Holiday Happenings

Monday, December 31, 2012

I wanted to do a short post on some of the fun things we did over the holidays, aside from all the dinners and gifts. We were pretty busy this month and I didn't get a chance to share as much as I wanted to. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, we were able to include some old traditions and some new experiences as well which was pretty cool.

Each year, we kick off the Christmas season at my old high school with their annual Christmas concert. It's always a lot of fun to go back and see how the music program changes from year to year. They have really grown quite a bit from when I played in the band. They have all kinds of different vocal groups, a guitar ensemble, a string ensemble, and a pretty good jazz group.

Every year, at the end of the concert, they combine all the groups and invite all of the alumni up to sing and play along in the Hallelujah Chorus. It's a very powerful song and they do such a great job with it that I always feel more in the spirit of Christmas walking out of the auditorium.

A few days before Christmas, Mike and I took a trip to the great city of Baltimore with his cousin, Leigh to see the famous Miracle on 34th Street. We had never been to see the lights before and I was so excited that we found some time to go. When we got there, the traffic and parking was a bit insane but we got really lucky and found a close spot that had just opened up. Since the street is residential, open parking is pretty scarce. The nice part though is that since it's in the city, you can park along any of the nearby streets and you're not far from the action. We walked along the streets taking photos and even got to go into some of the houses to see their displays.

Gotta love Natty Boh and the Utz Girl!
Yay for Flamingos and Old Bay! Baltimore classics all over the place!

We went into the one with the famous hub-cap tree and saw the mini art gallery that the owners put together. It was really fascinating. There was even a house that offered hot chocolate and all kinds of cookies and other treats as long as you made a donation to a local charity that they support. We donated a couple bucks and got a few drinks. It was super cold so the hot chocolate was definitely needed!

We had a great time and I hope that we find time to go again next year!

My best friend Katie also had an Ugly Christmas Sweater Party this year and I was really excited to go. We always wanted to throw one in college but never did because, well, I was a nerd and mainly spent the few weeks I had in December studying for finals. Gotta love being a Bio major! Anyway, we found some old sweaters - one from my mom and one from Grammy - and headed over the bridge for some holiday fun. It was great and we enjoyed catching up with Katie and her boyfriend Tyler. Maybe next year, when we have a house, we will host one! And here is an awkward self-timer photo we took in front of our tree.

We wanted to get one on Christmas Eve when we were all dressed up for church but we totally forgot. So, we thought our ugly Christmas sweaters were the next best thing! Ha!

Christmas Traditions - Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Merry Christmas! I hope everyone had a beautiful holiday!

Our first Christmas was certainly one to remember. I simply can't express enough how absolutely and incredibly blessed we are to have such an amazing group of loving and supportive family and friends around us. In the wake of the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, we celebrated our first holiday with heavy hearts, remembering how many families would wake up on Christmas morning without their little ones. This heartbreaking reality reminded us to take time to soak in every moment of the holiday with our loved ones and really appreciate how blessed we are.

We tried hard not to get caught up in the craziness this year and forget about what really matters. It can be so easy to slip into the materialistic madness and stress of the holidays. I kept coming back to a phrase we learned in our pre-cana classes before we got married. "Love is spelled T-I-M-E, not S-T-U-F-F." We focused on making this a meaningful holiday and ended up having a really great day!

Our two families have quite a few Christmas traditions between them and we made sure that we were able to participate in all of them! On Christmas Eve, we went to mass with my parents which has now grown so big that they hold it in a Catholic high school auditorium instead of the church. In recent years, there have been as many as 1,300 people at one mass. The music is the main reason we go to this particular service. I used to sing with the music group and so we keep the tradition and go back every year to support them. Then after mass, we went back to the house, ate a big Christmas ham, and then made a few holiday drinks (gotta love the Kahlua and cream!), got in our PJs and headed out to look at Christmas lights. Every year, we drive around to all of our old houses and check out their displays. We even rate the neighborhoods on how festive they are. In our old neighborhood where I grew up, there used to be this house that we named "The Runway House" that we visited every single year. It was probably one of the most decorated houses I have ever seen in my life. They had blow-up figurines and lights covering almost every square inch of their house and lawn. They even decorated the back yard. We called it the runway house because they would take strings of lights and line their driveway and as a kid I always said it looked like a runway. For about 15 years we have been going to that house to see what they have added and changed. Unfortunately, two years ago, the family that lived there moved away. It was so disappointing! Since then, we've been trying to find a house that rivaled that one but nothing really compares. At least not yet!

After the lights, we headed back to the house for a late showing of "It's A Wonderful Life." This is always my favorite part of Christmas Eve. I just love the old Christmas movies. Mike and I got back to our apartment and somehow we weren't tired, so we stayed up to watch the original version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. This is my all-time favorite Christmas movie!

The next morning, we made cinnamon rolls, built a fire, and once we were settled with our coffee, we started opening our gifts and stockings. It was so relaxing and we enjoyed being able to take our time on our first Christmas morning together. Mike's biggest gift was a Garmin Forerunner. I know how serious he has become about his running and so I wanted to get him a nice watch that could track his runs, heart rate, and all that kind of stuff. Mike got me a lot of the things I needed but the most special gift was the one that he made. For almost every holiday, Mike usually hand makes a gift. They come straight from his heart and it's so sweet how much time and effort he puts in to each one. This year, he made me an ornament and when we take our pictures by our tree, he wants to put one of them into the ornament so that we will have our very own, First Christmas ornament.

We got ready and grabbed all of our gifts for our families and headed down to Grammy's house. We opened gifts with them and it was a very sentimental and emotional morning. We got some incredible and memorable gifts! Most of the gifts we gave this year included photos from the wedding. We gave photo books from Shutterfly with some of our wedding photos to Grammy and Kathy. Kristen and John got a collage of photos from the wedding as well. I was so excited for everyone to open their gifts!

After Grammy's, our next stop was Mike's Dad's. We met up with him and his girlfriend and exchanged gifts late that afternoon. We had a really good time visiting with them as well! We also gave Mike's dad a wedding photo book and he really seemed to like it. By that time, it was getting late so we got ready to make our last stop at my parents' house.

Every year, I help my mom make our traditional steak and lobster dinner. The menu is almost always exactly the same. We had a small fruit salad, veggies, rolls, twice baked potatoes, amazing filets, and lobster tail. It's always so much fun helping set up the table with all of the fancy china. As a kid, I remember how special the dinner was to me and I still love it today. After the delicious dinner, we cleaned up and then opened gifts from Mom and Dad. We got some awesome stuff from them as well, including our very own luggage set! We needed one so badly and can't wait to use it for our trip down to Florida in January!

We had an awesome day and hope that everyone else did too! I can't believe how fast the holidays came and passed but I am looking forward to celebrating our first New Year's Eve this weekend!


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

This really is the most wonderful time of year! I just love all of the activities that the Christmas season brings. I love decorating the tree, looking at Christmas lights, shopping for presents, wrapping presents, baking cookies, listening to Christmas music, drinking hot chocolate... I could go on forever!

This year, we decided to break up our Christmas cookie plans so that we would be able to make a large variety of cookies with both sides of the family. We didn't get as many done as we had originally planned but we made a good start. I will probably be doing a bit more baking this week since 1) Christmas is next week, 2) Mike and I both have work Christmas parties I need to make something for, and 3) I LOVE COOKIES!

I worked over the weekend with my mom to make some of my grandmother's delicious Sugar cookies and Peanut Blossoms. We only made a few dozen of each but we ended up eating so many of them that we didn't have that many to put away! Mike and my dad helped out quite a bit with the eating too. Looks like we'll be making more of each!

We also went over to Grammy's last Thursday night to do a little holiday baking. Since probably October, Grammy has been talking about showing me how to make Mike's favorite cookie (it's also a Whittaker family tradition). I was glad that I finally found some time to spend one-on-one with Grammy so she could show me how to make the cookies.

Since I met Mike, Grammy's Christmas cookies have always been a pretty special ordeal. Every year, in the weeks before Christmas, she bakes hundreds and hundreds of cookies of many different classic varieties. For the last few years, the grandchildren have taken over a lot of the baking since there are so many that need to be made. Every year, she counts the number of cookies that she makes and records each type in a cookie book. The list includes common types like spritz and sugar but there are a few types that, before I met the Whittaker family, I had never heard of. The cookie that Grammy taught me how to make was one of these. It goes by the name of Pfeffernusse!

I also took a lesson from Grammy on how to pronounce the name correctly. It's a German "pepper" cookie (that's what the "pfeffer" means). While it does have black pepper in it, you can't really taste it. To me, they taste more like a cinnamon/gingerbread spiced cookie. They smell heavenly and are actually pretty easy to make. I didn't make up the dough but it sat overnight in the fridge before we cut it. She showed me step by step how to cut, space, bake and roll the cookies in the sugar. It was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed spending the time with her.

The coolest part was checking out the original version of the recipe - which is hardly legible now from wear and tear through the years. Classic!

Garlicky Baked Shrimp

Sunday, December 9, 2012

This recipe for delicious Garlicky Baked Shrimp comes from Normal Cooking. I found the recipe on Pinterest and had to try it!

When I am considering what to make for dinner, there's really only one rule I live by: it must not be terribly time consuming. I don't like to slave away for hours over a meal that is eaten (most of the time) in under 15 minutes. Needless to say, I loved this recipe because it was super easy to whip up and while it may not be the healthiest out there, it was absolutely DELICIOUS. I paired it with some homemade Parmesan pasta, rolls, and some sauteed kale. I will definitely be making this one again!

[image: Normal Cooking - Garlicky Baked Shrimp]

Garlicky Baked Shrimp

Serves: 3

1 lb. raw shrimp, deveined and peeled (I pull the tails off beforehand too)
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. white wine
salt and pepper
1/4 cup (4 Tbsp.) melted butter
1/2 cup Panko bread crumbs
2 Tbsp. fresh Italian-leaf parsley, chopped

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

In a bowl, combine the shrimp, garlic, and white wine.  Stir to combine, then pour into a baking dish.  Spread out evenly, and then season with salt and pepper.

In another bowl, use a fork to mix melted butter, Panko, and parsley until well combined.  With your fingers, sprinkle the mixture evenly in the baking dish over the shrimp.

Transfer dish to oven and bake until the shrimp are pink and opaque, about 15-18 minutes.

Our First Christmas Tree!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Now that it is officially December, we have begun decorating the apartment and I have never been more excited about the holidays than I am this year. For the first time ever, on the first day of December, Mike and I went to a Christmas tree farm to cut down a real tree! It was so exciting and since we had so much fun, we decided to make it a brand new Powell family tradition.

Since this is our first Christmas together in our tiny little apartment, we wanted to make it a big deal and get a real tree. Both of our families typically use artificial trees and so we thought it would be super fun to actually go out and cut one down ourselves. If I could, I'd go full out Griswold on our little place but since it's only our first year of marriage and Mike has many years to come of my extreme holiday excitement, I thought I'd keep it simple this year. When we get a big house though, it's on!

I did lots of research into the tree farms around the area and finally settled on Shovaker's Quality Evergreens in Manchester. Boy, was it a hike but so worth it! We borrowed my dad's truck and a tree stand from Mike's mom and drove up. We actually crossed over into Pennsylvania for about a mile and then the road somehow turned back into Maryland. Yes, it was very far away but I wanted a good tree and not from some odd little place on the side of a road.

I am not sure about other tree farms since this is the first one we have ever been to, but wow, this place was pretty cool. They had an area where you could buy pre-cut trees, a petting zoo, Christmas music, free hot chocolate and apple cider, food, all kinds of wreaths and other Christmas decor, and a shop where they sold local and handmade Christmas items. We really enjoyed this trip and I think we will probably go back again next year!

Here is Mike with our tree cart. He kept telling me he could carry the tree and he didn't need a cart but I insisted. He's such a man.

The awesome goats and I think a llama that were part of the petting zoo. They were so freaking adorable!

I, of course, had to stop and smell as many trees as I could get my hands on. The pine smell filled the air as soon as we stepped out of the car. It was so delicious smelling I wanted to take them all home, or live there!

And here is OUR TREE! He is about 6 feet tall and absolutely perfect! I named him Max after the dog from How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

How did we know that this was the tree, you ask? Well, we were looking through the thousands of trees they had on the farm and when we came across this guy, we started inspecting him and guess what I found? A LADYBUG! It was a lucky tree! So I immediately started jumping around and getting all excited that we had found our tree. Mike thought I was crazy but when I showed him the little lady bug, he knew Max would be coming home with us.

The decorating didn't begin as soon as we got home, unfortunately. We had a little bit of trouble getting him in the tree stand at first because we realized we forgot to ask them to cut the bottom branches off so that his trunk would sit inside the stand. We ran out to Lowes and got some clippers and we were finally able to get him standing upright. By that time, we had to leave to head down to my parents' house for dinner. We decorated him over the next few days and just finished off the last bit last night.

Our little apartment is so cute and cozy now, I never want to leave. It's so nice to turn on the lights at night and enjoy the fire. We were also able to hang our stockings over the fireplace. We had been thinking about buying or even making our own mantel to hang them on but ended up saving the money for when we have a house and I just bought a couple of those clear 3M hangers. They did the trick and it looks so festive now! Mike's dad gave us both of the stockings and it's nice to have a matching pair.

I can't wait to start baking cookies and wrapping presents! Hope you all have a nice weekend!