Monday, December 19, 2011

Go-To Gifts!

There are a few super-fun gifts that I stumpled upon this holiday season, and wanted to share.  Two of the items below I purchased knowing exactly who I would give them two.  The other two I purchased because they were awesome, but I wasn't sure who they would be for.  I think having a "grab and go" hostess and/or friend gift is a great asset during the holidays.  I personally don't want to show up to a party without a thank you gift, and someone always buys me a gift that I wasn't prepared to exchange for. So, want to see what I've got?

1. For the outdoor girl (or guy, I guess).  I have these gloves and they are my favorite for running, cycling, shoveling, you name it.  They're incredibly warm, even without liners, and I can still have some flexibility while cycling to change gears.  They did take some getting used to for cycling, but everything else they were perfect right off the bat!
image via

2. For the teeny-bopper.  Yes, I still consider the 16 year old a teeny bopper.  Why, you ask? Well because if she is still a teenie bopper, then I'm not old yet - right? Got it, good. I bought her a blinged out watch, because who doesn't love something shiny!

image via
XOXO Rhinestone Watch
3. Anthropologie Nostalgia Jar Candles - These were just the cutest thing in the store, and were one of the items I bought with no real destination in mind.  I am so glad I did though, as I was able to split up the set of 4 and gift two candles, each with some tea, and a good book to two friends.  It was a great way to give a "relaxing" gift, without breaking the bank! However, I may need to go back and buy a set for myself now too.
image via Anthropologie
Nostalgia Jar Candles
4. My favorite cookbook.  I adore Alton Brown, and I got this cookbook for Christmas last year and decided to pass on the awesomeness to someone else! I very much enjoy the technical exact science of cooking, while also enjoying the flexibility of some recipes.  This is obviously more the exact science, but I received such an education on so many things while reading this and cooking from it.
image via
The Good Eats 2: The Middle Years
So - do you have any go-to gifts for this Holiday season?  Or one I should add to my list for next year?

Baking Gals - Round 36

I can't believe that I've been a member of Baking Gals for more than 16 months now! Some months my boxes are plain and simple and some months are more elaborate.  Some months (last December for example), I baked more than 2,500 cookies and distributed them amongst 3 soldiers.  I know, I was crazy. 

I try to mix up the recipies so the soldiers get something new and exciting, but also because it's a great reason for me to try out new recipies.  I've got a few ideas for my second December box, which I'll be baking for tonight and shipping out tomorrow! Yes I said second - sometimes special soldiers get extra spoiled, and those that are deployed over the holidays are extra extra spoiled! I haven't decided yet which of the cookies below I'm going to make - but they all sound great! One bonus of shipping during the cooler months is that it's a little easier to ship gooey things, since they melt less!

Once I chose a recipe I'll be sure to let you know how it goes.  And maybe, if my soldier is extra awesome this month, I can let you know how well it travels too!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Friday, November 25, 2011

I'm Thankful...

I thought about this post long and hard yesterday, I wanted to make sure I didn't leave anyone out, or hurt any feelings in my "thankful list". 

I think that the things I'm most thankful for are the things that make my heart swell with pride, the names that make me grin when they light up my phone, and the people who call and text on the hard days.

So, thank you to the US Army for finally allowing our soldier to come home.  Thank you to my amazing husband for putting up with the insanity that has been 2011.  Thank you to my best friends, who love me even though I seem to always call with more bad news.  Thank you to my awesome staff that help me through the hard times, and celebrate little milestones along the way.  Thank you to god for allowing my mom to have pneumonia, so we could diagnose her cancer before it became terminal.  Thank you to the wonderful ladies who take care of my grandmother each day, as though she was their own family. 

I don't think I could list each and every thing that I am thankful for, even if I tried.  But these few are the ones I continued to come back to, time after time.  Thank you <3

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

He's Home!

I have started this post several times over the last 5 months, but today it is official.

My little brother is home from deployment!

Christopher has been gone for 486 days.  He has been in Korea for more than an entire year, 16+ months spent in another country.  I have trouble expressing what Christopher's involvement in the Armed Forces means to me, and our family. I am not sure how to properly put our feelings into words. I tried to make a list, but I know that it is lacking so many things.  I'm going to go with it as a start, and know that it's just the tip of my heart.

  • how proud we are that he is so dedicated so our country
  • how ecstatic I am that he is now safely in Fort Drum, NY where is safe
  • even with the wonders of Skype, how much he has missed
  • the enormous relief that he is no longer in danger from North Korean Nationals
  • a need to hug my brother, and never let go

Christopher and I have not always been the closest of siblings, I will freely admit that.  Shoot, he's 3 years younger than me, and a giant pain in the ass (if I'm being honest). But not having him here, and explaining and sharing moments of our day and lives over Skype, Text, Facebook, and the Phone has brought us so much closer.

After several failed attempts to have him home, the fact that he is finally here is an amazing feeling.  I would have loved to have had him home for a whole week in July to join in our family vacation to Maine.  At one point, he would have been home to celebrate our second wedding anniversary.  But now, to know that he will be home for Thanksgiving and for Christmas, means more than anything. 

I am so proud of you soldier, you are an amazing little brother.  I am thankful for the sacrifices you have made for our country, the men you have stood by in the worst of times, and the man you have become.  it means the world to me that you are finally in the same time-zone, and I can't wait for a hug - 486 days is a long time to wait <3

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Vacation Inspiration (Brandywine Valley)

I think that I've been pretty good at visiting most of the local attractions to where we live, but I'll admit that VisitPhilly did a great job at compiling a weekend agenda.  Personally, I think that this is a little too packed, as there are several activities that I think need more time to be dedicated to them - Philadelphia Museum of Art - Brandywine River Museum (honestly a 4 or 5 hour project) - Chadds Ford winery. 

My three favorite attractions in the Brandywine Valley are Longwood Gardens, Hagley Museum & Gardens, and Brandywine Battlefield.  I usually visit Longwood at least once per season, especially since it's almost walking distance from the house! I cant wait for Lights at Longwood to start (Thanksgiving through the first week in January), as the lights are gorgeous and taking a warm break in the Conservatory is always welcome! 

via - Credit: L. Albee for Longwood Gardens
Anyone have any questions about the Brandywine Valley?  Any must visit cities you'd suggest for a weekend getaway? 

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Operation Baking Gals (OBG)

It is no secret to my friends and family that I am a huge fan of this organization, and the things that it stands for.  Honestly, anyone I'm friends with on Facebook is probably sick of my incessant postings, but I'm doing what I feel needs to be done. 

I started participating in July 2010 when Christopher was first deployed, and I am continually amazed by the support of complete strangers.  People that I have never met before, never spoken with outside of the Internet - these are the women that continue to sign-up for Team East Coast Love month after month.  

We send little boxes and big boxes.  We send toiletries, water balloons, and junk food.  We write letters, send cards, and use miles of packing tape.  We can fill out a customs form with our eyes closed, and can tell you how much a flat rate shipping box costs without a calculator. 

This is an organization that I'm proud to be involved in, excited to continue to develop, and hope I'll be a member of through round 100.  

*If you're not a member yet, visit and sign-up soon! The next round of sign-ups will start November 22nd! And if you join Round 37, you get to bake for our troops over the holidays! 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Photo Challenge - days 9 - 12

I know, I complained about the computer long enough ago - and I'm still slacking on getting these pictures posted! My revised goal is to have the pictures loaded, edited, and posted by the end of the week! So, here's Photo Challenge Catch-up Edition. 

Someone you Love - I couldn't chose just one, so here are two :)

A Childhood Memory - This has to do with the two people in the photo, and these silly blocks! Becky was our babysitter for years, and my little brother is in that fort somewhere! Those Lillian Vernon blocks lasted for more than 20 years, and are one of my favorite childhood memories!

Something Blue - that's our soccer star Maddy! 

Sunset - along Route 926 

Slow Cooker Meatballs

This is officially my new go-to meatball recipe, thanks to Can You Stay for Dinner

I'll give you a few tricks that I used, but it was 99% straight from the recipe! I made enough meatballs that I froze it into two meals, each for two adults.  This way, the meatballs are frozen, can be thawed while you're away at work, and you're just some boiled water away from dinner! 

1. I used 97% lean beef - since I wanted to use the sauce, and not have the whole thing be too greasy
2. I used 1/2 cup parmesan - since we like ours cheesy!
All the ingredients (Notice the LARGE pile of Cheese) 

3. I used 1 whole onion
4. **Most Important** Use one of the Crock Pot Liners and safe yourself hours of cleaning time

 Have fun, and happy dinner! 

Monday, October 31, 2011

Beefy Baked Ravioli

This is another freezer stock recipe that I got from our friend Kari, and is one of my favorite ways to freeze Ravioli! This way when you thaw it out, it's all ready with the pasta, meat, and sauce! And hooray for one container dinners! 

Beefy Baked Ravioli

- 1 lb ground meat
- 1 package frozen ravioli (25oz)
- 1 jar spaghetti sauce
- 1 can diced tomatoes (drained)
- 1 cup shredded mozzarella
- 1 cup shredded Monterey Jack
- 1 cup shredded parmesan

1. Crumble and brown ground meet in sauce pan (add garlic powder, onion powder, etc)
2. Drain and stir in spaghetti sauce and tomatoes

3. Spread 1/3 of the sauce in the bottom of baking dish
4. Top with half the ravioli, and sprinkle with half the cheese
5. Layer sauce, ravioli, cheese, and sauce again

6. This will take about 6 hours to thaw, and can be baked in the oven at 450 for 30 mins! 

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Cilantro Lime Pesto Chicken

The pesto part of this is super easy to make, and great on top of pasta, chicken, fish, pork, burgers, you name it! 

The recipe is via Newly Woodwards, so I won't re-post the whole recipe! I did make a few tweaks, so I've listed those below! 

1. I used about twice the amount of lime juice, and twice the amount of garlic 
2. When I mixed it in the food processor, it was a little runny, so I added 1/2 a cup of fresh basil leaves
3. Rather than baking the chicken, I put raw chicken in the pans, and topped it with the pesto, and froze it! 

I haven't tried the frozen meals yet, but we did eat the leftover pesto on burgers, and on some leftover pork! 

Friday, October 28, 2011

Beef Stroganoff

This is a simplified version of the Beef Stroganoff my mom used to make when I was little.  This crock pot version is much simpler than the cook all day, oven version, but still wonderful! 

I apologize that I didn't take any photos until the end, but I promise you can't mess this up! 

- 1 1/2 - 2 lbs beef cubes
- 1 small onion, diced
- 2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 can cream of chicken soup
- 1 can cream of mushroom soup
- 1 can cream of celery soup
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1 1/2 cups beef stock
- 8 oz white mushrooms, chopped
- 1 cup sour cream

1. Take cubed beef, and toss with flour to coat. 
2. Lightly brown meat with onion, garlic, salt, and pepper
3. Place meat and onion in bottom of slow cooker
4. Combine remaining ingredients, except sour cream, and pour over meat
5. Cook on low heat for 6 - 8 hours
6. Turn off slow cooker, stir in sour cream, and serve. 

*Note: if you need to reheat, do so over low heat - do not boil. Best served over egg noodles, rice, or mashed potatoes*

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Spanikopita Turkey Meatballs

This is another fill the freezer meal, and is super easy and yummy! You could obviously use beef, turkey, or ground chicken for this.  Also, I used feta cheese, but you could easily swap out any kind of blue, goat, or other crumbled cheese to fit your needs.  I froze these with carrots as well, so it's a whole dinner! 

- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 1 small onion, minced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 box frozen chopped spinach (thawed)
- 3/4 cup feta cheese (crumbled)
- 1 lb ground meat
- 1 Tbsp McCormick Montreal Steak Seasoning (any grill seasoning will work) 

1. Preheat oven to 400
2. Combine onion and garlic in saute pan
3. Squeeze the liquid out of the spinach, and add to saute pan
4. Cook spinach for 3 - 5 mins, then remove from heat. 
5. Add feta, chicken, grill seasoning, and a liberal splash of evoo to spinach. 
6. Combine all ingredients, and form into 1 1/2 inch meatballs (approx 18) 
7. Place on a nonstick cookie sheet and bake for 10 - 12 mins

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

::Womp:: Photo Challenge Fail

Hooray for finally getting my laptop back tonight, although without a computer, it's pretty much been a photo challenge fail on my part.  I'm hoping to download photos tonight, upload and write blog posts tomorrow, and post later this week! I've only got about 20 days of catching up to do! 

I haven't fallen off the wagon yet, just a broken computer, you know! 

Monday, October 24, 2011

Souperfly - Taco Soup

This is a two-fer, it's part of Souperfly Soup Day AND it's part of stocking Mom's freezer. 

::warning, I only took photos of the beginning, and forgot to take one at the end::

This is a recipe from a friend of mine for Taco Soup.  It's sort of like a mix of tacos and chili, and is incredibly easy! The ingredients are basic, and can absolutely hang out in your pantry until you decide to make it.  I made mine on the stove, but I know it works great in the crock pot for 4 or 6 hours as well. 

1. Combine ground beef and onion in soup pot.  Cook & drain any drippings. 

2.  Add taco seasoning, water, tomatoes, beans, and corn to sauce pot, and mix well. 

3. Bring all ingredients to a boil, and then simmer for 20 - 40 mins.  
To serve, you can add Veleveeta, Cheddar Cheese, green onion, and serve over rice or with tortilla chips! 

This made two freezer containers, and each one will serve 2 - 3 adults.  So, I'd say 4 - 6 servings! 

Taco Soup
1 lb ground beef
1 small diced onion
1 package taco seasoning
1 cup water
2 cans petite diced tomatoes with jalapenos (14 - 15oz cans)
2 cans chili beans (15 oz)
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed (15oz)
1 can creamed corn (15 oz)

- Crumble & Cook beef and onion in sauce pan
- Drain any drippings
- Add the remaining ingredients to sauce pan
- Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer 20 - 40 mins
- Eat :) 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Mission: Fill the Freezer

With everything going on with my Mom, I've been trying to be as proactive as possible over the last few weeks.  We're keeping fingers crossed that Mom will continue to feel well, and that with all of her friends and family, there will be plenty of helping hands.  So far, Mom has only missed 1 day of work (Chemo Session 1), but as of Monday (October 17) Dad has been switched to mandatory 6 days a week, 12 hour shifts. 

I made sure I remembered how to use my Dad's lawnmower, I've got all the directions, doctor information, and details memorized, but my mind kept coming back to food.  If Mom wasn't feeling well, and Dad was at work 9am - 9pm, were they going to be eating Subway for dinner?  Uh, not my parents.  My mom and dad both love to cook, and eat (haha), so it has become my personal mission to fill their freezer - and it's a big old, stand alone freezer.  With a little help from some friends, armed with great recipes, and a little more than $100, I am well on my way.  I need to edit some photos, but I've already made 8 different recipes, and 2 dinners of each - so we're at 16 dinners, for two people! Plus, I pre-scooped and froze some peanut butter cookie and chocolate chip cookie dough, so they can just grab a few balls of dough and throw them on a sheet pan!

I'm hoping to finish some food posts in the next week or two, and hope some of you will enjoy the same recipes, whether you're stocking a freezer or not!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Photo Challenge: days 5 - 9

Day 5: High Angle
From the top of the 2 story escalator at the Hilton Orlando for our Hampton Conference 

Day 6: Low Angle
On the Autumn level with our cutie pie god daughter! 

Day 7: Fruit
(This is pathetic, but there was zero fruit in our house) So, I remembered from 4th grade health class, that a tomato is a fruit.  Here is my exceptionally sad, partially dead, tomato plant 

Day 8: Bad Habit
Merrymead Ice Cream - I could really eat this entire half gallon in one sitting.  Okay, Okay, maybe two sittings! It is absolutely a downfall though, as it's obviously sitting on my counter in this photo, ready to be eaten! 

Day 9: Someone You Love
My husband and My God daughter.  I know it's two people, but it's just an even larger amount of love! 

 See you next week~ 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Photo Challenge: day four

Oh, how I Love Traveling (note: sarcasm).  I'm really not a very good traveler, which I know is ridiculous considering that I run a hotel, but such is life.  I'm in Orlando this week for Hampton's Stand Out Conference, so I at least get to enjoy some great weather (and drink the Hampton Kool-Aid).  This awesome field of green is Green Cupcakes from Vera Bradley, and is the savior for my curling iron.  Well, more accurately it's the savior for my clothes so they don't get ruined by a hot curling iron!

Blackberry camera
Also, can I please tell you how upset I was that they retired this pattern? idiots.

Photo Challenge: day three

So, only the third day of this challenge and I've already chosen an old photo twice! As soon as I saw the prompt for today though, this picture was the first thing that came to mind.  I really do love Maine, and this lighthouse is one of the iconic things about Acadia National Park. The pretty blue of the sky just sets off the clouds and makes me smile (sometimes simple is better, right?)

Nikon (July 2011)

Photo Challenge: day two

Outfit of the day for today was easy, thanks to some chilly fall weather in PA! I will admit that these cheap Target jeans are my favorite pair ever in fit, length, and color! I tried to class it up a bit with my J Crew sweater, but really I was just cold :)

blackberry camera

Monday, October 3, 2011

do you know?

**EDIT** This is the most comprehensive website that I have found to date with regard to the ribbon colors and their meanings.  I just wanted to put it out there ase a great resource.

Now, for the real reason behind this post.  I know that everyone suffers their own trials and tribulations throughout life.  Some more publicly than others, some more severe than others.  I have to admit that one of Kevin's favorite fundraisers/organizations is Livestrong.  I'd say that the Livestrong logo is one of the more well known logos when it comes to cancer, fundraising, and support.  We both have these bracelets, although Kevin has given several away to residents at work, friends, and family - so he's probably on his third or fourth.
via Childrens Austin

Do you know what this symbol stands for? 

via US Dept of Education
Autism Awareness - another one that I think I see relatively frequently, and most people understand.

How about this one? 

via Flag and Banner

The Yellow Ribbon Project for our armed forces - thank god for this organization, and I'll admit, it's one that hits home for me on a daily basis. 

But, do you know what this stands for? 
via American Kids
It's a gold ribbon, for childhood cancer. 

Do you know what this stands for? 

via Penn State Mont Alto
It's the Penn State THON logo - FTK (For The Kids)  

How about this one? 
via lccure

Lung Cancer.

While all of these symbols may not mean something to you, I'm willing to bet that they mean something to the person that has one pinned to their shirt, a magnet on their car, or tattooed on their arm.  If there is a symbol that's important to you, leave me a link below - I'd love to do a post recognizing all of the symbols (even though I know that's next to impossible). 

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Photo Challenge: day one

day one: self portrait

This isn't the most technically perfect photo, and I know the composition and color could both be better, but I think this is a great portrayal of me! The photo is from a friends bachelorette party in July, and is taken in a reflection in the mirror in the hotel's elevator.  

Friday, September 30, 2011

October: 30 Day Photography Challenge!

Two posts in one day, wow - I'm going to outdo myself this week :)

Thanks to Jenna at That Wife, I found out about a 30 day photography challenge that is being led by Our Wired Lives.  I decided to participate, and am hoping that this will motivate me to dedicate some more time to blogging as well as photography. 

I know I won't be the most accomplished or professional person participating, but I'm excited to take myself outside of my comfort level and see what I'm capable of! I'm hoping that with all of the ladies participating, I'll be able to get some great feedback and really bring myself to another level.

My little Nikon <3 Here goes nothing!
Check out the more than 60 bloggers participating - all of whom are listed here.  I think this whole project will be super beneficial for someone else too, who would like to learn to take better photos for Etsy this year :) And what better way to improve your photography than to learn some new techniques, right?!

Bachelorette Fun - July & August

I'm way behind on this, but with two back to back bachelorette/bridal shower weekends and then back to back wedding weekends, it was a summer full of love for us without a doubt! 

The first bride to celebrate was Holly, one of Kevin's college roommates! Three of Holly's bridesmaids were also Kevin's college roommates, so I love all of these girls so much and had a wonderful time celebrating together! 
Her bridal shower was a surprise, and was in Mechanicsburg.  Then, we headed off to Baltimore's Inner Harbor for the bachelorette party. 

The second weekend of bridal bliss was for my college roommate, Carol Ann.  Two of these girls were new to me, but true to form, we all had a wonderful time together at her bridal shower in Harrisburg and bachelorette party in Camp Hill and Harrisburg.  

This bachelorette party involved a trip to a lingerie store, which was quite an enlightening experience! 

I love both of these girls so much, and was very happy to celebrate with both of them! 

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Slacker: Barilla

I know I'm super late posting this, but I won the Barilla giveaway from Jessica a few weeks ago, and received a great box in the mail! Just the sauce in the box would have been enough, but there were coupons for FREE boxes of pasta, and FREE jars of sauce as well.  Although, I have to admit that the apron may have been the most practical item, since I'm a bit of a messy cook! 

One of our favorite recipes here for a quick 30 minute dinner is fake chicken parm.  It involves a little tupperware and some upper body strength, but the chicken bakes in just about 30 mins, add some pasta and a salad, and you're good to go! 

I apologize for this gross looking chicken - I didn't realize how slimy it looked until it was HUGE on the blog.  
Once you pound the chicken to about 1/2 - 3/4 of an inch, it's time to bread it.  I usually end up breading my hand too, so I've started using a small pair of tongs as they're easier to clean.  
The breading goes flour, egg, then bread crumbs.  I use panko crumbs with parmesan cheese, and italian seasoning to help the chicken crisp up and allow the breading to have some flavor! 

I boiled the noodles and just topped them with the Barilla sauce, no extras needed! It was a great dinner, although there were a few too many dishes for Kevin's liking :) This is one we'll for sure do again - especially as we approach winter! 
*Ignore the piece in the back, I cut it in half because it was XXLarge chicken*
What's your favorite meal that's homey and delicious, without taking all day to make?