Monday, June 25, 2012

15th Wedding Anniversary and Local Discoveries!

I've been in a happy place a lot lately, and I like it!  It's a much better place than the alternative. Maybe it's because summer is here now and I'm filled with giddy anticipation of all the fun I plan to have. The trips to the pool, grilling with family and friends, camping, and all the fabulousness that summer has to offer. Not to mention the longer days and the abundance of sunshine.

My "Happiness Project," which I began full steam a couple of months ago, kind of fell off track a little and I'm really not sure why. I found myself feeling blah more days than I would have liked, but I guess that's just how it goes. You can't be happy all the time. But recently I've had more happy than blah days.

It really started a couple of weekends ago, when I went back to Nebraska and did the Warrior Dash with one of my best friends from high school. We've talked a lot online, but it had been almost a year since we've actually seen each other, so it was way overdue. After running the Warrior Dash, I spent the evening with her family up at their lake house. Even though we never got into the water, it was definitely what I needed. We sat on the dock and talked, I almost threw my phone into the water (I did lose what I had left of my case), we rode around the lake on their "T-Rex", and then wrapped up the night chatting on the deck, watching the beautiful sun set as it reflected off of the lake. It was the perfect, peaceful ending to a crazy, mud-filled day. It's amazing how a setting like that can remind you what's important.
Beautiful sunset on the lake.

Back home in KC the following weekend, we were joined on a four-day weekend by my mom who spent most of her vacation hanging out with us. Thursday we had lunch and then went to Men In Black III in 3-D and had so much fun, we saw it again on Saturday night in the regular movie theater. Friday we traveled just south of Kansas City to Powell Gardens, which blew away my expectations. The gardens were gorgeous, the scenic views were inspiring, and I enjoyed their fruit and vegetable gardens and vineyard, and being able to show my kids where it all comes from.

The rest of the weekend was shopping, eating, hanging out, and kids water play.

That led to another four day weekend, this time to celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary! As of Wednesday night, I had no clue what we were going to do and where we were going to go. All I knew is that I wanted to go somewhere we haven't been before, I wanted to try to support local businesses where possible, and I hoped that whatever crazy ideas I had, Kevin would indulge me. Lucky for me, he did!

At the City Market

We started with a trip to the "Westside", just south and west of downtown, with a stop for lunch at the Blue Bird Bistro. It's the kind of place I might normally shy away from -- old apartments (could have been a house, not sure) converted into a cute little restaurant, serving organic and sustainable food. I say it's the place I normally shy away from, because I sometimes fear the unfamiliar. I'm afraid I'll stick out like a sore thumb from the "locals" or look like I don't belong. But I've learned over the last year or so that stepping out of your comfort zone can lead to wonderful experiences and new favorites (like duck tongue tacos or roasted marrow bone from "Extra Virgin"), so we parked our car on a side street and walked two blocks to the restaurant. I LOVED the colors!

The colors and the blue bird on the post makes me happy!

We walked in and were led up a long flight of stairs to our table. Had I known there were stairs involved, I might have wore different shoes! Once up the stairs we were taken down the hall, through one room into another. The wood floors and pale green walls made for a very welcoming and inviting atmosphere. The waitress poured water into our glasses from a beautiful blue wine bottle (that would be the perfect decor for my new yellow kitchen walls) and we poured over our menu. 

Love the glass blue water bottle

Kevin opted for a bacon egg sandwich, while I chose a bison burger with sauteed mushrooms and garlic and a side of some wonderful dill potato salad. I have to say I was very pleased with my choice and definitely look forward to going back sometime soon.

The burger was a little dwarfed by the homemade bun, but it made for a tasty mushroom, tomato sandwich!

With a list of other snack places to try, we didn't get to stop by Blue Bird Bistro's newest neighbor "Little Freshie," a "soda fountain and espresso bar" that I'm told has amazing snow cones. However, it's definitely on the list. We did drive quickly around some of the neighborhood, with me "oohing" and "ahhing" over the houses. I definitely wouldn't want to be that close to my neighbors, which was like a walkway's distance between each, but the colors, the architecture, the history in those houses...definitely something that is missing from the cookie cutter neighborhoods being built today. I wish I would have taken more pictures as we drove down the street, or had more time to really walk around and see it all, and someday we will as it's also now on "the list."

After leaving the Westside, we headed down to the Crossroads District for my first ever visit to Christopher Elbow Artisanal Chocolates! I've had one of their chocolates once before and have been dying to go try it for myself! The chocolates are expensive at around $1.75 a piece, but their flavors are so creative, the chocolates themselves are so beautiful and soooo tasty, that they are really worth it!

(Top row) Bananas Foster, Chamomile Honey
(Middle row) Fresh Mint, Strawberry Balsmic, Butterscotch Bourbon
(Bottom row) Brown Butter Pecan, Fleur De Sel, Raspberry
The next stop on our tour of locally owned food spots was the City Market and the delicious Bloom Baking Co. We had stopped there once last year and I had the most amazing almond pastry and a delicious focaccia, and I have been wanting that almond pastry again ever since! Unfortunately, they didn't have them in stock, but the owner did an amazing job on selling me on some fresh brioche bread and their homemade bread pudding. Having never had bread pudding before, I split it for breakfast Friday and Saturday and it was good! A little rich, which is why I split it, but definitely worth the hype. We used the brioche along with the Bloom Baking Co.'s recipe that we were given for french toast for dinner with friends on Friday night and everybody -- including the kids -- agreed it was delish!

Bloom baking co. in the City Market - Yum!
With that checked off my list, we headed to the Country Club Plaza looking for fresh macarons at Natasha's Mulberry and Mott. Unfortunately they were out of macarons, but I did buy some homemade marshmallows for me and the kids.

The last stop on my list was Glace Artisan Ice Cream, also owned by Christopher Elbow. Much like his chocolates, his ice cream selection has a lot of interesting and surprising combinations. I would have liked to have try everything, but I decided on a scoop each of french lavender and fresh mint chip. Wow! Awesome flavors! Both were good, but the french lavender was by far my favorite. So much so that I had Kevin run across the street to CVS to purchase a small cooler so that I could purchase a pint of french lavender ice cream to take home. I never would have thought it would have been so yummy!
Glace Artisan Ice Cream on the Plaza's south side
I love that blue
French Lavender and Fresh Mint Chip. Yum!
All day, my husband had been indulging my whims and going with me on my tour of local KC food establishments without complaint, so after ice cream it was time to make his one stop -- Gomers Liquor Store. His day was made by finding the last 6-pack of Newcastle Founder's Brew and a 6-pack of DAB, and I continued my "buy local" mission by buying a 12-pack of Boulevard Wheat.

After picking up the kids and dropping them off at our friends' house, we headed to Zona Rosa for our anniversary dinner at Swagat Restaurant, Fine Italian Cuisine. This was the first time for both of us to eat real Indian food and we've been wanting to try this restaurant for a long time, so with no kids for the night, this was the perfect time. We started with an appetizer of Paneer Pakoras (homemade cheese, deep fried in spicy chick-pea batter) which Kevin really liked, but for me it was just okay. Dinner for Kevin was Chicken Tikka (skewered strips of boneless chicken breast marinated in herbs and spices, grilled in a clay oven) and for me it was Butter Chicken (Boneless chicken cooked with fresh garlic, ginger, touch of tomato in a light creamy sauce and spices). I took some pictures of the food, but it doesn't seem to look as good on camera as it tastes, so I'll skip posting that. But believe me when I say, it was YUM-MY! We will DEFINITELY be going back and I will be trying something different every time.
Swagat at Zona Rosa.
After dinner we walked around Zona Rosa a little, doing a little shopping for the kids at Crazy 8, browsing at Barnes and Noble, and stopping at Topsy for a treat for Kevin. I was saving myself for the creme de menthe brownies that my good friend Michelle had made for me us. So we headed back to pick up the kids and celebrate a little with our friends, who are celebrating their 15th wedding anniversary exactly one week after us. We celebrated by popping the cork on a wine we purchased 15 years ago during our honeymoon at the Biltmore Estate Winery.
American Chenin Blanc purchased during our honeymoon at the Biltmore Estate
And Michelle created a special presentation of brownies just for us.

Michelle's Creme De Menthe bars specially designed for our anniversary
And that was our 15th wedding anniversary celebration! The time spent just the two of us was definitely needed and enjoyed. There wasn't one argument we had to break up, no voices raised at disobedient children, no diaper changes, just us, doing stuff. And I also got to check some things off of my Kansas City list (but I also found more to add to it).

I'm in my happy place, and you know what? I'm happier there! Go figure! It makes it so much easier to love the little things!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

My Kansas City Project: Part 1 - KC Royals!

We have now lived in Kansas City for a little over 16 years, which is a huge chunk of my life.  For roughly the first 10 years or longer, I continued to call Lincoln home even though there wasn’t really any plan to move back. Truth is, while I had a job and we had some family and friends in the area, it never really felt like home. My friends, my family, and my heart were back home. 

Having kids changed all of that.

Nine months after Emily was born, we finally bought a house – 11 ½ years after moving to Kansas City. A few years later we joined our current church, became a complete family of four with the arrival of Brendan, and met the people I know consider some of the greatest people I know. Life has changed in the last few years, and I finally consider Kansas City home!

Recently I’ve come to realize that there is so much about my Kansas City that we are missing out on! So many great restaurants, museums and activities that we haven’t experienced and it’s really rather sad when you think about it.  That’s why a few months ago I began planning what I call “My Kansas City Project.”

Originally, I was going to make a list of everything and every place that I wanted us to try by the end of the summer – both as a family and with my girlfriends – but that list became rather long. With the limited time and finances of summer, I realized it was going to be an impossible list to tackle in a few shorts months, so the goal then changed from a list of want-to-do’s by the end of the summer, to just a list of want-to-do’s.

While the goal isn’t to get it all in by the time school starts, there are a lot of items on the list that are either only possible in the summer, or at least much easier, so those are the ones I am concentrating on first.

I’m happy with the progress so far.

Take the kids to a Royals game = Check!

This was the first item checked off of the list, and it was an easy one thanks to my firm’s “Family Day at the K”. It was a hot one and we didn’t stay for the whole game, but we enjoyed free food, a lot of sun, and a little bit of baseball.

It was very bright and Sunny, and this squishy nosed face is a Brendan classic!

Emily enjoyed her first Royals game.
Last weekend I was able to check two big items from the list, thanks to a four-day weekend and a visit from my mom! She took a few days out of her vacation to come see us and accompany us to both Worlds of Fun and Powell Gardens.  Those activities require detailed explanation and a lot photographs, so I will save those for their own posts later this week!

I'm really exciting about experiencing all that Kansas City offers, so if you have any suggestions for “My Kansas City Project,” I welcome any ideas! Sometime soon I plan to post my current list, and hopefully this week I'll be able to cross some more off that list or discover things that aren't even there yet.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Memorial Weekend In Review

There is nothing like a long weekend with family and friends to make you realize how blessed you are. Last weekend was one of those times! It was a busy, fun filled three days that left me exhausted upon my return to work on Tuesday, and wishing I had taken an extra day. But it was worth it!

Friday’s work day was shortened thanks to the holiday weekend, so after picking up the kids from daycare and running a couple of errands, we headed over to our friends’ house. There we enjoyed some good grilling, good conversation, pink moscato (so good!), and wrapped it up with a game of Clue -- my very first time playing! (I know, how is that possible?). That was the first of three late bedtimes for the kids!

Saturday morning we packed up the car and headed north for a two night stay in Nebraska City and a busy two days in Lincoln. When we arrived in Lincoln, after a stop at the grocery store, Kevin, my mom and the kids headed over to my brother and sister-in-law’s house to play with their cousins and eat dinner, while I headed with my friend Melissa to Omaha for the Rachel Platten concert.

First of all, it was great to be able to spend the evening with Melissa! We’ve been friends since high school, but hardly ever get together since my trips home to Lincoln are few and far between. I was thrilled when I messaged her to see if she’d join me at the concert and she said yes, even though she had absolutely no clue who Rachel Platten even was.

The 60 minute drive was a great time to catch up, and since we arrived at the bar an hour early, we had even more time to chat. I wanted to get there when the doors opened, just in case the place was packed, so that I could get a decent spot for the show. Turns out, an early arrival wasn’t necessary as there were only about 30 people there.Disappointing to see, but made it feel even more intimate.

While I will save my review of the show for another time, I will say that I am so glad I went! From the moment I discovered Rachel Platten last year from my favorite blog, Enjoying the Small Things, I’ve been slightly obsessed. I love her inspiring, get-off-your-butt-and-do-something lyrics, her poppy sound, and her happy, quirky personality! The concert was just as much fun as I imagined, and Rachel was just as sweet and personable and I knew she’d be. As I stood around waiting to meet her and get her autograph, I found myself nervous with my hands literally shaking like a teenage girl meeting her idol. After introducing myself and having her sign the EP and CD I purchased, she gave me a hug and thanked me for coming, and made me an even bigger fan. Please check her out by visiting her YouTube channel here.

Rachel Platten and me. I was giddy?
   With autographed CD’s in hand, we left the club and headed for dinner at Fuddruckers! I LOVE Fuddruckers! After burgers and fries, we made the 60 minute trip back to Lincoln where I picked up my family and made the 50 minute trip back to Nebraska City.

The next morning, after we finally got dressed, packed and out the door, we headed back to Lincoln for a mini-family reunion with my dad's side of the family at Mahoney Park! We seriously never see each other unless it's for a funeral, so this was a big deal.  While not all of our family was able to make it, the party did include the four of us, my dad, step-mom, brother, sister-in-law, two nephews, two nieces, an aunt and her husband, an uncle, two second-cousins, their two friends, and a dog. 
Grandpa and Brendan making a clover necklace.
Emily was SO excited to play with her cousin! She definitely idolizes her.
She is an ornery little thing, but she's just so cute!
My favorite brothers!
The family!
 We didn’t let the 90+ degrees stop us from enjoying lots of food and conversation, or stop the kids from playing soccer or running around the playground. After a few hours of family fun, some members of the party had to run off, and the rest of us decided to cool off with a trip to Dairy Queen for ice cream! After ice cream and a stop at my uncles, then my cousin’s house for dinner, we made another late night drive back to Nebraska City.

The next morning was the excitement of packing, followed by the 2 hour drive back home that included a 20 minute stop at a busy gas station on Memorial Day, waiting in line for the bathroom.

I love going back to Nebraska and love seeing my family, but I really love coming home, relaxing in my own chair and sleeping in my own bed! After unloading the car and unpacking the bags, I had a burst of energy that led me to replace the broken linoleum squares in the kitchen (which led to a nice burn in my arm muscles for the next couple days). Once the work was done, it was time for a diaper run to Target, but first the kids and I headed to Pizza Hut for dinner. After Target we headed for my favorite summer treat – frozen yogurt at Lemon Tree – where Kevin surprised us in the parking lot and joined us.

Upon our return, baths were taken, bedtime hugs and kiss were passed around, and two very tired kids fell fast asleep. As I finally relaxed and reflected on the weekend, I couldn’t help but smile. Time spent with my dad’s side of the family is rare but usually very entertaining, and this gathering was no different. And of course, spending time with my mom and meeting a woman who has been a huge inspiration to me recently was a big plus for the weekend!  I’ve been blessed with an entertaining and loving family and wonderful, supportive friends. Being able to enjoy this weekend helped to me remind me to stop and enjoy the little things moments that make up big weekends!