Monday, November 30, 2009

A New Tradition

Last year I went to a local nursery and picked out a tree for our living room to decorate for the holidays.  This year, Dave found out that his company allows employees to cut down Christmas trees on their private property, so we set out this morning (Starbucks in hand, yuppies that we are) to hike up and get one for ourselves.

We drove nearly two hours up near Breckenridge to access the property where we could pick out our tree for the year.  The snow capped peaks of the Gore range offered a gorgeous landscape on an unseasonably warm fall day, and we laced up our mountaineering boots to hike around in the foot deep powder.

Should have worn snow pants too. . .but I digress.

I kind of felt sad to think that we were going to cut down a perfectly good tree, especially at a time like now when a large percentage of our National Forest pines have been obliterated by the Pine Beetles in the last few years.  But, the beetle kill is part of the natural process, making way for a cleaner forest and hardier trees.

We passed several trees that were great, but none that really caught our attention until we came upon a lone 10+ foot pine with a few scraggly branches and more than one point on the top.

We took a few celebratory photos and proceeded to chop it down.

Together with the tree tied to a rope we trekked out of the snow and back to the truck, simultaneously working of the previous days turkey dinner. . . .

What a beautiful day - and a fun thing to do with my new husband!  I will post photos of the decorations later.

Friday, November 27, 2009

In the Company of Good Friends

Dave and I decided this year to celebrate Thanksgiving at home, our way of establishing ourselves as 'newlyweds' and keeping it fair for both sets of families considering the fact that we wouldn't make it out to see his family this year.

A few of Dave's friends from work had nowhere to go, and our guest list quickly grew to 6 + a toddler.  To prepare for serving such an elaborate and important meal I started cooking the day before.  Making the cranberry sauce and desserts in advance really cut down on the work I had to do on Thanksgiving, and having the turkey 'oven-ready' made it easy to sleep in a bit.

On the menu:

Turkey, heavily seasoned and then stuffed with fresh onions, carrots, and celery
Stuffing with celery and fresh sausage
Mashed red potatoes
Homemade cranberry sauce
Homemade dinner rolls

Green Beans with Bacon and almonds

My first turkey!  I used the leftover bones to make soup stock, which I boiled on the stove for several hours with a heavy dose of sea salt and some fresh thyme.  The stock will be frozen into bricks and then vacuum sealed (we got a Food Saver as one of our wedding gifts) for those nights when we want some Turkey soup!

Homemade Pumpkin Cheesecake Tarts with fresh cream cheese icing.  I doubled the recipe *thinking* it looked small, and ended up with 100 of these things all layered by hand (graham crust, pumpkin filling, piped cream cheese).


A place setting, using as much of our new table linens, silverware, and leftover wedding centerpieces as I could!

The vase, mirrors, and candles. . .nobody has to know they are wedding leftovers. . .!

All of the place settings together

A Martha Stewart inspired centerpiece, using fresh cranberries.  Inexpensive, simple, and easy to make!

Dave and I enjoyed every second of the holiday - even the last minutes of preparation as the gravy thickened and we worked together to put everything on the table at the same time.  I love the company of good friends and family (hence my love for entertaining), and would love the opportunity to host another Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Business of Being Born

In light of my good friend Theresa's new and quickly growing bean, we got together on Friday night to watch a documentary produced by Ricki Lake called 'The Business of Being Born'.  It had been recommended to her by another friend and I wanted to see it as well, so we gathered together in our pajamas (Theresa with saltines in hand) and settled in for an evening of baby talk.

Some of you may find my thoughts and feelings about this film and maternity health care to be somewhat controversial, and for that I apologize in advance.

In 'The Business of Being Born' Ricki Lake presents the case for midwives, and against hospital birth.  The film explores the practice of maternity care in the United States dating back to the early 1900's, and the upward trend towards hospital births.  Some interesting and surprising facts and observations were presented:

*In 1900, 95% of births in the United States took place at home.  In 1938, that number had shrunk to half.   Today, the number of home births is less than 1%

*The United States has the second highest infant mortality rate among developed countries.

*The rate of cesarean section births in the United States is 1 and 3 and quickly approaching 50%.

*'Emergency' cesarean sections peak at 4pm and 10pm, presumably because at 4pm the doctors are ready to go home for dinner, and at 10pm they are tired and not wanting to be around all night waiting for a mother to birth on her own.

All that said, I've always known that when the time came for us to have a child I would be more terrified of the hospital than of the actual birth.  The process of birthing a child is a natural human function, and in the United States we tend to view it more as a disease.

Consider this: women in labor who are left to decide the best physical positions to take will often choose to walk, rock back and forth during contractions, and squat for the actual birth.  This makes sense, as such movement helps the baby move through the pelvis, and the squatting position makes the actual birth much quicker, easier, and successful without the mother tearing or having to push too hard.    The mother is also encouraged to eat and drink for energy, as laboring women burn thousands of calories.

Alternatively, women in labor who enter the hospital are immediately strapped to a series of IV's and fetal monitors, told not to eat much if at all, and and become a study subject for nurses to rush in and check stats.  In most practices (I'm not speaking to exceptions, I realize there are some) they do not walk or move, but lay in bed and wait for the baby to fight its way out.  When this process starts to take too long (and it nearly always does), the labor is further induced with the synthetic version of a natural hormone called Oxytocin.  Oxytocin is responsible for the contractions a mother gets during labor, and it's synthetic counterpart Pitocin results in much longer and more painful contractions.

Pitocin is routinely administered in a large and disturbing percentage of hospital births (just watch 'A Baby Story' or 'Birth Day'); studies just coming out are showing that the use of Pitocin to augment or induce labor may be related to the increased number of children in the United States suffering with learning disabilities and ADD/ADHD disorders.

As a result of the increased pain, the mother often requests an epidural (administered through a catheter directly into the spine).  This process in and of itself is simply terrifying to me: however some women swear that receiving an epidural is the only way to give birth.  Once an epidural is given, women are often given a bladder catheter as well because they cannot walk.  A side effect of the epidural, however, is that labor almost always slows down or comes to a complete stop.

The solution?  More pitocin, which, because of the longer, harder, false contractions it creates it often leads to fetal distress; the babies heart rate will drop and fluctuate, sending an alarm to the nurse staff.  It is a tragic series of interventions where one leads to another, and a baby in distress is never a good thing.   So, the doctors and nurses rush in to 'save the baby' and the mother starts pushing (on her back, of course, fighting gravity and her numbed pelvis).  Just as the head is crowning the doctor will often perform an episiotomy, presumably to keep the mother from tearing which is a real possibility considering both her induced disability and position.  Vacuums and forceps may also be applied, tools that improperly used in the 1970's caused an increase in the number of children born with cerebral palsy.

Once the baby is out, mom is sewn back up (episiotomies often lead to infections, or worse, incontinence but are considered 'necessary'  and routine by some medical professionals) and the baby is quickly rushed away for evaluation, getting not so much as a quick glance from the drugged and relieved mother.

The doctor is credited for 'saving' the distressed baby.

In the 1 in 3 scenario, the cocktail of pitocin and epidurals results in a cesarean section; invasive abdominal surgery that probably could have been avoided.  Here is an interesting article on the connection between labor induction and intervention to the high rate of cesarean sections in the United States.

In the film, one of the worlds most famous midwives, Ina May Gaskin stated that it was not until home birth #187 that she needed to transfer a woman in her care for a cesarean section due to complications.

The primary argument against midwife attended births at home or in birthing centers is the risk of complications.  Many people question the safety of giving birth without a doctor and all of the modern technology offered in the hospital.  Personally, I question the defensive medicine practiced by doctors at healthy births where no complications are likely to arise.  Complications are created by women forced to birth on the back, by women who are infused with synthetic hormones, and for women who are considered 'in distress' when their natural labor is taking more time than the 8-10 hour shift the doctor is working.

I believe in the miracle of modern medicine for births where natural complications arise: in the film the producer went into labor several weeks early with a breech baby, and a cesarean section saved his life.  But when the time comes for Dave and I to have a child, I'm looking forward to the birth experience: I am not afraid of it.  What scares me is enduring the standard experience women have at hospital births in shows such as 'A Baby Story' and 'Birth Day'.  I want to be alert, in control, and have that baby in my arms when it comes out (not on an examination table).  A common trait of women successful in natural birth is that they accept the pain instead of trying to fight it, and all women who experience it say they would do it again in a heartbeat.

I'm the least feminist and one of the most conservative people in my age group, but when it comes to natural, 'granola' birth well, I'm all for it.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Some of Our Pro-Pics

On Wednesday night we met with our awesome photographers to finalize the color choices and layout of our flush-mount album.  They also gave us our CD of images, so I'm going to share some of my favorites!  Sorry this is so photo-heavy, it's hard to choose.

Please credit Chris and Julie Sharber of Chris Sharber Photography,

It was such a beautiful day and I feel amazingly blessed to have both my incredible husband and these gorgeous photos that document our wedding.  We planned our wedding on a pretty small budget and still managed to walk away with these incredible memories. . .you don't need a platinum wedding to be married!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Spoiling My Pregnant Friend. . . .

My maid of honor told me last Friday that she is pregnant, and I am so excited that I could PEE.  Her and her husband have been trying for over a year and I guess it was finally in the cards for them.  In any case, I kind of knew the day she got pregnant; I had a feeling when she told me that they had 'done the deed' and sure enough, 6 weeks later she had a positive test.

Me being the sneaky friend that I am, went and bought her a congratulatory card.  At lunch when she told me the news I whipped it out and said 'I knew it!'  I have a great feeling that this is not only a sticky baby, but also a girl. . . .I tend to be very intuitive and hope that my esp is correct on this one again.

She doesn't read my blog yet, so I can post this!  Tomorrow we're getting together to watch a documentary called 'The Business of Being Born', which pretty much sums up both of our thoughts on todays maternity health care.  Here is the trailer if you are interested:

We plan on wearing slippers and pajamas, and feeling so lucky in having a friend like her for our wedding and in my life I HAVE to spoil her.  She has not been feeling well and morning sickness is definitely getting the best of her, so I've put together a 'spoil the pregnant lady' package.  I bought everything at Target, yay Target!


This adorable and oh-so comfy sleepwear that will accommodate her growing belly to some extent. . .I hope!

$3.49 on clearance

I couldn't resist getting this adorable newborn outfit. . .her and her husband LOVE bunny rabbits.

Granted, I'm relying on intuition here that it's a girl. . . .

$2.49 on clearance

Excuse the goofy focus. . .I'm using Dave's camera for this.

Burt's Bees Belly Balm for growing bumps!  It's all natural too!


Cute socks just for fun!

$.50 each

Chocolate for cravings!


The 'I'm in my first trimester leave me alone' care package to take to work

Colgate mini-toothbrushes for after-the-morning sickness freshness

Tums for rotten tummy aches and gas

Hand Sanitizer gel to ward of germs!  $.99

And last but not least. . .organic flat bread crackers to snack on during the day and keep mom from loosing her lunch and to keep the little bean satisfied.

I'll post my review of the film after we watch it tomorrow night. . . .

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Another Home

Dave and I have been stalking for homes in our area in our price range, and let me just say it's no easy feat.  Our area is somewhat upscale because of it's location, so property values are somewhat on the high side.

Our previous home-love was the one in this post, 'We Can Dream, Right?' and our fingers are tightly crossed that it is still a possibility.

We did find this one, however. . .and while I like it it just doesn't give me the same 'wow' feeling.  But, it's on the right track.

It's got a huge lawn, which is actually not something that we want.  Grass in Colorado is almost impossible to keep well; it's not native and it's a ton of work.  We prefer a much more natural and woodsy look.

It has great views, although NOTHING beats the views from house #1

The kitchen is pretty. . .but it's WAY too small.  I love to cook, and if we plan on living in a home for eternity the kitchen tops my priority list.  This kitchen doesn't do it for me.  Maybe I'm yuppy, maybe I'm spoiled. . .but our current kitchen (about the same size) makes me CRAZY.  We love to entertain and this is not conducive to doing that either.

These stairs and the French doors on the office are DEFINITELY our style - gorgeous!

And the bathroom?  That pumpkin color on the wall and stone tile are to die for. . . .

The living room is nice and open.

Unfortunately, I'm still so stuck on the previous home that this second one, while beautiful and clean, isn't really turning me on.  Part of the appeal of home #1 is that it needs work and we can truly make it our own with some new paint.  It's like a blank slate.  This home is already warm and cozy - it's gorgeous, but I don't see it as a great place to entertain either.

Bah. . .

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Hibachi

On a whim last night Dave and I went out and had a 'married date' at a Japanese Hibachi.  He has been to them before but for me it was both a new experience and something I always wanted to try.

The problem?  I'm hooked.  Oh, and it's expensive. . .!  

Our meal started with miso soup (no restaurant can beat the clam miso at Sushi Oukura though) and a quick, simple, and delicious salad.  The process of eating at a Hibachi is slow, but worth the wait!  I drank almost an entire pot of loose leaf black tea (much to my regret later. . .) over the course of the evening.

The Hibachi chef came over with our food on a cart and began his routine by lighting some oil on the grill so flames kissed the ceiling.   Then came the vegetables, and an impressive show of skill where eggs, platters, and knifes went flying about.  He made the fried rice from scratch, diced up the veggies as they cooked on the hot flat top, and made a chimney out of onion rings.  Not only was it fun to watch, but the smell was amazing.

No sooner had the heaping pile of vegetables and rice been delivered to our plates did he use more of his tossing and knife skills to throw the chicken, shrimp, and steak on the grill.   Altogether it was enough food on one plate for two meals, never mind the Miso and salad appetizers!  

I love our date nights.  After a long, stressful week of work it was really fun to relax together over good food and a unique atmosphere.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Ah Bummer

So the real estate agent finally got in touch with us today. . .she is super nice and apologized profusely for the delay.   :)

The house we are looking at is under contract as part of a short sale fixer-upper.


This likely means that the home was a foreclosure, hence the condition.  It also means that a buyer, and the seller (probably the bank) have come to a contract agreement regarding the terms of the sale (price, etc.) and are just waiting on one thing or another to close.

This is unfortunate, because not only do we really like this house but my best friend said that when she saw the picture she connected with it the same way we did.  She thought too that it was meant to be, and without knowing the address was able to find it on Google Earth.

In any case, 'under contract' does not necessarily mean 'sold', and the sale could fall through.  Maybe the buyer can't get the financing, or the bank doesn't accept the final offer price.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the former happens, but we may not know for months.  Short sales tend to be a long, arduous process.  If the contract does fall through, the house goes back on the market.

In the meanwhile, it sounds like my husband is interested in looking around since this agent is coming to meet us on Monday. . . .

Will update again soon!

Finally, Naan Success!

Naan is an Indian bread, usually served with dishes like Chicken Tikka Masala or Curries: it is a soft flat bread that is baked in a tandoori oven, although at home it can be done on the grill or under the broiler.  A true Naan bread is hand-stretched into an oval, brushed with ghee (clarified butter) and bubbles up when it's cooked.

Just like the pizza crust, I've had a really hard time finding a Naan recipe that not only tasted great but ended in success.

My first trial turned into several oval shaped crackers.  The next trial the bread was tough, chewy, and tasteless.  Yuck.  Each time I've tried a different recipe, and yesterday after a trip to Borders book store I returned with a new Indian cookbook.  Inside was a Naan recipe that not only worked, but was different in ingredients and preparation than the others I had tried.  So, I'm going to share it here!

*Tip: when measuring flour, use a smaller measuring cup to 'fluff' it and fill the larger measuring cup.  Flour settles in shipping and it is easy to use too much.

2 cups unbleached white flour

1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 oz fresh yeast (that is two packets)
4 tbsp milk - heat until it's hot enough that you can't hold a finger in it but it's not boiling
1 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tbsp natural, plain yogurt
1 egg
2-3 tbsp melted butter or ghee
Stir together the warm/hot milk and yeast.  Allow to sit for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, sift together the flour and salt in a separate bowl.  Fill the mixer bowl with hot water, let sit, and then drain so the bowl is warm (which helps facilitate the yeast working with the dough).

Put the flour/salt into the warm mixer bowl.  Make a 'pool' in the center and add the oil, yogurt, egg, and yeast/milk mixture.  Combine until it forms a soft dough, which should be a little 'tacky' but not a sticky mess and should ball up without sticking to the bowl.  If it is too dry, add lukewarm water by tbsp until it reaches the correct consistency.

I use the kneader attachment on my Kitchenaid mixer for this.  The dough must be kneaded for at least 10 minutes and should be a smooth consistency.

Cover the bowl with a damp (not soaked) kitchen towel and allow to rise in a warm place for at least one hour.  It should double in size.

Pre-heat the oven to 375.  Pinch the dough into balls - I like bigger Naans.  Stretch each ball by hand into an oval shape, and place on a buttered cookie sheet.   Bake them for 3-4 minutes: they should get bubbles in them.  When the dough looks 'done', place on a grill or under a broiler for a short amount of time to 'brown' the bubbles.

Brush with the melted butter and enjoy!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Recipe FAIL

I've tried to make home-made pizza dough no less than 5 times, and each time has resulted in a massive fail.  Bread is an art, and that art I am NOT good at.

On Monday I made a pizza, and *thought* I had the dough nailed this time.  It was stretchy, soft, yeasty. . .the pizza came out of the oven looking like it was straight out of a Martha Stewart magazine.

Let me just say this: don't forget the olive oil.

 (Hangs head in shame, defeated again)

We had 'pizza flavored mash on a plate' because we had to PRY it off of the cookie sheet in what turned out to be a comical experiment in teamwork.  I had even put cornstarch on the pan, but the lack of olive oil in the dough led to disaster.

Hopefully try # 7 will yield better results?  :)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

We can dream, right?

Dave and I were walking on Saturday and took a different route than usual because I was sick of seeing the same yuppy-huts over and over again.  We love to look at houses, and close to our area is a subdivision full of cookie-cutter homes in the $450K + price range.  Nice to look at, but you couldn't PAY me to live in one.  I'm not a fan of 'suburbia' and Dave and I have always dreamed of one day owning a single family home on a nature-inspired (not HOA inspired) lot with incredible views and some respectable amount of privacy.  We love homes with unique architecture, and would never spend money on a home that doesn't have interesting curb appeal.

We have a great townhouse. . .it's in a lower price range for our area but still modern and marketable.  We have excellent views, have updated almost every room (and counting) including a complete bathroom re-model, and with the new light rail construction bringing a train to Denver practically to our front door our property value is on the rise.

On this walk we came upon an older home built in 1983, high up on the hill in a beautiful neighborhood.  It doesn't look like any other house in the area, and every window faces an unobstructed view for miles out to the East and the North.  The driveway is in ill-repair.  The landscaping is a mess.  It's empty and has been on the market for what we think is a considerable amount of time.

This house stopped us in our tracks.

We felt an immediate connection to it: all of a sudden we found ourselves talking about how we'd re-do the cracked, rotting driveway.  How we would take out the not-so-native juniper bushes and xeriscape the front yard, which is a series of 'benches' leading up to the house.  We spent a good 10 minutes staring at this house: it drew us in and like a puppy in a pet store said 'stop kidding yourselves, you LOVE me'. . . .

All of a sudden the gears started turning.  We knew that someday we would be interested in buying a single-family home (we're already feeling a little crunched in our townhouse) but the idea that it could happen sooner?  A little shocking, to put it lightly.   This home sums up everything we love about our own American Dream; it's open, it has amazing views, it has a private lot with aspen trees, it has lots of room for our own improvements, it's welcoming for guests, and believe it or not, it's not a huge over sized mansion-ette.

From the curb it looks enormous, but in reality at about 2500 finished square feet it's smaller than most new homes.

Dave and I quickly walked home and left a message with the selling agent that we wanted a tour.  We looked it up on and learned quite a bit about this home that caught our eye.  It's listed quite a bit higher than we would be interested in paying, but consider this: it's a buyers market.  The 'selling price zestimate' is listed at $150k LESS than the current asking price.

Pair that with what may be a desperate seller (remember, the home is empty and has been on the market for some time now) some negotiation regarding the poor landscaping and driveway, actual selling prices of several homes in the area, and magically the price comes down to within a few $10k of the current selling value of our townhouse.

In any case, I don't hold onto any hope that this actually will happen.  If it's meant to be, than we'll be moving. . .and if not, it was just here to give us a quick 'taste' of what we *could* have in the future.

The living area.  I'd get rid of that ugly mirror thing and paint the walls in a designer shade of green or a creamy tan.  Dave and I would someday re-do the fireplace in tile.  The carpet is brand new.

The kitchen was remodeled.  We would throw some great orange or yellow on the back splash to spice it up a bit!  I love the hardwood. . .I think the cabinets are original, however.

The loft areas (there are two) are wide open spaces. . .perfect for guest bedrooms, office, etc.  Again, I would update each with some great paint colors.

And my favorite room of all. . .something I have ALWAYS dreamed of having: a sun room.  I would paint this a creamy yellow color and put in some cozy, welcoming furniture.  It opens up to the back/side yard which has aspen trees and mountain views.

In any case, this IS our dream home.  Who knows if we will get to live here or not. . .my fingers are secretly crossed because I'm so in love.  This house looks and feels SO rich, but because it is older construction it is overlooked by the more affluent crowd in our city and people like Dave and I might actually be able to live in a home like this.  The large windows eliminate much need for the use of lights and electricity during the day, an  added bonus to keep the cost of living down.  If we can get it for a reasonable price, Dave says 'why not?'

We can dream, right?