The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Happy Monday, folks!

‘Tis a great Monday indeed, since it’s the very last Monday before… CHRISTMAS!!!!!!1!!!11!!!!!!!!!!1!!

If you’re thinking, “Gretchen, ease up on the exclamation points and formatting, it’s just a holiday…” then you obviously don’t know me at all. Christmas is my FAVORITE holiday, my favorite time of year, my favorite everything. I’m totally that girl when it comes to Christmas. And this year, my whole fam is heading down to Atlanta to ring in Christmas morn at my sister Jen’s house.

It actually feels like the Christmas festivities have kind of already started, though, because even though we’re all going to her house for Christmas in just a few days, my sister and my nieces were actually up here this past weekend!

 
This may be the most wonderful time of the year, but it is also certainly the busiest! This past week has held my work holiday celebration, my brother’s birthday, a photoshoot, and a baby shower — as well as plenty of time spent with the best kiddos in the world, of course. 🙂

Wednesday night, I went out to dinner with my coworkers to celebrate 2016 and the upcoming holidays. We don’t have an actual office here in the DC area (I work from home), but I’m luckier than a lot of other remote Yelp employees in that there are actually quite a few of us in the same area! This gives us the luxury of getting me out from behind my computer screen every once in a while to love on each other in person (and gives me an excuse to get dolled up, too!)

 
I know I probably humblebrag about my job far too much already, but I just have the best coworkers. We went to this new-ish restaurant in DC called Mythology that I loooooved, and ate, drank, and chatted the night away. I don’t go into the city all that often, but this place already has me thinking about my next trip, it was so good! The deets are all on–you guessed it–Yelp, so take a gander if you’re interested:

Read Gretchen F.‘s review of Mythology on Yelp

Thursday was my brother’s birthday, and was also the day that Jenny and the girls came into town. We had a family dinner at my parents’ house, and then went to see Rogue One on opening night (no spoilers, but it was awesome.)

 
Saturday morning was spent twiddling my thumbs waiting for the insane ice that had taken over the Metro Area to melt. It was insanely icy that morning — I almost fell flat on my butt just stepping out my front door, and there were literally dozens and dozens of terrible traffic accidents throughout the morning (including a THIRTY CAR PILEUP on the beltway. :()

Luckily (and weirdly), it warmed up and the ice was all but melted by noon, so I still got to fill the majority of the day with fun stuff… and even had a special guest star that some of you may recognize:

Anne! My brother and sister-in-law were shooting some photos for Anne’s business, so I played the role of makeup artist for the day. I can’t wait to see the finished shots!

 
Getting to test out my makeup skills is always fun for me, especially as my interest in makeup artistry has continued to grow. I’ve been getting more experimental with my own makeup lately (perhaps I’ve been getting bolder as a side effect of chopping off my hair, hehe), and, much to Sean’s chagrin, have been investing in a broader range and breadth of products.

Maybe one day I’ll get confident enough to start a side hustle beautifying folks, but for now, it’s enough to showcase my extreme vanity all over Instagram. And here, too, I guess. 😉

Finally, my weekend capped off with my beautiful friend Lara’s baby shower! This was the main reason Jen was back in town, as she was co-hosting it, and it just worked out really well that it was around the same time as Ben’s birthday.

Lara is a big Crossfit nut, so the shower was actually Crossfit themed! I helped Jen out by trying to replicate some of the things that she found on Pinterest. Some were a big win (the barbell diaper cake!), some were passable (the kettle bell cake balls), and some were a huge, time-wasting fail (WHY ARE SUGAR COOKIES SO HARD TO DECORATE?!?!). Regardless, I had a ton of fun prepping with Jen and, of course, loving on Lara and her soon-to-be baby girl!

So, that just about catches us up! Jen and the girls head back to Atlanta today with my parents, and the rest of us will be following suit later this week. So the next few days are sure be super busy as I try to wrap up work stuff, personal stuff, and try to keep my raging Christmas spirit in check ’til I make it to the ATL! And if I don’t make it back for another post before the end of the week, we wish you the happiest of holidays and merriest of Christmases!

 

Breakfast, Onesies, and Technicolor Schnauzers

Well, it’s official: I am twenty-seven years old. Do you think that makes me an adult yet?

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Actually, don’t answer that.

As I mentioned in my last post, I celebrated this year’s birthday with a festive pajama jam breakfast party!

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Instead of my usual MO of putting together a themed excuse to get drunk birthday party, I opted to do someting more low-key and daytime-friendly. So, this year, friends donned their PJs and came over in the AM (well, late AM) for some scrumptious brunch treats!

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I put together a brunch table full of goodies, including a cereal bar, mimosa bar, little breakfast canapes, and even whipped up a batch of waffle iron hashbrowns.

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For the cereal bar, I put out four kinds of cereal (Cheerios, Cocoa Puffs, Lucky Charms, and Cinnamon Toast Crunch) and four kinds of milks (almond, 2%, chocolate, and skim). In retrospect, I probably should have put out one non-sugar cereal, and skipped the skim milk (which apparently nobody likes, hahaha.)

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The breakfast canapes were made from mini Eggo waffles topped either with whipped cream and a strawberry or brushed with maple syrup and a small piece of bacon. They were the hit of the party! Super delicious and fun to eat.

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The waffle iron hashbrowns were outta this world, too. All you do is pick up a bag of frozen tater tots from the grocery store and pop ’em into the waffle iron. Squish ’em down and let them cook! They get perfectly crisp on all sides and turned out way better than cooking tots in the oven. I am a waffle iron believer now!

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The mimosa bar was a lot of fun, too! I got four different kinds of juices — orange, orange mango, grapefruit, and guava — and had some additional fruit for folks to pop into their glass. I kept the champagne on ice and, voila!

Of course, the very best part of having a breakfast-themed birthday party is the fact that for your cake, well… see for yourself.

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Isn’t it beautiful? Donut cake > regular cake.

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Ta-da! Birthday pajama jam brunch success!

If you’re thinking about doing a breakfast bar for an upcoming event, I say definitely do it! It was really easy to set up (the biggest thing is just having enough pitchers/serving bowls), and of course picking up supplies at the grocery store is easy and relatively inexpensive.

Plus, Pikachu onesie aside, I think it’s a very elegant way to present breakfast/brunch. This sort of thing would be perfect for a bridal shower, baby shower, or mother’s day celebration in addition to birthdays. It would also be really fun to do brinner (breakfast for dinner) for a nighttime party!

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Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention that I dyed Daxter and Pixel for the occasion, heeeeeeeee. 😀

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Now they’re ready for Spring! (Don’t worry, I used completely animal-safe, vegetable-based dye.)

And so, alas, my twenty-seventh birthday has come and gone. But something tells me that 27 is going to be my very best year yet. I can’t wait to see what’s to come!

On the Eve of My Twenty-Seventh Birthday

Happy National Sibling Day to these two weirdos!

I’m pretty sure this picture (taken at Ben’s rehearsal dinner) is the most Asian any of us have ever looked, or will ever look again.

Anyway, in addition to today being National Remind People You Aren’t An Only Child Day, it is also the eve of my 27th birthday! Yep, tomorrow is not only Bring Your Own Cup Day at 7-11, it is also my birthdaaaay!

You guys know how much I love my birthday, but this year I’m actually not feeling quite as birthday-y as I normally am at this point each year. Maybe it’s because of this ginormous Yelp event I’ve got happening in nine days time, or the fact that I just got engaged (two weeks ago today!), but my birthday just hasn’t felt like as big of a focus for me this year.

Sooooo, instead of big themed par-tay in honor of my favorite pop culture obsession du jour (feel free to check out my Harry Potter, Hunger Games, and Frozen-themed birthdays of the past), I’m having a birthday brunch pajama jam instead! I mean, what sounds better than lounging around in my PJs while friends come hang out, sip mimosas, and eat cereal with me?

So my brunch party is happening on Sunday, while tomorrow (my actual birthday) kicks off with another wedding venue visit, then a birthday lunch with Sean’s mom (we share the same birthday!), and then some kinda birthday surprise from my fiance (whee, that’s fun to say!) that he won’t tell me about, heehee. And THEN on Wednesday, my sister and Mia come into town (yay!), so we’re doing my family birthday celebration on that day!

Okay, okay, so I guess I am starting to get excited about all this birthday hubbub after all. 😛

All right then… see you guys when I’m 27!

Slytherin Hair, Hufflepuff Spirit

Those of you who have been longtime readers of this blog know that at one point in time, I was a daily blogger. Yes, every single weekday, and even some weekends if there was anything particularly exciting to report, I would open up a fresh post page in WordPress and type, type, type my heart out. I would detail everything from my latest weigh-in what I made for dinner the night before, to what I had been up to that weekend, to just all of the random thoughts that ran through my noggin.

Of course, part of the reason for that daily blogging was the accountability I so desperately needed to keep myself on track with weight loss, but another (rather sizeable) contributing factor was the fact that my job, well, let’s just say it didn’t exactly keep me busy 100% of the time. And during the rare times when I was busy, I was doing things I wasn’t exactly jazzed about having to do. So what better way to keep myself from going cuckoo behind a cubicle than to take to the magic of the world wide interwebs, right?

Well, as it turns out, me running to this very blog on an almost-daily basis was the very thing that honed my writing and social media skills to the point where I was able to land a full-time job that took advantage of those very things. A job that honestly felt tailor-made for me. My dream job. (I know how obnoxious it is that I still say stuff like that, but, hey, honest is as honest does!)

But, of course, suddenly having a job that not only required more of my time, but that I also wanted to devote time to, meant that I found myself starkly lacking in that ho-hum, what-to-do-what-to-do downtime where I was able to do a lot of my blogging. And so, those daily posts suddenly dropped to a few times a week. Then maybe once a week. And now… well, I think we all know I’m not the greatest at updating frequently.

And the funny thing about blogging, for me, at least, is that the longer you stay away, the harder it is to jump back. Logically, you’d think it’d be the opposite scenario. I mean, I have so much to report on, so many things to tell you about, so many photos to embed, I should be cranking out post after post, right? But it’s actually more like, there’s so much to say, I don’t really know where to start.

Funny, right? When I was writing at least 5 times a week, I rarely struggled to come up with content, and yet here I am with a multi-part dream vacation, a very stressful and frightening hospital stay for my dog Harry (don’t worry, he’s okay now, thank goodness), a friend’s wedding, and tons of events, cooking expeditions, and restaurant recaps stirring around in my brain, and I hardly even know where to start.

Well, I guess I should follow Fraulein Maria’s advice and start at the very beginning, eh?

A couple of weeks ago, Sean and I headed down to sunny Florida for a vacation that basically consisted of all the best possible things in life: my niece Mia, Harry Potter, Disney, a cruise, Sean’s birthday, the Kennedy Space Center, and, of course, more Harry Potter. (Duh.)

It was a pretty long trip and as you can see, we did quite a few different things, so I’ll try to tackle this chronologically. The trip can essentially be broken up into thirds. Part I consisted of being together with my sister, brother-in-law, and Mia, who drove over from Georgia to visit Universal Studios and Disney’s Magic Kingdom with us!

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Mia’s first trip to Disney, though she will not in any way, shape, or form remember it, was so much fun! I’m sure I would have still had fun even if it was just us “grown ups” touring Magic Kingdom, but I have to admit that it’s all the more special with a little princess in tow.

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And even though I’m sure parts of it were really overwhelming, I think Mia really had a great time! We basically had to pry her off of the teacups, and she was so excited to meet Belle, well, see for yourself. She was literally head over heels for her. 😉

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I will, of course, do a much, much (much much much much) more detailed post on Diagon Alley, the newest part of the Universal Studios Theme Park and literally the most magical place on Earth, but for now, suffice it to say that it was absolutely amazing and perfect and wonderful and I almost cried but didn’t quite so be proud of me.

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Just a couple of gals hanging out on Sirius Black’s flying motorbike, nbd.
Sean absolutely gets full marks for being so wonderful through all my insane fangirling, of course. For someone who has only read the first three Harry Potter books, has only seen like movies 1, 2, and 8 (or something equally as ridiculous), and doesn’t exactly have the Disney-obsessed gene that tends to run in my bloodline, he was an incredibly good sport.

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I did not actually end up buying him the “Best Boyfriend” award pictured above, but those of you fearing for Sean’s sanity after what he went through on this trip, don’t worry. Part 2 of our trip was a lot more fun for him, I promise. 🙂

After we said goodbye to Jenny, Dan, and Mia, it was time for Part II of our trip! Sean and I took the world’s most expensive Uber ride about an hour east from Orlando to Port Canaveral — we were going on a cruise! See, my old man’s 30th birthday just happened to coincide with this trip, so I figured that a nice, relaxing 3-day Bahamian cruise was just the ticket to make sure he got a chance to really enjoy this vacation too.

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PS: Traveling as a couple and trying to get pictures together = having to choose between taking yet another selfie OR awkwardly asking other couples if they’ll take a picture of you, since only they truly know your plight.
We were on Royal Caribbean’s Enchantment of the Seas, and the cruise was very nice — lots of downtime, relaxing, and, of course, eating! Oh boy, so much food… it’s really a good thing the cruise was only three days, I tell you what. We left from Port Canaveral and stopped in Nassau, Bahamas, and then we were also set to stop at CocoCay, Royal Caribbean’s “private island,” but unfortunately some really bad winds meant we had to skip it, as the water was too choppy to risk taking tender boats to the shore.

Oh well, being on the boat is where most of the fun in cruising is at, anyway, right? I mean, I managed to win $20 in the casino off of a $5 initial investment, so I’m thinking things went preeeeetty well for us. 😉

We actually ended up returning to Florida ON Sean’s birthday, so we headed just a few miles out from Port Canaveral to the Kennedy Space Center’s Vistor Complex and spent most of the day nerding out about space. (Sidenote: we also just saw Interstellar over this past weekend and I tell ya, it was a good combination to have just visited the Space Center, heh.)

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Sean’s a big space nut, so he had a great time checking out the old rockets, the space shuttle Atlantis, and all other sorts of nifty space-race history stuff while we were there. And as for me? Well, I may be as much of a space enthusiast as Sean, but I definitely learned a lot…

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Finally, we ended the day with Sean’s birthday dinner at Luma on Park, a fantastic restaurant that came recommended by my coworker and the Orlando Community Manager for Yelp (she does what I do here, only there.)

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And that successfully wraps up both Parts I and II of our trip! Whew! For those of you still reading, I’m pretty impressed that you made it. And fear not, I shall save Part III for another day, since it pretty much just consists of going back to Harry Potter World, shamelessly geeking out, and totally, utterly, completely loving my life.

Slytherin hair, Hufflepuff spirit.

Hopefully at least getting a significant chunk of my big trip down on paper (so to speak) will help me funnel my blogging mojo back into some semblance of normalcy. I definitely have more to report on, so stay tuned! Especially those of you who are looking for more of an in-depth look at the new Diagon Alley part of Universal Studios, hehe. Oh man, there are so many more ridiculous pictures to come…

‘Til next time!

A Frozen Birthday

I know that this update is woooooefully overdue, but hey, better late than never, right? My birthday weekend… week… let’s be honest I’m still celebrating… was absolutely wonderful, and a huge part of what made it oh-so-magical was, indeed, the Frozen-themed birthday party that I had!

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I’ll primarily let the photos do the talking, but as you will see, it was most definitely a good (and super delicious!) time.

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Do you wanna build a snowman?

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Hi, I’m Olaf and I like warm hugs!

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We are not so into the warm hugs.

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Well, okay, Harry’s not totally opposed.

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You can’t have a Frozen-themed party without a few touches of Spring. 🙂

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The spread!

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“I mean, it’s crazy, we finish each other’s–”
“–sandwiches.”
“That’s what I was gonna say!”

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“And maybe it’s the party talking, or the chocolate fondue…”

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These amaaaaazing, adorable, and totally, totally delicious miniature cakes (as well as the finger sammies!) were made by my friend Jessica (who I actually met thanks to this very blog! #fullcircle) They are insanely awesome flavors like “Blueberry Elderflower” and “Raspberry Lavender” — and I still have like three extra ones in my fridge, bwahahaha.

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Daxter singing along to “Let It Go” 😉

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Caketime!

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My friend Megan may or may not have also brought ACTUALLY frozen cake, hehe:

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SUGAR IS THE BEST.

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We also threw a little bit of Tangled into the mix and sent off a wish lantern at the end of the night! Warning to the wise, these things are a huge pain in the butt to light, haha.

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Also, FIRE IS TERRIFYING.

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Make a wish!

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Another wonderful way to usher in my latest turn around the sun! Any suggestions for next year’s theme? Right now I’m leaning towards a Pokemon theme, but that may be fairly heavily influenced by the fact that I attended AwesomeCon over the weekend here in DC, ahahaha.