Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Absolutely Stunning

...a cardinal in our backyard, likely enjoying the new bird-feeder I bought.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Christmas Was Lovely

This Christmas was one of the best I have ever had.  It was mostly stress-free, pleasant happenings, happy memories.

Christmas Eve - I only had to work a half-shift, then came home to eat and rest before Mass. I sang with the choir.  We started before the Mass.  We sang a lot of different music, some very difficult, some familiar.  It was a lot of work learning it.  But we sang well.  The whole Mass was very beautiful.  Then home to finish up wrapping and do the stockings.  Julie outdid herself by baking tons of cookies for Santa.

Christmas Day Morning - Ty woke us up early, very excited.  We opened gifts.  I got a bottle of Jo Malone Orange Blossom (I have been wanting it for perhaps a year!).  It smells divine. The Little Boy was happy with his gifts.

Christmas Day Afternoon - Cooking!  Kristin made her usual lasagna.  I made the dark and soft restaurant rolls and seasoned the Tofurkey to bake.  Robert and Sierra made all of the sides, with me just helping here and there with chopping, and then minding everything while it baked.

Christmas Dinner - How beautiful.  It was candlelight and china, tasty wine and unusual beer provided by Sierra, and the food turned out great.  The conversation was pleasant, no fighting amongst the siblings, and I think everyone enjoyed themselves.

It was a blessed season.

Ty places the star.

The tree, all decorated.

Orange Blossom Deliciousness!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Meez Meals

A while ago I blogged about trying the Hello Fresh meal service.  Although the food was of good quality, I wasn't delighted with the recipes - just not to my taste.  Plus there wasn't a big variety of choices.  My cousin suggested a local service called Meez Meals.  You may wonder about the name.  According to their website (www.meezmeals.com): "The name Meez Meals was inspired by the cooking philosophy of Mise En Place – French for having everything ready to go when you’re ready to cook. We love the idea, but our French is challenged. So we went phonetic: Meez."  

I like this service, because they provide a soft-sided caddy with reusable ice blocks when they deliver.  Once unpacked, the ice blocks go back in and the caddy can be right back on the front porch for the next week's delivery (except in January I suppose - it would get completely frozen to the porch and wouldn't move until spring).  Most importantly, the food has been really good.  They have much more variety, and can tailor many of their meals for vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free diets.  Tonight we had Yellow Curry (we had them leave out the mint yogurt) and Thai Peanut Carrots.  It was yummy, and we have leftovers for tomorrow's lunch!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Organizing The Basement (Tales of the Icky)

I have a week off until I have to work a partial shift on Christmas Eve.  I have not had a chance to duff until yesterday.  Prior to that, Paul and I were madly finishing up projects before an appraiser came to our house (another attempt at refinance, let's hope it goes better than last time!).  Among the projects were:
  • Stain and polyurethane to wood
  • Paul finishing hanging the new front door (photos in a future post - this project was more involved than you might think)
  • Finishing up kitchen woodwork (almost done!), but in order to do that, Paul needed access to his table saw, which required.....
  • Cleaning and organizing the basement (the icky)
You see, we've been working so long on the kitchen, and the basement became this unorganized mess.  Prior to that it was slightly more organized, but still had lots of clutter we hadn't dealt with.  We started on Saturday; Kristin, Paul, and me.  Although I soon relegated Paul to the skilled labor needed upstairs (woodwork).  It was so bad.  We went through strata of wood, wallboard, plumbing parts, electrical supplies, and old paint.  We let go of much.  All of the stuff we put out in the backyard made our lot look like an episode of Sanford and Son.  All the keepers were sorted and put away.  The saw was extracted from the junk, and Paul was able to fashion the last door jamb, that goes near the new pantry.  We weren't able to finish all, but our house looked much better after, especially the front door and the basement.  We threw out half of the junk pile; next week we'll trash the rest.  

We're waiting to hear on the appraisal.

Before pictures - a nightmare (the table saw is in there somewhere):

Ahhhh, after pictures (table saw unburied):

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Found Objects - Kitchen Curtains

I had some lace curtains cluttering up my house, couldn't bear to throw them away.  It's a good thing I didn't.  I found a use for them in our new kitchen.  Although I like to have the windows bare because it lets in the maximum light in our north exposure windows, having the next door neighbors able to peer across at us was not pleasant (one can often find me in the kitchen in the morning still in my pajamas!).  So I hemmed these and hung them.  I actually prefer them at night, because all we would have were these two dark windows, rather stark with no light shining through.  This makes them inviting and homey, decreased sunlight notwithstanding.  

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Advent 2015

Ty lights the Advent Wreath (with Santa in the middle!).

Monday, December 7, 2015

Crisp New Linens

I have been looking for vintage-style bedsheets for years.  Ever since I saw the movie The Others with Nicole Kidman (one of my favorite movies!) and saw the beautiful sheets in the opening scene, I have been searching.  I finally found some at L. L. Bean - Sunwashed Pintuck Sheets.  Here they are, in their glory.

Wonderful to sleep in - so very elegant!

The Others.  You can sort of see the sheets.  
Watch the movie for a better view, and a thrill!

Friday, December 4, 2015

Squeal! A Vacation Is Planned At Last!

I can't believe it.  We are actually going on a vacation next spring!  We have not had a "real" vacation with the whole family since 2001.  We've gone on very nice weekend trips, always driving.  Poor Tyler has never been on a plane.  We will be going to Captiva Island in Florida.

I am beside myself.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Meeting the Archbishop - 170 Year Church Anniversary

Last Saturday evening, for the Vigil Mass at St. Joseph, we celebrated 170 years since our church's founding.  There were at least 17 current and former priests, and the celebrant of the Mass was His Excellency Archbishop Blase Cupich.  Bishop Francis Kane was also there.  It was pretty awesome to see two Bishops on the altar in their mitres.

Our choir sang. We had a live string quartet to accompany us, plus, our director put other instruments into his keyboard, so it sounded like an orchestra.  There were two soprano soloists who sang so beautifully.  Our director picked some fantastic music, very moving and uplifting.  In particular, When In Our Music God Is Glorified by Green/Stanford/arr. by McDonald and Faithfulness by Chisholm/Raney.  We also sang excerpts from Hör mein Bitten by Mendelssohn, with a soprano soloist.  This was tricky!  Difficult parts, all in German! What was really neat is that this piece was written in the same year our church was founded. And our church has a strong German influence. More props to our director for finding it.

At the end, the Archbishop greeted the parishioners, even posing for pictures.  I got such a nice photo of Tyler with him.  He's holding his crozier, which I have never seen up close.  It was a marvelous event!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

My Downton Abbey Dinner

At last I have the blog post of my Downton Abbey Dinner!  It was a lovely evening.  My family was amazing in the help and acting they provided.  Of course, there were a few snafus, but we worked around them, and the evening went smoothly.

I'll start from the beginning, showing how the evening progressed.

The Arrival:

Our "butler" stood outside on the front porch to welcome guests.  We had the American flag on our flagpole above, but we also hung the Union Jack on the porch near the butler.

Paul played Carson.  However, a small snafu detained him from the initial answering of the doorbell. (There was a mistake with our entree - not enough was made as we ordered!  He and Robert ran out to get the revised order right before the evening started.)  However, our butler-in-training, Mini-Me Carson (Tyler) subbed for Carson, and did a brilliant job of it ("Might I take your coat, mum?" and "Here is your champagne punch, mum" in a very authentic-sounding British accent!)

Mini-Me Carson (Ty) and Lady Mary (Julie)

Then it was time for the first game.  I spent a lot of time preparing what I called "Downton Abbey Easter Eggs" or "Hidden in Plain View".  This was where I placed reproductions of items or beings that appeared in the show out in the various rooms, along with other antique-like items.  The guests then needed to figure out which of the many items that were in and around the rooms were actually related to the show.  This was probably the most enjoyable aspect of the planning.  I needed to make some of the reproductions, which really tapped into my creative side.  

Game One:
While the ladies hunted for the objects, I played three harp pieces for them: Adagietto by Damase, Nadir's Song from The Pearl Fishers by Bizet, and an arrangement of Downton Abbey Suite by Lunn that my harp teacher and I adapted for harp.  I am wearing my Downton Abbey Dress that I had made previously for another event.  

This was one of two favorite Easter Eggs that I placed out.  I found instructions for this craft on this website, although we altered the bell to be an actual doorbell (non-functioning, just for show).  Paul made this for me.  I did the spray painting, but he did the rest, carefully pre-drilling holes for the doorbell, the clip, and the nail that went into the wall, and adhering the name plate to the wood.  It is still hanging on the wall, and I think I will keep it there, periodically changing the note to the butler as the occasion suggests.  

Here were some other Easter Eggs, see if you know which episode they are from and what was going on in the show around them: a bar of soap, a (reproduction) painting by Piero Della Francesca, a telegram (see below for text), a letter opener, a syringe, some letters, a train ticket (also see below), a fan, and a poster about a vaudeville act.  


Train Ticket.  
This was my second favorite Easter Egg.  I made it using Word, and it was not easy!  I only had the photo below to go on, but it was really fun trying to duplicate it.  

This telephone was not originally intended to be an Easter Egg; I bought it to add to the ambiance, but many ladies guessed it, and it did appear in the show after all.  

Isis.  Tyler inherited her once the party was over. 

Baby Marigold.  
My doll is always in my parlor, but I added a silk marigold bouquet to hint at her identity.

Then it was time for dinner.  My faithful staff (Paul, Kristin, Robert, and Tyler) worked behind the scenes.  Lady Mary (Julie) dined with us, amusing us Violets and Isobels with her youthful company.  We played another game between the first course (split pea soup) and the second (Asparagus Salad with Champagne-Saffron Vinaigrette, recipe here) called Match the Quote (link here).

The Dinner:

The dinner table.  Julie had rescued me from the wrong tablecloth. (I discovered that day that I had ordered the wrong size; she ran out that afternoon and bought me one that would fit our table with both leaves in.)

A brass servant's bell brought our staff to our table.  We had pesto ravioli (Maggiano's, who made good on the whoops regarding mistake on the size tray we wanted in a most generous way) and Walnut Carrots with Honey Glaze (recipe here).

Between dinner and dessert we played our last game, Downton Abbey Trivia (link here).  Our dessert was Chocolate Toffee Mini-Trifles (recipe here).   And then it was time to depart.  

The Ending:

My wonderful "staff".  Tyler, Robert (the footman Albert), and Carson (who also acted as a footman during dinner - gasp! and poured the wine).  Mrs. Patmore (Kristin) was too shy for a photo.  

The Aristocratic Ladies (Violets, Isobels, and Lady Mary).  Note the hats and tiaras.

And one more with Mini-Me Carson.

We all had so much fun with this.  It was a lovely evening, and in spite of the effort, I am looking forward to our next big event.  It was just so nice to travel into the past!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Downton Abbey Dinner - Preliminary Report

On Sunday I had my Tea Ladies over for the Downton Abbey Dinner.  I will have a full report including photos by the end of the week.  It was a lovely time, and in spite of some pre-party and behind the scenes snafus, all went really well.  Here are the tulips I had as the centerpiece:

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Little Boy Dreams

We have gotten good use out of our scaffolding.  Given to us years ago by a friend of a neighbor, we never realized how much it would help us.  We have used it for house painting, window replacement, Halloween Haunted Forest scenery, and so forth.  But Tyler, whose imagination is keen, recently found another use for it: a fort.  Complete with a pulley system for bringing up a yellow bucket filled with various things, he furnished it with cushions and art supplies.

Hours of fun.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

It Begins! (Recipe Testing for the Downton Abbey Dinner)

I am beginning to try out the recipes I have planned for my Downton Abbey Dinner.  The first one is a split pea soup.  I am trying to duplicate the old Magic Pan "Potage St. Germain" recipe (which can be found easily online).  However, I am trying to do a more healthy version.  I will include little tiny glasses with a bit of brandy at each place setting, to pour into each individual soup serving if my ladies want that, the way Magic Pan used to do.

I have a dessert recipe to try, and I need to figure out how to do a version of my main entrée without gluten so I can have some of that (my ladies will have the normal recipe).

Vintage Book - With Stories Of Saints

A long time ago I had purchased a vintage book from childhood: This is Our Town.  I had always loved the stories in this book as a child.  Then, this week Tyler got an assignment in his Catholic PREP class regarding saints, and we needed to find some information on saints that might interest Tyler.

A tangent: I should mention a change that has occurred, resulting in Ty needing to attend PREP; he no longer goes to our local Catholic school, and needs his religious education to continue.  PREP is the modern day equivalent of CCD (for all of you vintage Catholics out there that may have attended this while going to public school).  Tyler had enjoyed our Catholic school since the beginning, but last year was troublesome and difficult for him. And rather lonely.  There were very few boys in his class.  Those that were there were each difficult in their own way.  The one that he could count as his friend lived far, and playdates were hard to arrange.  Two had various problems making friendship difficult.  The other two were very exclusive, and would not open their circle to any other boys.  Ty spent a sad and lonely year last year.  As much as we loved the school, and loved Catholic education, the sadness and loneliness were just not worth it.  So far, he is having a great year at public school, and PREP gives him his weekly religious education that is so important.  

So, back to the book - I remembered one of my favorite stories from This is Our Town.  It was about St. Christopher carrying the Christ Child across the river, and how heavy he got with each step.  This was because he carried the sins of the world - what a heavy load that is!  So I read the story to Ty.  He liked it too, and used St. Christopher as one of the saints for his assignment.

I love sharing old favorite books with my grandson!

How happy I was to have found this book again

Beautiful artwork

Monday, November 2, 2015

Haunted Forest 2015

Again this year, we set up a Haunted Forest in our backyard for Tyler, his school friends, and our cousins.  It was lots of fun (and lots of work!), but all went well, and I think everyone had fun.  Thanks to Dawn for taking photos.  Here are some highlights:

Ty with one of his cousins

Ghosts in the Graveyard!

Kristin and Paul behind the scenes, 
getting a scary Chuckie doll ready to swing out into the path.

Action shot of terrifying Chuckie.

Robert scaring an unsuspecting traveler on the bridge.

Me in the graveyard as a Weeping Angel.

After he went through the forest (he'll never be the same again!)