Happy Birthday, Brian!!!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

I know, I know ... it's so sappy and cliche to say, and I'm even rolling my eyes as I type this, but after nearly seven years with this man, I still feel like I scored the world's biggest jackpot getting to share life with him. And not just because he makes the best steak, is the world's #1 back scratcher or seems to be aging in a Benjamin Button sort of way.

But because this man is pure good. Because this man loves me unconditionally, and is always kind, even when I haven't been kind back.

Because he knows the importance of a hot pot of coffee and a good piece of pie.

Because he is without a doubt the most loyal friend in the world. If everyone he knew had to move on the same day, he would be sure to help every single person pack their boxes into the truck. He treats everyone the same and is always there for anyone. 

Because I know he always has my back. He's the first to criticize me privately and the first to defend me publicly.  

Because when we argue, he'll sit down and hear me out. And not just half way, he really listens to what I have to say. He is also quick to forgive, which I really, really love about him (because I sure don't ;)

Because he never says no to anything, especially pizza.

Because he knows how to dream big (he's convinced his pro-soccer, basketball and golf days are still ahead) and makes me so excited for our future.

Because, while he has respectable taste in music, he'll let me blast my pop jams whenever we're in the car (and will always sing along despite not knowing any of the lyrics/make up terrible new lyrics).

Because he is focused, diligent and funny. Because he'll always prioritize dancing in the kitchen over the long list of boring things I insist we have to do.

Because he works under the radar, and doesn't care for praise. Because he's nothing but honest, an incredibly hard worker and loves Chicago more passionately and fervently than I do.

Because he has the most adventurous spirit and the patience of a saint. Because he's the best partner and planner. Because he doesn't take things too seriously unless they have to be taken seriously. Because he fixes things, makes things and brings things down for me again, and again and again. Because he truly makes life such a joy every day and has given me the best years of my life.

You're my favorite person, Brian Lee Hayes. Thank you for being my better half, my sounding board and my happy place. Happy 29th birthday!!!

Our Housewarming Party!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

A few Saturdays ago we invited family and friends over for a little housewarming open house. It was such a nice day, with so many people we love popping in and out from lunchtime until bedtime :) I didn't take any photos, but my brother took these few snaps I wanted to share. We couldn't love our new home and neighborhood more (luckiest/best decision), and I'm glad we got to introduce it to people we hope to host in it time and time again.

A Happy List!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Guys, remember happy lists? I looked forward to sharing each one so much. So, let's bring them back! As a chronic list maker, writing down my thoughts always helps me process things better. And after a stint of not feeling like my best self, I'm in need of focusing on the positive. Here we go! 10 things that are making me smile as of late.

1. Costco dates. Dinner for two for $5!? Sign us up. We genuinely love the pizza (and I, the hot dogs)! Although, we did get a bit overwhelmed by the giant-ness of Costco last Friday, so we gladly gave my dad his membership card back. But maybe we should borrow it again. Just for date nights.
2. The Handmaid's Tale! Obsessed. And FaceTiming with our friend Kelli to discuss it after.
3. The love we were surrounded by at our housewarming party last weekend.
4. This candy store down the street.
5. The Chacos I bought last night for upcoming summer adventures.
6. This Twitter thread Brian showed me. Still laughing.
7. This. All of them. So funny.
8. Slowly, finally wrapping up the name change process, which was no joke. 29 years of living makes you have your name on a lot of things.
9. My freelance projects. What originally started as a 25 at 25 goal (another list to revive!) has led to a number of opportunities I'm so grateful for. I picked up a few new clients recently, and while they're keeping me busy (and away from things like this blog!), constantly working on new and different assignments, learning about new topics and working for myself is exhilarating.
10. This life. All of it. I throw the best pity party around, especially if I'm not feeling well, but I feel so lucky and so privileged. Except for last week's $$$$$$$$ hip X-ray. That I hate. A lot.

Check out more happy lists here and email your list to ladan.nikravan{at}gmail.com if you'd like to participate. Have a great Wednesday! xo

Grand Rapids (& Saugatuck!), Michigan!

Friday, May 5, 2017

For the past seven years (since we graduated college!), my (now 18-year-long) friends and I have had a little reunion (most often in Michigan, here and here) every year. We're spread across states (and countries) these days, so getting the six of us together is no small feat. It almost happened this time, but we'll have to keep our fingers crossed for the fall.

I wish I was blogging when we first started these get-togethers. I love looking back at the photos and seeing how things have changed. There are husbands now! And babies! And the conversations have changed so much from our 11-year-old days. But at the same time, sometimes, not at all (being our high school crushes gives you the honor of never being forgotten). I love these girls and this weekend so much. I came home so refreshed and happy. I didn't realize how much I needed the girl time.

We cheersed so much all weekend! And to so much! To each other, to moves back home, to surviving middle school. I'm pretty equal opportunity when it comes to cake, but there's nothing like Nothing Bundt Cakes. I couldn't love a cake more. There's a shop by our closest Comcast store, so I'm always secretly hoping Brian has to stop there when the Internet doesn't work. And I think sometimes when we're in the car he drives past it on purpose just so I can start my saga on how good it is. So good!

We spent most of Saturday in Saugatuck, a cute little lake town, which has lots of specialty shops and restaurants. We tried lots of jams (it reminded me of our honeymoon in Menton :) I could live on those and homemade bread (which Brian and I have been talking about making for years but never muster up the confidence. This is the summer of bread! I feel it!)

How delicious do these (gluten free, vegan) homemade Ho Hos look? My sweet tooth was out in full force, apparently!

Oh, just cheersing again! We found a winery that was offering 10 wine tastings and 10 appetizer pairings for $10, which was pretty much the best deal I've ever gotten on anything.

The weather held up until Saturday afternoon, when it took a turn for the worse for days. Its been so relentless and dreary and terrible since.

That night we went to a frozen yogurt spot with more toppings than I've ever seen in one spot and looked at old prom photos for hours. We laughed so hard, I was practically in tears until bed. This weekend was so good for my soul.

The next morning we went to breakfast before heading home (such a scary storm during our drive!). The breakfast spot had a build-your-own omelet option, which included up to seven complimentary fixings! Toppings are no joke in Michigan! And as someone who takes her topping strategy very seriously, I really appreciate the opportunity to not have to skimp. 

I don't know how I got so lucky in the girlfriend department, but I am surrounded by some pretty incredible women in my life. Women who aren't just inspiring in the ways they conduct themselves with their family lives or careers, but with how much good they do and how they serve people around them, always speaking kind words about one another and others and regularly leave me feeling inspired to do something better or try something new or just anxiously awaiting the next time we can get together.  I love these women, and absolutely loved this weekend. Until next time, girls! 

Bits and Pieces

Monday, April 24, 2017

The past month has been such a joy. Despite Brian working a ton and my leg still hurting so bad it's all I can focus on (/talk about), I feel we've truly been making the most (ha!) of every moment outside of the office, even if it just means relaxing on the couch, switching between Amy Schumer stand-up specials and this weird show Brian's into. We've been stretching our weekends longer by seeing friends or going on a date on Friday nights, and for the past few weeks, spending most of the weekend with family. This Saturday we hosted our parents and siblings for brunch (among the menu was this, this, and Brian made the yummiest strata and a couple homemade ice creams), and it was so nice to have everyone together in our home. 

We have some exciting plans next month (our housewarming party! a trip to Puerto Rico!), and I'm so excited for warmer weather to become more consistent in Chicago. We have a patio and grill now, and I'm thinking of buying a new bike, so this might be our best summer yet :)

Bits and pieces of life lately below. xo!

My Favorite Granola

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

There's a running joke between a group of my old coworkers and me about eating our lunch way before lunchtime (like, sometimes, on the way to work...). When we worked together we'd push each other to make it to 11 (eh, 10:55), and now that we're all at different companies, we start the text thread when we need reinforcements (although lately it's not working that well — last week Kaitlin said "girl, in some parts of the world chicken fried rice is breakfast!").

So, anyway, lunch. Look forward to it, never miss it. In an attempt to eat it a little later, I decided to start drinking more water, since I often hear that when you think you're hungry, you're actually thirsty. Nope. I'm hungry. So now, in hopes of holding myself over longer, I've been eating heartier breakfasts. That is to say, this granola rocks. It's full of simple, healthy ingredients (most of which we always have on hand), and keeps me full for hours (also, it's so delicious). Even Brian, who typically refuses breakfast, is super into it (my words, but his sentiments!) in parfaits (with our homemade jam ;) I've made a few granola recipes before, but after making a few batches of this one, I think it's by far the best yet.

2 3/4 cups rolled oats
1 cup shelled pistachios
1 cup unsweetened coconut chips
1/3 cup pumpkin seeds
1 tablespoon kosher salt (*I personally think this is far too much, half will suffice) 
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
3/4 cup dried sour cherries

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. In a large bowl, mix together the oats, pistachios, coconut, pumpkin seeds and salt.

In a small saucepan set over low heat, warm the sugar, syrup and olive oil until the sugar has just dissolved, then remove from heat. Fold liquids into the mixture of oats, making sure to coat the dry ingredients well.

Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper, and spread granola over it. Bake until dry and lightly golden, 35-40 minutes, stirring granola a few times along the way.

Remove granola from the oven, and mix into it the dried sour cherries. Allow to cool to room temperature before transferring to a storage container. Makes about six cups.

The Great Pizza Taste Test

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

After years of disagreeing on the best fast food pizza, like, weekly (him: die hard Domino's, me: Pizza hut (with Papa John's garlic sauce ;) we decided to do a very scientific experiment to find out what's truly best. We ordered three of the same pizzas (same crust, sauce, toppings) from three different places (Papa John's, Pizza Hut, Domino's) and critiqued each one slowly, meticulously. The result? He still thinks Domino's is No. 1, and I think Pizza Hut (with Papa John's garlic sauce!). So there's that. We can't say we haven't tried convincing each other. Or that we're giving up.

Side note! The Big Little Lies finale rocked, and this season of Girls is killing it. Love, love, loved Aidy Bryant's scenes in the latest episode! Beautiful and hilarious.

I Ran an 8K!

Monday, April 3, 2017

I'm starting to get into running.

No one is more shocked than I am. I have been a lifelong why-would-you-run-when-you-can-walk, not-one-single-second-of-this-is-enjoyable, kind of person (proof). But somehow, a few months ago, in an attempt to better appreciate my body while pushing it a bit, I started walking with a bounce for a couple of miles, a couple of times a week, and calling it running. I love that it only takes half an hour, and it's kind of an anxiety killer (a big bonus).

But sadly, I strained a muscle badly a week and a half ago (not even running, I don't know how it happened!). I could barely walk to my train station last week and had to stay home from work. Then yesterday I (regrettably) ran a race with some friends (my first 8k race!), so I'm truly hurting more than I ever have before. It took me nearly 10 minutes to get my socks on this morning! Woof.

It's strange, after sitting it out a week now (well, except the race ;), I miss it. I want to be out there, running my 3-mile route in our neighborhood, past people walking their dogs and strolling with their families. While I'm not very good at it, and look silly doing it, I'm really enjoying trying something new and learning from Brian.

I'd love ANY running advice (What do you wear? Listen to? How do you track your running? Set goals? I have no idea what I'm doing and am all ears!)

Hoping for a speedy recovery! xo

The Easiest Berry Chia Jam

Friday, March 31, 2017

Here's TMI for ya — a few months before our wedding I started having the worst stomach cramps, and I was so bloated. I constantly looked a good five months pregnant. I like to avoid the doctor's office at all costs, but eventually I felt I had no choice. 

The doctor suggested I switch up my diet and follow a specific one she recommended, and keep a food diary so we could narrow down the issue. It helped tremendously, and part of the reason is because I knew exactly what I was eating. For the first time, I was reading nutrition labels and ingredient lists. It turned out simple things (like the jam I had been eating for years) had ingredients that were triggering my sensitivity. Since then, I've been trying to have a batch of homemade staples on hand (like this berry chia jam), so I can make smarter food decisions without sacrificing taste or time. This jam couldn't be easier to make, and it's absolutely delicious. I've been having it with this coconut cashew butter on toast in the morning on weekends and in parfaits I make to take to work on weekdays. It's so yummy (and good for you!)!

Ingredients (makes two jars): 
10-12 ounces (around 2 1/2 cups) frozen raspberries 
10-12 ounces (around 2 1/4 cups) frozen blueberries 
1/4 cup chia seeds
2 tablespoons orange juice (about 1/2 medium orange, juiced) 
Up to 4 tablespoons maple syrup (optional), to taste 

In a medium mixing bowl, combine frozen raspberries and blueberries, chia seeds and orange juice. Cover and let the mixture defrost for about three hours at room temperature or overnight in the refrigerator. 

Once the berries are defrosted and soft, use a potato masher to mash up the mixture to your desired consistency. I like some texture in my jam, so I don't mash it much.

Taste, and if you'd like a sweeter jam, stir in some maple syrup to taste (keep in mind that you can always just drizzle maple syrup or honey onto your jam later, if you prefer). If the chia seeds aren't nice and plump yet, let the mixture rest for about 20 minutes to let them absorb some more moisture. 

Store leftover jam in the refrigerator, covered, for about 1 week. We use these jars.

My Name (And a Giveaway!!!!!!!!!!)

Thursday, March 30, 2017

A few months ago my brother and I were playing some sort of game, something with questions. I don't remember the details, but I begged him to stop asking difficult ones and focus on something simple. "OK," he said. "What's your name?" Then we both laughed. Because ... what is my name?

For as long as I remember (before boyfriends, before middle school, quite frankly) I was adamant about not changing my last name if I were to get married. A decision my father firmly supported ;) It's my identity! I'm proud of my name! I love my immediate family! As years went on, and I became a magazine writer, my byline became my badge. I remember the first time I saw Ladan Nikravan in the masthead of a magazine. It gave me such a thrill! On top of that, I was dating ... well ... white guys. As someone who's 100% Iranian (and to know Iranians is to know they're all 150% Iranian, really), I just couldn't wrap my head around one day being a Hayes.

Then we got engaged, and suddenly headstrong me was confused on what I wanted to do. Part of me loved the tradition of a family name, and the traditional part of that tradition — I didn't want Brian to change his name. Brian expressed his views while comforting me with the fact that any decision made would of course be my choice, that I had time, and that I can always change my mind. I spoke to my parents and my closest girlfriends (an even mix of last name changers and maiden name keepers), but still, I was stuck.

We got married, bought an apartment, went on some adventures, and I came up with excuses to make my final decision ("Well my ticket's already under my maiden name," "It'll confuse the bank and slow down the process if I change my name now!" "Quite frankly, I don't have the time for this!"). We delayed other processes (dealing with finances, for example) until I could make a firm decision beyond changing my Facebook name to see if I liked how it looked.

And then life slowed down a bit. And so I thought. And thought, and thought. I feel like a decision that came so easily to others has been the most difficult for me ever. Ultimately I decided we had to do what's best for us, individually and together, and no Internet forums, friends or family could help with that.

So here's what I've decided! I'll be legally changing my last name in April (and I'm excited about it :). The idea of the two of us, and any future children, having the same team name makes my heart swell. And, despite my previous worries, it doesn't feel like a sacrifice of my identity or values. I want to be a Hayes. In exchange (which feels strange to type, because truly, this is a decision I came to on my own, for myself, and doesn't feel like I'm owed), any future children will have Iranian first names. I'll be changing my middle name to my maiden name (I don't have a middle name right now) and keeping my maiden name as my last name for all work-related things. It's all a little wonky, but it works for us. And having it figured out and feeling comfortable about it feels so good.

So now, of course, I'm obsessed with the idea of monogramming things for the first time in my life (my sister got me the cutest necklace with my new initials, and Brian got me this robe), and get so smiley when hotel attendants and restaurant hosts call me Mrs. Hayes (Mrs.! Ha!). I've been scribbling a new signature and love the new stationary I was sent from Clementine Studio (seeing my new name in beautiful print, I was like, YEP!:)

Lovely Carly from Clementine Studio is giving one lucky reader a stack of their own personalized stationary cards (without a year long identity crisis before it, lucky you!). Enter below (and check out all of her amazing work, I'm obsessed with her wedding stuff)! The giveaway will close on Friday, April 28. One randomly selected winner will be notified by email. Good luck! And thanks for reading that mumbo jumbo. It feels good to have it on paper. Or something similar ;)

I'd LOVE to know: Will (or would, or did) you change your last name after getting married? How did you decide? Thoughts on hyphenating? One of the ideas we played around with was me keeping my maiden name, Brian keeping his last name, but hyphenating any future children's last names to Nikravan-Hayes.