Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Christmas Movies!!

I love movies and one of my favorite categories is CHRISTMAS MOVIES!  A longstanding family tradition has me baking and watching classic Christmas movies pretty regularly from Thanksgiving through New Year's.  Here's a list (with commentary, not synopses) on my faves:

Classics (should be seen in black & white if available)

Pure Comedy
  • National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation - This one has been around long enough that it might belong in the "classsics" category.  If you haven't seen this, and you're over the age of 13 (lots of swearing), then you MUST watch it.
  • Elf - I love this one.  So funny and silly.  Buddy the Elf's excitement when Santa's coming to town is awesome.  Best snack while watching:  Candy, Candy Canes, Candy Corn & Syrup
  • Scrooged - A modern take on the classic Christmas story.  

Family Fun

Tugging at the Heartstrings
  • One Magic Christmas - I fell in love with this one when I was a kid and it's still so touching
  • Family Man - I love this one for the scene with Nick Cage singing in his undies.  Oh and it's pretty touching since I've got a family too :)
  • The Family Stone - I saw this one for the first time last year and it's so touching
  • Love Actually - This is one of those amazing movies.  Romance, comedy, a little death and sadness at the beginning and a fantastic musical number at the end.  

Christmas Action! Love a good shoot-'em-up movie with Christmas trees in the background!
  • Lethal Weapon (one) - Mel Gibson rocking a classic 80s mullet.  
  • Die Hard (one) - Yippie Ki Yay, Monkey Fighter **  Plus Alan Rickman.  LOVE IT.

Wow, what a list!  I knew I had a lot, but it wasn't until i actually listed them out that I realize what a task it is to get through them all.

**Edited for the internet's younger readers

Monday, November 28, 2011

Giving Thanks (a.k.a. Thanksgiving recap)

Approximately every other year we pack up the old minivan and trek northward for a get-together for Thanksgiving with the Massachusetts peeps.  This was just such a year.  And for those who think driving 300+ miles (each way) on a holiday weekend is the worst idea ever, YOU ARE RIGHT!

We left our house around 11am on Wednesday morning and after dropping the pooch off with my parents, we were on our way.  Sadly we were less than an hour into the drive when we encountered our first bout with bumper to bumper traffic.  I won't bore you with the unpleasant details of a 9 hour drive with two small children, but needless to say it was miserable.  We did eventually arrive.  Kids were so stir crazy from the car that they literally ran around the house until midnight.

Thursday was a typical turkey day.  Plenty of relaxing and football watching, plus turkey and pie eating.  It was nice to have our two kids playing with Jason's brother's kids.  Cousins have such fun.  We took them to the playground for a late-afternoon run-around.  They needed the fresh air.

Friday was another day of relaxing with a tidbit of Black Friday excitement.  Nothing big or gifty was purchased.  Jason & I both snagged new fleeces at the LLBean outlet (I'm an LLBean enthusiast, which is odd because I'm not that outdoorsy).  We visited with some friends who have this adorable little ginger baby a few months younger than Chris.

Saturday's plan was to do a smidge more shopping, but that didn't pan out.  We did visit some more friends and then we headed back "home" for the big event:  The Polar Express train ride!  Just around the corner from Jason's parents is the train station where they run a Christmas themed train ride each year.  We dressed the kids in their PJs and piled in.  The Polar Express was read aloud, "Elves" took requests for Santa, and we all sang Christmas songs.  It was a blast!  Kids also received their own sleigh bell to jingle and keep!

The train stopped close to where it started and we all got off for hot chocolate and a visit with Santa himself!  Sarah decided the line was too long (and I think she was tired) and Chris was having fun screaming and running in circles so we decided to head out to dinner at a small local restaurant.

And there was the highlight of the trip for me.  The best New England clam chowder evah!  Now I can't say that it was truly better than all others, but it totally hit the spot.

Sunday morning we packed up and headed home.  Pretty much a miserable repeat of the trip up...oh well :) That's what we do to see family, I guess.  We're so glad to be home safe and sound and to have had a nice visit with family and friends.

On to the next adventure!!!

Home again, home again...

Jiggity Jig!!

After a long weekend road trip to visit Jason's family in Massachusetts, we are finally home and settling back in.  A long-standing family tradition has our house 10x messier than we left and I am lacking the motivation to tackle even the smallest of tasks (unloading the dishwasher is #1).

I'm mentally prepping my list of Christmas to-dos and at this point the list  is tremendous, but it will get done.  It always does!

I think I'll start with window candles this afternoon, then maybe move on to addressing a few Christmas cards.  I'm not even thinking about shopping yet!

What's on your list?  Inside or outside?  Decorate or bake?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Blue Chandelier

A few months back I was at Ikea with my mom and as we were walking through the lighting section and saw a chandelier that I liked for my dining room.  I told my mom that I just wasn't feeling the old fashioned brass fixture we had in there now and a black one would be more the look i was going for.  And my mom said, "Why don't you just paint the one you have?"  Thanks for the brilliant idea!

Fast forward a few months to now and since we're in that period leading up to the big holiday and because this weekend's weather called for a day above 60 degrees I decided that THIS would be the weekend.

Interestingly enough, the folks over at Young House Love did a chandelier not too long ago and I was inspired by the blue color they used.   I followed their recommendations on primer and went with the paint available at our local hardware store.

Saturday morning, Sarah and I headed out for paint.  We ended up hitting Home Depot and Ace to find the right color.  That was fine because we kinda wanted to check out all the Christmas decorations anyway.

Then on Sunday morning I had Jason set up a Dexter-style area on the back porch.

He rigged up the chandelier with some twine and had it low enough so that I'd be able to reach it all around.

I cleaned it up (it was super dusty) and left it to dry for a bit.  I just used some Clorox wipes.

I removed the bulbs, wrapped the candles in plastic and tape (and the wire at the top).  I covered anything with threads - no need to gunk stuff up with paint.  Then I donned the rubber gloves and a mask and primed it up.  The directions on the can said to wait an hour to put on a second coat, so that's what I did.

I then did a coat of blue, but I noticed there were a few patches that the primer missed (it showed up more when I put the blue paint on), so after I let the first blue coat dry for 15 minutes, I spritzed a bit of primer on the bare spots, let that sit for a bit, then did the second blue coat.  And here's how it looked:

The instructions on the can also said it would be fully dry in 24 hours, so we let it sit overnight before moving it back in.  Since it was terribly dark in the dining room with no lights, Chris ate dinner in the kitchen (which he found to be incredibly distracting) and Sarah was glad to eat in her playroom watching TV.  Knowing that the chandelier was still on the back porch didn't stop me from trying to turn the light on at least 4 times.

Monday evening, Jason put the chandelier back up, turned the breaker back on and TADA!!!

I love it!  It's just what I was hoping for.  I'm considering getting some shades.  Any thoughts?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Let's try this again....Lemon & Rosemary Chicken

About a month ago I was all excited to have thought up a twist on a recipe I love - Nigella Lawson's Slow Roasted Garlic & Lemon Chicken.  I changed a few things and went for the Crock Pot instead of the oven. So after I had loaded everything up and headed out for the next few hours to class, I got a text message from Jason when I got there (~25 minutes into cooking) saying that the power went out (wah wah wah).  And why wouldn't the power go out on a sunny October afternoon?  Yeah, still don't know why that happened.

Sadly, we couldn't salvage the food...it had started cooking but not gotten hot enough to cook through and then sat cooling to room temp for about an hour and a half before the power came back on.  Jason left it in the crock and it finally cooked through when the power came back, but I was too nervous to eat it so out it went (it smelled AMAZING) though.

Tonight we tried again...

Lemon & Rosemary Chicken

  • 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth (I used the cubes of chicken stock that I made back here
  • splash of dry vermouth or white wine
  • coarse salt (kosher or sea salt work well)
  • fresh ground pepper
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 1 lemon cut into slices
  • fresh rosemary

Load up the Crock Pot: Chicken on the bottom, salt & pepper, chicken broth, wine, then garlic, lemon and rosemary on top.

Fire up the CP on high and walk away...This should cook in about 3 hours, but times vary depending on your slow cooker, whether your chicken or broth was frozen, etc.

Sarah said the chicken was awesome.  Chris ate it pretty well too.  It'll make good leftovers for sandwiches, cut up on a salad, etc.  Easy and good, I'll make it again.

Along with this we had Roasted Parmesan Green Beans from Skinnytaste.  Oh my.  They were DELICIOUS!

Now to think up another Crock Pot recipe to try...

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Puppy Play-Date

So now that I've been an experienced pet owner for a full 2.5 days, I thought it would be time to arrange for a little dog socialization with another pooch.   OK, so not really my brilliant thinking, but my mom wanted to bring over some puppy related paperwork (immunization record, etc) and she brought with her the beaglet she adopted from Stanley.

Beagle antics ensued....



It's next to impossible to get her to stand still for a photo.

They ran, they rolled.  Rosie tugged Darby's leash.  They bravely jumped off the front porch.  It was like old times, like it hadn't been 48 hours since they had seen one another last.

I guess she likes the strap on the camera.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

A Trip to the Beagle Farm

For those who know me, this won't be news, but we are beagle people.  I grew up with a beagle and I love them.  My parents got Molly when I was in college and Lola came a year or so before I moved out of the house.  So when Lola suddenly became very sick and died we were all beside ourselves.  As much as she was a huge pain in the butt (she was a grumpy dog), we missed her so I wasn't entirely surprised when my mom said they were considering a puppy.

About a month ago my mom called to tell me that she had called Stanley (the beagle man) and there were puppies that would be available in a few weeks.  SO EXCITING!!  I decided to make this a big surprise for Sarah so we didn't say a word.

Well today was the day and after a few weeks of secret keeping we finally told Sarah that we were going someplace fun today and she could guess if she wanted.  She guessed some pretty great places:  the zoo, Disney World, Dairy Queen or Chuck E. Cheese.  Nope.

We drove into the middle of nowhere today.  And then we kept going for another hour or so and then we turned up a gravel driveway and went about a quarter mile to see this:

We were there!  Sarah at this point had guessed we were visiting a farm and she seemed a bit disappointed, but when she opened the car door and heard the sweet "AROOOOO!" coming from the back she knew that this was a special farm.  "Is this a doggy farm??" she asked.  I told her it was, and then she spotted them in a little pen in front of the little farmhouse.

I couldn't keep her and Chris away.  They just stuck their hands right in.

Then they got in.

Then the puppies came out and ran around.

It was about this time that we told Sarah that we were going to bring one home.  And she would get to pick.

She picked this one.

We got to meet "mom" and "dad".  This is Chip.  He's dad.

Stanley loves showing off his dogs.  Tomorrow is Stanley's 80th birthday.  Happy B-day Stanley!

On the drive home Sarah decided her name is Rosie.  We like it.  I think she'll fit in well with our family.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Wig Upcycle...Or Something Like That

So as you all know from the Halloween post, Sarah went out as Rapunzel, wig and all.  And she wore the wig for about half a block before she ripped off declaring it "itchy".  I was kinda bummed.  She looked so cute in it and I was hoping she would wear it as a dress-up  after Halloween was over.  Nope.

So I decided that the best option would be to try to change it to make it something she WOULD wear.  A tie-on braid!

I used:

  • Long blonde wig
  • 2 large and 1 small hair elastic (a.k.a. pony holders)
  • A bit of fleece fabric (or ribbon or whatever)
  • Scissors
  • Hairbrush
  • Lint roller (this is critical)
Here's the process I used:

Brush out the wig.  It's going to lose hairs, but that's just how it goes.

Snip a small section of full length hair and loop it through a large pony holder.  Lay it somewhere flat.

Cut the rest of the wig close to the headpiece of the wig.

Lay it on top of the already cut hair so that the cut end is close to the pony holder.

At this point you'll have looooooong hair and some shorter hair.  Using a large pony holder, attach the longer hair to the shorter hair near the top.

Lay the hair out flat and create 3 separate sections for braiding

Braid it!  I did a medium-tightness so that the finished product would move.  I find that tighter braids are a bit stiff.  Use the small pony holder to tie it off.

Trim up the ends (and any stray hairs that didn't get in there)

Using fleece or ribbon create "bows" to give a cleaner look to the top and bottom.  I did this by cutting long-ish rectangles and doing a simple double-knot tied VERY tightly.  I trimmed the ends once they were done.

So there it is!  And guess what...she still won't wear it.

Oh well, you can't win 'em all!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Countdown to D-Day

We've got an exciting weekend planned and sometime on Sunday I'll be posting all about it.  A full-recap of the road-trip to the secret destination out in the middle of nowhere.  Plus lots of adorable floppy-eared photos.  The best part of D-Day is that it's a secret.  Sarah knows we're going somewhere but she doesn't know where or why.  She's made a few guesses, but she now knows that we're not going bowling, ice skating, to a gymnastics place or to Dairy Queen.

In preparation for Saturday's jaunt, I took the little guy out this morning to a big-box pet store to pick up a few necessities (he's good at keeping secrets):

  • leash and collar
  • tie-out stake and line
  • training treats
  • Nylabone
  • bag of puppy food
  • a jug of Nature's Miracle

I have this stuff hidden away in our basement so it'll still be a big surprise, but I'm sure you all can tell that we're getting a PUPPY!  A roly-poly fuzzy little beagle and I couldn't be more excited.  I'm a little nervous about becoming a pet owner, but I think our little pooch will be a great addition to the family.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Downhill to the Holidays

Well that was fun!  I guess it's time to box up all the spooky fun decorations.  Taking stuff down isn't as much fun as putting it up

With Halloween behind us, I feel the urge to refocus myself toward the next big thing:  Christmas.  I know all you Turkey Day fans out there are moaning about how your favorite day is overlooked and under-appreciated with Christmas always nipping at its heels, but for me Christmas is just much bigger and there are a few reasons why:

First, I don't decorate for Thanksgiving.  I have no ceramic turkeys, no Pilgrim salt & pepper shakers, no wicker cornucopia overflowing with gourds and Indian corn.  After Halloween, we switch back to "regular old house" before hauling out the holly in late November.

Second, we're rarely here for T-day.  Since Jason's family is from Massachusetts we're often on the road heading north for Thanksgiving weekend.  In years where we don't head north, sometimes we head south to my Aunt G's house in Maryland.  I think in all the years we've been married, we've had a Pennsylvania Thanksgiving just twice.

Third, I LOVE CHRISTMAS.  I love the decorations, the lights, the movies, the songs, THE FOOD!!!   Now I love a good turkey dinner (mmmm stuffing and pie!), but Christmas just has it all...for a solid month.  I can hear the buttons straining on my pants already.  And who doesn't love PRESENTS?  I love that feeling when you've found the perfect thing for someone you love.  Last year I was so inspired by the gift we got for my parents that I actually wrote a poem.

So here are a few Christmas goals:
  • Have a clean house from 12/1 - 12/25!
  • Christmas in EVERY room
  • Christmas movies on Friday nights (and maybe Saturdays too!)
  • Don't gain 10 pounds
  • Maybe a few updates/upgrades/etc. before Santa arrives!
Well, that's it :)


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Today is Chicken Stock Day!

So recently I made chicken enchiladas.  They're awesome (thanks to skinnytaste.com for some great diet-friendly recipes).  The up-side is that we have two meals (since only JP and I eat them) of delicious Mexican food.  The down-side is that I am now out of chicken stock.  I guess that's not really a down-side since I get to make more and I love making chicken stock :)

Well, love is a strong word, but trust me when I say that I like cooking big pots of stuff.  There's something so satisfying about having a pot on the stove bubbling away and savory smells permeating the house.

Making your own chicken stock is easy, but a little time consuming.   Mostly unattended cooking time though, so go for it!

Here's what you'll need:

  • leftover chicken parts - bones, skin, flecks of meat from chicken you've eaten recently.  I usually take leftovers and throw them in a gallon freezer bag and keep them in the freezer until I have enough to make stock. 3-4 breasts, a chicken carcass, random parts...all will be good here
  • veggies - a few whole carrots, a few ribs of celery, an onion quartered
  • seasoning - a few cloves of garlic, a bay leaf, peppercorns, fresh thyme, parsley or dried if fresh isn't available
  • tea "ball" - its a mesh ball used for brewing a pot of tea, or a giant one is for soup.  I've heard some cooks use cheesecloth, but I just use the ball since I have one.
  • skimmer - to remove the scuzz
  • water
  • big old stockpot
  • Salt??  I usually leave salt out or use VERY little.  The idea is that I'll be using this for cooking and most recipes have salt added, so I just salt to taste then.

Place the veggies (celery, carrot, and onion) and seasoning n the pot.

Toss chicken right on top, straight from the fridge or freezer.

Cover with water, a lot of water (about 6" above the top of the chicken) and fire it up!

Bring to a boil then lower to a simmer.  Simmer for 4 hours skimming the scuzz (you'll know it when you see it) a few times each hour.  Add hot tap water when the water level gets low.  

When it's done, scoop out all the chicken pieces, bones, veggies, seasoning and discard.  Strain the stock and put it in the fridge overnight. 

In the morning, scoop out all the solidified fats.  

I freeze the stock in ice cube trays and then pop them into a gallon zipper bag so I can just grab however much I need to use.  I don't usually thaw the cubes before I use it, just toss them into the slow cooker, saucepan, skillet, etc.  

And that's it!  Was that so hard?  Naaaah.


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