Small Details; Big Impact. My NYE party Preview

Tomorrow is a big and exciting day for all!   The end of one year, the start of another.  For some of my friends this is their last year before parenthood.  For me this new year represents opportunity.  This past year I finally found love, a place to call home, and a career that feels like the perfect fit.  Now that I have less to search for, I can spend my days bettering myself and my surroundings.   I can not wait to see what I can accomplish.  I can not wait to meet new friends and family members.   I can not wait to watch myself, Michael, Ella and all my friends and their families grow in 2015.

In my intro I had hinted that throwing a party is my FAVORITE thing to do.  Every single part is exciting to me.  The planning, creating a menu, shopping, and DIYing decor- all to watch my friends have a blast!  It fills me with joy.  New Years Eve is my favorite party to plan because it feels like the final hoo-rah, and everyone just completely let’s their hair down.

Today I will fill you in on my Menu, Cocktail, and Decor Ideas.  Next week I will let you know how it all turned out!

For eats:

I am keeping it light.  I made mention in my invite that I will have snacks to pick at but I want my friends to fill up with a nice base before coming over!  Here is what we are having:

18 gorgeous, celebratory canape recipes for your New Year's Eve party!

Mine are slightly different: I chopped sundried tomatoes and garlic and whipped them with a hand blender into mascarpone cheese. I will add a dollop to the cucumber and top with Chiffonade basil

 

The easiest little cream pies with a buttery crust and the dreamiest, creamiest fudge filling!

Pillsbury sugar cookies in a mini cupcake tin, Jello Chocolate Pudding ( I added a dash of cayenne pepper), dollop of cool whip… and adorn with quick dash of cinnamon and a ton of chocolate shavings!

 

 

 

But my main focus is around MEATS AND CHEESE!  Cheese and Charcuteri are really ‘in’ and I have always taken a liking to the two.  As Kristina mentioned in a few posts past in Pittsburgh we live close to a giant market known as the “Strip District.”  Perusing the famous “Penn Mac” cheese display, I am always over-whelmed.  Luckily the staff is extremely friendly and knowledgeable.   After learning a few favorites from past recommendations we chose the following:  a nutty Cave Aged Gruyere, a luscious creamy Double Cream Gouda, a cool and sharp Collier’s Welsh Cheddar, and a hard Italian Pecorino.  I also have a goat Chevre at home I will add in a dish, aside a pepper jelly and party crackers.  We grabbed an assortment of dried sweet and also spicy sopressata’s, salami’s, and prosciutto.  I rounded up some rustic italian bread, a variety of olives from all over, dried apricots, cherries, and cranberries, raw almonds, honey roasted nuts, and sesame snacks.  I am simply going to roll out a sheet of brown paper on the table and tag some where near each item on the paper with a sharpie!  Easy set up- Easy clean up!

Entertain with the perfect appetizer spread! Cheese & Charcuterie Party — Celebrations at Home

This image was my Pinspiration !

To drink:

Champagne and beer and a stocked bar goes with out saying.  The signature shooter of my friends (and the rest of pittsburgh) is the “Mini Beer.”  My signature cocktails designed with the ladies in mind is as follows:

  • 2 Parts Absolut Mandrin
  • 2 Parts Absolut Rasperri 
  • 1 Part Malibu Rum
  • 1 Part Cranberry Juice 
  • 1 Part Lime Juice
Fill a shaker with ice cubes. Add all ingredients. Shake and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.  Add pink Disco Dust (yes, I did buy this)
Disco Dust Glitter Drink

The cocktail that makes for a HAPPIER new year!

*Tip; a nice touch?  I dropped frozen berries in ice cube trays to add more PINK to my pretty glitter cocktail.  This also makes for a a fun and fruity additive for  my MaMa-to-be friend to add to her PG cocktail !

How to Dress it all up! :

A few things make for a big impact, but at a low cost.  I will take more of the brown paper roll I mentioned I bought for the meat and cheese table.  I will hang it on the wall and encourage friends to write their New Years Resolutions.  A chalk board costs nothing to fancify if you have one, and if not … a can of chalk board paint is less than 5$!  I do not have enough champagne flutes for all of my friends… so all though I had to buy the cheapy two pieces I took the time to hot glue the flute into the base and dressed them up with glitter and felt!  I’ve done some other things like printing a few “Printable’s”, made those oh-so-cute (oh-so-annoying-to-make) tassel banners, and made a goodie bag!  Check back next week to see the final product!

chalk

flutes

HAPPY NEW YEAR !

 

Boy or Girl. Let’s give it a whirl!

When you’re almost 17 weeks pregnant most people want to talk about if you think you’re having a boy or a girl, and what they find to be true.  Lance and I just want a healthy baby.  If you ask either one of us, we would say we really don’t care.  Other people though, my mother-in-law in particular, always pick a team to root for.  After 8 grandkids, she is picking “Team Boy”.  My close friends are divided, already referring to the babe as “he” or “she” loud enough for others to hear.

I thought I would take a few quizes to see what we come up with.   I used parenting.com and babycenter.com

1. Are you carrying high or low?  High means a girl, and low means a boy.  I guess I am carrying high.  You be the judge…

me at 13 weeks

me at 13 weeks

Answer: GIRL!

2. What is your baby’s heart rate?  If it’s above 140, it’s a girl.  Below 140, boy.  Baby Dub’s heart rate has been 160, 158, 150

Answer: GIRL!

3. Are you craving sweet or salty things?  Sweet = Girl, Salty= boy.   My first trimester, I only wanted Poptarts, but my second,  I only want vinegar and salt.

Answer: BOY!?

4. Chinese Gender Predictors can be found on the internet, and they take into account how old you were when you got pregnant as well as the month you conceived.  I was 29 and conceived in September.

Answer: GIRL!

5. They say if you’re breaking out, you’re having a girl.  I always have a few pimples since my pregnancy started.

Answer: GIRL!

There are so many more tests I could do including swinging my wedding ring by a string to see how it swings, and putting drain in my urine to see what color it turns.  Yes, it’s ridiculous.  No, I didn’t do it.

According to my tests, I am having a beautiful baby girl! We will find out for sure on January 22 at my 20 week ultrasound! Stay tuned for results!

Psst!  No matter the sex, i think my features will definitely be dominant over Lances.  My dad and I looked ridiculously alike when we were babies!

My dad

My dad

Me!

Me!

Special Delivery

Like clockwork, our first Christmas card always arrives the Friday/Saturday after Thanksgiving.  Ken and I always joke about how prompt this person is about sending out Christmas cards, but in my mind, it’s bittersweet because I know it’s time to start the traditions that make Christmas such a special holiday.

Receiving Christmas cards is something that I look forward to each year.  It gives me the opportunity to catch-up with distant family and friends, even if it’s just to say that we’re thinking of them this holiday season.

Mailbox

Personally, my favorite type of Christmas card is a photo card.  It amazes me how much a family can grow and change over the course of a year.  This year was our last year as a family of two so we wanted to make it a priority to include the dogs.  Below is the finished product.  (The dogs were not on their best behavior so we only had a limited number of pictures to choose from.)

Christms Card 2014

I hope that you are able to find time this holiday season to connect with family and friends.  Whether through a Christmas card, phone call, or cookie delivery, it’s always nice to reach out to the people who mean so much to you.  Happy Holidays!

Merry Christmas, Dad !

All work week we look forward to the weekend.  A time for R&R, we all imagine.  In reality- it is rarely a time for rest.  For the average working women and men it is the time to do the things you could not jam in after work the previous week.  This past weekend felt to me more trying then the work week that proceeded it.

I have mentioned post after post that the holidays have my head spinning.  We are excited to be working on renovations and decorating in our home.  We live a long car ride from our families, so travel is just days away.  I am hosting my second NYE party in just 10 days.  AND just to ice the cake: having a puppy NEVER seems to get easier (Side bar; Ella ate 3 dozen cookies this weekend.  Those delicious EHS cookies Kristina wrote about – all found there way into Ella and out onto our brand new couch this weekend).

Disclaimer:

 

I spent the weekend with Michael shopping and spending.  I want to make everyone happy by giving great gifts.  I want my friends to have a good time by hosting a lush party.  I want to enjoy our home and make it feel like OURS with decorations that fit our personalities.  I want a lot and we set out to get as much as possible to satisfy those urges in just two days time.  I could see the spending extravaganza start stinging in Michael’s chest as the days got longer.  Each purchase would add up and translate to another project that will need to be done.  Slowly guilt started creeping up my body and it has just sat in my gut for the past few days.

It never seems to fail, every year the holidays have this take over- a way of blocking out reality and sending me on a rocket through LA-LA land.  I want and want more and more.  Most of what I want is things to entertain and things to give away.  I know exactly where I picked up the behavior as well.  My late father.    My dad (Steve was his name)  was an extravagant man.  I think extreme might be the best word.  Everything was extreme.  His love for sports, his love for his children, his desire to want to entertain.  He was an actor, an athlete, and an entrepreneur.  He was a man on a mission to over come.  He came from the wrong side of town in West Virginia.  Growing up on pennies he, like many others, walked down the beaten path.  Soon drugs would make their introduction, and despite his countless and tireless efforts, they would take credit for his closing act.  I will forever resent the fact that the last years  became the predominant memories of his life.

Though there is bad and sad stories to account for, there was the man that raised me as well.  With out him there is no me, no Jason, Stevana, or Michael (my beautiful siblings who spend their days trying to change the world).   With out his bleak days, I would never have adopted the same captivating and obsessive desire to create fun and happiness for others.  My dad wanted to give us the world.  He did not have the Christmas that all the commercials broadcast.  But shiny lights and huge wrapped gifts were something his kids would not miss out on.   We did not have a lot of money either- and so he would sacrifice a lot to give a lot.  I suppose it was learned, because now it has become my wish as well.   If he could not make for it in a material, he would make for it in entertainment.  He was known for a good story and a good laugh.  He loved making others smile so much that he would take jobs that would allow him to act on stage.  My fondest memories are watching him as a solider, or an angel, or even a dancing Christmas tree at Sight and Sound Theater.

My father and I both struggle to find the balance between giving and remembering that if we give more than we have, we soon wont be able to give again.  That I believe is where he got weak.  When he could not provide as much as he dreamt of, he hurt.  His hurt pulled him back in the dark that took him from us.

My dad was not a perfect man.  But even after he left, he is still able to send me lessons and reminders.  He is reminding me to love the holidays for what they are.    Reminding me to love my friends and family because I have them.  He’s reminding me that doing so selflessly can not be the same as irresponsibly.  I am so lucky.  I have so much love in my life.  Friends that have been by my side through EVERYTHING.  Family that protects each other relentlessly.  A man who loves and provides for me- always unconditionally and without judgement.  I am so lucky that I have TOO much to do.

So today I reflect.  I thank God for the opportunities and for never losing faith in me, even when my faith may waiver.  I send a Merry Christmas upward to my Old Man who is whispering love and reminders from far away.

Keep in mind all you have and all you come from.  Who you are visiting this season and why it is so exciting when you do so.  Look at it as a blessing, and push away the urge to feel holiday stress.  Merry Christmas from my family to yours.  

And …

Merry Christmas Dad.  I love you

A flood left my family with few photos to share, but here are Mom and Dad circa 1994

 

EHS Cookie Sandwiches!

We all went to Ephrata High School.  Yep!  All of us!  Anyway, after lunch almost every day, you could find at least half of the student body in line for cookie sandwiches.  After I spent $4.50 on a cookie sandwich from Mrs. Fields that wasn’t nearly as good (props to the lunch ladies of EHS!), I had to take matters into my own hands.

Everyone thinks my chocolate chip cookies are amazing. I don’t really bake, but I find that when I follow directions and measurements very carefully, things turn out to be great! The funny thing is, everyone probably has this recipe in their pantry right now. These are Nestle’s Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookies.  The recipe is on the back of the bag!

nestlebag

For 5 dozen cookies, or 2 1/2 dozen cookie sandwiches:

Nestle Toll House Chocolate Chip cookies:

2 1/4 Cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

1 cup (2 sticks butter) softened

3/4 cup granulated sugar

3/4 cup packed brown sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 large eggs

2 cups Nestle Toll House Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels

1 cup chopped nuts ( I don’t use these in my cookies)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Combine Flour, baking soda and salt in small bowl.  Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, and vanilla in large mixer bowl until creamy.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition.  Gradually beat in flour mixture.  Stir in morsels (and nuts if you’re using them).  Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets.   Tip:  I use Air Bake baking sheets, and I love them!  

Bake for 9-11 minutes or until golden brown.  Remove from baking sheets after 5 minutes and put on paper towels or cooling racks.

Cream Filling Recipe:

1 stick of butter softened

8 oz cream cheese

3 cups powdered sugar

8 oz whipped toppingMix and cream butter and cream cheese

  1. Add powdered sugar
  2. fold in cool whip
  3. Add to the center of cookies when cookies are completely cooled.  Keep in the refrigerator for storage.
VOILA!

VOILA!

Christmas in New York, NY!

20141217_101301

There’s no place like home for the holidays, except maybe good ole’ NY, NY! My younger sister and I started (what we hope will be) an annual trip to NYC last winter as a way to connect and spend a little extra time together. Last year we had tickets to “The Bethenny Show,” but this year we decided to go without any plans and see what trouble we could find!

20141217_094154

Bouchon Bakery deliciousness!

On Wednesday morning, we left our parent’s home in Lancaster around 4 am and headed to the AMTRAK station in Philly to catch the “MegaBus.” This is a great option if you are on a budget; for two roundtrip tickets it cost $57.50. The bus trip took about two hours and dropped us off at 7th Ave and 28th St.

After we were dropped off we headed straight to Rockefeller Plaza to see the Christmas Tree and visit the “Today Show.” The “Today Show” is one of our favorite places to go. We love seeing all of the anchors and celebrities that stop by, we even push our way to the front of the crowd to wave at the cameras!

Just behind the NBC studios is a bakery called Bouchon Bakery; they have amazing pastries and delicious coffee that make for great pick me ups. My sister and I shared a cheese Danish that was delicious and we each warmed up with a mocha latte.

Once we warmed up we headed to Bryant Park to check out the Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park. Let me tell you, if you have someone who is difficult to buy for, this is the place to go! There are tons of boutique style shops with everything and anything you could ever want. The park itself was absolutely beautiful! It had a magical feel with the big Christmas tree and French style Carousal. At the center of the shop tents is an ice skating rink, we weren’t brave enough to skate but we did have a great view of the people who were. We ate a wonderful lunch at Celsius, a restaurant that overlooks the skating rink. The food and cocktails were amazing and so was the view. We each started with a Winter Fizz cocktail, which was super refreshing and for lunch my sister had the Warm Winter Spinach Salad, and I had the Tuscan Chicken Sandwich. Both of our meals were just the right amount and we our final bill was about $80.00 (with tip). Not too shabby for NYC.

Great food and company...the ice skaters were pretty entertaining too!

Great food and company…the ice skaters were pretty entertaining too!

We wandered around the city for the remainder of the day, window shopping and people watching. I picked up a few things for my girls for Christmas and we met Olaf and Elsa in Times Square, but the best part of the day was sharing it with my sister. We had the best time exploring and sightseeing, just the two of us. I look forward to continuing our new tradition!

Packing Tips and Tricks

Last week I blogged about all of the craziness of the holiday season.  Well how about throwing in a trip in the midst of everything. I’ve been a little freaked out planning/organizing everything this Christmas but I am just going to relax and get ready for our trip.  We are heading to warm and sunny Florida to be with our in-laws and E’s younger brother.  The temps are in the 70’s and we have lots of fun outdoor activities planned!  Below are some tips and tricks I picked up from traveling back and forth to the East Coast.

1. Check the weather!  I know that it’s not always so predictable but it will give you a general guideline as far as what to pack.  The weather is set to be in the 70’s but chiller at night which will be a factor so we want to make sure we bring light jackets.

2. When choosing luggage make sure it’s something reliable and sturdy.  Spending a few extra bucks in the department also pays off.  We have so many different pieces we’ve been called “TSA department” before!

3. Find out what things you’ll be doing on your trip.  We are going to be on a fishing boat some of the time, pool side, and possible biking.  I am going to be packing plenty of athletic wear which will double as my lounger around the house.

4. When it comes to packing lay out our outfits.  Try to mix and match things (especially pants) so that you can wear them more than once.  I also like to lay out of my outfits so I know I’m not missing an important component (scarf, favorite bracelet, ext).

5. What to wear???  On this trip I didn’t really want to pick up to many extra items since I knew it would be pretty relaxed and we wouldn’t need to dress up.  I did however pick up this swing dress which I think is a perfect piece to transition into spring.  I am also thinking of wearing it when it’s not so chilly with a pair of colored tights and short tan ankle boots.  You also cannot forget sunnies my go to’s are Ray Ban Wayfarer in black (I got these for a steal on Amazon a few years ago).

6. Have fun!  Don’t worry too much about not having the right thing improvise.  Your on vacation to have fun and in our case spend the holidays with our family so relax kick back and enjoy the sunshine!

Baked with Love

One of my favorite holiday traditions is baking cookies.  Ever since I was little, I remember spending time in the kitchen with my Mom or Grandma, but over the years, our Christmas cookie tradition grew and now is an annual family event. Below is a list of dos and don’ts that may be helpful if you plan to host a cookie baking event.

1. Pick a date early.–  Weekends quickly fill up as Christmas approaches, so we always try to put a date on the calendar by the beginning of November.

Cookies

Peanut butter blossoms, iced sugar cookies, cutout cookies, and oatmeal M&M cookies! Yum!

2. Prep in advance.– One of the major changes this year was to invite each family to bring their favorite pre-mixed cookie dough (I prepared my grandma’s recipe for cut-out cookies).  In years past, we spent the first few hours prepping the dough, and by the time everything was ready, the kids had already lost interest.  This year we decided to prepare all of the dough in advance which gave us more time to focus our energy on baking and decorating the cookies.

3. Get festive! – Every year my Dad wears the same silly pink apron and the kids think it’s absolutely hysterical!  (Hint: Look for aprons at the end of the season and keep them for the following year.)  My Mom tries to buy a variety of aprons so that everyone is able to wear an apron that fits their taste.  The kids wore light-up aprons this year which only added to their excitement about the cookie baking event. 

4. Have fun!–  Some of our cookies were COVERED in sprinkles while others seemed to have missed the decorating step all together.  It’s important to keep in mind that each child has their own idea of “decorating” so just embrace the unique design of each cookie. 

5. Be flexible!– Let’s face it, kids loose interest pretty quickly so don’t worry if they’re more interested in playing a game in the neighboring room.  Be flexible….it’s supposed to be a fun day to spend with your family!  After all, are you really going to miss an extra dozen cookies or are you going to remember all of the new memories you created as a family?!

What are some of your family traditions?  Do you like to bake cookies or just enjoy the finished product?