{bite sized} Chicago

Well, the girls are back from their exciting, non-stop Chicago adventure…

…a total blast for ALL of us, and a much-needed 10th Birthday/Mother’s Day celebration break ;)

We enjoyed yummy snacks (doll and girl sized!), watched fun movies (Little House on the Prairie, Snow White and Lady and the Tramp), opened presents, swam, ate a breakfast that made us swoon, had hair done, hiked in the rain, felt like real ladies at a fancy lunch, skipped in the sun, saw the bean, slurped coffee, munched cupcakes, zoomed up in the sky, giggled, sniffled, waited an hour for real deep dish pizza, and made lovely, lovely memories…

Here’s a little recap and some advice for your next trip to the Windy City!

{Where we ate:}

First things first.

Of course, fun meals were a BIG part of our trip :) You know I LOVE food, and the three of us are related, after all…

Our first stop was to Gino’s East for real, deep dish Chicago-style pizza. We had a salad and a small half three-cheese and half veggie pie… delightful. Bekah got her name on the wall, and I found where The Husband and I penned ours a year ago! It was our first night in town, so we were a little wiped out, but it was sooo worth it :)

Our next culinary stop was at Orange for a funky, fun, fresh breakfast. Two words: Pancake. Flight. {Perfection}. We enjoyed fresh orange, carrot, ginger juice; delicious orange roasted coffee, a chicken apple sausage omelet, and pancakes that should be illegal…

We enjoyed an amazing, organic meal at the Fox & Obel Cafe at their gorgeous European-style market after a damp, chilly walk to Navy Pier, that included sweet potato fries, fish & chips, mango-chicken quesadillas and hummus.

In slight contrast, we ventured to Beef & Brandy, a 60’s-style diner, for open-faced roast beef sandwiches and classic vinyl booths for lunch after a hike on the Loop. We also enjoyed a quick bite at the Corner Bakery Cafe across from our hotel on Sunday morning – nothing too fancy, as there are several scattered across the city – but an easy place to grab breakfast or lunch!

When you’ve been walking around all day, there is definitely need for some treats (gotta keep up that energy, you know…). So, we stopped by the famous Intelligentsia Coffee at Millennium Park for two rich, creamy lattes and a green tea (and a souvenir mug for me!). This place is amazing – totally a must for anyone visiting the windy city! To complement our drinks, we went around the corner to the Sugar Bliss Cake Boutique for their specialty cupcakes (hint: get the ‘minis’ so you can try several flavors!). We had chocolate milk chocolate, chocolate hazelnut, blackberry and chocolate peanut butter..

So. good. Talk about a sugar high!

{What we saw:}

The American Girl Place was the highlight of our stay. Mostly for Bekah’s benefit, though mom and I were pretty enthralled as well :) We browsed the books, historic & look-alike dolls and their displays, looked at fun outfits & accessories, watched as dolls were transformed at the salon and doll hospital, and ate a fun girly lunch with our dolls at the cafe!

Lunch started with tiny cinnamon buns and a fruit, veggie and cheese plate. We picked our entrees, and loved the mini picnic lunch, salmon salad with cucumber dressing and Caresse sandwich. For dessert, we each enjoyed a cookie, tiny frosted cake and ‘flower pot’ chocolate mousse. Very worth it for the chic atmosphere and fun environment – just be sure to make reservations! We did leave with another addition to our party… Rebecca and Felicity made a new friend they just couldn’t leave without ;)

Besides all of our fun with the dolls, we spent a lot of time hiking around the rest of the city, too! We braved wind and rain to see the skyline from Navy Pier, walked along the Magnificent Mile and looked at shops and lovely buildings, zoomed 103 floors to the Skydeck for the best view in Chicago, saw our reflection in the ‘Bean’ and splashed in the fountain at Millennium Park and even visited the hotel where mom stayed when she visited Chicago in the 1975 when she was in high school- The Palmer House Hilton (so, so beautiful).

{Where we slept:}

We stayed at the Wyndham at the Magnificent Mile. It was the perfect location – close to the American Girl Place and Navy Pier, but still within a comfortable walking distance of Millennium Park (1 mi.) and the Skydeck at the Willis Tower (2 mi.). We did end up having to call the front desk about noisy neighbors, but security took care of things quickly (screaming and running down the halls from 10:30p.m. – 2a.m. is. not. cool.). We got a great rate, though parking is always a killer at around $40-60 per night wherever you choose to stay in the city. Check deals sights, and put that AAA membership to use!

Overall, this trip was everything we could have asked for. Precious memories made, lots of laughter, and something else checked off the bucket list… Love you mama & Bekah!

Have you ever taken a parent-child trip? Where did you go, what did you see and what do you remember? Please share!

A milestone…

Well, my goofy redheaded “little” brother has officially graduated from college…

…oh, my.

I’m old.

My only consolation is that I still get asked for my ID at the movie theater, and somewhere in my head I fully believe that I am about to enter the 8th grade.

Hanson, gel pens and Bonne Bell lip gloss are still all the rage, right?

Anyhow, Joe’s graduation celebration was wonderful. The ceremony was honestly the most well-run and lovely program I’ve ever attended. It felt wonderful to see my little bro walk across the stage, and to watch him hug, grin and chat with family and friends.

This shindig also gave me a reason to:

  1. Buy a new dress
  2. Go to the nearby outlet mall
  3. Stay in a hotel
  4. Eat at Cheesecake Factory
  5. See the Avengers

Sooooo, as you can see, it was good time.

In other news, The Trip is pretty much all I have on my mind at this point.

Two Weeks.

Am I ready? Of COURSE I’m ready:

His & Hers passport covers? Check. Zebra neck pillow for the airplane? Check. Grandma walking sandals for my still-on-the-mend runner’s feet? Check. Mini bottles of every type of hygiene product known to man? Check. Re-reading my 6th grade “Famous Men of Rome” text book. Half-way check.

Totally prepared. Totally freaking out.

Talk to me in a week and a half and I’ll let you know if I’ve actually started packing or have stocked up on my to-go nut butter supply yet. Then you’ll know It’s getting serious ;)

For now, the next big thing is Chicago with Bekah & my lovely mama for the weekend!

{Can’t wait to be here again (2011). That’s American Girl bliss, folks.}

:) Exciting things ahead!

Banana {Chocolate} Almond Millet Muffins

Our travel schedule is heating up!

In the next few weekends we have Joe’s college graduation, a mother-daughters Chicago (and American Girl Place!… Yes, I will be bringing Felicity.) get-away, and “The Trip”!

The weeks are blowing by, but we only have fun, sweet things to look forward to. We can’t wait! In the meantime, we’re doing lots of packing and planning, and I’m even taking a photography class:

{A basic lesson on shutter speed. I took these at a local park- Cool, huh?!}

In the midst of actually learning what all those buttons on my nifty camera mean, (and picking out every outfit I plan to wear in Rome so I can feel just like Audrey Hepburn), I started a new home project!

This past weekend, my lovely Mama came up dive with me into the world of furniture refinishing. We are overhauling an antique bed for our spare room (so our friends don’t have to put up with an air mattress when they visit anymore :), and she’s a pro. We are both pretty dedicated workers when it comes to a project like this, and I knew we’d be “in the zone”. So, I decided to whip up some soup for lunch and muffins for breakfast ahead of time…

Good decision. Especially on the breakfast front.

Don’t worry – pictures of the finished bed to come! It’s gonna be sweet…

I adapted this vegan muffin recipe from Mama Pea’s cookbook, and they turned out fabulous! Dense, chocolatey, just the right amount of sweetness, and with an amazing texture (and nutrition profile) from the millet and other awesome, healthy ingredients!

We enjoyed them warm, crumbled over Fage plain Greek yogurt with berries… Add a cup of coffee with frothed Almond Breeze coconut almond milk while booking our hotel on the Magnificent Mile, and it was the PERFECT pre-project breakfast!

Banana {Chocolate} Almond Millet Muffins

Based on Mama Pea’s Banana Chocolate Chip Millet Muffins from her amazing cookbook, “Peas & Thank You”Makes 12 muffins.

Ingredients:

  • 2/3 Cup of Uncooked millet
  • 3/4 Cup of Whole wheat flower
  • 3/4 Cup of Almond flour (also called ‘almond meal’ – you can substitute regular flour as well, but you’ll loose some of the texture and flavor!).
  • 1 1/2 t Baking powder
  • 1/2 t Baking soda
  • 1/4 t Salt
  • 1/2 t Cinnamon
  • 2 Ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1/2 Cup Dark brown sugar
  • 2 T Coconut oil, melted
  • 1/2 Cup Almond milk
  • 1 t Vanilla extract
  • 1/2 Cup Dark chocolate chips (I like to use Ghirardelli chips and chop them up a bit!)

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 375. Line or spray muffin tin. Set aside.
  • Place millet in food processor, and pulse into a fine texture (won’t be flour-fine… a little bit of crunch is good!).
  • Pour into a large bowl and add flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon.
  • In a smaller bowl, combine mashed bananas, brown sugar, oil, milk and vanilla.
  • Add wet ingredients to the dry, and stir until just combined. Fold in chocolate chips.
  • Spoon the batter into muffin tin, and bake for about 17 minutes.

{Just chilin’ with the lentils…}

Enjoy these muffins warm out of the oven, or freeze to keep them on hand whenever hunger strikes! These little treats are excellent on their own, crumbled, smeared with jam, with a cup of tea, for breakfast, for a snack, for dessert, before a workout…

…just make ’em, ok? Enjoy!

Listening to the {tulips}

My tulips and I have been conversing lately…

…they’re pretty smart. And no, I haven’t become a crazy naturalist or stopped shaving my legs. Here’s the story:

Until now, there has always been a very logical, planned, and immediate next step in my life: Kindergarten? First grade is around the corner. High school is over? Pick a college. Graduation? Get married, buy a house, find a job, settle in to a new city…

But, what now? Yes, there are children, new hobbies, moves, fresh life seasons somewhere in the future. But, for the first time, the next 10 years aren’t really planned…

Instead of thinking in terms of events and decisions that impact tomorrow, The Husband and I have to think about 15 or 20 or 35 years down the road.

That span of time is scary – ANYTHING could happen. Bad stuff. Hard stuff. I’d rather think about next month. Even New Year’s Eve is always bitter-sweet for me. What will this clean-slate of a year hold? I can barely handle planning dinner a week ahead of time – you really want me to make some investment that won’t come to fruition until I’m 65?! I’ve only been self-aware for like, 15 years!

Can’t. Wrap. My. Head. Around. It.

Enter, my tulips: These bulbs, like 401(k)s, kids, and European vacations, require vision. They are ugly little things that have to be planted in the brisk, late fall to bloom in the fresh, warming spring.

Not a perfect metaphor, but you get the picture.

Every spring for the last few years, I’d pass lovely yards and think to myself, “look at that seasoned, wise woman’s garden with all of those lovely flowers. Someday, I will think ahead enough to plan for that surprising early beauty, too.”

But, I wasn’t in a planting mood in the fall. I was done with mowing and digging and weeds… I wanted new boots, a cardigan and a hot latte. Like, yesterday. So, tulips didn’t happen.

Late last year, however, things changed: I was determined – even though it meant thinking about an uncomfortable amount of time – to make tulips happen. I picked out the bulbs, and stuck them in the ground. And, at the same time, I was slowly becoming aware that life doesn’t always rush at a never-ending pace and present you with an obvious next step with relatively immediate gratification. Sometimes, it requires patience, grown-up vision, and a little faith.

Boy, did that small step pay off:

Like ruffly, fiery, jewel-toned manifestations of my personal growth, my flowers sprang to life many months later in an array of lovely colors that made me smile for weeks on end when I pulled in my driveway. (Another of those “I like what I am becoming” moments!).

In some small way, I had arrived. If I could act in advance and wait for the payoff of planting bulbs, I knew that I was ready to do the same with confidence in other areas of my life too! Discontentment about my situation at a single moment, could be traded for the knowledge that I am investing in a million little ways for a beautiful, surprising, colorful future.

I’m growing up.

I am still grasping this concept of the length of a life. I have to remind myself that I don’t have every friend I will ever have right at this moment. I don’t posses every skill I will die with today. I am not as wise now as I will ever be, and I don’t need to be anxious about my self-actualization goals and level of maturity. I don’t need to do it ALL NOW.

Life is a process. And, life is long. Don’t let people tell you any different. Most of us will have decades to ‘work on’ ourselves, learn how to knit, take up kickboxing and watercolors and make new best friends… Those are the moments that add meaning and color to our journey. Add richness to the lives we touch. Add to our legacy…

So today, put your worries in His hands. Have a little vision. Make a few plans. And watch them bloom…

Fancy {pants} Frittata

Sometimes I just need something super easy to make for dinner. 

Yet, at the same time, I need it to make me feel good about myself.

And it has to be yummy.

And the Husband has to approve.

And it has to be made of things I have languishing in my fridge.

Arg – Impossible, right? Wrong.

Enter Fancy Pants (and ridiculously, awesomely, embarrassingly easy) Frittata:

Just the word “frittata” feels sophisticated as it roooooolllllsss off the tongue (especially when the Husband says it. He also tried to incorporate it into a Lady Gaga song… another story altogether).

Mmmmm…. cheesy.

But seriously, with that fancy name and cute little triangle shape, you wouldn’t dream that this ‘lady’s brunch dish’ is glorified scrambled eggs. Way easier than an omelet (no flipping required), healthier than quiche, and perfectly customizable (do half-and-half with different ingredients!) this MUST be on your next ‘breakfast for dinner’ list…

Or weekend breakfast list. Or brunch for the parents list. Or pack for lunch to take to the office the next day list.

Again, seriously.

Fancy {Pants} Frittata

Ingredients:

Serves 4

  • 6 Eggs or 3 eggs and 1 cup of egg whites
  • About 1 Cup of Spinach, chopped
  • About 1 Cup of Mushrooms, chopped
  • 1/2 Onion, chopped
  • 1/2 Green Pepper, chopped
  • About 1/2- 1 cup shredded or crumbled cheese of your choice – I used goat cheese on one half, and part skim mozzarella on the other (His & Hers!)
  • Any other vegetables, meats or cheeses your little heart desires (Bacon? Parmesan? Broccoli? Go for it.)
  • About 1 T of Olive oil
Directions:
  • Pre-heat oven to 350.
  • Break eggs into a medium-sized bowl, whisk.
  • Sauté veggies in olive oil in an oven-safe 10″ skillet on medium-high heat until softened (about 5 minutes), add spinach for last minute or so.
  • Pour egg mixture evenly over veggies. Do not stir. Turn burner to low.
  • Sprinkle cheese over eggs – be as generous as you like ;)
  • Let the mixture cook on low for five minutes so the bottom begins to set.
  • Put the entire pan into the oven for 8-10 minutes, or until the eggs are set in the middle (no longer jiggly!).
  • Use a hot pad and pull pan from the over (remember not to grab that hot handle!) and let cool for a minute or so before cutting and serving.
  • Serve slices with fresh fruit, toast or yogurt or nutella or bacon…. you get the picture!
 

Enjoy!

Do you have an easy-but-seems-fancy dish that you love to whip up? Tell me about it!

P.S. I got a surprise visit from my college roomie, Chelsea last night! Thanks for the visit, C!

Yes, I am “R”… we also had an “A” and an “L”.

And yes, we were super hip ;) Not.

Easter {Fun}day

I, like many of you, am still recovering from/basking in a weekend of fabulous Easter celebrations. Full of all things wonderful: family, friends, dark chocolate, church, presents, breakfast dates and mashed potatoes, we couldn’t have asked for a more full, refreshing time (or tummies! ;)

(Title~ pun intended)

We started the weekend early with my family’s traditional Passover Seder meal on Thursday evening. Though we are Christians, the symbolism of this night is very special. We do a Messianic version of the readings, and I love reflecting on the history and meaning behind the words. The same ritual has been performed by the Jewish people for thousands of years, and Jesus said the same words at the last supper… amazing to ponder.

{Berry pies, turkey and matzo ball soup… My mother works wonders!}

Good Friday dawned with an intense kickboxing class with my good friend, Steph (and getting Bekah dressed for the a “Cross Walk” event uptown – Isn’t she cute!?) The class. Was. Amazing. And, it totally worked up my appetite for a scrumptious grilled feast that evening. The Husband and the other guys played golf all morning while we hit up Great Harvest (yay for those warm, wonderful samples!), World Market (their little milk frothers make great gifts – I LOVE mine, $2.99!) and the grocery store to get the goodies for dinner. “The Gang” is ALWAYS a blast, and we totally enjoyed their company.

{Sirloin burgers= boys. Homemade ELR black bean burgers = girls. Soooo good!}

On Saturday morning, I had the chance to go to one of my favorite restaurants of all time – Northstar Cafe – with one of my favorite people – Samantha! She and her husband were in town for the holiday, and we managed to carve out some time to catch up (over to-die-for ricotta pancakes, eggs and coffee). Isn’t Sam gorgeous?!

{Wonderful organic, whole foods, wonderful company. Our lives are so fun and crazy right now… We had no idea we’d be ‘here’ when we took Chemistry together 8 years ago!}

The rest of our Saturday was jam-packed with a family Easter-present/candy hunt, and a trip to visit my great-grandma and cousins for yet another great meal, golf in the backyard, baby goat petting, egg hunt and sunny porch sitting. We rounded out the evening back at Samantha’s parents house (her mom, dad and siblings are close friends of my family) for a glass of wine, brie en croute and s’mores… whew!

{Dietsch’s dark chocolate salted caramel, chick cookies, hugs, and hidden surprises…}

Sunday morning was a fun rush of (more) food, the donning of crisp dresses and colorful shirts and a rich celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. The Husband and I we are fortunate enough to have met at church, so both of our families are a part of the same congregation, along with a ton of long-time friends. After church, we headed over to the Husband’s parents’ house to hang out with his siblings, and eat another great meal!

{Fresh strawberry scones, mini-quiche, fruit and bacon for breakfast, and brisket and fixin’s for dinner… along with my sister-in-law’s jaw-dropping cinnamon roll cake *cue angels singing*}

…now see why I’m recovering?

I hope you all had a sweet, fun weekend with your families and friends and favorite dishes :) Did you have any fun eats? Please share!

Boston {carrot cake} Pancakes

Nothing brings back memories for me like the weather. Weird, huh?

…sometimes, it just feels like Christmas, or summer vacation, or camping, or the first day of school outside, you know? You can almost smell it, sense it, in the air…

Lately, Boston has been drifting on the wind.

A year ago, about this time, I visited my best friend Hannah in Massachusetts just before her graduation from college. We’ve known each other for a long time (learn more about our friendship in this post, and the other trip I’m planning to visit her here!), but school and work and travel and a wedding had kept us apart for too long.

So, on a whim, I hopped on a plane.

So worth it… isn’t it always?

It was a wonderful trip full of adventures, reminiscing, historic sights, whispers, hopes, plans and daydreams. Every minute of it was glorious, but one particular thing sticks in my mind more than the rest.

Not an ancient church, or view of the ocean…

It was a pancake.

A carrot cake pancake with maple cream cheese butter from Sugar Magnolia’s in Gloucester, MA, to be exact. Ahhh… a thing of dreams.

When the weather changed this spring, that pancake started haunting me once again. So, I decided to do something about it:

So sit back, grab a copy of the House of the Seven Gables or On Walden Pond, and enjoy.

Whole Wheat Carrot Cake Pancakes

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen and Food4Fitness

Makes about 8-10 small, 4-5 large pancakes

Ingredients:

  • 1 Cup of whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 Cup of wheat germ
  • 2 T Toasted chopped pecans
  • 2 t Baking powder
  • 1 1/4 t Cinnamon
  • 1/8 t Ginger
  • 1/8 t Nutmeg
  • 1/4 t Salt
  • 1 Egg
  • 1 T EVOO
  • 2 T Brown sugar
  • 1 -1 1/4 C Unsweetened vanilla almond milk (Start with one cup – add if needed)
  • About 1 1/2 -2 C Finely grated, peeled carrots (Peel to reduce bitterness, grate finely so carrots soften with cooking. Start with 1.5 cups, add as needed. )
  • 1 t Vanilla extract

Maple Cream Cheese Butter

  • 4oz. (1/2 block) Neufchatel Cheese (or cream cheese)
  • 2 T Maple Syrup
  • 2 T Butter, softened

Directions:

  • Combine flour, wheat germ, pecans, baking powder, salt and spices in a large bowl.
  • In a separate bowl, combine egg, sugar, milk, oil, carrots and vanilla.
  • Add the carrot mixture to the flour mixture and mix until combined.
  • Use butter or oil to grease a skillet or frying pan, and cook until done (about two min. on each side. I like to watch for bubbles on the first side, then flip!)
  • For topping, mix softened ingredients together and spread, dollop or dip generously. Garnish with real maple syrup and a dash of cinnamon.

These pancakes are dense, hearty, and packed with fiber and other good-for-you-ness. Not too sweet (you can really taste the carrots!), and perfect for an Easter treat, or any time you want to take a trip to Boston in your head…

What are you making for Easter this year? Do you have any special family traditions? Please, share!

It’s getting {real}…

We had a fun-filled visit to the old homestead over the weekend… It was about time – We hadn’t been back since Christmas!

Our days were filled with wedding festivities (hooray for Mary Beth & Luke!), a spinning class, mildly successful shopping, hang out time with friends, laughs with family, and THIS dinner.

Yes, that is a homemade grilled pizza buffet. Yes, my mom outdid me with my own recipe. Yes, it was heavenly.

My favorite appetizers, great wine, homemade dough, amazing toppings (including Pear & Gorgonzola) and a cozy fire… sigh. No place like home.

There was also BBQ and funfetti cake at the Husband’s parents’ (partially eaten in the basement due to a slight weather emergency) but that was inhaled with such vigor that there is no photographic evidence. The hail and tornado sirens might have been a little distracting as well…

The other fun development over the weekend was “THE TRIP” coming together! Gordon & Selena, our “Friends up North”, were in town and helped us finalize a few more of our plans. I told you we booked our cruise, but now we’ve purchased our plane tickets and have a few more little details to share… It’s getting real!

We leave May 24 and will return June 10. In between we will be here:

Florence, Italy {source}

and here: Venice, Italy {source}

and here: Pisa, Italy {source}

and here: Orvieto, Terni, Italy {source}

and here: Rome, Italy {source}

and here: Messina, Sicily, Italy {source}

and here: Kusadasi, Ephesus, Turkey {source}

and here: Athens, Greece {source}

and here: Chania, Crete, Greece {source}

I can hardly contain myself. I can hardly concentrate on anything else. I can hardly fall asleep. AND we have two months to go…

Oh, well. I need that time to panic over packing and booking hotel rooms and tours anyhow ;)

Any fun weekend adventures or tips planned in your neck of the woods? Do any of you experienced travelers have any advice for us? We need it!

Pear & Gorgonzola {Flatbread}

Flatbread makes everyone happy.

This recipe straddles the delicate balance that all hostesses search for: Something the ladies will love (and be impressed by) but that the husbands will still chow down on with abandon.

Enter Pear & Gorgonzola Flatbread. Perfect for parties (now one of my most “requested” appetizers!), or for a meal with salad, or just when you’re craving one of the most perfect sweet/salty marriages ever.

The stinky cheese makes foodies swoon, but it looks enough like pizza that dudes will grab a slice, too.

Talk about a win, win.

Pear & Gorgonzola Flatbread

Inspired by the California Pizza Kitchen

Makes 2 Flatbreads, Serves 8 as an appetizer

Ingredients:

  • 1 Medium onion (I used a Vidalia – on the sweeter side of spectrum)
  • 2 Pears (Try a mix of varieties for color)
  • About 1/2 Cup Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
  • 1 Package of Whole Wheat Naan (Usually contains two flatbreads – Or, use pita or make your own from scratch!)
  • 2 T Earth Balance or Olive Oil
  • 1 T Garlic Gold or Olive Oil
  • 2 T Fig Vinegar (The fruit flavor works well with this recipe, but balsamic is a great substitute)

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 400.
  • Chop onion into thin half-moons, and roughly slice pears (about 1/2 in. thick, varying sized pieces).
  • Add onion to medium/medium high heat along with Earth Balance. Add vinegar, stir occasionally, and cook until browned and almost caramelized – 10-15 minutes. Add sliced pears, stir. Allow to cook down and soften, about 5 minutes (you may need to add a little more EB).
  • Remove Naan from package, and lay on a baking sheet. Lightly brush with Garlic Gold.
  • Spread pear and onion mixture over flatbreads, then sprinkle (liberally) with the Gorgonzola cheese.
  • Place flatbreads in oven, and bake for 7-10 minutes, or until the breads are crispy and the cheese begins to melt.
  • Remove from oven, slice, and serve warm! Arugula, tossed with a little balsamic, makes a great garnish… and a great Cabernet :)
Enjoy!

Not your average {Joe}

Let me tell you a little about Joe.

Joe Buckley is my little brother…

…and he is truly one of the most interesting people I have the pleasure of knowing.

{And yes, that may or may not be a mullet-esque hairdo I’m sporting. Though mom claims otherwise… “Dorothy Hamill” my foot.}

{Senior Pic… Stud}

Named for two great men: Our great-grandfather who lived his days bringing life to the land on his Ohio farm, Joe Washington; and our rural Kentucky-born grandfather who ended up directing a Children’s home he ran away from as a boy, Robert Buckley. Joe was born in 1990, just shy of four years after me, and he has always loved his name.

{Buds}

Like most of us, I think, he’s made up of an interesting combination of contradictions, accomplishments, small tragedies and large joys. We fought, like brothers and sisters do, but I remember eagerly awaiting the day that he could read so we could play Monopoly… and there were bike races, 4-H meetings, barbies (he liked Ariel from the little mermaid because she also had red hair… or maybe it was the shell bra…), birthday parties and all of the normal childhood joys we raced through together.

Including dressing up in period costumes on family vacations…

Don’t let him tell you he didn’t do it of his own free will. We were the envy of all other children, and tourists stopped to take photos with us. It’s the truth.

{Gotta love us}

We’ve always had a good relationship, but in the past year or so I would say that our friendship has ‘grown up’. Joe is about to graduate from college, and enter a new, exciting, successful stage of his life, and there is something about both of us arriving at adulthood that has made each conversation a little more meaningful, and each memory a little bit sweeter.

And so, this post. Each of my family and friends have taught me important lessons, but here are a few that are “uniquely Joe”…

Lesson’s from Joe:

1. It‘s OK to suffer a little bit: Joe has the highest pain tolerance of anyone I know. Bleeding/oozing gash, no biggie. Misaligned/sprained joints, another game of ultimate Frisbee is still on the agenda. Beyond enduring weird physical pain, he’s amazing a pushing is natural limits and more healthy ways as well. Example: We are not “math people.” Growing up, we both shed tears over algebra, but when he went to college he knew that an understanding of finance could further his future career…. so he majored in it. Talk. About. Pain. He put in extra time, and suffered through classes that we not his forte to achieve a greater goal. And, it’s paying off. So, push your limits. Be ok with discomfort. Go for the big picture.

2. It’s Ok to have happy secrets: I am not a person that likes to keep things to myself. I can take a best friend’s secret to the grave, but I LIKE to talk about myself. I think I’m pretty fascinating, so why wouldn’t I share my every thought with the world? Joe, not so much. He doesn’t broadcast his feelings, but when you get to know him, it’s like opening a treasure chest. He looks smart, athletic, funny and outgoing, but you’d never guess that when he comes home he reads dusty old Zane Grey novels in his room instead of always watching a game on TV; he reaches for grapes and feta cheese for a snack instead of Doritos; and he can converse about dairy goats or dog showmanship just as easily as politics or the Cleveland Indians starting lineup. Be deep. And be okay with the entire world not knowing it.

3. It’s OK to care: Joe feels deeply. He thinks about his family, his friends and his dog, and he makes sure to let them know that they matter in his life. His birthday cards to the family usually come in the form of a sheet of plain white copy paper folded in half, and four lines of text scrawled in pen on the inside, but those words are always thoughtfully crafted and more beautiful and honest than anything Hallmark has ever produced. My mom called him a “snuggler”, and others say he’s just a good, sweet-natured friend (but with a razor-sharp wit and the fastest come-backs known to man). I say, he’s a good guy to have in your corner. Show simple kindnesses, make people feel cared for. Back them up when it counts.

He also knows how to be loyal to one of the most disappointing teams in baseball…

…but that’s a story for another day :)

These lessons might be simple, but they are often overlooked. Take the time to think about applying these concepts in your life, or think about how a brother or sister or cousin or friend has taught you something without even realizing it…. just by being a {not so average} Joe.