Wow.  What a year it has been.  Almost too many changes to name.  The best week ever was at the beginning of February when Bret asked me to marry him on our cruise and then 3 days later getting a job offer in Houston!  It's almost like he knew I was getting the job because he kept insisting I move to Houston before getting engaged. ;)  I still remember how anxious I was waiting to hear back about the job.  It had been over 7 months since moving Bret and the kitties down to TX and I was so ready to just be there with them.  Patience is virtue for sure.  There has definitely been a pattern the last 8 years of my adult life.  I almost never get what I want right away, but with some extra effort, focus and patience, life always finds a way to work out.  It also helps me appreciate all of the wonderful things in my life that much more.  I love loving life!  On that note...

Happy New Years Eve!

Now, there have been some blips along the path this year, but we won't focus too much on those.  A few of my 2012 Bloopers are as follows...

Christmas Cards...what Christmas cards?  Look for these next year, or maybe the year after.    I will get my butt in gear one of these years.

Houston Buddies.  Not so much yet.  Need to find girl friends in my neighborhood this year.  You know, someone to watch The Bachelor with and do fun runs.  Funny enough, a friend just posted the exact same sentiment on Facebook earlier today.  I am not into New Years Resolutions, but this may seriously need to be one in 2013.  


Cat Poop.  Still can't quite pin-point why that darn cat keeps pooping in the bathtub.

Not always so cute!
Bielema.  How the Badgers made it to the Rose Bowl this year is too hard to comprehend.  Good luck tomorrow Alvarez!

Exercise?  It was lost for a good 4-5 months, but I do seem to have that under control again.  Now, if I could only combine healthy eating and exercise we might be getting somewhere!

Veganism.  I am not vegan or even vegetarian for that matter, but I do like trying to incorporate some animal-less meals and amp up the veggies when the motivation hits.  My first vegan pancake attempt this fall was way better than expected.  I even made them a few time for visitors this Christmas season without any complaints.  I can't be sure if people were just being nice, but I sure like them.  I only bring this up because the movie Your Sister's Sister had a very humorous scene about vegan pancakes.  Enjoy!


No Soup For You!

Oh Seinfeld, you always make me smile :)

Anyway, it has been a while, so you probably do not recall my earlier soup escapades this fall.  There were only a couple, and then I went to challenge myself to make soup more often.  You probably should have bet against that happening.  Even though I have not been posting my soup creations as of late, there have been a few.

1. Lentil Soup

The first was lentil soup.  There had been a bag of dried lentils in the pantry for about two months.  I think my original bright idea was to make a lentil loaf (faux meatloaf like), but it just didn't happen.  Then two weekends ago after a lot of fun and unhealthy dishes I thought we should change it up by making the lentil soup recipe on the back of the bag.

HEB Came through with a great recipe!

Purrrty Hardy!

It was really easy.  A little canned tomato, onion, carrot, ham, lentils, Italian spice and a few mushrooms to use them up.  It was very tasty and very filling.  I just got another bag to sit in the pantry till my next soup craving hits.  Did you know lentils are super super cheap?  The bag today only cost $0.89!

2. Butternut Squash Soup

Just plain remade it.  It was really good the first time and I wanted to make it for the Fam when they came to visit.  Props to my Dad for actually making most of it this time.  The rest of us were concentrating on Setters of Catan!  :)  It was a good Christmas despite my losing every game.

3. Ham & Potato Soup

This is our latest soup attempt.  It was very similar to Ham & Bean soup.  We just had a lot of leftover ham and potatoes (side note:  I almost always forget to use leftover potatoes before they go bad...so this was a major improvement in my book.)

I didn't want it to be a creamy soup, so I just Googled "Ham & Potato Soup" and quickly found this gem.  The video is what sold it.  Easy peasy.  I forgot to mention that we had made ham stock from the leftover bone on Christmas day, and that is another reason I had soup on the brain.  Due to the excess of leftovers, I think we added almost double the potato and ham.  I also used a big sweet potato in place of some regular potato to use it up.  We just skipped the cream (didn't miss it at all).  Due to all of the extra potato, our finished product was nice an thick as it were.

TTFN!  Gotta get ready for the Packer game!!!


Merry Belated Christmas!

I hope everyone has been having a great holiday season thus far.  Ours here in Houston has been pretty eventful with lots of visitors.  Though I am by no means a Houston expert yet, there are a few places that are good for first or second time visitors.  Here's what we did.

1.  St. Arnold's Brewery - The tour is short, but the beer and atmosphere are excellent.  I would go back with any beer or fun connoisseur.
2.  Galveston - We went twice in one week!  That's another post in itself.
3.  NASA Johnson Space Center - Cool, but not as cool as it was a year ago...bummer.  In the last year space center changed all of the interactive puzzles from Mensa type activities to more modern computer and music mixing things.  The tour was better last year too.  It still had a good time, but just not as great as I was imagining.

Saturn V.  On loan to Johnson Space Center from the Smithsonian.




It was great having the family visit our new home for Christmas.  They even got a few days of nice weather!  I think it was a nice change from inches of snow and freezing temps.  Lucky for them, they left just as it started almost freezing down here...almost freezing.  Hopefully the flight issues don't deter them from another visit.

Christmas decorations were up in our house since Thanksgiving, but it wasn't until wrapping presents last weekend that it really felt like Christmas.  It is still weird getting used to the different weather down in Houston.  The seasons and weather cues are just all messed up for me.

One recipe that always gets me in the Fall/Holiday spirit is Spiced Cider.  This very general recipe can be adapted any way you like (more juice, different juice, less spice, etc).  It's super simple and I made a double batch it in the crock-pot on Christmas morning so the kitchen could smell good all day long.  It's good as is, or with a splash of Captain Morgan :)

Spice Cider

4 Cups Apple Cider
2 Cups Cranberry Juice
1/2 Orange Zest
1/2 Orange Juiced
5-10 Cloves
2 Cinnamon Sticks

Mix all ingredients together in a crock pot or on stove over medium.  Heat to a simmer and serve or keep warm for guests to come and serve themselves.  Don't forget the optional Spiced Rum!

All you need.

Spice.  Yum!!!


I love looking at Christmas lights, but am not one to jump at putting them up.  Luckily, Bret loves both and he set about lighting up our house and trees.  Thanks Honey!!!

Pretty reflection from the pool. 

Blue for the front.


One night, early in December, we drove into the nearby neighborhood to find some fancy shmancy lights on big houses.  On our way, we ran across a smaller neighborhood that had a light explosion.  I do not mean explosion in a serious way, but in a OMG there are sooo many light on this house, kind of way.  It was great!  The whole cul-de-sac seemed to be having a decorating competition or something because it was ridiculous.  Ridiculously awesome! Hahaha!


Ugly Sweater?

Ghah!  Where did the time go?  I feel like I keep saying it, but I really feel like there are just not enough hours in the day!  Or should I say, there are just not enough vacation days to squeeze out of this year? 

Friday night I came home to the absolute perfect scene.  Flowers, strawberry drinks, a bottle of wine on ice and dinner plans made.  It was our 6 year anniversary (Facebook Official).  I really can't say enough nice things about Bret, and then he goes and is even more sweet.  :)

Not so sweet.
Are those lights or glaring cat eyes?

December has been a good month so far in our household.  I just need to find time to finish watching all of the reality show finales.  Those extra hours really add up!  I am still not done with Survivor, but luckily haven't been spoiled yet...which is pretty good in my book.  Ashely & JP's wedding is still on the back burner.  No spoliers there; I am fairly certain they just have fun and get married.  I did catch the end of Amazing race though...


Amazing Race Finale

Speaking of good challenges.  This last episode a few great ones!  The final one was definitely a challenge. Very sneaky of the AR developers to use a similar format where they incorporate something from each country visited, but in a whole new (and very difficult) way.  It was totally a process of elimination and I think I would have attacked it like the Beekman Boy did, but with everything on the line at the end of the race, I may have crumbled like Lexi too.  Great ending challenge!

The other standout cool challenge was the Houdini escape challenge.  Even the clue to get the challenge was good!

I was perusing the Beekman Boys website the other day and found their blog.  They seem like really nice guys and very inspiring to boot!

Back to the Sweater thing...

I decided to where a slightly festive sweater the other day.  'Tis the season, right?  The sweater is bright forest green with some cabling and is about 3 years old from Old Navy.  Very comfy and definitely office appropriate (win-win).  The weather is too warm to wear it anywhere outside, but my I am usually cold in AC so it worked.  I digress again! 

So, I walked into a meeting room and somebody blurted out..."Is that your ugly Christmas sweater?"  Crickets....

I didn't know what to say.  I think I said something about it being very bright green.  Then someone else tried to fill the silence by commenting on their gray polo.  We had a laugh about it later, but yikes, awkward!  Some people just don't have filters.  I wasn't planning to to retire the green sweater yet, but may need to reconsider.  :(  What do you think?

Yea or Neigh?

Yes.  I live in the south but am still very, very pale.  I actually don't own a strictly "ugly" sweater for Christmas parties.  I guess I am covered now!


Amy's Tip of the Day #1

Oh man!  The last few weeks have been quite busy.  A little bit of work travel here, a few house projects there, yard work (always yard work), and team building planning for a work conference.  All in all it has been rewarding work, but I am ready for a break. 

Caitlin at Healthy Tipping Point just opened a new business and asked the question to readers.  "If money was not an issue, what kind of business would you develop?"  Easy, I would totally have a competition/team building/event planning business.  In the mean time though, I will take opportunities at my real job to do just that!

Amy's Tip of the Day:  How to Look Like a Super Star at Work

You could just do your job really really well is suppose, but that is not as much fun as this.
  1. Join a Planning Committee.
  2. Plan a fun/cool event.  i.e. Copy any old or recent reality show or game show.  As a reality fan, my favorite is Amazing Race.  I haven't figured out a way to make Survivor into a team building event yet, but should get on that.
  3. Be Creative.  Put a work related twist into the event if possible.
  4. Prizes...always have prizes.
  5. Finally.  Hype it up.  Tell people they will have fun if they participate because you know they will!
I have been a part of a few event planning teams for corporate events in the past.  One thing that can bog a conference down is too many PowerPoint slides combined with sitting in the dark.  As a person who just wants to have fun (and help others do the same), I often come up with the games when on these types of committees.  I credit it my extensive reality TV watching.  At least it's worth something, right?

Some successful events in the past have included:

Minute to Win It.  (Credit my Uncle Dave for telling me his office did it first).  So that's two offices that have had a good time with it.  This was really, really easy and it can get to a semi-embarrassing place without actually embarrassing anyone.  Fun can be had by all for very little investment in tools and equipment.

Amazing Race.  You can plan a race from point to point.  This will take more planning time to come up with creative clues to destinations, challenges and coordination.  It is totally worth it.  Similar to the Minute to Win It, there is very little cost involved, just a few volunteers to help coordinate.
    • Tips:  Have volunteer texters to give out clues when a team solves a puzzle and texts the correct answer in.
    • Picture clues are fun.  Tell people to find "this" place and give them a picture of it.  
    • Eating challenges.  Period.  They can be fun or gross.
    • Puzzles are fun and create challenges that are not just about running and driving fast.  They can be word finds, searches, crosswords, actual puzzles, etc.
    • Have a finish mat or sign.  Makes the whole thing more legit.

Iron Chef.  This could be a little tough depending on the workplace.  Being in the food business, all of my offices have had ample kitchen space for multiple teams to cook and prep food.  That makes it perfect for Iron Chef.  Beyond the kitchen space, you just need a secret ingredient, groceries, judges and prizes!

Scavenger Hunt.  Not a reality show, but still worth noting.  Make a list of items to collect, pictures to take and maybe questions to answer (by finding a certain building or book, etc.).  Tell teams they have X amount of time to find as many as they can and meet back at the final destination.  Late teams could be disqualified or given a penalty.

Others I have not tried, but that could work:  Take it or Leave it, Jeopardy, Don't Forget the Lyrics, Family Feud, Office Olympics, The Bachelor (I kid, I kid), etc.

Another Key to a successful event is making it something new or different.  If you do Iron Chef every year, it will lose it's luster after a few.  Sure it will still be fun, but the excitement won't be as strong.

Even before my corporate days, I was always incorporating reality TV into my school projects. 
  • High School Freshman History Project:  Survivor Antarctica Video:  Voltaire v. Hobbs.
  • AP US History Final Project:  Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall Jeopardy Video.
  • Writing Assignment of our Choice (where you write about anything):  I wrote about how cool and interesting Survivor is.  I think it was during the compelling Rob C's season.
  • Yes, I am a total nerd.  Deal with it! :)


Happy Event Planning!!!


Best New Drink!

Disclaimer:  This post was meant to be posted Tuesday, but I didn't have the pictures when I was traveling, and have been busy since!  Excuses, excuses, I know...

The (last) weekend was full of appetizers and drinks, fun and Christmas decorating.  I came home from work on Friday with a case of really nice (and free) frozen strawberries.  Most fit into two gallon sized bags for storage, but there was about 2 1/2 cups left over.  Hmmm....


Friday Night + Frozen Strawberries = Very Tasty Blended Drink


2 to 3 C frozen Stawberries
5 Packets Splenda (or equivalent sugar/sweetner)
2 Shots Triple Sec
3 Shots


Put all of the ingredients in a blender.  Pulse blender a few times to get the strawberries crushed up and blendable.  Then blend constantly until smooth.  Makes two small (but strong), strawberry drinks.

In they go!

The non-alcohol part.

Before the blend.


Pumpkin Approved!

Survivor & Amazing Race This Week:

Survivor - It kept me excited (immunity challenge) and tearing-up (family reunions) as expected.  I did not appreciate the fake teaser from last week's preview where they implied Malcolm's brother screwed him somehow.  But that's how Survivor rolls, and they have been really good this season to make up for bad teasers.

Amazing Race - Barcelona!!! That is another city I would LOVE to visit.  One thing I have noticed this season is that the teams seem to be isolated during their breaks.  The three teams in the lead had no idea if Abby & Ryan were eliminated.  In the past, teams used to spend time together and seemed to become friends a lot of times.  Also interesting...this is the first leg where they have to drive themselves?  That used to be so common in the past.  Yay for wind energy!  There are a lot of people who think the Twins are really really annoying, and they are going to have to deal with them one more week!  Haha...girl power!  I would be happy to see any of the final four teams win, but the Twins are entertaining, so I'm glad they were spared.


From my travels this week.  Can you guess where I was???



I saw one of the new Boeing 787 Dreamliners today!  It was huge!  I shouldn't be this excited, but I have been flying United for most of my work trips so it's been kinda hyped up.  I was in George Bush Airport concourse C and saw this fancy stage and drapes.  So, obviously I wondered over to see what it was all about.  This is what I found!

It is hard to gauge how big the Dreamliner is, but below is a picture of the Dreamliner's wing (on the right)and another random United plane wing (left).  It might be twice as long?

Not the only person taking a picture of it!


Another Exciting Week

Survivor 11/28

  • Food auction. Yeah! 
    • Alright, Denise...she wasn't wasting anytime to buy food.
    • Skupin is a weirdo.  He must have really wanted that cheese.  I bet his stomach is not going to like that.
    • Penner got a total jackpot!  Funny that he still had to spend $100 for fried chicken and fries
    • They better make Carter a big bowl of rice and beans when they get back to camp.
  • Abi's getting cut throat!  I only wish Probst would have called her lie.  Can I say this just once more?  I AM SO SICK OF ABI!  Okay, done, moving on.
  • "I'm so not good at this game."  Lisa, please get over yourself.  I would have a hard time lying in general, but it can't be that hard on Survivor.  It's expected for goodness sake!  She is hopeless, giving the info to Penner, but not actually telling him he had help from her. 
  • Smart for Penner to pick Denise to vote for.  As much as I love her (Denise), she has had an uphill battle every week.  It's actually Hilarious that Lisa is forcing Skupin to be the bad guy!  What's going to happen?!?
  • "Help me help you."  Well, that is practically what Penner said, and I completely agree with his logic.  There is no way the very bitter jury members (at least up to this point) will vote for Penner or Skupin to win.  With that said, Skupin should have saved Penner to give himself a minute shot at winning. 
  • I am surprised that Penner went home, and totally prepared to be very sad at Denise being voted out.  She is one lucky lady!

Who thinks Abi will get caught in her lie?  Might just be in my dreams...

Kitties at ~ 1 Year. 

Pumpkin Roll.

Pretty Pi.

Awwww...Now, if only they acted as angelic as they look here. ;)


Happy Pumpkin

This cat probably ate more Turkey on our day of Thanksgiving than I did.
He probably would have kept going if the plate didn't run out.
Digesting under the Christmas tree.
Tough life he leads...
We were expecting to find turkey barf that evening or the next morning, but he kept it all in! Edited:  Bret found some this morning, 4 days later...not sure if that still counts.

Amazing Race 11/25

  • Good episode overall. I like that the teams are splitting off more and are not always on the same flight. 
  • The Double U-Turn strategy by the Twins and Texans was awesome!  It obviously paid off, and I couldn't be happier.  It is nice to see smart racers every now and then.
  • Abby made me feel a little bad for her out there dancing and organning in the rain, but Ryan squashed that sympathy pretty quick.
  • After the first leg, I said it's a game and you always have to do what you can to win.  At that time, it was Abby and Ryan doing the winning when they passed the double amputee, and now the tides have turned.  Boo Hoo, no $2 Million for you two...
  • Lastly, who in their right mind would want to race with another team when you know you are at the back of the pack?  Two episodes in a row for that matter!?!  Thankfully, the Doctor Beekman was able to talk some sense into his buddy.  Phil even tempted him with an option to lose!


One Day Late

This Thanksgiving was a little messed up in our home this year.  Bret worked nights all week including Thursday night and our guest didn't arrive until Friday afternoon.  Nevertheless, we celebrated Thanksgiving on Friday!

The turkey!

The food and drink!

As I mentioned before, this was my first time cooking a whole turkey and a lot of fixings.  My plan worked out just perfect though.  With trying all new recipes (except for pie), there were a lot of opportunities for mistake.  Having an extra day for planning and mental preparation seriously helped.

The pumpkin pie was made the day before.  The turkey was in brine all night.  The morning of eating day I prepped the turkey aromatics popped it all in the oven.  Prep of minor ingredients happened that morning too.  At 1:30 when Bret left for the airport I showered and then started the massive cooking spree.

Roasted Brussels sprouts - 40 min, turning at 20 and toasting the walnut garnish at 7 min left.

Blurry.  With Cranberries and Orange.  Still not my favorite veggie,
but I could start  making it more often.

Stuffing - saute onion, carrot and butter before mixing and baking 30 min (same oven at the sprouts).

I love stuffing!
Not sure why I never really ate it much before last year, but it is sooo tasty!

Potatoes - Boiled and prepped mix-ins (pre-roasted garlic, cream cheese, butter and half & half).  These were awesome!  And so easy to make.  I really should make mashed potatoes more often.


Gravy - from drippings.  This was messy without a fat separator.  It was also really really salty from the brined drippings.  Tasty though!

Cranberry sauce - canned with a little orange zest.

Not needed - Corn, spiced cider or extra bret bread.

The turkey was done way early.  Which is much better than late, but it did dry out a little.  I think the brine saved it, but it also made the meat pretty salty, almost too salty!  I might adjust the brine a little next time.

During the cooking storm I discovered that our oven has a temperature probe built in!  That would have been extremely useful information one day earlier... Well, there is always next year, or the next turkey.

Overall, this was a great opportunity to try new recipes and test out my planning and cooking skills.  I am quite pleased actually with the turnout.  All of the food was still hot (or at least warm) when it hit the table.

Over eating and wine or whiskey drinking ensued the rest of the evening.

I love holidays, food and family even if I can't be with everyone.  

Now, bring on the Christmas music and decorations!!!


Amy's Thanksgiving + Survivor

Nontraditional Turkey Day

  • Up at 7am.  With two hours to get cooking and house work done before Bret gets home from work to eat and sleep all day.  BTW...12 hour night shifts are not cool.
  • So, in those two hours I did some laundry while baking the Pumpkin Pie,  homemade crust and all. 
  • The middle of day included a long run, a big pile of noodles and a few episodes of Chopped!  (on hulu).  I love that show and just discovered how awesome it is during my work trip this October.
  • Nap with Bret after attempting to get him up. 
  • Paddle boat ride.
  • Dinner of a rice mix and Pizzazzed Pizza Rolls.  Yeah...really classy :)
  • Sent Bret back to work.
  • Finished out the night with more laundry, cleaning and Chopped.  And wine.

Pumpkin Pie

Crust:  flour, shortening, salt and a few table spoons of cool water.

I have had Mom's recipe for 6 years, and finally this year I bought one of these puppies.

So much better with the right tools!

Before adding the water.

Ready to roll.

Nobody's perfect.  It's all about the taste anyway :)

Filling dry ingredients:  Sugar, spice, salt.  I just used the recipe on Libby's  can.

Filling wet ingredients:  egg, evaporated milk and PUMPKIN.


Ready for baking.

The extra crust also prepped for baking.
I finally had a reason to use the engagement ring cookie cutter!
PS.  I love (good) pie crust.  

Ta Da!  Very good and pretty easy to make.  The homemade crust totally makes the pie.


So, I totally thought Survivor was a recap show this week!  I didn't even think about watching it.  Serves me right!  Must have been to focused on the pending cooking day to think about the show.  Without further ado, here is what I thought about this week's episode...

  • Nice Abi, throwing the forgiveness card at Lisa.  
  • Survivor has been spoiling me with very creative challenges these weeks!  I like it.  
  • Young v. Old.  It should have been a blowout if not for Abi and Malcolm's mistakes.   Abi keeps proving how stupid and, more importantly, careless she is.  Skupin for the lose!
  • As much as I hate Abi, she is reality TV gold.  "all the social grace of a Mack truck"  Thanks for that tidbit Malcolm.  
  • Interesting things going down here... Malcolm rushing and Penner relaxing.  Final Four!?
  • Supercharged immunity challenge.  The combination of the rope challenge in water was very cool.  It actually looked challenging too!  The final three must be so tired.  Who is Carter?  Just kidding, but it was nice to see him step up.
  • OMG!  Skupin please don't screw Malcolm!!! :(  At least Malcolm is aware of the threat.
  • Pauuleeaase!  As the words of Michelle from Full House, at Abi pawning off her terrible actions on cultural differences...Am I supposed to feel bad for her now?  Sorry, not going to happen.
  • Whew!  Thank you thank you thank you Skupin!  I think Malcolm saved himself by getting that FF deal in early.  Penner obviously helped with his non-committal actions.