Since I love a good countdown and have been seeing quite a few Top 5 Posts of 2016, I thought it might be entertaining (and, admittedly, a bit self-indulgent) to look back, too, especially because I’m grounded until March. (Have a mentioned that? Ha!) Granted, the statistics are from a whole 3 months, but still… Here we go…
4. A Long Weekend in Northern Michigan: Northern Michigan’s beauty never ceases to amaze me. Can you believe that water is in Michigan and not the Caribbean? We had such a wonderful trip; it will definitely be on our list for next year, too.
2. Gift Guide for the Traveler in Your Life: Here I provided several gift suggestions for the traveler in your life. I purchased the Leather Charger Roll-Up for my husband for Christmas, and not only does he carry it with him when he travels, but he also tells me all about it often.
1. Banff: Something for Everyone: I was so happy to see this as my top post of 2016. It was such a surprising and amazing destination. I really would recommend Banff and Lake Louise to anyone and everyone.
I’m so excited to see what 2017 has in store for us! We already have four trips planned, two with our larger families, one with the four of us, and one with just the two of us. Do you have any destinations on your bucket list that you are hoping to check off this year?
*This post may contain affiliate links, meaning that, at no cost to you, I may receive some compensation.
Well, it’s been about 0 zero degrees here for almost a week. Since even outdoor activities are out, I’ve decided to start dreaming spring break dreams.
I have yet to meet anyone who loves swimsuit shopping, but, with the promise of warmer days ahead, it is something for which the warm, sunny end outweighs the road to get there.
Obviously, there are a million and one ways to sort swimsuits, but since this is a travel-ish (I promise there will be more consistent travel destination posts beginning in March) blog, I thought it might be fun to match swimsuits with various water activities travelers may embark on in their journeys. It seemed slightly overwhelming and definitely out of my league to sort through swimsuits, so I enlisted the help of some lovely ladies whose blogs and style are amongst my faves.
Disclaimer- while I would have loved to test all of the listed swimsuits with their paired activity I’m not sure my husband (or our finances) would have been supportive.
Let’s start with kayaking. I can handle kayaking. Now, after getting tipped while canoeing with my husband, I am a fan of having my very own kayak. And what is better than this classic, rash guard shirt for a day out on the river?
Now, I’ll admit, I have no idea how to drive a boat, let alone sail a boat. But, I love being on a boat. And, I would absolutely feel like I belonged on a boat in the Italian Riviera in this suit.
While I realize that running after small children around a pool or beach is not an “official” sport, any mom will agree that it most definitely should be. While I do not have this particular swimsuit, I have tried several Boden bikinis and, in my experience, they stay where they should.
While we are talking family, one of my favorite water activities as a child was snorkeling with my family. There is just something about being in the quiet of the water, listening to your own breathing and really taking everything in visually. This swimsuit seems perfect for an hour or so under the sea.
Beach volleyball anyone? I don’t play but I do think that I might be willing to give it a try in exchange for this swimsuit.
People often ask me if I’m a “runner.” Do I run marathons? No. Iron Mans? Absolutely not. Half-marathons? Nope. But, if you use the term loosely, I guess I maybe am. I love to run 3-4 miles. I also love the beach. Do I run on the beach? Not often. But, the beach is so flat and just goes for miles on Hilton Head Island, so for the week that I’m there, I am a beach runner. This top looks like it would be a great addition to my wardrobe and seems to also include the option to jump in the ocean immediately afterward.
I LOVE paddle boarding. Okay, I’ve only gone twice, and the first time I couldn’t figure out how to effectively turn the paddle board (and was tempted to stop at someone’s boat for a little liquid encouragement), but I really do love it. However, I should definitely defer to Kate from Living Lark. She grew up by the big lake and currently lives by the same said big lake. Oh, and she makes her own delicious aforementioned liquid encouragement. Kate chose this suit as the straps stay in place with all of the arm movements and the bottoms stay in place in the waves. Check and check.
Another water activity I love is swimming, but I am far from a swimmer. I have no technique or endurance and usually end up just dog paddling for a bit. Fortunately for me (and you), Eva from Cafe Design is an actual swimmer and swims for exercise in the summers. An added bonus? The same classic and timeless style she portrays on her blog clearly translates to her taste in swimsuits as well.
Wakeboarding. It takes one brave soul to go for it, and Kelly from The Lilypad Cottage is just the one to take it on. She grew up on a lake, presently lives on a lake, and I can only imagine that she takes on wake boarding with the energy and enthusiasm that she does home design and house projects. Kelly picked this top. And it’s reversible! You know how I love versatility. Another plus? She also gave a great recommendation for these bottoms that she has found stay put no matter what (are you sensing a theme here?).
Let’s talk surfing next. Now, this is also a water activity that is sort of frightening for me to watch. But, I really, really would like to try it someday. After watching the surfers everyday while on a trip to Dana Point in California, I have vowed that this is something I will try. This isn’t just California Dreaming. Well, maybe a little. Though, for the time being, I defer to Alessandra from An Expat Diary, for surf suit advice. Originally from Brazil, she has lived in 4 different continents and 6 different cities in the last 10 years, so I completely trust her for advice on surf suits as well as travel suits. She suggested the below suit from her latest Instagram feed; it is from Triangl. Guess where she is? Sal Island, Cape Verde.
While we are talking thrill-seeker activities (at least as far as I’m concerned), let’s touch on jet skiing. Abby from Abby Manchesky Interiors took me out this summer. Abby is a little like her design- classic with a fun little splash of sass built in. Well, let me tell you, this was also the case on the jet ski. I knew I was safe and wouldn’t fly off the back, but I kind of didn’t expect the wave jumping. There may have even been a little “dabbing.” Have you heard of it? I was impressed. And of course she chose a suit with a ruffle to wave jump in because, really, isn’t everything better with a ruffle?
Honestly, though, there is something about being by the water that makes me just want to take a stroll or sit and read a good Liane Moriarty book… How perfect is this swimsuit?
*This post contains affiliate links, which means that, at no cost to you, I may receive some compensation. Thank you!
Someone recently posed the question… What would you do in your city if it was your last 24 hours there? Good question. First, I would cry… because I really do love where I live. Second, I would be all over West Michigan because it would be too difficult to stay in one city, and, with the ease of travel here, why not? Third, how has this not been a dinner conversation topic before? Move over crazy toddler stories, there’s a new topic in town.
I would begin my day with a nice jog around Reeds Lake in East Grand Rapids. Waking up to perfectly aligned swans and a gorgeous sunrise? Yes please.
Fortunately, the purpose of that run would be more for scenery than good health because I would then head straight to D’arts Donuts in Eastown for a beignet and to-go of Madcap coffee.
After a 40 minute drive to Holland, I would head out to the Big Red Lighthouse and pier to watch boats going out for the day.
Because it is difficult to leave the lake on a beautiful day, Saugatuck State Park would be next on the list for a hike through the woods and a beach walk.
I’d finish with lunch at New Holland Pub on 8th and a stroll through downtown Holland.
Back in Grand Rapids, I would stop by the GRAM (Grand Rapids Art Museum) because it is the one place I keep meaning to get to and haven’t.
Dinner would most definitely be at Donkey Taqueria…
Followed by an outdoor concert at Fredrick Meijer Gardens.
And back to the lakeshore for a sunset.
So, apparently, I would really just want to eat a lot and be by some of the lakes that make Michigan such a great state in my last 24 hours in West Michigan. Oh, and the remainder of the evening and into the night would be spent with family and friends talking, planning, and reflecting on this porch…
Now, I’d love to hear from you… What are your must-sees and must-dos in your home city?
*Please excuse the multitude of seasons in the photographs… but now you have an idea of the ever-changing weather of Michigan!
**This post may contain affiliate links, meaning that, at no cost to you, I may receive some compensation. Thank you!
‘Tis the Season for amazing drinks. The cocktail blog Lark has generously agreed to share drink recipes specific to the regions I have visited over the holiday seasons. Keep reading to find out what they are and be sure to save the recipes- they are delicious. All the drinks @livinglark are made in gallon batches — perfect for holiday crowds!
The first place I asked for a recipe from was Spain. Many, many moons ago when my husband and I were about 24 years old and in graduate school, his family asked me to go with them to Spain over the holidays to pick up his middle sister who had been studying there for the semester. I hemmed and hawed and called my parents a million times because, I mean, SPAIN, but also I didn’t want to miss our traditional holidays together either. A few days later my parents called me and told me they and my brother had just purchased tickets to Spain and were coming too!!! As we look back on it, my husband and I are always amazed that our families traveled together halfway across the world before we were married or even engaged, but at the time, it seemed to make perfect sense.
Check out Lark’s Late Red Autumn Sangria (because what is more SPAIN to us than Sangria?) here
And then we got married and apparently had no problem spending Christmas in an airport away from both of our families. Just kidding. We, of course, missed them, but with new work schedules, Christmas just seemed allow the extended time to travel. For our honeymoon (so, we really should get a free pass on that one), we traveled to St. Kitts. Later, but still pre-kiddos, we traveled to Aruba.
There are so many great Caribbean drinks to choose from, but Lark chose this one from a holiday she had in Puerto Rico, and it is fabulous!
Serves 20(in a 10 oz. rocks glass filled halfway with ice)
This is made with honey and ginger — a true tangent from the original Rum Punches but quite lovely! This one is reminiscent of our time in Puerto Rico watching major surf (too large for beginners like us!)
4 c water
2 c honey
8 inches fresh ginger (a lot!)
3 c lime juice (I prefer Nellie & Joe’s famous Key West)
2 c orange juice, pulp free
5 c white rum
2 limes, sliced
1 small jar Maraschino cherries, optional
Prep ingredients in a clean gallon jug.
Make a honey simple syrup: Whiz up one cup water, two cups honey, and the chopped ginger in a Vitamix or blender until ginger is minced (don’t put the setting on high because it will overflow). In a small saucepan, add blender mix to 3 cups water and bring to a boil. Simmer and stir a bit over low heat for 5 minutes until it just begins to rumble to a good boil. Strain the syrup with a fine mesh sieve into a bowl, pressing ginger with the back of a spoon to obtain all the flavor possible. Transfer ginger mix into a gallon jug using a funnel.
Stir in 3 cups lime juice, 2 cups orange juice, & 5 cups rum. Refrigerate until serving. Toss lime wedges into serving pitcher, fill with the PUNCH and keep ice on the side for guests to add to individual rocks glasses.
Optional: drain cherries and add to pitcher just before serving. This won’t add much flavor but make the drink just like the tiki bars all over the Caribbean.
And then we had children and apparently had no problem leaving them at Christmastime either. Ha! I had major panic about leaving them. So much so that we booked a later flight so that we could be with them on Christmas Eve and in the morning for stockings. After all the tissue paper was cleaned up, my husband and I headed for India. Now, I feel like we had a pretty good excuse for this trip too since we were going to my youngest sister-in-law’s wedding reception and visiting my husband’s grandmother. One of our favorite times in India was “Chai Time.” Here’s the thing, though, every time you walked
through the door, it was Chai Time. Luckily, the Chai was delicious and so is the recipe (far from what we drank in India but with the same Chai flavors!) of Late Autumn Chai Sangria made with white wine.
To check out more Holiday Drinks like the French 75en masse (today’s post on Lark) or Holly Brunch Cocktail, head over to Lark and get some ideas for New Year’s Day brunch — and discuss at brunch where you dream to travel next!
*Please note that some links may be affiliate links, meaning that, at no cost to you, I may receive some compensation. Thank you!
Today I was fortunate enough to have a “work afternoon” with Kelly from the Lily Pad Cottage. Have you visited her blog? If not, you should go right now. Not only is her design and taste impeccable, but she is also seriously such a nice person. She is gracious and generous (much like that famous designer on HGTV from Texas) and has been helping me/fielding all of my annoying questions since the idea popped into my head that I wanted start a blog. Oh, and did I mention she is super fun? I had such a great time shopping and eating (and talking) our way around Grand Rapids today. If you are in town for a few hours or just passing through or looking for a little break from all of the holiday gatherings, here are some stops to put on your list.
We met at Reinspired Treasures in Alger Heights. Again, if you haven’t been, it’s worth checking out. From vintage to new home items to repurposed, well, treasures, they seem to have a little bit of everything. I have to do at least 10 laps before I feel like I have seen everything there is to see. This is the store that feeds my wooden sign addiction.
After shopping for a bit, we headed across the street to The Old Goat. I had been hearing about this restaurant for awhile and was excited to check it out. The food was delicious and was brought out on a cute wooden cutting board. There are soups, sandwiches, salads, and even entrees if you are particularly hungry from your shopping. And I sort of feel like I could have stared at the ceiling for a few more minutes if I hadn’t been too busy chatting.
We then headed to Eastown for a quick coffee and to pick up some donuts for the kids’ after school snacks. We met at That Early Bird, another great setting, very calming colors and not too quiet, not too loud. I love the pretty designs in the coffee, but, believe me, even if this coffee was super ugly, it still is one of the best cups I’ve had.
D’Arts Donut Shop was the last stop of the afternoon to pick up a couple 1/2 dozens to take to our respective homes. Again, the setting is unique and trendy, and the donuts will not disappoint. I went with the Christmas sprinkles, Hot Chocolate with Marshmallows, and Peppermint Mocha. And have no pictures to show for them. Because they went that fast.
And the final amazing dessert before the holidays… Almond Banket. Growing up in a neighborhood referred to (lovingly, I’m sure) as Hollander Heights, I had my fair share of potatoes at my grandmother’s house just two doors down from ours. Butter and salt- what could be better? Let me tell you, very few things. Except for Almond Banket. Every year, at Christmas time, our neighbors from across the street brought over homemade banket. It was delicious. When my husband and I moved into our first home, our neighbor two doors down mentioned her tradition of making almond banket at Christmastime. It’s been on my mind ever since.
My aunt emailed me the following recipe from her Eet Smakelijk cookbook, called “the Official Cookbook of Holland, Michigan,” which she has had since 1964! In case you all have this cookbook lying around, the recipe is officially called Banket Staven (Almond Roll).
BANKET STAVEN (Almond Roll)
1 lb. almond paste
2 cups sugar
4 cups flour
1 pound butter
1 cup water
Let the paste, sugar and eggs stand in a bowl for 30 minutes. Blend the flour, butter, and water in bowl like a pie crust. The dough may be refrigerated overnight if desired. When ready to prepare, divide the dough into 4 equal parts. Roll the dough on a floured board to size 8×13 inches. Cut lengthwise into 2 equal strips (8 strips….4×13 in all). Prepare the filling by mixing the almond paste with the sugar and eggs. Form the filling into 8 cylinders 12 inches long, the diameter of a dime. Place filling rolls on the length of the dough. Fold over the ends, and then the long sides, moistening 1 side to seal, before pressing closed. Place with the seam down on a cookie sheet. Brush the top of the rolls with either egg white or milk. Bake in 425 degree oven for 10 minutes. Prick holes on top for air and return to oven and bake for an additional 10 minutes at 375 degrees or until very light brown.
I’ll admit, I didn’t really measure any of the strips, etc. and my measuring cup was in the dishwasher, so I just grabbed an 8 oz drinking glass and I didn’t make cylinders (just put the filling directly onto the dough and eyeballed it) and I sprinkled the tops with sugar and I had the 3-year old “helping”… and it still turned out absolutely amazing. Being half Dutch, I know that I am biased, but this is a dessert you will want to try.
Well, as the picture above may indicate, this is not really, truly a travel post, and, yes, I will stretch it to make some connections, but in all honesty, this is a house tour. And my first one at that, so there are two things to forgive right there. While I’m apparently confessing, come on in, let me show you around, and share some decorating admissions, one for each day of Christmas.
Admission #1: I love wooden signs! And just discovered a new small store in town that sells these made by local sisters. Aren’t they great?
Admission #2: I am a plant killer. However, since discovering the beautiful benefits of jasmine, these mason jars aren’t even moving for the Christmas decorations.
Admission #3: I’m not crafty. But one year, I tried. I bought travel-stamped burlap and cut a runner and placemats. I also spray painted the bases of the topiaries. And then settled down for a long winter’s nap.
Admission #4: Dasher lost his head on the first day we put up the stockings courtesy of the 3 -year old’s inability to “just look” at his stocking, and I think it’s just an Oh Well. Dancer and Donner have been on their best behavior ever since.
Admission #5: I love white feathered trees but love the family tradition of cutting down our tree even more. So, this beauty on the mantle will have to suffice.
Admission #6: I’m not good with small decorations. I get nervous our house is going to look kitschy. But for reasons I can’t explain, I love these elephants from India and think they go perfectly with the other decorations on the desk.
Admission #7: I’m a new fan of ornaments from places we’ve traveled. When I put them up, I’m reminded of our travels, far and near.
Admission #8: I love a nice smelling house but am cautious with candles. Herein comes this lovely, wintry mix.
Admission #9: I’m crazy for wooden signs (did I already mention that?). I really had to cut myself off this year, but not before I purchased this sweet nativity. Bonus: no risk of losing Baby Jesus to the aforementioned 3-year old.
Admission #10: My love of signs also carries over to metals.
Admission #11: But back to the wooden signs. I love this JOY sign. It will probably stay up past Christmas just to keep the joy going. I also love and have read the interior design books under the sign. Isn’t it great when purchases can pull double duty?
Admission #12: The jingle-bell wreath will end up being used as toy more often than a decoration. Oh, and I kept my Lake Charlevoix pillow out this year to help me think happy thoughts to get through our 5-month Michigan winters.
Next up, my new friend, Nerin and her amazing Tres Leches cake.
This past summer, we were at a lake party, and Nerin brought two cakes. I, of course, went directly for the chocolate one, but she encouraged me to try the Tres Leches cake as well. Since we were new friends and she had a very convincing Costa Rican accent, I cut a small piece of the Tres Leche cake, too. And then another. And another. And when she offered to pack some up for us to take home, I said “yes please.” And then my kids ate it before we even got in the car. I am so thankful that she is one of those amazing cooks who shares her recipes. Thank you, Nerin!
Nerin makes this cake with her sister in Costa Rica. I love the idea of baking with family, especially around the holidays. So much so that I keep trying to bake with my kids. I have to say that this cake kept their attention right up to end, which is quite an accomplishment. I think it may have had something to do with the whipped cream and sprinkles.
TRES LECHES CAKE
Ingredients: 4 eggs 1 cup of white sugar 1 cup of all purpose white flour 1 tsp of baking powder 2 oz cold water 1 can condensed milk, 14 oz can 1 can evaporated milk, 12 oz can 1 heavy whip cream container, 8 oz 1 large cool whip, 16 oz container Sprinkles
Separate the egg whites from the yolks, set the yolks aside. Sift the flour with the baking powder and set aside.
Mix at high speed the egg whites until stiff. Slowly, add 1 egg yolk at a time alternating with the sugar. Add the sifted flour and at the end, the cold water.
Place the mix in a rectangle 15″ by 10″ pyrex, previously sprayed with nonstick spray. Bake at 350F for approximately 25 minutes until a tooth pick comes out clean. Once ready, pull out of the oven, cool down for 10 minutes and insert a fork on the top of the cake every 2″ apart, in order to allow the liquids to seem into the cake.
Mix the condensed milk, evaporated milk and the heavy whip cream. Pour this mix over cake while it is still warm. Place in the refrigerator until totally cold.
At the end cover with as much cool whip as wanted and decorate with sprinkles.
*The second time I made this cake, I had shopped at a small grocery that did not carry cool whip or evaporated milk. For the cool whip replacement (and the heavy whipped cream), I whipped 32 ounces of heavy whipping cream with 1/3 cup of sugar (because, hey, we all know that there needs to be some left in the bowl for the bakers). For the evaporated milk, I used 3/4 cup milk and 1/4 cup half ‘n half.
**please note: this post may contain affiliate links meaning that, at no cost to you, I may receive some compensation. Thank you!
Every year at Christmastime, we head into Chicago for a weekend on the town. It is something that we all look forward to and is a great way to start the holiday season.
Lincoln Park Zoo Lights- This year, our ETA into the city was around 5pm, so we decided to check out the lights at Lincoln Park Zoo (the sun sets super early in Chicago this time of year, and for once, I appreciated the early sunset). Admission to the zoo is free, but you may want to bring along some money for the hot chocolate stands along the way or the mulled wine you can get to-go from the cafe by the pond.
There is also ice skating for a fee, but it may be worth it as it seems to be much more manageable with children than does skating downtown (read: no lines and a smaller rink). We all really enjoyed wandering around the zoo and taking in all of the different lights. I think our favorite display was the lights blinking along to various holiday songs.
Gemini Bistro- After about an hour, we decided to grab some dinner about 4 blocks up the street at my husband’s favorite pub, only to find it had changed ownership and was not serving food for another 45 minutes. So, we headed across the street to find something new… and LOVED it. The setting feels trendy (think marble-top bar), but there were also several tables with small children so we didn’t feel too out of place. We also found that there was a prix fixe menu (should you choose to go that way) just for people going to see the zoo lights.
It even included cookies and a coffee to go! Such a great idea!!!
Michigan Avenue- We drove up Michigan Avenue on our way to the hotel, and it was looking as magical as ever! The next day, we walked the Magnificent Mile with the children, stopping in several kid-friendly stores and window shopping at the others.
Really, there were so many children on Michigan Avenue that we did not feel in the way shopping there.
Maggie Daley Park– We have done this in the past but didn’t make it on this trip. Maggie Daley Park has it all. My kids really enjoyed the Play Garden when we were there, but there is also a Skating Ribbon and Climbing Wall that are on my list of things to check out the next time we are there.
West Egg Cafe- This is our favorite breakfast spot, especially when we are meeting up with friends in the city who also have children. On the past few occasions we have gone, we have received our own small room with a large round table that houses all of us, our coats, and our strollers. There is a door that is opened to the larger room, but it is nice to be somewhat isolated and not have to worry that we are disrupting someone else’s breakfast.
Home Alone House– Again, we didn’t squeeze this one in this year, but it is always fun to drive to the North Shore to check out the Home Alone house. If you are a family that perhaps has Home Alone on “in the background” from Thanksgiving to Christmas Day, it is well worth the trip.
There are so many things to do around the holidays in Chicago that I almost feel like we should go back to fit a few more in before it is over! Next on the list are the Christkindlmarket (an open-air market derived from German and European traditions), the holiday windows at Macy’s on State Street, and breakfast at the Walnut Room.
This week we headed to our local gardens to check out their annual Christmas and Holiday Traditions from Around the Worldexhibit. If you happen to be in the Grand Rapids area, it is well worth the trip to Fredrick Meijer Gardens. And, I’ll be honest, I had a 3-year old with me, so it took us far less that 2 hours.
Whenever I’m with my kids, I try to remember to give them a “job”; otherwise, they tend to find their own “jobs” that don’t always jive with what I had in mind. Today, the task was to find all of the displays from their 5 nationalities. All information shared comes from the information signs provided by Fredrick Meijer Gardens. There was considerably more information than I am sharing, so head on over and check it out.
Italy– The most important symbol of Christmas in Italy is the Nativity scene. A presepio is a 3-dminesional nativity scene, and Meijer garden’s presepio was created by Francesa Niccacci in the maiolica tradition.
The Netherlands– Santa Claus is known as Sinterklass in the Netherlands. Gifts are exchanged on St. Nicholas’ Eve on December 5 while Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are reserved for church and a family meal in the evening. December 26 is called Second Christmas Day and is a holiday of relaxation.
India– Diwali is a five-day Hindu celebration, also referred to as the Festival of Lights. Occurring between mid-Ocotber and mid-November, it includes fireworks, lights, and special worship (puja). Diwali’s true meaning is rejoicing in the inner light. It is often celebrated with rangoli; the one pictured above appears to be made of colored sand.
England– Kissing under mistletoe is an English tradition. It is thought to date back to ancient times when the plant was a symbol of peace and indicated that enemies must maintain a truce until the next day if they met under it. The custom of kissing under the mistletoe remains an indication of friendship and goodwill. Another English tradition, began in the 1840s by Tom Smith, is opening Christmas crackers, which are cardboard tubes holding small gifts or trinkets.
Spain- In Spain, it is not Santa but the Three Wiseman who come bearing gifts. On January 5, the Eve of the Epiphany, children fill their shoes with straw, and the Three Wiseman come by, leaving gifts in the children’s shoes. Christmas is a very religious holiday and the most noticeable decoration is the Nacimiento, or Nativity scene.
What a great way to spend the morning! Looking at Holiday displays and learning about different cultural customs is quickly becoming a tradition in our family.