Friday, May 28, 2010

Photo of the Week: Mr. Toad's Wild Ride

I don't like frogs, toads, snakes or any other creature that slithers or hops ... with the exception of bunnies & kangaroos, of course. (Incidentally, my little brother, who is in Australia right now, got to pet some 'roos yesterday. Mwah....jealous? Never...). I digress....

When I was a little girl, I had an encounter with a frog that scarred me for life. We had just come home from a family vacation and had been gone for several weeks. Somehow, a frog had made it through the septic & into my toilet. When I lifted up the toilet seat in my bathroom (for the first time in a couple of weeks), there was a frog staring right back at me. I. Was. Frightened. I screamed bloody murder & have never found a place in my otherwise-animal-loving-heart for these little amphibians since. Luckily, my husband still has a frog shaped spot in his heart. Exhibit A:
When I came upon Mr. Toad this weekend while tending to our little patch of green on our patio (in between the torrential downpours), I immediately called Matt. Mr. Toad was content, just chilling in the corner of our garden, not making any moves out of my space (I think he sensed my fear). Matt, on the other hand, ate it up. He picked him up and let the darn thing pee on him! My husband is easily entertained... & he was kind enough to indulge me and let me capture a few geeky shots for the blog. Exhibit B:
Speaking of gardening... if you want to start a little herb garden & feel great about yourself - plant some mint. Its growth rate is out of control (I'm pretty sure it's a weed). That's what's laying on our patio; I was trimming it back because it's so darn huge. If you have any creative uses for mint (so far all I've come up with is mojitos, which I love), leave me some comments. Or, better yet, take some off our hands! We have a ton!

There will be a little break from blogging for the next few days because...have you heard? It's officially Memorial Day Weekend! See y'all back here next week!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

I need more of this in my life...

I had a stressful day at work today, so when I needed to take a chill pill, I opened up my new favorite photos of my beautiful niece & sister. Hannah just knows how to brighten her Aunt Suz's day.

They are coming in one week to visit us in North Carolina (& join us for a wedding with Mom & Dad in Tennesee). To say that I'm ecstatic would be an understatement.  I need a little more of these lovely ladies in my day-to-day...

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Let me holler at you for a minute…

Yesterday when I got home from work, I was feeling a little icky so I popped myself down on the couch and turned on the tube. Oprah was interviewing Julia Roberts about her new film, based on Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestselling book, Eat, Pray, Love. This blog post is not about Oprah, Julia, or the book (which, incidentally, I tried reading a couple of years ago but just couldn’t get into…). Nope, it’s about Oprah’s No Phone Zone” Pledge that she’s asked her guests and audience to sign over the course of the season. I’m not an Oprah groupie, but I am incredibly impressed by what she’s doing to challenge us to think about using our cell phones while driving. 
This issue is near & dear to my heart. Four years ago, a dear friend of ours from U of I, Matt Wilhelm, was killed by a texting driver.  He was only 25. Matt was so full of life, an incredible joyful, giving young man. His life was cut short because a young girl was distracted while driving. She was doing something that I think all of us have done before: paying attention to something other than the road, and a life was lost because of her carelessness. The bulletin from Matt’s Memorial Service is tucked away inside of my Bible. His death is a reminder of my obligation to treat this wonderful life with the care that it deserves. His life (albeit short) reminds to savor every day & to glorify God while I’m fortunate to be on this earth. (Incidentally, Matt’s parents were on Oprah’s special about texting & driving. They have been incredible ambassadors for making real changes to our laws around texting/driving).
We need the same social stigma that exists around drinking & driving to exist for distracted driving (especially texting & driving). Are we really that busy that our cars need to become our offices? Can we not wait until we get home to read or send that text or email? Are we willing to put innocent lives at risk? 10 years ago, most of us didn’t own cell phones and we managed to get along just fine (I got my first cell phone in 2004). I was shocked a month ago when we went out to dinner with Matt’s uncle, a pilot, who doesn’t own a cell phone! If Uncle Vic can survive without as he jets all over the world, can we not hold off on texting until we’re safely off of the road & out of the driver’s seat?
(That's Matt W. on the top-left with a small group of our YL leadership team in 2003.  This is unrelated, but of the four boys pictured above - three of them are Matts. And one of them is mine.)
Oprah poses this question in a recent NYTimes Op Ed, how many people have to die until we “get it”? Take the pledge here, for Matt, the Wilhelm family, and the thousands of lives already lost by distracted drivers. I did.
On a semi-related note, since I’m preaching at you today, can we talk about social etiquette and cell phones? [Disclaimer: I realize no one’s life is at stake if you text, take phone calls, etc, while we’re hanging out (unless you’re driving!)… so you may choose to stop reading at this point, but you will run the risk of being incredibly rude].
Matt & I were hanging out with some folks (who shall remain unnamed) this past year for the first time in awhile. The entire time we were with them, their phones were out.  Texting away… all the while pretending to engage in conversation. I’m a decent multi-tasker, but even I can’t pull that off. This is not the first time this has happened (nor will it be the last), but it just lit my wick.
I understand there will be circumstances when it’s necessary to check your phone, respond to a text, take a call, etc (heck, the primary way my brother seems to communicate to my parents is via text). However, in those instances, excuse yourself and keep it to a minimum. Put your iPhone/ Blackberry/ Whatever away for a few minutes. I realize that for my generation, it may seem like all of this isn’t a faux-pas at all, just a way of life. Just keep in mind….you never know who is taking note of your etiquette, or lack there of.
I’ve had blackberry ever since I started working. It’s wonderful in a lot of ways (I work from home a couple days a week & we don’t have a landline nor do I have enough cell phone minutes on our family plan to cover all of the conference calls we have in a month’s time); however, I’ve always kept a personal cell phone. Seems duplicative, but having that second phone gives me the freedom to turn work OFF and not look at work emails when I’m enjoying time with family or friends. Also, the second cell phone removes the temptation to respond to emails when I’m trying to separate myself from work. It’s called liberation, friends!
Here’s a closing thought: Do we value human interaction so little that when we do have face-to-face quality time with one another, we’re reluctant to engage? In my humble opinion, it's just plain rude. Amen.
Phew. Glad I got those 2 pet peeves off my chest. Happy Tuesday, friends!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Home Sweet Home

The past 9 months have certainly been an adventure (at times exciting ... at times a struggle) as we've adjusted to our new life in North Carolina. We've enjoyed exploring an entirely new part of the country, but I don't think we realized how much we both missed the sense of home we have in Chicago.

For that reason, it was such a blessing to get to head back to Chicago this past week, if only for a short few spend time with our family, to touch base with old friends & to just be in the place where we started our little life together. To us, Chicago is warm & familiar & wonderful. And, despite all of our adventures in North Carolina, we just plain miss it.

Here's a glimpse of our few short days back home...Psst... if you want to see larger photos, just click on the pictures!
Dad & Mom McA treated us to a fun day at the Wrigley Field. It was a little chilly & the Cubs lost (surprise), but we still had a blast. ...The perfect way to spend a Saturday afternoon! Thanks, Mom & Dad!
Before leaving the city, we played tourist for awhile. (Something, sadly, we never took the chance to do while living there).
Then we jumped on the L and headed back to Oak Park where we'd parked the car. Before leaving O.P., I had to say hello to our beloved first home. Fountainhead, you spoiled us. (Isn't she just lovely?)
We also got to catch up with our dear friends, Carson & Nicole ... and a special new friend (I'm talking about you, Little Liam). We can't wait to have the Felkel fam only 2 hours away in just a few short  weeks.
LizFay even stopped by! We were going to get cupcakes at honey, but sadly, it was closed for the day so Liz stayed for dinner instead.  (The whole Mac family wanted in on the action; we all just love Liz). P.S. Isn't the Glenbard West cow fabulous? I think so.
All in all, it was a wonderful trip.... and we were sad to say goodbye...

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Friday, May 14, 2010

Happy Birthday, Daddy-o!

Anyone who knows my dad can attest that he is absolutely the kindest man you'll ever meet & that's not an exaggeration (as if you couldn't tell from this sweet photo of him with his first grandbaby).

Today is his birthday & although we are far far away (sadly), we're sending him our birthday love. Put on your party hat & have a wonderful birthday, Dad. We love you.

(MommaLo also celebrated a birthday last month & I didn't even acknowledge it on the blog! Sorry, Mom! You're pretty fantastic, too & we love/miss you bunches).

Thursday, May 13, 2010

You're Gonna Wanna Eat This: Blueberry Chicken Salad

You can tell how much I love this recipe by the fact that I took a big bite before I remembered to grab my camera & take a picture to share with y'all. This photo was actually taken on leftover night, because the first night we ate this for dinner, Matt & I couldn't waste a minute before we dug in.

This is one of my favorite recipes from Momma Mac: Blueberry Chicken Salad. Yum-o. It's the perfect summer salad. Fresh & easy. Doesn't require you to turn on the stove or oven, keeping your kitchen cool in the summer months.... Plus it's good for you! As a side note, Matt & I aren't really wild about salad dressings. We usually eat plain old salads.... however, we both LOVE this dressing. It's light and yummy & really 'makes' the salad.

Here's how you make it.

Momma Mac's Blueberry Chicken Salad

The day before... Matt usually grills up some chicken the night before (4-6 boneless skinless breasts, depending on how many adults you want to feed) & then we refrigerate it overnight. The recipe calls for one whole roasted chicken, but we like the grilled flavor & I'm all for keeping the heat outside of the kitchen in the summer. You could roast, poach or grill your chicken. Whatever your pleasure.

Night of... I like to start with the dressing. Why? Because I hate to do dishes so by starting with the dressing, I can whip it up in a large bowl & then add all of the salad ingredients into that same bowl & toss.

Dressing... Whisk together...
  • 2t Dijon mustard (I actually hate mustard, but I love this dressing so I make an exception)
  • 2T minced shallot or red onion
  • 2T honey
  • 3T freshly squeeze lime juice (2 limes would probably be all you need to buy- I always over-do the lime & use 3)
  • 1t salt
  • 1/2t pepper
  • 1T minced fresh rosemary leaves (we grow it in our herb garden!)
Slowly whisk in to make an emulsion:
  • 1/4 c. olive oil
Add to the big bowl & toss...
  • 1 roasted chicken torn into bite sized pieces (about 6 cups). Like I mentioned above, I use 4-6 grilled boneless, skinless chicken breasts (1 per adult serving), cut into bite sized pieces.
  • 1 large Granny Smith apple, cut into bite sized pieces (I toss with fresh lemon or lime juice before adding to the bowl if I know that we're going to eat it for a couple of nights to prevent browning)
  • 1 1/2 cups green grapes, sliced in 1/2
  • 1 1/2 cups blueberries, fresh & cleaned (don't use frozen blueberries if you don't want blue chicken. I'm sure it doesn't change the flavor, but it might make you say ewwww)
  • 1/2 cup toasted hazelnuts, chopped  - I used almonds b/c I had them on hand
  • 1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese - I used feta b/c I had it on hand*
  • *Alternatively, we've marinated the chicken w/ blue cheese vinaigrette before grilling & you still get the blue cheese flavor!
 Best served....
  • Over a bed of baby greens with warm bread! 
  • I find it better not to toss the greens in the bowl with the fixins because who likes soggy lettuce? Then you can eat it next day & still tastes fresh & delicious!
Look who loves blueberry chicken salad...
(Matt's mouth was full...but he was trying to say "This is great!") 
 Make this for dinner tonight! You won't regret it!

    Wednesday, May 12, 2010

    Sunday, May 9, 2010

    Happy Mother's Day!

    Happy Mother's Day, to all of the women who live out true strength, love & humility day in & day out... especially our moms. We love you (miss you) and celebrate you today!
    "A woman of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies...She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy...She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue. She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: "Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all." Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised." Proverbs 31:10,20,25-30
    Top to Bottom: 
    1. Momma Mac & Momma Lo with Matt & Suz - 2007 U of I Graduation
    2. Mom & Matt - April 2007
    3. Mom & Suz - 2006 U of I Graduation
    4. Expectant mommy-to-be Katie with Mom & Suz - June 2009
    5. Little momma Katie with baby Hannah - April 2010
    6. Grandma Shirlee with Matt & Suz - June 2007
    7. Grandma Gerry & Suz - June 2007
    8. Margot, Mom, Matt & Suz - April 2007
    9. New mom Nicole & baby Liam - February 2010

    Saturday, May 8, 2010

    This little brother is a college grad! Congratulations, Mark!

    I've been waiting for an excuse to post this photo for awhile. That's my "little" brother Mark with my niece, Hannah (Katie & Matt's little love) on Easter. Aren't they just the cutest?

    As of today, my little 'bubs' is a college grad. It's weekends like these that I seriously miss home. I'm absent for both Mother's Day & Mark's graduation from Stetson. What kind of a big sister/loving daughter am I?  I had chance to talk to Mark for all of 30 seconds this morning. It went something like this:

    Mark: "What's up, Suz?"
    Me: "Did I wake you up?" (Realizing it's before 10am on a Saturday & he may just be sleeping in on his last day as a college kid)
    Mark: "Nope. I'm in line about to graduate."
    Me: "Well then why in the world did you pick up the phone, you crazy kid? Go graduate!" (Okay, I didn't say that. I told him I loved him & was proud of him & hung up for his sake.)

    Truth is. I am proud of him. Really, really proud. There, I said it, Mark. After 22 years of giving you a hard time for being too laid back, acting like you don't care, & pretty much being the polar opposite of your 2 big sisters, which let's face it, is not a crime ... I must admit that you have grown into an incredible man. You did something neither Katie nor I even got close to accomplishing. You juggled school and a full time 'job' as a Division I athlete. And you did a great job at both. You've held fast to your faith and made good decisions ... as far as we know ;) You have purpose & direction for the next phase of your life as you chase your dream of being a coach.You've done well, kid. And I know you have good things ahead of you.

    Okay, enough with the mushy gushy stuff... I hope you have a chance to celebrate today! We love you & miss you tons!

    Thursday, May 6, 2010

    Life is Beautiful: Introducing Photo of the Week!

    With all of the pennies we've saved grocery shopping using the tips from my last post :), we recently bought ourselves a fancy schmancy DSLR camera. We've visited some amazingly beautiful places & we have some exciting trips ahead of us, so we were in the market for a camera that could capture our adventures & grow with us as we learned & developed as hobby photographers. It was a splurge & something we spent months researching,* but we finally bit the bullet when we realized we needed to give ourselves some time to figure out how to use the thing! Since we have this fun new toy, we want to share some of the images we've captured here on the blog. So be on the look out for our Photo of  the Week.

    This week, we actually have 2 photos! You may have noticed the new masthead at the top of the blog. Both the masthead (#1) & the photo above (#2) were captured at the UNC Botanical Gardens. A couple weekends ago, we spent the afternoon at the gardens with our friends Jeff & Melissa. While the boys played giant chess, us ladies put our cameras to work & tried to capture the beautiful Carolina spring day. I don't think the photos do it justice... Spring in Chapel Hill is (well...was) nothing short of spectacular. Too bad it's starting to feel a lot like summer around here...

    *If you are in the market for a new camera,  check out Probably the most useful/helpful resource out there for unbiased reviews of every kind of camera/lens you could imagine. Also, I owe a big thank you to my uber-creative friend Brittany who answered my endless camera questions & LizFay for giving me a crash course on the Nikon d90 while she was down for her spring break. She didn't know we'd put her to work, but she was a great sport! Thanks friends!

    Monday, May 3, 2010

    Life for Less: How to feed 2 hungry adults on a meager budget

    I know ... I know... It's been ages since I last blogged, but in my defense, life has been crazy. I've been a busy bee at work. Matt's been buried in the books, finishing the last of his pre-reqs for dental school (he took his last final today...yippee!!!). When he's not studying & I'm not working, we've been out & about trying to enjoy the beautiful Carolina spring. Lots of wonderful visitors, baseball games, bike rides, little photo trips, etc. I enjoy blogging, friends, but I will never blog in lieu of work / sleep / or most importantly ... play! I also realize I haven't posted any life for less tips since ... well tax time. Oops.

    Now to the important stuff.... I want to introduce you to one of my favorite things. Well, actually 2 of my favorite things:  
    Matt put the little red guy in my stocking our first Christmas. He found it at my favorite shop in Oak Park, Papersource. The man knows his wife. I loved being able to keep a checklist of all of our grocery items over the course of the week. Made our weekly trips to Tony's (our favorite grocery store of all time in N. Riverside) so much more....organized & efficient! We were nearing the end of our little All Out Of notepad here in N.C. when I found the yellow What to Eat Knock-Knock pad at Anthropologie! (Sidenote: Sadly, this is pretty much the only item I could afford at Anthropologie. I usually just window-shop). In college, my roommate Jenny had this little piece of planning heaven & I always envied her weekly menus. Imagine my happiness stumbling across one of my favorite things!  Okay, before you tune me out  as a planning weirdo, let me explain myself.

    Probably our largest spending category after our monthly rent is our food budget. We live pretty active lifestyles, which lends to pretty healthy appetites. Translation: we eat a lot. If a recipe states meal for 4, I can usually plan on it feeding us for one night. We also like delicious, whole, fresh foods... & the produce & fresh meat/seafood aisles aren't the cheapest destinations in a grocery store (Tony's is the exception). We could easily spend a small fortune on our food budget, so we've had to learn how to reign it in.

    Here's what we've learned. It's really just common sense, but when you live by these little spending/budgeting/planning guidelines, you can save big bucks:
    1. Plan, plan, plan! When we moved to North Carolina we marveled at the novelty of having a grocery store across the street. We could do little trips throughout the week. That ended when I started evaluating our grocery bills. Wowza. We were buying things we didn't need & our more frequent trips translated to a poorer planning & bigger bills. Meal planning has probably been the most significant way we've taken control of our food spending.... I sit down once a week with our recipe box, laptop (the blog world provides an endless supply of dinner ideas), cookbooks & weekly grocery ads. With the help of my hubs, we plan out our dinner menu for the week, building in leftover nights & planned dinners out (which are few & far between). We've found that we eat better/more creative meals + we stretch our dollar when we put our knock-knock pads to work and plan it out. You won't often find us staring at the fridge/pantry wondering What the heck are we going to eat tonight? 
    2. Shop the sales! Duh, right? This really should be a step ahead of #1. If salmon is on sale, you better believe that we're eating fish that week. Pork shoulder....yummy pulled bbq pork. When our favorite granola bars or cereal go on sale, I've been known to stock up. I've found Southern Savers to be a useful online quick check for our local grocery stores sales (if you don't have their weekly flyers or ads on hand). You can also go ca-razy & get into couponing, but I haven't really been able to take advantage of couponing on a consistent basis so I won't comment on that. We don't have a printer at home so I can't print all of the great online coupons, and we don't get the newspaper. When I do get flyers in the mail, I'll clip a few coupons, but I try to stay away from clipping things we'd never buy in the first place. I don't need to spend money on something we wouldn't normally eat or buy.
    3. Eat through the pantry! Unless it's an every day kind of food item that you eat through pretty quickly (for us, that would be granola bars, cereal, frozen fruit, or chicken breasts), don't buy unnecessary or excessive quantities of any food item. (EVEN IF THEY'RE ON SALE). Our 'pantry' at our last apartment was one measly drawer and we managed just fine. In fact, we spent less b/c we didn't buy food we didn't plan on eating that week. 
    4. Make it yourself! Pre-made anything tends to be a rip-off and it's usually not as good as the real deal. Skip the rotisserie chicken & buy a little fryer at 59c a pound ... Make your own pot pies instead of buying the frozen variety... Make your own mixes (brownies, biscuits)... Chop your vegetables ... The possibilities are endless. When you buy convenience food, you pay a premium. I'm not saying we always start from scratch (in fact tonight we ate one of my favorite recipes ... this fake it, don't make it key lime pie), but when we do, we rarely regret it.
    5. Dinners out are for special occasions! We haven't had the luxury of eating out very often. We've made it a habit to reserve dinners out as splurges for special occasions. Why? Because when we've sat down & evaluated our priorities financially, Friday night dinners out didn't make it to the top of the list. We'd rather splurge on a vacation or put those pennies towards paying for school without going into debt (mission accomplished, so far). When we do go out, it's a treat.
    6. Pack a lunch! I worked in the big city for two years without ever going out for lunch on my own dime. I probably ate better, more nutritious lunches than my coworkers, & I saved a bundle. Now, I'm not saying you have to be that crazy stringent, but limit yourself. Lunches out cost let's say an average of $6-8 a pop. For a couple, that translates to $80+ a week! That's more nearly 3/4 of our weekly food budget and we haven't even talked breakfast or dinner! My favorite part about #6 is that I'm not the lunch-maker in our household. Matt graciously & faithfully makes my lunches every morning. God bless him.
    7. Kick your Starbucks habit! Buying & brewing your own beans saves you big bucks. Amen.
    There you have it folks. The McA's recipe for How to feed two hungry adults on a meager budget. Bon appetit!

    Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...