Thursday, March 5, 2015

Avery is 6 months old!

We love half-birthdays in this house (says the lady with the Christmas-time birthday), we had a great time celebrating Avery's 1/2 birthday not long ago.

It's hard to believe she's really 6 months old already.  I feel like I just had her a month ago.  She's developing so much personality and we're starting to see more of what's to come as she grows up.  At her 6 month doctor's appointment, Avery weighed 17 lbs 8 oz (80th percentile) and was a whopping 28.5" long (over the 100th percentile).   She's so long that she's already growing out of her 9 month pajamas!  I am going to sob when I have to put her in 12 month pjs with grippy bottoms on the feet, like a big girl.

On her half-birthday, we started by having her professional photos taken.  We go to a local Picture People studio for quarterly pictures since they're reasonably priced and a stone's throw from where we live.  Avery started out fairly grumpy because we woke her up early from her nap and she was starting to get hungry.  We took some mediocre photos, then we fed her, changed her diaper and put on a different outfit.  She was like a new baby!  Much, much happier and willing to play along for the camera.  At one point, she angrily kicked off her shoes, so we decided just to take the pictures we could without them since she seemed to be pretty happy barefooted.  That's called picking your battles, folks.

Then we had a nice lunch out while Avery had a much needed nap, and then we went home to rest. Baby photo days really exhaust all of us, because Avery becomes super high maintenance and needs constant handling, cheering up, snuggling, funny faces, bouncing, kisses, etc.  I sense that we have a future supermodel on our hands!

Here are some of her latest likes, dislikes and milestones:

  • Likes getting a bath
  • Likes Daddy's silly voices
  • Likes fruit and veggie purees
  • Likes barrel-rolling across the living room
  • Likes her BFF/dog, Bella (particularly her licks)
  • Likes sleeping
  • Likes when mommy and daddy read her books before bed
  • Likes riding in the car (when it's moving)
  • Likes her jumperoo
  • Dislikes getting towel dried after her bath
  • Dislikes certain faces made by Daddy (causing her to spontaneously burst into tears)
  • Dislikes diaper changes
  • Dislikes bedtime (she's got FOMO on weeknights)
  • Dislikes when the car stops moving for any reason
  • Dislikes wet diapers (and oddly, she's indifferent about poopy diapers)
  • Now eats 3 containers of purees per day (1 fruit, 2 veggie) and smaller volumes of formula
  • Mimics sounds she hears from her family
  • Prefers standing with help from mommy and daddy to sitting
  • Losing interest in her pacifier; More interested in chewing on her pacifier strap
  • Eating and sleeping schedules are now more consistent
  • Holds her own bottle (when she feels like it)
  • Giggles up a storm and loves to smile
We're still working on sitting up unassisted (this has been very inconsistent, since she'd prefer to stand up or roll around rather than sit up), getting up on all fours, and coordinating her lanky limbs to do any type of crawling.  Also, we're going to be graduating from the infant car seat to the convertible car seat.  We bought a convertible seat recently and will be giving that a try soon.  If we like it, we'll buy a second for our other car.

That's it for us!  We're loving Avery and seeing her grow is so, so much fun.  She's just getting cuter by the day, and her personality is adorable.  We're lucky, lucky people.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

One Night at Ulele

Not long ago, I had the pleasure of joining a group of Tampa Bay bloggers to experience a wonderful new Tampa restaurant and brewery called Ulele. 

Ulele was named one of the Top 100 Restaurants in the U.S. by Open Table, one of the Best New Restaurants in Florida by Florida Trend, and Best Overall Restaurant by Yelp Tampa Bay.  Its most recent achievement was the #7 spot for Top 50 Restaurants in Tampa Bay as scored by Laura Reiley of the Tampa Bay Times.

As a working mom, it takes something very special to keep me away from my husband and kiddo on a weeknight.  After hearing some wonderful things about Ulele from friends, I knew I couldn't pass up the opportunity to experience Ulele for myself, especially with such a fun group as the Tampa Bay Bloggers.

Upon arriving to Ulele, I was greeted by not only fellow bloggers, but the restaurant's manager and the restaurant group's Chief Marketing Officer.  These gentlemen were welcoming and gracious, and quite enthusiastic about introducing us to their fantastically restored building and gastropub-style menu.  They were so happy to educate us on their philosophies and food that I was riveted--this is exactly the kind of thing I love!

Ulele serves approximately 1,000 guests per day, and is acutely focused on having nearly every element of the restaurant experience reference Florida and the Tampa Bay area.  This includes nods to local history, ingredients, and materials on most surfaces.  Our table?  The base was made at a metal workshop 5 miles away, and the wood top was made locally from the reclaimed wood of a hundred year old barn in North Florida.  Those benches in the entry way?  They're from the old federal courthouse downtown.  It's really something to see, and it's refreshing to see such a business supporting other local businesses in more than just words.  Another cool fact was that the building itself is a rehabilitated 1903 water pump station, though you'd never guess it based on the sleek and industrial-modern exterior.

One area of the restaurant that was not highly influenced by the local area was the Biergarten (big ups to Germany!), hops and yeast from Europe and New Zealand for brewing their signature craft beers, and brewing equipment that was handmade in Portland, OR.  Since Tampa residents love their beer, I find nothing foreign about any of them.

I also learned an intriguing story about how the restaurant got it's name.  Ulele is named after the Native American Princess Ulele, who lived in the region in the 1500's.  Local legend says that she saved a teenage Spanish explorer and prisoner of her tribe, Juan Ortiz, from being burned at the stake by her father.  Many people say that she was the influence for Disney's Pocohontas, but that's just a cool-sounding rumor.  The owners and people of Tampa love a good legend (Gasparilla is the basis for another popular one), and to celebrate Princess Ulele, the owners are installing a statue in her honor outside of their restaurant.  I was lucky enough to get a sneak peek...

Princess Ulele in her Tocobaga tribe attire with seashell accessories

The brewery is another interesting facet of this establishment, as it has a solid "tap-to-table" concept tying freshness and locality throughout the entire experience.  The brewer is a self-described minimalist, and his brews have 6 ingredients or fewer to preserve the flavors from tried and true ingredients and brewing techniques.  I've got to respect a professional who sticks to his guns and lets the ingredients and techniques speak for themselves.  The food was made under the exact same philosophy.

We had four main parts of our menu tasting, which I'll refer to as Comforting Starters, Indulgent Appetizers, Enticing Entrees, and 'Diet? What diet?' Encores.  

Comforting Starters

Clockwise from top left:  Craft Beers, Ulele Salad, Mac & Cheese, Chili and fruit-infused water to cleanse the palate
The starters were simply delicious, and I could have made a meal out of those items alone.  The chili was quickly my favorite.  I loved that it had large chunks of pulled meat, beans and a moderate heat that kept me going back for more.  It really put my own homemade chili to shame.  The macaroni and cheese was also great, especially with the additional toppings like scallions, crab meat and bacon.  The salad also had beans on it, as well as a light but flavorful dressing.  

Indulgent Appetizers

Raw Louisiana Oysters, Chargrilled Louisiana Oysers, Squash Gratin, and Alligator Hushpuppies
Okay, friends.  This was my first foray into the world of oysters.  To say I was scared and skeptical would be an understatement.  However, I set that fear of slimy mollusks aside and made the brave decision to try them.  I'm pleased to report that they were better than I ever expected!  The chargrilled oysters were delicious and I could have eaten the whole try... but I would have had to fight off 4 other hungry bloggers who also feel in love with them!  The squash gratin was very tasty and a hit with the vegetarians at the table.  The gator hushpuppies were also new to me, but I found them very tasty.  Gator can be a bit chewy, but that texture didn't bother me at all in this preparation.

Enticing Entrees

Clockwise from upper left:  Filet Mignon, Florida Pompano, Ulele Burger, and Native Saute

The entrees began flowing,and I could already sense that I may need to be rolled out of Ulele Veruca Salt-style, on my side and being pushed by a group of enthusiastic Ulele staffers.  The traditional filet mignon was impressive and cooked to perfection.  I loved the mashed potatoes and asparagus, as well as the unexpected popcorn garnish, paying homage to the local Native American traditions.  The Florida Pompano was an utterly delicious fish dish that would delight even the most discriminating pescetarian.  The fish filet was lightly sauteed and topped with a scrumptious tomato shallot cream sauce and crispy shaved carrots.  If you haven't had fried carrot shavings before, you must.  Trust me on this.  I need to learn how to make these at home!

Next up was the Ulele Burger, which was insane.  I ate a quarter of it and had to eat it in stages due to it's thickness piles of toppings.  The beef patty was made using a blend of ground short rib, chuck and brisket, and its depth of flavor and juiciness was unparalleled.  The toppings on this lunchtime favorite included roasted red peppers, fried leeks, cheddar cheese, and portabella mushrooms.  This was followed by the Native Saute, a vegetarian entree featuring seasonal vegetables on a bed of flavorful wild rice.

 'Diet? What diet?' Encores

Clockwise from top left:  Kilo Porterhouse Steak, Candied Duck Bacon Fried Ice Cream, and 5-Ice Cream Sampler

The final entree I had the opportunity to try was the Kilo Porterhouse steak.  I put this in my "Encores" section because anyone would be stuffed after eating this baby.  The more you eat, the more you want because this cut and the preparation was so, so full of flavor.  It was the fireworks finale of this amazing celebration of meat food.  I even tweeted that this experience should have been called "Bloggers vs. Food" because it required a professional eater's stomach to sample everything, and it was my most liked and re-tweeted message in ages.  (For the record, bloggers would win every time.)  The Kilo Porterhouse is aged 28 days and like all other beef products, comes from a local cattle ranch just south of the Tampa Bay area.  The grains used to make the restaurant's beer are then fed to the cattle, since spent grain is an excellent source of natural protein.

The desserts were absolutely delicious, but I admit that my sweet tooth wasn't in high gear after having such an amazing sampling of appetizers and entrees.  However, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to try their version of Fried Ice Cream.  Built on a base of creamy house-made ice cream swirled with pieces of candied duck bacon, this cornflake-coated scoop was swimming in a pool of creme anglaise and Knob Creek whiskey, and was garnished with a strip of candied duck bacon and a pizzelle.  These great new flavors and textures made this a winner for me.  The other house-made strawberry, espresso, vanilla, chocolate and coconut ice creams were also delicious and sweetly served in coconut shell halves.

Following this food extravaganza, we took a tour of the brewery and met the brewer himself, a nice guy with a lot of knowledge and storytelling experience.  The walk helped my stomach settle and hearing him speak so passionately about his craft was awesome and inspiring.  He shared that the beer uses local spring water and minimal ingredients to create fresh and uncomplicated brews.   And folks, these brews were delicious.  They aren't currently available anywhere except the restaurant, but the owners are considering offering them at other area restaurants they own.  One can only hope this comes to fruition!

My opportunity to meet the Chef, Chief Marketing Officer and other wonderful staffers at Ulele was fantastic, and I know this will be a restaurant that is not only part of my regular dining rotation, but a place for special events and out of town guests as well.  

Check out Ulele for yourself!  It's located at 1810 N. Highlands Ave. in Tampa, FL, right along the riverfront.  I hope you enjoy your drinking and dining experience as much as I did!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Life's Little Speedbumps

Every so often, when life has been moving along at a swift but manageable pace, we find ourselves encountering challenges.  Speed-bumps, if you will.  Usually these are unavoidable things, but sometimes we can see them coming a mile away and painted in fluorescent yellow.  Yet somehow, even when we can see these issues coming, slowing down and bracing for the bump just doesn't happen. 

I say all of this because there have been many of these speed-bumps in my life over the past 6 months.  I had my daughter in August, and felt so, so blessed.  She's really better than I ever expected.  However, within 2 weeks of her being born, the speed-bumps started and haven't let up.

Since September, we've had water leak issues that led to mold remediation and the need to replace all of my kitchen cabinets, a terrible bout of bronchitis around the holidays that led me to an ER visit and feeling utterly helpless, my car air conditioner died, my house air conditioner is on the fritz, and my dog needed some major veterinary care.  In addition, Avery is growing and learning, my husband transitioned to being a Stay At Home Dad, and I've been working a lot to meet many expectations at my job.  Speed-bump after speed-bump, some foreseeable and others not, and it doesn't appear to be stopping any time soon.

Life has a crazy way to teaching us lessons.  Being prepared and able to cope with the unexpected and not see the many speed-bumps as insurmountable requires patience, optimism and persistence in solving each problem.  I am better in some of these areas than others, but my abilities can be impacted by my overall stress levels.

Then comes last week.  After 6 months of not seeing any real progress on replacing our kitchen cabinets, our contractor finally got started on our kitchen remodel.  But wouldn't you know it, there were issues!  We found mold behind a section of the previous backsplash, our cabinets had a number of critical issues mainly due to sloppy installation and decisions made by our general contractor without involving Hubs and I.  The cabinet installer who came out to review our issues kept lying to me about some of the problems and was rude to me when I called him out on that.  Mama didn't raise no fool, friends!  He finally committed to fixing the issues, so now we're playing the waiting game for new cabinets to come in and our countertops and sink to be installed.  Ugh.  So more hand-washing baby bottle parts in the bathroom sinks (tedious activity at its finest!) and not being able to cook proper meals at home.  Great, fantastic, perfect!  All of this sent my anxiety into overdrive yet again, and rolling over this speed-bump continues to be rough.

On top of that, as if I needed more problems, I have written blog 10 posts that haven't posted as scheduled.  I couldn't figure out why, but I just discovered that the ones that have posted were done from another computer (not my normal laptop).  I now have a computer issue to solve.  Yay, another bump!

But you know what?  Even after all of this, I feel optimistic and excited for the future, especially for how much better life will be after I work my way out from underneath this mound of crud.  I'm being patient, I'm focused on both short- and long-term results, and I'm remaining persistent.  I know that speed-bumps will occur forever and I'm taking these issues as lessons with the goal of improving my response and outlook in the future.  It will all be great in the end, I just know it!

In the meantime... Do you have any suggestions for an extended-weekend vacation for Hubs, Baby and I to take and unwind? 

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Catching Up

Hey there, friends!  It's been awhile since I posted a good status update on things around here.  I figure that now's the best time, with so much chaos and things moving in a hundred different directions. 
  • Some of you have asked about my recent post on healthy and having a positive body image.  Apparently it was a smidge controversial for a few people, namely those who found it on Twitter.  (Imagine that!)  I'll be posting a follow-up regarding that commentary soon.
  • We're going to be remodeling our kitchen very, very soon!  After lots of starts and stops at the end of last year with unreliable contractors, we finally got some traction and the work should be completed within the next few weeks.  This is just one of several home renovation projects I've got in mind for this year.
  • Avery is growing like a weed (the cutest kind of weed of course... like a dandelion)!  She's 5 months old now and in 9 month clothes and pajamas because of her length.  She's long and skinny, and I know she doesn't get that from me!  She has started eating solids (veggies only at this point) and she's still a bit skeptical of it all--the food, the spoon, the highchair, everything. 
  • Work is CRAZY these days, but I did find time to attend a great blogger dining event recently in my city and see some friends.  Life is great, regardless of the stress and uncertainty at times!
  • My sister is having another baby, and it's a girl!  So, I'm going to be an aunt again, and my parents will be welcoming their third granddaughter in 3 years.  It's insane that they'll all be a year apart in age, but they'll be such great friends.
  • My 14-year-old Miniature Schnauzer recently had to have some teeth removed during her dental cleaning, a cyst removed from her forehead, and we found some tumors in her belly.  Fortunately, they were benign fatty masses, but it still scared me a great deal.  I love that dog like she's my own baby.
  • I barely watched the Super Bowl this year, but was glued to the television during the halftime show.  I loved Katy Perry, but I think Missy Elliott stole the show!!  I hope Missy's on her way back with some new material.
  • I've been missing my normal TV shows, but I've got The Mindy Project, so it's not so bad.  Can you believe the latest development on that show??  I'm NOT going to reveal any spoilers, but this is crazy.  I can't wait to see what happens next!
  • I'm trying to revamp my blog, so you may see some changes around here in the coming months.  I hope you like the new format!
  • I got some new books for Christmas, so I've got some reading goals, health goals and financial goals for this year.  Not that I'm trying to bite off more than I can chew or anything.... I just have to start somewhere!
  • I've got some beauty and subscription box posts back in the works after a number of you mentioned that you missed seeing those.  Gotcha covered, ladies!
I hope you have all had a lovely winter thus far.  I know February weather can be a beast no matter where you live.  Florida weather has been unpredictable but at least there's no snow to shovel! 

Looking forward to sharing more with you this year!

Friday, January 23, 2015


As a busy working mom, I'm always looking for ways to relax and indulge after a tough day or a long workweek.  While some mom's love to go out for happy hour, take a long solo run, or read a book, I've found some of my own little happy spots in recent weeks.

Wine & Sweet Treats

I love a refreshing glass of white wine (in my unbreakable plastic wine glasses, of course) with a sweet treat.  I recently discovered these #DiscoverBrookside Crunchy Clusters, and I'm obsessed with them.  The best part is that one serving is generous at 22 pieces, and the calories and fat aren't that different than a cup of my favorite yogurt.   Winner, winner, chicken dinner!

Spa Treatments

One day I realized that the only time I'm ever really alone anymore is when I'm driving to and from work.  While I love my family and my work, I have to find some time to recharge my own batteries.  Massages have been a good opportunity for this.  They're helpful for loosening my stiff and sore mom muscles.  I also love a good facial, which is necessary now that Winter is here and my skin has become incredibly dry.  I can't wait to have my massage and facial after work next week!


Walking is wonderful, so I've been taking some time during lunch at work to take a walk around campus with a coworker.  We both agree that our walks help to clear our minds and get out our anxious energy.  We've walked a couple of times a week for the past two months, and our goal is to increase our frequency and length of walks this year.  I just need some new sneakers, then we'll really be in business!

Beauty Products

A soothing mask, a long shower using new or favorite products, and trying super luxe new products can make me feel like a million bucks.  Finding time may be tricky, but taking advantage of those quiet moments means the world.  Also, trying new products also makes me feel giddy and excited.  I received some great new products from Allure and Glossybox recently, so it's been play time for mommy when the baby's asleep and the husband is working in the yard.  I've even found some fun and surprising new HG products, so the indulgence has been worth it.

How do you indulge these days?  
Do you find that enjoying your indulgences makes you happy, or do you feel guilty for not doing other things?

I received the Brookside Crunchy Clusters for free to sample from Brookside and Crowdtap.  
As always, my opinions are my own and were not swayed by having received this item for free in exchange for an honest review.  The Crunchy Clusters happen to be delicious, but they didn't require or expect me to write that.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Being Healthy & Being Overweight - They're Not Mutually Exclusive

It's absolutely no secret that I'm a larger woman.  Plus-sized, overweight, plump, fluffy, "more to love", chubby... fat.  It's that last one that seems to sting the most.

Isn't it funny how some words or phrases in our language hurt more than others?  It's usually because the ones that hurt most are the words that are hurled at us as insults or intentional slurs with the greatest regularity.  Somehow, being called "fat" is enough to send some people into an abyss of hysterics and eating disorders.  Being called "overweight" isn't exactly a glowing compliment, but it just feels less offensive.  Am I right?

When I tried online dating many years ago, I was called all kinds of awful words to describe an overweight woman once these guys found out I weighed more than 150 lbs.  It was awful and I'm still surprised that I tried again (which is how I met Hubs!).  I can understand why so many women vow to never use online dating sites again.  Women have also said things like this too, usually to be catty.  All of that shit's got to stop.

As one who has owned a mirror throughout her entire life, I know what I look like.  I can state factually that I am a larger woman, overweight, or whatever else, since I'm a realist.  I'm not being mean to myself by calling out that I'm heavier than my 125 lb friend who insists on telling me how fat she is all the time.  (Which I find insulting in it's own right.)  I'll call a spade a spade, and there's no use in my pretending that I don't know that I'm plus-sized.

I've fought being overweight since I was 6 years old, and have had varying degrees of success in this fight.  In 2007, I set out on a journey to lose weight and lost nearly 100 lbs using Weight Watchers.  By 2012, I had gained half of it back.  By 2014, I had gained all of it back.  Then, I had a baby and added some weight to that number that still hasn't come off 5 months after giving birth.

So, I'm heavier than I've ever been at this very moment.  And you know what?  I don't really care.

I don't hate myself for being overweight.

I don't look in the mirror and think that I look grotesque, disgusting, or ugly.

I truly believe that I'm beautiful on the inside and out.

Anyone who doesn't see that is a fucktard.  (Pardon my French.)

I care about my desire to improve my overall health, and losing weight is a part of my plan for Balance this year.  But losing weight isn't the end-all, be-all.  Good health is what's important to me.  Right now, I'm healthy, but I need to get healthier.  Improved stamina, strength, flexibility, and agility are things I know will be important in helping my little girl grow up.

It's also important to me that my daughter has a mom who is loving, confident, happy, comfortable in her own skin, and promotes health over a fear of being "fat".  A parent's words about the importance of weight and health will shape a child's perceptions of themselves and others for many years, so setting a good example from the start is critical.

A person can be over a doctor's recommended weight but still healthy.  My physician has agreed with this and affirmed my commitment to health rather than a number on the scale, which felt great.  Having a doctor who gets it is worth its weight in gold!

You don't have to be skinny to be healthy.  Skinny people are not necessarily healthy.  While your odds of good health may increase when you weigh less, being overweight and being healthy are not mutually exclusive.  You can be both!

Most of us would concur that losing weight is incredibly difficult.  It's frustrating to work hard all week and not see a change on the scale, or for your clothes to not fit any differently.  You have to make the commitment every day and be accountable, which is the hardest part of all.  I'm certain that I'll continue to work on losing weight throughout my life, but striking a good balance now will be the most important step I can take.

In the meantime, I'm loving every square inch of myself, inside and out, and getting to work on improving my lifestyle.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Welcoming 2015 - The Balancing Act

Happy New Year, friends!  We're now comfortably in 2015, with a whole new year with a fresh outlook. 

As I've said before, I'm not big on resolutions, but my friend Becca inspired me to find a word to focus on and strive for each and every day.  I have decided that my word is Balance.  I want to balance everything in my life so I can be the most successful I can be, whether that be as a mom, a wife, an employee, a leader, a friend, and a family member.  I want to balance a healthy lifestyle with those enjoyable indulgences that I just can't quit.  I want to balance work and home responsibilities, balance time with family and time with friends, and balance my needs with those of my husband and daughter. 

I think we all love the idea of balance, but I don't think we're all so great at actually doing it.  We often find ourselves living in the moment, doing what is fun or exciting rather than what is necessary or responsible, and spending time, energy, money, etc. doing things for short-term gain.  And what does that often get us?  A lifestyle that is out of whack with what we really want both now and in the future. 

My primary areas of focus are going to be on health, relationships and finances.  I go in spurts of great balance, and then I revert back to my old ways too quickly and easily for my liking.  It's going to take work, but breaking a cycle (or pattern or habit) always involves that.  And it's not as easy as a once-a-year resolution.  These are decisions and choices you make each day, even minute-by-minute at times, to choose wisely and ensure that balance is achieved.

Balance is the name of the game, I'm damn it, I'm going to win this year!  Happy 2015!

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Tampa, Florida, United States
I'm a wife, daughter and amazing twin sister. I'm a mom to my adorable dog, Bella. Loves: Shopping, cooking, baking, good grammar and Dave Matthews Band. I'm also a Bath and Body Works addict, a Michigan State Spartans fanatic, and an iPhone aficionado. I see beauty in simple things and little things make me ever-so-happy. Welcome to my world!

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