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

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