December in Photos

December in Photos

 

December was a very emotional month, full of equal parts joy and sadness.  There was a lot of stuff going on that resulted in a lot of stress, upset, etc. in my world.  So I felt a bit like I was balanced on a razor’s edge throughout the holidays.  But, there was definitely a lot of good stuff in December.

Over the months leading up to the holidays, Eric and I spent some time doing some home improvement and a little bit of decorating.  We really wanted to have some things “done” before we had guests over for our holiday party.  One of the big things we did was buy two rugs.  We bought one for the living room back in October, you may remember, and you can see it in the photo of our dessert table.  At the beginning of December, our second rug arrived for the kitchen.  It took us a long time to finally find something we loved, and as you can see Thutmose loves it too!

We also got snow near the beginning of the month, and ice with it, so we were cozied up in the house for several days waiting for it to thaw out so that the roads were passable.  The ice storm put us a little behind in getting our tree, so we were rushing a bit to decorate this year.  Once all the decorating was done though, I always realize how happy the site of a decorated tree lit up makes me.  It’s amazing the transformation everything goes through at this time of year.  Magical!

I worked on some Christmas projects – one was a mystery stitching piece that a part was released each Sunday from Thanksgiving through December 10th or so.  It’s the little nativity scene you can see.  I loved working on it, and most especially I loved that each Sunday I was able to focus on a related Bible verse and really think about the season.  And I also bought the backing fabric for my Christmas quilt so that I could get it finished up.  Those hot cocoa cups just did me in.  So cute!  One of the things I do love about my time off around the holidays is getting to work on some of my crafty projects while I’m home.

We had our dessert party as usual, which was lots of fun.  Of course, I always love picking out recipes for treats I’m going to make so that each year it’s a little bit different.  I loved the vintage look of our Christmas cards too (Target!).  And Thut’s favorite napping spot was on the table with my Dickens Village.  He was so happy there, and every time we would see him, we’d comment that he was scaring the villagers.  So funny!

We took my niece to see the Trains at Northpark at the end of the month, our other annual tradition.  It included lunch at Pie Five and that chicken pesto pizza is to die for!

I also started and finished the last book in the Beautiful series on one decadent Saturday morning, had my very first macaron, and treated myself to a facial.  Such fun!  So, as I said, there were definitely some great moments of joy and peace during the last month of 2013.

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July in Photos

July in Photos

This summer is just zooming by like nobody’s business.  Frankly, July was a rough month.  Started out fine but then it took a nosedive.  My crazy work schedule took over again and a lot of late nights left me feeling overwhelmed and stressed.  Near the end of the month I made some adjustments in my attitude and did my best to start looking at things from a place of gratitude and abundance.  Amazing what a difference that makes.  Two things that have really helped me are the IG posts from @tarotandtea, particularly her daily tarot advice, and Katie O’Keefe’s blog and IG.  I’m loving watching her moving through #intentionalaugust and #mth (making things happen).  Both are two roads to the same destination, a destination of re-engaging with myself and what means most to me.  All a work in progress, but I’m feeling a lot better equipped to deal with the “stuff” that’s going on in my life right now.

So, what adventures did I get up to in July?  It was so nice to have a long weekend for 4th of July, and you can see I celebrated with a fun mani.  I spent a day with some girlfriends over that weekend too – I even baked cookies!  Eric and I opted to not go out to see fireworks, but instead we enjoyed the evening at home and watched some of the specials on tv.

We had lots of rain in July and it actually made for a much cooler summer than we’re used to in Texas.  I love it when it rains, so it’s always a little bonus.

As part of my attitude adjustment, I spent some extra time on myself – nails (of course), some new makeup (eyeliner and powder), dug out my favorite summertime heels (don’t those cherries kill you?), and some summery statement necklaces like my starfish that jingle!  I even went through all the lipstick I have hoarded in my purse.  Amazing what you find in there.

I had a little bit of relaxation time that I spent working on a gift for my Goddaughter (a summery yellow quilt) and catching up on my DVR’d shows, namely the red carpet from the Oscars.  Yes, it was in February.

Eric and I also did something for ourselves, we finally ordered our frame for the photo we printed from our honeymoon so we could hang it over our bed.  The frame is perfect and goes beautifully with the warm tones of the sunset from the top of the Spanish Steps in Rome.  Apologies for the reflection/glare in the photo…but trust me it looks wonderful.  And it allowed us to mark our bedroom as complete on our home improvement list.

So that was July, and we’re already halfway through August so I’d better start thinking about my August in Photos post!

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March in Photos

March in Photos

Something crazy has been going on with my blog and/or WordPress over the past week.  I keep trying to come in and do a new blog post and haven’t been able to!  So, finally here is March in photos.

March was kind of a month of indulgences.  Between the Mozartkugeln from Germany, the yummy homemade pizza, a good book and some nail polish, I was kind of on a roll!  Really, I think a good part of it was a bit of escapism from some stuff that hasn’t been so fun to deal with this month.

One of the best things this month was going to the Dallas Quilt Show with a friend.  I haven’t been to the quilt show in years, and it was such a fabulous day full of inspiration and even a little shopping.  And the inspiration hasn’t left yet.  I’ve been itching to sew!!  Once I finished my Kate Spain quilt in February, I was dying to get back to my Kiss Kiss quilt.  In March, I managed to get all of the cutting finished and also got all of my pieced blocks sewn together.  Next up is starting to assemble the rows.  I can’t wait to see this beauty come together!  And I finished up a hexy pincushion for a friend’s birthday and sent it on its way.  And a beautiful little thank you card came in the mail for the birthday gift I’d sent to another friend last month.  Isn’t that little bird with the blue and white bowls adorable?

Some days it really started to feel like Spring, and the trees were blooming with glorious color.  But we keep getting days of temps dipping back into the 30s and 40s, so I indulged in a little Mexican hot chocolate in the evening.

In family life, my boys are getting so big!  They are a year old and we are feeling so fortunate to have them in our lives.  Their daily shenanigans really keep us on our toes!!  In June it will mark one year that we’ve had them, which I find hard to believe!!

As always, I appreciate you stopping by!  I’m really enjoying sharing some of what’s going on in my world here.

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Honoring Her

Easter never used to be more than a holiday for me.  As I mentioned in my last post, over the past few years it has been made more special by spending our honeymoon in Rome for Easter.  Eric’s love of family and traditions has also changed my perception of it, and we celebrate with a special meal and his special cake.  But, this year things seemed to all fall into place to change me at some deep level, to focus on the true meaning of the days leading up to Easter.

On Good Friday, Eric’s grandmother passed away.  And suddenly, we were faced with mourning this amazing woman who had helped to shape Eric into the man he is today.  The past few years have been so full of loss, but somehow this was different.  In the midst of our sadness and grief, we were presented with the message of Easter and for me at least, it brought some comfort.

While I had intended to make Eric’s special cassata cake for him, because of the tradition his Grandmother started, once we got the news on Friday I knew that making Easter special this year was something we both needed.  When I did my last post and posted the photo of my dining room table decorated for the holiday, it reminded me that other than Christmas, I have done zero holiday decorating in several years.  So, I decided that I wanted to make this Easter as special as possible for both of us.  So, on Saturday, while Eric was gone I dug through my holiday decorations and did a little decorating around the house.  Just a few touches, since I knew it wouldn’t be up for very long.  I was so happy to see our dining room all dressed up for Spring.

I especially love my little glass bunnies.  I think I got them from Williams Sonoma years and years ago.  But, aren’t they cute?

And I’m glad I managed to get a photo of how pretty everything looked before the hoodlums got up on the table and ran off with an egg ornament in their mouths and proceeded to bat them around the house.

After I got the decorating finished, I got started on making the cassata cake.  My recipe reminded me that it’s good to make the pound cake a day ahead so that it is completely cooled before I try to put the filling between the layers and frosting it.

On Sunday morning, I got started on finishing the cake.  I made the filling and popped it in the fridge to chill so that it was easier to spread.  Then I got started on making the whipped cream frosting.  Homemade whipped cream is just the best, isn’t it?  Reminded me of my chocolate bread pudding – I need to make that sometime soon.

Once I had my filling and frosting made, I cut my poundcake into layers and then brushed them with rum.  I have actually forgotten this step before, so this time I made sure that I noted it on my recipe ingredients.

Once I had the cake assembled, into the fridge it went so that the ricotta filling and the whipped cream frosting could set up.  Then it was time to make dinner.  Eric made the fabulous Moroccan lamb burgers we’d agreed on for Easter dinner, from a recipe courtesy of our friends in Rhode Island.  We opened a bottle of Barefoot Moscato for dinner and it was a delicious counterpoint to the spices in the burgers.  Everything was so good!

And after dinner we dove into dessert.  I sprinkled the top of the cake with some semi-sweet chocolate shavings.  I loved the finishing touch it added.

Here’s a little view of the cake once we’d sliced into it.  So so good!  And don’t you love the little bees on the table runner?

It was a beautiful Easter Sunday, made all the more special because I felt like we were honoring Grandma’s life by celebrating with a wonderful meal, a beautiful table, and time with each other.  She will be truly missed.

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Preparing for Easter

Egg Tree
This time of year is always special for Eric and I.  Our wedding anniversary is at the beginning of April and we spent our honeymoon in Rome over that Easter weekend.  It was the first Easter Mass for Pope Benedict XVI.  With this Easter being the first for the newly elected Pope, it brings back some memories for us.  Eric and I have also been watching The Bible on The History Channel, and it’s been an excellent conversation topic for us in these weeks leading up to Passover and Easter.

I haven’t been very inspired to do any holiday decorating around the house since Christmas, and the two boys with their kitten antics make me think twice about what I put out.  But, after looking through some old photos, I found the one above of our Easter table and decided I would really like to have a special table setting for our Easter dinner.

And one of the traditions that we have is  preparing a special Italian cake for Easter.  Eric’s grandmother used to bring a cassata cake from the Italian bakery for Easter every year when he was growing up.  When Eric and I got married, I decided that I wanted to recreate this cake from Eric’s past for him.  Not as easy as it sounds.  Cassata cake, I’ve found, can be interpreted in several different ways.  So, over a series of Easters and birthdays, I tried out a number of recipes.

One of the first I tried was for a Sicilian cake that seemed to be similar to a cassata cake.

It was a two layer sponge cake with ladyfingers around the edges, and topped with walnuts, chocolate chips and candied cherries.  Pretty good, but not anywhere close to Eric’s memories.  Plus, with the ladyfingers and the topping, it was a rather labor intensive cake to make.

So, we refined our definition of what he remembered and I ended up cobbling several recipes together to try for my next attempt.  Eric had told me that the cake of his dreams was a loaf cake, like a pound cake.  So, I took a Martha Stewart pound cake recipe and started with that.

Notice the yummy vanilla that Eric’s mom brought us from Mexico?  Love that stuff!  Anyway, the Martha recipe was a total bust.  There was so much butter in this batter that when it was cooking, you could see the cake swimming in a sea of butter.  I’m all for butter, but this was ridiculous.  And the cake itself was not soft and moist, but surprisingly crunchy.

Eric also remembered that the filling between the layers was a lot like cannoli filling.  So, I borrowed a recipe for cannoli filling (ricotta, chocolate chips, etc.).  That, at least, was pretty straightforward.  I used the mini chocolate chips and mixed them in with the ricotta filling.

And then we got to the frosting for the cake.  Eric said it was pretty close to the frosting his mom uses on his usual birthday cake, which is a whipped cream frosting (icing?).  I hit her up again for her recipe and this also was pretty straightforward.  I think it’s just heavy cream, sugar, cream of tartar.  And it makes a ton!

And the final product Eric deemed pretty darn close to his memory.  So, I made several notes, including a note to self to try a different pound cake recipe because the Martha recipe was a big yuck.

And when I made that very first Sicilian cake, it called for brushing the layers of spongecake with rum.  So I added that in this attempt as well.  It adds a little extra depth of flavor in the cake.

I’ve made the cake a couple more times since this initial try and refined it over the last few years.  I’ve changed to a pound cake recipe from Cook’s Illustrated, which is very good.  And I’ve started making the cake itself the day before, and it makes it a little easier to assemble the next day.  I’ve also cut the filling and frosting recipes in half, because I seriously ended up with enough for a second cake.  I’ll be making cassata cake for Easter Sunday this weekend, and I’m looking forward to it since I haven’t made it in a while.  I’ll be sure to share how it turns out!

We’re also planning on having our Moroccan Lamb Burgers on Easter as well, because Eric knows that’s about the only way I will eat lamb.  So, I’m looking forward to those – something else we haven’t had in awhile.  Sounds like I’ll have a busy next few days getting everything ready for Easter, but I’m looking forward to it.  And as always, it’s such a special time for us as a precursor to our anniversary, so it deserves to be done right!

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All Aglow

Our home has been decorated for the holidays, and it is nice to have a bit of “normal” right now, with my father so sick.  We won’t be holding our annual family gatherings this year due to his health.  So, Eric and I will just have a small, quiet Christmas with just the two of us.

Anyway, Eric decided last year that he really wanted lights on the wreath on the front door.  He found some great battery operated lights this year, and now our wreath has its own little bit of brightness.

Eric found a beautiful tree again this year.  I just love the smell of a real tree in the house.  I scaled back a lot on my ornaments this year though.  I wanted a more simple look on the tree.

Some of my favorite ornaments are our Swarovski annual ornaments.  I’ve been giving one to Eric each year since 2005.  They catch the light so beautifully.

And I decided to put out the Nutcrackers again this year on the mantel.  Eric saved the branches he had to cut off the tree at the bottom for me, and I used them on the mantel.  I love the way that looks.

The odd man out in the Nutcracker theme is this guy.  He was a gift to me from my parents when I was about nine or ten.  My parents used to take my sister and I to see the Nutcracker ballet every year at the holidays.  One year, before we went, they presented me with my very own Nutcracker.  You wouldn’t believe how much I cried with joy.  He’s looking a little worse for wear, and his hair and beard are looking a bit thin (they are rabbit fur).  But, I get such pleasure from having him out at Christmas.

We’ve received so many lovely cards from friends and family.  Unfortunately, this year I had to make the decision not to send out cards.  There has just been too much going on to get them done.  I hope everyone understands.

And our tree in the entry.  This is my “handmade” tree.  I hang handmade ornaments on this tree, along with some pretty red glass balls.  There’s a train around the base of this tree as well.

And my Dickens’ Village.  Eric made me a fabulous platform for my houses this year.  The table I set them up on has rather high sides, so it was getting difficult to make them all fit.  Eric made a platform to go over the top of the table and it worked out perfectly!  All the houses fit.  And several of these were gifts from my parents over the last few years, so I love seeing them out.

 

 

And yesterday, I managed to do all of my gift wrapping.  These were headed off to the Post Office to be mailed.

I hope you all have a lovely holiday and that it brings you much joy and happiness.  Thanks for stopping in to see me and I so appreciate all your sweet comments!

 

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Ringing in the New Year

Since we spend Christmas Eve with Eric’s family, and have Christmas Day to ourselves, we usually try to get together with my parents on New Year’s Day.  The past several years my parents have travelled to see my sister and her family for Christmas, so they haven’t even decorated their home for the holidays.  This year, they stayed home and my Dad decided he wanted the house decorated.  It’s been so long since I’ve seen their tree that I was totally blown away by how gorgeous the glass ornaments are.  Back when they were still decorating, they decided they wanted to freshen up their ornaments, so they bought all new gorgeous glass pieces.  They gifted my sister and I both with some as well, and started me on the tradition of decorating my tree with hand-blown glass.

And I was happy to see the tree skirt that my mom and I made.  It’s made of felt and has Santa and Frosty and Rudolph on it, along with candy canes between them and holly leaves and berries around the edge.  The sequins that we so carefully sewed on really reflect the light from the tree. 

My Dad lit a fire in the fireplace after dinner and we sat around the tree and visited, just enjoying each other’s company.  I can’t tell you when the last time I sat in front of a fire was!

I still couldn’t get over how pretty their tree is and how beautifully all the glass reflects the light.  Absolutely stunning!  And I’m so grateful for those beautiful pieces they’ve given me.

It was a wonderful evening.  We toasted in the New Year and enjoyed an amazing end to the first day of 2011. 

Happy New Year!

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Cozy

Although we’re already well into January, I thought I’d continue with my holiday posts and share some of my Christmas decorating.  I ended up being busier than usual, it seemed, this season and I never managed to get these photos edited until this past weekend. 

I really do love decorating for Christmas, and even though it was later than I’d have liked it to be, I was excited to pull all the trimmings out of boxes and decide how I wanted to decorate this year.  The ornament in the photo above was a Christmas gift from my dear friend, Sylvia, in Germany.  It’s a delicate little ceramic heart and I am totally in love with it. 

This year I decided to do more of a wintry woodland feel on the mantel.  I love these little silver trees I’ve had forever.  They looked right at home with the pine boughs. 

And this year we replaced the makeshift star I’ve used as a tree topper for years.  Eric chose a beautiful angel to top our tree.  I wasn’t sold on her when he picked her out, but she really looked beautiful crowning the tree.  Her wings are pretty white feathers and the red and gold of her gown match our tree skirt. 

Since 2005 (the first Christmas we spent together after our engagement), I have given Eric the annual Swarovski Christmas ornament.  This year was no exception, and they always look beautiful reflecting the lights of the tree.  And that green and red blown glass ball in the background?  That is the ornament Eric bought me when we saw the Chihuly exhibit on our second wedding anniversary. 

I just love seeing the tree all lit up and the stockings hung from the mantel. 

Eric puts his Polar Express train around the base of the tree, which just completes the whole thing. 

And my village grew this year!  I have two more pieces than I had the last time we put it out.  It took a bit of rearranging, but Eric is a master at space planning.  He managed to get them all to fit on our side table in the dining room.  (Of course, when we celebrated Christmas with my parents, I received another house, so we’ll be space planning again next year!)

As we’ve done the past couple of years, we put up a second smaller tree in the entry.  I would love to replace this with a larger tree that fits the space better, but that’s a task for next year.  And you can see my wreath of Christmas cards on the wall.  It’s fun to fill that up as we receive cards from our friends and family. 

The entry tree is full of handmade ornaments.  I just love seeing them all together.  There’s just something about handmade ornaments that makes me smile.  Some I’ve made, and some were given to me.  I intersperse red glass balls on this tree to fill in a bit.  But, it’s nice to have a tree that is so different from our living room tree which is full of crystal and blown glass ornaments.  There’s a train around this tree too!

Such a beautiful sight.  And I just love the warm glow from Christmas lights – they fill my heart with joy. 

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