Friday, January 31, 2014

five on friday with my first vlog

I like the five on Friday concept and I like linking up, but let's be honest - between twitter, instagram, and blogging 4-5 times a week, I'm not left with much to recap each Friday. So, inspired by a completely tangential email I sent to Joey, here are five ridiculous things about me that you never needed to know.

1) In 8th grade, I borrowed Blink-182's Dude Ranch CD from a friend. For one night. In that night, I taped it onto a cassette and handwrote every word to every song in a notebook (using the CD booklet). I still know a good 90% of that CD and surprise myself any time one of the songs come up on Pandora. Ah, the days before iTunes and at-home internet access!

2) My middle name is Ashley. My mom got the name Lauren from the show The Young and the Restless. My middle name was going to me Marie, but then my grandma pointed out that Lauren was a brat of a character and my mom should add in a nice character's name to balance me out. So she changed it to Ashley. Not to be confused with the 1980s brand Laura Ashley. People of a certain age still find that funny.

3) When you don't know what to do, ask Twitter. When Twitter tells you what to do, do it. Ashten told me I should vlog, so I did. I was already in PJs and glasses and my make-up was mostly gone so be nice... Also I recorded this twice and deleted the wrong one from YouTube. And my husband called me awkward. This is almost six minutes of your life you'll never get back.

Cool face. Thanks YouTube.

4) I was nominated for a Liebster Award. While I get the purpose of the award and I am of course flattered by it, I would love to no longer be eligible for it! So if you've been reading around here and have yet to follow me somehow, can do you do it? I have a ways to go before that 200 person mark! And in the spirit of the Liebster Awards, I answered most of Bella's questions in the vlog above. If you didn't watch it, I don't blame you - it's hard for me to watch them at work.

5) When I tweeted about being stuck on today's post, Samantha asked me what was the best thing I ever ate and what my last meal would be. I love these questions but of course they will require at least a weekend's worth of thought. I would love to hear yours, though...

See More Good: This letter from a police officer to his K9 Partner had me tearing up at my desk. If you haven't read it, do it now.

Always Ashten

                                                         THE GOOD LIFE BLOG

Thursday, January 30, 2014

a photo an hour

On Tuesday, I got my snow day! Only it wasn't very snowy. I didn't see a single flake by my house but I mostly didn't mind because I stayed in my pajamas all day. I also remembered to take a photo an hour so I could join Meg's link-up! The good news is there are no selfies because I was a mess all day; the bad news is that what I was eating or drinking was usually the easiest thing to photograph. I also like how Meg's black and white pics always look so I decided to follow her lead on that, too. But, food doesn't always look good in black and white and since I put my camera in that mode, that's all I have to show. Lesson learned - edit them to black and white next time!

9:00: French Press is the best way to start a snow day
10:00: Pumpkin muffins with pumpkin butter in a snowflake wrapper
11:00: Andrew played Madden, I played on Twitter and Blogs
12:00: Bauer likes to lay on the shelf on the coffee table and play with his toy

1:00: Watching the pot and it took forever to boil
2:00: Easy, late lunch - Annie's Pasta and Chicken Fingers (though my husband says it looks like something else...)
3:00: Binge-watching the final season of Dexter
4:00: Bauer snuggled on the couch with us

5:00: Out of the house to check the mail and saw icicles on the roof
6:00: Dinner - Chicken Lettuce Wraps (not cute)
7:00: My new iron tells me when it's hot enough (and still watching Dexter)
8:00: Hot chocolate with a two-bite brownie garnish. My husband is precious.

9:00: Previewing the pics and proofreading yesterday's blog post
10:00: Ready for bed, but this guy was in my spot kicking himself in the head. Cats are weird.

And now I can remember just how anti-climactic the second snow day of 2014 was!

Doing this project was a great reminder of how much I like Instagram. Am I following you yet? I need some new accounts to follow. I love pics of food, pets, non-selfies, and things about where you live. My dislikes are dead animals, all babies all the time, screenshots, and excessive polar watch photos. I feel like I just wrote a personal ad! Any suggestions for good people to follow on Instagram? If you want more pics of #catbauer, I'm eatdrinklauren.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

the butter was the best part

I totally get how if you don't live in Houston and don't plan to come here, you don't care about this post. And that's cool. But my blog friends at the Houston meet-up over the weekend said they liked my food posts, so this is for them, and also because I bet this restaurant will be buzzed about for a long time and I want to remember what I loved and didn't love about it. I mentioned earlier this week that Andrew and I tried a new restaurant in Houston, Coltivare, over the weekend. Coltivare is run by the guys who run Revival Market, a market that has awesome weekly breakfasts, sells local goods, and does all kinds of cool stuff, so we were really excited to try it. It had only officially been open for a little over the week when we went and just received a great write-up by Houston's newspaper's food critic the day before, so we maybe should have considered our plans a little more...

The place isn't taking reservations right now. We showed up at 6:00 and put our name on the list and were told there was an hour wait. They use an app that texts you when your table is ready and where you can track how many groups are ahead of you to be seated. There were 24 groups ahead of us; the restaurant, I later learned, only seats 56. So we were in for a long wait.

We made the most of our wait time for the first hour by sitting in the car and entertaining ourselves with smartphones. At 7:00, we joined those waiting outside, most of whom had been waiting longer than we had. They started asking the hostesses what was going on and were told that people were lingering over their tables and not moving out as fast as they expected. I think there were 16 tables in front of us. A lot of people left in a hurry, even though everyone walking out of the restaurant said it was awesome. I think the owners could have cultivated a ton of goodwill by bringing out coffee, pizza samples, something for those waiting longer than the estimated wait time. It was cold and there was no room in the tiny restaurant for everyone to stand. They have yet to get their liquor license, so it was currently BYOB and most people finished their wine before they were seated.

Outside the restaurant

We got more and more agitated but kept moving up the line and were seated at 7:45. When we were seated, the waiter said that there was a liquor store three blocks up if we wanted to go buy wine.... ummm, that would have been great for the hostesses to share with us when we first got on the list, and in my subsequent check on our status. We were not going to wait to eat any longer. So, FYI Houston friends who may try it out, go three blocks farther down White Oak and you can get some wine... I also learned that there is a bar in that same direction that is perfect for waiting at. The things I wish I had known going in.

So then it was time for food. I thought the portions were great for the price! The plates are meant for sharing, which seems to be a newer trend in food that I'm a huge fan of. Andrew and I aren't shy about germs and we normally end up sharing most meals, so to be in a place where that's encouraged just makes it easier. There are snack options to start off with. We got picked vegetables, including broccoli, celery (the best part), carrots, and jalapeños, which we both really liked. The (raw) radishes with housemade butter and Galveston sea salt was highly recommended, so we got that, too. I think I just don't care for whole raw radishes because I didn't get this at all. Andrew loved it. The butter was pretty amazing, though - I ended up spreading it on my pizza crust because I loved it so much. So Cultivare, if you're listening, please make a bread plate to go with that fantastic butter.

One cool thing about Revival Market that has spread to Coltivare is the use of local ingredients. Coltivare has its own garden where it will grow much of its produce and sources things that are local and in-season. We had a shaved fennel citrus salad which was huge and one of our favorite parts of the night. It had avocado, oranges, and grapefruit, the perfect amount of dressing, and some spice from chili peppers. Andrew said it was his favorite of the night.

The sea salt and butter that went with the radishes (no pic of those) and the pickled veggies | the fennel salad - yum.

The heavier part of our meal came from a meyer lemon, goat cheese, and olive pizza. I picked off the olives, but I still liked the pizza. Lemon on a pizza was a new thing, but I liked the tartness and the thin lemon slices that you could eat, rind and all. A lot of people, my husband included, think that the crust is too thick,  but I really liked it. However, it might have been better suited for a more traditionally topped pizza. The toppings on this were high-quality and therefore more sparse than what you get at Pizza Hut. We also got ricotta gnocchi, which combines two of my favorite things (cheese and potatoes), so I loved it.  Perfect texture, just enough cheese. A little goes a long way, though, and I was happy to be able to share it. It was really rich and filling. Not to ignore our veggies, we did order some sautéed greens. To me, the greens were a little grassy and tasted like vegetables. I like it when my vegetables taste good and not healthy. Andrew liked them, though, so it was probably just me.

The pizza | Yummy Gnocchi | The Greens (the lighting was great for atmosphere, not the best for iPhone pics)

Overall, I would go back to Coltivare. The place is very small, casual, and good for a group of four or less. I don't think I would recommend waiting over an hour for it; it wasn't life-changing, but at least it was good and I didn't feel like our time was wasted. My advice? Wait until the hype dies down. If they still aren't taking reservations, go somewhere nearby for a drink (or two). Definitely check it out, but be smarter than I was and have a plan!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

blogging made me do it

I read blogs long before I started mine, and even though I read without commenting, I felt a connection to several bloggers. They would blog about a thing and then I would want it - like getting a book recommendation from a friend. But, if we know anything about blogging, we know that bloggers have some expensive taste. So, I'm here to tell you what I've bought because of blogging and whether I think it's worth your hard-earned cash.
I'm lazy so I only used my own pics that I already had on my phone. Tory Burch pic from here, Alex and Ani pic here. No Sharpie Pen pics, but you can see that Bauer liked my planner and my ear selfie from my first pair of KS earrings.

Tory Burch Revas: I got mine two years ago, long before I entered blog land. I always wear a 6.5 in shoes so I ordered these in that size. The first time I wore them, it was with tights, so they hurt my feet but I assumed they would stretch. Two years later and they still kill them. They are super cute so I would be lying if I said I wouldn't buy another pair, but it's hard to justify the price when they hurt! Next time I'll go a half-size up as that's a common complaint. I have also heard the ones with a leather logo are more comfortable than those with the metal logos.

Life Planner: You guys know the one I'm talking about. I know this company is active on social media so I don't want to call them out. Honestly? This is the cutest waste of space on my desk. I use it because I spent so much money on it, but it's so big I hate carrying it with me, it makes me feel a little too young in my conservative work environment, and I hate the way the days are set up. Since I don't carry it with me, the pocket and zipper pouch are useless, and since I use it for work, the stickers go unused. I don't want to sit at my desk color-coding dates when there's work to be done! This could be a very good investment for someone else, but it really wasn't for me. I still use it at work and will do so through 2014, but I won't purchase another. Target planners can do the same thing without my name on the cover!

Kendra Scott Earrings: I saw the Danielles everywhere and thought they were really cute, but just too big for me. Once the Elles were introduced, I was sold. I lusted over them for a long time and received a pair as a gift from my boss. I've since gotten several more pairs of KS earrings, either from Gilt Groupe (great prices! And that is a referral link.) or as gifts. They're kind of pricey, but on sale or as a gift, I love them. They're heavy, the gold doesn't show any signs of wear, and the stones are really pretty. Sign up for the mailing list and there is a sale every Wednesday - you don't have to pay full price!

Alex and Ani Bracelets: These are new to me, and I saw them on several bloggers' gift lists over the holidays, so I thought I would add them to mine. I added two and honestly forgot about them until I opened them up at Christmas. I like that they're adjustable and one that I chose says "Live a Happy Life," which is a nice reminder. I'm happy with them and would love to get and give them as gifts.

Sharpie Pens: I can't remember if I got these before or after blogland exploded with how great they are, but I definitely agree with the sentiment. They don't bleed and they're a great thickness. The pastel colors are super light - they don't show up on copies - but I love the dark colors.

I'm sure there are more, but these are ones that I use and see the most often. Have you been swayed into buying anything at the urging of blogland? Anything you want to suggest to me?

Glossy Blonde

Monday, January 27, 2014

all weekends should be three days

So if you remember my post on Friday, I was busy doing my sleet and ice dance so that Houston would freak out, as it likes to do, and we would get an ice day off work. Well, it worked, so my weekend was an unexpected three days. I love unexpectedly ending up with a day off; I didn't have the chance to make any plans, and as I need to take a freeway or overpass to get pretty much anywhere, I had the perfect excuse to stay home and relax. It was great. I got to do the things I wish I could do every weekend.

Be Lazy
Friday was the ultimate lazy day. Andrew woke me up with pancakes and coffee and we ordered Showtime so we could catch up on Shameless and watch the last season of Dexter. I'm not feeling it so far. I took a nap and stayed in PJs until we went out for a dinner that night when the roads were declared safe.

Icy windshield, icy car, icy plant. This never happens in Houston | Bauer did't hate that Mom and Dad were home all day.

Have Fun
Saturday was a Houston Blogger Meet-up at Hearsay in downtown Houston, which is in the same area as all the bars from my staycation weekend a few weeks ago. There were only three bloggers there I didn't know (and I was lazy and didn't meet them... oops, sorry!) and lots of bloggers who I haven't seen in a few months! The atmosphere at Hearsay was really cool. The building was from the 1800s and there was exposed brick, a lofted area, and guitar player, and good food. Andrew told me to eat light so we could go enjoy dinner, so I had a cup of carrot-ginger soup and the four cheese mac and cheese. Oh, and bottomless mimosas. Pretty sure everything is better with bottomless mimosas!

Second Saturday in a row to see Miranda! | My mac and cheese didn't disappoint, and I'm hard to please. These are the only pics I took so I guess I was having a good time!

Andrew and I went to a new restaurant in Houston, Cultivare, for dinner that night. The wait was an hour and forty five minutes which was not fun. I think it deserves a post of its own, though. While we were driving around looking for parking, I saw a mural and lots of people on the side of a bike shop. I wanted to check it out while we waited for a table. It was black paint with the heading "Before I Die..." and people filled in their wishes. Some were silly, like eat a $500 hamburger, and lots were more sincere like find true love, write a novel, ride in the MS150 (a bike race from Houston - Austin for MS) I took pics of some of my favorites.

I love the "eat everything" one of course, but "have Taylor Swift write a love song about me" was pretty cute | I took this plc because of "buy a light gray Birkin" in honor of a friend who shall remain nameless who has a knock-off Birkin.

After dinner, we went to check out Fat Cat Creamery, a new ice cream shop. The company used to sell ice cream from a little cart and distribute to some of my favorite markets in town and just opened a storefront with more options. Their brown butter waffle cone was highly recommended, but it added $1.50 to the bill. I thought it was good and very crisp; you could definitely taste buttery richness as opposed to straight sugar in other waffle cones. I sampled the salted brown butter caramel ice cream but it was way too salty, so I got the coffee and cream, which was delicious. Andrew got the cookies and milk, which tasted too buttermilk-y to me, but he liked it. We'll go back if we're in the area, but it isn't a destination like my beloved Cloud 10 Creamery.

The fat cat mural was way cute | My single scoop cone

Be Productive
Poor Andrew woke up sick on Sunday so I got to feel like a wife. We do a lot of chores together; I am lucky that he doesn't expect me to cook, clean, and shop and knows that they are not things I enjoy nor am good at. But, I went to the grocery store by myself (I know it's no big deal but it's very rare), cleaned the house pretty thoroughly, and went to buy an iron. Nothing blog worthy but of course it has made me contemplate the ways in which living together before marriage affected my ability to "be a wife"(since I have never lived alone) so a blog post contemplating that is coming soon.

So really this is proof that all weekends should be three days because I got done so many good things. A lot of people hate or don't read weekend recaps so I tried to keep mine short. Tell me, how was yours? If you live in Houston, you better be doing some ice dancing so Tuesday's storm gives us another day off!

Friday, January 24, 2014

five things to share with you

Five quick things - let's go.

I have never seen the snow icon before so I was really excited. Notice that the high is 70 on Sunday, though! | Treadmill Desk | Bauer, needing to be near me to keep warm.

1) I had another lady date. For some of you guys, this is probably no big deal, but for me, it is. A year ago at this time, I had two real girlfriends who I rarely saw. One I have grown apart from in many ways, and the other has three young sons, so I rarely call her on a whim. Now I am so lucky to have friends that I can plan to grab lunch or drinks with so often. On Monday I was off work and got to have lunch with Caitlin. I love to hear about wedding planning, so she had lots of great stories for me. And? She lives close so I didn't have to drive far to see her. Win-win. When her life calms down, I am going to start calling her all the time for wine dates at the last minute. Be ready, lady!

2) The Treadmill Desk - I tweeted about spending my lunch on a treadmill desk and a few people were interested. The Dean at my school is a pretty fit guy and he saw these treadmill desks, so three were purchased for the school: one for faculty, one for staff, and one for students. The students refused to use theirs - they said it was weird and they felt like people were looking at them. So, it got moved to an empty office and I spent my lunch on it earlier this week. I brought my iPad and keyboard and read blogs and twitter. It was pretty great and I even broke a sweat. I definitely want to make it into a habit!

3) "You have serious food envy." The funniest and truest thing my husband said to me this week. It's true. If he or anyone else tells me about the yummy thing they ate, I immediately want that. Sometimes the feeling goes away and other times I stay hungry for that thing for days. It's ridiculous.

4) Scarves, boots, hot chocolate, fleece pants, and a snuggly kitty are some of my favorite things. Why does winter only exist in Houston for a day or two at a time, and why can't it last longer? I'm already missing it and it hasn't left yet, but it is definitely my favorite time of year. I don't like the sun or water so summer can stay away!

5) In Houston, if we are facing a hurricane or icy roads, the news media pretty much loses its mind and we all think we are going to be trapped in our homes for weeks. We are currently planning for icy roads on Friday morning and I would be lying if I said that all day Thursday wasn't spent looking for reasons to persuade the administration to close the building. You'll be able to tell by my tweets this morning if I'm at home with my coffee and Kelly and Michael or at work like any other day. I know, the east coast can handle feet of snow and a polar vortex; we shut down over a quarter inch of ice.

See More Good: You are probably already following Kerry's blog but if not, you should. She is doing random acts of kindness that are so sweet. And these people in San Francisco are opening a KitTea Cafe where patrons can mingle with kitties who need homes over coffee and tea. Yet another reason for me to travel to California.

If iI get to stay home for the day, I'm ordering Showtime so I can binge-watch the final season of Dexter and the most recent season of Homeland. If I'm at work, I'm definitely mad at Mother Nature. The Grammys are on Sunday and I can't wait to watch them along with the rest of Twitter. Hope you have a great weekend!

                                                         THE GOOD LIFE BLOG

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

wednesday confessions, part two

I always love Kathy's Wednesday Confessions post and I always forget to participate. But not today... Here are a few things I'm going to confess to you.

- If you overheard a night in my house, you might think we were speaking a foreign language. Underwear are known as pantaloons or underoos, Bauer hiding under a blanket is tunny baby, and nearly everything ends with a y sound (think "brekky" and "dinny" for breakfast and dinner). Why do we talk this way? I have no idea. There are many more... don't even get me started on calling the cat a Swedish Ball of Meat. Why?

Bauer being tunny baby. Also, he has always reminded me of Andy in the pic because of the faraway look in his eye. Probably just me, though...

- My toenails are abysmal and embarrassing right now. It's a sad state. I'm too lazy to care.

- I read GOMI. I know it's mean and I shouldn't but I also think it gives me pointers of what not to do as a blogger. I don't post, mostly because I am lazy but also because it's usually pretty mean. Not that I'm better for reading it but I feel a tiny bit better not creating it.

- I have the worst memory ever. I will see a movie, remember the overarching plot, then see it on TV and watch it like I never saw it before. I kind of hate it.

- I also can't do anything else if I'm reading or writing. If I'm blogging, I can't watch TV at the same time...

- Which is why I never read books anymore! I hate to admit it but I don't make the time. TV and social media and crap I read on the internet take up all my headspace.

- I've been a jealous person for as long as I can remember. I'm working on it, though.

- I'm pretty sure I eat something chocolate every day I'm drinking "hotty chocs" as I type this post.

- I want to be a bigger, better blogger, but again with the lazies!

- I stop myself from Instagramming another picture of Bauer at least twice a week. But he is so handsome, it's hard!

- I blame the 2+ hours I spend commuting every day for why I don't get more done. If I ever got that time back, I am really interested to see how I would use it.

- I have been planning to only blog four days a week but so far I'm on a roll this week. It's hard to pick which day to skip!

Anything you need to confess?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

what's your number?

No no, not that number. I mean your blog number. How many posts do you read in a day?

My friend Sarah commented on my level of blog activity and asked how many blogs I read in a day. I honestly had no idea. I follow over 100 blogs between GFC and Bloglovin. Many don't post daily. and some haven't posted in awhile. I follow some bloggers on twitter, but I may not follow their blogs. So I decided to count one day.

The only day I have been moderately successful with counting was a Tuesday, which is a little unfair. Tuesdays have typically been recipe link-up days, and while I love you, I don't love recipe posts. As a rule, I don't read them. I don't cook and I don't pin things on pinterest so they don't interest me. No offense! So, if I can tell it's a recipe post, I'll mark it as read. Same goes for obviously sponsored posts. I like that the disclaimer goes at the top of the post, because it saves me a lot of time. When I carpool with Andrew, I have an hour that I sit at my desk before I officially start working and I try to get in as much reading and commenting as possible in that window! I do read some sponsored posts, but if it's for a product that doesn't interest me, then sorry. I'll be back the next time! I also tend to mark posts as read when I'm only following the blogger because of a link-up or because I "had" to for some other reason. Of course, if these ladies write a post that interests me, I do read, but for the most part, especially since I don't "know" them, they get marked as read (yet another reason why I wish link-ups could just be easy... thoughts for another day).

When I first started blogging, I saw someone say that if you read it, you should comment. I try to stick with that as best as I can. Sometimes I can't think of anything to say though, especially on short posts or outfit posts. I try to think of it this way - if I just say "Cute outfit!" then you have to take the time to respond to my throwaway comment and then I read your likely throwaway response in my email. It kind of wastes both of our time, so I would rather not comment unless I have something to say. I also read a few big blogs (think The Bloggess) where I just never comment. But I read and enjoy, nonetheless.

I'm guilty of skimming, too. I feel like a lot of people do that to me (I can see my page views, after all). What makes one skim? I'm trying to put my finger on that. I tend to skim when I can't tell what a post is about and I see too much text (I know, I love paragraphs but sometimes I don't have the time I would like to read them!). Here's my confession: I don't like play-by-play posts. I don't like to read posts that tell me where you went, what you ate, who you were with, etc., like a big long list. Get to the good stuff! Everyone should write the way that comes naturally to them but if I'm being truthful, I tend to skip posts that don't get to the point fast enough!

I think reading and commenting is the holy grail. Reading every word and leaving a good comment are why I keep reading blogs. I love building relationships and letting the writer know that I liked what they wrote. As we all know, this is the step that takes the most time, so sadly, on some days, it's my lowest number. I try to make sure that if I love a blogger, I leave at least 2-3 real comments per week, though.

So, what's my number? If you're a skimmer, you probably just jumped down here. On this particular day, I read and commented on ten posts; only read 13; skimmed 15; and marked eight as read. That's 46 posts. I honestly thought that I read a lot more, but when you take into account how long it takes to read a blog post, I think it's a pretty significant amount of time. And it was all worth it. What's your number? What makes you skim or mark as read, and what moves you to comment?

Monday, January 20, 2014

on my own

I got to be a single girl for half of the weekend while Andrew was at a conference and I kind of messed it up. I did spend far too long in Target (but spent less than $20 and most of it was necessities!) and got take-out AND remembered to buy screw top wine (I can't work a corkscrew, yes it is a problem). But, I forgot I hadn't been to the grocery store in two weeks so there was no cat litter. I didn't realize this until AFTER I dumped the old litter in a trash bag and threw other stuff on top of it. At 11pm. So while I would normally whine and beg my husband to go to the store for me, I went alone. I made sure to text him my whereabouts and go to the nicer store still open instead of the Walmart that attracts some sketchy clientele, though. Safety first! I rewarded myself with a pint of ice cream that I proceeded to eat half of. At 11:30 p.m. Stay classy, me. So instead of binge-watchng TV, I did chores and not fun things. Oops.

On Saturday, besides boring chores you don't care about and live-tweeting the SAG awards (which you also probably don't care about but I was alone and bursting with commentary), I had lunch with Rachelle and Miranda, blog friends turned real friends. If Greek potatoes are missing from your life, then you need to fix that, now. I also went to Fresh Market, which is new to Houston. There was classical music playing and the whole store just felt snobby. And it was expensive! So I bought freeze-dried apples and chocolate chip cookies (they were't very good) and called it a day. By the time Andrew got home to tell me to stop tweeting about the SAGs, I was almost done with the bottle of wine from the night before so we just watched TV.

Sunday was grocery shopping and football and a few more chores. The Houston Marathon was happening so I watched it on TV and followed it on Twitter. Seeing just how far 26.2 miles is by paying attention to the route through my city was amazing to me. I don't know how you guys do it! It made me want to attempt a half, but at the same time I realize that I don't think I want it badly enough, but it was so cool. Maybe I will volunteer or something some time?

All of the pictures I took I've already tweeted and since I hate a post that basically rehashes someone's twitter or instagram, I leave you with this because I watched three episodes of Parks and Rec this weekend and seeing the evolution of Leslie and Ben brings back fond memories of Jim and Pam.

via. I just watched this episode and watching Ben sneak a peek at the painting was precious.

I'm still technically enjoying my weekend today. Hope you had/are having a good one!

Friday, January 17, 2014

friends and crafts and friday

It's another Friday! I nearly forgot that this is a three-day weekend (thanks, Dr. King, for many things, but a day off for your birthday makes you even more extra-special) so that just means today is going to crawl by. I'll try to keep my Five short and sweet.

1) Knocking another restaurant off of the Top 100 List: After the churro tequila at El Big Bad last weekend, I was interested in trying El Gran Malo, EBB's sister restaurant on the Top 100 that also features amazing tequila. While the food was a bit lackluster - two of my three tacos lacked flavor - the strawberry-hibiscus tequila didn't disappoint. The ginger flavor was a bit more subtle. My dining companion had the churro and then the pecan-cayenne, which was interesting.

Quesadillas with zucchini and poblanos | tacos | the cabinet where the tequilas were infusing

2) Speaking of my dining companion, it was the awesome Sara, formerly of Simply Sara Elizabeth. I would be sad that she quit blogging but since we talk a good four days a week, I can't say I miss her TOO much. She is doing good, Barley is getting big, and when I asked her what she wanted me to tell the blog world on her behalf, she said that everyone needed to stop being obsessed with numbers - from what size your friend wears to how much money she makes to blog and twitter followers, just stop. She might write a post for me about this, or I will expand on our talk about it because it was a good one.

3) Hypocrite, your name is Lauren (sometimes). I tweeted about how I hated when people tweeted their own blog posts a million times and then you guys were super sweet on twitter about my post yesterday so I had to retweet you because that's what you do and apparently I was annoying (according to my husband, but he's annoyed by everything so his opinion only counts when I agree with it). So sorry and I will do better next time but really, thank you so much for the love. I am really working on being me in my posts so the fact that you liked that one meant so much!

4) I did some googling and learned that you can download an app called Printicular and use it to print your Instagram pics at Walgreens (4x4) for 30 cents each (use a coupon code for more money off, obviously). I maybe went on a printing spree and refreshed my work bulletin boards and some frames at home.

 5) I also used my Instagrams for the Smashbooks I mentioned last week. I went to Michael's and got the full kit for $12 (after coupon) that came with a  book, some tape, and some inserts and a book with a "taste" theme to document our food adventures that was on clearance for $7. I'm having fun putting them together so far and the pages are already really cute so you don't have to do a lot of extra work, which I love.

Blacksmith gets a page (duh) | A page with my top ten of 2013 (found here) and a few pics to match | A spread dedicated to Underbelly, my favorite!

See More Good: This one comes from a blog post. I read Angi's post about a project she did for a friend and I've been thinking about it since. She got different envelopes and labeled them with things like "Read this before a date" "Read this before you see me" and "Read this on your birthday" and then wrote notes and put in little gifts for her friend who she doesn't see that often. I think that is the most thoughtful gift. Who doesn't want a friend who goes through all of that effort?

I'm looking forward to a great, long weekend. If you don't see me until Tuesday, you know I'm enjoying myself!

                                                         THE GOOD LIFE BLOG

Thursday, January 16, 2014

when enough is enough

When I was a kid, I really believed that anything could happen. I thought that I could be an astronaut or a lawyer, or marry Prince Harry and have tea with the Queen, or host a talk show like Rosie O'Donnell (hey, these were the days before Ellen and back when Rosie was still super nice). I dreamed of driving a Jeep like Cher in Clueless and living in a house like the Tanners' on Full House. It seems so weird now - the days when I had no idea what I would be when I grew up and anything seemed possible.

As I grew up, those dreams continued. I went to college to get a degree so I could get a "good" job - doing what, I never knew. With the good job would come a dream car (though my tastes changed, naturally) and an amazing house. I had no idea what the future held.

But somewhere along the way, I grew up. I finished college and got a job that wasn't my dream (and later, one I really liked - with a nonprofit). I fell in love with and married a man who lived in a house that was, well, just a house. Having a dream car became less important and having a practical, affordable car took over. I realized that I was never going to be discovered so my talk show dreams would just have to be lived out via social media. And it's all okay. But I've been thinking - when was the moment when everything stopped being possible and enough became enough?

I love the idea of being a dreamer. Yes, I still dream about a better house and maybe a nicer car one day. But I know I'll never own a mansion with more rooms than I can count, unless there's a lottery win in the future. I'm not traveling to outer space and Kanye and I won't ever frequent the same car dealership. And I'm fine with it (but Harry, you can still call me - Andrew would understand, I'm sure). I'm proud of what I've accomplished, what we have, and what I'm able to do.

I am enough and I have enough. Growing up, I lived in a very paycheck-to-paycheck home. Dinner out was the Wendy's Dollar Menu. I grew up living in an apartment in the suburbs of Houston and my parents both drove cars without working ACs in the summer heat. My parents did the best they could, and it wasn't until I was older that I realized how tough it must have been for them. Now, as an adult with my own money, I appreciate not living that way. I love that a $5 Starbucks is a little luxury, not a cause for bouncing a check, and that I can grab a new nail polish at the store without a second thought. It isn't a lot, but for a little girl who never grew up being allowed to grab M&Ms in the checkout line, it's big. It's a sign of achieving a dream I never really knew I had.

I have work that lets me be creative and gives me the attention that my only-childness craves without being in the spotlight, which makes me turn red. I have a husband, who, while not a Prince, is pretty darn great. We have a fun home life that would make almost anyone jealous in the best way - not an "I hate you" way, but in an "I want to have that much fun, too" kind of way. We laugh all the time and we have a lot of the same dreams about making our enough into just a little bit more.

So I guess my point is this: anything might still be possible, but settling for just enough shouldn't feel like settling at all. It's okay to dream, but it's more important to just be content.

All of that, and maybe, one day, I'll go buy myself a Jeep.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

the most annoying things about restaurants

I go out to eat more often than the average person, I assume, so I probably get more annoyed by restaurants than the average person. At least I hope I do. Because I get annoyed by them a lot. Here are the behaviors I wish would go away, from least offensive to most offensive.

This really has nothing to do with anything but I just watched this episode and thought this was hilarious. Bean Blankies!

6) Being out of stuff: Yeah, I get that it happens, but if I eat dinner at 7:00 and it happens? I don't get it. And if you have a small menu with only five entree options and you are out of one of them? That's even worse! That happened to us in Delaware and it was kind of a bummer. Just be better prepared!

5) Dropping the check before offering dessert: Listen, we are fat kids. Chances are, we will spit a dessert. I get not everyone is like that, but for those of us who are, can you at least ask before you leave the check without saying a word?

4) Refusing to substitute a side: This happened to me a few weeks ago and I got overly mad about it. We were at a Cuban place and I ordered a sandwich and could have plantain chips or fries as a side. I really wanted black beans and rice. I asked the waitress if I could substitute and without telling me there was an upcharge or that she needed to ask, she just said no. Really? So I got the fries and they went untouched. What a waste! And I had a bite of Andrew's rice and beans and they were yummy, so I was extra bummed.

3) Poor seat choice in a mostly-empty restaurant: If there is no one in the restaurant, I don't want to sit next to the bathroom. I don't want to sit in the middle of the room. I don't want to be right next to the only other table in there. And please don't give me the stink-eye when I request to change. Sadly, I am that person so I will ask to be more comfortable. Obviously, if it's 8pm on a Friday night, none of this applies. I'll sit in a closet if you will feed me faster!

2) When I have an empty plate, making a comment that I must have enjoyed my food. This one really gets me. Am I supposed to go to a restaurant, spend my money on an entree, and then leave half of it behind? I have a healthy appetite and I don't really care for leftovers so sorry not sorry but if my food is tasty, I will finish it. There is no need to make me feel like a cow for finishing my dinner. Can't they think of something new to say?

1) Questioning a tip amount: For work, I hosted an event at a restaurant in Washington, DC based on a colleague's advice. The service was awful. They weren't ready for us, the guests had to stand in line for their drinks (rather than a waiter taking orders), I had to ask them repeatedly to replenish the buffet (and was told "Tell them to eat the fish" when I wanted more chicken), and had to beg for them to turn on the AC. I was embarrassed that guests were brought to this place, and when the bill came, gratuity wasn't automatically added. My company policy prohibits tipping beyond 18%, no matter what. I understand and respect what people in the service industry do and know that they depend on tips to make a living; however, I feel that tips should be earned by doing a good job and by this waiter (he was the only one serving us) not attending to the guests and acting put out by additional requests, I didn't think he earned the maximum I could give him. So I tipped 15%. This was lunch for 24 people, so that wasn't a small amount. I was still with a few colleagues after signing the bill and the waiter came out from the back.

"Excuse me," he said, "But it is customary to tip 20%."

"20%? I thought 18 was more the norm."

"Oh yeah. 18%.... so, did you want to do that?"

I was speechless. Did he really think he had done his best and deserved that? I looked at my colleagues, including the Dean of the school I work for, and firmly said "No. I feel I tipped you what was fair for today." He said okay and walked away.

So, um, yeah. That was awkward and most definitely a pet peeve of mine from here on out.

What are some of your biggest dining out pet peeves?

Glossy Blonde

Monday, January 13, 2014

a vacation in my own town

Living thirty miles from downtown Houston means that I don't get to experience some parts of my city as much as or as often as I would like to. Downtown Houston is mostly a business district, but recently, some pretty great bars and restaurants have opened up in the Market Square area and I have wanted to explore them. Some friends asked Andrew and I if we would join them for a night out there, so we got on Priceline (love Name Your Own Price), got a room, and made a weekend mini-trip out of it.

The highlights:

- We went to Discovery Green Flea, which is more a market for all kinds of handmade goods and less of a flea market. I got an air plant for my desk at work but apparently it needs sun so I think it will live in my kitchen instead.

The park's Christmas tree is still up. | My cool plant.

- Met our friends at Okra first, which we all agreed was the favorite by far. I've talked about it here before.

- Batanga for dinner. Ten different tapas to share, so a little bit of everything. The guys tried the pig ears (I wasn't that brave), but we did have the salt cod (I wasn't a fan), grilled avocado with chorizo (yum), and the potatoes, chicken croquettes, and meatballs that were already favorites. The weather was in the 60s so we got to sit outside on the cute patio. Houston in January, gotta love it.

- We checked out Little Dipper, which is a newer bar. It wants to be a neighborhood bar, downtown. The bartender was cool and extended happy hour prices past happy hour.

- Pastry War was next on the list, which is a tequila bar. I talked about it here. Everyone agreed that they made a good margarita, and the chips and salsa we ordered were great snacks, too.

- I had been looking forward to trying El Big Bad because the pictures of it online were so pretty. They have a glassed-in area around the elevator where all of their infused tequilas are kept. They have all kinds of wild flavors - blueberry, vanilla, hibiscus, blueberry-ancho, vanilla-habanero, and the one I had to try: Churro. It was in a drink with cranberry juice and was garnished with a cinnamon stick (by this point, details weren't important) and it was so good, if you like sweet drinks, which I do. We also shared the queso fundido. I really want to go back here for dinner and to try a different tequila flavor.

- Andrew and I had heard mixed reviews about Bad News Bar, the newest bar in the area, but the bartenders at El Big Bad urged us to try it out. They said it was a speakeasy with an unmarked door and you had to knock on the door with a fox three times to go in (or something. I was drinking. I just remember my friend singing "What does the fox say?"). We went outside and saw a guy checking IDs and taking people into an unmarked door, so we followed them and sure enough, there was a bar in an old law office, complete with old-school desk lamps on each table. The drinks were strong and I liked the atmosphere, though the crowd was a little young. It was an experience for sure since I never go to bars, let alone ones with unmarked entrances.

Starting off at Okra | Elevator selfie at El Big Bad | Champ #3- my churro tequila drink | On the Batanga Patio (I don't realize how short I am until I see photos with others...)

- My friends were tired and wanted to go back to their room around 11, but through the wonders of social media, I saw some of my coworker friends were at Little Dipper, so Andrew and I met up with them and the others they were with. The rest of the night involved talking a cop into letting five of us ride the lightrail illegally, a Frenchman I didn't know giving me a double-cheek kiss while I gave him some serious stink eye, and a champagne glass getting broken while a woman was getting down to "Low" by Lil Jon for no real reason.

- We met up with the original friends on Sunday Morning for brunch at Hay Merchant (the Cease and Desist burger is their version of In-N-Out's double double and it was delicious) and ended with coffee at Blacksmith, my favorite. We sat on the patio at both and it was lovely.

Burger | Latte art, of course.

So in a nutshell, that was my staycation weekend. If you don't get to fully experience your city because you live too far away from the fun stuff, I highly recommend taking the opportunity to do it. It was way safer than us going to 1-2 bars and driving home and we got to cram lots of fun into one night with good friends. Hope you had a great weekend too!

Friday, January 10, 2014

five on friday: all over the place

First full week back at work, first full week back at blogging. It's been a good one for me; I feel like I really tried hard to show you what was in my head. I am really interested in a lot of interpretations of yesterday's post. If I may add a clarification, it would be this - I will definitely not be less "sassy" (my favorite descriptor, thanks) and I will continue to vent for sure, but I will try not to be unnecessarily negative or vent to multiple people about the same damn thing, in blog life or real life. Once it's out to one person, that should be enough. So now, on with the bullet points, because I have a story for you...

1) If you don't know me in real life, then you don't know that I turn red instantly when I am hot, embarrassed, have to speak intelligently and feel underprepared, and in almost any other uncomfortable situation. There is just no playing it cool. Normally I sit at my desk at lunch, but yesterday I decided to walk around Houston's Underground Tunnels. I was on a tile floor approaching a glass door that I would need to pull open. The man approaching me looked like a former student at my school who I knew well enough to say hello to. I was busy shifting the cookies I bought to my left hand so I could open the door as well as looking at the guy to see if I knew him, when BAM. My left foot shot forward onto my heel and my right knee slammed the ground, my right toes planted behind me so that my foot bent awkwardly (I was wearing ballet flats with no support). Despite my unathletic frame, I magically somehow popped right back up without using my hands and the guy (who was not who I thought he was) asked if I was okay. I told him yeah, I had no idea how that had happened... and then I looked down and saw a huge puddle of soda. Apparently I was in my own world and totally missed it. I was instantly red, and the guy behind me who saw the whole thing walked in the same direction as me for several more minutes. Real smooth. Oops.

I tried to not get my feet in there but I wanted you to see the icing situation my coworkers insisted on. Upside down recycle bin, grocery bags, and a lanyard binder-clipped around my knee. But, I am feeling okay now so I guess it worked! Moral of the story: get more pedicures. You never know when you may want someone to look at your foot to tell if it's swollen.

2) American Express customer service amazed me this week. I have a card that I only use for Christmas and work expenses, so I don't check its balance often at all. I had an email from them Wednesday morning about possible fraudulent activity - $75 to They declined the charge. At 8am, they were calling me to ask about that charge and two others, none of which were mine. A new card was waiting for me when I got home from work on Thursday night. I love that they saw it first and put a real person on the phone when there was an issue. It's not a huge deal but I love to share good service stories!

3) I admit that I am easily influenced by other bloggers when it comes to what to buy. I don't shop often so I like to get things recommended to me. Yesterday Ari posted about Smashbooks - do you know about these? I used to like to scrapbook but it's expensive, messy, and takes so much time. I still hold on to brochures and tickets and stuff though and they just sit in my house. I think this will be a great way to document life without a lot of mess and I WILL go get one (or two... there is a food themed one I could use just for restaurants...) this weekend!

4) What's your work dress code like? Mine is normally business casual but during the summer and winter break for students, I get to wear jeans. And it is more amazing than it should be. I don' t have to iron as much and I feel more like me. Plus this week when it was cold, I got to wear boots. If you wear jeans to work, appreciate it on my behalf because I'm back to regular dress next week!

5) The Mindy Project is so ridiculously good and if you aren't watching it, start now. I thought it started slow but about halfway through last season, I got really into it. It's one of the few shows that I actually look forward to lately. I think this season is completely hilarious and if I could just steal Mindy Lahiri's wardrobe, I would never need to shop again.

Just realized there has been no Gwen this season, and I'm okay with that.

See More Good: A woman here in Houston left a $100 tip on a $44 tab. The waitress read it as $10 and went on about her life. When the woman saw her bank statement and that the full tip wasn't applied, she went back to restaurant with $100 cash. So nice!

We have a fun staycation weekend planned with friends. I'm sure there will be plenty of opportunities to Tweet and Instagram about it, so use those fancy new social media buttons I just added to follow along if you don't already. I hope it's thawing out where you are!

                                                         THE GOOD LIFE BLOG

Thursday, January 9, 2014

see more good

So after yesterday's post (loved the comments, btw) I have to write in paragraph form today, right? Because tomorrow's post will be a list since Five on Friday is my favorite gimme post of the week and all... so let's get real.

Being real is a thing I struggle with in the blog world. Not because I think I'm ever NOT real - one of the best blogging compliments I have ever received (from Rachelle) is that I am the same in real life as I am here on my blog - but because I wonder how much of my realness y'all can handle. Sometimes I'm a jerk. More often than I would like to be. I am quick to speak my mind and I often see the negative before the positive. Sure, it's funny when we can all make fun of Miley Cyrus together, but for whatever reason, I want to at least joke about and nitpick almost everything. If it bugs me or annoys me, I want to share it with you so we can be annoyed together. And while that is all well and good and I am entitled to my opinion, I shouldn't have so many of these opinions that I need to share. While I rarely feel it occurs in an intentionally mean and spiteful way, it doesn't need to happen as much. I guess my mouth operates with a misery loves company way.

I've felt pretty convicted by a few things I've read lately: first was something in the blog Pretty Providence that my friend Sarah co-writes with her friend Jessica, who I don't know. This post was actually written by the other blogger, or else I would worry that I was one of the people she was talking about. In it, Jessica writes (emphasis mine):

...There are others who are constantly down, constantly worried, lift themselves by gossiping and belittling others and feel tremendously overwhelmed by the slightest inconvenience. When I am around “that person” it is so easy to talk about others, so easy to see all the negative in my life. So easy to wallow.

Ouch. I'm a worrier. I love work gossip. I am the Queen of Overwhelmed by Inconvenience. I like to chalk this up to my personality, but is obviously behavior I learned somewhere along the way. I like to think many women are natural worriers, and a little gossip never hurt anyone, right? But I never stopped to think of the affect my attitude has on my friends. I don't want to make you wallow! In my head, my complaining is funny and true, but too much of it breeds negativity. I'm turning 30 this year; it's time for that to stop.

So this idea was in my head and I read Stephanie's post and felt like these lines hit too close to home. Not in the context she was discussing, really, but in general:

Stop being a 'woe is me' petulant child, rallying your friends to support you in a raging outcry against the 'haters.' It's as obnoxious as it is fruitless.

I start many conversations by detailing a situation and asking "But am I crazy?" expecting to hear the word No. And sometimes, maybe I'm not crazy, but the need I feel to find support for whatever I am irritated with on any given day is part of why I ask for that confirmation. If I'm not crazy, then you can see the ridiculousness of the situation, and I am right in my feelings. I need to learn that I can be annoyed privately more often. If I can't say something nice, then I shouldn't go tell someone else the unkind thought I just had.

So all of this to say - I'm trying. I want the real-ness here to be the real that is happening in my head. Not a sanitized version of the truth so you don't think I'm a terrible person and stop following me. I want the real-ness to be more positive and less snarky. I'm going to work on it. I still need my people who can see the real me because some things in life are crazy and deserve to be mocked. But mocking doesn't have to be my first thought. And it doesn't have to be what I share first and foremost. I want to see more good and I want to share that. I want to start sharing something good with you every Friday - a blog post, an article, a cute puppy, something that reminds me of the inherent goodness in people. A reminder that even when humans do crazy things (me most definitely included), that there are amazing things in the world to be shared. I think looking out for my See More Good of the week will help keep it in my mind more often than just writing this post and being done. So, make sure you check back every Friday to see if I'm sticking with it.

I didn't make a new year's resolution but - here's to real me being less of a jerk in 2014!

I didn't want a second post in a row with no pics so here's a reminder for me since I'm pretty visual anyway. Also, there's fairy dust so you know it's good.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

I miss paragraphs

When I first learned about blogging, I read blogs to keep up with these people whose lives I found interesting for some reason. She was wedding planning at the same time I was, she was my age and already had a ton of kids, she had a cool job, whatever. Back then there were stories and glimpses of the woman behind the blog.

It's no secret that I began blogging to make friends. I feel like I have succeeded, but I keep at it because I like it so much. It seems that anything in life that I have or could go through, one of my blog friends has done it - an endless stream of girlfriends to give you advice and support when you might need it. Buddies to gchat and text to get through the work day and people whose blog posts offer you yet another glimpse into their lives.

It seems lately though, that these glimpses are fewer and farther between. I'm not pointing fingers; I've seen it in my own writing. I'm used to breezing through tweets and Facebook statuses, reading a Buzzfeed list while waiting for the elevator, scrolling Instagram at a stoplight. So since I am inundated with quick info throughout the day, I sit down and write quick info at night: bullet points, lists, brain dumps. It's like my mind isn't used to reading prose, let alone writing it. I don't want to discount the work I have put into my own blog - many of my favorite posts are written in such fashion - but it has become less about the writing and more about pressing publish before I go to bed most nights. The quick way is the easiest to get out and for me, the quick way is the easiest way to feel like someone will actually read it. I suffer from a case of TL;DR (stands for too long; didn't read in case you aren't on Reddit very often) as bad as anyone else, but when it's a blogger I love? I will read a novel if they put it in front of me (sidenote: one of my blogger friends SENT me her novel and I read it so this is a proven fact). I like to know what you are thinking and what's on your mind but more than anything, I love the why behind it. I like stories and explanations. You don't have to just give me the Cliff's Notes version. I'll listen for the long haul.

I'm not sure when bullet points and lists became our go-to, but I want to encourage you to not make it so. Tell me a story, or how you feel. I want long sentences with lots of punctuation, more detail. I'm not quitting the short bursts, and you shouldn't either, but wouldn't it be fun to get long-winded once in awhile?

The Hump Day Blog Hop

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

life lately: Christmas travel

So, I'm back to recap my trip to Delaware and NYC. It was filled with many misadventures...

- We arrived on Christmas Day. In a beach town, there aren't many options for Christmas Dinner, so we drove to Ocean City, MD (about 40 minutes away) to eat at a restaurant called Reflections inside a Holiday Inn. Needless to say, my hopes weren't high. You walked in and the place screamed 1985. There were mirrors everywhere (thus, "Reflections") mixed with concrete bricks that made you feel like you were in a castle. Andrew ordered an Old Fashioned that tasted like club soda (which isn't even an ingredient to one of those). We overheard a waitress talking about her twins and how she "knew they were fraternal because they came from two separate eggs" (ummm, on what planet do you discuss your embryos with strangers at dinner?). The bread is covered with honey and poppy seeds and when then put it on the table, they include a bowl of water with lemon to dip your fingers in to get the sticky off. Not only was the bread gross, but I didn't want to stick my fingers in the shared cleaning water. Ew. (Also, I named it Hot Ham Water, ten points if you get that.) The food was pretty awful and flavorless. The table of four next to us had two orders of prime rib and both were apparently inedible - we heard them tell the waitress "our dogs will be very pleased with this" as they sent it all to the back to be wrapped up. It was a laughable dinner, at least.

The Beach! | Andrew with Lucy, his sister's dog | Me with Brandy, my FIL's giant German Shepherd | Large Thrasher's French Fries | Boardwalk | Fractured Prune Donuts

- My father-in-law lives right by a huge outlet mall and there is no sales tax in DE, so we took advantage! And my husband asked to go to Home Goods, which made me a proud wife.

- We had dinner at a place called A(muse), which I had high hopes for, but it wasn't that great. My short ribs were overcooked, but the coffee was at least really good.

- When I went to Delaware two years ago, I was introduced to Thrasher's French Fries. We don't have fries like this in Texas - with malt vinegar over them instead of being served with ketchup. They were so good! Last visit, we shopped on the boardwalk as we ate the fries. I went in a store, Andrew stayed out with the fries, and finished the whole order when I wanted more. I have been bitter since. Not this time, friends. I got a huge order of Thrasher's (split between four people) and ate more than I needed to! We only spent a few minutes on the Rehoboth Beach Boardwalk but I think it is so cute - I really want to visit it in the summer!

- I also went into donut overload this trip. Andrew's dad got me hooked on Entenmann's chocolate donuts when he lived with us a few years ago. Sadly, they are no longer sold in Texas. I told him that I wanted to get my fill so he had boxes waiting for me, plus we stopped at the Entenmann's outlet on the way back from NY. Plus, The Fractured Prune, a place with amazingly decadent donuts that they make to order, was actually open this weekend and I got to visit it. It was as amazing as I had hoped and if I ever win the lottery but not enough to quit working,  I would seriously consider buying a franchise. I loved it!

- We originally planned this trip so that we could go to a Giants game. Since their season was pretty bad, we didn't think any starters would play so we kept the trip but nixed the game. We had a hotel room booked in NJ, so we drove there on a Saturday. We checked in, then drove into NYC to visit the World Trade Center... only it took an hour and a half to make a twenty minute drive (why did we drive? I'm not totally sure. My father-in-law lived in the New York area for 40 years, so he was pretty comfortable with it). We missed our reservations, couldn't find parking, and ended up getting snacks and drinks at The Spotted Pig in Greenwich Village. Their deviled eggs were on The Best Thing I Ever Ate and their burger was pretty yummy, too.

Pig stuff all over the wall at The Spotted Pig | No, that isn's human waste, it's chicken liver toast, and I hated it | The best Deviled Eggs, yum | Their burger was awesome, too - Roquefort cheese and nothing else. 

- After lots of walking around to build up an appetite and kill time, we had dinner at Blue Hill. It was nominated for a James Beard Award and is in a former speakeasy. One of the appetizers we had was cool - it was different dried fruit, charcuterie, and bread served on a gold tree - but my dinner was only okay (ricotta gnocchi with pork jowl). Andrew talked me into getting the ice cream trio for dessert. One of the flavors was milk jam, which was like dulce de leche, and it was amazing. Creamy, rich, and not too sweet.

Tree appetizer | Bouchon Bakery smoked salmon brioche, coffee cake, and coffee | Bacon from Peter Luger Steakhouse | Chocolates from Jacques Torres

- Sadly, Sunday was our only full day in the city and it decided to rain. Luckily, I got to see the Rockefeller Center tree and some of the shop windows on Fifth Avenue before it got too bad. We went into Saks which was amazing! The windows had animatronic displays that told the story of the Yeti on the roof of the store and the first floor had branches, greenery, and lights all over the place. Is it cheesy to call the store magical?

Inside of the store | Windows outside | Me with the giant Yeti

- Since we couldn't sightsee much due to the weather, we ate and drove around. A lot. We went to Bouchon Bakery, which is so good. I had been to the one in Vegas before. For lunch, we went to Il Buco, a restaurant/ market with Italian meats, cheese, and pastries. The short rib sandwich and pizza were delicious. We stopped at Jacques Torres, a chocolate shop, and got chocolates to bring home as well as one of his cookies (his cookie recipe, though a colossal pain in the butt, is the best I have ever made). We ended up at a Giants bar in Brooklyn where a drunk guy showed my father-in-law his nipple and claimed to have been stabbed by a Puerto Rican once. Colorful crowd. Dinner that night was at Peter Luger, a steakhouse that's been around for over 100 years. To me, it was just okay; I'm just not a huge steak eater.

Gnocchi, Pizza, and Short Rib Sandwich at Il Buco

That's basically my trip in a nutshell. If it hadn't rained, I think we would have had a lot more fun! But, it was neat to see the city with my father-in-law and hear where he went as a kid, what movies were filmed where, and what different things used to be. I also learned he is a champion parallel parker. My opinion on NYC hasn't changed much - I still don't think it's a city for me. If I ever go back, I really want to do it right. Stay in the city, in the heart of the action, and go to a show, eat at a few hole in the wall restaurants, and walk everywhere. Maybe one day!

At the Rockefeller Center Tree | Art in Washington Square Park | Empire State Building | Fifth Avenue Windows | Huge Christmas Lights

Monday, January 6, 2014

life lately: Christmas break edition

I've only been gone for two weeks, but it feels like an eternity! As I write this, I have over 100 posts to catch up in Bloglovin and almost as many blog comments to respond to (Mission since accomplished!). I feel bad because I miss my friends, but not too bad because life away from a computer screen has been lovely! This year, I really let December get the best of me - I got stressed out by work and obligations and didn't get to enjoy the season until it was almost over. And those days of enjoying it? Completely heavenly. So next year, I want to start Christmas shopping October 1st. Wrap gifts weeks in advance so I can enjoy how pretty they look under the tree, rather than wrapping them hours before they are opened. I think getting those knocked off my to-do list will give me lots more time to enjoy the season.

So, since no one wants to read a play-by-play of everything I've done for the past two weeks, how about some (long) bullet points instead?

Burgers at The Shack - Five Napkin Burger, onion strings, and Cooter Jack Burger | Bauer demonstrating how we lounge in this house | Being ridiculous with a bow on Christmas | Christmas Eve breakfast at Pecan Creek Grill

- I saw American Hustle and while I wanted to like it,  I just didn't. Maybe upon second viewing, I would like it more. It's one of those movies that once you know the ending, looking for clues the second time around could make it much better. Jennifer Lawrence's character was great, though.

- Went to my 45th restaurant on the Top 100 in Houston - The Shack Burgers. They opened up a new toll road near my house that is free until February, so it made travel to this part of town really easy. The atmosphere of this place was really cool - it was a series of open-air buildings with a fire pit and probably an area for kids to play. It would probably be great to go to on a pretty spring day, but Andrew and I decided to go on a whim in the middle of a rain storm that blew in a cool front, so we were cold the whole time. The beer list was extensive, and the burgers went beyond the normal offerings. We will definitely go again, but it wasn't so OMG amazing that it will be in the regular rotation due to how out of the way it is.

- Since we travelled on Christmas day, we started our own tradition on Christmas Eve. We opened our stockings on Christmas Eve Eve before bed and then got up Christmas Eve morning and exchanged gifts. Then we went to our favorite breakfast place. It was a fun way to celebrate just the two of us and even if we aren't traveling next year, I would love to keep Christmas Eve Breakfast a tradition!

- Santa was very good to me. A "this is what I got" post doesn't seem interesting to me, but I do want to brag about the creativity of my family. My mom's family (about 20 of us this year) draws names, but those of us who want to usually give a small gift to each couple or individual. Andrew and I made Mexican Chocolate Marshmallows, which were a huge hit. My aunt, who is the craftiest person I know, embossed covers for purse-sized calendars that are completely gorgeous and even made gift bags to put them in (I didn't realize they were homemade at first - they were perfect!). She also gave each couple a handmade ornament. My cousin and her husband are both artists; they made, fired, and glazed pots for each couple and put a tiny cactus from clippings off of their plants in each. Another cousin's wife got glass ball ornaments and wrote each family's last name on them with each person in the house's name and filled them with feathers. It was so simple yet so thoughtful. I need to up my homemade gift game for next year for sure.

The ornament from my aunt | Pot and Plant | Homemade bag with calendar (forgot to take a pic of the other ornament, oops).

- If you follow me via social media, then you already know that I spent the holidays with Andrew's family in Delaware and New York City. Our visit was interesting, to say the least. I think that can all go in its own post.

- We came back home on New Year's Eve. For the first year ever, I wanted to do things but I was tired and the cat missed us so much. Seriously, he didn't leave our sides and was so snuggly and cute. Also, he was terrified of the fireworks sounds. There were a few drunk driving deaths reported in Houston the next morning, so as lame as I felt, it was way better to be safe at home then out on the roads with the crazies!

- Through work, I got to know a woman who hosts a huge New Year's Day Open House every year. I have heard about this and was thrilled to be invited. Her home is in a beautiful neighborhood and our Honda was out of place next to the Bentley at the valet stand (yeah, valet stand in the driveway...). There was a professional photographer taking pics as you walked in and giving them to you as you left (ours was awful), a strolling magician, tarot card reader, caricature artist, life-sized puppets, a band, a coffee bar with latte art, and of course a bar. The food was amazing too: crab claws, a risotto station, bananas foster, qual, ribs, baked potatoes.... it was unlike anything I have ever seen! There was even a party favor of two Godiva chocolates as we walked out. Basically, I think I should rethink my life choices because I would love to host a party like that (and invite all my blog friends, obviously).

- I went to see The Wolf of Wall Street, which I loved! I normally hate long movies, but this one kept me entertained the entire time. The scene at the country club? I'm still laughing. Leo deserves an Oscar nomination for this one!

So, that was it in a nutshell. Going back to work today is going to be rough. Wish me luck!