Thursday, December 31, 2009

Let's Go to THE MALL!

If you don't watch How I Met Your Mother you have no idea who Robin Sparkles is. You also would not know that her big hit song as a 90's Canadian pop sensation was "Let's Go to the Mall."
Oh, and if you don't watch How I Met Your Mother, you should. I don't watch many shows of the scripted variety anymore, but this is a show worth watching.

Anyway, in case you didn't catch my drift by the title of this post, we went to the mall today.

The big mall.

We never go to the big mall because we ALWAYS encounter ungodly traffic on the way there. Today, much to our chagrin, wasn't any different. Even on a Thursday morning at 10 am.

Holy gridlock, Batman.

Fortunately we used our wits and found an alternate route. Without a GPS, mind you.
Because we're losers and don't have one.


So anyway, we went to the big mall today for a purpose.
Someone had money and gift cards to blow.


Ah, a Lego store gift card, courtesy of my mom and dad.

The Lego store is Caroline's personal Disney World. In fact, when we visited Disney World a few years ago, the Lego Store, adjacent to the McDonald's, at Downtown Disney was the highlight of her trip. Well, that and the hotel pool. Clearly we should have saved our money on the pricey tickets to the theme parks and spent the entire trip swimming, eating chicken Mcnuggets and playing at the Lego store.

Lesson learned.

Caroline managed to walk away with quite a bit of loot today. We brought along her friend, Bailey, who is a fellow Lego and Webkinz enthusiast. In quite a show of generosity, Caroline bought a Webkinz for both herself and Bailey today. Usually Caroline is a bit more conservative with her money, but I was proud of her for being so kind to her friend.
After all the money was spent, we dined in the ambient food court: McDonald's for the girls and Quiznos for Craig and me.

Overall, it was a pleasant experience. I went with two goals in mind: buy a 2010 calendar and go to Starbucks.

One goal was achieved. I have a nice new calendar.

However, we were in a rush to get Bailey home by a certain time so she could leave with her family on a weekend trip, so Starbucks was forgotten.


It's a cold and dreary day here in Northern Virginia. Since we maintain a pretty tame lifestyle, it's probably quite obvious to you all that we don't have any big New Year's Eve plans. If I have my way, I'll be asleep well before the ball drops. I'm pretty sure I fell asleep on the couch last year before 10 pm while Craig and Caroline struggled to stay awake upstairs. All I remember is that Caroline was very disappointed that the ball doesn't really "drop." I think she was expecting it to fall from the sky at a crazy speed and shatter on the ground from the forceful impact.

Overall, I think 2009 was a decent year. Besides Caroline's broken front teeth and a crazy repeat bout of pneumonia, we've all remained healthy. We took a couple out of town trips, Craig's job is more than secure, our neighborhood is wonderful and I haven't gone crazy yet.

Hopefully I'll be able to say the same thing about 2010.

Well, minus the broken teeth and pneumonia, of course.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Shortening, Biscotti and Ghetto Pastry Bags

Random, much?

Like I said previously, the blog fodder fountain is dry. Well, not dry...just trickling a little more slowly than usual.
The other day, as I baked a batch of gingerbread biscotti, I grabbed my camera.
Just for the heck of it.

Up first, a completely pointless shot of shortening!

Wow, I really must have been bored.

The biscotti recipe does not call for shortening, but I had the tub out on the counter because I also made a pot pie for dinner that day. I once told you how, aside from baking with it, I'm sort of afraid of butter. Well, I'm REALLY afraid of shortening; the trans fat hydrogenated kind. So, I buy this ridiculously expensive, non-hydrogenated stuff. It takes me forever to go through a tub because I only use it to make pot pie crust and we might eat pot pie four times a year. It's a good thing I use it sparingly because it costs nearly $8 a tub.

A few years ago my mom bought me a biscotti pan for my birthday. For the uninitiated, biscotti means "cook twice" in Italian. Or something like that. You bake it once in loaf form; slice it and bake again at a low temperature to let the cookies dry out.

Bake it once.

Slice it.

Uniform and uncracked slices are desired.
Obviously, I do not practice what I preach.

Place on cookie sheet.
Such lovely rows.

Bake it twice.

And if you're like me, you'll bake yours in a dirty oven, too.

There's no shame in that.

Crisp and crunchy!

They need a drizzle!

White chocolate.

Ghetto pastry bag.

Fill er up.

Snip the corner off the ghetto pastry bag.


Needs more.

Drizzle on camera strap.

Sorry for the fuzzy picture; it was an awkward shot to get, plus I had white chocolate all over my hands.

Free form drizzle.

Needs coffee for dunking.

Sorry, no coffee pictures. But I do have a picture of a cinnamon roll coffee cake with cream cheese glaze I made for Craig's work peeps yesterday.

Mmm, I like glaze.

I rose with the roosters to bake the cake yesterday morning; Craig's co workers deserve nothing but the best. Warm cinnamon roll cake on a cold winter morning.

Could there be anything better?

Craig brought home an empty pan, but I scraped up and devoured every last one of the remaining glaze coated crumbs.

Have I mentioned how much I love glaze?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Problem With Being So Shallow

is that you run out of blog fodder quite regularly.

I consider myself a somewhat intelligent person, however, I'd be lying if I didn't admit that I'm pretty much only concerned with food, exercise and reality television. Like I said, shallow. I like politics, too. But that's a touchy subject.
Every now and then I get bitten by some sort of bug that lights a fire beneath me and I come up with something interesting to say. Usually that means I need to read or hear something that makes me mad, which in turn, inspires me to have a thought provoking conversation with myself on this very blog.

Maybe it's all this peace and goodwill stuff around the Christmas season that has permitted me from getting angry. Well, I did read another blog post yesterday regarding the quiverfull/if you use birth control you're an egregious heathen sinner who hates children movement that tweaked me a bit, but I was in a hurry and didn't have enough time to go full out ape crazy. You can thank me now.

Thankfully The Biggest Loser and The Bachelor both start next week. Don't laugh. I know you want to, but please refrain. I only watch for entertainment purposes. No, really. I'm not lying.
I usually end up hating every bachelor (and most of the bachelorettes) before long. However, if you must know, the title of Most Hated Bachelor of All Time is reserved for Jesse Palmer.
Man, I hated him.
I can't see his face on tv without wanting to throw something.

Anyway, I am SO looking forward to this installment of The Bachelor because they have chosen the cheesiest, drippiest, most milquetoast bachelor ever. It's sure to be a dull fest; watching paint dry might be more exciting. Oh, who am I kidding. I'm going to love every cheesy minute; every platitude; every utterance of the word connection and soul mate; every staged line and ridiculous "fantasty" date.
It makes my snarky heart happy.
The new bachelor, jake, who was a cast off from the previous season, has been over heard saying that God called him to be the bachelor. This is going to be so much fun! Sure it'll be ridiculous, but the post show snark is guaranteed to fill my snark tank to overflow capacity.

Do you know what the worst part is? Jake is a pilot and the show is sub-titled "On the Wings of Love." Doesn't that just make you want to barf?

Oh, I can't wait for the fun to begin.

And that, my friends, is more than likely the saddest thing you've ever read.

Our post Christmas weekend was most definitely uneventful. Caroline spent Saturday night across the street at her friend's house. Since Craig and I are such party animals, we watched back to back episodes of Criminal Minds with an NCIS episode or two added to the mix for a bit of variety.
Yep. Party. Animals.

Sunday I went to Target to buy some of those plastic latched wreath containers that they were advertising in the weekly sales flyer.
Alas, they had none.
I searched high and low and didn't encounter a single latched wreath container.

I did find my favorite warm cinnamon hand soap on clearance.

As you can see, it's been a little on the dull side around here. I did not venture out and shop any of the post-Christmas sales. I have wrapping paper from such sales four or five years ago and did not need anymore.
It seemed like most of the stores were out of their Christmas merchandise before Dec 25 and were already moving on to the Valentine's Day paraphernalia. When you're looking for half priced Christmas candy on December 26th, the last thing you want to see is Valentine chocolate and those ridiculous boxer shorts with red kissy lips on them.

That just annoys me to no end.

It shouldn't. This isn't anything new.
Retailers are out there to make money and push their merchandise. I'm all in favor of capitalism and supporting the economy and I do love shopping. But really, Target. Do you need to put bathing suits out just yet? I realize a select few people might be taking exotic vacations to escape the wintry doldrums, but just because you have room now that the Christmas merchandise is gone doesn't mean you should taunt us with bathing suits. After Christmas and a few too many Oreo truffles, the last thing anyone I know wants to think about is squeezing into a bikini. Why not fill those racks with turtlenecks and jackets. Some lovely scarfs and warm socks.
It's freezing outside. The wind is whipping and the temperatures are bitterly cold.
Looking at bathing suits hanging so perkily from your display just makes me mad.


Ha, I did it. I managed to pull a rant out of the clear blue sky.
That's the beauty of rambling. You never know what you might find yourself saying.

I feel so much better now.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Is Your Mama A Llama?

Meet Lulu.
I'm quite smitten with her.
I think it's the long eyelashes.

Just look at that face; how could anyone resist Lulu's charm.

Lulu is one of three Webkinz Caroline discovered under the Christmas tree this morning. Her first and only wish was for a bird Webkinz; my parents happily obliged this request and sent her, Sweetie, the pink cockapoo.

Sweetie looks deep in thought.

Caroline would like me to give a shout out to Brownie, a brown (of course!) dog, that has gone unpictured in this post. We don't want him to feel left out.

Her mama isn't a llama.

Our Christmas was pleasant. Quiet, but nice all the same.

Bayberry spice.

Lunch with a friend.

A Vera Bradley explosion.

Purple punch.

An art explosion, brought to us by Bailey, Caroline's friend and recipient of some shiny new paint pens.

It wouldn't be Christmas without a Lego explosion.

Which resulted in this:

It sure does look smaller than the picture on the box, doesn't it?

Besides the myriad of presents and the resulting mess, our day was quiet. The sky was grey and dreary, just the way I like it. There was reading, playing and television watching. Not exciting, festive or enviable, but for me, it was just fine.

Our dinner, though unpictured, solicited rave reviews from Craig, which, for me, is always a nice way to end the day. We ate brined and roasted pork tenderloin, mashed potatoes with gravy, asparagus, homemade cinnamon applesauce and homemade crescent rolls.

I'm stuffed, spoiled rotten and sad to see Christmas come and go again. Winter seems bleak and cold after a season of lights, cookies and merriment. However, I still have Oreo truffles in my fridge to indulge in, so I'm not giving in to the post-holiday let down just yet.

Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas

May your day be merry and bright!


"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men."

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Stockings Were Hung

(pardon the fuzzy, unfocused pictures; our downstairs has NO natural light and this was the best I could do)

The stockings were hung by the chimney gas fireplace with care, in hopes that Saint Nicholas Mama Claus soon would be there.

That's what I say anyway. We don't do Santa at our house.
As you can probably tell, I'm not a religious zealot, in fact, I'm often scared of and turned off by religious whackos. I'm a simple girl with a simple faith; I'm certainly not against Santa and don't think differently of those parents who encourage the belief in Santa, but growing up, the jolly guy wasn't a part of our Christmas celebration. It only seemed natural for me to raise Caroline similarly.

Craig did the Santa thing as a kid, but didn't really have an opinion one way or another, so, like usual, we did it my way.
I'm not one to think that parents who choose to go the Santa route are lying to their kids or deceiving them in anyway. I think most kids, upon learning the truth, don't think for a minute that they've been duped. They're probably thankful for the fun memories. On the other hand,
I don't for minute feel slighted because my parents decided to forgo the Santa route. I'm not harboring secret anger because my childhood was void of the magical belief in Santa Claus. My mom did her best to stress the true reason for the season, all the while encouraging us to not ruin the surprise for those kids who did believe. I'm happy to report that I never once blabbed the secret and neither has Caroline.

For two girls who love to chat, please understand that this is a monumental feat. Self control of the verbal kind is hard to find in our house.

I've had our presents wrapped and ready to place under the tree for a few days now, but Caroline's friends still believe in Santa, which poses a problem for us. You're probably scratching your head right now, wondering what Caroline's friend's belief in Santa has to do with the presents under our tree. Well, I'll tell you. In their houses, Santa brings their gifts. If they saw Caroline's gifts under the tree, they might become a bit suspicious. I certainly don't want to be responsible for ruining the Santa secret. So, instead, we indulge their belief and I'll place the presents under the tree tonight. I informed Caroline of my plans since I already placed Craig's presents under the tree. I didn't want her to feel left out. It's kind of fun for her to be in on the secret; she relishes it and has been very good about playing along.

I've always told her that Santa is fun; it's fun to believe in something magical, but still in our house, mom and dad buy the presents. I think back to this board book I bought about Christmas many years ago that we still read every year. It says "we give gifts on Christmas Day to show our love and to say 'Happy Birthday Jesus'."

The other day at school, one of the girls at the lunch table joined our Christmas discussion and said that they make a "Happy Birthday Jesus" cake on Christmas. She then went on to say "why do kids believe in Santa, anyway?" I noticed the shocked horror on one of the girls' faces and immediately made the "zip your lips" sign. Thankfully the shocked little girl went on to some other topic and blew right past the fact that her faith in Santa was nearly destroyed, but the girl who blabbed the news looked mortified. I then went up to her and whispered in her ear that Caroline doesn't believe in Santa either, but we try not to ruin the fun for the other kids who still do.

She nodded her head and didn't say much for the rest of lunch.

In all honesty, I'm glad I continued with the no Santa Christmas.
It's just easier.
I don't have to answer the logistics questions about the size of chimneys in relation to the size of the toys. How Santa makes it to every house on Christmas Eve. How the toys get in the house when you don't have a chimney. How Santa eats all those cookies.
All those questions are exhausting.
I don't think quickly enough on my feet to answer such questions without invoking even an ounce of suspicion from the question seeker.
Also, I don't have to worry about making sure Santa comes through with all that Caroline has asked him for. I don't have to worry about ruining the surprise prematurely, nor do I have to stand in a long line at the mall for Caroline to sit on Santa's lap. She did sit on his lap once at a community event when we lived in Maryland. Just as she sat down and I went to take her picture, I got a dead battery signal on my camera. Ha!
I suppose the only downside to the whole non Santa participation is that I cannot threaten Caroline with the old "Santa is watching you; you better be good or he will give you coal in your stocking" line.
In the grand scheme of parenting challenges, Santa isn't very significant. I'm far more concerned with raising a polite, hard working, good citizen.
No matter who fills your stockings, a jolly bearded guy in a red suit or a mom in cupcake pajamas with a messy pony tail, Christmas is a day of celebration.
So please, have yourselves a merry little Christmas....

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Simple Christmas

We keep Christmas pretty simple around here. Not out of necessity, but mostly out of my own desire. While those around us give and receive copious amounts of gifts, have schedules brimming with activities, parties and holiday festivities, we stay home. We turn down invites to parties and gift exchanges in order to maintain a simplistic, peaceful holiday season.

Actually, that's a lie. We don't receive any invites to such events; if we did, we'd gladly join in the fun. Do people REALLY have holiday parties like they're portrayed on television. Are people really that crazy busy during December? If so, why am I not? Ack, that sentence was an insult to the English language.

Our blank calendar may suggest that we're voluntarily refraining from the holiday chaos, but in actuality, we're just sort of pathetic. It also doesn't help that we're hundreds and hundreds of miles away from our family. If our family was near, I'm certain our shopping list would be twice as lengthy and our schedule doubly full. I love the Army lifestyle with all my heart and while I'm quite accustomed to being away from family, I often long for the big Christmas get-together.

Caroline is fortunate to have a LOT of cousins on Craig's side of the family and it would be fun for her to experience the big family Christmas one of these years.

On the other hand, being away from our families definitely helps keep the excess at bay. When you're near your family, it's quite likely that the amount of gifts received will be excessive. I like gifts as much as the next person, but the older I get, the more I realize that getting stuff for the sake of getting stuff isn't all it's cracked up to be.

The minimalist in me prefers a clutter free environment and the thought of adding more stuff to our house leaves me feeling slightly tense. Now, when I purchase gifts for Caroline I think of these things: does it require batteries, how many little pieces come in the box and where are we going to put it?

I try to indulge one of her wishes that I know in my heart will prove to be a flop. Last year it was Pixos; this year it's Bendaroos.

I regretted the purchase even before the transaction was complete; I know they'll end up scattered everywhere and hardly played with; but it's Christmas. What can I say?

It's just not an all out extravaganza around here. Perhaps we're doing Caroline a favor by not creating expectations that might be hard to meet every year.

On the other hand, I wonder if my quest for keeping it simple is misunderstood by some. Sure OUR tree is filled with presents, but you didn't find my standing in line at the post office to mail off gifts to our extended family. We probably should; it's just that the task seems daunting.

It's hard to buy for people you hardly see. What could they want? Or need? What do they hate?

For an uptight, control freak, I sure do know how to slack off sometimes.

And here I find myself the recipient of a very generous and unexpected gift this week; something I certainly don't deserve; something I feel guilty accepting. I know giving doesn't have to be reciprocal; it REALLY is better to give than to receive. And yet, I find myself feeling badly that someone has been so generous to me, and I've been so NOT generous in return.

It's a shame that a season of peace, love and joy turns into a season of guilt.

Although, I'm pretty adept at turning ANY season into a guiltfest.
Guilt and self loathing are the two things I do best.

I don't know; I'm afraid I'm not making much sense.
I suppose I just needed a moment to unload this heavy pile of guilt and doubt I schlep around.
Sort of like airing my must be Festivus tonight.
Hey, it is Festivus. It's December 23rd, right?

Festivus for the Rest of Us!

Time to dig out my pole......

Rank Amateur

Or, as Craig has been known to say, a no talent hack.
Since I was the lucky recipient of a new pink camera for my birthday last month, I've been having fun trying to take better pictures. I'm still an amateur and have no idea what aperture and shutter speed mean, but I'm just using a point and shoot, so I guess it doesn't matter much. All I know is the camera I have now is a million times better than the one I had been using for a few years. I wonder if the amount of times I've dropped it over the years had anything to do with it's lack luster picture quality. Something to ponder....
I'm happy to report that I've yet to drop my new camera, but I did get some goo of an undetermined source on the strap.

Because I have too much time on my hands, I've been using my camera quite a bit lately.
Since Caroline spent practically the entire day at our neighbor's house yesterday, I REALLY had some time on my hands.

Between cleaning an endless scattering of crumbs in the kitchen, driving through icy sludge to visit Wal Mart and enjoying some quiet, I managed to bake two different items for Craig's co workers. I made white chocolate cranberry brownies and toffee bars.

As I was preparing the brownie batter, I took the time to admire how pretty dried cranberries are.

Bejeweled and festive.

I also have fascination with mounds of chopped chocolate. Can you blame me?

Melted chocolate isn't half bad, either.

Mmm... a glossy pool of creamy goodness.

I much prefer dark chocolate to white, but for some reason, the combination of white chocolate and dried cranberries screams winter to me. It must have something to do with Starbuck's Cranberry Bliss bars; they're such trendsetters.
And trendy is my middle name.
Yep, I've just about managed to catch up with the trends of the early 90s with my pegged jeans, Sam and Libby flats and hypercolor tshirts.
Ha! Just kidding. Pegged jeans make my legs look even shorter and stubbier than they are.

Not that my baking ventures have anything to do with my stubby legs.
Nope, certainly not these white chocolate cranberry brownies. They're blameless.

Toffee is another of my holiday favorites.

Good thing these went to work with Craig. I'm not sure my legs need any more help in the stubbiness department.