White Elephant Gift Exchange

Tyler and I decided we wanted to throw a little Christmas party this year, so we gathered a few of our friends together and had a White Elephant Gift Exchange.  This was our first get together in our new house where we had more than 6 total people, all strangers, in the house, so we were a little nervous about how Stella would act (we ended up with 14 people!)  Luckily, Collin and Meagan got here first, and since she's known them since she was a puppy, it made things much more comfortable for her. While I was busy getting all the appetizers ready, Tyler was having some sort of serious work emergency, so unfortunately, I was super busy and wrapped up in getting everything ready before everyone arrived that I took zero pictures. I suck, big time.  BUT, here's the skinny on the appetizers I served:

Caprese Sandwiches
Hawaiian King Rolls
Mozzarella log
Roma tomatoes
Salami slices

These were basically off-the-cuff, no recipe, but SO easy, and a huge hit. I got a package of Hawaiian King rolls and sliced them, not all the way, but so the top and bottom were still connected.  I spread pesto spread on both sides of the inside of the roll, and then added a mozzarella slice to each, a tomato slice to each (sprinkled with salt), and a salami slice.  HUGELY popular at the party, and super easy!

Baked Brie Phyllo Cups with Craisins
Adapted from this recipe on SkinnyTaste (If you haven't checked out SkinnyTaste yet, you seriously need to!)  I didn't have walnuts, and I was lazy rushed for time and just put the brie in the cup, topped with craisins, then drizzled honey.  No mixing, still yummy.

image via SkinnyTaste

Puppy Chow
This is a holiday staple, right?  Luckily, I had premade a huge batch and given mason jars of Puppy Chow as gifts, so no prep was needed the night of the party.  Perfect.

Recipe from Chex.
image via Chex
Chocolate Swirl Cookies
I also made these ahead of time, so all I had to do was slice them!  This recipe makes a pretty big batch, so I was able to bake several logs and just keep them in the fridge throughout the holidays.

Recipe from Recipe Girl.

image from Recipe Girl

Spiked Apple Cider
I wanted to have a warm beverage option, and something different than wine or beer.  This was super easy, and made a large batch.  Easy to make virgin or with alcohol.

Recipe from Lauren Conrad.

image from LaurenConrad.com

We had several different groups of friends join us, but everyone got along really well and mingled amongst themselves.  It was so great!  We all had a really great time - even Stella was a rockstar and everyone was obsessed with her.  She was so well behaved once we introduced her to everyone - we were definitely proud parents!  We had some super fun gifts unwrapped ($10 value) - I think the two most popular were the Hot Booties (socks that you put in the microwave to keep your feet toasty) and a bottle of Crown Royal, half emptied to meet the $10 maximum value (we have some creative friends.) The party finally shut down at 2am.  I'd call that a big success!  We can't wait to do it again next year!


Life with an Australian Shepherd

In honor of our puppy dog's upcoming 1st birthday, I thought I'd put together a post of things we've learned about having an Australian Shepherd as a pet. We have so many people stop us when we have Stella out around town that tell us what a beautiful dog we have, how unique she is, how its so cool she has two different colored eyes - and of course we agree but we're partial because she's our pet and we love her! But there is so much more to having an Aussie than their good looks. Having an Australian Shepherd is definitely hard work!! Yes, everyone says she's still in the puppy phase, but from speaking with other Aussie owners and breeders, and reading (LOTS of reading) this "puppy phase" doesn't go away anytime soon.  Here is a list of several things we had been told prior to getting Stella and have absolutely learned to be true about the breed (along with some cute pictures!) over the past 10 months:

2 months old
2 months old

High Energy Dog
Every breeder and owner that we talked to prior before committing to the breed warned us that Aussies are high energy dogs. And, boy, they weren't kidding! Australian Shepherds are working dogs and are born to run and run and run, and herd farm animals in rain, snow, and heat. Stella needs hours upon hours of attention each day. She enjoys running (several miles), playing fetch with tennis balls, chewing on Nyla bones (bacon flavor is her favorite), tugawar - non-stop from the second we get home from work until we go to bed. Our lifesaver has been bringing her to doggy daycare twice a week. She can run all day and also gets exposure to other dogs - socialization is very important!

5 months old

Herding Dog
As I mentioned before, Aussies are born to herd. Because of this, its a never ending battle to keep her from herding Max and it tends to get chaotic indoors. Stella also tries to herd squirrels in the backyard, the stray cats that live next door, and even me and Tyler! We often have Stella nipping on our heels!

5 months old
Smart Dog
Australian Shepherds are extremely intelligent and highly trainable. Stella was house trained by the 2nd day, was able to sit on command by day 4, and over the past 10 months has learned the following commands - lay, crate, place, and sit, and has learned to not move out of those commands until we tell her to. She also knows "inside", "outside", and "treat" (which also means 'get in your crate'.) She knows the diffence between "Dad" and "Mom", and we have to be VERY careful about saying the "S" word (School!)  I've heard stories about Aussies being able to tell the difference between letter A and letter B on wooden blocks.  We're not there yet. :)

5 months old
Velcro Dog
Along the lines of being extremely smart, Australian Sheperds have a nickname of "Velcro Dog" because they're obsessed with their owners. All they want in life is to please their owners, which goes along with being highly trainable. Stella will follow us around, and literally wants to be touching one of us if at all possible.

11 months old

11 months old

Guard Dog
Because Australian Shepherds place such high importance on their immediate family, they tend to be a bit stand-offish to strangers, and very protective if they feel like someone is intruding on their home.  Stella's bark is fierce, and is a great deterent for intruders. However, it sometimes makes it difficult to have friends and family over. We have to make it evident to Stella that these people are our people and that she needs to chill out. It takes a good 5 minutes for her to feel comfortable with guests, and we have to make a production out of it. She has NEVER been aggressive, and we don't think she ever would be, but we always make sure we are right there with her when she meets new people.

11 months old - my smiley puppy!
Fluffy Dog
One of the items on my wish list for a dog was soft and fluffy - Stella definitely fits the bill! Aussies have an under coat and a top coat, which means she sheds a lot and must be groomed often. We have to vacuum daily and brush her at least twice a week so her hair doesn't get matted. One interesting thing we've learned about her coat is that it is waterproof (so they can continue to herd in the rain without getting weighed down) so giving her a bath seems to take forever because the water just rolls off her fur. However, she's perfect for petting and cuddling because she's sooooo soft and fluffy. :)  Some other distinguishable characteristics of Aussies is that they have docked tails and no dew claws. They will not be recognized as Australian Shepherds if they have either of those things, and Mini Aussies are also not recognized as Australian Shepherds.

There are also several different colors of Aussies. Stella is a Blue Merle, which is evident by her spotted coat. They often have blue, or multi-colored eyes. It is also common for them to have an eye that may be half blue and half brown. Stella actually has a small brown spec in her blue eye. Aussies can also be tri-colored, red, or red merle. We've talked about maybe getting another one (when we have a bigger house), and we'd love to get a little tri brother for Stella!

11 1/2 months old

11 1/2 months old - no tail :)

Stella has such specific personality traits. She's SUPER sweet and cuddley.  She tends to worry (she gets that from her mom) but tries to look at the bright side of things. Sometimes she's mischevious and has her own hidden agenda, which usually means digging in the flowerbed in the backyard.  But she always runs back to us and smiles and we forgive her immediately.

10 1/2 months - taken by Angie Ochoa

We would tell anyone considering getting an Aussie that they must have the time and dedication to give them as much exercise and activity, as well as mental stimulation, as they need to prevent them from becoming bored and destructive. Even when we're exhausted we make sure we try to wear her out because she could totally destroy our house if she had the opportunity.  We've found that the best toys for this are Nyla bones for her to chew on, ropes (Target has tug-a-war ropes for $1, we go through them very quickly!), tennis balls, and the Starmark Everlasting Treat Groovy Ball - BEST $25 I've spent in my life. She also loves stuffed animals with no stuffing, but those get torn up within 1 night and then she insists on playing with the scraps.

Overall, Australian Shepherds are a lot of work, but worth all the effort. We're so glad she had one "grey spot" that prevented her from being a show dog so she would ultimately become our pet - we love our Stella Bear!

10 1/2 months - taken by Angie Ochoa


Homeownership project #5: Refinishing the hardwoods - Complete!

Hi guys!  Sorry for the delay on this post - things got a little busy with Thanksgiving.  The floors are complete!  They look so much better, and it wasn't even that big of an inconvenience to go through the process of getting them redone.  It probably helped that I've been putting off buying furniture so we didn't have much to move!  The color is a nice, medium brown - not too dark, not orange at all - and it looks so nice in the bedrooms.  Here are a few pictures:


They look a little orange in the pictures, and I even tried adjusting the white balance on my camera but they still kept photographing slightly warm, but I promise they're just neutral brown!  Next on the list:
  1. Repaint baseboards
  2. Paint bedrooms
  3. Fill with furniture
I've already ordered some chairs for the front room.  They were custom order so they should be arriving towards the end of January.  Also on the list is to get a new bed (king size!) for our master bedroom, and then move our current bed into the empty guest bedroom.  After that I'll just have a few more key pieces that I really want, and then will be time to finish the decorating portion.  So glad to have the wood floors done - now things will really start to come together!