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Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Wedding Adventures: Bridal Party Craziness

I have to say I'm exhausted.  It's been a busy couple of months of activities: all leading up to one of my besties weddings.
Grace, one of my best friends from 7th grade, tied the knot with her long term sweetheart this past weekend.  It was such a lovely day with beautiful people and happy tears and general hilarity.
I added the finishing flower touches to this beautiful etsy sign

It was a long weekend of crazy antics and I'm so glad that I was part of it. 

Back in August, we started the celebrations with her bachelorette getaway in the Hamptons.  We went wine tasting and then to the beach.  We had a lot of fun bonding and being silly.  Nothing too crazy.
Later in August, we had a cupcake celebration for her bridal shower too.  We had a ton of fun at Sprinkles Cupcake in Manhattan, decorating cupcakes and eating them in celebration.  We made toilette paper dresses too.

Two weekends ago, Sam (one of the other bridesmaids) and I helped with favors and tried to keep the bride from going nuts.  The last two weeks are the hardest with so much going on it's hard to keep track. I went with her for her hair appointment and kept her laughing.

I made her hairpiece

This weekend was hard work.  It took a lot of crazy logistics for both the bride and groom and a lot of coordination with the bridal party.
There was last minute decorating of signs and the emergency construction of hair pieces (glad I'm crafty).   There were crazy dress changes and lots of running around.  There was joy and tipsy photos and love.

The beautiful bride prepping

The three craziest/most awesome bridesmaids

We started getting ready at 8:30 in the morning and the party kept going till midnight.
our beautiful bouquets
Grace's photoshoot
Will's photoshoot

Such a beautiful bride!!

sneaking a peak at the first look!

The beautiful couple

The bride and her mom and dad

It was perfect and beautiful and I think the bride and groom really enjoyed themselves.  I know the rest of us did too.
Cutting the cake
I was so happy to be a part of Grace and Will's big day and that I could help even in little ways.

One more friend is married.  It's crazy how time flies.  Andrea got married last April, I got married this April and now Grace has tied the knot too.  Time ticks forward and we have so many more adventures ahead of us all.

And now I think we all need a week to relax.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Adventures in Adulting: Long shopping trips and Organization

So on Saturday, I convinced Baros to take a long walk down to the shopping center with me.  It was about an hour walk  but it was a beautiful day and we needed some supplies.

I had 3 goals in mind when we set out, 2 necessary and 1 optional.
  1. Get a shelf to put above the fridge to create some kind of organization for the piles that live up there. 
  2. Get a shelving unit to put in our bedroom for sheets, towels and other clothing items that have no home. 
  3. Go to Michael's and get craft supplies for 2 or 3 projects.  Both are currently surprises sooooo you'll just have to wait to see the final products. I'm excited to get some crafting in.  
I am very pleased to say that after 4 stores we got everything we needed and then some.  
Beautiful silicon tongs

First stop was Home Goods.  We didn't find the shelving that we needed but we did find some tongs
which are covered in silicone so we don't scratch our new nonstick pans. I love those pans and don't want them ruined so it was definitely a good thing we found some non-metal tongs.  

Next Stop was Michael's... which is always an adventure with me.  I want EVERYTHING in there. But I stopped myself from looking at everything.  Since I had specific projects in mind, we honed in on those projects and Baros helped me figure out a cool way to execute them. Being creative with him is wonderful because he's great at bouncing back ideas and adding to them.  He never makes me feel like my ideas are crazy even when my plans are slightly outlandish.  Instead, he helps me figure out the best way to get things done and brainstorms with me. 

Then we popped into Bed, Bath and Beyond where we found the shelf for above the refrigerator.  Actually, it's built to go under the kitchen sink but we decided to adapt it to our needs.  When we got home, Baros put it together and then I organized all of our supplies.  It looks so much better.  I wish I had thought to take a before picture but rest assure, it was soooo messy.  Everything currently living on the shelf was living piled up. There were things we didn't even know we had up there, including a bag of seaweed packets that had expired.... Out of sight, out of mind. It's a lot of the reason I wanted a shelf up there.  I was worried about what else might expire, like fruits or veggies.  With this we can see everything up there!!  Everything has a neat place to live.  At some point I'll tackle the actual cabinets and see if I can organize them better too.   But this was a great start.  
Look at how neat everything is... It was just one pile of nonsense before

At this point we took a food break because we'd been walking and shopping for hours.  We almost went home instead but we decided to get the last item checked off. No need to wait and put off the organization any longer. 
Semi-filled with sheets and towels... still needs to be organized

We ran into Target with one major item in mind: drawers to put our sheets and towels (which just
kind of lived wherever we could fit them until now).  Of course, I immediately got distracted and picked up a shirt (I put it back right before leaving... this was not a clothing mission after all!) 
It was surprisingly difficult to find the right plastic drawers.  In Bed, Bath and Beyond, we found an option but it would have cost around $80 to execute and we weren't willing to spend that much on plastic.  Finally in Target we found a drawer set, also in plastic, big enough for all of our stuff, but still small enough that it wouldn't eat up the room and it was about half what we would have spent in Bed, Bath and Beyond. I'm still not the biggest fan of the plastic but it'll have to do for the moment (at least for the next few years until we move and then we'll see how it holds up).
Still looking a mess... but that's next on the program
Our beautiful hamper
It opens so beautifully
Then we also bought one extra item that probably wasn't 100% necessary.  
We found a beautiful wicker hamper that we couldn't resist.  Until now, we've been using a collapsible hamper that's been breaking for a while now.  We've been meaning to replace it, but, you know, life got in the way. We were originally going to just get another collapsible one for convenience but all of them were tiny.  The wicker one was more than we were thinking of spending, but it's so pretty and also beautifully made. It has two removable bags so we can separate our laundry right away by lights and darks and I can carry one while Baros can carry the other.   Alternatively, We can do one bag and leave the other to fill up! And we won't have to drag everything downstairs to the basement.  
Those were our two big purchases. Other than that I just got my conditioner and hair color.  
We spent a lot of money on our shopping run but it was well worth it to organize our tiny apartment better.  
As soon as we got home, we set everything up and did our laundry (which should have been done earlier in the week... but whatever it's done now). I feel very accomplished.  Look at all this adulting!!  Our space is really starting to come together after over a year of living here!  

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Adventures in Reading: Once Upon a River

Everyone who knows me, knows that I love to read.  I love to escape into a world of fiction and immerse myself in the folds of each page.  When I read books, I travel and live another life and experience another world. There are real worlds and fantasy worlds that sometimes seem more real than the one we live in. There are uplifting stories and sad ones that break your heart a piece at a time.  In every book, there is a choice to escape.

I'm sure if my high school friends and acquaintances had only one memory of me they would remember me with my nose in a book.
I read while walking in the hallways, and while learning in classrooms during class... I went through so many books from middle school to high school.  
In college, I was still a bookworm, but I had to switch gears slightly.  Instead of devouring fantasy, mystery and romance novels I had to shift over to academic reading.  I absorbed psychology, literature in English, Italian and Spanish and my other academic reading on a regular basis.  When there was time, I'd read "fun" books.  
Since college/my masters finished ages ago, I have gone through phases of being a bookworm.  Some years I've read practically nothing while others I have read everything and anything I could get my hands on.  
A couple of years ago, I managed to read 102 books in one year.  They varied from children's fiction to psychology, studies of the brain and genetics. It was a good year for reading.  
Since then, my attention has waned and I've struggled to read more than a handful of books a year.  I use Goodreads to keep track of all the books I've read and to set goals for myself but sadly I'm behind again.  I had set a goal of 30 books in January, but in July I realized I was so behind that I changed it to 25. I'm behind again.  
I've read 12 books and I'm 4 books behind schedule.  
I blame it on sleep.  I keep falling asleep on the train instead of reading.   I've been so tired on my commute since I average 5-6 hours of sleep a night. Hopefully, as the weather turns colder, I can make up the 4 books and hit my goal!

However, in the past few weeks I've been falling asleep less and less.  The book I've been reading just keeps getting better and better.    
I've been reading a beautiful book that I won in a Goodreads Giveaway (the first and only I've ever won... so far) and as I was getting to the end even my exhaustion couldn't stop me from devouring the pages one by one.  

I've been reading Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield.
My loved and used copy of Once Upon a River

Even from the first page of the book, I knew I would be absorbed by it totally and completely.

The writing is beautiful, lyrical but not so descriptive that the eye wanders.  When I've read books like The Lord of the Rings the focus and attention to minute details has always driven me to distraction. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy those books too, I just find them harder to focus on.

Once Upon a River is all story. It is beautiful prose and lyrical writing that is plot driven. Because of the way the tale is woven I find it hard to give a brief synopsis but I'll try. 

In this book, there are many stories and folklore connected by a single event: the appearance of a little girl who appears dead when found, but actually is not.  Who is she? Who does she belong to? Is she Amelia, Alice or Ann? How did she appear? Why? How was she actually alive when she should have been dead with no pulse? Whose secrets will reveal the truth?

It's a mystery that I needed to know the ending to.  The more you learn, the more you want to know.

Bookmarks and chapters... Don't read ahead!!
The pace at the beginning of the novel moved steadily, slowly giving information about each character, tying them inextricably together.  There are the people at the Swan (owners and patrons all telling stories), Daunt, the nurse Rita, the Vaughans, the Armstrongs and countless others affected by this singular event.   But it doesn't feel like too many characters.  Every line, every character is connected in an intricate web that the author somehow makes easy to follow.  I was never lost in the story telling.  I never questioned who was doing what or what.  It was so clearly and beautifully written.

The mystery itself leads to guessing, but I can definitely say I was left surprised quite often.

By the end of the book, the pace moves even more swiftly bringing closure to one loose end after another.  There is sadness and happiness and just enough mystery left to question.

I won't give anything away, but I strongly recommend reading this book. It is an ode to story telling and story tellers alike.  I loved it and Diane Setterfield has become one of my favorite authors.  

I won't give anything away, but I strongly recommend reading this book. I loved it and Diane Setterfield has become one of my favorite authors.  
I loved her book The Thirteenth Tale which is a gothic style mystery also quite story driven with beautiful language.  

Next up: A Simple Favor...
And Others

Shall we begin?

Monday, September 10, 2018

Adventures in Cooking: Sunday Edition

Baros and I had a slow morning and then a busy day.  We woke up late and then the errands began.

Our adventures started with walking over to breakfast and then heading over to do our weekly grocery shopping in the rain.  By the time we got home, we were tired again thanks to the new chilly air and rainy day vibes (mind you, I love chilly air!  I'm always excited for fall.  But chilly air and rain make errands far less pleasant).  Once we got home, we put away all of our purchases, rested for a half hour (I was also having some major lower back pain and laying down was the only relief) and then Baros helped me dye my hair... ok, in reality, he dyed my hair for me. BEST HUSBAND EVER!  While my hair was processing, I vacummed and tidied and Baros started prepping dinner.

In the meantime, I showered and started prepping our slow cooker for our weekly meal, Creamy tomato soup. 

After that, we braved the weather for one more run to the store since we'd forgotten to get some important cleaning supplies. 

When we got home, we threw the fish in the oven and feasted! 
Yummy salmon with lemon, dill and hot peppers
It's our favorite easy way to prep salmon.  We bake it with lemon and dill.  Usually, we add asparagus but we kept it even more simple this time.  It was perfect. 

Now, I'll go back to our slow cooker prep.  I'm in love with our slow cooker because it makes life so much easier.  Last week we made turkey chilli that lasted from Monday until Saturday.  It fed Baros and I for the full week.  We threw in a couple of other things for variety.  But the slow cooker saved us from having to cook everyday. 

So this week, especially with the cooler weather rolling in and the rain staying for a visit, we decided to make Creamy Tomato Soup.  I've never made it before so I decided to follow/manipulate a recipe from SlowCooker Revolution Our Test Kitchen: 30 Slow Cookers. 200 Amazing Recipes.
I really enjoy the recipes from the book so far.  Most are pretty simple to follow and when they're not they still give great ideas for flavor profiles. Some of the recipes call for a lot of ingredients that we aren't super accessible in our local grocery store so we have to take a trip to the HMart soon.  I think we've tried 3 or 4 of the recipes so far but with the fall coming, we'll be trying more. 
It's a great beginner's cookbook and takes you step by step through the recipes. 
It also gives some great tips for general cooking. 

Creamy Tomato Soup (my adaptation of the books recipe... partially because I read it wrong 😜)
2 tbs unsalted butter
3 (14.5 oz) cans diced tomatoes
5 small Serrano peppers, diced (we love spicy, it was necessary)
1 onion, minced
2 tbs brown sugar
Serrano peppers 
1 small can tomato paste
Salt and pepper
2 tbs all purpose flour
5 cups chicken broth
5 bay leaves
1 cup heavy cream
Rosemary to taste

I always have fun adapting recipes.  In this case, I wanted to add some spice with the Serrano peppers. I decided to add a little more cream and some extra tomato paste to make it extra rich. And I used more chicken broth to make it last a little longer. In retrospect, I could have also added another can of diced tomatoes.
Browning the onions with brown sugar

The other changes I made had a lot to do with a simple reading error.  I was supposed to drain the diced tomatoes but I missed that step.

So when I sautéed the onions in the butter with the brown sugar, I added the cans of tomatoes sans draining.  I was trying to cook off the liquid but since I didn't drain them, there was more liquid than necessary. The drained tomato liquid was supposed to go straight into the slow cooker... Instead, I wound up cooking off more tomato than necessary.  I also wasn't able to brown the tomato the way the recipe wanted.

That being said, I managed to work it out and infuse some flavor by cooking down the tomatoes.

I put 3/4 of the mixture straight into the crock pot.  The other 1/4 I turned into a rue after browning it lightly and then adding the flour.  Once it cooked for about a minute or so I added in about 2 cups of the chicken broth and let that simmer until it thickened.
I then added everything to the crock pot, the remaining tomato mixture,  the bay leaves and the rest of the chicken stock and let it cook for 4 1/2 hours.
Then we pureed the mixture and added in the heavy cream, pepper, rosemary, and a little more salt.

NOTE: Don't forget to take out your bay leaves!! We kind of forgot about them and had to blend extra.

Hubby blending for me :) 
I topped it with shredded cheese for a melty twist

Then portions for the week.   And voila all done!!

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Adventures Down the Shore: Sunset and the Waves

After barbecuing, we headed over to the boardwalk for a walk down the beach. We needed to
continue Burak's birthday fun.

Your birthday comes once a year and this is his first birthday spent in the US so we wanted to make sure he really enjoyed himself.
So as the sun was just starting to set we arrived at the beach with perfect light: the golden hour.  After 5, you don't have to pay to get on most beaches so for a walk it's a wonderful time.
It's quiet with fewer people. Just you and the birds and the waves (and the couple of hold out families that aren't ready to leave yet)
As a warning, the reason the beach is free at this hour is there are NO LIFEGUARDS. If you are not a strong swimmer, DO NOT SWIM. DO NOT LET YOUR KIDS SWIM at this hour.  The tides are strong, often stronger than they look and there may be invisible undercurrents (RIPTIDES) so don't take the risk if you're alone or if you have children.  I repeat DO NOT SWIM ALONE.  You take your life into your own hands and there have been several drownings after hours this year alone.
Ready for a little swim
The brothers reunited

We chose to swim since Baros and Burak were actually fish in another lifetime and I'm a pretty strong
swimmer too so we took the risk since the tide and current weren't completely crazy.  I would never have swum alone, but I felt secure in their swimming ability so I ventured in with my boys. I didn't swim out as far as them, but I'm not a natural born fish and I didn't want my mom to panic while watching us.

We left Mom on the shoreline by the lifeguard chair so she could take some selfies and then take some pictures of us being silly in the water.
We had so much fun splashing around.
Ridiculous jumping about

The boys even got some serious swimming in.
Then we jumped and floated and rode the waves in and out with the tide.
I can't think of a better way to end a day.

Add caption

Baros splish splashing

Afterwards we walked a little more. The plan had been to go over to Ocean Grove and then walk toAsbury Park but we couldn't find parking so we went home and cleaned up.  By the time we were done we were exhausted so we just got some drinks and watched some shows at home.  All of us crashed in the best way possible; bodies and mind tired and replaying the activities of the day.

A gorgeous sunset

And the moon rising
We slept early and got up early the next day to take the train back home.  We probably would've stayed for longer but I had to make it to my friend's bridal shower. So I went from the shore to NYC and the boys went home to do some shopping before heading into the city to meet me and some other friends for dinner and drinks to further celebrate Burak's birthday!

Check out this post and this one to see our other birthday celebrations with Burak.