Looking Back ~ Looking Forward

Looking Back ~ Looking Forward

A Year closed ~ A New One Unfolds. 

 I was sifting through photos last weekend and there were more stories and moments I wanted to share with you.   Some made it to the blog.  Some didn’t. Time was such a thief.

I’m taking a look back at some stand-outs and they aren’t all the most obvious.

There’s no doubt a major highlight took place last year at this time.  I shared a series about a trip to Las Vegas.  This was no ordinary vacation.  I visited a daughter who – for two years – volunteered full time with a non-profit called The Cupcake Girls.  I spent much of the vacation in a celebrity suite at the Hard Rock Hotel (set up like a luxury spa), giving hand and foot massages to porn stars and women in the Adult Entertainment Industry.  If you missed the story behind that, let me tell you, it’s worth reading.

You can check that out here: Little Things Are Big Things in Vegas with The Cupcake Girls

ccg logo

ccg hair one

ccg pink cupcakes

Just before I left for the trip I scraped up and sprang for a new camera (Canon Rebel T3i).  I’m learning by doing and am sometimes flabbergasted by what gets captured in the lens.  I’ve never had anything close to this quality before.  I’ve got so much to learn, but jeeez…it’s a blast!

(Mr. Hungry would call me obsessed.)

Late last winter we took a day trip to Old Sturbridge Village, which is a living history museum.

I saw this sight and wanted to strap on an apron and cook along side them.

Beauteous in my eyes.

SV dirty aprons and pies

Here’s one more from that day.

Girls are never too old to play dress up.

SV Girls Dress Up

Oh heck – one more – Mr. Hungry, appreciating the Cooper’s barrel-making.

SV Phil with gin barrel

No wonder.

My “Vegas Girl” moved back to Connecticut in April to prepare for her June wedding.  I wrote a series about the Bridal Shower that was chock full of ideas for food, decor and all things classy neon!

Shower Three Sisters cropped

I’d like to think up a new reason to serve a Mashtini Bar.

Mashtini Ingredients

Top-Your-Own Mashed Potatoes in Martini Glasses…

Shower Mashtini Bacon in the Bottom

Now, this may seem like I digress, but hang with me.  Last month I shared a look into our family Christmas celebration, in what appeared to be a storybook location for a party – our Fest Hus (which means Party House in Swedish).

Ahh yes – what a beautiful looking room.  But But…

festhus3

festhus12

What I didn’t show you is the “Before” picture taken less than a month earlier.

end year fest hus messy

Less than a MONTH people!

Holy Transformation!  A Christmas Miracle!

And you’re only seeing a small portion of the teetering towers and piles of shtuff filling the entire space.

We were once told the room looked like “Ten pounds of Sh*t in a Five Pound Bag”.

(Why do I love that saying?)

We’ve Been Busy!!!

Multiple car loads were brought to the Good Will and the consignment shop.

So think about that when you’re wondering if you have the gumption to clean out a drawer this week.

The place had been a workroom and storehouse for all things weddings and showers for months years.  As many of you know, all three daughters were married within 2½ years of each other.  We weren’t done with one before we were planning another.  I’m sooo bummed I never wrote a proper post about the last two weddings.

Would it be lame to do it long after the fact?

I’ll give you a peek at some of the projects from the last one.

Gold-tipped feathers~

end of year gold painted feathers

Vases and containers lined up to fill for reception tables~

end of year wedding vessels

They were combined with vintage silver pieces. Every table had a different conglomeration of vessels filled with flowers and candles.

Wedding Prep flowers in silverI need to show you this cute detail.  Rather than Flower Girls, there were Feather Girls!

cut.it.out.adorable.

end of year feather girl bucketsSo they’re all married now.

end year britt three girls(The bride’s stunning gown was actually painted with silver brush strokes!)

Once all the festivities settled down we were finally able to decompress and put our feet up.

Feet of friends on Peaks IslandMiss those long summer nights.

Ladies Week Silhouette GirlsSpeaking of which, one night in September I was up out of bed in the middle of the night.  I took my camera and walked around the yard and talked to the Good Lord.  Call me a Kook.  Go ahead. I don’t want to forget the moment.

end of year night sky

Here’s another shot you never saw, taken at my sister’s place.  She has a magazine-worthy shed in her back yard that we transformed into a tiny guest cottage.  We’ve had many a sleep-over there, even though its only a mile from our house.

end of year laurens stuga and poolI’ll have to give you the full tour come summer.

 In a previous post I showed you this picture that was taken right across the street from her.

Summer Zinnias at Ed's Farm Stand.mhtBut I didn’t show you two other pictures taken that day that are too cute to be missed.

Open Cash Box

Pay Later SignIt’s one of the sweet joys of living in a rural area.

Zinnias are my favorite.  They look so pretty in an old copper pot,

Zinnias in Copper Pitcher

and as part of a summery yellow and blue table setting.

Summer Table setting with zinnias on the deckMany a meal was shared around that table.  I love breakfast outside in the summer.

end year plattarI’m all about the presentation.  It elevates the simple into a feast for the eyes – as well as the mouth.

Summer Grilling Pork Tenderloin

Summer Grilled Vegetables Plated and Garnished 2014Grilled vegetables are artfully arranged on a platter and topped with a simple mix of mayo, plain Greek yogurt and fresh herbs.  Minced red onion adds zing.  Pretty as a picture.

Ohh to have farm fresh veggies right now.  But don’t wait, you can do something similar with vegetables year round.

cropped-summer-tomatoes-at-farm-stand.jpg

summer veggies next to stove 2013

end of year cheese tray for thanksgivingHere’s another example of presentation.  The only thing I actually “made” on the platter – if you can even say that – is that I chopped dried mangoes and rolled a small log of goat cheese in them (there in the back).  Everything else was dumped straight from the container it came in.  I sprinkled pumpkin seeds between the bowls.  In case you’re wondering, that’s a jar of fig jam in the middle.  I like to keep it on hand for a sweet element on a cheese plate.  It’s found in the specialty cheese area at most grocery stores. My collection of bamboo platters and bowls is both practical and attractive. You don’t have to worry about taking them somewhere.  They’re light and unbreakable.

Remember the simple recipe I shared for healthy ground turkey lettuce wraps this summer?  I brought the bamboo collection with me!  Doesn’t everybody tote serving dishes along on vacation?

Ladies Week Eating Alfresco Turkey Lettuce Wraps 2One of my goals for the year is to share a whole lot more simple ideas and Good Cookin’ with you.  I hope you’ll stick around.  I want to savor the every day with you.

For example, try to disregard the fact that there’s a lake in the background of this picture.  I could be having my wine and cheese just about anywhere.  But I’m having it on our chippety red table – that looks better all worn out than it did freshly painted.  There were leaves falling all around me.  I put my cheese and crackers in a wooden bowl that was pleasing to the eye – just for me – not just for company.  I could have stood next to the counter and scarfed it out of the box.  But no.  Stop.

end of year autumn cheese and crackers on deckI’m glad I went back to grab my camera when I saw the deck on this autumn day.

Leaves on the deck 100514

end year coffee mug on deck with view

And here’s one more shot that makes me smile.  I’ve told you before how I have this thing for laundry on the line.

end year laundry sheets on line by wall

Its been a fulfilling year in many ways.

Our oldest daughter and husband bought their first home just a few miles down the road.

in front of house

Many projects are in the works there and I look forward to sharing some with you.

My Mom recently took up watercolor painting (not only that, but lately she’s been teaching herself to play the ukulele!).  She painted this little gem after they moved in.

My Word.  She was worried it wasn’t good enough to give them.

Frye pizza mom's painting

Um – Mom.

Have you not been listening to me here?  I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my favorite phrase of 2014…

It doesn't have to be perfect to be beautiful 2{The Nester}

In the last year, I’ve come to realize how much I love the whole creative process – and not just the photography. The writing and design have developed into a new love for me that I didn’t even know existed.  I’m seeing life’s moments through new eyes as I think about sharing them in this space with you.

Snow on the Deck Nov 14

I’ve found that writing helps me clear out my head.

So how about you?  Can we work on this together?

If you’ve stayed with me up till this point I have to hand it to you.  You’ve put up with my ramblings and that means an awful lot.

Thank you for meeting me in this space.

I appreciate every single comment, share, pin and words of encouragement!

love you so,

~donna

xo

P.S. If you haven’t yet entered your email address in the subscribe box – now’s the time!  You’ll  receive emails when I post anything new – (it’s free of course)!  You can follow me on Instagram and Pinterest  too if you’re looking for more inspiration.

TG8

Party in the Fest Hus!

Party in the Fest Hus!

~ Welcome ~

All is quiet in the house this Christmas night.

We were up at seven o’clock, opening gifts with daughters and husbands.  We shared a traditional breakfast and then they were off – on the road to other branches of family.  I stayed awake for just minutes, before heading back to bed for a couple of hours.  I’m wiped out and energized at the same time.  Does that even make sense?

I have pictures to share while I have some relaxing moments.

Family festivities took place last night in the Fest Hus.  Earlier in the week I wrote about the family history behind our celebration in a post {here}.  I went into detail about the Scandinavian alternative to Santa, known as The Tomte.

As mentioned, Fest Hus means ‘Party House’ in Swedish and the building was actually a Carriage House back in the days of horse and carriage in the 1800’s.

There were 42 of us there for dinner.

Here’s a look around just before everyone arrived.

festhus2

I’ll try not to be too wordy and let pictures speak for themselves.  Oh, it’s hard though.

festhus3

festhus4

festhus6

festhus5

festhus7

Some of the décor stays out year round, such as Mom’s collection of Dala horses in many sizes and the carved Viking.

festhus9

festhus13

festhus12

festhus10

Even serving utensils are festive!  The God Jul Pig decorates the Christmas ham.

festhus14

The menu varies little from year to year.

A favorite part of the night (make that favorite parts of life and food and drink in general) is the tradition of shots of Aquavit as guests arrive.

festhus22

Aquavit – which means “Water of Life” – is poured into tiny shot glasses.  It tastes like caraway seeds.  As each new group  walks in the door, another round is poured.  (Oh the benefit of being the first one there!).  We raise our glasses and shout “SKOL!!!” (it’s actually Skål!) and chase it with a piece of Swedish flatbread (knäckebröd) topped with pickled herring.  Lord – what a fabulous combination!

festhus37

If you’re interested in the origin and tradition of Aquavit you’ll find more info {here}.   For those not adventurous enough for pickled herring, there’s a variety of Scandinavian cheeses to choose from.

festhus20

 Aren’t those little shot glasses darling?

My nephew has taken to making the Aquavit the last few years.  He and Mr. Hungry are in charge of keeping the glasses full.

festhus21

Another traditional offering – that isn’t actually Scandinavian – is made by Mr. Hungry.  People go crazy over his Cold Spiced Beef.

festhus15

It’s marinated in whole allspice, juniper berries, cinnamon and nutmeg, along with brown sugar, salt and pepper.  He starts marinating it on Thanksgiving weekend and doesn’t roast it until the day before Christmas Eve.  After roasting, it sits overnight in the refrigerator with a brick on it.  It get sliced thin and is served cold.  It’s dense, dry and spicy and tastes like Christmas.

I could easily make a meal out of appetizers, but you need to save plenty of room for the Smörgåsbord, which is a groaning board of Scandinavian specialties.

festhus24

(Ugh – can you guess how much it bothers me that I forgot to unplug warming trays before snapping pictures?  But-But there was a line of 40 people behind me waiting to dig in, and I’m all in there with my camera – no pressure or anything.)

Please don’t judge me too harshly, but here’s a shot of my plate loaded to the hilt.

festhus25

I can’t possibly take some of everything.  These are my favorites, along with a slice of Swedish rye bread – called Limpa – smeared with butter.

festhus27

festhus26Our family has turned into a melting pot of nationalities.  For one, Mr. Hungry isn’t Swedish at all  (although I may have convinced him he is).  He’s 100% Polish.  Through marriage, we now have branches of loved ones born in or with family ties to India, Trinidad, Puerto Rico and many more.  You see lots of blondies everywhere, but take a look at the beautiful range of skin tones in the next picture.

festhus23

After dinner, the Swedish music was turned up and chairs were pushed in.  Everyone joined hands and danced around the room.  Those of us who thought we knew the Swedish words, sang along loudly.

festhus34

I wasn’t prepared for these action shots that came out a blurrrr.

festhus33

There’s Mr. Hungry in the denim shirt and pony tail.

Following the dancing, we settled in for carol singing.  Mom used to play the guitar, but the torch has passed to one of my son-in-laws.

festhus28

A quartet sang harmony on “Oh Holy Night”.

festhus29

I wish I had a video!

festhus32

In the midst of caroling, the front door burst open and in walked the Tomte!  (He doesn’t say a word – not a HoHoHo to be had).  Helpers joined him on the couch to pass out gifts to everyone.  Well….almost everyone.  This year there was a ‘ooops’, and he forgot to include a gift for one of the little “believers”.  Ohhh dear!  That’ll be a story she’ll be sure to share in the years ahead!  Hopefully it wasn’t too traumatizing.

Young and old take their turn sitting with the Tomte to receive a gift.

Here’s my baby sister.

festhus36

 festhus30

festhus31

Here’s Mom – the Swedish Matriarch.

festhus18

And my precious ones – our daughters and their husbands.  My Three Sons!

festhus16

The youngest member of the family there last night was only three weeks old.

Baby Isaac.

festhus17 The meal ended with a dessert table filled with traditional cookies and more sweet treats brought by all.  And of course – Coffee.

What a night!

It’s an evening filled to the brim with tradition, love, laughs and catching up with one another.

We take time to acknowledge the reason we gather – to celebrate the love that came down to earth in the form of a tiny baby – the reason for this Holy season.

Once again LOVED ONES…Merry Christmas to each and every one of you.

festhus35

Christmas House 33

Wishing you Good Tidings of Great Joy!

festhus5

love,

~donna

xo

My Swedish Christmas House Tour – Come On In!

My Swedish Christmas House Tour – Come On In!

Hello!

Come in!  I’d give you a big hug and hand you a beverage if I could.  I’m taking you on my Christmas House Tour today.  If you missed it yesterday, I explained {here} how my Swedish ancestry and the traditions of my parents influenced me in many ways – including my decorating style.

House and Fest Hus in winter

 Here’s the Advent candle wreath I made and wrote about earlier {here}.  I’ve so enjoyed participating in an Advent study this month.  It’s helped me focus my scatter brain on what’s good for the soul this holiday.  Put that thought in your back pocket for next year!

Christmas House11We had to add another tree to the house when the food and drink ornaments were crowding out the Swedish ones.  That tree sits in the dining area and will be a blog post for another day.  For now, here’s the living room.

Christmas House 1We light a fire in the fireplace pretty much every single day from fall through late spring.  Those are reindeer antlers hanging above it.  They were carried over on a boat from the Mother Land by one of my Great Grandfathers. There’s a note about that written on the back.

Christmas House 17Mr. Hungry cuts the tree down Thanksgiving weekend.  We hunt for one that’s Charlie-Brown-ish with open spaces between branches for big ornaments and real candles – just like the kind I grew up with.

Christmas House 31After cutting the tree he uses a hatchet to make gashes around the base, so it’ll really suck up water.  He sets it in an old ceramic pickling crock and jams rocks around it.  (It’s also wired to the window frames). He’s vigilant about keeping it well watered.

A few years ago we found strings of red wooden beads and those big clear white lights at a yard sale.  Score!  See the strings of mini Swedish flags there?  Those over-sized red felt snowflakes were snapped up from a clearance rack for something like a dime or quarter each.  I think they make the tree.

Christmas House 16

Christmas House 15I keep my gift wrapping simple but coordinated.  I don’t use bows.  Usually it’s just brown kraft paper, solid red and a few matching prints.  Lordy – I have a bunch more to wrap tonight. Helppp!

Christmas House 7

Christmas House 6If you missed my last post, first off, you’re going to {check it out}- right?  But really, I was thinking if you hadn’t read it you’d be thinkin’ “What the heck is God Jul?”  It’s the Swedish version of Merry Christmas pronounced “Gooohd Yule!”.

Here are a couple ornaments I made with needle felting.  Have you ever heard of it?  What a fun way to take out aggression.  Ha!  It’s a process using a barbed needle and repeatedly jabbing into wool fibers to tangle and condense them. You can create all sorts of three dimensional sculptures.

Here’s Santa Lucia…

Christmas House 13…and I made my very own tomte holding a blue bird.

Christmas House 12

Christmas House 5Many of the ornaments are made of straw, wood or fabric.  I love how they’re folksy & whimsical.

Christmas House 4We have real candles on the tree just like my parents had.  We don’t light them very often.

I did for you though.

Christmas House 19

Christmas House 3

Christmas House 2

Christmas House 18In our living room this little table sits by the window. It’s possibly my favorite spot in the house.  Oh, maybe not.  That would be the kitchen.  Anyway, I sit here most mornings with my coffee and talk to the Good Lord.

Christmas House 23

Christmas House 20And Mr. Hungry and I like to have dinner there most nights when it’s just the two of us.

Christmas House 9I love the traditional Swedish advent story of Santa Lucia.  She shows up all over the house.

Christmas House 8She’s even in the bathroom!  Here’s a framed photo of my girls in a Santa Lucia program at church one year.

Christmas House 29We might as well take a peek in there while we’re at it.  Those mushrooms are another bit of needle felting.  I bought the big red coffee mug at a thrift shop for a dollah.  Sticking a few greens into a mug, bowl or vase with a little water is a super simple way to add festive color.  Run your hand through it for a burst of piney-ness.

Christmas House 27

Christmas House 28In my neutral bathroom, just adding red towels packs a Christmas punch.

Christmas House 30Did you spot that cute little mini guy?  I think he might be a German gnome.  Dad bought him for me on a trip when I was just a kid.  A tiny treasure.

Christmas House 26I’ll let him stay even though he’s not a Swede.

Back in the kitchen, I won’t be zooming in too closely to the stove.  Eh hemm…if you know what I mean.

Kitchen Christmas 012One of my favorite decor items out for winter is this framed print next to the hood.  It’s titled “Girl Knitting” by Swedish painter Anders Zorn.

Anders Zorn print cropped

Kitchen Christmas 002

Kitchen Christmas 004

Christmas House 22Love that spoon handle!

Kitchen Christmas 003

Mini Mora Clock at Christmas

I’ll wind things up here in the kitchen.  It’s a big room – 18’x24′.  I don’t have a formal dining room.  This space opens right up to our living room, so it’s all just one big party space.

My favorite kind.

I stitched this embroidery hanging above the buffet in the 80’s, when many of us were big into counted cross-stitch.

Kitchen Christmas 005It’s a whole tomte village!

I knowwww…likely I need an intervention of some kind.

Kitchen Christmas 009

Did you notice there are lady tomtes too?

Kitchen Christmas 010

That little guy on the end has a bowl of rice pudding.  Ooohhhh I want some!…warm, with cream poured on top.

Is that tiny knitting bag adorable or what?  And I love her suede apron and mittens.

If you’re looking at this on a little phone screen, I hope you can see detail.

I don’t know if this guy’s Swedish or not, but he’s bringing the wine so he can stay.  Am I the only one who puts the words “Swedish Wine”, “Tomte Wine”  or “Elf Wine” into the search box on Ebay or Etsy to see what shows up?

Kitchen Christmas 011

It’s a red-nosed Christmas ornament but it’s no Rudolph.

So friends, that about wraps up the tour.

We have another whole building on the property that was originally a carriage house back in the day of horse and carriage.  That’s where we’ll be having our big family Christmas Eve celebration.  I wish I had time to take you out there now too.

But then again – I don’t want to throw you into tomte over-load.  If I haven’t already.

Christmas House 24If we don’t catch up with each other before Christmas Day, I want to wish you a time of memory-making, love shared and good cheer.

This place, space and your company are a blessing to me.

Know you are loved.

Christmas House 25

Kitchen Christmas 013

Kitchen Christmas 001

Merry Christmas my friends.

love,

~donna

xxxooo

Christmas House 21

Our Swedish Christmas Traditions ~ Meet The Tomte

Our Swedish Christmas Traditions ~ Meet The Tomte

Välkommen!

The holidays came barreling in like a freight train.  I’m making concessions now.  I decided last night there’s no way I’ll get cards out on time.  I’m pairing down the numbers and they’re going out late.  Darn.  I haven’t baked a cookie.  Not a one.  Not gonna happen.  I didn’t “craft” a single gift.  And there’s a big pile of presents to be wrapped.

Ohhh…and 42 people will be here for a sit-down dinner in two days.  Really.  Well two of them are babies.  Ha!

Breathe deep – All Is Well.

But I’m with you now for a short visit.  I want to share a few favorite parts of the holiday — those based on ancestry and tradition.  I’m not just procrastinating.  Really I’m not.

I’ll be back again this week with my Holiday House Tour also.  I know, I know, nothing like cramming at the last minute.  But if you haven’t signed up yet to receive an email when I write, maybe today’s the day.  You won’t risk missing a post.

I  want to dedicate this very post to precious memories of Mr. Christmas himself – My Dad.  Christmas has never been the same since he passed away in 2008.  He LOVED Christmas – the food, the gathering of relatives and especially the children, and most importantly the celebration of the birth of the baby in a manger.  Oh he loved to talk about that.

My parents come from full-fledged Swedish lineage.  They were born here in the U.S.of A., but most of the previous generation walked off the boat from the Old Country.  They instilled strong traditions into family gatherings, and Christmas is by far the most Swedish-y of them all.  Our relatives in Sweden tell us our homes are more Swedish than theirs are!

Mom wears a traditional costume on Christmas Eve.   It’s a replica of the national costume made  in Sweden by the same person that made one for the queen!

This particular year Dad got a new hat from one of my daughters.

Dad and Mom in Swedish Costumes

The house I grew up in had cathedral ceilings and the tree went straight to the top.  Along with the ornaments hung strands of mini Swedish and American flags.  Real candles were held to branches by special metal clips.  Dad would light them one by one and assign each to a guest, to keep an eye on.  Here’s an oldie.

Old Christmas Pictures of tree lighting 001

Old Christmas Pictures of tree lighting 002

The candles stayed lit through the carol singing, while Mom played the guitar.  This is sounding like a Hallmark Holiday Special.  But it is true.

At one point, the singing would stop abruptly when people started shouting “The Tomte is Here!!  The Tomte’s Here!!”

All eyes light up, the kids turn giddy and in walks the Tomte.

What’s a Tomte you ask?  The Tomte of my understanding lives on the property year round but stays in the shadows.  He doesn’t head back to some far away North Pole after the Jul (Yule) visit.  He may live in the barn, but you won’t be able to find him.  He’s much smaller than Santa and does good deeds for the family year round.  He’ll likely have a long white beard & wear a red stocking cap.  There are many many tomtes throughout the world.  It’s not up to just one to deliver presents to all good Swedes on a single night.  That’s just absurd.  They love to feed and care for animals and help in the kitchen too.   Families will often leave out a bowl of rice pudding for the tomte on Christmas Eve.

I’ve put together some vintage Tomte Art so you get the idea.

tomten feeding birds knackebrod

tomte in sleigh with reindeer

tomte with cat and mouse

tomte with big pig

The Tomte’s making Duck Face in this one:

tomte grinding coffee

tomte with lucia

tomte with woodland animals

There he is with his bowl of Rice Pudding

There he is with his bowl of Rice Pudding

tomten in fox hole god jul

If you want official info on just who the Tomte is, take a look at this {link}.  It’s quite informative.

So I’ve digressed a little.

Simply to say that you don’t see signs of Santa in our house.  But oh – have we got Tomtes.

Here’s an old Christmas card picture of my little ones back in the day.

Girls as Tomtes 001

Once the tomte arrives on Christmas Eve, he sits silently – not saying a peep and hands out gifts to everyone there.  Often it’s a gift straight from The Old Country – which is how we’ve accumulated so much over the years.  EVERY person must sit on his lap to get their present.  Even adults.

Here’s one of my nieces sitting with tomte in recent years ~

Stella with the Tomte

After gifts are dispersed, he waves goodbye and silently heads out into the chilly night air.

At that point, we get up off our chairs to start the dancing. We hold hands and with Dad in the lead we’d circle round and round the house dancing to Swedish Christmas music.  We stomp our feet, pretend we know the real Swedish lyrics and hoot n’ holla.

Christmas dancing

Lord knows shots of Aquavit – the Scandinavian Water of Life – with pickled herring chasers, fuels our enjoyment of these fine traditions.

SKOL!!!

Old Christmas Pictures of tree lighting 006

So how about you? Do you have any favorite ethnic traditions?

If you don’t have many or any of your own, why don’t you start some?

Enjoy these moments.  The days fly by so quickly. Create your own precious memories.

As they say in Sweden….GOD JUL!!!

(Sounds like Good Yule).

Merry Christmas!

tomte with pig god jul

And don’t forget!  Come on back for my Holiday House Tour.

In the mean time, I’m taking a deep breath, having a glass of wine and gearing up to tackle that pile of presents.

Love You Friends.

~donna

xo

The Start of the Season and My Swedish Style Advent Wreath

The Start of the Season and My Swedish Style Advent Wreath

Today’s the first Sunday in Advent.

Lord knows I need some focus.  I need to boot this attitude of unrealistic expectations and frustration and spend time relaxing in what’s meant to be a Peace-Full season and time of reflection.  There are so many burdens we choose to place on ourselves and others intentionally!

What’s With That?

I decided last year that when the season rolled around I’d make an effort to spend focused time during the Advent season.  Just four Sundays before Christmas!

I need refreshment in both Hope and Faith, and that’s what Advent is all about.

I planned to make some kind of Advent wreath or candle grouping.

I did it!  It turned out to be such an enjoyable part of the weekend.

Advent wreath Swedish Style -  unlit candles

I took a metal cookie tin and filled it with cut-up floral foam blocks.  I pushed candles down in to it and covered the top in dried moss (from a craft store).  Actually, it was yet another item left over from a family wedding.  Yes. Moss.  Even the whispy feathers were part of centerpieces I pulled apart today.  I’ve had the red speckled mushrooms for several years (purchased on Esty), which are so very Swedish in style.  The little wooden birds I stuck in the candles are Swedish also.  Sweet -no?  (I must admit I didn’t come up with the whole idea myself.  I was inspired by something similar I saw on Pinterest.  I added feathers and then the birds & mushrooms to make it even more Swedish-y.)

Advent wreath up close 2

I used a glue gun to attach ribbon around the tin.  I first used a polka dot one, but came across a  one that looked more Scandinavian. I glued one right on top of the other.

We grew up attending Sunday School and performing in the yearly Christmas program.  I’ll never forget the seven words my younger sister had to say as her memory “Piece” one year.  I think she was probably 5-ish.

“Advent is a word that means Coming.”

I can still hear her little shy voice.

So the coming of Christmas is upon us.  The celebration of the birth of a Savior.

I’ll make an effort to try to reign in these wandering thoughts.  To set aside time to read and pray and meditate on what this means.

If this is something you’d like to do, don’t get bogged down in perfectionism.  If you start tomorrow or later in the week – so be it.  This isn’t a performance.  It’s an attitude of the heart for the month ahead.

You don’t need Advent candles to accomplish this.  For me, I was craving tradition and the beauty of the visual reminder this year.

Advent wreath Swedish Style week one candle lit

And so the season has begun.

“Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel.”

love to you.  peace to you.

~donna

My Thanksgiving Table and a Peek Around the House

My Thanksgiving Table and a Peek Around the House

I love setting the table.

Call me obsessed, but even on a week night I want to sit down to a pretty table.  We rarely serve out of pots and pans.   I knowww…it’s more work, but it’s something that brings me a teeny bit of joy.

We all have our things. Right?

Setting a table for a special occasion such as Thanksgiving is like painting a picture to me.

Or something like that…a creative outlet.

I spotted some beautiful orange persimmons and thought they’d be a colorful starting point.  I’ve never used or eaten them before, so I’ll need to figure out what to do with them when I take it all apart.

(I just did a quick search and found plenty of ideas {here}.

Oh the joy of Pinterest!

Which reminds me – Have you checked out my boards?)

Here’s what I did with the persimmons.  Their color is glorious.

TG 1

Having a big low wooden bowl is an excellent basic to have on hand – lots you can do with that.

(It was full of vintage croquet balls from a summer table setting before this.)

It was Mr. Hungry who suggested I stick the pineapple in there.  (You go Hon. I like it.)  I included pears that were supposed to go in the Apple Cider Sangria  I’m serving.  Oop.  We’ll just make do without.  As I stood in the Produce aisle at the store I looked for something else to use.  I filled in with six purple figs and a handful of chestnuts.  Lastly, I tucked in Dusty Miller leaves, rescued before we dumped plants off the deck for the season.

I thought I’d give you a look around my dining room.  Actually, it’s part of the whole kitchen/dining/living/great room – all in one – and open to each other.

Look at this pumpkin I found at the beginning of the season.  I knew I had to have it.  It immediately made me think of the saying I love so much…

TG10

“It Doesn’t Have to be Perfect to be Beautiful.”The Nester

(By the way, I got to meet The Nester (Myquillen Smith) and attend a break-out session she led when I went to the Bloggers Conference last month.  Ah-mazing.  I can’t recommend {her blog} enough.)

I’ve shown you my big chalkboard before.  Now it’s filled with a verse I need to be more mindful of these days.

TG6 Here’s the side board looking fall-ish.

TG7

In case you’re wondering, that’s a big chestnut post in the middle.  Our house was originally a barn a couple hundred years ago.  Having post & beam construction made it “easy” to take down walls all over the place.

TG8The vintage embroidered picture is a treasure. It used to hang on the wall at my Great Aunt & Uncle’s farm house.

Myrtle and Oscar Carlson – Good Swedes they were.

TG9

 The handsome pheasant comes out of the library in the fall.  The Library is also known as “The Gentlemen’s Room”.  Mr. Hungry has a fierce aversion to the term “Man Cave”.  Ha!

Just this morning on my way in to work I had to slow down while a lucky gang of seven turkeys crossed the road in front of me.  How fitting!

TG11

On the side wall under a big mirror is this table.  The tray propped there was made by one of my daughters (aka baby birds).  She decoupaged pages of hymns to it and stenciled the bird on a branch.  A precious gift.

Back to the dinner table for a moment.

Are these adorable or what?  The one on the left was from a trip to Sweden many moons ago.  It’s a little nugget of beauty.  The spoon and handle are carved from reindeer antlers!

I kid you not.

And NO I didn’t carve it.

TG2

I use Kosher salt on the table all the time, so it’s always in a salt cellar.  Love that crunch and teensy bursts of saltiness.

Growing up in our big family, with 20-30-40 plus in attendance on holidays, we unfailingly used place cards.  Tables were spread throughout the house wherever they’d fit.  It was always a job before guests arrived – writing place cards and deciding who sits next to who.

So while they aren’t necessary, I found these printable place card banners on-line and thought they’d be nice to make for our small group of six.  They’re super quick – easy to print and cut out.

Thanksgiving Place Card Up Close

Here’s the {link} to the DIY Network site where I found them. There’s a variety of free templates to choose from.  You can even type in names before printing.  Or delete names and write them in yourself or use for food labeling.  Maybe you’d like to make some for your table?

I snipped rosemary sprigs from my Mom’s plant (oops – forget to ask first) and tied them into little wreaths with twine.

Thanksgiving Place Setting

TG5

I don’t think I’ve ever put together a purple, green and orange table setting.  Love the combo.  I’m using metallic gold chargers from my daughter’s wedding this past summer. The colored water goblets were from another daughter’s wedding the summer before. And now that I think about it, the bundle of wheat on the sideboard came from the bridesmaids’ bouquets of my youngest daughter the year before that!

Ohh..I could stock a home decor shop with all the wedding props I’ve got on hand.

(Digressing as usual.)

I’m so looking forward to this unusual little Friendsgiving.  These are treasured friends from wayyy back.  Not that all you friends aren’t treasures!  I can’t wait for a quiet leisurely afternoon & evening of good food and leaning in for conversation.

I suppose I best step away from the keyboard.   I seriously feel like I could keep on writing and writing.  I bet that’s probably just me procrastinating about cleaning the bathroom and stove top.

(That’s part of the benefit of having company – that extra oomph to accomplish a few pesky household tasks.)

I’ve got to get my pie on too (pecan – Mr. Hungry’s favorite) …and my creamed onions and cranberry pineapple relish, etccccccc.  Oh – and I’m sticking a turkey breast in the slow cooker with onion, carrot and celery so I can make broth for gravy tomorrow.  I’ll put the breast meat into the freezer for another day.

In case you missed my last post, I wrote about a simple new favorite side dish.  You might have all the ingredients on hand.  Did you see it?

Zesty {horseradishy creamy oniony goodness} Carrots.

Carrots

Here’s the {Recipe}.

Aren’t all good dishes covered in buttery crumb topping on Thanksgiving?

Gotta Love It.

But ONE MORE THING ~ and this is truly the heart and center of this day.

Let’s remember

The Unseen Guest

at the table.

May we thank the Good Lord for His Presence and His Peace.

This very simple Grace was said thousands of times around our family table growing up.

Lord Jesus Be our Holy Guest. 2

But much more than that, I’m Thankful, Grateful and Blessed for the Abundance in my life.  Not just in the big things either.  The God of the universe shows up for me in the beauty of a little salt dish, an orange persimmon, the eyes of a friend.  Don’t miss it!  Not tomorrow.  Not any day.  Look for His Presence with an attitude and heart overflowing with Gratitude.

I’m thankful for you – sweet readers – for joining me here at the table.  Keep Coming Back!  And Spread the Love – invite your friends to join us too.  The more the merrier!

Love to you and yours this holiday.

~donna

xo

A Turkey Day Race and Zesty Carrots – A New Favorite Thanksgiving Side Dish

A Turkey Day Race and Zesty Carrots – A New Favorite Thanksgiving Side Dish

♥ Thanksgiving ♥

“Gratitude shifts your focus from what your life lacks to the abundance that is already present.”

– Marelisa Fábrega

Hi Friends!

My Goodness.  Thanksgiving’s three days away.  Jeeesh.  I need to firm up that Honey-Do list.

We’re hosting a very small group of friends this year!  There’ll be just six around the table.  We’re so used to BIG family gatherings.  It’ll be different for sure, but I still need to plan.

All three of my baby birds are spending the day with respective husbands’ and families.

Ohhh…I’ll miss them, but we’ll be together on Christmas Eve.

(I spent a fantabulous weekend with all the girls this month.  I’ve got an upcoming post in the works about my youngest daughter’s unique decorating style.  Stay tuned!)

I need to be organized.  I won’t have my side kick there to help me Thursday morning.  Typically, he’s my right hand, pitching in with all the work.  This year he’s running in the Manchester Thanksgiving Road Race – famous in these parts.  He’s running with two of our daughters & son-in-law.  It’s festive and HUGE, with around 15,000 participants from all over the country – even the world.  The course is just under five miles long.  For many people in the area, it’s an integral part of Thanksgiving traditions.  This is the 78th annual run.

Here’s a glimpse of the droves heading down Main Street in a previous year.

Manchester CT Roadrace{via}

Last Saturday they trained and ran another race called the Beards and Beers 5K.  It’s part of the Movember campaign to raise money for men’s health and cancer awareness programs.

Look at this smiling girl of mine…

Britt with Beard for Beards and Beers Race{via}

Mr. Hungry ran his best time ever.

Gary, Sharon and Phil at Race{via}

 I’m proudatheoldman!

Britt and Phil RaceSo anywayzzz,  I look forward to quietly putzing around the kitchen, preparing for our little group.  What a treasure that is too.  A different kind of special.

Today I have a recipe that’s not an old favorite, but was recently added to the repertoire.  And not just for Thanksgiving.  I had this at a friend’s house when we celebrated the holiday there a few years back.  It’s a unique preparation for carrots.

The name is simply Zesty Carrots.

The zestiness (is that a real word?) comes from a goodly amount of horseradish.  It’s creamy and zesty with the buttery crunch of bread crumbs on top.  Grated cheese is added right at the end for one more layer of goodness.  This is NOT your healthiest vegetable side, but it is Thanksgiving after all.

Feel free to double the horseradish and onion.  I did this time and loved it.  It’s a matter of taste.  But just know that – absolutely as written – it’s a keeper!  Prior to this preparation, I’d never had this flavor combination before.  Not only that, but it contains mayonnaise, which is also unusual.  (I don’t use anything but regular Hellman’s Mayonnaise – it’s one of those non-negotiables in the pantry.  I don’t mean to sound snooty – it’s just one of my things.)

Back in 2008, my best friend and I made family cookbooks for gifts.  I’m sharing a photo taken straight from her pages.  I need to add this to mine now too.

Zesty Carrots Photo of RecipeYou just may have all the ingredients you need on hand.

The photos I’m showing are for a single recipe, serving 4-6 (depending on how many other side dishes are on the table).  I’ll be doubling the recipe this week because I know we’ll want some left-overs planned-overs.

Zesty Carrots 

Slice and pre-cook a pound of carrots until tender when poked with a fork.

Zesty Carrots BoilingDrain off the water and pour the carrots into a greased one quart baking dish and set aside.  (I froze the carrot water to use for making the gravy Thursday).

Zesty Carrots with side of minced onionsCombine the 2 T. minced onion, 3/4 c. (Hellmans regular) mayonnaise, 1/3 c. water, 1 Tbsp. Horseradish and pepper.  Pour over carrots. (Don’t mind me, I dumped the onions into the carrots and not into the sauce – same thing.)

Zesty Carrot and onions in dish with sauce on sideMix the 1/2 cup of breadcrumbs with the 2 Tbsp. melted butter.

Zesty Carrots with Sauce and Crumbs on SideDon’t be put off by how much sauce is in the dish.  Surprisingly, it soaks almost completely into the carrots and they come out rich, silky and full of zesty flavor.

Zesty Carrots ready for ovenBake at 350° for about 30 minutes.

And here they are when done:

Zesty Carrots FinishedI made these for dinner last night so I could show you how delicious they look.  They’re so good we have no problem making and eating them again later in the week.  I just realized I forgot to add the grated cheese at the end.  Let me tell you, they were perfectly fabulous without, but I won’t forget it on Thursday.

Mr. Hungry grilled marinated pork tenderloin in the fireplace and served it along with roasted cauliflower and cheesy baked herb bread.

Zesty Carrots with Pork DinnerNot too shabby for a Monday night dinner.

mmmmm

Oh – I Love My Grill Man.

If you missed it last year, I wrote about what Thanksgiving was like, growing up in The Ask Family {here}.  If you’re saying “The Ask Family???”…check  it out.

Memoriessss

family thanksgivingI have one other new recipe I’m trying for the first time.  You might want to consider.

Apple Cider Sangria recipe from How Sweet It Is.

Sangria{via}

I’ll rim my glasses with a cinnamon-sugar mixture.  Ginger Brandy, Pinot Grigio, Honey Crisp Apples and Pear chunks all sound like a fitting mix for an Autumn cocktail. Yum.  Can’t wait to try it.  Stop on over there and read up on it.

So tell me.  How about you?  Are you trying something new this year? A new dish, drink, tradition?

chef and turkeyTime to finalize the plan of action and Get Cookin’!

I’ll be back one more time before Turkey Day to show you my table setting and a last minute idea.

I’m thankful that you took the time to stop on over.

Love you.

~donna