Top 10 of 2011

a completely unrelated pic of my cats, Spot and Squeak

It's time for this year's Top Ten list.  I've stolen this idea from my friend, Daniel.  He came up with this over 15 years ago, and I've compiled a Top Ten every year since becoming friends with him.  He got tired of everyone complaining that nothing had happened or that nothing good had happened during the year, so he would make all of his friends do a top ten.  I find it's a great way to look back at the year and forces you to find 10 noteworthy things that happened.

The rules: Come up with a list of 10 significant things that happened to you in 2011.  They don't necessarily have to be good things or major things, just things significant to you.  You can only have 10 things on your list, no more-no less.

This year's list is in no particular order and is actually pretty lame* compared to 2009 (getting engaged, taking a trip to Mexico, getting laid off) and 2010 (finding a new job, getting married, bachelorette in Las Vegas, Kristee's wedding in Myrtle Beach, honeymoon in New Orleans, turning 30, getting tattooed with Mom and Heather), but not every year can be a winner.  I'm going to own 2012, though.

01.  fun weekend trip to Sherwood Faire with friends (hope to repeat this in 2012)
02.  Thanksgiving trip to the ER with Den to get him stitches (this was actually kind of fun)
03.  going an entire year without doing any theatre (can't let this happen in 2012)
04.  starting my blog and my other blog
05.  having my family completely fall apart
06.  saving money for a down payment on a house (now we just need to find a house to buy)
07.  not getting pregnant and finally seeking fertility help
08.  spending Christmas in Houston with my in-laws for the first time
09.  Den, Roger, & Ron starting the Royal Coin Mint at the Texas Renaissnace Festival
10.  birthday trip to Washington on the Brazos

So, what are your Top Ten lists?




*this list started out way more cynical and bitchy than it ended up (thankfully--Daniel taught me well about top ten list making), and while 2011 was certainly lackluster event wise, 2010 was a hard act to follow
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Festive Solstice


Here's to brighter days ahead.

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Cake Balls

For some crazy reason I decided it would be a good idea to make cake balls this Christmas to give as gifts to everyone.  They seem to be all the rage, and from several sources sounded easy enough to make.  And while they weren't complicated to make, the multi-step process proved to be about as fast and efficient as the DMV. Or maybe it was just me, but I'm usually pretty handy at baking things in the kitchen and keep things fairly streamlined.  Making three batches at once probably didn't help my efficiency much, though.  Either way, I'll probably make them again because the end product is totally worth it.

So I will now share with you the how-to's of cake balling.

You will need:
1 box of cake mix
whatever ingredients the cake mix calls for (usually eggs and veggie oil)
1 can of frosting
chocolate chips or meltable candy coating
vegetable shortening (optional)
wax paper
melon baller or spoon
baking pan(s)
large bowl
cookie sheet(s)
plastic fork
sauce pan (or something to melt the coating in)

First, bake the cake according to the directions on the box.  It doesn't matter what size or shape pan you use.  The important thing is to have cake.
cake

Let the cake cool a little.  You want the cake to be a little warm for this next step, but not hot to the touch.  As soon as you can handle the cake, crumble the whole thing into a big bowl.
crumble the cake

It feels a little weird to essentially destroy the cake you just baked, but you do end up putting it back together eventually, and in ball form, no less!

make sure your bowl is extra large

Next comes the most fun part, in my opinion.  Add the entire can of frosting to the bowl and squish everything together using your hands.  Take your rings off if you wear any because this can get a little very messy.  My biggest bowl barely held all the crumbled cake, so I had to be very careful not to knock any of the crumbs out of the bowl.  So make sure you have a big bowl!

one can of frosting

At this point, what you have in your bowl will be similar to the consistency cookie dough.  You now want to chill your mixture.  I found the colder the mix, the better the ball.  I put mine in the freezer for about an hour before I started balling.

big ball o'cake

Now that your mix has chilled, start balling.  Put a piece of wax paper on a cookie tray so your balls don't stick.  I used a melon baller so I would have similar sized balls (who likes irregular balls, anyway?).  If you don't have a melon baller, I would suggest using a spoon to scoop up some cake mix and then using your hands to roll the mix into a ball like shape.  My melon baller made bite sized balls, and I got almost 100 balls out of one box of cake.  If you only have one cookie sheet, you can put another layer of balls on top of your first layer, just separate them with a piece of wax paper.

rolling balls

Now, put your balls back in the freezer to get nice and cold.  The next step only works if the balls are frozen so they won't disintegrate when you put the candy coating on them.  I froze mine overnight, but one or two hours should do the trick.

For the candy coating you can either use chocolate bark (or another meltable candy coating) or chocolate chips with a little vegetable shortening mixed in.  You want to melt the candy coating either in the microwave or on the stove top.  If you use the stove, use very, very, very low heat so you don't scorch the coating.  Make sure whatever you melt the coating in is deep enough to dip your balls in.  I used the stove top to melt my coating.  Some brands recommend adding a small amount of vegetable shortening to whatever you're melting to thin it out a bit, just follow whatever directions are on the package.

be sure to use very low heat if melting on the stove top

Before you dip your balls, take a plastic fork and break off the two middle tines, leaving only the outer two tines.  This will make it much easier to retrieve your cake balls from the melted candy coating, without either scooping too much coating up with the cake ball or not leaving enough coating on the bottom to cover the whole ball.

my "custom" ball dipping fork

Dipping the cake balls proved to be the most tedious part of the process for me.  You want to dip the balls one at a time because if you dip multiple balls, they get too warm and disintegrate in the melted candy coating.  Balance one cake ball on the plastic fork and lower it into the coating.  I used a spatula to help maneuver the ball around to get it fully coated.

one ball at a time

 Tap the fork on the side of whatever is holding the candy coating to let any excess drip off.  Place the dipped cake balls on another cookie sheet covered in wax paper.  They will set pretty quickly because the balls are already so cold, but if you want them to set even faster, put them in the fridge for about 15 minutes after you have an entire tray done.  I would not recommend double stacking the dipped balls until they are fully set.  And as you work your undipped balls may start to warm up.  If they start to get too squishy, just put them back in the freezer for 15-30 minutes until they firm up again.  You also may have to warm up your coating a time or two to keep it nice and liquidy.

candy coated balls
This is where things got tricky for me.  I spaced my cake balls really close together on the cookie sheet before freezing them in order to maximize space, but there was no way I could place them as close once I had dipped them in chocolate because they would've ended up touching and sticking together.  So it ended up taking me almost 3 days to dip one batch of cake balls.  It went something like this, melt chocolate, dip some balls, put dipped balls on cookie tray, fill up cookie tray, put undipped balls back in freezer, put dipped balls in fridge, wait, repeat.  My system did get a little better on the next batch, but my first batch almost killed me.

finished cake balls

Now you're ready to enjoy the fruits of your labors!  And I think all the work is totally worth it!  Of course, if I had been better prepared for the sheer volume of balls I would produce, I would've made sure to have more room in my freezer and fridge, and I would've bought an extra cookie tray to speed things up.  There's no reason why it had to take me 3 days to get all these done!!!

Have you tried making cake balls?  How did they turn out?  Are you doing any holiday baking?





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Twice as Nice

Den and I want Christmas tree shopping last night.  On the way to the store he said he hoped they still had trees and I said I couldn't imagine them not having trees.  Well, store number one was completely out of trees, so we headed to store number two, where we found two remaining trees.  Small, nicely shaped, and oh so sad and alone outside the store.

take us home, please!

Den ran in and paid for one of the trees while I stood outside thinking how lonely the last remaining tree would be once we took it's friend away.  I stood there feeling guilty for breaking up the pair and feeling sorry for the tree we would leave behind.  So I went in and paid for the other tree.  We now have two Christmas trees.  What is wrong with me?!?





I still need to decorate them.  As cute as Pigger and Butt-Naked are, they are not going to live in the trees this year.  It's a good thing I have plenty of ornaments and lights.




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Rained Out


Dickens on the Strand happened down in Galveston this weekend.  Den and I planned on going Sunday, but unfortunately it rained.  And rained.  And rained.  Which is actually pretty good, considering we've been in a drought for the last year.  But the weather would've done a number on our Victorian outfits and those things don't come cheap, so we decided to stay home.

But we didn't let our entire Sunday go to waste.  Den had the great idea to head over to Cole's, the local flea market.  And what a day it was!  I put on my galoshes, hoped the rain would wash the blood off them, and headed off on a grand adventure.

bloody boots
the boys are ready to go

slow day at the flea market...where are all the people?


puppies!!!  I always feel sorry for flea-market animals, though....


ahhhhhhhhh!!!!  that puppy ate my finger!!!!


fresh produce


yes, it's December 4th and I'm comfortably wearing shorts outside, and yes, my legs are just that white


my big purchase of the day; a $12 chandelier....not sure what color it's going to end up


puppy; if I could liberate you, I would


yes, I'm still in America



corn in a cup with sour cream and butter; best mid-day snack ever.  Den added hot sauce to his


my flea-market face


chickens--you will be liberated, too


I found all the people; the game was on in the food court


ok, I'll liberate you, too




a room full of cars, perfect for the boys; they have everything here!







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Adrift (But Not on Memory Bliss)



This song has been stuck in my head lately.  Probably because I've been feeling adrift the last few weeks (but not on memory bliss).  My problem stems from not having any discernible schedule in my life, whatsoever.  Not having a schedule to keep sounds great, but in reality it's a totally different beast.  No two days are the same and I never know what my day is going to be like, so I find it very hard to prepare in advance for the days to come.  When I was younger I always thought I'd love to have 100% control over my work schedule, leaving me with as much time as I wanted for my personal life.  Oh, the things I could accomplish, I thought!!!  Silly me.  Silly, silly me.

I've come to realize that living without a schedule is a very difficult thing.  I still love the idea of it; the endless possibilities of how I can spend my time are inspiring, if not overwhelming.   The thought of having a Monday to Friday, eight to five job turns my stomach; it's just not for me.  Sure, it has its perks, like weekends off and a very structured calendar, but for a lot of people it's just not a good fit.  I love the idea that I can pretty much do whatever I want, whenever I want with very few limitations.

On paper, I work six days a week, ten hours a day.  That sure doesn't sound better than a 40 hour work week, but it is.  As a contract massage therapist, I don't have to be at work every hour I'm available.  I only have to be there when I actually have clients to see.  So in reality, I usually only work about one third of the time I'm available.  During an average work week, I only do about 15-20 hours of massage.  This is actually fairly busy for most massage therapists who are paid a decent wage or are independent (as opposed to a therapist employed by a sweat shop strip mall massage place, but I digress).  If you add on the amount of time between clients to break down and set up my room, I spend about 22-30 hours a week at work.  Of course some weeks are busier than others and some are slower than others, but overall I end up with a lot of down time in my day.

This should be a good thing, right?  And I'm sure it can be a good thing, but lately I haven't been spending my time very wisely.  Most of my free time has been spent playing CastleVille on Facebook (it's the newest version of crack/cocaine).  In my defense, this usually happens when I have hours of down time between clients and I have nothing else I can do.  I live too far away from where I work to justify going home between clients to be productive; gas is expensive, y'all!  But the free time I have when I actually am at home is not being spent wisely, either.  Again, it's usually spent building my realm.  I need to come up with a better way to manage my time.  Actually, I need to come up with any way of managing my time.  There's no sense in wasting so much of my day!!!

Not having a consistent work schedule means it's a challenge to figure out when I can take care of things like laundry or exercising.  Grocery shopping and going to the bank are two other things that are hard to fit into my day.  And dishes, well, I avoid doing dishes anyway.  So my goal is to come up with some sort of system for keeping track of what I need to do and when I am able to do it.  I need a system flexible enough to work on days when I'm at work from ten in the morning till eight at night and on those days where I may only have one appointment, but is simple, uncomplicated, and easy to use and keep up with.  I sometimes use the online calendar, Cozi.  They have a pretty good app I'm able to use on my phone, but constantly having to type things into the calendar as my schedule changes can get overwhelming to keep up with.  The FlyLady system isn't bad, but doesn't feel "me" enough.  Plus, Fly Lady stresses routines and there is never anything routine in my day.  I guess they're good starting points, though.  I bought myself a planner so I can write things down, but I need to teach myself to look at what I've written down!  One step at a time, I guess.

How do you keep yourself organized?  Do you use an online calendar?  A day planner?  Scraps of paper?  Are you high-tech or old-school?  Are there any systems you can recommend?


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I'm Getting Old

Saturday night with the cat and the computer.  The cat is not normally this blurry.


It's seven o'clock on a Saturday night and I'm already in my pajamas.  But that's only one of the things that makes me feel old, although comfortable.

Last weekend I ran into an old friend of mine out at the Texas Renaissance Festival.  In the last year I haven't been as social as I would like, especially in the actor community, of which my friend is a part of.  I mentioned this to her, and we made a pact to make sure to get together at least once between then and the new year.

Yesterday, I got a text from her inviting me to karaoke on Sunday.  She has a group of friends that does karaoke on the first Sunday of the month and they always pick a different theme for the outing.  This Sunday:  favorite hats.  Awesome!  But wait....it's 10pm-2am.  Ten at night?!?  Am I still able to stay up that late?  That seems awfully late to be going out.  Wait...did I actually just think that?  What's happening to me?  My inner 19 year old is hanging her head in shame.

What's next?  Music that's too loud?  Yelling at those damn kids to stay out of my yard?  Dinner at 4pm?

Maybe I better go out tomorrow.
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Houston Zombie Walk 2011

RUN!!!!!
Saturday night was the 4th annual Houston Zombie Walk.   This year's walk benefited Friends for Life, a true no-kill animal shelter in Houston.  We got together with some friends as the Road Kill Road Crew:  zombie construction workers.

"...fake blood may stain skin..."

None of us realized the fake blood we were using apparently stains skin, but by then, it was too late!  Oops.  It was a price worth paying to shamble with all the other zombies that came out for the fun.

Brains!!!

And of course, a little blood and gore doesn't put a damper on our schmoopiness.

Zombody to Love



Top picture found here.
All other pics taken by our friend Jenny.


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Let Me Reintroduce Myself



I started this blog at the beginning of the year to help myself learn to be a better house keeper and generally a more organized, focused, and productive person.  I wasn't happy with how I was living my life and wanted to make a change.  I jumped in head first and really made some good advances in keeping my home clean and somewhat organized.  But house cleaning isn't exactly my favorite thing to do, and it's not exactly my favorite thing to write about.  So I got bored and unmotivated with the upkeep of this blog and stopped writing.  One of the last things I wrote was, "Someday I may change the direction of this blog--who only wants to hear about my struggles to clean, anyway?!?"  And that's exactly what I'm going to do.  After all, this blog is about reinvention, so why not reinvent the blog!

My name is Jessica Reyna Brogan.  I'm 31 years old and have been married to my husband, Dennis, for one year now, although we've been together for 10.  I'm a massage therapist, actress, and sometimes paralegal.  I dabble in writing, photography, baking, and general craftiness.  I dislike house cleaning, but recognize it's something I have to do to have a nice happy home.  I'm obsessed with nail polish right now, but that may change one day.  I want to have a baby and buy a house.  I have 4 crazy cats, a snake, and a tank full of fish.  Pigger and Butt-Naked are our stuffed animal friends, and I refuse to grow up--ever.  Some days I'm motivated, others I'm not.  I'm looking forward to writing this blog again.  I hope you join me on my adventures!!
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It's An Addiction

I'm addicted to nail polish right now.  I always have polish on my fingers and toes and usually change my polish every other day.  I've started following all kinds of nail blogs....I just can't get enough.  I've even started entering nail polish give-aways.  If you want to check out a really cool nail blog, head on over to http://the-trace-face-philes.blogspot.com TraceFace is having a huge 1000 follower give-away http://the-trace-face-philes.blogspot.com/2011/07/trace-face-philes-1000-followers.html enter to win!!!  And if you win, you can always *ahem* share your spoils with me *cough cough*
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It's Been a While

It has been quite some time since I've posted here.  Nothing major has happened to keep me from updating this blog, other than a lack of interest in writing (or rather not having anything of interest to write about).  My house still swings from messy to clean then back to messy, and I'm still a scatter-brained mess.  I've been very busy at work, and that has left me with less free time to clean and to write about my struggles to keep on top of the simple tasks of day to day life, but life is good.  I am happy and mostly content.

Someday I may start writing again.

Someday, maybe I won't.

Someday I may change the direction of this blog--who only wants to hear about my struggles to clean, anyway?!?

Someday I may delete this blog and start a new one.

Who knows.....
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Things I Love: Finishing a Run

I have finally re-started the couch to 5k running program.  The last time I started running, it was cold...freezing, freezing, freezing cold.  It stands to reason that the second day of my first week back on the program it would be hot...burning, burning, burning hot.  And I was smart enough to run at high noon, you know, so I could cook myself.  But that's okay, because it made the end of the run that much sweeter.  And by run, I mean a calculated ratio of walking/jogging.  I don't want to get ahead of myself. 

So today I celebrate the end of what felt like a boiling, never-ending, tortutous, agonizing, punishment of a run.

done!

Totally worth it.  5K, here I come!
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Pink Flamingos

I've always been a huge fan of pink flamingos as yard art.  Over the years, Den has gotten me a couple of different flamingos for our tiki hut in the back yard; there's one that has Christmas lights all over it and moves its head back and forth and there's one that glows in the dark.  But I've always longed for a flock of plastic flamingos for the front yard. They're classy, they're kitschy, and they're fun.  They brighten up even the dullest of yards, and since I can't keep anything alive in the garden, plastic seems to be a good option for me.

Last night, we took a trip to the store to use up the last of the giftcards we got for our wedding.  And to my surprise and delight, there were pink flamingos on sale for $2.50 a pop!  Granted, they weren't as big as the classic original flamingos, but for $2.50 I can't complain.  I am now the proud owner of a flock of 5 mini flamingos.  I can see them out the office window standing guard in the front yard.  Pigger helped me decide where to put them.  I think I'll eventually add to the flock.  I wonder how many I could fit in my front yard?

The yard looks so sad.

instant happiness and class.  Pigger approves

Pigger and flamingo

flock

Squeek, the supervisor




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My Mom Sent Me an iPad2!!!

I couldn't believe it when I came home yesterday and waiting on me was a very special package from my mom.  I had a feeling I knew what was in it, but I had to open it to make sure.  Even though I suspected what the contents of the package would be, I couldn't have been more surprised/excited/thrilled to see what was inside!!! My mom is such a special lady.  She always knows the right things to send me and when I need them.  Mom,  thank you!!!!!  I love you!!!!











my new iPad2!

What can I say?  Craziness runs in the family.  And, yes, she actually sent this to me in the mail.

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