Friday, October 21, 2016

It's Julia Time!!

Happy Friday, everyone!  This is an exciting weekend as it's Julia Child Night tomorrow!  It's our 8th year of hosting this event, which kind of blows my mind.  It all started with me asking my aunt to help me get a little bit more savvy in the kitchen back in 2009.  The event has changed and grown over the years, and it seems to get better and better each year.

This year we are taking another break from French cuisine. The theme is "U.S. Road Trip" and we will be making small plates with foods from different regions of the U.S. It's going to be so much fun!  I think we'll have close to 30 people in attendance so it will be quite the group. This event has kind of become an early "Thanksgiving" for my mom's side of the family. As everyone's families have grown, we have stopped getting together for major holidays, so I am glad this event gives us an excuse to gather the extended family together!

I thought it would be fun to look back through the ages.

Year 1 - Paella at Aunt Barb's and Uncle Paul's house

It's fun to see how the kids have grown and changed over the years! This is Matthew in year 1.

My aunt, the mastermind behind this event, and me, stirring the paella 
Year 2 - Beef Bourguignon at Aunt Barb's and Uncle Paul's house

The main entree - yum!

My mom, aunt Barb, and me
 Year 3 - Cassoulet at Aunt Barb's and Uncle Paul's house

The main entree with a side of yummy cabbage!
The annual apron photo!
Year 4 -  Coq au Vin at Aunt Barb's and Uncle Paul's house

This little guy, Matthew, has grown so much since the first picture! He's enjoying his ratatouille in this photo!
This potato soup is one of my favorite dishes we've made - love the JC garnish, too!
Year 5 - Pot au Feu at Aunt Barb's and Uncle Paul's house. I was living in Charlotte this year so was VERY happy to be able to come home for the event. I sobbed when my aunt and uncle dropped me off at the airport that year and cried for the entire flight back to Charlotte.  :(

The guys get in on the fun, too!

The salad this year was a Nicoise Salad, which is one of my favorite French dishes!
Year 6 - Chicken Provencal at Aunt Barb's and Uncle Paul's house

The main dish!

The apron photo has REALLY grown over the years!
Year 7 - Julia traveled to the New Orleans region, and the event moved to my brother Kevin's house.

Phil and I at the event last year. He's been to 2 events so is still learning how to pace himself when eating. Last year he had seconds during the amuse bouche course and cleaned his plate - and felt awful afterwards!  It's soooo much food so you really have to pace yourself.

My mom, aunt Barb and me
It's always fun to look back at these photos.  There are so many good memories.  Life has changed so much over those 8 years.  Different jobs, different relationships, I've lived in different cities and homes, different states of contentment with life. But these photos remind me that family will always be my "one true thing." And for that, I'll be forever grateful.  I'm happy to say that today I am probably the  happiest that I've ever been over the course of these last 7 years - which feels good to say.

Tomorrow night we will gather together as a family at my cousin Suzanne's house (Barb and Paul's daughter) and joyfully celebrate our love for fine food and family. But there will be a tinge of sadness as this year's event falls on what should have been my uncle Keith's 61st birthday. We planned this event before his sudden passing in August. His birthday will be a sad and heavy day for our family, so it seems only right that we'll all be gathered together. Our signature drink this year is a simple gin and tonic, which we chose in honor of Keith since it's his favorite cocktail. So tomorrow night, we'll raise our glasses and lift our hearts to him, and take comfort in the company of family. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Bend Trip Part 2

I'm back with part 2 of our trip to Bend. Wednesday afternoon and Thursday were awesome days but I have to say that Friday probably goes down as our worst vacation day together in the history of all trips.  I mean, spending a day together is always wonderful, but things just did not go as planned. Here's how things played out.

On Friday morning, we checked the website for Crater Lake National Park. The website said the roads to the park were open, so after making breakfast, we drove down to the park, which is about 1.5-2 hours away. As we approached the park, we started to notice snow on the ground. The road to the park can be closed when there is snow but we thought it wasn't enough snow to close the park.  Wrongo, batman.  We got to the north entrance of the park and found out it was closed due to snow on the road.  We were both really disappointed as this was the attraction we were most looking forward to seeing.

We turned around and decided to drive the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway. It seems like most people drive it from north to south, but we drove from south to north since we were on the south end of the byway. There are lots of beautiful hikes off the byway so we were planning to stop for a hike. Except when we got up to the area where most of the hikes were, it had started to snow again.  We thought we might be able to make it work because after all, we are tough Minnesotans! But after about 1/2 of a mile on a trail, we turned back.  The combination of snow on the side of the trail with the huge puddles on the trail from all the rain from the past couple of days made for conditions that weren't hikeable - at least not in the trail shoes/tennis shoes we were wearing.  Womp, womp.

Snow and soggy trails (not pictures are the huge puddles we kept encountering)
So we kept driving north towards Bend.  The scenery was absolutely gorgeous. We got out at one point to snap a quick photo.

I was so cold when we took this picture!
As we progressed north and entered the higher elevation area, the snow got heavier and heavier. At one point there was 6" of snow on the unplowed road. We had a dodge dart so were not in the right kind of car for these conditions.

I took this picture when the conditions had 'lightened up'.  It was still snowing very heavily, though!
The real low point of the day, though, was when we hit a lava rock on the road. We didn't see the rock since it was hidden by the 6" of snow on the road.  It made a God-awful sound when we ran over it but we were hoping it didn't do any damage.  As we slowed down when approaching Bend, the car was making an awful noise. When we got to Bend, we stopped to see what was going on. Turns out we stripped off the protective layer of aluminum that lines the undercarriage of the car and we were dragging that piece of aluminum along the road. Good times.

Luckily we were able to swap out our car at an Enterprise in Bend. We are still waiting to hear if we did any real damage to the car. The Enterprise guy said that if we just stripped off the aluminum, we wouldn't be charged anything. Fingers crossed we didn't do any further damage! Phil's insurance policy will cover the damages but we'd like to avoid having to file a claim!

After that, the only thing that was going to make the day better was beer. After leaving Enterprise, we went directly to a local brewery called Crux Fermentation. Luckily they had some Oregon wines available so I was able to have a beverage as well.

Calming himself down with a hoppy beer sampler.
That night we treated ourselves to dinner at Zydeco. They had an amazing GF menu!

On Saturday, we drove back to Portland and met Lauren, her mom and little boy Henry for lunch at a cute restaurant in Salem. I hadn't seen Lauren since our San Francisco running trip in 2014 so it was great to catch up with her, meet her little guy and mom (both of whom I've heard so much about!) and introduce her to Phil! Unfortunately we forgot to take a picture!  Gah! Seeing Lauren makes me wish that we lived closer as we have so much in common and always have a great time together.  I loved seeing her little guy, Henry, too.  He's growing so fast and is such an energetic little guy!

After lunch we headed up to Portland. It was rainy and windy, but we battled the weather and walked around the downtown area. Of course we had to stop at Powell's! It's the largest bookstore in the world - it takes up an entire city block and houses over 1 million books!!!  It's a must-see destination for any book lover.  We had fun walking around the store.  It's incredibly well-curated with lots of shelves and end caps with recommendations. I could have spent hours there. I resisted the temptation to buy any books, but I did buy this t-shirt. It was rolled up in a paper sleeve so I did not look at it before buying it, which I sort of regret as it turns out the shirts fit SUPER SMALL.  I might look into exchanging it but that might be more hassle than it's worth.

After we left Powells, we kept wandering around the city.  There are definitely some more areas that I didn't feel super comfortable walking through. That's not to say that we don't have areas in Minneapolis where I don't feel comfortable walking around. There are certainly areas I try to avoid, but they are more off the beaten path and not in our downtown area, luckily. We were very sad to see the large population of homeless people. I guess that is something we are just not used to dealing with in our super cold northern climate.

We had limited time in Portland so were only able to see the downtown area where we were staying, but we both left with a pretty good impression of the city. I'd like to come back some day and explore more areas, like Washington Park. It was just too wet, windy, and rainy that day to do that.

We enjoyed an awesome Thai meal for dinner and did some more walking around next. Toward the end of our walk, I saw this sign, which for me prompts the question - where are we going to go next?

...  but I already know the answer to that!  I'll be heading to Spain in late November/early December. I'm happiest when I'm planning a trip so I can't wait to do some research on the Andalucia region! I definitely have a stronger desire and interest in travel than Phil does, so while he wishes he could come to southern Spain since it's his old stomping ground, he's ok with hunkering down at home with Oscar while I do some exploring with a great friend. In his defense, we have done quite a bit of traveling this year between our trips to Mexico, San Francisco, and Bend as well as local getaways for 2 weddings in Wisconsin and northern Minnesota!  So we have certainly done quite a bit of traveling together. I just want more more more!  But relationships are all about finding balance, so I'm glad that we've had so many adventures together and am thankful that I have a great friend to travel to Spain with.

Do you  have any trips planned? If so, when and where are you going?  If you are in a relationship, does you and your significant other have a similar interest in traveling?

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Bend Trip Part 1

We are back from our trip to Bend! The weather was definitely not optimal as our visit to Oregon coincided with the arrival of the remnants of Typhoon Songda. So there was heavy rain and high winds for most of our visit. But we made the most of our time there even though the weather was pretty awful.

We arrived on Wednesday morning, got our rental car, and headed to Bend. We stopped on the way at a great Mediterranean restaurant called Nicholas Restaurant in the town of Gresham. We both got lunch bowls which were delicious. They even had GF pitas which is something I have never seen. We would highly recommend this place!

After filling our tummies, we headed down to Bend. The drive was gorgeous as we drove by Mount Hood.

The views on the drive were amazing!
We knew that Wednesday was going to be our only day of sunshine so we stopped at Smith Rock State Park on our way, which was a hike that Lauren had recommended. We did the misery ridge trail, which was super challenging as we hiked up to one of the peaks of this rock formation.

Sizing up the rock formation before our hike

At the base of the hiking trail. I was soooo overdressed as it was warm and sunny!

I'm on top of the world!!  Err, a giant rock!
After getting to the summit point, the trail leveled out and took you to the back of the rock formation. There were great views of the surrounding area.
I talked Phil into taking a picture (he HATES posed photography!).
Eventually the trail wound back down to the river. We took stops along the way so Phil could skip rocks, which is something he just has to do when we are by water!

After our hike, we continued onto Bend, which is about 30 minutes from Smith Rock State Park. As usual, we rented an airbnb for this trip. We stayed here - and below is a picture of the exterior of it.  It's a small home, but perfect for 2 people!  We'd highly recommend it to anyone visiting Bend as the location was perfect.

On Thursday morning, we woke up to rain. Lauren was planning to come over for the day but I told her to stay at home as there was a high wind advisory so I didn't think it would be nice enough for a hike, especially since she'd have her little guy Henry with. So we made plans to see each other on our way back to Bend.

After hemming and hawing about what to do, we decided to brave the rain and hike Tumalo Falls, which is about 30 minutes outside of Bend. This is what we had envisioned that hiking in Oregon would be like as it was so lush, green, and beautiful. You can see the waterfall in the parking area so after snapping some photos there, we headed up the trail.

Phil was very excited to take a photo together as you can tell from this picture
We followed the trail for a couple of miles and saw several waterfalls!

The views of the area were stunning! Of course photos just don't do it justice. I kept saying, "this area is beautiful!!"

After hiking for awhile, we headed back to Bend, got cleaned up and grabbed lunch. At 2 pm we did a tour of the Deschutes Brewery. The tour was very interesting, even for someone like me that doesn't drink beer. After the tour, you get to sample 4 different beers. They had homemade ginger ale and rootbeer for the non-beer drinkers, which were very good.

The brewery was HUGE. I can't remember how much beer they produce a year but it's A LOT! They are also the 2nd highest purchaser of hops, 2nd to Sierra Nevada.
That evening we went to dinner and then came back to our house and relaxed for the rest of the day! The next day ended up being quite interesting, but I'll tell you about that in my next post!

Have you visited the Pacific Northwest? I've been to Seattle multiple times, and this was my 2nd trip to Oregon as I was in Portland for the 2010 marathon.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Show Us Your Life: What I Do for a Living

Hey there and happy Monday, friends!  I'm back from vacation and will share photos/stories from our trip soon. But today, I'm kicking off a new post series today called "Show Us Your Life."  My goal is to share tidbits of my life that I might gloss over otherwise. Through this post series, I'll talk about things like how Phil and I handle the division of household chores, how I meal plan, progress we are making on house projects and how I manage my finances.

I'm kicking off this post series with a post about what I do for a living. I briefly reference work, but I have never really delved into what it is that I actually do - mostly because I think it will bore others. But here's a summary of how I fill my work hours each week.

Job Title:  Taxable Fixed Income Client Portfolio Manager

What this actually means:  I am a product specialist that focuses on fixed income investments, or in laymen terms, bonds. There are 2 broad categories of bonds: taxable and tax-exempt (i.e. bonds issues by municipalities); I focus on taxable bonds. I work for an asset management company that manages a wide array of mutual funds as well as some accounts that are managed according to a client's investment policy. I am the liaison between the people who are managing our funds and the sales people/end users. It's my job to understand how our funds are invested, why they are invested in that way, and I have to succinctly explain what is going on with the economy in general as well as every area of the taxable bond market.

So, what exactly are bonds?  Everyone and their mom seems to know what stocks are because it's a bit more of a 'sexy' and interesting investment class. But bonds are sort of the boring sidekick that people don't talk about as much. Which is interesting because the global bond market is nearly twice the size of the global stock market. Plus bonds are an important asset class for our retirement accounts because, in general, the older we get, the more we should invest in bonds v. stocks.  But back to the question at hand. Bonds are basically large loans, but instead of borrowing from a bank, the company or entity (which could be a corporation like Target or a municipality like the State of Minnesota) borrows from a diverse group of investors. For example, in August Google issued $2 billion of bonds, which means they borrowed $2 billion dollars that they will pay back in 10 years from a diverse pool of investors that includes corporations, asset managers, etc. The investors who bought Google's bonds will receive semi-annual interest payments and they will receive their investment back when the bonds mature in 10 years.

But what do you actually do?  There are many facets to my job, but here are the three main ones:

1. I write content. Each week I write a weekly fixed income market date and I also write topical pieces about things going on in the bond market.

2. I answer product- and market-related questions. Our sales people sell funds with exposure to every financial asset class.  There's so much for them to learn and explain that they need subject-matter experts to defer to when they get difficult and detailed questions about bonds or the market in general. Questions I might answer are:  When will interest rates rise?  What's our forecast for interest rates?  What is our projection for the likelihood of a recession?  If interest rates rise, how will various sectors of the bond market perform?  What is our exposure to emerging market debt?  What is our outlook on emerging market debt. And so on and so forth. Luckily I have a portfolio management team that provides their outlook/views on these topics. It would be really hard to answer them on my own.

3. I travel. This is an aspect of my job that will be ramping up in 2017 as my goal is to travel about twice a month. When I travel, I usually travel with a sales person who is trying to get clients, such as financial advisers, to use our funds when investing their client's money. They bring me along so I can provide more detailed information about how our funds are invested, how they've been performing, and what has been driving their performance.

So there you have it - that's what I do, in a nutshell. Did I completely bore you? I don't expect anyone to be interested in what I do for a living, which is why I very rarely talk in specifics about my job!

Ok, it's your turn!  Tell me what you do for a living and give me an explanation of what your job entails - or write your own post and share the link with me!

Monday, October 10, 2016

Scenes from the Weekend

Happy Monday, friends!  This is a short, 2-day week for me as we leave for Oregon on Wednesday morning. The weather forecast is looking pretty craptastic (rain and high winds) so I'm pretty bummed about that but I know that we'll have a great trip even in the weather isn't optimal. I am just hoping and praying that the rain holds off long enough for us to get at least 1 decent hike in!

Luckily, the weather was gorgeous here this weekend. The temperatures have definitely cooled off but we've had lots of sunshine and mild temperatures during the day.  Since I know that our nice days are numbered, I tried to spend as much time outdoors as I could.  Here's how I spent my weekend!

On Friday night, we had a card night with friends so I made this apple crisp recipe for dessert. It is not light in calories or sugar but sometimes you need an indulgent treat! While I was assembling the apple crisp, my sous chef Oscar kept me company. As I said in my photo caption on Instagram, I know some people are probably appalled that we let Oscar on the kitchen counter, but she stays away from the food and likes to be able to observe what is going on. And who can say no to this sweet face?

My sweet shadow
Saturday was a super full day. On Saturday morning, I had my sock knitting class at 10:30 am but before that I swung by the Farmer's Market to pick up the half-share of meat from a local organic farm that we'll be sharing with another friend. I feel good about the source of most of my food but meat was one area that I didn't feel great about, so I am glad we found a reasonably priced farm to purchase meat from!

The knitting class I went to was great. It's very tricky to knit 2 socks at the same time on 2 circular needles, so I am glad the class was small as the instructor was able to spend time getting each of us started. After the class, I went home and Phil instructed me to sit down and relax while he made lunch for us.  I followed his orders.  :)  The rest of Saturday afternoon was filled with things like cleaning out my garden, doing my running intervals, and going to church.

On Saturday evening, I made a special carb-loading meal for Phil since he was running a 10 mile race the next day. Since he loves loves (and I do, too!) I made this simple Pasta Puttanesca recipe (but left out the anchovy paste because I just can't get on board with anchovies). I served the pasta with a salad with more olives and other goodies like cucumbers from my garden and pepperoncini.

We were up bright and early on Sunday morning as Phil's race started at 7 am. I dropped him and his friend off at the start and then met up with my friend Amber. The marathon and 10 mile race end in St. Paul, so we biked over to St. Paul and had breakfast at French Meadow and did some planning for our trip to Spain! We got quite a bit of planning done before heading over to the 23.5 mile area of the marathon course on Summit Avenue. My friend Grace, who I know through blogging, was running the marathon. It was fun to cheer her on.  She looked great when we saw her and ran a super strong race, finishing in 3:12!!  I am in awe of people like her who can maintain that kind of pace (7:20 min/mile) for 26.2 miles!!  Unbelievable!!

After that, we biked back along the mighty Mississippi.  It was a cool morning but the skies were blue. I love biking along this stretch of the Mississippi as it's so picturesque with the skyline of Minneapolis in the background.

The leaves haven't changed as much as they normally would at this time of year, but you can see peaks of orange and red in the photos below.

Sunday afternoon was more slow-paced for me, which was such what I needed. I relaxed on the couch and did some reading. Later in the day, I picked up Grace and we grabbed coffee. I'm really glad we got a chance to chat in person after reading each others' blogs for many years. Plus, she had the same hip surgery as I did so it was nice to talk to someone who has been through the same surgery and has fully recovered.

On Sunday evening, Phil and I watched the debate together. Like all of the debates, it was kind of a train wreck in that it was painful to watch but I just couldn't look away. After that, we headed to bed as I was exhausted from my busy weekend and Phil was exhausted since he ran a strong race on Sunday morning (he finished the 10 mile race in 1:18!).

After my busy weekend, I'm sure glad I have a vacation to look forward to this week!  I'll be back with a vacation recap next week!

How did you fill your weekend? 

Friday, October 7, 2016

5 Things Friday!

Oh Friday, I am so happy to see you!  Here are 5 things that are on my mind/happening in my world these days!

1. So you know how I said I had some vacation days to use up? After a lot of hemming and hawing about what to do, I decided to use some airline miles and take a trip to southern Spain!!!!!  Phil has way less vacation time than I do, and the week that worked best to go is a time that he can't be out of the office so I am going with a friend who also has vacation days and airline miles to use. I haven't been to Europe in 3 years as my last trip was the trip I took to Paris when I was living in Charlotte (which feels like a LIFETIME ago!). I feel a little bit guilty that I am going to Spain without Phil as he studied abroad in Seville in 2003, so he knows the area well and would have been an excellent tour guide. But he fully supports me taking this trip and said we'll do our own trip to Spain some day down the road. Before deciding on Spain, my friend Amber and I had considered a lot of different destinations, but then I found this itinerary and after reading through that, we were totally SOLD on Southern Spain! We'll spend 3 nights in Seville, 3 nights in Granada, and 1 night in Madrid.  Eeeeks, I am so excited!!

2. But before I get up to my eye-balls in trip planning for Spain, my focus is on finalizing our plans for our trip to Bend next week!  Phil and I fly into Portland on Wednesday morning and will spend Wed-Sat in Bend (~3 hours from Portland) and then will head back to Portland for a night before flying out on Sunday. I'm really excited to spend 5 days exploring the northwest with my favorite person. I'm really glad my hip has healed enough so I can go for hikes. I can't wait to spend lots of time outdoors. Plus Bend looks like such a charming city with lots of cute restaurants and soooo many breweries (which Phil is excited about since he loves microbrews). Hopefully the weather will be nice, but whatever happens, I know we'll have a great trip.

3. Now that it's cooler outside, I've been in knitting mode! Last week I finished a winter hat for myself and now I'm working on a scarf for Phil's mom which I'll give her as part of her Christmas gift. Tomorrow I am going to a class at a local yarn store to learn how to make 2 socks at the same time on 2 circular needles (versus making one sock at a times - it's supposedly easier/faster). Then on Monday I start a 6-week crocheting class through the local community ed program. I'm excited to learn some new skills!

4.  This weekend is marathon weekend in the Twin Cities. It boggles my mind to think that I ran a PR last year at this time and this year I'm approaching my 8th month of not being able to run. Life sure can change in the course of a year. But now that I've been cleared to run, I'm feeling a lot less down about where I am fitness-wise than I would have been if I hadn't been cleared to run yesterday!!!

5. I have a fun weekend ahead of me! Tonight we are getting BBQ take-out and playing cards with another couple. Tomorrow I'm going to the gym to get my treadmill intervals in (!!!) and then to my knitting class in the morning, cleaning out my garden and doing some household chores in the afternoon (i.e. adulting), and in the evening I'm making a special pasta dinner for Phil as he's running the 10 mile race on Sunday morning. On Sunday I'll cheer on Phil and the marathoners, and then I'm going on a bike ride with the friend I'm going to Spain with and afterwards we are going to try to book some of our accommodations! Should be a fun weekend!

What do you have planned for this weekend?

Thursday, October 6, 2016

I RAN!!!!

Happy Thursday, everyone!  I had a PT appointment this morning and was expecting the usual routine of lots of different PT exercises that assess my strength and fatigue my hip/core muscles. But after my therapist assessed the strength of various hip muscles, she decided today was the day for me to try running!!!!  It's a very gradual return to running as I walked 4 min @ 3pm/ran 1 min @ 5pm x 4, but I will take what I can get!

I have been feeling pretty down about the length of my recovery so it's nice to see the light at the end of the tunnel!!  She gave me some new exercises to add into my routine and cleared me to do the walk/run combo every other day for a week and then if I am feeling ok, I can shift to walk 3 min/run 2 min, and then we will go from there!

It's been nearly 8 months since I last ran, but it sure felt good to run for 4 minutes!

So it's an especially happy Thursday for me!!!!!!