European Vacation Preview

European Vacation Preview

I’m sorting through the (literally) thousands of pictures from our European adventure and it is turning into quite a task. My computer’s hard drive was not big enough to hold all of the pictures (Hey David, maybe it’s time for a fancy new computer *hint, hint*) and my external hard drives that I use for photo backups are completely full, so I had to get a new external hard drive – actually I had to get two external hard drives because I need a backup just in case the first one somehow gets dropped in the middle of the driveway on the way to the car. This has actually happened to me… twice.

Anyway, there are some real treasures and a lot of “what the heck was I thinking” shots, but they are all fun to look at. I’m trying to put together a photo book of our adventure before I forget what everything is and because I’m combining pictures from three cameras, two iPhones and various emails from friends and family, there is a lot of sorting that still needs to be done. I’m looking forward to sharing our trip in more detail once I get everything together, but in the meantime, here is a quick shot of me and David in Budapest (I liked it so well that I’m making it my new avatar).

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Aunt Jenny

Aunt Jenny

My aunts have all played an important role in my life. They have coached me through hard times, laughed with me until the wee hours of the morning and taught me a lot about life and love. I have always looked up to and admired them and I hoped that one day I would get to be just like them. I have been an “honorary aunt” for several of my friends’ kids, but since I only have one brother and he didn’t have children I wasn’t an “official” aunt. This week that changed and I was finally awarded the privilege.

Holding the sweet little princess at the hospital.

Holding the sweet little princess at the hospital.

David meeting his new niece. He's a first time uncle too!

David meeting his new niece. He’s a first time uncle too!

My brother and sister-in-law just welcomed the most precious baby girl and I finally get to be Aunt Jenny! I am over the moon! When I walked into the hospital room and saw her sweet little face for the first time, my heart was instantly captivated. I am in love. She is perfect and precious and I cannot wait to watch her grow up! My kids are in love too. It has been amazing to watch two little rambunctious boys melt into mushy puddles of love every time she is in the room. She has clearly stolen their hearts.

Big Guy and Little Man holding their new cousin.

Big Guy and Little Man holding their new cousin.

Monday Morning Confessions: Perfectly Imperfect

The title of this post is not entirely accurate mainly because while it is Monday, it is no longer morning. But since it is Monday and I’m too lazy to come up with something different, the title stays.

Remember back in March when I wrote this post? It was my failed attempt to kick start the blog again. Unfortunately it was short lived. After months of feeling not so great, I was finally starting to feel a little better. Normal even. I thought I was ready to share my imperfections with you, but I wasn’t quite there. You see, at the end of last year life threw me a major (and very unexpected) curve ball that shook me to my core. I love that quote from The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel when Sonny (Dev Patel) says, “Everything will be all right in the end… if it’s not all right then it’s not yet the end.” This has become my mantra because at the end of last year I was feeling anything but all right. Thankfully, even though it felt like it at the time, it was not the end.

Just after Thanksgiving I suffered a devastating miscarriage that rocked me to my core. I was already past the dreaded first trimester when it happened and everything had been going perfectly until that point so it caught me completely off-guard. I could hardly drag myself out of bed, so blogging (or even turning on the computer) was the last thing on my mind. To make a long story short I had a hard time getting back into the blog because I couldn’t bring myself to write about bright and shiny things when everything I was feeling was dark and gritty and I was afraid that if I wrote about what I was going through and what I was feeling, you might not want to come back anymore.

David decided that we all needed a change of scenery so he planned a month long European road trip. We had our little adventure last month and it was exactly what I needed to get my groove back. I rehashed my sorrows with my lovely friend Csilla who had a similar experience a few years back. I laughed and I cried and I bonded with people that I love. It was one of the best vacations I have ever had and I will cherish the memories forever (expect to hear more about it in the days and weeks to come). It also gave me the encouragement I needed to share with you once again. I have been avoiding revealing my heartache with you because I was afraid you might not like visiting if things weren’t light and happy. David helped me see that I was being ridiculous. He said that my blog didn’t anything other than a voice: My voice.

So there you have it: My Monday morning (err…afternoon) confession is that I disappeared for a while because I was sad and I was afraid to share the not so shiny parts of my life with you, but I’m not (quite so) afraid anymore. I hope that you’re having a happy Monday and I look forward to sharing my perfectly imperfect life with you in the future.

The Egg

The Egg

This morning I was getting ready and, as is our routine, David was downstairs in the kitchen with the boys getting them ready for breakfast. My house isn’t very big, so it’s pretty easy to hear conversations taking place in the other room. David was giving the boys their options for breakfast this morning: eggs, ham, smoked salmon or yogurt (we have a rule that they have to eat protein in the morning). This morning the conversation sounded like every other morning’s banter until, over the clattering of dishes and pans, I heard a little voice pop up and say, “I want scrambled eggs, but can I make them myself?”

There was silence for a split second before David replied, “Sure thing buddy.”

I listened as David slowly walked him through breaking the egg, using a whisk, getting the pan to the right temperature, melting the butter and moving around the eggs fast enough that they don’t burn but not so fast that you ruin the consistency. My son is a perfectionist and I held my breath straining to hear if there was any distress in his voice as he chatted with his dad about which tools and gadgets to use. There was none. His little brother asked questions about what they were doing each step of the way and my heart swelled with pride when older son said, “Don’t worry, after Daddy teaches me, I’ll be able to teach you too.”

I’ve always felt that it is very important to let the kids help out in the kitchen. My mom allowed me assist her in the kitchen as a child and I know that my love of cooking today stems from all of the hours that she patiently looked on as I made a giant mess of her perfectly organized kitchen. I can still remember the way that it made me feel when I would present her with some sort of concoction or treat and I would wait for her reaction. To her credit, she always acted like I had made the best thing ever even though I’m sure some of them were borderline inedible. But her praise meant the world to me. I have spent countless hours in the kitchen with my boys. It usually means that making dinner will take twice as long and that my cookies and cakes will fall short of being the Martha Stewart masterpieces I envisioned in my head, but it also means that I have passed on a love of something that was graciously passed on to me.

My kids have been cracking eggs since they could walk and they like dumping measuring cups and spoons full of ingredients into bowls as much as they like sampling the end product. Today was a big first though. Today my little guy made his own eggs from start to finish with minimal guidance from his father. This morning when he came into my bedroom to present me with a plate full of his creation, I knew the feeling he had in his stomach because it was the same feeling I had had so many times before. His eyes were wide with expectation as he watched me lift the fork to my mouth and as I closed my eyes and smiled thinking of all of the times my own mother has done this exact same thing. I will never forget the look on his face when I opened my eyes and bent down to his level saying just above a whisper, “These are the best eggs ever.” And they were because when he made eggs on his own for the first time I was the person he wanted to taste them. And, as a mom, that is one of the little moments in life that I live for.
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My Friend the Rock Star(r)

My Friend the Rock Star(r)

Not that long ago, I was reorganizing my home office. I had a stack of CDs that needed to be alphabetized and my oldest son was looking through them. In the middle of the Pearl Jam, U2, Beastie Boys and Guns N Roses CDs, he came across a CD case with a picture of a young woman.

“Who is this? She looks like your friend Starr.” he said.

“That is my friend Starr,” I told him turning back to my sorting.

“Wait… Your friend Starr is a REAL rock star?”

My oldest has always thought it was cool that I have a friend named Starr. He has heard me talking on the phone with her and he knows that I try to see her when she is in town. He even knows that David and I have gone to see her perform in the past but, this was the first time he realized that she has her own albums and everything. I cannot even tell you how much his opinion of me went up that day. My son loves music- like really loves it – so for his mom to know someone that has their own CD (actually multiple CDs) is kind of a big deal. Having a CD apparently makes her a real musician in his eyes. Really, it is a pretty big deal.

“You can buy her stuff on iTunes too,” I informed him, watching as his eyes widened to almost double their usual size. He couldn’t stop talking about my friend Starr – the rock star.

A few weeks ago there was a message on my answering machine from Starr. She leaves the greatest messages ever and I can never bring myself to erase them. She was coming to town for a performance and she wanted to invite us. There was no question, David and I were in. Starr is one of those rare gems that is such a blessing to be around. We’ve known Starr for more than a decade and we try to see her perform live whenever possible. I was so proud of her when I saw her live at the Hard Rock Cafe for the first time more than a decade ago and my pride grows every time I have seen her since. It’s all I can do to stop myself from standing on the table screaming, “That’s my friend! I know her!”

Her performance was last night at this great little venue called Room 5 Lounge. The show was incredible. I laughed, I cried, but most importantly I got to see someone I love doing what they love. Last night was the first time I saw Starr perform her song “Rocket Ship,” which is a tribute to her father who lost his battle with bone cancer last year. Half of the proceeds from the song’s sales go directly to cancer research. It is a beautiful song even if you don’t know the meaning behind it, but knowing what it is about makes it even lovelier. You can read more about Rocket Ship on Starr’s website here.

The lady of the hour performing and me catching up with her afterwards. David apparently making off with Starr's guitar (he was actually just holding it for her).

The lady of the hour performing and me catching up with her afterwards. David apparently making off with Starr’s guitar (he was actually just holding it for her).

Waiting for Starr to go on.

Waiting for Starr to go on.

David and I enjoying our date night.

David and I enjoying our date night.

The three of us catching up... there is never a picture of the three of us without at least one of us cracking up.

David and I were able to catch up with Starr for a bit after her performance and we have agreed that we need to get together in the very near future for a long overdue catch up session. Until then, I’ll be listening to my new Rocket Ship CD (as well as Starr’s older music).

The Cover art of the Rocket Ship Single

The Cover art of the Rocket Ship Single

You can find out more about Starr on her website here. You can also find her music on Amazon and iTunes!

Hungarian for Dummies (and by dummies, I mean me)

I have an admission. Despite the fact that David and I have been together FOREVER, my Hungarian language skills have been majorly lacking. I know an abundance of vocabulary and I understand most of what people are saying, but when it comes to putting things together in a sentence by myself I am completely hopeless. If I’m being fair, Hungarian is considered to be one of the most difficult languages in the world to learn (it’s not Latin based… at all) and there aren’t a whole lot of resources out there to help you along. Rosetta Stone, for example, has no plans to make a Hungarian learning program (but they will send you a free mug any time you write to them asking when and if they will be adding one – seriously they send one every time). There was however a funny article from The Onion parodying a Rosetta Stone Hungarian language program.

When I had kids, I attempted to up my game. I wasn’t going to be one of those moms with bilingual children and not also bilingual myself. My Hungarian got a little bit better, but again, it was mostly vocabulary. I could sing a few children’s songs and I could say a sentence here and there, but I was far from conversational.

While Dédi was here visiting, the boys’ Hungarian improved by leaps and bounds. While I was still trying to get better, I felt like they were catching up, and in a hurry. I had fears that before long, they would be better than me. Then, not long after Christmas it happened. The boys were in their room playing and while I couldn’t hear what they were saying exactly, I could tell that voices were raised. As I approached the room prepared to break up the imminent fight, I was stopped dead in my tracks by two little voices clearly bickering… in Hungarian.

The moment had come. Their Hungarian was officially better than mine (and not just a little better). I was the only one in our little family unit that couldn’t speak conversational Hungarian. Something had to be done. I turned to the internet in search of a solution and was starting to feel extremely discouraged. Most language programs that do actually offer a Hungarian course are bare bones at best. I was getting ready to give up when I read some comments on a blog post about one person’s success with the Pimsleur language program. Like me, this person had married a Hungarian and just wanted something that was going to help them learn to put their vocabulary into sentences. I thought I would give it a go. What’s the worst that could happen?

I’ve been working steadily for over a month now. I repeat lessons over and over again until I can practically say them from memory. My father-in-law is impressed with my improved accent and I am now able to initiate basic conversations. The program isn’t perfect. It teaches very formal sentence structures and is more suited to business situations than to visiting family in small villages, but what it has given me a basis from which I can build. David has been listening to the lessons with me and then he expands on them. I start out learning the super formal versions and once I have a firm grasp on those he instructs me how to use the informal. Because he knows what I have just learned, when he helps me practice the two of us no longer get frustrated by him moving forward too quickly for me to keep up.

I don’t know how it would work for someone trying to learn the language from scratch without any former knowledge, but for someone in my situation it has been wonderful. The boys have started listening to the discs as well and their Hungarian is improving even faster than mine. Now when we are all together as a family we all practice our new language skills together. We’re still far from perfect (me especially) and I doubt I’ll ever be as fluent as David but I’m able to say more than please, thank you and pass the potatoes so right now I’m immensely happy.

Here are the three programs that Pimsleur offers:

Hungarian, Basic Program If you’re in Hungary for a short vacation or business trim and just need the basics to get by, then this is the program for you. You won’t be conversational, but you will be able to understand enough to get by.

Hungarian, Conversational Program This is what I bought at first. It is a great program and I think that if you are going to be spending much time in Hungary at all, it would be extremely beneficial to do at least this much. By the end, you aren’t exactly conversational but it gives you enough knowledge to feel comfortable.

Hungarian, Comprehensive Program
This is the big one. It is expensive, but I think its worth it if your goal is to actually be conversational and not just able to get around while visiting Budapest for a week. I’m still working through the lessons and I am extremely happy with my results.

The weekend is upon us!

The weekend is upon us!

So, I’ve been flying under the radar a lot lately. We have a couple of huge installs coming up at the end of this month and our studio is starting to look like it belongs on an episode of Hoarders. Not kidding.

There has been a lot of work and no play for our design crew lately. On the bright side, Marcali had some press in the last month. First, we were singled out by noted Chicago interior designer Frank Ponterio in his list celebrating the beauty of American craftsmanship on Dering Hall for not one, but two of our pieces. The feature also went out in an email blast to all of Dering Hall’s subscribers, which is a huge deal! You can see the feature here or read more about it on my work blog here.

The email blast sent out by Dering Hall

The email blast sent out by Dering Hall


 
The Marcali Emerson chair in three variations

The Marcali Emerson chair in three variations


 
The Marcali Niobe Banquette

The Marcali Niobe Banquette

 

I didn’t think the month was going to get any better but then it did. A package from Germany arrived one day bearing the Condé Naste logo. Inside was a copy of the March issue of German Architectural Digest with one of the interior pages marked. David opened it up to find our Noosa Teak chair included in a feature of teak products! I literally screamed when he showed it to me!

Th Cover of the March issue of AD Germany

Th Cover of the March issue of AD Germany


 
There is our Noosa Lounge in the bottom left corner!

There is our Noosa Lounge in the bottom left corner!

Anyway, I hope you’re all having a fabulous Friday and an even better weekend. I cannot tell you how much I am looking forward to this little two day break from work! I’ll be back with more soon!

Things I Love: Mighty Leaf Tea

Things I Love: Mighty Leaf Tea

I have been fighting off a terrible cough and sore throat the last few days. It is one of those colds that leaves you so drained and unmotivated that it is nearly impossible to get anything done. I haven’t even wanted to go on Pinterest, so you know it’s bad. Honestly, all I want to do is sleep, but there is too much to do, so I’m slogging my way through the day. The worst part of this whole thing is the constant tickle in the back of my throat. So far the only thing that seems to help has been tea; iced tea, hot tea, green tea, black tea, herbal tea, you name it, I’ve been drinking it. Yesterday I was very much into iced tea, but today I have been drinking hot tea non-stop.
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I’m not entirely sure where or when I picked up these samples from the Mighty Leaf Tea Company, but they were lying around in my kitchen so I threw them into my purse on the way to work this morning. I have been drinking them since I got into the studio and I can honestly say that I have loved every single one. Not only have they been extremely soothing on my throat, the flavors are also absolutely delightful and not at all overpowering. And while packaging isn’t necessarily the first thing you look for in something you’re going to be drinking, I’m in the design business and it is certainly something that I notice. Their packaging and presentation is fantastic. Their tea bags are made of a compostable corn based material and they are stitched together with unbleached cotton. That’s right… It’s stitched. So cool! Unlike many other tea brands, these tea bags have no glue or staples. Then there is the label – not only is the design spot on, it also indicates the recommended brewing time and the caffeine level which are both handy and practical.
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Not only would I recommend this product, I’m actually going out this afternoon to buy some more because I like them that much.

Throwback Thursday – Hungary 2006

Throwback Thursday – Hungary 2006

Happy Throwback Thursday. Today is a very special day because today just so happens to be the birthday of one of my favorite people in the whole world – David’s grandma, who we all call Dédi. Until our boys were born, she was simply Nagyi (which is Hungarian for grandma) but she has since been promoted. Dédi is the ultimate Hungarian Housewife and the nicest woman in the whole world. She has taught me everything I know about Hungarian cooking and despite a language barrier, she has taught me countless lessons about life in general. A big part of who David and I are today is thanks to Dédi and we are so blessed to have her in our lives! The photos below are from 2006 when the three of us visited a castle that is not too far from her village in Hungary. Boldog születésnapot, Dédi!

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And here is a more recent picture of Dédi and the boys from Christmas. I cannot even put into words how much they adore her! (We all do).

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Gluten-Free Goodness: Cranberry Bliss Cookies

Gluten-Free Goodness: Cranberry Bliss Cookies

A few weeks back, I had a craving for Cranberry Bliss Bars from Starbucks but, like all of the best coffee shop items, cranberry bliss bars are seasonal and we were no longer in cranberry bliss season. I shared some great copycat cranberry bliss bars a while back and was just about ready to make some of those when a recipe for cranberry bliss cookies from Gimme Some Oven popped up in my Pinterest feed (apparently I was not the only person craving some cranberry bliss that day). If you haven’t been to Gimme Some Oven before, let me warn you that you will get sucked in by all of the enticing recipes. They all look amazing. Anyway, I decided to give the recipe a whirl and while I was at it, make it gluten-free so everyone could enjoy them.

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I threw the dough together and was just about to toss it into the refrigerator to chill for an hour, when I decided that an hour was a long time to wait without any sort of taste test. I popped some dough into my mouth, and I immediately noticed that something wasn’t quite right. It wasn’t cranberry-blissy enough. It was almost there, but something was missing. I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what. At first I tried convincing myself that it would taste right once I baked them, but then I decided to look back at the bar recipe to see if it might hold a clue. I quickly discovered that the bar recipe called for something that the cookie recipe did not – orange zest. Luckily, there are always oranges lying around, so I was able to quickly mix in some zest (there was an added bonus that I was able to use the orange to make the boys a snack). Perfection! It was exactly what was missing. Into the refrigerator the dough went and once the dough was chilled, everything else went off without a hitch. The cookies were a huge hit and I’m already getting pressure to make more again soon. I hope you are having a happy Monday!

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Gluten-Free Cranberry Bliss Cookies

Adapted from Gimme Some Oven

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups gluten-free flour (I used this one)
  • 1 ½ teaspoons xanthan gum
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • Zest of 1 large orange
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips
  • 1 cup dried cranberries, chopped

For the Frosting:

  • 1 (8 ounce) bar cream cheese, at room temperature
  • ½ cup white chocolate chips, melted and cooled slightly
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups powdered sugar (or more)

For the topping:

  • 1 ½ cups dried cranberries, roughly chopped
  • ½ cup white chocolate chips, melted

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. In a medium sized bowl, whisk together gluten-free flour, xanthan gum, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
  3. In another medium sized bowl, cream together the butter and sugars until fluffy.
  4. Beat in eggs, vanilla and zest.
  5. Add flour mixture and mix until just combined.
  6. Fold the chopped, dried cranberries and the white chocolate chips into the dough mixture.
  7. Cover and refrigerate the dough for at least 1 hour (2 hours is better… if you can wait that long).
  8. While the dough is chilling, line baking sheets with parchment paper.
  9. When you are ready to bake, place dough by rounded Tablespoons onto baking sheets about 2 inches apart.
  10. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until the cookies are just starting to turn golden around the edges.
  11. Remove from oven and immediately transfer to wire cooling racks and allow to cool completely.

To Make the Frosting:

  1. Melt white chocolate in a double boiler set over simmering water.
  2. Remove from heat and allow chocolate to cool slightly.
  3. Whip the cream cheese and the vanilla together the bowl of an electric mixer.
  4. While the mixer is running, pour in the white chocolate and continue mixing until thoroughly combined.
  5. Reduce speed to low and add in the powdered sugar.
  6. Continue mixing until the frosting is completely smooth.
  7. Set frosting aside.

To Assemble:

  1. Melt ½ cup chocolate chips in double boiler set over medium heat.
  2. Frost the (completely cooled) cookies and top with roughly chopped dried cranberries.
  3. Drizzle with white chocolate (I put it into a small Ziplock bag and cut one of the corners off to drizzle over the cookies).
  4. Allow drizzle to set up before serving.

These cookies get better the longer they sit (days two and three are the best).