CHRISTMAS AT OUR HOUSE


 

My mom started baking Christmas cookies the day after Thanksgiving.  We had an upstairs and once you reached the top step if you turned to the left there was a pantry.  And that’s where all the Christmas cookies were tucked away  

until Christmas. . . 

with strict orders for us 5 kids to - 

not go near the pantry.    

I’m pretty sure my mom knew every year that by Christmas each
jar would be half empty.   

But she 

Never. Said. A. Word. . . 


Each night as I crawled into bed I would wait for the house to get quiet -

and then. . . 

I would slip out of bed, find my way to the pantry in the dark and fill my hands with cookies. 

I still wonder, was I the only one raiding the cookie jars?  Because I also am pretty sure
I couldn’t eat 

that many cookies . . . 

all by myself. . . 

by Christmas. 

With 4 brothers, I’m guessing probably not.  But I do have to say, in all of my nighttime trips
to the pantry 

we never bumped into each other. . . 

And if they saw me - 

they -

never.  said.  a.  word. . . 

I’m also guessing that that was half the fun for my mother in filling those cookie jars with cookies that were covered in bright colored sprinkles, Christmas tree sugar cookies covered in green frosting, surrounded by jars of Scandinavian butter cookies, knowing that somewhere in the dark when all the lights were out and we believed her and my dad were fast asleep, there were five little pairs of feet silently creeping across the creaky upstairs floor.  And I’m pretty sure as she lay in the quiet of her bed she heard 

Every creak. . .

"Amazing"


One of my favorite moments of the day is when I walk down to my kitchen in the morning and as I’m running water into my pan for oatmeal, I look out into our

living room and there it is - 

this beautiful piece of  

art on my wall 

Sigh. . . 

Who needs expensive art on their walls when you have “sun” and a “green plant”. 

There was this story about an African lady who was visited by an American journalist.  When he arrived he found her sitting in front of her home (a piece of metal leaning against a dirt wall).  After introducing himself, he sat down beside her and immediately noticed the “joy” on her face.  He took a moment to take in his surroundings, looked back at her, and the only obvious question in his mind to ask was, I sense “peace” in your spirit and I see “joy” on your face, and in complete bewilderment asks, “where does that come from?”  She looked at him, probably equally bewildered and said, “Look at those beautiful, colorful flowers in the field across the road.  I get to look at them  

everyday. . . 

I reopened my blog a few months ago and in the section “About Me” I used the word
“Amazing” describing my life.  That word keeps showing up in my mind and I began
wondering, does that sound pretentious?  So, for several weeks I have been thinking
about changing or taking that word out of my blog.  And then this morning I sat down
at my computer and the story of the African woman started replaying itself in my mind.
Remember?  The one with the tin house.  I started thinking about how life can be called amazing for all of us.  Remember the boy “Matty” who appeared on Oprah’s show so many times, sharing his short, joy-filled life and all that he had learned, with the world.   It’s all about what we focus on.   

My life is amazing because I can wake up and dress myself every morning,  I can come into my office and write all day long if I want to (my passion), I have grown children that do the dishes when they come home for dinner, (2 of them are boys - I know - one even fills the ice trays), when my 4 year old granddaughter came up to me recently, wrapped her arms around me and said, GaGa, I will love you forever,  

Double Sigh. . . 

When we’re in the middle of a rain storm and she opens the den window and says, GaGa, come and smell the rain with me, (one of the first places we took her as a baby was to the beach.  After all, she was born in the spring.  Perfect timing for what we love to do most.  Go to the beach.  She and I sat on a log.  Well, she kind of sat, propped by her GaGa.  I took her shoes off and then mine, picked her up, set her toes in the sand and whispered in her ear, Niya Lilly, do you feel the sand in your toes?  I would have to say all of the above are about the closest thing to heaven), 

another double sigh. . . 

spotting a double rainbow while driving around the lake after a rain,

or. . . 

As I’m ready to crawl into bed and my hubby says, “Come look out the back window,  the moon is so big and bright it’s lighting up the whole sky”. 

Like I always say. . . 

It’s the little things. . . 

AND today as I sit writing this story there is a knock at my front door.  When I open it there stands a friend.  She said, “I can’t stay, I just wanted to give you this” as she hands me a gift all wrapped up, with even a bow + a card.  

Amazing. . . 

See. . . Just when you least expect it, an amazing moment shows up. 

And of course, if you’ve read my blog, you know  

I love all things chocolate!   

That in itself is amazing!! 

For me, I find it’s where I focus my eyes and thoughts that I find my joy.   Remember the lady in Africa whose home was a piece of tin.  She found her joy in the flowers on the other side of the road.  

So...

Just maybe. . . 

She didn’t notice that she lived in a one room house with a tin roof and one dirt wall. 

And now, I’m OK with the word, 

AMAZING. . .



Serendipitous Moments


 
A friend called a couple of weeks ago to ask if I’d like to take an “Herb Infused Chocolate Truffle” cooking class with her.   

Silly girl. . . 

Did she even need to ask?   

She had me at the word  

chocolate. . . 

So last Thursday night I headed off to meet her at a mutually agreed upon restaurant (that neither of us had been to before) to have dinner before our cooking class.  We sat reading the menu and finally looked at each

other and agreed nothing on the menu was catching our eye and so we walked.  Second choice was a favorite on the water where there was not a seat to be found.  We finally landed at another close by restaurant and the rest of the evening had a mind of its own.  I’m pretty sure that by the time we arrived at the third restaurant the cooking class was well on its way.  As the evening progressed I realized there was not going to be any chocolate cooking, tasting or treats to take home.  But what I love about these serendipitous moments is they happen without any planning.  And they are like a  

special gift . . . 

wrapped up with a bow.   

My friend went from living “just around the corner” for many years to an hour and a half drive away, so our meetings are fewer and farther between. 

4 ½ hours later she drove me to my car that I had left at the first restaurant and as we were saying our good-byes she looked at me and said,  

“Sorry about the cooking class, but this was  

sooo much better”.    

I had to agree!  And then she followed it with, “And I still have so much more to say”!   

You know. . . 

You just know. . . 

 that’s when friendship is good. . .

Halloween


Fall always brings that  

back-to-school feeling of a 

new sweater. . . 

cute boots. . . 

and fresh beginnings in the air. . . 

Or maybe it's the crisp morning breeze that compels me to wake up early and go for a walk.  I love the outdoors, but dusk is falling sooner and sooner accompanied by nippy nights. . .

AND. . . 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 the holidays feel right around the corner.   

Speaking of holidays- 

I’ve fallen in love with buying pumpkins this Halloween season. 

We have visited 2 pumpkin farms, several stores with bins of pumpkins and I always manage to find  

just one more. . . 

unique pumpkin. 

For me, “white” is the new “orange” in pumpkins this year. 

The fall rains have arrived accompanied by   

Thousands of falling leaves.  

Every week my hubby mows and rakes and for about 10 minutes the yard looks pristine and beautiful and then before

the mower has cooled off you can’t see the grass for the leaves  

that continue to fall.   

I love that mother-nature has taken over my watering job.  Somehow she just knows when I’m done with that for the season. 

 And that the plants have begun there winter nesting and I can just sit back and soak up their beauty. 

And the best part,  

I crack open my office window, press my nose against the screen and inhale the smell of  

fresh falling rain. 

Sigh. . . 

Seriously. . . 

Does life get any better?

FINDING THE MAGIC IN EVERYDAY THINGS


For me, it’s always the
 
simple things

that make me smile. 

I came into my office early this morning, slid my window open and was immediately greeted by the croaking frogs that make their home in the ivy below my window,

and then

like a concert unfolding

the resident birds began singing their morning song,

serenading not only me but the early morning dog walkers who are already strolling our street. 

And that’s just the background music to this beautiful new day!

I believe every day should be exceptional + creative. . .

“Tidbits” I’ve gathered along life’s way, beginning from my mother.

1)      It’s your job to be happy. (It’s up to you how you react to every/any situation).
      2)      Be like a reed of grass in the wind, bend with whatever comes your way.  It’s when we are stiff and rigid that we get broken.
3)      You’re responsible for all the joy and fun in your life.
      4)      Only boring people get bored.
5)      Every morning say “This is going to be a great day!!”.
6)      Keep movin’.  Walk 2 miles every day.  Outside.  Rain or shine.

 “Life is like riding a bicycle.  In order to keep your balance you must keep moving”.

Plus. . .
 

Everyday. . .
 
 
 
 

Fall Is In The Air


Fall is in the Air.  I love this time of year.  My thoughts turn from gardening to cozy nights curled up in front of a warm crackling fire,  

A pot of soup simmering on the stove. . .  

And fresh baked bread. . . 

Straight from the oven. 










ZUPPA DI FAGIOLI (WHITE BEAN SOUP) 

1 ham bone or pancetta
3 garlic cloves, chopped + 2 whole garlic cloves
6 sage leaves
3 Tblps. Extra virgin olive oil
2 cans white beans or dried beans that have been soaked in water for 12 hours. ( I always use canned beans)
1 Tblsp. Mrs. Dash garlic and herb seasoning
1 Tblsp. Basil
2 Tblsp. chopped parsley
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
4 plum tomatoes, peeled and chopped
8 cups vegetable or beef stock
Salt & Pepper to taste 

Combine the ham bone or pancetta, chopped garlic and sage in a deep saucepan.  Add 3 tablespoons olive oil and cook over low heat until the garlic is golden.  Add the remaining ingredients + stock and bring to a slow boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer gently for about 2 hours until veggies are tender.




THE WHITE PILLOW SHAM

 

I rarely buy anything unless it’s on sale. 

 Well,

 Almost never. . .

Ever. . .

It just doesn’t make sense to me to buy something at so much more when I know in a few weeks it
will go on sale for half its price.  I have a sister-in-law that

Seriously. ..

can clothe their 7 children and herself and my brother for about $5.00.  What she doesn’t buy on
sale, she sews for them.  Including lingerie.  And did I mention, she makes her own catsup! She was regularly featured in our local newspaper for several years for her coupon clipping abilities.  And the products she took home, almost free.

But then, out of the blue, there was that one item. . .

A few weeks ago we attended the Bellevue Art Fair that is in the parking garage of Bellevue Square.  It was a hot summer day and at one point we headed into the mall for a reprieve from the heat and to just cool off.  One of my favorite stores is Anthropology and that‘s where I ended up standing in front of the most awesome EURO WHITE PILLOW SHAM I had ever laid eyes on.  As I held it I dreamed of what it would look like resting in the center of our bed.  But I also knew the wise choice would be to not buy a pillow sham at a price that would have put 4 meals on our table.  And so I walked out of the store leaving it behind at its home on the shelf. 

Sigh. . .

I went to bed that night with visions of that white pillow sham dancing in my head and woke the next morning to the same visions.  By the end of that day I was on the phone calling, you guessed it,

Anthropology.

asking the kind sales person to please locate that sham and pop it in the mail to me.

She promised it would be at my door in 5 to 7 days.  It would be hard to wait that long,

but I knew. . .

 I could do it. 

Well, as the story goes, 5 days turned into 10, and 10 into 14 and 2 ½ weeks later there was still no package on my front porch so I made the call to let them know the sham had never arrived. This awesome clerk spent hours, literally, trying to resolve the problem of “the missing pillow sham” to discover it had never been mailed.  At the end of the day she promised I would have it in 2 two days, and you’ll never believe this,

at half price.

Some things. . .

we’re just meant to have.

Sometimes we can’t always have what we want the moment we want it

But. . .

Sometimes it’s well worth the wait.

At least I like to believe that.

p.s.  I sent a note in the mail to her manager to tell her what an awesome sales person she employed.

The Presentation


I have always believed that entertaining is more about the
 
presentation. . .
 
And that the food is
 
Secondary. . .
 
Well, maybe not for everyone.
 
Maybe. . .
 
Just for me.
 
I grew up in a home in Minnesota where every Sunday after church there were dinners with friends and family gathered around our big round oak dining room table.  My mother loved to cook and entertain.  And she passed that love on to me. (e.g., In Minnesota life is all about gathering and eating). And she brought that tradition with her when our family relocated to Washington when I was 9 years old.  In Minnesota we had a nanny named Clara, who kept our home filled with the aromas of home made breads, cakes and cookies.  We had a large country kitchen with a red chrome legged kitchen table where my four brothers and I drank glasses of cold milk and ate warm cookies straight from the oven.  Clara would arrive on Sunday evening and stay until Friday night when she headed home to spend time with her family.  My mother was a professional nurse and her career and love for nursing filled her weekdays, but on the weekends her time was totally devoted to her kids and we knew we could always find her in the kitchen with her second love, cooking and baking.  I grew up with a strong sense of stability and security and I know that a lot of that came from the atmosphere that constantly filled our home.  I brought that same desire to my home when I became a homemaker, wife and mom.  I wanted my doors to always be open and my home to be a place where people loved to gather.
 
For me, entertaining begins with
 
setting the mood. . .
 
creating a beautiful table. . .
 
soft music playing in the background. . .
 
creating a welcoming atmosphere that says. . .
 
come on in and make yourself at home.
 
And the rest of the evening just seems to take care of itself.
 
P.S. When my middle brother graduated from high school his first trip was to Minnesota to visit Clara who at that time had to have been in her late 80’s or even in her 90’s.  He had a special attachment to her as she was there at his birth and spent many years snuggling and cuddling with him.  She passed away shortly after his visit.

SUN-DRIED TOMATO WRAP
 
 
1 sun-dried tomato wrap
Finely chopped purple onion + tomato + English cucumber
1 cubed avocado
½ lemon
Light cream cheese
Chopped cooked chicken breast


Spread cream cheese on wrap







Layer chopped ingredients
Squeeze lemon over avocado
Add chicken
Shaved pecorino cheese over top
 
Roll up + eat!
Yum!!!

p.s.  Dipping it in Trader Joe’s Cilantro Salad dressing adds an extra bonus.












SPRING IS IN THE AIR (Well, actually, it was in the air)


Once spring has arrived our thoughts turn to traveling, before spring clean up in the yard begins and our attention is required at home for watering and trimming and all the little maintenance that summer requires.  The end of April we headed to Boca Raton, Florida to visit our friend Inge and then down to the Florida Keys where my hubby and I met,

oh sooo many years ago. . .

We took along with us so many
 

memories. . .

and the

excitement. . .

to search out places that are a part of our history.  As we entered Old Town Key West it seemed so much bigger than the image my memory held.  At 19 there were so many things lost on my young mind.  The history of this beach resort inhabited by writers and artists, old town architecture, expats and people that just wanted a simpler life away from city lights and fast food restaurants.

As we headed down the Keys our first big memory was the 7 mile bridge which carries you over the Keys and eventually guiding you into Key West.  The bridge has since been replaced with a more modern version, but leaving the old bridge as a piece of another time and a place to walk and bicycle.  As we wandered and searched we found pieces of memories, but it was pretty hard to find the Key West we remembered. Because of the high temps and even higher humidity not to mention the local mentality of the leisurely life that filled this place, leading the locals and tourists to much sipping, meandering and slipping into sidewalk cafés to enjoy the local flavors of freshly caught seafood and cool tropical drinks.

My favorite part of our visit was touring Ernest Hemingway’s estate, the biggest and richest-looking house on the whole island, right in the middle of Key West, framed with a brick wall to secure his privacy and beautiful gardens with chairs tucked away under Mangrove trees where he and his second wife, Fife met for their afternoon martini.  Actually, the martinis began flowing shortly after breakfast.  We toured the charming upstairs of the tool shed, which actually looked more like a Carriage House.  (I’m pretty sure there was not a tool to be found) where most of Hemingway’s writing took place. His typewriter is still present on his writing table leaving you with a sense that he has just stepped out for a moment.  There are 15 resident cats, descendant's of Hemingway’s first cat.  I felt like I had stepped back in history.  Hemingway’s wife Fife who inherited the estate during her divorce from Hemingway, disliked Key West because of its casual atmosphere and lack of big city night life and fashion, but settling to live the remainder of her life there anyway.

As we toured the mansion, my mind took me back to an earlier time when servants walked the hallways, where dinner parties frequently took place around their dining room table entertaining notable artists and many of the island locals.  Hemingway loved to be surrounded by his friends and found it hard to be alone with his own thoughts. His legendary writing career was overshadowed and in constant competition with his love for alcohol, his dark mood swings, his wandering eye for beautiful women and his need for always falling in love with the next Mrs. Hemingway.  And somewhere in the mix he found time for his love of fishing where, once he stepped foot on his boat, leaving his depression on the shore and losing himself in the cool, emerald green tropical waters of the gulf that surrounded the Keys, he found temporary peace. 

As I walked the streets I noticed many locals mode of transportation was bicycling and bicycle drawn carriages replaced taxi cabs to show tourists the sights or just give you a lift when it was too hot for walking. With beaches framing Key West it was a mile walk from one side of town to the other, beginning and ending on a beach.  On our first night we took the walk stopping for dinner along the way.  Night life filled the air with music and conversation floating out from the open air restaurants.   It was easy to see why residents and tourists are drawn to this place. 

And yes, we did hail a bicycle taxi back to our hotel.





The Backyard Swing

In the summer this is where I start my day.   

In my back yard  

on my swing. . .  

I come out here early in the morning to talk to God and hope that’s he’s up early too to hear my 

 hopes. . . 

dreams. . . 

my gratitude. . . 

and issues that are way too big for me to tackle.  

Then I sit quietly and wait to hear from him and how he’s going to answer my prayers,  

of course. . . 

in just the way I would like them answered.  Sometimes in the silence I feel his presence and hear an answer.  Most times though he tells me to be patient because a ready answer isn’t coming to him  

right at the moment.   

And of course I want to  

help him 

but there’s a rumor going round that when we put our hands on the problem we hinder and get in the way of  

his work.  

Sometimes. . . .

things can be taken care of more easily with only one set of hands working on them.  At that point I know just how my kids felt when they would ask me for something and my reply would be,  
 
“just be patient”.   

You can’t always have what you want the moment you want it.  

But we all know it would be so much nicer  

if we could. . .

 

Fresh Watermelon Juice

Cubed watermelon + ice cubes + bullet =
Fresh Watermelon Juice

Bon Appétit!

Beach Reading

In the summer my thoughts turn to

sandy beaches. . .

warm balmy breezes. . .

blue skies dotted with white puffy clouds. . .

a great beach chair. . .

and of course. . .

saltwater has to be in the mix somewhere. . .

and a great book. . .

Here are some of my summer reads.
 
 

Decorative Edibles


 
I know rhubarb is meant to be eaten. . .

Sigh. . .

But. . .

Once it’s reached a certain level of beauty . .

the eating part is all but lost on me. . .

even. . .

when I watch it going to seed it doesn’t remind me - that it’s time to be eaten.

I do have to say. . .

what surrounds me whether in our home or in my garden, it’s pretty much always

about the

ambiance. . . 

Double Chocolatey Chip Frappuccino


In the spring I'm excited for all the changes taking place in our yard and getting my hands in the dirt.  Waiting for the perennials to begin pushing their way through the dirt looking for light, and the brilliant green colors that fill our yard in the form of ivy, new leaves and ferns and somehow, after the winter, the grass becomes thicker and greener and brighter.  I notice the details. 

I love rainy days and often open my office window just to smell the rain.   

I love when my friends stop by just to say “hi” or to share a “hug”.   That leaves me smiling all day long.   

I love it when my hubby pokes his head into my office and says he’s brought me my favorite treat from Starbucks.  

A Double Chocolatey Chip Frappuccino. 

Last week there was a knock on my door and when I opened it I found one
of my friends on the other side holding a bouquet of flowers for me.

I love the smell of freshly brewed coffee early in the morning (even though I don’t drink coffee).

I know. . .

I love the smell of freshly baked bread.

I love the smell of laundry fresh out of the dryer.

I love walking in the rain.

I love thunderstorms. . .

I love salt water beaches.  I love smelling the salt water.

I love drinking water.

I’m thinking somewhere in my previous life I might have been a

fish. . .

Well, probably not,

But it seems only logical. . .

I love the story Oprah told about one of her visits to Africa, meeting this beautiful
African woman whose home was a piece of sheet metal leaning up against a dirt hill.
Oprah interviewed her sitting on the ground outside her “home” and I immediately
noticed her radiant smile and the peace that seemed to rest on her face.  And then Oprah
asked her, also noticing the same thing, "Where does this happiness come from that I sense
from you and see in your beautiful smile."  And I will never forget her answer.  Here is
what she said to Oprah:  

“Look across the road at those beautiful, colorful flowers.  I get to enjoy them
 
every day. . .” 

Her answer took my breath away.  And taught me a lesson I will never forget.  It’s not what
we have or own, it’s what we focus on that brings us joy. 
Was it because her life was not cluttered with “stuff” that she noticed the flowers or was it

just. . .

that she chose to find beauty in whatever form it came in. 

And for her. . .

it came in the form of. . .

wild flowers. . .

growing in a field. . .

outside her door.

 

The "Good" Dishes

 
The Good Dishes - and always eat on the good dishes every day!! Always!

I think we all have something we are drawn to of some flavor. Mine just happens to come in the form of the love for dishes.  Just when I think I have everything I could

ever want. . .

sigh. . .

another one catches my eye and of course it comes home with me.

When I had doors on my cupboards I found that what lay behind them were piles of mismatched dishes and unused clutter.  Several years ago a friend called who was frustrated with her kitchen cupboards and asked me to come over and see if I had any ideas.  Her kitchen was big with lots of cupboards.  As soon as I walked into her kitchen I knew.  The cupboard doors needed to come off.

I went home and soon my phone was ringing.  My friend, asking me to come back and see what she had done.   The doors had come off and she had emptied her cupboards, painted the insides and took only the dishes she loved and gave them a home in her new cupboard.  The change was stunning and oh sooo practical. 

A few months later. .  same friend . .  same scenario .. only this time

my kitchen.

My friend comes to my house and this time I’m complaining about my kitchen cupboards. 
She looked at me and rolled her eyes.  I know she was thinking, the answer is

obvious. . .

She goes home,

hubby comes home,

off come the cupboard doors. 

A few weeks later my same friend comes by to visit and we’re standing in my kitchen and she asks me, do I have a crowbar?  I’m guessing most people would ask,

why”?

Instead, I locate one and so willingly hand it over to her.  Before I know it she has taken off the back of the cupboard that faces the dining room.  And the amazing thing was that all the light from the dining room windows came pouring into my kitchen.

Who would have thought. . .

I love to live simply and practically.  Cupboard doors were always a nuisance to me.  All the opening and closing that goes on just to retrieve a dish or two. 

Today

My cupboards only hold the dishes I love and what we use everyday.  Life’s so much easier.  The bottom line is, everything has a place, is easy to access and for me my dishes are like

art work. 

I enjoy looking at them every time I pass through my kitchen.

We have a sign hanging in our kitchen that says, “Simplify, Simplify, Simplify".   I think “one” simplify would have been enough.

It’s a daily reminder to me to:

1)  Keep life simple.

2)  Remember to breathe.

3)  Bring my inner child out to play every day.

4)  Take life lightly.

5)  Say "no".

6)  Know that someone else can wash the dirty dishes.

(7) And when you “Stumble” make it part of your dance.

And to remember that if I take time each day to Breathe In and Breathe Out - I
know that I will be O.K.

Watch Bunny


 
This is our “Watch Bunny”.  She’s pretty quiet.  But we believe without a doubt that no intruder will

Ever. . .

Get through those French doors.

The Painted Chair

 
We’re all about making memories in our family, just like most families are. A few years ago my hubby’s niece from Minnesota came to visit in the summer for a couple of weeks.  On a rainy day when we just knew if we stepped outside in the rain we’d both for sure would

melt. . .

She said to me, “let’s do an art project”!  I had just been on a home tour with a friend and in one of the kitchens on the tour there was this painted stool with words and colors all over it.  I remembered a chair from my parents kitchen that had been sitting in our garage for years.  So I headed to the garage to retrieve it.  Then headed to my paint cupboard and brought out every color of paint I could find.  That day

“The Painted Chair” was given life. 

I knew with each stroke of paint that day that this chair was going to be more than

just a painted chair. . .

It was going to become a chair of

“memories”. . .

At the end of the day we both signed the chair and made this rule, before you could sign the chair you

had to have made something in our kitchen.  It could be as simple as

brewing a pot of coffee. . .

Thus began the journey of

“The Painted Chair”. 

That was 7 years ago and today the chair tells a story of everyone who has passed through our kitchen

and home.

Life for me is all about creating history and memories with friends and family.  And I know one day this chair is going to  

read like a history book. . .