Week 23(ish) update

So, it’s midway though week 23 and it is about time for an update. I know it has been a while. There just hasn’t been much to report and I’ve been keeping busy.

I’m doing great! I am still loving my baby belly. I mean LOVING it. I admit, when no one is looking and I don’t need my hands for anything else, they’re probably resting on my belly.

Oh, and we decided on a name. The Knight has been calling him Thumper since we first heard the heartbeat. But that isn’t much of a first name, so it will be his middle name. Over the weekend I was saying that this would be a lucky kid and we jokingly discussed Lucky being a good name. It seems to have stuck. So, there you have it. Lucky Thumper. Kind of has a nice ring to it, don’t you think 🙂 Haha. We’re such goofballs.

Anyhow, here are some pictures from last week. Now more than ever I believe the old phrase that the “camera adds 10 pounds.” I know you believe me when I say I don’t look this big in person. If anyone wants to support that statement, you know where to add a comment 🙂

 

The Latest

Lots and lots of activity going on in babyland. Last week, when the little guy was doing his nightly Tae Bo workout, the Knight was able to feel most of the movement. It was a pretty awesome experience.

How I’m Feeling

As my friend Kim puts it, I’m in the “sweet spot” of pregnancy. I feel really good. Not symptom-less, but really darn good for being almost 6 months pregnant.

I’m still getting in at least 4-5 good (read: moderate) workouts per week. I try to run at least 2-3 times per week for 30-60 minutes. It’s slow, but I feel great afterwards.  I am aim for two weight lifting sessions per week. I am also really enjoying my once/week pre-natal yoga class.

The indigestion and heartburn still plague me, although less so. I am positively amazed at the power of Tums. Seriously. Love them. I can go from Burpy McOuchie to calm and peaceful in about 30 seconds thanks to those pastel little discs from heaven. Don’t leave home without them!

What’s Next?

Just waiting at this point. 17 weeks or so to go. We need to get moving on the prep side of things: the nursery, the registry, etc. I’ve been reading books and doing lots of research. I welcome input so feel free to send me your suggestions.

We have narrowed down the list of names to 3-4. We have two main criteria on names: 1) We would like a name that can be naturally shortened to a nickname (i.e., Alexander/Alex, Jonathan/John); and 2) We prefer that the name not be one of the most popular baby names. Beyond that, we try to imagine how a little boy with fare with the name, and how we would perceive a resume from say, a lawyer, with that name. It’s a fun exercise and we generally agree on names.

More soon. I promise.

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Our New Kitchen – complete with photos

Finally, my long overdue (and just plain long!) post about my kitchen renovation. This was a big process so I have included a lot of information here. I won’t be hurt if you just skip to the fun part (the photos).

To be honest, while I was looking forward to renovating our kitchen, I have to admit that I wasn’t exactly over-the-top excited about it. The vision of my dream kitchen just didn’t fit within our current budget, so we decided to compromise. We settled on Ikea cabinets because they were the best value. I wasn’t really thrilled with any of the choices so although I have always said I don’t like white kitchens, a white kitchen is what we chose.

I’m happy to say that despite this lack of enthusiasm, I am thrilled with the outcome. Just about every aspect of this transformation exceeded my expectations. I guess it is good to set a low bar, right?

The Overall Process

The whole process was very interesting for us. In all, I’d have to say that went amazingly smoothly, especially given our uncharacteristically mellow approach. I’m sure no one will be shocked to hear me say that the Knight and I are typically pretty organized and thorough in our approach to things.

Well, this project was totally different. For whatever reason, we were pretty laid back about just about everything here. For starters, we chose our contractor based on the recommendation of a friend. The truth is that we didn’t talk to other contractors. We didn’t compare prices. Between our friend’s recommendation and reviews on Angie’s List, we decided to hire him. Bing. Bang. Boom. I’m making a shocked face myself as I type this paragraph.

We visited Ikea twice and picked our favorite of the available options. We put off the renovation for a couple of months after buying the cabinets. Mostly for financial reasons. So when the demolition finally started, you would have thought we would have been ready to go. Uh, not quite.

A couple of pictures of the display kitchen in the store

When we decided it was go time we called the contractor to find out when he was available. He kept saying in a couple of weeks. We waited patiently. Then, suddenly he called us on a Wednesday and said he would start the following Monday. Sure, no problem.

The day the demolition started we realized, oh yeah, we should probably go buy a range. And that’s how a lot of this went. Many last minute “oh, we need a _____.”  We made a few (relatively) quick decisions, which I’ll discuss more below.

And you know what, it all worked out great. There is something to be said for having no time to over-think things.

Here is an in-depth look at each aspect of the renovation.

The Cabinets

We wound up choosing Ikea’s white Abstrakt cabinets (Akurum bases, white Abstrakt doors on the bottom, frosted glass doors on top). Ikea cabinets come highly recommended because they have a number of advantages.

First, of course, is the price (and by buying the cabinets during the bi-annual sale, we got an additional 20% off). The cabinets are a serious bargain compared to what you can get elsewhere.

Second, Ikea cabinets offer a tremendous amount of flexibility. There are so many options that you can pretty much design a kitchen that fits your space/needs without a lot of custom carpentry.

Third, is changeability, for lack of a better word. A cool thing about the cabinets is that all of the base cabinets are standard and all of the hardware/fronts, etc. can be used interchangeable. That means that if next month, next year, or next decade we want to change the look of our kitchen, we can purchase all new door and drawer fronts and they will fit our cabinets. Our contractor estimated that such a facelift would cost only around $1000.

Fourth, I really like the functionality of the Ikea products. Most of the cabinets come with dampeners (those cool things that make the drawers and drawers close gently). They offer tons of cool storage options like different interior shelves/organizers. One of my favorite features is an option which I have always dreamed about: appliance garages (what they call Avsikt roll front cabinets). Years ago I saw a kitchen with a small corner cabinet that had a roll down front so you could hide your coffee maker or whatever. I love the idea of keeping counters clear. Well, Ikea went beyond this and we ran with it. We purchased two counter-to-ceiling appliance garages. Now we can hide the juicer, the Vitamix, the coffee maker, the tea kettle, the food processor, and whatever other gadgets we like. Pretty cool!

Fifth, Ikea is just an awesome store with phenomenal customer service. The employees at theWoodbridge store have been a pleasure to work with and have really helped us maximize our options. They even have a cool computer program (available on their website and in-store) that allows you to play around with different options and see sketches of what your design will look like. The store offers a generous return policy (90 days) and there has been no problem with multiple exchanges of shelves, drawers, and whatever else we needed. I have zero complaints about Ikea and their customer service.

The only disadvantages, in my opinion are 1) they didn’t exactly have the design/color I had in mind; and 2) now that everything is installed, I kind of see why the cabinets are cheaper. The particleboard thing doesn’t bother me. It all looks fine to me. I know I’m really being nitpicky, but little details bug me like the fact that interior hinges are huge. I’m sure that more expensive cabinets have nicer hinges but really, is it worth paying double for cabinets because of this. Not in my book.

Okay, enough about Ikea. On to more fun stuff. We looked at the display kitchens in the store and both agreed that the contemporary white kitchen was our favorite. I’ve really never been a big fan of white kitchens, but given the options, our space, and our big white leather sectional in the great room, we went for it. We opted for a combination of the glossy white fronts and the white glass fronts.

Counters

Remember what I said about not overthinking? So, when we originally started this project we were thinking soapstone. We’d seen it in a couple of our friends’ kitchens and loved it. But when we were at Ikea buying our cabinets they convinced us to go ahead and pay for granite counters – through them – because if we did that at the same time that we bought the cabinets we could get 20% off the granite as well. And if we changed our minds we could get a refund. We looked at all of the 12’x12” squares, held them up to the cabinet fronts we had chosen, and picked out a nice speckled pattern. Since that was taken care of, I let the soapstone idea go….until….

And then we got to a point in the renovation where we needed to start thinking about our backsplash. I went online and looked for pictures of backsplashes with the granite we had chosen. As it turned out, I pretty much disliked every photo I found of our granite. What looked great in a one-foot square sample looked busy and cheap in large scale.

Luna Pearl Granite

So then we embarked on a last minute journey to try to find soapstone. We finally found the perfect stone but it turned out to be roughly double the cost of the granite we had originally picked. We decided to splurge since we both totally loved it and felt that it gave our kitchen the look we wanted. It turned out to be the right decision and we have no regrets about increasing our budget for this.

Here is a closeup of the spyder (or spider) soapstone we ultimately selected.

It is actually much darker than this with the finish/treatment applied, as you can see in the pictures below, but this photo really shows the unique pattern in the stone. It is a completely smooth surface.

Appliances

Fortunately, we were able to keep the Sub Zero refrigerator and Kitchen Aid dishwasher that came with the house. We just needed a new range (and range hood), a new oven, and microwave. For the oven and microwave we decided to go with Ikea’s brand (the Nutid line) because of the look they would give the kitchen.

The range we chose was a GE Café dual fuel range (from Sears). I could really write a whole post about this. After we bought it we found out that good friends of ours had the same one. They were raving about how much they loved it and the Knight and I were kind of scratching our heads. A range is a range, right? Nope. This thing rocks! Not only does it look great, but it is POWERFUL and functional.

Love it! The bottom drawer is also an additional oven - not just a warming drawer or storage space.

I’ll just say one more thing about it. Power Boil. It’s crazy. One burner has two rings of flames which means that the liquid comes to a much faster boil than on a standard burner (see the picture at the end). But the coolest thing about it is that it is so powerful that the boil doesn’t stop when you add something to the pot. So you know how you usually add pasta to the water and then wait a bit for the water to come back to a boil. Yeah, well, not with this baby. It takes very little time, if any, to return to a rolling boil. So cool!

We also selected a range hood. I had seen a curved, stainless steel range hood in a house we looked at a long time ago and had it in my head ever since. There were only two such hoods on the market so that made things pretty easy.

I think somewhere along the way I actually researched the reliability and reviews of all of these purchases, so don’t worry. Thank you Consumer Reports.

Backsplash

The first thing that people comment on when they see our kitchen in person in the backsplash. Frankly, we feel like creative geniuses for picking it out ourselves. Really, though, I think we got lucky.

After finally picking out the soapstone – like the day before it was ready to be fabricated and installed – we had to choose what would go on the wall behind the range (and in between the appliance garages). I went online and selected 6-8 various kinds of tile, which the Knight narrowed down to two favorites.

That weekend we went to a few local stores to see what we liked in person, and didn’t really find what we wanted. What we did find was outrageous prices. So, as a last ditch effort before buying online – sight unseen – we decided to stop at Lowe’s on the way to our friends’ house for dinner. BINGO!

Not only did they have a tile we loved, but it was about 1/3 of the price of what we found in local stores, and about 30% cheaper than the online stuff. Oh, and we had a coupon that we received in the mail and the Knight convinced them to also let him use his military discount. Score!!!

When we got the tile home we were blown away. It was a mixture of stone and glass that perfectly incorporated all of the elements and colors of our kitchen. It was even better than we imagined it could be. It has such an impact and we love it!

Harmony

I just have to share something really cool about the whole process. I envisioned a stressful, difficult process for this renovation. This is the first time I’ve ever undertaken any significant home improvement like this. I have, however, witnessed friends going through it and it seems to always suck. And it is rarely a good thing for whoever’s marriage is at stake. 

So, I was repeatedly shocked by how easy it was doing this with the Knight and I was so grateful. We were on the same page the entire time. I still can’t believe it. It was just really fantastic to have the same vision for the project.

Our Contractor

The contractor we hired was Sabri Eriksen of Eriksen Home Improvement. Overall, I’d have to say we were happy with him. He was pretty reliable, the guys he had do the work were professional and very skilled. The workers were extremely neat and clean and they would carefully clean up before they left every day.We are really pleased with his attention to detail, not to mention that we are thrilled with the final product.

Our one gripe has to do with the additional charges he tacked on at the end. Without going into the whole story, we were surprised that after the kitchen was completed he essentially added about 30% more charges than he originally quoted. He had a reasonable explanation for each charge, but it still left a slightly bad taste in our mouths.

For example, his quote only included painting the walls that were “touched” by the renovation. So, the two additional walls that were left and the ceiling required a charge that we thought was a little high. We felt that many of the charges were ones that should have been anticipated by him when he quoted the project in the first place.

Another example is that he had to do some additional work to get the cabinets to work right because the house is old and the floors aren’t even. Well, the house is old. That fact didn’t change between the time he gave us a quote and when the work was completed.  We would have thought that he could have predicted that there would be some additional work required to get the cabinets to fit properly in a 60 year old house. In any case, we would have liked to be kept informed throughout the process and not surprised by a 30% overage at the end of the process.

So while I would recommend him, I would suggest that if you hire him you ask him along the way to keep you apprised of any additional charges. We did discuss our concerns with him at length. With that said, I think we would probably call Sabri when we are ready to redo our bathrooms. His work was good and even with the overages we feel that the price we paid was reasonable. He was a pleasure to work with, too.

Additional Thoughts

If I do say so myself, I think we made some good decisions here and it has made a big difference in the usefulness of the kitchen. For example, all of the bottom cabinets are drawers instead of doors.  The space is so much more usable than it would have been otherwise. We have all of our dishes in one drawer and it is so much easier to put them away and access them than when they were on a high shelf.

The two tall pantries (next to the refrigerator and next to the appliance garages) contain pull out shelves. Pretty much every day since the renovation one of us actually says out loud “I love this kitchen.”

We are also very happy with the lighting options we chose. We have a combination of LED and Xenon lights both under the cabinets and in the cabinets than have glass doors.

As for things we would like to change…. The first thing is that it would have been great if we could have redone the floors at the same time, but we decided to wait on this due to the cost. Since the great room and the kitchen are eseentially one big room, that’s a lot of tile. 

Also, remember that Sub Zero fridge I mentioned? It turns out that Ikea doesn’t make panels that fit our fridge that match the cabinets. Soooo… the contractor painted the panels white. I’m just not thrilled with how they came out and we might see if there is anything else we can do about that. There is an option to get stainless steel panels but I don’t think that’s the right look for this kitchen.

The Pictures

Without further delay, here’s the good stuff.

Before

 You can’t really tell that the color of the cabinets is best described as a grayish mauve.  

During

I took pictures every day. Here’s just a sampling of some of those daily shots.

Our makeshift pantry

 

 

After!!! 

 

 

My mixer lift! A dream come true! (Not purchased from Ikea)

Notice the front right burner! Power Boil, baby!

Please let me know if you have any questions. Despite the long post, I haven’t even scratched the surface of my thoughts about this kitchen. I’d be happy to talk to you more about this, or better yet, show you the final product in person.

Just look at my belly….Ahhhh

My friend Julie posted this hilarious video on my wall on Facebook last week and I have been giggling about it ever since. It seriously cracks me up. I’ve been dancing around the house singing: just look at my belly, ahhh….  I’m practicing my moves, you know.

For me, this ranks right up there with the Arlington Rap, which everyone knows I love.  I think it is because I can relate to the videos. People are so creative!  

And yeah, I’m loving my pregnant belly right now. I am kind of preoccupioed with it. I just love how round and  full of life it is. Go, go, big belly.

On a related note, for a while now I’ve been wondering why it has been necessary for me to also gain weight in my butt and thighs. I mean, really. It doesn’t seem fair.  But this morning I figured it out and have made peace with the additional cellulite. It is a matter of balance. You see, since I’ve decided that I’m going to avoid the pregnancy waddle as much as I can , I’m embracing this balance in hopes that it helps me. A girl can dream….

**

Just for fun, I was looking for a picture to put in this post and wound up searching for “pregnant belly art.”  Wow, there are some creative (and twisted) folks out there.

Try This! Ragù alla Bolognese (Eating Well Magazine)

It has been a couple of weeks since I shared a favorite recipe. Although I generally don’t repeat recipes very often, this one has probably been made at my house more often than any other recipe. First, it is because the Knight loves this dish. Second, we have an abundance of ground venison in the freezer, which I use in place of the beef. Third, I can make a big batch of this and freeze it in small portions for later use. It’s a win-win-win situation!

Growing up, we always made a traditional tomato meat sauce. It was very tomatoey and spiced with lots of basil, oregano, and garlic, This sauce, however, is much meatier but it is delicious in its own way. It is time consuming, so it is best made on a weekend day (note the four hours of simmer time). From start to fiinish it takes around 6 hours.

For a little more kick, I often substitute ground (venison) sausage for 1/4-1/3 of the meat, but do what sounds good to you.

Enjoy!

Ragù alla Bolognese (Classic Bolognese Meat Sauce)

Photo credit: Eating Well

From EatingWell:  November/December 2009

This is a version of the famous meat sauce of Emilia Romagna, of which Bolognais the capital. Giuliano Hazan’s family is from Emilia Romagna, and he learned to make Bolognese sauce from his mother, Marcella, who learned it from her grandmother, Mary. Its classic pairing is with homemade tagliatelle or pappardelle but it’s also very good with rigatoni, shells or any substantial pasta shape, preferably one with ridges, that has nooks and cavities to trap the sauce. (Adapted from How to Cook Italian by Giuliano Hazan; Scribner, 2005).

About 10 cups, for 20 servings | Active Time: 1 3/4 hours | Total Time: 5 3/4 hours

Ingredients

  • 2 small yellow onions, finely chopped
  • 4 small or 2 large carrots, cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 4 stalks celery, cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 pounds lean ground beef (90% or leaner)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups dry white wine
  • 2 cups low-fat milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 28-ounce cans plus one 14-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes

Preparation

  1. Put onions, carrots, celery, butter and oil in a heavy-bottomed Dutch oven and place over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are lightly browned, 8 to 15 minutes.
  2. Add ground beef and break it up with a wooden spoon. Season with salt and continue stirring until the meat has lost its red color, about 4 minutes.
  3. Add wine and cook, stirring occasionally, until it has almost completely evaporated, 18 to 25 minutes. Add milk and nutmeg and cook, stirring occasionally, until the milk has mostly evaporated, 12 to 18 minutes.
  4. Coarsely chop tomatoes and add them and their juice to the pot. Once the tomatoes have started bubbling, reduce the heat to low so that the sauce is barely simmering. Cook uncovered for 4 hours, stirring occasionally. If all the liquid evaporates before the cooking time is up, add water 1/2 cup at a time as needed. After 4 hours, make sure all the liquid has evaporated before you remove the sauce from the heat. Blot or skim any fat from the surface before serving.

Nutrition

214 Calories; 11 g Fat; 4 g Sat; 5 g Mono; 49 mg Cholesterol; 8 g Carbohydrates; 15 g Protein; 2 g Fiber; 316 mg Sodium; 420 mg Potassium

1/2 Carbohydrate Serving

Exchanges: 1 vegetable, 2 lean meat, 1 fat

Nutrition Note: Vitamin A (40% daily value), Vitamin C (20% dv), Zinc (23% dv).

Tips & Notes

  • Make Ahead Tip: Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 5 days or freeze for up to 3 months. Thin with a little water when you reheat it, if desired.

 

The Yogic Breath

I’m sure you’ve heard about the importance of meditation and breathing. When I read about these things I think, yeah, I’m going to do that. But let’s be honest. I am just not good at it. Really, it is amazing that I like yoga as much as I do, because I think of myself as too type-A and endorphin-starved to sit still long enough to do yoga. I was the kid who got excused from nap time in preschool. I just hated it. (Now of course, I’d pay for the privilege).

I have good intentions. But I really struggle to clear my mind enough to meditate. Even when we do the breathing part of yoga in class I usually fight myself to focus on my breath and clear my mind. Those of you can relate are probably also aware of how this can wreak havoc on falling asleep.

Anyhow, Rachel, the fabulous yoga instructor for my pre-natal yoga class, recently emailed us about the “The Complete Yogic Breath.” This kind of breathing is extremely beneficial whether you are pregnant or not. Personally, I really like how I feel after just few yogic breaths. She agreed to allow me to post this.

For me, this breathing is a very manageable way to get a little bit of peace and relaxation in the day. I am not saying I can necessarily stay focused – yet – on doing this for an extended period of time, but even a little while has a benefit.

Give it a try and let me know what you think.

From Rachel at YogaVita

BREATHE:

The Complete Yogic Breath (this is the most common yoga breath..you may exhale through the mouth if you are too hot.)

Deep breathing alone is an effective stress management tool. By breathing properly, you not only cleanse your body of the by-products of metabolism, but you also provide sufficient oxygen to the cells of your body allowing them to function efficiently.

Before you begin check your posture.

Sit comfortably allowing your spine to extend through its natural curves.
Inhale

1. Use the muscles of your diaphragm to pull the breath deep into your body—as you do so your belly moves out.

2. As you continue to inhale, feel your ribs expand,

3. and then feel your chest rise.
Exhale

1. As you exhale, first feel your chest fall,

2. then your ribs contract.

3. Finally, pull your bellybutton in toward your spine and use the muscles of your diaphragm to squeeze the last bit of air from your lungs. Belly moves in.

As you continue, allow your breathing to deepen and to slow down. Keep in mind the SLOWER (or the longer) the inhale and ESPECIALLY THE EXHALE, the better your chances to relax.

The best way to focus in the present moment is by starting to focus in the breath. We have covered the abdominal breath (inhale belly out, exhale belly in) and the sighing breath. Also, just being aware of daily mundane stuff that you do as you do them, helps you. Like when you brush your teeth think “I am brushing my teeth” instead of having other thoughts, just be mindful or aware of what you are doing as you are doing it.

Here is an article Rachel wrote for a local publication about the importance of focusing in the present moment in general and what you can learn from that.

Posted with permission from yogavita.com

[Note: Rachel provided more information about the yogic breath which was directly related to labor & delivery. If you’d like to read that, send me a note and I will forward it to you.]