Saturday, February 22, 2020

Annual Holiday Party 2019

Winter was a whirlwind! Only a few days after I got back from my short trip to England we hosted our annual holiday party. This has become such a fun tradition that I look forward to each year. 

We try to make this as easy as possible, but you know Dan and me. We sometimes go over the top with food and decorations. Still, we limit the food to mostly Trader Joe's goodies and use decorations we keep from year-to-year. I think they skew a little Christmas-y, but, they sure are pretty.

Not pictured, the rest of the house full of food and drinks!

The best part of the evening, other than the company of course, is the white elephant exchange. A white elephant, also called a Yankee swap, is where everyone brings a gift and you pull numbers to determine in which order you select a gift. Gifts can be stolen and re-stolen, leading to a fun, but controlled chaos. 

We ask our guests to bring a silly gift under $15. Dan is one of the best gift-bringers, and each year he outdoes himself. I still wear the personalized socks he had made with his face on them--hilarious to open when no one was expecting it. 

This year he had a custom pillow made with his sleeping face on it. It is equal parts horrifying and adorable. It made it's way to our friends' children's bed. Not sure if that's a good thing, or future cause for therapy. 

Other great gifts this year included the horse head mask (pictured on me, above), the full-sleeve super realistic fake tattoos, and a couple of chia pets. 

I'm so lucky to have an amazing group of friends to share these memories with. Until next year!

Monday, February 10, 2020

A Quick Trip Across the Pond

Late last year I had an incredible opportunity to attend a leadership training at my company's headquarters in London. It was a very intense boot camp where I learned a ton and slept very little. As a reward to myself, I decide to add a couple of days to my trip and make a quick hop to Harrogate. It was exactly what I needed!

I was in London from Monday through early Friday morning, but didn't leave the hotel once my training started on Tuesday. I made do with what little time I had in the city by visiting the British Museum. I hadn't been here in years, but it's as incredible as I remembered. I downloaded an audio tour from Rick Steves and it was perfect.

I took an early train to Harrogate on Friday and was in town in time for lunch. My friend Vicky met me at the station and we went to...Betty's of course!

I love Betty's any time of year, but around the holidays it is especially charming. The window displays alone are worth the trip.

Friday night I was able to see Lena, Vicky and Kristiina to celebrate Beth's birthday! We went to a new (to me, at least) Japanese restaurant and had a blast.The food was really good and the company was even better. I love that whenever I come back to Harrogate, it's as if no time has passed at all. These women are definitely friends for life.

I only had one full day in town, but I made sure to see the rest of my crew. Kristiina and I got to hang out with Jose and her family in her gorgeous house. I loved playing with the kids and chilling with a cup of tea.

We had a great lunch with Becky at the Old Bell Tavern, but I only got a picture of my fish and chips and not my friend. Nevertheless, it was amazing seeing her, as always. It was especially fun celebrating some good news together. Also, she just started a blog that is really good, and very professional! I don't know where she has the time or energy, but go check it out!

I managed to squeeze one more visit to Betty's in with Lena, Steve, Beth, and her kids! It was such a treat to get this extra time with them. Steve is one of my favorite people and I was glad to be able to see him on such a short trip. I can't wait until they come and visit me in the States...right, Lena?! 

Then, despite the fact that neither of us had our kids with us, Kristiina and I decided to have a girl's night and watch Frozen II. It was an excellent decision. I really loved the movie, and it was made even more special because I saw the first Frozen with Kristiina and our tiny babies when I lived in Harrogate. Crazy how much has changed.

It was the shortest, but sweetest trip. I'm so grateful to all my yoga mummies--especially Kristiina who played an excellent host. I hope to see you all again soon! 

Click here to see some more of my visits to Betty's.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Thoughts by Asher: First Edition

This is such a fun age! Asher has so many creative, hilarious ideas and I want to make sure I don't forget them. I love hearing how he thinks and seeing the world in a new light. Here are a few recent examples.

Thought 1:
Asher giving me a kiss
A:I kissed you! Now we're married!

Thought 2:
Asher: Are you old?
Me: A little
Asher: Are you going to die? When you get old, you die.

Thought 3:
Asher: Does Giant (a local grocery store) sell babies? No? Which store sells babies?

And to see his equally insightful and hilarious sister, click here.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Life Updates

I know we're already well into winter, but we had a really busy fall. Here are a few of the highlights:

Zahara's New School
This year we moved Zahara to a new school. Her last school was tiny--only three kids in her kindergarten class! And, while we loved a lot of aspects of that school, we thought Zahara might do better in a bigger environment where she could practice social etiquette and have more structure and stability. So far, we were right. She is absolutely thriving there. We feel so supported and amazed at watching her progress.

Starting a New Job
This fall I left my last job where I was for the past four years. I'm really excited about my new company and the opportunities I've been afforded. It's really challenging, but I know I'm up to the challenge. I've only been there five months, so I'm still in that awkward point in a new job where I love it, but am scared of how different it is and how much hard work is ahead of me. One of my colleagues, Mina Seetharaman wrote a piece that describes exactly how I feel now. It's definitely worth a read.

Broken Wrist and Elbow
You might have noticed in the picture above that I'm wearing a sling. The week before I started my new job I was painting our bedroom (more info on that soon), and I fell off the ladder. I was only on the second to last step, but I fell in such an awkward way that I managed to break both my wrist and my elbow. And, in a case of when it rains it pours, that morning before the fall, I had left both of my phones on top of my car and then drove off, meaning I had no phones! Luckily, I was able to call Dan from Skype on my computer and asked him to come home. Long story short, I was in a cast for three weeks, then had a surgery to repair the wrist, then physical therapy for three months. It was a rough time, and I'm so thankful for all the help I got from my family, my friends, and my religious community. Since I couldn't even dress myself, I gratefully and humbly accepted all the help I could get.

Bedroom Updates
There have been lots of updates in the bedroom, including new paint (see above for the less fortunate outcome of that project), new bed frame, new nightstands, new lamps, and new art. It's looking SO GOOD! I'd still like to add a seating area and some more art for the long wall, but I'm really happy with the direction so far.

11th Anniversary
Dan and I celebrated our eleventh anniversary this fall. It was a much more low-key event than last year's trip to Peru(!), but we still had a good time. We went to dinner and drinks at Cooper's Hawk Winery and it was delicious. I'm looking forward to many, many more years with this guy!

And, I'll leave it there for now. I didn't cover everything--sorry, Asher! You were here in the fall too :) But lots more to come soon!

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Selling Our First House

This fall was a major milestone for our family. We are no longer landlords. It's been a while since I mentioned it, but when we bought our new house, we planned to sell the house we were in. After consulting with a real estate agent, he convinced us that the timing wasn't right. Boy was he right! In the two years we kept renting, our house appreciated considerably. This was due to a lot of reasons, but mainly the neighborhood around us kept getting better. When we moved in, the neighborhood was brand new. But there were big plans for the surrounding neighborhood, including putting in a new Costco, a new high-rise luxury apartment building with a grocery store, and a new community center. All of these plans have come into fruition over the last decade, with the new community center opening days before we listed our house for sale. There is still future potential for improvement too, as our town is in the middle of redesigning the downtown area.

We knew that now was the right time for us to sell because the house is ten years old. While still relatively new, now is the time that bigger ticket items might come up. Appliances needing to be replaced, new flooring, HVAC system, etc. While we were making a little bit of money on the rental, any major expenses would wipe out our profits for the year. And, to be honest, Dan did most of the work over there, and we both agreed we'd rather use our free time as a family than to have him trimming bushes and unclogging toilets at a rental property. The big decider was that our tenants of two years bought their own house and moved out. They were amazing and would be really hard to replace. So it was time to sell.

Selling the house came with a lot of mixed emotions though. It's the house Dan and I moved into after we were married. We watched it go up, plank-by-plank. It's where we adopted Nori, and where we brought home Asher. Where Zahara learned to talk and Asher learned to crawl. It's where we had amazing neighbors and fun snow days. It was a great house.

The sale couldn't have gone better. We got multiple offers within 24 hours of listing, and ended up significantly above asking! A lot of that was due to our incredible tenants who kept the house in tip-top shape over the last two years. They even helped us stage the house for sale, painting rooms and moving their furniture for the official listing photos. We really lucked out with them.

I have nothing but good memories from that house, and wish the new owners a lifetime of happiness!

New Year's Intent

Well, hello there! I know I'm not alone in thinking this season of life is busier than ever. With a full-time job and two active kids, I've been having a hard time making time for the blog. But, that's just not going to cut it. This blog has always been for me. It's a way for me to capture our lives and record our memories. I can't tell you the number of times I refer back to it, just to remind myself of an amazing trip we took, or a funny thing Zahara said.

Now, I'm not one for resolutions generally. I find they set me up for failure and only add to my stress levels. But I heard someone describe them as intents instead, and I love that. I can absolutely talk about what I intend to do this year. I can have an idea, create a plan, and act. If I fall short of my goal, I can pick myself up and keep trying. It's not as black and white as a resolution in my mind.

So, what is my New Year's intent? I'd like to get back to semi-regular blogging. I'm not ever going to be back to the pace I kept in 2012 when I had no job and no kids and was traveling at least once a month. We're a long way from that life. But, I do fun things! I have cute kids! I have an amazing house that I'm proud of! There's still lots for me to talk about, and I want to start doing that again.

Thanks for sticking with me, even if you are only here because you're related to me or are my friend in real life. That's all that matters anyway. Happy New Year and talk to you soon!

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Kid-Free Vacation to Cincinnati: Part 1

As I mentioned before, we got so lucky this summer. Our families really stepped it up and gave Dan and I a much-needed break, while getting to spend one-on-one time with their grandkids. Zahara flew solo to Florida for two weeks, and my folks came to DC to hang out with Asher.

My dad actually flew in before my mom, who had to stay behind to work. Though our trip didn't have the best start (flat tire in the pouring rain), dad did great and Asher loved hanging with his Pop Pop.

Dan and I left the next morning for a four-night vacation to Cincinnati, Ohio! Now, I know you're asking yourself, why Cincinnati? Admittedly, it's a strange choice. But, our criteria were as follows: 1) Nonstop flight from DC 2) Cheap plane tickets 3) Good food/drink scene 4) Relaxed vibes. I'm happy to say, Cincinnati hit it out of the park on all fronts!

To be honest, I had pretty low expectations. I loaded a ton of books on my kindle and prepped for an awesome, low-key get-away. I thought we'd be spending most of our time in cafes and coffee shops like we did in Vilnius. But that's not what happened at all. Here are some of our highlights:

We stayed at the Hampton Inn & Suites in downtown, very close to the Over-the-Rhine (OTR) neighborhood, making it the perfect home base. OTR is the cutest little neighborhood filled with interesting shops, yummy food, and beautiful murals. This city clearly appreciates the arts and individuality.

Huge mural in OTR
One fun thing we did in OTR was make our own candles. I saw this shop called The Candle Lab and had to check it out. There's a wall full of single-scent candles waiting for you to sniff. You get a clipboard, mark which scents you like, then a staff member helps you narrow it down to three complementary scents. You choose what you'd like to make (choices include candles, bath salts, hand lotion, and more), then start mixing. You come back a few hours later to get your finished product. We went with a peppercorn, mug and brush, and bourbon scent. It smells really clean and masculine. We're calling it our anniversary blend.

I was really surprised at how walkable this city is. It felt like we were able to cover a ton of ground in just one afternoon. We could easily walk from our hotel to the end of OTR, to Fountain Square, to the baseball field, and even into Northern Kentucky. This town is so cute though, and may think its a bit larger than it is. It has a lightrail system! We literally were walking faster than the tram, but it's nice they've invested in their  infrastructure.

Cincinnati Museum Center
We got a tip to check out the Cincinnati Museum Center, which we were told was not quite walkable from where we were staying. It definitely is, by the way, but we decided to try out scooters for the first time. Dan LOVED it and wishes he could commute by scooter. I'm happy I tried it once.

The museum was surprisingly cool. We went on 1940's day and everyone was decked out in the most authentic-looking costumes. Inside the museum were a few special '40s exhibits, a kids area, a special exhibit on ancient Egypt, and their permanent exhibits. We only went to the permanent exhibits, which included the largest model city I've ever seen; an entire town set in the 1800's filled with shops, a steamboat, and cobblestone streets; and a cave system with running water and stalactites. Every room in this museum was so intricate and well-thought out. I was very impressed!

Kayaking on the Little Miami River
We spent a day kayaking on the river, and it was glorious! This was a really last-minute decision, and it worked out perfectly. We went with Scenic River Canoe, and their drop-off site was less than half an hour outside the city. We ubered there and back with no problems at all.

There were a couple of different choices for tours, but we went with the 6 mile one, and it was perfect. Nice and leisurely, with minimal effort and maximum relaxation. We even stopped near the end at a brewery! We just pulled our kayaks up on the bank and headed up for lunch. So fun!

Baseball Game
We really ran with the summer theme and went to a Cincinnati Reds game. Tickets were really reasonable and the stadium was fantastic. It is really well-designed to be very accessible from the city (we walked!). Inside the stadium was a pleasant surprise as well. Every seat seemed to have a great view. Ours was right behind the home plate, and it felt really intimate compared to some other ball parks I've been to. It was super hot and sunny, but we had a great time.

Overall, I'd recommend Cincinnati as a great weekend destination. It hit all the requirements for us, and we came back rested and happy.

See what we ate in Cincinnati here.