Friday, December 28, 2012

Doula, doula, ohhhhh doula

Since we plan to be the only folks in the delivery room (except the trained professionals), and we have no clue what we're doing, we've decided to hire a birth doula to be by our side when Baby V makes his debut.

The goal is to have a natural childbirth, but it's more important to me that I enjoy the experience and remember it as a positive one instead of a painful one, so I'm not completely against the meds. I'm keeping my options open until I find out how much pain this little booger is going to inflict. I'm hoping that since the pregnancy has been pretty easy so far, that he'll just shoot out when I sneeze. But, I'm preparing for the alternative. Oh Lord, please have mercy on me. Cricket has a pretty large head.

We were really pleased by the ladies we met via Lumina Birth when we attended a recent open house. Even though it's an Open House, it's not one of those come-and-go type things. There's definitely a program, and if you're late, you may miss the video of the water birth. We missed the set-up and walked right in on that--so be prepared. We had the chance to ask questions and meet one-on-one with several labor & post-parttum doulas. Before we committed, we also interviewed several others based on referrals from friends.

Some of them were pushy. And kinda mean. They weren't for us. Others' experience ranged from 3-4 births to hundreds. Some had kids of their own, some didn't. Some were more like sisters, while some were more like moms. I'm glad we met with so many before we made our decision. I think we met with 5 or 6, counting the Open House. The goal was to find someone to coach us through any decisions that need to be made in a judgment-free way. The pressure to change physicians, birthing hospitals, etc was not welcome.

We've decided to go with The Happiest Doula for several reasons. Aside from being personable and knowledgeable, she's working with the nurses at Northside to provide continuing education on more natural childbirth methods. The hospital is a baby factory, and we've had concerns that some of our wishes may be lost in the commotion of herding the pregnant cattle. So the fact that she has established relationships with the nursing staff is a HUGE plus.  Also, she lives pretty close to us, which we feel is important since we plan to do as much laboring at home as possible. Some of the others we met live in Athens or North Gwinnett, so that's scary. We're really excited to get to know her better and have her along our side over these final weeks.

If you're in the "market" for a doula and would like to know who else we interviewed, I'm happy to share privately. There are some I'd definitely recommend, others I don't know much about, and others I'd steer you away from!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Nursery Progress 1: the closet

With Thanksgiving around the corner, the future nursery was overwhelmed with baby stuff and my sister's sleeping space was quickly disappearing. We had to contain the clutter in time for her to have room for the blow-up bed.

We knew we'd need plenty of storage for all the stuff, and since the closet was formerly a built-in desk, we had some configuring to do. (I'm sure you're wondering...well, where are you going to work now? Why, thanks for your concern. Do not fret. A new desk was a big project for Cricket...which we've since installed and changed our mind about for space reasons and are in the midst of a replacement replacement desk project. Stay tuned for that reveal.)

After ripping out the desk stuff, we had to patch the wall. Which opened the door for painting the wall a fun color! Enter turquoise to brighten up the space. (Disregard the WILL be contained!)

A closet kit from Home Depot plus a drawer kit and we're in good shape.We went with the shelf-track system so that we can easily adjust the shelves without tearing up the wall as the kid grows & needs different configurations. I'm sure we'll adjust the set-up once we know what stuff we have and get everything organized. For now, this works to at least hold all the generous goodies we're receiving as the baby bump grows!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Urban Explorers Preschool

A few months ago, we visited the Open House at Urban Explorers Preschool. Located on Georgia Avenue between Grant Park and Zoo Atlanta, this was the southernmost school on our short list.

The owner, Jenni, is a spunky young woman full of energy. After shaving her head from a recent lice outbreak, she let the kiddos choose which color she should dye her short 'do. They chose blue--and she happily obliged! How fun is that?

We found UEP via a super strong referral from a good friend, and we were really interested in learning more. In early August, we inquired to find out that they were only accepting applications after the upcoming Open Houses--beginning in October. So, we basically wouldn't know whether it was a fit for us for a few more months. We attended the Open House in October and were very pleased with what we saw! Not to mention the Krispy Kreme donuts and hot coffee.

Open floor plan for the 1+ year olds with small classrooms for "learning" time. The facility is very clean and pretty hidden from the road--I thought it was a library or something, but the playground gave it away. The infant room is well laid out, with "classes" of cribs on either end and a common space in the middle. Each class of kids grows with each other throughout their tenure at UEP, and a teacher moves up right along with them. I love the stability this gives the kiddos.

Like many schools we visited, they follow the Creative Curriculum. Jenni was very transparent about her staff, her background, and the school's philosophy on all sorts of things. They don't deal with cloth diapers, but at 2 years old, all kids begin to potty train (whether they are doing so at home, or not). She pays her staff well and offers benefits--which results in low turnover. A rarity.

The proximity to the zoo & Grant Park makes outdoor excursions a normal occurrence, which is awesome.

Before the tour was over, we exchanged the "sign me up" look and were quick to complete the paperwork & the application fee of $50.

So far, so good.

Yeah...there's always a down side (or two):

Unfortunately, she mentioned that she only had two spots opening up in August of 2013 (remember, I'd initially inquired in August 2012), and she planned to fill those spots from a lottery based on applications received at Open Houses. The lottery was to be held in January. We weren't really sure what the "rush" to get our application in at the first Open House was, since the spots were being filled via lottery, but we complied.

Hours & Tuition: For infants, tuition runs $900/month and hours are 8:30-3:30, though you can drop-off at 8am.  Yeah, I know what you're thinking. Me too! But they offer early care (7-8?) for $25/week and after care (3:30-6:00) for $75/week ($6/hour). So, if you work normal hours and need full-time care M-F from 7:30-6, you're looking at about $1300/month. Once concern we had was traffic - their location is just down the street from Turner Field, so traffic could make it tough to be there by 6pm on game days. We like the flexibility of picking up early though, and only paying for what we used.

They also offer part-time care or split-weeks.

Also, they don't have a kitchen, so parents are responsible for all meals and snacks. Not a huge deal, but it's important when you're weighing the cost & trouble. But, at least you get to control what little Johnny eats. Jenni did say she's working with the city (who owns the building) to let her put in a kitchen in the future. Of course, tuition will increase proportionately.

More info:
Address: 250 Georgia Ave #103, Atlanta, GA 30312
Hours of Operation: M-F: 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

***UPDATE 12/28/12: Today, we received an email from UEP that the two spots opening in August were going to current families who already have older kids enrolled. So, no lottery. No chance of getting in unless some kid moves away & frees up a spot. I guess that's where our $50 deposit will go...since it didn't even buy us a chance at the lottery. Back to the freakin' drawing board. The more schools we visit, the more convinced I become that this whole childcare thing is a scam. But, what are we going to do?***

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Bright Horizons at All Saints

Bright Horizons operates a ton of daycares across Atlanta, and we've heard really good things about the center at All Saints' Episcopal Church on West Peachtree and North Ave in Midtown. They aren't affiliated with the church. They're very reputable and pretty darn convenient to J's office and my commute route home.

Basically, this one stacked up very similarly to Sheltering Arms. Very similar feel, but more diversity. It maybe felt a little less corporate, but that could be because they're in a church vs. a stand-alone facility.

Their menu isn't organic, but you can bring it in. They are planning to switch to organic milk in 2013, and the cost will go up accordingly.

The outdoor playground was awesome. Really awesome. Even sprinklers for those hot summer days.

The staff was all very friendly and the facility was clean and spacious.

In addition to a state-funded Pre-K program, they also offer a private Pre-K for those who don't get into the state program. Curriculums are different, though results are similar. They boast that 85% of their graduates get into gifted programs.

Their hours are 7am-7pm, which is really more flexible than we even need, but thrilled to know it's an option!

Tuition, however, is where the similarities stop. $1400/month, averaging $70/day (based on 20 school days/month). That's almost twice the cost of Sheltering Arms without much of a difference in quality. Not to mention costs are increasing for 2013 to cover that organic milk. I can buy a LOT of organic milk for the $680/month difference.

For that, Bright Horizons gets a B. No, it doesn't break the bank, but I didn't see enough to justify the almost double tuition either. See how other daycares compare.

More info:
Address: 644 W Peachtree ST., Atlanta, GA 30308
Phone: 404-881-3790
Hours of Operation: M-F: 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

The Village School in East Atlanta

The Village School was referred to us by dear friends, and it's literally a few blocks from our house. The facility is an unmarked house near East Atlanta Village.

One of the things we loved the most was the community feel. Most of the families here are from the adjacent neighborhoods: EAV, Kirkwood, Edgewood. We really like the idea of getting to know more families in the neighborhood, since our son will be growing up with them over the years. There's something comforting about seeing other parents in Target and Kroger.

The school started as an in-home daycare and has grown into it's own facility. Actually, it's almost bursting at the seams and they have plans in the works to expand to Pre-K. As of now, they only offer an infant & toddler classes (thru age 3ish). This means that we'd soon grow out of it and be in the same predicament all over again. Also really limits that the likelihood of having 2 kids there, unless our kids are very close in age.

The infant room is pretty packed with cribs, and there isn't a ton of room for tummy time on the floor or bouncers. The ladies who work there seem to really love the kids. In fact, our friend who referred us there just adored one of the infant caregivers. She used to spend so much time cuddling with her infant son, and he loved every minute! They wanted to steal her away as a nanny...but not so reasonable since they're moving to Texas.

There's a room for the next age group, and then a third classroom for the oldest kids. Kids advance based on their individual development & the available space versus their birthday. The curriculum is play-based, with regular themes that involve the families too.

The food here is all organic, and served family-style for the toddlers. They also don't toss un-used breast milk each day like some places. They send the leftovers home at the end of the day to the discretion of the parents. Of course, they don't re-feed out of the same bottle during the day because that's against some regulation. The owner just can't bring herself to tossing the "liquid gold" that some women work so hard to get! The kitchen is stocked with Trader Joe's and veggies and such.

They have an intimate playground, but the infants never leave the deck. Unfortunately, it overlooks the dumpster which can't be too appealing on hot summer days.

The application fee is $100. Tuition is $50/day, and they offer full-time & part-time options (M/W/F or T/Th only). Upon acceptance, a $100 Activity fee is due. You also pay for holidays here, even though those days are closed to students.

The reason this place didn't make our shortlist, the hours: 7:30-5:30. They close the doors at 5:30, and if you're late a few times, they'll suggest you find other options. A commute from Perimeter plus a Braves game in town means that would never fly. If they were located downtown or in Midtown, we might be able to make it work. But since they're south of I-20, it'd be nearly impossible.

Their waitlist sounded complicated. She has a whiteboard where she's constantly juggling applicants & availability. Priority goes to enrolled siblings. I wasn't terribly optimistic we'd get a spot when we needed it, though I wasn't terribly discouraged.

Because of the slight cramping, the less-than-ideal outdoor area, the fact we'd be looking for a new place in about 2 years, and the hours, I give them a B. For more childcare center reviews, read on.

More info:
1332 Glenwood Avenue SE
Atlanta, GA 30316
Tel: 404-688-3898

Sheltering Arms Centennial Park

Our first daycare tour was at Sheltering Arms Centennial Park. There's another location not far from our house, and, well, it's always seemed a bit sketch to me. But some co-workers RAVED about the Centennial Park location, so we thought we'd give it a look.

The Centennial Park location is a model center, with the corporate offices upstairs and the kiddos on the main level. That said, I'm thinking this particular location is held to a higher standard than some of the others you may find. Kinda like how the Moe's near my office is always on top of things...since it's their corporate training location across the street from their HQ.

First impression: Very nice facility with secure entry. The welcoming lobby has a receptionist to buzz in visitors, though parents get a code.

Our tour showed us all the basics, but since this was our first time in a daycare since our own childhoods, I think we were in awe of how far things had come.

They have two infant rooms, each with separate sleeping areas and indoor play areas. The infant rooms also access a private playground. These rooms are shoeless, and the cribs didn't seem like cages at the zoo. They had the nice plexi-glass ends so the babes are always visible. Those who've mastered the flip are indicated with a sign. Crib sheets are provided, and each room has its own mini fridge for bottles, etc.

The wait list here didn't seem outrageous. We visited in August and were told we had good odds of getting a spot the following spring. There wasn't even an application fee, which we've learned is incredibly RARE.

The tuition...get this. Only $180/week. That averages out to $36 per day (based on 20 school days/month). They also have government-assisted tuition that is income-based. I think they said it's as low as $140/week. That being said, the school isn't very diverse, and our child would be the minority. Not a big issue, but I'd prefer a more diverse mix.

Tuition includes all meals, but not organic menu. The kids eat family-style within their classrooms. I was so impressed watching 2 year olds pass a bowl of spaghetti and pour each other a glass of milk!

The curriculum is based on NAEYC principles, and kids advance to the next class based on their age on September something (same as public schools). Their pre-K is state-funded, so absences are limited once the kiddos get to that age. Otherwise, you pay for the week whether you're there full-time or not. The school is NAEYC accredited.

Their hours are very accommodating for working parents. I think drop-off was as early as 7:30 and the doors stayed open until 7 without any ridiculous per-minute overage fee. They could close at 6:30pm, but I can't remember. I just remember it would work for us.

There really isn't any reason I wouldn't send my child here, so I give it an A-. It doesn't have all the bells & whistles we'd love to find, but it also doesn't cost the equivalent of a mortgage or require one of us to work banker's hours. Read how the others stack up.

More info:
Fax:  404-523-9952
385 Centennial Olympic Park Drive NW, Atlanta 30313-1956

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The search for infant care in Atlanta

So, as you know, we're expecting a little grasshopper in February. It's our first bambino, so we're learning all the ins + outs of parent-to-be-hood.

Since we both work full-time, and I have every intention of returning to my job once maternity leave comes to an end, a childcare option is imperative. From what we've heard, it's pretty competitive in-town Atlanta, so we wanted to get a jumpstart.

Here we are, about to enter the third trimester, without a strong feel-good feeling about who will be watching this little fella in six months.

Let me say this, though. We are INCREDIBLY blessed to have J's parents live nearby in Lilburn. And J's mom, Lolli, has offered to watch the little nugget. Though it may not be convenient, it's great to have an option. Asking a family member to babysit your infant for 8-9 hours a day, 5 days a week is a HUGE we're figuring out our options. I cannot imagine the stress level other new parents must have without this sort of back-up plan. I've been incredibly and endlessly frustrated by the childcare options lack of reasonable infant care options in this city.

Our wishlist of childcare providers, in no particular order:
  • More convenient to our house than our offices. My office has several nearby daycares, but that's WAYYYYY out of the way (near Perimeter Mall) for J. We expect to share the pick-up/drop-off duties, and that would be a haul for J on days when I travel, am sick, or am working from home. J works in downtown/midtown near Coca-Cola. Ideal location is an in-town neighorhood (Kirkwood, Inman Park, Candler Park, O4W, possibly East Atlanta Village, Grant Park, or Virginia Highlands), downtown, or midtown (as long as it's easy-access from the Interstate in rush hour).
  • Working parent hours. Drop-off between 7:30-8:30, pick up between 5:30-6:30. With traffic in Atlanta, shutting the doors at 5pm seems so impractical.
  • Solid accreditation & reputation.
  • A blend of a corporate feel & in-home care. An intimate environment, where the staff has been around a while and genuinely love to love on the kiddos.
  • Bonus would include organic milk (if not full menu), creative curriculum, lots of adventuring outdoors, and the option to stay in the same facility thru Pre-K.
  • Oh, and not cost an arm & a leg.
A quick run-down of places we've checked out to-date and our relative grade:
(I plan to keep this updated as we visit more on the links for full reviews). This list is in the order we visit, not preference, rating, etc.

Sheltering Arms Centennial Park:A-
Pros: Location, TUITION COST!!!, strong accreditation, experienced staff, clean & well-kept facility, hours
Cons: Diversity (lack thereof), very corporate

The Village School in East Atlanta: B
Pros: Location (literally, a few blocks away from home), intimacy of classes, community feel, organic menu
Cons: Hours, only goes thru 3yrs (though plans for expansion), outgrowing facility quickly

Bright Horizons at All Saints in Midtown: B
Pros: Very strong reputation, convenient location, great facility, private Pre-K on-site, diverse classes
Cons: Very corporate, tuition

Kids Kondo in Virginia Highlands: C-
Pros: Community feel
Cons: Lack of facility upkeep, chipping paint, chaotic classrooms

Urban Explorers in Grant Park: A+
Pros: Community feel, intimacy of classes, reasonable hours (if paying for after-care)
Cons: No food provided, limited admissions, tuition (after-care adds up)

Frazer Center: A (added 12/5/12)
Pros: Inclusive experience for the kids (up to 30% of each class may have some developmental disability), lots of creative outlets (dance, art, etc), great facility, reasonable hours, pre-K on-site
Cons: Chaotic (maybe just the day we visited), couldn't get a feel of the security between the Adult Care facility and Child Care side

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

a fortune

Tonight I finally opened my fortune cookie from when we ordered take-out this weekend. What was inside made my heart all warm & fuzzy, so I have to share.

Obviously, the next 5 months (really? Just 5 more months) are dedicated to growing this human inside of me and preparing to be the rockingest parents around. As new topics begin to dominate dinner time conversation -- daycare, school districts, stroller options, kid-friendly travel destinations, college savings plans, car seat requirements, etc--, it's all too true that this little grasshopper is shifting the Velmer priorities. And Cricket & I are trying to stay aware of the "us" stuff too--adult convos, date nights, time with friends, etc. And we haven't forgotten about Lula--she's more spoiled than ever these days!

Oh the excitement for things to come so outweighs the lack of sleep, food restrictions, and the my-pants-are-too-tight moments!!!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Miss Lily Moves In

In my family, we have a strange tradition.

Said tradition involves an atrociously green, seductively posed, ceramic pregnant frog with lily pads covering her lady parts. Miss Lily has been with the Ross family for several generations, and she travels in her own special globe-trotting case. Her case includes her history, her manifest, and a family tree of my Mom's side of the fam.

So how does one become graced with Miss Lily's presence, you ask?

Well, Miss Lily is passed along to expecting females in the Ross family tree. Her manifest requires that she be presented in an over-the-top manner, the more obnoxious the better. Her manifest also requires that Miss Lily remain on prominent display in the caretaker's home until it's time to pass her along to her next stop.

We pass along my grandmother's lingerie to brides-to-be, so why wouldn't we pass a long a pregnant chartreuse ceramic frog to moms-to-be?

Miss Lily lived with my aunt when she was pregnant with each of my cousins, and she lived with my parents while my sisters & I were on the way.

[my mom co-presenting Miss Lily at the Ross Reunion in 2008]

Miss Lily was confined to her traveling case for many years until about four years ago, when she was presented to my cousin at our family reunion. I think everyone had forgotten about the poor chartreuse frog until then. She's lived in Texas for the past four years, and I had to secretly extricate her from Houston to Atlanta with the help of my mom & cousin. I think the timing was just about right because my cousin's 4-year old had become very interested in getting a Miss Lily of her own! Yikes!!
[Uncle John presenting Miss Lily to my cousin, mom-to-be Erin]

[hot mama-to-be Erin in July 2008. the first keeper of Miss Lily of the new generation.]

Miss Lily seems to be acclimating well to her new abode. And Lula likes her, if a little too much.

[Lula getting to know our new roommate.]

As much as she clashes with our interior decor, we're more than thrilled to have her in our home. Mostly, because of what she represents for the start of our family.

That's right, the newest member of Team V will be making his or her debut in a few months, around February 9th, give or take. Mom & Dad are blessed to feeling great & starting this new chapter. We're especially blessed that our Baby V will have a Cousin V on the west coast very close in age. Cousin V is expected to make her arrival in late September & was celebrated by lots of friends yesterday. We can't wait to see what traditions we concoct for the next generation of the V side of the fam...especially since the chartreuse preggers frog bit is already taken.

You're bound to see a baby-related project or two over the coming months, and definitely more pictures of Lula & bacon recipes. Stay tuned to see where the adventure leads...

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Easy German Chocolate Cake

For my mom's birthday, I decided to make her a German Chocolate Cake--her favorite.

Cricket gave me specific instructions that it couldn't be a big cake--he didn't want the tempting leftovers around for a week. Pretty sure he now regrets that requirement. Nonetheless, I picked up two of these 6" cake pans. I figured they'd be a good size to have on-hand if I ever attempt to make a tiered cake.

After scouring the web, I derived the following recipe. I was happily impressed that, as a German Chocolate Cake should, it gets more moist as the days go by. The sweet coconut filling seeping into the layers of scrumptiousness.

I kinda cheated by using (gasp!) a boxed mix. I kicked up the chocolate factor by adding instant pudding mix, and used sour cream to up the moisture quotient.

The filling is based on the ever-popular Dabid Leibovitz recipe. I simplified it and didn't frost the exterior with chocolate. Instead, I doubled the coconut-praline mixture to have enough for the layers and exterior. YUM!

Cake Ingredients:
1 (18 1/4 ounce) package Betty Crocker Super Moist cake mix - German Chocolate flavor.
1 (4 ounce) box instant chocolate pudding mix - double fudge flavor
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
4 large eggs

Cake Instructions:
1. Preheat to 350 degrees. Line your pans with parchment paper. I used two 6" x 2" pans to keep the size petite, per Cricket's request.

2. Mix all ingredients with electric mixer until smooth.

3. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean. The pudding and sour cream increase the cook time than stated on the box, so you may want to check after about 25 min.

4. Let cool on wire rack until completely cooled. I let them cool overnight before frosting them, leaving them in the off oven to avoid Lula's reach.

5. Once cool, use a sharp bread knife to split each layer horizontally & level the tops.

Filling Ingredients: (Double the quantities below to have enough for the exterior.)
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup sugar
3 large egg yolks
6 Tbsp butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup pecans, toasted and finely chopped
1 1/3 cups sweetened flake coconut, toasted

To toast the pecans and coconut, I used foil to split a baking sheet into two sections. The coconut took about 15 minutes, and the pecans about 10 on 350.

 Filling Instructions:

1. Mix the cream, sugar, and egg yolks in a medium saucepan. Put the butter pieces, toasted coconut, and pecan pieces in a large heat-safe mixing bowl.
2. Heat the cream mixture and cook, stirring constantly (scraping the bottom as you stir) until the mixture begins to thicken and coats the spoon (an instant-read thermometer will read 170°.)

3. Pour the hot custard immediately into the pecan-coconut mixture and stir until the butter is melted. Cool completely to room temperature. (It will thicken.)

Assembly Instructions:
1. Use a serrated bread knife to cut your layer cakes horizontally, making the layers as even as possible. For a 2-inch deep cake pan, you'll end up with two layers. Cut off the rounded top so that the layers will rest flat on top of each other.

2. Place a layer of cake on your cake plate and spread the cooled filling on top. Add another layer, and repeat until all layers are in place with filling in between them.

3. Use the remaining filling to coat the top of the cake and sides. The filling will likely run down the edges of the sides onto your cake plate -- but that's okay. It turns out really pretty!

4. It's ready to serve!

[you can see we were too eager to get at it to take a pic]

Monday, July 9, 2012

Steal of the MidCentury: Bertoia Chairs

This Saturday we headed to Cricket's folks' house to celebrate my father-in-law's birthday. On the way, we passed what appeared to be a garage sale and something caught my eye. What looked to be vintage white Bertoia chairs caught my eye from the road, and sparked my curiosity because I'd eyed them for our new patio table...until I realized they retail for $300.

Even these on today are offered for $279 in RUSTED condition.

So after celebrating at the in-law's, we drove back by the house to check out the sale. We trodded up the driveway and learned that the owner was cleaning out her basement. She had an assortment of stools, chairs, and such.

These beauties were marked $15, which I assumed was per chair. NOPE --for the set of three. WHAT?!?!?

So we snagged those puppies up in an instant. Packing them into the car, I kept expecting us to be arrested for snagging such a steal of a deal. No sirens. No lights. We made it home safe & sound with our new old chairs.

I wish I had the fourth, but the owner wasn't sure where it'd been misplaced. Of course I left my number in case it turns up...please Lord let it be discovered to round out my alfresco dining ensemble.

According to Fab, this classic Vintage Modern chair was designed by 50's designer Harry Bertoia as part of the Bertoia collection of wire sculpted furniture for the Knoll furniture company. In Bertoia's own words, "If you look at these chairs, they are mainly made of air, like sculpture. Space passes right through them." They've probably been in her basement for 50 years, and are in excellent shape. These guys are in perfect condition, chair pads included.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

For sale: white slipcovered studio sofa from West Elm

We are making some changes to our master bedroom and need to get rid of some furniture.

We bought this petite sofa from West Elm just after we bought the house in 2010, mostly because our master bedroom looked so terribly empty before we added any furniture. And, this sucker was quite a steal. The couch alone retailed for over $500 and the slipcover was originally about $200. I think we paid about $350 for the set, before taxes and all.

(view of the side:)

We've enjoyed it...mostly as a place for folding laundry or letting the piles of laundry sit before we actually put the clothes away. It's better than the bed, right? And when not covered in folded/unfolded piles of laundered clothes, Cricket sits on the sofa to play his favorite soccer PlayStation video game.

(view of the back:)

It's a great size for a master bedroom, apartment, dorm room, playroom, etc. and, with an easily removable slipcover, it's easy to keep looking clean!

It's currently posted on Craigslist for $250, plus we'll deliver locally for a modest fee based on distance, stairs, etc.

The slipcover is white cotton. The upholstery is a muslin (beige) color. There aren't any removable's a solid upholstered piece.

(views beneath slipcover:)

depth: 35"
height: 28" (back), 24" (arms), 15" (seat)
width: 76"

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Sweet Potato and Mushroom Soup with White Beans and Kale

The recent rainy afternoons have given me a hankerin' for soup. After looking at what I had on-hand, I searched the interweb for a recipe using baby portabella mushrooms, sweet potatoes, and kale. I landed on this recipe from Lisa's Kitchen and decided it would be easy enough to swap out my sweet potato for the butternut squash. Lisa's recipe calls for a jalapeno, which I think would give it a nice touch.

I picked up a French baguette from a nearby specialty grocer, and it paired perfectly. This soup isn't too hearty for a warm summer night. Plus, it's a nutritional powerhouse packed with Vitamin A, Vitamin B6, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, calcium, potassium, fiber, iron, antioxidants, and more.

  • 14 oz cannellini (white kidney) beans, drained & rinsed
  • 4 cups chicken broth (vegetable broth would make this 100% vegetarian, and would've used if I'd had it on-hand)
  • 4 small sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 16 oz baby portabella (cremini) mushrooms, trimmed and sliced
  • 1 bunch kale, stemmed and torn into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 large shallot, chopped
  • 8 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg 
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 bay leaf
  • 1/2 teaspoon rubbed sage
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt, or to taste
  • fresh ground black pepper
  • Heat a large soup crock over medium-high heat. When hot, add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, wait a few seconds, then swirl to coat the pan. Add the mushrooms and sauté for 8-10 minutes or until the mushrooms are a golden brown. Remove from the pan and set aside.
  • Reduce to medium heat and add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Add the onion, shallots, and garlic and stir for 2-3 minutes or until the onions start to turn translucent. 
  • Gently toss in the sweet potatoes, curry powder, nutmeg, and cayenne. Stir to coat the vegetables with the oil and seasonings. Pour in the water, add the bay leaf, and bring to a boil. 
  • Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the reserved mushrooms, beans and the stock. Cover and simmer for 20-30 minutes or until the sweet potato pieces are tender.
  • Discard the bay leaf and season the soup with salt and plenty of fresh ground black pepper. 
  • Add the kale and continue to simmer for 4-5 minutes or until the kale is wilted but still bright green.
  • Remove from heat and serve hot with crusty French baguette.
Serves 8
Prep: 15-20 minutes
Cooking: 50 minutes

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

progressive dinner in the n'hood

last summer, i got the idea to reinvent the progressive dinners i remember my parents attending with church friends. i mentioned it to two other neighbors, and we decided it'd be a fun way to meet more of our neighbors. we finally got around to it this past weekend, where each couple invited 2 other couples within our few-block radius.

we started at our house for cocktails + apps before walking the 2 blocks to SJ's. from there, we headed to Annalee's for dessert + coffee. we had a blast. even cricket, who wasn't sure about entertaining a bunch of people we'd never met, had a good time!

our theme
southern fare (it's just so easy)

the menu
apps: caprese skewers, melon + mint, and pimento cheese pinwheels (stay tuned for that recipe. easy & delish!)
cocktail: john daly (firefly vodka + simply lemonade)
i gave everyone a plastic tumbler to keep as their "roadie" for the evening. the cups were color-coded by couple so we knew who "belonged" with whom.

main course: chicken + pulled pork sliders with slaw + veggies. SJ was able to cook these in a slow-cooker so they would be safely cooking while we were at the first house. YUM!
cocktail: pomegranate punch

dessert: banana puddin' (with nilla wafers, duh)
cocktail: coffee bar with all your fave libations

the neighbors
at first, i felt like a total slacker because i didn't have anyone to invite. why? because i don't know my neighbors. all the more reason to host this party. but who should i invite? well, i hand-picked two houses on our street, where we've seen the neighbors & think we could get along with them for some reason or another. so, i left handwritten notes in each of their mailboxes, addressed to "neighbor" for lack of a better name. i didn't hear back from either of them so i was afraid the mailman stole my invites. i was a little disheartened that none of my invitees were going to attend. but then, eureka! i got a call Friday afternoon to confirm two attendees from across the street. YAHOO!! we CAN make friends!

we had a great group of people, including a last-minute add-on who closed on his new house in the hood the day prior. hopefully he's not regretting his new mortgage after a night with the resident lunatics.

the verdict
a roaring success!! we spent about an hour, to hour and a half at each house. at least until the late-night. we met new couples who we'll actually recognize on the street. and now we know our neighbors!!!

Monday, June 4, 2012

recipe: homemade bread & butter pickles

Cricket loves him some homemade pickles. If they're on the menu somewhere, we order them. No questions asked.

I'd never tried making them before, but figured it'd be fun to try them to complement our smoked pulled pork this weekend. To be honest, the canning process intimidates me. As much as I love mason jars, the boiling, sterilizing, sealing, etc seems like a LOT of work. But this recipe isn't for canning. It's so good, these suckers won't last the week, much less until winter.

I found two versions of Hugh Acheson's bread and butter pickles, so this is an amended attempt at what I resolved to be the best combo of the two. For the most part, I followed this one found in Esquire magazine. I consulted Hugh's cookbook A New Turn in the South, which had a very similar recipe with slightly different ingredients & quantities.

2 cucumbers (regular sized, or 10-12 pickling cukes)
1/2 vidalia onion, sliced thin
1/2 cup kosher salt
celery bunch (you just need the leaves, use the stalks for something else yummy)
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
3/4 tsp fennel seeds
1 & 1/4 tsp mustard seeds
8 allspice berries
1 & 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup amber maple syrup
1/2 cup water

Wash the cukes well, scrubbing to remove any dirt. Slice into 1/3-inch rounds.
Combine cucumber slices with sliced onion in bowl with 1/4 cup kosher salt in a medium non-reactive bowl. Don't use table salt--is has different additives in it. Cover the bowl with a thin tea towel (not terrycloth), and cover towel with about an inch of ice. Place in fridge for 4 hours.

Rinse cucumber-onion mixture with cold water in a colander to remove any salt. Tear celery leaves into 1/4-inch pieces and toss with cucumber mixture. Set aside in medium non-reactive bowl.

In a medium non-reactive pot, combine remaining salt and remaining ingredients. Stir. Bring to a rapid boil. Pack cucumber mixture tightly into jars and pour boiling liquid to cover. Leave on counter, uncovered, for 2 hours, then refrigerate.
[homemade bread and butter pickles]

Once at refrigerator temperature, done.

These will be at their best in a day or so and should keep up to 10 days...if you wait that long.

(if you prefer to can them for longer keeping, refer to your canning manufacturer's instructions.)

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Mason jar sippy cups

Since a neighbor's tree fell this morning and woke me up, I perused my regular websites before getting out of bed.

And MUCH to my amazement is offering these sippy cup lids for mason jars. Pretty sure these ain't for your toddler. Say what? I had to share.

It's true than mason jars are multi-use, and now we can add travel mug to the list!

Have a great weekend, and may no trees fall in your yard...

Friday, June 1, 2012

white sangria recipe

a few weeks ago, i was tasked with concocting a delicious cocktail to complement the fajitas & handmade guacamole station at a recent cinco de mayo fete. i had to make enough to serve 40+ folks, so this is a bulk recipe for approximately 5 gallons.
the yummy white sangria with fresh strawberries from jaemor farm. served in mason jars with paper straws.

in order to keep the beverage chilled on a hot Southern day, i froze the fruit overnight so that it would act as ice cubes without diluting the cocktail.

here's the recipe i made up...and it was quite yummy. perfect for hot summer nights on the new porch swing.

First, it was critical to stop at a local farm stand to pick up their fresh strawberries. i cannot tell you how delicious my car smelled the entire ride!

2 gallons of fresh strawberries, de-stemmed and quartered (smaller ones halved)
3 large grapefruits, cut to 1" slices
2 pounds of lemons, cut to 1.5" slices
2 pounds of key limes, whole
1 cup sugar
additional fruit for garnish

alcoholic version:
3x 64oz bottles of White Grape & Peach juice
3x 2-liter bottles of Ginger Ale
1x 96-oz bottle of Apple juice
5 bottles of chardonnay
(for smaller batches, use 1 bottle grape & peach juice, 1 bottle ginger ale, 24-30 oz apple juice, & 1-2 bottles of wine)

non-alcoholic version:
3x 64oz bottles of White Grape & Peach juice
3x 2-liter bottles of Ginger Ale
2x 96-oz bottle of Apple juice
1x 2-liter bottle of lemonade

1. clean and cut all fruit as indicated. mix strawberries, grapefruit, and lemons in large bowl. add sugar and stir. freeze overnight. freeze whole limes separately overnight.
2. in 5-gallon bucket, mix all ingredients for either alcoholic or non-alcoholic version. stir. refrigerate in large bucket (if your fridge is large enough).
3. when ready to serve, pour cocktail into large beverage dispenser and add frozen fruit. stir for even fruit distribution & you're ready to go.
4. since the fruit won't fit through the dispenser spout, it's great to have skewered fruit available for garnish.
5. of course, serve it in a mason jar!

cost per 5-gallon batch:
White Grape & Peach juice: 3 x $2.98
Ginger Ale: 3 x $1.00
Apple Juice: 1 x $3.52
Fruit: $10-12
Wine: $25-30

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

I thought it was Labor Day

...and I was able to convince Cricket to finish some yard projects this weekend.

We built a new flower bed. I'd bought some blackberries, strawberries,  knockout roses, and perennials a few weeks ago, so we finally got them in the ground. We desperately need a new fence to gain some privacy from the neighbors, but the greenery will have to do until we can decide what we want to do.

It complements the dahlia garden quite nicely, too.

Lowe's had zoysia sod, so we picked up about 40 pieces to extend the area we sodded last year. We threw in a few more pavers too. Hopefully, the color will even out as the sod takes root. It's better than the roots, weeds, and crabgrass.

We also beautified the mailbox and driveway. Mulch is magic! The trees lining our driveway looked overrun with weeds and awkward. A little weeding and a bag of mulch greatly improved the curb appeal. We planted some climbing mandevilla and lavender near the mailbox to give it a little more pizzazz. And I finally re-potted my hanging baskets into actual baskets instead of the plastic tubs they came in.

Our garden is well on its way with a few cherry tomatoes about ready to eat. The rest of the veggies are dragging behind, but surely they'll be showing their leaves soon.