Sunday, May 31, 2009

Endings & Beginnings

Today a very important person in my life passed away before my eyes and a few hours later a new life joined our family. It has been quite a day and I am numb, exhausted, saddened, excited, and comforted all at once. Thank you to all my family and close friends for your thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.

One of the strongest woman in my life passed away as the sun rose this morning. My grandmother was widowed at a very young age losing not only her husband, but a son in a tragic car accident. She worked to support the 3 surviving small boys in a day and age where a single mother was virtually unheard of. Eventually she ended up purchasing a tract of land and designing a house for her young family and provided them the best home she could. When my older brother and I were little she showed us the arts taking my brother to countless piano lessons and both of us to plays at a local college (Wheaton College). She babysat us and our two younger cousins, showering us with love and affection and her delicious cooking.

I shared a special bond with my grandmother as I was the best birthday gift she received in 1980. I was born the day before her birthday...the first girl on my Dad's side of the family in over 60 years. When I came home from the hospital she was in such disbelief that I was really a girl that she asked to change my diaper right away. :)

Grandma: I will always cherish the memories we shared. The good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful, the laughs we shared, and tears shed. I am so thankful that you had the chance to see me grow up, graduate (not once but 3 times!), marry the man of my dreams, and see photos of the places we have traveled and our beautiful home. I hope you look down fondly on us from above and smile with pride. I kept the yellow Mum you thought was so beautiful in your room and will plant it in our new yard to keep your memory alive. I love you. May you rest in peace in heaven with your husband, son, and sister. You will be greatly missed on this earth.

Eleanor S. T. Born: March 15th, 1922 Died: May 31st, 2009
My grandmother & I back in February 2009 when she was 1st diagnosed.Today was also a new beginning for Alexi and I. After debating and hemming and hawing for awhile we have a new addition to our family. Tomas and Sebastian are now big brothers and we have entered the realm of a two dog household (Eek!). Little Lily joined our family today. She is an American Cocker Spaniel (Tomas is an English Cocker) and was born on April Fool's Day 2009. I debated on whether we should postpone her homecoming with my grandmother's passing, but decided we needed stinky puppy breath and a a few sloppy puppy kisses to cheer us up so we still picked her up as scheduled this afternoon.

When she met Tomas for the first time she was unleashed. She took one look at Tomas, spun around, and ran into the backyard yelping the whole way! LOL, it was the saddest yet funniest thing. Within ten minutes she warmed right up to Tomas and I think before long they will be running us ragged.

Lily checks out her big brother from the safety of my legs:

Big brother meets Little Sister
All wiped out from a busy day (and a total couch hog!)

Here's to new beginnings...

Friday, May 29, 2009

Pork Chops with Country Gravy

I made this meal the 2nd time I cooked for Alexi and it was a winner. It used to be his favorite meal until this came along. I think last night's version was the best I've made it yet. The gravy was a bit browner then normal but it tasted delicious.

Recipe is courtesy of Cooking Light June 2006. It is estimated to have a 40-minute prep and cook time.

1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp dried marjaram
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp dried rubbed sage
4 (4 oz.) boneless center-cut loin pork chops (about 3/4-inch thick)
1 tablespoon butter
cooking spray
1 1/2 cups 1% low-fat milk

1. Lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Place flour, salt, dried marjaram, dried thyme, and dried rubbed sage in a shallow dish. Dredge pork in flour mixture, turning to coat; shake off excess. Reserve remaining flour mixture.
2. Melt butter in a large nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray over medium-high heat. Add pork to pan; cook 2 minutes on each side or until browned. Reduce heat, and cook for 10 minutes or until done, turning pork once. Remove from pan; keep warm.3. Combined reserve flour mixture and milk in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk until blended. Add milk mixture to pan; place over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Reduce heat and simmer 2 minutes or until slightly thickened, stirring constantly.
Yields: 4 servings, 252 calories, 9.6g of fat, 28.9g protein, 10.6g carbs, 0.3g fiber


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Graduation Photos (finally!)

It's been almost two weeks since my MBA graduation and I still don't quite know what to do with myself at times. It is pretty nice to be free to do whatever I want once I get home from work in the evenings. :) Three years of grad school and I'm done with school. Done, done. As in I don't really need to ever go back if I don't want to. It is still surreal to me that I technically NEVER have to go back to school unless a midlife crisis or other unforeseen circumstance warrants a complete career change. I do plan on doing several certifications for my job (AIAF, ARe, and maybe someday getting my CMA), but it is optional and would just be studying for exams using study guides.

Here are some photos from the big day!
Our speaker was former President of Lego, Peter Eio

A sea of graduates at the main ceremony.

Me (3rd row back on right) with my fellow MBA classmates at the Barney School of Business Ceremony:

My older brother, me, and my Grammie
A.R. & I
Rocking my "hawt" hood!
My friend & I
My friend & I after the ceremony
We are smokin' in these hoods
Here it is...the piece of paper I worked so hard for!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

How I Made a Diaper Cake

A.R.'s cousin is having a baby girl (due in August) and her baby shower is this weekend. She is involved in the planning of her baby shower because she's been bored out of her mind on bed rest for the past few months. They are anticipating an early arrival due to health reasons, but so far mother and baby are doing fine and hanging in there. The mommy-to-be is sooooo excited for her shower. The colors are yellow and pink and she asked that one of her helpers make a diaper cake so I took on the challenge. It actually was pretty easy.

The ingredients:
  • 60-90 baby diapers (I made it so each layer is a different size, the top layer is newborn, 2nd layer is #1, 3rd layer is #2)
  • Large bottle of baby lotion, shampoo, or soap (I used all 3 and held them together with a rubber band)
  • Trinkets/toys for decorating the cake
  • Onesies & bibs for stuffing in the center
  • 1-1 1/2" width ribbon
  • rubber bands
  • cardboard circle or square for cake base covered in wrapping paper
Step 1: Unfold the diapers and roll from back to front and secure with a rubber band. Place lotion bottle(s) in the center of the base and surround with rolled diapers. Secure together with a rubber band. Place another layer of diapers around the first layer and secure once again with rubber bands (can use thin ribbon if rubber bands aren't large enough). Since my cake was a bit larger, I put a 3rd layer of diapers outside the first two to form the base.

Step 2: To begin the center layer place rolled diapers around the tops of the lotion bottle(s) sticking up from the first layer and secure with a rubber band. I then stuffed the empty spaces with rolled up bibs and onesies. I then placed two more layers of diapers outside the first layer and secured with ribbon to keep in place.

Step 3: For the final layer it might be easier to put together first and then place on the top of the diaper cake. You can use a 4-oz baby diaper as the centerpiece (the top of the bottle will stick out of the top of the cake) and surround with two layers of rolled diapers, but I chose to place more bibs and onesies rolled up as the center of my top layer and then surrounded with two layers of rolled diapers and secured with rubber bands.

Step 4: Beautify your diaper cake. I used pink ribbon to surround the outer layers of the diaper cake to hide the rubber bands securing it together and I decorated with 3 cute toys and topped it with teeny tiny baby booties. You can also top with a bottle, teddy bear, or anything you see fit. I also found little plastic baby booties (at the Dollar Store) in pink to decorate the layers.

(Instructions obtained courtesy of a fellow CT Tribe member.)

Monday, May 25, 2009

My Adventures in Gardening

Holy exhaustion! Boy did I underestimate what it takes to be a gardener. Every muscle in my body aches, I'm sunburnt, and just got done taking a two hour nap after 3 days of gardening/landscaping in our yard. I re-bedded two shrub beds (laid down plastic, installed plastic edging, & laid down new mulch) and one tree bed, A.R. tackled the layout and tilling of our vegetable garden, and I cleared and planted 4 mini-gardens under the fence that is on top of a hill on our property. I have to say I think I bit off a bit more then I could chew...and poor A.R. was such a trooper helping out.

A.R learned how to work a tiller this weekend and was able to get our soon-to-be veggie garden tilled and fenced in. We rented a tiller from Home Depot and had to return the thing back at 11:57 on Sunday morning...we had it back at exactly 11:53am! We didn't plan very well before we rented the tiller which we only had for 24 hours. In hindsight, we should've completely prepared the land and staked out the garden BEFORE renting the tiller. The grass was so high and thick A.R. had to weed wack it down with the brush attachment for our trimmer and then rake the grass clippings to the side before tilling the area. I think we'll be looking into getting the tiller attachment to our trimmer this week to further till the land as the places where the land is harder need another pass with a tiller. Here is a picture of it after tilling, but before fencing:

I think Home Depot probably owns a few shares of our house right now. I think we went there no less then 5 times this weekend and really need to make one last trip for more mulch for one of my shrub beds! We went there so many times my bank card called to make sure there wasn't fraud activity happening on our card. LOL.

Here are some pictures of the planting I did under the fence installed by our builder on our property. The fence is at the top of a steep hill at the end of the cul-de-sac in our yard. I actually love the fence they put in even though it's more for safety then to be pretty. It took me FOREVER to hoe down under the fence as the ground was really tough and rocky and even though A.R. tried to make a pass with the tiller he couldn't really get under it well with the awkward machine. I planted Hostas (given to me by a friend) under the fence alternating with green with white centers and solid green. At the end fence post on either side I planted a Lily plant. I plan on still planting some Irises (if they survive out of the ground a few more days!) around the utility boxes, but I ran out of weekend and energy for using the hoe. Here is a before picture with only two sections under the fence ready for planting and an after picture. I sure hope the Hostas root, and come back to life as they are pretty wilted still.

Here are some photos of the shrub bed before, during, and after re-bedding. I raked out the old mulch, laid down landscapers plastic (to help prevent weeds), and laid down black plastic edging to hold the mulch in the beds due to the way our land slopes. I did this to the two beds in the front of the house that the builder created.

I also planted four plants alternating white Snow Cap Spiderworts and Astilbes (red) on the side of the house by the garage, but I didn't establish beds and just planted them in the ground to see how they will grow. That side of the house is partial shade. If they grow well I'll probably make it into a garden and lay down some landscaping plastic and create a natural edge to the garden once our lawn is established. Our builder should be re-seeding our yard within a week. More adventures in gardening to come as we tackle planting our vegetable garden!


Friday, May 22, 2009

Our Day at the Museum

A.R., P.T. (my older brother), and I went to NYC last Friday to visit the Natural History Museum and had a great time. We took the Metro-North train out of New Haven and navigated the subways from Grand Central Station like pros. It was a beautiful day to go to the city and we were all pooped when we got back home. I can't wait to go back to see The MET and one day I hope to visit the Bronx Zoo. I love living in CT because we are so close to the city, yet so far away and we are just a hop, skip, and a jump from Boston as well.
P.T., A.R., and I On the Metro-North into Grand Central Station

The museum was nice, but not really what I expected based more on what I've seen on TV and in the movies...ah hem, Night at the Museum movie based at the Smithsonian. Ya, I know nothing comes to life at night, but you have to admit it would be kind of cool if they did. There were four floors, an IMAX theater, and several temporary exhibits there. The dinosaur skeletons always amaze me, but I think the most interesting exhibit was the evolution of the Horse which is visiting temporarily. I love horses, so I was intrigued to see the skeletons and history behind them.
P.T. & I outside the museum Part of the Equus (horse) exhibit.

My favorite dino: tricerotops

After the museum we ate dinner in Times Square at none other then Applebee's. I know. It's sad to go all the way to NYC and eat at a chain restaurant, but our feet were killing us from all the walking, we were really thirsty, and starving! We got off the subway and it was right there. The best part is I usually hate Applebee's and haven't eaten there in years. My burger was delish, though.

Times Square

The big Blue Whale exhibit. It is ginormous!

Yes, I married this man. Yes, he is picking the statue's nose.

I thought these were really cool. They were mini exhibits of various Native American homes.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

My Favorite Kitchen Appliances

I have two kitchen appliances that I love probably more than I should admit. They are my Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer and my trusty Rival crock pot. My crock pot has come in handy MANY times on nights when I just don't feel like cooking after work or need to plan ahead for a quick dinner when I get home from work. There is nothing like coming home to the scent of a roast and veggies slow-cooked in the crock pot all day long. My crock pot was a house warming gift from an old friend when I moved out of my parents' home into an apartment just after I turned 18. I still have the same crock pot over ten years later!

Here she is loaded up with veggies and a pork roast to be cooked on low all day long.

My Kitchen Aid stand mixer in grey is more a complete indulgent purchase for me, rather than being practical like my crock pot. I stalked her (yes, it is a she) on Macy's website for well over a year before I finally got to bring her home. I waited for just the right sale and used some of the generous gift cards we received as wedding gifts before caving and spending the money on her. Now, I'm in love. I can't wait to buy more attachements (pasta maker and ice cream maker are on my list!) to really test her out and make her a staple in my kitchen.

There is a funny story behind her arrival. I actually got brave and ordered her online after not finding the particular make and model I wanted in the store (I actually researched the motor wattage and wanted a particular speed!). Of course, I did this 3 weeks before Christmas when their warehouse was probably in a state of mayhem. The day my mixer arrived, the UPS guy put it on our porch. To move it into the house, I squatted down to lift with my knees expecting the box to be really heavy and nearly fell over as I stood up and discovered the box was light as a feather. I opened the box to discover a wicker baskets from Rowanda with a packing slip that said the box weighed over 20 lbs and was a mixer. WTF?

Here she is!

A.R. and I went to the local Macy's store and attempted to exchange the hand-woven baskets for the mixer we actually ordered only to get accused of attempting to "steal" a 2nd mixer by the casher. The cashier called her department head after accusing us of trying to take advantage of their system and the manager said there was nothing they could do since we ordered on-line. Um, hello? Aren't you the same store? It says online and in the return instructions on the packing slip that exchanges and returns can be made in-store. Long story short, she took a look at the size of the box the Rowandan baskets came in versus how big the actual mixer box was and then compared the packing slip to the label on our box. It appears someone in the warehouse created a label to ship our mixer to us with the correct weight of the mixer on the box label and packing slip, but then slapped the label on a smaller box and shipped us the baskets while they most likely stole the mixer. It was also quite obvious the box wasn't big enough to hold a mixer and weighed only 2 lbs.

The manager looked up the baskets in their inventory and it turns out they were worth only $1, which meant that they had even been discontinued! We were taken to the bridal registry area where the manager re-ordered the correct mixer for us, gave us an additional discount for our trouble, and let us keep the baskets from Rowanda. How much did my mixer end up costing me? A whopping $25!!! Boo Yah!! Now you know why I love her even more :).


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Party like it's hawt!

On Saturday (May 16th), A.R. threw me a party to celebrate my graduation and it was a beautiful day outside. The person who traveled the farthest to attend was my brother, P.T., from St. Petersburg, Florida. He had quite a time getting here, too. His connecting flight from Newark into Hartford was cancelled and he ended up having to fly into Providence to get here while his luggage conveniently traveled to Hartford. WTF? Thanks for coming big brudder and I can't wait to see you again soon!

I also hosted my grandmother as a guest in our home for the first time. I was a bundle of nerves as she is quite old fashioned and on top of all the proper etiquette you should display. I hope I didn't offend her too badly, but I think she had a blast...she cried when she saw our house, she was so proud.

We kicked off the party by pigging out and watching the Preakness on TV. Go Baby Go! The favorite, a filly, won. A.R. burnt no less then a half of dozen hotdogs into oblivion while trying to figure out our new grill and quickly turned the cooking over to his older brother, M.R. Don't worry Babe, you'll figure it out sooner or later (hopefully sooner, than later!). Muah! I didn't drink too much because I was exhausted already and we had to get up early for the ceremony on Sunday.
My velvet with cream cheese frosting to match school colors (red & white):

My friend (& fellow graduate) and I acting silly:

My brother & I acting silly:

Some of my guests:

Some guests earlier in the party:Y, me, and P celebrating:
A.R. & I celebrating he is next up in 2011 with his MS in Computer Science:

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Graduation Festivities Begin!

I can't believe how fast the last three years flew by. It seems like just yesterday I was applying to graduate school and touring campuses to see which one would be the best fit for me. Now, it is all over...tomorrow morning I'll walk across that stage and get my diploma. Holy cow! I will have a Master's degree. Little. Old. Me. I have to admit that getting my MBA was a lot harder for me then studying for my Bachelor's in Accounting. The classes were MUCH more intense and took a lot more of my time outside of the already full-time work schedule I have. Of course it probably didn't help that while I was enrolled in grad school last year I also planned a wedding (my own) and built a house along with my full-time job as an accountant in Reinsurance. Yup, it was enough to drive me just a teensy bit insane. Luckily, my groom still married me! :)

I'm proud to graduate as a member of Sigma Alpha Pi the National Honor Society of Leadership and Success and with a GPA of 3.83 (darned "B" in Economics = killing me!). Yes, I am a geek. A number crunching, reconciliation loving, checkbook balancing geek. My favorite class as a Master's Student was the International Marketing course I took to Bangkok, Thailand and Singapore for 12 days in the summer of 2007. I will never forget that experience and can't wait for the class reunion we organized for the end of May. My least favorite class was probably the Macro Economics course I took on Saturday mornings for 7 weeks. What was I thinking subjecting myself to such torture on a Saturday?! Economics + Heather = NOT fun. I have to admit I'll miss the excited butterfly like feeling in the pit of my stomach I get at the start of every semester, the intensity of trying to finish up that term paper and give the class presentation on time, and the sense of extreme accomplishment that follows the end of every semester. I won't miss having to spend my evenings studying or doing homework or having to pass on a Happy Hour, movie, or family gathering because I have to study.

On Thursday I attended a Graduation Reception for Graduate students at school. Here is a picture of my friend Jani and I there:

I also picked up my cap, gown, and hood as well. I have to say that the hood is pretty freakin' ugly. It's brown (they even call the color "drab"!!) for the school of business and the red and white on the inside are our school colors. Even though it's ugly, I might still keep it. I'll have to pay for it if I do, but it is kind of cool I get to be the one wearing a hood at graduation now and I can see myself trying it on for size at home and being all nostalgic. LOL, yes I'm lame. Here she is in all her glory waiting for some ironing:

Ok, I have to close for now but I'll post some pictures of the party and ceremony next week. Yesterday, we (Alexi, my brother Pete, and I) went to NYC to tour the Natural History Museum so I'll post some pictures from our adventures there as well.


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Have you ever...

...gone a whole day thinking it was actually another weekday? I could've sworn all day long that today was Wednesday, not Tuesday. At various spots throughout the day I found myself planning in my head what I had to do today (my imagined Wednesday) to get ahead at work since I have a short week (PTO...woohoo!) and to prepare for brother and grandmother's arrival this weekend for my graduation festivities. Then I'd snap out of my imaginary day and realize it's still Tuesday and I have an extra day to get everything done. Phew! I must've convinced myself no less then 4 times throughout the day that it was really only Tuesday still.

Today was a rough day for A.R. He found out his first "real" boss, his mentor, and good friend Simone passed away yesterday. We know she is in better place and no longer suffering, but it still stings and A.R. is so forlorn and sad. Simone was diagnosed with cancer shortly after she hired A.R. when he was fresh out of college and has been battling it on and off for at least 5 years that I know of. I had the pleasure of meeting Simone and getting to know her on several occassions. She was a wonderful woman. Kind. Caring. Smart. She treated A.R. like a long lost son (she used to say that he was her son that actually went to college because her biological sons didn't!).

She was invited to our wedding, but couldn't make it because she was awaiting brain surgery and wasn't doing well. I'll never forget the phone conversation A.R. had with her to thank her for the generous wedding gifts she sent to us. I held his hand while he spoke with her before we left for our honeymoon last September. I saw her a few more times when she was visiting at work and she was always so upbeat and constantly saying how proud she was of A.R. Sadly, he had decided to call and visit her one last time just this past Friday, but we never guessed that we would be too late.

RIP Simone! You will not be forgotten. Thank you for taking A.R. under your wing, giving him a career, a long lasting friendship, and treating him like your own son.


Monday, May 11, 2009

My Fears

I have 3 main fears:
  1. Snakes: They have no legs and slither all creepily. They totally give me the heebie jeebies!

  2. Heights: I never was scared of heights until I went skydiving after my undergrad graduation in 2004. Now, I start shaking or get naseous when I'm up high looking down...even in the luxury boxes at the Hartford Civic Center (I was terrified in this pic!). It just isn't natural to throw yourself out of a plane at 14,000 feet and I'm now scarred for life, I think. When our house was being built and we'd sneak in to see the progress and take pictures and I had to climb up the temporary construction stairs (which builders twice my weight and taller then me run up and down with ease) on my hands and knees because you could see from the 2nd floor down to the basement. To this day I still am a little freaked out to know that there is a gap below our permanent staircase to the basement!

  3. The Dentist: I'm scared of the dentist. I get sweaty palms on the short drive from my office to my twice a year cleanings and have white knuckles the whole time I'm there. I needed two fillings fixed a couple of months ago and I dreaded it for days before my appointment. The sound of the drill....Ugh!

Ok, why am I divulging my biggest fears? Because I have to deal with #3 firsthand next month when I have to have oral surgery. My gums have always been a little too low on my bottom row of teeth and I've already had one procedure (labial frenectomy) on my lower lip and gum to try and slow down the progression. I have to have two skin grafts to two different parts of my lower gums. The skin comes from the roof of my mouth. My brother had a skin graft procedure when we were little so the problem is partially genetic. The doctor assured me the recovery isn't long albeit a bit gross (I might bleed for a couple of days when I try and eat) and I can go back to work in a day. A coworker of mine had the procedure done last month and had an easy recovery, but a friend of mine had it done and was miserable. I'm hoping I have it easy like my coworker! I'm having my surgery on a Thursday afternoon and will work from home on Friday just in case it's worse then I think. Now...I have 3 weeks to wait, worry, and dread the procedure. I hope they give me good meds to calm me down before they start!!