Wednesday, December 31, 2014

time for reflection

Here we are, the last day of 2014. A day where we reflect on the year and start thinking
about what we're going to do differently the next year, right? On the last day of the year, I like
to go back through my planner, photographs, and blog and review the year in my mind.
 My year was filled with ups and downs like everyone else...I went through five months
 of physical therapy for a rotator cuff tear, had my first root canal, and was diagnosed with
 and started treatment for primary lymphedema in my arm. But, of course, there was lots of
good stuff to balance that out ~ day trips, weekend getaways, meals out with friends,
thrifting and antiquing with friends and family, craft shows, book sales, dinners and 
holidays and celebrations.

I tried something new: ceramics.

 Two beautiful, healthy babies were born to two of my young friends (welcome
to the world, Landon and Emma!) and a pregnancy was announced by my cousin.
As wonderful as it is to celebrate new life, the unfortunate reality is that we also
experience the end of life. Two of my online friends lost their husbands, a friend lost 
her sister, and an acquaintance passed away in her sleep on Christmas day.

 Tim got a "new" car in March.

After a very snowy winter, we welcomed spring into our home by hosting Easter
dinner and having loved ones around our table.

I met a new blogging friend in May: Cathy from  My 1929 Charmer!  
That's her in the middle, Penny from At Home in English Valley on the left, and me
on the right.

One of my best friends, who has lived less than a mile away from me for many years,
moved almost 50 miles away in June. I'm happy for her because she got a new job -
which was a big promotion - and she moved into a darling townhouse - but I miss
having her close by.

In July, a piece I submitted to Reader's Digest was published in their column,
"Life in These United States". 

 Tim and I went on our first photography adventure together in July when we went
to photograph an abandoned barn and surrounding land.

I visited the Japanese Gardens (Rockford, IL) for the first time this summer.

 And we got the chance to visit two new-to-us places: Madison, Wisconsin for
our 30th anniversary in September...

 and Chenoa, Illinois for a mini family reunion in October.
(Back, L to R: my second cousin, Brenda; my mom; my sister, Laura; my aunt, Suzie;
and my great-uncle, Irvin. Front, L to R: me; my second cousin, Lisa, my second cousin,
Ann; my second cousin, Donald; and my second cousin, Greg.)

So here we are. December 31st. Are you doing anything tonight for New Year's Eve?
I was supposed to go to a friend's house tonight to celebrate with some friends, but
I have a full-blown cold. I'm a coughing, dripping, sneezing, congested mess. So I'll
leave you with this quote that I found in a magazine months ago and had on my phone:

 And one last very important thing ~ thank you for taking the time to read my blog,
for all your lovely comments, and most of all, for your friendship. You all are treasured.

Friday, December 26, 2014

joyous, magical and busy

Well, it's over for another year. All the planning and preparing and then the holidays go
by in a flash. I said a few days before Christmas that I couldn't wait for it to be over, and
 that day is here. But truly ~ I had a wonderful Christmas and loved the time spent with family.
Christmas Eve, we met Brian's father and two of his sisters for dinner at a restaurant. The
 place was packed and service was a little slow due to the busyness, but everyone was in 
such a good mood that it didn't matter.  

 My sisters-in-law surprised me with a Le Creuset dutch oven! My mouth actually
dropped open when I opened this. If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know that
I love to cook. And since I cook a lot, I appreciate quality cookware. Le Creuset is my
favorite, but let's face it, who can afford it? Not me. The only piece I had before this is
a saute pan - which I won in a blog contest over a year ago. I use the saute pan all
the time and it cooks food beautifully and cleans up so easily. And the pan still looks
barely worn. I can see why this cookware lasts "forever" and can be handed down
generations. This gift - to me - is more precious than gems. Forgive the poor quality
photo...I took it with my phone the minute we got home. As you can see by the clock
in the background, it was almost midnight. Yes, I was excited.

After dinner, we then went on to my aunt and uncle's house. They host Christmas
Eve festivities at their house every other year when their son (my cousin) and his 
wife fly in from Washington. I had forgotten my camera and only took a couple
of photos with my phone, so no pics to post of the goings-on that night. I don't
 think you would be interested in seeing photos of my aunt demonstrating
 how to use squat toilets in China or us sitting around a dining room table discussing
the stock market and Sweet Brown videos.  

Tim had to work on Christmas Eve until Christmas morning at 1:00 a.m., so he didn't
get home until 3:30 a.m. He immediately headed to the kitchen and started heating up
food in the microwave, so that's what woke me up. I got out of bed and went into the
kitchen to give my boy a hug and talk to him for a bit. Between that and waking up
numerous times to use the bathroom and shoo the cats out of our room, I was thankful
that we could all sleep in on Christmas day. I made a breakfast casserole and the
three of us relaxed in the living room with our food and coffee, opening gifts and
talking and laughing at the cats playing in the wrapping paper and gift bags.

In the afternoon, we went to my sister's house for more festivities.

 What is with teenagers and not wanting to have their picture taken? My boys
did the hands-over-their-face thing too, when they were teens. We had a ton of
wonderful food...appetizers of smoked salmon dip and crackers, guacamole and
tortilla chips, spiced nuts, and party roll-ups, and then Italian beef sandwiches, 
ham, tamales, smoked rib tips and three-layer Christmas jello salad for the meal.
The jello concoction was made by my second cousin, Greg in memory of his mother and
 her sister (which would be Greg's aunt and my grandma) : they used to take turns making
 this dish for family Christmas dinners. Homemade Christmas cookies and my
 mom's homemade French Silk Chocolate pie were on the dessert table. 

With Tim being away at school now, he doesn't get to see his cousins often. And now
that they're older (Tim just turned 24; my nieces are 18 and 16), they all seem to be
much closer. I think when they were younger, the age difference was that Tim thought
of them as pesty little girls (even though he loved them). I love seeing their relationship
evolve, much like mine did with my cousin, Greg.

 Today I actually de-Christmased the entire house! I do this every year on the 26th.
 For me, Christmas is over and 3-1/2 weeks was plenty of time to enjoy the decorations.
I just kept filling up the laundry basket with decorations and Brian made several trips
downstairs to pile everything all over the bar. The hard part will be packing everything
away properly. We ran to Target in the afternoon in hope of scoring gift bags at 50%
off, but we were too late. There was nary a one. We decided on not using traditional
wrapping paper anymore and starting next year, will use brown kraft paper.We found out 
that wrapping paper isn't recyclable! Did you know that? But the brown kraft paper is.
 And it can be decorated in many ways with rubber stamps, doodles and drawings,
 stickers, ribbons, and other embellishments.

However you chose to spend your holiday, I hope it was filled with lots of love.
The best gift of all.

Monday, December 22, 2014

these days

 Twenty-fourth birthday celebration for our son with delicious Asian food - and a surprise
red velvet cupcake and singing waiters at the end of our meal.

Presents wrapped and waiting by our little tree (decked with our son's childhood

Christmas cards from near and far deck the mirror and remind us of loved ones.

Candlelight and magazines and sleepy kitties on blankets.

Baking. Lots of baking.

Delicious dinner with the most amazing girlfriends...we had sweet potato curry
soup, homemade bread with three different homemade toppings ~ olive tapenade,
roasted tomatoes, and goat cheese with herbs and Parmesan, fennel and grapefruit
salad, quinoa salad with pomegranate seeds, walnuts, green olives and fresh
parsley (recipe here), leek and mushroom pot pie, three bottles of wine, and 
vegan carrot cake (which was amazing) for dessert.

And tonight: candlelit restorative yoga. I can't wait. 

Friday, December 19, 2014

24 years and ignore that header

Twenty-four years ago today, I gave birth to my second son, Timothy. It's hard for
me to believe that my "baby" is 24 years old already. He's in school right now as a
photography and art major. He's been home most of this week and went out last night
with friends to celebrate his birthday. So this mama only got a few hours of sleep last
night because I can't sleep until I know my child is home safe and sound. I'm sure most
of you moms with young adult children know exactly what I'm talking about!

 We're going out to dinner tonight to one of those Asian food places where you take
a bowl and go around to different stations, choosing your protein (meats, seafood, tofu),
 veggies, and lastly, spices and sauces. You then bring your bowl of food to the cooks
who stir-fry it all up in front of you on a big grill.

While I was up late last night, I played around with my blog header in picmonkey.
I couldn't get the dimensions exactly right and I finally had to give up out of
exhaustion and frustration. I'll have to work on it later when I'm not so tired and
can concentrate. 

Happy Friday! What are your plans for this weekend?

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

gloomy out, sunny in

 This is what our weather has been like every day for days on end: gray, damp
and gloomy. No snow. Doesn't look like we'll have a white Christmas here in
northern Illinois. I took a walk yesterday morning and snapped this photo by my 
house. It's untouched. I wanted to show you all just how dark it is here during
the day. I'm sending a SOS to those of you in sunny climates.

 So if we don't have sunshine outside, we find it in little ways indoors, right?

 One of my best friends babysits her granddaughter on Saturdays. My friend invited me
 over this past Saturday and I got to play with this little darling and get my baby fix.
 Look at those big, beautiful eyes! She seriously is one of the sweetest babies I have
 ever encountered. She will go to anyone...lets me hold her, feed her a  bottle, diaper her 
(though that was's been about 16 years since I've diapered a baby and my
 friend had to help me!), play with her ~ and she doesn't even "know" me. 
I maybe see her once every six weeks or so. She is always so smiley and content.

Another bit of happiness...I'm in the middle of reading this phenomenal book. I think
it might be my favorite book of 2014. Hard to put down, though I'm trying to savor it
because I don't want it to end!

Best of all, my Bearded Boy came home from school yesterday! I made a lovely dinner:
Crockpot Italian Pork Chops and roasted potatoes and carrots. I'm normally not a fan
of pork chops, but I will eat one made this way. The meat just falls off the bones and is
so flavorful. Brian and Tim went back for seconds and kept claiming how delicious
the chops were. So easy to make, too. After dinner, we hung out downstairs in the family
room, watching Christmas programs on TV and drinking Moscow Mules. 

 And more little bits of cheer...the last of my Christmas decor around my house.
This table is at the end of the hallway. The family photo is from Thanksgiving 2008.
The last one where it was all four of us. (For those of you who don't know, my oldest
son, Philip - in the blue coat in the photo - passed away in September 2009.) The
frame was given to me by a dear friend from Boston. We started out as pen pals
way back when our boys were babies...before we had computers in our homes
and email and social media were the way of life.

I found this little bunny in a Hallmark store years ago. I had to buy it since the scarf said
Joy Phil - though Phil never was particularly amused by it. I have it sitting on top of the
bookcase under his memory shelf. 

A few Santa Claus tchotchkes on a wooden cigar box - all Goodwill finds - 
in Tim's room.

The only Christmas decorations I put in the main bath were the few angels that
I've collected over the years. The wooden angel by the "t" in the bath sign is hand
carved and from a European country, though I can't remember which one. I used to
belong to a woman's group called, "Circle of Gems". One Christmas we had to bring
something from our home that had special meaning to us, but that we were willing
to part with as a gift to another woman in the group. The angel was one of the gifts
 that was brought to the Christmas party and laid out on the table. It immediately caught
my eye and I hoped no one else would choose it. No one did! It was meant to come
home with me.

Thanks for visiting...and don't forget to send me some sunshine!


Friday, December 12, 2014

christmas in the kitchen

 Hello, friends and happy Friday! I thought I'd show you the simple touches of Christmas
that I've put in my kitchen this year...

The red glasses on this shelf were a gift from a friend who moved out of state
this past spring. They belonged to her grandmother. Aren't they beautiful? The Santa
mugs are ones collected throughout the years. 

 This grid ~ an old cooling rack ~ hangs on the wall above my stove. It's a perfect
way to hang measuring spoons and other small cooking utensils, but I changed it
up a bit for Christmas. I've had that little print for years. It was thrifted and is one of
my favorites. It says, "Gather 'round the table...all join hands in love."

 All that's missing from my winter beverage station is hot chocolate. I'll be making my
own mix this weekend. A homemade mix is so much better than the store-bought stuff
which is full of so many chemicals, hydrogenated oils, and corn syrup. And yes, that's a 
bottle of Bailey's in the back, for those who wish to add some to their coffee or hot 
chocolate. I've had that bottle for years...goes to show how much we use it! I'm normally
 not a fan of flavored coffee, but Trader Joe's Winter Blend is the only one I love and
 look forward to every winter. It's a medium dark roast lightly spiced with red and
 green peppercorns, cloves and cinnamon.

 The china cabinet...

mostly filled with cookbooks, but a few Christmas touches, too.

 Everything on the shelves next to the china cabinet are thrifted items I've
found over the years (except for the little air plant). The cups on the metal
shelves on the right are Bailey's cups! I think they're so cool and unique.
They were a Goodwill find from years ago.

The top of my fridge has a plate rack with my Debbie Mumm Snowman Portraits
plates, a cooking snowman, and a Christmas crock dated 1981 from Marshall Fields.
I found that at Goodwill several years ago, too. Man, I miss that store. I actually worked
there when I was a teenager. I loved shopping there, especially with my grandma. Such
a classy store with high quality merchandise and excellent customer service. And who
remembers their Frango mints? I certainly do! My dad loved them, too. I remember one
Christmas where I wrapped up a box of these mints and put them under the tree for my
dad. Our little Pekingese dog smelled them through the wrapping paper and tore into
the box and ate them! Yes, he got very sick but at least he had good taste. 

Thanks for visiting me in my kitchen. What are you up to this weekend...Christmas
decorating, shopping, or baking? Or, are you done with all that?