Banana Walnut Bread

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Nothing smells better in the morning than 1.) freshly baking banana bread and 2.) coffee. Am I right? This is certainly true in my kitchen as I've learned when T walks in the door after his morning rounds and his immediate reaction is to ask 'What are you are baking that smells so delicious?', and 'When will it be ready?' This from a man who rarely if ever chooses to eat before mid-afternoon. When it is finally ready, of course, he reverts to a child and has me cut him a couple slices, butter them up, and serve him. Completely helpless.

Recipe adapted from
I've tried many different variations of banana breads...most of which have their own little twist on what makes them great. In this version, I'd like to think the key ingredient is cinnamon. If I didn't like bananas so much (no jokes, I usually incorporate at least one, sometimes two into my daily diet), I'd probably make this recipe on a weekly basis!

BANANA WALNUT BREAD | Yield: 1 loaf or 3 mini-loaves | Total Time: 1 hr. 15 min. OR 55 min. for mini-loaves


1/2 C butter, softened
3/4 C sugar
2 eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla
4 ripe bananas, mashed
1 1/2 C flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 C chopped walnuts (optional)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, add softened butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla. Stir until well combined. (OK to have some butter chunks).

In a small bowl (or the same bowl if you want less dishes like me), use a fork to mash bananas. Transfer bananas to the butter mixture, stir to incorporate.

Whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Add into the large mixing bowl, and stir until just combined. If using, fold in chopped walnuts. Butter or grease a 9 x 5 loaf pan (or 3 mini-loaf pans), and pour banana mixture inside. Sprinkle top with additional chopped walnuts if using, and bake (1 hr. for 9 x 5 loaf pan // 40 min. for mini-loaves). Check for doneness, and continue baking as needed.

Cool on wire rack and serve warm. Freezes well!

Week 31

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Week 31 an update

How far along: 31 weeks

Best moment this week: 
T & I snuck away over the weekend for a quick adults-only getaway to the cities. We had dinner at one of our favorite 'not exactly toddler friendly' restaurants, Bar La Grassa, and went to an 8p.m. showing of The Book of Mormon at the Orpheum Theater downtown. We stayed right downtown at The Ivy Hotel (great hotel & location!), and were able to walk back from the theater, and to a breakfast spot the following morning. Couldn't have asked for better! It was likely the last time in a long time that we will be able to have an adults-only getaway, and I am thankful that C has wonderful grandparents that were willing to step in and watch him overnight so T & I could get away one last time before my ever nearing travel cutoff date, and baby arrives.

Maternity clothes: 
Yes, I snagged the above dress from Pink Blush Maternity. Lots of cute, reasonably priced maternity options especially if you catch a sale.

I continue to be more tired than normal, and have been calling it a night by or before 10:30p.m. since we got home from our weekend getaway. T is not very understanding of my tiredness, and pouts and rolls his eyes when I go to bed (at not that early of a bedtime if you ask me, but certainly not a real late one either). Entertaining an active toddler all day while growing a tiny human at the same time does not exactly spell e.n.e.r.g.y. at the end of the night!

Miss Anything: 
Food wise I'm missing the convenience of a cold meat sandwich, or a salad with cold meat. I did cave and have a small morsel of cookie dough last night...shhhh! Don't tell! Physically speaking, everything is just more difficult these days. Lifting C into his high chair, the car, or his crib is something I continue to struggle with on the daily, and I look forward to the day when he can do these things on his own. Just don't grow up too fast C!

Baby Movement: 
Yes. I do feel like baby's movement has slowed down some this week which is normal for this stage of pregnancy as space continues to get tight. That being said, C...quite by accident...seems to be using my tummy as a punching bag. Truly, he's just using it as a resting spot to put his hands to push himself up to a stand or leverage to reach across to grab another book off the side table. Either way, neither baby or I is very fond of the intrusion, and it generally results in immediate pain (for me) and lots of angry kicking (baby).

I find that I'm often not as hungry for dinner in the evenings. Whether this is just a by-product of the fact that I spend most of my day making, feeding, and cleaning up after mealtimes with C, or the fact that I'm just so ready to sit down and relax for a hot minute instead of standing to prepare yet another meal, or that I'm truly just not hungry is a question that may remain unanswered. Many nights, I'd be perfectly fine with just a bag of popcorn, or maybe a slice of frozen pizza. The less stress the better.

I've continued to have Braxton Hicks contractions off and on throughout this past week, and think it's always an enjoyable experience when baby is grinding into my bladder when I'm the farthest from home while on a walk...not. I think that this baby is situated lower in my abdomen than C was, and have been contemplating getting a maternity belt (considering this, this, or this) to help give me some more support and hopefully more comfort!

Looking forward to: 
T & I are celebrating our fourth anniversary this Thursday (where has the time gone?!?), and while we don't currently have anything planned, hopefully we are able to do something special to mark the day.

Proud to be an American

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

In early April, T & I decided - a bit last minute - to go on a quick weekend babymoon getaway to our nation's capitol, Washington D.C. We had been talking about going someplace 'new' (to us) for a weekend getaway for the longest time, but didn't actually plan anything until about three weeks out. Coordinating a trip without C required a bit more in terms of arrangements than when he tags along with us on trips, but we are so grateful that everything worked out and we were able to sneak in a  long weekend to ourselves before baby comes in July. With our busy schedules this spring, and my travel cut-off date being mid-June, it's amazing how fast our weekend calendar has filled up! C, meanwhile, ended up going to daycare on Friday, where I'm told he had a bit of a hard time adjusting, didn't take a nap, and kept mostly to himself (this was his first experience with full-day daycare, so it was a whole new deal for him, and a bit overwhelming). The rest of the weekend was fun city with a cousin sleepover weekend at Grandpa & Grandma N's. My parents certainly had their hands full all weekend with two toddlers in the house, but from reports, it sounds like everyone had a blast! Based on the photo updates I got throughout the weekend of playing at the park, driving tractors, shooting hoops, building forts, and enjoying Grandma J's home cooked meals, I think it's safe to say that it was quiet possibly the best weekend of the boys life thus far!

Back to the trip...T & I got C all settled in on Thursday night at Grandpa & Grandma's house, then took off for Des Moines as we had what I think is safe to say the first flight out at 6am Friday morning. Amazingly, the flight only took about two hours, and we were on the ground at Washington Reagan by 9:15am ET. The way to go if you want to make the most of a quick weekend! Of course, our room wasn't ready yet when we arrived, but we were able to check our bags with the bellhop and then got on to more important things like coffee and sightseeing. Here's a rundown of what we did, what we thought about it, and how we fit everything in to our short weekend trip.

DAY ONE: starting at 11am

T may have a smile on his face, but don't let it fool you. He was supremely mad about the fact that the line was so long. Especially when we got to the front after waiting over 30 minutes, and he realized he could have walked right in since he wasn't carrying a bag...womp womp...

Michelle Obama's dress, shoes, and jewelry worn to President Obama's Inauguration. Gorgeous!

Julia Child's kitchen.

After checking our bags at our hotel, The Mayflower, and making a beeline to the nearest coffeeshop (about 1/2 a block away), T & I snagged a cab to take us to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. The line was a bit discouraging (took almost 45 minutes to get through), but the rain had finished up, and the temps were in the 70s. This museum turned out to be one of our favorites of the entire trip, and I'd highly recommend a visit. My favorite exhibit was The First Ladies where we got to see some of the dresses, jewelry and accessories worn by the first ladies, along with the official china used for White House state dinners throughout the years. T's favorite part of this exhibit was seeing the different shapes and sizes of the first ladies. He was amazed by Jackie Kennedy's height, Nancy Reagan's overall petite frame, and Barbara Bush's overall lack of petiteness...if you catch my drift. Other favorite exhibitions included the Price of Freedom | Americans at War (a wealth of info and memorabilia about all things war related)Food | Transforming the American Table (got to see Julia Child's kitchen!); and The Star Spangled Banner (the flag that inspired the National Anthem). We spent about 2.5 hours here, but could have easily spent the greater part of the day if we would have taken more time to visit all of the exhibits and do more reading.

Next up was the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. It is located directly next door to the American History Museum, and therefore the most logical choice for our second stop of the day. The line was not nearly so long for this museum, and in T & I's opinion, the museum itself was not nearly as interesting. The main reason we chose to stop was to see the National Gem Collection, and the Hope Diamond. Other amazing gems on display were Marie Antoinette's earrings, a 260 carat diamond necklace Napoleon gave his wife after the birth of their first son (take note all you dad's-to-be out there!), and a 23.1 carat Burmese ruby.

The Hope Diamond. 45.52 carats of blue diamond. This picture doesn't do this thing justice, but even if you aren't into jewelry, this one is worth a look. Amazing!

Napoleon Diamond Necklace.
'This necklace contains 172 diamonds, totaling about 260 carats, set in silver. The diamonds came from India or Brazil.'

As you can imagine, the entire rest of the museum aside from The National Gem Collection, was basically of little interest to me, and we breezed through the dinosaur fossils, taxidermic animals, and ancient Egyptian mummies on our way out the door. This museum does have a great little grab-n-go cafeteria in the lower level that we stopped for a quick bite to eat before heading on to our next adventure of the day. If you are traveling with kids, there is a live butterfly exhibit that looked pretty fun and would be a great place to take your littles.

Our attempt at a 'selfie' on the National Mall. Someone forgot their sunglasses!

Across the Mall from the Natural History Museum is the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. This museum is very popular, and we also had to wait, but the line here seemed to move faster. Unlike the American History Museum, the line for the Air and Space Museum was much shorter on the street side than on the Mall side. This museum is quite highly ranked on TripAdvisor, and it's easy to see why. There are tons of planes and space shuttles to view, and not an overwhelming amount of reading. The highlights were Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis, a replica of the plane that Amelia Earhart flew, the Wright Brother's plane, and the Apollo 11 space capsule. Of course, there were also many war planes (that you'd have to ask T about), drones, stealth planes, etc. The gift shop here had some of the best selection of all of the museums, and we ended up coming back later during our trip for a second look.

Me with a replica of Amelia Earhart's airplane.

T with the one, the only, Wright Brother's original airplane.

Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis. Completely unrelated to our visit, but if you have any interest in this story, I highly recommend checking out The Aviator's Wife...great book about the Lindbergh's that would be a perfect summer read!

A FEW TIPS: There are two entrances to each of the Smithsonian Museums. The entrances on the Mall were not as long (except for the Air & Space Museum), and therefore moved faster than the street side entrances. ALSO...there was ZERO line if you were not carrying a bag. conclusion: the best plan is to wear something with pockets for your phone, etc, and you can save tons of time! Of course, I had my purse with me so that I had a place to store my camera (which I never once used), an umbrella (which I also didn't use), my wallet, and sunglasses case (which I did use) and therefore caused many MANY scowls of frustration from T who has a real problem waiting for anything. Another note: outside opened drinks or snacks are not allowed inside the museums, and while you can purchase drinks/snacks in almost all of the museums, you have to stay within the cafeteria for most. On the bright side, there are all kinds of food trucks set up bordering the National Mall, so finding a snack or drink is not very difficult. The more substantial food trucks (meaning more than just ice cream, candy bars, and drinks) are almost all centered on the road in front of the Washington Monument.

DAY TWO: starting at 10am

White House
Capitol Hill & Library of Congress (Jefferson Building)
Lunch @ Capitol Lounge
Tidal Basin & Memorials
Dinner @ Madhatters

I should mention that while I didn't include it in our list, we ALWAYS started our morning with breakfast and coffee. Essentials to a long day of sightseeing! Our hotel, was situated right in the heart of downtown D.C. - only about 4 blocks from the White House, and had some great bakeries and breakfast restaurants all within about a 1-2 block walk. My favorite was the Corner Bakery, which we probably would have gone to every day had we discovered it on the first day. Anyways...

Like I said, the White House was a hop skip and a jump away from our hotel, so after grabbing a bite to eat, we just walked over. A side note: We only got the outside photo op as you need to reserve a tour through your senator months in advance if you would like to see the inside of the White House. If we ever go back, I'd love to be able to go in and see where all the magic happens, but for our purposes, a quick walk by was just fine. If you do plan further in advance and get a tour set up, know that you will be unable to take anything inside, and there are no lockers on the premises to store purses/umbrellas/cameras/etc.

After our walk-by photo op at the White House, we stopped in at White House Gifts gift shop (located just across the street) that had some great souvenir options if you are looking for an ornament or memento from your trip. As the day was nice, we opted to walk to the National Archives, which was just over a mile away. On the way, we walked by many federal buildings like the Department of Treasury, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Justice, Environmental Protection Agency, and Internal Revenue Service. Neat to see! The National Archives is adjacent to the National Mall, and was a muuuuuch shorter line on Saturday morning than it was on Friday afternoon. As it is an official government building, there is no charge to go in. Inside, the main highlights were the Declaration of Independence, The Bill of Rights, and the U.S. Constitution. Neat to see, but super faded, and you are only allowed about 10 minutes before the guards let in the next group of 30 or so people. If you're reading between the lines here, this means you won't have time to read everything you see, but will have just enough time to check out the documents, and maybe read a line or two here and there before the next group comes in. Other neat things to see in the Archives Museum were the Emancipation Proclamation, one of the original copies of the Magna Carta (surprisingly in muuuuuuch better shape than the Declaration or the Constitution), and documents about women's suffrage. I'll be honest, there was more to see here than we originally were anticipating, and you should allow for at least a full hour to walk around once inside.

Next up, we walked about a block to check out the Newseum. Newseum is not a government run museum, so you will have to purchase a ticket to enter, but at $22.95/person, it is really pretty reasonable - and they have discounts for under 18, seniors, AAA members, early ticket purchasers, etc. I should also mention that the tickets are good for two days, so if you are rushed to get to your next spot, you can come back later to see whatever you missed. Personally, I thought that the Pulitzer exhibit at the Newseum was one of the neatest exhibits we saw the entire trip (NOTE: This exhibit will be closed from Aug. 1, 2016 - Sept. 16, 2016 for renovations). The gallery features every Pulitzer-prize winning photograph since 1942 when the award was first given out (in the categories of breaking news, and spot/feature news). Many of the photographs are featured in a larger format with a few paragraphs of text written by the photographer who took the shot to give some backstory and help make the pictures come alive. If you are able to hold yourself together without shedding a tear by the time you leave the exhibit, you should pat yourself on the back, as that was most certainly not the case for me.

The quote on the wall at the entrance to the exhibit pretty much sums it up perfectly:

"If it makes you laugh, if it makes you cry, if it rips out your heart, that's a good picture." - Eddie Adams, recipient of the 1969 Pulitzer Prize for spot news photography

Other awesome things to see at the Newseum, an FBI exhibit featuring some really amazing memorabilia such as the Unibomber's shack, John Dillinger's gun, the SUV from the Time's Square attempted bombing a few years ago, etc. There are also some original panels from the Berlin Wall, every newspaper front page of the day, and a section of the World Trade Center that fell on 9/11, amongst many other neat things to see...all journalism related.

After a couple of hours at the Newseum, we were off and running...a.k.a. the Library of Congress on Capitol Hill. It is a walkable distance, but we weren't entirely sure which building to head to, and decided it was just easier to grab a cab. We didn't really know what to expect at the library, and ended up loving our visit. The reading room where only high-ranking government officials and their minions have access was particularly breathtaking, as was the overall architecture and mosaic work all throughout the library. The Bible Collection was particularly interesting, where we got to see the Gutenberg Bible, one of the very first printed bibles, and also the Giant Bible of Mainz, a bible that was handwritten on animal skin paper. Seriously cool. Also at the library was Thomas Jefferson's original library collection, and some pretty neat fresco paintings and maps. You don't need a lot of time for this visit, but it was well worth it to see, and one of the most beautiful buildings we were in while in D.C.

Directly adjacent to the Library of Congress is the U.S. Capitol Building. We did not go inside, but did stop to admire the view before meandering around Capitol Hill for a while to find a bite to eat (and yet another coffee refill for T) before heading off to the memorials and the tidal basin to see the Cherry Blossom Festival. That jump is definitely not an easily walkable distance after walking all day long, and you'll want to get a cab if you plan to follow our footsteps. The tidal basin has a great path that goes all the way around the lake, and was a beautiful way to end our long day of sightseeing. The cherry blossoms right along the basin had peaked a few days before we arrived, but were still in full bloom in the more secluded areas around the specific memorials, so we're checking it off the bucket list! April was a beautiful time of year to visit while the weather is right in that not to hot, not too cold stage. 

Jefferson Memorial

Back to the memorials...we did not take an official guided tour, but I have heard that those are really quite interesting if you want to know more about the significance of the different memorials rather than just a quick walk-by for a photo. Personally, I was most impressed with the Jefferson Memorial (best vantage point of the tidal basin, and a great starting location), Lincoln Memorial (great lookout for viewing the reflecting pool and National Mall - by far the busiest memorial), and World War II Memorial (beautiful at night when the fountain is all lit up). Other memorials along the path are the Roosevelt Memorial, Martin Luther King Memorial, Vietnam War Memorial, Korean War Memorial, and Washington Monument. As a do-it-yourself tour, you'll need at least 1.5 hrs to walk all the way around. There are a ton of food trucks in between the Washington Monument and the World War II Memorial, so that's where I'd recommend starting or ending if you are in need of a snack after the 10+ miles you've probably already walked by now!

Roosevelt Memorial

Martin Luther King Memorial

Lincoln Memorial

Don't let these pictures fool you. There were about a million people at the Lincoln Memorial, and it took some real skill to get a photo without anyone else in it.

The World War II monument is the newest of the monuments, and was particularly beautiful at night when the fountain was all lit up. The path around the basin is lit at night, so I would recommend saving it for the end of the day so you can enjoy the evening view.

DAY THREE: starting at 10:30am

Dinner @ Zatinya

For our last full day in D.C., we went in without a real plan. We had already ticked off most of our 'must-see' boxes, and decided that we'd move on to the B-list of options. I was curious about the Holocaust Museum as it is ranked quite highly on TripAdvisor - my go-to activity and trip planning source of information . That being said, we weren't completely set on seeing it as some people we spoke to prior to the trip had mixed reviews. Since we didn't have a big plan for the day, we decided to give it a try and cabbed it from our hotel to the museum (the museum is on the opposite side of the National Mall from downtown, and would be a significant morning walk before the morning coffee kicks in). We arrived by 10:30am, and had to wait in line for probably about a 20min.

A NOTE: If you know in months in advance that you are going to be visiting, it's the busy season, and this is one of your must-sees, you can, and should purchase tickets for the permanent exhibit online. There are 600 day-of timed-entrance tickets available for the Permanent Exhibit at the door, but they sell out quickly, and you need to be on top of your game. By the time we got through the line to buy our tickets, it was  around 10:45a.m., and we had to wait an hour before we could enter the exhibit. The museum, in our opinion, is definitely not worth seeing without a ticket to the Permanent Exhibit. There are a few different sections to walk through outside of the Permanent Exhibit...including a kid-friendly section that explains the Holocaust from a kids perspective if you have littles with you that you want to teach a history lesson. Overall, unless you can get into the Permanent Exhibit, we wouldn't recommend a visit. The nice part about getting tickets online is that you would know in advance what time you are scheduled to see the exhibit, and wouldn't have to kill time waiting at the museum. Again, if we were to do this trip again, we'd probably skip the museum completely, and check out something else. The Permanent Exhibit had an overwhelming amount of reading involved, and not many physical objects to look at. There was also a TON of people clustered around the various points of interest, and it was near impossible to read through anything without getting bumped into and feeling rushed. For me personally, I had read a great deal about the time period already, so knew a lot going into the exhibit, and I didn't feel like I got much out of seeing the museum itself. This being said, it is a very popular museum, and by the time we left the exhibit around 12:30pm (we spent about an hour here), tickets for the day were sold out.

From the Holocaust Museum, we headed back over by the White House for lunch at Old Ebbitt's Grill, a D.C. staple since 1856. You can read more about the history here, or just go check it out when you're in town. Unless you want to wait for a table...wait times can be really long as this is a big tourist stop...reserve a table a few days in advance, or if you are like us...just show up and wing it. Bar seating is first come first serve, so we were able to be seated immediately. #luckyus The food was good, I had a brunch item (served all day on Sundays), and T had a yummy pastrami sandwich. Here's a glimpse at their menu if you're curious.

After lunch, we walked to the Smithsonian National Gallery of Art on the National Mall. Again, it was not one of our must-sees for the trip, but ranked quite highly on TripAdvisor, and we enjoy a good art museum, so thought what the heck?! If you are serious about art, or have only certain artists you want to see...I would recommend doing a little research beforehand. The free map at the museum does not point out specifically where to find the most famous paintings, and while the staff is helpful at answering questions, it may be nice to know in advance. Some famous artists the gallery features are: Vincent van Gogh, Henri Matisse, Jackson Pollock, Rubens, Leonardo da Vinci, Bernini, Edgar Degas, Rembrandt, Picasso, etc. There is also a neat section for famous furniture designers that was cool to see. See some of the highlights here.

I don't remember who the artist was on this painting, but it matched my outfit, and I love flamingos,!

This one is Andy Warhol.

Nailed it right?!

Because once was not enough for T, who is super curious about all things aviation, after an hour or so of perusing famous artwork, we headed back to the Air and Space Museum to have a second look, and pick up some swag for C at the gift shop (one of the best gift shops among the Smithsonian Museums...particularly if you have boys in your house!).  Before leaving, T insisted that it was important that we both have a picture with the Apollo 11 Command Module Columbia that carried astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins on their historic voyage to the Moon.

After a quick visit (the line was practically nonexistent on Sunday afternoon), we walked just up the street to the United States Botanic Garden...again, not even on our radar, but a nice relaxing stop along the sightseeing trail. There is an outdoor garden, and a pretty incredible greenhouse that is broken down into various geographical regions. This is a great stop for anyone who needs a few quiet relaxing minutes in their day, or anyone who has ever planted a flower for that matter. T & I had fun looking at all of the different types of trees, flowers, cactus, etc, and although we were only here for 30-45 minutes, would recommend a visit to anyone with a green thumb, or who needs a break from information overload at the other museums.

From the Botanic Garden, we walked to the International Spy Museum (a bit of a hike, and you'll have to purchase a ticket, but well worth the $21.95 admission price for anyone with an interest in espionage). This was one of our favorite museum visits of the trip, and was super interesting from start to finish. They recommend having about two hours to view the museum, and I would say that is pretty spot on. There is a ton of history about spy work, the specific tools they use, and some of the events and plots that were discovered because of spying. Read more about the history and mission here, and see some of the museum highlights here. There is currently a special section set up for James Bond lovers out there, and it features some of the costumes, weapons, masks, cars, etc. used in filming the Bond movies. No, not true spying, but still quite interesting for any spy movie aficionados out there. If you have kids, this is a great museum as there are quite a few hands-on activities, and spy missions to be part of. No jokes, T & I both tried our hand at diffusing a 'bomb'. I'm happy to report that it took T two tries, and I got it on my first go. Ha!

Directly across the street from the International Spy Museum, is the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. This was a last minute decision for us since it is open later than all of the other Smithsonian Museums, and we happened to be right next to it after leaving the Spy Museum. T particularly loved this stop, and had fun walking through the various galleries dedicated to Civil War and Revolutionary War portraits of some of the generals and commanders. I particularly liked the pop art section that had portraits of famous actors, designers, and artists from modern day, and we both thoroughly enjoyed the section with the official white house portraits of all of the presidents of the United States. All of the Smithsonian Museums are free to the public as they are government run, and if you have time for it, this one is worth a stop!

For dinner our last night in D.C., we had a reservation at Zatinya, an Eastern European restaurant featuring foods from what I like to think of as a 'hot zone' region of Turkey, Lebanon, and Greece. I can not say enough good things about this place. We opted to try the 'chef's experience', and got an excellent taste of what the chef recommends as the best menu items. Think...tapas style, small bites. We probably got to try about 9 or 10 different dishes + dessert, and by the time we left could barely walk! So fun though, and definitely not a place we could have visited if we'd had C with us. A perfect ending to a whirlwind babymoon weekend getaway!

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