Archive | 2015

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Good Morning Granola

Happy Holidays! I hope you all enjoyed making memories with friends and loved ones last week. No white Christmas for us this year, but no complaints about the above average temperatures either. I’m sure if you’re like us, you’ve been indulging a bit more the last few weeks. As much as I love all the goodies, I’m ready to get back to more sensible eating.

I’ve always enjoyed a good granola. It’s a healthy comfort food for me, and I love its versatility. It makes a great breakfast with a little almond milk and fresh berries. We love to sprinkle it over greek yogurt, and it also makes a great snack on its own. The problem is, the store bought varieties can be rather pricey and contain a lot of unhealthy fats and sugar making this high protein superfood, not so healthy.

So, I decided to do my own spin on it. I’d like to share a recipe that I’ve had for years and tweaked along the way. This recipe can also be made gluten free. Prepare yourself though. While baking, your house is going to smell heavenly.

Ingredients

2 cups rolled oats ( gluten free, if desired)

1/4 cup flour (coconut flour, or other gluten free option)

2 Tablespoons flax meal

2 Tablespoons chia seeds

3/4 cup raw almonds

3/4 cup raw walnuts

3/4 cup raw pecans

3/4 cup raw pepitas

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

pinch of cloves

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 cup coconut oil

1/3 cup honey

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Optional: 3/4 cup dried cranberries

  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together oats, flour, flax meal, chia seeds, almonds, walnuts, pecans, pepitas, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and salt.
  3. In a small saucepan, add coconut oil, honey and vanilla extract and heat on low, stirring frequently until coconut oil is completely melted. Pour over dry ingredients and mix well until oats are completely coated.IMG_1805
  4. Spread the granola evenly on the baking pan and bake for 20 minutes. Gently stir granola and add cranberries, if using. Return granola to the oven and bake 15 minutes longer or until granola is a light golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely on baking sheet. Once cooled, transfer to an airtight container and enjoy for 7-10 days.

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This batch makes about 10 servings.

Trail Mix

As I stated earlier, this recipe is very versatile and also makes a great trail mix with just a few adjustments.

For the trail mix, I omit the oats and add 3/4 cup raw mixed nuts. I bake for the same amount of time and after the mixture comes out of the oven, I let it completely cool then add 1 cup of dark chocolate chips and half a cup of unsweetened coconut flakes and mix. The girls love taking this to school for a snack.

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Enjoy!

~May

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Merry Christmas

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We would like to wish you and yours peace, good will, and happiness during this holiday season and throughout the New Year. Enjoy and celebrate the beauty of the present moment.

Merry Christmas!

~May and June

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Christmas Quiet

The lead up to Christmas is always full of frantic preparation.  There is the shopping, the decorating, the wrapping, the baking and the holiday parties.  I end up in a state where my breathing is shallow, I sleep fitfully with my mind racing full of my to-do-list and generally run around like a chicken with my head cut-off.  This is not the way I want to spend the Christmas season.  But every year without fail it happens.  My oasis is coming, though, and that is Christmas Eve.

When I was a child, my parents always hosted Christmas Day.  The day was bedlam, fun, but bedlam.  There were easily 20 people for a full turkey dinner in a pretty small house.  When it was time to open gifts, the living room was wall to wall people, Christmas tree, packages and wrapping paper.  To offset the craziness of Christmas Day, my parents started a tradition on Christmas Eve of having a quiet dinner at home after an early mass, with only our immediate family.

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(Bedlam on Christmas Day)

We always had steaks on the grill which was a treat because we rarely had steak.  After mass, we often would put on our pajamas or our lounge clothes to relax from being dressed up.  Before dinner was served, we would take a quiet moment, reread the gospel of the birth of Jesus, my youngest brother would place the baby Jesus in the nativity set and say grace.  The dinner was always eaten by the light of only candles and the Christmas tree.  It was always a cozy night full of the things that made up the true meaning of Christmas.

Because of that feeling and sentiment we still carry on that tradition.  For Christmas Eve, my husband and I will be hosting.  We will make sure there is a fire in the fireplace, candles lit, the Christmas tree and my other twinkle lights.  Instead of only having steak now, everyone just brings their own favorite meat.  For some of us that still means steaks.  For others, it may be pork, chicken or in one case, bratwurst (weird).  We will gather together to enjoy the quiet of the season.  My gift will be hospitality and for the others it may be a funny joke, a good bottle of wine or a sweet treat.  But in all cases we will enjoy each other’s company, revel in some quiet and remember that the frantic preparations are all worth it to enjoy the gift of being together.

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May you and yours have a very Merry Christmas. – June

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December Book Club

It’s time for our December book post.  There is nothing more relaxing then to sit and get lost in a good story.  Hopefully, you will have some time over the holidays to enjoy some quiet time and curl up with a good book.

After You by Jojo Moyes

After You

 

From Amazon:

“You’re going to feel uncomfortable in your new world for a bit. But I hope you feel a bit exhilarated too. Live boldly. Push yourself. Don’t settle. Just live well. Just live. Love, Will.”
 
How do you move on after losing the person you loved? How do you build a life worth living?
 
Louisa Clark is no longer just an ordinary girl living an ordinary life. After the transformative six months spent with Will Traynor, she is struggling without him. When an extraordinary accident forces Lou to return home to her family, she can’t help but feel she’s right back where she started.
 
Her body heals, but Lou herself knows that she needs to be kick-started back to life. Which is how she ends up in a church basement with the members of the Moving On support group, who share insights, laughter, frustrations, and terrible cookies. They will also lead her to the strong, capable Sam Fielding—the paramedic, whose business is life and death, and the one man who might be able to understand her. Then a figure from Will’s past appears and hijacks all her plans, propelling her into a very different future. . . .
 
For Lou Clark, life after Will Traynor means learning to fall in love again, with all the risks that brings. But here Jojo Moyes gives us two families, as real as our own, whose joys and sorrows will touch you deeply, and where both changes and surprises await.

May’s Thoughts: After You is the continuation of one of my favorite books by JoJo Moyes, Me Before You. I always get a little nervous with sequels, but After You did not disappoint. Although it started a little slow for me (I almost wish I had re-read Me Before You), I was soon drawn back into Louisa Clark’s world, and thoroughly enjoyed her continued journey as Will Traynor continues to influence her life. I was left feeling that a third book might be in the future. A lovely book.

June’s Thoughts:  I loved the character Louisa Clark from Me Before You.  This book picks up a little while after the end of Me Before You.  Lou changed a lot in Me Before You but she is not done yet.  Will Traynor changed her, but she is still not sure what she is supposed to do with him gone and how she misses him.  Due to some shocking events, she is forced to change even more and open her heart in ways she never imagined.  A sweet, thoughtful book which will again require tissues as you root for Lou to finally find happiness with herself.

Coincidence of the Coconut Cake by Amy E. Reichert

Coincidenc of the The Cocunut Cake

From Amazon:

You’ve Got Mail meets How to Eat a Cupcake in this delightful novel about a talented chef and the food critic who brings down her restaurant—whose chance meeting turns into a delectable romance of mistaken identities.

In downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Lou works tirelessly to build her beloved yet struggling French restaurant, Luella’s, into a success. She cheerfully balances her demanding business and even more demanding fiancé…until the morning she discovers him in the buff—with an intern.

Witty yet gruff British transplant Al is keeping himself employed and entertained by writing scathing reviews of local restaurants in the Milwaukee newspaper under a pseudonym. When an anonymous tip sends him to Luella’s, little does he know he’s arrived on the worst day of the chef’s life. The review practically writes itself: underdone fish, scorched sauce, distracted service—he unleashes his worst.

The day that Al’s mean-spirited review of Luella’s runs, the two cross paths in a pub: Lou drowning her sorrows, and Al celebrating his latest publication. As they chat, Al playfully challenges Lou to show him the best of Milwaukee and she’s game—but only if they never discuss work, which Al readily agrees to. As they explore the city’s local delicacies and their mutual attraction, Lou’s restaurant faces closure, while Al’s column gains popularity. It’s only a matter of time before the two fall in love…but when the truth comes out, can Lou overlook the past to chase her future?

Set in the lovely, quirky heart of Wisconsin, The Coincidence of Coconut Cake is a charming love story of misunderstandings, mistaken identity, and the power of food to bring two people together.

May’s Thoughts: This is Amy Reacher’s first novel and I thought it was a charming although somewhat predictable story of a chef, Elizabeth “Lou” Johnson, who is struggling to make a success of her small French restaurant after a scathing review by the local restaurant critic. It was a cute love story with a wonderful recipe for coconut cake at the back of the book. Can’t wait to try it out!

June’s Thoughts:  This is a cute romantic comedy-type book.  I love books that include food as a character of the book and this one does so, the coconut cake plays an important role.  The book is set in Milwaukee which was fun because I lived in Milwaukee for a couple of years.  Although, Milwaukee has apparently gotten more hip than when I lived there.  It sounds like there are a couple of cool places that may require a road trip to visit.  I liked the characters and the overall story.  However, I did start to get a little annoyed by the end because the whole story where one character knows something that is a secret from the other character gets a little overplayed.  The end was a good one, though, which helped redeem that part.

The Lake House by Kate Morton

 

Lake House

From Amazon:

From the New York Times and internationally bestselling author of The Secret Keeper and The Distant Hours, an intricately plotted, spellbinding new novel of heartstopping suspense and uncovered secrets.

Living on her family’s idyllic lakeside estate in Cornwall, England, Alice Edevane is a bright, inquisitive, innocent, and precociously talented sixteen-year-old who loves to write stories. But the mysteries she pens are no match for the one her family is about to endure…

One midsummer’s eve, after a beautiful party drawing hundreds of guests to the estate has ended, the Edevanes discover that their youngest child, eleven-month-old Theo, has vanished without a trace. What follows is a tragedy that tears the family apart in ways they never imagined.

Decades later, Alice is living in London, having enjoyed a long successful career as an author. Theo’s case has never been solved, though Alice still harbors a suspicion as to the culprit. Miles away, Sadie Sparrow, a young detective in the London police force, is staying at her grandfather’s house in Cornwall. While out walking one day, she stumbles upon the old estate—now crumbling and covered with vines, clearly abandoned long ago. Her curiosity is sparked, setting off a series of events that will bring her and Alice together and reveal shocking truths about a past long gone…yet more present than ever.

A lush, atmospheric tale of intertwined destinies, this latest novel from a masterful storyteller is an enthralling, thoroughly satisfying read.

May’s Thoughts: Love, love, love Kate Morton. I was on a long waiting list at the library for her latest novel, The Lake House. I’ve read all of her books, and always enjoy how she blends the past with the present story. The characters in this book all had a story to tell about a midsummer’s eve party gone wrong. Although The Forgotten Garden is still my favorite Kate Morton novel, I did enjoy this book but have to admit, I was a little disappointed at how the book ended. It was a little too tidy.

June’s Thoughts:  I love Kate Morton.  One of my all-time favorite books is The Forgotten Garden by the same author.  This one, while it did not surpass that book, was definitely enjoyed.  The book is set in Cornwall, England and alternates between what happened many years ago during a midsummer’s eve party at a beautiful, idyllic lake house and the present where a disgraced police detective finds out about the event while on a forced leave.  It combines a mystery and a little romance.  The book is long and it took me a while to figure out what had happened to Alice’s little brother.  The ending was a little too neat, but in general was pretty satisfying.

We hope you enjoy our selections.  Let us know if you have read any of them and what you thought.  Happy Weekend before Christmas! –May and June

 

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Easy DIY Christmas Decoration

This past weekend I put together some easy Christmas decorations using items I had around the house.  I have plenty of Christmas decorations but I was just having fun to see what I could create.  I had some big glass jars that were part of a centerpiece from our wedding and which I use sometimes as candle holders now, some Mason jars, pine cones, bottle brush trees, cheap Target Christmas ornaments, buffalo snowflakes and the most important thing, battery operated twinkle lights.

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I just put the items in different jars to see how they would look.  I generally like how they turned out and they add a little festive glow where I set them.  The best part is after the holidays, I can simply disassemble them and reuse the parts in other ways or put the parts away for another creation next Christmas.

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My attitude with decorating is just try it.  It just takes a little time. So it may be a little weird or it may not turn out, but sometimes you create something that you like.  And with all of the serious things going on in the world this is fun.  I often agonize over what color nail polish to pick when I have a manicure and pedicure, but this is the thing, it is just nail polish.  Decorating is the same way, it can always be changed.  Hope all of your Christmas shopping and decorating is completed. –June

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Forward Fold (Uttanasana)

The human body, mind, and spirit are constantly being bombarded with stresses throughout life. As kids and teens, we encounter the daily stress associated with school and activities, and as we move into adulthood, those stresses increase with the responsibilities of making a living, marriage, and children. That’s why I love yoga. During those times of increased stress and tension, it brings balance and harmony whenever we practice, keeping us grounded, relaxed, and focused. I also love that you can practice yoga anytime, anywhere, whenever you need it. Lately, I’ve found myself doing a lot of standing forward bends or as I like to call it, rag doll pose. It feels great when I’ve been on my feet for long periods of time (Christmas shopping), or if I’ve been sitting at my desk for a while.

Even though it doesn’t look like much, standing forward fold gives a complete stretch to the back of the body. It lengthens the hamstrings and calves, plus it releases tension in the shoulders and back of the neck. I have always carried all my tension across my shoulders so for me, this stretch does the trick. This posture also supplies the brain with an increased amount of blood, and it calms the central nervous system.

To practice a forward fold, simply stand with your feet just inside the hips, keeping them parallel. Place your hands on your hips and with a flat back, begin to bring the body forward. If you have any back issues, simply rest your hands on your thighs for support, going about halfway down as Alyssa is demonstrating in the photo below. If you feel a little wobbly, you can also practice with your backside against a wall for stability.

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If you want to transition further into the posture, bring the body all the way down, holding opposite elbows with your hands. Your head is relaxed, your body is heavy and soft, and your breath is full and deep. I typically like to hold for ten deep breaths, but it’s important to listen to your own body’s needs. When you’re ready to stand, place your hands back on your hips, soften your knees, and gently lift yourself to a standing position.

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This posture also feels great at the end of a long day, before getting into bed. Have a great Monday.

Namaste,

~May

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Holiday Happy Hour-Pomegranate Martini

Welcome to May and June’s holiday edition of Happy Hour Friday. Tis the season for cocktail parties, where fun holiday drinks are often on the menu. We (and our husbands) recently celebrated the spirit of Christmas with festive pomegranate martinis, yummy appetizers, and great conversation (not to mention a few laughs). May found this great martini recipe a few years back after seeing it on Oprah. She made it for a holiday party at her home and it was a big hit, so we thought we’d stick with a good thing.

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Pomegranate Martini

Ingredients: 2 servings

1 1/2 cups pomegranate juice

2 ounces Absolute citrus infused vodka (We used Grey Goose)

1 ounce Cointreau liqueur

1 cup ice

Sparkling water (splash, optional)

Lemon (a squeeze, optional)

Shake ingredients in a shaker and pour into chilled martini glasses. Add pomegranate fruit into each glass as a garnish.

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In addition to our cocktails, we also had an array of yummy appetizers, all from Trader Joe’s.

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We found a great recipe for cocktail meatballs on Trader Joe’s website that we wanted to share with you. You can make them in the slow cooker and turn the setting to warm when you’re ready to serve them.

Sweet Balls of Fire:

2 packages TJ’s Turkey Meatballs
1 cup TJ’s Cranberry Sauce
2 jars TJ’s Sweet Chili Sauce

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 350°.

Prepare sauce: In a sauce pan add 1 cup of cranberry sauce and 2 jars of sweet chili sauce. Stir and heat until sauce begins to bubble.

Place meatballs in a baking dish (9″ x 9″) and cover with warm cranberry sweet chili sauce mixture. Place in oven and heat for about 20-30 minutes, or until meatballs are heated through and sauce is hot. Alternatively, use a slow cooker to heat meatballs and sauce, about 5-6 hours on low, or 2-4 hours on high until heated through.

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Cheers!

~May and June

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Decorative Christmas Collections

I am not a collector by nature, unless you count shoes.  I do not collect coins or stamps like my husband does.  I do not collect teacups or spoons or small figurines.  That is not to say I live in a spartan home because  I certainly seem to have quite a bit of “stuff,”  but not any cohesive collection of any one thing.  But that all changes when I get out my Christmas decorations.

I always forget what is included in my Christmas collections until I get them out.  It is a little gift I get each year as I open the boxes and unpack all of the contents.  My collections are a mix of new and vintage, some that are steeped in nostalgic memories and others that are simply clearance items from Target.

One of my favorites, is my collection of miniature Christmas trees.  Some of the trees I have bought, some my mom gave me from her Department 56 village and others have been gifts.  I’m not sure why these trees speak to me.  Growing up our family always went and cut down our Christmas tree.  It was always a grand adventure, or it seemed that way anyway, that the perfect tree was waiting in the field to come home and be ours.  We learned over a few years, that trees ALWAYS look smaller in the field then they do once they are in the living room.  There was more than one year where the tree was so big it was hard to maneuver around the house.

I do one display with lots of trees for a big visual impact.  I think when you have collections of smaller things, that grouping them together makes a bigger statement.  However, because I like to keep a theme throughout the house I sprinkle in other trees here and there among my other decorations.

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That’s a lot of trees.

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Who can resist a big pink bottle brush tree and a glittery tree?

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Trees included on a little vignette.

Another one of my Christmas collections are these little nesting dolls.  Have you every seen the part of Sesame Street that is animated and they take the Russian nesting dolls apart and put them together?  I loved that little part, and so have always loved nesting dolls.  I collected quite a few of these Christmas ones over the years.  Unfortunately, I have not been able to find any in the past few years, but maybe some day I will find another one to add to my collection.

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Nesting Santas.

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More nesting Santas.

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Nesting Christmas trees (notice the tie in with both collections).

Finally, is my collection of elves.  My grandpa had all of these little elves that he used to hide all over the house, and when my cousins and I would visit, we would have to try and find as many as we could.  Those elves were tricky.  Some of them would be hanging from the light fixture or hiding on a shelf.  Others would be right in the open.  As we got older, the elves found more unique places to hide.  This was the original Elf on a Shelf before there was such a thing.  The elves were part of a promotion with Joy dish detergent.  My grandma must have bought a lot of Joy dish detergent because my grandpa seemed to have a lot of elves.

I loved those elves so much that I started to add to my grandpa’s collection.  I gave him a few for Christmas over the years.  At some point, after my grandpa had died, my grandma gave me two of the original elves and the ones that I had gifted to him.  I love this collection because it brings back that fun childhood memory.  And I’m sure if any of my cousins are reading, they are remembering that too.

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This is a naughty elf, partying on the bar cart with a menehune man.

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Just hanging out, looking for something to read.

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This guy is stored  in his own shoebox with my eight-year old printing reading on the side “Grandpa’s Head Elf.”  I guess the other one is his girlfriend.  He has the power so he gets all of the girls.

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Keeping time.

 

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A paper mache elf.

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I just found this little elf fairy this past weekend to sit on my window sill.

Do you collect any decorative items, Christmas or otherwise?  Hope you are getting in the Christmas spirit.  –June

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Peppermint Bark

Now that we’re fully immersed into the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, you may find yourself making the social rounds to office parties, neighborhood get togethers, and friends and family gatherings. You may be hosting one as well. So I thought I would share an incredibly easy holiday treat that’s yummy, festive, and travels well. Today is all about peppermint bark.

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I love making peppermint bark this time of year. It looks beautiful on a tray as an accompaniment to christmas cookies, as well as on a plate served up as a little after dinner treat. You can also put a batch in a cellophane bag, tie it with a pretty ribbon, and give it as a hostess gift. The best part is it’s so simple, yet it looks like it took a lot of effort.

Ingredients:

12 oz. semi-sweet chocolate (chopped)

12 oz. white chocolate (chopped)

crushed candy canes (about 1 cup)

1/2 tsp. peppermint extract (divided)

Line a 9 x 9 inch baking dish with wax paper or parchment. Melt semi-sweet chocolate in a double boiler until melted. If you don’t have a double boiler, you can melt the chocolate in the microwave, stirring every 30 seconds until melted.  Make sure you use good quality chocolate. I usually use Ghiradelli, but Baker’s brand works well too. Mix in 1/4 teaspoon of peppermint extract, pour melted chocolate into prepared pan, and let cool. You want the chocolate to be completely cooled, otherwise the two chocolates will blend together when you add the white. Melt the white chocolate, mix in 1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract, and layer on top of the semi-sweet. Gently press candy cane chunks into the chocolate, and place in the fridge for about 45 minutes. Once the candy has hardened, lift the wax paper or parchment out of the pan, and break the candy into pieces (like peanut brittle).  If there’s any leftover, it can be stored in a covered container.

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Enjoy!

~May

 

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Christmas Time in Chicago

Happy Friday everyone! The holidays are upon us and in keeping with the spirit of the season, May and June thought it would be fun to take a field trip and share with you a little of the beautiful city of Chicago at Christmas time. Even though we’re not fans of the cold, there is something magical about the city during this time of year that makes us  forget about our cold noses and numb toes. (It snowed today too!!) There are twinkle lights everywhere, beautiful store windows, and the Magnificent Mile in Chicago is something special to behold.

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The Palmer House 

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State Street Macy’s (formerly Chicago’s iconic Marshall Field’s)

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This year’s holiday windows  at Macy’s are celebrating the 50 year anniversary of Peanuts.

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Of course the famous Christmas tree in Macy’s Walnut Room.

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Even the tour buses get into the holiday spirit.

While we were out walking, we came upon the beautiful Peninsula Hotel Chicago, which is known for having one of the best lounges in the city.

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The Peninsula Hotel (We loved Mr. Foo Dog all decked out for the holidays.)

We were drawn in and knowing that it was 5 o’clock somewhere, decided to conduct a little May Meets June business “meeting” with a glass of champagne and some light snacks next to a cozy fire.

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 This stop was totally spontaneous which made it more fun. We also had our picture taken in Santa’s chair. (It must have been his day off.)

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Enjoy your weekend!

~May and June

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The Holiday

Christmas Movies

It’s that time of year again, the time to start watching Christmas movies.  My dream is to spend a whole day laying on the couch watching Christmas movies.  Unfortunately, December is so busy that this almost never happens.  However, I do try to make sure I watch a few of my favorites before the season is over.  And have you noticed that if a favorite Christmas movie “magically” shows up on TV, rather than watching one on a DVD or a streaming service, it seems so much better.

There are so many Christmas movies that it is hard to pick an absolute favorite, but some of my favorites include:

 

Elf

I love Buddy the Elf.  Despite being at least 6 feet tall, Buddy recently discovers that he is not in fact an elf.  So he goes on an adventure to New York City to find his real father.  There are so many classic lines that are easily remembered such as “Son of a Nutcracker.”  And there are four food groups, “Candy, Candy Canes, Candy Corn and Maple Syrup.”  The movie is full of fun but also has a sweet message about keeping the Christmas spirit.

Grinch

The Grinch is another one that I love.  Not the movie the Grinch (I actually find that one creepy) but the original cartoon Grinch.  The Grinch is so mean in the beginning (and I feel sorry for his dog), but the transformation he goes through is remarkable.  And I have to admit I always get a little choked up when the Who’s down in Whoville go sing in the town square despite the fact that the Grinch stole all of their presents including the Roast Beast.

Love Actually

This is maybe not really a Christmas movie (or at least I tell myself that since I watch it year-round) but it does take place at Christmas and it is about all the different kinds of love.  There are several somewhat interconnected stories that take place in the movie.  Hugh Grant as the Prime Minister is not to be missed.  And Colin Firth’s love story shows that connections can be real even if you do not speak the same language.

Christmas Vacation

 

The Griswolds are at it again.  They are going to have the best Griswold Christmas ever.  This means driving hours to pick out the perfect Christmas tree (a light shines on it so they know that it is the “one”).  Putting up way too many Christmas lights and kidnapping Clark’s boss.  With all of the antics and mishaps they still manage to have a wonderful Christmas.

 

Charlie Brown

I just saw the Charlie Brown Christmas turned 50 years old.  Charlie Brown of course can never do anything right.  He picks out a terrible Christmas tree and gets no Christmas cards.  Linus reminds us of the true meaning of Christmas with his beautiful recitation of the Christmas story.  In the end, Charlie Brown’s friends fix up the poor little tree so that it is a pretty tree.

Fred Claus

Vince Vaughn is Nick (Santa) Claus’ brother, Fred Claus.  Because he has lived in the shadows of his famous older brother, Fred thinks he is not good enough and never does anything right with his life.  Fred ends up helping his brother save Christmas from being shut down by an efficiency expert.  There is a lot of cute humor, from Fred going to talk therapy with the not-so-famous siblings of other famous people (Sylvester Stallone’s brother, Frank Stallone, Bill Clinton’s brother, Roger Clinton and the least famous Baldwin brother, Steven Baldwin) to Fred getting tired of the same Christmas music being played in the workshop and tries to shake things up a bit.

Miracle on 34th Street

A classic, although I do like the version from the 1990s as well.  The movie proves that a man, Kris Kringle, who is working at Macy’s as Santa, is the real Santa Claus.  I think I have always liked this movie because my mom told me that the real Santa Claus was at the Marshall Fields on State Street in Chicago.  So I think this movie just played into that belief I had.  Plus at the end, Susan has the best Christmas ever.

I know there are so many other Christmas movies and everyone has a favorite.  What Christmas movies are your favorite? –June

 

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Ode to the Stepmom

I’m sure that most of you who regularly read our posts know that I have a blended family. I have two grown sons from a previous marriage, and my husband has two daughters. When we married, my boys were in college and high school, almost ready to leave the nest. The girls, on the other hand, were in second and third grade, still baby birds.IMG_1327

Sorry some of these older photos are grainy.

Because my boys were older, my husband’s involvement in their lives was more on an adult level. He was there to guide them and give advice, but he didn’t need to be involved in their day to day schedules. My role with the girls was a little different. They required more care, and although my husband has always been very involved in their lives, being girls meant that sometimes they needed more of a female presence when they were at their dad’s. I have been a step-mom to Nicole, 19, and Alyssa, 17, for nearly ten years, and have been in their lives a few years longer. I’ve always referred to myself as their “step-mom” or called them my “stepdaughters,” and every time I say that, I have to admit I cringe a little. I can’t help it. I ALWAYS think of Cinderella’s wicked step-mom, Lady Tremaine. Why does the word stepmom have to have such a negative connotation? Did it start with Cinderella?

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I’m proud to say that the girls and I have a wonderful relationship. We snuggle on the couch and watch movies, go for lunch, get mani’s and pedi’s, shop, share clothes, and talk about life like most mothers and daughters. In fact, I can’t imagine my relationship being much different if they were my own flesh and blood.

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When we’re all together, our blended family is its own unit. Both Bob and I refer to our step-children as our sons and daughters, because to us, they are just as much our children as our biological children. Even my sons’ wife and girlfriend have become part of our blended family. I recently had a little chat with the girls to ask how they felt about the word stepmom, and hear their thoughts about removing the word “step” from future posts, simply referring to them as my girls/daughters. They were in agreement with this and dislike the negative connotation surrounding the words “stepmom” or “stepparent”. Nicole says that our relationship is unique in the sense that there’s more opportunity to be friends because I’m not her biological mom. They still see me as a nurturing role model that compliments their mom in a healthy way.

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Now, I think it’s important to note that this in no way is meant to be disrespectful to or diminish a mother’s role. The girls have always called me Pam, and the boys have done the same with Bob. For many families, the role of mom is somewhat universal, extending also to in-laws and the parents of friends who have treated us like their own children.

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As you can see, I’ve gotten shorter over the years.

So, from here on out, the word “step” will no longer be used in future posts about my girls, and I just wanted to give an explanation as to why.

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Parenthood requires love, not DNA

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~May

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Gratitude

With Thanksgiving tomorrow, this is the time where we all think about our blessings and express gratitude.  While it is important this time of year, it is a good idea to express gratitude every day.  I often find that when I am out-of-sorts, it is because I am wishing for things to be different instead of being thankful for how things are at the moment.  To keep this in mind, I collected a few gratitude quotes to reflect upon:

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Gratitude is a Practice

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Gratitude Universe

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Thank You Quote

Happy Thanksgiving!!  May you and your family have a wonderful and blessed day! – June

 

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Slow Cooker Apple Crumble

We always enjoy a good fruit inspired dessert and with the abundance of apples during the fall season, a good apple crisp takes center stage. I’ve often made a traditional apple crisp in the oven which is always yummy, but sometimes you don’t have time to watch the oven. That’s where the slow cooker comes in handy. I’ve never used it for desserts, but found this Crockpot Apple Crumble from Life Made Full, and decided to give it a try.

Ingredients

Apple Mixture:

1/2 cup coconut sugar or organic brown sugar (I use coconut sugar)

1/2 cup raw honey

5-7 large tart apples, peeled and cut into chunks ( I use Granny Smith)

1/2 tsp salt

2 tsp cinnamon

Topping:

2/3 cup oats (gluten free, if desired)

2/3 cup coconut sugar or organic brown sugar (again, I use coconut sugar)

1/4 cup flour (gluten free, if desired)

1 tsp ground cinnamon

3-4 Tbsp softened butter or coconut oil (I use coconut oil)

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

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Combine ingredients for apple mixture, and pour into bottom of slow cooker, spread evenly.

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Mix topping ingredients until combined and sprinkle over top of apple mixture.

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Cook on low for 4 hours, high for 2 hours. If you have time, turn to warm and let sit for 30 minutes to thicken.

Enjoy!! We like our apple crisp a la mode with a little ice cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon.

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Have a wonderful Thanksgiving week!

“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.” Oprah Winfrey

~May

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Getting Ready for Thanksgiving

Ok everyone, we have less than a week until Thanksgiving and the official start of the holiday season. Are you ready?? May and June thought it was a perfect day to share how they get organized and prepared for Thanksgiving. Whether you’re hosting the holiday, or traveling to someone’s home, there are ways to make this bountiful day a little less stressful.

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For May, it’s all in the prepping. She has hosted Thanksgiving for family and friends for over twenty years, and has had a lot of experience on how to prepare a Thanksgiving meal. (Admittedly, some years better than others, but practice makes perfect.) She begins her work the week before the holiday. The sausage for the stuffing is browned, and the onions, carrots, celery, and cranberries are chopped and bagged, then everything goes into the freezer until the stuffing is assembled, the day before the feast.IMG_3176

A few years ago, May’s mom gave her a cookbook by Ina Garten ( aka The Barefoot Contessa), called Make it Ahead, which has become her favorite book for entertaining.

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Last year, she roasted the turkey ahead of time (Ina’s recipe), and had it all sliced and prepared the day before Thanksgiving. All that was required was heating before serving. It was delicious!! Guests always bring a dish to share which takes a lot of pressure off the host, plus it allows everyone to be involved in creating the meal, which makes it more special. Another great time saver is getting the dining room table set a few days ahead of time. May also uses the kitchen table for dining, which is set Thanksgiving morning.

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Remember, part of the fun of entertaining is enjoying the company of your family and friends, which is hard to do when you’re stuck in the kitchen.

June’s Thanksgiving is usually away from home.  June always traveled to her grandparents in Southern Missouri for Thanksgiving growing up, so long road trips are typical.  Many years, June traveled to her husband’s family in Buffalo, New York but this year she has it easy because dinner is at her aunt’s house only an hour away.  June’s family, like May’s, has everyone bring a contribution to dinner.  This year June is in charge of the vegetables and is going to bring roasted root vegetables.  Because there is so little prep involved she will chop the vegetables Thursday morning and put them in ziploc bags along with the olive oil and seasonings.  She will just transport them to her aunt’s home and roast them there.

It is nice when Thanksgiving is close to local because it gives some quiet peacefulness to the start of  the holiday season.  June plans to take a nice quiet walk on Thanksgiving and think about her blessings.  And she plans to slowly sip her wine, appreciate the work that went into all of the preparation of the meal and enjoy the company of her family.

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We wish you and your family a Happy Thanksgiving!  May you all enjoy the gratitude and beauty of the season. –May and June

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The Time I Met The Pioneer Woman

Two weeks ago, I had the extreme pleasure of meeting Ree Drummond aka The Pioneer Woman.  The Pioneer Woman was probably one of the blogs that introduced me to the world of blogging.  It has been interesting to see her blog evolve from a website where she simply posted about her family, the ranch and favorite recipes to the professional website and community it is today.

I admire how she has grown her business into several children’s books about Charlie the Ranch Dogs, four cookbooks, a show on Food Network and now a line of cookware, dishes and kitchen items at Walmart.  Whenever I dream about what this blog could become, I think about what she has been able to accomplish from the same platform.  I love many of the recipes in her cookbooks so when I heard that she was going to be in Naperville for a book signing of her new cookbook, I knew I had to go and take my mom with me.

The event was hosted by Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville and it was packed.  I think they said there was more than 625 people there.  However, because I was so on the ball, my mom and I had tickets numbered 6 and 7, meaning that was our place in line to have our books signed.

Ree Drummond gave a quick introduction, including a giveaway of a Charlie cookie jar, which regrettably we did not win, and then it was right to the book signing.

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Ree Drummond was very friendly and approachable at the book signing, although I have to say I got a bit star struck and could not think of anything clever to say.  I could have told her that I made her  chicken enchilada recipe for 19 members of my book group and it was huge hit, or that olive cheese bread has become a family Christmas Eve tradition (and it is so beloved that my nephew requested my sister-in-law make it for his birthday dinner in July) or that I would like to grow a business like she has done.  Instead, I did get to have my picture taken with her:

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And went home with my signed cookbook

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And an extra goody

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I was very happy to meet Ree Drummond.  I’m looking forward to trying some new yummy recipes in her new cookbook and continue to dream about growing this little blog into a small fraction of the community and business she has created.  –June

 

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Making Memories

Every year, my oldest stepdaughter Nicole and I take a little excursion to the city for the day. We’ve done this since she was in grade school. In the past, my husband Bob and youngest stepdaughter, Alyssa would attend a Cubs game on the same day, and afterwards, we would all meet up in the city for pizza.

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We do this at Christmas time too, but more on that in December.  Now that the girls are older and have very busy lives, Bob and I find ourselves having to work our way into their ever-changing schedules. Our little tradition has taken a few twists and turns along the way, but that’s ok. It’s a reminder that change is constant, yet we’re still strengthening our family’s bond by creating long lasting memories. Nicole and I finally made plans to take our trip to the city this past weekend. Although we generally don’t let the weather stop us, I wasn’t sure if our November day would cooperate, but thankfully it did. It was sunny and in the 50’s with no wind (Windy City).  It was beautiful.

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The skating rink at Millennium opened this weekend

We usually don’t have a specific agenda – we are all regularly in the city and have seen it all – so we usually just throw caution to the wind and figure it out as we go along, which makes it more fun. One thing’s for sure though, there are going to be a lot of laughs, walking, shopping, and treats.  Did I mention walking?? We kept track of how far we walked….8.2 miles.

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Found these cute beaded bracelets

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Nicole ate them all

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Yes, that’s a Christmas tree behind us and it’s November 15

As you can see, we took a few photos of our day, but for the most part we kept our phones safely tucked away. Photos are great, but sometimes we’re so caught up in taking the picture, we lose the loveliness of the moment. Although baseball season is over (Great year for the Cubs!), Bob and Alyssa did meet us for pizza, and all was right with the world.

~May

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Instagram – Living In the Beauty of the Present Moment

We are not sure how many of you have noticed our tagline “Living in the Beauty of the Present Moment,” but it is a way that both of us are trying to live our life.  This means to live thoughtfully, not to dwell on the past, and not to fret about the future.  This is not always an easy task.  In fact, at times it is downright challenging.

We thought a good way to appreciate these “present moments” was to initiate  an Instagram project to document our tagline.  By taking a moment to look around and capture one object via photo, it gives you a moment to pause, breathe and bring the beauty of the present moment to life. There are no rules here. It can be anything that you find beautiful.

As we embark on this project we invite all of you to join us. Everyday, take a moment to simply stop, breathe, and be aware of what’s around you. We are always surrounded by beauty. Take your photo and document it with #livinginthebeautyofthepresentmoment.  We look forward to viewing and sharing all of the things that you find inspiring and beautiful.

 

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May and June

 

 

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Friday Night Lights

Comfort TV

I have been a little under the weather the last week, nothing serious, just an ear infection, but because of that I have spent some time lying on the couch.  I don’t know about you but when I am sick or tired, I often choose to watch movies or television shows that I have seen before and sometimes many, many times before.  I think there is something comforting with watching a program where you already know the characters and you know there is going to be a happy ending.

Some of my favorite comfort movies or television shows include:

While You Were Sleeping

While You Were Sleeping

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You’ll fall in love with WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING, the hit romantic comedy that woke everyone up to adorable Sandra Bullock (SPEED, A TIME TO KILL). As Lucy, a lonely subway worker, she becomes smitten with a handsome stranger (Peter Gallagher — MALICE). But when she saves his life after he’s been mugged and fallen into a coma, his hilariously offbeat family mistakes her for his fiancee! Soon, the mix-ups escalate as Lucy fabricates a life between herself and a man she’s never met! And when Lucy falls for his charming brother (Bill Pullman — INDEPENDENCE DAY) the situation really gets uproarious as she’s forced to make a choice between the two!

This movie is fun for me to watch partially since it’s set in Chicago which makes it fun to see the city.  The Gallagher family has some quirky characters which makes it seem like all families.  And while the story line is a bit far fetched it works and is sweet.

The Holiday

The Holiday

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In Nancy Meyers’ The Holiday, a romantic comedy from the director of Something’s Gotta Give and What Women Want, two women trade homes only to find that a change of address can change their lives. Iris (Winslet) is in love with a man who is about to marry another woman. Across the globe, Amanda (Diaz), realizes the man she lives with has been unfaithful. Two women who have never met and live 6000 miles apart, find themselves in the exact same place. They meet online at a home exchange website and impulsively switch homes for the holiday. Iris moves into Amanda’s L.A. house in sunny California as Amanda arrives in the snow covered English countryside. Shortly after arriving at their destinations, both women find the last thing either wants or expects: a new romance. Amanda is charmed by Iris’ handsome brother Graham (Law) and Iris, with inspiration provided by legendary screenwriter Arthur (Wallach), mends her heart when she meets film composer Miles (Black).

This movie was on a movie channel several times this past weekend, so I kept catching bits and pieces of it.  Both characters are unhappy in their lives and change locations and everything is fixed and they are happy.  A little unrealistic, maybe, but a fun story to watch.

Sweet Home Alabama

Sweet Home Alabama

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This delightfully entertaining romantic comedy stars Reese Witherspoon (LEGALLY BLONDE) as sophisticated Melanie Carmichael, a rising New York clothing designer who suddenly finds herself engaged to the city’s most eligible bachelor. But this is no fairy tale romance for Melanie. She has skeletons in her fashion-filled closet that include Jake — the backwoods husband she married in high school who refuses to divorce her. Determined to end their marriage and sever all ties with her past once and for all, Melanie returns to Alabama. But home starts to tug at her heartstrings, and what she thought she wanted may not be what she wants at all.

Melanie Carmichael is engaged to a John F. Kennedy, Jr. twin, but she has secrets that he does not know.  I love stories set in the South (maybe because my grandparents lived in the South) and this movie is full of Southern charm.

Notting Hill

Notting Hill

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Anna Scott (Julia Roberts) is the world’s most famous movie star. William Thacker (Hugh grant) owns a travel bookstore in the quaint neighborhood of Notting Hill. When their paths cross, the couple comes to face the ultimate question: can two people fall in love with the whole world watching?

I feel like Julia Roberts almost plays herself in this movie.  A chance encounter leads to love between two people whose paths should never have crossed.  The ending is sweet and I really like the soundtrack.

Gilmore Girls

Gilmore Girls

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A very atypical mother-daughter relationship is at the center of Gilmore Girls, a comedy-drama that immediately set itself apart from the herd with smarter-than-smart dialogue and an endearing mix of whimsical comedy and family drama. Set in the Capra-esque burg of Stars Hollow, where everybody knows everyone and eccentrics abound, Gilmore Girls was less a mother-daughter show and more of a screwball buddy comedy in which the two buddies happened to be parent and child. Pregnant at 16, Lorelai (Lauren Graham) left her rich parents to bring up her daughter Rory (Alexis Bledel) on her own terms; when Rory herself turns 16, Lorelai wants to send her academically gifted daughter to the prestigious Chilton school. The catch is, Lorelai can’t afford it on her own, and rather than let Rory go without, the elder Gilmore girl brokers an uneasy truce with her parents (Edward Herrmann and Kelly Bishop), who finally get a chance to bond with their granddaughter while financing her education.

It sounds like a premise potentially fraught with angst and trauma, but in reality Gilmore Girls was one of the freshest, airiest, most enjoyable shows to air on the perpetually melodramatic WB network, critically praised once viewers got hooked on its unique brand of humor. Rory’s growing-up adventures, including her acclimation to snooty Chilton and romance with townie dreamboat Dean (Jared Padalecki), gave the show a teen-friendly feel, but Gilmore Girls was anchored in the adult by the luminous Graham, a brilliant comedic leading lady who could turn dramatic on a dime and never break stride. The show’s hallmark was its rat-a-tat, whipsmart dialogue, delivered perfectly by Graham and Bledgel, as well as a host of wacky supporting characters who would go on to become invaluable cast members. The first season allowed the show–and its lead actresses–to bloom gracefully and establish a deep, humorous rapport that lent itself perfectly to weekly travails both comedic and dramatic. –Mark Englehart

Lorelei and Rory Gilmore are memorable characters.  The dialogue is nuanced with pop culture, music and literary references and is snappy and witty.  Stars Hollow is a town full of quirky people and traditions which puts the characters in sometimes ridiculous situations.  After a few seasons, the writers changed and I did not find the show as enjoyable.  However, Netflix just announced that there is going to be four new episodes written by the original writers, so if you have not seen Gilmore Girls now is your time to catch up on it.

Friday Night Lights

Friday Night Lights

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TV’s hottest new drama, Friday Night Lights, touches down on DVD with all 22 Season One episodes in a 5-disc collection! In the small town of Dillon, everyone comes together on Friday nights when the Dillon High Panthers play. But life is not a game; and the charismatic players, new coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler), and the passionate fans find that their biggest challenges and obstacles come off the field in the compelling day-to-day dramas of their tight-knit community. From producers Brian Grazer (The Da Vinci Code) and Peter Berg (The Kingdom) comes the critically acclaimed TV series based on the best-selling novel and hit theatrical movie. Discover why The Associated Press calls it “breathtaking in how it captures ordinary life set against extraordinary passions.”

This is my FAVORITE TV show ever.  I loved, loved this show and I still miss Coach and Tami Taylor.  I love Connie Britton so that alone makes the show worth your time to watch, but all of the characters are well developed and you become invested in their lives.  This show is about so much more than football, but is about family and growing up.  If you have not watched it I highly recommend it.

Do you have any movie or television shows that you watch when you are feeling a little down?  Any others I should add to my list of ones to watch?  –June

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Welcoming the Change of Seasons

What an amazing fall we’ve had here in the midwest. We’ve been experiencing beautiful sunny skies, warm temperatures, and the fall foliage has been a glorious palette of color, to say the least. As I’m writing this, it’s 72 degrees out, and Sawyer and I just walked in the door from our second stroll of the day. I’ve loved every single minute of it. I know a change is coming, in fact the temperatures are about to plummet to more seasonal numbers for our area, but I’ll worry about that tomorrow. It’s November and I’m outside in short sleeves. I’m such a warm weather girl and always have been. During the warm months, you will often see me out walking with my sweet doodle, or riding my bike with my husband, digging in the dirt, or taking a daily swim. I even take my work out to the patio table. I love everything about summer, especially the longer days.

Winter, however, is a different story for me. It usually starts to happen after daylight savings ends. The skies become a more gunmetal gray, the temperatures are cold and damp, and it’s dark by 5pm. I’m always in my pj’s early during the winter. This is the time when I want to turn into a bear, find a cozy den with lots of warm blankets, candles and my books, and disappear until spring.

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Artist Lucy Campbell

Think about how wonderful that would be for a minute. You wake up and it’s warm, the sun is shining, the birds are singing, and you’re skinny! Unfortunately, we humans are not built for hibernation, so we put on our boots, parkas, and scarves and deal with winter’s wrath. Now I know there are a lot of people out there who love winter and everything it has to offer like skiing, sledding, snow mobiles, etc….it’s just not for me. I don’t like being cold. The good news is my husband doesn’t like the cold either, and for this reason, we don’t have long term plans to stay here, though we do have a few more years.

So, my goal this year is to change my attitude, and take pleasure in what winter has to offer. Going for a walk with Sawyer after a snowfall and enjoying the stillness, a winter sunrise, reading or playing a game with my family by the fire while sipping hot cocoa (with marshmallows of course!), and who knows, maybe I’ll even try snow shoeing. Ha! That one may be a stretch, but stranger things have happened.

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January sunrise

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Brrrrrr……This was us on a particularly cold walk

I also purchased a “Happy Light” to use at my desk or when I’m reading, to help with the lack of light during the winter months. I found mine on Amazon.

“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.”

  –John Steinbeck

I couldn’t have said it better.

~May

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