Christmas Decorations

I think I mentioned, but this year, we decorated the OUTside of our house as part of our Christmas decorations! Honestly, it made me feel old, like a real grown-up somehow. But I loved it and was appreciative that my husband was willing to borrow a ladder, climb on the roof, spend a few hours on a Saturday in the 30 degree weather outside! To show some appreciation, I whipped him up some homemade hot chocolate that I'll post later....I didn't get any shots of him on the roof, because I was too busy holding my breath and instructing him to be cautious. ALSO, that is where my big debut as helper came in and my arms were too busy getting sore (after 5 min) to hold a camera...pathetic, I know. The picture below was what I was doing when my arms got sore....funny, he didn't complain about muscle aches the next day, despite that he'd done 90% of the house...hmm...

Aww, he's so happy! and cute. and productive!

TA-DA! Good job hunny!



Ya'll, I went to the best Yoga class at my gym on Tuesday night! Now, I know that I have heard of some loonies in this exercise method and I am NOT talking about the type that you just sit on the floor, with your legs crossed, trying to tap into some spiritual strength coming within yourself. TOTALLY different from what I recently discovered - the class I went to focused on core strength and stretching methods to relax your muscles and body. It was so effective! It reminded me of some of the stretching I did in my ballet class in college, combined with tightening up my core muscles to effectively use my body's strength. It was great. I think it is a weekly evening class and since I have heard it differs, depending on each instructor, I definitely plan to try to return to this particular instructor's class. I think it is exactly what I need once of week for general wellness and health.

Now my challenge will be to see if I can get Eric to attend a class with me; I smile thinking of him getting into yoga. I can't picture yet, but who knew 3 1/2 years ago, when we got married, that he would be the one requesting more veggies at dinner? Or that he prefers brown rice to white? Or now prefers water to soda? I am glad he has experienced increased energy and overall wellness with some changes in our diet (although, to his credit, he's always loved fresh fruits & veggies) and would love to see where some yoga could take him. ;) For now, I'm not going to hold my breath, but you never know... ;)

Teacher Appreciation

This post is to my sweet husband, who has a career that I both admire and am completely baffled by at the same time. How he stands up in front of 20+ teenagers (most around 14-15 yrs) and actually teaches them something and here's the kicker: ENJOYS doing so, absolutely blows my mind! I have had the opportunity to "teach"/train a new employee at work for the last month and let me tell you: I would not last a semester as a high school teacher. It is not my gift. Teaching is not something I excel in or even remotely enjoy doing. Strange, isn't it? That Eric's heart could be so passionate about something that I dread doing even for a few weeks. Now this is not to say that I dislike teaching in every situation - I thoroughly enjoyed when I got to show Chris how to make a lasagna or when I had a bunch of Eric's girl students over for a bake/cook-a-thon a few years ago and we made 3 different types of cookies and 2 main dishes in 3 hours (uh - yeah! what was I thinking?!) Both examples, we all had a great time. That being said, it is still NOT my forte. Allow me to illustrate further. In the example with Chris, I got thrown off during our assembly process, we put in way too much ricotta cheese and though still delicious, it was not my usual breath-stopping fare. In my other example with the girls in FL, I got so flustered that in one of the batches of cookies, I forgot to add the dry ingredients. Um...can anyone guess how they turned out? They didn't!! We trashed the first pan after only 5 min. in the oven, when the gooey mess had spread across the whole pan. I realized what happened, we added the flour, b. soda, etc and surprise, surprise, we actually had cookies that time. I was so embarrassed, but the girls were so gracious and knew I was frantically trying to get too much done for the short time I had allotted. Great memories, but moral of the story? For Betsy: teaching = stress.

Now, let's look at my Math Man. If you have ever been around Eric explaining something, you know that it is an innate quality, a challenge he rises to with ease (if you haven't had this opportunity, ask him what the internet is sometime - it is a favorite of mine to listen to) ;) He thrives getting to explain things thoroughly with anyone interested (and in the case of his students, even some not interested in the topic at hand). The crazy thing is, he GETS them interested! How does someone do such a thing? Have you ever had a teacher in a subject that you just hate, but all of a sudden, you find it interesting b/c the teacher's enthusiasm is contagious? That is Eric!! He has been a favorite teacher among students since he student taught. In 2005, I was so proud of him to be awarded with the "Teacher of the Year" award at his school after only 1 year prior teaching experience. For Eric: teaching = fulfillment & joy.

This week is finals week, which also means it is the week for Christmas gifts from students who express appreciation. I look forward to it as much as Eric, b/c I am lucky enough that he shares the goods with me. ;) Sure enough, Monday he came home with all types of homemade, edible gifts. Everything from holiday bread, to truffles, to cookies and bars. And let me tell ya'll: the students of GDS make some darn, good cookies! My favorites were these coconut snowballs with a surprise maraschino cherry inside and the infamous 7-layer/ magic bars (whichever name floats your boat.) Eric's favorite were peanut butter blossoms (peanut butter cookies with a Hershey kiss in the middle). Now I really have holiday food taunting me from every direction; I was still working through leftover Christmas cookies from a cookie exchange the week before!
Oops, I've gotten off topic (I think my talent is to turn any conversation into a food discussion.)

All this to say that my respect has grown not only for what Eric does every day, but for how darn well he does it. I'm proud of you, Babe.


Visit to the Vet

So yesterday was an annual joyous event (sense the sarcasm...) of taking Oliver and Marzell to the vet for their check-up and shots. Usually, it's pretty entertaining; Marzell sings me a dying-goose song in the car (he doesn't so much like the car), and I feel like a proud mama as the vet 'ooohs' and 'aaahs' over my darling boys. "Oh, he is so pretty!" "His fur is so soft!" "What a friendly cat!" all compliments I take pride in (yes, I know I am not really their mama, but I 'raised' them, alright?) Then they dive back into the carrier knowing that it will carry them back to where they are familiar (home!). It's a nice little field trip for them each year. WELL. Apparently 'fun field trip day' is of the past!! These poor guys had the most miserable time yesterday! It took me at least FIVE solid minutes (that's a long time wrestling with a cat) trying to get Oliver into that carrier!! They have realized the only reason to be put in it is to go to the vet! That cat did NOT want to get in there and if any of you have seen my right arm's fading scars, you can understand my tentative nature around those back claws of his...I finally got them loaded up, put in the car, when Marzell started his sorrowful (but kinda hilarious since I know he's not really dying) wailing on our drive. Makes me grateful our vet is only a few mins away!
I absolutely love our vet - she is my favorite person to interact with my cats. She is smart, she is very gentle, and you can just tell she has a soft spot in her heart for sweet kitty-cats. Well Oliver and Marzell who normally puff up from the affection and coaxing she lays on them, would not oblige her at all yesterday! The vet tech really had to hold them steady as she listened to their heart, their lungs, felt their throat...etc. They were roly-polys, trying to get out of her grip, and were not happy campers about being poked and prodded. It was just so unlike them - usually they are so chill. Well, then came the shots - UH-OH. They each needed two yesterday and I knew based on just their physical exam that they wouldn't be thrilled. Poor Oliver who was silent the whole time let out a little cry as she put the first needle in...then started growling at her! My little, sweet Oliver!! Who never growls! I couldn't believe it. Then came Marzi's turn - well when that first needle pierced his skin, he flipped out and hissed! What?! It was awful. I told Eric when I made the appt. that he is missing out not getting to go to their vet visit each year, but after yesterday, I never want to go again myself! My poor babies.
I really think as much as I love taking care of little foster kittens, that it contributes a lot of stress to my own guys, and it was clear after their unusual behavior that it's time for a break. We've had little ones invading their space for almost a year now and they are clearly over it. The little "imposters" wear them down by being in their space, eating their food, using their litter box, stealing the warm spots in the sun, etc. Maybe down the road I'll do more fostering again, but I'll need to be better about giving them time off, where they can reign as solo kings of the castle.
And people say cats have attitude...*eyes roll*. What they should say is that cats invented attitude!


Decorating the house...and date night

After Thanksgiving weekend, we kicked off our Christmas decoration party. Hah, and by "party", I mean: Point of Grace Christmas music, Eric, moi, and the lovely boys who create more havoc on a Christmas tree than a blizzard in North Dakota (boys = Oliver and Marzell of course). We actually decided not to buy/put up a Christmas tree this year. *GASP!* I know, it was a painful decision, BUT, we thought since we'll be in FL for Christmas with Mom & Dad Shilling, we would re-allocate some of the money we'd spend on a tree to outdoor lights. Though it does feel like we are missing something in our living room (and I dearly miss seeing all of my ornaments), I also love having a festive house on the outside! When the blinds are up and it's dark out, it kinda just looks like we set up our tree and forgot to bring it in...haha. I will post some pictures of my wonderful handy-man husband putting them up in the cold. All would be proud to know, I helped! I embarrassingly confess that my arms were sore for the next two days ...UMM....free weights, anyone? What are those again? To be explored...soon....*cough*. ANYway, I think I might find a way to hang up some ornaments in other places, because I can't wait until December 1, 2009 to see them all again.

Here are our stockings hanging in the fireplace. We got the fire going and with the carols playing in the background, it was such a cozy evening. My stocking was hand-embroidered/made by Debbie, my dearest Mom-in-law. Eric's stocking was made a long time ago, by his Grandmother...Debbie's Mom. Both stockings are both very special to us and make a favorite tradition even more meaningful.

Silly Oliver and Marzell already fighting over who gets to dress up as Santa this year...
O: "It was your turn last year! It's MY turn!"
M: "But I LOOK more like Santa with my white fur! You look like a phony, everyone knows a black cat from Santa!"
O: "Let the hat go or I'll eat all your food tonight! And steal all the good sleeping places!"...

Then, if watching cats play with a Santa hat (and making up a pretend dialogue) wasn't entertaining enough, I made my obliging husband put it on for kicks. Doesn't he look sweet.

It was a very fun night and now our house is ready for holiday cheer. Tomorrow I decided to start my Christmas cookie baking and I cannot wait!! I am still mulling over which recipe to start with: Molasses Spice? Toffee bits? Traditional Spritz (always a fave of mine)? Adorable sugar cut-outs? Linzer? Thumbprints? And that is me trying to narrow it down! Guess I'll just have to make them all and report back! :)

Here's us on our date night last week: We went somewhere we had a coupon to a little local place (I LOVE that coupon book and trying local restaurants!) and though it was pretty good, but I don't think we'll go again. The food was tasty, but my hunny didn't quite leave with his belly full (which, in their defense, can be a challenge some days...especially now that he is running his already ridiculous metabolism up with indoor soccer season in full swing!) We had fun, though, just walking around downtown, catching up, and for me: no dishes! ;) We don't usually remember to snap evidence of our date nights, but we are still on a 'new camera high'.

AlSO? I got to go to my FAVORITE bakery in Greensboro (Simple Kneads) while we were walking around and bought some day-old wheat bread for 1/2 price (loved it) and a deliciously sinful Fig and Walnut Bar. There are no pictures of this, because, well, I was focused on something else...aka stuffing my mouth. Hmmm, good times.


Peanut Butter, Chocolatey Rice Krispy Bars

This was my latest creation while Mike and Tiffany were here...I LOVE having a reason for making desserts! And unless it's ice cream or butterscotch cookies, Eric isn't the biggest sweet tooth (ok, or gummy bears, but his whole rationale makes no sense to me...homemade tiramisu? passes it up. Gummy bears or sour patch kids? he'll eat the whole bag in one sitting. again, I'm still scratching my head on that one...) ANYway, Tiffany and I share an affection for food and eating, so I get excited when we are together!! I didn't have anything "planned" for dessert, but as I waited with a lasagna in the oven, for them to arrive, I whipped up these babies. They are a familiar, childhood treat, but with a little extra sum'p'in, sum'p'in for flavor.

Ingredients: *
2 -2 1/2 c. Rice Krispy Cereal
1/2 bag (approx. 2 c.) Marshmallows (mini's melt the fastest and most evenly...taste is obviously unaffected by either size)
1-1 1/2 Tbsp butter
1/3 c. Peanut Butter (I used smooth) - totally adjustable measurement based on how "peanut-buttery" you like the flavor
1/4 to 1/3 c. Chocolate Chips (I used semi-sweet)- same as peanut butter measurement
Pam cooking spray - helps a LOT with the sticky factor! and just makes life simpler

Melt butter in a large pot. Add marshmallows and heat on low temp as to not burn the them...;) Add the peanut butter and melt into the marshmallows. Next, take off the heat and throw in the rice krispy cereal. Once coated, throw in the chocolate chips. Start to stir, but as they begin to melt, transfer to the greased (thanks Pam!) :) 8x8 pan. Let them cool, then cut into bars and DEVOUR.

*Note: I made a 1/2 batch to fit a 8x8 so to make a regular batch for 9x13 pan, double all the measurements. They are fairly rich with the peanut-butter and chocolate added. OH SO GOOD.

Also, the picture isn't great, but don't let it fool you...!!

Boeuf Bourguignon

This is the PERFECT winter stew to make feel cozy and warm. It is really easy, but you do have to allow the stew to simmer for a couple of hours so the meat becomes tender and succulent...the flavors really meld and become just, well, awesome. ;) It is a wonderful meal for company, because you can really play up its gourmet characteristics, but tonight, it was the comfort food to accompany a relaxing Friday night.

When I first started making this a couple years ago, I used a recipe from Ina Garten (love her!), but have gradually produced my own twist on the classic. It pairs perfectly with a light salad or vegetable and crusty, buttered bread. Tonight, I had some asparagus on hand, as well as, some homemade wheat bread from a local bakery. The bread was the perfect "soak-er-up-er"...no comment on what I just typed. You get the gist.

Now there are two different ways to cook this...if you have a lovely dutch oven that can start on the stove and transfer to the oven, you can bake the stew (once you've got everything going) for 1 1/2 hours...OR, you can easily simmer it on the stove for 1 1/2-2 hours as well. Whatever floats your boat. Tonight, I did use my dutch oven, but I kept it on the stove the whole time - I like to change it up from time to time. ;)

The Ingredients:

A couple Tbsp. olive oil
2 1/2 pounds beef stew meat - cut into 1-inch pieces
Couple of handfuls of flour (enough to lightly flour the beef pieces)
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pound carrots, sliced diagonally into 1-inch chunks
2 yellow onions, sliced
1-2 cloves minced garlic
1 (750 ml.) bottle dry red wine (I've prefer Pinot Noir)
2 cups low-sodium beef broth
A bunch of fresh mushrooms stems discarded, caps thickly sliced...amount is your call

For serving: Country bread or Hearty Wheat (can also toast or grill if you like it that way...I like it every way I've ever tried it)

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F (if you are cooking it in the oven...)
Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven/ stock pot. Sprinkle the beef cubes with salt and pepper, then lightly flour. In two batches, sear the beef in the hot oil for 3 to 5 minutes, turning to brown on all sides. Remove the seared cubes to the plate and continue searing until all the beef is browned. Set aside on a plate. Toss the carrots, and onions, a Tbsp salt and 2 tsp pepper (little more, little less) in the pan and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are lightly browned. You may have to add another Tbsp or two of olive oil to keep them from sticking to the bottom...depends on your pot.

At this point, add the garlic and cook for another minute. Put the meat back into the pot with the juices. Add the bottle of wine (yes, an entire bottle) plus enough beef broth to almost cover the meat. Bring to a simmer, cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid and place it in the oven for about 1-1 1/2 hours or leave on medium-low on the stove until the meat and vegetables are very tender when pierced with a fork. You can always taste to see if it is falling apart with tenderness yet. Saute the mushrooms in 2 tablespoons of butter or olive oil for 10 minutes until lightly browned and then add to the stew. Simmer a few more minutes. Season to taste.
Now, cozy up on your couch or light the candles for your guests - either way, you are in for a treat.

Ah, there, I found my buttered piece of bread - hmm...already looking forward to the leftovers.....
Oh, and we got a new camera...can you tell? :) It was our Christmas present to each other...and yes, I realize it is a couple weeks early, but you gotta jump on those Black Friday sales when you can! Also, Christmas will be here in the blink of an eye! I'm working on posting more pictures per my math man's request... ;) Needless to say, I'm very excited to have the camera! ;)


Crazy for Animals

Ya'll it was quite the full house on Saturday night...Mike and Tiffany have 3 dogs that stay with us when they come - yes, three. What happens to our own 2 cats and the 2 foster kittens we have this week, you might ask? Oh they are there too. They become restricted to our bedroom to avoid the confrontation of growling, claws, and teeth that would ensue if we let it be a free-for-all. It is hilarious and fun and a challenge! to keep them all separate. If a stranger walked into our house that night, not knowing us or our affection for our furry friends, they would probably take us all to the looney bin. I like to call it organized chaos! (Much like my kitchen these days, minus the 'organized'.) So, to do the math for you, we had 4 humans, and SEVEN animals in our house...quite the sleepover. I loved it. Mike and Tiffany are welcome ANYtime, including Marley, Ginger, and Buddy! We love them too! We always have such a fun time, playing games, hanging out, laughing lots. ;)

The foster kitties I have this week are precious. Oh, how I am already in love. I need to do something about this heartache (and joy, don't get me wrong) each time they get adopted! I am an addict for fuzzy tummies and tiny "mew, mew" b/c I have to had new ones as soon as I reluctantly let one go. This week we have "Donny" and "?" - that's right! We don't even know her name! We've been calling her 'little one' and 'downy' b/c she is so soft. Eric picked her up last week from the pet fair and apparently was never told...*cough* didn't remember*...her name. ;) Which is fine, in all honesty, b/c they come up with some wacky names that I feel silly using anyway. Ya'll, Donny (whom we affectionately call Yoda...I'll explain why) is the cutest, spunkiest little furball! He is long-haired, peachy and white colored, and has a little bit of a smashed face (flat...not actually smashed). No he's not green, but he is short, and stumpy, and has big ole' ears with white hair sticking out, disappearing like cotton candy - it is SO cute. Hah! Hard to explain without him sounding like an ugly ducking. He is feisty too - he will at ALL COSTS defend his food while eating, even if he has to stick a paw on it to "cover" the food! He leans his little 2 lb. body into anything or anyone trying to edge him out. The other little one "downy" usually just waits for him to finish b/c he is so intense during meal time! Later, she makes up for it, dominating and tackling him to play all day long.

Well, that's the latest on the cat farm and our animal adventures...they keep us busy and they keep us laughing. ;) This morning, I awoke to ALL FOUR of them on me. Marzell and Oliver on each size of my legs, Donny("Yoda") up near my arms, and Downy down at my feet. You'd think it would be suffocating, but there is nothing like those little warm bodies cuddling up to you in their sleep.

Wonderful Turn Out!

I hope everyone had a fantastic Thanksgiving. Eric and I had such a ball hanging out with family and seeing our dear friends, Mike and Tiffany, over the weekend! Thanks for visiting us from Orlando; it always means a lot that you make us part of your holiday trips!! More about their visit in the next post...

My Thanksgiving menu turned out delicious - everything worked out just as I had hoped. The fruit was light, the turkey was moist, the rolls were airy and the squash was divine. Everyone had a good time, we went for a nice walk in the woods with the girls, we watched some football, and ate to our tummies content. How I love holidays! Yesterday, Eric and I got into the Christmas spirit and with a fire in the fireplace and Christmas music playing, we decorated our house - it was so cozy. We don't have a Christmas tree yet this year, and aren't sure we will get one since we will be in FL for Christmas. We haven't decided; it seemed so strange not to unpack and hang all our ornaments and star...maybe we will get a small one or a "Christmas bush", which we can later plant out in our yard. It is fun to have the house looking so festive and warm. Now I just need to get some freshly baked Christmas cookies in the oven and flip on White Christmas! :)