10 Goals for 2011

10 Goals for 2011

I've never been one for making New Year's resolutions. Sure, I've had grandiose dreams for the upcoming year and have even believed I'd accomplish them once or twice. But when it comes to knowing myself, my motivation and my personal ADD when it comes to picking up new hobbies, I'm a realist. Plus, I never wanted to make resolutions for fear of beating myself up if and when I never followed through on them.

Last year was the first year I made a couple of goals for myself (not New Year's Resolutions) that  I actually went through with, accomplished and felt damn proud about. Last December, I vowed to get down to my freshman-year college weight by my 25th birthday. I did it with three weeks to spare and I actually got smaller throughout the spring/summer. It's the thinnest I've been my whole life and it felt awesome. I also pledged to run a half marathon and really kick my ass during training. I did both and crossing that finish line was one of the proudest moments of my life.

So, this year I'm really going to put some pressure on myself. I'm not going to skirt my way through life the easiest way possible. Challenges are tough (that's why they're called "challenges") but that toughness pays off in the end. I'm ready for a better version of myself. So here are a few things I believe will make me better/prouder/happier if I accomplish in 2011:

1. Do it all over again (back to skinny weight by April 1st) 
I managed to stay relatively svelte through about October this year. Though half-marathon training put about three extra pounds on me, I didn't mind it. Those three pounds spread a little and I slowly become less strict with my diet and nutrition - now I'm about 8-9 pounds heavier than I was in July. Most of that has come in the last couple months (Hello, Thanksgiving and Christmas treats!). But you know what? I did it before and I know I can do it again. I track what I eat and I work out hard - I know I'll get this goal! Plus, I only have eight pounds to lose this time, whereas last year it was more like 13-14.

2. Blog at least 3 times weekly 
I began this blog last year as a way to keep myself writing, and to hopefully entertain a few people (oh hai, my small handful of readers!). Previous to this blog, I kept more of an online journal (a livejournal, if you will) for years. This was in high school/college, before everyone and their aunt's parakeet had their own blog. I really enjoyed writing online, and I updated probably about five times a week! I'm a little busier now with a job, a live-in boyfriend and a cat, but there's no excuse for my sporadic posting. I'm going to shoot for at least three new posts a week - and hopefully at least one new recipe a week!

3. Finish a half marathon under 1 hour, 55 minutes
I ran my very first half marathon in 1:58. While I didn't meet the goal I had in my head, I still finished in under two hours, and that's a pretty big accomplishment for someone's first half marathon (and only my third running race ever - since junior high)! I'm so proud of finishing (and maybe even prouder of my 12 weeks of training through one of the hottest summers on record), but I keep thinking about that 1:55 goal - I was only three minutes off! So I am hellbent on meeting this goal in a half marathon this year. I haven't decided which race I'll run (I'd like to do a spring and a fall half), but I do know I've got to crush my previous time! It would be my first official PR :)

4. Learn how to use the DSLR comfortably with the manual settings
Eric got a new DSLR right before my half marathon and he's even let me play around with it a bit. I love holding the camera, cradling the lens and peering through the viewfinder when I snap photos. I love the crisp photographs it takes and I love even more sharing them with everyone I know. But I don't want to sail by using the automatic settings. What's the point of having a fancy camera if you don't use it the fancy way? I either want to teach myself or take a class on how to use the camera to its full potential. I want to be a photographic wizard. I want to show my wizardry to you, my readers. I want to be so proud of a photo I take I'll proudly frame it on a wall. I'm determined!

5. Triple my savings account by December 31st
This may be sad, but at 25 I started the first savings account of my life. Before that, I'd either been living on allowances or from anything that's left in my checking account after rent, bills and necessities. What would've happened if my car blew up? I'd be screwed. So I decided to do something about it, and this April I set up my very own savings account. I've accrued a decent amount thusfar, but I really want to build it up this coming year. I'd like not to have to touch it for a whole year, if I can. I'm going to try my hardest to be as frugal as possible (not having six weddings to attend should help with that), so hopefully by the end of the year I'll have a nice chunk of change stashed up! 

6. Knock it off with the "no problems!"
Plenty of times in recent years I've noticed when thanked (especially while at work), I issue the standard "No problem!" response, rather than a polite "You're welcome." I know this probably isn't a major problem, but it does bother me. My friend Mike recently pointed out he catches himself doing the same thing, so at least I'm not alone in thinking this is an issue that's worth resolving!

7. Keep in touch with friends more
This goal bothers me because it is so open ended. How often will I keep in touch? Through what means will I do so? I haven't quite ironed those parts out yet, but I do know that I'm blessed to have amazing friends throughout the country and I'm not exactly the best at catching up with them from time to time. It's easy to get caught up in my own little world, but I do love my friends dearly and I genuinely wonder what's happening in my friends' lives from time to time. So I need to call and find out for myself, rather than wait to find out through Facebook.

8. Submit at least one article for publication in a magazine/web site
This is the big one. This is a goal I've had for years and just never have even attempted. I love writing, but sometimes I lack motivation. I'm motivated to get published. I'm motivated to do a little freelance writing - it would inspire me to write more and to eventually do what I've always wanted to do for a living - write. First, I need to remember just how to get into the freelancing game. Then I need to make connections. The writing part should come easy to me. This is one I really, really want to tackle. Even if the story wouldn't get published, at least I'd try.

9. Sew at least five things
Last year I asked for and received a sewing machine for Christmas. My mom is pretty handy with the sewing machine, and I wanted to be able to whip up costumes - or at least hem pants - with the same ease. I made a couple pillows, touched up a Halloween costume, but really nothing more than that. I began to make a ruffled apron, but that project is still in the works 9 months later. I'm determined to sew at least five things from scratch this year - even if three of those things are just new pillows.

10. Be more outgoing
In certain situations, I'm the world's most fluttersome social butterfly. I love meeting new people, making new friends and going new places. I love to make people laugh. But around certain people, in certain settings, I'm ridiculously shy. Out of nowhere, I become this socially awkward introvert whose face flushes red whenever asked a question about myself. I have no idea why I have this double personality, but it's always bothered me. Especially at work - I really feel like it holds me back from letting people know the real me. I'm fun! I'm witty! I love kicking back with a few drinks! But of course no one would know that until they crack this odd shell that encases the outgoing Rachel. This Rachel is going to show herself more at work and with strangers/acquaintances than she ever has before.

So there you have it: My 10 goals for 2011. It's nice to have them posted on the blog to keep myself accountable, and so I can check back often to see where I am on pace!

Do you make resolutions for yourself? Do you usually follow through on them all?


Christmas in Ohio

Christmas in Ohio

Today is my first full day back from Ohio after having spent almost five full days there. It was such a fantastic time back home, but it was go, go, go the whole time! I wish I had a least another day just to be home and relax and maybe play a game or two with my family - I rarely get to see them and I feel like it was a whirlwind! I didn't even have enough time to snap more than a small handful of photos!

The first night there we had dinner with my family, including both sets of grandparents, then hit the town for karaoke! I didn't do any singing, but Eric and my brother sure did! They're both hams when it comes to karaoke. I've been known to belt out a hit or two, but I was more interested in catching up with friends.

Christmas morning was the first time I can remember where both parents were awake before me - And I woke up at 6:45! All the usual traditions were carried out, and I must have been a good girl because I brought home 2.5 boxes of gifts! We spent Christmas day with my mom's side of the family (and plenty of little ones running around!). All the kiddies get toys, and the adults are involved in the "swap" game (I forget its real name). We all drew numbers (there were 19 adults this year!), and took turns either pulling a gift from the pile or stealing from somebody else. This year, it was apparent that alcohol was the big hit of the year. There were a couple bottles of vodka, some wine coolers, margarita mixers and beer floating around - and they all kept getting stolen! My favorite was the gift my dad ended up with. If you know my dad, you know why it's hilarious he was stuck with this gift at the end:

This would be mango margarita mix... inexplicably bottled in a glass heel. We laughed so hard as my dad questioned what it was. Priceless!

Eric and I managed to get what we think as the best gifts in the whole lot! Being craft beer lovers, you can't beat our gifts - I loved their Christmas/Santa themes (I'm a sucker for seasonal marketing). Plus, they each had a lottery ticket taped to the side. Between the two of us, we came back to Wisconsin with $13 extra... hey, I still consider that a win!

The next day was spent with my dad's side, a day full of delicious food and ending in a couple rounds of Euchre. I've been taught Euchre about four or five times in my life, but it finally sunk in and stayed with me this time! My team, consisting of my dad, my pap (grandpa) and me won twice in a row! Not too shabby. :)

Besides Euchre, a lot of the following happened at Pap and Grandmom's... Well, for my brother, a lot of the following happened the entire time I was home:

And, of course, Eric had to goof off by the fireplace. Don't mind the crotch shot here:

All in all, it was so nice to be home. The past few days made me realize just how much I miss my family and friends back home. Milwaukee is my favorite city in the world, but nothing beats home. I'm just waiting for someone to come through with that teleportation device sometime soon - then everything would be perfect!

That being said, I ate wwaaaaaaaaayy too much while home. We're talking heavy holiday lunches, followed by heavy holiday dinners with the leftovers every. single. day. There was a table constantly filled with tempting treats at my parents' house the whole time, and rarely did I resist the temptation. I'm fairly certain I put on about four pounds just while in Ohio. Since the summer I've gained probably about eight or nine pounds - unacceptable. So, now I'm focusing on eating healthy and getting in good workouts. It's like last year all over again; I've got a goal to get back down to my summer weight by April 1st. I did it before so I know I'll do it again!

I'm going raw foods completely this week (Uhhh... minus the Santa-shaped Hershey bar I just polished off...). I kicked off my serious jumpstart to fitness with a 5-mile run this morning, then followed with a GINORMOUS salad from Whole Foods. Seriously. This thing was sick. And it cost $8.89!! 

In the mix: Romaine, kale, mushrooms, purple cabbage, garbanzo beans, carrots, red peppers, radishes, cucumbers, pumpkin seeds and tofu. I topped it all with Sriracha for some spice. I think I almost cleaned out the whole salad bar! Because of the size and the price of this salad, I couldn't justify wolfing down the whole thing, so I'm saving half for dinner tonight. It was definitely delicious!

Tomorrow is my first day back at work, which is going to be hard to transition to. But it's still only a three-day week, ending with New Year's Eve, so there's not much to gripe about.

How was your Christmas? Were you able to spend time with your family?

My Stab at Butter Cookies

I have tasted plenty of cookies in my life, and I've liked about 98% of them. It's not easy to make me turn my nose up at a cookie, though it's even harder to make me say "This is one of the best cookies I've ever tasted." This is a story about one of the only cookies that will fit into my "best" cookie list, and my attempt to recreate it.

One of the best cookies I've ever had is the butter cookie from Antigo Bakery in Antigo, Wisconsin. Before I'd ever visited Antigo (Eric's hometown), Eric raved about the cookies, saying they were his favorite ever. When coworkers learned he'd be traveling home, they'd beg him to bring back the cookies, and they'd disappear within half an hour. I didn't believe the hype until I tried one. In fact, I don't think I believed the hype until I tried it for the second time. Maybe the third time. But I assure you, after you'd had a couple, they're addicting. I assure you, they melt in your mouth before you get the chance to chew them. I assure you, there's nothing like them.

So what do I try to do? I try to make something like them.

I know it will be incredibly hard to make anything like these fabulous, buttery, sweet sprinkled cookies, but I'm going to make many attempts until I come as close as I can. And before leaving for Ohio for Christmas, I had my first attempt.

[These are the real deal. THE Antigo Bakery cookies.]

Here's how I threw together my first attempt. I'll let you in on the outcome at the end.

First, you start with your necessary ingredients.

Then, mix the butter and sugar!

After the mixture is creamy, add egg, almond/vanilla extract and milk.

Mix until well combined.

Then turn your mixer to "low, and add the flour and baking powder.

Mix well again, and refrigerate for at least an hour.

(Uhh... Please excuse the next few steps that were not photographed for lazy/forgetful reasons.)

Then, take your dough out and roll on a floured surface.

Choose your cookie-cutter shapes and cut away!

Place the cut cookies on a greased cookie sheet and bake for 5-7 minutes, just until the edges get lightly golden.

Then, make your glaze! This glaze is SIMPLE.

Brush on the glaze, add your sprinkles and allow the glaze to harden before eating.

So, how'd the cookies turn out? Well, they were no Antigo Bakery cookie, but they were still good! I noticed the almond extract I added was somewhat overpowering, so I added a bit of vanilla extract to the dough at the end, along with about 1/8 cup of milk. They didn't have the exact consistency as the Bakery cookies, but even Eric admitted they were closer than he thought they'd be. I have another recipe for a butter cookie I'll try next and see if that's closer to what I'm looking for. Be prepared for a number of posts JUST like this one until I get to the perfect butter cookie!

P.S. Eric and I are heading up to Antigo January 8th for Christmas with his family, so I'll post more photos of the delicious cookie and the ADORABLE bakery, itself, after the visit!

Butter Cookie Attempt #1 (adapted from the Land-o-Lakes Butter Cookie recipe)

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup milk (I added about 1/8 cup later)
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla or almond extract (Again, started with 1 tsp almond, added 1/2 tsp vanilla later)
3 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking powder

-Combine butter and sugar. Beat at medium speed until creamy. Add milk, egg and vanilla/almond. Continue beating until well mixed. Reduce speed to low and add flour and baking powder. Beat until well mixed. Cover, refrigerate for one hour.
- Heat oven to 375 degrees. Roll dough onto lightly-floured surface, 1/2 of the dough at a time. Roll to 1/8 inch thick. Cut into desired shapes and bake on lightly-greased surface for 5-7 minutes. Allow to cool, then apply glaze and sprinkles.


1 1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 1/2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 tsp milk

Mix all well, apply to cookies with a pastry brush!

Have you ever tried to recreate a recipe after tasting something phenomenal at a restaurant/bakery/store? How did your attempt come out?


When Animals Attack (biking jerseys)

While I was snapping photos of all-things-Christmas today, I noticed Mr. Pancakes going on a rampage attacking one of Eric's mountain-bike jerseys he'd had lying out to dry. I don't know what it was about the fabric that he liked/didn't like, but he was going to town just CHOMPING on the jersey!

[What are you looking at?]

[Seriously. What?]

[I said "NO PICTURES!!!]

I had to laugh when I caught him doing this. He's knows exactly when to turn it on whenever the camera is out. The ham. I just hope he didn't put any holes in Eric's jersey!

Twas the Night/Day Before (Going Home for) Christmas

As I've made abundantly clear, I've got a lot of Christmas spirit this year. I mean, there's usually no shortage of cheer any holiday of the year for me, but this year I've been Christmas crazy for about a month now. And it's all culminating today.

Today was the first day of my Christmas vacation. Tomorrow morning I'll pack up and make the trip to Ohio to be with my family for the week. I am SO excited to see everyone - especially my brother, who I've only seen once since last Christmas! And I'm even more excited because Eric will be coming home with me this year! And, of course, Mr. Pancakes will come too. We'll all be together!

I spent today going to Alterra for some coffee and baked oatmeal (my favorite!), then went for a five-mile run in the slush outside. I just whipped up some butter cookie dough that's chilling, but you'll hear more about that in an upcoming post.

Oh, also, yes: The photo above does depict a puppet of Baby Sinclair from the show "Dinosaurs." And, yes, it is our tree topper this year. Don't judge.

Before we leave tomorrow, Eric and I will have "our" Christmas morning. We didn't really want to open our gifts to each other in front of my family Christmas morning, so we'll have an early Christmas tomorrow! Score!

These are my presents from Eric; he wrapped them WEEKS ago and they've been taunting me ever since! I have no idea what they are... but I must've been pretty good this year - they're big! 

And here are my gifts to Eric, minus one that I added later and forgot to include in the picture. I do know what these gifts are. I know he'll like them, because he's only been hinting, not so subtly, that he wants exactly these things for months now. They won't be a huge surprise, but at least I know he'll love them!

And here are all the gifts we've wrapped for both our families! We can't put them under the tree because someone (hint: he's fluffy and has whiskers) will tear them up and chew on them... So they're sitting so elegantly on our large windowsill by the tree.

I am so anxious to hit the road back home! I wish we could have left today, but Eric had to work. We'll get to my parents' house tomorrow afternoon, and I'm extra excited, because we've been promised my very favorite marinated pork chops from Winner's Meat Market for dinner!

I'll try to post while I'm at home, but I don't know how detailed I'll get - I have a BUSY schedule, including three family Christmases and squeezing in time to see my friends! It's going to be a fantastic Christmas




Until moving to Wisconsin, I always just assumed everyone everywhere knew what Buckeyes were. Growing up in Ohio, naturally everybody knows Buckeyes in their various forms (including, but not limited to, nuts, trees, football players and residents of the great state), but I still get questioned quite frequently by outsiders who scratch their heads every time Brutus the Buckeye's round head graces the television screen during OSU football games.


The Buckeye, my friends, is the state tree of Ohio. It is also the state nut. The nut is encased in a spiky shell, and is deep brown in color with a little tan spot on top, which resembles the eye of a deer (a buck's eye.... get it?). 

The nut itself is actually poisonous, so I would advise against chopping any up and including them in your next salad. However, crafty Ohioans have discovered a way to make the Buckeye not only edible, but delicious: Create a version of the nut using the most perfect flavor-taste combo known to man: Chocolate and peanut butter. It won't kill you with poison, but you just may die from its tastiness. It's like a big Reese Cup, only with more peanut butter. Need I say more?

Buckeyes aren't necessarily a Christmas candy - they really can be made and enjoyed all year round - but you're likely to find them adorning any holiday party treat platter from Cincinnati to Cleveland. I happen to make them every year, and I love introducing them to Wisconsinites - only after, of course, they've received their lesson on what a real Buckeye is. 

First, you start off with the necessary ingredients (also pretend the butter is in this picture. You know what butter looks like):

Then, break out the stand mixer and whip together the peanut butter and the butter butter.

Add in the powdered sugar little by little! Otherwise, you will end up with a big, powdery mess all over your kitchen/clothes/hair/up your nose.

When it's all mixed up, dig in your hands and start rolling, baby!

Then, dip 'em in chocolate, leaving a tiny bit bare at the top and, viola! One of the easiest and tastiest of treats is now in your possession.

2 cups creamy peanut butter
1.5 lbs powdered sugar
1 cup butter
12 oz. chocolate chips (semi-sweet work great!)
2" block of paraffin wax

Mix the peanut butter and butter until smooth and creamy. Mix in the powdered sugar little by little until well combined. Roll the peanut-butter dough into balls, roughly the shape of a bouncy ball. Refrigerate for at least 45 minutes. Melt chocolate and paraffin wax. Remove peanut-butter balls from fridge and, using a toothpick, dip each ball into the melted chocolate, leaving a nickel-sized opening at the top (to resemble the actual nut). Place the Buckeyes back into the fridge so the chocolate will harden faster (and you can start eating them sooner!).

Another variation is to include graham cracker crumbs in the peanut-butter dough. I fancy myself a purist, so I've never included the crumbs in my Buckeyes before, but Eric pleaded for me to try it this year, so I gave in. I don't think I included enough (I split the dough in half and mixed about half a cup of graham-cracker crumbs in one half, but they weren't easily detected in the final product). Try it out if you prefer a little crunch to your sweets!

Do you have a favorite Christmas candy? Is there a signature treat cherished in your state?


New Styles

New Styles

See that lady above? That's me! That's me with bangs! For the first time since I was probably 14! 

OK, OK. The bangs aren't that blunt or different, but it's a fun change for me! Especially because every. single. time. I am ready for a hair cut I stress over the decision whether to get bangs. And I always chicken out. Always.

Until last night!

Back in September, Eric got me a gift card to East Town Spa as an anniversary/congrats-for-running-a half-marathon gift (intended for a massage). I never got around to the massage, but about a month later, I was in desperate need of a haircut, so I used the gift card toward that. I'd never been to East Town Spa before, but I love it! My hair stylist, Renee, was such a sweet girl and really knew what she was doing (plus, the prices were very affordable!). My hair turned out great, and for the first time in years I was actually really happy with a new hair stylist. 

So, long story short, I've found my salon in Milwaukee and am staying put. I went in for a cut last night and finally bit the bullet and told Renee I was going for some side-swept bangs. She told me she thought it was a good idea and cut away. I wasn't sure how I felt about them at first, but after a little fussing with them this morning, I love them! It's a simple change, but I like how they give my hair a distinct shape - I think it really changes the way I look! I'll probably keep the bangs until summer, when it will be simply too hot to have hair hanging in my face all day. But as for now, I'm happy!

Do new haircuts affect you like they do me? Have you ever had a traumatic hair experience? Let me know!


Pumpkin Pancakes

Pumpkin Pancakes/Blizzards

So, currently here in Milwaukee we've got a blizzard going on - and not the good kind of blizzard. In the actual city, only two inches of snow have fallen (there's up to a foot out in the country!), but the wind has gusts of over 45 mph! Needless to say, this canceled my usual weekend-morning visit to Alterra, but is giving me a nice, calm Sunday morning at home (actually, I doubt I'll set foot outside at all the whole day). 

After hearing the weather report for the day, I knew we wouldn't be heading to Alterra for coffee and baked oatmeal, so I announced to Eric I'd make pumpkin pancakes from scratch. I'd never made pancakes from scratch, or pumpkin pancakes, but they sounded amazing and this was the perfect morning to try my hand at them! 

I consulted the "bible" for a recipe, and altered to make it just a little healthier. Though the batter was pretty thick (I kept adding Almond Breeze to thin it up), they turned out great! Soft, chewy and slightly sweet, I think I'll be making these pancakes again. You should try them too!

[Oops! I gobbled my pancakes down so quickly I didn't have time for a photo of them. But here is the aftermath. Enjoy.]

Pumpkin Pancakes (adapted from MarthaStewart.com)

2/3 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup whole wheat flour
1 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon brown sugar 
2 teaspoons baking powder 
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
pinch of ground cloves
2 cups Almond Breeze (or milk! Almond Breeze was all I had on hand)
6 tablespoons pumpkin puree
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 chia egg (1 Tbs chia seeds, 3 Tbs water - let sit 10 minutes - voila! Vegan egg! Or you could use one actual egg)

Whisk together flours, sugars, baking powder, cinnamon, ground ginger, salt, nutmeg and cloves.
In a separate bowl, stir together Almond Breeze, pumpkin puree, butter and chia egg. Fold wet mixture into dry mixture.
Pour 1/3 cup batter for each pancake in a skillet heated on medium. Cook about 3 minutes on each side, and serve with butter and syrup if you desire!

Dang, I just realized if I'd used Earth Balance instead of butter, this would have been a vegan recipe! So swap out the butter if you want to be fully animal-friendly :)

I hadn't had pancakes in ages, and these were so good! Although a certain feline wasn't too happy about us chowing down on his namesake this morning.

[Mr. Pancakes is not pleased about our breakfast choice.]
Because I'm stuck indoors today, I've got to keep myself busy somehow! So I plan on wrapping some gifts, doing some laundry, maybe baking some Christmas treats and perhaps taking in a Christmas special or two?

And speaking of wrapping gifts, Eric totally has me beat this year - he's almost completely done wrapping! He's even wrapped my gifts, which will be taunting me by the tree for the next week and a half...

[No, these aren't all mine... even though I've been REALLY good this year...]

OK... the list isn't going to check itself off! Time to get to work! If you're stuck inside during the blizzard, I hope you've got things to keep you busy. If you think about it, there's so much to get done during the holidays, sometimes we need these days to tackle everything at once! Stay warm! :)


Christmas Season

Christmas Season

Gang, it's finally here! It's FINALLY HERE! No more avoiding Christmas radio stations that have already been looping holiday tunes nonstop (I hold a strict Not-Before-Thanksgiving policy). The lights can go up! The tree can sparkle! The snowmen decorations can litter my apartment! Christmas is here, friends. And it certainly is the most wonderful time of the year.

I realize I've skipped over posting about Thanksgiving (spent it Up North with Eric's family). It was wonderful and relaxing and a great holiday, and at some point I may get around to posting about it, but right now I've got a one-track mind - and it's set on CHRISTMAS.

You know the opening scene in "Christmas Vacation" where the parents are belting out Christmas carols as they drive down the road, then Clark Griswold pauses for his son to join in: "Take is away, Rust!" Well.... that was Eric and I during our three-hour drive back to Milwaukee on Sunday. Just singing along merrily the whole time, his 18-year-old brother and our cat, Mr. Pancakes, wincing from the back seat, praying for us to stop.

When we got home, we immediately dragged out the Christmas decorations from storage. We rested for about an hour, then got right to work. While spinning Christmas records we loved as kids, we put up the tree and set up all the decorations around the apartment. And later that night, we chose "Christmas Vacation" as our first holiday movie to watch for the year. It's always a good one to start off with. "A Christmas Story" comes later - at a time when we're both ready to recite it, word for word, to the ending.

Last year, although he never took kindly to his pilgrim hat for Thanksgiving, we bought Mr. Pancakes a Santa hat and a jingle-bell collar. We attempted to put them on him but it lasted just three seconds. This year, he stood still, adorned in fanciful Christmas regalia for nearly three minutes before going berzerk! That is how I was able to capture the photo above (later than night, I made this e-Christmas card for Mr. Pancakes - I know he'd want it spread all around). Mr. Pancakes loves Christmas, but he won't let anyone know - he tries to put on a gruff exterior, despite his fluffiness.

I'm not afraid to admit I am a bonafide Christmas nerd. It really is my happiest time of year. I get so worked up about it, mostly because of nostalgia. I have Christmas routines that cannot be broken (for example: I must watch every Christmas movie I loved as a child before Christmas Day or it won't really be Christmas), and I must bake plenty of treats to share with everyone around me (and eat half of them myself). I love the fact that, in the year 2010, we're all still enamored with movies, music and traditions from generations before us. Christmas is timeless and ageless and at times, even hokey, but it's the one time of year we're all expected to act like kids, and even encouraged to do so.

What's your favorite holiday? Is it Christmas? Do you have a favorite holiday tradition?


Boo - The Facebook Dog

Boo - The Facebook Dog

I have been obsessed with Pomeranians for a very long time. For years, in fact. To some, they are a dog breed that fits into the realm of "puntables," but to me, I honestly believe they are the essence of cuteness. There can be no cuter. Their teddy-bear face, their seemingly never-ending smiles and their super-plushness of fur. With these powers combined, the Pomeranian is Captain Adorable.

One day, I will own a Pomeranian of my very own, but until then, I am living vicariously through Boo, a recent Internet sensation who has more than 400,000 fans on Facebook. I forget how I first stumbled upon his fan page, but once I did I was hooked. I looked through all the photos, played every video and squealed with glee every time. I firmly believe there is no way a person can look at Boo's Facebook page and not feel instantly happy. LOOK HOW FLUFFY! LOOK HOW DOPEY! I've got Pommie envy, for sure, as Boo is, hands down, the cutest dog I have ever seen in life.

Once you become a fan of Boo on Facebook, you can follow along with his antics, gush at his photo albums and try not to jump through the computer screen to hug him. Every time I see that derpy face pop up in my news feed, I light up a little inside. 

Do you have a favorite breed of dog? Do little Pomeranian-type dogs infuriate or make you melt?


Breaking In Wisconsin Traditions

Breaking in Wisconsin Traditions

Little by little, I'm discovering all the pleasant little traditions that are either exclusive to Wisconsin, or something I'd never heard of/experienced while growing up in Ohio. One of those traditions is picking up hot ham and rolls from the market for Sunday lunch. A couple of years ago I noticed there were signs displayed in a few markets around town advertising selling hot ham and rolls on Sundays. I asked my boyfriend what was up with the love for ham and he looked at me like lobsters were crawling out of my ears. 

"You don't have hot ham and rolls on Sundays in Ohio????" 
Well... umm... I suppose if you've got a hankering for ham and rolls on a particular Sunday you could go buy some and no one would stand in your way....
"That's ridiculous. When I was little, we'd leave church, go get our hot ham and rolls, and there is Sunday lunch."
Well, OK, then. Let's get hot ham and rolls some Sunday then.

That Sunday finally came today.

We stopped by Giordano's, an adorable Italian deli/market on Brady Street that's been a Milwaukee institution for generations, a place I'd been wanting to explore for quite some time now. It's a tiny little store but full of charm - of course, Sinatra's golden pipes were serenading the shoppers as they made their way through the narrow isles of special Italian goods (and what looked like a good selection of wine!). As we put in our order for ham, I sampled some of the best croutons I've ever tasted, smiled at the framed photo of Joe DiMaggio hanging above the deli counter, then took a peek down one of the isles with the most olive oil I've ever seen in one place. They also had a really cool assortment of seed oils that I have GOT to try someday - pumpkin seed oil, I'm looking at you.

It seemed like such a sweet little shop, a real neighborhood store where everyone working there was family and all the customers were good friends. "'Ey Felix, that meat turned out great!" a customer exclaimed to what looked like Mr. Giordano, himself. I loved the place, and can't wait to go back to try one of their hot deli sandwiches.

After a spin on the bike trainer, it was time to experience my first Sunday hot ham and roll lunch. And, oh my goodness, was it ever tasty. The ham was thinly sliced, but juicy, with just a hint of slight sweetness. I layered it on pretty thick and topped it with some shaved gouda (the only cheese we had in the fridge). But really, the star of the show was the fabulous roll, baked fresh from Sciordano's, a cute little bakery just half a block from Giordano's. I've had some of their baked goods before, and there's just no beating them. The roll was soft and chewy and the perfect vehicle for the sweet ham. It took everything I had not to heat up another roll and just east it plain right after (that will probably be happening later tonight). 

I'm glad I've got another tradition under my belt. This is nothing fancy, and I'd have to say between the two, I like a Wisconsin Fish Fry better, but this is a nice little (inexpensive) treat. I'm just glad I got to take a quick look at Giordano's before it moves across Brady Street to its future, much larger location. 

Are hot ham and rolls a tradition to you on Sundays? Where is your favorite place to pick up the ham and rolls? Do you have a favorite little market like Giordano's? 



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