Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Christmas Day!

Christmas is truly one of my favorite days of the year.  It's a day of joy, family, celebration, giving, and love.  Some years, it's the only day I get to see my mom's side of the family.  As I mentioned a few posts ago, we have traveled to my Aunt Carol's in MD every year since I was a kid.  She's my mom's only sister, and has 2 children - Kristin and Jason, who are at least 11 years older than I am.  Since I'm so much younger, I've always had to do the family thing while my cousins went out with friends/on dates/brought dates to dinner/got married/had children/got divorced/got married/etc.  Over the years we've met more of Kristin's boyfriends and then never seen them again that it's become a running joke to this day.  Several years ago, we added Mom and Aunt Carol's second cousin, Dolores, and husband Joe, son Dean and later wife Kathy.  Dolores passed away a few years ago, but the others still join us, and now with addition of Anne-Marie.  It's a big deal - a sit down, formal full dinner, china, silver, candles - the works.  When full attendance is there, we can have 14 adults and 6 kids.  

Christmas 2009
This year, when Aunt Carol said she would not be hosting Christmas due to her recent surgery, I took a deep breath, and offered to host.  I knew I would never be able to have all 20 in our townhouse...but wouldn't have to.  Kristin and new husband Steve + his kids would be on a cruise for Christmas, and we were going to take a year off from the extended cousins.  We just couldn't hold all of them in our house, and I needed the first year to be a bit of a warm-up.  It was a bit of a surprise when both Mom and Aunt Carol agreed, and agreed with great enthusiasm.  Again, since I'm so much younger, I've always been a bit in my cousins' shadows.  But now it was my turn!
Dozens of phone calls with mom later, Christmas week had arrived.  The party on Friday was nice practice...and now it's go time.  The menu was large - lots of appetizers, full Thanksgiving dinner and several deserts.  We would be mixing the families for the first time at Christmas, inviting my mother in law.  Expecting 9 adults and 3 kids, I set our large dining table for 12.  Crystal, china, silver, beautiful serving trays, and 3 plastic Santa place mats.

  It was such a great success.  Mom and Dad came to DC on Thursday, Carolyn (mother in law) on Friday, and the rest of the family Saturday.  We put a mattress on the floor in the office for us so everyone could stay here.  We opened presents Saturday morning just the 5 of us with a yummy egg and sausage frittata before beginning the meal.  Turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn pudding, pretzel salad, and green beans were all delicious.  It was really special for me to follow in Aunt Carol's footsteps.  It still wasn't the same as being at her house, but it was the next best thing.

And....there are some quiet murmurs of "next year" already starting... 

And I also have to report that my new fridge, albeit tiny, was perfect :)

What's Christmas without holiday parties?!

This year, we decided to have our own....and managed to throw it together in one week.  Below are some of the drinks and foods we served, including some of my favorite recipes!

For the last few years, we've hosted a Halloween Chili party - it's my family's tradition to have chili on Halloween - to get you all warmed up before the trick 'r treating.  So a few years ago when we got married, we decided it was a good excuse to get our friends together.  This year, schedules (and races) got in the way, so October and November passed without a party.  About mid-December, we were trying to figure out how to see all of our friends before the craziness of Christmas...and what better way to do that than to throw together a drop in at our house!  When this was decided, we didn't have a tree, mantle decorations, or frankly, any decorations up at all.  But some garland one night, lights another, and ornaments the next and the house was festive!

The party turned out to be a great night - we had about 30 people over - and some even drove down from Maryland!  And while the Friday before Christmas is certainly a popular night for events, lots of people were able to attend!

For drinks we served A by Acacia Pinot Noir, Kendall Jackson Sauvignon Blanc, and fancy Anchor Christmas Ale that husband picked out.  All were purchased at Costco for around $8-10 a bottle.  I was a little concerned about the Christmas beer being the only option, but everyone loved it!

Usually when we have parties, I feel the need to slave over food for days.  This time, I took some shortcuts by purchasing some things at Costco and Wegmans - I was more relaxed, not as exhausted, and the food was just as good.  As my heavier food items, I had meatballs (recipe below) which were a huge hit and super easy; flautas from Costco cut into 4ths and guacamole (I thought people were going to lick the bowl), buffalo chicken dip; and chicken salad (also from Costco) baked into cresent rolls.  The chicken salad rolls were good, but a lot of prep work and got cold too quickly.

Southern Living

I also served warm brie topped with raspberry jam+balsamic vinegar+pecans; an amazing wine bar nut mix (recipe from Food & Wine) which made enough for Christmas Day, too.  I took a log of goat cheese, rolled it in sunflower seeds, drizzled it with honey, and then served it with raspberries and mint leaves - yummy and festive!  There were a few other small things like black olives, Ghirardelli chocolate squares, and praline bars. 

Meatballs Recipe:

1 large bag frozen cooked meatballs (from Costco - 140 pieces) - I used as many as I could get in my crockpot - it's not very big and ended up being about half of the bag
1 large jar grape jelly (32oz)
3 12-oz.jars chili sauce (I used Heinz)

  • On stovetop, melt jelly and chili sauce together. Add meatballs and stir to cover them with sauce.
  • Put in crock pot and cook for 4 hours (if meatballs are uncooked), or hold on low to keep warm for party.  Mine were cooked so I just put them on low, for about 3ish hours, and through the party. 

It doesn't get much easier than that!!  Entertaining doesn't have to be expensive, or complicated. You just need some drinks, festive napkins for whatever the occasion, and some good food. Also, people are usually willing and offer to bring things - let them! (This is something I'm working on!)

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Christmas decorations

Since I'm just beginning this blog, and still trying to figure out what I will be writing about, there's been a few "shoot maybe I should have taken photos of that!" moments.  And those have resulted in 'after' shots...which I guess is better than nothing.  So, here we go.  Christmas!

My little family (mom, dad, me, and the recent addition of husband) have traveled to Severna Park, MD, every year since I was maybe 9 or 10 for Christmas.  We go up Christmas Eve and stay with my Aunt Carol and Uncle Larry, mom's only sister.  There's always a great crowd with lots of food, wine, and laughs.  In September, Aunt Carol had triple bypass surgery, and luckily is recovering very well.  But with this, she said she was taking this Christmas off.  My cousin Kristin would be the next logical hostess, but she and husband Steve took their kids on a cruise for Christmas.  So, I offered!  More on that later...

Because this would be the first time ever hosting my extended family for anything, and I had very large shoes to fill, I wanted it to be perfect.  And that started with the decorations

I saw an add in the Crate and Barrel catalog and off I went to the store to track down that exact look.  As did every one else in VA - I almost had to fight one woman for the last reindeer stocking holders!  And they were out of some of the elements, so I had to make do - and I think it really turned out lovely!

I cleaned off everything that's usually on our mantle, so I had a clean slate to work with.   I used some fake garland which I doubled up to run along the top, and then an extra piece of red beaded garland that we didn't use on our tree this year.

I had this mirror that was just sitting around, so I thought I'd give it a shot - and it really worked out perfectly.  The usual mantle art was way too busy for the Christmas decorations.  It was about time for us to get some new stockings, so I ordered these from - they were pretty inexpensive and came in about a week.  We even got Cady her own! 

Just a few other decorations around the house, besides the tree:

My mother in law has given us pieces of this nativity set for the last few years, and since she was joining us for Christmas, I wanted to make sure I set it out in a prominent location.  It's fairly large, and since we don't have a lot of extra tables in our townhouse, this space right at our built-ins seemed perfect.

I wanted to bring in some fresh pine, but when I looked at purchasing bunches of it, it was very expensive!  So, Cady and I went on a little walk around our neighborhood with our clippers!  I just snipped a few branches from some of the huge pine trees around the community, and Voila!

I put some on top of the china cabinet in the dinning room, and then paired some with beautiful red roses in both the powder room and on the drink table.  I got lots of compliments on both, and they were super easy.

I got the idea for the roses, pine, and silver vase from a recent Southern Living article.

I love my Target trees!  I saw them at the beginning of December but just thought they were too expensive to buy a group of them.  I went back the week of Christmas, somewhat frantic for a centerpiece, and there they were...on clearance!  So instead of $20 and $10 for the different sizes, I paid $20 total for the 3!  They were a perfect touch to our table - and didn't take up too much room!
Well that's all for now - more later about the Christmas dinner, menu, table settings, and a fun kid activity!

Monday, December 27, 2010

65 miles, 17 hours and 48 minutes

It's been a little longer than I'd realized since my last post - the last few weeks have flown by! I'll try to write a few in the next couple days to catch everyone up!

Beginning at 12:01am Saturday December 11, my husband set out to run the Hellgate 100k ultra race in and around the mountains of Roanoke, VA.  It was about 23* at the start...and 120ish crazy people were out there to run with him. 

I saw him off at the start (picture to the left) and then drove to Aid Station #4 to settle in for the night.  All snuggled in the back of the 4runner with my sleeping pad, pillows, down comforter and new Patagonia 2 pants, I was quite cozy!  I set my alarm for 530 am (it was about 130 at this point) and went onto sleep.  Up at 530, he came through aid station #4 feeling pretty good, right around 6am.

After I sent him on again I packed it up and headed to AS #5...he arrived just as the sun was coming was about 25* at this point, and he was going strong!

This picture is as he's leaving #5 around just looks so miserable doesn't it?!  I still to this day don't understand this...

So onto #6, 7, 8, and 9 I would go, waiting each time for him to come in.  We changed socks, shoes, left the headlamp in the morning and then took it again as dark was coming.  At one point he came in saying he needed a new jacket, as he had left his with a runner in distress out on the trail.  There's sure something different about this trail running crowd - you want to finish the race yourself, but you're not going to just run past someone in need without stopping to help.
 Here are some aid station photos - this is #7.  It's hard for people to picture who have never been out there.  The picture with the grill is a man cooking hamburgers for the runners (and aid station workers).  The one below is a typical scene.  You can see the drop bags off to the left of the photo - runners who don't have crews with them (that's what I'm called) can fill bags and they will be taken to specific stations for them.  This way they can restock on gu's or clothing or whatever they might need along the way.
The poster gives the station number, total mileage and how many they have until the next station.  They always have sodas and food for the runners.  Lots of times, especially for these colder races, they'll have soup in cups, and also bananas, Pringles, MandMs, and all kinds of other foods.  They'll grab a few and keep moving!  Matt usually spends anywhere from just a few minutes to maybe 15 at stations, depending on the length of race and his timing. 
 This photo is just before aid station #8 - it's under the stone bridge you can see at the curve in the road.  Despite the cold, it was a beautiful day!

And finally, the finish!  17:48:38.  There to greet him is Dr. Horton, the race director.  As he runs up the finish line, they call out for his number - then Dr. Horton checks the list and shouts out the runner's name, and something about him - his first Hellgate, or Beast Series finisher (a series of 6 ultras including this one) or something else - it's really a pretty cool welcoming to the finish line!

This completed his 9th race in 2010.  He's on the short end of the waiting list for MMT 100 in May, and has plans to do several other new and old races in 2011!  After a 3 week break and the holidays, he will be back out there!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Modern Technology

Last night I made an amazing discovery.  While sitting on the couch with husband and puppy, just playing on the internet, I decided to say hi to my very best friend Lola in Florida on g-chat.  So I clicked on her name, the window popped up, and I noticed something.  There was a little green video camera next to her name.  And next to I clicked on it and up she popped on my screen!!  Sitting at her dining table, just being her beautiful self!  So we chatted, and watched, and waved to husbands and laughed and talked so much and so quickly we were talking over each other - the way best friends do.  We are pretty good at keeping in touch across the 1,048 miles that separate us - we email, send photos, make fun of people on Facebook, call when babies/husbands/dogs/in-laws/life isn't in the way, and visit once a year.  But this.  This is a whole new world to me.  This makes those 1,048 miles seem not quite as intimidating.  This makes that adorable 20 mo old that she has seem so much closer.  This will make her not go from 4 months to 18 between me getting to see her! 

I know I'm a little behind the curve on this technology, with the Skype craze and the iPhone video capabilities and all.  But it's new to me, and I love it.  As I joked with her last night, I can see us attaching our laptops to our hips and video-g-chatting all the time!  What are you making for dinner?  See, doesn't it look good!  What are you drinking tonight, cheers!  What does the new house look like (she's in the process of building one)?  Now I understand what all the hype is about.  And I couldn't be happier to have finally joined the crowds.

We also joked that I should write my next blog post about how cool she is and how much I love her.  Little did she know I would actually do it!  We met in the halls of Alamance at Elon during spring orientation.  Through some convincing (of both the housing people on campus and L herself) we began our college career as suitemates, living in an all girl dorm on the south side of campus.  The days, weeks, months and years we spent together at Elon were some of the most memorable times of our lives.  We were suitemates, roommates, classmates, friends, and became the best of friends.  And honestly, I might even say we've become closer over the years since Elon.  I am truly blessed to have met LMPT that chilly rainy day in April, 2000 - I can't imagine my life without her!!

And now, using this amazing modern technology, I can video-chat with her :)

What will they think of next?! (or better yet, what else is out there that I'm missing out on??)

Monday, December 6, 2010

3 out of 4 ain't bad

What a weekend it has been!  We went into the weekend with ugly old white appliances and came out with 3 beautiful new stainless ones!  The oven and microwave were to be delivered on Friday...I say that because only one was actually delivered.  After hours of waiting around and another couple of hours on the phone on hold, it was evident that the stove would have to wait.  But the GE guys from Home Depot did bring the microwave!  They were wonderful, definitely the best delivery people of the weekend.

On top of appliance delivery, this weekend we had our contractor here building a new cabinet in the living room, as well as lots of other little projects around the house.  I am the proud owner of lots of stuff...including quite a platter and serving dish collection.  Now I have lots more storage for them all!

                                               and after!

Sunday started bright and early with a fridge clean up and out.  4 coolers later everything was packed, the photos were removed, and we were waiting.  Before 10am, we had the most beautiful fridge ever installed.  Because of the very small space we have, there were only 3 options of bottom freezer refrigerators - a GE, LG double door and Whirlpool.  Based on Consumer Reports reviews and ratings, we went with the Whirlpool model.  With a great pre-black Friday deal, we ordered it!  It's wonderful.  It opens to the left, which is something our old one didn't do.  It's shiny and clean and big (even at 18.5 cu ft) and has lots of magnetic space on the side for my babies and wedding announcements!!

Matt had to put the beer in first...look how big and pretty!

So.  The 1 of the 4 that didn't work out so well is the dishwasher.  The hardwoods were installed after the dishwasher, blocking it from being removed.  Matt, our neighbor, the contractor, and appliance delivery guys all said we could either cut the floor or remove the counters.  Luckily we're planning on doing the countertops in the spring, so the pretty new dishwasher will just have to wait.

But 3 out of 4 ain't bad!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Quick kitchen update

A few more updated pictures to share!  The dishwasher arrived early - husband picked it up (and somehow managed to carry it in the house himself!) on Monday.  It's now just hanging out in our dining room...
(also note the dishtowel we're hiding from the dog...she ate one a couple of weeks ago...)

And we sold the stove in about 8 hours!  We posted it in Craigslist yesterday for $50 and got about a dozen emails!  The guy came and got it last dinner has been a little creative the last 2 nights.  Didn't imagine it would go so quickly! Here you can see the new paint color...

Anyone want to buy a microwave??

Kitchen! Stage 1

After years of living in our house with ugly white laminate countertops and awful white appliances, we've finally decided to make a change. 

It's now more of a blue color (called homestead green from Benjamin Moore)

I'm not sure what my contractor friend said to my husband last Sunday, but by that evening we were shopping for new appliances.  What great timing, too, with Black Friday just a week away!  Lots of internet shopping, trips to the usual places (Best Buy, Sears, Home Depot, Lowes, HH Gregg), comparing prices, models, measuring...and we've purchased all 4!  We have a tiny space for our fridge, so only had 3 choices with a bottom freezer - GE, LG, and Whirlpool.  Price and consumer reports made this an easy decision - we went with Whirlpool Gold from Sears.  Next was a dishwasher.  GE has a great clean front model that has recently been discountinued, so we got a great deal on this at Sears.  Then came the range.  After spending the day at my parents with their wonderful double ovens on Thanksgiving, that made the decision easy - double oven range it was!  Luckily for me (and our budget), HH Gregg had one on sale for Black Friday, several hundred dollars off!  Up at 315am, in line and in the door at 4am we had our oven!  We went with a Whirpool model - we figured it had to be a special Black Friday one because it was a great price.  The microwave went last - quick, easy GE with the express cook buttons - a must.  Now, we wait.  The dishwasher is in a box in my dining room, it came early...the others will be delivered this weekend.  Just in time for the holidays, especially perfect since we'll be hosting the family for Christmas for the first time!