Friday, December 30, 2011

South Padre Island, TX

I've gotta be honest. Ever since I switched over to the iPhone, I've taken nothing but crappy photos because I'm too lazy to bring another camera along with me. When we travel, I have a serious distaste toward lugging around anything but a hand clutch for a purse. I refuse to carry anything over the shoulder unless it's a full-on backpack. Hence the iPhone and not the camera. Perhaps if I had a certain little guy to take photos of (Andrew), I'd give more of a crap. But I don't. And my photos have taken a serious dive.

I am promising to learn how to use our fancy camera. So what if it's been 13 months since we purchased the dang thing and I've literally held it in my hands about 3 times. Return on investment at this point is definitely in the negatives.

Anyway, enough about that. I was just providing a disclaimer as to why our photos from our trip suck so incredibly bad. That, and it was a distraction/avoidance trip to get us through the holidays more than anything, to be honest. Much like everysingletrip we've taken this year, especially our cruise to the Bahamas. Bittersweet for sure. But thankful we even have the funds to take trips, I know. That is not lost to us.

Without further adieu...
A stone's throw from Mexico.
We visited a Birding Center and there were actually, surprisingly, quite a few birds to be seen. Not really into birds all that much, but when the weather is Scheiße, you must find things to do. Hence the birds.
Some nice lady gave us a scavenger hunt sheet and we probably managed to check off about 8 of the 20 birds. Not bad.
Notice the jackets we're wearing in nearly every photo. As we landed in Harlingen, the flight attendant commented about us being allowed to grab our luggage and coats. Then she made a remark about not knowing why we'd need coats because we did just land in Harlingen, TX. She really should've checked the weather report that had 50's and raining about 75% of our trip. We found this sandcastle in front of Clayton's Bar & Grill. I can just picture the spring breakers sitting on that deck... and yet thankful that I'm no longer one of them.
You don't suppose the Hilton could've sprung for a capital letter for the ol' "T" in Texas, eh? Guess not.
Our very last day and just hours before we found ourselves back on a plane. The first time it jumped over 60 degrees.

We spent lots of our time indoors at this lovely joint.

Dinner at a Mexican joint.
Dinner on Christmas night at Padreritaville. Those would be chocolate nachos. That's right. Cinnamon chips topped with drizzled chocolate, shaved chocolate pieces, and whipped cream. So good.
The weather was attempting to warm up and the husband was being brave. Over on Port Isabel just wandering around shrimping boats and various randomness.
We seem to find these often! Our last getaway from the world trip to the Bahamas in February landed us on a beach where we saw Portuguese Man-of-War for the first time. We had lots of beach walks on our trip totaling probably around 12ish miles. That's always a bit therapeutic since I'm often reminded by my husband that before the Germany>Chicago move, I'd never lived more than 5 miles from a beach in my life.
We also ran into jellyfish all over the beach. Foot = size reference.

Quick story about our luck with rental cars. First car was a little red rollerskate. We drove away with a rattling rear-view mirror. As soon as Ray attempted to adjust said mirror, it broke off in his hand. We drove 30-some miles back to tell them and the lady was rude... but gave us another vehicle. We get 10 miles away from the rental car place and the maintenance light flashes on. Are. you. kidding. me. HERTZ is not a favorite. Thankfully, their lovely supervisor was there when we finally returned the second car on Tuesday and assumed we just had bad luck. You said it lady. You said it. We rented a Jeep SUV once in Colorado about 2 years ago and the dang thing wouldn't even make it up the mountain. We were going 20mph at full speed. To say our luck sucks with rentals is totally underestimated. Hah.

To wrap up, we had a fine time getting out of dodge, but obviously we'd have given anything to have a normal, bubbly Christmas like we anticipated just over a year ago. Stockings, excited-about-life toddler, Christmas lights, etc. etc. It was only fitting that it rained a good portion of our time there. We always enjoy the chance to get away together, but not as much when it feels like we're running away from the life that should've been. It's so hard to break free of that possibility of life being so much fuller... so much richer. Here's to hoping 2012 doesn't suck as bad as the end of 2010 and all of 2011-- aside from Flip's existence.

No New Year's resolutions or whatnot. Just glad the year from hell is finally over.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Photos That Didn't Fit, 2011 Edition

Randomly throughout the year I take photos of various things that don't make it to a blog post. And here they are. I've decided to make this a yearly tradition before I switch the photos over to our backup hard drive.

I intended to post this long ago, but my MIL sent us The Big Bang Theory t-shirts to kick off the new season (in September, I believe?). I was just starting to really show and was definitely sucking in the gut in this photo. Hah.
There's a running joke at Ray's company about llama poop. I won't go into detail, but Ray ordered a llama cookie cutter long ago and we finally got around to making cookies for a presentation he had last month. Also, back in Los Angeles, Ray started a small company called Lunch Llama to serve the needs of Los Angeles Air Force Base where he was stationed after USAFA. They had little parking and few food options... and therefore decided they needed a lunch ordering/delivery service and that was the name. So much llama in our lives.
Ray enjoying his birthday freebie Red Robin Whiskey River burger. I get this as veggie and it's seriously the best burger setup ever. Ever.
My brother recently married a girl from the Ukraine and they sent us a package of chocolates and this lovely Matryoshka doll (right). It now sits with African man (from when Ray climbed Kilimanjaro after college) and the pot from Mexico (Ray also acquired during business in South Padre Island and crossed over into Mexico for dinner one evening. You know, before you'd get shot up for considering). And all that sits on the wooden chest that's been in my family for years. It's a fragile thing and I will consider shanking someone if they dare sit on it or place a cold drink.
Our friend Jenny dropped by some incredible, homemade chocolate croissants a couple months ago. She then told me that these (local) French nuns make a pretty mean croissant and to search for them at the farmer's market. I found the nuns at a local flea market and split one of these lovelies with my friend Liz.
Here we are at the flea market back in November. Alli, myself, and Liz after eating delicious bites of chocolate croissant. Random photo opp as there is a buried dude in the ground?! We were equally confused but found it funny enough to snap a photo with.
My husband brought home some lovely flowers in October that I don't believe I shared. Maybe I did?
 We made some red-velvet whoopie pies and decided they are far too sweet for our liking. I'm not much of a baker as I've said before. I continue to stand behind this theory. I can never get it quite right. The butter being the right temperature, the rigidness of the ingredients and powders... I just prefer to buy my baked goods or indulge in some made by friends who have far greater a talent than myself.
Pictures of South Padre Island and our trip coming soon!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Traveling as a Paranoid, Pregnant BLM

Yep, the doppler. Last time we traveled without it, we were both in tears and contemplating a trip to the hospital. Thirty minutes later, a kick ended our absolute terror. No more chances being taken even if this babe is large and bulgy in my belly as of now. In other news, Texas is cold and rainy. Not exactly what we had in mind breaking out of (unseasonably warm, yet cold) Chicago.

And the only Christmas you'll be seeing on this blog for the 2011 year is coming at you right now. The airport had free Santa pictures. I wasn't interested in taking advantage until they told me we'd get a $20 discount on our next booked Southwest flight. I didn't find out until after that the code is only good for a bracket of time that still has me gestating this little one.

Basically, I am just a massive dork. Picture proof.

Not planned. And I also look like a whale. That's an extra present from me to you. Cheers.

Also, completely unrelated, but my husband has no recollection of the show Charles in Charge. He asked me if it was on cable because he didn't have cable growing up. Gasp.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Preparing for Flip

Flip's what we call Andrew's little brother. He's been called that since the very beginning when we saw his very active arms and legs during ultrasounds. He and Andrew both seemed to love their hands near their faces during ultrasounds.

Since I'm not quite ready to reveal the name just yet (TBA January 2012), I'll keep with calling him what we've called him since the beginning. Since he's set to make his appearance in about 10 weeks, we're attempting to get used to the idea. I said attempting. Because what we're feeling is completely foreign and unnatural. With Andrew, we were free as birds. The excitement was easy and the prepwork was a breeze. Now, every purchase or process is considered and researched and re-researched and made with great hesitance.

I spoke about our decision to choose cord blood banking for Flip. We pulled the trigger on that one just about a week ago. Also, I wanted to thank all of you for adding your experiences or explaining the choices you made in choosing whether to (or not) bank the blood. After our purchase, we received a package in the mail.
That was definitely something surprising. I guess that although we cashed out a bunch of money to a cord-banking company, I didn't expect to receive the medical package (for the blood) in the mail via FedEx. It made things feel very real. I'm really going to deliver this baby. He really does exist and he really will be coming out of my body at some point. I'm still struggling with the idea that he'll actually leave the hospital with us alive, but at least I'm to the point where I know he'll be here in a matter of 10ish weeks. We selected the cord blood company we did for a variety of reasons:
  • Chicago-based banking facility - while not necessary, it was nice knowing they were super local. They also have banks in NY, CO, UT, IN, FL, MA, NJ but can store for any state.
  • Same accreditation as Cbr, the highly advertised company I mentioned before
  • Backup generators
  • Done more successful transfers than most cord-blood companies
  • Reasonably priced
We also have purchased things here and there that we changed our minds about from Andrew's pregnancy to now. For example, we originally had a very basic baby monitor. Who needs a baby monitor? Women have been birthing children for thousands of years and without technology! Riiiiight. Scratch that mentality. We needed something more suitable for our needs as over-paranoid parents and chose the AngelCare AC401 Deluxe Sound Monitor. It tracks movement and sound.
We also don't intend on letting this child out of our sight and therefore decided a co-sleeper was the solution. We bought an Arm's Reach Mini Convertible Co-Sleeper, along with some sheets.
We already have a Baby Bjorn Active with the winter cover, but we also now have the Ergo baby carrier with infant insert like this one. The jury is still out about the stars... but I think they're cute. Not sure if Ray would ever want to wear the thing, but I'm pretty sure he'll wear anything once Flip arrives healthy and safe. We're both pretty crazy about the idea of babywearing. I even bought the Ergo teething pads for the handles.
We had a pretty hard time finding a thermometer we liked that didn't get terribly conflicting reviews and decided on this one after all. Again, we were so naive before in thinking that regular thermometers would be suitable for a newborn. No longer will we think that for something as simple as a $35 purchase.
In dreaming again, I've always secretly wanted two items that we didn't buy for Andrew because I didn't think we needed them (again with the minimalist mentality) and I didn't want to spend the cash. One of those items was a high chair. We have a booster seat that I figured would be suitable since we also own the Bumbo.
However, I've always secretly wanted a Stokke Tripp Trapp highchair. Problem is, they go for about $300 with all the bells and whistles. But, the Wilsons are all about a great deal! We happened our way into a local high-end consignment store and found one for... wait for it... $35! It is the walnut color and in nearly perfect condition. It came with the older model insert (which can be replaced), but it's very functional and purchased at such a bargain. I'm convinced the store had no idea they were practically giving the thing away. Even looking on Craigslist, they don't go for anything under $100 used and most are vibrant colors. I've also secretly hated highchairs because they are bulky and full of fabrics and cheap plastics that would just create more for us to clean and make our house look overtaken by bulky kid furniture. This will definitely be a piece we'll keep in the family for a long time and it even came with the manual! And even better, it's been made the same way for about 40 years! It's a classic and very European-- as it is a Norwegian brand, after all. Yes, $35. I know. And of course we took every single piece apart and washed/sterilized it. All set to go for when we have a 6-month old. I. cannot. wait.
There's one last piece that I think I'll be holding out for a long time. Our stroller is nothing fancy. I was very specific about the carseat we chose, but I didn't care for the stroller. I was also overwhelmed by the prices and options that accompany such a purchase. I was more concerned with painting walls and getting that nursery in shape. Well, it's in shape and ready and been vacant for 21 months of waiting for baby at this point. But dreams are out there for one of these Bumbleride Indie strollers. Except, I already have two strollers and a snap-n-go that are plenty. I've told myself that instead of buying a single, I should just wait until baby #3 rolls around (2013 anyone?) and buy the double in this lovely number. I know, let's just get at least one live baby here before I purchase another stroller. Hah.
Who knows. I'll probably have a new love interest by then. That's a long time and quite a bit of gestating away... and that's only if our luck stops sucking as bad as it has. : /
We're just about out of things to buy for Flip that we feel are necessary. In the beginning I couldn't see us buying anything until I was literally in the delivery room-- but then I realized I needed something to distract me and what better to distract me then researching random items that will sit in a room and wait! Hah. It's only a little pathetic, I hope. There's always clothes to buy... but he has quite a bit, as is! We've purchased things randomly from BabyGap and Carter's, but only if there was a crazy sale or I had some awesome coupon (like today for example when I purchased two pair of socks, a onesie, and a bib for $2.34 from BabyGap). There's also this sweatshirt we needed to have so Flip can take after his Dad and play lacrosse.
Time is c-r-a-w-l-i-n-g and we're getting impatient. The nursery still looks like a tornado took a bunch of unused baby products and threw them all around, but we aren't at the place where we're ready to sift through and organize just yet. We'll see when I'm ready for that-- probably not until I have a clear induction date to set my sights on. We need more distractions and for these weeks to speed by like a bullet. This is definitely the hardest time since the initial weeks-- and even then I was in such denial (without the kicks) that it was easier to let go. I've never been more anxious in my life knowing he's viable, over 2 pounds (!) and likely able to sustain life outside of the womb. Of course he belongs inside the womb for longer, but I'd like to be put into a bubble until then. How did you other women (BLMs) do it? Because, wow.  

Friday, December 16, 2011

Birthday Raclette Dinner

For Ray's 30th, I bought him a present. It's kind of wild for me because we rarely buy gifts for one another. Well, he buys more gifts for me (jewelry, etc.), but buying for men is just plain hard. And, I'd prefer we just purchase the items he wants in real time rather than waiting all the way until December to receive something he wants. He works hard and therefore deserves to reap the benefits all year around in my opinion.

All those excuses to say that I can never think of something he'll love and make sure I know the exact item to buy at the exact time birthdays or holidays roll around. That, and gift-giving is not really my love language. That's not helpful when I have an entire family full of them, including my husband! Anyway, I thought I hit this one out of the park. When we visited Switzerland, we were able to have an authentic dinner with some local Swiss called Raclette. Ever since that evening, we talked about buying one of those grills. Except, we rarely just spend $140 on something just because... and this is one of those just because kind of things. This was our occasion and quite a fantastic one, I might add. He was genuinely surprised up until the day before Andrew's birthday when I allowed him to open the gift. We figured that since his birthday is a week after Andrew's, we'd soften the blow a very, teeny tiny bit by having this be something we looked forward to on that day. I intended for him to help me shop and prepare for the dinner party we were throwing, so at some point, he figured it out. Regardless, I purchased this lovely number for him us:

To explain, the raclette grill offers some features: grill meats, seafood and veggies on the top while you place a semi-soft/hard cheese in the bottom trays to melt. Marry the meats, veggies, potatoes (cooked on the side) on a plate and pour the melted cheese on top. There is traditional raclette cheese that can be purchased, but most is very expensive or unpasteurized. This pregnant lady refuses to throw a dinner party for a bunch of people with raw milk cheeses. That, and I hate buying things I normally can and will eat at a premium but won't eat for something as silly as it being unpasteurized. Emmantaler, Edam, and raclette cheese are standard. I purchased some brie (though a traditional soft cheese, but familiar to most people), Jarlsberg, and raclette cheese from Trader Joes. We actually found raclette-labeled cheese at Trader Joe's! Already sliced! It tasted quite authentic to boot! That just means they'll stop selling it soon because it's something we like. Trader Joe's is good at that sort of thing. 

I roasted veggies in the oven so there would be more grill space for meats and shrimp. Our intention was to create a formal party with touches of informal thrown there. Raclette grills are designed for no more than 8 people and we were inviting 18. Considering this, we had the grill on all night and various appetizers and items to graze on throughout the night. Sitting was optional and it was more like a cocktail party with lots of food. All were required to drink from wine glasses. Thank goodness we have 18! We had various bottles of wine, bottled water, and lots of sparkling drinks (grape/apple). We even had wine charms! We're not the wine charm type, but we realized hours before the party that people wouldn't be able to tell their drinks apart and it would be a fiasco with 18ish people in the house. Wine would go wasted and new glasses would be assumed, despite having only 18 to fulfill the 18 people who RSVP'ed. Off to Michael's we went! We purchased some round, silver earring hooks and were planning to purchase some beads. However, the husband decided the wine charms needed to be "manly" and deemed it necessary to purchase more manly charms for the glasses. We settled on decorative buttons with animals and monsters. And don't think we didn't use a 40% off coupon for each of our transactions! :)

My pictures are blurry and just plain suck, but hopefully you get the idea. The four charms in view are two monsters, a donkey, and panda. I do believe the pig was last to be chosen. Wonder why? ;)

I'd love to say I can offer up tons of photos... but as usual, I forgot to take them. The ones I do have completely suck because I'm so stubborn and just won't learn how to use our fancy camera. I put that on the list for a baby distraction project in January. Learn a new trick a week on the camera and give myself a homework assignment. I. need. to. learn. this. Argh.

Our total menu was as follows:
Sliced beef marinated (1: olive oil, garlic, cracked pepper), (2: spiced beef marinade from a bottle. Don't judge).
Polish Sausage
Sliced cheeses (Brie, Jarlsberg, Raclette)
Boiled Saltzkartoffel, stored in crock pot after (salted, German potatoes: Peel and boil in cold water until soft, but firm)  
Roasted veggies in lemon olive-oil (carrots, green beans, bell pepper, onion, zucchini)
Cheese fondue (one 12oz beer & tbsp Dijon mustard, 16 oz. shredded cheese tossed in a little cornstarch. Add cheese slowly after boiling beer/mustard on stove) Served with grapes, apples, and cubed sweet bread, crackers, broccoli cutlets
Caesar salad with Trader Joe's dressing-- my fave! Mix of field greens and romaine
Antipasti tray (breadsticks, salami, cornichons, stuffed olives, mixed olives, pepperoncinis)
Tortellini/cucumber/cherry tomatoes on toothpicks & marinated in Italian dressing
Mini sausages in teriyaki sauce (used mini crock pot)
Sauces: sweet onion (bottled), Sriracha, and a homemade (omg. so amazing) chimichurri sauce

A friend from work who honestly directs us to the very best restaurants in town every time gave me this recipe. I was certain to try it and I'm so glad I did. It's incredible. If you like the following ingredients, I highly recommend you make this. I used red wine vinegar and I just about want to put this stuff on my pancakes in the morning. It's that good.

Our friend Alli is pretty crafty and is always pinning a bunch of fun crafty ideas that I could never even consider. I belong in the kitchen... not in front of glue guns and sewing machines. She decided to use the party as a good chance to try out her birthday banner. It was great until it fell down at some point. Again, the flash totally ruins this photo. The goat photo is also courtesy of Mrs. Ferguson. We have a very, very large framed goat in our foyer as I've mentioned before. It's now been set that we'd collect such photographs in frames.

We added Alli's table to our informal living room and she brought in some table accents and balloons as well. This was for the runoff (since we have a 10-seater table and a 4-seater = 14. We had 18 guests and lots of desserts that needed a place to go!).
 Crappy photo # infinity. Our 4-seater cheapie Ikea table, balloons, and snow-covered deck.
 One of the only photos we have of the food setup. Raclette grill is on the far end... but totally hard to see.
 A few photos of friends... no idea who took these photos but I'm happy they did!
 Happy husband and friends.
Oh, Tommy. Let's just say we had a few conversations about being aware that if he spilled red wine on my new boots, we'd have serious words. That, and I may have been afraid of him shattering a wine glass I'd have to clean up. Luckily, he has a very awesome wife who handled the sitch. We love Tommy. He's a wild one.

As the only requirement, I asked that all guests bring a plate of homemade brownies. This was the surprise that I managed to keep until everyone arrived with their brownies! There was an incident where some friends dropped them off the night before very stealthily and another knocked on the back door to hand over theirs, but the secret was kept. I took equally crappy quality photos of all the brownies... hooray! It was truly awesome, though. People were pumped and of course Ray was super excited as brownies are his absolute favorite dessert.
 Hi! I'm thirty! I love brownies! :)
Totally crap quality, but here's the table of almost all the brownies. 
Again, my friend Alli came to the rescue and found a way to score (through a friend) completely free to-go boxes for the brownies! There was no way we'd be able to keep them all in our house! Then our friend Liz was clever (as usual) and thought of a fun little catch-phrase for the box labels. :)
"E" would be Elliot. That's Ray's first name. Ray is his middle name... been calling him Ray on the blog since the beginning since family was the first to read (and the only to read for a long time)... and Ray is what he's known as to family. Just in case that was utterly confusing for all of you, consider me! I switch between family and friends on a regular basis. Elliot? Ray? Back and forth. To me, he's often just "husband". Hah.

Here are some brownie photos...
I can't go into detail about all of the brownies, but there were caramel brownies, walnut brownies, peanut butter brownies, regular brownies, brownies made with zucchini and carrots, peppermint brownies, brownies stuffed with Hershey's Hugs, Oreo and peanut butter stuffed cupcake/brownies, and a chocolate truffle cake.

...and then there's the guy who didn't follow directions:
That would be a Starbucks box. Not homemade by any means. And yes, I did eat all 3 of those brownies even though they were probably intended for the husband. ;) He was super hilarious and commented about how he RSVP'ed and not his wife and therefore felt responsible for the brownies... but that he has no culinary abilities. Totally funny. He definitely gets credit. 

At some point in the night, there was also a toast and birthday song while toasting Bailey's Irish Creme & Godiva White Chocolate Liquors out of chocolate dessert cordial cups. Like these:

All in all, it was a very nice night of grazing, wine drinking, laughing, and socializing while celebrating my favorite person. Happy birthday, my love.