Happy New Year

Happy New Year's Eve to you and yours.  We have a pretty low key New Year's Eve lined up for tonight; a plateful of homemade pierogis (courtesy of yours truly), a chilled bottle of pink champagne, and a sweet baby cozy in her crib.  We have a lot to be thankful for in 2014.

Happy New Year!  Cheers to all the goodness ahead in 2015!



Quote of the Week

"For last year's words belong to last year's language
And next year's words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
~ T.S. Eliot, "Little Gidding"

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Dinner Last Night: Pan Roasted Steak with Creamed Kale

I ripped this recipe from my Real Simple magazine over a month ago, and it's been taunting me ever since, as if to say "make me, make me" every time I glimpse it lying there watchful on the counter.  Well, I finally did make it, and creamed kale might just be the next great way to eat your veggies!  We cheated and went with a pre-marinated steak from Trader Joe's, but the creamed kale and cannellini bean concoction was a stellar (and might I add, healthy) side, one I will definitely be making again!

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2014 Goals Recap

2014 went by in a blur…My daughter started the year at just 4 months of age, and is now just on the cusp of her 16 month birthday.  In this short expanse of time, she's changed and flourished before our eyes.  Milestone after milestone of laughter, babbling chatter, and messy hair-in-your-face smiles later, here we are at the dawn of a new calendar year.

These were my goals for 2014, here's my own critical review of how I did…

+ Maintain balance
I feel like this will be a goal of mine for the rest of my life, as I think it merits a weekly, if not daily reminder.  Balance is essential, and to "have it all," balance is everything.  Ultimately, I think I've done a pretty good job at balancing my home life, my work, my time with my husband, family, and friends.  Heading back to work in January was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do.  I had a bit of a mini-emotional breakdown in the few days before I was slated to return to teaching.   And now, 12 months later, after the start of a new school year, I pride myself on the balance I have established between work and home, being a mother and a 1st grade teacher, because in all honesty, it definitely did not occur overnight.  I think, what I've most importantly learned is that everything in life ebbs and flows, there are times when the schedule is brimming with obligations, when a million little loose ends need tying up, but there are also times of lulling calm. I invest my time much differently now than I ever did prior to life as a parent.  My time is more valuable than it's ever been, but I recognize this now in a way that I couldn't have understood in my previous life.  

+ Explore and discover
We venture to a few destinations in 2014: Bozeman, Montana; Ojai, California; Los Angeles, California; and Kona, Hawaii - all with a baby.  However, what I truly meant by this goal was to see life through my daughter's eyes, and I think we did our very best at that, putting down the camera to enjoy the moment of discovery in actuality.  I want to be able to say I lived my life in the present, not just through a snippet of film I witnessed live behind a screen.

+ Meal Planning
Yes!  Hoo-rah!  I even posted about it here.

+ Be active
Well this goal I admit, I wasn't the best at achieving.  Returning to work full time, with a baby - now toddler - is exhausting, especially when my full time job is corralling, listening to, and teaching 26 eager, curious, and exuberant first graders.  That and a bout of the flu, followed by pneumonia in late October which sidelined me from any activity for a month didn't help.  But now I'm just making excuses.  This will be a goal for 2015, you can bet on it…

+ Unplug, write letters, call friends
I tried on this one. I wish I could say "I tried my best," but frankly, that isn't true.  It is hard to unplug.  While I'd prefer reading blogs to social media such as Twitter or Facebook, I have a strange attraction to instagram, I truly enjoy viewing photos of friends near and far.  As much as I've tried to limit my own "screen time," until after my daughter goes to bed, it is a challenge, and I need to remind myself to unplug often.  Not helping in this department, my work email syncs on my phone, which frequently has me reading a message from a parent, student, or colleague after hours more than I'd like.  However, with written correspondence, I think I have upped my ante, especially with my sister moving to Spain for the year, I have even more reason to write letters.  I've made a conscious effort to send photos and cards to my in-laws and my husband's family in Michigan, updating them with visuals of our daughter's growth. 

So…all in all, not too bad.  What are your goals for 2015?

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Uncommon Stocking Stuffers & A Giveaway

In search of the perfect, yet uncommon gift for that special someone?  Here are some uncommon stocking stuffers I sought out for my family and friends...
Deluxe empanada fork.
(Or in my case, pierogi fork).  My Christmas kitchen pick!  My husband's side of the family is Polish and pierogis, galumki (stuffed cabbage), and kapusta (sauerkraut) are the staple of Christmas dinner when we celebrate with his family.  This fork is ideal since it crimps the edges of empanadas, pierogis, and piroshkys alike!  
For my husband, who appreciates the value of fresh herbs, especially as we've sadly tossed a few recent bunches of cilantro after they turned slimy in their plastic bag.  This baby allows herbs to keep their stems immersed in water for hydration, helping retain the true flavors and textures needed for cooking.  
For that friend (or sister…) who soaks up all the oil and vinegar when you're out to eat.  Now she can replicate restaurant quality infused oils at home to serve with freshly baked (er…bought) bread!   Bonus: no pan, sautéing, or clean up required!
For that friend channeling their inner Julia Child or Ina Garten, bringing the best of Barefoot Contessa into your own kitchen.  Because who doesn't love butter…am I right?
For my mom, who'd always prefer lemon water over ice if it was available.  These little guys would definitely add a little pep to summertime lemonade or iced tea.  Meyer lemon ice anyone?

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Today's giveaway is from Uncommon Goods, the shop where you can find any of these fabulous kitchen items featured above.   

All of these Christmas gifts and stocking stuffers featured can be found at Uncommon Goods, based out of Brooklyn, New York.  Most of the products available Uncommon Goods are made in the USA, half are handmade, and and one third are recycled and/or upcycled materials.  Part of their company mission is a great respect for the integrity of the creative individual and a responsibility to impact the world in a positive way.  Also, $1 of any purchases are donated to a non-profit of your choice.  Since Uncommon Goods' founding in 1999, their Better to Give program has donated just shy of $1,000,000!

Today they're offering a $25 gift card.  TO ENTER: visit Uncommon Goods and leave a comment below stating your favorite item.  Here's a selection of gifts under $50! A winner will be chosen at random NEXT Sunday.  Good luck! 

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* Thank you to Uncommon Goods for sponsoring this post.  And thank you for supporting the companies that support this blog.
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Movie Night: Inside Out

Normally, I wait to see animated movies once they've been released to DVD, especially with movies being so spendy these days (anyone remember the $3 matinee??)  However, this new Pixar movie, Inside Out looks like it might be theater-worthy.  I laughed out loud watching this preview!  It comes out Summer 2015.  What do you think?

Home Alone at the Symphony

Is watching Home Alone one of your holiday traditions?  Even years later, this movie reminds me of Christmas, the music, the cheeky one-liners, "ya filthy animal," and all.  Here's a new way to see a holiday oldie but goodie,  watch Home Alone while the San Francisco symphony performs the accompanying score.  Here's a preview…

Weeknight Baking: Ginger Pear Skillet Cake

I may have found my favorite new holiday dessert - and surprise, it doesn't contain a hint a peppermint! For my annual girls Christmas get-together, I made this Ginger Pear Skillet Cake.  I had good intentions to start baking right after work, but after dinner, R's bedtime routine, a show, and my daily blog roll, suddenly it was 9:00.  So, rather than lay my head to sleep around 9:30 per usual, I channeled my inner Martha-Stewart-elf and baked.  Thankfully my first attempt was a success.  

This cake is quite dense, but the ginger-clove-nutmeggy yumminess is palatable and makes your kitchen smell divine!   First, I wasn't able to scrounge up our trusty old skillet, probably still in some unmarked box somewhere in our new house, but a pie pan worked just fine.  Second, the recipe calls for fresh ginger, which I rarely have on hand, so I just added a few dashes more of powdered ginger, seemed to do the trick.  Last, the recipe claims 60 minutes for baking - which was not the case for me, closer to 1:15 or 1:20 (and my oven runs hot).  I did cover with foil for the last 20 or so minutes as to not scorch the pear topping.  I used Bosc pears per the recipe's suggestion, and they held up nicely  atop the finished product.  My friends seemed to like it and even asked for the recipe which is always a good sign, right?  

Happy eating!

Christmas Decor

This year, now that we are settled in our new, cozy home, Christmas decorating is so much more meaningful and exciting!  Last year, we had just moved into a condo as a way station between selling our previous house and moving into a new home.  In the midst of unpacking, organizing, and caring for a 3-month old, I was reluctant to buy hang decorations for fear of putting unwanted holes in the walls, but now, my decorating enthusiasm is palpable!  Here are some of my favorite decorations for 2014.
map of the North Pole postcards by Rifle Paper Co.
print from how the grinch stole christmas

What Christmas decor are you eyeing this season?

Fall Favorites: TJ's dark chocolate covered peppermint Joe Joe's

Have you had these?  Trader Joe's dark chocolate covered peppermint Joe Joe's.  It's all the flavors of Christmas wrapped up in one delicious chocolatey-pepperminty bite.  As I was searching for images of this coveted cookie, I even spied someone selling them on Amazon!  Talk about marking up a holiday product!  This is one of my favorite store bought cookies of the season, now let's see if any are left on the shelf at my next grocery adventure...

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Giraffes in Danger

A news article popped up on my Facebook feed the other day, and I can't seem to get it out of my mind, the title read "Giraffes in Danger of Extinction."  As a result of poaching and habitat loss, giraffe populations across Africa are dropping at a rapid rate.  They called it "a silent extinction," stating "numbers have gone down from 140,000 to fewer than 80,000 today."  Isn't that terrible?  According to the article, poaching is a significant problem, as a giraffe is a relatively easy kill to hunters, and can yield a substantial amount of meat and resources to local tribes.

I have always regarded giraffes as beautiful, majestic animals.  The hopeful travel bug in me has always imagined that one day I'll Africa, and have the opportunity to see a giraffe in its natural habitat.  I sincerely hope my family and I have will still have that opportunity years from now.

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Holiday Cards Are Here!

Tis the season for...holiday cards!  I don't know about you, but I'm taking full advantage of the Cyber Monday deals and steals over at Tiny Prints - 40% off holiday cards, using the code CYBER40 through 12/2. And, if you are up late tonight, add the code FLASH1202 and you'll save an extra 10% on your order. Sweet! I am thankful that in an age when everything is becoming digital, people still find the time to craft and mail out holiday cards.  It makes me happy.  Here are some of my favorites
 

For our friends and family - I guess you'll just have to wait and see which one we selected for our 2014 holiday cards when the mail arrives!

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cards c/o tinyprints



Quote of the Week


Fall Favorites: Pantry Spice Candle

With December upon us, and in the interest of matching the season, "fall favorites" will become "winter favorites." Yes, I know, technically it's still fall, but it's frigid and icy here and Christmas lights are sprouting up by the minute, so we're calling it Winter!

This Yankee Candle, Simply Home edition in the scent "pantry spice," is all of my favorite fall scents wrapped up into one; cinnamon, cloves, crackling fire, maybe even a wisp of nutmeg and sugar cookie?  It is amazing - truly.  I used to buy the large 3-wicked candles from Bath and Body Works, but after being lit for an hour or so the scent became smothering and too strong.  This candle keeps that warm, pleasant, and mild cozy vibe consistently, no crazy glade plug in effects over here.  All you need is one and its sultry scent will weave its way through your entire abode.  

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