Friday, January 30, 2015

NoLa 2015, A 40th Birthday Celebration

**This post took two weeks to write. Sorry!**

Lordy, I can't believe my husband is 40! Even worse is that I'll join the club in 11 short months. We had wanted to celebrate by traveling somewhere fun, and New Orleans was the perfect destination. Easy to get to, wouldn't require a car, and there would be endless great food/drink options.

The Holland House: NoLa

Everyone should experience New Orleans at some point in their life. It's such a unique, colorful, noisy city filled with a never ending sense of revelry. It can be overwhelming and exhausting, but we loved every minute of our trip.

To spare you a lengthy recap, I'll just highlight some of our favorite things, and what I consider to be "Must-Dos" should you visit NoLa.


No trip to New Orleans is complete without at least one stop at Cafe du Monde for some hot beignets and coffee. We actually made it twice. The line is long on the weekend, so try to go first thing in the morning if you can. There's a huge patio, and the people watching is spectacular. If you're lucky, you'll be serenaded by a street musician.

The Holland House: Beignets at Cafe du Monde

We tried to venture away from the French Quarter for most of our dinners, and enjoyed great meals in two different neighborhoods. In the Warehouse District, we celebrated Hank's birthday with an incredible dinner at the James Beard Award winning Peche Seafood Grill. While the whole meal was spectacular, it's going to sound weird that the fried bread appetizer was one of the most memorable parts. Don't knock it til you try it! We also went to the opposite side of the Quarter to the Bywater section, and had a great patio dinner at a neighborhood restaurant called Oxalis.

Oysters! I don't eat them, but figured I should at least try them while visiting a city that helped make them famous. We ate an early dinner at Acme Oyster House, and lucked out with a seat at the bar where we could watch the guys shucking the oysters. I knew I wouldn't be able to stomach a raw oyster, so I opted for the Chargrilled version topped with parmesan and an herb butter sauce. To die for!

The Holland House: Acme Oyster House

Both lunches were in the gorgeous Garden District. We had a late lunch at Camelia Grill, an old school diner that serves up amazing greasy burgers and shakes (and also breakfast all day). This spot is extra special, because my grandparents used to eat here on date night decades ago when my Papa was a professor at Tulane. Our last meal was at a corner sandwich spot that came highly recommended via Yelp. The Grocery is not really a grocery at all, but they do serve up some mean pressed sandwiches. I went with the Pressed Creole Reuben, and Hank had a Muffuletta, and both were amazing.

The Holland House: Pressed Creole Reuben

Drinks and Music:

Pat O'Briens. Duh. It's the most touristy thing you can do, but I can't think of a more fun way to get the party started! We lucked out with bar seats in the room with dueling pianos, and had a ton of fun watching the show. You have to have something there, if for nothing else tradition's sake.

Our first night in town we caught a show on the small stage at House of Blues with Luke Wade from The Voice. He put on a great show, and it was a fun way to kick off the trip. It's a little more commercial than we would normally do, but we thought it was fun to see someone that we enjoyed watching on the show.

Put this on your DO NOT MISS list: Bacchanal Wine in Bywater. Take a cab and get there early so you can grab a table in the back. You can buy bottles of wine in the front, pick up some glasses, and settle in the back for some really great jazz. There's a great video on the website that shows how cool this place is (way better than my grainy pictures). It truly is a hidden gem.

Order a Sazerac (you can get them just about anywhere, but the fancy Roosevelt Hotel bar is a fun place to drink one).

Other things to do and see:

On Monday morning we went on a 6 mile New Orleans Jogging Tour. The weather was amazing, our tour guide Marcus was everything you expect from a New Orleans local, and the tour itself was a ton of fun. We jogged an easy pace, stopped at plenty of sights, and had a great time. It was such a fun and different way to see the city. Two highlights were Peyton Manning's childhood home (his parents still live there), and Sandra Bullock's house. Half the tour was in the French Quarter, and the other half was through the Garden District.

The Holland House: New Orleans Jogging Tour

If you've had your fill of the French Quarter, hop on the trolley to the Garden District, and then walk halfway back down Magazine Street. Tons of shops, restaurants and bars- it's a slower pace with plenty to see.

Be sure to also stop at one of the cemeteries. We visited the Lafayette Cemetery in the Garden District, and there were all kinds of interesting finds. The above ground tombs have a fascinating history, and you can read more about them here. Some of the tombs had as many as 20 family members in them. You can take a tour to learn more info, but we just walked around by ourselves.

The Holland House: Lafayette Cemetery

Last but not least, make sure you allow enough time to really walk the French Quarter. Not just Bourbon Street (gross), but all the little housing sections around it. I just couldn't get enough of the architecture on every single block.

The Holland House: NoLa

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.

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