Friday, December 31, 2010

Goodbye 2010, Hellooooooo 2011!

I have to admit, I'm probably more excited about 2011 than most people.  Given how intense and um, challenging 2010 turned out, I'm hoping that this new year will be much more positive and relaxed.  I know it's a bit silly, because anyone can make a change at any given point, it doesn't just have to be January 1st.  But there is something about New Year's that makes me feel the start and end of something so strongly.  In our case, it is the end of Year of Perspective and Introspection.


Due to our separation this year, my husband and I have had done a lot of introspection.  We took time to look inward and really examine ourselves, our behaviors, our feelings and more.  We are fortunate that our actions led us to a new perspective.  What we learned is that nothing is more than our marriage and our family.  And it's not just the basic concepts either; we realized and understood that while two individuals make up a team, it's only when that team works together that they can win.  It isn't enough to feel those things are important, you have to work to make them important.  We had placed too much focus on our individual selves and goals instead of our joint ones. 


As difficult as 2010 was for me, I am incredibly grateful to the Big Man Upstairs for placing this obstacle in my path.  I was given a glimpse of a possible future in my life and I won't lie, I didn't like it, nor did I want it.  I know too many of my own loved ones who now have to blaze that trail, and my heart aches for them.  I am a stubborn and proud woman at times (ok, a lot of times), and I had to fall really hard to learn what was truly important to me.  I know how blessed I am to be given a second chance, and it's one I won't take lightly again. 


I look forward to the prospects and challenges that 2011 will provide for us; i hope that it too, is a challenging year, but in a different way.  We have yet to really sit down and think about our resolutions for the new year, but you can bet it is something that we will be doing together!

I hope that you all have a happy and blessed new year, and that everyone is safe tonight as they celebrate the passing of the old, and the birth of the new!

Happy New Year!
The Guerra Family 

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Bento, Manga, and Japanese!

Amongst my close friends, it's no secret that I love the Japanese culture.  It came about as an accident really, when I was in college.  My best friend Kellie and I went everywhere together in those days, earning us the nickname of Kelly/ie Squared or K2 as some of our professors called us.  People began to wonder when only one of us showed up anywhere!  Part of our degree requirement was to have two semesters of a foreign language and we chose Spanish.  None of the classes worked out with our schedule, but Japanese did.  What the hell! we said, and we signed up.  The next two semesters were some of the most fun we had, as our sensei was quite the character.  She was new to America by only a couple of years and I daresay we taught her as much about American culture as she did Japanese culture with us.  Those two semesters sparked something within Kellie and I.

This is hiragana, just one of several forms of characters used in writing Japanese.  Hiragana is used to write out words that are native Japanese; katakana is used for foreign words that have been introduced to Japanese, and kanji is the complex language to spell actual words (as opposed to katakana and hiragana, which spell out syllables)

Kellie's daughter Madeleine is obsessed with anime, and in turn, Kellie and I got into it too.  One thing led to another and now we're obsessed with manga, anime, bento box lunches, Japanese cuisine, and relearning all of our college Japanese.  Kellie had told me about an anime called Fruits Basket on instant watch on Netflix which was a great show, but it ended on a weird note and I felt cheated.  It's a nice thing that my husband works for a bookstore, because I've been tearing through the 27 volumes of the manga that the anime was based on.  A side note: it's called Fruits Basket, because there is no 't' sound in Japanese.  Everything is spelled out with syllables, so the word 'fruit' in Japanese is actually 'furutsu', thereby translated in English to 'fruits'!  Pretty cool, huh?

 Some of the gang from Fruits Basket: Hatsuharu, Kyo (my favorite!), Tohru, Momiji, and Yuki.

With the new year rapidly approaching, I've been meaning to live a healthier lifestyle and one of my new resolutions this year is to start doing bento boxes for my lunches.  Bento is a way of packing your lunch in a little box that hits all of the food groups and keeps the portion sizes appropriate.  There are all sorts of fun gadgets and do-hickeys that help to make the bento look cuter and more appetizing.  It can get pretty serious, but I'm only concerned with trying to keep it healthy for now!  I think I will also plan on eating more meals with chopsticks since it forces me to really concentrate on my meal and how much I eat.

See how fun bento can be?  I'd love eating this for lunch every day!

I'm excited about relearning all of my Japanese and then some.  I'd love to go to Japan someday and tour the country, trying the food, meeting new people, and checking out the scenery and historical sites.  I'll be sure to share my adventures in bento box making as well as reviews on mangas I read or animes I watch.  This is going to be an exciting year!


Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas 2010 Wrap-up

What a lovely holiday season this was!  We had a wonderful time visiting with friends and family and we are looking forward to the myriad of others we still have yet to visit.

The Sunday before Christmas we drove to Victoria, TX for the annual Guerra family Christmas gathering which was lovely.  Michael's Aunt Cathy and Uncle Pat hosted a scrumptious Tex-Mex dinner and we thoroughly enjoyed visiting with everyone, especially since we hadn't been able to see everyone at Thanksgiving.  We were so blessed to be surrounded by our family and to receive many wonderful gifts.  We completely forgot our camera, so I have no pictures sadly.  We did have a funny moment on the way home though: everyone had fallen asleep with the exception of myself and Caitlyn (who was driving).  Billa woke up, looked around, and then suddenly screamed at the top of her lungs, "Daddy, no go night night!"  It promptly woke him and everyone else up.  Cait and I were cracking up since we weren't rudely awoken.  Gotta love a kid with a mind of her own!

Christmas Eve was spent with my family.  My brothers and a couple of family friends joined us all for shrimp, ham, sweet potato casserole, green beans, and more for a delicious meal.  Afterwards, we opened presents and teased my brother Philip for his get up.  Billa ended up usurping the Play-Doh Philip gave everyone and had quite a good time carrying her "cake" everywhere.  My brothers left to go to mass with my brother David's girlfriend Lindsey and the rest of us stayed to watch Zombieland, which is a really fun zombie movie if you haven't seen it yet.  After that, it was close to midnight and we headed back home to prepare for Santa's arrival.  Billa, was of course, thoroughly passed out.

Billa begins to unwrap her gift from "Uncle Folf" (aka my brother Phil!)

Billa helps Uncle Folf unwrap his present

Philip hands out Play-Doh for all!

She was so passed out that the next morning, she didn't even notice the presence of presents under the tree!  We decided that we'd take advantage of that and take our time to open everything, which was nice.  Billa was over the moon with the teddy bear stickers, dinosaur coloring book, and Kumon books that "Santa" got her.  I was thrilled that she loved her puppy dolly that I've been working on for her. 

Present time!

Mommy has to lend a little assistance.  Check out Billa's awesome bedhead!

Billa's "dine-ror" coloring book with figures and stickers...she loves playing dine-rors with daddy!

The crown from Billa's Christmas crackers...she's not really sure what to think about it yet.

Later on, we headed to Michael's mom's house for Christmas breakfast.  Oh man, it's a good thing I only eat her boyfriend's Carl's french toast once a year...that stuff is an instant coronary!  He makes sausage and bacon and then fries up the french toast in the drippings which makes it super tasty, but also incredibly fattening.  We then opened presents and me and my sister in law Caitlyn promptly passed out on the couch while Gigi played with Billa and Carl and Michael watched car shows on TV. It was nice and lazy!

Caitlyn, Billa, and Michael at breakfast.  My fave Christmas pic from this year!

Billa unwraps her present from Gigi with a little help from Riley the beagle

Little People Noah's Ark!  Gigi got Billa ALL the animals that come with it.  Our only regret is that there is no Mrs. Noah with the set.  C'mon, Little People...don't be hatin!

Me and my new scarf...I can never have enough scarves!

Gigi takes a picture of Billa's new froggie blanket.  I can personally vouch for it's comfyness and coziness

We finished our day by stopping off at the Marino household to give them their presents and visit with them for a bit.  Anthony started up the fire pit in the backyard and it was so nice, given how chilly it was!

We had a wonderful Christmas and we hope that each and every one of you did too!

Happy Christmas,
The Guerra Family

Friday, December 17, 2010

Twelve Days of Christmas: My Favorite Ornament

I'm doing Anna's linky party again.  Today's theme is favorite ornaments!

I love today's theme because it gives me a chance to espouse my love for my favorite ornament: the gay little elf!


This cheerful little cherub has been in my family now for a couple of generations.  After my mom's mom passed away in 1995, we inherited a lot of her stuff, including some Christmas ornaments.  The gay little elf was one of those ornaments.  He actually has an identical twin and before I claimed my half of the pair, we'd hang them on the tree facing each other every year.   My brothers HATE the gay little elf because they think he's dumb looking.  I, on the other hand, find him absolutely adorable and hysterical in equal amounts.  My brothers would always make silly faces or crack terrible jokes about the poor little elf, and we'd have great fun laughing about it all afterwards. Those memories are forefront in my mind when I unpack the elf and he always gets a place front and center on the tree.

Someday my mom will give me her little elf too and I shall have a matched pair.  As time goes on, I hope that the elf will continue to witness many happy and joyful Christmasses from his perch on our tree.

Happy Holidays,

Billa Babble: All I want for Christmas

Billa is in love with Christmas decorations.  When we drive around in the evening, if she sees Christmas lights, she makes sure EVERYONE knows it.  She calls them "those lights", most likely because we kept pointing them out that way: "Billa!  Look at THOSE lights!"

She is also obsessed with the jolly old elf himself whom she has dubbed "Santen."  I don't know why, that's how she says it!  She's grasped the concept that it is Santa that visits and delivers presents, something they must have talked about at school because we didn't really mention it at home.  It's not that we don't believe in Santa (we do) or that we were trying to spread some sort of message to her (we are, but not overtly), it just never occurred to us that we should explain it to her this year.  But as always, I am proven wrong by the extraordinary little brain hidden underneath those strawberry blonde curls.  Observe:

The other night as we were driving to visit a friend, she saw a blow-up Santa and pointed it out.

"Mommy, look!  A Santen!"
"Yes, that is a Santa." I said.  "Hey Billa, are you excited about Santa coming?"
"What does Santa bring?" I asked, a bit smugly.
"Um...presents!" she replied brightly.
 Huh, I thought. 
"And what would you like Santa to bring you?"
In the rearview mirror, I caught a glimpse of her drop her chin into her little hand in the classic philosopher's pose.  She thought long and hard for a few seconds.
"Pizza!" she declared.
"I'll get right on that," I said.  "I mean, I'll see what Santa can do."
"Danks, Mommy!"

Here's hoping "Santen" brings you everything on your list!


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Twelve Days of Christmas: My Favorite Person

My friend Anna is doing a really cute and fun linky party on her crafty blog, and I felt like joining in on the fun.  Today her subject is your favorite person.  I'd be remiss if I didn't claim my daughter Sybilla as my favorite gal in the whole entire world!

My little toot has made my life bright, delightfully chaotic, and challenged me to grow as a person and a mother.  Every day she finds new ways to make me laugh, to amaze me, or to melt my heart.  She's almost three and her personality is full of spirit and spunk.  She loves the color green, loves kitties and puppies, and is active beyond belief.  Her vocabulary is incredible and every day I am blown away by what else she has picked up and learned.  She says "please," "thank you," and "welcome" at all the appropriate times and usually doesn't need to be prompted on it.  She knows just about all the colors including chartreuse (said "shuh-shoo").  Her counting consists of repeating 2 and 4 until she's satisfied.  She loves to pick out her own clothes and loves to wear brightly colored things, just like her mommy.  My heart just swells at how incredibly empathetic she is with others around her, and it warms me to my core to see her try and make things better.

As we come into the Christmas season and Billa absorbs it all, I find myself deliriously happy over the simplest things.  It is pure joy listening to her point out "those lights, Mommy!" upon seeing brightly lit Christmas lights.  And I love hearing her talk about "Santen" and asking her what she hopes he'll bring her (the other night it was pizza!).

Sybilla, you are definitely my favorite person in this entire world and I am so happy to be your mommy!


Thursday, December 9, 2010

Latkes for the Win!

We usually do a small dinner party once a month with a couple of friends of mine.  We all provide different components and it's so nice to entertain in an intimate setting.  I love entertaining and I enjoy showing my love and admiration for people through food. 

We aren't Jewish, but we've always wanted to introduce the customs and rituals of other cultures into our home so that we could inspire openmindedness and awareness in our children.  Now that Billa is older and aware of holidays, we thought this would be a good year to start.  Michael got a menorah and candles and we looked up the traditional prayers that are said as part of the lighting of the candles.  My newest issue of Cooking Light had recipes for potato latkes and so we decided to give them a try and share the last night of Hanukkah with our friends.

We tried traditional latkes and latkes with serrano peppers and cilantro that were absolutely fabulous.  The only downfall of these recipes was that it takes a while to fry everything up.  Part of the tradition surrounding Hanukkah is eating foods fried in oil, as the oil is representative of the sacred temple oil lasting for eight days.  I think it would have been faster had I not grated my hand.  Yeah, you read that right.  I was grating the onion and I totally shredded my hand too.  Ouch!  Trying to cook with one bandaged and aching hand slowed me down a bit.  But beyond that, the latkes were amazing! 

The recipe called for jalapenos, but I still had serranos to use from the garden, so we subbed those in.  Michael did a really great job with the chipotle sour cream and the combination of the two was super delicious.  This recipe will be added to our repertoire and cooked more often than just at Hanukkah!

Serrano & Cilantro Latkes with Chipotle Sour Cream
Recipe and picture from Cooking Light magazine
6  tablespoons  light sour cream
1  tablespoon  chopped chipotle chile, canned in adobo sauce
3/4  teaspoon  grated lime rind
1  teaspoon  fresh lime juice
6  cups  shredded peeled baking potato (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1  cup  grated fresh onion
6  tablespoons  all-purpose flour
1/2  cup  chopped fresh cilantro
2  tablespoons  finely chopped seeded jalapeño pepper
1  large egg
1  teaspoon  ground cumin
1/2  teaspoon  salt
1/4  cup  olive oil, divided

1. Combine first 4 ingredients in a small bowl, stirring well. Cover and chill until ready to serve.

2. Combine potato and onion in a colander. Drain 30 minutes, pressing occasionally with the back of a spoon until barely moist. Combine potato mixture, flour, and next 5 ingredients (through salt) in a large bowl; toss well.

3. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 2 tablespoons oil to pan; swirl to coat. Spoon 1/4 cup potato mixture loosely into a dry measuring cup. Pour mixture into pan; flatten slightly. Repeat the procedure 5 times to form 6 latkes. Sauté 3 1/2 minutes on each side or until golden brown and thoroughly cooked. Remove latkes from pan; keep warm. Repeat procedure with remaining 2 tablespoons oil and potato mixture to yield 12 latkes total. Serve with sour cream mixture.

Some food for thought...
  • Cooking Light emphasized the importance of letting the shredded potatoes drain for 30 minutes or so.  This is very important as the shredded potato gives off a lot of liquid and that liquid will affect the quality and texture of your latkes.  I didn't let mine drain long enough and I could tell.  In the future, I will probably place the potatoes in cheesecloth and hang it over the sink to ensure that they have plenty of drainage!
  • Serranos and jalapenos can be used interchangeably.  Just remember that the heat of the pepper is mostly contained in the veins and seeds!  You can scoop those out using a spoon once they've been split down the center lengthwise.
  • if you're making a huge batch of these things, place the cooked ones on a foil lined cookie sheet and keep them in a warm oven until it's time to eat.
  • On frying: you need to make sure that you're oil is good and hot to ensure that the latkes don't get too soggy with oil.  Give the oil a minute or two to come back to temperature in between batches.  You can also use paper towels and brown lunch bags to help sop up any excess oil.
Happy Hanukkah to all of our Jewish friends...we hope your Festival of Lights was a wonderful one!


Friday, December 3, 2010

Some Friday Fun...

A co-worker of mine sends out a fun email every week.  I really enjoyed these and thought I would share!  Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!

Real life definitions

A place where women curl up and dye.

Someone who is fed up with people.

The only animals you eat before they are born and after they are dead.
A body that keeps minutes and wastes hours.

Mud with the juice squeezed out.

Someone who is usually me-deep in conversation.
Never tell a lie if the truth will do more damage.
Cold Storage.

Cutting money in half without damaging the paper.

An insect that makes you like flies better.

Grape with a sunburn.

Something you tell to one person at a time.

The pain that drives you to extraction.

One of the greatest labor saving devices of today.

An honest opinion openly expressed.

Something other people have.


Thursday, December 2, 2010

Candid Camera

Billa got a hold of the camera again.  This is what she captured for posterity:

Her favorite thing to watch right now: Shaun the Sheep

Mommy's cooking!

Mmmm, Ponyo noodles (ramen) favorite!

Mommy: "Hey, whaddaya doing with that camera, Billa?"
Billa: "I takin' pic-cha, Mommy!"
Mommy: "Oh, ok.  [pause] Wait, what!?"

Thank you, Billa, for making sure to capture my good side and my double chin.  If only the media aspired to your standards of honest reporting!

Captivatingly yours,


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