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.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Calm before the storm

Life lately has been somewhat blissful. And by blissful, I mean so relaxing and unexciting that there really isn't much to report. We've intentionally laid low- enjoying time at home, and casual get togethers with friends. It's helped get over the sadness of our first fertility treatment by leaning on friends and family, and finding plenty to laugh about.

My sister planned a very last minute GNO (girl's night out) recently, and 4 of us were able to get together for some girl talk at a new restaurant on Burnet Rd. Taco Flats was once a smoky bar on a not-so-popular stretch of Austin road that closed almost 30 years ago. The new owners asked the original if they could use the same name, and gave it a complete makeover. The space is great- it's definitely more bar than restaurant, but we were really impressed with the tacos we ordered. The corn tortillas were a little bit of heaven, and the pricing was just right to enjoy 2-3. I always love being able to taste different options. There were plenty of laughs (and plenty of conversation to never leave our little table), and it was just good for the soul.

The Holland House: GNO
Girls being silly at GNO

We also got together with a group of running friends last weekend for a serious game of Cards Against Humanity. If you've never played it, you're missing out. Dubbed "a party game for horrible people", you definitely have to check political correctness at the door. It's funny the things you can learn about someone while playing this game. It also helps if alcohol is involved. I don't think I've ever laughed so hard in my life.

The Holland House: Cards Against Humanity

Finally, this past Saturday we went over to a friend's house for a little football and fajitas from Lupe Tortilla (yum!!). Even though the weather was crummy, we still had fun catching up and wrangling a bunch of kids. Between all of our friends, there were kids ranging from 1 month old to 10 years old. There was A LOT going on in the house, but it's the kind of craziness that you love to be surrounded by. The girls took 5 minutes to run outside and snap a picture. It's so rare that we're all together, and so fun to see the pictures of us throughout the years. They are friendships spanning almost 18 years, and it's been such a blast to witness all of life's changes with these girls.

The Holland House: The Girls
Could my sister and I look anymore like twins in this picture?!

This week I'm headed out to Bastrop for our annual Education Sales Meeting for work. It will be 5 long painful days, with lots and lots of learning. I'll probably log close to 70 hours of work between now and Friday, and am dreaming of Saturday morning when I get to sleep in and do absolutely nothing. From then on- it will be holiday craziness, and I can't wait!

Has anyone started decorating for Christmas yet? Which holiday traditions are you looking forward to the most?

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Next Steps

Monday morning was our scheduled blood test to see if our first round of assisted fertility treatment worked. I knew on Sunday afternoon that it had not, and it's been a tough couple of days. We knew that the chances of this working (especially on the first try) were really slim. But you still go into something like this with a lot of hope. What's the point in doing it otherwise?

I'll spare you all of the details, but the way that my doctor's office handled the results of the blood test left me less than impressed. As Hank said, there wasn't a whole lot of "warm and fuzzy". Infertility is a very emotional thing, as I learn more and more each day. It's important to have a doctor that can provide the right amount of "this is the way it is" paired with the warm and fuzzies that you want (and need) when things don't turn out ok.

A co-worker of mine who did IVF several years ago encouraged me to reach out to her doctor. It's a woman (big plus in my book), and my co-worker could not say enough amazing things about her. I feel like I owe it to myself to at least get a second opinion before moving forward with what we believe to be our next step- IVF. That type of procedure (and the weeks that lead up to it) is no walk in the park. I want to make sure that we aren't missing anything before making such a big commitment, so we have a consult scheduled with her the first of December. From there we'll make a new plan.

Until then, my plan is to take care of my body, continue with acupuncture treatments, and just enjoy being with my husband over the holiday season without having to worry about all of this crap. Maybe what they say is true....that if we stop thinking about it for a bit, it will happen. For this Type-A, totally OCD person, that is no easy feat. But I'm willing to give anything a try right now.

The Holland House: Hope

Monday, October 27, 2014

A Weekend in Nashville, take 2

Around this time last year, we headed to Nashville to visit our good friends Aline and Steve. Aline and I went to high school together, and I love that we have been able to maintain a great friendship over the years. The stories she could tell about me....

We had so much fun on our last trip that we made a point to go back again this year. Last year we planned out almost the entire trip, but this go around we took a much more relaxed approach. Other than plans to see the Titans/Jaguars game, we decided to just make up as we went. To make this trip even more fun, another of my friends had recently moved to Nashville over the summer. I connected Sarah and Aline through email, and they had already met up on multiple occasions and hit it off! So it was even more fun that all of us could hang out together for the weekend.

Instead of forcing you through a day to day recap of our trip, I thought I would break the post up into categories of things that are a must for Nashville: food, music, and sights. I consider most of these as "can't miss" if you're ever planning a trip here.


I wouldn't call Nashville a culinary hub, but it does have it's share of delicious restaurants. We had lunch at the adorable Adele in the Gulch neighborhood. It was raining, so we stayed inside. On a nice night, it would be an awesome spot to eat on the patio. It's location is in a former tire store with big garage doors that open from the bar to the patio, and they did a beautiful job with the space. From the long bar with light blue chairs, to the recycled wood tables and mid-century chairs, I think they paid a stylish homage to its former life. The menu consisted of a lot of local ingredients, and everything was fantastic.

The Holland House: Adele's Nashville
We also enjoyed a good ole' comfort food (with a twist) meal at Acme Feed & Seed on Lower Broadway. This is a good spot for kicking off a night out, and there was definitely some great people watching. The restaurant consists of three levels: restaurant on the bottom, a bar/lounge area on the second floor, and a rooftop bar on the third. The cocktail menu looked fantastic, and I was impressed with the extensive beer selection too. The food was amazing! I was impressed with the variety, and loved that there were plenty of vegetarian options, even though I chose the Rule the Roost chicken sandwich. There was a band playing downstairs, so it was a little loud and hard to talk to friends, but overall I really loved the atmosphere.

Our last favorite food stop was Burger Republic, again- in the Gulch neighborhood (we really loved this area!) It was the last day of the trip, and of course we wanted to go out in style. The restaurant is locally owned, the service was fantastic, and I don't think you could go wrong with anything on the menu. They really pride themselves on quality ingredients, and it made a difference in taste for sure. Whatever you do though, do NOT skip the milkshakes!  I had the Nutella shake, and Hank had the spiked Reese's Malt shake. They were both to die for.

The Holland House: Burger Republic


You can't go to Nashville without listening to Live Music. It's really similar to Austin in that you can pretty much go anywhere and hear someone playing. That doesn't always mean they are good, but you never know what you might stumble upon. We tossed around the idea of pressing our luck in line at the Bluebird, but we didn't really feel like wasting an hour or two literally just standing around. So after some Google searching, we stumbled across 2 options. We decided on a show at High Watt, a small lounge within a larger music complex called The Cannery Ballroom. After being subjected to two questionably talented opening acts, the band Matrimony took the stage. They played a great show, and I loved stumbling across a fun new band.

The Holland House: High Watt Nashville


There are so many things to do in Nashville, that it's nearly impossible to fit it all in one long weekend. At the top of our list was heading back to LP Field to watch the Titans beat the Jaguars. The weather was pretty crummy for most of our trip, but we lucked out with really nice weather for the game. Funny story- Steve (Aline's husband and a coach for the Titans) left his playbook at home, so Hank got to carry it into the stadium. He jokes that he made an adjustment to the final play- the one that resulted in the Titans pulling off a much needed win.

The Holland House: Titans v Jaguars
Sideline Shenanigans (including the hottest player on the team- George Wilson, and Michael Oher from the movie "Blind Side")

The Holland House: Game Day

We also made the short trip to Arrington Vineyards, a winery owned by one half of the Brooks and Dunn country duo. I wish the weather had been nicer so that we could have taken advantage of the gorgeous outdoor area, but that didn't stop us from doing a fun tasting and snacking on cheese and crackers on their large covered balcony. They also have live music on the weekends, and availability for hosting special events. It's not Napa wine, but that didn't stop us from shipping home a couple of bottles.

The Holland House: Arrington Vineyards
Me, Sarah and Aline

The Holland House: Arrington Vineyards

I mentioned eating at two restaurants in the Gulch neighborhood, and it ended up being one of our favorite spots to walk around. There were several shops, Yazoo Brewing Company, and even a cute little chocolate shop called Colt's Chocolates. If you are planning a trip to Nashville and can find a Home Away/vacation rental in this area, I think it would be such a prime spot. It's so close to music row, and there is plenty to do within walking distance.

The Holland House: Yazoo Brewing Company

Friday, October 17, 2014

Mama Fu's + a Giveaway

This giveaway is sponsored by Mama Fu's, but all opinions are my own.

A couple of weeks ago, I received the kind of email that everyone dreams of. It basically said "would you like a free dinner?" Why yes, I would. The email came right in the middle of our kitchen renovation, when we didn't have access to pretty much anything. We had been bumming dinner off friends/neighbors, and eating a fair amount of unhealthy take-out. The idea of picking up a reasonably healthy dinner on my way home from work sounded absolutely fantastic.

Mama Fu's recently overhauled their menu, and moved to a takeout/delivery only model. They have 13 locations in Texas, with 6 of those in Austin! We happen to live outside their delivery area, but there are two convenient locations for me to get take-out depending on which way I go home from work.

The menu includes a variety of Chinese, Japanese and Thai dishes, with plenty of vegetarian and gluten free offerings. If you are a Funatics Club member, you can access even more great dishes on their Black Market menu (and earn points by using their app). I love all of the options available, and had a really hard time picking out just a few dishes.

We started off with the Fresh Basil Spring Rolls with a peanut hoisin dipping sauce (yum!) It was small enough that it didn't ruin our meal, but satisfied my ridiculous hunger by the time I actually made it home <insert story about picking up 2 sick dogs at play care and making an emergency vet stop>.

The Holland House: Mama Fu's

For dinner, I picked up several entrees because we ended up taking dinner over to a friend's house. We got Mongolian Beef, Pad Thai with Chicken, and Lo Mein. We also picked up a kid's Teriyaki Chicken meal. There are multiple kid's choices that come with sides like rice, carrots and edamame. I'm a firm believer in kid's meals being more than chicken nuggets and fries, and I love the healthy options available at Mama Fu's. Everything was delicious and fresh, and the portions were very generous. An entree can certainly serve two people, especially if you share a yummy appetizer first.

The Holland House: Mama Fu's

Mama Fu's was kind enough to offer (5) $5 gift cards, and I'm happy to be able to share them with YOU. Check out the locations to see if there is one by you. If you'd like to enter to win, just leave a comment below, and tweet about the contest if you'd like. Winner will be randomly picked next Friday, and the gift cards will be mailed to you.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

IUI, Round 1

So much to write about, so little time. I have a wedding, a vacation, and a GIVEAWAY to post about (how fun!) But first I thought I would provide a little update on our fertility treatment.

We made the decision a couple months back to start out with IUI (Intrauterine Insemination). This seemed like a relatively "easy" first step in the process. We opted to wait a few months due to events and celebrations already on our calendar.

In short, this is the sequence of a typical IUI cycle.

1- start your period
2- go see the fertility specialist for a baseline vaginal ultrasound
3- start taking oral meds (in my case it was Femara)
4- a few days later, start injections of FSH (follicle stimulating hormone)
5- see the doctor again and again to monitor progress of follicle growth
6- administer trigger shot to cause eggs to drop
7- see doctor again for the insemination
8- wait, and wait some more (while inserting vaginal Progesterone suppositories- good times!)
9- pregnancy test

Last week, literally right before we were leaving on a trip to Nashville, I started my period with enough time to get in to see the fertility doctor for my initial exam. Everything looked great, and we mapped out the schedule for my cycle. The only bad thing to come out of this process so far is that my doctor will be at a conference in Hawaii on the exact days that my insemination should occur. So instead of doing that, we will be having "timed intercourse" within a specific time frame of the trigger shot being administered. If that isn't sexy, I don't know what is.

I won't lie and say that I didn't have a complete meltdown on Thursday night after picking up my meds. Ugly crying was totally involved. When we made the decision months ago to do this, it didn't seem all that real. In fact, I kind of hoped that the thought of it all would scare my uterus into getting pregnant. Obviously, that didn't happen. So I had myself a little pity party.

I cried and complained and was kind of a bitch to Hank on Thursday night. But when I woke up on Friday, I had a new attitude. It was one of gratitude. We're so thankful that we have the resources and good health to be able to attempt this route. Not everyone is so lucky.

Flying with my meds was a little bit of an adventure, but ended up being a non issue. The injectables have to be kept cool, so I packed my cute little Vera Bradley lunch bag with an ice pack, meds, and my prescription. TSA didn't even glance at it (which is actually a little alarming considering there were about 8 needles in there). So for anyone who might have to fly with their meds- it's really no big deal.

The main reason why I'm writing all of this is because everything that I read on line had me terrified that all of these horrible things would happen to my body during treatment. Yes, I still have a few days to go. But as of this  moment, I have yet to have any negative physical symptoms. No bloating, no headaches, no cramps, and certainly no weight gain (minus all of the crap that I ate while in Nashville). I have felt perfectly fine for the past week. I almost wish that I had not read anything at all, because I had such a high level of anxiety going into it all. Even giving myself a shot in my belly is no big deal. The needle is so thin- other than a really small prick, I don't feel a thing.

I met with the doctor yesterday, and the follicles in my left ovary appear to be the winners. I have 3 that are larger than the others, and are good candidates for reaching the 17-23 mm required size. I go back to see the doctor again tomorrow, and that should determine when the trigger shot gets administered. The shot basically tells my ovaries to release any mature eggs. Then 1 1/2 days later we have timed intercourse in order to guarantee best timing for sperm to meet eggs (but hopefully not too many eggs!!!)

There has been so much information that I have learned about my cycle throughout this process, and it's really pretty fascinating. It's still amazes me that some people can get pregnant by accident, when so many things have to fall into place for it to happen. Again- we're totally lucky because there are no big issues causing it to not happen for us. We're hoping that it's just a matter of needing a little help with timing. We'll see.

So say a few prayers and/or send positive thoughts our way. This next week or two will be an exciting time for us. I'm doing my best to find the right balance of hope and realism, but you know I have my fingers crossed that it works out for us. If not, we still have a chance to try another procedure, so regardless of what happens I know we'll be just fine.

Monday, October 6, 2014

"That's Amore" Couples Shower

On Saturday night, my parents hosted a wedding shower for the daughter of their good friends. Leave it to my mom to come up with a great theme, and pull off yet another amazing party. It's a gift, for sure! She chose "That's Amore" and planned a gorgeous Italian event around it.

Luckily some recent rain had the backyard all nice and green, but not too muddy. The weather was perfect, which made the outdoor event much more comfortable. From the entrance to the backyard, to the flower arrangements on the table, all of the details added a special touch.

The Holland House: That's Amore Party Entrance

The Holland House: Backyard Party
The Holland House: Sunflower Arrangement
For appetizers, she had a Bruschetta Bar with three different toppings, and a huge Antipasto platter with fancy cheeses from Whole Foods. There was also a table set up with wine and sparkling water, and Italian sodas and Peroni beer in galvanized containers.

The Holland House: Bruschetta Bar

The Holland House: Wine Bar
After drinks and apps, the couple opened their gifts before it got too dark (so not ready for the time change!) While they finished up, my mom and I worked to swap out the food table. The dinner menu included traditional lasagna, a vegetarian gnocchi caprese salad, and a tossed green salad. (Unfortunately it got too dark for pictures). We rounded out the meal with Italian Cream Cupcakes and "Amore" cookie favors, courtesy of Sweet Elise. I think everyone had a great time, and it was such a clever theme for a wedding shower.

The Holland House: Amore Cookie Favors

A few tips for planning/hosting a party:

1- Don't think you have to do ALL the cooking yourself. My mom took her lasagna trays to Pasta & Co and had them make a ready to cook lasagna in them, then made the Gnocchi Caprese salad herself. She also picked up the cheeses and used her skills to put together her own tray.

2- Music! What did we do before the days of Pandora or iTunes Radio? I just typed in "Rat Pack" in Pandora, and had an immediate playlist just perfect for the party.

3- Don't skip the small stuff. DIY is always a great way to add special (and inexpensive) touches to a party. The Amore banner at the party entrance was such a fun way to welcome guests, and a really easy thing to make yourself.

What party planning tips do you swear by?

Friday, October 3, 2014

Stellabration: A 4th Birthday Party

Yep- it's been awhile. We've been busy with kitchen and wedding and birthday celebrations. So I thought it only appropriate to share one of my most recent baking projects for a very special 4th birthday party. It was a real Stellabration!!

My friend Joy contacted me months ago (literally, like 6 months ago), to make sure she got on my baking calendar for her daughter Stella's 4th birthday party. She had been stalking the new Target "Oh Joy" collection, and stocked up on paper goods and decorations the day they were available. She sent me a picture for inspiration, and asked that I make a cake and coordinating cookies.

The Holland House: Oh Joy collection

Coming up with the designs was really pretty simple, and I kept the look and feel pretty simple too. Sometimes less is more! I loved the ombre cake in the inspiration picture, but needed a larger cake for the party. I never get tired of the petal technique, and knew it would fit perfectly with the ombre feel of the top tier. You can't have a Stellabration without a little sparkle, so I grabbed some turquoise sparkle letters at Michaels, added a thick layer of Mod Podge to keep them from shedding, and made a name cake topper. I was thrilled with how fun her cake turned out.

Sweet Elise: Stellabration Cake

Joy also wanted cookie favors to send home with the guests, and the dot paper lanterns jumped out at me immediately. Using gold luster dust, I was able to replicate them almost exactly. I added a
turquoise S to tie it all together, along with a fun custom tag.

Sweet Elise: Stellabration Cookies

Sweet Elise: Stellabration Cookies

It was a super hot day, and thankfully the staff at Kiddie Acres allowed us to keep the buttercream cake inside their air conditioned offices until it was time to cut it. Otherwise, it wouldn't have lasted more than 5 minutes. I think the kids had a great time riding rides and horses while the parents hung out in whatever shade they could find. Overall, it was the perfect Stellabration!

More fun pictures from the always talented Melanie Wright Photography:

The Holland House: Merry Go Round

The Holland House: Kiddie Acres

The Holland House: Oh Joy Collection

Monday, September 15, 2014


I'm not sure if I mentioned that while we're remodeling the kitchen, we're also installing new flooring in our master. Last weekend we had to clear out our bedroom (and closet), and move temporarily into the guest room so the floors could be done. There's nothing quite like sharing a queen size bed with 4 furry friends. Brees rarely sleeps with us, but for some reason this week decided that she wanted to cuddle too. Good times!

I think that all of the work in the house has been a little stressful for the pups. They got to go to Puppy PlayCare each day (to get them out of the way of the workers), but they both had upset stomachs Thursday and Friday, and haven't been eating like they usually do. Thankfully we're in the home stretch this week, and expect to have the majority of the work in the kitchen finished by Saturday. At least work that requires the help of professionals. We will still have a laundry list of finishing touches that could take us another month or so.

The new floors are gorgeous, but after seeing them installed I realized that our current bedding is not going to work. So now I'm on the hunt for a new duvet cover and pillows. I think we're going to stick with something very neutral, and then add some fun printed pillows.

Here is our bedroom BEFORE (with really ugly brown carpet):

The Holland House: Bedroom Before

Here is the bedroom AFTER (minus all of our furniture):

The Holland House: Bedroom After

It was nice being back in our bed last night, and not feeling quite so cramped. I think we're all getting used to the change, but I really love how it turned out. The new floor is pecan, laid in a herringbone patterned and finished with white rubio oil. It's pretty spectacular, and we feel really lucky to have it!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Putting the "Labor" in Labor Day Weekend

Three day weekends are supposed to be fun and relaxing, right? Well, we took advantage of the extra day so that we could finally complete the rest of the demo on our kitchen, install new cabinets, and make whatever progress we could before our beautiful new floors are installed next week.

This picture does not even begin to show how much crap is spread throughout the house. I couldn't bring myself to take a picture of it because my OCD was in overdrive. Everything that was in the old cabinets was scattered about the rest of house. Such a mess!

The Holland House: Kitchen Demo

After a few bumps (like not being able to salvage the sink and countertops to use temporarily), I felt like we got a whole lot finished. We were certainly lucky to have the tremendous help from our fur babies, too.

The Holland House: Cat in a drawer
Bailey sleeping on the job

So for the next two weeks we will be without a kitchen sink, and the second week we won't have access to the kitchen at all (bye bye refrigerator). It's not going to be easy, but with some careful planning and gracious invites from friends, we won't have to eat out for 2 weeks worth of meals. I just keep telling myself it will all be worth it in the end.


Old flooring removed
Old cabinets removed
Painting finished
New cabinets installed
Kitchen cleared out for new flooring installation

To be done:

Install new range hood
Cut and install filler panels for corner cabinets
Install new flooring (handled by professionals)
Install new countertops (handled by professionals)
New lighting (both canned and pendants)
Install hardware
Buy new furniture for seating area (this is waaaaayyyy down the road right now)

Friday, August 22, 2014

Unexplained Infertility

Unexplained infertility is the official diagnosis I received when I met with a reproductive endocrinologist last week. It was not exactly what I expected to hear, nor were the treatments that the recommended. But this is our story, like it or not.

After a year of trying to start a family (with no success, obviously), and a chemical pregnancy two months ago, I decided to seek help. My OB recommended Dr. Mo, and I was lucky to get a last minute cancellation at his practice. Hank happened to be out of town for work, so I went by myself. We had a very candid conversation, and he reviewed all of our previous testing at length. The good news? We are still both totally and completely healthy, with no obvious issues that would be preventing me from getting pregnant. After an ultrasound, he even confirmed that my reproductive system is functioning a few years younger than my actual age. So why isn't it working?!

Everyone's favorite response seems to be "just relax, and it will happen then." Easier said than done, especially when age 39 is knocking on the door. The truth is (at my age), that it doesn't always happen that easy. Obviously there is a certain time of the month that it's most likely to happen, so it takes some careful observation to make sure you know when that sweet spot is. I don't think taking a few steps to monitor your cycle is going overboard. I don't even really think I've stressed out about it that much, other than being disappointed each month when it doesn't happen.

Prior to meeting with Dr. Mo, I started seeing an acupuncturist to help with managing stress. After a rough few months at work, I figured it couldn't hurt. I've also read a ton of information on acupuncture helping with your reproductive system. Since we have an acupuncturist on staff at our office wellness center, and it only costs me $10 a visit- I knew I had to give it a try. I look forward to those appointments, and I have to believe that it's doing some kind-of good for my body and mind. 

I have never been much of a medicine person, and Hank and I have had strong feelings about the length we would go to to conceive a child. Those things combined made my appointment with the doctor a little overwhelming. Because of my diagnosis and good health, I'm not a candidate for any middle ground treatment like taking Clomid. I really didn't go into the appointment expecting to hear the recommendations that he gave. But I listened, took notes, and talked it all through with Hank over the weekend. We went back to the Dr. on Tuesday and formulated a plan. 

Mid October we will start a cycle of Intrauterine Insemination (IUI for short). We'll do two rounds of this if necessary. If neither of those work, we'll take a little break, and then discuss doing IVF early next year. I feel really good about this plan, and so does the doctor. Even better is the fact that my insurance will cover all 3 of these procedures, should we end up having to carry out the plan in full. If none of those work, then we will be done. 

Over the weekend I felt sad, disappointed and frustrated. Sad that we wouldn't be able to take a more natural approach, and disappointed that the day I find out I'm pregnant will be way more clinical than I ever imagined. I'm also frustrated that there isn't a tangible reason why it's not happening for us. Luckily I don't feel angry or jealous of all of the people I know who are pregnant, and I hope to never feel that way. Yes, I want it to happen for us. But there is no reason to be jealous.

Not knowing a ton of people who have gone through infertility issues has made it a somewhat difficult thing to talk about, and I hope to change that. There is no shame in what we're going through, and the more stories I hear, the better I feel. I'm not sure how much I'll actually write about our procedures, but this little blog is our family journal, and it has always felt like a safe place for sharing. If writing about it helps connect me to others, then all the better.

So now we get to chill out for the next 1 1/2 months, and continue to enjoy our happy little life. Our kitchen remodel is going full steam (well, after this weekend it will be), and we've got lots to do around the house. We have so much to be thankful for, and it's important to me that we just stay positive. 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Blair's First Birthday Fiesta

A couple of weekends ago we celebrated my nephew Blair's first birthday. It's incredible to me that an entire year has gone by since the day he was born. I'll never forget how excited our family was to have a little baby boy. He most certainly has not disappointed, and is just so much fun to be around. He is a mover and a shaker, and BOY does he like to get around. He's walking on his own, and he LOVES to eat. Watching him gobble up his cake was so much fun!

The Holland House: Birthday Boy
Blair the Birthday Boy

My sister outdid herself with a super cute birthday party. From succulents potted in salsa cans, to fresh churros- no detail was missed. We went down to San Marcos early to help set up, and there was quite a bit to do. I made Hank promise that if we ever have a baby, that I will be just fine with a pizza and beer first birthday party. I don't ever want to work that hard again.

The Holland House: Sombrero Showdown
Sombrero Showdown- Who wore it best?  

Here are a few of my favorite details from the party:

*Flowers handpicked from the garden, casually displayed in Topo Chico bottles and metal containers.
*Agua Fresca, lemonade, Topo Chico and bottles of Coke for drinks.
*Taco bar with plenty of salsas and fixings.
*Homemade praline party favors.
*PiƱata and pin the tail on the donkey for games.

The Holland House: Fiesta Party Details

Of course, no family birthday party is complete without a Sweet Elise cake. I made a Papel Picado smash cake to match the party invitations, and Churro Cupcakes for everyone else. Blair had a blast going to town on his cookie and cake.

The Holland House: Fiesta Smash Cake

Family fun:

The Holland House: Birthday Family
Sister's Family

The Holland House: Siblings
Siblings (sorry Blake- there's no tool to fix closed eyes)

Monday, August 11, 2014

Baking Lately- Summer Edition

If you don't follow my Sweet Elise Facebook Page, then you're missing out on some of the fun baking projects I've worked on lately.  Holidays, birthday parties, and showers- OH MY! It's been a busy summer, and I'm looking forward to a much needed break in the month of September so that we can get our kitchen remodel finished. I promised Hank I would not take on any jobs for the whole month. We'll see how that goes.

First up- cakes. I'm always hesitant to take on character cakes, mainly because they often involve the use of fondant. That is my least favorite medium, as I much prefer buttercream. But I did manage to pull off a super cute panda and a lamb, so at least I know I can do them if asked. My  most favorite cake of all was the Papel Picado cake that I made for my nephew's first birthday. I'll post more details this week as my sister really outdid herself for the fiesta.

The Holland House: Baking Lately-  Cakes

The Holland House: Baking Lately-  Cakes

I don't mind making cakes, but I really love working on cookies. These really are my favorite things to make, and I feel like I haven't been able to do as many as I would like lately. I'm working on two orders over the next two weeks though, and before you know it, it will be time for holiday cookies. I can't wait!

The Holland House: Baking Lately-  Cookies

Finally, I have made a few fun cupcakes. The Churro cupcakes for Blair's fiesta were delicious! I'm also working on a batch of floral cupcakes for a bridal shower this weekend. I'm making wafer paper flowers for the first time, and I can't wait to share the project with you. I have high hopes for how it turns out.

The Holland House: Baking Lately- Cupcakes

Site Design By Designer Blogs