On Grief and Lilies: 11 Years

I hate lilies.

Overblown flowers sitting


They cover the box that holds your heart

your dreams

your future

Lilies are death

They seep thickly into the air and add to the

crushing weight

in your chest.

They’re a white memory always lying in wait.

When your guard is down, they whisk you back to that


the one with the box of hopes and dreams.

They are the unbearable



without a breath of wind to ease the weight.

I walked into another room a few weeks ago and the lilies were there waiting for me. I took a breath and they were there to steal it from my lungs. And the weight that fell was different and terrible and so familiar.

My journey started 11 years ago today, but the last few weeks make it feel like yesterday. And in the wake of it all, there are still the questions…questions from wonderful, loving people who just want to do the long hard walk with the ones that have no choice.

“What can I say to someone who’s grieving?”

“What can I do to let them know that I care?”

“How can I avoid hurting them more?”

The thing about grief is that it’s a road you can walk and remember every bend and stone and rut but still not be able to give someone else directions.  I don’t know. That’s the thing.  I’ve told people in the past that I still don’t know what to say.  All I know are a few things NOT to say.

That road is narrow and no one’s path is like anyone else’s. I’ll make my list and say my things, but this is not a cheat sheet. This is not Grief for Dummies. There are no shortcuts and you will still have to listen and listen hard. Because one person’s balm burns like acid for someone else.

1. Saying that you don’t know what to say is okay. How can you find words for something there are no words for? Those words began a poem written for my friend Diego’s memorial service and they are True.

2. DON’T tell the person that they will find love again. This one should be a no-brainer, but apparently, it’s not. There are true things and there are helpful things. They are not mutually inclusive.

3. Another no-brainer. Don’t ask for gory details just to satisfy your curiosity. Seriously. Just don’t.

4. Don’t suggest that God took the person away because who knows, they might have turned out to be a horrible person a few years down the road.       ??????

5. Actually, don’t speculate out loud at all on God’s reasons for allowing them to die. Our minds are finite. Our theories are small. And even the most grandiose ideas still ring hollow in the wake of our loss.

6. If a memory pops up in your mind, SHARE IT. This brings me to two epiphanies I had during my journey.

Epiphany 1

Part of the pain of grief is never being able to talk to the person again, never having another conversation, never being able to ask them a question or get to know them better. We save up our memories like treasured possessions but the knowledge that this collection is finite is part of the pain. You, our mutual friends, are the only source of new memories we have. We crave to hear your stories, any scrap of new insight, the most insignificant memory because:

a) it means that not everyone has forgotten and moved on

b) it means we can continue getting to know our loved one better

Share the way his eyes lit up when he looked at me. Laugh with me over the way he stood with his feet at right angles or wore jackets to the beach. Tell me about the hole in your life because you lost your only friend who loved Star Trek as much as you do.


Epiphany 2

People are often afraid of sharing stories for fear that they will cause more pain to the grieving by reopening the wound or “reminding them of the pain.”

Friends. We don’t forget. It’s always there no matter how much time has passed. Please, share the stories. They can be funny stories. Funny is good. Micah was hilarious. Diego was hilarious. I’m pretty sure they’d both be bummed if no one remembered how funny they were. And again, the stories are that tiny reminder that we are not the only ones who remember, who grieve, who miss them. See Epiphany 1.

7. Be careful with the book gifts and recommendations. I might even go so far as to tell you to forget about it completely unless you’ve been through a similar experience. I lost count of how many people recommended those books where the people die and then come back and tell everyone about heaven. I got through most of one and hated it. It was like salt in my wounds because my loved one DIDN’T come back. Heaven by Randy Alcorn was far more healing, but again, that was my experience.

8. Don’t stop. The nature of death and trauma is that there’s an acute period of pain when everyone is there. But as the years go by and the shock fades, people forget that it still hurts. Ten years can pass and we can still have moments where it hurts like yesterday. Don’t stop checking on us. Don’t stop letting us know that you remember a birthday or an anniversary, or just that you were thinking of us and missing the person too. Don’t stop praying and don’t stop letting us know that you’re praying.

file_arrantvaguery_8-7-18 5_08 PM(1)

Micah and Diego at age 3ish

I’ll close with something I wrote 6 months after Micah’s accident, back when I was younger and a better writer. As I read it, I realize something I didn’t know then. The song doesn’t stop. And it starts up again whenever it wants at whatever verse it wants. But we who hope hold on to that final verse.

E Minor Song

There was a story
Innocence  Laughter  Joy
Major key arpeggio
Only the beginning of a story
And he did not know the end

There was a chapter
Love  Adoration  Contentment
Sweet, sweet ballads
The story grew longer
And he thought he knew the end

Another chapter
Horror  Shock  Agony
Crashing, dissonant chords
The story stood still
And it seemed to her, the end

The page turned
Sorrow  Pain  Weeping
Broken minor triads
The pages continued turning
And she wished it were the end

Long chapters stretched forever
Numbness  Grief  Despair
Whole rests, no music
Verses four and five, repeat
It seemed it would never end

The chapter changed once more
Tears  Smiling  Peace
An alto softly humming
The book took form in loving hands
He was waiting at the end

One day the final page was turned
Beauty  Richness  Glory
Minor chords behind soaring melody
The book repaired and healed
And they never had an end

Of Heritage and Vereneke (or Verenike, Veranika,Vareniki, Vere…whatever


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I’ve often felt that I have one of the most unglamorous heritages imaginable.  (Sorry, mom and dad.)  I was always jealous of my friends and their Swedish, French, Italian, Spanish, or Brazilian roots.  And the food!  Highly spiced, ridiculously savory, or just downright iconic cuisines always made me a little green-eyed.  My mom has Amish background, with roots in Switzerland and Germany.  My dad is from the Russian Mennonites, who originated in Holland/Germany as well, but they traveled across eastern Europe through present day Poland, Ukraine, and Russia.  I’m no historian, so these are very basic details, but all of this to say that it makes sense why Russian Mennonite cuisine would share so many qualities with that of Poland, Ukraine, and other parts of Eastern Europe.

For most of my life, I characterized it by simple blandness.  A basic traditional Amish dinner is all shades of yellow and neutral browns and tans.  You’re picturing it now, aren’t you?  Chicken, mashed potatoes, egg noodles, gravy, applesauce, creamed corn, bread with Amish peanut butter (a concoction that involves both peanut butter and marshmallow fluff), and top it off with peanut butter cream pie or apple pie.  Food is “spiced” with the ultimate trio: salt, sugar, and butter.  Yes, I think butter counts as a spice here.  Having grown up on Brazilian food with its lavish quantities of garlic, cilantro, and onions, it just seemed boring.  Boring and too sweet.  I remember being served rice pudding for the first time in 4th grade in the school cafeteria while my family was on furlough in the States.  And the first time someone ever served me baked beans.  I couldn’t believe people actually put sugar in them.

But I digress.  You didn’t click on this post to read about my difficulties with culture shock.  All that to say that I’m now 30 (*ahem* celebrating another anniversary of my 21st birthday), and I’m just now starting to appreciate my culinary heritage.

One of the turning points was a trip Joel and I took to Europe 3 years ago.  Our first stop was Prague, Czech Republic and we were there in February.  In case anyone is curious, Prague is 10 degrees further north than Danville, Ohio.  In other words…it was COLD.

Prague is an infinitely charming city.  The people are for the most part, very reserved, and I think even without knowing their history, you would get the impression that life hasn’t been/isn’t always easy there.  On our first day there, we crossed from the east side of Old Town, over the Charles Bridge, and hiked the long, long hill to the Prague Castle.  It was about 20 degrees F out and by the time we’d toured the (very cold) Castle grounds, we were ready for lunch.  I got out my trusty Tripadvisor app, and located a restaurant within reasonable walking distance that was still far enough from the castle that it would be more reasonably-priced.  We walked into Restaurace U Labuti, and were greeted by a menu with both concessions to Westerners (spaghetti, stuffed chicken breast, etc.) and Czech traditional options.  Our friendly taxi driver who picked us up from the airport had outlined a number of must-taste Czech options, so Joel got the beef goulash with bread dumplings and I got the roast duck with dumplings and cabbage.

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roast duck with cabbage and dumplings

It looks so….humble.  Rustic is probably what the TV chefs would say.  But then I took a bite.  I don’t remember anything specific about the flavor.  Only that it was hot, covered in fragrant gravy, and utterly delicious.  The words hearty and honest came to mind.  And if you’ll permit me a little more romanticizing…I felt for a split second like I understood what it felt like to work outside in the cold, bleak fields and to come inside and eat something so deeply satisfying.

There is a common thread that extends through “peasant food” of cuisines all over the world.  Meat-stretching, rib-sticking, and using sauce to keep the uber starchy foods from sticking in your throat.  The indigenous people in Brazil eat small chunks of roasted meat in broth with toasted manioc flour.  The humbler Brazilian meals are beans and rice, with lots of bean broth and manioc flour…sometimes with only a few small pieces of sausage as the token meat.  And then there’s vereneke.

Before I go any further, I should acknowledge that there are apparently more ways to spell vereneke than I would have thought possible.  The original word is probably varenyky, but it seems to be a broader term for several different kinds of filled dumplings similar or the same as pierogis.

And since I’m already doing disclaimers, I should also mention/warn/ward off haters by saying that I cook for my family.  My mom cooked for hers.  My grandma cooked for hers.  If my recipes don’t seem “authentic” to you, it’s because you and your ancestors have likely customized your recipes based on taste, available ingredients and tools, and ingenuity (which is my preferred term for being too lazy to hand-knead vereneke dough when I have a perfectly competent Kitchen Aid on my counter).  For instance, my mom used to serve pluma moos or cherry moos (a kind of fruit pudding) as a dessert…much to my dad’s chagrin.  He won’t hesitate to tell you that it isn’t really a dessert, but part of a main meal that always included fried ham.  Zwieback taste better to my grandpa when they have their little hats on than when they don’t.


Zwieback roll picture from Taste of Home

In any case, the recipe that will follow is my interpretation of what I think is one of the most delicious comfort foods in all of the Russian Mennonite tradition.

In my world, vereneke (by the way, I chose this spelling simply because I liked the way it looked the best) is a dumpling with a cottage cheese filling inside a thinly-rolled dough pocket.  For those of you who’ve never heard of them, I’d call them the Eastern European cousin to an Italian raviolo.  Once filled, the dumplings are boiled, sauteed in butter, and then covered with a rich ham gravy.  Occasionally, the sauteeing step is omitted.

The next post will be the full recipe complete with step by step pictures.  I have a couple of reasons for breaking this into two posts.  For one thing…this is already over a thousand words.  For another, I’m still in the middle of making them.  Because of the nature of the ingredients, this is a multiple-day process.

I know my blogging track record hasn’t been the best…but stick with me.  After vereneka comes my conversion to the deliciousness of Amish food.

I’ll leave you with these two delightful pictures of my Russian Mennonite ancestors.

My great-grandma Katherina (Rempel) Buller holding my brother David, my Grandpa Buller, my dad, and me!  My great-grandma’s father was actually born in Russia.


L-R Great-grandma Katherine (Hildebrandt) Wedel, Great-great grandma Anna (Braun) Hildebrandt, Grandma Dorothy (Wedel) Buller, and my aunt Linda (Buller) Winkler

Blue Castle: After (Part Two)

It’s been a long time coming, but I finally have another after picture to post.

When we first moved in, the only curtains I had were the vivid red ones I had in our old living room.  They covered the windows, and blocked most of the light, but the extra light that did filter through had the effect of making our bedroom feel like the inside of a mouth.  More specifically, the inside of one of those lions’ mouths that you see on the Discovery.  You know…yawning in contentment after they run down a gazelle and eat their fill.  But I digress.

I am happy to report that we no longer have an inside-of-lion’s-mouth theme.

For some perspective…here are a few photos.


I tried to find a picture of how it looked with the red curtains, but all I found was this one that I took to document my pregnancy.  Please forgive.

See?  Not the best look.  Hey!  I was talking about the curtains!  🙂

And…(drumroll)…the new pictures.  Huge amounts of credit go to my mom, who made the white parts and found the silver sheers at a craft store.  We tried a few different ways of draping them, and this is what I did for now.

2014-07-04 21.14.22 2014-07-04 21.25.38 2014-07-04 21.25.58Someday there may be throw pillows and picture frames.  Today is not that day.

Of growing things…

After wanting one for three years, I finally have a garden of my own.  And I heart it.  Especially the method we’re using.  Since we’re living in town and don’t have a lot of space, we decided to do Square Foot Gardening.  Read all about it here and here.

Who am I kidding…we would have done it this way even if I had an enormous yard.  You don’t have to weed, you don’t have to hoe, and it’s sooooo cuuuuuuute.

One day, I will have a garden that looks like this.  And I will wear those flowy, white cotton shirts, and a cute sun hat, and waltz out amongst the greenery with my bowl to snip herbs for my gourmet dinners.  <insert posh voice> “Look at this rosemary…it will go so nicely with the lamb.  And these heirloom tomatoes and fresh basil will be divine with my homemade fresh mozzarella in a caprese salad.”

Right now, the garden just looks like this:

2013-06-26 12.16.08We planted:

Purple potatoes, asparagus, onions, basil, roma tomatoes, heirloom beefsteak tomatoes, cherry tomatoes (can you tell I’m in love with tomatoes?), cilantro, oregano, eggplant, okra, cucumbers, dill, green beans, bell peppers, ancho chile peppers, and all manner of lettuce and salad greens.

I am so proud of our asparagus and potatoes!  You can’t see the asparagus fronds very well in this picture because they’re so feathery, but you can almost see them growing…we planted them just a few weeks ago (same time as the potatoes) and they’re already about three feet tall.  And the potatoes are just taking off too!  We have another 3 foot by 3 foot box to set on top of that end, so we can continue heaping dirt around the plants.

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We’ve already eaten our very first tomato, and it was ohmywordeyesrollingbackintothehead good.

My first bowl of garden schtuff.  Basil and a few green onions.  I am going to make mounds and mounds of pesto this year.

2013-06-15 14.48.33And for the one or two people left in the world who haven’t heard…I’m busy growing something myself.  Joel and I will be joined by a little tomato lover sometime in December.

Life is good.

Song of Solomon 2:11-12 (ASV)

For lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle-dove is heard in our land.

On Weather…


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When I was much younger, I heard a theory about the state of the earth before the Flood.  The theory was that there was a thick canopy of water above the earth that then collapsed during the Flood into the oceans as we know them today.  The idea was that this thick layer of water refracted the sunlight and created a worldwide greenhouse effect, supported to some degree by the tropical fossils found in regions that are now completely covered in ice.  Child me heard this and decided that a) if the Flood was caused by the overwhelming evil on the earth, b) if evil comes from original sin, c) if the Flood resulted in the collapse of this water canopy, and d) if the collapse of the canopy resulted in the seasons as we know them, then winter must be the result of original sin.  My jungle-loving, heat-seeking, swimming-in-the-pool-on-Christmas-Day self loved that.  Plus, going up to people and saying “winter is the result of original sin” was kind of fun…and I was big on the shock factor back then.

So anyway…now that I sound totally pompous and have probably alienated my three or four readers (thank you!), I’ll outline for you my idea of the perfect seasons.  Just so you know, I’ve grown to appreciate winter, and while I still don’t see any holes in my logic, the same case could be made for eating steaks being the result of original sin, since it appears that Adam and Eve were originally vegetarians.  Quite simply…the roast in my crock pot will be enjoyed with gusto tonight, while gazing out at the white, white world.


A beautiful season of eternal freshness, delicate apple blossoms, and greenness poking through horrible drab brownness.  Lasts from one week after New Years to Mother’s Day.


Hit-you-in-the-face-with-green season.  Huge, overblown peonies.  Bright tangles of garden roses.  Juicy red tomatoes.  Lasts from Mother’s Day to the end of September.


Sunset in tree leaves.  Warm enough during the day to wear sandals, chilly enough at night to sit around a fire and roast marshmallows.  Hot apple cider with cinnamon.  Weekly soup night.  Lasts from the beginning of October to two weeks after Thanksgiving.


Heaps and heaps of snow.  Hot chocolate and Christmas cookies.  Snowmen and caroling.  Green piney fir garlands and red velvet ribbons.  Lasts from mid-December to one week after New Years.  At least five days of being snowed in.

The best of all worlds.

Of food, individual responsibility, and being a smart consumer


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Boy, that title makes this post sound dryyyy.

Most of you know that Joel and I just got back from a two week trip to Europe.  It was totally amazing, exhausting, expensive, life-changing, inspiring, etc., but that’s a post for later.  However, something happened in Italy that made me think about this whole “eating better” thing.

I ordered a soda.  I know…I know…when in Italy, drink more fabulous and exotic things.  Well, I was tired of drinking only coffees and lattes, the fresh juice was out of this world expensive, and I didn’t feel like getting a glass of wine with my pizza.  Then my eye fell upon these three magic words “Fanta di arancia.”  “Orange Fanta.”

I absolutely LOVED orange and grape Fanta growing up.  At my house, we were only allowed to have soda once a week.  Every Saturday night, we’d make homemade pizza and drink most of one two liter as a family (five people).  When we moved to the States, I always told my friends that Fanta was better in Brazil, but figured it was just because Brazil uses cane sugar instead of beet sugar.  I wonder now if there weren’t other reasons.

Anyway, so our awesome Italian waiter brought me a 33 dl can of soda, which roughly equals about 12 oz.  It was awesome.  And because I am the kind of person who reads labels, I turned it over to look at the ingredients.  This is what I read (keep in mind this is my own translation).

Water, sugar, 12% orange juice (!!!), natural flavors, carbonation, ascorbic acid, citric acid, and some sort of gum stabilizer that I couldn’t translate.

No mention of high fructose corn syrup.  No artificial flavors.  No artificial dyes.  And guess what, it wasn’t that brilliant orange color.  It was closer to yellow.

This is what Coca Cola’s website says is in our Fanta.

Just now, I went to Fanta Italia’s website as well to compare some of the other nutrition differences.  Ours has 44 grams of sugar (essentially 10 tsp), theirs has 33 grams.  Ours has 55 grams of sodium.  (pause for effect)  Theirs has NONE.  For those of you wanting to see the numbers for themselves, this is the US Coca Cola website, and this is the Italian Coca Cola website.

It was with all of this knocking about in my head that I came home and almost immediately was hit by this on both my Facebook wall and on the Yahoo home page.  For those of you too lazy to click on the link, it’s a petition to Kraft to ban the use of artificial dyes in all of their products, particularly the mac and cheese boxes that are marketed specifically to children (i.e. with cartoons on them and that type of thing).  Yellow #5 and #6, which appear in the U.S. product are known carcinogens, but are permitted currently in low, presumably safe levels in food.  In the UK specifically, these dyes are eliminated entirely, and elsewhere, warning labels are required.

My first instinct was to jump on the bandwagon immediately and sign…with fire in my eyes and righteous indignation in my heart.  But now I’m not totally sure I should, not because I don’t think the question/cause is valid, but because of the greater principle of the thing.  Is it really their responsibility to make the wise choice for me?  Wouldn’t it be better for me to simply vote with my dollar, since they’re more likely to respond to falling sales rather than some sort of call to altruism?  Or, should I sign, and in doing so, try to protect those who haven’t been educated about harmful products?  How did mac and cheese and orange soda become such ridiculously loaded subjects, with all sorts of political undertones?  I’m interested to hear your thoughts.  I see an appalling lack of critical thinking all around the world and I wonder if know that’s one of the reasons for our world being in the state that it is.

And for those of you who just want to tell me, “Whatever…homemade is better anyway…” I have an embarrassing confession.  I don’t actually like homemade mac and cheese.  <cringe>

So…will you sign, or will you choose to make your stand simply with what you buy and what you tell other people?

That thing we do every New Year…


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I have this thing about failure.  It terrifies me.  It means I have an inner revulsion towards things like setting goals, telling people my ambitions, and…….New Year’s resolutions.  There’s this lie that’s so easy to believe…that not setting goals or not verbalizing them protects you from failure.  If you never set a goal, how can you fail at it?  If you do, but never tell anyone, who will know that you failed?  Like most of the lies we believe, there’s a kind of twisted logic that makes it hard to refute when we haven’t heard it out loud and realized how ridiculous it is.

Here’s a truth fizz bomb for you.  In every case I can think of, I would still be better off for having tried, even if I did not fully reach my goal.  You know that feeling in your nose when you take the first sip of a just-poured glass of lemon soda?  The bubbles are still sort of dancing on the surface, and maybe you accidentally inhale some of them.  That’s what happens in your brain when you realize something for real for the first time.  A truth brain fizz bomb.  If it’s a really big one, it might feel like a pan galactic gargle blaster.

So here are my goals for this next year.

1.  Make homemade white cheddar.  I already have the kit…a small mold, some rennet, cultures, cheesecloth, and a little bit of know-how (I’ve made some soft cheeses like mozzarella and ricotta).  Joel has promised to whip together a cheese press for me, and then we’re in business.

2.  Be less wasteful.  This is one of those open-to-interpretation types of things.  It means anything from remembering to take my cloth shopping bags into the grocery store instead of leaving them in the car to not letting good food go bad in my fridge because I didn’t plan meals well enough or simply forgot it was there.  It means buying things in bulk and keeping them in glass containers so I’m not throwing tons of little plastic containers away.  It means not using hot water to wash clothes if they don’t need it.

3.  Simplify and unclutter life.  For me, this means getting rid of clothes I don’t wear, kitchen gadgets and appliances I don’t use, and books I don’t read.

4.  Be more health-conscious, but in a smart and thrifty way.  I want to buy more organic produce, but not if I don’t need to.  For instance, did you know that asparagus is one of the cleanest non-organic vegetables?  It naturally repels insects, so it often needs nothing to keep it healthy.  On the other hand, apples are one of the dirtiest fruits/vegetables out there, and because you can eat the peel too, it’s worse.  One of the best tools I’ve ever discovered for this dilemma is the Smart Foods app I use on my phone.  It gives you a rating and short explanation of each rating for many popular produce items.  Please note that they rate produce only by pesticide levels, they do not distinguish between genetically-modified and non-genetically-modified foods.  It’s free, and available (according to a web search) for both Apple and Android devices.  You can also look at this site for much of the same information.  I’ve also been looking into cheap and natural (starting to hate the word “natural” because it can pretty much mean anything) options for hair and skin care, but that probably deserves its own post.

5.  Have a garden.  This kind of goes along with some of the previous goals.  It will hopefully be healthier and cheaper, even if it isn’t simpler.  Even when you’re buying produce in season from the grocery store, a tomato from Kroger tastes like a big mouthful of blah compared to my mom’s garden tomatoes.  I want to be able to walk outside and cut a bowlful of fresh greens for salad rather than buying a box/bag of it and throwing part of it out later because it went bad before we could eat it all.  I want to cook with fresh herbs that I cut fifteen minutes before from my very own herb garden, which will hopefully look like a glorious, wild profusion of plant awesomeness.  I plan to do Square Foot Gardening, since we live in town, and because it’s more attractive and will hopefully result in less weed-pulling.

So, that’s pretty much it!  The point of next year is not that I’ll be perfect by the end, but that I’ll be better than I was at the beginning.  Take that, failure!

Blue Castle: After (Part One)


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Although I posted these pictures on Facebook already this morning, I thought it would be fun to do a before and after post for a few of these rooms.  I wish we had taken more of the house before we started fixing it…some of the angles aren’t the greatest.

The downstairs bathroom: before

The downstairs bathroom: before

After! The pedestal sink was salvaged from the upstairs bathroom.

After! The pedestal sink was salvaged from the upstairs bathroom.

Living room: before

Living room: before


Living room: After

Living room: After

I don't seem to have any before dining room photos, so here are two after shots.

I don’t seem to have any before dining room photos, so here are two after shots.

We still need to fix some of the wainscoting and trim, but it's a huge improvement.

We still need to fix some of the wainscoting and trim, but it’s a huge improvement.

Yucky yucky carpet everywhere.  It was amazing how fast the smell left after we ripped all the carpet out.

Yucky yucky carpet everywhere. It was amazing how fast the smell left after we ripped all the carpet out.

Finally a place to hang stockings.

Finally a place to hang stockings.

And my personal favorite transformation…


You can sort of see it under the monstrous pile of junk.

You can sort of see it under the monstrous pile of junk.

It was totally disgusting.  This view shows how there used to be a bar coming out into the center of the room.

It was totally disgusting. This view shows how there used to be a bar coming out into the center of the room.

We painted the brick after priming it with the stinkiest gloppiest primer ever.  The cabinets are all the originals, just cleaned up and rearranged a bit.  The bar was cannibalized to form the cabinet below the cooktop on the left, and the cabinet above the double oven on the right.

We painted the brick after priming it with the stinkiest gloppiest primer ever. The cabinets are all the originals, just cleaned up and rearranged a bit. The bar was cannibalized to form the cabinet below the cooktop on the left, and the cabinet above the double oven on the right.

This was the only source of heat they had for the whole house.  It used to be setting beside the door that goes into the laundry room.

This was the only source of heat they had for the whole house. It used to be setting beside the door that goes into the laundry room.

The same wall now.  Cabinets and appliances courtesy of Craigslist.  Chalkboard courtesy of a thrift store picture frame, a little chalkboard paint from Lowes, and my husband's awesomeness.

The same wall now. Cabinets and appliances courtesy of Craigslist. Chalkboard courtesy of a thrift store picture frame, a little chalkboard paint from Lowes, and my husband’s awesomeness.

More to come as I get my house cleaned up and photo-ready.



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My favorite meal of the year has come and gone…Christmas Eve Feastt.  Not a typo.  You know how you spell hott with two t’s when someone/something is really really awesome?  Same thing.

It all started many years ago when we were still living in Brazil.  As we got older and our palates matured (read: less picky), our Christmas Eve supper started getting a little more interesting.  We started eating more seafood…oyster soup and shrimp cocktail (which for being no-where near an ocean in the middle of the Amazon was a feat in and of itself).  We ate steak fondue with cheap, cheap filet mignon (thank you, third world country!) rubbed with the most deliciously pungent garlic dip, we even tried a white wine cheese fondue that quite frankly, I remember as being totally disgusting.

Somehow this all morphed into something that could also be known as Annie’s-excuse-to-go-nutso-on-expensive-and-gourmet-recipes.  I made a plum pudding one year…it was supposed to be all dense and festive and soaked in brandy and flame like the olympic torch.  It was dense all right…and we almost destroyed mom’s bundt pan trying to get it out.  The thing somehow suctioned itself to the pan and wouldn’t let go.  Then I made the mistake of buying blackberry brandy to soak it in, which meant that instead of flaming up with a blue halo, we poured half the bottle on it just to get a little flicker.  In the end, we all choked down a few slices, but most of it ended up being compost.

Anyway…all that to say that things do get better and practice does make perfect.  I don’t know that I’ll ever make another plum pudding, but I sure have fun every year trying everything else.

A few pictures for your drooling pleasure.

One of these days I'll make myself a big enough tablecloth.

One of these days I’ll make myself a big enough tablecloth.

We started everything off with a lovely salad of spinach, cherry tomatoes, chopped eggs, crumbly bacon, and a warm bacon vinaigrette…topped with three succulent seared scallops.  This was the crowning glory of salads…made mostly by my mom (I just seared the scallops).

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Also on the table: a refreshing cranberry salad (also from mom), herbed dipping oil, homemade boule bread (by my brother David), and the ever-present shrimp cocktail.

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And the main event…sultry-smooth, creamy, luscious, decadent crab bisque.  This is probably the fourth or fifth year I’ve done a seafood bisque…sometimes with lobster, sometimes with crab, sometimes with a combination of both, but this was by faaaaaar the best one I’ve ever made.  Here it is in its pretty tureen.  If only we had scratch and sniff blogs.

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After all this, we were stuffed, so dessert actually came after present-opening.  I had the idea for these little baby pots de creme months ago, but wasn’t sure if I could pull it off, seeing as how I’d have to buy 18 new ramekins, but I’m so glad I did.  There is a creme brulee-style vanilla bean, a rich, rich, rich dark chocolate, and a lighter, creamy raspberry.  I wish I had taken the time to skim all of the bubbles off before I baked them, but I hated the idea of losing anymore of the custard then I had to.  Oh well, they were still pretty.  One of these days I’ll learn how to garnish everything spectacularly.

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Well, thanks for putting up with the blatant braggery (word?).  I’d be happy to share any recipes if anyone’s interested.

Merry Christmas! Hopefully my next post will be some “after” pictures of the house.  If I can ever get it tidy enough to take the pictures.

Tea Party


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When we got married, Joel’s nieces and nephews helped us with our wedding.  We promised them a special evening/party as a thank you.  Embarrassingly enough, it took us over two years to make good on our promise.

The boys came over Friday night for a “make your own pizza” party and the movie Cars 2.  I wish I had gotten pictures of them loading the bacon on their pizzas.  🙂

The girls came over Saturday afternoon for a special tea.

I had fun setting out my special dishes…using cloth napkins…rimming the goblets with sugar…

Little strawberry jam thumbprint cookies.  You do not want to know how much butter goes into these.





These cute little peanut butter chocolate cupcakes were so much fun!


Yummy chicken salad sandwiches with the crusts cut off, of course!

Cheddar baked potato soup with a few bacon crumbles…(I didn’t want EVERYTHING to be sugary) and strawberry limeade for those pretty goblets.

And here they are! I wish I had gotten more pictures…but after this, I was mostly just trying to keep them from eating the entire bowl of sugar cubes.  I didn’t do so well at that (sorry moms!).  Good thing they didn’t know I still had half a box left in my kitchen!

This one leaned in at one point and informed me in hushed tones that this was her first time drinking out of a goblet.

After tea, we adjourned to the living room to watch The Princess Diaries.

Fun stuff!  I hope they eventually fell asleep that night…

We’ll have to do this again in a year.

Once their blood sugar level is down again.