Friday, December 9, 2016

Not Your Average November

The days are flying by as we near the end of 2016. November was another busy, busy month, mostly due to the fact we had multiple celebrations, the biggest being Allie's 16th birthday!

As mentioned in my previous post, I was in major party planning/preparation mode in October and the first two weeks of November. In addition to managing that, Zach coerced me into trying Crossfit for the first time.
Now that he built a gym in the garage, it not only makes working out easier for him, but makes it more accessible to Allie and I. The first workout wasn't so bad, but I think that was mostly due to having such a good trainer! Zach is so patient, encouraging, and really takes the time to teach us what to do.
Besides exercising, I exercised my right to vote on November 8.  This little girl in line who brought a chair and ipad had the right idea! Ha!
Although election season was pretty painful and embarrassing for most people, I found myself so proud to be an American on election day. I am so grateful to live in a place where...
  • We have choice, an opportunity to stand up for what we believe and be heard.
  • Men and women have equal voting rights. 
  • Communities can convene at local facilities to vote - quietly, orderly, respectfully and without opposition, resistance, or persecution. 
  • People from every community come together to make this system possible. 
  • We share sample ballots and pens and clipboards no matter race, age, or ethnicity. 
  • We are not only offered the chance to vote, but also bottles water and coffee (reg and decaf with all the accoutrements) provided by a local church while we wait. 
  • I can forget my ID and someone kindly holds my place in line. 
I know these privileges have taken a long time to establish and have come at a high price. Thank you to everyone who has given their life over many, many years to make this possible! To all the veterans and civil servants working for the betterment of America, this was your day and I'm honored to have been a part of it.
In other news, my MIL, Allie and I gave our front entry and back patio a little makeover by adding some planters full of cabbage, pansies, creeping jenny, and chard.
I absolutely love how these turned out! I am especially fond of the little evergreen bush who is the star of this arrangement. We've named him Leyland and he's become part of the family. :)
Minus the cypress, we duplicated this look in the hanging baskets on the back patio and they just look so adorable! I wish I could keep these year round.

Speaking of home, Al's birthday party was held on Saturday, November 12th at our house. She wanted to invite friends over for a night of worship, sweet treats, and just... have some outdoor fun so that's exactly what we did.  I am going to write a separate post sharing all my party throwing tips/tricks and every last detail/photo, but for now I'll just share a few.

At first I was looking for a cool venue to rent for this, but we decided to redo our lower patio instead of paying for a rental. We've lived in this house 3 years and have really never touched the lower patio off of the basement. I grow herbs down there in a planter during the summer and that's really all we've used it for since our outdoor table, grill, etc. is on the upper deck off of the kitchen.

Here is a "before" photo where we just have old, weather-worn outdoor furniture, some string lights (half falling down), and some pavers being overtaken by weeds and moss.
 Here is the "after"!
Improvements include:
  • cleaning up all the pavers and removing all the weeds
  • repainting all the outdoor furniture
  • repainting an old, faux mantle my MIL gave me last Christmas and hanging it on the wall
  • adding pom-pom garland to the string lights on the ceiling
  • adding textiles, decor, and accessories
Another view, "before"

We also added a patio fire pit with wood benches (that we painted to match the other furniture) as well as a freestanding patio heater since it was chilly that night.

The party food table included Krispy Kreme doughnut holes, brownie pie, assorted mini cupcakes, parfaits, chocolate covered oreos, and apple pecan oatmeal cookies. I made everything from scratch except the doughnut holes and cupcakes.

Party people! We are so grateful Allie has such wonderful friends in her life!
All in all the party turned out better than any of us expected and I was just so so happy Allie had such a wonderful time as well as all her friends.

Post-party leftovers. :)
On Allie's actual birthday (Tuesday, November 15th), Zach surprised her by taking her on a breakfast date and letting her miss her first class. We NEVER let her miss school so this was a big treat.

Sweet 16! I made this print a few months back and it couldn't be more appropriate for our Al. :) She is a gem and we are so proud to be her parents.
Per her request I made her yellow cake with chocolate icing. I am not a big cake baker, but I was pretty pleased with how this one turned out!
That night we let Al decide what she wanted to do for dinner/where she wanted to go and all she wanted was to get pizza from O4W (her favorite) and eat it at home on the couch. Ha! So that's exactly what we did, but not without a little birthday fanfare in the form of number sparklers on her cake!
We also surprised her with a new iphone. Over a month ago she lost her iPhone 6 so she had to down grade to an old 4 we had lying around. I know I know, first world problems, but the loss of luxuries available on the newer phone did not go unnoticed. (Hopefully she learned her lesson. :)) Anyway, we pranked her by wrapping up an ARCHAIC Motorola flip phone I found in a random box and gave her that as her gift. Ha! We didn't let too much time pass before telling her she would be getting an actual upgraded phone instead of one that belongs in a museum. LOL

With Allie turning 16, I just felt so nostalgic... looking back at old photos and marveling at how much has changed since Zach and I got married. I put together a little collection of some of my favorite photos (there are SO many it's hard to choose), but take a look and see Al through the ages. :)
I mean really?! Look at her! She is so adorable and bright and lovely. Here's a side-by-side of her, Left: age 9 at our wedding, Right: just last month. Wow, time really does fly.
Happy Birthday my darling daughter! We love you Al!!!

While we were celebrating Allie's birthday, my friend Whitney (who lives in NYC) was celebrating her art show opening at Hathaway Gallery. Her show, titled Cosmic Nostalgia, is on display in Atlanta for the next few months and I just had to go by ASAP!

 If you are local, you should drop by too and see all her amazing pieces!
I know it's hard to have a sense of scale here... but those teeny, tiny swirling black lines are microscopic and all drawn by hand. I seriously don't know how she has the eyesight or patience for this kind of detail. She is amazing and our whole family just thinks the world of her and her work.
 My favorite paint glob. :) So beautiful.
We are so proud of you Whit! Congrats! We can't wait to visit you again in NYC.

My parents made two quick visits to our home this month - before and after their annual Christmas tree run to NC. It was good to see them before Thanksgiving and have them in town!

A few new things for me this month include learning calligraphy/hand lettering.
I have always had an interest in this and decided to give it a go. I purchased a simple beginners handbook online and have been slowly practicing. I am starting with faux calligraphy (just using a regular pen) and it's harder than it looks! Strangely, now that I type so much, my hand isn't use to writing for long periods of time and it gets tired so quickly! Allie wanted to learn too so I made her a copy and hopefully, in a few months, we will be legit calligraphers!

In food news, I got two, new awesome things this month: the Paprika recipe app and the Autoimmune Wellness Handbook.
The app is really transforming the way I organize my recipes and grocery list and I am loving it! Surprisingly, I have not had a super organized system for my recipes, but now that I cook so much - and am growing tired of constantly flipping through cookbooks every night (although I love love love cookbooks), it is helping me streamline both the cooking and shopping process and I am a huge fan. If you are looking for an app to easily store your recipes, I highly suggest Paprika! It's totally worth the $4.99 or whatever it costs.

The Autoimmune Wellness Handbook is a wonderful resource for people who are concerned about health and think they might have an autoimmune disease. It has so much great information and is an awesome way to educate yourself on this health issue. It does include some recipes in the back, but personally... none of these really catch my fancy and I prefer some other autoimmune cookbooks when it comes to finding AIP recipes.

And speaking of food... due to being so laser focused on Allie's party, cooking took a little bit of a back seat for me for a few weeks. Don't get me wrong - I still was doing AIP, but doing it has efficiently as possible. These Epic Bars were my lifesaver, providing quick pre-packaged protein I could take for lunch instead of having to prepare food.
I also hosted my first ever (almost) completely AIP compliant dinner party! Our friends John and Kayla came over and they were such good sports, allowing me to experiment with some new recipes... no matter the outcome. :)
The menu included butternut-carrot-ginger soup, sweet potato biscuits (gluten-free, but not AIP), maple bacon brussel sprouts, cranberry-braised short ribs, and pumpkin spice cake. (I didn't have time to take photos of my dishes, so these are straight from the recipes!)
I also through together some SUPER simple place cards/tags for each person just to spruce up the table beyond candles.
Pulling off a dinner party during the week takes A LOT of preparation, especially if you are majorly health conscious, work full-time and commute any significant distance. If you want to take this on though, here are my suggestions to make it doable:
  • Do it on a Monday so you have Sunday to prep. 
  • Iron all linens (make sure nothing still has a stain or crumble on it), make place cards, and set the table (if possible) on Sunday so it is done and not a last minute stressor. 
  • Have atleast 2 or 3 dishes you can make completely a head of time so you don't have to fool with it the day of.
  • If trying new recipes - have a simple back up plan. For me, since I was trying a new dessert and was really unsure how it was going to taste, I had some simple, chocolate covered oreos (gluten/dairy-free ones :)), in the fridge ready to go should I need to supplement the dessert. 
  • Leave time to clean the kitchen before guests arrive so its not a hot mess/requires a massive effort at the end of a long evening and all you really need to do is load the dishwasher and relax!
  • Make sure the dishwasher is empty. I know this is a first world problem, but it's a major downer to have a giant mess in the kitchen and then realize the dishwasher is completely full and has not been turned on....
  • Create a relaxing, cozy ambiance by appealing to all the senses - great music, warm candles, soft lighting (none of that bright white fluorescent stuff), enticing smells and of course, delicious food! 
We had a seriously awesome time catching up with the Joiners and are so glad they are back living in Georgia! Welcome home guys. :)

Some other dishes I have tried this month include the following. Please note: I am totally obsessed with cranberries and incorporating them in multiple dishes. :) Aren't they just so beautiful?!
These are chicken burgers (patties made with ground chicken, bacon, apples, onion, and rosemary) and topped with fresh cranberry sauce (cranberries and maple syrup heated until the berries have popped and sauce has thickened). These are SO GOOD.
Not a good pic cause it was night time so no natural daylighting, but this dish is so simple- cinnamon sweet potato, apple, cranberry bake. 
Leftover pie for two :)
AIP apple cinnamon rolls. I actually really liked these and will make them again. It's the closest thing to bread I've had in 4 months!
And now for the Thanksgiving wrap-up... we headed to Florida to spend the holiday with my parents and extended family in the area.

My parents log cabin where I grew up. My parents have lived here since I was 5 so it's a little surreal to go back and things be just as they were like... 25 years ago. :)
My MIL and Al on the front porch.
I absolutely love this Norfolk pine tree on the corner of the yard. I am a total sucker for evergreens.
Aren't the limbs just so beautiful?
And this foxtail fern is so cool looking, even though it is kinda like the plant version of an octopus (eww). My dad is like... Mr. Green Thumb and has so many plants growing in his yard, many of them originating in my grandmother's yard from many years ago. 
A year or two ago my dad built a barn on their property. This isn't your average barn for doing farm type things. This is a party barn, meant for hosting gatherings such as Thanksgiving lunch.

So cute right? 
This year he even made the tables and benches out of pallet wood and spent many months collecting the assorted, old wooden chairs. 
Fall-y table decor, courtesy of Mom, my Aunt Susan, and my MIL Cindy (who spent the entire week down in Florida hanging with my parents!).
Little turkeys made by my cousin's 3 daughters.
Happy Thanksgiving!
This year we had about 30 family members together for the holiday. It's a full barn y'all! 
My plate. This is the first Thanksgiving of my life I haven't divided in and gorged myself on casseroles and desserts. 
I did deviate from the auto-immune protocol somewhat by having a little dairy (butter in my gluten-free biscuit and in the apple cranberry crumble I made) as well as some sugar and pecans (in the crumble), but besides that I was within the guidelines. I consider it a huge win I was able to get through the holiday without having gluten, cheese, or an excess of nutrition-less carbs and crazy amounts of sugar.

Eating my very first gluten-free biscuit, the biscuits I have been making for Allie for months now. She was SO excited to watch me taste it! haha
I brought my own dessert which was a Hail Merry dark chocolate miracle tart. I love these things and they are AIP/appropriate treats every now and then. :)
 Playing a little Dog Bingo with the family :)
 Really stiff competition here :)
And what's Thanksgiving without an afternoon nap? :)
However, these two made sure to spread the Thanksgiving joy to the neighbor's horse before conking out on the floor. Ha!

On Black Friday, it's becoming our tradition to head to the beach and enjoy a relaxing day at the coast. I like going to Ponce Inlet because it is usually pretty deserted without all the touristy hubbub. 
 Allie needs sunglasses. :)
We bring only the essentials, aka Chipotle. :) This is what eating gluten/dairy/legume/nightshade free at Chipotle looks like. LOL (ps. In full-disclosure I did bring my own plantain chips since I can't do the corn ones.)
 Taking a picture of Zach... taking a picture.
Don't know these people, but I wish I did so I could give them this cute photo I snapped! I love bike riding at the beach.

 Bird chaser

One of my favorite things to do at the beach is walk the shore. It's so relaxing and beautiful and I love doing it with Al and my MIL. Allie picked up some treasures along the way. 
Family :)

On Saturday - before college football gameday really got rolling, we headed to the movies to see JK Rowling's Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. I coerced Zach and Allie to pose in this display and clearly, Zach is way more into it. HAHA

Later on we did a very brief mini-shoot with Zach and Allie at a nearby fernery where I took a photo of them 6 years ago.
I wanted to create a side-by-side to see how much they have changed in the last 6 years. I can't tell a difference, can you? :)
 I mean wow. She looks so grown up. And so does he. Ha!
 That night we had a cookout with some family and the guest of honor was Mr. Bush!
Mr. Bush was my dad's baseball coach 46 years ago and they have been friends ever since, best friends for as long as I can remember. They taught at the same school for decades, coached baseball together, have gone on Christmas tree trips to NC together... you get the picture.  Mr. Bush even spoke at my grandma's memorial service back in 1998 and even traveled with us to her burial in south Georgia. He's been a part of our family for a long time now and Thanksgiving would not be Thanksgiving without seeing Thomas Bush!

Zach, Al, my MIL, and I headed home Sunday morning - listening to the new (and amazing) Brett Eldredge Christmas album the whole way (you should get it), and as soon as we pulled into the driveway, operation "get ready for Christmas" began!

We put up the tree and stockings and decorated together while the Christmas tunes filled the air. I made some GF/DF chocolate chip cookies and we sat in front of the fire watching The Holiday and soaking up every ounce of Christmas coziness and cheer. I am just so so grateful for these seemingly small, but incredibly beautiful moments of quiet, comfort, and peace.
This year, I put away our red ornaments and only used silver, white, and our special ornament collection.
 Our 2016 ornament is this cute antler. :)
In addition to hanging out stockings, I also was inspired by my friend Lindsay Alexander to "shop my house" and spruce up the fireplace area. The chair is from Allie's bedroom, the pom pom fringe, blanket, wire basket and firewood was snagged from the new patio accessories collection, add some white lights, fresh pine and viola!

I always want to do a garland on the mantle, but with the tv there is really not enough space for one. I also wanted to get a small Christmas tree to sit by the firewood basket, but I am trying to manage my "need for more" and just enjoy the things I already have without having to have every little thing that would make it "perfect". (Sigh... so hard. :))

And speaking of stuff, I am a big online shopper so I did the bulk of my Christmas gifting on Cyber Monday. I mean... it's just so convenient. If you live in Atlanta and there is a way to avoid traffic/lines, you DO IT. No questions asked. :) For me, I think I enjoy the gift wrapping part of gift-giving just as much as the gifts themselves. I love searching for a new theme each year and the perfect packaging products. This year I am making little yarn pom poms to top the gifts. Pom pom fringe at Allie's party... on the mantle... pom pom garland on the Christmas tree...Can you tell I am totally digging the pom poms this year?!

The first little gift collection under the tree :)
I also have been enjoying FINALLY watching the Gilmore Girls reunion on Netflix. For 4 nights straight (there are 4 episodes), I got cozied up on the sofa - basking in the Christmas tree glow with some sort of little treat, and watched my show. :) After it was all said and done, I am really... conflicted over the content and how it has changed my view of the show/characters, but at the end of the day I am glad they did this and it was so fun to go back to Stars Hollow and see all those familiar characters and places again.

Now that December is here I am planning for the holidays. This is the first year Allie will be with us for Christmas Day (YAY!) and that we will be hosting the family at our home in Georgia. I am excited to do some new things, try some new recipes, and give/serve our community this month!

Happy Christmas y'all!