Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Thanksgiving 2016

Happy Thanksgiving, friends! Did you have a good holiday? Thanksgiving is seriously my favorite, even better than Christmas. For me, it is the beginning of the Christmas season and, perhaps I am twelve years old at heart, but the anticipation of a whole season of Christmas makes me happy!

The Planning
As  long as she has been hosting Thanksgiving my mom has been planning the menu with the November 1994 issue of Bon Appetite. The first week of November the well worn magazine makes an appearance and it's pretty much the first sign that the holidays are just around the corner. Sometime before Thanksgiving my mom, sisters and I sit down with all the coffee for a major menu planning session. We love tradition (the essentials -gravy, dressing, mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce- are set in stone and there will always be stuffed mushrooms, forever and ever amen) but we enjoy getting creative with the appetizers, sides and desserts.

The Prep
The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is all hands on deck for serious cooking. It is sun up to sun down Christmas music and good smells and fighting over stove-counter-prep-space with occasional coffee breaks to energize and strategic refrigerator packing and so much dish washing. So. Much. Fun. The day ends feeling exhausted but extraordinarily accomplished.

The Parade
One million and one things to do before guests arrive at two but first! The Macy's parade with so much protein, pajamas, clementines and of course, coffee. I cry every year because the emotions of holiday commercials are real #noshame. Hands down favorite: Christopher Jackson on the Sesame Street float.

The Food
Every year I have noble intentions of photographing the whole menu (because who doesn't love photos of food?) but every year eating wins out over posterity #priorities. For you viewing pleasure: boiled eggs with pickled veggies and mustard, frosted cranberries and brie, stuffed mushroom, caramel pumpkin tart, mocha pecan pie and cranberry lime pie. (All equally amazing.)

The Decor
The final product of the table design! This was SO much fun to put together. Due to technical difficulties we were not able to move the table or use the wood as charges BUT spray painting the pineapples worked out PERFECTLY and I love them to little itty bitty pieces. The greens are cut from established bushes in the yard (love working in a little nature). Overall I am so happy with the result!

The Guests

We were so blessed to be joined by both new friends and friends so dear they are now family. A wonderfully loud dinner conversation with so much laughter it made my heart so very grateful. Our friends came from Cameroon, France, Poland, Jordan...seeing so many cultures represented was just the best (plus makes for really interesting discussions!). I for one am so very thankful for the many nationalities that together have woven the framework of America.

After dinner the guests all pitched in with washing the dishes (apparently they actually look forward to the dish washing part??? Obviously we are just that much fun. :)) before heading downstairs for fishbowl (the BEST party game) and air hockey (the LOUDEST party game) and pie eating (the TASTIEST party game). The last guest did not leave until 11:30 (I love when people have so much fun and feel comfortable enough to stay late) at which point I promptly changed in PJs and ate a turkey sandwich (TURKEY) before falling asleep on the couch.

All in all, a beautiful holiday. The older I get the more grateful I am for every. single. holiday. I spend home with my ten favorite people in the world.

So tell me...what was your favorite part of Thanksgiving 2016?


Friday, November 18, 2016

Five on Friday

+Last week we had a major flood in the (finished) basement. This is the third (or fourth?) since we finished the space so cue pulling up flooring and laying tile. Laying (Lying? Laying.) tile is actually kind of fun, howbeit torture on the back and knees. (My hat tip to tile craftsmen everywhere.) Also damaged was the vintage buffet we use when entertaining. Eventually there will be a custom built piece to replace it but we need something through the holidays. Somehow I ended up volunteering to restore it so that has been my project this week. With finals due my days have pretty much been sand, stain, study...repeat times infinity. Will be sharing pictures of the finished product shortly!

+Did you know it is possible to finish a tube of lip gloss? It took three years (yikes!) but I did it! Ha! Now I am on the look out for a good replacement. Recommendations? As an Italian passionate about my food I hate how lip gloss doesn't last past one bite. Trying this one from Maybeline in everlasting wine because of the long lasting claim. We shall see!

+I have been on a serious John Grisham kick recently. Just finished reading A Time to Kill and, have to say, I was disappointed. Pros: the autobiographical main character and interesting insight into racial tension in the south. Cons: Too graphic first chapter and dragging story....I kept expecting some great plot twist that never came. Overall you can definitely tell it was his first novel. I would not recommend reading this as your first Grisham but if you have read any of his other novels it is an interesting example of how he has developed as a writer.

+Just listened to an amazing TED talk by deaf percussionist Evelyn Glennie. It definitely gave me some points to think about as a musician but what really spoke to me was how her story changed the acceptance of students with disabilities into musical institutions in the UK. Addison has such a passion for music I would love to see him pursue someday but I do wonder about finding a teacher willing to meet his needs. This gives me hope!

+Today my very favorite radio station begins 24/7 Christmas music! With the music and Starbucks Christmas cups (can we all agree this years cups are the best?) I am so ready. Too early? Maybe earlier than I would prefer but after this crazy year...who doesn't need some Christmas?

Happy Friday!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Thanksgiving Table Design Inspiration

(Thank you to Carmel for reminding me to post my Thanksgiving table inspiration! You guys, this easing back into blogging is an adjustment.) 

My mom taught me the importance of the dining room table. Her table is twenty-one feet long, four feet wide and seats twenty. She saved for years to have this table custom built. The carpenter tried to talk her into building benches instead of chairs but she insisted on the chairs, despite the cost. Long after dinner talks around the table are such a huge part of our family structure and benches do not encourage sitting and relaxing like a well built chair. 

Setting a table, and particularly a holiday table, is just as much a part of the meal as the food on the plates. Thanksgiving is a big deal in my family. The guests include all immediate family, almost no extended family and about twenty of our closest friends, most from a variety of countries around the world. We plan months in advance, cook for days and consider it one of the very best days of the year.

Typically I have the task of setting the table. (SO much wiser than asking me to bake something!) There are a few guidelines I try to follow as far as spacing and design but generally the goal is to keep it fancy but not fussy and 110% festive. This year is particularly exciting because for the first time the table will be expanded to its full length, thanks to the house project. Twenty-one feet of centerpiece...bring it on!

Sharing a few of my inspiration for this year’s table....
The linens will be the same we use every year...white cloth, brown and gold accent layer, and the cloth my mom brought home from Italy...because tradition, you know? White napkins because there are enough for the crowd. Burlap runners because I love them.

I will probably be spray painting a truckload of fruit the day before...I would prefer to have them finished sooner but I am a little nervous about how long they will last. I’m totally digging this rose gold spray paint so that will be happening. The wooden chargers are from a tree cut down back in spring. For the feathers I am using a variety of (faux) pheasant and guinea fowl...because hello, feather awesomeness.

Photos of the final result to follow in the Thanksgiving recap post… I would love to hear what’s inspiring your holiday decorating!


Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Election of 2016

"The people are asking to hear my voice, 
But the country is facing a difficult choice
And you were to ask me who I’d promote… Jefferson has my vote
I have never agreed with Jefferson once… We have fought on like 75 different fronts
But when all said and all is done… Jefferson has beliefs; Burr has none"

(Please indulge my Hamilton moment. It’s just that the election of 2016 is so like the election of 1800 I think the song should be renamed. On the off chance there is anyone who does not have this show memorized, you can listen here.)

This was my first presidential election. Four years ago I was anticipating election day. After what has to be the longest campaign season in the history of the free world I am just so happy to be done with the whole ordeal. Voting was anticlimactic, at best. I am sad that of all the amazing people in our country we were presented with two (in my humble opinion) equally poor choices. Who I voted for isn't important (hint: didn't win).

Don’t get me wrong. I understand voting is a privilege not everyone has and I am grateful to live in a country where the people chose their leaders and everyone is entitled to a vote. It is politics in general I have an issue with. Or maybe not politics so much as what politics does to otherwise decent, socially acceptable human beings. Politics fuels emotional fires fed by hatred, fear and anger. The theme of this election has been division...he said...she said...he did...she did…my candidate...your candidate...my ideals...your ideals.  The divided house doesn’t stand any better than it did at Gettysburg.

Somewhere along the line we inflated the importance of politics. Is it important? Sort of. And I am all about fulfilling my responsibility as a citizen by taking an active interest and participating in the process of selecting our representatives. But let’s be real, you guys. Politics is such a small speck on the vast canvas of human existence. We have given politics too much power when we allow it to divide.

There is a higher calling.

There are hearts to be healed. There are broken spirits to be encouraged. There are young lives in which to invest. And when you fulfill these callings, you have exercised a power greater than any president will ever possess.

I am sad and concerned about the hatred the president elect has in the past expressed, specifically regarding minority groups, and a part of me wants to fear for the future. But you know what? Our country is more than one person. We need change but the change will not come from an elected officials. Real, powerful change comes from within. When we love our neighbors, when we go the extra mile, when we pass on our values to our children...in short, when we are representatives of Jesus' love here on earth...we shape the future.

I am far from hailing the chief but I believe in the system and respecting the office. I believe in the passion of my fellow millennials for positive change. I believe in the American experiment and the American people. I believe left and right ideals working together form a centered, healthy, balanced society. And I believe hope is found not in a government...an election...a candidate...I believe hope is found in Jesus Christ. Friends, let's not loose allow our focus to be distracted from those eternal investments capable or reaping compounded gains.

AND NOW... on to more important matters: I'm looking at you, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Peace on earth, good will to all men. YES, PLEASE and thank you, sweet Jesus.

Monday, November 7, 2016

So that happened...

 Annnnd just like that ten years of planning became reality.

My family has loved our sweet little house for fourteen years. Okay, so maybe we didn't exactly love it at first. There were tears shed (not the happy kind) when we moved in. It was a sad, far from attractive 1970's ranch with smoke filled wallpaper and kitchen flooring from hell. But fourteen years of love and hard work has made our home.

Guests always say they love how cozy our house feels. This could just be their way of politely commenting on the size of our house...because it is that small and being filled with eleven people and all their baggage does not help. We choose to take this as a compliment. Have you been in those houses so perfect you don't want to breathe for fear of breaking something? That is not our house. My parents have done an amazing job of remodeling and updating while keeping everything 110% livable and kid friendly. It is an awesome place which always makes me happy to come home.

After so many prayers and more than a few tears (this time more happy and scared than sad) the time arrived for the little house to grow! The day the upstairs walls were on it seriously looked like a house on steroids. Pretty sure in our hearts we were all apologizing to the cute little house for adding this horrible growth!

But every day as the gables, shingles and porch have been added it has taken on it's own identity. The little house is still there...just new and improved.

A home is more of a house and a family is more than a home. But there is something to be said for the memories we have made in these four wall. A relationship develops with the physical framework which contains so much family life. It is a beautiful feeling. No matter what life may throw your way there is a sense of stability in having a place to call home and always knowing, come Thanksgiving day, there will be a turkey on Mom's table in the cozy not-so-little house.