Book Themed Baby Shower for Stella

So this is super late, but as the new arrival has not joined us yet, I thought I would post the party pictures.

My friend Elise and I met working at a bookstore, as did most of our mutual friends, so it seemed a logical and fun theme to pursue. A large number of the elements  were homemade – and the rest were primarily  books the family got to keep post shower for their library. Stella ‘ s bookshelves  are already very well stocked. 🙂

The fabulous Jenn F helped me make these fun book crates:

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And then for decorations we used books to add ambiance  to the food:

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For dessert Timeka  helped craft these adorable cake toppers:

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For some additional  flair, I made flowers with tulle, wire, and paper straws. We liked the color, but they also reminded  me of the trees in Dr Seuss’s “The Lorax” or frankly just about any of his books:

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I also made some lighted garlands for the craft table, and created some Mason jar decorations  with extra tulle, silver thread, and more flowers:

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For the party activities, we had three stations. All could be used at any type of shower, regardless  of theme.

#1 – Advice and message book:

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#2 – Photo matte guest frame:

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#3 – Handmade Alphabet Book:

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To get everyone  started, I bought vinyl letters and before the party affixed them to the blank sketchbook I bought for the project. In addition, there were a number of art supplies and adhesives to encourage even unartistically inclined guests to participate. It turned out to be more fun than most guests originally thought it would be, and I think the future reading of this classic to Stella will be a great reminder  to her parents how many people are excited to be a part of their new joy.

There were also presents…like these cute bookends:

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And I was inspired to make another mobile:

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Bunny Invasion

When I mention that we have an absurd number of bunnies in our backyard,  most people are pretty sure that I am exaggerating.  While we have a fenced in yard and technically live in the city, we have become a retreat for all neighborhood bunnies.  Today we have about a dozen frolicking in the back. Enjoy!

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Cooking Challenge: Jenn F’s Crock Pot Brown Rice Burrito Bowl

While the warmer weather may finally be here to stay, I hesitate to retire my slow cooker until Fall. So for those of you celebrating Cinco De Mayo this week, here’s a simple and tasty idea from Jenn F!

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Crock Pot Brown Rice Burrito Bowl

Modified from this recipe: http://www.number-2-pencil.com/2014/10/01/slow-cooker-chicken-burrito-bowl/

Time: 5 hours (15 for prep, 4 hours and 45 minutes of crock pot cook time)

Serves: 6

Ingredients:

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 2 large breasts)

2 tablespoons of olive oil

2 teaspoons of onion powder

1 teaspoon of garlic powder

2 teaspoons of chili powder

1 teaspoon of cumin

1 teaspoon of salt and pepper

2 teaspoons of Penzys Southwest seasoning (if not on hand, follow the recipe in the link)

3 cups of low-sodium chicken broth

1 can of Rotel tomatoes (the ones with the green chilies with them)

1 14oz can of black beans, drained and rinsed

2 ¾ cups of instant whole grain brown rice

1 ½ cups of shredded Mexican cheese

Directions:

1. Place chicken breasts in slow cooker.

2. Pour chicken broth over chicken breasts and stir in canned tomatoes, olive oil, onion powder, garlic powder, chili powder, cumin, Southwest seasoning, and salt and pepper.

3. Cook on low for about 4 hours (until chicken reaches 165 degrees)

4. Remove chicken breasts from slow cooker.

5. Turn slow cooker to high and stir in instant rice and black beans.

6. Let cook 30-45 minutes until rice is tender.

7. Add chicken back in, top with cheese and let it cook a few minutes longer until the cheese is tender.

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Cheese is delicious - but don't go crazy!

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Kitchen Scrap Celery

I am continuing to find new projects to try and easy ways to start edible plants. Did you know you can grow celery by utilizing the root scraps? I saw this project and decided to try it: [http://pinterest.com/pin/452471093789718474/?s=3&m=wordpress]

So 1 week ago today after cutting up a vegetable assortment for the week,  I saved the celery bottom and utilized our kitchen window. It has good light, and so far the cat has not attempted to eat it. I also have been changing the water everyday, and I think it’s strong enough to plant!

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Upcycling: Transforming a Coffee Table into an Edible Plant Stand

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For the better part of a week I drove by a rather sad looking coffee table awaiting it’s next phase of life. I hoped someone would claim it, as from a distance it appeared to be in decent shape, merely missing it’s glass tabletop and in some need of TLC. But alas, it remained curbside. So on a Friday I could no longer stand it, threw it in my car, and dragged it into my backyard to become an edible plantstand.

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First I decided on a placement. Tables are heavy, especially laden with heavy pots. The patch behind the garage gets sun a good portion of the day and an adequate amount of rain. We have crazy amounts of bunnies in our yard most of the time as we currently have no dogs or children in our household and therefore have defaulted to what I call the “bunny sanctuary” in our backyard. At several points last year, we witnessed whole families frolicking in circles like athletes training on a racetrack. Even the cat who normally only is enamored with birds was memorized. It’s fun – however it also means that planting ANYTHING too low yields delicious bunny snacks and no harvest for us.

Next decision? Color. I opted for a bright blue to give the yard a pop of color. And as anyone will tell you…I love colors. I selected a can of Rustoleum Painters Touch Wildflower Blue [http://www.menards.com/main/mobile/home-decor/crafts/spray-paint/all-purpose-spray-paint/painters-touch-ultra-cover-2x-satin-wildflower-blue-spray-paint-12-oz/p-1955954-c-8050.htm] at Menards since it would eliminate the need to prime thus speeding up the project.

Next Step: pots. I continued on with the color idea and selected purple pots. I bought several sizes so that I could group different herbs together, and in case of frost/freeze, easily carry the containers indoors. There were so many options…and if I plant differently next year I could easily bring these indoors or utilize on our front stoop. I also picked up several types of potting soil to ensure drainage, proper moisture levels, and nutrition.  Since we have not yet replaced our compost bin, I selected one variety that included plant food.

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Last decision: what to plant. Inside the pots I am only putting edible items, and for the time being. I did not start seedings this year, so will be relying on local greenhouses and friends to obtain plants. So far I have: basil, chives, thyme, cilantro, sage, and oregano. Shortly I will also have dill, rosemary,  and mint. In addition,  I picked out two varieties of climbing vines in blue and white tones to plant by the legs, eventually covering the bulk of the stand.

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Once I got home with the supplies, I dragged the table to a spot in the yard away from the house,  rubbed off the dirt with a damp cloth and let it dry. I should probably lightly sanded the whole thing…but since it’s going to sit outside and essentially weather itself, I was not too concerned about the evenness of the paint.  I sprayed the entire thing with paint and let it dry for 24 hours. The next day I dragged it back to its new home by the garage, potted the herbs (leaving space for additions), and planted even amounts of seeds around all 4 legs. As I add too it and the flowers begin to grow/climb it will look how I envision it. However, it currently looks like this:

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Also planted this week: our front container garden. I alternated 3 varieties of plants around the edges for balance, and added some taller grasses for interest in the center. I started with these:

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And ended up with this:

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In addition to the plants pictured, there are Dahlia bulbs that will hopefully grow and bloom in mid Summer.  If not I’ll have to add something else.

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Musings on Milestones

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Ever have a string of events occur that dramatically alter your life perspective? Or in a moment of uncertainty stop to consider that there is a road less traveled to pursue?  Until recently I was stuck in a rut of my own making and because I was too scared to contemplate the “what if’s” of my particular story, forever in a circle of pushing ahead only to remain in the same spot. It’s tiring. And in addition to being counterproductive,  tends to spill over in ways that yield an emotionally exhausted psyche. I was constantly tired. Even after a good night’s sleep. So I made some changes. ♡

1. I started this blog.

In the beginning it was just to see if I could.  I worried “maybe no one will read it” and in the same thought feared “maybe they will. ” However it was a new challenge,  and forced me to focus on something outside of work. I have always worked too much. And there is so much more out there to do. Seizing an opportunity to try something new seemed ideal. Admittedly writing can be terrifyingly personal, and without the right audience, often lost in this age of technology. But if even one person reads it, I’ve can consider it “shared”. So with that in mind…

2. I resumed hobbies.

Life is a busy complicated jumble of time blocks,  and for way too long I cast away passions and interests because of a lack of time. But why? Did the things I replace them with tap into my creative side or allow me to relax? Since the answer was ultimately no…finding a way to remedy this became a priority.  I craft, I cook, and I garden. It’s not a waste of time to do things that make you happy. Plus a blog on life musings would have been quite dry and dull. I even try new things. It’s not that I didn’t before…but it’s all related to the same goal.  ☆

3. I have reestablished friendships.

As anyone will tell you, the older you get, the more you realize that any relationship takes work. Whether it be a family dynamic that drives you bonkers, or a friend that lives far away,  or perhaps a significant other that has a different work schedule than yours – it takes efforts on both parties parts to maintain the level of intimacy that brings about true happiness.  While I cannot control the universe,  I can help create moments of connection.  I make phone dates, send packages, leave handwritten messages and voicemails, plus show up for life events whenever possible.  I am not perfect, nor can I claim that there aren’t people in my life that I wish I could see more or spend more time with.  But letting the people in my life that I love and care for KNOW that they ARE loved and cared for is not only satisfying in a way words cannot articulate, it also yields great moments of shared joy. Being able to celebrate exciting news or witness big moments are the things in life we all wish there were more of. Cherish these opportunities.  They are the ones not to be missed. ♢

4. I spend time by myself.

I have 3 younger siblings. As a result being alone is something I have never had much experience with. Except for a brief 6 months in my early 20’s, I have never lived without a roommate or group of people that were constantly in and out of my space. I have always considered other people’s needs ahead of my own. It’s just me. (They did not nickname me “Mama” by accident.)  While I am very capable of finding things to do solo or occupying my time at home – I often typically scheduled all of my free time doing the opposite.  Lately I have made sure that I am more protective of my days off and time away from work. Perhaps this seems a strange concept to some; but it has done wonders for my stress levels,  and I am happier than I have been in years.  Noticeably so. I am not usually one to put my emotional state-of-being to a vote…but the number of people who have noticed this change in my day-to-day mood and commented is staggering.  If you are thinking right now that this choice is a selfish one; I would be in full agreement. However, when it yields such a wonderful result, I also argue that the selfishness is warranted. ♡

Which brings me to the actual reason for this entry: I have accepted a new job. Yep, after more than 11 years I am leaving a company I know and love for the unknown.  This was a shocking decision for many – and not so much for those who know me well. I will dearly miss the people that I work with and the people that we assist;  but life is too short to stay in one place marking time. I need to continue on my path, head away from the familiar and forge a new fork of my own.

At the end of my shift yesterday I handed in my store keys for the third time in my career.  Having transferred in the past, this was a ritual I was not wholly unprepared for, and in the course of the day seemed merely a matter of operational procedure. In actuality it was different this time. It felt different this time. It is different this time. I think that this is a good thing.

So this week has put me in a reflective mood. It is not often that many of us take a moment to ponder our life path or the many various decisions and circumstances that landed us where we are on said journey. It is a difficult process for most of us and can be emotionally gut wrenching or for the lucky ones incredibly joyful.  Change is hard. And if being completely honest, sometimes it feels impossible – yet folks somehow it happens whether you consciously decide to shift or rudder or simply wait for the wind to blow you in a new direction. I no longer am waiting. This time I am steering the rudder towards something different and with intention. It feels like a good choice. ♡

I firmly believe that if you pay attention that your day-to-day interactions provide valuable information to reinforce your assessment of your own world.  This one is my recent favorite: I pulled into work for my last official meeting with our management team on Thursday, my car also hit a milestone of it’s own, 100,000 miles. I fully realize that this is unrelated to the recent events of my life, yet in many regards it too confirms the passing of time. Maybe you don’t believe in signs, but for me it felt like a confirmation that this chapter was officially closing.

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Saint Patrick’s Day No-Boil Mustard Crusted Corned Beef

Today is my last day of vacation and so I find myself with some extra time to make a holiday meal. While I myself am only a tiny bit Irish, an occasion to eat corned beef is a hard one to pass up.

Today’s Menu:

Mustard Crusted Corned Beef

Grilled/Roasted Cabbage Wedges

Thyme Roasted Carrots and Potatoes

This meal takes about 4 hours to prepare…but very little hands on time. I did most of my other projects for the day while things were in the oven.

Like most savory meat dishes, Corned Beef benefits from a ‘low and slow’ approach. There are a variety of ways to do this, but today I am utilizing the oven to minimize the amount of checking I need to do. Before you begin, preheat the oven to 325 °F. I started this meal with a store bought 2.25 lbs cut of Corned Beef (I’m sure you have seen the plastic wrapped cuts in the meat case) because I really don’t have the patience or the time frankly to brine beef for 7-10 days for one meal. From there, I quickly rinsed it off under cold running water, threw out the seasoning pouch and laid it fat side up in a 9 X 13 glass baking pan. Honestly I should have lined it with tin foil first…however apparently I was not remembering the clean up post meal. [*Note* line your 9 X 13 pan with tinfoil for quick clean up.]

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Then comes the hardest part of this recipe: selecting a mustard to coat the meat. I would recommend a sweet hot option or a whole grain variety plus a bit of honey or brown sugar for sweetness. I sometimes play condiment roulette and combine the dregs of mustards from the fridge to concoct one super mustard. You do not need that much, just enough to have a thin layer, so today I used half a jar of this:

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Cover the dish tightly with tinfoil, and place in the oven for 2.5 hours. (See – minimal hands-on). Once the timer goes off, I pull it out, removed the tinfoil and slid it back in it’s uncovered glory to cook for 30 more minutes.  When the 2nd timer goes off, pull it out and check with a fork, if it slides right in, the meats is done; if not, but it back in for up to 30 more minutes. (Mine was done at this point).

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Brisket and Corned Beef Brisket are very different than other cuts of meat because a longer cook time creates soft tender meat. Taste a piece and determine if it’s too salty. If so, feel free to drizzle a sweet agent like syrup, honey or similar thin liquid sweet element to essentially form a glaze.

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Once the meat is officially done,  let it rest, and preheat the oven to 425° F.

I personally use the last 30 minutes of the Corned Beef ‘ s cooking time to prep the side dishes. Since we are not boiling everything in a pot like traditional Corned Beef, I opted to roast the vegetables. First I pulled together a cabbage dish. Basically all that is required to prepare this version is quartering a cabbage, preparing a marinade, and adding said marinade to each wedge. Whether you opt to grill or roast,  wrap each in its own tinfoil. On the grill they take about 30 minutes, gain a wonderful smoky flavor and retain some of their crunchy texture; in the oven I leave them for 50 minutes to create a texture more similar to wilted cabbage. For more detailed instructions, I used this easy to follow recipe here: http://greenlitebites.com/2010/06/roasted-grilled-cabbage/comment-page-2/#comment-1919122

The end result looks like this:

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I also pulled out some potatoes and carrots to roast at the same time as the cabbage.  For one baking sheet worth (about 4 servings) I used these amounts:

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I cut all the vegetables to about the same size and thickness,  tossed with olive oil, kosher salt,  fresh pepper,  dried thyme, fresh time sprigs, and one fresh sprig of rosemary. Be careful with the salt, less is more. I usually add a but more post roasting (when the oil is still hot) so that it will adhere directly to the vegetables. They need 30-50 minutes to roast  on a foil lined baking sheet depending on the size and quantity on the tray. My tray looked like this prior to entering the oven:

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And like this 40 minutes later:

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*Note* A great timing trick is to set the timer for 30 minutes, the shortest time the potatoes/carrots will take to cook; and when you pull them out to stir, rotate the cabbage. This minimizes your chance of burning the pan of vegetables,  and helps the cabbage get a uniform cook.

To serve this meal, arrange a wedge of cabbage on thr plate, several slices of Corned Beef and a liberal scoop of roasted vegetables. Enjoy!

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