Countdown to Closing

Monday, February 25, 2013

We had our home inspection last week and everything went exceptionally well! The seller is paying for the asbestos abatement in the basement and replacing a few little things like outlets and such. We didn't have to request that much be fixed because not much is wrong with the house at all - GREAT NEWS!

The only big issue in our minds was the asbestos tiling in the basement. While the inspectors who took samples and tested it for us told us that it was properly encapsulated (which is the main way that people fix this problem), we decided that remediation was a better option. Mike, being the environmental guy that he is, really didn't like keeping it there and also thought it might be a great selling feature in the future if we can have it removed and get a letter stating that we are asbestos free. Since the homes in that neighborhood were built before 1970, they all contained or still contain asbestos. Most people just encapsulate it with carpet or other flooring and call it a day but Mike and I would rather have it completely removed from the home. It would mainly just give us peace of mind.

Fortunately, the seller didn't have a problem with paying for the abatement and fixing a few of the little things we wanted done. We got really lucky and this whole process has been pretty simple so far. Now it's just a waiting game. We will be anxiously awaiting our settlement date!

We officially settle June 4th so we are 99 days away from closing! I hope they fly by!

Book Review - Girls in White Dresses

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Book #2 - Girls in White Dresses by Jennifer Close

[image source: Goodreads]

Summary (source)
Wickedly hilarious and utterly recognizable, Girls in White Dresses tells the story of three women grappling with heartbreak and career change, family pressure and new love—all while suffering through an endless round of weddings and bridal showers.

Isabella, Mary, and Lauren feel like everyone they know is getting married. On Sunday after Sunday, at bridal shower after bridal shower, they coo over toasters, collect ribbons and wrapping paper, eat minuscule sandwiches and doll-sized cakes. They wear pastel dresses and drink champagne by the case, but amid the celebration these women have their own lives to contend with: Isabella is working at a mailing-list company, dizzy with the mixed signals of a boss who claims she’s on a diet but has Isabella file all morning if she forgets to bring her a chocolate muffin. Mary thinks she might cry with happiness when she finally meets a nice guy who loves his mother, only to realize he’ll never love Mary quite as much. And Lauren, a waitress at a Midtown bar, swears up and down she won’t fall for the sleazy bartender—a promise that his dirty blond curls and perfect vodka sodas make hard to keep.

With a wry sense of humor, Jennifer Close brings us through those thrilling, bewildering, what-on-earth-am-I-going-to-do-with-my-life years of early adulthood. These are the years when everyone else seems to have a plan, a great job, and an appropriate boyfriend, while Isabella has a blind date with a gay man, Mary has a crush on her boss, and Lauren has a goldfish named Willard. Through boozy family holidays and disastrous ski vacations, relationships lost to politics and relationships found in pet stores, Girls in White Dresses pulls us deep inside the circle of these friends, perfectly capturing the wild frustrations and soaring joys of modern life.

My Review
What I Loved
1. There were a lot of parts of this book that I could relate to as a young 20-something. I enjoyed the dating stories and the quirky people they came across. I thought Abby's parents were hilarious and I sort of wished I could meet them in person - or that they were real people to begin with. There were a few times when I was reading that I kept thinking to myself, "Oh my gosh, I have totally been there." The stories were simple and highlighted bizarre everyday events that most girls have experienced at some point in their lives. I definitely enjoyed the real-ness of the girls' stories. I love literature I can relate to and this book was definitely one of those pieces.

2. It was funny. I thought it was a lot like the show "Girls" on HBO which is a show I find strangely hilarious and to which I have developed a slight addiction. It's so quirky and I can identify with them a lot. This book was much the same way and because it reminded me of my new favorite show, I naturally took a liking to it.

3. While it was slightly confusing in this book, I do like when writers interrelate stories. I like to pick up from another place where one character left off. This book had lots of that but as you will see below, I thought it could have been done a little bit better.

4. It's fun and light. Not complex and heavy, it's easy to enjoy.

What I Didn't Love
1. I could not for the life of me remember which girl was which. I constantly had to keep flipping back and re-reading parts of the earlier stories to remember who was who. This frustrated me immensely. At one point I thought there were two girls with the same name and two different lives. ARGH!

2. Maybe it's just me but I certainly do not drink nearly as much as they do. I don't have the TIME to drink as much as they do, even if I wanted to. I feel like every page I was reading about them going out to another bar night after night or having yet another hangover. Maybe some girls live this way but I certainly could not keep up a full-time job with their lifestyle, ESPECIALLY not in New York City where everything costs a million dollars.

3. I didn't like the style of writing much. There was nothing poetic about it to me. Another reviewer on Goodreads that I came across before I picked up the book said "It reads monotonously. We got summer sausage, we cut the summer sausage." This is exactly how I felt. And what is with summer sausage?

3 out of 5 stars

Blackberry Iced Tea

Monday, February 18, 2013

I don't know about you, but I am already sick and tired of this winter weather. I am a summer baby so I think that has a lot to do with my aversion to the cold. Lately, we've had weeks upon weeks of sub-freezing temperatures here in Maryland and I want nothing more than to board a plane and jet off to the Caribbean so I can thaw out on the beach. It was really hard coming back from our trip to Florida to a week where temps never rose above 15 degrees.

I don't mind the cold so much over the holidays (it wouldn't feel like Christmas if it was warm), but once we get into the New Year, I'm ready for spring. The cold wouldn't be so bad if it would at least snow. It would actually be worth it and I definitely wouldn't mind having a day off. We've had dustings here and there but nothing substantial and if it's not going to snow, then any day below 65 degrees is unacceptable in my opinion!

That being said, my mind has been stuck on warmer weather. Mike and I have been planning our summer vacations and I have been picking up little spring inspired items here and there for the apartment. I know I can't decorate my way to spring but it helps me feel like we are getting closer if I have things to remind me that it's coming.

This week I picked up the ingredients to make this tasty Blackberry Iced Tea. I snagged the recipe from pinterest but it originally came from Southern Living. I can picture myself laying poolside or at a BBQ sipping this delicious little drink. I definitely plan on making this one soon to bring back a little taste of summer in these chilly winter months.

Blackberry Iced Tea

3 cups fresh or frozen blackberries, thawed
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
Pinch of baking soda
4 cups boiling water
2 family-size tea bags
2 1/2 cups cold water
Garnishes: fresh blackberries, fresh mint sprigs

Combine blackberries and sugar in large container. Crush blackberries with wooden spoon. Add mint and baking soda. Set aside.

Pour 4 cups boiling water over tea bags; cover and let stand 3 minutes. Discard tea bags.

Pour tea over blackberry mixture; let stand at room temperature 1 hour. Pour tea through a wire-mesh strainer into a large pitcher, discarding solids. Add 2 1/2 cups cold water, stirring until sugar dissolves. Cover and chill until ready to serve. Garnish, if desired.
Note: For the garnish, cut desired amount of wooden skewers into 5-inch lengths; then place fresh blackberries on skewers.

Our first Married Valentine's Day

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Valentine's Day everyone!

Yesterday morning I awoke to breakfast in bed delivered by my handsome hubby.

I loved the adorable bacon heart he made me on top of my giant pancake. I sipped some green tea and sat with him before heading off to work.

Later that evening when I got home, we had a delicious candle-lit dinner that Mike planned and he made this incredible dessert that I am definitely going to try again! I gave up chocolate, candy, and super sugary foods for Lent so he made a dessert that was sweet but healthy too. I am hooked!

He bought me some beautiful flowers and surprised me with them after I got home from work. Every year he also hand makes a card and they are always so cute! I made him a little card using our wedding photos on Shutterfly and then framed a print from the wedding so he could have a nice photo in his office. He really loved it and it made me happy to see how much he enjoyed it.

After dinner we grabbed our dessert and moved to the couch. Mike made a nice fire and we cuddled up to watch a movie.

While our Valentine's day celebrations are usually pretty simple, they are still special. I think with all of the hype and craziness of the other holidays, we like to keep this one quiet and easy. I enjoyed every minute and am so lucky to have such a sweet guy!

Hope everyone had a great day full of love yesterday too!

Reynold's Tavern

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

On Sunday, I went with my mom and her two sisters downtown to the Reynold's Tavern in Annapolis to commemorate my grandmother's birthday. She passed back in 2001 and every year, they get together to celebrate and remember her.

Reynold's one of our favorite places to go for birthdays and other occasions. My mom and I have been dozens of times and it's just as exciting each time we go. If you order the Colonial High Tea (which I HIGHLY recommend) they bring out cute little desserts and sandwiches and their awesome scones. You also get a choice of soup, salad, or quiche and every single time, I get their DELICIOUS cream of crab soup. Being a true Marylander, I don't think I can get anything else. But seriously, it really is incredible and worth a try.

After our tea, we drove over to the cemetery to place flowers at my grandmom's grave and sing her happy birthday. It's hard to believe that it was more than 10 years ago that she passed.

My grandmother was an absolutely incredible lady. She endured many struggles throughout her life - more than most - but despite the tough hand she was dealt, she was one of the most delightful and happy people I knew. She had the most gentle and generous heart. She was the type of person who would give you the last dime in her purse even if it meant she wouldn't have anything for herself. I remember her always bringing me something small every time she came to visit. Sometimes it would only be a piece of candy or a stick of gum but every time I saw her, she had something for me. She didn't have much at all for herself but she always found something to give her grandchildren.

Growing up, when my parents were in a bowling league on Tuesday nights, she would babysit me every week and I treasured the time I got to spend with her. One of my fondest memories of her was on those nights when she would sometimes allow me to stay up past my bedtime and watch "Happy Days" with her. We would sit together and laugh and then after the show went off, we would dance down the hallway and up the stairs singing the theme song as I got ready for bed.

One of the things I miss the most about her is her laugh. She had a very distinct voice and I love watching old home movies just to hear her talk and laugh. She had one of those strong Maryland accents. Words like water and wash were "wooter" and "worsh" and almost every sentence contained a "hon." Taking time to remember how special she was means a lot to my mom and her sisters but it also means a lot to me. I am glad that I got to know her the way that I did and I wish she was still around to meet my husband and see how I've grown up. I miss her every day.

I love you Grandmom, a bushel and a peck.

On our way to Homeownership!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

It's official! We are (almost) homeowners!

This past week we made our very first offer on an awesome home and with a little stressful negotiating, they sellers accepted our offer! Now begins the fun process of home inspections and months of waiting for settlement. One of the tricky parts of the deal was the settlement date. Unfortunately, due to our apartment lease, we can't settle until JUNE. So we have a bit of waiting to do before everything becomes completely official but we are very excited nonetheless!

We know that things could still come up in the home inspection and there is always a slight chance for things to fall apart but we wanted to share the news anyway because this is a big first for us.

Maybe not the best picture, but we were celebrating at my parents' house. Cheers!

We can't wait to start making the house a home and a beautiful place for growing in our new life together. Cheers!

Superbowl 47 - A Team of Destiny

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Baltimore Ravens are the Super Bowl XLVII WORLD CHAMPIONS! What more do I need to say?

I honestly can't believe how incredible this season has been. Between Ray's retirement and seeing his last dance, our inspiring playoff run, the Harbaugh brothers facing off in the first ever "Harbowl", Joe Flacco being named MVP, and coming home with our second Super Bowl title, I can't seem to choose which has been my favorite moment.

The game was a struggle. We started off with a big lead and then the 49ers caught right back up in the second half after an unexpected 30-minute power outage at the stadium. We had to fight hard to keep them from pushing ahead right at the end and it could not have been more appropriate that it came down to a goal-line stand that kept them from doing so. After the game, Ray said, "For us to stand up like that, it is just a testament of what we've been through and how much trust we had all year with each other."

That is exactly how all of Baltimore felt as well. This whole season has been a struggle. As a team, our ride to the Super bowl was pretty bumpy with Art Modell passing back in September, the tragic loss of Torrey Smith's younger brother, and losing many key players like Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, and Lardarius Webb to injuries early in the season.

John Harbaugh summed it up pretty well last night when he said, "It wasn't perfect, it wasn't pretty, but it was us." We have been through quite a bit of hardship and many people believed we wouldn't make it. I remember how frustrating it was to read articles from ESPN that blatantly stated how we would fail. You can check out one of the best ones here. Even after we beat out Denver, the critics came back at us saying the same things for our game against the Patriots. We have always been underestimated and quite frankly, I don't think the team or the fans would have it any other way. All season long, we used these negative expectations and predictions as fuel to prove everyone wrong, and look where it took us.

For me, the play that said it all this season was when Ray Rice nailed the first down on 4th & 29. This was probably one of my all time favorite Ravens moments ever, and not just because it starred on of my favorite players. It was also named the 2012 NFL Play of the Year.

There are so many moments that I will never forget from this season. We have an incredible passion for the game and I don't care what anyone says, we worked and fought so hard to get here.

We are incredibly lucky to have the players that we do but we are also very lucky to have such a devoted coaching staff. When we defeated the Steelers back in 2011 at Heinz field, Harbaugh was so fired up about our victory that he started quoting Teddy Roosevelt in this press conference. It is passion and spirit like this that makes me proud to be a Ravens fan.

After all we have been through, I could not be more proud of my team or my city. Congratulations Baltimore!

Mustard Molasses Chicken

Monday, February 4, 2013

This has become one of my favorite recipes for winter time. I seriously cannot get enough of it. It's hearty and packed with all sorts of delicious healthy veggies. My mom got this recipe from the Rachael Ray site a couple years ago. My dad even eats it despite all of the vegetables. He hates kale - and most green vegetables for that matter - but he loves the awesome flavor of this dish. It always makes me laugh when my mom tells him she's planning to make it and he yells, "Ew! I hate kelp!" which is what he calls kale. He still enjoys it nonetheless, just picking around the "kelp."

I absolutely LOVE kale on the other hand and so does Mike. He's still getting used to the parsnips but he gobbled it up the first time I made it, so I think that's a good sign.

[image source: Mustard Molasses Chicken]

Mustard Molasses Chicken

2 tablespoons EVOO - Extra Virgin Olive Oil
8 pieces bone-in chicken thighs, skin removed
Salt and pepper
1 large onion, quartered lengthwise then sliced
3 parsnips, peeled and cut into 2-3 inch long sticks, 1/2-inch wide
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into sticks
1 small bundle black kale or dinosaur kale, chopped or thinly sliced
Freshly grated nutmeg, about 1/4 teaspoon
1/4 cup grainy Dijon mustard
1/4 cup molasses
1 cups chicken stock

Heat 1 tablespoon EVOO in Dutch oven over medium high heat. Brown chicken seasoned with salt and pepper until golden, 3-4 minutes on each side. Remove chicken and add another tablespoon EVOO to pan, one turn of the pan.

Add onions, parsnips and carrots and season with salt and pepper. Cook to soften a bit, 5-6 minutes. Add kale to the pot and wilt in, add nutmeg. Whisk mustard, molasses and stock, pour over top of vegetables and settle chicken back into pot, bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium low, cover and cook 15-20 minutes.

Remove lid, remove chicken and reserve on a plate covered with aluminum foil. Continue simmering the liquids until thickened, about 10 minutes.

Plate and serve with crusty warm bread.