Sunday, January 14, 2018

YEAR IN REVIEW: PART 2


Our Bay At Dusk


I think I last left you at June.  Aren't you happy I divided this into two parts?  You can read my Part 1 Year In Review here.

*****

I love how the calm water reflects the light, and provides a mirror for the boats and docks.  It is so, so peaceful here during the week.  Weekends are pretty wild with people having company that fills the roads with parked cars, strollers being pushed, bicycles, joggers/walkers, and cute dogs on leashes.  Honestly, I appreciate all seven days of the week for what they bring.  



Niles, MI Antique Shop Find

It was so fun having the time here to myself.  I explored towns with wonderful Main Street vibes, and many antique shops.  I was so excited to score these old Beatrix Potter books.  I may have to look back at my original post--I think they are copyrighted 1949.  They look very well loved.  It's so fun to have weekdays to bum around doing things I could never do on Saturdays and Sundays.  Even when we took 2 weeks in August for a long stay, so much time was spent on tasks, and many lazy days, just not wanting to get off the boat even to have dinner out.  



Master Bedroom Balcony

For the very first time, I fixed up the balcony off our master bedroom.  It looks out over the big lake.  I found canvas sling chairs which fold up---great for storing in the winter months.   The canvas can be wiped cleaned.  I added some plants and citronella candles.  The dogs loved walking out to sun themselves every morning when I made the bed and tidied up the room.  Now its empty and carpeted in snow.



Mango Guacamole 

I came across this recipe, and it was a hit all summer long.  My grocery store in Chicago makes a mango salsa.  This is just another take with avocado.  If you want to make it ahead, reserve the pit of the avocado and squish that down in until you are ready to serve.  This keeps the avocado from turning brown.  Find the recipe here.




Tropical Luau Drink

One morning I was fiddling around in my garden when I happened to see something hanging off the driver's side mirror of my car.  It was a cute invitation in the shape of a pineapple, inviting me to a luau that weekend.  I didn't recognize the name, but I did know the street was directly across the bay.  I talked to my friend Diane, who lives three houses down, and she knew the lady a bit, and it was a party for our whole bay. 

That weekend, The Husband came up, I made a Hawaiian Salad, and off we went.  It was an absolute blast!  Good food, meeting neighbors who had been here as long as us, but just a body of water separating us.  Oh, how we laughed.  There was karaoke, a photo booth with crazy tropical props to dress up in,  a bon fire on the beach, and dancing.  This beautiful lady who held the party with the help of her sweet sisters, is just so fun.  I hope to get in touch with her this summer---I'd love her friendship.  She also lives full time in Illinois, but very far north from me.  



Papa and Madelyn

The Husband loves nothing better than to take everyone out for boat rides.  He takes his role of captain very seriously.  To think Abigail was this little when we moved here.  I like to drive the boat, too, but The Husband freaks when I bring it into our shore station.  It's a sharp right turn, as we are in the corner of the bay, and then you have to cut the engine and rely on the waves to let you drift in.  If your boat smacks against any metal parts, it ain't purdy.  Sometimes I love the freedom of the wave runners.  You just the gun the engine and cruise onto the beach.  


Our Lake at Sunset

I actually found this gorgeous photo of our lake on Facebook.  You can see how large our lake is, the largest in Southwest Michigan.  That's the island in the center--it has about a hundred homes.  A ferry takes people and cars back and forth.  These home aren't accessible in the winter by ferry, but back in the day, when the lake froze, people would get there by snowmobile.  Another activity was truck racing on the ice.  For the brave I guess.  If you can enlarge this photo you can see few specks, which are boats, in the lower right corner.  If we cruise the entire shoreline, and you must go counterclockwise, it takes over an hour.  


City House Outdoor Renovation

This huge project took at minimum 4 months to complete.  It was my baby.  We started out having a new porch and driveway done.  Then the shutters were painted, and that was a huge improvement.  Then I worked with a great lady on the landscaping.  I told her the bushes and shrubs I liked, and she chose the placement.  We also reseeded and the new grass came up thick and lush.  I have never seen this with seeding before.  We get so many compliments from our neighbors, and sometimes people taking walks pause and point to some of the bushes and flowers they like.  I am super excited about planting some flowers next summer, maybe some red geraniums. 


Fall Centerpiece

Autumn seemed to come and go in a flash.  I think it is becoming my favorite season.  Everything seems to slow down.  The crisp air and the trees changing from green to brilliant colors, really makes me happy.  But I knew my time at the lake was winding up.  By mid-October,  I had a lot of yard cleanup, and wanted to really give the city house a good cleaning after not being there so much all summer.  I could also sense the holidays approaching.  I think the last time I was here was the end of October.



Miss Madelyn

All the grandkids continued to grow at warp speed.  Emily has an Instagram account that is simply pictures of Madelyn.  It is so cool to follow as she grows and changes.  I think this is one way technology is used nicely.  I remember my father having his old leather wallet with the plastic photo inserts.  He had pictures of all of us kids, and when he was fluffing his feathers for someone, he'd pull it out, give it a shake, and then, with what seemed like magic-- the yellowed plastic would unfold with blurred pics of all seven of us.  I was always in awe of that.  It's a vivid memory I have of him, along with Old Spice aftershave, and Lucky Strike cigarettes.  Anyway--our lives can be shared much differently now in a compact and portable way.  And who knows, maybe in future our kids will be telling their kids about iPhones, Instagram, and Snapchat, and it will sound very simpleminded and outdated.    



Tom & Abigail

Shortly before Thanksgiving, Abby's longtime boyfriend, Tom, popped the question.  He had her engagement ring made from his own design, and that evening his father put together an impromptu party for their family and friends.  We knew they were going to get engaged soon---they've been together for eight years!  They are planning for a July wedding in 2019.  They are now, in fact, house hunting, and I'm so happy it is back in our neighborhood.



Christmas 2017

The rest of 2017 for me is probably somewhat fresh on your minds (ha!).  Christmas stressed me out incredibly, try as I might to cut back and streamline everything I plan and do, I'm simply too fussy.  When its over and done, and I have a family hangover, I vow to do it differently next Christmas.  But that rolls around and the festivities spark my over thinking everything again.

We had several celebrations; I hosted one two days before Christmas Day, and I never had the joy of doing this annual family Christmas party.  Even with catered food, I was spread thin and worried constantly that something wouldn't work out right.  When I have parties, I try to make it so that the work is done ahead of time and I can be part of the party.  But it never turns out that way.  Some hostesses get that down right and I envy them.  I have learned that if you are going to have over thirty people, you really have to delegate your kids or friends to help in specific ways.  And I now realize, too, that my sister in law Meg, had this particular holiday party at her house for many, many years.  I always brought a dish and offered to help in any way I could and she always said no.  But I really applaud her now...she made it look easy.  I should have been a little bit persistent when I saw her more in the kitchen than with the family.  I do however, have a fantastic family and they really enjoyed themselves at this party I had, and gave me more "thank-you's" than I deserved.  I'm rambling here, but I think this was the extra on my plate that really made everything too much.  



We had Christmas dinner at the home of Megan, her husband Declan, and their kids.  Another brother in law,  Jim, and his wife Gwen and kids, were in from Kansas City for the holiday as always, and of course we had Papa.  So it was a long dining room table filled with great food, love and laughter.  I think this was the first time I just sat and soaked up the blessings of our good family.

*****

I was pretty happy to say goodbye to 2017.  It was a good year with a lot of personal growth.  But there were many ups and downs which are only natural.  Physically I was fighting the CMV virus, dealing with more and more back problems, and trying new and more experimental treatments for my eczema.  I tried a medication just recently passed by the FDA; it involved giving myself bi-weekly injections.  The only known side effect was dry eyes and irritation.  That hit me hard, and at one point my eyes were so dry that one morning I opened them and tore the cornea of my left eye.  This promising drug, which had already relieved so many people from severe, chronic eczema, failed me and I was at square one again.  

I can say that we had a great year at the lake.  The Husband and I finished up a ton of work inside and out, and had another beach area created on the opposite side of our dock.  I'm hoping he will decide to clean up his old fishing boat and keep it on that side, he sort of lost his love of getting up at 5:00 a.m., and getting out on the lake at dawn.  I think times like those are good for the soul, just as my time here alone is.  Still, we enjoy weekends cooking on the grill, having drinks with our neighbors, having company up, or just sitting on the beach watching the waves.  

As much as we want January to start  off on a brilliant new path, sometimes you have to drag some of the old baggage with you.   Its inevitable.  Right now I'm focused on the health of my husband, and of course Milo.  He is still getting chemo, and I'm not sure how long we will continue to do this if he doesn't go into remission soon.  We have to say goodbye at some point as much as it breaks my heart, and I swing back and forth with the mind set of enjoying every second we can buy, to seeing him decline.  Sometimes I see him staring at walls or struggling to get up the steps, and I think that I really need to decide if it's the cancer or old age that's making him go downhill.  He's not in pain, so I can't see doing anything different then I am at this point.  It's simply so much weighing on my mind.   

On a good note, there is no reason to not look at 2018 as a new slate.  In fact, everyday is a new start.    Maybe we have to learn to be accepting of taking the good with the bad.  A good enough sign of wisdom and maturity as any!

*****

I am always so grateful to all of you ladies who have been with me since the start of my blog, and so many of you new friends.  I get so much joy reading your comments and popping into your blogs as much as possible.  My blogging has taken a terrible slope downward.  In 2011, I posted well over a hundred times in the space of that year.  In 2017, I was at barely forty posts.  Egad!  It's not easy to keep up when my day job is writing as well.  Sometimes I really long to hide my laptop and sit with a good book or a crossword puzzle.  I try to remember life before my Mac.  I'm forever grateful for what I have, but I have to figure out a way to make all of this run like a well oiled machine.

So...onward and upward.  Next week we can move on to adventures in the new year!

Jane x   

***A note:  I keep meaning to let all of you know that I am having problem or glitch with responding to any of your comments by email.  This has been going on for several months.  My emails sent through the address in your profiles get returned to me. It's definitely something on my end, and when I know who to ask, I will.  In the meantime, know that I'm reading your comments and appreciating all of your kinds words.  I'd much rather visit your blog than send an email, but sometimes I'd like to touch base more thoughtfully.  I'll keep working on it.  ;)

Linking up with Let's Add Sprinkles



Wednesday, January 3, 2018

A YEAR IN REVIEW: PART 1


Welcome 2018!  I've been lolling around all day thinking about what I'd like to accomplish this new year.  And when it's 5 degrees below, lolling is a good thing.  Resolutions, not so much.  In spite of stocking up at the grocery store Sunday, with good, healthy food, how could I say no to Abby when she walked in last night with Culver's burgers?  With a mouthful of fries, she said, "You've got nothing to worry about, Mom, tomorrow I have to fit in a bikini."  And yes, the lucky duck is heading off to Key Largo for a wedding.  Eight days in the sun having fun.  And we here in Chicago, are stuck with no higher than fifteen degrees for at least another week.  

I have been meaning (and promising on Instagram), to post a Year In Review.  If I get this done by Friday, I will have fulfilled something I was only halfheartedly planning to do.  See that book above in the photo?  That was in my first post of 2017, a year ago.  And guess what, I don't know where the heck it is.  Furthermore, you can bet I didn't write one word in it.  I also picked up two magazines in the grocery store, one called Real Simple, and it was chock full of organizational ideas, "More calm, less clutter."  I was feeling really good until I started to fall asleep reading it.  Another was a British magazine aimed at wellness, kindness, mindfulness..blah, blah, blah.  I'm the sort of girl who thinks if I just keep buying a new shade of lipstick, it will magically transform my life.  But sometimes when you read articles cheering you on to a new goal, dream, inspiration, or way of living--you fully believe its possible, and 5 minutes later forget it.  

As much as I try to journal, write in notebooks like the one in this pic; keep a food diary, even make a grocery list, it takes time and discipline.  I wonder if I'm just in love with the idea of documenting stuff that will spur me on?  I get a great feeling of fulfillment when I see these little helpers, looking like they are going to transform my life.  I don't plan to micromanage everything, but I'm not a spring chicken.  I want to accomplish a lot, and I want to live life to the fullest.  I need to have a record of the checks and balances.  So, as I free write after skimming through some photos from 2017 that I feel could tell a story, maybe by the end I'll be able to figure out what it is that I want to do this year.  

Let's begin!



January 2017

Most of you know how ecstatic we were to be back in the lakehouse the fall of 2016 after the flood.  It was all about gratitude (and unpacking 147 boxes of our belongings).  January and the first few months of 2017 were all about adding new furniture and pieces (and believe me, we purged a ton), and re purposing some items we had.  I had a vision of how I wanted each room to look.  When I chose paint colors the year before, that was that was the beginning, and at this particular time, I was to carry out my ideas; a sort of garden room in the girl's old bedroom, and a salty sailor sort of theme in the boys room, as well as the loft.  It wasn't an overnight thing, and still isn't.  I add and subtract.

The Great Room was fun.  After twenty-five years of with the same dark furniture, we finally got serious and bought a new couch and love seat.  Same old rustic coffee table, a great Pottery Barn find that we brought from the city house.  It's about twenty years old.  The little table between the sofa and love seat is an old nightstand I painted.  I'm just so happy to have beachy colors; it's happy and bright when the sun shines through, and the cushions are so soft and squishy to sink into when you want to relax in front of the fire or read.  

As I went through my pictures I realized I hadn't shared a lot of photos, such as the mudroom or bedrooms.  I'll get on that.  



Our First Grandson

February was such a blessed month in that we celebrated the birth of our third grandchild, Brooks Patrick, on February 10.  Is he not precious?  Son Jeff, and his wife Deirdre, are the proud parents.  There's a more recent picture of him on my sidebar.  He is really a lot of fun; never sits still--much like his father, and has the beautiful eyes and smile of his mother.  

We also welcomed Patsy, later in May; daughter of son Kevin and Mary Clare, little sister to Elsie.  I've said before, we need to get more snaps of her.  Patsy looks very much like Kevin, while I think Elsie has her mother's pretty features and fun disposition.  I'll keep you posted!


Beef Stew

In the colder months I tend to cook a lot.  Sadly, I didn't post much about my cooking endeavors.  One of my favorite and most loved one-pot-meals is beef stew.  We know it's winter around here when I make it.  Feel free to add or subtract ingredients, omit the meat if you want.  The basics are a solid start for a great meal.  Find the recipe in this post.



Living Room, Chicago

As we were rounding the corner into spring here at the city house, we decided we couldn't toss out our beloved sofa, so we had it reupholstered.  It was old and faded, but I had hung on to it because I loved the pretty floral pattern---it actually looked better faded.  Finally I admitted it needed a facelift.  Reupholstering is a wise investment considering the cost of the same sofa at present day cost.  I really, really love how it looks and feels.  In fact, I'm looking at this photo and scratching my head--I miss those curtains.  We have something different now and I've never been truly happy with them.  Do I feel a change coming?



Sitting Area With a View, Lakehouse

Here again I have an example of how upholstery can make a big difference, but lets you keep the style of your pieces.  The settee is quite unusual but elegant with the camel back.  It's a juxtaposition with the country style glider rockers.  Still, there is nothing like sitting on one of those in the early morning (my fave is the one on the left), with a cup of coffee in hand, watching the birds come to my feeder and birdbath.  I found the ottoman for a song at Pier 1, and daughter Emily, a designer, who worked at a high end furniture store, was amazed by the craftsmanship and detail.  She felt the same about the furniture, which was covered by a family owned business here in Michigan.  The only other new thing we added was the 'eyelash' rug from Target.  It's no longer available.  It is so soft and durable, I wanted to have it in our master.  Alas, never coming back.  



Madelyn Elise, 4 months old

Need I say more?  As we transitioned into summer, she became our lake baby.  :))  Oh, how she loves the water.  We have to keep an eye on this little fish!



Quiche

As spring arrives in the Midwest, we move away from heavier foods.  I particularly love preparing more seafood, interesting salads with artisan bread, and the quick, easy, and ever changing quiche.  There is no limit to the ingredients you can add to the egg mixture.  My recipe is light and fluffy, can be served hot or at room temperature (which makes it great for company), and goes well with a summery salad.  You can find my recipe here.  


May Tulips

Yay!  It's getting warmer finally and although its muddy and raining a lot, I get out into the garden to see my daffodils and tulips.  The green stems of my day lilies are poking up, and the forsythia is blooming.  Finally-- we can stop buying cut flowers!  Almost every fall I plant about 100 bulbs.  The old tulips die off and their babies mature, a little too slowly for me.  It sounds like a lot of bulbs but I plant them in groups of 10 to 12.  

I'm super excited that since we had the front of the house landscaped last summer, and had the porch totally redone, I can add some new flowers here and there.  And I'm going to add some no-fuss flowering shrubs to the backyard.  I'm just spread so thin with two homes.  Last summer the city house looked like the Addams family home.  Take a look at this post.



Master Bedroom at Lakehouse

I've read in design magazines and websites that couples tend to place their master bedroom last on the list to fix up.  It may sound like we care about every other spaces before ourselves, but I think it's all about the idea that our bedroom is private and off limits to company.  I hadn't done much at all with our bedroom, but in May I started spending weeks on end at the lake alone.  That gave me time to shop and really get the ball rolling on the house.  I really wanted our bedroom to be tranquil and cozy.  After all, I would be (and did) spending many nights there alone with just the hounds.  The bedding is from Target, the area rug from Overstock.  My lamps and a few other items were found at various stores and websites.  You can read more here.  The sliding doors lead to a balcony, and although I'm not going to give you a link just now, I fixed it up with an outdoor rug, sling chairs, tables, candles, and plants.  I loved reading out there before the sun set.  It has a spectacular view of that, as well as the lake.  



Bad, Bad Layla

Layla and Milo were great company over the summer when I was alone.  Milo is pretty much deaf, but has a mean bark.  Layla is fearless, but too small to do any harm to anything or anybody.  Let's just chalk them up to pals.  

They were happy as clams, but always getting into mischief.  Milo is off
leash, and chases any dog being walked past our house---a great icebreaker.   We also have renters next door, and he acquainted himself with every family, leaving a little 'gift' near their deck.  He tends to do this when he's excited.  I met a lot of new people this way, but also learned to keep plastic bags in my pocket.  

Layla has a tendency to roll in anything that has a funky smell, mostly dead birds or their droppings.  She sleeps in bed with me, so I really have to toss her into a bath ever now and then.  The kitchen sink works well.  Not sure if she likes it, but she sure smells better.  


Milo, Summer 2017

I love this picture of my boy.  Every evening about 8:00, we would head out to the patio for a glass of wine.  Milo would play sentry on the porch, surveying the bay for ducks, geese, swans, who knows.  I think I'm going to frame this one.  Good memories.  


Guest House, Lake

I didn't make any changes to the guest house other than a natural rug (the dogs had really snagged the previous wool rug), and faux wood blinds.  To the left you can somewhat see a closet door.  We have two of these and they hide Murphy beds.  Someday I'll get a picture of when they are down and made up for guests.  There's everything you need in here; a TV, heat, fan, and privacy.  We were thinking of calling it the Honeymoon Cottage.  The bad thing is there is no toilet, so you have to make a run for the main house in the middle of the night if need be.  



Getting the Beach Ready

It takes a lot of time and muscle to get the beach ready for summer.  Not only do we need a nice thick layer of sand upon which to sit and play, we spread the sand out as far as the end of the pier.  A lot of lily pads take over, and the bottom is mucky.  The Husband used to spend an entire weekend doing this himself.  Then a new company started up around our lake called The Beach Boys.  It was just what we needed.  It is a huge break for The Husband, and we've become great friends with the company owner.  He's getting more business that he can handle lately.  We are very happy for him.  

 ********

This is going to wind up Part 1.  I hope I didn't bore you.  I'm fighting a cold and spending a lot of time in bed.  Not too bad though, I vowed to get more reading done and I'm already half way through a new book.  

We had a great Christmas and a quiet but fun New Year's Eve.  I'll include that in my next post.   I'd also like to reflect on last year, and add some thoughts about what I'm hoping for in 2018.  

Thanks to all of you for your wonderful and deeply felt friendship.  All of you are my rock.



Cheers to a new year!

Jane x





Wednesday, December 20, 2017

HAPPY HAPPY & MERRY MERRY: CHRISTMAS LOVE TO ALL!


Happy holidays, all!  We are on the edge of the eve of the biggest celebration in the world.  It's always a whirlwind of activity, isn't it?  I was all set to sit down here, squeeze in a post, when I know I have a zillion other things to do, and just complaaaaaaaain.  But I'm not.  There is nothing different in my crazy anxiety now than there was last year, and the year before, and so on.  But that's it.  I've switched to a lower gear.  I'm cruising.  Christmas is less than a week away, and I'm going to get excited about it instead of looking at my watch every minute.  It's so refreshing.  

The nice thing about having a blog is that its like a photo album which you can peruse when you want ideas, or just wonder how you decorated for a particular season or event in a previous year.  I think I'm on 10 years blogging, so I have a lot to look back at.  I smile when I see the same decorations being used over and over in different ways.  I'm so flexible that way. ;-)

This year I really needed to keep things minimal, as I'm hosting a big family celebration and I have no idea if it's going to work well with the number of people and the size of my house.  The less decorations I have, the less cluttered it will look.  I actually had my mantel decorated.  Christmas cards displayed around a door, my snowman collection set up on a sofa table, and holiday pillows and throws on every chair and couch.  This morning I took it all down and put most of it away.  I woke up with an eye that took in all the busyness, added about thirty people from young to old, and knew I was making a huge mistake.  I'm actually breathing easier.  Really, I walk from room to room and feel lighter.  


I think I did really well with my Christmas shopping.  I hit sales, and used promo codes and free shipping on just about everything I ordered online.  Pricing is so competitive during the Christmas holidays, maybe one year I'll tally up my savings.  In fact, if it were remotely possible to have any extra money when these sales start, I think it would be incredible to make purchases for future gifts or personal needs, especially if you've have been playing Mrs. Claus for 6 weeks.  





I'm pretty sure I found this pillow at Marshall's.  It's so subtle and cute-almost vintage like.  I found out my 2 friends down in Asheville, Penny and Penny, also bought the same pillow.  It tugs at my heart that I haven't been there for a year and a half.  I know if I sat down, blocked off The  Husband's work calendar, and planned it out, we could go in a month or two.  Right now I can't leave Milo.  Chemo is ongoing, but even after that's over, I'm not sure I want to go away for a week, 10 days, or more.  I have a great girl who house/dog sits, but I'm not going to upset his life like that.  He's fragile.  I won't be taking these risks after what we've been through these last few weeks.  Maybe we can grab a few days in the summer to just hang out down there.  Maybe.  I come second here.  




One of my biggest pleasures recently has been spending time with my niece, Tricia.  She came over and helped me decorate a good part of the house, had hot chocolate and wrapped gifts (the girl is good).  We went out for pizza, and to the mall.  We had a blast in Bath & Body Works smelling every candle there!  She's incredibly fun, polite, curious and sweet.  I hope she had as much fun as me.  :-D



This is a small section of monster mantel.  For the life of me, I can't bear to move that old window.  Are you like that with anything in your home?  I work it into ever mantelscape.  Maybe someday I'll laugh.  I've changed the whole thing around since I posted this photo on Instagram.  It was making me claustrophobic.  It doesn't help that I have gifts; wrapped and not wrapped, on tables and stacked on chairs.  I still have ornaments to put on the tree, and all of my baking supplies scattered on the counters, as I don't have extra space in my cabinets.  Oh, no--  I'm complaining.  Anyway, I simplified the mantel by removing the three little trees I had, and now I have the simple greenery, mini lights, and some silver and mercury glass candle holders.  Lots of sparkle.  Yes!



I did just a little on my wee front porch.  It looks a little messy, sometimes the decaying leaves make marks on the new concrete.  My urn still has soil from the pansies that survived right up until I switched it up with fresh evergreen.  I added some thin, white stems that I save from year to year, and a floral pick with a bow.  A red lantern with a white candle and gold bow sit next to it, and I have the same mat from Target from last year.  As you can see, I strive for absolute perfection when I style my porch.  Ahem. 



About a week ago I placed a little basket on the porch ledge with some bottled water and small bags of chips for our delivery people to help themselves to.  Emily saw something similar on Facebook, and I loved the idea.  I'd love to give our mail person a gift at Christmas, but we have a different one from day to day.  On days when I actually opened the door to deliveries, the compliments made me blush.   A man from Fed Ex said, "We really appreciate what you do for us."  It's the little things.  I'm still keeping an eye out for squirrels!


So many fun gatherings ahead.  I'm fighting a bit of a cold...the miserable sort where you don't want to get out of bed.  Then you do, have some coffee and a shower, feel better, and an hour later slump over, craving that warm bed again.  I actually ran out of Kleenex, and had to keep a roll of toilet paper next to me wherever I went.  Sadly, I had wads everywhere, and sometimes dragged them along with me.  Can it be more embarrassing?  In the ambition department for my party, I have cut myself some slack.  Four dozen cookies instead of eight.  Skip the bows on the presents, and shove the dog toys in the hall closet.  

We visited my sister in law, Meg, and her husband, Declan, Saturday night when brother in law, Jack was in from Vancouver.  His pretty girlfriend, Isabella, also came.  We met her when we were there about 2 years ago.  It was so fun, we had a nice crowd of close family.  Look at the spread of appetizers.  An array of cheeses, sausage, crackers, nuts, and nibbles.  Also an assortment of sweets.  It put me in the mood for more festivities.  

A sister in law on my husband's side of the family is having a little open house at the Irish pub she owns tomorrow night.  That will be fun and I'll be home early enough to get my minimum 12 hours of sleep.  I'm getting in gear, people.


I had to share Ms. Madelyn's 'Cutting Down the Christmas Tree' outfit.  It's very fitting; a little holiday sparkle in the skirt, a fur vest (Daniel Boone inspired?), a custom made scarf from Aunt Mary Beth, and her signature velvet bow.  She has a wardrobe that anyone would envy.  Classic.  On spot.  Spit up proof.  ;)

Tomorrow I'll be finishing up my Christmas cards, and getting them in the mail.  Thursday I'll start baking.  I like to make little boxes for the kid's in laws, and a few friends. I've gotten wise in making bar cookies, fudge, and chocolate dipped pretzels, big bang for the buck.  Then I add some store bought chocolate candies, and this year, some of Trader Joe's gingerbread men.  A nice treat.  I might make some spiced pecans if I have time.  They are so  popular.  The Husband drives over an hour into Indiana to get a package at Cabela's Sporting Goods.  What a trooper.  I get crazy just by tossing them in the oven every fifteen minutes.  

Our Christmas celebrations start on Saturday, the 23rd.  This year we are hosting a family gathering for a part of the family consisting of about thirty.  I said something about it earlier in my post.  My house isn't huge, but not small.  It's just a lot of boxy rooms.  Chip Gaines would take his sledge hammer and eliminate a lot of walls in a minute.  I know I've had big parties before, we'll have to see.

I lost my mind for about 4 milliseconds, and thought I could pull off doing the food myself.  Making a huge amount of food for twelve at Thanksgiving pretty much told me I didn't have the equipment or cold storage for a larger feast.  So we will cater.  I've mentioned this before in posts, and maybe it's a term we use around here that is misleading.  Catering does not mean people dressed in white shirts and aprons, carrying around trays of food and serving guests.  Well, yes, you might have that in a different scenario.  We use the term "cater' when we order large amounts of food from a restaurant, and have it delivered hot and ready to serve...yourself.  

We have an overabundance of Italian and Asian restaurants in my neighborhood.  Both are fantastic, and we use the Italian for a large group.  It's easy and economical to prepare, it's always filling, so you don't need a ton of it, and it's always loved.  We have some of the very best Italian food here on the Southside of Chicago.  

I spent  little time perusing restaurants and catering menus; prices and dishes.  I wanted something a little different.  I ended up with a place I've been to a few times, but the catering menu was nothing I've tried before, so it will be a make it or break it.  Tell me what you think:

Spinach Salad, with creamy bacon dressing
Quartered Chicken, brined, dry rubbed, and smoked
Cornbread
Sweet Potato Fries
Mac and Cheese
Roasted Vegetables
Cookies and Brownies

It sounds a little southern, I think, yet the restaurant is pretty much American--whatever that means.  I'll keep you posted.

I'm off now, into my land of simplicity and calmness.  The tree is twinkling in multi covered lights; don't you do just the best thinking alone in front of your lit tree?  The Husband has been snoring away for 4 hours with little Layla.  Milo, my Prednisone induced insomniac, is wandering around with a huge bone, positive he's going to hide it from a pack of wolves in one of the closets, or a clothes hamper.   Not sure who this dog is anymore, but he makes me laugh.  :))

Sending love and hugs to all of you for a wonderful and blessed Christmas!

Jane xxx




Saturday, December 2, 2017

HOLIDAY SPARKLE


Hey, December!  You're here. This is it!  You made it!  Does this sound familiar?  If you watch Jimmy Fallon, it's the beginning of his monologue every night.  I guess its compassion for all of those tired people waiting outside for hours, then getting seats, and again, waiting for hours.  I just couldn't do it, as much as I love him. 

These are the gorgeous flowers I received from my niece, who came to Thanksgiving dinner with her kids.  My niece is my age, I think that's sort of cool.  And it leads me to a little tale that probably means nothing at all to any of you.  

My husband was the youngest of 4 boys.  The two eldest were born, and had left home, when he and his brother were born.  Thus, an age gap of twenty years.  Hmmmm...not sure what happened here.  So, these older brothers have children as old as The Husband and his brother.   

While I'm telling family stories, it's very sad that The Husband's mother passed away from cancer when he was just 4 years old.  He and his brother had a live-in 'housekeeper', for lack of better description at the time.  Even more interesting, she was a native American Indian.  I can't say that The Husband shares a whole lot of memories of this time in his life, it is what it is.  Shortly before The Husband left for college, Viva passed away, and soon after, his father. 

I got away from myself here.     



Another bouquet for our table.  I had no intention of doing any sort of centerpiece.  Our dining table is just too small, it's ridiculous.  Deb's flowers were perfect.  I had a buffet, as usual, but to my credit I used dinner plates, cloth napkins and silver-plate.  A little touch of pampering.  

Things ran like a well oiled machine until later in the evening, at the time when we had a nice amount of extended family for dessert and good cheer.  A mouse was spotted in the kitchen and you would have thought it was a grizzly bear.  Of course, I was mortified; mouse = dirty house.  I do not have a dirty house!  The wicked varmint enter through the attached garage every fall, and whether you like it or not, I have poison planted everywhere.  I must have forgotten the garage.  When the squeals started, The Husband suddenly became very interested in the person he was conversing with.  My wonderful brother in law stood up, and announced he would take care of it.  Born and raised on a farm in Ireland, he wasn't feeling much fear.  I wanted to smack my forehead, and say our pet mouse, Mickey, must have gotten out of his cage.  But then another when came running out.  Sigh.

I don't think I've been as mortified as this since a bat flew into the lakehouse when we had guests.  The Husband ran around with a fishing net, while my women friends dived for cover under tables.  A story for another day.  So how was your Thanksgiving?

    

I made meals with the leftover turkey, but I'm happy to say there wasn't much left over  My niece has 3 hulking, Irish boys, and when I say hooray on the dent made in my casseroles of food, I mean that.  They liked it!  I did make a great dish with the leftovers that you may want to do after Christmas if you make turkey, or you can substitute chicken.  That's at the end of my post.  And the broccolini dish I made was delicious and got a thumbs up.  The recipe was included in my last post, you can find it here.  

The Saturday night after the holiday, I was so "carbed' out, I wanted something fresh and clean.  I love sushi, and I was craving it so bad.  We have 2 great places blocks from us.  One is small, but the dining room is splendid.  We love the owners, they come and sit with us to chat for a bit.  The other is absolutely huge, but the service is excellent and the menu features Chinese, Japanese, Thai, and they have a few hibachi tables.  So...we tried a new place that recently opened, right smack in the same area as our favorite two.  It was excellent.  You can see the sushi dinner I ordered.  The Husband had his Teriyaki chicken.  He loves anything sweet.  And we shared lo Mien noodles (that put me back on the carb train).  Portions were huge, of course, and we had a few meals over the next two days.  


 It was a group effort in bringing up the Christmas decor from downstairs last week.  Group, as in me and The Husband.  I carried the bins to the landing, he carried everything back to the family room.  And there it sits, with a small stack of wrapped presents, and a much larger stack of UPS delivered packages and boxes.  I'm so good at shopping, especially online.  Is that not fun or what?  I love to get catalogs in the mail, they seem to zoom in on the best ideas, then I open that laptop and away we go.   I've always been an avid shopper, I have a black belt.  And Christmas is the best time ever.  

I found this wreath on Wayfair.  I've been looking far and wide for something lifelike, pretty, and reasonably priced.  I think this was about $35, and is 24 inches in diameter.  You can shape it any way you want, and since I took this shot, I added a plaid initial 'B' ornament to the bottom.  


The highlight all of the festivities of the holiday had to be Abigail's longtime boyfriend, Tom, proposing to her the day before Thanksgiving.  It was a real blessing.  Our family couldn't ask for more in a husband and life long partner for our daughter. 

They met shortly after high school graduation 8 years ago, at a party on one of Chicago's beaches.  Although Tom grew up nearby, and went to school on the same campus as Abby, they had never truly run into each other.  But they clicked.  Like a sad movie, he headed off to college in Michigan 2 weeks later, and she downstate in Illinois.  It was a challenging 4 years, but they were committed.  

 And now, for the past 2 years they have lived in an apartment in the city with Squall, their rescued pup/child.  They are both teaching and really loving their careers.  And to my relief, they are looking for a home in our neighborhood.  She claims they want a big backyard for Squall, and a brother or sister for him.  I think she has finally decided she has seen enough of the big city and wants to come back to our close and familiar neighborhood   

A really great celebration was hosted by Tom's father the night before Thanksgiving.  So many friends they grew up with, family members on both sides, and cheers all around.  Her sparking ring is stunning.  I think she is still smiling!   

Oh---remember those gorgeous velvet boots in my last post? I thought they were going to be uncomfortable because they were really meant for someone taller.  Well, I wore them to this little engagement party and they were very comfortable.   The nice little heel was perfect for me to stand alright for hours.  I'd love to wear them everyday but they aren't waterproof.  The link to where I bought them is on that last post.  


Finally, I never want to see anything that flew in a previous life for at least another six months.  I'm craving carbs to no end in spite of my attempt to cleanse myself with the sushi.  Bread, pasta, noodle soup...when you go off the deep end you tend to say, let's get it out of the system.  I'm laughing here, but truly, I've been beating myself up.  I try to find comfort in knowing a lot of people are out there  loosening their belt buckles, but I've been sitting on my butt, writing for my papers (a good thing of course), but having my share of movies, news and of course, salty snacks to keep me fortified for all the drama.  Ahem.  

I made turkey tetrazzini with the bit of meat left over.  I really like to spice up the recipe or it comes out tasting like Elmer's glue.  I also use the shredded Parmesan cheese as opposed to the fine, it makes a little crust with the bread crumbs.  I hope you enjoy this.

Turkey Tetrazzini

2 c. cooked, shredded turkey, light and dark meat
8 oz. package egg noodles
4 T butter**
3 T flour
1 1/2 c chicken broth
1 t dried thyme
1 1/2 t. garlic powder
1 1/2 t onion powder
1/2 c frozen peas and carrots
1/2 c half & half
1/4 c  fine breadcrumbs
1/4 c Parmesan cheese
S & P to taste*

Boil the noodles according to package directions.
Drain and pour into a 1 3/4 quart casserole.  Top with shredded turkey, spreading evenly.  

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat.  Whisk in flour and keep whisking for approximately 1-2 minutes until the mixture is light brown.  Slowly add in the broth, whisking as you go. Once blended,  turn up heat until the mixture reaches a boil.  Add the peas and carrots and keep stirring until thickened.  Add your dry spices and half and half.  Taste and adjust seasonings, this recipe needs enough salt to keep your taste buds happy, so feel free to adjust*.  

Pour mixture over the turkey and noodles in the casserole dish.  Top with the bread crumbs**.  I like to add a few pats of butter over the crumbs for more flavor.  Finally, the  Parmesan cheese.  Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes until bubbly.  You can turn on your broiler, watching closely, to brown the top if you'd like.  Any leftovers can be frozen.  Enjoy!


******

I never have a television on during the day-it's a distraction when I work, and even while housecleaning, I tend stop to watch The View or Ellen.  Excellent shows, and I'm very addictive to stuff like this.  Come evening, I like a bit of fantasy and drama.  Later, I turn on CNN.  I know, I'm a paradox.  In my little television world, may I share some thoughts?

~~~I absolutely adore holiday Hallmark movies.  I can't exactly pin why, I'm sure it has become a Christmas tradition for a lot of people.  The channel seems to have run with that thought, they have themes throughout the year now--romance in February, wedding movies in June.  As far as the Christmas movies, I have an eye for detail, so I do notice when there is a snowball fight scene and the actress is later shown minutes after in her high heels.  I wonder what they are thinking.  The empty coffee cups are slightly absurd also.  At least fill them with water. They lift up these plastic cups as if they are featherweight, sip and never swallow, and when they are set down, they sound hollow.   I've also noticed a new effect where the snowflakes drift down in front of the camera, as opposed to a major job in the background.  Sadly, the actors never have so much as a flake in their coiffed hair.  

~~~Two of the movies I've seen so far that I really like are The Christmas Train and Mistletoe Inn.  I love the actors in both and it's not a coincidence, each movie involves writers grappling with their novels, and their relationships.  As a frustrated writer with lofty dreams, I simply love the premises and shared emotions in these characters.  I have to say they aren't really sappy either.

~~~How many House Hunter shows are there in film storage?  After 9:00 p.m., you are not going to find anything other than these terrible shows on HGTV.   There was a time when I somewhat enjoyed watching, especially the international house hunting.  And then a episode came on where a woman complained about an apartment in Spain because it didn't have a microwave oven.  Was she nuts, or the producers who decided to air this episode?  Is there a script involved?


Now I'm off to do some cleaning and organizing of Christmas decor.  I may even toss a few jolly throws on the sofa, and tuck in some pillows.  Maybe get some gift wrapping going.  It sounds insane, but I have an inner clock telling me to be absolutely finished with everything by the 10th of the month.  I want to know that the stress is over, and I can just flow along at my own speed doing whatever I want, like making cookies, or meeting up with friends for a cocktail.  Wish me luck on that!

Happy Holidays,

Jane