Babies, Groundhogs, and the Superbowl

Y’all know by now how much I love a party, right? How much fun I can have just planning a party. I don’t even have to be invited to the party, I just like to plan. Colors, decorations, menu- all of it. I love me a good party. A good friend and I once nearly went into business together as event coordinators.

Fortunately, party planning has been plentiful in these parts lately. A few weeks after our annual New Year’s Eve party this year, I had the honor of helping to plan a baby shower for my very best and oldest friend in all the world. (I should rephrase; she’s not old. She’s just been my best friend basically since we were born.) She was my maid of honor in our wedding; I was the matron of honor in hers. She planned my baby shower, and now I’ve had the privilege of returning the favor in honor of her sweet baby girl, who made her grand appearance one week ago today.

When she announced her pregnancy, I told her I would help to throw her shower. Along with her mom, sister-in-law, and some of her close friends, we planned for a beautiful Sunday morning brunch shower to celebrate the mom-to-be and baby. Baby girl’s bedroom is decorated in a cactus theme; it’s rustic and funky and relaxing and slightly feminine without being over-the-top girly and “foufy.” For the shower, my friend asked for “pink and lots of flowers,” since the nursery didn’t follow the same theme.

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For the food, we went with a brunch theme. My mom helped me to make most of the food, rather than hiring a caterer. I made two pans of my reliable Overnight French Toast (I almost always have a pan or two of this in my freezer for guests or for a weekend my boys are asking for a big breakfast but I have neither the time nor the energy to produce one). I also made two quiches (quiches…that is the plural of quiche, right? It just sounds so weird to me. I always feel like I’m saying it wrong, but I’m not sure what I think it should be. Quiche? Like deer and moose- the plural doesn’t change? I don’t know. Chalk it up to the ramblings of a madwoman. Anyway… the quiches…) I made one ham and cheese, the other spinach and mushroom. In addition, we served three different kind of scones: cinnamon, chocolate chip, and cheddar rosemary. For the cheddar scones, I tweaked the recipe I found on the back of a bag of Great Value cheddar cheese. I also whipped up a batch of these Overnight Danish (I swapped out the cherry filling for blueberry). My mom made two batches of cinnamon rolls, and the cake and cupcakes, and we served all of this with a couple of fruit trays, and a big selection of juice to drink- including pink lemonade.

The shower came together nicely, and we managed to feed roughly 50 ladies with the food we made, and I think we made some good choices in the menu.

Once the shower was over, we still had a little over six weeks to wait for the sweet little love to arrive. I had helped mama-to-be with some suggestions for the nursery before the holidays, and it was so much fun to see it all come together with all of her shower gifts.

Here’s our inspiration board:

…And here’s how the nursery looked before its new inhabitant moved in:


(All photos of the finished room were taken and shared courtesy of LJM .)

Shortly after we wrapped on the baby shower, it was time for a double-header celebration weekend, with Groundhog Day and the Super Bowl. As native Punxsutawnians, Ryan and I have made it a tradition with our boys to make Groundhog Day kind of a big deal. I bake cookies shaped like groundhogs each year for the guys to take to work and school. I used to bake a regular sugar cookie recipe and cut out with my “authentic Punxsutawney Phil cookie cutter,” but a few years back our oldest son began requesting this molasses spice cookies recipe because a friend of the boys’ has an egg allergy, and this recipe doesn’t use eggs.

Immediately following Groundhog Day was the Super Bowl. None of us had a favorite team playing this year, but Super Bowl Sunday is still an excuse to whip up some junk food and throw a party, so that’s what we did. I had found Buffalo Wild Wings’ sauces at the grocery store, in all of our favorite flavors, so I bought some bone-in wings and attempted a crispy baked wings recipe. Another favorite in our house is Anne Burrell’s homemade potato chips. They’re time-consuming but so delicious, and the perfect accompaniment to those wings. Continuing with our party theme of “fat and carbs,” I also made a batch of homemade pretzel bites with a cheesy dipping sauce. And, to add something somewhat fresh and semi-healthy to the buffet (and because I felt like we needed some kind of pizza but I’d already covered main dishes and fat and carbs), I also made this fruit pizza.

For Christmas, I received my very own copy of Joanna Gaines’ Magnolia Table cookbook. In it was a recipe for seasoned crackers that sounded intriguing, so I added that to our assortment as well, alongside my favorite cheeseball.

Please forgive me for being so late in posting all of these, friends. Life in La Casa de Merrow has been nothing short of crazy lately, and the days have slipped away faster than I’d realized.

Hoping you’re all surviving the lingering winter days, and that you’re seeing some sunshine where you are.

xoxo,

~d

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Pandora’s Box

I wish I could bottle the days like we’ve had this past week.  Bottle them, and save them up for days that are cold and miserable, stuck between the freezing cold winter and the muddy thaw of spring.  Sort of like a Pandora’s Box, in reverse: rather than releasing evil, the beautiful weather would have a positive effect on the world.

I remember that a lot of my posts last year were about the snow, the cold, and the miserable weather.  I remember wishing for spring and summer, looking forward to warm and sunny days.  This winter has been so mild and life has been so busy that I barely had time to miss days like these before they returned.  However, it’s also been hard to miss the unusual warmth of the past several days.  In mid-March, flowers are blooming, trees are budding, and I have mosquito bites on my feet from being outdoors barefoot (an inconvenience I can’t even complain about since I’m so excited about it!)

Today, Ryan began his annual tradition of cleaning out the garage, while I assisted by photographing the event and steering the lawn tractor while he pushed me around on it since we’re currently out of gas.  Though I technically may not have offered as much help as I’d like to think I did, it was far too beautiful outside to do anything but pretend to help.  And, I was rewarded with a trip to the ice cream store afterward, so it was totally worth it!

 

 

 

I hope your Pandora’s Box is delivering wonderful things, and that you have the opportunity to enjoy it as much as we have been.

 

Cheers!

~d

 

 

Feels like May

This past weekend was, for the most part, beautiful.  Saturday turned out to be a perfect day for what I had planned, all of which was partying.  Outdoors.  Ahhhhhh.

We started Saturday morning by heading down to the Canine Carnival that was being held in a nearby town by the organization we’re affiliated with for Clohe’s therapy dog group.  One of the organizers has a vast amount of land that she’s designated as a “Puppy Playground,” so to speak, where pet owners can take their dogs for entertainment and exercise.  Since we have a pretty large yard, Clohe gets quite a bit of exercise here, but not much socialization with other dogs.  This was quite obvious when we got to the Carnival and other dogs tried to introduce themselves to our girl.  It wasn’t long before she found shade and cool under a picnic table and spend most of the even hiding underneath.  Though the weather forecast for the day said it would be in the 70’s, it definitely felt warmer than that.  So after a couple of hours, it was time to go home before Clohe melted.  Besides, Ryan’s exposed skin was beginning to take on a tomato-like hue.

In addition, our friends Dave and Andrea are expecting baby #2 in just a few weeks.  Since they had a shower before baby#1- my little “boyfriend” Nate, who is one of my best baby buddies ever- they decided to have a diaper party this time instead.  Rather than just showing up with a package of diapers, as is the tradition, I wanted to do something a little bit different.  A few months ago, our office held a baby shower for an expectant father in our office and his wife.  One of my co-workers made a “diaper cake,” which intrigued me, so I decided to copy her idea.  She gave me some basic instructions and a photo to use, and my end result looked like this:

(Thanks again, Amy, for the help!)

After the diaper party, I headed over to my former boss’ house for a party with his family.  We celebrated the End of the World and his 40th birthday party- what a hoot!  Strangely, even after drinking The Kool Aid, I still woke up yesterday morning.  The world is still turning.  Go figure.

Finally, yesterday Ryan and I took the opportunity to just be together after his difficult week.  I awoke to a cup of coffee in bed- to which he had added a splash of rum, hoping to bring me to life more quickly.  (It worked.  What a good guy I have!)  Following a brief rain shower, we took Clohe for a walk, then tried out a restaurant near us that we’d heard a lot about, but never tried.  What a great idea!  We spent our lunchtime sitting outside by the lake, sipping beers and enjoying a light meal- chicken salad for him, turkey wrap for me- enjoying the breeze and the sun.

Unable to stand it any longer, Ryan finally made it to his first dirt-track race last night, while I stayed home and indulged in a movie and some reality TV.  Between the movie and the finale of Celebrity Apprentice (which, by the way, reduced me to a sopping puddle of tears.  Of course.), Clohe and I went outside to enjoy a beautiful spring evening.  The sunset was perfect…

…and the air was filled with the heady fragrance of freshly cut grass (yay me!) and the blooming lilacs in our yard.

Lilacs totally make me sneeze, but I still love them!

I finally took a moment to appreciate the trees, whose leaves are fully exposed now.

And even the dandelions are a welcome sight.

They serve to reinforce the fact that spring has finally made its long-awaited appearance.  It’s here to stay.  And for now, at least, it really feels like summer might soon be on its way.

Summer: a time to spend weekend afternoons outside on the porch, with a good book and a glass of wine, enjoying the light breezes, the songs of the birds, and the aroma of the blooming flowers.

That’s where I’ll be spending more and more of my time, since my favorite TV shows are near their season finales: Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice; Celebrity Apprentice; and tomorrow, American Idol.  So last night, I also rescued my bicycle from the depths of our basement.  Which means, there’s a strong possibility I’ll be spending my summer recovering from injuries sustained from wrecking it.

If you don’t hear from me, you know where I am…

Cheers!

xoxo,

~d

Where have I been?

Hello friends!  I’m back again, and recovering from…well, let’s just say the past week has been rather exhausting.

First of all, there’s the weather.  Last week, we had THE most perfect weather.  Temperatures in the 80’s, sunshine- perfect weather for drying laundry outside on the clothesline, walks at the lake, and grilling…

Like airing dirty laundry in public. Except it's clean. And it's not REALLY public when you live in the country. Is it?

I tried this awesome new recipe for sweet potatoes on the grill last week, too, to serve with our BBQ chicken.  First, just boil a sweet potato until fork-tender (I made one potato, because Ryan doesn’t like them.  So I made potato salad for him.  Ironically, he didn’t like that either.  Apparently, some things are just better store-bought.)  Anyway, obviously, you can double this recipe or more,depending on how many people you’re serving.  Once the sweet potato comes out of the water and cools to the point where it can be handled without burning your fingers, slice it in half, then cut each half into wedges- each potato should yield 8 wedges.  Drizzle with olive oil and season with a bit of salt and pepper.

Grill over medium heat until cooked through.  Meanwhile, combine about a teaspoon of Kosher salt, a pinch of Cayenne pepper (more or less to taste.  I’m a wuss when it comes to spicy food, so I don’t use much), and some lime zest.  (Then use the lime to make margaritas.  Because while my favorite saying is, “I like to cook with wine; sometimes I even put it in the food,” my next favorite is “I take life with a grain of salt…a wedge of lime… and a shot of tequila.”  Waste not, want not, right, friends?)

Once the potatoes are cooked through- and have those pretty grill marks on both sides- remove them from the grill and sprinkle the salt/Cayenne/lime zest mixture over the top.  Garnish with some fresh Cilantro.  Yum!  I’ll be making these again.  I also grilled some asparagus (drizzled with olive oil, salt, and pepper) and some eggplant (with Italian dressing), just for me.

Clohe was loving the warm weather too, of course:

And last but certainly not least, we rounded out the end of the week with… Nicole and Joe’s wedding!  Friday was the perfect day for rehearsal and rehearsal dinner- until I got a text message from Ryan at 4PM that he had a server crash at work, and would be late.  He ended up missing the entire evening, and not getting home until 10:30PM.  Saturday morning was a little gray and dreary, but we got through everything ok, despite one minor issue with a bridesmaid dress.  Fortunately, everyone “held it together” for the entire evening.  And while it was drizzly, it was still quite warm.  And by the time the ceremony was over, we were able to get some outdoor photos.

My friend, the beautiful blushing bride.

After months and months of planning, everything came together beautifully for these two, and I am honored to be a part of their life, and also to have been a part of their wedding day.  Of course, we’re wishing them all the best of everything life has to offer.  And while the two of them are enjoying a honeymoon on a beautiful island in the Caribbean, we in the north are suffering through temperatures that have plunged back to the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s.

Cheers!

xoxo,

~d

Going Home

Did the Easter Bunny visit you?

Peanut's pet bunny, Sailor

Did you color hard-boiled eggs in bright, spring-y colors…

Eggs we colored at Ryan's parents' house

…and then seek them where the bunny hid them?

Seems like just yesterday Peanut needed help to reach the eggs hidden in that tree...

And then, after stuffing your belly full of Easter pizza, ham, turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, green bean casserole, broccoli with cheese sauce, and homemade rolls, did you make just a little more room for a cake that looks like this, because it’s just too cute to resist a bite (or a whole ear?  Thanks Momma- yummy!)

Almost too cute to eat. Almost.

And now we’re home again, back to work and back to life and back to the routine that makes our life away from home…home.

Much as we love our new home and the life we built, it’s always comforting to go back to our roots.  Our home, where we love to sit around the table with our family and a bottle of wine, teasing and sharing stories and laughing together.  A home where a husband can teach his seven-year-old cousin the ropes of racing a remote-controlled truck.  A home that remains as it’s always been.  Just.  Home.

Looking Around

It’s looking much less gloomy around here these days, both inside and out.

That’s a little optimistic on my part.  There are crumbs on the living room floor, dog hair stuck in places I only see twice a year, wet nose smudges on the storm door, and sugar stuck to the kitchen counter in front of the coffee pot.  And it’s cold and rainy outside.

In other words, my hard work over the weekend just may have been for nothing.

However, I refuse to be deterred.  Instead, I choose to focus on the positive.  Like the crocuses outside- even when they’re covered in raindrops and not completely open, they’re a sign of better days to come:

And I may have gotten ahead of myself by removing the snowman garden flag from its pole in the front yard, but the lady bug seemed like my best option, so she waves proudly in the hurricane-force winds breeze to the cars passing by:

And I can’t wait for the flowering crab tree in the front yard to burst into a ball of color.  Looks like the blooms aren’t too far off!

Finally, tonight, in an act of complete insanity I dug out the plastic tub of summer clothes and stuffed most of my sweaters back into it in a vain effort to implore the weather to take the hint and cooperate with my now temperature-sensitive wardrobe.

So friends, if you see me out and about in one of my fluttery, flowery summer sundresses wearing sunglasses and my Uggs…and my lips are blue… you’ll know why.

xoxo,

~d

Making Progress!

We did it!  Clohe and I are officially a certified Therapy Dog team- our paperwork arrived today.  Check this out:

Momma’s little girl is even sporting some “bling” on her collar:

Just like her mom.

Now that our paperwork has all come back and we’re acknowledged by the national organization, we’re working on the programs we’ll participate in.  Clohe’s training occurred mainly in nursing home settings.  We attended three supervised visits to nursing homes where she enjoyed moseying from patient to patient, allowing them to pat her head and scratch her ears and tickle that little spot on her hips that she loves to have rubbed.

The programs I’m really excited about getting her involved with, though, are children’s programs.  She enjoys the elderly, but as such an exuberant young girl, she has a personality that’s very well suited to dealing with kids.

And so, for the past couple of months, our organization has been working to introduce two new therapy dog programs to our area.  The first is a reading program that will allow us to go into public libraries during children’s after-school and summer reading programs.  The children will be allowed to choose a dog to read to in order to enhance their reading skills.

The second is an autism program.  Studies have shown that autistic children sometimes show incredible progress in basic skills when they connect with an animal.  Of course, encouraging the child to form a bond with Clohe may be easier said than done, but I’m excited to get involved and give it a shot!

I think Clohe is too…

xoxox,

~d (and Clohe- now a certified therapy dog team!)

Signs of Spring?

It’s still damn cold here.  Like, 20-and-30-degrees. damn. cold.  But!  The sun is shining recently, and that alone is enough to make this girl smile.  As someone told me earlier this week: “Any day you can wear sunglasses can’t possibly be that bad.”

I would have to agree.

And I think Mother Nature does as well.  I’m starting to see signs of life outside, poking up through the remaining patches of snow, and it’s refreshing to see the long-dormant foliage returning to all its lively glory.

The crocuses are peeking through the slowly thawing earth…

And their cheery, colorful blossoms add a splash of vibrancy to the landscape that has been barren for many long, cold months.

The blooms serve as a promise from the heavens that warmer, brighter weather may soon greet us on a regular basis

And maybe, just maybe, we can soon break into long-forgotten wardrobes of lighter fabrics; brighter colors; and more fun, less practical articles:

Soon, friends.  Very, very soon, we can look forward to flip-flops and capris; visits to the beach and the ice cream shop; long walks and bicycle rides; outdoor parties and grilled dinners.  Mojitos and margaritas.  I can feel it.  I can smell it.  Can you?

Cheers!

~d

A Loss for Words

My friends, I am failing you.  I came back from a hiatus last week, promising not to let you down again, and yet here I am- clueless as to what to say to you next.

I considered cheating, even, and filling a couple of posts with photos of signs of spring around here, but unfortunately, a) I haven’t had my camera nearby for photo-ops lately, and b) signs of spring have been temporarily camouflaged by another of Mother Nature’s temper tantrums.

Early last week, I gave you a list of my downfalls.  While this may have seemed a bit harsh to some, I’ve taken on a project lately that has acquainted me with extraordinary women throughout the community.  When faced with what these women have accomplished, it’s hard not to ask my self if doing everything I can as a human being.  Am I too self-absorbed?  Too preoccupied by my own life and problems to see the bigger picture?  Or, worst of all, do I get overwhelmed by it all and exhibit avoidance behavior and withdraw so I don’t have to deal with it?  These ideas are swimming around in my brain, and I’m working through it, little by little.

Whhhhheeeewwwww, it’s getting heavy here.  Lighter subject?

Call me crazy, but one of my favorite spring activities is spring cleaning.  I think that’s a project on my to-do list for the next few weeks, and I can’t wait to get to it.  Spring cleaning is one of my favorite activities; the cobwebs are becoming overwhelming, and I’m anxious to air out the house and let the breezes blow through to make everything fresher.

So there you have it- on my agenda for the remainder of 2011?  Clean my house and save the world.  Probably in that order.  I’ll think of how I intend to change the world while I’m cleaning.  Because cleaning is therapeutic like that.

Have a wonderful week friends.  This time, I promise I’ll be back.  Promise.

xoxox,

~d

I’m Ba-ack!

Scared you, didn’t I?  You were afraid that the swamp thing in our front yard swallowed me alive, didn’t you?

If that’s what you guessed as the reason for my long absence, you’re close.  But not quite.  And anyway, the point is, I’m back from the longest hiatus in my blogging history, and I don’t intend to be so neglectful again.  So we’re moving on.

Since daylight is lasting a bit longer nowadays, and I had some free time this afternoon, Clohe and I took a trip outdoors to capture some of the daylight shining down on our… mosh pit of a yard.

The last remaining ice on our driveway

Clohe, of course, was excited just for the opportunity to be outside to play for awhile, without fearing freezing.  Somehow, our dog even has the common sense to remain in the snow piles that still litter our front yard.

Ready for stick-chasing weather.

And then Clohe and I made what we hope were our last footprints in the snow for the season.

My footprint. Made by a flip-flop because I can't stand my boots anymore.

Clohe's footprint. Made by her paw, because I haven't bought her boots yet. How cute would that be?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of course, we couldn’t stay out for very long because we were afraid of being eaten by the Swamp Thing.  Admit it: you would be afraid if your yard looked like this too:

 

And finally, now that I have reassured you that our front yard has not yet swallowed me whole and I’m still roaming the planet, I have saved the best part for last.

I know how you all love a good story that displays my total incompetence for life, so here you go:

Question: How do you keep a grown woman from escaping a public ladies’ room?

Answer: Tell her to use lotion after her washing hands, and then try to twist a traditional doorknob.  Um, twice.  Yup, I’m a genius.

Till next time,

xoxo,

~d