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Little Bothers

28 Jan

Other things may change us, but we start and end with the family. – Anthony Brandt

My little (but much taller) brother turns 22 years old today. I guess he’s not so little anymore, huh? Because I know Colin would never take the time to read an entire blog entry (he’s way too busy for that sort of thing), I thought I’d make him a video instead. Happy birthday, Bubby!

If the pictures are a bit too fuzzy, you can also watch it here.

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Four Eyes…Again

27 Jan

I always think about what it means to wear eyeglasses. When you get used to glasses you don’t know how far you could really see. – Andy Warhol

When I was younger, I was one of those strange little girls who wanted glasses.  I remember buying my first (fake) pair at Claire’s and being unable to take them off (as if they actually made a difference).  Little did I know that my wish would come true…

During the summers, my dad used to play doctor on Cat Cay island in the Bahamas, and my family would tag along for a week of vacation.  One afternoon, he decided to check our vision. My brother, of course, had better-than-perfect vision. This kid never had to wear braces either – he got the good genes in the family. Me? Not so much. I returned home and promptly visited the eye doctor.  When my parents asked why I never mentioned that I had trouble seeing, I said that I just thought it was normal. How was I supposed to know that things far away shouldn’t be blurry?

After wearing glasses for a few years, I had LASIK surgery, thinking I’d never have to deal with poor vision again.  The surgery came at the perfect time: I ended my high school years and spent my college years being able to see without any hitches. However, in recent months, I noticed those blurry edges creeping back into my life.  On one particularly rainy Nashville afternoon, I struggled to read a street sign and was afraid to drive again. Back to the eye doctor for me!

Lucky for me, I found a pair of tortoise shell Tory Burch frames that make me feel stylish and smart. Oh, and they allow me to see clearly again.  As Dad said, he should’ve known that I would turn getting glasses into a fashion event.  Success!

my new eyes

(photo: source)

Who Says I Can’t Have My Cake and Eat It Too?

26 Jan

The secret to staying young is to live honestly, eat slowly and lie about your age. – Lucille Ball

Today is my 25th birthday. I’m a quarter-century old, which means my quarter-life crisis is going to happen any day now.  It also means that I can eat cake for lunch (already done), buy myself a fun present (also already done) and revel in all the attention and birthday wishes.

my first birthday and first bite of cake - yum!

Mom used to say that she’d never have kids in January. Instead, she ended up with two, although my due date wasn’t until the end of February. I’ve always believed that being a preemie influenced my personality: I’m very type-A and a bit of a control freak; I’m quite punctual (even when I feel like I’m running late); and I can be a bit high strung (only sometimes though). Similarly, my brother arrived 10 days late (and two days after my third birthday) with an attitude that reflects his laid-back entrance into this world.

Growing up, we always had the greatest birthday parties.  I’m not sure how old I was turning, but my favorite one was an Alice-in-Wonderland-themed celebration.  We had a trunk full of costumes and a make-up artist to work her magic on my friends and me. For an afternoon, my basement was transformed into Wonderland, and I got to play the leading lady. I couldn’t have been a happier little girl!

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten out of the habit of marking the occasion with a party. This year, however, my boyfriend wouldn’t let me get away with it. Because we couldn’t be together on my real birthday, we celebrated a pretend birthday, complete with presents, a movie date (my choice) and a sunset picnic of sushi (my favorite).  If I have to be in my mid-twenties, at least I have a wonderful boy in my life to grow older with me.

not a bad view, huh?

Hitting the Slopes

13 Jan

Skiing is a dance, and the mountain always leads. – Author Unknown

Today, I skied for the first time in four years. To say that I was nervous is an understatement.  My boyfriend kept telling me not to worry, that it was like riding a bike, and I kept reminding him that I don’t know how to ride a bike. As it turns out, my worries weren’t entirely valid: I survived! I didn’t lose a glove or a pole (much easier than it sounds), and I only fell once (which happened to be while I was standing still) – a successful day in my book.

how do you put these things on?

I first skied when I was seven years old and spent a week or so in Colorado or Utah during each winter after that.  My brother and I would spend our mornings in ski school before being rewarded with an afternoon of skiing with Mom and Dad. Once we got a bit older, we both proved to be quite fearless (Colin more so than me), flying through the trees with not a care in the world.  We were lucky enough to see the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and also spent many a New Year’s Eve in the mountains.  Needless to say, I had a very blessed childhood.

little ski bunnies

family ski day at Deer Valley

Despite my history of hitting the slopes, today was a first for me: I skied with my boyfriend and navigated the mountain without my parents or brother leading the way. Not that there was much navigating. Ross is a man without a plan who tends to make last-minute decisions, and his skiing styled proved to be no different. Even so, he didn’t take me on any deathly runs (although I may have yelled “I’m going to die!” a few times), nearly ran over me only once and led us safely to a ski lift after each hill.

There were a lot of highlights in my day.  By the time we exited the gondola, I had convinced Ross to trade goggles with me because his pair matched my outfit better (very important when skiing in Aspen). The first run that we skied was Dipsy Doodle; the name alone put me in a wonderful mood.  At lunch, I inhaled an oyster po-boy (one of my favorite sandwiches) and convinced my sweet boyfriend to buy me a neck warmer (my complaining can be very charming). But my favorite moment was during a ride up the mountain when Ross looked at me and nonchalantly said, “I’m so in love with you.” Who knew I’d end up with a boy more romantic than me?

not a bad view, huh?

playing footsie on the chair lift

Now, it’s time to drink some hot chocolate with peppermint schnapps and snuggle with my man before I return to the real world tomorrow. Good night!

My Smile

1 Jan

Grandpas hold our tiny hands for just a little while but our hearts forever. – Author Unknown

Today is the start of a brand new year. It’s also my papa’s 84th birthday.  When I think about my papa, I think about him babysitting for me when I was only two or three years old.  A little girl with endless energy, I used to drag all my baby dolls and stuffed animals from the living room couch to the entrance-way bay windows and back again. When Mama got home, he’d tell her he was exhausted after watching me run around aimlessly (although I had a very clear purpose in mind). Even though he passed away when I was only five years old, in many ways, I still feel like he is watching over me, each and every day.

my papa, my smile

Papa was a sturdy man; at six feet, one inch, he towered over my little-girl world.  His baldhead made me laugh: why didn’t he have any hair up there? He had strong hands, always reaching down to pick me up.  Like most men, he had “his chair” in the living room.  I loved to join him, jumping onto his lap as though that was where I belonged.  He always made me feel safe as if I had nothing to fear.  Despite these masculine features, it was his warm smile that drew people towards him.  I’ve always believed that your smile is a reflection of your heart, and this statement is surely proven true with Papa, for both his smile and his heart were loving and genuine.  If a stranger were to see Papa’s cheerful face, it’d be hard not to smile back.

Before I was born, Papa had serious health problems: a stroke, which left his left arm almost useless, and a heart attack.   Soon after my fifth birthday, the doctors diagnosed him with lung cancer.  Visiting him in the hospital scared me immensely.  The room seemed so unpleasant, so ominous.  Rather than hugging him as I normally would, I walked over to a window and stared at the ground below.  How confused I must have been! Who was this man? Where was my papa?  Why was he in this strange, gloomy room? Why wasn’t he in “his chair”?  He didn’t look like Papa anymore: so many tubes and machines attached to him kept my five-year-old eyes from recognizing him.   I couldn’t jump onto his lap anymore; my safety, my protection, was gone.

My younger brother didn’t see him like I did. Colin walked in the hospital room exclaiming, “There’s my papa!” To him, Papa hadn’t changed; he was the same man he had always been. Colin didn’t hesitate to scramble up onto that uninviting hospital bed; he graciously helped my papa eat his dinner.  After seeing Colin’s reaction, I opened up.  Eventually, I saw the papa who I knew.

Looking back, I realize that my own perception often changes the way I see the world around me.  On the outside, Papa was different: he was surrounded by machines in an unfamiliar room; he didn’t seem so safe anymore; he couldn’t reach down and lift me to the sky like usual; his body seemed weak, as though a heavy burden had been laid upon him. But on the inside, he was the same.  Even though his body was failing him, he wasn’t losing faith.  He still had the same heart, one that shined through even in his most hopeless moments.  He was always – and still is – my smile.

What Christmas Means to Me

25 Dec

I will honor Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year. – Charles Dickens

For me, Christmas is always a time spent with family. Because most of my relatives live in Ohio, I often wake to a winter wonderland on Christmas day (lucky girl, huh?). If there is enough snow, we bundle up to go sledding (dogs included) and then head back to enjoy my aunt’s wonderful cooking, open gifts and watch Christmas movies. Our holiday staples are Babes in Toyland, Miracle on 34th Street (both versions), It’s a Wonderful Life (Mom’s favorite) and Four Christmases (my favorite part of watching this movie is hearing how loudly Dad laughs). Throughout the day, we inevitably munch on too many Christmas cookies. As nighttime rolls around, the cocktails start flowing – I can never get enough egg nog and consider this holiday as my only excuse to overindulge.

“If you can't believe, if you can't accept anything on faith, then you're doomed for a life dominated by doubt.” – Miracle on 34th Street

Colin's little smile just makes me melt!

Because of our travel schedule, Santa Claus rarely delivered our presents on Christmas morning. Not surprisingly, he always knew when we’d get home and never failed to have our gifts waiting. On the night that Santa stopped at the Baker household (whatever night that it may be), my brother and I would head to bed early. Daddy would stay up until 3 a.m., playing elf for Santa, and then Colin and I would be ready to celebrate just a few hours later. We’d wait patiently at the top of our stairs until Dad was ready with the video camera, and then we’d hurriedly race down to see what goodies waited for us beneath our tree.

Every so often (like this year), we spend the holidays at home and make the trek to Ohio a bit belatedly.  We listen to Christmas music for days on end, attend holiday parties with friends and finish up any last-minute gift-wrapping. And every once in a while, we’re blessed with a snowy Christmas in Georgia. Fingers crossed that the weatherman’s predictions are correct today!

our very own winter wonderland

So yes, this holiday is about family and friends, movies and music, parties and presents.  Mostly, though, Christmas is about faith. Wherever we are during the holidays, we always attend the Christmas Eve church service. Singing “Silent Night” with only votive candles lighting the sanctuary never fails to remind me of the reason for the season.  So many years ago, Mary and Joseph spent that first Christmas day with a baby who was sent to save the world. I’m thankful that we’ve gotten to spend Christmas with Him every year since.

Merry Christmas to all!

‘Tis the Season…to Bake

21 Dec

C is for cookie. That’s good enough for me. – Cookie Monster, Sesame Street

Always a curious child, I would often pull my stool into the kitchen to see what my mama was doing. After years of watching her cook a healthy dinner (one that inevitably included chicken – my brother and I didn’t know that meals without chicken even existed until we were much older) or bake a delicious dessert, I developed an affinity for the kitchen. That’s not to say that I’m necessarily good at cooking or baking, but I certainly enjoy it.

always wanted to be just like my mama

Of the two activities, baking is unequivocally my favorite. I blame my insatiable sweet teeth for this strong liking. Around the holidays, it seems to be particularly unquenchable, and I often end up consuming sweets as one of my meals (for instance, peanut butter fudge was my lunch on Sunday).

Thus, my contribution to our Christmas meal is usually the dessert. This year, I found a scrumptious-looking recipe for Brownie Cheesecake Peppermint Bars. Rather than struggle with the choice of cookies or brownies, cheesecake or peppermint, this sweet treat covers it all. I altered the recipe a bit and tried to lighten up the damage done to one’s diet (I am my mother’s daughter, after all). All the details are below – the original recipe (also found here) as well as my substitutions. Here’s to hoping my family enjoys this gooey goodness!

Ingredients

1 tube of refrigerated cookie dough

1 box of brownie mix

2 (8 oz.) packages of cream cheese (substitute: fat free cream cheese)

2.5 cups of white chocolate chips (note that this amount requires two bags of chips)

2 teaspoons of pure peppermint extract, divided

4 candy canes, crushed

Directions

  1. Make the brownie batter according to package directions (substitute: original apple sauce for the vegetable oil, egg whites for the eggs). Add 1 teaspoon of peppermint extract. Bake accordingly, and set aside to cool.
  2. Spray a 9” by 13” rectangular pan with non-stick cooking spray, and spread cookie dough along the bottom in an even layer (I found it easiest to use my fingers rather than a knife or rolling pin). Bake accordingly (until edges are golden brown), and set aside to cool.
  3. Once the brownies have cooled, remove and discard any hard edges. Scrape the rest of the brownies into a large bowl, and combine with the cream cheese to create a thick mixture. Stir together until it is generally uniform in color. Scoop this mixture onto the baked cookie dough, and smooth into an even layer.
  4. Melt the white chocolate chips on the stove. Add in 1 teaspoon of peppermint extract. Spread the melted chocolate over the cookie-brownie mixture.
  5. While the chocolate is still hot, crush up your candy canes, and sprinkle over your dessert. Once the chocolate has hardened, cut into the bars, and ENJOY!

all the yummy parts

voila! the finished product

Happy holidays!