Playing catch-up (as I always am)

So most of my September posts actually featured photos and events from August. The delay is not something the very anal part of my brain appreciates. I used to snap photos and blog about my day on the SAME DAY things happened. Obviously things have changed a bit. To appease my more orderly side, I’m sharing several from September, including two from today, so I feel sort of, well, “caught up.”

First are the chocolate chip cookies I made (along with the breadsticks from my previous post). From Against All Grain. Verrrrry easy to make. Verrrry yummy.

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Then came the first day of 5th grade. Wow! Summer went by so fast. So, so fast.IMG_6621

Then a couple of fun shots of the four-legged critters. (I always take pics of them.) The first one is of the two eldest gatos sitting on one of the brand-new chairs I nabbed at my company’s annual sale. They’re comfy and sturdy and fairly fashionable. (The chairs, I mean.) What more could you ask for?
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And these two shots were taken today as part of his ecology homework. In the first one he’s grinning big because he was excited about being “photobombed” by the squirrel who’s hanging out on the back fence. I’m not sure it counts as photobombing if you place yourself strategically in front of said squirrel to ensure he’s in the photo. But maybe? We made pizza today too, but the camera battery was dead so no photos were snapped. It’s the most delicious crust recipe I’ve tried to far from the new America’s Test Kitchen book.
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Oh, July…where have you gone!

Someone said just yesterday that it seems like it takes forever for July 4th to arrive, and once it does summer just speeds right by.

That may be true. It seems like we just celebrated Independence Day. Which happens to be my son’s favorite holiday. Even better than Christmas, he claims. And I did indeed take photos over that weekend. And afterward. I actually had a hot streak going with my camera for a bit there.

So with a bit of a delay, here are some photos of our July so far.

Starting with the Fourth, of course! I took lots and lots of photos, but most had my neighbors in them. I didn’t feel like getting all of those photo releases signed. Ha! So you get to see my son’s fireworks wagon – filled to the brim. He was giddy, even if it’s not apparent in these photos.

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The next day we went to Meijer Gardens (free passes from my company – woot!). It was bittersweet for me. The kiddo was hardly interested in the boats this year. The entire children’s garden elicited very little enthusiasm. I remember sitting several times for what seemed like hours as he pushed his little plastic boat around the “great lakes.” Sigh.

But he enjoyed our walk out to the farm garden and the trails.

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Then I made blueberry scones. Which I’m posting here specifically because my mom complained that I post sooo many food photos to my blog. The fact is, I don’t cook or bake enough so when I do…I have to take photos!

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And this was the prep for the faux cherry garcia frozen yogurt that I found and just HAD to make. Can you believe how adorable that cherry pitter is? And way less messy than the other one I had. I wasn’t thrilled with the yogurt, but I think I’ll try it again with a couple of change-ups. It was very close. We’ve also been using our ice cream maker for slushies. They’re Dev’s new obsession.

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The first official weekend of summer

Summer is officially here. We’re doing our best to get outside, but also to get things done. Sometimes it’s hard to do both. But I managed it this weekend when I finally painted our coffee tables. I set them up in the garage and did cleaning between coats of paint. I felt very productive, I must say!

And then my husband had the brilliant idea for a family walk to dinner. We hadn’t been to Bombay Cuisine in a long time. So we got in tasty Indian food and four miles of walking. Now that’s some good family time!

And now for some random weekend photos…

This? Is a dog eating a pizza. A tiny pizza. I can’t resist giving our “old lady” treats.DSC_6572

I love my gnome.
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And then there’s my adorable kid. I’m not sure how long I’ll be able to get away with calling him adorable. But he doesn’t read my blog so I’m safe for a bit.
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Up

Spontaneity. It’s not my strong suit.

It’s not like I plan and organize my days to the minute. Or even the hour. But I like to have an idea about what’s going to happen next. And make sure it’s feasible.

The plan for Friday was to take the train into Chicago to visit some old friends. We’d spend a few hours hanging out with them, and then head home.

The first part of that plan worked out well. The train from Michigan City dropped us off at Millennium Station at 10:28. We grabbed some raspberry sorbetto from Eataly. (Again…my kid is hooked!) Then, after insisting he was still VERY hungry, we had lunch at Dao, a restaurant Scott and I used to frequent when we worked around the corner. So. Good.

Our friends were staying in a comfy Embassy Suites where we parked ourselves to do some catching up. It was so good to chat. It’s been probably ten years since we’d since each other so we had plenty to talk about.

But when it was time to head out for the planned excursion to the zoo, the kids put up major resistance. What? I love the zoo! Apparently they preferred to sit in a hotel room and watch The Lego Movie. Rather than spend a beautiful afternoon strolling among the lions and tigers and bears. I jokingly said, “Well, if that’s the case, then we’ll go grab a drink somewhere while you watch the movie.”

And you know what? We did! First spontaneous thing.  (The kids were supervised by the 15-year-old so it’s not like we were irresponsible or anything!)

Cathy, Derek and I hit the hotel restaurant/bar and had a lovely afternoon of wine, food and conversation. It wasn’t the zoo, no. It was probably better since we were able to just relax and talk.

Afterward, a slightly spontaneous trip to Navy Pier was proposed. Although Dev and I were getting close to our time of departure at this point. We had to catch the 6:00 train if we wanted to get home before midnight. And that’s when Cathy suggested that we spend the night.

What? Really? How can we? (These are the panicked thoughts that went through my non-spontaneous mind.)

Pull-out bed in the “living room,” Walgreen’s around the corner for a toothbrush and contact lens cleaner, check the schedule for the train in the AM. We would be late for our volunteer gig at Crash’s, but it was doable.

So we stayed!

And we all enjoyed a nice evening at Navy Pier, complete with a ride on the Ferris wheel that made my kiddo pretty darn happy. So spontaneity isn’t all bad. Just don’t count on me to take that stance on a regular basis.

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Words by me, photos by my sidekick

It’s the time of year when I begin assaulting my viewers with photos of my garden. It’s all the pent-up eagerness that I can’t contain after months without blooms in my yard.

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But…I don’t have everything planted yet so I’ve been restricted to the tulips and emerging perennial leaves. So where did all of this glorious color come from?

My kid.

The other day I asked him to join me in a quick jaunt to the garden center. He’s always been my partner in crime during these excursions. I remember when he was about two and I stuck him in a cart as I strolled through the annuals at Romence Gardens. I assumed he’d be happy enough just looking around at everything. Little did I know he’d want to plan the garden for me.

Much to my mom’s horror, I actually let him. He was very insistent about several of the plants. Varieties I may never have chosen if solo. But I thought, why not? And his choices turned out to be great additions to my flower beds and containers. So it’s become a bit of a ritual for us.

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This time around the first plant that caught his eye was the stevia. So I added that to our mint, basil, lemon balm and rosemary. Then we started randomly adding things to the cart. At one point he asked if he could get in my bag and use my camera to take some photos. Of course, I said, and the two of us walked along, me examining tags and roots, him stooping and stretching to find just the right angle for the shot.

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When I downloaded them, I have to say I was impressed. I use aperture-priority as my main setting most of the time rather than manual, which does slightly “automate” the photo-taking process as far as the shutter speed. But even if you have your camera on the auto setting, you will only take good photos if you have a good eye. I’ve known people who’ve spent hundreds on fancy cameras and their photos are just not good.

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So I was certainly pleased to see how deliberate and careful he was with his shots. So here I regale you with some lovely selections from our garden-shopping adventure. The one below reminds me of this photo I took a few years back.

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Just call him “Speedy”

I started running about seven years ago. Mostly on the track at my gym and, even then, not for miles and miles. When I started at my current company, I discovered they had a runners’ club and I took the plunge and joined up. The allure was the opportunity to run four local 5K races at a steep discount. I’d never considered running a 5K until that point.

Now I’m a big fan. I still don’t run miles and miles, but I will run 3.2 in a row. With thousands of other people. It gives me energy and keeps me focused. And it’s just plain fun.

My son has been asking me for several years if he can run a 5K with me. My answer has always been, only if you commit to training with me. That would quickly turn him off to the idea. Dev likes to do something very well without having to prep. But he ran track last spring, had a blast in cross country this past fall, and has been running a mile straight in gym class over the course of several months. So he and I both considered that training. And I signed us up for the Fifth Third Riverbank Run.

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Before selfie

We had a blast. He’s faster than me. (Not a surprise!) And he was able to maintain his pace for the entire three+ miles, which he’s never done before. He would speed up ahead of me, look back and see I was lagging, and then wait for me. It was sweet. Yet I could tell that his competitive nature was being reined in. We crossed the finish line at 28:03 and 28:04, respectively, but I know he could have gotten a better time if he hadn’t been so nice as to wait for me. This was my second-best finish and I really do have him to thank for it. I know I ran harder trying to keep up with his fleet feet!

Maybe next race we can figure out a plan for him running his little heart out and me being able to find him at the finish line later.

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After selfie (he was geeked about all the snacks at the finish line)

Local goodness

The kiddo had this Friday off from school, so I took a day off from work as well. I love when we have opportunity to just hang out together. The thought was that we’d go to a movie and just enjoy the day. Which we did. But it ended up being jam-packed with more stuff (good stuff!) than either of us had imagined. Spontaneity!

Since we rarely get a chance to go out for breakfast, we made a plan to start things off with an outing. That meal can be the worst for me with my gluten-free issues. Pancakes, french toast and waffles are my traditional breakfast faves. And there aren’t a whole lot of places that serve up GF versions of those just yet.

We usually go to Marie Catrib’s where I nosh on their awesome sweet potato pancakes. But in my past searches, a highly recommended, but not really close by, restaurant kept popping up. Anna’s House offers quite a few GF menu items. It’s way up north, though, so we hadn’t gotten around to it yet. Yesterday was the day. I’m glad we did. I really liked the red velvet pancakes. Better yet, they’re soon to open a second location just five minutes away. Booyah!

After breakfast we shopped a bit (at Meijer…locally founded national grocery store chain!) and then headed over to the 11 a.m. showing of Spider-Man 2 (at Celebration Cinema…local theater chain!)

Then we went downtown to collect our race packets for the Riverbank Run (which, by the way, Dev and I ran this morning – more on that later). By then it was 2:30 and the popcorn high had worn off. So we decided to scope out a downtown eatery for a late lunch. He loves the mac ‘n cheese at Rockwell-Republic, so we grabbed a seat by the window and relaxed for a bit.

We then visited a local pharmacy (excitement!) to get a new prescription for our adorable diabetic-arthritic cat, Finn. And on our way home, we enjoyed one of the ultimate local GR experiences: the Downtown Market. We left with our usual Dorothy & Tony’s cheese popcorn (Dev is smitten), but also had the chance – finally! – to try Love’s Ice Cream. I like most ice cream, to be honest. But this really was an awesome dish of creamy goodness. Flavored with Madcap coffee. Oh, my, my!

My son has far more restraint than me. He always goes for the healthier gelatos and sorbetos when possible. In this case the triple berry sorberto. (He went with lemon gelato when we visited Eataly in Chicago last month.)

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What was going to be a simple movie-then-hang-out-at-home day turned into a bit of an adventure. A delicious one!

The weekend: it came and went

Weekends are too short, don’t you agree?

Looks like Nick could use another few hours in his weekend too. Lazy cats! I can’t resist taking photos of his big ol’ paws. Especially when he stretches out so adorably. The only bad thing about the photo is that the flannel sheets are still on the bed. They’re usually gone by mid-April. But I see hints of hope this week. Some high 60s and low 70s. I might be able to fold them up and stuff them in the linen closet soon.

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The garden is certainly giving me some hope as well. I haven’t planted bulbs in several years but was determined to have some nice spring flowers to greet me after winter said goodbye, so I planted a few dozen in the fall. I think I’ll do that again this year. The garden just looks so much more lush, even though the perennials are just getting started.

 

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My cooking mojo seems very scarce during the week. A by-product of getting up so dang early and then feeling so rushed around that time of day. I don’t really have the gumption to put too much energy into the whole event. So weekend dinners are the ones that I tend to be proud of. I scroll through my Pinterest faves and find something new to try. This time around it was a Quinoa Taco Bake, which I actually made without any quinoa. I subbed in ground turkey since that’s what I had (and I knew the 10-year-old would more likely eat it).

The original looks splendid, I admit. But I was pretty happy with my results. A little basmati rice on the side and we were good to go. With plenty of leftovers, well, uh, left over.
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Today was Museums Free 4 All, which I made sure to put on our calendar. We hadn’t been to the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in quite a while. It seemed like a great opportunity to get in a visit. The kiddo wasn’t as into some of the historical aspects of it. It is politics, after all. But he was smitten with the aircraft carrier. He read the entire story that was displayed around the base of the carrier. And then he asked for my phone to take photos. 
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Afterward we walked around by the river. It was sunny and beautiful. The only downside was the wind. But it didn’t seem to have an impact on their hair in these photos. That’s a plus!
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Kiss us, we’re Irish

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We are waiting, sort of patiently, for spring to arrive. I think this past winter (it’s officially spring, so I think I’m allowed to put it in the past, cold temps withstanding) will be one for the record books. Well, at least I hope it will. If I have that to look forward to for the next winter season, I’m seriously contemplating moving the entire family south. Forever!

OK…drama’s over.

St. Patty’s Day is a spring-oriented holiday, yes? Our neighbors had a gathering and I made these strange-looking mint cheesecake cups. They weren’t a big hit. Because if you saw these next to some perfectly decorated, decadent-looking brownies, you’d probably choose the brownies. But I promise…they taste pretty good. Mine didn’t look nearly as nice as the ones on the blog where I got the recipe. I believe some extra spinning in the food processor might be called for next time.

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Also, these are vegan cheesecake cups and made with only natural sugars. Unlike the cinnamon rolls I made yesterday (with photos to come), which came out to 440 calories per roll! So good, but so full of sugar. I’ve been a sugar fiend for my entire life and my attempt to reduce my intake is genuine, but not an easy feat. I know I feel better when I eat less of it, though, so the cinnamon rolls will be a rare treat.

I didn’t take the irish soda bread to the party. For two reasons. One, it’s gluten-free and I’m the only one who in that circle who needs to eat that way. The other reason is that it turned out so well that I kinda wanted to keep it to myself. So I did! (Well, I did share with my husband. The kid didn’t really care one way or the other. ) I found another recipe last week that I’m also going to try. This one has raisins. It sounds pretty temping too.

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Florida – one month later

Yep…an entire month has gone by since we returned from our trip.

I’ve been to Florida many times since I met Scott because some of his family lives there. And it’s always been a welcome change of scenery from the colder weather. This trip, though, was the first one where I felt sad leaving. Probably a combination of the dread of returning to the frigid weather, not wanting to let go of the relaxing feeling of a vacation and wanting to hold on to the joy of watching Dev explore a new place. (One that’s complete with amusement parks, alligators and an ocean.)

We flew direct to Sanford International Airport, which was awesome. Quick and easy flight. Quick and easy car rental. Not so quick and easy drive to Orlando (crazy Florida traffic!).

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Sanford – we were looking for alligators but it was pretty chilly when we arrived.

Dev was so, so excited about Universal. The parents weren’t really on that same wavelength, especially the daddy parent. However…it turned out to be way more fun than the adults had anticipated and spending a full day trekking around the park didn’t even phase us. You can see the smile on the kiddo in the photos. It was there for most of the trip!

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Dev wasn’t the only one excited about The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

As much as I loved Hogwarts and the butter beer, I was LESS than thrilled with the Dragon Challenge coaster. Even with dramamine in my system, that ride kicked my butt. Of course it was the first one we went on that morning and I was sure I wasn’t going to be able to do anything else once I got off and swerved like a drunk for several minutes. Happily, the Hogwarts ride went smoothly and I handled the rest like a champ.

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My view waiting in line to get into Ollivander’s – the longest line of all.
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The kid is a huge Jurassic Park fan.
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I think the water rides ended up being his favorite.
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It was only 55 degrees, but the sunshine made getting drenched a non-event.
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It seemed like every ride had its own unique glasses you had to wear.
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This? So, so good. I had two. Yes, I did.

Over the weekend we did some visiting with family and friends. We got to catch up with sisters and brothers, nieces and nephews (and grandnieces and nephews) and various new in-laws. We traveled to New Smyrna Beach to meet up with a friend we’d both worked with in Chicago. She’s a huge nature enthusiast and brought along a mermaid’s purse for Dev. He was thrilled. He was also pretty geeked about chasing the seagulls on the beach. It was too chilly and windy to spend as much time on the sand as we would have liked, but he was happy as the proverbial clam while we were there.

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See? He loved it.
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Dev thought these birds looked like “those bald guys who have just hair on the sides of their head” – apologies to any of those guys who might be reading this.

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Meet-up with Patty! Photo by Dev.

After the beach we went to Blue Spring to see the manatees. In all the years I’ve been visiting Florida, I’ve never seen one. Imagine my giddy excitement when I saw the first one. I think Dev thought I was a little crazy. He was way more impressed by the alligator that was lounging on a log in the middle of the manatee party.

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There’s an alligator lurking amongst those manatees. Beware!

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 The last day we headed back to Universal to try the other side of the park. The one with The Simpsons recreation, including Duff Beer for Dad!

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 There was plenty of other fun to be had, including riding The Mummy three times and dining on a deck with plenty of sun and and a nice breeze in “San Francisco.”

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This one would have made me hurl. I’m pretty sure of that.

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There’s that smile again. I’m so happy that he was so happy!

The kitchen has been my friend lately

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I’m not quite sure how my psyche decides when it’s OK with things and when it’s not. There are some days when coming up with a meal just seems like so much effort. And others when it seems to flow perfectly.

These past few weeks my psyche has been good to me. I’ve come across recipes in magazines or on Pinterest and just gone and tackled them. (It helps if you go with options where you have all of the ingredients already on hand.)

The holiday baking was easy and fun. The holiday meals were too – can you say turkey chili and cornbread for Christmas dinner? And tasty sloppy joes for NYE? (Slow cooking counts as cooking as far as I’m concerned.)

The last two days put my resolve to the test, though. We’ve been snowed in. Polar Vortex. -30 below windchills. 9+ inches of the white stuff. No way in h-e-double toothpicks was I going to attempt a trip to the grocery store. And yet I managed to feed my family pretty well.

The first “trapped in our home” evening I mixed up the fixin’s for turkey burgers and Scott grilled them up. Yesterday I made honey garlic chicken, which Devin insisted tasted just like sloppy joes and then requested a bun to go with it, and pineapple rice. And today it was pizza.

Made with the same crust from a previous post.

This is my third time using this recipe. And with good reason. It’s super tasty – and easy! I wasn’t feeling rushed today so I went ahead and documented tonight’s pizza, beginning with the caramelized onions.

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A few minutes after I got the onions browning, the smoke detector went off. The one my husband installed IN THE KITCHEN. (This is an on-going argument in our home and I’ll leave it at that.) Since the smoke wasn’t going to dissipate quickly, I had to cut the process short so they didn’t do quite what I wanted them to do. But they worked.

I love the proofing part of baking. You don’t get that a whole lot with gluten-free breads. It’s nice to smell that yeasty smell. And watch it bubbling. DSC_4582

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The dough isn’t super sticky with this crust so I just use a bit of brown rice flour on my fingers to press it into the pan.DSC_4597

Here’s the split-personality pizza baking in the oven. Which side do you think belongs to the 9-year-old? (Although he does share with dad, who always nabs a piece of each.)DSC_4599

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With pretty much every holiday, I whip up a fruit salad. And this year we made sure to grab a pomegranate to join the cast. We’ve been gorging on the seeds since Christmas so I topped tonight’s pile o’ fruit with some more. They’re amazingly addictive!DSC_4609

My plate. Filled to the brim! I went with what we had available in the refrigerator, of course. The onions from above, mini bell peppers, spinach, kalamata olives, feta cheese and pine nuts.DSC_4613

Dev got bacon and pineapple – and was pretty geeked about it. He’s a huge bacon fan so these donuts are next up on my list. Hopefully this weekend!DSC_4612