Monday, December 28, 2015

Christmas 2015

We have been having a wonderful Christmas, and festivities are scheduled to continue through to the New Year. The best part of it is taking time off to spend with family and friends.

One of our gifts was a huge hit: a wookie pajama suit for BroP!
Believe it or not, he had a Chewbacca t-shirt on before he even opened the gift. He hammed it up and sported it for most of the night, certainly giving us a Christmas to remember.

We also got to spend a bunch of time with our sweet NieceM. This was her first Christmas and you could tell she was in aww of this magical time of year. (Amazing photo courtesy of BroJ.)

Even Eva got in the spirit with her Christmas outfit. There was a lot happening, and she didn't appreciate being distracted for pictures.

Christmas Eve also happens to be MomB's birthday! While it is great to all be together every year to celebrate, I always feel a bit bad that it gets overshadowed by Christmas festivities.
I usually make or help make a cake, but this year I wanted to try something a little more special.

I think it took me three hours, and about half the dishes in the cupboards, but I made a Yule Log cake (a.k.a. Buche de Noel). It is actual an old European tradition you can read more about.

This is the Yule Log Cake recipe I used, but I added a chocolate ganache frosting.

The cake doesn't have any flour or leavening ingredients (stuff to make it rise like baking soda, baking powder, or yeast.) Instead it relies on eggs whipped into a stiff meringue and folded into the batter.  This is much more technical than most of the recipes I attempt, but it is a special occasion. It's not difficult but does take a lot of focus, time, and attention.
Overall it actually turned out much better than I expected. It even kind of looks like a log!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from our family to yours!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Christmas Prep

The weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas always seem to be a scramble.

Unfortunately, we weren't able to get much of a head start since Dear Husband (DH) came down with the flu just a week after he got his flu shot. It takes about two weeks for your body to build up the antibodies after getting the shot, so he wasn't quite protected from the flu when he came in contact with it.
Thankfully I had gotten my shot a few weeks before DH so I was safe from the flu, but as soon as he got better I came down with a viral infection. Lovely.

Even with a lingering cough, I rallied enough to help decorate for the holiday. Of course Eva helped, as always. Here she was, helping make giant origami Christmas decorations. I really should have taken a picture of them since they were so cool, but here is a link to show you how we did them.

Then she had to inspect our mini Christmas tree... It is real, but I think with the stand and the angel it is maybe 4 feet tall. It is so worth it for the fresh pine smell. (We need one that fits in the trunk of our Honda Civic.)

Thankfully she can't reach the mantle to inspect the "Father Christmas" collection ornaments. This was the last series of ornament that my Nana was sending me when she passed. The series is still going and I make sure to pick up the new one every year.

I was cooking up some home made Christmas presents when DH caught me sneaking some treats to Eva and her boyfriend, Aiden. Hey, apples are a healthy treat!

Best Christmas gift so far? We had an extra vacation day, and DH suggested we take a Friday off to go shopping for gifts. A whole day date with a stop at the Chocolate Cafe? Perfect.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Eva Turns 3!

 I can't believe our baby girl just turned three!
It seems like just yesterday we brought her home all paws, gangly legs, and wiggly butt.

We have learned so much and had so much fun: puppy classes, catching rabbits and other critters, Rally-O classes and even a Rally-O competition with a win!

I can't imagine having any other companion to complete our little family. She is just perfect for us even when she does get into trouble or roll in heaven knows what!

Such a great snuggler.

For Halloween she did really well with the doorbell always going off... I found out that giving her a favorite rawhide every time minimized barking and gave her something to focus on.
(She wore her "Prisoner" costume again this year... too cute!)

In preparation for the impending cold, we got the fireplace and chimney cleaned. We had the ugly, fake, (broken) logs with gas flames coming through. The chimney sweeps told us we could actually convert it to a wood-burning fireplace!
I know a lot of people like/want gas, but we will still have the gas line for ignition, and I just love the smell of a real wood fire. Plus this way we will have a heat source if the gas ever goes out.  We only light a few fires a year and are young and can buy just a bit of fire wood.
And the gas line will still be plumbed, so future owners can re-install a gas insert.

As Halloween has passed, I like to give Fall/Thanksgiving to most face-time as possible before we get inundated with everything Christmas. So I threw this mantle decoration together using what I had around the house. I still need to add some squash/gourds for a bit more "harvest" feel.
Want to know a trick? See that twine wrapped around the candles? They were too boring by themselves, so I took some strings from the burlap fraying edges to use as a wrap! Not too bad for less than a half hour for the whole thing.

Monday, October 26, 2015

A Harvest and a Beautiful Wedding

Fall is upon us and as the lower temperatures creep in, it is time to make sure the garden is put to bed for the winter.
We didn't have a huge tomato harvest this year, because I hadn't consistently trellised and harvested the plants as they grew. I don't know where the Summer went and I didn't get nearly as much time in the garden as I usually like. This is ok with the tomatoes though because last year was such a huge harvest, I still have bags of frozen tomatoes stocked in the freezer. 
This was the first year I had tried growing both carrots and beets. I neglected the beets too long, so they turned tough and woody. No good. The same thing happened with a couple of the carrots, but with the majority turning out ok I ended up getting a whole bucketful!
 Yeah, the center of these giant carrots were pretty tough and woody. They were a bit bitter too. Lesson learned for next time!

Of course the carrots look better when scrubbed clean...

Then I cut them to about the same size and blanched them for 3 min. 
"Blanching (scalding vegetables in boiling water or steam for a short time) is a must for almost all vegetables to be frozen. It stops enzyme actions which can cause loss of flavor, color and texture." - National Center for Home Food Preservation

After blanching, I vacuum sealed them in smaller bunches. While probably not the best for straight eating, I think they will be good in stews and soups. 
Another thing we did recently was go to a beautiful wedding. I did a TERRIBLE job of remembering to take pictures. All I got was the amazing cake (which was super tasty too) and the head table where you can kind of see the beautiful grounds outside.
The reception took place in a huge open structure but had enough rustic looking trusses to still be warm and welcoming. I love the simple but bold colors and decorations they used. They really let the location and the couple shine while maintaining a level of elegance.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Stitch Fix #4

Rolling in to Stitch Fix #4, I didn't have my hopes up. 
You may remember that the last "Fix" was a bust, but I had gotten a couple pieces from the ones before that.

The first top had a great color, and some fun black lace detail, but when I put it on, it just looked boxy.
It was the case where it looked better before I put it on.

I had high hopes for the next one. The orange color was fun, with a little brassy detail. It was looking promising... until I tried to pull it down over my bosom.
Being well-endowed is not very helpful when it comes to non-stretchy shirts.

This was the first purse that had been included in a shipment. I did like it but it was far too large for a petite person like me. It was a nice leather, and had a fun "worn" texture to it. If it had been smaller, I probably would have sprung for it.

This last picture shows two different pieces. The pants... what can I say? There is no such thing as capris for a short person; just awkward short pants.

The sweater though, was the winner of the bunch. I don't have a long sleeve black cover up. It looks a little plain because the picture is so dark, but the ends have a nice sweep/fold to them for a bit of interest.

The only problem is, that the three items I have gotten so far are either black or gray. I really need to work on that.

Oh, and just in case you thought my life was all sunshine and roses, someone got an impromptu Friday night bath after rolling in poo in the backyard...
I will give you a hint: it wasn't Dear Husband.

Aaaad then she did it again Sunday night.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Revived Landscaping

Goodness it has been a long time since I posted!
Most of that is due to the sheer magnitude of the project we just finished up.

It all started when I had our trusted contractor come out to take a look at the siding and see how soon it needed to be painted.
The good news is that it can wait a year, maybe two, but the bad news is that our soil level had to be dealt with first.

See how the mulch comes up above the siding? Yeah, that's bad. The siding should end, then there should be 4-8 inches of concrete foundation, and THEN below that the soil level.

Because the dirt is above the siding, things like bugs and moisture can get under the siding causing damage and rot. Not good.

See above, how the wall juts out? That is our front window. As the landscaper was digging the soil down, he discovered there was no foundation under it. That is normal for a bay window but you do NOT want dirt packed underneath which is what we had. This rotted out the sub floor and could have caused structural issues had we discovered it too late.

So just dig the dirt down around the house, right? Nope. If you do that, when it rains all the water will drain toward the house and down along the foundation. This has the potential for causing erosion or flooding.

So instead you have to lower the level of the soil, AND make sure it slopes away from the house.

Since we moved in we have been battling the overgrown weeds, but since we knew we would be having everything scraped away, we didn't even bother to try and keep up with them... so here's the before and after's!



Of course it looks a little sparse now, but I'm hoping the plants will fill in after a year or two.

We had them move the too-big hydrangeas and had them plant ones that would stay smaller. We also had them put in some holly bushes, a couple knock-out roses (they are low maintenance), and a couple other things. We also decreased the size of the bed a bit so it would be less to maintain.



This one is a big difference... that overgrown tree-bush is some sort of weed left over from when we had the busted plum tree removed. We had them remove all the prickly bushes, but kept the rhododendron.



Before, this was just a mess of weeds. I think there was maybe one or two plants that were good ones.
We had them plant a bunch of low maintenance plants. That tree on the corner is a red-bud tree that won't get very big, and will have pretty flowers all spring.

Such a huge difference! This was a much more intensive project than we anticipated. SOOO glad we hired someone to do a majority of the work. It took about 2 months from start to finish.
Now our front bay window has room to breathe underneath free of moisture and rot!

Over this time it was also my birthday and let me tell you, I am such a lucky girl. My Dear Husband (DH) knows the way to my heart is through power tools! Lol! He got me just what I wanted: a more powerful corded drill! The wimpy battery one I had is good for hanging pictures and that kind of thing, but not for more construction-like projects. Yay! I was thrilled when I opened it.
After opening my present, we headed right up to Wisconsin for labor day to visit our new niece! She is absolutely precious! But since I know NOTHING about babies, I volunteered to help out the new mom by cooking and cleaning.

I cleaned the bathroom, made two chicken pot pies, two meals worth of chicken tetrazzini, hung a shelf in the nursery, and helped take 1-month photos. (It was the least I could do, since I can't change a diaper to save my life!)

New mom, SisD, is doing a fantastic job with the new one. To the right is DH with Maddy. She is a month here.

To the left, she is with me is a few weeks later when we went up for her baptism. Look how much she grew already!

She makes some of the best faces. So many expressions!

Don't worry, Eva is going to be my only baby for a while yet!

(She sleeps in with me, AND there are no diapers to change!)

Friday, September 11, 2015

Blank Baby Scrapbook

You may have noticed a lull in my posts...
This is because I have been focusing my efforts on two labor intensive projects. You already know about the Wallpaper Paste Removal Frustration. I have to scrub every inch of the wall, three times! Time consuming, but not very interesting for a blog post, huh?

The other project took over a month, but I haven't been able to reveal it because it was a gift.
I made a baby scrapbook for our new niece's first year!

(Sorry in advance for all the pictures.)

I filled out the first few pages that I actually had pictures for, but all the other pages have blank areas to place pictures or write notes/text.

The first page is the sonogram with the introduction of "It's a Girl!"

The next are some beautiful maternity photos she had taken.

Then of course a very busy page for the baby shower:

From here on, the new mom can now fill in her favorite photos as she takes them. This page is for hospital photos and details:

"Tiny eyes, tiny nose, tiny fingers, tiny toes!"

Some pages aren't for anything specific, just pictures of any kind.

Here is a page just for Mom and baby:

And of course one for Dad and baby: "Daddy's Little Girl"

So then we must have one for Grandmas:

Then naturally Grandpas:

This one is for her monthly photos... you know, her at One Month, Two Months, etc.

I'm sure she will be dressed up cute for Halloween!

And there will be family photos at Thanksgiving.

Couple more extra pages.

Then of course we have Christmas photos...

"A girl and her dog! ... and cat"

Baby smiles! (or was that just gas?)

Bath Time!

Extra page...

Page for months 7-12.

More bonus pages...

And the final page is for her 1st birthday.

I hope this is a sweet keepsake for years to come for our sweet niece.

Speaking of our niece, Dear Husband (DH) did great with her and held her for over an hour while she napped.
Eva was curious but respectful and did very well with her.

I also got to take her One Month photos and family photos while I was there. I think they turned out pretty good!