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.

Friday, August 23, 2019

What We Ate in Cincinnati

Cincinnati was a surprisingly fun town with tons to do and see. And since eating is my number one pastime, you know we found good food in the Queen City. Here are some highlights:

We had several great meals and one pretty terrible one. Our best meal was at BOCA where we had tremendous food and an awesome waiter (thanks Kyle!). It's pricey--especially for Cincinnati, but we split an entree and appetizers and walked away full. My favorite of the night was the Egg Raviolo "San Domenico," which was a raviolo stuffed with an egg yolk. It was heavenly! A close second was the Corn Elote (R.A.D.), which was fresh pasta that tasted like Mexican street corn. Sidenote, if you haven't had fresh midwest corn in the summer, you're missing out.

We had another great meal at Salazar. I got talked into the Fried Pimento Cheese Fritters and am so happy I did. Such a great guilty pleasure. And the homemade spaghetti with fresh corn and tomatoes was incredible.

For a quick bite, the tacos and roasted cauliflower side at Bakersfield were great! The cauliflower was like a yummy, spicy dip, and the Hongos taco was my favorite.

Since Cincinnati is known for its chili, we stopped by Skyline to check it out. Sadly, their vegetarian offerings were pretty lame (black beans and rice), so we skipped it. Luckily, there was a great vegetarian chili option at the airport called Gold Star Chili. We loaded up our to-go containers with spaghetti, chili, onions, and enough cheese to feed a village (veggie 4-way). Verdict: it was delicious! Nothing like the chili I'm used to as a Texan, but still really good.

Sadly, Satre totally missed the mark for us. We went there initially because my dad's colleague's cousin was the chef. Turns out, he no longer works there--a fact we only discovered as we were paying our bill. The food was ok, but the service was terrible. Definitely not worth a visit. At least the company was good!

There were two main sweets were were told we had to have in order to properly experience Cincinnati: Graeter's ice cream and Holtman's donuts. So of course we obliged.

We got a a really delicious apple fritter at Holtman's. I wanted to go back and sample more, but each time I was nearby they were closed. Bummer. I'm not sure it was the best fried dough I've had, but it was really tasty.

We had Graeter's twice. I had their black cherry with chocolate chip and their cookie dough chocolate chip. Dan had the banana chocolate chip and the maple cinnamon crunch. The ice cream was good, but not nearly as good as Jeni's.

To be honest, we didn't really go out for drinks other than having a cocktail at dinner. We grabbed a beer at Taste of Belgium and wish we had stayed for a waffle. And I had a great chai latte at Coffee Emporium (Dan had an espresso).

But one of the most fun places we went to was called Tokyo Kitty. It is a crazy little Japanese karaoke bar/night club that we just stumbled upon. We got there a little late for the group karaoke and only participated in a few songs before the DJ started up, but trust me when I say this is one of the most unique places I've been in a while. It was such an interesting mix of people that words won't do it justice.

Cincinnati was such a fun surprise. Now it makes me want to explore more U.S. cities. Hopefully we can make this a more regular thing!

See part 1 of our Cincinnati trip here:
Kid-Free Vacation to Cincinnati: Part 1

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Zahara the Brave: First Solo Adventure

This summer Dan and I hit the family lottery. My in-laws asked if we would consider sending Zahara to Florida for two weeks of grandparent fun time. At first, this seemed like way too much time. We've never been apart for that long before. I wasn't worried about her--I knew she'd have a great time playing at the beach, swimming in the pool, hanging out with her aunt. I was really worried for my in-laws though. Two weeks straight with a six-year-old is hard work! But, they kept asking, so we figured, let's try it.

Zahara is six now, which means she can fly on her own! Game changer! I've been flying on my own since I was that age, thanks to a travel agent mom and grandparents who lived in a different city. Flying solo isn't for everyone at that age, but I felt pretty confident that Zahara would do well. She's pretty independent and is a seasoned traveler. If I had to guess, I'd say she's probably been on close to 200 flights. Plus, give her a tablet and tell her she can watch unlimited movies and she's solid for days. Ha!

In the days and weeks leading up to the trip, we sprinkled in lots of conversations about what was coming up. We talked about strategies for how to ask for things on the plane, like drinks and bathroom, and what it would be like to be gone for so long. She was literally counting down days.

On the morning of the flight, she understandably got a bit nervous. She bravely powered through though and walked on the plane with her head up (and her tablet in her hands). And when my in-laws picked her up at the gate, they said the flight was great. She was a champ!

The two weeks went quickly for everyone. She spent her days taking swimming lessons and getting quality time with her family. We spent the two weeks living a one-child life (WOW! So much easier), and even snuck in a kid-free vacation thanks to my parents who came to watch Asher for a few days!!

All-in-all, this was a fantastic experience for everyone, and I'm looking forward to it being an annual event. HUGE thanks to my Florida family for making this happen! Love you guys!

Monday, August 19, 2019

More Birthday Celebrations!

I'm now in my late thirties. That's just a fact. Neither good nor bad. But it is kind of unbelievable sometimes. It's not that I don't feel like I'm in my late thirties--I mean, I'm a homeowner, a mom of two kids, with a husband of more than ten years. But it's still weird to me.

Nevertheless, birthdays are something to celebrate, and celebrate I did! You already saw my amazing dinner at Rose's Luxury, but I was lucky enough to have a second birthday dinner with my friends Ally and Mitchell. We had such a fun night at Le Diplomate*!

I love this place. The food is so good, and the drinks are some of my favorite in the city. I especially love the Romarin, which is Rocktown Vodka, St. Germain, Rosemary, and Grapefruit. It's so good that it's dangerous.

As with most French restaurants, there aren't a ton of vegetarian/pescatarian options, but the ones on the menu are so fantastic that it's worth the trip. Our table ordered a bunch of non-meat appetizers and it turned out to be so much food I couldn't even finish what we ordered. I think the tuna carpaccio and the haricots verts were my favorite, but the mushroom tart was a close second. We also got a free cheese plate after a waitress broke a glass and some of the shards went into Ally's back(!!).

My super thoughtful friend Dani called the restaurant and sent a glass of sparkling wine to my table. Can you even? I would never even think of something like that. It was really special. What a great way to round out my birthday. Cheers to 37!

*Incidentally, Le Diplomate is another Starr restaurant, so of course I love it. See more of my favorite Starr spots here.

See more birthday celebrations here:
Asher's birthday
Dan's birthday
Asher's 1st birthday
Dan's birthday
Calli's birthday
Dan's birthday
Zahara's 3rd
Calli's birthday
Zahara's 2nd
Dan's birthday
Zahara's birthday
Calli's birthday
Dan's birthday
Calli's birthday
Dan's birthday
Calli's birthday