A month of meals: spring edition

30 May 2017

Since y’all seemed to like my post sharing a month of meals in January, I thought I’d pop back in with a spring edition! I’m not surprised that post was popular, as I’m always looking for new tried-and-true recipes myself. Hopefully you’ll find a few recipes in today’s post that look promising enough to add to your own rotation! A few things:

— You’ll note that since April was a much busier month than January for us, many of our meals were, ahem, simpler. Grace and a side of vegetables was and is the name of the game.
— I’ve marked with an asterisk any recipe we were making for the first time.

chicken tikka masala

Photo from Pinch of Yum

Week 1:
Saturday, April 1: out
Sunday, April 2: chicken piccata and sauteed asparagus
Monday, April 3: meatball subs and sauteed broccoli
Tuesday, April 4: chicken tikka masala, rice, and naan
Wednesday, April 5: sweet potato burritos with avocado salsa
Thursday, April 6: buffalo chicken pizza and salad (Publix dough, frozen buffalo chicken, chopped red onion, shredded cheese, and Whole Foods 365 blue cheese sauce)
Friday, April 7: potstickers (family recipe)

Week 2:
Saturday, April 8: vegetarian black bean enchiladas
Sunday, April 9: hot dogs and sauteed broccoli
Monday, April 10: lemon parmesan pasta with grilled chicken
Tuesday, April 11: peanut noodles with carrots, zucchini, and mushrooms (from Pretty Delicious)
Wednesday, April 12: chana masala, rice, and naan
Thursday, April 13: grilled sweet potato tacos (loose interpretation)
Friday, April 14: out

Week 3:
Saturday, April 15: out
Sunday, April 16 (Easter!): ham, mashed potatoes, green beans with shallots, salad, and rolls
Monday, April 17: ham sandwiches and salad
Tuesday, April 18: Articles Club night – I brought guacamole from this recipe and Mexican corn
Wednesday, April 19: three pepper pizza and salad (Publix dough, jarred sauce, Monterey Jack cheese, and chopped up red bell pepper, poblano pepper, pepperoncinis, and red onion)
Thursday, April 20: cobb salad
Friday, April 21: bratwurst, pasta salad, green salad, and baked beans

Week 4:
Saturday, April 22: out
Sunday, April 23: chicken tikka masala
Monday, April 24: traveling
Tuesday, April 25: traveling
Wednesday, April 26: traveling
Thursday, April 27: traveling
Friday, April 28: turkey and ricotta meatballs* on crusty bread with sauteed green beans

Week 5:
Saturday, April 29: lemon parmesan pasta with grilled chicken
Sunday, April 30: corn and zucchini chowder*

I’d love to hear if you have a favorite recipe for the spring or summer!

Summer fun list (with a toddler!)

26 May 2017

It’s hard to believe, but this year’s summer fun list is even longer than last year’s! Every age with June has been sweet, but I’ve heard from many people that 15-24 months is an exceptionally fun stretch, and I believe it – we just can’t get enough of our girl!! I fully intend to check off every one of these things together before September 22, and I’m ridiculously excited about the thought.

Off to print and hang this list on our fridge! Have a wonderful Memorial Day weekend, friends!

— dine under the lights at Vin Rouge
— take June to splash at Fews Ford
— decorate June’s bike and walk in our town’s Fourth of July parade
— spearhead a street potluck
— invite friends over for a cookout in our backyard
— take June to a splash pad
— make berry cobbler
— go to a Bulls game
— road trip to Maine
— roast s’mores in our fire pit
— jump off the wharf at the Island
— outdoor movie at Koka Booth or the Art Museum
— picnic at a Back Porch Music concert
— spend a day at the beach
— film our second June in June movie
— ice cream at Maple View
— road trip to Michigan
— pick blueberries
— have a classic cookout with hot dogs, grilled corn, pasta salad, potato salad, and more :)
— lemonade at the Honeysuckle Tea House
— camp with friends
— check out the books, flowers, and potstickers at Brewery Bhavana
— make pavlova
— try a canoe ride
— celebrate Cow Appreciation Day

What’s on your summer fun list?

How to make friends in your neighborhood

17 May 2017

First, I just have to acknowledge the semi-ridiculousness of me writing this post. I am a well-known and thoroughly-documented introvert, it takes me forever to make friends, and up until last year, I could count the number of neighbors I knew well on zero fingers. But, I’m almost up to needing two hands for my hyper-local crew, so it seems I may have turned a corner! Let’s file this post under “if I can do it, anyone can do it” :)

Here, my seven best tips for making friends in your neighborhood.

Still my two best friends in my neighborhood :)

1. Make it matter to you. Like pretty much all goals, the only way something will be prioritized in your life is if it matters to you. Before June was born, it would have been nice to have friends close by, but I didn’t really NEED them. Since having her, neighborhood friends have become much more of a necessity. Emergencies are what pop to mind first, or a contact to give our babysitter, but there’s another reason that’s even more important to me.

I NEED to know who these people are if I’m going to feel comfortable letting our kids play outside unsupervised as they get older (a huge priority for me). I need to know their names, what matters to them, what kind of people they are, what the insides of their homes look like… I need to be friends with them, and I need to trust them. A childhood with freedom to roam matters to me, and so that’s why I was finally able to push past my discomfort and take action on making friends. If it really matters to you, you will, too.

2. Wave. That first tip was more existential, but this one is very concrete: wave. Wave to everyone. All the time. Whether you know them or not. If you want your neighborhood to be a friendlier place, let the community start with you. I recently watched a TED talk about public speaking and confidence, and there was one line that stuck with me: “fake it till you become it.” If you do something habitually, it will become a part of who you are. If you act friendly, even if you aren’t an extrovert, it will eventually become more comfortable. Small steps matter.

3. Send welcoming signals with your home. If you have a garage, it is possible to go about your business without ever breathing your neighborhood’s air, let alone interacting with another human. Appearances matter. A house with a closed garage door looks closed-off, with little way of knowing if anyone is home. We’ve taken to leaving our garage door open when we’re around as a signal that we’re available for socialization, quick questions, or sugar cup borrowing :)

A screen door is another way to make your house appear more welcoming to interaction, as again, it’s a symbol to neighbors that you’re home, and it also allows you to easily hear if something’s going on outside! (So then you can go join!) Screen doors were a huge marker of my New England summers growing up, and I am desperate to have one (especially as kids get older – much easier to have them playing outside by themselves if you can hear what they’re doing from inside!). With Southern summers and the prevalence of air conditioning down here, however, a screen door is not practical for much of the year… boo.

4. Go outside when other people are outside. Again: obvious, right? But I’m a bit embarrassed to say that when we first moved in, I pretty much did the opposite. Hiding in your house might help you avoid awkward conversations, but it will not help you make friends. So get your butt outside, in the proximity of other people, and let the extroverts strike up a conversation with you, as I can assure you they will :)

And if you live in a neighbhorhood where no one is outside? Be the one to change the environment! Putter around in your front yard “pruning” things, sit on your porch, go for a walk every evening – find any excuse to be where people can see you, so they start to recognize you as a generally friendly-looking person and associate you with a particular house.

5. Be the invitation. After a few months of casual interactions with some of my neighbors, I was ready to go a little deeper. Instead of waiting for someone else to invite me over, I did it on my terms! I invited all of the ladies on my street that I had even once interacted with to a Favorite Things party, and I heavily encouraged them to invite their friends. It was a huge success as a kick starter to closer relationships and a broader social circle.

6. Start a hyper-local Facebook group. I haven’t personally tried this one, but I’m considering it. It’s something John and Sherry recommended on their podcast recently, and I think it’s smart! My neighborhood has a Facebook group with about 1,000 members, and it’s great for certain things (selling patio furniture, chatting about macro issues or upcoming events). But a hyper-local group (say, just for the 15 houses on our “L” that ends in a cul-de-sac), lets you get to know people on a more intimate basis, extend BBQ invitations, and let your hair down in a way you might not in a larger, more impersonal group (John talked about sharing funny memes about neighborhood deer in his).

7. Have a kid or get a dog. Kidding. Kind of :) The truth is that even with all of these tips, we didn’t really make friends in our neighborhood until we had our daughter. Kids and dogs are just great connectors, and they will make your job of making friends a whole lot easier. But, you know, they require a few other things of you, so make sure you’re prepared before committing :)

I would LOVE to hear: have you found it difficult or easy to make friends in your neighborhood? If so, how did it happen? Is it a priority for you, or do you fill your friend need elsewhere? Tell me, tell me!

P.S. Cultivate What Matters is celebrating and teaching on friendship all this week. So much good stuff! Sign up for the series, and check out the Fruitful Friendship guide. I contributed to it, so you know it’s good :)

Marvelous Mama Beth

12 May 2017

Of all the things I am grateful for, at the very tip-top of the list is being born to Beth and Rob Ayer.

Like us all, I’m sure there are things in their lives they wish they’d done better, but one thing they don’t have to worry about? How they raised three daughters. In honor of Mother’s Day, I present to you one more Marvelous Mama interview: this time with my own mom. Enjoy, then go tell your mama or favorite mama stand-in how much you love her!

Name: Beth Ayer
With whom do you live? I live with my husband of almost 36 years, Rob. (I am also Em for Marvelous’s proud Mama.) Living with my husband is a bit of a recent change, though; from 2011 to 2015 we had a “long distance marriage.” After retiring from the Coast Guard he lived and worked in Virginia and then Maryland while hoping for a job back in Connecticut where we have lived for 30+ years. It was not ideal, but we liked to say that we were paying dues as a military couple that we hadn’t earlier in life. (Since Rob was on the permanent teaching staff at the Coast Guard Academy, we didn’t move frequently like most military families.) We would have much rather lived apart at this point in our lives than when the girls were younger, but we are glad to be together again.

Occupation: I’ve had several occupations during the course of my career-life. I worked with children with learning disabilities right out of college. After marrying Rob and moving to CT (for the first time) to follow his Coast Guard career I worked as a bank teller. We moved to Boston for grad school for Rob and I found a job as a bank teller there. A year into that job we had our first daughter and I began my favorite job, as a Mom to Kate and then her two sisters, Emily and Kimberly. We moved back to CT when Rob finished grad school and he began to teach at the USCGA. A few years into being a mom to our two girls I was approached to be a teacher at the nursery school Kate was attending. I had just found out that I was pregnant with our third daughter, so I turned down that offer. When I was approached again two years later, I considered it more carefully: our youngest was two, the school was right across the playground from the elementary school that our girls would attend, and it was a job that I would love to have. I took the job, part time at the beginning, easing into full time over the years and eventually becoming the director of the school. I retired from the school a few years ago after 16 years as director.

What does a day in the life look like for you? It all depends. Since I’m retired, on a typical day I get up when I get up, which is very nice after having an alarm for many years! I try to take a walk first thing, then come home and get ready for the day. There’s usually some sort of errand to be done next — I find that now that it’s just Dad and I I’m almost like the French, going to the market every day. I volunteer at our town’s food pantry and clothing exchange and have responsibilities at our church. I usually do some sort of yard work and reading, and sometimes get together with a friend for lunch. I also substitute teach at a local preschool a few days a month. And often (happily!), I’m traveling to be with my children and grandchildren, who are spread out over several states.
Words you live by: I try to live by the Golden Rule, but it is a struggle some days. I also have a few Bible verses that I’m working on living by: “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Matthew 6:27) and “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalms 46:10). And lastly, “What if you woke up today with only the things you thanked God for yesterday?” – a wonderful reminder to be grateful every day.

Tell us a few things on your bucket list. Cheering at the Kentucky Derby. Visiting the Grand Canyon and some of the other beautiful National Parks in the Southwest. Seeing Alaska. A river cruise through Europe. Visiting Scotland and seeing some ancestral places. Seeing more baseball parks.
What do you watch on TV? I love the Bachelor (Em and I have that in common!), Scandal, NCIS, and Grey’s Anatomy.
Favorite books to read with your kids: Probably the Robert McCloskey books, because there were so many familiar places and themes in them.

What was one of the best things you did for preparing to have kids? We didn’t do much! That sounds terrible! We went to a Lamaze class, I think. I did not read Dr. Spock. I had babysat and had a much younger brother, so I had some experience. I think I felt like things were going to unfold no matter what, and I figured I’d learn as I went, that it was just going to come to me. And it did! I didn’t go back to work right away, so it wasn’t as important to get things on a schedule immediately – if we didn’t get any sleep one night, I could just sleep when the baby slept the next day.
What is something you were not at all prepared for? When I was pregnant with you, I was worried how I would possibly have room to love another baby. It felt like my heart was full, but then it expands! The love I had for Kate felt all-encompassing, but your heart just grows with each child.

Photos by Meredith Perdue from Kate’s wedding

What is your parenting philosophy? We kind of winged it in regards to our philosophy of parenting. We wanted to raise kind, responsible children, so our philosophy flowed from that. When we moved to Connecticut, I was lucky enough to have a circle of other Coast Guard wives whose children were all about the same age. We (mostly) were far from family and relied on each other for questions, watched each other’s kids, and got together for play dates.
Best tip for a new parent? Be present – it really does go faster than you think! You know your child best; do what you feel is right for her. Someone gave you some advice at your shower, Em, that I thought was spot on: they are the longest days and the shortest years. So very true!

Photo by Tanja Lippert from our wedding

Tell us about a few of your favorite family traditions. I loved going to get our Christmas tree. Where we went depended on the year – we went to a city lot in Boston the first two years (and got a little tree for the top of our grand piano), then we went to Dad’s farm, then to a local family farm with lots of other Coast Guard families and had dinner afterward. As you guys got older we went to Maple Lane and I think you all loved it, too – we were instructed to wait until you were home from college in later years to get the tree! I loved our vacations in Maine, and going to Lake Winnepesaukee with our family friends – sometimes that felt like a little more of a vacation than Maine, since there weren’t the family dynamics! I loved our evening street walks when you guys were little – our crowd would grow as we roller skated, biked, and stopped to talk to neighbors, then people would peel off one by one as we made our way back up the street.

Tanja Lippert

What is one thing you were not prepared for as a parent? The 24/7 nature. Obviously I knew that, but I don’t think you can understand it until you experience it. As a babysitter, you have them for a short while and then are relived of duty. You are never relieved of duty when they are YOUR children, no matter how old they are. You always worry about them (see “words to live by”…), even when they are grown-ups themselves :)
What is or has been your favorite part about having children? I really loved being a spectator at all of your events. I felt like that was part of my job as a mom, but I loved it. I loved watching you grow up, gain skills, and gain confidence in whatever it was you were doing – dance, athletics, drama, singing. It was fascinating to watch you guys grow up. I also love how our relationships have evolved – from me being a protector, watcher, and caregiver to consultant, friend, mentor – and now you’re often my mentors!

Tanja Lippert

What do you miss most about having kids in your home? I just miss you guys — having you near, the daily interactions that make up life together – oh boy, I’m going to cry. It’s nice to have it be just Dad and I again, but I would not necessarily have a hard time if any of you ever had to move home, ha! I am grateful for how technology connects us – a quick text, phone call, Instagram post, or email. Though they weren’t in person, I had an interaction with each of you today, like most days.

Photo by Nancy Ray from my baby shower

What has been the best part about watching your own children become parents? How good you are at it. No, really! I’m not surprised, I expected you to be good at it, but I don’t think either you or Kate had a lot of experience babysitting, so I just didn’t have an opportunity to see you in that role before June arrived. But watching you with her at six weeks old and seeing how focused, attentive, and not distracted you were was the best. There’s so much more to distract your generation, and I’m glad you are not doing that. My Mom said this about me and I didn’t always feel like it, and I’m going to say the same thing about you, even though you might not feel like it: you are so patient as a parent. You don’t show it if you’re frustrated. She is the priority.

Photo by Nancy Ray from our family session

What is the best part of being a grandparent? When you’re the parent there’s so much other stuff going on – work, house, obligations. When you’re a grandparent (especially if you’re retired), there’s none of the same pressure. Whenever you get to be together, you can be all there. You know how precious it is because you’ve done it before. You get a second chance to be a part of a childhood, and this time with a different perspective.

See? She’s the best. Thank you so much, Mom! I love you!!

P.S. Seven things I love about my Mom.