Dueling Christmas Lights – Part Two

If you missed yesterday’s post, click here.

Up next, the lights from the great state of New Hampshire. The most impressive part of this light show, wasn’t actually the lights. It was the fact that, feeling our complacency with the “same-old-same-old” light display, my dad logged onto the computer and researched a new light display nearby. Impressive.

So after visiting our tried and true spots, we drove to the neighboring town to see if this new light display was really that good.

Yup, it was. That is, unless you suffer from seizures. Then it probably wasn’t good for you at all.

Dueling Christmas Lights – Part One

Another one of the Brethauer Christmas traditions is to go and look at Christmas lights. Over the years we have driver to many different areas around our town. Sadly, the past four of five years, have pretty much been the same exact houses (something which Matt reminds me every year since these are the only years he has been included in the tradition). Well this year, BOTH sets of parents stepped it up. And boy was I impressed.

First up, the Englehardts. Christmas light viewing is nothing something Matt grew up doing. They were more a “go to the movies on Christmas” type of family. Thankfully, they have welcomed many of my crazy traditions into their lives. So when Matt’s mother announced that she has a surprise adventure planned, I was psyched. We drove to the town of Millis, MA a neighboring town to where Matt grew up. Unfortunately, about 2,000 other people had the same surprise adventure in mind and we ended up waiting for over an hour in traffic. During this time we enjoyed some quality family bonding time with the Boston Pops concert playing in the background. When we finally pulled up enough to see the lights, we all realized the wait was well worthwhile.

Every year, a local businessman, Kevin Meehan puts on a display to top all displays in his family’s home. What started as a small family project has become a Winter Wonderland, acres upon acres lit from top to bottom, which includes 45+ workshops where all of Santa’s friends, family and elves are preparing for the coming holiday, a real tugboat, and Santa himself sitting 40 feet tall. The display is free for all to experience, but friends and family of Mr. Meehan collect donations for the Salvation Army along the route (a nice touch in my mind).

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Mr. Meehan owns a large auto dealership, so the display included some of the new trucks and cars that might be on folks’ Christmas Lists. Hey, a little self-promotion never hurt anyone. Or did it?

Turn it tomorrow for the NH light show.

A Christmas Recap

A few images from our New England Christmas celebrations! Our first stop was Massachusetts to spend time with Matt’s family.

Getting some QT with my niece puppy Sunshine
Getting some QT with my niece puppy Sunshine
Sunny is so happy about her new fur coat
Sunny is so happy about her new fur coat
Bringing a Brethauer tradition to the Englehardts... Monkey Bread!
Bringing a Brethauer tradition to the Englehardts… Monkey Bread!
New clothes!
New clothes!
Quick take a photo of me while I casually pose.
Quick take a photo of me while I casually pose.
Englehardt Family!
Englehardt Family!
The boys made bloody marys for everyone.
The boys made bloody marys for everyone.
Bloody mary bar
Bloody mary bar
I got a new power screw driver from my father-in-law
I got a new power screw driver from my father-in-law
Courtney opening our present to her, a soda stream!
Courtney opening our present to her, a soda stream!
Yummy Chrismtas morning brunch
Yummy Chrismtas morning brunch

Then it was up to New Hampshire for a few days with my family.

Nothing beats hanging out with Abby and her dog Bexley
Nothing beats hanging out with Abby and her dog Bexley
Frosting sugar cookies
Frosting sugar cookies
Yummy!
Yummy!
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care
More monkey bread!
More monkey bread!
A skinny Christmas tree this year!
A skinny Christmas tree this year!

 

Deer in the backyard
Deer in the backyard
Bexley in her new bed
Bexley in her new bed
Spending time with my favorite munchkins!
Spending time with my favorite munchkins!
Another Brethauer family tradition
Another Brethauer family tradition

We had a wonderful time visiting our families. Every year I am reminded just how lucky we all are and how incredible my husband is for putting up with my family and our crazy traditions. Here’s to many more Christmas memories made in our matching jammies!

O Christmas Tree

 

 

 

 

 

 

After surviving hosting Thanksgiving for the first time, Matt and I immediately switched into Christmas mode. On Saturday we went out and bought our first real Christmas tree together. This was always a magical experience for me as a child. About a week after Thanksgiving, my family would drive over to Clark’s Farm and walk through the maze of Christmas trees searching for the best one. Christmas music would be playing over the speakers, Christmas lights were strung around the farm and more often than not, there would be snow on the ground. Once we picked out the tree, we would strap it to the top of the car and drive it home. My dad would string on old fashioned colored lights before we went to town adding ornaments, each of which held special significance to us. It was definitely one of my favorite parts of the holiday season. So, when Matt and I decided to ditch our fake tree for a real one, I wanted to recreate my childhood experience.

Although Hoboken is a lot less intense than NYC, it is still pretty urban. There aren’t farms to buy your tree and sadly, there is no snow. We went to Home Depot to get some lights and Matt convinced me to look at their trees. We walked over to the trees, which were located on the second level of a parking garage, not quite the magical experience I was looking for. The trees were all bundled up so it was hard to tell which one was “the best” but after a few tries, we picked out one that we thought would be good.

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As we waited in line, I began to question our purchase. Standing in the cement parking garage, with a tree that I couldn’t fully see, I came to conclusion that I just couldn’t do it. I told Matt to put the tree back and we left. I know– sort of a bratty move. But this was going to be our first tree and I wanted the experience to be more memorable. I mean, really… we were in a parking garage!

We drove up the street to a local nursery that had a hand painted sign out front that said “Fresh Christmas Trees for your Home.” I knew we would provide a good home for a tree so in we pulled. Immediately I knew I made the right decision. There were lights strung up, Christmas music playing and the trees were all unwrapped so you could get a good look at them. The man helping us made sure we got a great tree — he wouldn’t let us take home something we didn’t love. It was a great experience — well worth the increased price we had to pay as compared to Home Depot (right Matt?)! We even got to take photos of ourselves as elves before we paid!

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Matt lugged the tree into our apartment, definitely a sight to see since our tree is probably 11 feet tall!

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And, just like his father, he couldnt’ wait to start vacuuming up the needles once the tree was standing!

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Since our ceilings are 15′ high, we knew we wanted a big tree – I just had no idea how fat it was until we got it inside!

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Getting the lights on the tree proved to be a challenging task, especially for someone with a slight obsessiveness. Matt finally made me stop fidgeting with the lights and poured me a glass of eggnog to enjoy in front of the tree.

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We still need to add some ornaments and a tree skirt but the tree is looking good and our apartment smells wonderful. Here’s to the magic of Christmas!

Boy Bands All Grown Up

This week on the Today show, I’ve sort of felt like I was watching the downfall of my childhood. It was a similar feeling to when I’ve put on

Wednesday on the Today Show, New Kids on the Block performed. It was creepy and not very good.

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The this morning, the guys from 98 Degrees sang and awkwardly danced in unison.

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Don’t get me wrong, growing up I was a big fan of both of these bands. I remember being so jealous of my best friend Lindsay because she has a New Kids on the Block sleeping bag. I was still rocking Sesame Street – which made me an easy target at every sleepover. I was so psyched when my mom finally let me buy the NKOTB tape and then the 98 degrees CD – both Burning Up and the Christmas album (which I may still listen to).

But, I am not sure I full support these comeback tours of the Boy Bands from the 80’s and 90’s. Just because you are jealous that Justin Timberlake was able to go on and become a bigger star than he was back in the days of neck scarves and frosted tips – it doesn’t mean that you have a chance at a comeback.

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Especially when you are still portraying yourselves as “boy bands” when the average age of the group in over 37 years old. I’m sorry – you may look good for your age, but these photos show just how far you’ve come…

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The good news of all of this – it looks like these guys aren’t going away anytime soon!

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Long live the boy band.

Swimming in Success

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For those of you who don’t know (and I can’t image there are very many out there), swimming was a very big part of the first 22 years of my life. And while the end of my swimming “career” was emotional and some what sad, I was looking forward to the end of morning practice, constantly smelling like chlorine and being able to shave my legs like a normal girl (if you are confused by that last one, don’t even ask).

My interest in swimming started at a young age, mostly (or entirely) because my older sister Abby had developed a love for the sport. Oh yeah, and she was extremely talented. Abby would win nearly every race she entered – I would be lucky to find the courage to actually dive off the block and participate in the race. I liked to practice but racing wasn’t my thing. However, with encouragement from my parents, my coaches, and my amazing older sister, I too became a pretty good swimmer. That being said, my sister’s love for the sport was always MILES ahead of mine. So, it is no surprise that after she graduated from college (after an AMAZING senior year of swimming) she decided to take that love for swimming and turn it into a career.

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After working as an assistance coach for two different collegiate teams, Abby was hired as the Head Coach for both the men’s and women’s teams at the University of Mary Washington in VA. Now in her 3rd season there, she has continued to develop a very strong program. Both teams competed in their conference meet last weekend,  both winning soundly.

A few stats from her meet for you swimming nerds (and some pictures for those of you who don’t care about the stats)!

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As Abby gears up for NCAAs, I thought I would share with you an article about one of her swimmers who has a pretty incredible story, and a pretty good chance to win an event at NCAAs. Pretty impressive.

Swimming Into Success
By 

When top Division I schools courted Alex Anderson ’15 for a swim scholarship in 2006, the high school senior wasn’t ready.

Recruiters for such schools as Alabama, Arizona and Indiana universities saw a record-setting competitor who took two state titles in the 500-yard freestyle. Anderson saw a commitment to academics he wasn’t ready to make. He turned his back on school, and for a few years he lost his way – and his sport.

Alex Anderson ’15 is headed to the NCAA Championships in March.

Seven years later he’s making a name for himself as a UMW student-athlete on the Eagles swim team. In February, the sophomore was named Capital Athletic Conference Swimmer of the Year at a meet in which he broke four individual school and conference records and swam in four record-breaking relays. He’ll represent the university at the March NCAA Championships in Texas.

Meanwhile, the water helped Anderson get his life on track.

“Swimming turned into a therapeutic sport for me,” said Anderson, who studies chemistry at Mary Washington. “By this I mean every time I jump in the pool I let all my troubles and worries float away. It seems like such a natural thing for me, like something I was born to do.”

After high school in Vienna, Va., Anderson enrolled at Northern Virginia Community College, NOVA, but he wasn’t interested in school. He often didn’t show up for classes, and his grades stayed low. His mother lost a battle with breast cancer in the summer of 2007, and soon after he moved out of his father’s house.

Over the next two years, Anderson shared an apartment with roommates and worked low-wage jobs to pay the bills. He was a waiter, a cashier, a cook and a carpenter’s apprentice. He managed a company that tended potted plants in offices and supermarkets.

Anderson earned All-American honors in 2012.

It wasn’t the life he wanted. He realized he was squandering his talent and an opportunity for something better.

He talked to his father, and they formed a plan. Anderson would get serious – go back to school, bring up his grades and get back in the pool. The son moved back in with his dad, joined a club team and trained to get back in shape for competition.

Back at NOVA in spring 2010, Anderson retook several courses and signed up for something new – biology. The science class was his favorite, and he aced it. After that, he earned only A’s – grades that could get him into a four-year college.

With new confidence in his academic ability, he no longer wanted only to swim. He decided on a Division III school that would allow him the flexibility to develop his sport and his brain. The science program at University of Mary Washington had a great reputation, and it was close to home. He went for it.

Anderson talked to Eagles swim coach Abby Brethauer, was admitted by the university, and enrolled for classes in August 2011.

When he is in the lane with rivals, he changes from the carefree swimmer in training.

“I bring a different attitude to my racing and competitive swimming,” Anderson said. “I love to race. I can get competitive. I just want to win.”

Anderson and Eagles swimming were a great fit from the start. His first season, he was one of the fastest swimmers, leading the men’s team to its 12th consecutive CAC title.

He qualified for the NCAA Championships in the 50-yard freestyle, the 200-yard breaststroke and the 400-yard individual medley. In his first NCAA Championship, he gained All-America status in the 400-yard individual medley with a ninth-place finish, easily winning the consolation final.

As he heads to the NCAA Championships again this year, he’s even faster, having just broken individual school and conference records in the 100- and 200-yard butterfly and the 50- and 200-yard freestyle. His relay teams – the 200-, 400- and 800-yard freestyle and the 400-yard medley – also set school and conference records en route to the NCAAs.

“Alex has the potential not only to be the most successful swimmer in the history of UMW swimming, but also to turn what have until this point only been program goals into realities,” Brethauer said. “Not only is he a talented swimmer, he is also one of our top students – and he’s a great teammate. He is a wonderful example of what it means to be a Mary Washington student-athlete. He represents both our team and the entire department with aplomb.”

When Anderson started back to swimming, he scrutinized how he had trained, his stroke, his performance and found new ways to better old race times. He fell in love with chemistry for the challenge, too, he said. And his first quiz back with a low score, he used the same skills he uses in the pool.

“I look at what I’ve done and how I can do better. I change it. Since [that quiz], I’ve tried 10 different types of study skills,” he said. “The biggest tool for success is to be willing to try new things and be able to change. You have to look back at what you’ve done to do that. Otherwise you might change for the worse.”

 

Valentine’s Day Cookies – Part 1

Sugar cookies are my favorite. They taste good, they are pretty to look at and they are a Brethauer family staple. We first learned the recipe when my family took a trip out West and visited my pen pal (who was the daughter of my father’s medical school roommate) and her mother made them in the shape of starts. Since that point, we’ve often referred to them as “star cookies” regardless of the shape we chose to make.

For Valentine’s Day, I decided to make some heart-shaped “star cookies.” I often make these in 2 (sometimes 3) steps.

First you have to make the dough. then refrigerate it for at least an hour before rolling out. And I tend to wait a day before frosting the cookies. That way, you can ensure that they are 100% cooled and you don’t get too tired!

Rolled Sugar Cookies (AKA Star Cookies)

1 cup sugar
1 cup butter (softened)
3 Tablespoons half-n-half
1 teaspoon vanilla (I use vanilla bean paste)
1 egg
3 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

  1. Combine dry ingredients. Set aside.
  2. Beat sugar and butter until flurry. Add half-n-half, vanilla and egg. Mix well.
  3. Add dry ingredients in two parts. Blend.
  4. Wrap dough in plastic wrap. Chill for at least one hour.
  5. Roll dough onto well floured surface. Cut with cookie cutters. (*Don’t roll the dough too thin, unless you want crispy cookies!)
  6. Bake at 400 degrees F for 8 minutes.

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Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post on frosting!