: My favorite part about being a mom is truly knowing & experiencing unconditional love. Since the day I found out I was pregnant, almost every thought in my mind has been about Jackson. I held unconditional love in my arms the day he was born. I remember thinking if I feel this much love for my son, how much more does God love us?
C: What were your greatest fears when you realized you’d be raising Jackson alone? G: When reality set in, my greatest fear was I did not know how I would make ends meet for my son. Providing a home, food, clothing and being able to give this innocent little boy enough love as both parents was beyond my imagination. He was 18 months old when we divorced so he doesn’t know any different than his life today. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child”? I don’t know how I would have gotten this far in 10 years without my parents, my sisters and my loving friends. So many people love & care for my little guy, I am truly appreciative and blessed by my “village”.
C: What’s it been like to raise a boy as a single mom? G: In the beginning it was really tough for me mentally. I felt like a failure because I blamed myself and I was ashamed of my failed marriage. As I grew through the years I’ve learned to turn my thought process around. I’m not a failure because I’m doing this mostly on my own. There are definitely times when it feels like everything is falling apart but somehow we always pull through with protection. We are a family just the two of us and we’re accomplishing life together. No matter the circumstances, we have each other.
C: How does it feel to watch him grow up? G: The most satisfying part is I get to watch him grow up with a front row seat! I’m that Mom that has tears of joy watching him play sports, volunteer, or on the last day of another successful school year. My boy shows me things I wouldn’t have seen before; he opens up my eyes to the wonderment all around us. Honestly, what could be better? I’m grateful!
C: Now that Jackson is getting older, how has your relationship changed from when he was a little baby? G: There are so many changes from year to year and different stages of life as a child grows up. As a baby he needed me every waking minute. As a toddler he was able to entertain himself and I got a few moments to myself. When the school years started he gained so much independence that I didn’t know if I could handle it. But as the independence starts to be part of our every day routine I have gotten used to it.
C: What’s been your proudest moment as a mom? G: Watching him succeed and making good choices on his own. When he was 5, he made the decision to follow Jesus on his own. (I didn’t make that decision on my own until I was in my 20’s.) When he was in 3rd grade he decided to make friends with a little boy with autism because nobody else would play with him. It’s moments like these that make my heart swell beyond words and he inspires me to be a better person.
C: What do you dream for him? G: I dream that my Jackson will be a God fearing, loving husband and a wonderful Daddy. I pray for his future wife whoever she may be, will be someone who loves my son unconditionally with her whole heart (and will love her crazy Mother in Law!) I want him to be happy and filled with so much joy throughout his life journey. I hope he makes mistakes – mistakes that he will learn from but that won’t destroy him or his spirit. I hope and dream that Jackson lives his life with an open heart and knows exactly who he is.
P.S. You may know Grace by another name, we’ve changed her first name (at her request) in an attempt to protect her privacy.
I do it each and every year — I kick-off a fresh new year with stale resolutions. There are a few I’ve rotated through over the last few years, sometimes revisiting them in tandem. Resolutions are great; but I think I’ve been doing them wrong. This year I decided to ditch those musty, old resolutions and try a few new ones on for size. Here’s what I came up with:
1. Capture More Memories. I’ve always loved taking photographs, I have boxes of photos from my teenage years and even more from before I was married. Over the last few years I’ve gotten out of the habit of carrying my camera. Most of the photos I have are sitting on my iPhone or iPad — I can’t remember the last time I printed any pictures. Rob and I have only a handful of photos (aside from our wedding photos) that aren’t couple selfies. In 2014 I want to take more photos and find creative ways to print and display them.
2. Be Stylish. I love fashion — but all too often I haven’t allowed myself to wear the clothes I’m crazy about for fear of what others might think. Two big things happened to me in 2013 – I turned 30 and accepted a new position that requires me to do a lot of running around but still be meeting ready. It’s time to clean out the closet. I want to explore fashion, define my style and learn how to dress my shape.
3. (Finish) Learning Something New. There is a ukulele in the corner of my bedroom collecting dust, an unread book about toy camera photography on the coffee table and several boxes of jewelry making materials in my art room that have sat untouched for the last few years. Last winter I took a sewing class and all I want to do is keep sewing – I want to prove to myself that I can stick to something and get really good at it.
Sure, I still want to lose a few pounds, I’m determined to conquer my schedule (must stop double booking myself!!) and I want to quit drinking diet soda. But, let’s be honest, those are probably things I’ll work on and wrestle with forever. I want 2014 to be the year where I learn to cut myself a little slack and resolve to enjoy life more! I can’t wait to share more with you about the progress I make with my 2014 resolutions here on the blog!