Saturday, September 29, 2012

October's Menu Plan: All Caramel Apple Pumpkin Spice Things


 I had the windows wide open today with chilly air blowing through alongside something pumpkin-y melting in my scentsy warmer when John walked in after a session with the burn barrel, smelling like a fire. Yep, fall hit me. And I loved it. So when I was doing this month's menu plan, I was thrilled to leave all of the avocado recipes behind in favor of things with pumpkin and heavy cream. Did I mention I love fall?

1. Baked Chicken Bacon Alfredo
2. Cheese Tortellini in Pumpkin Alfredo Sauce
3. Cheesy Rotel Chicken Casserole
4. Penne with Roasted Asparagus and Balsamic Butter
5. Autumn Chopped Salad
6. Panera's Frontega Chicken Sandwich
7. Chicken Satay Quesadillas with Spicy Peanut Sauce
8. Slow Cooker Bavarian Meatball Sandwich
9. Caramelized Onion, Eggplant and Tomato Pasta
10. Veggie Pesto Pizza
11. Smothered Pork Chops
12. Napa Valley Chicken Sandwich
13. Cheesy Chicken Lasagna
14. Southwest Turkey Burgers with Chiles and Queso
15. Tomato Basil Parmesan Soup
16. Pear and Brie Salad with Candied Walnuts
17. White Chipotle Chicken Chili
18. Martha's Salisbury Steak with Onion Gravy
19. Basil Chicken Stir Fry
20. Oven Baked Chimichangas
21. Mac and Cheese with Hot Dogs
22. Oven Toasted Ravioli
23. Cherry Coke Jalapeno Meatballs
24. Chicken Marsala with Pancetta and Cream
25. Crock Pot Teriyaki Chicken
26. Grilled Chicken with White BBQ Sauce
27. Cheesy Chicken and Wild Rice Casserole
28. Caprese Soup
29. Creamy Garlic Pasta
30. Bourbon Street Chicken
31. Hoping Gabe makes it to more than 5 houses this year because Mama needs some O'Henry's

This marks a year of sharing my menu plans with you guys! This is both exciting and sad that this is exciting. If you're new to the menu plan here, I usually make most of these meals every night (you are welcome, John) but switch things around as needed to accommodate schedules and things like forgetting to defrost meat. We have leftovers often but eat them for lunches. I do a big shopping trip at the beginning of the month, then two or three small trips to TJ's or Target for produce or things that need replenishing. I think that covers it. Eat up.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Lobstahs, Hahvahd & the Road to Rhode Island

So last week, we packed up the car and headed 6 hours north to New England for a little fall family vacay. My ladyfriend Kate, along with her awesome husband & adorable son, so generously offered up their home for us to crash so we bunked down in Massachusetts, right outside of Boston. I'd pretty much waited 32 years to visit Boston and hear that accent in person and dude, it's one of my favorites. You can lose your R's anytime with me, Boston, I love it. But anyway, once we settled into Kate's house, I realized that she lives in the picture-perfect New England town. The charming homes, the wide tree-lined streets, the town squares complete with crisp fall mornings. Every morning was like an ad for fall. Once again, I loved it.

We decided that the best way to see everything Boston had to offer with a toddler in tow, was to hop on one of those tacky trolley tours. Normally I shy away from organized tours for obvious reasons and prefer to wander aimlessly around without asking directions. But with limited happy toddler time and a big city to explore, the trolley was the way to go. And the best part is that Kate forwarded me a Groupon for one that week so we got it done on the cheap. We went with Beantown Trolley if you care.

It took us to all of the best Boston spots...like Boston Harbor


We hopped off here to make use of Kate's aquarium membership. Gabe was happy to see the feeshies and we were happy to hear him say the word jellyfish over and over jejjyfish.



Of course, we rolled by Fenway. We didn't even have to get off and wander around here because John was lucky enough to be invited by Kate's husband to an actual Red Sox game that weekend. John was positively GIDDY.


The trolley rolled into Cambridge for a few minutes, bypassing Harvard completely but making note of Gabe's future alma mater. Hell, I'm not picky. He could go to Harvard if he wanted to. I wouldn't mind.

p.s. I wanted to visit Harvard with Gabe and take pictures of him in front of Harvard-y things and buy him tiny Harvard shirts. Well Harvard was a big disappointment on that front. It just wasn't the campus I had dreamt up in my head.  Don't you hate when that happens?


We also saw a bunch more things (like, um, Cheers) but it was a long day so we just hung on the trolley and waited for it to drop us back off. Touristing sure is different than it used to be, when our priority was finding the best restaurants and bars. Now it's finding the best family friendly restaurants that serve nuggets.


Give this boy some nugs and he's a happy camper. Also, did you notice his big boy haircut? We dragged him once more to the hairdresser before we left and held him down while he threw a fit and his hair was lopped off. It was sad but man, look at him! Handsome little devil.

Since I had never been north of New York, our hosts offered to take us to one of their favorite spots, Maine! We headed to Kennebunkport, which seriously, um are you a postcard?


The town oozed charm, Canadians and old rich people. The boys found a park so that Kate could take me to all of the cutest little shops they had. Did you know I love cute little shops?




Even though it was pushing dinnertime for our little tots, we decided to make the drive to Ogunquit, another coastal town ripe with twinkly lights in town and miles of gorgeous beach. Sure, it was 50 degrees but it was perfect. And the boys were in heaven.



The lighting was incredible. I kinda fell in love with this place.


Get these boys a Crew Cuts ad. Stat.


Gabe usually does not smile when I hold him, only when I hold the camera. This secretly is okay with me.


John pointed out Gabe's little footprints. I died.


This face makes my heart hurt.

After basically moving into Kate's house, we decided to head home. John suggested we do a little detour and drive through Rhode Island so we could cross that off our list. So we did. And when I think Rhode Island, I think Family Guy. And if you do too, that's why we're friends. So we headed to Pawtucket. Did you know that Hasbro is HQ'd there? The internet told me that they had a giant Mr Potato Head statue outside. So we got excited and we went.


Say hi to Mr Potato Head.

How cute is their parking lot? Very. Anyway, one of those roadtrip websites told us to go to the Historic Modern Diner for lunch. Apparently it's old as shit and they once sued Disney for using their likeness without permission. And they actually won, which is probably unheard of. Unfortunately they didn't serve nuggets or anything other than breakfast so we had to lure Gabe in by promising to sit in the choo choo train.


The service was okay, the iced tea was disgusting but the food was bangin. I had a tomato, mozzarella and pesto omelet. Good hashbrowns, good waffles, good job.


Don't make fun of my traveling get-up. Blow drying hair is low priority on vacation for everyone, right? And bonus for tiny Gabe smile!

So after our jaunt through Pawtucket (no Pawtucket Patriot brewery), we headed home. It was awesome to finally see part of the country that I'd wanted to for so long. And Maine? Yeah, I'm coming back for you. And Paper Source? I'm also coming for you too. It was my first time seeing one and I blew my load/paycheck on cute, weird things.

Thanks again and again to Kate & Co. for the hospitality. If I didn't know better, I swear I saw a pineapple above your front door. Swears.


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Currently

Reading I've finally finished Sacre Bleu by Christopher Moore after John hogging it, then dogging it, after so many months. I was prepared to be underwhelmed but I actually really really liked it. If you haven't read any Christopher Moore books then you're missing out. Next up on my nightstand is The Charming Man by Marian Keyes, which was recommended by Homevalley when I asked for your recs. I'm slowly making my way through all of your suggestions thanks to cheap books on Amazon.

Watching Right now? The effing Wiggles. The boy is still obsessed. Last night we watched the premiere of HIMYM and man, I was just so bored. I'm calling it. Shark jumped. I am, however, looking forward to Sunday night when Once Upon a Time comes back on. Other than that, I watch the internet every night while John watches public access television. I am never involved in tv show conversations  because I am lost.

Listening to See above. Music-wise? Nada. I don't ever find or seek out new music. I'm happy listening to whatever's on the radio when I drive. And on the last two road trips we went on, we didn't turn the radio on once, sorta weird right?

Thinking About Getting unpacked and life back in order. We took our little family vacay to Boston this past week (we had orig planned Always Bloggy to coincide) so I've got suitcases full of laundry to be done and souvenirs to find homes for. Then there are the 8 billion pictures to edit. Then blog.

Loving The weather obvi. Gabe's fall wardrobe. Everything New England after spending the week in Kate's picture perfect little town.

Kite Watching in Ogunquit, Maine

Looking Forward to Halloween! Since returning from Boston, I am in full-on Halloween mode. I've still got to think of costumes for all three of us. We did some brainstorming for ideas on our trip but nothing is jumping out at me as completely awesome. It's always a disappointment when you think you've got a great idea then you google it to make sure you're the only one and boom, 16 pages of google images of your costume. Womp wommmmp. And of course, it doesn't help when the neighborhood kids want me to dress Gabe as a bloody hockey player so that they can go around as a little gang. Um, sorry dudes, if you hadn't noticed, Gabe is 2. Not really letting him trick or treat with you. Especially dressed like that.

Making Me Happy I'm knee deep in two different parties right now, which are both first birthdays. Both clients are open to all sorts of ideas, which makes them my favorite type of clients. I'm happy to be pinteresting for a reason, spray painting props, ordering bulk candy and racking my brain for unique ideas.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Gabe: 2Y1M

 Two Years, One Month

Dear Gabe,

Hey bud! You've spent one month as a two year old and I swear, lately, we've only met kids who are a few months younger than you. As their moms struggle to remember exactly how many months they are when I ask, I am quick to spit out a TWO! He's two! You are really getting into the whole "big boy" thing too, which honestly, I never understood. I never knew what clicked inside a kid's head that made them aspire to be a big boy. I mean, what's wrong with being a baby? Nothing! All of your needs are quickly taken care of. But as a big boy, you're starting to be responsible for some things...namely feeding and entertaining.

But now I see what makes you want to be a big boy. It's the praise we lay on you when you do something fantastic and new. We tell you that you're being such a big boy and with the enthusiasm we show, you've got to realize that this is a good thing. Being a big boy might have its perks.

Another big part of showing you what a big boy does is letting you hang with your neighborhood friends. They're all older than you but ride bikes & play ball with you like you're one of them. In your eyes, they can do no wrong. So when you're kicking me in the chin when I need to trim your fingernails, all I need to do is tell you that all your big boy friends trim their nails and you become like puddy in my hands.As long as I go through all of their names over and over and finish trimming before I run out of names, we are good to go.

There are so many ways you're becoming a big boy. But not only that, you're becoming a smart & polite little guy too. You've mastered the please and thank you's and give them out both prompted and umprompted. You say Bless You Mommy whenever I sneeze or hiccup. You're stringing words together that make sense and after a second, we realize that you've told us a story. You've told us what you want, or what you saw or what you need RIGHT THAT SECOND.

As much as we love watching you embrace your new-found independence, trying to do things that aren't on your agenda is well um...trying. You pop out of bed wanting to be outside and when you don't get your way, you're happy to just repeat the word "outside" for an hour or two before I give up and take you out, letting whatever plans I had fall to the wayside. When it's time to head back in at night, after you've been out all day, sometimes you collapse in tears. You keep repeating "outside" the whole time we walk up the street and back in the house. It's heartbreaking and a yeah, bit annoying. But mostly, we're happy to make you happy.

Love you buddy bear!
Mama

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Bottle Pop Parties: Butterfly Baby Shower

Murphy's Law is the law of the land around my house. No matter how much planning I do for an event, no matter how many times I check and double check my lists, there's always a snag. This butterfly themed baby shower was simple enough. Good food, a purple in real life sangria (made with Hypnotiq Harmonie and determined delicious), a few butterflies flitting around the place and we were good to go.


I had heard that the mama to be didn't have the butterfly themed nursery finished yet so my idea to use a b-fly mobile for decor then transition it to the nursh was well received. I picked the prettiest one on etsy and placed my order. I was assured that it would arrive in plenty of time for the shower and was sent the tracking number that week. I tracked and tracked and watched it arrive in Philly. Then stop. It sat there for 7 days before it made it's way 30 minutes outside of the city. Unacceptable. It actually arrived the morning of the shower but it was too late. I had went out the night before for all of the supplies and got cracking.

3 hours and a billion paper butterflies later, it was complete. And I loved it. Maybe a smidge better than the one I ordered. Oh who am I kidding? I knew I could do a better job, I just didn't feel like doing it myself. But I should have known. Either way, the guest of honor loved it and no one knew any better.

I snapped this terrible pic on my phone and am kicking myself because I thought I got more shots of it hanging in the home. I just got the one above, in the middle. It was pretty darn cute though.



Aren't those purple butterflies on the cake adorbs? I had ordered them from etsy and sent them to my bakery and they were nice enough to add them to the gigantic carrot cake we ordered. So even though we didn't go crazy with the decor, the cake and the mobile seemed to impress people just fine. Sometimes not going overboard is a-ok with me.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Wanna Catch Up?

Last week I got sad. Then I stopped being sad and got awesome. Or at least that's what a Neil Patrick Harris/ Barney Stinson internet meme told me to do. And I wasn't sad so much as soul-crushingly disappointed. Why you ask? Well I had to cancel the Always Bloggy in Boston meet-up. If you'll remember it was supposed to be this coming weekend but after my email went out with all of our final details, a rush of cancellations poured in. Now I'm sure all were legit reasons (work, etc) but it doesn't change the fact that with so many people cancelling, it wouldn't make sense to make a big to-do for a handful of people. It wouldn't be fair to the people that were still planning on coming to get there and not get the full Always Bloggy experience (yep, it's an experience all right). So yeah, all my planning...for nada. Sucks doesn't it?

So after that decision, I decided that I deserved fair food. Because isn't that what fair food is for? To massage your feelings on the way down to your belly? I thought so. So we packed up the fam and headed to The Mushroom Festival, a huge festival celebrating all things shroomy in what I've heard is the mushroom capital of the country, Kennett Square, PA. My friend Bryn just moved to Kennett Square so we joined her and her husband and daughter, Gabe's little lady friend so that they could give us the lay of the land. We got there early and got our mushroom on.


Well the adults did. Between wrangling these tots, we sampled marinated shrooms, deep friend shrooms, jalapeno stuffed shrooms, shroom risotto, shroom hot dogs and shroom ice cream. FYI, cream of mushroom soup mixed with vanilla ice cream is sorrrrta gross. Corn dogs, however, are bangin.


And as much fun as shrooms can be, the kiddies got sick of it after awhile so we headed back to the school buses that would return us to the cars. I think they would have been fine if we just rode around town on those for awhile. Cries of "bussss!!!" permeated the parking lot as we dragged Gabe to the car. Then he got home and passed out for 3 hours. I'd like to mushroom fest every day if it means 3 hour naps.



The next day, I headed to a baby shower for an awesome lady and got to see a bunch of girls I went to high school with, including some admitted blog stalkers (hey Amy!) and admitted non-commenters (hey Em!) an of course, my bff (hey Kel!) I actually spent most of the day chatting with my friend Emily who I don't get to see nearly enough even though we have like everything in common. Maybe I can convince her to pop out some babes and move to the burbs? Maybe? Then we can sit around and craft and talk about blogs ALL day long.


Anyway, I had to head out early because it was actually John and my 6th anniversary! Luckily we had celebrated the night before. At the Olive Garden. Because we had a gift card. And it was awesome. Any time I get to hang with John is awesome though. Except when he reads blogs over my shoulder like he's doing right now. But for real, he is the awesome kind of husband I never knew actually existed and watching him be a dad makes my heart hurt, it's that good.

So now we're all caught up.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Bottle Pop Party Co. Turns One!

As of yesterday, my pride and joy, Bottle Pop Party Co. is one year old! And it's been a fantastic year. So many people have trusted me with taking over their events and making them cute and I couldn't be happier or more appreciative. I know a lot (A LOT) of people don't see the value in hiring an event planner. It's hard to fork over money based on experience and promises. I mean, that's really all I have, isn't it? I have pictures to show my experience and I've got promises...ohhhhhh I've got promises. Promises of bringing ideas you saw on the internet to life. Promises of bringing ideas you've never even thought of! Promises of doing my very best to make people happy and to make them feel like I was worth it.


I started this business hoping that it would take off. Duh, everyone would hope that, right? But I actually never wanted it to be too big where it would take away from my job #,1 wife and mom. And while I think I could do for a few more clients, I think I've managed to strike a pretty good balance of work/play. I spend my naptimes, nights and weekends working on parties and my days (and nights) working on my boys.



Of course, since I posted some answers to your burning questions, things have definitely changed. Since Gabe has gotten older, he actually needs more attention. He wants to be outside, moving and doing. Sure, we still have quiet playtime and some TV time where he can hang by himself and I can get a quick phone call or two in but my time to devote to the business during the day has been shifted. I used to be able to crack open my laptop while he played next to me and get things done but now every time he sees the computer, he asks to play games. Attempts at "playing" Pinterest have failed.



I've had to change my outlook on pricing too. A custom quote sounded good to me. Wouldn't everyone want a custom quote? Paying for what they wanted and not what everyone else wanted? Well it turns out, people want a price. They want to know right off the bat if you're in their ballpark. This is sort of a no-brainer because I'm that person. I don't want to waste someone's time if I can't afford them. But then again, I'm on a budget and very cost-conscious. The thing is...event planning is sort of a luxury service, right? If you can afford an event planner, you probably won't bat an eye at a reasonable fee.


This brings me to some frustrations I've felt over the past year. I've had so many inquiries that ask my pricing right off the bat. They don't want to fill out a form and wait for me to craft a quote for them. So I changed my pricing structure and have started giving pricing. I never hear from most of those people again. And honestly, it's not because my fees are outrageous. It's because they had a number in their head for what an event planner should cost and my number didn't match up. Happens all the time. It's still disappointing when it happens. And especially when you don't even get a response, not even a "Thanks but I'm going to go a different route or Not in my budget." I'm fine with those, I know not everyone will hire me but man, I sure would like them too!


And guys, it's not all what color paper straws should we get?!?  There are so many elements to this job that aren't totally fun but are very necessary. Dealing with taxes (ugh) to people that don't return phone calls to people that don't pay you. But dealing with those things is a small price to pay to tell people that I own a company. Yes, it's a small (teeny) one but it's mine and it's legit and damn it, it's a lot of work on top of my other gig.


I've got some fun things lined up for Bottle Pop this year and I can't wait to share them all with you. You guys have been such a big part of supporting my little dream and I appreciate all the support from you this past year. I think this calls for cupcakes all around today, yeah?


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

"Summer Ain't Over" Grilled Balsamic Avocados



While the rest of the internet is ready for fall and all of the lovely things that come with it (yes, we know, we all love hoodies, boots, sweaters and overpriced pumpkin flavored drinks), in my neck of the woods, the heat and humidity are still screaming summer. So we're gonna keep eating summer veggies until the cows come home. We've been grilling avocados for a few years now and I've even shared this picture of them before but I've never told you how to get this goodness for yourself.



1) Crack open your avocado and remove the pit. I like to slam a big knife down into the middle of the pit and gently lift. This usually gives me a nice clean de-pitted avocado.

2) Carefully score the "meat" in a grid fashion, working carefully not to puncture the skin on the bottom and sides.

3) Dribble some balsamic vinaigrette on top of them, letting the whole fill up with it and sink down into the cracks.

4) Let sit for 10 to 15 minutes.

5) Grill on your top rack, meat side down, on medium heat for about 9 minutes. Remove carefully with a spatula and not tongs. You'll know they're ready when they feel soft and the skin starts pulling away from the meat.

6) Top with kosher salt and eat.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Dove Conditioner Camp


When BlogHer put out the call for bloggers to review Dove Conditioner, I responded with the quickness. Not only do I really (really) like earning extra income by reviewing products for BlogHer, I’m a HUGE fan of Dove, so I knew the review would be easy. I’ve been a faithful Dove bar soap user for years and recently reviewed their body wash. I knew Dove made shampoo and conditioner but for some reason, I’d never bought it. I’m pretty brand loyal for my hair products so I never thought to look elsewhere. But duh, if I love Dove soap, why wouldn’t I love their conditioner?

I’m in the wash your hair every day camp. Or else it gets gross. I’m also in the use conditioner every day camp. Or else it’s half frizzy, half gross. I’m clearly in a lot of camps here…yet none of them have a secret camp handshake or swimming hole. Need to work on that. Anyway, one morning last week, I switched over to Dove Conditioner. It smells fresh and clean, which I think Dove is famous for, so I’ve been constantly sniffing my hair.

 It also did something I should have figured it would do. It rinsed completely clean, without leaving any film on me or my hair. Dove soap does the same thing on my skin, so obviously it would work the same way on my hair, right? Right.  Ok, I might be weird here but did you ever notice after washing the conditioner from your hair, the film sometimes sticks to your lower back? I really have to rinse well to get all of the conditioner residue off of me. Please tell me I’m not a freak and that this actually happens! Well surprise, surprise, the Dove Conditioner zapped that issue. It’s now a non-issue.

After I dry my hair and inflict my normal torture on it via the flat iron, my hair has been noticeably smoother and softer, without any greasiness or film. Even after we spend the first 3 hours of the day outside in the heat, riding bikes and inspecting rocks, when the crown of hair around my face tends to curl up and frizz? Dove Conditioner has reined in the uprising of those curls and kept things in place. 

So to sum things up, I’ve determined that this Dove Conditioner : 1) Has no icky film 2) Smells so fresh and so clean and 3) Keeps that frizz in check. 

Now I’m off to find a swimming hole…

Tell me, do you want to go to Spa Camp???

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Monday, September 3, 2012

Boys of Summer

Ok, just one boy really. Because that's all I've got, is just the one boy. And he is quite the boy of summer, determined to spend every last second of it outside, soaking up the sun and getting as many bug bites as he possibly can. (Don't worry, I'm freaked out about West Nile enough for all of us). It's been a pretty low-key summer though, spending most of our time at home, wandering the neighborhood and now being obsessed with the bike and the neighbor friends that go with it. We didn't do a summer vacation this year, which really is fine by me. I like the beach, and the sand/heat/humidity that goes with it, in short doses. Besides, our family vacay this year is actually this month and it's definitely not a tropical destination.

But since we are so close to the Jersey shore, we did one last day trip down with my best friend and Gabe's godmother Aunt Kelly.  We got down there early and set up on the beach. I forgot how much work it is to bring a child to the beach but luckily Gabe is finally old enough to pitch in. He carried his bag of toys over his shoulder and it was just the cutest. We are well on our way to making him carry everything.

I wasn't sure how the ocean was going to go. When we had hit the beach in June for a few days with my brothers, it was too windy to even bother with the beach. And the hotel pool was so crowded with rowdy, splashing kids (and questionable adult bathing suits) that Gabe was too scared to get in. So besides our nightly bathtub swims, we really hadn't had too much experience with big bodies of water this summer. 

The kid fell in l.o.v.e. with the ocean though, for real. He spent some times jumping at the edge of the water, while holding my hands, then really got into it. He laid down on is belly and would yell "Sim! Sim!" and put his hands and feet in the air behind him. His head would stick way up high when the little waves came in but he did get wopped in the head a few times and a few mouthfuls of saltwater. I thought that would be the end of it but nope, he kept going back for more.


His pediatrician recommended 15 minutes of Vitamin D before the rash guard went on. I'm paranoid about sunburn so Gabe will always be a ghost if I can control it.
 



 Why is he a teenager here?


 Oh there's my baby again!




This has Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition written all over it.
 



Deep thoughts by Gabe Handey

He had the best time. I had the best time watching him have the best time. Thanks Aunt Kelly for being our own personal photog and for taking us out for a day of fun. We love you and hope that you moving away will make us see you more...because we'll need to make appointments and whatnot. 

The rest of youse? Hope you had a fantastic summer. 

****************************************************************************

Also, I wanted to both thank you for being patient with all of the recent reviews/sponsored posts/blog ads recently and give you a heads up that more are coming. I know they are kind of a turn-off and usually not very interesting but the Blogher network has had so many awesome opportunities to make a few bucks on these things that I just can't say no. Being on a hardcore budget makes me cry, so being able to finally (after almost 5 years of doing this) bring in some cash definitely makes me happy. Depending on the post, they might pay me 50 to 100 bucks a pop. You wouldn't turn that down, would ya?  So anyway, feel free to skip over any of them but know that I do use my own voice, my own opinions and I at least try to make them sort of entertaining.  If anyone deserves a funny review of soy sauce (or whatever) it's you guys.

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