Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Deck the halls

Confession: I LOVE Christmas. . .I know, I know, everyone loves Christmas right? Even the Scrooges out there can find something to like, the carols, the decorations, the crafts, the cookies, the gift giving. . .But, we spend a large part of our year thinking about Christmas. . .in fact I would say I spend most of the year thinking about Christmas. We decorate the first weekend in October (yes I know, it’s early, but as mentioned above, we really love it), which means we have the month of September dedicated to pre-decorating cleaning (once the trees go up, there are corners that will not be vacuumed until January).

There’s also a lot of planning, I have a detailed diagram of the house that shows where all the decorations will go this year, that typically starts getting reviewed in late August. This year, I stumbled upon the Christmas in July sale on QVC one weekend, while I don’t by much from there and can go years without turning on the channel, on the occasion I find something worth watching, I can’t turn it off, so I ended up with several new decorative items from that sale.

As for the months leading up to July? Don’t worry, I did plenty of Christmas shopping then. I like to buy all year long as I find things for people, at this point, I have one person left to buy for, everything else is wrapped an under the tree. ..So, why do you ask have I waited until now to do a Christmas post?

That’s a great question, and I wish I had a good answer for you, but I don’t, so instead of harping on my laziness in posting, let’s focus on some of my favorite decorations around the house.

My favorite item is my black and white tree. It is rare for me to wear color, I own mostly black and white attire, the house is accented by various black and white pieces, so when I found a large collection of black and white ornaments several years ago on clearance in the middle of the summer, I couldn’t help myself. In one swift day of shopping in a back clearance room of a store in Madison, IN, I found most of these ornaments. Since then several others have been added. As you can tell, I use red as my accent color of choice.

This is our family of reindeer, Mommy, Daddy, and two children, sound familiar? We bought the big
two reindeer in September or October one year, and since it was too early to put outside (we may be
full-fledged Christmas inside, but we keep the outside “normal” until Thanksgiving as to not annoy our neighbors), we put them inside next to one of the trees. Then they grew on us, we started giving them gourds and corn to pretend to eat, and they never made it outside. Years later, the two original deer had some kids, the kids actually did go outside, we happened to buy them around Thanksgiving last year, so they went straight out there. . .this year? Well, it seems they are protected by their reindeer parents and I don’t think they’re budging. I would say we will just have to buy a new set for outside, but I’m concerned that they would then end up in the house too, and 6 is just too many under one roof.

The tree next to the reindeer is our Boyd’s Bear tree. This tree is filled with, Boyd’s Bears. How did I
come by so many Boyd’s Bear ornaments you ask? Well, it all started with this little tree. It’s the tree I had in college and every Christmas my mom would send me a care package with a couple new bears.Then, I graduated, and found a store that sells only Boyd’s Bears and went crazy. As in, truly crazy, my hands could not hold any more bears. . .until the second year, when I bought at least the same amount. When I went back the third year, I realized I had most of what they have to offer, and I haven’t bought any more sense then. We’ve received a couple for presents here and there, but this tree hasn’t changed much in the last 5 years, which is fine. The bears are happy and like their reindeer guard.

Our final stop for today is our family tree, this tree has all the ornaments from our youth, ornaments
from our kids earlier years, and all of the ugly ornaments that neither of our parents wanted, but both of us refuse to throw away, like this one. . .

We haven’t covered it all, but those are the highlights from our house. We actually bought our first live tree on Thanksgiving. It was a bit of an impulse buy from Whole Foods on the way home, so we bought a tabletop live tree. The only problem? We’re all out of ornaments, so we've started making some of our own, I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Orlando recap

After being gone for a week, I was looking forward to a nice quite weekend at home. Sadly, I woke up very sick last night, so today was not nearly as productive as I was hoping it would be. Unless you consider a day sitting in bed hardly able to sit up productive, I do not. . .

On a happier note, here is a recap of our lesson's learned from our first family vacation.

Disney Love - We like Disney, don't get me wrong, it was a magical and merry experience and tons of fun, but neither of us are the type to wear a Mickey shirt, or too furnish our house with Disney art work. So, it may not come as a surprise that we actually ended up enjoying some of our days out of the park better. The Animal Kingdom Lodge had so many activities available throughout the day, it would have been easy for us to stay there a couple days and happily just hang out at the hotel. As we think about a future visit, we'll definitely plan days where we hang out at the hotel.

SeaWorld - While I was worried that the childhood love of SeaWorld would not be as magical for my chief food critic when we got there, I was proven wrong. In many ways, I think our day at SeaWorld was the favorite part of the trip. We all enjoyed watching the shows and baby Shamu who was too small to even splash the audience was adorable.

Park Food - While I packed a lot of snacks for the kiddies, I didn't pack a ton of food for us. After experiencing the park food, and even some of the hotel food for that matter, I fully plan on heading to a Publix grocery store next time. I did find out after we returned that there is a grocery store that will deliver to the hotels as well, but assuming we rent a car in the future, we'll probably just go and stock up on a case of water, some bread, peanut butter and some fruit. Not all food is bad, the really high end restaurants are good. But, any reasonably priced food was inedible.

Flying with children - We were pleasantly surprised by how well the kids did with flying. The Little Guy slept most of both ways, he was antsy prior to take off, but he sat on his Daddy's lap both times and ended up passing out, much to the pleasure of the people sitting next to him. I sat with Little Girl both times, and considering both of us have a tendency to get motion sick, I was worried. Turns out, she was fine, and did a great job entertaining herself with her coloring books and stickers while I felt horrible. By the last 30 minutes of the flight home, she was over it and ready to get out of the plane, but, all in all, she still behaved pretty good considering how much she wanted to get out.

Car - Aside from hating riding the Disney buses (too crowded, took forever and were very jerky), and desperately needing to get off-site for alternative food options, a car was a must for us. I admit, we're picky about what we eat, normal "park food" such as hot dogs and fries aren't our thing. So, if you are willing to eat that type of food, then you could do fine without a car.

Kitchen -  I cook a lot at home, that's why I started this blog. And while I have been busy lately and haven't posted a ton of new recipes, it definitely wore on me not being in complete control of my food for a full week. If you enjoy cooking, I would suggest looking for an hotel or resort with a kitchen available. This is something I will be seriously considering when we return.

The more hands, the better - Our kids handled the trip exceptionally well. I was preparing for the worst, meltdowns, refusing to sleep, starving children. . .luckily we didn't have any of these. We did however, miss a lot, as children have to constantly get our of their strollers, and some times, they have to get out of their stroller, a long distance from the attraction. When a little one was sleeping, we did a lot of walking, but not much doing as we didn't want to disrupt them. If we had an extra set of hands (more adults than kids), we could have rotated more with who got to do what.

Trust maternal instinct - I had read that "It's a Bug Life" could be scary for young kids. Yet, I let myself get talked into taking the kids to the 3-D experience. End result, within 90 seconds of the start, both kids were tucking their heads into my chest, screaming. Eventually I left with both of them when I determined there would be no calming down while in the theater. It took 10 more minutes to have them completely calmed down once outside. And, to my surprise, mine weren't the the only ones, I heard other angry parents leaving with crying children, complaining about not having a warning for young children. That experience alone wouldn't have been the end of the world, if it didn't cause them to be gun-shy about every other attraction. The worst, was when we told the Little Girl we would be going on The Little Mermaid ride and her response was, "Is she scary?" (lip quivering and eyes very scared looking). We assured her Ariel isn't scary, but neither kid had an appetite for anything the least bit frightening after the Bugs Life incident.

Ok, that took all the energy I had built up, back to bed, hopefully I feel better tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


The park opened at 9, and was a 5 minute walk from our hotel room, but shortly after 8:30, we found this. . .two kids put themselves in their strollers ready to go for the day.

The Little Guy even has a toy whale in his hand
Immediately inside the gate we found Christmas Shamu

We had a lot of fun going around from show to show, Dolphins, Clyde & Seamore, Shamu (with baby Shamu never than a fins length away) and then an encore performance of Clyde & Seamore.

Someone was trying really hard to get me "volunteered" for the user participation portion of the show, but luckily they selected the "man with a goofy smile". He thought he was safe with the Little Guy on his lap, but since I was the one holding the nice camera,  I ended up being safe, and they lined him up nicely for a picture. Now, during the first show, the volunteer for this piece had a cute picture taken with the sea lion smiling next to him (yes, the sea lion actually smiled). But, not the chief food critic, he got a good old SeaWorld send off with a sea lion splash all down his backside. I found it very entertaining considering he has talked about this show non-stop  since we first decided to go to Orlando.

And after the shows, the kiddies had a bit of fun in the kid zone. . .correction, I finally got to ride a Merry-Go-Round after missing the neat looking one at the Magic Kingdom. This was the first time I have had to put a seatbelt to ride a Merry-Go-Round, but I understood why, the sea creatures weren't shaped as well as horses and people could easily slip off. The Little Guy was terrified and tried to get off after the first time around, the Little Girl did much better.

Monday, November 12, 2012

A weekend overview

We've had a couple busy days. . .here's a run down of what we did with our three day weekend.

Saturday morning started with a character breakfast with Pooh bear. . .
LIttle Guy was fairly scared of Pooh and Tigger, but he found ignoring Alice and Mary Poppins worked fine. This is Alice ignoring the fact that she's being ignored. . .

The girls at California Grill
The guys at California Grill

Minnie then decided she wanted in on the action and went for a run

And Zed the Zebra wanted to go for a really really slow run with the little guy.

Snack time at Starbucks. .. the hardest thing on this vacation has definitely been getting in enough milk, these two are used to going through close to a half gallon every 24 - 36 hours, so living on mostly water has not been good enough. The chocolate horizon milk was a temporary fix, but since it's reduced fat, it was still missing a lot of the calories they are used too.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Disney World. . .a day of fun

Yesterday, we hit the day running, and just didn't stop. We started by going to Animal Kingdom at 9. We wanted to be there at 8 for the Extra Magic Hours. . .well, I was up at 6:30 and ready to go. . .but someone else needed to get a Starbucks latte first, and had to leave the property for that. but, we did still make it to the park in time for the regular opening. After several fun hours at Animal Kingdom, we opted to head to Downtown Disney for some food as we were also changing hotels at that time. We were quite disappointed by our meal at Bongos. Considering the only food we bought on property yesterday was a breakfast scramble, banana and milk for $12 that fed 3 of us, and the not so yummy meal at Bongos for <$40, at least the least the sub par food didn't cost us too much.

Breakfast for 3, the potatoes weren't bad, the eggs weren't good and the waffle had no flavor, overall, not impressed by the food available on property.

A lot of people talk about the meal plan, the meal plan is definitely not for us, so I'm glad we opted not to get it. We packed a ton of snacks when we left home, to the point TSA had to give me a full pat down and had to search through our checked bag. But, it's OK, all of our food made it hear and we're eating tasty healthy snacks to keep us fueled throughout the day.

On a safari ride, and loving it
Our little pig lover met her first real pig
After our mid-day meal, we checked in at Port Orleans, it's definitely more geared at the younger set, lots of princesses pictures in the rooms and such. Sadly we didn't have a chance to enjoy too many amenities here as we immediately headed out to Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party. We go there in time to see the closing parade for the normal day, and then since we had special event tickets we were able to stay through and see the special Christmas stage show, Christmas parade and enjoy some milk and cookies. Little Boy napped a bit on the bus ride over to the Christmas party, and not long after getting there, Little Girl tried to put herself to sleep. She first asked if we could go back so she could go to bed, when I said she would have to sleep in the stroller, she curled up, covered herself in her Daddy's jacket and squeezed her eyes shut. It took awhile before she actually feel asleep though. We left the park that day with two sleeping children.

I think they both enjoyed their day overall, we met most of the big guys, Mickey, Minnie, Daisy, Donald and Goofy. We rode a few rides, we terrified both children by going to the It's a Bug Life show against my recommendation that they would hate it. Well, I told him so! Both kids were screaming in my arm almost immediately upon starting and I ended up having to take them out completely. Little Girl calmed down fairly quickly once outside, but was gun-shy the rest of the day, thinking everything else we took her too would be scary (she had to ask if the mermaid would be scary before we got on the new ride). Her last "event" of the day was her first roller coaster though as her Daddy tricked us into going on it. I realized what it was halfway through the line, but she had no idea what was coming. It was really quick though, so while it scared her on the ride, I think she was actually soon afterwards.

She decided the giraffe is her favorite animal, as they seem the least violent and scary of the animals we saw

Getting an update on her "Baby" that is being watched by her grandma, she's viewing pictures of her "Baby" on one phone and chatting on the other.

Fun new ride that condense the movie to a 5 minute experience, very cute, but it did seem to go fast. They don't even stop the shells (see below) for you to get on, you get a walking sidewalk and hopefully you can get in before you leave someone behind.

While you could only ride two to a shell, it winds around a lot, so I was able to see these guys quite a bit, and we were close enough we even handed the camera off to get picture of the us girls.
Me and a mouse!

Waiting for a bus.

Daisy Duck!

How to end a day of fun. . .

This is our "family" photo, someone was already too tied to even get out of her stroller to pose, so it's just us and the Little Guy.

Off for today's festivities, more to come later. . .

Thursday, November 8, 2012

We're going to . . .


This was the night before our trip, because like any other sane person, I would wait until the day before the trip to find the right type of book to turn into an autograph book. I opted for all black in case you were wondering, so Mickey and the gang will be providing their autographs in gold, silver or bronze ink. I embellished the book with some Mickey and Minnie decals I made, more to come on the autograph book at a later date.back to the trip. . .

It wasn't the best start to the day, our aging doggie became very alert to the fact we would be abandoning her, and ended up coming down with a nasty bought of Shar Pei fever, hopefully she is doing better tomorrow, she just doesn't do well with change this late in her life :(

As you may have guessed, this was the first flight for the kids, sadly, we were unable to get 3 seats together (little boy sat on a lap), and everyone around us was in a family, so there was no hope to move. Luckily we ended up with possibly the best two kids ever on a plan. Little boy sat up front, whined slightly during take off and promptly fell asleep on Daddy's chest where here remained for the entire flight.

Little girl was always the one we were more worried about as she gets motion sick like I do. Well, turns out Sea Bands work great for her and she was as happy as can be. I on the other hand, also used Sea Bands, typically I use TransDerm Scope patches when traveling, but in effort to get her to keep her bands on, I got myself a pair too. I was miserable most of the flight, and was not the best company as I sat with my eyes closed most of the time. Never fear though, we still had a lively trip with coloring, book reading and a billizion questions.

Snack time on the plane was fun, Little Girl enjoyed some Delta cookies, and I drank some ginger ale (considering I never drink anything other than water or milk, that alone should tell you how I was feeling), it helped some.

Following the plane ride, we went down to hope on the Disney Express. I have read a lot about how great this service is supposed to be, they drop you right off, it's so convenient. . .I personally don't share that opinion. Yes, it's "free" as part of your resort stay, so I guess that is the benefit, but after a 25 - 30 minute drive to the Disney World property, you still have to sit and wait for people in all the other resorts to get out first. It took FOREVER! And after making it the drive to the airport, the plane ride and the first 45 minutes of the shuttle ride, Little Girl couldn't take it any more and managed to get very very sick, lucky for me, she was sitting on my lap at the time. Very suddenly, we went from the happiest place on earth to the messiest. YUCK!

An hour later, both kids had taken a bath, Little Boy wasn't dirty, but he has to do everything his sister does, all of our clothes were thoroughly rinsed and we realized at 4:20 PM we were all starving and our dinner reservation wasn't until 6:05! Luckily, we hit right before the crowd, so we were able to get in at BOMA. As you can see, food managed to lift every one's mood quite a bit.

He was SO excited to have some milk, all he wanted to do was drink. We drink a lot of milk at our house, so it's always an obstacle when we travel, water is easy to travel with, milk, not so much. Of all the food available, the ONLY thing he actually ate was a 2 bite pumpkin cheesecake. It was good, I had one myself, but that's not what I would expected him to pick.


Since we were able to eat early, we were able to have some time to swim after dinner. Where are the pictures of that you ask? Well, it's in the low 60's here today, so as you can imagine, it was pretty chilly out, I wasn't brave enough to get out of the water to take any pictures, as the water was slightly warmer than the air. We really wanted to get some good pool time with the kids this week, so even with the cold, we thought it would be worth it to go in for a bit. There were only 4 other people in the pool when we first got in. . .and after about 20 minutes, Little Boy was physically shivering, so we scurried inside for a warm bath (yes, they had TWO baths with in the first 4 hours of being in Disney World).

This is the view from our room. I can't believe how close the animals are. And they actually move around quite a bit, there were several zebras and giraffes, I came back 5 minutes later to take a picture and I have gazelles instead. Sadly, we're only in this hotel for one night. We tried to make the most of it, but we could have easily stayed here for a couple days and not even visited a park and been entertained.

We will have a jam packed day at the Animal Kingdom and then Mickey's Christmas Party tomorrow night, I look forward to sharing those adventures soon.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Rosemary Pizza Crust

I love pizza. It’s hands down, my favorite thing to eat. While I do think it’s important to try new foods, and experiment with new flavors and ingredients, if I see a pizza on a menu, it’s rare that I have the strength to pick something else. Thin, thick, flat bread, deep dish, I like them all. My change to eat minimal to no meat has changed how I eat pizzas a bit, but I have to admit, I’ve made some really good vegetarian pizzas in the last couple of months.
One of the great things about pizza, is you can make it so many different ways, on Halloween, we needed a quick dinner before the Trick or Treators starting knocking, so I sat out a ball of dough that I had frozen a couple weeks ago, let it thaw while we were at work, and then we had a wonderful pepper and mushroom pizza with a kale pesto topper. If I hadn’t been distracted by the ghosts and goblins that were on their way, I would have taken a picture, but I will re-create it at share at a later date.
For today, I thought it would be helpful to start with just the crust. I’ve been making pizza at home for years. I’m not in love with most of the pizza places here, so I decided to start making my own, first with a packaged crust, then I moved to mixes. I used the Bob’s Red Barn mix for a while, but when the Italian issue of the Food Network Magazine came out a couple years ago, my life changed forever.
I have been a subscriber for years, and while I always cook at least one thing from every issue, my favorite recipes have come from that one, and there are a few dishes that I make quite often years after the issue came out. Since it has been years, I have taken the liberty of adjusting the recipe a bit to make it my own.
What you’ll need:
1 1/3 cup warm water (too hot will kill the yeast, too cold will take forever to rise)
1 TBSP instant yeast (or 1 packet if you have those, I go through a lot, so it’s cheaper to get the jar)

1 TBSP Rosemary
3.5 cups of flour
Olive oil
1/2 tsp salt 

Sprinkle the yeast evenly over the warm water and let it begin to poof. The edges will start to look like this:

If you notice a lot of yeast falling, your water is too hot and you have killed it. Start over now with cooler water! If you yeast doesn't poof, it could either be old, or your water may be too cold and it needs mroe time. Wait a little longer and see if it poofs (noramlly it takes about 10 minutes), if it doesn't, your dough won't rise, try again after your next trip to Kroger.

Combining the 2.5 cups of flour, salt and rosemary. You can use AP, bread or WW flour or a combination of those. I go through phases where I prefer each, right now I've been on a bread flour kick, it makes an extra light crust.

Now, your yeast has poofed, and you have your flour mixture combined. In order to minimze the mess, I use a large bowl to knead in rather than kneading one the table. Make a well in the middle of the bowl, pour in the water and begin to gradually combine with a spatula.

Continue to add more flour until the dough is pliable and no longer sticky. If the dough stops accepting more flour, it's ready. Cover the dough in olive oil and cover the bowl with Saran Wrap and set aside for 90 minutes, or until it doubles in size.

The dough will start to climb up the side of the bowl.

Give it a little punch to let the air out.

Preheat your oven to 500 degrees and assemble your toppings of choice. . .here are my picks for today's pizza.

Take HALF of the dough and lightly pull until it is pizza sized. I typically make one pizza when it's fresh, then wrap the other half in saran wrap and freeze (when you want to use it later, just sit it on the counter in the morning and by dinner time it will be ready.

Once your dough is adequately spread, bake for 7 minutes. It should look like this.

Quickly, add your toppings, sauce, veggies and cheese.

Bake for an additional 7 - 8 minutes.