Friday, January 27, 2012

Book Review : A Gate at the Stairs

I really do have a love/hate relationship with book clubs. I obviously love the social aspect of them, and I think it's great when people read and talk about reading, because I'm just a book nerd like that. However, I've found that because of book clubs I often end up reading books that I don't enjoy... and therefore wasting my time. Reading tastes vary so much, and although I do adore and appreciate good book recommendations, I've often found book club picks to be severely lacking.

Take, for instance, this month's pick for my office book club: A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore. The main character is 20-year-old Tassie Keltjin, a university student from a small town who scores her first job as a nanny. However, the family she works for doesn't have a child yet, so Tassie participates with them in the process of adopting a bi-racial girl named Emmie. Tassie also starts a relationship with a man named Reynaldo, and has complicated relationships with her family members. [SPOILER ALERT] By the end of the book Emmie has been taken away from the family (who we find had assumed a new identity after causing the death of their first child), Tassie's boyfriend disappears (for apparent terrorist involvement?) and Tassie's brother is killed at war.

The New York Times raved about this book, which was why my co-worker chose it, but not a single one of us could figure out why. I thought the book was absolutely terrible; the worst I can remember reading in a very long time. I truly regret wasting my time on it. I found the whole thing to be completely random and rambling, and the way it is written I actually felt like I was going crazy from trying to follow Tassie's erratic and sometimes downright insane thoughts. The plot is very random and doesn't seem to draw real conclusions.

I'll tell you one thing, when it's time for me to choose a novel for book club I'm going to make sure that I've read it first, so I don't subject my co-workers to something like this again!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Showered in Love

Last weekend I attended my bridal shower at my mom's house in Olympia and had such a fantastic time! I couldn't believe all the hard work my mom, sister and bridesmaids put into planning the party. The decorations, food and gifts were all beyond any expectations I could have had. I felt spoiled rotten by the generosity people showered me with, and it was so wonderful to spend the afternoon with so many of the most important people in my life. Here are the photos I think capture the day best...

Everyone put their best advice on a paper heart for me and Stew.

Adorable banner from Etsy.

More custom decorations. I loved these ones.

Jillian brought gorgeous flowers and handmade white chocolate
covered marshmallow pops! I totally cheated and ate one... or two!

More lovely flowers.

Photo wall.

I loved these pinwheels!

With half of my bridesmaids, some of my favorite ladies in the
whole wide world, of course!

High school reunion.

Themed cupcakes courtesy of my mother. So cute!

Brooke recently moved and now she lives close enough for me
to see her more often - so exciting!

With the girls.

Opening Grandma Sally's gift - Waterford crystal of course!

Just one of the fantastic gifts I received - this one from
Auntie Elaine.

My cousin Alyson, who brought a tragically hysterical letter
I wrote her in the early '90s.

With Grandma G.

My gorgeous sister, Nichole came from Oregon.

Many of Stew's family members also drove up from down south.

How cute is my Grandma Sally? Of course she picked out an
appropriate outfit for the occasion, she's so stylish like that!

Lots of my cousins came - family reunion!

With Momma & Sister Erin.

With many of my favorite Aunties although a few are missing...

Tara made my ribbon bouquet and it turned out fantastic!

Me and Erin with our cousin Mary.

The group - and this is after a few people had already left!

I can't believe it, but this was only the first of two showers that my bridesmaids are hosting, so still have another one to look forward to at the end of February. Thank you to everyone who attended, and to those who weren't able to come but still mailed gifts - that was so thoughtful and I really appreciated it.

I am truly lucky in love and life.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Bon Appétit!

In order to try and alleviate stress as well as incorporate very healthy eating into our lives, this month I really started trying to plan ahead for all of our meals each week. This is definitely new for me, because in the past when we "eat healthy" we just eat a lot of chicken and vegetables over and over again. At this point I feel like I can't chew and swallow even one more bite of boneless skinless chicken breast. I'd rather eat dirt I think. So since it's crunch time for wedding dieting I knew I had to do something drastic, and I thought making a plan each week and implementing it would not only keep variety in our menu but also take away the stress of wondering what I was going to make for dinner every night.

So I finally cracked open my "South Beach Diet Quick & Easy Cookbook," which has tons of yummy-sounding 30-minute recipes. I scoured through the book for a few dishes that I could use to supplement some meals that we already know we like and then I made a shopping list and headed to the store. I was able to get most of the ingredients I would need for the week at Trader Joe's, but I did have to stop off at QFC on my way home for a few final items. I had actually done it! I had a plan of attack and was prepared for an entire week's worth of healthy meals. I'm pretty sure other people do this all the time so it's no big deal, but I was moderately proud of myself.

Here are just a few of the results:

Chimichurri Wild Pacific Salmon with Cannellini Bean Salad.
I absolutely loved this one. Stew wasn't a huge fan of the salad
(he never is) but he did eat it so I'd call this a success!

South Beach Classic Burger.
We liked this one but I had meant to make sweet potato fries
with it but forgot to buy them. That probably would have made
the meal more well-rounded. It was still yummy though.

Turkey Parmesan over Whole Wheat Pasta.
This one was absolutely our favorite. The crust is made from
crushed pine nuts, parmesan cheese and Italian seasoning and it
has low fat mozzarella melted over the top. Delicious!
We've gone through about two weeks of meals now... here are some of the other things we tried which I neglected to photograph:

  • Shrimp Stir Fry with Brown Rice - usually one of our favorites, this dish did not turn out well. I bought pre-packaged stir fry vegetables from Trader Joe's and they just weren't very fresh I think. Next time I'll probably buy and chop my own veggies and I think that would make it better.
  • Chicken Curry with Brown Rice - this has absolutely become our number one go-to meal. It's delicious the day you make it and even better left over! I made it with boneless skinless chicken thighs (which taste so much better than chicken breast and only have minimally more calories), onions and bell peppers, and a delicious curry sauce we buy at Trader Joe's.
  • Chili - I got this healthy chili recipe a long time ago from my friend Tara that uses lean ground turkey and it's really yummy and filling. We add fat free cheddar cheese on top.
  • Tuna Pasta Salad - I thought this dish was really good but Stewart wasn't a fan, although he did choke down one serving of it. He's not a fan of anything with a cream-based sauce so I probably won't make this again. Also the recipe which was supposed to make four servings produced about twice that much and I got really sick of eating tuna after a couple days.
  • Teriyaki Marinated Flank Steak with Broccoli - We buy this flank steak at QFC and it's one of our very favorites. It's so delicious without doing anything to it at all, and we just added steamed broccoli on the side to balance out the meal. Stew also had mashed potatoes which I coveted but did not eat!
  • Shrimp and Celery Salad - I really thought this looked delicious in the cook book picture, and when I first made this salad and tasted it I thought I had a winner. Sadly though, by the next day the creamy dressing had turned to icky watery liquid and the veggies had gone soft. I ate it anyway but really struggled to finish it and although I hate to throw food away I think I'll be tossing the rest of the leftovers and I won't be making this one again.

Overall this adventure in cooking has been very successful! I don't have to worry about making it to the store during the week and we've had delicious and healthy lunches and dinners all month so far. I'm starting to realize that cooking can be fun if you plan ahead and when you go to make something all of the ingredients are already in the fridge. Hopefully I can keep up the momentum until the wedding and beyond!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Wedding Update... 10 Weeks To Go!

Erin helping me with some last minute stuff
at the Seattle Wedding Show.
I can't believe it, but our wedding is coming up in less than ten weeks! The time has gone by so fast, especially between Thanksgiving and the New Year. So now it's all hands on deck for the many last minute items that still need to be finalized!

Erin and I attended the Seattle Wedding Show last Sunday just to make sure there wasn't anything fabulous that we're missing out on. It was so much less overwhelming than the year before, and we had a really good time just wandering around and getting ideas for decorations and stuff.

Here's a brief update of what we've been working on:
  • The beautiful invitations (designed by my amazing bridesmaid, Carolina) have been mailed and we're starting to get RSVPs back already.
  • I had my first dress fitting and although it's going to need some serious alterations, I am still absolutely in love with my gown. 
  • Gifts for the bridal party and groomsmen, as well as the wedding favors, have been decided on and are in the process of being ordered. 
  • We bought Stew's wedding ring, and he's having a hard time adjusting to the idea. I believe "men shouldn't wear jewelry" is a direct quote...
  • Stewart picked out the tuxedos and colors at Men's Wearhouse for himself and the groomsmen, ushers and fathers, and they're really going to look sharp, if I do say so myself! 
  • We're both getting ready for our bachelor/ette trips to Vegas next month and we can't wait to spend some quality (crazy!) times with our favorite people. 
  • We've been working hard on our wedding slide show, and it has been so much fun going through old photos of ourselves. 
We've still got lots of odds and ends to tie up, but overall I think we're progressing nicely toward the big day. Here are a couple inspirational photos from the wedding show that I'll leave you with... can you guess what we're working on?!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Happy 1st Birthday Sophia!

My darling niece, Sophia, will be one year old on January 10th, so this weekend my parents and I headed down to Oregon for her first birthday party. I cannot believe how quickly the past year has flown by! Sophia is crawling all around and even saying a few words now, and she is extremely close to walking but will only take a few steps at a time right now. She is just so precious and every time I see her it makes me wish I lived closer and could visit her every single day!

Sophia and Aunt Heidi

Adorable duck cupcakes that my sister Nichole made

Opening presents with Mommy

Hippo piggy bank from Aunt Sarah and Uncle Stew

"Silly Sophia" book from Aunt Erin

Of course the bows were more exciting than the actual presents...

She loved ripping open the paper!

Traditional first birthday cake

She dug right in!
It got pretty messy after this, but unfortunately my camera battery died!
It was a long trek down and back from Seattle for the party, but I was so glad I was able to be there for Sophia's big day! I can't wait to watch her grow up, I just love that little darling so much!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year From Station 31

Stew in front of Station 31's new ladder truck.
Stewart had to work this year on New Year's Eve, and since I still hadn't gotten a chance to seen his new station it was the perfect opportunity for a ride along. That way we still got to celebrate the holiday together, and I also had the opportunity to experience what one of his 24 hour shifts feels like. We figured that New Year's Eve would also have a variety of crazy calls like fires caused by fireworks, drinking and driving accidents, bar fights, etc.

I think this is a good look for me...
Stew leaves for work early, and we were on the road before 6am to arrive in Auburn for the start of his shift. After morning checks to the engine and equipment, the crew headed to the grocery store to pick up provisions for breakfast and dinner. It's tradition at the fire station to cook large family-style meals together when they have to work on a holiday. Literally right as we left the store to head back to the station, the guys were called out for a residential fire... whoo hoo! Lights and sirens wailing we raced to the scene, it was all very exciting. A lady's single wide mobile home had gone up in flames and I got to watch Stewie help fight the fire and clean up the scene (all while wearing my super sexy, bright orange, "fire observer" vest).

Lookin' good! Yes, the mustache is still there...
It took Stew and the guys quite a while when they got back to decontaminate all their gear, but afterward we ate a yummy breakfast/brunch/lunch. Surprisingly, the rest of the day was relatively quiet, although since it was Saturday the guys had to do weekly checks on the ladder truck. Which meant for fun, I got to go up in the basket! It was seriously scarier and higher than many carnival rides I've experienced. And to think that in a real emergency the firefighters would have to climb OUT of the basket when it's fully extended! No thanks.

Getting read to head up...

It is HIGH.

Operating the ladder...

I even learned how to drive!
That evening Stew cooked an amazing dinner of his specialty burgers... deliciously seasoned beef patties with cheese, bacon, mashed potatoes, and a fried egg! Try it sometime, it will rock your world (and don't tell my trainer I ate one...) After dinner we went on an illegal burn call which turned out to be nothing more than a small backyard bonfire. Shortly after that we were called to another residential fire which also ended up being a backyard burn, and we were turned back before we even arrived on the scene. So we settled in to watch the ball drop and enjoyed some sparkling cider before heading to bed (and expecting to wake up to some crazy calls... likely as soon as the bars closed).

Stewart woke me up at 6:30am... we hadn't gotten a single call and had slept through the night! I still can't believe it. The guys all attributed it to me and said with my good luck I am invited to do a ride along any time I like.

Even though we got some sleep that night I was still utterly exhausted when we arrived home the next morning. 24 hours is a long time to be at work... trust me. These are such great guys and they work so hard, and I was so happy to spend the last bit of 2011 with them.

Happy New Year from Sarah at Stewart, live from Station 31 in Auburn!