Wednesday, February 24, 2016

What's Happening {Birthdays & Chinese New Year!}

February the month of birthdays for us!  So many friends and family have celebrations including myself and my daughter this month.  My daughter Gabby's 4th birthday was this past Friday so we did a small breakfast celebration with family on Saturday.

Friday I made her a princess cake that she had seen on YouTube. Yes, you read that right....she saw it and asked me to watch the video of how to make it so she could have it for her birthday! Kids these days...... 

So here she is (don't laugh - I tried!):

Okay, so not exactly like they show on the YouTube video, but my daughter LOVED her and that was perfect for me! 

Gabby was thoroughly impressed by my baking skills :)

 We decided to have cake before dinner to celebrate Gabby. Now let me explain this younger daughter, Lily, (crying on the right hand side of the pic) had just been told by daddy that she couldn't blow out the candles because it was Gabby's birthday. Her feelings were very hurt!

Now let me back track for a minute. First thing that morning we let Gabby open her gifts from us - this was about 6am because she insisted on getting up early on her birthday! 

The one she was most excited about was her Barbie pool. She is always grabbing bowls and filling them with water to let her Barbie dolls "swim". The bowls always get spilled so I was excited to get a properly weighted pool for those Barbie dolls :)

 Lily was just as excited as her sister about the birthday gift!

On Saturday morning her Uncle Jeremy, Aunt Amy, cousins Mason and Cooper, Grandma Jeannie and her birth mom, Michelle, and her son, Maison came to celebrate Gabby's 4th birthday. 
We had a fun and yummy brunch where I made an egg bake (get the recipe here - it was great!), bacon, sausage, scrambled egg patties for all the kiddos, biscuits and waffles with all the fun toppings. 

Then, as if that wasn't enough, we still had half of her birthday cake left from the night before so we stuck candles back in the princess skirt, sang and let her blow out candles again!

She is TOO much!! 

So after all the activity of the last 24hrs. I needed to just sit and relax (and reflect on how grateful I am for this crazy life and my incredible daughter who I can't believe just turned 4 and I love with all my heart!). This picture just makes me think I need to do this more often than I do. It is by far one of my favorite things do to relax for sure. Even though this last about all of 5 minutes....
(Apparently our poodle was worn out too ;)

So then later that same day we got to go celebrate Chinese New Year with Families with Children from China (Greater Cincinnati Chapter) with some of our friends.
 Last year we had the celebration at our house and it was really amazing. We had just brought Lily home a few months before and we thought staying closer to home would be better with some of the challenges she was having at that time.
Lily and her sweet friend from last year's party at our house. Both had just recently joined their families :)
Kiddos of the families who attended our Chinese New Year celebration 2015

This year enjoying the celebration with many of our friends that had come to our house the year before was great, but someone else did all the work this time :) Sometimes I realize I truly can NOT do it all!! 
And here is my clan (minus the oldest) ready to go celebrate!
Here we are at the event: Me, my daughter Lily, our Au Pair Morgan, Middle son Max ,youngest son Parker and our sweet Gabby up front :)

Waiting our turn in line to get into the celebration.

This is Liliana pointing to the flag we just put on the map that marks her home province of Jiangsu, China. All the flags on here had been placed by other adopted children of all ages that were celebrating Chinese New Year here together tonight with their families. It was absolutely beautiful. 

 Here are the traditional Lion Dance. It was so beautiful and the kids just loved it - of course that probably had something to do with the fact that the lions kept throwing them candy!

Here is the beginning of the Dragon Parade. This was so fun and all the kids loved joining in the parade with the Dragon around the gymnasium. 

And here is me trying to lead Gabby on because she had just stopped (essentially holding up the entire parade!) because she was taking her shoes off - notice one is missing?  Lily isn't far behind us in the bright pink Chinese dress :)

Lily was very happy with the dinner we got to enjoy!

 Look at these cuties! Ranging from about 18 months to 4 years old, these little ones have all come home within the last year and a half. It is amazing to see them all celebrating in America together and thinking back to the months and months me and all their mommas met at Starbucks to catch up on where we all were in the adoption process and pray for each other through the process. Sniff, sniff....

And here are all those amazing mommas (China Moms Group)!  What an amazing journey to share together. Now these kiddos (and a few others that weren't able to make it that night) have play dates together.  What an amazing life this is!

Our family has been so blessed by adoption (both domestic and international) and the celebrations we took part in this weekend alone are proof of that. If any of you reading this have questions about adoption, have adopted or just want to talk about it please don't hesitate to contact me. I am passionate about adoption. There is more than one way to build a family and adoption is one of the best! 

Thanks for reading and enjoy the rest of your week.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Valentine's Day Dinner (and winner for give away!)

What a jammed packed week this past week was! It was mostly good stuff though and it was fun to end the weekend on such an up note with our Valentine's day celebration. 
Sunday is our "family day" around here and we typically have a big Sunday dinner every week. With Valentine's day falling on Sunday it made the perfect day for me to celebrate the "loves" in my life and I was so excited to do it. I just love a good excuse for a fun themed party any day!!

I just had to throw this picture in there. This is my youngest daughter (3 yrs old) watching the fire I had just lit before our guests arrived. She is such a precious girl - just look at that face!

I would love to share with you what our celebration and dinner included as it was a huge hit with young and old alike.

Our breakfast and hearth room. I had set out the kid's "affirmation books"  (read more about those below) on the breakfast table as we had originally planned for them to eat dinner in here, but in the end we moved everyone into the dining room and enjoyed our dinner in there - all 11 of us :)
It was dumping snow on us outside so we had a warm fire burning in the fireplace and the house smelled so good with the aroma of the roast cooking.

The kids especially loved the conversation hearts left out in the middle of the table....who needs real food when you can just eat and endless supply of sugar?! 

Our guest list included my five children (ages 14, 12, 9, 4 & 3 years old), my husband, my mother and father in law, my mom who was in from out of town and staying the night with us and our Au Pair, Morgan.

I had really wanted a fun, festive and love filled environment and I think it was accomplished. It was snowing outside - we ended up getting about 3 inches total - so everything seemed that much more warm and cozy inside. 

Our dining room - can you see all the beautiful snow falling outside and covering the trees? It was so beautiful :)

 In my dining room mixed a few quick and easy festive ideas I had collected off Pinterest. I used plastic cups filled with conversation hearts to hold tea light candles in the center of the table. I also took some heart garland and placed it in the center on the glass "lazy susan" where our dinner platters, etc would be sitting. I also put our personalized "affirmation books" in the center which I moved onto to eat person's place setting just before dinner was served. 

Just before I put dinner on the table I asked everyone to come on into the dinning room and take a seat.  Everyone had their own personalized (I wrote their names on the front with a sharpie! ;) "Affirmation Book" at the place setting and they were asked to take theirs and pass it to the left. Once they had done this they were instructed to write a positive word, sentence, etc. about the person who's book it was and then pass it again to their left. We did this until everyone had written something in everyone else's book and they had their own book back. It took about 10 minutes. 
What a way to "spread the love"! 

While they were completing this I put all the food in the center of the table so we could dig into dinner.

The "Affirmation Books" were just little pocket notebooks purchased at Michael's Craft store the day before the party and had cost about $1.00 for a pack of 10. They were great to write little messages in and made the perfect pocket or purse sized reminder of why you are LOVED! 

Everyone taking a moment to write in each other's book....I love this so much! Even my 3 & 4 year old girls scribbled a message in each person book :)


Messages from some of the different books....

This is my youngest daughter's book. She can't read one bit, but we read what everyone wrote to her and she is still carrying the book around with her 2 days later (she's 3 yrs old!). She has even almost worn off the permanent marker on the front! If you doubt the power of a kind, loving and affirming word to others then just look at her example. Just knowing what is written in this book is good enough for her! 

We enjoyed a roast that I had slow cooking for about 8 hours for dinner. It is probably the best roast recipe I have ever made and it is super easy. This was the second time I have made it and I did it with a bigger roast than normal this time (4 1/2lb), but it is still the same basic process. 
I usually take about a 2-3lb rump roast (use grass fed beef if you can find it - it does make a difference in how it cooks and taste) and brown it in a skillet on med-high with olive oil and salt and pepper. Once all sides at browned I place it in a slow cooker. It the same skillet I browned the roast I pour about 1/2 cup of red wine (not cooking wine - I typically use a Malbec and then serve the rest with dinner) and 1/2cup to 1 cup of bone broth (homemade chicken or beef stock that I keep on hand) and scrape all the bits and pieces from the bottom of the pan until it's all free mixing well with the liquid. This usually only takes about 4-5 minutes. 
Pour that in the slow cooker over the roast. Throw in 2 onions that I've peeled & sliced into eighths, 6-8 full sized carrots that have been chopped into 3-4" pieces and 2-3 minced cloves of garlic. Liberally salt and pepper everything once it's in the slow cooker and cover on low for 6-8 hours. When you pull it out to serve it will be falling apart and will melt in your mouth! It is the perfect old fashioned beef pot roast - truly. Sorry I didn't take a picture of it. Maybe I'll add a pic next time I make it :)

Actually the only part of dinner I took a picture of the cornbread - I forgot to take dinner pictures before everyone started digging in so this is the only one I have and it's half gone by the time I get the pic - LOL!

This cornbread is worth mentioning because it is my guests' favorite every time. My oldest son can not have gluten (and I avoid it most of the time) so I started buying this a few months ago. It is just so so yummy and better than any other cornbread I have ever made in the past.  If you haven't tried it you need to! 
It is available at Whole Foods, Fresh Thyme and even in my Kroger in their "healthy & organic" section so I would think you can find it many places now. 

 After dinner we enjoyed a few homemade treats and coffee. 

For dessert I made peanut butter chocolate hearts, heart shaped Rice Krispies Treats and strawberry jello cups topped with whip cream and strawberries. 
For the jello cups I used this recipe and it turned out great and they were so cute (sorry I didn't get a good picture of them).  I doubled the recipe so everyone at the party had one and they went fast so I was glad that I did! 

The Rice Krispies hearts were the basic recipe (find it here), but I added a little more marshmallows than it called for (maybe a couple extra handfuls) & one drop of red food coloring that I didn't mix in all the way in order to give it the uneven color. I pressed the mixture between two sheets of parchment paper until they were the thickness I wanted and then I used a heart shaped cookie cutter to cut them out. I had to work fast because once the mixture starts drying in it really hard to work with.  As soon as I cut them out I sprinkled a little Valentine sprinkle mixture of candy hearts and red/pink/white jimmies. 
After they were cut out and awaiting some sprinkles.

All covered up in plastic wrap to stay nice and fresh until after dinner - They turned out so cute!

For the chocolate peanut butter hearts I followed this recipe I found on Pinterest. The only variations was I didn't put the salt on the chocolate coating, I used Ghirardelli milk chocolate chips, a cookie cutter to cut out the heart shapes and I added the same heart & pink/red/white jimmies sprinkle mix that I had used on the Rice Krispie treats on the chocolate. 

The key to being able to cut them out was using a metal cookie cutter (like these or I used these exact ones) and getting the consistency right. I messed around with the milk/sugar ratio a few times until I got it right.

These turned out amazing and were definitely the biggest hit! I have to say that I have never had a peanut butter chocolate candy that was better and I have always made a pretty "mean" buckeye (think I may be switching up my recipe! ;)
My son's 14 y/o friend was over after dinner and after he ate one (then two and three.... ;) he asked me repeatedly if I made them. Asking, "so, you actually mixed everything up and really made them? Like, you made the peanut butter hearts and put chocolate on them? You didn't buy these, right? They are amazing! " LOL

So that is pretty much it for our Valentine's Day dinner and LOVE celebration! I hope that you had a wonderful weekend and were able to celebrate love this weekend as well. 

And now DRUM ROLL please...........The winner of the $50 gift certificate from my Romantic Getaway and Giveaway post is:

Janet B. from Monroe, OH

Congrats Janet!  I have sent you and email per your linked contact info. I hope you also check back here and see that you have won. Please contact me by Friday so I can get your certificate out to you  :)

Have a great week everyone!

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Romantic Getaway (and GIVEAWAY!)

In the spirit of love and the upcoming Valentine's day I thought it would be a perfect time to discuss the details of the romantic stay my husband and I just had at an Ohio Bed & Breakfast (our first time at a b&b!) Tuesday night for my birthday.  The Bed & Breakfast he chose, Hide Away Country Inn, was about a two and a half hour drive north from our house here in Cincinnati, OH in a town called Bucyrus, OH.  It was just outside of Delaware County, Ohio and was such a beautiful and scenic trip along the Olentangy River.

I want to give you a review of our trip and stay because the b&b we stayed at was generous enough to provide us with a gift certificate for $50.00 to be used in the following year toward your two night stay. I am excited to be able to pass this along to someone who would also like to try this place out. You won't be disappointed!
 Read on and see if this is a trip you would like to enjoy and I'll tell you how you can enter to win the $50 gift certificate and how you can enjoy a beautiful room, a private massage, room service, a private hot tub or private candlelit couples dinner and so much more!

My hubby blocked out his schedule from Tuesday (day before my birthday) at 12:30 through all day Wednesday. We had about a two and a half hour drive north to get to our bed & breakfast, Hide Away Country Inn, so we left around 1pm so we could take our time getting there for the 4pm check-in(we both love a relaxed road trip!).

We stopped at Dunkin' Donuts so I could grab my "free birthday coffee" before getting on the road.
I don't stop to get Dunkin' very much anymore (since I started drinking my coffee black I usually just make it at home now) so it was fun to be "treated" for my birthday even if I know longer enjoy their creamer in my brew :)

We decided to take the little longer route so we could enjoy the drive and the scenery through parts of Ohio that we had never seen before.
I had to throw in this pic of my super handsome date driving me to our "getaway"!

Along the way we made a few little stops like Cracker Barrel...not to eat, but to take a potty break and to shop through the little store without the kids!  I know that is silly, right?! Can I tell you how much I enjoyed that?!! There are always so many fun things to look at, but I can never really take it all in because I am typically chasing 3 year olds around telling them to put everything down. Sometimes it's the little things!
Back on the road we enjoyed the beautiful scenery on the Ohio countryside. It was so peaceful and we saw so many beautiful farms. It was just so relaxing and peaceful.

Do you see the train in the distance? It was so cool to watch it stretch across the horizon like that.

And around 4pm we arrived at Hide Away Inn....

The grounds were really beautiful...even this time of year! 
The home and farmstead was built in the 1930's and retained much of it's original elements which adds to the charm. You can read all about the history of it here. As Realtors, my husband and I both really love homes and especially historic homes. I don't want the upkeep of owning one, but I LOVE to visit them, tour them and stay in them when I can. This place definitely fit the bill for the history we love to take in. 

After checking in we brought in our bags, settled into our room (we stayed in the Serenity Garden suite) and started exploring. 
 Hall and side entrance where we brought our bags in after checking in at the main desk. 

Serenity Garden is one of the smaller rooms at the Inn, but we chose it because we liked the decor of the room over some of the others and it featured a private deck with a hot tub that would be perfect for relaxing after dinner! We wanted to stay in the main house, but there are many other rooms to stay in if you prefer a larger suite and don't have to be in the main house.

There are 4 rooms in the main or Manor House with our room being one of them. You can also choose from the original master suite called the "Smith room" or two other rooms located in the same hallway. 
There is another large building that houses several "loft suites" and even an apartment type 2-story suite. Prices start around $150 per night and range to about $400 per night depending on the room/suite. You can view them all here.

I would say that we had a really great experience with our room. The only downside was that the room is on the southwest corner and it was a very windy night. Couple those things with the fact that this is a home built in the 1930's and it was a quite noisy. Mother Nature made it a bit difficult for me to sleep very well.  Thank God for a super cozy bed and linens as they mostly made up for the relentless wind noise. 

Checking out the guestbook in our room while enjoying the wine and cheese. It's always fun to read about other people's experience when staying somewhere.

After relaxing for a bit we decided to change for dinner and head down to explore around a little in the main house.

The hallway and landing right outside our room. Mostly original interior including the floors and was decorated with many antiques that really added to the romantic ambiance of the place.

Stairway leading down to the main floor and entry area. Off of the vestibule you could take a hallway that led to the library, the dining room, the parlor or the breakfast nook.

This was the main dining area that had been set for dinner that evening. The Inn was full so there was lots going to be happening in this dining room soon! 
The door in the back of the room led to a pub built onto the backside of the Inn. It was complete with a full service bar and tv's.  Some of the guests were gathering in there for a drink before dinner. 

 And then it was time for us to head to dinner. We were escorted to another room down the hall - the library - which had been the original owners personal office. They had set us up a white linen covered table, a romantic fire in the wood burning fireplace, made sure soft love songs were playing and had the entire room lit with candles. It was over the top in ambiance and the most PERFECT setting for a romantic dinner for two!

This was something I had only seen in the movies and here I was with my amazing husband having this intimate and over-the-top romantic dinner. I would highly recommend that you do this if staying here for a romantic get away. We enjoyed the 5 course meal and spent 2 full hours talking and enjoying each other's company. Perfection.....

Let me talk a little about the food. First, I want to say that while we are not completely gluten free and I specifically do not have a gluten allergy, my son does, so we are a mostly gluten free family for him. I have learned that I feel SO much better when I avoid gluten but that is not always super easy to do when eating out because it's hard to be certain what they put in the sauces, etc.  The cool thing about Hide Away Inn is that the owner is gluten free so they have a *mostly* gluten free menu and feature a "farm to table" type menu. 
For our 5 course private dinner the executive chef chose our menu and did let us know that he kept it gluten free for us which was awesome! We enjoy smoked cheddar fritters with apples and strawberries, chicken satay skewers with a peanut sauce, salad with scallops for me and chicken for my husband and our main course was beef tenderloin in a wine demi glace and mushrooms with green beans and baked potato. Our desserts were creme brulee for the hubby and I had this beautiful flourless chocolate torte with vanilla ice cream on top and a raspberry sauce - it was so good! 

 My husband and I do a lot of dinning at very nice restaurants for our date nights (we own a "relationship improvement" based company, HDHK, and our second app to be released later this year is a dating app so we are busy doing research on all the great places couples can spend a date so it comes with the territory!). So I realize that we may be a little tough on places sometimes. 
Having said that, I think that most would find this to be a very good dinner with the emphasis on customer service and a beautiful and unique setting. 
My favorite dishes were the salad with scallops and the flourless chocolate torte. The executive chef at the Inn visited our table a couple of times personally throughout the meal and really wanted to know how we were enjoying ourselves. I think that goes along way. He truly seemed to care that we were enjoying what he was sending out for our special dinner.  
They also do wine tastings, cooking classes and their 1938 Restaurant and Pub is open to the public and quite well rated.

After dinner we headed back up to our room for some board games. Yep, you read that right. I wanted to play a board game!  My husband and I really enjoy playing a few different boards games and he had brought along one of my favorites for us to enjoy. It's fine, I'm a nerd and I'm okay with that :)We so rarely find the uninterrupted time to play at home (not sure it's possible with 5 kids at home!) so this was a super fun treat for me! 

This one is called Carcassonne and is one of the many Rio Grande games we love.

And just as we began playing there was a knock at the door. Angie, the girl who took care of during our entire stay, had brought us up some strawberries for my birthday! It was so sweet and they went very well with our after dinner wine :)
After the game we enjoyed some time in the hot tub on our deck. I have to say that while it was very nice it was also super COLD outside!  The Inn provides you with super luxurious robes which were perfect for trekking out in the cold to the hot tub, but the wind was brutal and we didn't stay out there long. Even so by the time we came in I had ice crystals hanging from the back of my top knot! I think it was in the teens and probably colder than that with the windchill. 

The next morning we were able to enjoy sleeping in long past the typical 6:30am wake time at our house and even enjoyed fresh brewed coffee that they had waiting just outside our door in a stainless steel 
carafe for us when we awoke :)

It even came with the sweet note - it was my birthday morning!! Coffee in bed....aaaahhhh, perfect :)

I did step out to the deck for one last view of the beautiful countryside and creek that ran alongside our room before heading down for breakfast!

Breakfast is served late here (9-11am) so we didn't head down to eat until about 10am. It was quiet and we were the only ones in the dining room at that time.  The breakfast nook is situated in the home's original dining room and adjoins the larger room where dinner is served so the french doors can be opened up to allow for more guests at once. 

The views over the gardens and surrounding land here were really beautiful even during this frozen time of year.

A two course breakfast comes with your stay and it is chef's choice this morning. We enjoyed yogurt with house made granola for our first course and then scrambled eggs, bacon (super thick and yummy!) and home fries for the main course. I'm not a super big breakfast person so I really didn't eat more than a couple of bites of the eggs and all of the bacon :)  Of course, more super fresh coffee was served, too.  

I was even able to purchase one of the handmade Hide Away Inn coffee mugs to take home with me. One of the only things I collect are coffee mugs from places I have been - if I find a really good one that I love. This one is from Deneen Pottery and is the second Deneen Pottery mug I am adding to my collection (first one was from Another Broken Egg Cafe in Destin, Florida).

Check-out is at noon here so we pushed it to the last minute and checked out at pretty much noon on the dot! We wanted to take yet another scenic route on the way home so we mapped a new way and saw some really gorgeous scenery along the Olentangy River through Delaware County - this time from the other side of the river than the way we came in. 

 Bridge across the river was flanked by an old railroad bridge that was now converted into a walking trail. It was really beautiful in person.

 I feel like this should be an advertisement for Land Rover - ha!  Maybe I could get some incentives...are you listening my local dealership - Cincinnati LR?! :)

The Olentangy River to our right.... There were stunning homes and estates ranging from 100+ year old farmsteads to brand new construction for miles along this river.

We took a leisurely pace on our way home too and made a final stop at the Tanger Outlets about an hour and a half from home so that I could get some orange creams and raspberry creams from Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory! I haven't had these in a couple of years and was so excited to be passing by during hours they were open.  

Some of the most delicious chocolate creams are in the is bag! I can never decide on my favorite flavor. When I eat an orange cream I swear it is the best, but then when I eat a raspberry cream I always exclaim that is the favorite. This time I even bought one milk chocolate covered caramel. I haven't tried it yet, but I have a feeling there may be a new favorite :)

And then we arrived home just in time to take the family out to dinner at our favorite local Mexican place before coming home to enjoy some homemade "brookie" cake and my beautiful family singing me "Happy Birthday"! :)

Look at this amazing group! From left to right: Lily (3yrs), Morgan (our au pair), Max (12yrs), Gabby (3yrs), Parker (9 yrs), Tanner (14 yrs) and Derek (my incredible husband!).....singing before I blow out the candles on my famous (infamous?) birthday **"brookie" cake! 

**this is a homemade chocolate chip cookie and brownie cake that I top with my own homemade vanilla frosting. I have made a version of this for years for almost everyone's birthday. It is almost always the requested treat by all of my kids in one version or another. One of them likes it "double doozie" style (vanilla frosting in-between two layers of chocolate chip cookie cake). Another likes just chocolate chip cookie cake with vanilla and milk chocolate frosting decorating it.  Another one likes it like this with half brownie and half chocolate chip cookie where the middle overlaps and you half a section of "half & half" topped with vanilla frosting. The options are almost endless and we LOVE these!  This one was gluten free and totally amazing!!! :)

Okay, so that wraps up our completely relaxing, seriously fun and adventures romantic birthday celebration night away.  Now for THE GIVEAWAY!  
I have for you a $50 gift certificate to use toward a two-night stay at Hide Away Country Inn good for anytime until Feb. 2017 courtesy of  Hide Away Country Inn!

All you have to do to win is like Four Seasons Style Facebook page and either leave a comment here or on Facebook  or private message me on Facebook letting me know you would like to win the contest. 
I will draw one lucky RANDOM winner on Valentine's Day (it is the day of romance and love) and announce it here by Tuesday morning so check back! 

Thanks for reading and I hope you have a wonderful weekend of love!