December 27, 2010

What I Did On My Christmas Vacation

I was in Michigan the past four days. Mike and I took the pup on his first multi-state trip back home to see my family for Christmas. And while the most that Mike and I did over our last holiday was make one dinner, this trip involved a lot more activity.

We arrived Friday night and had a delicious dinner with my parents. After dinner my mom and I headed to downtown Detroit to attend the Christmas Eve service at my sister's church. I love the Christmas Eve service at her church, so I was incredibly happy that I was able to attend this year. The service always leaves me feeling very warm and fuzzy, something which is definitely achieved through the ornate decorations of this beautiful, old Gothic structure.

The next morning I slept in until 9 a.m. Let me say that again. Nine A.M. That hasn't happened in I don't know how long. The reason is due to the one thing that made this trip so fantastic - my parent's backyard. Taylor was in heaven in my parent's backyard.
He ran himself ragged chasing squirrels all day, so he slept in a little later than usual. Mike and I got to be lazy parents and instead of walking him, we just opened the sliding back door and let Taylor chase squirrels until he wanted to come back in. Which wasn't often. So yes, the backyard was great for my sleep, bad for my thighs. I didn't walk him once the entire time we were in Michigan. Much less than my standard two times a day. But Taylor didn't care. He would have stayed in that backyard hunting squirrels until he scared them all away. Or until his neck cramped up from staying in this position for hours on end.
Saturday afternoon we headed to my Aunt Janet and Uncle Ray's house to see my mom's side of the family. My aunt and uncle's house is always a ton of fun for both the adults and kids. They are excellent hosts who have a variety of adult beverages, and their basement is a fun zone housing a pool table, darts and a Wii on a giant projector on the far wall. And this year, they added a brand new shuffleboard table. I'm proud to say that in the battle of the younger generation (Mike and my brother-in-law) and the older gentlemen (my dad and uncle), my man's team eeked out the final win of the night.
My Aunt Janet also has the family tree at her home. This year my cousin's daughter was working on a school project having to deal with her family tree, so we brought out the giant knitted cloth and examined the names that connected with and preceded our own.
My grandma stitched this giant family tree. Christmas was always her favorite time of year, so I thought it fitting that even though she no longer is with us mentally, we collectively sat around on Christmas day and admired the work she so lovingly created.
The day after Christmas was spent at my parent's house. So Taylor got more backyard time and I took advantage of my morning by scoring some crazy good deals at my local mall and picking up some last minute grocery items for my mom. My sister and her family came by as well as my dad's sister and her family. We hung out and all partook of the buffet my mom set up way too many times. Then we opened present and my sister decided to turn me into a living doll by dressing me up in pieces from my great aunt's collection of jewelry.
So that's it. That there is how I spent my Christmas vacation. To sum up: food, family, fun and necklaces.

I hope your holiday was filled with far too many good things as well.

December 20, 2010

Checking One Item Off

I have a lot rolling around in my head right now, not that you would know this from my lack of posting. But I assure you these things are directly related. Blogging is on one of my many to do lists items, but the problem I'm having right now is navigating my many to do lists.

This time of year seems to be the time of lists. Lists of presents, packing lists, lists of the top songs and movies of the year, lists of groceries to buy for dinners to make and lists of New Year's resolutions. Possibly all this list making is ingrained in us at a young age, trying to determine if we've been included on Santa's good or naughty list. If so, it stuck really well with me. I am the queen to lists at the moment. Honestly, I don't know how parents, especially single moms, ever stay on top of life.

I recently downloaded an ink pad app for my phone. It functions as my very own virtual post-it note, which will forever remain a favorite place for my many to do lists. This app I should say is in addition to the To Do List Task Manager app I downloaded last month. Apparently one list making device was not enough. In full disclosure, I also use my calendar on my phone as a reminder of sorts. I am pretty sure the dog would never get his heart worm pill and our neighbors would never get their monthly rent for the parking spot Mike and I use were it not for reminders on my phone. So yes, three. I need no less than three phone apps to help me keep my life straight.

And still with all these list making functions and dinging reminders, I still let so much fall through the cracks. My nephew's birthday was last Tuesday. Were it not for an email from my mom the following day, I might have forgotten his birthday entirely. That's not something I'm proud of, but it's true. Also, today I finally made a long overdue dentist appointment. I was due for a six month check up in August. Instead I'll be going in early January. My good friend Yvonne, someone whom I enjoy talking to very, very much (and unfortunately lives many states away) I have meant to call since early fall. I have thought about calling her so many times, but never actually have. It always seems life gets in the way before that happens.

I think that's why I feel so frustrated right now and possibly why my blogging has been so sporadic. Blogging lately hasn't been about writing about what I'm feeling or seeing. It's been about posting what I feel I have to. And honestly, if I don't feel that I have to post anything then I have a hard justifying taking the time to write about what's on my mind. How can I when my to do list for any given night includes, among many other things, tending to laundry, returning email, making dinner, editing photos and returning long overdue phone calls to my mom. It seems that every night by the time I finish the things I feel obligated to do, I have about 20 minutes before I need to go to bed. And then I usually remember something I have forgotten to do that night which I inevitably put off until tomorrow bumping one or two of those things I was going to do tomorrow until the day after and so on and so on until months have gone by and I wonder where the time went.

This wasn't intended to be a confessional about my lack of blogging (or blog reading) but that's what it is. I do still really enjoy blogging. And I will continue to rearrange my to do list in order to share the things that are rolling around in my brain. I promise. It's on my to do list.

And just because this picture makes me laugh, here is a photo of my dog I meant to post months ago when Mike and I took him to our neighborhood Howl-o-ween parade.
HA! I swear he was not run over by a car, but that was probably the funniest possibly way he could have laid down. And in case you are wondering why he's wearing a football jersey, that was his costume for the doggie Halloween parade. (You know you love it Lexi!) And this next photo also is just because I meant to post it  back in October. It's our little family, minus the cats, which are pretty much like whiny, step children now that we have a dog.
OK, that's all for now. I'll be back. Hopefully soon. Please don't wander away too far.

December 14, 2010

Ho Ho Bah Humbug

This past weekend my friend Carly and I tried our second attempt at her family's Christmas card. She had visions of a winter wonderland scene with trees and snow and reds and greens and her smiling family plopped in the middle of it.

Our first attempt ended about 5 minutes in when we realized it was just way too cold to attempt outdoor photos. Our second attempt was this past Saturday and the weather was the other extreme. It was dreary and raining. By the time our shoot start time came around, the rain had already started washing away the snow. So we opted for the winter garden in the Harold Washington Library, hoping it would have some sort of Christmas ambiance under it's glass roof. It did not. So we got a few shots, but in the end, it wasn't what any of us expected. (Note to future self: finding indoor public locations with Christmas decor in the city is TOUGH. Get to scouting locations!)

I left our shoot feeling disappointed and even less in the Christmas spirit than I had before. I fully admit that I am not in the Christmas spirit at all this year. (Unlike my friend Kelsa who literally is filled with the Christmas spirit all the way to her tippy toes.) In no way have I decorated my home. It looks the same as it did on Nov. 1 and Oct. 2 and Aug. 15. And it will look the exact same way it does now on Dec. 25. I just didn't see the point in pulling out our decorations this year. I don't even have enough Christmas spirit to compose my yearly rant against inflatable lawn ornaments. I assure you I still hate them.

It wasn't until yesterday when a coworker presented me with a stack of letters that my Christmas spirit started bubbling up. Every year one of the attorneys in my office organizes a Letters to Santa program sponsored by the Chicago Tribune. Children in less privileged parts of the city write letters to "Santa's Helpers" asking for presents. The children go to schools that are 100 percent free lunch and "serve breakfast, lunch and dinner to ensure that (the students) receive three hot meals a day." Over a quarter of the students are wards of the state and over a quarter are being raised by grandparents. These kids live in my city, but far from the only Chicago I've ever known.

As I was handed the stack of letters asking for toys, clothes and school supplies, I didn't know how to choose. I wanted to buy something for each of them. And then I came across a letter from a 10-year-old boy who had clearly put some effort into writing his very legible letter. In it he said:
My favorite sport is basketball. I like basketball because you can have fun. You don't have to worry about getting hurt and you can be a star player. My favorite dish is tacos because you can have all the topping you want like Ranch dressing, sause, salad, cheese and it's very good.
I like Christmas because you can give more to people and you can see parts of your family that you haven't seen in a while.
Thank you very much for reading my letter. I hope you enjoy it. I hope you have a great Christmas.
So this afternoon I took my lunch hour and bought him a basketball. I wanted to buy him more but was restricted to a $25 limit. I can safely say that buying this boy I don't even know one present will probably be the highlight of my Christmas season. Then again, my Christmas shoot didn't end up being a total bust, so I guess my Christmas spirit is slowly emerging. It's just taking a little longer than usual this year.
ly card 6
ly card 4
Ly card 2
ly card 5
ly card 3
ly card 1

December 4, 2010

This One Is For Aunt Janet

My Aunt Janet has told me she loves when I post pictures of Chicago on this blog. She is after all a big part of the reason I live here now. My Aunt Janet lived in the Chicago suburbs when I was younger, and whenever my mom asked what I wanted to do for my birthday I would always answer "Go see Aunt Janet in Chicago." As a result I fell in love with this city at a young age and vowed to move here one day.

I am here now, and I love this city - my city - just as much as I did as a middle school girl. I love it so much that on Sundays when I have nothing planned, I'll wander its' streets and document it with my camera.

Never Too Cold

November 26, 2010

Stick a Fork In It

Mike and I spent this Thanksgiving snuggled up at home. We opted not to head to Michigan or Wisconsin this year. So that meant I wouldn't just be able to sit down to a Thanksgiving meal this year. This year, Mike and I were in charge of our own menu.

In light of this fact, and knowing our own culinary limits, we opted for some easy to prepare dishes: green beans from a can, pre-made rolls, store bought cranberry sauce, and a prosciutto-wrapped pork loin in lieu of turkey. Don't let the pork loin fool you. It's crazy easy to make. However, it wouldn't feel like Thanksgiving to me without mashed potatoes, and Mike felt the same way about pumpkin pie. Lucky for me, Mike makes awesome mashed potatoes. Unlucky for me, I was stuck making a pumpkin pie. My first ever attempt on a very high pressure pie making day.

So here I bring you, Amy's 15 easy steps for making pumpkin pie.

1.) Find the easiest pumpkin pie recipe you can.
God bless All Recipes. I was able to find two recipes that would do - both listing pre-made crust as an ingredient. God bless pre-made crust. So I used the ingredients from this recipe and added the amount of vanilla extract listed in this one. I thought the vanilla might add a little something.

2.) Thaw your crust. 
While pre-made crust is a gift from God and Trader Joe's, it still takes time. You can't just take it out of the freezer and start baking. It needs time to thaw. About 1.5 hours to be exact. I got a little impatient 45 minutes in and tried to see how pliable my crust was. It was not and snapped in half. Thankfully the pre-made crust I bought had two crusts in the box. I suggest you buy a package containing two pre-made pie crusts as well.

3.) Assemble ingredients.
Thankfully, I picked an easy recipe so this step did not take long.

4.) Place thawed pre-made crust in pie pan. 
This step is as simple as peeling back the cellophane layers that cover the pie crust and putting it in the pan. I tore a little bit of the excess crust off the edges to try and make them more even. I used the excess edges to fill in the spots on the bottom of the pan that seemed thinner.

5.) Attempt to get fancy.
This step entails taking a fork and trying to make pretty indentations on the rim of the pie crust. I tried. It looked ok. But I decided not to devote too much time to this. Ultimately I cared more how my pie tasted than how it looked.

6.) Try your best to ignore the cute dog making sad puppy eyes in the kitchen.
This will be difficult but you must press on. You have a pie to make!

7.) Break two eggs in a bowl and whisk them.
That's really it for this step. No witty commentary necessary. I honestly took longer taking a photo of this step then I spent actually doing it.

8.) Put all remaining ingredients in to the bowl and stir. 
I figured this might be where the recipe would get complicated, but much to my surprise, it was not. I thought I might have to mix things separately or add them in a certain order. Not so. Really this step is measure, dump and mix.

9.) Realize what time it is and open a bottle of wine.
In this case, it was 2:07 p.m. And the wine was this great bottle of Merlot that Mike and I got at the Leelanau Cellars while we were at Kristin and Galen's wedding.

10.) Pour contents of bowl into your pre-made crust.
I tasted the pie mixture just to make sure it tasted like pumpkin pie. Much to my surprise, it did, so I poured it in.

11.) Take your mom's advice and dig out your cookie cutters.

I was talking to my mom earlier in the morning. I told her of my planned attempt to make a pumpkin pie. She assured me making pumpkin pie was really easy and even suggested a way for me to jazz up my pie. Since I bought two pre-made crusts, she said I should take the one I didn't plan on using and put some crust leaves on the top. Genius! The only problem was out of my tub of 100 cookie cutters (also courtesy of my mom), I couldn't find a single leaf. I found cutters for trophies, fire trucks, bats, dinosaurs, but no leaves. I finally settled on the pumpkin cookie cutter. It made sense.

12.) Cut leftover crust and get to baking.
I cut my leftover crust and plopped my cutout smack dab in the middle of my pie. And then I held my breath hoping it wouldn't sink into my pie. It did not, so I shoved it into my pre-heated 425 degree oven and set my kitchen timer for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes the temperature needed to be turned down to 350 degrees. And since I'd been drinking wine, I knew I might need a reminder.

13.) Pet the dog that was making sad puppy eyes at you earlier. 
 Realize that sadly the puppy fell asleep sometime while you were making your pie.

14.) After 40 minutes, take the pie out of the oven.

Then stick a fork it in to see if it's done.

It is.

15.) Let the pie cool on a wire rack for at minimum 2 hours.

And in the meantime, eat your Thanksgiving dinner.

My dinner was quite good by the way. It wasn't traditional. There wasn't a turkey. There wasn't stuffing. There wasn't a green bean casserole. But there was me and my man sitting at our table and eating by candle light. That's not a practice we do often enough, so for that I gave thanks. And honestly, for so many other things. I have much to give thanks for. I hope you do too.

November 14, 2010

Jack is Back

It really doesn't get much better than this: A warm fall day, yellow and red leaves on the trees, a soft setting sun and the cutest little boy that ever did live. That is right Jack (JACK!) is back, and is as cute as ever. See for yourself.
Jack 1
jack 2
Jack 3
Jack 4
Jack 22
Jack 7
Jack 6
Jack 21
Jack 5
Jack 8
Jack 10
Jack 9
Jack 13
Jack 12
Jack 11
Jack 14
Jack 15
jack 16
Jack is a huge fan of Cheerios, so I'm pleased they made an appearance in the photos. In true Jack form, he was full of smiles, even with a mouthful of Cheerios.
Jack 17
Jack 18
Jack 19
Jack 20
Like said, it doesn't get much better than that.