Monday, January 28, 2013

Stew, Cookies, and Ventriloquism

What a weird, yet productive day!

The weather has been gloomy, rainy and overcast, so I certainly did not get my motivation from sunny skies.  And I feel bad that my doggie has gone  2 days without a walk, but I cannot bring myself to be one of those people who walks their dog in the pouring rain.  I would love to follow one of those people home.  Does the wet dog just shake all over their house, spraying muddy water everywhere?  It's a mystery to me, and until I find a nice, clean, non-smelly answer to rainy dog-walking, I'm out.

Since I've established this "no housework on Sundays" rule for myself, there was plenty of laundry awaiting my attention.  I know, fascinating stuff.  This was also the morning I had set aside to try out my Crock Pot for the first time--a Christmas present from my brother and sister-in-law.  It has been sitting on the counter, out of its box, for a week, luring me to use it.

I decided to make beef stew.  Hubby loves beef, and I rarely (ha) cook it.  At 8:30 this morning I was chopping garlic, onions, carrots, potatoes, coating the meat, etc and tossing it all into the pot.  Everyone on Facebook is always raving about their Crock Pot--and I have felt in a bit of a rut with cooking lately--so I decided to ask for one.  Because of these magical testimonials, I felt compelled to stand over it for the first several minutes after putting all of the ingredients in and turning the dial...I'm not sure what I was expecting.  Surely no recipe that needs to cook for 6 hours is going to make any major transformations in just a few minutes.

Happily, though, transformations and Crock Pot magic did start to occur.  The old adage is wrong--a watched pot does boil--you just have to wait an hour or two.  Soon the house began filling with wonderful smells (I knew it was more than the remnants of garlic on my fingers,) and, after 5 hours, presto.
Keep in mind that stew is not meant to be beautiful, which was, obviously, accomplished today.
 I did learn one thing, best to let the stuff sit for a little bit to cool it down and congeal.  We discovered this after a few "oos!" and "aahs!" as we bit right into it.  I will say, honestly, that I think it smelled a lot better than it tasted, but it smelled fantastic, which means it tasted pretty good.  I'm excited to try other recipes.  We ate it with rolls and a fruit salad on the side.  Not bad for a beginning attempt, I think.

My foray into Crock Pottery made me want to try something else.  I had the time, so why not?  This Friday I'm going to a chocolate-themed party and I wanted to do a trial run with the recipe I'm bringing.  Last year, in my attempt to be exotic, I took a chocolate fondue with wafers and fruit for dipping.  I'll be the first to say, it wasn't that good.  I definitely jumped into the deep end of the pool with that one.

After researching recipes, I had narrowed it down to 3--chocolate-dipped macaroons, chocolate-filled crescents, or chocolate bread pudding.  The macaroon recipe seemed tailored to my abilities, so I tried it.  I love easy recipes that do what they say they are going to do, and look like much more work went into them than actually did. 
Yes, I actually made these.  Recipe on
I have to include what Hubby was doing while I was making the macaroons.  He's on his final night of the graveyard shift tonight, so he'd been sleeping that fitful graveyard sleep for a few hours.  As I was spooning the coconutty mixture onto the parchment paper, he was looking up some of his favorite songs on the iPad and turning up the speakers we have in the kitchen.  So I was preparing these with Marty Robbins, Ronnie Milsap, and, of course, Hubby, serenading me.  That was the best part.. and it made for a pretty good afternoon.

So where does ventriloquism come in?

After Hubby left for work I was browsing on Netflix at my computer.  I love coming across quirky documentaries, and today I found a great one.  It is called Nina Conti:  Her Master's Voice.  I had heard of Nina Conti because she is an incredible ventriloquist whose videos are all over YouTube.  Her acts are funny and really clever.  The reviews were favorable, the doc was only an hour, so I hit play and just sat watching on the iMac.

I highly recommend watching her act on YouTube before watching the film.  There's a great one HERE.
It was really interesting!  It's basically her about her pilgrimage from the UK to Kentucky.  She was there for 2 reasons: to attend a ventriloquism convention, and to donate one of her mentor's puppets (he had recently passed away) to a museum.  You see how this otherwise shy person exerts her personality and humor through these alter egos.  Most of her talking is done through the puppets (who are very witty, by the way.)  She is so good at separating herself from the puppet that you almost forget that she is the one making it come to life.  Her interactions and interviews with other ventriloquists at the convention are equally fascinating.  It turns out that people who choose this vocation--and it really is a vocation--have a lot in common.

So that was my day, from smelly garlic hands, to macaroon success, to watching wooden heads come to life.  Not your typical day, but a good one.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Since I've Been Home...

I love this photo.  It reminds me of that connection we feel to home, and that, no matter where we are, we carry that connection with us.

We will call this a "catch up" post...

I'm not sure why, but my recovery time since arriving home from California has been especially long.  For nearly 2 weeks upon my return I was completely unmotivated to do anything productive.  I forced myself to put away the Christmas decorations, which took 3 days, a little here and a little there.  The irony is that I was very amped when I put them up, and did it all in 1 day!  If anyone has an explanation for that, I would love to hear it.

Part of it, I think, is going from 3 weeks in a situation where I was not in my own house and didn't have to think about laundry, groceries, cooking, cleaning, and pets, to suddenly having to get back into the mindset of taking care of a home.  But rest assured, the CA trip was busy and taxing in other ways.  It has been a little strange, though, because I have had to almost reteach myself my systems for doing certain things.  ("This is your system for laundry," "This is your system for timing dinner just right," "This is the way you normally schedule your day.")  I'm big into systems.  I try to be flexible within them, but I like having a certain way of doing things.

And, I was given a new calling at church.  Relief Society (ladies' organization) secretary.  I was happy to accept the position, but sad to give up my previous calling, which was giving a monthly lesson in Relief Society.  I loved that calling.  Being secretary has a host of responsibilities, all of which require a lot of attention to detail and plenty of time on the computer (very much my thing,) but there is a learning curve, definitely.

Then, suddenly, a few curve-balls came into the mix.  None of them happened directly to us, but there has been a lot of tragedy in the lives of people we are close to.  In the last month and a half, five families we know have lost someone, plus a high school friend died after a battle with cancer.  I can't say I knew all of the people who passed away, but knowing people who have been affected has been draining.  No one likes to be reminded of our mortality, but it seems like we have been forced to think about it again and again recently. (And constantly trying to counter-balance that by being thankful for our blessings and our marriage.)

One of these losses prompted my husband to get on a plane and go out of town for a few days.  I completely supported the decision, but it gave me a chance to see things from his end when I'm visiting my family in CA.  It was kind of weird being in the house alone (with the pets) for 5 days.  I made chef salads each night for dinner and basically lived in 4 rooms of an 11-room house.  Let's just say that I was very glad when he came home.

Despite the oddity of being the one left behind, there were things to keep me busy each day.  Book Club, helping a friend use her iPad and computer, making dinner for a couple in our ward who needed some extra help for a few days, and catching up on some of my British murder mystery shows.  And Downton Abbey, of course.

And now I'm looking ahead to the end of January and the beginning of February.  The first week of next month already has 4 events, which is usually the way things happen. A party, a church meeting, a church activity, and a piano recital.  Something tells me that week is going to fly by.

So, even though there have been some bumps, and it has taken a while to settle back into my routine, things feel back to normal now. That's OK.  We like normal.  Normal is good!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

19 Days in California...

Happy New Year, everyone. To anyone reading this, I hope you had a lovely holiday season.

On Monday I returned from 19 days in California and it is wonderful to be back in my own house with my husband once again.

As always, going to California for me is more like a "working vacation," with tons of events and obligations crammed into just a few days. 

It was a very busy 19 days...

I arrived in Los Angeles on Thursday, December 21st.  I traveled alone because my hubby had to work on Christmas and on New Year's.  It was an experiment, spending the holidays apart like this, but I don't know if I would do that again.
Two little cuties!
Thursdays is when my brother's 2 cute kids, X and A, stay overnight at my mom's.  It was great to see them, but I was exhausted from getting up so early.  And I slept horribly the first night there and spent Friday trying to recover.  I'm afraid I couldn't enjoy the kids a lot because I was so tired, but we saw them plenty of times throughout my trip.

On Friday night my mom and I had tickets to see A Christmas Carol at the Glendale Centre Theatre.  We love that theater and have been going there for years, but I had never seen their annual production of A Christmas Carol.  It was delightful.

The next day we started getting ready for Christmas Eve and also looked at furniture.  My mom just finished a huge remodel on half of her house.  Some items are going to be replaced and some are going to be reupholstered.  A lot of decisions yet to be made!

Christmas Eve rolled around a couple of days later and it was a huge success, despite the noticeable absences of a few military cousins and my hubby.  My family has been readjusting for 5 Christmases since my grandparents died in 2008, and I think this was the best Christmas Eve yet since their passing.  It has been a slow process.  Strangely, I attribute a lot of this year's success to the fact that my mom's new family room looks a lot like my grandparents' did, and she is using their furniture in it.  We were back in our comfort zone, and we needed it.
 Christmas Day was a lot quieter.  It was just my mom and me.  A little too quiet for my taste.  We drove to the mall to see Les Miserables, which was sold out, so we bought tickets for a later show and went back in the evening.  I wish I could say that I enjoyed the film, but it did not live up to my expectations.  I love the stage production and the music is unparalleled, but I thought the film was really lacking.  Apologies to those who disagree!
Divine's Furniture in Monterey Park, CA.  An absolute treasure trove.
The next few days were spent cleaning up from Christmas Eve, looking at fabric and going to furniture stores.  The crowning achievement came when we found a store in Monterey Park that my grandmother used to buy from.  As soon as my mom and I walked in we knew we had hit the mother-load.  All of the furniture was old, antique, refurbished pieces in marvelous condition.  It is exactly the kind of furniture I love and have in my house (most of mine were inherited pieces from grandparents and an elderly neighbor.)  We looked no further than this place and spent hours in there over the course of several more days.

On New Year's Eve we returned again to the Glendale Centre Theatre and watched their New Year's play, called Heaven Can Wait.  It was cute, and there were goody bags with tiaras and noisemakers for everyone, plus "free" refreshments. 

On New Year's Day my mom went to the Rose Parade, as she does every single year.  Rain or shine, alone or in a group, she goes.  I opted out this year.  It was just too cold.  I stayed and did laundry instead.  Tedious, but productive.  She came home around noon and we ended up going to see Lincoln, then out to dinner at a diner in Alhambra.  Lincoln asks a lot of the viewer, and it was my second time to see it, but it was still better than Les Miz.
Eric calls this picture "Panorama Grandma"
I did a lot of visiting while I was there.  The day after New Year's was spent with my grandma, the day after that with a longtime friend who I hadn't seen in a year, and the final Saturday with one of my cousins.
Me and my friend, Cathy.  Friends since kindergarten. If you're counting, that's 37 years. I love that whenever we see each, we just pick up where we left off.
Saturday morning was a time of excitement because there was a very special delivery at my mom's house.  Her piano, an 1892 upright that she has had since she was 8 years old, was returned to the house in its newly restored state.  The man who worked on it did a phenomenal job.  It has been in disrepair throughout my entire life, despite the fact that it is the piano that I learned on as a child. I had just come to accept its chipped keys, keys that sank down and never came up, keys that didn't work at all, and the piano's overall mournful sound.  But no longer.  Everything looks and sounds like new, and I had the chance to play it for 2 whole days before I left.
Gorgeous!  Welcome home you beauty!
Saturday evening was spent at a lovely, but chilly, outdoor wedding reception for a friend I hardly ever get to see.  It was such a highly-anticipated wedding that I even changed my original flight plans in order to attend.  I had to support the newly married couple, and wish them every happiness.

Hooray for Mark and Necia!!!
Sunday was my third week in my mom's ward, and the day ended saying goodbye to friends there, finishing laundry and packing.  That evening I went to my brother's house to say goodbye to my niece and nephew.  The kids were eating and my heart was touched when my nephew stopped what he was doing to get up and give me a big hug.  I love those little ones!
Downton Abbey--the best show there is!
That night came the much awaited Downton Abbey season 3 premiere.  My mom and I watched the story unfold with baited breath.

I arrived home the next afternoon after a tiring morning and a bumpy flight.  The tired traveler, seeing my hubby after nearly 3 weeks, was a wonderful thing.  I find that the longer we are married, the harder it is to be apart.  We went for dinner and then drove the 40 miles home.  The pets were happy to see me, especially by very devoted dog, and it was and is extremely nice to be home.

Did I mention how nice it is to be home?
This is my hunk of adorableness that was waiting for me.