Friday, June 29, 2012

a summer photo challenge

For me, the definitive summer month is July.  No fear of school creeping into the beginning or end of the month. Plenty of warm (hot?!?) weather. Fireworks, lemonade, lightning bugs. Pools, flip flops, and sprinklers. Summer camp, vacations, the beach.

Last summer, I participated in a month-long photo challenge that I really enjoyed. I shared my photos daily here on my blog.  I decided I wanted to do this again this summer, only this time I've created my own list, focusing on the theme of "summer" during the month of July.

Will you join me?  Here's the list:
And here's what you do:  Take a picture each day of July, focusing on the theme for each day. So July 1, take a picture of a "summer pastime" on the 2nd, a "summer smile", etc. You can post your pictures to your blog, your instagram feed, or just do it on your own! Feel free to use the image above on your blog...and link back here! Make sure to leave a comment with a link to where you're recording your photos! I'd love to see your take on this challenge!

I'll be using my instagram app again to take pictures, as I found it easiest to record & post to the blog using my phone last year.

I do hope you'll join me and play along!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Summer Fun

A few weeks ago, I took these munchkins of mine to Panera Bread for breakfast. 

In addition to enjoying cinnamon rolls, muffins, and oatmeal, I had an additional purpose in our trip there:

I wanted to create a list of things to do this summer...backyard activities, places to visit, cold treats to enjoy, etc.

And so we did.  45 things to do for the Summer of 2012 (and we're adding more as we think of them.)

So today, I'm working on transferring that list onto slips of paper to put in our Summer Fun Jar. (You can read about how I made the jar on this post from last summer!)

Here's our list, in case you're in need of some ideas for the coming weeks! (I'm sure you can spot Nathanael's suggestions in a heartbeat!)

  1. pool
  2. Star Wars 6 Movie Night
  3. Splash Pad
  4. Chuck E. Cheese
  5. Slip n Slide
  6. Make uniquely flavored popsicles
  7. Movie Theatre
  8. Roller Skating
  9. Build a sandcastle
10. Ice cream sundaes on the porch
11. Go to Asheville & Mimi's park while there
12. Build something out of wood
13. Watch fireworks
14. Make homemade ice cream
15. Summer Reading Contest
16. Rent Clone Wars
17. See the White House
18. Tube on the Rappahannock
19. Family Water Balloon Fight
20. Marshmallow Gun Fight
21. Blow bubbles
22. Bubblegum Contest
23. Watch Finding Nemo
24. Go to a Museum
25. Go to the Aquarium
26. Visit a bookstore
27. Go to the Lego Store
28. Family Sidewalk Chalk night
29. Go to Farmers Market
30. Pick berries
31. Go horseback riding
32. Meet Daddy for a picnic lunch
33. Have a Lego City Family night
34. Play Charades
35. Attend a concert on the lawn
36. See a clown
37. Rent MarioKart
38. Roast hot dogs & smores
39. Get cupcakes
40. Build a Bear
41. Learn about & visit a battlefield
42. See a baseball game
43. Film Star Wars 7
44. Go on a train
45. Drive with no destination

So tell me, what is on your "Summer Fun" list this year?

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Perfect for the Fourth

Ever a collector of recipes, I am always on the lookout for a good one-dish meal.  

If you've seen the July issue of Southern Living, you're in for a treat, as they've featured several different takes on main dish potato salads.

I have never been a fan of regular ol' potato salad, but these recipes have changed my perspective of what potato salad *should* look like.  I made the Steak & Blue Cheese Potato Salad (with a few of my own tweaks) earlier this week, and it was a hit.

I think it would be perfect for the grill on the 4th of July next week!

Steak & Blue Cheese Potato Salad

1 lb. asparagus
1.5 lbs. baby yellow potatoes, halved
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1.5 lb. flank steak
1 tsp ground pepper
1/2 tsp salt
2 red bell peppers, cut into fourths
1 red onion, cut in 8 wedges
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/3 cup olive oil
1 Tbsp coarse grained mustard
1 tsp lemon zest
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tsp salt
4 oz blue cheese, crumbled

1. Preheat grill to 350-400 degrees, medium high heat.

2.  Cut off tough ends of asparagus.  Place potatoes in a single layer in the center of a large piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil.  If you don't have heavy-duty on hand, make a double layer of foil.  Drizzle 2 Tbsp olive oil over the potatoes.  Fold foil over and seal at top and sides, to create a packet.  Sprinkle steak with pepper and 1/2 tsp salt.

3. Grill steak and potatoes at the same time, covered, for 7-8 minutes on each side, until meat reaches desired temperature and potatoes are fork-tender. Grill the other vegetables in a grill basket for 4-5 minutes.  Let all stand at room temperature for 10 minutes when done.

4.  Meanwhile, whisk together the vinegar, olive oil, mustard, lemon zest & juice, garlic clove, and salt.

5.  Cut steak diagonally across the grain into thin strips.  Cut asparagus in half and red peppers into strips.

6.  Toss steak, potatoes, and grilled veggies together in a large serving bowl with the vinegar dressing.  Top with blue cheese and serve immediately.

We enjoyed the leftovers for lunches the following two still tastes great, although it's not quite as pretty!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


Today was a beautiful day.

Fresh breezes through open windows. A day that felt like late spring...and made me look forward to early autumn.

A pleasant walk right before lunchtime with my munchkins. Scooters and wagons and flowers and croquet mallets.

And then they spent the afternoon hiking with Daddy while I spent a quiet afternoon, enjoying peaceful breezes.

I know the end of the week appears to hold triple digits...

but today was a beautiful day.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Morrison House Grille

It's been almost a month...but I'm still reminiscing about this meal.

We love good food.  Comfort food.  Tex-mex.  Thai.  Fine dining.

We like them all.

And for celebrating 11 years of marriage, we opted for a fine dining experience at The Morrison House Grille

We were seated at the window overlooking the courtyard, and I was greeted by a beautiful bouquet of flowers from Brent, who had asked a florist recreate our wedding flowers. He also had put eleven years of pictures to some favorite music that he surprised me with on the iPad.  To say I began the meal with happy tears in my eyes is an understatement.

We decided to try the Chef's Tasting Menu, an amazing seven course meal, accompanied by wine pairings for Brent.  (I was more than content with my glass of sparkling Cava.  I'm currently hunting down a bottle of it.)

The food was inventive and delicious, and of course, I had to capture it on camera. (Pardon the grainy was difficult to get my iPhone to cooperate as the sun set!

This was maybe my favorite course, the amuse bouche.
An heirloom tomato gazpacho with sea salt ice cream and basil.

The appetizer...definitely the most unique. 
Artichoke Pate with black truffle, marinated artichokes, & artichoke chips

I think I have a bias towards matter the season.
Asparagus and Tonic Nettle Soup with creme fraiche, asparagus tips, radishes
If I had been at home, I would have licked the bowl.

Fish Course...probably my least favorite...though my stomach was also starting to feel full.
Olive Oil Poached Wild Alaskan King Salmon, salsify, velvet Pioppini mushrooms, red wine consomme

The intermezzo, a lime sorbet on a halved strawberry.
Did I mention that every course had a completely different serving two plates were the same.
It was fun to see the many unique shapes of their dinnerware!

My only disappointment with this course was that I didn't have room to finish it! By far, the best lamb I've ever had.
Rosemary Basted Elysian Fields Lamb Loin Saddle, with Lyonnaise potatoes, Swiss chard, black olive powder, lamb jus

We opted to pass on the cheese course, (as we had gone to a wine & tapas bar for appetizers before we knew we'd be having such a feast!) 

The dessert course was a perfect ending to an amazing meal. A perfect blending of some of my favorite flavors. Mmmm.
Dark Chocolate Molten Cake, Gianduja ice cream, hazelnut cappuccino, filbert tuile

I have to say that the experience of a Chef's tasting menu is such a treat.  I think the first time we enjoyed one was at a French restaurant on our Vermont honeymoon...and then one on our first anniversary in France.  I think I like what's becoming a "tradition"!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Adventures in Freezer Jam

I mentioned our trip to the berry farm a few weeks ago...and I have to admit, one of my main reasons for wanting to go was to stock my freezer with strawberry jam.  (And of course, Jen's comment on that post made me smile...because by the end of that Thursday when we picked berries, I had a counter full of jarred jam.)

It's such an easy process...if you have the freezer space, you must try sometime this summer! I'm hoping to make some blackberry jam soon too!

Don't freshly washed strawberries just look beautiful?

The hardest part of freezer jam is washing all the jars & lids...and hulling the strawberries. 
Like I said, it's a simple process. Have no fear.

Strawberry Freezer Jam

2 cups fresh strawberries, crushed
4 cups sugar
1 package Sure Jell 100% Natural Fruit Pectin
3/4 cup water

1. In a bowl, stir together strawberries and sugar. Let stand for 10 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, place water in a medium saucepan and pour pectin, stirring to combine.  Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat and allow to boil for one minute.
3. Pour the water/pectin mixture over the strawberries and stir well to combine.  
4. Using a canning funnel, pour strawberry jam into jam jars, leaving 1/2 inch of space from top of jar to allow for expansion while freezing. Clean the edges of any spills and secure lids in place.  Allow to sit at room temperature for 24 hours.
5. Place jam in the freezer until ready for use.

If I remember correctly, this recipe about yielded 5 8 oz. jars of jam for me.  I made several recipes! I love the bright red much prettier than what you can buy in the stores!

 Of course, the easiest part of making jam is enjoying it!  We are a PB & strawberry jam family...

And one of those jars doesn't last very long in our house! 

What do you eat with your peanut butter?  And what is your favorite kind of jam/jelly/preserves? 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Found: patio table inspiration!

We have this great deck behind our house...perfect for relaxing, playing, listening to the was the setting for this year's annual Mothers Day picture. :)

We also have some wrought iron, distressed green patio furniture that I love...purchased way back when Hadleigh was a baby from Pier 1...but no patio table. And we love dining al fresco.  Which for the past few years has meant dragging our folding tables back and forth.  

I've always wanted a weathered, grey picnic style table (with one unattached bench) to pull our two chairs and loveseat up to for meals.

I always thought I'd find one at an antique/thrift/garage sale one day.

Enter Pinterest.  And this:

This comes from a really fun website Shanty 2 Chic, with lots of great ideas...and what makes it even better is that this specific project has free building plans from Ana White...we've used some of Ana's plans before for this little dress up station for the girls with great results.

And the best part? When I sent the link to Brent...he asked me to print out the plans!

Stay tuned...I'm hoping that we'll be enjoying more evening hours around a table just like this soon!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Their First Trip

We took our first trip as a family into the DC area last week.  I was excited to see familiar places & to experience them again with my children.

We were a little disappointed (especially the kids) to learn that the Washington Monument was closed for repairs from last year's earthquake...although I'm secretly grateful, as I think they (and by they I mean Madeleine!) should be older before making that climb.  I have fond memories of being in the sixth grade, wearing my newly purchased black Hard Rock Cafe D.C. t-shirt and climbing step after step after step, pausing to rest & take pictures with the state-inscribed stones for NC and TX. Maybe one day, they'll have those memories too.

The kids really impressed us with how long they walked...I think we both anticipated hearing that they couldn't walk any more, but they were troopers, walking from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial and back again.

We all enjoyed the World War II Memorial; it was the first time for me to see it.  I love this picture of Nathanael. I'm sure that here, he was just thinking about how much he wished he could jump in the water, but one day, I imagine he'll stand there, just as wistfully, remembering with a grateful heart those who gave their youth and service and lives, protecting our country...our world.

I love the Lincoln Memorial. It always invokes strong emotion for me. But Lincoln did seem a *little bit* smaller than the last time I stood next to him.  The children loved climbing all the little steps and the "big steps" here...

One thing that surprised me was all the construction.  In my previous three visits (6th grade, 8th grade, newlywed), I don't recall much construction.  I remember fields of bright green grass, lots of people, and Ben & Jerry's ice cream stands on The Mall.  People wading in between Washington & Lincoln.  The reflection pool has quite a different feel without water, as it's repaired/improved. ;)

I have no memory of this tree from years past, but my children will probably always remember it.  It might have been the highlight of the trip for them.  It's a tree perfect for fairy pretending, climbing, and relaxing, its trunk is worn smooth in places by human hands, and its branches and leaves provide such lovely shade from the bright sun. We would all love to have this tree in our yard!

Always thankful for people willing to take a family shot for us. (Amazed that the youngest is smiling here and not her brother.  Not normal for family photos.)

Preamble by Mike Wilkins, 1987

I loved this piece of art on display at the National Portrait Gallery/Smithsonian American Art Museum.   We learned the Preamble during Classical Conversations this year, so it was fun to read through this with the kiddos.

We also went the Smithsonian Museum of American History...but didn't last long there before going to dinner at The Old Ebbitt Grille.

The other highlight for the kiddos was riding the Metro. :) Of course.

I'm excited to continue to explore this area while we're here...and in the future, teaching the kids a little bit more about what we're going to see & do first, so that they're a little more familiar and appreciative of what they see!

Do you have a favorite spot to visit in the DC area? Please share...we're working on our list of places to visit during our year here!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

12 on the twelfth

June edition:

  1. This picture greeted me first thing this morning.
  2. Greek yogurt, with blueberries added to my normal almonds & agave syrup
  3. trying to get more hung up on walls around here :)
  4. Playmobil
  5. mathtime
  6. her "hundreds" house
  7. finally planted my basil
  8. a bell to signal lunchtime & schooltime (and relief to my voice!)
  9. dress up after school?!?!?
10. latest lego creation of my little guy
11. collection of candles from kitchen table
12. raindrops on the window

Simply Lovely, No. 14

The first ripe blueberries of the year.
A lovely, warm morning in June.
A treasured memory of simply doing this together.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

A Special Day, indeed.

(last year, gathered at Kiawah for Mom's birthday; love this perfectly imperfect picture of us all.) 

Today is my Mom's birthday.

And just like her mother (my Mimi) used to tell me when I asked her how old she was, Mimi told my children when they asked her today that she was "21 plus."

And then Nathanael said, "Mimi, you were 21 plus last year." :) He doesn't miss a beat, that one.

Happy Birthday Mom...we love you with all our hearts & are celebrating you today.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Strawberry Fields

I have longed to go strawberry picking since Hadleigh was a toddler.  We have been blueberry picking, apple picking, and pumpkin picking.  But this is the first time we've lived (or visited) near a strawberry field during the right season! 

Some new friends from church invited us to go with them a week or so ago, and I was happy to agree!

We set off with six children between the two of us.  I quickly learned that while Crocs might be the easiest shoe to clean from berry picking, it certainly is not the most ideal shoe for the rain-filled rows we encountered.  And so, we were off to a muddy start.  

There were some tears and one four year old who proceeded to gather strawberries with one shoe on and the other off.  But eventually my girls enjoyed the search for berries and happily filled their buckets alongside their friend.

Nathanael, all boy, was not daunted by the mud in the least and was always too far ahead of my camera to pose for a picture. (Though I did catch him from the back in that top shot.)  He gathered a huge number of berries and then played with the other boys in the field beside the berry rows.

The children tired out much more quickly than us moms, and so we called it quits after a row or two...but not before we each gathered about 13 lbs. of strawberries.  And to top it off, as it was the end of the season (and the farm was no longer gathering to sell in their market) we picked at the reduced rate of $1 a lb.  Quite a sweet bargain, don't ya think?

These are the berries we brought home.  Freshly-picked is the best way to eat a strawberry, I think.

I think I'm already excited about next year's strawberry crop!

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