Monday, December 28

Between



Dan and I are back in Carbondale after enjoying a great week in Chicago with Dan's family. We walked in and were greeted with happy meows from B and K, who were left alone in the cold house, with only a few visits from Kelly to give the entertainment while we were gone.


The house was freezing! With all of the heaters on, it has taken from last night until today at about noon to feel the chill leave the air, and I think that is more from the sun coming through the windows than from the heaters. It felt like camping last night, me wearing my new earmuffs to bed, along with my warmest pjs and slippers (under the covers). I woke up twice and was happy to have two little warm spots in my S-curve: one from Kodak sleeping behind my knees and one from Baxter sleeping by my chest. I told Dan we could either get a heater, or invest in more cats to heat me though the winter. We got a heater this afternoon.

But Chicago! What a great week!


Christmas morning was so fun. The tree this year wasn't just standing in the corner, happily holding ornaments, but actually seemed to be blooming into the rest of the house. I don't really know how Nora and Gus were able to get in to place.

Azusa, Nora, and Lolade were taking turns squeezing the orange juice that went along with the home made sticky buns we had for breakfast. With six people, there were a lot of oranges. And yes, you are seeing correctly. Those are zebra printed socks in Linda and Nora's hands! My mom will be happy to know that socks were still part of my Christmas present, even if she wasn't the one putting them in my stocking.
This happy little Santa is a tradition at the Swift house too. It's a napkin holder. I think it's incredibly clever and adorable.

One of the presents Nora and Azusa gave me/Kodak and Baxter is this pirate ship. I couldn't wait to put it together when we got home. In fact, I didn't even put my stuff away before I had the box open and parts everywhere.

All night Dan and I were being ridiculous, asking the cats if they wanted to go on a voyage or sail the high seas, and what not. The cats love it too, not just the humans in the house.


The night before we left, we met Dan's friends at the Cove. Everyone was shocked that the bar had been repainted, as before I'm told, there was a distinct cigarette smoke tinge that really added character to the place. We played darts, drank beer, and caught up with everyone. Most of these people Dan has known since he was in single digits. He's traveled around the world to visit them when they were off on adventures in St. Petersburg or some part of China. When ever someone comes through Chicago or to Chicago, there is bound to be someone there from the old days to drink and spend time with. This Christmas, I got to meet just about everyone that I've been hearing about for the last year and a half. Mira, Tara, Eranthie, Ken & Mindy... they are all real people now. More than once it was said, "Oh! You're Ariel!"


It was such a nice visit. Everywhere we were, at the family's house or the Santa family's house, everyone was welcome. The more people the better. Grab a drink, have some food. Stay a while. A person couldn't help but feel the community. Merry Christmas all. I hope you have some great memories too.

Wednesday, December 23

Balloon hats!


Dan and I heard a story last night on our way to Russ and Bomber's house about a guy that makes balloon hats and has traveled around the world making people happy with them. An amature photographer has been following him, and the result is this amazing thing, The Balloon Hat Experience.

The whole thing is such a great idea!

Tuesday, December 22

Snow!


Up in Chicago at the Swift residence, enjoying these wonderful days before the holiday. This morning, Dan nudged me awake and told me to look outside. Snow! A couple inches of the lovely powder covering everything! The sun was just up and everything was still quiet. It was great looking across the back yards of the people on the block, everything seeming to be just a pinch more quiet with the blanket of white keeping every sound tucked in.

This afternoon Dan and I went up to the fabric store I love and on our way back home, we passed some lovely parks with people building snow men and others just strolling through. I hope the snow stays through Christmas. I'm trying to convince Dan to watch A White Christmas with me. It just feels like the appropriate thing to do.

Thursday, December 17

Holy canoli. What a week! I was up in Bloomington last weekend to celebrate my wonderful friend Trish, and the beginning of her adventure into her 30's. She made a huge effort and planned her own party, renting out Kelly's bakery for a few hours for dinner, and then inviting those that wanted to, out on the town for drinks and silliness.

In fact, here we are! With drinks and silliness to boot!

That glass, by the way, holds a delicious raspberry long island iced tea. Ciara, you should look into that recipe for a future party.

Below, a picture to illustrate part of the relationship Kristy and I have: sometimes we act like we're 12.


The next night, Kristy was preforming in The Bistro's holiday drag show. I got to see her get her outfits lined up, prepare her makeup case, help with some of the set up, and during her show, I scurried on stage for the last numbers to pick up her tips (as she couldn't bend over from having her chest wrapped from collar to waist.) The queens were amazing. Many were title holders from around the state and they put on an incredible show.

Thursday, December 10

I am awesome

Just have to say it. I am completely impressed with myself. It was a good day. Lots of creativity in my worlds of painting and food.

My friend Erin is traveling through Europe and I just heard she's trying to make her money stretch for a Christmas in Ireland. I hope she is able to pull it off. I loved it while I was there.

Also today, I took Baxter to the vet to get one of his toes checked out. He tore a nail and it was a bloody mess last night, but today all is well. The vet said not to worry. No medication and no clipping. Yay!

Tuesday, December 8

Dan's 29th Birthday

Dan is 29 today!

I don't have lots of pictures of Dan, so I'll share what one that I think he wouldn't be mad at me for posting. :) No, we did not have lobster for dinner. This is from August in Maine, when his friends got married.


It's a low-key day. Rain coming down all day, cats sleeping on their various perches, music in the back ground somewhere.

Dan has finals this week, with his first being tomorrow at 8:30a, so staying in and having home-cooked things would be perfect. I was happy to oblige the request.

Breakfast was a spicy frittata with biscuits and bacon. Big yum here. The rest of the morning and early afternoon was making mom's tarts and an apple pie, as substitute for a birthday cake.

The tarts turned out to be a wreck, but I learned just how under-temperature our oven bakes at. I had a hunch with the pecan pies earlier, but I know for sure now. All the little pecan tartlets were raw on the bottom. No good.

Dan's pie ended up taking twice the recommended time to bake fully. It was nice having the house smelling like apples and cinnamon. Dad, I used the recipe out of the cookbook you gave Ciara and myself, The Farm Chicks in the Kitchen.


The cookbook is great! I altered the recipe slightly, as we had limes on hand instead of lemons, but the rest is:


2 1/2 punds mixed apples (I used 3 machintosh, 3 golden delicious, 1 granny smith)
2 TB flour
3/4 C sugar, plus 1TB on top for garnish
1 Ts ground cinnamon
1/4 ts ground nutmeg
1/2 ts salt
1 TB fresh lemon juice

Oven at 375, 50 to 55 minutes or until insides are bubbling and crust is golden brown.

I used two different crust recipes for this one. I had left over crust from the Thanksgiving pie marathon (super flaky and delish!) and I made a small quick top out of shorting, flour, water and salt. I didn't expect the color to vary so much between the two.

We'll eat it later after dinner digests and I'll let you know how it turned out.

Other fun shots from today are of my ever present audience throughout my baking and cooking adventures, Kodak and Baxter.
Our dining/craft/mail/catch all table is set right next to the island I mix things on, and the boys have learned to sit patiently there, instead of in my ingredients. A happy compromise I think.

And after my run in with Copper this weekend, my mittens smelled like dog, and it was gross, so I washed them and hung them over one of the heaters to dry.

It's not quite like having all of our winter gear steaming dry next to the fire place, like when I was a youngin', but it brought back nice memories nonetheless. Dan teased that he never knew his binder clips would find so many uses in the house.

Dan is still sitting in his chair studying, making outlines, and slowly memorizing. There is a cat on the arm next to him, computer in lab, and he looks to be balancing his constitutional law book on the other side. Last year finals were on his birthday. It will probably happen next year too. He says he isn't one to get super excited about all of it, so he isn't bothered by the overlap. He did mention last night, just as the clock hit midnight, that it isn't so much the getting older that bothers him, but the end of being his former age, 28 or any previous.

I've been thinking quite about about that comment today. I'm still thinking about it, actually.

Monday, December 7

Bloomington Weekend

Two days and lots of stories!

I drove up to Blono on Saturday morning to attend the Coffee Hound Holiday party, an event that draws employees present and past with the promise of chili, latte art pour offs, and probably alcohol. Such a great time!

Lots of banter, lots of smack talking, (Your milk is weak! Look at that foam. That's Starbucks foam. Are you using skim? etc...), lots of crazy commentary. It was great to get on a machine again and see what I could do. (Btw, I still got it.)

Seeing people who I hired way back when, now so proficient in their skills to compete in the Expert latte art category, well, that was awesome too. I got to catch up with some of my favorite people, be encouraged by those that have kept up with my life, and kick this holiday off way better than last December got going.

There was the typical Kristy/Ariel/Val/Trish @ the Bistro craziness after. No details will be offered other than a good time was had by all.

Sunday, Kristy and I did a few stops in town and headed back to her house where, on the way, we met Copper.
Copper is a puppy. A big puppy, but a youngin for sure. She was running around in a busy intersection, jumping on cars and thinking the traffic pattern was a game. Kristy and I got out the car, and began an hour and 15 minute adventure that involved Kristy becoming friends with Alyssa, after the many conversations and calls with the the officer for Animal Control, borrowing a leash from a neighbor that felt bad for us, tracking down the owner by the rabies tag, finding that house, knocking and ringing his door for EVER, then while waiting for Alyssa to show up with the wagon, having him open his door.

It was the most bizarre encounter. The older man opens the door holding a little lap dog, dripping wet, with another medium sized dog barking at his feet. He's holding open the glass door and doesn't say anything, just looks at us. "We found your dog. This is your dog right?"

"Yep."
"Ok."
I take the leash off and push Copper in the doorway.
"Ok..."
"Where was she?"
"In the middle of traffic."
"Yep. That sounds like something she would do."

Door closes and we stand on the sidewalk a little dumb. Did he know his dog was missing? Didn't he wonder how we knew it was his dog, and how we got it back?

We stood there for a minute calling Alyssa, letting her know she didn't need to come, meanwhile, the man has left the main door open with the glass door shut. We watch Copper jumping up on the door, almost opening it (again?) and wonder how long this will go on before Copper is back in traffic. We walk away before getting sucked into something again, which would probably end in Kristy, or I, or both of us getting in that man's business and giving him a piece of our minds.

I drove back to C-dale, getting in about 11:30, with snow just starting to fall. Lots of craziness happened in the two days, but I've come to realize that's just how life while visiting Blono will go for a while.

Tuesday, December 1

Taking over the house.


While up in Chicago last weekend, I explored a fabric shop called The Needle Shop where I picked up the wonderful fabrics in the photo above. Today I set to work cutting and sewing, getting things ready for Nora and Azusa's Christmas presents. No pictures. No gift leaks!

I thought I'd share how great a sport Dan has been about me getting settled into the house. The desk featured in the photo used to be where he typed papers. As you can see, there isn't much room on it. Oops! I seem to have taken all the available counter space and filled it with art supplies! And now with the sewing, the kitchen table is acting as my work area too. I promised to clear him room, especially with his finals approaching in a week plus, but he just laughed at me saying he didn't really use them anyway. He prefers I use whatever space I need - especially if that space is the kitchen and I happen to make something that needs sampling.

And we haven't had a cat picture in a while. This is Kodak. This is from the day I made cranberry pecan bread. His look here was too great not to take a picture. He sat there for almost the entire time I was mixing and measuring, so sure that I would share something with him. Sorry dude.

Friday, November 27

A happy reunion

After all the mess of my computer flaking out and being brought back to life, I was sad when I found out I didn't save one of my favorite gifts of all time. Last year for Christmas, my dear friend, Danny Reid, made me a story to help me get over the pain and anger I was dealing with in quitting my job, and to help me remember that I have better things in my future. He was kind enough to share the website again, and I can't help but share it with you too. It's called The Coffee Tree, and, you can probably tell, it's inspired by The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. You can visit it here.

I can't wait to open my shop and have this mounted on clear cells on a wall.

Thanks again D!


Anticipation is in the air

All of the greatness that was this year's Thanksgiving has got me riled up for all the fun things that are in the month to come. I am looking forward to getting my sewing machine set up and running for happy creations that are zooming around in my head. There are treats to be made and mailed, things to wrap (one of my favorite parts of gift giving!) and holiday cards to fill with love and give away.

I promise to take pictures (of things that don't spoil surprises) and share any yummy recipes. I promised a friend in Juneau to make him gluten free treats and send them up, but I confess I've never tackled much baking the gluten free world. It may be a disaster, but my back up plan is to send whiskey. Either way, a happy holiday!

Wednesday, November 25

Last nanny day


Today is the last day as Auntie/Nanny. I'm sad about it. Ben and Cecil are so incredible and it's been a rare treat to be able to spend so much time with them.

Jeremiah and Jessie are hoping to move out of the area in the next year. Jessie has been filling out, what seems to be, heaps of job applications. Maybe they'll move closer to the home base, maybe not. It's pretty certain that they won't be in Illinois.

We moved here together, in the same truck, back in late July of 2005. So long ago now! It was the first time Miah and I had lived that far from Spokane, I think Jessie too, and we've been comparing our experiences with travel, family life, being away, and moving on since then.

As things usually do, home base is a lot different now. Ciara is out in Portland, married, with some small roots getting started. Josh is flying around the globe, living out of a suitcase, having a grand adventure with a wonderful lady, with all of his stuff packed in boxes sitting in Dad's basement. Dad is retired. Mom is busy. Everyone just keeps going. And there are kids. Ben and Cecilia are around and changing and constantly amazing me with the things they say and do.

Time is ticking. People are living. It is wonderful to see the change.

Ben and I made paper snowflakes this morning. Scissors are still a bit tricky for his fingers, but he has mastered the tape dispenser, so they are securely mounted to the windows on the front of the house. He added some coloring for added flair. Maybe it will encourage real snow to fall! Happy Thanksgiving all!

Monday, November 23

Renters, pies, and pictures. Oh my!

I've done lots of driving this last week. I found a family to rent my condo on a month-to-month basis while they are in the process of buying a home, and that has meant back and forth, and back and forth, between whatever city I have been in. There was a key debacle on Friday and Saturday, but hopefully that is all worked out now. From November 16th to now, I'm at 1211 miles. That would get me to Miami, Providence, El Paso, or almost to Salt Lake City.

This is the last week of Nanny Life. I'm going to be sad not seeing Ben and Cecil so often. Today I went with Jessie to have their pictures taken. It was only a slightly traumatizing event for Cecilia. They are stinkin' adorable, with their winter sweaters and snowy back drops. Jessie and Miah make some cute kids.

Happy Thanksgiving all! I made three pies this weekend in preparation for it. I haven't seen that much butter on the table for a long time. The last was in a professional bakery where croissants were being made by the dozens.

My latest search: Super Feet. They don't exist in Carbondale, so before I leave Champaign I will hopefully have what I need to breathe new life into my running shoes. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, November 17

Josh is in town!

Is this Josh's debut to my blog? I don't remember, but it's been a year since I've seen him! Josh is my big, big brother, the oldest of the four. He came back from China, where he has been working for Disney Theater in their Winnie the Pooh show for four months, doing all sorts of things: carpentry, rigging, and I want to say something with electrical (but I'm not sure on that last one). He's been with the company for about a year now, and from what he tells me, he loves traveling, and loves the work.

He is super easy to be around, and has good stories to tell. He shared his photos from the trip, along with some short videos of his time in Beijing, and Hong Kong. He got to see Swan Lake performed in the building where the swimming and diving competitions were held at the Beijing Olympics! They had a stage, a middle stage in between the high dive and pool, and synchronized swimmers! A huge production, he says.

I love these pictures with him around Ben and Cecil, if only for the fact that he is huge in comparison to such little humans! I've seen Benjamin interact with several types of people in the last 5 weeks, and it seemed like he was somewhat in awe of Josh. He was happy to sit on the couch, asked lots of questions of him, and said things like, "Where's my Josh?" when he didn't see him. Stinkin' adorable.
Tomorrow Josh leaves for Pennsylvania, where he will be reunited with his sweetheart, Krista. They are hoping/planning on going to Russia for a month starting in early December with a different touring show, and enjoy Christmas and New Years abroad. I asked him to take a picture in a fancy hat, or with a shot of vodka. Either or.

Love you Josh! Great to see you!

Monday, November 16

Cranberry Pecan Bread

Last weekend I got to eat some of Linda's super yummy cranberry bread for breakfast. After finding a recipe in my American Classics cookbook, I decided to try my hand at it.

I made the mistake of using dried cranberries instead of fresh/frozen, but it isn't a mistake that ruined the loaf.

I had a slice this morning for breakfast, one side dipped in egg and then fried, french toast style. Very good.

If you want to compare recipes, here is what went in mine:

1 T grated orange zest
1/3 C fresh orange juice
2/3 C buttermilk
6 T unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 large egg
2 C flour
1 C sugar
1 ts salt
1 ts baking powder
1/4 ts baking soda
1 1/2 C cranberries
1/2 C pecans, coarse chop

Bake at 375 for 20 minutes, then reduce temp to 350 for another 45. Makes one 5x9 loaf pan.

Wednesday, November 11

We're working on ballads next.

video

I don't know how to rotate it, but I think you can enjoy it just the same.

I woke up to Ben singing with his guitar this morning, and was happy to get him to do an encore later in the day.

Tuesday, November 10

More fun!

Benjamin really likes stickers. Usually they get on a piece of paper, but this day, as you can see, they made it somewhere entirely different.

This is the indoor playground we've been going to on Tuesdays. This is only half of it! There is a seating area with tables for snacks, and a track that circles around the outer fence. With the weather changing, I expect it will be getting more crowded. This morning there were at least 20 toddlers running about. I never appreciated how much luggage mom's tote around until I started frequenting such locations.


Dad, this is for you! He's already a Packer fan!

A new picture of Cecilia. She is getting big so fast! By the the family sees her at Christmas she'll be reciting the Gettysburg address.

I've been going full speed ahead in trying to rent my condo. Total, I've had about 5 nibbles, but only one person has come to look at it so far. I went by to take new photos yesterday, hoping to refresh my craigslist ads with something more appealing to lookers. I hope it helps! There is one lead independent of my postings, but I'll let you know about that if it works out.

This last weekend I was up in Chicago with Dan. It was great to see his family again and relax a bit. I have loved being with B, C, Miah and Jessie, but I'm getting worn out moving cities every four days. Carbondale, Champaign, and Bloomington. Driving, driving driving. By the end of the weekend in Chi-town, I lost all my steam. I did get to take in the Art Institute, exploring their new contemporary art wing, and I really enjoy walking around and taking in the city. There was a abundance of great food, good people, and good stories. Sadly, I didn't take any pictures to share from there.

More soon!

Friday, November 6

I like magazines

Fun fact: Porcupines have horrible eye sight, horrible hand-eye coordination, and a love for climbing trees. That combination ends up being fairly disasterous for them, and they regularly hurt themselves while out on adventures (ie: life). As a result (?) porcupines secrete an antibiotic in their skin that helps prevent infection from their self-inflicted puncture wounds.

AND, they happen to be adorable as babies.



Magazines I love:

Good
Dwell
Wired

Happy Birthday Sister!


My sister's birthday is today! Happy birthday Ciara!

C has planned the most wonderful birthday party for herself. My dad and brother, Josh, are driving to Portland from Spokane to partake, and I am jealous. It's a strawberry themed event, and I can't wait to see some pictures. The invitations were adorable - I got to help make them while I passed through on my way home - Hand made strawberry envelopes, liners, stamps. It was quite the show!

Have a good time today C! Love you lots and lots!

Wednesday, November 4

Jackpot!!!



Some things about me:

I am not a good shopper (I get tired and cranky super fast)
I don't like to spend money
I have never ordered clothing online


With that in mind, I have found a sock website that I am beyond excited about. Will I actually order anything from it? Probably not, but c'mon! A site where I can find knee high socks anytime of the year, and they have an I-need-you-on-my-feet-and-in-my-shoes-now wear-ability factor! I must share this with you.

It's called Sock It To Me. I hope they do well.

Good night (not that it's all that good with the World Series ending the way it did). Sorry Kristy. Hate to break it to you like this - this girl is not a Yankee fan.

Is this blog turning into a list of stuff I like? Hm. I should think about this.

November 4th - Happy Birthday Dad!


Happy Birthday Dad!

Here are some family pictures I scrounged up for the event. I wish I had the ones of my Dad when he was in the Navy on my computer to share. A time warp into 1958. I think he looks like Elvis at that age. The young Elvis, not the scary Elvis.

Side notes:

1) Dad's favorite cake is German chocolate. He makes the best coconut frosting.
2) Remember that Mariners logo? I'm sure that hat is around somewhere.

Cheers to whats next! Love you Dad!

Sunday, November 1

I wish I could use my weekend productivity on job applications.

Happy November! Did you all enjoy some sort of trickery or shenanigans? No trick-o-treating in my neighborhood, but I did get a bag of fun size Payday candy bars, which, I will happily work my way through. My evening was a whole lot of baseball. Game three of the world series.

I'm still in the sorting and organizing stage down here in Carbondale. I moved more boxes around, unpacked and threw stuff away, rearranged the furniture. Dan just laughs. He lets me borrow his muscles if I need them, but that's the other great thing about wood floors - things slide so easy!

Made mom's baked chicken and rice on Friday, blueberry pancakes yesterday, and a huge pot of chili today. It iscurrently stewing away in the crock pot making the house smell awesome. My dad gave me an extremely large bag of Minnesotan wild rice last year, and I've just now gotten around to cooking some. I can't image eating it on it's own, but when added to regular rice, it adds such a nice flavor and color variety.

I printed some photos to update my family frames, applied for both unemployment and a few jobs, and hung up more art.

Everything is chill.

Four more weeks of Nanny-ing.

Thursday, October 29

More space!


I have no idea if I can put shelves up in our apartment, but I really really want to. These floor to ceiling shelves (via Bliss) get me in the mood to copy them. And I could have all my books out! Hum...I wish I had a circular saw.

I'm leaving Champaign after another lovely four days with my family. It has been a happy world of time with my niece and nephew and then time with Dan. I'm not used to so much time with people I love so much. But practice makes perfect!

Happy Halloween everyone!

Tuesday, October 27

Hopes up, and then right back down

I have a condo I'm trying to rent out. I got lucky this summer and had a great lady living there from March through August. Now, I'm about to start month three of it being unoccupied.

I had someone email me from a posting on craigslist. I drive up from Carbondale on Sunday, do some last minute sprucing and organizing, and it goes great! He says he loves it and wants to go ahead with the paperwork. He has his own furniture and I proceed to jump through big hoops to find room for the couch, chairs, bed, dresser and bench he would like me to remove.

I said I would get back to him in 24-48 hours to sign the lease if his credit check goes through, and all seems fine. I got so excited to have this huge weight taken off my shoulders!

I sign on to my email to give him an update the next morning, only to find a message from him that he wouldn't be needing the apartment.

*sigh*

I shouldn't get so excited. This is just part of the process. I know. I'm still bummed.

Monday, October 26

My nephew, the photographer

Ben and I went to a new indoor play ground today. It. Was. Awesome. A huge play structure with slides and things to climb pretty much everywhere. We spent a good two hours there, which with a two-year-old's attention span, is proof enough for me that it is a good design.

After, I introduced Ben to my world. the world of coffee. I thought I could handle high energy, what with dealing with the Medici for a good while. I drank quite a bit of coffee then, but I feel now that it was a convenience. Can't they find a way to bottle toddler energy?

But the coffee shop. I filled up the new cup I'm toting around (Bright red with a picture of an iron worker on the side, from my dad. Thanks dad!), Ben wanted to sit and enjoy the environment for a bit. I pulled out my camera for him to play with, and below are some of the shots he took. Most of them were of the table, but once he figured out he could point it other directions (!) he started getting really excited.

Because of the day, I'm planning on keeping a file of his shots, for nostalgia sake. I'm sure his point of view will produce some entertainment, if not a few worth putting up on the wall.






And this last shot is from tonight. Jeremiah brought his guitar out and we all had a nice time finding chords to Ben's favorite songs - Farmer in the Dell, Twinkle Twinkly Little Star, You Are My Sunshine, Are You Sleeping Brother John?



After there was some Dad Climbing. Ben was scaling the side of Miah before getting whipped around and tickled. I love happy kids! Cecilia, of course, is just hangin' out.

And should we take a poll? How many people remember having those number/letter magnets on their fridge as a kid?
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