SMALL TALK

Home Time Opportunities…

For the most part, I’m a bit of a homebody and love to piddle around my house with little projects, but the recent restrictions imposed that involve closings (school) or limited access to many places we often visit on a regular basis can be unsettling to our routine and begin to affect the moods of everyone. We don’t like our freedoms to be taken away from us, even when it’s for our own good. In difficult times, we are challenged to find new ways to be productive and continue to develop and occupy our minds with healthy thoughts and processes. I like to think that as these old routines are suspended, an opportunity has opened to form new and improved routines.

Our world is going through a uniquely challenging and uncertain time, where less socializing is encouraged for the safety of ourselves, our loved ones and all of our communities, Spring is coaxing us to shed our sweaters and hibernation period to venture out into the warmer sunny days as relief from the many cold, gray, gloomy days we have already invested “indoors”.

While this time may seem unreasonable, stressful and unpredictable – and it is all of those things, I’d rather be safe than sorry. So I choose to see this period of time as an opportunity.

Let’s think about some of the things we often say we never have time for….

The weekdays now have longer daylight hours. Are the kids’ after school activities being suspended for several weeks? – Sounds like a great opportunity to invest in quality time as a family or couple, strengthen our relationships and ease the stresses associated with the ongoing reports of this coronavirus. Below are some ideas to inspire you….

1.) Prepare a home cooked meal together as a couple or family giving each child a job and gather “together” around the dinner table with discussion activities; Say grace and pray together – teach your children to care and pray for the safety and well being of their loved ones and others in the world. Help them engage in a positive way with what is happening and help them feel there is something they can contribute to making things better.

Take advantage of the warm sunny weather and get some fresh air by cooking on the grill and enjoying meals on the back patio or a blanket for a back yard picnic. Afterwards, play a game of crochet, badminton or take turns jumping on the trampoline as a family. Look around the house and see what you have to create activities as a family to free the minds of worry and relieve boredom as so often is the challenges with children.

2.) Create flash cards with questions or topics of conversation that expand knowledge and discussion; (turn off the TV, phones and Ipads and limit the time spent on these items); couples can learn more about each other with topic questions and you can easily create topics for children that make the discussion fun, such as – If you could be an animal, what kind of animal would you be and why?; What skill would you like to learn that you haven’t yet? (Skating, bowling, painting, play the guitar, etc) – you may learn something about your child that you didn’t know; questions that teach about the solar system, or other countries on the globe and so on. Just one each evening will do – and keeps everyones’ minds on positive thoughts and creative thinking. Some of the questions may be to test your kids on what they know about each of their parents with a game of two truths and a lie. The topics of discussion are endless.

3.) Is your child usually signing up to play on a softball and baseball team this time of year? Pick an evening to practice batting and catching the ball so they are ready to go when they can get back to the park to play.

4.) Other after dinner activities- play a round of UNO or a board game together; go for a family walk or bike ride in your neighborhood; plant a garden together, and together weed and water it in the evenings – watching it grow; find a Zumba class on YouTube and Zumba together for exercise; have one child each week read a book or a couple of chapters of a book to the rest of the family. Find creative healthy ways to spend time together laughing and playing to keep everyone’s spirits up.

Self care: Whether you are single and live alone….or notan opportunity to take better care of yourself.

As you know from my blog, I have a bookclub and love to read. I have a mentally stressful job that sometimes follows me to bed and the best way I have found to clear my mind and get a good night’s sleep, is to take a hot lavender scented bath and then settle into bed somewhere between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m., nestled against a few fluffy pillows to sit me up and a pool of soft sheets and blankets surrounding me, while I read a few chapters of a good book. My mind shifts to the lives of the characters in the story and I’m freed of the worries of my work day until morning and enjoy a restful sleep.

When that alone doesn’t work, I play the Meditation Radio or Spa Radio stations on Pandora at a low volume on my phone on the bedside table and within minutes, I’m out. Lavender essential oils in defusers, roll on perfume bottles and linen sprays are also calming and help for soothing and sleep.

In mid-February I learned about this 30 day yoga series on YouTube – “Home – 30 day yoga with Adriene” and began starting my weekday mornings with an episode that is usually less than 30 minutes. It’s free and helps melt away stress and anxiety. Adriene is a gentle instructor with an unexpected new experience each day. It’s quite lovely, and if you are having trouble sleeping, this is also a great thing to do at the end of your day.

Lastly, another wonderful way to relax and decompress is to meditate. Deepak Chopra and Oprah have several 21 day meditations the are offered for free every couple of months. I have no doubt that they will be offering another one soon during this difficult time. You can sample some of the past meditations on Youtube. My favorite has always been the one focused on gratitude. https://chopracentermeditation.com/

Weekends at home….

What to do to fill your weekend? Well, Spring cleaning comes to mind! Here’s an opportunity to “tidy up”. Watch Marie Kondo’s series on Netflix for motivation and tackle one closet and bureau at a time. As each area is “tidied” up with items no longer loved removed and her special folding methods applied to beautifully organize the items in your bureau, you just feel so much better!

Then you can move on to your pantry – check out my “Lagniappe” category for other Weekend Projects. Other organization inspiration can be found on instagram @thehomeedit.

While the weather is beautifully mild, you will need time outdoors. Whether you have a patio or balcony for a few potted plants or a yard for a small flower bed, herb or vegetable garden, this is a great time to get planting before the heat is on. It’s time for pulling weeds (that are always the first to grow); and weed and feed turf builder time.

Then there’s always the garage and detailing the car…..ah how the list goes on, but just think how great it will feel for everything to be clean, organized and cleared of clutter!

It’s also an opportunity to try a new skill, such as becoming a better baker or cook, sewing, knitting, crocheting, painting, drawing, building something out of wood or learning a foreign language. There are multiple videos on YouTube that will teach you almost anything,

This is also an opportunity to go back to having actual phone conversations instead of text messages to visit with family and friends that we can’t spend as much time in person with. This is an opportunity to strengthen relationships, invest in self care and refresh our homes. Don’t miss the opportunity to press the restart button. As we all know, things happen for a reason. While I don’t want in any way to dismiss or ignore the hardships that are going on out there, with job uncertainty or loss, illness and death – when life is difficult I personally always try to see the opportunity that these changes may offer or bring. I hope you will too.

Let’s all pray for each other, be kind and compassionate; reach out to and check on those who live alone and the one thing we can be certain of, is that one day this experience will all be behind us and we can express gratitude for the opportunity to slow our roll and invest time and attention into the most important parts of our lives. God Bless Everyone! I appreciate you and I pray for all of my brothers and sisters in Christ.

SMALL TALK

A Family Built From Love…

Today I attended a bridal shower of the soon to be daughter-in-law of my friend of almost four decades. Her youngest is soon to be married, and while visiting with her daughter Alyson I told her about this journal entry I had written about her wedding in 2017. I searched for it not realizing I had never published it.

We are fast approaching the 2020 wedding season, and I decided now was the time to share this story of a growing family and love.

May 20th, 2017

Last night I attended the wedding ceremony and reception for the youngest daughter of my friend of nearly 35 years, who over time has become my sister from another mother.  She and her very loving husband have and always will be family.

The ceremony was brief, but lovely and surprisingly entertaining, since the minister continually called the bride “Ashley” throughout the service instead of her name -Alyson.  The guests shared restrained giggles and smiles in the warm humid breeze while keeping a protective eye on the bright but cloudy sky, threatening to rain at any moment as the bride and groom stood before an organic arch of green foliage and flowers along the edge of lush green golf course.

Alyson wore a nervous smile from ear to ear; simply beautiful in her knee length dress and netted veil cap reminiscent of the 1940’s, jittering with nervous energy that she relieved with multiple deep breaths and a little wiggle dance of her hips as the vows were being read. When the groom proclaimed his “I do” her expression changed suddenly to “surprise” and the nervousness reappeared as she realized it was her turn; but she quickly regained her composure. When the minister said, “Ashley” she immediately corrected him- stating that her name is Alyson. After all, if she was to make a vow, it was going to be in her true name! Safe to say they made it through, free of rain, and shared a kiss that always signifies the ceremony’s end.  The small intimate ceremony was free of stuffiness or pretentiousness, simply focused on the couple that couldn’t keep their eyes off of one another and filled with love.

As a long time friend of her parents, I’ve known that “family “ above anything else, has always been the most important thing to both of them.  So much so that they have woven a unique tapestry of members they call “family”.  To most their family network may seem odd or unconventional, but to them it’s just the people they love and I’m grateful at times that I am considered one of their members. Their generous hearts extend a hand out to help just about anyone that needs it. I’ve never witnessed their saying “I can’t”, or “no” to anyone. A passion or calling that they have wholeheartedly committed their time and attention to.

Over the years and most recently, some of their treasured family members are now deceased, slowly chipping away at the number of living members. It was comforting to witness a night devoted to commitment that would now further extend the size of their family.

My sister friend walked over and sat beside me for a while, to have a small bite of food and something to drink, when just minutes afterward, the song “Lady in Red” began to play.  I watched as her oldest daughter was being escorted to the dance floor by her husband and suddenly my sister friend quickly excused herself to dash into the crowd of guests.  Shortly afterwards, the dance floor was filled with dancers, and among them I spotted her dancing with husband. 

Throughout the night I observed her family, especially her two daughters and grown son with is girlfriend, and wondered if they (she and her husband) realized that their children had all found the one thing a parent can never give them. 

Later when she returned to sit next to me I told her, “Your son-in-law (to her oldest daughter) really loves your daughter.”  She looked out into the crowd and looked around like she didn’t understand, so I told her again. While sometimes as parents or simply human beings we may see flaws in one another, as an outsider looking in, I could see without a doubt by the way her son-in-law treats her oldest daughter and looks at her –having two small children running around beside them – that he truly loves and respects her. I’m not sure if my friend ever stopped and really looked at them in that way.

The same was obvious between her son and his girlfriend and as I said before during the ceremony of her youngest daughter and her groom.

While the group she calls family may currently be slightly smaller than what they are used to, I see the beginnings of a new generation forming. Those of us who were once “the young” will become “the old” and this new pairing of lives will weave and create the new tapestry of my sister friend and her husband’s ever changing evolved family, whose foundation is formed purely from the love they all share.

NOTE: THE PHOTOS IN THIS POST WERE TAKEN AT A DIFFERENT WEDDING OF A FAMILY FRIEND.

WINE CLUB

The Welcoming Member of My Wine Club…

The original Wine Club Wreath with corks from one of the couples in the original club.

When I first started my wine club, I wanted to create a welcoming wine wreath to hang on my front entrance door each night of our meetings. I was inspired by a wreath I saw on Pinterest, but I didn’t have corks, so I reached out to my friends and one couple gifted me a bag full, that I pared with artificial grapes and a grapevine wreath – some purple ribbon and our club wreath was formed.

My wreath was in need of something more. A small ceramic dish with a painting of a vineyard that I loved, inspired the small image that hangs in the center which was hand painted by one of my friends who is a very talented artist. I asked her to re-create the image on the little piece of balsa wood (very light weight) to hang inside the wreath. [She later painted a plaque with the year our club was established, that I display on the food table.]

The wreath has been just as much a member of our club as the actual “Sippers” . Over time as my themes were formed, I decided to add accents to the wreath that matched the night’s theme. Over time I’ve added winning corks from our parties – so the wreath now has an abundance of corks and looks full and lush.

MURDER MYSTERY NIGHT

MAGNIFYING GLASS AND INSPECTOR NOTEPAD

RIO DE JANEIRO CARNIVAL

****CHAMPAGNE BRUNCH **** SUPERBOWL WEEKEND ****HONORING OUR SAINTS WHO WERE ROBBED !!!!

POM POM, PENDANT, FOOTBALL, & REFEREE WHISTLE & PENALTY FLAG.

A HAUNTINGLY ELEGANT WINE PARTY

SPANISH MOSS, BLACK GLITTERED BRANCHES AND A CHAMPAGNE CORK SPIDER. [Halloween}

DERBY THEMED WINE PARTY

BOW TIE, SMALL HAT, GOLD HORSE AND RED ROSES.

ALPINE – ALSACE FONDUE FRIENDSGIVING

SUNFLOWERS AND COW BELLS.

As the themes form in the future, if there is something I can add to represent it, my little wreath will continue to be dressed up for the evening!

HOLIDAY, VALENTINES DAY

Romantic Gestures for the Day of Hearts

February is the month to celebrate love. When was the last time you swept your loved one off of their feet with a simple romantic gesture? I recently rewatched the cute romantic comedy “Hitch” where Will Smith’s character as “The Love Doctor” inspires his clients with uniquely designed romantic gestures, suited specifically to capture the attention of a woman they want so much to win the heart of.

In that same spirit, here are some ideas to inspire you where the currency starts with nothing but time and thought if that’s all you have. Have someone help you beautifully wrap a box of chocolates with a luxurious silk or velvet ribbon. If available select a special vintage brooch from your mother or grandmother’s jewelry box (or find one in a local antique shop) and pin it to the ribbon’s center for a bit of Victorian romance.

Place a delicate bracelet, pearl or heart shaped earrings into a satin or velvet draw string bag and then tuck the bag into a Victorian Hinged Heart Shape Christmas ornament. Another Victorian style romantic presentation- more unique and thoughtful than the typical jewelry box. To wrap, lay the ornament inside a red velvet or specially wrapped box on a fluffy cloud of delicate tissue wrapping paper and it looks just as elegant as a faberge egg. (Pretty boxes often with bows can be found at Homegoods stores, charm bracelets and the individual charms can be found at affordable prices at craft stores like Hobby Lobby and Michael’s.)

You still have time to order a Victorian ornament – here’s a source online that I found https://www.putti.ca/products/hinged-heart-treasure-box-ornament-pink

A bracelet filled with charms representing memories you share.

How do I love thee…. let me count the ways….. A priceless gesture of love is something that comes straight from the heart. Rather than stopping at the drug store on Valentine’s Day to sift through the last of the cards remaining, filled with someone else’s words, why not sit alone and write your own thoughts into a poem for the one you love; words you don’t say often enough or not at all, long over due. Whether hand written or printed out from a computer, sign your name at the end and find a beautiful frame to present it in. 

Okay, if you think you can’t possibly write a poem – stop at a library and search online for love poems. Find one that says what you feel and want to express to your loved one and again personalize it by signing and framing it. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/collections/145134/love-poems-5a2f223201f49?gclid=Cj0KCQiA4NTxBRDxARIsAHyp6gCINhlH1fc7PG9I2q8TmwoKIrIVfvzUKSfJsiKOXIWBXTjr7mmhx-saAmYNEALw_wcB

Some of the greatest love stories are based on hand written love letters discovered in the attic long after their authors are gone. Letter writing has become a dying art form and is totally unexpected. Never underestimate the power of what one can do for your relationship. Regardless of what your handwriting looks like, a hand written letter is personal, intimate and romantic. Whether mailed to the recipient or tucked inside a special place for the recipient to find, your words of love are recorded directly from your heart and hand to remember for years to come. A proclamation of love in one’s own handwriting to be read over and over again, is a truly romantic gesture.

Those of you who are fans of “Sex in the City” may recall the episode when Carrie discovers the numerous emails that her assistant moved to a folder containing the historic love letters of great men that her beloved “Big” had sent her everyday for weeks (captured from a book she had been reading long before their planned wedding) and then finally his own love letter that begged her forgiveness for his mistake. The truth is that there was no book of love letters in publication in reality and following the episode a small book was published when one could not be found. So there is at least one out there. What if you left a different love letter from the book each day for a week for your beloved and then ended on Valentine’s Day with one of your own?

How about a romantic concert at home while you sip on your favorite beverage with only candlelight and cozy blankets to cuddle up with on the couch? One very romantic concert that occurred years ago and was captured on DVD is Andrea Bocelli – Under the Desert Sky. He sings romantic love songs beneath the stars in Las Vegas. Diana Krall’s sultry cadence is another great candidate- Live from Paris. Either may inspire a little slow dancing around the living room. A variety of concerts can be found for streaming on Amazon.

Valentine’s Day is on a Friday night this year. The restaurants will be packed with couples, stressed out waiters, and long waits. Why not plan a romantic evening at home? Begin with a trip to the grocery store to pick up a couple of steaks, chicken or other protein that you can cook on the grill, a salad package with dressing and everything you need; and most grocery stores have chocolate dipped strawberries that can be served for dessert. Choose one of the favorite wines you both enjoy or that holds a memory of another romantic time you shared. An inexpensive bottle of bubble bath and votive candles. A bouquet of roses also would be nice, but if there are roses in your garden, snipping a bundle would work just as well.

So here’s the plan- try to get home before your partner. Surround a clean bathtub with lit candles, a small vase of roses and a poured glass of wine. Minutes before your partner’s arrival, fill the tub with warm water and lots of bubbles (if you hold your finger on the end of the faucet as the water flows it will froth the bubbles and they will rise and multiply). Once the tub is filled, drop a few rose petals on top of the bubbles. Lay a towel and your favorite nightie that she wears on a chair or bench. Hang a robe from the top of the door. Close the bathroom door and create a path of rose petals from where your partner enters the house to the bathroom door where the candlelit bubble bath awaits her. (By the way no one says you can’t join her – but since this is a surprise for her, wait to be invited.)

Invite your partner to take a hot bath to relax and unwind from the week, while you grill the steaks, prepare the salad and set the table. Either prepare a playlist of love songs you both enjoy or Pandora has a love songs station from Pop, to Country, or Jazz that can take care of the background music while you dine. (You may even play music from the artist that you will then watch in concert from the couch afterward in the previous section.)

The language of flowers can be considered floral poetry: “Floriography is the ‘language of flowers‘. Dating back to the Victorian times floriography was used as a means of coded communication through various flowers and floral arrangements, allowing people to express feelings which otherwise could not be spoken. For centuries, this cryptic language has inspired the giving of flowers to convey emotion. Floriography originated in the courts of Constantinople in early 18th-century Turkey, spreading throughout Europe and Asia, eventually making its way to America in the mid-19th century.” (source: Traditional Home Magazine & All Florists in the UK)

The rose is a classic symbol of grace and elegance, and while most associated with Valentine’s day because the red rose stands for love and passion and the pink rose is often given as a token of admiration and appreciation, the rose may not be your partner’s favorite flower. My mother, my daughter and I are all partial to hydrangeas of all kinds regardless of what meaning Floriography has assigned the luscious ball of beauty – but if you want to make an appropriate choice according to the philosophy -Pink hydrangeas symbolize heartfelt emotion. Blue hydrangeas symbolize frigidity and apology. White hydrangeas symbolize boasting or bragging. Purple hydrangeas symbolize a desire to deeply understand someone.

The tulip is also readily available this time of year. A Turkish legend may be responsible for the red tulip’s symbolism. The story goes that a prince named Farhad was love struck by a maiden named Shirin. When Farhad learned that Shirin had been killed, he was so overcome with grief that he killed himself – riding his horse over the edge of a cliff. It’s said that a scarlet tulip sprang up from each droplet of his blood, giving the red tulip the meaning “perfect love.” Different colors of tulips also often carry their own significance. Red tulips are most strongly associated with true love, purple symbolizes royalty, white tulips are used to claim worthiness or to send a message of forgiveness. Yellow tulips symbolizing cheerful thoughts, pink tulips – a symbol of caring, attachment (not as strong as love, like the red) and good wishes. They would be appropriate for a friend or family member or someone you’ve just met and have grown to care about, but it may be too soon to express love for.  The colors typically have similar meaning with each variety, red – love; yellow-friendship; pink-admiration; white purity, forgiveness.

If you choose to consider the language of flowers in a mixed bouquet you present, make a little note about your selections on the card to explain the choices you made so that your partner realizes that your bouquet was personally designed with thought from the heart.

Maybe your partner has always wanted to go to Paris or Bora Bora or Africa , but it’s simply not in your budget. Create a night at home bringing that dream place to her. Let’s go with Paris for this example. Search images of Paris where she most wants to go, i.e. Paris cafe’s, Giverny Gardens. Engage the help of a friend or family member to help you transform a small corner in your home into an evening in Paris. A small round table, and two chairs with a white tablecloth – cafe’ style. Candlelight, white twinkle lights strung from above. Pandora has a French Cafe’ station to help you with the music. If you’re a cook, make a French bistro favorite or order from a French restaurant and bring it home. Buy a decadent chocolate dessert (Le Madeline’s Sacher torte is perfect or some other decadent chocolate favorite from a local bakery). You don’t have to do all of the work, let the resources out there help you with your plan.

If your partner loves chocolate – don’t forget the chocolates! Just know that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to get good chocolate. When I was a little girl, my Dad bought a Whitman’s Sampler box of chocolates every year for my Mom. I’d patiently wait for her to pull the plastic wrap away and lift the lid. She the chocolates with nuts were her favorite, so she always let me have the solid milk chocolate messenger man in the middle of both layers of chocolate. All these years later – the box still has two layers and costs about $15 – I’ve seen it for $7.99 on sale this time of year – you can wrap it beautifully as indicated at the beginning.

While Valentine’s Day has become filled with expectations of flowers and heart shaped boxes of candy – an unexpected well thought out romantic gesture goes much further than a last minute stop at the store to grab the last of what’s left on Valentine’s Day. I hope these ideas will inspire you to form your own expression of love with a thoughtful, heartfelt gesture that you know will please your Valentine. As for those of you who receive these special gestures, you are very fortunate and very loved – make sure to express your appreciation for the effort that has been made in your honor. Your encouragement made lead to more romantic gestures.

  • A candlelight picnic by the fireplace on a cold winter’s night.
  • A drive to an open area for star gazing with a thermos of hot chocolate, bring warm cuddly blankets and spend some time in the quiet to just talk and be together.
  • A chocolate and wine pairing to do together or with friends (google search for ideas).https://explore.lindtusa.com/perfect_pairings/
  • An Alpine fondue for two – see my Alpine Alsace Friendsgiving post – a cheese fondue can be made from scratch or there are boxed versions in the cheese departments that simple require heating. (Whole Foods and other wine stores that also sell cheese)
  • If there is a favorite restaurant that you frequent, ask to speak to the chef or manager. Ask if the menu for Valentine’s day has been decided. Negotiate to have the special prepared for you and your partner the weekend before the holiday – with your chosen table. This avoids the crowds and while you may not be a celebrity that can pay to close down a restaurant for the night for just the two of you, making this special private arrangement will make someone feel very loved and appreciated.

However you plan to spend your Day of Hearts – here’s wishing everyone love!

BOOK CLUB

Social Writes Bookclub – This Present Darkness, by Frank E. Peretti

The Book Selection:

It’s the beginning of a new year and a new decade. We are reminded daily by the media of the dark forces that lurk throughout our world, and often feel helpless in what we can do to make a difference. A couple of decades back, an old (as in long time) friend gave me this christian fiction novel that had a strong impact on me and opened my eyes to the negative forces that provoke us daily and how the power of prayer may strengthen heaven’s angels to conquer and defeat those negative forces.

While this is a work of fiction, you cannot walk away from this book without re-accessing thoughts and feelings that make you feel unworthy, not strong or good enough, excluded, along with a long list of many other negative emotions, without realizing these negative thoughts are being used to draw us away from our belief system – our faith in good and our trust in what God wants for us.

A brief description of the book found on the “Good Reads” website, states “Ashton is just a typical small town. But when a skeptical reporter and a prayerful, hardworking pastor begin to investigate mysterious events, they suddenly find themselves caught up in a hideous New Age plot to enslave the townspeople, and eventually the entire human race. The physical world meets the spiritual realm as the battle rages between forces of good and evil.

This Present Darkness is a gripping story that brings keen insight into spiritual warfare and the necessity of prayer.”

If you don’t believe in guardian angels now, you should be filled with hope for them after reading this dramatic thriller of a book. It is a work of fiction and creativity that is well worth the read. It was originally published in 1986 and was Mr. Peretti’s first book. As a story about spiritual warfare; he does not place judgment on the characters or determine consequences for those who act out when possessed by a dark spirit. This book offers very interesting “food for thought” that when I first read it in 1998 gave me insight to how our insecurities (if thought of as a dark manipulation) can prevent us from growing in our faith and relationship with God. As a result of my reading experience, I personally fought those insecurities and grew determined to grow stronger in my own faith.

It should be noted that the book was written long before the internet, mobile phones and social media. One of my friends noted that if this book were rewritten today, the demons would have even more resources by which to reek their havoc and do.

When I saw this white angel with large wings, she reminded me of the tall illuminated angels described in the book that watched over the small church with it’s prayerful pastor.

The Meeting:

When I have anyone come to my house, I always want to make whatever we are doing memorable, even if it is just a bookclub meeting. How often do you see your friends in a given year? I fear my answer would be far less frequent without planning events that give my collection of friends an opportunity to get together on a regular basis. Relationships of all kind take time and commitment. Therefore, it’s important to me to make the time we spend together meaningful, memorable and enjoyable.

With the holidays in full swing, I needed to pick a book for our upcoming January meeting. I had read several fairly good books throughout 2019, but none stood out as one I wanted to share with my club. For some reason, I recalled “This Present Darkness” and the affect it had on me when I originally read it. It lifted my spirit and enforced the importance of prayer that I’ve practiced ever since. This would be a new and different genre than what we have become accustomed to, and hoped my friends would gain their own unexpected insight from it, whatever it might be.

Having the book selection made, but still in the busyness of the holidays, I awaited inspiration to present itself and raised my usual creativity radar – hoping to hone in on something that would give me a direction for a table setting and refreshments for the meeting. I’ve fallen into a habit of trying to create a meeting around the book we’re reading when possible, which is sometimes challenging and not obvious – but I like the challenge. Without a specific plan in mind, one little thing can create the spark I need to build upon.

My first find occurred while browsing through a small antique store. A pair of tall glowing white angels with wings spread wide brought to mind the angels described as watching over the little town of Ashton and its preacher. There were two, but I decided to only purchase one and I placed it in the center of the table with a small church ornament.

On another day, I stopped at a local gift show to browsed through the after Christmas stock, (everything had been marked down 50% to 60%). As I searched through the baskets of ornaments, a large ornament, a pair of golden angel wings, caught my attention. I walked over for a closer look as two employees of the shop worked to remove ornaments from a Christmas tree display and place each into a basket on a large table. I decided the double winged ornament was too large and I only saw one, but it made me think again of our book club selection.

Then I noticed a single golden wing in another basket that I picked it up for closer examination. I stood nearby and kept count as each wing was moved from the tree and placed in the basket. The young lady arranging the ornaments in the basket noticed my interest and asked how many I needed. She searched through the tree to help me meet the count I needed, as I finally decided they would be a wonderful, post Christmas gift to give each of my members that would also (hopefully) help them remember the message of this book each year as they placed it on their Christmas tree.

At another store I came across the cocktail napkin that read “Be the kind of woman that when your feet hit the floor in the morning the devil says ‘Oh crap, she up!” It made me laugh and I thought it was perfect to inject a little humor.

A glowing white angel watching over a small church.

As I reached the end of the book, I read how Tal handed Guilo the trumpet to sound their victory. It inspired me to search for this image of an angel blowing a trumpet (online) that I resized to fit exactly on the reverse side of the store tag that was tied with a gold cord to each golden angel wing. I used a glue stick to adhere each image and then used simple school glue to add large white pearl iridescent glitter as a boarder that for me, evoked the image of the bright light that streamed from the angels when they were glorified and strengthened by the remnants’ prayers.

I then tied a thin gold ribbon through the wire loop at the end of the wing and placed one at each place setting. I pulled out my Mom’s black and gold china to add the “darkness” to the table surrounded by golden halo chargers.

I decided I wanted small bags that the ornaments could be wrapped and carried away in, having in mind small bronze colored bags I’ve often seen at the Dollar Tree. With Christmas having just passed, both stores in my area looked like they had been wiped out of everything and only had lavender colored bags. I was disappointed and not sure what I would find or where, but continued my search.

I finally found a set of 8 whites bags with gold and pink foil dots and decided they would have to do. Since it wasn’t what I originally had it mind, I was a little disappointed. As I started glueing on the clip art of the trumpet blowing angels, I suddenly realized that the foil dots on the bags looked similar to the chunky glitter I had put on the tags I attached to the wings. HONESTLY, this happens all of the time! Oddly, things just come together. I truly do not consciously make things match this way – it just seems to happen.

The Menu

With the table now set, my thoughts moved on to refreshments. I decided this would be a great opportunity to toast in the New Year and New Decade with my gal pals, as well as the beginning of our 6th year of reading together. January is a month when we try to eat lighter and resolve to take better care of ourselves. I decided to make a light, healthy, but decadent stacked salad of farro with chopped toasted pecans, cajun boiled shrimp salad, asian cucumber salad, grape tomatoes, diced avocado, grated boiled egg topped with sunflower sprouts and an edible viola. Watercress drizzled with garlic olive oil and white balsamic vinegar framed the stack; the plate drizzled with a roasted tomato vinaigrette and chive oil.

The stacked salad bottom to top.
  • The bottom was farro prepared per the package and pecans toasted in the oven at 350 degrees for 10 minutes, cooled and chopped. 1/4 cup pressed into the bottom of a 3 1/2″ ring.
  • Next layer – Shrimp salad made with cajun spice boiled shrimp adapted from the recipe @ https://www.dinneratthezoo.com/shrimp-salad-recipe/
  • Next layer – Sesame cucumber salad that I added chopped red pepper to adapted from the recipe @ https://www.recipesinstant.com/2019/08/spiralized-sesame-cucumber-salad.html
  • Next – chopped grape or cherrie tomatoes sprinkled with a little kosher salt
  • Next – 1/2 of an avocado diced, tossed in a teaspoon of lemon juice and sprinkled with a pinch of kosher salt
  • Sprinkle the top with grated boiled egg, chopped chives, sunflower microgreens (or alfalfa sprouts, pea shoots) and an edible flower.

The plate was drizzled with a roasted tomato vinaigrette, watercress tossed in a drizzle of garlic infused extra version olive oil and white balsamic vinegar.

  • 1 cup of grape or cherry tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoon olive oil
  • koscher salt
  • 1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar

Preheat over 400 degrees. Drizzle about 1 tbsp. of olive oil on a sheet pan. Slice tomatoes in half and lay in a single layer over olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and roast in the oven for 30 minutes. Tomatoes should deflate and create a brownish coating beneath the tomatoes. Remove from the oven and cool. Place roasted tomatoes in a small food processor or blender. Drizzle the second tablespoon of olive oil over the surface of the sheet pan with browned tomato juices and a tablespoon of white balsamic vinegar. Allow to sit for about 10 minutes and gently scrap the browned juices, oil and vinegar with a whisk – (as in deglazing a pot with fond- brown bits). Attempt to lift as much of the fond as possible as this equates to a lot of flavor. Pour the mixture into the food processor with the roasted tomatoes. Process until smooth. Add additional olive oil or vinegar as desired until the mixture resembles a slightly loose tomato paste. Pour vinaigrette into a squirt bottle to drizzle on the plate.

The Cocktail

A cocktail is required to make a toast, so next I was in search of a unique, ladylike cocktail when I found this recipe for a “Whispering Demon” and oddly, as I am writing this I realized the cocktail will be pink – more color coordination! As is my usual practice, I always try to do something a little different to a recipe to make it my own. After tasting it, the name warranted a little surprise of spice to reference the “demon”. I experimented by steeping pink peppercorns into my simple syrup and it added a gentle element of surprise that I was looking for.

A Hushed Whispering Demon

Servings: 1

Ingredients

1 oz. vodka
1 oz. pink peppercorn simple syrup
2 oz. Whispering Angel or other Rosé
2 oz. club soda

Directions: To make the simple syrup place 1 cup of sugar and 1 cup of water in a saucepan. Place pan on low heat (on the stove) until the sugar dissolves. Turn off the heat and add 3 tablespoons of pink peppercorns. Steep for 10 minutes. Strain the syrup into a jar for storage until ready to use, and let the sugary peppercorns rest in the strainer for about 10 minutes. Move the peppercorns to an airtight container – leave uncovered to dry and cover for later.

Place coupe glasses in the freezer. Combine cold rosé, simple syrup, vodka, and club soda in the chilled coupe glass. Delicately swirl the glass to mix contents, and top with a little cluster of sugar coated pink peppercorns for garnish.

The Dessert

This book about spiritual warfare filled with demons and angels, called for an angelic finale. I made a chocolate angel food cake, filled with a mascarpone, whipped cream, freeze dried strawberries, chocolate shavings and raspberries.

The recipe for the basic chocolate angel food cake was taken from http://www.eatingwell.com/recipe/267156/chocolate-covered-strawberry-angel-food-cake/?utm_source=pinterest.com&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=eatingwell_eatingwell_9180211&utm_content=diabetes_verticalimage_&utm_term=ValentinesDayRecipes_201901

Once baked and cooled the cake was cut in half. I dug a little canal in the bottom half buy pulling some of the cake away. The filling, chocolate shavings and fresh raspberries were added and the top replaced. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

  • 8 ounces mascarpone room temperature
  • 8 ounces heavy cream whipped
  • 1/4 cup chocolate shavings
  • 1/4 cup freeze dried strawberries (pulsed in food processor to a powder) optional
  • 1 tablespoon sugar

Whip the mascarpone and set aside. Whip the heavy cream with sugar. Gently fold 1/4 cup of mascarpone into the whipped cream and continue 1/4 cup at a time until well combined. Gently fold in chocolate shavings and strawberry powder.

This type of cake is a little dry and needs a syrupy sauce and fresh fruit. Slice strawberries macerated overnight in 1/4 cup of Chambord, 2 tablespoons of sugar and (optional) a sachet of 1 tablespoon of pink peppercorns). Before serving remove the sachet and add 1/2 cup of fresh raspberries. Pour a couple of large spoonfuls of fruit and their juices over each slice of cake. Sprinkle with chocolate shavings and curls.

Our meeting concluded and everyone left with their angel wings safely wrapped in their little bags. Until we meet again – on to the next book.

Select the bookclub category on the front blog page for previous book selections and meeting ideas:

HOME

S I P (Social Interactions and Parties) One Year Anniversary

I can hardly believe, that just a year ago, I sat at my dining room table literally trembling with fear as I learned as much as I could online about how to design a blog and then pushed myself to take the first steps.

I wanted a place to share all of my “social interaction” ideas, while simply enjoying time with family and friends. Another year of great wines, food, books, friends, tea, home design updates and thoughtful gestures, all recorded in the 67 posts of 2019. Thank you to all of you who follow me and to all of those in my life that share in making these events fun and memorable. Your support encourages me more than you know and I’m so grateful for each and every one of you. Here’s a quick look at 2019’s memories.

It’s a new year and a new decade. Come along for the journey to see what happens in 2020.

WINE CLUB

Baby it’s cold outside….Vini d’Italia Notte…..

Italian taqueria style invitation.

An evening of rich red Italian wines and food is never a bad thing. In fact it is exactly the kind of cozy candlelight evening and comfort foods needed on a cold winter’s night; and when paired with good friends, conversation and laughter is always a winning combination. For this cozy vini d’Italia (Italian wines) tasting, friends where asked to each bring a good Italian red and small bite.

The table setting – a small hole was punched in each place card to
insert a small leaf and berry from a tree in my yard that looks verify much like an olive
(see last photo below with bottles of wine.)

THE CHEESE COURSE

Baked Italian fontina, with garlic and herbs, served with toasted crusty bread and apple slices.
https://www.worldmarket.com/product/6-mini-cast-iron-skillet.do

Cold Friday evenings often remind me of those Friday night high school football games where I either sat shivering in the stands or jumped around on the field as a cheerleader. When the game was over, win or lose, a group of friends gathered at the local pizza parlor where the warm toasty pizza ovens and a crackling fireplace immediately embraced us upon opening the door and the chill of the night slowly eased away. As we settled into red vinyl booths, looking over the menus, those comforting aromas of pizza dough blistering in the oven while slowly melting delicious gooey cheese seduced our senses.

On this cold winter Saturday night, I wanted to create a similar environment for my guests with a delicious warming melted cheese course. I had recently watched a rerun of Barefoot Contessa on the Food Network and when I saw Ina re-create this restaurant version of melted Italian fontina cheese, seasoned with garlic and herbs I knew it was exactly what I was looking for. The small cast iron skillet with bubbling cheese beneath the broiler was just what I had in mind. I headed to the store in search of the small 6 inch cast iron skillets (that have since made many appearances at other parties). Each couple shared a skillet of the prepared herb fontina served with toasted crusty bread and apple slices for dipping and scooping.

THE ACTIVITY:

Two truths and a lie: This particular wine meeting was held in the first two years of our established group. Not all of the friends I invited knew one another. So I worked to create activities that would help us get to know one another, but also serve as entertainment and topics of conversation.

Along with the invitation, I asked each of my guests to write down two truths and a lie about themselves to bring to the party. Later in the evening, during the dessert course I asked each guest to read their list and the others were challenged to guess which was the lie. This activity resulted in informative truths for each of my guests to discover about each out and lots of laughter for the lies.

Another fun activity would be to create a trivial pursuit game about wines with the weekly “Wine Quiz” from Karen MacNeil’s “Winespeed” website.

You can subscribe @ https://winespeed.com/quiz/wine/

THE SMALL BITES:

As always my guests are asked to bring a small bite. this evening the offerings were Italian inspired and everything was delizioso!

DESSERT COURSE:

Trio of Italian desserts, tiramisu cookies, semifreddo
and Zabaglione with Amarena cherries 

https://www.marthastewart.com/313069/tiramisu-cookies

There were so many wonderful options for an Italian dessert that I decided to create a dessert sampler that would be shared by each couple. The trio included a tiramisu cookie, semifreddo and zabaglione with Amarena cherries. My guests enjoyed everything, but the stand out hit of the trio was the zabaglione with Amarena cherries.

Before there was Pinterest, I used to tear out the pages of cooking magazines with recipes I would like to use at some point and organize them in three ring binders. I had saved the zabaglione recipe from an issue of Food and Wine magazine years ago that I also found online and worked out perfectly. https://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/vanilla-zabaglione-with-raspberries

The recipe used raspberries, but I had recently discovered Italian Amarena cherries (cherries in brandy) that are unbelievably delicious, and decided to use cherries in lieu of raspberries. It was the perfect choice, because my guests could not stop talking about how delicious the cherries were. I’ve since used them in cocktails and other desserts.

Amarena Fabbri Cherries typically come in a blue and white opaline jar that I purchased online (but they can also be found in specialty wine or food stores). The cherries were without a stem. Over time I found stemmed Amarena cherries for about $5 a jar at Trader Joes, and was advised they are stocked on a seasonal basis. Other options are Dark Morello Cherries (also purchased at Trader Joes), or Griottines from France. For this night – Italian Amarena was the appropriate choice.

The Amarena cherry (Italianamara) is a small bitter dark colored Italian cherry grown in Bologna and Modena, two cities of Italy. It is usually bottled in syrup and used as a decoration on rich chocolate desserts.
The Amarena is a variety of the Prunus cerasus developed by Gennaro Fabbri who was born in 1869 in Bologna, Italy. His wife, Rachele, took over an old general store in Portomaggiore, which was near to a wild black cherry orchard. She picked the cherries and then slowly cooked them and semi-candied them into copper pots. To thank his wife for the treat, he bought a ceramic jar from Riccardo Gatti, an artist from Faenza. The white and blue ceramic jar was then used to sell the syrup and started a small company.[1]
He started commercial production of cherry related products in 1905 under the Fabbri brand.[2] The Fabbri company is still family owned,[1] and produces a number of natural cherry pastries, syrups,[3] and beverages.

https://www.google.com/search?q=amarena+fabbri+cherries&source=univ&tbm=shop&tbo=u&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiZ3s24k9HiAhUGSK0KHTZBA4MQsxgILw&biw=1391&bih=609#spd=15092513403719375339
Scorecard created with a Word doc, backed with red gingham craft paper and a little clip art.
The wines of the evening and example of place cards.
The top two winners.
My guests were each received a bag of soft amaretti cookies as a favor.

The food was delicious and comforting, the wine rich and smooth and the company filled with good friends, lots of laughter and stimulating conversation. There’s no better way to make a cold winter’s night warmer.