Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas from the Shepherd family!

We hope you have a magical day filled with love, family, gift-giving, food, and the Christmas spirit...as well as some boozy beverages for the adults :).
 

It truly has been such a wonderful adventure of a year.


Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Traditions

I absolutely love the holiday season, and I also really love family traditions. My parents did a great job of creating/continuing a bunch of fun traditions. Now that we have a child of our own, I wanted to make note of all these traditions so they are not lost. There are also some traditions that I would love to start...because you can never have enough. 

Even though Ava is too young to partake in many of these traditions this year, we are starting all of the ones we can. To me, these traditions are way more important than any gift that Santa brings. I honestly can't remember most of the gifts I received as a child, but thinking about all these fun traditions brings a huge smile to my face. 

Traditions from My Childhood: 
  • Nativity Play at My Grandparent's Ranch: This is by far the coolest thing we did at Christmas. My grandparents lived on a wonderful piece of property in the Texas Hill Country, complete with a big barn and a variety of farm animals. Every year, we went to their house the weekend before Christmas. In addition to opening gifts, decorating cookies, and eating dinner, we also acted out the entire Nativity story. We dressed up in costumes (many of which were made from sheets and pillowcases) and even had scripts. We also sang the appropriate Christmas carols throughout. My grandmother sometimes found different versions of the story that we used, such as a children's book that told the story through the eyes of all the animals. 
Regardless, I usually played Mary and my cousin Barham was Joseph. Sometimes baby Jesus was a doll and sometimes he was played by the youngest grandchild. 


And my grandfather always played both the Innkeeper and the voice of God. Here he is telling me that there is no room at the inn :). 


They even had a donkey that we got to ride!


I will always have such fond memories of this wonderful tradition, and I am so very sad that they sold their property a few years ago. Unfortunately, this is the kind of tradition that needs the perfect setting. 
  • Sand Tart Cookies: When I think of Christmas, I think of my Mimi/Mom's sand tarts. They literally melt in your mouth. The recipe is not super difficult, but a lot of love and time goes into them. As a result, my Mimi was shocked when my Mom gave them to our teachers as Christmas one year. Her reaction: "You gave those to strangers?!" Classic. This is definitely a tradition that I plan on continuing.
  • Advent Calendars: We usually had several advent calendars going on at our house, including the chocolate-filled paper ones and the huge Christmas tree one with velcro ornaments (of which many have gone missing over the years). I love the countdown to Christmas, and the anticipation-building power that they hold. 
  • The Nutcracker Ballet: As a little girl, I thought the Nutcracker ballet was pure magic. Especially since I was a dancer myself. Ballet Austin puts on a wonderful production of the holiday classic, and we went at least every few years. 
  • "A Christmas Affair": The Junior League of Austin organizes a huge holiday market every year, which includes booths selling all kinds of clothes, gadgets, and food. They also have performances going on throughout the day, appearances by Santa, and beautiful decorations everywhere. I don't think I have ever bought anything at the event, but it is so much fun to peruse the aisles. I haven't been, but I think the Chi Omega Christmas event in Dallas is similar...although I don't know if they let Tri Delts in ;). 
  • Zilker Park Tree and Trail of LightsGoing to see the Zilker Park Christmas tree and Trail of Lights is something we did nearly every year growing up. And it was always mandatory to spin under the huge tree of lights. The tree becomes part of the Austin skyline during the holidays, and it is a wonderful sight to see driving into town. The Trail of Lights was recently closed for a couple years due to lack of funding, but it is back this year due to fundraising by a new foundation. I can't wait to take Ava!
  • Watching Christmas Movies: Who doesn't love a good Christmas movie?! I definitely have fond memories of watching Rudolph (the classic claymation-type animated one), Santa Claus (the one with Dudley Moore), A Christmas Story, and Miracle on 34th Street (both the original and new versions) as a kid. And later on, Home Alone, Elf, The Grinch, Love Actually, and even Die Hard have become holiday favorites. But my absolute favorite movie is White Christmas. We have watched this movie a bazillion times, and I think I know every word to every song. There have definitely been some fabulous performances of "Sisters" in our house :). 
  • Bonnie's Birthday: My sister's birthday is on Christmas Eve, and my parents always made a huge effort to make her birthday special despite being right during the holidays. When she was younger, she had many gingerbread house-making parties at the Austin Children's Museum. But for the past 15 years or so, we have had a bowling party a few days before Christmas at the classic Dart Bowl. There is something about the tacky interior, greasy food, and friendly family competition that screams Christmas to me now, and I don't think our holiday would be quite the same without it. I even bowled while 8.5 months pregnant last year...and totally dominated! 
  • Candlelight Church Service on Christmas Eve: While I have never been a super consistent churchgoer, we always went to the Christmas Eve service. The pastor would tell the entire story of Jesus' birth, and the congregation would sing the appropriate Christmas songs throughout. My favorite part was at the end when everyone held up a lit candle and sang "Silent Night." So lovely. 
  • Leaving Cookies for Santa: As a kid, this always seemed very important. You couldn't slight Santa by not leaving him some cookies and milk. We also left some carrots for the reindeer on occasion. I'm sure it was a lot less fun to eat those as a parent.
  • Reading The Night Before Christmas: We read this classic each year on Christmas Eve, and it will be an easy and fun tradition to continue. 
  • My Dad's One Gift That Didn't Come From Santa: Santa did most of the heavy lifting (literally) when it came to gifts in our house. And his presence was long-lasting in our family since Lily is 13 years younger than me. However, my Dad always made a point to give each of us a gift that was just from him. It was usually a special piece of jewelry, and it was always so sweet. I would love to continue this tradition with Ava, and have Josh give her a special gift each year. 
  • Mimi's Present Poems: My grandmother has always been quite the writer (she was one of the first women to graduate with a Journalism degree from UT), and she used to include short poems on the gift tags of our presents. The poems were clues about the gifts, and the last word was left blank for us to guess. They were so fun! 
  • Opening Stockings Last: I know this is a small thing, but I always loved saving our stockings until last. 
New Traditions I Would Love to Start: 
  • Austin Visit: We think it is important for Ava to always wake up in her own house on Christmas morning. So, just as we went to our grandparents' house in Wimberley every year, we are going to start going to Austin to visit my family the weekend before Christmas. In addition to visiting with her grandparents, aunts, and uncles, she will also be able to enjoy all the fun Austin-area Christmas attractions that I adored as a child.
  • Hot Chocolate Bar: I love hot chocolate (and apple cider)! And I think it would be really fun to set up a hot chocloate bar at some point during the holidays. Perhaps while we are decorating the tree as a family, or maybe as part of a Polar Express-themed night.
  • Pictures with Santa: We did this a few times as kids, but I would love to make it a tradition to take Ava...at least while she is young. We already checked this one off the list!
  • Donating Toys to Charity: Donating old toys to charity during the holidays serves many wonderful purposes, including teaching your children to be appreciative of all that they have as well as the importance of helping others in the community. Additionally, Josh and I both are very much against toy clutter around the house, so this would help solve that problem on a yearly basis.
  • Advent Calendar with Holiday Activites: I found this idea on Pinterest for an advent calendar that includes cards with various holiday activities, such as "drive around to see the lights," "decorate cookies," and "write a letter to Santa."  I think this would be so fun, and we could switch up some of the cards every year to tie in new activities.
  • "Cookies & Castles": The TCU Tri Delt chapter puts on this gingerbread house-decorating event every year to support Cook Children's Medical Center. Ava was too young to participate this year, but hopefully we can make it over to Fort Worth next year.
  • Christmas Eve PJs: Another tradition that we started this year is having Ava open up one gift on Christmas Eve...a new pair of pajamas. We cheated a little this year and had her try them on a couple weeks ago so we could take a picture of her in these cute drop-seat PJs.

  • Elf on a Shelf: I can't wait to jump on the Elf on a Shelf bandwagon as soon as Ava is old enough to understand. There are so many ideas on Pinterest right now for creative elf placement, and I definitely have some ideas of my own. However, I will not be one of those crazy moms that makes huge messes in the name of silly Elf on the Shelf anticts. Because somebody (i.e. me) will have to clean that up!
  • DFW-Area Christmas Events: I know about most of the fun things to do in Austin around Christmas, and I am really excited to experience all that DFW has to offer during the holidays. I definitely want to check out the NorthPark trains, the Gaylord ice exhibit, and all the great Christmas light displays around town, including Swiss Avenue and Interlochen. 
I hope everyone is enjoying the holidays and all your family traditions!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Chicken Enchiladas with Cilantro Cream Sauce

I love chicken enchiladas, and this is one of my favorite versions I have made at home (although Josh prefers more of a sour cream sauce). The sauce is adapted from this recipe I found on Pinterest, but you could also use the base chicken enchilada recipe with whatever sauce you prefer. 

Ingredients:

Enchiladas
  • 3 chicken breasts
  • 1 cup Mexican beer
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground garlic
  • 10 tortillas
  • 4 cups shredded Monterrey Jack cheese (divided)
Sauce
  • 2 cups chopped cilantro
  • 4 cups half and half
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 3 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
There are several methods for cooking chicken to shred for enchiladas (and you could even buy a pre-cooked rotisserie chicken), but I prefer to cook mine in the crockpot. It is super easy, and I love using my crockpot.

First, put the chicken breasts in the bottom of the crockpot (I cooked four because I had an extra, and I saved the extra shredded chicken for my quesadilla-loving husband). 


Then get out a bottle of your favorite Mexican beer. 


You only need a cup, which leaves a little bit to enjoy while you are cooking :). 


Mix in the salt, cumin, and garlic. 


And pour the mixture over the chicken. 


I did this the night before (but you don't have to), so I could simply pull it out of the fridge and turn it on in the morning. 


**A note on preparing the crockpot meal the night before and sticking it in the fridge overnight: I was frustrated the first time I tried this because it wouldn't fit into the fridge with the top on (because the handle made it stick up too far), and I had to cover it with foil. Then I realized I could turn the lid upside down. Duh!**


Cook the chicken in the crockpot on low for eight hours. Once it is done, shred all the chicken and put into a bowl. 



Add two cups of the cooking liquid back into the chicken to keep it moist (Sorry...I hate that word, but it is really appropriate here).  


Butter your casserole dish. In this case, I used two smaller dishes...one to cook for dinner, and one to freeze for later. 


Fill the tortillas with the chicken mixture. 


And top the chicken with cheese. Remember to save some cheese for the top of the casserole (I used a little more than half the cheese inside the enchiladas and the rest on top). 


Roll them up and place seam side down in the casserole dish. 



Now it is time to make the sauce. Start by chopping up all the cilantro. 



Then whisk together the water and cornstarch. 


Add the half and half, salt, and cayenne to a pot. 



Add about a third of the water/cornstarch mixture to start. 


Simmer until thickened, adding more water/cornstarch mixture and stirring fairly frequently as it cooks. 


It should be thick enough once you can coat a spoon. 


Turn off the heat and stir in the chopped cilantro. 




Cover the enchiladas with the sauce and the remaining cheese. 



At this point, you could refrigerate or freeze the casseroles for baking later. When you are ready to bake them, cook at 350 for 30 minutes (longer if frozen). The cheese will be nice and bubbly, with some browned edges (my favorite part). You could even broil them for a couple minutes if you want the cheese even more browned.


Serve with your favorite sides and enjoy!


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Bunny to the Rescue

Last Thursday, I got the dreaded call from daycare that Ava had a fever. When I picked her up, I could tell immediately that she was miserable. She spent all day sleeping, crying, or just wanting to be held. Ava was even worse on Friday morning, when she woke up with a high fever. The only thing that made her feel better (other than the Tylenol) was me walking her around the house like when she was a little baby. She was so pitiful. 

After her fever was finally gone for good on Saturday, she felt better, but still had no appetite, a terrible runny nose, an upset stomach at times, and generally just felt crummy. Even when she was playing, Ava didn't have her normal energy. 

Exhibit A: She decided it was a lot more relaxing to read while lying on a big pillow :). 


And I also established a new house rule...sick babies get to play with the (usually off-limits) remote.


Since I had stayed home from work on Thursday and Friday, and Ava was still feeling bad on Saturday, I was really concerned that she was not going to be better by Monday. I also wanted to take her to the doctor to make sure she didn't have an ear infection. But I really couldn't miss another full day of work. So, my Mom came to the rescue. 

Bunny drove up to Dallas and rescheduled all her plans for Sunday night and Monday so she could take Ava to the doctor. Josh and I were super grateful, and Ava was so glad to see her Bunny! 

She was even able to get a few smiles out of her. 


Luckily, the doctor said Ava didn't have an ear infection and her chest was clear. It was just a really bad cold. Today was her first day back at daycare, and she had a rough morning. They even called me to say that she had cried for 45 minutes straight this morning :(. Not only is Ava still not 100%, but she was also spoiled by all the one-on-one attention she got for the past five days. Luckily, Ava was feeling a lot better by the time I picked her up tonight, and I'm really hoping she is back to normal soon. 

The silver lining of this terrible bug is that I got in lots of snuggle time with my sweet baby girl. Which was especially needed after hearing the tragic news out of Connecticut on Friday. My heart literally aches for all the family members and loved ones of the victims, and I tear up every time I think about it. They were just babies! I can't possibly imagine what it would be like to get that call as a parent. I'm not going to talk about gun control or mental health issues on this blog, but I will say that news like that definitely puts things in perspective. I was more than happy to spend several days cleaning up poop, vomit, and a plethora of snot...because it meant that I got to spend it with Ava. 


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Look, It's Santa!

We have been debating where to take Ava to take her first picture with Santa, and I was really dreading braving the lines. Then Josh's boss was sweet enough to invite us (as well as the other three attorneys and their families) to the big Christmas party at her country club, which included pictures with Santa. Problem solved!

Ava was very curious about this bearded stranger. 



Below is the official picture with Santa. In very un-Ava-like fashion, we couldn't get her to smile, but it is still pretty cute (although I was kind of hoping for one of those classic screaming-baby with Santa pics). 

It was a fun party, and Ava loved watching all the older kids run around. 


There were also reindeer outside. It was the first time I had seen reindeer in real life, and they were really beautiful. 



Ava thought they were pretty cool as well. 


And I had to sneak a picture of the guy who was in charge of the reindeer. He reminded me so much of the Seann William Scott character from "Old School" (being able to bust out a tranquilizer gun is probably his dream). 


At the end of the party, Santa joined in on the fun and walked around the room greeting everyone. When Ava spotted him, I captured what is my new favorite picture...


Ava was so excited to see him, and it was like she was saying, "Look, it's Santa!" Seeing Ava's first magic-of-Christmas moment warmed this momma's heart beyond measure. 

She also thought his glasses were really cool. 


Santa was sweet enough to let us take one more posed picture. And this time we caught a little smile :). 


 We can now scratch "picture with Santa" off the list...one Christmas tradition down, many more to go!




About Me

My name is Catherine, but most of my friends call me Cat. I was born and raised in Austin, went to TCU, and ended up in Dallas for law school (where Josh and I met). I decided that being an attorney was not my cup of tea and pursued a career in legal marketing instead. I am now a mother of two attempting to balance family with a full-time job, which is always an adventure. I love: my sweet babies, handsome husband, very large family, and fabulous friends; trying new restaurants; wine; TCU football; holidays; cooking; pajamas; La Croix; reading; coffee; podcasts; Central Market; carbs; the beach; mani/pedis; Anthropologie; binge-worthy TV shows; trivia; French 75s; Pinterest; cheese boards; The Ticket; dancing; Sprinkles cupcakes; The Texas Rangers; fresh flowers; thunderstorms; naps; Tex-Mex; the Texas Hill Country; porch-sitting; ranch dressing; throwing parties; and my job. I hate: working-mom guilt; snakes; heights; waking up early; ignorant people; stomach bugs; paper cuts; green fruit; bad hair days; snoring; the sound of people eating (Misophonia); Miracle Whip; scary movies; bad drivers; pulpy OJ; trimming baby fingernails; and working out. I think that sums it up.

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