Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Old Navy Giveaway!

Photo credits to my awesome sister-in-law and her SWEET film camera!
So guys, funny story. Last week I was surprised to see a totally unexpected deposit of unknown origin in my checking account. Turns out that many many months ago, long before Frankie was born, I had set up an account with blog ads (as seen on the right sidebar over there) and for the first time in over SIX YEARS of blogging, I had made money off my blog.

I found this kind of hilarious, especially since it happened at a time when I'm neglecting this poor blog more than I ever have before. There may have been a point in my life when I thought I could make money off blogging, but those days are long gone. Blogging is my hobby, a creative release and an amazing way to make friends. I love that so many of you guys reading this are friends of mine in real life, or friends who FEEL like we know each other in real life even though we've never met offline. I absolute love blogging, but I don't think this blog is ever going to be a real source of income for me.

So I tried to think of what I could do with this nice little surprise extra income, and I realized that the only thing that really makes sense is to give it back to YOU. You guys are the ones who keep coming back here and reading and sending the nicest comments and emails even when I don't blog for weeks and weeks. You guys and this awesome blog community have given me the best advice, helped me through rough patches, and you never fail to brighten my day. So I thought it would be fun to use this extra bit of cash to do a giveaway for you all.

You guys know how much Frank and I love Old Navy (both for ourselves and for Frankie too!), and I wanted to do a giveaway that would appeal to the moms and dads out there as well as those who don't have kids (as most of you don't). So I'm giving away two $25 gift cards to one of our favorite stores, Old Navy.

On to the giveaway! Enjoy, and I hope YOU win!

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Giveaway ends December 1st at 12:00 AM CST. Winner will be selected randomly and be notified by email. 

Oh, and this probably goes without saying, but this post is not sponsored. (Like Old Navy would ever sponsor a post on this, the Tiniest Mommy Blog of Them All.) Never say never, but it's highly unlikely that you'll ever see a sponsored post here.

Good luck!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Lots of little things

Oh, my friends. I have so much to catch you up on. I think about things I want to blog about every single day, but it's so hard to justify using Frankie's precious nap time to blog when I could be working (or cooking, or cleaning, or...). So here is just a crazy brain dump of a post with some of the things I want to tell you.

1. I've been wanting to blog for a month about our amazing Milwaukee day trip but I've finally accepted the fact that it's not going to happen. I'll be lucky if I manage to blog about our weekend trip to NJ last month for Frank's cousin's wedding (also known as the trip where we stopped at Every Single Rest Stop between Chicago and NJ). Luckily my dear friend Giedre blogged about the Milwaukee trip with her trademark gorgeous photos so I'm just co-opting her post. ;) Like she said, we will have to go back! And if anyone is planning a day trip to Milwaukee and wants a copy of Frank's very thorough itinerary for the day, shoot me an email!

2. Halloween happened! It was cold and miserable and sleeting part of the day, but we got photos of Frankie in his awesome Lion costume from Old Navy, so I was happy.

He is such a happy little chub these days, I can't even stand it.

Here's all three of us dressed up for a Halloween party later that night:

We joked that Frank was actually dressed up as an IRA member (pre-1920s of course) instead of Bert, since that's kind of what he looked like in his hat and trench coat.

3. On a related note, last weekend we went to a local pumpkin farm with my parents and youngest siblings. Frankie wore his pumpkin hat for the occasion, of course. Hay rides and caramel apples and pumpkin picking happened. Everyone was happy.

Here's my mom trying out the Moby wrap:

And my dad's awesome pictures from the day:


Frankie is two feet tall and built for speed!

(Actually no, he can't get around much at all yet, but my dad used to always say that about us growing up.)

I have to tell you guys about this picture:

Let it stand as a record to my most ridiculous First-Time Mom moment yet.

My little brother and sister asked if they could take Frankie with them on this little train that goes about 2 mph and runs in a little circle next to the cornfields. I was a little anxious but I finally said yes, after making them promise 15 times to hold him VERY tightly and not let him fall out.

Then once they were seated on the train, I proceeded to freak out and ask my mom a million questions like "How fast does it go? Are they going to go all the way around the cornfield??? What if he falls out? Would you let YOUR baby ride on that thing without you?" I had these horrible visions of my baby crying in fear somewhere on the far side of the huge cornfield. Finally the attendant took pity on me and handed me a free ticket. I then dramatically ran next to the train and jumped on behind my siblings just as it was leaving the station. It was like a caricature of a rom-com scene.

Yeah... there was not even a chance that he would have fallen out. And the train did NOT go around the cornfield as I had feared. I don't think Frank and my parents have ever laughed so hard.

4. In the morning before we went to the pumpkin patch, we got to meet Auntie Leila at a talk she gave in Oak Park!! I have read her blog for years and really enjoyed getting to know her awesome kids Joe, Suki, and Deirdre when I lived in Virginia, so it was really cool to finally meet her—and get a signed copy of her book! Frank is a huge fan of icons (and has collected many of them) so he especially enjoyed her presentation.

5. Yesterday was Frankie's 6-month birthday! I'm a bad blog mom and did not take any good photos. Whoops. Maybe later this week. Life is just moving too fast for me right now!

I am happy to report, though, that he has learned to sit up by himself! He was able to do it in short bursts starting a week or two ago, but as of last week, he can now sit up unassisted for 10 or 15 minutes at a stretch. Here he is showing off his new skill:

Except it's not totally accurate since he's past the "tripod" stage and just sits by himself now. But you get the idea. :)

6. Another exciting thing happened yesterday—Frank's first day at his new job!! That is a crazy story of its own.

The week before our NJ trip, Frank was leaving the courtroom downtown when an older attorney from a different firm who he had been working with on a case asked to talk to him. The attorney said that their firm was looking to hire a new associate attorney, and he had noticed Frank's "strong courtroom presence" and was wondering if he was interested in interviewing. Frank interviewed for the job two days later and got the job offer. Then he met with his former bosses to discuss what would be best for his career, and they agreed that this was a better opportunity for him. So within the space of a week, while we were across the country in NJ, Frank found himself accepting a new job at a bigger, more established firm in the Loop. He was not looking for a new job at all, and it's crazy how it all worked out so perfectly. He has worked so hard this past year and it makes me so happy that he's doing so well and advancing so quickly in his career.

All day yesterday, my family was texting me asking how his first day at work was going, and I was relaying to them what I heard. He got to his new office at 8:30am and he texted me at 8:45 that he was already working on a file (yay!). Then he texted me at lunchtime that he had gone out to lunch with his co-workers and ran into a friend of ours on his way back. So he looked cool and popular in front of his new co-workers, I relayed. ;) Then he texted me in the afternoon that he was getting a new phone and laptop with this job. Alright, game over. I concluded that his first day was awesome. And it was. I'm so proud of him and excited to see how this new job goes!

7. On another note, two Saturdays ago was one of the last really warm days here in Chicago. We took advantage of it by spending the afternoon at the park near our house. The guys and our friend Theresa threw around a football while Giedre and I sat on a blanket talking and soaking up the sun. It was glorious. This photo Giedre took is my new favorite of my Franks:

Little man fell asleep on my lap at one point which was darling. He's not much of a snuggler so I enjoy getting in some snuggles whenever I can:

It was such a perfect afternoon. I will be carrying the memory of that sunshine with me through the cold winter months.

And once again I have to ask myself: considering how much I hate the cold, why do I live in Chicago????

8. Alright, last topic! I need some advice and you guys always deliver. So you know how I'm working part-time from home as an editor these days? That is going really well, although it does take up a lot of time. Lately I've also been doing small writing projects once or twice a month for a consulting firm where a friend works, so between those two jobs, blogging has taken a backseat. (Last night one of my friends said, "I don't know how you do everything you do," and I stole a line from Simcha Fisher and replied, "Through sheer, horrifying neglect of housework and cleaning." It's true—while I still try to make the bed every day and keep up with dishes and laundry, by necessity Frank and occasionally my mom are doing a lot more of our cleaning these days.)

Anyway, so over the weekend, I received a phone call from my former boss at the local university. They have a short-term project ("short-term" meaning 8 months to a year) for an editor working remotely, and she wanted to know if I was interested. I'm very aware of what an honor it is that they are seeking me out to work for them again after I left 6 months ago. I'm also aware of how fortunate I am to have more remote work opportunities than I am able to handle. But that doesn't make the decision any easier.

There are so many unknowns here that I'm really struggling to make up my mind. I don't know where we will be a year from now in so many ways. I wish there were a way I could do both jobs, but 40 hours/week is just not going to happen with working from home, not unless I somehow get a nanny or cook/maid. What would you do—stay with the permanent but more demanding and less prestigious job you have, or switch to the temporary (but still fairly long-term) less demanding yet "cooler" job you used to have? Even as I type that out, I realize that to some extent it's silly for me to ask for advice on this, since ultimately only I know the ins and outs of both jobs and which is a better fit for me. I guess part of it too is what my long-term goal is; do I want to transition back to full-time work, or do I want to eventually be a full-time SAHM? That seems to be the bigger question I'm dealing with here. Anyway, if you have ever had a difficult time choosing between job opportunities, I would really appreciate hearing how you made up your mind.

9. Actually, wait, no, there's one more. I put up our annual All Souls' Day banner!

I save funeral cards and prayer cards (images of the saints) throughout the year and hang them across our fireplace for the month of November. I like taking the opportunity to remember and honor those who have gone before us. I'm not super great at living the liturgical year in our home beyond the standard Advent wreath, Christmas tree, and saints' day celebrations, so this is one little thing I like to do in honor of All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day.

I started doing this last year and didn't think too much of it at the time, but since then I've read some interesting articles about how the concept of death can be very scary for young children since their only association with it is Halloween and its ghosts and skeletons. I like to think this is a small way that our family can take the fear out of death—not trying to turn it into something positive, necessarily, but bringing the focus to honoring and remembering the dead in a healthy way. Hopefully I can keep up this tradition as the years go by!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Fool-proof Soup / Potato, Kale, and Roasted Cauliflower Soup / "Stone Soup"

Did you ever read the story "Stone Soup" as a child? We had a picture book telling the story, about a hungry traveler who claims he can make delicious soup out of just a stone. By asking each of the passersby to contribute one small ingredient, sure enough, he cooks up a big pot of soup that is enjoyed by all.

I enjoyed this story as a child because of the traveler's cleverness and the villagers' lesson in cooperation. But as an adult, I was amazed to find that the cooking part of this story is incredibly accurate—when making soup, you really can throw in whatever you have and it will turn out great. The one meal I can always rely upon to be AMAZING, no matter what ingredients I have on hand, is soup.

The thing about soup is, once you know the "secrets" to making it, it's practically impossible to mess up. I really think it's the easiest meal you can make from scratch, as long as you have an hour or two to let it simmer. And you don't need to run to the store for ingredients but can simply use whatever you have on hand.

There are three basic principles I follow to get perfect, delicious soup every time:

1. Start by sauteing onion and garlic in butter/oil at the bottom of your stock pot.

2. Use Sazon Goya.

3. Add the individual ingredients according to how long they take to cook (so things that take the longest to cook first).

As long as you do those three things, your soup will be delicious. Guaranteed.

To illustrate the process, I took pictures while I was making Potato, Kale, and Roasted Cauliflower Soup recently. I didn't use a recipe—which, Frank will tell you, is extremely rare for me, since normally I'm not brave enough to veer one word away from the instructions! But that's the thing with soup—it's so easy that if you've made it once or twice, you know how to make it forever.

I started with butter at the bottom of my stock pot (you could also use coconut oil):

Next I added one finely chopped onion.

In a pinch, you could also use minced dried onions. I've done it before.

Right after the onions, I add garlic. Ideally you would add fresh garlic cloves (probably 2 or 3) but I almost always use garlic powder.

Once the onions have cooked long enough to turn translucent, I add 6 cups of chicken stock.

I sometimes make my own chicken stock when we eat a whole chicken (I roughly follow this recipe except I almost never add vegetables and I never have parsley on hand ... so it's basically just water, bones, and a bit of vinegar), and sometimes I use bouillon or a carton of chicken stock. You could also use vegetable stock or plain water, but I always use chicken stock as I like the flavor. (Am I allowed to say "I like the depth of flavor it provides and the way it enhances the other ingredients"? Does that sound pretentious?)

(I hope you guys are enjoying my heart-shaped "made with love" wooden spoon. I love that thing.)

And now for the secret ingredient! Sazon Goya!

That stuff is magical. Seriously, it says right on the packet: "A little bit of magic in foil packets." It's true!!! I use it in every kind of soup, from minestrone to chicken noodle. It makes every dish better.

I especially love using it because I can always hear my Cuban grandmother's voice in my head when she used it (she's the one who introduced me to the magic of Sazon Goya). She always tells me to the buy the kind without Annatto, so I do, though I'm not sure why. But the last time Frank did groceries he got the regular kind with annatto, so we'll be cooking with that kind now. I don't think it makes a difference.

Here's the soup after the Sazon Goya (at this point it's just onion and garlic sauted in butter, chicken stock, and Sazon Goya):

Lovely color there, thank you Sazon Goya.

So now it's time to start adding the ingredients. Potatoes take the longest to cook, so they go in there first. I try to chop them into pieces small enough to easily eat with a spoon.

Why did I use red potatoes? Because they were what we had. I'm making this soup again tomorrow and I'll be using brown potatoes because we need to use up a bag of them. I'm telling you, with soup, just throw in whatever you need to use up. It will end up tasting delicious.

I never peel potatoes, for any recipe, since the skins are packed with fiber and vitamins. Also, who has the time?

After that I put the lid on and walked away to let the potatoes cook. I waited to add the other ingredients until the potatoes are soft when pierced with a fork.

Meanwhile I turn my attention to the cauliflower.

Why did I put cauliflower in this soup? Because we'd had a party the day before and I had a leftover vegetable tray nobody had touched. So I turned the leftover cauliflower into soup.

First I chopped the cauliflower (which was pretty quick since they were already cut up. I just chopped them small enough to easily eat with a spoon):

Not pictured: I then tossed the cauliflower in a big bowl with some olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roasted it according to this recipe. Yes, it took 30 minutes to roast, but the potatoes needed that time to cook anyway.

So then I added the roasted cauliflower:

Wow, that looks ... appetizing... Don't worry, we're not done.

The final step is adding the ingredient that needs the least time to cook—KALE!:

Here is where Frank would make some smart-alecky remark about "stop with the kale propaganda." He listens to way too much Jim Gaffigan, if you ask me. But even he had to admit it tasted delicious!

So that's it. Just remember: 1) Start with sauteing onions and garlic. 2) Use Sazon Goya. 3) Add ingredients according to cooking time. Your soup will always turn out great.

You can elaborate on this basic process to make any kind of soup you want. Use a tomato base, vegetables, pasta, and no meat—it's minestrone. Cook ground beef with the onion and garlic, use tomato paste and a ton of beans—it's chili. Use broccoli instead of kale and cauliflower, blend or puree the soup, and then add milk or heavy cream—it's cream of broccoli. The possibilities are truly endless, once you get the basic idea.

Here is the official recipe if you need it:

Potato, Kale, and Roasted Cauliflower Soup

1 tbsp butter or coconut oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced (or 1/2 tsp. garlic powder)
4-6 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock), depending on how many people are eating
4 large or 6 medium potatoes, chopped
1 head cauliflower florets (about 2 cups), chopped
1/2 bag of kale (about 2 cups)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 packet Sazon Goya seasoning
Salt and pepper to taste
(optional) Grated Parmesan or mozzarella cheese to top

1. Preheat oven to 400.
2. Melt butter at the bottom of a 6-quart stock pot.
3. Add onion and garlic. Saute until onion is translucent.
4. Add chicken stock and Sazon Goya.
5. Add potatoes.
6. While potatoes are cooking in broth, separately toss cauliflower in large bowl with olive oil and about 1/4 tsp. each of salt and pepper. Spread out cauliflower pieces on a baking sheet and roast for 20-30 minutes.
7. When potatoes are soft and easily pierced with a fork, add roasted cauliflower.
8. Stir in kale until just wilted.
9. Serve and enjoy! We sprinkled a little grated Parmesan on top. Dee-lish.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Easy Halloween Costume: Mary Poppins & Bert

I have been talking about Halloween for months now. Seriously, since before Frankie was born. Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays (you get to dress up in costume AND you get free candy??? There is no down side—every part of this holiday is awesome), but Frank didn't grow up celebrating Halloween and was kind of wary of the whole concept. So I figured I could get him on board by talking NON-STOP about how excited I was to dress up for Halloween. (I know, lucky Frank.) I'm pretty sure every one of our friends has heard me mull over possible costumes at some point in the last 6 months.

We finally agreed to a compromise about the whole dressing-up-in-costume thing. I could understand him not wanting to dress up for trick-or-treating, since we are kind of definitely too old for that, but what if we were invited to a costume party? "Ok, fine," Frank said, "I'll agree to dress up if we get invited to a costume party."

So once we got that settled, I began crossing my fingers that we'd get invited to a costume party. Oh yeah, I'm pretty sure we had this conversation back in August. Nothing wrong with being prepared, right?

Luckily, our friends pulled through, and we were invited to TWO parties requiring Halloween costumes. The first was last Friday. I was more than a little gleeful when I reminded Frank of our deal, and he was more than a little eye-rolly at my excitement over coming up with costumes. Pretty much every costume I suggested, he vetoed (or I vetoed his suggestions). He didn't want to be Star Wars characters or animals or fairy-tale characters, and I didn't want to be historical figures. I mean, Irish pirate queens sound cool and all, but who even is Grace O'Malley? The party involved a costume contest, and call me crazy but I didn't think Grace O'Malley would be a guaranteed winner.

Finally, it was the day before the party and I was frantically googling couples' costumes, most of which were too cheesy or involved props we didn't have. On a whim, I texted Frank, "What about Mary Poppins and Bert? We already have almost all of the stuff for it" and I sent him this picture:


Luckily Frank's favorite Disney movie growing up was Mary Poppins, and I always liked channeling my inner Mary Poppins during my babysitting days, so we had a winner! The great thing about this costume is that we already had most of it in our own closets. Here is what you'll need if you want to recreate it too:

dark-colored long-sleeved shirt
dark pants
dark vest
duffer cap
black dress shoes
red bandana around the neck
black eyeshadow smudged on the face
(optional) some sort of broom

Mary Poppins:
black A-line skirt
opaque black tights
black heels
white button-down shirt, buttoned all the way to the top
red belt
red bow tie (or a red bow safety-pinned to the collar)
small black hat with some white flowers
a large bag
an umbrella with a printed parrot head taped to the handle
(optional) white gloves

We went to Goodwill Thursday night, where I found a plain black felt hat and a little wreath of white flowers. I cut up the flowers and glued them all around the hat brim, with one sticking straight up in the back. The whole family was getting in on the costume-planning fun—my mom found a red bandana for Frank and lent me the hot-glue gun, while my little sister dug up a black umbrella—but it was my dad who had the genius idea to make our own parrot head umbrella at home. He found and printed this image for me to tape to the umbrella handle:


With that, we were set. We dressed Frankie as a mini-chimney sweep in dark-colored clothes and his duffer cap. The next night, we were so excited when we won the couples' category of the costume contest! One of our friends said, "It was the parrot umbrella that did it!" and I couldn't wait to tell my dad. Such a fun night, and such a fun costume.

Now the only question that remains ... will we come up with different costumes for the next Halloween party, or stick with this tried-and-true winner? (Or really, how many different costumes will Frank tolerate?). What's your favorite easy, throw-together-stuff-from-the-closet Halloween costume?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Frankie wears many hats

... literally.

Frank and I love playing dress-up with his mini-me, and we went a little overboard in purchasing hats for the fall and winter. It helps that Old Navy has the greatest selection of baby hats imaginable, and that Frank's younger brother works there and lets us know about all their great deals.

First we have what Frank calls the "little Gilbert" duffer cap (our family is a bit Anne of Green Gables-obsessed):

Frankie wears this hat to church (but not IN church) and for sunny walks around the neighborhood.

My favorite memory with this hat (so far) is the time Frankie and I were walking with some friends through Bridgeport and we spotted an elderly gentleman sitting on his front stoop... wearing the exact same duffer cap as my baby. It was awesome. When he saw Frankie, the grin on that old man's face was a mile wide.

Next we have Frankie's "trapper hat" aka "bear cub hat." I like to call it his Davy Crockett hat, but Frank insists that doesn't work since it's not a coonskin cap. Whatever, he totally looks like a snuggly little mountain man to me. When he wears this hat, I like to sing the Davy Crockett song with Frankie's name subbed in: "Frankie, Frankie Barber! King of the wild frontier!" (you know the one?)

My favorite memory with this hat (so far) is the time Frankie wore it when we went on a tour of Lakefront Brewery in Milwaukee. All of these tipsy frat boys were coming up to us yelling, "Dude! Awesome hat!!" It cracked me up. I also loved when the tour guide asked, "Is this baby's first brewery tour??" and Frank and I responded, "No... it's his second." We were a little proud of ourselves, not gonna lie.

And last but not least, we have Frankie's pumpkin hat. 

This one is his newest—Frank just bought it for him when we were in NJ over the weekend—but it already has sentimental value for a couple of reasons.

When Frankie was a tiny infant, about six weeks old, the very first time Frank made him laugh was by calling him "pumpkin." It was the cutest thing—Frank would give him this big grin and say, "Heyyy pumpkin!" and tiny Frankie would giggle and giggle. To this day, "pumpkin" is Frank's special nickname for him that always makes him laugh, so of course when Frank saw this pumpkin hat he had to buy it.

Also, back when Frank and I were engaged and living in Virginia, every Sunday at church we used to do "baby spotting" of the little ones sitting near us. We would always point out the cutest babies to each other and daydream about having a baby of our own someday. In particular, we always noticed this one baby boy who we dubbed "the pumpkin." His mother always wore him in a sling so that just his little head was visible, and since he had very chubby cheeks and bright orange hair, he did in fact look just like a little pumpkin. It's fun to remember those days now that we have a chubby-cheeked "pumpkin" of our own.

p.s. Happy feast of St. Teresa of Avila—my patron saint—today!