Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Rest of Christmas Day...

We got back to the house right before the kids did. We started making our menu list and setting out the ingredients. When the kids got home, I assigned Brittney to the casseroles since she had done such a great job on them at Thanksgiving this year. Look out! She's got Velveeta and she isn't afraid to use it!

Melissa was in charge of the secret family receipe cornbread stuffing. She almost caught the kitchen on fire frying the bacon too hot! See, these kids still need their mother after all...

I made an appetizer that I found in Latts & Atts Magazine. It's made with puff pastry around brie cheese with chutney, nuts and craisins all baked together into a warm gooey mess. The kids were skeptical but they ate it up!

We cooked all afternoon and finally after everything else was done, we waited for the dressing to finish cooking. It seemed like FOREVER! It all looked so good and we were so tired and hungry!

But we were rewarded at last with a feast the size Bruce said his family of 11 kids didn't have. We fell upon the dinner and in 20 minutes we wished we had never seen it all. We were stuffed! My dad always said it was silly to spend all day cooking a meal that it took so little time to finish off. But we disagree! It was a very relaxed and happy Christmas day spent with just my husband and kids.

A Racing Blade for Elan

Bruce and I took our grand dog, Layla with us out to Port Aransas. He had purchased a racing blade from Masthead and had run out of time to put it up to see if it fits the boat. He only had 10 days to return it if it didn't work out. So after the kids left, we loaded Layla into the car and set out.
Layla is Brittney's little year and a half old Pom. She had never been to the boat before but other than a little natural caution, she did very well. She was a little worried when Bruce made all of the noises involved in raising and lowering sails.

Bruce piled the jib onto the deck and set about connecting the blade. Layla got brave and curious.

Once the sail was up, Bruce set about adjusting and examining it for trim and fit. He was ecstatic! It fit and it was very inexpensive... and it was beautiful!

We took it down, put the other jib back up and prepared to go back home to make Christmas dinner. By this time, Layla had become quite secure...

Christmas Day!!!

Having old kids is nothing like having young kids on Christmas Day. We slept until we naturally awoke ( OK so it was still 6:30 am )... But Bruce and I actually woke the kids up! We passed out all of the gifts methodically and when everyone had their pile, we deviated from the youngest to oldest rule and reversed it. Bruce opened his gifts first.

He had never given me the chance to wrap his big gift. I got him an air compressor which he has been using since it came home 2 weeks ago. My favorite gift for him, the one I was so excited about... was BOAT CARDS!!... He loved them! He's so hard to surprise but this year I did it!

Next it was my turn... does this look like an OMG moment? It's because Bruce did such a fabulous job of gifting this year. Ever since we met, I've been dragging him around the shops near Christmas time showing him things I'ld love to see under the tree to no avail. This year, I had seen this set of 6 wine glasses in an antique store and really wanted them. I didn't buy them for myself. He went back to the store and got them for me. He wrapped only one so there was no way I guessed what it was. I was so happy!!!

I got an MP3 player to use at the gym and many other really cool gifts. The kids got me accessories for the MP3. I won the prize for "best gifts received".

Throughout all of the unwrapping little Layla kept the cats entertained. My spoiled kitties certainly had other plans for the holiday besides putting up with the likes of Brittney's little Pom. She just wanted to be their friend...

We always give the kids cold hard cash. It's the gift that never has to be returned or exchanged.

This year I added some bubblegum "coal" for good measure.

Our big gift to the kids was to pay for airline tickets for them to go with us on a Sailboat charter in the British Virgin Islands this coming June. They knew about the tickets and that there wouldn't be a whole lot else this year. I used Snapfish to create personalized 2009 Calendars for us all with everyone in our family's birthdays, anniversaries, etc.. I used pictures from past BVI trips to fill the days we'll be there.

I also put pictures of each family member on their day from those taken at this year's celebrations. Brittney howled when she saw the pictures! I think my idea was a hit!

Very soon all of the gifts were open and we were each going back over our loot. Nothing left but the mess...

We cleaned it all up and set to work making a quick breakfast. The kids wanted to go out to their Grandpa Jerry's house for a visit before we began our dinner preparations. This worked out well for Bruce and as he had recently received a racing blade for Elan which he needed to run up for size.

Receipe for Pub Grub

Put about a tablespoon of olive oil into a large dutch oven. Add 3 cloves of minced garlic, 2 medium sweet onions cut into chunks, and one lb of white button mushrooms quartered.

Cook on medium heat stirring often and adding more olive oil as needed until the vegetables reduce to 1/3 normal size. Add about a teaspoon of salt. Remove to another bowl.

Cut up 3 lbs of lean chuck roast. Season the meat chunks with Montreal Steak Seasoning or the spice of choice. Dredge the pieces in flour and
place 1/3 of the meat into the dutch oven. Sear the pieces for about 7 minutes flipping pieces and scraping the bottom of the pan.

Next, remove the meat to another bowl leaving the browned bits in the dutch oven. Add 1/2 c. water to the browned pieces and cook for about 30 seconds scraping up the browned pieces from the bottom. Pour this into the bowl with the reserved meat and repeat these steps with the next and last 1/3 of the meat.

Next, place another 3 cloves of minced garlic and a couple of blops of tomato paste into the dutch oven and cook for about 30 seconds.

Add the reserved meat back to the dutch oven, pour in 1 can of beef broth and 1 can of Guinness stout beer.

Add the reserved mushroom/ontion mixture with juice back to the dutch oven. Add 2 cups of diced carrots and 2 medium potatoes cubed. Carefully stir and simmer covered for about an hour and a half. Stir often and scrape the bottom as the mixture will thicken and tend to stick to the bottom of the dutch oven.

At the end of the simmering time, remove from heat and let sit for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Prepare the crust during this time. Lightly dust a piece of butcher paper with flour. Roll out one 9 in. prepared pie crust to about half again its original size. Sprinkle bleu cheese crumbles of your choice (we used Athenos) into the center of the pie crust and spread them to within 2 inches of the edges. Place the second 9 in. pie crust over the top of the cheese and use a rolling pin to press the crusts together. The crust will get a bit bigger.

Place the crust over the center of the dutch oven and allow it to drop down to the surface of the filling. Press the edges against the sides of the dutch oven and droop the excess edges over the top onto the outside of the pan. Seal these outside edges with a bit of water and press them onto the pan. Use a cookie cutter to press into the center of the crust and cut slits with a knife to allow steam to escape. Bake for 20 minutes or until the crust is a lovely golden brown.

Next, let the kids in the front door and heave a sigh of relief that they made the trip home safely on Christmas Eve. Serve them this tummy warming home-made-with-love meal while catching up on things. Ignore their suspicious faces when they see what you're serving because they'll love it! (or at least they'll pretend to love it because you've raised them well!)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Mark's Engagement Party

Bruce and I drove to the outskirts of Houston on Saturday morning to meet our soon-to-be inlaws. Mark says that they're "just like us". I shudder to think what that might mean and hope that it isn't true as I spend much of my time trying NOT to be "just like us".

We took the coast road and meandered through the small towns along the way and visiting antique stores. We arrived at our hotel at about 4:30 after hitting the notorious Houston traffic. We barely had time for a quick nap but it was essential after having been up late the previous night for my office Christmas party. We changed quickly and drove the 30 minutes to the
Bride's parent's home.
Now the only contact we've had with Mark or Laura in regards to the party has been to...

"remember to bring our swimsuits"!
Early on, Mark had told us that it would be casual dress... shorts even. I had wondered about this as it is DECEMBER!... but if they're heating up the pool... so be it! Bruce wore shorts and I wore a linen sleevless shirt and capri pants thinking I would be overdressed. Not so! We were definately the bumpkins of this gathering! Even Bruce was embarrassed... and he's usually oblivious to these things. Oh well... it's not about us.

I made myself useful as the designated photographer, although I'm still experimenting with the settings on our new camera. I think we got some good moments.

Laura's parent's home was lovely and all decked out for the holidays. There was Christmas bling everywhere. The food was continuously refreshed by hired help and the pepermint martinis were scrumptious! I only had one and it was very potent. I would have needed another nap had I drank a second one.

Mark's best-friend-from-second-grade... Ricky was there with his wife and their two children. They are the sweetest little kids you ever met.

Rick was his usual bad self. I spent the whole evening shushing him as he insisted upon absolute brutal honesty where it wasn't necessary. He's quite the devil but it was good to see him again.

There was a speech giving session out by the pool. People got up and said nice things about Mark and Laura and expressed wishes for their happiness. Laura had many people there from her childhood and quite a few relatives. Mark's side was sparsely represented. Mother and I each got up and made a short speech. Mine was about expressing how lucky I feel to be gaining the sister I've never had and I really mean it. Laura is an exceptional person, which is just what I always said it would take to whip my little brother into matrimonial shape.

The party wound down as many people made their exits. Mark and Laura posed for some official engagement photos. Bruce and I made our exit as the remaining family members were preparing to go for a swim. We were just too exhausted to stay for the after party.

Mark and Laura really do look very happy. I hope that they can stretch that out for a long time and continue to grow together as Bruce and I have done. If they end up half as happy as we are, they'll be ahead of the rest! Congratulations Mark and welcome Laura!

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Hostess with the Mostest

This year's office Christmas party went off without a hitch! Jana and I rock!!! We began planning back in July... we chose a caterer, booked a hall, booked the marguerita machine and the DJ. As the event grew near, we kicked it into high gear. We bought the limbo kit and the decorations.

I had Jana and Lydia over on Thursday night before the party to prepare the center pieces. Who knew Lydia was so creative. She was the most talented of the three of us. I would pile stuff into the baskets and Lydia would make it beautiful! Jana did well on her own with a few touches from Lydia.

This year Jana and I swore our party would be different. The new regime is all about making employee morale soar. What better way to do that than with a few jello shots!?!

The day of the party began at 4:00 am for me. My eyes popped open and the mind began going over the endless lists. So I gave up and got up and loaded the car with all of the stuff and headed off to work. The day was mostly spent running all of the last minute errands. We had to pick up the beer and sodas, we bought $500 worth of Visa gift cards to use as door prizes. We bought the tequilla for the marguerita machine, we found hula hoops. The table cloths were the last on the early list to be picked up. We grabbed lunch and went to the Fireman's Association Hall on Ayers (yeah I know...) to put it all together.

Jana and Lydia abandoned me at 3:00 to go get ready. I picked up the giant cake at Janet's at 3:30 ... well I was there until 4:00 and late to meet the Marguerita guy at the hall... but he had found the tequilla and started without me so all was well. I left the hall and went home to get ready.

I had shopped for something to wear but couldn't find anything so I wore an outfit that I had from some other event I can't even remember. It worked out. Jana was at the hall and had iced down the drinks by the time Bruce and I arrived at 6:30. The caterers had set up and were waiting for the guests. The only thing left to do was to make sure the Marguerita machine was working right. (the things we do for our employees!!!).

The Doctors arrived first... fashionably late at about 7:10. We began to mingle and as more people showed up, we opened the food line. We had the drinks pouring and the hall began to fill. Everyone found a niche and as the plates began to empty, Jana and I turned down the lights and made a little speech. Once that was out of the way... the fun began! It was a bit slow getting everyone up to dance at first. We decided it was time to bring out the Limbo Stick! Jana and I held the sticks for a while until the girls took over so that Jana and I could try it. Bruce got this picture of me right before I fell on my ass!

We had the best time doing the limbo! Those little girls are good at it! We gave out a door prize or two and threatened that they would be the last if nobody danced... that got people livened up a bit more... that or the jello shots we passed out...

Dr. Shelton's husband told me that if we didn't do YMCA soon, Laura wasn't going to be able to do it! So she took her place center stage and led the way. That got people really loosened up. Booties were... doing whatever booties do these days.
The next thing on our agenda was the hula hoop contest. Jana and I brought them out and had great participation... We even had a couple of our Dr.s out there hooping it up! We had a tournament first. Dr. Garcia got out there and wouldn't go! She just kept wobbling and wobbling... She outlasted everyone!
We had a hula race. First one across the floor hulaing all the way wins. These people dashed across without even making one rotation! It was hysterical! We gave out door prizes to all of the winners. $50 gift cards do add a bit of Christmas cheer right here less than a week before the holiday.

We danced the night away. Every year, I try to learn the latin dances from our little girls... Dr. Garcia and I were out there bungling our way through it when she turned to me and held her hand up to her forehead to make an "L" and then two hands to make a "W". She shouted to me " Loser Whitegirls!!" Yes that's what we were! No rhythm, not enough bootie to make it work! Oh well, we tried!
The party drew to a close at 11:00 as Jana and I gave out the final door prize. The lights came up and people said their goodbyes and left with the centerpieces as an additional token. Jana, Bruce and I had some volunteer help and soon had all of the "Toys for Tots' loaded into her vehicle to be donated... all of the rest of the stuff cleaned up and loaded into our car to be stored for the next year.

Jana and I were proud that it had all gone well. We had kudos from the Physicians and many employees as well. Now maybe I'll be able to sleep past 4:00 am!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Through the Fog!!

Last night I got a phone call from Steve. He is always good about checking in on Tuesday night to see if we are going to make it to the Wednesday night race with him on Cute Shoes. I was already about asleep when he called so the whole conversation is remembered through a fog. I can remember how he pulled out all the stops trying to convince me that the weather would be good enough for me to go out sailing. Remember, I've become a fair weather sailor of late. I finally gave in and committed to sailing tonight.

I left work early and raced home to get bundled up and have a quick bite to eat. The races start a half hour earlier in the wintertime. As we drove towards the bayfront, we began to notice that there was a thickening fog. There were birds lined up all along the tops of the light poles. We noticed that the birds were perched on the spreaders on most of the boats. When we parked and began to walk down the dock towards Bay Yacht Club, we began to feel as if we were walking into a Stephen King novel.

We talked to some of the other sailors on the dock for a bit and decided to try to get a sail in even if there wasn't a race. We set off from the slip into the fog.

It was really not so bad out there. The wind was practically non-existent but somehow, once we put up the sails... we began to move slowly but surely along. Bruce said we were moving less from wind and more out of habit.

Before we knew it... we were moving along at 3 plus knots. At least for a while we were.

There were a total of three boats out tonight. We were the only boat that put up the sails. There was a race committee of sorts at the starting box. They gave us our course... to the gap and back. It's just less than a mile to the gap from the startline. We set out! I took my place at the bow to watch for obstructions. As I stood there the moisture clinging to the sail began to run down onto my clothes. My hair was becoming soggy.

Steve was insistent that we pass between the two markers of the gap. I spotted the flashing green first when we has less than a tenth of a mile to go. We tacked out and poked our nose out into the bay then tacked back in. Nobody was going to say we didn't stay the course... even if we were the only boat on it! We had quite a pleasant sail back to the finish line where we received a weak human horn finish. But a fun finish it was... through the fog!
After we finished the "race" and put the boat up... we noticed that the light wind had blown away the fog. Our last view of the dock was a very nice reminder of the boat parade a couple of weeks ago. It was amazing how the fog was all gone. Had the race began just an hour later... we would have been all through... with the fog.