Monday, April 30, 2012

Jane's First Jazz Fest

Three years ago, I started this little online journal to share about my life and how New Orleans has shaped it.  One of my very first posts describe my infinite love for the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.  I described how "you can hear the sound of a horn playing off in the distance. It's like they are playing just for you - welcoming you into their world of music, tradition, food, art, and history. And when you walk through the line surrounded by a sea of people as excited as you, there is nothing like it." 

For years, I have looked at parents who brought their children to Jazzfest and wondered if we would be brave enough to be among them.  In joining them, you subject yourself to scrutiny and judgement.  You hear whispers of "who brings a baby to the Jazzfest?"  

You know who brings a child to Jazzfest?  Mark and me.  Why?  Because we wanted to Baptize Jane in the wealth of music and culture that is New Orleans.  We wanted her to move to the beat of a snare drum. We wanted her to recognize the beauty in the unique blend of fragrances that are fried soft shell crabs, sunscreen, patouli oil, and jasmine.  We wanted her to feel the warm embrace of the crowd as they send their appreciation up to the stage.  To borrow a thought from New Orleans' writer, Chris Rose, Jazzfest is an education.  It is everything that is right about New Orleans.  That is why some people bring their babies to Jazzfest...

This weekend we saw Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes, Gomez, Zebra, The Beach Boys (Uncle Jesse - John Stamos - performed with them), Trombone Shorty and the Orleans Avenue, Dr. John, Janelle Monae and Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.  Each performance was more incredible than the next!

Jane and me dancing at the Gentilly Stage

Jane loves kicking her feet to the music

Dancing makes Jane tired!

She even slept through her first Jazzfest Second Line Parade

The parade was colorful as always

Our first family Jazzfest

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Jane's Pink and White Baptism Reception

I have been meaning to share pictures of Jane's Baptism for weeks now.  Jane was baptized at Holy Name of Jesus Church on February 12, 2012.  It was such an incredibly special day for us.  After the Baptism, we held a very small reception for family and a few close friends at our house.  We felt so incredibly lucky to be surrounded by the people we love as we welcomed Jane into our spiritual world.  It was especially meaningful to do so at the very church where Mark and I got married on the very college campus where we met.  It was truly one of those days where you see your life coming full circle.  

Here are some pics from the big day...
Our Sweet Baby Jane

Jane with her Daddy and Mommy and her Godparents

Jane in her very fancy (and absolutely beautiful) Christening gown that was worn by her Great Grandmother.  

The Beverage Display
I used the Martha Stewart large pink poms and the small white pom garland.  I found some great pink and white paper straws on Etsy that matched the pink and white napkins we found at Party City.

Our Buffet Table
The morning of the Christening, I went to Whole Foods and raided their pink and white flower selection.  For the centerpiece I used two mixed bouquets of lilies and stock.  I filled two small Juliska glasses with petite pink roses and babies breath.  

We hung the pink and white poms from the chandelier which added a little height and dimension to the room.

I made a flag banner that says "God Bless Jane" from scrapbook paper found at Michael's.

Our silverware, plates, and napkins tied in with the color scheme.

The Dessert Display
My sister made cupcakes and a lovely cake just for Jane.  I found the cutest cupcake liners and pink decorative pearls at Michaels.  I also took two of the pink poms and stacked them on crystal candlestick holders to add a little flare to the table.

Jane's cake

How has it already been two and a half months since this special day?  It feels like just yesterday.  Time is flying by!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Tasty Tuesdays: Lightened Up Taco Pasta

Photo and Recipe Courtesy of Plain Chicken

With tax season behind us, I have time at night to make dinner for Mark and me again.  I attempted to start up on Weight Watchers a few weeks ago, and I had a great first week, and then I stopped making it a priority and saw my results worsen.  So I have decided that I am going to start over with a clean slate. 

First things first, I needed to gather some new and interesting recipes that I could make that are light or can be lightened up.  One I am really looking forward to this week is a cinnamon spiced pork loin with an apple salsa.  I think we'll be having that this weekend, so hopefully I'll have another "cooking light" inspired dish to share with you next Tuesday.

For this week, I thought I'd tell you all about the fantastic meal we had last night.  Who would have thought that Taco Pasta would be good for you and flavorful all at the same time.  Well with a few easy adjustments to the recipe below, we were able to put together a tasty meal in just minutes.

Taco Pasta

1 pound ground beef (we used 0.75 lb of 97%, 3% lean ground beef)
8 ounce small dry pasta shapes (we used whole wheat shells)
1 small onion, chopped (I used a medium onion to add the bulk that I took away by cutting back on the amount of meat originally called for)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup salsa
1 packet taco seasoning
3 ounce cream cheese (we used 1/3 less fat)
1/2 cup sour cream (we used light)
Salt and pepper
Shredded Cheese for topping (we used 2% shredded cheddar)

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Cook pasta according to the package directions. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of pasta water. Set aside.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, cook the ground meat and onion over medium-high heat until no longer pink. Once the meat is cooked through, drain off the excess fat and mix in the garlic. Cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Mix in the salsa and taco seasoning and let simmer over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Stir in the cooked pasta, cream cheese, sour cream and reserved pasta water, and continue stirring until the cream cheese is melted and the sauce is well blended. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Top with shredded cheese and more sour cream and salsa if desired.
This was DELICIOUS!!!  Mark was in heaven.  You had no idea that it had been lightened up in any way!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Pinterest Party: Visions of Sugarplums 1st Birthday Party

I know we have months to go, but I have been collecting ideas for Jane's first birthday party.  Because Jane's birthday falls around Thanksgiving, we orginally thought we'd do a harvest themed party, but we won't be able to have the party until the first weekend in December.  Can you say holiday party?!?!  But what direction should we go in?  I had considered a "Winter One-derland Party," but then I fell in love with the idea of a Sugar Plum Fairy Party.  Here's some pinterest pics that I've collected that go along with the theme...

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Two Days of Pinteresting Things

Because it has been a while since I have shared my favorite pins with you, I thought I'd do so today and tomorrow.  Today's pins will be kind of random, but tomorrow's will be all about my latest idea for Jane's first birthday party (yes, I realize she's only five months old, but I can't help myself!!). 

Here are today's collection of what I have found most pinteresting recently...
These wedges are perhaps the most fabulous shoes I have seen in a long time.  If anybody knows where I can find them, please let me know.  The pinterest source doesn't take you to a retail source, a fact which hurts me to my sole!

I really needed to be reminded of this this week.

The post that this pin links to is truly inspiring.  I cannot wait to turn 32 now just to copy this idea..

My hair is still a little short for this look, but as soon as it is long enough, I will be trying to make this happen!

This ombre tablescape makes me want to throw a very decadent dinner party where everyone wears cocktail attire and sips fancy dinner drinks like they do on Mad Men.

Can't wait to reveal the party theme tomorrow and see what you think. 

Found anything pinteresting lately?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Tasty Tuesday - Champagne Cupcakes

Photo and Recipe Courtesy of Gimme Some Oven

I am fairly certain that the phase "the calm before the storm" was not coined by a meteorologist or a boatsman used when describing the weather.  No.  I think it was how a tax accountant described the morning of April 15th (or in our case the 17th).  It is eerily quiet in the office early this am.  Many of my coworkers were literally burning the midnight oil, so I think they might be slow to rise this morning.  The thing about the deadline day is that the silence is what is scariest.  We are so used to phones ringing and Outlook notifications chiming that we don't know what to do with silence other than worry about what the day will bring.  Because there is one thing that is certain, it won't be quiet for long.  And that's when the storm comes.  Soon it will be raining emails and faxes and phone messages.  For now, I will enjoy the peace and the calm that can be found on the morning of a good storm.

After all is said and done today, we will get together as a firm and toast to another tax season behind us.  Pop the bubbly!!!!  Whether it's for drinking or cooking, I sure do love me some champagne!  This cupcake recipe looked to good not to share!

Champagne Cupcakes with Sweet Champagne Buttercream Frosting Recipe


Champagne Cupcake Ingredients:
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
2/3 cup butter
1 1/2 cups white sugar
3/4 cup champagne (the sweeter the better – even strawberry would be great!!)
6 egg whites

Sweet Champagne Buttercream Frosting Ingredients:
3 1/4 cups powdered sugar
1 cup butter, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons champagne, at room temperature

To Make The Cupcakes:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Prepare a cupcake pan with liners. (This recipe yielded about 20 for me.)

In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until very light and fluffy. Sift flour, baking powder, and salt together, and then blend into creamed mixture alternately with champagne.

In another large clean bowl, beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold 1/3 of the whites into batter to lighten it, then fold in remaining egg whites. Fill the cupcake liners about 2/3 full.

Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean.
To Make The Frosting:

With an electric mixer, beat together sugar and butter. Mix on low until well blended, and then on medium for another two minutes. Add vanilla and champagne, beating on medium for another minute.

(**I had to nearly double this recipe to have enough to frost all of the cupcakes as pictured above. If you’re doing a “flatter” frosting style, this recipe should be enough to cover all of the cupcakes!**)

Hope tax season brought you a refund that you will spend unwisely!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Dear Jane: Being Grateful to Those Who Serve

Dear Jane: 

It has been some time since I've written to you.  It is not for lack of wanting to, I promise.  Sometimes, I find it hard to balance living life with you and daddy and writing about it. 

This morning, you and I said goodbye to daddy for the week.  He is heading up to Alexandria, LA with his LA Air National Guard unit.  For the next six days, they will practice all of the things they need to get right so that their mission can be successful.  It'll be hard work, and daddy is going to miss you so much, but he's proud to serve his country and the State of Louisiana. 

When most parents search to find childhood heroes for their children, you have one who lives with you every single day.  There is no greater hero than a man or woman who serves his or her country.  For four years, mommy and daddy were so lucky to live among these brave men and women in Beaufort, SC.  Knowing that they were entering the Marine Corps during a time of war, each week we would get to see these brave recruits come to Parris Island so that they could be made into a Marine.  Each and every time I entered the gates of PI, I was overcome by a sense of gratitude the likes of which I had never experienced before. 

Jane, one of the very reasons that daddy decided to join the guard was so that our children (you, now) would feel a similar sense of gratitude.  He wanted you to see that military service is of utmost importance.  He wanted you to understand that he was a part of something greater than himself so that you never take for granted the people who serve our country.

Today, while we will certainly miss daddy, we are also grateful for the job he and his fellow guardsmen are doing.  You and I have also talked (well, I talked and you sort of listened) about the fact we are so lucky that we will get to see daddy in just six short days.  There are so many military families who have to wait much longer than that to see their loved ones again.  To them, you and I are indebted.  We will pray for them each day and thank them every chance we can.  To them we owe our freedom...

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Our Newest Intern

Mark has one day off a week which he spends with Jane.  Today, they decided to come and visit me at work because I'll be getting home after Jane goes to bed.  I just love seeing that sweet girl in the middle of the day.  It is just what I need to keep on keeping on.

While she was here, I put her to work.  She has attained child genius status with regard to her operation of a 10 key calculator.  She sure can bang away at those keys!  I'm not sure I'd trust her number though...

Posts might be a little less frequent this next week.  There's a lot to do before the tax deadline!!  Only six more days...  

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Baby Stationery Selection

I mentioned here that I was working with the very talented Lauren Alsop from Lauren Alsop Custom Paper Goods in designing stationery and gift enclosures for Baby Jane.  I am so excited to share with you the final product! 

I knew what I wanted, but I couldn't quite find it, nor could I describe it.  Enter Lauren.  She was able to capture the exact look I was going for just by seeing a few images of the other things I liked.  After paying her a visit to decide on the color choice of the card, I was torn between this sweet ballet pink and a classic Tiffany blue.  Rather than choose between them, we decided it would be best to order half in pink and half in blue.  A perfect decision if you ask me!!

The actual cards will have Jane's complete name on them, but here is the blog friendly abbreviated version!

Aren't they perfect?!?!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Getting to Know Amanda LeBlanc from The Amandas

As I mentioned yesterday, I had the pleasure of chatting with Amanda LeBlanc from The Style Network's The Amandas.  Tonight is the season finale of her show, and guess what... it was filmed right here in New Orleans.  In fact, if you want to meet Amanda and her organizing team, you can head over to the Velvet Cactus tonight from 5-7!!  One lucky guest will win a consultation with Amanda!!

From our conversation, I can honestly say that Amanda is an extraordinary woman.  It does not surprise me one bit that The Style Network found in her someone America would want to get to know.  I'm sharing with you the questions I asked Amanda and my recap of her responses.  I have no doubt you will find Amanda as genuine, charming, intelligent, talented, and driven as I do.  

It truly is my honor to give you a glimpse into the life of America's favorite organization specialist, Amanda LeBlanc...
About the show
Did you ever think when you were studying English at LSU that you’d be here in your adopted hometown promoting the season finale of your own television show? 
NO!  My mom and those closest to me knew I would never settle for mediocrity.  They knew I would "go big or go home!"  When I was in college I wanted to be successful, and my definition of success was measured by money, so I started out in the business school.  My dad saw that it wasn't making me happy and encouraged me to change my major.  He encouraged me to find something that made me happy and to get the best experience possible out of college.  

After college, I got a job in sales and was very successful.  With more success came more money and stability but not necessarily happiness.  But in 2003, I had my first child, and it was earth changing.  I realized I wanted to leave a legacy for her.  I wanted her to follow her dreams and find what makes her happy.    So with that as inspiration, and with my friend and neighbor by my side, I decided to start a business centered around helping people organize their homes.  I wanted to make my family and friends proud and do what I love in the process.

The show is based on your very successful personal organization business.  Can you describe what the journey was like from small business owner to reality tv star?
Ask Dustin, "How many people work for us?"  He'll say, "100.  In the body of 10!"  I have always been frugal.  I went from a sales job where I was given a car to owning my own business.  When I was starting out, I had to walk to clients' homes!  While we started with no money, we had passion and ambition.  Failure was not an option.  I had faith in God.  I work for Him, and because of that, I knew I had nothing to fear.  As a small business owner, you have to be willing to sacrifice, fail, and take a risk.  And if the path you have taken is too hard and things don't seem to fit, change directions.  

As for the show, it fell into our laps.  It was a two year process from the original concept to the airing of the first episode.  It has been such a great opportunity to reach out to people!

What was the most rewarding project you completed on the show?
The show has allowed us to meet people with such depth.  In Episode 4, we worked with a single mom and her son who had just recently moved in with the boy's grandparents.  In his new living arrangements, the young boy didn't have a playroom of his own.  He was coping with living away from his father and moving into a new environment, but he was well adjusted and smart.  He stole my heart!

What was the most challenging aspect of living your life in front of the cameras?
Such a small portion, maybe 10%, of your life is shown in any given episode.  You're working 20 hours a day with unrealistic timeframes in which to complete projects, and the projects have to impress a nation.  No one cares about your business as much as you do.  You have to balance all of that for the camera.

I know you can’t give too much away, but you shot the season finale of The Amandas here in New Orleans.  Can you give us a sneak peak into what we might see tonight?
In this episode, we tackle three projects instead of two.  I have been considering opening a retail store here in New Orleans, but I needed to know if my team can handle things on their own.  So I give them that chance in this episode.  You have to watch to see how it goes!  Also, you might see some drama unfold when one employee enjoys the New Orleans nightlife a little too much...

About the Business
As a professional organizer, when you walk into a client’s home or office, how do you determine where to start in getting them organized?
This business is all about reading people.  Before I start a project for a client, I will have them give me a tour of their home.  I want to see how they live and how they function.  As they show me around, they begin to relax and make comments about the different spaces in their home.  It's in getting to know them that I discover where to start.  Often, after the tour, we find that the area that they considered to be the most problematic isn't at all.

As a new mom and busy professional, I want to maximize my family and friend time.  Do you have any de-cluttering quick tips that can produce big results in no time? 
People are often asking for "quick tips."  The truth is that getting organized is a process.  It's more tortoise than it is hare.  Make small accomplishments day by day.  If you don't have time to tackle the whole kitchen start with one aspect of the space.  Purging will always make the biggest impact, so you can start there.  Then tackle the pantry and move on to the drawers the next day.  Think of it as 365 days of organization.  

A reader and mother of two children would like advice on kid clutter.  Without a playroom for storage, do you have some creative ideas on how to stow away toys and schoolwork?
I consider them two different storage challenges.  

For schoolwork and artwork, I have three suggestions:
  1. Use an objective third party to help sort through artwork to see what should stay and what should go.  Try to decide what pieces your children will treasure when they are older (the first time they wrote their name, handprints, etc.).
  2. Lay out all of their artwork accomplishments when they come home and assign each piece to a different family member.  Have your children help put the pieces into envelopes and mail them to loved ones.  It helps you eliminate clutter, and it gives your child an opportunity to receive praise all over again when Grandma gets her mail!
  3. Have an "under the bed" storage bin.  The things you decide to keep should go in there for safekeeping.
For toys, my best advice is not to give them too many.  Too many toys hampers their creativity.  Don't buy them a tent, help them build a fort with sheets!  But, if you already have lots of toys, and you don't have a lot of room, consider vertical storage (shelving, bins, and baskets placed on the wall).

If you had to choose the top three organizational products that everyone should employ in their home, what would they be?

It is an amazing closet on a rail system.  It keeps you organized, and if you ever move, it can go with you.  It truly is an investment.  (And it can help with that pesky toy organization problem too!)

As parents, it's important that we set an example for our kids that we value ourselves and our things.  It's important to keep your bedroom, bathroom, and closet tidy.  You'll start your day off on the right foot.  Wooden hangers make every closet look more beautiful.  And when a space looks beautiful, we are more likely to keep it that way.

Put everything in your pantry on display!  First of all, it looks great.  Second, you always know what you need more of.  Never again will you go to make a bowl of cereal only to find there are two Cheerios in the box.

Fill in the blank…  the single most important aspect of organizing one’s life is…
Prioritizing your life by what is most important to you.  

About  Amanda
I always love getting to know other Nola Girls.  I have said on my blog many times that New Orleans is not where I am from, it is who I am.  How has growing up in New Orleans influenced you and your work?
New Orleans is part of your soul.  It is part of everything you do. It impacts how you communicate.  In New Orleans, life is about living.  I have definitely taken that aspect of New Orleans with me to Birmingham!

Like me, you were living in Lakeview and lost everything during Katrina.  How has that experience affected your work?
Wherever I go, people ask me what I would do differently when it comes to Katrina.  I always respond that I wouldn't pack anything different or leave any sooner.  We've all been given a gift.  Mine is organizing.  Katrina taught me how to empathize with people when they have to purge to organize. I understand what it's like to lose things that are important to you. Katrina made me a better wife, mother, and friend.  It taught me in both a good and bad way that the impossible is possible.

You got to work with Nene Leakes.  Is she as funny and charismatic in real life as she is on RHOA?
She is!  For anybody who loves shoes, her closet is like being in a candy shop!  It was an amazing experience to be able to implement the "over the top" closet design.

You can organize the closet of anyone in the world.  Whose would you choose and why?
Coco Chanel.  If I'm going to do a closet, I'd go with someone in fashion.  And why not choose someone who was brilliant!

It has been so wonderful to chat with you today.  I can say from one New Orleans girl to another that the Who Dat nation is so proud of everything you have accomplished.  Can you tell us where you hope to see your career go from here?  What’s next for you?
My mom has always said that she named her children to accomplish different things.  She named me to be an author.  So I think that writing will be a definite next step for me.  I have also been collecting ideas about certain products that I wish were readily available.    You might see a few new things from me on the shelves sometime in the future!

Well, there you have it.  I hope you enjoyed getting to know Amanda as much as I have.  I'm hoping that her future also includes Season 2 of The Amandas!

Readers, if you could organize the closet of anyone in the world, who would it be? 

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Eeek!! Big Blog News! Spread the Word!

Tomorrow, this Nola Girl will feature another Nola Girl's, Amanda LeBlanc from The Style Network's The Amandas, success story.  I will be chatting with Amanda this afternoon, and  I can't wait to hear more about her career and her new hit tv show (and, of course, her experience working with Atlanta Housewife, Nene Leakes).  And Lord knows I could use some organizational tips too!!  You should see my closet right now...  Clutter, clutter everywhere!

I must say, I am so inspired by young women who have followed their dreams and experienced success like Amanda.  It is never by accident.  It is always through hard work, determination, creativity, leadership, and vision.  Sometimes on extra hard days, when I need a little boost, I see success stories like hers as a reminder that my professional dreams can come true too!

It wouldn't be Tuesday without a recipe.  Here's one that I'm going to make this Friday to bring to work on Saturday.  Easter is often lost on CPAs, so I thought I'd bring a little Easter cheer with me to the office.  These birds nests are just too cute.  And who could resist the combination of peanut butter and chocolate covered chow mein noodles?!?!


1 (12 oz.) pkg. semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 (12 oz.) pkg. peanut butter chips
2 (5 oz.) cans chow mein noodles
3/4 c. peanuts
Chocolate Eggs

Melt chocolate and peanut butter chips in a heavy saucepan over low heat and quickly stir in noodles and peanuts to coat evenly. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto waxed paper. Top with three eggs.  Refrigerate. Makes 30.

Trying to get organized?  What you like to learn from Amanda? 

Sunday, April 1, 2012

See Jane Work

Jane and I took a field trip to the office today.  After just an hour, she fell asleep on the job!


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