A Fabulous Fourth + Some Fun New Deco

Well I can finally say that I’ve been to a block party. I’m 30, so I’d say it’s about time! Growing up, we’d have a few neighbors who we’d hang out with, but this Fourth of July was like nothing I’d experienced before! We were invited by some very sweet neighbors to hang at their house. There were yummy brisket sandwiches, hot dogs, water balloons, kids galore, fireworks (Corey didn’t like those much), and most of all just some extremely sweet people. We had an amazing time! We’re very, very blessed to live not only in this country, but in this neighborhood as well. 
I feel like since the 4th was on a Tuesday, the weekend was really just a super extended one. (LOVE it!) To celebrate, Corey and I took a trip into the Disney Store because he’d had such a great few days without tantrums/NO’s/you know… toddler stuff. They were having a sale on the toys, so of course I caved. He picked out Goofy and Minnie Mouse… Jon was worried about the second choice but I think it just shows Corey isn’t gender biased. He’s an equal opportunity buyer. 
Penny was ready to party on Tuesday!
Gotta love the family selife… 

Especially with these two handsome fellas! 
Those glasses though…

Jon and I both got a little emotional watching Corey play with all of the “big kids”. They were all so, so sweet and patient with him. He played basketball, with water balloons, in the water fountain, and with some of the push toys the neighbors were sweet enough to let him borrow. 
This guy did not want to stop… even for dinner! Dem cheekies got redder than red.
Baby boy was super excited for the fireworks (or firecrackers as his Daddy says… what do you call them these days anyway) until they went off. Then, little man was shaking, crying, and clinging to me like a monkey on a tree. Poor guy. Jon and I packed ASAP and booked it home. 
After Corey was clean and sleeping, we went to our back porch and enjoyed the fireworks from afar. Our neighbors know how to put on a good show to say the very least. It was awesome!
That morning after hair on Corey was a sight to treasure. 
The other day, Jon and I went on an adventure to multiple Targets trying to find this hutch I wanted for the kitchen. I needed just a little extra storage (truly ridiculous to admit that) for my cooking goodies. We also felt like the space next to our window was a little bare. I have to say I LOVE the way it looks in this space! Plus… the price wasn’t something we could argue with. No worries if we have to replace this guy in a few years because of kiddos and dog damage.
I decided to put up some of my white/natural/glass type pieces that I actually use quite often. Easy access + deco… I’ll take it! 

Cheers to a short week, friends!

Fish in a Tree

This one is for you if you’re: a teacher, a student, dyslexic, different, scared of failure, or have ever been bullied. It’s such a beautiful story of adolescence blossoming when there’s just that one person who cares enough to go the extra mile [be it a teacher, a church member, a parent, a family member, etc.]. In this case, that one person happens to be a substitute teacher who identifies this “troubled” student as dyslexic. Everyone else just wrote her off as “low performing” and a deviant.

This book spoke to me so deeply because it reminded me of my former students. I miss them so, so, so incredibly much I can’t explain it. I think about them and how they’re doing and what obstacles they’re facing and if they’re putting commas in their compound sentences. I also remember the tears, the smiles, the laughs, the hugs, and all the things that come along with being a teacher. There’s so much more to EVERY student than what you see on the surface. Finding those triggers and poignant pieces is the absolute key to being a successful teacher [in my little ole opinion].

The main character in this book is a vibrant young girl who finds her spark igniting thanks to a substitute teacher. He gives her the strength she needs to realize that she may be a fish in a tree, but that she can swim better than anyone around. A very fast, poignant read indeed. 

Loving Lately

Summer has been good to me, I’ve gotta say. I’ve had a lot of great adventures and found some great goodies along the way, too. Here are a few of my fave finds lately:

This Dress from Nordstrom

I looooooved wearing this dress for a date night a while ago. It’s super comfy yet still sexy (good thing, too, because I ate way too much at our yummy dinner that night). The shoulders actually stay put on your arms unlike some dresses that like to creep up your arms.

This Other Dress from Nordstrom

I haven’t had a chance to wear this little number yet [#momlife], but I’m hoping to bring it on our upcoming Charleston trip. Super cute and flirty!

These Jellies from Nordstrom

The freakin’ eighties are back, ladies (and gentlemen, too)! Two of my sisters-in-law had these gorgeous lovelies at the beach, and I tried them on for good measure. They’re ridiculously comfortable and bring back my childhood. Although they’re even cuter than they were back then. Just sayin’.

This Sunscreen Stick from Amazon

I’ve got super sensitive skin on my face due to a condition called Melasma. That means that basically, random splotches on my face will be about 5 shades darker than the rest of my face. It ain’t cute. I’ve tried tons of different products, and this sunscreen is by far the best I’ve had so far! It’s got Zinc Oxide, it goes on very easily, and it stays on very well. I apply it about 2-3 times an hour, and I’ve had the fewest problems with my skin this summer than any before! Love it!

This Dress from Francesca’s

This is one of my absolute favorite finds this year! It’s unbelievably comfortable and breathable which makes it perfect for hot summers when you’re still tryin’ to look cute. I love the cold shoulder + ruffle combo, too.
(And sorry, the two adorable guys don’t come with the dress.)

These Bras + Bralettes from Lively

I sleep in them literally every night. As a bustier gal, I used to always sleep in a sports bra to stay comfortable, but they were always so cumbersome! I decided to try these out after seeing them advertised on Facebook. I clearly (seven bras later) love them. A lot. A lot. A lot.

This Dress from Old Navy

I get complimented whenever I wear this dress (esp by Jon Boy), so I wear it as much as possible. Super comfy (see a pattern in this post?) and also very flowy (but not in a moo-moo way).

Penny approves, too.

This Swim Romper from Old Navy

This is another beauty I just haven’t had an opportunity to wear yet. I’m saving it for Charleston because it’s just too cute to wear to the neighborhood pool (for its debut anyway). I’d definitely wear this out as just a regular romper, too! It’s adorable and comfy, comfy, comfy!

This Other Dress from Old Navy

You’ve gotta love Chambray. I wear this one on nights when I want to be comfortable and cute. It hugs all right places, but it’s loose in places you need a little “freedom” in. You could make it casual or dress it up with accessories.

These Stuffed Shells from Pioneer Woman

I know this one isn’t of the fashion-variety, but you’ve gotta love a go-to, freezer-friendly, crowd-pleasing recipe! I made this little number for our recent trip to Port Aransas so that when we all got to the house, all we had to do was chunk ‘er in the oven and wait for delicious, cheesy, savory pasta!

With all the rough stuff going on in the news every. single. day, I like to remind myself of my duty and purpose. This quote by good ole Ralphy Emerson always brings me back to ground zero.

Happy Fourth, y’all!

Port Aransas with the Family + Avocado and Tomato Salad

Our travels continued this past week with an absolutely beautiful, fun-filled, family-oriented trip to Port Aransas. We stayed in the most magnificent house that allowed all of us to have not only our own rooms, but our own bathrooms as well! That’s saying a lot seeing as there was a total of 13 of us on this trip.

The third floor kitchen area was beautiful and spacious. We had a perfect view of the ocean which was pristine and ohhh so peaceful.

Another great thing about our house was that it was a SUPER short walk to the beach. We were located right next to the resort’s private pier, so we just rolled our little Bob strollers down and got to playin’ in the sand! We also had our own private pool for when the kiddos wanted to get a little swimmin’ without the sandin’. 

We couldn’t have had better weather. It did rain off and on, but it cooled us down perfectly. The clouds were something else, too. 

This was the second story balcony. Ain’t too shabby. 

Another bonus of this house: an ELEVATOR! Not only was it very handy for carting stuff up and down and back again, but it makes a great dumb waiter, too: 

Big man took a little while to get used to the beach, but after some coaxing by his uncle, he finally decided he loved it! By the last day, we were living in fear because this fishy boy was hauling it straight to the water! We put him in his puddle jumper as an added bit of precaution. 

If that baseball hat isn’t the cutest, then I just don’t know. I got all of our sand toys from Dollar Tree [of course] so that I wouldn’t worry if they were broken, too gross to bring home, or swallowed up in the ocean. 

The first night we arrived, we all got an AMAZING gift from my brother-in-law. Each of us received a personalized Swig glass! Stemless wine glasses for the girls and beer steins for the boys. Let’s just say they were all used very well on our trippity-trip-trip. 

We sure do like our drinks cold in this family…

Speaking of trippity-trip-trip, if you haven’t “vacationed” with your little ones yet, you HAVE to read this article. It’s hilarious. Of course we enjoyed our time with our sweet boy, but boy do the dynamics change when you’re corralling the crazy kid with no childproof areas in sight. We love the memories we made and wouldn’t trade them for the world though. 

We did sneak away [thanks to Nana] for a little alone time on the beach! I love this man so much!
[and we sure did bring big ole Juanita (the Suburban) right onto the beach]

Batter up! If this kid becomes a pitcher, my life will be made. My maiden name is Pitcher, so it just seems fitting.

Something that’s become a tradition on our bi-annual beach trip is that we all take turns making dinner. I love it because not only does it make it easier on everyone, but it allows us all to see favorite dishes our family loves. We ate well every night, let me tell you! For our night, we decided to make some Buttermilk Brined Chicken, a family side dish we call Corrales Casserole, Lemon-Parmesan Roasted Broccoli, and finally, this lovely number. She’s a fail-proof, go-to recipe for the summer when you want something simple, healthy, and delicious.

I can just imagine this little man as a big man with the same kind of gear: comfy chair, sunglasses, adorable baseball hat, and a beverage. 

I don’t know what it is about the beach that’s so soothing and healing. I love just closing my eyes and listening to the waves. I love the sand under my feet. I even love that salty feeling you get at the end of a full day on the beach. I can’t wait to go back and make more sweet memories. 

Avocado and Tomato Salad

4 avocados, cubed
4 tomatoes, cored, seeds removed, diced*
1/4 cup red onion, diced
1 tbs. balsamic vinegar
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

In a large bowl, combine avocados, tomatoes, and red onion. Drizzle just enough EVOO to coat the veggie, toss to combine. Drizzle the balsamic vinegar, then season with salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.

*I used Campari tomatoes this time, but you can really use any kind of tomato. I think Roma would work very well, too. Just try to have an equal amount of avocado and tomato. 

The Republic Grille

Jon Boy had a date night a while back [thanks to my fab sister-in-law!], and I have to say, it was hands-down one of the BEST restaurants we’ve ever been to! It’s called The Republic Grille. They have two locations in the Woodlands, so we went to the one on the west side because it’s closer to our house. The atmosphere was super low-key, but folks of all kinds were eating there. Some were in jeans, some in slacks, and I was in this little get-up: 
You can’t go wrong with an off-the-shoulder maxi these days. This one is a new fave. My sister-in-law (same one who gave us the date night babysitter ticket) gave me these awesome earrings for Mother’s Day! They’re the lightest, cutest things I’ve ever graced my ears with. I love my necklace most of all because it’s from our honeymoon. I can’t believe we’re coming up on five years already.

I can’t resist a dirty martini with blue cheese olives. This one was spectacular. The waitress also suggested a fantastic red, but for the life of me, I can’t remember which one. She was spot-on though, so these folks know their stuff!

We started with the lobster crab cakes. That’s right. Lobster + crab + a creamy, tangy remoulade. I ain’t mad about it.

They had a special that night that just had to be on my plate: the stuffed, smothered pork chop. I had it with the creamed corn and homemade corn bread. Yes, I’ll be in the gym for 8 years working it off. Yes, I’d do it again. Tomorrow.

Jon Boy got the smothered red fish (smothered in crawfish, son), plus the southern green beans and smoky mac ‘n’ cheese. Again, the gym, I know. But soooo worth it! 

Salt to the Sea

Talk about a page turner… woah. If you love historical fiction [particularly the WWII and Holocaust era], then this one is for you. There’s a little romance thrown in there, too, but this book is mostly about the compassionate people who find each other in the worst circumstances imaginable. It’s a story of courage, kindness, and finding one’s self in the midst of utterly horrid conditions. 

The author, Ruta Sepetys, writes in such a fluid way that you lose yourself in the plot, characters, and undertone of the story. I literally finished the book in one day (on our way back from Mexico). It’s that good. 

The story is based on the actual worst maritime disaster in modern history: the sinking of the refugee ship, the Wilhelm Gustloff (read a little more here). The ship lost 9,343 souls (5,000 of which were children). The Germans tried to cover up this catastrophic loss because of their pride [even though they were losing the war at this point].

[image cred here]

The sinking of the ship is a huge part of the story, but it’s the way Sepetys writes the characters that makes you see a different side of the war that’s rarely written about: the side of the German people. They suffered greatly, though in different ways in comparison to those in concentration camps.

I’d highly recommend this book if you’re looking for a compelling read that leaves you with a deeper understanding of humanity during times of war. Sepetys has written other novels (Between Shades of Gray and Out of the Easy), and I can’t wait to read both!

A Trip to Mexico + Life Lately

Whew! It’s been a crazy [but super fun] past couple of weeks. I haven’t posted in a while, so apologies for this being such a long one. 
My mom, her best friend, my brother’s two best friends, and I all went to Puerto Vallarta last week! My mom actually won the trip in a silent auction [her weakness], so we got quite a deal on an absolutely gorgeous home. There was a couple who lived there with their two kiddos [probably the two sweetest people I’ve ever met]. They took great care of us. 
She was an excellent cook and he made a hell of a margarita! I’m never going back – tamariñdo all the way! 
His family also had an unbelievable recipe for salsa verde that I literally could have swam in. It’s so delicious. I’m actually trying to recreate it as I type this post. More to come if that works out… 
Best. Guac. Ever.
This was our dinner the night we arrived. Absolutely amazing crusted Durango (it’s a type of fish – never had it before but I am a major fan), Mexican rice, a super fresh salad, homemade guac + salsa verde, plus fresh limes, crema, etc. Everything here was the epitome of fresh. We ate like royalty, but I never felt completely gross and stuffed like I sometimes do at Tex-Mex places (but that hasn’t stopped me going back now, has it?).
The house was in a gated area that led all the way up the mountains. It was built (like all the houses there) into the side of the cliff, so this was our view from the infiniti pool [trust me, the pictures do not do it justice]. We’d just sit outside, sip coffee [or margaritas], and talk and read and lounge and sing. 

¡Viva Mexico!

Not the worst sunset I have to say… We could actually see all the way to the Baja strip from our balconies (yes that’s right… plural… there were three levels)!

This is the view from the top balcony where the master suite is. Absolutely gorgeous.

We pretty much lived in the pool the entire time. With a view like that, why wouldn’t you?

This was the ceiling on the third level near the master bedroom. The detailing of the tile was just breathtaking. I couldn’t imagine waking up every day, walking out of my bedroom, and seeing this. Just gorgeous.

I’m not going to lie, there was a definite presence missing on our trip. My brother would have had so much fun. It was very healing to get to spend time with his buddies sharing stories and laughing and crying over my crazy brother. This bird you see here below kept swooping in and hanging out with us from time-to-time. We had to really be patient in order to get a picture because he was a sneaky little bugger. I have to say [and I’ve said it before] that birds remind me so much of those who’ve gone before us. I feel like they’re God’s way of showing us comfort and strength in times of bittersweet sadness. That’s what this little fella did for me. 

We took a walk down to the beach one day and along the way I snapped a few pics of the neighborhood. 

At the beach, we went to a little cantina and had some snacks + bevs. I went with a trusty ole Corona + lime. It was a fun experience, but I have to say it was a little scary. I don’t want to get into anything negative, but it will be a while before I go back to Mexico. I really pray the drug wars end and the government can gain control of everything again. The people are truly wonderful and are just trying to earn a living and raise their kids. It’s tough to do in the kind of surroundings they have currently. 

There were dogs everywhere (which I of course loved), and I even found Penny’s doppelganger. 

I’d love if we could get plants like this to grow in Texas! Just beautiful. They were literally everywhere – on stairs, in windows, in small pots on the side of the road. 

On our last night there, we went to an amazing restaurant called Le Kliff [and yes, it was on a cliff]. I finally got to wear a new dress I got from Old Navy! It’s perfect for summer, even in a place as steamy as Mexico. 

Our view at dinner:

Herbal Martini = Happy Lilly
(this place is actually known for their martinis – they had an entire page in the menu for them – they’re ridiculously delicious)

My brother’s friend had the lobster. Get. Out. Of. Here. Yummo!

I had the pecan crusted snapper that came with a passion fruit sauce + asparagus. Holy Fish Heaven. 

I was so happy to get back to squeezing deeze cheekies! We played in our little inflatable pool in the backyard the day after I got back. Homeboy wasn’t having it at first. 

But then Daddy decided to jump in, and little man was all about it! Look at these two hunks.

We spent Father’s Day at my in-laws house and had a great time laughing, swimming, and eating! I’m a lucky, lucky lady to have this man as my baby daddy. He’s kind of amazing, y’all.

Corey’s also discovered that he LOVES Play-Doh! Score for this mama!

Cheers to the weekend! We’re off to Port Aransas with the family tomorrow! Praying that it doesn’t rain the whole time. 

In a Dark, Dark Wood

Ohhhhhh boy oh boy oh boy. If you love a good mystery/thriller, then this is a DEFINITE read for you. It’s been on my reading wish list for a couple of years now, and I finally got a chance to read it. I have to admit that I read it in less than THREE DAYS! It’s a definite page turner. 
I ironically related very well to the main character. She’s got a lot of baggage and finds herself loving her small apartment and running out her stress on the pavement. The novel’s basic plot is that she gets invited to a “hen party” [bachelorette] for a friend she hasn’t spoken to or seen in ten years. She’s confused about the invite, but goes anyway. 
As you might guess, the party takes place deep in the woods. The characters she meets at the party are like something from the Clue game. They’ve each got something mysteriously “off” about them. The twisted plot finally ends in a way that you really can’t see coming. You’re not going to be able to put this one down until you find out who the “bad guy” is! Trust me! It’s a perfect book for the beach or a summer trip. 

German Potatoes + A Great Week with the Big Guy

Now that everyone is healthy, we’ve been spending as much time as possible outdoors before things get too hot and steamy in Houston. He was born to be outside, I’m convinced. I’ve found some great things at Dollar Tree and Target for him to play with that are durable [and cheap]. I’ll post about those later on. For now… #demcheekies.

We took a trip to the car wash [and actually braved getting him out of the car]. It was great! He loved watching the cars and trucks get their “bath” as he says. 

It was time for our shaggy dog to get groomed, so we dropped her off at Petco and walked around a bit. We saw so many *cough* fun things *cough* like snakes, hamsters, lizards, and ferrets. Corey had fun checking out all the critters. Then we came upon the fish. And my inner six year old went crazy. My parents must have bought us 8 of these guys growing up (apologies to each of those unlucky fish). I thought it would be a fun thing for Corey (okay, mostly me) to get to see one each day, so I bought the kit, the fish, and a fun little deco for the tank!

Meet Bernard the Butterfly Betta!
[check out that Spongebob shout out]

Had to get the Texans shirt for this Houstonian doggie.

These two. I find them like this all the time. Melts my heart.

I started a new book this week, and I’m in love! It’s called Fish in a Tree, and it’s already speaking to my heart. The foreword alone got me:

We also had Corey’s 18 month doctor appointment this week, and he’s growing like a weed to say the least. At least he’s on charts this time [yupp… he was literally off the charts a few check ups]. He’s already cutting his two year molars, and I’m dying. Poor guy is in pain. I hope they come through quickly! I did a little googling and thought I’d share the charts I found for tooth development:

click here for source

click here for source

My dad made this side dish more times than I can count when we were growing up, so for the life of me, I have no idea why I haven’t ever made it for Jon. These potatoes are easy, soooo scrumptious, and really not that bad for you when you consider how much flavor they pack. This recipe makes about 4 good sized servings at around 250 calories per serving. I crave these potatoes in a way that’s really kinda crazy. Just think: crispy potato + savory bacon + zippy flavor. YUM!

I do have to say that after we finished eating, I felt like crying. It’s amazing how food memories can take you back to some good childhood moments. 

Cheers to the Weekend!

German Potatoes
3 tbs. EVOO
2 lbs. yellow potatoes (peel on or off – your choice), cut into just over bite-sized pieces
1 yellow onion, diced
2 tbs. bacon bits (can sub 2 strips real bacon, diced*)
1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, minced
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste (I use a lot!)
Splash red wine vinegar
In a large Dutch oven or skillet, heat the olive oil until shimmering over medium-high heat. Add the potatoes and onions. Sauté until onions are tender and potatoes have begun to crisp, stirring occasionally and scraping the bottom of the pan (about 10 minutes). Reduce heat to medium-low. Add the bacon bits, parsley, salt, and pepper; stir to combine. Be sure to continue to scrape the bottom of the pan to get all the yummy brown bits. Cook an additional 15-20 minutes, partially covered, stirring occasionally. Add the splash of red vinegar towards the end when the potatoes are crisp on the outside and tender on the inside. Cook an additional minute. Garnish with parsley. 
*If you use real bacon, subtract about half the olive oil and toss the bacon in with the onions and potatoes. 

Turkey Stuffed Bell Peppers

You’ve gotta love the incredibly versatile little bell pepper. He sure is a handy guy in the kitchen. You can stuff him with just about any kind of flavor and he just compliments it so well. 
My sister-in-law gave me this recipe a while back, and we’ve both tweaked it in our own ways since then. She leaves out the rice and adds more bell diced bell pepper and beans to hers. I added the oregano, diced tomatoes, and cheese to mine. I like having the rice because it expands this into enough for 6 good sized servings [that freeze well, too if I might add]. That’s the great thing about this recipe though – you can add or subtract whatever your little heart desires.
Each pepper is about 215 calories each according to this recipe, so it fits well with any good healthy meal. We served ours with some simply-seasoned black beans for a yummy and filling weeknight meal. I made three peppers for myself and Jon (one was for lunch the next day for muah). I froze the remaining 3 servings [labeled it, too, otherwise I forget what they hey it is]. 
Another great win about this recipe is that you could make the filling [brown meat + add goodies] earlier in the day or even the day before. Just refrigerate until ready to stuff the peppers.

Turkey Stuffed Peppers
1 tbs. EVOO
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1 lb. ground turkey
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. ground oregano
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes, drained
1 cup cooked rice
1/4 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
1 oz. Cotija cheese, crumbled
Large bell peppers, tops, membranes, and seeds removed (save & chop the bits you can from the top)
Preheat oven to 400. 
Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven or nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Sauté the onion until translucent, stirring occasionally (about 5 minutes). Add garlic, turkey, cumin, oregano, any diced bell pepper from the tops, and S&P to taste. Stir to crumble and combine. Cook until turkey is browned and cook through, stirring occasionally (about 8 minutes). Add tomato sauce and diced tomatoes. Stir and cook an additional 5 minutes. 
Remove from heat. Add rice, cilantro, and Cotija. Stir well to combine then spoon mixture into bell peppers, stuffing as full as you can without them overflowing. Place in a glass baking dish coated with cooking spray. Bake at 400 for about 25 minutes or until peppers are tender. 
Garnish with cilantro. 
This recipe makes enough for about 6 stuffed bell peppers. Freeze the remaining filling if you have any leftover. Just thaw in the fridge the night before serving, spoon into bell peppers, and bake as above.