Music Monday: Daughter

Monday, December 31, 2012

Elena Tonra, a member of the London-based folk group Daughter, is one of the artists I just stumbled upon while wandering through Bandcamp one day, hoping something would catch my ear. She did. Her ghostly ephemeral voice makes you feel like you're floating on water. Warm mineral spring water. I especially like that her songs seem to transcend seasons, which is one of the ways I categorize music in my head. Although they have yet to release a full-length album, that's no reason not to anticipate one in 2013. May her lyrics transport you effortlessly into the New Year. 

Support the artist and listen to more of Daughter's music here

2012 in Pictures

Sunday, December 30, 2012

This year, 2012, was a year. What a year.... 

When I think of all that has transpired (babies, deaths, marriages, and moves, all in multiples) I can hardly imagine a year filled with more change. Not only for myself, but for many dear friends and family members. Others are on the cusp of change and for that I wish them increased clarity and peace. In a bold move I resurrected this little corner of the Internet and have enjoyed the creative outlet. (Your comments and guest contributions have been so appreciated.)

I imagine when the film reel of our lives plays out on that giant screen in the sky, the one phrase most oft repeated will be Wow! That sure didn't turn out at all like I planned. To which, we might receive a knowing nod and a raised eyebrow, like we are the first person to utter such an epiphany. Which is just part of the deal, right? We get to choose a few things in this life, but mostly, we love, suffer, succumb, and grow. Oh, AND capture a few images just to prove we had our brief moment on this little blue and green marble. 
January — Celebrated Lynne and Frank's 50th Anniversary. 
February — Visited this DC landmark. 
March — Spent a lovely spring night here.  
April — Enjoyed my Virginia bridal shower. 
May — Married my favorite and my best. 
June — Climbed Old Rag. 
July — Danced like a gypsy at an outdoor concert. 
August— Said a temporary goodbye to Grandpa and Colleen. 

September— Welcomed my nephew, Liam, to the world. 
October — Stumbled upon an Illinois rendezvous.
November —  Hosted my first successful Pie Day. 
December —  Decorated a live tree and built a fort. A fort!
Travels for 2012 included trips to Utah (6 times), Philadelphia, and Canada. Choosing one image to represent each month was impossible. This sampling highlights some of my favorite moments and favorite people. 

New Year's Getaway

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Image found here

Two years ago GH and I started what has since become a tradition: escaping for a long weekend over the New Year's holiday. For two years we enjoyed visiting the small town of Warm Springs, VA and soaking in the same mineral pools that Thomas Jefferson use to bathe in. This year we are headed to Branson, MO for something a little different. (I understand it's a bit of a tourist trap, so hopefully we come back in one piece without too many kitschy souvenirs ) Apart from Scrabble and fondue our weekend will be rather quiet. Just a nice escape from the daily routine. Wishing you all a lovely extended weekend that hopefully doesn't involve cleaning out your fridge or sock drawer. 

Friday Favorites: {Guest Post by Suzette}

Friday, December 28, 2012

Suzette loves living in the Washington DC Metro area and is the Executive Director of White Spacea personalized home organizing company that organizes life and creates space.

My favorite things about chemo – yes, that’s right, chemo – there are a few.

I was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer in July and spent the next 6 months enduring several rounds of chemo. It’s pretty terrible stuff, but I did discover a few favorite things during this process. Maybe the next time you're sick, perhaps thinking about these things can help get you through.

Not Shaving
Like other cancer patients – I lost my hair. All of it. Which meant no shaving, or waxing, or anything. It also meant silky smooth skin on my legs, which was great.

Sick Stories
All those crazy days of hospitals, doctor’s visits, drug-induced sleeps, and dashes to the puke bowl – make for some good stories later on.

Gifts & Mail
When you’re sick for a long time, you get lots of cards, which actually makes waiting for the mail carrier fun. Gifts also arrive – and even though you’re not feeling well, it’s still nice to open a package and see what’s inside.

Public Concern
This is a great favorite and also makes for funny stories, because it’s so interesting how people (strangers) react to illness and hairlessness. Some want to share their own stories, some wish you well, some give hugs, and others let you to the front of the line.

Slowing Down
When you’re sick everything slows down. Events are cancelled and you spend a lot of time laying low. Although you may hate missing out, the quiet time can become a bit of a respite. You get to sleep a lot, which always feels good, and read too. Life is so busy that sometimes doing nothing (even if it’s forced) is a nice thing.

Sickness brings lots of prayers and that’s my favorite of all. You really do need heaven on your side. And it feels good knowing so many friends and family are also keeping you in their prayers.

One Last Christmas Music Post

Monday, December 24, 2012

Sometimes with the hustle and bustle of the season I just have to stop. Stop going over mental lists. Stop wishing I was with my family. Stop worrying about who I forgot to send a Christmas card to. Stop hoping for snow. Stop online shopping. Stop baking. Stop crafting. Stop eating. Stop watching every Christmas movie ever made. Stop trying to create the perfect moment. STOP. And listen. Listen to my heart. Listen to heavenly reminders that I am loved. Listen to promptings that God's grace truly is an enabling power and makes me whole. Listen to the poignant and eternal truth that there was a star and I am celebrating the Savior's birth. Stop and open up my heart to the unchanging love that is right there waiting for me. 

I've loved this song for longer than I can remember and while it's not technically a Christmas song, this version is just about as perfect as it comes. (Special thanks to Ms. Katie for introducing it to me.)

Combine that with this rendition of The First Noel and I think that about wraps it up. May your heart be filled with light and an abundant spirit, no matter what holiday you celebrate. Merry Christmas!

New Traditions

Saturday, December 22, 2012

One of the best parts about this Christmas has been the chance to create new traditions. When we got married, earlier this year, GH and I decided to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas apart from our families. At the time we didn’t know we would be living in an entirely new home, away from everything familiar and comforting; rather we made the decision based on the understanding that we’d only get one first Christmas together. Just us. No traveling or family obligations and we wanted to make the best of it. 

As much as I cherish the traditions of Christmases past, I have really enjoyed establishing our unique way of celebrating the season. One way we’ve done this is by creating a 12 Dates of Christmas countdown. The last Monday in November we each took six crafted cards and wrote down our ideas twelve simple dates to be completed throughout the month of December. We then shared our ideas with each other and posted them prominently in our living room. (I couldn’t help be amused that three of them contained a literary component: read a A Christmas Carol, write a Christmas-themed short story, and read a Christmas-themed short story*.)  Other outings included a gorgeous non-commercial light display, holiday baking, an evening at the temple, and decorating GH’s first live Christmas tree! Each date has been simple and inexpensive and I’ve noticed that what we've done hasn’t been nearly as important as just being together. Giving ourselves the space to create new memories of a Christmas that will always be our first.

*Listen to the short story I read here.

Friday Favorites: Christmas Hymns

Friday, December 21, 2012

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
The story of the Longfellow family is beautifully recounted in this 8 minute narration and orchestration. It is one of hope and renewal and courage over conflict through the strength of family and faith.  Always a stirring reminder during this season of the year. 
This song lets you imagine all the people that made up that First Christmas; it's like creating a mental crèche set to a beautiful melody.

Another song by Patricia Kelsey Graham. This song weaves simple children’s rhymes to a heartwarming tune that's appealing to children of all ages.

While this isn't technically a Christmas hymn the first two lines unravel like an intoxicating Robert Frost poem you might hear sitting next to a crackling fire nestled in a cabin deep in the woods. We don’t sing it much in church anymore, probably because of the ethnocentric reference to forcing Native Americans out. But you know....

One Slice is Never Enough

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Sometimes people tell me to do things (like see random bands I've never heard of OR go to author readings of a book I've not read) and I do it. I'm easily convinced like that. Other times I go to events on my own (like craft shows) and think Wow, now I need to take a glass blowing class. Recently I read an article featuring eight Missouri pie shops  sweet slices of homemade goodness dotting the Heartland  and my first thought was I MUST EAT PIE!  I immediately made a goal to visit each location during the next several months. 
My quest started this past Monday when I had the day off and hit the open road, driving 100 miles west to the town of Rolla, MO.  "A Slice of Pie" opened its doors 27 years ago and has been in the same location ever since. The interior features paper doilies and peeling flowered wallpaper, with a sign informing customers "Checks and Cash Only." The pie board boasts a dizzying selection of cream pies, chocolate confections, and an abundance of fruity fillings. I went with the strawberry rhubarb pie, knowing since neither was in season it was a gamble. But I was happy with the results. Not ah-maz-ing, but good. However those portion sizes, wow! One-fifth of a pie is a lot. But not enough that I didn't take another slice of Toll House pie home for GH. (At least that's what I told the cashier.) We ended up splitting it and last night I was compelled to whip up an equally tasty version of the pie using this recipe. Since I didn't need any more pie I packaged it up and made special deliveries to my coworkers. I mean why have pie day when you can have pie week!
Pie boxes found here

Music Monday: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

Monday, December 17, 2012

Let's take a break from Christmas cookies, movies, and music shall we? 
Instead, let's talk about Cosby, shark week, moonwalking, and trumpets all in one song!
And while this may be a departure from my norm, I'm kind of okay with that. 

This is the moment, tonight is the night. We'll fight till it's over, so we put our hands up like the ceiling can't hold us. 
Tiny Desk concert here

By Their Pants Ye Shall Know Them

Sunday, December 16, 2012

By now you've probably already heard about "Wear Pants to Church Day." If you follow this blog you, like me, read half a dozen articles this week about how the movement started, ensuing responses (both positive and downright hateful), and tips on how to effectively wear pants (or purple) to church on Sunday. Even NPR got in on the publicity, making Sunday best national news.

Yesterday, as GH and I were driving to meet a new group of friends for lunch, we started a discussion about the topic. Would I or wouldn't I be wearing pants to church? I wondered if I should broach the topic at lunch (a risky proposition among a new group of friends to be certain). However, another woman beat me to the punch and expressed her opinion that staging a "protest" at church was inappropriate. But that's just it, it wasn't a protest. I liked how C. Jane Kendrick put it It's not a protest, it's an outreach. 

While I don't want to go into a lot of detail about my faith or cultural experiences in the Mormon church on this blog, I do want to say I wore pants to church. Black dress slacks to be precise. And the world didn't end. It wasn't the first time and likely not the last time. One other woman, the Sunday School teacher, also wore pants. There were a few purple ties spotted, but overall the event went off without much of a ripple in my congregation. Will everything be magical and happy and perfect now? Unlikely. Did I make a difference? Maybe. Will my potential friendships change because of this act? Perhaps. But in the end, it doesn't matter. I went to church and I was happy to be there.     

Friday Favorites: {Guest Post by Elaine}

Friday, December 14, 2012

Elaine is a competitive cupcake-baking school librarian who enjoys foreign films and world music. Her gorgeous confections can be seen here

I grew up with stories about my Nana’s cookie trays.  Apparently, they were renowned. Epic in fact. They began weeks in advance and filled shirt box after shirt box with pounds of cookies, pastries, and something called “sludge” (possibly fudge), which apparently had so many fat-laden ingredients, it probably turned to sludge in your arteries. In addition to Nana’s cookies, our family tradition always included baked goods from Villa Italia Bakery, located in Schenectady, NY.

In my family, I am the person to pass on the holiday cookie tradition. On my sixteenth birthday, I received my first pizzelle iron. The pizzelle iron by Villa Ware was the one my Nana used.  It must be the polished metal plate (NOT NON-STICK) to produce light and crisp cookies almost every time.  Both our irons have been well-seasoned over many Christmases.  (Finding my iron online was difficult, but a simple search for "pizzelle iron" will give you a good selection to choose from.)

Today, cookie platters and other food gifts are still popular, and a very personalized gift that shows love. Not many things these days require so much of our time as preparing homemade food gifts. It’s a chance to share our heritage and ourselves with those that mean the most to us. When putting together a cookie tray there are two things to consider: selection and presentation

For cookie selection, variety is best. This is also a chance to show off your favorite and most loved cookies! Try including cookies or treats that feature chocolate, fruit, nuts, mint or peppermint, sugar, butter, gingerbread, coconut, decorations, drop, no-bake, and meringues (for your gluten-free friends).

For presentation try using boxes, bags, plates, tins, buckets, baskets, jars, etc., even wreaths and cookie towers make unique and memorable cookie displays and gifts. And don’t forget the cake ruffle (it even comes in different colors). You can find many packing selections at craft stores, like Micheal’s, local bakery supply shops, and online.

You may also decide to choose a theme for your cookie plate. This year my cookie tray (which is virtual right now, since I had an unfortunate accident with my KitchenAid attachments this week), is developing a nice French-Italian theme.  It includes: traditional anise pizzelles, Italian fig cookies, nougat candy, or torrone (both French and Italian varieties). In addition, I am going to experiment with the pizzelles and try a orange-pistachio pizzelle, inspired by the mustard I picked up while visiting Paris earlier this year. The macaroon will also be making an appearance on my platter, because well, everybody loves them. And I’ve been working hard on perfecting the recipe—including taking a macaroon pastry class at La Cuisine Paris and hand-carrying baking ingredients home with me.  Given my choice though, I would roll everything in pistachios. Hopefully 
you'll take this holiday season to experiment with something new! 

Click here for festive cookie recipes. 

Homemade: Biscotti

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Growing up my paternal grandmother would occasionally send Christmas tins of biscotti to our home. It was always such a treat getting these Italian cookies, but with five kids around they never lasted long. One summer grandma taught me how to make these crispy long cookies, which are perfect for dipping in tea or hot chocolate and great for gift-giving. Remember how you always wanted to bake one giant cookie? Here's your chance! 

makes 20-24

Easy version
1 box yellow, white, or chocolate cake mix
3 eggs
1/4 to 1/2 cup water
1 t. almond extract
1 t. vanilla
Mix and then add in the fun stuff. 

Easy version II
1/2 c vegetable oil/applesauce
1 c white sugar
3 c flour
3 eggs
1 T. baking powder
1 t. almond extract
1 t. vanilla

In a medium bowl mix together the wet ingredients then add in the flour and baking powder. 
Once this is done I like folding in chopped nuts (pecans, almonds or pistachios), dried fruit (apricots, tart cherries or cranberries), and chocolate chips (white or dark) into the batter.  Divide the dough into two pieces. Pat down to 1/2 inch thickness resembling a long football and place on a baking sheet. Bake at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes until golden brown. (It's okay if they start to look a little overdone). Cool for about 10-15 minutes then cut 1 1/2 inch cookies on a diagonal with a serrated knife. 

Finally, melt chocolate (white or dark) in a sauce pan and dip half the biscotti in the chocolate. Allow to cool and set on a wire rack before packing. 

Five Years Later OR How I Became a Librarian

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

I never set out to be a librarian. I didn’t loan my books to neighborhood friends as a child, nor did I practice story time with my stuffed animals. Sure my parents read to me (possibly more than some of my siblings since I am the eldest), and yeah I read Whoa, Joey! 5,000 times as a child, but I don’t ever remember thinking I would find a permanent place among the stacks. What I do remember, or maybe I should say who I remember, is Ms. Garett—the ornery gray curly-haired woman with flabby arms and sleeveless shirts— who reigned supreme over the second-floor middle school library. If your middle school existence was anything like mine (days fraught with bad hair; a major life altering event; an obsessive teenage crush on my history teacher that recounted stories of his morbidly obese grandmother and used the term “hotter than snot” regularly; a bus ride that lasted an eternity; and fair weather friends that left cryptic notes at the corner sign post), well, then it might be notable that I remember the name of the plump old librarian. She was the shusher of rowdy teenagers and the keeper of series books. Ms. Garett, I imagine, is still part of that decaying building, entombed with the book dust that was demolished decades ago. Fast forward a few years and I’d be lying if I said I used my high school library or college library for that matter. Mostly I felt insecure searching for materials on my own. I figured my professors, and by extension the librarians, would scoff if they knew I didn’t know how to find materials on my own. I mean I was in college, I should have known better. So I fumbled along and made the best of my self-inflicted ignorance.

When I graduated from college, in 2002, I started using my public library with some regularity. But even then it was mainly for the computer access and impressive DVD collection. Then, like other single women in their mid 20s, I started thinking about my professional life, continuing education, and finding a career that would be satisfying and allow the flexibility to either provide for myself or work while I had a family. Still, librarianship wasn’t on my radar. Then, one day, I decided to move to Washington DC and attend a school that one of my undergraduate mentors had also attended. There were numerous programs that appealed to someone with a liberal arts background and I kind of just picked a program because it seemed like a good idea. Before I knew it I was enrolled in library school. In the summer of 2005, I packed three bags, boarded a plane and headed off to a new life. I vividly remember starting my program with no concept of Boolean operators, let alone LC or Dewey classification systems, cataloging, html coding, and other library lingo I was certain my peers had already mastered. What in the world was I doing? Since I didn’t own a cat, had never worked in libraries, didn’t wear hipster glasses or have pink hair, and didn’t sport an ironic tattoo, I often felt like I was masquerading through the process of earning my bona fide librarian badge. But I persevered and somehow managed to tease out an attitude of “librarianship” from the tedium of graduate school. And here I am, five years later and two months into a new job.  

Graduate school didn’t teach me how to teach. I didn’t learn about pedagogy or assessment until I started working. I took one five-week intensive management course from a professor that could barely speak English and yet I’ve had two management positions in the past five years. I didn’t learn what working in academic, special, or public libraries would entail and believe me, they are different. So what have I learned in the five years I’ve been a bona fide librarian? I’ve learned that people generally have a favorable opinion of libraries, but most folks don’t know what their library has to offer, which is kind of a paradox. This goes for everyone from undergraduates to octogenarians. Sure tax payers have a vested interest in public library programs and tuition dollars cover expensive database subscriptions, but rarely do patrons understand the extent of what information they have access to. I’ve learned librarians are constantly working to ensure intellectual freedoms are preserved; that censorship is eradicated and that lifelong learning encompasses literacy across platforms and allows individuals to not only consume information but become creators of original content.  I’ve learned that some professional stereotypes are true. I’ve learned that working in an academic library on a non-tenure track provided not only amazing leave benefits, but allowed me to engage with educated individuals on a regular basis. It also provided the consistency of expected busy times (i.e., midterms and finals). Reference questions in academic libraries are generally relegated to locating scholarly articles in certain publications and how to properly cite materials. It also involved teaching individuals how to use the catalog and how to conduct effective searches in electronic resources, but overall, the questions were more or less the same. Working in academic libraries is discipline specific. For example, as the selector for education materials I would never order something for the religious studies department, since the competent religion librarians would handle that. Additionally, I’ve learned that patrons of academic libraries are fairly predictable

Contrast this to the world of public libraries and the first difference I’ve noticed are the patrons.  First off, departments are dedicated to the different phases of life: children, teens/young adult, and adult. Similarly, I’ve learned that public library questions are different due to the broader scope of individuals served. One woman asked about finding books on humor (I recommended David Sedaris, Bill Bryson, and Nora Ephron).  Another patron came in for tax laws on annuities. An elderly man was looking for prices on used cars and didn’t want to use a computer. A college student came in for information about the history of Daoism. A sixth-grade girl asked how temperature and environment affect balloons. A woman wanted to know the crime statistics of St. Louis by neighborhood. These are just a few of the questions I’ve encountered in the last two months.  I’ve also learned that the collections of public libraries, at least the library I work at, are kind of like a popularity contest. We stock the most-current-can’t-live-without-it-best-selling books and DVDs. Which means material turnover is high and sometimes the hold list can be in the hundreds.  I’ve learned that working in a public library is 1,000 times easier having the Internet to consult when faced with tough reference questions. I’ve learned that the community is truly vested in this institution and is anxious to offer feedback. Most of all, I’ve learned, that after five years, I might finally be getting the hang of this librarian thing. But I’m still not getting a tattoo.

Winter in Utah (Billy Collins)

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


The road across a wide snowy valley
could not have been straighter
if someone had drawn it with a ruler

which someone probably did on a table
in a surveyor's office a century ago
with a few other men looking over his shoulder. 

We're out in the middle of nowhere, you said, 
as we bisected the whitened fields
a few dark bison here and there

and I remember two horses snorting by a shed
or maybe a little southwest of nowhere, 
you added, after you unfolded a map of the state. 

But that night, after speeding on sleds
down a road of ice, the sky packed with stars, 
and the headlights of our host's truck blazing behind, 

it seemed we had come a little closer to somewhere. 
And in the morning with the snow sparkling
and the rough white mountains looming, 

a magpie flashed up from a fence post, 
all black and white in its airy exertions, 
and I said good morning to him

on this first day of the new decade
all of which left me to wonder
if we had not arrived at the middle of exactly where we were.

"Winter in Utah" by Billy Collins, from Horoscopes for the Dead. Random House Publishing, 2011

Music Monday: Greensky Bluegrass

Monday, December 10, 2012

There are so many new songs I want to introduce you to this week. But to keep you curious I'll only focus on one group as to not overwhelm you all at once. 

Not new to the music scene, this little five-piece All-American bluegrass band from Michigan, has been around for over a decade. They just toured in St. Louis and sadly I missed it. Fortunately, I've made up for that mistake by listening to these chords on repeat. Filling the space between [my] head and the ceiling with energy. 

The second song is a long one, but worth every minute. To me, it seems like an Appalachian anthem that might be sung in the Shenandoah Valley during an early autumn visit. It is, appropriately, dedicated to the people of the world. 

Friday Favorities: Children's Christmas Books

Friday, December 7, 2012

As a child I dabbled in collections and managed to amass a small army of erasers and stickers. During my teen years I graduated to Lucille Ball memorabilia. These days, since college actually, I've had a small, but steadily growing collection of children's Christmas books. They make me wildly happy. Occasionally, if I'm hosting a holiday party, I'll read one aloud to my guests. Because there's nothing I enjoy more than forcing books on people. Have you read this yet? No? Here, borrow my copy! Oh, you aren't really interested? Don't worry, I'll wrap it in brown paper and send it to you in the mail. That and I firmly believe one is never too old to be read aloud to. 

In no particular order, here are a few of my favorite children's Christmas books.  

book 7 | book 8 | book 9 | book 10

Ps. If you can read only one this holiday season, make it "Red Ranger Came Calling." 

Tree Trimming with Terrariums

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

In my previous life, as a volunteer at the U.S. Botanic Garden, I lived for helping out during the holidays. It was my favorite way to get into the Christmas spirit. One of the decorations we prominently featured at the Visitor's Desk was a display of clear ornaments turned into festive terrariums. People loved them. They oohed and awed over these little globes and invariably asked if we sold them (which we didn't); ever since then I've wanted to create something similar as a fun craft project. And what better time than holiday gift-giving? 

Since my department was assigned responsibility for the staff holiday party this year I decided terrarium ornaments would be the perfect gift something everyone could take home with them and enjoy for longer than a day. Here's how I made them. 

Materials Needed: plastic or glass globes, potting soil, plants (I used nerve plant/fittonia), funnel, scissors, ribbon, tweezers, baby aspirator, and a ramekin. 
Step 1: Remove the ornament top and set the globe in a ramekin dish.  
Step 2: Set the funnel inside the top of the ornament and pour soil into the funnel.
(I ended up scooping soil into my hands since it didn't pour as nicely as I had hoped.) 
Step 3: Fill the ornament just under half full. Repeat for each ornament until they are all prepared. Once they have soil inside they should sit upright without additional assistance.
Step 4: Remove the plant(s) from its container, then separate all the little plants within. I purchased a total of six 2-inch plants at $3.99 a piece and each container had six plants in it. Remove excess soil so that you have just a green plant with exposed roots. 
Step 5: Gently grab the plant with the tweezers and place it into the ornament. This can take a little finagling but it doesn't have to be exactly centered. Remember that you can shift the soil around inside the globe. 
Step 6: Cover ALL THE ROOTS with soil. This is extremely important, otherwise your plant won't grow.
Step 7: Once all the ornaments are planted use the baby aspirator to squeeze water into each globe and replace the caps or leave them off until you plan to give them away.
Step 8: Finish them with a bit of ribbon for hanging. 
Step 9: Set in a warm place for at least 10 days before gifting them
A few other tips. First, make certain the plants have been watered the day before you plan to transplant them. Second, DO NOT overwater them. Closed terrariums should only need water every three to five months. Of course you'll need to watch them to ensure that plants start rooting properly, but resist the urge to water. Third, a little soil goes a long way. I bought an eight quart bag of potting soil for $6.49 and filled 35 ornaments with it, and I still had half a bag leftover. Finally, ornament terrariums will need to be replanted once the plant outgrows its space. 

For additional reading on favorable terrarium conditions and plant recommendations check out the University of Missouri's informative website. 

Music Monday: Christmas Music Mix

Monday, December 3, 2012

This week I deposited a little bit of happiness into the mail and I'm fairly certain the angels in heaven offered up a celebratory and glorious Hallelujah! 

After one amazing autumn music swap it was unanimously decided that our little trio would try for a quarterly song exchange. A chance to hear new music and listen with more intensity during the intervening months. (Confession: I maaay have started listening to Christmas music before Halloween this year.) Without further adieu I give you my festive and sometimes somber music mix. 
1. We Need a Little Christmas Angela Lansbury 
From the original 1966 production of Mame. The film version featured Lucille Ball which is a double win. As Auntie Mame would say, “Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death."
Listen here.
2. Both Sides of Now Joni Mitchell
From a transformative period of my own life, this comes from one of my favorite holiday films, Love Actually. Listen here.
3. Snow Rosemary Clooney 
You remember the scene from White Christmas? The solo version is just as rousing as the dynamic quartet. I wanna wash my hands, my face, and hair with snow. Listen here.
4. White Christmas Ella Fitzgerald 
Recently I learned that Marilyn Monroe had a HUGE hand in launching Ella Fitzgerald's career. Knowing this just makes me like Ella all the more. I simply can’t get enough of her voice. Plus this song features the xylophone! Listen here.
5. Candlelight Carol The John Rutter Christmas Album
I must have been in high school when our church choir performed this and simply put, it was the most beautiful choral piece I had ever heard. And that’s saying A LOT for a ward choir. To me, I think this song reflects the true spirit of the season. Listen here.
6. Aspenglow John Denver
Songs from my youth come back in curious ways. This reminds me of past Christmases spent in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains. And yes, it makes me miss home a fair bit. Listen here.   
7. Silent Night The Three Tenors
This was the hymn that stopped the war between German and French soldiers the Christmas Eve of 1914. It will forever be one of my favorite Christmas hymns. (I usually sing the first line in German whenever it is sung at church. I can’t help myself.) Listen here.
8. Carol of the Bells Mannheim Steamroller
Wow, what can I say about this song? Growing up we listened to Mannheim Steamroller ALL CHRISTMAS SEASON. My parents loved their music and I had the piano songbook. One year we went as a family to their Christmas concert. They were ahead of their time; a precursor to Trans Siberian Orchestra for certain. Sadly, the Christmas Celebration album is not available on iTunes. Listen here.
9. A Christmas to Remember Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers
I had to lighten things up with this one. Classic Christmas country duo. How can you go wrong? Listen here.
10. ¿Donde Esta Santa Claus? Augie Rios
Christmas is better with the eager anticipation of children, no? Listen here
11. The Christmas Waltz She & Him. 
Everyone loves Zooey, right? Listen here
12. When the Bells Start Ringing My Morning Jacket {featuring The Head & the Heart}. An ode to more country Christmas music and the bell theme continues. Listen here.
13. Auld Lang Syne Mairi Campbell and David Francis 
New Year’s Eve has only recently become a tolerable holiday for me. (Fondue helps.) Plus I had to include something from Sex and the City. This one comes from the first movie. Listen here.

Christmas Movie Classics

Sunday, December 2, 2012

There's something special about watching heartwarming films around the holidays. Undoubtedly you are already familiar with the standard classics, but this year I wanted to introduce you to two* lesser known but equally entertaining movies. Films that capture the season and make for great viewing. (To ensure maximum enjoyment I suggest consuming large quantities of pie and eggnog with these films.)

Don't let the star-studded cast of The Family Stone deceive you, this is a film for the entire family. Admittedly the first time I watched this movie Sarah Jessica Parker's character drove me nuts. But recently I re-watched this and felt more sympathetic to her character the second time around. I mean she comes to a family gathering, the new kid on the block, experiencing unfamiliar traditions with new people that she's trying to make a good impression on. Who wouldn't be on guard? That's a lot to handle around the holidays. The angst and ensuing drama just heightens the plot. Mix-in crazy siblings (there's one in every family), a mother with health challenges, moral/political conversations, and a love triangle and that's how Christmas unfolds at the Stone house.

Joyeux Noel is based on the true events that unfolded on Christmas Eve 1914. With trench warfare in full swing the war wasn't about to stop for Christmas. Yet one soldier, a musician, decides to risk it all by requesting a concert for his brigade. His wife joins him on the front lines and for one night a ceasefire ensues. The unthinkable fraternizing of German, French, and Scottish troops comes after a stirring rendition of Silent Night. The men then share photographs of loved ones, exchange addresses, and work together to offer a final remembrance to their departed colleagues. Despite the brutality of war, the humanity and strength of the human spirit are beautifully portrayed in this film.

*In my quest to seek out new holiday films I had originally wanted to post three reviews. To that end I also watched A Christmas Tale and Christmas in Connecticut. Sadly, neither movie left a lasting festive impression on me.

FIVE favorite things

Saturday, December 1, 2012

 Source: via Renee on Pinterest

Sung to the tune of FIVE GOLD RINGS!

I know, I know one more post about favorite things. Go-ahead roll your eyes some more. But wait, this little list is different. Promise. Actually it's more about my super special Friday night which I know you've been aching to hear about. 

Last night I attended a social gathering hosted by a woman from church. Since I'm trying to meet new people I put on my festive shoes and made an earnest effort to be cheery. The hostess provided us with instructions for the evening which included an 8:30 pm start time (I guess having kiddos means the party gets going later), a request to bring treats (duh you gotta have refreshments), and that each guest bring five of the same "favorite thing," each less than $6. (She also threw in something about wearing your jammies to the gathering but since I'm not five-years-old I totally disregarded that instruction.) Apparently, this type of party is all the rage these days. 

What did I take as my favorite thing? Some awesome packets of French gray sea salt. Because who doesn't need fancy seasoning? And what did I take away from this yuletide clambake? A packet of fabric swatches, yellow washcloths, Christmas ornaments and candles, a garlic/herb seasoning mix, and a plastic back massager. A descent stash. Although I was a little disappointed my name was not drawn for either of the two cheese offerings (cranberry chèvre and havarti). 

Another fun fact I learned last night: You can purchase pregnancy tests AND marijuana tests at The Dollar Tree. Good to know. 

Happy December and a GIVEAWAY

This year I've had a bit of an obsession with jam. Least you think this sticky spread is only good for toast I like using it for crepe filling, cookie bars, or making homemade salad vinaigrette with it. Mostly, I've enjoyed packaging up small boxes and sending little jars far and wide. This month I'm pleased to offer a jar of French chef, Christine Ferber's, jam to one lucky reader.

Giveaway Guidelines
- You have 5 days to enter this giveaway (closes Wednesday, December 5th at midnight).
- Make 1 comment on this post and tell me one of your favorite holiday traditions. 
- Anonymous comments are not eligible. 
- The winner will be chosen via and announced the following day. 
- If you win, please respond within one week of the winner announcement to secure prize.  
 Thank you!

Friday Favorites: Trader Joe's

Friday, November 30, 2012

If you're lucky enough to live next to a Trader Joe's* you, like me, probably already have your favorite go-to products. If you aren't that lucky, well, you should move. Joking/not joking. Today—in celebration of Utah getting its very own Trader Joe's— here's a list of my favorite items that perpetually fill my grocery cart with happiness. 
1. Ginger Almond & Cashew Cereal. Generally speaking I'm not a cold cereal person, but this crunchy goodness changed my mind. Spicy cereal might just be my new favorite. Besides, who says cereal is just for breakfast?

2. Roasted Garlic Marinara. This is our go-to pasta sauce. Affordable and flavorful. I generally have a couple bottles on hand. 

3. Thai Red Curry Sauce. Shut up! This stuff is addicting. Dinner has never been easier. Saute your choice of meat/tofu and set aside. Next saute a few veggies (we like zucchini, red bell peppers, carrots, and onions), then add your meat back to the pot. Pour the thai red curry sauce over everything and serve warm over quinoa or couscous. Simple and delicious.

4. Chocolate European Style Yogurt. This yogurt has a fascinating flavor combination that reminds me of thin chocolate mousse with a hint of zingy lemon. And it doesn't produce nearly as much food-guilt as a decadent piece of chocolate cake.  

Know what else I LOVE about this neighborhood market? I like that the store has a no-questions-asked return policy. Buy a cereal that tastes like wallpaper? Return it. No judgement. No questions. And frankly that's kind of awesome. 

*Hope this doesn't sound like a product placement advertisement, rest assured I have received no compensation for the contents of this post.

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