Wednesday, February 15, 2017

THE GIFT OF MAKING CHANGES




Brooks Patrick
February 10, 2017
8 lbs., 2 oz.
Proud Parents, Jeffrey and Deirdre


Is he smiling or what?  We are so filled with love for this little guy already.  We were in the hospital waiting room with Deirdre's parents when Jeff came through the door from the Labor and Delivery section, arms raised high, "It's a baby boy!"  We were able to see mom and baby a little bit later.  Isn't he the most handsome little one you've ever seen?  I'm fighting a cold but once I'm not contagious I want to eat him up!  Ironically, Brooks was born the very same day as Elsie, February 10.  My sons having their firstborn on the same date, 2 years apart...wow.



Our little Madelyn came to visit on my birthday on the 3rd.  She's really smiling a lot.  She grows so fast, I'm wondering how Mondays With Madelyn will be once she starts crawling.  A lot of vacuuming and sweeping I'm sure.  Once the weather gets warmer, a looooong time from now, I want to go for walks with her in her stroller and maybe a few trips to the park up the street.  This is so fun.  I don't know how Emily feels but when Madelyn isn't sleeping, getting her bottle or a diaper change,  I like to put her in the portable cradle in front of the TV with Sesame Street on.  Before you think of me as being that type of mother, I mean grandmother, who lets the TV babysit the kids, you should see her smile and wiggle to the music and those cute Muppets as they sing and dance.  I think the music and colors and faces are really pretty cool for a baby.  Better than watching me fold sheets.

  

I am so wanting to make changes.  I think winter and being inside virtually most of the day makes me want to get wild and crazy.  The clean out and organize phase is over, or let's just say I'm good with the 2 closets and 4 drawers I did.  I also purged 3 sweaters and countless cotton tops that I shrunk in the dryer.  Does anyone else have problems with shrinkage?  I do have a tendency to buy more inexpensive clothing for hanging out around the house.  But man, I've been so good about hanging sweaters, bras and rugs to dry.  I know~~~I shouldn't wash them together.

So I was going for my highlights and I was going to have my girl cut it shorter and I was also thinking an alternative would be bangs.  She talked me out of short bangs and I did realize I would be a version of myself at ten years old with makeup and a lot of expensive hair products.  So she gave me side bangs.  This selfie is right after and of course, it's styled perfectly.  Since, it's been a disaster.  The bangs are going straight up in a bouffant sort of style (think Elvis), and when I finally tame them to casually go off my forehead, I've used so much gel, mousse and hairspray, my hair is bulletproof.  I've never been good with hair, I don't know why I have it.  I mean long hair.  Maybe it's the ease of pulling it up in a ponytail or loose bun and looking like the same old Jane day after day.  Maybe I should just accept the way my hair wants to go.  I might just avoid messy drawers, closets and fussy laundry as well.



After I cleared the Christmas decor off the mantel (about 2 weeks ago), I left it bare so I could pretend I was looking for inspiration.  I was actually parked in front of the TV every night watching Chicago Fire, Chicago P.D. and Chicago Med.  I do not watch these shows because I live here, God knows it's happening all around me,  I don't have to see it on TV when I have the news (I don't take this lightly) but I love to recognize streets, intersections, restaurants and the general links to Sweet Home Chicago.  Do you know they actually film here and really do use real names of streets, parks, etc.?  I was watching a chase scene recently on Chicago P.D. and they were going after a suspect downtown.  The dispatcher called in, "He's heading toward LSD east on Columbus"  As the officers said, "Copy that.",  I'm screaming, "No!  Take Randolph Street.  Less lights and traffic!!!"  I love interaction television.  

But getting back to the mantel, I really strove for simplicity and you know by now clutter is my middle name.  I think I got it with the mercury glass on each end (does anyone love mercury glass pieces anymore?  I love it and always have it here and there in vignettes).  I like to have something green or organic in every arrangement and I decided toss some books in randomly.  Every mantel needs a little randomness.  Some of mine are a total mishmash of stuff and I just tell myself that people will think I'm on to something, go home and totally trash out their mantelscape.  The sign is handmade from the cutting of the wood to the distressing and stamping of the words.  I wish I could remember the name of the blog where the husband and wife make the most incredible one of a kind pieces of art.  If you are sincerely interested, let me know and I will dig through my archives to when I first bought it.  This has been hanging in the master bedroom for a long time but as I said, I'm making big changes.  This was tough because I love my windows on the mantel.  



Well, you can see the window didn't make it far!  Another wall in the living room.  I really pared this down.  I usually keep family pictures in the bedrooms and family room but it's about mixing it up.  This will stay until spring/Easter, whichever comes first.  I'm feeling a little lighter.



Source Unknown


I'm sharing a recipe that knocked the socks off The Husband and I.  I think it may be a new Go To for making pork with a crispy coating and juicy flavor.  I may even use it on chicken.  The key is giving the meat a dry rub, browning it over high heat on the stove and then baking it with a light brushing of mustard and honey near the end.  You can find the recipe here.  No pictures from me.  I simply can't take good looking pictures of the food I make.  In fact I think it may make most readers turn away in disgust.

For your information I made the following changes:

~~~I did the whole recipe with pork tenderloin
~~~I increased the amount of the herbs and spices just a bit
~~~I cooked the meat to 120 degrees as opposed to 140.  It continues to cook once removed from the oven and I didn't want it dried out.

That's it.  I'm going to try it on chops and chicken.  This would be great on the grill as well.  

Bon Appetite

*****

I was super excited that The Husband fulfilled my birthday wish with something other than tacky pajamas and bad perfume.  ;-D  We have tickets to see Idina Menzel at the Chicago Theater in August.  I just love her.  She's a wonderful Broadway actress who has won Tony Awards for her roles in Rent and Wicked.  She is also the voice of Queen Elsa in Frozen, in which she sang Let It Go, and won an Oscar and a Grammy.  So...I'm such a fan and I just love the theater.  We used to go quite a bit before my hearing went downhill.  With headsets provided I can now enjoy going again.  Musicals are my favorite.  Funny, I barely mentioned it to The Husband and there were the tickets on my birthday.  Great seats, too!

I also forgot to mention that this sweet guy gave me a potting table for Christmas!  Yes!  A freaking potting table for the garden!  I've been crabbing and dropping hints forever and there it was Christmas morning, well sort of.  A photo copy of said potting table with the actual one in the garage waiting to be assembled.  This will be interesting.  If I want it by spring I may need him to get started now.

We are having ups and downs with the temperatures here but we are going up to 60 degrees (!!!) this weekend and after missing the lake 2 weekends in a row, I'm excited to get there and get some fresh air.  The Husband bought yet again, a new wood chopping device.  This one helps you make kindling and that's a must for making a good fire.  Have I ever told you I'm a really great fire starter?  With a big fireplace, wood burning stove, chiminea and outdoor wood burning stove..well, sometimes I've been inclined to get involved.  We do the outdoor fires 3 seasons, and the indoor fires for a good  6-8 months.  While he plays Davy Crockett, I plan to walk the dogs.  They are so huge and lazy with the lack of activity as the winter drones on.  And I need some exercise, too.  Seriously.  

Feel free to share some of your laundry woes with us, your like or dislike of seeing plays and musicals, as well as  any changes you will or won't be making as we near the dream of a possible early spring.  ;-D

Jane x 


Wednesday, February 1, 2017

SNOW DAYS



Hoping everyone is alive and well.  I'm curled up with a warm throw watching the Ladies of London, hence, it's not too hard to write a post at the same time.  A good movie...well, that's when I get behind in blogging.  

I wanted to share a great family get together we had at the lake this past weekend.  I applaud The Husband for planning it, he is super excited about getting the kids together for some activities up north other than just holidays.  Everyone was there except Jeff and Deirdre...their baby is due in early February and they felt it best to stay close to home.

Here's a shot of the happy group looking like they scaled Mt. Rainer.  Emily took the picture and I was down in the warming shelter with little Madelyn.  As you can see, there wasn't much snow.  That didn't stop us.



Ready.  Set.  Go...


I can't tell you how hysterical this is to watch.  The screams and laughs are what made it worth being out in 26 degree weather.  Having two year old Elsie experience something so new like this...watching adults act like kids, must have been incredibly amusing for her.  Kevin took her down the other side of the hill which wasn't as steep.




  She is a real Midwestern trooper and she's not letting go of her baby either.  She never complained of the cold and is a true daredevil on top of it.  I'm amazed at how fearless she is. 

I wanted so bad to hop on a sled...I can be pretty adventurous but I was worried about my back.  My doctor really planted a seed in my head that if I didn't work on getting in shape and do the exercises I learned in physical therapy, I'd have a lot of limitations.  I knew I was nowhere near ready and I had visions of my lower back held together by screws.  And let me add, while going downhill is fun and a little rough, walking back up dragging a sled is pretty unappealing as well!  

Emily wanted to have a little fun, too, so I snuggled with Madelyn in the warming shelter, which wasn't so warm.  There was a huge stone fireplace but as we were the only crazy people there due to the lack of good snow, it wasn't lit and we didn't feel it was safe to leave a burning fire.  I was fine however, and Madelyn slept through it all.  Any chance to have that little peanut in my arms is good enough.



The fresh air and a long leisurely lunch at a nearby ski resort made Elsie very tired.  She took a nap but daddy woke her up after two hours so she'd have a normal bedtime.  I love how Mary Clare and Kevin have a tight schedule.  She was still a little cranky but was content to watch a few Mickey Mouse shows on an iPad.  

This is the first time she was at the lakehouse.  She settled in naturally and I can't wait for summer when she can play outdoors on the beach and in the water.  Still, this weekend wasn't too shabby.



Madelyn had a good 'ol time, too, although she won't remember it.  She was just there to make us smile and love her.



I was so excited to see the newly upholstered furniture.  We had found a really fantastic family owned business in a nearby town to redo three pieces we couldn't bear to part with.  When they were finished we gave the people the code to get in the house.  We have cameras inside so we can be pretty confident in situations like this.  

This is one of 2 glider rockers we have had forever.  They are so comfy, I love to sit and read in them, rocking the whole time.  Or just fall in a trance looking out at the bay.  



This is the settee we bought at the same time as the gliders.  The camel back makes it quite unique.  All of these pieces were in super shape; when one lives in a home that gets used on various weekends and 2 weeks in the summer, the wear and tear is minimal.  This is another really comfy piece.  You can't stretch out on it but we have a nice little conversation corner here, not to mention the dogs love to lie here and watch out the windows for anything that moves.  

I'll share better pics later as I have an end table I'm going to bring up from here and a sweet nautical lamp.  We also have curtains, blinds and maybe someday, artwork.  Hmmmm....if only The Husband and I can agree.



Maybe all of this cold weather talk has made you crave a warm, comforting meal.  Yep, I'm giving you a recipe for my very own tried and true stew and I promise, if you make this version you will never go back to the one you've been doing.  As always, you can substitute veggies and seasonings.  Let me know if you try it and love it like we do.  

Jane's Beef Stew

1 lb. beef stewing meat, cut into 1 inch cubes
1/4 c. flour
2 T veggie oil
1 c red wine
3 c. beef broth
1 c each chopped onion, celery and carrots
1 medium red potato, cubed
S&P to taste
1 t dried oregano
1 T dried thyme
1 bay leaf

Toss the stew meat in a large bowl with the flour while heating oil in a large oven proof pot or dutch oven.  Brown the cubes on all sides over medium high heat, turning when meat loosens from bottom of pot.  Remove to a plate and set aside.  Carefully add the wine and stir, scraping up bits of meat off the bottom of the pot.  Add the broth and bring to a boil.  Add the meat, veggies and spices and continue to boil 5 minutes.  Stir well, cover the pot with a lid and place in preheated oven at 325 degrees for 2 hours.  Remove and adjust seasonings to your liking.  Serves 4.

Hover over the pic to Pin if you wish.  You will love this!  In this particular stew I used some Brussels sprouts sliced in half.  Use up what you have in your veggie bin or just switch things around as you prefer.



I'll be darned, but even though we now have Internet at the lake I continue to read one book after the other.  I read a great review of this book in People magazine and ordered it on the spot.  I'm halfway through and savoring it.  Since I'm not so great at reviewing books, check it out at Amazon.

See ya soon!

Jane x






Sunday, January 22, 2017

SOME FAVORITE BOOKS & MOVIES AND HOW TO SURVIVE AFTER A TRIP TO THE DENTIST


Hello everyone!  Doesn't it seem like January is flying by? At this time last month we were down to that frenzied crunch of getting Christmas shopping finished.  Funny how our plans, worries and frustrations are so easily transferred to other things.  

It's been a typical Chicago winter.  Typically unexpected in a day to day way.  I've been doing the shoveling number.  When it snows it's easier for me...the Keeper of the Home Fires, to shovel that white stuff off the walks and then continue to do so every hour or so in an effort to look like I haven't neglected my neighborhood duty.   We do have a snow blower but since my vacuum cleaner often confuses me, I don't even want to deal with that thing.  

This is best I could do with a selfie (and without a speck of makeup) as I shoveled a little path for the dogs in the backyard.  We had a few days of below zero weather.  Parts of the old house were so cold a space heater was needed.  

  As I wrote this post in segments, the snow has now melted after days of rain, ice, more rain and now temps in the high 50's.   I've been able to not only open the blinds and curtains that we keep closed for insulation, but I have windows open a bit, too.  It smells so clean.  Heavenly.


This was taken before the lake froze.  Off in the distance is the island.  In case I've never mentioned, there are about 100 homes on the island and a ferry keeps people and cars going back and forth all day.  Most people get around by golf carts.  Over the past few weeks we have seen ice fisherman setting up camp on our little bay and ice skaters on the lake.  I love that because some winters we just don't freeze over.  The ice fisherman are special people to me.  Years ago when I was very new to the lake I attempted to cross a frozen channel on foot, it was super cold and it was a short cut.  As I neared the end of the dock I was trying to reach, I could feel and hear the ice creaking and moaning and the water puddling around my boots.  I was probably walking on about 15-20 feet of water.  I heaved my self on to the dock and ran to the home of one of my good friends.  She took me aside very sternly.  She pointed to the lake.  "Do you see any ice fisherman out there?"  I didn't.  "Then the lake is not frozen.  It's not safe."  I think about that cold January day.  So quiet, not a soul around.  That heavy coat, scarf and boots I wore would surely would have weighed me down.  Do you ever feel you have 9 lives? 

Up until last weekend we didn't have television or Internet.  I was finding it very cozy to curl up on the sofa with the warmth of the fire and plow through a few books.  I finally finished Isle of Dreams by Susan Branch.  I was really looking forward to the last book in her trilogy as The Husband and I  spent time on Martha's Vineyard for his 40th birthday.  I think she's a wonderful writer and she appeals to so many of us women with her warmth and sense of humor. And most of you know, I love (and envy) women who strike out on their own.  The part where a horrific Nor'easter hits the island and she lies in bed with the blankets up to her chin, I just thought, wow.  This would have had me packing my bags and heading back home to mom and dad.  What did puzzle me is that she was living on MV for a good six years before she met the love of her life, and she doesn't mention any friendships.  I'm surprised that she didn't make a slew of friends given her fun personality.  Other than her neighbors it seems like this was a very lonely time.  Have you read the book?

Another book I read was The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware.  I devoured it in two sittings but I'm not sure if that's because it was such a page turner or that we were frozen inside the lakehouse.  Like many of the people who reviewed the book, it has a lot of similarities to The Girl on the Train.  A very flawed heroine who no one takes seriously and a plot that keeps you guessing until the end.  It's a little dark but is that a bad thing?

Ironically I did watch Girl on the Train last weekend and was really happy that it didn't disappoint.  Emily Blunt was perfect as Rachel.   She really put a face to the character in the book.  Loved it.  On the light side I watched Bridget Jones' Baby.  Not every one's cup of tea (har har) but I liked it.   




I can't remember how I came across this book, 52 Lists Projects, or at least what led me to order it from Amazon, but in trying to get back to some journaling I thought it might be a good start.  The book is sectioned into 52 weeks and at the start of each week there is a  little prompt such as, List All The People Who Brighten Your Day, or List All The Things That Make You Feel Powerful.  And yes, they are all 'lists'.  And then of course you can expound on these subjects.  I think it sounds fun and I really am trying to get back into the mode of writing, as with paper and pen. I get a lot of satisfaction out of using a plain old calendar/planner, too, as opposed to the Notes app on my phone.  The planners at Target are so darn cool, its hard to make up your mind which one to get.  I found a matching notebook that can be refilled with legal size tablets and now I have all my notes for my posts and newspaper articles in one place.  


I have been on a Pinning frenzy lately, especially soups and salads.  Both leave me wide open to interesting possibilities and I usually just do a quick grab of anything in the fridge and throw together one or the other.  Since they are healthy and relatively low in carbs, I've been having some fun.  If you'd like to have a look at some of the recipes I've fallen in love with, you can look at what I've Pinned here.  I have a category for Healthy Soups & Stews, and another for Not Your Everyday Salads.  You can also click on the Pinterest icon on my sidebar.

One of the ways you can start incorporating the use of new recipes into your week (or month) is what I usually do.  On the back of my grocery list I write the name(s) of the new recipes and the source (a cookbook or Pinterest), then I list the ingredients I don't have on hand.  At some point you may find that it's second nature to have certain ingredients on hand like boxed broth, beans and other canned or packaged ingredients (aim for preservative free).  Picking up fresh veggies at the grocery store is your best bet but since I have the propensity for buying much more than I came for, sometimes its best to first make the meals that require the very freshest veggies.  Onions, carrots and potatoes can hang out for a while.  And never feel that every day you need to try something new.  I alternate recipes for meals that take some time and thought with those that even a monkey could do:  Grilled cheese and chips, pasta tossed with olive oil and cheese, a simple chicken Caesar salad.  

I came across this recipe somewhere on Pinterest and wasn't going to make it as I've been eating Buffalo Everything for every gathering in the past three years.  But I had all of the ingredients and I spiked things up a little here and there.  I found it was quick, simple and delicious.

Buffalo Chicken Wraps

2 large boneless chicken breasts, cooked and shredded
2 T butter
2 T olive oil, divided
3/4 to 1 c Frank's Wing Sauce
1 T celery seed
3-4 green onions, green and white parts, chopped
2 4 oz. cans of green chile's
4 oz. cream cheese
4 oz. crumbled blue cheese
2 c shredded iceberg or Romaine lettuce
8 flour tortillas
Salsa and/or Ranch dressing (optional)

Heat the shredded chicken in a skillet with 2 T butter.  You can use a store bought cooked rotisserie chicken or as I do, bake the chicken breasts up to a day ahead.  Stir and warm through.  Add the olive oil, wing sauce, celery seed, green onion and chile's.  Combine and cook over low heat, covered for about 15 minutes stirring occasionally.   Adjust ingredients for taste as you go along.  I'm not crazy about super spicy so go easy on the wing sauce at first. 

 Finally, stir in the cheeses, incorporating well as they melt.  When mixture is creamy, remove from heat and serve with tortillas.  They may be topped with the lettuce before or after the chicken mixture.  Drizzle on Ranch dressing and a scoop of salsa.  Roll up and serve with plenty of napkins.  I garnished mine with cilantro and limes and this can easily be added right to the chicken mixture.  Adding black beans and a handful of cheddar cheese ups the protein.  I think you can have a lot of fun playing with this.  Serves 4





The melted snow is nothing to get excited about, Milo.  These have been really lazy days for the dogs.  The house at the lake really wears them out.  We have floor to ceiling windows in the Great Room so they are always watching, on guard for anything from a chipmunk to Big Foot.  They take their jobs seriously.  As you can see from this picture, access to windows here in the city aren't as easy to maneuver.

 Final details are happening.  I had our settee and glider rockers reupholstered and they were finished up last week and delivered.  These pieces make up a little conversation area in a corner of the Great Room near the windows.  We can have our coffee and look out at the lake in the morning or sit with a group of friends and chat.  So I'm so psyched about seeing the 'new' furniture.  The contractor is finishing up little details like shelves in the kitchen cabinets and toilet tissue holders in the walls. Before we know it the weather will be warm and we'll head outside to work on the gardens and spiff up the boats.  I just felt a wave of fatigue come over me!



So this is what we do for now between the trips to Michigan and my daily running around.  I have little Madelyn here on Mondays when Emily works downtown.  She's actually a wobbly little baby now, looking around and smiling.  I have a cradle type thing in my bedroom for her to nap in (I can't begin to describe or give names to this paraphernalia that is out there for babies now).   Emily and I went to Buy Buy Baby last week and I stopped dead in my tracks.  The entire place smelled like baby.  Fresh out~of~the~bath sweet smelling baby.  And its true, stores have scents added to the ventilation systems in stores.  Sometimes you might smell a musky cologne scent in the men's section of Macy's.  Stores that sell sweets often pipe in that fresh baked smell.  This baby smell though...I would have easily added #5 to the family if I was still young and frisky.  

Last night we went to daughter in law Deirdre's baby shower.  It was held at her and Jeff's home and it was a nice crowd of about 50.  Maeve made all of the food; Chicken Tetrazzini, salad and garlic bread.   She does beautiful appetizer boards with meats, cheeses, dates, nuts, olives, crackers and bread sticks, and it's as beautiful as it is delicious.  The baby's room is almost finished.  This is such an exciting time.  Deirdre is due February 14.  They don't know the sex and that makes it even more fun.  A lot of guessing going on.

I finally had the surgery on my front tooth, well actually the tooth just to the left of my front tooth.  Well hello!  Isn't this interesting people?  There was a fracture way up near my nose, so it had to be pulled and I needed an implant.  I so wanted to be knocked out for this, and that's odd because I've never been nervous in any way, shape or form when going to the dentist or even a doctor.  But this was surgery and I rescheduled the appointment twice.  I have no idea how this tooth fractured but it has been terrible experience all around.

The Husband might have been feeling a little guilty that I was going alone but seriously, I'm just not one of those people who asks for help or company.  He kept insisting he'd go downtown to court and then zoom back to meet me at the dentist office.  In spite of my pleas that he just stay away, I was sitting in the waiting room when I felt a whoosh of cold air and the the door opened.  There he was, trench coat billowing, hair a mess, looking wildly around and then clasping his hands to his chest in relief when he saw me.  

"Oh!  Thank God I made it in time.  How are you?"

"What are you doing?  Just go home.  I'm fine."

"No, no.  I want to be here with you!"

"Please, I'm not having a baby."

"No!  It's much worse!"  

The man has clearly never given birth.  And I believe he has all of his teeth.

So they call me into the little surgical area and lo and behold, he's following me.  I'm shooing him away like he's a stray dog as he asks the nurse if it's okay for him to be there.  As she's saying yes, I'm saying no, and soon all three of us are in a debate in this tiny little room that has now caused me to start shaking by looking at all the sharp tools on the sterilized tray.  Somewhere in between the time he was asking the nurse how long the procedure would take and how long she had to go to school to learn what she was doing, she was leading him out and telling him my medication had already been called into the pharmacy and might he not want to amuse himself perhaps by picking that up while he was waiting?  I was stretched out in the chair, swaddled in white paper, gripping the armrests and praying he'd go get that pain killer ASAP.  I just wanted to get home and heavily medicate myself by that point.  

So that was the fun part.  After a lot of cutting and blood and sutures, as well as  something in my mouth that resembles my mother's upper dentures, I arrived home to The Husband sitting in a chair with a Big Mac and fries, watching a hockey game.  

"Did you pick up my meds?"

"No.  I thought you'd get them on your way home?"

"But you did find time to stop for food."

"Yeah, I was hungry.  I got you a Quarter Pounder."

"I can't eat!!!"

Hysteria is rising somewhere in my throat because I know my mouth was too numb to move.

 I went to lie down and kept feeling those darn stitches with my tongue.  Two weeks?  And then the pain started coming,  I felt it spreading over the left side of my face.  I touched my mouth and felt dried blood on my lips.  Man, they could have cleaned me up a little before they sent me home.  I felt like Donald Duck.  Finally I called out to The Husband as best I could:

"Are you going to Walgreens soon?"

"Yeah.  We're in the 2nd quarter."

"But I'm sort of in pain now."

"Yeah, about 45 minutes."

I can't repeat my dialogue here.  I consider this a family blog.

"Okay, okay.  I thought you said you had given birth."

***

Well, I'm sorry this is so long.  It's what happens when I'm gone for over 2 weeks.  You stop having conversations in your head and just start to share them on your blog. 

So...have you read anything interesting recently?  Have you seen any good movies?  How's the weather in your neck of the woods as Al Roker would ask?  Were you watching reruns of Full House and Frasier on Friday afternoon as I was?  

I'll be back.  Thanks for being patient with me!

Jane x

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

THE GHOSTS OF CHRISTMAS PAST (AS IN 10 DAYS AGO)



Well, now that Christmas is a distant memory for most of us, here comes Jane.  I'll try to keep it brief.  

I was late in the game shopping, decorating and baking.  Rather than run around like a crazed woman, I pedaled slower.  When the hour glass was down to a few grains of sand, I called it a day.  I was happy that I hand picked my favorite decorations and didn't try to jazz up every room.  I'm actually pretty happy to have had a festive mantel and pretty table.  I got a few laughs when I mentioned I had gone very light with the mantel. But I felt good with this.  You can see some of my Christmas decor in this post.  I'm hoping to get my storage room cleaned up and organized so it's easier to pick out what I want to use next year without hauling up every box and bin.  

The baking.  Gawd, what a disaster.  I only do it to have something to bring to some of the parties and I've also gotten into making little gift packages for my children's in laws, we are all good friends.  I would start to make something and find I was missing an ingredient.  A recipe for a bar cookie that had me really excited to make had to be passed on when I ran out of time.  The biggest fiasco was the evening I was making fudge.  I was using the basic recipe on the back of the Nestle Toll House chocolate chip bag.  Everything was going along so well and after I mixed everything up I read, "Drop by spoonful on a prepared baking sheet and bake at..."  What?  That doesn't make sense.  Fudge is in a pan and it's definitely not baked.  Quick look at the recipe on the bag.  Oh, yeah.  I was simultaneously making the chocolate chip cookie recipe and the fudge.  No, no, no.  Luckily I was able to start over but I must admit, the fudge was dry and tasteless.  I know it must have been me.  Maybe I need to stick to cupcakes.  

Finally, the gift wrap.  I couldn't just wrap, slap on a bow and a sticker with a name on it.  No...nothing themed with  fabric ribbon and velvet bows...just a few personal touches.  But man, I would wrap my little brains out in the morning and in the afternoon UPS or Fed Ex would appear again.  





Okay, I lied.  I did a few things in the main bath.  But I was discreet.  



I apologize for the lighting, terrible.   And I apologize for a picture of clear decadence.  I'm all about making people feel good.  One of those packages may hold a much needed pair of boots and another may have a framed picture of the recipients dog.  Eleven people I hold close to my heart.  Christmas morning is always wild...paper flying, whoops and hollers, mimosa's getting knocked back.  And big smiles.  

My breakfast casserole was a total disaster.  It was a recipe that involved eggs, ham and frozen hash brown potatoes.  One of those easy overnight recipes.  It just wouldn't seem to set when I baked it, the egg was oozing on to the surface.  Everyone was getting very hungry so I took it out of the oven and instead whipped up scrambled eggs.  That with sausage and fruit was great.  But wait~~suddenly the casserole started to behave itself.  Seemed it just needed to come out of the oven to firm up.  Still, it was a bland mish mash that was dominated by the potatoes that now resembled week old bread.  Live and learn.  Practice a recipe before you try it out on your people.  


The Christmas festivities started on the 23rd.  My sister in law Megan, and hubby Declan had a huge crowd for dinner with a gift swap.  Above you can see my daughter in law, Deirdre (Jeff's wife), cradling little Madelyn.  Deirdre is expecting in mid February.  She looks like a natural, doesn't she?  We just love her and can't wait for another grandchild.  :-D  


Here's my yearly shot of most of us ladies.  Clockwise:  Abby, Gwen, Deirdre, Megan, Me, Lizzie & Grace.  




Christmas Eve was a celebration with The Husband's side of the family at son Jeff's house.  Again, so much fun.  He had a deep fried turkey catered in and then homemade side dishes.  Deirdre and her mother, Maeve, are really wonderful cooks.  The appetizers alone were substantial, and the desserts overflowed.  When we got home all I had to do was make the "what would be" terrible overnight egg casserole.  I was in bed at a reasonable hour, 1 a.m.

Jumping ahead now, we had a great weekend at the lake just a few days ago.  We celebrated New Years Eve with a bottle of champagne chilling in the fridge, The Husband snoring upstairs, and me totally involved in a murder mystery book.  I didn't realize it had struck midnight until I heard the fireworks around the bay.  That was the one and only highlight.  We'll have to save that champagne for Valentine's Day.  And with romance in mind, I have to share that on December 14th, The Husband and I celebrated 30 years of marriage.  We really didn't celebrate...sort of sounds like a pattern.  I actually made chili dogs, and after he retreated to watch MSNBC in one room and I to the den to watch yet another Hallmark movie.  And by the way, I don't want to see another Hallmark Christmas movie for at least another year.  Sounds very unromantic but I think it's a testimony to marriages that have seen the ups and downs, good times and bad.  There will be huge anniversary celebrations and quiet ones.  This one was chili dogs and heartburn.  

So, we settled in for a three day weekend at the lake, Swiffered as per usually (dry wall dust still in abundance), kept that fireplace burning some great three year old wood, and splurged on frozen pizza,  potato skins, chicken wings and McDonalds.  We still haven't quite stocked up but to my credit, I went to the little grocery store in town to get the makings for a proper dinner for Saturday night.  I made a nice boiled meal of corned beef, carrots, Brussels sprouts and potatoes, as well as rye bread with butter.  We had cinnamon rolls one morning when I was actually out of bed before 10:00 a.m.  Funny, as I am typing this I had Fixxer Upper on and lo and behold, Joanna Gaines styled the table of the old farmhouse they featured with these same plates.  I found them at Anthropology.  I guess they make the grade!



It's sort of odd.  On Friday nights I drag my feet in leaving the comfort of my home here in the city to  make that two hour drive to Michigan.  And then once I get there and all cozied in, I hate to come back.  I guess that this is a sure sign that both places are definitively my Home Sweet Home.  What was missing at the lakehouse was my Christmas tree which has not so much as shed one needle.  In the days leading up to Christmas, I would sit in the living room with all of the lights off but the ones on the tree and just relax and let my thoughts flow.  And I did that again last night when we got home.  Cold and rainy and just glad to get in warm PJ's, pour a glass of wine and sit.  What is it about this sort of atmosphere that makes us get so truly introspective?  I do this when we have a fire going, too.  I stare at the flames and go deep inside of myself.  There's a truth there that is totally unencumbered by outside noise.  Something to really grab onto.  

I had notes all set for a post about change and getting our homes and heads together.  About resolutions and intentions and some of the things I'm trying to do to get my act together.  But I got lost in sharing all of the Christmas blather with you but I will do this post.  I have so much more to say...I have to post more often and touch on the myriad of 'stuff' going through my head as opposed to my day to day life.  Thoughts on life and family and goals and fears and getting older and challenges and, and, and...

  We have a whole new year ahead of us, a brand new clear highway (or old back road) that we can travel, windows down and our hair blowing.  We can travel alone or not, but we need to be in the driver's seat.  I'm finally enjoying life after taking care of everyone but me.  Still, it's not easy to disentangle oneself from our roles in the past.  It's definitely an adventure and I think we can all find a bit of truth in the many aspects of resuming, becoming or enhancing our true selves.  

So, I'll see you soon.  I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday and now that we are into January, all the best in making this the most wonderful year!

Jane x 



Thursday, December 22, 2016

A CHRISTMAS WRAP... COOKIES, CRAZINESS & CELEBRATIONS IN BLONDIEVILLE



Ho, ho, ho!  Where have you been, Jane?  Well, Christmas prep is rearing its ugly head.  I'm running here and yonder, ordering gifts online, unpacking and wrapping gifts, planning the menu, shopping for our Christmas morning brunch, and...making sweets to bring to family gatherings.  Deep breaths.  

I am now applauding, and I mean out~of~my~seat applauding you savvy ladies who start everything right after Thanksgiving.  The other day I had an incredible light bulb moment.  I thought to myself, "Self, you have 5 more days until Christmas.  You are good.  You are fine.  The decorating is almost done and you are nearing the finish line in wrapping presents.  All is good, Self."  And then I nearly keeled over with the realization that I was actually happy to finish decorating by Christmas day.  What?  This is a real Dickens nightmare come true.  What happened to enjoying your festive home before Christmas?  That day I packed up the remains of my sporadic holiday decorating and brought it all downstairs.  I swept up the glitter and organized all of my present trimmings; the bows and ribbon and excessive rolls of Scotch tape.  Christmas enjoyment has officially begun.  

I want to laugh (in a small way).  All of those tips I wrote about and shared with you a few weeks ago.  I posted them on this blog partly because I was so swamped I could barely write a post!  But things are moving along now.  I've lowered the expectations as many of you recommended.  What a sigh of relief that is.  I sometimes wonder why some of us push and push to make things so perfect to the point of exhausting ourselves.  Well, I have a very wise friend who tells me we sometimes feel that something so good, like a sweet treat or a beautifully decorated room, will be even more spectacular with more, much more.  We never seem to know when to say, "Enough."  Wise words...they didn't fall on deaf ears.   



I apologize for the color quality of these photos.  Night time pictures are always difficult for me to edit with zero natural lighting.  I believe 2017 will be the year to get better acquainted with my faithful old camera.  

After I last wrote I went to my favorite nursery for our tree.  I've written about this place many times over the years.  I go here to get my trees, my spring flowers and fall pumpkins and mums.  And I've been doing it since my kids were babies.  It's a bit different now...I get a little more anxious to get the tree in time to let the branches fall a bit before decorating.  The Husband sometimes doesn't get home from work until 7:00 p.m.  And then he is in charge of hauling that baby in and making room for it in our tiny living room.  This year our tree (seen above) is the smallest I've ever bought.  It actually looks bigger than it is in this picture...maybe it's the glowing lights.  



The Husband has been making fires non stop but then again I suppose you know about our cold Chicago winter thus far.  He likes to go to bed early so I continue to stoke it gently for the heat until my eyes are heavy.  It's also a good excuse to bask in the glow of the tree and reflect, dream and plan. 

I had these stockings custom made a few years ago.  The Husband cut out wood rounds from his enormous pile of firewood at the lake, drilled holes in them to hang, and I stamped the names of our kids on each round.  And no, new dear readers, we do not have 8 children (although I shockingly came from a family of 7!), they are my kid's husbands and wives/partners.  With no additional room I have granddaughters Elsie and Madelyn's stockings hanging off a shelf out of view.  



Emily helps me with the lights.  Her motto is, "No branch should be without lights."  It works for me.  And I love my tree jam packed with a mish mash of ornaments.  I have such an abundance.  My favorite is that replica of a shopping bag from Marshall Field & Co.  If I'm boring longtime blog readers...sorry.  My best memories are the three years I worked in downtown Chicago (about ten years ago) and my desk faced a window on the 8th floor of our building looking out over Washington and State St.  Right smack in front of me was Marshall Field and the iconic clock.  I still remember that incredible sadness when Macy's took it over.  This bag is a little remembrance and yes, I bought it there the last Christmas Fields was Fields.  Sniff, sniff.  



I mentioned in one of my last posts that I like to decorate cheap dollar store bags to fill with gifts.  I've been using this cute little reindeer for a long time.  I buy the white and craft paper bags~~~they are sold in large and small and they are a $1 for two.  Yes!  I have a few fun stamps, and you can go simple like this or all out.  This year I was a little feverish about having enough bags so I think I may need to look for some stamps for other occasions. ;-D



This is actually Layla's chair in the den but every once in a while Milo steals it.  She is clearly not happy about that as evidenced in this photo.  She spends a lot of time under my bed close to the radiators along the wall.  These floors are so cold, I know.  I've taken to wearing woolly socks and I really do not like socks at all.  She has gotten so fat...er, has outgrown her sweater so I picked up another at HomeGoods.  Blasted dog was out of it in about a minute.  

It seems the cold affected the whole country as well as Canada.  We were below zero a few days and nights.  I really treasure a day when I know I have no where to be and no errands to run and that just happened to be this past Monday and as the fates would have it, a -5 degree day.  I stayed in my PJ's and got a lot done including some reading...yay! Yesterday I had a list a mile long and as I ran in and out of every place, I said a few thanks that it was 19 degrees and not -5.  It really makes a difference.  Yeah, yeah, yeah...she's boasting about how the Midwesterners are of such hearty stock.  Well, I'll tell you where I totally cave.  We dress in layers; a long sleeve shirt, a heavy sweater or sweatshirt, warm pants, thick socks and insulted boots (I like Northface) as well as a hat, scarf and mittens.  All bases covered, right?  Well, what usually follows is you are in a store or the post office or wherever, and after you thaw out you sort of start to feel warm and the wool is now scratching your skin.  Soon your layers have turned into a sort of sauna and you are yanking at your scarf and using it to wipe your brow.  If the snow, rain or wind didn't get to your hair, the sweat is now making it hang limp or in my case, frizz up.  Sheet.  That cold air really invigorates you when you finally step outside...19 degrees is heavenly.   

I have a few more gifts to wrap and I'm going to start my baking.  This year I'm making fudge, just the recipe on the back the Tollhouse chocolate chip bag.  It's been years and I just don't want to search THE BEST FUDGE recipe on Google or Pinterest.  I make pretzels dipped in almond bark every year as well as sugar cookies.  This year I have a great recipe from Doreen at Fox Den Road where you spread raspberry jam on the cookie after baking and top it with another cookie in which you have punched holes with a straw.  You can then see the bright red of the jam.  They are so pretty!  And I also have a new bar cookie recipe which involves graham crackers, a 'from scratch toffee', chocolate and chopped pecans...all in layers.  I'm gaining weight just thinking about them.  I'll take pictures and include links to the recipes if, and only IF they turn out!

I know I won't have a minute to post in the next few days...lots of festivities and parties.  I'm so looking forward to Christmas morning when all of our kids are here laughing, opening gifts, finding a few things we knew they needed and many surprises.  Elsie is at the perfect age, 22 months, to really go gaga over the presents and fun.  Having our precious 6 week old Madelyn is the icing on the cake. I have two pregnant daughter in laws and I feel my heart swell when I truly stop to think of it all.  It trumps all of the time we put into making the holidays perfect.  We gather together, smile, hug and laugh.  We eat and drink and get really merry (!!!), and we forget our problems for awhile.

So in ending, I'm wishing all of you a wonderful and blessed Christmas.  Your friendship means so much to me.  Thanks so much for all of your support in my new writing endeavors this year and for continuing to follow when my posts are so erratic.  I promise to get better.

Fa la la la la
...and a partridge in a pear tree! 

Jane xxxx