Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas, Everyone!

Mmmmm. The house smells warm and sweet with pumpkin and pecan pies in the oven.

I would like to take just a moment to wish all of our family and friends a very Merry Christmas! May the blessings of the Christmas season be with you and yours; not just at Christmas time, but all year through.

Christmas--that magic blanket that wraps itself about us, that something so intangible that it is like a fragrance. It may weave a spell of nostalgia. Christmas may be a day of feasting, or of prayer, but always it will be a day of remembrance--a day in which we think of everything we have ever loved.
--Augusta E. Rundel

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

All in a Day's Work

I am the office manager at a middle school, and have been for the past 13+ years. Typically when I tell people this, they look at me with shock, horror - and in some cases, fear (middle school - really?!) - in their eyes. Me? I absolutely love it!

Some may argue that it's a boring job - doing the same thing day in and day out. These poor souls, however, would be way off the mark. In fact, while there are some routine features of the job (and whose job doesn't have some routine-ness to it?), generally speaking, every day/week/month/year is different from one to the next. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that times, people, expectations and requirements have a way of changing over time - who knows? Additionally, while it's true that there are days that can be challenging (to say the least!), ordinarily though, on a day-to-day basis, it's a phenomenal place to work - middle school students and all.

Case in point:

During student break time this morning, our principal purchased a bag of mistletoe from one of our Boy Scouts. Just after break, we had a small gathering in the principal's office to celebrate a co-worker's birthday. Several of us remarked on said mistletoe and we began pondering how mistletoe earned it's associations, myths, and legends. Twists and turns in conversation then segued into a discussion about role models and public figures. Which, then naturally led to a snippet about the Tiger Woods debacle (oh how the mighty have fallen). Towards the end of conversation we were discussing heroes (what makes one a hero, what are common characteristics that heroes share, etc.) and how this concept - specifically, being of strong upstanding character - can be conveyed to middle school students. A pretty heady conversation if ever there was one!

Need another example?

Several of us have formed a monthly reading group; it consists of one of our counselors, our speech specialist, an instructional aide, four English teachers, our music and drama teachers and myself. This year we're exploring the Best American Short Stories of the 20th Century and essays written within the same time frame. We alternate - one month a short story, the next an essay - then we compare and contrast things such as subject, literary style, views of the society...just about anything we can think of. Today's discussion was Hemingway's essay 'Pamplona in July'. Our wide-reaching conversation covered everything from Hemingway's importance in literature as well as his oft-attempted style of writing, to what it must have felt like to be a young(-ish) American couple in Pamplona in 1923, to the crush of 20,000 on-lookers crowded into cobble-stone streets, to how terrified the bulls must be at this barbaric spectacle. This general conversation led to a more specific one on Hemingway himself - his life and how he lived it, his many experiences and exploits. You name it, we covered it.

...then the bell rang and it was back to reality.

Now you can see why it's an absolute joy to come to work every day. There's work, yes, but there's also so much more than that. There's inquistiveness, discovery, camaraderie. What's that you say? Not everyone's work place is like this? Well ... it should be!

Gearing Up ...

Tis the season. Christmas, yes, but cooking season, too!

While we're on winter break, Kevin and I will be doing a few large cooking sessions (ala Dream Dinners, but for MUCH less money!) to stock our freezer. We find that, when we get home in the evenings, though we want a nice home-cooked meal, we're not always in the mood to cook it. As such, I normally will do a few big cooking sessions throughout the year and we stock the meals in our freezer to pull out on those nights when we don't feel like cooking. As busy as we've been since summer - with our move, moving and construction issues at my school, Kevin starting a position at a new school, and everything else in between - we've pretty much depleted our freezer of all of those delicious home-cooked meals! Thus, it's time to begin restocking.

Knowing we are planning this task over break time, I got a bit of a head start this past Sunday. I made an enormous batch of Beef Bourginon (or Beef Boogie-Boogie as Kevin calls it) in the crock-pot. It was the perfect meal for a cold (almost) winter's night! A few slices of crusty French bread and a bowl of beef stew ... MMMMM. This meal is actually a real budget stretcher as well. One of the ways I s-t-r-e-t-c-h the budget with this meal is to buy a large roast when it's on sale and have the butcher cut it into small chunks right then and there. It's a money saver because the sale roast (and it was huge!) only cost $7.41; the same amount of already cut stew beef would have cost me about $17.00 (wow!). It's a time saver, too, because the butcher is cutting the meat for you; that one of the most time-consuming steps in making beef bourginon.

We ended up with enough for dinner on Sunday night, lunch for both of us on Monday, and two Ziploc bags filled with two generous-sized servings each. Grand total for each serving? A mere $1.64! Even if you add a loaf of French bread, you'll still come in under $2.00 per serving. Any meal that's this good for less than $2.00 is a definite winner in my book!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Cookie Bake 2009

After a year off from our famous cookie bake, the Fabulous Bake-r Sisters were at it once again! Debbie and I had our girl's day cookie bake at our house on Saturday. It was the perfect day for baking cookies inside. It was cold and rainy outside and we were inside toasty and warm. Bonus: the house smelled warm and sweet - like cinnamon and vanilla!

Chocolate chip - with and without walnuts, cranberry/white chocolate oatmeal, peanut butter, molasses crinkles, oatmeal raisin and classic sugar cookies were the stars of the show. By days end we'd made 29 dozen (29 DOZEN?!) cookies to share with family and friends. Take a look...
Before the cookie bake....

After the cookie bake...
...and look who is waiting for the cookie to crumble!
Here they are, live and in person, the Fabulous Bake-r Sisters!

Decisions, Decisions

It's strange being in a new house at Christmastime. Having been in the other house for 15 years, I'm now faced with having to decide where all of the Christmas decorations should be placed.

I think that's good. In the old house, it was always 'well this has always gone here and that has always gone there', so everything always looks the same. I suppose there is some comfort to that as well, but it's nice to kind of shake things up this year! Plus, it's fun seeing all of our cherished Christmas decorations infusing their new home with love and sparkle.

Also of note - with our new home being a bit smaller, we chose the decorations that are on display even more carefully. What stuck were things that we truly, truly love and look forward to seeing every year. The result is that, as much as I LOVE Christmas and Christmas decoations, we will be donating some of our decorations that we haven't used. Never, though, will I part with my collected Hallmark ornaments! While they might not all make it out every year, I still love, love, LOVE them and will never part with them!

A few pcitures of our Christmassy-ness:

The wonderful realtors who helped us find our new home dropped off THE most beautiful poinsettia I've ever seen! What a wonderful surprise to walk outside the front door and find this gorgeous plant waiting for us! Thanks Rosemary and Crystal - you guys are absolutely the BEST!

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

What Comes After Thanksgiving??

Peanut brittle, of course!

Friday we had our annual peanut-brittle-making-marathon. What a huge success! Deb was able to join us this year, and since we all wanted to end up with lots of peanut brittle for holiday giving, we came up with a new strategy: make two batches at a time. WHEW! We were boogying all day! Ingredients for pan one: sugar? Check. Karo syrup? Check. Peanuts? Check, check. And on it went.

We kind of lost track, but we think we ended up making eleven batches (ELEVEN batches!) of the sweet, sticky stuff. If you know anything about making candy, you know that's a LOT of peanut brittle!

Oh, and just for good measure, we thought we'd throw a craft in there while we were waiting for the peanut brittle to cook. Now who thought that was a good idea?

Heyyyyyyyy Deb ...

just for you: I changed the book ;o)

Feast and Family

The LaChapelle's hosted our family Thanksgiving this year - and it was wonderful!

Kevin chauffered mom, dad, Vicky and myself out to T.O. for the day and we had a great time. The food was delicious and the company was delightful. Everyone pitched in producing the delicious meal and helped with the clean up. The boys were especially helpful in cleaning up the pie. Coincidence? I think not. A few photos of our day ...

Thank you, Lord, for the many, many blessings in our lives. We are truly rich beyond words.

Guess Who Turned 40?!

If you guessed Kevin, you're a winner!!
November 21st is a very special and important day - for several reasons. It's Debbie and Bill's wedding anniversary (happy anniversary you two!) and ... it's Kevin's birthday!

We had a wonderful day, and Kevin had a very happy birthday. We invited just a few friends and family to help us celebrate the special occasion. Though Kevin knew that we were going to have a party in his honor, I still surprised him with a couple of fun things. I'd made posters and put them around the house and outside of things that happened during 1969. I also searched hi and lo for different types of Brach's candy and we had a nostalgic candy bar set up. We ordered BBQ tri-tip, pulled pork and smoked chicken from a local restaurant and friends and family pitched in to help with side dishes. We had balloons and candles, and the band even played! ... for about 45 minutes ... until the police arrived! It was a hoot. The guys didn't even start playing until 7:10 p.m.; then, just before 8:00 p.m. the police arrived and said that one of our neighbors complained about the noise. Ahhh, music lovers indeed! The boys played one more song and called it a night. Of course we can now tease Kevin that 'he got busted on his 40th birthday!' He didn't even mind - he said that makes for a great story that will get - ahem - richer and longer as the years go by.

Happy birthday, honey. I love you VERY much!! Vicky and Joe, thank you for bringing this wonderful man into the world!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Wishes

We've been so incredibly busy that I really haven't been blogging all that much. And now that the holidays are upon us, I fear that I might be even a little more scarce. Hopefully not. I've got so many things to share and blog about!

However, I wanted to take a moment and share a Thanksgiving blessing and wishes for you and your families for a very Happy Thanksgiving.

We Give Thanks

Our Father in Heaven,
We give thanks for the pleasure
Of gathering together for this occasion.
We give thanks for this food
Prepared by loving hands.
We give thanks for life,
The freedom to enjoy it all
And all other blessings.
As we partake of this food,
We pray for health and strength
To carry on and try to live as You would have us.
This we ask in the name of Christ,
Our Heavenly Father.

--Harry Jewell

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Trial...but not error!

I belong to a group called BzzAgent. It's a word of mouth marketing organization . What does this mean? It means I am invited to try new products from time to time and give my opinion on them. It's great fun!! I signed up about 6 months or so ago and have had the pleasure of trying several new products.

One of the products I'm currently trying is L'oreal Revitalift Deep-Set Wrinkle 24-Hour Eye Repair Duo. I'm about mid-way through an 8 week ttial period and I have to say, I like this product very much! It makes the area around my eyes feel much smoother and softer than before I began the trial.

If you have a chance to try this product, I recommend you do so. I think you'll be happy with the results. I know I am!

Monday, November 09, 2009

Free Lunch?

Okay, so maybe there's no such thing as a free lunch. But how about a thirty-nine cent lunch? Is that close enough?

At the grocery store on Saturday I redeemed a ton of coupons, two of which resulted in lunch for both Kevin and I today. I had coupons for $1.10 off a can of Progresso soup. The soup was on sale on Saturday for $1.25 per can. If my math skills serve me correctly that means I got each can of soup for just 15 cents. Awesome! I also had a great coupon for Pepperidge Farm Baked Naturals; the coupon plust the sale netted a box of snack crackers for just ninety nine cents. Each box of snack crackers equals out to about four servings, so just shy of twenty five cents per serving.

A can of soup and a portion of snack crackers = .39. Not too shabby! But then...I splurged and added a nineteen cent apple bringing my grand total to fifty-eight cents.

Sigh. Guess it's true - there's no such thing as a free lunch. Just a really inexpensive one ;o)

Sunday, November 08, 2009

The Busy Season

I can't believe that it's November 8th ... ALREADY! Is it just me or has this whole year flown by in the blink of an eye? It seems that, since June, this year has picked up speed and cruised right past me. And on top of that, we've entered the absolutely busiest time of the year.

Did you know that it's a mere 47 days until Christmas? How did that happen?!

To try and catch up with everything that's going on, I had a full day yesterday of getting ready for holidays. Kevin was gone all day at an umpire camp. He had to leave by 7:00 a.m. so I had a good long time to work some holiday magic.

First stop: grocery shopping. I planned out our two week menu during the week, consulted the grocery circulars on Friday, gathered together all of my coupons (some really good ones this week!) and hit the grocery store early. I sort of enjoy the act of grocery shopping itself. I think part of it is hunting for the best bargains. However, as much as I enjoy the shopping aspect, I really do NOT enjoy the putting away aspect. But they're sort of a packaged deal I suppose. Anyway, I felt that I did particularly well with yesterday's take. Groceries have gotten so incredibly expensive - it's almost frightening to peek at that final tally. However, once I punched in my code for the loyalty card and handed the checker all of the coupons I'd brought, I ended up saving exactly 50% on groceries this week! Considering the fact that this was a big stock up week (lots of holiday baking supplies on sale!), saving half was a huge accomplishment! The one caveat is then having to tote all of those bags in the house and find places to stash all of the goodies.

Next, I headed to a few places around town to pick up several Christmas gifts. Let me say this: there are some GREAT deals out there!! I pretty much Christmas shop all year round - starting the day after Christmas. I find that this works best for our budget - and my sanity. However, if you're just now beginning to think about shopping for Christmas, you're definitely in luck. I found some amazing deals yesterday! Unfortunately, I really can't share them here because, well...they're a surprise! However, suffice it to say that there are some wonderful gift choices out there, and there are definitely bargains to be had.

When I got home from shopping, I decided to make cookie dough. Every year Deb and I do a Christmas cookie bake-off and it's nice to get a jump on making the dough. I made a double batch of my famous (well, at least in our small circle of family and friends) molasses crinkles. I got them all rolled out, put them on a baking sheet and froze them. This morning we'll be putting the dough balls in a freezer bag and stashing them until early December. I was going to make another batch, but by the time I finished with the first go 'round, I was tired. When Kevin got home, he was happy to find out that I hadn't made the chocolate chip cookie dough yet. He said he really wanted to help with that one -- of course, what he means is that he'd really like to help EAT that one, but that's beside the point, right? ;o)

Tuesday, November 03, 2009


Apparently we've inherited a cat. Her name is Daisy and she lived there before Kevin and I moved in. Her family took her with them, but they still live close enough that she can come back to her 'home' -- and that's exactly what she does. In fact, we believe she's decided that we're her new family. Apparently in the cat world if you move in to their home, you must learn to share with them because they're not budging.

She's cute as a button and quite insistent - both that this is her house and when it comes to mealtime.

She and Slippers have a sort of 'tolerant' relationship. Slippers likes Daisy and Daisy tolerates her. Sort of.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Homemade Croissants!

...well, sort of. At least you bake them at home which gives your home the most delicious aroma.

If you're lucky enough to live by a Trader Joe's, I highly recommend that you get yourself to the frozen section of this amazing store. There, you will find an innocent looking box of frozen croissant. But not just any croissants, my friends. Noooo. These little gems are frozen blobs of dough that look, well, down right unappetizing when taken from the box. However, let them proof overnight on the counter in a pan lined with parchment paper and ... viola! ... in the morning you will have something that actually resembles croissant! Brush the tops of each croissant gently with an egg wash and pop them in the oven for 15-20 minutes.

The payoff: 8 soft, delicious, flaky croissants just waiting for you to dab them with apricot preserves. Or maybe blackberry preserves. Mmmmm. Either way, delicious 'homemade' croissant fresh from the oven on a Saturday morning. Life just doesn't get any better than this!

Bon appetit!

More Before and After Photos

Here are a few more before and after photos of our new home.

Master bathroom before:

Master bathroom after:

Dining room before:

Dining room after:

Garden room before:

Garden room after:

As you can see, we've been busy, busy bees putting our home together. This past Saturday our investment club met at our house. It was the first time a few of our friends had been to our new home. They were surprised to see how 'put together' everything looked. In looking at the pictures, I am too! It doesn't seem possible that we've just been here two short months. It's true -- time flies when you're having fun!