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Thursday, January 29, 2015

A Penny for your Thoughts - More and Less List



Since it is still January, I feel like I can still squeeze this post in :)  Rather than doing a New Year's Resolution list, I decided to take a different approach and do what I like to call a "More and Less List".  I have already started putting into action quite a few of these items, and am looking forward to focusing on them more and more.  I like the beginning of the year as it always gives me a chance to re-evaluate my priorities.  I remember every year that there is always room for growth, this year was no exception.  

As I look over these lists I know that God is so good to me that these are the things I can spend my time focusing on.  I would encourage you to make a list like this just to get your mind thinking this way.  This also gives you no ultimatums and just helps you to focus on priorities.  I think I often feel like a failure if I do not hit a goal, but this type of list helps me remember it is about reinventing the way I live and not a number on the scale or a title at my job, life is about so much more than the specifics and this helps me focus on the big picture.

More

Rest
Walking
Prayer
Quality Coffee
Burning Candles
Small Business Shopping
Sunshine
Avocado
Yoga
Volunteering
Clean Eating
Water
Farmers Markets
Hosting Small Dinners
Good Wine
Exercise
Picnics
Reading Classic Literature
Green Tea
Bike Riding
Writing
Exploring
Spontanaeity
Homemade
Fresh Fruits and Vegetables
 

Less

Stress
Excuses
Television
Comparing myself to others
Dieting
Processed Food
Pressure to do Everything
Stuff
Reading Silly Online Articles
Anxiety
Social Media
Documenting and not being Present
Potato Chips
Fear
Being in a Rush
Gossip
Expressing Frustration
Political Ignorance


Share some "More or Less" ideas in the comments below!  
I'd love to hear your ideas  :)  

Be well dear friends.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things - Christmas in Baltimore

Christmas in Baltimore was pretty close to perfect.  I haven't written about it yet, because I feel like trying to put it into words is impossible.  There was some magic in it though, that is undeniable.  Below are images that show a few of my favorite things about the Holiday Season.  Some things you will not find in the pictures but I hold close to me heart is the French pressed coffee every morning, the wine that flowed all week long, the hide and peek games (you read that right) with my niece, the laughter and tears, the wonderful meals, the genuine words, the sincere hugs, Christmas morning as a group, my parents welcoming hugs, my Italian sister-in-law's bonding, Christmas Eve Service in Baltimore, walking around the Inner Harbor, watching my niece try on all the items from the dress up box we gave her, and some dear friends that were there for it all.  I think our society is so obsessed with capturing a perfect image of their time together and posting it online, but I felt like this Christmas I really got to experience and be present with those that I loved, which is all I really wanted :)


1. My families unique sense of humor is something that continuously surprises me.  Much like a television sitcom, we. talk. fast.  I can tell when people are going to mesh and when they aren't because when we are all together it is kind of an "all-in" situation.  As you can see in this photo, the words Joy Noel have been arranged to create a phrase you will often hear around the Wecker home at Christmas time "Jen Yolo".  I guess a phrase isn't quite accurate, we almost refer to Jen Yolo as another member of the family.  Honestly, it's impossible to explain, but we get it.  Yeah it's kind of odd for me to basically be saying that it's an inside joke, but it is more than that.  We are bonded over a million inside jokes, much like most families.  It is like we speak our own language and if you haven't been around for some period of time you may not always be able to follow, but isn't that the beauty of big families?

Bill's family has certain things they say and refer to and they realize they have to stop and explain things to me because it doesn't make sense to "an outsider".  Now granted, the more I learn, the less of an outsider I am, but that is just a part of growing up and having inside jokes.  All this goes to say, inside jokes are fun and genuinely bonding and it was so nice to be around the people that a lot of my inside jokes are with.


2. Meals together are one of my favorite parts of being home.  The dinner pictured above was wonderful.  We brought the farm tables out from Faith and Joshes wedding that they used for their head table and lit what seemed like a hundred candles.  Beautiful greens of holly from the yard were layed down the middle.  My Italian Sister-In-Laws made us the yummiest Italian feast, and we just were together.  Not only was the food fantastic and the ambiance beautiful, but the people were all people that loved each other.  It was nice to just be together.

My dad also arranged a dinner at one of his restaurants that was incredible.  We had trays of sushi together on Christmas Eve before we watched White Christmas.  We ate Thai food the night before Bill and I left and we had big group breakfasts multiple mornings.  Every single time I took a moment to just look around at everyone laughing and talking together.  Meals with my family is one of my favorite things.


3. I believe they need no introduction, but this is my family.  My parents, my siblings, everyone's husbands/wives and my niece.  Sigh... They are my absolute favorite thing in this world.  My heart is always with them and they are what made Christmas in Baltimore so special.  As we all get older our priorities are changing and time together is so precious.  Just knowing I always have their support and love is all I could ask for.  

Friday, January 23, 2015

Food I Ate Fridays - French Onion Soup


Another holiday idea that came from my other sister in law, Cirsinta, was for my sisters and mom and I to all buy the same cook book and begin cooking through it together.  I will share more on this in the future, as another blog is being designed for it as we speak, but what I want to share today is a recipe that my husband has requested I learn to make for years.  

French Onion soup is one of those things I put off learning to do because I was intimidated by the process, but as I embrace cooking and trying to cook new things that have previously seemed overwhleming, I am learning that simple meals really are simple, sometimes you just need to take the time to cook them well.  This soup turned out fantastic, and is definitely something we will make again.   I hope you find time to enjoy cooking and invest the time into making meals you and your loved ones really love.   

Directions

Heat in a soup pot over medium-low heat until the butter is melted:
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
2 Tbsp. olive oil

Add and stir to coat:
5 medium onions, thinly sliced
Pinch of dried thyme

Cook, stirring occasionally, and keeping a vigilant eye on the onions so they do not scorch, over medium heat. As soon as they start to brown, after about 15 minutes, reduce heat to medium-low and continue to cook, covered, stirring more often, until onions have a rich brown color, about 40 minutes.

Stir in:
2 Tbsp. dry sherry or cognac

Increase the heat to high and cook, stirring constantly, until all the sherry has cooked off. Stir in:
3 1/2 cups stock (vegetable, chicken, or beef) - I used beef and it was divine

Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer, partially covered, for 20 minutes. Season with:
1 to 1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper

Place 8 ovenproof soup bowls or crocks on a baking sheet. Ladle the hot soup into the bowls and top each serving with:
1 to 3 slices French bread, toasted if fresh
3 Tbsp. grated Gruyère or Swiss cheese

Broil or bake in a 450 degree oven until the cheese is melted and starting to brown. Serve immediately.


Hey, I posted my own picture this time! This recipe comes from the classic cookbook, The Joy of Cooking.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Sister Bonding - The Pyrex Picker Sisters


You know those gifts that you get every once in awhile that are just perfect?  Someone spent time and energy picking them out just for you and they were dead on.  Well I actually got a couple of those this Christmas (Faith your box touched a very special place in my heart, Cristina those mugs were so wonderful and let's not forget the bike my husband is getting me!), but the one I want to highlight today is one that brought me and some very special women in my life together in such a fun and unique way.  My Brother and Sister-In-Law hunted through thrift stores and  found me and 5 other wonderful women two matching pieces of a vintage pyrex sets picked out individually for us and our personalities.  Mine is called Autumn Harvest and I could not love it more - I mean a sprig of wheat on a rust colored container... need I say more!

Each sister was requested to be looking for pieces to complete their own set and to help other ladies complete theirs.  To say this has been a fun bonding experience would be an understatement.  Lot's of texts have been sent and I was the first to find another edition to my collection at a local antique store. 

I think what I love most about this is now when I see ANY Pyrex I smile.  Each girl's set really fits their personality.  We all have been texting pictures of us using our containers and I just love the energy of it all.

This Christmas was really unique because it was the first time we have all been together in quite some time.  My parents, my siblings, everyone's significant other and a few others that are like family to us.  Hannah and Ashley (pictured above) are not technically related, but they are as close to family as they can be.  Having them there for precious moments and sweet memories is a blessing and an honor.  I love that Nikki and Stephen (My Sister-In-Law and Brother who came up with this idea) included them in this bonding experience.  The other 4 pictured above are my Sisters-In-Law and Sisters, and with our sisterhood complete my heart could not be happier with our blend.  We challenge and defend each other and love so hard.  We are all emotional and cry a lot, and sometimes we just sit close and remember time is precious.

Gosh, I could talk about these women all day!  The Pyrex Picker Sisters is what we have dubbed ourselves, and the true joy this group brings is enough to carry me through a lot of tough days.  Love you girls!  More every day!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

A Season of Reading - Wild




The Amazon synopsis reads: "Wild is a powerful, blazingly honest memoir: the story of an 1100-mile solo hike that broke down a young woman reeling from catastrophe - and built her back up again.

At 22, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother's death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life: to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State - and to do it alone. She had no experience as a long-distance hiker, and the trail was little more than "an idea, vague and outlandish and full of promise." But it was a promise of piecing back together a life that had come undone.

Strayed faced down rattlesnakes and black bears, intense heat and record snowfalls, and both the beauty and loneliness of the trail. Told with great suspense and style, sparkling with warmth and humor, Wild vividly captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her."


This book was different than I anticipated.  When I read the description I kind of imagined it more as a learning "how to" on hiking long distances from a now expert and a nod to the perfection of nature and its provision for healing.  However, this was more of an experience with her along every step of her journey and her processing of her life and who she was and how she got to where she was.  She did not glorify her decisions, in fact, she often put down the way that she was.  However, I admired that we was unapologetically herself and that this hike was the way she chose to come to terms with some things about herself and who she had become.  We all have a story that shapes our steps and it was really intriguing to take a look into her's.

I don't know if I agree with the synopsis that she was healed through the journey, but I think as with anything you set out to do alone, she learned a lot about herself.  You really feel the miles with her and the sense of urgency when she has it.  You feel the rest when she gets to the posts along the way and while you know she will make it through, there is always this question of how.  I was inspired by her journey and it made me crave a solo adventure to find myself, even though my problems do not even begin to compare to hers.

A good friend summed it up like this, "Isn't it lovely to trod those miles with her?  To feel the sense of dread when there is too much snow to keep walking or when something breaks?  And accomplishment when she reaches the next stop?  I'd love to go on an adventure."  

Friday, January 9, 2015

Food I Ate Fridays - Sausage, Kale and Spaghetti Squash Boats

Sausage, Kale, and Spaghetti Squash Boats- this is such a soul satisfying dish! I make it every chance I get. So YUMMY!

Ingredients

1 medium spaghetti squash or 2 small spaghetti squash
1 1/2 lbs. Italian chicken sausage, casings removed (We got spicy)
1 yellow onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch kale
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
Salt and pepper
2 tbsp pine nuts, roasted (almonds worked just fine as well)
2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped


Directions

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Place squash in the microwave for 3-4 minutes to soften. Using a sharp knife cut the squash in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds and discard. Place the halves, with the cut side up, on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for 45-50 minutes, until you can poke the squash easily with a fork. Let cool until you can handle it safely.

Meanwhile, prepare the kale by removing the center stems and either tearing or cutting up the leaves. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and sauté for 4-5 minutes. Add the chicken sausage and break apart with a spatula to crumble. Cook for 10-12 minutes, stirring regularly, until the sausage is browned and cooked through. Add the kale and stir. Cook for a few minutes more to wilt the kale. Remove from heat and set aside.

Once cooled, scrape the insides of the spaghetti squash with a fork to shred the squash into strands. Transfer the strands into the skillet with the sausage and toss to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Divide the mixture among the squash shells, and then top with pine nuts and parsley to serve.



You guys... I love spaghetti squash.  My mom used to make it with just butter and salt and pepper and that was when my love started.  Squash is ending its season right now, but you can still find some if you want it bad enough :)  This turned out delicious and you should definitely give it a try.

Oh and always trying to give credit where it is due!  I found this recipe through Pintrest and it led me to this blog (which is also where I stole the picture from).  

Eat well my friends and have a lovely weekend!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

A 30th Birthday and a Surprise Vegas Trip

It feels surreal that I am even celebrating my close friends 30th birthdays, but Bill turns 30 in less than 2 months and his buddy James hit the big one in November.  Him and his lovely girlfriend and their sweet son (our godson) came into town for a visit and we surprised him with an overnight in Las Vegas!  I want to brag on James for a second, he is such a humble guy.  He always wants to bless everyone around him and would give his last dollar to make someone else more comfortable.  


In Vegas we ate, drank, played a little, walked a lot and went to a Cirque Du Soleil show at Treasure Island.  Even though it was a short trip, it felt sacred.  A lot of the time we spend together as a group feels that way.  It was just fun to be somewhere new experiencing it together and laughing and walking.  Sometimes all you need is good friends to make a trip memorable.


The entire time they were here felt fast and slow at the same time.  When we are with them time seems to slow down.  We love being around this family and spending time with their sweet boy.  Looking forward to a trip up North soon when we can hug them again :)