Friday, May 30, 2014

the friday happy list

Right after we got back from New Orleans, Jon turned around and went to Thailand for 10 days for work. I thought those would be a pretty lazy 10 days for me, but I was so busy! I'm not complaining, though. It was so kind of our friends to feed me and keep me company while my hubby was away. Jon got home last Wednesday, and then we left on Friday to spend Memorial Day weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia, to celebrate his parent's 40th anniversary. We had a great time with all of our travels in May, but we are so ready for a quiet weekend at home - just the two of us and our ever-growing list of chores. But without further adieu, things that made me happy this week:

Orpah's Starbucks Chai. I'm somewhat ashamed to
admit this, and even more ashamed every time I have to order it, but I can't lie - it's delicious. There. I said it. It's not as sweet as the original Starbucks chai, and it has more cinnamon. Yum. It's also perfect timing because since I'm not a huge fan of Starbucks warm chai tea lattes, I've been waiting for iced chai season.

Wallpaper. Wallpaper is back, and I'm fully on board with this trend. It's not your grandmother's wallpaper. I've seen so many beautiful patterns, and I'm itching to put some in our house. I've been waiting forever for Rifle Paper Company's collection to come out. It finally dropped this week, and I already have three samples on the way. I'm eyeing this b&w one for our little powder room, but chances are I won't stop there. :)

National Spelling Bee.
Last night, I satisfied my inner nerd by watching the spelling bee. I'm not ashamed to say I found the entire thing to be riveting. Especially when it was down to the final 2 contestants and the list of 25 championship words. They ended up being co-champions, which was a huge relief because I was so emotionally invested at that point that I don't think I could have handled watching either of them lose. There was also this gem of a moment by one contestant who will probably regret that anything from his early teen years was videotaped for posterity. Just watch the clip:

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

guest post: big easy birthday

We came. We saw. We conquered. Now we're all home, and at least a few pant sizes bigger. The guest of honor herself journaled our adventure, and she has kindly allowed me to share that with you. I'm relieved that I don't have to do all the writing around here. {But I can't keep quiet so I've added photos and a few thoughts in brackets.}


It was months of planning and scheming (mostly by Megan & Katie but Butch claims to have “helped”) a surprise birthday trip for me. I received a “Save the Date” invitation via e-mail (May 6-May 9) from “The Birthday Committee.” A second invitation came telling me a packing list would be forthcoming, which was my the 3rd correspondence from The Committee.

A few days prior to the trip I received a package from Katie with instructions to open right away. Inside were 3 bottles of nail polish (gold for fingers; purple for toes; glitter purple if I felt brave) and money for a mani/pedi. Katie wondered if the Mardi Gras color choices would tip me off as to our destination, but I did not give any thought to a color clue. {Mom is usually better with hints.}

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

On the morning of May 6th, my 60th birthday, I opened a gift revealing the destination to be The Big Easy, New Orleans. Also enclosed were 2 Mardi Gras masks to take on the trip. We headed to the airport to catch a plane. When we arrived at our gate in Dallas, there were Megan and Aaron to meet us wearing their Mardi Gras masks! Butch and I returned the favor when we got off the plane first in New Orleans, and greeted Megan and Aaron with our masks on as they came out. 

Upon arriving at the lovely Bourbon Orleans Hotel in the French Quarter, Katie and Jon were waiting outside, also wearing Mardi Gras masks. They had several strands of beads to drape around my neck – made for a Green Bay Packer fan – so I will get further use out of them! Katie and Jon had been there long enough to do some preparations – our room was decorated with a birthday banner and feather boa, camel’s milk chocolates from Dubai, and laminated itineraries and pralines on our bed. {The birthday committee tried, but failed to acquire balloons & other more class decor so feather boa and beads it was}. Our room was 2 levels – a gathering area downstairs, bed & bath upstairs. The hotel left a bottle of inexpensive champagne, which never got opened.

captain of the welcoming committee

mom reading the itinerary for the week

We changed clothes and headed off to Commander’s Palace for a 7:30 dinner reservation. They knew we were coming, with balloons on the table. We ordered the tasting menu, which consisted of 6 courses. 

~ The Chef’s Playground ~

Crawfish Beignets
Crispy beignets filled with Breaux Bridge crawfish tails
and crawfish boil vegetables with spicy rémoulade & garlic aïoli

Pork Belly & Oysters
Louisiana oysters and braised pork belly with Parmesan & chili butter

Escargot & Gnocchi
Basil fed escargot with roasted mushrooms, tomatoes,
hand-rolled gnocchi, and Louisiana soy beans

Saint 75 (to cleanse our palette!)
St. Germaine Elderflower liquor,
Tanqueray gin, crushed citrus, and basil syrup

 Crispy Soft Shell Crab
A jumbo Louisiana blue crab with Creole tomatoes, shaved mirlitons,
sweet corn, & grilled onions with charred green onion ravigote

Creole Spiced Veal Tenderloin
Truffle potatoes, roasted mushrooms, and glace de viande with
smoked sea salt & savory tomato jam

Blueberry & Lemon Pound Cake
This was not up to the chef’s standard, so we were able to order our own dessert of choice + an extra our waiter brought to the table.
I had delicious strawberry shortcake.

We had a good laugh on our way out when Butch asked the first person in uniform - a police officer, not the valet - to hail us a cab!

i think he was going for bunny ears, but he missed and just looks like a crazy richard nixon. joke's on you, dad. 

The dinner was fabulous, but not the best part of the evening. We all congregated in our room afterwards, and I was given about 40 birthday cards that the girls had collected from friends and family. Katie had e-mailed the request, and they were sent to Megan’s address. I had mused briefly about not getting more birthday cards in the mail before we left Wichita, but again did not catch on.

Katie and Jon also gave me a card autographed by my first favorite football player, Bart Starr! “To Debbie, best wishes, Bart Starr” It seems that by making a donation to his foundation, you can send him an item and he will autograph it – so they sent a card (with his #15 in uniform image on the front) for his signature.

Another totally awesome surprise – sneaky Megan had taken our old family videos (VHS tapes and 8 mm tapes) and digitized them; then she organized and compiled some favorite clips. It took her untold hours and hours, and some frustration (Butch was supposed to get our video camera to her, and he forgot, so he had an employee stop by the house for it – the girls knew this would be a sure giveaway, but I was clueless). Katie and Jon had gone to Radio Shack nearby the hotel and bought a DVD player, so we were able to watch half of them that night. I cried through most of it – sentimental and happy tears. Wonderful memories, and there was some very funny moments. We watched the rest of the videos later in the week, and then Jon returned the DVD player. {This does not adequately begin to explain all the moving parts and frustrations this project presented, but it was more than worth it. And yes, I plan to share a few of best of the best clips with you.}

It was a perfect birthday. {This is exactly what we were going for.}

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

We stuck to the planned itinerary and had beignets at Café Du Monde – lots of powdered sugar! We did some browsing around the French Quarter, and went through the Louisiana State Museum off of Jackson Square, which featured exhibits on Hurricane Katrina and Mardi Gras. We took a look next door to the museum in the St. Louis Cathedral. We further enjoyed the street musicians around the Square.

i won't name names, but someone at this table does not look excited for beignets.

One of my favorite tourist attractions was the hour-long carriage ride through the French Quarter. The carriage was pulled by a mule, and there was one carriage to accommodate all 6 of us. Most of the tour guide’s stories pointed out ghost stories associated with various homes/mansions in the Quarter – there seemed to be a lot of murders/suicides! We made a stop at the St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, the oldest cemetery in New Orleans. The graves in New Orleans are above ground. Many of the tombs were crumbling with age. A famous voodoo queen is buried here (Marie Laveau – it was creepy) and the future burial tomb for Nicholas Cage (also disturbing – he spent a lot of money for the plot and construction of a “pyramid”). It was a lovely weather day for a carriage ride.

our guide said marie laveau's grave is the 2nd most visited in the U.S. behind Elvis's.
we're pretty sure he was lying.
nicholas cage is weird.
Lunch was at Johnny’s Po-Boys for another sampling of New Orleans cuisine - between all of us we tried catfish, shrimp and oyster po-boy sandwiches. Mmmmm……

After a rest we meandered in the Quarter and had happy hour food and drink to fill our tummies. 

happy hour oysters.
parents on the loose in the quarter!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Breakfast at Stanley – Eggs Stanley was a popular choice. Anticipating rain tomorrow, we made a change in the planned itinerary. We took the ride down St. Charles on a streetcar – the avenue is lined with beautiful and charming homes. Unfortunately there was construction, so for a good part of the ride we had to get off the streetcar and ride a city bus (streetcar > bus). We visited some shops on Magazine Street. {Yep, I came all the way to New Orleans to ride the bus...something I do every day in DC.}

Back in the Warehouse District, we stopped at Emeril’s to have his famous banana cream pie for lunch. Of course when we saw the menu we couldn’t resist having something else first (Aaron had chicken & waffles! I had crab bisque). The pie was amazing!!!!

i call this look "pie drunk"
yep, pie drunk.

That evening we taxied to an uptown neighborhood for dinner at Clancy’s. It was crowded and noisy and classy and fun. And the food was superb.

étouffée at clancy's

We had the taxi take us back to Frenchmen’s Street in the Quarter to check out the jazz music. In my naiveté I envisioned sitting around tables listening to music, but it was much more raucous and crowded than that! We listened to one band in a club that was hot and standing room only – the band was good. Butch: “I’m sorry, but this is just not my thing!” We didn’t last too long on Frenchmen’s Street, and the girls and Butch & I took bicycle taxis back to the hotel. {Good thing we didn't tempt fate on Bourbon Street. Not Mom approved.}

our pedicab driver rapped for us. it was awesome. 

Friday, May 9, 2014

Rain was forecasted and it threatened all day, but there was nothing substantial until later in the evening. Nevertheless, we opted not to try the swamp tour. We started the day by going to Elizabeth’s – an old building in an area called Bywater with a delicious brunch menu of southern cooking. We feasted on fried green tomatoes, cheese grits, biscuits & gravy, and praline bacon. {PRALINE BACON!}

Then we waddled through the World War II National Museum. It was interesting and well-done – more buildings/exhibits are being added but were not yet open. We spent 2.5 hours there and that was a fairly quick visit. Megan was still recovering from her December hip surgery, so she toured the museum riding in a wheelchair.

One more meal to go! Aaron & Jon went back to Johnny’s Po-boy’s, and the rest of us went to Central Grocery for a muffuletta (filled with Italian meat, olives, etc) – good and even a half was too much to eat.

Katie and Jon collected their luggage at the hotel and headed to the airport first. They enjoyed a direct, on-time flight with a free upgrade to first class. {Winners.}

Megan, Aaron, Butch and I weren’t so lucky…….{Losers.}

We spent some time in the hotel lobby playing pinochle until it was time to go. We arrived at the airport around 6:30 p.m. for our 7:50 flight. The flight was delayed, delayed, delayed waiting for its arrival from Dallas. Eventually the heavy thunderstorm moved in. The incoming flight was in a holding pattern overhead waiting for the weather to clear….. then they were low on fuel so they went to Baton Rouge….. then they came back and deplaned…. then the announcement was made that we would board after the plane was cleaned (by this time we had rebooked knowing we would miss connections at DFW and expected to spend the night in Dallas)….. then came the announcement that the flight was cancelled, the airline (AA) only had a few hotel rooms available, and we might want to get our own, which we did….. then there was a really long line at the taxi stand….. then when Butch and I called to rebook a second time nothing was available for Wichita from DFW so we were placed on a Saturday flight via Chicago. We went to bed at 2:30 a.m. {Of course Mom's latest night in New Orleans would be because of an airplane cancellation, not a raucous night on the town.}

I wish I had a photo of our “shuttle” to the airport Saturday morning. The hotel shuttle was full so the desk clerk said someone else was coming to take us (I assumed hotel personnel). Turns out it was an unmarked taxi, and a small car at that. There was only enough room in the trunk for one carry-on bag – Aaron, Meg and I sat in the back seat each with a piece of luggage on our laps; another carry-on was stuffed in the back window; and a large suitcase was sandwiched between Butch and the driver. It felt like taxi service in a foreign country! But the driver gave us a “deal” – he only charged $8 per person rather than the usual $12.

This time the flights left close to on-time, we all made our connections, and Butch and I arrived at our house at 6:30 p.m. – 24 hours after we first arrived at the New Orleans airport.

A tired and crazy ending to a fabulous four days of family time – it made turning 60 much more bearable and much more fun. I felt very spoiled! {Also what we were going for.}

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

happy birthday, mom!

When Dad turned 60 last November, we made a big fuss with a big surprise party. I flew in to surprise both of them, and Megan and I also collected 60 memories from friends & family as a gift to Dad. The whole thing was an absolute blast. Since then, we've been scheming about how to properly celebrate Mom's upcoming 60th. We bounced around a lot of ideas before finally settling on a trip for the whole family.

Well, today is the big day, and (drumroll, please) we are whisking Mom off for four days of celebrating in the Big Easy!

We've kept everything a big surprise, and we have even more surprises up our sleeves (!!!), but for now, you only get to know what she knows. This morning she opened a gift box containing a Mardi Gras mask & this note:

For every trip we've ever taken as a family (and every holiday, event, celebration, etc.), Mom has done most of the planning and prep work. Then she usually spends the whole vacation making sure everyone else is having a good time. She's such a mom.

But this vacation is all for her. She gets to just sit back, relax and enjoy while the rest of us make sure every detail is perfect.

It was easy to surprise Dad for his birthday, but surprising Mom is an entirely different ballgame. None of the men in our family can keep a secret, and I'm not going to lie, it's been really hard for Megan & me, too. Here's how we managed to pull it off...

We started by sending her a save the date back in February. We sent it via email, which was probably a mistake because she assumed it was spam and deleted it. Oh, Mom.

One month later, we sent her the actual invitation, which was her first clue that her birthday surprise involved travel.

We also put together a little mani pedi package that we sent about a week ago. We wanted her to be properly pampered before the big day. Notice the purple & gold Mardi Gras colors? The polish was a little hint about where she was headed!

As we speak, she is on her way. Destination: New Orleans. I am so excited for everything we have planned this week, and I can't wait to see Mom's reaction. I hope it will be a trip to remember for all of us.

Happy 60th, Mom! We love you!