Thursday, April 17, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Easter 1995

Dear Em,
With Easter coming, I thought it would be fun to show you one of my photos with the Easter Bunny. This was circa 1995, & my brother, your uncle Jared, had been born just months earlier. So this was the very first Easter picture with all five of us siblings.

Yes, when I was in 8th grade, I still got to sit on the Easter Bunny's lap. I'm pretty sure I hated every second of it at the time, but now its kind of fun to look at a picture of me & all my siblings together for Easter. It's been a really long time since I've been able to be with my whole family for Easter.

Oh, you know your very best friend, S? Her mom & aunts were some of my best friends growing up too. My family was very close with her family. After we took our family photo, we took a group picture (so many years before either you or S were even a thought in our minds).

Which brings me to a TBT photo from last year, a picture of you & S with the Easter Bunny. How stinkin' fun is it that our families are still so close?!

I love you so,

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Wedding Shower Wednesday: The Newlywed Game

Dear Em,
There were two wicked fun games we played at your aunt Andrea's shower. The first was the Toilet Paper Bride Game. When we thought about a second game, we knew Wedding Shower Bingo was out. Since the Bride registered on HoneyFund, there would be no gifts to fill the Bingo sheet with (also, I feel like I play that game at every wedding shower ever). After doing a Google search, I found fun ideas for a Newlywed Game, & all the girls agreed it would be perfect.

Your uncle Lowell lives in Florida with your aunt Andrea. While he's been to RI to visit quite a few times, Andrea's friends & family haven't been able to get to know him like they would if he lived here. We thought including him in this game would be a fun way for everyone to get to know him & get to know them as a couple.

After looking for ideas online, I put together a list of questions for the game. First we asked Lowell to answer these questions about himself.

1) What is your favorite football team?
2) What is your favorite beverage?
3) Where did you & Andrea meet? What most attracted you about Andrea when you first met?
4) What is your favorite pizza (toppings & place)?
5) What person, character, or sound do you do your best impersonation of?
6) Andrea is a natural born…
7) What is your biggest pet peeve?
8) What is the cutest thing Andrea does without realizing it?
9) If you could live anywhere, where would it be?
10) How did you propose?
11) What is your middle name?
12) What did you want to be when you were a little kid? What do you do now?
13) What do you love about Andrea the most?
14) What was the name of your very first pet? How many pets do you have now? What kinds? Names?
15) What are you most excited about being married to Andrea?

Then we asked him to answer these questions about Andrea.

1) What is your favorite color?
2) What is your shoe size?
3) What is Lowell’s best feature?
4) What is your favorite restaurant?
5) Where was your first date?
6) Lowell is a natural born…
7) What is your biggest pet peeve?
8) What did you want to be when you were a little kid?
9) If you could live anywhere, where would it be?
10) What was your favorite vacation to take with Lowell? Where are you going for your honeymoon?
11) How many kids would you like to have?
12) What movie star are you most like?
13) Where did you first say “I Love You”? What do you love about Lowell the most?
14) What was the name of your very first pet?
15) What are you most excited about being married to Lowell? When is the wedding?

Then we printed the questions below and handed them to guests as they arrived. We asked everyone to fill out what they thought were the correct answers about the bride, the groom, & the couple.

How well do you know
The Happy Couple?
1) What is Andrea’s favorite color?
2) What is Andrea’s favorite restaurant?
3) What is Andrea’s shoe size?
4) What does she think is Lowell’s best feature?
5) What did she want to be when she was a little kid?

1) What is Lowell’s favorite football team?
2) What is Lowell’s favorite beverage?
3) What is Lowell’s middle name?
4) What did Lowell want to be when he was a little kid?
5) What does Lowell do for a living now?

1) Where did Andrea & Lowell meet?
2) Where was their first date?
3) Where were they when they first said “I love you?”
4) How did Lowell propose?
5) How many pets do Andrea & Lowell have (extra points if you can list what kind of pets they are & what their names are)?
6) What is the Andrea & Lowell’s wedding date?
7) Where are Andrea & Lowell going on their honeymoon?

Lowell had written answers to the questions on pieces of paper, took screen shots of him with the answers (he got really into it, there were props involved, & it was truly amazing), & sent them to us. We pre set-up Lowell's photo answers up on my iPad. We sat Andrea in the middle of the room with a dry erase board & marker. First Andrea answered the questions about Lowell on the dry erase board as her Maid of Honor held up Lowell's answers on the iPad. Then we asked Andrea the questions about herself, & her Maid of Honor showed us all what Lowell thought the answers were.

The plan was that the questions we asked the couple tied directly into the questions that the guests had filled out on the forms we passed out. The guests were supposed to tally whether they had answered the questions about the couple correctly as Andrea & Lowell's screen shots answered. Except- Lowell changed things up a little bit when he decided my questions were too easy. So, he threw in some really tough questions, like what is Lowell's blood type (which Andrea actually got right). While the questions no longer completely went along with the forms our guests filled out, Andrea was able to provide all of the answers at the end. Our guest with the most questions answered correctly won a prize.

I'm glad Lowell got to be there with us even though he wasn't actually there. It was super fun & kind of adorable.

I love you so,

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

First Visit to the Dentist

Dear Em,
You recently went to your first dentist appointment. Yes, I know that's typically supposed to happen at age three. We were a little bit behind.

Our visit started with XRays. They were amazed with how still you stayed & the way you did exactly what they asked. I wasn't all that surprised. You tend to listen to people who are not me, & you have lots of experience with doctor's appointments.

You got your teeth cleaned & the dentist checked out your mouth. You got to enjoy watching a movie in the ceiling the whole time. They asked us a bunch of questions, & if I had ever thought about fudging the answers slightly, it wouldn't have been possible. You answered quickly & honestly. The dentist gave you a "No Cavity Club" sticker & a token to use to get a prize. It was so stinkin' cute. What a fantastic way to encourage kids to take care of their teeth.

It certainly encouraged you. You've been reciting the dentist's instructions verbatim since we left. Somehow all the times we talked to you about the importance of brushing your teeth never sunk in, but now you've seen the light. You love to brush your teeth & use the special tool from the dentist to floss. You've also agreed to only drinking orange juice on the weekends as a treat, because the dentist told you juice isn't good for you teeth. Sigh. Can the dentist come live with us?

I love you so,

Monday, April 14, 2014

I'm a player not a maker.

Dear Em,
About a month ago, we got your hair cut for the second time in your life. The first time the hairdresser dried your hair, & you got to wear your hair down plain for the evening. This was actually a special treat. You almost never get to just wear it down. This time, she asked you if you wanted fancy hair. You agreed to braids, & she seamlessly french braided your hair.

I watched in awe as you didn't wiggle. You didn't squirm. You didn't say ouch, but every part of the braids were perfect. I explained that I has never learned how to french braid, & the hair dresser admitted it had taken a lot of practice. Since then you have been reminding me I need practice so I can learn as well. You told me that once you didn't know how to ride a bike, but you practiced & now you can.

"If you practice, you can learn to french braid just like I learn things. Bye Mom. I'm going to school, & while I'm at school you can practice french braiding my dolls' hair."

It would be the perfect plan, except, well, I have to work while you're at school. When you're not at school, you typically want attention from me. So, to your dismay I haven't been practicing at all.

"Mom, you need to practice french braiding," you urged. "Why don't you practice your french braiding, & then you can french braid my hair," I replied." You looked at me very simply. "I'm a player, not a maker. Well, I do make food. Just not hairstyles."

One night last week you were sitting in my lap reading me a book, & it felt like the perfect time to get a little practice in. I asked you if I could braid your hair while you read. You were so thrilled I might finally learn to french braid, you agreed. The first side wasn't too awful. It was a little bumpy & not quite tight, but not bad for a practice run.

I asked you if I could french braid the other side. You were not as excited but agreed. There was squirming. There were ouches.

"You told me you wanted me to practice," I said exasperated. "I told you to practice ON MY PRINCESS DOLL, not ME!!!!"

I might need more practice.

I love you so,

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Our House

Dear Em,
Next week will be five years since Daddy & I first became homeowners. It's kinda crazy. In some ways, I feel like we've been here forever. In other ways, I feel like five years has flown by.

Our house has changed pretty drastically since the day we first unlocked the doors with our own set of keys. The original home owners clearly loved the color green. Everything in our house used to be green: the counters, the floors, the shutters, the walls. While some of the green still remains (we're really hoping to renovate the kitchen in the next three years), in the first year we painted every room of the house & put in new rugs upstairs. We held a little painting party with free food & beverages & were so fortunate to have the best family & friends come out to help. We still owe them big!

So, for this throwback Thursday I thought it would be fun to post some throwback pictures of the house & the painting party from the first weekend we lived here. Our house, circa 2009...

This is what the living room/dining area looked like (dining area now).

When I look at old pictures of our kitchen, it amazes me what a big change a little white paint on the cabinets can make (this is pretty much what it looks like now).

Though this bathroom seems small & dreary, Daddy & I were beyond excited to have two bathrooms! One for him & one for me. Ha!

Our entryway was green...just like everything else (entryway now).

Here's our lovely family room (family room now). Mustard anyone?

Your bedroom was once referred to as the blue room (your bedroom now). It's kinda funny, because there's no way you'd let me paint your room that color blue now...and who would want to?

While we didn't know we were pregnant yet, we labled one room as the future nursery (the nursery after). Your aunt Andrea & I fought over whether or not to keep the princess castle that was painted on one of the walls. She wanted it. I said it had to go. I won (although, in her defense, you probably would have loved it).

I do not miss the green rugs in our bedroom.

I feel like our bathroom was a very sad little bathroom before we painted it red, put up some art, painted the vanity, & put in a new medicine cabinet.

When I look at the pictures of the bare green walls from five years ago, I'm amazed at the personality our little house has now. I'm so truly thankful to all those who have helped to make our house a home over the last five years. Not just for the help with the painting & projects & pictures on the walls (& we've been so blessed for all the help we've received), but for filling our house with laughter & celebrations & fun & precious moments & amazing memories. 

I'm especially thankful for you, who has given me inspiration I never couldn't have imagined & brought more character into our home than I thought possible.

I love you so,

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Wedding Shower Wednesday: Toilet Paper Bride Game

Dear Em,
I have to admit, sometimes I'm jealous of your Daddy. Guys don't really have to go to showers (but they really should take showers). They don't have to pick out the perfect wedding shower or baby shower gift. They don't have to wrap it up. They don't have to go to a breakfast or a brunch or a lunch where they don't know most people just to watch someone open presents...forever. For the most part, showers are not my favorite. I had a hard time at my own showers (though I'm so incredibly thankful for them). It was hard sitting in the center of everyone- with everyone watching me- while I opened gifts for an hour. There's pressure to show the right amount of enthusiasm & gratitude while opening things- things like towels & bed sheets. I remembered feeling flushed & stressed & exhausted.

So, when your aunt Andrea decided that she would register on Honeyfund & forgo opening gifts at her shower, I thought that was the best idea ever. It also meant that an hour (or two) of her shower wouldn't be filled up with gift opening. So, as bridesmaids, we were tasked with thinking of fun activities to fill her shower with. While the photo booth became one fun activity for the guests, we also wanted to plan a couple games. One game that I knew of but had never actually seen at any of the showers I had gone to was the Toilet Paper Wedding Dress Game.

It was super simple to set up. We gave each table of ladies 3 rolls of toilet paper & asked them to choose one bride. The table had to work together designing & creating a toilet paper wedding dress for the bride in 10 minutes.

At the end of the 10 minutes we asked the "brides" to assemble in the middle of the room. We looked at them all together. I feel like we had some professional toilet paper wedding dress makers in our midst. There were toilet paper bouquets, braided belts, intricate headpieces. It was actually pretty amazing (especially since our bride mostly looked like a mummy).

So that we could all get a good look at their extravagant ($1.50) couture gowns, one by one, they runway modeled their "dresses."

There was laughter- so much laughter, but in the end, the real Bride-to-Be chose a winner.

I loved this game. Who knew toilet paper could be so much fun?

I love you so,

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

30 Days of Gluten Free (Almost)

Dear Em,
I've been exhausted...for longer than I can remember. While it's normal for me to feel tired in the middle of winter, when I think about it, I felt exhausted all last summer too. So when I was chatting with a friend about how great she felt after going gluten free, it intrigued me. At first I had the same reaction to her as I have to everyone else I've ever talked to about going gluten free: you're crazy. Bread is my very favorite food. I couldn't imagine a world without it.

Then I started reading a little about wheat & how your body processes it. I talked to some of my friends who had gone gluten free. I asked my facebook friends for information about going gluten free. Two of my friends raved about how much more energy they had, how much healthier they felt, & how they had lost some weight too. 

I surprised myself when I decided to try it. I figure while it might be really hard to completely change my life forever, I could certainly try something for 30 days. I told your Daddy I was going to try going gluten free for 30 days. He had kind of seen it coming with all the research I had been doing. I had not planned on asking you or Daddy to go gluten free. There was no need to change everyone's lifestyles for something I was just trying out. You have a very short list of foods you will actually eat, & probably half of them involve gluten. I knew from the beginning that Daddy would not be giving up beer (especially since he was going to a bachelor party in Las Vegas), but I was surprised when he said he would try to give up food products that had gluten in them with me. 

Our 30 Gluten Free challenge actually started the week before. We spent that week cleaning the gluten products out of our house (by eating...a lot). We basically binged on gluten & researched about going gluten free. I was surprised to realize that there was gluten in almost every single meal we eat. 

Things I learned to avoid:
- Wheat, Rye, Barley
- Most flours (so also think cookies, cakes, pies, crackers, etc)
- Beer
- Pasta
- Soy Sauce (& many sauces & dressings that include soy sauce)
- Seasoned rice mixes
- Processed lunch meats
- Pre-shredded cheeses

We stared buying gluten free products (Chex instead of Cheerios, popcorn instead of some of our typical snacks) so we didn't start the process with nothing to eat in our home. Basically, I just started looking at the labeling information to see if wheat or gluten or soy sauce was included in the ingredients. Often times, the packaging said "may contain gluten" underneath the listed ingredients. My favorite are the packages that say "Gluten Free" right up front. In general, I looked at non-processed proteins & adding more fresh vegetable options. I found & bookmarked tons of gluten free recipes in a gluten free folder on my phone.

My main hopes for this challenge were that by giving up gluten I would have more energy and feel healthier overall. While I certainly wouldn't be upset about experiencing some weight loss, that wasn't really my goal for this 30 day trial.

And so it began...

- Day 1: Breakfast was no problem. We just replaced out regular cereals with gluten free options (mostly Chex, & you & Daddy love honey nut Chex). A quick lunch was going to take a little more prep. We could no longer slap some ingredients between bread. I sliced some fruit & mixed it in with yogurt. No wonder some people lose weight when they go gluten free! Most options are more fresh & less processed. It seems like dinner was going to be more about protein & veggies. We made chicken (with this chipotle & lime marinade), sweet potato fries, & green beans. Overall, I didn't feel like I missed out at all. My food was really yummy, it just took a little more prep time than what was typical for me.

- Day 2: More energy has not kicked in yet, but it's really too soon to see a difference & probably has something to do with the daylight savings time change. When I got home, I wanted to curl into the fetal position & sleep forever. 

- Day 3: We had grandma & Papa over for dinner. Good thing you can make gluten free tacos. It was a yummy choice that made everyone happy. 

- Day 4: I had a dream that I was in my college dining hall & couldn't find gluten free items that weren't lettuce. Gluten on the mind maybe? I'm glad that there are good snacking options. We pretty much have every type of popcorn snack (good thing I love popcorn) & really yummy Riceworks snacks. 

- Day 5: While finding non-gluten friendly things to eat at home is easy, eating out is sometimes tougher. Case in point: I was at an all day work meeting & the buffet lunch options were all sandwiches. Luckily, one sandwich was filled with veggies. I dumped them out of the wrap & hoped whatever marinade they used didn't have gluten. I've found already that there are places that make it easy to be gluten free. Mystic's S&P Oyster Company had the most amazing gluten free menu. How could you miss gluten filled options when you have lobster & avocado salad as an appetizer & bouillabaibasse as an entre?

- Day 6: I have to say, one of the toughest challenges was not to eat a few spoonfuls of the Mac & Cheese I made you tonight. There were leftovers, & they call to me whenever I open the fridge. I love Mac & Cheese. 

- Day 7: As a Mommy, I feel like I used to finish your leftover food without even really realizing it. This lifestyle is causing me to finish your leftovers less & snack less on your snacks as I'm packing your food. I think that's good. 

- Day 8: I'm starting to get sick of iceberg lettuce with chicken being the only gluten free option some restaurants have.

- Day 9: I made eggs today & wicked missed having toast to soak all the yolky yumminess up. For the most part, I feel great, but sometimes when I think about it, I do miss bread.

- Day 10: Before going gluten free, one of the saddest things I thought I was going to have to do was to break up with Panera Bread. I love Panera Bread, & I go pretty often for work. Wasn't I pleasantly surprised to find out there is a secret Panera Bread menu (which doesn't seem all that secret because it's listed online).

-Day 11: Oh-Em-Gee! There's a gluten free section in Walmart...that's right, Walmart. Just picked up some flour, pasta, corn bread mix, bread crumbs & granola. I feel like there is truly nothing you can't make! I'm not really looking to use them all the time, just to supplement in some of the recipes, & it helps to know it won't be crazy expensive to do that.

- Day 12: Daddy has stopped trying the gluten free challenge (an extended weekend in Vegas was pretty much the end of gluten free for him), but he still loves that I'm doing it because it turned me into his "little cook." Not that I didn't cook in the past, but I mostly cooked the same 5 meals or something quick I could find out of a box. While gluten free meals I've made are just as yummy (OK, some are way yummier), they require a little more planning because the ingredients aren't prepackaged & they are fresh. I made beef & broccoli over rice tonight (using coconut aminos instead of soy sauce). It was wicked yummy & made with fresh ingredients. I cooked the beef & broccoli without the seasoning for you so that you would eat the same dinner as us.

- Day 14: You & I made gluten free corn bread today. It was pretty good actually. I'm now two weeks in & I have to say energy wise, I am feeling a difference. Today we baked up a storm, went outside to ride bikes, did a 30 minute work-out, made dinner, & went to a basketball game. I made it through the whole day without feeling like I was going to die or without needing to curl into a ball & hibernate for a while. I'm really loving how I've been feeling. I'm surprising even myself to say that going gluten free hasn't been bad at all so far, & I'm feeling so great that this may just be more than a 30 day thing. However, I told your daddy that I don't think I could do it forever without having a cheat day each month. Warmer temps are getting me thinking about summer & there's no way I'm giving up clam cakes & fish & chips at the wall.

- Day 15: Daddy made me eggs for breakfast today. I shredded some potato, & he cooked me homemade hashbrowns. The hash browns were perfect for soaking up my runny yolk. Everything is right in the world again. We also made black bean quinoa salad for lunch. You didn't much like it much, but I thought it was super yummy (especially cold). I substituted edamame instead of lima beans, & at least you ate the edamame & black beans separately.

- Day 17: This is kind of a DUH moment, but I realized that just because it's gluten free doesn't mean it's healthy. Cape cod potato chips= gluten free. I read an article about how many gluten free substitutes (pasta, bread, granola) have more fat, sodium, & sugar than the gluten filled products (in order to make them edible). I'm glad that my journey hasn't been about eating what I've always eaten & using a lot of processed substitutes. It's been more about finding fresh foods.

- Day 18: These carnitas are crazy yummy & fairly easy to make (although, really Daddy made them). While Daddy ate his with flour tortillas, I ate mine without & topped it with spinach, tomatoes, guacamole, sliced tomatoes, & some crumpled up tortilla chips. Amazing.

- Day 19: A lot of restaurants have gluten free menus that I didn't know about previously. This is helpful, because I eat out for work a lot. Davenports has lots of options (the gluten free retro burger is not too bad). UNOs also has a lot of choices. I tried my first gluten free pizza (not too bad), & the cobb salad is amazing.

- Day 20: I found sweet & spicy black bean hummus & edamame hummus at BJs & I am in love.

- Day 21: I went out for Thai food with my best friend. I'm so glad there are so many gluten free Thai options, & Thai food is not something I have to give up...not even nime chow.

- Day 26: I found a yummy gluten free pork chop & veggie recipe our whole family enjoyed (well, mostly you tolerated it).

- Day 27: The Mews has little gluten free symbols next to it's gluten free food options. While the meals don't include ingredients with gluten, they did stress that there is chance of cross contamination. Also, most of the gluten free choices seem to be appetizers & salads (I had nachos & buffalo chicken dip with chips). Still, it's nice to have options at one of my very favorite restaurants.

- Day 28: I caved & had a gluten cheat night. I was at a bachelorette party with very few gluten free options (it was a pot luck). I either had to choose whether to stay gluten free or get something substantial to eat before having some party drinks. I figured it was healthier for me to get something substantial to eat. Plus, the bacon ranch pasta & taquitos looked soooooo yummy.

- Day 29: My hands are swollen & stomach feels bloated (probably not noticeable to anyone other than me). My stomach was also upset for 2 days. Sure, it could maybe be chalked up to a weekend of bachelorette party shenanigans, but I think there's something to the fact I haven't felt like this after a night out since I went gluten free.

- Day 30: I did it...well almost. I started this challenge thinking I would hate it & ended up surprised at how little I felt like I missed out. Do I look longingly at the french baguettes at Panera Bread sometimes? Absolutely. But overall, the food I ate was great & more importantly, I feel great. I feel less bloated & I have more energy. Your Daddy is happy, because I've started to cook actual food rather than just making pasta out of a box & putting store bought pasta sauce on top. I don't think you ever saw a difference, except now I think there might be a few more vegetables that you will eat. So, I think I'm going to take this challenge past the 30 days & keep it up. I still don't know if this is going to be a forever life changer, but it's something I'm going to keep going with for now. There will for sure be some cheat days here & there, but overall I'm looking forward to more healthy days & more energy days.

I love you so,
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