Monday, December 28


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


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?"

I take the leash off and push Copper in the doorway.
"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.
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