Dec 30, 2012

It Was A Good Christmas After All

I didn't think I'd be blogging so soon, but thanks to Mother Nature and her back- to- back snow storms, I am sticking close to home, and thought I would share a bit of our Christmas with you...


I felt this Christmas would be hard on the family, but I think each of us worked in our own ways to make sure we had a Christmas filled with love, laughter and happy reflections.  It took work, but I think we all managed to make it happen! Our gathering was much smaller this year, but still filled with all the love a family pours forth when they get together- especially ours. We've always been a bit over-the-top in the love and hugs department, and I am not at all ashamed to admit it!
The day began quietly enough- dinner was prepped, the dessert was made (now that is a story in itself!). Executive choices were made. Even though I carried an English holiday tradition back with me from the U.K., it went to the freezer for another time. We're still not exactly sure what the Christmas log is all about (is it served hot? cold?? ), but guessed from the ingredients that is "like a fruitcake".

the curious Christmas log

The festive (and very tall!) Peppermint Cheesecake Layer Cake was my "why am I making this today" moment, but I did and it was worth it! Yes, indeed- every calorie laden serving!

Five layers of yummy!
Even the frosting seemed to be a big hit with "old" and young ( from 3 yr old grandson: "I like the white part, Nana" - meaning the frosting) alike. Auntie I. couldn't wait for after dinner- she was caught red-handed in the kitchen, taste-testing the left over (white chocolate mousse) frosting:

caught you!

Which then led to a bit of pre-dinner relaxing with a smile on her face!


Post dinner gift receiving was especially fun :

Daughter-in-Law watching a special little elf 
Who would ever think that at 3 years of age, my grandson would happily play Santa's helper and hand out all the gifts before wanting to open his own growing pile of wrapped goodies! We all marvelled at this and enjoyed his excitement as he handed a family member their gift.

open YOUR presents, Nana!

This one's for me!?
We were even more surprised that when it came time for him to rip into them, he sat quietly on the couch, opened each one carefully and made a comment and/or exclamation about each one....

We had some chuckles:

Auntie M and eldest child
Grandson loved his construction themed pillowcase:

Played happily with his "new age" Lincoln Logs:

and set up his Cat In the Hat game (as we all clapped and laughed at the silly feats he was directed to accomplish):
Play with me, Nana!
Towards day's end, we Skyped with Youngest Daughter and the Son-In-Law in England (where it was close to 1am and poor S-I-L looked exhausted!), the much asked for bath in Nana's new tub was given, The Grandson jumped happily up and down on Nana's bed for a few minutes (our post bath ritual!), and then settled down to have Nana read one of his new books (Good Night, Good Night,Construction Site) to him while The Daddy packed up the car with gifts so the little family could set off for home as had The Sister and The Aunties several hours before.
Is there anything better than a comfy chair, a warm pair of PJs and a night time story?

As Christmas day came to a close, I realized two things:

1. I was exhausted!
2. No matter how big the hole left in your heart feels, when there is family around it fills up quickly.

Christmas 2012 was different- it held the expected sadness in my private moments, but it was filled with so much love, laughter and joy that it was "A Good Christmas After All".

I am now ready to look ahead to making more happy memories in 2013. That is my wish for each of you: that you have peace, health and joy... and may your hearts be filled with love.

Dec 24, 2012

Holiday Wishes

The Star is lit...

the tree has been dressed with ornaments...
such joy seen thru the eyes of a child...

our gifts are almost all wrapped...

Desserts are baked, applesauce (both regular and cranberry) are cooling in the fridge...
Last minute groceries are being picked up...
I have a moment to rest and reflect...

I will have a light supper out with family and then attend Mass- raising our voices in Carols....

All that is left to do right now is to wish each of you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year filled with health, happiness, and the joy of creativity.

See you in 2013!

Dec 15, 2012

Not Finding Any Words

After the devastating and senseless horror in CT yesterday, I still struggle to find words.
How do you say something comforting to a friend whose grandson attends that school?
What do you say when your son, now a father himself, admits that he couldn't concentrate at work yesterday because all he could think of was his own child? Becoming a parent changes everything.
No matter if they are 3 or 33 they are your babies. Yesterday was unthinkable to me. My heart aches.
Many, many hearts do I would imagine....
I found these words beautifully written, and will leave you with them:

Dec 10, 2012

Why Is This Woman Smiling?

Those that read this blog may have gathered that I live in an older home. I love it...most of it anyway! I have been known to grumble now and again about the old kitchen and the just -as- old non-functioning bathroom (the only full bath in the house), but this house still makes me smile. I'm smiling even today when there is currently:

* no working sink (actually no sink at all)
* no toilet 
* no electricity
* a rigged up shower

yes, I'm still smiling because this: 

looks like THIS:

And like THIS:

and very soon I will smile even broader as an actual, better functioning, prettier bathroom takes the place of the above mess. The tub remains shrouded in plastic sheeting (so I can at least carefully shower in the morning) and will remain so until the new tub is delivered on Thursday (please Mr. Delivery Man, let this order be on time!!). The new toilet is in the garage, and the contractor has my sink. Every thing else is either at the Home Improvement store awaiting pick up (the tiles) or sitting in my sewing room, which isn't seeing any action these days! I am going to have to find a way to cart the machine downstairs so I can sew the binding on the mega quilt that has to be done for Christmas!

But this woman continues to smile. It has been a long time coming, and that is a good thing. Taking the time to really think about what I wanted led me down the path to simplicity. Simple woman, simple tastes, and my new "happy color"....gray!
As eldest child so wisely said: Anything is better than what we had to begin with.
How true, how true!

I'll wait patiently until it is done and then I'll stand, smile, and admire! Ahhhh......the thought of form and function, as well as pretty! I can do "pretty".

Dec 9, 2012

Taking a Day for Myself

Today was a "me" day. Each year at this time, The Historic Albany Foundation hosts a Holiday House Tour. This is it's 10th year! Today, 14 locations were open to the public (the public with tickets that is!), and the featured theme was kitchen renovations. Since I still have the hopes of a kitchen renovation in the next year or two, I thought this would be a perfect venue to enjoy the beautiful homes of our city and take a peek at what others have chosen to do when updating their home/kitchens. Some homes were a knock -your -socks -off discovery, others were simply nice or just a bit underwhelming. Underwhelmed was how I felt about 26 Western Avenue, our city's newest re-purposed building. To be fair, I am all for re- purposing old buildings. I hate to see a good building torn down and replaced by either a parking lot, or a building that does not fit in with the neighborhood at all. 26 Western Avenue  was in it's day (first) an elementary school and then (later) the Learning Annex of the city's old High School. I had all my classes in the main building of the high school, so I never got to see the inside of this particular building. It has been nicely restored on the outside:

and I love that the character of the interior. It, too, has been kept intact for the most part.  The original brickwork has been restored, the over sized windows have been kept (tons of light flood the rooms), the vaulted ceilings have been kept, and the iron sprinkler system is still there in all its glory! The architects were going for that contemporary industrial feeling and for the most part it worked.

exposed, renovated brickwork in living area peeks into the kitchen

an updated kitchen

living space in the two bedroom unit.

What I do wish, however, is that of the 4 units open for viewing, someone would have thought to stage at least one of them so you not only got a feel for living here, but got a holiday rush when you entered as well. Just my opinion.....

As the next house was within a lovely walk, I decided to do just that, and do so through our beautiful Washington Park. Walking down State Street was a bit magical in parts as many of the town houses were dressed in Holiday Finery:

Even the Firehouse on the Western Triangle looked festive:

and I couldn't resist walking back through the park and stopping by my first domicile as a married lady:

The Philip Schuyler Building is on the park, and looks as beautiful today as it did over 30 years ago. We started in a studio apartment and quickly moved to a one bedroom until we got pregnant with eldest child. Moving to a bigger apartment even back in the late 70's would have cost us more than buying our own home, so buy we did!

Heading back up town, I found many a house more to my own tastes. I loved this little vignette in the enclosed entryway of one of the houses close to my own neighborhood. I gave up an old school desk this year- but then it didn't look this good (smile). I love the old family photos which grace the top of the desk.

This darling little bungalow was just that- little. I was enthralled with how the couple living there renovated the 8 and 1/2' by 9' kitchen. It was amazing and made me feel as if I had a monstrous kitchen in comparison! The wife told me that they moved from the Boston area and this kitchen was twice as big as the kitchen they had there! I'm not sure how she ever managed to cook...

Craftsman Bungalow built in 1922 for Elizabeth and J. William Davis. Davis was a paper cutter for the company that published and printed the Knickerbocker Press and Albany Evening News, both of which are no longer published.

After the bungalow, I visited Leonard House, the home of the Headmaster of Albany Academy. If there were a prize for ambiance this house would win hands down! Band members from both the  Boys Academy as well as the Girls Academy bands stood out side the front walk playing Christmas Carols as visitors entered or took leave of this lovely old brick home. I think I'd feel a bit guilty cooking in the lovely kitchen- it's large wall of windows overlook the Boys Academy's track. I'd feel as if I should be out there running, or at least walking at a good clip instead of baking or whipping up some fancy delicacy!!

In the end, however, I didn't find it at all surprising that my favorite homes were in my own back yard! I am lucky to live in a neighborhood that have lovely craftsman homes, center front colonials and other homes with great character. My every day walks take me by several homes I've always wondered about, and today I got to visit the one I've always yearned to peek inside! Doesn't the front door just make you want to step inside to see what might welcome you??  Believe me, you would not be disappointed! This house is a 1913 Arts and Crafts house and it has been lovingly renovated. The original architecture was preserved while restoring the back of the home which was near collapse and new spaces were integrated beautifully. The floors were made from salvaged wood from an old barn from Western NY so that  the new spaces had wood that matched the existing floors. Talk about attention to detail! As beautiful as the downstairs was, the second floor took my breath away! It is no wonder this house received a Preservation Merit Award in 2006. 

I made many discoveries today - all good ones! The first was that I should definitely trust my instincts!
I've agonized over tile choices (my bathroom gets demo-ed tomorrow!), tubs, lighting, paint colors. To paint woodwork or not. Decisions, choices, headaches, indecision. But I know now:

*I'm glad I did NOT go with the gray marble flooring for the bathroom.
*I'm glad that I tweaked the idea of "subway tiles" just a bit for a larger version.
*The lighting I chose will be perfect.
*The tub is just right.
*Dark, historic colors do work in an older home, and yes! white woodwork is perfectly OK.
*I might decide to definitely not paint the wood work in the downstairs "public spaces"- or I may decide to do a combination of wood and paint, and that is perfectly OK, too.
*Everyone seems to be using Shaker Style cabinets in their newly appointed kitchens, and everyone is using white. I'm happy I fell in love with "mushroom".
*Coral seems to be the "in" color for dining rooms. Not Chinese Red, not Mauve. Coral. Who knew.
(and I don't think I'm going there....)
* There is a "designer name" for the grayed beige I love, but darn if I can remember it now! I did ask for the name of the paint color in one of the kitchens I really liked and it is a Benjamin Moore Paint. Say no is in the same family of colors I've already painted the breakfast room, so I'm good!
* When it comes to decorating and renovations- trust your gut!! 'nough said!

I also thought back many, many years ago to the very first Holiday House Tour. A neighbor was involved with it's start up and our home was one of the ones on the tour. I remember thinking- why would our friends and neighbors pay to come see our house?? They can just come by anytime! But I agreed, we did it up big (which was standard back then- trees in every room, decorations at every turn, enough poinsettias to start my own flower farm). The house looked lovely, we were proud as could be with the comments from those we knew, and those we didn't who visited the house that day. It also made me happy with where I am today. Stream-lined. Not so over-the-top anymore. Life is different, and simplicity seems to be key. I do, however, still have those very special pieces that will always bring forth special Christmas memories for us all. My wonderful quilted Santa Clauses that would travel home from NYC each year in my husbands duffel bag (thank you to the Folk Art Museum for having these in their museum shop year after year!):

Just two of my Quilt Santas

I hate to play favorites, but he is it!

I also know that I love bringing nature in- on the mantle and its garland, on the dining room tree that eldest child will wrap with garlands of cranberries and fresh cut lemon, orange and lime slices (you will, won't you, first born??)

And I know now that if I put on my favorite Christmas music: Johnny Mathis, James Taylor, Sesame Street (yes, you read that right- a family tradition every year- can't trim a tree without it!), the work of getting the mantle to my liking goes so much easier! Simplicity, it is all in the simplicity! Note to self- no more stressing...just do it!

Yes, it was a good day....a very good, very informative day.  Now I think I need to relax.

Dec 5, 2012

And While the Gingerbread Is Baking...

The joy of having the desk close to the kitchen is that I can get to the posts I wanted to write while doing some holiday baking! I've finished up several banana breads, three Cinnamon Streusel coffee breads and have the gingerbread well underway. Now that I'm feeling a bit accomplished, I thought it could be a good time to visit the Bristol Cathedral (as promised in my last posting). Instead of a smilebox slide show, I'm going to pick and chose some of the more interesting nooks and crannies and share photos that way. I'm not sure how the smilebox slides go over with those who may read these postings. Let me know in a comment what you think- slides or individual photos!?

So on to the cathedral:

Walking to the Cathedral Entrance

One of the first things one notices are the magnificent organ pipes

The stained glass windows throughout the Cathedral are simply beautiful

This is the Elder Lady Chapel- it is older than the main part of the Cathedral and holds the icon of St. Augustine and his companion St. Jordan of Bristol. It is also home to some very strange stone carvings.

Saints Augustine and Jordan

Those strange carvings I mentioned: look above the somewhat ordinary human head and you will see a monkey!
It seems the stone mason who did the carvings was fascinated with monkeys. Why he thought to carve them in a chapel is a mystery.

Yet another chapel within the Cathedral

The Eastern Lady Chapel. This chapel was started in 1298 and was an integral part of the design of the choir.
The Stained glass dates to the 14th century and the two candlesticks were gifts given in thanksgiving of the safe
return of the ships The Duke and The Duchess, 1712.

The badges (see photo above for a better view) on the reredos are badges of the Berkeleys and the Royal Arms of England. Prominent people from the life of the cathedral are buried in the star shaped niches. 

The Nave: This is a great pillared hall: the entire roof is the same height, and it is the only one of its kind in England. The alter of the Nave is the focus of worship on Sundays and on great occasions- the heart of Christian worship.
Carvings above the alter in the Nave

I was fascinated with this bit of science within the Cathedral. It is the St. Mary of Redcliffe Chaotic Pendulum.  Recycled water flows into the center of the cross beam which then tips to let it out. However, no one can predict exactly how it will move minute to minute. Thus: chaos.  The plaque notes:
"Knowledge will never provide certainty". 
As with most Cathedrals, tombs can be ornate. This is the tomb of John Newland (or Nailheart),
Abbot, 1481-1515.
"Here lyeth the bodies of Sir John Young Knight and Dame Ioane, his wife..."

Another of my favorite spaces within the walls of the cathedral, these are the "night stairs".
Generations of Monks would enter the abbey via these stairs for prayers. The monks prayed every 3 hours day and night!

The quilter in me fell in love with these needlepoint kneelers! These are just some we observed on our visit. They bear various coats of arms. There were also kneelers depicting biblical events. 

We were excited (and a bit surprised) to find one with the seal of New York State!

I hope you enjoyed this short tour of the Bristol Cathedral. I love old churches and couldn't have enjoyed my brief  time there more. With my next post we will leave Bristol behind and travel to Bath- a most glorious city and home of the Roman Baths. 

Oh yes, and in case you were wondering- the gingerbread turned out fabulously if I must say so myself- I had to taste test in between my photo loading! Until we next meet...

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