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Christmas Vacation

What a week it’s been! I’ve been enjoying the time off from work and taking that mental pause on anything that hasn’t involved family and relaxation.

Our Christmas was not as hustling and bustling as year’s past – hurray! Usually we bounce back and forth between our families all day long but this time we were able to convince families to alter traditions (both of our families are Christmas morning celebrators). Ben and I got up on Christmas morning and didn’t have to race out the door. Instead, we had a moment to relax, enjoy our Christmas tree, and then actually head out for Christmas breakfast! Unreal and so wonderful.

Our Christmas tree! Everything gets packed up and put into the car to be transported to our loved ones. I LOVE getting gifts for people and get really excited anticipating them opening them up. It’s one of my favorite things about Christmas. 🙂

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After breakfast we went to spend the morning with Ben’s side of the family. We opened presents and enjoyed Christmas music, plenty of cheer, and a delicious meal.

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In the early afternoon we said goodbye and went to see my side for another round of festivities.

Our stockings were waiting for us…

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And then we had a good laugh about my parent’s tree. They have used this super-old fake tree the last couple of years to keep the dog out of the ornaments, but I think she’s plenty old enough now to stay away (and the tree is a little “Charlie Brown Christmas”). I think maybe we’ll get them a new one as an early present next year.

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Last year we had less than two dozen gifts under the tree (for 6 people) and I guess everyone did the same thing I did. Instead of one large gift (or a shared gift), I ended up doing a lot more little things instead. Way more wrapping involved but a LOT more fun to open on Christmas Day. Mom joked that we should keep the small tree because the trunk it is on makes it look like there’s even more presents. Maybe she’s right… Ha!

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Cheery people…

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I wonder what’s in there?

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It was a really nice Christmas.

We finally found a good day this week and went to the botanical gardens for the horse-drawn wagon ride through the gardens. There wasn’t a snowstorm this time BUT there was insane winds that froze all of our faces off! That’s part of the experience though. We were all squeezed tightly on the wagon and I brought along my car fleece blanket which I wrapped over our laps. Then we just held our mittens over our faces to block out a lot of the wind. We’re Wisconsin winter professionals.

Views from the bumpy wagon:

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After our ride we quickly ran around for a few photos:

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It works better with the flash.

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Inside the “caterpillar”:

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I’m. So. Cold. My. Lips. Are. Frozen.

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I took zero pictures of food this year. Odd, I know, but this year was a little scurried in the prep and a little lazy / relaxed on the holiday. Besides, Christmas isn’t about the food, is it?

It’s about 90 minutes from New Years as I’m writing this. Ben’s downstairs flipping back and forth between the various holiday TV programs and I’m trying to decide if I am going to stay awake or go to sleep right after I hit the “Publish” button on this post. Right now, I think sleep is winning. 🙂

Happy New Y… Zzz… zz… z… .. .

Feliz Navidad!

Merry Christmas & good tidings to all!

We’re getting ready to load up our presents and head over to celebrate the day with our families. But first – I wanted to share a quote I saw recently that I just love.

“One of the most glorious messes in the world is the mess created in the living room on Christmas day. Don’t clean it up too quickly.”

Andy Rooney (1919-), American writer, producer

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Enjoy!!!

Sugar, Frosting, and General Ooey Goodness

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Happy New Year and happy new ‘do for this girl!

I’m on the last day of Christmas vacation before it’s back to the bump and grind of normal life. It’s been a harrowing couple of months and I unplugged from everything and enjoyed the holidays with the hubby and resetting the mental clock for success in 2016.

So… let’s get you caught up on this little vacay from work and adult life (ha). We started our vacation off with Christmas Eve packed full of traditions and baking. Ever since the first year Ben and I were dating, we would always go out for breakfast on Christmas Eve. This year we went out for delicious pancakes and waffles. I had pumpkin spice waffles and Ben went with dulce de leches pancakes and both were wonderful! Some traditions are too good to stop.

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After that we went home and proceeded to cook straight through until supper time. Since the family had a ton going on, we took on more than the usual one or two items and also baked sweet potatoes for Christmas dinner.

It was a multi-tasking, cookie baking extravaganza! We had just rolled up our sleeves when my Christmas flowers arrived! I wanted some pretty flowers and got a Groupon so they were really cheap. Love!

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My brother Matt loved the nutmeg logs we made two years ago but I didn’t feel like rolling out dough into logs, so I settled for little cookies instead. This saved a lot of time but still provided the same end result taste-wise.

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I had wanted to make some new items and really wanted to make homemade snickers bars. There was a layer of chocolate…. then a layer of nougat….005

Lots of stirring for the layer of caramel:

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And then, finally, the top layer of chocolate!

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These were really tasty, SUPER putzy to make, and I made the caramel layer a bit too runny so they didn’t stay together as well as I had hoped. Still, everyone loved them.

During this time I had sweet potatoes peeled and boiling on the stove:

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And Ben was making his very first batch of caramel puff corn (aka Christmas crack)

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And if this wasn’t enough, I had a crazy idea to try homemade toffee for the first time. After twenty minutes of intense stirring, this sweet, velvety & buttery delicacy was born:

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Homemade toffee is P H E N O M E N A L

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It was so good I almost didn’t want to share any 🙂 We topped ours with chocolate and toasted pecans. Mmm Mmm Good!

We finished just as the folks called to invite us to caravan for the yearly drive around town to look at Christmas lights. We packed everything up so we would have less to bring over the next morning.

Finished goodies:

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The car all set! (plus the back seats were filled with ingredients for wassail) sheesh, what a load of festivity and cheer!

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We got home with enough time to open our stockings to one another and enjoy Christmas tunes and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

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On our first ever non-white Christmas morning, we were up early and off to my side:006

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After lunch and more gift exchanges and good cheer, we were back home to unload once more before heading back to my folks for dinner.

Delicious spread of food!

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Mom made apple pie for Ben and a family request for a new kind of pie: chocolate caramel pecan. It was just as good as it sounds:

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It was a VERY long day, as usual, but we managed to be there for both families and the prepping ahead of time kept us organized and on time. It’s very lucky our families are so close!

Well that’s it for Christmas. I need to wrap up the rest of vacation and then think about what’s coming for 2016. I hope it’s off to a wonderful start for all of you!!

Wishing You… a Wonderful Christmas

Merry Christmas!!!

I read one of those little things on Facebook about typical spelling mistakes people make about the holidays – and apparently capitalizing the “M” in merry is wrong. So you should write “merry Christmas”. Guilty – I always capitalize the letter M and I probably always will.

Christmas trivia:

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We’re sitting on history in Green Bay. It’s officially the first Christmas I’ve EVER had without snow on the ground. We had a tiny sprinkle of flurries several days ago and then a ton of rain and, most recently, crazy amounts of wind.

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There is something festive about a white Christmas but heck, it was over FIFTY yesterday. I’m not turning up my nose at that!

Every year at work the Christian employee network does a display by the front atrium and has several gorgeous Christmas cactus. The lady in charge bought them a few weeks in advance and they hung out right across from my cube so I got to see them bloom each day. Soooooo pretty!

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Christmas cactus is something I’ve never been able to make work. I always over-water or under-water or something but they drop their buds and months later huge chunks of the plant itself fall off. I still like to try so every now and then I’ll buy an itty bitty one and see if I can make it grow.

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Holiday delights…

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As I’ve mentioned a little, it’s been a weird couple of months. We’ve been juggling the list of Christmas to-dos so everything gets done in time. Mom made two batches of cookies last week so the family would have some cookies before Christmas and we took an impromptu picture to coax Ben into coming home early from work that day…

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Delicious!!

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Yesterday Ben and I went to an afternoon showing of Star Wars and tried out our cinema’s new “dream loungers”. They are these big leather recliners that give you all kinds of leg room. OMG I don’t think I can go back to regular seating. This was amazing!!!! We felt like high-rollers, ha ha. This picture is terrible but I didn’t want to use the flash and still wanted to show you how much space there is:

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We loved the film and loved the seating. It was wonderful. I wasn’t a fan of the last batch of Star Wars films but this felt like the old ones and had that epic grandeur I loved when watching the original 3 when I was a kid.

We volunteered to pick up a little extra on the baking front to help out so today has been jam-packed with flour, sugar, and butter galore. We’re all done now (finally!) and are enjoying a few quite moments relaxing before we meet up with family to drive around town admiring the Christmas lights.

Our presents are all separated out so we know which ones to pack for which side…

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And then there’s nothing left to do except make a little cocoa and enjoy a festive movie tonight.

I’m wishing you all a very merry Christmas. May peace and joy surround your homes and hearts and thank you for your friendship on my little blog.

~Ali

 

Twas The Week Before Christmas

AND the countdown to Christmas is in full-swing! We’ve been busier than Santa’s elves around here. There’s been a lot going on in the family and we’re scrambling to adjust schedules, combine errands, and help make sure everything gets crossed off the list before the 25th.

I’ve never been quite so thankful that I got a lot of things done early because I was able to get everything wrapped and tucked under the tree and can now focus on other things.

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I went with a wrapping paper “theme” this year which is new for me. Normally I have a bunch of different paper and a colorful assortment but this year I found these cute snowflake wraps in alternating colors and decided to do a red/white theme. I think it looks fancy. 🙂

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I love it!!!

We found the radio stations on TV that play non-stop Christmas tunes (a good mix of classics along with new hits) and I settled down with a mug of double fudge hot cocoa and wrapped/sang all day long.

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The Christmas station had little “Did You Know?” facts that were displayed on the screen and I thought they were a lot of fun. Here’s one for today:

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I just have to get through work today and then we can settle down and finalize Christmas cookie baking. I have a zillion things I want to try but need to narrow it down to a reasonable list. Normally I’d say you can never have enough cookies but my waistline would disagree. 😉

Excited for Christmas!! It will be here before we know it!!

Random ornament:

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FOUR DAYS!

The Brown Christmas

Happy New Year!!!

How’s 2015 been treating you so far? Has anyone else been caught writing 2014 still? I’ll be doing that for a couple weeks yet I’m sure.

Ben and I had a long stint of relaxing holiday vacation and today it’s back to the real world. The break was much needed! I don’t know if it was some kind of combo of work stress, lack of sunshine, early Winter blues, or all of the above, but I have been literally wiped out. I spent more time than I care to admit just taking naps and sleeping in. 🙂

One of the perks of living in Wisconsin is that we are basically guaranteed to have a white Christmas. In fact, in all 33 years of my life, I’ve never (never!) had a Christmas where there wasn’t snow on the ground. A few years ago came close and a local guy bought a snow machine and blanketed his front lawn and house with snow. He made the local news. But luckily for everyone else, we had a decent snowfall a couple days before Christmas and everyone was white.

Then there was 2014 and this sight:

074Christmas morning… And yes, I would cringe a little bit every time any mention or variation of  “Let it Snow”, “Wintry Wonderlands”, or “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” would chirp from the radio station. It was definitely a crazy year!!

The couple days leading up to Christmas were in the 40s with lots of rain. Had it been a bit cooler we would have had some ugly roads for holiday travelers. Still, I can’t quite believe the 40s happened. We’re back down into the teens now. The frozen grass cracks under your feet and there is still no snow to be found.

We spent Christmas Eve keeping the Ben & Ali breakfast tradition alive and headed out for morning pancakes. The dining chain that opened a couple months ago has been great for quick weekend breakfasts.

I ordered two small eggnog pancakes (what would the large have looked like??) and a plate of scrambled eggs for some protein:

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Ben got his usual breakfast combo:

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Our Christmas Eve was spent prepping Christmas goodies and wrapping last-minute presents. We had the non-stop Christmas tunes cranking away and we danced around the kitchen whipping up goodies to share with our families. This year I made classic Hershey kiss cookies but with both Hugs and Kisses and also tried a new recipe for soft ginger cookies. Both were huge hits!

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(I never noticed that when you look out the window in this picture the sunshine makes it look like Winter outside. If only! 🙂 )

Then I made a couple batches of caramel puffcorn (aka Christmas Crack). It’s not Ali-approved without the chocolate drizzle over it though!

Please note that I only spilled butter on myself during the first batch, which required a clothing change. All in the pursuit of sugared goodness.

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We pre-measured the spices for wassail and had all that bagged up and ready to go and then made a French toast bake for Christmas breakfast. It was so easy too! I just sliced a loaf of bakery bread:

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And then combined eggs, milk, sugar, and vanilla which got poured over the top. I slapped a lid over the pan and tucked it in the fridge overnight to soak up all the goodness.

On Christmas morning we made a quick crumble of brown sugar, butter, and flour which got sprinkled on top and then mom pop it into the oven.

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How delicious does that look? We also made a buttermilk syrup to spoon on top which was excellent. I liked the tang of the buttermilk rather than a thick and even sweeter syrup.

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Umm Hmm I might just have to make this again next year!

With cups of coffee and plates of French toast bake, we opened presents. The highlight was Alex opening his Samurai sword. I think he *thinks* he’s pretty cool now. 🙂

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Happy pooch too:

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After presents were unwrapped we raced across town for dinner (lunch) with Ben’s family. Their pets never cooperate for me with pictures. One year I’ll get it though!!

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We went back to my family for supper (dinner) and then got home about 9pm tuckered out. We hadn’t even opened our gifts to each other and Ben had been eyeing up a particular gift for the past week:

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We don’t ever grow up do we? Big presents are still the best. 🙂

It was a jam-packed holiday filled with family, food, and lots of laughter. You can’t ask for more than that!

I definitely owe a few more update posts, a 2014 wrap-up and a look ahead into the new year. I also am overdue on catching up on blog reading. Maybe this weekend 🙂 I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and New Year. Thank you for keeping my little blog on your reading list!

Ali