Friday, December 27, 2013

thoughts | happy christmastime

I'm typing on my beautiful new macbook.  How's that for a happy Christmas?!?

Christmas day is such a surreal and special day for my family.  I was actually awake before the kiddos, which is no small feat when you have 3 little ones under the age of 10.  I was groggy and laying in bed waiting to hear the sound of their elephant tiny feet two stories up.  I heard Cal first and my heart kinda squeezed.  Do you know that THAT is one of the happiest sounds in the world. I got out of bed to brush my teeth, and, I'm not ashamed to admit it, put some mascara on my pathetic eyelashes.  That was the first gift I gave to my family.
Family tradition states that we must get our stockings from the mantle and pile into Mom and Dad's room.  Then we tear through them, the stockings that is, not our parents.  After that, its back downstairs for coffee (hallelujah, amen!) and dad reading Luke's gospel account of Jesus's birth (Hallelujah, Amen!).

And then presents.

My favorite gift that I gave this year was actually found last minute on Christmas Eve at an antique store.  It was an old storage crate with "microscopes" stamped onto the side and wooden dividers inside.  It went to my brother Daniel.  It was so eclectic, and he's eclectic, I figured it'd work.  It did!

Christmas dinner was much lower in intensity than thanksgiving dinner.  We has approximately 20 less people at our table.  My grandparents woke up to 9 inches of snow and couldn't make the drive to see us.  Welcome to the north.  Dinner was still delicious, even if the turkey didn't get as toasty as usual.  I suggested using my creme brûlée torch to finish it off.
It brings a whole new meaning to the song "Bring a torch Jeannette Isabella".  Maybe their turkey wasn't crisping up properly either?  I took to calling my sister Jeanette Isabella for the rest of the afternoon.  Let me tell you, she loved that.
I made the Southern Living Christmas cover cake.  Red Velvet Cheesecake Layer Cake with White Chocolate Frosting and Stuff!!!  I was so proud.  The recipe came together well, I definitely recommend taking two days to make this cake, it's easy to bake, just time consuming.  The frosting gave me the hardest time, the white chocolate got too hard before I cold get it onto the layers.  I had to keep running my knife under hot water and re-melting the chocolate.  The final product was amazing!

Oh, and the surprise that we pulled off on Christmas Eve...
Dreams do come true.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

quotable | donuts

| driving into town to finish Christmas shopping |

Gracie:  (pipes up from the backseat)
"Hey! That's the field where Dan went off the road, then he drove around and ate donuts."
Dan:  "Did donuts Gracie, I did donuts, I didn't eat them."
Gracie:  "Oh, right."

Oh the joys of fresh snow, and also six year old's with active imaginations.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

thoughts | wonderful christmas

Christmas is tomorrow.

Just let that sink in for a moment.  The happiest day of the year and it's right here, in front of us.  I love anticipation.  Knowing what's coming, the surreal feeling that some thing's coming and the waiting.  As long as I don't have to wait too long!  

We're Christmas nuts over here.  My family tends to overdo the entire month of December.  With no apologies.  We just love Christmas!  My baby sister Gracie is keeping the official count ("How many more days?").  I told Calvin I bought him underwear, Gracie added "Yeah, Plain. White. Underwear!" just to be mean.  Kids can be so cruel.  He was excited anyway, the little guy just loves a present!

I've been to three Christmas parties in the last week, the fourth one I wasn't able to make due to the weather.  I've almost finished my shopping.  Why are men so hard to buy for?  The girls were so easy, but brothers are an extreme level of difficult.  And I feel that gift cards are the easy way out for sibling gifts.  I mean, these are the people that have to put up with me and my shenanigans for the other 364 days of the year, they deserve more than a plastic card with a reindeer printed on it. 

I'm helping my parents pull off a huge surprise tonight for the kiddos (and also the "adultos").  Sorry, I can't speak freely here, as my only two readers on this blog are my 9 year old sister Lydia and my best friend (also, sister) Brooke.  That would ruin Christmas for everyone and Mom and Dad would probably return all of my gifts.

We made more Christmas cookies Sunday night.  Because we've been out for several days and I was starting to feel a sugar deficiency.  Imagine our huge happy family gathered around the table delicately frosting mounds of sugar cookies, the smell of sweet frosting and vanilla wafting through the air, as we artistically handcraft silver snowflake designs with toothpicks and tweezers and the sounds of Ella singing Christmas tunes surrounds us.  Nice thoughts right?  Heehee!  We had a blast, but it was louder than that with a hefty amount of bickering going around, mostly, because I had made one batch of gluten free cookie dough and one batch of regular and thought the best (most classy) option for keeping the batches separate would be to use specific cookie cutters (yes, it was quite brilliant).  Worked great until Daniel went to town on the regular dough and filled another tray full of penguins.  Arghhhh.....  

Penguins were supposed to be gluten free.

It's probably not too late to return his gift, only I haven't gotten his gift yet.  Problem solved, I guess.  After the "penguin debacle of 2013" we sat down to frost those babies.  Using some very interesting colors of icing, because apparently the only box of food coloring we have in the cabinet is a neon combo pack.  Which is mostly fine, but your eyeballs start to burn after about three cookies due to the intensity of the hue of pink.

But no worries folks, we pushed through and our cookie jars are full once again.

Dad preached yesterday on Galations 4, not your typical Christmas sermon, but so beautiful with the tie in to "heirs and sons" and the Son of God.  He spoke of the incredible miracle of the virgin birth and how we often forget to treasure these gifts.  There are so many parts of the story of Christ's birth that send shivers up my spine.  But the most amazing is the prophecies that were fulfilled.  Dad has begun to preach through Genesis and came to the creation of the stars several weeks ago, he mentioned the "Star" that told of Messiah's birth.  This is amazing.  New stars don't appear, they are created by the very Hand of God.  Amazing!  Every year, I see something new in the story of the birth of our Savior, the faithfulness of Simeon and Anna, the purity of Mary, the kindness of Joseph and so many other tiny details that are easily missed.

It's early morning here.  With a busy day ahead.  Uncle Bob is in from DC, we have to think of someway to get mom out of the house for a few hours while her gift is delivered, I'm sure I will need a cup of coffee at some point (we are mere mortals over here and run on strong coffee) and the aforementioned "surprise" tonight.  Can't wait!   I'm making the cover cake recipe from Southern Living's December issue, I'll probably regret that one, but it's so beautiful.  And also, red velvet.  I will never not love red velvet.

Wishing you the Merriest Christmas, may your joys be many on this happy day.

Friday, December 20, 2013

quotable | stay pretty

| lunching with my mom & mimi |

waitress:  "You're so pretty!  Even prettier than those Kardashians!"
abbe:  "Um, thank you.  I think..."

(later, after dropping off the bill at our table.)

waitress:  "You stay pretty, hon."

Is being compared to those "K" people ever actually a compliment?  I'm wondering.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

thoughts | eleanor parker

The Sound of Music is my favorite film & I was saddened to hear of Eleanor Parker's passing last week.  While Julie Andrews as Maria steals the show every time (as she should!), the role of the Baroness is often overlooked.

Ms. Parker played the role of the Baroness with such perfection, the way she walked across the room, the style of her clothing, her hair (I will always love that pouf!) & that low, gravely voice in which she spoke, made her character flawless.  You'd actually believe that she was royalty & from Vienna.  My friend Anna reminded me that Mr. Parker played in lots of other films, but let's be real, shall we?  I'm all about the Sound of Music.

Recently, I read an interview in the Wall Street Journal from a reporter on traveling, the best part was when she mentioned that she watches the Sound Of Music every time she flies.  It's her favorite movie & she claimed that the opening scene calms her.  I was imagining curling up in my seat with a hot Starbucks & watching my favorite film for 2.5 hours.  What could be better?  I downloaded it immediately onto my iPad & in the past 3 months have watched it more than 6 times.  I've yet to get tired of it.  The film is just beautiful & the storyline so rich that I catch new details every time I watch.

Thank you Ms. Parker for lending your beauty & talent to one of the most timeless films ever created.  You are a favorite & we will remember you with fondness.

Auf wiedersehen.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

delightful | tinsel I'm seeing tinsel

Mega-bonus points for anyone who knows the tinsel reference...

Okay, that's what I thought.

I've decided that I can catch up on sleep in January.  Weekends at our house are usually low-key and restful and then we're ready to hit it hard again on Monday.  I've just about given up on December.  And it's better this way.  We can sleep in January, never mind that my calendar is already full for 2014's first quarter.  In the words of Scarlett O'Hara-Hamilton-Butler "I'll think about it tomorrow".

We decorated this whopper of a conifer last week.  Good gravy folks!  It's over 15 foot tall.  The chief takes his tree-picking-out very seriously and we just about died when this came through the front door.  I'm convinced that some town is missing it's tree down at city hall.

Normally, we'd cover the entire tree with boxes and boxes of tinsel, but this year we decided to go for understated elegance.  And by "decided", I mean, everyone took a vote when mom wasn't around and hid the tinsel from her.  I'm pretty sure that we're getting coal in our stockings and that she may disown us for that one.  I love tinsel as much as the next person (probably more) but some years you need to take a break.  Give the ornaments at chance to shine and all that.
my favorite little stinker!
We had some bets going around on how long it would take for us to come home from work and find the tree covered in the silver stuff, but mom just squared her shoulders and said that she'd get another tree for the basement and do whatever she wanted with it.  Problem solved.  

Have I mentioned that we're keeping track of Christmas miracles around here?  

Last count was 13.
Tinsel perfection!  

Thursday, December 5, 2013

doings | chicago

note: this is a post from two weeks ago, and yes, I've now officially seen the "bean" twice.  enjoy!
a foggy morning in the city
I never think about going into the city.  I'm going to blame it on "suburbanitis".  I love big cities and traveling, I just never seem to remember that Chicago is in my backyard.  Sigh.  Anyway, after talking a Chicago-day for most of the summer, Sophia and Jason decided that we needed to just go!  They worked out a plan and Sophia put together the darlin'est goodie boxes with us with a formal invite for the day.  I love that girl!  

dan, abbe, levi & brooke | the big kids @ the bean
Our first stop (after coffee at Intelligentsia) was The Bean!  I can't believe that for living so close and all the traveling that we do, we've never seen this monument.  Check and check that off the list.
group shot @ the bean! | sophia, abbe, dan, jason, brooke & levi
I will never not love Sprinkles, the original cupcake bakery!  And they make gluten free red velvet!  Getting here was only about two miles of walking out of our way.  Nothing, right?!?  It was tops on my list, but the boys didn't want to wait in line us so they shopped while Brooke, Sophia and I waited it out.  The Cupcake ATM was down, which was a struggle, but somehow we pulled ourselves together and ordered some treats for the ride home.
Before heading to dinner, Sophia, myself and Brooke in front of the lions at the Art Institute!  I can't get enough of lion statues, I just love them so.  If only I could figure out a way to get one of these to fit in my room...

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

quotable | psalm 94:19

"In the multitude of my anxieties within me, Your comforts delight my soul" | Psalm 94:19 nkjv
I was barely two sips into my coffee this morning before I came across this verse.  My life is so full of good things right now, but don't ever forget that everyone has crosses that they must carry and burdens that they must bear.  No life is without it's pain.  My cares have been many of late, my thoughts have been crazy and my anxieties feel very, very real.  And on a morning when I wake up and just when I want to give up and bawl my eyes out, this, THIS, is the first thing I see.  

Truly, the Lord is good.

I loved this verse so much that I did a little digging into it.  ESV is my preferred translation of late, but I had grabbed a NKIV first and I read “Your comforts delight my soul”.  The word used for "comfort" is the same one used for children being comforted and held by their mothers.  And "delight" just happens to be my favorite word, it means "someone or something that provides a source of happiness".  What we see is a picture of God consoling us and then restoring our joy.  How beautiful is that.  David wrote this Psalm while on the run from his enemies, without the Lord protecting him,  he would have been slaughtered ten times over.  God not only protected him, but also, comforted and delighted his soul.

If your heart is heavy, you can rest on this today.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

delightful | the thanksgiving recap

It really is a wonderful holiday.  And now I could insert all kinds of cliche comments about family & friends, turkey & pumpkin pies and how great it is to be living in a tropical climate in November.

But that would be a lie.  The tropics part, that is. 
Everything else would be true.  We hosted 18-ish out of town guests (from Pennsylvania, Alabama, Florida & Wisconsin).  Our great room was like a hotel lobby.  Rolling suitcases, piles of winter coats, boots, shoes and probably 4 calling birds in there somewhere.  Later in the evening it started to resemble a park full of homeless people, that is, if your local park had upholstered couches instead of benches & feather duvets instead of newspapers...  Anyway.  We were packed out for the weekend & wouldn't have it any other way!  It's so fun to have crazy around you 24/7.  At one point mom asked me if I'd remembered to deliver fresh towels to people.  Um... that would be a no ma'am.  Besides, it would have been hard to find all of the nooks & crannies that were being used as guest rooms.

Pantry, check, kids toy room, check, couch #54, check.

Dinner was amazing this year!  We cooked 3 turkeys (okay, we cooked 2 turkeys, my uncle cooked the 3rd one) that were grown on our organic farm.  Those birds were so tender that when we pulled them out of the oven the meat was falling off the bone.  Literally.  Great for us, not so great for photo ops.  Which may seem strange to you, but is a very real life tradition of my mother's people.  We never cut into a turkey unless we've first photographed the yard bird.  I will never understand it, but according to legend, my Great-Grandmother Mimi has an entire album of "THE TURKEY". According to Mimi (my grandmother, the darlin'est woman alive) EVERY photo looks the same. Same platter, same size turkey, same Polaroid tint to the photo. They call these types of things "family archives". And they're precious. Kind of like the jello salad recipe from my dad's people. But I think I'll save that story for another day.
Friday was spent in debate of shopping. Do we want to be trampled to death or should we stay home. I suggested that we visit a local outlet mall to check out the sales. "Besides, I've never seen their parking lot full, it'll be a breeze to get in & out of". Those were my last words. Listen, I've never seen such parking in my life. Until then, I'd assumed that the surrounding corn fields were for agricultural purposes, I'd no idea that they were remote parking lots. The line for Coach was wrapped around the corner, UGG had its own security detail!!!  We hit about 3.5 stores & decided lunch sounded like a good idea. Chicago dogs to be precise. But the dog place was attached to a gas station & my brother refuses to eat food from a gas station so we went to the fine dining establishment that is "The Brat Stop".  Exactly.  I'm also failing to see how this could be better.  The Brat Stop happens to be over the border in Wisconsin and serves what the rest of the world would call a "sausage". Only here, we call it a "braaaht". Tacky cannot begin to describe this place, I'm quite sure they decorate for all seasons at once, the doors had bamboo shoots etched into the glass & the plaster ceiling either looked wet or like it would attack. We ordered cheese fries and assorted meats for table. It was pretty nasty, but we got a good story out of it. 
downtown christmas tree
One of our favorite traditions is the lighting of the square. Every year, the day after thanksgiving, the town my dad was born in (the same square Brooke & I had our shop on) has a huge event to kick off the season. For months, the city works to wrap the trees in lights and on this night they gather together, sing carols & then flip the switch for all of the lights!  It's downright delightful. Our gang ended up being about 20 people this time & then we headed back to the house for more food & late night chats.
Phil & Esther joined us for the weekend since he has family in the area. On Saturday they were meeting up with his grandmother in Chicago & invited us along.  This was my second downtown trip in two weeks, but I wasn't about to decline. I love cities!  We had a blast! The drive down was great, 3 girls, 4 guys & 1 baby. What's not to love?!?  Phil happens to be a great tour guide & our 1st stop was Little Goat Cafe.  If you know anything about the restaurant scene in Chicago, then you know about the trio of Goat restaurants.  The main restaurant is impossible to get into, but the cafe is is more grab & go with coffee, pastries & an extreme side of hipness.  Most of us stuck with our usual drinks, but a few veered off the straight & narrow with a goat milk latte.  I had a sip of Josh's & I could still taste the delicate aroma of a goat's patootie 20 minutes later.  Eeeewww!

We did deep dish pizza downtown, because, it's Chicago!  It was so amazing, it's worth the hour-long wait to get a table.  I was fun to walk through all of the Christmas decorations, see the Bean, and watch the skaters in the park.
It was one of the busiest Thanksgiving weeks I've ever had, but we had an absolutely wonderful time.  I did suggest that next year we move this "friendsgiving" to an tropical island.  The US Virgin Islands, maybe?  Perfect.  I'll just pop a pineapple ham into the spit & you can find me out by the pool with a diet coke.

There were 28 votes for and 0 against.