Catch up + CMA awards

Happy November! I can’t believe we’re in the final two months of 2014. Time continues to amaze me at how quickly it flies.

While it’s not the traditional awards season, I’m so excited that this Wednesday is the Country Music Association (CMA) Awards!

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I love this awards show and am really looking forward to seeing my favorite country music singers perform. Especially the Zac Brown Band and those boys from Florida Georgia Line. Love them!

Also – it’s cold. The temperature has been in the 40’s in Northeast Ohio the past couple of days, and I’m none too happy about it. However, if there is one good thing about chilly weather, it’s cooking for chilly weather.  So, this week I’ll be cooking for chilly weather and country music: BBQ Coca-cola Ribs and chipotle mashed sweet potatoes.

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Here is a link to the list of nominees for Wednesday’s award show. My predictions are below:

Album of the year – Miranda Lambert, “Platinum”

Entertainer of the year – Blake Shelton

Female Vocalist of the year – Taylor Swift

Male Vocalist of the year – Luke Bryan

Music Video of the year – “Somethin’ Bad” by Carried Underwood and Miranda Lambert

Musical Event of the year – “Somethin’ Bad” by Carried Underwood and Miranda Lambert

Musician of the year – Jerry Douglas (if you don’t know Jerry, I highly suggest getting to know him! He’s part of Alison Krauss’s band, and he was George Clooney’s singing voice in “O Brother, Where Art Thou”.)

New artist of the year – Kip Moore

Single of the year – “Automatic” by Miranda Lambert

Song of the year – “Give Me Back My Hometown”

Vocal Duo of the year – Florida Georgia Line

Vocal group of the year – Zac Brown Band

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Apple Cinnamon Sangria

Happy Friday! Did everyone else have as long a week as I did? If so, an apple cinnamon sangria – or two – is in order!

Was there ever an adult beverage with such yummy, cinnamon-y fallness? I think not. And lucky you, I have TWO different sangrias you can try on the final weekend of summer.

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This could possibly be the perfect way to bid farewell to summer, while welcoming fall with open arms. Have a great weekend, everyone!

With love,

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Bonfire and S’mores

As much as I love Akron and everything it has to offer, this time of year makes me miss country-living. I grew up in a town about 30 minutes outside Akron. It isn’t what I would call a “small” town, but it definitely isn’t a big place either. At about 15,000 residents, Ravenna is a good mix of city and country. We’re kind of out in the middle of nowhere, but just down the road is Kent State University – and all the restaurants, people and activities that come along with a large state university.

I loved living in a place that had all the luxuries of a larger town, but still had the small town feel. When the weather was nice, my friends and I would spend our evenings playing sand volleyball at Kent State, getting a quick bite to eat and then heading out to someone’s house for a bonfire. Far away from street lights, traffic and noise, we’d spend hours just sitting around a fire – talking, laughing and enjoying the simplicity of our young lives.
Now that we live in the city, Ryan and I settle for a fire-pit in our backyard to hold our “bonfires”, and one thing we really love to do around the fire-pit is make s’mores. I recently saw on Pinterest (of course) the idea to have a Gourmet S’mores Party. Oh yeah – I’m in. How awesome does this party look?

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This is an invite for a bonfire I saw – so cute!

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Or if you’d rather skip the bonfire and make some indoor s’mores:

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Wouldn’t this be a perfect cold weather treat?!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go buy my local grocery store out of s’more supplies. Happy Monday!

With love,

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My Favorite Fall Beers

If there is one fall indulgence that gets me just as (or more!) excited as the pumpkin spice latte, it’s fall beer. In general, fall beer – especially those of the craft variety – have a fresh, hoppy taste flavored with any combination of savory spices, honey and, of course, pumpkin. These beers pair well with chili, soups, tailgating, pumpkin carving, hay rides, leaf raking and just about everything else fall-related. So enjoy one – or two! – of my favorite fall beers and savor the flavors of the season.

1. Harpoon Octoberfest. On a trip to Boston to visit Ryan’s best friend a few years ago, we were introduced to this Boston-based brewery and quickly fell in love. Our poison back then was their winter beer (SO GOOD!), but we’ve since tried some of their other beers, and I must say – Octoberfest has become one of my favorite beers. As Harpoon’s website describes, Octoberfest is a “malty tribute to fall, balanced by a gentle hop bitterness.” As a big fan of hops, this makes me very hoppy (ha…ha…ha).

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2. Buffalo Bill Pumpkin Ale. This California-based brewery totes its fall beer as “pumpkin pie in a bottle”. And they’re right. So, so right.

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3. Thirsty Dog Barktoberfest. I love this beer for three reasons: First, Thirsty Dog is a local brewery, based in Akron. Hometown represent! Secondly, all of their beers are based on / named after dogs. And you know how much I love my four-legged furry friends. Finally, it is GOOD! Definitely give this beer a try this fall.

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4. Dundee’s Nut Brown Ale. Question: how can you possibly go wrong with a beer that has “a hint of hazelnut, a dash of rich caramel and a sprinkle of chocolate malt”? Answer: you cannot.

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5. Great Lakes Oktoberfest. Another local brewery! Great Lakes makes some of my favorite beers, and this includes their fall beer. This brew tastes wonderful, but perhaps my favorite thing about this beer is the brewery’s description of where it is best enjoyed: “paired with a well-worn sweatshirt, a bonfire on a late summer night, and nostalgic stories of holidays past.” Perfection.

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With love,

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A DIY Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is all about telling the special people in your life how much you love them, and what says “I love you” more than a homemade gift? Plus, DIY gifts are usually easy on your wallet – and give you the satisfaction of putting effort and an added touch into your gifts.

Break out of the dinner-and-a-movie mold this Valentine’s Day, and get crafty! Here are some ideas I love:

Mugs

Does your significant other, best friend or family member live too far away for you to spend Valentine’s Day together? Let them know you’re thinking about them from afar with these distance mugs. Full instructions are here.

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Even for those lucky enough to their sweeties, DIY mugs are great gifts. Below are some adorable ones I found online:

You know I love anything with a mustache!
You know I love anything with a mustache!

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Truth.
Truth.

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The possibilities are really endless. The Internet has about a million ideas, so you’re sure to come up with one that fits your loved one perfectly! Just fill the mugs with chocolate, add a bag of their favorite coffee (or tea) and the present is complete!

Scratch-off Cards

I first did this for a friend’s baby shower, and I just loved how they turned out. It’s easy to make them for Valentine’s day, and you can get really creative with how you want to make them.

My favorite way to use scratch off cards for ANY occasion is to include “lucky” in the card somehow. Try making a “Are You Lucky in Love?” card – with a few presents your loved one can scratch off. These don’t have to cost a lot of money; in fact, free presents are sometimes the most appreciated! Some ideas might include a back massage, breakfast in bed or getting to pick the next movie you rent. You know them the best – so pick things they will love and appreciate! Here is an example of a card I found online:

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Another idea is to tell someone just why you love them with a “10 Things I Love About You” scratch off card. I like the look of this card, but I wouldn’t do one every day. I couldn’t stand the wait!

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Food

There’s a saying that the quickest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. That may be true for the man in your life, but it’s most likely also true for the friend, mom, dad, sibling, co-worker and children in your life as well! Take the time to make your loved one’s favorite meal, snack or dessert and your effort will not go unnoticed! If you need some inspiration, check out some easy recipe ideas here, here and here.

Another great way to show love on Valentine’s Day is to cook WITH your loved one, instead of for them. Ryan and I did this the first Valentine’s Day in our new house, and it was such a fun time, we do it every year. Make the dinner special by whipping up something you usually don’t cook, open a bottle of wine and just enjoy each other’s company. We always do a surf-and-turf dinner with filet mignon and scallops, and we change up the sides every year to suit our taste-buds. Even with a “fancy” dinner like that, it’s MUCH less expensive than going out to eat, and we get 100% of each other’s attention. Perfection! And don’t worry if you aren’t a culinary expert – our favorite Valentine’s Day story is when we messed up dinner SO BADLY that it was inedible. It was funny then – and it’s even funnier now! So even if everything doesn’t go as planned – there’s always pizza delivery!

One last food gift: I saw this idea on Glitter Guide and fell in love with the idea. No matter what your “significant other” status is, your friends have been with you through life’s crazy up’s and down’s. So why not show them how much you love them by hosting a Friendship Brunch? Just you and your friends, with mimosas, waffles and plenty of love. I am sad that I didn’t think to do this before – but for sure next year, girls!!

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Cards

A few years ago, my college roommate started making her own cards. They are cute, they are unique, and most of all, there are personal. Hallmark has nothing on her! I’ve been inspired by her creatively and started making my own cards, and even though I’m nowhere near her abilities, I have a lot of fun doing it. Google “DIY Valentine’s Day cards” and start crafting! Whether you go with “Owl always love you” or “I mustache you to be my valentine”, you’re sure to make an impression.

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Happy Valentine’s Day to you, my loves!

Why I love the Super Bowl

In just a few days, America will be celebrating its biggest sporting event of the year: the Super Bowl. This game is always a little bittersweet for me, as it marks the last hurrah of football season, but mostly, it’s just a lot of fun. How much do I love the Super Bowl? Let me count the ways…

1. Appetizers – “game day” is a favorite among appetizers aficionados, so the the ultimate game day – THE SUPER BOWL! – is the perfect time to pull out the best-of-the-best. Below are two of my favorite tried-and-true appetizers. Both are quick, easy and have been approved by numerous friends and family.

Hot pepper jelly bites

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Do not be off put by these – I swear they are delicious. I usually have to talk people into trying them for the first time, but when they do, 99.9% of the time they LOVE them! The only compliant I’ve ever gotten is that they are too spicy for some. But for me – the more spice the better!

With only three ingredients, they are so easy to whip together. All you need is:

– cream cheese (I use reduced fat, but I would not recommend using fat-free),
– hot pepper jelly (most grocery stores carry at least one brand. I’ve also seen it called jalapeno jelly. I love Reese’s red pepper jelly, but they also make a milder green one), and
– a “vehicle” (I’ve used crackers, Phyllo cups and tortilla chips – all with rave reviews).

One block of cream cheese is about enough for one jar of jelly – but it makes a ton of appetizers (50-60). The best part about this recipe: no measuring required! To make, cut off a piece of cream cheese (about the size of the last digit on your pinkie finger) and put on your “vehicle”. Add as much hot pepper jelly as you’d like (I usually do about the same size as the cream cheese). Set out on a platter and enjoy!

Mini chicken and waffles

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These are a newer addition to my appetizer rotation. I think mini food is so fun, so I had to try these when I read about them in a magazine last fall (I cannot remember which one I read it in, and I am sooooo sorry for not given credit where it’s due. Because someone deserves credit for these). Another simple three-ingredient recipe:

– mini waffles (I used the round Eggo ones),
– chicken nuggets or chunks (just make sure they are about the same size as the waffles), and
– honey or maple syrup

I used one box of waffles and one bag of chicken chunks – and it was just about right. Just be sure to check quantities on the packages and buy as many as you need. Cook the waffles and chicken according to package directions (this can be done at the same time). Assembly is easy: place mini waffles on a platter, top each with one piece of chicken and drizzle with honey or maple syrup. Inserting a toothpick through the center will help keep everything together. Serve immediately.

2. The Puppy Bowl – I always try to watch a little bit of this game, shown on Animal Planet, but this year I learned something new about it from a dog blog I follow, Marking Our Territory. Besides being an overload of cuteness, the game supports a cause near and dear to my heart: animal adoption. All dogs playing the game are shelter dogs, and Animal Planet provides the adoption information of each dog. Click here to look at the starting line-up.

And the cutest news of all: this year you can pick a “fantasy” puppy team. Here is our team:

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August looks just like our Sarge did when he was a puppy. My heart is melting!

3. The commercials. Yes, the game is entertaining, but so are (most of) the Super Bowl commercials! Millions and millions of dollars are spent on these commercials, so it’s no surprise that there are some real good ones every year. I saw this preview of Budweiser’s ad and wanted to share. It made me tear up…but that might have been pregnancy hormones at work.

And here is a teaser of another awesome Budweiser commercial. Can’t wait to see this one!

On a side note, I have come to the realization that Budweiser’s commercials are probably my favorites. This one from last year really got me…

 

4. The “gambling”. I’m not a traditional gambler. The only times I’ve ever been to a casino, I’ve only played the quarter slots, and I consider that a huge risk (I do not waste silver change!). So the gambling I’m talking about is the easy, don’t-really-need-to know-what-you’re-doing kind of gambling – like Super Bowl Squares or just picking a winner and the score of the game. It gives me something to cheer for because, once again, my beloved Browns are not in the Super Bowl. Next year, boys…

5. The actual game! I love football. No, I do not know all of the players – or even all of the crazy rules – but I do truly love to watch the game – high school, college or pro. When the two best teams in NFL are playing each other, there’s a good chance for some excitement. 

Happy Super Bowl Sunday, everyone!

Why I love getting old: Saturday nights

There was a time in my life when the thought of staying home on a Saturday night was darn near horrifying. To me, Saturdays were invented to combine friends and fun – and preferably outside of the place where I spent the entire work week. People who stayed in on Saturdays were one of three things:

1. Battling the flu or a cold or some other illness preventing them from having a good time,
2. A loner who hates the company of others, or
3. Old.

Not going out on a Saturday night was something I would NEVER, EVER do. Like, ever.

Fast forward some years later. While I still believe that Saturdays should be spent breaking the restrictions of Monday through Friday, these days I prefer to spend my Saturdays nights in a much different way, even – dare I say –  spending a night or two in the comfort of my own home.

GASP!

My 24-year-old self would be so disappointed in me. But please, give me a minute to explain, sweetheart.

First of all, I’m not saying that I want to spend every Saturday night for the rest of my life on my couch watching Bravo and eating ice cream (although that sounds pretty darn good right now) . As much fun as I have with other people, sometimes I just need a break. A break from going somewhere. A break from doing my hair. A break from having to stay up past the un-Godly hour of 9:00 pm.

The unfortunate fact is: things just wear me out more than they used to. I could try to blame this on being almost 8 months pregnant, but that would be a lie. I’m almost 30, and my priorities have taken quite a shift since my early twenties. I use to LOVE getting dressed up – and taking a long time doing it – every time I went out. I wouldn’t think twice about driving all over Northeast Ohio to meet up with friends. And if I had my way, there’d be no dinner reservations earlier than 8:00.

But now, just the thought of doing my hair makes me want to take a nap. I grumble if we have to get on the highway to go out. And by 8:00 I’m yawning and dreaming of my yoga pants.

As I write this, I realize how sad that sounds. But it isn’t as pathetic as it may seem. Really! My social life has, is and always will be a priority to me. My husband and I are a weird combination of social-butterflies and home-bodies – and so far it’s worked out very well for us. I can’t speak totally for Mr. B, but I think we both are fulfilled with our balance of alone-time, us-time and friend-time. Of course, it really helps that we have some pretty kick-ass friends. They make it pretty easy to have a good time.

But over the past few years, these good times have morphed into more laid-back kind of outings. I’m much more likely to accept an invite for a friend’s dinner party than one for a bar-crawl. I’d much rather chat with friends at a local wine bar than scream to be heard at the newest downtown bar. I can’t even remember the last time I went dancing with girlfriends, but I could quickly name my last 10 coffee dates. Fortunately for me, I’m not the only one: most of my friends seem to be going through this as well. And when we talk about our fast-declining desire to go out, we laugh and explain it away with “We are getting soooo old!”.

I know many people my age – and older – still enjoy wild and crazy Saturday nights on a regular basis, and that’s good for them. Some weekends I wish I had the energy for all of that. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that as time goes on, it also becomes scarce. Increasing responsibilities take up more and more of the time that I used to spend having a good time. Therefore, I’ve been pickier about what I want to do with this time. So if I want to spend a Saturday night making kale chips and watching the entire first season of Orange is the New Black while cuddling with my husband and dogs, well then I’m going to do just that. 

For me, it’s not the quality of WHERE I’m spending my Saturday night – it’s the quality of WHO I’m spending my Saturday night with. My mom always told me that as I got older I would find I would need less and less friends; instead, the friends I did have – the ones that stuck with me through life’s ups and down’s – would be the best friends I could ask for. She was right, and I think that philosophy applies to my social life as well. I might go out less as I age, but when I do got out, the people, places and activities are of much higher value and substance than they used to be.

And if that’s part of getting old, I’ll take it. Gladly.