Monday, December 31, 2012

I Said Yes!

What a fun, special, WONDERFUL holiday it was! I have good stories and pictures to tell from my birthday and Christmas, but I wanted to share the biggest news first. Hank asked me to marry him on December 28th, and of course I said yes!

After a broken tooth issue put a snafu in his plans to speak with both of my parents, he was able to pull my dad aside on Christmas Day to get my parent's blessing. I'll be honest, I've thought it would happen for about the past month, and was starting to get a little perturbed that it had not. All I asked was that he was able to surprise me, and that he did!

We packed up the car the day after Christmas to drive to his parent's house in Oklahoma. After celebrating with his family on Thursday, he convinced me to have a little date night on Friday. I argued with him because we were there to spend time with his family, not each other. He won though, and we went for a late afternoon coffee downtown, and then the most adorable little restaurant called Stella. If you click on the website, the first picture in the top right corner shows a banquette. We were seated at the very end, right against the wall.

Scott was our server, and he couldn't have been any nicer to us. The food was amazing, and the atmosphere was so chic and pretty. It was the perfect spot! Hank steered the conversation towards us, and all I really remember him saying was that everything so far had led up to this moment, and the next thing I knew he was coming around the table and getting down on one knee. I'm pretty sure he told me he loved me, and asked me to marry him- and obviously I said yes! Scott came by to check on us, having no clue what had just happened. He asked if everything was ok, and I said it was even better as I flashed my ring. He was so excited, and ended up having the owner of the restaurant stop by to say hello. They had never had an engagement take place there, and were thrilled to be part of it.

They sent dessert to the table, and we toasted with a glass of Prosecco before heading back to celebrate with his family. It was a special night for sure!!! We got back to Austin last night and were able to have a nice dinner with my parents and toast with them as well. It will be a fun and exciting few months as we plan an intimate spring wedding, and I'm looking forward to all the great things to come for all the years after that.

For all my friends who followed my old blog, and know of my stories of heartbreak, frustration, and unfortunate dating decisions, just know it's possible for a happy ending! I've waited a long time for this, and couldn't be more thrilled to have found such a loving and caring man.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Holiday Entertaining

I say it every year- December is my favorite month! The hum of festivities for a whole month is always so fun to me, and I love the opportunities December brings to get together with friends and family. We hosted a little get together this past Sunday as a chance to see some friends we don't get to see often enough, and while it was a lot of work getting ready for it, we had a great time! Hank was a huge help in getting the entire house cleaned and the "bar" set up. We made our first trip to Costco to get the food, and then I spent a day and a half in the kitchen baking (seriously one of my favorite things to do.) I made 3 sweet treats, and the rest of the food just had to be warmed and/or assembled. I thought everything turned out great, and was glad that friends came and went throughout the 4 hours on Sunday afternoon. It was nice to toast the holidays with everyone!

The menu:

Cheese tray
Veggie tray with dill dip
Cranberry Meatballs
Spanakopita Triangles (from Costco)
Hot Corn Dip (our neighbor brought this amazing dip, and said she found the recipe on Pinterest. Not sure if this is the right one, but it was so ridiculously good!)

Sweets: Red Velvet Peppermint Brownies, Lemon Cookies, and Hot Chocolate Cupcakes
Drinks: Beer, Wine, Prosecco with Cranberry Juice, and a non-alcoholic Sparkling Pomegranate Juice

Simple evergreens and tulips made for a pretty little flower addition to the table.

Big thanks to my mom for letting me borrow so much of her entertaining dishes!

Christmas cheese tree idea from Pinterest! So easy to do, and it looked so pretty.

View of the sweets and veggie tray.


Below are a few of the treats that I made this year. They turned out great and are pretty enough to share if you like to give away baked goods as gifts. I didn't get a good picture of them, but the Red Velvet Peppermint Swirl Brownies that I made for the party were a huge hit!! You have to be careful not to over bake them, and I used peppermint oil (found at a bake shop) instead of extract. They are so, so delicious!! I also made Mini Chocolate Cupcakes with Hot Chocolate Frosting (I doubled the amount of hot chocolate to get a richer frosting). I had a hard time finding the itty-bitty marshmallows, so I just used a few of the small sized ones.

For my cookie exchange, I made Sparkly Lemon Cookies (the edible glitter was also purchased at the bake shop I frequent), and Chocolate Crinkle Kiss Cookies. I found the candy cane Hershey kisses at Target, and I thought they were a perfect touch for these.



Unfortunately, Hank and I were too busy talking to everyone, replenishing food, etc- that we didn't get any pictures of us together, or any of our guests. I wish we had been able to, but I was just glad we had so many people who took the time out of their day to come and visit with us!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Sandy Hook

Like pretty much every other person in the world, I have struggled over the tragic event that happened at Sandy Hook Elementary this past Friday. I watched the news in horror throughout the day as details (some right, some wrong) were released, and cried when it became apparent that so many innocent children lost their lives.

While I have been out of the classroom for 5  years now, I will always be a teacher. I taught Kindergarden and First Grade for 7 1/2 years, and this senseless tragedy hit way too close to home. All I have been able to think about are the sweet children (even the ones who weren't my favorite) and what it would have been like had I been in that situation. I picture each classroom I was in, and how few spaces there really were to hide a group of 20 children, much less keeping them quiet and still.

My heart just absolutely breaks for those families, the children who lost their friends, the staff at that school and the community that will never, ever be the same. There will be many discussions about why and how it happened, and I know we might never get the answers we want so badly. In my humble opinion though, schools are no place for guns. Teachers are there to teach, and having an "armed" Principal would not have prevented this from happening. The level of training and practice needed to effectively stop an attack like this is a ridiculous request to make of someone who should be leading a school and supporting the teachers.

The attacker had some serious issues, obviously. And from the news that I have read, his dad bought his way out of his marriage and responsibility for his son. The mother was tight lipped about her son's struggles, and it has not been made apparent that he was receiving any type of help for his mental problems. Until our society stops judging others who have, (or the people who care for them), serious mental illness, then we will not be able to make the changes that need to be made. Should he have had access to assault rifles? Absolutely not. I think it was irresponsible for his mother to have them in the house. Did she have a right to have a gun for protection? Absolutely. It's a conversation we need to address, but it's not one that will fix all the issues at hand.

In the end, it's nothing but a tragedy, and hopefully one that will not have happened in vain. Let's have the tough conversations, let's help the people who need to be helped. But most importantly, let's just be nice to one another. Like 9/11 prompted many to join the service, this event has made me think about my career, and what I'm doing with my life. The draw to teaching has pulled even harder these past few  days as I wonder how much of a difference I'm making with my life.

The opening number on The Voice last night was such a beautiful tribute to those who died too soon, and I thought I would share it in case you missed it.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Costco Newbie

I just had my first Costco experience.

We're hosting a party this weekend and decided to give Costco a try for buying some things in bulk. I ran by there at lunch (yes, I was actually able to get in and out in 40 minutes) just so that I could price some things and get a better idea about what they have that I need. I made a quick sweep through the liquor store, and then browsed the perimeter. I had no intention of actually buying anything today, until I saw this:

2 pounds of cubed butternut squash, for HALF the price that my HEB sells it at.

Already ecstatic over this amazing find (I don't buy it as much as I would like at HEB because it's $4 for a piddly little styrofoam tray full), I continued to browse the "deli" section. And by deli, I mean all kinds-of things that would make lunch packing so much easier. Including this awesome vegetarian find below. Only 60 calories and 2.5 grams of fat per grape leaf. I could pack 2-3 of those, plus some veggies/fruit sides, and I'm in business. It was $10.59 for a box of about 20. At first I thought that sounded like a lot, but I can get 5-6 lunches out of that, making it only $2 (ish) per lunch. Not too shabby. Plus- I won't spend hours in the kitchen trying to make something like this (which I totally would try).

I've been to Sam's once (over 10 years ago) to buy stuff for a party, and I know there won't be a ton of need for us to go on a regular basis. But I'm already excited about some things I found, and can't wait for our big trip shopping tomorrow night.

So I'm dying to know from others who regularly shop at Costco- what other great finds should I be on the look-out for? Keep in mind we eat mostly vegetarian, so I won't be stocking up on meat any time soon. But are there other good vegetable deals, or frozen foods that I should seek out? I get irritated around crowds, so I can't imagine spending hours browsing all the aisles. Any help that will limit my amount of time in there would be much appreciated.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Lunch in a Box: Spaghetti Squash with Kale and Chickpeas

I love having leftovers for lunch- it makes packing my lunch so much easier than planning an extra meal! After attending a cookie exchange yesterday afternoon (more on that later), I was in the mood for something light and healthy. Thanks to Pinterest, I came across this dish (Oh My Gosh, Spaghetti Squash) AND the healthy blog it came from. I've now added My New Roots to my Google reader and am looking forward to more delicious dishes.

The dish was super easy. Just go to the link above for ingredients and directions. Aside from splitting open the spaghetti squash, it took under an hour from start to finish. While the squash is baking, assemble the remaining ingredients and start sautéing them when there is only about 10 minutes left to go. It made enough for barely 4 servings, so I would recommend maybe using 2 bunches of kale for a heartier serving. I sprinkled dinner with a little parmesan from the fridge, but you could leave it out for a vegan dish if you wanted.

Dinner last night

So I had already prepared my lunch box last night, but needed to fill the other two compartments. We had gone to a Christmas party on Friday that had a Mexican food theme. Knowing that we would be gorging on tamales, I made a crudite tray with a spicy Chamoy dipping sauce to take. I found the recipe in one of my Rick Bayless cookbooks, but lucky for you it's also online. Click on this link for the Mexican Crudite Platter with Chamoy Dipping Sauce. I purchased 2 whole pineapples (because they're half the price of buying them already cut up). I have a nifty tool that takes out the center, so it wasn't too hard. It sounds weird to dip pineapple in a spicy sauce, but just trust me on this one. I passed on the jicama and radish in the recipe, and instead used yellow bell pepper, mini carrots, cherry tomatoes and sliced cucumber. I so wished I had taken a picture because the tray came out beautifully, but I was in a rush to get out the door on time. The sauce was so easy to make, and the heat can be adjusted to your taste. This is a winner dish in my book!

So...long story short is that I had some sauce and veggies left over, so I threw those in my box too. Tasty, healthy, but still hearty enough that I won't be hungry in an hour. But in case I am, I have an apple to snack on later.

When it rains, it pours...

They say that bad things happen in 3's, right? In the scheme of things, I guess our trio of bad things could have been worse. But I'm hoping this is the last of it for a bit (at least until after our big trip)!

It started on Friday, when Hank's car wouldn't start. I went to pick him up at the store that he was stuck at, and luckily it started and he was able to get home. But he dropped it off at the shop this morning, and fingers crossed that it isn't something too expensive.

Then yesterday morning, Maddie (the Peekapoo) was acting funny, and it looked like she might have hurt her leg somehow. She wouldn't get on or off the bed herself, so Hank went to pick her up so she could go outside. He must have grabbed right where it hurt, because she yelped and then bit him on the face. Ouch! She wasn't doing it to be mean (we think), but she hurt and lashed out and he happened to be the unfortunate victim. Maddie is known for being a bit of a drama queen, so we decided to administer some doggie aspirin and she how she was feeling today. Our theory is that she got into a tangle with one of the cats, got her butt kicked, and her ego was suffering more than anything. She appears to be on the mend, and back to her usual bossy self.

After the biting incident, Hank went outside to do some yardwork. I opened the garage door to ask him something, and we both watched (in horror) as the shelving unit that was attached to the wall, with ALL of his tools, yard stuff, etc....detached and went crashing down onto the garage floor. Stuff spewed EVERYWHERE. At least Hank, and his car, were not harmed in the process. But we both just looked down at the mess and started to laugh. I mean seriously, WHAT ELSE COULD GO WRONG?!?!

I put my work clothes on and went out to help him untangle the mess. The only good thing that came of it was that we got a new shelving unit (one that stands on the ground), and after a few hours he had everything organized and looking even better than before. Bless his heart!!! Again- I realize all of these are first world problems. But I love the month of December, and want it to be a good, FUN month. Save the headaches for January, please!

Where the shelves used to be, just above the ladder.

Where the shelves (and stuff) ended up. And yes, that is anti-freeze leaking on the floor.

After a trip to Home Depot and a little hard work, his stuff was nice and organized!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas....

Too bad it doesn't feel like it yet. The temps this week have been in the upper 70s/lower 80s, and it's all I can do to not break out the flip flops again!  But the house looks beautiful, and I couldn't love all our decorations any more. If only it would cool off enough to build a fire.

Moving into a new house meant combining (and cleaning out) a bunch of Christmas decorations, along with the chance to start a new "look". I love combining silver and gold, and had my eye on a beautiful sparkly wreath from Crate and Barrel. So I had the broad vision of what I wanted in mind, and just needed help making that happen. That's where my mom and sister usually come in.

Hank was out in Sacramento, punishing himself in monsoon-like conditions for the California International Marathon. So I invited my parents to come over for dinner, and help with the decorations. I had taken the day off work and was able to meet my mom at Z Gallerie to buy a few more things that I knew we would want. And the final result is just beautiful. It's a sparkly mix of nature, gold and silver. I really don't quite know what to call it, but it works!

Gifts are wrapped, stockings are I'm ready to enjoy the month of December!