March 2017

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Saturday, December 31, 2011

Annual Report

Last night, I finished the company year-end documents (beating last year's record by two days!). We now know the family business grew a solid four percent in 2011.  After 20+ years, and given the current economic climate, we're extremely happy with that outcome.

In all the years we've been in business, we've weathered a lot of storms.  For at least the weekend, therefore, we're simply going to enjoy our current pleasant climate without worrying about the future.

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Sweet Serenity

For some reason, I'm feeling less stress and a bit free.  This is an unusual sensation for me, so, of course, I had to analyze it.

I'm certain some of it is because Christmas is over.  For several months I was on hyperdrive, planning and preparing for our long busy Christmas weekend with extended family.  Now, all that is over.

Another contributing factor, I'm sure, is that currently I'm not planning or preparing for any major home repairs or renovations.  This year we tackled four big projects, anchoring the front foundation wall, painting and trimming two spare bedrooms, repaving the driveway, and remodeling the hall bathroom.  Next year, we might take on two or three smaller outdoor tasks, but nothing that requires moving storage and furniture or dealing with workers in the house for weeks.  There's the possibility we'll trim and paint the family room and foyer, but, since it's not scheduled, I don't need to worry about it yet.

It's much less stressful when there are only a few simple tasks on a to-do list.  Currently, mine has just three, finish taking down the holiday decorations, complete the company's tax documents, and plan our February trip to New York.  I'm nearly finished with all three and, today, the only thing I have to do is show up on time for a full-body massage.  Welcome, sweet serenity.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Home Alone

It's amazing how much I can get done when I'm home alone.  Yesterday I did four loads of wash, put away a third of the holiday decorations, and nearly completed all the documents the accountant needs to prepare the company's year-end taxes.  I'm feeling very accomplished this morning.  And because today I'll be home alone, again, I plan to tackle more chores.

I'm also ready to start exercising regularly again.  For months, my workouts have been sporadic, squeezed in between preparing for, and catching up after, our Ireland trip, and then getting ready for the holidays.  It's time to make them a priority again.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Craving My Normal Diet

On a regular basis, during the week, I eat three modest meals a day.  For breakfast, it's usually toast or cereal with skim milk.  Lately I've been preparing oatmeal with dried cranberries.  Lunch is often leftovers from dinner the night before.  On one of the two days I don't watch Jonah, I go to St. Louis Bread Company for a Pick-2 meal of soup and salad.  For dinner, I typically serve a protein (mostly chicken breast) and a couple of vegetables.  During the winter, dinner is often homemade soup and salad.

I have a different routine on weekends.  Saturdays, we go out for dinner.  Sundays, we go out for a late lunch after mass.  Dinners on Sundays are leftovers from the week or our meals out, or popcorn.

After the last five indulgent days, my body is graving my normal diet.  Luckily, I have a lot of leftovers from the three meals I served over the weekend.  Getting back to normal will just be a matter of pulling something out of the freezer.  Tonight we're having Ina Garten's Mexican Chicken Soup and Mexican cornbread.  My body just gave me a sigh of relief.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Day Four Fun; Day Five Farewell

Kate's dad feeding the ducks
at the Boat House.
Yesterday the family toured the St. Louis Arch and Zoo while I caught up on cleaning and laundry.  I took a break to join everyone for lunch at the Forest Park Boat House.  In the evening, Kate's dad treated the adults to dinner at 1111 Mississippi in Lafayette Square.  It was another full day and night of family fun.

Elliott's first trip up the
St. Louis Arch.
Today, after lunch at Chevy's (Kate's choice) to celebrate Kate's birthday next week, everyone spent the afternoon at grandma and papa's, visiting and playing with the boys.  Then, this evening, Daniel, Kate, and her dad flew to San Francisco for the last leg of her dad's first trip to the United States.

Jonah enjoying
the St. Louis Zoo.
I'm extremely grateful for the five crisis-free days all of us had together.  It was a great visit and special Christmas.  One none of us will soon forget.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Day Three Slow Down

Yesterday morning most of the family had breakfast at my daughter and son-in-law's.  Unfortunately, my daughter-in-law was down with a cold and stayed at the hotel to rest.  She missed a great meal.  Emily's blueberry french toast was decadent.

Maggie Elizabeth Jones
After breakfast and seeing what Santa brought the boys, Jim, Emily, and I went to Christmas mass.  After mass, Jim and I headed to the movies for some downtime while the rest of the family visited friends and in-laws.

We decided to see We Bought a Zoo with Matt Damon.  I didn't realize it was an emotional movie and based on a true story.  I was in tears during the last fifteen minutes. Nevertheless, I wholeheartedly recommend We Bought A Zoo to anyone who wants to see a good clean movie with no violence or crazy special effects.  Plus, Maggie Elizabeth Jones's angel face and acting are a pure delight.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Day Two Fun

It was a Lego Christmas for Elliott.
We got through yesterday's family Christmas with no meltdowns from either grandson.  I'm also happy to report all the food I prepared turned out as planned and everyone seemed to enjoy it.

In addition to food, the day was filled with good conversation, the simple enjoyment of one another's company, and, of course, a lot of gift giving.  One thing's for sure, when 10 people exchange gifts, it quickly becomes a whirlwind of wrapping and tissue paper!

Jonah, future Top Chef?
Elliott got five large Lego sets, over twice what he had hoped for.  He was literally jumping for joy. Jonah got several books, cars, trucks, and tractors. But his favorite gift was the play kitchen from grandma and papa.

No doubt, it was a Christmas to remember.  I'm feeling extremely blessed.


Saturday, December 24, 2011

Day One Success

Elliott and Uncle Dan
Our out-of-town guests arrived mid-day yesterday after a two-hour flight delay.  Nevertheless, we checked everything off our Day One To-Do List.  The entire family ate lunch at Schneithorst's and then everyone, except me, headed to Anheuser-Busch for the brewery tour.  I hung back to prepare dinner and prep for our annual gingerbread cookie decorating, which we did at my daughter's house.
Jonah decorating his first
gingerbread man.

It appeared everyone had a fun day.  And the boys did extremely well given the busy schedule and meeting new people.

Today is the main event, although my daughter reminded me that's really Christmas Day. However, most of my planning and preparation has been for today, Christmas Eve.  I'm serving two meals, lunch and dinner, for 10 people.  In between meals, we'll open presents.  Hopefully, any problems will be minor and the boys won't fall apart.

Happy Christmas Eve!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Let the Fun Begin!

My son, Daniel, his Korean wife, and her dad (visiting America for the first time), arrive tomorrow morning for a long Christmas weekend.  We have a packed five days with them, which I know will fly by.  But, hopefully, everyone will end up with many fond memories. It certainly won't be for not trying.

A lot of thought and preparation, by several people, have gone into this year's Christmas. It's Kate's (my daughter-in-law's American name) and her dad's first American Christmas. And Daniel hasn't been home for Christmas in five years.  All of us are beyond excited. Let the fun begin!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Clearance Already?

I typically avoid all stores this close to Christmas.  By now, the only thing I might need is a grocery item and I just send hubby.  But this year is different, more guests and entertaining, so I had to venture out today.  I went to Target, Aldi's, Schnucks, and JoAnn, braising myself for the crowds.  Boy, was I surprised!

There were no crowds anywhere, not even on the road.  And, whenever I was ready to check out, there was never more than one person in front of me.  It was amazing.

Also amazing was seeing all the clearance displays already.  Seriously, if a person has a flexible gift or holiday decorating list, there are some great bargains out there.  If I had not been so focused and crunched for time, I would have been tempted to begin next year's Christmas shopping.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Cookie Monster

I love cookies.  Given a choice of any sweet, including a chunk of good chocolate, I would pick a cookie every time, especially one with chocolate chips and nuts.  For my palate, there's just no better combination of butter, chocolate, and nuts than that found in a good crisp cookie.

Because I find cookies so hard to resist, I rarely make them, or have any in the house, except at Christmas.  Recently I made Cranberry Noels and Chocolate Chunk cookies. Both include my favorite nut, pecans.  So far, I've done a good job of limiting my daily intake.  I've also been reducing the size of my meals to help compensate for my high-calorie treats.

Nevertheless, I don't see escaping the holidays without gaining a few pounds.  Thank goodness they only happen once a year.

Monday, December 19, 2011

My Vacuum Cleaner!

I have a wonderful helpful husband.  Especially during the holidays, without question or complaint, Jim will do whatever I ask such as various housekeeping tasks.  The risk I take, however, is his tendency to over do it or be too aggressive.

Over time, I've learned not to get too in-depth with cleaning right before a gathering.  The day or hours before guests arrive is not the time to take apart a light fixture, for example. If something breaks, or you can't get it back together, it's too late to do anything about it.

So, today, when I tried to put a new bag in the vacuum cleaner, I was horrified to find that Jim had taken the bag holder apart yesterday when he trash the old bag.  He thought he was being extra helpful, but, of course, neither one of us could get it back together. The staff lunch was starting in a few hours and my best vacuum was broken.  (Fortunately, I have a lesser model in the basement.)  And, because I'm extremely protective of my Oreck, I was even more upset.  It took me years to find a brand and model I like, and an Oreck is an investment.  I just exploded!

Immediately after the staff lunch, Jim took my broken Oreck to the shop.  I don't know what he said, but they fixed it on the spot.  I was so relieved it was fixable and could be taken care of so quickly.  I'm just hoping Jim learned a lesson, but I'm not holding my breath.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Final Preparations

Monday we're hosting the annual staff lunch.  I'll be serving ten people family style.  The table is set, final touches have been made to all the holiday decorations, and, this weekend, the house is getting a thorough cleaning.  After Monday, we should only have to do a little sprucing before welcoming family on Christmas Eve.

Of course, there's still a lot of cooking to do.  I'll be preparing two additional side dishes to go with the Honey Baked Ham on Monday.  The homemade chunky applesauce is already done.  For Christmas Eve lunch, I'll be making Ina Garten's Chicken Stew and pumpkin pies for dessert.  Ina's Mexican Chicken Soup is already done and in the freezer for Christmas Eve dinner.  I'll be making a Mexican cornbread as an accompaniment. Dessert will be the cookies I baked today.

It used to be I didn't get much pleasure out of cooking for the holidays.  I much preferred the decorating.  But now I like doing both.  I just wish there was more time to get it all done.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The French Chef

Earlier this year (or maybe it was late 2010), the Cooking Channel launched in our area.  I never remembered to watch, however, because it wasn't broadcasted in high definition.  Well, sometime over the last few months, the Cooking Channel went HD and I'm now giving it more attention.

This week I discovered the Cooking Channel was showing an episode of Julia Child's The French Chef every afternoon.  I began recording it to watch in the evening.  I'm finding it fascinating.

Child wasn't nearly as skilled as chefs on current food shows.  For example, Gordon Ramsey probably would have popped a vein if he had ever witnessed how she handled a knife. Child also wasn't a neat cook or especially organized.  She was more a "fly by the seat of my pants" chef who didn't worry about the unnecessary mess she was making or if she missed a step.

I suppose Child's weaknesses are what made her appealing to so many.  She truly demonstrated in a way most American housewives, at the time, could duplicate.  For sure, Child loved food, which, in my opinion, is a key ingredient of a good chef.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Holiday Tablecloth Saga Continued

Today I starting setting up the dining room table for the staff lunch on Monday.  I'm glad I gave myself plenty of time, because I discovered the tablecloth I bought in November is too short.  Without measuring, I assumed we had 10-inch leaves.  In fact, they are 15 inches.  Since we've owned our dining room set for at least 25 years, I can't believe I made this mistake.

Fortunately, I had time after Jonah went home today to go shopping.  I headed straight to Kohl's with my 30 percent off everything coupon, hoping they would have some type of 60" X 120" holiday-appropriate tablecloth.  Luck was on my side.  There was only one red tablecloth in the size I needed and it was all cotton, which is what I really wanted.  Better yet, it was discounted 70 percent.  With my coupon, the final cost was less than $20!

This seems to be our year for close calls.  After our old Christmas tree died, we got a floor model because it was the only 4.5 foot tree left.  Then our outside snowman died and we got the last one at Target, which, again, was the floor model.  And today I got the last 60" x 120" red tablecloth.  This is not the way I like to operate, but it does eliminate having to make a decision.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Guessing Game

Jim's been hacking and coughing for six weeks.  He finally saw the doctor yesterday who wasn't alarmed and didn't really have an answer.  But because Jim's nose has some inflammation, he prescribed an antibiotic.

Elliott and Jonah have been coughing for weeks, also.  This afternoon, Elliott finally spiked a fever and Emily took him to the doctor.  Same response. . .don't really have an answer.  But, since Elliott has a history of sinus infections, he was also prescribed an antibiotic.

Apparently, no matter how far we've come, medicine is still often a guessing game.  I think it's going to be a long winter.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

My Newest Stress Reliever

Lego Creator Winter Toy Shop
Over the last couple of years, I've had a lot of fun building Harry Potter, Star Wars, and Ninjago Lego sets with Elliott.  I'm now a VIP member on Lego.com.  As a result, I get regular catalogs and online updates.  Recently, I was introduced to the Lego Creator Holiday series.

As I understand it, the Holiday sets began a couple years ago.  The 2009 set was the Winter Toy Shop; the 2010 set was the Holiday Bakery. This year's set is the Winter Village Post Office. After eyeing these sets for months, I finally bought the Winter Toy Shop through Amazon. (The price jumped nearly $30 the day after I purchased!)
Lego Creator Holiday Bakery

I also wanted the Holiday Bakery, but it was either unavailable on Lego.com, or almost double the retail price on Amazon.  Then, late yesterday, I got a Lego.com email.  For the next couple of days, they are dropping their minimum purchase amount that qualifies for free shipping.  After clicking through, I found the Holiday Bakery is now available and grabbed it.

I'm currently putting together the Toy Shop, planning to use it as a center piece for my holiday dining table.  I doubt I'll have time to put the Bakery together, too, before Christmas.  But it'll be a nice stress reliever after the holidays when things are a bit less hectic.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Tour of Lafayette Square


Today Jim and I took a break from holiday preparation to do the Lafayette Square Holiday Parlor Tour.  I discovered it while researching things to do with our out-of-town quests who will be visiting over Christmas.  It's too bad the timing couldn't have been better, because today's tour would have been a great activity for them.

I suppose it's a shame we don't take better advantage of what our own city has to offer. Truth is, we rarely go downtown and, when we do, it's typically just for a baseball game or to visit the zoo.  Maybe acting as tour guides this holiday will spur us to continue to discover more of what St. Louis has to offer.

(As a side note, today I learned the hard way that the socks I purchased for touring Ireland were well worth their $17 price tag.  I foolishly didn't wear them for today's walking tour and my bunion is aching.  I had no problem walking, with the same shoes, all day in Ireland.  It had to be the socks.)

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Kitchen Dreams

I'm finally doing some baking and cooking for the holidays.  Every time I have a day like this, I'm so happy.

It wasn't always true, but I truly enjoy baking and cooking now, and I owe it all to FoodNetwork.  Recipes no longer intimidate me.  I just enjoy the process.

I hope we can afford a completely new kitchen in a couple of years.  I'm making due with my current situation, but it could be so much better.  At minimum, we need to replace the 30+-year-old double oven and improve the stovetop-microwave setup.  In the meantime, I'll continue researching and dreaming.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Car Repair

Ten years ago, we bought a new I35 Infiniti.  It's been a great car.  I honestly don't remember it needing anything but tires and a battery as well as regular oil changes and lubes.  I'm probably wrong, but I definitely can't remember the last time it needed a major repair.  So, when the "Check Engine Soon" light came on yesterday, I immediately braced myself for a four-figure bill.  I just felt we were due.  

The mechanic called this afternoon with a quote of less than $800 and I nearly jumped for joy.  Better yet, the only other concerns were the front tires and brakes.  The tires should be replaced within six months; the brakes can wait up to nine months.

We hope to drive the Infiniti for several more years.  After all, on average, we only log 6,000 miles a year.  We're keeping our fingers crossed the I35 continues to serve us well.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Believing in Santa Claus

December 8, 2011
Tonight we're taking the boys to see Santa at the Kirkwood train station.  This has been a family tradition since Elliott was born.  It's a more intimate visit than anywhere else we've found, and we all look forward to it.  I can't help but wonder, however, if this might be Elliott's last visit.

Elliott will be six in February, so it's quite possible this is the last year he believes in Santa Claus.  I find that incredibly sad.  I still vividly remember all of Elliott's Christmases and how excited he was that Santa was coming to his house.

But, like it or not, time marches on.  I just hope Elliott's little brother, Jonah, can hold onto the belief for at least four more Christmases.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Christmas Tree Continued

Late afternoon yesterday, we determined there was no hope for our old Christmas tree. So last night we set out to look for a replacement.  We seemed to be the only people shopping for a tree and inventory was slim.  Fortunately, however, we did find a nice 4.5 foot pre-lit tree at a reduced price.

When we got back home, we stripped the old tree and positioned the new one.  Then this morning I shopped Michaels, JoAnn, and Hobby Lobby for decorations.  The new tree is not in a pot, so it's taller than the old one in addition to being wider.  Again, inventory was slim, but everything was on sale and I got an additional discount at JoAnn because it was Senior Citizen Day.  Yes, I now qualify for JoAnn's Senior Citizen Day and an additional 20% off my entire purchase isn't shabby.  However, I quickly found the down side to Senior Citizen Days -- seniors!

From my experience, seniors in their 70s and 80s, in general, are the most self-centered people on earth.  I often find them at Aldi's acting the same way they did today at JoAnn. They move at a snail's pace and constantly block the aisles with their carts.  They also take a ridiculous amount of time to make a decision.  Sadly, odds are I'll be the same way in 10-20 years.  But, right now, I have little patience for seniors who seem to have nothing but time.

But back to the Christmas tree. . .  I spent the entire afternoon decorating the new tree and love it!  Truth is, I was a little bored with the old one, so this holiday episode had a happy ending.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Tree Down!

Just before I went to bed last night, the bottom third of our Christmas tree went dark.  I'm convinced the problem can't be diagnosed or fixed without removing all the ornaments. I'm a little depressed.

Several years ago, I bought a potted four-foot tree, hoping the cat wouldn't climb it like he did our eight-foot tree.  It works great.  Rupert has no interest in it.  And the little tree looks perfect, sitting on a cedar chest in a corner of our family room.  But, because it's a few years old, I was worried there might be a problem this year.  Fortunately, it happened in plenty of time to be corrected.  In the next couple of days, we'll diagnose the problem and then either fix it or buy a new tree.  Either way, it looks like I'll be decorating a Christmas tree twice this year.

And this is why I'm a crazy person around the holidays, trying to get things done ahead of time to allow for unexpected challenges.  At least this time around, it's tree down and not grandma down!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Stress-Free Christmas Cookies

Since it's less than three weeks until Christmas, I'm beginning to get anxious about getting all my cooking and baking done.  Yesterday I decided to see how long cookie dough can be refrigerated or frozen, hoping for at least a week.  I was thrilled to learn it can be frozen for up to a year.  Now I can safely make the dough this week, or next, and freeze it.  I'll then be able to bake the cookies a few days before Christmas with minimal cleanup.

Long ago, I streamlined my holiday baking to just a few varieties of Christmas cookies. This year I'm making three, Cranberry Noels, Chocolate Chip, and Gingerbread Men. Martha Stewart's Cranberry Noels are my favorite; Jim's are Chocolate Chip.  The Gingerbread Men are for the boys to decorate.

But even just three varieties or cookies can be a challenge to make this time of year.  So I was thrilled to learn homemade cookie dough can be frozen for so long.  For sure, I'll now be tempted to make my cookie dough during the summer, or maybe even in late winter when I'm not so busy.  As someone who loves to plan ahead, this is a great discovery.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Upcoming Premieres

Two of my favorite shows have scheduled their 2012 premiers.

The first one is Doc Martin on PBS.  The fifth season already premiered in Europe, so I could probably find episodes online.  But I've decided to wait until January to see them on our 40" screen. I did catch part of one new episode while we were in Ireland, which just wetted my appetite.  During the week between Christmas and New Year's, we'll probably watch the first four seasons, again, to refresh our memories.  Last Christmas, we watched all the available seasons, for the first time, as we got through the stomach virus.  Maybe we started a new tradition, but hopefully without the virus.

The other premier is the fifth season of Mad Men on AMC, which begins in March.  It's been over a year since season four ended, so the new season is well overdue.  I'll probably also watch the first four seasons of Mad Men, again, before the 2012 premier.

I enjoy television, but I agree there are a lot of bad shows.  So when I find one I look forward to every week, to quote a Seinfeld episode, "That's gold, Jerry!  Gold!"

Friday, December 2, 2011

One Cool Kid

It's becoming more and more obvious that Jonah's an extremely bright 20-month-old.  His teachers at daycare are constantly amazed by his actions and vocabulary.  And after spending another week with him, so am I.

There doesn't seem to be anything I can say to Jonah that he doesn't understand.  And I have no problem understanding what he's saying.  Jonah has an amazing vocabulary, speaks clearly, and uses full sentences.  But, best of all, he wants to learn.  Last night while daddy was reading to him, Jonah pointed to a picture of a butterfly and said, "say." Finally Mike figured out Jonah wanted to know what it was.  When Mike said, "butterfly," Jonah clearly repeated the word.  I'm betting he'll never have to be told again.

We always suspected Jonah's brother, Elliott, was above average, which his Kindergarten teacher has now confirmed.  But I honestly don't remember Elliott's language skills being at the level of Jonah's at the same age.

For sure, Elliott wasn't as easy going.  Jonah just seems to love life.  He's an overall cool kid and I'm glad I'm his grandma.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Yikes!

Looking at the December calendar yesterday, I realized I only have ten days between watching Jonah and other commitments to prepare for our long family Christmas weekend.  Yikes!

Thank goodness the gift-shopping is finished and the Christmas cards are in the mail.  I also have most of the decorating done.  I just have to trim the tree, which I plan to do Saturday.  After that, my next goal is to finish the gift wrapping by the end of next week.

I'll then start cooking and baking.  But first I have to make room in our freezers.  Even with two full-size refrigerators, I seem to easily run out of freezer space these days.  I like to take advantage of meat sales and love having an inventory of homemade soup and chicken stock.

Yep, preparing for the holidays is a lot of work.  But as long as I'm able, I'll continue to do it.  Before Alzheimer's Disease took her mind, mom hated all holidays.  I have very few happy holiday memories from my childhood.  I hope I'm changing all that for my children and grandchildren.