Sunday, August 26, 2012

Playing Catch-Up

Where have I been for the past five months? That's an excellent question.

In April, Steven and I went completely off-list, and sadly, I let the blog fall to the wayside. On Good Friday, we were thrilled to find that we're expecting our first little kidlet this winter, and suddenly the items on my list were replaced with things like "Turn the spare bedroom into a nursery" and "Learn what the heck 'swaddling' a baby means."

I'm back now, and will try to be diligent. But frankly, a lot of my "in progress" items have unraveled. We'll just play this all by ear for the time being.

In the meantime, here are some fresh, new updates:

#9. Spend a day at the beach. I've done well on this one. Really, really well actually. Not only have I had one beach day this summer, I've had three. In June, Steven and I traveled to Fort Lauderdale to see two great friends tie the knot, and while we were there, we soaked up a lot of sun. (Probably too much, if we're being honest.)

Last month, Steven and I took a "babymoon" to Charleston, S.C. (more on that later) and made sure to schedule some quality time relaxing at Folly Beach.

And finally, we just got back from a great end-of-summer vacation to Ocean City with some of our favorite couple friends. It may have rained for 75% of our vacation, but we still got in a good amount of beach time on Friday, making the day off work totally worthwhile.

#37. Grow my own herbs. I should probably only give myself half credit for this, as I did grow my own herbs - and then promptly killed them. My herb experiment this summer included cilantro and basil neither of which ever quite flourished. Then one day, I looked outside and they were both 1) enormous and 2) crispy brown.We'll have to try this again next year. Perhaps I can even grown something long enough to use the herbs.

#48. Bake a loaf of bread from scratch. This one I did way back in March, I think I just failed to blog about it. I used this recipe and it turned out delicious, especially for morning toast with lots of butter. Between the fresh-bread smell and the yummy end product, this is definitely something I'll be doing again!

#59. Travel to three new cities for fun. This item dovetails so nicely with #9. Steven and I had a lovely time in Fort Lauderdale for Luke & Monica's wedding. We didn't explore much of Fort Lauderdale, but we did make ourselves very familiar with their beautiful beaches!

Here are a couple of shots from the beach wedding:

Last month, Steven and I ventured to Charleston, S.C. for one last "just the two of us" vacation.We kept joking that it's the most grown-up vacation either of us has ever taken, with visits to national parks, antebellum homes, and historic sites. It was also the most pampered I've ever felt on vacation, thanks to the wonderful staff and amenities at the Vendue Inn. Free made-to-order breakfast every morning, cheese (and wine for the non-preggo crowd) every afternoon, and homemade cookies washed down with milk every evening? I never wanted to leave! Seriously, I cannot say enough nice things about them.

A few highlights from our time in Charleston:

Yep, I'm leaving you with that gem of a picture. What can I say? We're clearly self-portrait professionals.

Friday, March 30, 2012

In Progress - #32: Send one handwritten note per month for a year

So I'm actually three months into this 12-month to-do. It's one that I've been baby-stepping into but can already tell I'm going to enjoy.

You see, I still get excited over mail. Even though it's usually bills or junk, sometimes it isn't. Sometimes it's a Pottery Barn catalog (!) or - if I'm really lucky - one of the magazines I subscribe to (Better Homes & Gardens or Traditional Home). And every once in a while, it's an honest-to-goodness note from someone I know and love.

This year, I'm trying to do a better job of sending those gems - handwritten notes - to people I love, admire, or care about. Here's how it's been going so far:
  • In January, I decided to start the year with some good karma and sent a whole slew of notes to folks I admire professionally. Many of those have turned into fun coffee dates, and I've been having a really wonderful, productive start to my year because of it.
  • In February, I sent Valentines cards to all of the elderly and home-bound folks who are part of my local church congregation (we call them STARS). Soon after, I heard from a woman who went to visit our STARS that a few of them had my cards tacked up on the walls in their hospital rooms and retirement homes.
  • Today I'm dropping a note in the mail for a very special momma-to-be back in Texas. (I don't want to give away her name here because I want the note to be a fun surprise!)
What's the last handwritten note you received?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

#89: Go to a midnight movie premiere

Last spring, I read - make that devoured - the Hunger Games trilogy. I was so totally drawn into these books that I convinced Steven to read them as well, just so I could have conversations with him about them. Naturally, when I heard the books were being turned into the next blockbuster film franchise, I put them on my "must see" list. And when I realized the teen target demographic would lead to a midnight premiere, I realized I had the means to cross #89 off of my list.

I must say, Steven was a total trooper about this. I pulled a not-completely-intentional bait and switch, buying our tickets before the other friends in our group had given a solid confirmation, but he took it in stride and still agreed to brave the theater with me on Thursday night.

This wasn't my first midnight premiere - just the first in a long time. Definitely the first since I've started working in the professional realm. I was ready for lengthy lines of costumed teens, so you can imagine my surprise when I showed up to my theater at 10 p.m., breezed up to the kiosk, and collected my tickets without even glimpsing a velvet rope. I asked the ticket taker whether she expected any lines, she pointed to four teens sitting on the floor next to Theater 1 and said "not really."

Steven and I quickly adapted and took advantage of the short line, heading over to Cheesecake Factory so I could caffeinate. (I'd been up and going since my 6 a.m. yoga class!) We waltzed back over to the theater when Cheesecake Factory closed at 11, headed straight to Theater 5, and picked our seats - from a totally empty theater. Seriously.

In all, about 40 people filed in at a quarter of midnight, making for a much quieter - and frankly, much more enjoyable - experience than either of us expected.

The movie was completely worth the late "curtain call" - it stayed true enough to the book to win over Suzanne Collins' fans, and it was really wonderful to see the pages come to life on-screen. There were a few pieces I wish had been better portrayed (but no spoilers here), but overall, I'm glad we braved the premiere. And I'm proud to say I survived the next day at work as well, getting lots done and even making it to my 9 a.m. meeting alert and on time!

Monday, March 19, 2012

In Progress - #69: Try 5 new recipes

This weekend I got the urge to bake. (To be honest, it struck around 3:30 p.m. on Friday - just in time for me to look up recipes and add a bunch of ingredients to the weekend grocery list.)

After a quick peek at my "starred" Google Reader items, I found mention of Momofuku's Milk Bar in NYC, which made me remember this post, which made me do some quick recipe-hunting for anything Momofuku-inspired. What I found was Compost Cookies.

Imagine a cookie that has everything in it. Salty, sweet, you name it. That is the compost cookie. My version included Lay's potato chips, oats, coffee grounds, chocolate chips, and three crunched-up Thin Mints. The verdict? Amazing.

Compost Cookies
  • 1/2 cup Butter
  • 1/2 cup Sugar
  • 1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp Light Brown Sugar
  • 1/2 tsp Vanilla Extract
  • 1 Large Eggs
  • 1 heaping cup of All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 tsp Baking Powder
  • 1/2 tsp Baking Soda
  • 1/2 tsp Salt
  • 3/4 cups of your favorite baking ingredients
  • 3/4 cups your favorite snack foods 
  1. In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar on medium high for 2-3 minutes until fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl with a spatula.
  2. On a lower speed, add eggs and vanilla to incorporate. Increase mixing speed to medium-high and start a timer for 10 minutes. During this time the sugar granules will fully dissolve, the mixture will become an almost pale white color and your creamed mixture will double in size. (Yes, it's a really long time - but trust me, it's worth it.)
  3. When time is up, on a lower speed, add the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix 45-60 sec just until your dough comes together and all remnants of dry ingredients have incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl with a spatula.
  4. On same low speed, add in the hodgepodge of your favorite baking ingredients and mix for 30-45 sec until they evenly mix into the dough. Add in your favorite snack foods last, paddling again on low speed until they are just incorporated.
  5. Scoop out 6 oz. portions o cookie dough onto a parchment lined sheetpan. (I used a 1/3 measuring cup and it worked great!)
  6. Wrap scooped cookie dough tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a minimum of 1 hour or up to 1 week. (Don't bake your cookies from room temperature or they won't hold their shape!)
  7. Heat the conventional oven to 400F. 
  8. When the oven reads 400F, arrange your chilled cookie dough balls on a parchment-lined cookie sheet a minimum of 4″ apart in any direction.
  9. Bake 9-11 min. While in the oven, the cookies will puff, crackle and spread.
  10. At 9 min the cookies should be browned on the edges and just beginning to brown towards the center. Leave the cookies in the oven for the additional minutes if these colors don’t match up and your cookies stills seem pale and doughy on the surface.
  11. Let the cookies cool 5 minutes before digging in!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

In Progress - #38: Plan 10 parties in a year

Last weekend, it was my pleasure to plan a Founders Day Luncheon for the Northern Virginia Alumnae Chapter of Kappa Alpha Theta. Every year, Founders Day is a chance for Thetas from across the region to re-connect and celebrate our rich sisterhood. For the past year, I've been working with a number of women to organize the 2012 luncheon, and I think it was a smashing success!

We started this year's program with a candle lighting ceremony to honor our Founders, the annual chapter roll call (always one of my favorite parts!) and recognition of our 50- and 75-year Thetas in attendance. It was so exciting to see how many collegiate chapters and how many decades were represented by the women in the room. (In a group of 100 women, we represented more than 50 different chapters - wow!)

We were also honored to have The Honorable Barbara Franklin in attendance as this year's guest speaker. A former Secretary of Commerce, Ms. Franklin spoke to us about her time in the Nixon White House where she worked on the President's initiative to increase the number of women in federal positions. Her trailblazing career, both in the White House and in the entrepreneurial arena, is the subject of her new book - A Matter of Simple Justice: The Untold Story of Barbara Hackman Franklin and a Few Good Women. Ms. Franklin was kind enough to sign copies through the luncheon, and one lucky Theta took home a free copy!

After our formal program came the delicious food. Hosted at Jaleo in Crystal City, our lunch was a series of tapas dishes served family-style. From the endive & goat cheese salad, to the very last bite of flan, each dish we tried was more fantastic than the last. In taking a peek at the post-event surveys that are coming my way, I can tell you - Jaleo's food did not disappoint!

In all, the lunch was a great success and a wonderful opportunity to give back to the fraternity that has given me so much. I'm already looking forward to next year's, though I certainly won't be planning it!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

In Progress - #20: Read 15 of the All-TIME 100 Novels that I haven’t already

During a recent trip to the Petworth Library, I picked up A Clockwork Orange because it was on display at the end of a shelf and because I knew it had been hovering on the cusp of my All-TIME novel selections. Since I recently decided to give up on my second go at Faulkner, I needed to replace The Sound and The Fury with something that would keep my interest past page 6 - and Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange fit the bill.

Many of the books I've read on this quest have movie counterparts - and I've seen most of them (usually after reading the book). I know that Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of A Clockwork Orange is a cult classic, but I can assure you - no matter how interesting I found the book, there is no way I'm watching this movie. Reading about the "rehabilitation" of an ultra violent young punk is one thing, watching it played out on the big screen is something else entirely.

The book itself was surprisingly good. It's written using a slang created for the novel, which takes some getting used to, but is ultimately effective at immersing the reader in the main character's sociopathic thoughts. Much like Lolita, the main character - Alex - is one with whom the reader can't sympathize, but ultimately comes to understand.

What's next on my list? Something lighter, I hope!

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

In Progress - #60: Keep a gratitude journal for 6 months

Keeping a gratitude journal has become a really nice, rewarding habit. Ending each day jotting down a few things I'm thankful for helps to close the day on a high note, and re-reading entries has been such a fun way to re-live great moments from the past few months.

The past month has been a busy one, covering Christmas in San Antonio, our New Year's trip to Lake Anna, and the first weeks of the new year. A few things I was grateful for include:
  • Candlelit Christmas Eve services
  • Chuy's jalepeno sauce
  • Cozy sweats
  • DayQuil
  • Friends to watch DeeDee while we're out of town
  • Georgetown basketball tickets
  • New friendships
  • Oodles of Christmas cards
  • Safe flights
  • Whataburger taquitos
  • Wooly, warm earmuffs

Monday, January 30, 2012

Inspiration - #78: Buy a pair of fabulous red pumps

I've never owned a pair of red shoes, much less a "fabulous pair of red pumps." The shade walks a fine line between powerful femininity, and gaudy tramp. Inspired by images like the one below, though, I'm determined to find the right pair to bring color and spice to my conservative DC staples.

Even though I'm on a shopping hiatus through the end of March, I'm still very much allowed to window shop. In my hunt for the perfect pumps to satisfy #78, here is a round up of a few of my favorite contenders. Nothing too flashy, too shiny, too low-heeled, too square-toed or too pointy. Most are in my price range (aside from the pair of aspirational Christian Louboutins).

The breakdown (from upper left):

Saturday, January 28, 2012

In Progress - #69: Try 5 new recipes

This week I tried the simplest, juciest, most delicious chicken recipe I've ever found. And it came from an unlikely source - SparkPeople, the health/weight management site. (Yep, working away at #74 on the list.)

Now, the mix of garlic and brown sugar may not sound like an ideal match, but oh my goodness, is it ever amazing. A perfect mix of sweet and kicky, this recipe is a new Hughes-house favorite!

Garlic Brown Sugar Chicken
  • Brown Sugar, 4 tsp unpacked
  • Chicken Breast, no skin, 12 ounces
  • Garlic, 1 clove
  • Butter, salted, 2 tbsp
  • Salt, 1 tsp
  • Pepper, black, 1 dash
  1. Melt the butter in a frying pan
  2. Brown the garlic in the butter
  3. Add chicken breasts to garlic and butter and cook thoroughly, adding salt and pepper as you like it
  4. When chicken is fully cooked add brown sugar on top of each breast
  5. Allow the brown sugar to melt into the chicken (about 5 minutes)
Bon appetit!

Picture from Stephanie Cooks (I didn't photograph my food - I ate it too quickly!)

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

#66: Watch a Foreign Film


This year the husband and I are trying again to watch all of the Oscar nominees for Best Picture. In our attempts to guess what would get the nod, we went on a date night to see "The Artist."

The French film is unique in that it is a silent film - made in 2011. I wasn't sure I'd enjoy it (because it's a silent film, not because it's French), but when we left the theater, all I could say was "What a fun movie!"

The story follows silent film star George Valentin (played by Jean Dujardin) and rising starlet Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) through the advent of "the talkies," and how they changed the film industry. Although it's a film about a man who loses everything, trust me when I say it's a fun, upbeat film that leaves you with a smile.

(Also, we guessed right. See the rest of the nominees here.)