The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Happy Monday, folks!

‘Tis a great Monday indeed, since it’s the very last Monday before… CHRISTMAS!!!!!!1!!!11!!!!!!!!!!1!!

If you’re thinking, “Gretchen, ease up on the exclamation points and formatting, it’s just a holiday…” then you obviously don’t know me at all. Christmas is my FAVORITE holiday, my favorite time of year, my favorite everything. I’m totally that girl when it comes to Christmas. And this year, my whole fam is heading down to Atlanta to ring in Christmas morn at my sister Jen’s house.

It actually feels like the Christmas festivities have kind of already started, though, because even though we’re all going to her house for Christmas in just a few days, my sister and my nieces were actually up here this past weekend!

 
This may be the most wonderful time of the year, but it is also certainly the busiest! This past week has held my work holiday celebration, my brother’s birthday, a photoshoot, and a baby shower — as well as plenty of time spent with the best kiddos in the world, of course. 🙂

Wednesday night, I went out to dinner with my coworkers to celebrate 2016 and the upcoming holidays. We don’t have an actual office here in the DC area (I work from home), but I’m luckier than a lot of other remote Yelp employees in that there are actually quite a few of us in the same area! This gives us the luxury of getting me out from behind my computer screen every once in a while to love on each other in person (and gives me an excuse to get dolled up, too!)

 
I know I probably humblebrag about my job far too much already, but I just have the best coworkers. We went to this new-ish restaurant in DC called Mythology that I loooooved, and ate, drank, and chatted the night away. I don’t go into the city all that often, but this place already has me thinking about my next trip, it was so good! The deets are all on–you guessed it–Yelp, so take a gander if you’re interested:

Read Gretchen F.‘s review of Mythology on Yelp

Thursday was my brother’s birthday, and was also the day that Jenny and the girls came into town. We had a family dinner at my parents’ house, and then went to see Rogue One on opening night (no spoilers, but it was awesome.)

 
Saturday morning was spent twiddling my thumbs waiting for the insane ice that had taken over the Metro Area to melt. It was insanely icy that morning — I almost fell flat on my butt just stepping out my front door, and there were literally dozens and dozens of terrible traffic accidents throughout the morning (including a THIRTY CAR PILEUP on the beltway. :()

Luckily (and weirdly), it warmed up and the ice was all but melted by noon, so I still got to fill the majority of the day with fun stuff… and even had a special guest star that some of you may recognize:

Anne! My brother and sister-in-law were shooting some photos for Anne’s business, so I played the role of makeup artist for the day. I can’t wait to see the finished shots!

 
Getting to test out my makeup skills is always fun for me, especially as my interest in makeup artistry has continued to grow. I’ve been getting more experimental with my own makeup lately (perhaps I’ve been getting bolder as a side effect of chopping off my hair, hehe), and, much to Sean’s chagrin, have been investing in a broader range and breadth of products.

Maybe one day I’ll get confident enough to start a side hustle beautifying folks, but for now, it’s enough to showcase my extreme vanity all over Instagram. And here, too, I guess. 😉

Finally, my weekend capped off with my beautiful friend Lara’s baby shower! This was the main reason Jen was back in town, as she was co-hosting it, and it just worked out really well that it was around the same time as Ben’s birthday.

Lara is a big Crossfit nut, so the shower was actually Crossfit themed! I helped Jen out by trying to replicate some of the things that she found on Pinterest. Some were a big win (the barbell diaper cake!), some were passable (the kettle bell cake balls), and some were a huge, time-wasting fail (WHY ARE SUGAR COOKIES SO HARD TO DECORATE?!?!). Regardless, I had a ton of fun prepping with Jen and, of course, loving on Lara and her soon-to-be baby girl!

So, that just about catches us up! Jen and the girls head back to Atlanta today with my parents, and the rest of us will be following suit later this week. So the next few days are sure be super busy as I try to wrap up work stuff, personal stuff, and try to keep my raging Christmas spirit in check ’til I make it to the ATL! And if I don’t make it back for another post before the end of the week, we wish you the happiest of holidays and merriest of Christmases!

 

My Favorite Holiday Flicks

Christmas is my absolute favorite time of year. I mean, first of all, it takes place right smack dab in the winter season (I’ve already gone into detail about why I love winter). And the Christmas season just brings with it so many other joyous things: peppermint lattes, festive headwear, twinkle lights, sugar cookies, Christmas music, Christmas movies, the ability to wear glittery eyeshadow all the time without being judged, etc. It also just generally seems to make the world seem like a happier, more loving place — which, after this dumpster fire of a year so far, we need.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that there are still lots of terrible things that happen on a daily basis, things cannot be covered up with a sprinkling of snow and sugar. But, still, I do feel like there’s something… I dunno… unifying in the air around this time of year. I tell ya, it must be that holiday spirit! People are just a little nicer. More likely to hold a door open. Leave a bigger tip. Return a warm smile.

And so, I revel in it. From the Day After Thanksgiving until December 26th, I am totally, 100% that girl. I wear my Santa hat relentlessly. I have my car radio always set to 97.1 (the holiday music station here in the DMV). I bust out my holiday sweaters, move anything with even a semblance of sparkle at the front of my closet, and soak in the sights, scents, sounds, and scenery of Christmas.

Of course, since I work from home and am pretty much just a crazy schnauzer hermit 75% of the time, a lot of that holiday scenery takes place inside the frame of my television set. I freaking LOVE Christmas movies, and in case you have yet to jump headfirst into the world of holiday movies, I thought I’d put together a handy-dandy list of what I consider to be must-watches every December.

Elf

It should come as no surprise to anyone that my absolute favorite Christmas movie is Elf. Just like smiling, Elf is my favorite. Despite Zooey Deschenel’s unfortunate hair color choice, the movie never fails to delight. Top moments include: the jack-in-a-box scene (kills me every time!), Buddy’s breakfast spaghetti, “Franciscoooooo,” Mr. Narwhale, and, man, there really are basically too many to list. I effing love Elf.

The Holiday

Second on the list is The Holiday. I feel like it’s a consistently underrated holiday film, but is a really charming romantic comedy that isn’t actually overtly Christmas-y. Also, the score by Hans Zimmer is really just fantastic — it’s worth watching for the score alone.

The Family Stone

Family is everything, man. The Family Stone has some heavier moments (as well as a couple of cringe-worthy moments involving SJP’s character), but its overall message about the importance of family really resonates with me. Plus, it’s got just the best cast (Rachel McAdams! Dermot Mulroney! Diane Keaton! Claire Danes!) , as well as plenty o’ Christmas.

Rent

You might not really think of Rent as a “Christmas movie,” but it definitely counts in my book, as it both starts and ends on Christmas Eve (a year apart). And c’mon, this movie’s got everything: love, friendship, music, irresponsible bohemian living, AIDS… what more could you ask for in a Christmas movie? 😉

Just Friends

I actually had forgotten that Just Friends takes place during Christmas until I rewatched it on Netflix recently. I had also forgotten how hilarious it is (once you get past some of the cringiest parts.) Ryan Reynolds singing All 4 One in a fat suit is comedy gold, as is basically everything that Anna Faris does in the movie. And everything Ryan Reynolds does… ever… in his whole life. (I love him.)

Love, Actually

I feel like this is probably at the top of the charts on many people’s holiday movie list, and I do continue to love it. However, the more times I watch it, the more I have to suspend my disbelief about, well, most of it (like, what kind of irresponsible record label doesn’t record a Christmas album until 5 weeks before Christmas!?), and also, it makes me kind of sad because Alan Rickman is no longer with us. Still a classic one tho.

The Santa Clause

Tim Allen. Adorable child elves. ‘Nuff said.

It’s a Wonderful Life

Nothing puts your life in perspective like experiencing a crazy alternate universe where you never existed.

The Nightmare Before Christmas

I can never really decide if this is a Halloween movie or a Christmas movie, so I usually end up watching it during both. I mean, what fills your heart with more Christmas joy than singing along to “Kidnap the Sandy Claws”?

I’m sure there are tons more movies that I’m forgetting (as well as some I’ve left off the list purposefully… I’m looking at you, Home Alone), but this sums up the movies that are on my mind as of late. Of course, we can’t totally ignore all the cheesy Lifetime movies that pop up on Netflix during this time of year. I don’t consume tooooo many of them, but in my lust for all things Christmas-related, I haven’t been able to avoid them completely. So here are the ones I’ve watched and have actually kinda enjoyed so far this season:

Christmas in the City — starring Ashley Williams (Victoria from How I Met Your Mother), it’s a cutesy movie about a single mom trying to save her family business over the holidays. Ashanti stars as the villainess and does a truly heinous acting job.

A Christmas Kiss — this one caught my eye because it stars Brendan Fehr of Roswell fame. It doesn’t do anything to reinvent the wheel, but it’s cute enough.

A Christmas Star — I don’t actually think this one is a Lifetime movie, but I found it randomly on the ‘flix all the same. Set in a small town in Ireland, it’s a very family-friendly tale of a little girl trying to save her town (sort of.) The movie is actually not super duper Christmas-y, and I enjoyed all the Irish accents.

Anyway, there you have it! What holiday movies am I missing? Leave a comment with some of your favorites!

Also, just as an update for those of you who don’t follow me on social media, I chopped off all my hair:

It might not have been the best idea warmth-wise, considering the weather’s just getting chillier and chillier, but what can I say? I got bored and wanted to look considerably cooler than I actually am. 😉

I’m really looking forward to the week ahead! My sister and nieces are coming into town Thursday, which is also my brother’s birthday, AND is the night that Rogue One gets released, so it should be a full day of fun stuff. I’m also throwing an ice cream social-style event tonight (it’s never too cold for ice cream!), I have my work holiday dinner on Wednesday, and have a Christmas party and a baby shower this weekend. Love this time of year!

My Favorite Season

The temperature in DC keeps plummeting, the days keep getting shorter, and we’ve even got a forecast for snow on the horizon. So it’s not surprising (especially given today’s wet, gloomy, sunless weather) that I’m seeing a lot of posts from folks proclaiming their hatred for the winter season.

And hey, I get it! It’s cold, it’s dreary, it’s cold, your skin gets dry, there’s less sunlight, it’s cold… well, you see where I’m going with this. But maybe it’s because I’d rather take being cold every time over being too hot, or maybe it’s because I lived in Canada for several years of my life so the winters here just don’t seem so bad, or maybe it’s because winter is the setting of both beginnings of my love story (Sean and I had our first date and got married in January), but I just really love winter.

I love the feel of crisp, dry winter air hitting my cheeks every time I step outside.

I love curling up under a knit blanket and watching holiday movies–good and bad–with my husband.

I love the scent of apples, cinnamon, nutmeg, peppermint, and sugar that float through my house whenever I’m baking. And by “baking”, I mean when I’m lighting candles that smell like all those things, of course.

I love curating my holiday playlists and listening to nothing but Christmas music from the day after Thanksgiving on. And the Hamilton Mixtape, duh.

I loooooooove Christmas lights.

I love the tastes of apple cider, eggnog, and peppermint. Predominantly emanating from my Starbucks cup.

I love the excuse to wear my Santa hat nonstop for a month. And I love the fact that when I do, people smile in response more often than they roll their eyes.

 img_1798
And most of all, I love snow. It’s my most Lorelai Gilmore-esque quality. I love the crispness in the air when it’s about to snow. I love how watching it fall from the sky still seems like magic. I love the way it covers up the ugliest parts of winter to make it all seem fresh and new again.

Even when there’s over 30 inches of it… on my wedding day… I still love it. That’s how you know it’s love.

And okay, yes, of course there are lots of not-so-great things about winter, too. People really suck at driving in the snow, and even when you’re kind of good at handling snowy roads, the icy ones can still get ya. The weather can get so dry that the skin on your hands and lips cracks and splits in the most painful way, no matter how much moisturizer you lather on. The winds can be harsh, the ice painful, and I recognize that it’s a privilege and luxury for me to be able to bundle up and hide out in my warm home when the cold is just too much.

But still.

I just love it all.

What’s your favorite thing about winter?

The Resolutionary War

Happy 2015, friendos!

Let’s see, given that I kinda skipped over the entire holiday season ’round these parts, let’s do a quick recap about what’s been a-going on over the past couple of months, shall we?

First things first. Last we spoke, my hair looked like this:

 

But in honor of the season, it now looks like this:

 

The holidays were all kind of a blur of wonderful at this point, but they involved a joint-Thanksgiving at Taylor’s (my sister-in-law) parents’ house, a roadtrip down to Macon, GA to spend Christmas at my sister’s house, and trying to fruitlessly prove that I’m not old by doing New Year’s in DC. 2014 definitely went out with a bang!

 

The very best part of which was, naturally, spending time with my flippin’ adorable niece Mia:

 

It also probably bears mentioning that at some point during all the holiday craziness, I got promoted at work! Yep, you’re looking at the new Senior Community Manager for Yelp here in Northern VA. Hooray!

Of course, along with the promotion and presents and quality time with the fam and general warm fuzzies, also came a LOT of delicious holiday FOOOOOD:

 
 

Which pretty much brings us up to date with where we’re at so far in 2015! Much like most of America, I’d wager, I did not do the best job of keeping my gut in check over the holiday season. With turkey and ham and prime rib and pies and cookies and Lindt truffles, I definitely did my fair share of indulging. That’s not to say I went balls to the wall or anything, but in the sake of honesty, I did put on a couple of pounds between November and now. I will wait for you to recover from the shock. 😉

So, yes, in the past I’ve preached the ludicrousness of making New Year’s resolutions since, really, there’s nothing different about declaring an intention on January 1st over any other day. And yes, I rebranded this very blog to specifically declare that I was no longer interested in losing weight (or, at least, in blogging about it), well, I’ve gone back on my word and made a resolution to drop a few libbies.

In all seriousness, I still do very much believe everything I’ve said about making peace with my body and loving myself regardless of what the scale says or where my waistline is at. That said, I also never said I’d never want to lose weight again, and while I do think I’m at a much healthier place mentally and emotionally, I’d be a fool if I simply ignored the fact that I am not at my healthiest physically.

After all, I may have been going to the gym somewhat regularly before now (“somewhat” meaning like, once or twice a week, which, credit where credit’s due, is a big improvement for where I was before that!), but I wasn’t really applying myself. I’d spend half an hour walking on the treadmill and working a few machines, and I’d hightail it outta there while still giving myself a pat on the back for going at all.

And, more importantly, I wasn’t really paying too much attention to how much I was eating. My diet may have been mostly clean, but I know myself well enough to know that it’s always been more of a quantity over quality problem with me. And as most of us are more than well-aware, weight primarily comes down to what you eat.

Sooooo, trite as it may sound, here I am with a resolution for 2015 to get back in the saddle health-wise. I wanna drop some weight, up my fitness level, and generally get my health back up to snuff. I am trying to go about things the “right” way. You know, not fixating too much but cleaning my eating back up, logging my food, and definitely upping the fitness ante.

IMG_9749.JPG IMG_9624.JPG IMG_9756.JPG

So far, things are off to a good start! My fitness-instructor sister has done me the great favor of creating some workout plans for me, I bought some weights and a kettlebell, and I also purchased and began doing Tony Horton’s P90, which was created for couch potatoes like me who get sore at just the thought of doing P90X at this point, haha. This way, even on blisteringly cold days (like the past three days have been! Brrrrr!) where I can’t be motivated to leave the house (heh), I don’t have an excuse to get my sweat on.

Hopefully you guys don’t see this as any kind of wishy-washy reneging on my new blog/life outlook or anything wherein I made bold declarations as to be done with weight loss, but rather as an honest attempt to get myself “back on track” (I actually hate that phrase, haha) with admittedly cliche timing. Either way, here’s hoping it sticks this time around!

And c’mon, I can’t be the only one who made some resolutions, right? We aaaaall do it. So let’s hear ’em: what’s your New Year’s resolution? 🙂

Light ‘n’ Easy Almond Eggnog (Dairy Free!)

I know, I know. I’m pretty much the worst blogger ever now. But hey, blame it on my job or the sequel that I’m still pumping out or the fact that right now it’s holiday everything or… well, whatever you want to blame it on, really. And then rest assured that I am indeed alive, just not quite the blogging fiend that I was at this time last year, for the moment. I always bounce back to you wonderful folks though, and I’m sure that eventually I’ll be back in full blogging swing — just not right now, le sigh.

Which honestly is kind of a shame, because blogging about the holidays always just served to contribute additional warm fuzzies. I mean, you guys already know how much I EFFING LOVE CHRISTMAS, and getting to share that through pics of decorations and sweater-clad schnauzers and whatnot was always a lot of fun. Buuuut, as all of you well know, life priorities are constantly shifting, and blogging has never been, nor likely will it ever be, a full-time job for me, and thus is probably never going to be at the tippity top of my priority list. But that doesn’t mean I can’t miss it!

Aaanyway, back to the matter at hand. Though I may not be taking unrelenting photos of it all, I am indeed still whiling away in the kitchen every now and again. And since the holidays are one of my favorite times to try my hand at lightening up old recipes so that I can indulge in all the fun (with half the guilt), I’ve been doing a lot of holiday recipe experimentation lately! So thanks to my friends at Almond Breeze, who are constantly pushing me to be creative with my, er, creation of recipes, I now bring you a light and creamy (not to mention incredibly easy!) homemade eggnog recipe that won’t set my tummy a-rumblin’ because it is dairy-free! Huzzah!

332A9561.jpg

Light ‘n’ Easy Almond Eggnog
Makes 4 servings

Ingredients:

2 1/2 cups unsweetened almond milk (I used Almond Breeze Vanilla)
4 egg yolks (separate out the whites and keep them to make an egg white scramble or use in your royal icing or something!)
1 dash ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp almond extract
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp sugar (or sweetener of choice)

Instructions:

1. Combine almond milk, egg yolks, and sugar in a saucepan. Heat on medium-low heat, constantly stirring, until mixture begins steaming, about 5 minutes.
2. Add spices and extracts, combining gently and continuing to stir for an additional 2 – 3 minutes. Mixture should begin thickening slightly.
3. If you like a thicker ‘nog, allow to cool before consuming. You can do this quickly by immersing the pot in cold water, or by simply allowing it to come to room temperature naturally. Garnish with additional nutmeg and a cinnamon stick, if desired!

332A9562.jpg

Yup, easy as that! And I haven’t even gotten to the best part yet, which is that the grand total of calories for this decadent treat comes to… 100 calories! Ta-daaaaa! Plus the fact that it’s cream-free definitely helps those of us who are lactose-challenged (something for which my digestive track is eternally thankful!)

I hope you’re all having the most wonderful of holidays, and I certainly am going to try my best to get back into the swing of regular blogging (how many times have I said that now? Ha…!) in the New Year. After all, I’m certainly not immune to those New Year’s resolutions… and I’m sure I’ll need all the help I can get!

almondbreezelogoThe above post was sponsored by Blue Diamond Almond Breeze, but all content is 100% my own.