Tuesday, January 13, 2015

A fresh start (again)

Sometimes you've already got lemonade, and life gives you vodka to go with it. And sparklers. And a pony. 

Sometimes you're all snug and cosy in a great little apartment, then you happen across what can only be described as a once in a lifetime housing opportunity. There was no reason to us to move, except, ya know...  


Back in the fall, my random internet wandering stumbled upon a couple preparing to leave this gem of an apartment - the entire second floor of a former shipbuilder's mansion in the historic Mt. Vernon neighborhood of Baltimore. 

One visit and we were in, hook line and sinker. The former entertaining floor was repurposed into apartment living- 3 main rooms, a kitchen, and bathroom. Marble fireplaces. Elaborate plaster molded ceilings. TWO chandeliers. The only answer was, YES! Let's live in a ballroom. 

(our TV lives above this fireplace)

Packing up, especially when you feel like you've just settled down, is a little bit crazy. But if I've learned anything over the last year, it's that a change can do good. We were looking for a place with a little bit more room (when you both work from home, it's hard to take phone calls when the desks are back to back), and a neighborhood that was more our style.

Moving from one city to another is always a bit of a crapshoot. It's really hard to judge a city's neighborhood character based on a weekend visit, no matter how much internet research one does. We lucked into a great spot when we first moved to Baltimore... but it wasn't 'our' spot.

Fell's Point is incredibly fun, historical, and vibrant... but also a little crazy. Every weekend (and most weeknights), the streets are filled with people having a great time (and letting us know about it through the window.) It was a great introduction to the city, but for the most part, my partying days are over. I really missed meeting people from the neighborhood - and it was hard to do with so many coming in from the suburbs to have a good time. Not bad! Just not for me.

Mt. Vernon, on the other hand, is a little quieter. Still very centrally located - and even more walkable/closer to transit than Fells! It's right by the highways, the train station, and a short walk down to the harbor. The houses are all older and absolutely gorgeous, and the *first* Washington Monument (suck it, DC!) is right outside our window, located on a little park. People sit on stoops and walk their dogs. And say hi to each other. It's kind of amazing.

I wish there had been a site like Urban Compass out there for Baltimore when we were trying to figure out what neighborhood to settle in. It's only for NYC (for now), but the site gives a feel for a lot of popular boroughs of New York, and what to expect if you move there. From Chelsea (diverse, fast-paced, for foodies) to Park Slope (elegant, for families, serene) and everywhere in between, you can find the right fit for you - and an apartment in the area! Pretty perfect. Now, expand please! Cincinnati and Baltimore need a service like yours.


Here's a few more shots of our place. I'm excited for a fresh start, a new year, in a new neighborhood. More room means plenty of space for guests- come on over and visit us, already! We've already had a few people over, but the goal is to host a NYE 2015 party filled to the brim with friends we made this year.

The kitchen - huge built in pantry that I recovered with contact paper (may revisit in a future post). Gas stove! And plenty of room for dance parties. If you're into that sort of thing.

This is the view when you first walk in. I am an extremely amateur photographer, and would love someone who knows what they're doing to come and take real pictures sometime. 

It's difficult to furnish a ballroom. I've been spray painting a lot of things gold. The trick is to find the balance between the art, furniture and accessories we own to feel grounded in the space, not randomly just stuck there - without filling it to the brim with new things. Odds are any future place will not have 18' ceilings. 

The kittens are pretty happy with the new digs. They like climbing on things.

Click through the slideshow to see the rest of the setup. Better yet, come see it in person. 

Thanks, Urban Compass, for inspiring me to write this post! I didn't get paid, just asked nicely - and I needed the motivation. So now you know. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

A Handy Guide to Lady Laundry

I put up a tip on Reddit last night, and apparently it was quite helpful. So here's a bigger graphic and some attribution. P&G Fabric Care and related agencies, you're welcome. Hire my agency for more cool work.

Handy tips when doing lady laundry:

When you're switching clothes from the washer to the dryer, remember:

If it's Sexy, Stretchy, See Through, or Sheepish (wool) - hang it up to dry.

When in doubt, leave it out (of the dryer) - messing up/shrinking/ruining her bras, sporty stuff, and delicate clothing will put a sour note on your nice gesture.

BF and I came up with these rules when we moved in together- 9 months later and no ruined clothing!

It sparked quite the debate on gender roles, laundry care, and general puns/jokes/sexism that is the reddit community. In our house my boyfriend and I split household chores. He does laundry because I'm terrible at folding clothes. I cook, he does dishes, I tidy up and clean the bathroom.. it all works out in the end. 

I just wanted to help out any guys that wanted to surprise their ladies with taking on a chore - so that the surprise is GOOD, and not full of tears and anger. No one likes ruined clothing. 

Go forth and launder, for yourself or your loved ones... however you choose!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Fall down seven times. Stand up eight.

I went skiing for the first time this week. Before Monday my winter sports experience consisted of ice skating and sledding in the Midwest. But my best girl moved out to Denver and demanded I come out so she could introduce me to the mountains. I stuffed all the random winter clothing I had in a duffel and flew out to Colorado.

Pictures don’t really do the mountains justice. No lens can truly capture the way the light reflects off the snow. How blue the sky gets when the clouds are blown away. It’s a juxtaposition of untamed wilderness… and hundreds of people trying to tame it with wooden boards buckled to their feet.

I wasn’t sure how it would go – but people I love really love skiing – so I put on my brave face and went with it. We went to the ski shop the day before and I got fitted for some concrete manacles covered in shiny plastic – ski boots, they called them. I think it’s what the mafia uses when they make you swim with the fishes.

We know I don’t do heights – but I was surprisingly okay with the gondola. Going up the side of the cliff – watching the trees float beneath me – hell, even in the chair lift – was completely serene. We shared a ride with a pair holding a power meeting, discussing marketing and branding opportunities for their snow bound start up – presumably before spending the rest of the morning boarding. Pretty good way to do business, if you ask me.

Learning to ski is not for the proud of spirit. You end up looking – and feeling – like a giant doofus. Not only are you hobbling around in those crazy heavy uncomfortable boots, THEN you finally click into the skis and turn into a human baby giraffe. Let’s put it this way – I fell trying to get on the chairlift. 

My instructor doesn’t believe in bunny hills – so we started on the easiest trail level – a short little trail with a very gradual slope. It was me, La, a few other schmucks, and a gaggle of children fearlessly flinging themselves down the mountain.

Nothing about skiing is intuitive. Not a damn thing. Your feet are suddenly 4 feet longer than normal, and you have to shift your body weight around in order to stop. After receiving patient instruction on the finer points of digging in my upper sides, making pizza instead of French fries, and facing perpendicular to the mountain when stopping or getting up after a fall, I tried it out. And fell. And then took five minutes to get up. And confidently pushed forward a few feet. And then fell again. And then got up again. And made a turn, made another turn (with much glee and excitement) then started hurtling down the hill, freaked out, and (you guessed it) fell over. Again. Wash, rinse, repeat. 45 minutes later, I made it to the end of the first trail – and somehow Lauren hadn’t throttled me.

By the second or third time around, I was starting to get the hang of it. When I let go and let my body take over, for the most part, good things started to happen. By the fourth run I was figuring out muscles – playing with small body weight shifts, using the poles for balance. I made it all the way down, and then fell as soon as I got back in line for the lift. Typical.

The voice inside my brain was freaking out. All these people, in their fancy gear, who’ve been skiing since they could walk, are judging you. They think you’re stupid and inept. They’re laughing at you. And then I ‘d say these things out loud and La would balance them out with a laugh and an affirmation of the opposite. You’re never going to see these people again. Who gives a good goddamn?

I hate being bad at things. I guess most people do, but this is why I don’t go bowling. I suck at it, and get grumpy. So after I took a little break (and Lauren went and did some actual skiing), we (she) decided we should try a bigger trail – with a medium level start and an easy finish.

We took a mega super lift up to the top. And I freaked. It was so much steeper than the little trail I had gotten comfortable with! It was more narrow, there were way more people. But there was only one way back – down. So, slowly, slooooowly, with much cursing, screeching, and general freaking out – we made our way down. There’s not a ton of snow in December, so most of the people out that Monday were locals and ski patrols training for the season. This meant after every fall, we were approached by 2-4 overly zealous patrol people asking if I was okay. Things that get old quick….

But when I was getting it, it felt a little like flying. I marveled at the ease and efficiency of swishing those skis (left one Gordon, right one Rightfoot. Yes, I was talking to my skis.) around. It was worth the fear and the humiliation.

By the end of the day, I nearly understood why people pay a ton of money to strap themselves into uncomfortable equipment to fling themselves down a potentially treacherous snow bank. Almost. Apparently I won’t fully get it for a few more times. It seems like a sneaky ploy to get me to come back.

And now for the analogy…

I feel like I’ve been learning to ski this whole freaking year. I’ve been throwing myself into new situations, feeling awkward and uncomfortable and trying really hard to get it right. At the gym. Just getting around. I thought I would have more friends by now. I thought trying harder would help- and it has. But I'm not there yet. Better than I was, but still gaining speed, freaking out, and landing on my butt.

I need a break. I need to fly a little, to feel the wind on my face. After the ski adventure I counted 13 bruises on my legs. I fell probably over 25 times in the span of 6 hours. But I tasted a little of that freedom, speed, exhilaration, and am willing to get up and try it again.

Maybe I need to switch the trail – and moving to a new neighborhood feels like we did that, in a way. But my hope for 2015 is that these internal bruises heal a little bit. That I get a taste of something exhilarating and exciting – friendship. Community. Flying.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Why I BodyCombat

I didn't choose BodyCombat. It chose me. Rather - I walked into my favorite Zumba class one July evening 3 years ago and found it cancelled. 

But how about I try this other class instead? The person behind the desk asked. I peeked in and saw a tiny woman shouting and throwing punches in front of a crew of several sweaty ladies. It was intriguing, and a little terrifying.

I took a deep breath and timidly found a space in the back of the room. The next 40 minutes were a blur of energy. I hadn't worked this hard since running suicides for JV soccer! What WAS this? Punching? Kicking? I took lots of breaks, dripped water from every pore, and briefly contemplated if I would make it out alive.  Through the haze of high energy music, the instructor's voice rang out: "You can do this! I believe in you! Keep going!" The last song ended with a triumphant punch in the air. I felt simultaneously drained and invincible. I came back the next week. And the week after that.  I couldn't get enough.

BodyCombat is a mixed martial arts cardio fitness class. It combines choreography inspired by karate, boxing, capoiera, kickboxing, Muy Thai, and tae kwan do, with high energy music to burn calories, sculpt muscles, increase stamina and give you a heck of a work out.

 One Combat class will burn anywhere from 500-700 calories. One class will encompass hundreds of kicks and punches, and a core workout equivalent of 1700 crunches. It's nuts. I'm addicted.

My very first solo class!
Last February I was going through some pretty tough personal stuff. Being laid off from my job coupled with a breakup - Combat was one of my only releases- and worth the expense of the gym membership.

 The last bout of air punches to the end of the workout would come and I'd pep myself up: "You are worth it. You're going to get a job. You're going to come out on top. You can do this. It's going to all work out." Or it would be "Screw that interviewer. Screw unemployment. Screw this heartbreak and frustration."


Slowly, I got stronger. Didn't consider passing out during *quite* so many workouts. I learned the songs. Got to know the instructors. Joked about teaching myself someday. 

The joke turned into reality this winter. I braved 20 hours on the Megabus and 16 hours worth of training in Erie, PA. I was the only non-full-time new instructor. It was terrifying. I passed.

Bella Forza's Motto: Strong is our Sexy.
Since moving to Baltimore I've found a great gym with tons of locations (including one a mile away from home!) and amazing instructors. I started teaching on my own this month.

It never gets easier. But I'm consistently getting stronger. The Les Mills programs (oh yeah, there's also weight lifting, yoga, and a plethora of other awesome workouts!) consistently challenge me to go above and beyond what I thought my body was capable of achieving.

I found this great list of what to expect from class here and just had to share - couldn't have said it better myself!

So. What to expect from a BodyCombat class? 
  1. Fun and excitement
  2. An adrenaline pumped, action-packed class
  3. A 4-5 class learning curve on the basic techniques and skills and choreography patterns
  4. Some confusion in those first few classes - but just know this will pass once your knowledge base builds - like trying anything new in life!
  5. A supportive group of participants who have been exactly where YOU are at some point! And in fact, if it is a NEW RELEASE class, they may actually be nervous about the new moves too. It's ok to laugh through it.
  6. To sweat and pant
  7. To feel empowered and inspired
  8. To get a taste of what it is like to be a fighter (both in mind and spirit)
  9. Some aching sore muscles for the couple of days following the class if this type of movement is new for you - that is a good thing because it means your muscles are toning up
  10. To become addicted to BODYCOMBAT!
No matter where I am, this workout meets me there. It might seem silly to rhapsodize about 55 minutes of air kicks and punches to EDM and souped up pop music, but I’m not ashamed. I’ve made incredible, lasting friendships and am straight up challenged to grow and be better.

Les Mill’s motto is “one tribe” – thousands of people all over the world participate, but, kinda like the Catholic church – we’re all practicing the same thing, together. There’s strength in unity, and beauty in strength.

Teaching scratches the parts of me that have been itchy for a little bit. It’s part performance (better have your lines memorized!), and part social outreach. I love practicing so much – it’s a little infectious. There’s nothing better than inspiring a group of people into action – to share the joy that I have right along with my team mates, fellow teachers, and class members.

I come back to class again and again - to push myself, for the adrenaline and self confidence, and because it's really fun. You'll never hear me say that about running!

If you're wanting to try it out (and you DEFINITELY should!) click here to find a class near you.

here's a little montage of some of the inspiring instructors I get to work with and learn from at Merritt (with a few cameos from yours truly!) Come join the fight!

Thursday, August 7, 2014


No, sorry, no babies on the way. But five months in and our little apartment is really starting to feel like home. We did some cleaning on Sunday, and the late afternoon sun coming in through the windows makes the place even more warm and homey. We haven't had many visitors yet - want to take a peek around? 

The apartment is fairly spacious - 1200 sq feet, one bedroom, one bath. We are lucky that the space is so wide - most Baltimore homes are very narrow - anywhere from 11-18 feet wide is the standard. 
But located above the shop means a bit more room - both in the stairwell and in the main living space. Thank goodness!

The living area is divided up with everyone's favorite Expedit shelves. The walls were painted before we arrived, and we kept the red theme going throughout the room with curtains, my reading chair, and other accents. Our office space is on the other side of the bookcase - just enough visual separation, since we both work from home. 

It's been fun playing "yours, mine and ours" with our furniture, artwork, and other knickknacks. We've made great use of trunks and shelving to squeeze every ounce of storage out of the space. It's nice to have empty shelves - room to grow. Look, ma! Everything has a home. 

One empty box - the kitties like to curl up and put themselves away. We got the "K"at Hinge over Memorial Day - Eventually the goal is to rewire and light it up! But for now it looks pretty rad just on its own. 

With the windows open there's always a free show of some sort happening in the public square below. Every day there's something new- we've seen a marriage proposal, playground games, crab fests, musicians and buskers, and plenty of folks just walking around, enjoying the neighborhood. Every evening one or more bars live band music floats through the window. 

The wood ceilings are really unique, and the kitchen skylight brings light deep into the space. It's nice to rely so much on daylight during the summer. 

Art on the wall, bourbon on the bar, Sinatra on the record player. 
The white beadboard accents the red wall, giving it a modern, clean feel. 

We brought as much of Cincinnati as we could with us - and memories of all the people we love. Last time I was in town I picked up this Rookwood Tile for Keith - it's the same tile that is at the stadium; a tribute to our hometown team. 

We took the doors off the kitchen cabinets for a more open feel and easier access. It's nice to be able to easily get what I need as I whirl around the kitchen, creating delicious chaos as I go. The backsplash was already installed (thanks previous renters!), and between the two of us we were able to stock a fairly well equipped kitchen. My most favorite thing right now are the glass storage containers - an heirloom from a family friend who owned a glass factory.

The ceiling of the apartment slopes front to back, and the height in the bedroom is easily 17 or 18 feet. I had to crouch way down just to get this picture! I went back to IKEA not once, not twice, but four separate times to get the white wood Hemnes nightstands - they don't keep many in stock. His and hers lamps bring warmth into the room. Though the front gets rowdy with people on the square, it's amazingly quiet in the back. Most nights I sleep like a baby. 

More Ohio love - my friend Emily made the little pillow for me when I graduated college. Moved from red to orange in the bedroom - I found the comforter (it has LEAVES, not flowers, despite what some people think...) on sale at Target. It's a good compromise- colorful, but not overly feminine. 

This little vignette reminds us why we're here in the first place every time we walk out the door. Keith got a bunch of amazing abstract art from an Art Academy student who worked for him a long time ago, and we've incorporated it as much as we can into the apartment. 

Check out the rest of the pictures below. Hope you can come by for a real visit sometime soon!

Created with flickr slideshow.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014


For the first time in my entire life, I'm cultivating green things. That are more or less thriving. Okay, there was the oregano plant that probably got over-watered and didn't have a hole in the bottom. And the growing space is very limited - a fire escape and part of a roof that are next to air condensers and other machinery coming from greasy restaurants mean the air quality is probably pretty terrible.

Two months ago I bought three geranium plants and stuck them in a window box. Since then our little adventure in horticulture's expanded to include herbs, more flowers, three kinds of tomatoes, a lettuce plant, and a banana pepper plant that's completely taken off.

Today, I harvested the first pepper. The first thing I've ever grown - and not killed from laziness or neglect. Working from home gives a splendid excuse to take a break and climb out the window to check on the plants. Having an awesome partner who often helps with watering is another significant factor in ensuring plant success rates.

The geraniums and marigolds amaze me. They bloom for a few days, then wither in the sun. Run fingers through the heads to shake off and remove the spent flowers (dead-heading - it's actually a term!). Initially they look a little barren, but given some time, water and sunshine, and I wake in the morning to a brand new patch of fiery red blossoms, greeting me in the morning sun. They've grown. They're thriving.

It's a metaphor, probably.

Good things take time. I'm historically short on patience - Keith referred to me the other day as Hurricane Jenny. It's probably one of the reasons I've killed so many plants - results didn't happen right away, and other things took over the importance of water, sunshine, and time.

Building a community is a lot like cultivating a garden, I guess. At this point I'm still tilling the soil. Not sure what's gonna go where.

But the physical manifestation of tiny tomatoes in my hand is a good reminder that's it's starting to all come together. Water, sunlight and time will help us strengthen our new roots.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Elderberry Gin Fizzes and Strawberry-Rhubarb Cheesecake French Toast: or, The Time I Won At Brunch

Cooking is not always a competition... but I do enjoy winning. I blame my mother. There are few things more satisfying to me than presenting a concoction of my own making to a receptive crowd. It's not just about nourishment; it's the delight expressed when they take the first bite. The concentrated looks of eaters enjoying something epically delicious. It's a high I can't get enough of. It's not enough to just make something - the dish must be off the charts delicious. My dear friend Corrie invited Keith and I to an Easter brunch celebration at her cozy little apartment in southern Maryland. Would I mind bringing a dish to share?

 CHALLENGE ACCEPTED! After much Pinterest perusing, I saw a recipe for Strawberry Cheesecake French Toast Casserole my sister posted. I asked her about it, and she said it was good... but needed some tweaking. She and her friends enjoyed it, but she would've changed some things for the next time. I took notes, and compared the recipe to my mom's recipe for Apple French Toast - a breakfast treat we had several times a month when I was growing up. 

The original recipe called for 10 - yeah, TEN - eggs. Katy thought the ratio of egg to fruit was somewhat off. She also didn't like the way the strawberries lost their flavor during baking. I chose to up the fruit ratio and lose some of the eggs. Using only 5 eggs and adding in chia seeds still made a custardy concoction that cooked up without becoming a fruit fritatta.

I picked up some rhubarb and local apples and made a more fleshed out fruit filling - the rhubarb and apples fared much better in the oven. An additional pint of strawberries was chopped and macerated overnight, served as a topping with some fresh whipped cream.  The recipe was definitely a hit.

The key ingredient was the bread. We dropped $7 on a loaf of Brioche from Whole Foods and I don't regret a penny of it. The loaf sliced up into 10 perfect slices and was lightly toasted in the oven to better soak up the custard cream cheese mixture. Regular sandwich bread just won't compare - proceed with caution.

Of course, no brunch is complete without some fun, fruity drinks! I have a minor love affair with egg white meringue drinks- the Clover Club is one of my favorites. This recipe for an Elderflower Gin Fizz was frothy and fun. My friend and fave mixologist Molly recommended Gilbey's Gin as a good budget mixer - but you have to shake the crap out of it!  
The sun was out, the food was delicious, and the eight of us enjoyed each other's company and the arrival of Spring. It was strange to not spend Easter with family, but we had a pretty great time. 

 Strawberry-Rhubarb Cheesecake Brioche Bake (adapted from this recipe)

Here's what you need:
  • 1 loaf French Brioche bread, cut into 10 slices and lightly toasted (250 degree oven for 15 minutes)
  • 12 oz neufchâtel cheese
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg yolk (use the white in a drink!)
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 5 eggs
  • 1/3 cup chia seeds
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 3/4 cup half-and-half
  • 1/3 cup maple syrup
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 2 cups sliced strawberries
  • 2 apples, peeled, cored and diced
  • 2 stalks of rhubarb, sliced
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • Cinnamon and nutmeg to taste

Here's what you do with it:
  • Lightly grease a 9 x 13 baking dish. Whip cream cheese in a stand mixer with paddle attachment until light and fluffy, 3-5 minutes. Add sugar, egg yolk, and lemon juice. Set aside.
  • Whisk together eggs, chia seeds, milk, half-and-half, maple syrup, vanilla extract, cinnamon and nutmeg. Set aside.
  • In a medium sized bowl, mix the chopped fruit, brown sugar, and spices.
  • Spread a dollop of cream cheese mixture onto a slice of bread, then layer fruit on top. Top with another slice to create a sandwich. Do this with the rest of the bread - there should be about a third of the fruit and cream cheese left over when you're finished. (see the picture above)
  • Cut each sandwich into six cubes - first into thirds, then each third in half. Arrange four out of five sandwich cubes into the baking pan- they should fit snugly.
  • Top with remaining fruit and drizzle remaining cream cheese mixture over the top. Place remaining sandwich cubes on top. Finally, pour egg mixture over the top. Press down lightly and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate over night.
  • Remove from refrigerator and let rest while you preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake for another 25-35 minutes or until the surface is golden and the center is set.
  • I cut up an additional pint of strawberries and macerated them with sugar and lemon juice for a topping. Additional fruit and fresh whipped cream really put this over the top. 


Elderflower Gin Fizz

1 oz elderflower liqueur
2 oz gin
1 egg white
1.5 oz lemon juice

Combine ingredients, shake vigorously with ice in a cocktail shaker (or water bottle with a top if you're me) Strain into a glass and top with something bubbly - lemon seltzer, club soda, prosecco - pick your poison! Garnish with a twist of lemon peel.