Not a Bit of Decent Pimento Cheese Anywhere

We moved to Chicago and I can barely believe it.

Being Southern is ingrained in Will and I. From the tops of our heads to the tips of our toes and down deep in our souls, we are the South.

We thought our kids would be the same. We imagined them to grow up saying yes ma’am and no sir and y’all. They would have snappy, colorful fashion sense and enjoy their grits and one day their bourbon. They would love a good Steeplechase and a tasteful monogram.

And maybe they still will. But for now, we’ve left the South. And one week in, all I can complain about is that you can’t buy a decent pimento cheese anywhere. The rest of this town is fantastic!

We’re temporarily living in Streeterville with views that will drop your jaw. Here’s what you can see from our living room at night.

Streeterville Night View

We’ve walked to the grocery store, the neighborhood Italian joint, and (three times a day) to the dog park. There’s a playground in downtown where Clara totally flipped her lid. The Chicago Children’s Museum is colossal and the Shedd Aquarium has penguins. What more could a kid desire?

One week in we feel exhilarated by our ultra-urban lifestyle. And while we know the new will eventually wear off and we’ll be grateful for a new version of city living that caters more to families than tourists, we plan to live it up in the meantime.

I’m going to try to write! Not just for the other Southern ex-pats here in Chicago who might relate to my tale. Not just for our friends and family back in Nashville who have asked for a glimpse into life here. But because I believe there aren’t enough women executives talking about both their careers and their families. You see, we moved here for my job. I’m the newly-appointed General Manager of the Chicago and LA offices of my company, Critical Mass. I love that for the rest of my kids’ lives, when they speak of the adventure of living in Chicago, they’ll say we did it for “mom’s big job”. I feel so proud and humbled to have been given the responsibility of the health and future of our office here. And I’m ready to take this town by storm!

That’s all for now. I’ve got to have the grocery delivery folks add a few ingredients to our cart so we can whip up some Masters-Style Pimento Cheese. Where there’s a Will (capital W intended), there’s a way.

– Julia

Looking Like A Mom

Looking “like a mom” should never be an insult.

At this moment in time, I have a 22-month old and a 3-week old. And like any moment during my existence on this earth, I am not a morning person.

Yesterday I had the stark realization that in order to get out of the house at all on a given day, I needed to drag my butt out of bed before Clara (my toddler) wakes up and get myself dressed and put together. Otherwise, the cycle of dressing, feeding, and changing all three of us just takes too long and we never leave the house. I do not wear cabin fever well.

Last night Marshall (my infant) woke three times. One of those times, he was hellbent on throwing a party in the nursery. Very little sleep was happening for any of us. I was so exhausted that I feel in bed in yesterday’s clothes.

And this morning when the alarm rang alerting me that it was time to get dressed and put together, I ignored it. I of course was already dressed. I wore yesterday’s clothes to drop off Clara at school this morning. Guess what? She got there just fine, lovingly dropped off with her lunch and her nap-time lovie ready to learn and grow. What I look like doesn’t really matter, does it? Not today anyway.

like a mom

 Some days, this is what a mom looks like. This is also what any exhausted survivor looks like whether that person be cramming for exams, writing on a deadline, taking care of a sick relative, creating a proposal for work, etc.

Some days, this mom looks like a fierce business woman ready to innovate, take risks or close a deal. On other days, this mom is ready to hit the town with girlfriends or my husband. And yet when I’m gussied up for those occasions, no one compliments me by saying “You are really rocking that mom look today, Julia!”

As my friend Sonya Benham points out in her awesome piece on ABCNews, sometimes moms do sport sweatpants and no makeup. Ok maybe oftentimes. But that’s no reason to designate “looking like a mom” as an insult which is all-too-often what we do. One mom even says this to another, as if this is in any way ok!

Let’s stop using this lazy, inaccurate, insulting simile and focus on building each other up rather than putting mom-hood down. Being a mom/woman/human is a beautiful thing after all.

Seriously, read Sonya’s piece and then follow her blog Parlor Diary to get lots of ideas on how to be your most beautiful you … once your infant decides sleeping is cool.

xoxo,
Julia

Clara’s Top 5 Book Picks @ 14-Months

Little Miss Clara has started showing preferential treatment for the items on her bookshelf … BIG TIME. Pick something other than one of her favorites for a nighttime reading and she flails, stiffens, slides off your lap and toddles over to her bookshelf to fish out the proper one. She can recognize them by simply the spine. All of this at 14 months. Girlfriend has opinions! We are in for it. :)

Here’s a look at Clara’s top 5 book pics at 14-months. Enjoy!


Ringing it at #5 is the fabulously interactive Birds of a Feather
by Bernadette Gervais and Francesco Pittau. This lovely, over sized book is too large for Clara’s bookshelf so is stored on top alongside a couple of other over sized tomes. Clara will reach up over her head, look through them all, and then pull this one down and bring it to Mom or Dad for a tour. I say tour because at her age, this book is much more about an experience than it is a read. Every page includes fun flaps and realistic illustrations of all sorts of birds from around the world. Clara especially loves the page where lifting egg-shaped flaps reveals the bird that laid them. The language of the book is simple but scientific. I imagine she will enjoy this book for literally years. Coincidence that one of her first words was bird? Maybe not.

Coming up just behind at #4 is Pat the Bunny (Touch and Feel Book) by Dorothy Kunhardt. Yes, good ole Pat the Bunny which was originally published in 1940. My girl, like her mother, thinks a good classic never goes out of style. Clara actually owns 2 copies of this little gem but the first we set her loose on is already so tattered and torn that we’ve retired it and we’re on to the second copy. She interacts with every. single. page. My favorite is when she presses her nose against the mirror, leaving a little cloud of condensation behind. Adorable.

Sliding into our countdown list at #3 is the new classic, Llama Llama Red Pajama written and illustrated by Anna Dewdney. This delightful book, with it’s rhythmic rhyme, is a joy for both parents and kiddos. In fact I’m rather fond of quoting it when Clara demonstrates a flair for the dramatic; “Please stop all this llama drama and be patient for your mama.” It’s interesting to watch her expressions as we read this one. I can see her start to tense up when baby llama gets really wound up and start to relax again when mama llama reminds baby of her love. It’s a real page-turner for the one-year-old set in that way.

Garnering deep love at #2 in our top 5 list is Margaret Wise Brown’s The Fish With the Deep Sea Smile. This book has a similar rhythmic rhyme to LLRP (above) and has been updated with fabulous modern illustrations. Clara likes to read this book all the way through once and then go through it again, this time turning the pages herself and pointing to the fantastical fishes that grace each page. Sidenote: did you know that Margaret Wise Brown wrote hundreds of children’s books (not just Runaway Bunny and Goodnight Moon)? What a fun lady.

And topping our charts is Lots of Lambs by Laura Numeroff and Lynn Munsinger. Clara absolutely adores this book. We read it practically every night. It’s chock full of fun interactive content like flaps to lift, textures to feel, and wheels to turn. The illustrations are light-hearted and clever and it’s got that rhythmic rhyme that makes my gal all giddy. Tonight I had to pull out the packing tape and do a little repair on this fan favorite to make sure it’s part of our bookshelf for many months more. I have books that I remember from my childhood and something tells me this will be one of Clara’s. Memories in the making, folks!

xo,
Julia

Ladies, Take Your Power Seats

Take The Lead ChallengeWell hello! Sorry for the blogging hiatus. I’ve got a good reason. Details on that forthcoming.

Working women of the Interwebs, I’ve got your “Lean In” opportunity for the day, week, month! Tomorrow night, February 19th, there is a free webinar featuring, among others, Sheryl Sandberg COO of Facebook and author of the best-selling book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead. So those kids to bed, get yourself a glass of vino, and settle in with your computer for an evening that will inspire!

The event is happening at Arizona State University but anyone with a computer and Internet connection can tune in at 8pm EST / 7pm CST/ 6pm MST / 5pm PST. I myself am hosting a bunch of ambitious young ladies from my company at my home for the evening. Should be fun!

Here’s a summary of the agenda. More detail can be found here:

  • Welcomes from a variety of Take the Lead and Arizona State peeps
  • Tools for Success: The Power of Authenticity by Carla Harris, Morgan Stanley Managing Director
  • Panel Discussion: See It, Be It: Impact of Media on Women’s Leadership by 6 impressive women from the media sector
  • Sheryl Sandberg’s Keynote Speech and Q&A
  • Call to Action: Take the Lead Challenge and Presentation of Takeaway Gift by Gloria Felt

Online attendees get the takeaway gift as well so be sure to register to attend so your email address is on file.

If you can’t make the webinar tomorrow night, the Take the Lead organization sounds like an interesting one to follow. Their mission is to “prepare, develop, inspire and propel women to take their fair and equal share of leadership positions across all sectors by 2025″. This webinar is their big launch event but they seem to have lots of community and mentoring opportunities in the works, the likes of which will surely be touted at the end of the webinar tomorrow night.

If you tune in, let me know your thoughts!

xo,
Julia

Fellowship

Fellowship is one of those words that’s really only spoken by Lord-of-the-Rings-people, academics, or church-people. And while I fall into the latter category, I’m typically not big on churchy words. I’ve always thought it strange when people start to explain their spiritual life with a separate vernacular from the way they talk in every day life. You with me?

I feel that way and yet here’s a whole post on fellowship because last night I had an exceptional fellowship experience. As I’ve been turning it over in my mind today, I’ve come to realize how important it was. Just over 20 women from Belle Meade United Methodist Church met at my house last night to share wine, appetizers and conversation. We’re mostly in our 30’s and 40’s and in different stages of life and relationship. This group is gorgeous, successful, hilarious, cool and BUSY … so we meet every other month, on a Friday night, with this same format. 

The conversation part of the format includes a simple discussion topic, shared in advance but requiring no preparation. This discussion topic is what elevates our evening beyond simply a fun gathering of friends to fellowship. Last night’s topic was this:

How do you see God in your life?

Pretty simple, right? But when is the last time you asked someone a question like that? For me, it’s pretty much never. And sadly this never encompasses conversations with my closest friends, family, child and even husband. And let’s be honest, when’s the last time you asked yourself that question. Yeah … I know.

That’s CRAZY.

Just how crazy this is was underscored for me last night by my oldest friend, Eleanor. Eleanor and I have known each other for going on 27 or so years and have been best friends for the majority of that time. It’s insane and beautiful and we are lucky ducks to have each other. Eleanor has only very recently started attending church again. Last night she talked about the fact that our evening of fellowship was one of the only real meaningful adult conversations she can remember having in a long, long time. I know how she feels! And during that long, long time, she and I have had MANY conversations … some important but most about kids, clothes, gossip, restaurants and such. But last night, 2 very old friends who know each other very well, got to hear how the other sees God. It was so powerful that the conversation continued the next day.

That’s also CRAZY. Crazy awesome.

The evening was filled with beautiful, messy, hilarious, tragic, and honest stories of ways large and small that God is revealed in our lives. This group of 20 women related to each other; we learned from each other; we gave each other new ideas for ways to look for God; we made each other laugh; and we gave lots of hugs to each other as finally we made our way back home. This particular breed of interaction with others is incredibly important to the life of a Christian. It’s why church means something. Fellowship is unique and transformative.

Hmmmm … unique and transformative … I suppose it does deserve a churchy word to describe it, doesn’t it? Drat.

xo,
Julia

We’ve Got a Hankering for a Playroom

Plastic Toys Playroom

We’re classic new parents. Here’s the evolution of our thinking on the toy situation:

During our pregnancy:
“She’ll have mostly books and classic wooden toys so she can use her imagination and not be so susceptible to ADD like other kids. We’ll tell our families to use restraint with purchases so she’s not spoiled and our house isn’t over-run with plastic. Oh, and no TV whatsoever until she’s 2. La-de-da.”

6 months into parenthood:
“Let’s just take the coffee table out of our den altogether so she has some room to crawl and clear these shelves under the TV for her toys. Did you see how interested she was in that plastic, singing ball popper when we were walking through Target the other day? Yeah, well she really loves her Melissa & Doug wooden grasping giraffe too so we’re cool. I know we said no TV but she’s not really watching it so it’s no big deal to have it on, you know, just at night.”

8 months into parenthood:
“Hey honey, that V-Tech singing, light-up, rolling, uber-plastic toy suitcase that we’ve had our eye on is on sale on Amazon so I ordered it today along with a huge singing, light-up, rolling, uber-plastic walker. Yeah I can try to pare down the toys in the den a little so the shelves aren’t overflowing anymore. Oh did I tell you that Clara watched 45 minutes of Turbo while laying on the couch with me the other day? It was so stinking fun and I’m so proud of her attention span!”

13 months into parenthood:
“She would go bonkers for a ball pit, don’t you think? And she’ll be coloring in just a few months. Man I really wish she had a table on an easel or something so she can get creative. Or even a tent to read in! Yeah honey I can pare down the toys in the den again … they really are overflowing the shelves, you are right. I keep finding the meats and breads from her play kitchen under the damn couch. Speaking of the play kitchen, could you scoot it over a little bit so the remote can reach the cable box?”

Ergo begins the playroom planning fest ergo HOURS spent on Pinterest. We’re thinking of converting our downstairs guest bedroom but retaining the functionality with a built-in daybed. We’re doing this the DIY route so you’ll get to follow along on the blog.

Here’s a sneakity peek of what we are thinking.

Follow Julia Perry’s board Playroom on Pinterest.

Anybody have any advice for playroom organization?

XO,
Julia

Darling Brand You Must Get To Know: Feather Baby

Feather Baby Kimono Hoody Jacket

How cute is my girl in her Feather Baby Kimono Hoody jacket? There are even little bear ears sewn into the hood. 2 grown women have told me they would wear this! HA!

Feather Baby’s not sponsoring this post or paying me in any way. I just believe this is an exceptional baby clothes brand and you should know about it. Look for it in stores, buy it online … it’s great stuff!

Why?

  • The styles are so adorable – seriously some of my very favorite of Clara’s wardrobe.
  • The quality of the clothing is readily apparent from the moment you first run it through the wash and slide in on your baby’s fat arms.
  • Everything is 100% organic cotton, sourced from Peru, and certified FairTrade.
  • Prices are appropriately high but their sales are really good and fairly frequent.
  • I recently had to make a size exchange and their staff was courteous and helpful.

Will’s step-mother has gifted us several items from the line. The below dress was our pick for Clara’s one-year photo shoot because the smocked style is classic enough to stand the test of time but the print is fresh and modern.

Feather Baby Handsmock Dress in Pink Garden

Feather Baby Handsmock Dress in Pink Garden, $78 original price on sale for $68.

They have a store in Atlanta that I am dying to check out next time I’m there but you can also shop online or find local boutiques near you that carry the line.

Feel like oggilng some squishable babies in painfully cute clothes just for the hey of it? Here’s the spot.

Feather Baby has announced a new toddler line called Frisk that I plan on getting to know, too! They launched in Gilt.com in August. Fancy!

xo,
Julia

 

 

Clara Got Mail from Dolly Parton Today

Yes she did! And your kid can too.

Do you know about Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library? It’s an awesome program. Your kid can receive a FREE, age-appropriate book, addressed right to them, every month from birth to age 5. Amazing, right?

This is Clara’s library of free books so far.

Imagination Library Books

Any kid can qualify, regardless of their economic status, as long as there is a local organization funding the program. So here in Nashville, the United Way fulfills the books and administers the program. You can check to see if there’s local support for Imagination Library where you live here.

I know you are thinking that these books can’t really be cool. And of course some are better than others … but overall you can count me impressed. So you can get a feel for what you can expect, I’ve included Amazon links to the 11 books we’ve received so far below.

 

In collecting these links, I noticed that almost all of these books are at least $10. That’s nearly $100 worth of free books (in just one year!) to spark Clara’s imagination, increase her verbal skills, and delight her parents when she toddles over carrying the latest one for us to read to her. Dolly will have sent Clara 60 books by the time she turns 5. According to the website, nearly 700,000 kids are registered for the program in the US alone. That is a boat load of books. Go, Dolly!

Dolly Parton

Our girl Ms. Parton is from right here in Tennessee, you know. She grew up in the mountains of East Tennessee, quite near to where my grandparents lived for most of their life. It’s beautiful country but poor in places. Dolly started this program in her home county to support literacy and a love for reading, imagination and creativity. Now it has expanded to multiple countries and hundreds of thousands of kids. It’s such a simple thing, providing free books for kids, but so effective and just plain exciting. It won’t be long before Clara starts looking for those books in the mail. Imagine how pumped she’ll be on days they arrive! It’s exciting for me too! Will and I are cultivating a whole new appreciation for children’s books (good gravy they can bring such smiles), in large part thanks to this program.

Check to see if Imagination Library is available where you live today!

xo,
Julia

 

Snapshots of My Heart, Taken When I’m Not There

Clara and The General

This touching photo of Clara relaxing with our 19-year-old pug “The General” appeared on the private Facebook group we use to share photos with family today. It made me smile. Then it made me wince. This is the life of a working mom sometimes, when the most touching moment you experience of your child all day is relayed by your nanny’s iPhone camera. I was not there to see it for myself.

I thought about this photo on my ride home for a long time today. I had left the office at 5:15, proud of myself for keeping my commitment to myself and our nanny Kayla to be home at a certain hour (my husband Will travels for work constantly so Kayla is at the mercy of my sometimes chaotic work schedule). Then cursed traffic struck and the commute I had thought would take 20 minutes took over 40. As I watched the minutes tick by on my dashboard clock, I thought about the fact that I would get less than 1 hour with my daughter before bedtime once I arrived home. Less than 1 hour!

In this photo she looks so safe and happy, content to study her block and babble to her old and sleepy dog. She’s got considerable dog hair on her leggings, evidence of an afternoon of productive, messy play in our hairy den. We work hard and have had some good luck and these things have contributed to our ability to hire a nanny that makes her feel safe and happy. I’m so grateful for this and the fact that Kayla takes the time to photograph Clara for us.

When I finally conquered the traffic and walked through the door tonight, Clara started to squeal from the other room and quickly toddled into the kitchen to put her arms in the air and reach for a hug. This must be what heaven feels like, right?! As Kayla put on her coat and gathered her keys, Clara reached for a goodbye snuggle from her before returning to my arms. Clara loves her “La-La” … how wonderful is that?

On days like today I can’t help but wonder what it would feel like to be a stay-at-home mom. Right now I am fulfilled by my work. I love developing my team. I’m exhilarated by the start of a new marketing assignment. I’m challenged by my boss to run a financially healthy account for our company. My clients, my colleagues and my company are truly terrific. If I subtracted that from my life and added in new discoveries in fine motor and language, budding friendships, counting and reading, trying new foods, dancing and laughter, tears and tantrums, and countless trips to the zoo, library, museum, park and potty, would something seem to be missing? Or would I miss work at all? Would I wince when former colleagues shared stories of new clients won-over or award-winning campaigns launched when I wasn’t there? I honestly don’t know.

My work is fulfilling and not to mention a really good living. But motherhood is joy. Today, thanks to some great people in my life, I get to have it all. The balance may not always be what I want. Between 9 and 5, I may have to settle for nothing but snapshots of the thing I care about most. But the truth is, right now, the blessings in my life knock me flat on my ass if I think about them long enough. I’m content – really, truly content. And lucky. And grateful to God.

XO,
Julia

 

Roux-La-La … Gumbo!

It’s still cold here in Nashville. So we’re still eating soups and stews … and probably will be until May! You might start to think this is a soup and stew blog. Promise it’s more!

Seafood Gumbo

Right behind French Onion Soup is Seafood Gumbo on my list of favorite warm-up, (almost)-one-pot dinners. Seafood Gumbo has the added benefit of being a little bit spicy which helps with the warming quality. Will’s is delicious. It’s seriously as good as any gumbo I’ve had in any restaurant anywhere.

He’s got a couple of tricks up his sleeve. One trick (and this is the one that adds a second pot into the mix) is pan-frying the okra before dropping it into your gumbo. This trick significantly reduces the slimy factor that many people don’t care for but it’s totally optional. I, for one, like okra slime!

The other trick is in the roux. Lots of folks shy away from making a roux because they’ve unknowingly burnt the roux in the past and the resulting flavor is, in a word, HORRIBLE. Luckily, avoiding horrible with a roux is easy. Just make sure you don’t have the heat up too high (medium is good) and that you stir it non-stop.

We love this recipe so much that Will makes up a big batch of it and withholds the shrimp. Then we’ll bag up individual serving sizes and toss them in the freezer. When we’re in a gumbo mood, he just pulls out a couple of frozen servings, some frozen shrimp and sometimes he makes up a pot of rice. Dinner’s on the table in no time.

Below is Will’s secret recipe. Roux-la-la!

Will's Spectacular Seafood Gumbo
Shrimp and sausage gumbo with slime-free okra. Great served over rice or nix the rice for a low-carb option.
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Ingredients
  1. 4 Tbsp canola oil
  2. 4 Tbsp flour
  3. 3 cups okra, diced
  4. olive oil
  5. 2 medium white onions, diced
  6. 1 green bell pepper, diced
  7. 1 jalapeƱo, minced
  8. 8 cloves garlic, minced
  9. 16 oz. andouille sausage, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  10. 2 whole tomatoes, peeled and seeded or 1 can of diced tomatoes
  11. 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  12. 1 tsp garlic salt
  13. 1 tsp onion powder
  14. 1 tsp black pepper
  15. 1 tsp smoked paprika (regular paprika ok)
  16. 6 cups chicken stock
  17. 1 lb. peeled, deveined and thawed shrimp
  18. Salt
  19. Long-grain rice (optional)
Instructions
  1. Cut your okra into 1/2 inch pieces. Dust the okra in salted flour.
  2. Put a Tbsp of olive oil in a non-stick pan and heat over medium heat. Drop one okra in the heat. If it sizzles, the oil is hot enough.
  3. Brown the okra in the non-stick pan in single-layer batches. Transfer to a paper towel to drain excess oil. Add another Tbsp of olive oil for the next batch.
  4. Next, combine the canola oil and the flour in a 12-quart cast iron dutch oven. Cook over medium heat until blonde, stirring constantly.
  5. Add onions, bell pepper and jalapeno. Add a tsp of salt. Sweat over medium heat until onions turn translucent, stirring constantly.
  6. Add the cayenne pepper, garlic salt, onion powder, black pepper, and paprika and stir.
  7. Add the garlic and cook for another 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly.
  8. Add the andouille sausage, and cook for another 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly. Your roux mixture should be light brown at this point.
  9. Add the tomatoes, and cook for another 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly.
  10. Turn the heat up to medium-high. Add chicken stock, salt and other seasonings to taste. Bring this to a boil.
  11. Add the fried okra to the dutch oven.
  12. Add the shrimp. Put the lid on the pot and turn off the heat. Let sit for 5 minutes or until the shrimp are done. It's ok to peek early!
  13. Serve straight or over long-grain rice.
Notes
  1. If your gumbo is too thin, mix 1 Tbsp of flour, 2 Tbsp of water and a pinch of salt in a separate dish and then stir into to the boiling soup.
  2. If your gumbo is too thick, add chicken stock and salt.
  3. The seasoning mixture in this recipe can also be replaced with Tony Chachere's Famous Creole Seasoning. As always, taste your gumbo to insure balanced seasoning!
Bless Her Hearth http://www.blessherhearth.com/

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