Bright Spirits, Light Hearts

You know that scene in How the Grinch Stole Christmas when Cindy Lou Who sings “Where Are You Christmas?” Well, yeah. That’s happening.

Christmas has been elusive this year, and I’m not sure what happened. I was so beyond enthusiastic about Thanksgiving, compensating for missing my family by making the Newlywed Halter’s first meal an experience to remember. But now, who knows what’s going on? I’ve gotten most of my shopping done – early, in fact. Giving presents is probably one of my very most favorite things to do, yet everything is still unwrapped and hidden around the house. Normally, I would be baking up a storm, singing Christmas carols along with Pandora while flinging flour everywhere. But Bill doesn’t eat sweets, and when no one will enjoy them but me… Well, that sounds more like a recipe for holiday chub and a whole lot of lonely sugar binging. So I’ve made healthy Caramel Apple Oatmeal Cookies, but it’s just not the same. And then, of course, there is the fact that it was sunny and 75 degrees out today. I would never complain about that, unless it was both December AND my world was lacking some holiday spirit.

So what’s a girl to do when her heart isn’t as light and her spirit isn’t as bright as it should be?

Listen to her mom.

My mom called today, exploding with excitement that OMG Michael’s had decided to mark all of their Christmas decorations down to 70% off, and OMG my stepdad was going to be something just short of livid when he comes home to see that Wonderland that I’m sure is my mother’s house. Funny thing though, is that it just so happened that I was at Michael’s this very morning, albeit 429 miles away, and I not so much as noticed the Christmas extravaganza. And I’m observant. And usually squee myself over things like garland, glitter, and little reindeer statuettes. She told me to go. I told her I’m broke. She told me to decorate. I told her we only had a week before we leave for vacation. She told me to put out our fake tree. I told her it was small and pathetic. She told me to knock it off, as much as my sweet little mother would tell me to knock it off. I tried. It didn’t work.

Talk about a Scrooge. Sheesh.

But it turns out that trimming my pathetic fake tree all alone, by myself, on a dark Sunday night with only a week left before we abandon it was exactly what the doctor ordered. Every year it seems like it takes a grand gesture, a Pinterest-sized effort, holiday rat race to get in the spirit, and for some reason, I just haven’t had it in me this year. And it’s so easy to forget that even the smallest gesture can bring big changes. Proof?

Little tree, big cheer.

IMG_3817

The lights were already on it. I stuck 8, maybe 10, obnoxious glittery snowflakes on it, which clash tremendously with the bright red tree skirt. This is the only decoration I currently have in my house, and you know what? That’s okay. It’s been a big year, and I’m giving myself permission to bow out of the pressure to be the domestic queen of the holidays. Honestly, I’m just so content to sit back with Billy and drink some hot chocolate from our cute His and Hers mugs without worrying about comparing myself to everyone around me.

IMG_3770

Doesn’t that just look so (devastatingly-ordinary-and-oh-so-vanilla-deep-sigh) NICE? It’s strange how being at peace with an underwhelming Christmas performance can ironically stoke that internal holiday cheer fire. All of a sudden that heart we were talking about earlier is a little lighter. And those spirits we mentioned? Well, they’re – you guessed it – a little brighter.

IMG_3816

So there it is. Let’s all just sit back and enjoy everything we are, instead of worrying our little Grinch hearts out over everything we’re not. Happy (half-assed) holidays everyone!

It may just be the best one yet.

Thanksgiving Domination

Soooooo Thanksgiving happened.

As you already know, I was pretty nervous about cooking my first big meal. So when I pulled something incredibly intelligent like slice my left ring finger open while trying to cut a bagel with a brand new extremely sharp steak knife the night before Thanksgiving, I not only worried about the outcome of the meal, but now about the safety of everyone in a 1-mile radius as well. I thought I needed stitches, but decided to let Bill quell my anxiety for once in my life. I cried for a while, put pressure on it with a paper towel until it finally stopped bleeding, let Billy doctored me up, and then moped for a decidedly finite period of time, absolutely sure my efforts the next day would be futile. I was done for. The turkey had already won, and it was strictly my doing. Not a great start.

In the morning, however, it was ON. I was determined to throw down. And despite the misstep the night before, here is how THAT turned out.

BOOM.

20131202-163937.jpg

You GUYS. I did that.

I don’t have the faintest idea how it happened, but it was awesome. Getting started was tough since I get easily overwhelmed by too many things going on at once and couldn’t quite figure out where to begin. So I started by making breakfast, sitting down with a magazine, and taking a deep metaphorical breath. I highly recommend this first step to everyone. Take notes.

After that, things went smoothly for the most part. Well, besides not having any idea how to stick my hand in a turkey to pull out the neck and giblets. Or loosen the skin from the flesh. Or tuck the wings under. You know.

There was only one moment that I started to panic, thinking I bit off more than I could chew, and that, of course, was during the hour before dinner is served – that magic chaos period my mom has always talked about as if it were a swarm of locusts descending over both the kitchen and whoever pulled the short straw when deciding who was cooking dinner. But my friends, thank goodness for Bill. He has proven me wrong yet again, this time by being the best sous chef a lady could ask for. And for the second time in less than 24 hours, he managed to calm the wife-beast just as things started to spiral out of anxiety-ridden control – all while trimming the green beans, pureeing the gravy, and carving that god-forsaken bird.

As there is no way that I could give you what Bill would call the “play-by-play” of the day, because 1) I don’t think you need a tedious detailed run-down on this fine Tuesday, and 2) I most likely blacked out multiple times throughout the day just to get through it, here are the highlights:

20131202-163950.jpg

Those are fresh cranberries. I mean, really fresh. Like, so fresh I they needed to be rinsed and drained and smashed and blended.

20131202-163959.jpg

It took me a few minutes to figure out the pan… Yeah, just the pan.

20131202-164008.jpg

That was grosser than I anticipated, but…

20131202-164016.jpg

DOMINATION! I’ve been getting the “What’s in the bottom of the pan?” question a lot, and the answer would be halved pears and onions to flavor the drippings to make the gravy. (Find the recipe from Cooking Light here: Oil-Basted Parmesan Turkey with Walnut Gravy)

20131202-164023.jpg

Now that’s a man. You carve that turkey, Billy. (We all grew up a little that day.)

20131202-164047.jpg

Butternut-Bacon Stuffing from Cooking Light: Delish, especially as leftovers reheated in the toaster oven!

20131202-164040.jpg

Green Beans with Sherried Mushroom Sauce from Cooking Light… We cheated and put the fried onions on top anyway. Don’t tell my arteries.

20131202-164031.jpg

Maple-Pecan Sweet Potatoes from, you guessed it, Cooking Light! Made with real maple syrup and vanilla, these puppies are GOOD. Bill’s self-declared favorite.

20131202-164104.jpg

A relatively clean production area, obviously post-chaos hour.

20131202-164111.jpg

And homemade – 100% from scratch – Cranberry-Orange Relish. This was surprisingly easy, but for some reason telling everyone you made your cranberries from scratch is really impressive. Probably because they are so easy to buy at the market would be my guess! Anyway, this is an awesome recipe. It includes a whole orange and the zest of an orange rind, so the tangy citrus kick gives it a little something extra. It’s so great to eat straight out of the fridge as well, and it feels like a grown-up version of applesauce. Which is, obviously, rad.

20131202-164130.jpg

And here it is… the finished product! (In true do(hot mess)tication, notice the one little drip of sweet potatoes chilling on the edge of the plate. Polished presentations are for cowards.

20131202-164139.jpg

Happy husband with turkey hands!

20131202-164147.jpg

Okay, so I’m PROUD. I’ve never felt like a chef before, and until Thanksgiving, I never felt like cooking would be something I would ever be good at. There’s hope, everyone! There is HOPE.

20131202-164155.jpg

One more presentation pic for good measure.

20131202-164203.jpg

So this is how I celebrated. A much, MUCH deserved glass of wine.

All in all, I feel like the day was successful, and the biggest success was probably that despite the difficult decision to be away from my family of origin for the first time on such an important day, there were many more “best parts” than I expected. Bill and I had our first major holiday together. We got to take on the challenge in the kitchen and conquer that turkey. We proved that we are a great team, even when we have no idea what we are doing. We sat down in our sweats, fully intending to change into nice clothes and do our hair but deciding we were just too exhausted, and we ate a huge meal, just the two of us, and it was AMAZING. And lastly, I thoroughly passed out on the couch, fat and very happy, at around 7:30 p.m. in the middle of one of my favorite shows like an old grandma. It was SO worth it.

I do, however, have one main piece of advice for you when embarking on your first Thanksgiving meal. Do not – I repeat, DO NOT – slice your hand open the night before. Raw turkey juice is not pleasant to begin with, and it is even less so when it seeps into unnecessary wounds.

Just a thought.

Turkey vs. Fem-Beast

You guys.

LOOK WHAT I BOUGHT LAST NIGHT.

20131125-085143.jpg

WHAT?!?

So who would of thought that I would get so worked up standing by myself in front of the massive wall of roasting pans in Bed Bath & Beyond? As it turn outs, cooking my first Thanksgiving dinner is apparently a really big deal to me.

Weird.

Because of Bill’s work schedule, we won’t have the opportunity to travel and see family for Thanksgiving this year. Even though it will just be Bill and I in our quiet little starter home on Thursday, I feel like that makes it that much more important to celebrate the day. What I didn’t expect was that making my first turkey would feel like a huge responsibility. I’m determined to make it from scratch because if I’m going to take on this rite of passage into wifehood, I’m going to go big and stare it down in the face like the fem-beast I am. Turkey, hear me roar.

But really, I’m pretty nervous. I have been putting a lot of thought into our menu, scouring over websites and blogs and magazines and Pinterest, trying to pick out the perfect combination of healthy and traditional. Oh, and when I say “putting a lot of thought into”, what I’m really trying to say is something more akin to “obsessing”, or perhaps “researching thoroughly in a state of suppressed-and-consequently-simmering panic”. Need proof?

20131125-085411.jpg

The two of us are going to be eating Thanksgiving dinner all the way to Christmas.

I think all this is coming from watching the pre-holiday planning and preparation, as well as the intensive day-of labor, that my mom and grandmother took so seriously growing up. One year I helped, taking on all the gross de-necking and what have you that my mom was clearly disgusted by, but other than that my turkey roasting skills are as underdeveloped as one’s turkey roasting skills can be. However, if there was ever a time to be grateful for the first year of marriage – you know, when the honeymoon isn’t over and the adoring husband pretends he doesn’t mind a disaster of a house and enthusiastically chews tough/burnt/undercooked dinners – well friends, this would be it.

So in conclusion, here goes nothing! That Caphalon box you see above is here in my kitchen as a glaring reminder of the character-building to come in the very near future. And let me say that this year, along with my family, friends, and a wonderful life, what I am thankful for is this blog. Because if this all goes to hell, as is entirely possible, at I’ll have some material to write about and you’ll have a good laugh at my expense.

Here’s to solidifying my status as a domestic hot mess, and I think we can all agree that there aren’t too many feelings as grand as validation!

xo

Make Your Home Happy

The single best piece of advice I got on marriage came from a coworker at the bridal shower my office threw for me a few weeks before our wedding. This instruction came from a particular coworker who is someone I look up to greatly: she is always fun, doesn’t take life too seriously (in the best way), lives in a constant state of utter fabulousness, and is generally the life of the party, whether you like it or not thankyouverymuch. Her advice, which I have taken to heart is simple.

“Always try to make your home happy. Do something, no matter how small, every day to make it that way.”

Every few weeks, she comes up to me at work with the sole intent of asking me, “Ashleigh, are you making your home happy?” The anecdote that came with this question on the last occasion really shed some light on just how central this practice is to her marriage and just how well it works. “Even just lighting a candle. Sometimes when my husband and I are fighting and we can’t solve it, we stop talking, light a candle, and just sit in silence. It totally works.” Then she fell into her contagious little fit of laughter that seems to convey just how little she cares about how absurd she thinks she’s being. Well, oh-role-model-of-mine, I don’t think you are absurd at all. I think you are quite marvelous.

Putting this into practice is not always easy, and the simple things are often the ones that fall through the cracks. This is even more true due to the fact that Bill and I have opposite work schedules, and it is quite the bummer. I work a normal 40-hour work week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Easy enough. But layer on top of that Bill’s schedule of Friday through Tuesday from 2 p.m. to midnight, and things become tricky. We almost never have a full day off together. Case in point, from September 3rd to December 24th, we will not have had a single day off to spend together. So basically, as newlyweds, we are not only trying to figure out this whole marriage thing, but we’re trying to figure out this whole marriage thing with very limited time together. I find find myself wanting to put a lot of effort into making the moments we do have a little extra special, but life often gets in the way and the “important” things take over.

This Sunday, an autumn-themed breakfast prepared while Bill was still asleep meant that he woke up to a home warmed with the smell of pumpkin and cinnamon, and we spent a very rare quiet morning sharing a lazy breakfast at our dining room table. To bring the spirit of fall inside, I pulled one of my favorite things out of the cupboard.

20131110-221740.jpg

This stuff is to die for. Pumpkin plus cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg is QUITE the combo, let me tell you.

20131110-222044.jpg

I decided to add a little something extra in the form of honey and chopped pecans in place of the traditional butter-and-syrup staples. Great decision.

20131110-222119.jpg

One of the things that makes home happier for me is having flowers in plain sight, so these autumn lovelies took center stage on the table.

20131110-222144.jpg

A surefire way to measure success when it comes to Bill and food? A severe lack of eye contact while said meal is present. This quick little spread took about 20 minutes to prepare but made a huge impact on my week. I easily could have poured myself a bowl of cereal and called it breakfast, but it was much more rewarding to hear the grizzly bear upstairs awaken from his slumber to the whiff of something delicious coming from the kitchen and subsequently follow his nose, stumbling loudly down the stairs. The payoff that resulted – the look of utter surprise followed by hungry anticipation followed by genuine appreciation followed by complete mutual contentedness in our full, happy bellies – will always be worth the effort.

Sounds like a happy home to me! This is officially my mission from here on out.

Halterween: A Tradition is Born

Here’s a piece of irony for you.

One of the things I’ve been so looking forward to in marriage – and I mean really excited about – is the establishment of new traditions. Why is that ironic? Well, I suppose it’s because the very definition of tradition (according to Dictionary.com) is “a continuing practice” or “a long-established or inherited way of thinking or acting”. So basically I’ve been excited about doing the same thing over and over again for an undetermined amount of time. Coming from a generation obsessed with a constant stream of shiny new things and keeping up with the (fill in the blank here: times, trends, outrageous/materialistic/overly dramatized reality TV family that I’m secretly infatuated with… don’t hate me for my guilty pleasures), you would think traditions would be the last thing that would get me going. But maybe that is one of the reasons why I AM so fired up about new ideas becoming Halter family mainstays. Traditions offer a warm, home-y sense of security in an age where constant bombardment with pressure and expectations is commonplace. If you think about it, traditions are great conversation starters and so fun to talk about because they are always so… weird. Quirky. Ridiculous. In fact, they are often the only excuse we have to legitimize being weird, quirky, and ridiculous. I mean, seriously, how else would I get away with some of the things I wrote about in a previous post, like eating cookies for breakfast on a certain magical holiday? Traditionally, calories don’t count on Christmas morning. And you can’t argue with that – it’s FAMILY TRADITION.

It seems to me that in order for something to become tradition, it has to have happened twice. After the first time, we can intend for something to become tradition, but that’s all talk until it actually does. That is why Halloween was so highly anticipated for me this year. Last Halloween, my roommate and I co-hosted a dinner party that consisted of a small guest list, butternut squash lasagna, costumes, and lots of candy. We were over the downtown scene with the 21+ crazies shedding themselves of any and all sensibilities or societal rules (plus, getting a ride home on this particular night is a big, fat pain…), and we decided to bring the party to us. It went well, and a bar was set. Since that night, however, I have referred to it in my brain as the “First Annual”, but I’ve been unable to put my money where my mouth is until this year’s fete.

SO I’m proud to introduce to you snapshots from “The 2nd Annual Supper Bloody Supper at the Halterween Mansion”!

20131104-090954.jpg

First up, we took down every ounce of normality in terms of decor and created an ambiance and vibe that was sure to please. (Those apple slices you see in that picture? Caramel apply vodka jello shots. Deadly.)

20131104-094108.jpg

My gorgeous co-host to the left (Cher from Clueless) and some lifesaving help to the right (Mean Girls!).

20131104-091430.jpg

On the menu, slow-cooker vegetarian chili with optional pulled pork on the side, corn bread, and a sweet potato bar complete with all the fixin’s you could ever dream of.

20131104-094118.jpg

An endless spread of booze and sugar guarantee a good time.

20131104-091038.jpg

Next ingredient: amazing friends bringing the cheer.

20131104-094055.jpg

Mixing and mingling…

20131104-091059.jpg

The hubby as Minnesota Vikings embarrassment Josh Freeman and the pup as the penguin to my polar bear.

20131104-091135.jpg

New friends were made when Jim Harbaugh joined the festivities.

20131104-091240.jpg

And NFL coach royalty Harbaugh and Ditka put Freeman in his place.

20131104-091312.jpg

Again with Caramel Apples… Deliciously dangerous.

20131104-091340.jpg

An unplanned Arctic (and okay, OKAY, Antarctic) takeover.

20131104-094213.jpg

And finally, the family to make it a family tradition.

The bar has been set high, my lovelies. I’m already jazzed for the 3rd Annual Supper Bloody Supper at the Halterween Mansion, and all the “Annuals” come, in all their weird, quirky, ridiculous glory.

Piece By Little Piece

Our living room has felt very unfinished for long time. Having lived in this house for seven years, I have had eight roommates moving in and moving out, taking things and leaving things (both their own and otherwise), and my house has hardly felt like home. On top of all that, being a live-in landlord is a tough job. Although I’m sure the roomies had no intention of doing so, all of the house maintenance and cleaning was often left to me, even if it was beyond the scope of a traditional landlord’s duties. It felt like a constant game of catch-up. When Bill moved in, two roommates had just moved out, and in order to keep the cost of living here financially feasible, we had another move in three months later. She moved out two months before the wedding, when we were in full nuptial-planning mode. Needless to say, the house was always changing, chaotic, and sufficiently lacking in design.

Since our wedding, Bill and I have been trying to keep the opportunity to live just the two of us a real possibility. With the new living situation, we have been able to put some TLC into the space. The most exciting and labor-intensive of these improvements are most prominently ripping out the old college-house carpet and replacing it with faux-hardwood laminate, as well as installing new baseboard and crown molding. These things made a huge difference, but something was still unquestionably missing.

One day a month or two ago, I stood in the middle of our small but semi-open concept living and dining area, and I decided to just take down anything and everything that I was even in the least bit unsatisfied with in terms of decor. It had taken me awhile to figure out my design style during the wedding registry era, and once I discovered Apartment Therapy’s Classic Glam style (major epiphany), I have been looking for and slowly gathering different elements to transition my house into our home.

Here is the before picture of our living room:

20131013-172949.jpg

Complete blank slate.

This overwhelmed me for a quite some time. I’m no interior designer, that’s for sure. But once I realized that the real fun is not in everything coming together in one impressive overhaul like in all the HGTV shows with which I am disgustingly obsessed – but rather in the element of surprise and the unexpected discovery of certain treasures piece by piece – I started to enjoy the process. First, it was new pillows I was on the hunt for. After that, coffee table lovelies. And most recently, I have been entirely consumed with finding the perfect area rug.

Well, finally… found. After scouring flash sale home sites like Joss & Main, One Kings Lane, and Gilt Home, I had almost lost hope. Then this beauty from Pottery Barn caught my eye several weeks ago, but the price tag was a little more than I had hoped. It took some self-convincing that I had, in fact, done my research, and a rug is an investment piece that should last for years if you are smart about it. Oh yeah, and it was marked down 15% for PB’s fall rug sale so… SOLD.

I’m not in the least bit sorry.

Here are the (still in progress) afters:

20131013-215705.jpg

As you can see, the wall behind the couch continues to be in desperate need of some art, but I’m so happy with how my little finds are coming together!

Arguably the best part? Even Indy approves.

20131013-215852.jpg