Friday, January 16, 2015

A Family of Five

This post has been long overdue (almost a year to be exact). Hank could never bring himself to write about Marley's passing (she was, after all, his favorite girl), and our recent loss of our dear cat Bailey prompted me to finally write a tribute to them.

Just one short year ago, we were a family of 2 humans, 3 dogs, and 2 cats. When Hank and I first combined our animal households, I think we just assumed that Bailey the cat would be the first animal we would have to say goodbye to. She was the oldest (around 15 at the time) and it just seemed logical.

Little did we know that we would receive the unexpected news at the end of last February that Marley the Beagle (age 12) had a bleeding tumor, and was beyond repair. There was literally nothing that could be done to save her. We could recognize that she was slowing down and not eating as much, but when we took her in to the vet, we were not expecting the news that we got. Hank called me in tears, and we went to pick her up so that we could have some more time with her.

We made a stop at McDonald's to get her a burger and fries, and headed to the nearest dog park. She gobbled up her food, soaked in the sun, and enjoyed all of the attention we gave her. Looking back at these pictures, I can see just how frail she had gotten. But it's hard to recognize in real time, and even harder to say goodbye. We stayed with her until the very end, and shed many tears over our sweet Marley girl.

The Holland House: Marley Girl

The Holland House: Hank and Marley
Just a couple of weeks before we had to say goodbye to Marley, we were fortunate enough to have family pictures taken. I can't tell you how much these mean to us- seeing our canine family all together. (Now if only I could get around to having them put on canvas so we can hang in our house.)

The Holland House: The Holland Family

Over this past year, Bailey stayed strong until just a few months ago. She has had a thyroid issue for the past several years, but we have been able to manage it with medication. She was no longer the "full figured" girl of her youth, but she still had plenty of spunk! (See picture of her on the kitchen counter- we still don't know exactly how she did that.)

The Holland House: Bailey the Cat

You can read more about how Bailey and I first met here, but the short story is that she was abandoned at an apartment complex, and meowed on my doorstep one night until I finally let her in. She's been with me for almost my entire adult life! She snuggled with me through every heartbreak, never fussed when we moved (12 times!), and adapted to just about everything I threw her way (including plenty of foster dogs and kittens).

For about the past month, we could really see her health start to decline. She was losing more weight, had an eye scratch that just wouldn't heal, and wasn't getting around as easily as she had been. We've seen the vet multiple times, and on her recent visit on Monday, he felt that it was time. It's likely that her thyroid issue had been masking some kidney decline, and she was severely dehydrated. Given her age (18+), we wanted to avoid her having to suffer any pain. So we took her home for one last night of snuggling, and said a tearful goodbye on Tuesday evening. She was MY girl, but had somehow made a cat lover out of Hank, too. We both miss her a ton.

The Holland House: Bailey and Katie
Bailey's last night at home

Rather than remember her scruffy looks of recent times, I have this picture out to remind me of the beautiful, kind, and sometimes quirky cat that she was. We've been through a lot together, and I hope I did right by her in the end.

The Holland House: Bailey the Cat

So now we're a family of five. 2 humans, 2 dogs, and 1 cat. It feels weird, and a little quiet at times (even though Maddie and Brees keep us entertained). Given our upcoming fertility treatment, I'm not sure if now is the time to add another family member. But something tells me when the time is right, something will find its way to us.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Orange Is the New Fit

I'm not really big on making resolutions (unless you count finally finishing our kitchen remodel as one). I just love that every January 1st is a fresh start to get my act together. This year is no different.

In lieu of Christmas presents, Hank and I decided to make a (real) commitment to fitness. We both turn 40 this year, and staying fit has been a huge challenge. Yes- we run, but lately that has been about it. We're lacking muscle and tone, and it's time to do something about it (again). So we joined a gym together! It's a brand new facility called Orange Theory, and they recently opened one about 5 minutes from our house. There were several things about Orange Theory that were enticing for us.

1) It's an organized class that meets on set days/times.
2) While the monthly rate isn't cheap, we did at least get a promotional rate for signing up early.
3) It's heart-rate monitored, which feeds our ridiculous competitiveness.

It was important to me that we find a way to do this together, so I loved that we could put a Monday/Wednesday class on our shared calendar, and make a "date" out of it. The 50-ish minute classes are arranged in two sections- one half is intervals on a treadmill, using the orange heart rate range as a goal, and the other half is spent between rowing machines and weights. The instructors change it up so that each class is a little different. The music is loud and fun, you burn a ton of calories, and we get to spend time together doing something other than drinking/eating/sitting on the couch. It's a total win!

The Holland House: OrangeTheory Fitness
Photos by OrangeTheory Fitness

Over the holiday break we fit in 2 classes together, and after each class you get an email summarizing your workout. I averaged about 550 calories per class, while Hank burned 800+. The great part about working out in a specific heart rate zone is that you continue to burn more calories throughout the day. The classes are challenging, but not so much that I can't move the day after. I'm sore, but it's a good kind of sore.

The Holland House: OrangeTheory Fitness

We're committed to classes for January/February, and then we'll revisit our plan at that point. I have access to an $8 a month gym at work, so it doesn't really make sense for me to continue this year round. But if it kick starts better habits and gets me back into the gym at work, then it's another win. We're looking forward to working our butts off, literally, for the next two months. I'm hoping we'll have some good results to share at that time.

Has anyone else heard or, or use, this program? Curious to hear your thoughts.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

A Very Merry December

I have been off of work for the past two weeks, and had every intention of catching up on the blog. Obviously, that didn't happen. The first week was spent with family for Christmas, and this past week I've stayed busy with random things. So now I need to find a way to recap the holidays without creating the longest post ever. I promise I'll do my best.

First up- I'd be remiss if I didn't mention how much I loved my trip to Apple headquarters in Cupertino, CA. While the timing made for a really hectic Christmas, it was such an amazing experience. I stayed at The Inn at Saratoga, and highly recommend this for a little weekend getaway. The town of Saratoga is adorable- there are so many shops and restaurants within walking distance of the hotel, not to mention some great hiking nearby. I hope that Hank and I have the chance to go back sometime. The work portion of the trip was highly productive. Unfortunately, Apple doesn't allow many pictures taken on campus, so this is all I've got.

The Holland House: Cupertino, CA

I flew back home on my birthday, but didn't actually get home until 1:15am the next day. I did my best to sleep in, but it just wasn't happening. I got dressed in time to meet Hank and friends for our typical Saturday morning breakfast at Taco Deli. The rest of the day was a crazy blur. We went to our friend Bonnie's mid day Christmas party (she had a really sweet cake for me), I did my best to make 4 dozen cookies, and then got dressed to celebrate my birthday with Hank at a new restaurant- Jacoby's.

I had been looking forward to this meal for weeks, and it did not disappoint. There is a Jacoby family ranch in the Texas Hill Country, and one of their sons wanted to open an Austin restaurant. The concept is ranch to table- so all of of their meat comes from the family ranch. The service was spectacular, as was the food. We sat out on their patio and enjoyed deviled eggs, chicken fried steak, mac and cheese and green beans. It was all so delicious! On our way out through their mercantile shop, I happened to see Wendy Davis, former gubernatorial candidate. I am a huge fan, and asked if she would mind taking a picture with me. She was so friendly and warm, and it just made my night even better. (Side note- I knew when we headed out for dinner that I should have fixed myself up a little more. I was so tired though, and opted not to. Seeing this picture ensures that I'll never make that mistake again.)

The Holland House: Amy and Wendy

On Sunday, we got together with my family for our annual Christmas cookie decorating, and a birthday celebration for me and my brother Blake. The cookie decorating was a practice run of sorts for a class that I want to teach next month. So I *might* have gone a little OCD in setting everything up. But our cookies turned out great, and I think everyone had a lot of fun. My family went out for Chinese food, and went back to my parents house for cake and presents. It was a super fun way to celebrate my last year in my 30s (gasp)!

The Holland House: Birthday and Cookies

I had two days of work, and then we celebrated Christmas with my family on Tuesday night before driving to Oklahoma on Christmas Eve. I'm not going to lie- there were many tears shed over being away from my family on Christmas for the very first time in my entire life. While I know that Hank and I made the right decision to spend time with his family, I still missed mine like crazy. It just wasn't the same, but we still made the best of it.

We had the car completely packed and ready to roll by 8am. This was the first time that Brees had been in the car for more than 20 minutes. We really weren't sure how she would do, but we made the trip without any problems. It was so much fun to participate in the traditional Holland Christmas festivities- including their annual Christmas Eve party. The dogs loved getting extra attention, we had plenty of quality time with Hank's family, and we even got to see snow on our last full day. We also took Brees for a playdate with her dog cousin Diesel (a Great Dane that is her same age). In all, it was a really great visit.

The Holland House: Brees in Oklahoma

Since we've been home, we've enjoyed some quiet time, working on a few house projects, and buying a new sofa! I'm in full on living room redecorating mode and can't wait to share pictures. It's going to take several months to find and buy the things I want, but I'm really looking forward to turning our drab living area into a really pretty and comfortable space.

So...that brings us to 2015. We celebrated in our usual low-key style, with a really yummy homemade dinner, and sparklers/champagne with neighbors. We also hosted my parents for dinner on New Year's Day, and I made good use of my new cookbook Jack Allen's Kitchen. We had meatloaf, cheesy grits, black eyed peas, and a chocolate torte for dessert. It was the perfect way to ring in the New Year.

The Holland House: New Year's

We're really looking forward to a fun start to 2015. Hank's 40th birthday is just a few weeks away, and we'll be celebrating in New Orleans! We have so much to be thankful for, and so much to look forward to. I can't wait to see what all the new year has in store.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A 30,000 Foot View

Right now I'm flying from Austin to San Jose, CA, for my very first trip to Apple headquarters. I'm getting to attend what's called an Executive Briefing with one of my education customers, who is considering a large 1:1 deployment for their middle schools. I can't tell you how excited I am to get to do this! I'm sure I'll have some fun pictures and stories to tell when I get back. 

I feel like these past few weeks I've had the chance to step back and view our fertility situation from a broader perspective. Starting over with a new doctor meant new testing, results, and having to accept that we need to wait for a bit. The whole point of changing doctors was to get a different set of eyes on our situation, and hopefully some tangible answers on why I can't seem to get pregnant, despite there being nothing wrong with either of us. Thankfully yesterday, I finally got a possible reason. Better yet- it's something that we think can be easily fixed- a thyroid issue that can be regulated with a very low dose of medication. 

Instead of letting our first doctor rush us into the IVF process (that likely wouldn't have worked given what we know now), I feel like we have a shot at trying to correct this, and just maybe being able to achieve pregnancy without having to go through the IVF process. Since the rest of my recent testing came back with all positive findings, I feel like at the very least it's worth waiting a few months to see what happens. 

Infertility is a beast, and the whirlwind of emotions really got the best of me. There was such a sense of urgency, coupled with monthly disappointment, that really put me in a bad place. Having stepped back just a bit, I feel like I can finally breathe again! The OCD/impatient side of me has totally accepted that for Jan and Feb, we get to just relax, and focus on having fun as a couple. No pressure, no daily temperature taking, no logging info in an app. Just me and Hank (and our four furry babies), and our life as usual. In fact, as a result of delaying IVF, we even get to take a fun trip to celebrate Hank's 40th birthday. So, bonus!

We're heading into the holiday season with a huge sense of relief right now, and I'm really looking forward to spending quality time with our families over the next week. Can you believe Christmas is just a week away?! 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Sweet Elise: Baking Lately

As much as I keep saying I'm going to take little breaks from baking, there are always projects that come up that I just can't say no to. I have certainly limited my number of baking jobs recently, and I think the result is that I have enjoyed working on these even more.


First up is this adorable little Pumpkin Smash Cake for a 1 year old birthday boy. He hasn't eaten much sugar in his first year, and his mom didn't want to overload him with his very own sugary cake. So I made a healthier version that turned out extremely moist and tasty. Made mostly with bananas, whole wheat flour and maple syrup for extra flavor, I was really happy with how this simple cake turned out. I topped it with a cream cheese icing that I only put in-between the layers. The finished product was a delicious and simple cake that any 1 year old would gladly sink his hands into.

The Holland House: Pumpkin Smash Cake

It only makes sense that a "healthy" cake be followed up by the mother of all unhealthy cakes- and there's none better than this Snickers Cake. The recipe is from Brown Eyed Baker, and it really is sinfully delicious (assuming you like salted caramel, peanut nougat filling and chocolate cake.) A lot of work went into this cake, as there are 5 different components. I made one cake for a customer, and a second to take to a party, and it was a huge hit for both. I will gladly make this one again!

The Holland House: Snickers Cake


I feel like it's been awhile since I worked on a really fun cookie order, so it was extra fun to work on two different baby shower orders. The first was for twin boys, both with names that start with H. I have made the "Cute as a button" cookie before from Bake at 350, but I thought it went perfectly with the monogram onesies.

The Holland House: Baby Boy Onesies

The second set is for a friend who I used to run with, due with her boy any week now. The party invitations were adorable, reading "Kasey and Roger's little man is on the way. Lace up your Chuck's or this very special day". Of course, there was the cutest pair of baby Chuck Taylors on the invite, so I had to incorporate those into the set. I was thrilled with how they turned out.

The Holland House: Chuck Taylor Baby Shower Cookies

I have some work travel coming up, along with the usual crazy holiday schedule, but I will be making a few orders of Christmas cookies. Hopefully I'm able to snap some decent pictures to share.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Counting my blessings

So I'm a little late on the "I'm thankful for" post, but I won't let that stop me from doing so.

We had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday, filled with baking, family time, yard work, and just enough relaxation. My mom cooked an amazing meal, and it's always nice to have the whole family together for holidays. As the extended family grows, we're having to find ways to be more flexible so that we can continue celebrating together. That's not always easy, but I couldn't be more thankful for a family who really puts the FUN in dysfunctional. Below is an outtake from our many attempts at getting good family photo (the real ones were taken in front of the fireplace). The look on Georgia's face is hysterical!

The Holland House: Awkward Family Photo

The Holland House: Thanksgiving Desserts

Besides the obvious friends and family, I'm beyond thankful for an insurance plan that is making our lives so much easier right now. Hank and I made the decision to switch fertility doctors, and we couldn't be more thrilled with our new one. We had a thorough meeting with her this past Tuesday, and are now in the middle of new rounds of blood work and testing to make sure we aren't missing anything. The new Dr. already caught an issue with my thyroid, and I'm feeling confident that we're in really good hands. I'm almost afraid to add up the cost of all the testing we've had to date, as I know it's already a large number that will just continue to grow. So when I only have to make a $30 co-pay for office visits, I say thank you to my amazing employer every.single.time.

There really aren't words to describe how thankful I am for my husband, and the fun and crazy household we've created otherwise known as The Holland House. We almost added a new fur baby to the mix a few days ago. He barely blinked an eye when I shoved a picture of a puppy in his face and started planning how we were going to make it work. In the midst of the fertility issues we're dealing with, he has been patient, kind and beyond compassionate to me. It seems like that should be a given, but I know about relationships that don't include these things. There have been days when I have taken out my frustrations on him, and he shows nothing but love in return (and a hug if I want it). It sounds so cheesy to say these things, but he is the best partner I could have asked for.

December is flying by already, and I'm hoping we can find a few ways to enjoy it before Christmas gets here. I hope that everyone had a wonderful holiday, and found ways to be thankful for the great things in your lives!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Out and About: We Olive & Wine Bar

My parents treated us to a Sunday Funday at Austin's newest wine bar, We Olive & Wine. It's not local to Austin, as it's a franchise, but the Hill Country Galleria location is amazing! They had a 3 piece band playing from 4-6 (Andrea Marie and the Magnolia Band) who were surprisingly talented. Their website dubs them as a country band, but they played everything from The Eagles to Stevie Nicks to a Katy Perry "Roar" cover. It was the perfect background music for sipping on wine and eating delicious food.

Their wine menu allows you to order a taste, a glass, or a bottle, and I loved having the chance to try a few wines before committing to a whole glass. Mitch (the manager) even brought me another taste or two that he insisted I try before making a decision. His best suggestion was a 2012 Selby Merlot (a red I almost never drink), and it was so good, I ended up ordering 2 glasses. The wine menu had some really great, reasonably priced options. 

Mitch also gave us a brief tour of the retail space, and made suggestions on wine and olive oil pairings. We Olive makes their own olive oil and vinegars, and they line the back wall allowing you to taste as much as you like. I hadn't thought to mix any flavors, until Mitch pointed out the Blackberry Vinegar and the Basil Olive Oil made for a fantastic combination. It was so good, that I had him immediately fill two bottles to take home. At $22 each, I thought the price was a tad steep. But he told me at checkout that if you bring back your empty bottle, they take $6 off the refill. I have cooked with really crappy olive oil, and am certainly willing to pay $16 for a really good quality one. They also have an incredible assortment of gourmet foods that make perfect gifts (hello, Espresso Caramel Sauce!!)

The Holland House: We Olive & Wine Bar
Olive Oil and Vinegar Bar

The Holland House: We Olive & Wine Gourmet Food
Gourmet condiments for tasting

At our table, we ordered several rounds of food to share. We started off with a duo of Chipotle Pumpin and Black Olive with Blood Orange Olive Oil hummus, and also Stuffed Peppadews with Salami, drizzled with aged balsamic vinegar. I loved that they served the hummus with local carrots. It was pretty hard to narrow down which flatbread we wanted- so we ordered two. The Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Caramelized Onions and Blue Cheese, and the Parmesan Asiago and Prosciutto. Both were delish!

The Holland House: Hummus Duo
Hummus Duo

The Holland House: Stuffed Peppadews
Cream Cheese Stuffed Peppadews with Salami and Aged Balsamic Drizzle

The Holland House: Parmesan Asiago and Prosciutto Flatbread
Parmesan Asiago and Prosciutto Flatbread

If you are ever in the Hill Country Galleria area, I highly recommend stopping by We Olive & Wine. Not only is it franchised by a local father/son, but the people working there truly love what they do, and do their best to make you feel welcome.

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