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!